First listen: Blue Scholars’ Cinemetropolis

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Blue Scholars hosted an invite-only listening party for their upcoming third full-length album Cinemetropolis Sunday night and it was part history lesson, part business seminar and part campaign kickoff all wrapped into a three-hour celebration of one of the city’s most loved independent artists.

A crowd of around 150 of the group’s friends and family gathered at the Theatre Off Jackson, formerly the Wing Luke Asian Museum, to get a listen to the  record while mingling and enjoying refreshments and snacks. Prior to the listening commencing Geologic gave a slideshow presentation about the history of the Blue Scholars. And while a history lesson sounds lame, it was actually really cool and it’s something more local artists with loyal fanbases should consider doing when promoting new albums.

Here are some notes from the listening party:

  • If you didn’t already know, the record has a cinematic theme with each song taking some inspiration from moving pictures. The group has plans to work with various visual artists and directors to create mini-movies for each song and treatments have already been written for several of the record’s tracks. Geologic called it a “reverse soundtrack” since most filmmakers create a movie and then seek out music to accompany their film and Blue Scholars are doing the exact opposite.
  • Geo said the Theatre Off Jackson was chosen to be the location for the listening party because he used to work at the Wing Luke Asian Museum and that he sold the first box of 30 Blue Scholars albums at the museum.
  • The group recorded its self-titled debut at the University of Washington and sold 5,000 physical copies of the album before landing a distribution deal. The album has since sold around 40,000 copies. Although the music industry has changed quite a bit since that record’s release in 2004, moving 5K physical units is no small task. To put that number in perspective current Seattle scene darlings The Head and the Heart sold a reported 8,000 physical copies of its self-titled debut before inking a record deal with Sub Pop.
  • After telling the crowd the history of the Blue Scholars a video was shown explaining the band’s approach to marketing and selling the new album. The group is self-releasing the record and handling all of its publicity, booking etc. (they are no longer managed by David Meinert’s Fuzed Media) and is, in Geo’s words, “taking out the middleman and bringing everything directly to the people.” You can read all about the group’s approach to Cinemetropolis over here.
  • Along with debuting the new record the group debuted its new logo. It’s simpler than the shiny Bayani-era logo and more eye-catching and easier to read than the duo’s original B-boy inspired graffiti logo. Check it out to the right.

Of course the history lesson and the Kickstarter pitch wasn’t the main attraction. The crowd gathered to hear the debut of Blue Scholars’ first full-length record since 2007’s Bayani. Here are my initial thoughts and some notes about the record. Expect a full review to come as it gets closer to the Cinemetropolis‘ June release date (an exact date is TBA).

  • The record is a 180-degree departure from Bayani and is by far the best work yet by Geo and Sabzi. The beats on this album are heavy on the bass, which should make this the perfect album for bumping on your stereo throughout the summer and the production is unlike most all of what Blue Scholars has released to date. The closest any previous Blue Scholars material comes to sounding like Cinemetropolis is “HI-808.”
  • Sabzi’s presence as a producer/DJ is strongly felt on this record. He’s always been one-half of Blue Scholars’ talent but he often doesn’t get his due respect because he isn’t the MC. That should change after the release of this album.
  • Geo is a bit more biting, aggressive and edgy on Cinemetropolis and it’s a welcome change that he pulls off well. Geo repeats “Shoot the cops” a few times on “Oscar Grant” (referring to using camera phones, not guns) and on the closing track there are a few times when he spits “U-dub in this bitch” and even quotes Eazy-E with a “Don’t quote me boy I ain’t said shit.”
  • Although the album has a cinematic theme don’t think Blue Scholars have lost their socially conscious vibe. There are messages aplenty to take away from this album.
  • The record’s title track, which is also its opening track, starts with an elastic beat over 8-bit boops and beeps. Not only does it set the tone for the record it also sets the cinematic theme in motion with Geo rapping about kids growing up “glued to the tube” (something he alluded to in his Guerrilla Candy interview back in 2010) and rapping a hook that includes the lyrics “If it spins on a reel it’s got to be real.”
  • “There’s a song about marijuana called “Tommy Chong” that features Macklemore. I wasn’t able to pay a lot of attention to the lyrics (like I said there was plenty of mingling happening) but it is a narrative track that sounded like it tells the good and bad sides of the life of a pothead.
  • A complete track list wasn’t provided and only eight of the song titles were given, but I noticed that several songs are named after people. Some songs are named after figures in film (“Tommy Chong,” “Seijun Suzuki,” “Anna Karina”) while others are named after important names in social activism (“Yuri Kochiyama,” “Oscar Grant”). The exceptions I noticed are the title track and “Fou Lee.” UPDATE Here’s the tracklist:

1. Cinemetropolis

2. Hussein

3. Fou Lee

4. Lalo Schifrin

5. Seijun Suzuki

6. Anna Karina

7. Marion Sunshine

8. Slick Watts

9. George Jackson

10. Oskar Barnack ? Oscar Grant

11. Yuri Kochiyama

12. Rani Mukerji

13. Tommy Chong

14. Chief Sealth

15. Fin

  • “Oscar Grant” is a standout. The track’s plinky intro brings to mind the opening of Pink Floyd’s “Money” with the cha-chinging of cash resgisters but with a lot more frequent cha-chinging. And while the sound is similar to cash registers closing sales it is actually a sample of various camera parts (shutters, knobs, etc.) moving at different speeds. It’s a creative sample and it sounds great.
  • Chances are if you live in a neighborhood in the Seattle area your hood gets a shout out on “Slick Watts.” The Blue Scholars are working with the folks from Sonicsgate to make a short film for the song.
Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.