It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
Worldwide Twitter star Kanye West has a little known side project – turns out the verbose social networker also fashions himself as something of a rapper. And while West’s raps and his tweets are technically two completely different platforms, on new record My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the two seemingly collide, with West’s lyrics often coming off similarly to his 140 character aphorisms. And while I have been guilty of calling West a bad lyricist, I definitely admire his willingness to be bizarre, with puzzlers like “have you ever had sex with a pharaoh” or “no more drugs for me / pussy and religion is all I need” making for excellent would-be tweets. I no longer think that West is a bad lyricist – I think he can be great – it’s just that, as in his rambling stream of thought social networking, West doesn’t seem to know when to self-edit. For instance more discerning rappers might have cut out the Napolean Dynamite line from “Monster” or the sqeaky voiced “satan, satan, satan” line in “Devil in a New Dress.” But I have to say, while I think West’s lyricism is full of odd choices, I do generally find it a lot more interesting than most rapper’s run of the mill “hustla” fare. When he’s not taking strange detours West occasionally paints vivid portraits of a William Randolph Hearst type character – a man who has it all, or does he? West’s inability to connect with a partner seems to be at the center of his woes – he makes no apologies for his voracious sexual appetite but in the same breath cries over the lack of depth in his relationships. In “Blame Game” he misogynisticallytells a potential mate “stick around, some real feelings might surface.” In that story though, West ends up being the one with the broken heart: he even goes so far as to call out his siren, Chloe Mitchell, by name.
Overall I am not the biggest Kanye fan and that certainly hasn’t changed after listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a good album though –while it might not be my taste, I can objectively admire how West brazenly puts his whole soul on display, dark sides and all. And I actually really like the record’s lead single “Power.” As for the rest I’ll file it with most of the rest of Yeezy’s output under “good but not really my thing.” Maybe one day I’ll come around.
I think Kanye’s many haters have to give him credit for one thing: he has a lot of guts. That’s lesson number one to take away from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I don’t think another successful mainstream rapper would have the intestinal fortitude to make this album. Maybe Andre 3000, but he doesn’t seem to be interested in music anymore. Like Andre, Kanye is in a position where people expect him to be eccentric, at least in his public life. But even after 808’s And Heartbreaks, which felt like a one-off gimmick, Kanye has never really been an artist whose music makes listeners question whether or not he’s gone crackers. This one will get him a lot closer to that kind of rep. Nearly every track is over five minutes, some in the eight and nine minute range, and few feel like hip hop tracks, even when they feature rapping. They tend to take big, cinematic twists towards the end instead of a traditional fadeout. He put a lot of thought into things like vocal effects, trying to create new sounds, and he largely succeeds in doing so, even though the result still feels familiar most of the time. Kanye has always been a master of the drum machine, and that talent along with a general talent for effective studio subtelty is as present as ever. But in the end, this is not a rap record. The traditional and simple verse-chorus-verse format feels totally absent, even when it’s there. It sometimes feels like a closer relative to what people like Tricky and Beck do than it does to Jay-Z (who features on two tracks). If nothing else, this will be a fun record to look back on in twenty years. It could look like genius or a total failure. But even if hardcore hip hop fans will want to strangle him for choosing to use Pusha T’s talents on a track like “Runaway,” that’s also part of what makes the album interesting, and you have to admire the effort put into creating it.
Kanye West is back and on fire after bringing the soft electro of 2008’s 808’s & Heartbreaks, which received equal amounts of love and hate from longtime fans. On his fifth solo record My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West returns to his roots – making experimental, hard-core hip-hop music. West’s drunken outburst at 2009’s VMA Awards with his rip of Taylor Swift and its massive fall-out, led to West disappearing for awhile. He is toughening up (as with many major black artist once they get dissed by the mainstream) and is regaining even more respect by his peoples as he fights for redemption. West began to describe the new record as “no electro, no emo” and said that he wanted to make a record with old school b-boys in hip-hop producers in Pete Rock, RZA, DJ Premier, and Q-Tip to capture the boom-bap of the classic era. Loaded with guests, it’s like West is doing a Quincy Jones by conducting a supporting cast of Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, Pusha-T (The Clipse), RZA, Raekwon, Bon Iver, John Legend, Elton John, Elly Jackson (La Roux) and Rick Ross.
Opening with the RZA produced “Dark Fantasy”, he explains that “the plan was to drink until the pain’s over” then asking “but what’s worst, the pain or the hangover?. The sinister “Gorgeous” with Kid Cudi & Raekwon is a fiery street anthem. West goes in for the gold, and is coming for whoever has it: “I treat the cash the way the government treats AIDS, I ain’t gonna be satisfied ’til all my niggers get it, get it?”. Surveying the landscape West theorizes “Is hip-hop just a euphemism for a new religion, the soul music of the slaves that the youth are missing, but this is more than just my road to redemption”. The thunderous “Power”, with sample of King Crimson prog-rock classic “21st Century Schizoid Man” included works incredibly wells as he puts haters on notice “ I guess every Super hero needs his own theme music”. He see’s a community wrapped in bleakness “the system broken, the schools closed & prisons open, we ain’t got thing to lose motherfucker we rolling” and celebrates. For all of you who doubted him “You short-minded niggas’ thoughts is Napoleon, my ice done brought the goalies in, now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic, he know, he so fuckin’ gifted.”
The epic “All Of The Lights” features Alicia Keys, Charlie Wilson, Elly Jackson, Elton John, Fergie, Legend, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, Ryan Leslie, The-Dream & Tony Williams. It is followed by another all-star-cast of cameos on “Monster” with Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver; although it’s also annoyingly stacked with guests, it still works as a guilty pleasure. Early favorite the hard as nails banger “So Appalled” that employs Jay-Z, Pusha -T & RZA. With RZA’s warbling ”30 Whites bitches, it’s fuckin’ ridiculous” makes the hard track melodic as Jay-Z offers “I went from the favorite to the most-hated, but would you rather be underpaid or overrated?” The shining centerpiece is the slow burner, soulful banger “Devil In A New Dress” with a new, if unneeded verse from Rick Ross. Triumphantly drenched in drama is the 9-minute “Runaway”, which showcases Pusha-T menace before finishes with 3 minutes of the instrumental. The elegant ballad “Blame Game” with soul crooner Legend, West shows his playfulness in arguing back and fourth with a lover as if it’s a sport to play the “Blame Game”. A track that doesn’t work is the schizophrenic “In The World” which gets an assist from indies golden voice Bon Iver and a Gil-Scot Heron sample. Despite that, the albums brilliance is found in its intricate layers of production.
West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is engaging, defiant, elaborate, dark, celebratory, West has crafted as a modern classic, although it’s a bit cluttered, that could be forgiven. Does West exaggerate? Yup yup and with the highest attention to detail, he celebrates black music in 2010 and dethrones all of his pop contemporaries for the year’s brightest record.
In pop music (especially hip hop), we so often define “innovative” and “forward-thinking” by looking at aesthetic elements—creative use of samples, crazy flow patterns, weird time signatures, ZOMG synthesizers, etc. Lyrical content and subject matter, however, rarely get mentioned in this conversation. “My Dark Twisted Fantasy” is definitely going to be called innovative and forward thinking, but it’s also a textbook example of what I was talking about in this Reviler piece on the importance of lyrics: it’s a beautiful, technically-impressive album, but West’s lyrics just don’t match the majesty of the music.
That isn’t to say that Kanye West isn’t a great MC. I think he is, in a lot of ways—tons of personality, funny punchlines, good technical ability, occasional insightfulness. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with just making good music and rapping about whatever over it, but when you’re reaching for superlative greatness (as West so obviously is here), content needs to be more than an afterthought.
Most listeners, however, won’t give a damn. The album sounds absolutely epic, and while a few songs drag on too long (blame hubris; I almost preferred the condensed sampler version in the “Runaway” video), they’re all full of grandeur and lush, multi-layered arrangements. If nothing else, it’s an album that invites active, thoughtful listening; these days, that’s a pretty big triumph.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on The Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green.
Cee Lo Green’s Ladykiller reminds me of another demographic-transgressing, accessible hip-hop album this year from a certain Ms. Janelle Monae. What Cee Lo lacks in crossing genres which proved to be the experimental backbone of The Archandroid, he makes up for in soaring arrangements and some serious vocal talents. If you thought you knew what to expect from “Fuck You,” you’ll be very surprised at the direction he takes things.
This album is more soul than anything with a slew of producers stopping by on each song, but I can’t shake the feeling that a lot of these songs sound vaguely the same, even if that sound is super good to begin with. I wasn’t very surprised by anything that came on next, but was more surprised that this wasn’t really hip-hop to any extent which for some reason I expected with some of the advance singles that tore up the blogosphere. That’s not to say his direction isn’t admirable; “Old Fashioned” is a funky churner with Cee Lo’s crooning over true love flying into the sky. It’s very reminiscent of the soul sound of the 60s, something he tends to go for in his appearance as well with tailored suits and fedoras. “Bright Lights Bigger City” is a standout Michael Jackson-esque track that is ramped in 80s fuzzy electro. This is where he sounds most at odds with his sounds though since a substantial amount of the album is steeped in that aforementioned old-fashioned soul. It’s a bit of a disconnect from the first half to the second half of the effort, perhaps paralleling a tumultuous break-up transitioning to Cee Lo’s eventual acceptance and analysis of what love really means.
Either way, the great thing about albums like these that we have seen with artists like Junip or The Black Keys on the rock side of the spectrum is that every major station in the Twin Cities will pick up Ladykiller to some extent because it is a purely fun album. It’s produced to a tee and has a message everyone can identify with to some extent. Plus, Cee Lo is a very sassy guy.
Cee-Lo Green was always the most talented one in GooDie MoB, but for fans who have been used to Cee-Lo’s work as one half of Gnarls Barkley and his solo work which has been exhibited on his past solo efforts, display he’s got enough breathing room to sing melodically and rap his ass off. Then comes an album like “The Lady Killer,” which is more or less an ode to revivalist 60s/70s soul that carries the orchestral highs of the Love Unlimited Orchestra, and the inspired funk and energy of Fred Wesley & The JB’s. Vocally, Cee-Lo hasn’t lost a step, his lyrical form still screams modernity, however its sung quite beautifully, as displayed on the viral meme feelgood of “Fuck You.” There’s many other tunes though on the album that strike that balance effectively such as “Bright Lights, Bigger City,” and the subtle yet sexual overtones that “Wildflower.” “The Lady Killer” manages to strike a balance between heartbreak and romance, and manages to carry a mystique that’s all its own. Chalk up another success to Cee-Lo.
The vocalist from Atlanta has come a long way since his days in the Outkast-affiliated Goodie Mob. After three records with Goodie Mob, Green made his solo debut with Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections in 2002 . Later, in 2006 he hooked up with Danger Mouse for Gnarls Barkley’s remarkable debut St. Elsewhere, introducing a new school of pop. On his first solo record since 2004’s Cee Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine, Green, an impressive songwriter who has worked with everyone from Outkast, Esthero, Common, T.I., Nas, Macy Gray, Paul Okenfold, Carlos Santana and Rapture brings all of his previous work together. With Gnarls Barkley opening doors to the self-crowned Lady Killer that only seemed to crack for Outlast, Green is now out to color the pop world with his effervescent rainbows in sound.
Green visits the 70’s with the rollerskating disco of “Bright Lights Bigger City”. The standout smash is the awfully addictive/annoying “Fuck You” which became a break-out hit online and surprising at radio. Another highlight on an album with many is “Love Gun” featuring Lauren Bennett as Green and Bennett get completely sexy on a stuttering beat. “I Want You” brings a slower, soulful groove, backed with horns where he pleads “I want you to run away with me and experience something new,” as he describes his love for his mistress. “Cry Baby” is a mid tempo, horn and string inflected plea for forgiveness . “Bodies” is a slow burner where Green exclaims “they say chivalry is dead/why is her body in my bed?” and “here’s a kiss, sweetheart, it won’t hurt a bit/I can kill it with kindness or murder it”).
He calls in the help on “Fool For You” featuring Phillip Bailey vocalist from Earth, Wind & Fire and it’s the retro-soul that we expect Green would make. Not always hitting on all strides “It’s Okay” is rather corn-ballish doo-wop. There’s also a blandness to “Satisfied” where he does a faux early Prince with its layered falsetto.The recalling of Seal on the future soul “Wildflower” is pedestrian. Back on track and keeping it vintage with the soulfulness of “Old Fashioned,” a gospel inspired scorcher – I wish there were a few more of these. Closing with the surrealist ballad “No One’s Gonna Love You” he brings the sadness for a heartbreaking/joyful love song. Working with top-shelf producers including Salaam Remi (Nas) , Paul Epworth (Block Party) , Fraser T. Smith (Kylie Minogue) and Chad Hugo of the Neptunes gives Green a sonic playground that takes the listener on a spirited journey. Ultimately Cee-Lo Green’s Lady Killer places well between the latest Gorillaz & Janelle Monae as user friendly, yet still inventive, diverse pop records.
First things first. There is absolutely nothing bad about Cee Lo Green’s “The Lady Killer.” But since the release of the album’s audaciously-titled late summer kiss-off “Fuck You,” it almost seemed as if Green’s album would wind up being nothing more than an under-appreciated afterthought to its profanity-laden soul jam. But thanks to non-stop airplay from radio and inebriated college students everywhere, the once preposterously catchy single had become so ubiquitous that I couldn’t endure it another minute without feeling inspired to 1) claw my eyes out OR 2) scramble for the dial to turn on anything else (Taylor Swift? Fuck it, i’ll take it!).
Fortunately, “The Lady Killer” is here and while nothing on the album parallels its infectious single, the record is practically flawless. In just under an hour, Cee-Lo boasts the stylistic range of Rev. Al Green, the funk-infused “superfly” swagger of Curtis Mayfield and the electrifying soul power of the Godfather himself (James Brown for the uninitiated). If the self-proclaimed Lady Killer’s vision was a modern-day homage to soul music’s Holy Trinity he shouldn’t have any reason to fret. But Green’s devotion to his predecessor’s doesn’t diminish the album’s accessibility. It might be a spotless reflection of timeless music traditions but it certainly isn’t a far cry from Green’s recognizable aesthetic. And it’s apparent from the get-go. The collision of heavy pop-synths and the vintage-funk on “Bright Lights, Bigger City” straddles that very line, producing a perfectly tuned balance of traditional and 21st century grooves.
And while “The Lady Killer” is chock-full of club-friendly romps it doesn’t end without a few moments of serious soul-searching” As a matter of fact it’s the album’s darkest moments where Green really shines as a vocalist. In “Bodies” Green’s voice soars over a pattering snare while his gospel-croon in “Please” reveals a more lonely and fragile side.
Despite all its deserved hype and brilliance “The Lady Killer” isn’t necessarily the best release this year. While it might lack the inventive flair of “The ArchAndroid” and the cathartic energy of “The Monitor” it’s an album so polished and fully realized that you can’t really do anything else but be in awe of it. And few artists can relate to such an accomplishment.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are Four reactions, Four impressions, Four Takes on Down There by Avey Tare.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
All things considered, it’s kind of a shame Avey Tare’s solo debut release is the first piece of Animal Collective work post-Merriweather Post Pavilion – the AC album that transformed the psych-loopers from avant-garde mainstays to glossed-over indie darlings. But it’s not because he doesn’t have the chops to take a stab at his own monumental album – it’s just that he doesn’t have as much solo material under his belt and/or notoriety as the other Animals – Panda Bear especially. But as Mr. Tare shows on his nine-song debut album Down There, he doesn’t need the rest of the Animals to make blissfully dizzy pop. And in making his own statement, he is able to capture a sound that is far-removed from Panda Bear’s bright, Brain Wilson-style loop-pop into something that is wholly his own. And judging by the dark, crocodile-printed cover alone, if you guessed the album was in fact darker and dealt with waterlogged, submerged-sounding vocals and samples than you were right on. Songs like “Oliver Twist,” “Lucky 1” and “Cemeteries” are the only tracks that hit the vibrant, bass-heavy stride of MPP. While others like the opener “Laughing Hieroglyphic,” “3 Umbrellas,” “Glass Bottom Boat” and “Heads Hammock” take after the album’s title, delivering a batch of songs that are zany, crazed experiments in gargling vocals, at times minimalist loops and equipped with an overall heir of pending doom. In short, his isn’t an exercise in Animal Collective big beat pop. This isn’t an Animal Collective record. This is an Avey Tare record. And that’s why fans of the artist, or his band, will soak in Down There and accept it as a great addition to 2010. It’s hard to say whether this album will ‘beat out’ Tomboy in the match between who will release the most revered Animal Collective record post-Merriweather Post Pavilion, but Down There was a great listen and a genuinely creative collection of songs.
Five words to scare anybody who’s a fan of Animal Collective: new Avey Tare solo album. Rest your indie hearts; there is no breakup, there’s no melodrama, there’s nothing. Avey Tare’s solo effort, however, doesn’t play you the whimsical whirlwind musical stylings of Animal Collective. During the 35 minutes of “Down There,” its certainly an electronic affair, but its much more subdued and walks more of a depressed path. The stuttered and plodding drums on “Laughing Hieroglyphic” are an example, however throughout the record, each track takes a further downward spiral into the depressing and the unsure, neither of which makes the record suffer. The arrangements and structure from previous Animal Collective projects is what helps the progression of the project as a whole. In addition, the haunting synth melodies along with Avey’s vocals help place a lot of texture to what may seem like a short record, which can be heard particularly in the syncopated rhythms of “Ghost of Books,” and the guttural yet rigid guitar sounds in “Cemeteries.” All in all, not bad for a solo outing one bit, and hopefully the evolution of those sounds will manifest themselves in his next solo outing.
It is always interesting when a well known band has two main songwriters and they each do solo albums. This allows fans of the group to get a much clearer view on who is pulling the band what directions. This exercise in pulling back the curtains is happening right now with Animal Collective’s two main songwriters, Panda Bear and Avey Tare. As the group has climbed the ladder in becoming one of the biggest indie bands around, that additional spotlight has seemed to shine brighter on Panda Bear than it has Tare. Panda Bear released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 00’s (Person Pitch) and critics have fallen over themselves with each new track released from his upcoming Tomboy LP. With all that happening, Avey Tare rather quietly released his latest solo album, Down There, which touches on a lot of the strengths that also make Animal Collective so good. The record ranges from the hypnotic soul of album opener “Laughing Hieroglyphic” to the scary, distant pop of “Oliver Twist” to the hushed beauty of “Cemeteries” and the big beat “Head Hammock.” While I personally prefer Panda Bear and his wide eyed electro pop, I think it would be a mistake to ignore the creative and challenging work of Avey Tare. Without his influence, which is shown clearly on Down There, Animal Collective would not be the amazing band that they have are. It must not be fun to be overshadowed by a bandmate, but as long as he keeps making music like Down There, Avey Tare should be just fine.
Jon B (Reviler)
I tried to come up with a meaningful reflection on Avey Tare’s new record Down There, but unfortunately it just didn’t make a huge impression on me – positive, negative, or otherwise. I enjoyed some of the album’s more moody, downbeat offerings like “Cemeteries,” “Heather in the Hospital,” as well as the track that probably comes closest to mimicking Animal Collective’s (Avey Tare’s band) most recent material, “Lucky 1.” Much of the rest of the album though, seems good but not all that inspired. Experimental beats, off-key vocals, watery sounds poured all over everything – I guess I get it even if it just doesn’t really move me. I kind of feel like if this record had come from a new artist though rather than a member of a beloved cult band, then it might have gotten cut less slack. That being said – its not bad at all – in fact at times it can be downright transcendent. Those times are relatively brief and too far between though for me to earmark Down There for future listens.
With Halloween fast approaching, “scary” songs are becoming ubiquitous on the radio, in stores, and on TV. However, while holiday themed songs like “Monster Mash,” are fun, they aren’t exactly scary. On the contrary, for this feature we asked seven contributors to name the songs that they actually found frightening to listen to. Here are their answers. (Tune in for Part II tomorrow)
It would shameful if The Cramps didn’t make it on a list like this. I went with one of the songs of their hits collection, Psychedelic Jungle – which is also one of the greatest Halloween albums ever. “Goo Goo Muck,” coupled with its dark and zany lyrical imagery and ghoulish delivery from front man Lux Interior, make it one of the best songs to kick off Halloween.
In reality, you could probably put on any song from Dark Side of the Moon and someone will get freaked out. I went with the one that I find truly eerie every time I hear it: “Brain Damage.” From the sinister laughs by the “lunatic in the grass” – an obvious reference to ex-Floyd member Syd Barrett– to the reverberating organ drones and the chamber choir, this track is the album’s darkest, most auto-biographical moment.
When the Dead Man’s Bones debut album dropped last year, boasting that one-half of the group was Ryan Gosling, I was pretty skeptical. Boy, was I wrong. Gosling, along with friend Zach Shields, made an album full of creepy, waltz-y jams accompanied by Flea’s Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir. Here’s one of the choice cuts from the album, but the whole thing can set the mood.
“This is the end/ Beautiful friend/ This is the end/ My only friend, the end.” Becoming legendary through its iconic use in Francis Ford Coppola’s stirring, demented war epic Apocalypse, Now and its evolution from good-bye, breakup song to 12-minute opus, “The End” is one of The Doors darkest, most complex works. The spoken-word section mid-way through that begins, “The killer awoke before dawn…” is especially twisted.
I started snooping around different “drag” and “witch house” bands about a month ago after finding the band Salem. I’ve come like the over-the-top dark imagery and atmospheric, drone electronics. This is an especially murky one entitled “We Rot” by the hazy drag band White Ring.
The cryptic descriptions, the small, building violins, the devilish, deep chant saying “Let me put you on game”. If this track were to play evil, it’s resting right there, yep, there, on your left shoulder. Hearing what he says might scare you, surprise you, who knows? But it will certainly scare you.
The eerie hand claps, and Johnny’s withered voice makes this track a horrific modern day word of warning to sinners in general. You thought you could escape your fears, and hide your deeds, this serves as a reminder, a cold one if nothing else.
Snoop’s exploration of his then murder conviction came out manifested in this song, where he then turned himself into the murder victim. Such stark and rich detail about dying, coming back to life, and selling his soul to the devil. Be a naysayer all you want, but this is one of the rare circumstances where Dr. Dre’s remix was leaps and bounds beyond the original.
You want a reason to fear against Uncle Sam and his agenda? This is about as close as you’ll come to that fear. Prepare to cringe. And it plays like patriotism, in the sense that, if you know what El is saying, it should rile that fear up even moreso.
Though “Nosferatu Man” could be a pick here as well, Spiderland’s epic album closer gives me the chills every time I hear it. Based on Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Good Morning, Captain” relates the eerie tale of a shipwreck survivor/ghost over discordant guitars and Brian McMahan’s hoarse whispering. It is made all the more spooky considering that there are rumors that the stress of recording Spiderland had extreme adverse effects on the band member’s psyche’s – some of which required psychiatric help. I don’t know how much of that is true but I do know that “good Morning, Captain” does in fact sound like something that could put you over the edge.
While Philly’s Spooks had a short life, recording only two albums before pretty much disappearing from music, they did record this notable single. “Things I’ve seen” recounts the horrors of an inner city lifetime with a ghostly bent. It contains the notable line: “I’ve tasted, the bitter tragedy of lives wasted / And men who glimpsed the darkness inside, but never faced it.” “Things I’ve Seen” is a song about facing that darkness.
While Cave could probably have his own category in scary songs, for me the Murder Ballads offering “Henry Lee” will always be the spookiest. It relates the unfortunate story of a young woman who, upon being rebuffed by a man, stabs him repeatedly and dumps him in a well. Yikes.
Nobody makes me not want to go into that barn quite like Tom Waits. While describing all the terrors that are running amok outside, Wait’s narrator locks his front door and shoves a chair against it. The song makes me want to do the same.
Yeah, some of this song is pretty silly but it does actually contain some serious spookiness too. Particularly Aceyalone’s recounting of old man Dan’s head getting torn off my a scarecrow. Sure, it later turns out that MC Self Jupiter takes the actual responsibility for the murder– but his excuse isn’t any less frightening than the scarecrow.
The cool thing about N*E*R*D is that the Neptunes really had nothing to gain from it; they were already millionaire producers. This side-project is a true labor of love, and this track was the first single they released, a dirty, nasty, evil little song showcasing their edgier side.
Just like how sad songs aren’t always about interpersonal relationships, scary songs aren’t always about the supernatural. This is one of the Roots’ very best songs, and it features an outro that shockingly, graphically depicts the horrors of addiction.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are two reactions, two impressions, Two Takes on Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter.
We have watched both sides of Bradford Cox grow over the last few years. Under the Deerhunter moniker, his lush, shimmering dream pop has made for some of the most enthralling musical soundscapes in pop music. His more mellow work with Atlas Sound is always amongst the most intimate, soul baring work of any indie singer/songwriter and still features the outsider edge he always works in so well. On his latest record, Halcyon Digest, he works under the Deerhunter nom de plume but it is his most concise and fully realized record yet. He is sweet and clear eyed on songs like “Don’t Cry,” “Memory Lanes” “Basement Space” and “Helicopter.” Tracks like “Earthquake,” “Revival” and “Fountain Stairs” find the group sounding more like traditional “Deerhunter” sound. No matter which style Cox chooses, Halcyon Digest is Cox at his very best and when a songwriting genius like Cox is firing on all cylinders, it generally means that he is creating one of the very best records of that year. Halcyon Digest is no different, and even in a year flush with great new music, this is an album that stands out for it creativity and overall excellence.
Halcyon Digest is exactly what its title proclaims – an abridged collection of the “happy, joyful, carefree and youthful” – except it’s also about loneliness, suffering, and death. With every new Deerhunter release, from Cryptograms, to Microcastle, to Weird Era Cont., Bradford Cox has continued to elevate his game, and in Halcyon Digest, he has crafted a masterpiece. Cox abandons much of Deerhunter’s traditional noise rock element in favor of the pure pop insouciance that, to date, has been more the hallmark of his side-project, Atlas Sound. Yet Cox manages an uncanny combination of light and dark that gives the album real depth and prevents it from ever becoming treacly or cloying. No one since Brian Wilson has been able to so seamlessly fuse melancholy and mirth into one sound. Whether songs like “Sailing,” “Memory Boy” or “Basement Scene” sound joyful or mournful may depend more on your own mood than anything. And like Wilson, Cox also has a tendency to pair his brightest melodies with his darkest lyrics, as on “He Would Have Laughed” (a tribute to the recently-deceased Jay Reatard), where he laments, “I get bored as I get older / Can you help me figure this out? . . Where did my friends go? Where did my friends go?” or on the infectious “Helicopter,” singing in falsetto, “Take my hand and pray with me / My final days in company / The devil now has come for me.”
The album never falters. Exactly where you’d expect it to start falling off and filling up with fluff, it just gets better, with some of the most brilliant tracks – “Helicopter,” “Fountain Stairs,” and “Coronado” buried deep in the 8-10 slots. Halcyon Digest marks Deerhunter’s best work to date, and it will surely be atop many “Best of 2010” lists.
Certain songs affect certain people in certain ways. A song that makes me laugh might be a song that makes you cry, and vice versa. While it may be impossible to find songs that consistently appeal in one way or another to absolutely everyone, we asked five people to name the top five saddest songs that are unique to them.
I might be cheating with these two, but they’re both pretty brilliant songs about the same unconventional subject: fidelity in the face of what could be love for someone else; doing “the right thing” when the wrong thing might be just as good or better.
More cheating, but these are both such sublimely sad songs and they’re on the same album. Woody Guthrie’s lyrics convey such a hopeless, tireless yearning in both of these tracks, and the various musicians and vocalists involved bring it to life perfectly.
A lot of people tend to think of relationship songs when they think of sad songs, but I think the best sad songs work outside of that context—this cover isn’t just about heartbreak; it’s about the passage of time itself, our helplessness in the face of oblivion and that final acceptance that never really feels right.
This is a sad song on its own, but when you consider the fact that it was released in 1943, the lyrics take on a lot more meaning. “…if only in my dreams” might be one of the most heart-wrenching lyrics ever written.
This one is just absurdly depressing. Some might think it’s too simple lyrically to be deep, but it cuts so viciously for that very reason. The transition over the song from “some things last a long time:” to “some things last a lifetime”? Millions have tried to make love lyrics hit so hard, but they’re trying to win the Tour de France on a stationary exercise bike. Being able to convey sadness like Daniel Johnston can at his most depressing is something you’re cursed with, not something you work towards.
Will Oldham might be jovial and folksy and approachable now. Don’t buy into it. In the 90’s, he was a seriously sadistic son of a bitch. Not so much lyrically, he just knew his way around a knife if he wanted to stab you dozens of times and possibly mutilate your body. But, dear Lord, he did it beautifully. And only on occasion, usually when he decided to record a 7″. In this case, it was three songs for a CD single. This is a special kind of sadness that 70’s rock bands spent ten years trying to capture, but couldn’t quite harness. Yes, it’s cheating to name three songs. But three songs aren’t usually so inseperable as they are on the “Mountain” CD single. This may have been the single best thing Best Buy sold during the 90’s. They chose to ignore it in their advertising, but that isn’t Will’s fault. And you can’t blame them either. This is an absolute direct ticket to drug treatment.
Pavement was never great at conveying outright sadness, but when they did it, they hit it hard. “Here” comes to mind, but it doesn’t quite reach the level that this “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” b-side did. That’s mostly because “Strings Of Nashville” in no way relies on mopey lyrics to get its point across. It’s straight esoteric soul. The lyrics just set the appropriate mood.
It would be easy to look to Leonard Cohen, or maybe Bob Dylan’s “Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll,” to round out a list like this. But Mogwai deserve special recognition for making me think of this song that has no words. They made a career out of this song’s aesthetic, but nothing else they ever did quite measures up to this track. It’s colossally beautiful, affecting and pretty close to perfect.
I wouldn’t be so out of line incorporating the entire Elliott Smith catalog into this list, but there really isn’t a single song in Smith’s sprawling gallery of misery that rivals this operatic masterpiece.
Yeah, we all know all too well that Thom Yorke is a sad English bastard. But in “True Love Waits” Yorke sets aside all pretension, descending into complete and utter catatonic despair. It’s a track that will forever be ingrained into my mind as the definitive “break-up song.” Thanks high school relationships, thanks a lot.
The last song on Weezer’s last great album is a kick-in-the-gut. Could the closing I’m sorrys possibly be pre-emptive apologies for River’s latter-day musical sins? One can only wish since the answer is a definite no.
Summerteeth’s halfway mark undoubtedly takes the cake for darkest opening line in indie rock history. It’s a cryptic love song that epitomizes Tweedy’s melodrama and erupts into something that sounds as noisy as it does lonely.
The last moments of Johnny’s life, probably the most somber and sad of goodbyes in a way. Yeah, its a Nine Inch Nails cover, but as Trent Reznor would tell you, after this rendition, the song isn’t really his anymore.
You hear the strings he strums, and the way he sings the lyrics. It pretty much makes you feel like a peasant, almost sorry for yourself. Definitely one of Harper’s best songs, but its very depressing.
De La tried to break themselves from the “hip-hop hippie” label. And this was the moment that did it; Prince Paul’s somber breaks help narrate the tale of Millie and her molestation, and ends with its violent aftermath.
Mary was going through some trials during this song, while she talks about the turmoil her relationship underwent. But this is Mary in her most depressing, and in turn, her most triumphant. The way she sings this will make you cry for forgiveness.
Most of Cat Stevens’ music I find pretty bland, but this one somehow hits me with the force of an emotional shotgun. Its gut wrenching and bittersweet. “Now won’t you leave me in my misery” indeed. Has also notably been covered by the lovely Marissa Nadler.
Thought about including this one in our upcoming Best Love Songs Four Takes, but for me this tune has always been more sad than romantic. It’s about being lonely and loving from afar, and it is ancient and spooky.
What is the Minnesota Music scene? Is it today’s local bands? Is it the memory of yesterday’s greats? Is it the most popular acts or the niche dwellers? If you could create a playlist that would be “Definitively Minnesotan” what songs would you choose? That’s the question we put to our Four Takes contributors for this unique, locally inpsired feature. Every day this week we will be offering a new perspective on the same feature, starting with Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre’s take which you can find below.
Maybe this is cheating, but my brain couldn’t handle the idea of picking ten tracks to define the entire Twin Cities—so I’m taking a very specific angle. These are ten songs that define the Twin Cities hip hop scene for me. I tried to stay away from the obvious ones, like Atmosphere’s “Always Coming Back Home to You” and Brother Ali’s “Rainwater,” and I tried not to just mention everyone I like. If you didn’t know, there’s a lot of good hip hop in the Twin Cities.
Toki is one of the best emcees in the country, hands down, and my pick as our hip hop ambassador. This song does more to prove that than any other, I think. A devastating look back at the history of racism in the U.S.A. and more.
I think that this band’s approach to hip hop ties together a lot of TC hip hop threads—live band arrangement, impressionistic song-writing, dark and brooding subject matter. And this song just BANGS too.
Sure, this track is spoken-word and singing, but it’s also very much hip hop, especially if you know Truth’s role as a key figure in Twin Cities hip hop history. A darker, more powerful take on the traditional “rep your city” song, this one is a show-stopper.
Kristoff has been making great rap music for a while now, but I feel like he’s really hit his stride this past year, fully realizing his unique blend of folk and hip hop. This track is very busy, but there’s a structure and dynamism to it that really makes it stand out.
I’m very biased, but to me, Doomtree is at their best when their songwriting is focused and specific—not just a bunch of puns and references and cool-sounding gibberish. When they’re just telling stories—especially when those stories hit on some deeper universal themes—they deserve all their hype. There are more examples, but these are my favorites.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Pattern + Grid EP by Flying Lotus.
Flying Lotus continues to dazzle and amaze with his latest EP effort, Pattern + Grid World, which expands, if nothing else, his already amazing work on Cosmogramma, with welcome hints from his previous two efforts; Los Angeles and 1983. As ambient as it is ambitious, there are slow creeps of synths and plodding drums making a comeback to his production, and this is welcomed in the form of “Clay,” the EP’s opening track. Elsewhere, you have spacious, yet alien-like sounds of “Pieface,” and the adventurous 2-part work “Jurassic Notion/M Theory”, possibly the longest cut at a very head-nodding three plus minutes. But that’s not to discount FlyLo as he’s know, this 19-plus minute working of 7 tracks continues to show his production some breadth and dexterity, all the while not separating itself from the body of his previous works in general. Pattern + Grid World shows that not much needs to be added, nor does it need to sound annoying either, and the world that FlyLo gives us here is a world worth exploring.
I was a little surprised when I received a promo for Pattern + Grid from LA producer extraordinaire Flying Lotus, a few short months after the release of his latest epic full length Cosogramma. I assumed the new EP (a short but sweet collection spanning only 7 songs and just under 20 minutes) was outtakes or B-Sides, but it is nothing of the sort. The collection, ranging from the space soul of “Clay” to the tripped out lounge jazz of “Kill Your Co-Workers” to ambient noise pop of album closer “Physics for Everyone,” is slightly more accessible than Cosogramma but no less wild. While this may be an easier entrance point for people not familiar with Flying Lotus, Pattern + Grid is still an amazing arti0stic statement from a DJ/producer who has been pushing the envelope, with great success, for the last few years in ways that most other electronic artists simply are not. The fact that Pattern + Grid isn’t the best release bearing the name Flying Lotus speaks to how great Cosmogramma was and shows that even when it is his second best release of the year, it still is really great stuff.
The entire time listening to this I could not stop thinking about Mega Man 4, the original NES version. Like most of the Mega Man series this one had particularily great music, and in the same way that it set the scene for some outer space conquests new flying lotus EP sets the scene for many headphone sidewalk adventures or subway rides.
Although short Pattern+Grid World is a nice follow up to Cosmogramma with many blending and tweaked sounds that flow in and out of each other well. I enjoy the fact that it is a shorter set of music, it makes it seem more intentional as an EP, and stylistically can live in its own 18 or so minute world. My favorite track is Kill Your Co-Workers, to me the most Mega-MAn esque, it has an upbeat tonal range that we dont often find in most of the other works. All in all, not the strongest of the FLying lotus work, but well worth the 18 or so minute journey.
Experimental electronica’s new “it boy” Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, is coming off his incredible 2010 long player Cosmogramma, which left critics drooling, as well as an opening slot on tour with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke solidifying his new status. On his new ep Patterns + Grid World, Flying Lotus keeps it underground in a post J-Dilla, DJ Shadow atmosphere, where abstract hip-hop based production spirals and weaves its way through drum n’ bass, dub step, jazz, hip-hop with a jazz students approach to layers and improvisation.
There are no vocals, yet Flying Lotus still expands on the neo- funk, with psychedelic soul synths and intricate beat patterns on the film score like “Clay”. The 8-bit workout of “Kill Your Co-Workers” with its ambitious title, goes into a lightweight drum and bass vibe. The jittery, playful melody of “Pieface” would be more in place on the next Grand Thief Auto video game. On the galloping “Time Vampires” he brings together the high-pitched strain of flutes buried in water over slower, non committal beats for a quick dreamy track. The beautifully bombastic “Jurassic Notion/M Theory”showcases improvisation, blending rugged beats and tribal drums into a stop and go action flick.
The track that works best is soulful flourishes of “Camera Day” which recycles the beat from “Swimming”, an earlier Killer Mike collaboration track for Adult Swim. The ep closes with the familiar frenzied urgency Flying Lotus is known for on the buzzed out “Physics For Everyone!”. At only seven tracks Patterns + Grid World works sometimes, with standout tracks like “Clay”, “Jurassic Notion/M Theory” and “Camera Day” serving as an appetizer between Cosmogramma and whatever Flying Lotus moves onto.
While Patterns + Grid World won’t win over many new fans as much as prove to those that followed after excellent Los Angeles and the flawless Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus keeps changing gears proving that he’s one of his generations finest exploratory producers keeping his headphones to the streets.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on A Swedish Love Story EP by Owen Pallet.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
For all the sounds, elements and musical influences bursting out of A Swedish Love Story, it’s really staggering, and a testament to Owen Pallett, that his albums are a one-man show. Like all of his previous releases, Pallett meticulously throws everything on the table when creating his richly arranged songs. The biggest difference on this short, four-song EP is that there isn’t much meandering byway of orchestration and solely instrumental pieces – instead, aided by his airy voice, these four songs are really ‘smart’-pop if anything. It’s no surprise that his violin takes precedence over much of the other sounds on the record, but Pallet is able to play the line between classically trained and effortlessly pop like no one else. Which brings my to my next point about Pallett: How do you categorize the guy’s music. Really, all I could think of when listening to A Swedish Love Story was how much this kind of music, whatever you want to call it, is just plain pleasurable to listen to. It’s the kind of music that you can throw on and zone out or you can throw on your music geek glasses and try and breakdown and transcribe everything – though I’m sure it would be nearly impossible. Coming off of this year’s Heartland LP, A Swedish Love Story is another great release from the man with many talents – a release that solidifies 2010 as Pallet’s most fruitful musical year-to-date.
Jeremy Hovda (Reviler)
Boosted to the upper-echelons of indie stardom by the release of the much-lauded Heartland earlier this year, Owen Pallett (having finally dropped the “Final Fantasy” moniker after surrendering his legal battle with the Japanese video game manufacturer of the same name) has been spending the year touring with several of the hottest acts out there – the National, Dirty Projectors and his sometimes collaborators, Arcade Fire. Nevertheless, Pallett has somehow found the time to release two EPs this year: March’s Lewis Takes off His Shirt and now A Swedish Love Story. The latest is a continuation of the experimental, yet melodic sound found on Heartland. Fans of that album will find much to love on this one. It employs the same basic tools – violin (both pizzicato and non), keys, and guitar looped and layered behind Pallett’s sad, susurrus voice. The danceable opener “Don’t Stop (On My Account)” gives way to the lugubrious synth-pop of “Honour the Dead, or Else,” the more groovy “A Man with No Ankles,” and then closes with the rapid, baroque beauty of “Scandal at the Parkade.” The songs work perfectly together and give the album what so many EPs lack – a feeling of coherence and completeness.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
While I know it was generally received positively across the board, I never really warmed to Owen Pallett’s recent LP Heartland. To me that record always evokes the cornier aspects of Stephen Sondheim style theatrical compositions – the grandiosity, the swelling instrumentations, the irritatingly cloying pop hooks. Listening to it makes me feel like I am stuck watching a Broadway show with Pallet playing the all the lead parts like an exceedingly insufferable showman (I don’t generally care for musicals). And listening to Pallet’s follow up EP, A Swedish Love Story, isn’t a great deal different.
While I find the EP’s first two tracks incredibly irritating, the backhalf does in fact get a little better. “Honor the Dead, or Else” does have some beauty to its muted synths and Pallett’s melancholy restraint. The song could do without the ridiculous drum pounding though. “Don’t Stop (On My Account)” isn’t terrible either – Pallet’s haunting violin work making him sound a bit like a daintier Andrew Bird. Overall though the sound is just a tad too precious for my taste. I won’t begrudge Pallet fans their contrary opinion, but I am fairly certain that Owen Pallett’s music just isn’t for me.
Oh, Owen Pallett. This guy will always make some of the best arranged tunes in music today. Who says a classical background can’t be beneficial? It blows my mind how he has made a full transition from the moody baroque-pop of his Final Fantasy days to something as hopeful, bright, and yet still complex like we find him on his newest A Swedish Love Story EP.
Domino Records struck gold with signing this guy. His music has impacted a lot of people despite how hindered he has been by the forced name change. When he played the Varsity in Minneapolis, hardly a soul was there. I think Mr. Pallett has realized he is essentially starting his musical career over, and having to build up a new fanbase after being around for almost a decade is a difficult thing to do. Fortunately, everything he puts out is critically acclaimed, so I’d be dumbfounded if people didn’t start taking some notice.
The new EP finds its highlight early on with “A Man With No Ankles.” This is one of his most solid tracks, and it’s surprising to hear how well produced it is considering he recorded these four songs in just one week- just himself (as he does best) with no back up. The looping is less pronounced here than how much more it dominated on Heartland, but it’s almost refreshing that we are getting fuller compositions.
He’s played with Arcade Fire, The Dirty Projectors, The National… basically every massive music powerhouse today. Out of the hundreds of thousands who have inadvertently seen him, someone has surely got to take notice.