Boiling the Frog: Asking what a cross between Taylor Swift and Kanye West would sound like?

A frog thrown into a pot of boiling water will jump right back out, but if it’s heated gradually the frog will have no idea it’s boiling alive. This is what the Spotify program, “Boil the Frog” aims to achieve by boiling the listener from artist to artist, genre to genre in a seamless stew of discovery. What it does is generate a playlist between two artists you select and runs you through a chain of artists with snippets of tracks from each one.


“If I took artist X and combined them with artist Y, what would it sound like?”


What “Boil the Frog” does better than most other generic programs powered by Spotify is it gives you control over new music you’d like to find. It’s like asking the question, “If I took artist X and combined them with artist Y, what would it sound like?” Fulfill your heart’s greatest desires by finding abominations of music like Miley Cyrus/Miles Davis crossovers or explore your favorite controversy by tracking Taylor Swift all the way to her career-maker, Kanye West (JK, DON’T HATE ME). Sometimes, it’ll find the perfect go-between artist but at its worst it may give you new music related to your favorite artists. It’s fun to play-around on and if you build a chain you like you can save the playlist directly to your Spotify by logging in, free of charge.

The program curates a diverse selection between artists with the lengths of the chain varying. I’ve found that if you select artists from separate genres, it will be a much longer chain than if you select artists from the same genre. Also, playlists between artists of differing genres seem to require the most manual polishing, like the in between of Frank Ocean (R&B) and The Flaming Lips (psychedelic rock) which was very awkward and polarizing. It took a couple toggles with the bypass button to make it work, sort of.

But between artists of different sub-genres it’s much more palatable on the first go, like between Jeff Rosenstock (punk) and Brand New (emo). Punk and emo are very different but have many similar characteristics making them sister genres. However, Brand New is much more popular and the results around the band were also much more popular. The more obscure the artist or genre the more obscure the in between, which can be important if you are looking for new music. If you’re bored at work and need a new kick-ass playlist for your road trip, try curating your own playlist with “Boil the Frog!”21908823_1850190718626873_244509029_o

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How to Write an Album Review Part. 1

How to Review an Album Part. 1

If you have a serious commitment to music and like to listen with awareness and analysis of what you are hearing, than you have the potential to be a music critic. In this day and age, published critique has transformed from a privilege to a few to an opportunity for any intelligent and motivated listener. These instructions will explain how to write an album review and begin competing in the industry.

Pick an Album and Research: When deciding on what album you’d like to review, the most important factor to consider is how much you know about the artist(s) who made the album and the genre of music the album falls under. An expert in a particular genre or artist will have a very different opinion than someone who’s unfamiliar with the genre or artist. How much knowledge you have about the topic will limit your writing. To become an expert, you must do the research. Listen to artists and genres you aren’t familiar with and gain deep understandings of as many artists as you can, not just your favorites. Here are two steps that will engross you in the music and give you the insight to begin writing. 

  1. Listen, Re-listen and Listen Again. Sounds simple enough but listening to an album is something that should not be taken lightly as it is the most important part of the making of the review. Listen to the album as much as you can and as often as you can and in as many circumstances as possible. Music is a fluid that runs through every part of our lives and an album should be experienced the same way. Listen alone and take notes, listen on the daily commute, listen to it as background music, and listen to it with other people too. Ask a person who you respect what they think about the album and understand their opinion. Music is a social medium and your readers may not have the same opinion as you. Understanding other points of view will help you engage with those readers of differing opinions. 
  2. Take Notes and Ask Questions. Be sure to write down your initial thoughts to the album when you first start listening. A large majority of publications want reviews the moment an album comes out so you may have to rely on gut instinct to get you by. If you do have the time to really sit down and digest a record, a recording of your gut instinct will help you stay on track to your true opinion without being swayed by outside forces like other reviews or popularity. Ask questions like “What do I like or dislike?” and “What stands out to me?” to understand your own opinion. Don’t stop asking questions. Ask things like: “How does this album compare and contrast to the artist’s last album?”, “What is the album’s influences?” and “How does this album fit in it’s larger genres and subgenres?.” One method is taking notes track-by-track, recording all the different elements you notice throughout. This is a good strategy but don’t forget to look at the album as whole and not as just a collection of tracks you are reviewing individually.

Note: A common mistake many new critics make is being too negative or too positive. Above everything, an album review is meant to be critical so either completely shutting down an artist or blowing smoke in the artist’s face won’t accomplish anything. If you can’t find anything to like or there are just a few small problems in an amazing record, make suggestions on how the album or a part could have been done differently.

A lot of writing a review requires work before the actual act of pen meeting paper.. or fingers hitting keys. Next Monday, I will have a detailed instructional on this process and some of the other processes out there and why some work for me while others don’t. Stay tuned and start listening to an album you want to review today!

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.


 

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

 

Weezer announces 11th studio album

Weezer’s “Pacific Daydream” has finally been announced for release on October 27 and is shaping up to be a make-or-break album for critics and fans alike moving forward.

The band’s frontman, Rivers Cuomo, hinted at the forthcoming album calling it the “Black Album” in contrast to the previously release “White Album,” acclaimed for it’s fun, surf-rock vibes and a welcome turning-point in their discography. But Cuomo wants to do his own thing on “Pacific Daydream” rather than trying to meet the expectation of nostalgic fans, and rightfully so.

He is calling this album a mix of “The Beach Boys and The Clash” which sounds like a rough combination. If they stick with the surf-rock vibes that worked so well on the “White Album” over “The Clash” then it may be another classic Weezer album and not another 00s throwaway. But if Weezer has proven anything in their 25 year-long career it’s that they have a tendency mess good things up. Let’s see what happens!

‘Flower Boy’ presents a new Tyler, the Creator

Tyler, the Creator’s fourth studio album, “Scum Fuck, Flower Boy,” magnifies his authenticity and angst-filled youthfulness while also demonstrating the weaknesses he still struggles to correct during the creative process.

Tyler has a long history of intentionally and unintentionally pissing people off. Some read into his “unprincipled” attitude as being an edgy gimmick just to garner attention. His infamous  view on what words are and are not homophobic or racist, not just in his music but in his everyday life and on social media, has pulled his artistic integrity into question before. However, the thing “Flower Boy” says more than anything else is that Tyler is more than just a cockroach-eating goblin. In fact, Tyler is actually an extremely pleasant human-being on this record, staying away from slander while giving us a glimpse into his internal conflict with coming-out.

The second track of the album, “Where This Flower Blooms,” illustrates Tyler’s feelings on his rag-to-riches story and really grounds him to earth. He reminisces about times when he had to sleep on the floor and repo-men would come knocking for furniture from rent-a-center. The juxtaposition of this is revealed when he is thinking about those kinds of things now, while he’s driving his expensive car in California. After a short transitional track, comes a beautiful love-song about Tyler’s yearning for this fictional boy he’s been infatuated with for so long. Kali Uchis’ vocals on the chorus captures Tyler’s impatience and frustration on his wait for the “one.”

These are shockingly mature and introspective themes for Tyler to be exploring; not to say Tyler hasn’t explored things like that before but for him to go in on these themes for entire tracks, and even the majority of the record, shows a dedication to something more than what is the equivalent of teenage, mall-hooliganism on the mic. It is an impressive growth for Tyler.

A lot of what drives this change-of-heart comes from the serious challenge coming-out to the world poses for Tyler. He’s now trying to understand himself and how the world will perceive him after he reveals this. The web he’s caught in directly stems from his prior comments on gay-slurs and racist remarks. The way he fights through it is by imagining being able to contact his dream-boy, hence all of the references to phone calls and voicemails littered throughout the album.

This is by far Tyler’s tightest record in both album length and thematic direction, with the only notable comparison being his masterpiece album, “Wolf.” Tyler has a history of meandering through his music, often times ranting on while over-blowing the track with digits of songs within songs. This same issue has clearly been recognized and worked through on this album only showing up occasionally with some annoying sound bites.

The track “I Ain’t Got Time” really throws off the album’s flow by becoming an explosive, braggadocious track in the middle of some of the most gentle records in the album. He’s obviously trying to force a juxtaposition between the prior track, “Boredom,” both in the somber-to-bombastic sound but in the lyrical ideas of time and his lack there of when he’s out bragging, but abundance of time when he’s alone with his thoughts. It’s a cute idea but it kills the gorgeous mood he dedicated the album to create.

The production on this record is not only trendy with the inclusion of cool-jazz elements but it pushes those trends while also maintaining his signature wobbly-beat. One of the biggest earaches Tyler has given me on previous records was his singing but he must have seen a vocal instructor or been practicing because he’s become much, much better. He knows it’s one of his weakness and uses it sparingly with his clearest cut being on the transitional track “Sometimes…”

The overall theme of his record, although interesting, is inherently simplistic in nature which makes me skeptical of how this album will be viewed 10 years later as something more than just a Tyler, the Creator album. He also over uses references to an effect that makes some of his lyricism seem lazy, often times referencing his own music as if it were an inside joke. Not to say his lyrics are bad, because they are far from it. In fact, the lyrics employ many poetic tricks.

Tyler clearly put a lot of thought into the making of this record and the dedication has paid in dividends. Although he still suffers in some areas he makes up for it with trend-setting production and witty, world-building. Although one of his best albums, “Flower Boy” finds itself in hard spot in the context of rap in this decade and in the decades to follow. His technical shortcomings and tendency to lose focus hurt the record. I rate “Flower Boy” as a 7.2/10.

Published in The Stallion on August 9, 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 7
Lyrics 8
Artist’s technical ability 6
Production 10 10- Perfect Balance

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

0- Sounds horrible

Theme 8 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 thing

0-none of these things

Longevity 6 How relevant will it be in 5, 10, 25 years.
Personal Enjoyment 8 10-peak enjoyment

5-indifferent

1-Couldn’t hate album more

 72 100 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.