March 5th, 2015 12:45pm
technology and a lot of songs about feeling old, but it’s rare to find a song that’s about both and isn’t remotely hysterical about either. Most of the guys in Hot Chip are DJs when they’re not playing in the band, and this track clearly comes out of that experience, with Alexis Taylor having a very subdued existential crisis while realizing that he favors a more old school, tactile way of doing things, and how that means he’s a little out of step with how things are today. But he’s not really freaking out about it – as befitting a guy in an electronic band, he’s not bothered by technology, and he admits that maybe he’s bored with “youth.” This is a song about being OK with aging, and not necessarily looking at obsolescence as the worst thing that could happen to anyone or anything. There’s a beauty in a moment that passes, and some grace and dignity in belonging to your moment instead of forcing yourself into someone else’s thing.
The song also gets at what seems to be the core philosophy of the band: “Machines are great, but best when they come to life.” It’s all about investing these things with humanity. It’s not a mistake that the recurring hook “replace us with the things that do the job better” shifts from Taylor’s voice into a robot voice and back to Taylor at the end. Hot Chip just aren’t ever going to see the robot as a replacement for the flawed but soulful voice of a real person.
March 4th, 2015 12:50pm
This one starts off sounding like Noel Gallagher trying to remember how to play “Wonderwall,” but then kinda getting into this other groove before getting distracted and deciding to turn the whole thing into his version of something from Dark Side of the Moon. But I don’t say that like it’s a bad thing. This is actually one of the best and most surprising songs Gallagher has done in a while, and something that shows him expanding his palette a bit beyond a range of textures and tones that he has barely strayed from since around 1997. A lot of what made the first couple Oasis records so brilliant was in the very sound of it – the full spectrum of abrasive, overwhelming guitar noise on Definitely Maybe, and the warm acoustic tones throughout (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. There’s this large expanse of Gallagher’s body of work where he seems bored by his own music and seems to go on autopilot, but I don’t get that feeling with “Riverman” at all. The lyrics may be kinda boilerplate, but I hear actual vulnerability and emotion in his vocal performance, and existential despair in the instrumentals, even if it’s just him quoting Roger Waters’ version of expressing that feeling.
March 3rd, 2015 1:29pm
There is maybe a sense right now that “dubstep” sounds and bass drops feel a bit two years ago, but I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what those sort of dynamics can bring to mainstream pop music. This cut from Kelly Clarkson’s new album picks up where Alex Clare’s hit “Too Close” left off by using the dubstep break in a power ballad the way a rock band would stomp on a distortion pedal for the chorus. The dynamic shift in this song is pretty extreme – the verses are set to strings and synth washes, and there’s no percussion at all until the lead into the chorus. Clarkson’s voice is as powerful and strong as ever on those verses and the bridge, but her voice is broken and scattered on the chorus. This really works for the song, though I wonder what it’d be like to pair this sort of thrilling dynamic shift with her voice at full blast.
March 2nd, 2015 1:06pm
The past four Of Montreal albums have basically been a document of the slow, painful dissolution of Kevin Barnes’ marriage, and Aureate Gloom is the record where this fragile relationship finally collapses. It’s not as manic as Skeletal Lamping or as bitter as False Priest, or anguished like Paralytic Stalks or casually cruel like a lot of Lousy with Sylvianbriar. All of those emotions are in the mix on Aureate, but the dominant feelings are relief and regret.
“Like Ashoka’s Inferno of Memory” is the finale of the record, and seemingly of this relationship in general. It moves through several parts, rapidly cycling through feelings of disorientation, spite, rage, condescension, nostalgia, guilt, and self-pity. There are lines in this song that are among the most vicious lyrics Barnes has ever written, which is really saying something given how mean he’s been through the past run of albums. It’s brave for him to put this out there – there’s no vanity in this music, he’s not afraid to make himself appear to be the villain. This song is just as messy and complicated and agonizing as you’d expect the end of a very long relationship to be. The good news is that “Ashoka’s” ends on a fairly upbeat note, with Barnes turning against himself and wondering why “we can’t say nice things to each other,” and seeing the mess he’s made to be something he deserves. We leave him in a place where he knows he’s ruined something that was once good, but he’s finally ready to move on.
February 27th, 2015 3:55am
I wasn’t a fan of Big Sean in his “appearing as a featured artist on random songs” period, in part because he seemed rather bland to me. Not bad or anything, just like a guy who showed up to the studio like “hi, I’m here to do the rapping.” My estimation of him changed a lot when “I Don’t Fuck with You” came out last year – it’s just an undeniably great song with terrific production and a vocal performance by Sean that’s both emotional and clever in its delivery. There’s a cartoonish quality to his voice that came through in that, and I think it carries through to most of his debut, Dark Sky Paradise.
I really like him on “Outro,” which is basically the requisite song on a rapper’s major label debut where he talks about how cool his life is now that he’s got money, but also how there’s a lot of petty annoyances because he’s got to seem honest and real. I know it sounds cynical to put it that way, but don’t get me wrong – I genuinely love that trope and Big Sean has a great spin on it. His lyrics are solid, but I think this song mainly gets by on charm. He never sounds whiney, just like a guy who’s shrugging off the complications while keeping his head focused on the important stuff – his rhymes, his beats, his girl, feeling grateful for making it work.
February 26th, 2015 1:58pm
Joey Bada$$ is a proud traditionalist – he clearly worships at the altar of Nas, Biggie, DJ Premier, and Wu-Tang, and is striving to keep that ‘90s NYC aesthetic alive. I love that aesthetic, and so Joey’s music has a comfort food quality to it. There’s no surprises, but when it’s done well it’s rich and satisfying in a way that makes you momentarily forget there’s anything else. To some extent this makes me doubt my critical faculties, but then I remember one of my core beliefs as a critic: You can be wrong about the things you dislike, but you’re never wrong about what you enjoy. And how do I not enjoy production that feels so immediately cozy, and a rapper whose style is proficient yet warm and casual? Joey may be a bit conservative compared to some of his contemporaries, but this is a very “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” sort of thing.
February 25th, 2015 1:34pm
What do you do when you want to experience love and have a serious partner, but are absolutely terrified of anything like actual intimacy? That’s the question of this song, which starts off with doubts about ever being “the marrying kind,” and then goes deeper and deeper until it reaches the root of the problem: an inability to trust other people and immense self-loathing.
This is a painfully honest song, and Colleen Green holds nothing back – it’s stark and cold and brutal, and it’s actually kinda scary to listen to it. She sings “I don’t wanna think about it, it’s too scary” in the first refrain, but that’s before she even gets to the really painful stuff. But she can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s just like those times when you can’t fall asleep and your mind just starts running through disaster scenarios and picking apart everything you hate about yourself. It’s a mental scab you can’t stop picking at.
The final verse is the one that really resonates for me. I hate how much I relate to that last verse. I’m kinda ashamed to admit this in public – I worry about you listening to it and then knowing a bit too much about my personal issues. But then, I think this song applies to sooooooo many people, including many people in long term relationships. It’s hard to connect with people in a deep and meaningful way, and almost impossible if you’re unwilling to let your guard down because you want to protect yourself, or protect other people from what you hate about yourself. I think a lot about letting go and letting other people in, but once that urge to keep people away gets entrenched in your mind, it starts to feel like a survival instinct. The real question of this song is basically – is it worth surviving to live like this?
February 24th, 2015 3:38am
I’ve been getting sent PR emails about bands for a third of my life now, and I’m very used to publicists saying their artists sound something like some pre-existing well-regarded band. In the case of Never Young, I saw that they were compared to Fugazi, and I reflexively scoffed: Haha, no one is gonna sound like Fugazi! But here’s the crazy thing: Never Young actually DOES sound a little like Fugazi. You can hear it in the way the riffs crash violently into the beat, and the drums hit with a physical force that you don’t find in all that much rock music from the past decade or so. (Even the stuff that’s meant to be heavy.) You can hear it in the way this dude sings, which clearly aspires to Guy Picciotto’s nakedly emotional shouts and slurs.
This is definitely music that belongs to the same lineage, but Never Young are true to the spirit of Fugazi and Dischord by being themselves too. There’s a very particular ugly metallic clang to their guitar tone, and they favor a mix that’s more about blasting your ears out than just offering a dry document of a band in a room. They also like shifting into a trebly, angelic tone, and while they’re hardly the first band to have a slashing, screaming sound smash right into something more lovely and ethereal, they’re certainly the best I’ve heard do it in many years.
February 23rd, 2015 2:06am
I love the way this song feels like some kind of ritual to purge someone from your mind. Yannick Ilunga leads a call and response that spirals around a very simple beat, recognizing this person’s power over him and realizing that whatever they had, good or bad, is poisonous now. I’m extrapolating, though – there’s no particular conclusion here, and at least half the point of the song is the way the vocal and music moves in circles. It intensifies and builds, but it never leaves a tight orbit.
February 20th, 2015 1:19pm
A while back, maybe ten years ago, I came to realize that my favorite dance music wasn’t 100% danceable. I mean, yes, you ~can~ dance to it, but it’s not the sort of blunt force beats that will always slay at actual dance clubs. The thing I love is a sort of highly dynamic, super-charged pop music that signals a very sleek and confident sexuality. I’m looking for songs that have all the melody of pop, but pushed to a point where the very sound of the music forces an immediate physical response. This track from Etienne de Crécy’s Super Discount 3 is a fine example of this – it’s an incredibly smooth song, and about as chill as a song can be while also being quite hyperactive. There’s a hint of doubt in the vocal, but the overall sound is so suave and certain. It’s aspirational pop music.