Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Baths - Obsidian


Pitchfork kind of gets a bad rap, but they still introduce me to albums I probably would have never heard otherwise. Baths' new Obsidian is one such album.

Baths sounds to me like Wild Beasts' Smother mixed with Washed Out's Within and Without. It's electropop that is laden with images of death, suicide, and self-deprecation. So basically, Obsidian is an album that may well have been made after asking a focus group full of Kyles what they wanted to hear.

I do like this album a lot, but I always find myself getting kind of tired of it towards the end. Maybe it's because I want the guy to lighten up a little, but mostly I think it's because the sad-synth thing sounds a little samey after a while.

So, it probably won't make my end of the year list, but I'll definitely be turning to it when I'm feeling especially emo.

Check out my favorite track below. And maybe don't listen at work?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

When you think about Vampire Weekend, what adjectives come to mind?

Musty? Sparse? Swampy?

If not, then you obviously haven't heard their newest album yet.

To me, Vampire Weekend has always been that fun indie band that cute girls also like to listen to; I've never given them the credit they deserve. Even after Contra, which I was not anticipating at all, and came as a real surprise that this band was not a one-album-wonder.

A couple weeks ago I heard Vampire Weekend had a third album coming out, and I just shrugged it off, consumed by the Daft Hype of the past month. Once it was released, it didn't show up on Google Play, so I figured "eh, no loss".

However, I kept reading online how great this album is. The fans of this album seemed in awe, with superlatives stating that this album should win a grammy, and they seemed almost a little annoyed that Daft Hype had kind of covered this album up.

So, Google-be-damned, I pirated this album as I could wait no longer.

And guys, this album is really really fucking good. On first listen, I was immediately struck with the catchy-as-hell melodies. The melodies are familiar enough to sing along to, but still inventive enough to sound fresh. The song writing is really the core of what makes this album so damn good. But on top of that, Vampire Weekend uses some really interesting recording techniques that give this album a certain flavor.

The album sounds like the band is playing for an art show in a large, mostly empty warehouse, and the guests are neither interested in the art or the music. There are moments where there are actually sounds of a crowd talking over the band playing. The microphone sounds like it is in the middle of the room between the band and the crowd, so neither are picked up like they are the foreground of what we should be hearing.

I am sure I could try to go in-depth on how this lends towards Vampire Weekend's desire to return to a time when they were 4 dudes making great music that no one really wanted to hear. And I did read a Rolling Stone article that hinted towards Vampire Weekend's own surprise toward their popularity, but that kind of shit makes for boring articles (take note, Rolling Stone. Kyle's blog is the wave of the future).

Instead I will just talk about the snare drum. In "Step", we have muted harmonizing open the song (white noise in the background) and then the snare cracks in at full volume like an exclamation point, followed by a quaint harpsichord line. This contrast in volumes and energy really makes this song stand out for me. The whole thing has this motion to it that you can not help but sway to. And in "Hannah Hunt", easily the moment in the record where you realize you are listening to a masterfully written record, you have the almost restrained singing from Ezra, followed by a leading piano riff, and BAM--snare drum! Ezra comes back, screaming desperately the same lines he's been singing the whole song, but this time there are tears streaming down my face.

It's really hard to describe why this pop album is better than others. It's like The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, or Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues: what is it about the melodies on these albums that make them "good" pop songs? Is it all just a matter of opinion, or is there some mathematics at play here that makes certain combinations of melodies just a nose above the others?

I hope you didn't want an answer to that, because I sure don't know. I can tell you to listen to Modern Vampires of the City, though. Perhaps we can better understand what makes a perfect pop record by listening to one.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Here we go...

I think my feelings for this album are best described by my real-time reactions to track 1, "Give Life Back to Music". Follow along won't you?

0:00 - What the fuck is this corny ass guitar intro? This is awful.
0:19 - Oh shit, this is an awesome groove. I immediately forgive whatever hell that was at the beginning.
0:50 - VOCODER! I love this so hard! And the melody is pretty good too!
1:23 - Shit is ON! This guitar is fawnkay!
1:55 - Oh. The guitar interlude thing is back. Why. I was jamming.
2:11 - And we're back! Give life back to music! Yeah!
3:00 - Gah. This corny interlude is so out of place and so... bad.
3:16 - Oh yeah! Sounds of people partying. I'm partying. Are you partying? Let's party. I just hope that interlude doesn't come back...
4:15 - Fade out, because this groove will go on forever...


Did you pick up on the theme? It was pretty subtle.

This theme of "aw yeah" right alongside of "please stahp" continues consistently throughout the whole album. And it's not like on most albums, where you have songs you want to skip. It's all jumbled up into each song so you have to sit through the bad stuff to get to the good. Thankfully there are some songs ("Instant Crush") that are 100% bad and you can skip those, but conversely there are no 100% great songs that you want to skip to. The strings on "Giorgio by Moroder" are cinematic, the vocoder on "Lose Yourself to Dance" is awesome, the piano and guitar interplay on "Fragments of Time" is really smooth, but each of these songs are ruined by another element. The exhaustingly repetitive synth line on "Giorgio by Moroder", the funeral march pace and lifeless vocals on "Lose Yourself to Dance", and the guy-next-door vocals from Todd Edwards on "Fragments of Time".

Really, all of the guest vocals are pretty bad on this album. When either Guy or Thomas sing through the vocoder, it ironically adds an emotional element that is missing from everyone else's vocal takes.

There are probably two songs I will return to after this week: "Give Life Back to Music" and "Doin' it Right". "Doin' it Right" has my favorite vocal contribution, and the one I was looking forward to the least. Panda Bear just doesn't seem like a good fit within Daft Punk's aesthetic, but this song really surprised me. I will say that the song really feels like the longest intro ever and at the end I am like "NOW LET THE BEAT DROP!" but the song is just over.

Which kind of brings me to my next takeaway: Daft Punk's next tour is going to be AMAZING. Each one of these songs sounds unfinished, almost as if they designed these songs to be sampled again by themselves on their next tour. These songs will really come alive with a 4-on-the-floor dance beat. Just think, Human After All supplied the foundation for some of the best moments on Alive 2007, but was really nothing spectacular on its own...

So, I probably won't be returning to Random Access Memories very often. But you can bet I'll be the first one buying tickets for their next tour.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Google Play Music: All Access

Awwwww shit!

I jumped on board the music-streaming train earlier this year. I found that I was spending $7 to buy a new album, listen to it for maybe a week, then spend $7 more the next week on a new album, never to listen to last week's album again.

So, I signed up for Rdio. $9 a month for unlimited streaming of almost anything I wanted to listen to. The operative word being "almost". Only official releases would be on Rdio, so that meant no free hip-hop mixtapes. There were also a few albums with legal issues that prevented them from showing up (Taylor Swift's Red just showed up yesterday. It's not bad, by the way). For these albums, I'd have to switch back to Google Play Music. It was pretty annoying.

But today I found out that Google Play Music has released "All Access". It's just like Rdio, but my library of files I had already uploaded to the service are side by side with Google's massive library of music. No more switching between services! So far, it's had everything I've searched for (more than Rdio), but in the case of free mixtapes, I can just download the mixtape, upload it to Google, and keep listening.

And it's only $7 a month!

I know what you are thinking: "Kyle, your blog is so popular that Google is paying you to write about their new service. What a sell-out."

First: They aren't. I've just been waiting for a service like this for a long time
Second: Hell yeah I'll sell out. Google, I will gladly accept anything you throw my way. Cash? Free year of Google Music All Access? A Google shirt?


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bibio - Silver Wilkinson

Bibio released one of my favorite albums of 2009 in Ambivalence Avenue. That album was full of so many surprises, it was one of the most enjoyable first listens I've had with an album. Each song felt like it had been recorded in a different decade by a different artist. One minute, it's 60s pop-rock, the next it's 70s funk, then some Dilla-esque beats for good measure. That album is the best mixtape that is actually not a mixtape at all.

With Silver Wilkinson, Bibio has taken all of his disjointed styles and melded them together to create a sound that is unique to his own. On the surface, an album with a singular sound should sound better than one that is all over the place stylistically from one song to the next. However, I think one of the reasons I liked Ambivalence Avenue so much was because of how fun the genre-jumping was.

That's not to say this is a bad album, it's pretty good! There are a few filler tracks that kind of meander about, but on the whole, it's a solid album.

It's biggest problem is the greatest song on here, "À tout à l'heure". This song is so damn good, it really makes the rest of the album sound kind of boring. I've started this album from the beginning, and I've started it from random tracks, but no matter where I start, I am just waiting for this track to come on, and when it's over I listen to the rest of the album on a loop anticipating the return of this song.

This song is easily the best pop-rock song I've heard this year, and I really think it's gonna be tough to beat. When I heard this song earlier last month, my expectations for this album skyrocketed. But this song is just too good for the album's use.

I encourage you to listen to this album, if only for Bibio's unique style. But if you only listen to one song from this album--hell, if you only listen to one song for the year so far, do yourself a favor and listen to "À tout à l'heure".

Friday, May 3, 2013

Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light

Colin Stetson is amazing. Truly, I believe he is one of the most unique artists making music today. Colin is a saxophonist who records his songs in one take with multiple microphones placed strategically on his body and on his instrument. He utilizes "circular breathing" which allows him to play nonstop for the entire duration of the song. The microphones pick up the sounds of the keys clacking creating a percussive element, there are microphones on his throat to pick up his voice as he sings/screams into his instrument, and on the instrument itself to pick up the sound of the sax. Even if his music does not appeal to you, his technical ability is really impressive:

Enough fawning over Mr. Stetson... let's talk about the album itself. I really enjoyed this album! I think I like Vol. 2 a little better, but the two are very similar. On Vol. 2, he has Shara Worden contribute vocals on a couple tracks, and I absolutely love her voice. On Vol. 3, he has Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on a few tracks. I really like the pairing of Justin's falsetto with the whirling sax arpeggios, but it gets better when Justin is singing in a lower range, and even better on "Brute", which is the closest you can get to Black Metal on a sax. Justin growls and screams on top of Colin's machine-like sax riffs to great effect.

Just as I did with Vol. 2, I found myself wondering if Colin really recorded certain sounds all in one take and only on sax. I could swear he hired a violinist on one track, and I can hardly believe he doesn't over-dub ghostly singing on "High Above the Green Sea". But apparently that is him, singing through his sax as he is playing.

The album as a whole sports some tracks that seem very similar to one another, which is kind of a bummer. But he more than makes up for it with the 15-minute behemoth "To See More Light". That song... it is just so damn good.

It's really cool how he is able to create this vivid world for the listener with his single instrument. While listening, I envision a grey, wet, war-torn world akin to The Road.

All in all, I am enamored with this album, and highly recommend it. Below are two tracks to check out, one with Justin Vernon, and then the 15-minute masterpiece I mentioned earlier.