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.

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”

Suggestion Sunday: ‘Hiding’ — Modern Baseball

Modern Baseball’s legacy as dynamic modern emo

Nothing leaves a more sour taste in a music snob’s mouth than the mentioning of pop-punk and emo. I’ve found myself holding my tongue more than once around other concert-goers in fear that such blasphemy would turn them off from great bands like Jeff Rosenstock and Joyce Manor who deserve their attention. Modern Baseball is one of the few groups I’m comfortable as announcing as emo right from the beginning because of tracks like “Hiding.”

Lyrically:

What “Hiding” does to make it so unashamedly emo is by enveloping the listener in its vivid poetry and ironically confessional lyrics given the title. Guitarist, Jake Ewald, says he wrote this song as a “life update from where ‘Coals’ ( a track off the band’s first record) left off.” On “Coals,” Ewald was just entering college feeling excited but unwittingly foolish. In contrast, “Hiding” delves into the disillusion his old-self had from the surreal perspective of post-graduation.

“Made mistakes
The plants died young, like all good things
But I wish my small self-had known
How much water to use”

I love this line because it’s a beautiful analogy to relationships and how over-eagerness can run people off. The imagery feels childish and innocent, drawing out the differences between his current-self and his old-self in a clever way.

Musically:

The track follows a simple chord progression with every critical incision made into Ewald’s psyche within the lyrics reflecting an amplification of sound. This is done through seemingly random guitar plucks and explosive but quickly subdued drumlines accumulating into a release of all the subdued energy climatically.

It’s in the layering of all the different strings, percussion, and synths that makes Modern Baseball so much more dynamic and multidimensional. Although this is a commonly used song-structure for many bands, the layering really is what nails it making it such an intimate track while also being a pit-starter at shows. We all hope the band returns from its hiatus to continue innovating the modern emo sound.

Don’t botch music fest coverage, use these 3 tips by Emily Bloch

EmilyI’m here in Dallas, Texas for the National College Media Association Convention running around the conference center learning tips and tricks from working professionals in journalism. As cliche as it might sound, my favorite seminar I attended today was Emily Bloch’s “How To Cover A Music Festival Before You’re Old Enough To Drink At One” where she talked about things like creating a narrative from bowties and Fruity Pebbles to organizing a festival plan that optimizes the work-to-bathroom-break ratio.

Here are three tips she shared which really stood out.

  1. “You can interview musicians and not get lame answers” — Look for different ways to engage musicians. If one of them is wearing a Smiths shirt or has a Talking Heads tattoo, ask about it. You may only get 10 minutes with artists before their “handler” takes them away so be sure to have a list of questions in priority from most important to least. Be sure to get creative too. One of the interviews she has done was over Cuban coladas because the band she talked to commonly used coffee in their lyrics.

  2. “You still have to breathe” — This quote is as real as it gets when it comes to the sheer intensity of covering a music festival. Bloch takes it to another level when comes to her work ethic. She’s covered 13 bands in eight hours before so she knows the kind of efficiency it takes to cover a fest. It all comes down to logistics and preparation; make a schedule, do the research, bring the essentials but don’t forget to set aside time to sit down, eat a sandwich and take in the environment.

  3. Don’t write cold” — No this doesn’t mean bundling up in your favorite blanket and heating up some hot chocolate so you can write better. She means the day’s not over until you’ve written that last set review, artist interview, or final preview. You’ll have a better story and remember more if you write the day-of while your brain is still hot and processing all the stuff you saw today. You can “trim the fat” the next day and correct any mistakes you likely made writing that late.

For more sweet tips and tricks, check out her website at https://emilybloch.com and follow her on twitter at @emdrums

Also, check out this kick-ass clip of her’s.

Emily Clips

Suggestion Sunday: XTC — “Dear God”

I saw the new “It” remake today and was pleasantly surprised when I heard XTC in a short montage. The song fit so seamlessly into one of the most hopeless parts of the movie, especially since it only used the intro-cut sung by an eight-year-old girl. If you haven’t guessed already — the song was “Dear God,” a single inspired by the exploitation of children in christian media and a direct challenge to God’s existence arguing that a benevolent divinity wouldn’t be capable of creating meaningless suffering.

It was one of the most punk tracks XTC ever released because they didn’t write it to become rich or to become famous, they wrote it because they sincerely were struggling with the idea and this was their way of figuring it all out. “Dear God” challenged the status quo of popular music of the time, managing to chart in the UK and be ranked #62 in VH1’s “Best One Hit Wonder of the 80s” in 2009, which is a good signal that a piece of music has some value. The best music can still move people with it’s intended message outside the world and culture it was created in. It’s message still hits home with many, becoming an instant include in the humanist playlist while also not being a directly atheistic song. XTC was just brave enough to push their struggle with faith into the open in a non-apologetic way.