Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back from indefinite hiatus

It's been so long since I've done a blog post, I'd almost forgotten how to blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay not really, but it sure has been a long time since I've posted something. I've been busy (?) with schoolwork and the like. I don't want to go the entire month of April without blogging, though, so here I am! Lemme tell you about a few things that I like lately.

#1) T.V. on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

This Brooklyn quintet, whose previous releases have been met with high critical acclaim, released their much-anticipated follow-up to 2008's Dear Science a few weeks ago on April 11. Although they aren't in the right order, you can hear every song from Nine Types of Light in this movie the band made which features a video to complement each song.

Dear Science was widely hailed as a masterpiece, receiving universal acclaim and ending up on multiple best of 2008 lists. Nine Types of Light, however, has not been receiving the same level of acclaim. Some have criticized its lack of intensity that the band has become known for, and that is true, to some degree. Dave Sitek's production is much lighter compared to the wall of sound that was Dear Science. The opener, "Second Song," begins with vocalist Tunde Adebimpe singing with a light keyboard and percussion background, but quickly the drums, guitars, and the heavy bass-line sets in, and the chorus, with Tunde singing in a high falsetto, introduces the industrial, layered sound that is characteristic of the band. I'm a big fan of the Pixies, so I dig the quiet verse, loud chorus thing. It ends with a cool horn sample that strangely reminds me of Modest Mouse's "Float On" (if you listen close you might hear it like I do, but it's probably just me). "Second Song" is a great opener and one of the album's strongest tracks.

"Keep Your Heart," the album's second track, is longer, more atmospheric, and features guitarist Kyp Malone on lead vocals. It was hard for me to tell between Kyp and Tunde for a while. I think Tunde has one of the best rock voices today, but Kyp's falsetto yelp towards the end of the song is something that I've never heard Tunde do, and Kyp taking the vocals is a nice change. "Keep Your Heart" saunters slowly through its five minutes and forty-three seconds, but it's anything but filler, and I think it works really well as an album track.

You really must watch the Nine Types of Light movie (linked above) to see the video of the album's third track, "You" (the video for the song, interestingly enough, is the last one in the movie). This song is the closest the band have ever come to writing a love song -- "seems strange I feel this way / You're the only one I ever loved" sings Tunde. The song takes the heavier feel of songs a listener might find on Dear Science and pairs it with a slow-moving vocal melody from Tunde, which really fits the mellow vibe of the whole album. More experimentation comes with the fourth track, "No Future Shock," which is the closest the band has ever come to doing a song like "Time Warp" or "Cha Cha Slide." Malone once again takes the vocals on this one. This could probably be considered the album's most danceable track, fittingly. It features the liveliest drum beat so far, and the most upbeat chorus. It would certainly fit in well on Dear Science. It ends as "Second Song" does with a horn sample.

At this point comes the most interesting track on the album for me, the six minute and fifteen second album centerpiece "Killer Crane." Drummer Jaleel Bunton sits out on this slow and sprawling ballad. "Killer Crane" is to Nine Types of Light as "The Rain Song" is to Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy. The two songs share many of the same elements; "Killer Crane" is heavy on strings, featuring twelve-string guitars and a banjo, which often double Tunde's vocal melody. It also features woodwinds in the background, giving the track a nice airy and atmospheric feel. This is a completely new sound for the band, but they pull it off extremely well. Again, there is no filler here, and the middle is a perfect place to put "Killer Crane," right after the upbeat "dance" track "No Future Shock." This song is another one of my favorites from the album, and most definitely one of my favorite songs by the band as a whole.

From here we go to the album's first single, "Will Do." This is another take at a love song for the band, and I may have lied when I said "You," is the closest thing to a love song the band has done, because this is probably closer. It's the most accessible track on the album, with a catchy, singable chorus. But it's also the most coherent composition on Nine Types of Light, with a bridge that sets up tension, leading to the ending chorus. If I wanted to introduce a friend to T.V. on the Radio who had never before heard anything but pop on the radio (no pun intended), I'd play them this song.

I was wary of the next song, "New Cannonball Run," when I first heard it. As it starts with a drum machine, it sounds like it's going to be a dubstep remix of something, and if you know me, you know I'm no fan of dubstep. But as the rest of the band joins in, with layered guitars, bass, keyboards, and, again, a horn sample, it becomes enjoyable and funky. Kyp backs up Tunde towards the end, yelping once again. The next song reminds me of songs like "Dancing Choose" from Dear Science. Towards the end of "Repetition," Tunde sings "my repetition, my repetition is this" over and over again, in the fast, shout-singing style he displays on "Dancing Choose." This is another track that would fit right in on the band's 2008 release, featuring a fast-moving drum beat from Bunton. Both this and the song before it work well as a change from the reserved middle portion of the album.

The album starts winding down to its end with the second-to-last song, "Forgotten." The song has a triplet, rock ballad feel in the drums, and features little guitar, shifting the emphasis to the string synths and keyboards. Although Tunde's vocals move slowly, the track builds up to an instrumental ending with Tunde whistling, giving it a whimsical air. It is the third track on the album to end with a horn sample.

The album closer, "Caffeinated Consciousness," was the second song to be heard from the album after "Will Do," and I didn't much like it at first, but it's really grown on me, and I think it's one of the strongest points of the album, and a great place to end. Instead of the quiet verse, loud chorus principle the opening track is based around, the verses of "Caffeinated Consciousness" are quite loud, while the chorus is quieter. The verses feature Tunde shout-singing once again and the heavy guitars of Dear Science. Although it ends very abruptly, one could ask for nothing better to close the album.

Honestly, I probably like this album as much as I like Dear Science. It really grew on me, in the way that the Strokes' recent release hasn't. I like every song, and it never gets boring for me. It's most definitely my album of the year thus far.

#2) Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney is a punk-rock girl trio from Olympia, Washington.

Let me back up.

A while ago, my good friend Drew (check out his embarrassing Twitter account) told me about a show called Portlandia which starred Fred Armisen, my personal favorite current Saturday Night Live cast member. The girl you see alongside Armisen in this clip is named Carrie Brownstein, and she is considerably less-known than my dear Fred. I decided to do a little research on her, as Drew had told me that she "was in some girl band or played guitar or something." It just so happens that Brownstein was the guitarist for (now-defunct) Sleater-Kinney. As I continued to read about the band, it became apparent that most of their albums were shockingly well-received by critics and listeners alike.

And, boy, I couldn't agree more.

I don't know what it is about the band, but they've quickly become my latest favorite thing. I enjoy simplistic, heavy rock-and-roll music, which is the reason I love Is This It so much. I love the so-called "garage rock" that the Strokes perfected on that album, and that the White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were also exploring around the same time. Sleater-Kinney's sound fits right into this aesthetic. Bassist and lead vocalist Corin Tucker shrieks lyrics while Brownstein shreds and drummer Janet Weiss pounds away.

Their sound was, admittedly, underdeveloped throughout their discography in the 90s, but as they hit 2000 with All Hands on the Bad One, they began to vary their sound and became more accessible. My epiphany, the moment I knew I really liked this band, came while listening to 2002's One Beat, specifically the song "Oh!" --

This instantly became my favorite song of theirs, maybe because of the synthy guitar line during the chorus, reminiscent of the Strokes' 12:51. One Beat is also filled with political undertones, and it was specifically viewed by the band as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

My friend Kale doesn't like the band very much, because they have, essentially, one sound, and it doesn't really vary much. But I'm the kind of guy that loves when a band have a distinct sound, and I think that Sleater-Kinney perfected theirs. I strongly urge everyone to check them out. If you like any of the bands I mentioned above, you're sure to like Sleater-Kinney at least a little.

#3) Coachella 2011

Although the 2011 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival featured 220 artists (I counted), only one of them mattered.

The last year or so of Kanye West's life has been weird, to say the least. After the Taylor Swift incident, he relocated to Hawaii to work on his upcoming album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He was under the radar for quite some time. When the album was released in late November 2010, it was widely hailed as a masterpiece (it most certainly is). Even though intense hype and praise surrounded that album, Yeezy still felt strangely distant.

Until last Sunday night.

Kanye made his comeback Sunday in Indio as the final act of the 2011 festival. You can (at least try to) watch his full set here. I apologize, it takes forever for those videos to load, but it's the best link I could find. I'd recommend just trying to DL it somewhere instead, because you really should see this show. It's the best live set I've ever seen, and I mean that. Making his entrance on a cherry picker, fifty feet above the crowd, he opens with the opener from MBDTF, "Dark Fantasy," and then moves into an absolutely incredible version of "Power," the first single from the album. I was stunned, nearly in tears by the end of the six-plus minute version, in which Kanye incorporated his verse from the "Power" remix. From there he launched into the rest of his setlist, a masterpiece in itself, a greatest hits that hardly left anything out.

I've always been amazed at the energy and passion Ye puts into his performances, but he truly outdid himself Sunday. I've never seen anything like it. He was energetic and passionate, yet enigmatic, and completely intriguing. The two-hour set worked almost like a musical or rock opera, with nearly no time between songs. It was also complete with sets, costume changes, and a supporting cast of dancers from the "Runaway" video (which you should definitely check out if you haven't already). He dedicated the show to his mother, saying that it was the most important show he had done since his mother's death.

Kanye West is the greatest artist of this generation. His five-album discography contains three unquestionable masterpieces (The College Dropout, Late Registration, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), and the other two should be considered great in their own right, although they're not quite on the level of the others. The level of time and work he puts into making his art is untouched by any other artist today, and it shows in the final product. He already deserves to be on a short list of great pop stars with Michael Jackson and the Beatles, and his career has probably not yet reached its halfway point. His greatness cannot be understated, and he showed that to everyone Sunday night. A while back, he announced on Twitter that he would be releasing a new album this summer, and if that's true, I cannot wait to see what is in store for him.


That's all I have to say for this post, my friends. School ends in two weeks, so hopefully I'll be able to pay a little more attention to this blog during the summer months. I'm gonna start doing some regular things, hopefully I'll be able to keep it up weekly.

Anyway, thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed my writing! Although I'm on the record as despising Lil Wayne, his new video for "John," featuring Rick Ross, made me laugh out loud alone in my room... Here's the video, I leave you with it.

1 comment:

  1. Have inhumane amounts of homework; will read yr blog.

    I guess I should give NINE TYPES OF LIGHT a chance. I loved the first three records, but what I've heard off of this hasn't quite moved me. I still haven't listened to the dang Dodos. 2008 Patrick Is Dead.

    Keep it up, bra. Can't wait for you to be writing on the regular.