Early-career mixtapes are often exciting event releases with production quality indistinguishable from a studio album. Think Acid Rap, The Weeknd’s remarkable 2011 mixtape trilogy, or Drake’s own So Far Gone. Once the major label contract is signed, however, “mixtape” doesn’t really connote high-quality, important work. One can argue mixtapes are rawer versions of more calibrated studio releases, but it’s hard to shake the nagging thought that mixtape tracks weren’t good enough to hold over for the album. Often when it comes to mixtapes, only the most dedicated fans need apply. So what’s this mean for If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late?
Father John Misty. Probably a fitting moniker for a man who claims to have “discovered” himself while sitting naked, atop an oak tree. Josh Tillman is the real name of the shroomed-out, van-driving, gentleman we came to love in 2012 when he released his hilarious, honky-tonkish debut, Fear Fun.
With his first album as Father John Misty, Tillman came out unadulterated and charmingly honest, a man free of any obligation to take himself seriously. Before that, he was only known as the unenthusiastic drummer of Fleet Foxes, who opened his own shows as folk singer, J. Tillman playing morbidly depressing songs that, frankly, weren’t very good. But Fear Fun marked a transformation for the man. He cast himself as a comedian doing standup at a rock n’ roll concert, and somehow he fit the role. It seemed as if he had finally found what would make his music brilliant: his sense of humor. Something he could surely stick to.
Indie rock is a fickle playing field, rivaled only by rap perhaps, in terms of its endless hum of hyped artists rising up only to evaporate into the void. So in terms of indie longevity, The Dodos are doing pretty well it would seem. With six albums and almost 10 years of experience touring, recording, and writing music, Meric Long and Logan Kroeber have led a confident path of exploring the ranges of their own sound, while also releasing excellent music. 2013 saw the release of Carrier, a quiet stunner of a record, one that grappled with the death of Christopher Reimer, former guitarist of the terrific and now defunct Calgary band, Women. Reimer had joined the Dodos and his influence on the band can be heard in Carrier‘s precise electric guitar lines and its understated melancholy.
B4.DA.$$ is a record made for rap purists, which is a welcome change of pace in the era of personalities and quotability (see Shmurda, Bobby) taking the genre’s center stage. However, as a result, the record can get uncomfortable when it leaves Joey’s comfort zone of self-exploration and braggadocious wordplay over boom-bap beats. Joey’s natural flow and mastery of the craft of hip-hop over meticulously-crafted laid-back beats makes for an album with a definite confidence and direction, even if the 90′s rap sound feels disingenuous at times.
I first discovered Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ with “95 Til Infinity” off of his 2012 mixtape “Summer Knights.” The most jarring aspect of the song was the reference to his birth year, 1995: the same year I was born.
Many fans of old 60′s music and psychedelia will know names like Tame Impala and Foxygen due to their neo-psychedelic sound and influences, but also because of the critical acclaim and publicity that they’ve received in recent years. Even more music-oriented people will know The Flaming Lips as they’ve been around for 30+ years and have managed to keep themselves in the public eye with tricks, gimmicks, and, most importantly, a steady stream of music (while it sometimes seems hit or miss). But many people aren’t aware of Pond, or at least haven’t heard any of their material. Some are far too quick to judge and claim Pond as simply a “Tame Impala offshoot” when the truth is that they have been around since the time of Tame Impala’s inception. With a similar style to those aforementioned psychedelia-influenced groups, Pond have managed to come a long way since their debut, Psychedelic Mango.
We know, we know, we belong to ya.
We know you built your life around us.
And would we change? We had to change some.
It may be surprising to see a retrospective of a nine-year-old nu metal album on this blog, particularly from a writer who has vented at length about the overall lack of quality of mid-2000s popular music. Then again, everything about System of a Down’s music, from the band’s ability to mash together disparate and seemingly irreconcilable influences to their shocking success on the mainstream airwaves, is a bit surprising. System’s landmark 2005 album Mezmerize happened to be on my mind as I put together a discussion for my psychology class, and revisiting it as I worked resulted in three dominant trains of thought, none of which dealt with my homework: 1) nostalgia for the days when my biggest concern was whose backyard trampoline the neighborhood kids would be hitting up after school, 2) amazement at how irresistibly fun the eleven songs are, and 3) wonder at System’s ability to somehow maintain this fun amidst livid, highly caustic lyrics and guitar riffs. In conjunction, these concurrent streams of consciousness brought me to the crucial question: how the hell did a band like System of a Down hijack the popular music consciousness?
I think the answer boils down to two factors: perfect timing and the group’s ability to infuse its thrashing songs with elements that made them palatable to mainstream listeners.
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.
My 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.