All posts by Mads Engel

Song of the Day: KMD – “Peach Fuzz”

Before there was MF Doom or King Geedorah, there was Zev Love X. Rapper Daniel Dumile got his start as a part of the group KMD, which he formed with his brother in 1988. The group released their first studio album in 1991, when Dumile was only 17 years old. For longtime Doom fans, the rest is basically history.

Hearing a young Dumile spit on a track like “Peach Fuzz” is one helluva trip. Zev Love X’s raps have the same unique timbre of a typical Doom song, but the high-pitched pubescence makes it something entirely unique. You can hear the same savvy rhyme schemes, wacky references, and vintage samples on KMD’s music as you would on any of Dumile’s recent work, but with a distinctly old-school vibe. So kick back, revel in the ’90s slang and bump this blast from the past on repeat.

Pitchfork Pitchfork: Vagabon Infinite Worlds Album Review

I’ve found that pretentiousness in music seems to be most despised by people who are extremely pretentious about music themselves. In order to fully embrace this phenomenon, I have created Pitchfork Pitchfork, a column in which I review Pitchfork.com articles based on their pompousness.

To start things off, I’m going to take an in-depth look at Pitchfork’s review of Vagabon’s latest release, Infinite Worlds. The ‘fork gods were generous enough to bestow the highly coveted “best new music” label upon this album, anointing its 8.5 score with the red glow usually reserved for legends. Normally, Pitchfork’s scoring system is their downfall. The seemingly arbitrary assignment of decimals to various music can lead to outcry from spurned fans and artists alike. It’s made Pitchfork’s writers seem like that one friend you have who refuses to listen to anything that has over 10,000 plays on Spotify because it’s been tainted with mass appeal at that point. For Infinite Worlds, however, the 8.5 score is well-earned. I can’t argue with it. Points for you, Pitchfork.

The review goes downhill from there, unfortunately. The first sentence raises some eyebrows. The writer, Kevin Lozano, claims to have been so struck by one of Vagabon’s lines that he “had to remove my headphones and take stock of my surroundings.” Really? Really. I get that Vagabon’s lyrics are powerful, but I highly doubt Lozano was so shaken that he had to check to make sure he was still in his studio apartment or ultra-mod Pitchfork cubicle. Infinite Worlds is certainly potent, but it hardly transported me from the broken futon in my living room.

Another aspect of my grading rubric is readability, with specific regards to vocabulary. I get that music writers don’t want to be just another idiot with a WordPress account and opinions (haaaaaaa), but Jesus Christ, if I have to look up half the adjectives in the dictionary in order to understand what they’re trying to say, then it’s gone too far. Case in point: Lozano described Vagabon’s work as “pyrrhic”. That is some shit I haven’t heard since my 9th grade ancient Greek history class. I get that a pyrrhic victory is one where the winner loses so much they’re practically defeated, and I recognize that it’s totally a phrase. But dropping that in an album review is just showing off.

The review goes on to a track by track overview, and the writer describes the song “The Embers” as a “paean.” I have literally never heard that word in my life. Maybe I’m uncultured and illiterate, but to me it seems like this guy is struggling to put his useless English degree to good use.

All in all, this review isn’t bad. The score is reasonable, and aside from a few five-dollar words, the author does a good job summarizing the emotional content behind Vagabon’s album. Not bad, Kevin.

Pitchfork Pitchfork Score: 7.2

Now, go listen to Vagabon’s new album below.

 

SONG OF THE DAY: Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty – “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”

For a good chunk of my life as a music consumer, I’ve described my taste as “anything but country.” I’m not sure where this antagonistic view comes from. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a region where country music dominates the airwaves. Maybe it’s my general aversion to corn. Maybe I’ve just pigeonholed myself as an urban elitist liberal and am the reason Hillary lost the election. Who knows.

All of this is to say that I’ve been making an effort to diversify my music library, and venturing into the world of country has been a major part of my journey. Along the way I came across the work of Loretta Lynn. She’s got some pipes, and her tunes are catchy enough that I’ve started humming honky tonk under my breath. “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” has been a repeat offender in this regard. Anyone who’s got a bone to pick could get some satisfaction from singing the chorus out loud.

SONG OF THE DAY: Jim James – “In the Moment”

Some songs come to you via Spotify recommendations, and some come to you by fate alone. A few weeks back, I was browsing the wine selection at a store up in Denver when I heard Jim James’ new album playing over the speakers. As I stood there pretending to make an educated decision about whether the 2014 or 2012 cab sav would be a better choice, I listened to the smooth psych-fold in awe.

Never before have I been compelled to actually ask a cashier what music they were playing until that moment. Turns out, Jim James, frontman for My Morning Jacket, had released his fourth solo album just hours earlier. Fast forward to now and it’s already become a staple of my recent listening habits.

SONG OF THE DAY: What Up, English – By The Way You Look

Most of us would be lying if we said we knew every artist on the Llama lineup, if only because of this little band from Nashville. Made up of college seniors at Bowdoin, Vanderbilt, Tulane, and UVA, What Up, English is a rock group formed in 2011 known for their catchy guitar hooks and highly danceable tunes. I highly recommend a quick perusal of their Bandcamp page – all of their available discography can be found there.

This track has particularly infectious riffs. Give it a listen, or two, or three, and get ready to dance next Saturday afternoon to this and other jams from What Up, English.

 

 

Song of the Day: The War On Drugs – Touch of Grey

Tribute albums have always been tricky for me. While there are few things more satisfying than seeing a group of incredible artists collaborating to cover the music of some legendary group from the days of yore, these sort of projects can easily fall flat.  The Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help From My Fwends, for example, was a track-for-track tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that made me feel like I’d rather just listen to the Beatles or the Flips separately rather than some unsatisfying marriage of the two.

When I first heard about the forthcoming Day of the Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute album curated by two members of The National, I had mixed feelings. Sure, the thought of an all-star cast including Courtney Barnett and Wilco covering some of my favorite Dead tunes is more exciting to me than an 8th Harry Potter book. Initially, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if the execution could possibly live up to the hype.

If the singles released off Day of the Dead thus far are any indicator, the album will be a huge success. The War On Drugs’ cover of “Touch of Grey” is a prime example of how insanely good a cover can be. It’s not exactly a major innovation on a melodic theme — the new version sounds pretty damn similar to the In the Dark original. The beauty of this song is really in how well Kurt Vile’s voice adapts to Garcia’s lyrics, almost as if the tune were written for The War On Drugs. With a single like this, the rest of the tribute album could be absolute trash and I would be more than okay with it.

Song of the Day: A Tribe Called Quest – Check the Rhime

In honor of the 5’3″ phenom lost to the hip hop community, A Tribe Called Quest classic is an easy pick for this Song of the Day. Malik Taylor a.k.a. Phife Dawg passed away yesterday at the age of 45 due to complications from diabetes.

Known for their funky production and clever verses, A Tribe Called Quest has been making waves in the world of hip hop for over three decades. 2016 will be remembered as a bittersweet year for the group, as Phife Dawg’s key partner in rhyme, Q-Tip, was recently named the JFK Center for Performing Arts’ first-ever Artistic Director for hip hop.

Not only does the 1991 hit “Check the Rhime” showcase both Phife and Q-Tip’s lyrical prowess, but the track features one of Phife Dawg’s most iconic opening lines: “Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am / Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram.” Phife’s passing is certainly a tragedy for the music world, hip hop and otherwise. Yet this legendary rapper is immortalized in Tribe’s music, and his legacy will surely live on for generations to come.

 

Song of the Day: Night Moves – “Carl Sagan”

Whenever I see an artist from Minneapolis making waves on national music websites, I always feel a little swell of hometown. Even if I’m being a total bandwagoner who just discovered said artist through Pitchfork or Spotify, I’ll make up for it by creating false memories of listening to their music before they got big. I might even convince myself that I’ve got mutual-mutual friends with the bassist, or that I saw them open for Of Montreal back in 2009. Something like that.

 

That said, I can’t exactly remember if Night Moves is a band that I first heard on my local NPR station or if I found them through a more mainstream source. In any case, I’m going to pretend that I’m a #dayone fan of this band because not only is their music a freak-folk dream, but they also grew up in the same metro area as I did.  The newest single from their forthcoming album, “Carl Sagan,” is laden with beachy guitar hooks and falsetto vocals, an ambiguous sound that could easily hail from another decade.  Major music outlets like iTunes and Entertainment Weekly recently brought Night Moves to my attention again after a brief hiatus, which is also why I’m promoting their music to overcompensate for sleeping on these hometown heroes.  If this track strikes your fancy, stay tuned for Pennied Days, which is set for release March 25!

SONG OF THE DAY: Motion City Soundtrack – “The Future Freaks Me Out”

Did anyone else listen to Motion City Soundtrack during their angsty years as much as I did? Sometimes I forget that these guys aren’t super well known because of how large they loom in my memories of middle school. I “discovered” them in 6th grade when they opened for Panic at the Disco (OmG like Ryan Ross, plz DO me XD) and more or less kicked ass. 

Over the past 8 years I’ve followed MCS at a distance, tuning into new albums a couple months after they’re released and vaguely giving a shit when their lead singer went to rehab. I recently went to a free concert they played at a famous record store in Minneapolis, but now that I think about it, that happened four years ago. Time flies when you’re not listening to pop-punk.

At any rate, Motion City Soundtrack is probably my favorite band to listen to when I’m tryna to rock out to some quirky songs about how hard it is to be a 20-something year old with hella feelings. Also great if you’re from the Twin Cities and like hearing references to actual bars near your house (s/o to the 612 [even though I’m from Hopkins]). “The Future Freaks Me Out,” is a perfect introduction to Motion City Soundtrack because it’s just lighthearted enough to keep you from labeling the band as “emo” from the get-go.  Whether it’s an old standby or a new throwback, I suggest you blast it at full volume.

ALBUM REVIEW: DIIV – “Is The Is Are”

At first listen, Is The Is Are is but a slight departure from DIIV’s 2012 debut, featuring breathy vocals barely float above the guitar melodies that have defined the band for years. With a runtime of 63 minutes, the signature sound makes Is The Is Are a comfortable commitment. Longtime DIIV fans will find little to complain about with this album, though a few may stop to ask: what the hell took so long?

Those who regularly reads music news will remember when frontman Zachary Cole Smith and his girlfriend Sky Ferreira were arrested in upstate New York on misdemeanor charges of heroin possession in 2013. The couple was riding dirty in a stolen van en route to a music festival, and though Cole Smith took responsibility for both the drugs and the vehicle, Ferreira’s reputation took a hard hit as well. The singer and model, who was only 21 at the time, lost contracts with several major labels once they got wind of her involvement in the arrest. Media coverage of the arrest consistently depicted both Smith and Ferreira as drugged-out losers, ugly products of substance glorification in the music industry.

As a standalone event, Smith’s brush with the law would have been bad enough for the band. Unfortunately, the ordeal was hardly the first of DIIV’s roadblocks. Not only did the arrest mark a particularly harsh rock bottom in Smith’s struggle with opioid addiction, but it also came on the heels of a failed attempt to use drug-fueled creativity to record a new album in San Francisco. Defeated, humiliated, and existentially wracked with guilt, Cole Smith found himself ordered to twelve days in chemical dependency treatment in January 2014, effectively setting DIIV on a road to uncertainty.

Whether Is The Is Are came to fruition in spite of Smith’s stint in rehab or because of it is unclear. In the two years since the incident, he has written hundreds of songs for this album, driven by the need to release a perfect product to atone for his very public mistakes. Whittled down to 17 tracks, the resulting record is a reflection on Smith’s attempts at recovery, thinly disguised as a DIIV album.

In an interview with VICE’s i-D this past October, Cole Smith stated that he intended the album to be a cautionary tale, a chance for him to “explain to people where [he’s] coming from – what happened.” The lyrics of Is The Is Are darkly convey a story of Smith’s relationship with heroin, an unglamorous depiction of the road to recovery.   Lines like “Got so high I finally felt like myself” and “I know I gotta kick but I can’t get sick” paint a bleak portrait of drug use not often seen in rock music.  Any glimpses of hope are tongue-in-cheek at best, always twinged with an air of nihilism.  The album’s final track, “Waste of Breath,” is nearly a light at the end of the tunnel, but instead claims “It would be a waste of breath to tell a man who / believes in me that he’s got something better to do,” perfectly encapsulating an addict’s tendency to reject the support of others. In sharp contrast to DIIV’s first album, Is The Is Are trades in seductive metaphors for heroin for raw descriptions of overdoses: the sweating, shaking, and ringing ears. DIIV hardly aims to be the new face of Narcotics Anonymous, and Is The Is Are is by no means a sermon for sobriety. Yet its raw expression of Cole Smith’s experience falls right in line with recovery culture, the success of which relies on brutal honesty in the confessional exchange of stories.

Intriguingly, the musical style of the album remains diametrically opposed to the lyrical content. Quite frankly, Is The Is Are is exactly the sort music you’d want to get high to – reverberating dream-pop that melts right into your ears. Smith’s boyish voice often fades to incoherency behind interweaving guitar lines, making it easy to tune out his heartbreaking words. Listening to the album in its entirety is kind of like watching a Stanley Kubrick film, as its richness can backfire and cause you to get lost in your own thoughts. A few key tracks help to cut through the haze, however. The punchy guitar riffs on “Valentine” wakes listeners from the spoken-word dream that is “Blue Boredom,” a song that features Sky Ferreira. The dissonant instrumental “(Fuck)” serves a similar purpose. Softer songs such as “Take Your Time” are the album’s hidden gems, and the final track is downright velvety, albeit anti-climactic.

Is The Is Are does not immediately come off as a concept album, but by the third or fourth listen – and a quick trip to a lyric website – it becomes obvious that this is the musical equivalent of a heroin fix. It’s exactly what DIIV fans have been craving since Oshin’s release in 2012; it warms from the inside out; it leaves you wanting more. Listeners can only hope for a steady supply going forward, as the band’s future remains murky as ever as they embark on their international tour. Despite the constant uncertainty of the rock outfit’s trajectory, Is The Is Are is reason enough to believe in DIIV, no matter what form they may take in the years to come.