Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Cherry"- Chromatics

In his act, Rodney Dangerfield often talked about "the heaviness" this almost indescribable entity preying upon you every move, constantly lurking just around the corner. That same "heaviness" is a permanent fixture in the Chromatics alternatively dreamy/dreary universe; where every relationship, every kiss, every "fleeting" moment has the weight of the world bearing down upon it.

"Cherry," the most recently-released single (following the superb "Looking for Love") from the forthcoming After Dark 2 compilation, is filled with those "fleeting moments." From the moment the crying synths and propulsive bass kick in, it's clear this relationship is headed towards "the light at the end." In a voice fit for the early hours of the morning, singer Ruth Radelet coos "I can't keep crying all of the time." She slowly sheds the weight of the world, realizing Cherry is a shadow, someone who "can be very sweet when she needs a friend." Radelet has been waiting for this shadow to step into the light and find what Radelet sees in her, but the moment never comes. As the track dissipates, its clear their relationship has become just another casualty  of the ever-present "heaviness."


Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Bring On Your Wrecking Ball"

(Photo credit to Joe Ledford/Kansas City Star)

"We're gonna do this song from our ghosts to yours," rock-and-roll evangelist Bruce Springsteen exasperatedly announced before he and the overhauled E-Street Band played the elegiac "My City of Ruins." Through and through it was a show for ghosts , for the ghosts of the band still haunting the stage. For those "ghosts of electricity" Bob Dylan once sang about, ghosts that the Boss taps into each night he plugs in that iconic Esquire Guitar. And after all the chaos, loss, and heartbreak of the past few weeks on the East Coast, it was a show for the ghosts of those quickly remembered and never forgotten.

Springsteen's shows have always taken on a tone of the religious and last night in Kansas City was no different. From the soulful opening of "Kansas City" it was clear Bruce and the band wanted to save more than a few souls, baptizing them in the name of rock-and-roll. An ensuing double dose of Darkness tracks muddied those clear blue baptismal waters, tossing saint and sinner about on an open sea of guitar riffs. Such surfing took on a literal bent during "Hungry Heart" when The Boss found himself on top of the crowd grinning from ear-to-ear. For the all the thousands of shows he's done over the years, he still plays every night like it's his first show. Like he has everything to prove, and nothing to lose.

While Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band might play with the enthusiasm of freshmen, their focus is anything but. The request section of the show has become their proving ground for the past few years now, and last night was another sterling page in that history. The group played a well-worn cover of Joan Jett's "Light of Day," boogied through a slowed-day "E-Street Shuffle," and stormed through Born in the USA's "Cover Me." That particular performance was marked with hilarity, as it came via request of a bra Springsteen referred to as the "ultimate jawbreaker."  

The triple guitar threat of Springsteen, Nils Lofgren, and Steven Van Zandt was frantic with its fretwork, but never out of control. The same could be said of the always reliable "Mighty" Max Weinberg, especially during fan-favorite "Badlands" where his lockstep drumming was militaristic in its intensity and precision.  Stalwart bassist Garry W. Tallent was the immovable object, giving steady subtlety when it was called for, and launching into sublime basslines on tracks like "Fire." And then there was Jake Clemons. At this point, he's the only one in the band with any pressure on him. Each night is a struggle to prove he belongs with the band, that he can fill the boots of "The Big Man" Clarence Clemons. And he stopped that struggle with his sax. His first test came during "Prove It All Night" as he glided through the short solo with ease. With his position firmly established the band ready to run.

The set itself was a fascinating blend of the familiar and the "obscure" shuffling between the ghosts of E-Street past ("Incident on 57th Street") and the comfort food of "Born to Run" with effortlessness. The former might have been the biggest surprise of the night, as an out-of-character Springsteen nervously announced "last time we played this, we f***ed up real bad." The unwieldy eight minute tune was a highlight of the night, as the crowd swelled into the ecstatic chorus of "goodnight, it's alright Jane." It was an exorcism of those "ghosts" Springsteen spoke of, where unbridled optimism vanquished the spirits of sorrow and regret.

The final threads of that exorcism were sewn together during finale "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the Born to Run "mythology" track well known for the fiery Clarence Clemons playing. Earlier in the night Bruce recalled lines from the song during "My City of Ruins," singing "when the change was made uptown" over and over again. At the time it seemed as if The Boss was refusing to mention "The Big Man" in the next line, turning the repetition into some midnight mantra, delivered after waking up from a nightmare. That acknowledgment came in "Tenth Avenue" with Springsteen screaming the line before a moving series of clips featuring former members Danny Federici and Clarence "Big Man" Clemons played on the Sprint Center's screens. It was an eternity, as an entire life played before everyone's watering eyes. Then in an unforgettable moment, Clemons own nephew Jake tore back into the song, channeling the spirit of Clarence.

Early in the night a sweat-soaked Springsteen delivered the title track from his new album "Wrecking Ball" and its philosophizing of standing strong was the advice of the night. "Hard times come, and hard times go" the chorus recalls. We've all had our hearts broken, we've all loved and lost, prayed for rain and seen only drought, we've all been down and struggled to get back up. For all the blood spilled, for all friends and family lost, and for all the ghosts that still haunt us, we're still here, singing along with Springsteen on the Jersey Shore as we wait for the approaching storm; bracing for the wrecking ball.      

"Wrecking Ball (Live at Giants Stadium)"

1. "Kansas City Medley"
2. "Prove It All Night"
3. "Candy's Room"
4. "She's The One"
5. "Hungry Heart"
6. "We Take Care of Our Own"
7. "Wrecking Ball"
8. "Death to Our Hometown"
9. "My City of Ruins"
10. "E-Street Shuffle"
11. "Fire"
12. "57th Street Incident"
13. "Because the Night"
14. "Cover Me"
15. "Downbound Train"
16. "I'm On Fire"
17. "Shackled and Drawn"
18. "Waiting on a Sunny Day"
19. "Raise Your Hand"
20. "The Rising"
21. "Badlands"
22. "Land of Hopes and Dreams"
23. "Light of Day" (Joan Jett)
24. "My Beautiful Reward"
25. "Born to Run"
26. "Dancing in the Dark"
27. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"
28. "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out"  


Monday, November 12, 2012

Sufjan Stevens- "Silver & Gold"

For all of its crass-commercialism, Christmas still sits atop the calendar as the most wonderful time of year for one reason: intimacy. It's a time where families, friends, and lovers huddle around an idyllic fireplace tightly tucked in warm winter coats. Amidst all the sales and last-second shopping sprees there still radiates a certain geniality, a feeling of "good cheer" that like the Christmas tree will never die but spring anew every year. And only a select few musicians channel the earnestness of Christmas as well as Sufjan Stevens. 

On first listen "Silver & Gold" serves as an inversion of that aforementioned earnestness. The quivering guitar and muted piano-playing convey an uneasiness, a fear of the coming "cold winter" of one's life. "Oh I'm getting old," Stevens sings in an affective coo. "Everyone wishes for youth" is the only follow-up he can muster, before coming to the question of "how have I wasted my life?" It's a question an individual in their darkest days is likely to ask, an open-ended question with no right or wrong answer. Instead, Stevens projects his own pain onto the world, chalking it up to an unceasing search for "silver and gold." 

In the midst of all this despair, Stevens prays for fire to drive away the cold. As the last embers of his own life begin to flicker and fall by the wayside, he's accompanied by everyone else "waiting for death." In this way, everyone is again joined together, akin to that fireplace scene Sufjan so desperately longs for. The track takes on a "hushed admiration" for death, for the cold of winter, and for Christmas. It is here that "Silver & Gold" becomes cherubic. The reverence Stevens has for death then is not far off from the quiet contemplation keeping a child up in the middle of the night, wondering when Santa will arrive.  

Note: Sufjan Stevens' Silver & Gold  Christmas boxset is out in stores and available online now. Check back here for a review in the coming week. Also posted below are dates for Sufjan's Christmas tour, tickets are still available on select dates.

11-23 Philadelphia, PA - 
Union Transfer
11-24 Washington, DC - 
9:30 Club
11-25 Saxapahaw, NC - 
The Haw River Ballroom
11-26 Athens, GA - 
The Georgia Theatre
11-27 Chattanooga, TN - 
Track 29
11-28 Oxford, MS - 
The Lyric Oxford
11-30 Dallas, TX - 
Granada Theater
12-01 Austin, TX - 
Emo’s East
12-03 Tucson, AZ - 
Rialto Theatre
12-04 Los Angeles, CA - 
The Fonda Theatre (formerly The Music Box)
12-05 San Francisco, CA - 
Great American Music Hall
12-06 Portland, OR - 
Aladdin Theater
12-08 Seattle, WA - 
Neptune Theatre
12-09 Missoula, MT - 
Wilma Theatre
12-12 Minneapolis, MN - 
Mill City Nights (Formerly The Brick)
12-13 Milwaukee, WI - 
Turner Hall
12-14 Indianapolis, IN - 
Deluxe @ Old National Centre
12-15 Chicago, IL - 
12-16 Cleveland, OH - 
Beachland Ballroom *
12-18 Buffalo, NY - 
Asbury Hall @ Babeville
12-19 Providence, RI - 
12-20 Boston, MA - 
12-21 New York, NY - 
Bowery Ballroom
12-22 New York, NY - 
Bowery Ballroom

"Silver & Gold"

Friday, November 9, 2012

In Revue- "good kid, m.A.A.d city"

"Would you believe me?" It's a question at the center of Compton MC Kendrick Lamar's second official album release, a question that at first is hard not to answer with a resounding "no." On "m.A.A.d city" the stormy track where that question appears, Kendrick takes us on a "trip down memory lane," where Pirus and Crips are out to get the "good kid," a place where wearing the wrong colors can get you killed. Kendrick tumbles further down the nightmarish rabbit hole, and soon he's foaming at the mouth struggling to make sense of how he got here, straining his voice in the hopes that someone can hear him. 

The Kendrick of "m.A.A.d city" is a far cry from the "character" we are first introduced to, an idealistic youth thanking the "Lord Jesus for saving us with your precious blood." This Kendrick is all wide-eyed optimism, borrowing his mom's car to see his girl Sherane  and soundtracking his ride with music that's "young and dumb." It's this Kendrick that we see rapping in the backseat with his friends delivering the ferocious Hit-Boy produced "Backseat Freestyle." On this track K-Dot is all brawn and no brain, he's dismissive of living his life on his knees and his rally cry is "damn I got b****es." 

That boisterousness is funneled into brutality on the Mobb Deep-influenced "Art of Peer Pressure," a drum-beat and lurching synth are the only things accompanying Kendrick. Here he and the "homies" are hotboxing in a white Toyota rolling down Rosecrans Avenue, looking for trouble. All the restlessness materializes into a robbery that sees the group narrowly missing the police, Kendrick chalking it up to another "lucky night."

All that luck can't contain Kendrick's weariness on "good kid." For the first time on the day-in-the-life album,  Kendrick confesses he's "easy prey." While he goes to Bible-study, his friends and neighbors go to war over turf. Soon his only escape is the bottle, and on "Song of the Year" candidate "Swimming Pools (Drank)" he deconstructs this rocky relationship. The snapping T-Minus beat is an indulgence in all things excessive, and Kendrick traces his new-found bottle-popping bacchanalia through the family tree. Much like the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" Lamar never openly endorses or lambastes this life, instead he describes it in pain-staking detail. He argues with his conscious, admits to an "appetite for failure," and invites everyone to drown with him. The only freedom from that failure is another shot and another bottle. 

"Swimming Pools (Drank)"
Any last bit of luck or notion of crime disappears on "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" the twelve-minute epic that anchors the album. Here Kendrick's homies succumb to the streets, and he's left to tell their stories over somnolent strings and a faint piano. "F**k I'm tired of this s**t," a voice cries out from the ether in the song's bridge. All the running, gunning, and hunting has caught up to Kendrick and his crew. He's tired of it all and longs to wake up from the nightmare.  Salvation comes in the form of a neighbor voiced by Maya Angelou who leads the troubled teens through the "Sinner's Prayer" and promises the group a "new day," the start of a "new life."

With his new found faith, Kendrick stares in the mirror at the start of "Real" and for the first time likes what he sees. He painfully realizes his love for fast cars and fast women is misspent, and that you can never love if "you can't love yourself." That love rains down from Kendrick's parents, who show him support for the first time on the album. His dad "Kenny" gives hard-earned fatherly advice, assuring him "any n**** can kill a man, that don't make you a real n****." Meanwhile his mother urges Kendrick to come back and learn from his mistakes. "Come back a man, tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton. Let 'em know you was just like them." 

All the talk of good kid, m.A.A.d city's "classic status" or game-changing nature is irrelevant, these are mere byproducts of the hip-hop hype machine always on the prowl for the "next big thing." Any and all comparisons to Section. 80 miss the point entirely, its misguided and egotistical to think artists will keep remaking and repackaging that album we first fell in love with. To project our own wants/needs/fears on Kendrick Lamar is also to miss the point. If you long for more gangster posturing turn to forerunner N.W.A's N****z4Life. If conscious lyricism and political discussions are more your cup of tea, Lupe's excellent Food & Liquor 2 will more than keep you company.  What Kendrick Lamar has delivered with good kid, m.A.A.d city is an autobiography, a document of one teen making sense of the "m.A.A.d city" around him. No matter the intensity of the narrative, it's a record we can all relate to, a record to soundtrack our own struggle. Would you believe it?

"m.A.A.d city"

"Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" 





Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Earl Sweatshirt- "Chum"

"Trying to figure out how and when the f**k I missed moderate?" Is Earl Sweatshirt's dilemma in the autobiographical "Chum." Even in the confines of Odd Future, Earl was seen as the most outrageous, the most vile, the most threatening. Superlatives served him well, and moderation was an alien word. His 2010 release Earl stands as the pinnacle of the early O.F. sound with its imagined "immature crime sprees" and cop killings. 

On "Chum" Earl trades it all in for a shot at normalcy. "Get up off the pavement, brush the dirt off my psyche," he raps over a stuttering piano in the chorus. Earl's stuck swinging between the calm and the chaotic. Where he once disavowed his M.I.A. dad (South African-poet Keorapetse Kgositsile), he's now acknowledging he misses him. Earl swallows the bitter pill called pride and finds solace in shots and "big brother" Tyler, the Creator. All that moderation disappears, and his mom is left "offering peace offerings." And in the most tellingly line, he admits "I'm indecisive, I'm scatterbrained, and I'm frightened it's evident." With confessionals like this, all the past Earl tracks start to fall in place. On Earl, we weren't hearing a kid inventing these twisted narratives to shock or "for fun," we were hearing a frightened teenager doing everything he could to escape. On "Chum" he's stopped running and embraced reality.

Download Link:



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kanye West- "White Dress"

Kanye West engages in a type of musical hand-ringing that's almost impossible to avoid. For all his conspicuous consumption, you get the feeling that he trade in that "other other Benz" for a normal-life in a heartbeat. That wish for normalcy is what radiates throughout "White Dress," Kanye's track for the RZA-helmed The Man with the Iron Fists

"Trying to sneak upstairs to your apartment, aren't you a sight for red eyes," he raps over auto-tuned soul vocals and the tiny twinkle of piano. Yeezy lets his guard down here, and spits the endearing goofball lines that any 'Ye fan loves ("rocking flannels all summer like Kurt Cobain"). The second verse is a litany of microcosmic moments from countryside drives and promises of 30-foot trains come wedding time, to ordering "a girl drink in a masculine glass." It's impossible not to apply a few of the more embittered lines to Amber Rose ("now she's back in the club wearing a tight dress"), with Kanye going on to admit he was "wrong." He prefaces the whole verse with an acknowledgement that "everybody got problems baby, algebra class." Even with all the money, "Power," and private jets, Kanye knows full well he can never outspend his problems. 

"White Dress"