Foxygen – Hang

If The Beatles classic concept album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Meatloaf’s pinnacle rock opera Bat Out of Hell made a love child, you’d have Foxygen’s fourth studio release Hang.

The groovy L.A. based duo comprising of Jonathan Rado and Sam France have once again reinvented their sound, but their style remains the same. Their 2013 release We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic propelled them into the limelight. It was fresh, spirited, frenetic and unlike anything else. Their follow-up …And Star Power (2014) was less impressive as a forgettable 24-song chronicle of a band at war with itself.

In Hang, Foxygen takes a different direction. Having assembled a 40 piece orchestra, Foxygen considers Hang to be their “first proper studio album.” Album opener “Follow the Leader” thrusts the record into full swing with bombastic horns, groovy keyboards, 1960’s bubblegum female backup vocals, and France’s gyrating shrieks.

France’s vocal diversity in Hang is prevalent as he effortlessly switches his inflections from Mick Jagger (“Rise Up”), David Bowie (“Mrs. Adams”), and Lou Reed (“Upon a Hill”).

Hang reaches it’s peak with album highlight “On Lankershim.” It is reminiscent of the 1970’s folky sounds of a.m. radio. The ballad “Trauma” is as smooth as it is carefully arranged symphonic pop. “Avalon” and “Upon a Hill” evoke imagery of the vaudeville camp you’d see on the Broadway stage.

Hang is grandiose, flamboyant, and ostentatious. But underneath the high concept, little substance is present. It’s all body and no soul. It’s an album I would pay good money to see in all of it’s cosmic glory live, but it’s not an album that I would come back to for regular listens.

Hang: C+

“Run the Jewels 3,” a Hardcore Manifesto from 2016

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I never really got into the prior two Run the Jewels albums. They just weren’t my sort of hip-hop to listen to. I have never been a big fan of hardcore anything; hardcore rock, hardcore hip-hop, none of it ever connected with me much.

In 2015 I went to the FYF Music Festival in Los Angeles. Frank Ocean was scheduled to play, but he ended up canceling and Kanye West took his spot. Billed before Kanye was Run the Jewels. A good friend and I wanted to be at the very front for Kanye, so we had been preparing to move up and camp out for Kanye.

We got to see the Run the Jewels show fairly close, their red, flashing LED screens permanently seared on my mind. The show was energetic. The crowd was buzzing. People vibing to the deep bass sound waves, hands thrown up in the air, knees bending up and down. The show didn’t change my mind on Run the Jewels, but it did open my mind up to give them a spin if the time was pertinent.

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Run the Jewels performing at the FYF Music Festival in Los Angeles in 2015

Run the Jewels 3 is equally frenetic as their live performances. The hardcore sound that is thematic to any Run the Jewels album is still there. Expect big bass, boom-bap drums and chopped up samples on Run the Jewels 3.

Killer Mike remains political, particularly in a year  he was much more visible in the public eye. Backing Killer Mike’s strong political verses is hype man and producer, El-P. The chemistry between the two remains strong. El-P interjects and phrases at the right times, never awkwardly cutting into Killer Mike or forcibly pushing his presence onto a song El-P remains the modern hype man archetype.

The music and the lyrics come together to create a captivating, political album. Run the Jewels is Killer Mike and El-P continuing their yearly streak of dropping one of hip-hop’s most captivating albums.

Grade: B+

33s, 45s and MP3s Top 25 Albums of 2016

Despite 2016 being a questionable year in more ways than one, it’s undeniable that it was a glorious year in music. We saw great debut introductions from bands such as Whitney and Big Thief, and we received long awaited releases from our longtime favorites such as Radiohead, Frank Ocean and Leonard Cohen.

For this article, we combined forces and put together a list of our favorite records of 2016.

Continue reading “33s, 45s and MP3s Top 25 Albums of 2016”

Of Montreal – “It’s Different for Girls”

Last week psychedelic pop band of Montreal released the first single off their upcoming album Innocence Reaches set to be released August 12 via Polyvinyl Records.

The single “It’s Different for Girls” is a hypnotic dance medley that feature’s a groovy rhythm and brightly glistening synths.

But most importantly, it’s a thoughtful song about gender norms, sexism, and the objectifications that women have grown accustomed to. 

Enjoy:

David Bazan – Blanco

“If I’m not losing sleep, I’m probably over it,proclaims indie rock crooner David Bazan in the opening lines of his third solo album Blanco. 

Bazan has spent the last few years playing living room shows across America, performing songs from his extensive back catalogue. Finally, he stopped touring and recorded Blanco, a reflection of his life on tour.

Bazan has a reputation for being cynical in his perspectives, but he emerges with beautiful insights only the most observant find. As the lead singer of the now defunct indie rock band Pedro the Lion, Bazan candidly touched on topics of God, alcoholism, death, political corruption, infidelity, and eventually losing faith in God. His lyrics echo sentiments with a level of intimacy that is relatable on a profound level.

In Blanco, Bazan is reaching an existential crisis.

In the whimsical first track “Both Hands” Bazan repeats “both hands over my eyes” in the chorus, an avoidance mechanism we are all familiar with. He laments his heavy thoughts, but sets them aside to deal with the issues right in front of him. His distorted vocals accompanied with the hypnotic synthesizers construct a formula that sets the tone for the rest of the record.

The second track “Oblivion” mirrors the notion of avoidance. Over a quirky keyboard melody and provocative drum sample, Bazan says that “now is not the time for second thoughts” as he reflects on the man he has been.

Blanco sets itself apart from the usual Bazan fare. Opposed to distorted guitars and down tempo melodies, Bazan set out to make his version of an electronic record. Synthesizers, memorizing choruses, drum samples, and reverb-y vocals make up Blanco, and it is a refreshing change of pace.

The instrumental counterparts of “With You” are reminiscent of a 1980s new wave single, but don’t let the upbeat inflection fool you. “I might have found someone true/ But I turn around/ my life’s half over/ And I’m with you.” When I listen to this song I interpret it as a love song, regardless of the unfavorable imagery. That despite your flaws, I’m with you. Bazan’s unconventional flare for romanticizing the weaknesses of relationships are an example of his craftsmanship as a lyrcisist.

Reverting back to his acoustic roots “Little Landslide” is a thoughtful song about reflection. “Over Again” depicts the repetition of everyday life and the notion of being stuck. Despite the powerful lyrics, unfortunately the song falls flat.

The dreamy closing track “Little Motor” ends things on a triumphant note, “every day you wake up alive/ little motor behind your eyes”  it’s the understanding that life goes on.

Bazan has proven himself a master storyteller through his songs, and he continues to do so in Blanco. The album is reflective and requires a patient ear, but the payoff makes it worth while.

Blanco: B+

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Rating: A-

“I could get lost in these pianos,” read my post. “Daydreaming” had just come out a few days ago, and a new album was slated for release a couple of days afterwards. There was no name or track listing provided. All we knew was that Radiohead was done with their new album and that it would be ready for digital distribution on Sunday at 11:00 PST.

It’s been a week since A Moon Shaped Pool was released. A week where I’ve spent struggling  to do justice to an album that has stirred some energetic fanboyism inside of me. Gone are the dark times from The King of Limbs, in is the bright optimism of  A Moon Shaped Pool.

So, where do I start with this review? I start with explaining what exactly it is about this album that has me gushing over it. At this point in my music listening life I’m fairly simple. I don’t like prog rock. I don’t really like electronica. I like very simple pop songs. Nothing that dares deviate too much from the verse-chorus-verse song structure. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like I don’t profess to be someone with a complex taste. What I seek in music is feeling and emotion. This is what separates my favorite albums from a great album. It’s what makes a You & Me or a Kill for Love amongst my favorite albums of all time. Albums that miss this mark are superficial. They hint and tease at deeper meaning(s) but often miss the mark. Instead, they’re cold, emotionless and empty.

This important distinction is what distinguishes albums like A Moon Shaped Pool from The King of Limbs. For all of its polyrhythmic beats and video game guitar sounds, The King of Limbs never manages to be anything other than an album limping to its forgettable status. It never managed to go any deeper than an interesting Thom Yorke solo project. For all of its curious explorations in multiple rhythm sections, the album leaves no discernible impression. Nothing that struck me more than some rather throwaway music. A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead taking away the characteristic “bleeps and bloops” of 16 years and stripping them down to bare acoustic bones. There’s beautiful string sections harmonizing with one another; choirs that make their triumphant return to the Radiohead catalogue; grand pianos somberly reminiscing over lost and broken love. Even the acoustic drum set makes a return in jazz-like sleepy beats.

There’s a beauty in revealing ourselves to others. It exposes us. It leaves us wide open and vulnerable. “Ripe for the taking.” It is the revelatory moment that exposes us for all of our fragility and weakness. For all of its pretty instrumentation and lush production most of this album wouldn’t be half as great if it weren’t for how deeply personal Yorke’s lyrics are. Gone is the dystopian commentary about “bunkers” or technology or whatever other Radiohead trope there is. Instead, we have hurt songs about “daydreamers never learning” or love songs about “lollipops and crisps” with pained notes asking someone to not leave.

A Moon Shaped Pool is an album about human frailty. It explores the self and makes the self deal with the consequences of our actions. It’s reminiscent on our failures. All of this introspection is supported by dreamy, lush musical arrangements. They lend themselves to deeply to a pensive state, one slowed down and focused. It guides our eyes to what is in front of our lives. What do I want? Who do I want? What exactly is it that I want to get out of this life? The album pleads the listener for introspection. It embarks the self on a journey of self-discovery, a journey where to learn from lessons learned. It’s demands the listener to listen to our surroundings and consider all that we have. It’s an album that doesn’t tiptoe around its “humanity.”

Five weird, small and odd-looking Englishmen have dropped their ninth album in the span of 24 years. It is a beautiful ninth album adding some of their best work to an already storied catalogue. Here’s to more albums.

 

Radiohead Release a New Song, “Burn the Witch”

The “most important band in the world” released a new single/song/who knows what today. Living in our day and age, it’s virtually mandated for all content producers to release immediate takes reacting to everything that happens at any time. Continuing down their hole of “music-as-a-filter-for-politics,” Pitchfork ran a piece trying to decode the politics of the new song and video, going so far as having a senior staff writer writing the piece. Noisey ran a smaller piece. Half taking the piss out of the collective need for music journalists to out-take each other, while simultaneously indulging in the same practice, Noisey published a collection of 15 takes from its music staff on the new song. These are the times we live in, and no amount of high-horse posturing is going to change that fact. Radiohead, for better or for worse, is an event.

We live in a day and age where rock bands have become an archaic relic of times passed. Whenever Radiohead decides to put the guitars and retire, they will go down as the last rock band to command the commercial and critical success that they have achieved. Rock bands are done. Look at the bench. After Radiohead, who is next? Coldplay? They’ve been critically panned for a few albums now, and are their record and ticket sales even close to those of Radiohead’s? Look at the front page of music websites like Pitchfork or The Rolling Stone. Wholly owned by pop stars like Beyoncé or Kanye West. Rock is dead. If you want to see the evolution of the genre, one has to dig a little deeper and see smaller acts with much more niche audiences.

So when “the greatest band in the entire fucking world” releases a new song, it becomes a gaze into a fading past. A past that, at one point, dominated the mainstream conversation, a past that was dominated by white men with guitars, a past that has seen many of its storied architects recently pass away. Self-styled “serious music journalists” will write countless think pieces and analyze with meticulous attention every move the band makes, and to be completely fair to those guardians of good taste and culture, analysis that the band coyly encourages.

I was, and still am, a member of the rabid Radiohead fanbase. There was a good period in my life where the only thing I seemingly listened to was Radiohead. They consumed about two years of my life. I lapped everything up. The rare bootlegs of live concerts, recordings of unreleased songs, the occasional cover. I wanted it all and I mostly got it all. Spent $50 or so on the Newspaper edition of an album that I ultimately did not really end up enjoying. I fanboyed really, really hard but the fanbase encourages this. There’s countless forums dedicated to the band, websites dedicated to recording every known information about a song (as of today, 5/4/2016, Citizen Insane appears to be down but apparently not for long), and even at one point massive conspiracy theories revolving around an unreleased part two to The King of Limbs. It was a fun geek out for a while. I could indulge my obsessive tendencies on a band that had the mythos around it that allowed for such geeking out over. Then I grew older, lost interest after The King of Limbs and a couple of Thom Yorke related flops and started listening to other music. Nowadays, a lot of my music sensibilities are not with rock music. Instead, they are with singer-songwriters who write personal music about boxing matches, smooth RnB singers with lush and intrinsic production or sweet and simple pop tunes composed by various women. So I woke up with a bit of anxiety over the upcoming release. I didn’t want to be further disappointed and nail the final nail on the Radiohead coffin.

My girlfriend has bronchitis. We had planned to wake up early to take her to the doctor and make it to a hair appointment I had previously made. I got up around 8:00 in the morning and checked one of those said music forums for any updates on the band. In true Radiohead fashion, nothing has been announced and everyone is in the dark. To my surprise, at the very top of the page was a very excited post with a YouTube link and the acronym “OMG” spelled right next to it. I clicked it and checked the run time for the video. 3 minutes and 59 seconds. A music video. I went to a more private setting, put on the video and got ready for what I was about to hear. The song starts right away with staccato strings that are repeated throughout the song. A low synth is heard in the background as Yorke’s crooning voice kicks in. It’s the sense of dread and anxiety that is classic Radiohead. It’s the same dread that Yorke is so good at building up with his voice and cold lyrics. Radiohead is often about the atmospherics being built, and this song is the first in a while to be reminiscent of that prestige that the band has created. The video, itself, centers around these themes of being constantly watched and monitored. It is a claymation video inspired on the movie The Wicker Man. A town official on a witch hunt who ultimately gets burned at the effigy himself. Knowing Yorke the song is political and some commentary about our modern times, but those messages are often beside the point. Most Radiohead songs don’t have lyrics to write home about. There’s nothing particularly impressive about Yorke’s lyrics, rather his voice and words are conduits for feelings and emotions that are part and parcel for the moods and themes of a Radiohead album. The staccato strings climax into a final crescendo in the end. It’s a great finale for any symphonic composer, the new career path of the band’s musical polyglot, Jonny Greenwood.

Needless to say, I have hopped aboard the hype train. I’m still cautious about the album. “Lotus Flower” interested me when it was released, so I don’t want to blindly jump in, but there is something that feels different about the way things are going. I look at “Lotus Flower” and can say that was indicative of the direction of The King of Limbs and it wasn’t very good. This, on the other hand, bodes well for the new album. It feels like a return to form, at least for me, for a band that was so good at building lush atmospheric music that felt natural and organic. If “Burn the Witch” is any indication, the cold bleeps and bloops from The King of Limbs are exhausted. Maybe it’s the fact that the song has been around since the early 2000’s, maybe it’s the fact that song is a relic from a band’s past whose frontman didn’t seem all that interested to ever get back into. Maybe it’s just my old, geeky self coming out and wanting to relive just for a few moments. I don’t know what it is but I am most definitely hyped for whatever ride is about to come.

Watch Radiohead’s new song, “Burn the Witch,” down below

PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

Capitalism crushes souls. Words become meaningless. We attach words like “hope” or “deliverance” to projects or centers that were supposed to serve our forgotten communities. Instead they become empty husks symbolic of the empty promises of the American Dream.

Not since Vietnam has the American psyche been so fragile. Wages have stagnated since the 1970’s, faith in our public institutions is at a historic low and the American center has collapsed and given rise to a proto-fascist. PJ Harvey returns after a 5 year absence to turn her gaze towards the people who were left behind by free trade agreements, deregulation and disastrous foreign interventions.

Let England Shake is a phenomenal anti-war album that doubles as a swan song to the end of the European dominance over the global stage. On Hope Six Demolition Project Harvey still sings about war but instead of focusing her gaze on the immediate death and destruction it brings, she turns her attention towards the consequences of war. The poor, famished kid of Kabul asking for a dollar in “Dollar, Dollar.” The “sun-bleached photographs” of the disappeared Albanians during the Kosovo War. They are the forgotten victims of our foreign adventures, the ones who have to suffer through our recklessness. Harvey is here to remind us that our actions have consequences and that the West often seems to not really give a fuck.

Hope Six takes setting in locations different and vast from one another. Washington, D.C, Kabul, Kosovo. Each spanning three different continents but all mired in poverty. Be it the through desertion (Washington D.C.), decades worth of foreign intervention (Kabul) or the devastation of ethnic violence and sectarianism (Kosovo) all three locations are connected by the poverty that distinguishes all three communities. “River Anacostia,” the highlight of the album, is a gospel hymn named after the polluted river south of Washington, D.C. The chorus is a direct allusion to a black spiritual. African-Americans escaping a brutal slave regime in the South would often use rivers to navigate themselves to free soil. It’s a sharp contrast that Harvey paints, a contrast of blighted people whose only recourse for freedom is now poisoned. This is the abject, debilitating poverty that not even the greatest empire on Earth has been able to escape.

Harvey lays the criticisms thick. While Let England Shake was marked by a distinct sadness, Hope Six is instead angry and detached. Harvey is shocked by the indifference from the world surrounding her. How can there be so much progress, yet our world remain not far off from the violent conditions from the first World War. Great advances in medicine, technology and even society, yet there remains a permanent underclass that remains powerless to the plunder of rich oligarchs. Historic low points in violence, yet a brutal ethnic cleansing took place in Europe as recently as two decades ago. This is what separates Let England Shake and Hope Six Demolition Project. It is the immediacy of our now contrasted with the hindsight of our then. For Harvey, humans have not really progressed much from the first World War.

Let England Shake is one of the best albums of our past 16 years. It was centered around a clear anti-war message supported by the imagery and themes of the first World War, specifically, the Battle of Gallipoli. The music was largely built around traditional British folk songs. It was nostalgia for the old glory of the British Empire, for a time when Europe was largely isolated from its devastating colonial and racist foreign policies. The first World War marked the death of the innocence of Europe. Gone were the days when war was fought with honor and chivalry. Now present were the days of shell shock, mustard gas and Pyrrhic marches into “No Man’s Land.” Hope Six Demolition Project had really big shoes to fill, but that doesn’t mean that it fails at what it sets out to do. Songs such as “Chain of Keys” or “Near the Memorial to Vietnam and Lincoln” are dull songs with repeating uninteresting rhythms, but there’s some very powerful moments. “Community of Hope,” the aforementioned “River Anacostia” and “Dollar, Dollar,” “The Orange Monkey” and “The Wheel” are all very strong highlights that sometimes flirts with the brilliance of Let England Shake.

Harvey doesn’t need to make a grand significant statement about the poverty that she saw while on her travels. She is a famous rock musician. For all intents and purposes, she is in a protective bubble and Harvey knows it. She doesn’t need to be the sanctimonious rock star paying lip service to the plight of the poor. There’s already one Bono too many. What the poor need isn’t the pity of another rock star, what they need is someone to get shit out for everyone else to see.

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

I wanted to trash this album. The first time I listened to it, I texted my girlfriend my feelings about the album. My feelings, at the time, can be summed up with two words: “bad” and “drab.”

It’s fair to say that Human Performance can be “drab.” It has 13 tracks. It’s also very fair to say that there’s some, and I’m quoting my text message here, “preeeeettty bad” tracks. I was salivating at the opportunity to trash the living shit out of this album. It was going to be a gratifying experience. So I kept listening to it. Over and over and over.

And over the course of my repeated listens, I grew to like Human Performance. I had a similar about-face with Animal Collective’s Painting With. I trashed the album on Twitter the first listen, but it was secretly infectious. I played it immediately again afterwards and two days later I found myself listening to Animal Collective’s discography. It’s been a curious and pleasing phenomena.

There’s a lot to enjoy in Human Performance. Even the dreadful “I Was Just Here” has a final 18 second stretch where the dull and meandering guitar riff the song is centered on turns into a frantic punk song that’s glad it’s over. For every boring or bad moment you get two excellent and fun bits like the final bridge on “Paraphrased” or a song like “Steady on My Mind.”

“Steady on My Mind” would fit in quite nicely in The Velvet Underground’s quiet self-titled. It has a low tambourine-led beat and a lonely guitar riffing in the forefront. Andrew Savage, the vocalist of the band, channels his best Lou Reed and deadpans the lyrics. It’s a great song and one of the highlights of Human Performance.

The Velvet Underground connections don’t just stop there. Right after “Steady on My Mind” comes “One Man, No City.” “One Man, No City” has a final 3 minute jam entirely reminiscent of a Velvet Underground & Nico-era VU song. There’s the driving, steady “motorik” drumming. As the rhythm section gets lost in the background, the guitars nicely interpolate with one another. Even one of the guitars sounds awfully a lot like the trademark viola played by John Cale. It’s the final freak-out from “European Son.”

The song variety on Human Performance is one of its strengths. The album can vary from short, less than 2-minute song to a 6-minute long jam song. There’s plenty of genre variety. We get Velvet Underground inspired jam songs or fast, pummeling punk. Vastly different styles with a common root: rock’n’roll.

This is my introduction to Parquet Courts. Human Performance required a bit of effort from me. It has been a rewarding effort with plentiful of fruits. Can it blend in as background noise? Sure, but for every lull there’s a lot of fun to rinse out. It’s a fun record for rock aficionados to check out. I recommend this album.