Post-it Notes (Jeff Rosenstock, POST- review)

Making music isn’t something for everyone, but everyone needs music in their life. When economic anxiety has become the new buzz term to describe the state of western nations, then I think it only makes sense for an artist to come on the scene and shake things up.

 

Jeff Rosenstock – POST-

released March 23, 2018
********* 9/10

Jeff Rosenstock is an American musician and songwriter hailing from Long Island, New York. He’s been involved in a ska band (The Arrogant Sons of Bitches), an indie rock group (Kudrow), and a musical collective (Bomb the Music Industry!). It was only six years ago that Bomb the Music Industry! split up and Rosenstock had to decide what to do with himself. After a bit of deliberation he launched his solo career in 2012.

In those six years he has released three studio albums, We Cool?, Worry, and POST-. POST- was released digitally on January 1, 2018 to the surprise of so many people. It has since been issued through Polyvinyl and to generally favourable reviews – Most of the songs were created shortly after the 2016 presidential election and reflect Rosenstock’s disenfranchisement with national pride, non-confidence in people, and disbelief in himself.

it’s equal places angry and fun, something we could all do with in 2018. While that sounds incredibly daunting–and like a really tiring listen–the album’s most impressive trait is that it makes all that vital work feel joyous and communal

USA tells a story about the never-ending civil war of America, having never ended but instead become even more charged over time. It’s a strong opener and features lines like “we’re tired and bored” and “et tu USA” which smartly sounds like F U USA. Then we have Yr Throat and Powerlessness, which have a subtle taste of hope about bridging communication, but ultimately raise doubt whether America is worth the trouble.

Continuing this trend are All This Useless Energy and Beating My Head Against A Wall. Both tracks are strong indicators of what happens in the face of futile odds. Most surprising to me though is Let Them Win. A song about the importance of working together to combat evil behaviour and focus on we instead of you and I.

TV Stars reminds you of a Billy Joel song, and even has a reference to piano-playing, but most importantly there is a theme about loneliness and the fear of it, throughout the track. This also shows up on the next song, Melba, which it is probably the most happy song of the lot, and hilarious if you pay attention to the lyrics. Oddly enough it also reminds me of another song – I’ll have to get back to you on what that is exactly.

Pros: The energy of each song is amazing, and how Rosenstock manages to inject fun into such sweeping epics of ideas is something I haven’t seen in a while. Tackling difficult topics comes naturally to him.

Cons: Rosenstock is a victim of his own success. It mimics Me Too! but unfortunately isn’t quite as interesting as that initial outing.

Runtime: 40 minutes

Points of InterestIt was written and recorded mere weeks before it’s January 1 release date. Most of it  was recorded live onto tape, giving it a very lo-fi and earnest sound.

Now all that shared, POST- might not be Jeff Rosenstock’s best work to date, but it is far and above more entertaining/meaningful then so much other music that’s been released this year. This is a spiritual successor to other punk concept albums like American Idiot and The Monitor. It’s heartfelt, DIY, modern punk music, and I think it’s pretty damn accessible too.

theories Summarized

It’s cathartic and painful, bright and worrisome –  an anthem of economic anxiety as it were. POST- was given away for free on New Years Day, but I’d happily pay for it a second time if I were given the choice. It’s that good.

And speaking of albums I would happily buy a second time if it ever came up, Brendon and I have a great video review on the 2005 debut album Silent Alarm. This is essential Bloc Party listening and it features so many danceable tracks on it. Definitely worth a sit down. Or twenty.

I can’t believe that album is over a decade old already, but it was easily in my top five records for that year, and has been on heavy rotation ever since!

And remember, if you liked what you saw, and/or enjoyed what you read, please click on the like button, and even better, subscribe to the channel and my mailing list! I’ll be back tomorrow with a film review on The Shape of Water. A divisive film, yes, but I have an interesting theory on why it actually deserved to win so many Academy Awards.

Tim!

The Ultimate Question (N.E.R.D., No_One Ever Really Dies review)

I love it when music gets you questioning the core of things.

If an album can instantaneously shift my thoughts elsewhere, I know that it is moving, effective, and worth my attention. But yet, when it comes from a source that isn’t expected.

 

 

N.E.R.D. – No_One Ever Really Dies

released December 15, 2017
******** 8/10

Pharell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shae Haley are lifelong friends and the members of the rock. funk and hip hop group N.E.R.D.. They formed back in 1999 as a side project for Williams and Hugo’s production team, The Neptunes; which had been producing songs for several artists throughout the late nineties and early 2000s, including another childhood friend, Timbaland. Their first album In Search Of… debuted at number 61 on the Billboard 200 in 2002, and sold 600K copies in the US, giving it gold status by the RIAA.

The second single, Rock Star, was what first drew my attention to the group.

Since that time N.E.R.D. have released four more studio albums with No_One Ever Really Dies showing up after a seven year absence from the public eye. Pharrell is probably the best known of the three members, having created two solo albums of his own (remember that single Happy that was part of the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack?), and also branching out into various media including film and clothing retail.

2017 will likely be remembered as the year of minority rights, especially as it relates to the first year of President Trump in the minds of American musicians. There were some great albums out there that reflected this from LCD Soundsystem, Sampha, Tyler, the Creator, Jay Z, Vince Staples, Common (technically over a year ago BUT STILL RELEVANT), and not surprisingly, Kendrick Lamar.

So why does this album work? Well believe it or not, conscious hip hop seems to be here to stay and N.E.R.D. were already diverse enough to take on the mantle without it hurting their street cred. Whereas someone like Eminem did make similar tone choices and even collaborated with similar artists on his own responsive album Revival, but his album just doesn’t stand up. And yea, Eminem was arguably the King of Hip Hop between 1995 and 2005, be he hasn’t really evolved in a constructive way in the past ten years, and the fact that he was a big deal with a distinct sound may be what hurt him this year.

I realize I’m almost four hundred words into this post and I still haven’t spoken about the songs on it. But the reason why I haven’t decided to focus on the songs themselves is because N.E.R.D. has always been a backburner to the genius of The Neptunes. All of their ideas and talent and creativity channelled into other artists, and the energy we got on In Search Of… and other albums was realistically a rougher and more exploratory sampling of what Williams and co. had left in their tanks at the end of a long journey. But that’s a good thing here.

It seems like no one really knows what to do about all of the problems going on in the world and America is so desperate to address all of it’s problems that music activism is in demand right now. N.E.R.D. have taken all of that energy and channeled it into a mix of feelings yet again. And that’s why this album is so appropriate for it’s time. We need rock, funk, R&B, soul, disco, pop, and hip hop all to work together for once, because if we don’t try to get along it’s only going to get worse out there.

Now is it innovative? No, because the musical themes are all ones that N.E.R.D. have been exploring for a decade, which is why it doesn’t get an A+. But improvement is still improvement folks.

 

Pros: Lemon and Don’t Don’t Do it are just amazing to listen to. Courtesy of Rihanna’s jaw-dropping rap and Kendrick Lamar’s choice verses, respectively. But the nervous energy and urgency of the whole record are cathartic to listen to, knowing that N.E.R.D. like to force weird shapes like prog-rock and soul together.

Cons: Some of these artist collaborations are a little too serious for the sweet mixture of silly and subversive that N.E.R.D. are tapping into. Ahem, Future.

Runtime: 51 minutes

Points of Interest: Don’t Don’t Do It!” features K. Dot and Frank Ocean, and is inspired by the police shooting death of North Carolina’s Keith Lamont Scott. Ed Sheeran features on the reggae closer Lifting You.

What I find most interesting about this album is that the quality of the music has greatly improved over the span of five studio length records. And whether the woke tone of this music sits well with you or not, N.E.R.D. have managed a way to weave it all together and get you questioning whether they are serious about the subject matter or simply exploiting it to move us forward another decade ahead of schedule, as per usual.

theories Summarized

Optimism is important in this day and age. Should you buy this album. Yes, I think you should. And my theory is that it was designed to elevate your mood, but also get you thinking about the reality of these atrocities we are all witness to on a daily basis. It’s almost impossible to have a full understanding of every angle, but N.E.R.D. have managed once again to provide us with yet another perspective on police brutality, transgender issues, black and minority rights, and the harshness of anti-immigration without ham-fisting everything. It’s a theory I’ll happily pack into explosive force of love.

Tim!

Everybody In The Club Gettin’ Tipsy (Gorillaz, Humanz review)

 

Hosting a party is easy, as long as you can get your different friend groups to play nice, keep everyone engaged, and don’t disappear for a smoke or three.

 

Gorillaz – Humanz

released April 28, 2017
******* 7/10

Gorillaz are an English virtual cartoon band created by Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett of Tank Girl fame. This band is made up of 2-D (lead vocals, keyboards), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar and vocals), Noodle (guitar, keyboards), and Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion).

The fictional universe of Gorillaz is constructed by the music Albarn creates and their personas have been formed by the collaborations Albarn has orchestrated with other artists whom have made sense creatively with the otherworldly sounds of the band. Plus Hewlett adds visual flavour in album covers, concept art, and music videos, among other things. And all of this has worked over the current four phases of Gorillaz history. None of it ever feels quite real, and yet it is familiar because the quartet address issues of our time, albeit through their cartoon lens of mystery.

It’s all quite heady and fun.

And that’s because Gorillaz are combining rock, rap, electronica, reggae, pop, trip hop, and an assortment of other sounds together to evoke the feelings needed to build these worlds, and Albarn has been fairly consistent throughout this journey.

But it’s also been seven years since The Fall, and the end of Phase Three – Escape To Plastic Beach.

Phase Four – We Are Still Humanz catches us up on what has been happening with Noodle, Murdoc, Russel, and 2-D, and its been interesting. Lots of references to their time at Plastic Beach, and even incorporation of social media into their lives, but of particular note is how Gorillaz used YouTube to tease the albums release, adding new videos about a month ahead of the official worldwide release date.

Featuring performances from Anthony Hamilton, Jehnny Beth, Mavis Staples, Vince Staples, Peven Everett, D.R.A.M., Jamie Principle, Danny Brown, Grace Jones, Zebra Katz, Del La Soul, Benjamin Clementine, Kelela, Popcaan, Pusha T., and Kali Uchis, each track runs its own course; some faring better than others, but the interludes helping to form a post-apocalyptic story following the US presidency of Donald Trump.

And it’s entertaining. A party for the end of the world, with each room being all the more appealing and with its own decor. Though I have to wonder if staging a house party with club music is really the right solution to the scenario at hand, after all, you’re still at the house. On top of that consideration is the challenge that frontman 2-D is notably absent from a lot of the tracks, this seems to be more of a free-for-all than a bonafide representation of these artists as a voice for Gorillaz.

That said, it’s kinda exciting to see the younger generation getting excited about artists unfamiliar to them through the looking glass that Albarn so deftly supplies. This is his project you know, and he’ll invite whoever he wants to party with him. Plus, he’s cool enough that these new friends will rub off on you.

theories Summarized

If you’ve ever listened to Clint Eastwood or Feel Good Inc. before, you can probably forgive Gorillaz for sounding a bit disjointed on this effort. Besides, the interludes help give this record a sense of continuity, even if 2-D isn’t there often enough to keep up with his hosting duties. Maybe Murdoc will finally step in, we know he wants to be lead anyway.

Tim!

Thank You For Not Smoking (The Chainsmokers, Memories… Do Not Open review)

Maybe I’m just getting old now, and so I’m more impatient when it comes to my musical choices… But there is probably a reason I don’t go deep diving for nostalgia. It usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I’d rather see the person or place as they are now.

Oh well, time to review a formula that works. Against artMan do.

 

The Chainsmokers – Memories… Do Not Open
released April 7, 2017
**** 4/10

The Chainsmokers are an American duo of DJ and producer that have previously focused on EDM and now make pop music. Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall first broke out in 2014 with the smash single #Selfie, which blew up on charts all over the world.

In late 2015 they released their first EP, Bouquet, which featured single Roses, which is definitely more of a slow burner. Late last year they put forth a follow up EP called Collage, and it had even more singles that built up some steam for duo, but relied less and less on their instrumentation – Closer, Don’t Let Me Down, and All We Know.

Memories… Do Not Open is a vast departure from the EDM machine that has produced so many club worthy singles in the past couple of years. For instance, Andrew Taggart sings on a number of these tracks, and it’s pretty meh #TBH. Now I don’t want you to completely misunderstand, and think I hate The Chainsmokers. After all, there are some catchy hooks through this album, and I enjoy the occasional drift away from auto-tune and foray into more classical forms of melody, but there isn’t a lot of meat to these tracks. Take the ho-hum jam that is Break Up Every Night; it features a ridiculous lyric in the statement “She wants to break up every night, then tries to fuck me back to life. How can I help it if I like the way she makes me feel it?”,  not exactly the lyrics that dreams are made of.

Gone are the days of fun and satire, replaced by two guys who want to be taken seriously as artists, but yet never do anything to demonstrate hard work has been put in to accomplish their goals.

I think the best parts of the album are when Emily Warren and Coldplay feature in on Don’t Say and Something Just Like This, respectively. But I could get my fix of those two artists on their own albums, so it’s not redemptive by any means. What bothers me though is that billions of people have listened to this and enjoyed it. Narcissism seems to have found a new voice in Taggart and Pall.

I have to wonder if we are entering a new era of vapid and self-congratulatory music, because the oozy quality of supermodel women in their videos, their fuckboy next door charm, instagram filtering everything, and blocking fonts seem to represent the casual “intelligence without wisdom” tone of this decade.

This is the kind of pop music we deserve with world leaders like Donald Trump in power. It kind of makes me want to take up chainsmoking, and that’s not a good thing.

theories Summarized

 

So I totally wasn’t expecting that review to come out of my fingertips, if I’m being honest. I thought I was going to have more nice things to say, and that I’d focus on the upbeat melodies and soulful lyrics, but this is not good music, it reflective of a lot of people’s personas in the moment, shuffling along, on autopilot, hoping that the next six months pass already, becoming bad memories.

Tim!