You may have noticed i haven’t posted in weeks. I probably won’t be posting that much until July when I will have plenty of time to catch up on the albums I’m behind on. I apologise for this, but I promise I will get up to date by the end of the summer. I love doing this but i haven’t had all that much time recently. And I am aware that I am like two months behind, but I really intend to get all the reviews down and make up for it. I love you so much!
Chancellor Bennett is a great rapper. This is clear from the start. Whether he is tolerable, pleasant, funny, witty, smart, and accessible are all questions which take a longer time to be answered. Acid Rap is Bennett’s second mixtape as Chance the Rapper and it is a grower. On first listen, you are bound to be thrown off by it. Everything about it is so unorthodox; from Chance’s extremely distinctive yet undeniably bizarre voice to the incredibly earnest and unconventional lyricism, Acid Rap takes constant jabs at your perception of rap music. However, once you get used to it, there is no doubting its power. All of these things make it a fantastic tape and easily one of the most unique albums you are going to hear all year.
Everything about this album screams for your attention, and once it gets it there is absolutely no turning back. The intro to this record is one of the most arresting pieces of music you could possibly imagine, with its beat gaining such a large magnitude that it would seem practically impossible to contain. That is, unless you are Chance the Rapper whose flow is amazing enough to carry a track as huge as this. The first lines here jump out at you; “raps just made me anxious and acid made me crazy”. However, if we stick with it we are exposed to more than just simple punchlines, we hear a completely complex and hugely energetic rap performance that only somebody with huge talent can pull off. Other tracks like ‘Juice’ and ‘Chain Smoker’ pull off a similar type of energy revolving around Chance’s climactic persona leading them to prominence.
However, the most striking songs on Acid Rap are also the most awkward. ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’ sees and drugged out Chancellor losing his relationships with the ones he loves (“put Visine inside my eyes so my Grandma would fucking hug me”) showcasing a very unconventional and personal standpoint that few rappers take. ‘Lost’ is another drugged out track, but this time it paints a picture of a relationship revolving around substance abuse, making it seem much more romantic than it turns out to be (“the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams”). ‘Pusha Man’ is a two part song, the first half being home to the album’s best hook while the second track has a bleak, pessimistic outlook, yet another thing that sets Chance apart from other rappers. More romantic tracks like ‘Everybody’s Something’ and ‘That’s Love’ show the tender side of Chance’s spectrum, one of the most compelling aspects on the album.
Even with all this on his back, Chance the Rapper manages to maintain a traditional appeal simply because he makes great music. He doesn’t need gimmicks to set him apart seeing as he can easily do it all himself. ‘Favorite Song’ is a Childish Gambino featuring pop rap track and it turns out to be one of the most entertaining on the album, while ‘Smoke Again’ with Ab-Soul takes on a trap feel quite well. Chance never sacrifices appeal with energy and distinction, something that could easily happen with a character this bizarre.
High Points: ‘Good Ass Intro’, ‘Pusha Man’, ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’, ‘Juice’, ‘Favorite Song’, ‘Smoke Again’, ‘Chain Smoker’
Low Points: ‘NaNa’
If you have only recently started getting caught up with Deerhunter, Monomania might feel like a departure even if it really is a return to form. Ever since their 2010 masterwork Halcyon Digest dropped, frontman Bradford Cox has shown more and more discomfort with the idea of becoming a pop artist and although his own recent endeavors have not done much to reincorporate the rawness of Cox’s noise roots, Monomania certainly does. Deerhunter have always been one of today’s most expansive and fascinating rock bands and in contrast to the dreamier and lighter sound that the public has begun to associate with them, Monomania feels like a punch in the face. It seems deliberately heavy-handed, making use of a gritty and messy aura that is notably harder to swallow than the delicate gorgeousness of Halcyon Digest and 2008’s Microcastle. However, while Monomania is undeniably underwhelming in the sonic side of things, it shows a new and hugely effective face of Deerhunter where the group use psychedelic loudness to create a fresh form of infection.
The lo-fi approach means that Monomania does not seem as full and mind-blowing as Halcyon Digest did. Nonetheless, the songs are more in line with the punchy and down to earth singles of Halcyon… (‘Memory Boy’, ‘Revival’) than the dreamy and vast group of tracks. The idea of abashed catchiness is executed quite consistently on Monomania starting with the noisy opener ‘Neon Junkyard’ which uses its grit to jump out at you almost instantly. ‘Leather Jacket II’ follows with an even rougher pace, projecting a record which could potentially be too challenging for its own good. However, this never becomes the case with Monomania thanks to Deerhunter’s ability to balance jaggedness with a clean edge that maintains the record’s noxiousness. Tracks like ‘Dream Captain’, ‘Pensacola’, and ‘Back to the Middle’ are perfect examples of songs which have a disorderly flavor but manage to keep a playful and captivating quality to them through wonderful melodic awareness. However, when this album treads over the line as it does on ‘Monomania’ and ‘Neon Junkyard’, the rawness and noise becomes the band’s deadliest asset, bringing forth a fantastically arresting charisma that would certainly wear out its welcome if it were not taken is such small doses. Thankfully, the pacing on Monomania is perfect as it is and the record does not suffer.
Monomania also has its fair share of more soothing songs, but even these seem much more earthbound than the music from Deerhunter’s past. Guitarist Lockett Pundt’s ‘The Missing’ serves as the album’s dreamiest moment, bearing a resemblance to the more chiming and hypnotic material of Pundt’s Lotus Plaza side project. Songs like ‘Blue Agent’ and ‘Sleepwalking’ add a gorgeous texture to the album, helping restore a vibe that is at times overlooked by the more abrasive moments. The most interesting track on here is ‘T.H.M.’ because it pushes forth a sinister and eerie vibe while being Monomania’s most reserved moment. It is a good snapshot of what makes Monomania a very functional album. Deerhunter never let their ambition drown out their music which means that every single extreme present on this record is perfectly balanced. The personality of Bradford Cox may lose itself within the sonics at times and although this takes away from the record’s euphoria, Monomania is very much alive, a subtle feeling that turns into a driving force.
High Points: ‘Neon Junkyard’, ‘The Missing’, ‘Dream Captain’, ‘Blue Agent’, ‘T.H.M.’, ‘Back to the Middle’, ‘Monomania’
Low Points: ‘Punk’
As much as their sound would beg to differ, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are quite a subtle band. Not subtle in the musical sense but subtle in the sense that the uniqueness of their development is extremely abstruse. Anyone with ears can tell that they have grown since 2003’s landmark debut Fever to Tell but it takes a bit more attention to appreciate how they have maintained a distinctive energy through a variety of phases. Whether it was the lo-fi punk of their early days or the electronica tinged It’s Blitz, the approach of the band has never changed with their sonic locations. Through thick and thin, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have stuck with their thunderous, playful, and gritty approach, a consistency which only a band with particular strength can accomplish.
Although Yeah Yeah Yeahs have varied their production style with every album they release, up until now their ride has not been a particularly bumpy one. In fact, it is their reputation to deliver that makes Mosquito, their fourth album in ten years, such a massive disappointment. Not only is Mosquito the first true dud in the group’s catalogue, it also displays an unbelievable dip in quality where Yeah Yeah Yeahs fall from the incredibly graceful cliff they were galloping on four years ago into a muddy ditch. Mosquito is easily their most forced and least energetic album yet, turning in a handful of foggy and forgettable tunes which seem to go everywhere from decency to aimlessness to sonic confusion and painful silliness during their worst moments. Mosquito is a mess but to its credit it never really falls apart. If you ignore a couple of horrific patches then this album is digestible. However, listenability does very little to make up for the boredom insured by the mediocrity of this album.
Even the best songs on Mosquito feel a tad underwhelming when compared to the heights that Yeah Yeah Yeahs used to be able to reach. Lead single ‘Sacrilege’ might be one of the weakest singles the band has ever put out, but it is still a toweringly ambitious and very solid endeavor into the large sound that Yeah Yeah Yeahs should have been aiming for on this record. ‘Under the Earth’ touches on this vastness even further by bringing forth a very gradual but ultimately huge progression which makes it the album’s most satisfying track. Some songs on here are good purely based on one strong idea such as the captivating riff on ‘Slave’ or the wonderful crescendo which supplies the climax of ‘Despair’. Unfortunately, this is the extent of Mosquito’s power. The rest of the album is terribly weak thanks to a lack of ambition or a bizarre diffusion of the group’s songwriting ability. There simply isn’t enough on here to keep the listener excited. However, only a few songs are really awful and these tend to be the ones that latch onto a unbearably cheesy lyrical direction. For example, the title track on here is quite a literal track about the titular insect but Karen O takes the most clichéd look at the topic that one possibly can (the refrain goes “he’ll suck your blood”). ‘Area 52’ has the same problem, except this time it is about an alien making it feel even more forced and less cool. The key issue with this record is that everything seems grounded, from the tameness of O’s lyrics (an asset which has always been a defining characteristic of the group’s zest) to the overall structural direction. ‘Wedding Song’ seems like it would be lovely if it wasn’t so unoriginal and obvious while tracks like ‘Subway’ and ‘These Paths’ have great sonic potential but suffer because they go absolutely nowhere. This dullness makes Mosquito a demanding listen but the reward is completely unsatisfying. For the first time ever, Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound like they have nothing left to give. They can’t even rely on energy to do the trick anymore.
High Points: ‘Sacrilege’, ‘Under the Earth’, ‘Slave’, ‘Despair’
Low Points: ‘Subway’, ‘Mosquito’, ‘Area 52’, ‘Wedding Song’
4.5/10 Music to Avoid
MCII is not the first time indie music has come across an earnest California-born rocker taking command and making a summery, uplifting record. That being said, such a familiar concept is very dependent on the ambitions of the artist for it to work. On MCII, Mikal Cronin is embroiled in a mid-youth crisis and decides to take a rather introspective look at music. Each track progresses with themes of misconstrued love and a gradual progression in Croninʼs seeming refusal of change; MCII paints a picture of a man choosing to avoid his obstacles rather than overcome them. As the album counts down its minutes, Mikal Cronin consistently turns up the emotional potency, further broadening his sentimental scope and reflecting upon his developing mental state. Opener ʻWeightʼ sees an obstinate Cronin insistent “it is not the right time” and that he is “not ready for the second wave”, placed on top of a rousing pastiche of melancholy piano chords and eerie guitars. Not many albums manage to take the listener with them as they unroll their waves of emotion and angst, but MCII is a rare record that does it flawlessly. Album centrepiece ʻPeace of Mindʼ sees Cronin trying to strike a balance by being there for his lover but ultimately coming up against a brick wall. ʻIʼm Done Running From Youʼ is where Cronin finally lets his guard down and succumbs to the fact that he cannot dodge his worries any longer.
Croninʼs music can be split into two simple but very important aspects: power and pop. Cronin does the pop side of things exceedingly well, embellishing stirring arrangements and gorgeous production to his music. In terms of the element of “power” to his music, it is rather impressive how he manages to crank up the level of it on demand, constantly hooking the listener in with doses of developing emotions and achieving further action as the album wears on. ʻDonʼt Let Me Goʼ is the albumʼs most stripped down and hard-hitting moment, where a very simple acoustic guitar track lets Croninʼs hushed and gentle croons to seduce the listener. Stunning closer ‘Piano Mantraʼ is a climatic and epic ordeal, filled with lush, soaring violin arrangements, fuzzy guitars and delicate piano chords which perfectly mirror Croninʼs brooding heartache.
Cronin is not a revolutionary, by any means. At the end of the day, he is solely a guy with a guitar belting out powerful tunes about heartache and a reluctance to change. However, he does do power pop very well. MCII is near flawlessly constructed and crafted pop album, compromising of ten excellently weaved pop songs, with the addition of great emotional intensity and power. MCII feels like one languid, hazy summer day, buttressed by the glorious sounds of nature and the earnest but nevertheless potent human voice.
High Points: ‘Weight’, ‘ ‘Peace of Mind’, Don’t Let Me Go’, ‘Turn Away, ‘Piano Mantra’
Low Points: N/A
Written by Thomas Cury
The slow and extremely mellow disposition of Minnesota indie veterans Low shines through immaculately on their 10th studio album The Invisible Way. On this record, Low choose to work with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who produces the album with gentle and precious flavor. Regardless, a sense of blandness and boredom constantly works its way into the incredibly slow burning music of the record seeing as Low hardly ever manage to put their wonderful sound into the most potent place, even if it often does a fair job of covering up for the record’s very substantial flaws. Alan Sparhawk does a great job with some of the most striking moments on here; ‘Plastic Cup’ is an earnest and simple opener that is home to some excellent harmonizing between Sparhawk and his partner in crime Mimi Parker. However, the tracks where Parker takes center stage are often the most unpleasant and dull on the album, her voice failing to mold well with the texture songs like ‘To Our Knees’ or ‘So Blue’ need. Although Low have based their career on making gradual slowcore, the better songs on this album are often the most instant. Tracks like ‘Clarence White’ and ‘On My Own’ are pretty rough and they work in a compelling sense. However, The Invisible Way is an album that can’t seem to find a balance between beauty and edge, often falling into a somber stride that is much more uncomfortable than it is gratifying. 5.5/10
The centerpiece of Ripley Pine, the bittersweet debut album from Maine singer-songwriter Aly Spaltro (aka Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) is a six-minute long celebration of passion called ‘Bird Balloons’. It is an uncannily arresting tune because it sees Spaltro shift between countless auras that complement each other flawlessly despite a huge difference in overall tone. At one moment, Spaltro will slow down and capture us in a swooning melody before throwing us up for a hit of aggressive rock and roll. The instability and overall power of this track is not only found in its impressive construction; a great deal of the appeal lies within the fact that it sounds like Spaltro is having the time of her life while performing it. The kinetic energy trapped between the movements as well as Spaltro’s belting cackle which brings the track to a close make ‘Bird Balloons’ feel like the type of song that is born during a session of instinctive passion. It is a rare example of the rawest kind of euphoria, a vibe which can only be created by somebody with true fervor.
Ripley Pine proves that Spaltro is that somebody. ‘Bird Balloons’ is the album’s climax but it is not the only track which makes magnificent use of the transformative powers which bring everything to the next level. ‘Hair to the Ferris Wheel’ opens the album off with a bang, blooming as a gorgeous, autumnal delicacy of acoustic guitars and mellow atmospheres before it unpredictably snaps into a distorted rock song, lighting the match to balance the album’s undeniable zest. ‘Crane Your Neck’ and ‘You Are My Apple’ both demonstrate the fairly labored shade of Spaltro’s character, as both tracks stretch themselves out with destructive rapture. Slightly more digestible tracks like ‘Florence Berlin’ and ‘Rooftop’ exhibit an alluring softness while ‘Mezzanine’ strikes with swinging subtlety. Ripley Pine is wonderfully produced but it does not need to ride on the back of anything other than its sharp but brittle character. It is a lengthy album that requires a fair bit of patience during its more demanding moments, but it never actually loses grip and always displays a constantly captivating emotional vastness.
High Points: ‘Hair to the Ferris Wheel’, ‘Florence Berlin’, ‘Bird Balloons’, ‘Crane Your Neck’, ‘Rooftop’, ‘Taxidermist, Taxidermist’
Low Points: ‘Little Brother’, ‘The Nothing, Pt. 2’
8/10 Recommended Music
The Knife really aren’t ones to do things by the book, but even for them, their live show at London’s iconic Roundhouse was a bit of a push. Right off the back of their incredible comeback album Shaking The Habitual, The Knife embarked on a tour with a host of dates across Europe, bringing along Sorkkluben, a “performance arts crew” with them.
When you first read the description on what’s to come in their live shows, the word “bizarre” doesn’t really do justice to what went on May 8 in London. It turns out that the “Deep Aerobics” session was really just a cross-dresser yelling “DO YOU FEEL YOUR PUSSY?!” whilst jumping hysterically along to Beyonce. Apart from a select few, the whole crowd was shell-shocked and in no way “vibing” to the opening “act”. It succeeded as a statement, but in terms of crowd-pleasing, it was nothing short of a catastrophe. When the duo finally came onto the stage welcomed by deafening shrills, they kicked things off with a rousing rendition of ‘Cherry On Top’. The stage was flooded with exuberantly costumed, identically hooded performers, to the point where it was almost impossible to tell which one was Karin Andersson. ‘Raging Lung’ continued the empowering, intense vibe, carried by Andersson’s impressive (if not pre-recorded) vocal performances.
At this point, the crowd was very impressed. It was clear that a lot of it was playback, but it was powerful enough to leave me unstirred. However, as the concert wore on, the duo insistence on elaborate choreography over actual performance and singing was rather bothersome. A lot of the time, playback was unnecessary and could’ve easily be performed (with the possible exception of the incredibly intricate ‘Full of Fire), but for someone reason they chose not to. The vocals were mimed by various members of the dance crew so that you could hardly tell which were actually members of the Knife. The dance routines weren’t well done, and moments like ‘One Hit’ were particularly underwhelming because the dancing was so basic. Regardless, the redeeming aspect of the performance stems from the fact that it really was a lot of fun. The crowd were very into the music because the standard of it was so high. It was an energetic performance, and this fed onto the audience, sending them into a trance during marvellously intense moments like ‘Full Of Fire’ and ‘Silent Shout’, which drew a fantastic reaction from the crowd.
It was a bit of an odd choice to place a DJ set after the main performance, but it was a pretty smart one. The crowd seemed still very much in the mood for dancing, and the stunning lightshow and vibrant aura possessed the audience and myself immediately.
If the objective of The Knife with their live show was to be an artistic representation of their work, they passed with flying colours. However, as a concert, it was questionable in the way it was conducted even if some moments were truly spectacular and entertaining. The puzzling insistence on relying upon playback was rather aggravating, but not to the point where it disrupted the enjoyability of the concert. Even if you would want more from the Knife concert as a musical experience, they truly accomplished their task, and that is to shake the habitual.
Written by Thomas Cury
Bleakness was inevitable, was it not? Ever since their bombastic debut in 2008, there was a constant anticipation for Vampire Weekend to slowly develop into one of the most notable pop bands of this century. In five years, the playful college kids of Vampire Weekend have naturally matured not only in terms of songwriting but also in terms of musical aspiration. To put it simply, Vampire Weekend have been a consistently great band but through the year, the reasons for their greatness have changed significantly. They no longer rely on fun, afro-pop inspired sneer to win people over. On their third album Modern Vampires of the City, the group has developed their music into something gorgeously conventional while gaining a new form of lyrical sincerity and reflection.
Modern Vampires is their most serious album yet, and with this depth comes a very fitting ear for sound. Indeed, the most obvious thing about this album is the production. There is absolutely no hiding from the fact that Modern Vampires is one of the nicest sounding indie pop albums made in recent memory; every song is constructed with an exceptional emphasis on beauty where the sound blossoms into a very warm sense of distance. All the arrangements on the record are absolutely spot-on with the frequently gut-wrenching vocal performances from Ezra Koenig teaming up with the distorted rhythms to form huge crescendos, clashing magnificently when placed next to the subtle strings and soft pianos. Vampire Weekend has always taken influences from genres that exist outside of pop music and although they don’t stop doing that here, the world music influences which shined very brightly through the group’s first two records are sacrificed for a much more nonchalant flavor of classical music. String sections play a huge part on songs like ‘Everlasting Arms’ where the masterful ingenuity turns into an absolute wonder. Throughout this album you get the sense of a band who knows exactly what they are doing in terms of seducing the listener, because the attention to detail in every single note is completely captivating.
The melodic aspect of this album is also good, but it sometimes suffers from a sense of oversimplification. From the very first track (‘Obvious Bicycle’) there is a nagging notion that much of what you are hearing is borrowed, as the gospel like choral progression is something you can find in countless traditional songs. ‘Obvious Bicycle’ is a somewhat underwhelming start to the record and the improvement is only slight with the pleasant but pedestrian successor ‘Unbelievers’. Tracks like these focus on aura and concept over actual substance and it is a mindset that this record suffers from, especially during its less aesthetically flattering moments. However, a great chunk of this album contains some of the most moving and remarkable work the band has ever done. For example, ‘Step’ makes use of incredibly humble dynamics to form a track that is emotionally staggering, displaying warm potency through the flawless placement of every single idea. It is a soft song that blows everything out of the water, a weirdly functional juxtaposition to the following track ‘Diane Young’ which recalls the energy of Buddy Holly to make potentially the most aggressive thing in Vampire Weekend’s catalogue (except for maybe ‘Cousins’). ‘Don’t Lie’ and ‘Hannah Hunt’ are both ballads, with the former being sharper and the latter taking a hushed but climatically gut-wrenching approach that Vampire Weekend seem to do very well. ‘Everlasting Arms’ is the most digestible and striking song on the album while ‘Hudson’ is easily the darkest sounding song Vampire Weekend has ever written. Ironically, the stickiest songs on the album (‘Finger Back’ and ‘Worship You’) are also the most haggard and stale because they are the moments where Vampire Weekend let go of their musical subtlety and go for a much more obnoxious form of infection. Apart from a few let downs, Modern Vampires is an entertaining batch of songs that are taken to the next level by flawless execution.
The last thing worth mentioning about this album is its lyrics; Modern Vampires is easily the most profound and earnest of all their records. Koenig’s sharp poetic tongue still plays a huge part because listening to this album exposes you to some phenomenally well-written wordplay. However, the thematic side of the album can be picked up just by a casual glance. Koenig leaves his ideas on full display and the most prominent one on here is definitely religion. There is fine line between being introspective and being preachy and although Vampire Weekend usually stay on the good side of that line, tracks like ‘Obvious Bicycle’ and ‘Worship You’ might be a bit more explicit than they need to be. However, the times when Koenig gets it right are super thought-provoking. ‘Unbelievers’ takes a very strong look at the anticlimax that is Christian faith (“I’m not excited but should I be/is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me”) while ‘Everlasting Arms’ takes a similar pessimistic glance on the same topic (“oh I was born to live without you but I’m never gonna understand”). Much of this album deals with sadness but the most heartbreaking song on the album is ‘Ya Hey’, which serves as a centerpiece thanks to its fascinating depth and powerful progression. It sees Koenig in an existential crisis, dealing with his loss of faith in what almost feels like an resignation directed at God (“America don’t love you/so I could never love you/in spite of everything”). This is this type of power that makes Modern Vampires such a great album, although there seems to be a lack of dimension and originality holding it back from something more.
High Points: ‘Step’, ‘Diane Young’, ‘Don’t Lie’, ‘Hannah Hunt’, ‘Everlasting Arms’, ‘Ya Hey’
Low Points: ‘Obvious Bicycle’, ‘Finger Back’, ‘Worship You’
The Chronicles of Marnia is a hugely impressive record where the appeal stems from Marnie Stern’s ability to make quick-paced and noisy music while maintaining a very pronounced allure to her work. Her sparring guitar work and childlike vocals give the album an almost undefinable characteristic which fumbles on the thin line between aggression and quaintness. Album opener ‘Year of the Glad’ contains the grinding and primal howl that makes the album so memorable, displaying a perfect example of when Stern and her producers manipulate lo-fidelity to create something which feels like a rusty slap in the face. Other songs like ‘Nothing is Easy’ and ‘Immortals’ make use of this intense and gritty vibe too, providing an environment where everything constantly appears to be on the brink of explosion. It’s an appropriate punchy vibe for a rock album that lasts little over half an hour, making Marnia an epitome of the quirky joys that experimental rock can bring. 8/10