“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+

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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”

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.

 

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.

 

A Leftist Critique of The Life of Pablo

“I just wanna feel liberated, ay, ay, ay.” From what Ye? You can sense his urgency to escape in that line. West’s inflection is wounded and stressed. The constraints that he wants to free himself from are dragging him. His voice is barely kept afloat by the autotune. The machine stabilizing the man. What is West trying to escape?

The long artistic history of Kanye West shows a man struggling with the condition of the modern black male in the 21st-century world. His wider introduction to the world was the now infamous “George Bush don’t care about black people” moment during a Hurricane Katrina television fundraiser. In his second album, Late Registration, the track “Crack Music” touches upon a correlation between crack epidemic of the 80’s and hip hop. “New Slaves,”off 2013’s Yeezus, is a powerful critique of racism and its consequences that mires blacks in poverty. Kanye West is no stranger to the constraints of capitalism and its violent consequences.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that in West’s seventh album, The Life of Pablo, the constraints of capitalism have come to the forefront again. Yeezus was an abrasive response to society. Fusing harsh, dissonant noises with ridiculous lyrics, it was a clear “Fuck you!” to societies norms. Norms that are entirely constructed by the capitalist society that we live in today. Pablo gives us a Kanye West turning to religion to free himself.

The opening  track, “Ultra Light Beams,” kicks off with 4 year old Natalie Green leading a prayer.  West wants no “Devils in the house,” instead he wants “the Lord.” Burdened down by the violence of a system that preys on the necessities of the weak, West turns to his faith to “deliver us serenity, deliver us peace.” Chance the Rapper, one of the many standout contributors in Pablo, raps about moving his family away from the violence of Chicago to Zambia. Chicago, a city plagued with one of the highest murder rates in the nation, is a prime example of just what sort of violence Chance and Kanye West want to escape. Redlining, race covenants, crack epidemic and the failed Drug War. Policies that have robbed the black community in Chicago of wealth and life. So when Chance raps about moving his family back to Africa, he is echoing Marcus Garvey’s “Return to Africa” movement. It is a sentiment that echoes the need for black communities to build alternative institutions in order to thrive. A need because mainstream institutions deny access to the African-American community and thrive on the exploitation of them. West is riding on an”ultra light beam.” The success and joy that he is currently enjoying is thanks to religion. His success is not thanks to mainstream society, rather that society punishes him as a black male. It is, then, his own personal belief in God. Religiosity has saved West and he desires to continue seeking liberation from the bondage of capitalism.

Religiosity has been important to West. “Low Lights,”the sixth track on Pablo, is a two minute testimonial embracing Christianity. Gospel singer Kelly Price delivers the powerful testimonial. “It feels so good to be free, to be accepted for who you are and loved no matter what.” Christianity’s central tenets of forgiveness and redemption is what liberates West from the constraints of a capitalistic society. It gives West the freedom to be who he is, regardless of whatever social transgressions he may be committing. He has found a family that loves him and a woman that he loves. It has given him two children. It has given him fame and fortune allowed him to express himself creatively. He will be redeemed and forgiven in the end, because for Kanye West he is a man of God. Kanye West is announcing to the world that social norms and mores are falsely constructed. Simply put, they are not real.

These mores are here to be broken and to be challenged. They were largely built as Western, capitalistic societies continue to exploit people of color, regarded women as second-class citizens and repressed gays, lesbians and transgenders. Leftists are here to challenge a society that accepts the indiscriminate and extralegal death and destruction of entire villages by drones.

Kanye West is a reflection of capitalism. His latest album demonstrates why socialist movements are necessary to continue building a more perfect and equal tomorrow. Breaking free from the chains of capitalism will have us all feeling liberated.

 

Collectively Maintaining the Status Quo

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If you spent a lot of time on MySpace.com circa 2007-2009 you’ve most likely heard of Animal Collective. And if you were alt enough to regularly read the now defunct Hipster Runoff you most likely owned Merriweather Post Pavillon on vinyl.

The Baltimore based experimental pop trio released their tenth studio album Painting With last week. Centipede HZ (2012) was their most recent release and let’s admit it: us aging hipsters were waiting impatiently for some new material. Ah, nostalgia.

2189fae1f70d0f0d72832d96c6bbf234.jpgOnce opening track “FloriDada” starts I remember Animal Collective’s knack for making one question their sobriety. Sounds as if it belongs as a theme song for a children’s television show, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

By the third track “Hocus Pocus” the novelty has worn off. Like, okay we get it. Animal Collective knows how to make an eccentric quirky pop song. Painting With begins to coast, string after string of repetitive melodies echo through my speakers.

“Bagels in Kiev” stands out as Lennox charismatically proclaims “bagels for everyone!” – a sentiment I heartily endorse. “Golden Gal,” one of the more notable tracks, is evocative of their 2009 hit “My Girls.” Maybe it’s their followup?

Closing track “Recycling” is titled appropriately. Summarizes how Painting With is essentially a recycled Animal Collective record and I could not have said it better myself.

It’s clear that Animal Collective have not changed their aesthetic. A new Animal Collective album is what the people wanted and that is exactly what they got. It’s not groundbreaking or engaging. They have their distinct sound and just like the idiom: “if it aint broke, why fix it?”

Rating:

3 out of 5 thrift shop flannels.

– Jenn

Animal Collective: Marxo-Environmentalists?

The insidious hipster Brooklynists are at it again. The indie psychedelic-pop comrades have released their tenth full-length, Painting With, and as you’re expecting, fellow freedom-seekers, it’s chockfullof their collectivist propaganda.

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Brooklyn hipster communist. Pictured here waiting for a package of Molotov cocktails delivered via USPS

Bored of contaminating our water, the Brooklyn trio (I guess one comrade was sent to a gulag. Speak Deakin. Can you read this?) have now moved to taking away the precious body fluids of our children. Underneath the whimsical children’s noises and mentions to dinosaurs is the insidious spread of communist, collectivist propaganda. Second song, “Hocus Pocus,” has a innocent sample that passes by you inconspicuously. “No no dinosaurs are found here.” Innocent enough, right? Or part of the international communist conspiracy to promote preserved dinosaur, Vladimir Lenin?

You decide. Or don’t. That’s exactly what the communists want you to do. They want you to decide.

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Radical, leftist eco-terrorists, Animal Collective. Pictured here after bombing an oil well

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 

“C” for COMMUNIST AF