Cybotron - Clear: Out from the 1980s' musical womb burst Cybotron: the electronic brainchild of techno co-founder Juan Atkins and producer-singer Richard “3070” Davis. Both Detroiters, the two produced musically experimental works that married Atkins’ black heritage with futuristic sounds from Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra. Then, in 1983 (remastered 1990), they created the sonically and socially pivotal album Clear as an ode to black Detroit. After the release of this afro-futuristic album, America had to admit that 1.) racism towards black people was disturbingly alive and 2.) the future is not as rosy as the American dream has portrayed.
Once upon a 1930s America, the auto industry Detroit so dearly relied on replaced tens of thousands of workers with automation, while its mayors created racially divisive precedents that threatened black people’s livelihood and safety. As lyrically expressed in Clear’s sixth track, “Industrial Lines,” the city’s powerful figures had a “take what you want/leave the rest behind” attitude, which led to its downfall.
The album’s title, Clear, foreshadows the album’s goal to clarify the oppressing situation black Detroiters faced daily. In the track “The Line,” Richard Davis bemoans black Detroit’s experience in the auto industry as workers “got into line, and waited to see/what the bureaucrat would do to [them].” Because black opportunities were immobilized by racist, powerful, upper class white people, black people could not find jobs and create political positions for themselves. A legacy of racist leadership forced black people to fight an entire history against their power and well being.
The album takes the black struggle and uses mechanical sounds to echo Detroit’s dark, industrial past. First, Atkins and Davis combined and layered low beep-like beats from the TB-03 Bassline Synthesizer with more mid-range beeps from the TR-909 and traditional drum set beats from TR-808 Rhythm Composers to create the album’s foundational robotic pulse that made 1980s America’s heads turn.
The future’s sound, however, was not complete without a melody. The classic synthesizer played screechy, held high notes to create the new age legato. The beginning of track “R-9” is riddled with painfully squeaky, twinkling notes. From a historical standpoint, “R-9” reinforces that those unpleasant notes accurately reflects the unwanted hostility black people faced. The same way we have no choice but to hear those uncomfortably high notes in “R-9,” black Detroiters had no choice but to inherit a life of discomfort.
Despite these machine-like sounds, the album it is not purely techno, perhaps symbolically so. The best example is the use of piano and electric guitar in tracks “Industrial Lines” and “The Line.” The first forty seconds of piano in “Industrial Lines” plays just like any other rock n’ roll song; however, when the TB-03’s robotic beats are introduced, listeners transition from 1960s rock nostalgia to the murky future Detroit anticipates.
Davis’ lyrics in “Enter” reveal how black Detroiters believed “[they] are just dreams and space/stranded in this funky place” and mockingly invited listeners to “enter/why don’t you” into Detroit – if they dared. We as listeners are lucky enough whether to choose to enter Detroit. Black Detroiters, on the other hand, are left to pick up their city’s pathetic pieces with nowhere else to go and little to hope for. MONIQUE (DJ Guest Review)
RIYL: Paleman, Nicole Moudaber, Joey Beltram, The Eygpt Lover
Rec: Clear (1), Enter (4), El Salvador (9)
Mastodon - Emperor of Sand: Mastodon is a four-piece metal band from Atlanta, GA, known for incorporating all sorts of loud rock subgenres into their records. All four members perform vocals, and the instrumentals are notoriously complex.
On their seventh studio album, the increasingly prolific Mastodon has continued to move further from their heavy, riff centered, “stoner” side. I would have liked to hear more tracks like “Jaguar God.” With that being said, they’ve definitely maintained the unmistakeable Mastodon sound. By featuring more clean vocals and generally shorter songs, it’s no wonder that Emperor of Sand earned No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart this week.
Fans of Mastodon will recognize the mythical storytelling that takes place on every album, but I’ve yet to find out what the theme is. Longtime fans are also unlikely to place Emperor of Sand at the top of their Mastodon album ranking, but what else could be expected of a seventh album? At the end of the day, it’s another great record that deserves any commercial success it achieves. CHRISTIAN
RIYL: Neurosis, Baroness, Elder
Rec: Sultan’s Curse (1), Steambreather (4), Jaguar God (11)
Father John Misty - Pure Comedy: Father John Misty/Josh Tillman, who was once the drummer for Fleet Foxes, is the pompous white guy we all love to hate. Or hate that we love.
The opening track, the eponymous “Pure Comedy,” begins comedically with some game show-esque brass, only to melt away to reveal Tillman singing a pop ballad with just a mournful piano as accompaniment. It sounds strikingly like Elton John, or like one of those comedians that sings jokes, a Tim Minchin of sorts. Maybe that’s the point, but regardless, every song is notably wordy, and I kept waiting for a punchline.
The themes of the album deal with Tillman's resentment of Christianity (he was raised in an extremely devout family) and his rejection of American capitalism. His lyrics are typically more acerbic and cynical than the typical indie folk fare, but that’s FJM for you.
To get into the nitty gritty, this album is long, plain, and simple, with two songs exceeding nine minutes. I wouldn’t mind this so much except that the songs drag at times. He’s self aware though, which I suppose counts for something. In his 13 minute long tirade “Leaving LA,” he preempts me in verse 8 where he sings,
“Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe/Plays as they all jump ship, ‘I used to like this guy/This new shit really kinda makes me wanna die.’"
While that may be harsh, the sentiment isn’t too far off. It's easy at times to forget that the entire album isn't just one long song.
It’s not all bad though, “Leaving LA” actually has some really nice moments, it’s just like a musical version of a chapter book. The strings are pretty amazing in this song in particular, and his lyrics are very evocative, as always.
All in all, I don’t like this album as much as his earlier works, but I do respect that he is evolving. VIRGINIA
RIYL: The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Cat Stevens
Rec: Pure Comedy (1), Ballad of the Dying Man (4), Birdie (5), Leaving LA (6), A Bigger Paper Bag (7)
Neil Cicierega - Mouth Moods: In homage to http://jazzistheworst.blogspot.com/, the writer has chosen to write this review in a stream-of-consciousness style while listening to the album for the first time. The writer would also like to alert the reader to the potential for “spoilers” inherent to this review format.
'I get so much angst trying to come up with something that is purely mine, when I am such a voracious connoisseur of culture.” – Blong O. Pederson
So my friend James introduced me to Mr. Cicierega’s music earlier this year, and based on his overenthusiastic recommendation, here I am with the first of an unknown number of in-real-time reviews. I’ve been informed that as the album is made almost entirely from sampled material, the opening track “The Starting Line” consists of the first moment from every song that he samples. These include staple memes such as Cake’s “The Distance”, “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies, and of course Smash Mouth’s “All Star”, plus some less obvious samples like a Prince yell and “Kung Fu Fighting” in the background. Since I wrote the intro during the first couple songs I don’t have much to say about the second track, but the third track “ACVC” is a hilarious mashup of ACDC’s “Back In Black” with the “You know I’d walk a thousand miles…” song.
The fourth song “300MB” is apparently an ad for CD-ROMs?
"Revolution #5” might be a remake of the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” with a sample of “Mambo #5”.
"Dear Dinosaur”, the sixth track, is some weird shit. Actually, now I’m looking in the YouTube description, apparently this song kinda got fucked because of a copyright violation, so that’s why the audio is all weird. I’ve just been welcome to Larry King Live, and I’m really starting to question what I’m listening to.
Actually wait, no, Phil Collins is here, and that one song from Wedding Crashers, so I guess we’re all good. This all from track 7 “Annoyed Grunt”, which takes a minute to build, but trust me, it’s pretty worth it.
I’m on track 8 now, “Bustin’”, and like, I never realized how fucking heavy the Ghostbusters theme is.
I never would have guessed that a mashup of “Stairway to Heaven” and “No Scrubs” was something I needed in my life.
Same with a mashup of “Eye of the Tiger” and that one INXS song, I think it’s “Need You Tonight”. Also, I want to mention that there are probably a lot more samples in this album that I haven’t noticed that might bring you listeners joy as well. Pro tip: don’t listen to this album in a library, I’ve laughed audibly far more times than my studious neighbors would prefer.
Ok, so now we’ve got some Doobie Brothers meets Linkin’ Park action, I’m down with this.
"T.I.M.E.” is a fucking masterpiece, I’m not gonna ruin any of the surprise of it for you.
I'm pretty sure there was an “Oh Canada” sample in there somewhere. Now, we’ve got minor key-ed version of “One Week” happening over “Smooth Criminal” which is actually kind of dope, not gonna lie, very suspenseful. Dope cut into Santana’s “Smooth”, smoothly transitioning into “Stand By Me”. Also “One Week” has restarted, though now it’s definitely got a more uplifting vibe. I honestly cannot relate the full memery of this shit.
I’d been told previously, that every one of Mr. Cicierega’s albums includes some remix of “Wonderwall”, so I guess that’s what “Wallspin” is. Kind of a more synth-pop take on it.
"Wow Wow” slaps.
Art like this is interesting to me because like, a lot of these are songs are pretty well known, but each remix – sorry, but fucking Smash Mouth is back, now being mashed up with “Under Pressure” – like I was saying, each remix kind of takes on its own emotion beyond humor. Much in the way that prop comedy can be seen as a method for breaking out of a one-dimensional view of everyday objects, I feel like Mr. Cicierega’s creative sampling gives the listener a more multi-dimensional view of songs that they already know. For example, “All Star” over “Under Pressure” actually feels pretty damn good, in a way that neither original can quite muster. JATIN
RIYL: Girl Talk, USC Memes for Spoiled Pre-Teens, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing
Rec: 1, 3, 7, 10, 14-19
Joey Bada$$ - ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$: ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is Joey’s attempt at more social / politically conscious rap. I’ll be real with you, it wasn’t too memorable to me. I think the fault mostly lies in how the message is delivered. There’s not really much to discover, namean? I think if you gonna make an album with a message / call to action / etc., then there’s gotta be something complex or literary to it. Otherwise, the message only cuts skin deep.
AAB sees Joey try to call out racism / systematic oppression but there’s not much nuance to it other than homie preaching “racism is bad, okay.” “Y U DON’T LOVE ME” is I guess the closest to touching upon that; the person he’s talking to is an obvious metaphor for the USA. On top of that, I feel like the actual quality of the music and lyricism has gone down since Summer Knights or B4DA$$, homie’s traded his trademark more boom-bap beats for more poppy showy anthems.
Seems Joey done forgot that the gritty east-coast sound is like 90% of his appeal. Anyway, he can still rap pretty good. Peace. JAISON
RIYL: Flatbush Zombies, A$AP Mob
Rec: LAND OF THE FREE (4), ROCKABYE BABY (7), RING THE ALARM (8) (why dese shits be in all caps. why dis gotta be a trend lately)
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