Monday, May 2, 2011

Podcast Reviews

I did a couple album reviews for the Sounds About Right Podcast, check it out over at their site.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nostalgia Bomb - Part 1 (1988-1993)

     Nostalgia can be a very odd thing, especially when it comes to music. When you have been listening to an artist or album for nearly half of your entire life is it even possible to look at it in an objective sense? I would like to think that it is, but my instincts tell me otherwise. However I think objectivity in the face of years and years of repetition isn't completely impossible.

     Digging into the past of your musical tastes is a confusing and often embarrassing enterprise. I can remember the first piece of music that I ever purchased with my own money, which was a cassette tape of MC Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt'em, picked up on a trip to the mall courtesy of my grandma and some birthday money. Can a seven year old be blamed for liking the most asinine form of hip hop ever conceptualized? I don't think so. I was at the age where basically anything I heard on the radio was good in my eyes. What I find amusing is that a lot of people never leave this phase of their musical exploration. Go out to most of the bars and clubs and at least in my area you will basically hear the same things you hear on Top 40 radio any day of the week. The DJ, while at the whim of the wills of his listeners, still has a responsibility in the chain of music exposure. Now more than ever, with thousands and thousands of albums being released every year, people need some musical cultivation, and in my opinion that is the job of the DJ. It used to be that this was also the job of the radio, but popular radio is so completely intertwined with the failing major label music industry that it makes it nigh impossible to get something that isn't pre approved by multiple people on the radio.

     So yes, at age seven, I fell into the trap of popular music and the radio as a medium. But it was 1990, and my choices were severely limited. I listened to more terrible music for the next couple of years, and the next thing that really stands out to me in my memory is a track that was released in the winter of 1993. While Duran Duran had been considered dead in the water, a victim of the "grungification" of the early 90's, that didn't stop them from releasing a song called "Ordinary World". At the time I recall listening to my Dad's Nirvana Nevermind tape and a lot of Michael Jackson Dangerous, which are basically the two albums that everyone between the ages of 8 and 18 were listening to. "Ordinary World" however elicited a different reaction from me. It was the first song that I didn't hear played on the radio incessantly; I would catch it maybe once or twice a week. Luckily I convinced my mom to drive me to a local Sam Goody where I bought the cassette single of the song. This is how I learned first hand that cassette tapes could be worn out, as I listened to that little single as many times as it could physically take.

      Here's the thing about nostalgia, about a year ago I remembered my love for this song, and the subsequent single off of Duran Duran's The Wedding Album, and downloaded them. While I'm not going to pretend that they are the best song's ever written, I can honestly say they don't really sound like what was going on in popular music at the time of their release. I can see how the songs would have stuck out to the 9 year old version of myself, the lyrics are evocative, in the way that you didn't really understand at that young of an age but you still knew you enjoyed. The accompanying video's, especially the one for "Come Undone" had the same aesthetics as the music itself. In short, the songs sound a lot closer to what I enjoy musically at my age now than Nirvana or MC Hammer do.

     Now where I acknowledge the difference between nostalgia and actual enjoyment of a piece of music objectively is in my reaction the the rest of The Wedding Album. In 1993 I really had no concept of the album per say. On my trips to Sam Goody I would buy the singles of the songs I liked, because why would I buy something that was more expensive that had a bunch of songs on it that I hadn't even heard? So in 2010 when I decide to finally hear the entire album that two of my favorite childhood songs came from my reaction was a bit confusing. In short, the album isn't that great, so am I enjoying the two tracks because I have been trained through years and years of exposure to like them? Or are the two singles actually just way better than anything else contained on the album as a whole? I know that I am biased, but I think it is more of the latter than the former. The rest of the album basically sounds like the cheesy 80's pop that made Duran Duran famous, where the two aforementioned tracks are nearly perfect pop songs in two opposite molds. "Ordinary World" is a hopefull proclamation of life, and "Come Undone" is a brooding obsessive song about mental transformation. I am aware that I am probably giving these more credit than they are due, but I guess that is just the price of biased nostalgia.



Friday, April 15, 2011


     Its funny that the term Witch House as a genre is just as polarizing as the music itself. Is it an actual genre representing multiple groups and musicians, or just a concoction of music media sites like Pitchfork and other music blogs to easily pigeonhole the music into its own neat category? I personally think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Witch House is by no means entirely creative or original, yet what is? It is heavily influenced by late 80's and early 90's industrial, not so much the instrumentation but in the feel and darkness of the music itself. At the same time it has a deep rap influence, particularly the chopped and screwed style made famous by DJ Screw. The resulting sound is mish mash of warbled synthesizers that wouldn't sound out of place in a DDR song alongside 8 bit sounding drum machines and slowed down voices. Personally I find enjoyment in the sound, but only to a certain extent.

    The genre has always been somewhat tongue in cheek. One of the first tracks I hear that was labelled Witch House was IxC999 by White Ring. For those who haven't heard it, it is a lo fi sounding electro track with gunshot samples ala 2pac's Thug Luv. The track is dark, and yet seems to be aware of its own macho silliness. There is nothing wrong with self awareness though, in music, especially darker genre's, it can help lighten the mood when you know that the artist doesn't take things too seriously. A good example of what happens when you do the opposite can be seen in perhaps the biggest act to fall under the Witch House label, Salem. Their album from 2010, King Night, was very decisive. Some found it brilliant, such as The Chicago Tribune's music critic Greg Kot. Other's found it not so good, and borderline racist with tracks like Trapdoor promoting gangster lifestyle without an ounce of self awareness. My impression was that it was aware of its own silliness, until I learned of the groups live performances, which were self serious, condescending, and out and out terrrible.

     Obviously †‡† are taking the opposite route, defusing any notions of self seriousness by naming their album GHETTO ASS WITCH (yes in caps) and putting a skeleton'esque girl in a bikini dancing on a red moon while Jesus looks on with an upside down cross on his head. You should definitely click on the at the top of the post to see the bigger version of the image, it is worth it. Silly? Yes. Ridiculous? Yes. But their is a part of me that for some reason likes the audacity of it. It emulates the No Limit album covers like Master P and Silkk The Shocker from the Late 90's, but with a decidedly Witch House bent to it. It is also fitting for what is contained on the album itself.
     The album starts off with a punch, with spoken word vocals over huge synths and a bare bones hip hop beat. What hits you about the album, even on the first track, is how melodic it is compared to its peers. Also the production is spot on for the genre. Its not distractingly lo fi, like White Ring tends to be, yet its not completely in the red like Salem tends to be. Everything can be heard pretty clearly, and surprisingly it is actually musically interesting. The second track isn't as memorable, it sounds like someone sat down for about 10 minutes and wrote a rave track. It doesn't really have anything unique about it, it is just kind of there. And now on to the title track, which is hilarious and awesome. One part little girl vocals ala no wave bands like The Sick Lipstick, one part guy grunting GHETTO ASS WITCH over and over, one part big washed out synths. It definitely threw me through a loop first time I heard it, but I have to admit its growing on me in a cheesy kind of way. Whats not to love about lyrics like "fuckin with a pentagram I'm your sacrificial lamb" and "white girl problem I'm your fuckin three six", and a rapper named GVCCI-HVCCI?

   However the strongest track on the album is also the least jokey. "Third Eye Sixth Sense" sounds like a soccer chant mixed with some kind of ceremony mixed with some kind of dark trance music. It also has a distinctive chiptune influence, and is evocative of some of the tracks off of the first Crystal Castles album.

    GHETTO ASS WITCH is a step in the right direction for witch house. Its drops the blatent hip hop tough guy undertones and swaps them out for more evocative instrumentation, with an emphasis on synthesizers. It has vocals throughout the album, but not to where it distracts from the mood of the music as a whole. It only really has one track that I skip consistently, "Star Magick", which isn't awful, just boring. Also how can you NOT love an album with a cover like that?

Support the artist, buy it!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Burial - Street Halo

     The usually elusive and secluded Burial has been in the limelight more and more lately. I attribute this mostly due to the fact that his brand of downbeat Dubstep is so much more emotionally rewarding than the straight up wobble of the rest of his UK counterparts. Each track has its own heart, where as standard Dubstep tracks place the emphasis on groove. That's not to say you can't groove, or even dance to Burial, because you easily could, but there is just so much more to it than that. Burial also was the producer behind the Jamie Woon album which recently came out, which is also spectacular and puts Burials talents to use in ways in which they haven't been adapted to yet. Another thing that has really pushed Burial from underground sensation to borderline star has been Thom Yorke's involvement. It was apparent when Thom Yorke's solo album came out around the same time as Burial's debut back in 2006 that they shared many aesthetic values. Burial even did a fantastic remix of the track "And It Rained All Night" for Yorke, which was easily the standout track on "The Eraser: Remixes".

     Taking this relationship to a whole new level is the Thom Yorke / Burial / Four Tet collaboration that came out a little while ago. While Four Tet and Burial has collaborated before, this was something new in that it was taking their combined sound in a more vocal direction. While I really did enjoy that collaboration, I was hoping we would see some new solo Burial material, because even though I enjoy all his work producing and collaborating, I find his solo work to be the most distant and withdrawn, and in the end the most rewarding.

     Lucky for me we now have a new Burial EP, titled "Street Halo". It opens up with the title track, which is much more upbeat than his work typically is, yet contains the patented pitch shifted and twisted vocals that haunt most Burial tracks. The Beat sounds less like a standard Dubstep track and more like an tribute to all the jungle and D&B tracks that Burial grew up with. That's not to say its a banger or anything, because it definitely isn't. But it is for sure one of the most straightforward Burial tracks ever released.

     The second track, titled "NYC", is the Burial sound that I have been missing when listening to his collaborative work. It takes an incredibly delicate hand to manipulate the ebb and flow of a track such as this, but he does it with devastating results. Empty spaces are filled with reverb drenched synths, a sampled vocal is pitched up to a desperate coo, and underlying it all is the steady thump of the standard Burial two step rhythm. Tracks like NYC don't come along often for me, and it is these tracks that accompany me into long nights of work, writing, and blissful longing.
     After hearing NYC for the first time I was happy. The EP could have ended right there and I wouldn't have thought twice about it. My thirst for Burial seclusion had been quenched. Yet the sound of the final track of the EP came oozing through my headphones. "Stolen Dog" is more emotional, more affecting, and more isolating than anything Burial has ever done. Hyperbole? I guess maybe. But I have listened to this track 10 times in the last 2 weeks or so and it just keeps getting better each time. The beat is nearly absent, featuring an unsteady hi hat and some clicks and pops, which allow the subversive melodies to be that much more present. At about 3:45 the track nearly ends all together, only to come back together again. Although it is basically the same throughout, I feel like I am hearing new elements and feelings all the way to the end.

     In short I am incredibly excited to see what kind of full length Burial puts out next. If it is anything close to the quality of his past LP's, and now "Street Halo", than it will truly be something to be reckoned with.

Try it

Love it? Buy it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More Jamie Woon Worship

Been listening to the new Jamie Woon track on repeat, I was worried that after the amazing "Night Air" and "Wayfaring Stranger" singles he would have trouble coming up with an album's worth of material that lived up to them. Fortunately the first track that's been released off his forthcoming album is stellar, and he just released a video for it, which gives me an excuse to post about him again.

The is definitely more upbeat than "Night Air", but still manages to maintain the icy coolness that runs through all of his material. There also seems to be a bit of Justin Timberlake coming through on "Lady Luck", which is fine by me.

Jamie Woon - "Lady Luck" from stereogum on Vimeo.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Kate Bush - The Sensual World

     There is a common argument among music fans that typically comes up around the time when everyone releases their year end lists, and that argument concerns whether the song or the album is an artists greatest form of expression. I have always fallen on the side of the album, as there is much more space and time to create a narrative and mood. Yet every once in a while I will hear an individual song that puts me in the other mindset. Where albums can wax and wain, and create an impression over some 40 minutes, a song can be concise in a way that an album simply cannot.

    Lately I have been filling some major gaps in my music listening, and Kate Bush is the latest one of those gaps. While I enjoy the three albums I have been listening to lately, one song really stuck out to me as the essence of what makes her such an amazing musician. "The Sensual World" is the lead track on the 1989 album of the same name. Kate is known for making highly eclectic music that draws on a broad range of influences, from world music to dance as well as folk. The sound contained on "The Sensual World" is a potent mix of 80's reverb haze mixed with an unmistakable and incredibly effective vocal. The lyrics concern a monologue given by one of the characters at the end of James Joyce's "Ulysses", although familiarity with the novel have no impact on the enjoyment of the song.
     Its hard to put a pinpoint why I keep coming back to this song, so much so that I have listened to it 11 times in the last 5 days. For one Kate's vocal delivery is incredibly unique. The way that she ends every line with a hum and a sighing of the word "yes" is a fantastic hook. Although I hate to do this, the best word to describe it is sensual. Her voice oozes and drips with an emotion and longing to understand and love the world around her. As she comes off the page and into the world as a whole she realizes what is truely important and what she wants from the world and people around her.

    Another selling point is the production. Lately there has been a resurgence of the reverb heavy almost shoegazy sound of the late 80's, and what better to sell the sound than a masterpiece from the era itself. Artists such as m83 have made a career out of recycling this nostalgia soaked eargasm wall of sound, and interestingly the tracks "Up!" and "Skin of the Night"  off of m83's latest album Saturdays = Youth feature a female singer basically doing her best Kate Bush impression. The production here, while admittedly sounding a bit dated, is nearly flawless for what it is trying to accomplish.
     Below I have my favorite Kate Bush album that I have listened to so far, The Hounds of Love. I won't get into why I love the album too much, I will just say that the way that the first half features incredibly catchy synth pop songs whilst the later half contains more soulful personal songs is an interesting and effective concept.

Kate Bush - The Hounds of Love

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shannon Stephens - The Breadwinner

Release Date - 2009

Life is full of unexpected turns