Archive | June, 2012

weekend roll out: madeon, “minimix”

29 Jun

Well, it’s been a good week. Healthcare reform ruled constitutional by SCOTUS. I experienced my very first site launch at work (yes, I got to stare at that beautiful design for a very long time back in March). And most importantly, Madeon released a new track.

I became a fan of this French 16-year-old electro prodigy sometime in 2010, when I first heard his excellent remix of Yelle’s “Que Veaux Tu.” He has, as expected, gained steadily in well-deserved popularity since then. This kid packs more ingenuity into each track than many DJs can show in an entire mixtape, and his music is so incredibly accessible- for all people and places. He puts out tracks that are equally as enjoyable from headphones in the office as they are at a club. No matter what the environment, it still sounds great.

I was lucky enough to see the youngin’ spin at UHall back in May (I hope some of you remember that incredibly sweaty night when Uhall must have reached 110 degrees), and his live show more than lives up to his recordings.

This week, Madeon proves once again that we won’t stop hearing his name for quite a long time. With “Minimix,” Madeon takes his mixing style to a whole new level by sampling ~100 songs in a single 5-minute track. Are your forreal, Madeon?!

Rolllll out.

Madeon, “Minimix”

on deck: el-p, killer mike, and mr. muthafuckin exquire at rock n roll hotel

27 Jun

As much as I love both live music and rap, I’m more hesitant to buy tickets to rap shows than other genres. For one, they run notoriously late and are often unstructured and disorganized. But, more importantly, not all rappers make their name on live performances- the strength of their latest mixtape is more important.

Therefore, it’s especially telling that I would purchase $30 ticket to a rap show on a Sunday night. I’m willing to risk a truly miserable Monday morning for this one:  El-P, Killer Mike, and Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire at Rock n Roll Hotel on July 15.

For long time rap fans, you might think of El-P first and foremost as a producer, second as a label owner, and only third as a performer. However, with his most recent solo release Cancer 4 Cure being hailed as one of the year’s best hip-hop albums, that characterization may change.

It’s tough to describe El-P’s crazy, convoluted, futuristic-robot-meets-Brooklyn-rap-wiz-kid aesthetic without sounding crazy yourself. But rest assured, El-P perfects this aesthetic on Crazy 4 Cure. It’s half aggression, half chest-thumping beats. Beats so dirty that El-P once again proves why dubstep DJs should all credit him as early inspiration. El-P is all at once verbally assaulting his listeners, while cutting loose on tracks that could serve as “futuristic workout anthems for robot soldiers.” (Well-said, Pitchfork).

Equally as exciting, El-P will be performing with two of his most talented cohorts: Killer Mike and Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire. Killer Mike’s latest album, the El-P-produced R.A.P. Music, might even surpass Cancer 4 Cure in my list of “best rap albums of 2012.” Mike is lyrically dexterous with a strong, forceful voice- which is necessary to back up the heavy political themes he tackles on certain tracks, such as “Reagan.”

Check out the tracks below. Buy a ticket. And maybe take it easy that Saturday night.

El-P, “Drones Over Brooklyn”

Killer Mike featuring El-P, “Butane”

Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire, “Huzzah”

weekend roll out: architecture in helsinki at black cat, anniversary edition

15 Jun

Exactly one year ago today, I paid a little too much money to see a band I didn’t care about that much: a ~$35 Stub Hub ticket to the sold out Architecture in Helsinki show at the Black Cat.

For reasons other than the quality of Architecture in Helsinki’s performance, it was $35 very well spent. Sometimes, factors other than the music lead to you considering a particular show a highlight of your week, month, year, or even life. It might be that you discovered a new venue, made new friends, celebrated a big accomplishment, or just busted out new dance moves- whatever. That’s the magic of live music, isn’t it? It’s never just about the music.

Don’t get me wrong, Architecture in Helsinki put on a great show (if I remember correctly, there was a whole smorgasbord of artists and instruments and accordions on stage), but on that night is was all about the company.

Roll out to a beautiful weekend, friends.

Architecture in Helsinki, “Contact High”

Architecture in Helsinki, “Heart it Races”

guest post: in defense of best coast (playing July 14 at 9:30 club)

13 Jun

Two guest posts in two weeks, how lucky am I? See, I’m not lying when I proclaim that my musical knowledge pales in comparison to my friends’. Below, enjoy a longer-form piece written by my friend Ravi Katari, as he tackles a genre that causes me more inner torment than most: dream pop.

If you agree with Ravi’s assertions, go see Best Coast at 930 Club. Despite my conflicted feelings about dream pop, I’m confident that will be a great show.

***

When Crazy For You was released by indie-pop duo Best Coast in the summer of 2010, the response was overwhelmingly positive.  The blogosphere instantly fell in love with the lo-fi beach melodies that evoked Phil Spector’s work with 1960s vocal acts such as The Crystals and The Ronettes.  Indie mandarins adored the fuzzy guitars, the humid reverbs, and the sun-soaked ennui of lead singer Bethany Cosentino’s amateur reflections.  The record is a perfect soundtrack to the kind of lazy summer most people stop having around the age of 18 when financial and materialistic concerns become more prominent in their lives.

What distinguished Best Coast from dream-surf contemporaries such as The Drums, Beach Fossils, Wavves, and Tame Impala was the potent nostalgia of youth carried in Cosentino’s soaring vocal melodies and lovelorn obsessions.  She herself commented in an interview that “nothing makes [her] happier” than “playing to two rows of 16-year-old girls that are all singing every single lyric to her song” (1).   And in that capacity, the debut LP received high praise from major reviewers including The Los Angeles Times (3.5/4), Pitchfork (8.4/10 BNM), and Robert Christgau, the dean himself, who gave it an A- (2) (3) (4).

Because the band was categorized with outfits like The Drums and Wavves, her ostensibly bratty, shallow, and simple lyrics were well-received and added to the band’s appeal because they resonated so well with the surf-pop and youthful nostalgia narratives.  However, that kind of appreciation is predictably unsustainable.  Like a comic-book superhero movie, Crazy For You was basically deemed a thoroughly enjoyable seasonal albeit perfectly forgettable and unsuited for deeper literary or acoustical investigation.

It was within this context that Best Coast’s follow up, The Only Place, was received in mid-May.  For this go-around, the band hired producer Jon Brion to advance their sound to the next level.  He is known for his production work with Kanye West and his graceful soundtrack work on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  This effort found the band dropping the damp, lo-fi sound for a cleaner and more polished sound that puts more focus on tempo, instrumental precision, and Cosentino’s absolutely stunning vocal talent.  Indeed, the production upgrade allows the listener to fully acknowledge her song contributions that were somewhat stifled in Crazy For You.

The reaction has been expectedly lackluster.  With a 2/5 score in the Guardian, the reviewer laments that the lyrics “about being bored and lazy become cloudingly familiar” and that the record “needs more sunshine” (5).  Similarly, a 6.2/10 review by Pitchfork opined that the departure of the original summer haziness emphasized the “weakest quality” of Best Coast: the lyrics (6).

Unfortunately, the duo was pretty much doomed from the release the first LP.  They suffered from a grave miscategorization that the band itself was likely unaware of.  Though Cosentino’s simplistic declaratives and yearning melodies were understood as enhancements of the overall beachy lo-fi vibe, they were not correctly recognized as the principally redeeming aspects of the band’s work.  The first record was great not because it was a solid addition to the surf and dream pop catalog of Wild Nothings and The Drums, but because Cosentino achieved something extraordinarily intelligent and creative.  While evoking the sound of 1960s era girl groups and rock bands, she simultaneously explored themes of postmodern feminism, rebellion, and adolescence that didn’t exist for the Shangri-Las.

The bipolar narrator in “Crazy For You” is a free and independent girl reflecting on her own irrationality and possible insanity which is not an exaggeration.  The other verses on the record are the ramblings of an intoxicated, erratic, jealous, and bored ex-girlfriend.  However, even though she had 16-year-old girls in the front row of her shows that might relate to this identity, there’s no doubt that present, too, were males of all flavors.  There was something deeper that was more compelling than just fantasizing about boyfriends.

A little bit of contemplation makes clear that the band’s original record was more than just the soundtrack to a lazy summer.  Given the overarching themes of Cosentino’s musings and repetitions, her lyrics were far from ordinary and even further from being the weakest quality of the album.  It’s a rare postmodern exploration of ennui and the liberated mind.  It’s important to note that the conflict is internal to Cosentino: she’s singing to herself.  And her bipolar erraticism is not unlike Dostoyevsky’s Nastassya Filippovna from The Idiot.  Her self-destructive nature is prominent on the first record while the compassionate and pitiful elements are explored on the follow-up.  It’s only within this proper context that the follow up record can be regarded as the worthy piece of work which it really is.

The Only Place, lyrically, is the meditation of a maturing young adult.  Though it was attacked for cheaply celebrating a return to the band’s Californian roots and rehashing familiar topics of laziness and heartbrokenness, a closer listen reveals an existential sorrow that was not present on Crazy For You.  Gone is the carefree ennui and newly present are themes of taking responsibility and real appreciation for the familiar concept of home.  The original sun-drenched intoxication has been replaced with the quiet clarity and regret of a post-hangover reckoning.  It isn’t the Thom Yorke’s despair; rather, it’s closer to Nicholas Cage’s character’s struggle to reconcile real life with his obsessive compulsive disorder in the 2002 film Matchstick Men.  Indeed, some of the lyrics sound like the sober musings of the Alcoholics Anonymous variety: “I used to wake up in the morning and reach for that bottle and glass but I don’t do that anymore…kicked my habits out the front door.”

And yes, in some ways, it is a drug-recovery record.  And in this sense her burnt out sentiments recall Iggy Pop’s Berlin-era wok.  But Cosentino succeeds by employing her incredibly emotive voice and raw honesty: “My mom was right, I don’t wanna die, I wanna live my life.”  As she repeats this refrain in a distinctive Best Coast manner, it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed by sympathy and solemnity upon first listen.  It certainly was for me, so I’d suggest trying it for yourself.  It’s doubly gut-wrenching when juxtaposed with the childish frivolity of some of her past lyrics: “I just want to tell you, that I’ve always missed you.  I just want to tell you, that I’ve always loved you.”  Though we may remain skeptical at her newfound seriousness, she sings confidently: “Cause you seem to think you know everything, but you don’t know why I cry.”  The complex reconciliation of two opposed personalities is food for thought.

The reality of her journey into adulthood is encapsulated in perhaps the albums strongest verse: “What a year this day has been…what a day this year has been.”  Regardless, even if the revamped lyrical context isn’t sufficiently convincing, the record is still redeemed by its fantastic pop-sensibilities and vocal melodies.   The delicate and gentle guitar arpeggios of “How They Want Me To Be” recall some of the finer moments of the underrated Wincing The Night Away by The Shins.  And the refreshing gentleness extends to pretty much every track.

As a standalone record, it most certainly holds its own.  I suspect that the negative reviews were likely the result of incorrectly evaluating the merits of the first record which everyone was hoping for a extension of.  Careful and sympathetic consideration, however, demonstrates that the two can be and ought to be viewed as companion pieces that color in the existential drama of the Best Coast’s young adult.  Best Coast is not a zeitgeist or an acoustic innovation, but they have certainly crafted an poignant narrative that nourishes the imagination that contemporary acts such as Frankie Rose and Real Estate don’t even attempt.  It’s sorrowful in a way that makes part of me wish I had never heard it.

Note: this piece was also published by OpEdNews.

weekend roll out: childish gambino, “silk pillow”

8 Jun

Happy happy Friday, friends. No shows on deck this weekend, though I will get to enjoy local art through various other media at Blended tonight. One of my coworkers is involved in the planning, but I’d be going regardless. Here’s a description from Thrillist:

“This Friday, party in a soon-to-be-demolished U Street corridor warehouse that’s been tagged by over 60 DC artists. Whilst rubbing ‘bows with said artists, you’ll enjoy tunes from six local DJs, chow down on food from trucks like El Floridano & Pleasant Pops, and see Urban Artistry performing a little bit of “urban dance culture.”

Street art? Warehouses? DJs? Food trucks? Break dancing? How soon can I get there?

But I digress. As for your weekend roll out tune, let’s turn our attention to Childish Gambino, aka Donal Glover. I’m feeling a little Bonnaroo nostalgic this weekend (for obvious reasons), and when I heard this track I immediately thought back to when I saw Childish perform in Tennessee last summer. When he performed, I was at the height of my “oh my gosh this place is too big and too crowded and too overwhelming and I’ve had too many beers to possibly navigate this situation intelligently” feeling. Yet even from a million rows back, Childish cut through my anxiety and blew me away. He helped me start Bonnaroo off the right way, by learning how to forget feeling crowded and hot and overwhelmed or care about how far back you were, and just get in it. Cheers to him for that.

I’ve been super stoked to see him collaborating with the likes of Beck and Sleigh Bells recently, and I think it’s a great direction for him. A musician with Gambino’s sense of innovation and boundary-stepping truly flourishes when he experiments across genres and mixes it up with the best of the best.

This track also showcases my favorite style of Beck- the chill-strange stream of consciousness rapping from his Mellow Gold days. That plus Gambino’s control of the beat leave us with a track that is fresh to death, and personally leaves me wanting a hell of a lot more.

Roll out.

Childish Gambino featuring Beck, “Silk Pillow”

i was there: radiohead at the verizon center (guest post)

5 Jun

You all are in for a treat this week. This week, instead of reading my same old stuff, you get to read the thoughts and ideas of some special guest contributors. First up, a review of Radiohead at the Verizon Center this past Sunday, written by a friend with whom I attended the show. Enjoy!

***

Guest contributor: Sean F. Dugan

I came across Radiohead late. It was 2008, one year after In Rainbows had been released, and most of you had spent years feasting on their work. I, on the other hand, had yet to listen to OK Computer. I hadn’t even heard of The Bends.

This all changed after a night of heavy drinking during the summer before my senior year in college, whenI awoke to the usual sounds coming from my alarm clock. I had to be at work in less than an hour, I still felt drunk, and I was going to Lollapalooza that night. Yet for some reason, my roommate was standing over me in my room with his iPod in hand.

“You should take this into work today,” he said.

I asked why.

“Because you’re going to see Radiohead tonight. You should probably get familiar.”

And so I did. I was half asleep on the bus to work (that’s the 147 for you Chicago folk), I turned on OK Computer, laid my head against the window, and closed my eyes. I didn’t really know what to expect; I was listening to them just 10 hours before I was set to see them that night, and I wasn’t in the mindset to have a musical epiphany.

But then, an airbag saved my life.

The distorted and almost nauseating guitar rhythms, intricately woven together into a harmonious barrage of sound and brought to greater heights by Thom Yorke’s vocals, immediately grabbed my attention; four years later, they still haven’t let go. Fast forward to June 2012, and there I was seeing Radiohead at the Verizon Center. “Airbag” was the second song in their incredible set last night, and it sounded as fresh and new as it did that morning on the bus – back when the song was already 11 years old.

It’s difficult to convey just how much Radiohead took over my life after I saw them for the first time at Lollapalooza. I must have listened to every album at least thirty times since then, and some maybe double that. They are the only band I can jot down a set list for at a show without even thinking. They are, perhaps too often, the standard by which I compare other bands’ musical talent. They will forever remain the band that moved my musical interests away from classical and classic rock toward genres I never knew existed or thought I would like. Forgive my hyperbole, but I believe them to be the greatest working band alive.

Radiohead proved my hyperbole correct yet again last night in Washington, D.C. During this 2012 tour, almost every set has started with “Bloom,” just as every set of their 2008 tour started with “15 Step,” which rang loud in last night’s first encore. Like “15 Step” for In Rainbows, “Bloom” is the first song off 2011’s The King of Limbs, and the live rendition of it is extraordinary– especially with the extended harmony sections between the song’s two parts. Even at 43, Yorke’s vocal range is incredibly impressive. The distinctness of his tenor voice and beautiful use of falsetto hasn’t changed much in his 20 years of touring. The indoor arena was a marvelous setting in which to be enchanted, and at times haunted, by his voice as it echoed through the Verizon Center.

Of the 23 songs played last night, seven were from The King of Limbs, and the rest of the show came primarily from In Rainbows, Hail To The Thief and Kid A. Needless to say, when “The National Anthem” came blasting through the towering speakers halfway through, the crowd was surging.

The first encore brought us “Paranoid Android,” which, along with “Airbag,” were the oldest songs they performed last night. But for me, the biggest surprise of the evening was “You And Whose Army?” Perhaps the most fun song on Amnesiac, this took the audience by storm, and you could truly feel the band’s excitement as they played it.

When they came back out for the second encore, I knew it would be the last. But before taking their final bow, they left us with “Reckoner,” my favorite track off In Rainbows.

See, one of Yorke’s strengths as a lyricist is that he can truly jar a listener; he leaves you feeling a little strange and pondering the mind (and mental state) of the writer. Is Thom Yorke insane? What does he mean when he says “Cut the kids in half” on “Morning Bell”? Yorke very well may be at a perpetual distance from us, but in the last lines of “Reckoner,” and also in the final lyrics of the concert, we see Yorke reaching out to all of us when he says, “Dedicated to all of you, all human beings.”

weekend roll out: radiohead, “reckoner” (the twelves remix)

1 Jun

Haaaappy show weekend! A big show weekend, too: I’ve got Big Freedia’s rescheduled appearance (finally) at Rock n Roll Hotel on Saturday, along with a show I’ve been chasing for many, many years. A show that takes a big chunk off of my concert bucket list. A show after which I might never be the same. Yes: Radiohead.

I could write a novel about my relationship with Radiohead, ever since I first heard them discussed on VH1’s “I Love the 90s” and immediately downloaded “Creep” on my brand new, computer-destroying Limewire account back in middle school. From that point on, I was fascinated by their music even though I couldn’t understand it, and today, I am fascinated by their music because I can’t understand it. Call me the ultimate cliche, but I pretty much just assume anything Thom Yorke does is brilliant and never question its worth. But while I always accept its brilliance, I do reach my limits in terms of actually enjoying the music when we get past a certain point of obscurity. This is a necessary mindset for Radiohead appreciation, in my mind.

This was best articulated by Chuck Klosterman, one of my favorite pop culture critics, in an interview with the entire band. I can’t find the exact quote, but it was something like, “It’s interesting interviewing a band when you know that every single member is smarter than you. That goes double for Thom Yorke.”

To mark this momentous weekend in which I will finally see Radiohead perform live, I am obviously showcasing them in my weekend roll out. I’m not often a huge fan of Radiohead remixes; the songs are so complex on their own, why add anything else? However, I really like that The Twelves took “Reckoner,” an excellent and relatively more accessible track from In Rainbows, and made it completely danceable.

[Radiohead weekend] rolllll out.