Friday, August 30, 2013

"Waiting Game"- Banks

The moment Banks' trembling voice alights on the bed of minor piano chords and disembodied vocals found in "Waiting Game" her fall tour pairing with the Weeknd starts to make sense. Like Tesfaye's lothario alter-ego, she displays a shadowy seduction in a soft quiver, "and if I'm feeling evil we've got nothing to gain." A twitching electronic pulse (courtesy of Sohn) envelops the track while she wonders "what if the way we started made it cursed from the start?" As the pulse grows louder, Banks becomes more uncertain "scared of even thinking bout what we are." The libidinal "the way you make me feel sexy" comes with a caveat: "but it's causing me shame." Physical desires take a backseat to the simple joy of shoulder-leaning. The Weeknd gallivants around with no concern, Banks carefully considers every step. The song isn't the same.

Banks' debut EP London is out September 10.



Thursday, August 29, 2013

In Revue- "Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)"

Self Portrait, which Another Self Portrait the now 10th entry in the revelatory Bob Dylan Bootleg Series canonizes, could be considered the rock laureate's first full swing and a miss. The run-up to his 1966 motorcycle accident was thoroughly unimpeachable from the folk/rock split of Bringing It All Back Home to the electric sea change of Highway 61 Revisited and finally cresting on the sublimely surreal Blonde on Blonde. No matter where the pied-piper of rock trod, an entire generation followed. When he went to sidelines after the crash, everyone waited for the timeout to be over. The inauspicious return record John Wesley Harding in late 1967 met the same feverish intensity. He pared down his lyrics, but the crowds remained. The country croon he adapted for follow-up Nashville Skyline presented a clear attempt to trim the fat; however glowing reviews by Rolling Stone prevented any weight loss. The "voice of a generation" moniker weighed on Dylan and the man himself noted, "that notion needed to be pulled up by its roots."

Even provided that warning, few could have predicted how far Dylan would burrow to sever the roots. When Self Portrait sprouted in June 1970, Greil Marcus infamously asked "what is this shit?" in his Rolling Stone review. Traditional folk tunes elbowed  schmaltzy pop-rock. Live cuts nestled alongside studio outtakes, sequencing be damned. The tossed-off "The Boxer" cover was so tongue-in-cheek Dylan's puffy face could be seen from miles away. The country croon of Nashville Skyline grew tenderer.  When his voice was at its softest the cries of "foul" would grow the loudest. 
Released four months later, New Morning fared demonstrably better, receiving the label of "his best album since..." an honor now bestowed to any marginally successful album post-Blood on the Tracks. He slid back into the nasal tone and critics rested their weary heads on a bed of familiarity. However, New Morning shares rent with the critic-baiting hodgepodge of Self Portrait. There were songs like "Winterlude" featuring choruses of "winterlude, this dude thinks your fine." The tongue was still firmly in cheek.

The true beauty of the Bootleg Series is the opportunity it affords for re-evaluation of the Dylan discography and no period more desperately needed a new dissection than 1969-1971. Disc 1 opener "Went to See the Gypsy" (Demo Version) at first scans as a turgid recounting of Dylan's meeting of Elvis Presley. However, lines preoccupied by pretty girls dancing in lobbies shouting to "go see the gypsy" assure this is no straightforward autobiographical retelling. The song's bridge poignantly conveys Dylan's state-of-mind at the time, "the lights were on the river, shining from outside, I contemplated every move or at least I tried." Even the missteps of a high-profile artist like Dylan become calculated. 

"Spanish Is the Loving Tongue" and "I Threw It All Away" evince a blend of two Dylan strands, winsome folk melodies intertwining with the more surreal lyrics of his "rock" period. "Nights go a flyin," in the carefully considered piano playing of the former, while the latter finds Dylan cradling mountains in the palm of his hand. "Love is all there is," he confesses. In all its glory love can still beating hearts and stop time; thrown away it ensures agony.

Dylan is in full-flight on the traditional folk tunes, the jaunty "Railroad Bill" sees the harmonica return and Dylan rambles in a way he hadn't since '63's The Freewheelin Bob Dylan. The ancient "Pretty Saro" is reinvigorated; Dylan's shy warbling adeptly reflecting the title figure resting "down in some lonesome valley." The previously unreleased "House Carpenter" is a far-cry from the lightning take bottled up on the Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3. Dylan outran the spirit on the water in the earlier version; here he and a specter walk side-by-side. "Days of '49" is similarly haunted, Dylan playing the ghost "Tom Moore from the bummer shore". If the "House Carpenter" was unfairly forsaken, the "ginsot" Moore and his "jolly saucy crew" receive their just desserts. The Dylan songbook is lousy with tragic characters ("Hurricane", "Catfish", "Blind Willie McTell") "repining" the glory years, and few look to the past as longingly as Tom Moore.

The much maligned Isle of Wight recordings (Dylan would scrap a concert album) are re-contextualized on the second disc. "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"s country waltz only skirts the edges of the masterpieces Dylan and The Band would paint on 1975's The Basement Tapes. A herky-jerky "Highway 61 Revisited" finds Robbie Robertson's guitar going in and out of gallop, while Levon Helm's drum-set drops out of frame to spotlight crucial lines. The concert doesn’t provoke in the same way Live 1966’s electric half did, however its laconic country grooves reward just the same. 

 Many cuts here find success in addition by subtraction; tracks like "If Not For You" (Alternate Version) tip the scales in the other direction. A redolent violin part tiptoes on a snow covered rooftop while Dylan waits for the promise of his love's spring to begin the melting. His is a world where an absence of love cause robins to cease their singing. Sleepless nights are spent desperately trying to see the morning light. We lose sight of what's right in front of us when love vanishes and on "If Not For You" Dylan's gone blind.  

Another Self Portrait arguably saves the best for last, a piano demo version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece". Dylan's weathered vocals evoke "a long hard climb", one laboring from the Mesabi Iron Range of Hibbing, Minnesota to the pinnacle of popular music. He retraces Roman footsteps until he and his "old Victrola" are reunited and spends hours inside the Coliseum in the name of "wasting time." "Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent when I paint my masterpiece," he belts near the end. Self-Portrait is certainly "different", in terms of audience-shedding it sits comfortably alongside: Metal Machine Music, In Utero, Kid A, and Yeezus  in the pantheon. If Self-Portrait is any kind of a painting, it's an abstraction. This edition of the Bootleg Series reveals a rudimentary canvas to be an ornately crafted work. A piercing shrill curls into a pleasing rhapsody. The voice of a generation hadn't gone mute, it was singing in a tone no one had heard before.

 "Days of '49"

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What's New(s)?

FlyLo gets his own station

If you've ever found yourself driving around GTA's infinitely expansive environs wishing for some Flying Lotus to soundtrack your lawless spree, you either really like the L.A. producer or just want to relax while you expend a few bullets. Either way, Rockstar has granted your wish with FlyLo FM, one of 17 different radio stations featured in GTA V (out September 17 in stores), and hosted by the aforementioned producer. In addition to new music from the man himself, FlyLo FM will also feature music from: Tyler the Creator, Clams Casino, Aphex Twin, OutKast, and more. "Garbage", the new cut from Tyler is a bleeping Clipse-esque nightmare, where Tyler styles himself as a "salesman sorta giant" with "dope in the bag." Check out the tracklist below and give the new song a spin.

FlyLo FM:
Flying Lotus feat. Niki Randa - "Getting There"
Clams Casino - "Crystals"
Flying Lotus - "Crosswerved"
Flying Lotus - "Be Spin"
Flying Lotus - "See Thru to U"
Flying Lotus - "The Diddler"
Flying Lotus - "Computer Face Rmx"
Hudson Mohawke - "100hm"
Flying Lotus feat. Niki Randa - "The Kill"
Tyler, the Creator - "Garbage"
Outkast - "Elevators (Me & You)"
Captain Murphy - "Evil Grin"
Flying Lotus - "Catapult Man"
Dabrye - "Encoded Flow"
Machinedrum - "She Died There"
DJ Rashad - "It's Wack"
Thundercat - "Oh Sheit It's X"
Flying Lotus - "Stonecutters"
Shadow Child - "23"
Kingdom - "Stalker Ha"
Aphex Twin - "Windowlicker"

Kanye West & Miley Cyrus team up

"They see a black man with a white woman, at the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong," Kanye West snarled during the industrial grind of "Black Skinhead". Well it maybe time to start circling the planes, because West is supposedly setting to work on a remix of the punishing track with none other than Miley Cyrus. The New York Post is reporting that the eternally twerking Cyrus linked up with Yeezus post-VMAs to record the remix for a prospective remix EP.  It's tough to say if this is just lark or if Kanye will actually follow through on what will unquestionably be one of his most outrageous collaborations to date. While you wait for the dust to settle, go here for video of West's stark performance of Yeezus highlight "Blood on the Leaves" and the still ferocious performance of "Black Skinhead" live on SNL.

Franz Ferdinand cover Grimes

Scottish indie-rockers Franz Ferdinand recently released their fourth studio LP Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action and to promote the record the Glasgow-band went on French Station Oui FM to cover the still-infectious electronic glisten of Grimes' "Oblivion". Alex Kapranos and company ditched the keyboards for an all-acoustic cover of the tender track. This is not the first time this year the song has received the cover treatment, previously the Crutchfield sisters Katie and Allison of Waxahatchee and Swearin' took to the tune. Enjoy Franz Ferdinand's whispered offering below and look for their record in stores now.

Franz Ferdinand - Grimes cover - Session... by radioouifm

"State of Mine"- Sebadoh

Sebadoh's jangly guitar parts and bouncing basslines have long belied singer Lou Barlow's melancholic ruminations on failure, indecision, and abject apathy. The fear of failure is palpable on new single "State of Mine" (the second to be released off the forthcoming Defend Yourself) with Barlow's fear translating into a terror of decision-making. When you never make a firm commitment, you're never let down. As he slowly reveals throughout the course of the song, he's not just worried about his own shortfalls, but those of his children as well. In many ways, it's garage-inflected update of CSNY's "Teach Your Children". "Failure is a state of mine," Barlow readily admits in the chorus' close. But he bottles that fear up, knowing he's "gotta be stronger" for his children's sake. In holding his head up high, he's taking CSNY's advice to heart: "Can't know the fears that your elders grew by."

Sebadoh's new LP Defend Yourself (their first in 14 years) is out September 17 via Joyful Noise.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's New(s)?

Eminem announces new album

Sunday night amidst all the feverish Miley Cyrus coverage, Eminem announced The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (out 11/5) via Beats commercials. Em's output since the monolithic Marshall Mathers LP has careened through mountains and valleys (as I dissected heavily in my recent piece for Critical Hip Hop), but this release promises Dr. Dre & rap svengali Rick Rubin as executive producers, so there is some cause for celebration. Also, Em's back to rocking the bleach-blonde hair look which is never a bad thing. Check out the fast-rapping new single "Berzerk" below, which heavily samples Billy Squier's blustery "The Stroke" and lovingly apes the album cover of Rubin's first production masterpiece Radio.

TV On The Radio debut new song


Following last month's bracing "Mercy", TV On The Radio has reappeared with the fragile, tenderly constructed "Million Miles". Though no promises of a new LP have been made yet, it certainly looks like the Brooklyn band is stockpiling for a release. Check out the new track here, which features an environmentalist finding a new wonder drug out in the jungle; a feeling Tunde Adebimpe's lush falsettos clearly evoke.

The National lighten up


The National's latest LP Trouble Will Find Me leitmotif was resignation and waiting, evinced by clear highlights "Slipped" and the Joy Division chug of "Graceless". Berninger's sepulcher vocals were searching for a shortcut out of "the waiting," turning to powder and pill alike for a solution to the untenable equation. While the monochromatic color scheme of the new video maintains that starkness, the band's shenanigans fully betray it. Dawning their best suits the band can be found lounging by the pool, sipping on sodas, and indulging their inner Dave Mirra. Moving out into world, the band is taking Berninger's advice near the end of the meditation: "Put the flowers you find in a vase, if you're dead in the mind it will brighten the base. Don't let them die on the vine, it's a waste." Waste not, want not. 

Check back again tomorrow for the newest in new(s).   

"Coming Through" ft. Cat Power- Willis Earl Beal

"A lot of people think that the lives they lead are the truth, they think that what they believe is the truth, they think that what they see is the truth", Chicago soul-singer Willis Earl Beal knowingly declares over a quaking tambourine and unfettered drum figure on new song "Coming Through". Past singles "Everything unwinds." and "Too Dry To Cry" from the soon to be released Nobody knows. largely abandoned the lo-fi production of Beal's past efforts, proving the tape hiss wasn't an aesthetic choice so much as a necessity. This latest effort continues the trend, as Beal's warmth is matched only by the glistening guitar lines and guest Chan Marshall's understated backing vocals. The sunny day grooves Beal unravels risk blotting out by: "righteous indignation, blind dedication, and a steadily diminishing heart." But Beal remains unfazed, tenderly muttering in the outro "don't worry about it baby, everything's going to be okay." The truth will set you free and Beal's already been released.

Nobody knows. is out 9/10 via XL and you can also see Beal in the upcoming film Memphis which he wrote and recorded the soundtrack for.



Friday, August 23, 2013

What's New(s)?

Nine Inch Nails debut new song

Tracks from the forthcoming Nine Inch Nails album Hesitation Marks have been steadily flowing forth for the last several months and now we have another one. "Find My Way" originally appeared during last month's comeback set at the Fuji Rock Festival. The studio track is a low-key affair, Reznor singing in a hushed whisper over a skittish drum beat. Check out the audio rip here (from the Zane Lowe show) and look for the LP to drop September 3.

Pharrell and Ray Lewis link up

If Ray Lewis speeches didn't already have enough replayability, we now have a new reason to put Ray on repeat. Taking a cue from a 2012 fan-made video, Lewis and Neptunes producer Pharrell have linked up for a "mixtape" of the former Raven's linebacker's diatribes. The release entitled Natural Born Hitters takes blustery Pharrell beats and blends them with Lewis musings on: training, practice, and pre-game. Whenever you find yourself needing a extra boost of inspiration or just want to hear Ray Lewis yelling for a few minutes, you now have a new outlet. 

Listen here

Drake shares album artwork

Drake's forthcoming release Nothing Was The Same is just a month away from release and although there's still no tracklist, we finally have album art. The two animated covers for the Toronto MC's third LP were created by Kadir Nelson, who previously designed the collage cover for the posthumous 2010 Michael. Marc Hogan of Spin referred to the sunny cover as "laughable" and outright declared "Drake has to know this is funny." But in an interview with MTV news, Nelson describes Drake's desire for something "iconic". Time will tell if the cover makes its way to that Pantheon or winds up in the halls of Pitchfork's "Worst Album Covers". So until that argument is settled, enjoy the still great video for "Started From The Bottom" and check out Nothing Was The Same, in stores September 24.

 Look for more of the newest in new(s) Monday.

"Birds"- Death Grips

Somehow a subdued Death Grips effort is even more terrifying than their usual fare. Past efforts along the lines of "I've Seen Footage" presented MC Ride & Zach Hill midway through the fight, swinging in every direction to topple whatever power structure happened to draw their ire that day. The supreme synth manipulation of new song "Birds" captures an entirely different moment. One where Ride & Hill are stockpiling for war, gathering threats like bullets for the onslaught to follow: "I got right now between my legs, I put right now between your legs, I got today shoveling graves, I got tomorrow turning in your grave." Hill offers up drum rolls that never quite materialize into gut shots, while severed guitar loops slowly bleed out. For now there's only a grey cloud in the horizon, we got "tomorrow coming"; the storm is on it's way. 


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Revue- "Doris"

"N***** wanna want to hear you rap, don't nobody care about how you feel," Odd Future collaborator Vince Staples derisively proclaims over the stuttering drums and in-house horn section of "Burgundy". After three years of waiting, an over-publicized retreat to Samoa, an Internet-baiting return track, and an impossibly dense appearance on an all-time posse cut; any fan of Odd Future and Earl wanted an album of raps. This was the "hot and bothered astronaut," "crushin' motherf***ers like moths in a mosh-pit," always smart-mouthed and quick-witted. All Earl had to do for Doris was stack raps on raps on raps, instead he undertook an entirely different construction project. 

Not that there isn't plenty of pure, unadulterated rapping here. "Hive", the third single to spin off of the album is a midnight marauder through a crumbling Los Angeles, where "death's less important when the Lakers lose". Vince Staples appears once more to strut down Death Row; carrying a "yomper big as Larry Johnson" and piling bodies up "Auschwitz". Earl mentions "crawling down 'Fax like a rich n**** centipede", and the beat stitched up by Matt Martians and Earl suggests that slimy lurching quality. Spaghetti-Western guitar ripples of "Hoarse" provides Earl an ample opportunity to slow down, while still "leaving opponents floating with paper and dirty porcelain". I’m hard-pressed to pick a favorite line from the album, though "rolling slick as the bottom of the bowling kicks," is hard not to love. Jandek death howls appear from behind a creaking door, ensuring the song's nightmarish status.

Earl's living through another kind of nightmare on "Chum", where it's been "twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless" and he's hunted down by attention-seeking news sleuths. Over a prodding piano line, Sweatshirt attempts to make amends with his mother and takes up an older brother in Tyler. In the track's most telling moment the 19-year old Earl is "indecisive, scatterbrained, and frightened." It's easy to forget he's still a kid trying to keep his head above water. The aforementioned "Burgundy" is equally autobiographical, finding Earl lamenting the loss of his grandmother (for whom the album is named) while he's stuck "trying to get this album cracking." A friend called the song "special" and I couldn’t imagine it at first. Now I can see it. Rare is the occasion an artist opens up the diary of his life and invites us to thumb through it; written in such rich detail we can hear his heart racing "in the midst of a tornado".

"Sunday" flips to another page, focusing on rocky relationships and swearing off substances. Earl's dreams have gotten dimmer since he "stopped smoking pot," as his relationship plots a similar course. He struggles to pick up the phone at the beginning of the hazy track and soon enough he's asking "why we argue a lot." The up-and-down is embodied in the chorus, Earl confessing: "and loving you is a little different, I don't like you a lot." Loving someone is difficult, though liking them is no cakewalk either. For his part, Frank Ocean raps about leaving the object of his affections "at terminal three," vanishing into his sleeper seat. In the outro, he's wondering "what we're about?" Amidst all the traveling and extended vacations, you can forget the reason you’re coming home.
"Knight" provides a temporary remedy from the nausea inducing beats, prescribing a soul sample of the Magictones (previously put to good use by Raekwon). Most-improved-rapper on the O.F. team Domo Genesis is "chasing profits" despite his promise to finish college. Domo opens up about his own absentee father and his success in spite of him. Earl sends a "shout (out) to the fathers that didn't raise us." They're scouring the same abandoned mine and yielding diverse results. Domo maybe the resident stoner of the group, but his ambitions burn like bleeding lava. Earl is simmering, slowly balling his fist up. Domo's the child still trying to prove something, Earl's refusing to dwell in the past and filling the void any way he can.

"N***** think cause you f***ing made "Chum" and got all personal that n***** won't go back to that old f***ing 2010 s***," Tyler bellows in his rasp at the onset of verbal onslaught "Whoa". We're given the "misadventures of a s***-talker," whose is just as likely to found "bruising gimmicks with the broom he usually use for Quidditch," as he is to "get a nice spanking" courtesy of a new Sears catalog. Earlier during "Sasquatch" Tyler cruised around in a truck plastered by puppy signs, looking for One Direction fans to kidnap. Bouncing perfectly off each other, the two also manage to highlights the differences between themselves. Tyler's blissfully stuck in a state of arrested development, he's "soaring to Taco Bell" while Earl's given up on ordering from the kid's menu. On Doris we can hear Earl rap, but we can also hear the sound of him growing up. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In Revue- "Dual"

London-native Sampha Sisay's debut EP is the sound of absence. We can strive for solitude, though it seldom comes. Even our quietest moments are surrounded by the cacophony of thoughts in our head, a rumbling of our stomach, the maddening tick-tock of a clock, or any host of foreign invaders looking to quash our solitude. Countless nights I've found myself pursing peace; a pursuit quickly traded for a chance to chase circles in my head. Sampha's all-too-brief EP manages an increasingly rare feat of decompressing and looking inward for answers. 

Lyrically, Dual focuses on all the avatars of absence. Proper opener "Beneath the Tree" leaves Sampha waiting for a hidden monster's removal "I wish he'd pack all his bags and go." Lacking any of his own magic-making, he pleads to an unseen entity "don't fail me now, I need your wishes," over a hazy concoction of: muted drum beats, twitching maracas, chorded pianos, and soft "anvil" strikes. Wish fulfillment comes when Sampha "suppresses the sounds", and finds some semblance of peace. The stereo-panning pings and drum machine pops of "Without" run-together on a palette with flesh-and-blood drum playing to paint a hyper-realist work of the void. Towering mountains of Sampha's mind fail to materialize in the real world, while he chases love; never finding it. Again Sampha attempts to retreat into the safety of his mind, but only manages to patiently wait in another realm. Here absence comes through circumstance, not choice.  

"Indecision" is the most ascetic of these minor-key statements, a gut-wrenching piano "ballad" by way of post-dubstep that accepts the slings and arrows targeting us. Despite the lyrical resignation, Sampha's voice rises above a whisper by the bridge; putting everything into his plea to "let it all work out." In my experience, I can recall reducing life's daily perils into a tangible proposition, that if the my problems could just see themselves to a conclusion, all would be right. "Indecision" reminds us our answers often "don't hear their calls", and our desires for the right life or relationship can disappear before they fully form.

Closer "Can't Get Close" concerns a more corporeal absence, in this case the death of Sisay's father at the age of nine. A phalanx of vocals hardly mask Sampha's pain as he wishes for his father to hear his cries. "All I want is more", he simply begs to a fatherly spirit. It's a request that falls on deaf ears, as the choir quietly folds up near the song's conclusion. Serenity arrives, after being preceded by ugliness. The "flood of noise" on "Indecision" has crested into a tiny wave of longing, and finally stillness out on the water. Dual is absence in the flesh, the "sound of silence," and it's deafening. 


Dual is out now via the Young Turks label.