Category Archives: SonicScapes

Telekinetic Walrus Is All About That Heavy Bass

I’m not a fan of critiquing music.

I’m even less of a fan of categorizing the music I like. Because I’m of the opinion if you like it, that’s all that matters. So it’s extremely difficult to tell you why you should get into Telekinetic Walrus’ second full-length album The Spaceship With The Heavy Bass Bump, but, here goes.

In a world of over-saturated Rap, R&B and EDM this new age funk band is a breath of fresh air. Better yet, they’re more like a puff of some high grade sticky icky. If I had to make a comparison, they’d be a combination of their influences which include Funk, Jazz, Psychedlics, Hip Hop, Experimental Music and enough super bass to make Nicki Minaj blush. A kind of new age, electronic version of the Grateful Dead.

So instead of going into why you should get into, just listen and get into yourself.

Purity Ring Breaks the Cycle with Sophomore LP “Another Eternity”

When Edmonton duo Purity Ring released their debut album, Shrines, in 2012, the internet basically exploded. The twosome—made up of vocalist Megan James and multi-instrumentalist Corin Roddick—delivered a brand new style of music that combined singsong vocals with minimalist production, coined as “future pop” by the bigwigs of the music blogosphere. Everyone ate it up, and rightly so; it was new and interesting and it was hard not to love.

Now it’s three years later, and after staying quiet for much of that time, they’re back with Another Eternity, a ten-song LP that dares to challenge everyone’s pre-conceived notions of the band. Gone are the esoteric titles constructed of nonsensical portmanteaus; rather this album projects a much more cohesive argument, one that is easier to follow but still rather enjoyable (in some cases, perhaps even more so). The metaphysical element of Purity Ring’s subject matter is far from being discarded, however the content on Another Eternity is more relatable and accessible.

The only track that follows Purity Ring’s former trend of weird titling is opener “Heartsigh,” which of course, is not a real word. Most of the songs on Shrines—“Lofticries” and “Belispeak” for instance—stripped away any pre-conceived notions as to how the songs would sound, because there was no real indicator in the title that one could assign meaning to. In this case, the connection is a little more visceral, as the title is made up of two words that actually mean something. “Heartsigh” has a very bright intro, with lyrics boasting reassurance and a vibe that speaks to the security and protection many of us want to feel when attached to someone romantically. The sonic elements of “Heartsigh” also hint at the overall sound of Another Eternity, with fuller instrumentation and hints of EDM/club-centric production.

Some of the album leans more towards the bands roots, as exhibited in “Stranger than Earth” and lead single “Push Pull,” both of which lend the same esoterically flavored lyricisms and scaled-back production. Being an MFA student I have come across my fair share of poetry analysis, and these two tracks have me equally enthralled in their nature, yet altogether stumped in terms of lyrical analysis (granted, poetry is not my major, so I am not the best resource). I felt the same way when listening to Shrines for the first time: most of the time I wasn’t exactly sure what Ms. James was alluding to in her lyrics, but that didn’t take away from the altogether pleasurable experience of listening to that album.

Much of this album seems to deal with coping with interpersonal relationships. I know that sounds kind of vague, but compared to Shrines the album is far more straightforward, thus easier to pick apart. The second track—and third single—“Bodyache” boasts a certain yearning for a love perhaps left unrequited. With lyrics like ‘I want to know what’s your quietest feeling/I saw you break I saw you unreeling’ lend a perspective that suggests the subject has seen heartbreak and would’ve fared better if they had answered the call of the singer. This song is gorgeous instrumentally; its percussion is non-invasive and the repeating cascades of this harp/piano hybrid seem to mirror tears.

Second single “Begin Again” is perhaps the most radio-friendly, pop-centric track on the album. The echoed, hushed vocals in the beginning are reminiscent of early ‘00s pop songs, and the production escalates in a predictable—yet altogether appropriate—manner, mixing deep synths with powerful club beats, which makes me think we will be hearing several remixes of this track from the likes of Diplo or Swedish House Mafia (if that’s still a thing). “Dust Hymn” and “Flood on the Floor” share this sort of sound, and deal with similar themes of the remaining scars of former encounters.

I saw one of Purity Ring’s first shows ever, and it was immediately evident that this band got together with a clear mission: to push the boundaries of synth-pop. At the time the band was just starting out, and so their performance, while amazing, seemed inhibited and cautious. Given the experience of this album, I doubt that will still be the case this time around. Purity Ring has come back strong, and while some of the album may feel somewhat formulaic in some ways, their continuing lyrical prowess and fascinating newfound energy is palpable. I think it’s safe to say they have successfully eluded the famed ‘sophomore slump,’ and have taken some brave steps in order to do so.

Another Eternity is now available through 4AD. They are touring Europe and North America through June. Tour dates and info can be found on their website.

Azealia Banks (Finally) Breaks Out

Well, it’s here. Whether you’ve been aggressively (and maybe a little TO patiently) waiting, casually wondering, completely forgotten about or just enjoying the constant internet joke of it all, Azealia Banks’ long awaited, 3-year-delayed debut album Broke With Expensive Taste has finally been released.

If you aren’t familiar with who Azealia Banks is, maybe you can remember around two years ago when an infamous line was shouted by this young rapper/songstress’s fiery tongue. Taking over the airwaves in the UK and bursting onto the Internet and Tumblr scene with such fierce and poignantly explicit lyrics such as “I GUESS THAT CUNT GETTIN’ EATEN!”, Azealia’s signature song “212” featuring Lazy Jay became somewhat of a huge sensation.

Or, maybe you’ve just come across her name through her infamous Twitter beefs, but lets just put that aside and focus on what’s important: the MUSIC that she’s finally released.

Now, Miss Banks isn’t just any young chick trying to make it in this cut-throat, male dominated Hip-hop industry. She’s clearly in her own lane that she’s specifically crafted her sound for, in which it cannot be so easily defined into just “rap music.”

 

“It sure seems like one of the most impressive rap debuts of the decade, without claiming to be anything other than what it is.”

 

Sure, this now 23-year-old from Harlem can spit pretty hard, and has a very distinct flow all her own, but she clearly isn’t rapping for anyone but herself. In a time where most hip-hip artists are spitting the same rhymes about the same things on the same beats, Azealia flips the table over to a fresh take on the true potential of what hip-hop can be. From her 1991 EP, in which you feel a distinct vibe of 90’s inspired beats mainly produced by Machinedrum and Lone, it at first offers a sense of nostalgia, but is twisted with Azealia’s lyrical wonder, and given a new reflection of what a female rapper can be. Also, her first mixtape Fantasea, where you’re taken on a joyride of dark seapunk-esque trap-house beats mixed with irresistible hooks and rhymes.

With such promising work in her catalog, Azealia’s only flunk in her step to stardom was her lack of label support. Being signed to Interscope records for almost two years, they challenged her by wanting to have her sound be more commercialized. Yet, in true Azealia Banks fashion, she refused. And thank GOD she did, because we got a masterpiece of a debut album out of that two year waiting period.

Breaking free of her label, Banks “pulled a Beyoncé” by dropping her album Broke With Expensive Taste unannounced on November 6th, and truly put her money where her mouth is. It was a whirlwind of a surprise for me, a huge fan of her music, to truly take in; and upon my first listen, I was even more amazed by how cohesive the album is.

The album goes from the somewhat tropical vibe of “Idle Delilah,” to classical horns with straight hip-hop and rapping in completely fluent Spanish (like, what!?!) in “Gimmie a Chance,” to the dark and gritty Theophilis London assisted “JFK” (which also has Azealia singing opera), then glosses over to a real hardcore standout rap track “Ice Princess,” and ends with the duo-tracks “Miss Amor” and “Miss Camaraderie” who compliment and end the album with a lovely edge.

Simply by looking at the way each of these tracks are so distinctly described, you’ll get an impression of an insane mix and clash of different sounds and influences. But, it miraculously manages to be the most unique album released this year, especially by a female rapper. It manages to engross you into it’s sound and the many stories Azealia allows you into. Real standout tracks include the miraculous bop that is “Soda,” and the completely random yet completely makes perfect sense “Nude Beach A Go-Go.” This may be a freshly released piece of work, but it sure seems like one of the most impressive rap debuts of the decade, without claiming to be anything other than what it is.

The boldness Banks embodies by using so many experimental sounds and managing to own it like she’s the main kid in the game is astounding. But she’s not exactly in the “game”: Azealia Banks is playing her own game on us all, and whether we like it or not, she’s always gonna win.

Purchase Broke With Expensive Taste

 

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One Take Suzeey: “Pneumatose” (“Don’t Dance” Cover)

I date many things… cities, sounds, dreams. These things happen. When I date sounds, it is a full-stop courtship: get to know their interests, their background, their dreams, with whom they engage, do they have siblings, where do they post up to get down – can they read. These things. Eventually, the dalliance fades and something worthwhile is made. Eventually, we mix a master, and reverberate rhythms of the most loyal low-fidelity.

All of this is to say, I mingle with sonic musings. I’m a made match for muses. What does a first date sound like? Like the first take. It’s slow on the uptake, but fairly deliberate. It finds a track it grooves with, and explores it from myriad angles, pitches, and plays. We talk about life, shared experiences, we find lyrical camaraderie and beat-driven commonality. We find freedom in the music. There’s liberation in improvisation. You take an understood foundation and say: “I know you, you know you – here’s how I hear you, here’s how you appear to my ears… Here’s how the finished product unravels into the unknown.”

It gets weird. It remains inspired. It leaves few scores unsettled. It’s somewhat manic. It’s experimental. It is not interested in how you move, more so in the guarantee that you move and what compels you to move at all. It, takes, its, time.

There are tracks that sound best as-is, there are tracks that find new life in the remix.

All of that is to say, one-take suzeeys are the first date. I meet a song on the decks, press play, and wait to see what melody is made. I go overboard, I underestimate, I copy and persist. I never let go. I lose myself somewhere in the midst of the music. I never know how it turns out until the next day.

One-take (no frills, no auto-tune, no post-production, no pretense, no nothing, just tears, tempos, and freestyle flow.) Suzeey (which is Yeezus backward).

pneumatose (2014) // Simon Curtis – “Don’t Dance” (2011)

pre-take

Stream Fifteen: Cheek to Cheek – Lady GaGa, Tony Bennett

This is not a blinkk… I cannot contain the breadth of this “beat.” So, I tried something new… I riffed for a few… fifteen to be generally exact… because, well, this is The Fame...: Part Forever and Always.

FIFTEEN MINUTE TRANSCRIPTION

I riffed about Cheek to Cheek for fourteen minutes and fifteen seconds into a recording device. This is the verbatim transcription:

Y’know… It’s not fair, to review an album, I guess, from the perspective of a cultural biography until it’s established its origin story, which – in an America that is fundamentally a free market, and a democracy within that capacity – is, a week after its release; when it’s made its mark on the Billboard charts: which, right now, is the founding gauge for relevance, reach, proximity to the consumer and the marketplace in terms of significance.

That being said, now Cheek to Cheek has made its starting point. It’s off on the good foot, it’s Number One in the country: which is fundamentally what all of this was ever about.

That to enter the national consciousness from a place of pop stardom, means that you’re either popular, or you’re populist; and at this point, we see the convergence of the two. We’ve got Tony Bennett who rode alongside King in the Sixties, who was an Italian with a stage name that wasn’t entirely accurate based on his birth certificate. Then you’ve got Lady GaGa who rides alongside any, and everyone for that matter, in her crusade – in her defiant plea and purpose right now – in this moment, in this eternal moment, that pop music will never be low brow.

That the popular is not a debased, faceless mass, but rather that the population is a group of divine commoners, divine denizens; that when brought together, can transcend any limitations we have since placed on humanity – and the first step to that, is cultural awareness of the greatness of the human form … and the ability of the human to create that which is better than itself and its material existence … and music is that eternal fiber, music is that fundamental identifier that manipulates the invisible. It is the imagination passport that is able to connect you to the time and space void of twain: which right now, is The Haus.

And so to bring it all back: we have this apparently “antiquated” art form – and this idea of “time” holds no bearing on Cheek to Cheek – it’s the idea that you have two contained elements, human forms contained within the epidermis, brought together and these two glorious edges are brought together to move, to touch, to dance in this space that no one can quite see, but that when we hear it so clearly: it becomes real. And when we connect to the cheeks of others, it becomes the zeitgeist. When enough cheeks touch… creation occurs.

And here it is not chaotic, it is very calm… but within this calm there is a sense that it could be fleeting. But it’s like the Titanic, where as you’re on this ship: you can jump, you can scream, you can kick your fellow passenger – or you can recognize your place as a performer, as someone with a gift and with a sense of awareness, and you can play as this ship goes below. After cold logic has sunken this beautiful vessel, this seemingly unsinkable vehicle, there is this idea that nothing else – even if it is futile – will attempt to create something so warm, something so engaging, endearing, transcendental, musical, rhythmic, beautiful. That to sink below these icy waters doesn’t’ seem so bad: because you’re not even in this material place anymore. You’re in the metaphysical space, or that shared aural experience, and so you live in that bubble dream.

And so here we have this sense that there’s this awareness: that, yes the world is burning down around us; yes, there’s the sense that, yes in the midst of ISIS you had artRAVE Dubai; and that yes, you did have two Italians descending upon Israel in the midst of everything that is the Gaza Strip. And once that earth is no more – you still have the Mesopotamian womb somewhere beneath. You have those fossils. And they remind us that there is civilization. And that beyond all the hatred, there are humans. There is humanity. And there is that undying need to connect and recreate and continue and progress – and it takes destruction.

So, where ARTPOP and The Fame glitter-bombed this Earth, we have this sense of stripped down – stark naked: no pants, no auto-tune, one-take Suzeeys (which is Yeezus backward) and we do it until we get it right. And right isn’t what’s “right” for the charts. Right isn’t whats already been written: right is how you create that new language, and make it real now.

So all of that is to say that yes: this album anything goes… with this album yes: we are cheek to cheek, and yes – we are dancing with each other… and yes, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing: from ratchet to regal.

http://swiperbootz.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/70a3b-covertamplet.png

I mean yes, this is an art form that did emerge from the African-American community. Black Americans who knew institutionalized servitude. And yet create this beautiful music, because from the birth of tragedy comes the spirit of music. And here we have a new group of slaves. Those new slaves. Those celebrities, the ones who are constantly surveilled, constantly vilified, the collateral damage of this American culture, creating for that same hand that holds them down every day. Those same chains that bind them, are the same chains that create that beautiful sound: that percussion. And so in the midst of it all, we have the emergence of a new renaissance. We have this emergence of something eternal, something lasting: what’s old is new.

So I guess all of this is to say that beyond the lyrics and the lines and the uncanny knack for human expression … we just have an absolutely masterful piece of work. As we always have from these two figures, and it is quite beautiful… and the beautiful part of it is: is that just like ARTPOP, this was a successful attempt. This was a triumph for the elevation of the populist masses. This is not the perfect song structure: this is the American songbook, which is created from innovation out of necessity to be better than that which you already are. To elevate above your current environment: whether it is the music industry, whether it’s the manufacturing industry, Detroit and Chicago, whether it is New Orleans – birthplace of jazz that has sunk, and is now succeeding in its own right within this same entertainment industry. Whether it is these fallen angels that adorn the streets of Hollywood; whether it is these sad Gothamites finding haven in Lady Manhattan. Harlem, Paris. No matter where you are is the idea that this jazz music is culture, and it’s because it was individually created.

We’re taking something that already existed, in this Great American Songboook, we are taking the canon and recreating it in the current form… and that is true and that is authentic and that is something that Industry cannot stop – but it took four years.

It took The Fame, it took The Fame Monster, it took being reborn this way: it took ARTPOP.

It took ARTPOP beacause: what is an artRAVE, right? What is an artRAVE, outside of a neon-blitzed speakeasy? When’s the last time you saw anyone cheek-to-cheek, sweating over this divine sound? For me it was artRAVE Los Angeles. And so you’ve got to understand that this is “Volume Two;” and Volume Two is the same as Volume Twenty-Two is the same as Volume Two Thousand Fourteen. It is this eternal move towards greatness – toward the divine – and it is this linking, linking these two people who now have a shared space and time.

So here I see Clarence Clemons, again on that edge of glory, and it’s a beautiful sight. And I feel like everybody says what everybody said about the album, in terms of the artistry (which is undeniable) and the tone, the sheer control that GaGa exercises. And yet it’s something we’ve always seen, is this idea of control: she had to control her career to the point where you have to compromise to get to this point – not everything was perfect or preplanned.

To get to Cheek to Cheek, ARTPOP had to be “ARTFLOP.” The same way Britney Jean flopped for your sins, and Blackout kamikazed for your sins: Cheek to Cheek exists to save you. It is that saving grace that lets a post-millennial-post-9/11-ADHD culture of Crystal children caught in a media marketplace, hyperreel, hyperdrive, intangible, disposable culture; and lets them know that you can indeed read the Times but write and live for the eternities.

Bang bang: she shot the sound of the underground and pasted all over town and here and now we recognize who currently wears the cultural crown.

Freedom in the music: stay jazzed kids.

Jess Glynne Drops Debut Single “Right Here”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A7tKcwMhKc&feature=youtu.be

UK soul singer Jess Glynne greets us with the groove that is “Right Here”. With her sultry vocals fused with an unstoppable beat, Glynne is bound to have you running to the nearest dance floor. “Right Here” is three minutes and forty seconds of shoes off and fists in the air, capable of catching the crowds’ attention with a chorus that reminds us to be in the moment. Pulling influences from soul to hip hop to pop, Glynne attributes her sound to artists like Lauryn Hill, Etta James, and Kendrick Lamar. As “Right Here” marks her debut single, I’m intrigued to see what this lovely red headed Brit will bring onto the scene next.

A Likely Pairing Exceeds Expecations with A Transcendentally Awesome EP

Children of the 90s remember well the triumph of the enigmatic two-hit wonder Robyn, who saw commercial success in the US with her late-90s pop singles “Do You Know (What It Takes)” and “Show Me Love,” both being quite popular amongst the squall of singles flurrying amongst the airwaves of Top 40 radio during that time.  While her American popularity eventually tapered off, she remained a stalwart figure in pop music in Europe—namely Scandinavia—for many years.  In 2010, she resurfaced on American radio—this time in the blogosphere, as well as the more indie-centric radio—with the release of her Body Talk series, and she took to the airwaves and the stage once more, reclaiming her spot within the American ear, dusting off the cobwebs left behind in the chasm that appeared during the early 2000s due to the absence of Euro-pop and its influence, amongst other things.

There are many of us who questioned Robyn’s return, most of us muttering, under our breaths, “Is that the same girl who did ‘Show Me Love?’” not wanting any pompous, indie-savvy music nerds to hear us and make us feel dumb about not knowing the right answer.  Indeed it was, and she was back with a vengeance, armed with a carefully calculated blend of modern indie pop and 90s nostalgia that tended to the needs of both the general music-loving public as well as the pithy, bitchy fickleness of contemporary music blogs.  Robyn won the praises of both, thus re-establishing her place as a formidable musical entity.

Around the same time Robyn came back on the scene, Norwegian duo Röyksopp was releasing their fourth LP, Senior; a sort of companion piece to their previous release, 2009’s Junior (which, in my opinion, is their masterpiece).  Robyn had incidentally collaborated with Röyksopp on Junior, on the second track, a song called “The Girl and the Robot.”  The song tells the story of a girl who establishes a relationship with a machine due to the lack of interaction with her science-obsessed significant other.

Röyksopp’s Junior is perhaps their strongest album, mostly because it is chock-full of incredible collaborations, including—in addition to Robyn, of course—The Knife’s Karin Andersson (“This Must Be It,” “Tricky Tricky”) and Swedish torch-song chanteuse Lykke Li (“Miss It So Much”).  However, as a fan of all of Röyksopp’s music, I can say without any hesitation that Robyn was perhaps the best candidate to do an exclusive five-track EP with Röyksopp, as well as a rather extensive tour following its release.

Though Robyn and Röyksopp come from different backgrounds—Robyn is Swedish and the duo Röyksopp is inherently Norwegian—their collaborative sound is something miraculous.  I have listened to my share of Scandinavian music: The Knife, Miike Snow, Seinabo Sey, Little Dragon, or Sigur Rós, to name a few.  While geographic lineage does not necessarily a genre make, Scandinavian music seems to sidestep this generalization rather gracefully.  Scandinavian music—especially in the realms of pop, electronica, and alternative rock—encompasses a cautiously abundant spectrum of music, yet at the same time provides a somewhat rigid rubric for an otherwise delicate genre of music, one that is terribly evocative, unapologetically nature-oriented, and altogether brilliant.  And while these artists share not only a geographically significant commonality, it wasn’t until I heard the Röyksopp and Robyn collaborative EP, Do It Again, that I really understood what it meant to find common ground through common culture.

These days, we are inundated with music that tests the tensile fragility of the boundaries of genre.  Someone is always trying to breach these walls separating different styles, whether its Jack White experimenting with rockabilly or honky-tonk, or Muse dabbling in post-dubstep electronica.  And while these interactions, more often than not, end up being somewhat rewarding within the creative process, the solution is often either tragically mismatched or universally misunderstood.  Try as they may, these combinations often result in something that is often panned by critics and/or falls prey to misjudged hubris put forth by the artists in “control.”  It is rare that a collaboration/synthesis of such ambition reaches the point of alchemic and perfectly executed fruition, and Do It Again has found that kind of elusive equilibrium.

Do It Again, the joint “mini album” (i.e., EP) released by Robyn and Röyksopp is an extraordinary achievement in terms of collaborative releases.  The two entities have already exhibited fascinating consonance with the track “The Girl and the Robot” off Röyksopp’s Junior LP, and Do It Again does not disappoint.  Both Robyn’s and Röyksopp’s individual styles permeate the five-track EP, playing off each other with the kind of sincerity each creature unapologetically employs within the composition of their respective musical styles, while at the same time joyously coinciding amongst tides of radically intentional orchestration and sublime lyricism.

The EP opens with the carefully constructed babbling of “Monument,” which sounds at first like it could fit into a Benny Benassi set, before quietly erupting into Robyn’s understated vocals, cooing “Make a space/For my body,” as if she is inserting herself into the physical setting that inhabits a collective listening space.  Backed by the kinds of rhythmic, desolate instrumentation Röyksopp is known for—especially in their earlier work, such as in their debut album Melody A.M.—Robyn’s urgency is notably unabashed, while at the same time frantic and urgent, as if there is an air of apathy clouding her judgment in an uncomfortable manner.  As the repetitive nature of the opening track persists, it is interrupted by whispers of saxophone—an element new to both parties—softly providing a welcome tranquility to the track.  After this, though, all hell breaks loose.

The second track, “Sayit,” is perhaps the strongest of the five.  Any avid reader of my work (yeah, right) will know I have an inexplicable attraction towards the second track off most albums, yet this is not solely an observation based on favorites.  “Sayit” briskly alters the tone of the EP, catapulting it from uneasiness to animal-like desire.  The complacent jazzy tones of “Monument” are unceremoniously abandoned for more metered, robotic tendencies as the album segues into “Sayit.”  Thumping bass and techno-fueled attack drown out the lament of the previous track’s vocal stylings, shifting focus from a relatable human protagonist to a darker, almost unforgivable presence.

The title track, “Do It Again,” follows the sinister sounds of “Sayit,” and will probably end up being the ‘single’ of this EP, as it seems to be the most mainstream-friendly track on the EP.  It possesses the clubbiest sound of all the album’s tracks…at least that’s what Robyn and Röyksopp would like to have you think.  In fact, “Do It Again” pokes fun at the laughable diatribe that exists between mainstream EDM artists and the insatiable crowds that gobble at their feet, waiting for scraps of discarded ingenuity that lay amongst the fragments of ‘dropped bass’ that lay deserted on the floor.

The final two tracks play more upon both Robyn’s and Röyksopp’s separate strengths and talents, yet bring them together magnificently.  The penultimate track, “Every Little Thing,” builds like a glistening marble staircase, with Robyn’s silky, viscous vocals cascading elegantly over each step, basking in some sort of glittering veracity as they tumble over Röyksopp’s tender, synth-driven orchestration.  The last track, “Inside the Idle Hour Club,” is almost vicious in its unwillingness to climax.  It is a heavily ambient, instrumental track, banking on Röyksopp’s gooey orchestration, bringing the lengthy ferocity of early Orbital tracks to mind.  One can only imagine what contribution it is—if any—that Robyn brought to this illustrious finale.  I can’t help feeling that maybe it doesn’t even matter; perhaps not every contribution is worthy of some textual credit in the liner notes, and a vocalist does not need to sing on every track.  Perhaps it is the unspoken revelations that truly reflect the most powerful sparks of memory.

Robyn seeped back into the public eye in the beginning of this decade, posing as a passé pop star beyond her prime, when in reality she was just waiting for the right time to strike.  With the release of her Body Talk series a few years back, Robyn forced her way back into the realm of commercialized music with admirable tenacity. At the same time, Röyksopp was carving out a nice little niche for themselves, relying on their infectious blend of euro-pop, ambient electronica, trip-hop, techno, and influences from the burgeoning chillwave movement.  The paths of these two musical entities had intertwined only once before, yet here they are again, bathing us in the magnificent light that only rises with the dawn of new music.  Whether they plan on moving forward with this fusion of their newfound artistic spirit is unknown, apart from this “mini-album” and subsequent tour.  All I can say is that it is rare for two such formidable entities in music to come together to create something truly original—and altogether wonderful—and thus, it is selfish to command anything more than what is provided.

Modern music has seen products of legendary collaborations that stand the test of time, regardless of how fleeting the time these colleagues spent together may have been: Brian Eno and David Byrne, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, Jack White and Allison Mosshart…As with any great love story, all we can do is hope that lessons are learned, lives are bettered, and those that come before us shed wisdom in the hopes that many will follow in their stead.

Robyn and Röyksopp found common ground within each other.  We may never fully understand the significance of this union.  For some, it’s just a bunch of musicians making music together (hell, for them it might be just that).  But for some of us it’s a lot more: It’s the building of a bridge, the breaking of bread, the fording of a river, even when your gut tells you your oxen aren’t well enough, but you HAVE to make it across because cousin Hal is dying of dysentery (sorry, Oregon Trail flashback).  Some of us actually live for this kind of thing.  It’s not sad or pathetic; it’s actually admirable.  When you think about the amount of people in this world waiting for the next iPhone, and then you put music geeks like me in the same equation…there’s almost no comparison.  At least I’m fighting for something real, something ancient, something that dates back before recorded language.  Something that inexplicably brings us all together.  We all find solace in this one thing; this…varied collection of tones, strung together across infinite possibilities.  And yes, there are times when we disagree upon the validity of certain structures these tones exhibit.

But the most fascinating thing happens when some of us—even just two of us—find a common ground amongst these random collections of sound.  It speaks to our innermost being, and we don’t even know why.  Can you imagine finding someone else who wants to celebrate such tones by assembling them with you?

I, personally and tragically, cannot comprehend the ecstasy one must feel in finding a musical collaborator.  Maybe one day it will happen to me; maybe one day I will discover the secret to composition and I will share some sort of “Eureka!” moment with a fellow seeker of harmony.  I live each day, praying for such a moment.

But for now, all I can do is sit back with an open ear and an open heart, listen, and silently raise a glass to those who have come before me.  So I urge you to raise a toast where a toast is due: for bravery, for tenacity, for hell-or-high-water.  The artist is blessed for being able to follow their passion, but, in reality, they do it for us.

Basilisk beats, Jess Glynne wanders. Homeward-bound, London found in lost Angeles

British tones. Angeles tempos. That’s the point. That you can come to the light amidst darkness, create an echo in the silence. Basilisk beats, She wanders. Homeward-bound, London found in lost Angeles.

Visceral. Jess sings the blues of a sapient soul found in barren canyons of scarred star-trails. The lyrical lens navigates mood and melody, the narrative unfolds within spliced vignettes – into the Pacific Channel on angels we arrive, through the lostlands and Sunset, emerged from neon aquatic.

Tone and timbre, tears and tempos; bricks and mortar for the rhythms we inhabit as our own. Letting go of what you didn’t know you had, that is what this finds with home.

Indie pop female Brits of late hurt harmonies like no other… That claimed consonance relies on perceptual fusion of two absolutes – the depths and the heights, the peaks and valleys of life: inside, left out. Here, it’s the wisdom of the python bassline, guiding from the belly, the terrestrial echo of true percussion, the vocals alone and yet – so layered, so distant, so aligned.

These songs speak to lives lived somewhere, layer upon layer upon layer of a single voice accompanying its very own self – the lost find life in this. The harmony relies on the hurt, the Heaven in retrospective darkness: that you made it across the desert, that you crossed the channel, that you cleared the Atlantic to taste the Pacific and emerge baptized in that neon aquatic. To travel with no shoes on … is to leave a footprint of your own, for future lost to find: in home at last.

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TrapperKeeper: “… just beautysleeping in a trance, but never sleeping to dream: and this is The Fame.”

 

Pop: grab your old girl with her new tricks, if this was GaGa’s first and last album it would be just as complete as it is in context as a dynasty starter.

The Fame is nothing more and nothing less than a perfect Pop debut through and through. Visceral, catchy, panoramic, reflective, progressive, chock full of hit singles, formidable filler, and fun; foreshadowing or foreboding depending on how you look at it – and yet, so very simple. The Fame is merely a skeleton, and the beats are nothing more than an atmosphere. In Britney’s wake we saw a continued sea change: where Spears’ story was manufactured to be plot-driven – a tale of a singer at the whim of heavy production, and a girl at the whim of a weighty world – GaGa’s voice takes the Spearsian wheel as the fuel behind The Fame. She gives life to the beats, as much as she injected the joie de vivre back into Pop’s consciousness.

The sound is underground and mainstream, simultaneously past and present. “Just Dance” couldn’t be more straightforward as it rips the disco skeleton from the past, fleshes it out with simple synth layers, and slaps an electro-futuristic veneer on for 21st Century tech propulsion. The beat is a night out: airy synth, simple percussion, minimal layers, basic four-count – nothing crazy, nothing coercive, just dance music. The lyrics are universal: just dance, gonna be okay – and repete after moi. GaGa is “that girl” from the club. This is the first step of the journey through a tumultuously memorable relationship between lovers, the celebrity and the scene, the artist and the industry, the author and the audience. It all starts with “Just Dance.” You just dance to get to know their name, you just dance to get on Page Six, you just dance to get that record deal, you just dance for reassurance that it’s going to be okay – and this is The Fame.

Beyond that, at first listen, “Just Dance” is any other Pop track, a brilliantly choreographed debut. It couldn’t be more literal, and at a time where the world is a collective skeptic for good reason – the truthiness behind WMDs – that clear transparency was a trailblazing mindfreak in and of itself. Everything the track is not makes it everything it is. It is not new, it is not groundbreaking, it is not particularly deep or profound – and yet, coming from a world of life under-rug-swept it was that very transparency that broke America out of its shell. Just. Dance. No more, no less, no hidden agenda. Before auto-tune and vocoders, before ice and chains, there was lighthearted, carefree disco – the most basic, infinite, constant, life stream of music by method.

The weight of modern Pop’s heavy production reflected a population beneath the barrage of their own environment. Nicole Scherzinger and Co.’s voices were as empty as the stars they aspired to be, and this was the subtle soundtrack of our daily lives – conversing and communicating in a modified tone, rehashing dialogue gathered from the news, the Facebook, The Hills, the White House; we had no control. Everything was entirely too complex, and we gave up. We woke up waiting to see which institution had failed us now, which neighbor lost their home, or which coworker lost their job; meanwhile, GaGa woke up to see which club she had failed to name last night, which bartender found her keys, and which bouncer found her phone. It could all be so simple, and even though you made it hard, it can all be so simple again – just dance, gonna be okay.

The signature sound is as apropos a sonic aesthetic for GaGa as any you could possibly fathom. Disco: the rainbow coalition rallying cry emerging as the pulse of the marginalized and socially-oppressed communities. Disco, the uber-derivative genre that pulled its identity from soul, jazz, Calypso, funk, rock, Latin, and infused those indigenous sounds with new synth technology. Disco, the cultural anomaly with which to be reckoned, that self-contextualized subculture hidden-in-plain-view, the Anti-Red-Blooded America full of the gays, the blacks, the women, the progressive post-hippie problem. GaGa: the rainbow-haired bad romancer emerging as the pulse of the Generation Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell fringe networks. GaGa, the uber-derivative artist that pulled her identity from Lorca, Queen, Motley Crue, In Living Color, Peggy Bundy, Kardinal Offishall, Stanley Kubrick, Yoko Ono, and infused those influences with a modern Pop veneer. GaGa, the cultural anomaly with which to be reckoned, that self-contextualized subversive supernova hidden-in-plain-view, the bleeding red corpse of American celebrity hanging from the rafters. Disco and GaGa, the liberating voice, the heartbeat and pulse; when Nixon put the fringe elements away, when Bush put the freaks in the doghouse, Disco and Dance music are what the subculture whistled while they werqed.

They turned the basement into the big house, they made the freak fabulous, they Studio 54ed on the floor and Monster Balled out of control. They took the clandestine and made it social currency. That ironclad community, that bond of the oppressed, is what fueled the funk. Metal heads hated Disco, but the genre bordered Glam Rock and birthed Hair bands; rappers are notoriously homophobic, but the genre birthed hip-hop; Wale dropped out of a show because of said homophobia, but just a few months prior he was chillin’ with GaGa like his middle name was Perez. Disco – Electronic Dance music – is universal, it is liberating, it is innate, it is self-made, it is the high-hated, it can’t pay rent but it is gorgeous, and it’s never dead – just beautysleeping in a trance, but never sleeping to dream: and this is The Fame.

The Fame is Pop; Pop is as personal, as it is political, as it is a commercial vehicle. The Fame is exactly the same; each song is a scene from a story, and it means whatever you want it to mean. “LoveGame” is the classic tale of a one-night mayhaps, and so very distinctly the sample-come-surrender story of a star and her beloved Pop. “I wanna kiss you, but if I do then I might miss you babe,” considers the struggling artist as she wedges her foot in the door: I want fame; I want to taste that beautiful life, like Paris, Lindsay, Britney, but like that harrowing hat-trick I know it’s a one-kiss-to-commit sitch. Fame is a drug, like Cocaine the champagne, one line is too much and a million is never enough. So, we venture along as the Lady reminds us of the lovelorn path most stumbled: the path of Pop stardom, the little boy monster. “Hold me and love me, just wanna touch you for a minute; Maybe three seconds is enough for my heart to quit it.” It all comes down to one question: “Do you want love, or you want fame?” Art is passion, fame is vapid: vanity please, Ladies first.

Then come the Paparazzi, and with the fatal flashes come the fans, the fiends, the frenemies, the cold cruel world beneath the hot, hot lights. Fame is crumbling beneath the weight of your own ego, The Fame is making it work and faking it until then – fight flash with the facade; you don’t hustle this hard to fall harder. GaGa just danced her way into a love game with the industry, willy-nilly and aloof, but beneath the pink haired My Little Pony shell was a Trojan Horse. Poker Face was just that, a bluff and a front. Two number one singles later: we still weren’t sure whether or not Lady was a Lord, whether he/she/it was from Yonkers, Mars, Sweden, or Manhattan, whether or not her pants allergy was contagious, what her “real voice” sounded like, or how in God’s name she got the name GaGa – and no, the interviews didn’t help, they just further hindered a clear view of this character and where her Achilles’ was (we later found out it was in the back pocket of the pair of pants she wore in seventh grade, along with her keys and phone) so we could build and break her accordingly. Fame is Britney’s fate, The Fame is treating that as a cautionary tale instead of a crystal ball; as the Lady herself said: “They can’t scare me if I scare them first.” Russian Roulette isn’t the same without a gun, and baby when it gets to that: Didi Mao, cut, and run. Meanwhile, in real life, every major institution had crumbled beneath our very feet, the world was in a tailspin, running about like headless KFC chicken-products; and while we sat dumbfounded atop our collapsed house of cards, GaGa took that very same hand and made it marvelous. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, when you’ve only got stripper heels to pay your way through college: and this is The Fame.

“Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” is the soul of The Fame. It builds from the rich rasp of funk percussion, hard piano, wailing synth, and rock guitar riffs, reflective of the eclectic gritty sounds of a New York block or brownstone. The sound builds into a scene. It’s GaGa’s signature scene: back for the first time. “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich” was the promo-single-that-couldn’t-quite, the track that got GaGa voted off the island of Def Jam, was why she had to just dance to be okay. Where before she knocked on fame’s door with a formal request for entry into the house, she now knocks down the door; riding in on the four singles of the Pop Apocalypse, her own Haus in tow. The kids do the dance right, they have got it made like ice cream topped with honey; they’ve got the red light scope dead set on two things: the father and the fame; Daddy I’m so sorry: bang, bang.

“The Fame” is the epitome. It is a vapid title track, a decoy focal point. Just like “Telephone,” just like the meat dress, it is what is the assumed “moment,” the expected apex, the exalted “to what end” – and because of that it is the typification of perception: “Doin’ it for the Fame ‘cuz we wanna live the life of the rich and famous. Fame: doin’ it for the Fame, ‘cuz we gotta taste for champagne and endless fortune. We live for the fame fame baby, the fame fame, isn’t it a shame.” It’s the veneer, but like everything else it has as much value as you give it. It begs the question: what is fame? More importantly, does it matter what you call it? A fish trap only matters because of the fish: once you have the fish, forget the trap; words only matter because of the meaning: once you have the meaning forget the words – fame is just a title. The beautiful, dirty, rich ones want nothing more than to overthrow the entitled in a Clockwork Orange County coup: “I want to see television and hot blondes in odd positions,” Fame is hot blondes, The Fame distorts them in odd positions; “All we care about is pornographic, girls on film in body plastic,” Fame is girls on film, The Fame suffocates them in body plastic. There’s fame, and there’s the killers: Fame is Jillian, The Fame is Jack the Ripper. If New York is where stars are born, and L.A. is where they go to die, the beautiful, dirty, rich are infantile, and the famous are a beautiful lie.

Of all the scenes and teams, of all the thing that make The Fame great there are those that make it a great disaster. The Fame is a mockery of its own alter-ego, its own false perception, its own diminished reputation branded true by those who have no clue. What is the weak point in The Fame, what is the fluff and the filler? “The Fame,” “Money Honey,” “Starstruck,” “Boys Boys Boys,” ride through like a ringtone rendevous. The Fame Boys and their money, honey. The third quarter of the album is an embodiment of the expected artificial. Deep bass beneath basic heavy guitar chords and dense airy synth exude a sense of nightmarish fantasy. Yet, this is GaGa being what it means to be a pop star. The lightest tracks are the most famous, it’s what you live and die for, it’s what you fell into the LoveGame hoping to attain: bad boys, fast cars, delicious dollars, star partners, the works. It’s so ridiculously realistic, and again with the transparency, it is the called spade that knocks the cynicism out of the skeptic. The Fame is funny because it’s true, but funnier if it weren’t. GaGa wrote it into being, and if this was her first and last album she would have a famous obituary; but her inevitably legendary career will be looked back on with The Fame as the starting point – the catalyst, not the final mark of success: and this is The Fame.

“I’m shiny and I know it, don’t know why you want to blow it; you got me wondering why I like it rough,” maybe because love is a losing game. As GaGa eases out the album with “I Like It Rough,” it’s the track that reminds us there is no end; we always want what we can’t have, and once we have it we’re on to the next, and after it leaves we’re standing missing it only because it’s gone… and so it goes. Christians are born-again if only to sin, celebrities sober up if only to get that much closer to the dragon, lovers part if only to makeup, and the industry kills stars if only to resurrect them for a comeback tour. As always, from the night can arrive the sweet dawn but “don’t be sad when the sun goes down, you’ll wake up and I’m not around.” “What time is it?” Fifteen minutes, and a lifetime, later we hit “Summerboy,” the sweet sendoff as GaGa heads to meet with the wild things. As she says “we’ll still have the summer after all,” you can’t help but miss June. Aside from you, or anyone else, this is GaGa looking in the mirror and saluting goodbye to her summer self; while the world was riding her disco stick, she made her way to the bath haus to get clean with the beautiful, dirty, rich.

So here we find ourselves looking back on 2008. The institutions had crumbled, the celebrities had collapsed, the grand old party had ended, Hamptonite billionaires became slumdog millionaires: the top dropped. Yet with their last ounce of influence, they gave the false American ideal to us: that their reality check was our dream deferred, that we had failed – but when the everyman had nothing, it was nothing new, and for those who had nothing again we had nothing to lose.

The Fame is as stylishly substantial as you want it to be. It gauges only against itself, and so does Lady GaGa. The Fame is a skeleton, the album is GaGa’s face; but her story is a tale of how to go carve out your own space:

I did this the way you are supposed to. I played every club in New York City and I bombed in every club and then killed it in every club and I found myself as an artist. I learned how to survive as an artist, get real, and how to fail and then figure out who I was as singer and performer. And, I worked hard.

It’s the hedonistic Apocalyptic sendoff, an ode to the past life that built this live and die fast life, and 2008 was the post-party dawn. It was over, we were done, fame was dead, but in its wake a child was born unto us: The Fame. The Fame is everything fame is not; The Fame takes time, fame isn’t worth it. Fame is what killed the country, The Fame is here to bring it back. Fame is the artifice, The Fame is the artist. When the history books are burnt beneath the rubble, you write your own tale. Britney fell, up for grabs goes Pop; Bush was gone, oh hai politics: meet Barack. What the famous lost was our gain – and this is The Fame. It is timeless, and senseless, with no direction, just vamp; here today, gone tomorrow, if you want it: just dance.

Exploration: ceo’s “WONDERLAND”

From now on, I’ll be calling reviews of albums ‘explorations,’ because I am crunchy as fuck (even though I tell myself every day that I am not going to be “that guy,” you know, the one that tries to please everyone and blah blah blah, but let’s face it, it’s happening).  Preachy/hopefully humorous parenthetical sidebars aside, I really do want to distance myself from the word ‘review,’ as it often carries with it a tragically negative connotation, and the music I generally want to talk about often has a mostly positive effect on me.  So, bear with me as I brusquely enforce this new ideological nomenclature upon you, and let’s hope you all, as readers, react positively towards my frugal step towards a possible middle ground.

ANYWAY, for those who don’t know, musician Eric Berglund–the mastermind behind ceo–came to prominence as one half of the influential duo The Tough Alliance “back in the day,” yet since their dissolution he has become the forefront artist that is ceo (often stylized as CEO, probably because the lowercase letters throw people off), an exciting new-ish entity in the world of electronic music.  He recently released a new album, WONDERLAND, which, in its own fascinating yet altogether engrossing sense of brevity, encompasses a new dimension of entrancing orchestral prowess, faithfully sniffing at the recently trodden tracks of his excellent debut album, 2010’s White Magic.  For the very few out there who actually listened to White Magic, I applaud you.  For those who have not, you have some catching up to do.  ceo is an easy musical entity to catch up on though, as he only has two albums (including his latest), and they’re quite short…but incredibly addictive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T74frXBpgk

Admittedly, Berglund’s work was not familiar to me prior to the first time I heard White Magic’s infectious “Come With Me” on my satellite radio, yet after hearing said composition I was immediately enraptured, and I saw to the task of acquiring ceo’s first album.  I immediately fell in love with White Magic, pretty much as soon as I had heard it.  Yet, sadly, I assumed that ceo would never come out with another album.  It just seemed too good to be true. I’m often disappointed when it comes to bands I love putting out second albums, i.e. The Postal Service, The Raconteurs (ok, so that’s a third album I’m waiting for), and don’t even get me started on the Avalanches.

Lo and behold, however, while I was in Houston in November 2013—to see a CHVRCHES show, no less—I was blessed with the news that Berglund was not only at work on a new album, but that he had also decided to share the first track of said album to the public that made up his selective, hungry fanbase.  This track was the heavily-digitized, playfully synthetic leading track “WHOREHOUSE,” which sounds like a cross between a track from Of Montreal’s 2005 album “The Sunlandic Twins” and a sample of the Final Fantasy VII video-game soundtrack; mixing brightly accessible ambience with humane notions of disillusion and an instinctual necessity to excel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjnHgWiTBDM

WONDERLAND came two months later, and as a whole differs from White Magic, because it lacks the kind of optimistic, vibrant cohesion the earlier album exhibits so flawlessly throughout.  WONDERLAND, alternatively, seems to do battle with notions of detachment as well as instances of palpable isolation, gladly tackling a wider audience that more easily relates to themes of struggle, emptiness, and loss.   The instrumental beauty of “HARIKIRI” and “IN A BUBBLE ON A STREAM” echo uncomfortable consonance in relation to the bizarre upbeat nature of  “ULTRAKAOS” and the title track, “WONDERLAND,” an anomaly within itself, as that song’s lyrics expose a underlying concern regarding reality as a whole, forcibly illustrating an alternate world where even the most superficial inconveniences are easily forgotten.  Yet while these songs lyrically demonstrate almost predictable elements of the human condition, there is something about the instrumentation that draws the listener outside the sphere of reality, placing them in some nether-region of unrealized artistic appreciation in which the language of the score speaks louder than the words themselves.  If an artist or band has the ability to accomplish this kind of feat, it is a notable achievement.

A few years back, I studied the visceral connection between music and emotion.  You know, that kind of feeling you feel when you hear a song, that one you can’t really put a name to.  This album feels nothing short of joyous, yet its content is anything but.  The title track reads like a “tribal” (I put that word in quotes because it has the tendency to be less than politically correct) celebration of a graceful conundrum.  While heavy percussion and bright orchestration mimics a kind of ecstasy, the lyrics are juxtaposed with said melody in a discernably gloomy manner.  Sunny synths and flavored drumbeats cannot hide the drowsy poutiness of the words that follow.  It is the music we hear first, so it is more easily assumed the artist sides with the more accessible optimistic sounds of the song, yet in reality this dichotomy is easily overwhelmed by veritably saddening poetic context.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heV7RHkx3Kw

ceo’s sophomore album is tragically poignant, despite its joyous instrumentation and experimentally enthralling orchestration.  Where White Magic lacks in risk and surrender (which, mind you, is only a handful of spots), WONDERLAND dares to transcend.  Though both albums boast only eight tracks (about 35 minutes) each, the difference between the two is both significant in their respective emotional breadth, and somehow oddly similar.  Four years is a relatively long time for an artist or band to take between albums (unless you’re Daft Punk or Portishead), yet at the same time it allows an artist to really explore the kinds of content he/she/they want to explore.  In this case, Erik Berglund appears to be the kind of artist to do just that: where his first album under the ceo moniker emanates joy, it seems that WONDERLAND explores a different side of the enigmatic songwriter.  While the new album is never obviously melancholy, songs like ”WHOREHOUSE,” “MIRAGE,” and the title track “WONDERLAND,” slither into the front lines, busily demanding conceptual attention and seeking true aural competence.  Despite the electric instrumentation of these songs, words cannot be ignored, and thus the true nature of these songs blossom to fruition.  Thus, despite the endless efforts realism has cursed itself with in order to silence the spells of shrieking optimism, truth rings far and true, and though it may not always be pretty, you can count on it always being something concrete to rely on.

Sad doesn’t always mean bad, especially when it is not apparent at first sight.  Most do we hear the most beautiful sounds when we cannot truly see what is in front of us.

Aural Extension 2014: A Look Ahead

Every new year brings the promise of new beginnings: we try to eat better, exercise more, we ache, in some way, shape, or form to face the strange. While most of these resolutions fade with the January snow, there are those among us who yearn to open our minds to the new and fascinating music that graces our collective ear. While the albums that follow may not reach everybody, stretching across all of the genres we are familiar with, one can hope that we as active listeners take in what is given to us with an open ear and an open heart, perhaps extending our grasp at some points yet ultimately digesting such new offerings with a sense of unbridled appreciation.

Every one of us more or less relies on instinct, whether we’re talking about food or social interactions or art, and music is no different. Instinct is what keeps us in touch with our most basic animal attributes, and although art—namely music—is rooted in modern human interaction, it speaks to our most primitive of animal needs. This is why it is so very difficult to write about music: music speaks to our most primitive emotions as well as those that dominate our intellect. Part of that mentality goes into this list, while the other part just thinks that this year will be great in terms of music. I guess it’s up to the listener (that’d be you) to decide where the boundary lies.

Or you could just be happy that these albums are coming out soon and ignore the unnecessary philosophy. Yeah, that sounds right.

 

THE DEFINITES

Beck Morning Phase (2/25)

The eccentric songwriter returns in February with his twelfth full-length LP, Morning Phase.  Beck dominated the music scene of the early 1990s with his breakthrough album Mellow Gold, most notably with the single “Loser,” a song that epitomized the mentality of those coming of age in post-Reagan America. So far we’ve only heard snippets of the upcoming release, including “Don’t Let It Go” and the swooping “Blue Moon.” If nothing else, each Beck release promises adventurous instrumentation and unhindered ingenuity, and Morning Phase looks to fulfill such a promise.

 

Broken Bells After the Disco (2/4)

Broken Bells—the unlikely duo made up of producer Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame) and Shins frontman James Mercer—are set to release their sophomore effort After The Disco in early February. Their self-titled debut, released in 2010, surprised audiences with a carefully incorporated blend of electronically infused orchestration and indie rock mentality, fueled by the production skills of Danger Mouse and the palpable heartache exhibited in Mercer’s songwriting. The album’s lead single, “Holding On For Life,” echoes an eerie sincerity reminiscent of the dark simplicity of Depeche Mode, yet stays afloat as a powerful contemporary piece, a mindset that hopefully reverberates throughout the entire album.

 

St. Vincent St. Vincent (2/25)

Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, has been an indie darling since her 2007 debut Marry Me.  She has been known to stretch the boundaries that so cruelly divide genres these days, and her latest effort, her self-titled fourth album, looks to be just as—if not more so—genre-crushing as her previous three albums. The two tracks from the album that have been released thus far—“Digital Witness” and “Birth in Reverse”—definitely show influence drawn from recent collaborator and longtime fan David Byrne, as well as a more upbeat tempo only seen in earlier songs like “Marrow.” Ms. Clark’s newest effort looks to be her most experimental to date, and hopefully there are more collaborations with Byrne on the horizon as well.

 

ceo WONDERLAND (2/4)

Erik Berglund, a.k.a. ceo, follows up his excellent 2010 debut White Magic with WONDERLAND in just a matter of weeks.  Berglund—who gained fame as one half of the Balearic pop (smooth electronic pop influenced by the sunny environment of the Mediterranean and the unique sound of Ibiza DJs) duo Tough Alliance (as well as co-founder of record label Sincerely Yours)—came into his own with his own side project—ceo—with the 2010 release of his album White Magic; a short, but altogether wonderful album boasting the Swedish artist’s talents in creating a cohesive, up-tempo piece that ties together the ideals of Balearic pop with unmatched uniqueness. WONDERLAND pushes the envelope even further, infusing his already original style with syncopated percussion playing on indigenous stylings, as well as provocative lyrics and lofty synthesized electronics. Having already heard the album in full, I can say with confidence that WONDERLAND mercilessly drives the sound of Balearic pop forward while furthering Berglund’s signature inventive style.

 

Temples Sun Structures (2/11)

Britain’s Temples follows the tradition of neo-psych rock so gracefully paved by bands like Deerhunter and Australia’s Tame Impala. The thing that sets them apart, however, is their sound, which is less akin to the bright guitars and the Lennon-esque vocals of Tame Impala (most notably the band’s mastermind Kevin Parker); yet rings truer with the simple, yet layered sounds of George Harrison. Yes, I realize that both of these comparisons virtually go back to the Beatles, yet it should be noted that it’s difficult to draw comparisons without including the Fab Four, because obviously the Beatles are terribly influential in a plethora of genres that are recognized in contemporary music. Temples adeptly walk the perilous line between full, textured sound and the kind of revivalist, lo-fi sound that is so popular these days, finding a delicate balance that echoes sounds of both the past and the imminent future.

 

Tycho Awake (3/18)

Ambient electronic/intelligent dance musician Tycho’s fourth studio album, Awake, hits shelves this March; the follow-up to 2011’s Dive. Tycho pretty obviously styles himself after ambient powerhouses like Brian Eno (the father of ambient music), Plaid, and Boards of Canada, yet his unique perspective—matched by incredible live visuals the artist himself designs—sets him apart from his esteemed colleagues. His fourth album will surely play on his strengths as an auditory artist while furthering the field of ambient techno.

 

Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else (4/1)

Cloud Nothings are one of the those bands that seems to evolve faster than one can keep up with: between their 2009 debut and 2012’s excellent Attack on Memory, the band’s sound has become richer, more textured, and altogether more coherent.  Longtime fans such as myself gape in unparalleled awe when comparing such songs as early lo-fi favorite “Hey Cool Kid” with the staggering genius of “Wasted Days,” yet while we revel in the maturing nature of the indie outfit, we are often taken aback by the blossoming depth this band has begun to exhibit in their recent work. Cloud Nothings have come a long way, and seem to be fairly intent on going further. Stream lead single “I’m Not Part of Me” now.

 

Lily Allen Untitled Third LP (TBD)

The ever-controversial pop musician Lily Allen (sister to Game of Thrones star Alfie Allen) recently announced the end to her “retirement” from music and previewed music from her imminent third LP.  In November 2013 she released “Hard Out Here,” the lead single from her next album, followed by “Air Balloon,” released in January of 2014. Not much is known about her next album, other than that she is most likely again working with mastermind Mark Ronson and that she recently signed with Warner Music Group. I guess we will see how this develops…

 

Chromeo White Women (TBD)

Montreal’s electro-funk duo Chromeo has seen fabulous success since their debut back in 2004, yet their success really took off with the release of their sophomore album Fancy Footwork in 2007, and subsequently with their third album, Business Casual in 2010.  It’s been four years since we’ve seen a proper release from the Canadian duo, yet releases from the album, including the tracks “Over Your Shoulder” and “Come Alive” (featuring Toro Y Moi) point to a more collaborative, experimental fourth effort. Festival slots (BUKU Festival, Coachella) further suspicion that the album will be released sooner rather than later, and hopefully so.

 

Spoon Untitled Seventh LP (TBD)

Austinite Britt Daniel’s genius alternative/indie project Spoon is expected to release their seventh full-length album sometime this year as a follow-up to 2010’s Transference. Daniel has kept himself busy with his side-project Divine Fits, a new-wave revival band helmed by Daniel and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner. Divine Fits released their debut album A Thing Called Divine Fits in 2012, and the supergroup toured extensively into 2013, and though they recently released a new double-sided single, the word is that Britt Daniel is hard at work on Spoon’s new album, expected later this year, a piece that hopefully incorporates the kind of new-wave sound prevalent amongst Divine Fits’ songs.

 

Nine Inch Nails Album Title TBD (TBD)

Following a farewell tour in 2009 (aptly titled “Wave Goodbye”), Trent Reznor surprised the masses with the announcement of a new Nine Inch Nails album and subsequent tour last year. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, the industrialist mastermind hinted at an extended tour through the summer of 2014 as well as some new music that could appear as early as this fall. Let’s just hope he follows through.

 

THE MAYBES

HAERTS Album Title TBD (TBD)

This Brooklyn-based electronic outfit has already wowed the public with their 2013 four-track EP Hemiplegia, yet these underdog favorites have yet to announce a proper full-length LP, though judging by their touring schedule (festival spots at New York City’s Governor’s Ball and Delaware’s fledgling Firefly Music Festival) as well as a contract with Sony Music point towards a full-length album by the end of this year. Hemiplegia has already solidified a formidable place in current music, and tracks from the album have already seen heavy rotation on Sirius XM’s indie rock station Sirius XMU, and have already inspired covers by bands such as Philadelphia’s Bel Heir.  We wait with bated breath for their eventual full-length LP.

 

Radiohead Untitled Ninth LP

Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood caught up with Drowned in Sound recently, and hinted at the possibility of a new Radiohead album in the works, yet at the same time seemed less-than-enthusiastic about its fruition, saying they were “really enjoying [their] time at home” at the moment. So while it may not be immediately imminent, Greenwood hinted that yet there are a number of possible songs that could make their way onto a new Radiohead album, everybody is enjoying their downtime and thus they are in no real hurry to put out anything in the near future. They are Radiohead, however, and they have the tendency to catch us off-guard, so be wary, fellow listeners.

 

Solange Untitled Debut

It’s been far too long since Solange’s excellent 2012 EP True, and I know I am not alone when I say that we want a true full-length from the younger sister of you-know-who. True—produced by the incomparable Dev Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange)—is incredible, yet leaves the listener wanting more as the entire EP boasts only seven tracks. I imagine the proper full-length debut from Ms. Knowles will be all the more imaginative.

 

Chemical Brothers Untitled Eighth LP

The Chemical Brothers are one of those bands that has no problem shrouding themselves in mystique, as is evident with their release of their latest LP Further in 2010, which was basically unheralded. Their tour behind that album, which stretched well into 2011—and one that I had the privilege of seeing—played on the album’s eerie fortitude, while at the same showcasing unreleased tracks that whet the infinite collective appetite of the duo’s diehard fans. In 2012, they released a live recording—and companion DVD/Blu-ray—of that tour, entitled Don’t Think, which has the capacity to rival Daft Punk’s incredible live album Alive 2007, yet still, after almost four years, we have seen no new studio music from the Brothers. I’m hoping this is the year, because I want nothing more than to hear a studio version of “Superflash.”

 

TV on the Radio Untitled Sixth LP

TV on the Radio—the indie outfit helmed by Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone—have been teasing new music since last year’s FYF (Fuck Yeah Festival), including the powerhouse single “Mercy.” TV on the Radio haven’t released new music since 2011’s Nine Types of Light, yet they’ve hinted at a new album for quite some time. Hopefully this year will see its fruition.

 

Röyksopp/Robyn ???

Late last year, the Norwegian electronic duo hinted at a new album, as well as a collaborative effort/tour with Swedish pop star Robyn to take place in 2014.  While no solid evidence of a recorded collaboration between the two has been recorded (aside from the track “The Girl and the Robot” from 2011’s Junior), Röyksopp has previewed two new songs from a possible new LP: “Running to the Sea” featuring Susanne Sundfør, and “Something In My Heart” featuring the Irrepressibles’ Jamie McDermott. It’s been two years since Röyksopp released their follow-up to Junior, Senior, so it’s about time they came out with new music. No word on if Robyn is planning to release new music either.

 

THE IMPROBABLES (yet still we hope)

Fleet Foxes

Ever since the drummer J. Tillman (now known as Father John Misty) left the band after 2011’s Helplessness Blues, the future of the alt-folk group led by Robin Pecknold has been less than uncertain. Hopefully 2014 finds the band back in the studio so they can release their long-awaited third LP.

 

Outkast

Following the announcement that they would reunite for 40 festival dates throughout 2014, there were many rumors surrounding the possibility of a reunion album between Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Though current reports lean towards sheer impossibility, there are those that believe that, following their reunion tour, OutKast will in fact make new music together.

 

Beach House

Baltimore’s ethereal dream pop duo Beach House have consistently released an album every two years since their self-titled debut back in 2008. While no reports of new material currently exist, one can only hope that they are back in the studio doing what they do best.

 

Justice

The eccentric electro-house duo Justice have put out just two albums since their breakthrough debut in 2007, so it only makes sense that they will be releasing an album soon, though no one cane be sure.

 

Portishead

Portishead has reportedly been in the studio since their third release, Third, back in 2008, only evident by their one-off single Chase The Tear which was released in 2009. The band toured America extensively in 2011, and continue to do so (they are playing ATP Iceland this summer), yet they have neglected to cue anyone in on a possible fourth album. Le sigh.

 

Fatboy Slim

The enigmatic British DJ hasn’t released a proper full-length LP since 2004’s Palookaville (not counting his collaborative effort with David Byrne in 2010 entitled Here Lies Love), yet still he continues to tour. Maybe there is another album on the horizon?

 

The Avalanches

This one is pretty much a pipe dream, as every year since their debut album Since I Left You hit the shelves, the general populace has been speculating a sophomore effort from the Australian sample-gods, despite hints at a second effort and a collaborative effort in composing music for an Australian opera. I’ve pretty much given up on these guys, but here’s hoping.

 

Obviously there are tons of albums that are going to come out this year that I have forgotten, but these are the ones that come to mind. Most likely I will feverishly be planting my foot within my mouth in the months to come—as those I have neglected and those I would never have expected to come about will make me do so—but this is where we are now. South by Southwest will also make us all feel stupid for not recognizing new artists/bands beforehand, but I’m willing to roll with that. In the mean time, keep an eye out for these folks; I don’t think you’ll regret it.

The New Highway Hymnal

When a local band is being compared to the sounds of Sonic Youth and The Doors, playing shows all over the North Shore and in the mid-west and being nominated for the Best New Act by Boston Music Awards… it’s bound to catch attention. The New Highway Hymnal’s live streaming release party of their new EP at Redstar Union on a foggy Thursday night in Cambridge, was an experience to be remembered. 60 or more people entered into a beautiful hidden venue equipped with the most intense lighting, sound system, and stage to be seen in this area. It was almost like being in a dream of VH1 Story Tellers.

New Highway Hymnal, a trio band from the Northshore formed almost five years ago and has been playing all over Boston, toured to Detroit, New York, and played day long music festivals in Texas. Picked up by Vanya Records the band has been nominated for “Best New Act” by Boston Music Awards. Inspired by bands like The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, and Sonic Youth, whats not to wonder of the long time friends, and  what they see in their art, what they’re goals are.  “We strive to create new sounds without using normal notes” says Hadden, lead guitar and vocals. “I like making noise, but with singable melodies and harmonic content. We approach it from an unlikely modern age.” On stage the band hauntingly captivates your senses with Hammond’s melodic guitar riffs, Amelia’s coy bass line, and Travis’ smooth percussions allowing your mind to go somewhere daily life doesn’t. If you’re in the area and come across a Bill with their name on it.. Don’t pass up this opportunity to appreciate something that may open your eyes.

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Nate Schultz and Shawn Lobel Present “Sundown”

“For those who don’t know, I’m the kid that’s quick witted…this is not the next anybody, this is Nathan,” rhymes MC Nate Schultz. Backed by producer Shawn Lobel, the duo drops their first mixtape Sundown. The college sophomores have been collaborating since their high school days, which stands apparent through their creative charisma. Lobel’s dream-like beats flawlessly cushion the main attraction of the mix: Schultz’s lyricism – something that is and has been a missing variable in today’s hip hop. Schultz boasts the ability to jump from ‘Jay-Z circa 1996’ speed rap to a slower, Kid Cudi-like tempo to a middle ground pace that gives us as listeners the ability to digest his narrative. Never missing a beat or a chance to shout out to his Atlanta roots, Schultz comes through with a freshman mixtape that sounds more like a veteran flow. If you ask me and their 1 million hits on HotNewHipHop, Schultz and Lobel are off to a good start.

Download the mixtape here.


 

PUSH + SLAY against the petty shit of the world

it’s almost been a year since i dropped invictos. i wilted. i grew. and now i got this: PUSH + SLAY. it’s an epic with micro-nonfiction and monologue like songs, exported epiphanies for your gut that entails the come up by voguing against the petty shit of the world (like pigs), and questing for the covered beauty that’s very rough to discover. it reveals my urges, frustrations, and pleasures i have in life. very personal, very intimate.

peaches smell like honey, a scent has pushed me to slay, even if it was miles away from the hood where i grew up at. thank god for my crystal eyes to see that octarine. you know, if the world is in somebody else’s hands, take that shit with no mercy. don’t give a three fucks and be buck. be polite though, kind, and try to have a transparent attitude. conquer buddha style. PUSH + SLAY , is conjured up sounds for the future, with a bass that’s like 1000 hearts coming up from the darkness pumping in your face all to get the body/spirit/mind motivated. experimental? naw my niggas this is real life. this is for my classic trill mothafuckas who like to break their backs and rock their heads against the skyline. so PUSH + SLAY, be hardcore, be ready to die, be a warrior, get gen and get in. #BMOREF4EVA

– Abdu Ali (in his own words)

 

#WERK

Pop in the Fold: Kady Z – Ordinary Girl

I said it before, I’ll say it again – any and every Pop album worth their weight in anything, enters the listener’s consciousness riding in on the four unicorns of the apopcalypse – like the year gives you four seasons ; and, like the applause, pop lives and dies on the first four cardinal directions of whatever sonic terrain the album is exploring. This – is one of those albums.

Ordinary Girl

The Siren: Kady Z

The Scene: A playlist for the Pacific coast – L.A. beyond the Hollywood limits, sunny days, limelit haze, the scope of Summer on the fade… nocturnal solar showers and lucid dream Pop

The Sound: California-based, Euro-faced synth/dance Pop #withasoul, low-key visceral vibe, steady groove with lyrics that add depth to the mood – an ebb that flows in the zone… Robyn, Kylie, Gwen, with a touch of Jepsen – deft simplicity and subtle substance

The Script: In not so many words, Ordinary Girl is the bildungsroman of a Californian kid caught in the midst of found identity – now that she’s found it, what does any of it mean?

#FourScore

Crashing Down” is the catalyst, the crash.

The lyrics set the skeleton, but it’s the interplay between intonation and instrumentation that build the song into a sonicscape. “I came crashing down, Without any kind of warning, But the sounds of flames in my head, And all the words that I left unsaid,” may be the message, but the steady rise and fall of ambient bass and startrailing synths beneath distant vocals craft the mood – not so much a climb-to-crash, as it is a sugar high descending into a settled suspense. #sugarfall #hookedonit

“Game Over” is an anthem #kanyeshrug Round 2 is where “Just Dance” meets “just pretend it’s a video game” #girltalk Heavy layered production, staccato vocals, and pinpoint precision make for a lyrical game of laser tag. Every line is what you make of it: “Game over, you and me; game over – finally free. Game over, I know you tried: but extra lives are hard to come by;” like Mean Girls: The Multiplayer Game, when Halo met High School – and Master Chief had nothing on The Plastics #playforkeeps #pinkwednesday

You might laugh, you might frown, roaming ’round this arcade sound – but, that’s Pop: the substance is in the saccharin. In terms of the first four tracks, it’s the climax… It pulses through the rhythm, a cruise down GTA: PCH

Changed my scenery, from dark to light, for sanity. Erase my memory, the ignorance, is bliss for me.

That… is the long and short of it. It’s as catchy as “Crush Gone Wrong” is stalker/crazy: just dance, gonna be okay – if all else fails, just pretend it’s a video game. #pressplay

One Million Pieces” ups the ante and shifts the sound from, well, light to dark #likelyforsanity #INSTANTREFERENCE

Heart so broken that it doesn’t even bleed, shades of red, colored by defeat; black and unemotional, hidden from the seasons – you say you want another chance: give me one good reason.

tumblr would like this track, but it wouldn’t be entirely out of place on an ESL lounge mix. OMP effectually functions as the compass; by the third track, Ordinary Girl begins to cement its sonic aesthetic.

Rich synth, echoing vocals, collective reverb, grooves that pulse with a deft sense of rhythmic gravitational pull (left to right, right to left, fade from the front, blend to the back, ebb, flow, copy, crescendo, descend, linger and loop), deep bass without leaving the listener caught in a quicksilver pit of unneccesary bombast – it gallivants #whimsy without leaving the listener behind…

As much as Ordinary Girl is about what it means to be just that, it finds a certain niche when echoing the underlying knowing of what she is not

This is not a love song, just a crush gone wrong.

The album’s fourth track, and second single, reads like a TRL stanthem “I got your picture tattooed on my arm – no need for alarm” #beammeupcarson updated for the 21st Century digital native “the video I made for you – I put it on YouTube.”

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It works for the same reason Pop stays employed – the authenticity of assumed artifice in an intangibly accurate intonation, and, as always, spot-on production of pulsing instrumentation (1. make it sound real 2. make it sound real good – repeat steps 1 and 2) #seeabove

#EightCount

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – most every Pop album worth its weight in self will give you twelve tracks – like the calendar gives you twelve months to a year #pawsandprocesses

The next eight tracks maintain the momentum, “Don’t Let Me Down” is comparatively literal in that it functions to, well, maintain the momentum – dub step and distorted vocals never hurt anyone. The rest of the album finds a solid mix of California (“Fools in Love,” “Fun”), Europop accents across the board (Transatlantic / Pacific Channel), bit of a power-ballad (“Save Me From Yourself”), slight resemblance of a runway ode to RuDrag (“Drown You Out“), eleventh-hour penultimate “Mirror, mirror on the wall – yes I know why the legends fall” revelation #alwayswantwhatyoucanthave (“Perfect for You“), and finally the eponymous encore – with a *touch* of “Toy Soldier” rudimentary percussion (“Ordinary Girl“).

Kady Z

BlinkkIt #whatif

If… I were to blinkk this *IF* … I would probably say… it’s an aural exploration of the ordinary character’s climate change… there’s the ups and the downs, the fantasies found and lost in a world unwound, stratospheric highs and subterranean depths – but really, nothing unbearable, nothing that’s particularly beyond human comprehension… it’s not Blackout – with a bevy of emotions so clear, present, and connected that they drown out any sense of self (aside from Spears’ head) #danjabringitback ; it’s not The Fame with an underlying sense of coercion that you’ve been pulled into a Clockwork Orange County coup for the sake of art over manufacture #bangbang ; it’s not Teenage Dream with empty aspirations of a projected nostalgia I’m not entirely sure I ever had to begin with – but it doesn’t lose anything for not being a carbon copy of what already is, well, outside of Synth/Dance Pop #collectively… really, what it lacks is the pre-existing mainstream commercial feel that lingers on the palette of Top 40 Pop releases… and that’s good, because that’s kind of the point – pop is about the charts, Pop is about the universal niche: Ordinary Girl is a record reminding listeners of what most girls already know… that the most ordinary part of their identity is the coming-of-age #everyonehasone but moreover, that it’s not about the black-and-white of girl-or-woman –  it’s about how you tell the story and track the sounds of the spectrum in between the two.

 

#watchthisspace

Watch Me

Dive Into Y-Diz’s Musical Landscapes

Y-DIZ is a Miami based producer and one part creative brain behind the band Telekinetic Walrus. He recently dropped his latest EP called “Oscipurpillate.” His experimental BASS gets under your skin and touches your soul in infinite ways. I encourage you to experience Y DIZ playing his music at a live show if you get the chance. If not, watch your mind and body melt into the musical landscapes he creates. Dive in!

Ka’ra Kersey is a True Gem in this JUNKyard World

I can imagine Ka’ra Kersey as a bluejay or hummingbird flying over the beautiful California landscape and landing in the gritty streets of Oakland. I could see her perched on a power line looking out and toward through the city.

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Ka’ra Kersey is woman of many talents. She’s a skilled songstress that she could write you a song that uplifts your soul or take you on trip down the bluesy queen lane. As an artist myself I am happy to have crossed paths and collaborated with Ka’ra Kersey. She is true gem in this JUNKYard World. I present to you Ka’Ra Kersey’s Junkyard Mixtape Vol.1. The album art was illustrated by yours truly Corinne S. Francilus

What Would Yeezus Do?

Everything in this world seems to be so concrete, so serious, so intense, so dark, and so real. The joke gets good when you realize that in this life, we all die. So, that same darkness that you cherished and took so serious is the same darkness that makes this very existence laughable at worst and a rather light-hearted experience at best. This is what I took away from Kanye West’s latest effort, Yeezus.

“New Slaves” bounces in with references to the Civil Rights era, rather preachy lyrics, and menacing production. “New Slaves” is so serious that you can almost hear Yeezy slurping Huey P. Newton’s dick in the background, but as soon as you put your leather trousers on and prepare yourself to march, West goes on a rant about fucking your Hampton spouse and cumming on her Hampton blouse. Wait, maybe this isn’t supposed to be taken that seriously. Then, you remember that Kanye West also references the DEA and CCA, and their privately owned prison. So, maybe it is supposed to be that serious. Sonically, however, I’m thrilled by Kanye’s “I’m gonna tell mama on you” flow and the menacing electronic production that explodes into Kanye’s signature soul samples.

This album is confusing. It’s a dark, twisted, heart-breaking piece of confusion. I’m in love with where the artist is going, but I don’t know where he’s taking me and if I should be scared or excited. I don’t know whether I should be upset or laugh. I don’t know if these jokes are crude slices of satire or Chuck-D style vitriol that took a detour in New York’s Lower East Side. This album in certain spaces feels like a sex joke in church.

“On Sight,” the album’s first track, plays laser tag with your eardrums. Kanye West bounces compliments back and forth to himself about himself. It sounds like it could be a more mature take on the sounds he explored on the Graduation LP. The album skips into the post-punk, new-age tirade entitled “Black Skinhead.” Here, we find Kanye West being extremely serious again, but not really. The punk production, references to leather black jeans, and the screwed vocals makes you feel something very poignant and serious is happening. Then, I listen, and I hear “three-hundred bitches with the Trojans.” So, I realize nothing is really being said. No information is really being computed to the listener. This all sounds good, but nothing sounds like education. The track concludes with Kanye West saying “God” repeatedly in a frustrated tone that at first sounds gothic and disturbed, but as he says it continuously it just sounds like a spoiled valley girl who didn’t get her way.

Speed into “I Am a God (feat. God).” This for all intents and purposes could have been Kanye West’s chance to be sincerely sadistically sensational. This could have been his chance to be utterly dark, arrogant, and make the listener deliciously uncomfortable. He declines that offer and instead makes a rather catchy rap tune with a doom and gloom beat. He even utters the words, “I am a God, even though I am a man of God.” The line, to me, sounds like it was solely written to pacify the more theistic listeners from becoming too uncomfortable with the idea of Kanye calling himself a God. Even the horror film-style screams at the end can’t quite reach your spine to tingle it because you revisit Kanye West telling a waiter to “hurry up with his damn croissants.” So, all you can really do at the end of the song is put it on repeat because it sounds great and chuckle at this now familiar arrogance Mr. West is known for.

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When the album gets really dark, twisted, and serious is with the songs that might be made for the clubs. It’s when Kanye West isn’t necessarily trying to be his deepest, most social, most spiritual self is when something eerily brilliant and happens. “Hold My Liquor” catches Kanye West playing a Frankenstein’s monster in a narrative about an old love. His voice erupts and borderlines screams, and you can feel West. You can feel all of the darkness rumbling in his belly and rushing to the tip of his tongue, and Yeezus for a quick while stops seeming like dark comedy, and just feels dark. Newcomer Chief Keef, slurs an anthem about being as uncontrollable as your environment and vices that serves as the metallic black lining of this cloud of club banger.

“Blood on the Leaves” does the same emotional tightrope between raw and earnest, and emotional and a bit unsettling. Then, the on-going joke that is Yeezus resurfaces. Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynched black folks, is being sung right next to Kanye West singing about trying his first molly with an ex-girlfriend. This is hilarious, and thrilling, and sounds fucking fantastic. “I’m In It” and “Guilt Trip” take similar turns. “I’m In It” is essentially Kanye West illustrating a sexual encounter over industrial noises dipped in reggae, but if imagined, it sounds like a monster devouring prey. Kanye West references eating ass, adding sweet and sour sauce to vagina, and fisting a girl all in the same song, and it’s as disgusting as it is addicting. “Guilt Trip” is a space-age psychedelic trip that rides smoothly with autotuned vocals that bleed into a scathing verse from Kanye that feels like the emotions visited on “Blood on My Leaves” or “I’m In It,” but more scenic. It sounds like Kanye might have replaced the cocaine with a Xanax.

Oh, yeah. “Send It Up” happened. It’s the closest thing to an filler the album has, and seems to have been added just to intensify the atmosphere of the whole project since it follows the same pattern of dancehall versus industrial sounds that the whole album plays with.

The album concludes with “Bound 2” that sounds the closest to this coveted and overrated “old Kanye” that some West fans seem to miss so dearly. But, even with soul samples and quirky verses, it’s obvious that old Kanye West is gone for good. This new Kanye West is a joke. He’s a great, talented, brilliant joke. He is an anti-materialism, militant dipped in expensive leather that is in a relationship with Mrs. Materialism. He has declared himself a minimalist, yet leads a lavish lifestyle and displays his face on the side of buildings to promote his new songs. This Kanye West is a brilliant joke, but not the kind you can just laugh off and repeat to a friend or use to be break an awkward moment. He’s a poignant, polarizing George Carlin joke that even after the laughter settles down, there’s something about the joke that sticks with you. You don’t know what it is, but the hysteria resonates. That’s the funny thing about Kanye West, you can’t quite laugh his brilliance off and you can’t really take his antics too seriously. You just have to listen and enjoy the darkness of it all, and try to see if any of the ridiculousness resonates with you. Regardless of what does or does not resonate, Yeezus sounds really, really great.

The Past Inside The Present: Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories

Oh, my, Daft Punk. You and your crazy ways.

It’s been about eight years since the prolific French duo known as Daft Punk has released anything that can be called a proper ‘album’.  Back in 2010 the duo produced a fitting yet unfairly underappreciated soundtrack for the reboot/sequel of Disney’s Tron franchise, a soundtrack that met tragically sub-par reviews, mostly due to its lack of exhibited cohesion within the legendary pair’s otherwise pungent and remarkable catalog.  Memorably, the be-all-end-all indie music blog Pitchfork harshly discredited the effort as anything that resembled an actual Daft Punk album, which is mildly agreeable, though terribly unfair, as their review feasted upon the misguided notion that the soundtrack boasted a palpable impossibility to satisfy the listener (especially out of context).

I rarely agree with Pitchfork—I find them incredibly shallow and supremely critical. Pitchfork seems to feed on any and all veritable shortcomings exhibited amongst burgeoning musical acts, destroying any notions of optimism or hope in the process; unless of course the undoubtedly taut, weathered (and alleged) heartstrings of one of their writers are inexplicably plucked by some “new” set of indie-darlings, resonating momentarily with some new, exciting sound.  Yet tragically, it is only moments before such an echo fades to a whimpering murmur, cruelly lost amongst the whispers of the ghosts of forgotten melodies, as they are systematically replaced with the kinds of unflattering, regurgitated sounds that their ignorantly fickle reviewers seamlessly cycle through day after day, week after week, in search of some sort of tangible significance they will never understand.  I used to want to work for them, but everything they post—aside from their regular, run-of-the-mill news stories and tour announcements—is so drenched in disdain and elitism that it sickens me.  So imagine my shock when they gave Random Access Memories their coveted “Best New Music” adornment, especially since they have never given it to ANY OTHER DAFT PUNK ALBUM.  Weird.

Before I get into the actual review, there are a few things I feel I should make clear.  For those who have read my reviews (anybody? Hello…?), it’s probably not really a surprise that I don’t do the whole alphanumeric grading system (I hate assuming that I know more than an artist or band to such a degree that I feel it’s OK to ‘grade’ one’s artistic vision—who the fuck am I to say how ‘good’ someone’s creative output is?). I find it incredibly trivial and ultimately unfair to everyone involved to do such a thing.  It’s unfair to the artist/band, the reader, the editor, even me, the writer.  I’m a sucker for non-violent communication (thank my crunchy-ass college for that), so even if there is something about an album I don’t like, I never say “it sucks” or “it’s sub-par” or even “it lacks ________”. It’s my philosophy that people need to make their own decisions. I’m not here to tell you that “you need listen to this album,” or that “this album will change your life,” or any of that crap; I just want to give some insight, because honestly, that’s what I’m good at. I’m no good at telling whether something is ‘bad’ or ‘good’, because that’s different for everyone, and I am in no position to presume how anyone is going to feel about this album. There’s just no way.

The rise of the Internet in recent years—paired with the exponential amount of diversity and breadth in regards to new music—has effectively vaporized the magic involved in waiting for a new album to drop.  So many people these days have bitTorrent clients and links to leaks of unreleased albums that any sort of actual marketing campaign in regards to modern music is almost unheard of.  Yet Daft Punk—being terribly nostalgic, resourceful, and enigmatic (duh)—brought excitement back to anticipation.  In doing so, they tortured their devoted listeners for months upon months, yet at long last, their fourth album is finally upon us.

And man, is it wacky.

I first heard Random Access Memories last Monday (May 13th, the day it was leaked onto the internet and started streaming on iTunes). I was actually at the movies when it was released online for the first time, and as someone who had been following Daft Punk’s tortuous marketing campaign, I couldn’t help appreciating the subtle irony that the album I had been waiting for—for five years, no less—became available for listening the ONE TIME I went to the movies since 2012. I had left the theater and gone to my favorite neighborhood bar for a hard cider, and within thirty seconds of me turning on my cell phone, I had 2838640202 messages from family, friends, and devoted colleagues freaking out that the album that I had been waiting for had finally leaked.

I’m not one that is a stranger to torrents, or early leaks, or promo copies of ANY album. I knew this Daft Punk album was going to leak well before it was actually released (though I must say, I was pretty impressed that it didn’t leak much earlier. Kudos to Columbia Records). My initial plan in regards to hearing the album was to take a purist approach: I pre-ordered the vinyl of the album back in April (I’m a bit of a vinyl junky, thanks in most part to my ex), and my plan was to refrain from listening to the album until I received the vinyl in the mail. Naturally, as soon as the album became available online, I just couldn’t wait any longer, and so I said, “Fuck it” and listened to the stream as soon as I got home that Monday evening.

I was about halfway through my first listen when I decided to read Rolling Stone’s review of the album. For some reason I get Rolling Stone in the mail (probably because of some festival ticket I bought), yet it’s not very often that I read most of the magazine. Curiously, I am always intrigued by their music reviews (they gave Vampire Weekend’s third album 4.5/5 stars, and I must agree it’s a masterpiece), and it’s rare that my views are even slightly parallel with theirs (I find RS to be way too political most of the time). Though, refreshingly, their review of RAM was SPOT. ON.

I don’t have the review in front of me, but I remember the critic talking about the numerous “what the fuck” moments they experienced upon their first listen of the album. As someone who was listening to RAM for the first time, I don’t think I could have found a more concise, coherent way of verbalizing that feeling. Daft Punk veterans like myself (i.e., those who are familiar with their previous three studio albums, or you know, their basic overall style) didn’t really know what to do with this album at first. The Daft Punk I am used to is all about house, and electro, and quaking percussion matched with effortless sampling and that kind of “thumpa-thumpa” they made so famous. That is virtually nowhere on this album. Just so you know.

This album—probably because of their plethora of noteworthy collaborations—is in no way as linear as say, Homework or DiscoveryHomework—the duo’s incredible full-length debut, speaks volumes to the time period it was released within: the late 90s. In the late 90s, basically every genre of popular music was going through some sort of transition. Grunge was adapting to the more melodic qualities of the greater genre of alternative rock. Pop was becoming more group-centric.  Trip-hop was dissolving as its own genre, but its driving forces were being used as catalysts in evolving forms of R&B, Hip-hop, and ambient electronica. Daft Punk’s Homework became a sort of beacon, offering a sense of direction and purpose through the murky, choppy waters personifying the state of late 90s electronica, aiding the progression of major electronic outfits (The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Orbital, The Avalanches), not only through inviting stylistic influence, but also through an incontrovertible sense of curiosity.  Even at such a young age, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo saw the opportunity for optimism, and snatched it up quickly, veritably dictating the future of electronic music for years, nay, decades to come.

Their second and third albums—Discovery and Human After All, respectively—also command a similar sense of fortitude and courage. 2001’s Discovery is a much more accessible, almost jubilant album, as if the name of the album itself inspires pride and self-awareness, and 2005’s Human After All—a more experimental approach—toys with social roles and the inherent dichotomies that occur between those who operate on different levels in regards to ideology, philosophy, and spirituality, begging to answer the age-old question, “What does it mean to be human?”

Now, here we are, eight years after the release of Human After All, and Daft Punk have finally released their fourth album. Thomas and Guy-Manuel have shed their leather jackets and biker personae, and in return have donned chic ensembles compiled by Yves St. Laurent under force-field-like jackets dripping with battalions of sequins. And if you think it’s only their clothes that have changed, you’re in for a big surprise.

I’m going to be honest with you. The first time I heard Random Access Memories, I was filled with an unshakable notion of disillusionment and overall bewilderment. As the album progressed from song to song, I found myself experiencing an unsettling sort of dissonance. This wasn’t the Daft Punk that I fell in love with in high school. Where was the house music? Where were the sharp backbeats?  Where was the thumping bass masked by trampling, broken English spoken breezily through DP’s signature Vocoder?

The answer is simple: it’s not there. And here’s why:

Daft Punk used to celebrate the future. Their first three albums (the first two, especially; Human After All is kind of an anomaly) heralded the golden, pre-modern EDM age of electronica…an age that saw the rise of Röyksopp, and CSS, and Hot Chip, and Cut Copy. With Random Access Memories, however, they are not so much celebrating the future, as much as their past. I don’t mean that in the sense of a eulogy; they are bringing the past into the present.

I feel like a lot of people were disappointed with this album…if only at first. I’m the first to admit that there were moments during my first listen when I literally sat back and said out loud to myself, “What is HAPPENING?” (especially during that song “Touch” featuring Paul Williams; I’m still not really sure how I feel about that one yet). Yet, the most fantastic thing about that first listen was this: even though I had those moments when I was utterly confused as to what the fuck it was that I was actually listening to, there came at least one moment in each song when I KNEW I was listening to Daft Punk. sometimes it took a while to really grasp that signature groove, or edge, or whatever you want to call it, but it was always there.

Despite Daft Punk’s inevitable, fantastic style that has the ineffable ability to make any song great, the collaborations on the album are easily the strongest points. Pharrell Williams’ velvety vocals on “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky”, matched with effortlessly fluid funk guitar provided by Nile Rodgers (who is also featured on the album’s first track “Give Life Back to Music”) demonstrate transcendent cooperation between the Robots’ fabulous eccentricity as producers and the more traditional stylings of Pharrell and Mr. Rodgers.

Perhaps the best of the album’s songs feature more melodic vocal treatments, especially “Instant Crush” featuring Julian Casablancas (of The Strokes) singing a tampered, melancholy soliloquy over playfully electronic instrumentation, as well as “Doin’ It Right”—the song featuring Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear from Animal Collective)—in which Lennox offers his idiosyncratically harmonious dream-like vocals that drift breezily amongst the frosty foundational vocal refrain that repeats hazily throughout the entire piece. The more instrumental collaborations, however—featuring electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder (on “Giorgio by Moroder”) and the reclusive DJ Falcon (on the album’s last, thundering prog-tinged track “Contact”)—easily take the cake as the most inventive alliances.

After teasing us with their fantastic single “Get Lucky”, a somewhat flimsy precedent was set. “Get Lucky”—in conjunction with the enigmatic, elusive nature exhibited within the esoteric YouTube collaborators series—created somewhat of an unfair standard in regards to the actual album. An album that boasts such powerhouse collaborative efforts with such an intimidating outfit as Daft Punk is not something that many listeners have a chance to scoff at before realizing how vital such a piece is.  Though so many found it so easy to scoff at.

I’m going to go ahead and pigeonhole these new EDM-crazed kids out there. Granted, I am nowhere near an electronic music expert (talk to my friends Joe, Jayme, or Jeremy about that shit; I know a lot of good stuff but I am nowhere near as well versed as they are…they know their shit), but I know enough to realize that electronic music these days has taken a bit of a turn for the worst. Even DJs that I used to respect have jumped the proverbial shark, dunking their once inventive and captivating compositions into the murky shame that is modern “dubstep.” I like to compare the mess that is most modern popular electronic music (or “EDM”) to a single glass of milk in a room full of people with different kinds of store-bought cookies. Everyone wants to dunk their bland, dry, Chips Ahoy! or Keebler Rainbow Chip or Famous Amos cookies into this one, singular glass of milk, and in doing so the milk turns some awful beige/brown color, and of course there are the couple stoners in the room that think shit like, “Whoa! Fuckin’ Keebler/Chips Ahoy/Famous Amos flavored milk! This shit’s the fuckin’ bomb!” And actually, it’s just sugary, semi-chocolate milk with a bunch of soggy-ass crumbs at the bottom, and it is just gross.  That’s what a lot of EDM seems to be these days…some haphazard, caddywhompus combination of nasty, generic “flavors” of music drunkenly suspended in some sort of broad, neutral solution. Some of us just want to sit in the corner and eat our Thin Mints and Milano cookies in the corner, without having some douchebag trying to make some kind of epic “cookie sandwich” with our good, high-quality cookies.  And our cookies ain’t getting’ nowhere near that fuckin’ milk.

And that’s what Random Access Memories is. It’s like a really good batch of homemade cookies you haven’t had in like, a really, really long time.  They’re made from one of your favorite recipes, but there were a few extra ingredients added here and there to make them taste just…really fucking good.  It’s like Giorgio Moroder is some sort of buttercream frosting, or Julian Casablancas is a pinch of nutmeg, or Panda Bear is a dash of orange zest tossed into the batter at the last minute.  It’s just that little bit of extra flavor that makes this album extraordinary.

Random Access Memories is one of those albums that people are going to be talking about for years and years to come…in the same way people talk about Massive Attack’s Mezzanine or Radiohead’s Kid A. Radiohead is a band that is fortunate to have someone like Thom Yorke at the helm, guiding the quintet into new territory with unprecedented brilliance within relatively short periods of time between each album (just think about the transition between The Bends and OK Computer; between Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows).  Not everyone can be Thom Yorke, not even Thomas Bangalter or Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.  Though where Thom excels in speed, cohesion, and spontaneity, Thomas and Guy-Manuel transcend with skills in patience, understanding, and an undying empathy for nostalgia.

We live in an age in which everyone is constantly racing to reinvent themselves. I’m not just talking about musicians; I’m talking about everybody. We are on the brink of some sort of neo-Renaissance (one that is tech-based), and as we inevitably descend into this sort of maddening reliance on constant superficial connection, those few elements that distinguish humanity from animal civilization—namely the arts, humanities, social sciences—simmer silently on the possibly-unlit back burners. People forget how important music is. They forget that they constantly live their lives amongst it. We all sing in the shower, and hum while we pee, and listen to the birds sing outside or bedroom window.  There are those who say that music predates any sort of human language.  Daft Punk isn’t starting any sort of revolution with this album; they’re just trying to open our eyes and our ears, our minds and our hearts.  The first song on RAM pleads to ‘put the life back in music,’ which, undoubtedly, Daft Punk has achieved with this album.  But more importantly, they want us to put music back in our lives.  It’s hard to disconnect from a world that is so obsessed with invisible, intangible connections.  But perhaps it’s time to take a step back, to gather with friends, or family, and just put on a record and talk.  Music is—and always should be—an arena for discussion.  And who knows, maybe that’s really what Thomas and Guy-Manuel intended with this album.  Maybe they just wanted people to sit down and say, “What the fuck are these guys thinking?”  I kind of doubt it, but it’s a nice thought.  I like to think that they are that insightful.

Either way, we’re lucky to have these two in our lives, and to live in a time when so much great music is happening. Whatever the message is, the music moves us, it teaches us, it beckons us forward through life and earnestly reminds us of our past. But best of all, it keeps us up ‘til the sun, it keeps us up for good fun, and we are so, so lucky.

MAUD draw from London during a financial crisis & escapism for first EP

MAUD is a trio of musicians consisting of French singer Maud Waret on the vocals and violins, Nikolaj Bjerre on percussion, and British producer Philippe Locke on the music. The band formed in 2011 and finished their first EP The Navigation in mid-2012. The project was written and self-produced while in Highbury, North London. That setting permeates through the sound of The Navigation, which is it at once a combination of organic instruments like African percussion, Kalimbas, Hammered Dulcimer, Piano with Electro sounds from analogue synths, toy synths & wacky 80s things found on eBay. We try to record everything organically, so use Audio in preference to Midi. Imagine exotic nighttime beaches & foreign seas as escapism from overcast London during a financial crisis and this is MAUD’s music.