Six Degrees of Annie Clark | 10
The Everlasting, Enigmatic Effect of James Blake | 32
The Evolution of Video Game Music | 29
THE EVOLUTION OF VIDEO GAME MUSIC
northeastern students on music
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Meet the Staff
About Sabrina Zhang Position Staff Writer Major International Affairs/ Political Science Graduating 2021 Favorite Venue Royale Tastemaker Since Fall 2017
Amanda Sturm Position Staff Writer Major Accounting Graduating 2020 Favorite Venue Fitzgerald’s (Houston, TX) Tastemaker Since Fall 2017
Reid Flynn Position Staff Writer Major Business Administration Graduating Fall 2017 Favorite Venue The Sinclair Tastemaker Since Spring 2016
Quinton Hubbell Position Staff Writer Major Engineering Graduating 2021 Favorite Venue House of Blues Tastemaker Since Fall 2016
Kendrick Lamar ft. Zacari “LOVE” The 1975 “Chocolate”
“I remember I played with my iPod touch.”
Oh Wonder “Without You”
Mom “Warped Tour”
Amine “Good for You” Tyler, The Creator “Garbage”
Oso Oso The Yunahon Mixtape Snail Mail “Slug”
“They’re the Beatles of music.”
Jodi Karaoke EP
Dilated Peoples “You Can’t Hide, You Can’t Run” Joanna Newsom “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive” Bob Dylan Blood On the Tracks
“Can we defend an album that’s not good?”
PVRIS, House of Blues
Photo by Nola Chen (Computer Science)
Table of Contents Cover Story
8-Bit Symphonies: The Evolution of Video Game Music
I hope you didn’t take that VR helmet off, because it’s really going to enhance your experience with this one, too.
Six Degrees of Annie Clark
50 States of Music
The Everlasting, Enigmatic Effect of James Blake
You know the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Well this is exactly like that.
“An album for every state and a chicken in every pot!”- Herbert Hoover, after reading this article.
Girls to the Mixing Board A look at three women whose behind-the-boards contributions to music history are too often overlooked.
The British singer’s self-titled debut is only six years old, yet it’s already had an outsized impact on modern music.
Jack Antonoff: Bringing Empathy to Pop Music A crash course on the indie boy from Jersey turned pop songwriter extraordinaire.
In Defense of Chad Muska– Muskabeatz
“Russ” Songs: Norwegian High School Students’ Investment in EDM You think your high school senior week was pretty rad? Well, why didn’t anyone make an EDM soundtrack for it then?
Discography: Modest Mouse
Speaking of athletes making music, here’s a defense of a pro skateboarder’s forays into beat science.
Where Have All the Indie Pop Bands Gone?
Internet-Genres: How the Internet Has Shaped Production Strap on your VR helmet for this article about the cyber-tastic world of Internet-genres.
Examining the rise and fall of the shiny, happy indie-pop wave of the early 2010s.
King Krule, St. Vincent, Maroon 5, Sam Smith
The trailer-park philosophers of Pacific Northwest indie have released a lot of albums in their time on the third planet– let’s spend some time with them.
We’ve come a long way from the days of Shaq asking Kobe how his ass tastes.
Show Reviews The Mountain Goats, Wolf Parade, King Krule, Wrabel, Vance Joy
Legend in Two Games: The Intersection of Basketball and Rap
In Defense Turns Ten(se) 10 years after Say Anything’s massive, guest-filled double album In Defense of the Genre, we look back and see how well it’s held up.
Brittle Brian We sat down with one of the area’s most unique young singersongwriters, and now you get to read about it!
Calendar January Su Fri
Sun Drifter O’Brien’s Pub
Title Fight The Sinclair
Beastle Blue Hill Bank Pavilion
Leon Trout Thunder Road
Big Thief Brighton Music Hall
Sarah Blacker Club Passim
Squirrel Nut Zippers The Sinclair
Jonathan Biss & Miriam Fried Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The MegKillers Baird TD TheGarden Center for Arts
Atlast Lab The Middle East Downstairs
Circa Survive and mewithoutYou House of Blues Forth Wanderers and Half Waif Great Scott
Kings of Leon & Deerhunter TD Garden
Guster Paradise Rock Club
Say Anything Plaid The Sinclair Paradise Rock Club
Majid Jordan Cherry Glazerr The Middle House of Blues East Downstairs
Isley Brothers Bash & Pop and The SoTheater Wilbur So Glos Great Scott
at the Armory
YachtBig Reel Rock Fish, Revue Anti-Flag , Royale and Ballyhoo! House of Blues
Guster House of Blues
Walk Lekas Josh The Moon The Middle House of Blues East Downstairs
Rye Pines, Font Han and Bilge Rat O’Briens’s Pub
TV Girl The Middle East Downstairs
TennisAnt Adam Wilbur Theatre Royale
Tokyo Police Club and Charly Bliss The Sinclair
Milky Chance Basecamp and Lauv of Blues House Great Scott
Destroyer Phox and Cuddle Magic The Sinclair Brighton Music Hall Sleigh Bells Paradise Rock Club
Warren Haynes and Michael McDonald Orpheum Theatre
Blues Traveler House of Blues
Isaiah Rashad The Sinclair
Cloud Nothings Paradise Rock Club
Lana Del Rey TD Garden
MØ/Cashmere Cat House of Blues
Perturbator ONCE Ballroom
Public Access T.V Great Scott
Enter Shikari The Sinclair
MajidMeg Jordan Baird Jan. 17 January @ House 10 of @ The Blues Center for Arts at the Armory
Yung Lean Phox & Sad Boys Feb. 6 @ Royale January 27 @ Brighton Music Hall
Canadian Yellowcard duo andisOVO finally signees calling Majid it quits Jordan after are more San making Francisco-based their first appearance Meg Baird at thevisits Housethe of Blues Armory on this January. sabbatical Known from forthe their erratic blended psych-rock style of R&B of Heron and house,Oblivion. they’re expected Her 2015 tosolo spotlight record songs /Don’t fromWeigh their Down sophomore the Light/ album, The is as true Space to Between, her seminal which freak wasfolk released project last October. Espers as ever, and promises a near-astral channeling of her more British folk influences. Vishal Come Makhijani out for the folk literacy of Shirley Collins (Politics, crystalized Philosophy, in the and cosmic Economics) wonderment of Baird’s vocals.
If Yung Lean In their hasn’t relatively made the short full transition time as ain band, your Phox, mind from meme also toknown respected as “The artist,Little the singles Wisconsin fromBand his upcomingThat album Could,” should has change earned that. praise He’sfrom backmusic with a vengeance, authorities and this tour such is the as All perfect Songstime Considered’s to hop on the Sad Boys Bobtrain Boilen and and go producer/musician for a ride. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). Their shows are intimate Tim DiFazio yet powerful, (English) and are a great way to break up those mid-winter blues.
By Peter Giunta (Biology)
you can view the calendar online at: http://tastemakersmag.com/calendar
3 4 5
4 5 6
Rostam The MFA
1 3 2
2 4 3
Great Good Fine Ok Brighton Music Hall
P. O. S the Man Portugal. House The Sinclair of Blues
White The Orwells Lies The Middle SinclairEast Downstairs
Black Veil Priests Real Friends andBrides/ Asking Alexandria Paradise Halfsour Rock Club Worcester Great Scott Palladium
5 6 7
6 8 7
8 10 9
9 11 10
Brockhampton Banks Red Hot Chili House Royaleof Blues Peppers TD Garden
YungHot Lean & Red Girlpool Chili Sad Boys Brighton Peppers Music Hall Royale TD Garden
First Aid Kit City and Drive-By Color Truckers House of Blues Blue Hills Royale Bank Pavillion
Lady Lamb Jurassic 5 Royale The Sinclair
Girlpool Noam Nick Cave Pikelny & and Paradise The Anais Bad Mitchell Seeds Sanders Theatre Wang Theater GWELL-O
Radiator Hospital Great Scott
The Middle East Upstairs
10 11 12
11 12 13
12 13 14
13 15 14
14 15 16
15 17 16
16 18 17
Machine Head Ween Paradise Blue HillsRock BankClub Pavillion
Borns House of Blues
John Maus Lemuria, Mikey The Erg Sinclair and Cayetana The Sinclair
Laura Adams Bryan Mvula BlueSinclair The Hills Bank Pavillion
Less Than Jake and Pepper House of Blues
Joe Satriani/ Cecile Sorority McLorin Noise JohnSinclair Petrucci/ The Salvant and Aaron Phil Collen Diehl Berklee Performance The Orpheum
Robert Plant & and Frank Diana Turner Krall the Sleeping Sensational Shubert The Theater Souls Agganis Shape Arena Shifters The Orpheum Rick Astley
House of Blues
17 18 19
18 19 20
19 20 21
20 22 21
21 22 23
22 24 23
23 25 24
George The Dirty Tove Lo Clinton and Heads & Parliament Blue Phoebe HillsRyan Bank Funkadelic Pavillion House of Blues House of Blues
Japandroids PWR BTTM Paradise Rock Club Royale
John Mark McMillan Poliça Wilbur Theatre Brighton Music Hall
David Eye Third Duchovny Blind and Silversun Wilbur Theatre Pickups Blue Hills Bank Pavillion
Frightened Rabbit Ms.Lauryn Hill The Sinclair Wang Theatre
Run The Kidz BopJewels Kids House of Blues Blue Hills Bank Pavillion Black Joe Lewish &
George Hall andClinto Oates and & ParliamentTears for Fears Funkadelic TD Garden House of Blues
The Honeybears The Middle East Downstairs
24 26 25
25 27 26
26 28 27
STRFKR The Griswolds The Sinclair Sinclair
Colony House The Sinclair
You Jason Blew Isbell It!, All Get BlueOut, Hills and BankFree Throw Pavillion The Sinclair
Silverstein/ Tonight Alive Paradise Rock Club
Rhye Paradise Rock Club
Rose Cousins Club Passim
George Lady Lamb Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic February Feb. 17 @10 House @ The ofSinclair Blues
Rhye Japandroids February Feb. 28 @20 Paradise @ Royale Rock Club
TimesLamb, Lady are strange, the lovelorn and if there’s storytelling one thing powerhouse I’ve learned project at school, ofit’s Maine-native that trying circumstances Aly Spaltro, is call going foron liveafunk living room music. Whattour better in performance support of her could newthere EP: /Tender be than Warriors the legendClub/. himself, Fortunately George Clinton for you, andher Parliament Boston date isn’t in a living Funkadelic, live room at the – House it’s atofThe Blues Sinclair! on Saturday So twist your hips,17.crane February Take the yournight neck, off;and getbe a little thankful weird.you You’ll be don’t in good have company, to sit on wesomeone’s promise. weird couch.
The super-smooth Japandroids, that dynamic R&B duoduo Rhye of combustible have kept awful Canadians, quiet since their have finally 2013 debut awoken album Woman, from their butthree-year in the pastslumber, few months and we’ve they gotten returnnew three to the songs, touring pluslife this bearing tour. They’ll the giftbeofhere a new a few album, weeks too late /Near for Valentine’s to the Wild Day, Heart but Mike of Life/. Milosh’s If thelovely title track voiceisand anythe skilled indication, that musicianship ofnew his backing album’s band goingcan to be beas enjoyed chock-full by lovers of and explosive loners alike. rock glory as the first two were, and you’re not gonna want to miss the opportunity to hear those songs in their Terence intended Cawley setting: (Biology) a dark club full of sweaty believers. Opening is the man who almost single-handedly put the rock back in indie rock, Craig Finn, with his new band The Uptown Controllers.
By Reid Flynn (Accounting) Jonathan Vayness (Psychology)
Terence Cawley (Biology)
INTERNET GENRES and how the internet has shaped production
Designer: Srilekha Nuli (Computer Science & Design) Fall 2017
In the early 2010s, a new meme emerged in the form of ever-so-slightly modified hits from the ’80s and ’90s meant to satirize capitalism and pop culture— the genre of music we know as vaporwave. Capitalizing on themes of isolation, escapism, and minimalism, vaporwave puts a strong emphasis on retro cultural aesthetics, begging its listener to feel nostalgic for a time that has come and gone; that they never have experienced and never will. The genre started as a meme, meant to criticize the poser-culture embedded within pop and consumer culture through a glorified variant of chillwave, comprised of appropriated and manipulated tracks, primarily from the ’80s and ’90s. It has recently branched into an entire genre of music that generally attracts the very people it was created to criticize. Just a few years later in 2013, a very divisive record label known as PC Music arrived on the music scene, producing mind-numbingly repetitive and catchy, overly sugary original pop jams by virtualized caricatures of modern pop-stars such as QT, Hannah Diamond, and Kane West that didn’t seem to actually exist in the real world. PC Music became famous for its overproduction; with a strong focus on maximalism and originality, PC Music always features highly manipulated vocals on top of multilayered synthetic beats, and is always accompanied by over-the-top, futuristic visual aesthetics. Like vaporwave, PC Music is highly critical of pop culture and capitalism, using music in conjunction with carefully considered visuals to create a picture of a world that is held captive by its obsession with materiality and branding.
These two genres have one big thing in common— they can both be classified as “Internet-genres.” An Internet-genre of music that uses the Internet as a means of production. Generally, this implies that they have no basis in the real world— because of the unique way they are produced, they do not take a physical form and cannot really be performed for a live audience because the Internet and digitalization are essential parts of their production and performance. Internet-genres generally use this to their advantage as a way to criticize the ethics and values of our society. Internetgenres should be thought of as living, pervasive art installations that are only to be consumed in a digital space, suggesting that, without the Internet, these genres of music wouldn’t be able to exist. In this way, the Internet has become a core part of the production of specific genres of music that, in order to exist in their entirety, are confined to the Internet. When the internet becomes a fundamental part of production, it encourages musical experimentation and democratizes production, giving everyone with access to the Internet the power to produce and distribute music. Housed on free streaming sites such as Youtube, Bandcamp, and Soundcloud, Internet-genres rose to popularity primarily through forum sites such as Reddit and 4chan. They exist through three different mediums, each absolutely essential to convey their meaning— music, technology, and visual aesthetics— and use these mediums in conjunction with one another to create an artistic statement. What makes Internet-genres unique is the way they employ technology as a part of their production, whether this
be through the actual construction of the music, in the case of vaporwave, or through the creation of Internet personalities to deliver the music, in the instance of PC Music. Vaporwave is a perfect example to highlight the equal importance of each medium— the music, obviously incredibly important in and of itself, is produced using Internet technology and is always presented in conjunction with vaporwave’s unique visuals. (Which have come to be known as A E S T H E T I C S). Consider Saint Pepsi, a vaporwave astist. Saint Pepsi’s music is almost always paired on Youtube with clips that primarily consist of commercials and advertisements from the ‘80s and ‘90s. The unofficial music video for Saint Pepsi’s “Cherry Pepsi” consists entirely of old Pepsi commercials, edited and recut to fit the music and vaporwave’s anti-consumerism message. PC Music is another prime example. One of the core components of PC Music is the label’s artists, as none of them actually exist and instead are all virtual personalities that are simply represented by physical people. Take the artist QT as an example. QT, whose only song is the infamous “Hey QT,” isn’t a real person. She was “created” as a social statement, embarking on a career in music solely to sell an energy drink that doesn’t actually exist to the public. QT and her brand are only real in a digital space, and her music is only perpetuated by the existence of the Internet. Her visual style is a core component of her fake, digital brand, which was advertised by the music she created. Each component— musical, technological, and visuals— builds off of the others to holistically represent PC Music. Perhaps the most important trend that the emergence of
Internet-genres perpetuates is giving artists the ability to use the Internet not just as a way to distribute and promote music but as an actual medium for the creation of music and art. In the cases of vaporwave and PC Music, the medium truly is the message, a powerful trend that gives autonomy to artists and the emergent themes embedded in their music. Yet, despite this newfound use of the Internet, vaporwave and PC Music have appeared to be getting less buzz over the past few years, a puzzling trend in the face of the age of the Internet. While it may appear that Internet-genres have started to reach a point of irrelevance, a closer look at their trajectory suggests that they aren’t fading away into musical oblivion at all. Rather, they are beginning to assimilate into the mainstream. PC Music has begun collaborating with major figures in pop music, including Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepson, while vaporwave with its vitality and far-reach has appeared to embed its aesthetics and themes into pop culture with the spread of anti-capitalism, critique of materialism and our current consumer culture, emergent hyper-feminism, and an obsession with nostalgia. Internet-genres are becoming normalized, aligning themselves with mainstream culture and influencing the mainstream in return. What started as a digital phenomenon is beginning to merge with the real world, impacting the music we regularly consume in ways that are subtly changing the trajectory of pop culture. • Rachel Ellis (Game Design)
THE 6 DEGREES OF Designer: McKenna Shuster (Interaction Design)
This game is based off of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, a bar game invented in the 1990s by three students from Albright College. Their game involved connecting Kevin Bacon to any other person in
Hollywood through the Six Degrees of Separation, a social theory that states that every single person on this Earth is no more than six relationships away from one another. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was a feature in Mental Floss Magazine where they asked Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings to connect Kevin Bacon to things beyond Hollywood, such as 18th century painters. • David McDevitt (International Affairs/Economics)
FLAVOR FLAV Fall 2017
Rules: Connect Annie Clark, who records under the moniker St. Vincent, to any individual in the music industry through no more than six degrees of separation. I challenged Tastemakers’ staff to come up with the end points. One connection is one instance of contact, which could be an album, tour, or any other means of collaboration. Connections do not only have to be musicians.
In 2014, St. Vincent contributed backing vocals to To Be Kind, the 13th album from experimental noise-rock band Swans.
Swans frontman Michael Gira contributed lyrics to Confusion is Sex, the 1983 debut album of the band Sonic Youth.
Sonic Youth’s 1988 album Daydream Nation featured Nick Sansano as a producer.
Nick Sansano was also a producer for multiple albums by the hip-hop group Public Enemy.
Flavor Flav served as a member of Public Enemy throughout the entirety of the band’s existence.
St. Vincent and David Byrne recorded the album Love This Giant together in 2012.
David Byrne performed with Thomas Dolby at the 200X TED Conference.
Thomas Dolby has been a featured guest on the podcast The Nerdist.
The Nerdist uses the song “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues” by the band Anamanaguchi as its theme song.
(t-t)b was the opening act for Anamanaguchi at a show in 2016.
Tim DeLaughter, frontman of The Polyphonic Spree, played in the neo-psychedelic rock band Tripping Daisy from 1990 onward.
In 1993, Tripping Daisy was the opening act for the band Def Leppard, supporting their album Adrenalize.
In 2012, Def Leppard toured with the band Poison in the Rock of Ages Tour.
Poison’s lead guitarist C.C. Deville was a cast member of the sixth season of the MTV reality series “The Surreal Life.”
Before recording under the moniker of St. Vincent, Annie Clark was a member of the 1990s music collective The Polyphonic Spree.
Before recording as St. Vincent, Annie Clark served in the backing band of the 2006 tour of musician Sufjan Stevens.
Sufjan Stevens collaborated with Bryce Dessener and Nico Muhly on the 2017 album Planetarium.
Nico Muhly contributed orchestral arrangements to Joanna Newsom’s 2015 album Divers, specifically for the opening track “Anecdotes.”
Joanna Newsom is married to comedian and musician Andy Samberg.
Andy Samberg is a member of the parody pop group The Lonely Island.
The Lonely Island’s single “Jack Sparrow” featured contributing vocals by Michael Bolton.
St. Vincent released her fifth studio album MASSEDUCTION in 2017, on which Kamasi Washington contributed various saxophone features.
On the same season of “The Surreal Life,” Steve Harwell, lead singer of Smash Mouth, was also a cast member.
St. Vincent and David Byrne recorded the album Love This Giant together in 2012.
David Byrne is also the lead singer of the band Talking Heads.
The eighth studio album by Talking Heads, Naked, was produced by Steve Lillywhite.
Kamasi Washington contributed extensively to Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly.
Steve Lillywhite has worked extensively with U2 throughout their career, producing their albums October, War, and Boy.
Kendrick Lamar recorded a verse for the remix of Taylor Swift’s 2015 single “Bad Blood.”
The music video for “Stay (Faraway, So Close!),” the third single off U2’s 1993 album Zooropa, was directed by Wim Wenders.
Taylor Swift played the voice of Audrey in the 2012 film adaptation of “The Lorax,” which featured Danny Devito as the titular role.
Wim Wenders won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for his 1999 film “Buena Vista Social Club,” which featured the seminal Cuban band.
Danny Devito played the voice of Mr. Swackhammer in the 1996 film “Space Jam,” which featured Billy West as the voice of Bugs Bunny.
SMASH MOUTH BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB
Billy West served as the voice of Philip J. Fry in the show “Futurama,” which featured folk singer Donovan as a guest in 2000. 11
Legend in Two Games The Intersection of
Basketball & Rap
n his 2010 song “Thank Me Now,” Drake claims
Designer: Anna Smith (English / Graphic Design) Fall 2017
“Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous/’cause we wanna be them and they wanna be us.” It’s hard to argue with the 6 God’s point, with many prominent NBA stars venturing into the rap world. However, this relationship between basketball and hip-hop existed long before Drake had even read his first “Degrassi” script. Shaquille O’Neal got the ball rolling in ’93, and the trend hasn’t slowed since, with Portland Trailblazers star Damian Lillard releasing his debut studio album CONFIRMED under rap-alias Dame D.O.L.L.A in October of this year. While Dame’s project follows in the tradition began by Shaq, it represents a marked shift in rap-basketball culture. Whereas previous athletes’ efforts were casual, near-comedic projects with little production value, the new vanguard of basketball rappers are entirely more serious, attempting to leverage their on-court popularity into a legitimate music career. When he wasn’t abusing opposing centers for the Orlando Magic, the singular Shaquille O’Neal was crafting lyrics for his debut album, 1993’s Shaq Diesel. Shaq’s celebrity clout gave him access to top-tier artists few other up-and-coming rappers could dream of working with, most notably the late Phife Dawg. Released by Jive Records, the album garnered a critical response that was unenthusiastic at best. However, negative press did little to slow Shaq Diesel, with two of its tracks landing on the Billboard Hot 100 as it accelerated towards platinum status. The unpredicted commercial success of Shaq’s album not only strengthened his status as an international celebrity, it legitimized the concept of athletes making music, paving a way for future stars to dip their toes in lyrical waters. Allen Iverson embodied the infusion of hip-hop culture into basketball more than any other player to step onto a court. Bursting onto the scene in the midst of the G-funk Era in 1996, Iverson’s cornrows, tattoos, and fearless braggadocio would be right at home in a Def Jam recording studio. It seemed only natural, then, when Iverson released a rap single, “40 Barz,” under the moniker Jewelz. Unfortunately for Iverson, the track’s misogynist lyrics and homophobic slurs were met with severe backlash, including reprimands from former NBA commissioner David Stern. Due to the overwhelmingly hostile response, Iverson decided against releasing the rest of the album. Iverson’s ultimate failure served as a cautionary
tale to would-be NBA rappers, reminding them that they did not have the same lyrical freedom as artists without athletic careers to consider. After Shaq’s initial splash and Iverson’s less-than-savory headlines, a tedious stretch of basketball players releasing terrible music to little fanfare persisted for over two decades. In 2000, Kobe Bryant dropped his debut single featuring Tyra Banks, predictably titled “K.O.B.E.” The track is truly awful, an unholy marriage of halfcooked bars and vocals befitting of someone who recently admitted her attempted singing career was a mistake. As is the case with many aspiring NBA rap-letes, after the brutal reviews of the single, no album was released. Another hall-of-famer, legendary Sacramento center Chris Webber, fared much better than Kobe with his debut single. Titled “Gangsta, Gangsta (How U Do),” the track climbed to #10 on the Hot Rap Singles chart, albeit primarily propelled by a searing Kurupt guest verse. The subsequent album failed to gather any traction and was ultimately a commercial failure. Countless other NBA players lay scattered upon the trash heap of musical history; Jason Kidd, Ron Artest, Delonte West, and Charles Barkley are but a few of those who have seen their fledgling rap careers miss the mark worse than a blindfolded jump shot. Tony Parker deserves a special mention for his Francophone effort, although it too, sadly, was quickly relegated to obscurity. Eventually, this phenomenon transcended the NBA, with athletes from other sports putting out music to similar reception. U.S. soccer star Clint Dempsey embraced his Texan heritage with pre-World Cup single “Don’t Tread on Me,” while boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. found lyrical composition a more elusive opponent than any he had faced within the ring. The world has endured this monotonous mediocrity for over 20 years, though that era may be coming to an end. A new wave of musically inclined athletes is on the rise, carrying the torch for sportsmen as serious musicians.
Freeway and Fredo Santana accompanying a collection of mixtapes. Albeit not as skilled as Lillard, Shumpert’s beat selection and concise, East Coast-style flow make him an artist to watch going forward. Another NBA star making waves with his music is the Indiana Pacers’ Victor Oladipo. Bucking the rap trend, Oladipo released an R&B project titled “Songs for You” in October. Capped at seven songs and containing features from 2 Chainz and Eric Bellinger, “Songs for You” has managed to rack up hundreds of thousands of listens across streaming services. Although neither Shumpert nor Oladipo have garnered significant acclaim as of yet, their work suggests the future of athlete-made music is brighter than its past. Given the impending dominance of streaming services like Spotify, CONFIRMED will likely never sell a million copies like Shaq Diesel, yet its impact will be undeniably equivalent. It is by no means the album of the year, or even close, but it demands to be discussed among hip-hop albums period, not just those put out by athletes. In transcending this barrier, Lillard has opened the door for other athletes to do the same. As players become increasingly aware of the importance of branding and off-court opportunities, more and more of them will look to music as an avenue for expanding their celebrity. This could lead us to another glut of terrible singles and unreleased albums, but if Damian Lillard’s work is any indication, I’d bet on the contrary. • Ryan Clark (Politics, Philosophy, and Economics)
A new wave of musically inclined athletes is on the rise, carrying the torch for sportsmen as serious musicians.
At the crest of this new wave rides Damian Lillard. Hype surrounding the Oakland-born baller grew exponentially following an early 2015 appearance on the Sway in the Morning radio show, where Dame glides over a beat with the dexterity and flow of a seasoned MC. His highly anticipated debut studio album CONFIRMED dropped October 6, with glamorous featured artists like Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, BJ the Chicago Kid, and more. Lillard’s project earned glowing reviews, setting a new bar for athlete-rappers in terms of production quality, lyricism, and overall seriousness. Songs like “Trap Party (Funeral)” deal with somber topics rarely broached by athletes, while tracks such as “Shoota” and “No Punches” showcase Dame’s superior flow. All of this adds up to a legitimately good rap album, something we haven’t witnessed in the 25-year history of athletes making music. While his latest album looks to be a success, Lillard isn’t the only NBA player garnering attention for his musical exploits. Iman Shumpert of the Cleveland Cavaliers has popped up recently as a legitimate rapper, with appearances on albums by established artists 13
Vance Joy October 23 @ Somerville Theater
Vance Joy definitely was not scared of pretty girls and starting conversations at the Somerville Theater last Friday. He strummed his guitar and sang his heart out with raw emotion that incited cheers and whistles from the audience. His clear excitement and toothy smile was infectious as he started his set. After releasing his first single since his debut album in July, he has been touring in anticipation of his second studio album, performing old favorites as well as debuting new songs. His 2013 single, “Riptide,” made the charts in ten different countries and his 2014 debut album made him an artist to watch. After openers Chappell Roan and Amy Shark, the crowd was highly anticipating the Australian singer to take the stage. Cheers erupted as the steady bass of “Fire and Flood” echoed through the theater. The prolonged rhythm drew the audience to their feet, hooting for Vance Joy to storm out into the spotlight. With the strum of guitar, he rushed out from the curtains and began to harness the incredible energy from the crowd into his singing. Vance Joy’s lyrics are the epitome of romance. On “Red Eye,” he sings about a man who flies around the world to be with his girlfriend. He continues to serenade the crowd in “Wasted Time” with descriptions of the beauty of a girl with a wide-eyed gaze. When
belting out notes, there is a distinct rasp to his delivery that radiates emotion, too. His relatively simple lyrics effectively deliver symbolic love notes to concert-goers. In order to create publicity for his upcoming album, he included three new songs in his setlist. “Take Your Time” placed less focus on Vance Joy’s skilled guitar playing and more on a synthesized beat. “Call If You Need Me” was more reminiscent of his first album, Dream Your Life Away, as he strummed his guitar through simple yet mesmerizing chord progressions. His third song, “Like Gold,” created a unique vibe by using cymbals and increasing the intensity of the percussion, making it impossible not to dance to the rhythm. All three highlighted the strength of Vance Joy’s voice and once again displayed the passionate way he expresses himself through music. The awed silence of the audience during the debut of these songs was quickly followed by cheers as Vance Joy began to play an energized cover of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.” People jumped to their feet and began to lose themselves in the wild romance of Vance Joy’s fiesta. The band, previously hidden in the shadows of the spotlight, showcased their talent with heavy hitting drumbeats and soothing saxophone solos. The melody began to shift suddenly towards Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” on which Vance Joy
proved his versatility by belting out the lyrics while continuously strumming his guitar. His combination of the two songs continued to incite loud encouragement and demonstrated his artistic ability and innovation. After one more song, Vance waved goodbye to the applauding audience without playing his most memorable song, igniting pleas from the audience for an encore. Within a few minutes, Vance Joy reappeared with his emblematic ukulele and began the familiar strums of his biggest hit, “Riptide.” The entire crowd sprung into a sing-along, forming an intimacy among everyone. It is rare to see an artist’s raw passion seep into an audience in such a way. He was standing in the spotlight by himself, stripping away all preconceived complexities of the music industry while fervently strumming away. Everything about Vance Joy screams genuine. He is there to perform for his fans and create a wistful, romantic atmosphere within any space he occupies. Vance Joy lives up to his name as he reminds all listeners of the joy found in music. Sabrina Zhang (International Affairs/ Political Science)
Wrabel October 25 @ Paradise Rock Club Some singer-songwriters need nothing more than a piano and microphone to provide a night full of heartbreakingly relatable hits and soulful vocals. This was the case for Wrabel at Paradise Rock Club on the rainy night of October 25th, where concertgoers braved Commonwealth Avenue’s excessive construction and bad weather in the name of unabashedly authentic art. Stephen Wrabel – just Wrabel, onstage – broke into the pop scene as a songwriter for big names like Ellie Goulding, Adam Lambert, and Kesha. All of these artists possess their own eccentric stage presences, and Wrabel’s writing often lent itself to bold sounds. So when Wrabel came onstage accompanied by nothing but a piano, the stripped down was a pleasant surprise. Although his solo repertoire is already littered with soaring ballads and minimalist production, Wrabel simplifies things onstage even further, sacrificing background vocals and hard-hitting drumbeats. The intimacy of the performance suited the closely packed venue, and Wrabel’s vocal range filled the entire room. Evident in heartbreaking relationship anthems “Bloodstain “ and “11 Blocks,” Wrabel had nothing to hide – his live voice as hair-raisingly beautiful, if not more so, than his recorded
voice. This was even more surprising given such sound came from a lanky, sweaterwearing piano player. Wrabel’s simplicity onstage and in his music translates to a touching message of hope for everyday people experiencing heartbreak, growing up in the LGBTQ community, or both. The vulnerability Wrabel expresses, rooted in the tribulations he faces as a gay man looking for love, has gained him the recognition of incredibly supportive crowds. This was evident by how the audience’s voices filled in background vocals that got lost between recording and performance, and by their roaring applause after every song. Leaving his heart on the line in front of a crowd, Wrabel truly needed nothing but himself and a piano to supplement the passion and dynamic range evident in his voice. The raw quality of his performance paired well with songs discussing difficult subject matter, especially “The Village,” a crowd favorite. Wrabel didn’t explain too much before each song, letting his poignant lyrics speak for themselves. However, before “The Village,” he gave the audience background into the song’s relevance to the LGBTQ community, and the hardships of transgender students that inspired it. Wrabel’s honesty and authentic sound was
a welcome snapshot into a more accepting world. The feeling was tangible, as Wrabel finished most of his songs looking as emotional as the crowd, admitting that he was “shaking and crying” in a humbling display of appreciation for his audience. His show was all about good music and authentic storytelling, and Wrabel avoided anything that would obscure those two goals. At one point in the night, Wrabel said his Tinder bio should be: “Can stand and sing and stuff,” which doesn’t even scratch the surface of what a cathartic experience his performance was. Wrabel’s unfettered personality and rich vocals filled the small venue with warmth, despite the fact that his lyrics reflect such hardening life experiences. Stacy Andryshak (Communications/Media & Screen Studies)
King Krule October 26 @ Paradise Rock Club Looking upon Archy Marshall’s (aka King Krule) thin, red-haired figure on stage, it was hard to believe he could be the source of the deep, warm baritone echoing through the speakers. Yet there he is, his uniquely soothing voice providing a solid foundation for emotionally contemplative tracks like the opener, “Has This Hit?” His most recent album, The Ooz, draws inspiration from various genres such as punk rock, jazz, and trip-hop. King Krule translates this diverse musical background into a fantastic show, equal parts sobering and invigorating, fusing aspects of his different influences
into a cohesive, captivating performance. The intimate feel of the Paradise Rock Club complemented the show nicely, contributing to a sense of closeness between the artist and the audience. Seemingly intent on proving his talent extends past his distinctive voice, King Krule and his supporting cast of James Wilson, George Bass, Jack Towell, Connor Atanda, Ignacio Salvadores, and John Keek play with a frenetic energy not heard on the recorded album. “Half Man Half Shark” was the best example, with the band’s aggressive playing style meshing perfectly with King Krule’s
passionate lyrical delivery. Otherwise laidback tracks like “Emergency Blimp” and “Locomotive,” both from Ooz, also benefited from their up-tempo approach, garnering an overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception from the audience. Not content with relying on his talented supporting cast, Marshall showcased his own musical ability during “Dum Surfer,” punctuating the song’s ominous tone with an extended guitar solo. The night ended on an undeniably high note, with Marshall playing two of his most popular songs, “Baby Blue” and “Easy Easy,” to conclude. “Easy Easy,” the first single 15
from his debut album, was especially wellreceived, with the audience cheering loudly upon hearing the first chord. The fast-paced music built towards the emotional release of the second verse, where Marshall belts out “When positivity seems hard to reach/I keep my head down and my mouth shut/’Cause if you’re goin’ through hell/Well just keep
Wolf Parade October 20 @ Royale In the mid-2000s, Wolf Parade was an act to be reckoned with due to their debut album Apologies to the Queen Mary’s critical and commercial success. The Canadian band’s subsequent projects showed off their eclectic electronic indie rock with signature syncopated guitars and abstract keys. In 2011, the band went on indefinite hiatus and just this year, they returned with their newest and most adventurous project yet, Cry Cry Cry. Walking into the Royale, I didn’t know what to expect. Did the fans of the band like the new release, or did they resent it? Coming onstage to a roaring crowd, Wolf Parade launched into their set with the big guns, playing some of their most well-known songs off their first album. Hearing keyboardist Spencer Krug with his off kilter backed by the energy-packed drums and rhythmic guitars was a blast from the past for a lot of audience members, who vocalized their adoration for the band during and between songs. Lead guitarist and vocalist Dan Boeckner responded to these song requests and cheers by simply raising his glass and yelling, “Cheers!” The group then announced they were going to play from their newest album, and proceeded to cruise through most of it without break. The band looked like they were having just as much fun as the crowd: bantering with one another mid-song, joking with the crowd on what they should play next and moving around like performers who were happy to be together again in front of fans
goin’.” It was the perfect ending to a brilliant, diverse show, injecting a jolt of defiant positivity into the venue. King Krule’s performance truly reflected his continued development as a musician. Albeit brief at thirteen songs, the show incorporated the differing influences that make him such a compelling artist.
that sang every word of every song. For their grand finale, Wolf Parade first thanked the crowd and the city for always being there for them and standing by their music every step of the way. They then jammed on “This Heart’s on Fire” with such ferocity that I barely recognized it, and “I’ll Believe in Anything” with the floor of the Royale literally shaking from the lively listeners. Finishing up, they proceeded to leave the venue for what seemed like an eternity before coming back out for an encore of “Valley Boy” and “Kissing the Beehive,” that left the crowd not only satisfied, but mesmerized. It seems that this reunion of the Montreal band has not only been a return to form for the group’s sound, but for their onstage tenacity and showmanship. The energy in the room was electric, and the band fed off of it to perform an inspiring set with the perfect ratio of old to new content. Quinton Hubbell (Engineering)
His ability to combine elements of so many genres so smoothly is an impressive feat, especially for a 23-year-old. Given both his youth and current artistic trajectory, it won’t be long before King Krule brings his considerable talents to larger venues. Ryan Clark (Politics, Philosophy, and Economics)
The Mountain Goats November 13 @ House of Blues It’s always interesting to see how a veteran band, especially one with so many excellent albums that no single era stands out as the “classic period,” attempts to please the various factions within its own fan base over the course of a single concert. The Mountain Goats’ approach, at least at their recent Boston House of Blues show, was to give the people a little bit of everything, and do it with good cheer and humor. Athens indie band Mothers opened with a set of rangy, languorous indie-folk. Besides the uncanny similarity between Kristine Leschper’s drawling wail and Angel Olsen’s, the most striking element of their performance was the visuals that played behind them: cryptic, sepia-filtered loops that enhanced the music’s sense of Southern Gothic unease. Several of their songs featured brief sections where the band briefly picked up steam before slowing back to a crawl, a neat trick that ensured the audience did not enter into too deep a stupor. “Tasteful” is not a word often used to describe goths, but it’s an apt descriptor for both the slick soft-rock instrumentation on the new Mountain Goats album Goths and the stage setup for their supporting tour: just place candles on either side of drummer Jon Wurster, ensure the entire band wears
suits, and go no further. Even with new member Matt Douglas classing up the joint on keyboard and woodwinds, it would be foolish to take the group’s genteel exterior as evidence that they planned to take it even remotely easy. The band managed to work up some surprisingly hard-rocking outros, and whether John Darnielle was plucking out a rare (and thus charmingly amateurish) electric guitar solo on “Rain in Soho” or kicking and hopping around like a nerdy Angus Young, he was a sight to behold. The crowd’s behavior during Darnielle’s solo acoustic set spoke volumes about the very unique breed of hero worship the man attracts. Between songs, Darnielle was inundated with drunken song requests and desperate attempts to engage him in conversation, yet as soon as he started singing the room became almost unnervingly quiet. Oddly enough, both reactions felt like signs of respect, as Darnielle’s wired, hilarious stage banter is just as essential to any good Mountain Goats show as the music. He saved his best stories for when the band returned, introducing a pair of cuts from Goths with enthusiastic, rambling anecdotes as insightful as they were entertaining. Of the 16 albums The Mountain Goats have released, they managed to play at least one song from 13 of them, largely
eschewing singles or fan favorites to spotlight unheralded deep cuts. Even if it was possible to construct a greatest-hits set from such an unwieldy discography, Darnielle and the boys probably wouldn’t want to anyway- and good for them. As long as only the true fanatics have a working knowledge of Darnielle’s every recording, why shouldn’t the live show be an opportunity to discover some great songs from the albums you’re not as familiar with? And don’t worry, they’re just saving “This Year” and “No Children” for the encores. For this evening’s “No Children,” Darnielle put down his trusty guitar to serenade a small snake statue, fall to his knees, and hold the mic out to the frenzied mobs screaming “I HOPE YOU DIE! I HOPE WE BOTH DIE!” in the only setting where that is socially acceptable. Admittedly, if you’re not already a Mountain Goats fan, seeing them live probably isn’t the best entry point; they’re more or less preaching to the converted at this point in their career. But it sure is one hell of a sermon. Terence Cawley (Biology)
We publish show reviews online too! tastemakersmag.com 17
Victoria Rose SOUNDS LIKE
(Sandy) Alex G Coma Cinema Daniel Johnston RECOMMENDED TRACKS
“EV Human” “Plant Boy” “Devil” ALBUMS
Verisune Bony French Cathedrals CHECK OUT
It’s fitting that I interviewed Victoria Rose, aka Brittle Brian, right before Halloween. She called her music “spooky” several times, and there’s something to that description. Though 2015’s Verisune bears the hallmarks of your average Bandcamp singer/songwriter (home recording, minimal instrumentation, personal lyrics), dissonant chord changes and jarring sound effects keep listeners on edge. By offsetting Verisune’s frequently beautiful melodies with these traces of ugliness, Rose creates a self-contained universe which won’t reveal its secrets no matter how much you listen. Rose grew up in Farmington, Connecticut, where she and her best friend, inspired by Hole and Babes in Toyland, learned guitar and fantasized about starting a band. Though the band never came together, Rose kept writing songs and was soon recording them on her laptop at BU. Her first album, 2014’s Bony French Cathedrals, came from a period of isolation which led Rose to begin taking songwriting more seriously. “I was living pretty much alone for an entire summer,” says Rose. “I had a lot of time on my hands, and I ordered this little USB mic and just sort of documented my summer for fun.” Rose released the album as Trash Baby, but after deeming that name too self-deprecating, she changed it to Brittle Brian at the suggestion of a friend who’d just written a song called “Brittle Brine.” Before long, she was playing live. While it took some adjustment at first (“I still get nervous, but it’s fun when it goes well”), she’s gigged around Boston quite a lot in recent years, including opening spots for (Sandy) Alex G and Porches. Her favorite shows are at DIY venues like Trixie’s Palace where she can play for her friends. “Generally, I’m way better in the basement setting because I just bring my acoustic guitar,” says Rose. “It’s a lot easier; I feel more confident with it.” Brittle Brian toured exactly once, during the brief period when Rose tried playing with a full band. Rose makes it sounds more like a road trip than a proper tour; though they traversed the East Coast, camping at Myrtle Beach and staying in Pensacola’s Margaritaville hotel, the group only played two shows. Soon after, Rose decided to keep Brittle Brian a solo project. “I’m not sure if I’m there yet in terms of commitment,” says Rose. “I also don’t feel like directing that many people…I’m not organized enough (laughs).” Though she admires the immediacy with which lo-fi musicians like Daniel Johnston communicate ideas, Rose is very deliberate about her songwriting. She’s always been drawn to sour sounds- she sometimes incorporates the dissonant seventh intervals she learned
in high school chorus, while her favorite Brittle Brian song, “EV Human,” is perhaps her eeriest. Recently, however, Rose has been trying to move away from that style, partly inspired by ‘60s folksingers like Karen Dalton and Michael Hurley and partly inspired by a desire to make room in her music for joy. “I recently wrote a song, and it’s pretty simple, but the lyrics are about someone I love very much, and they’re happy,” says Rose. “And that feels just as honest.” Since Verisune, Rose has only released one new Brittle Brian song: “Truther (Rough Take),” which came out last November. She promises that more is forthcoming. “I haven’t been working as hard as I could be…I have the classic excuse of ‘I’ve been busy,’” says Rose. “I have been writing though, and I do have some new stuff I’m really happy with…It’s just a slow process for me. I wish it wasn’t.” Rose lays part of the blame on her struggle to write positive lyrics. “It’s hard because happiness is an emotion that I think is so much further outside yourself than sadness,” says Rose. “[With] a negative emotion, at least with me, I sort of feel like the main character in this super-story. When I’m happy, I’m just happy… for me, feeling good is a lot more abstract.” She also feels less compelled to use her songs as personal exorcisms. As she put it on Bony French Cathedrals Bandcamp page, “I made this while feeling empty but I’m not as empty anymore.” “Lately, I’ve been feeling like I don’t need to showcase or romanticize my emotions,” says Rose. “I wrote Verisune in a period of time where I was deeply uncomfortable for a lot of it, and it really helped, but I’m more evened-out [now].” The word-of-mouth success of Verisune came as a pleasant surprise to Rose, but she’s less concerned with building a large fanbase than simply making something she can be proud of. “I don’t really expect the stuff that I put out to blow up in the same way [as Verisune], and that’s totally fine with me,” says Rose. “It’s like, whatever, just make it and if it’s good to you, put it out. That’s the ideal; it’s not so easy in practice.” Terence Cawley (Biology)
Every stateâ€™s music has its own flavor. Weâ€™ve prepared a sample for each one. See what matches your taste, and flip to the next page to read about some of our favorites!
States of Music
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago In 2005, fueled by a broken heart and a wallet emptied by online poker, Justin Vernon found himself isolated in his parents’ hunting cabin outside Medford, Wisconsin. Drunk off his own loneliness and likely whatever was left in the liquor cabinet, Vernon focused his misery on several months of songwriting, recording the album that would propel him and his heart-wrenching falsetto into indie stardom. For Emma wears the setting of the cold Wisconsin wilderness on its sleeve, backed by Justin’s hauntingly soft vocals and somber, acoustic instrumentation. • Matt Schuler (Environmental Science)
Prince – Purple Rain “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life,” Prince iconically begins Purple Rain. Purple Rain was Prince’s sixth album, which launched him into international stardom in 1984. Prince debuted the album at a performance on August 1983 at the Minneapolis music venue First Avenue; he originally had no intention of using the live recording, but after hearing the tapes, he decided to incorporate them into the album. With Purple Rain selling over 14 million copies, Prince brought Minneapolis’ music scene to the world’s attention, as well as contributing to the success of First Avenue. • Maya Dengel (Communications/Media and Screen Studies)
Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning throws itself at an unrecognizable world. George W. Bush had set Iraq on fire for oil, and Conor Oberst found himself navigating a grim New York City hungover, lovelorn, and far from his native Omaha. To combat his homesickness, Oberst borrows heavily from the corn-fed country music tradition of his red state upbringing: weeping pedal steel guitar, Veteran’s Day Parade trumpets shouting sarcastically with civic pride, and the unmistakable harmonies of Emmylou Harris. Pertinent in 2005, and just as important today, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning looks at the good life promised by Midwestern values, and asks “how the fuck could you let this happen?” Fall 2017
• Reid Flynn (Business)
Nas – Illmatic Growing up in the Queensbridge projects, Nas made his hip-hop debut with a remarkably assured delivery and lyrics that somehow managed to sound both channeled and rhythmically free. He places the listener on his stomping grounds in “One Time 4 Your Mind” with his then-unparalleled polysyllabic rhyming, and expresses what it’s like living under the “devil’s lasso” in the “rotten apple” on the painfully unsympathetic “The World is Yours.” But nothing compares to the relentless “N.Y. State of Mind,” on which Nas recounts past police raids and narcotic trades in “the city [that] never sleeps, full of villains and creeps” as subway trains, taxi honks and Rudy Giuliani newscasts provide background noise. In a concise forty minutes, Nas establishes New York as the truly Empire State with his ambitious storytelling and unmatched street sensibility. • Anu Gulati (Computer Science/Math)
Designers: McKenna Shuster (Interaction Design) & Sara Trosky (Graphic Design)
The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers It’s not the bonus track called “Government Center,” the references to Stop & Shop and the MFA, the exhortations to “drop out of BU”- hell, it’s not even the part in “Roadrunner” when Jonathan Richman flat-out says, “I’m in love with Massachusetts.” It’s how, with the album Richman’s label cobbled together two years after the band broke up, The Modern Lovers invented the collegerock archetype. Richman’s wide-eyed naivete, lovelorn yearning and proto-punk exuberance proved you didn’t need the otherworldly cool of Bob Dylan or Lou Reed to play rock ‘n’ roll, and guitar-wielding art school freshmen have been following his example ever since. • Terence Cawley (Biology)
Daniel Johnston – Songs of Pain Realistically this isn’t the album most people associate with my home state, but I relate more to this home-recording savant than I ever will to John “I’ve never been to West Virginia” Denver. Songs of Pain feels especially relevant to my homeland as the brain drain worsens, and Daniel Johnston’s earnest wish to go “back to wild West Virginia, home of the naive” is something that all Vandalian ex-pats can recognize. Johnston’s tinny, almost child-like voice is the perfect vessel for a West Virginian’s homesickness; no matter where you go, you’ll find nothing quite like those rollin’ hills.
The Allman Brothers – Eat a Peach October 1970: the Allman Brothers Band crowded around guitarist Duane Allman during an opium overdose. “Please,” bassist Berry Oakley prayed, “just give him one more year.” The rock gods obliged. A year later, headed to the band house in Macon, Georgia, Allman collided with a flatbed on his motorcycle. Eat A Peach is Allman’s infinite memorial service, featuring “Melissa,” Duane’s favorite song by his younger brother, Gregg; “Little Martha,” the only song Duane ever wrote for the Allman Brothers Band, in which (if you listen closely) he perpetually breathes his last breaths; and the beloved and optimistic “Blue Sky.” Said Allman: “I’m hitting a lick for peace. And every time I’m in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace.” • Brianna Caleri (Music History and Analysis)
• Tim DiFazio (English) 21
Against Me!, Paradise Rock Club
Photo by Lydia Tavera (Music Industry)
GIRLS TO THE
BOARD On November 28, nominees for the 60th annual Grammy awards will be revealed, once again reminding us all that music is, like most industries in Hollywood, so often a boy’s club. There’s certainly been progress on the performance side- many of today’s reigning pop stars are women, after allbut we hear far less about the women working behind the soundboards. The Producer of the Year Grammy was first introduced in 1974, and since its inception only six women have ever been nominated, the first being Janet Jackson and her production team in 1989. Jackson, of course, was nominated for her own material, and in fact it wasn’t until 2003 that a female nominee was recognized for her work on behalf of another artist (it was Lauren Christy, one-third of production team The Matrix, for Hilary Duff and Liz Phair tracks). Today there are many female performers, perhaps most notably Grimes’ Claire Boucher, who decided to learn the technical side of recording for themselves in order to take charge over every step of the creative process, and the number of female producers out of the limelight is slowly climbing as well. Before women made their way onto the other side of the studio glass, though, three in particular carved out a path for the future, leaving behind important legacies in some of today’s most thriving genres: rock, hip hop, and electronic music.
Cordell Jackson Jackson is generally considered the first woman to found and produce for her own record label, Memphis’ Moon Records. Growing up in rural Depression-era Mississippi, Jackson (born Cordell Miller) learned piano, guitar, and upright bass at the encouragement of her father, who played in a local string band. In 1943, at age twenty, she married William Jackson and moved to Memphis, where she began recording demos at the Sun Records studios that launched Elvis Presley to stardom. But the testosterone-fueled rockabilly scene at Sun was discouraging, so Jackson decided to try her hand at running a label. Moon Records, established in 1956, was housed in Jackson’s own home studio, using equipment purchased from a local radio and appliance store. She wrote and engineered her own music (including Moon Records’ first singles, “Beebop Christmas” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas”), but also recorded for several Southern artists in the ‘50s. The label continued through the ‘70s and ‘80s, and Jackson even played a few club shows, earning her a strong enough reputation as a “rock ‘n’ roll granny” that she starred in a cheese-tastic 1991 Budweiser commercial alongside Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats– look it up, you will not be disappointed.
These three producers approached their craft in different styles, but each possessed the passion and tenacity to pursue work in a field where women’s abilities are still questioned regularly. Women have more opportunities now to learn recording technology, but it remains an uphill battle. Almost every interview with a female engineer involves stories of being forbidden to touch the soundboard during a session or scrutinized while shopping for equipment. This kind of condescending behavior further perpetuates the existing stigma discouraging women from exploring an interest in tech, an issue extending into STEM fields far beyond the music industry.
Sylvia Robinson Often referred to as the “mother of hip hop,” Robinson had a moderately successful career as part of the R&B duo Mickey & Sylvia in the 1950s before opening All Platinum Records with her husband, Joe Robinson. Like Jackson, she also became one of the earliest female record producers, working with R&B group The Moments in 1968, but her true break would come later. In the late ‘70s, as the label became bogged down with financial troubles, Sylvia enlisted the help of her son to scout for fresh talent. The search ended with three young New Jersey rappers riffing over a disco track. To coincide with a refreshed label, Sugar Hill Records, Robinson dubbed the trio the Sugarhill Gang. The track was “Rapper’s Delight,” and the rest was history. “Rapper’s Delight” went on to sell over eight million copies, peaking at number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100. Riding the wave of the song’s success, Sugar Hill Records signed Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five a few years later, whose 1982 track “The Message” paved the way for hip hop’s explosion into the mainstream, particularly N.W.A.’s brand of gangsta rap.
■ Justine Cowan (Marketing)
Designer: Sarah Ceniceros Gomez (Graphic Design)
In the same way that Sylvia Robinson helped bring hip hop to life, Britain’s Delia Derbyshire made strides for electronic music, though not in the way you might expect. Derbyshire, born in 1937, was fascinated by math as well as music growing up, and after being denied a position at a recording studio, she went to work as a studio manager for the BBC in 1960. After two years of proving her worth, she was given a coveted position in the experimental Radiophonics Workshop, where she was free to manipulate tapes and create new, innovative soundscapes at will. For over a decade, Derbyshire took apart magnetic tapes and re-arranged them to form ambient tracks, including the title sequence for the original Doctor Who series, taken originally from a classical composition by Rob Grainer. All of this was before the invention of the synthesizer normalized the idea of creating music through means other than traditional instruments. Though she no longer worked in music by then, it was Derbyshire’s creative vision that helped form the craft of electronic sound manipulation.
All that being said, these women provided the early stepping stones for a growing list of female audiophiles who are responsible for a surprising amount of today’s hits. Twenty-year-old Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde (aka “WondaGurl”) has been crafting beats since she was nine, starting out on a Casio keyboard and eventually getting picked up by Travis Scott and Jay-Z to work on Magna Carta Holy Grail’s “Crown” (she was merely sixteen at the time), while Grammy-nominated engineer Emily Lazar has mastered over 2,000 albums at her NYC studio, The Lodge, for everyone from Bowie to Sia to Vampire Weekend. This is why the legacies of our three pioneer producers remain so relevant: we cannot encourage a new generation of women in music without celebrating the few who are currently in a position to do so. The next step, of course, is ensuring this extends to those in front of a mixing board, not just a microphone.
Where have all the
indie pop bands gone?
Around the turn of the most recent decade, we saw an influx of indie-pop bands parading a package of synth-heavy rhythms, anthemic choruses and digestible lyrics and themes perfect for the digital revolution of music streaming and sharing. Groups like WALK THE MOON, Grouplove, Matt and Kim and Foster the People made their marks through headlining slots at music festivals and offered coming-of-age soundtracks for adolescents across the world. This fresh sound soon became classified as the next iteration of indie music, marking yet another shift in the everlasting fluidity of the genre.
Indie music is eccentric, with ambiguous origins and a sound difficult to place into any single genre. Widely considered an export from the United Kingdom in the 1970s, indie music is credited for taking on a shape of its own since moving overseas. The transformation of a genre as nebulous as “indie” is made even more difficult to trace given its inherent place “outside the box.” More recently, the ability for artists to upload their own music online and share their work around the world has fueled the evolution of indie subgenres built around a DIY attitude. Social media, too, has allowed indie bands and artists to develop a persona in line with the carefreeness of the music itself.
As an umbrella term, indie music is typically broken down into the sub-categories of indie rock, pop, and folk– to name only a few. Like its rock counterpart, indie pop arose from the U.K. during the mid-80s and made its way around the world with the edgy-yetbreezy sound of acts like The Smiths and The Stone Roses. Since the turn of the century, the dominant sound of indie pop, especially in the United States, centered on glossy synthesizers, high-scale production and electronic influences from the likes of bands such as MGMT, Passion Pit and Phoenix. As pioneers of this stage of the genre’s sound, these artists ushered indie pop’s departure from its independent roots and found substantial commercial success. How then do we explain the surge of the recent wave of indie pop and its near disappearance mere half decade later? At the start of the new decade, Irish poprockers Two Door Cinema Club released their freshman album Tourist History, featuring the singles “Something Good Can Work,” “What You Know,” and “Undercover Martyn.” All three songs reaped substantial radio play on alternative stations and collectively boast over 300 million streams on Spotify. Their 2012 sophomore release Beacon, managed to attain over 100 million streams and ranked even higher on US and international charts.
The trio’s third album, Gameshow, which released in the final quarter of 2016, secured a comparatively low 23 million streams on its lead single “Are We Ready? (Wreck),” and the album fared far worse than its predecessors. Notably, the fate of Two Door is not uncommon. Two indie-pop outfits hailing from Los Angeles, Foster the People and Grouplove, both released their first albums in 2011 and received tremendous acclaim for their lead singles (“Pumped Up Kicks” and “Tongue Tied,” respectively). “Tongue Tied “peaked at #42 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 2011 and holds 116 million streams on Spotify, while Foster’s “Kicks” climbed to #3 and has over 350 million streams. Both bands released their third albums in 2017 (Grouplove’s third album, Big Mess, actually came out in 2016 but was re-released this August), but neither album was able to collectively surpass the number of streams just from these lead singles. As many of these bands launched their careers immediately during the turn of the decade, it didn’t take long for smaller bands to follow suit. The effusive synths and enthusiastic presence of 2010s indie pop began replicating at an alarming rate, producing bands like Smallpools, Magic Man, Youngbloode Hawke, and Panama Wedding. Yet again, as the glistening indie-pop sound
became saturated, streaming-friendly singles launched the careers of many of these bands into the indie radio scene before they eventually disappeared into anonymity. L.A. indie pop act Youngbloode Hawke, for example, released their self-titled debut EP and lead single “We Come Running “in 2012, impressively reaching over 30 million streams on Spotify and gaining access into indie circles. Five years later, the band released a follow-up single titled “Robbers,” which received a disappointing 200,000 streams. By now, you probably get the point; these bands have reached their peak. While writing off these disparities as part of the one-hit-wonder syndrome often felt by emerging artists is tempting, the short time
period in which these artists rose and fell also offers valuable insight. The success enjoyed by the aforementioned bands and many of their contemporaries left a distinct mark on playlists and festival lineups alike. That said, the hyper saturation of 21st century pop and festival-friendly artists now seems to sit with its predecessors as a past stage of indie pop. Already, indie artists are finding success with their crossovers into other genres, whether they are R&B, hip-hop, electronica, or a patchwork of all three. Newer artists like Khalid and Rostam are already offering a more inventive, accessible and millennial attitude to youthful indie audiences, and titans of the genre like Beck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes have maintained their status with no indication of leaving. As the indie pop
subgenre moves into another uncertain era, we’re left only guessing what its next phase turns into. • Vishal Makhijani (Politics, Philosophy, and Economics)
As the genre moves into another imprecise era, we’re left only to guess what its next phase turns into.
Designer: Cam McKenzie (Communication Studies/Interaction Design)
Two Door Cinema Club 27
In 2011, Skrillex produced the song “The Disco Rangers Bus (Knows How To Rock And Roll)” during Russ for $15,000 while he was still considered up-and-coming. “Skrillex at Sasquatch 2011” by Christopher Dube is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Norwegian High School Students’ Investment in EDM
“RUSS” MUSIC Designers: Allison Bako (Animation) & McKenna Shuster (Interaction Design) Fall 2017
Norwegian high school students have single-handedly reconstructed their country’s Top 40 charts, opened doors for upcoming artists and garnered the attention of big names in EDM production. The annual Russefeiring or “Russ celebration” undergone by graduating high school students calls for the mass commission of EDM singles that over time has created a culturally significant subgenre of electronic music. Russefeiring dates back to 1905 as a celebration honoring the last spring semester of Norwegian students’ secondary school careers, lasting from mid-April to May 17th – Norway’s Constitution Day. Evolving over the years from graduation ceremonies to month-long parties, students began to buy or rent “Russ buses” in the ‘70s with a group of friends. Russ buses can be small vans or long party buses that students deck out with lights and have driven by chauffeurs. These have become the center of the party for Norwegian 18-year-olds, who often park their buses in clusters as informal get-togethers. Every party needs music, and in the competition to have the best Russ bus (earning local fame as the most popular Russ group), Norwegian teenagers will spend tens of thousands of dollars to commission a personalized song. High school students are willing to shell out tons of money on an original electronic track for their bus, spending up to 25,000 USD. Even
though the songs are generally well produced, it is obvious that this amount is well over what should be charged for a single, especially one by an unknown artist. However, this concept is not too far out of reach for Norwegian students. The disposable income does reflect Norway’s rising affluence, but not all this money comes from the students’ parents. Teenagers will work multiple jobs during the years leading up to their Russ to be able to afford the best bus and music possible. Russ groups are primarily paying for the promotional value of having their name associated with a song. The tracks are usually titled the commissioning Russ group’s name (which can be as mundane as “Honey Badgers” or as sleazy as “The Penetrators”) followed by the year of their Russ. These groups aren’t even paying to own the song. This is the best-case scenario for aspiring artists – they get to keep the rights to their song, get paid a hefty sum and gain 20 people to vouch for their production abilities and promote them on social media. These perks have turned Russ song production into a competitive endeavor among aspiring and established artists around the world. Taking elements from the likes of general EDM, the vast majority of these songs use the I-V-viIV chord progression, house-style bass and generous sampling. As opposed to singing, spoken or autotuned elements have become
the norm among producers. Reminiscent of other international genres like K-pop, the occasional English word or phrase is also often peppered into these Russ songs’ choruses. In 2011, Skrillex produced the song “The Disco Rangers Bus (Knows How To Rock And Roll)” during Russ for $15,000 while he was still considered up-and-coming. Other Russ-commissioned artists have gained international recognition for their noteworthy use of the aforementioned electronic elements. Indie-electronic duo Lemaitre met as schoolmates in southeastern Norway, produced a Russ song together in 2010, scored a contract with Sony Music and had the opportunity to play at South by Southwest. Artists with similar stories are climbing their way up Norwegian Spotify charts, with three of the top five most-streamed Norwegian songs on Spotify being Russ songs. This Russ-induced subgenre is alive and well in Norway, and with an increasing number of artists being picked up by international labels, it is ultimately set to make waves among niche listeners in the same way that K-pop has broken through to American audiences. • Stacy Andryshak (Communications/ Media & Screen Studies)
THE EVOLUTION OF VIDEO GAME MUSIC
Video game music is a little stigmatized. Music and video games are by no means synonymous in the same way that movies and their soundtracks are. High demand composers and A-list artists ripe for soundtrack works for hire are far more likely to jump at the opportunity to create the musical accompaniment to next summer’s supposed blockbuster than a video game, but in recent years that trend has begun to ring less true. Today, video games and specifically video game music are a multimillion-dollar industry: game developers will sometimes even have higher music budgets than mainstream movie studios. Simply put, music is vital not only to the story, tone and scale of a game, but also to the game’s brand identity and marketing strategy. Some game series are known specifically for their magnificent soundtracks, and games like “Super Mario Bros.” have instilled their main themes into our brains for generations to come. Only in the last decade or so have mainstream artists and composers been keen on being a part of that process. Video game music started very humbly with the advent of chiptune’s “beep boops” and, for lack of a better word, “techy” sounds. However, as the years progressed and gaming grew to be a more lucrative business (bar the American video game industry crash
of the 1980s), games became a more viable medium for artistic expression and meaningful storytelling. With any visual story comes a compelling soundtrack. Many composers like Nobuo Uematsu and Hirokazu Tanaka (many were Japanese, naturally) got their start and later garnered a lucrative career and reputation for scoring video games. Additionally, while it is hard to recall any songs by popular artists created specifically for video games in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the new millennium saw a sharp increase in works for hire from popular artists for video games, including heavy hitters like The National (“Portal 2”) and Florence + The Machine (“Final Fantasy XV”). Many games from the 2000s and onward have also gotten fantastic mileage out of licensed music, something that blockbusters like the “Grand Theft Auto” and “Saint’s Row” series are now known for. As a means of educating any non-gamers who still love their music trivia, I present the following consolidated history of video game music, by way of highlighting some of the most grand, important and beautiful game soundtracks of all time. • Jason Levy (Marketing)
The Early Days: The 1980s Ah, chiptune; after all these years, it is still associated with video games, even following its dip in popularity. While today it is by no means the chief method of creating music for games due to its simplicity and its “computery sound,” from the late ’70s to ’80s it was the bread and butter of the industry. “Pac-Man” (1980): We all know and love “Pac-Man.” While obviously not the first video game with music, it is the earliest from which most can remember any discernable jingle. “Pac-Man” was a humble beginning for music in video games and represented just how much a good earworm can impact success within the medium. “Mega Man 2” (1988): We may be skipping ahead here, but to be quite honest, there is not all that much diversity in the video game music scene prior to the late ’80s. “Mega Man 2” sports the kind of music that many will immediately think of when pondering video games: upbeat, campy, techy and an all-around 16-bit romp.
Larger in Scope and Sound: The 1990s While the ’80s laid the foundation for video game music, video game composers of the ‘90s began to set their sights higher. Grander in every sense, from atmosphere to scope to sound, video game soundtracks of the ’90s proved that there is more art and storytelling to gaming than meets the eye. “Final Fantasy XI” (1994): The entire “Final Fantasy” series is lauded for its breathtaking music, but it is the orchestral and atmospheric soundscapes of “Final Fantasy XI” that established video game music as a legitimate form of captivating storytelling and emotion. An honorable mention goes to “Final Fantasy X.” “Quake” (1996): This is the first example of a major artist contributing to a video game soundtrack. Trent Reznor, hot off the release of his career-making Nine Inch Nails record The Downward Spiral, composed the entire 2-hour industrial soundtrack. It’s dark, brooding, creepy and undeniably a game-changer (pun intended). “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” (1998): The ’90s were the golden age of video game music, and the “Legend of Zelda” series is often cited as the perfect example. This game was a key spark that led to video game music as a bona fide big business, and is often considered one of the best game scores of all time. “TLOZ” even has its own touring orchestra, active since 2012.
Video Games Can Be Art: The 2000s The 2000’s were really the point when composers took the groundwork that was created in the ’90s to a whole new level. Even grander in scope than the ’90s, game music in the 2000’s was heavily characterized by a juxtaposition of pulse-pounding action and sweepingly atmospheric tones.
“God of War” (2005): The 2000s were ripe with mythological and historical fiction games and needed a fittingly ancient tone to match. This soundtrack is cardiac arrest levels of action from start to finish, and truly is a prime example of the tone that video games of the decade set: a sense of utter macho hugeness. “Assassin’s Creed” (2007): Adding to the historical fiction theme of the time, “Assassin’s Creed” games each take place in a different time period and thus require different overall feels. The first game, set in Jerusalem, is resoundingly biblical, while the fourth title in the series, the piratethemed “Black Flag,” has a jaunty, swashbuckling tone that brings the action to a whole new level.
Designer: McKenna Shuster (Interaction Design)
“Shadow of the Colossus” (2005): For anyone who claimed video games can never be art (looking at you, the corpse of Roger Ebert), those against that argument often point to this game as a counterexample, in large part due to the beautiful orchestral soundtrack this game has to offer. This is interactive atmosphere at its finest.
Retro and Techno Are in Again: The 2010s While the hugeness of 2000s games soundtracks are still largely present in the majority of AAA releases, the 2010s video game scene belongs to the indie developers. The biggest trends in indie games these days are tech-fusion soundtracks, and even more popular, retro style music that harkens back to good old chiptune. “Portal 2” (2011): This game was a huge step forward for game music in a number of innovative ways. Firstly, the thumping atmospheric techno music actually changed to align with gameplay, and secondly the soundtrack had help from big name act The National. It also contains arguably the most famous/viral song created for a video game, “Still Alive.” “Bastion” (2011): A personal favorite, its soundtrack is a perfect poster child for the dozens of soundtracks of the 2010s that fused techno and trip hop with everything in between, in this case including bluegrass. This one’s also notable for having one of the few examples of diegetic music (i.e. music whose source is visible and heard by characters on screen) in games. Worth checking out, along with Darren Korb’s other games “Transistor” and “Pyre.” “Shovel Knight” (2014): Creating a game that intentionally attempts to mimic a game on the NES is no small feat, especially regarding the music. “Shovel Knight” managed to pull off that achievement while creating a great score in its own right, fitting in beautifully with the retro trend of the time. “Cuphead” (2017): It’s amazing how in 2017 a game developer can still create a game that is so utterly unique. Wanting to go the retro-route without being generic, “Cuphead” styles itself after retro cartoons such as early Disney, and has a beautifully arranged big band jazz soundtrack to match.
The Everlasting, Enigmatic Effect OF
Designer: Madisen Hackley (Experience Design) Fall 2017
During the 2011 production of Drake’s Take Care, Rolling Stone reported on the state of Noah “40” Shebib’s studio in Toronto. “The vibe is industrial yet cozy: exposed brick, low lighting, plenty of high– grade weed and virtually no decoration aisde from a vinyl copy of U.K dubstep crooner James Blake’s debut on a windowsill.” Released in February 2011, the icy James Blake quietly disrupted the early decade with its disassembled pop sound, heard in traces on “Marvin’s Room” and “Cameras.” Drake isn’t the only one who worships Blake; in a radio interview with Philadelphia’s Wired 96.5, a post-Yeezus Kanye West emphatically commended Blake, demanding listeners to “just go listen to his music and say, ‘Hey, that’s Kanye’s favorite artist.’” Despite the critical adoration, Blake remains introverted and enigmatic and his debut LP remains the closest we may get to his reserved genius, a declaration of self via minimalist yet effective songwriting that feels like what all music futuristically strives to be. Revisiting James Blake almost seven years after its release reveals its subtle yet profound effect on music today, an effect that Drake and West forecasted and have enhanced through their emotive vocals over trip-hop loops.
BLAKE REMAINS INTROVERTED AND ENIGMATIC AND HIS DEBUT LP REMAINS THE CLOSEST WE MAY GET TO HIS RESERVED GENIUS...
Much of the work on James Blake was accomplished when Blake was 21 to 22 years old. As the son of English prog-rock guitarist James Litherland, Blake has always been surrounded by music, and he acknowledges his father’s upbringing on “The Wilhelm Scream.” In this cover of his father’s twangy song “Where to Turn,” Blake plays with space as an African drum beat and Telecaster fight for attention against increasing layers of ambient terror. The sound becomes claustrophobic and his voice anxiously flutters until all instruments eventually erupt in a slow, lava-like ooze. Similar to how Jamie XX
completely reworked the source material of Gil-Scott Heron on We’re New Here, Blake reinvents his father’s yacht-rock sound here and in a cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” later on in the tracklist. James Blake was the world’s introduction to Blake’s singing voice, which can be compared to Thom Yorke or Justin Vernon for its robotic coldness. He uses his vocals as a vulnerability on “Why Don’t You Call Me” and then as a wobbling bass replacement on “I Mind.” On “Limit to Your Love,” Blake brings intensity to Feist’s lyrics as his voice trembles like the waves when he says “waterfalls” and reverses the intonation of the line, “Is it truth or dare?” Gone is the lush instrumentation from the original song as Blake only utilizes a dubstep bass flutter, a snare snap, and a piano as his backing, occasionally also adding a vocoder to his voice so that his accusations of love limits actually sound mathematical. Artists since Blake have done similar bare-boned covers that practically transfer ownership of the song, like Lorde’s perfectly captured cover of The Replacements “Swingin Party,” where she explores the rich qualities of her voice over just a dusty electronic organ. Blake’s biggest modern influences are Burial’s Untrue and The xx’s xx, two other England-based genre beatniks. Blake’s dubstep style is most memorable on “I Never Learnt to Share,” where he repeats a lyrical mantra into madness, complete with a final minute of exploding drill bits, highpressured synths, and surprisingly little bass. Just a few songs later is minimalist piano ballad “Give Me My Month,” Blake’s untouched voice tricking the listener into feeling grounded for a moment before floating away in pitch-shifted and sliced up vocals on “To Care (Like You).” In an interview with Billboard in 2013, he best summarizes his uncategorizable
sound with a conversation between him and a NYC cab driver: “I was actually struggling in a cab yesterday, and I was saying I was gonna do a show at Terminal 5. [The driver] asked me what kind of music it was, and I said, ‘It’s kind of electronic.’ And he went ‘Oh, we just had Tiesto on the radio.’ I went yeah, ‘It’s not really like that.’ And in my head, I was thinking of Tiesto standing on his monitors, pumping his fists. But I didn’t have any better description. I didn’t know what to say. I knew vaguely it might sound like almost anybody.” What Drake or West revere in Blake is his ability to remain outside of classification, to sound like anybody but also so uniquely himself with as little tools as possible. Most of Blake’s singing is repetition, there’s at least one-second gaps of silence between every beat in “Limit to Your Love,” and his mechanical white male voice tries so hard to be soul- by all means, his music should be considered boring and shouldn’t work the way it does. The ‘00s maximalism in indie and electronic, best displayed in the frantic instrumentation of Vampire Weekend and Animal Collective, bred the minimalism James Blake established for the ‘10s, and the cycle continues. It’s no wonder a record like 2016’s Blonde received so much acclaim for shocking the listener with softness and quiet, and further not a surprise that Blake has production credits on almost half the record.
WHAT DRAKE OR WEST REVERE IN BLAKE IS HIS ABILITY TO REMAIN OUTSIDE OF CLASSIFICATION, TO SOUND LIKE ANYBODY BUT ALSO SO UNIQUELY HIMSELF WITH AS LITTLE TOOLS AS POSSIBLE.
In an interview with Pitchfork in 2015, pop’s reigning sovereignty Madonna cited James Blake as her most recent inspiration, even expressing jealousy at his talent. It’s equally baffling to remember that there’s basically a full James Blake song on Beyoncé’s 2016 Lemonade, one of the decade’s most popular albums by one of the decade’s most popular artists. As lazy as it is to refer to Blake as an enigma, I fail to find any other word to describe him and his creeping importance as a pop figure. Blake’s later records, Overgrown and The Colour in Everything, failed to gain as much traction and praise as his 2011 self-titled, but he is still respected as the musician’s musician. Eventually, pop music will find praise with heavy instrumentation and loud noises again- where will James Blake be then? When asked about his impact in an interview with The Guardian last year, Blake politely smiled and laughed: “It’s like the opposite of punk, isn’t it? I got them all to shut up. I’ve subdued a generation. That will be my legacy.”
■ Anu Gulati (Computer Science/Math)
Sabrina Claudio, Royale
Photo by Rio Asch Phoenix (Media Art)
The Front Bottoms, House of Blues
Photo by Nola Chen (Computer Science)
Glass Animals, Aggannis Arena
Photo by Nola Chen (Computer Science)
Gary Allan, Royale
Photo by Lauren Scornavacca (Mechanical Engineering)
Chicano Batman, Paradise Rock Club
Photo by Amanda Barr (Criminal Justic/Psychology)
LANY, House of Blues
Photo by Nola Chen (Computer Science)
Sweater Beats, The Sinclair
Photo by Nik Pousette
It’s hard to say how many people Jack Antonoff has reached with his music, but it’s safe to say you’re probably one of them. As a songwriter, producer, and musician, Jack Antonoff has collaborated with some of the biggest pop stars in the world as well as created. When he was 15 years old , Antonoff began touring with his band Steel Train. They worked alongside bigger artists like Tegan and Sara and O.A.R, but it wasn’t until Antonoff transitioned into the pop rock band Fun. that he got his first real break. In 2013, Fun became a commercial success with the monstrous radio hit “We Are Young.” Shortly after the band won two Grammys, they disbanded. This may sound like a strange decision but Antonoff defends it, saying “I remember immediately – immediately – feeling like, I don’t want to play “We Are Young” when I’m 35.” This describes the kind of artist Antonoff is: extremely dedicated to the authenticity of his music. Now, as he works on music for his newest project, Bleachers, he is also one of the most requested collaborators among pop musicians. From huge names like Taylor Swift to up-andcoming musicians like Troye Sivan, Antonoff helps artists create music that is genuine and commercially successful at the same time. Antonoff has described the place in which the music is made as having a significant impact Fall 2017
on the end result. As a New Jersey native, his sound is very authentic to his state. As someone who is from New Jersey themselves, I see this sound as nostalgia mixed with diners and late-night drives on the highway. His approach to production is very “more is more,” the kind of music you want to blast with your windows down driving late at night. Bleachers’ first album, Strange Desire, released in 2014, is a perfect example of this. Lead single “I Wanna Get Better” is a maximalist expression of finding a better life for yourself. The song includes specific examples from his life while also is extremely relatable to anyone. Bleachers’ newest album, Gone Now, which came out earlier this year, continues his ode to suburbia while conquering the loss of his sister and the connection he feels with the world because of it. Antonoff’s ability to create empathy and relatability in music is why he is so requested amongst famous pop musicians. One of the first big names to collaborate with Antonoff was Taylor Swift on her first true pop record, 1989. The hugely popular single “Out of the Woods” began as a track created by Antonoff. It takes the “more is more” philosophy, with intense drums on the chorus and featured vocals by Antonoff echoing Swift’s voice. This track shifted Swift’s career because it was one of the first synth pop songs
she had ever done. Lyrically, the song tells the story of a doomed relationship with specific examples, like a car accident the couple was in. Similar to the story told in Bleachers’ “I Wanna Get Better,” “Out of the Woods” tells a very specific story while also maintaining a universally relatable message. The constant repetition of “are we out of the woods yet” on the chorus sounds like someone desperately trying to make something work that is destined not to. Antonoff in the past has described his work as sounding like “someone going crazy in their room.” You can see that intensity in this collaboration as well. One of the strangest collaborators Antonoff has worked with is Troye Sivan. As one of the few male pop stars to work with Antonoff, Sivan and hisdebut album Blue Neighbourhood fits with the current modern dream pop trend that is very minimalist in its production. This is the exact opposite of the kind of music Antonoff makes. That’s why when you listen to Blue Neighbourhood it’s easy to pick out which song Antonoff had a hand in creating. The LGBTQ anthem “Heaven” examines Sivan’s struggle over accepting his sexuality when he was 15 years old. The song, with vocals from Betty Who, skyrocketed Sivan into becoming one of the biggest influences in the LGBTQ community
over accepting her fame and how her fame has changed her relationships with others. It’s a story very few can relate to, yet it’s told in a way that relates to everyone. You can hear specific instances in Lorde’s life that made her feel like a liability in the verses, but the lyrics in the chorus (“they say/you’re a little much for me/you’re a liability”) are brutally empathetic. Much like how Antonoff’s original band Steel Train sounds like Bleachers’ younger sibling, Melodrama sounds like the grown-up version of Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine. I think much
of this advancement is due to Antonoff’s influence on lyrics and production. As someone who is both removed from and very much in the mainstream, Jack Antonoff is an insider’s outsider. Although his personal projects are less commercially successful, you can hear his influence in some of the biggest pop music right now. His ability to stay somewhat obscure allows the music he creates to be empathetic and relatable.
Designer: Jackie Arce (Experience Design)
today. The song is also the biggest-sounding song on the entire LP. It has Sivan’s signature cool piano in the verses with Antonoff’s big, bombastic drum machines in the chorus. It’s a perfect example of what Antonoff says he has learned from Bruce Springsteen: “blues in the verse, gospel in the chorus.” Lyrically the song is the most personal one on Sivan’s album; it’s heartbreakingly authentic. When working with a new artist, Antonoff says he begins by asking what’s the worst thing that has happened to them. “Heaven” takes us into Sivan’s world of wondering if being himself means he won’t go to heaven. The song is so powerful because Sivan’s honesty makes you feel empathetic to someone you don’t even know. The most recent collaboration Antonoff has been a part of is St. Vincent’s latest album, Masseduction. When working with Annie Clark, Antonoff said he wanted to create lyrics that someone would have tattooed on themselves. The lead single off the album, on “New York” expresses loss and connection to another person. The opening lyrics, “New York isn’t New York without you, love,” sound like something you would find in “artsy” cursive writing on Pinterest. That’s the magic of the lyrics in “New York;” they’re so simple but convey something so complicated. It’s similar to “Everybody Lost Somebody” off Bleachers’ newest album Gone Now. In the song, Antonoff also expresses loss with lyrics like “looking like everybody/ knowing everybody lost somebody.” Simple, straightforward lyrics like those on “Everybody Lost Somebody” and “New York” are effective because they are easily understood. They sound so personal because they sound like something anyone, not just a famous artist, would say. I think the most impressive collaboration Jack Antonoff has been a part of is his work on Lorde’s newest LP Melodrama. The entire album was solely worked on by just Lorde and Antonoff. By keeping the collaborators down to only two people, the record has a very cohesive feeling. Each song moves the story forward by showing the effect a breakup has on an individual. The lead single “Green Light” immediately reminded me of New Jersey. It’s intense and unapologetically loud. Lyrically, “Liability” was the song that reminded me of Antonoff’s work the most. It describes Lorde’s struggle
• Emma Turney (Communication Studies)
Album Reviews King Krule
The OOZ Release Date October 13 Label XL Recordings Limited Genre Alternative/Indie Tasty Tracks “The Locomative,” “Czech One,” “La Lune” Reviews Fall 2017
7 I feel like my son has returned from war, as Archy Marshall, most commonly known as King Krule, has finally blessed the world with his new album, The OOZ. In Marshall’s album, he deploys an array of new styles, floating between genres such as punk, hip-hop, jazz, and ambient. Most prominently, he experiments with the flow of the album by incorporating the end of songs into the beginning of the next. One particular track that displays Marshall’s experimentation with sound is “Dum Surfer.” The track creates the atmosphere of an amusement park ride that thrusts listeners into its circular motion, blurring their perception of the world. Marshall gives listeners a peek into his emotions with lyrics such as, “I’m a step from madness as I puke on pavement slabs.” Here, he experiments with the sporadic distortion of his voice as it trails off from demonic vocals to a beachy tone. Another interesting new style can be heard in “Bermondsey Bosom (Left),” which consists of spoken-word Spanish over a relaxing background beat. Fans are soon met with “Bermondsey Bosom (Right),” which is spoken in English. The unique choice to have the same lyrics in different languages clearly displays Marshall’s experimentation and growth with the new album. While the sonic aspects of “Bermondsey Bosom” are relaxing, the lyrical component creates rather disturbing images, as a voice declares, “He jerks inside, his guts twist, sits in the big smoke and thinks of her.” One of the most impressive new styles Marshall toys with is the bleeding of the ending of songs into the beginning of another. The final tracks of The OOZ, “Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver)” and “La Lune,” are codependent on one another with the trickling of rain marking the end of one melody and the entrance of a new one as “La Lune” begins. Few albums take on the
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challenge to collaborate the sounds between songs since viewers tend to stream songs one at a time, rather than indulging in the complete album itself. However, Marshall’s purposeful ordering is done flawlessly with the contrast of soft songs pinned against intense, emotional songs. The weaving of these opposing sounds leaves listeners at the end of the album feeling as if they have been daydreaming and lost track of time, as The OOZ departs with the fading of light rain. If The OOZ can show fans anything, it is that King Krule is growing with his own music and experimenting to find the perfect direction for his future sound. Maya Dengel (Communication/Media and Screen Studies)
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St. Vincent MASSEDUCTION Release Date October 13 Label Loma Vista Recordings Genre Indie Rock Tasty Tracks “Sugarboy,” “Los Ageless,” “Smoking Section” This past July, the debut release from Annie Clark’s ‘St. Vincent’ project Marry Me, an album that crystallized a collection of side-projects and student bands into her own work, celebrated its first decade. It’s only fitting then, that, 10 years later, she unveils her fifth album– MASSEUDCTION– sharing undoubtedly her most daring, personal and painful work to date. MASSEDUCATION offers a careful assortment showcasing Clark’s greatest strengths – resounding guitar melodies thrust over steady, layered vocals and mechanized synths, bolstered only by the pop mastermind Jack Antanoff, credited for his work on Lorde’s Melodrama and Taylor Swift’s Reputation. The album opens with the somber introduction “Hang On Me,” on which Clark pleads to a forgotten flame: “I won’t cry wolf in the kitchen / Just please, oh, please don’t hang up yet.” The album then races into a candid, rapidly repetitive confession of drug abuse on the single “Pills.” Here, Clark discloses a tale of addiction and desire featuring her former lover Cara Delevingne through frenzied chants of overdose. The album continues with these melancholy celebrations through the infectious self-titled track (on which Clark revels “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” a quotable moment that is sure to be found on T-shirts and Instagram captions alike). Following this track comes the dance floor masterpiece “Sugarboy,” which shares themes of sexual fluidity, passion and liberation. As Clark recites “I am a lot like you
(Boys) / I am alone like you (Girls)” over a heavily layered electronic production, fans are eager to join her in an embrace of identity. From the album’s first two singles, pensive ballad “New York” and booming “Los Ageless”, Clark reconciles her heightened popularity and public persona with the individuals she’s shared intimacy with along the way. Acknowledging her own lust and public image, Clark juxtaposes these two entertainment centers of power as backdrops of a reality in which she copes with her fame. True standouts from the album’s second act are found with the emotive cries in “Young Lover” (with yet another chorus dealing with a sedated lover) and “Slow Disco’s” earnest, heart wrenching lyrics. Clark smoothly sings, “Slip my hand from your hand / Leave you dancin’ with a ghost,” and we, as listeners, reflect. In a recent interview with The New Yorker’s David Remnick, Annie Clark divulged that the thesis of her record “is an exploration of power…the rosy sides of power, you know, and also the really grim sides.” Throughout the album, Clark seems to be addressing lost admirers, souls and senses of self from her past. While Clark herself revealed prior to the album’s release, “If you want to know about my life, listen to this record,” her album pushes listeners farther into the depths of her intricacies, both thematically and musically. The manic nature of the album directly mirrors Clark’s condition and process in putting the work together. MASSEDUCTION leaves no personal stone unturned, no curtain of her abjection left hidden. For the past decade, Clark has invited us into her reality of emotion and theatrical pop, and as she assures us with her recent record’s haunting exit, “It’s not the end.” Vishal Makhijani (Politics, Philosophy, and Economics)
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Maroon 5 Red Pill Blues Release Date November 3 Label Interscope Records Genre Pop Tasty Tracks “Wait,” “Lips On You,” “Denim Jacket” As the Billboard charts continue to be swept with a surge of hip-hop tracks and young, new artists that are breaking the Hot 100 mold, it’s been interesting to see what long-established commercial artists are now choosing to bring to the table. On the new record Red Pill Blues, it becomes quickly obvious that Maroon 5 is aiming to find their footing in this recently evolving pop atmosphere. The LP features a super-star roster of songwriters and producers. Alongside established industry veterans such as Jacob Kashner and Julian Bunetta, Maroon 5 recruits some newcomers who have recently made their mark in pop. One of the strongest tracks on the album, “Lips on You” is the clearest attempt for a slot on radio. “Lips on You” relies heavily on the signature production style of fellow artist Charlie Puth. With synthesized church organ chords creating the ambience for the song, Levine croons over the flawless production, transforming “Lips on You” into a bedroom hymn. Another remarkable young artist featured on the album is none other than 23-year-old Julia Michaels. With as many hits and as much prowess as anyone who’s been in the songwriting business for twenty five years, she was a bold but smart move on Maroon 5’s part. She is featured on the bubbly
“Help Me Out”, vocals included. Michaels’ raw and rhythmic voice is a breath of fresh airfrom the Levine falsetto that makes up ninety percent of the LP. Regardless of how obviously Maroon 5 chose to chase trends on this LP, the band has actually regained more of their original sound than in previous releases. Arguably, they got back to their roots more on this album than the previously released V. Tracks like “Whiskey” are the most reminiscent of the Songs About Jane era we all came to know and love. On the hook, Levine yearns for just a moment more with his lover: “Leaves are fallin’/ It’s September, The night came in and made her shiver” It’s a strong piano ballad that features all the nuances people came to embrace Maroon 5 for. The band opted to feature more instrumentation over computer generated tracks this time, although the latter is still featured heavily. Tracks “Denim Jacket” and “Closure” follow suit. Overall, the work on Red Blue Pills cannot be ignored. With the whole world being accustomed to and comfortable with Adam Levine’s distinct vocals, the songs themselves played the most important role in the success of the LP. Maroon 5 took the industry’s old and new to guarantee themselves a place in the recently genreunpredictable Hot 100 charts. The work of all these superstar talents coming together will be pure quality regardless of taste. What would have elevated this album above the bar is if Maroon 5 and their team of musician extraordinaires aimed higher to create new trends rather than chase the ones that are beginning to smother current pop music. Elena Sandell (English)
Sam Smith The Thrill of It All
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Release Date November 3 Label Capitol Records Genre Pop Tasty Tracks “No Peace,” “Midnight Train,” “Nothing Left for You”
6 5 4 3
In 2014, Sam Smith appeared in the world with a debut album that won four Grammys, and, just as fast as he arrived, he disappeared. Other than winning an Oscar in 2016, Smith has stayed relatively quiet for the past three years. But now he’s back with his sophomore album, Thrill of It All, and he gives the people exactly what they want: his voice. Smith sticks with what made In the Lonely Hour an insane success, keeping the production minimal in order to show off his timeless voice. The addition of a choir in every song creates a sense of cohesion throughout the record without overshadowing Smith’s voice. While In the Lonely Hour showed us who Smith is as an artist, Thrill of It All exceeds his debut because it shows us who Smith is as a person. The collection of break up songs feels like a diary: almost too personal to listen to. Lyrically, the song that immediately sticks out is “HIM.” For a gay artist who has made it a point to avoid using gender pronouns, this LGBTQ anthem shows huge growth from Smith. While the choice to not use male pronouns in his debut seemed like a commercial cop out, “HIM” sounds like a breath of fresh air with its shockingly honest story of a gay man battling religion and identity. In fact, the entire album uses male pronouns, perhaps indicating Smith accepting his own sexuality. The first promotional single for the album, “Pray,” shows similar strength in Smith’s songwriting. Rounding out the album, “Pray” stands out because it strays from the breakup tone of the record to focus on the hopelessness Smith sees in the world today. Smith sings, “I lift up my head and the world is on fire,” likely referring to the political upheaval we are currently in, and he comes to terms with this by saying “everyone prays in the end.” The only featured performance on this album comes from a new soulful singer, YEBBA. I don’t know how Smith found the singer, considering she just made her
debut this past October, but I will forever be grateful. YEBBA’s voice keeps right up with Smith on the depressing track “No Peace,” which tells the universally relatable story of not being able to get over a past relationship. YEBBA brings the vibrato of Jessie J with the soulfulness of Adele to compliment Smith’s lower vocal range in the verses. Smith’s falsetto shines the brightest on the upbeat “Baby You Make Me Crazy.” The entire chorus is sung in his upper vocal range, making it hard to imagine anyone executing this as well as Smith does. Thrill of It All sounds like a vintage, soulful breakup album brought into 2017. The songwriting stays modern, while the choir brings a retro feel. Although the production and vocals stay very similar to Smith’s debut, this sophomore record shows the power of honesty and sincerity. Emma Turney (Communication Studies)
Turns Ten(se) Going off the logic that one human year is equal to seven dog years, Say Anything’s In Defense of the Genre is a seventy-yearold dog. That’s right: this October, the album celebrated its tenth anniversary of release. Having said this, I think that now is as good a time as any to indulge in a bit of reminiscing about the first band I ever loved (Get it? It kind of sounds like I’m saying the first man I ever loved, but I’m actually saying a band because this is a music magazine). 6:50 A.M., 2010. I wake up terrified to a guitar strumming and somebody scream-singing “I was watching Demolition Man.” The panic slowly fades as I realize that I am, in fact, not about to be murdered by singing robbers, but that I am being awakened by my brother’s CD player/alarm clock. For the entirety of 7th grade, the song “Spores” by Say Anything brought in the dawn. These were the humble origins of my relationship with Say Anything. A chance encounter, over radio alarm clock. And sure, at first, I was terrified because robbers were possibly robbing me, but then I thought, “Hey, this guy sounds angry, and I dig it.” Upon further exploration, I could conclude that my initial hypothesis was correct: Say Anything’s lyricist and vocalist Max Bemis was indeed angry. And his lyrics have pretty much always been that way, providing me with some consistency in the midst of the confusion and turbulence of being a teenager. At the center of this was In Defense of the Genre. The album has the same angry, deeply revealing lyrics of the preceding …Is A Real Boy, combined with a familiar witty crassness (see: “shit my heart out on the floor” from “Hangover Song”) that Bemis is always sure to include somewhere in an album. That being said, it’s unusual to me that the album doesn’t have a more reputable name in the world of post-hardcore music. It is sandwiched between what are perhaps Say Anything’s two most popular albums. Coming off the high of …Is A Real Boy’s breakthrough success in 2004 and preceding the more polished sound of Say Anything’s self-titled album in 2009, In Defense of the Genre is a relatively experimental album for Say Anything, in which
they pull elements from their roots in post-hardcore and from indie rock, pop, musical theater and synth-pop. It is unfairly overlooked when discussing the triumphs of Bemis and Co. as well as the notable artists and records of the post-hardcore genre. It’s possible that I am biased. When I first listened to Say Anything, I too was sandwiched between two of my most popular albums: Childhood—a relatively well received work of indie-synthpoptropicon— and Adulthood— a criticized but generally respected work of Post-Malone-core. I was a seventh grader, teeming with angst and possessing only a vaguely defined identity. Unsurprisingly, an album as wrought with angst as In Defense of the Genre, an album literally based on the idea of defending emo music, was something that made my 12 ½ year old self think, “holy shit” (and then, quickly after, “Oh my gosh, I just used a swear word. I mean it was in my head but still. I’m officially cool now”). The thing about being 12 is that puberty hinders your ability to judge whether a situation is actually as profound as it feels. I mean, when I heard Say Anything’s “The Futile” for the first time— a song that starts with Bemis yelling “shit” and ends with “I am dining alone tonight”— it’s entirely possible that I literally shit my pants, and it’s also entirely possible that shitting my pants was a gross overreaction. Whether I truly shat or not, and whether my shit was called for or not, Say Anything music gets to me. In Defense of the Genre has the most special of places in my heart. To me, it means not only bringing in the dawn of a new day, but bringing in the dawn of young adulthood. Whatever the music you listened to in middle school was, and whatever it means to you now, I hope it has a special place in your heart. • Amanda Sturm (Accounting)
This Is a Good Primer For Someone Who Knows Nothing About
MODEST MOUSE Reid Flynn (Business)
If you write about music, if you listen to music, if you have ever been peripherally aware that the radio waves leaking out of your stereo can be arranged into sweet melodies, you may feel as though a band has found a way to distill your convoluted thoughts into a single perfect package. For myself and countless others, that band is Modest Mouse. Isaac Brock, Jeremiah Green and (until recently) Eric Judy have been “building nothing out of something since ‘93.” Born in the Seattle suburb of Isaaquah
at the peak of grunge, Modest Mouse turned away from that movement’s gloomy bombast, seeking inspiration instead from Pixies’ messy weirdness and Built to Spill’s moody noodling. Though they came to us as a nondescript trio of guitar, bass, and drums, it was Brock’s Appalachian charisma, whip-smart lyrics and transient carny drawl that shot them to indie rock stardom. What follows is an entry-level primer on the band’s first five studio albums. Maybe you’ll learn something; maybe you won’t. Enjoy.
1996 This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About
It starts with an uneasy bass line, then a mechanical drumbeat with a case of highway hypnosis. A ghostly guitar wails far off in the mist before twisting around the rhythm section, and you feel like you are somewhere you shouldn’t be. “Dramamine,” the opening track on Modest Mouse’s 1996 debut LP This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, introduced the world to the band’s oblique storytelling. Far from perfect, the album suffers from fits of stoned paranoia, and is prone to ill-advised diner-booth rambling. But when lucid, Isaac Brock lets us in on startling bouts of selfexamination. On the resigned “Talking Shit
About a Pretty Sunset” he strains: “And I claim I’m not excited with this life anymore / so I blame this town, this job, these friends / the truth is it’s myself.” Even when turning his attention to something present and tangible, it’s clear his brain is sifting through dense abstraction to get between linear points. The end result shows up constantly in Modest Mouse songs in the form of cryptically out-ofplace thoughts like the snarled non-sequitur, “I think I know my geography pretty damn well.” Through yelps and lisped accusations, Brock grapples with jealousy, boredom and the sinking feeling that you’ve shown up to an adulthood entirely foreign to the one promised to you as a kid.
1997 The Lonesome Crowded West
The Lonesome Crowded West is an angry album. The band’s most critically acclaimed work serves as an indictment of the “mallfucking” of America (Brock’s word, not mine) thoroughly underway by the midnineties. As nature gave way to Sears and its assorted cement accoutrements across the final frontier, one can imagine the ease with which a van-ridden touring band became nauseated by urban excess. Nowhere is the manifesto more pointed than on the bitter sarcasm of the chorus of “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine.” Brock chides, “Here’s the man with the teeth like God’s shoeshine / he sparkles, shimmers, shines / let’s all have another Orange Julius / thick syrup, standing in lines.” The recurring appearance of a slick-talking salesman pulling one over on us is a theme Modest Mouse ruminates on across their discography. While the archetype shows up in “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” as the smooth-talking banker, the biggest con artist in Brock’s eyes is the holy man. In an
encounter later in the album with some kind of deity, the curtain is pulled back and Brock’s atheistic leanings are confirmed by the admission: “You were right / no one’s running this whole thing.” Musically, the album is a major step forward. The guitars are still choppy and Brock’s voice remains thin and sloppily overdubbed, but the band experiments with freak folk, funk-lite, and sorrowful balladry (“Jesus Christ Was an Only Child,” “Lounge (Closing Time),” and “Bankrupt on Selling,” respectively). The lagging, elliptical sound of Eric Judy’s bass, and Jeremiah Green’s meandering drumming, while always idiosyncratic and essential to Modest Mouse’s sound, shatters through Brock’s strumming in “Styrofoam Boots” without warning, incinerating the end of the album in kinetic frenzy before Brock counts us down out of the chaos and back to the strip mall.
2000 The Moon and Antarctica
Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Of course, a band whose identity is partially based on distrust of The Powers That Be signed to a major label the first chance they got. Reborn with endless funding and shiny new toys (banjos! strings! accordions!), the band turned in an existential masterpiece. With Brock’s voice finally full and prominent in the mix, the album opens to the comforting plucking of “3rd Planet,” a crooked treatise on the origin, end, and guilt-ridden intermittency of mankind. Battles with God, capitalism and personal failure have long occupied Modest Mouse. But on The Moon & Antarctica, without the crutch of sarcasm or slacker indifference, Isaac Brock grapples with death in four stages in his most honest and meditative struggle to date. Tattooed across the album is the sycophantic lie parroted back frequently by Brock, “I don’t know / but I’ve been told / you’ll never die and you never grow old.” This is denial. In his anguished screams and violent guitar work on “A Different City” and “The Stars are Projectors,” combined with venom-tongued taunts like “You were the dull sound of sharp
math when you were alive / no one’s gonna play the harp when you die,” lie his anger. But in “Lives,” Brock crests the summit and begins to accept his mortality, admitting weakness over a fluttering violin: “It’s hard to remember / to live before you die.” Finally, buried in the drowsy strumming and hypnagogic musings of “Gravity Rides Everything,” he offers hope, reassuring himself, “It all will fall, fall right into place.” Throughout, the landscape feels cold and desolate, like looking out across an insurmountably empty field, seeing your breath among the dead trees and questioning your own sanity with the demonic reverberation of each harmonic guitar bend. But in the gonzo dance punk of the hell-bound “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” as the hi-hat falls out to end the song, a single reversed acoustic guitar blooms out of the mix like a sign of life on the first day of spring.
Few would have guessed that a band that dressed like a whaling crew, drawled like dustbowl Okies and sneered like Sartre would be 2004’s summer pop-radio darlings. Good News for People Who Love Bad News soared to near-double platinum status on the back of pervasive lead single “Float On.” With clicktrack drums and a smearing of Technicolor guitar held buoyant by a stiff-collared bass line, the song found mainstream success due to its uber-accessible “fuck it dude, let’s go bowling” attitude that things are never as bad as they seem. Though their back-catalog may toil in relative obscurity, Modest Mouse could henceforth be presented as “the ‘Float On’ band” to your mom. Flanking either side of the single, though, are some of Modest Mouse’s most beautiful compositions. “The World at Large” is a dreamy diary entry, Isaac Brock lamenting “My thoughts were so loud I couldn’t hear my mouth” before being gently swaddled by an orchestra that drones into “Float On.” On the other side lies the eulogistic “Ocean Breathes Salty,” a profoundly sad letter to a wasted life where Brock shrugs, “And maybe we’ll get
lucky and we’ll both live again / well I don’t know, I don’t know, I hope so,” well-wishes “Good luck, for your sake I hope Heaven and Hell / are really there / but I wouldn’t hold my breath,” and ultimately withdraws the hand he once held, asking “You wasted life, why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife?” The rest of the album oscillates between cynicism and acquiescent hopefulness. The former is led by the sinister “Bukowski” and the banjo deathmarch of “Satin in a Coffin.” The latter is best heard on the hushed “Blame It on the Tetons,” the sunset vulnerability of “One Chance,” and the hungover apology note “The Good Times Are Killing Me.” Good News for People Who Love Bad News is Modest Mouse’s fulcrum album. Behind them: a scorched earth jumble of loose-lipped opinions and reckless guitars. Ahead: pop sensibilities, a stronger emphasis on melody, and an Isaac Brock able to chuckle at the fucked-up world at which he once hurled himself.
Though their back-catalog may toil in relative obscurity, Modest Mouse could henceforth be presented as “the ‘Float On’ band” to your mom.
Let it never be said that there are no sea shanties in indie rock. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank was supposedly conceived as a concept album where a ship’s crew is fated to die in each song. The idea of an underwater rock opera was ultimately done away with, but the album remains nautically-disposed, always scanning the horizon with stormborn paranoia. The sense of maritime dread is perhaps most obvious on “Parting of the Sensory,” which builds from a muttered dirge into a reeling drunken mutiny, with Isaac Brock wincing, “Aw fuck it, I guess I lost.” The notion that we’re all losing a game that we didn’t know we were playing surfaces again on the staggering “Spitting Venom” as a bouncy acoustic guitar combusts into a cinematic tempest of cymbals and power chords, Brock screams “I didn’t know you kept track / I didn’t know there was a score / well it looks like you’re the winner / I ain’t gonna play no more.” The album isn’t all rogue waves, though. The breezy puttering of “Missed the Boat” happily accepts what could have been (with guest vocals from James Mercer of
2007 The Shins), while lead single “Dashboard” is a glitzy rehashing of the sunny optimism of “Float On” as “it would’ve been, could’ve been worse than you would ever know.” Joined on the album by legendary Smith, Johnny Marr, Isaac Brock’s chipped stringwork finally had a fretboard counterbalance of delicate intricacies to curl around. The interplay of Marr and Brock’s guitars is especially notable on the placid-water contentment of “People as Places as People,” and between the grizzled captain barks of “Invisible.” There’s something to be said of Modest Mouse’s fascination with a Sisyphean existence, like that of their supposed boat crew. Always a little suspicious of our own free will, after all, “our minds are just made out of strings to be pulled,” the interior sleeve of the LP reveals the full title to be We’re Lucky… We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. If the motor is shot, if the hull has sprung a leak, if we are doomed to fall into the same wicked traps we always have, then we’re lucky we can drown before the ocean reclaims us.
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
In Defense of Muskabeatz by Muskabeatz
Etcetera Fall 2017
The turn of the millennia brought us many
taking hip-hop in new creative directions. Simple
gangbanging. In the media’s eye, Muska was a
passing wonders like boy bands and Hillary
breakbeats were replaced by chopped samples and
representative of hood living (how a white kid from
Duff; but one man truly epitomized all things
live instrumentation by big producers. Single rhyme
Arizona achieved this is beyond me). Rappers like
of the era. Chad Muska was a household name
diss bars became complex poems about the fame
Ice-T, Prodigy from Mobb Deep, Guru from Gang
in the 2000s. As one of the world’s biggest pro
and riches of the game. In many hip-hop purists’
Starr and Jeru the Damaja all have verses that
skateboarding stars, he was known worldwide
eyes, they were witnessing the commodification of a
could be heard on one of their own music projects.
for his character in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and
genre that was created to be an expression of street
Ice-T raps, “Pull out the .44s, make the chambers
hedonistic Hollywood lifestyle. He skateboarded with
culture and the lifestyle within it. The days of the
twist / Ice on the wrist / Find you in the parking lot,
a boombox, became Paris Hilton’s best friend and
b-boys and beatboxers were over and they weren’t
shot / I’m real, if you walk, I’m moving your jaw,”
singlehandedly made baggy sweats and crooked
and Prodigy matter-of-factly states, “I’m in the
flat brims an acceptable fashion choice. In 2003,
street like dirt / So deep in the street life / I might
at the height of his fame, Muska released an album
hip hop prevalent in the skateboard community,
not make it work.” Most of the tracks are brimming
produced solely by himself that featured some of
started to invite the rappers he idolized growing
with the aggressiveness and hyperviolence that
the most influential rappers of the ‘90s such as The
up to record in his hotel room, what did these rap
characterized the ‘90s rap scene.
Wu-Tang Clan, Ice T and Biz Markie. This one-of-
legends do? When their careers were winding down
a-kind album, titled Muskabeatz, is a confusing,
and they realized they must make way for the next
you would hear a bunch of artists from a bygone
unappreciated piece of music history that deserves
generation, they decided to take a victory lap.
time rapping outdated verses over beats that lack
at least one dismissive listen.
Muskabeatz wasn’t groundbreaking music by a long
any substance. What makes this compilation worthy
shot, and these guys knew it. The whole album is a
of a listen are the subtleties of it. There are tidbits
the facts about it. The production is lacking, with
compilation of great MCs that just wanted to rap on
of hip hop history scattered throughout, like a
the stock drums and repetitive samples sounding
the mic again for all to hear.
recording of Biz Markie reminiscing on the success
like a twelve-year-old’s GarageBand project. There
of his hit song “Just a Friend.” The production is
is no musical wizardry Chad developed throughout
to be evidence to the listener that the rapper still
skeletal because it acts as framework that the
his career jumping stairs and grinding rails. Many
has what it takes to be great. Flavor Flav does this
featured MCs could make their own, unconstrained
of the verses are lazy and simple: on “Fake,” Afrika
on his track “Flavor Man” by belting, “I’m fakin no
by melodic samples and live instrumentation. The
Bambaataa raps, “You wanna be a beauty queen
moves and fakin no jax / Flavor Flav is back on the
verses sound old and cheesy because the rappers
with a mutt packed in your face / Having all type
dome relax.” Other artists take the opportunity to
weren’t trying to prove anything to anyone. Instead,
of stress marks all in the wrong place.” All in all, the
brag about how far they’ve come and the level of
they wrote raps that were representative of their
fact you can only find this album on YouTube and
wealth and fame to which they have risen. A prime
respective oeuvres for which they were known and
Napster speaks volumes about how memorable it
example of this is Grandmaster Melle Mel’s chorus
respected. In his spare time, Chad Muska concocted
was and still is.
to “I’m A Star” – “I’m a star, get love wherever I run
a concentrated shot of ‘90s nostalgia that could
/ New York ‘til I die, Hollywood ‘til I’m done.” Many
send someone back to a long-lost era of hip hop.
To fully enjoy the album, you need to accept
The music of Muskabeatz is less than stellar,
When Chad Muska, a new pop icon who made
In some tracks, the bars written are intended
but that isn’t what makes it great. You might wonder
seize the opportunity to write goofy joke raps about
how an album can be objectively “good” if the music
how talented they are, like Biz Markie in “Bodyrock”
isn’t, but what truly matters about this project is
saying, “Superb like Goldberg, iller than Godzilla / I
the context and history surrounding it. Gangsta rap
scared Michael Jackson into writing a Thriller.”
was dying, with boom-bap hardcore acts fading
away in the public eye by the end of the decade.
to touch on a wide range of subject matter, but
The emergence of acts like Eminem and Jay-Z were
most of the album was dedicated to street life and
The diverse cast of lyricists were bound
If you were to take Muskabeatz at face value,
• Quinton Hubbell (Engineering)
The Shins, House of Blues Photo by Abigail Manos
SPOTIFY PLAYLIST We’ve compiled a playlist with songs from each article. See if you can guess which songs correspond to each article! Find the playlist at: sptfy.com/1O0m
1. “Roadrunner” — The Modern Lovers 2. “Tongue Tied” — Group Love 3. “Out of the Woods” — Taylor Swift 4. “Pills” — St.Vincent 5. “Hey QT” — QT 6. “Dovregubben” — Zedd 7. “Skaters Union (Feat. Chad Muska)” — Chris Gentry 8. “No Punches” — Dame D.O.L.L.Ar 9. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas” — Cordell Jackson 10. “Spores” — Say Anything
11. “Pedal baskets” — Brittle Brian. 12. “3rd Planet” — Modest Mouse 13. “The Wilhelm Scream” — James Blake 14. “Czech One” — King Krule 15. “Still Alive” — Sperture Science Psychoacoustic Laboratories 16. “No Children” — The Mountain Goats
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Published on Feb 1, 2018