Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wild Beasts - Present Tense

Here's the story.

A couple years ago, I learned how bad it was for you to use Q-tips in your ears. Which was a total bummer, because Q-tippin was basically my favorite past time. I heard that while wax may build up, it will eventually fall out. So, it was a little gross, but I reluctantly resigned to letting gravity to the dirty work.

Fast-forward to last Wednesday... I had a Q-tip relapse. I just had to get in there and relive the glory days. Well, I think I got a little too into it, because my ear became clogged with what I assumed was water and/or earwax. It was a little uncomfortable, and my hearing was a bit muffled, but after 30 minutes or so, my hearing cleared up and I went about my merry way. However, every morning afterward, I would wake up with the clogged ear. It would always clear, but it was kind of concerning. Sunday, however, I decided to go swimming. Game over. After I got out of the pool, I was clogged yet again, but this time it felt different. After a day, it began to hurt a little and I scheduled an appointment with a doctor for Tuesday afternoon.

While this was going on, I knew full well that one of my most anticipated albums of 2014 was to be released on the upcoming Tuesday. It totally sucked that I couldn't hear really well and my ear kinda hurt, but it was devastating to think about listening to Present Tense for the first time in my muffled state. Thankfully I had three new releases to keep me busy while I waited anxiously for my doctor's appointment.

It gets kinda gross from here, chaps. I go to the doctor, and three different nurses would look into my ears and be downright impressed with the amount of wax I had in there. Even the ear I could hear fully well from was apparently loaded. So, they cleared it out, and it was like I had cyborg ears implanted that enabled me to hear a butterfly flap its wings across the park. Apparently it had slowly built up to the point where I never noticed the decrease in hearing.

I go home and approached my headphones with a new reverence. I was going to listen to Present Tense, and it was going to blow... my... mind.

And it did, guys. This album has so many intricacies and details that are simply astounding. Every moment feels crafted, nothing feels accidental. I think every song has a juxtaposition between sustained tones and syncopated rhythms (I am not a music major and I may be using that term incorrectly). "Mecca" sees a unique drum pattern in competition with a piano riff, all sitting on top of floating synths and a choir of voices that sound like they are straight out of a boss level in a video game. "Sweet Spot" has sparkling guitars and ethereal "Oooohs" shifting between each audio channel, only to be interrupted by a stabbing synth riff that is so high in the mix that it actually made me gasp. In fact, this album has so many moments that caused my heart to leap into my throat that I feel bad spoiling this next surprise: the end of "Daughters" sounds exactly like the end of the world. It is harrowing, startling, and moved me in a way no music has in quite some time.

In true Wild Beasts' fashion, the final track is one of their best. But like every other song on here, it is too damn short! This album makes anything you play after it sound underwhelming, so get ready to play this one over and over again on into the spring, when the change of weather will likely bring along with it new emotions when listening.

I can't do an adequate job of explaining why this album is so astounding, I can only ask that you take 40:59 out of your life to sit and listen to this. Do nothing else, crank up the volume, and be thankful you can hear music of this caliber.

One thing is certain, I will never forget the first time I listened to Present Tense.

ScHoolboy Q - Oxymoron

When did ScHoolboy get so damn boring? This album is seriously hard to get through. The beats are mediocre and Q has lost any excitement and charisma he held on Habits & Contradictions. The final two songs are not bad, but it could be that I am just excited that the album is almost over.

Instead of detailing why I find this album is so boring, I am going to switch gears to a lesser-known TDE cohort, Isaiah Rashad.

I found out about Cilvia Demo while reading a negative review of Oxymoron, so I figured I would pass along the goodness to you dudes.

Isaiah is essentially what I wish Kendrick Lamar was, which as my friend Taylor pointed out, means "Kendrick without the skits". While his voice is fairly generic, Isaiah's flow is percussive and emotional, and his excitement shines through in every verse. The beats have a smooth-meets-hard west-coast flavor that will be perfect for cruising with the windows down once it stops raining.

Comparing the two TDE releases is really no contest, and Isaiah has taken from Q the spot of "hip-hop artist I am most excited about". Another key difference between Cilvia Demo and Oxymoron: 2 Chainz isn't on Cilvia Demo. So... there's that.

edit: I just finished writing my review, but "Brad Jordan" just came on and I realized nearly every song on here has "that moment" when the song goes from chill and cool to "OH FUCK LET'S GO". That is my favorite component in hip-hop, and this album is chock-full of moments where I forget I am a nerdy dude with glasses.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beck - Morning Phase

Sea Change, Part 2.

Sea Change holds a pretty special place in my heart. It was one of "those albums" you hear in High School that opens your eyes to a certain aspect of music, and every time you hear it nostalgia takes over.

When I heard Beck was releasing another album in the same vein as Sea Change, I was extremely excited. I heard 30 seconds of one of these songs in anticipation of the album, and that was enough to send me over the top in anticipation.

However, I think my love for Sea Change is working against Morning Phase. I can't help but constantly compare these songs to the strong feelings I have toward the former, and I spend the entire album thinking of listening to the songs I grew up with. It's kind of a bummer, as I can tell the songs on Morning Phase are really great. There are banjos, mandolins, and plenty of reverbed "Oooohs" to make any sentimental music fan get lost in the album's warmth.

But it's not Sea Change.

If you haven't heard Sea Change, I'm sure you could flip a coin and listen to the album that comes up heads. That's the one you will fall in love with. I bet if I had heard Morning Phase years ago, it would have had just as great an impact on me.

But really, why are these albums so damn similar? It's kind of annoying when you think about it. It doesn't really seem like Beck put much thought into this one. He just figured "Sea Change was pretty cool. I'mma do that again". I mean, the album cover for Morning Phase might as well have been one of the alternate album covers for Sea Change. But even more than album art and acoustic guitars, the song "Morning" is the same damn song as "Golden Age". The same song. You can't improve on "Golden Age", Beck. It is the perfect song. Don't add falsetto and try to fool us. It is not working.

See for yourself below. In fact, listen to both and buy the album that holds the song you like more. (It'll be Sea Change, trust me).

St. Vincent - St. Vincent

St. Vincent released an album by St. Vincent. That sounds obvious, but considering the hype (and new hair color), I was hoping for something else. Having now gotten my negative jimmies out of my system, I can say this album is still pretty great.

One thing I am annoyingly famous for saying is "St. Vincent is better live than on record." The reason for this is this woman can fucking shred on the guitar and her soft-at-times, always-desperate voice couples really well with her guitar tone. On record, her guitar typically loses some edge, and her voice is often multi-tracked, giving it an unwelcome sheen and watering down her rawness. On St. Vincent, there are moments where the sheen rubs away and we are left with glimpses of what could be, and still others where the glossy production really works well for the song. On "Digital Witness", there is a studio feel to the song that adds to the chaotic feel and funk of the song. On "Rattlesnake", however, the plastic vocals and the filtered guitars don't enhance the song in the same way.

My favorite song on the album is easily "Price Johnny". Annie's voice sounds live and vibrant, and the guitar has a bluesy groove that I wish she would implement more often. "Digital Witness" is a close second, and features a chorus that will be hard to get out of my head in the coming days.

The video for "Digital Witness" is also excellent. Check it out below.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness

The drought is over! And to think I almost never listened to this album. My buddy Chris suggested I check it out, and I am glad he did. I admit I didn't listen to the album once I saw buzz on the internet for two reasons:

1) It seemed to me to be another cute girl singing not-too-catchy pop songs on acoustic guitar. Which is exactly the kind of music you expect from someone named "Angel Olsen".
2) For a fleeting second I thought she might be a sister of the Olsen twins, and the only reason she had a career in music was that novelty.

I did not do any research to confirm or deny these assumptions, I just decided not to check it out. Big mistake.

Within the first few seconds, my fears for the album seemed to be confirmed... barely strumming the guitar... breathless mumbly singing... but then you hit 0:40 and wham! That voice just floors me. And once the second track starts with a grittier-than-I-expected guitar riff and Angel's filtered vocals with 'tude, I am hooked. By the time she switches back into "cute girl on acoustic guitar" mode I hear it through a different filter--I know she has the charisma to back it up.

Burn Your Fire... reminds me of Chad VanGaalen's Diaper Island with a Western tinge to it. Her voice has a certain Hank Williams vibe to it that I really enjoy. And this is coming from a guy who wears western shirts pretty regularly... so...

Check it out, yall.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2014... it began?

It's Feb. 18th and I am still waiting for an album to be released that I give a damn about. It's really making me annoyed. Can anyone else confirm that this year has had nothing of value released yet? (And don't tell me Benji, that pile of shit.) Or am I becoming one of those old "music was better in my day" grumps? ("Pile of shit" comments aside.)

However, next week just might make up for the drought.

Next week will see releases from St. Vincent, Beck, ScHoolboy Q, and Wild Beasts! All on the same day! I've heard really good things about three of those albums, too.

So fear not, loyal blogotopia. Kyle will be back to sharing his unwanted opinions as early as next week.

Disclaimer: I wrote this before listening to Planningtorock's All Love's Legal. If it rules, I'll be back shorter than expected. (Don't worry, it won't.)