Thursday, September 25, 2014

"i"- Kendrick Lamar

T.I. had a 2006 album where he proclaimed himself King. In the same year Pusha T's regal status was signified by a cockeyed crown he wore on the cover of Hell Hath No Fury. Hip hop's seen "the best rapper alive," "superheroes," and a "rap god." But every last one of those artists feels distanced from their audience. In being royalty you naturally slip from the everyday tedium of normalcy. The longer you sit on the mountaintop, the less time you have to commune with the villagers down below. 

One glaring exception to the rule and perhaps the only legitimate claimant to the title of king is "King" Kendrick Lamar. Between good kid, m.A.A.d. city's runaway success in 2012, the Twitter-breaking "Control" in August 2013, a particularly firebreathing BET Cypher session last October and a continuous stream of breathless guest verses in 2014, Lamar's firmly established his kingship. But he's also retained his "humanity" in the process. He headlines festivals while still rocking those Nike Cortez shows and white tees. Lamar still lays his head in Los Angeles and shows up to local radio stations to let the hometown hear a new single first, a single where he cops to lacking confidence. 

That new single, "i," has already been discussed to death for being "too pop," "too breezy," a sure-fire bet to soundtrack a Disney movie in the next five years. With its shuffling guitar, clopping pots and pans percussion, communal clapping and message of having to love yourself before you can love anyone else, it is poppy and breezy. Those liquid solos you hear in the chorus, pulled from the Isley Brothers' "That Lady," are the sort of thing that would've played in any number of 70s cop flicks. But Kendrick Lamar raps his ass off on this one. With absolute ease he stacks up images of "A war outside and a bomb in the street, and a gun in the hood and a mob of police, And a rock on the corner and a line full of fiends." If that weren't enough to allay fears, his message of loving yourself first isn't new terrain. Since day one he's shown us how far someone can go if they believe in themselves; continually exhorting himself and his audience to go farther. And of course this is just the first taste of what's to come from the third LP. There's a strong chance this is the "radio friendly" track Lamar pushes to make label execs happy before dropping another classic of chaos and confusion in the 21st Century. Whatever the case may be, Lamar can rest easy. The crown's not going anywhere for now.

There's no set release date for Lamar's third LP, but you can watch him discuss the process of recording the new album on Power 106.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Blow that s*** away"- Future Islands Live at LouFest

"Sometimes you just gotta blow that s*** away man," Samuel T. Herring, Future Islands' powerhouse vocalist joked to a Sun soaked LouFest crowd Saturday afternoon. As the last notes of "Before the Bridge," a cut from the Baltimore synthpop group's last LP On the Water wafted into the sweat heavy summer air, Herring was blowing some invisible entity out of his hand. With the sheer force he put into puffing out his cheeks, then exhaling, you'd think he was an exorcist trying to cast out a demon.

But that's the intensity the group, particularly Herring approaches all of their material with. During indie song of the year contender "Seasons (Waiting On You)" William Cashion's thick running bass notes created a feeling of a dam bursting fourth; and Herring's "as it breaks" was the first gush of water through the concrete. The song's key line "I've grown tired trying to change for you," affects anyone who's ever lost too much of themselves in another person. And live the emotional relevancy Herring gave the confession was overwhelming.

The Singles lead track was one of several cuts from the 2014 record littering the group's 50 minute set. Gerrit Welmers' tidal synthesizer of "A Song for Our Grandfathers" found Herring looking up to a celestial plateau after each line about "grandfather watching over me." "This song's about burned out tobacco fields and those trying to be free and those that deserve to be," Herring informed the howling, clapping crowd. Whether freedom was ever attained, he never said.

"Light House" considerably picked up the synth pace and offered a shred of life saving hope once imparted on Herring. Though the words "this is not you," and "what you know is better, is brighter" were partially obscured by Herring's black metal shrieking, they still offered inspiration. Sometimes when you're trapped in the shadows all you need is assurance that light is out there somewhere.

Set closer "Spirit" continued the uplifting act. Herring giddily bounced up and down, while the rest of the group gelled into a robotic techno/funk groove. The song's all about finding that aforementioned light inside of yourself and near the end, I spotted a young red-headed child sitting on top of his father's shoulders beaming from ear-to-ear. So as "hokey" a challenge as "sharing" and "baring" the light sounds, when you see the joy of a small child, it's abundantly clear that radiant light exists.

As theatrical as all of the wailing, backwards dancing and pogoing that Herring did was, the most stirring moment came during Singles closer "A Dream of You and Me." Herring begged for peace, but was overcome with violence. He bizarrely contorted across the main stage and pulled at his face like he was trying to rip off a mask. When you're band that thrives on physicality, finding even a shard of peace isn't an easy task. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

"minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix]"- Aphex Twin

A major mistake I made when listening to "minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix]," British producer Richard D. James' first new work as Aphex Twin in 13 years, was assuming the stirring vocals that end the song were lifted from some "ancient" source. They're so frail and wobbly that I just imagined James clearing them off a hard-drive labelled "Samples" from the year 2000. 

It's the only thing though from "minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix] that feels "dated."  The layers of fluttering drum machines, watery synthesizers and stray noises are remarkably of the moment; recalling Aphex Twin disciples like shadowy post dubstep artist Burial and experimental hip hop producer Flying Lotus. James' aforementioned sighing at the song's end could be confused for a new Radiohead effort. Aphex Twin's been dormant since the maligned Drukqs in 2001, but James has clearly been paying attention to his imitators.

So much so that it sounds like he's read ahead of the class. As much as "minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix] is of 2014, it’s simultaneously out of time. Individual ripples of synth keys are soundtracking a sci-fi flick that won't be made for another 10 years. The robotic heaves throughout the track are alien to my ears. There's no Rosetta Stone to decode the language of James' vocal manipulations. Aphex Twin is unquestionably back and already out in front of the field.

Aphex Twin's new album Syro is out Sept. 23 through Warp Records. You can find James' mangled bio accompanying the new release here and view the tracklist below.

1. "minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix]"
2. "XMAS_EveT10 (thanaton3 mix)"
3. "produk 29"
4. "4 bit 9d api+e+6"
5. "180db_"
6. "CIRCLONT6A (syrobonkus mix)"
7. "fz pseudotimestrech+e+3"
8. "CIRCLONT14 (shrymoming mix)"
9. "syro u473t8+e (piezoluminescence mix)"
10. "PAPAT4 (pineal mix)"
11. "s950tx16wasr10 (earth portal mix)"
12. "aisatsana"