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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mark’s Pick of the Week: 6 Feet Beneath the Moon by King Krule

            You probably wouldn’t consider someone who is 19 to be very worldly.  19 years isn’t much time to put things into perspective, and make art that will still feel full in 5, 10 or even 20 years.  However, not everyone is Archy Marshall.  Growing up listening to garage, dub, jazz, and old school hip-hop among the dissolution and turmoil of London, King Krule grew up a bit quicker then most.  He has been releasing music under various monikers since 2010 to, and a lot of critical acclaim has been coming his way.  Though his earlier carrier has been filled with one-offs, short projects, and collaborations he has really decided to buckle down for this LP.  He has canceled shows and has remained relatively silent until the album was finished.  All this hard work has resulted in an album that is as somber in its sound and it is diverse in its influences.
            The album opens with guitar and Marshall’s voice.  For the most part that’s all you get.  The guitar has a really full sound hanging in the reverb and echoing off the empty spaces.  Some songs also feature some drum loops as well as some sampling, which is reminiscent of some of his earlier production.  He’s not a strager to moving around styles as well as combining a few.  There are slow burning guitar ballads like “Baby Blue” while the track “The Krockadile" is a fantastic dive into dub.  These twists help to keep this album, which might otherwise be a bit taxing to listen to, moving smoothly.
You might compare his voice to that of Joe Strummer (in that they both sound like they sing with something in their mouth.)  However, the Strummer comparison doesn’t stop there.  Both artists convey the “beat down songwriter.”  They’ve seen some stuff, which is obvious because of what they sing as well as how they sing it.  When you hear him telling the story in “Ocean Bed” or describing hard times in “Easy, Easy” you can get more emotion and description from his voice then what he’s saying.  It’s rough and untrained, but still has this strange appeal like a film noir, where it’s still dark even during the day.
The album also features previously released tracks (Out Getting Ribs, Ocean Bed) as well as a reworked version of “A Lizard State” which much to busy for it’s own good one of the few misses on the album (the horns in “Neptune Estate” was a much better use of the instrument.)
Marshall has changed a lot since he’s started.  His names, recording techniques, and songwriting have gone through more then one transformation in the last few years.  However, he remains true to the style and influence that made him love music in the first place.  It really awesome to hear someone who understands the facets of the music they love, can dissect it, and turn it into something that is all their own.  It’s certainly to early to call this guy anything, but hey every great songwriter started with one album.  Lets see what he does with the rest of them.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Track of the Moment: Reflektor by Arcade Fire

     My very first reaction to this new track: Arcade Fire sounds like dance pop! No doubt a result from working with both David Bowie and James Murphy. Yes, they were leaning this way for some time, but I get the strange feeling of “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk. Don’t get me wrong, I was preparing myself for Neo-Arcade Fire since their previous album, The Suburbs, which is known to be the album that punched hardcore Lady Gaga fans in the face at the 2010 Grammy Awards. The first half of the record was similar to the band’s original music, but as it progressed, the songs sounded more pop approved (“Sprawl II” for example). That being said, I was hoping for this album to be at least a cross between the two, like before, and not a full immersion into dance pop. Seeing that this is a double album, the band will still most likely appeal to a wide range of fans. Some 50+ songs were written for the album, so one could imagine that there will be twists and turns to please any listener. 

     Arcade Fire has always been that giant indie group who play artistic rock and do great live, but their albums are more then a rush of adrenaline. In the case of their first album, Funeral, the instrumentation was awe-inspiring, and the lyrics were like bittersweet emotional lullabies that stood coherent to the album’s title. The next release, Neon Bible, took everything from before, added an assortment of politics and social paranoia, and made it about ten times darker. Lead singer, Win Butler, became more like an activist from then on, depicting the downfall of suburban living in none other than  The Suburbs. Fans of the group have been anticipating their next release for some time, but now it is finally here. Surprisingly, I am not disappointed with the new single/album opener, but if I were to hear this band for the first time today, I would not be as impressed. It is a good thing that I do know the band well, because I know that something big is coming.

     The new single, “Reflektor”, is actually the longest song that Arcade Fire has released to date (“Vampire Forest Fire” is a close second place). I think people would agree that it definitely has a 1980’s feel to it, along with an assortment of new instruments. The band is definitely expanding their sound, which can be both good and bad at the same time. What has changed from three years back? For starters, the band is no longer the orchestra that it once was, for only six members remain (Not sure what happened to Sarah Neufeld). Win Butler still plays the “activist” role, however, and this time the album seems to represent the disfunction of the digital age, which does sound fitting. Their sound has obviously become more like disco, but is the band merely embracing the glamorous pop culture, or are they trying to prove a point? One thing I do know is that a band like Arcade Fire does not go into the world of music without having a few tricks up their sleeves, and that is why I am very much looking forward to this new album.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

John's Albums of the Month: July 2013

Hey everyone,

So, I thought it might happen. Here we are in September and I'm posting about July. It won't happen again, I promise! But yes, finally July is over with in my world. It was definitely a down month, where highly anticipated albums from Jay-Z and Robin Thicke didn't really hold up. On the bright side, it made July much closer from a rankings standpoint. In fact, I kept shifting albums around up to today. Anyway, check out what I picked!

Honorable Mentions: Grant Hart - The Argument (Domino), AlunaGeorge - Body Music (Island), Kirin J. Callinan - Embracism (XL), Gogol Bordello - Pura Vida Conspiracy (ATO), Van Dyke Parks - Songs Cycled (Bella Union)

10. True Widow - Circumambulation (Relapse)

Bands who christen a specific mash-up genre as their sound don't always work out, but Dallas "stonegaze" trio True Widow is onto something. Their third album "Circumambulation" is the best distillation of the band's sound, the droning yet gritty rhythm section of bassist (and part-time vocalist) Nicole Estill and drummer Slim Starks grind along to Dan Phillips' chunky guitar riffs and serene vocal melodies. It should sound like pure doom and gloom, but the surprising vocals lend a My Bloody Valentine-gone-stoner rock edge to songs such as "Four Teeth" and "Creeper". Even "Numb Hand" sounds like an echo of "Only Shallow" with more sludge. Though "Circumambulation" is far from the flashiest metal album this year, it's one of the most captivating. Its aching plod will hypnotize you if you're not careful.

Key Track: Creeper

9. Anna von Hausswolff - Ceremony (Fat Possum)

The pipe organ can certainly sound great, but there's not much of a precedent for its use in indie rock. Until now, that is. Gothenberg, Sweden singer-songwriter Hausswolff used her local church's organ to serve as the backbone for her sophomore album "Ceremony", making it both ethereal and monolithic. Though the music isn't overtly religious, it's clearly church-inspired on the titles alone ("Funeral for My Future Children", "Liturgy of Light"). Which means those expecting an easy pop album are in for a surprise, as Hausswolff opens with two slow-burning dirges and takes a full ten minutes for her to sing. But where, Hausswolff could get lost in her own reverb and Karl Vento's moaning guitar, she also displays serious pop sensibilities on "Mountains Crave" and "Sova". Most importantly, the pipe organ is not a distracting gimmick, but effectively woven into a fabric that's somehow equally muscular and delicate.

Key Track: Deathbed

8. Letlive - The Blackest Beautiful (Epitaph)

Post-hardcore; if you've ever rolled your eyes at another screamo band or scoffed at Warped Tour, you know it's a divisive genre. Yet there is still a progressive segment that revitalizes the genre by incorporating punk and metal influences. Los Angeles quintet Letlive do just that on their third album "The Blackest Beautiful", a focused punch that turns skeptics into believers. While many post-hardcore bands sound overwrought and formulaic, Letlive used industrial clutter ("The Dope Beat"), blistering punk ("Empty Elvis") and crisp speed metal drumming ("That Fear Fever") to show that it doesn't have to be predictable. Lead vocalist Jason Aalon Butler keeps this eclecticism grounded with angry screams, but even he dabbles in Rage Against the Machine-esque rap metal banter. Unhinged, raw emotion is still the name of the game, but it's great to hear an album that also keeps you thoroughly off-balance.

7. Daughn Gibson - Me Moan (Sub Pop)

Central Pennsylvania isn't exactly an oasis of talent from which acclaimed artists emerge, but it does have one trick up its sleeve. Carlisle-born Josh Martin started as a drummer for stoner metal band Pearls and Brass, but has recently garnered praise for his solo career as Daughn Gibson. His sophomore album and Sub Pop-debut "Me Moan" is a unique mix of old-school country over somber electronics. Martin's deep baritone has the twang of a country crooner that's endearing even when he warps his vowels nearly to the point of self-parody. It may sound preposterous, but the mutated boogie of "The Sound of Law", the drum-and-bass shadowed honky tonk of "Kissing on the Blacktop", and the Burial-influenced ambient textures used effectively on songs such as "Won't You Climb" and "Phantom Rider" actually work. “Me Moan” is startling in that way, containing a daring sound that somehow sounds natural.

6. Weekend - Jinx (Slumberland)

Slumberland Records has had a solid string of noisy pop rock albums this year, from Veronica Falls to Girls Names, but "Jinx" is a big feather in their cap. The San Francisco shoegaze/lo-fi trio's sophomore effort isn't so much a blending of those two genres as it is an expert superimposition. The post-punk heft of "Mirror" and "Sirens" is intentionally obscured by extra echo and reverb, while "Celebration, FL" is an spacier take on Tears for Fears-style college rock. This is not to say that "Jinx" is only defined by its influences. "Oubliette" is jangly and forboding, with singer and bassist Shaun Durkan's long, slow vocal melody beautifully dissonant. Meanwhile, "July" and "Adelaide" are chock full of noisy punk outbursts that keep you on your toes. Such an expansive sound could have been muddled, but Weekend recall My Bloody Valentine in their ability to crystallize a stark and fully-formed song out of the abyss. 

Key Track: Oubliette

5. Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana (Carpark)

Just two years ago, Northampton, Massachusetts indie rock quartet Speedy Ortiz originated at singer-songwriter Sadie Dupuis' summer camp, where she was teaching songwriting and recording on the side. Talk about humble beginnings. But debut "Major Arcana" is a satisfying product of that hard work, a display of Dupuis' biting wit and sneering that Stephen Malkmus of Pavement used so well. That influence goes way beyond Dupuis; "Major Arcana" is full of jagged 90's riffs and indie nostalgia, but the send-up is so good that it's hardly bothersome. Besides, there are cracks that show the unique character of Speedy Ortiz., such as an extra measure or tricky time signature is thrown in so fast that you almost miss it. "Fun" is terrific pop punk with a quiet-loud dynamic worthy of the Pixies, while "No Below" reveals surprising depth when Dupuis' middle school angst makes her feel "better off as being dead". For a band so indebted in a decades-old sound, "Major Arcana" is a well-crafted debut that shows lots of promise.

Key Track: No Below

4. Alela Diane - About Farewell (Burnside)

At the risk of sounding corny, breaking up is hard to do. Portland, Oregon-based Alela Diane ended a long relationship, but unlike most breakup albums it's she who initiated the split. As a result, Diane's fourth album "About Farewell" is filled with deep, complex emotions. After all, how do you let go of someone you know so well when you know it will break their heart and yours? Diane not only makes the tough decision, but shows quiet dignity in the face of its emotional consequences. The contradictions are also apparent, where she lets him go on the title track and asks him to dig deep, but still reminisces about him deeply on "Colorado Blue". Finger-picked acoustic guitar and strings are usually the only components of the album's sparse arrangements. All of that space makes it sound like Diane is lost in her head with her own harmonies. But though most of the tracks are folky musings, there's still the stomping "The Way We Fall" that shows Diane has some soul. A deep album both musically and lyrically, "About Farewell" shows Diane coming into her own without sounding overly sentimental.

Key Track: The Way We Fall

3. Hiatus Kaiyote - Tawk Tomahawk (Flying Buddha)

There are progressive R&B groups such as Little Dragon and Quadron, and then there's the future soul of Hiatus Kaiyote. This Melbourne, Australia four-piece is seeking not only to move past barriers, but to rip them to shreds. In their brief history, they've garnered praise from ?uestlove and Flying Lotus and signed to producer Salaam Remi's label, all on the strength of "Tawk Tomahawk". The album grazes 30 minutes and half of the songs are under two minutes, but there are few R&B albums this year that are better pound-for-pound. Guitarist and singer Nai Palm is infinitely crafty, a superb vocalist who can sound both sweet and downright abrasive. The backing band of bassist Paul Bender, drummer Perrin Moss and keyboardist Simon Mavin are no different, letting loose on longer tracks "Mobius Streak" and "Lace Skull". After hearing the minute-and-a-half bangers of "Ocelot" and "Boom Child", it's easy to think that Hiatus Kaiyote only works in short, mad bursts. But then they reign in their craziest tendencies for "Nakamarra", making Palm and co. a force to be reckoned with.

Key Track: Nakamarra

2. Pet Shop Boys - Electric (Sony)

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, a.k.a. the London synthpop duo Pet Shop Boys, have been legends of their genre since the mid-80's, but every star fades. At least that's what seemed to be happening on their 11th studio album "Elysium", a release maligned for its more ambient sound. Ten months later, "Electric" opener "Axis" renders their previous album irrelevant when a minute of beatless electronics is interrupted by Tennant's "turn it up". From then on, "Electric" lives up to its name through an onslaught of explosive dance beats that are firmly entrenched in Pet Shop Boys' origins but still sound remarkably fresh. "Bolshy" is pure fun and goofy love over pounding drum machines and a myriad of syncopating synths and pianos. But "Fluorescent", with its low, claustrophobic synths and "Halloween"-esque melody, is as dank as "Bolshy" is bright. Just when you thought that was impressive, they also managed to pull off a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "The Last to Die". In essence, Pet Shop Boys sound so good on "Electric" that it must surpass even their fan club's wildest dreams. It's amazing what going back to the basics can do, especially when it's reinforced by such a revitalizing confidence. As "Axis" puts it: "electric energy".

Key Track: Axis

Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power, the duo behind Bristol noise/drone electronic group Fuck Buttons, don't adhere to a more specific sound than making big-sounding music. And by big, I mean London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony big, where two of their songs were prominently featured. Their third album "Slow Focus" arrived a year nearly to the day after that ceremony and four years after the lauded "Tarot Sport". Long story short, Fuck Buttons are still on their own level partly because of their expansive sound and partly because of their willingness to turn their sound inside out. Not that Hung and Power changed their foundation, far from it. What "Slow Focus" accomplishes best is the introduction of more nuanced rhythms, brought to the forefront by the album's hip-hop influence. "Brainfreeze" acts as a mutated 2-step that starts with thunderous floor toms and ends with beat emphasis on one and three. "The Red Wing" even resembles a straightforward hip-hop track for a second, complete with midtempo breakbeat and what sounds like a crude attempt at sampling. All of this could sound pretty hokey coming from the doomsday masters we know and love, but thankfully Fuck Buttons still very much know how to be brutally epic. They've even kept the piercing buzz and wail of those stratospheric synths from "Tarot Sport". "Slow Focus" is a satisfying new wrinkle to their terrific sound and another great album for one of the most exciting electronic acts in music today.

Key Track: Brainfreeze

Friday, August 30, 2013

Dan's Pick of the Week: Exorcism by Power Animal

     After much griping over a lack of interesting new bands to listen to, I went back to the ones I previously invested my time in. A group in particular that had once sparked my attention was the local electric band Power Animal, which had released an EP last year titled Exorcism. I know it is a bit older, but I figured it would never be too late to do a post on this album, mainly because it’s fan-freakin-tastic! The first time I listened to these guys I immediately got their songs stuck in my head. I would then return to Power Animal again and again.

     The Philly band’s founder, Keith Hampson, has an interesting story of spending almost a year in and out of hospitals, and instead of playing instruments he played cassette tapes. This inspired the EP, Exorcism, which offers a broad range of sounds in past genres. These were ultimately compiled into six songs and five remixes. Every track is unique by itself, but together they are something much greater. I certainly think that Power Animal deserves more credit than what they were previously given. 

     Most of the tracks start out glitchy, but as the first thirty seconds roll out, the curtain is unveiled and a beautiful melody blossoms. No song here lacks a great beat, and Power Animal does well to throw out unexpected rifts and harmonies which typically would not make sense, yet they are pulled off magnificently. It is very unpredictable music indeed, never resting or untangling. Normally, something like this would sound monstrous, but I have easily found both the physical and emotional beauty in such a creature. Take the song “Mold Spores” for example, which happens to be the glitchiest of them all. Every four measures, however, I shiver from the soft voice that echoes throughout the track, while Hampson sings, “I wish that I can join you in your search for sacred moments, but I got to cross my lake. I just hope that it’s a little less treacherous than yours has been.”

     If there is one thing that I can say about this album it’s that Exorcism at no point is boring. Not only are their melodies spontaneous, but they also use an array of unique instruments which are then glazed over various synth recordings, putting this band in the experimental category as well. I am not to big of an electronic fan, but I do enjoy Power Animal, mainly because amiss all the musical tension there is beauty present at all times, relaying Hampson’s message of finding relief in an environment that offers none. If you don’t believe me, then listen to the title track and see for yourself. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summer Psychosis 2: Preview for the Final Four

Hey everyone,

Were you wondering where this thing went? I was busy, but now I am free so the suspense is over! As you may recall, there are only four songs left in our Summer Psychosis Songs of the 60's bracket. Scratch that, four amazing songs. Some were favorites all along, and some got here through stunning upsets. Now each one has a shot at moving on to the Championship round! 

But before we decide that, I just wanted to share the origin story of each remaining song. The process of creating one of these classics is often absurdly long-winded and complex, and not a single one of these songs was safe or destined for success. Yet each song has stood on its own merits through the test of time, winning the hearts of those who have crossed its path. These are their stories:

File:Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone.jpg

Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone

June 1965 was a trying time for Bob Dylan. Physically drained and musically frustrated after five albums in three years and his England tour that spring, Dylan felt so directionless about his music that he considered halting his career altogether. It was some kind of identity crisis with writer's block to boot. But everything changed for Dylan after "Like a Rolling Stone", and I'm not just talking about its #2 peak on the Billboard Hot 100. The song started as 10-20 pages of "vomit", free-written poetry on his typewriter as documented on the documentary "Don't Look Back", that only acquired musical structure after Dylan whittled it down to four verses and a chorus.

Dylan and his mostly familiar band--pianist Paul Griffin, drummer Bobby Gregg and producer Tom Wilson all worked on "Bringing It All Back Home"--convened for the first recording session on June 15th in Columbia Records' Studio A. The day was hectic and unproductive; five takes were attempted in a waltz time with Dylan on piano, and they could barely get to the first chorus. Yet it only took four more takes the next day (15 were recorded in total) to capture "Like a Rolling Stone" in its now famous form, a 4/4 folk/blues with Dylan on electric guitar. Surprisingly, the iconic Hammond organ throughout the record came from a new addition to the session. Al Kooper had come to play guitar, but Mike Bloomfield had that spot nailed down. Once the Hammond organ was available, Kooper said he had a good part for it. Producer Wilson dismissed him, but Kooper went in anyway. Dylan liked it so much that he asked for the organ to be turned up in the mix.

Due to concerns over its "raucous" sound and unprecedented length, "Like a Rolling Stone" was at first denied as a single. But after the acetate demo was played until it wore out at local New York club Arthur, a Top 40 DJ immediately demanded copies. The song was soon released as a single by Columbia Records and proceeded to rock the music world to its core.



The Doors - Light My Fire

Back in the 60's, radio hits were everything if a band wanted to be successful. For a group as progressive and volatile as the Doors, it was essential. In August 1966, the quartet of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore had been playing together for barely a year. They had recently signed to Elektra Records (who were primarily a folk label at the time) only to be fired from their house gig at Whiskey a Go Go three days later after a profanity filled performance. The recording session for "Light My Fire" was equally tense, as Morrison smashed engineer Bruce Botnick's television because he didn't want any distractions. But luckily, things came together the next day, where the Doors only needed two takes to record what would be their masterpiece and what Krieger would later call a "once in a generation" song.

In combining a jazz drummer, flamenco-trained guitarist, classically-influence pianist and a poet with real flair and sex appeal, "Light My Fire" was the best distillation of these disparate parts. Originally an unfinished song from Krieger, it also was driven to glorious excess in the form of lengthy solos from keyboardist Manzarek and the main writer himself. When their self-titled album was released in January 1967, they had little hope of a radio hit. "Break on Through" was released as the first single, but was a commercial flop. However, the seven-minute "Light My Fire" quickly became the most requested song for radio stations on the West Coast.

With a lack of commercial success, it was do or die for the Doors. "Light My Fire" proved to be their savior once the label suggested that cutting out the solos would turn the song into a short, AM radio-friendly hit. As we now know, the results surprised everyone; "Light My Fire" not only went to #1 but was a phenomenon, even landing them a controversial appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. So the Doors began their too-brief but illustrious career in the limelight, by sounding like nothing else with no compromises.

The Beatles - A Day in the Life

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is without a doubt the most avant garde and grandiose album that the Beatles ever made. Their experiment-minded and studio-oriented approach was no more apparent, and arguably never as well executed, as on the album closer "A Day in the Life". The total amount of time spent recording the song was a staggering 34 hours. To put that number in perspective, the Beatles recorded their entire debut album in only ten.

Despite the extravagance of the "Day in the Life" sessions, the song had relatively humble beginnings. Lennon's verses were inspired by the mundane--he read about 4,000 Blackburn, Lancashire holes in the paper and referenced the movie "How I Won the War", which he was starring in--and the deeply personal in the death of Guinness fortune heir Tara Browne in a car crash. McCartney's contribution was the piano-led middle section that was originally an independent piece recalling his younger days. He also suggested the verse-ending line "I love to turn you on", a self-aware drug reference at the time. It was a close and unique collaboration, but McCartney and Lennon pulled it off.

The only thing that left the Beatles stumped was how to tie these sections together. Originally, the two 23-bar bridges only had the basic track along with the sound of assistant Mal Evans counting off each bar while setting off an alarm clock in the first bridge. The final form came when McCartney proposed that a full orchestra filled the gap, improvising along the way. Producer George Martin wasn't sure that classically-trained musicians would want to improvise, so he wrote an atonal glissando that ended in a dramatic crescendo. The orchestra was recorded doing this four times, so the overdubs were plentiful. It provided a transition that increased the juxtaposition between Lennon and McCartney's section while lifting the song as a whole to dizzy new heights. Then the final chord (played on three pianos simultaneously) comes crashing down, bringing the studio whirlwind to a satisfying close.



Sam Cooke - A Change is Gonna Come

As a very successful R&B singer in the late 50's and early 60's, smoothed-voice Sam Cooke was not one to go for an activist song, even as the country was in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. That all changed when Cooke heard Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind". He was moved by Dylan's take on racism in America and stunned that a 21 year old white kid could discuss that kind of struggle so powerfully. This event, along with a meeting with sit-in protesters in Durham, North Carolina, prompted Cooke to start writing "A Change is Gonna Come" on his tour bus in that fateful summer of 1963. Though this did not occur without some hesitation; Cooke had felt the need to address racism in one of his songs, but feared the departure would cause him to lose his largely white fan base.

But as that year dragged on, the impetus for "A Change is Gonna Come" seemed more and more like destiny. The song itself reflects two pivotal moments for Cooke in '63: the death of his 18-month old son by drowning and his arrest for disturbing the peace when trying to register in a "Whites Only" motel. All of that anger and weariness was channeled through Cooke's uncharacteristically gospel-like vocals when he finally got to record the song on December 21st, 1963. He also gave free rein to arranger Rene Hall, who provided a thunderous orchestral background to make the song sound even more monumental.

It was a long and bumpy road to get "A Change is Gonna Come" the recognition it deserved. He managed to perform it on The Tonight Show in February 1964, only to be overshadowed by the Beatles' legendary Ed Sullivan appearance two days later. Cooke, who was shot at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles on December 11th, 1964 by Bertha Franklin, didn't live to see the song become a success. However, it was released as a B-side on a posthumous single just eleven days later, soon becoming the powerful civil rights anthem that it was meant to be.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Track of the Moment: Hey Mami by Sylvan Esso

What do you get when you mix Purity Ring with Fiona Apple? That’s a question most don’t ask, but Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn did. And boy was it a question worth answering.

Amelia Meath is the frontwoman of Mountain Man (it’s ironic and they’re folk, so you know they got mad hipster cred), while Nick Sanborn is the bassist for Megafun, a psychedelic folk band. 

This is almost a surprising combination – who would think that folk vocals would think that folk vocals and electronic music would work so well together? But Sanborn’s beats are slow, pulsing, match perfectly with Meath’s soaring and almost mournful vocals that harmonize at just the right moments. The electronic crescendos are impressive; they both grab your attention and fade into the background into a deep, pleasant hum. They fade away almost completely at times, allowing Meath’s voice shine through, before coming in and lifting the entire song up far past anything each element could do on its own.

Hey Mami” is a great example of this. The first half of the song sounds like a recording of a street performer, the din of the city faintly heard in the background as Meath casually sings. The lyrics are about a sexy girl who is the object of desire of all the guys in a most likely Hispanic district of New York, referencing an ass that draws the attention of all the boys she passes (not actual lyrics, but damn if that’s not a decent line). Her voice is strong and powerful, heartily belting out lines about bodegas and cat calls. Sanborn slowly begins adding claps, then bells, before finally coming with distorted electronics. While Purity Ring tends to aim for the glitchy, fast paced instrumentals, Sylvan Esso takes their time with more static notes, letting them linger, letting you absorb the sonic landscape as it gently floats by. They only exist to make the song bigger and bolder, a selfless act that has created an amazing piece of art.

So far, they only have a 2 song EP out, if you can even call it an EP. The vinyl has both the songs, along with the instrumentals and the accapella, so that’s cool, if you’re into remixing. You can also get the songs on iTunes and Amazon, if you’re a filthy casual who may or may not be into remixing

I’m usually very verbose, as any of my reviews can tell you, but Sylvan Esso has left me speechless. They don’t have much out right now, but I can see good things in their future, and I’m awaiting their next release. In the mean time, I'll just have to like this.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mark’s Pick of the Week: Doris by Earl Sweatshirt

            I was thinking recently about how young hip-hop has got in the last few years.  Some of the most exciting acts in the genre were born after 85’.  Between Joey Bada$$, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and the ASAP Mob, Pro Era and of course OFWGKTA, there is a whole new crop of rappers that have either already made classics, are experimenting with new sounds, or haven’t even made a major label d├ębut yet.  Probably the youngest and most famous of these is Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt.  In 2010 he got famous for being absent when Odd Future exploded, but instead of being left behind he became one of the most interesting facets of the Odd Future traveling circus.  Now he’s back, been featured on a few tracks, and is ready to release his first LP.  Earl must have understood the hype and importance of this album because what he gave us was something worthy of 3 years of waiting.
            The most striking feature of the album is the hooks…there aren’t really any.  Short of the first single “Chum” there aren’t really any hype tracks, head bangers or club hits to be found on this album.  That’s mostly a production choice and the executive producer on the LP is randomblackdude Earl’s pseudonym.  Even if this is a long way from the Earl mixtape there is no shortage of phenomenal rapping.  That being said the rapping is probably the main draw of this album to the casual listener. 
            As far as rap goes there is SO MUCH to cover.  Tyler makes an appearance on the two songs he produced on the album as well as other Odd Future members Domo Genius, Case Veggie, and Frank Ocean (who raps like he did on Oldie!)  Also we have Vince Staples, Mac Miller, and RZA (yeah I know THE RZA!)  All in all it’s a pretty solid lineup, and it shines though in the great wordplay especially from Earl himself. 
            Earl is very good at rapping.  I haven’t met anyone yet who would disagree with that statement.  In fact he is the standout in almost every one of these tracks (I think Tyler and Frank are the only ones that give him a run for his money.)  His themes may be a bit less cartoonish, but his rhymes are just as dangerously complex as ever.  Anyone who knows Earl knows his style might not be totally original, but his is fast making it his own.  His slight lisp and deadpan delivery mixed with more syllables then you could believe you could fit in one breath is really his bread and butter.   His puns and rhymes are spot on as well, and you’ll probably be discovering and rediscovering new ones for many listens.  If you can appreciate rapping at all then you will be quick to forgive Earl for making an album that’s a bit on the somber side.
            In retrospect, this was not the album I expected Earl to put out.  I expected something more like Tyler’s “Wolf” which had both hype tracks and more somber tracks.  Instead Earl decided to make the album he wanted to make, and just let his talent fill in the blanks.  It is certainly worth the hype.