MR OKLAMA & THE BACKSTEPPERS | 2022-05-22

We might have gotten the album wrong. Conceding that DAMN. lent us all a rock solid hint five years ago, it might well turn out that it was Kendrick Lamar‘s latest fifth full length studio project, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers, that was supposed to be listened backwards all along. Back to front. Its tracklist in reverse. Much has been said, taken apart, and dissected about the conscious hip-hop prodigy’s latest exploit over the past seven days, since what was arguably this year’s most highly anticipated mainstream rap moment. Contemplative approaches and critical reviews of the double disc-project by Compton, Los Angeles’ very own involving tenets of specularity, looped circularity, and inside-outness have since abounded in spades—yet no one contributing to the moralist discourse surrounding Oklama‘s swan song Top Dawg Entertainment release appeared to have dared as much as to advance the sustainment of a fully fledged backwards playback experience theory embedded in the very record.

There are of course the more surface-level clues underwriting the universally acclaimed return of the famed pgLang founder, such as the photographic evidentiary exhibit shown below. It discloses and suggests an inverted running order of the two album sides when juxtaposed to the official display-level crediting of the album’s name Mr Morale & The Big Steppers. On the mysterious book-stricken snap, the Grammy Awards and Pulitzer Prize for Music-winning MC clearly places the LP’s alleged B-side, Steppers, on top of the Morale one: a sequencing leitmotiv later confirmed by the record’s official chaptered track listing on digital streaming services as well as K.Dot‘s licensed merch window dressing. Yet another fascinating hint teasing toward a cyclical ethos being laced into the creative experiencing of the work of art at hand is the strikingly symmetrical track structuring around the disc one-to-disc two transition axis (props and kudos to the ever so brilliant Jah Talks Albums for pointing this out, amongst what we’re sure are many more).

Let us feed off this latest ethereal conjecture for a moment. Cut number three on Big Steppers, the linear and incessantly pounding short-of-breathness of “Worldwide Steppers“, is minutely specular to disc two’s other namesake “Mr Morale“, tracklisted no more and no less than three slots away from the apparent album closer—aptly titled, well, “Mirror“. By a similar token, the Kodak Black-helmed “Rich (Interlude)” appears and rings before our eardrums at number six on the front side, and thus three slots away from the aforementioned disc one-to-disc two transition axis, only to be met by the Morale side’s own skit three more steps removed from the shaft (shaped in the form of a two and a half-minute avantgarde chamber pop arrangement, featuring German spiritual teacher and self-help guru Eckhart Tolle and Kung Fu Kenny’s own cousin and protégée Baby Keem). Needless to say, and without breaking protocol, both are followed by their parent flagship instalment along the playback ride: “Rich Spirit” and “Savior“. Thusly, not much of a formatting difference between listening the album front to back, or back to front.

Furthermore, the self-evident insular virtuosity of Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’s reflector coda number “Mirror” stands to irradiate the LP’s artistic agency right back to where it came from, à la auditive recoil. Crucially though, rewinding the tape with the inherent intention and assertiveness of flipping its chronological script on its head, would undoubtedly recount a dourer and more tumultuous voyage for Oklama. If the plastic and hegemonic songwriting motif exhuming from a full frontal listen of the album transcends wages of sin and mercilessness to attain higher spiritual re-alignment via a quasi-complete trauma catharsis and purge, embarking on a listen of Mr Morale & The Big Steppers by actually starting with Mr Morale all the way down to track number one unleashes instead chronicles of a progressively more recidive, mortal, and tormented man. If this sounds familiar to anyone privy to Kendrick Lamar’s previous discography, it’s because it is.

Provided the proposed capsizing, the supposed lectured debuting sense of closure and centeredness (re-)gained by the Black Hippy member while shunning away from the limelight and withering social, political, economical, and public health crises exemplified on “Mirror”—”Do yourself a favor and get a mirror that mirror grievance / Then point it at me so the reflection can mirror freedom“—all of a sudden flickers as a frail, fallen, yet coveted lighthouse to strive toward again, with the hindsight of the eighteen cuts in reverse. Likewise, as soon as 34-year old Mr Duckworth sends us all off with “I grieve different” on the newly conceptualized outro “United In Grief“, the rescued and discharged list of liberated pain-bearers enunciated on the stark and sombre early moment “Mother I Sober“, echoes now less as an appeased trip down victory lap memory lane than the load of what fallible men have the wherewithal of undoing:

So I set free myself from all the guilt that I thought I made
So I set free my mother all the hurt that she titled shame
So I set free my cousin, chaotic for my mother’s pain
I hope Hykeem made you proud ’cause you ain’t die in vain
So I set free the power of Whitney, may she heal us all
So I set free our children, may good karma keep them with God
So I set free the hearts filled with hatred, keep our bodies sacred
As I set free all you abusers, this is transformation

Perhaps the as of this writing yet-to-be-published companion red paperback is to provide us with a definitive settlement pertaining to the premeditated and intended experiential flow of Mr Morale & The Big Steppers. Ideally, that is to be levied upon listeners in a less ironic and self-aware fashion than others have seen fit to bestow. After all, the present essay rests upon rather latent and unspoken assumptions—admittedly not enough to run with the presumption for a universal application. However, what we do know, is that Kung Fu Kenny has hinted at it before. What’s more, across his brilliant suite of artistic oeuvres, he has all but mastered the pocketed deliverance that self-actualization and emancipation aren’t discrete, but rather complex and perturbed journeys. What if the inexplicable post-pandemic and post-personal breakthrough zeitgeist Mr Morale & The Big Steppers is released within reversed the restoration undergone by him in the five years since DAMN.?

As the rapper took to his tried and tested promotional Heart series antics to officialize the long-awaited release of the double LP by dropping the rabid and incendiary “The Heart Part 5” on 8th May, his webhosted parking lot oklama.com quietly got updated with a loose and disordered scatterplot of empty folders on a non-navigable subpage: as if suggesting users be filing them freely and according to their liking (see images below for reference). We understand and appreciate how the associative link to a behavioural theory suggesting that Mr Morale & The Big Steppers oughta be consumed as Mr Morale first and The Big Steppers second, runs fairly brittle. Especially if assuming that there is in fact a correct way of experiencing the record as Kendrick intended it. And yet we ask; how come is there an even more secret sub-root of said subpage cataloguing all cryptic folders in neat grids, including a blacked out folder 327, if not to signify a defiance of appearances whilst adumbrating at a suppressed and abeyant narrative woven into the project’s tracklist? Or should we say, list of tracks?

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

NOW ACCEPTING YOUR MUSIC FOR REVIEW | 2020-06-22

EMS has partnered with the good people over at Share PRO and is now officially accepting music submissions seeking unbiased critical appraisals—send us all your joints good and bad at this page and we will get back to you with a review in 48 hours.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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ORANGE | 2020-01-01

   A hand to touch
   A fit, to mask or shake just what
   It is January or not
Time splinters off in a drool well
It rains or it stops raining
A sink clogs or it stops draining
The mask falls off
   A new bouquet swells
   A sneeze lets loose
In the house the animals stir
The print on the couch dwells
It lets go of its color
And the light fades
   What color is that?
   What moment is that?
   What figure is drawn?
   On what eyes?
   A child yawns
   A seat on the bus is closed
This light, This year, This hour
It multiplies itself by the word
It goes soup on the bowl
And the bowl draws near
Its color revealed
   A kind sleep
   A hellish dream
   On my skin that sun goes orange
   And I burn myself
   And my eyes cave in
This horror of time clicks my heels
It laughs that laugh of cruel poses
Our dreams are not our collective
But submission is easier
When we pretend this together
   A fantasy a clock
   A hand designs hour not hands
   A minute exposes cracks
   A time forgets us
   A stop
   My eyes hurt
   It is too much
   Orange

© This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Words by Ryan Adams.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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SAPPY NEW YEAR | 2017-01-05

Well hello there esteemed readers, welcome back to a fresh and shiny new solar year, called 2017!

I really do hope everyone has had a chance to spend happy and healthy holidays with their loved ones, whichever festivities one may adhere to. I had some fantastic time off at home and skiing on the Swiss Alps. I also got the best Christmas present I’ve ever received in form of a kickass necklace with two splendid pendants that represent two of my biggest passions in life and for that matter the whole single reason why I started this site in the first place (read this if you’d like to know more about it, + pic of said best Christmas present below). Before we go any further, I’d also like to take the occasion to wish every single one of you a wonderful and passionate new year from the whole team at Everything Must Swing, which in all true honesty it’s just me, no one else really. Nonetheless, I would like for everyone’s onboarding on the new collection of 365 days into a single unity to be as passionate and inspiring as possible, and therefore I thought I’d come up with scattered bits and pieces listing some of the things that are getting me excited during the first days of 2017.

First of all, do yourself a favour and give a listen to the whole Frank Ocean‘s discography. It’s not immense, it starts with his debut mixtape nostalgia,ULTRA. (retrievable almost anywhere on the web with free download) and ends up with his latest, long-awaited LP Blonde that came out in August last year. In between these there’s the critically acclaimed first sensation studio album Channel ORANGE (released in 2012) as well as the totally unexpected, music-industry Trojan horse of a visual album Endless which came out a day before Blonde last Summer, however still only available through Apple Music. I’m suggesting to take a deep dive into his art because Frank Ocean is a pretty big deal. He used to be (or still is?) one of the most creative and daring members of the highly influential L.A. hip hop collective Odd Future and over time has received more praises and accolades in and out the music industry than almost anyone else in the past five to ten years. However, more than anything he’s a true R&B, soul sonic experimenter who has not been afraid to speak out on gender and sexuality issues as well as brilliantly setting up an elegant and refined strategy to screw a major record label – Def Jam Recordings/Universal, to be specific – through his double close-up release of Endless and Blonde. My personal take is that his music not only transcends genres and formats, but also possesses an extremely intense staying power, growing immensely on the listener at every new play. Try out for yourselves.

Secondly, in case you’re looking for some prompts and cues in terms of movies and television, I couldn’t recommend enough Dan Gilroy-directed thriller Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and taking place in a dark and gloomy L.A. whenever one would like it to take place time-wise. Wikipedia says that the movie portrays “a thief who starts shooting live footage of accidents and crimes in Los Angeles, selling the content to a local news channel as a stringer while secretly sabotaging both crime scenes and other news reporters” and to be fair I think it’s a good description of what it is about. Yet beyond its plot I truly believe that the movie has some of the best on screen dialogues and cinematography around, and while it was released quite some time ago already, appears to remain more relevant than ever theme-wise hinting at modern society’s perverse and twisted relationship with breaking news as well as a long lasting crisis of contemporary journalism. Also, it’s no surprise given the excellence of the script and some of the exchanges in the movie that the producers even decided to release the movie script in full on the Interweb. Definitely worth a watch/read if you too like me enjoy dope convos, double meanings, and lightened lines while at the same time not sacrificing an engaging and suspenseful plot.

Third, this time moving to the literary dimension, I currently find myself deep in the reading of American author James Franco’s Actors Anonymous novel, published in 2013 and tracing parallel (mostly very weird) stories about different (mostly very troubled) actors in California. The semi-autobiographical book deploys heavy name-dropping and I believe borrows most of the storylines from James Franco’s own acting career, notably having starred in movies such as the first Spider-Man trilogy, Pineapple Express, Milk, 127 Hours and many more as well as having been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2011. The novel’s tale is inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous’ famous 12 steps and 12 traditions by adapting them to the acting world and the Hollywoodian high entertainment industry as a whole, converting the book into a dark, genre-bending ensemble that – as stated before – shamelessly mixes personal memoir and quintessential fiction, not least scrutinising all sins and excesses of those involved in the maintaining of said industry. Extremely funny at times, the novel represents a true and profound insight into Franco’s take on what it really means to be acting and which higher purpose the whole activity oughta serve. Though above all the book might as well be considered a first-account collection of anecdotes, trivia and little behind-the-scenes stories about the world of global celebrities and world-famous actors that might otherwise have gone unheard, mostly because of the extent of shame and mercilessness involved. Or, as Franco puts it himself in the book’s frontispiece: “Hollywood has always been a private club. I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, look inside”. Give the book a read if you’ve ever wondered what happens to big entertainment stars in between movies and projects.

Well I guess that’s about it for now, as you can see I’ve touched upon three fundamental artistic formats (music, film and book) so as to try to not overrepresent the Queen of them all – the sonic one – as it is usually the case with this site. To be fair, there could be other entertaining-escapist suggestions I could potentially be giving you for this rather downish period of the working year, such as a couple of other movies or TV shows I’ve been glimpsing at here and there, however I don’t want to feel like telling you too much what to do and see but I’d much rather give out some initial, core inspirations such as the above ones, from which then everyone goes on their individual journey to find what really enriches them perhaps ending up at a much different place than the starting one. Actually, looking back at my three artistic cues above I only now realise that there is indeed a deep, underlying theme that somehow connects them all: Los Angeles. That is, it turns out that the Californian city of Angels – unbeknownst to me – is the lowest common denominator to all Frank Ocean, Nightcrawler and Actors Anonymous, for many different reasons. Yet, the narration of how and what this comes to be might be as well be outside of the scope of this very blogpost, thus let’s just say that I’ll leave that to me alone by considering it my own personal artistic journey that has taken off out of those initial three ingredients. Now it’s your turn to make yours a reality. Enjoy (not so) responsibly.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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RAIN ON AMERICA | 2016-09-25

The past couple weeks have been extremely intense music-wise for me. On 16th September my all time favourite band Taking Back Sunday released their seventh studio album Tidal Wave, which has doubtlessly been on a loopy repeat ever since, whereas two days ago – on Friday 23rd September – Buffalo, NY, hardcore natives Every Time I Die dropped their highly anticipated and already acclaimed new LP Low Teens. Both made (and are still making…) for a very dense musical listening period which will likely fruit in some form of review on this frequencies sooner or later. I wouldn’t want to give away too much at this stage yet but I’ve got to say both of them offer, in very different ways, loads of interesting talking points and somehow represent new sonic frontiers for both outfits. More on this soon(-ish).

I just really wanted to touch base and highlight a little piece of art by alt-folk singer songwriter Ryan Adams that caught my attention during the past days. Interestingly enough, this time round I’m not talking about a song or album, but rather a free poem called Rain on America he released within his collection “Infinity Blues”, published back in 2009 and followed by a second instalment titled “HelloSunshine” during the same year. To be fair there could indeed be some room for musical excerpts, considering that the 41-year-old North Carolina minstrel recently announced the release of yet another LP in his already incredibly prolific career (18 studio albums and 11 EPs recorded in about 20 years!), provisionally called “Prisoner” and which Rolling Stone rightfully listed among its 35 must-hear albums of this fall. Yet I’d rather leave said musings to after it comes out, due in November, and let Ryan’s pungent and at times thorny verses do the talking for this one instead.

There’s not much to say really to introduce the following poem other than it truly resonates and emerges as relevant as ever to the current socio-political landscape, not only in the USA but other major Western countries too, even though it was most likely written about a decade ago. Enjoy it responsibly:

so dirty
so dirty and so mean
is a rainbow
is a letter-stained
is a blowhole sewer
that’s right
just a touch of little america
in a small town
wishing you were gay
or allergic
to something
anything
symmetrical lines ripe with train machines
like arms
branches of trees stuck to this rock
out-stretching
blowing up fast
through
shadow mole-holes
and
rain
rain rain rain


so dirty
so dirty and mean
hands like a battling machine
like a failed robotic attempt
like an interruption at the movies
like texting your former lover
or future
because he will not stop your nevers
not here
with a little touch of america
at your service door
flags in the yard
dogs in the house
his name above
loose and no growl
little ones go teary and cross
while the plate gets heavy with
cigarettes and lip gloss
and gin-scum breath
and cigarette-tray stains
and a hand gets bit by an animal
but nobody screams
or says anything
the mall dies
so eventually
store by store
the zombies outside they aren’t scary anymore
before the movies went cold before before
and the film backed up on the shilling and trade post
and chicken meat got hormonal and plain


so dirty
so dirty and so mean
little and loud
angry
and effortlessly proud
of nothing
and plain
just a little touch of america
rain
rain rain rain.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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THE DARKER SIDE OF MAGIC: PRAISE FOR LEV GROSSMAN’S THE MAGICIANS | 2015-08-26

—- THIS BLOGPOST HAS BEEN DECLARED SPOILER-FREE BY THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN PUBLISHERS

So go on, read it.

The past two-three weeks have been quite a tumultuous time for yours sincerely, having had to deal with a frenetic and exhausting flat-search in the living hell that the city of London is, the finalization of the Master’s dissertation (to which a separate blogpost may possibly be dedicated, since it’s partially about music), and the adventurous beginning of a new employment in the realm of video technologies. Thankfully, such overwhelming slices of pressing, yet compulsory time have been balanced and championed with some quality escapism accompanied by HBO’s brilliant second season of True Detective (with an outstanding performance by Colin Farrell) and, more relevantly, by US novelist Lev Grossman’s first book of his fantasy trilogy sensation “The Magicians“. Despite having published the first self-titled book of the saga already in 2009, the trilogy only seemed to have reached widespread mainstream attention over the past few years (unless I’m really, really late to the party…). In fact, its extraordinary popularity may momentarily be confined more to the USA (not least judging by the fact that the book seems to be physically untraceable in UK’s bookshops, get it through Amazon folks), although given its potential I wouldn’t be surprised to see it taking over this part of the Atlantic quite soon as well.

It is precisely for this last reason that I’d like to frame the present blogpost as both a genuine suggestion to insert “The Magicians” in your bucket-list of upcoming “must” readings and as personal praise to its plot and narrative. As I’ve already pointed out, the novel is the first book of a fantasy saga completed by “The Magician King” (2011) and “The Magician’s Land” (2014), and it tells the story of 17-year-old student and brainy talent Quentin Coldwater, who suddenly finds himself thrown into New York’s highly secret and exclusive Brakebills College to pursuit a cutting-edge education in magic and begins his personal journey into the good-bad juxtapositional worlds of real magic rawness. I have to say though, as I’m writing this I find myself being only at about two-thirds of the book, and while this of course positively restrains me from giving away too much in terms of the content, I must convey to you that I’m still unable to deliver a total judgement of the first instalment. I know, I know, this shouldn’t ever be done when dealing with literary reviews (blasphemy claims in 3, 2, 1…), but to be honest I really felt this was the right momentum to let you all know about this linguistic beauty. Also, in all frankness, even if from here on out the book really only delivers first-class shit until its conclusion, it would nonetheless still be saved by the greatness of the insights I’ve come to read so far. And by insights I mean the directness, honesty and tangibility of Quentin’s experiences at Brakebills, obviously transposed into a realm of fantasy landscapes, supernatural forces and powerful wizardry.

What I mean by all this is I guess Grossman’s literal and stylistic sensibility that allows him and the reader to perceive Quentin’s adventures as personally relatable as ever, and yet so dislocated from the very realities that shape us on an everyday basis. By placing Quentin’s social encounters, extravagant successes, and painful struggles through the brightest of days and the darkest of nights within such a surreal scenario, the author in fact constructs a deeper connection to such dynamics that trascends their own contextualisation. That is, it’s literally impossible not to emphatize with the protagonist as he goes through all of his challenges at Brakebills, precisely because the things that come to happen in Quentin’s life, from recalibrating one’s young adult self-confidence or coping with life’s ephemeral temptations and disillusionments, are exactly the same ones that sooner or later, and with varying intensities, will cross our life paths too. Some, probably too many, like to draw comparisons between “The Magicians” and Harry Potter or even more hazardously with Narnia, though I really think Grossman’s story is capable of better digging into our most inner selves than it’s the case with the other two masterpieces, probably also because it may relate even more to young adults like me. In this regard, and also ’cause now that I’ve entered the door of the fantasy world I’m probably authoritatively obliged to mention his opinion, “Game of Thrones” bestselling author George R. R. Martin likes to think the following of Grossman’s effort:

“The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. Solidly rooted in the traditions of both fantasy and mainstream literary fiction, the novel tips its hat to Oz and Narnia as well as to Harry, but don’t mistake this for a children’s book. Grossman’s sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. Hogwarts was never like this.”

What I think it would be cool to do, for me, is to update you all on the matter a little later in time, possibly after having completed the first novel and having read the rest of the trilogy, which I predict it may happen in a not so distant future given the degree of appreciation I’m having for this. I honestly don’t know what to expect from the rest of the plot, not even what may happen before the end if this first instalment, but all in all I truly believe this is exactly what good reads should be all about. Thus, this one is definitely “to be continued”, unless I get myself invited and initiated into a mysterious and gloomy academy for magic in one of London’s suburbs, in which case, judging by Quentin’s fate, I may or may not ever come back the same…

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

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