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 Watch the Throne by Kanye West and Jay Z.
I’ll be honest: the contrarian in me wanted to hate this album. Both artists are incredibly talented and incredibly frustrating—two top-tier lyricists with access to the best production on the planet, a history of subject matter that’s equal parts thought-provoking and thought-aborting, and a media chokehold that guarantees that the world will go nuts no matter how brilliant or boring their actual music is. But while “Watch the Throne” certainly isn’t any kind of revolutionary, game-changing hip hop manifesto, it more-or-less won me over.
The album is book-ended by a pair of great moments, the sinister, propulsive opening of “No Church in the Wild,” and the back-and-forth rhyme pyrotechnics at the end of “Why I Love You.” Those tracks, along with the late-album highlight “Murder to Excellence,” fulfill the promise of the collaboration, and everything in between is cool but nothing special (aside from the Beyonce-assisted “Lift Off,” which is just awful). The two MCs don’t have a ton of chemistry (they definitely still sound like two solo acts), but each has a unique, engaging voice; while the overall message in most of these songs might be predictable (“it’s so fun/hard being famous!”), the line-by-line content thankfully isn’t. The production is solid, with a few head-nodding outliers—mostly, it’s just nice to know that pop rap is finally moving away from that Euro-club synth bullshit.
“Watch the Throne” is a great album is you like both artists but don’t own a CD changer that can flip between “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “The Black Album.” It definitely doesn’t live up to the hype, but when the hype is bigger than the known universe, how could it?
We first heard a sample from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne with the brash, if not obnoxious, single “H•a•m” The song hinted that the duo’s long-awaited full-length collaboration album would be a quick and haphazardly thrown together project, offering little beyond a platform for the two rappers to discuss their greatness. After that, Jay and Ye made multiple returns to the studio — excuse me, luxury hotel — to rework the album into a more cohesive unit. The tinkering paid off and Watch the Throne is actually quite good.
The most distinctive aspect of the album is that it sounds epic, which is to be expected with what Jay and Kanye were working with. They broke the bank to sample Otis Redding, Nina Simone, James Brown (on four different songs) and Curtis Mayfield. The collection of producers working on Watch the Throne is astounding: The RZA, Q-Tip, The Neptunes, No I.D., Pete Rock, 88-Keys and more. Even with that all-star lineup, Kanye was the architect behind the album and his perfectionist touches are noticeable on each track. Kanye’s been on an impeccable creative streak since MBDTF, and only he can successfully pull off the maximalist sonics present on songs like “Why I Love You” and “Who Gon Stop Me.” The real key though, is he knows when to back off. While the album does not flow perfectly, the subtler songs like “No Church in the Wild” and “Made in America” provide a much-needed balance to the flashier moments.
Topically, the biggest complaint with Watch the Throne is the excessive stunting Jay and Kanye do. The two rap about private jets, Maybachs, priceless art, and designer clothes; that the album’s release coincided with a stock market collapse does exactly not make it a sign of the times. But to their credit, at least the rapping is executed well. The album is chock full of double entendres from both rappers (especially the not-at-all-soulful but still fun bragfest “Otis”) and subtle nods to early hip-hop. Jay-Z in particular sounds in better form on the Watch the Throne than he has recently. Sure, he raps about being ridiculously, ridiculously wealthy, but Jay has always rapped about that. On this album he also pens a verse to his unborn son (“New Day”), raps about his broken relationships with his former friends and labelmates (“Why I Love You”), and comments on inner-city crime and the lack of black men and women in powerful positions in America (on the fantastic centerpiece “Murder to Excellence”). To argue that Watch the Throne is a one-sided affair is to not give it a fair and in-depth listen; the album is more complex than that.
There are a few stinkers. The Beyoncé-featuring track “Lift Off” is awful, the trippy second half of “Who Gon Stop Me” almost ruins the song, and Swizz Beatz turned in a dud of a beat for “Welcome to the Jungle.” Jay-Z and Kanye have both rapped and produced better in the past. Watch the Throne isn’t better than any of Kanye’s solo albums or any of Jay’s finer career moments (The Blueprint, The Black Album), but that isn’t important. In spite of its shortcomings, Watch the Throne an interesting and very well-crafted album by the best duo hip-hop has seen in the past decade.
This year, we’ve gotten a handful of dope side projects from teamups we either didn’t expect or imagine; take for example Eminem & Royce Da 5’9″ reprising their persona as Bad Meets Evil, and so far the best one has been Random Axe with Sean Price, Black Milk and Guilty Simpson as the super group Random Axe. The only other project that comes close to being mentioned among these three is obvious: that Kanye West and Jay-Z dropped Watch The Throne on Monday. Now there has been a steady stream of critique and praise for this project. On the one hand, it’s basically high-end rap in the sense that one listening to the album should have a healthy 401(k) and a multi-million dollar trust fund that reached maturity. And for the most part, it works; and the reason it works is that both are at the height of their braggadocio; and the production from such names as The Neptunes, Lex Luger, Pete Rock, Swizz Beatz, S1, The RZA and Kanye himself help provide the lush and rich soundscapes. Take for example “Otis,” which reduces Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” to hellish grunts as the backdrop for Kanye and Jay’s back-and-forth, or even “Murder To Excellence” which plays as a two-part track which decries black-on-black crime and the flipside celebrates the hope that both men want to see their fellow folks be like them and aspire for the big things. Or even on “New Day” which shows Kanye and Jay writing a letter to their unborn children, and to autotune a Nina Simone sample is a gutsy risk that pays off in making the RZA’s backdrop sound a little more like Dilla. Both Kanye and Jay work best when they’re just shooting the shit, such as on “That’s My Bitch” with a little assistance from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, or on the previously released “The Joy” produced by Pete Rock (which was released as part of the G.O.O.D. Music Fridays and comes as a form of one of four bonus tracks on the deluxe edition). The flipside comes on tracks such as “Lift Off” where Beyonce comes off as a Yoko Ono, while Kanye and Jay play Lennon, which is sort of imbalanced, but gets left alone due to great production. Other tracks share that similar drawback such as “Why I Love You” featuring Mr. Hudson. But overall, its a genuine project coming from a genuine place, which makes Watch The Throne all the more intriguing and awesome. Far from being top honors for album of the year (though that may change with a few more listens), its still entertaining to hear two titans making this type of a project.
Rap’s royalty decides to go all in and introduces “Luxury Rap”. The ever brass, cocky and mouthy, yet lovable Kayne West and hip-hop’s reigning icon and statesman Jay-Z have teamed up to show rap and pop suckas whose’ game this really is. While the first single “H.A.M.” didn’t set the world on fire, the second track “Otis” featuring an Otis Redding sample with no hooks and chorus. Now they have my attention.
Opening salvo “No Church In The Wild” features the lo-fi vocal beauty of R&B “it” boy, newcomer Frank Ocean from Odd Future. Frank Oceans lays the background as Kanye & Jay-Z play verbal ping-pong. “Lift Off” with Beyonce is side dish for radio. On “Niggas In Paris” Jay-Z & Kanye basically “ball so hard” trading verses on the life of an elite baller. Kanye West proclaims ”Sophisticated ignorance, I write my curses in cursive” on “Otis” as it rides a Otis Redding’s 1966 classic “Try A Little Tenderness”. The sinister brilliance of “Gotta Have It” where West kicks it off ”Lolololo white America assassinate my character”. Jay-Z wishes he could give you the feeling of “blinking on a million” as he reminisce of his earlier days “prior to this shit, moving freebase”. Kanye West masterfully imagines the trails and tribulation on his unborn son “I’ll never let my son have an ego. “He’ll be nice to everyone wherever we go, I mean, I might even make him be Republican, So everybody know he love white people.” That’s just West part on “New Day” with moody production assist from the RZA and a Nina Simone sample “Feeling Good”. Jay-Z responds “Sorry, junior,I already ruined ya’, you ain’t even alive, paparazzi pursuing ya.’ ”. The bouncy “That’s My Bitch” is underwhelming, even with great production and Bon Iver on background vocals. Kanye West opens “This is something like the Holocaust, million of our people lost” on “Who Gon Stop Me” followed by Jay goes in “black cars, black cards, black on black, black broads…middle finger to my old life”. The black daily life narrative of “Murder to Excellence” has Jay-Z inundated rhyming on wealth, celebration, crime and status. “It’s a celebration of black excellence,” he goes on “opulence, decadence, tuxes next to the president.” Holy shit that’s gangsta. West fires back “314 died in Iraq, 519 died in Chicago” on the American black hero salute “Murder to Excellence”. The duo shouts out Betty Shabazz, Martin L. King, Malcolm X, Mary , Joseph on “Made It In America” as Frank Ocean lays the vocal “sweet baby Jesus, we made it in America”. “Why I Love You” with Mr. Hudson addresses their haters, it’s quite alright. The deluxe edition has 3 more tracks “H.A. M.”, “Primetime” and the Curtis Mayfield looping of “Made In America” on “Joy” originally from West’ Good Music Friday series.
With standout tracks like “Otis”, “Gotta Have It”, “New Day”, “Who Gon Stop Me”, “Murder to Excellence” and “Made It In America” Kanye & Jay-Z deliver with a record, full of excitement and graduer, despite the Beyonce assist on “Lift Off” and the unnecessary club jump “Is That My Bitch”. While it doesn’t have the orchestral elegance of West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or the rawest of Jay-Z’s debut Reasonable Doubt it does capture moments of both artist at the head of the class. Watch The Throne is that black eloquence, black excellence, black decadence & black celebration of reaching the elite status so few if any American blacks have ever become a part of, Mazel tov.
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 New Brigade by Iceage.
I like New Brigade, the debut album from Danish punks Iceage, but at the same time I feel like some of the hyperbole getting thrown around them these days is a little much. I agree that the young quartet has produced some really intensely magnetic punk music, but I disagree that they are necessarily coming from any bold new direction. “Goth,” “Post Punk,” “Hardcore.” That’s the mix of elements that make up the core of Iceage’s sound and it’s not like it’s a revolutionary new concept to mix any combination of the three together. Yeah, they do it well – at times even bordering on the sublime. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that we’re dealing with some radical new concept. New Brigade is a very good punk album, nothing more or less. Personally I think that is enough.
Howard Hamilton (Red Pens)
Iceage is one of those bands that sound super fresh even though they sound like everyone you love mashed together. These kids are young and from Denmark, Iceage are smart, creative and just snotty enough. The album is sloppy and slick at the same time it makes you wish this was your band it sounds effortless yet well thought out. It sounds punk and sometimes sounds like 90′s detuned Chapel Hill Polvo out-takes could be the cheap guitars with bad intonation, it’s all on purpose which makes it even dreamier. Every song is great, you hear a little more every listen and when it ends you want to play it again which is my number one goal when making a record. If you want something noisy, bright, raw, serious, fast, and infectious seek out Iceage New Brigade now.
It is a bummer that punk rock went and died, huh? It seemed like it had so much potential, but I guess it just didn’t have the strength to keep on…..wait, what? There is an album that is going to bring punk back to life? Even for those who were not aware there was a problem, here comes a solution! New Brigade, the short, fierce and powerful debut by four Danish teenagers Iceage, is just that album. Just ask longtime punk rock scene supporters the New York Times. It seems like we recently had a group of young, angry, loud and brash teens who captivated the music nerderrati (*cough*oddfuture*cough*), but take their word for it….these guys are the real deal. All joking aside, New Brigade is a solid (if short) 20 minutes of furious noise and sonic pummeling that shows some great potential for this young band, ranging from the rapturous “New Brigade,” “White Rune” and “Broken Bone” to the almost melodic post-punk of “Remember,” “Never Return,” “Total Drench” and “Broken Bone.” Don’t usually get your recommendations for new punk music from the New Yorker (or Reviler) and wonder if we have any idea what we are talking about? Check out the band in the flesh tonight and see if they are the real deal or not. You can even wrap your hands around a physical copy of the album that changed the world!
See the band tonight with Safewords and Maledicere at the Triple Rock Social Club
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 Within and Without by Washed Out.
Erica Krumm (Oaks, Wunky Zine)
This album is sleepy. Not boring, but ultra dream-like and relaxed. The pretty collection of synthy, pop songs on Within and Without are ultra eighties sounding, and swell collectively in an ever-expanding cloud of soft beats. The splayed out vocals are very beautiful, but do not stray much from song to song. This lack of variety is beneficial at times, as it gives the album a very concrete and consistent vibe. My favorite track is “Far Away.” When the chorus kicks into a pretty hot dance beat and the vocal harmonies align, it’s pure pleasure. This album is like this part of your sleep cycle: It’s morning, you are half awake enough to feel the sun coming in through the windows and a breeze flying through the room, but not awake enough to think straight or speak. You are aware of life but still half dreaming. Within and Without belongs in the genre, “Indie Leasure Pop,” which I just made up.
As it stands in 2011, I think the proverbial waves have all but broke on the “chillwave” movement. All we see now are the residual effects, an ebb and flow if you will, of one of the biggest subgenre trends of the past few years. For better or for worse, depending on who you ask, this is either tragic or the greatest thing to happen to independent music. I could fall in either category, really, because although I love and spin certain artists out of said genre, there are times when it seemed like every new band or single is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy – which is reason that led many to despise and degrade the genre as a whole.
Earnest Greene, the man behind Washed Out, was one of the first artists that came in with the initial flow of chillwave back in 2009. His take on the genre had him experimenting with sounds that we have heard 100x over now: bright beach bangers that at the same time had an isolated bedroom feel. With a few EPs under his belt, Greene has now dropped his first proper LP, Within and Without, and shows that he has more to offer and experiment with than the typical chillwave aesthetics. The nine-track album plays out like a trance-y headtrip, one that is fluid, soft, intimate and dreamy. All the signifiers are here: echo-y vocals, washes of reverbed synth chords, and Greene’s signature hip-hop influenced beats and right-on-the-money delivery. Unlike his earlier Life of Leisure EP, Within and Without is bigger and heftier. And that shift in sound is indebted to Greene’s move from bedroom to studio as well as the added production hands of Ben Allen, who helmed Merriweather Post Pavilion. You can sense that this is the music Greene meant to create all along.
Throughout the albums entirety, the songs flow seamlessly together and follow a general emotional flow and pattern. For the most part, his vocals are all but indiscernible from the music as he uses his lofty, stretched-out vocals to become part of the overall ambiance rather than the centerpiece of the songs, becoming an instrument of its own. In the end, these songs are more about feel than anything else. And above all else, they are buoyant, self-assured and absorbing. Between the intrinsic drum work on “Soft,” the memorizing woozy loop of “Before,” and the soft piano balladry of “A Dedication,” Greene has created his own brand of hazed-out melancholy.
Within and Without wasn’t necessarily the album I was anticipating from Washed Out, but it’s a solid listen. If anyone tells you they flat out hate the record, well, they are just a curmudgeon. There’s a lot to love and praise about the this record and I applaud Greene for his ability to craft a sound that is wholly his own without necessarily distancing himself from the movement he helped create.
I didn’t really expect to like Washed Out’s Within and Without considering I was largely ambivalent towards his most recent EP. I found myself largely pleasantly surprised by it though. While I don’t think there is much that is amazing about Ernest Greene’s chilled out orchestrations, they make a great soundtrack for when you want to chill out for awhile. Or maybe dance. Is this dance music? Sometimes it seems as though it is but for people who like to dance really slowly. Anyways, I liked “Amor Fati,” and “Eyes Closed” particularly (they remind me of Caribou), but on the flipside there are quite a few songs that also sounded to me like they were designed for kind of a boring video game. Maybe a game where you direct bicycle traffic in Japan or something like that.
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 Riptide by Beirut.
The story of Beirut’s music thus far has been one of shifting national identities. What began as a project inspired by Balkan folk music, culminating in their first LP, Gulag Orkestar, took on a chanson française flavor on their sophomore album, Flying Club Cup, and turned in a very different, norteño-inspired direction on their March of the Zapotec EP. However, on their latest album – their first LP in four years – they seem to give up their international influences and settled on a sound that can only be called “pop.” Nevertheless, The Riptide doesn’t feel like that big of a departure for them. All of the recognizable Beirut elements are here, from the florid (sometimes overly-florid) melodies, to the folk trumpet, to the anchor of it all, Zach Condon’s lush baritone. The Riptide offers nine lovely tracks, and for Beirut fans, it will be a welcome addition to the catalog.
I have been a pretty big Beirut fan for awhile now and though I continue to enjoy Zach Condon’s newer work, I keep finding that for the most part I am still going back to his first records, Gulag Orkestar and Flying Cup Club, to get my fix. And while I had high expectations for the forthcoming album The Rip Tide, I find that again I just don’t think it really holds a candle. I like the record, but am a little put off by some of the song’s more rock-centric beats rather than the romantic, funereal ballads that seem to be a stronger force in the older work. Take “Santa Fe” for instance that is dominated by a distractingly elementary drum beat. And “A Candle’s Fire,” which has a horn section so punctual and clinically orchestrated as to sound boring. I like Condon when he’s more ramshackle and elegantly frayed – Rip Tide seems, for the most part, much more precise and rock-driven. I still like a number of the songs: “East Harlem,” “Goshen” and “Paynes Bay,” particularly. Overall though, I don’t think this record will ever be one of my favorites.
Zach Condon recently talked about trying to create music that was a “epic melancholy,” which I somehow understand completely. Starting with the wide eyed Gulag Orkestar and through his last LP and EP, Zach Condon and the rest of Beirut have circled the wagons around a wide ranging sound of ukuleles, horns and pianos, with Condon’s older than his age baritone really bringing things together. On their latest (third) LP, the group sound grown up but as subdued as ever. The first track released from the album was the amazing “East Harlem,” and while the rest of the album doesn’t live up to the hype that the first track caused, it is still classic Condon. From the redemptive opener “A Candle’s Fire” to the strings and gallantry of “Payne’s Bay,” The Riptide is the groups most polished effort yet. While the refinement of sound will undoubtedly turn off some fans of the more ramshackle approach of their previous work, the songs on The Riptide fit nicely in the increasingly impressive Beirut cannon.
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 Sound Kapital by The Handsome Furs.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
It took me awhile to get into the Handsome Furs’ last album, Face Control, and I never really came around until I finally saw the duo live (a medium in which they excel). With the band’s forthcoming record Sound Kapital, however, I am finding the songs much more immediately appealing. Alexei Perry and Dan Boeckner’s pulse-pounding synth hooks are rock solid and the songwriting, while not always brilliant, certainly fits the band’s energetic and anthemic aesthetics. It isn’t difficult music. It’s not provocative. It is, however, fast and fun – two adjectives that can carry a sound pretty far.
Where Boeckner and Perry get a little bogged down is when they try to inject political discourse into their message, which on Kapital is often. For instance in the getting lectured about “serving the people” by a rock band in the track of the same name seems a little “Muse-ish”. That particular track does seem to borrow the tune from M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” and therefore also the Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” by definition, so someone could potentially make an argument that the whole tune is some sort of cryptic joke on ”revolutionary” bands. But probably not. Anyway, I enjoy the handsome Furs when they aren’t trying to be too serious, and when they are I just tune out the lyrics and tune in the hooks, which are plentiful.
Listening to “When I Get Back” off their third effort from The Handsome Furs, its almost like they never left. Essentially that’s how Sound Kapital plays, it relies on the song structure rather than confusing you with distorted electro-punk, which in turn is a similar turn that the sophomore release from the Crystal Castles. It definitely capitalizes on the innovations made during the making of their second album, “Face Control”. You can hear it in such songs as the rhythmic wooing exhibited in “Damage,” the tour-de-force of keyboards on “Bury Me Standing”, and the highlight “Serve The People” which builds to a euphoric exuberance. At a tight and focused 40 minutes, this nine song effort by the band definitely does a great job giving us proof that even a two-year absence didn’t cause any drastic changes, and definitely plays well to the band’s strengths.
Even with my deep appreciation of the jagged songwriting of Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Atlas Strategic) and his last two albums with his wife in Handsome Furs, I was a little worried about the news that their new record was written entirely on synths. Boeckner’s guitar work and crafty songwriting make him one of my favorites from the last 5-7 years, but a entire synth based record? I should never have doubted them (especially considering their last album was my favorite LP of 2009). Sound Kapital finds the duo as strong as ever, from the propulsive opener “When I Get Back” to the extended buzz of album closer “No Feeling,” the group prove that even when they go to the extreme of only drum machines and synths, they still have the magic touch. The highlight of the nine song LP is the three song stretch featuring “Serve the People,” “What About Us” and “Repatriated,” which find Boeckner’s songs at their epic best and the group really playing up their collective strengths. Even without Boeckner’s fluid guitar work, the songs on Sound Kapital hit hard and still have whatever it is that makes me like Boeckner’s songwriting so much. While it might not match its predecessor at the top of my 2011 best album of the year list, Sound Kapital will safely have a spot in my top 10, proving again the Dan Boeckner cannot seem to do wrong in my eyes.
Disclaimer: I have never listened to Handsome Furs prior to this week. It’s not intentional; I’ve somehow just managed to miss them. I’ve been a long-time fan of Dan Boeckner’s collaboration with Spencer Krug in Wolf Parade, and some of the musical elements of that collaboration are present here – notably the New Wave influences. For anyone else in my boat, you’d do well to check out Handsome Furs. However, I’d recommend starting with 2009’s Face Control rather than Sound Kapital. While there’s not a bad track on this album, there aren’t any especially memorable ones either. It lacks some of the inventiveness of the prior LP, and it relies much more heavily on synth / drum machine, minimizing guitar and making this sound more like a straight-up disco record. The beauty of Face Control was in the cunning combination of guitar hooks and electronica. Sound Kapital tips the balance, putting them squarely in the synth-pop category.
Studies in the area of food science reported from M.E. Seyer and co-researchers.
Food Weekly News April 23, 2009 According to recent research published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology, “The effect of the composition and physical properties of bran from four wheat samples from different cultivars was determined in whole wheat bread. High specific volume of whole wheat bread was correlated (r(2) = 0.8275) with strong mechanical properties (low friability) of the bran of wheat cultivars, as determined by sizing (over 425 mu m) of bran particles after grinding with a rotor mill.” “Fibre content and composition of insoluble fibre (hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin) in the bran fraction had a non-significant (P > 0.05) effect on the performance of wheat cultivars in whole wheat bread. Water absorption of bran was correlated (r(2) = 0.9532) with its insoluble fibre content,” wrote M.E. Seyer and colleagues. see here whole wheat bread
The researchers concluded: “Based on data obtained with white flour, it was not possible to estimate the baking potential of wheat cultivars in whole wheat bread.” Seyer and colleagues published their study in International Journal of Food Science and Technology (Bran characteristics and wheat performance in whole wheat bread. International Journal of Food Science and Technology, 2009;44(4):688-693). in our site whole wheat bread
For additional information, contact P. Gelinas, Agriculture & Agri Food Canada, Center Food Research & Development, St. Hyacinthe, PQ J2S 8E3, Canada.
The publisher’s contact information for the International Journal of Food Science and Technology is: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc., Commerce Place, 350 Main St., Malden 02148, MA, USA.
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 Arabia Mountain by The Black Lips.
The new Black Lips album contains some of my favorite new Lips tunes to date – with “Family Tree,” “Mr. Driver,” “Bicentennial Man,” as well as “Noc-A-Homa” creating the basis for a strong record. The occasional saxophone really gives Arabia a menacing new sound (particularly in “Family Trees”) even if it makes (perhaps) too few appearances. Famed British producer Mark Ronson makes his presence felt on the new album by giving it a shiny pop veneer. While this works well on some of the raunchy, R&B-inflected numbers, on the more garage pop songs it has the opposite effect. In tunes like “Modern Art,” and “New Direction” the sound just seems a little too clean (even if the lyrics are not). Still, Arabia is generally a pretty cohesive collection with only a small amount of filler in its sixteen songs. Personally I will be more interested in hearing these live since I think that the Black Lips’ energy/weirdness will be better experienced outside the constricted confines of Ronson’s engineering.
Many longtime fans of the Black Lips were understandably worried when word came out that the group would be working with pop music producer Mark Ronson on their new album Arabia Mountain. The scuzzy flower punk group has carved out a niche by releasing lo-fi albums and creating havoc in the life setting, building a pretty big fan base along the way, but this move gives the impression they are setting their sights even higher.
Both supporters and naysayers will have some ammo to work with on Arabia Mountain. The ear for garage rock gems is still present on the LP, especially on tracks like “Bicentenial Man,” but there are also moments of head scratching on the record. I would be remiss to blame Ronson for any of the poppier moments on the record, especially considering the band didn’t get led into the studio with a gun to their heads. The most damning part is that the group decided to hook up with someone who seems to be the antithesis of their punk, fuck the world ethos. With songs like “Bone Marrow” I have a hard time blaming Ronson when it was the band who wrote the boring track. The group still sound like garage rock worshipers of Los Saicos and 13th Floor Elevators, so at least they have that going for them. Arabia isn’t their best work, but fans can rest assured it isn’t a complete cop out that some feared when the news of the album dropped. No matter who produces their album, the band probably forever will be known for their live shows, so as long as they don’t go completely off the deep end I will at least come back to know the songs I will be hearing when they come through town.
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 Sun and Shade by Woods.
I find it amazing that between the San Fran garage rock scene and New York’s Woodsist crew, you could taken any given year and have about 20 different albums to chose from. These respective groups of bands – including Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Fresh and Onlys, Sonny and the Sunsets, Sic Alps, Woods and Real Estate off-shoot Ducktails – put out a staggering amount of music each year, and every subsequent year they keep on delivering. For the sixth straight year, Brooklyn band Woods, fronted by Woodsist founder Jeremey Earl, have delivered a full length album full of their signature heartbreaking, classic folk tinged tunes – and this year’s Sun & Shade might be their best yet. Their previous two releases, 2009′s Songs of Shame and 2010′s At Echo Lake, were major accomplishments in their own right, but with Sun & Shade, the band has continued it’s growth towards writing songs that somewhat lift their former noise and drone layers, while capitalizing on the tragic lyricism and hone in on their terrific melodies and perfect folk pop songwriting. That’s not to say that their knack for arty noise is completely gone – the seven-minute humming drone track “Out of the Eye” and the acoustic, tribal beat epic “Soi y Sombra” is testament to that. But on the whole, Sun & Shade seems more concerned with showcasing Woods’ ability to write punchy, melodic folk songs that both make nods to nostalgic folkies of the ’60s while still sounding innovative and fresh. The bright, soaring opener, “Pushing Onlys” is my favorite single released so far this year. While songs like “White Out,” “Any Other Day,” Hand it Out” and “To Have In the Home” are all songs that have the same rambling, cheerful glee that made their previous works so entrancing and somewhat mysterious. The Elliot Smith-esque closer “Say Goodbye” also packs a chilling emotional punch with Earl signing off with, “See me mumbling like a day breeze, like a cool breeze flying by your side.” Earl’s lyrics and ghostly falsetto vocals again are at the forefront of this release and it is what gives Woods their charm, character and otherworldly appeal. Woods continue to prove that their brand of progressive folk is nearly unparalleled in today’s indie/lo-fi scene. Sun & Shade is my favorite release from them so far and I’m eager to see where they take their sound next.
Album number seven for Woods continues to draw on the accomplishments and strides made in their lo-fi experimentation which was at its peak with Songs of Shame and the more recent At Echo Lake, however the band manages to introduce some interesting sounds into the mix, such as the UFO-like howl on “Pushing Onlys,” whereas the track “Out of the Eye” sounds like something from early psychedelic rock from the 60s. “Hand It Out” perfectly fits the mood for the summer coming up (or whatever of one we have left in the TC), while “To Have In The Home” is straight-forward in arrangement, while the drums sparsely play around. While it definitely draws on the successes of the past efforts mentioned, it also manages to serve as a great soundtrack for summer, while the clarity is present, the lo-fi experimentation hasn’t left their bones by any strech, making “Sun and Shade” yet another great listen.
On their third LP in three years, the surprisingly prolific Woods stick close to the formula that made their previous two albums so successful, playing sunny sixties folk pop with Jeremy Earl’s near-falsetto vocals backed by both fuzzed-out lead guitar and strumming acoustic guitar. While Sun and Shade doesn’t constitute a giant step forward creatively, it delivers infectious melodies on every track, with only two exceptions. Unfortunately, the exceptions are nearly three times as long as any other track – the instrumental jams, “Out of the Eye” (7:10) and “Sol Y Sombra” (9:38), which fit uneasily with the rest of the material, don’t advance the album in any way and probably should have been left on the cutting room floor.
But the rest of the album works beautifully. Opener “Pushing Onlys” gets things started right with a catchy guitar line and buoyant melody. Earl shows his quieter side on the organ and guitar-backed “Be All Be Easy” and the gorgeous, acoustic “Wouldn’t Waste.” Sun and Shade is Woods’ third winner in three years. Fans of Songs of Shame and At Echo Lake will be quick to welcome this one.
With every album, Woods have moved further away from from the lo-fi noise folk sound which they embodied in earlier albums such as At Rear House, which is full of distorted noisy folk-inspired tunes that drift in and out of tempo. With each album, the songs get more rhythmic and poppy, and refined. Sun and Shade is a prime example of the result of this transformation– It is a happy summer album that fits well within the like of Ducktails, Real Estate, and Kurt Vile.
“Be All be Easy” is the most reminiscent of their earlier sound, but the pop influence is clear in the lighthearted guitar riff and uplifting lyrics that feel similar to Akron/Family’s Love is Simple.
“Hand It Out” is a highlight, which is clearly influenced by the continual resurgence and repopularization of surfer pop– pulling inspiration from pop kings, The Beach Boys. It’s an upbeat summer song that highlights Jeremy Earl’s high-pitched falsetto– which at times can border on squeaky, but mostly floats comfortably along the melody
Personally, I dig this shift away from the trying-to-hard ambient noise drone that Pitchfork drooled over. I am an extreme fan of the not-so-recent surge of sugary rock pop that has been springing up everywhere.
In earlier albums Woods have sounded a little too loosely put together, with rambling noisy interludes and no clear focus. Where they have been the most successful is when they hold on to simple, strong, and catchy melodies, and Sun and Shade proves successful in this respect. Some may criticize them for subscribing to more of a poppy sound, which is true, however they mostly succeed at it. Their only issue is that with subscribing to a popular genre, they can easily be overlooked. They’re sound doesn’t really have anything unique that makes them stand out in the crowd of quite excellent other bands.
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 Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 by the Beastie Boys.
Writing a review for a Beastie Boys album feels a bit odd. For starters, I wasn’t even alive when Licensed To Ill was released in 1986. For a hip-hop group that initially seemed gimmicky to experience the longevity that this trio has is a testament to their musical catalog. The Beastie Boys have consistently made enjoyable, uncompromising music that is true to their NYC roots. This time around, they return with Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, a reworked version of the original Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 1 that was delayed and remains unreleased after Adam “MCA” Yauch was diagnosed with cancer.
The Beastie Boys have always done things on their own terms, but Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is especially unconcerned with following trends. The group handled most of the production, either playing instruments themselves or finding obscure records to sample. The result is a sonically diverse output. The album kicks off with a funky bass groove on the excellent “Make Some Noise.” “Too Many Rappers” features Nas and is another highlight, boasting bouncing synth-work over Mike D’s sharp, pounding drums. “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” is the Beasties’ successful experiment with reggae and features a guest spot from Santigold. “Lee Majors Come Again” is a throwback to their old school punk origins.
The rapping on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is what we’ve come to expect from the Beastie Boys. There are no jaw-dropping verses or punchlines on the record, and some of the lyrics occasionally borderline on corny, like Ad-Rock’s tongue-in-cheek boast, “Oh my God, just look at me/ Grandpa been rapping since ’83!”
But the lack of lyrical complexity does not diminish the overall enjoyability of the album. In the end, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is everything one could hope from a longstanding group like the Beasties: a funky offering from musicians that understand what they do best and decide to stick to their strengths. Long live the grandpas.
I have a lot of respect for the Beastie Boys as hip hop pioneers. And I love me some classic Beasties. I can’t really seem to get into The Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, however, the crew’s latest album. And the most frustrating thing is that some of the tracks on the new record sound like they could have been good. Particularly the album’s first three tracks, which are something of a timeline of Beastie’s history – from punk/rap braggarts (“Make Some Noise”) to experimentalists (“Nonstop Disco Powerpack”) to a balance of both (“OK”). You could possibly make a case that actually the first four tracks are more representative however, with the ludicrously bad “Too Many Rappers” filling the role of the Beastie’s post millennium crappiness. But for now I would like to focus on the good. While none of these first three tracks represent anything new for the band, they do represent what they can (or used to be able) to do well.
Unfortunately the Beastie’s seem to have decided to go with incredibly tinny, reverb-heavy production on their vocals that make the rapping sound like it was recorded in an empty stadium from under the bleachers. The vocal production, which at times makes the rapping even unintelligible, takes everything good about the album and basically makes it moot. The production style is a bit more suited to guest vocalist Santigold, who carries “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” but with Mike D, Yauch, and Ad-Rock it just sounds terrible. The worst the overly long album gets is “Funky Donkey” and child-sampling “Crazy Ass Shit.” The best of the lot isn’t awful, but it’s still a far cry from the Beastie’s in their heyday.
MCA, AdRock and Mike D join forces yet again for their eighth album, Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 manages to combine elements from their older records; the band elements existent mixed with electronic elements on Check Your Head & Hello Nasty with the foolishness and hip-hop style exuded on Ill Communication, which upon first listen provides to be a breath of fresh air that the boys are back. Check such tracks as “Long Burn The Fire,” which sounds like it could have been an easy b-side from the Check Your Head sessions, while the track names such as “Nonstop Disco Powerpack,” “Tadlock’s Glasses,” “Lee Majors Comes Again,” and “Mulitilateral Nuclear Disarmament” feel like tracks that were on the cutting room floor from Hello Nasty. Music-wise, it hearkens back to stuff the boys experimented with in a more electronic-esque sense on the instrumental release The Mix-Up, while Nas provides a nice complement to the boys on “Too Many Rappers.” Overall, if Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 were an actual hot sauce, it’d be more like Sririacha or Tabasco; basic, yet advanced in many elements, proving that the boys still got it.
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 Family Sign by Atmopshere.
Since the years after their last effort, “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold,” Slug, ANT and company have honed their craft fully in making more tunes that revolve around stories, and there’s a reasoning behind that; Slug has been a good writer since the days of Lucy Ford, and their newest effort, The Family Sign, revolves more around the solemn and well-told stories that Slug has managed to weave around ANT’s production. Running the gamut of genres across the album from funk, new-wave, soul and country, The Family Sign is not a traditional rap record, rather its a rap record for the grown and aged, those who recollect a time when the tales Slug told such as “The Woman With The Tattooed Hands,” and managed to merge with very solemn, yet dignified production. The description thrown around here fits the mold of grown-ass-man rap tunes that weave tales of abuse (“The Last To Say,” “Just For Show”), and a life of settling down (“She’s Enough”). And there are many others, such as “Became” which could be the darker kin to “Painting,” and traces of braggadocio such as the grungy “Bad Bad Daddy,” and the doo-wop stylings on “Ain’t Nobody.” With every record, Atmosphere gets better and better at their craft, and The Famly Sign can be chalked up as yet another success.
Where to begin? “Family Sign,” the new effort from Atmosphere, should have just been titled “CC Club Problems,” and really, it’s everyone’s problem. Bringing Death Cab For Cutie and Limp Bizkit together is just an awful, awful idea. Kicking Bruce Hornsby out of the studio? That would have been a fantastic idea. This is a rock album that doesn’t rock in any way, and the rapping, lyrically speaking, is barely worthy of an open mic poetry night. Listen to the chorus of “Bad Bad Daddy,” and try to make an argument that it somehow has something over Soulja Boy or any other top 40 rapper. It’s doesn’t. It’s much worse. Not talking about money and being “real” does not make good hip hop, or any other kind of music. Sure, it’s not Atmosphere’s fault that many people seem to think otherwise. And just looking at flow, Slug can still rap. He’s never been at the top of hip hop in that department, but he’s certainly far from the worst. I’m working to find the bright side. Please don’t kill me, Minnesota. Um, let’s see. The melody of album opener “My Key” isn’t terrible. But face it: If Creed had re-branded themselves a rap crew in an attempt to make a comeback, they would have made songs that sound exactly like “Something So.” They may have even done it better. That’s how insipid this stuff is.
Twin Cities indie rap champions Atmosphere are back with their first full-length release since 2008’s commercial breakout Lemons. But if you are expecting The Family Sign to pick up where the band left off with Lemons — or even the 2010 double EP release To All My Friends… — you would be wrong.
The Family Sign is a largely somber affair, Atmosphere’s most mature album yet. Absent lyrically are Slug’s sense of humor, self-pity, or sarcasm. In their place is a feeling of perspective that comes with age and experience. Slug is still a technically gifted rapper; that won’t ever change. What is different is that he has deliberately assumed the role of narrator instead of being the focal point of his stories. These tales touch on familiar themes of love and loss. The best ones evoke an emotional response that all listeners can relate to (“The Last To Say,” “She’s Enough”), while on other tracks Slug feels too lost in the story to reach a clear resolution (“Beware,” “Your Name Here”).
Sonically, The Family Sign relies too heavily on the slow, doleful chord progressions of keyboardist Erick Anderson. Slug’s sung raps and choruses are not his strong suit, and Ant’s drum programming often rides a tedious and unchallenging kick-snare-kick-snare pattern. The songs where the band switches up the tempo and deviates from this formula (“She’s Enough,” “Millenium Dodo,” “My Notes”) are the catchiest and contain the most replay value.
The Family Sign is an intimate album that takes a few spins to warm up to. Once you accustom to the sound it can be beautifully melodic, insightful, and an overall enjoyable listen. This long into Atmosphere’s career, they continue to grow. They might not get everything perfect in the process, but maybe we love them all the more just for trying. The Family Sign is definitely not the best release in Atmosphere’s oeuvre, but it is certainly another fine addition.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
On the third to last track on Atmosphere’s new record, Slug raps that “it aint that hard to sing a sad song.” This is the attitude the emcee seems to have taken over the course of the album, which contains the rapper’s weakest songwriting to date. It’s not just that Slug has lost the rakish attitude of his “sad clown” persona (which seems to be the consensus in the reviews I have read). The real issue is he also seems to have relinquished his strongest weapon, his golden tongue. The lyrics of The Family Sign sound uninspired – as if many of them were included for the sake of a rhyme rather than the meaning behind it.
Even at his most depressing (of which he is at throughout Family) Slug has the ability to be a tremendous emcee. Just listen to the bewildered anger of 2005’s decidedly melancholy track “That Night,” in which he channels emotion into poignant, gripping lyricism. That songwriting ability just isn’t as present here. There are still a few turns of phrase that demonstrate the talent isn’t extinguished – it just isn’t a full, roaring blaze it seemed to be before. Ant’s production is good though and I love Nate Collis’s classical guitar accompaniments. Hopefully this is just a bump in the road for Atmosphere’s Slug.