Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Taylor and Ryan Adams

There's been a bunch of articles in the wake of Ryan Adam's cover album of Taylor Swift's 1989 about male indie artists and female pop artists and sexism and how we take mopey music more seriously. The Mary Sue sums it up and adds their own perspective. 

Let me say a few things.

#1. Taylor Swift is a good songwriter. I'm not a fan of her production, I think her lyrics and her poor little girl next door schtick aren't my bag, but I don't think she's a crappy songwriter. I think most of the critical establishment, even those who dislike her music, will give her that.
#2. Fuck sad sack male indie rockers. I listened to ten seconds of the Ryan Adams album. It's some boring shit. Fuck Travis covering "Baby One More Time." Fuck white folk singers covering gangster rap songs. Fuck it all to hell.
#3. Pop music is often fluffy, mass-produced shite. Sometimes it is appealing mass-produced shite, in the same way that I'll get a fast food soda when I'm in the mood. Especially if they have that machine that let's you make all sorts of crazy coke zero combinations. I'm all about it. Doesn't mean it's good for you or that there aren't better things to put in your body tho.
#4. Fuck critics. Taylor may not get critical acclaim (spoiler: she gets critical acclaim), but she also sells gajillions of albums, has billions of views for her videos, and millions of fans. If the mean old critics are mad at her for not sounding like the National, she can console herself in her mountains and mountains of money. Other spoiler alert: Middle aged men and millennial hipsters are not Taylor's target demo. If they don't find her album as pleasing as Max Richter's 8-hour symphony, whatever.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What's wrong with pop music production

I love "Shake It Off." I think it is catchy, fun, and the lyrics are lightly empowering. I'm an unironic fan. The only problem: I don't really like Taylor Swift's version. It's almost an amazing song, but the pop production fucks it all up. It's a poster child for all that is wrong with pop music these days.

#1. Robo-vocals. Swift's voice has the metallic twinge of auto-tune. This is standard pop production - singer can't sing? Who cares, we'll fix it in post-production! The problem is it creates an uncanny valley effect where it is oddly inhuman. It lacks the warmth of an actual, unadulterated voice. It's a little like how women will get implants and plastic surgery to look like some idealized version of femininity, when in fact they just end up looking like someone who has had plastic surgery.

#2. Too much is never enough. What sustains the song in the beginning is its relative simplicity. It's mostly a beat with robo-Taylor singing over it. But then they gotta add all sorts of shit to it - can we get some high notes? What about a rap in the middle?

#3. It's too perfect. This relates to #1, but it sounds too clean, too perfect. Real life isn't like that. Real life has pimples and imperfections and cracks. And these are good things. This is like a supermarket apple, waxed to an artificial shine until it is flavorless.

Compare it to the Screaming Female's cover:

Like all things mass-produced, the Taylor Swift version loses a lot of its heart and soul in the over-production. It's like a Chef Boyardee of music. AKA not my thing.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Captain of None

Colleen's 2013 album The Weighing of the Heart is one of my favorite releases of recent years. I finally got around to listening to her latest album, Captain of None. I was originally put off by the noisier direction of some of the songs, but it still maintains the beautifully hypnotic quality of her earlier work. highly recommended.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ego Death

Originally posted on RapReviews
The Internet
Ego Death

By all indications, the Odd Future collective (AKA Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All) is no more. It’s not all that surprising since they haven’t really been appearing on one another’s albums for two years, and were never much of a group to begin with. The loose collection of artists, which included Earl Sweatshirt, Vic Mensa, Frank Ocean, Syd the Kid, and ringleader Tyler the Creator, were united more in their outsider status than because they shared an artistic vision. They were a group of musicians who didn’t quite fit into any world, so they made up one of their own. Their early work was intentionally shocking, a series of homophobic and misogynistic inside jokes that weren’t intended to be taken at face value. The irony was that two of their members were gay or bisexual, so even though Tyler and Earl filled their rhymes with homophobic slurs, the collective has done more to advance gay rights and gay visibility in hip-hop and R&B than any other rapper, with the possible exception of Macklemore. How’s that for a bunch of foul-mouthed kids?

“Ego Death” is the third record by The Internet, which features Syd the Kid and Matt Martians, along with Jameel Bruner, Patrick Page, Christopher A. Smith, and Steve Lacy. That is the first thing that sets The Internet apart from some of their musical peers: they are a band, rather than a vocalist working with other producers or doing the bulk of production themselves. As such, there is a cohesiveness to “Ego Death” that you don’t always get in contemporary R&B. Syd may do almost all of the singing here (minus a few guest spots, notably Janelle Monae), but it is a group effort. Like the rest of the Odd Future crew, The Internet has done a good job of transforming from a group of kids making music for one another to actual artists with something to say. “Ego Death” is their best record yet.

Musically, The Internet mixes R&B, soul, hip-hop, and jazz, with an emphasis on smooth and sleepy grooves. Some songs, like “Under Control,” feature an analog sound, with live drum, guitars, bass, and keyboards. Others, like “Just Sayin/I Tried” have heavier hip-hop beat, while a song like ‘Girl” could almost be chillwave. The one constant is that things stay subdued and mellow. There are no bangers on this one, no tracks for the clubs, no attempts at a Top-10 hit. The downside is that the album can sound samey at parts. The upside is that it is consistently good and doesn’t drastically jump around to different styles or tempos.

Lyrically, Syd sings about what she’s been singing about since her 2011 debut, and what R&B singers have been singing about since the genre was invented: love, sex, partying, and annoying ex’s. The difference is that all of Syd’s lovers share the same pronoun as her. Her lesbianism is front and center in the album, but it is also no big thing. She dates women, so the people she is chasing after or trying to dump in her songs are all women. I’m mentioning it in this review only because it is notable, but it is notable only because it rarely happens in popular music. I think someone could make a powerful R&B album about being a gay woman of color, but that’s not Syd’s goal. She’s making music about her life, and not spending too much time dwelling on anything heavier than ex girlfriends.

“Penthouse Cloud” stands out on the album in its naked emotion and direct engagement with racism. For most of “Ego Death,” Syd maintains a pose of cool detachment. When she’s telling someone she’s about to blow up on “Under Control” or telling a lover “You fucked up” on “Just Saying/I Tried,” she sounds like she could take it or leave it. On “Penthouse Cloud,” she lets that facade drop and sings about how heartbreaking the world can be. 

“Did you see the news last night?
They shot another one down
Does it even matter why?
Or is it all for nothing?

Father, oh Lord in heaven, is this how you saw it?
When you made your creation, is this what you wanted?”

People often complain that the lyrics in hip-hop and R&B are too hedonistic, too focused on sex and partying. “Penthouse Cloud” is the reason why there are so many songs about getting high and partying: because real life is too depressing. 

“Rather watch the world burn down from a penthouse cloud, real talk
But if this is what you want I’ll fight ’til the smoke-filled skies make the days turn night, then what?
Maybe when the world burns down and the clouds turns black and the sky turns white and the days turn night
It’s a war outside
Or maybe we’ll find paradise in the sky
When we die”

“Ego Death” is the perfect summer record. Breezy, smooth, lazy, and meant for warm nights. The Internet have developed into a full-fledged band, and Syd’s singing and songwriting have matured as well. Odd Future may be no more, but if its former members keeping turning out material like this, I don’t think we’ll miss the demise of the Wolfpack.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

What I've Been Listening to

I've been enjoying VHOL's 2012 self-titled album. They are a psychedelic thrash band that features the singer from YOB and a bassist from Hammers of Misfortune who also teaches music at my alma mater.

...and Vince Staples' video for "Norf Norf," which shouts out my wife's high school.

...and Joanna Gruesome's "Peanut Butter," which improves on their debut. Melodic punk with female vocals that is the perfect mix of pretty and noisy.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

At Long Last A$AP Review

I reviewed A$AP Rocky's At.Long.Last.A$AP at RapReviews.

I'm enjoying Vince Staples album Summertime 06, although it's a little short of being great.

I'm also loving the video for Kendrick's "Alright."

I really think that we are in the midst of a flourishing of African-American art, the likes of which hasn't been seen for years.

I've also been listening to Judas Priest a lot lately. I love them, both ironically and unironically.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Malcolm's Theme

From Ossie Davis's eulogy for Malcolm X, 1965:

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