Realizations 2016

yg-ftd-video

Well, it’s been another year. You already know what happened to the world in 2016, so I’ll skip the details. Besides, this is about ME, right? I guess it was a significant year for me. I graduated college, moved back home, got a desk job. I continued to live and breathe all things music.

I thought it was a great year of music. I built stronger connections with records in 2016 than I did during the last few years. Throughout a rough year, music was a constant comfort. I obsessed over the TLOP rollout and the Frank Ocean carpentry extravaganza. I delved deep into the growing east coast DIY scene. I accepted that I’ll never be someone who listens to their favorite albums on repeat and repeat; sacred things need to maintain some of their mystery. I checked Twitter way too much. I got to meet some of my heroes after their concerts.

Anyways, here are a bunch of lists and words about music that is special to me:

Favorite Albums, 2016:

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-11-57-30-pm

1. Psychopomp – Japanese Breakfast

I feel like Psychopomp has been with me forever. I remember the day it came out, being instantly hooked by “In Heaven” while walking past the chemistry building. I biked home from my miserable internship listening to “Everybody Wants To Love You” in the newly warm spring weather and felt free. I became obsessed with the beautiful darkness of “Jane Cum” and how the intro sounded kind of like Metallica. I had quiet moments with “Triple 7,” sitting alone on a bridge in Philadelphia at night and admiring Michelle Zauner’s poetry. I was lucky enough to see her live twice within a few months. I could use a lot of adjectives for Psychopomp, but basically this album transcended the music for me and is very close to my heart.screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-12-50-58-pm

2. Blonde – Frank Ocean

I weirdly first listened to Blonde while doing a treadmill workout the the YMCA and watching the Olympic men’s 5k final. It was not the right environment. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I really fell in love with Blonde on a long bus trip to and from Tufts, visiting for the first time as an alum, nostalgia in full force. It’s an album meant for listening alone, like peeking into someone’s dream, complicated yet comforting. I rested my head against the window and looked out, thinking about my own life and listening to Frank think about his. A really beautiful piece of art that we’re lucky exists.screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-12-40-09-pm

3. Pretty Years – Cymbals Eat Guitars

The best band in the world keeps leveling up. When you listen to Cymbals Eat Guitars, you hear guys throwing their whole heart into every second. Even when they sound a little more poppy, a little more sugary, a distorted guitar solo will screech in to balance things out. It’s less dark than LOSE, but just as real. I’ve given up on trying to find a band as good as this one, it doesn’t exist.screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-12-36-56-pm

4. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper

It was April 30, 2013. I was a freshman at Tufts and I was looking at a clock on DatPiff counting down the minutes until I could download Acid Rap. A month later I saw him for free in Chicago, desperately hoping he would play “Good Ass Intro” (he didn’t.) I’ve been riding with Chance for a long time and the (now) global superstar didn’t let me down with Coloring Book. It’s not perfect (do we need “Blessings” #1 or “Juke Jam”?) BUT, he went big and kept rapping in a way that makes me very happy. Quotable, melodic, personable, smart, etc. etc. No other rapper is making songs like this, each so full to the brim with ideas and color. If Chance rapping “Man my daughter couldn’t have a better mother” on his opening track doesn’t touch your heart, then I don’t know man.mitski-by-phil-smithies-for-diy-magazine-june-2016mitski-4

5. Puberty 2 – Mitski

No, this is not a happy album. It deals with depression, isolation, low self worth, and more. But the way Mitski owns her struggle is inspiring. She sings with poise despite her vulnerabilities. She’s the type of artist that you feel a special connection with and I can’t wait to follow her as she keeps writing what the rest of us aren’t brave enough to say. screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-12-54-00-pm

6. 99.9% – Kaytranada

I didn’t go out much this year, if at all. But I still loved to listen to party music like 99.9% to energize the little details of my day. It would put a bounce in my step whether I was cleaning my room or shooting hoops in the driveway or working on spreadsheets. The instrumentals outshine the guest features but it’s all a great time. Buy your Kaytranada stock now because he’s only going up from here.f849896d

7. 22, A Million – Bon Iver

Bon Iver has been staple morning/night music for me for the last three or four years, but “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” is not appropriate for either of those times. I’ve actually found that 22, A Million is actually best consumed at loud volumes. It’s kind of anthemic and I get super amped listening to the climaxes getting bigger and bigger, rising to *that* part in “8 (circle)” when I will inevitably fist pump every time.screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-1-01-15-pm

8. iiiDrops – Joey Purp

Joey Purp was vaguely on my radar because of his super fun verse on “Go” from Surf last year, but this was still a surprise for me. iiiDrops sees him in full force, with his strongest quality being his confidence. He recounts dark memories of gang violence and poverty while celebrating his success today. My mind never wanders when I listen to iiiDrops, every word is captivating. I’m obsessed with this subset of the Chicago rap scene and many of them show up here: Saba, Mick Jenkins, and Chance all kill it and Vic Mensa is even tolerable. Purp is a super smart MC and I can’t recommend this one enough.screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-1-11-33-pm

9. Camp Cope – Camp Cope

Of all the albums in my top ten, I listened to this one the least. I think it’s incredible, but it’s too real for frequent listens. Georgia Maq bares all in her lyrics and it feels like someone my age talking about things that could easily be issues in my own life. Everything is presented as a conversation, whether it’s her inner dialogue, talking to a best friend, or confronting an ex-partner. This style is refreshingly candid to the point that I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a late night heart-to-heart. It’s such a moving album and if you’re a 20-something lost in the world like me, get ready to feel things. 13293157_10208088121434422_142799953_n

10. Turn Into – Jay Som

I’ve developed a super annoying habit where I’m constantly thinking “this sounds like this song,” “what artist does this remind me of?” “this is such a ripoff of blah blah blah.” I was doing that with Jay Som for a while, who I checked out because she toured with Mitski and Japanese Breakfast, who I infinitely trust. After trying to pin down the various Beach House/Mac Demarco/Alex G/My Bloody Valentine (aka “vague shoegaze sound”) vibes I was picking up for a while, I realized there I kept coming back to Turn Into because of what made it unique. An endearing bedroom sound with swirling guitars and vocals and rock roots that really jams. I heard a bunch of other artists because there were so many sounds, both big and subtle, within this little album. And these are apparently just random demos?? Watch out world.

11. Front Row Seat To Earth – Weyes Blood
12. Teens Of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
13. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
14. Telefone – Noname
15. WORRY. – Jeff Rosenstock
16. Goodness – The Hotelier
17. Heart Like A Levee – Hiss Golden Messenger
18. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
19. Still Brazy – YG
20. Holy Ghost – Modern Baseball
21. Flood Network – Katie Dey
22. Beyond The Fleeting Gales – Crying
23. Light Upon The Lake – Whitney
24. untitled unmastered – Kendrick Lamar
25. Fall Forever – Fear of Men
26. Blackstar – David Bowie
27. I Had A Dream That You Were Mine – Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
28. My Woman – Angel Olsen
29. Sremmlife 2 – Rae Sremmurd
30. Cardinal – Pinegrove

Favorite Songs, 2016:

lvluppress

  1. “Everybody Wants to Love You” – Japanese Breakfast
  2. “Your Best American Girl” – Mitski
  3. “Pain” – LVL UP
  4. “8 (circle)” – Bon Iver
  5. “Real Friends” – Kanye West feat. Ty Dolla $ign
  6. “Well” – Cymbals Eat Guitars
  7. “I Need A Forest Fire” – James Blake feat. Bon Iver
  8. “Self Control” – Frank Ocean
  9. “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” – Car Seat Headrest
  10. “Wool in the Wash” – Cryingscreen_shot_2016-05-29_at_10-47-43_am_qajgvg
  11. “Finish Line / Drown” – Chance the Rapper feat. Noname, Eryn Allen Kane, T-Pain & Kirk Franklin
  12. “Cracked Windshield” – Hiss Golden Messenger
  13. “Golden Chords” – Deakin
  14. “Photobooth” – Joey Purp
  15. “Black Beatles” – Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane
  16. “Island” – Fear of Men
  17. “Sister” – Angel Olsen
  18. “Wat’s Wrong” – Isaiah Rashad feat. Kendrick Lamar
  19. “Daydreaming” – Radiohead
  20. “Reaper” – Siadb-48-730x410-644x362-640x360
  21. “Kanye West” – Young Thug feat. Wyclef Jean
  22.  “Shadow Man” – Noname feat. Phoelix, Saba & Smino
  23. “I Feel It Coming” – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk
  24. “A 1000 Times” – Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
  25. “Tookie Knows II” – ScHoolboy Q feat. Traffic & TF
  26. “Still Brazy” – YG
  27. “Dance In The Water” – Danny Brown
  28. “Breakdance Lesson N.1” – Kaytranada
  29. “Playin’ Fair” – Towkio feat. Joey Purp
  30. “Lost (Season One)” – Camp Copepup-band-interview
  31. “Let It Bang” – A$AP Ferg feat. ScHoolboy Q
  32. “Fake I.D.” – Joyce Manor
  33. “Higher” – Rihanna
  34. “Conceptual Romance” – Jenny Hval
  35. “I’m On” – Kamaiyah
  36. “DVP” – PUP
  37. “No Woman” – Whitney
  38. “Drowning” – Mick Jenkins feat. BadBadNotGood
  39. “Mad” – Solange feat. Lil Wayne
  40. “Drunk and On a Star” – Kevin Morbymaxresdefault1
  41. “Crying in Public” – Chairlift
  42. “untitled 08 | 09.06.2014” – Kendrick Lamar
  43. “Work” – Charlotte Day Wilson
  44. “I Can’t Give Everything Away” – David Bowie
  45. “Dinosaur Dying” – Sioux Falls
  46. “Paul” – Big Thief
  47. “Dang!” – Mac Miller feat. Anderson .Paak
  48. “Get to Know Ya” – Nao
  49. “Parking Lot” – Anderson .Paak
  50. “Bad and Boujee” – Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert

*limited to one song per artist*

The Year in Lyrics:

atl_103_0658d-558x372

“I’m loving all races, hell nah don’t discriminize” – Quavo

“Unbomfortable” – YG

“Skrrt skrrt skrrt like a private school for women” – Kanye

“Just wrote a book on how NOT to fit into social norms” – Saba

“Get god on the phone!” – Kendrick

“Pray for me, I’m about to hit the Ye button” – Kanye (the Ye button turned out to be a horrible, horrible thing)

“Didn’t I tell you that I was a savage?” – Rihanna

rihanna-hillary-clinton-shirt-nyc-2016-billboard-1548

“I got a lot to be mad about
Got a lot to be a man about
Got a lot to pop a xan about
I used to rock hand-me-downs
And now I rock standing crowds”
– Lil Wayne

“Man my daughter couldn’t have a better mother
If she ever find another, he better love her” – Chance

“I Eurostep past a hater like I’m Rondo” – Gucci

“Sluggish, lazy, stupid, and unconcerned” – Frank Ocean’s mom

“Jumping in the pool with no swim wear gear” – Wyclef Jean

“I’m at your house like, ‘Why you got your couch on my Chucks?'” – Earl

earl-sweatshirt

“And white kids deal with problems that we never knew to bother
Arguing with they dads, we pray we ever knew our fathers”
-Joey Purp

“Inside of the Maybach look like it came out of Ikea” – 2 Chainz

“Play Metro Boomin at my funeral” – Smino

VEEP Character Power Rankings:

med_thumb_tim_simons_veep_2

1. Jonah
2. Gary
3. Amy
4. Richard
5. Mike

Best Live Performances, 2016:

T-1. Car Seat Headrest
T-1. Father John Misty
T-1. Julien Baker
T-1. Kevin Morby
T-1. Deerhunter

 

Bonus content:

I wish Kanye didn’t record his “All We Got” feature while he was brushing his teeth.

I have never knowingly listened to a song by Bryson Tiller.

I started driving a lot this year after four years of walking and biking everywhere. We don’t have an aux thing in our car, so good CDs are essential. Rap radio is also surprisingly fun these days as long as you can avoid “Controlla.” I have decided that Funeral by Arcade Fire is the best road trip album of all time. I got really into the Replacements’ Let It Be and Tim. Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted is great but I always inadvertently turn it way too loud trying to hear the vocals. Used CDs are dangerously cheap.

I’ve listened to Endless maybe three times max.

How long until we put Ty Dolla $ign’s verse on “Impatient” in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

I love how the parental advisory on Telefone matches the color scheme of the cover art.c0p63wrwqaaig3q

We need way fewer H*rambe references in rap lyrics.

I had an interview with a really solid company back in March. As I sat on the plane to go back to Tufts, where I was pretty broke, I listened to Kamaiyah sing “I’ve been broke all my life / Now wonder / How does it feel to be rich?” As we took off, I optimistically wondered the same thing, looking back on my day with a confident smile. I did not get the job.

Why did I download a 100 song Kool A.D. mixtape?

The hardest thing I did all year was try to recite Chance’s verse on “Girls @” in the car.

Prince is the greatest musician of all time to me. My dad introduced me to so much great music as a kid but Prince was the most important. I learned about how he changed his name to a symbol (which is a crazy concept when you’re like 10) and we watched Purple Rain together (when I was older than 10, don’t worry.) No music will ever be as fun as “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m A Star” back-to-back. This was tough to swallow. RIP.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-4-03-03-pm

 

Advertisements
Realizations 2016

The Complexity of Cymbals Eat Guitars

1

I want to talk about Cymbals Eat Guitars.

Cymbals Eat Guitars is the perfect band to me. And it saddens me that they’re severely under-appreciated, especially because their music doesn’t strike me as divisive in any obvious ways. CEG songs are dense but simultaneously inviting: whether it’s the driving drums that get your head banging or the fuzzy-yet-catchy guitar riffs.  But you’ll never feel like you got the whole picture after just a listen or two. This is largely due to Joseph D’Agostino’s twisting poetry, which can be delivered wistfully or aggressively, depending on the song. Naked truths are wound together with imagery from D’Agostino’s childhood and candid introspection, always stated with elegance and an air of mystique.

There are two songs in particular that illustrate the complexities of Cymbals Eat Guitars: “Beam” from 2016’s Pretty Years and “XR” from 2014’s LOSE. There are a lot of similarities between these tracks. These aren’t the hits. These are fast-paced hard rock songs with virtually no pop sensibilities. Both find D’Agostino’s voice more alien than ever. But beneath each song’s hard exterior, there are raw glimpses of Joseph D’Agostino’s struggles.

“Beam” sees D’Agostino with a grim outlook on life, acknowledging his flaws and ready for the consequences:

“Beam me up to Jesus

Beam me up to Jesus, I’m ready”

 

Some dark humor about his presumed fate:

“Saying ‘hey’ to Satan

He’s a dog in the yard on Morningstar

Half a buttered bagel

That I slip under the fence as an offering

Hot but his breath is freezing

And all I am is guilty”

 

And the brutally honest set of lines:

“Weary of fake epiphanies

Not the man that I had hoped

That’s alright

No one knows but me”

It’s a song that takes place entirely in D’Agostino’s head. Both the conflict and acceptance are internal, which makes it infinitely harder to express in a way that can make sense to another person. The conclusion isn’t fully formed, but that’s what makes it so human.

cymbals-150-compressed

I didn’t understand “XR” for almost two years. It wasn’t until I really sat down with the lyrics that I could begin understand its full depth. I knew that D’Agostino’s best friend, Benjamin High, had died unexpectedly and LOSE was partially about his passing, but I hadn’t connected the dots specifically to “XR”. It’s easy to misunderstand the song: the vocals are gruff and distorted in the middle of the mix; it’s not a clear-cut emotional song. But D’Agostino’s memories of High and how his death haunts him are devastating:

“Here I am again at Ben’s MySpace grave

And then out of nowhere

The smell of his basement”

 

“Imagining victory

Our alternate history

The songs we never wrote

They float above and below me

Keepsake tinnitus shrieks me to sleep

Each frequency’s a memory of some

Show we attended”

 

“Wanna wake up wanting to listen to records

But those old feelings elude me”

I could quote literally any line of “XR” and it would convey a mountain of human pain. It’s an addicting song because of how much is packed into it, I keep coming back because I want to keep learning (and screaming “IT’S EMERGEN-C”). The subject matter of “XR” isn’t uplifting, but it is delivered with such heart that it’s enthralling. And that’s what is the biggest selling point of Cymbals Eat Guitars: heart. D’Agostino throws himself full force into every vocal performance. Difficult feelings are delivered loudly with desperation. Tracks quickly explode, rising and falling with D’Agostino’s wails, while never idling. It’s hard to multitask while listening to Cymbals Eat Guitars because they’re experts at creating worlds to lose yourself in. There’s never a note nor a word wasted.

Most Cymbals Eat Guitars songs are not 80-miles-per-hour (not quite 100) emotional tirades like “Beam” or “XR”. But I think that by highlighting the counterintuitive (to me, at least) detail in these tracks, it illustrates how rewarding this band can be. They are one of the most creative rock bands out there, with plenty of varying tempos, weird turns, and “I didn’t know sugary synths would sound so good there” moments blended with purposeful guitar rock. And the glue that holds it all together is the collection of stories that we’re luckily invited to witness, over and over and over.

The Complexity of Cymbals Eat Guitars

Soundtrack Your Summer

We are officially at the halfway point of 2016, which means that everyone with a Spotify Premium account and access to pitchfork.com has some sort of list ranking their favorite music releases of the year. I won’t deny that making lists is super super fun, it’s my favorite way to procrastinate and I have a extensive spreadsheet to keep track of every album I’ve listened to this year. But music is made to be heard out in the world, in everyday life. So I matched up some of my favorite songs of 2016 with appropriate activities. Go live it.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 1.05.06 AM

Driving with the windows down: “Finish Line / Drown” by Chance the Rapper featuring T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Eryn Allen Kane & Noname

Driving with the windows down and the volume up is maybe the most quintessential summer activity. The best car jams are easy to sing along to, and nothing is simpler than the “do-do-do-do-do-do-do” that kicks off Chance the Rapper’s “Finish Line / Drown.” Placed towards the end of Coloring Book‘s tracklist, “Finish Line” is triumphant victory lap that also showcases vulnerability, as Chance touches upon his Xanax addiction and relationship with the mother of his daughter. Coloring Book can feel overly sweet, but “Finish Line” is a song that makes me feel like I’m actually getting to know Chance the Superstar. On top of that, the second half of the song, “Drown,” makes the listener feel like they’ve been transported to the grooviest church in America, where the choir sounds lush and everyone is standing and clapping their hands. Put this on when you get handed the aux and everyone in the car will be similarly unified as you all wail “ALL MY DAYS, I PRAYED AND PRAYED” with Minister T-Pain.

 

3000

Playing basketball: “Lite Spots” by Kaytranada

When I first heard “Lite Spots,” I immediately thought that it would be the perfect soundtrack for one of those commercials where some guys are playing pick-up basketball on a blacktop and they’re jumping way above the rim and then time stops and the camera rotates around before a guy slams it down. It would probably be for Sprite Remix or something. Aside from my weird TV vision, I actually have shot around while listening to Kaytranada’s new album, 99.9%, and it fits the mood. It’s blissfully carefree and meant for sunny weather, perfect for shaking a defender, draining your shot, and smiling about it.

 

joey-purp_mg_5659-oak-street-beach-teaser

Running: “Cornerstore” by Joey Purp featuring Saba & theMIND

For me, running music has to be captivating above all else, as to not let my mind wander and question why I’m voluntarily running. On “Cornerstore,” Joey Purp and Saba tell stories of lost youth, guns, and violence in Chicago over a lush array of horns. You can hear the pain in Purp’s voice as he practically yells his verse; I find myself hanging onto every word because I can feel the reality of these anecdotes. It’s heart-wrenching song but it’s also extremely motivational. Not because it’s optimistic or preachy, but because it paints a portrait of perseverance.

 

d25125754176

Cleaning on the weekend: “Drippin'”  by Young Thug

I don’t know if this is true for other people, but cleaning my room is one of my favorite times to listen to music. You can turn the volume way up and jam out as you bop around picking up your junk. The alien beat on “Drippin'” is one of the most infectious things I’ve heard all year. I dare you to sit still when the song comes on (it’s impossible). This is a beat that pulses through your body and takes over. After the first few notes kick in, Thugger proceeds to absolutely float on the track, effortlessly weaving in and out of different flows. In no time, you’ll be dancing around and feeling ready to do a backflip off the wall or something.

 

6959d43b

Biking around the neighborhood: “Everybody Wants to Love You” by Japanese Breakfast

I started riding my bike a lot this year, through some small suburban streets to and from work, passing by colorful houses and kids playing basketball.  I would stand up on the pedals and do a slalom in between manholes like I was 12 instead of 22. I always tried to pick the perfect soundtrack to match the scene and the most fitting was “Everybody Wants to Love You,” a song that explodes with joy instantly after the opening guitar riff. The simple chorus is uplifting and reassuring, making age irrelevant because you’re going fast and living in the moment. You’ll probably want to yell the lyrics and dance with your hands in the air, and at the very least you can’t help but feel free.

Soundtrack Your Summer

The Problem with Pablo

kanye-west-yeezy-season-3-feature

I have been putting off this blog post for a long time. In part, it’s because I’ve been busy with my last semester of college, two internships, and running a bunch of steeplechases. But the main reason that I’ve been procrastinating this review is because The Life of Pablo has torn me in a lot of different directions. Within a week or two of the album’s release, I had a thousand words of my thoughts about Pablo ready to go. They were mostly negative, but it didn’t feel right to completely trash the album. Kanye West is one of my all-time favorite artists and I regard several of his albums as masterpieces. I wanted this album to change my life, I was ready for it. The Life of Pablo is not the album to do that. It’s too long and full of momentum-killers. It has a lot of songs brimming with potential that are derailed by embarrassingly bad rapping. It’s Kanye taking some big swings and striking out.

Kanye albums have been home to some of the most innovative production of the last ten years, and Pablo lives up to its predecessors. The Pastor T.L. Barrett-sampling intro in “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” features a gloriously drawn-out (but now over-memed) Metro Boomin tag and builds into Kid Cudi’s joyous hook in epic fashion. But the production is quickly forgotten when Kanye’s first lines are about bleached assholes. “Famous”, with the uncomfortable sex-with-Taylor Swift lines, closes with the bouncy “Bam Bam” outro, which is genius and transforms the original song into something bigger. Inconsistency and unevenness run deep on Pablo. Even the already-classic “Ultralight Beam”feels skeletal and haphazardly pieced together before Chance spits a Hall Of Fame verse that absolves any previous sins.

“Pt. 2” is another misguided song that boasts lot of potential but ultimately falls flat. Kanye shared the song lyrics before the album’s debut and my expectations for the song skyrocketed. He says he cried while he wrote it. He references his father’s mistakes, his mother’s death, and his near-fatal car accident all in one verse. I was ready for an emotionally devastating Kanye performance. But the finished product? He’s rapping with the Autotune turned way up on a remix of Desiigner’s trap anthem “Panda”. I’m not saying rappers can’t convey emotion with this style of hip hop; Future does it all the time. But right after Kanye’s verse, the hook bursts in with “I got broads in Atlanta / Twisting dope, lean, and the Fanta” and the song officially becomes a confusing mess. “Pt. 2” goes from exploring some deep topics (though maybe not in the most effective way) to transforming into a hype anthem, which is just one of Kanye’s many frustrating choices made within Pablo‘s 59 minutes.

Not every rapper has to use internal rhyme schemes or tell vivid stories to make rewarding music. Kanye has never been the most talented lyricist or had the smoothest delivery, but it has rarely compromised the quality of his music (save for some of his guest verses, where he often struggles to fit in and elevate the song with his presence). At his best, his rapping is personal, clever, and memorable. Despite flashes of these qualities, The Life of Pablo is ultimately bogged down by poorly executed delivery of clunky and childish lyrics. His delivery is usually clear and simple, which highlights his weak lines more so than someone like Young Thug. He has an annoying habit of repeating a line right after he says it the first time. Among the misfires there are still gems such as “I just copped a jet to fly over personal debt”, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy”, and most of the second verse in “No More Parties in L.A.”, but these quotables can’t hold together the album.

“Real Friends”, positioned towards the end of the “actual” album (aka everything before “30 Hours”), is a friendly reminder of what makes timeless Kanye songs. It’s a simple concept that hits home: “Real friends, how many of us?” The piano-driven beat is haunting but also has an instant feel of nostalgia and comfort. Kanye’s straightforward and honest lyrics are what makes his songs enduring. His flow is natural and even when he breaks out of it to fit in all his thoughts into a single line (“I had a cousin that stole my laptop that I was fucking bitches on”), it’s forgivable because it really feels like we’re getting a look into his mind.

The Life of Pablo is an album of what-ifs. What if the tracklist wasn’t so bloated with deadweight songs? What if the lyrics were fine-tuned a little bit more? What if all the songs were fully fleshed-out like “FML” and “Real Friends”? What if lines like “You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than / This n*gga when he off his Lexapro” were explored more? Would I be here talking about another classic Mr. West product?

This isn’t a disappointing album for me because of a few bad lines or because I need a deep album from Kanye to consider it worthwhile. When I listen, I can’t help but hear the flaws. I hear the unused potential and the disconnect between the instrumentals and the lyrics. It’s distracting and frustrating. Kanye probably had an amazing album within his grasp, but Pablo‘s final form is more similar to a glorified mixtape: it’s too long, doesn’t flow, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s hard to view it as a singular piece of art like his other albums. It’s pretty easy to get the whole picture on the first listen.

I can’t tell what I would think of The Life of Pablo if I had never heard Late Registration or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Maybe I don’t like it because I had such high expectations. The Life of Pablo isn’t a fun listen for me, but I can hear the greatness within it.

gettyimages-509643096-0

 

The Problem with Pablo

Guest Writer: Spencer Adams

Today we welcome my younger brother, Spencer, to Y.R.NAdams as the site’s first guest writer. He is a big shot at his high school newspaper and he asked me if he could write about his favorite album ever, In Rainbows. So here ya go. -Nick

orev8s9

From the first 5/4 measure of electronic drums in “15 Steps,” I could tell something breathtaking was going to come. But I couldn’t have anticipated how empty my lungs would be 43 minutes later.

I know this may not be the most original article someone’s written. Another musically pretentious high school kid glorifying Radiohead and, more specifically, their masterpiece In Rainbows. Nothing new here. But I’m not going to analyze the band’s cultural significance or the monumental influence Radiohead has had on legions of young musicians. I’m going to be talking about my personal experience with In Rainbows, which is hands-down my favorite album of all time.

I had the fortune of immersing myself in Radiohead in an ideal order: I started listening to The Bends, moved on to OK Computer, and then Kid A (with Hail to the Thief and Amnesiac sprinkled throughout). I largely followed their catalogue chronologically, which allowed me to appreciate the progression of music and experimentality. I listened to each album obsessively, taking at least a month to digest one album before graduating on to the next. But constantly listening to and internalizing those three albums only warmed me up for In Rainbows.

Before I listened to In Rainbows, I was already a fan of Radiohead. I knew their music ranged from top-notch guitar-driven alternative (“Just”) to emotionally layered reflections (“Let Down”) to overtly experimental and musically sophisticated statements (“Everything In Its Right Place”). I admired their musical prowess, but more importantly I simply enjoyed listening to song after song in my silver 2006 Nissan Altima. But when I finally decided to try out In Rainbows, I was blown away.

First off, the way the band warps and mixes their instruments is magical. The songs are constructed using mostly straightforward instruments: guitars, bass, vocals, piano, drums, etc. But while listening to In Rainbows, I rarely hear the instruments individually.  It’s not chillwave or too effects-laden; it’s easy to pick apart and recognize what makes each noise. But the incredibly crisp yet soft and gentle production quality and sheer ingenuity of the songs leads to a cohesive, uniform sound. Each note and musician perfectly complements the others on a track, creating a mist of dream-like sound which Thom Yorke’s warbling vocals expertly navigate. A particular highlight for me is Philip Selway’s drum parts, which are so tight and some of his most creative on any Radiohead album. The precision and musicality exhibited is phenomenal. But Selway’s part’s are still just a component on each skillfully crafted track. For example, on “Reckoner,” shakers, drums, a simple guitar riff, measure-long piano chords, and barely noticeable background vocals fit together so precisely before giving way to a soaring string section, creating a united front of transcendental, shimmering sound. If Kid A deconstructed sound, In Rainbows successfully reconstructed it.

2007forrest10

Second and more importantly, In Rainbows is the most serene and emotionally poignant album I know of. It’s an incredibly refreshing and needed break from the songs dripping with sadness or happiness which seem to constantly blare from the radio speakers. There’s not a single song where you immediately recognize what Radiohead is trying to make you feel. Rather, a subdued feeling of content and hopeful loneliness courses through the album like an underwater current, an unstopping stream of tranquilly flowing through your earbuds. The brazen guitar on “Bodysnatchers” drives a sense flailing, frightening confusion; the last coda of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” welcomes a final escape but only after hitting the bottom; the dazzling string section in “Reckoner” instills a cautious optimism among a landscape filled with “blank shores.” Radiohead successfully wrapped up these feelings in a clean, musically brilliant package, and it takes multiple listens to open it up, which has why the album has only grown on me with time. It seems that everytime I listen, I discover something new.

But why this album over other Radiohead works? I think, for me, it’s the particular sentiment of the album. All of Radiohead’s other albums feature the same advantages of In Rainbows: subtle emotions, musical sophistication. But while OK Computer is about alienation and Kid A is about detachment, In Rainbows is about acceptance. Moments of tension (“Jigsaw Falling into Place”) or longing (“I don’t want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover” from “House of Cards”) certainly exist; but the overarching theme is a quiet, reserved acceptance of these unfortunate realities (as I mentioned before, in “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” Yorke sings that he “hit the bottom,” but then is able to “escape”). This could be seen as depressing or passive, but I choose to see it as a path towards a peaceful state in an imperfect world (“No matter what happens now / I shouldn’t be afraid / Because I know today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen” the last lines of the last song on the album, “Videotape”).  The line offers guidance towards tranquility when it seems impossibly out of reach. Things don’t always work out and you can’t plan for what happens, but if you recognize and accept that daunting fact you can lead a happier, more fulfilled life. This is Radiohead reconnecting with you after albums of disconnect.

So what’s my relationship with In Rainbows now? After it climbed to the top of my list and burrowed itself in my mind, I decided to limit myself. I reserve it for special occasions: driving home under glowing streetlights after a serene night, lying on my bed staring at the jet-black ceiling while trying to think about something major or not think at all, or even introducing one of my friends to Radiohead’s genius. It’s a heavily spiritual and hesitantly optimistic album which wastes no space, a meticulously-crafted and precise sound which has taught me that there’s always a way to find inner peace.

Some people see themselves reflected in poetry, paintings, or movies. Above any other art form, I find myself through music. And the last minute and five seconds of “Nude” is just about the most spiritual, beautiful, and moving piece of art I have ever experienced.

 

BONUS: Check out Radiohead’s superb performance “Live from The Basement – In Rainbows.” It makes you appreciate the album and the band even more.

Guest Writer: Spencer Adams

The Calm Before the SWISH

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 1.11.13 PM

Yes, I know the album is officially The Life Of Pablo, but I will always be on Team SWISH because that is the swaggiest album title I’ve ever heard. We’re apparently hours (minutes?) away from the climax of Yeezy Season 2k16 and whether T.L.O.P. is a smash hit or a jumbled mess, it’s going to dominate my foreseeable future. I will write about Kanye soon enough, so I’m going to take this time to throw something together about my favorite music from the first few weeks of the new year.

Music to Ride Home By

My bike ride home from my internship has given me some time to listen to music in a way that I haven’t really experienced before. This is my first real 9-5 office job and I’ve quickly learned that getting off work for the day is literally the best feeling ever. And the best way to celebrate my freedom is blasting the new Kevin Gates album (Islah) while I bike through the suburban streets. It makes me smile and inadvertently sing along even when it’s 20 degrees out and my face hurts. I work in a silent office and I do monotonous tasks all day and I wear wrinkly collared shirts, but I feel like a true baller when I hear “ALL MY DIAMONDS SHINE CUZ THEY REALLY DIAMONDS” as I ride home. Listen to this album to a) get amped up because every song is a banger and b) hear super personal and emotionally charged verses from Mr. Kevin Gates in these bangers.

The second album that I’ve really been digging is the new one from Porches, Pool. Unlike Islah, this is definitely a winter-y album. Aaron Maine’s voice drips with melancholy and the synth-heavy landscape he creates embodies isolation and doubt. That being said, this isn’t a necessarily sad album, but rather an album that is best consumed alone. Last Friday, I biked home in a kind of twilight after a fresh snowfall and listened to this album. I went over a little river on a little bridge and felt like a kid in a movie scene. The headphones experience of Pool creates an atmosphere that I got lost in. It’s inviting but also very personal. It was one of my first times listening to the album but I still felt very close to the music. Go on a long walk and listen to this.

I could write more, like about how Young Thug is ten times more exciting than Future, but I need to sleep. Happy listening everyone.

The Calm Before the SWISH

January 2016 Album Spotlight

Review: Anderson .Paak – Malibu

suede-ap

I learned about Anderson .Paak the same way most people did: by seeing his name all over the tracklist for Dr. Dre’s comeback album, Compton, last year. I don’t think I listened to the album more than once, but I did keep coming back to .Paak’s starring role on “Animals”, which really should be his own song featuring the Doctor. His singing voice is forceful and it’s unique–the type of voice that you instantly recognize when it enters the song. For example: his guest spot in “The Strip”, where he comes into the mix seemingly out of nowhere and provides a stark contrast between the lyrically-packed, lo-fi rapping and his reinvigorating hook. It’s a show-stopping moment that exhibits his rich voice that is fully on display in this month’s Malibu.

First off, .Paak got screwed with a January release date. Maybe it’s just because I’m writing this from New England, but it feels wrong to listen to this album while I’m bundled up walking around campus. This is ideal music for driving around in the summer with the windows down, especially the more upbeat songs, which also happen to be the standouts.

Opener “The Bird” starts slow and ends with a powerful statement of “Mama was a farmer / Papa was a goner”, but the next few songs fail to capitalize and feature a subdued .Paak rapping with a (biting?) Kendrick-style flow that I didn’t enjoy as much as the songs where he stuck to singing. His voice gets louder and the album starts to pick up around “Put Me Thru” and “Am I Wrong” (with a great transition between those two).

There are musically-genius moments here that impress me each listen and encourage dancing wherever you may be: the hook in “Parking Lot”, the horns at the end of “Am I Wrong”, and the emphatic “Oh hell nah!” on “Your Prime”, for example. .Paak can definitely write a hit and you can feel the beaming smile on his face during the highs of Malibu.

The guest rap verses vary in quality: Rapsody and Talib Kweli are largely forgettable and while ScHoolboy Q gives us a unique melodic verse in “Am I Wrong”, it blends in a little too well with the rest of the mix. The Game takes the crown in “Room In Here”, where he sounds strangely harmless (but very natural) over a pleasantly breezy beat.

Some of the slower, less-structured songs cause the album to drag a bit too much to justify a sixteen-song, hour-long track list. Cutting three or four of these songs would have solidified Malibu as a front-to-back hit for me. Then again, I’ve always preferred faster-paced R&B and soul music to the slower variety. .Paak is an artist more off-the-beaten-path than the typical Dr. Dre associate, as seen by his excellent collaborations with Knxwledge (as NxWorries) and milo, to name a few. “Suede” and “Link Up” from the NxWorries EP would be the *weird* songs on Malibu but they would definitely fit in and provide some needed variety. I hope that he continues to explore the experimental side of his artistry as he moves forward. Malibu shows that Anderson .Paak is a star and he’s on the brink of a totally unique sound very early in his career.

Highlights: “Am I Wrong”, “Parking Lot”, “Come Down”

January 2016 Album Spotlight