ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE HELLA MEGA ALBUM REVIEW—3eb, JIMMY EAT WORLD, REFUSED | 2019-10-20

Rock and roll is dead, they say. Perished and gone past any point of salvation; de facto disappeared from the limelight. It’s undergoing a fundamental identity crisis, they allege, which started just at the turn of the the twenty-first century’s inaugural decade and slowly caused its vanishing from the charts, after nu-metal, emo, and garage indie guitar bozos kept it afloat on life support in the early noughties. Fast forward to the approaching sunset of another decade, and rock is blatantly accused of exercising virtually no more influence on popular creative culture. But then—quite ironically—a quick superficial scrutiny of today’s most successful hip-hop (read: mainstream) artists would be all it takes to denote how so-called faux cutting edge and avant-garde rappers and MCs do little more than lifting inherent and eroded rock staples. This manifests in both the artistic and fashion sense, beginning with the gentrified appropriation of industrial palm muted guitar-led walls of sound atop which they oughta spit out bars in pockets, a wide variety of emo sounds and aesthetics, as well as death metal iconography and design statements on their attires.

Then—as if by a divine intervention of sorts—Friday 18th October 2019 came along and flushed away any residual breadcrumbs of doubt as to whether rock and roll and ancillary alternative music were still to have a seat at the mainstream culture table. Most likely unbeknownst to one another, although the potential irony of this being a coordinated effort wouldn’t be lost on me (and yet this might suggest otherwise…), three monumental and highly influential bands repping the penultimate heyday wave of rock dominating charts and radio happened to release their latest studio albums on said same glorious date. Stephan Jenkins-masterminded California rock outfit Third Eye Blind, alt-emo veterans Jimmy Eat World, and Swedish iconic post-hardcore trailblazers Refused all dropped their highly-anticipated sixth, tenth, and fifth studio LP respectively on this proud mid-October Friday. This occurred much to the surprise of focus group-affine taste making gatekeepers, who thought that rock’s highest moments today ought to be confined to Guitar Hero and regional redneck fairs. One single listen to each record is enough to confirm that these three groups have never sounded tighter and more cohesive, notwithstanding that they’re all steadily embarked onto their third decade as bands.

Let us begin with Third Eye Blind (3eb), who return the favour to emo-rappers and genre appropriators by turning heads with a straight up tongue-in-cheek trap number at number ten on their new LP Screamer’s tracklist. In doing so, “2X Tigers” accomplishes what most generic trap beats can’t, in measuring out just the right amounts of rattling hi-hats, 808s, autotune, and lyrical razzmatazz. Overall, 3eb’s new joint is a generous 40-minute, 12-track outing helmed by carefully doctored synthetic atmospheres and soundscapes, employing trademark subaltern vocal deliveries by flamboyant frontman Jenkins, coupled with real pedestrian relatable storytelling. Carefree and lighthearted slow-burners such as “Ways“, sophomore single “Walk Like Kings“, and “Who Am I” stand to indicate that the record flows by sans the dirt and aggression off their early late-nineties projects, although Screamer’s stunning lead single slash title track, followed by the grassroots anthemic punk/rocker “The Kids Are Coming” prove that the San Francisco quintet hasn’t lost its bite and attack over time.

Recruiting the Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan as ‘musical consigliere‘ throughout the creative process certainly helped safeguarding a certain degree of weirdness and experimentation being factored in, too. This shows brightly on a few cuts on here, such as the EDM-infused “Tropic Scorpio“, as well as power-pop oddity “Got So High“, with the latter disclosing the inherent clue in its title right out of the gate, alas supplying cringeworthy lyrics and a pointless beat switch-turned-outro (“So I walked down on Tavern Riaz / I watched a movie starring Cameron Diaz / I got a guitar amp that’s louder than Jesus“). One might also wonder whether the self-indulgent custom Pac Man-esque listening video game launched as promo for the full length is to be traced back to a studio banter with Mr Corgan, though perhaps this stone is best kept unturned. All in all, Screamer finds 3eb delivering a powerful and assertive statement of eternal raging youth, sparkled with drops of hope, courage, and desire for bold change. Front to back, the album plays as slick and smooth as butter, and is wrapped up by one of the most earnest and delicate songs Jenkins must’ve penned in a long while (“Well they smashed us but well / We found our feet and found our voice / Now we give ’em all hell / And now they’re gone“). All killers, no fillers.

On Surviving, Jimmy Eat World on their part choose to tap into crisp, clean cut, yet larger-than-life sounds, haphazardly flirting with their 2007 Chase This Light sonic moodboard, making Surviving its spiritual successor. This comes with big choruses and thick guitars, immediately proven guilty as charged by opener combo “Surviving” and “Criminal Energy“. These are two of the punchiest, fiercest, and most unhinged songs to come out of their repertoire in more than ten years. However, the Arizonans make sure to reassure us they haven’t lost their knack for distilled melancholic melodies on follow up track “Delivery“, a stomping and tremolo-ed heart-on-sleeve emotional journey doubling as the natural—slightly more seasoned—hybrid between “Always Be” and “Firefight” off their aforementioned superior 2007 milestone. Elsewhere, Jim Adkins and co. kill two birds with one stone when they repurpose and remaster last year’s excellent standalone power chords-bonanza single “Love Never“, lending the hammering late capitalism anti-hero anthem a needed production re-tooling that helps better singling out the song’s urgency: “It’s gonna seem so far / It’s gonna feel so hard / Until you want the work more than the reward / Do you want the work more than the reward?”.

Together with “Surviving”, “Criminal Energy”, and “Love Never”, cuts like “One Mil“, “Diamond“, and epic 6-minute closer “Congratulations” reinforce the inherent heaviness of this project, without much concerns related to overdoing palm muting and/or distortion. Ever the subtle and refined writer, on this album Adkins also manages to sculpt one of Jimmy Eat World’s most singular and counter-intuitive works with the airy and celestial 80s drum machine galore “555“, a superlatively cathartic moment moonlighting as second single in promotion to the record. Speaking of singles, Surviving’s chosen flagship one (“All The Way“) is unfortunately the dullest and flattest chapter on here, coming across too sterilised and formulaic for anyone even remotely familiar with the Mesa, AZ band’s past output. That said, this new half hour and change procured to us by the alternative rockers sweeps by like a spinning rush of watertight loud rock, topping Jimmy Eat World’s more recent efforts (2016’s Integrity Blues and 2013’s Damage) on both the songwriting and sonic delivery front.

Hailing from the apparent idyllic paradise of Sweden and responsible for one of the mightiest watershed moments in the experimental post-hardcore scene, Refused are no strangers to leaving evident battered marks in the ground they cover. Tallying up just their fifth studio album to date in nearly thirty years as a band, the modern punk stalwarts have had to put up with a ‘too big to fail’ legacy that might or might have not prompted their 2014 reunion—after abruptly calling it quits in 1998 at their highest career peak. With their newest studio full length War Music, which follows up on their softer and dividing fourth LP Freedom in 2015, the Swedish woke and socially-conscious quartet choose to revert back to flat out in-your-face meat and potatoes mannerisms. Cases in point, the skin-crawling, spine-bending incendiary lead single “Blood Red“—a manifesto to holding up to one’s ethics and ideals from cradle to grave—and the violent bona fide hardcore throwback “Turn The Cross“. Perhaps unsurprisingly in this saturated and overproduced musical zeitgeist filled with loudness wars, the Dennis Lyxzén-fronted project generally opts for peeling back a few layers and marry stripped back, extremely raw and rebellious sonic contours, albeit not always so spotlessly.

Soul-punk and groove-distributor “REV001” works flawlessly as sonic baptism to the whole shebang, even though its efficacy can’t be reprised as seamlessly by its follow up on the tracklist (“Violent Reaction“), the latter resounding too tired and thin-stretched. Meanwhile, the album’s inflammatory closing set of overtly alienated socio-political statements (“Death In Vännäs“, “The Infamous Left“, and “Economy of Death“) vehemently address neo-liberal gimmicks, diminishing returns, thought leadership apathy and jadedness. Stuffed in the middle of this 10-track dissenting capitalist opera is a host of straightforward and true blue Refused playbook material (“I Wanna Watch The World Burn“), math rock riffing aggression galore (“Damaged III“), and exquisite foreboding marching potency (“Malfire“), with the latter track culminating in a witty and excruciatingly harrowing take on contemporary population management issues: “They came in boats, they came on land / Alone and scared with empty hands / The founding thought, come if you can / Your tired, poor, your huddled mass / In grand old eyes, a life reviled / Becomes a threat, a parasite“. Another solid, trustworthy, and long-overdue check-in from a band that has and will continue to make important waves in the current unenlightened climate.

This should suffice, though if the above supporting evidence isn’t enough, be my guest and throw in the following exhibits to counterclaim the assertion that alternative rock is no longer alive and well. These were all released within the last few months: Sam Fender’s Hypersonic Missiles, Puddle of Mudd‘s Welcome to Galvania, and blink-182‘s NINE. We love rock and roll, so put another dime in the jukebox, baby…

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

THIRD EYE BLIND

SCREAMER

2019, Mega Collider Records

https://www.thirdeyeblind.com

third-eye-blind-screamer

JIMMY EAT WORLD

SURVIVING

2019, Exotic Location Recordings/RCA Records

https://www.jimmyeatworld.com

JEW_Surviving

REFUSED

WAR MUSIC

2019, Spinefarm Records/Universal Music

https://www.officialrefused.com

Refused_WarMusic

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): PUDDLE OF MUDD – UH OH | 2019-07-15

I can’t believe no one had written this song yet. Wes didn’t need to go this hard.

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

PUDDLE OF MUDD

“WELCOME TO GALVANIA”

2019, Pavement Entertainment

http://puddleofmudd.com

PoD_WelcometoGalvania

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): DOMINIC FIKE – PHONE NUMBERS | 2019-07-07

School, radio shows, TV programmes, and so much more are easily out for summer by now. However, as we all know very well, music and other forms of conspicuous cultural media production and consumption never miss a beat, rising up instead to pull out all the stops in times of abundant times to kill on the part of unaware audiences. New music Fridays know no holidays, if you know what I mean. So needless to say, the initial portion of this year’s warmest season did not go shy in cranking out new creative manufacture to keep us and our moms all entertained. Hence why, this latest ARM instalment found itself forced to come to fruition by way of a hybridised approach, milk-shaking various existing content staples together, such as ARM itself, APIT, and pinches of musical loose odds and ends too.

To cut a long introduction short, despite this very piece being filed under the ever-so-familiar ARM feature section indeed (see above), it actually represents kind of a novelty, an editorial debut of sorts. For the first time after 45 — yes, I counted — individual ARM instalments spread over multiple years, going over either full albums or EPs, this new Dominic Fike short review will instead focus on a single track only. Consider it a precedent, ladies and gentlemen. And, I won’t be afraid to use it in the future. Shocker, I know. Regardless, before we delve into the artistic merits and flaws of this new Kenny Beats-produced song “Phone Numbers“, I just wanted to take this occasion to blatantly implore you, on my bruised knees, to please please give the new Freddie Gibbs & Madlib joint Bandana a listen. Several looped listens, actually. The replay value of this thing is off the charts. Mind you, whether this wholly gratifies you or not, at this point I shall constrain my critical judgement to this tweet alone. Also, if you feel like checking out season three of Stranger Things, which just dropped mere days ago, go ahead and do that too. It’s a hectic and layered third set of episodes. That Bandana album though.

At this point you might have heard or read about 23-year old Florida-born rapper Dominic Fike in-between the lines of previous pieces on this online real estate property, or anywhere else on the Interweb for that matter. However, generally speaking, little is still to be encountered about the somehow elusive rapper/singer-songwriter, who’s already managed to squeeze jail time, drug abuse, a dysfunctional family background, and a multi-million bidding war among major labels under his existential belt. His indie rock-flirting debut project Don’t Forget About Me, Demos — a swirling and hooky 6-track EP that received the re-mastering/re-releasing treatment with Sony Music/Columbia Records shortly after they successfully courted him — is in fact the sole official trace of a music industry pedigree of sorts for the Naples-native, virtually shelved on streaming services alongside a few standalone singles that started to emerge since the month of June this year. That’s where things start to get interesting for us.

First, on the 7th day of said month, it was the hollow, pensive, and sullen “Açaí Bowl“, a slightly distorted autotune crooner aided by gentle guitar arpeggio fingering, navigating through evidently sensual chanted melodies (“She said ‘I dressed in your favorite / I bought two bottles of red / Unless you made reservations / Oh look, you thought all ahead'”) as well as concrete MC-like rap bars (“And when they locked me up, she never listened to her friend / They told her “move on” movin’ on (Mhm) / And now she tells that same bitch ”My shoes Prada / My boo bought ’em, I do love him‘”). Revealed on the same day, side-B to said single was the lo-fi neo-soul number “Rollerblades“, a 2-minute and change fuzzy, laid-back deconstruction of R&B sounds and aesthetics that wouldn’t have been out of place on Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Or actually maybe on its cutting room floor.

This takes us to a few days ago, Friday 5th July, when the BROCKHAMPTON-affiliate saw fit to unveil his third single in the now full-throttling series. The fun and groovy tongue-in-cheek reprimand “Phone Numbers”, which he seems to have confirmed serves as yet another taster in anticipation to his still unannounced debut full-length effort later in the year, sports a borderline tropical-dancehall vibe, embodying a 4/4 slapping beat and what sounds like a zany ukulele strumming moulding the main melodic lane throughout: “Why you not here with me? / Can you break bread with me? / Why you switch phone numbers like clothes? / Why you can’t answer me? (Yeah) / ‘Cause I got more coming“. While not the longest in runtime,  this one definitely feels like the more structured and robust verse-chorus-verse-bridge boilerplate out of all the standalone tunes dropped hitherto, thanks arguably to super mega trendy producer royalty Kenny Beats doctoring the sound architecture on here.

As a follow up to these one-offs, it now seems more than legit to expect a fuller, more cohesive body of work sooner rather than later from the “3 Nights“-sensation, not least judging by the amount of unofficial and unreleased material that appears to be making waves around the web, including the raunchier underground gansgta hip-hop brand he started off in Florida with before moving off to shinier pastures new in Los Angeles. Also, if the stripped down Rain of Shine — the recent stream-of-consciousness impromptu Paris livestream he uploaded to his YouTube channel — is of any indication, then it’s signalling a clear pivoting towards beginning to re-populate the artist’s digital footprint with careful content pills apt to his new redux-ed persona.

Don’t get me wrong here, in spite of the slightly underwhelming and unfinished state of the material we got our hands on so far, we are indeed dealing with a raw and unrefined piece of artistic talent, capable of mastering a wide range of genres, instruments, and vocal interpretations dutifully puzzle-pieced together in service of clear pop sensibilities. After all, record labels might be cringeworthy and shallow, but they’re not stupid. With that being said, pretty much every element of his musical production is still quite all over the place, from his songwriting to even the slightest notion of a coherent sound apparatus. Yet, the various scatter-plotted pieces of gifted evidence we’ve gotten so far echo more and more promising by the drop. Furthermore, let us not forget the qualitative heights he managed to achieve for what he provided on BROCKHAMPTON’s leader Kevin Abstract recent ARIZONA BABY, a project on which he outshone any other collaborator. Come to think of it, we might indeed be witnessing the gradual unravelling of a caterpillar becoming butterfly just before our very eyes.

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

DOMINIC FIKE

“PHONE NUMBERS”

2019, Columbia Records

https://dominicfike.com

DominicFike_Phone#

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WESTERN STARS | 2019-06-15

How often can one stand the utmost tasty chance to review a fresh collection of original music by The Boss himself? Certainly not too frequently during the course of this past decade, within which — for better or worse — Springsteen fans have been forced to confine their new found comfort and abundance to a mere three studio LPs following 2009’s lukewarm Working on a Dream. Also, strictly speaking, for how beautiful, generous, and fulfilling his 2014 album High Hopes was, it ought perhaps not be truly considered as one, given that it encompassed twelve miscellaneous numbers based upon cover songs, out-takes, and re-imagined versions of tracks from previous projects, EPs and tours. So, needless to say, the arrival of his nineteenth (!) studio record, including nothing but brand new material for the first time in almost five years, kind of sent arousal shivers down yours truly’s musical spine. Bruce Springsteen‘s new project is titled Western Stars and came out worldwide yesterday Friday 14th June on Columbia Records, proudly sporting thirteen new cuts clocking it at just over fifty minutes and change of runtime.

Somehow, a part of me is tickled by a form of redemptive urge to begging your pardon, esteemed readers, as we jointly wonder how on earth could one be possibly in a position to critically appraise and dissect a body of work that came out 24 hours prior to said critique, let alone by an artist as mystical, deep, and timeless as Springsteen? Yet, the album really is that good, ladies and gentlemen, that I am left with no other choice but throttling away at full speed aiming at shepherding your present, past, and future listening experiences of magnetic Western Stars. Mind you, this thing is predominantly a melodic unplugged affair, borrowing compositionally as much from Nebraska (1982) as from Tunnel of Love (1987), throwing in Bruce’s evergreen and universal reliability plus, evidently, more than a few residuals from his recent years spent looking back at his youth in memoir-mode as well as holding Broadway residencies with plenty of acoustic guitars.

Right off the bat with album opener “Hitch Hikin‘” — a stranded, heartfelt, and liberating lullaby led and wrapped by guitars and strings only — we get a clear no-frills sense of where Bruce is headed with this, fully delivering on his pre-announced promise to explore stories and topics that “encompass a sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.” The unique blend of hopeless melancholy mixed with unconcerned limitlessness conveyed by this tune is straight up lifted from his bona fide Springsteen playbook material: “I’m hitch hikin’ all day long / Got what I can carry and my song / I’m a rolling stone just rolling on / Catch me now ’cause tomorrow, I’ll be gone“. Once again, I’m the definition of a broken record here but I’m just so pleased and gratified anytime I stumble across albums that waste no time fumbling around and hit up listeners with their highest moments right from the top, even better so if directly with the opening track. Western Stars is in my opinion one such record. So, if you are to only listen to one song off this LP, please I implore you make it this one. It comes in handy as it’s the first thing you hear by pressing play on the record.

Now, I’m not insinuating that “Hitch Hikin'” is hands down and indisputably the best cut on here, as one could confidently say that Bruce has spoilt us by choice with this new outing. That accolade should probably be bestowed upon the album’s title track at number four, which alongside the groovy and deliciously lush “The Wayfarer”, and the LP’s third single “Tucson Train” (dropped on May 30th), make for one of the most solid, coherent, and convincing first album acts of 2019. “Western Stars” actually moonlights as the official fourth single for the eponymous full-length (out on release date) and is attached to a stupendously shot and intricate music video; with that being said, the creative and business rationale behind it not being the actual first lead track for its is beyond my comprehension. The tune is a tormented, deep, yet hopeful exploration of what it feels like to be entangled and checkmate-d by Southern California fame, while at the same time running on an extremely relatable mundane mantel made of blessings and curses each one of us goes through in life. Bruce here needs nothing more than his inspired pen, a warm acoustic guitar, and a gelling rhythm section to remind everyone who the real American storyteller for the people is.

Fifth on the tracklist “Sleepy Joe’s Café” brings a fun and welcome change of pace to the overall introspective and mainly somber aesthetic that kicked off the album, leveraging typical country and Western sonic elements to make for an uplifting break. The track is followed by another highlight in the shape of the haunted “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)“, showcasing a beguiling sobbing piano and a gentle guitar that would’ve perfectly fit on any of his 80s records, while the main character is presented the check for the carefreeness and rebellion of his juvenile days: “At nineteen, I was the king of the dirt down at the Remington draw / I liked the pedal and I didn’t mind the wall / ‘Midst the roar of the metal I never heard a sound / I was looking for anything, any kind of drug to lift me up off this ground“. In a similar vein, banjo-led “Chasin’ Wild Horses” navigates through past acceptance and regret, as it spearheads what is perhaps the weakest section on the record, additionally comprising the somewhat dull and sanitised ‘full-band rock song’ “Sundown” and the unplugged filler “Somewhere North of Nashville”.

The stunning orchestral “Stones” at number ten reprises the glorious and spotless songwriting leitmotiv found in Western Stars’ first portion, making way for a compelling and terrific duo of tracks where each doubled as promotional single in anticipation to the full album release. “There Goes My Miracle” successfully displays a best-of of some of Springsteen’s more modern sounds, very much at show on his noughties records The Rising (2002) and Magic (2007), while also providing for one of the catchiest — albeit lyrically bittersweet — hooks on the whole project. Meanwhile, the sweet and enchanting stripped down marching ballad “Hello Sunshine” is a country-folk gem sounding instantly like a Bruce classic, including his unique authorship trademark, blending universal sadness with the elevating power that comes with its embodiment: “You know I always loved a lonely town / Those empty streets, no one around / You fall in love with lonely, you end up that way / Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?“.

I don’t think anybody would’ve argued against having the latter track as the album’s epilogue, although the gorgeous cradling fairytale “Moonlight Motel“, aided by its unassuming embracing backdrop section and the inherent sunsetting nod included in its name, probably make for an even better curtain closer. All things considered, this thing is a near flawless depiction of enduring modern American songwriting, one where Bruce decidedly pulled out all the stops for the first time in a few decades — ironically by reverting back to just his acoustic six-strings. At a time when contemporary mainstream music — regardless of genre, but especially so for rock and roll — is being exposed as having a fundamental identity crisis, resorting more often than not to “everything but the kitchen sink”-formulas and algorithmic co-signs, embellished by branded deals, it’s so stupendously reassuring and refreshing to come across simplistic yet effective works of art such as Western Stars, utilising so little instrumentation but so much heart and emotion. If the price to pay for these types of flags in the desert sand, guiding us musically by way of spiritual reference points, is another five years of waiting, we’ll happily take it.

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

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

“WESTERN STARS”

2019, Columbia Records

https://brucespringsteen.net

BruceSpringsteen_WS

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): TYLER, THE CREATOR – IGOR | 2019-05-26

Provocateur. Jackass. Instigator. Fashion designer. Clown. Cockroach-eater. Enfant terrible. Cheese Danishes lover. Homophobic. Lead odd futurist. Artiste. Prodigal son. Wolf Haley. Misogynist. Influencer. DJ Stank Daddy. Bastard. (Scum fuck) Flower boy. Garçon. Mr Lonely. Gimmick. Fraud. UK and Australia land limits outlaw. Auteur. Punk. Eastern European name adorer. IGOR.

The above are but a filtered bunch of the somewhat one-dimensional and reductive tags Mr Tyler Gregory Okonma, aka Tyler, The Creator, has been subject to pigeonholing with during his career as a solo artist and beyond. The 28-year old Ladera Heights-native rapper, singer-songwriter, and producer has been witnessing nothing short of a stunning chameleonic trajectory as it pertains to both his personal and artistic identity refinement, roughly chaptered alongside a before-and-after moment on this timeline, captured by his tenure at his now defunct trailblazing rap collective Odd Future. Post-OF Tyler, The Creator has then seen his creative itinerary alight at five distinct full LPs preceding his last, IGOR, pivoting and peaking at superiorly lavish Flower Boy station two years ago, an album that still haunts yours truly in the shape of a sacrilege for not having seized the occasion to fully unpack it and review when it came out.

However, pretty much all of the compartmentalising labels and tags thrown at him by both click-bait tabloid and woke media left and right, seem to miss the fact that Tyler is, actually, a fairly old-fashioned and nostalgic twenty-something post-Napster millennial, as much indebted to Roy Ayers and Pharrell Williams as to UK’s own Doves and Nigerian punk-rock. One only needs to pay a tad closer attention than the average to discover how the influential Los Angeleno MC’s cognitive scheme works by employment of rather old-school, anachronistic, and analogue architectures of thinking. Case in point; he still refers to his songs — or any song, really — by calling them by their track listing position, instead of their actual title, denoting a clear reliance on the album as a format and thought processing lens when it comes to music. Or, as a further supporting exhibit, just turn to the prevalent apparel leitmotiv expressed through his clothing brand GOLF, notably inspired by dated run-of-the-mill retro-outfits sported by “old dudes”, in his own words.

Considering the above melting potato salad of misconception, surface-level-judging, creative evolution, latent missteps, and uninhibited self-expression peppered throughout Tyler, The Creator’s multi-artistic career to date, the rather sudden arrival of his sixth studio project IGOR on Friday 17th May was arguably destined by design to be met with a combo of curiosity and excitement. Tyler’s camp managed to squeeze the entirety of the album’s promo and anticipation within two weeks and change, as the rapper’s social media accounts began teasing sonic sneak peaks of less then a minute in length, kicking off with scene-setting “IGOR’S THEME” on 1st May, delivering an hypnotic distorted synth attack chased chronologically by an edgy drum kit, additional layered keys, and the start of a refrain. Similarly formatted snippet clips followed in quick succession, first with the eerie and foreboding lo-fi of “WHAT’S GOOD“, then taking a left spin with the tasty and warm soul of “A BOY IS A GUN“, only to retract to another U-turn with the subsequent “NEW MAGIC WAND” teaser, another big, heavy, violent beat gelled together by a pitch-shifted spine and its quasi-industrial feel.

Unsurprisingly, as we’re dealing with Tyler — and in pure harmonic alignment with the nostalgia claims above —,  IGOR’s tasters ought not be considered as singles to the record in any way, shape, or form. While the former Odd Future honcho did in fact drop a full music video for his schmaltzy, sugary, and delicious tune “EARFQUAKE” on album release day — very much in the spirit of a lead flagship track statement for the whole record — he actually saw fit to publish so-called listening instructions for fans to heighten their proper engagement with the record as Tyler meant it to be. These include memos reminding listeners that “This is not Bastard. This is not Goblin. This is not Wolf. This is not Cherry Bomb. This is not Flower Boy. This is IGOR. Pronounced EEE-GORE.” and, most crucially, crossing Ts and dotting Is around pre-conceptions: “Dont (sic) go into this expecting a rap album. Dont (sic) go into this expecting any album. Just go, jump into it“.

Thus, in his defence, we can’t say we weren’t warned. And oh (flower) boy were those instructions predictively on point. This thing is as much a fuzzy R&B/funk soufflé as it rocks an abstract hip-hop flair, only if it were almost exclusively inspired by low-fidelity Neo-soul crooner-ish songwriting. I haven’t actually measured it so don’t quote me on that, but it’s probably safe to say that true blue MC bars don’t make up even half of IGOR’s total runtime of just about 40 minutes. Now, if Flower Boy were to be employed as some kind of MO trend indication in this sense, this shouldn’t struck as an inconceivable surprise. Notwithstanding this, IGOR isn’t simply a natural and evolutionary step forward in Tyler’s production, arrangement, and songwriting patterning. It’s more like a transverse 180· reboot, milk-shaking much of what he’s been (here’s looking at you, Wolf and Cherry Bomb), mixed with the holistically creative vision behind Flower Boy on steroids, and just a sea of pitch shifting effects. More than any of its predecessors, IGOR is a Tyler, The Creator statement of identity, intent, and emotion.

Counterintuitively, the project is in fact a mighty who’s-who concerto of features, collabs, and co-signs, yet its album art sleeve is here to heartily remind everyone that everything was written, arranged, and produced by the Tyler himself. Playboi Carti (“EARFQUAKE”), Lil Uzi Vert (“IGOR’S THEME”), Solange (“I THINK”, “A BOY IS A GUN”, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”), Kanye West (“PUPPET”), Jerrod Carmichael (interludes MC and wisdom spreading impresario), Santigold (“NEW MAGIC WAND”, “PUPPET”), La Roux (“GONE, GONE/THANK YOU”), CeeLo Green (“GONE, GONE/THANK YOU”), Charlie Wilson (“EARFQUAKE”, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”), Slowthai (“WHAT’S GOOD”), and Pharrell (“ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”) are only a selected few among the helping hands Tyler reached out to for the execution of the project, however no single one was deemed deserving and functional enough for an actual track-level display credit in the eyes of our favourite garçon.

Following a line of thinking warranting a full and overarching body of work appraisal, rather than a track-by-track surgical dissection of its fragmental building blocks, IGOR comes across as a bona fide example of an artistic whole being so much more than the mere sum of its compositional parts. It’s no coincidence Tyler or anyone at Columbia Records didn’t feel like spraying outward a single cut months ahead of the full LP release to entice the audience while at the same time canvassing a fairly representative sonic picture of what the full collection of songs was going to be. That would’ve in fact been a fool’s errand, whether we or Tyler like it or not. For one, perhaps paradoxically, no single track is in fact strong enough to exist autonomously and self-referentially (although the serene, catchy, and come-undone-revealing “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” comes close to that), a notion that with 20/20 hindsight was predictably anticipated by Tyler’s out-of-the-box instructions for use above. Furthermore, on a more mixing/production level of analysis, virtually all track transitions are established by continuous fade in-and-outs, doctoring a unique and uninterrupted listening experience from beginning to end.

What’s more, and quite in juxtaposition to the self-indulgent mission statement of the record, on IGOR Tyler is seen wearing many of his most explicit artistic influences proudly and confidently on his sleeves, to an extent where at times one couldn’t be condemned for thinking that this project was more of a compilation joint, rather than a concept art piece where the source artist acts as the be-all and end-all of its full craftsmanship. Note how his somewhat unrequited love for R&B/Soul blossoms on songs such as the aforementioned “EARFQUAKE”, the confessional and loaded “A BOY IS A GUN”, and perhaps most predominantly on the inquisitive and climaxing album closer “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?“. Kanye West, on his part, shows up both on wax (on vulnerably desperate number “PUPPET”) and as a conceptual reference point: indie-garage derivative track number three “I THINK“s main melodic chords progression sounds just like a “Stronger” cutting-room floor residual demo from 2007. Plus, lest we forget, this whole entire thing has got Pharrell Williams written all over it.

Lyrically, IGOR is recounting a tale arc made of romanticism, love, attraction, rejection, confidence, insecurity, resentment, identity, and acceptance, although it’s extremely hard to put one’s finger on what cut exactly expresses what feeling. Almost as if by careful engineering intent, it’s only with the full twelve tracks under one’s belt and inside one’s brain that the listener can begin to make heads or tails of the bird’s eye view narrative carved into this project’s ethos. When thinking back at specific emotions or cognitive landscapes perceived while sucking up its content, it’s rare that a single song off IGOR is truly capable of doing full justice to the specific feeling conveyed. There is almost a sense of performative uncertainty — or perhaps hesitation — to the scatterbrained itemised musical brushes encapsulated in the twelve distinct-yet-unified vectors that make up IGOR. This might support the evidence around the lack of a real lead single, or even a typical radio-friendly verse-chorus-bride songwriting structure. Instead, in order to funnel a kaleidoscopic, heterogeneous, and contradictory story, with IGOR Tyler was forced to resort back to the comfort of his artistic cognitive infrastructure more than ever, counting on only those few reference points he’s always been faithful to (hence why track number ten “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU” still has a two-songs-for-one structure, as with all his previous full-lengths).

It’s probably still too soon — or actually too late — to measure the impact of single tracks over the full body of work under scrutiny here, as it would admittedly and arguably be an exercise dead on arrival. The risk of not seeing the forest for the trees would be too high. But also, there is a suspicion lurking that Tyler knew it all along. That is, in the above mentioned listening instructions, he also writes: “As much as I would like to paint a picture and tell you my favourite moments, I would rather you form your own“. What better way to spill the beans upfront, revealing that there are in fact no such individual favourite moments, for this project is strictly meant to be digested as a whole unified and interoperable hodgepodge?

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

TYLER, THE CREATOR

“IGOR”

2019, Columbia Records

https://www.golfwang.com

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ON STRINGERS | 2019-02-14

From Wikipedia:

“In journalism, a stringer is a freelance journalist, photographer, or videographer who contributes reports, photos, or videos to a news organization on an ongoing basis but is paid individually for each piece of published or broadcast work. […]

The etymology of the word is uncertain. Newspapers once paid stringers per inch of printed text they generated. The theory given in the Oxford English Dictionary is that a stringer is a person who strings words together, while others use the term because the reporter is “strung along” by a news organization, or kept in a constant state of uncertainty. Another possibility is that using a sports analogy, the freelance journalist is seen as a “second string” whereas the staff journalist positions are more of the “first string”. (This in turn comes from music, where the first string is the premiere violin in the orchestra, the second string is the next most talented player and so on.)”

It is arguably no debatable issue that journalism nowadays – dwelling within a fully digitised, grassroots bottom-up social media era – is pretty much dead. Or perhaps, it is reborn and come back to life by way of a previously unrecognisable shape, depending on which side of the fence you’re on. This holds true at least as far as its modern conceptualisation as enlightened classic fourth-estate goes, residing alongside centuries-long bred societal pillars and acting as a watchdog of sorts against disenfranchisement and corruption. Yet somehow, as per their crowdsourced definition above, it is probably not so far-fetched to view stringers as the true first scattered networked social media contributors, vastly predating Facebook, Twitter and co (the irony of it coming from the most famous crowdsourced knowledge platform is not lost on me…). Stringers were, in other words, the OGs of citizen journalism, ostracised to the outskirts of corporative newsroom boundaries yet ever so critical and paramount for that sensational breaking news story-piece every news director is constantly chasing. Bear with me here.

Enter Louis Bloom, a character stemming from the mind and pen of American screenwriter and director extraordinaire Dan Gilroy. Lou is the lead protagonist in Nightcrawler, an outstanding 2014 motion picture film written and directed by Gilroy himself, chronicling the rapid and exponential rise and parallel moral downfall of an aspiring DYI stringer hustling through the nocturnal streets of an irresistibly sensual Los Angeles. Now the thing is that, after devouring the movie for the umpteenth time, the penny dropped for me. That is, I was very surprised to come to realise that there was in fact a hidden, secret, and decisively revealing narrative carved in-between the fatty lines rounding up the edges of the official acted script. A script within a script. Deep down. A story we weren’t supposed to fetch and grasp at a first superficial glance, but one that in reality unveiled so much more beneath the surface about modern neoliberal markets, philosophy, and existential musings. Dub it whatever suits you best, I just went ahead and took the official movie screenplay apart, unpacking anything I could find while looking for that mysterious feeling that the film as a whole was somehow able to convey. Seeing is believing.

Luckily for us, I think I was able to catch it. I got it out. Extracting selected excerpts from the full script – incidentally all Louis Bloom lines – helped revealing a whole entire new storyline stuffed with elevated teachings about life and beyond. Camouflaged and packaged within a Hollywood blockbuster, there is perhaps one of the most daring and radical educational deliveries that contemporary mainstream mass cultural production has ever seen. Enjoy and consume it responsibly:

 

LOU
Sir, excuse me, I’m looking for a job. In fact, I’ve made up mind to find a career I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I’m a hard-worker, I set high goals and I’ve been told I’m persistent. Now I’m not fooling myself, sir. Having been raised with the self-esteem movement so popular in schools, I used to expect my needs to be considered. But I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe, sir, is that good things come to those who work their asses off, and that people such as yourself who reach the top of the mountain didn’t just fall there. My motto is if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket. Did I say I worked in a garage? Sir, I think you and I could work well together. So how about it? I can start tomorrow or even why not tonight?

LOU
This is a custom racing bicycle, sir, designed for competitive road cycling. This bike has a lightweight, space-age carbon frame and handlebars positioned to put the rider in a more aerodynamic posture. It also has micro-shifters and 37 gears and weighs under six pounds. I won the Tour de Mexico on this bike.

LOU
Well, I’m selling this particular piece for ten thousand. I think at that price there’s a lot of value in it for you.

LOU
Thank you. I’m just beginning so praise from someone such as yourself, well you can imagine it means quite a lot.

LOU
It’s a fine opportunity for some lucky someone. I’d like to know about your prior employment and hear in your own words what you learned from each position.

LOU
I’m giving you the chance to explore career options and gain insight into my organization. It’s not at all unusual for me to make full-time job offers to my interns.

LOU
Don’t rush you. Okay. Good, I can use that … You see, Rick, they’ve done studies, and they found that in any system that relies on cooperation, from a school of fish or say even a professional hockey team for example, these experts have identified communication as the number one single key to success.

LOU
I liked how you handled Frank. You didn’t soften the truth or dilute it. I think being clear with your objectives is more important than trying to present ideas in a non-confrontational manner.

LOU
Well, all sorts of things, actually. I’m on my computer all day. I haven’t had what you’d call much formal education but you can find most anything if you look hard enough. Last year I took an on-line business course, for example. I learned you have to have a business plan before starting a business, and that why you pursue something is as important as what you pursue. The site advised you to answer the following question before deciding where to focus your abilities. The question was ‘What do I love to do?’ The site suggested making a list of my strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? And what are you not that good at? Maybe you want to strengthen and develop knowledge about the things you’re already good at. Or maybe you might want to strengthen your weaknesses. I recently remade my list and I’m thinking now that television news might just be something that I love as well as something that I happen to be good at.

LOU
Rick, I’m really pleased with how you’ve progressed and you’re doing a great job. However you just spilled gasoline on my car, which will eat the paint. I’d like you to tighten up a bit on this, because if you fill it like that again I’m gonna terminate you immediately, I promise you.

LOU
I’m focusing on framing. A proper frame not only draws the eye into a picture but keeps it there longer, dissolving the barrier between the subject and the outside of the shot.

LOU
Cabanita has been called an authentic taste of Mexico City. Most evenings there’s live music, but on Saturdays classic Mexican films are shown. Do you want to go with me? I think it would be fun if we went together.

LOU
Thanks for offering me the position but working for myself is more in line with my skills and career goals.

LOU
I feel like grabbing you by your ears and screaming in your face I’m not fucking interested. Instead I’m going to drive home and do some accounting.

LOU
Not me. I want to be the guy who owns the station that owns the camera. The business is doing well but I’m ready to grow to the next level. To do that I need to stay one step ahead of my competition and take risks. I also need financial support to implement expansion. Would you like another margarita?

LOU
I recently learned, for instance, that most Americans watch local news to stay informed. I also learned that an average half-hour of Los Angeles television news packs all its local government coverage — including budget, law enforcement, education, transportation and immigration — into 22 seconds. Local crime stories, however, not only usually led the news but filled 14 times the broadcast, averaging 5 minutes 7 seconds. And K.W.L.A. relies heavily on such stories. With Los Angeles crime rates going down I think that makes items like mine particularly valuable, like rare animals. I imagine your needs will only increase during next week’s rating sweeps period.

LOU
There’s certain good things in being alone. You have time to do the things you want to do, like study and plan. But you can’t have dinners like this. Or be physical with a person, I mean beyond a flirtationship.

LOU
You’re the news director on the vampire shift at the lowest rated station in L.A. I have to think you’re invested in this transaction.

LOU
You’re not listening, Nina. I happen to know you haven’t stayed at one station for more than two years at a time, and you’re coming up on two years soon. So I can imagine you have a contract for that length of time and that ratings during the next week will directly affect that.

LOU
Actually that’s not true, Nina. Because as I’m sure you know … a friend is a gift you give yourself.

LOU
It’s half-dozen of one, six of the other. What I’d like is for you to admit that you didn’t read what you said you did. I think you know that I’m a reasonable person, but no one likes to be lied to.

LOU
Rick. Trying to leverage your salary in this economic environment is near impossible. Most firms have set starting wages. Ideally, you could leverage with other offers but that is just not the case in your situation right now.

LOU
I thought you’d worked in other factors. If I didn’t think you could do better I wouldn’t ride you about routes. You have to know that, Rick. I think it’s just possible that I have a higher opinion of you than you have of yourself.

LOU
You should have walked in and looked, Rick. If you were half-curious. That’s what I’m paying you to do. You need to show initiative. There’s no better way to achieve job security than by making yourself an indispensable employee.

LOU
All the more reason. You might have helped me. You might have learned a new skill that made you more useful and put us on a track toward growth.

LOU
I’m not going to list the many benefits of this piece. I think it’s best that you probably just watch it for yourself.

LOU
Those were poor Mexican people in a roach coach. Two of them were illegals. These are three wealthy white people shot and killed inside their mansion, including a suburban wife shotgunned in her bed. I know you, Nina. I know your interest and excitement in this product is greater than the amount you’re offering.

LOU
What if the story’s not over? The people who did this escaped. They’re still out there, walking around with the rest of us. If I had a family and I lived in a home that might make me nervous. I would want updates on what was going on. With this footage people will turn to your channel for the story. Now I like you, Nina, I look forward to our time together, but you have to understand that 15,000 isn’t all that I want. From here on, starting now, I want my work to be credited by the anchors and on a burn. The name of my company is Video News Productions, a professional news gathering service. That’s how it should read and that’s how it should be said. I also want to go to the next rung and meet your team and the anchors and the director and the station manager, to begin developing my own personal relationships. I’d like to start meeting them this morning. You’ll take me around and you’ll introduce me as the owner and president of Video News and remind them of some of my many other stories. I’m not done. I also want to stop our discussions over prices. This will save time. So when I say a particular number is my lowest price, that is my lowest price and you can be sure I’ve arrived at whatever that number is very carefully. Now when I say I want these things I mean that I want them and I don’t want to have to ask again. And the last thing that I want, Nina, is for you to do the things I ask you to do when we’re alone together at your apartment, not like the last time.

LOU
I don’t usually share my business plan with you, but a moment has arrived that could allow the company to make enough money to expand to the next level. We could call this the critical moment. I’m inviting you, Rick, to be part of the team that pounces on this opportunity.

LOU
You’ve been asking a lot about your performance review. Well, for starters I’m seeing a great improvement with regards to your overall focus and order following. Given complex problems you’re developing a real ability to find clear, simple solutions. I’m also aware of your increased enthusiasm. It’s great to see how your eyes light up when you’re working on new ideas. I hope you’ll be inspiring us with your innovative thinking for years to come.

LOU
What makes a job desirable isn’t just the dollar amount attached to it, Rick. You’re on the ground floor of a growing business. Your reward is a career.

LOU
We can reopen negotiations, Rick, but remember that when it comes to your work reputation you can’t un-ring the bell.

LOU
What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.

LOU
I can’t jeopardize the company’s success to retain an untrustworthy employee.

LOU
That’s my job, that’s what I do. I like to say if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.

LOU
Congratulations. Your selection by Video News Productions is evidence of the hiring committee’s recognition of your employment history and unique personal qualities. It is my hope that through hard work and commitment you will move through the intern program and continue to pursue your career goals as full-time employees of Video News. I can tell you from experience that the surest way up the ladder is to listen carefully and follow my orders. You may be confused at times and other times unsure but remember that I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.

 

Nightcrawler’s full screenplay can be found 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

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