Friday, August 31, 2012

Riff Raff: Making Sense of the Human Meme

You might remember a short lived show on MTV called “From G’s to Gents”. It featured a number of young men seeking to reform their umm... “urban idiosyncrasies” and become proper gentlemen. The show only lasted two seasons and didn’t prompt any spinoff’s. In fact, I’m pretty sure the show’s host, Fonzworth Bentley, went back to holding Diddy’s umbrella to pay off his Howard student loans (I’m not entirely sure he went to Howard or if that joke is racist). However, someone did emerge from this reality show a star in his own right.

Riff Raff, hailing from Houston, Texas was eliminated by the 2nd episode of season 2. But that’s all he needed. This was the perfect amount of fame needed to springboard his career. However, Riff Raff possessed a marketable “skill," unlike many reality stars who try to make a lifelong career out of what should only amount in short term fame.

It was not Riff Raff’s rapping ability which kept him relevant after his brief stint on MTV. To be completely honest, he’s rarely consistent with his verses, at times meandering through tracks like a drunk ESL student.  

Riff Raff has made some waves in the music world in the past through his attempts to stay relevant.

First, he adopted his own brand of SEO. By adding “MTV” to his Youtube handle (MTVRiFFRaFF) his videos would appear in the sidebar in all of MTV’s official videos. After some of his music videos and home movies began surpassing MTV’s videos in search results, they threatened to sue and he took the tag off his username. He added SODMG (which I can’t be bothered to care with this stands for) to his Youtube and Twitter handles after reportedly signing a deal with Soulja Boy’s label. But, the deal fell through, or maybe never even existed at all. That’s the way Riff Raff rolls. He deals in deception.

More recently, he signed a 7 album deal with Mad Decent. According to some sources, which might just be Riff Raff himself, the deal was apparently worth seven figures. All parties involved, including label owner Diplo, are keeping quiet on the exact terms of the contract.

I almost forgot to mention that James Franco is playing a character largely based on Riff Raff in Harmony Korine’s new movie Spring Breakers. There are several reasons why I will be seeing this movie.

Arguably the most important trait when trying to dissect Riff Raff is his insane sense of self-awareness. Riff represents everything that was wrong with Hip-Hop by the end of the Noughties, when artists like Soulja Boy, Nelly and the Ying Yang Twins have rose and fell from fame after they had become parodies of themselves and the genre as a whole; and he knows this. Riff Raff’s rhymes hail us back to a time when braggadocio surrounding one’s wealth, whether is was truth or fiction, was commonplace in both underground and commercial rap. But, Rapping about your garage full of cars and the price of your chain is no longer en vogue in the current hip hop and economic climate.

As the underground took a turn towards the harrowing and soulful, Riff trudged through, not paying any attention to the trends adopted by his contemporaries, staying “true” to himself -- or the version of himself he created: a point debated later -- authentically inauthentic. It is this commitment to his character...for lack of a better word, which has led some to label Riff Raff as a “performance artist," rather than believe that a human like this can actually exist and accept the decline of western civilization as a whole. The idea that Riff Raff is an innovation from the mind of a pretty clever hip hop fan from Houston seeking to point out the udder fucking ridiculousness of other white southern rappers isn’t that farfetched. I think the general consensus among fans is that Riff is more of a one man Spinal Tap.

Much like the Rock and Roll invention of Rob Reiner, Riff Raff’s music is at times infectious and catchy (Riff , Tap). It’s also seems like a pretty clear parody of everything that critics use to rail against the genre as a whole during a particular period. However, at the end of the day Nigel Trufnel takes off his wig and spandex pants, puts on his pajamas, and goes to bed Christopher Guest.

But Riff Raff doesn’t sleep.

Or wear pajamas. 

End rant.

Riff Raff’s debut mixtape Birth of an Icon is probably not  what you might expect after reading the description of him above. Despite some of his flaws as an MC/human being, he takes his craft seriously, and there are many points on this mixtape where that shines through. Sometimes he tries to take himself too seriously or goes out on a limb, fails, but comes right back with something you can bounce to.

The mixtape starts of with the Caspa produced slow jam “Jody Highroller”, named after his soulful after ego/twitter handle/actual name. The feel of this track is in stark contrast to most of Riff’s other previously released jams, but not the last time he explores his softer side on this mixtape. There’s also “Lil Mama”, “Don’t Wait” and “Only I Can Cure Your Broken Heart” where Jody croons about some of his lost loves. The tracks are both listenable and help round out the  “emotional spectrum” of the mixtape, something that Riff wants to remind everyone that he has, but there’s really nothing spectacular about them.

The other standout track on this mixtape - if only for how different it is - “Time” is Riff Raff’s chance to right the wrongs he committed on his way to the top (which is actually somewhere towards the middle, but hey, a false sense of self importance never killed anyone). This weird attempt at trying to get deep comes off as very insincere and contrived, even for a guy who still wears fronts. Also, the fact that its uses a Plain White T’s sample doesn’t help.

But if you’re willing to get on board with Riff Raff and his image, which includes his flow that can be kept up with at times he dances around the beat, there is a lot of fun to be had with this mixtape. “Jose Canseco”, “Rap Game King Tut” and “Terror Wrist” probably best sum up what I mean, and also give you the best idea Riff’s overall style. There’s a bunch of clever rhymes about ice and cars, as well as some catchy as hell hooks.

Where this mixtape really peaks for me is on all the collaborative tracks. There’s “Bird on A Wire” with Bronx based MC Action Bronson, which I would label as one of the overall strongest tracks on the album. It’s noticeably a bit smoother than some of the other songs and Bronson’s deep outer borough accent and the flavor that comes along with it makes a nice contrast to Riff’s higher pitched voice and slightly noticeable southern drawl and diction.

As far as collabs go, there’s also “Cuz My Gear” with the Chicago rapper Chief Keef which blows “Brain Freeze”, with White Girl Mob/Female MC’s Who are Not Nearly as Talented as They are Cute Mob member Lil Debbie, out of the water.

So, my advice is this: Pick up this mixtape and have fun with it. Keep bumping the songs you like and don’t give a second chance to the ones you can’t get into. Don’t worry, you’re not going to miss anything. There’s really not much to be gained by a second critical listen to Birth of an Icon. There’s nothing deeper hiding beneath the surface of any of these tracks.

But I don’t know if I can say the same for Riff Raff.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Track Review: Mount Eerie - I Walked Home Beholding

Phil Elverum is a busy dude. He's already put an album this year, Clear Moon, and now he's released a second single -- the first bearing the new album's title -- from another album due out next month, Ocean Roar. The second single is fittingly called "I Walked Home Behoding", sounding very much like a contemplatively observing walk home after a long night. Elverum is famous for his use of nature in his lyrics and artwork, often achieving a raw, powerful sound, but both singles from Ocean Roar have seen him dialed back a little bit. Clear Moon was typical Elverum fashion, like if The Microphones focused on a clearer sound. A glacial march, "I Walked Home Beholding" is what Bon Iver's "Beth / Rest" could have been, had it any dignity or tact. The track features spacious keyboard and just enough percussion - finger snaps and light cymbals . What can be derived from "I Walked Home Beholding" is yet another great release in an already impressive catalogue from Phil Elverum and whatever he chooses to call his band. Check out the single below, and Ocean Roar next month.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Leaky Pipes: A First Look at Centipede Hz

The band that launched a million blog posts, everyone's favorite neo-psychedelic-folk-pop-rock band, that band that Avey Tare and Panda Bear play in, Animal Collective, released their latest album, Centipede Hz, about two weeks before its proper release via radio station - I wrote an opinion article about what the early stream meant last week. It shouldn't be a surprise that people ripped the stream, sorted the MP3s, and leaked webrips of the album. I refrained from downloading until a proper album rip was leaked, and it has been, obviously. So I have previewed the album a few times and this is what I have concluded: they still deserve every decible of buzz, but may be grounding out.

It pains me to say that I'm an Animal Collective fan - as soon as you admit it, you're grouped in with the "hipsters." They certainly are what most people consider the quintessential "hipster" band -- if you're wondering why "hipster" is always quoted, check out this article on Flatted Third. But it's not hard to be a fan of the enigmatic band; they've released solid, original material for about a decade now. With a track record including Sung Tongs, Feels, Strawberry Jam, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and Fall Be Kind, Animal Collective will be a band that continues to draw attention until the music begins to lack, which Centipede Hz may be the flag boy for. Fall Be Kind, the band's last proper release, followed the almost mainstream breakthrough of Merriweather Post Pavilion with slow, minimal, and effective, while Merriweather found a band adding as many instruments as could fit, certainly more electronics than earlier releases. This shift to what sounded like the electronic version of Campfire Songs left fans wondering where the AnCo would go next. Well, Centipede Hz continues to build of the progress of Merriweather, with poppier, maximized songs, but also features some meandering jams. This leaves Fall Be Kind as strictly an exercise and not a progression for later releases.

The return of Deakin, who sat out during both the recording and touring of Merriweather Post PavilionCentipede Hz creates some beautiful production, samples, and song bridges. Also, to much surprise, Deakin even sings lead on a track, the stomping "Wide Eyed", which ends with a Person Pitch-esque time shift at the end. Although the bridge from "New Town Burnout" to "Monkey Riches" is as beautiful as it is mechanical, making the track seem as though they are cut from the same clothe, "Wide Eyed" does nothing for the album. The Deakin cut lies in the middle of the record and just sort of stays at the same pace with random stops and starts, never really sounding interesting or beckoning multiple listens. Deakin's return is certainly a give and take, but it's always nice to reinforce the use of "collective" in the band's title.

The record begins with "Moonjock", a 7/4 romp that could have seen a spot on Merriweather. From there, the band jam packs instruments and melodies into the excellent single "Today's Supernatural", but this is where the album takes an interesting turn with "Rosie Oh". The song is collected and smooth, sounding like a dialed back "For Reverend Green". "Applesauce" is a trippy-go-happy Avey song that doesn't fail to deliver pop like you've never hear it before. The first four songs establish the head of Centipede Hz as an excellent effort.

"Wide Eyed", as mentioned before, lacks anything special, but the trio of "Father Time", "New Town Burnout" and "Monkey Riches" pick the album right back up. Even with the seventeen minute, three song recovery, the album dips again with "Mercury Man", a song with a weak beginning but extremely strong, bass-filled finish - it's not a bad song, but it could have been a lot shorter, as a lot of the other songs on Centipede Hz could be, and is a testament of poor album flow.

"Amanita" finishes off the album, named after a genus of mushrooms that offers some of the most deadly species. The song details a hiking trip that dips further and further into bright and colorful depths, until everything is washed away in delay, a fitting end for an album that is as dense as it is frustrating.

It's too bad "Honeycomb" or "Gotham" didn't make the cut because I really enjoyed those singles. The latter featured a sound commonly found on Feels, my personal favorite of the AnCo catalogue; it would have fit perfectly in the meat of Centipede Hz, easily able to replace Deakin's "Wide Eyed" or even the tail end's "Mercury Man". "Honeycomb" would have a much more difficult time fitting into the record, as it comes off as a standalone single.

It seems that when you strip away all the excess production and instruments, Centipede Hz is just solid, almost traditional songs in an inconsistent package. That isn't to say that it's a bad release, just something a fan wouldn't list as his or her favorite. This comes as a disappointment, to me at least, because I really enjoyed both Merriweather and Fall Be Kind for two completely different reasons. And I would have loved to have seen how those two sounds meshed. Oh well.

Grade: B

P.S. Check out this great interview by Stereogum with the band about the recording process, and watch the band's video for "Today's Supernatural" below:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


It's been three years since Converge released their last LP, Axe to Fall, but the Boston based hardcore/metal group are back with a new album and a string of tour dates across the U.S. The album will be titled All We Love We Leave Behind and will be out October 9th. Along with this announcement, the band also shared a new video for the first single off the album, "Aimless Arrow". After first listen, it's clear this is a different Converge. Yes, I understand it's too early to start predicting patterns of an album that has only released one song, but "Aimless Arrow" is very new for the band. It's an unexpected punch to the face, leaving you asking for more. Jacob Bannon flies through two and a half minutes of raw vocals that mirror a harder version of These Arms Are Snakes. Although the guitars sound clean and polished, Bannon assures that everything they produced and recorded is very organic, as to mirror what they are like live (spoiler alert: INSANE). You can pre-order the album now through the band's website (which comes in yellow vinyl and a 48-page art book by Bannon himself) or over at Deathwish, which has regular vinyl format or 180 gram 2x12" LP (this is ONLY limited to 1000, so get it fast if you can!). I was able to snag the 180 gram edition, which adds to my excitement of  upcoming autumn releases. Below, you can watch the video for "Aimless Arrow", along with the tour dates thanks to Pitchfork.

Converge - "Aimless Arrow" 

09-01 Los Angeles, CA - FYF Fest * !
10-12 New Britain, CT - Club INT @ #
10-13 Rochester, NY - Water Street Music Hall @ #
10-14 Pittsburgh, PA - Altar Bar @ #
10-15 Columbus, OH - Skully's @ #
10-16 Detroit, MI - Majestic Theatre @ #
10-18 Chicago, IL - Metro @ #
10-19 Minneapolis, MN - Triple Rock Social Club @ 
10-20 Lawrence, KS - Granada Theatre @ # $
10-21 Denver, CO - Marquis Theatre @ #
10-22 Salt Lake City, UT - Club Sound @ #
10-24 Seattle, WA - El Corazon @ # %
10-25 Portland, OR - Branx @ # %
10-26 San Francisco, CA - Slim's @ # %
10-27 Pomona, CA - Glasshouse @ # %
10-28 Los Angeles, CA - EchoPlex @ # %
10-30 Mesa, AZ - The Nile @ # %
11-01 Dallas, TX - Sons of Herman Hall @ #
11-02 Austin, TX - Fun Fun Fun Festival @ #
11-03 Houston, TX - Fitzgerald's @ #
11-04 Little Rock, AR - Downtown Music @ #
11-05 Birmingham, AL - Zydece @ #
11-06 Nashville, TN - Exit/In @ # ^
11-07 Atlanta, GA - The Masquerade @ # ^
11-08 Durham, NC - Motoroco Music Hall @ # ^
11-09 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer @ # ^
11-10 Asbury Park, NJ - Stone Pony @ # ^
11-11 New York City, NY - Highline Ballroom @ # ^
11-12 Cambridge, MA - The Sinclair @ # ^

* with American Nightmare
! with Quicksand
@ with Torche
# with Kvelertak
$ with Coalesce
% with Nails
^ with Whips/Chains

Album Review: Dan Deacon - America

Psychologist Abraham Maslow places self-actualization at the top of his hierarchy of needs, the ability to accept one's own being for what it is. It is not until we are placed outside of our comfort zones that this is tested most, and also given a comparative entity. Dan Deacon prefaces his newest release, America, with a beautiful tale of how he never really identified as "American" until he left the country on a world tour. What he sets out to do on America is provide his own definition of what it is to be "American," challenging both the world view and personal self-reflection.

America debuts with "Guilford Avenue Bridge", a sprawling, complex track that seems to lift itself languidly out of a static caul. At about the three minute point, the static comes back but molded into a colorful mass, undulating engagingly. From that point, the album continues Deacon's "HOLY SHIT, LET'S PARTY" music, right up until "Prettyboy", a veiled slow jam much like Spiderman of the Rings' "Big Milk". Deacon is completely aware of the song's effect on the album flow, as he follows it with the crescendoing "Crash Jam", a track so aptly named and paced. But it is what comes after "Crash Jam" that makes America such a noteworthy release from the Maryland-based artist.

"Crash Jam" is followed by a suite in four parts, each title starting with "USA." The first of which, "USA I: Is a Monster", starts out with symphonic strings followed by the over-torqued electronics Deacon has made his trademark. These saliently evoke the dichotomy between organic and digital instruments Deacon mentions in his cathartic tale most. By introducing what sound like Native American tribal chants, he begins his direct narrative of American history. "USA II: The Great American Desert" takes over where "Is a Monster" deposits all its dial tone feedback and frantic loops, finally taking shape at about the 1:30 mark. The seven minute track reintroduces Deacon's vocals, which have been heavily coded in digital artifacts throughout the album, now coated with a shining layer of reverb, an ethereal result. It drags on a little toward the five minute mark, for a whole minute, until almost all the digital instruments give way to xylophones and drums, eventually flowing over into pizzicato strings that transition into "USA III: Rail", the most beautiful of the four part suite. By the end of "Rail", I am reminded of what Sufjan Stevens was doing on Illinois, with its sweeping instrumentation and arrangements. Where we end, "USA IV: Manifest", has Deacon going back to the overcrowded digital realm he's from, ostensibly the America he most identifies with. It combines different elements from the first three parts into a track that appropriately evokes the strong song title. "Manifest" breaches into clarity at 2:25 and resolves accordingly; finally, the journey of self-actualization is complete and Deacon has found an America he can identify with: his own.

What we're left with at the end of America is an album that struggles with as much as it accomplishes. If you're a fan of Dan Deacon, the release should find you pleased with the growing pains. If you're just a dabbler in electronic music, America may confound you. But the album is dense, rewarding, and challenging, as most great albums are, so be sure not to sleep on this one. 

Grade: B+

P.S. Be sure to check out the super fun video for "True Thrush" 

Monday, August 27, 2012

LA Weekly's Lists, "Hipster" as a Genre and Why Music Doesn't Need Negativity

For those of you unfamiliar with LA Weekly, it's kind of an alternative-internet-tabloid-blog concerned with LA. Simple enough, right? Well, what the website is more known for is their lists concerning The Top 20 Worst Bands of all Time, The Top 20 Whitest Musicians of all Time, or The Top 20 Musicians of all Time, in any Genre. And while these lists are obviously constructed with tongue in cheek - their grandiose best of all time, in any genre list has William Hung as its number one - the most recent list calls out a whole group of music admirers, "hipsters," polarizing the interwebz.

The Top 20 Worst Hipster Bands of all Time, a list detailing "hipsters" "lemming-like" ability to follow trends blindly, sees the ilk of bands like MGMT, Sleigh Bells, and TV on the Radio, all of which are primarily associated with the generalized branding of "hipster" -- I will continue to put that title in quotes because I still have no idea what it means or intends to mean -- all thrown under the flexfuel tourbus. It's not that I disagree that some bands can, or will be, labeled as "hipster" bands, but I can't help to think of how this affects music.

From 2004-2005, I experienced a shift in what I considered to be music. Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Franz Ferdinand, and Silent Alarm comprised what I consider to be the albums that took indie rock mainstream. These were the albums, accompanied by excellent singles, that opened everyone's eyes to a different brand of music not clouded by major label interference. "Indie" was the term coined, a term of endearment. Now, we have a "hipster" brand of music. "Hipster" is identified with trust fund babies, poor fashion taste, and fixed gear bicycles. It doesn't come off too nicely. Anything can now be dismissed as "hipster" and ignored. But what it so different about "Indie" and "Hipster?"

Here's where the surprising bands on the list come to play. Bright Eyes, The Black Keys, and Death Cab for Cutie are all bands who were well established before I ever heard the term "hipster" to identify a kind of music. Ben Westhoff, the list's editor, described the term as such:
On its surface hipsterdom seems to be an individuality-grab, but most of today's 20 and 30-something bands from Silver Lake and Williamsburg sound shockingly similar. They're all playing variations of retro garage and soul music -- or bringing glockenspiels and choirs on incestuous nationwide tours -- all the while clad in vintage garb likely infested with lice. We're not saying that they should be outlawed by, like, Congress or something. Just that they should be avoided. Here then, is our field guide to the worst offenders.
"Variations of retro garage and soul" seems like something a "hipster" would describe his band as, but how different and vague these references are makes it seem like a spontaneous, uninspired insult. I'm not saying the list isn't funny or entertaining, I just don't see the need for it.

Much like Spin's "Worst New Music" section, I can't seem to justify publishing such a negative attack on music. I might say something along the lines of "That band suck," but I would never go through the process of insulting someone's art, then broadcasting it. I understand the irony of publishing this piece - it's not lost on me - but it doesn't take an editor years of practice and performing to put out a shitty list. And to Spin, assign a letter grade or a badge of honor, don't admonish and brand.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Catch Up: 5 Albums You May Have Missed from 2012

It's nearly impossible to listen to everything noteworthy that comes out in a given year. Hell, I often find bands I love after they have broken up or a member died. What you should never do is catalogue a year, then forget about it. There's no shame in buying a DeLorean, going back a year, and finding an album you love - well, maybe there's some shame in all that 80's tail that'll be heading your way, aged and still dreaming to be the girl in the White Snake video. So here are some of the year's best music that, may not have been missed by all sites, but didn't get the proper coverage they deserved.

Joyce Manor - Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired 

Now, for most people I know, they are already well aware of this record - I have had it in heavy rotation in my car, and all of my other friends' cars who let me DJ. It's Long Island Pop-Punk, but the same way Brand New was Long Island Emo with Screams (L.I.E.S.); it's intelligent, original, and moving. There's even a cover of "Video Killed the Radio Star" that doesn't make you want to rip your hair out! It seems Absolute Punk was right...wait, what? Well, their community still sucks, giving the record a mere 72/100. The production is decidedly less lo-fi from the band's previous release, which really helps bring out all the subtle inflections that make this release so exciting and fresh. 

Joey Bada$$ - 1999

The album sounds like the title suggests: a return to the golden years of hip-hop. Featuring boom-bap beats, guest spots from the larger Progressive Era crew, and Joey's time tested - not necessarily by him - flow and style. 1999 feels comfortable all throughout. It's hard to believe he's only 17. With beats ranging from J Dilla, MF Doom, and Statik Selektah, this is a noteworthy mixtape, in a era where the lines between album and mixtape are beginning to blur more than ever. Album highlight "Survival Tactics" attracted the attention of Pitchfork and the website did a feature on the rapper. The best part is you can download the mixtape here for free. Yay, internet! 

Suis La Lune - Riala

Easily the least accesible on this list, the Swedish Screamo band crafted one of the densest listens this year thus far. The vocals aren't overly harsh, as they are washed clean with reverb, and there are moments when they wane and strengthen in emotional fatigue and vigor. What's so great about this album is that every song is flooded with excellent guitar harmonies and arrangements. At about 3:09 on "In Confidence", there is a major movement from the melancholia to an almost ecstatic feeling. The song feels extremely special, warranting multiple listens. The album shouldn't come as a surprise success to fans that have followed the band, as they have always released really solid material. I'm just kind of upset my copy of this record is the white first pressing, not the second pressings of black and clear splattered...

∆ (Alt J) - An Awesome Wave

If you were wondering how I typed a ∆, read the band's name again. Hip geometrical shapes aside, Alt-J created a sharp, technical album for 2012. The band's debut album, An Awesome Wave is exactly what I would like Maps & Atlases to sound like, if they continued the more poppy approach to mathy music like they seem to be. They even have a "Power" inspired music video for album standout "Tessellate". The vocals sound very familiar to Devendra Banhart, but the textured, swimming instrumentation and arrangements supporting the vocals is what sets the band apart. It's the perfect poppy album to pitch Math Rock to your friends! And isn't that what every fan needs?

blu - UCLA

If you consider yourself a hip-hop head, then you know who blu is. What makes this release such an under the radar one is how it was released, and now its difficulty to locate. The album randomly appeared on the mercurial rapper's Bandcamp page, boasting that it was entirely produced by underground hip-hop stalwart Madlib. Stones Throw then released a statement saying Madlib had nothing to do with the project. Despite the claim, the album does sound like it could have been produced solely by Madlib. And a single, "EZ", was released, then with Madlib's credit. All the controversy does nothing to discredit a great album from one of the underground's most consistant rappers.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Can Metal Be Fun? A Look at Baroness' Yellow & Green Album and What ItMeans for Metal to Come

Baroness - Yellow & Green 

In 2011, metal giants Mastodon released their fifth full length album, The Hunter. Though the album garnered some pretty positive reviews, fans of the band were polarized. The Hunter marked a new direction that the band was taking; it may or may not be permanent, but for the time being, Mastodon started to do something many fans didn't appreciate: they started having fun.

Why start this review with a Mastodon album from last year you ask? The reason behind it lies in the recent wave of "pop-centeric" metal that has been released. First, there was Mastdon in 2011. In 2012, Florida sludge-metal group Torche released their new LP, Harmonicraft. And now, summer has brought the long anticipated double album from the Georgia metal band, Baroness. Admittedly, there is a certain "pop" to these records, but each band still holds true to the metal genre they are reshaping for this new generation.

All except for Baroness.

Although Yellow still follows the band's vision of a new sound, it also feels familiar, which will more than likely calm some fears fans may have over this album. Yellow opens up similarly to Green, but as soon as the theme ends, "Take My Bones Away" instantly comes through with a sludge riff that essentially kicks off the mood for the rest of the album. Here, Baroness is showing off a more polished band; the time for harmonized screams and nonstop heaviness seems to be behind them.

The largest amount of change fans will notice though comes from Green, the latter half of the double album. Green starts off incredibly slow with its theme; minimal drums and reverb heavy chords soon give way to the anthem-like break that I can only describe as having a post-rock, hair-metal feel. The next 40 minutes are essentially a test when you first listen to Green. The slight heaviness from Yellow      
is replaced with a more ambient, post-rock feel. One thing that makes this particular album so enjoyable is that it doesn't feel boring. Baroness lines Green with airy tracks that are meant to calm the listener, taking them through a new mellowed out version of the band. "Board Up the House" offers a taste of hard rock, but then glides through tracks like "Stretchmarker" and "If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry" showcasing how versatile Baroness can be.

Many fans are angry with the new direction though, more often than not, for the wrong reasons. While looking at their recent video for "Take My Bones Away", there was a YouTube comment a user left stating his displeasure for the band's new album and direction. Throughout his musings, he kept citing "They are having fun now, just like Mastodon has been, and it has ruined all the good parts of the band." This really got me thinking; since when are bands not allowed to have fun while they play their own music? Fans act as if these bands owe us something, which in reality, they don't. They provide us with hours of listening entertainment, and we thank them by tormenting their music and criticizing it to no ends. If you are familiar with The Simpsons (if not, try to be. I know my wonderful friend/blog frontman Kyle Murphy will reference it NUMEROUS times), entertainment tells us that they don't owe us. If anything, we owe them.

For anyone afraid of listening to this new double album, I'll leave you with this quote from an interview with PitchforkTV. The thing about changing - gaining and losing fans - it shouldn't be part of the thought process when you craft an album. The only thing that should ever matter are the songs - "Are we genuine; are we moving forward?"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Electric Flavor #1

Before I begin with my own introduction, I would like to say that I don’t get the title of this blog. Also, thank Kyle for inviting me to work on this project. Kyle probably has the most diverse and well informed music taste out of anyone that I know. His ability to ferociously devour, comprehend, and adeptly criticize new artists with a wit and contextual understanding to rival P4k’s most pretentious and self-righteous blogger is a quality I have come to both loathe and admire; for trying to keep up with him in this manner has often proved very frustrating for me.  I look forward to reading his musings on future releases and I hope he looks forward to mine.

Now I’m going to tell you about myself:

I started DJ-ing about 5 year ago - in a strange coincidence, almost to the day. After years of playing drums in various bands I was sick of sitting in the back having all the attention focused on someone other than myself. I couldn’t play guitar, so the narcissist in me decided that buying turntables was the next best thing.

My philosophy behind my craft is pretty simple: Don’t get too caught up in trends (and in the world of EDM there are certainly a lot), always push yourself to get better, and for fuck’s sake keep people dancing.

I try to let a diverse taste in music inform my DJ-ing and I will try to let that same taste inform my posts here on Flatted 3rd. Although Kyle brought me on as the resident EDM expert, you can look forward to posts from all across the genre spectrum but always something danceable with a electronic flavor.

Now on to the music...

The Grooviest Track You’ll Hear all Week: Bondax - Baby I Got That

If you haven’t heard of Bondax before, don’t worry, you haven’t missed much. These two teenage producers from Lancaster, UK have only just started out, but they have burst on the scene in a big way.

They’ve been getting a lot of love from BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac who has featured pretty much every existing Bondax track at some point on her show.

This selection “Baby I Got That” starts off with a airy build that might easily get it mistaken for a Jamie XX record. However, it quickly busts into a groove reminiscent of early 90’s electro pop. Then there’s also a fair bit of fun filter work which gives it a distinctive disco-y feel.

Overall, this track is right up my alley - hopefully we live in the same alley - and I look forward to its official release on August 26th.

(For those interested the Justin Martin remix is equally awesome)

The Best Remix of a Cover of Someone You’ve Heard on the Radio: DjSliink - High for This

With Ellie Goulding sitting rather uncomfortably at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 - still behind Flo Rida’s summer anthem, WHICH IS TOTALLY NOT ABOUT WHISTLING - and after releasing her debut album more than 2 years ago, there are bound to be a number of lackluster remixes and edits of a fair number of her tracks. The most glaring exception is Bassnectar’s “Lights” Remix , but this track also seems to stand out.

I really hate the obsessive subcategorization of every EDM track. The worst offenders being anything that warrants the “-step” suffix. But Sliink and Kiff really kill it on the “Future Trapstep” tip. Their remix of Ellie Goulding’s cover of The Weekend’s “High for This” is chill, one might even say “trill” at times, but it certainly does the original justice; this track has a feel all its own, qualities I value highly in remixes.

I’ll (hopefully) be catching Sliink on September 7th. I pray he beings a similar vibe there that he did in his Boiler Room NY Set.

The Summer Radio Jam Remix You’ll Play Well Into the Fall: Settle Down - Baauer Remix 

Although I try not to get caught up in trends, there is really no avoiding the explosion of Trap music on the EDM scene. Nu-Trap is a hybrid of the trunk rattling southern rap beats you might expect from the likes of Meek Mill, Bun B or 2 Chainz and Bro/Drum/Dub Step. Although this track is not a perfect example of this new genre - If you’re looking for that check out TNGHT - Baauer is by far one of the most prominent producers in the scene. Allow this official No Doubt remix to serve as proof.

Unlike his contemporaries, like RL Grime for example, Baauer steps out of his comfort zone on this remix. He doesn’t rely on the huge drops and constantly rattling hi hats, which are so painfully common in Trap music. Don’t get me wrong, you definitely want to turn your sub on for this one. But the cool island feel of this song accented by the background marimbas and bird chirps is a refreshing breath from the endless stream of trap remixes hitting the internet in the past few months.

The Best Moombahton Floorfiller I’ve Heard in a Minute: Beat Down - Steve Aoki and Angger Dimas ft. Iggy Azalea 

Let me make two things clear:
1. I fucking hate Steve Aoki.
2. Iggy Azalea makes this track.

Although this track has some weak points - most notably some annoying synth tones - overall, it really bumps. Even if you can’t stand this song or video, I still think it serves as a great introduction to Iggy Azalea. This 2/10 Australian almost became a supermodel, but when her agency said she was “too thick" (a distinction I'm totally cool with), She said, "Fuck It" and became a Bad-Ass FemCee instead.

If you’re digging Iggy check out her new Glory EP . I highly suggest you do.

The Track That I Totally Missed the Boat On: Epic - Sandro Silva & Quintino

This track was released in June of 2011. Apparently it made a big splash in Ibiza last summer...I never got the memo.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Leaky Pipes: A First Look at Coexist

The xx - Coexist

I have obtained a leaked copy of The xx's Coexist. After a couple of listens all the way through, I have reached a conclusion on my first impression of the album: It's lackluster.

What made The xx so interesting was their use of minimalism to inspire such a burning, grand sound. Every track glistened or was so covered in darkness, only an outline of something larger was broadcasted. It was the beautiful dichotomy between songs like "Shelter" and "Crystalized" that drew a listener into a constant rotation of the record. XX bloomed; Coexist sprouts, revealing an almost unfinished product. 

All of these dark, sparse songs come as a huge surprise considering Jamie XX, the band's producer and beat maker, revealed what would be the first details about Coexist, in an interview with Pitchfork:
I think it will definitely sound different than the last album and anything I've ever done, just because our ears have been opened to so much music. Two years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of listening to most of the stuff I listen to now. Like, I wasn't interested in techno and house at all before but, when I was in Chicago, I bought a bunch of Dance Mania records from the 80s and 90s, and I've listened to a lot of that.
I had Coexist pinned to be more of the dance inspired bass music Jamie XX was doing solo, or the Gil-Scott Heron remix album. I was sure the record would be a lot more of the stuff I loved off of XX, but with more "danceability." What Coexist does do is create a dark veil over the music, one that I'm sure will eventually lift, revealing a melancholic beauty, but for the first time through, it feels too shrouded.

With singles "Angels" and "Chained", The xx displayed the usual slow build, but with shifty, unpredictable drums. These features only make slight appearances in the other songs on the album, "Missing" being a highlight of this; you can feel the heartbeat, uncertainty, and hurt in the production. "Try" starts off with an eery guitar riff, yet it seems to stay at the same pace and never really excites. A lot of other songs, like "Tides" and "Our Song", feel almost like sketches or outlines for a larger song, never fully building into anything.

But maybe this is exactly where The xx is going, a starless yearning that is never fulfilled. It certainly doesn't produce anything you can show to someone and have them instantly latch onto, much like what XX accomplished. For right now, after a half-dozen listen throughs, Coexist feels more like an "honorable mention," for what it aims for, than a "best of," because of what it accomplishes.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What the Early Stream of Centipede Hz Means

It's not the biggest of surprises the enigmatic Animal Collective chose to stream their newest album, Centipede Hz, nearly two weeks before its release date, using an internet "radio station." Frank Ocean did the same exact thing, although Ocean chose to just go ahead and release his proper debut, in its entirety, for digital downloads. Animal Collective's Geologist spoke with Spin on why the band is streaming the record, saying, "It's not like we're totally trying to beat the clock. It's a way of being like 'Can we beat the clock, but not just beat the clock for beating the clock's sake? But do it in a way that feels like it has been lost. Recapture that a little bit.'" He went on to express that it doesn't matter if people see the early release as a marketing ploy because, at a certain point, you can't control what people think. This feels like something a band such as Animal Collective has always known, being as mercurial as they are.

Obviously the early stream will have an effect on how the album is received. Stereogum has been hosting a comment party on the stream and, most importantly, the critics that will soon review the release get an extra two weeks with it, something that the band can only benefit from. Animal Collective have a dense veil around their music, one that can seem strange and alien to most listeners. But the internet has allowed the band to prosper. The more avant-garde music reviewers are found on the internet, those who have praised the band since its earlier releases. Although Entertainment Weekly did name 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion as its best of the year, now every critic, small and large publication, will have a chance to let the music absorb and digest. The band is using the same exact tool that has allowed them to pull off such a stunt and have it ring in such a large echo chamber.

There are definitive drawbacks to allowing the public in so early, as the internet never fails to prove. Although Geologist tried to avoid any and all publicity stunt accusations, he couldn't foresee how the public would receive fan's reactions to other band's, Grizzly Bear's twitter account attests; seems convoluted, but it's a much less complicated story. Grizzly Bear, a band that competed with Merriweather in 2009 with the critically lauded Veckatimest, tweeted this, saying it didn't have a radio station to stream their new album Shields, set for a release almost two weeks from AnCo's. What seemed like an obvious joke was misinterpreted, a thousand times over, by the internet's most avid music fans as a shot at Animal Collective's early stream. Grizzly Bear then followed up the witch hunt with this and this, thus defusing anything that might happen to be interesting. Hey, music beefs have always been interesting, back when they would result in shootings or tragedies; turmoil will always drive a fiercer competition, sometimes spilling over into actual violence. I obviously don't condone or endorse any deaths, I'm strictly speaking from an entertainment point of view.

It seems like Animal Collective accomplished what they, and everyone on the internet, wanted: more time with an exciting release. Maybe all the major publications, like Entertainment Weekly, just needed to get to know the band's music a little more before they fully committed. I know I will certainly have fun tripping out to Centipede Hz while watching Abby Portner's visuals.

So, the only thing left for you to decide is what you think about the release. You can stream it here. And feel free to comment below what you think.

Monday, August 20, 2012

My 10 Favorite Albums of All Time

I was trying to think of a great first article to start this blog with, but I figured since this is a personal blog, I should give insight into my persona. What better, easier way to get to know someone than to know his or her top ten albums of all time? I don't think there are any better ways, so this is my list. Keep in mind, like with the rest of the internet, this is all opinion and my personal - there's that word again - experience with music. These are the records I have come to know and love throughout my many years of devotedly listening to music. Feel free to comment! 

1. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
The Slim Shady LP set up Eminem’s second record, The Marshall Mathers LP, to fail spectacularly, but the sophomore effort did everything but. There were the two deaths, of which the blame was placed on Eminem’s first release; the ICP feud; Slim Shady, the character; and Eminem’s crumbling relationship with his then estranged wife, Kim. Everything coalesces into a perfect album that balances social and personal responsibilities with ease. The first half of the record defends Eminem’s first effort and the chaos it provoked, while the second sees Eminem proving why he garnered so much attention in the first place with traditional

I found this record, or I guess this record found me would be more accurate, during a time when my older brother was showing me weird things. I was eleven and my brother fourteen. He was already a year into his teens and teaching me all sorts of foul words. The first time I heard The Marshall Mathers LP, I was struck with wonder and confusion. First of all, I had no idea what half of the lewd acts Eminem spoke of were; my brother would later translate ad hoc, continuing to be my guide into an auspicious maturity. Second of all, I had never heard anyone rap about issues that actually mattered - most rap at the time was about "bling bling." Time passed and I moved onto different kinds of music, always gravitating towards socially aware rap because of this record. Years later, when I first started to collect vinyl records, this was one of the first records I purchased, bringing with it all the memories and lessons learned. 

2. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

It’s nearly impossible to overlook Nirvana, when referencing the alternative rock uprising in the early to mid nineties. But Sonic Youth had been paving their own way since the early eighties, and released Daydream Nation a year before Nirvana broke ground with Bleach. While most of Daydream’s elements, from song titles to lyrics, are classic-rock inspired, it never sounds like anything majorly released up to that point. Sister and EVOL saw the band moving away from mostly dissonant, art-house sounds while still retaining noise jams, Daydream Nation brought forth some of the best guitar rock heard at the time, ostensibly inspired by the band’s connections to Dinosaur Jr. An album warranting well over an hour of listening, Daydream Nation never bores or caries on; it’s a whirling dervish from calm to chaos and back again.

When I first arrived at college, I brought with me my iTunes library full of CDs I painstakingly ripped. Then my roommate introduced me to the world of downloading music free off the internet. I think I used for a month, constantly downloading whatever music I found noteworthy on "best of" lists. Of course Daydream Nation made its way onto pretty much every list I could find on the 80s, but I'm a 90s baby, so the album as put on the back burner for a while. The first time I listened to it, the album had been in my library for nearly half a year. It blew me away right from the beginning and all the way to the finish. I had never before heard anything so noisy yet beautiful, classic yet fresh, or angsty yet artsy. Since that day freshman year, I have always had this record to come back to. It's my breakup, bad day, good day, new girlfriend soundtrack.  

3. Burial - Untrue

Untrue is as dark as it is inviting. By fusing 2-step and garage music, Burial released what most people consider the first successful, true “dubstep” album. With its shifty beats and pitch-shifted vocals, Unture made an indelible mark in electronic music history. The release also continued the myth Burial had created with his veiled appearances toward the media. A genre defining moment, Untrue is one of the rare instances of letting the music speak solely for itself, unapologetically.

I cannot recall exactly the first time I heard Untrue, but I think it was around the time Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma came out, so somewhere around 2010. I was just starting to break into the world of electronic music, always having cast it out as emotionless and programmed. Untrue provided a eponymous testament disproving that mindset. I must have listened to the whole album, all the way through, thirty times in the first week I got it. It sent me in an electronic music tailspin and I downloaded or bought anything bassy I could get my hands on. Untrue is a gateway album, a gateway into a seedy, dark London underground. 

4. Led Zeppelin - IV

Led Zeppelin had a knack for making classic rock and roll albums, right? Almost any Led Zeppelin record through Physical Graffiti could be considered one of the top ten albums of all time, but what separates IV from the others is the weight it holds in the classic rock community. It’s impossible to not associate Led Zeppelin with “Stairway to Heaven”, the band, and possibly classic rock’s, “greatest song ever.” The album also introduced the symbols that would come to represent each band member, making each one’s talent and legacy escape words. This was the record that made Led Zeppelin the rock gods.

Like every child, I inherited certain bands and albums from my parents. My parents love Led Zeppelin, I love Led Zeppelin. The first time I started to classify music and form a schema, I raided my parent's CD collection for bands of whatever I found interesting at the time; that was classic, guitar-driven rock and roll. I decided Led Zeppelin was the best at this kind of music, so that's all I listened to. Although I favor their first record, I recognize IV as their best and most well-known. I know almost every guitar riff from this album. It's the quintessential rock and roll god album. 

5. Boards of Canada - Music Has the Right to Children

Boards of Canada’s first proper release created an entity looking as far backwards as forwards, an enigmatic record that would inspire most of today’s keyboard driven electronic music. There are multiple elements of classic songwriting but balanced with free-flowing beats and samples. Music seems to float somewhere above the listener’s head, always just out of reach, longing for moments of clarity.

I caught up to Boards of Canada around the same time I discovered Untrue and, I guess as the story goes, electronic music in general. What was so special about Music Has the Right to Children was the tone and execution of the music. Everything was so clean and mythical. It seemed to undulate while staying completely still. The mythos of the band furthers its reputation as a foggy, time-tested classic.  

6. The Roots - Phrenology

While it isn’t my favorite Roots album – that title goes to either Things Fall Apart or Game Theory – it certainly is their best. Phrenology never lets up. Each song flows effortlessly into the next, the production is near perfect, and The Roots are the main focus of the record; there aren’t any show stealing features, like in some later release. But let’s be honest, are there any bad Roots records? Phrenology sticks out most, much like Led Zeppelin IV, because of one song: “The Seed 2.0”. This isn’t why it is the best release, but because it has drawn so much attention with one song; it invites anyone unfamiliar with the band’s stellar discography to listen more.

I'm not going to lie, the first time I heard The Roots was "The Seed 2.0". I'm not ashamed to admit I fell onto an underground legend such as The Roots through their most well-known song. But as I stated before, the single did exactly what a single should and I as hooked. Following my proclivity to seek out socially conscious rap, The Roots fit right in with the Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest as one of my favorite rap groups to listen to all of. Phrenology is what hooked me. 

7. Radiohead - Kid A

Although Radiohead’s two preceding albums, The Bends and OK Computer, are both classics, Kid A saw Radiohead changing their music styles and popular music. Fans of the band’s traditional – as traditional as Radiohead could be – arrangements and instrumentation saw a move into more spacious, electronic sounds. Sonically, not many records, save this list’s and a handful of other classics, contain the beautiful, lurid soundscapes that Kid A offers. Even the transition instrumental tracks have enough depth in their sound construction to warrant multiple listens; “Treefingers” has more sound packed into it than most pop albums. Radiohead has had an illustrious career filled with many accolades, but Kid A stands out most due to its vast scope and halcyon production.

During my downloading binge freshman year of college, I followed up on a band I knew from songs like "High and Dry" and "Creep", and was I surprised to hear Kid A. At first, I thought maybe someone had mislabeled the band, but then Thom Yorke's melancholy croon entered and I knew what I as hearing, or maybe I had no idea. The album is challenging but rewarding beyond all expectations. To say you enjoy Kid A does establish some sort of dismissible indie-cred, but it's something all together different to love it. This is the smart kid with everything to offer in a relationship, the beautiful gem hiding in plain sight. There have been multiple times, like with Daydream Nation, where I have unconsciously gravitated toward this album, and it's always been just as receiving as that day I thought I was listening to something else.  

8. The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

The Smashing Pumpkins produced near perfection with Siamese Dream, but the reason Mellon Collie stands out more is its ambition. With added input from the rest of the band, Corgan and the group were able to construct something much larger than its parts, which range a wide variety of musical styles. A double CD and triple LP, Mellon Collie garnered the band’s only number one spot on the Billboard charts and received seven Grammy nominations. An hour and a half long, The Smashing Pumpkins gave the mid-nineties enough reasons to praise them.

I had always found The Smashing Pumpkins to be one of my favorite bands, but Mellon Collie is the album that solidified them as one of the most accomplished. The album was a double CD; I was confused by how something could be so large and still cohesive. When I first listened all the way through, nearly two hours later with bathroom breaks, I was captivated. The cover and album artwork isn't enough to capture your attention through the length of the album, so I found myself staring at my ceiling, in the dark, listening intently. It was one of the first times I can remember being completely invested in the music I was listening to. I just really hope it gets a vinyl re-issue. 

9. Rites of Spring - End on End

Receiving a proper CD release in 1991, Rites of Spring’s 1985 debut introduced the hardcore scene to more emotional lamenting. Widely considered the first Emo record, End on End is often overlooked when it comes to “best of all time” lists. It is baffling to see songs like “For Want of”, “Other Way Around”, or “Persistent Vision” not crack any influential songs list. Though the band lived a short career, with both only on LP and EP, it is foolish to marginalize a band that was decades ahead of its scene’s current sound, only to have its genre tarnished by mislabeling in the mid-2000s.

When I first started becoming sort of, what my friend RJ has dubbed me, a "music snob," I was listening to bands like Braid, Cap'n Jazz, and Poison the Well. I loved how these bands exhibited an emotional tenderness through hardcore and punk, but figured they couldn't be the frist to do so; this is where my research started. I looked up the genre Emo to see where I could find the music's roots. Rites of Spring was described in multiple findings, so I gave them a spin. I found what I was looking for and more; everything made sense, and I could move on through the genre's lineage. 

10. Bear vs. Shark - Terrorhawk

Destined to make only devoted fan’s lists, Bear vs. Shark crafted an album that strikes like lightning: a bright flash of light, rumbles, all leaving you with a cacophony of beautiful distortion and your ears ringing. With an effortless flow from reserved to release, Terrorhawk warrants multiple listens – what will end up being back to back - in order for the listener to capture its scale and emotional craft. Even with multiple listens, audiences will find hidden gems in the production work, like the subtle airplane flying overhead in “Catamaran”.

Not so uncommonly during my music downloading binge, I stumbled upon Bear vs. Shark in the hardrive of the roommate who opened my eyes to free music. "Catamaran" was all I needed. The song instantly nabbed my "I have to walk to ______, what should I listen to?" spot, which evolved into the whole album taking my top spot of "I have to drive to ______ and it's going to be a while, what should I listen to?" spot. It flows effortlessly from song to song, feeling like a movie score to a slasher film with a tender side about the killer's past. Terrorhawk is my top recommended album to people. I want everyone to love this band as much as I do.