Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What is Ambient?

What is Ambient Music?

I have been asking myself that question a lot recently, mostly due to this record. I had read online that this album was the generally accepted "starting point" for someone who wanted to get into Aphex Twin. I knew Aphex Twin was very influential in the electronic music/house genre, so I gave it a go.

Despite its title, it didn't strike me at all as "ambient music". Each song has a drum beat, something I had always thought was a no-no in ambient music. The songs also have logical musical structures that you can bob your head to. I never thought you could "bob your head" to ambient music, either. But there it is on the cover, Selected Ambient Works.

My experience in ambient music before this album was mostly the work of Oneohtrix Point Never. I would listen to OPN at work a lot. It relieved my stress when I was focusing on the music, and gave me intense focus on what I was working on when I was ignoring the music. Some of OPN's material is very ambient and minimal, other stuff is very sample-based and can easily hold your attention. Granted, I never bobbed my head to OPN. But I do have a profound emotional response when listening to his stuff.

After hearing Selected Ambient Works and getting thoroughly confused on what "ambient music" really was, I dove into Brian Eno's music. He is the so-called "father of ambient music" after all. So I checked out Another Green World and Apollo. Another Green World is Talking Heads-esque pop-rock one moment, instrumental chill-out music the next. Apollo is exactly what I had always thought ambient music should be. Slow, minimal, spacey-sounding songs. However, there are moments on the album that really demand your attention. There are a lot of cool country-western inspired songs that sound really awesome against the spacey synthesizers.

I was further confused when I listened to a band called Rachel's. Their music is made up of relaxing, emotional, string-and-piano-driven songs. Not really background music, but not something you can hum along to either.

So, I had listened to four different "ambient" artists, and really heard four completely different approaches to ambient music. Like any other person seeking hard answers, I decided to consult the Wikipedia page on ambient music. You can read it if you like, but the page includes two quotes from Mr. Eno himself that really help describe ambient music:

"Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."

"Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think."

I really like the idea that ambient music must be as "ignorable as it is interesting." That is an excellent description of the four examples above. There are when I'm listening to ambient music in the background and when I focus on the music I feel like I've been missing out on something brilliant. Then I can't focus on anything but the music. It is for this reason ambient music begs replays, and it would explain why I listened to nothing but Oneohtrix Point Never for three weeks straight last year.

Anyways, there are no real earth-shattering revelations in this post, but I really like investigating what makes certain genres what they are.

Get chilled out by listening to some ambient songs below.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


I've heard a few singles in the past month that are getting me real excited for upcoming albums.

Schoolboy Q - Yay Yay: Really liking this track. Sounding like Oxymoron is going to be awesome.

Janelle Monae - Q.U.E.E.N. (feat. Erykah Badu): This track was a relief. I had heard Janelle do a song called "Electric Lady" in a live video and I was not impressed at all. This song sounds good though, so I'm back on board.

Azealia Banks - Yung Rapunxel: This song is bonkers! I listen to Azealia's 1991 EP a hell of a lot, but all I remember from her mixtape was that I don't remember anything about it. This song is really crazy, and the album art for the single is equally as awesome:

Edit: Oh my god I just watched that video above for the first time. That was AWESOME! Azealia is fast becoming my new favorite artist. I really hope her album is this good...

Daft Punk - Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams): I personally believe it is impossible to dislike this song. It is such a feel-good song, everyone can jam to this with a smile on their face. Having said that, it does feel a little watered-down. Kind of like... Daft Punk Lite. If the whole album is like this, I'll still enjoy it, but I can't guarantee I'll listen to it for longer than a week. We have less than a month till Random Access Memories (which is the perfect Daft Punk album title, btw) is released, so who knows. Maybe we'll... get lucky... and it'll be amazing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Weekly Roundup

Been listening to a lot of older stuff this past week.

After I heard a new song on youtube, I revisited this album and actually liked it more than I remembered, and I liked it quite a bit.  I saw a quote from Danny that said something like "if XXX was my OK Computer, Old is going to be my Kid A." I just thought it was funny how well he knows his audience. Really looking forward to the new one.

I don't remember how I found out about this album, but I really like it. It's traditional Hindustani music with vocals. So it's kind of like Ravi Shankar's stuff, with all the repetition of musical themes over and over with certain embellishments, but with vocals. Check it out.

This is one of my go-to albums. Whenever I don't have a new album to listen to and I want to get funky, I put on Onra's Long Distance. It starts out with a robot saying "I want to hear future funk" and the future funk does not stop for 21 songs. Great album.

Well, that's my half-assed blog post for today. I heard that I missed Big K.R.I.T.'s latest free mixtape a couple weeks ago. I am getting that ASAP as I am sure it is going to CRUSH! Expect to see me shouting about it's greatness on this blog soon...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Flaming Lips - The Terror

You know, I almost liked this album. I was driving home after working late one night. I was tired, I was stressed, and I was hungry. This was maybe the fifth or sixth time I was listening to the album, and it felt like it was finally clicking. But then I got to track 5, "The Terror", followed by "You Are Alone". It felt like I was listening to the first four tracks again, but this time with worse vocals.

The Flaming Lips have never been about the singing. It is no secret Wayne has a terrible voice. But you never care, because they always make it work. Whether it's a vibe that Wayne's voice fits into, or he's yelling to a rockin beat and quality of voice doesn't matter. But on this album, the poorly sung vocals really stand out. My initial thoughts on my first listen were that the album sounded like your buddy who lives down the hall in your dorm in college had recorded it in his dorm room and he didn't want to sing too confidently in fear of annoying his neighbors.

At times, the sounds the band produce are interesting and psychedelic. But I feel like they made this album and are like "here's where you are supposed to feel sad" and I recognize it, but I don't feel it. I feel very disconnected when listening to it.

Which is a bummer, considering how much I liked Embryonic, and this feels kind of like a companion piece to that album.

One good thing is, this album isn't bad because the band is sitting still and I am getting bored with their sound. Even in their 30th year as a band, they are still challenging themselves to make music they've never done before.

Speaking of which, I am really looking forward to Lip$ha... a rumored collaboration between the Lips and Ke$ha that would kick so much ass.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Godspeed You! kinda suck

Ever since January, I have been trying to force myself into liking Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I'd say 50% of the reason I want to like this band so badly is because their name is so awesome. 

Their name implies a force to be reckoned with. There is power oozing out of every word in it. The only word that would have lacked power was "You" but they added an exclamation point after it to fix that. 

Then I look at their album covers, and I am struck with feelings of darkness. 

I also get the general consensus that they are the best Post-Rock has to offer.

So, before even listening, I have the following expectations:
1) Power
2) Dark
3) Best of Post-Rock

Then you press play... and instead you get the wimpiest music ever. It's all so happy and uplifting and faux-artsy with their field recordings. 

It always starts with slow, pretty, midrange to high notes on the guitar. Then drums or horns come in as it gets a little faster. Then I guess they start striking chords on their guitars, but these chords are so light. Like I expect an EXPLOSION or something after a timid crescendo lasting 10 minutes. Then their songs just kinda meander... throw in some field recordings from an airport... and the song fizzles out. 

The other day, my friend Jake turned me on to a band called Rachel's. They have some really cool ambient/string driven songs, such as this one:

I immediately thought, "Hey, this kind of reminds me of the string parts in Godspeed's music. Maybe I just wasn't in the right state of mind for Godspeed, since I was expecting something it wasn't. Ok, this time I'll listen to Godspeed with the expectation that it'll be beautiful music meant to be beautiful."

Listened again.

Sucked again.

Oh well. I guess Post-Rock just isn't for me. Maybe you'll like it:

If the song above seems wimpy to you too, maybe it's time to give Swans' The Seer a try. Now there's some powerful and dark music! 

P.S. If you've listened to everything on this page, you've spent an hour on my blog. Thanks?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Daft Hype

I don't think I can get any more hyped for this record.

Ok, considering the album doesn't come out for another month, I admit I will get even more hyped as the weeks go on.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rhye - Woman

I am quite surprised how much I am loving this album. There's really nothing "special" about it. It's got very simple, very straight forward, smooth pop songs... but something about it keeps me coming back. It's kind of like with Beach House. Beach House really don't do anything spectacular or different... they just do what they do perfectly.

Interesting tidbit: the lead singer of this band is a dude. Yeah... One of these guys is the singer. And neither of them is a woman.

Regardless, he's got one hell of a voice.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Knife - Shaking the Habitual

Warning: Long-ass blog post ahead. 
Spoilers: I love this album.

We begin in 2006, a very formative year for my musical tastes. Released that year were:

Grizzly Bear - Yellow House
Liars - Drum's Not Dead
The Knife - Silent Shout

I may talk more extensively on 2006 in another blog post, but for the purposes of this one I just want to establish how much I love The Knife. Silent Shout still sits in my top 5 albums of all time. I have been waiting for their follow up for 7 years.

I really don't know how to write about The Knife. The Knife are more than a band to me. They are an entity. Their existence as people almost feels like performance art. They are very secretive (obscuring or covering their faces in photographs) and very eccentric in their musical projects. I heard stories of Olof travelling to the tropical jungle to gain inspiration, and then he puts out music under the name Oni Ayhun that sounded like the sounds of an electronic jungle. They were commissioned to score an opera about Darwin. Karin accepted an award for her debut solo album as Fever Ray and this was the result:

I have been following The Knife's every move, watching in fascination, wondering what the hell their next album would sound like. Typically I build stuff like this up too high and I end up being underwhelmed. This is thankfully not the case with Shaking the Habitual.

This album is so different from anything else I've ever heard, but I can hear bits of Oni Ayhun in "Networking", influences from Tomorrow in a Year in "Stay Out Here", and it all still sounds like The Knife. I heard someone compare this album to Remain in Light by Talking Heads, and I really see some similarities in how important rhythm is on this record. Even on the slower tracks, it always feels like it's constantly moving and changing.

I do take issue with "Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized" and "Fracking Fluid Injection". I like these songs (Fracking more than Old Dreams), but I feel like they are really out of place. If someone had said to me "Kyle, The Knife are releasing an ambient album!" I would have been all:

But in the context of this album, it only slows the momentum down on a record that feels like it is all about constant motion.

I could go on about this album, I really love it. But since I don't like reading album reviews, and this is kind of turning into one, I'll just mention a few notes:

A Tooth For an Eye - I read on Pitchfork "You can almost see the vein bulging in Karin's neck as she sings 'Trust meeeeeee.'" ...Totes.
A Cherry On Top - The guitar or whatever the fuck string instrument that is... I love it.
Without You My Life Would Be Boring - When Karin screams at 3:05: 
Stay Out Here - I don't know what to do when I hear this song. Dance, shimmy, cringe, cry, convulse...
Ready to Lose - This song gets so intense without getting loud, which is really cool.

In summation: I will not be surprised if in 7 years I will look back upon this album as fondly as I do Silent Shout.

Hooray for exceeding expectations!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Friday, April 5, 2013

Jackie Wilson - Higher and Higher

This song by Jackie Wilson just might be the greatest song ever recorded. I'm serious. It goes:

1. Jackie Wilson - Higher and Higher
2. The Beach Boys - Don't Worry Baby
3. Taylor Swift - We are Never Ever Getting Back Together

The song is 3 minutes long, but could honestly just repeat ad infinitum and no one would be like "hey can we change the song?" because this song is that good. If you get a speeding ticket, your dog dies, AND you stepped on a wet spot with your socks on, this song could still cheer you up.

Such a great song.

P.S. All of the above is mostly true. But the real reason I love this song so much is because of how it was used in the ending credits of "Death to Smoochie". That is a great movie, and a comedy. So there is absolutely no reason to cry during these credits. But this song does things to me, man...

P.P.S. After watching this again I realized they used COMIC SANS during the entire sequence. THIS RUINS EVERYTHING.

New List:

1. The Beach Boys - Don't Worry Baby
2. Taylor Swift - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
3. Jackie Wilson - Higher and Higher

God damn comic sans...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lol I'm still obsessed with Swans

Swans - Stay Here

Weekly Roundup

I've been listening to some tunes this past week, but nothing that really warrants it's own dissertation. Here's what I've been jamming recently:

Wavves has been around for a couple years, but I've never really liked anything I've heard from them before. This album has really fun, catchy, I-don't-want-to-go-to-school rock music. I'll likely play the shit out of this one and after a week move on.
Wavves - Demon to Lean On

Golden Rule: if it's released on Brainfeeder, there's a good chance it is awesome. Brainfeeder has been putting out many of my favorite artists in the past few years: Teebs, Matthewdavid, Lapalux, Thundercat, TOKiMONSTA, and of course, Flying Lotus himself. Lapalux sounds just like every one of these artists, but I'm not complaining. 

I think Tyler is an annoying teenager who is starved for attention. I realize this makes me the lame adult he is rebelling against. Regardless, he hasn't left my radar ever since I saw the video for Yonkers. I didn't really like Bastard or Goblin. There were a few tracks here and there that I enjoyed, but nothing lived up to the greatness of Yonkers. I just heard his new album, Wolf, for the first time yesterday, and I can already tell a difference. It's the same talented kid making ridiculous music, but this time it seems less... annoying.