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.

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

Wolf Alice — “Visions of A Life”

London alt-rock band, Wolf Alice, arm themselves with punk power-chords and epic vocal arrangements continuing their streak of solid professionally recorded projects. Ever since the band’s EP “Blush,” Wolf Alice has remained a favorite within the oversaturated genre of alt-rock due to their tasteful use of folk, electronica, and grunge elements in the creation of their expansive soundscapes. “Visions of a Life” maintains this signature style by creating a complex fusion of dreamy shoegaze imbued with grunge’s off-kilter delivery creating a volatile mix; one moment cool and captivating but the next thrilling and gnarly.

 The band’s frontwoman, Ellie Rowsell is only 25-years-old but she sings about feelings most people have during their tumultuous years of high school. Rowsell is not too far removed from this age group: much of the lyrics on the record compel the listener to believe she is currently facing these struggles because of her sheer intensity. The band’s intricate layering of sounds over her grandeur vocals emulate her state of mind so vividly I forget I’m just listening to a dumb, gushy love-song, like on “Don’t Delete the Kisses.”

Rowsell simulates the moody teenager fumbling through an assortment of emotions, balancing rage and gentleness; anxiety and comfort. The best illustration of this is the album’s first two tracks. It starts with “Heavenward,” a mellow, spacey and angelic ballad celebrating friends the band has lost over the years, immortalizing them in a “small heaven,” a song to remember them with. However, Rowsell quickly turns-a-corner on the second track, “Yuk Foo,” expelling a frenzy of teenage frustrations, boldly flicking-off the world and changing the tone of the entire record unexpectedly. “Yuk Foo” is an awkward inclusion no matter how you organize the album but Rowsell seemed aware of how self-destructive the song and her attitude were on the track and just doesn’t seem to care as long as you go down with her. It has its charm but is ultimately off-putting.

The track “Sky Musings,” delves into the crippling effects of anxiety by plunging the listener into Rowsell’s mind during a freak-out on a commercial plane. By narrating the attack with hushed spoken-word and a steady, synth-beat mimicking an erratic heartbeat, Rowsell creates a simple yet tense scenario accurately capturing the psychological damage caused by over-thinking.

Followed shortly afterward is “Space & Time,” a track about the uncertainty the future holds and a desire to travel ahead in time just to know for sure it will all be okay in the end. Although Rowsell is anxious about this, she is not having a panic attack on the same level as “Sky Musings,” and in fact, finds comfort in the idea that if she were to just travel into the future she would likely see exactly what she wants.

It’s interesting to see how different her attitude and the tone of the songs are from one another. “Sky Musings” worries so much about the present and is ultimately irrational while “Space & Time” worries so little about the future presenting an upbeat and optimistic view of a very rational fear. I find comfort in this idea as well, that our minds and the way we approach things ultimately decide how we feel about something.

Although this album isn’t entirely a sophomore slump, it feels weaker overall in comparison to the band’s previous works. The chaotic mix of singles early in the record seemed forced, especially with “Yuk Foo.” The front-loaded singles stir things up some but the album ties itself together nicely as it goes on. However, I’m not sure how often I’ll be replaying this album into the future due to the nature of its cliched theme. I give Wolf Alice’s “Vision of A Life” a 6.5/10 but recommend their previous works along with some of the singles from this record.



What I’m looking for. Score (0-10) 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) 7 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 7
Lyrics 8
Artist’s technical ability 9
Production 7 10- Perfect Balance

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

0- Sounds horrible

Theme 7 10-powerful theme throughout

5-theme but kinda sucks

0-no theme or organization

Length/Flow of Album 5 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 5 How relevant will it be in 5, 10, 25 years.
Personal Enjoyment 7 10-peak enjoyment

5-indifferent

1-Couldn’t hate album more

65 100 max

Brand New — “Science Fiction”

   Not much in pop-culture produces enough long-standing hype to reach mythical status. Off the top of my head, the most notable example is a video game, “Half-Life 3,” which never came to fruition due to a multitude of reasons and has become such a legendary disappointment that even people who have never played the games have heard about the disaster. For some time, Brand New’s fifth LP looked as though it would face a similar fate.
    After their last release some eight years ago, the band took a hiatus until 2014 before they announced the beginning of recording for their next LP. After several delays, a single and an EP — the fabled “Science Fiction” album has finally become fact, bringing with it the harsh truth of the band’s not-too-distant retirement.
    “Science Fiction” greatly focuses on the struggles the band went through during the album’s creation, specifically Frontman Jesse Lacey, and his fight through writer’s block and his role as the prophetic figurehead for zealous fans looking for the next “Deja Vu” or “Raging Inside.” Brand New feels as though it has run its course and has left us with a worthy deathrattle to echo the band’s legacy.
    “Science Fiction” is not like any other Brand New LP we’ve heard before. The most important distinction, the reserved and moody vocal delivery, makes Lacey’s depressing worldview even more bleak and apocalyptic.
    The album opens with a tape recording from a therapy session where a woman “recounting her dream” explains her relationship with her mental illness. Lacey explores the freeing feeling of learning to cope with who you are, our own ailments and lighting up the darkest part of the human condition like a “rag soaked in gasoline in the neck of a bottle.”
    Lacey jumps from the introspective to the existential frequently, layering droning guitars through a touch of analog delay and feedback during the more disturbing and climatic moments. The tracks “Same Logic/Teeth” and “137” illustrates this dance between ideas and sound.
    “Same Logic/Teeth” builds momentum through each agonizing cry of the guitar creating a glittery sound, like each pluck imitates a drone shooting across the night’s sky. Lacey is diagnosing his current coping strategies for his personality disorder as toxic to those around him. He feels guilty for his inability to control himself and for relying on therapy or substances for clarity. “Same Logic/Teeth” invites the listener into Lacey’s psyche. “137” turns the listener around lets you stare out Lacey’s eyes across the desolation.
    “137” critiques the idea of mutually-assured destruction and explains it as a cruel “inside joke” between God and the atom. At its worst, the theme of the song is done to death but at its best, it’s a clever allusion to the philosophical discussion.
    Lacey is trying to garner an understanding of man’s own ability for self-destruction, much like how he is trying to understand his own self-destructive behavior. Lyrically his references can be blunt like when he sings, “Let’s all go play Nagasaki,” but beneath the chorus is an oriental sounding tune. Some fans hypothesize this tune is pentatonic scale commonly used by Japanese folk artists called the Min’yo-scale or the “nuclear tones.” Lacey pays tribute to those who lost their lives in the nuclear attack on Nagasaki by employing their art in a thoughtful way.
    “Science Fiction” has an expert grasp of song structure and theme throughout, adding a tasteful variety of instruments like groaning synth lines, haunting wind-chimes, a bluesy harmonica and gospel organ. What holds this album back is Lacey’s overly mellow vocal delivery. Overall, I think his reserved style is a healthy change-in-pace but on “Waste,” Lacey’s already somewhat generic singing voice bores me to death especially in combination with the tracks slow pace, hurting the flow of the album.
    There’s not a single track on the album to hate but the occasional dull moment like on “Waste” can crawl in. “Science Fiction” provides a satisfying end to the band’s career if it really is the end. I rate this album as a 7.6 out of 10.



What I’m looking for. Score (0-10) 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) 6 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 9
Lyrics 9
Artist’s technical ability 9
Production 10 10- Perfect Balance

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

0- Sounds horrible

Theme 7 10-powerful theme throughout

5-theme but kinda sucks

0-no theme or organization

Length/Flow of Album 7 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 7 How relevant will it be in 5, 10, 25 years.
Personal Enjoyment 8 10-peak enjoyment

5-indifferent

1-Couldn’t hate album more

76 100 max

 

Beach Slang’s ‘The Things We Do To Find People Like Us’ leaves listeners wanting more

Beach Slang’s debut album suckered me in with all the alt­rock things I gravitate toward. From Nirvana references, to a story about a misfit finding his way through life to even their record label, Polyvinyl Records (known for producing indie acts like Japandroids and American Football), drew me.
     That said, this album didn’t “wow” me the way I expected from my natural bias.
It left a bitter­sweet taste. It was so close to being an excellent album, hadn’t it been for the lack of deviation in sound and some weird production choices.
     The album starts off fast and heavy with James Alex’s gritty, rough-­around­-the-­edges vocals. At first, his voice pulled me out of the song because of how buried it was behind the instrumentation and effects.
     After listening a second time, the vocals became more coherent, and I could fit them back into the song. Doing that bothers me, though, because it requires a little mental gymnastics that could’ve been avoided had this production oversight been dealt with. And it doesn’t just happen in one track either, as most of the mid-­to-­fast paced songs are like this.
     Bringing out James’s voice would have made the album more compelling and straightforward, pushing that in­-your­-face punk sound. After discerning the lyrics, the track introduces the plot of the album, by putting us in the shoes of a young, restless misfit who is tired of these “gutless streets.”
     The second track, “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas,” starts out with a couple twangy, beach guitar chords before unloading the explosive instrumentation. This is my favorite song on the album, because it makes adept usage of groovy guitars riffs and pop­-rock melodies. “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas”  delves into the mental state of the misfit, showing us his confusion and anxiety. As the album progresses, we see the misfit grow and heal using unconventional remedies like drugs, alcohol, and rock & roll.
     As corny and sometimes preposterous the story is, the way it is written into the songs shows the care and hard work that went into writing the album. For example, the line “The gutter’s too tough, the stars are too safe” from the second track on the album, turns into the line “Got a foot in the gutter, the other in the light” in the second to last song on the album. This change winds down the plot showing our misfit was right where he needed to be all along. He just needed to embrace himself and discover hope in his broken road ahead.
     Another example of the diligence in their lyrics can be found in the snippets of Nirvana dotted throughout the track “Hard Luck Kid.” Some of these allusions are obvious in places while others are well hidden as they seamlessly meld into the chorus and verses. These references aren’t attempting to evoke petty nostalgia, but rather they pay homage to the band that molded Beach Slang musically and personally.
     Though this was a good album, it didn’t have anything new to bring to the table. It just explored some already established sound without changing pace or instrumentation enough. As disappointing as that may be, the LP held my attention with its well-­written plot and uppity punk sound.
     Overall, this was an above­ average rock album that gets me really excited for what this band has planned for the future. I rated “The Things We Do To Find People Like Us” as a B­ album.

Published in The Stallion on January 26, 2016.

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/