Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes

Folk

It has been a long six years since Fleet Foxes released their last album Helplessness Blues. This was the last glance we had of Fleet Foxes before they decided to hang up their hats for more than half a decade. While many people initially questioned the future of Fleet Foxes, here we are in 2017 listening to a long-awaited follow-up to their beloved Helplessness Blues. For many it is a welcomed return of a band that occupies their own unique space in a crowded and convoluted era of music.

Six years is a long time. Think about your place in life six years ago; there’s a good chance that things were quite a bit different; I know they were for me. People change, lives change, people evolve and mature, and our external environment, the world in which we live in, changes to. Undoubtedly, the members of Fleet Foxes are no more immune to the effects of the passing of time then you or me. Evidence of this can be heard loud and clear on the latest Fleet Foxes effort Crack-Up.

On Crack-Up you will still hear much of what you love about the Fleet Foxes. The album is riddled with beautiful melodies and harmonies, complex instrumentals, and Pecknold’s vocal ability and range remain as good as ever. The folk-soul sound that Fleet Foxes fans have fallen in love with also remains stable. Long-time Fleet Foxes fans and newbies alike will find Crack-Up easily accessible thanks to the consistency of Pecknold and crew.

While Fleet Foxes manage to keep much of what people love about their original formula they not afraid to venture into new territory. In more than one aspect Crack-Up is a very different album then any of its predecessors. Crack-Up is much more of an emotional journey. Through its 55 minutes Crack-Up is tragic, enlightened, sad, beautiful, tranquil, expansive and so much more. This emotional progression reflects back upon the concept of the passing of time, a theme found often in folk music.

Crack-Up does some things very well. On Crack-Up Fleet Foxes master the concept of negative space. For each and every burst of music there exists a void. Much like Fleet Foxes own journey as a band. There are moments on Crack-Up that are tranquil, quiet, and serene and each one is filled with such beauty. This record is composed in such a way that makes it feel like one seamless piece of music rather than individual songs. Like a good painting, Crack-Up’s biggest accomplishment is in the way it forces you to interpret its various parts.

Crack-Up has its obvious stand-outs. The singles that were offered pre-release, Third of May/Odiagahara and Fool’s Errand, are good examples of this. These songs do well standing on their own two feet and are the closest thing to a White Winter Hymnal or Mykonos you will find on this album. They serve as pillars alongside the other songs that help bind the album together. –Naiads, Cassadies (one of my current favorites off this album) and Kept Woman do well to act as a harmonic bridge between the album’s opener and centerpiece. Crack-Up succeeds in making you feel that every song is in its right place. The album’s pace and flow are perfect. This is a credit to the album’s composition. It is constructed in a way that makes it feel whole.

So where do the Fleet Foxes go from here? Crack-Up feels very much like the beginning of a new chapter for Pecknold and crew and already Robin is talking about the future. It sounds like the band is going to be a lot more active in making music in the coming years. Fleet Foxes have shown through Crack-Up that they are not afraid of progression and we will undoubtedly continue to see this in their future efforts.

Robin Pecknold has been busy the past six years with his work at Columbia University, staying active on social media, and most certainly soul-searching. His spiritual progression can be heard on Crack-Up; his most intellectual album to date. What’s even more evident is that Robin and crew seem more comfortable than ever before. Fleet Foxes really feel at home on Crack-Up and I know that I can speak for many when I say that we are happy to have them back. In a sense, Crack-Up represents the passing of time better than any album I have heard in the past. It remains retrospective while ushering in a new era for Fleet Foxes and masterfully embraces the present. I don’t think this album would have the same effect if it was not for the six years of negative space.

See you next week.

Vollmilch EP – Vulfpeck

Funk

It is rare to hear real funk music anymore. Funk still exists but has either retreated into the shadows or blended with other genres to create something of an offshoot. Vulfpeck is relatively new to the music scene but is working in a large way to revive the funk of old; the music that is impossible not to dance to; the music that excites the soul and energizes the mind. Count me in.

This week I am reviewing Vulfpeck’s first effort: Vollmilch EP. While this album is absent of any vocals it largely succeeds in both replicating and perpetuating funk music. Vulfpeck is reminiscent of a true funk rhythm section and features a four-member lineup playing piano, Wurlitzer piano, synthesizer, drums, percussion, pocket piano, bass, saxophone, Moog and more. Vulfpeck’s strength lies in their ability to create modern and provoking grooves that never seem to lose their momentum.

Vulfpeck was conceived as a tribute to old-time rhythm sections from an era of funk, in the 1960’s and 1970’, that has long since passed. They decided to add a German persona to the band thus the name Vulfpeck. In a sense, Vulfpeck is attempting to revive interest in a lost era of funk for a new generation and it seems to be working. Vulfpeck has garnered a good deal of attention as of recent, especially through their live performances. This is what excites me most about Vulfpeck.

I feel that Vulfpeck’s music is ultimately destined for the stage. While I have yet to see them live, I have been hearing good things. I view Vulfpeck as a similar act to Galactic (the New Orleans Jazz-Funk Jam Band). While Galactic’s recorded music is fun to listen to, their strength lies in their ability to perform live. They tour constantly, hitting many music festivals in the summer, and play instrumentals behind a diverse cast of rotating guest singers. Their music is spectacular live, fun to dance to, and no two shows are the same. Vulfpeck seems to be on a similar path which is welcome in my book. We need more of these bands.

Vollmilch is an EP so it is a bit shorter than a full album. The record clocks in at 6 songs and 26 minutes. Vollmilch starts with the intro Outro. Yep… This track opens the album with a bang and was my first exposure to the group. You instantly get smacked in the face with an irresistible funky rhythm featuring piano, drums, bass, and sax. Next up is A Walk to Remember, a swingy-soulful tune with a funky-as-hell bass line.

Adrienne & Adrianne is track three on the album and identifies Vulfpeck’s ability to play their instruments in a way that highlights each of their individual skills while never overshadowing. You would think that the piano keys would fly off the piano on the chorus of this track. The album has three tracks to follow but I will let you explore those on your own.

Every track on Vulfpeck’s Vollmilch is a keeper. Vulfpeck’s first attempt at recorded music makes it clear that they have the kinetic ability to connect with one another. I believe this talent will be exemplified through their live performances. I should mention that this EP was released in 2012 and Vulfpeck has released a few full-length albums since then including the newly released The Beautiful Game. So go ahead and check them out. If you are a fan of funk in any shape or form Vulfpeck deserves a listen. You will be glad you did.

See you next week.

Run the Jewels 3 – Run the Jewels

Rap

Many rappers in the modern rap scene have found success rapping over intricately produced beats. Many find their own style or flow and engineer their beats to complement their vocal delivery. With Run the Jewels the rapping, lyrics, and flow are the beat. They become part of the rhythm just as much as the beats themselves. Every single song on Run the Jewels 3 flows with such precision it’s hard to find an imperfection anywhere on the album. With their third release, Killer Mike and El-P further affirm the fact that RTJ was meant to be. These two complement each other perfectly and when it works (which is quite often) it works very well.

RTJ3 is reminiscent of a simpler time in rap. A time when rappers rapped and MC’s MC’d. No fluff, no fucking autotune, no mindless unexciting beats; just down-to-it rapping. Yet, RTJ still manage to deliver a modern sounding album that sets itself apart from the rest of the crowd. RTJ is truly a unique act.

The beats and the rapping on RTJ3 are ferocious and exciting. If you are looking for a great workout album or a Friday night before hitting the town album this is it. The tempo changes from song to song but the merciless tone never subsides. The lyrics are also very entertaining. There is an abundance of aggressive, funny, light-hearted, and culturally relevant moments on RTJ3. I have had plenty of moments where I thought what the hell did he just say? It’s fun; trust me.

There is some really cool collaboration on RTJ3 as well. Danny Brown, Joi, BOOTS, and more can all be found here. I was really hoping they would have Big Boi back for another appearance after his guest spot on RTJ1, but hey I can’t ask for too much can I? All of the collaborations work well on their respective tracks and never do they overshadow RTJ themselves.

RTJ3 is a nice sized album with 14 songs at 51 minutes. I think the album feels longer than it actually is given the constant excitement. You won’t be drifting off listening to this album. What is additionally exciting is that this album, along with their past two releases, should make for a good live performance. I really look forward to seeing RTJ live on stage.

RTJ3 is yet another acclaimed effort by the supergroup duo. At this point it is hard to imagine the pair releasing anything less. The album is ferocious, exciting, and respectful to rap’s roots while still pushing the envelope. It is hard to find a bad song on the album. I can’t find one I don’t like. I don’t think it’s a great album for every mood or situation but when you are in the mood to have a good time or get hyped up this album is perfect. Also, feel free to blast it in your car with the windows down like I do; It’s one of those records.

See you next week.

4th of July – Carl Broemel

Indie Folk/Indie Rock

If albums were seasons Carl Broemel’s 4th of July would be summer. This album is a great candidate for your sitting by the pool, relaxing, drinking a beer chill-out album of the summer this year. While the holiday weekend may be a bit off I thought this would be a great album to write about on this beautiful Memorial Day weekend. Carl Bromel’s 4th of July is a stunning album that you may have missed last year and should be added to your summer song playlist immediately.

When most people hear the name My Morning Jacket they may be reminded of frontman Jim James. This is for a good reason given Jim’s adept vocal and instrumental ability. This being said, lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Carl Broemel is easily one of the most talented people on MMJ’s roster and the rock scene as a whole nowadays. Upon listening to Carl’s solo work it is easy to hear his large influence and contribution to MMJ’s music. Carl’s solo work strays from MMJ’s and favors a laid back folk approach that features Carl’s instrumental abilities in a large way.

4th of July is the third solo release from the Indianapolis born, Louisville based musician. Unlike many musicians in today’s musical landscape Carl is classically trained and proficient not only on guitar but also saxophone and pedal steel among other instruments. Carl’s broad ranging instrumental skills can be heard loud and clear on 4th of July even if they are not the most excited renditions we are used to hearing on the MMJ records.

4th of July is reminiscent of a summertime daydream and can be that perfect album to help you detach from any stress in life that may be plaguing you. After all, the album does start with a track entitled Sleepy Lagoon. The album is fairly short with only eight tracks although two of which do exceed the seven minute mark.

The title track 4th of July is a main attraction on the album and is also the longest spanning over ten minutes in length. The track is dreamy and detached and is the one song on the album that highlights Carl’s instrumental approach the best. The track starts off as relaxed as most on the album but quickly transforms into something more engaging and eventually tapers off slowly with Carl’s mystifying guitar work. This track will remind you of Carl’s influence on MMJ’s sound with its similarly entrancing sound.

One of my personal favorites off 4th is Rockingchair Dancer a four minute drifting berceuse who’s lyrics discuss the realities of aging. Try not to fall asleep but if you do it will be a nice way to drift off. Lyrically the track Snowflake is the highlight off the record. The lyrics are innocent and features lines such as Every raindrop’s the same, you’re no snowflake. It’s a nice and simple song and sometimes that is welcome on a relaxing day.

I highly recommend giving Carl Broemel’s 4th of July a listen. For those of you who are looking for an unwinding album for the summer months look no further than 4th of July. Carl is a main contributor to the big sound of My Morning Jacket and that is easy to hear in his solo work. From exciting guitar solos to mystifying saxophone to country pedal steel melodies there is a lot to like about Carl Broemel’s musical ability. My only request is that on his next release we get a longer record. I could use another four tracks in addition to the existing eight on this record. Carl should take that as a compliment!

See you next week.

Station to Station – David Bowie

Classic Rock/Funk-Rock

Station to Station is commonly regarded as a rock n’ roll masterpiece. This album is not only one of Bowie’s most unique and adventurous albums but also one of his most fabled. Recorded in 1975, released in 1976 and incredibly fun to listen to in 2017 Station to Station is a product of Bowie during one his most turbulent eras. Station is a consistently shifting, electrifying, and provocative performance fueled by sensational creativity and lots and lots of cocaine. This record transcends generations and is a must own for any rock n’ roll enthusiast.

Station to Station was recorded in Los Angeles during what has been described as a drug fueled psychotic episode. The Thin White Duke was apparently involved in all kinds of weird shit during this time and has little recollection of any of it. I even remember reading that Bowie had absolutely no memory of recording this album. Los Angeles seemed to evoke the most extreme in Bowie and after he left to return to Europe he was quoted as saying that the city should be wiped off the face of the earth. It is both strange and intriguing that such a magnificent piece of music resulted from such chaos.

In musical terms Station to Station is engaging. Racking in at 6 tracks, 38 minutes the album is fairly short with no wasted space. The album constantly changes shape through funky, serenading, and rockin’ refrains. Those who like Bowie at his funkiest will have a lot to enjoy here.

Bowie was really experimental with the recording of Station to Station. This record was produced during the era where Bowie was testing differing electronic elements and instrumental manipulations. Station is heavily synthesized in a way that helped evolve Bowie’s craft at the time and helped usher in a new era for him. Unlike many albums from that time Station to Station in no way sounds archaic. To this day I hear contemporary and ground-breaking music when I listen to Station and I feel that I always will.

The album starts off with the 10 minute title track Station to Station; a segmented track that evolves from experimental noise into funkier and funkier portions. Accompanying Bowie’s outstanding singing are ripping guitar solos, piano glissandos, and grooving basslines. By the end of the song you will most defiantly be playing air drums, guitar or bass so make sure you are aware of your surroundings and try not to hurt anyone.

Track two on the record is a Bowie familiar: Golden Years. What more can I say about Golden Years that has not already been said? It is a song seemingly about focusing on the actual and enjoying the best years of life; who can’t relate to that? Golden Years is yet another soulful jam (full of plenty of whops) and is undoubtedly the biggest hit off this album.

One of my personal favorites off Station is TVC15; a track loaded with swing piano and Elvis-esque vocals. The song was apparently influenced by Iggy Pop’s drug fueled hallucination where he believed that a TV set was attempting to eat his girlfriend. Bowie created the antagonist TCV15 for the track… or I guess you can say that Iggy did technically. Regardless, this track is really fun and I like to think of it as the centerpiece of the album.

Station to Station is a must own for any Bowie enthusiast. This is almost not even worth saying because surely all Bowie enthusiasts already own this record. If you do not, now is a good time to run over to your local record shop and pick one up on vinyl. With Station not only do we get to experience Bowie during one of his craziest time periods but we get a lively and inspired record that will cause you to reflect and dance at the same time; I guess Bowie had a habit of doing that.

See you next week.

Cornell 5/8/77 – Grateful Dead

Jam Band/Classic Rock

The Grateful Dead played thousands of shows over their decade’s long tenure on tour; many of which were recorded. It is almost hard to believe that with such a massive library of recordings one show could stand out so blatantly above the rest. Yet there is one show that is regarded as legendary among deadheads all over the world. One show described as the pentacle performance by those lucky enough to be there and as nothing less than a pristine recording for those who were not. This show was Cornell 5/8/77.

It was this very week 40 years ago that this concert was played in Barton Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. I could almost imagine the crowd funneling into Barton Hall that night; cool and breezy, temperatures in the low 50s; blissfully unaware that they were about to see the very show that deadheads would not stop talking about for the next 40+ years. So what makes this show so special you might ask? Why all the fantasizing about hippies in Ithaca anyway? Well, from where I stand, it was a combination of multiple factors that night; a Grateful Dead perfect storm of sorts.

See, I was not actually there. Nor was I even alive… But I am here to talk about the record and that is something that I am more than happy to do. As an avid fan of the Grateful Dead and their many live recordings I can tell you that this record is not just hype. I could tell how special this performance was during my very first listen. In fact, this recording was so special that it has even been included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

The overall sound quality of this recording is a cut above the rest. With the varying level of quality that exists among the many live recordings this one really stands out. The instruments sound clear and distinguished, the vocals are well balanced and blend properly, and the whole thing sounds so professionally mixed you would think this was a planned official release recording. Indeed it was not. This show became famous just as many other Dead shows did; through hand-to-hand circulation; recorded off the soundboard.

What is even more important than the quality of the recording is the Dead’s energy that night. You can hear it in the music. Not only are some of the songs more up-tempo than I am used to hearing but they are played with such conviction. The Grateful Dead was switched on that night. It is almost hard to explain but you can very well hear it in the music. Here you have the Grateful Dead in pure form.

The setlist for this show was a recipe for success. The first set skipped the extended jams for the most part instead favoring a long list of classic Dead songs. The set started with New Mingelwood Blues and included songs the likes of Loser, Jack Straw, Deal, Brown Eyed Women, Mama Tried and the eleven minute finale Row Jimmy. Most of the songs on set one are some of the best respective versions that I have personally heard.

Set two starts off with one hell of a bang with the sixteen and a half minute Dancing in the Streets. This song features such an electric jam that it is easily one of my favorites of the whole show. I have heard Dancing in the Streets on other GD recordings but never quite like this. Set two continues with Scarlet Begonias, Fire on the Mountain, and Estimated Prophet. Need I say more?

Set three is the grand finale and graces us with spectacular versions of St. Stephen, Not Fade Away, Moring Dew, and One More Saturday Night as the closer. I have to say that the St. Stephen and Morning Dew really stand out as key pieces on this recording. Set three would not be the same without them.

Well folks there you have it; my short blurb on the legendary 5/8/77 show. If you really want to sponge up the lore and mysticism behind this show go type it in google. You will have plenty of reading to do. I am always grateful for the plethora of Dead recordings that exist out there (yes, I just did that…). I love listening in for the variations, perfections, and imperfections from show to show. Each era of the Dead has a different story to tell through these recordings. Just go ask someone who was there; they will be happy to tell you all about it. Until then be sure to check out the 5/8 recording. You won’t be sorry.

See you next week.

Humanz – Gorillaz

Alternative Hip Hop/Electronica

Throughout music history we can identify artists that have emerged to pioneer, shape, and define their musical genres. Any one of us can name a handful of musicians who we feel have made a significant impact on their respective genres. We have the Led Zeppelins and The Rolling Stones of rock, the NWA and Eminems of rap, the Eric Claptons and B.B. Kings of blues and they have all been successful in molding their respective genres into what we know them as today.

Once in a great while a musical act emerges that pushes the boundaries of modern music and successfully melds components of different genres into something completely new and unique. Music that may be hard to fully appreciate at the time comes to fruition and, thanks to the hard work and creativity of a few talented individuals, shifts the musical landscape for good. This is Gorillaz. Who would have thought that after all these years, in the year 2017, they would continue to be pioneers in the musical scene just as they were after their first release back in the early 2000’s?

As many people may already know Gorillaz can be categorized as a “virtual band” given the animated virtual characters (crafted by the talented Jamie Hewlett) that represent the group in place of the actual musicians behind the scenes. This really adds a ton of character to the group and makes for some really fun music videos and live shows. What is even more impressive is Gorillaz historic ability to blend genres of rock, rap, r&b, soul, blues and more into music that sounds not only modern but unexampled. In addition we have seen Gorillaz change their approach to music with each and every album release. Some of this is undoubtedly influenced by the changes in the musical landscape that happen between album releases. In this case it has been a little over seven years since Gorillaz released Plastic Beach. (Edit. Gorillaz did also release The Fall in late 2010, a free album recorded by Albarn on an IPad during his US tour.)

Like Plastic Beach, Humanz, the latest record from Albarn and crew, fuses with the modern musical landscape while still maintaining what makes Gorillaz so unique. Also like Plastic Beach, Humanz is riddled with featured artists on nearly every track. Appearances include Pusha T, Vince Staples, De La Soul, Danny Brown, and Popcaan just to name a few. In many cases the featured artists are the dominant vocal forces on the tracks with Damon Albarn adding the signature Gorillaz vocals.

The music and production are as good as ever thanks to Albarn and crew. The album constantly shifts form with r&b and gospel harmonies giving way to powerful rap performances and electronic beats. Even if two songs on Humanz sound completely different from one another they are all united under Albarn’s powerful vision and message.

The concept for Humanz evolved from Albarn’s vision of the apocalyptic aftermath of a Donald Trump presidency. What is crazy here is that Albarn’s concept came about back in January 2016 when Donald Trump becoming president was still, in most people’s minds, a slim-to-none possibility. This was far before the flood of anti-Trump albums that we experienced at the end of 2016 into the beginning of 2017. What I respect about Albarn’s approach is that he is subtle in his delivery. This is in no way a preachy anti-Trump album but instead a stylized vision of the apocalypse, post-Trump victory. In fact, the album never names or even directly references Trump once. Albarn did this for a few very good reasons that I won’t get into here but you can read about in multiple interviews with him on the internet. In my opinion this approach is refreshing because Albarn’s dissatisfaction with Donald Trump in no way dominates the album but instead was the driving force behind its conception.

Some of my favorite tracks on the album include Saturnz Barz (featuring Popcaan), Ascension (featuring Vince Staples), Charger (featuring Grace Jones), and Let Me Out (featuring Mavis Staples and Pusha T). In addition I really love Danny Brown’s verse at the end of Submission. Is Humanz the best Gorillaz album ever? No, probably not. Is Humanz just as important and impactful as their past releases? Defiantly. What we have here is one of the most electrifying, dark and ominous pieces of work form Albarn and crew so far that still manages to maintain that fun party sound we have all come to expect. I really look forward to the next Gorillaz release. I just hope it does not take another seven years!

See you next week.

Time Fades Away – Neil Young

Classic Rock

In Neil Young’s entire massive library of music there may be no album with more history and significance behind it than 1973’s Time Fades Away; an album that many people, including some of Young’s fans, may have never even heard of. What we have here is a sometimes dark, always sincere album recorded during a time of great turmoil for Neil Young. It is an album that is hard to even analyze sometimes given the disparity of feelings about the record between Neil and his audience. Do you want to talk about an obscure piece of rock n’ roll history? Let’s talk Time Fades Away.

Time Fades Away was Neil Young’s first ever live album that was recorded during his massive 1973 tour that included somewhere in excess of 60 shows over three months.  The Stray Gators served as his backup during this tour in place of Crazy Horse. The album is one of the three albums that are included in Neil’s “ditch trilogy” which also includes Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach and is considered, in addition to the other two, one of the most significant Neil Young albums ever made.

While the album was originally released in 1973 it was never reissued onto CD due to Neil’s feelings towards in and probably more importantly towards the unpleasant experience of that 1973 tour. This was the very same tour that followed the death of Crazy Horse guitarist and Neil’s friend Danny Whitten. He ended up overdosing on valium the very night after Neil fired him from the tour due to his instability. God only knows how deeply that affected Neil on this incredibly stressful tour.

In addition to the passing of Danny there was turmoil among the band members during the tour that resulted from money disputes and many other various disagreements and incidents. The result of this overwhelming negative experience for Neil was the shunning of Time Fades Away; I believe he even went as far as to call it his worst album ever at some point. In contrast to Neil’s feelings towards the album I can tell you that the critics and more importantly his die-hard fans cherish it as one of the best and most overlooked Neil Young albums of all time.

Time Fades Away is a truly classic rock n’ roll album. Through the eight songs on the album we get a little of every style of Neil Young. From the upbeat rockabilly swing of Time Fades Away to the classic hard rock sound of Last Dance this is an awesome showcase of original Neil Young live tracks. Love In Mind is a highlight here and features Neil solo on piano. The song is short, intimate and you can just picture Neil sitting up on the stage playing piano under the spotlight. Don’t Be Denied is a steel guitar laced country rock jam that tells a short story of Neil’s youth to his success as a musician and the business of it all. “Well, all that glitters isn’t gold, I know you’ve heard that story told, and I’m a pauper in a naked disguise, a millionaire through a business man’s eyes, oh friend of mine, don’t be denied.”

There may be only eight songs on this album but there is no bullshit here. Each and every song is a gem. There exists way too much history and lore behind this album to talk about in a few short paragraphs but I encourage all who are interested to go read about it and more importantly to listen to it! The good news for all of us is that while this album may have fallen into the abyss for a period of time it has since been released in digital format for all to enjoy. Time Fades Away is a highly regarded anomaly among Neil Young fans and critics. While Neil himself may have mixed feelings about the album and tour I hope that he can find solace in the fact that Time Fades Away is still, to this day, bringing a lot of joy and entertainment to his fans all over the world.

See you next week.

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

Rap

Damn… I could probably end my review right there. I actually thought about doing that. The fact is that this album is just too damn good to not write about. What we have here is one of the best rap albums of our time. It’s crazy that I can say that after a mere five days post-release. The question remains, can we really expect anything less from Kendrick Lamar nowadays?

Just like his past releases Kendrick conveys many powerful messages throughout this record. Through the 14 tracks on the album Kendrick touches on concepts including self-respect, love, bigotry, religion, faith, politics, power, evil, weakness and the list goes on. As per usual he does so in an incredibly impactful way. Many songs on this album are more profound than they appear on the surface.

There is also a ton of subtext here. Already the internet is crawling with people hypostasizing and theorizing over hidden meanings and messages. There was even a crazy popular theory involving Kendrick, Jesus, and the surprise release of a second album on Easter Sunday. Yea…

The production on this album is second to none. The beats are rich and original while still maintaining a raw and authentic sound. It’s impossible not to get hyped up when listing to the hard and aggressive (but yet so humbling!) track HUMBLE.; it’s hard to resist the laid-back and tranquil rhythm to YAH.; and if the euphoric beat for LOVE. doesn’t put you in a good place I don’t know what will. The quality of DAMN.’s production is a credit to its long list of talent on that end. The album boasts a robust production crew including Top Dawg, The Alchemist, 9th Wonder, Mike Will Made It, the mysterious Bēkon and many more. The album is absolutely littered with talent none more important than Kendrick himself.

The first track BLOOD. starts off with a skit featuring Kendrick narrating his own death at the hands of a blind women he is trying to assist. The skit is laced with a spaghetti western-esque melody and successfully sets the tone for the album while introducing some core themes. The track and its subsequent song DNA. both feature audio clips from Fox News anchors (including Geraldo Rivera) bluntly criticizing some of Kendrick Lamar’s past lyrics which targeted police brutality towards African Americans. The song DNA. is a strong rebuttal to these personal attacks. In it Kendrick reaffirms who he is, where he comes from, and scorns those who would criticize him, especially those from outside his community.

In ELEMENT. Kendrick highlights the core theme of the album: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper in the game. It’s not as much a boastful song as it is an affirmation of his dedication to rap. Lyrics include “I’m willin’ to die for this shit, I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit, put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit.” This is one of my favorite songs on the album both lyrically and melodically and the chorus is absolutely amazing.

In PRIDE. Kendrick touches on his own imperfections and the relationship between his overwhelming success and his moral compass. “See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches, I’ll choose work over bitches, I’ll make schools out of prison, I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service, Just to tell ’em we ain’t shit, but he’s been perfect, world.”

HUMBLE. was everyone’s first glimpse of this album and a mighty one at that. Kendrick takes shots at some of his competition and further reaffirms his place at the table. Bitch sit down, be humble! LUST. is another one of my favorites here. In it Kendrick touches on the day to day life of a famous rapper. It’s filled with lustful desires, anxiety, and repetition. The song is deep, introspective, engaging and the melody is enticing.

In XXX. Kendrick struggles with his own integrity along with that of America’s. The song compares Kendrick’s own principles to America’s as a whole. The lyrics on this track are truly some of the best on the record. The song also features the rock group U2 to many peoples initial surprise but this makes a lot of sense given the politically charged nature of the song and U2’s history of highlighting social themes in their own music.

The last song I would like to discuss is the finale of the album DUCKWORTH. Man this song is crazy. This song tells the real life story of how Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith (the chief exec of TDE) almost killed Kendrick’s own father years before they would ever meet. The story highlights how one coincidental mistake almost changed history and would have prevented TDE from forming and Kendrick from ever rapping. I love how Kendrick wraps this album up through the telling of such an incredible story.

I could keep writing about this album if I wanted to. Seriously, I could write about every damn song. The only reason I won’t is because I have to go listen to the album again. Trust me when I say that if you are a fan of rap in any shape or form this album will blow you away. It’s really just the level of quality we have come to expect from Kendrick Lamar. I already can’t wait to see what comes next.

See you next week.

 

 

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty

Indie Folk

Last week Father John Misty released his newest LP entitled Pure Comedy. Father John Misty fans (including most of my friends and I) have been eagerly waiting for this release since 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear. It should be noted that while I am eager to write about this album this week I have only listened to it a few times at this point. While the album is still settling in for me I have to say that I really like it so far. FJM continues to produce great work.

My initial impression is that this album as a whole is very much a continuation of the style we saw in the song Bored in the USA (track 9 of I Love You, Honeybear) almost as if that song was a primer for this album. We see a continuation of the slower pace ballads accompanied by piano, guitar, Tillman’s outstanding vocals and cynical and satirical personality. It’s this persona that FJM fans have watched develop over the past years that sets his music apart. It may sound drab but honestly it’s entertaining as hell.

This is FJM’s biggest project yet racking in at 13 songs and 1hr and 14min. The pace of this album is quite a bit slower than his past releases and, as my cousin pointed out, some of the songs tend to blend together upon first listen. This being said, don’t leave with the impression that the songs are not varied or unique, it’s just that there is an overall tempo to this album that holds firm. The one exception to this would be the track Total Entertainment Forever which is more upbeat.

The album opens with the self-titled Pure Comedy and this song is a great intro to the album. The song exemplifies FJM’s persona perfectly by delivering a twisted view of humanity over piano and drums. Total Entertainment Forever is next and is the very song that was the subject of scrutiny after FJM’s appearance on SNL. The song opens with the controversial lyrics “bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift, after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes” of course referring to having virtual sex with Taylor Swift using the virtual reality platform Oculus Rift. This song is upbeat, features great instrumentals including saxophone and is currently my favorite song off the album.

One song that I did not hear until release was A Bigger Paper Bag. This song has been growing on me and is creeping towards the top of the ranks for my favorite songs off the album. Ballad of a Dying Man is maybe the most interesting song here. This song tells the story of an old dying man that remains analytical and critical of people up until his very last breath. We also have Leaving LA which is a mammoth thirteen minute and twelve second song that critiques “LA hipsters and their bullshit bands” (lyrics changed from Pitchfork bands on the album release for some reason) among many other entertaining points.

I feel that this FJM album was worth the wait. Sure the album is a bit different than his prior releases (mainly in the consistent downtempo pace and critical tone) but I really feel that through his lyrics and music Tillman is giving us his most honest FJM yet. How do I think this album stacks up against his other releases? Ask me in a few months and I’ll tell you. Is this album worth your time? Yes it is.

See you next week.