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NAKAMARA RELEASE MUSIC VIDEO; EP ANNOUNCEMENT

Denton based trio NAKAMARA have released the one shot music video for “3 Weeks,” which will appear on their upcoming EP (out Nov. 5). The track features Troy Garrick, vocalist for fellow Denton future soul band OG Garden

The video is directed by NAKAMARA frontman Sam Decker, and shot by PNG photographer Zach Taylor, & Devynn Mabel Montoya. 

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“Campaign Speech” Eminem

Eminem

“Campaign Speech” Track Review

RCA

Released October 19, 2016

Genre: Rap

It’s been a crazy year and what better time than now for the one and only Slim Shady to weigh in on everything. Em’s never been once to mince words, so it comes as no surprise that his “Campaign Speech” is politically charged. Although it is partly a jumbled amalgamation of current references, his impeccable delivery and passion make this a fantastic way to start the closing out of election season.

The first thing to understand about this new track is that it is a rant, and not a speech in the slightest. Marshall not-so-seamlessly transitions between an innumerable amount of pop culture references, from a sexually frustrated Robin Thicke to Apple Watches to even Bubba Sparxxx. It’s very much like reading Reddit and YouTube comment sections simultaneously to create a culturally relevant rap cypher. It’s not unlike Eminem to do this in his music, but it feels especially forced throughout a lot of the track (“Whose pens iller than Prince in a chinchilla/ Or Ben Stiller in a suspense thriller”). It sounds good, but the rant loses coherence very quickly into the first few bars.

That being said, Em’s flow is amazing, traversing awkwardly written bars about waterboarding Trump supporters with such grace and control. He might not be the best writer but he can make nearly anything sound incredible. Lexically the bars aren’t structured well but phonetically the words flow together beautifully. The multisyllabic rhymes are so dense and multilayered that it should be examined by a PhD linguist. This alone makes the track amazing despite the clunky lyrical content.

Em has proven that while his humor can be too irreverent (rhyming misogynistic with “massaging this d**k) and his lyrics can be too clunky and edgy, his delivery is pinnacle. If he actually honest his content and directs it at the presidential candidates, it’ll be an interesting sight.

Pretty Neat Music

Score: (8.0 / 10)

 

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FESTIVAL REPORT: Oaktopia 2016 – Denton’s Shining Moment

Header Image By Zachary Taylor

The annual Oaktopia Festival in Denton, Texas is an amazing experience of sound and culture. A festival so popular in Denton that it has sparked a stand-up comedy fest called “Joketopia” as well as a small free music fest called “Broketopia” for all the college kids too broke to attend. This year I had the privilege of attending the three-day festival for the first time. It was a very colorful and inviting event with lots of art installations, art vendors, food trucks, a diverse crowd of people, and most importantly…MUSIC. Headliners performed on the two main stages, along with local acts and touring bands playing at bars, restaurants, and impromptu stages scattered around Downtown Denton. With headliners like Wavves, Andrew W. K., and Rae Sremmurd, it was bound to be an exciting weekend.

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Photo By Jon Birondo

Petty Fest

On the first night of Oaktopia, we attended Petty Fest, where we saw many different musicians and celebrities joining Midlake, the on-stage band formed in Denton, to play covers of Tom Petty songs. The guest list included actors Jason Lee (along with his wife), Danny Masterson, Norah Jones, and Bob Dylan’s son Jakob Dylan. Backed by a wide array of musicians for the house band, largely made up of members of Denton fan- favorites Midlake, each performer managed to bring justice to their choice of Petty. Fans young and old sang along to all of the great Tom Petty hits played throughout the night, including “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Free Falling”. Norah Jone’s closed PettyFest on a high note, highlighting her anticipated set the following evening. Sponsored by Best Fest, Petty Fest is another installment in a concert tribute series, honoring heavily revered musicians such as George Harrison and Bob Dylan, and reminding us all why their music lasts a lifetime.

Black James Franco

After watching Tom Petty covers all night, it was refreshing to hear some good ol’ noise-rock over at Dan’s Silverleaf, one of the many bars near the main stages that hosts Oaktopia shows. This night we had the pleasure of seeing a band called Black James Franco, a group that played through many different styles in their set, sometimes laying down punk-rock grooves and sometimes breaking down into noise sections with the drummer screaming incoherent sounds into the mic and the occasional appearance of a fourth band member playing the trumpet frantically. Although the crowd seemed a little dead during noise sections, once the band kicked it back to the grooves, the crowd loved every second of it.

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Photo By Jhad Francis

Wavves

On Friday, the first headliner we saw was Wavves, a surf-rock band from San Diego, California. As the band first came out on stage, lead vocalist and guitar player Nathan Williams talked to the crowd about his experience in Denton the past couple of days. He and his band visited a few bars and a college party they apparently got kicked out of. At one point in the set he even made a joke about the equipment on-stage saying “and now our special guest, Norah Jones’ organ!”. But after a little talking, they jumped right into the jamming. The group brought the energy of the crowd to a high with a performance full of enough grungey guitar-shredding and angsty vocals from lead Nathan Williams to make anyone want to bang their head. Even recording artist Neon Indian happened to be in the crowd to see Wavves. The set included many songs from their newest album V as well as many of their best hits like “Post Acid” and “Demons to Lean On”.

Beirut

Now many great artists graced the main stage on Friday, but my favorite act of the night was most definitely Beirut. With an impressive display of horns, playing sweet melodies with excellent vocals as well, the band caused the crowd to grow twice in size and excitement as they played many of their best songs, including a crowd favorite, “Santa Fe”. This was definitely a change of vibe for the festival that day. The band delivered a joyous and grand performance that had the crowd dancing the entire time. Witnessing the sound of Beirut’s trumpets was certainly one that I’ll remember for a while.

Moon Waves

After a stellar performance from Beirut, I headed over to a bar just down the street from the main stage called The Bearded Monk to see Moon Waves, a local band that can be found playing at many house venues around Denton. Made up of young college kids, each with an ear for tight grooves, they prove to have a lot of potential despite their ages. The band, adorned in matching black and white polka dot shirts, played a lively punk set with blasting drum beats and harsh guitar riffs. The set was so captivating that it almost made you forget about the fact that they were playing in a parking lot on the side of a bar with cars flying by 30 feet away with only a projector for a light source.

The Whigs

After Moon Waves, we made our way to Dan’s Silverleaf once again to see The Whigs. Once we got in, we happened to see Danny Masterson in the crowd alongside his brother. After a 30 minute delay, the trio jumped onto the stage for a powerful display of southern rock and hard rock. The lead singer and guitar player sported a long flowing mane of hair, ray-bans, a poofy shirt, and a 70’s style moustache. He flailed his long limbs across the stage throughout the entire set, yet still maintained a sort-of rock star persona. Many songs resonated with the audience, but their final song “Staying Alive” rocked the bar to its core. With incessantly repeating crashes of cymbals and guitar licks, the song built to an ear-splitting climax before ending with a soft post-punk outro.

Norah Jones

Denton’s own Norah Jones, UNT College of Music alum, took the stage late Friday night as the headliner of the festival. After being Denton’s pride & joy, it was a marvel to see her return to her roots and partake in the town’s music scene. Her set was sparse, low-key, and gentle – barely making a ruckus in the city’s atmosphere. Her seductive and lush mix of country, jazz, and soul mixed smoothly with the incoming darkness, and her beautiful voice hovered over the eagerly waiting fans. Performing a small ten song set (complete with a full band and grand piano), Jones performed classics from her Grammy Award Winning debut Come Away With Me, along with a new song from her latest record, and even a song she wrote for the animated film PUSS IN BOOTS. It was a quiet conclusion to the UNT Stage, one that will go down as a homecoming perforamance for the ages. Nothing groundbreaking mind you, but to say that that hour wasn’t special would be a huge understatement.

Summer Salt

Austin feel-good trio Summer Salt (formerly from Denton) performed during Norah Jones’ highly anticipated set, making it one of the biggest conflicts of the weekend. However, the trio managed to fill up Andy’s Bar pretty well, enticing the crowd with their summer sound fused with a bossa nova vibe. The group recently released a small EP this year; along with their 2014 EP the trio had a small but incredibly energetic set. Eugene’s (drummer) minimal set, Phil Baier’s funky bass, and Matt’s (singer) soulful voice, made for an odd atmosphere in the small dark and dingy bar, but they were able to make it work. Shifting from soft summer tracks with some groove heavy breakdowns (complete with schizophrenic lights), Summer Salt were able to make themselves sound bigger than they were despite how small/minimal their set up is. While big in the Austin music scene, the trio were able to gain some new fans that weekend by commanding the small stage in a small bar on the corner of a square in a small town.

 

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Photo By Jon Birondo

Andrew W.K.

Kicking the party off right, the first big act of Saturday was Andrew W.K. and his band. A high-octane performance from the start, Andrew came out to one of his best hits, “Time to Party” wearing his signature white T-shirt and white jeans. The crowd was instantly set to party mode and began banging their heads and even forming a circle pit. This heavy-metal party-pop party wouldn’t stop until the band left the stage. Andrew’s stage persona was probably the most entertaining thing about the whole performance. Between songs he would preach his party philosophies and give the crowd life advice which usually just ended up with him telling them to party more. With high-speed guitar playing and an impressive keyboard solo from Andrew himself, it was definitely a highlight of the day.

DJ Low Down Loretta Brown (aka Erykah Badu)

After spending much of my energy banging my head to Andrew W.K., it was nice to sit and enjoy a very chill DJ Set from Ms.Erykah Badu. Although she came onto stage a little late, Badu played a set that included many great hip-hop and R&B classics and some new hits as well. Even though it wasn’t a full-fledged performance from Ms.Badu, the crowd grooved and sang along to every song she played. Occasionally she would sing along or sing one of her songs, but mostly just sat back and let Q-tip and Phife Dawg do the talking.

Pete Yorn

Pete Yorn’s classic rock/singer – songwriter chops provided a peaceful sabbatical before the chaos of the hip hop centric acts would begin. Yorn’s set was perfectly complimented with an auburn sunset caressing the stage as Yorn closed off the daylight with classic hits such as “Lost Weekend” and “On Your Side”, rounding in fans from all ages from younger teenagers to middle-aged dad. It was a performance that helped send the festival into night time, and Yorn even covered Morissey’s “Suedehead”. It was a classy performance all around, and one that felt as soothing and peaceful as the cool September breeze.

O.T. Genasis

When it was time for O.T. Genasis to perform, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At this point I only knew his two big hit singles, “Coco” and “Cut it”, but I was hopeful. Sure enough, O.T.’s performance of “Coco” definitely had the crowd jumping more than it had throughout the entire day. But afterwards, he cut the track to address his image and the fact that many refer to him as a one-hit wonder. He explained that while on a flight to a show, a friend called him and told him about this one-hit wonder stuff. So he cancelled the show, flew back home, and recorded “Cut it”. He then gave an even more lit performance of this song. The fact that he had the courage to address these accusations is what made me appreciate him more as an artist. After he was done playing his own songs, O.T. decided to share with us some of his favorite songs…and then he played “Hello” by Adele. It was pretty hilarious to hear a rapper admit his love for Adele, but I guess it just shows you that everyone has their guilty pleasure music.

Best Coast 

Just as Bethany Cosentino and her band were about to walk out onto the west stage that night, a freak rainstorm hit and my group and I had to hide under a tent for about 15 minutes. Crew members scrambled to try and put tarps and towels over expensive stage equipment as the rain poured down from the sky. But nonetheless, once the rain subsided Best Coast took the now damp stage and still gave an awesome performance. At one point in her set a drone flew nearby the stage to which she expressed her hate for after hearing about Enrique Iglesias’s hand getting cut by one during a concert. Besides talking to the crowd from time to time, there were many elements of the set that made it feel very intimate, including the fact that half of the crowd that had been waiting for Best Coast to go on completely vanished once the rain hit, making it easier for the dedicated fans that stuck around to get closer to the stage. There was also a very nice atmosphere with the fresh smell of rain in the night air. It was the perfect backdrop for Bethany and company to serenade the audience with her beautiful voice and rhythms.  As they played crowd favorites like “Boyfriend” and “When I’m With You”, the dripping wet crowd swayed side to side joyfully to some Cali vibes.

Rae Sremmurd

Every act at Oaktopia was great, but none drew more of a crowd than rap duo Rae Sremmurd. Before they came out, they had a screen condemning Donald Trump with flames in his eyes. As Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi came onto the stage wearing their signature coats and dancing along to their song “Start a Party”, the entire crowd lit up with excitement. The crowd bounced infectiously to club bangers like “Blase” and “By Chance”. Co2 rigs sprayed smoke in the air and lights flashed as Slim Jimmi sprayed champagne across everyone’s faces and Swae Lee jumped around the stage holding a pineapple. (that he ended up cutting open and eating by the end of the set) Thousands of girls screams could be heard as Swae sang the chorus to songs like “Throw Sum Mo” and “No Flex Zone”. After giving the most lit night Denton could ask for, the duo closed out with their newest big single “Black Beatles.” Once they finished their set they asked the audience to send them the address to any parties they could crash, proving that the Sremmlife party really never stops.

 

 

After this weekend, all I can say is that Oaktopia is most definitely the best little festival in North Texas. It’s more than just a music festival; Oaktopia also has its own film fest (co-sponsored with Granatum Film Fest), comedy fest, fashion show, and countless art displays. Oaktopia means a lot for North Texas, and it means a lot for Denton. Oaktopia is important to the music scene in Denton, which one could say has been struggling recently with the closing of many local venues such as Mac Island and Rubber Gloves. Oaktopia is another reason for tourism to the city, its great for the local artists and vendors, and it gives Dentonites the chance to see some amazing artists close to home for a good price. The acts are diverse and talented, the location is great, and the experience is awesome. Oaktopia 2016 was bigger and better than Oaktopia 2015. And with a line-up that only gets better each year, you can bet you’ll catch me there next year and many years to come!

Oaktopia Press Team 2016

from the album "Atrocity Exhibition"

“Atrocity Exhibition” Danny Brown

Danny Brown

Atrocity Exhibition Album Review

Warp Records

Released September 27, 2016

Genre: Alternative Hip Hop, Experimental Hip Hop, Hardcore Hip Hop

Danny Brown’s path towards the ears of mainstream hip-hop fans is one of the most fascinating journeys to witness. 2011’s XXX allowed Brown to gain traction in the underground hip-hop scene, with visceral, gritty, and left-field tracks such as “Lie4” and “Die Like A Rockstar”. While The Hybrid remains Brown’s debut, XXX absolutely insane and maddening style, lyricism, and production kept Brown a singular and dynamic hip-hop figure. It wasn’t until 2013’s commercial friendly and party bangin’ Old that Brown was able to achieve mainstream appeal and success, collaborating with indie favorites Purity Ring. Now, with the entire world in his palm and EVERYONE eagerly anticipating what this unpredictable hip-hop guru will do next, Danny Brown did the next great step: go absolutely, unabashedly, and brilliantly INSANE. To preface, Danny Brown is an auteur (I know this is a cinema term, but adhere it to music for the sake of this review).

If XXX was a sample platter, Old the easy-to-digest appetizer, then Atrocity Exhibition is raw meat drenched in cold blood and served. Brown’s jarring and dynamic change of pace to this audience is an intense, bold, and brilliant career move – and captures the essence of a true artist. By coming onto the scene with his singular brand of hardcore hip-hop, and allowing mainstream audiences to easily digest his songs in a party atmosphere, Brown has single-handedly dragged his listeners and fans into his personal hell – filled with songs of pain, release, addiction, and hedonism. It’s a stunningly visceral portrait of a madman, and its intensity can only be matched by Brown’s verbose and idiosyncratic flow, striking features, dark and vicious instrumentation – I mean, what else can you expect from a hip hop album titled after a Joy Division track?

Right from the get-go, Atrocity Exhibition proves to be a unique and unorthodox hip-hop experience; the opening track “Downward Spiral” is a sludgy post-punk odyssey into twisted territory with Brown drunkenly slurring his verses over warm, hazy guitar leads and blistering electronics. The guitar reverberates and drones in the background, while the drums follow a nonsensical rhythm and merely “clang” in the background. The track is a tie-back to XXX‘s opening track and it follows a thematic formula last revisited then. A portrait of the album’s main character, in all of its ugliness, debauchery, and vitality as a sort of musical prologue to a conceptual novel of a record.

“Tell Me What I Don’t Know” is similarly dark, highlighting Brown’s drug practices (Brown grew up in Detroit during the crack epidemic of the 80s), and highlighting his keen street smarts as he wraps in a sincere and controlled demeanor – opposed to his wild and zany persona. Petite Noir makes a cameo, delivering icy vocals on “Rolling Stone”, which covers topics of isolation and contrasts Noir’s comfort in isolation opposed to Brown’s acceptance of this “downward spiral”. The album’s collab highlight “Really Doe” is a spectacular display of flow, wordplay, and lyricism. The dusty drum loop and glockenspiel sample compliment Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and Danny’s flows incredibly well. It’s an absolute banger of a track, partly because it isn’t as self-deprecating or desolate as the album has displayed up to this point. While the other features are superb in their own right, Earl comes in and MURDERS everyone with his brutal final verse; with his unwavering delivery and brutally honest lyricism, it’s a dark, sadistic, and intimate verse that goes to show how talented Brown is at picking the right guest spots for his record.

While Brown has nailed down the thematic and conceptual elements of the record to a T, his production on here is absolutely, batshit INSANE. There’s “Ain’t It Funny”, for instance, which opens with some horrifyingly wild instrumentation thanks to some expertly crafted horn samples; and it works with its bombastic flirtation with other musical genres from all across the map. “Golddust” does this as well, opening with a post punk riff (filtered through numerous distortion effects) ; what Brown does so well is that he marriages this with some noisy guitars, and commands the track with so much control and verve. “White Lines” covers his drug use with some of the best lyrics on the record. It’s incredible how Brown can paint a picture so vividly with words highlighting absolute debauchery and indulgence. He’s able to do so while still retaining the wild elements that make him so singular, and unique.

“Pneumonia” has some demented synths with Brown rapping over his hard drug use; “Dance In The Water” combines tribal music to Brown’s formula in the best way with an absolute visceral experience as Brown details his dips into sexual deviancy. “From The Ground” has a beautiful feature from Kelela, which compliments the dark atmosphere of the track as a whole, a stunning juxtaposition especially when Brown raps in the same serious demeanor last seen on “Tell Me What I Don’t Know”. Then there’s “When It Rain”, its toy trumpet giving the track a cartoon-ish vibe, but it quickly spirals into a nightmarish odyssey; “Today” starts off with a discordant guitar lead before Brown raps quickly about his lifestyle with fame, and what to do/not do – a crash course in fame and indulgence. “Get Hi” is a smooth track, but stays lowkey in context of the album – sparse guitar leads hanging in the air with some fuzzy ambiance to back it up. The album’s closer deals on a more optimistic outlook; in an album filled with nihilistic and depressing anecdotes, this one ensures that he isn’t going to back down from the fight.

Atrocity Exhibition is a portrait of a madman, a maniac, a drug addict, a sexual deviant, and all-around hedonist. The instrumentation and production ranges all across the map, and will be one of the most unique hip-hop listens you will ever experience. Brown’s rise to fame since XXX seems like a distant memory; but given the context of Old, and now this, Brown’s work is one of the strongest discographies in hip hop, and a shining example of auteurism. If I had to compare, XXX is like Harmony Korine’s Gummo -a gritty and ugly encapsulation of a town long forgotten; Old would be like Spring Breakers – a shiny, audience friendly contemplation on the corruption of youth in 2010s era America.

Brown is back in the grit and grime last visited on XXX, leaving the polished party bangers behind and confronting the harsh realities and destructive demons inside of him – the feelings and habits that not everyone wants to recognize. If anything, Danny Brown knows how to capture the mindset of a maniac, and allow us to see another one’s perspective without losing what made him so special in the first place. To deliver this perspective with gritty, brutal, and visceral flair – that’s an auteur trademark. It’s a tough feat to say the least, but someone’s gotta do it. And this isn’t the sound of someone gone mad, it’s the sound of a genius operating within the confines of a medium that can no longer contain his brilliance or audacity to keep the genre moving forward. His legacy is practically written already. 

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: Downward Spiral, Tell Me What I Don’t Know, Rolling Stone, Really Doe (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, & Earl Sweatshirt), Lost, Ain’t It Funny, Golddust, White Lines, Pneumonia, Dance In The Water, When It Rain, Hell For It

LEAST FAV TRACK: Get Hi

SCORE: (9.0/10)

from the album "Stage 4"

“Stage Four” Touché Amore

Touché Amore

Stage Four Album Review

Epitaph Records

Released September 16, 2016

Genre: Alternative Rock, Emotional Hardcore, Post-Hardcore

This isn’t the first time an album has dealt with loss. It’s not even the first time an album of this genre has dealt with loss. It’s not even the first time this band has dealt with loss. However, it’s the first time in awhile an album has dealt with one specific episode of loss and fleshed it out so well without sounding repetitive. Touché Amore has come through with their most clearly personal album yet, another fantastic album in their discography.

The title Stage Four refers to the fact that this is the fourth LP from this band, as well as singer Jeremy Bolm’s mother’s stage four cancer diagnosis. Mrs. Bolm’s struggle with and her eventual succumbing to cancer constitutes the entire lyrical content of this album. Jeremy’s lyrics are more clearly centered around personal anecdotes and events surrounding her battle, causing his words to be more clear and less general than past Touché releases. His lyrics has always been bitingly honest, but these accounts of grief and regret that he delves into are absolutely gut-wrenching.

“Displacement” deals with not his struggle with his own faith, but his anger directed at his mother’s faith. He can’t “worship the god that let [his mom] fall apart,” a line he delivers with a vindictive scream. Attacking the religion that was supposed to protect his mother underlines the extent of his anguish in the wake of her death. “New Halloween” deals more directly with the regret of leaving his mom during her most difficult moments. Jeremy recounts how “he went out all the time” for introspection because he didn’t know how to help his mom. This line closes out each chorus on the song and drives home the extent of Jeremy’s struggle with this situation.

The choruses on this song are, for one, actually here quite frequently. This is still the same Touché, but with more conventional and slightly longer song structures. These aren’t just 90 second blasts of punk energy. These are 3 minute emotional rock songs, but still delivered with a punk honesty and sentiment. The production is even brighter and clearer than the last full-length, Is Survived By, but the guitar tones help the songs absolutely sing out during the climaxes of the record. The alternative rock influences come through in a great way on this album.

The only downside is the song “Benediction,” which sounds too much like a Balance and Composure track to fit the flow of the record. It’s directly followed up with “8 Seconds,” which sounds like a 2010’s era Touché song, so maybe that contrast is intentional. Stage Four is a beautifully and deeply personal album that demonstrates the band’s maturity.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: New Halloween, Displacement, 8 Seconds

LEAST FAV TRACK: Benediction

SCORE: (8.9/10)

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CLOVER THE GIRL RELEASES MUSIC VIDEO FOR “DETOX”

Dallas, TX singer-songwriter Clover The Girl has released the music video for her single “Detox”. The single combines the infectious joy of traditional pop music with the skeletal and dexterous instrumentation of the upcoming new wave of pop music à la Halsey. Clover’s icy vocals, which tread the familiar topics of a relationship gone awry may come off as cliched, but are handled with verve and sentiment. It’s a brief affair and nothing groundbreaking, but it’d be a crime to say that it isn’t a solid tune from a rising talent worth checking out.

The video was directed by Jenni Johnson,and colored by new PNG photographer/videographer Zachary Taylor.

Courtesy American Football

STREAM THE NEW AMERICAN FOOTBALL RECORD EARLY

The universally praised, and heavily revered, Illinois emo titans American Football are releasing a new record this year – their first since their landmark 1999 self-titled debut. The band broke up in 2000, but recently reunited two years ago for a string of reunion shows . Now, they are streaming their new record early via NPR. We reviewed a single earlier this year, that will appear on this record, along with new singles “Give Me The Gun” and “Desire Gets In The Way”. 

Listen below, and enjoy the fall weather in sublime fashion.

courtesy of Drowned In sound

“Cody” Joyce Manor

Joyce Manor

Cody Album Review

Epitaph

Released October 7, 2016

Genre: Pop Punk, Power Pop

Joyce Manor is at it again! Torrance, California’s on heart-on-sleeve punkers take a crack at crunchy and catchy punk on their fourth full-length, titled Cody – their follow up to 2014’s Never Hungover Again. While the band has definitely matured, aspects of this album don’t hit as hard as expected from Joyce Manor. A few choice cuts, however, do make this an enjoyable album for both cuffing season AND summer.

Thematically, Joyce manor covers familiar territory. Traversing the complexities of human relationships and loss, singer Barry Johnson sings as earnestly as ever about growing up (“Eighteen”) and loss (“Stairs”). Johnson’s lyrics are less subtle and mystical compared to previous Joyce Manor albums, but this sometimes is to the band’s detriment. The opener “Fake I.D.” features a killer chorus and introductory guitar riff, but references to Kanye West and John Steinbeck, as Johnson said himself in this interview, “read like a Clickhole article.” Lyrics like, “I miss him, he was rad,” also hurt to hear on this cut. “Make Me Dumb” lacks the strong hooks and falls into the pop punk cliché of singing about summer. Most of the other songs feature strong lyrics, however. “Stairs,” on the other hand, is a very concerned song about loss and having no sense of direction in life. 

Although the production and musicianship are strong throughout this album, some of the songwriting is sacrificed. Songs like “Do You Really Want To Not Get Better” and “Reversing Machine” sound unfinished. “Angel In The Snow” also ends anticlimactically, but is too repetitive and the octave harmonies sound out of place in the chorus. “Last You Heard Of Me” would be a fantastic track if the verses were more dynamic.

The strong tracks and weak tracks are split pretty much 50/50. However, this is a sign that Joyce Manor still have the ability to craft great pop hooks with a punky aesthetic.

FAV TRACKS: Over Before It Began, Stairs

LEAST FAV TRACK: Angel In The Snow, Make Me Dumb, Do You Really Want To Not Get Better

SCORE: (6.0/10)

from the album "22 a Million"

“22, A Million” Bon Iver

Bon Iver

22, A Million Album Review

Jagjaguwar

Released September 30, 2016

Genre: Folktronica, Glitch Folk, Art Pop, I Don’t Even Know But It’s Great

Blonde, A Moon Shaped Pool, and now 22, A Million ; 2016 has been a year of moving, significant, and compelling records from artists who have not released anything for more than four years. 22, A Million joins the pack as one of those rare records where the artist completely revolutionizes their sound, simultaneously challenges yet comforts its audience, and so boldly defies categorization. Bon Iver takes a sharp and sudden turn into the strange and experimental, to the cryptic and ambiguous, while also crafting the same emotional, heart breaking, and bleakly honest music that’s defined them to this point. Long gone is the skeletal and cold folk music, and in comes music that redefines Bon Iver for the masses. 

Where For Emma, Forever Ago & Bon Iver found its way to listeners’ hearts through its bare and lush, respectively, instrumentation, 22, A Million – while shrouded in a mysterious veil of cryptic imagery/words, glitched and heavily altered vocals/instrumentation – still manages to deliver the same fully realized songs of longing and uncertainty. Now however, it feels more passionate and urgent, and is the beginning of a new era for Bon Iver; charting us through strange territory, 22, A Million feels much more existential and uncertain rather than woefully optimistic. 

“22 (OVER S∞∞N)” opens the record, introducing us to this new phase in Bon Iver’s discography with a high-pitched vocal sample from Vernon processed through an OP-1 – a combination of a synthesizer, sampler, and sequencer – laced over very skeletal and vintage piano chord progressions; its lyricism (“it might be over soon”) contemplates the dilemma of impermanence, even the short thresholds of the instruments reiterate this idea of evanescence. Bon Iver’s lyrics have always been based around a narrative, with a clear beginning, middle, and an end. What makes this opener such a powerful intro is its sudden ending and nomadic structure, indicating a more dismal and uncertain tone for the record.

“10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” opens with heavily distorted drums and Vernon’s heavily processed vocals blasted through a vocoder; it’s a stark, drastic, and bold change in pace/tone that accentuates Bon Iver’s evolution of sound so clearly and so brilliantly. The symbolism of the two dice, and the binary code of 10 (which means “2”, perfect for the track listing), contribute thematically to the track’s lyricism of risk taking and its necessity in life: “darling don’t a failure fright/time’s the raker/ and i’ll rack it up”. However, the risk simply just adds weight to this feeling of uncertainty, and impermanence.

“715 – CRΣΣKS” can be a direct correlation to 2009’s Blood Bank EP acapella auto-tune jam “Woods”, for the track too is another acapella auto-tune jam. Where in “Woods” Vernon harmonizes with himself – with the softest vocoder/auto-tune alterations, on “715 – CRΣΣKS” the vocals echo one another, like after shocks of an earthquake. The frailty in Vernon’s voice penetrates past its digital mask and translates the harrowing and heart wrenching message through aggressive distortion. While its Auto-Tune approach may seem distant in theory, in practice it perfectly encapsulates the chaotic and distraught mental state of someone suffering from alienation, isolation, and loneliness. In it he sings of trying to get his feet out of a creek, and with such passion and conviction you just want to help him out. It seems so minuscule but Vernon makes it feel necessary and important.  If “Woods”‘ was all about isolation, then “715 – CRΣΣKS” is the song’s message multiplied ten-fold. It’s future folk (for lack of a better term), while still remaining singular and distinct to Bon Iver’s sound.

“33 “GOD”‘s” religious correlation, along with the song length and the intro of a Psalm verse in the lyric video, finds Vernon doubting religion and questioning the existence of God, heavily repeating a loose translation of Psalm 22: “why are you so far from saving me?”.  Furthermore, its contemplation on the necessity and pros of human connection, and the intense emotional repercussion that ensue during the troubling phase of doubting a relationship are all brought to the foreground; it’s both romantic (“We had what we wanted: your eyes/ (When we leave this room it’s gone)/ With no word from the former” and cynical (“I didn’t need you that night/ Not gonna need you anytime/ Was gonna take it as it goes”). Complementing the heavy metaphysical, religious, and romantic themes are thunderous drums, an atmospheric piano lead, and Vernon’s fleeting vocals that sound as if he has to say the verses quick before he runs out of breath; again, impermanence is a key motif kept alive through the vocal delivery and instrumentation.

“29 #Strafford APTS” finds Vernon’s voice at its most sorrowful and bare. It’s probably the closest a song gets to following suit in Bon Iver’s early works, with an acoustic guitar, gentle piano, and lush strings constantly battling the encroaching electronic supplements. Mid-song a scream ensues, and it’s one of the most gut-wrenching moments 22, A Million, or Bon Iver for the matter, has to offer. Setting has always been a key component of Vernon’s music.His winter sabbatical to his family’s remote cabin in Wisconsin helped shaped the ghostly and cold atmosphere of For Emma, Forever Ago. Here, he forcefully alludes to his hometown (the lyrics “hallucinating Claire/Nor the snow shoe light or the autumns/ Threw the meaning out the door” symbolize Eau Claire, Wisconsin) and meditates on how time feels permanent. The song’s heavy folk leanings help reinforce this opposition towards impermanence, and the feeling of nostalgia and yearning for time to stand still. It’s a heartfelt and sorrowful moment in the middle of an album all about looking ahead, and the juxtaposition hammers in the album’s message of uncertainty to an insane degree of empathy.

“666 ʇ” is a beautiful tapestry of warm & hazy guitar riffs, electronic bleeps, and faint horns that all comfortably sit in the back of the mixing, leaving Vernon’s vocoder-ed falsetto front & center. Emphatic drums and glitched vocal samples help make this track a cathartic release combined with the poetic lyricism of battling ones demons. The juxtaposition of the demonic iconography (666) and the lyric “I’m still standing in/ Still standing in the need of prayer/ The need of prayer” helps create a tension of a battle Vernon is struggling to win. “21 M♢♢N WATER”, a more ambient track, is an exercise in soundscapes. While Vernon’s vocals do end up making an appearance, they are minor elements in this chaotic smorgasbord of atonal melodies and dissonance; trumpets, synths, drones, pitched up/down vocals, etc. It start off beautifully but builds into an absolute mess that is practically un-listenable in the last minute.

“8 (circle)”, an album highlight, is quite simply the most beautiful track Bon Iver has ever recorded. A warm blanket of horns and serene synths envelop Vernon’s gorgeous tenor vocals, which lays over a minimal back beat. Vernon’s lyrics, while poetic, are at their most cryptic and dense here. Themes of longing, regret, love, and the comfort of ignorance make up most of the stanzas; the track slowly builds with MORE horns and MORE layered vocals,  to an extraordinary and alluring climax that will make the strongest of Bon Iver fans weep, or at the very least, cower up in a fetal position in the middle of the night. “____45_____’s” stunning blend of an auto-tuned saxophone and Vernon’s vocals create this overlapping tornado of sounds that end with a twangy banjo coda that rings off into the ether.

The closing track, “00000 Million”, is a haunting piano ballad that starts off organic and traditional before Vernon’s vocals slowly become harmonized with the backing vocals through auto-tune. Vernon here is at his most straightforward and easiest to understand, especially when understanding the album’s message. Vernon ponders his inability to control his future, the purpose of friends and family in his life, his depression, personal experiences, biblical influences, and so much more. It’s a heady and stuffed song that is given full attention as the music remains skeletal, bare, and wistful. Vernon ends the track on a self deprecating note stating “Well it harms it harms me it harms, I’ll let it in” – resonating with those who hope for a better tomorrow, while going through the pain, sorrow, trials, and tribulations that come with existence, or anything shitty in their lives per se.

Kanye West said that Bon Iver is his favorite artist, styling it as “I love Justin the way Kanye loves Kanye” (a reference to his disappointing 2016 LP The Life of Pablo) and it makes sense, if you think about it hard enough. 22, A Million is Bon Iver’s Kid A; it’s an album that completely redefines a band’s sound, it’s an album that contains a deeply personal message within the numerous pits and crevices of its cavernous instrumentation and cryptic lyricism, and boldly challenges its fans while still holding its hand out as a guide into the unknown. It’s an amalgamation of Vernon’s idiosyncratic nature – personal, emotional, and musical – and while it is a huge step in sound, it still remains singular, distinct, and can be attributed to Vernon & Co.

In 2012, Vernon said in an interview that Bon Iver “were winding down”, further stating that “There’s so much attention on the band, it can be distracting at times. I really feel the need to walk away from it while I still care about it. And then if I come back to it – if at all – I’ll feel better about it and be renewed or something to do that”. If you listen closely to Vernon’s pained ten songs on 22, A Million, you can feel an awakening, both spiritual and metaphysical; and it’s the sound of a door opening, and the pathways that it leads to are endless. It’s uncertain, yes, but this time around there’s a tinge of optimism hanging in air.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: 22 (OVER S∞∞N), 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄, 715 – CRΣΣKS, 33 “GOD”, 29 #Strafford APTS, 666 ʇ, 8 (circle), ____45_____, 00000 Million

LEAST FAV TRACK: 21 M♢♢N WATER

SCORE: (9.4/10)

thom green 2

“High Anxiety” Thom Sonny Green

Thom Sonny Green

High Anxiety Album Review

Infectious Music Ltd.

Released August 19, 2016

Genre: Ambient, Electronica, Instrumental Hip Hop/Trap

Thom Green does more than just drum for Alt-J, that is a fact. Aside from his dexterous and nimble percussive contribution to the already idiosyncratic sound, Green proves on his solo debut High Anxiety that he can hone his talents into a project that wouldn’t necessarily work in Alt-J repertoire. High Anxiety is composed of three years worth of instrumentals and ideas that Green has so carefully and precisely worked on while on tour; it’s a 66-minute instrumental electronica album, and a HUGE departure from what you would expect from Alt-J.

The album jumps from different electronic subgenre to the next – opening with an ambient soundscape “Vienna” before jumping into a more lush and grand change of pace with “40 Beers”. “Blew” dips into some industrial atmospheres before becoming punctuated with samples and sharp synths; “Oslo’s” synths pierce the veil its shrouded under, giving it an almost tactile quality. “Phoenix’s” lush strings bring the track to an almost cinematic level, while “Christ” evokes Nicolas Jaar’s precocious and restrained sounds from Space Is Only Noise. Green’s compositions are cumbersome, and rather choppy, but there’s no denying the amount of detail he’s honed into these tracks.

“Cologne” wobbles with some brooding strings, diversifying the track listing by a bit; Green even offers up some trap hi-hats over some hollow pipes on “Houston”, a welcome detail amidst a stacked and prolonged track listing. Any expectation for an infectious melody or zany instrumental will disappoint those who search for those, for this is Thom Sonny Green flexing his electronic music skills. It doesn’t bang, nor does it excite. But it explores different passages, styles, soundscapes, and textures indicating a rising future for a talented member who most people only remember for his lack of cymbals on his drum set.

High Anxiety is pure electronic bliss for the young wunderkind making music from their laptop in a bedroom, and is a worthwhile debut for getting lost in your head.

FAV TRACKS: Vienna, 40 Beers, VVVV, Phoenix

LEAST FAV TRACK: Neon Blue

Score: 7.0/10