2014 April

Bitter Rivals by Sleigh Bells

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The duo of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss formed in New York about five years ago as an experimental pop duo. Miller had been in a hardcore band and relocated from Florida to New York to start a new project. He found a good pairing with Krauss who had been a vocalist in a teen girl group. The experimental part of their music was combining loud, aggressive guitars and a massive beat with pop hooks and Krauss’ pop vocals. A breakout performance at a 2009 CMJ festival started the hype and the band released their first album “Treats” in 2010. “Treats” received a great deal of critical acclaim. It presented a very unique sound, not only is the music loud and abrasive to start with, it’s recorded with even more distortion and also very lo-fi. Once you add Krauss’ ultra-girly vocals to the mix, you have two opposites that end up mashing very well together. It really was a thrilling combination, and I enjoyed “Treats” a great deal. Sleigh Bells released “Reign of Terror” in 2012 and brought more of the same on this album. However, I found it to be a little more subdued and it can be hard to listen to the very rough and distorted production for the length of an entire album. So I was a little skeptical when their latest album “Bitter Rivals” came out in October. However, the duo has become slightly more poppy, while still retaining the bombast. I think they’ve done a nice job mixing the two, and I’m enjoying the new album much more than their previous release. The sound is a little less dense, and the duo is using breaks and silence to help drive home the bombast more effectively. In general, it’s just a lot more fun to listen to compared to “Reign of Terror”.

I’m including the title and lead-off track “Bitter Rivals” because I think they nailed it on this track. I love how the different elements come together and create a loud and fun pop song. It’s simple with a catchy chorus and those are the basic elements for an effective pop song. I like the slow build-up at the beginning as the guitar gently strums and the oohing and cooing is taking place, before BAM, there’s that Sleigh Bells bombast fully kicking in. Some of the unique elements the band brings in on this track are Krauss’ rap style singing on the verses and the horns that are in the mix. Then when the chorus comes in, the music drops off except for the beat as Krauss falls into her syrupy sweet vocal style. Then BAM, right back into the hard-hitting verse. They have a lot of fun with this track. Good luck keeping the chorus from running on an infinite loop in your head for the next few days.
Does it translate well live? I think it does, that’s why I’ve included the second link below of a live performance of the band on the Jimmy Kimmel show, complete with a horn section and back-up singers. Krauss leverages the impact of the sonics perfectly on the stage, turning her back to the audience right before the music kicks in hard, then spinning around and strutting around the stage as she spits out the first verse. The live drums and cymbals also add a different element to the sound compared to the recorded version. It’s a high energy performance, and Krauss and Miller play it up to the fullest on the small stage.

Live version performed on Jimmy Kimmel:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVZzy2VmOsM

Rap God by Eminem (Explicit)

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I know some of you probably find Eminem pretty obnoxious, but I must say he is an extremely talented artist. His ability to rhyme is definitely something to admire, esp. in the hip-hop scene today where many hip-hop artist sound like one another and aren’t very original with their songs. Artist these days tend to rap about money, women and drugs; at least with Eminem you get a little bit more content that is pulled directly from his life experiences and that is truly something I can appreciate about him. His latest release, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ was released in November 2013 and has produced a number of #1 hits. In late 2013 Steve dropped his ‘Berzerk’ single, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m sure most of you have heard his ‘Monster’ single, with Rihanna, that is currently getting a lot of airplay on the radio. The song I’m bringing to you now is also from this album, and to be honest it’s probably one of my favorite songs on the album. This song really capitalizes on Eminem’s ability to rhyme effortlessly. He’s not just rhyming words for the sake of rhyming words, he’s actually taking you on a storytelling journey, which I believe gets lost in a lot of hip-hop songs these days. Below I’ve input an excerpt of the song from the start of the second verse, which I believe is a true example of his lyrical/rhyming education that sets him above most hip-hop artist out there. If you can get past the obnoxiousness of him, you’ll see that he really is a talented guy. Enjoy!

Everybody want the key and the secret to rap
Immortality like I have got
Well, to be truthful the blueprint’s
Simply rage and youthful exuberance
Everybody loves to root for a nuisance
Hit the earth like an asteroid
and did nothing but shoot for the moon since (PPEEYOOM)
MC’s get taken to school with this music
Cause I use it as a vehicle to ‘bus the rhyme’
Now I lead a new school full of students
Me? Me, I’m a product of Rakim
Lakim Shabazz, 2Pac, N-W-A., Cube, hey, Doc, Ren
Yella, Eazy, thank you, they got Slim
Inspired enough to one day grow up
Blow up and being in a position
To meet Run-D.M.C. and induct them
Into the motherf***in’ Rock n’
Roll Hall of Fame

Black Skinhead by Kanye West (explicit)

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Oh Kanye, how you’ve evolved over time and for the most part, not for the better. I’m not even going to get started on Kanye the person, so I’ll just focus on his musical output. I loved early Kanye. His production work with Jay Z was excellent, and then when he started making solo albums they would be among my most played albums the year they were released. I just connected with his beats, his production and the musical flow of his songs. His first three albums “The College Dropout”, “Late Registration” and “Graduation” were stellar. “Graduation” probably played in my car for the better part of a year straight. But I guess “Graduation” was truly a graduation of sorts. Kanye started getting a bit stranger on the personal front, and his fourth album “808s & Heartbreak” was a total departure from his prior work. It left me cold. His 5th album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was a move back in the right direction. A bit long-winded in places, but it showed encouraging development even though it didn’t connect with me in the same way his earlier work did. Then Kanye collaborated with Jay Z on “Watch the Throne” in 2011 and I had high expectations for that album. Unfortunately, despite a few standout tracks I thought the album was an overall disappointment and could have been much better. That leads us up to Kanye’s newest album “Yeezus” which recently came out. “Yeezus” strives for a progressive, cutting-edge sound, but often comes off more as cold and abrasive vs. a progressive, groundbreaking work. I’m sure some of these songs will hold up fine in the clubs and even on some fashion runways. However, it’s not an album you really want to sit down and listen through from beginning to end. It’s better taken in small doses.
One song that does stand out is “Black Skinhead”. It features some pretty progressive beats and sounds, and has some innovative pieces in it. There’s some bass in there that may finally tear up some woofers that have seen better days. In fact, “Yeezus” is an album you may want to throw on and crank it up loud if you are trying to destroy some speakers who aren’t up to the task of handling all of the bass noise this album cranks out. “Yeezus” is not a bad album, it’s pretty impressive in many ways. However, it’s not an enjoyable album to sit all the way through, it’s a difficult listen. Best appreciated in small doses.

Retrograde by James Blake

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James comes to us from England where he has been making music since he was a young boy. Initially he was studying to become a classic pianist, until he was exposed to electronic dance music by a friend. Upon fist hearing this genre, James fell in love and changed his whole musical style to fit this genre. Since his exposure, he has been creating music in his bedroom since 2009. James became very popular in London thanks to dropping numerous EPs (5 to date), a couple of non-album singles, and multiple remixes (under the name: Harmonix) for popular artist. I was intrigued to find that James released his debut album (James Blake) in February 2011, I had initially thought that his debut album was his most recent release (Overgrown) from April 2013. The song I’m bringing you today comes from his second album, ‘Overgrown,’ and it is by far one of my favorite on it. I love the whole vibe and flow of the song and for it being an electronic pop song, it isn’t overbearingly electronic. You’re able to hear the harmonic undertones of James’ voice, as well as the classic piano; my absolute favorite portion of the song is the very beginning where he just humming and the piano is playing. That is then followed by a very mellow drum beat before James starts to sing. Enjoy!

A Life They Wrote by Save Ends

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“A Life They Wrote”– features guitars more than keyboards, but is a somewhat slower tempo track for the band. The song starts off with some nice guitar before the rest of the band kicks in. Christine starts first on the vocals, before Brendan pipes in. They trade verses before coming together for the chorus. The song picks up in tempo and intensity as it unfolds, and is a good example of their harmonies.

http://tinyengines.bandcamp.com/album/warm-hearts-cold-hands

Poetic Justice by Kendrick Lamar ft. Drake

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I couldn’t remember if I have dropped a song by Kendrick or not, but I was almost positive that I dropped a song or two in which he had been featured on. It was slightly difficult to find an appropriate song of his to share with all of you, not to mention for me to just pick one song of his. His album, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” has produced numerous hits for him. Kendrick has been on the music since 2010 and has made an big imprint fast. He’s released 4 mix-tapes, an independent album and his major label debut album (mentioned above). Kendrick comes from Compton and had a pretty rough childhood. Kendrick has been quoted as saying, “the album is a short film in the form of a concept album that follows my teenage experiences in the drug infested streets and gang lifestyle in Compton.” The album has received critical acclaim and great reviews from numerous critics and music executives; thanks to its success, Kendrick has been nominated for 7 Grammys. The song I’m providing to you today, was the 3rd single released from the album and it’s probably one of the most mellow tracks on the album. The song is underlined with Janet Jackson’s “Any Time, Any Place” song and features Janet Jackson singing on the track. Thanks to the use of this song it gives the song a very mellow flow through the duration of the song, including when Kendrick and Drake rap their versus. I’ve provided the official video because it had the best sound quality, but please keep in mind that the video is telling a story just like the song and therefore the video is somewhat sad. Also, you can ignore the first minute of the video because it isn’t actually part of the song.

Skeptical Sons / Curious Daughters by Save Ends

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The music that Save Ends plays sounds like what I what describe as “raucous pop”. It’s catchy, but has enough aggressiveness in it to maintain a little edginess. I think the main draw for this five piece is the lead vocal interplay shared by Christine Atturio and Brendan Cahill. Their voices sound great when singing solo or in harmony, and they also work in a lot of vocal interplay that keeps the music fresh. Secondary, is the effective way they blend in piano in many of the songs to add additional musical nuanaces to the guitar driven music. All of these factors help create a really nice catchy album that is enjoyable to listen to straight through and wraps up before wearing out its welcome. They are signed to a small label, Tiny Engines, so I don’t know how much, if any, radio airplay they are getting. Also, I really like the cover art for their album – it’s very “inviting” (you’ll see it on the link).

The links this week are to their bandcamp page. I actually couldn’t find anything on YouTube other than some live clips of this band. So you can just play the tracks highlighted below or check out any other track on the album.

“Skeptical Sons / Curious Daughters” is my favorite track on the album right now, and showcases the keyboards a bit more than some of the other songs. However, there is still plenty of guitar throughout. The track actually showcases all of the instruments really well, even the bass is clear. I really like the vocal interplay on this track, as they trade-off during the choruses. It provides a really nice contrast in voices. They also do a little harmonizing on parts of the verses. I would really appreciate hearing more songs like this on the radio.
http://tinyengines.bandcamp.com/album/warm-hearts-cold-hands

Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves

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Kacey has been releasing music since 2002. Prior to being signed to a major record label, Kacey had released 3 albums on her own. Thanks to these 3 releases, she was asked to appear on the 5th season of the singing competition Nashville Star; she finished 7th in the competition. Thanks to the exposure on the show, Kacey was signed to an independent record label and released an EP. In 2012 she was signed to Mercury Nashville, a major record label, and finally released her major label debut album, “Same Trailer Different Park.” Kacey has been gaining steam in the Nashville scene. She’s been on tour with Lady Antebellum, c0-wrote Miranda Lambert’s hit song “Mama’s Broken Heart,” wrote a song for the ABC television show Nashville, and won several awards at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2013. Needless to say, her debut album has been well received and its quite clear why she has been for 4 Grammys this Sunday. The song I’m bringing you today is the 3rd single from her debut album and is actually a pretty fun upbeat song that I enjoy. The song suggest that any choice that we make will elicit criticism from others, so the best choice to make is to remain true to yourself. I think it sends a pretty good message to a lot people.

Give Me Love By Ed Sheeran

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I’ve been a fan of Ed Sheeran since early 2010 when I stumbled on a EP of his. Ed comes to us from London, where he is pretty well known. He burst on to the US scene in 2011 with his debut album “+”. Prior to his debut album Ed had released 5 EPs on his own, many of them were included in his debut album. He is pretty much a self-made pop star. During his time in London, prior to making big, Ed performed 312 shows in small venues. This lead to becoming an opening act for a few well known artist in London, followed by numerous collaborations with artist in London and completed with a tour with a mainstream rapper from London. In 2010, Ed figured he’d head to Los Angeles to see if he could make it in the record business. After performing at an open mic night at Jamie Foxx’s club “The Foxxhole,” Jamie Foxx offered Ed the use of his recording studio and his home. Thanks to this, Ed was able to produce higher quality material, which lead to a strong fan base thanks to YouTube postings of his music. Ed’s last EP (No. 5 Collaborations Project) is what lead him to signing a major record deal. Ed has now been sought after by multiple recording artist, including Taylor Swift, Lupe Fiasco and others to be featured on their albums, not mention he has written numerous songs for One Direction. The song I’m bringing you today is one of many favorites I have from this album. What I love about this song is the acoustic guitar intro, which really sets the tone for the track. Once Ed begins to sing, it’s very soft spoken and poetic, until the chorus comes in where Ed excels his singing and chords come in to play. Interestingly, upon initial recording of the song it was just Ed and an acoustic guitar; all other instruments were added afterwards. All in all, I think it’s a great song and this album stays in rotation on my iPod.

About Farewell by Alela Diane

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Mellow music and mellow vocals are not typical elements in the music I listen to. Somehow, Alela Diane has found a way to make these elements interesting to me. I find her vocals soothing, and she pairs her muted guitar playing nicely with her music. Her new album titled “About Farewell” is her fourth release since her 2006 debut. This new album is coming off the heals of a divorce, which is even more relevant since her ex played guitar in her previous backing band and co-wrote some of her songs with her. That’s both a personal and professional divorce. But Alela has rebounded nicely and released a solid record, more sparse than her previous release with her backing band but it allows her vocals to really be the biggest presence. She’s a great vocalist and does it effortlessly, restraining from vocal theatrics. I’d check out this album, even if you typically don’t listen to what I guess is closer to folk music than anything else.