Gush Piece: “RTJ 3” — Run The Jewels

Run the Jewels (RTJ) dropped its third self-titled LP last Christmas Eve and it’s one of their most potent yet, delivering some bombastic beats alongside RTJ’s punchiest political commentary. The rap supergroup consisting of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and alternative hip-hop producer El-P, have met critical acclaim for their non-conformist attitudes and conspiratorial political view, which comes to head in “RTJ 3.”

Many popular rap artists have released politically-charged content in light of recent events, but RTJ carves a spot amongst some great albums like Tribe’s new LP. RTJ is ascending confidently, bringing up relevant talking points in a tasteful way while simultaneously throwing low balls at the ruling class.

It doesn’t rely on common left-wing propaganda to make a point. Mike and El both bring up well thought out ideas. For example, on the track “Don’t Get Captured” Mike raps about a neglected epidemic within Chicago where teens have been left to their own devices, turning to a life of crime and becoming armed thanks to loose gun laws in the city.

He then draws back to his hometown of Atlanta and his own past experiences as a gangster there. He watched that same gentrification force low-income people into already failing infrastructures. In that same track, El raps from the perspective of a police officer saying whatever he writes in the report becomes truth and he can get away with murder.     

Overall, the record is the pandemonium many of us had hoped for from RTJ when they first announced the release in the beginning of 2016. El’s beats and production are ever-evolving and continue to surprise even the most hardcore of fans. This is the anarcho-rap album many of us needed heading into 2017.

Gush Piece: “Big Fish Theory” — Vince Staples

Innovative, vehement, and nihilistic; Vince Staples has become one of the biggest fish in the pond with this LP. Staples comments on the role of the rapper in society and the problematic tropes that have plagued the genre from the beginning over Detroit-house inspired Electronica.

It all culminates in a punchy and addictive record. The features on this LP are insane with a verse by Kendrick Lamar, electronic super-star Flume along with SOPHIE building the beats, and Kucka’s vocals all on a single track.

One of the few artists who can have these many features on a single track without risking being outshined, Staples manages it due to his flow and dominating presence on the mic, reminiscent of Kanye West or Childish Gambino. I’m skeptical of the claims that this sound is the future of rap music but I do believe it is an impressive reinvention for Staples and demonstrates the awards of risk-taking on style and beats in contemporary hip-hop.

The social and political turmoil of 2017 asked musicians many questions and I think it’s hard to point to any record that stood well above the rest because of that turmoil. The world is in a weird place now, but I believe the music industry has done an exceptional job to sort some of it out.

Gush Piece: “Everybody Works” — Jay Som

One of the most surprising success stories to come out of 2017, Jay Som’s “Everybody Works” manifests into an intimate experience with its minimalistic lyrical style, dreamy lo-fi production, and its vast but spontaneous arrangements. The Bay Area singer-songwriter, Melina Duterte, recorded the entire album over the course of three weeks from her bedroom studio in between tours.

Many critics have dubbed the style bedroom-pop, a term that is often used indiscriminately. But the phrase, in this context, precisely explains the DIY and visceral feel of the album.

My favorite track on the record, “(Bedhead),” makes adept use of reverb across the guitars and bass to create a feeling of claustrophobia to accompany the lyrics detailing the experiences of stage-fright and tour fatigue.

As she collects herself and begins to find her footing during the performance, the guitar and bass lines move out from behind the wall of reverb becoming clear and punchy. Small cuts and distortions break the moment of clarity as if Duterte staggers through the performance and slowly the reverb creeps back into the song as it comes to a close. The effects in the production beautifully mirror every word. That kind of attention to detail is prevalent all throughout the record and made it a favorite of mine this year.

Dwight Yoakam performs in Tifton, GA

Grammy-winning and multi-platinum artist, Dwight Yoakam performed live at the UGA Conference Center in Tifton, GA on Nov. 2. He follows a long line of famous country artists who’ve performed there in recent years like Willie Nelson and Vince Gill.

Yoakam took the stage dressed in a Canadian tuxedo, from his worn Levi’s 517 jeans which were tight enough to rival any emo rockers, to his faded Sherpa Trucker jacket modified with a strip of bright rhinestones on the back-tail and his low-riding, felt Stetson cowboy hat— Yoakam was ready to perform. His band dazzled audiences not only with impressive musicianship but with the sparkling embroidery on their black and white western wear, looking like the rhinestone cowboy version of the Beatles all the way down to the lettering of the drumset.

Fans from all corners of Georgia came to see the performance, from as far North as Rome to as far west as Columbus.

Jim Morgan of Valdosta, who used to perform in a cover band himself, said “I’ve been a fan of Dwight since the 80s. Anybody who could write songs like that had to get noticed. Everything he’s done has been class.”

When asked what he hoped to hear Dwight play he responded, “I obviously want to hear the hits but I like everything he does, acting and all. He has a traditional style, but true to the 50s and 60s performers in the way he carries himself onstage like with his attire, mannerisms, and writing. He writes a really good story.”

Morgan concluded by saying “This’ll pry be the last opportunity for me to see him live so for those fans of country music like me, there’s that nostalgic attraction.”

Dr. Justin Ng, an agronomy professor at ABAC, was there to see the performance and because he admires classic country artists partly due to his time playing bass in a Texas country band.

“I have an iPod with thousands of songs on it and when I heard ‘A Thousand Miles from Nowhere’ picked out on it, I just fell in love with it immediately.”

When Yoakam and his band took the stage, the whole crowd lit up with people jumping out of their seats in excitement. Dwight’s band glittered on the stage lights as they powered out a honky-tonk version of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.”

Next, the band played a couple originals. First, “Please, Please Baby” followed by “Wild Ride” featuring Yoakam’s stellar boot-scooting.

Later that night, Yoakam performed a series of Merle Haggard covers in tribute to his friend. He talked about the significance of Merle’s work and the role he played in giving a voice to the rural peoples and veterans of the Vietnam War who felt like they had been ignored during the counter-culture’s revolution.

He introduced the song with a story about him and Willie Nelson talking on the bus after a show one night in Florida.

“Through the smoke and the haze there, I could see what I think was Willie and I said ‘Willie? Is that you Willie?’”

Yoakam continued saying, “I reached out through that cloud and grabbed his beard and said ‘Is that you?’ He said ‘Yea,’ and I said ‘Lemme ask you something, did you do this one?’ Through that cloud of smoke, he kinda peeked down with a twinkle in his eyes and said ‘Oh yea I did!’”

Yoakam then began singing the opening verse to “Okie from Muskogee.”

“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don’t take no trips on LSD.”

The crowd loved it.

He then performed three more Merle cover’s “Silver Wings,” “Swinging Doors,” and “Mama Tried.”The best was saved for last as the last six tracks were all of Yoakam’s greatest hits like “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” and “Guitars, Cadillacs.”

At this point people of all ages had gotten up to dance, some were square dancing while others were just tapping their boots to the rhythm of the beat.

The night closed out with “Fast As You.” You could hear Yoakam’s voice starting to become a little feeble but he was still going strong showing he’s still got it well into his 50s. After the song was through Yoakam thanked everyone and complimented the crowd’s hospitality. As the band exited the stage, the bassist threw his pick out to the crowd which created a scramble to find the memento.

As many great bands know, you always leave the audience wanting more and the audience definitely did. The hardcore fans started chanting and whistling for the band’s return.

The energy paid off as Yoakam and crew returned for an encore, a cover of “Suspicious Minds” by Mark James which was made popular by Elvis Presley. This finale satiated the audience’s appetite. They quickly rushed to the merchandise booth afterward before the goods were sold out.

And the urban cowboy rode away…


Published in The Stallion on November 14.

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Suggestion Sunday: “The Lonesome Crowded West” — Modest Mouse

On Nov. 18, Modest Mouse fans celebrated the release of an album that changed the scape of Indie rock music forever, “The Lonesome Crowded West.” Widely regarded as the most important indie release of the decade, LCW reinvented the sound that was coming out of Olympia, WA and gave it a folk artist twist by lyrically capturing the people’s feelings about the changes occurring out West at that time.

According to Pitchfork’s documentary on the album, Issac Brock was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan when writing LCW. Modest Mouse’s eccentric and energetic rock paired with a folk and blues style of songwriting was key to the success of the album. This may also help explain LCW’s long-lasting favorability in the eyes of fans who view the 1997 to 2001 era of Modest Mouse as the best iteration of the band. In a sense, Issac Brock had become an echo of Bob Dylan, but an echo that wasn’t afraid of getting really weird.

Tracks like “Doin’ the Cockroach” and “Shit Luck” became set staples at the band’s concerts for years as well as the soundtrack for many amateur skating videos.

Highlight Tracks: “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine,” “Doin’ the Cockroach,” “Cowboy Dan,” “Trailer Park,” “Shit Luck,” “Polar Opposites,” and “Bankrupt on Selling.”

Quite possibly one of the best songs ever written by the band, “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” is the best example of Brock’s cryptic lyrics and the expansive meanings held in every single verse. After dozens of listens over the years, I still find new revelations in this track. On the surface, it’s a social commentary on American consumerism and what we look for in the pursuit of happiness but it goes much further than that.

It is an accumulation of everything that goes into the futility of man, an exploration of the human condition and an acceptance to this realization that all we really have in life is to “find out the beginning, the end and the best of it.” We all share common experiences and dilemmas and the way we respond is what makes us who we are. The power of the song comes through lack of closure in the closing lines:

“You could be ashamed or be so proud of what you’ve done
But not no one, not now, not ever or anyone”

Weezer — “Pacific Daydream”


Weezer defies all criticism. For years, critics have griped over Weezer’s songwriting as generic and clinical. Don’t believe me? Look at these two Pitchfork quotes from two different album reviews from two entirely different writers:

“This is still a Mk. III Weezer album where songs are constructed more like sitcoms: each has a single premise based on a rigid structure and a comforting predictability, and each can be experienced in virtually any order,” – Pitchfork’s “Hurley” review and a pompous way of saying the album could be worse.

“On ‘Make Believe,’ [Cuomos] personality has vanished beneath layers of self-imposed universality, writing non-specific power ballads and whoah-oh-ohing a whole lot in lieu of coming up with coherent or interesting thoughts.” – Pitchfork’s “Make Believe” review which is clearly more aggressive.

These aren’t just cherry-picked album reviews from Weezer’s arguably worst albums: I just simply am not a gutsy-enough critic to turn this review into a research paper on why critics hate much of Weezer’s discography. I’d advise you to check Metacritic to get an idea of their critical reception yourself and maybe you’ll see why their Metascore is below average. Take that average with a grain of salt as access journalism is often responsible for many overly-positive reviews (see Wall Street Journal’s “What Happened to the Negative Review?”).

Weezer just doesn’t seem to learn from their mistakes or at least can’t focus enough on the issue at hand to solve it. In a sense, they defy all criticism as they continue to truck along with a cult following and some mainstream appeal, albeit losing fans in the process of appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Now for the album at hand, “Pacific Daydream,” Weezer’s 11th studio album following their best-received record the “White Album” since 2002. This album’s conundrum is it really doesn’t know what it’s focus is other than being different. Musically, the album is stretched across several genres whether it’s electronica like on “Feels Like Summer,” power-pop like on “Get Right,” or synth-pop like on “Happy Hour,” the record gets around a lot. The problem is a majority of the songs are just mediocre. It’s like the old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” There’s a lot of okay songs on this record but little makes me want to play anything on repeat or give me much to talk about.

Lyrically, “Pacific Daydream” is an introspective record all about frontman, Rivers Cuomo, personal rediscovery. This introspectiveness was something I felt was lacking in “White Album” and was promised in the forthcoming “Black Album” which is still to come apparently. I admire Cuomo’s authenticity in his songwriting, after all, it was that kind of vulnerability that made “Pinkerton” a platinum album. There are also many great hooks on this record like “Feels Like Summer,” “Weekend Woman,” and “Get Right.”

The problem with “Pacific Daydream” goes back to what critics have been saying since 2005, Cuomo’s songwriting is just too formulaic or simply too non-specific. “Beach Boys” is a good example of using ambiguous, seemingly random lyrics in its first couple verses and the unmoving chorus where Cuomo’s professing his love for The Beach Boys doesn’t help.

The formulaic style may not directly stem from Cuomo himself but rather his producers or any possible corporate pressures. Cuomo annotated “Feel Like Summer” on Genius and revealed his struggles with “powers that be” over preventing a auto-tune effect on the first line to the chorus. It makes me wonder if there were other places that outside influences muddied up the music’s intended sound, which may also explain the overly primped and clean production on this record.

Overall, “Pacific Daydream” feels as much like a step backward as it does not moving at all. Weezer wants to maintain a personal authenticity and originality but continues to record generic material. I believe most fans aren’t looking for another Pinkerton or Blue album but I do think we’re all in need of at least Green or White album. Overall, I give Pacific Daydream a 4.3/10.



What I’m looking for. Score (0-10) Examples of Scoring
Innovation 2 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) 4 10-Never before seen (has influences still)

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

6- 2 unique qualities

4-1 unique qualities

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

Songwriting 5
Lyrics 6
Artist’s technical ability 8
Production 5 10- Perfect Balance

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

0- Sounds horrible

Theme 3 10-powerful theme throughout

5-theme but kinda sucks

0-no theme or organization

Length/Flow of Album 3 10-Songs reinforce each other, album isn’t hard to listen to, and the transitions are smooth/appropriate

5- 2 of those things

0-none of these things

Longevity 3 How relevant will it be in 5, 10, 25 years.
Personal Enjoyment 4 10-peak enjoyment

5-indifferent

1-Couldn’t hate album more

4.3 100 max