NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO CUATRO – RIDING THE SIDECAR | 29th September, MMXVII

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

September 2017 is a crucial month for the city of Barcelona. It’s not only the first time folks get to enjoy more liveable temperatures after the heavy heat of the Spanish Summer, but it’s also the month preceding the historical independence referendum vote for the Catalonia region, planned for Sunday October 1.

On that day the peoples of Catalonia will be asked to visit the ballots for a vote on a – still, at the time of this writing – unconstitutional and legally non-binding motion pledging for the sovereignty of the North-Eastern region from the Madrid-steered national government of Spain.

It was very much in this type of socio-political climate during a showery early September evening, incidentally just a couple of days before the National Day of Catalonia (September 11), that two big promises of the Iberian punk rock scene were due to perform at one of the most well-known venues for underground and alternative music in town, called Sidecar Factory Club.

The edgy, tight and claret-red 300-capacity bar/club resides in one of the four corners of the gorgeous and heavily touristic Plaça Reial (the Ramblas are only a mere two minute walk away), deep in the core of the historical Barri Gòtic in the centre of town.

In contrast to the other establishments found by the palm tree-filled square, offering various dining options, popular dancing destinations, and tourist traps of all sorts, the 35-year old club is instead known for its intense and prolific event calendar of DJ sets, theme parties and, of course, live music shows. Sidecar has hosted more than 5,000 concerts and is known for “rock, punk, indie, experimental music and all the styles that don’t fit in the mainstream.”

The two young and upcoming Spanish bands on the bill that Saturday September 9 were headliners Camellos and support act Medalla. It was interesting to find out that – in the midst of growing tensions between Catalonia and Madrid – Camellos were born and bred in the Spanish capital, whereas Medalla are Barcelona-based, creating an interesting thread between the two metropolitan poles for the evening. Yet at the same time, both bands are part of the same national underground scene, and both are among the most talked about alternative outfits in the country.

Medalla are still a young group and describe their sound as the perfect union of heavy metal, krautrock, pop and romantic epicness. The Barcelonian four-piece are composed of two guitarists (one of them doubling as periodical keyboardist), a bassist, and a drummer, with each one of them lending voices and harmonies to the finished product. The local rockers began their powerful set at around 21:45 for a little less than an hour. Sidecar’s internal structure and tiny basement concert hall helped the group funnel a potent and heavily reverberated sound throughout, with mighty guitar sounds and stomping bass lines as principal reference points.

Medalla’s set brought to mind sporadic stoner rock and noise-y influences, with their tight and raucous guitar sound that often took centre stage, and the multiple vocal harmony lines layered onto each other, resulting in a pleasant and surprisingly refreshing echo-y vibe. Furthermore, Marc Lòpez on drums stood out for his catchy and precise grooves and riveting patterns, frequently leading whole songs even from a riff-perspective despite a wide variety of song structures. The band are for sure a reliable Spanish reference for fans of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Royal Blood, and The Enemy.

Also worth mentioning was the excellent sonic production of their live show, and more generally the sound engineering in the room that night, contrary to what one might think when first getting to Sidecar’s minuscule underground concert space. This was a merit of the main control room, although in my opinion just as much thanks to an effective instrumental set up on the part of the band itself.

The Barcelonian youngsters’ debut is imminent, due for release at the end of September through Primavera Sound’s talent incubator record label El Segell de Primavera, founded in 2013 to help nurture the local music scene. Medalla are currently playing a restricted string of dates throughout autumn and will perform a highly-anticipated (and already sold out) hometown record release show on September 22 at local cultural association hub El Pumajero. Listeners can already get a taste of their new LP by checking out two of their extracts on their Bandcamp page.

Camellos were that night’s main course and punctually took to Sidecar’s carved stage at 23:00. The Madrileños immediately distinguished themselves for their peculiar, dirtier and more straightforward sound, showcasing much faster and shorter tracks in comparison to their support band, all very much in line with classic fringes of indie-garage or even surf punk. Think of a sound blending early The Strokes and Weezer with the attitude of Mac DeMarco, just with more ska texture embedded into it.

Displaying the same group formation as their fellow musicians on the line-up – albeit vocals only being provided by the two guitarists in this case – Camellos clearly flirted with fun and slacker-ish elements whenever they got the chance. This meant not neglecting their visual impact either, with one of two guitarists and the bass player wearing oversized and outdated football jerseys (Liverpool’s Gerrard and Boca Juniors, for those of you who want to ask).

Such an approach helped the Madrid band receive an even warmer and friendlier reception to the disputed Catalan capital, something that even a month from that evening might look very different indeed, depending on the independence vote’s outcome.

Camellos’ live delivery was well-oiled and confident, with a full string of catchy and immediate tunes. Nevertheless, they left enough room for improvisation and interactive crowd participation, finding great enjoyment in their Barcelonian crowd (reaching about 200 people that night). The whole thing resulted in an amusing musical party, completed by intermezzo-jokes and frequent interactions with the audience.

The Spanish four-piece and its basic punk sound is often described as being humorous and politically-incorrect, and they already have a handful of standalone singles (check out ‘Siempre saludaba’ and ‘Becaria’) and a 15-track debut album entitled ‘Embajadores’ on the books, which came out earlier this year under Madrid-based Limbo Starr.

Sidecar is yet another exciting live music venue in Barcelona, and a totally different pair of shoes to the previously introduced Razzmatazz, which not only hosts much larger gigs but also offers a clearer cross-genre booking choice with more electronic dance influence.

This club is by contrast small, intimate and very stylish throughout, and represents an ideal destination for underground and alternative culture, bringing popular nightlife to the heart of touristic Barcelona. The crowd is inevitably composed of both locals and foreigners, which is regularly met by an event programming that is remarkably eclectic, catering to a wide array of alternative music genres with the club being open six nights a week.

But the most remarkable attribute of Sidecar, in light of the litigious relationship between Barcelona and Madrid, is that for one night everybody agreed with each other, an optimistic consensus that celebrated quality indigenous live music.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

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

Sidecar_Main

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HERE COME(S) THE G.I.R.L | 16th September, MMXVII

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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NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO TRES – NERVOUS BREAKDOWNS & RAZZMATAZZ | 30th August, MMXVII

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

After a string of large and exciting open air festivals that have arrived with impressive regularity since May, it’s time to switch gears and turn to Barcelona’s smaller underground club shows. Larger, shorter, crowd-pleasing festival performances are rarely a match for the intimacy and artistic authenticity of a small venue gig. What better month to withdraw into searing and sweaty indoor environments in the heart of Southern Europe than during the hottest one of the whole year? Let’s get serious, agosto.

The search for urban entertainment and escapism seems more necessary than ever in the aftermath of the reckless and horrible attacks the city recently sustained. Whilst the live shows reported here all occurred before the terror attack on Las Ramblas on August 17, the relevance and importance of local live music establishments that offer collective enjoyment, help to restore serenity in town.

Barcelona and its surroundings offer a variety of interesting clubs and venues hosting live gigs, all generally active during the whole year, yet winding down a bit during warmer times to make space for mainstream festivals. The indigenous selection of concert halls range from the massive Palau Sant Jordi arena and FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium to bars-turned-venues such as Sidecar and Manchester Bar.

Sala Razzmatazz – explicitly honouring the track of the same name by britpop group Pulp and simply known as Razz to the locals – is a venue that, true to its name, has generated the most traction and noise over time. A self-declared “flagship of the culture and leisure scene on the national and international scale,” the 3000 capacity club has been going for about 15 years, and is located in a fascinating construction amidst the industrial part of town of El Parc i la Llacuna del Poblenou.

Over the years a wide array of artists have taken to the Razzmatazz stage, from big names to fresh newcomers, and a quick look at their programming calendar suggests eclectic and fascinating booking choices indeed. The hall mixes its own curated schedule of Barcelonian acts with different national and international promoters, as well as “culture agitators”. Interestingly, Razzmatazz was also the first club in the country to offer entertainment programming across five different spaces (The Razzclub, The Loft, Lolita, Pop Bar, Rex Room) every single day of the week.

favourable early August schedule allowed me to check out the venue in person and attend a one-two heavy combo of live gigs by Brazilian thrash metal trio Nervosa and US death metallers Obituary. This made for an excellent package to experience the club in its alternative glory and as a cultural reference for the city.

Floridian five-piece Obituary need little introduction, having been on the metal scene for over 30 years. But Nervosa, from São Paulo, were a fascinating novelty to me, despite forming back in 2010 and already having released two studio albums (2014’s ‘Victim of Yourself’ and last year’s ‘Agony’) under Austrian indie label Napalm Records.

Obituary took to the Razzmatazz stage shortly before 10pm on a warm Wednesday night, not long after impressive local opening acts Dejadeath and Assot took care of warming up the crowd with a dynamic yet coherent taste of drop-D tunes and growls in sludge-y sauce. Of peculiar enjoyment were the opening bands’ quirky and high-pitched Catalan/Spanish spoken intermezzos in-between set songs, in sharp contrast to the brutal and ugly vocal delivery typical of their type of sound.

The venue’s quite restrained logistics and interior design carry undeniable multi-usage and inter-genre attributes, leaning themselves quite nicely to a death metal-filled concert line up thanks to its dooming and compact stature as well as pitch black coverture. The overwhelmingly sweaty, long-haired audience in attendance for Obituary’s master ceremony was clearly of a Spanish-speaking majority, which made for an authentic and refreshing break from the city’s touristic wave invading the warmer seasons. At the same time, such a connotation surely helped cement Razzmatazz’s reputation as an authentic Barcelonian artistic and cultural point of reference.

Only a handful of days after the US death metaller’s fiery performance it was time for Nervosa. The trio was supported for the occasion by Italian prog metallers Reapter – opening for Nervosa throughout their whole European tour – and local heavy metal veterans Deldrac, composing an ideal line-up for the Brazilian ladies’ main course. Nervosa are currently on their World in Agony summer-long tour celebrating their latest release, which alongside a string of six Spanish dates takes them to Germany, Italy, France and Russia.

Barcelonian four-piece Deldrac, whose one-hour long kick off show was largely glorified by the significant presence of a local fan-base, impressed for both band dynamic and entertaining temperament. With a biting live sound just about rightly proportioned to the room’s dimension (this time a way smaller one than the main room employed for Obituary’s show), Deldrac enjoyed an intense crowd participation despite a rather unfavourable slot on the evening bill, making the most of the obvious perks of playing a hometown gig. A couple of standout track performances led me to savour their sole, slightly rudimentaly produced LP to date ‘One Day More, One Day Less’, a move I would suggest to anyone searching for a new solid thrash record with Catalan blood running through its strings.

Deldrac were followed by Rome-based Reapter at 9pm, who carried on the night’s dances to a suddenly half-empty room whilst the other half of the crowd enjoyed a smoke break. However, this didn’t influence the band’s purist thrash and tight delivery too much. With a live vibe indebted to early records from thrash metal’s Big Four, the Italians played for a little more than 45 minutes, showcasing both decent technical skills and frequent flirts with melodic sounds. Reapter’s performance was clearly inspired by fringes of prog metal and championed by a mighty 6-string bassist who more often than not had all the spotlights on himself. At times though, one could feel that something was missing, perhaps more than anyone from frontman Claudio Arduini, who seemed less comfortable with the songs performed live that evening.

As soon as the headliners took to the stage just after 10:20pm, the two nostalgic, sonic trips down metal memory lane that opened the show, got fiercely completed, and for the greater part replaced, by shock and horror elements. Nervosa’s show was an aggressive explosion of primitive drums and meat and potatoes walls of sound provided by an undoubtedly thinly composed line-up.

Main vocalist and bassist Fernanda Lira made sure her incendiary vocal cords and five bass strings vibrated like there was no tomorrow, appearing to ignore any rational dosage from song number one in an almost neurotic fashion very true to the band’s name (‘nervosa’ being the Portuguese word for nervous). With an exhaustive setlist and an outstanding performance by drummer Luana Dametto, the Brazilians clearly stole the show. The group alternated lengthy solos with experimental bits, extending songs to longer durations with frequent interactions to a pleased crowd. Virtually all Razzmatazz attendees looked like they had their money’s worth for the evening and took the most out of the heavy musical programming. Obviously headbanging, moshing, and circle pits were aplenty.

While it’s always hard to provide absolute statements about local cultural movements, my first-hand experience at Razzmatazz confirmed that it is one of the places to be for alternative music in Barcelona. This is true for both new musical discoveries and established acts.

These two concerts certainly set the bar high, and you shouldn’t miss this venue, with all its noise and appeal as an urban razzmatazz, off your musical to-do list when in the Catalan capital.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

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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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): VINCE STAPLES – “BIG FISH THEORY” | 24th June, MMXVII

It’s almost the end of June and therefore it’s time for another hip hop album review to be happening on these glorious ARM frequencies. (No don’t worry you shouldn’t have picked up the causal correlation between time and rap criticism in the previous sentence, simply because there is none). Some (who?) may say that this is a rather big deal, given that such an occurrence hasn’t happened too often in the meanderings of this site. In fact, if we’re really in the mood for a trip down memory lane, one could actually count on one hand the instalments scrutinising, discussing, and dissecting a hip hop release: first it was Kanye back in February last year, merely because noblesse oblige, then shortly after it was the irresistible and sexy Anderson .Paak, followed by a little bit of Chance The Rapper for a Summer music preview, finishing last with the mighty Bad Rabbits and their role as raconteurs of an American nightmare.

So, it was in this sort of stream of consciousness that 23-year old, Odd Future-associate Vince Staples’ recent album release came as a perfectly timed blessing. The sophomore LP by Long Beach, CA-based rapper goes by the title of Big Fish Theory and dropped on 23rd June under prominent and influential label Def Jam. The 12-track/36-minute long effort follows the widely critically acclaimed debut album Summertime ’06 (2015) as well as significant anticipation from leading news outlets and the whole scene more in general. I myself had been eyeing the MC for quite some time, although not necessarily out of a musical fandom calling – even though his most successful single off Summertime ’06 “Norf Norf” being an absolute gem – but rather because the dude, a very sharp-straight-edge-off-the-tabloids-vocal man in his early 20s who loves Sprite, seemed like a very interesting person to me. Therefore, when on 18th May lead single “Big Fish” truly grabbed my active attention (although Vince actually released an earlier first single called “BagBak” as back in time as 3rd February, though with no hint of a full album backing the track at the time), I made damn sure I wouldn’t miss the whole LP once out.

I actually wasn’t incredibly fond of the first track I fully devoted my ears to, i.e. “Big Fish”. Whilst I completely understand the song being picked as lead single as well as thematic frame for the whole concept of the album thanks to its forward-leaning catchiness and immediacy, the overall delivery results a bit too repetitive and empty, as if its main driving electronic sound and repetitive lyrics were the lowest common denominator Vince could find to fill that vacuum. A similar feeling is the one I get with reference to “BagBak”, at least as far as the instrumental track goes, nothing much than an simple, experimental base ending up being too hypnotic and unvaried to really assume he gave it a proper thought. Yet the song gains value when the lyrical delivery gets considered too, with aggressive, bold, and political elements all successfully intertwined (“Clap your hands if the police ever profiledYou ain’t gotta worry, don’t be scary ’cause we on nowAin’t no gentrifying us, we finna buy the whole townTell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now“).

One aspect that’s very interesting about Big Fish Theory, and one that my esteemed Twitter followers have already had the viewing pleasure to obtain, is that this is an album on which the opening track might actually be the best song overall. I find that too often artists tend to “sacrifice” the album opener either with a preface/prelude/intro which normally is too ambient-y anyway and doesn’t really add much to the overall musical frame, or with an annoying and unnecessary skit/oddity (this especially with hip hop/rap albums), really only contributing to boosting the track amount and nothing to the songwriting package. I’m actually a huge fan of openers and if I ever were to release my own music I swear I’d put my best song(s) right at the start of the tracklist, mainly to show myself the listeners what for. To me, this is what Vince Staples has done by placing the brilliant “Crabs in a Bucket” at number one on Big Fish Theory’s tracklist. The song, wonderfully co-produced and heavily influenced by Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon, is a dark and distorted backtrack with loads of experimental sounds and a pumping, near-to-perfect vocal delivery by Staples, refined and wrapped up by a thin, sensual, and necessary closure by Kilo Kish. The kind of song that immediately reminds me of some of my favourite rap tunes of all time.

Other album highlights include the sweaty and visceral “745”, which in many ways is that what style-related “Big Fish” and “BagBak” should’ve been, as well as the electric and vibey “Party People”, a song that despite its fun title deals in fact with deep self-search and overcoming of struggles (“Move your body if you came here to party / If not then pardon me / How I’m supposed to have a good time / When death and destruction’s all I see?”). The latter tune is also probably the only one that could’ve competed with “Big Fish”‘s radio-friendly character as main single, and in retrospect perhaps an even better choice for it. Last one to save is LP-closer and Ty Dolla $ign-collab “Rain Come Down“, a groovy G-funk cut with explicit leaning to auto-tuned, trappy sounds and the longest track on the whole record with almost 5 minutes of running time.

Unfortunately, the LP carries a number of less fortunate compositions, led by the purposeless skit “Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium” – I mean, come on, for once that an hip hop album is actually limited in its track listing one might as well just focus on the best songs, not least considering the fact that a skit’s main purpose is to let a 19-track album breathe… – and the not-so-dissimilar “Alyssa Interlude”, i.e. an isolated Amy Winehouse voice recording laid hand-in-hand with a sample of “I Wish It Would Rain” by The Temptations. I’m still looking for the whole point of those ones. In fact, I realized I’m not a fan of voicemail-turned-music trend songs at all, as none of the ones recently included in albums e.g. by Kanye West (“Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission” on The Life Of Pablo), Frank Ocean (Blonde’s “Be Yourself” and “Facebook Story [Ft. Sebastian]”), or even Kendrick Lamar (outro on “FEAR.” in his recent effort DAMN.) really made any sense to me. The list of insipid tracks on Big Fish Theory continues with the one-two “Homage” and “Samo” at number eight and nine on the tracklist, where I simply find myself being completely indifferent towards them, mainly because the mood and genre adopted by Vince on those two songs is something that I find being not easily digestible.

Lastly, there’s one song which I’m still not convinced I truly dislike, or in other words, one that might as well end up among the ones I enjoy listening the most. That track is the mighty Kendrick Lamar and Laura Jane Lowther collab “Yeah Right”, and such a feeling stems principally from the realisation that the composition is a nothing else than a combination of parts that for me are hard to get (Vince’s industrial-rapping intro plus outro) and very positive and inspiring moments, such as the Lowther-sung refrain and Lamar’s powerful and delicious verse. If one thinks about it, this could actually sum up most of Vince Staples’ enigmatic and fascinating public character, both as an individual and in his musical persona, further amplified by the obscurity of the album’s title meaning and some of the rapper’s promotional statements, like for instance the genius move about labelling his record’s overall sound as “afro-futurism”, only to then to admit of not knowing what it really means but still enjoying “saying stuff about black people to white people”. How can one not be attracted to someone like this? My kind of artist for sure.

AV

VINCE STAPLES

“BIG FISH THEORY”

2017, Def Jam Recordings

http://vincestaples.com

VS_Big Fish Theory

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): PARAMORE – “AFTER LAUGHTER” | 19th May, MMXVII

Just about a week before Paramore’s fifth studio album After Laughter came out on Friday 12th May, another incredibly highly anticipated record – for about 17 years, to be precise – found its way to the world: in•ter a•li•a by El Paso, TX-based emo/post-hardcore legends At the Drive In. For multiple times during practically the past two weeks I’ve been so close to fall to temptation of turning that release into my next branded ARM instalment, yet for once I decided I would rather challenge myself whilst at the same time keep any potential sources of fandom and obsession intervention at an historical minimum. That’s why I eventually rather opted for the Hayley Williams-fronted pop-punk trio’s last and freshly released LP, which to be fair didn’t come without substantial media talk and hype for itself either. Nonetheless, before we go any further down that route, I’d still highly solicit you all to immerse yourselves in a deep listening experience of At the Drive In’s latest effort, but please do make sure – even if you’re not an  hysterical audiophile – you wear proper headphone equipment or blast those tunes out of decent speakers. No, I don’t mean your regular MacBook internally built-in ones. Decent speakers I mean. You’ll thank me later.

One of the most interesting aspects about Paramore’s After Laughter, released under Warner-owned label Fueled by Ramen and co-produced by guitarist Taylor York and longtime collaborator Justin Meldal-Johnsen, is perhaps that it came to be after a lengthy period during which the band actually threatened fans (and themselves) to break up for good. However, such crisis momentum was then luckily resolved by a non-negligible line-up change – bassist Jeremy Davis out, drummer and founding member Zac Farro in – and a substantial twist in sound and overall vibe, as mightily and unapologetically displayed by the Memphis Group-influenced album artwork (cfr. below).

Moreover, After Laughter follows the vastly successful and Grammy-winning self-titled album released back in 2013, which came along with huge hit singles “Still Into You” and “Ain’t It Fun“, and obviously set a very high precedent bar in the band’s artistic past. Yet, when on 19th April After Laughter’s new lead single “Hard Times” was released, it soon became clear how there was no need whatsoever to keep holding on to past trophies as there was meaty new substance to speak and get excited about again. The track widely showcases Paramore’s heavy leaning to new musical directions, specifically embracing a spongy-disco 80s sound with imposing synths and new-wavy atmospheres. This feeling got further reinforced by the album’s second single, titled “Told You So“, released just two weeks later and presenting more rhythmic and melodic references to past musical decades but also drawing discrete elements off their self-titled mood here and there.

A fascinating attribute that both songs possess, and which immediately reminded me of some of my favourite tracks such as Taking Back Sunday‘s “Stood A Chance” or The Cure’s “The Last Day of Summer“, is what sometimes call happy sad, that is, those musical arrangements where the instrumental composition and the lyrics find themselves in fundamental juxtaposition to each other, usually with the former denoting harmonious, positive, and upbeat feelings only to be dismantled by the devastation and desperation of the words sung on top of them. To me, doubtlessly one of the most beautiful and powerful aspects of music.

Generally, in fact, the whole 12-track album actually tackles rather dark and sombre themes, especially on a lyrical level, whereby cuts such as “Forgiveness” (“You hurt me bad this time, no coming back / And I cried ’till I couldn’t cry, another heart attack”), “26” (“Reality will break your heart / Survival will not be the hardest part / It’s keeping all your hopes alive / When all the rest of you has died / So let it break your heart”), and incredibly beautiful closer “Tell Me How” (You keep me up with your silence / Take me down with your quiet / Of all the weapons you fight with / Your silence is the most violent) make an effort of pairing the obscurity of their lyrical content with their overall sound. On a number of other tracks, on the other hand, such as potential fan-favourite “Rose-Colored Boy”, the vibrant and electric “Pool” as well as personal favourite and arguably best moment of the whole record “Grudges”, the music and the melodic instrumentation result way more upbeat and colourful, in spite of their lyrical content. This trademark songwriting formula seems to be working quite well for Paramore along the entirety of After Laughter, at least judging by the strict cohesiveness of each listen and the smooth song transitions to be found on the tracklist.

There are however some weak moments too, fronted by the messy and at times irritating “Caught in the Middle” and especially the eleventh song on the record, “No Friend”, basically a useless repeating guitared arpeggio loop led by an edgy drum beat and almost inaudible voice recordings, which actually turned out to be of mewithoutYou‘s Aaron Weiss, a friend of the band. It’s seriously hard to understand what kind of statement Paramore were trying to make by including this track into the final packaging, given its lack of structure or rather purpose, if not discouraging the listeners to quit their auditive experience right before the highest and finest moment on the whole LP, the aforementioned piano ballad “Tell Me How”. “No Friend” does indeed represent a shameful inclusion looking back at the whole release, not least because if follows what is potentially one of the catchiest songs on After Laughter and yet another testament to the band’s more or less hidden tributes to 80s synth-wave productions, “Idle Worship”. A hurdle-less transition between the latter and curtain caller “Tell Me How” would definitely have landed the record to higher appreciations, as far as yours truly is concerned. Yet, there’s no need to create scapegoats at all, as After Laughter can stand very firmly and convincingly still on its own, where the good and exciting bits go cast a shadow onto the weaker ones presenting a more than decent overall output. In this very case though, Paramore seem to perhaps have taken the act of casting shadows a bit too literally.

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

PARAMORE

“AFTER LAUGHTER”

2017, Atlantic Recording Corporation

http://www.paramore.net

Paramore_AL

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): COLD WAR KIDS – “LA DIVINE” | 1st May, MMXVII

Hello there y’all. I’ve probably never been more distracted when drafting an ARM blogpost before and this really does come as a warning. I’m in the middle of moving house and country of residence, lord Ryan Adams just dropped a thunderous and tenacious collection of 19 (!) B-sides to his recent, critically acclaimed, and ARM-grilled album Prisoner and, last but definitely not least, Californian soul-punk outfit letlive. split indefinitely two days ago to my overwhelmingly unpleasant surprise. Yet, I really want to gift my musical impressions to the world as well in regards to San Pedro, CA-based indie legends Cold War Kids’ highly anticipated sixth studio album LA Divine, which came out early last month on Friday 7th April.

However, before I dig into the main bit of this piece, I feel I owe letlive. a short, impromptu obituary that will hopefully help demonstrate my love and affection for the band and, most of anything, the impact they’ve had on me. As I spotted their official goodbye statement a couple days ago on my social media feed it was one of those moments where the first thing you do is rub your eyes and re-read the whole thing, just to double- or even triple check that you really saw what you saw. I guess I’ve been quite lucky and fortunate in my musical fandom life so far as I almost never had to go through such a frightening realisation for the bands I love most and I will never betray or forget. Whilst it’s true that Nirvana and The Police, arguably my top favourite musical representations of all time, were actually already defunct and no more by the time I even started getting into them, other major artistic and incredible living influences on me such as Taking Back Sunday, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam or even Blink-182 are all still rocking stronger than ever. Yet letlive., who became an immense part of my life and world-perception around 7 years ago and have gone on deeply affecting me ever since, really feel like the first true, real-time musical abandonment in my life.

Letlive.’s music, energy, devotion, and lyrics all felt to me more urgent and necessary than almost anything else out there, whilst their profound carefulness for longstanding racial and social issues served as endless inspiration to say the least. Moreover, experiencing the Los Angeles-based post-hardcore band live in concert was a whole universe and life-changing occasion of its own, as I humbly tried to account for in this note. Losing them as a musical outfit is an irreplaceable loss not only for my very own artistic spectrum but for the wider alternative and counter-reacting scene as well, as possibly now more than ever the world and music would have needed their protesting rage, insurgent rebellious nature, and willingness to fight back against the establishment. With this I’d just want to thank them for having existed and wish all of the members’ very well in this hard but apparently necessary decision.

II. 2002 – 20XX. F O R E V E R Soul Punx. II._Forever

Back to our regularly scheduled programme, namely Cold War Kids’ latest 14-track effort LA Divine. I kind of have this theory where I think no good and superior art critic should ever review the same artist twice, as I feel doing so would detach them too much from that necessary fresh outlook that tends to kick in when someone is reviewing something for the first time, ultimately swallowing the critic into a subjective, self-reflecting and precedent-leaning rabbit hole that at the end of the day doesn’t benefit anyone. Thus, since I’m not a good and superior art critic myself, I feel ready to blindly omit the fact that almost exactly two years ago I already wrote – rather negatively – about Cold War Kids’ previous record Hold My Home.

The pre-release promotion for LA Divine was a rather ambitious one, with as much as four singles with correspondent music videos released in anticipation of the 44-minute long full-length effort. Incidentally, the San Pedro-native five piece decided to gradually release all first four songs on the tracklist in chronological order, paving the way with sparky and energetic lead single “Love is Mystical” on 2nd February, followed shortly after by the introspective and slower “Can We Hang On?” on 2nd March, and wrapping up with the Bishop Briggs soulful collab “So Tied Up” as well as 5-minute epic “Restless” in short succession just weeks before the full album release. Looking back, this really does feel like an interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive choice, as the four tracks aren’t too dissimilar from each other at all – that is, piano-heavy, chorus-driven bangers that all lean more than one hand in both sounds and vibe towards Cold War Kids’ previous LP Hold My Home – whilst the rest of LA Divine has so much more to offer indeed. Truly noteworthy out of the singles-bucket are the opening track, with its potent intentions in both beat and lyrics, as well as “Restless”, a rather beautiful tribute to Los Angeles and its ability to shape love relationships (“I don’t get jealous, I get free / Everything good comes back to me / It seems like wherever you are / Is just a better place to be“) all embedded in carrying melodies with a groovy piano and catchy verses doing most of the job.

As previously hinted at, this album has way more to offer and enjoy though than its singles (unsurprisingly, given that with its 14 tracks LA Divine marks Cold War Kids’ longest release to date). As our good ol vinyls teach us, this record too is shaped in such a way to be divided into four main bits/themes, sequentially separated by something close to an interlude, or skit, or even filler, depending on what one prefers to call them (“LA River”, “Wilshire Protest”, and “Cameras Always On”). For instance, the first psych/lo-fi interlude “LA River” is followed by what is arguably the album’s most exciting part, with great cuts such as the live-like uplifting “No Reason to Run” as well as the gangstery “Open Up the Heavens”, which presents some of the best vocal harmonies on the whole album and comes with irresistible badass-guitars.

“Luck Down” and “Ordinary Idols” make up the main third bit of LA Divine, with the former being a solid enjoyable indie tune and the most aggressive and sped up cut of the LP, whilst the latter arguably representing one of the dullest and most boring moments, only to be partially saved by quite sublime lyrics (“Why would you idolize me? / There’s nothing I got that you don’t / You keep on fantasizing / I’ll always be the underdog“). It follows the social media/instagram-hysteria critique skit “Cameras Always On”, which then throws the listener to the final part of the record and boy, that is one hell of a closure. Both the gentle and beautiful “Part of the Night” as well as the spacey and ambient-driven “Free to Breathe” make for an excellent wrap up with a rising and extremely inspiring note. This is true especially for closing track “Feel to Breathe”, which sees Cold War Kids at their songwriting best whilst at the same time surprising the listener with unexpected guitar arpeggios and wonderfully sung by frontman Nathan Willett.

Overall, LA Divine might as well be Cold War Kids’ most inspired and coherent album in a decade, with the band’s signature groovy and R&B piano once more dominating all major tracks and undoubtedly entailing some of the band’s best songs ever written (see “Restless”, “Part of the Night”, “Free to Breathe”). Yet, the album does come with highly skippable moments as well (see “Can We Hang On?”, “Ordinary Idols”), while here and there one can’t help but feel like some of the material on this records just sounds a bit too second-hand and recycled from previous work, above all 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts and 2015’s Hold My Home  (doesn’t “Love is Mystical” sound just like it could’ve come out of the same writing session as Dear Miss Lonelyhearts’ and Hold My Home’s lead singles “Miracle Mile” and “All This Could Be Yours”?). In other words, LA Divine could certainly have benefitted from more guitars and edgy sounds and less predictable piano-formula. It’s a shame, but nothing to despair. Cold War Kids might have been ok with rendering their home town of Los Angeles divine this time round, hopes for a switch to their songwriting abilities are high for what’s next to come.

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

COLD WAR KIDS

“LA DIVINE”

2017, Capitol Records

http://www.coldwarkids.com

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MUSIC IS FOR EVERYONE (AND SO IS FREEDOM) | 3rd April, MMXVII

I know it’s been a fairly high amount of ARM instalments on these premises lately, hence why I won’t be framing this very one as yet another one of those and, even though it most certainly deals with and celebrates the power of music, just putting out a friendly warning that Everything Must Swing might never have gotten this political before. Getting straight to the point and without unnecessary clicks-generating namedrops, in the past couple years the Western socio-political world has come to exist in a seemingly never ending state of widespread dysfunctional crisis and democratic disenfranchisement, mostly through forms of radical political movements gaining decisional power and by consequence hurting both economics and well beings of societies at large. Whilst I’m aware that, luckily, there have been many shapes and forms of protests over time (and one of them many has made its way into this site before) – principally because protest and countermovements can be of different nature intrinsically and by design – there’s one particular initiative leveraging the power of arts and music more specifically that I’d like to bring to every reader’s attention.

The initiative I’m referring to is a music compilation album put together and curated by Taking Back Sunday‘s lead guitarist John Nolan, brilliantly called Music for Everyone and out just a couple days ago on 30th March via Collective Confusion Records and Californian Hopeless Records’ charity arm label Sub City Records. All proceeds from digital sales of the compilation will help support non-profit organisation American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a movement that for over 100 years has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties of people. Music for Everyone is a mighty 27-song compilation that features rare or unreleased music by an incredibly rich and talented bunch of artists ranging from punk legends Anti-Flag to rapper Gift of Gab, from emo-icon and former My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero to modern generation singer-songwriters such as Dave Hause and Kevin Devine. Not missing from the collection album’s tracklist is of course John Nolan’s very own Taking Back Sunday, who contributed with an exclusive new acoustic cut entitled “Just A Man”. This is John Nolan himself speaking about some of the reasons that brought him to put together such a massive collaborative effort:

“I also wanted to give artists an opportunity to express something about what’s gone on in this country over the past year and what’s coming in the next ones. I needed that for myself and wanted to connect with other people who needed it. And I wanted to take that need for self-expression and channel it into something bigger than all of us.”

The compilation and its stamp are quite clearly directed at angrily pushing back and expressing widespread discontent towards the recent election of Donald Trump as 45th president of the USA, as the main curator goes on explaining:

“In the next four years, there is a lot of potential to see policies that will discriminate against people of color, Muslims, women and the LGBT community. The ACLU has a long history of fighting discriminatory and unconstitutional policies and I wanted to do something to unite people in support of that fight.”

While there is little to add to such a noble and honourable intent, I do believe that the  inspiring and positive initiative brought forward by Music for Everyone could and should be applied in many other contexts regardless of background and geographic specifics, as in the end it’s all about those values of incisiveness, togetherness, tolerance and freedom that are currently being put under threat in so many geopolitical circumstances. If anyone feels that said values should indeed be protected and reinforced across the board whilst realising that so much of the free world is currently underway to limiting individual rights, then the least one could do would be to show some support by contributing to the cause by purchasing the album on its dedicated Bandcamp page. It’s a Name-Your-Own-Price (NYOP) model whereby each of us – very much in the spirit of the whole campaign – can freely decide how much to donate towards the project and the benevolent actions of the ACLU, starting with a price of $10.

As of now the compilation album is only available digitally in all its formats (download, streaming, etc…), and according to a recent Facebook Q&A session with John Nolan physical and vinyl releases might be planned for the future, depending on early successes of the initiative. Music-wise, as one can imagine with a tracklist of 27 songs, the album is extremely varied and rich in genres and sounds, carrying the listener through sonic journeys of punk rock draft tunes (Anti-Flag’s demo opener “Buried the Shame”), beautiful and heartbreaking songwriting intimacy (a live performance of “Honest Man” by wonderful Travis Hayes), upbeat dystopian scenarios (“I’m Paranoid” by Brett Newski), dirty and muddy existential anger (Frank Iero’s “Getting Into Heaven Can be Hell”) and, of course, more or less veiled punches in President Trump’s face, with the aforementioned Taking Back Sunday tune “Just A Man”, the vulnerable and addictive “sinn” by Cameron Boucher and anthemic hope closer “The Day After Tomorrow” as only some of the many highlights across these 90 minutes of protest music.

In a present world increasingly afflicted by humanitarian and identity crises across the board, there was never a more important time to state that we all were born in this together and that our energies are doubtlessly better spent elsewhere than in close-minded populist narratives and actions. Very much like our human race, music has always been there from the beginnings, crafting in itself a universally coded language driving progress and connection among nations, borders and ethnic groups. The Music for Everyone initiative is just a catalysing spark that is very much up for grab and re-invention, re-interpretation, and re-appropriation in other political and societal scenarios, acting so much as inspiration as it does as concrete localised initiative benefiting the immediate concrete actions of the ACLU. Let’s embrace this, let’s pick our own organisations to endorse and let’s try to push back at the injustices of present times, reminding everyone possible that just like music, freedom is for everyone.

Before we wrap up, make damn sure you read more on the various ACLU’s commitments to stand up for human rights in the wake of the recent US presidential election:  www.aclu.org/news/aclu-statement-donald-trumps-election

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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