Thursday, July 7, 2011

Music Recommendation #8

After being away for just shy of three months, I'm back to bring you some music recommendations of some of the things I've been listening to.  While I'm incredibly back logged, I'll try and keep as fresh and up-to-date as possible for you.  With that being said, let's jump into it.

The first album I want to talk about came out roughly a month ago, but it was an album I was incredibly excited about and the band more than delivered.  Pala is the second studio release from Friendly Fires following their self-titled 2008 UK hit (both albums off of XL Recordings).  The band is from St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK and have been together since 2006.  The band tried to record in a professional studio, but couldn’t seem to focus, so they moved back to where they recorded their first album, in lead singer Ed Macfarlane’s parent’s garage.  The band was handpicked by Gucci to soundtrack a worldwide campaign, covering Depeche Mode’s “Strangelove” for an advertisement created by acclaimed director Frank Miller (Sin City, The Spirit).

What's great about this album is that it keeps true to their first major release.  Something about their self-titled album was fresh: it was funky, it was hip, but at the same time it wasn't really anything I had heard before.  The band does an incredible job of making their music genuine.  The lyrics are simple, yet profound; the beats are overpowering, yet seem almost perfectly simplistic. The opening track for Pala, "Live Those Days Tonight,"  is arguably their strongest track.  It's a song that hits the ground running and doesn't stop to take a breath of air.  It has a quick drum beat that permeates throughout the entire track and Macfarlane sings "I'll live those days, live those dreams like they are mine" with unending fervor.  My second favorite song, "Chimes," epitomizes the bands versatility.  Macfarlane's vocals hush down to a whisper at the beginning, but rise and fall throughout his vocal range which compliments the omnipresent chimes, bells, and synthesizers.  The album as a whole gives listeners a near perfect listening experiences through its expertly crafted pacing and balance of sounds throughout.

The second album I want to talk about is a bit fresher and is only a couple of weeks old.  Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s self-titled album is their first release.  They were first noticed for the single “Ffunny Ffrends” on their bandcamp account.  Ruban Nielson, the founder of the band, is a New Zealand native and moved to Portland, Oregon with his former band, Mint Chicks.  Unknown Mortal Orchestra was what he called “his escape hatch.”  Ruban was later joined by Jake Portrait (bass) and Julien Ehrlich (drums), both from Portland.  The album is off of Fat Possum Records.

While I didn't think I was going to like Unknown Mortal Orchestra from the get go, they grew on me as I listened to them more and more.  They have a sort of quirkiness that is unique and makes them stand out in a time where it seems like being "unique" is what everyone is trying to do.  Their sound is almost muffled at times, such as on  "How Can You Luv Me."  This song has an almost echoed drum track that contrasts with a sharp, crisp bass line.  The vocals feel otherworldly in part because they've been tampered with a little bit, but that helps to simultaneously complement both the muffled drums and crisp bass line.  The track that has grown on me the most since listening to the band is "Strangers Are Strange."  I'm all for the weird, the dark, and good bass lines.  This track combines all of these.  The quiet staccato of vocals at the beginning, accompanied with the funky bass line provides for an almost dark and ominous sound which perfectly embodies the songs hook "We can be strange, like strangers are strange."  Unknown Mortal Orchestra's self-titled album is a strong kick out of the gate in particular because of what they do best: switching up their sound.  Listeners would be hard pressed not to find at least one track they like on the album, if not many.

I'm going to push myself to keep the reviews coming and keep your ears full of new music.  Thanks for reading and I'll see you soon!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Music Recommendation #7

Alright, I know I've slacked off for the past couple of weeks, but I'm going to make it up to you, I promise.  The above date is from when I actually listened to the albums, just so I can keep things in order and satiate my obsessive compulsive disorder.  Without further ado, here is my seventh music recommendations post.

The Birmingham Urban Folk Parody is the latest project by Pete Lomax (aka El Waxo) and Andy Wright (aka Indiano Cojones, aka The Dridge), and their rotating circle of co-collaborators from Birmingham in the UK off of Acidsoxx Musicks. Pete Lomax runs the gamut with his musical styles from experimental to techno to folksy acoustic numbers to rap, and this eclecticism is much more apparent on his first CD for Acidsoxx, El Waxo and the Imaginary Band Plays Various Hits.  He occasionally plays around the Birmingham area with his acoustic outfit "Los Waxos" as well.  But when he joins up with Andy Wright the music becomes much more rap oriented, with a lofi IDM bent.  Now, a lot of the time when I get a pretty low key artist it takes a bit of digging for me to get some information on them; for some artists the only information I can get is from their Myspace page.  El Waxo and Indiano Cojones are another story entirely.  Not only are they relatively unknown and a group from across the pond, but they make sure that no one knows anything.  In order to get some solid information on them I had to e-mail their editor.  All of the information above was as much as I could get.  According to the editor, the group will post a website every now and again sampling a track or releasing a little bit of information about a project they're working on and within a couple of months the website will disappear;  they are the definition of incognito.  While this may seem strange, their label loves them for it because how they see it is that they're more into making their music than promoting it.  The album consists of very simple beats and prolific rhyming that can sometimes be brash and comedic ("Cock and Balls") and at others be deeply profound and inspiring ("Astronaught").  It's almost shocking  to hear a band that takes simplicity to heart as much as El Waxo and Iniano Cojones do.  The rapping and beats all have a rawness to them that you don't see very much, something that can at first be very unsettling to the popular rap listener, but is immediately refreshing to a more underground/independent one.  The band may not rise to international fame, but where their music is hear it will be appreciated.

Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra had its debut in 2001 with its first release Music and Rhythm.  World of Funk is the eleventh release of the instrumental side project of Shawn Lee, all of the albums having been released off of Ubiquity Records.  Lee’s music has appeared in various films such as Ocean’s Thirteen and The Break Up and has also found its way into TV shows (CSI: Miami, Lost) as well as video games (Bully).  The album incorporates a slew of featuring artists such as Nanny G, Michael Leonhart, and Elliot Bergman.  There's one thing that's undeniable about Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra on this album and that is that it's funky.  What's nice about it though is that it doesn't stick to a single definition of "funk" ("funk" being one of those words that is wide open to interpretation, something many people would have a hard time explaining to an alien visitor).  "Tablacadabra" has what I would call a traditional definition of funk: a slow plucking bass line and a variety of percussion instruments, from a drum kit to tablas.  A break toward the middle of the song eliminates the bass line and the keyboard chords and replaces them with a reverberating guitar line and chiming xylophone which makes for a more dynamic and engaging sound.  "Booya" is easily my favorite track on the album, featuring Grammy winning trumpet player Michael Leonhart.  The track is dark and broody, and the brass section lead by Leonhart sets the stage for an epic battle between the screams of the trumpet and the low bellowing of the oboe, each vying for the listeners ear.  I could go on forever describing how funky World of Funk truly is, but funk is something you have to feel, so check it out.

So there you have it, my newest music recommendation.  Tomorrow will be my first day off in a while and I'll be posting music recommendations for Obits and All Tiny Creatures from 3/27/11-4/2/11.  Thanks for reading and I'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


"Tell 'em what it do, holla from the bottom, yell it from the roof"
Lasers is the third studio release from Chicago born rapper Lupe Fiasco.  It has been rumored as the final chapter in a trilogy consisting of Food & Liquor (2006), The Cool (2007), and now Lasers.  Released just last week (March 8th), the album has been receiving mixed reviews ranging from 91 (Entertainment Weekly) to 60 (The New York Times) to 20 (Sputnikmusic).  Now, unfortunately, I can't say I'm in the same group as Entertainment Weekly, but, fortunately, I am also not of the same opinion as Sputnikmusic.  I think I fall somewhere in the middle, much like Lasers' average on Metacritic, a 59.  With his release of Food & Liquor and The Cool being back to back, Lasers was a highly anticipated album.  I remember first hearing about it from my roommate when Lupe announced the album at a Halloween concert in Chicago (that was in '08).  With all this time and hype you would think that the album would be blowing people away.  His first two albums averaged an 83 and a 77 respectively and Lupe was easily one of the biggest breakthrough rappers of the past ten years.  

The drop in quality isn't without explanation, thankfully.  The album had been delayed for a long time and there was a whirlwind of controversy between Lupe and his record label Atlantic for some time.  When asked if Lasers was ever going to come out by, Lupe responded with the following: "It could. The situation with me and my record company has gotten to the point where it's just like... we're really at our final straws. People could say it's me, that 'Lupe doesn't want to make popular music' or 'The label has got to have records that they can sell and Lupe is not giving them the records they want to sell' and XYZ. I'll meet a fan on the street and we'll have a full conversation about it. There's maybe six or seven people walking around who know the whole story with their mouths wide open and their jaws to the floor as to why Lasers has been held up to this point and why it's not coming out. I can't tell you that. We're in a space where we're still negotiating and some stuff isn't meant for the public."  So, for a while it seemed like the album was never going to come out, especially because of Lupe's somewhat secret side project Japanese Cartoon, but thankfully he tweeted a picture of himself and Julie Greenwald, Chief Operating Officer of Atlantic Records.  Things seemed to be alright, but after the release of Lasers, I have a feeling things still aren't so hot.

Lupe said it best when he said "Lupe doesn't want to make popular music," and that is exactly my problem with this album.  I've heard from people that it's too political, but if that's your view you don't know Lupe.  Lupe is all about politics, all about pushing the boundaries, all about bringing up uncomfortable topics and that's what makes him great.  Who could forget his "Kick, Push II" from Food & Liquor dealing with drug addiction, spousal abuse, and physical handicaps?  What about "Little Weapon" from The Cool that begins by describing a series of events leading up to a school shooting only to transition into the self-narrated story of an Invisible Child?  To say that Lupe's new album is too political is saying the opposite of what it is.  While Lupe does have his political ties in Lasers, it doesn't push nearly as many boundaries as his past albums.  What's wrong with Lasers is exactly what he said, it's popular music.

It took me a while to figure out what was wrong with it, even though the first thing I said about it was that it was "too poppy."  On my first listen through I picked out "Out of My Head" as one of my favorite songs, but once I remembered I was listening to Lupe Fiasco and not Trey Songz (the featured artist on the song) a haze was lifted.  "Out of My Head" is definitely the catchiest song of the album and will most likely be a single (if Lupe goes a long with it), but since when does Lupe sing traditional poppy songs about girls and how fine they are?  Okay, maybe "Paris, Tokyo" is an example from The Cool, but I would even put that on a different level because it differentiates itself because of its production value and lyrics.  "Kick, Push" off of Food & Liquor could be an example too, but how often do you hear love songs about outcast skaters?  What's worse is that the album is infested with other poppy songs such as "State Run Radio," "Letting Go," and, possibly the worst, "The Show Goes On," which just sounds like every other empathetic hip-hop anthem.  Several other problems loom over the album such as sacrificing quality more no-name guest appearances for more main stream ones (i.e., substituting Matthew Santos for Trey Songz).  "Fighters feat. Matthew Santos" still gives me the chills whenever I turn it on.

However, the album isn't without its bright spots.  In another interview with Lupe mentions that he is "happy for the fans, this is their album. This is the album that they fought for and that’s what made me do songs like ‘Words I Never Said’ and ‘All Black Everything.’"  These are definitely two of the songs that hearken back most to the old Lupe.  "Words I Never Said" has a darker, heavier, more political feel with much harder hitting lyrics whereas "All Black Everything" shows Lupe's lyrical creativity and empathy toward all people, a common theme in past albums.  Another one of my favorite tracks is "I Don't Wanna Care Right Now," which arguably is a more poppy song, but Lupe's flow just reminds me of "Sunshine" from Food & Liquor.  More importantly, it sounds like he's having fun on the track, something that is almost absent throughout most of his songs.

Lasers definitely isn't the album the fans wanted and it isn't the album Lupe wanted.  Lasers consists of what Atlantic Records wanted in order to increase sales and rake in the dough.  Unfortunately, due to the demand of fans Lupe was pushed into finishing the album and the product was something he didn't know if he loved or hated.  “One thing I try to stress about this project is, I love and hate this album. I listen to it and I’ll like some of the songs. But when I think about what it took to actually get the record together and everything that I went through on this record—which is something I can’t separate—I hate this album. A lot of the songs that are on the album, I’m kinda neutral to. Not that I don’t like them, or that I hate them, it’s just I know the process that went behind it. I know the sneaky business deal that went down behind this song, or the artist or singer or songwriter who wrote this hook and didn’t want to give me this song in the first place. So when I have that kind of knowledge behind it, I’m just kind of neutral to it like, ‘Another day, another dollar.’ As opposed something like The Cool, which is more of my own blood, sweat, and tears, and my own control. With this record, I’m little bit more neutral as to the love for the record" (Ahmed).  Hopefully Lasers isn't the final chapter for Lupe and he comes out with the rumored Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album.  What's wrong with this album is that it isn't Lupe and that's something that should be clear to everyone.