Top 10 Hip Hop Tracks of 2014

Bobby Shmurda
Bobby Shmurda

2014 saw all kinds of hip hop floating around, from new stars and old. Countless tracks have already been forgotten, but this article is about the ones that really stuck. This is just one writer’s opinion, but here it is: the ten best hip hop tracks of the year.

10. Clipping – “Work Work”

While clppng is one of 2014’s more uneven releases in any genre, “Work Work” channels the group’s brand of bizarre industrial-hop into something almost party-appropriate. The sneering delivery of lyrics about pimps, gang signs, and dead homies comes caked in irony, but “Work Work” is charming and catchy enough to let us in on the joke.

9. Jeremih – “Don’t Tell Em”

DJ Mustard gets much of the credit for gracefully reconciling modern popular hip-hop with increasingly EDM-soaked pop charts, after previous attempts ranged from limp to mashup-tier. You can criticize Mustard for being formulaic, but when songs you didn’t even produce start following the formula you can’t deny its effectiveness. On representative track “Don’t Tell Em”, Mustard streamlines the hazy, stylish, “All the Time” Jeremih for mass consumption.

[Read more...]

Aphex Twin, Taylor Swift Mashup Surprisingly Pretty OK

The most elaborate musical prank of this week is no doubt the Aphex Twin/Taylor Swift mashup album. The cartoonist who put Aphex Swift together put forth an astonishing amount of effort to link two totally different artists. The most shocking thing isn’t the choice of artists, however, since there are already endless examples of absurd mashups floating around the web.  No, the shocking thing is that this WTF pairing is so well done.

aphex-swiftMy initial reaction is that there’s no way Aphex Swift works at all, but on several subsequent spins I have to admit that there’s something going on here. “Starlightlicker” is the song that gets the closest to working in any traditional sense, no doubt because “Windowlicker” is the closest Aphex Twin has come to any sort of pop crossover. It’s surrounded by “T4ouble” and “We Are Never Getting Girl/Boygether”, both of which pace hectic breakbeat productions from Richard D. James Album with two of Swift’s most massive pop smashes. Initially I’m convinced that these two tracks speed up the tempo on “4” and “Girl/Boy Song” because they sound impossibly complex underneath Swift’s one-line-at-a-time delivery, but on further review the tempo is unchanged. The juxtaposition serves as a vivid reminder of just how unique and unhinged each of Aphex Twin’s pseudorandom productions is.

[Read more...]

The War on Drugs Rocks Marathon Music Works

The War on Drugs @ Marathon
The War on Drugs @ Marathon

Despite severe weather warnings, on Monday I and a healthy crowd of Nashvillians head over to Marathon Music Works for The War on Drugs’ exclusive brand of heartland rock. Attendees sport beards, boots, flannel, and, many of them, years of life experience. I’m pretty sure this is the same multigenerational group that showed up in place of Vanderbilt students when Quake accidentally booked My Morning Jacket several years ago.

During their 14-song set, The War on Drugs makes it plain that they are a guitar band. Frontman Adam Granduciel is brought a different guitar before each song, and he goes into extended soloing throughout the night. The sound is straightforward and expansive, and upbeat numbers like “Red Eyes” have fans swaying and bobbing their heads. Two young lumberjack types in my vicinity start up an air guitar band.

Adam Granduciel in the Spotlight for "Suffering"
Adam Granduciel in the Spotlight for “Suffering”

The remaining instruments play a supporting role. The other band members are a keyboardist, rhythm guitarist, bassist, drummer, and a baritone sax player. At first glance the sax player stands out because of his instrument, but quickly he’s revealed to be a subtle part of the band’s atmosphere instead of a gimmick. The sax never takes the lead, but instead layers into the densely mixed structure. Excluding Granduciel’s harmonica outros and on-the-prairie ballads like “Suffering” and “Lost in the Dream”, War on Drugs could pass respectably as a shoegaze outfit. Though tracks like “An Ocean in Between the Waves” and “Under the Pressure” exceed seven and nine minutes, respectively, the band plays hard throughout.

In the live setting at Marathon the music develops a natural and full quality, and the sound clearly envelops the area. As a relatively new venue, Marathon Music Works strikes an impressive balance between friendly rusticity and a modern sheen. Granted, the former quality can partly be attributed to the style of music of the night since electronic bands I’ve seen here before (Beach House, Passion Pit) had me mostly thinking about the second part. Either way, the versatile atmosphere and open layout makes Marathon an excellent addition to the Nashville scene. The War on Drugs certainly fit right in, and I’d be excited to see them back in this space in the future.

Check out War on Drugs’ great 2014 release, Lost in the Dream:

Back to the Good Life: Retrospective on 90′s Band Weezer

Pinkerton-era Weezer
Pinkerton-era Weezer

Note: The tragically mysterious Weezer story will be reiterated throughout for the uninitiated, but mainly this article is about Pinkerton.

It’s the early 90’s, and Weezer is the hottest rock band in America. Their self-titled ’94 debut is stuffed with timeless classics like “Buddy Holly”, “Undone – The Sweater Song”, and “Say It Ain’t So”. In a rock world taken with grunge, Weezer is a convincing reminder of rock music’s lasting pop appeal.

In ’96 Weezer follows that album with Pinkerton. This album trades studio glitz for rough self-production, and comparatively comes across as abrasive and uninviting. Gone are the quirky music videos, harmonica soloes, and songs about surfing. The lyrics are shockingly personal: 26-year-old songwriter and frontman Rivers Cuomo spills raw confessionals like he grabbed his teenage diary instead of the song lyrics. It doesn’t take the band long to depart from the goofy, clean-cut band that recorded Weezer.

[Read more...]

Tom Krell Shows Exit/In How to Dress Well

How to Dress Well performs in Nashville. Source: the author's phone.
How to Dress Well performs in Nashville.

By most metrics, How to Dress Well still has a lot of room to grow in the music industry. This past Tuesday, singer/songwriter Tom Krell’s first appearance in Nashville meant a twelve dollar Tuesday show at Exit/In that maybe half sold out. The intimate crowd size and locale seemed much more befitting to How to Dress Well’s early lo-fi work than to 2014’s immaculately produced “What Is The Heart?” While his music is influential to similar indie-R&B peers like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, Krell is several orders of magnitude behind the breakout recognition those two have enjoyed. Critical appeal has grown with each full-length release, and so has both the production quality and amount of potential breakthrough singles, which makes it hard to say why Tom Krell has yet to experience a higher level of cultural significance.

[Read more...]

Left Field Favorites

Lots of music out there is just a little bit different, and that’s the common thread running through the songs on this playlist. The experimental, unconventional, and slightly off: all are highlighted in “Left Field Favorites”. From the careening krautrock of Can to the intricately programmed techno of Autechre, tune in for music that makes you think.

Ridiculous

The summer Spotify series continues. Here’s what DJ Gracie Gonzalez has to say about her playlist, “Ridiculous”.

I crafted this playlist at the beginning of summer, imagining my friends and I piling into cars with beach chairs and boogie boards. It’s mainly a mix of 50s-style doo-wop and Spanish music. The fast-paced happiness spawning from the combination of those genres spoke “summer” to me this year. A couple of 80s and 90s gems are thrown in there to break up the monotony but every song featured is certifiably merry.

‘Nuff said. If you like what you hear, be sure to tune into Gracie’s show Heena Koona in the fall.