“DAMN.” analyzes Kendrick’s DNA

Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” barrages the listener with hard-hitting lyrics and no time spared. This is one of Lamar’s shortest albums, with each track centralized around the lyrics rather than the beat. This opposes the traditional view on Lamar as an artist who writes deep-thinking “bangerz” without stripping-back the beat, making the tracks enjoyable on a passing-listen and on in-depth analysis.

Although more commercial than its predecessor, “DAMN.” just creeps out of the speakers with a mid-tempo flow gumming up the majority of the album. He says what he needs to say, clearly and without distraction, so that he can move on to the next track.

This isn’t to say the album doesn’t have a few “bangerz.” The teaser track for the album, “HUMBLE,” singlehandedly made most everyone think the whole album was going to be just as crazy.

“DNA” also was an intense track, sampling a part of Fox’s analysis of Kendrick’s BET performance bridging into a bombastic second verse. The majority of the album was a daunting listen, however. Just about any lyric you pull out and examine has layers of meaning ascribed to it.

I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to digest the album and review it without being able to read the lyrics online. The tracks require a bit of study to really appreciate, especially “FEEL” and “PRIDE.”

“PRIDE” put a whole new spin on the following banger, “HUMBLE.” As a single, “HUMBLE” seemed as though it were an attack on someone else but within the context of the album it becomes clear that “HUMBLE” is an inward assault.

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins and Kendrick’s one of the best rappers alive, so recognizing his pride and addressing it is a challenge. Ironically, the track about pride is mellow and introspective, using vocal pitch variations to underline the contrast between his ideal of humility (high) and his action of pride(low).  This leads right into the concept theory that stuck with me. It begins with the first couple verses of the LP asking three simple questions; “Is it wickedness?” “Is it weakness?” and “Are you going to live or die?”

Do you choose wickedness (pride) or do you choose weakness (humility)? Also, notice how the order is wickedness and live or weakness and die.

Lamar describes the way he grew up with a character named Little Johnny. In Little Johnny’s world, all the successful people around him are rappers or gangsters who appropriate violence as the key to survival. Hence, wickedness is the only way to do away with weakness, to survive and succeed.

Lamar pulls this into his current rap career, addressing the juxtaposition of being a social justice rapper while also rapping about wicked things like murder and treating women like dirt. This helps to explain the musical direction he chose on “DAMN.”

He’s perhaps trying to lessen himself by retreating from success and revealing himself to the world through these internal struggles. Or perhaps he’s frustrated with the lack of reciprocity he has received for his social commentary, as he continually mentions throughout the album that “nobody is praying for me.”

“DAMN.” has taken flack for some of the experimental choruses and even some of the less experimental tracks like the radio-friendly “LOVE,” but I found each track enjoyable and pivotal in progressing the overall arch of the album. I rate “DAMN.” as an A- album.

 

Published in The Stallion on April 18, 2017.

What I’m looking for. Score (0-10) Examples of Scoring
Innovation 6 10- Creates entire genre.

8- Creates a new niche or sub-genre

6-pushes current genres limits

4- pushes their own limits

2-little change

Uniqueness (of either artist or album) 8 10-Never before seen (has influences still)

8-More than 3 unique qualities including sound, person, story, ect.

6- 2 unique qualities

4-1 unique qualities

2-Lowest possible score because everyone is unique :^)

Songwriting 8
Lyrics 9
Production 9 10- Perfect Balance

5- Over-produced more than not (or even under produced)

0- Sounds horrible

Theme 9 10-powerful theme throughout

5-theme but kinda sucks

0-no theme or organization

Length/Flow 8 10-Songs reinforce each other, album isn’t hard to listen to, and the transitions are smooth/appropriate

5- 2 of those thing

0-none of these things

Talent 10
Personal Enjoyment 7 10-peak enjoyment

5-indifferent

1-Couldn’t hate album more

82 90 max

BiRDPERSON band revitalizes GA emo

I first heard of BiRDPERSON through the recommendation of a friend. She had known the guitarist, Trey Wilson, from high school and thought they were pretty good, good enough to tell friends as well as share the band’s stuff on Facebook for everyone else. Typically, I’m a skeptical person when it comes to hometown bands. People tend to give a bit of leeway to these groups because they’re so close to home or because “they’re just finding their start” after existing for nearly three to four years and only putting out one record or so.

Now after I’ve built them up so high, BiRDPERSON really does bring a refreshing, punk energy to an otherwise lifeless and uninspired emo scene in hometowns across the state of Georgia. I spoke with guitarist and frontman, Aaron Cooler, to learn more about the group as well as their recently recorded EP, “The Michael Jordan of Baseball.”

BiRDPERSON is named after the character from the Adult Swim cartoon, “Rick and Morty,” and are based out of Statesboro, GA. Their HQ is the BiRDHAUS where they host house-shows. In fact, they’re planning a Hausfest for April 29 before they go on their May tour. “It’ll be the first time we’ve attempted something like this with so many people and bands.”

I was excited to learn what went into the creation of their latest EP, so I started by asking how they came up with the eccentric name they chose. “When we do our song titles, we sort of just write random descriptions we think are funny and that also are in line with the lyrical themes of the song. And when you say someone is the Michael Jordan of something it means they’re really good at whatever it is. ‘Michael Jordan of Baseball’ connects with the song because Michael Jordan sucked at baseball so it’s sort of about when you are feeling like you are not the best person you can be and you are just fucking up a lot.”

The songs they chose for “The Michael Jordan of Baseball” were four of the best out of ten or so songs they felt were finished enough to record. “Those four songs we thought were our best and were what fit together best. We still have six to record now that all have a unique sound to them. We’re expecting the next recordings to come out soon.”

“We do very collaborative songwriting. One of us will come up with a concept and then that’ll become their song to teach to each other. Whenever we’re working on a new song we all add our own taste and style to it. I tend to take care of most of the lyrics but the music is collaboratively composed.”

The dog on the cover the EP is actually Cooler’s Pitbull, Duchess and within the title track’s music video and single release cover art there is a Australian Shepard named Bear who is Cooler’s girlfriend’s dog. “They’re kind of our mascot. We’re big animallovers and so we thought it would be something cool and random to use for the art of the album. Our drummer did all the art with water-color and pens. He also has done some merch for us. It’s really nice since you don’t have to outsource your artists.” They plan to continue this aesthetic as their signature design in the future.

Being from a place with a fairly inactive music scene, BiRDPERSON developed a DIY attitude toward their work. “When we decided we wanted to start a band in Statesboro, we decided we would make stuff happen. Nobody was going to give it to us so we started doing house shows and things. A lot of people like our style so we kind of just made our own venue to play at and make the people who wanted to hear what we had to offer come to us.”

With the opening of the BiRDHAUS, Statesboro’s music scene has developed a great deal. Cooler attributes the growth to there being less drama in Statesboro. “Other scenes are having issues with jerks and there’s enough of that in a town like ours so we wanted to make a place where people aren’t going to be dicks to one another by not being exclusionary to artists.”

To close out the interview, I asked Cooler what he wanted people to take away from their music. He said “We want to make music for people so that it can be as catchy enough for a passing listener to enjoy on a surface level while also being technically complex enough for ‘trained ears.’ On a different level, we take it further with songs that deal with our personal lives, anxiety, social situations, what have you. It connects to people who are feeling alone or not their best. It makes people feel like they’re not alone and that other people have been there.”

Check out the title track to their latest EP:

Photo courtesy of BiRDPERSON’s Facebook page.

Tim Darcy – “Saturday Night”

Tim Darcy, frontman of the less than ordinary post-punk band “Ought,” released his solo debut album spoofing the typical crooning singer/songwriter album with a subtle but chaotic clash of off-kilter guitars and spacey, lo-fi production to a nightmarish effect. “Ought” has experienced a weird branding, being a bit overrated and slightly misunderstood by critics who’ve interpreted them as an avant garde band reminiscent of the ‘60s.

I spoke with the drummer of the band at the 2016 Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta and he expressed opposition to the idea that “Ought” is anything more than an average rock band. It may of just been humility but he even went as far as to say the only thing that separates “Ought” from the bands in their hometown of Montreal is the critics ‘choosing’ them as if it were a lottery.

Something very similar is happening here within the reviews for Darcy’s LP. Critics have overblown this record and have been staging him as though he were a modern-day Jim Morrison. Many of these reviews have idolized the positive qualities of the LP without explaining what they didn’t enjoy.

Darcy is just what he puts out there, a regular guy expressing some of the internal turmoil he’s experienced as an introverted rock star. He’s finding his way through the mundane things of life while just trying to keep his shit together on the inside. That inward focus is what makes this solo project so engaging.

The album starts off much like any “Ought” record would, flashy and energetic with Darcy’s familiar, yelpy vocals leading. The direction of the album changes on the second track, “Joan Pt 1, 2.” The production becomes very uneasy and distorted, almost psychedelic, as the LP progresses. Most of the songs become mid-tempo ballads not standing out from one another.

One track I did enjoy was “Still Waking Up.” Darcy plays around with crooner trope  here, utilizing a slicked-back attitude to entice a lover with clever and intentionally pretentious wordplay. It’s all done ironically,  to add to the chauvinistic delusion.

The title track, “Saturday Night,” is when we’re introduced to a more frenetic and tormented guitar emerging throughout the record, becoming much more obvious during Darcy’s “quiet” moments. The album becomes really dull from this point on, with only the odd texture of the soundscapes to keep the listener alert. Perhaps it symbolizes Darcy’s own Saturday nights as being a time to retreat into his own mind, a very dreary and visceral place.

Darcy’s “Saturday Night” ends with a haunting instrumental piece embracing the chaos with random piano plinks and tortured chords trembling throughout. “Beyond Me” is the soundtrack of a night-terror and surrender to an inescapable madness.

“Saturday Night” is no pop record but if the listener can get past the weirdness of it all and some of dreary parts of this record, the experience can be appreciated. The record is just too slow and Darcy’s vocals are more tame than on “Ought,” which is part of what made them so successful.

I won’t be replaying the album anytime soon but the overall concept is alluring and unusual enough to recommend at least one listen. It’s not a direction Darcy should maintain nor would I like to see this flow off into “Ought,” but I can appreciate an artist’s need to produce something outside the typical venue. I would rate this album as C- to C.

Published in The Stallion on March 21, 2017.

Check out this track: 

ought.jpg

Photos by Shelby Evans. Can find more awesomeness at her blog. http://acquiringthetaste.blogspot.com/

My System

Here is a look at how I “grade” albums. I don’t always use the rubric and I have changed it a couple of times since I started using it a year and a half ago. It’s definitely not anything scientific or completely universal but it sorta helps me organize my work for readers. 

A. 80 percent or above.

B. 80 to 70 percent.

C. 70 to 60 percent.

D. 60 to 50 percent.

F. 50 percent or below.

What I’m looking for. Score (0 to 10) Examples of Scoring.
Innovation 4 10- Creates entire genre.

8- Creates a new niche or sub-genre.

6- Pushes current genres limits.

4- Pushes their own limits.

2- Little change.

Uniqueness (of either artist or album) 8 10- Never before seen (has influences still).

8- More than three unique qualities including sound, person, story, ect.

6- Two unique qualities.

4- One unique quality.

2- Lowest possible score because everyone is unique. :^)

Songwriting 8
Lyrics 9
Production 8 10- Perfect Balance.

5- Over-produced more than not (or even under produced).

0- Sounds unexplainable in how horrible it is.

Theme 9 10- Powerful theme throughout.

5- Theme exists but kinda sucks.

0- No theme or organization what-so-ever.

Length/Flow 9 10- Songs reinforce each other, the album isn’t hard to listen to, and the transitions are smooth/appropriate.

5- Two of the things listed before.

0- None of these things.

Talent 6
Personal Enjoyment 10 10- Peak enjoyment.

5- Indifferent.

1- Couldn’t hate the album more.

78 percent 71 90 max

 

Rosenstock’s ‘We Cool?’ an emotional vortex

This album was the most fun I’ve ever had listening to sad music. “We Cool?” has an overarching sound of pop rock and upbeat rhythms that are very misleading to the overall dark tone of the lyrics in the album. This odd coupling of blood­-pumping, fast-paced music and wistfully, dismal lyrics creates a weird feeling of excitement and fun, mixed with disheartening angst.

This is Jeff Rosenstock’s newest LP, and he sticks to his sound of punk/indie rock. The album is heavily influenced by Jeff’s musical history with bands like Bomb The Music Industry and Andrew Jackson Jihad, both of which I enjoy for the most part. After his most recent band, Bomb The Music Industry, disbanded in 2014, he went into solo work and made this LP.

“We Cool?” is not for everyone. The pop ­rock sound this album brings to the table isn’t anything new or innovative and may sound stale to some people. Songs like “Novelty Sweater” are  reminiscent of Weezer and can sound cheap and unoriginal at times.

At the same time he brings so many positive elements from pop rock, folk music, and alternative country to the album that I can’t help but like some of what I’m hearing. This wide use of sounds is evident in songs like “Beers Again Alone” and “Nausea.”

Jeff’s vocals throughout the album are very active and grab the emotions of the wounding lyrics. His voice amplifies the layers of epic instrumentation found throughout the album, creating depth to the music that really pulls the listener in. If you like catchy, fast­-paced, pop ­rock sound, you’ll love this album.

The lyrics are very dark. They sound like they’re written by a young person about to take on life but is filled with uncertainty, discouragement, apathy and grief. The lyrics also address death and regrets, making it sound like Jeff is going through a midlife crisis. He talks about death, like in the song “Polar Bear or Africa,” as being a purge of your existence.

I’ve found more songs to love on this album than to hate. An example of this are the two songs, “Polar Bear or Africa” and “Hall of Fame,” which mesh together so well, musically and lyrically, that it’s hard to distinguish them as two different tracks.

Jeff’s unbridled singing makes these lyrics tear at emotions. I find myself wanting to sing along to the hooks in tracks like “Nausea” and “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry.”

There is one song that seems very out of place in the album, however.“All Blissed Out” is drenched in reverb, which really covers up the music and the vocals with a echo­y film. It is also very slow and dreary unlike the rest of the album.

The song does explode towards the end, releasing the music that should’ve been brought out throughout the song in a very epic fashion. Still, for the album’s worst song, it’s not bad in its own right.

I rated “We Cool?” with a B+ in general but based on my own enjoyment I would rate it as an A. The upbeat tone makes the songs fun, catchy, and exciting. The lyrics are wounding and emotional. Unrestricted vocals and added instruments create depth to the overused formula of pop rock. It flows well and keeps to its overall theme of detached loathing.

It’s not perfect, however. It’s pretty much the same sound from his past albums, just done very well this time around. The singing is not pitch­ perfect, but still sounds great. And the theme of the album is a bit negative, which some people do not enjoy hearing. Overall it’s a noteworthy album worth listening to.

This article was published in The Stallion on October 13, 2015.

Check out this track: