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Sonic Youth – ‘Daydream Nation’ 30 Years Later

It’s been 30 years since the experimental rock band Sonic Youth launched “Daydream Nation.” This is the band’s fifth album, which is considered to be both their best album and one of the most influential of the 1980s. This would be their final studio album for an independent record before switching to a major label. The band is also hosting a series of events titled “30 Years of Daydream Nation” to celebrate the anniversary, which will contain archive films of the band during that time period. However, the event is limited to certain cities around the U.S. and nowhere near North Carolina.

What made Sonic Youth appealing for their time was the combination of their musical influences. There are elements of avant-garde music such as Glenn Branca as well as punk rock groups like the Ramones. Listening to earlier albums such as “Sister” or “EVOL” show that combination well, and by the time you get to “Daydream Nation,” they manage to perfect that sound.

Opening track “Teen Age Riot” shows this confidence with an extremely catchy guitar riff and brash drumming. It is a seven-minute track that is the first of many to feature lengthy instrumentation.

Then there is “Silver Rocket,” where it starts as a standard punk rock song but then melts down into a barrage of high-pitched noises before slowly progressing back at the end. For first-time listeners, this is unsettling because of how hard it is to comprehend the chaos created.

I actually had a hard time understanding this concept when I first listened to the album. At the time, I was really new to Sonic Youth and wasn’t knowledgeable about their experimental style, so I can understand where some of you may be coming from when approaching this album.

What made me finally click with this album was the fact that the music is balanced by having catchy riffs and drum beats along with reckless jamming. Take “Total Trash” for example, it has a great riff and chorus but also has a meltdown where the band literally goes on a rampage in a well-synchronized manner before slowly going back to the chorus. It is a weird listening experience, but in it, you can see what they are trying to do.

From that point on, I began to understand how experimental music worked. You don’t have to be restricted to standard pop song structure, instead, you can take that structure and add things that you never thought could work. In Sonic Youth’s case, it worked.

You can trace Sonic Youth’s influence to bands such as Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine, both of whom took massive inspiration from Sonic Youth’s odd guitar tunings. Nirvana particularly took inspiration from their primal and fast-paced tempo whereas My Bloody Valentine took guidance from their wall of distorted guitars.

This influence even stretches as far as the guitars they used. Because of Sonic Youth, the music world began to see bands using Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters, two guitar models that were not popular when they were first introduced until, of course, the 20 years afterward that saw a rise in their popularity thanks to Sonic Youth. In fact, I want to buy a Jazzmaster because of Thurston Moore.

Overall, “Daydream Nation” was a noisy yet beautiful masterpiece that was instrumental to the evolution of alternative rock into the 1990s. It’s really hard to imagine what would have happened if this album never existed. Would alternative rock be what it eventually became? Would there ever be an influx of guitarists buying Jazzmasters and Jaguars? There are plenty of questions to ask about what would have happened if this album or the band had never existed.

If you’re new to Sonic Youth or experimental music in general, pick this album up because it’s not totally experimental which in turn can be accessible for new listeners. Do take some time to at least understand the goal the band was making with their album.

Track Picks: “Teen Age Riot,” “Silver Rocket,” “Cross the Breeze,” “Total Trash,” “Hey Joni,” “Candle,” “Rain King,” and “Trilogy”

Label: SST Records

Listen to “Daydream Nation” on Spotify:

An Evening with the Woodwind and Brass Ensemble

The Woodwind and Brass Ensemble performed in the Rowe Arts building on Oct. 26. Each instrument group had their own setlist and were lead by different people. The atmosphere of the night was quiet as the crowd patiently waited for the first performance. Much like them, I was sitting there waiting and wondering how my imagination would play out when listening to the music. It is the most fun part whenever I see these types of concerts. My imagination runs wild, with the music providing the soundtrack to my mind.

The horn choir was under Christopher Griffin’s direction. They played “Allegro Moderato” and “Panis Angelicus.” Both are slow pieces of music that prepared you for the rest of the night. “Panis Angelicus” gave me the imagery of walking inside a castle with curiosity. As they reached the higher notes I imagined myself running down the halls with no sense of direction or care.

The Clarinet choir came next. Under the direction of Dr. Jessica Lindsey, they performed Jonathan Russel’s “Eleven.” Things picked up here, the music was faster and more technical which provided a sense of adventure of wherever you’re going.

The trombone section came next and they played David Wilborn’s “Excursions.” The first part, “Vistas” reminded me of World War II planes battling it out in the skies. The building tension in every note kept me on the edge of my seat and wondering what was the fate of some of the pilots. That tension was soon brought down with “Prayers and Rituals” before it was brought back with “Carnival.” The trombone section was my favorite part of the show. There was a level of excitement and pride in the way they have played that made it easy for me to immerse myself in.

Another favorite piece of mine was when the flute choir played Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.” The minute I heard first note, I immediately grinned. I couldn’t believe that they played it because it’s the song that I was most familiar with in the setlist. On top of that, they played with such precision that it sounded like it was straight from a playback of the recording.

To wrap up the night, the tuba quartet played “Die Bankeldangerlieder” (translated in German “The Song of the Bench Singers”) and “Jupiter from The Planets.” In a way, the tone and pace of the show came to a full circle. We went back to slower pieces that eased the audience after everything they had been through.

It was another solid performance by the woodwind and brass ensemble. It’s always a pleasure to see them come out and play. This was the first time I have seen a campus concert this semester and it was great to watch them again. It’s a great reminder of how our school has very talented musicians who deserve all the praise and support they can get.

If there was one thing I would like to have seen, it would have been all of them playing together. It was a bit strange to see each section come in and out after each set. It would be fantastic to see each section play their part to create something special when they are together.

I do implore people to come and watch them. They are not here just to entertain people; they have the potential to do something great in the future and it is beautiful to watch their talent being nurtured in front of your you very own eyes. Plus, it’s a great way to get familiar with classical music. While popular music of today can be fun and all, having these events can help open your mind to other genres of music.

Featured photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Brockhampton – “iridescence” Album Review

Artwork courtesy of RCA Records

Texas hip-hop/boy band Brockhampton returns with a new album. Brockhampton was the group who lit up 2017 with three incredible albums (“Saturation,” “Saturation II” and “Saturation III”) that were fun and refreshing to hear.  But amidst their success, member Ameer Vaan left due to allegations of sexual misconduct in May of this year.

Vaan is considered one of the core members of the group and his departure left fans wondering how the group would move forward. The “Saturation Trilogy” showed his importance in the group. This new album, iridescence, shows signs of how Brockhampton is able to move forward without Vaan.

The listening experience of “iridescence” is one that will leave you in your thoughts and feelings, which is a contrast to the “Saturation Trilogy.” In a sense, “iridescence” was the state of the group in the past six months. With the topics that are presented here, I imagine myself playing the album alone at night.

Lesser known members, such as Joba and Bearface, step up and show their importance on the album. “J’overt” is a notable example. Joba pulls one of the rawest and untamed verses in the album. This verse gives listeners a feeling of finally releasing all of your pent-up emotions at once. If you ever feel extremely stressed over things that are going on with your life, this is the track to help deal with your emotions.

Bearface brings excellent hooks on tracks such as “Berlin” and “District.” Not only are they catchy, but they provide an excellent description for the verses of other members. “Berlin,” for example, shows him wondering how his mother would react if she spotted him wearing gang-affiliated clothes.

“Tape” is my personal favorite in the album. I love the sampling of the Radiohead song, “Videotape.” The sample contains a polyrhythmic drum pattern that provides a sense of anxiety for Kevin Abstract and Joba’s verses that deal with apathy and insecurity. Once more, Joba stands out with his lyrics. It’s a contrast to the anger inside “J’overt.” It gives sympathy towards Joba as he talks about how he doesn’t feel good enough and is constantly dealing with tragedy in his life.

“San Marcos” is a reflective track that sees the boys look back on the days before their fame; the early days of being in San Marcos, Texas, where they didn’t have to deal with a lot of things. The choir singing the chorus “I want more out of life than this” drives home their memories and gives the nostalgic aspect to the lyrics.

This continues with “Tonya.” It starts with a melancholic piano with a chorus reminiscent to boy bands in the 1990’s. The lyrics go into more detail about the struggles of dealing with fame. Abstract states that he would “trade fame any day for a quiet Texas place and a barbecue plate.”

Then there’s Merlyn Wood’s verse, in which we see him reminiscing on what his parents said to him regarding his music career. While he may become successful, he reminds himself that not everything will be resolved now that he has money. With fame, there are still trials that he must overcome no matter what and he must rise to the occasion.

“iridescence” is a fantastic album and one that has increased my respect for the group. Despite the circumstances surrounding them, they pulled off another fantastic album. While it’s not as fun the “Saturation Trilogy” was, they didn’t set out to do so. For them, this is a new chapter in the band’s history and a test they’ve succeeded in.

 

Track Picks: “Berlin,” “District,” “Tape,” “J’overt,” “Honey,” “San Marcos,” and “Tonya”

Label: RCA Records

 

Listen to “iridescence” on Spotify:

Friday Night with T. Murph

Photo courtesy of IMDb

For the record, this was my first time seeing T. Murph. I’ve never gone out and seen a live stand-up comedy show. It’s something I usually don’t do on a Friday night, but for once, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and check him out. I must say, it was worth it in the end.

If you don’t know who Murph is, he’s a Chicago comedian who has been on the rise for the past few years. You may have seen him on “The Next Level,” “Key & Peele,” “Comic View,” “Chicago Fire” and “Wild N’ Out.” He’s also set to appear on a new season of “Get Shorty.”

Murph ’s performance on Friday was one to remember; not only was he funny, but he is also relatable. Murph told stories about the time when he was bullied by a guy who has two black belts and how he mainly went to college to follow his girlfriend at the time. There are many of us who have similar stories like that, and to see them presented in a ridiculous fashion is life-affirming. Honestly, someone could make a cartoon based on his comedy on Adult Swim.

Another thing that I like from Murph is his little rants. Personally, I love how comedians will rant about certain topics that go on in society. They make fun of them without actually offending someone. For example, his rant on people wearing skinny jeans. The way that he presents his views on them is lovely to watch.

Then there’s his rant on the state of hip-hop. He’s not really a fan of today’s trends such as face tattoos and how rappers are often copying each other. For that, I agree with him; I feel that people are trying too hard to be like someone else and not embracing individuality. In fact, Murph advocates for individuality throughout his performance.  I love the part where he imagines one guy going to a tattoo parlor to ask for a face tattoo. It’s brilliant because the tattoo artist has a calm and compliant face instead of looking at his client with a weird look.

One more aspect Murph contains is his interaction with the crowd. During his performance, he would also ask students about their major, what they want to do with life and various other questions. It is wonderful to watch because it creates a sort intimacy between him and the audience. It’s like listening to that really cool neighbor/friend who has great stories and advice.

For the most part, a Friday night with T. Murph was a fun one. There’s a wonderful combination of funny and real things that are set up beautifully. It’s a bit of a shame that there weren’t more people that came out to see him. It’s even better how he noted it out and pulled up a really funny story about how he attended a school that he thought was Notre Dame but really wasn’t. After seeing his show, my curiosity about his work has heightened and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing him do more skits and stand-up in the future.

Nirvana – “In Utero” 25 Years Later

Artwork Courtesy of DGC Records

This week was the celebration of the third and final Nirvana studio album, In Utero. The success of the band has been well-documented and many music fans know the story of Kurt Cobain. Their popularity seems to be bigger than it was when they emerged in the 1990s. Everywhere you see students wearing a Nirvana shirt and proclaiming their love for them.

It’s hard not to see why; whenever you listen to Nevermind you can hear how significant it was. Tracks like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are” and “Lithium” are staple hits that showed a new direction for rock music. There are also lesser known tracks such as “Lounge Act” and “On a Plain” that show the depth of Cobain’s songwriting.

However, with In Utero, there are things inside of it that Nevermind doesn’t have. Firstly, and most obviously, is the level of aggression in the production and instrumentation. It is filthy; the distorted guitars are buzzing like hell, Dave Grohl’s drumming is stronger than before and Cobain’s vocals sound more volatile than usual. This is thanks to producer Steve Albini who was known for his raw and primal sound with bands such as Big Black and the Pixies.

“Scentless Apprentice” is one of the most disturbing tracks that showcases the aggression in the album. The drums explode with every beat, the guitar buzzes and it is all topped with Cobain delivering a scream that is so loud, listeners with headphones are put under the illusion that they’re becoming deaf. It’s here that In Utero is a whole new animal compared to Nevermind.

The second notable thing about In Utero is the lyrical content. Cobain’s personal life has been well-documented, and it was not a pretty one. His depression, marriage to Courtney Love, a heroin addiction and struggles with fame all culminated until his suicide in 1994. In Utero shows his anger, frustration and sadness in the last two to three years.

The hit single “Heart-Shaped Box” describes his relationship with Love using metaphors of their astrology signs and the unstable nature they had. Cobain sings the verse with a soft and sullen tone. But in the chorus, he snarls and rasps sarcastically about how he is “forever indebted to your priceless advice.”

Then we have tracks like “Dumb” and “All Apologies” where Cobain is drowning in self-deprecation. The former shows how he questions if he really is happy or if he’s just being an idiot in denial. The latter shows a side of him being apologetic (no pun intended) for his behavior and envious of how other people are enjoying themselves.

When you’re analyzing the lyrics, it’s really disturbing to see how unstable Cobain was in his final years. It’s written all over the album and foreshadows his impending death. Honestly, it’s difficult to listen to this album, which is sad and ironic, because I really enjoy the songs, the production and the lyrics. The passion and integrity is there which helped make Nirvana special in their time.

But when you take into account Cobain’s personal troubles, the whole listening experience is an eerie one. On top of that, there are some fans who have a strange fascination with him and his death, almost glorifying how depressed and tortured he was.

While I agree that his emotions help give his music life, I don’t know if celebrating his personal troubles is the right way to remember him, and I don’t think any of the remaining members would want that. During an interview with bassist Krist Novoselic, he never saw Cobain as a depressed person. Novoselic remembers him as a funny person and has fond memories of him.

But aside from all of that, this is a classic for many reasons and a testament to the lasting legacy that Nirvana left. If you haven’t, definitely check out this album and the rest of Nirvana’s discography. If you’re a fan or already know their music pretty well, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Do you prefer this album over Nevermind? Why? What experiences did you have with this album? What do you think made this album significant? Are fans too obsessed with Kurt Cobain and his personal life? Feel free to comment below.

Track Picks: “Serve the Servants,” “Scentless Apprentice,” “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge Over Seattle,” “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” and “All Apologies”

Label: DGC Records

Listen to “In Utero” on Spotify:

 

Aphex Twin – “Collapse” EP Review

Artwork courtesy of Warp Records

Richard D. James returns with a new Aphex Twin project, “Collapse EP.” Hints of the EP’s release were noted when the Aphex Twin logo was spotted around underground stations in London. This new EP continues a series of music projects James has made since he brought back the Aphex Twin moniker.

For a man who is now considered one of the greatest electronic musicians, you would think he would slow down making music because he is past his prime, but there are no signs of him stopping. The last four years have seen him release new music that is very enjoyable. 2014’s “Syro” and 2015’s “MARCHROMT30a Edit 2b 96” showcase great late-career projects.

“Collapse” is no different, in fact, this could be one of best projects James has made. The entire 28-minutes the EP runs kept me on edge. “T69 Collapse” starts with thumping synthesizers that collide with a high-pace drum pattern. As the song progresses, it breaks down into a barrage of spastic and chaotic instrumentation that is reminiscent to the Sonic Youth song, “Silver Rocket.”

“1st 44” contains incoherent vocals that bring a sound akin to what Death Grips is doing. It brings a sort of intense moment before you are relaxed with the rumbling bass and the little melodies sprinkled throughout the track. The more I listen to it, I can imagine this track fitting into a YouTube video where you see a quick time lapse of something being built.

“MT1 t29 r2” is my personal favorite from the EP. The high static bells and the high pace drums remind me of the days I would spend hours leveling up on a video game. As I listen to the song, I think back to the long hours that I’ve spent on Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts. In fact, I can imagine a short video summarizing those hours while the entire track plays. The last two tracks “abundance10edit[2 R8’s, FZ20m & a 909]” and “pthex” bring the fun into the EP, but I find myself wanting to go back to the first three tracks more.

Whether you’re studying, working out, or editing a video, Aphex Twin’s music is the kind of electronic music that is perfect for these situations. Yes, it’s not one you can play at a party, but it never sets out to be and it shows how far a person’s imagination can stretch. Honestly, this helps you focus on the task at hand.

As much as I love the classics such as “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” and the “Richard D. James Album,” I can tell their age from not only the year they came out, but the instrumentation themselves. “Collapse” brings the eccentric characteristic of before but with a nice update that is fitting for the times.

To conclude, “Collapse” continues James’ streak of albums that show his legacy for a new generation. For anyone who is new to Aphex Twin and loves this EP, you should definitely check out his older work and see the evolution. For long time fans, we’re glad to see him still making music we love.

 

Track Picks: “T69 Collapse,” “1st 44,” and “MT1 t29 r2”

Label: Warp Records

Throwback Comics – ‘Superman: Secret Origin’

Artwork cover courtesy of DC Comics. Artwork created by Gary Frank.

WARNING: This article contains spoilers. Read at your own risk!

When it comes superhero origin stories, they’re always updating the mythos surrounding them; Superman is no different. His origin has been updated numerous times; John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” (not the 2013 Zack Snyder film) and Mark Waid’s “Birthright” have managed to do this successfully.

This rendition was written by Geoff Johns and was published as six-issue series from August 2009 until September 2010. Johns was also known for his run on Green Lantern, The Flash and Aquaman. Choosing him was logical he managed to rewrite Green Lantern’s origin in 2008’s “Green Lantern: Secret Origin” as well as being the main writer for Superman’s “Action Comics.”

Johns made it clear in an interview that he wanted this story to be mostly told from Clark Kent’s point of view. No issues on Krypton, just focusing on Kent’s early years and onwards. At the start of the first issue, you immediately see his personal alienation due to his inability to control his powers and the fact most of his peers look at him weirdly.

It gives readers sympathy for the young Kent. All of his life he was raised and lived like any other human being but not understanding and controlling his extraordinary powers hinders his self-esteem. He often contemplates and shares his feelings towards his parents and close friend Lana Lang. Of course, we get to see how Kent finds a way to use his power and finds his place.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit too straight-forward as to why Kent becomes Superman. He saves a few people around Smallville and decides to don the costume. It’s a bit too simplistic for the times and I would like to the comic to add more to give more meaning.

An interesting aspect I’ve found reading this comic was how you’re introduced to Lex Luthor early on. Johns adds to Luthor’s character to further emphasize how much of a foil he is to Superman. Growing up poor with an abusive father, Luthor is shown traits of megalomania at a young age. It’s really emphasized with the limited interactions he has with Kent.

A big point that can be taken from “Secret Origins” is not only how Kent becomes Superman, but seeing how the environment surrounding him is effected when he becomes the Man of Steel. You see the birth of villains such as Metallo and Parasite, you see how the Daily Planet rebuilds itself and you see how Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White begin to work together. The set up of what will happen in the future is great and it gives readers an idea of what will happen.

The artwork by Gary Frank is fantastic. It provides an almost human-like quality towards the characters and the action scenes bring a cinematic atmosphere. You almost wish you can see this take form into an animated film. I really love how Superman looks in this comic, it really emphasizes his boyish looks that somehow remained with him as he grew up.

“Superman: Secret Origins” is a rather straightforward reading into the start of Superman. I would recommend this to those who aren’t too familiar with Superman’s background but I would also recommend reading “Birthright” and “Man of Steel” so you can compare and contrast.

For longtime fans and those who have read the past renditions, this doesn’t add anything new towards what is known about the Man of Steel. Some have described it as a “greatest hits,” calling back to older accounts. Granted, Superman fans would have already read this. It is a fun read that reminds us where Superman comes from.

Throwback Comics – ‘Batman: Birth of the Demon’

Artwork cover courtesy of DC Comics. Created by Andy Kubert.

WARNING: This article contains spoilers. Read at your own risk!

When it comes superhero villains, Batman is regarded for containing a gallery of quality villains: The Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Scarecrow, the list goes on.  Then we have Ra’s Al Ghul, a villain who is quite unique in his own way compared to the others.

His perception of battling crime and corruption often clashes with Batman’s and many find Ra’s Al Ghul to be a darker version of Batman. He is also able to match Batman both physically and tactically, which has provided the Dark Knight a difficult challenge to beat. There’s also the Lazarus Pit which allows Ra’s to come back to life if he is killed, emphasizing his persistence. Finally, we have his daughter Talia Al Ghul, who has often been a love interest for Batman. They even fostered a child together, Damian Wayne.

The great qualities of Ra’s Al Ghul are exemplified in “Birth of the Demon,” a graphic novel that contains three loosely-connected stories that show the connection between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul.

The first story, “Son of the Demon” was published in 1987 by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham. This follows the brief alliance between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul as they hunt down the terrorist Qayin. This was also when Batman and Talia were married.

I love the dynamic between Batman and Ra’s. Ra’s could have been a father figure towards Batman. One scene in particular adds to my point. While the two are playing chess, their respect for each other is shown and both desire for their alliance to remain. You can see a change inside of Batman since it provided him happiness, something that he lost when his parents were killed. However, the tragic ending reminds us how Batman may never have a “happily ever after” story.

The artwork is outdated and the fact it was made in the late 1980s means it features coloring that is a bit of an antique. Sometimes it’s odd looking at the coloring that doesn’t fit with certain scenes very well. However, it stands out during the action sequences, which adds to the drama of those moments.

1990’s “Bride of the Demon” is another story by Barr but with Tom Grindberg doing the artwork. This one follows Ra’s attempting to marry an aging actress in order to conceive a child who will soon take over his place. This could be the weakest of the three stories here. This one doesn’t contain the emotional weight of the other ones. This story doesn’t give me a sense of tragedy like “Son of the Demon,” it’s more or less a generic story featuring Ra’s Al Ghul.

The alternative plan of finding an heir for Ra’s is logical since he knows that Batman will be very hard to convince. I really like how Ra’s tries to connect with his wife Evelyn over the fact that they fear death. However, the plan of having a “self-generating” Ozone that will cause catastrophic damage sounds a bit like a Captain Planet scenario.

The action sequences are great and the artwork by Grindberg is very detailed. Sometimes, it feels like I’m watching “Batman: The Animated Series” but with a style that is reminiscent towards the comic book art style of the 70s.

Lastly, we have “Birth of the Demon,” one of the most compelling origin stories of a supervillain ever. You get to understand where Ra’s comes from with his motivations and actions. It’s spine-chilling to watch him start as a man who was a respected physician and slowly become a ruthless and obsessive maniac on a conquest for immortality.

I love a good origin story because they lay down the foundations of what the character will become. This story allows us to sympathize for Ra’s and shows how villains don’t have to be one-dimensional bad guys. Whether you agree with his ideas or not, Ra’s Al Ghul is a man who can have characteristics that people can relate to in many ways.

The artwork by Norm Breyfogle is magnificent and the painting adds a level of grotesque that makes it feel like a horror story. It adds on to the insanity of Ra’s and the climatic finale between Batman and Ra’s definitely showcases the artwork’s brilliance.

This is a wonderful collection of stories featuring one of Batman’s greatest villains. Batman fans should have already read this. But if you’re new to comics and you are fascinated with Ra’s due to “Batman Begins” or “Arkham City,” this is definitely a recommended read for those who want to know more about him.

Smashing Pumpkins – “Siamese Dream” 25 Years Later

Artwork courtesy of Virgin Records

“Siamese Dream” came at a time where Grunge was king. It was a victim of circumstance as any upcoming and promising band was dubbed “the Next Nirvana.” Major record labels did everything they could to milk out Grunge. Smashing Pumpkins were no exception to this due to the unprecedented success of their debut album, “Gish.” This was a big coincidence since “Gish” and Nirvana’s “Nevermind” were both released the same year and produced by Butch Vig.

To make matters worse, the band was in a volatile state. Frontman Billy Corgan was under pressure, which led him to suffer from depression. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain hardly showed up for sessions due to a heroin addiction. And the relationship between guitarist James Iha and bassist Darcy Wretzky had ended.

From the looks of it, “Siamese Dream” was set to fail and become an example of what happens when a band receives too much pressure. But it didn’t. It became the opposite. The album sold four million copies and was met with critical acclaim.

The album clearly shows it doesn’t follow the Grunge scene. The musical genres range from Heavy Metal to Dream Pop, as if someone combined My Bloody Valentine, Pixies, Black Sabbath and Rush altogether.

The hit single “Today” shares the quiet verse-loud chorus the Pixies had but twisted with the wall of noise that My Bloody Valentine does. It’s one of the most timeless songs of the 1990s for its simple but effective instrumentation and sarcastic lyrics. It causes a paradox where you sing along to something catchy but lyrically it’s about having the worst day of your life.

The opening track “Cherub Rock” is a portrait of the music industry controlling the masses over what is cool and not cool. “Freak out and give in. Doesn’t matter what you believe in. Stay cool and be somebody’s fool this year. Cause they know who is righteous, what is bold. So I’m told.” Corgan’s sarcasm gives a venomous bite to the dynamic and complex instrumentation. I love the build to the first verse of the track with its drum roll and clean guitar riff before it mutates with distortion and the drums pound harder.

“Disarm” is a painful ballad that recalls back to Corgan’s childhood, a time period filled with abuse, that results in him pouring out his pain, confusion, anger and sadness. His vocals give this yelping that is spine-chilling to hear as he sings, “Disarm you with a smile and leave you like they left me here. To wither in denial. The bitterness of one who’s left alone. Ooh, the years burn.” The dramatic orchestra and lone acoustic guitar emphasize the pain the lyrics display.

Whenever you’re listening to “Siamese Dream,” you feel as if you’re going through a spectrum of human emotions. There are tracks that make you feel angry, sad, happy or determined all in one hour. They were anthems to a generation of latchkey kids who felt these and Smashing Pumpkins was the band who were just like them. A band who grew up listening to the same bands as them and understood where they were coming from.

I’m sure if you ask anyone in Generation X, there’s a good chance that they grew up listening to Smashing Pumpkins. They may tell stories of when they first saw them, the songs that helped them in difficult times and memories of that time period. It’s certainly not the first nor the last album to do this but it was personalized for that time period that is still felt 25 years later.

 

Listen to “Siamese Dream” Here:

 

Track Picks: “Cherub Rock”, “Quiet”, “Today”, “Disarm”, “Geek U.S.A.”, “Mayonaise”, Silverfuck”, and “Luna.”

Label: Virgin Records

Gorillaz – ‘The Now Now’ Album Review

Artwork Courtesy of Parlophone Records

When we last heard from Gorillaz, their fifth album “Humanz” was newly released. It was a comeback that left me so disappointed that the thought of another Gorillaz album filled me with dread. It was torture to make me myself listen to the album again. It was so overloaded and unfocused, which contributed to a very bad listening experience.

With “Humanz,” I knew that the days of “Demon Days” and “Plastic Beach” were long gone. The songwriting of Damon Albarn, the visual artwork of Jamie Hewlett and the brilliant usage of guest musicians had lost its appeal to me. I was confused, was I getting too old for their music? Or had the songwriting gone? It’s a question that was going back and forth in my mind for a while.

When “The Now Now” was announced, I wasn’t looking forward to it.  I wasn’t going crazy about the singles, the album artwork hurts my eyes to look at and the pain of “Humanz” lingers on a year later. I began to think I was getting too old for Gorillaz. Then, I just stopped and started thinking, “Maybe I’m exaggerating this; maybe it won’t turn out as bad as I thought.”

I was right, to a degree. This is more tolerable than “Humanz.”  What’s noticeable is that “The Now Now” doesn’t suffer from oversaturation of guest artists like “Humanz.” The majority of the album has no guest appearances. This brings a nice pace as we get to focus more on the “virtual band” (or Albarn) themselves. This record feels more focused in comparison to “Humanz,” as it focuses on the mood the songs are trying to provide.

I can see it being shown on tracks such as “Souk Eye” and “Tranz.” The former provides the summer breeze atmosphere; I love the finger-picked guitar that reminds one of a tropical area in an RPG video game. “Humility” is another good track that showcases the mood with its vibrant synths and George Benson’s guitar playing. As I listened, I immediately saw the imagery the music was painting.

However, I never got the feeling that this album has something special inside of it. There’s a lack of excitement whenever I’m listening to it. Now, the lack of excitement for me doesn’t necessarily have to mean an upbeat song. It can also be a moody track that has great instrumentation and lyrics. “Souk Eye” was an example of the moodiness. The distant vocals from Albarn and the dramatic instrumentation help bring the album to a close. The only problem is that most of the other tracks failed to impress and left a forgettable experience.

Come to think of it, listening to this album feels like background music to me. Even the visualizers for these songs on Gorillaz’s YouTube channel remind me of listening to video game music with a plain background. It feels worse looking at the repetitive swirling background, it hurts my eyes even more than looking at the album cover.

“The Now Now” is an album that I feel neutral about in the end. It’s more consistent but lacks the charm that their earlier albums had. This isn’t something I would voluntarily listen to, but something I would be okay with if I was walking around in a mall. Just keep those visualizers away from me.

Track Picks: “Humility,” “Tranz,” “Socererz,” and “Souk Eye”

Label: Parlophone

 

Listen to “The Now Now” here:

Death Grips – ‘Year of the Snitch’ Album Review

Artwork courtesy of Third Worlds and Harvest Records

For the record, I never got into Death Grips until recently. I thought “Bottomless Pit” was nothing special on first listen. It was really weird for me to digest their music at the time. Then I began to listen to it again as well as listening to “The Money Store.” All of a sudden, everything changed for me. I’ve begun to understand the chaotic production along with MC Ride’s maniacal character. I was perplexed yet fascinated by the overall sound; it was a revelation to my ears. Now, I just kick myself for not getting into them sooner.

Death Grips is one of those groups that every generation has. A group that can make music that is so abrasive and so unsettling because it provides a fresh air to a music genre. It’s in no small part thanks to MC Ride’s aggressive flows and the production of Zach Hill and Andy Morin. The group has been consistently releasing albums almost yearly. This traction has created a cult-like fanbase on the internet that can sometimes be a little hostile. There’s a Twitter account called “Death Grips fans are biased” and you can find their meme-loving, wild behavior on Reddit.

Going into this album, I was thinking it was going be a continuation of older Death Grips albums. But as you start listening to the opening track “Death Grips is Online,” you’ve noticed a difference. The production doesn’t feel as fierce as it was before. It’s feeling like less of an experimental hip-hop album and heading more towards electronica. Take the track “Dilemma,” where the opening synths remind me of an old video game from the days of the Nintendo 64, while “Little Richards” features a monotonic robotic voice instead of MC Ride’s vocals. They bring a rather odd experience that can be unprecedented to longtime listeners.

For me, this style can bring something new to the table but I feel it has lost the edge Death Grips usually has. I don’t feel like my heart is going to stop whenever I’m hearing the album. The only exception is “Shitshow” which brings back the explosion but the track feels a bit rushed. I feel like I want to go crazy as I’m listening to it, but for inexplicable reasons, I can’t do it. However, tracks like “Streaky” help bring some replay value. I love the chorus and the “Don’t throw it on the ground” on the pre-chorus. It helps bring back some of the excitement that is usual in Death Grips’ music.

With the lyrics, the song still retains the freaky lyrics albeit the “softer” instrumentation. “The Fear” covers the feelings of paranoia and death lurking around the corner, while “Black Paint” can remind one of black metal for the references to giving into darkness and satisfying the “Satanic urges.” It doesn’t feel surprising to me to be reading them but it’s still nice to see that hasn’t been sacrificed with this new direction.

Overall, it’s an interesting idea that Death Grips is going for with “Year of the Snitch” but I don’t feel entirely crazy about it. It was a bit hard for me to go back and listen to it over again. It felt inconsistent and a little unfinished. So this is definitely not going to top “The Money Store” or “Bottomless Pit” in my eyes.

Will this album become a grower for me as time goes on? I wonder because the previous albums have managed to pull it. This is an album for me to pick up again before the year ends to see if it can grow. But for now, I feel slightly underwhelmed about “Year of the Snitch.”

As for the fanbase, I’m sure they have some really strong opinions about this one by now. Looks like it’s time for a trip to Reddit.

 

Track Picks: “Death Grips is Online,” “Black Paint,” “Streaky,” “Dilemma,” and “Disappointed”

Label: Third Worlds and Harvest Records

 

Listen to “Year of the Snitch” Here:

Public Enemy – ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ 30 Years Later

 

Artwork Courtesy of Def Jam Recordings

In the mid to late 1980s, hip-hop was beginning to evolve. The days of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were coming to a close and a new wave of hip-hop acts was emerging. This was the start of the Golden-Age era, which included Eric B. & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, De La Soul and of course, Public Enemy.

Public Enemy consisted of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and Terminator X at the time of this album’s release. This was their second album following 1987’s “Yo! Bum Rush the Show.” “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” is considered to be one of two game-changing hip-hop albums released in the summer of 1988 (the other being N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton”).

When digesting Public Enemy’s music, you notice that it doesn’t follow the rock-influenced beat of Run D.M.C. or the violent gangster life of N.W.A. Public Enemy believed in what Gil Scott-Heron believed in: using music as a means for people to go out and make a difference in the world. This is done by Chuck’s demanding, angry and passionate lyrics. He makes his stand clear right at the start with “Bring the Noise,” a track that sets the tone for the album with its explosive pace that provokes an indescribable reaction, this feeling that you are part of something revolutionary.

This also is where you are introduced to the production of the Bomb Squad. It’s a style that was experimental for the time. There are various samples that are repeatedly played and layered throughout the song, which is very abrasive. It’s a method that can be very annoying to those new to Public Enemy and especially those who’ve never listened to experimental hip-hop. However, this style of production also backs up the lyrics.

Tracks like “She Watch Channel Zero?!” prove my point. The song is a criticism of consuming too much TV because it can blind a person’s sense of reality. It features a sample of Slayer’s “Angel of Death” which gives the listener a mind-numbing sensation like the white noise on a TV set.

I love Chuck’s perspective on the topics presented here on the album. “Night of the Living Baseheads” is an anti-drug song and tells how drugs are a major problem for people (particularly African-Americans) moving forward in society. Chuck notes out plenty of characteristics to know if someone is involved with drugs. He points out their behavior, their locations, the crimes committed and the punishment that comes along with the involvement.

Another personal favorite is the track, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” This provides gritty storytelling from Chuck of how he was thrown in jail and got out successfully. The samples provided in the track provided a vibe akin to that of a spy film. There’s not a lot of layering so it’s not as crazy as the other tracks which brings a nice change to the album.

I can’t also forget about Flavor Flav when it comes to talking about Public Enemy. One of the greatest hype men ever, Flavor Flav has a high-pitched voice and a trademark “YEAH BOI!” yell which provides a contrast to Chuck’s demeanor. “Rebel Without a Pause” is a good example of these two working. It shows Chuck delivering his lyrics at a high pace while in between verses, Flavor Flav tells him that he should slow down because the audience is losing track. It’s a good balance of the seriousness and the comedic relief these two can offer.

You can see how “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” was a template for many artists to help take hip-hop to the next level. It’s not surprising to see groups such as Death Grips follow what the wild production of Bomb Squad was doing. You can also see how the likes of Nas and Kendrick Lamar have placed a lot of focus on the lyrics and storytelling in their music. In fact, “To Pimp a Butterfly” reminds me of “It Takes a Nation” for their takes on political topics.

This is an album that belongs to the Hip-Hop 101 course, it’s really hard to imagine what the genre would have been if this album didn’t exist. For anyone new to the genre or those who want to hear the classics, this is a priority listen! Do take a few listens to fully grasp the album because this isn’t designed to be played at parties. This is an album that makes you sit down and try to understand the problems that surround us. What makes this album even more special is that it’s a fire that continued on for generations and inspired people to make a difference. Many of the artists we love now are indebted to Public Enemy. All I can say is “Yeah Boi!”

 

Track Picks: “Bring the Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “Louder Than a Bomb,” “Caught, Can We Get a Witness?” “She Watch Channel Zero?!” “Night of the Living Baseheads,” “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” and “Rebel Without a Pause”

Label: Def Jam Recordings

 

Listen to the album here:

Ten Great Songs from New Order

After the death of lead singer Ian Curtis, post-punk Band Joy Division was doomed. The years of building the band up were crumbling away for Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris. But rather than giving it all, they decided to move on and renamed the band New Order. With Gillian Gilbert joining to complete the line-up, New Order went on to achieve success and influence beyond Joy Division. The beautiful combination of post-punk and electronic music is what made New Order a stand out band in the 1980s. And with that success, they become something greater than they were in the past. Here are ten great songs from New Order.

Spotify Playlist to play along with:

 

‘Ceremony’ – (Non-Album Single 1981)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

Technically, this song was written during the final days of Joy Division. “Ceremony” was soon carried over when Joy Division became New Order. It was New Order’s first single, released months before their debut album “Movement” came out. This was the track to be released that featured Sumner singing. While each member took turns singing, Sumner was ultimately chosen as he could sing while not playing guitar.

With “Ceremony” it’s very clear that the band was still rooted in their post-punk sound from their old band. In many ways, it was Joy Division minus Curtis. It’s not a bad thing, but you can tell they were still reeling over Curtis’ death and struggling to move on. “Ceremony” is their glorious end to one era of their lives and the start of a new one. You can even apply that in the lyrics; “I’ll break them down, no mercy shown. Heavens knows, it’s got to be this time.”

 

‘Age of Consent’ – (“Power, Corruption & Lies” 1983)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

The beautiful opening track off of “Power, Corruption & Lies” is where New Order completely break free from their Joy Division past. It’s more upbeat with Hook’s bass playing being more melodic, the increased tempo of Morris’ drumming and Sumner’s vocals showing more confidence.

Lyrically, it’s about the desire to break free of a relationship that has become controlling for one partner. It’s filled with heartbreak and shocking revelations in which Sumner finally sees what his former lover truly is. It’s that feeling of being free from the blindness of being in love with someone and noticing their flaws that begin horrify you. A brilliant showcase of New Order coming into their own.

 

‘Temptation’ – (Non-Album Single 1982)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

In the time between “Movement” and “Power, Corruption & Lies,” the band visited New York City and became fascinated with the local club scene. This prompted them to make songs such as “Temptation” and “Everything’s Gone Green.” Here they started to infuse drum machines and add more synthesizers to their music. The results lead to a danceable track that was unprecedented for fans of Joy Division.

“Temptation” is one of my personal favorites because it shows how the new instruments and the band’s old sound were blending perfectly. I love the intricate guitar and bass riffs contrast with the sturdy drum machine and the spastic synth melodies. The best part of the song is Sumner’s singing “Oh, you got green eyes. Oh, you got blues eyes. Oh, you got grey eyes.” I can’t help but tilt my head back and forth to that part.

 

‘Blue Monday’ – (Non-Album Single 1983)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

For anyone who is new to the band, “Blue Monday” is their most famous song. It is the best selling 12-inch single of all time and was a major moment for the band. Designed by Peter Saville, the single featured a die cut that was supposed to resemble a floppy disk (old technology, I know). The big problem was that the band’s record label, Factory, would lose money when each copy was sold due to how expensive it was to produce the sleeve.

The song was the culmination of the band’s fascination with synthesizers and dance. Their love for Kraftwerk and the New York club scene was at its peak. The rapid-pace kick drum that leads to the melody of the synthesizers to come to ease listeners in before the rest of the band explodes to bring the song to life. Sumner’s cold vocals, the brief choir vocals, the erratic drum beats and the eerie synths gave the song the perfect balance of being danceable, yet brooding.

 

‘Love Vigilantes’ – (“Low-Life” 1985)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

“Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” the rifle-like drum beat kicks off one of the most poignant tracks off of “Low-Life.” “Love Vigilantes” is supposedly New Order’s attempt at a country song with its usage of a harmonica and lack of synths (although I barely hear the influences of country as common elements from New Order’s music remain dominant).

“Love Vigilantes” tells the tale of a soldier who participating in the Vietnam War and eagerly awaiting his chance to return home. He tells how much he wants to see his family and the joy he felt when he was allowed to go. However, the ending was left up to interpretation when he finally returns home. This prompts you to go back and read the lyrics to the whole song and wonder what really happened in the narrator’s mind. It’s a tale that many people who have gone to war or have loved ones who went can easily relate to.

 

‘The Perfect Kiss’ – (“Low-Life” 1985)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

Here comes one of the most danciest from New Order’s catalog. At this point in New Order’s history, the band had already refined the sound they have settled with and show their full mastery with “The Perfect Kiss.” This song is full of life with Hook’s bass going up and down the neck, the drum machines putting the grooviest beat it can provide and the synths blaring with pride. It all climaxes to a wonderful instrumental jam that seems to never end.

The build-up to this track is great, each member slowly puts in their part to help get the song going. It’s like the moment when you are slowly going up that first hill of a roller coaster and once you go down fast, that is when the song bursts into life. It’s the best analogy you can make with “Perfect Kiss” and it shows how amazing New Order became. I recommend playing the eight-minute version as you get the full experience.

 

‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ – (“Brotherhood” 1986)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

“Bizzare Love Triangle” is another dance floor favorite that once again encapsulates what New Order is about. The bass playing, the dance beat and Sumner’s flawed and passionate vocals. You can’t really go wrong with this song. However, the original version found on the “Brotherhood” album doesn’t take the cake for me. It’s the remix version by Shep Pettibone that I prefer the most. This version is more vibrant and longer than the original which adds to a level of fun that lacks in the original version. It’s more chaotic and makes the track more of a match to “Perfect Kiss” or “Blue Monday.”

 

‘True Faith’ – (Non-Album Single 1987)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

My favorite New Order song, this is one of the most perfect nightclub songs you can play. The booming beats, eerie synths and the flowing vocals give that nightclub atmosphere. “True Faith” wants you to move your head and dance along nonstop. Every time I listen to this song there’s a sense of euphoria once the synths kick in. You’ve entered a state of mind where nothing else matters in the world but the song guiding you in the moment.

It shouldn’t be surprising, as the lyrics describe someone who has a horrific drug addiction and how it is affecting them. The music and the lyrics are strongly connected to each other as it gives these “good feelings” once the drugs kick in and the subsequent desire to find more. Once the song ends, you just want to play it over and over. Just like a drug habit.

 

‘Round and Round’ – (“Technique” 1989)

Artwork Courtesy of Factory Records

What’s immediately noticeable in “Round & Round” is that the band had begun to implement Acid House and Balearic Beat music into their sound. The band began making “Technique” in Ibiza where the local Balearic clubs had made an influence on their music. Concurrently, their hometown Manchester, England was developing the Acid House scene with bands like 808 State that rose to prominence.

“Round & Round” immediately shows those influences. The entire song is driven by the exotic drum beat that shows a different New Order than the ones who made “Blue Monday.” It’s the sound of the band updating themselves while retaining key characteristics from their old sound. And “Round & Round” is an example of the new sound featured in “Technique.” When describing the album, Morris describes it as a “last day of school feel about it.” That atmosphere of when summer break is around the corner.

 

‘Regret’ – (“Republic” 1993)

Artwork Courtesy of London Records

In his book, “Substance: Inside New Order” Hook describes the awful experience of creating their sixth album, “Republic.” Their nightclub, The Hacienda, was closing down and none of the band members were interested in working together. They were forced to make this album in order to prevent Factory going bankrupt. By now, Sumner had become very controlling over the making of the record. This was a departure from the collaborative effort New Order would usually do and made the album feel more like a Sumner solo album.

With that context in perspective, “Regret” was the last good New Order song according to Hook. It was one of the only few tracks where all four members worked together. The song gives a sense of a bittersweet ending to a group who had defined a generation. All of the characteristics of New Order are here, loud and proud; reminding us how amazing they were. The song was a major hit in the US and in a sense was a final hurrah to New Order just like it was with “Ceremony.”

 

Honorable mentions: “Everything’s Gone Green”, “Confusion”, “Dreams Never End”, “Your Silent Face”, “Sub-Culture”, “Thieves Like Us”, “1963”, “Dream Attack”, “Crystal” and “World in Motion”

Kanye West – ‘Ye’ Album Review

Album Artwork Courtesy of G.O.O.D Music and Def Jam Records

2018 has been something for Kanye West so far. Once again in the heat of controversy for his support of President Donald Trump, he is also producing albums for Pusha T and Teyana Taylor, a collaborative album with Kid Cudi and a new solo album. This is the second part of new albums that involved West’s production, following Pusha T’s album “Daytona.” So how does this album fare?

Once the album begins, you’re already seeing an inner struggle. “I Thought About Killing You” features West contemplating premeditatedly killing one half of himself, the side inside of him that is full of self-hate because murdering is a form of caring for someone. If that someone he cares for is himself, what does he kill? The Kanye that is human? Or Kanye the artist? This is in a similar vein to the Jay-Z track “Kill Jay-Z.” This track has no problem showing the darkness that a person can have with mental issues. West makes it known by saying “The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest.” He shows with no hesitation his thoughts of self-love, self-hate, suicide and addiction. And it’s just only the beginning.

“Yikes” takes a look at the drug addictions West faces. The drugs he intakes make him paranoid up to the point that it scares himself. He even feels that Prince and Michael Jackson were warning about the dangers as they have died from accidental drug overdoses. He feels that this addiction is the work of the Devil, testing if he will break. This leads to West believing that his bipolar disorder is a “superpower” of his before screaming at the end.

As you continue on with “Ye” you see topics such as infidelity and loyalty. “All Mine” focuses on the idea of infidelity. He brings up Kerry Washington and Stormy Daniels, both of whom had their own involvements of adultery. West feels that he could do the same thing but there’s a good chance you can get caught. Meanwhile, “Wouldn’t Leave” shows his love for his wife, Kim Kardashian, and how he never left him despite his antics. “No Mistakes” displays his struggles since his hospitalization in 2016.

The biggest comparisons you can make with “Ye” is Jay-Z’s “4:44.” Both albums take a look at the artists at this time in their life. Both are married to famous celebrities and have made mistakes in their lives that could have broken their marriages and now they’re reflecting on it anew with a new album. But what’s the difference? Jay is more level-headed and has an idea of what to do with his life. West’s album, on the other hand, is like immediate reflections on the train wreck with the feelings of uncertainty about the future looming over.

“Ye” makes you feel West’s paranoia and the power his bipolar disorder has over him. The production emphasizes that through the warped “I know” or the woman screaming on “I Thought About Killing You,” which gives the paranoia that you are now entering. But tracks like “Wouldn’t Leave” show the other side of Kanye that shows a ray of light. I’m also impressed by the singing on this track as it helps intensify the light.

Despite the length, “Ye” concisely brings a solid effort from West. The descriptions West brought into this album are very chilling. This shows the inside personality of West that some fans may find fascinating. However, those who are into the artist side of Kanye may bash this one. I find the human side to be more fascinating as we get to see West as this self-absorbing fool that is shown constantly to the public.

 

Track Picks: “I Thought About Killing You”, “Yikes”, “Wouldn’t Leave”, and “No Mistakes”

Label: G.O.O.D. Music