Juston Stens & the Get Real Gang
Juston Stens & the Get Real Gang EP
(Park the Van)
The year 2009 was a game of musical chairs for Park the Van and its flagship act, Dr. Dog. In July, the Philadelphia rockers announced they were jumping ship, moving from the New Orleans imprint it helped christen to Los Angeles' Anti- Records. Around the same time, the band's drummer, Juston Stens, jumped ship himself, traveling instead to Arizona and North Carolina to write songs with labelmates Golden Boots and Floating Action. It's now a year later, and while this fast introduction to Stens' new group might not be intended to fill Dr. Dog's Park the Van seat, it does so regardless; the EP's five tracks stack up surprisingly well against the best 18 minutes of the latter's uneven Anti- debut, Shame, Shame. If Stens' droopy, hangdog voice and spot behind the kit reinforce him as the Ringo Starr of that Beatles-aping outfit, the fulfillment of backseat songwriting aspirations also makes him its George Harrison. And like All Things Must Pass, his first outing fires perhaps a veiled parting shot: springy pop centerpiece "Outta Here," which burns its Led Zeppelin, "Rain Song" bridge ("I am here and you are gone/ And we just couldn't get along, it's clear"). It's a testament to Stens' chops that no two songs here sound alike. Opener "The Hard Way" is the closest he comes to Dr. Dog, before the interruption of an impeccably voiced Southern guitar solo is itself interrupted by the release of female-backed "bah-bah-bah"s; his dreamy "Falling" resembles a Floating Action island seance for Roy Orbison, and epic, excellent Harrison-borrowed ballad "Lonely Lonely Night" explodes midsong, carried away in pieces by drowsy brass and broken drums. If this is what Stens terms his B-material — it's a free download this week at www.parkthevan.com — his A-game should be quite a show.
With Lil Wayne in jail, Juvenile treading creative water and Master P a motivational speaker, New Orleans hip-hop's national spotlight is, for the first time in a while, ripe for the taking. Enter Shante Anthony Franklin, aka Curren$y; Pilot Talk, his hot-boxed, decade-coming "debut," doesn't blow the chance. Franklin started at age 19 with Master P's No Limit Records, switching teams in 2005 to run with Wayne's Young Money crew. But he split before the latter become the biggest little MC in the world, choosing to cut underground mixtapes instead of multiplatinum albums — an odd, if admirable, career detour for a guy with a "$" in his name. "Dollar signs my only language," he claims on "The Hangover," but of course that isn't true. Pilot Talk, the first release from rebooted Roc-A-Fella Records, is about as far from a cash grab as major-label hip-hop gets, a locked-down vault of paradoxes unlike anything this rap-rich city has produced: dense but bright, old-school yet space-age, sharply blunted and stoned sober. Franklin's cadence is distinctly Louisianan, leaning on the lead syllable of every word as he coasts through each finish line, boasting on his backgammon skills and flowing about smoking broccoli ("Come through with that killer weed/ Alfred Hitchcock in a Ziploc"). But his backing tracks — an inviting swirl of analog instrumentation and sky-streaking synths — are so foreign to current hip-hop production, it's like relearning a lost language. Eleven of 13 come courtesy of Camp Lo and Jay-Z collaborator Ski Beatz, who clearly revels in revisiting his "Luchini" salad days on chinois-smooth "Breakfast" and "Life Under the Scope." Guest spots are equally inspired, and range from homeboy Jay Electronica to a reinvigorated Snoop Dogg, who drops his best verse in years that doesn't involve Sookie Stackhouse. "This changes everything," Mos Def summarizes on jackhammer single "The Day." Yes indeed.