You may have seen recently both the National and Jay-Z did six hour versions of songs from their new albums, because apparently doing something for six hours in a row is now considered “art.” We decided to ask friends of Reviler what songs that they would like to hear if they had to curated a six hour song event, and you can see their choices below. What song would you choose?
Hours and hours of this beautiful song would be a magical, jam out session. Ideally the song would be performed into the late hours of the night outside in a big field, out in the country in North Dakota. The audience would arrive as the band was finishing setting up. Encircling the band as they played, each audience member would light the performance with handheld lights and candles. This version would include extra band members for the evening to add a huge wall of percussive sound including extra drums, tambourines, chimes, and maracas. After a few extra verses written for this occasion, spread throughout hours of the performance, the song would end with everyone singing together in a trance like state of peace and wistful longing. Only a few people will have fallen asleep, but their dreams would be really cool.
We’ve all been there. A nice, relaxing evening watching your sport of choice at your watering hole of choice ruined by some jackhole hell-bent on playing Akon or Pitbull or Katy Perry continuously on the mobile TouchTunes digital jukebox. There’s a simple solution, though, and her name is “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” the prodding, driving, screeching, blistering 10:41 behemoth of a track off of Wilco’s sensational 2004 effort, A Ghost is Born. See, when some ill-informed 15-year old keeps dropping dollar after dollar of easily-earned allowance into the juke, there’s only one way to stop it. Pop in your own $10, go to the ‘Super Search’ function (cause they sure as hell won’t have “Spiders” as a selectable option on the regular catalog) and select ‘Play It Now’ 5 times in a row. There…I just saved you nearly an hour of pain and gave you a back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back earworm that likely only you and some mysterious, bearded gentleman at the bar will truly appreciate.
But what of 6 straight hours of “Spiders?” The song is an abstract masterpiece, and a distinct reminder of the era when Wilco made a gigantic leap in not only their technical approach to records, but also how those songs transferred to a live setting. When Wilco plays it live these days, they tend to stretch it out into an easy 15-minute onslaught, and I would have every ounce of confidence that, if given the opportunity to dabble in this marketing platform du jour, they would not even bother to play “Spiders” over and over again, but would rather create a spectacle that would have an insane amount of Nels Cline’s hypnotic guitar solos, breaking up John Stirratt’s pulsing bass and Jeff Tweedy’s poetic take on the English language, resulting in a single 6-hour version of the song that would surely get you kicked out of a bar if you ever attempted to recreate it on the juke.
I would like to see Wolf Lords – Permission for six hours for a plethora of reasons. The first is that I don’t think I could get sick of Aby Wolf’s soaring echos and that distinguished smoky sexiness probably only gets better with exhaustion. Another reason is the hope that after the first three hours of head-bobbing in a ghilly suit, Grant Cutler would instinctively devolve back into the indie-punk roots and give us some Passions-esque support vocals (Passions was a band of Grant’s, several iterations ago). The world needs more indie-punk Cutler.
This one is easy. It’s “Tank!,” written by Yoko Kanno and performed by the Seatbelts. It’s famous because it’s played during the opening credits of the TV show Cowboy Bebop. Aside from just being the most bad-ass piece of music ever written, its structure lends itself to a six-hour performance; there’s an endless amount of crescendos, breakdowns, bridges, fake-out endings, and other dynamic stuff you can do with this song. It’d be absolutely exhausting, like six hours of sex or something, but it’d never get old.
When listening to a song for six hours, there are a few things I need. First of all, the band must be able to power through without slowing down or crying like Justin Bieber. My Morning Jacket has enough power to raise the roof when necessary, yet they also possess extreme patience and finesse — so they won’t burn themselves out in the first hour. Secondly, I need an interesting song with varying pieces to it. “Dondante”, from the band’s 2005 masterpiece Z, is not only a slow dynamic-building beast, but it rocks so hard across the bridge that it would be hard to get bored. The song finally ends with guitarist Carl Broemel picking up the saxophone and taking the song out as the dynamics die to nearly nothing. I could see Jim James filling these spaces beautifully with his unique and soulful voice, and there is more than enough room for the band’s signature guitars and big drums. It would be awesome.
The power trio of John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme that makes up Them Crooked Vultures is each rock-n-roll royalty in their own right. That alone would make it worth sitting though a six hour song. Any song off of their 2009 self-titled album would do for me, but I chose the opening track “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I” because I would love to see Grohl hammer the drums for hours on that straight up heavy rock beat that ends the song. Homme’s guitar and vocals, and Jones’ bass would be icing on the cake. Them Crooked Vultures have enough strength to pound out a six hour song, then come back for a two hour long encore, while barely breaking a sweat. I would be overjoyed.
When thinking of a song that I could enjoy for six hours, I wanted a few things. Minimal moving parts. A deep groove. A melody that was strong, but wouldn’t give me gut rot. Once I narrowed down what I wanted, it became clear that “Amen,” a song from my favorite Spacemen 3 album (Taking Drugs To Make Music to Take Drug To). Sliding effortlessly from E to A, with Jason Spacemen singing his haunted prayer over the fuzz, it is a song that you can seamlessly fall into, a track that when it is done you are unsure if you have been listening to for four minutes or four hours. It would be a hypnotic, otherworldly six hours.
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 three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Silence Yourself by Savages.
The UK music media has a tendency to over-hype and pronounce the next great act every third band – while they are quite adorable, their first record is that of a rookie band . The Savages have taken the mantle of next great “all girl rock band”. On paper that sounds just rad. Combing their love of Joy Division, Siouxie & The Banshees and all things post-punk they have managed to make folks forget all about The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ front woman Karen O.
The U.K. quartet is led by French vocalist Jehnny Beth who scowls “You are distracted. You are available” as both purpose and acknowledgement. On their debut they live up the incredible hype, for the most part. “Silence Yourself” seems to bring all the elements together for a successful indie run. With hip-hop and electronica overwhelming the current scene, giving them an appearance of freshness. On “Shut Up” they opine “If you tell me to shut up / I’ll tell you to shut up” which seems to pass for some angry rant. On “I Am Here” a galloping wail cries ”this is easy” before bursting into glorious flames. “City’s Full” follows the same steps with distorted guitars as Beth sings”there’s so many pretty girls around”. Wow. Taking a softer turn on goth ballad “Strife” and the slower, almost melodic “Waiting For A Sign”. There’s some sex appeal on “She Will”. “Hit Me” is a scuzz fest and there’s another gasp at the political with “Husbands”. Closing with the elegant “Marshal Dear’ structured around a piano and sax shows maturity hints at early PJ Harvey.
With all the fuss they have nothing to say. Built around angular guitar lines that come straight from the paint-by-numbers gloom/dark-rock workshop 101. Check. They’re like so serious. What seems missing is a since of joy – it would be rad to hear the band actually sound like they’re having fun instead of copying The Wire’s sonics, even though there’s not a bit of The Fall’s swagger or Sleather-Kinney’s jittery righteousness. It feels like an A&R’s hobby project. Silence Yourself will find its place among the youth, who could use some new girl power as hero stats. In the meantime I’ll keep waiting for a song.
In the first minute of “Shut Up”, the Savages make the case for why post-punk carries potency, and in the same space deliver the life-saving CPR for just all out garage rock, by delivering fast paced and blood rushing rhythms, it is an absolute thrill ride of an album like taking a ride in a ’67 GTO with a maniac. There’s many other jams like “I Am Here” which begins almost like a psychedelic rock song, but then keeps in step with a subdued and busy bass line, while “City’s Full” is full-on menacing. Elsewhere you got many other jams where Jehnny Beth’s vocals operates in this Joy Division like style, full of fury and attitude, and the band keeps building these awesome, powerfully driven arrangements which give Jehnny’s vocals plenty of breathing room without all the inflated inflections. This is just some powerful, kick-ass rock music right here that you need to hear to believe.
It seems, after soaking in the shadowy post-punk of Savages for a few months, that we can believe the hype. Right off the jump, the record chugs along with the kinetic energy of “Shut Up,” and other than a few bumps in the road, Silence Yourself is an outstanding journey in post-punk nirvana. The whole production, from artwork to song titles to 11 terse tracks, is powerfully minimalist and filled with fist clenching righteousness. From the charging “I Am Here” to wiry “Husbands,” the record unleashes as a tightly wound coil that builds with the bass and drums and releases with the stinging guitars and Jehnny Beth’s dark and powerful vocals. It is a record that feels both sleek and gigantic, a towering debut record that leaves little doubt that this is a band of substance and weight, somehow even bigger than the larger-than-life hype surrounding them.
The band are playing a very sold out show Sunday 7/21 at the Triple Rock, but will be back September 17th at the Mainroom for those without tickets.
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 three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on You’re Nothing by Iceage. (From the same three dudes that covered their first LP!)
Howard Hamilton (Prissy Clerks)
I absolutely love Iceage’s first record New Brigade it set a really high bar, I was incredibly excited to hear a new record was about to come out and on Matador this time. The new record You’re nothing is a fine attempt at growth as a and, I really like it but it doesn’t force you to immediately start it over and over after the last song like New Brigade did but that only happens once in a Bee Thousand anyway. These young guys try this time for a bigger production but retain their shitty guitars creating quite a cocktail. The singer sounds more hoarse and more monster-like this time around also, I can even imagine them telling him to go run around the block then we will hit record on the vocal rack. He is so out of breath it’s almost too much, huffing and puffing, stuffed up and with a lozenge in his cheek you can hear the tar in his lungs. Surprisingly you can hear the lyrics a lot more on You’re Nothing and I am not one undred percent that that’s a great thing. Sometimes the words teeter on pretentiousness but just as I pick up my mallet ready to hit the giant gong they redeem or I forget the stupid youthful fake violence act they wish they could pull off. Don’t get me wrong these guys are a great great band and this album is almost a sure thing, some fans disagree and are hating this offering but with amazing songs like “Morals” and “Ecstacy” and “Coalition” you really can’t go too wrong. These guys are the big dumb puppy that ends up saving your life, highly original and on a creative level like no other band in their genre.
I have always been a bit puzzled about Iceage. It’s not that I don’t think the Danish punks are good – they are. I just don’t see what really sets them apart from legions of other similarly minded punk bands that are just as talented but don’t get any recognition. Its as if the music media community held a lottery of all of these bands and decided that they would all get behind whoever won – and the Danes were drawn at random.
The band’s newest album You’re Nothing, is pretty good collection of noisy, aggressive post-punk/hardcore tunes. It sounds sloppy without actually being sloppy, and lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s Joe-Strummer-esque scream pulsates with intense disdain. Perhaps I am just not great at picking out the nuances of this genre of music but to my ears, it sounds really good, if not exactly revolutionary.
Seeing Iceage a few years back at the Triple Rock I came away with the impression that the band generally makes up for lack of originality by dialing the energy up to extremes. I still kind of feel that way. In addition to the energy though, with You’re Nothing, Iceage adds in a more mature element of heftier songs and a kind of darker vibe. It sounds really good, though I still would probably be more impressed if they attempted to color a bit more outside the lines.
As I wrote before, as the Iceage bandwagon plows forward, the band seem primed to be cast as the punk/hardcore version of Vampire Weekend, a band heaped with praise and adulation from the musical powers-that-be in a way that invokes backlash. This is too bad, because like their spirited and scrappy debut New Brigade, their sophomore LP You’re Nothing is another firecracker of an album. Stretching 12 songs over 28 tense and pummeling minutes, the record both continues the things that got them attention initially while growing and expanding beyond the boundaries set by their debut. From the mixed up time signatures of “Ecstasy” to the punch you in the face intensity of “It Might Hit First,” You’re Nothing is every bit as confrontational as their debut, even as it has a more full and developed sound. The bands growing maturity (they are still early 20′s!) is seen on tracks like “Coalition” and “Everything Drift’s,” which clean up the sound a bit and brings the vocals more clearly to the front, and also the quasi balled “Morals,” which is basically a Billy Joel track compared with some of their other work. Overall You’re Nothing is a solid step forward for the band. No, they may not change the world with this record (again), but it is still a damn good record and another example that this young band are, in fact, the real deal.
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 three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Push the Sky Away by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Steve Skavnak (@steveskavnak)
Does anyone set a mood as perfectly as Nick Cave? That answer is no. For ¾ of an hour, Push The Sky Away taunts us with Cave’s signature devilish croon, begging the listener to get lost in a tangle of sultry vocals and eerie accompaniment.
Despite it’s cringe-worthy spelling, the lead single “We No Who U R” is a gripping reminder that, if he wanted to, Cave could probably eat your face. The eight tracks that follow embody a similar aesthetic, all while showcasing Cave’s uniquely dark use of the English language. On the haunting “Jubilee Street,” he sneers ‘I’ve got a fetus…on a leash.” Not that this line is in any way literal, but you know what? I’d believe him if it were.One of the most intriguing aspects of any Nick Cave record, though, has to be hearing how he’s influenced today’s shining stars. At least half of Push The Sky Away found my brain wandering, getting equally excited for The National’s new album later this Spring. At the same time, you can hear how Dan Bejar’s knack for poetic storytelling has been heavily influenced by Cave’s.
And come to think of it, I’d be fine if Nick Cave wanted to eat my face. That’d be a cool way to go.
Over the lumbering bass line and foggy string arrangement of “Water’s Edge,” Nick Cave sings “You get old and you get cold.” 10 years ago it would have been easy to believe Nick Cave when he sang that. The master of murder ballads, the intensely sublime songwriter who strolled out of the shadows of Birthday Party to craft some of the most haunting songs over the last few decades, Nick Cave was guy who was going to forever brood in the shadows, a place where he was more distant/sad/heavy/cool than the rest of us could ever dream of. Then came Dig! Lazarus! Dig!! and his Grinderman side project. Not only was this Cave and company sounding “young” and “hot,” it was one of the most scintillating releases Cave or anyone released over the last half decade.
After the testosterone and feedback of those three amazing releases, Cave and the Bad Seeds have returned back to form on the more subdued and dark Push the Sky Away. It is still great, with Cave’s lyrical wizardry on full display and the Bad Seeds sounding as somber and sinister as ever, but for someone like me who fell in love with the louder, more aggressive Nick Cave over the last few years, it can’t help but feel a little bit of a letdown. I imagine as I listen to Push the Sky Away more and more, it will blossom into a record I love, as most of his records have, but after my first half dozen spins it makes me want to pull out his last few records and crank up the volume.
I still feel like I am only just getting acquainted with the new Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ album Push the Sky Away. The more I listen to it the more I tend to like it – though there are exceptions that may take a little time. For instance it still feels pretty flat out incongruous to hear Cave lyricizing about the internet and Miley Cyrus under any conditions. Cave has always seemed to be somewhat impervious to pop culture, so hearing him suddenly awake to realizing it now occasionally comes off a little kitschy. Like seeing Napoleon Bonaparte in a SoCal Mall in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s funny because it’s irreconcilable. But this is generally an unfair gripe on my part and something I will have to just come to terms with – in fact my logical side believes I should applaud Cave for branching out and trying new things. The id just isn’t quite there yet.
Overall Push the Sky Away is a pretty solid album with a number of tunes that I am pretty fond of, including the terrific “Jubilee Street,” “Mermaids,” and “We No Who U R.” The only tune I can’t fully reconcile myself to is “Higgs Boson Blues,” which I am not crazy about and sounds a little like latter day Bob Dylan doing a spoken word piece about history. Maybe I will come around to “Higgs” eventually – I have a long history of evolving opinions towards various Cave projects. As it stands today though, I think Push the Sky is solid if a bit shy of amazing.
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 three reactions, three impressions, three takes on II by Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Steve Skavnak (@steveskavnak)
My infatuation with Unknown Mortal Orchestra has been steadily growing the past two years, ever since they easily blew the headliners out of the water, opening for Smith Westerns at the Triple Rock in February 2011. Their self-titled debut made my Top 10 of that same year, and when they came back to town that summer supporting Yuck at The Varsity, they again proved why they’re so buzzworthy, all while shrouded in complete darkness.
Just a few tracks into the aptly titled II, though, I realized that this infatuation had blossomed into a full on love affair. Ruban Nielson’s guitar playing sounds effortless, resulting in blissful, reverb-rich psychedelic hooks bleeding from your speakers, none that are more in your face than that of “The Opposite of Afternoon” (never mind the James Mercer-esque intro). The most surprising success, though, is Nielson’s knack for true pop sensibility, something that didn’t present itself as noticeably on UMO’s first record. “So Good at Being in Trouble” is oozing with R&B undertones, even allowing Nielson to belt out a little falsetto, showing that the frontman might not be as shy as his live performances indicate.
While the energy and exploration of II definitely tapers off with the pointless “Dawn” and dreary, confusing “Secret Xtians,” UMO have 1) triumphed in avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump and 2) proved that they’re anything but a one trick pony.
UMO’s sophomore record II starts promisingly enough. The first two tracks “From the Sun” and “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” are each excellent mix of pop and psychedelic funk. Just when you begin to think that UMO is going to pull off a successful sequel of their excellent debut though, starting with “So Good at Being in Trouble” things start to get a little stale. If “So Good” was the album’s worst track it wouldn’t be all bad – but from then on things get progressively worse. Not offensive – just kind of bland, aimless guitar noodling and vapid harmonies that never seem to muster the strength to get out of bed. Luckily that only lasts for a few songs but it stops the record dead in its tracks. A few good tracks bolster II’s back half (namely “Monki” and “Secret Xitians”) but it’s not enough to really spread the weight of the album’s middle out evenly. The semi-ambient “Dawn” is stalls out any kind of backend rally, leaving II on a relatively flaccid note. II definitely shows signs of what UMO are capable of, but unfortunately on a very uneven basis. For the time being I will stick with their debut for primary listening.
I don’t know why it is I have a soft spot for the squeaky clean, pop-psychedelia of bands like Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but I do. Both released debut albums that I liked quite a bit, LP’s that I found were perfect for spinning when spending time with people who didn’t want to hear the usual ambient/noise/scuzzy garage rock that I would choose (you know, “normal” people). They both have recently released follow up records, with Tame Impala doubling down on the wide-eyed, colorful version of their first record (the buoyant “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” was a stirring, successful version of this). Where Tame Impala seem hell bent on revisiting the tie-dyed, pie in the sky vision that wobbled into our conscious with their first LP, Unknown Mortal Orchestra created a sleepy follow up to their (sometimes) funky debut.
If Tame Impala’s music is the world through a rainbow tinted kaleidoscopic, II from UMO is the world from behind droopy eyelids. On tracks like “Monki,” I almost wondered if they recorded them late at night as they were falling asleep. Tracks plod along at a snail pace, preformed almost in a hushed reference. Even the more “upbeat” tracks like “Faded in the Morning” and “One at a Time” feel a half step behind the tracks on their debut and can seem distant and hollow. There is some beauty in the distance, namely the sweet “So Good at Being in Trouble,” but often the record feels under cooked, especially when contrasted with the slinky grooves on songs like “How Can U Luv Me.” While they still show themselves to be adapt at writing pop-psychedelia ear candy, via their warm arrangements and Ruban Nielson’s pristine falsetto, the sleepiness on the record, like someone yawning, is contagious. If they were shooting to create a record to spin while you are drifting off to sleep, they have succeeded, if not, they need some Red Bull.
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 three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Anything in Return by Toro Y Moi.
Referencing many genres, including the galloping grooves of house, the bedroom production of chill-wave, and rather cool pop, Chazwick Bundick (aka Toro Y Moi) produces a multicultural lollypop.
Opening with the lightweight house workout “Harm In Change”, things get off to a decent start. The dance groove continues on the mid-tempo flex of “Say That”. The jewel here is “So Many Details”, which slows down to a bedroom jump, with vocals just behind the beat. “I just want to tease your eyes, I just want to go inside”. He almost does a Dam-Funk with repeated looped vocal “what happened to us” – which sounds super cool. Although he has dabbled with actual R&B, covering the slow jam classic “Saturday Love” by Cherrelle & Alexander O’Neal, he’s best at not going there. The nice thumping basslines of “Rosa Quartz” sounds like the background music at Abercrombie & Fitch. There’s a few fine moments with “Cola” and “High Living”. Then there’s “Cake”, which is a disaster. This is followed by “Day One” which has a nice flourish before “Never Matter”, a throwaway funk slab. He closes with “How It Wrong”, by which time you’ve likely fallen asleep.
As its title “Anything In Return” suggests, any good here is enough. There are moments in the front of record that suggest a spirited journey before descending into Pet Shot Boys minus the hooks and detail. It seems Toro y Moi simply has fun making non-committal music, slashing and slightly burning through a few genres of mainly dance and pop stylings that make for an evening of faux chill-out music .
Chaz Bundick likes making music. That should be the clear and apparent statement when one takes a listen to Anything In Return, his third effort as Toro Y Moi. Listening to his music, there’s a lot of gems to be found on the new album such as the frantic and rhythmic “Harm In Change” and the house influenced, head-nodding “Say That” (which has a surprise rap verse!). On Anything in Return, there’s a lot of progress to be found from Bundick in terms of melody and arrangement, which features is a very welcome shake-up from the more low key sounds of his stellar sophomore album, Underneath The Pine.
I have had sympathy for Toro Y Moi (Chaz Bundick) as he has fought valiantly to shed the “chillwave” label he helped usher into prominence, mercilessly shifting from one form to the next to rid himself of the genre albatross. His electro-funk makeover started live a few years back, bringing the more colorful, bass heavy flavor to the forefront of his sound. In the studio, he ventured outward on the more dancy Freaking Out EP before stepping back a bit with the more ambient LP Underneath the Pine. While I can’t say I have found his trajectory always on the upward slope (more zig zag), at least he isn’t releasing the same record over and over again. On his latest LP Anything in Return, he seems to split the difference on the sounds from his first three releases. Many of the songs have a slinky bass line that woozes out from under the synths, but the general feel of the record is the kind of low key haze that first brought him into our stereos. There are house grooves pushing the songs forward, but tracks like “Harm in Change” and “Rose Quartz” don’t quite make it to the 100% Silk level of energy, withdrawing themselves into the shadows of minor keys and Bundick’s weary (yet pristine) vocals. I think Toro Y Moi has made some great music over the last few years, but the project is beginning to feel a bit like a wandering soul. Like Sufjan Stevens, he is a talented artist who seems to feel the seven year itch about every two months, for better or for worse. Anything in Return is another wrinkle in the Toro Y Moi “sound,” a fuzzy picture that hasn’t really come into true focus yet. He is still a young guy, so hopefully he can slow down enough to take the best pieces of his repertoire and make a standout LP in the coming years. Anything in Return isn’t that album, but like his previous releases, it has more good than bad and is enough to keep me on the bandwagon with my fingers crossed that the stars will align in the near future.
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 three reactions, three impressions, three takes on LongLiveA$AP by A$AP Rocky.
Following up on last years Live Long A$AP mixtape Harlem’s new “it” dude A$AP Rocky made a big impression with his southern crunk flavor to New York. Channeling the syrup flows of the South through Three-6- Mafia, U.G.K. & DJ Screw as much as the glamor lifestyle of Harlemites Cam’ron & Jim Jones. On his proper debut Long Live A$AP, he goes all in. With a dizzying selection of beats that are both clever and simple. For some strange reason NYC has always had a fascination with South and A$AP explores that with a delicate A&R touch. Through a mixture of purple drank, yellow drank, all kind of hallucinates, pills, ecstasy, cocaine and white chicks and boom, you’ve got yourself a party starter kit. It’s all fun, no old school rules of authenticity through peers. Nope this is Action Jackson fuck bitches, getting’ money and smashing all the suckers who ain’t them.
With a sonic collage of new school producers and electronic dj’s to produce an intoxicating array of modern crunkness. Opening with the dark look inside with “I thought I’d probably die in prison, expensive taste in women … a bunch on hypocritic Christians, the land of no religion, my Santa Claus was missing, catch you slippin’ then it Christmas” on “Long Live A$AP” as he calls for the reaper. On the bouncy hit “Goldie” with Clams Casino behind the boards for a baked-out screwed head nodder with irrelevant lyrics like “Cristol by the cases oh that shit is racist”. Before launching into “my nigga’s” every other word as matter of fact.
While it’s nowhere near their hit “Hands On The Wheel” from A$AP’s Live Long A$AP. The sinister “PMW (All I Really Need) featuring Schoolboy Q with lines like ”My bitch white, my dick black”.
Recapturing that raw mixtape status on “LVL” with Clams Casino on production with lyrics like “what I’m posed to do with all this money…I’m been impatient waiting to show you niggas Satan” . “Hell” is at first awkward then works with Santigold proving a soft melody refrain. There’s a completely retarded song here with the obvious radio hit “F_ckin Probems” with Drake, 2 Chainz & Kendrick Lamar. “Wild for the Night” is an interesting turn with dubstep’s stadium king Skrillex. Recalling the early nighties NYC rap scene at it’s finest with the golden posse track “1 Train” with Kendrick Lamar, Joey Badass, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big Krit. There’s a little ode to his ladies “Fashion Killa”. The slowed down on the emotionally melodic “Phoenix” produced by Dangermouse. A$AP comesfrom a place where he was “baptized in the gutter, motherfucker you decide. Cause the rides come with doors that be suicide…Painting vivd pictures call me Basquiat Picasso”. He also is tired of the old hags around him “I grew up with niggas, but I don’t fuck with niggas, I ain’t got no love for niggas… now the worlds in my palm, take cover niggas.” There’s also the introspective “Suddenly”. Closing out with “Ghetto Symphony” with rookie thug Gunplay and the trill ballad “Angel”.
With just enough charisma A$AP Rocky successfully straddles the line between appealing to the streets and hipsters, he ain’t talking about shit except kickin’ it with tales of sex, drugs, expensive clothes and his niggas and he’s cool with that.
Many wanted to count A$AP Rocky out of the conversation, especially since the lapse of time between LiveLoveA$AP and his debut album LongLiveA$AP. With his debut, A$AP Rocky has created something that is instantly catchy upon first listen, by sticking to the aesthetics that made us gravitate towards him on LiveLoveA$AP; he proves that he’s still very versatile with his flow, be it having suicidal tendencies on the Danger Mouse highlight, “Phoenix”, or even being able to stick out in a good way on such posse cuts as the lead-off “Fuckin’ Problems” featuring Kendrick Lamar, Drake & 2 Chainz or even on the monstrous, 6-minute posse cut “1 Train”. From a production standpoint, the album proves to be just as fluid as Kendrick’s “good kid, mAAd city”, but the difference is in the aesthetics of the production, a lot more stark sounds and reverberating percussion are entered into the mix. Even “Wild For The Night” which pairs Rocky with Skrillex still manages to sound very much in place with the rest of the album. The naysayers and doubters who thought that maybe a $3 million advance would have gotten to Rocky’s head have no doubt been proven ineffective, as Rocky churns out an album that makes us understand what we enjoy in the first place about him.
I will admit I am probably not who A$AP Rocky was thinking of as his target audience when he created LongLiveA$AP, but he actually had a chance to win me over. I loved his selection of songs he chose for his attention grabbing mixtape, especially the Clams Casino productions and the darkly melodic “Peso.” On the mixtape Rocky’s rhymes were more DMX (grunt and yell nonsense) than Rakim or Nas (you know, actually rapping about stuff), but I thought maybe he would sharpen things up for his major label debut. He didn’t. At best, this is an album where Rocky is little more than a gravelly voiced annoyance over some great beats, at worst it is the misogynistic, hoes-cars-money crap that rap music has (d)evolved into over the last decade. It is an album that contains the lines “Yes, I’m the shit, tell me if I stink.” And that isn’t the worst line (most of the contenders I didn’t have the stomach to type out). Based on both the lowest common denominator content and star powered guests (Skrillex, Schoolboy Q, Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar), I am sure this album is going to sell large numbers and further rocket A$AP Rocky into superstardom, but it isn’t for me.
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 three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Shields by Grizzly Bear.
A lot of people thought it couldn’t be done. A lot of people saw the burst that was the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Veckatimest and thought how are Grizzly Bear going to top that? Well the answer is in Shields, Grizzly Bear’s fourth album. The album definitely continues to showcase the band’s amazing maturity, the fact that the focus is less on themselves and moreso in making a complete work shows the testament to their virtuosity and their amazingly uncanny knack for keeping the detail in their arrangements. It’s what allows the lead-off “Sleeping Ute” to shine, and allows something like “Yet Again” and “The Hunt” to really show off their growth. It’s really hard not to like their new work because it isn’t Veckatimest, but then again, with Shields, Grizzly Bear still create an awesome masterpiece.
I mainly think the new Grizzly Bear record is great – let me just get that straight first of all. If I had to find faults though I wouldn’t have minded more of Chris Taylor’s vocals. For me Taylor’s high pitched eeriness has always been one of the things that sets the band apart from say, Department of Eagles. To me this sounded more like a thoroughly Daniel Rossen dominated project – which is fine, I generally love Rossen – but at the same time I wouldn’t have minded more variety. I would prefer more Ed Droste as well – though as long as it isn’t in the form of songs like “Yet Again,” which sounds like a bit of an attempt to ape Arcade Fire. It isn’t half bad but it’s definitely not my favorite. Those would be: “The Hunt” and “Gun Shy,” both beautiful meditations on baroque chamber pop.
The record could also use a few frayed ends. Everything is so tidy, so beautifully elegant and soberly composed that I think a few raw edges here or there would have made for a nice dynamic. Still, I can’t complain much – even perfectly coiffed Grizzly Bear are still pretty gorgeous to listen to – and this album is no exception.
If you ever have been lucky enough to visit a city bursting with art and culture (I am thinking Florence, Italy), you know that feeling that can come from being slightly-to-completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of beauty that slaps you in the face around every corner. You try not to become apathetic to the beauty, but it can be so overwhelming, so omnipresent, that you can’t help but feel at times like you are not capable to absorb all that you should be absorbing. I have often felt that way with Grizzly Bear, and that feeling is amplified with their latest LP, the lush, ornate and exceptionally beautiful Shields. From the rich, multifaceted jangle of album opener “Sleeping Ute” to epic, six plus minute closer “Sun in Your Eyes,” Shields grabs the listener by the throat, albeit with a velvet glove, and doesn’t let up over the staggering 10 song album. From the Radiohead-esqe pop dissonance of “The Hunt” to the breezy harmonies of “Gun-Shy,” there wasn’t a point on Shields were I desperately reached for the “next” button. Yet I left feeling distant. Maybe it was the grandeur. Maybe it was that the record felt too immaculate, too groomed for its own good. I felt myself enjoying it from a distance, appreciating more than engaging. It was the fancy painting that I could not help but acknowledge, but it just didn’t hit that spot. Just like my college self walking past a museum to go to the bar, I will whole heartedly admit that Shields is an impressive record, one that I can and do like, but to be honest, I mostly just want to listen to the new Ty Segall record until my eardrums bleed.
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 Three reactions, Three impressions, Three Takes on The Seer by Swans.
I’ve never been too fond of the Swans particular brand of blare. Despite great claims of the punishing and bludgeoning music (and hey I like getting bludgeoned) I usually found it boring and one note. It never sounded intense to me, at least never as intense as I wanted or needed it to be. Not that it didn’t have its moments, just for the most part their specific type of audio torture I was never drawn to. And those feelings were more or less confirmed when I saw them live last fall. So, let’s just say I was approached the idea of two hour new record with no small amount of trepidation.
And honestly the first song, “Lunacy” which sounds like “Tubular Bells” before it turns into a merry-go-round chant of “lunacy” certainly made me feel like I was in for a rough road to hoe. But soon the album’s centerpiece and title track “The Seer” turned my head, here was the first time I felt that the band truly lived up to their hype. A circular, keening wail, this was the Swans we were always promised, hypnotic, and primal, channeling Branca’s guitar orchestra theories back into rock, climbing to a majestic pummeling, before breaking it down to build back up on the back of coruscating guitar noise and then again diving deep into a lonesome valley of wet reverb and harmonica. The song runs over 32 minutes and is followed, in a hilarious bit of black humor, by “The Seer Returns” with a guest spot from former vocalist Jarobe and it could easily run for another thirty minutes or hours, frankly. Gira has noted that this is the album that combines all of the Swans version visions and incarnations into one and it is the perfect description. This has always been what they are pointing to, a sort of brutalist mood music.
But the album is more then just “The Seer”, it is surprisingly varied, highlighting much of what this current incarnation of the band is good at, with “The Seer Returns” a processional march in which Gira depicts an apocalyptic possession of spirit, “93 Ave B Blues” starts as a shrill wolf whistle of abstraction that is soon buried under an avalanche of drums, and “A Piece of the Sky” which starts as drone piece, chugs through the middle and goes all Nick Cave Xmas at the end. Not that the record is without a mis-step, namely “Song for a Warrior” with Karen O on vocals (and really it’s fine but I liked it better when it was called “The Evening Bell” on the Sunn O))/Boris colab) And for a band that prides itself on being so listener unfriendly the record rewards quite a bit too repeated spins, I’ve even kind of come around to some of those tubular bells. Some.”
I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to start listening to Swans – on paper everything about their sound is something I tend to be interested in, but somehow up until now the band only existed to me as an abstract. I didn’t know what they sounded like. I assumed – incorrectly – that they were probably just another one of the hard rock groups prevalent in the late 80’s and early 90’s that I had no interest in listening to. As it turns out they were (and are) a lot more than that.
So since Seer is my first proper listen of an entire Swans record my thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt. I have no idea how Seer compares to the Swans discography, but I do know that I (mostly) really like it. I tend to love dark, bleak, uncompromising music – and Seer takes those themes to such an extreme that it’s something of a Pride parade for dark, bleak, uncompromising music. It’s that over the top. It contains a dizzying array of musical instruments (including notably a Rufus Harley-esque bagpipe section(!)). It is thematically consistent from start to finish (ruthlessly serious) and it frequently attains moments of sublimated beauty that are brutally pounded out of discordant noise.
In short it’s great.
The band, however, seems painfully aware of its own greatness to an extent that it can get a bit tedious. A two hour noise opera might seem, in itself, to be a bit on the extravagant side – but generally I don’t mind it. In fact, I think that overall more musicians should take their art more seriously as opposed to less. Seer takes the seriousness to an entirely different plane however, and though I mostly can vibe with it, I occasionally found myself rolling my eyes. The prog-rock chorus parts in particular seemed a bit over-wrought. It’s one thing to spout melodramatic goth poetry (“kill the truth / speak the name…childhood is over,” etc) and quite another to do it grandiosely accompanied by a chorus that has the tendency to weight every utterance with like god-like solemnity.
Still, more often than not I was simply impressed by Gira and company’s commitment to their vision as well as their savagely beautiful orchestrations. I may have waited far too long to experience Swans, but at least their latest record has me wanting to go back and catch up on all that I have missed.
After spending 2 years out on the road touring behind 2010′s My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, Gira and the current incarnation of Swans crafted an album that Michael Gira says is the result of 30 years of work. From the earliest days of slow motion illness inducing pounding through folk through Gira’s post-Swans Angels Of Light, Swans have always been constantly evolving their sound. The Seer is no small task to tackle clocking in at nearly two hours.
Opener “Lunacy” sets the tone from the beginning with percussionist Thor Harris’ chimes making the intro before the first of a number of guest spots is filled by Alan and Mimi of Low joining the Gira in a chant. After a similarly dirgey “Mother of the World”, “The Wolf” is a brief guitar and vocal intro by Gira before the albums title track and centerpiece. The 32 minutes of “The Seer” arc from dissonant noise to frantic percussion building itself into an intense tidal wave of noise. Karen O provides guest vocals to the beautiful “Song For A Warrior”, the standout opener to the 2nd side. The intense (and only 8 minute long) “Avatar” is almost lost before the pair of 19+ minute closers before the album finally closes itself in a squeal of violin into a flurry of drums.
The Seer succeeds in pulling together all eras of Swans (there’s even an appearance by Jarboe) into what plays out exactly as intentions stated. While some may be turned off by the 2 hour listening time this is exactly what Gira wants: if you’re going to do something, do it to the extreme.
See Swans this Saturday, 9/22 at the Fine Line Music Cafe