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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Common - Nobody's Smiling Album Review + A Couple Re-Blogs

This week I caught a couple great reviews of the new Common album. They got me to listen to this album just out of curiosity's sake. I have to say, I'm really on the fence with this album and I think I'm going to stay on the fence with it. I'm not alone in this feeling -  @mykectown of Dead End Hip Hop and Fantano of  The Needle Drop feel similarly as me. I really dig: "Blak Majik," "The Neighborhood", "Rewind That," "Kingdom," "7 Deadly Sins," and "No Fear" - but literally every other track on this project I detest. I like that No I.D. Produced every song, I love Lil Herb's verse, I love Vince Staple's verses, I love that Common made an album where Chicago is the focal point. On the other hand, this is not an American Gangster or good kid, m.A.A.d. city - so there really isn't a full concept here, also, again, there are some horrible songs here, which is uber-disappointing. As far as political import goes - it's a gritty portrayal of life on the streets, mostly on the streets of Chicago to be more specific. Which in itself is refreshing, but it's not nearly the Hegelian self-consistent masterpiece that good kid is. I don't ever think I'll get past that.

The two re-blogs I mentioned above from DEHH and the NDrop really cover this LP well. My rating: 5.5/10.


Listen: Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8niwr5kcPE or Here: https://play.spotify.com/user/jgathan1/playlist/0ffLDTWGnZPM8euO6lqLRo


Monday, July 28, 2014

clipping. - Taking Off Track Review

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. The first performer on Saturday was a rapper named Ka. I love his music - and his live show did not disappoint. He's a brilliant poet and lyricist. The most memorable part of his set was not one of his songs, though. It was a spoken interlude to his awesome track "Jungle." Sidenote: if you haven't checked out Ka or his LP The Night's Gambit, you should. Anyway, Ka described his hometown of Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NYC, in quite 'real' terms, so to speak. Ka dedicated "Jungle" to all of the friends he lost during the summer. He said that it gets hot in Brownsville and "people are stacked on top of each other" - that a lot of people get frustrated with their situation and "jus' start shootin'" [sic].

If Ka's interlude describes the abstract situation of of living life in the "Jungle." Then clipping.'s track "Taking Off" gives voice to a few characters that live there. Clipping.'s emcee, Daveed Diggs, delivers a harshly realistic vision of unnamed places in three rapid fire verses he drops with surgical precision and virtuosic flows. Daveed's verses are so intense they deserve detailed dissections and study to fully grasp their content and meaning. Dissections I won't delve too deeply into here, but suffice it to say that you'll be looking up the clipping.'s RapGenius page for hours if you like their music as much as I do.

Verse 1 has a rhythmic pattern that sounds as though it were taken from a snare drum exercise book. The song itself is set around 80 BPM in 4/4. The first six lines are delivered as largely eighth-notes. The next 3 or 4 lines are delivered as eighth-note triplets. The next 4 lines are delivered as sixteenth-notes at blistering speeds. Then the entire pattern I just described is repeated to conclude the verse while each half of the first verse is 8 bars long.

Lyrically, the first 8 bars describe the life of a killer in cold, factual terms. The second 8 bars describe the emotional aftermath of that sort of life on the killer himself. Throughout the rest of the song, Daveed continues with the murderer as a theme, describing where this sort of person grows up, why they are the way they are, and why people trun to such a lifestyle. This sort of attention to detail and orderedness continue throughout the track, though the first verse stands as a sort of perfect example of Daveed's amazing delivery, planning, and complex wordplay.

Musically, clipping. are noise-hop. The two instrumentalists, Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson, bring their own unique brand of dark, sparse, noise-centric beats to the table for "Taking Off" and it works perfectly to accentuate Daveed's brilliance. The strong noise element of clipping. in general deserves more than a passing comment I think. What interests me most, and for now will have to be an underdeveloped line of thinking, is that the noise element of clipping. fits so well with Daveed's gritty portrayal of life on the street that it is more consistent than a lot of other "gangsta rap." That is to say, what is usually the case in rap is that a rapper will describe dark themes of poverty, crime, exploitation over music that makes it palatable to a large audience. With clipping., however, there is no safe way to palliate what one hears: the beat and music accompanying the harsh lyrics are equally as harsh. It gives clipping.'s music a sort of x-factor whereby it is sometimes difficult to listen to and quite upsetting. This is the same sort of feeling I get from Death Grips, which makes clipping. especially exciting insofar as Death Grips broke up.

In "Taking Off," then, clipping. gives us a dark insight into life in the "Jungle" quite unlike anything I've heard before. It makes it quite a joyful experience in the darkest meaning of that statement as is possible. "Taking Off" furthermore shows the listener that, as long as we have poverty, we will have killers: a lesson worth remembering.

Rating: 8.5/10

Listen:


 


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lydia Loveless - Verlaine Shot Rimbaud Track Review

What initially interested me about this song was that it was a country song that I didn't immediately dislike. Genre-wise, this track lies somewhere between Miranda Lambert, Social Distorition, the Goo Goo Dolls, and the Paramore of All We Know is Falling. There's a sincerity, a non-commercial edge, a punk-inees, and a tendency toward a "Cowpunk" nature.

What secondarily attracted me to this song was the title: "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud." The title refers to a stormy end to a libertine and bohemian relationship that Paul Verlaine, a symbolist poet, had with fellow symbolist/pre-surrealist poet Arthur Rimbaud. After tons of drinking and drugs and fights Verlaine accosted Rimbaud and shot him in the wrist while in a drunken stupor. For Loveless, this episode of jealous rage is a good comparison to the way that she feels about the person that "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" is addressed to. Sung in the second-person,  Loveless seems to perversely enjoy the fighting and break-ups and yet still just "want to be the one you love." The message is not-dissimilar of Ariana Grande's hit "Problem." Just a bit more racy. One could really say that a lot of Loveless' music tends toward bohemian, sexual, and intoxication situations and relationships just like the confrontation of Verlaine with Rimbaud.

While the lyrics are an honest look into a sort of twisted-logic of why she loves to hate/love her significant other, the music accompanying her lyrics is just a bit too tame to really fit the dialectic of aggression and attachment that she's trying to express. The song is a bit like adult-alternative country rather than punky-alternative-country. There are distorted guitars and her voice does have a bit of grit to it, but both of these factors seem to be sacrificed on the altar of accessibility - while the accessibility factor, at least in this reviewer's view, fails to bring in a larger fan-base for Loveless. If we can carry the comparison of "Problem" and "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud"  a bit further. Whereas "Problem" has amazing production and a hook to die for "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" brings a tame indie-production to an altogether all-too-un-interesting melody. The best part of the music is by far the bridge which does lift off the ground a bit in terms of airy-ness while Loveless' voice jumps quite high - it's by far the least forgettable part of the song.

What is most positive here is the bigger picture I think. That is to say, the very fact that a country song brings a bit of a highbrow reference is a sign for the future of country music in general. Moreover, Loveless' music is incredibly honest about sex and relationships - which is itself quite refreshing in the genre of veiled sex which refuses to directly look at the Thing, to put it in Lacanian terms. Loveless' music is especially positive, if read together with quasi-folk/Alt-country bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Fleet Foxes, and Mumford and Sons. Country comes from a lineage of blues, folk, rockabilly, and honkey-Tonk: none of those roots are necessarily about beer, trucks, patriotism, a judgmental law-giving God, or "hot" women. Country, in its mainstream in the least, is a genre that was hijacked from the Left and delivered into the hands of ofuscatory late-capitalist ideology. This genre should in no way necessarily be on the side of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Mainstream country can be rescued from the hands of Rightest ideology and used for good. If anything, that is the sort of crack that the light shines through in this song - the sort of Good News that we need for the genre as a whole.

Rating: 6/10

Listen: (+ Download Here)


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Future - Honest Album Review


Okay, I'm going to get right to the point. This album is even worse than the last Rick Ross LP. A daunting task. For those of you who don't know who Future is, you might as well keep it that way - for the exception of two songs. I absolutely love the remix of Future's track "Same Damn Time" featuring Diddy and Ludacris. It's hilarious and catchy as all hell. That song, however, is not on this album. The only okay song on Honest is "Move that Dope" featuring Pharrel, Casino, and Pusha. T's verse is just awesome. Even Future's verse is pretty great. The beat is quite catchy, and I actually believe that Future deals drugs. He's actually being honest.

Beyond that song, literally every other song on this LP makes me want to stop listening to hip-hop permanently. The singular universal here is the song "Shit" - which is a perfect self-reference. This song is right there with Avril Lavigne's song "Hello Kitty" and Chief Keef's "Fuck Rehab" as one of the worst songs of the last decade. And how did Future get so many good rappers to do terrible songs/verses? The song with Drake, "Never Satisfied" is just barely a song. The Ye verse on "I Won" is not only the worst verses Kanye has ever done, but also an abomination to rap music in general. "Benz Friendz" with Andre Three Stacks knocked 3000 out of my top five rappers of all time. He even does most of the work on the track, with Future occasionally interjecting - or at least that's the abstract sense I get from the track. Weezy's verse on "Karate Chop (Remix)" is unspeakably terrible. This after Wayne saved the last song on Ross' Mastermind. 

The only consistent redeeming quality that keeps this album from being below a 1 out of 10, setting "Move that Dope" aside, is my constant question: what is Future actually doing on these tracks - singing or rapping or neither? Why is that redeeming? Because it keeps my interest and it keeps my focus away from what's going on in these "songs." What's most puzzling about this album is all the good or great reviews it's received. I simply don't understand. This album is one of the worst LPs I've ever had the displeasure of listening all the way through - even the bonus tracks. It's barely music. Future's debut LP Pluto was far better than this, and Pluto was a bowl of shit. Honest.

Hits: "Move that Dope"

Misses: Every other track on this album - big misses

Rating: 1.5/10

By far Future's best song:


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tab Jones - Dusted Mixtape Review


Sorry for the delay in posts, all. In all honestly, besides being quite busy, I've been straight spinning throwbacks from my CD collection. Moreover, went to see St. Vincent - and she was amazing. I'm convinced that she's a guitarist at the level/style of Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine) and Mike Einziger (of Incubus). Her character and style is insane and off the wall, and the jams at the end of each of her flawlessly performed songs adds some serious clout to her status as a musician that can hang with the best of them, so to speak.

Anyway, all this aside, the last few days have been taken up, musically speaking, with listening and re-listening to a new beat tape by Jersey native Tab Jones. I love this thing. Absolutely. I'm no expert in this style of music or a hip-hop head in any sense. But I can certainly tell that there is a nuance on these short tracks. There is freshness. And most of all, there is a unique musical character that shines through and tells me that Tab is going to blow up. I hear influences like J Dilla, Pete Rock, and Madlib. The style of these beats is in the vein of neo-soul with samples of monologue and narration.

Some of these short vocal samples are so delightful and hilarious. For example, on "Dead Mike," one of my favorite offerings on the tape we hear "Are there any niggers here tonight? Turn on the house lights, please" - a parody of the sort of stupid racism that abounds in certain parts of American culture. It's a comment on the "becoming-explicit," to use a Deleuzean turn of phrase, of certain racial tensions that were hitherto ignored since the civil rights movement and a hilarious "making ridiculous" of the racism that has re-surfaced since the opening of the Great Recession after 2008.

I adore the beat on "Tical" - so a throwback to some "loc'd out" blue-eyed soul. I wish the track was longer so that I could just lay in the cut and bob my head to it. My favorite track on the entire tape is "Trunk too Loud" - it almost sounds like an older Black Keys song. The screwed vocal sample at the end cracks me the hell up every time too: "I'd probably been smoking pot. Likely as all hell. I smoked pot every day for 35 years." And that sample goes right into the next track "Don't Stop" - where the implication is that one shouldn't stop smoking pot, even after 35 years. And that praise is coming from someone whose never smoked anything, ever.

Anyway, this beat tape is awesome, especially the second-half of the tracks here. It's only 20 minutes long, but goddamn is it a delight. Check this thing out.

Hits: "Dead Mike," "Tical," "Trunk too Loud," "Don't Stop"

Misses: "Wu Demo" (if I had to choose)

Rating: 8.5/10

Buy Tab's tape off his bandcamp. The release is limited to 120 tapes, so pick it up quick.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lil Herb - Three Sick New Tracks


I'm loving a couple tracks off the new Lil Herb mixtape Welcome to Fazoland. They describe the situation on the south side of Chicago from someone who has lived to tell the story. These tracks should concern anyone who wants to understand a true proletarian perspective growing up with no hope - when the only light at the end of the tunnel is a train heading straight toward you. The fourth track on the tape, "Fight or Flight," doesn't have the strongest instrumental, but Goddamn does it have some awesome lines:
"Cause I don't come from Hollywood or Beverly Hills
I'm from where mothers don't care and babies get killed
Where you gotta rob and go steal for stomachs to fill
And it's hard for a young, black nigga like myself"
"4 Minutes of Hell Pt. 3" has a heavy, dark beat with a clutch high female vocal sample that does wonders for the mood and atmosphere for this track. Herb's flow is relentless here, he's gripping on the mic - the opening to this song is especially sick:
"My hunger is equal to my struggle
I came from nothin'
Grindin' then I made it to somethin'
The age of a youngin'
Started hangin' and bangin' and hustlin'
Exchangin' the customs
To make it in this dangerous jungle
In a treacherous war
People dying, nobody crying
All the shit that I saw
You expect me to sit on the porch?
Every moment is yours"
And "On the Corner" featuring Lil Durk and KD Young Cocky is my favorite on the whole mixtape. It has what might be the best use of auto-tune, next to Bon Iver and Imogen Heap, ever. I love this thing, it's one of my favorites of the year. Overall, Herb is one of the best examples of Drill/Trap coming out of the Mid-West currently.  Check out the tracks via this link.

Rating: 8/10



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Nocando Comes Through with Two Awesome Tracks



I missed you guys. Anyway, these two tracks, "Third World Hustle" and "Break Even," off Nocando's LP Jimmy the Burnout are great pieces of proletarian artistry. I don't really dig the rest of the LP, but these songs are gold. Low, heavy hitting beats pound through both tracks - though "Third World Hustle" is decidedly darker, while "Break Even" has some catchy-as-hell horns and piano. What makes these tracks stand-out, however catchy and hard the beats and music are, is the lyrics. In "Break Even," Nocan spits:
"Dressed fresh, 20,000 in debt
Seen an old classmate when I jumped off a jet
Working TSA, this is what he said
'Why you look stressed? Man you set'
He said he got a 9 to 5, work the night shift
And he got a side hustle after that
I'm like when do you sleep
He just laughed, and said 'what's that?'"
And in "Third World Hustle" he raps:
"You know that girl
That girl that lives right there?
The one with the big bright smile
With the pretty eyes and the real long hair?
She would tag along when we skated down the street
She was on her bike, purple with a white seat
Yeah she had a baby, went to school to be a nurse
Her sorry baby dady, yeah that nigga never works
I went to Deja Vu, saw her stripping on a pole
I put $20 on her like 'baby bless your soul'"

This is serious music written by someone who's excluded from capitalism for people that are excluded from capitalism. I love it.

Rating: 9.5/10

Here's "Break Even":



And here's "Third World Hustle":

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Three Tracks that Any Good Socialist Should Know and Love



It's unclear if Cameo's song "Candy" is about a drug that is described like a woman, or a woman that is described like a drug. I tend to take the view that the narrator is a drug addict and this song is nearly a work of satire. I love it so much - but by reading, the song is actually sad. It's like a song that you dance to and then break down crying after because of the crushing realization that the enjoyment cannot last forever. I imagine that this is how all those bankers that have killed themselves recently - I think we're in the double digits now - feel when they jump. They know that global Capitalism cannot live forever, not in a way that sustains human life, at least. Anyway, what do you think? Give it a listen.


The Clash are the classic punk band of revolution. In the song below, "White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)" we hear: "White youth, black youth/Better find another solution/Why not phone up Robin Hood/And ask him for some wealth distribution?" This song is a sarcastic music review that is nothing short of a call to action for the marginalized young proletarians to take action rather than wait for Robin Hood.  


The Dead Kennedys' song "Bleed for Me" is just simply amazing and one of the best songs of all time. It's a song about the CIA's use of torture/terror/kidnappings and more generally about US imperialism and how we spread an especially virulent mode of capitalism. Great song by an amazing band - check it.






Monday, March 24, 2014

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib - Piñata Album Review



I'll start by laying my cards on the table: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's new LP, Piǹata, is my favorite of the year so far. Almost everything about this album is awesome. The vocal delivery is passionate; the flow changes to fit the beat in the best way; the lyrics are spot-on way more often than not; the beats are just... ahhh, so fresh. Oh Jesus, Madlib is a God. Overall, his DJing and production is just amazing.

What was unclear before Piǹata came out was how Freddie Gibbs was going to do on these songs. He's released misses before. What a pleasant surprise, though. What was not unclear was how well Madlib was going to do on this LP - he's so good. Cf. his work on the undeniably classic Madvilliany. Musically, this thing is totally sound. Literally every song on here features an awesome instrumental.

Lyrically speaking, this album revolves around a theme of Survivalism: Freddie has done what he has to do on the streets to survive. He was taught at a young age "only the strong survive" and that message stuck with him throughout his life - for him that means he has to rob, cheat, steal, kill, hustle, and deal drugs. He has to be the strongest to endure life on the streets, therefore he has to do what it takes to be the strongest.

This entire record is intoned from a marginalized perspective: yes, there is talk of banging hos/pure misogyny, blowing rails, being the best, there is a verse that's a Jeezy diss, but it fits with an honest narrative of what it was like and how Freddie feels about it, so to speak. Equally, there are verses on this LP that sound like they could have come off a "conscious" rapper's album. Scarface raps "Imagine working grave-yard shifts/Lost friends steady talking that shit/A million a day is for minimum wage/Work a nigga like a slave 'til he put him in his grave" at the end of "Broken" - pure proletarian genius. He and Freddie clearly understand that "barely making twenty thou" as Freddie puts it, or "seven bucks an hour" simply "[isn't] good enough." These lyrics and others call back to Common, or even the Roots of How I Got Over and it works so well. This album isn't perfect, but boy is it close. This is right up there with some of the best rap albums of the last decade: Madvillainy, How I Got Over, The Money Store, and good kid m.A.A.d city.

Hits: I absolutely love the faux radio monologue at the beginning of "Watts," I adore "Shitsville," "Thuggin'," "Real," "Broken," and "Shame" - I really like at least half of every single song here

Misses: Freddie's monologue at the end of "Robes," Danny Brown's verse on "High," the Title Track goes on a little too long

Rating: 9.5/10

"Shame":


"Thuggin'":




Saturday, March 22, 2014

Lake Street Dive - Bad Self Portraits Album Review


Let me start by saying that Lake Street Dive’s Bad Self Portraits is a breath of fresh air in today’s music scene. I was worried that Mumford and Sons’ unexpected surge in popularity had saturated the market on “rootsy” music. As much as you want good bands to get noticed, this type of spike often leads to a whole bunch of bands with similar sounds getting famous overnight and subsequently getting overplayed into oblivion. Such was the case with Of Monsters and Men, the Lumineers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, the Avett Brothers, etc. It was a damn shame because they were all clearly talented, but the style was just so omnipresent that, for me, they lost much of their appeal.

Lake Street Dive deftly sidesteps this trap by pulling their “rootsy” quality from jazz and soul instead of bluegrass and folk, and boy am I glad they did, because this album is fantastic. Oddly enough, I’m inclined to make lyrical comparisons to Jackson Browne, because pretty much every song deals with heartbreak in some way: love lost, love never found, love that gradually becomes dysfunctional, love that could easily have happened if only we were younger and hadn't already fallen for love’s toxic but oh-so-intoxicating temptation time and time again, you get the point. But each song certainly paints its own picture; over the length of the album, we are either hearing how a bunch of different characters grapple with the fleeting nature of romantic relationships, or we are hearing the story of one person who should probably just call it quits in the love department.

The only reason Lake Street Dive is able to get away with these similarities in subject matter is because of their storyteller, the fabulous Rachael Price. Her voice just has all the right qualities, particularly for the kind of songs she’s singing. She has power and restraint, style and technique; she breathes whatever emotion necessary into every song on the album. In fact, her voice is such a force that one might think the other three members are just a supporting cast, but don’t be fooled. The band consists of Price, Mike Olson (guitar, trumpet, piano), Bridget Kearney (upright bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums), all of whom sing to create some absolutely killer background vocal arrangements. The four of them met at the New England Conservatory of Music; they are all classically trained, highly skilled musicians. So while it does seem as though the musical arrangements are set up to highlight Rachael’s voice, that’s only because every note is purposeful, and I think that is the mark of a truly great band, to exercise restraint in the name of the collaborative effort of the group.

Some particular highlights for me include “Stop Your Crying”, in which they all sing with enough power to make you think that there is a gospel choir in the room.  I love the transition from the power in that track to the soft, slow tenderness of “Better Than.” “You Go Down Smooth” is a really fun track, that has one of lighter themes of the album, although it does still linger on a bittersweet note: “and I am too sober not to know, that you may be my problem not my love, cause you go down smoooooooooth.” I also really like “Seventeen,” the shifting musical themes really help add to the emotions of the song, of which there are already plenty thanks to Price and a solid verse from Calabrese. The album’s closer, “Rental Love,” brought a healthy dose of genuine emotion to a subject that we see much more often in comedies: casual relationships (e.g. Seinfeld, “the Deal”). I think it features Price’s most passionate vocals on this entire album, as she sings “When we were having a good time, I got a little sentimental, the rental of your love was all you would give up, but I wanted it all, I wanted it all…”

I don’t really have any complaints, except that I would have liked for songs like “Rental Love” to last a bit longer; it felt a little cut-off. On future projects, I would love to see Lake Street Dive branch out into other lyrical (and therefore, musical) concepts, I can’t help but feel that this band has plenty more muscles to flex, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes when they do.


8.5/10

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Few Tracks I've Been Loving Since We Last Spoke


Lykke Li's new track "No Rest for the Wicked" is some seriously dark reverb-soaked goodness. The despair in the lyrics is honest and beautiful. Check it:




I have no idea what tUnE yArDs' new song "Water Fountain" is about. I wish I did, I wish there was more about blood-stained dollars and hundreds of pennies. Anyway, the chants and pounding rhythms are enough for me to dig this track thoroughly.


Oh, the good old post-Punk rockers Gang of Four - #throwbackthursday:




And finally - check out the quasi-Future Islands dance moves on this dope soul track from Alabama natives St. Paul and the Broken Bells, courtesy of our own Anton:


Monday, March 17, 2014

The Social Union - Guessing Games Album Review

I think it was Gramsci that said "each individual is a product of existing relations, but also of the history of those relations" or something like that. To say that the Social Union's first full length, Guessing Games, could be boiled down to that statement borders on an unhelpful overgeneralization. Isn't every song that was ever written a testament to that statement? It might be the best way to put it, though. Perhaps we could say that the theme of Guessing Games is a testament to the very social nature of individual relations to oneself and others - a sort of nice Hegelian observation. Maybe even the story of what made up that person qua the social relations that created them. But enough of these speculations.

More precisely, every track on this LP is about some sort of social relationship: in "Straight Line to the Sun" - "two friends make their claims with their interests the same;" in "Spiders" we get "you'll never fall back into place;" in "Love in Memory" - "all your love is all I see;" in "Another Way to Run" - "you always find a way to run away from all your problems;" ad infinitum. Whether we have a comment on someone else's relationship to their self, the narrator's relationship to someone else, two other person's relationship to each other. Not once on this album is there a song about going out and getting drunk/partying, nor enjoying life for the hell of it, nor crime, nor alcohol, etc. God is that refreshing, this album is serious and takes itself seriously.

The lyrical topics are like non-trite and more sophisticated versions of Goo Goo Dolls songs. Somewhere between John Mayer and Ben Gibbard, the lyrics aren't going to win awards, but they certainly stand out on an album with pop sensibilities and pop song structures. Exceptional is the song "Love in Memory," which, by my reading, is an atheist's meditation on the death of a loved one: "And the charter seems to have a plan/but I can't seem to understand/when vultures circle overhead/and nothing's changed and nothing's said" - for me, this is someone trying to find a meaning in death where there is none, nor any transcendent power.

Musically speaking, most of the songs here do not deviate from the intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge or solo/chorus. There are notable exceptions, and these exceptions have a bearing on the future of The Social Union's music. In "Another Way to Run" we have the usual song structure, but a build where the burner is turned up on the intensity of the music until it nearly boils over. The same goes for "Blue or Grey" - there is a strong build and it's awesome. It turns this song into a stand out. The title track, "Guessing Games" is the most interesting song on the album for several reasons. I think I can encapsulate what's most interesting about this song by saying that it almost a post-rock track. The build is steady, and the bridge is a long one.

That gets to what I mean by the future of the Social Union. This is an undoubtedly great alternative/indie LP, but where does the Social Union go from here? There are awesome guitar solos from multi-instrumentalist Jason Dirig, there some sick drums and crystal-clear production from producer/instrumentalist Jason Staniulis, dope lyrics with a strong message, positive Left political themes, and the like. But I sense that the next album will seem redundant and lost if it's "more of the same," so to speak. This is the trap that the Goo Goo Dolls and Mumford and Sons fell into - two or three albums with the same sound/theme(s) gets boring. The Social Union needs some sort of different viewpoint with which to intone the gospel of social relations and alienation, whether they embrace post-rock, or progressive song structures, or a more guitar driven approach - I look forward to the result.

I think my favorite part of the music on these tracks is the passion and skill with which it is played. Every note feels urgent, necessary, planned, and well executed. Of anything besides ideology, I listen for passion first in music - passion makes things memorable and "hits you right in the feels," so to speak. This LP does not disappoint: it excels in this department. I think the only detractions on this album are a couple of songs in the middle, and perhaps the lyrics to "All Your Faces." Specifically "Song for Mary" and "Wheel" miss the mark a little bit. In "Song for Mary," there is a distinct lack of dynamics and a notable difference in production quality - by the 6th or 7th time through the album I just skipped the song every time. In "Wheel" I don't feel the same sense of urgency that I get on the rest of the album - though the restful, chill nature of the song works well in terms of the album as a whole. "Another Way to Run" and "Guessing Games" are certainly amazing bookends to any full-length - nothing short of fucking awesome. I get chills every single time the last chord of "Another Way to Run" rings out to eternity. Likewise, I feel like I'm laying on a cloud after the last vocal harmonies of "Guessing Games" ring out and only the bass harmonics are left to carry the song into the sky. What an exceptional piece of work.

Hits: "Another Way to Run," "Blue or Grey," "Straight Line to the Sun," "Spiders," "Love in Memory," "Guessing Games"

Misses: "Wheel," "Song for Mary"

Rating: 9/10

Buy or play this album now! -

On Spotify
On Bandcamp
On CD Baby

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Son Lux and Lorde - Easy (Switching Screens) Track Review


If this song points to Lorde's production on her next album/songs, then I'm officially excited. One of the things Pure Heroine lacked was some A+ production -, it was more a B-. Still a very good album, but great production can mean the difference between a good and a great album overall. The benefit is mutual on this track. The original cut off of Son Lux's last LP Lanterns was cool, but the vocals were not nearly at the caliber of Lorde's awesome voice. Lorde brings a new, dark, slithering dimension to this song. This thing sounds sexy as all hell.

The lyrics are upgraded too, Lorde brings the song into a totally new setting: from antiquity to 2014 - instead of "break the bridle" we get "switch the screens," for example. The song is undoubtedly about destroying something so that one does not have to feel the pain of losing it. For example, if one does not feel love, then one would not have to feel the pain of a love lost by a breakup, death, etc. This song does seem to be dealing with a person who "tears their heart out" - that is to say, throws away their ability to love - so that being lonely is not painful.

In a Leftist context, we could say that this is a nice critique of a pure Marxist sort of "revolution and only revolution" or "revolution sans reform" quietest perspective. That is, tear out the possibility of reform actually changing anything so that you never have to do anything. At least that's what came to my mind when listening to track. It's a nice formal critique anyway, even if it's a bit dogmatic insofar as Lorde doesn't mention why this move of destroy so one does not have to feel is by definition a bad thing. I think most people might basically agree that the move is bad though, so perhaps the argument isn't necessary.

Nevertheless, what we have here is a well produced and written song with some great lyrics. Lorde benefits Son Lux and Son Lux benefits Lorde - a great collaboration. And did I mention the "Easy" is catchy as hell? What a well done, awesome piece of art-pop. Dare I say this track is perfect? Pretty damn close.

Rating: 10/10



 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Indian - From All Purity Album Review


Indian's new From All Purity release is like a crash you cannot help but look at even if you don't want to. I think this album is the perfect soundtrack to a slaughterhouse - it is: vile; horrifying; hopeless; and generally fucked up. There is no parting of the clouds - it's all darkness - and almost none of this album is melodic. The lyrics don't help either: "all I want is repetition," "I can't change," "all disease, anxiety, obsession is perfect/like a compliment from all purity," "What's done to me will be done to you." I don't think that I've heard anything as nihilistic as this thing in my life.

I;m sure if I should have any gripes with this record - maybe that there is no hope in this music? I'm not sure if this album espouses a revolutionary nihilism or if it is a political quietest nihilism. I get the sense that it's the latter, and that's a bit bothersome. Contrarily, even if the lyrics point in this direction, there is still something nice about this record. It makes you look at the filth of the world, remind you that it's there. If the elementary gesture of late capitalist ideology is the move of fetishistic disavowal: 'I know very well that there are slaughterhouses, but nonetheless I will go on acting as if there are not so that I can live normally' - then this album is the shock that breaks one out of that spell, if even for a moment. The song "Clarify" is especially perfect in this regard. It's legitimately terrifying - the track turns my stomach. And that's the point, to unsettle you. At least for me, it made me think.

I mean, "the rape within" is the final lyric of the aptly named song, "Rape." It is wretched and screamed over and over and is more terrifying than any American Horror Story episode could ever dream of being. This is music taken to the extreme, and it's incredible. It's gut wrenching. It's crushing in the best way. I can't help but love this album. I think "Directional" is my favorite song for the sake of the music's extremity alone. That's the point of this album too, not exactly what is said in the screams is the takeaway for me, it's the effect this album has on me and my morbid fascination with it that make me love it. Just like the recent White Suns release, this LP is not for the faint of heart. You might also consider turning the volume down before you hit play on the first track. My God.

Hits: "The Impetus Bleeds," "Directional," "Clarify"

Misses: the abrupt ending to "Disambiguation"

Rating: 8/10



Friday, March 14, 2014

White Suns - Totem Album Review


Whoa. This LP is not for the faint of heart. My God, this thing is a roller coaster. One that will throw you off if you don't hold on tight. The acapella screaming on the track "Clairvoyant" is just such a discordant and gut wrenching moment. The screams, here, are some of the most intense expressions of emotions I think I've ever heard. The acapella screams even express their own philosophy of religion: "My God's face is made of mirrors;" "My God's face looks like my Father's." Basically what we have there is the idea that what we see in God is wish-fulfillment of the lost object of desire - Freud and Lacan would be proud.

The intermittent noise, dissonant ambience on tracks like "Line of Smoke," and bursts of extremely violent sounds emanating from tortured guitars make this band's extreme form of noise rock the Platonic Form of the term "acquired taste." That said, I distinctly remember performing John Paulson's "Epinicion" in high school concert band and expressing the same emotion but enjoying the hell out of it. That was an easy listen for me. Even atonal classical music can be enjoyable if listened to from a certain perspective. Moreover, I get the sense while I listen to this album that the raw emotion and expressiveness this music takes to perform is immense. These observations allowed me to really dig this album by my third listen. Perhaps they can help you with this LP as well.

At least for me, this album represents the abstract sense of how the world is today. I mean that seriously. "Pathways strictly defined" - the walling off of the bourgeoisie, "Control!" - via ideology, global capitalism has a "World Lock" quite literally. The chaos of White Suns' sound is born out the objective violence of unfairness - that a few people are born into a situation where they become wealthy, only leaving the scraps of pity and charity for the proletariat to fight over - thus solidifying the power of the bourgeoisie more. The vicious cycle of cut-throat competition is expressed in pattered sound.

I really don't know what else to say about this record. There is no real way to prepare you for the listen. Just do it, I suppose.

Hits: "Priest in the Laboratory," "World Lock," "Fossil Record," "Clairvoyant," "Line of Smoke," "Carrion"

Misses: "Prostrate" and "Cathexis" are just okay to good for me?

8.5/10

Buy this thing!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Four Quick Album Reviews; Or, On Being Comatose


I decided to review four LPs today, so one would assume I hit some tracks on these albums that I would really dig. Well, it was not to be. There was almost nothing worthy of note on these records and I'm officially falling asleep as we speak. The only thing keeping me awake at this point is the extreme surprise that all of these records received stellar reviews from various sites and publications. What were they thinking? Or am I really that off base?

Real Estate - Atlas: By two minutes into this album, I was bored. Before I listened to this album, I was unaware that there was such thing as adult contemporary chill indie rock. Just the same way that I didn't know that there was such thing as adult contemporary "doom gaze" before I listened to Alcest's new LP earlier this year. There is almost nothing worthy of note about this album. The first two minutes of "Had to Hear" are somewhat sweet. "April's Song" is nice insofar as there are no boring vocals to distract me from the almost adequate instrumental - again, the song is somewhat sweet. The rest of the offerings here really do bore me into a half-coma. I'm almost too sleepy to write this review. I can't be bothered to see if the lyrics have anything politically interesting to say, I'll pass out mid-read. - 4/10

Nothing - Guilty of Everything: I almost wrote this album off until I read some of their lyrics and the lead vocalist's story. The lyrics are occsionally cringeworthy - they carry the darkness of Have a Nice Life but in an often far too melodramatic way to be good taste- "Brother/Swan in the Sun and Fire/Heavy/The World's So Heavy." They also have no political import, which is surprising considering what the lead vocalist has been through. The words are also buried in the mix below distored power chords - which is occasionally annoying, but I shouldn't excpect anything different off a straight-up shoegaze record. The guitars can often be boring - the leads are nothing special. The instrumentals in general don't strike me as anything a college band couldn't do. But still, there is some passion here especially evident on "Endlessly," "Somersault," and "Get Well." If you're a shoegaze fan, I think LP is worth a listen. - 5.5/10

Beck - Morning Phase: "Cycle" would be a nice opening to most any rock record. Some beautiful strings - this intro could lead anywhere. ...And it leads to an album that is almost as boring as Atlas. I think most of this record flatlined. It's like putting a new piece of gum in your mouth and having it taste like nothing. There are a few tracks that I like here - I love the strings on "Cycle" and "Wave" and I really like the song "Turn Away"  - it sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel or maybe even a Fleetwood Mac song with more lyrical depth. Besides these few tracks, however, I really feel nothing except tired when I listen to this album. Maybe I'm missing something, but I highly doubt it. - 4.5/10


Posse - Soft Opening: After listening to the Real Estate album, I really didn't think that things could get anymore boring. Posse's album Soft Opening shoots that thesis right out of the water. I don't think that there is actually a single song that is worthy of any note here. Lethargic vocals, forgettable lyrics, boring, boring, boring. This LP is deprived of anything of interest. I think Rick Ro$$'s album at least kept my interest during certain featured verses and a song or two. Even Real Estate's full-length had one or two decent tracks. This album doesn't have either going for it. Don't even bother. - 2/10 (and that's generous)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pharrell Williams - G I R L Album Review


I actually had hoped that I would like this record. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way. Look, I get it Pharrell, you need to keep the hype going. But if you really want constant hype, don't put out a record like this - the buzz is going to die out even quicker. Ultimately, this LP is lackluster all around. A couple good tracks - "Gush" is a nice and detailed production, and "Know Who You Are" which has a really nice verse/chorus from Alicia Keys is an above average song. Also nice to hear Jojo still exists, she's on the back half of "Lost Queen." I've always liked her voice.

Other than these few bright spots, this album doesn't cut it, even for a retro-disco-pop LP. It's clear to me that Pharrell put this album out so that he wouldn't be too quickly forgotten after the success of some really good music he co-wrote in 2013: "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines." He even has Miley Cyrus on a track. What says "please don't forget me" more than Miley Cyrus these days? Sure, the production quality of G I R L is at the “spared no expense” level. But the music is just so-so, there is nothing memorable about any of the songs except the strings which were arranged by Hans Zimmer - again, "spared no expense." The lyrics, likewise, are all either totally forgettable or cringeworthy. Literally no lines catch my ear in a good way. Only in a bad way. I mean, on the track "Hunter," Pharrell literally sings, “duck dynasty is cool and all/but they got nothing on a female’s call" - Are You Fucking Serious?! And the song "Happy" really sucks. "Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth." Really? Happiness and the truth of the world almost never coincide, at all. Slaughterhouses, wars, genocides, famines, growing proletariat class, slavery, are all on the upturn and we're singing that lyric? The concept of happiness is ideology at its purist. So no, I'm not clapping my hands.

I’m going to have to clean my ears out with some Jamiroquai and Holy Ghost! after this album. Seriously, this whole record sounds like a bunch of half-assery. Like a 7th grade girl at a high school dance, you'll cheer the first thirty seconds of every song and dance a bit, but then quickly leave the dance floor in shame. Go listen to some Earth, Wind, and Fire or Tower of Power or Holy Ghost! or LCD Soundsystem or Justin Timberlake or Jamiroquai or countless other awesome musicians that make dance-y, groovy music that is way better than this. Don't waste your time. I especially rate this album low because above all it is a disappointment - Pharrell has made some really great music with the Neptunes, N.E.R.D., etc. in the past. This album is, contrarily, far from great.

Hits: "Gush," "Know Who You Are"

Misses: "Marilyn Monroe," "Hunter," "Happy," "Come Get it Bae," "It Girl"

4/10






Monday, March 10, 2014

Metal Monday - An Autumn for Crippled Children


Try Not to Destroy Everything You Love is the fourth LP from Frieslandian black gaze outfit An Autumn for Crippled Children. It's awesome. If you haven't heard this album, do yourself a favor and listen to it. Post-Rock builds, brutal vocals, lo-fi production, electronics, post-punk interludes, it's got everything - and it all works together really well. It's my favorite album of the year so far. You can stream/purchase the whole album here.

I highly encourage y'all to buy the LP. If that's not an option here is the entire album via youtube:


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Happy Belated International Women's Day!


So I totally missed this holiday, yesterday. Thank you Rick Ro$$... Anyway, to celebrate women's struggle for equal pay, recognition, and advancement on all fronts, I decided to post some videos of female musicians that are awesome. And if you permit me an observation, perhaps a naive one, I think groups involving or wholly comprising women that do not conform to the pop stereotypes of sexualization and the like have been growing more and more common in the music world. I take this to be a sign of progress in the right direction. Anyway, on to the music.

White Lung's new single, "Drown with the Monster" just came out - and it's one of my favorite songs of the year. So much passion here:


Savages' song "Shut Up" is my favorite off the album Silence Yourself from last year. I ended up being not too crazy about the album as a whole. Nevertheless, this song is awesome. Savages is awesome. This video runs like a short film and is dope as hell: I love their political edge. Check it:


Dum Dum Girls' most recent album, Too True wasn't that great in my opinion. Still, there were some good songs there. One of my favorites was "Are You Okay?" which got a great short film attached to it. Enjoy:


Warpaint is a really cool band that I discovered this year. I love their newest album and I especially dig the track "Keep it Healthy" performed live here:


St. Vincent is the stage name of Annie Clark. I'm not going to lie, I have a huge crush on her. She's fucking awesome. One of my favorite albums of the year thus far, one of my favorite musicians of the last few years. Here she is showing off her dope guitar skills:


Some other great acts with women or a strong female lead that I dig the hell out of:




Saturday, March 8, 2014

Rick RO$$ - Mastermind Album Review


I'd be lying if I told you that I enjoyed this record even a little. Perhaps if I boiled Mastermind down to a couple verses and the song "Supreme" I might ... (might!) like it. I mean, not everything is horrible, I suppose. I think the best way I could encapsulate this album is bloated. Really bloated. Like everything Rick Ro$$ does, it purports to be grandiose and game-changing and is/does neither.

I'll begin with the highlights: I actually don't mind a couple of the spoken-word interludes, maybe because they're breaks from the "music" - "Shots Fired" into "Nobody" for example. Some of the beats are pretty good: "Devil is a Lie" and "Supreme" are pretty great. In fact, "Supreme" as a song is great - sounds like a good version of N.E.R.D. production if it existed (it doesn't). "Supreme" is one of two times on the album that I enjoy Rosay's spitting ... at all. The other time is on the Weeknd produced/written track "In Vein," which is trite and terrible for the exception of Rick's rapping. Sidebar: by second listen, I actually don't completely hate this song, but still, if I had to listen to this song twice in a row I very well might hate it more. At least "In Vein" doesn't go on for too long.

The biggest surprise on this entire LP is Lil Wayne's sick verse on "Thug Cry." Next to "Supreme" this is my second favorite song on the album - the beat is pretty great and damn is Lil Wayne's verse is AWESOME. That's the first time I've ever said that, and it feels weird. The vocal cut here is really cool and well done in the context of the subject matter. Lil Wayne sounds heartfelt and it's dope. Other than that, JAY's verse on "Devil is a Lie" is above average, especially considering his recent work. It's nice to know that he doesn't always have to dumb down his flow when he raps alongside Ross (cf. "FuckwitthmeyouknowIgotit"). Jeezy's verse on "War Ready" is sick. I think it might be the most I've ever looked forward to Jeezy rapping on anything ever - not because Jeezy is a bad rapper, but rather because "War Ready" is otherwise an unspeakably terrible song.

Besides the highlights, the album is so bad. I am absolutely certain that I will never listen to this thing again. Most of these songs should not exist. "Dope Bitch Skit" is a good example of why I support the Death Penalty. I don't even care if the whole thing was a joke: fuck these people. The sample of the 92 million dollar bank account balance is obnoxious, along with every god damn time Ross mentions some type of car that he bought someone or drives along with every single time Rick makes a reference to how hard he is. Trust me, Rick, I don't give a fuck. On the Kanye produced song - it's some of his worst work. A couple of his lines are okay. But why is Big Sean a thing? Why? Finally, I don't think I've ever heard a more comatose trifecta as "Mafia Music III," "War Ready," and "What a Shame." Those songs are so horrible. Please French Montana - stop doing your "music." Everything he does is total shit, always. I would rather listen to Limp Bizkit than French Montana - for real, though.

Hits - "Devil is a Lie," "Supreme," and "Thug Cry."

Misses - everything else. Big misses.

Rating: 2.5/10

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Albums I'm Looking Forward to in 2014



Here are some releases coming out this year that I'm very excited about:

Banks - Jillian Banks released two EPs in 2013 and they were awesome. Besides touring with the Weeknd, she drawn some serious comparisons to the Weeknd's dark R&B vibe along with Lana Del Rey's voice and Fiona Apple's style. "Waiting Game" and "Brain" are awesome - in fact, "Brain" is one of my favorite tracks of 2014 thus far. Here's Bank's single "Brain" - Spotify: Banks - Brain

New Blink-182 LP - Word on the street is that these guys are back in the studio and ready to drop a new album this summer. Hopefully they will do something more adventurous than Neighborhoods which is a boring pop-release with a couple stand-out tracks, in my view.

Charli XCX - I loved the hell out of Charli's LP True Romance and 2014 sees her right back at the studio grind. If her last album was not enough, then check out the lead single "Superlove" off her as yet untitled LP slated for release this summer. Looks quite good.



Coldplay - Ghost Stories - Coming out May 19th - I'm very much looking forward to this album exactly not because of Mylo Xyloto which, for me, was a mediocre album at best. Rather, I've seriously dug both of the songs Coldplay has released from their upcoming LP. Check them out below. My preliminary worry is that they released the two best songs on a nine song album and there will be nothing worthy of note when this thing comes out in May. Time will tell. Here is the track listing:


  1. Always In My Head
  2. Magic
  3. Ink
  4. True Love
  5. Midnight
  6. Another's Arms
  7. Oceans
  8. A Sky Full Of Stars
  9. O
Track 2, Magic:



Track 5, Midnight:



Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots - out on April 28th - Damon Albarn is the front man of post-Britpop outfit Blur, as well as the quite famous virtual rock/hip-hop/electronic band Gorillaz. Need I say more? I'm especially interested in seeing where Albarn takes his music. Subdued-darkness? Who knows. Check out the latest single below. Here's the tracklist:


  1. Everyday Robots
  2. Hostiles
  3. Lonely Press Play
  4. Mr. Tembo (featuring The Leytonstone City Mission Choir)
  5. Parakeet
  6. The Selfish Giant (featuring Natasha Khan - A.K.A. Bat for Lashes)
  7. You and Me
  8. Hollow Ponds
  9. Seven High
  10. Photographs (You are Taking Now)
  11. The History of a Cheating Heart
  12. Heavy Seas of Love (featuring Brian Eno & The Leytonstone City Mission Choir)
Track 3, Lonely Press Play:


Track 1, Everyday Robots:



Death GripsThe Money Store is my favorite album of the last 40 years. NO LOVE DEEP WEB and Government Plates were not as good, but they were still pretty awesome. As random as ever, I imagine Death Grips will randomly release an album this year. I hope they do something different and equally or more insane than their releases in the past.

Kanye West - I've heard that Yeezus 2 is happening this year, and I sincerely hope that this is the case. No matter how much he talks out his ass in interviews, I look forward to where Kanye will take his sound next especially with the bombshell that he has invited James Blake to collaborate with him. For now, check out the trailer for the Yeezus tour movie coming out in the next few months:



Kendrick Lamar - This tweet came from TDE: “WE RAN 2013 WITH OUT DROPPING 1 ALBUM. I WONDER WUTS GONE HAPPEN IN 2014 WHEN I DROP 6.. THEY NOT READY 4 THIS #TDE #HiiiPoWeR TAKE OVER.” Dare I assume one of those albums is going to be Kendrick's sophmore LP? Only Schoolboy and Isaiah Rashad have dropped LPs thus far - that leaves 4 to go. A man can dream.

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence - Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) is reportedly producing or at least heavily influencing Lana's LP coming out this summer. I actually liked Born to Die quite a bit, and I'm totally not ashamed of that fact. I even like the short film Tropico she did. Ultraviolence should be a quite enjoyable listen, more than likely even better than Born to Die.

The Roots - And Then You Shoot Your Cousin - How I Got Over was the best Roots record in their entire discography, Undun is a favorite of mine as well. Oh, and their the Tonight Show band. I hope they keep up the good work with some sick tracks on this new LP. I have no reason to think otherwise.