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.

The Phosphorescent Blues – Punch Brothers

Progressive Bluegrass

This week I would like to highlight one of the most recent additions to my list of favorite albums. This band also happens to include of my most respected musicians of all time Chris Thile. The Phosphorescent Blues by Punch Brothers is an amazing achievement in the modern Progressive Bluegrass scene and should not be overlooked. Seriously, I am not exaggerating.

I would assume that most people reading this right now are thinking what the hell is progressive bluegrass? Well, the answer is that there is no real set-in-stone definition. The best way to describe progressive bluegrass is as a modern subgroup or subgenre of traditional bluegrass music that has the liberty of adding instruments and incorporating styles that traditional bluegrass would not. Please don’t be intimidated by the bluegrass designation; many people who are fans of folk or rock music will find this music easy to approach.

Most of you who are familiar with the traditional bluegrass format would expect to see an acoustic banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle (violin), upright bass, and sometimes a dobro. What is interesting about modern variations of bluegrass music is that you will often hear electric instruments, drums, and incorporated style elements of folk and rock music. This allows the musicians a little more creative freedom and flexibility. In addition to Punch Brothers you may already know some other progressive bluegrass groups such as Greensky Bluegrass, Trampled by Turtles, and Yonder Mountain Sting Band to name a few.

Now that the lecture is over I will try and get back on topic! The Phosphorescent Blues is an admirably complex and beautiful addition to the modern bluegrass catalog. It is easy to hear that each musician in Punch Brothers is a master of their respective instruments. This is certainly true of Chris Thile who is known as one of the best (many feel the best) mandolin players alive (see Chris Thile Plays Bach: Sonata No, 1 in G Minor on Youtube). As an amateur mandolin player I not only have a tremendous amount of respect for his approach to the mandolin but also his success in bringing notoriety to the instrument in modern times. Chris also plays the part of lead vocals and does so very well.

I feel like I have already said a lot so I will avoid a track-by-track here. This being said I encourage you to give this album a shot. As I mentioned, this album is one of my current favorites and may become one of yours as well. Some of my favorite tracks include: My Oh My, Julep, Magnet, Little Lights, and the ten minute and twenty three second opener Familiarity. I should also note that the video that I posted for My Oh My (my favorite song off the album) is not the record version but instead the version with Chris Thile from The Late Show. I feel that it is an excellent live rendition. I hope you enjoy it.

See you next week.

Hot Thoughts – Spoon

Indie Rock

This week I would like to switch things up a little bit and focus on a new release. The week before last Spoon welcomed the newest addition to their catalog with the release of Hot Thoughts. At this point most spoon fans would not expect the band to deviate much from their well-established formula that has been so successful for them to date. Spoon is one of those bands that has their comfort zone and succeeds very well when staying close to it. This being said, Hot Thoughts deviates from the formula just enough to keep things interesting without risking turning off their longtime fans.

With Hot Thoughts Britt Daniel and the boys experiment a bit more with electronic elements and diverse instrumentals to keep things interesting while maintaining their signature sound. Don’t worry, this is not a deviation similar to The Black Keys with the release of Fever, it’s more proportionate. As a spoon fan I really dig what they did here.

Through most of the album you will hear Britt Daniel’s as-good-as-ever vocals over fun and interesting rhythms that sound both familiar and new. In between you will also find some breaks in the upbeat tempo with songs like Pink Up and the eerie finale Us.  Just when you think that you are in familiar territory the Austin outfit mixes things up with something original. You can hear this in songs like Can I Sit Next to You which starts out with a recognizable Spoon beat and transforms into an alluring Arabian melody. The song is funky, enticing, and just a lot of fun overall.

Other noteworthy songs on Hot Thoughts include the self-titled Hot Thoughts, I Ain’t the One, the danceable track First Caress, and one of my new favorite Spoon tracks Tear it Down. Again, like most albums you will see me post here, this is a great album to listen to from front to back. Do I have to talk you in to it?

See you next week.

The Definitive Collection – J.J. Cale

Classic Rock / Blues

If you continue to read my blog there is a good chance you will not see me post another collection or “best of” album for a long time. I am just not big on them. They are so often hit or miss. Many best of albums pick all of the most popular hits from the artists library and put them all together on one disc while leaving out some truly great songs that may be equally (or more) deserving. All of this being said I could not resist posting about J.J. Cale’s 1997 album The Definitive Collection which successfully focuses on his best work. This is a collection album that really deserves to be listened to.

Many of you may already know at least two of Cale’s songs on this collection; Cocaine and After Midnight which were both famously covered and popularized by Eric Clapton. Aside from these two familiars there are so many other songs to love on this 20 song, one hour album.

This album truly highlights Cale’s one of a kind rock/blues/Americana/country (with a touch of Cajun!) sound that has since been known as Tulsa Sound after Cale’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Much of Clapton’s music is also categorized as Tulsa Sound. Additionally, the two artists had very intertwined careers both through influencing each other and recording quite a bit of music together including the Grammy award winning 2006 album The Road to Escondido.

I usually post two songs at the end of my write-up here for you to listen to and I have to say that choosing the songs this week was not easy; there are so many gems here. I will not post Cocaine or After Midnight because so many of you are already familiar with those songs. I will tell you that some of my personal favorites besides Cocaine and After Midnight include Magnolia, Lies, Cajun Moon, I’ll Make Love to You Anytime, and Mama Don’t. One puzzling omission on this album is Cale’s Traveling Light which is one of his best songs and was later covered and further popularized by Widespread Panic. With all of the quality music here I think I can forgive them for that!

See you next week.

Man It Feels Like Space Again – Pond

Psychedelic Rock

If there is one thing I know about the Australian music scene is that there is no shortage of quality psychedelic rock acts emerging from the country. With notable groups such as Tame Impala, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, and newbies The Walking Who there are plenty of psychedelic gems to enjoy from down under. Pond is no exception.

Pond, formed in 2008, features a rotating lineup including many members of Tame Impala itself including Jay Watson and Nick Allbrook. Those who enjoy the music of Tame Impala will easily be able to hear the bands influence on Pond’s 2015 release Man It Feels Like Space Again. I have to say this is one of my favorite releases to come out of the Australian psychedelic music scene to date.

Pond is a fun band. They seem to take themselves less seriously than their counterpart Tame Impala and have a bit more fun in the process. This is apparent when watching their music videos including the Jim Henson on blotter video for my favorite song off the album, Man It Feels Like Space Again and the hotdog belt tapping video for Zond (don’t ask, just watch). Even the album cover is fun!

Most importantly, the music is great. Most songs have multiple segments and progressively evolve as you listen in true psychedelic form. Additionally, the songs are multi-layered with great instrumentals. This makes for a great listening experience overall. I have found that this is a great album to listen to on high quality speakers.

I won’t do a song by song rundown here but I encourage you to listen to the whole album because there is quite a bit to enjoy. I will say that some of my favorites off Man It Feels Like Space Again include the self-titled Man It Feels Like Space Again, the opener Waiting Around for Grace, and the funky Outside is The Right Side where the Tame Impala influence can be heard loud and clear.

Pond’s Man It Feels Like Space Again is not only a great edition to the Australian psychedelic rock catalog but also an amusing album to listen to. Watch the ridiculous YouTube music videos, listen to the album in the car after a long day’s work, or throw it on with some friends over. Regardless, one thing that I can tell you is that if you enjoy this type of music, this one will grow on you.

See you next week.

From Scotland With Love – King Creosote

Folk

I’ll start with an album that I have been listening to a lot recently. From Scotland With Love is a remarkable addition to the collection of music by Scottish based King Creosote. From Scotland With Love was composed as a soundtrack to the documentary by Virginia Heath of the same title. The film features historic footage from the National Library of Scotland and Scottish Screen Archive backtracked by the Creosote album and absent of any actual commentary. Think of it as one long music video. I am happy to admit that both the film and the album are masterfully done.

Like its film counterpart, From Scotland With Love is both retrospective and sincere. The album opens with Something to Believe In, a heartfelt introduction to the 39 minute collection that highlights Creosote’s fascinating vocals over a short set of meaningful lyrics. From the slow and somber tone of Something to Believe In the album eventually evolves into upbeat and exciting songs such as Largs and For One Night Only that do well to vary the mood of the album.

Perhaps one of the most interesting songs on the album is Bluebell, Cockleshell, 123 featuring a children’s rhyme encapsulating lyrics by Creosote that include “Bury me in the old churchyard, Beside my only brother, My coffin shall be black, Six white angels at my back.” This song is a pleasure to listen to and is a highlight of the album.

The instrumentals on the album are just as complex and beautiful as the lyrics. From the accordion work on Something to Believe In to the acoustic guitar work on Bluebell to the rhythmic percussion of One Floor Down to the inspiring violin on A Prairie Tale there is something to excite your interest in every song.

From Scotland With Love continues to impress me every time I listen to it. It is one of those albums that sounds better and better with each listen. The only thing that makes this album more enjoyable is by listening to it while watching its corresponding documentary; I highly suggest it. This album is here to stay in my music library and I hope you will enjoy it as well. Please feel free to post your thoughts.

Until next week, farewell.

Ready to Start

Hello and welcome. 241 Weekly is a blog dedicated to musical discovery and exploration. From right now until sometime in the unforeseen future I plan on posting weekly albums for you and I to explore together. These posts will highlight music from the past, present, and future that I have chosen to share with you. Each album will be accompanied by a short review, opinion, or anything at all really and there are no real rules or exceptions to the music that I may post.

My hope is that with this blog you can join me as I discover new music, revisit classics, and evolve musically. I made this blog to share music with my friends and anyone else who happens upon the site. Feel free to follow the site, post comments, or contact me directly. Cheers!

-eshander