TWELVE GOING OVER | 2021-10-14

The idea of bonus tracks in recorded music has always been both an intriguing and polarising one, historically affording somewhat uncalled for opinions coming from a plethora of stakeholders and contributors in the wider music space. Everyone from fans to critics and artists themselves seem to hold moderately loaded mixed bag stances on the notion of bundling non-album cuts as part of deluxe, or expanded, versions of studio LPs. Their modes of employment might just be as varied and versatile as the opinions they go sprout, as both songs originally left on the cutting room floor, as well as alternate versions of tracks included in the main full length tracklist (spearheaded by acoustic and live re-takes), have habitually found themselves getting second lives breathed as part of single B-sides, territorially-bound album versions, celebratory anniversary reissues, and more recently optimised digital streaming economy unit economics.

Despite quite literally ‘not making the cut’ on whatever final incarnation a full body of work translated into, artists old and new (and, crucially, their sly record labels) have long been known to be stoking alternate ways of stitching superfluous bonus tracks on top of some physical or digital variation of packaging for their official projects. English singer/songwriter Sam Fender, who recently unveiled his second studio album Seventeen Going Under on Polydor Records, saw fit to dilute his nominal 11-track album version through five additional records, sequenced on the so-called 16-cut Deluxe version of his critically acclaimed Bramwell Bronte-produced outing. This is per se nothing under the sun new for the 27-year-old North Shields native, who had hitherto widely flirted with both intra-LP-cycles non-album tracks (see 2018’s EP Dead Boys, or singles such as “Millennial“, “Greasy Spoon“, and “Hold Out“) as well as bonus offerings on fully fledged studio LPs (case in point, the live rendition of “Use” on his debut LP Hypersonic Missiles).

However, Fender’s latest curatorial choice in time affords us the weird and wonderful opportunity to decouple the faux-embedded five-track EP stacked across tracks 12 and 16 on top of the sonic gesamtkunstwerk represented by the Seventeen Going Under Deluxe version. Instead of embarking onto the conventional highway of reviewing the real record Sam intended listeners and year end’s list to appraise, we’re shifting gears to zero in on the throwaways; the fat that was supposed to be cut. Starting with the mystically hypnotising glazed tenderness of “Better Of Me“, sequenced at number twelve on the revamped tracklist, a softly blistering cry of monolithic matter-of-fact earnestness espoused with unambitious allegoric poetry: “And I hated you / I was so jealous of your standin’ / And I envied your happy family / Oh, I looked like shit / Stuck in all my vice rotations / Tryna’ find light in every broken soul“. Easily one of Fender’s most out-there ‘experimental’ outings to date, the song dabbles in both sampled loop tapestry and one-dimensional syncopated drumming, to render a bona fide moment of cathartic implosion.

The following careless and lighthearted “Pretending That You’re Dead” is a successful exercise in pure The River-era Springsteen-meets-Smiths worship, complete with unadulterated ‘end of the world’ lyrics and seas of chorus-effected guitar licks that don’t quite seem to want to give the tune any melodic respite. Meanwhile, the sheer forlorn weight of the brilliant “Angel In Lothian” sits at number fourteen on the deluxe project, fiercely distributing heart-wrenching accounts on awarding the number one prize for the most ruthless sabotage to one’s very self: “And I claw at the door every bad night / But somehow it’s blocked from thе other side / I claw ’til my skin comes apart / Until I feel something“. Out of all five bonus tracks making up this crop, this is hands down the one that should have made the official record—both for reasons of focused thematic addressability and watertight musical delivery.

Penultimate offering “Good Company” aptly showcases the barer and starker nuance of the widespread acclaimed heartland rock artist, conveyed through a relatively impressive lullaby-esque handpicked arpeggio, sped up to such an extent where one can’t but admire the awe-inspiring muscular elasticity of the performer’s fingers. Although a tad underdeveloped—lest we forget, these are records Fender did not find worthy of his main course offering—lyrically the song sticks out for its emotional and assertive ambivalence, with Sam caught drowning under the blank bullets of the existential crossfire that comes with some degree of acceptance of the duality of man. If anything, it acts as a necessary wind down from the prior aguishly dense full hour of music, segueing into the conclusive piano-led “Poltergeist“, an introspective ballad pulling the curtains over the roller coasting one-man ethics errands show that just preceded it, with some of the most evocative and poignant vocal passages on the whole record: “I haven’t been the best of men / Morality is an evolving thing / I can blame the times, I can blame the weeks / I can blame the things that we saw as kids / I’m a waster darling, and I’ll tell it straight / With all my failures on a platе / She picks at them and doesn’t chеw / And spits them out for me to view“.

Be it the darlings that were never properly killed, file them under a philosophical approach on the quantum physics notion of God’s particle, or lace them into a Lacan’ian theory of inverse psychoanalysis—some might argue that aside from allowing and affording the true enjoyment of the main musical oeuvre to begin with, Fender’s ‘hidden’ EP within Seventeen Going Under inherently stands as a significantly deserving little project of its own. These renegade cuts, more than ever before in the English act’s still relatively infant discography, stand to signify the wide-reaching and holistic songcraft prowess of one of the UK’s biggest musical prodigal sons. By creating a superalbum of sorts, Fender managed to turn his sophomore full length into a meta ‘project of projects’, simultaneously upholding and defining the curtailing confines of conventional music release formats. Much like Erwing Schrödinger’s cat experiment in quantum mechanics, Seventeen Going Under is both eleven and sixteen tracks long, and its boundless enjoyment (or distaste) ought not be attained in spite of the five extra bonus tracks, but precisely because of the inclusion of the excessive bells and whistles.

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

RATHER THAN NEBRASKA, PRESSURE MACHINE IS THE KILLERS’ TUNNEL OF LOVE | 2021-09-10

As first reactions and reviews of The Killers’ seventh studio LP Pressure Machine started to reel in, shortly after the record’s release date in mid August, many a critics and fans were quick to draw uncompromising parallels between said project and Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska. One would be doomed to fault them—the creative and spiritual surface-level similitudes between the two albums abound in spades. For starters, both full-lengths sound bare, dour, and austere, and sit adjacently to one of each respective act’s bigger, louder, and more mainstream outings to date—that is, 1984’s Born in the USA for Springsteen and last year’s Imploding the Mirage as far as the Las Vegas quartet is concerned.

Moreover, on a thematic level, apparent bona fide heartland rock and its derived blue-collar sensibilities permeate both projects’ lyrical menageries from cradle to grave, and while this is not anything new for either artist, the executional earnestness and intention of both Nebraska and Pressure Machine are peak career-level for both. Notwithstanding a creative je ne sais quois ethos pledging allegiance to full blown electric arena rock instrumentation as their trademark modus operandi, these two records and their wall-to-wall unplugged, reverberated, and acoustic tapestries seem to stick out like sore thumbs in each artist’s wider discography.

Pernickety and rambunctious thinkpiecers and fact-diggers need little time to push parallels even further, to the point of stressing out how both 1982’s storied Nebraska and this year’s Pressure Machine saw the light of day at the dawn of what would be poised to be a volatile and erratic decade to come: without clear winners or losers, and soaked amidst new technological frontiers enthralling and deranging folks in equal measure. Not to mention the comparisons drawn between both records being—loosely speaking—’concept albums’ about the good, the bad, and the evil of modern ordinary, down-on-their-luck working class anti-heroes, sparing no mention of sins and unredeemable qualities.

Now for the juicy bit, ladies and gentlemen—contrary to public opinion, we instead maintain that rather than Nebraska, Pressure Machine is The Killers’ very own Tunnel of Love, aka the Boss’ cherished eight studio album (1987). We stand to defend such assertion through a multitude of deductions and derivative clues, ranging from face-value chassis to low-level musical dissections and presumptions. At the risk of overthinking and exceedingly intellectualise the creative process engraved at the heart of both albums, we’ll go as far as to unpack each single record sequenced on the Las Vegas quartet’s bundle, and bring forward educated hypotheses as to what their companion spiritual Tunnel of Love pieces are.

Humour us on some documentarist archival trivia first. For Christ’s sake: look no further than the two album’s front covers (reported below) and the evident color scheming and wireframing they share. Would the communal traits start and end here, this would obviously be a non-starter on account of how many other albums sleeves share similar flairs and iconographies. Let us look at both records’ runtimes then—a field of comparison that should win over the curiosity of most. Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love clocks in at exactly 46:25 minutes, while the abridged (i.e. the non-spoken interludes and skits version) duration of Pressure Machine comes eerily close at 46:19 (!). We’re talking negligible differences of a mere six seconds across full length projects featuring twelve and eleven tracks, respectively (Nebraska instead only plays for 40 minutes).

Speaking of which—delving into the collections of songs laced into both LPs, the non-inclusion of the New Jersey prodigal son’s “Ain’t Got You” as part of this pound-for-pound creative appraisal is the sole concession we’re humbly asking from our dear readers, which we’re sure you’ll oblige. With its humorous and faux-bragging a cappella demeanour, coasting atop of a minimalistic and one-dimensional analogue tapestry, not only does the Tunnel of Love sound like a fish out of water amidst the sincerity and heart-on-sleeve vulnerability of the subsequent eleven numbers, but the songwriting at the core of its tune is nothing to write home about either, frankly.

We’ll cut to the chase: Pressure Machine’s first track “West Hills“‘s sombre, waltzy, and granite appeal could easily be equated to “Tougher Than the Rest“, incidentally the opening cut on an analytical Tunnel of Love minus “Ain’t Got You” too. Conversely, the jollier and softer stylistic undertones of subsequent album lead single “Quiet Town” are not too far removed from the incisive impact of Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise“, especially as both songs wrestle with darker and more dour lyrical textures juxtaposed to the easier on the ear instrumentation. Meanwhile, the stark and naked acoustic strumming of the unplugged “Terrible Thing” has got to make it Pressure Machine’s very own “Cautious Man“—easily the most bare bone stripped back offering on Tunnel of Love.

Bear with us, as we continue to ask for a certain degree of mental elasticity and artistic openness. Are the vocal cadences, angular sonic dynamics, and overall compositional structures of “Cody” not somewhat reminiscent of those in “Walk Like a Man“? The similitudes here are not the uncanniest under the sun, but they’re definitely there when listening closely enough. Even more striking are the percussive and harmonic parallels between “Sleepwalker” and the title track on the Boss’s album though. Beyond the subtle mutual melodic nods, try to pay specific attention to the rhythmic pockets between 1:09-1:43 on the former and 0:58-1:35 on the latter. Not talking about actual beats and rudiments, but rather grooves, patterns, and tightness.

Elsewhere on Pressure Machine, the Phoebe Bridgers-assisted folklore troubadour lullaby “Runaway Horses” and its shtick would in many ways sit quite at home placed back-to-back to the inflections and cadences heard on “When You’re Alone“, would it not? Moving on from there; absent the just ever so slightly increased BPM rate, track seven on Pressure Machine “In the Car Outside“—undoubtedly one of the stickier and melodically riper tunes this side of the heartland fence—is not necessarily miles away from the gelid synth tapestries, melancholic paratexts, and exaggeratedly lingering instrumental outro similarly sported by “Two Faces“. What we mean is that these two tracks sound like they just shine the same light.

By a similar token, the Las Vegas band’s frontman Brandon Flowers’ verse delivery and intonations on album standout “In Another Life“, sequenced at number eight on Pressure Machine, seem to recall in large parts the auditory rendering of the moral voluptuousness of “All That Heaven Will Allow“—both deep cuts’ unclothed and one-dimensional simplicity underline more than one lowest common denominator. Meanwhile, when decoupled from their apparent musical shells and boiled down to the narrating arc of their inertia-driven linear storytelling ethos, The Killers’ incredible “Desperate Things” (incidentally the most Nebraska-esque Killers helping to date) and Springsteen’s “Spare Parts” ring as if they could have genuinely sprouted from the same writing session.

Next thing we know, we’re nearing the end of Pressure Machine’s side B and runtime as a whole, as a result of our ambitious and pretentious intellectualisation. One could say we reserved the best for last, as The Killers’ gentle, tender, and pretty title track, with its soft and cradling arpeggio and elliptical trajectory, is nothing if not The Boss’ “One Step Up“s legitimate and groomed daughter. Closing number “The Getting By” (NB: clocking in at 5:10) represents the ultimate grand finale of references, both on a musical and empirical level. When paired up with Tunnel of Love’s own curtain call “Valentine’s Day” (NB: 5:12 minutes long), their dialled-down groove and idyllic six-string work are almost too close for comfort, making both tunes mutually interchangeable without impacting either album’s flow.

Listen, we’re in no way suggesting The Killers did this on purpose. We’re fully aware that some of the analogies presented above are more reliable and valid than others. Some of them certainly come off as a bit of a stretch. But most of the facts and figures illustrated above speak for themselves. Forget not, this has got to be seen as part of a creative continuum where musicians are constantly borrowing from each other’s work. Where they’re getting inspired and influenced by previous musical references and artistic milestones. One where they’re often, consciously or unconsciously, paying both tribute and worship to past beacons of theirs. Brandon Flowers and his band are no strangers to admitting to adoring and borrowing from the generous sounds of The Boss: after several albums on which their Nevada glittery gloss lent them a glamorous façade, the pressure of their American songwriting machine finally caught up on them.

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

IN DEFENSE OF CHRIS LORD-ALGE’S MIX OF THE REPLACEMENTS’ DON’T TELL A SOUL | 2021-08-15

Minneapolis, MN alternative rock giants The Replacements released seven studio albums during their active lifetime as a band throughout the Eighties. It comes probably as no surprise that the front end of their discography—culminating with their legendary back-to-back triplet that transitioned them onto major label stardom, Let It Be (1984), Tim (1985), and Pleased to Meet Me (1987)—is commonly and widely considered to be their musical and creative apex, by both high and low-brow listeners alike. There is also little denying of the fact that a specular widespread fan consensus over their last two full length outings, 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul and the following year’s swan song All Shook Down (basically a proto-Paul Westerberg solo helping), is somewhat lukewarm and nothing to write home about, at best.

Here’s the catch: hoarding broad-brush critical agreement never pushed the envelope of stoked human progress. However, speaking of broad brushes, more than revisiting and reclaiming entire parts of The Mats’ overall recorded studio output—which incidentally is completed a raft of additional live albums, compilation bundles, and EPs—this piece looks to rewrite history for on one particular project. Or rather still, its hitherto tainted, jagged, and misunderstood legacy.

Such zeroed-in record answers to the name of the aforementioned Don’t Tell a Soul: an 11-track album initially released on 1st February 1989 on Warner Music’s Sire Records. It’s The Replacements’ sixth, and the first ever featuring lead guitarist Bob “Slim” Dunlap on tape, who was called up in lieu of late and disgraced founding member Bob Stinson in early 1987. Now, before delving irreparably into the nooks and crannies of the argumentation here, at this stage it should probably be mentioned how this album did in actuality fare largely favourably with both music critics and the mainstream at the time.

For Christ’s sake—according to trusted sources including the documentary The Replacements: Color Me Obsessed, Don’t Tell a Soul still stands as the band’s biggest selling LP to date. Which is something that makes a featured thinkpiece set out to defend it and its glossy sound engineering such as this one all the more logically frail. Yet anytime The Replacements, their commitment to self-derangement, and their larger-than-life looming indie lore come into the foray, logic and rationality always kind of seem to default to getting thrown out of a conceptual window.

Remember the raft of additional live albums, compilation bundles, and EPs that help beef up and ornament The Mats’ lauded discography on top of their seven studio LPs? Well, glad you do—for it turns out that one of the most recent issues as part of said catalogue is an ambitious four-disc, 60-track box set filed under the title Dead Man’s Pop. It was earmarked, manufactured, and distributed in 2019 by Rhino Entertainment, under the careful curatorial supervision of the band’s biographer Bob Mehr as well as a slew of syrupy Warner execs. Crucially, the collection’s first disc is entirely comprised of a remixed, re-arranged, and re-sequenced version of Don’t Tell a Soul.

Colloquially dubbed the Don’t Tell a Soul Redux, this overhauled and reimagined collection of tracks both sprouted and harvested from raw session mixes by the album’s original producer (albeit not final mixing engineer) Matt Wallace—who was pretty much a nameless, faceless indie bloke at the time. These stood in sharp contrast to the subsequent major label-endorsed mixing work and production carried out by 80s engineering royalty and multi-Grammy Awards-winning Chris Lord-Alge, whose pedigree and portfolio read like a greatest hits list of names of that decade (Tina Turner, Carly Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna).

Therefore, far from a nostalgic and self-indulgent collector’s item, Dead Man’s Pop’s inherent revisiting flair ended up pulling out all the archival stops, except becoming an actual 30th-year anniversary reissue of Don’t Tell a Soul. For one, it’s completed by a slate of additional bundles, starting with a second disc of rarities and non-album cuts billed We Know the Night: Rare and Unreleased, collating early versions of rough drafts from the group’s Don’t Tell a Soul studio sessions, as well as late-night drunken collaborations recorded with storied singer/songwriter Tom Waits. Two final batches of tracks attached to the box set combine to form a full live album titled The Complete Inconcerated Live, expanding on the quartet’s eponymous 1989 promotional EP.

Now for the aggravating bit, ladies and gentlemen: multiple sources (as well as the horse’s very own mouth) claim that such a rush of new-found curatorial blood to the head was motivated by principal songwriter, co-founder, and creative mastermind Paul Westerberg’s fundamental dissatisfaction with their original product released thirty years ago. A reckoning that translates into the epiphany that Paul himself, bassist Tommy Stinson, stickman Chris Mars, and Slim Dunlap—in addition to countless fans around the globe—had had to coexist and wrestle with such a profound juxtapositional ethos as they looked back on their best selling album for over three decades. Pretty on brand for The Mats, if you ask us. Let that sink in for a moment.

This still leaves us at the mercy of a discursive place acknowledging how the band, its closest entourage, its devoted and diehard fans, as well as most of the critical ivory tower leagues rallied together in solidarity begging for ‘another chance’. They all convened and called for The Replacements to take another stab at the true work of art that lurked beneath Don’t Tell a Soul’s surface level polish and uptight elegance. In this respect, look no further than group’s frontman Paul Westerberg going as far as stating that “[the record] sounded good until the label brought in people to mix it to make it sound like everything else on the radio”. Elsewhere, so Wallace in retrospect: “At the time, when the mixing […] was completed, I had numerous musician friends who were rabid fans of The Replacements and each one […] accused me of ‘ruining The Replacements’”.

Yet again on the other side of this raison d’être inquisition lie folks such as yours truly—evidently allied with hundreds of thousands of disposable income-owners and unit-movers—who are struggling to make heads or tails of such a tardive and, frankly, spoilt creative undoing. This is done while hastily pointing at selected stems (requesting exhibit ”Asking Me Lies“), flat out superior songwriting-to-tape on key tunes (requesting exhibits “They’re Blind” and “Anywhere’s Better Than Here“), a more cohesive overall listen and tracklisting (requesting exhibit “I Won’t“), as well as BVs that actually enhance a composition rather than jeopardise it (requesting exhibit “We’ll Inherit the Earth“), to humbly will-whisper into existence a trialling accompanied by the following sentence: the original 1989 Don’t Tell a Soul is a better album. Period.

Your honours, isn’t this the part where we would take it upon ourselves to analyse and dissect individual clues to further cement and corroborate similar claims? Should we, though? Instead, one could surely begin with stressing out how no one involved in the conception of the record, from Paul himself to higher-ups at the label, was or is a foolish impulsive decision-maker actively pursuing a high-budget product’s kneecapping. Certainly, one has got to surrender their self-centrism and loosen their tie and trust the process here—yet perhaps more importantly embrace the notion that the band, its management, and the underlying business that supports and profits from it must’ve arrived at the decision to enrol Chris Lord-Alge on mixing duties carefully and considerably.

Yes, of course the irony of lining up signifiers such as management, business, and profit next to a band like The Replacements all in one sentence is not lost on us. Yet we humbly ask: has a sly and red herring-y knack for a dorky and naive smoke and mirrors facade not always been The Mats’ divisive modus operandi all along their blistering career? What if Dead Man’s Pop and its apparent long-overdue redemptive fanfare—finally cancelling alleged wrongs committed at the height of the group’s major label career—were all yet another sublime con-job sculpted by Paul and co. to mock industry and fanbase alike? What if we all chose to believe that the original version of this album is The Replacements’ second career act’s pièce de résistance? No matter the real answer—Mr Westerberg would not want us to tell a single soul anyway.

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

SWISS INTERMISSION | 2021-07-18

Ceresio Lake water the best. 45.9863° N, 8.9700° E.

Create your own travel license here. Listen to Call Me If You Get Lost by Tyler, The Creator here.

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

ON (SANDY) ALEX G’S MYSTICAL LOW-FIDELITY MELODY LAYERING | 2019-09-15

I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. Hailing from the somewhat overcooked and saturated strain of post-2010 homegrown, DYI, Zoomers-appealing bedroom-extraordinaries who conquered much of Bandcamp’s real estate during this past decade, the 26-year old yours truly-namesake arguably still touts his personalised claim to fame as him being the main six-strings architect and arranger behind Frank Ocean‘s summer of 2016 legendary release combo Blonde + Endless. Reverse engineering and unpacking the latter two album’s contents over the past couple years often led me to him, in one way or another. Too bad the many tries and attempts at delving into Alex’s existing discographic repertoire to date pretty much always yielded nothing more than metaphorical cul-de-sacs, with little to nothing in the way of deeper creative connection to be established with his confused, hazy, and spotty musical work including everything up until his 2017 LP Rocket. Yet something inside me kept whispering that there was merit to be rescued somewhere in there.

The above leitmotiv fiercely and completely fell out of the window a few days ago, upon arrival of his latest Domino-issued studio album, House of Sugar. His third on the trailblazing and influential British indie label, the record is a gorgeously hallucinating compilation of layered harmonic sound waves just short of forty minutes in length. It’s by far unlike anything I have engaged with in very, very, long, and I’m not simply referring to the musical realm here. Right off the bat, and throughout its thirteen cuts, House of Sugar’s sonic mantel glues together perfectly woven instrumentations, assembling tenderly infectious motifs, licks, and riffs in both uncomfortable yet stupendously gratifying ways. From the cradle to the grave, this is a map for the lost. Almost too pristinely doctored to still be filed under Alex’s conventional lo-fi musical wheelhouse, the record’s raw and loosely defined contours are perhaps best gripped through a bird’s eye view of the whole, instead of artificial partitioning them across thirteen different chapters. Here, the artistic compromise of track-listing the project into separate songs feels more like a resentful trade necessity, rather than a creative boilerplate to interact with at the songwriting stage. The input might even be lo-fi, but the output is decisively HD.

In an era where former Presidents flex cool Spotify playlists, it should come with no surprise that this thing has no genre. Tracks like “Near“, “Project 2”, and “Sugar” are flat-out indescribable in their spatial-infrastructural depth and variegated melodic density. Yet, their inability to make heads or tails of single components acts as the creative statement’s unequivocal poignant strength, as opposed to it representing a lack of compositional clarity. Throughout House of Sugar, brace yourselves to be stoked head-first with elements ranging from mid-naughties alt-acoustic emo, to experimental lab beats and some of the most enduring Smashing Pumpkins-esque melancholic aesthetic refuges. One might as well throw in peppered nuggets of easy listening IDM, adult alternative radio rock atmospheres, unconventionally paired-up instruments, highly introspective and revealing lyrics, and suddenly one arrives at a place where they could begin to translate this record’s spirit and soul into dried words. Beware, as the act of pressing play on album opener “Walk Away” rapidly decays into a void and senseless protocol, fully overtaken by the full length’s mystical sonic might, one that centrifuges the whole 38 minutes into a unified vortex of light, beauty, and redeeming splendour. It would be easy to imagine House of Sugar as a short movie of sorts, plugging into multimedia sensory experiences exclusively by way of its sounds and aesthetics, an illusory plateau that perfectly comes to mental fruition with each repeated new listen.

I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. This album is fantastic, an interstellar journey venturing into otherworldly sound sensations, allowing one to come out of the other way with their filthy hands cleansed top to bottom. Perhaps leading us to states not too unlike the graciously cathartic ice skater’s depicted on the record’s sleeve, this collection of tracks’ dazed gripping potency places itself as an unquestionable frontrunner for modern day self-serving modularities of escapism. Let us not kid ourselves. There are no lead singles here. No official music videos. Just an enthralling and continuous stream of consciousness music tape supplying seamless stylistic mood transitions between thirteen not-so-distinct acts, all veraciously accompanying personal enlightened ascensions climbing metaphysical stairways to heaven. Come to think of it, this might just be the Bandcamp generation’s Endless.

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

Sandy Alex G_House

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): FEVER 333 IN CONCERT AT BLONDIES | 2019-01-18

We haven’t done these live show reviews in a very long while on these premises and it’s probably no coincidence that this new found motivation saw fit to strike again by way of former letlive. chief instigator Mr Jason Aalon Butler. These days Jason is perusing away from his home Los Angeles neighbourhood of Inglewood as he preaches, educates, and evangelises the masses by spreading political and socially conscious predicaments through the music and teachings of his new hip-hop/rock outfit Fever 333. It probably comes with no big surprise to any one reader that said alternative group has found its way onto the editorial gatekeeping of this very web property several times before. But let us now take a quick step back as we attempt to retrace the unfolding of subsequent happenings that brought yours truly to the epic and lush live show discerned hereby, as it is indeed no conventional chain of events. So, a bunch of months back I stumbled upon a pretty low-profile and innocuous tweet by UK alternative rock-fuelled publication Kerrang!, asking fans of the band to share their favourite Fever 333 tune explaining why they chose that particular song via an email to the newsroom. Whoever sent through their entry was then eligible to win exclusive tickets to a special and secret event with the band held in London, UK, on Wednesday 28th November last year. And here comes the first plot twist: after submitting my personal essay, it turned out I had miraculously won a pair out of about fifty of said tickets, revealing that my favourite Fever 333 song to date was “Soul’d Me Out” off their debut EP Made an America, going as far as shamelessly self-quoting the ARM review that dropped earlier last year as supporting evidence for my liking, stating:

“[O]ne can’t say enough good things about this cut, from the outstanding and groovy drumming work, to the fast and violently distorted guitars, passing through arguably Jason’s best vocal performance in years and a counter-intuitive yet perfectly adhering plain-landing chorus exclaiming simple but upfront lyrics, via a vocal line no too dissimilar from a lullaby melody (“Sell me out down the shallow river / Could I hate you more? / Could I hate you more?“), just moments before collapsing and disappearing into a scratching scream chanting the song’s central topic, perfectly mocked and intertwined with the expansive meaning of its title: “Sold me out, sold me out / You sold me out to the highest bidder / Sold me out, sold me out / You sold me out to the highest bidder“.”

Alongside the announcement of my victorious submission quest came various instructions that spilled the beans as to what the secret event was actually going to be, namely an extremely exclusive and intimate live performance by the band at North East London’s dive bar Blondies, an impromptu – and truly goddamn tiny small – venue that I only later found out regularly doubles as hosting space for Kerrang!’s Live in the K! Pit video series. The feature puts on regular underground live shows with no stage for about 50 fans, goes on to record them, and converts them into audiovisual transmissions syndicated online. Needless to say, excitement peaked at unprecedented heights, and unsurprisingly the actual live performance by the Los Angeles supergroup turned out to be nothing short of amazing. At this stage it might also be worth stressing out how this very show got squeezed in-between a very dense and relentless tour gig schedule that Fever 333 was under at the time, specifically supporting British metalcore giants Bring Me The Horizon across the UK and Europe. Wednesday 28th November, the night of the London secret show, was in fact their last “free day” before wrapping up the month-long touring leg with two enormous and bombastic final shows at the British capital’s Alexandra Palace venue (one of which – the Friday 30th one – I subsequently planned to attend as well, and so I did). Thus, on the last free evening of their extenuating tour schedule, the three Fever 333 minstrels decided to gift a very small portion of lucky fans one of the most electrifying and insane shows, further devoting part of the audience donation money collected at the door to charity, a regular praiseworthy tradition the group has been maintaining almost ever since its inception in 2017 alongside the creation of the Walking In My Shoes Foundation.

As soon as I got to the Hackney venue with my +1 and realised how infinitely minuscule the place actually was, I started to fundamentally wonder how on earth a punk rock show could have taken place in such a tiny room. Mind you, just to open up a quick parenthesis, as far as lead crowd instigator Jason Butler is concerned, a punk rock show is not simply some kind of slightly faster and more energetic version of your standard run-of-the-mill rock concert. No, ladies and gentlemen, live shows involving Jason are proper mental apeshit cathartic experiences taking up the form of intense collective electric explosions. You are all just one quick YouTube search away from witnessing his live show wilderness in all its glory. Consume responsibly though. So back to our regularly scheduled programme; as me and +1 enter the tiny dive bar, we notice how Blondies was already fully saturated and crowded from left to right, wall to wall, top to bottom. Admittedly, we were among the very last ones to make it to the secret location before their strict 8pm show start, which coincided with the venue’s door lockdown with no late admission allowed anymore. So that y’all esteemed readers can picture this, believe it or not, the entrance portion of the bar-turned-club was where stickman Aric Improta’s drum kit and a few free-floating mic stands were set up, making it the de facto impromptu same-floor-level “stage”, forcing the band to symbolically climb onto it from the main front door of the club, which made for a curiously unusual show entry to say the least (considering that the band had to hop onto the dive bar via the outside street).

An all-black canvas hooded Jason Butler was first to enter the ridiculously crowded and already steamy room, as a selection of scattered politically-oriented soundbites played in the background, followed shortly thereafter by technical drumming extraordinaire Aric Improta and electric guitars shredder and part-time model Stephen Harrison, moments before turning into the first abrasive drum patterns of new single “Burn It”, which anticipates the group’s first studio outing Strength In Numb333rs, out worldwide today (happy release day, fellas). All hell broke loose after about 30 seconds into the song as Jason’s raw and biting scream welcomed Stephen’s big and crunchy distorted riff, potently guided by Aric’s stomping drums throughout the whole duration. As soon as the intro track finished, Jason immediately jumped into the raw and fiery primal scream of genesis heavy hardcore number “We’re Coming In”, FEVER 333’s first track ever to be written and unveiled to the world two years ago, shouting the now iconic call to arms: “So let me tell you about / Where all my people from / Where all my people from / We hear them sirens come and then the people run“. After the insane energy of their mission statement anthem, the band turned to their flagship song and debut EP title track “Made an America”, a topical and poignant cut for which the group got nominated for Best Rock Performance at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards just one week after this very show. Now, let that sink in just for a quick second. Insurgent, reactionary, and socially-conscious punk/hip-hop outfit FEVER 333 nominated for the preppiest, most corporate, self-indulgent award show ceremony in the space. How’s that for an irony. The times they are a-changin’.

A middle show section in which Jason found himself navigating every corner of the crowd’s meanders saw the inclusion of the brilliant ‘for the people’ equality hymn “One of Us”, a spectacular wandering beat box and drum solo fight between Jason and drummer Aric, as well as the potent and angry standalone single “Trigger”, explicitly denouncing the widespread virus of gun possessions and related violence in the USA. The singer and crowd instigator also took away some time to pledge a sincere and heartfelt tribute to all the women and girls in the room (Blondies is run by three sisters, Ed.) before launching into what is arguably FEVER 333’s biggest song to date, Walking In My Shoes. The short but extremely intense and captivating set got capped off by the wild, visceral, and abrasive Hunting Season off their debut EP, which gave everyone one last deserved yet barely exhausting chance to lose their collective minds whilst Jason and Stephen mixed up into a sweaty and squashed crowd all the way to the bar counter. The public display of musical insanity and individual freedom finally got to a plateau state, ears still ringing louder than ever and mics still hanging from ceiling pipes.

It probably comes with no surprise to any of you that the good people over at Kerrang! did indeed film and edit the whole performance with great love and curation. In fact, the final video version of the half-hour set just literally came out today in concurrence with FEVER 333’s album debut, and is now uploaded on the publication’s official YouTube channel. It is with great admiration, humbleness, and satisfaction that I report said broadcasting transmission to you all esteemed readers just below in form of a digital streamable video feed, embedded for your unbiased and unlimited viewing pleasure. So what else is there to say about a truly unique, mystical, and intimate experience so wonderfully captured in audiovisual form? Virtually nothing, hence why I choose to leave you with a tiny little piece of anecdote that might not be as easily retrievable on the Interweb (or perhaps it is by now, admittedly some months have past since I heard it). During their final Friday night opening slot for BMTH, Jason revealed how FEVER 333 had to drop the “THE” from their official band name for legal reasons, presumably on account of some form of name trademark infringement notice recently put forward against them by a third party. Fun fact: Jason elucidated the crowd on their recent legal dispute whilst tearing down their gigantic white stage backdrop banner flashing what at this point was the outdated (and illegal) THE FEVER 333 emblem, successfully tearing it down from hanging up above Aric before wrapping it all up into one indistinguishable piece of enormous candid cloth that got eventually donated to a resonating and salivating front-row audience. Arguably, there is no better symbolic rite of passage analogy for such an urgent and important punk rock outfit entering their next successful artistic phase, accompanied by a new name, a flattering Grammy nomination, a new fierce studio album, and all of the same old revolutionary aggression fuelled by social justice.

FEVER 333 played:

Burn It

We’re Coming In

Made an America

One of Us

Beatbox & Drum Solo

Trigger

Walking in My Shoes

Hunting Season

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

B3 FR33. Letting them know, there is a fever coming…

AV

fever-333-strength-in-numb333rs

TWENTY-TWENTY SURGERY | 2019-01-12

Yes indeed. It’s true. I was going to entitle this written prose Two Decades Under The Influence, or a similar derivative, toying with the idea of sliding in an intended fan-verified pun, recycling and distorting the title of one of Taking Back Sunday’s most distinguished and memorable cuts repurposing it for recounting the bells and whistles of the New York outfit’s celebrations of twenty years as a rock band. Yet, after stumbling upon one review after another from media outlets and publications on the Interweb employing exactly said double entendre, I profusely discarded the embryonal idea, letting it symbolically escape out of my conceptual editorial window. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s a brilliant and funny witty little joke that addresses and presumably pleases both long-time avid supporters as well as occasional in-n-out “fast-food” listeners of the group, but hey, enough is enough and we all know that even a delicious tomato soup meal can become nauseatingly redundant if repeatedly served every single day. Notwithstanding the above, however, there should at this point be an important content disclaimer for the whole entire esteemed readership willing and wanting to continue progressing with a perusal of the present blogpost; this owned and operated body of text deals with the most influential band on yours truly, a band that started it all for this site – one that even named this web property, for Christ’s sake – and a group whose compositions and performances have even made it onto my very epidermis and heart, straight as an arrow, multiple times.

What one should take away from such an eloquent and explicit warning, I figure, is that a miscellaneous semiotic salad of insider knowledge, pre-existing notions, double entendres, puns, and subtle wordplay references are to be abundantly expected throughout this creative appraisal. For better or worse, whether we like it or not, I can’t help it and you can’t either. It all starts with the title appointment of this post ending up being Twenty-Twenty Surgery, partly honouring a much overlooked and under-appreciated track off Taking Back Sunday’s biggest and most successful album, Louder Now, but mainly inherently implying a birthday wish to the band for as many more years of thriving artistry as the ones they’ve just left behind them. Anyway, I guess this is the final call to provide you all with the newsflash component of this update, before we get irreconcilably lost in digressive by-topical rabbit holes. Yesterday, Friday 11th January 2019, was a majestically important day for Taking Back Sunday. Yesterday, the alternative rockers officially released their fabulous career-retrospective 21-track compilation, dubbed Twenty for the occasion. The LP aims at celebrating and cherishing their best work over a long and accomplished journey as a band, that started at some point back in 1999. This 20th anniversary collection of tracks features shortlisted best-of cuts off all of their seven studio albums, starting from their 2002 seminal and trailblazing angsty emo debut Tell All Your Friends coming all the way to their most recent solid rocker LP Tidal Wave, dropped in 2016 to decent critical acclaim.

What’s gnarly about this compilation is that Taking Back Sunday actually included two brand new songs in it, both written and recorded just after the start of their last tour in support of Tidal Wave a few years ago. The first of two numbers, “All Ready To Go“, doubles as de facto promotional single for the wider release, and sounds very much like a big, dense, stomping amalgamation of all the differently related arena rock sounds the band has been flirting with ever since their 2010 reunion with the original formation, involving founding members John Nolan on guitars and Shaun Cooper on bass (although, to be honest, the track’s sound aesthetics lean more skewedly towards Happiness Is and Tidal Wave, than their 2011 come-back eponymous release). “All Ready To Go” kicks in heavily with a signature Mark O’Connell drum fill beat and a bouquet of water-falling guitars, before making space for a calmer and fuzzy bass-driven verse, flowing into a grand and potent chorus in which lead singer Adam Lazzara warningly shouts “I was livid and you weren’t listening / It didn’t matter cause you were leaving / You were all ready to go / You were all ready to go / You were all ready to go / Already gone“, perhaps uncannily alluding at the recent bittersweet departure of other founding long-time member and rhythm guitarist, Eddie Reyes. Nonetheless, it’s on the second exclusive new track, “A Song For Dan”, that the group seriously sets their artistic phasers to stun, with a sensational and heartfelt piano-led song discussing survival’s guilt and weaving in both an epic structural crescendo and an overall dramatically outstanding vocal performance by Adam:

To switch it up from such a melancholically somber spot, here’s a little piece of trivia for you all: it turns out it was drummer Mark who actually started it all for the track, coming up with the initial rough melodic draft as well as the overarching thematic subject matter the song ended up encapsulating: “You’re too far gone / To know where it goes / And I know you’re not coming home / Done too much wrong to know what’s right / And it’s too late to say goodbye“. Albeit perhaps surprisingly to some, those familiar with the Long Island emo veterans should know that Mark is not new to coming up with excellent and beautiful “early-days” riffs, licks, and motives that provided the backbone foundation for some of Taking Back Sunday’s most convincing and solid songs in their entire discography, such as the punk-rock stunner “Tidal Wave” or the gorgeously dark, vintage, sunburnt gem “This Is All Now“. Maybe it isn’t that surprising after all, that for a seasoned twenty-year-old band, who during the course of its life went through multiple incarnations, transformations, and line-ups – including charismatic scene veterans such as Jesse Lacey, Fred Mascherino, and Eddie Reyes – the longest serving member to date would be that best equipped to faithfully originate and translate the group’s zeitgeist into a sonic consensus that can still speak and resonate in such a captivating way with the audience. A special mention here is also due for frontman Adam – incidentally the other longest active member in the band – who after ramping up on his sound engineering and production knowledge by attending a specific programme on the subject during his spare time, saw fit to double as sound engineer for said two new tracks, saving the quarter a substantial amount of money and awkward producer-artist conversations in the studio.

Obviously, Taking Back Sunday is bringing the whole celebratory shebang on a global album-play tour, whereby for most legs of the live run faith and fortune will decide which combination of their first three albums (Tell All Your Friends, Where You Want To Be, Louder Now) the group is going to perform in full when and in which city. Which brings up a good point, frankly an unavoidable one whenever best-of compilations come into play; namely the quality and nature of the actual shortlist of songs that made the cut for the retrospective musical statement. So, let us get this right: Twenty, despite its name, actually sports twenty-one songs, two of which are the brand new tracks we just went through above. That leaves us with nineteen repertoire songs, split between seven full length albums to choose from. A quick skim through the tracklist reveals how some records (Louder Now, with four tracks) are more represented than others (New Again, self-titled, and Happiness Is only provide two tracks to the compilation). Which is obviously fine and, truth be told, pretty legit and in line with the mainstream fans’ appreciative leitmotiv over the years, let alone the actual commercial success of some of those albums. However, there is one big elephant in the room that oughta be addressed at this stage, since we’re looking back at the whole artistic evolutionary arch of the group: New Again. The album that no one seems to enjoy and fully appreciate, fans and band alike. A personal favourite, but whose recording sessions in the studio were rumoured to be among the hardest and toughest the band ever had, with newbie lead guitarist Matt Fazzi acting as the wild card/odd man out and the unpleasant blather heard sneaking through the grapevine alleging that all of Eddie Reyes’ guitar parts got secretly re-recorded, unbeknownst to most in the camp at the time. New Again was the studio effort supposed to follow the world-wide stirring exceptional success and excellence of Louder Now, only failing miserably both in terms of fans/critical reception and sales.

Look, I always have and forever will carry a ginormous soft spot filled with admiration and adulation for the 2009 LP (read: New Again, for the fast foodies). As far as a full album-listening experience goes, its curated sonic roughness, compositional resilience, patchwork of odd experimental time signatures, aggression of crunchy delivery, sublime guitar/bass work, and lyrical baggage, simply speak to me on a higher level than any other work outputted by the band, full stop. With that being said, I do believe that there are overall better individual songs found elsewhere in the New York outfit’s catalogue. Case in point, Where You Want To Be’s “A Decade Under The Influence“, “This Photograph Is Proof“, or “One-Eighty By Summer“. Still, to me New Again as a full length remains watertight, bullet-proof, and coherently unified from start to finish. Don’t @ on this one, as you wouldn’t even be reading these very lines on this very site if it weren’t the case. Yet all things considered, if Twenty as a collection of tracks walks like a duck, it should quack like a duck, and it is therefore only fair and compliant it faithfully reflects the band’s premiere musical output over the past twenty years in form of a best-of mixtape, in a relatively objective fashion and with the greater mass audience good in mind. With all this said and done: Dear Adam, John, Shaun, and Mark, here’s to another twenty years of marvellous career and success, continuing on your prime path of mending broken hearts, helping us decode relatable life experiences, enlightening darker times. But perhaps more importantly, here’s to maintaining a twenty-twenty vision on your mission to providing warmth and comfort to a myriad of scattered yet unified fans around the globe by way of goddamn good rock and roll tunes. We’re the lucky ones. 152.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happiest 20th birthday to Taking Back Sunday this time around.

AV

tbs_twenty

ON THEM 777 FLIGHTS WITCHA | 2018-10-26

Sometimes cross-channel influence, cognitive association, and topical inspiration can strike from the weirdest, strangest angles in life, working perhaps in a subliminally unconscious way yet yielding their initial igniting spark when one least expects it. While I’m not really here looking for interpretation or struggling for inherent meaning of what I’m about to stipulate, it’s true that to many a readers this pairing of sorts will appear rather odd, as if permeating through the meanders of algorithmically computed processes. First things first. There is a visual album by Frank Ocean called Endless, his third music project overall, that was released in August 2016 as his last commitment with Def Jam Recordings so as to ingeniously fulfil his recording contract with the Universal Music-owned hip-hip imprint, shortly before dropping his highly-anticipated and critically acclaimed official second studio LP Blonde. Overlooking for a moment the scope of the very query beyond what the hell a visual album even is in the first place in today’s creative industries, Endless was initially distributed exclusively through Apple Music as an on-demand streaming-only 45-ish-minute video, before getting the sound recording re-issue makeover earlier in April this very year. The thing is, throughout its artistic and sonic existence, Frank’s audiovisual art piece always and forever existed in the shadow of his companion major album release and, needless to say, hitherto lived a life of critical overlooking and unwilling negligence.

I’d hate to be that guy, but this wasn’t the case for yours truly, who sincerely immediately connected with the boundary-pushing flair of the project’s experimentation, and almost continuously and consistently rated it above its sister (or perhaps, mother) marquee summer drop Blonde, the latter promoted and sponsored by antiquated industry ideas and appraisal canons supposedly ascribing what kind of attributes an album ought to have in order to be even considered as such. Speaking of reviewing conventions, and calling for a need of scrutinising standards, the auditory experience of Endless clocks in at about 40 minutes and change in length and, depending on which specific rendition one might be referring to, rocks about 20 quote-unquote cuts, ranging literally from atomised skits of a handful seconds to techno-reprises of intense seven minutes. What’s very interesting about this album is that it contains a special song entitled “Sideways”, sitting idle at number thirteen on my version of the track list, glowingly melting in a gorgeous fashion between crystal acoustic gem “Slide On Me” and choir-fuelled celestial “Florida”. Also, it’s interesting and noteworthy here to point out, in light of future revelations further down the piece, how the number thirteen is often viewed as carrying bad luck connotations by many superstitious cultures the world over and, more importantly, believe it or not many commercial airlines avoid its numbered seating row onboard their planes, out of that same superstition affinity. The track was crafted by London-based electronic music artist and sound engineer Vegyn, although further production handling on the song is credited to NY-based experimental glitch artist Nolife, who allegedly worked on the track with Frank himself while he was a temporary resident of New York City’s Mercer Hotel, even though he might as well have paid the whole mortgage for what he was spendingWhat I’ll do next is providing you with the full transcription of “Sideways”‘s lyrics, as a deep courtesy of genius.com:

[Verse]
I was in all them hours in it
10K, tokin’ mid strokes
Prime prime time of my life witcha
Puttin’ prime numbers up though
On them 777 flights witcha
Take a shower with it, gotta cleanse it
Keep the safety off innit
Now we finna have a mini
Outta wedlock, God forgive it
Then forget it
‘Cause only God can forget it
All this hotel living
Might as well pay the mortgage what I’m spending
Said the dick long as a swan neck
Put some real swans in the pond then
Fell asleep in the foreign
After the free show at the Garden
Let the LED roll, deer hunter
Leave the stage, watch it from the audience
Bet we sell the bickets out next week
On me on, my bodness

[Outro]
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m sideways, yeah, I set me straight
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m down they gon’ celebrate
Sittin’ sideways, too sideways
Nah, it’s not too late

Bear with me as here comes my main point. So all the while relentlessly tasting and indulging in repeated heightened listening experiences of and with Endless and specifically “Sideways”, I somewhere, somehow, sensed a sensorially bridged journey onto a a Swedish internet-based service displaying real-time commercial aircraft flight information on geographical maps, named Flightradar24. This freemium software includes flight tracks, origins and destinations, flight numbers, aircraft types, positions, altitudes, headings and aerodynamic speeds on a global scale. For affluent paid users, it can also show time-lapse replays of previous tracks and historical flight data by airline, aircraft, aircraft type, area or airport. Weirdly, this web app has become one of my biggest life companions as of late, given my quasi-frequent flyer programme status, which led me to reply to pretty standard – “where are you?” – questions from acquaintances on the phone with a weighted average value answer of – “on a plane” – during the past three to six months. My point here though is that every time I listen to Endless’ thirteenth track, or conversely spend enough time on Flightradar24, I am intensely reminded of the other one object, as if connected by a dotted figurative line, respectively. Something about the transcendent epistemology of both cultural artefacts was pointing out their intrinsic correlation, beyond my grasping almost in an ontological manner.

Now, it’s probably worth spending a couple words on Flightradar24 and its life-saving servicing protocol – just mainly as a public service announcement – without which many a times my airmile consumption patterns would have turned out even more painful and dreary than what they actually were. Like that time were I was quicker than the actual airline ground crew themselves to spot the mysterious air location of the aircraft that was supposed to come pick us up from Milan Malpensa (MXP) and fly us all the way to Barcelona El Prat (BCN) on a late Sunday evening. Or, that other time at Stockholm Arlanda (ARN) airport, where the service helped me figure out how big the apparent official flight delay actually was IRL (I was once again flying to BCN that time), given the incoming airplane’s route and location (unsurprisingly, there was a delta of about one hour and a half. Oh, no, not that Delta, this delta). Or again, and this might be my favourite inclusive utilisation modality of them all, when I would sneakingly monitor the exact route and location of family and friends I was supposed to go pick up upon their arrival at their destination airport, everything logically unbeknownst to all of them. Trust me when I say that you’d be glad you’d have used Flightradar24 before leaving your house to the airport when the specific plane you’re waiting for accumulated a delay of 2+ hours at source. At this point – and I beg your pardon if this comes too late – I would also like to point out that this is not a paid promotion advertorial in any shape or form whatsoever, but rather just an earnest and sincere shout out to not only an excellent travel companion, but also a subliminal Frank Ocean reference item.

You people have to trust me that the fact that this piece comes out into the Interweb on the very immediacy of Frank’s 31st birthday (he was born on 28th October 1987) is honestly a pure alignment of the stars coincidence, or perhaps yet another symbolic semantical component in the bigger meaningful design floating between 1) an Endless audiovisual art experience, 2) a software-as-a-service platform monitoring worldwide air traffic, and 3) a grander scheme of flight journeys. However, recently something perhaps too minuscule to itemise was able to cut through the reality distortion fielded mould and hit me with a sudden illuminating epiphany. I decided to get rid of all existing preconceived notions and mental conjectures that were supporting my struggle for meaning up until that point. Suddenly, I got it all. I got the apparent reason for the metaphysical connection between “Sideways” and Flightradar24, now all of a sudden so clear and yet at the same time always so latent throughout my consumption history with the New York City-nursed composition of 1:54 minutes. While it’s extremely hard to precisely and tangibly put a finger on it, at the end of the day it all has to do with Frank being my flight companion and travelling the world with me on airplanes. At first it might deceivably seem that a single line out of “Sideways”‘s lyrics score sheet could be the key to the mystery kingdom surrounding the opacity of such an obscure symbiotic and visceral connection, however upon closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that there is so much more to it than simply those five words.

Frank Ocean has actually always been the high-mile flight travel companion one would and should wish for (or is it Tyler Durden?), and he knew about Flightradar24 even before the Swedish folks who spun up and deployed its first source code of the beta software version knew about it. He was there ever since the free show at the Garden, when Kanye West introduced the idea of a living-breathing and upgrading album project to a puzzled and denying music business and mainstream press scene, at the time more concerned with his unbearable production delays in dropping the record and the elevated unpredictability surrounding his whole artist persona – an aspect notoriously shared with Frank Ocean himself – than the actual creative content embedded in the TLOP (w)rapper altogether. In a way, with Endless Frank followed Kanye’s advice, taking up the teachings of the grand master, in that he not only updated sonic and production elements of the original audiovisual album on the go, but effectively warped the whole nature of the artefact turning it into a CD-quality like studio album two years after its first release as a visual album. Very similarly, Flightradar24 tracks and updates flight movements on the fly across the world’s skies, no pun intended, drawing yet another parallel with the epitome of real-timeness which is the aural meditative immersion encapsulated in the minute and fifty-four seconds and the twenty-seven verses of “Sideways”, by Frank Ocean.

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

AV

Flightradar24

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): A$AP ROCKY – TESTING | 2018-06-10

Yeezy season is not only approaching, but is in full-floating production and execution mode at this very minute, with a one-two-three G.O.O.D. Music-projects released Friday after Friday across May and June, packaged and delivered to us all mere mortals in form of excellent 7-track albums by Pusha T (Daytona), Kanye West (ye), as well as the most recent Ye and Kid Cudi’s hip-hop duo Kids See Ghosts eponymous debut record. In parallel, a mildly progressively heating Southern European late Spring period brought yours truly to the mighty international (but actually very British) fashion show that is Barcelona’s Primavera Sound. Whilst live music was nonchalantly put to the side in favour of Instagram selfies and enhanced drug use, I did manage to find some of the hidden stages and check out astonishing and enthralling live performances by artists such as the garçon Tyler, The Creator, baroque rock and roll monsieurs Arctic Monkeys, mega cat Thundercat, dangerously honest hood minstrel Vince Staples, and Swiss black metal primordial chanters Zeal & Ardor. Most importantly though, and way more prominently tied to the present music review piece, I got to catch the closing headline bill set by New York rapper A$AP Rocky, which followed the release of the A$AP Mob member’s third studio album Testing mere days before on 25th May. These two events combined made for quite the relevant alignment between Lord Flacko’s artistic manifestation and myself, so much so that it officially triggered an ARM alert and so here we are taking a closer scrutiny of this star-studded and featured record.

Quite similarly to what the preconditions were going into ARM’s recent effort on J. Cole’s last LP KOD, there is a little PSA/full disclosure statement that needs to be outlined, so as to better contextualise the present review of Testing: I secretly never liked A$AP Rocky and everything he represented, and almost never listened to anything coming from him nor A$AP Mob to be completely honest. After all, I come from a completely different background involving primarily alternative rock, hardcore, and punk, so I guess this mustn’t come as an unbelievable surprise. With that being said, as trap and cloud rap started to steal rock’s scene, both at live gigs’ mosh pits and in the charts, I too inevitably got caught in the current mainstream hip-hop fever, up to a point where now some of my favourite artists are prima donna MCs. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s delve into Rocky’s new studio LP, released under RCA Records and composed of 15 tracks, for almost 55 minutes of running time made of freshly baked new material. For Testing, the Harlem rapper-producer lined up a wealth of collaborators and contributors, ranging from the aforementioned Kid Cudi to Frank Ocean, to Skepta and Snoop Dogg. But spoiler alert, no one truly ever managed to take the full spotlight away from Rocky on this one, as he finds himself venturing into vastly experimental fields of industrial-trap hip-hop, while at the same time distilling pure moments of superior melodic craft.

The otherworldly and subterranean bass frequencies accompanying savage and fiery opener “Distorted Records” are something very rarely heard on mainstream projects, yet A$AP Rocky manages to pull it off in a very slick and contextual manner, whereby the inherent nature of the cut couldn’t be better epitomised by the literal name of the song. Such an opening high-note is well maintained throughout track number two, the album’s lead single “A$AP Forever“, sampling Moby’s pop crown jewel “Porcelain” and pairing a tastily belligerent flow with aspirational and tongue-in-cheeky bars (“I put A$AP on my tat / I put New York on the map / I put the gang on the flames / They gon’ remember the name“). “Tony Tone” at number three is a definite grower that showcases one of Rocky’s standout solo performances on this project, firing an abrasive warped groove filled with hooky sections and leveraging repetitions to make its way into the listeners’ psyches. The 101 on contemporary mumble rap/trap that follows, “Fukk Sleep”, enlisting the help of an extinguished FKA twigs, fails to leave a proper permanent mark, both as a standalone cut and as when placed in context with the full album, ending up being a pretty forgettable track overall. Second single “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)” featuring British grime don Skepta closes the first third of Testing with what seems like a fairly safe choice, both collaboration-wise and with respect to greater melody and harmonic textures, wrapping up an album section that promised so much after its first two teasers but that actually faded a little bit in quality as the tracklist progressed.

Sadly, “CALLDROPS” at number six does nothing in the way of uplifting the downward momentum of the album at this point, boldly continuing a pretty irritating trend pertaining to mainstream hip-hop records consisting of randomly including (real or staged) phone voicemail messages and turning them into actual tracks through a dubious genius spark of inspiration, not even remotely tied to the growing instinct of strategically increasing the number of album tracks so as to leverage modern streaming payout rate counts by dominant services like Spotify and Apple Music. Fortunately, the excellently produced and experimental “Buck Shots” delivers one of the highest and most fortunate moments on the album, driven by addictive and fun lyrical motifs (“Homeboy you ain’t know (ends where they buck shot) / Had a bitch suckin’ on a lollipop at the bus stop / Green Glock, red Glock (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot)”) as well as fitting beat switches and in-composition transitions that make the song go by in two shakes. The following set of three tracks (“Guns N Butter”, “Brotha Man”, and “OG Beeper”) ascribe some confusion and surging anonymity to the record’s mid-section that not even some A-list credited and uncredited collabs (Juicy J, French Montana, Snoop Dogg) are able to salvage, only for said clumsiness to be overcome by another fantastic cut in the form of the beautifully harmonised and sung ballad  “Kids Turned Out Fine” (admittedly Rocky’s favourite song off Testing).

The latter record also doubles as introduction to the last third of the album, and boy oh boy, was this worth the wait as well as a couple bumpy and subpar listens on the way of getting here. Every single track wrapping up this project in its latter section is a spectacular, handsomely crafted trap gem in its own peculiar way: from the dreamy, cloudy, chorus-y, and gigantically bigger-than-life “Hun43rd” (where I’ll go as far to say it might be one of the best songs this rap genre has seen in recent memory), to the introspective and fully confessional sentimental opus “Changes” (look out for the staggering beat/mood switch at 2:55 on this one), passing through the social critique and cathartic, punching lyricism of “Black Tux, White Collar” (“I say motherfuck you ni**as for the hate that you investin’ (yeah) / Fuck police cause he probably wanna arrest me (check it out) / Fuck the prison system, this injustice was ingestive (slatt) / All black tuxes, get the white collars jealous like / All my role models either dead or in the pen’ / I had no choice to be the ni**a that I am / Stuck with bros, stuck the code (yeah) / ‘Cede emblem on the fender (yeah)“).

The Frank Ocean-featured “Purity” acts as emblematic curtains close to the 15-track Testing in form of a gently guitar-picking lick leading A$AP Rocky’s growling distorted vocals, before making way to some of the best rapping and flow Ocean has shown in a while, taking up much of the song’s compositional and delivery substance pushing Rocky (and rap goddess Lauryn Hill, who’s featured in multiple spots on this cut) to taking care of vocal harmonising in the background. To be fair, such laid-back, supporting role of Rocky is not representative of the best material found on this album, whereby overall, the sensation is rather that the tracks stuffed with notable third-party features overshadowing Lord Flacko end up leaving something to be wished for (see particularly “Fukk Sleep”, “Praise the Lord [Da Shine]”, and “Brotha Man”). Contrarily, this album leaves its strongest marks and is at its most convincing precisely in those moments and situations where the perception is that A$AP Rocky is fully and wholly himself, for good and bad, in all his flaws, excellences, and vulnerabilities (case in point, the visceral “Distorted Records”, or the gorgeous “Buck Shots”, or again the album’s best four minutes with “Hun43rd”). J. Cole has recently demonstrated how even huge mainstream rappers can put out a whole record without a single external collab – albeit with mixed success – and now that I’m thinking about it, by naming this album Testing Rocky perhaps wasn’t actually hinting at its sonic and thematic experimentation, but he rather wanted us listeners to test out his individual artistic craftsmanship finding its qualitative peak, at the same time creating a legitimate precedent for what could grow into an actual, truly solo LP as its next big follow-up.

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

A$AP ROCKY

TESTING

2018, RCA Records

http://www.asapmob.com

asap-rocky-testing

HERE COME(S) THE G.I.R.L | 2017-09-16

EMS started with absolutely no pre-conceived notion of editorial structure or journalistic discipline in mind, and to be fair if you’ve made it thus fair into its lifecycle I’m pretty much assuming you were able to realize this for yourself pretty quickly. Throughout about two years and a half the site has touched upon a wide variety of themes and topics, ranging from the more obvious and critically acclaimed “Alex Reviews Music”-column, to scattered and rather isolated notes and commentary on TV series, books, and even fashion brands. I guess the reason why I’m beginning this one with such a disclaimer is to try to legitimise my current inability to choose a single key topic to write about this time round, conflicting in conjunction with my lack of time and resources to split a list of different themes across multiple blogpost, as well as my very immediate need to bookmark what and why I want to say to this very specific timestamp. In fact, feel free to scratch the first excuse – as one can and ought to always find the time for the life domains he/she loves –, it’s really all about the necessity to make y’all aware of a couple things, so please be cautious that said awareness construction will materialise itself in form of a miscellaneous patchwork post.

Without too much further ado, in this writing I’d like to bring your esteemed attention to Los Angeles-based – yet universally addressing – independent lifestyle brand Gentlemen in Real Life, that has just recently released its second major run of products to the general public and boy, it’s simply wonderfully crafted. Brilliantly abbreviated in the catchy acronym GIRL to highlight its gender-neutral and boundary-less fashion approach, the alternative apparel and grooming brand was founded by former letlive. vocalist and principal gentleman Jason Butler back in early 2015, and likes to present itself to the world with the following:

“We believe the traditional definition of ‘gentleman’ is outdated. To us, it’s more than a refined look, or dapper presentation. It’s a lifestyle that transcends. Being a Gentleman is about taking the extra step to do what’s right. And we offer everyone a chance to be part of it.”

“We’re a small group of creatives and artists that make things we want to see made. And we’re committed to the fine details that we know they deserve.”

“The only way to truly endorse something is to create it yourself. That’s why we’ve made sure all of our products are designed, sourced, and manufactured in the USA.”

There’s really nothing else that should be added in my opinion to either spark or increase interest and concern for such valuable and especially honourable endeavour, which not only fully adopts and embodies the ethically/socially conscious values listed in the descriptions above, but also creates an organic and sustainable network of collaborations around their hometown of Los Angeles, CA, as documented on their extremely visually appealing Instagram page. Said manufacturing, productive, and marketing collaborators-ecosystem includes, for instance, the gorgeous graphic design brand Hate Street (H8ST) – which took care of the majority of the designs and visuals for GIRL’s latest drop – and the group of talented audiovisual producers that go by the name of Standard Issue Films, which enabled a series of promotional clips that were employed by Jason and GIRL when approaching their recent launch date on 1st September.

I hope it’s needless to say that I’m obviously not getting paid or in any shape or form compensated for writing this, for this enriching appreciation I feel for the brand truly stems from my complete alignment with both the mission and the cause of GIRL, besides clearly finding tons of delight and inspiration through the actual manufactured goods themselves. Thus, I’d simply suggest you all take even a quick look at what Jason and what he calls his family are doing with their company, as I fully believe it’s the minimum one could do when confronted with such praiseworthy and universally binding values as the ones brought forwards by GIRL.

As far as I’m concerned, at the time I got to learn about the overall GIRL project, it was an immediate no brainer for me to seek out means and ways to support what Jason and his crew were crafting, and for the record I have been doing so since the company launched their first online collection back in January last year. Furthermore, it should also be said that to me all things related to GIRL got significantly amplified by Jason’s artistic and especially musical undertakings that were going on at the same time (enter primarily letlive.), which I certainly strongly felt connected to and was able to rely on multiple levels on. Speaking of which, recent warmer months have brought back loads of excitement after letlive. tragically announced their break up earlier this April. Said excitement comes in form of The Fever 333, i.e. Jason’s brand new incendiary musical project kickstarted with the help of former The Chariot guitarist Stephen Harrison and impressive Night Verses drummer/digital percussionist Aric Improta.

The alternative-punk trio presented itself to the wider world via a memorable and unique unauthorised pop-up event in the parking lot of legendary drive-through landmark Randy’s Donuts on the last 4th July in Inglewood, Los Angeles. The band documented their incredible performance in a dedicated videoclip recalling the experience and explaining that the impromptu live performance was first and foremost:

“[…] an effort to demonstrate the power of assembly and protest. This particular event was in opposition to the displacement of citizens due to their race, choice of identity, or economic standing to remind ourselves that we are the largest piece of any community. Not politicians, not corporations, not the authorities, but US – the citizens. The people are what make communities successful. Before the release of any music we released specific pieces of information containing a location, a date, and then a message. In that message we called to those who wanted to see change and a reminder that it starts locally. On this day over 150 people showed up in a parking lot in Inglewood in support of an idea. That idea was to empower the people that serve as the heartbeat of their community.”

The Fever 333 has so far released two radically angry and raging standalone tracks (“We’re Coming In” and “The Hunting Season”), and have officially blossomed at their first “authorized” hometown live show that took place at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood on 31st August, with prestigious guest appearance/endorsement of blink-182 drumming God Travis Barker as well as A-list punk producer John Feldmann, whom the band has so far worked with for the release of its first two songs. It’s still unclear what’s next for the politically-charged protest punk outfit, although judging by the way they hinted and released both information and actual material in the past, it all seems to be predominantly short-noticed and revolving around the 333-digits hook, presumably originating in their underlying credo “B3 FR33. STAND UP. RESIST.”. Watch their space as they don’t stop repeating it: There’s a fever coming…

Before pulling the curtains on this multi-dimensionally inspired, Interweb-hosted essay, yours truly would like to consume a little more of this digitised ink to address the recent release of mighty Foo Fighters‘ new LP Concrete and Gold, out just one day before this writing on 15th September. I’m fully aware that in a recent (and upcoming) sea of hugely highly-anticipated releases, with new records out (either now or fairly soon) by the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, The War on Drugs, The Killers, J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Stereophonics, and many more, there’s no way I could truly pay respect to any of those if not through a dedicated ARM-instalment (although nor am I promising this will actually materialise). Yet, very similarly to the aforementioned The Fever 333, I do like to break the rules and therefore allow myself the freedom of a couple paragraphs discussing the Foos’ recent massive album, trying to frame this discussing from a slightly different standpoint than regular ARMs so as to maintain a cautionary “apples-to-oranges” comparison basis.

The context surrounding the release of Foo Fighters’ ninth studio album contains in itself a number of fascinating insights, from the rather unconventional record producer’s choice (the bird and the bee‘s Greg Kurstin), passing through the addition of a sixth permanent group member in long-time touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee, to the juicy line-up of stellar fellow musicians who guest on the album, including Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake, and Boyz II Men member Shawn Stockman. There is of course a fundamental, and arguably more important, musical layer to the whole aspect as well, with almost 50 minutes of brand new recorded running time spread across 11 different songs. Furthermore, one could also have noticed an hilarious and deeply informative radio interview touching upon a wide variety of topics with frontman Dave Grohl hosted by none other than Metallica’s iconic drummer Lars Ulrich on his Beats 1’s show It’s Electric!.

Yet, in spite (or precisely because of) all of the above highly intriguing and valid starting points for a genuine conversation on the Foos’ new album, what I’d like to stress out is an unbelievably fun, diverse, and effective promotional stunt utilized by the band. What I’m referring to is a promo video published in conjunction to the album release that tells the story of how Concrete and Gold was made in all its nuances, with more than worthy behind-the-scenes anecdotes and fun facts. By packaging a great amount of information relating to a process that lasted over multiple years in form of a 6-minute cartoonish, brilliantly animated clip, the Foo Fighters not only produced a promotional item that is quite unique and characteristic (especially for a mainstream act), but by processing the highest consumed format of digital consumption (video) they also managed to squeeze a great deal of valuable insights regarding the making-of the album that I’m sure would otherwise have been done through multiple separated elements that may even have not fit that well together. Hat’s off to the Foos thus, who to be fair have always flirted with the more comical and funny end of the spectrum when creating music videos for their songs. Pick any of theirs on YouTube to prove this point. Speaking of points, this was the last one for now, I promise. But remember to always B3 FR33.

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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