Give My Regards: Kellen Barrett, Pt. 1

“Give my regards…”

An utterance of appreciation. A grand gesture. A thank-you very much. CruxCrusader is pleased to début a new series paying respect to the music, movies, books and art that have shaped our writers. Each contributor was asked to pick six within a class of their choice, to be released over in time. After all, everyone has favourites; why not talk about them? Culture is for sharing, not for hoarding, right? We’re glad that you agree! And as such, we hope that you enjoy!

Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois

Suff-jun. Suff-jan. Soof-yun. Soof-yan. I struggled for a long time with the pronunciation of that one. Even embarrassed myself on radio once or twice. Diction be damned: this one — my opinion not withstanding — is a modern classic. By the way, it’s Soof-yan.

(Also known as) Come On, Feel the Illinoise! changed my life upon its release in 2005, during my first year of university. My taste in music was expanding, thanks in large to residence life and college radio. As a home-recording obsessive, discovering Stevens’ grand orchestration — created largely in the closets and hallways of his apartment and a studio in Queens — blew my whole mind; how could one man create something so crisp and realized with minimal professional backing? Cool.

Running 22 tracks — the longest of which is 07:03, the shortest being 00:07 — the second movement in Stevens’ now fabled false-promise to deliver one record for each American state is an opus dedicated to the great state of Illinois. Songs cover such subjects architectural structures, jazz, Superman and John Wayne Gacy (if e’er a song could bring a tear to mine eye), sporting short-essay length titles.

Given the artist’s method, the resulting musicality is stunningly robust and profound. It’s rumored that Stevens played over 20 different instruments himself. A close listening reveals that most of the tracks have at least 10 involved. The songs were mapped out piece by piece into an 8-track mixer, which Stevens then transferred and mixed two tracks at a time through headphones. For those unfamiliar with studio jargon, simply appreciate that attaining the album’s impressive synchronicity and harmony through this process would have been a painstakingly tedious labour of love. One that yielded serious results. With this in mind, you’ll understand why my brains hit the wall. For the first time, I appreciated the new indie revolution. It dawned on me that with endless imagination, ambition, patience and the determination to make something from nothing, possibility is an endless canvas available to anyone with microphones, musical friends and a quiet bedroom.

A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement

I was six when one of the greatest groups to ever do it released The Low End Theory. At eight, I wasn’t old enough to honestly say that Midnight Marauders is a heavyweight from my early hip-hop habitat. But I’m glad I was there for A Tribe Called Quest’s highly underrated finale. Admittedly, my entire love of hip-hop culture stems from this album and the influence it had on my subsequent exploration of the genre.

My birthday, late 1998. I stood before the new release rack in Sam-the-Record-Man (remember that place?), aunt issued gift-card in hand, my mother firmly stationed over my shoulder. What Are You Going to Get? I loved rap, but from a distance; frankly, explicit lyrics were a major hassle at the tender age of 12. The slick white cover drew my eye, void of any parental advisory sticker. A clean get-away. I was familiar with the group name, but none of their music — but that was back when the name was all I cared about. This is the only CD I have ever owned that I wore out. Literally. The physical disc is now transparent in parts.

Endless respect for The Ummah. Beats stick with me; I’m brutal with lyrics, but can pick out samples like an interior decorator. I’m proud to say — and in hindsight, consider myself a very cool pre-teen — that J Dilla was on my radar before Slum Village released Fantastic, Vol. 2. Long before Donuts. Even longer before saying ‘Jay Dee changed my life’ was en vogue. I’m not bragging or trying to make myself sound cooler than I tragically am not; I’m simply acknowledging how fortunate I was to watch Dilla’s career evolve in real-time from the beginning. ‘Find A Way’, ‘Give Me’, ‘Steppin’ It Up’, ‘Da Booty’ and ‘The Love’ are classic cuts — in both beat and lyricism — in my mind and I still consider The Ummah to be in the top five production soullectives of all time.

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