Archive | December, 2013

The Top Five Albums of 2013: Neeharika’s List

31 Dec

As I mentioned in my Top Five Songs of 2013 list last week, 2013 has been a decent year for music. There were some great debuts, even better follow-ups and a promise for the future. So, without further ado, here’s my take on the Top Five Albums of 2013.

– Neeharika

5. Shaking the Habitual, by The Knife

Shaking the Habitual

It’s often hard to imagine what ‘textural’ means in the context of music. How can a purely tactile sense be attributed to sound? The word is often thrown about as a vague catch-all for everything from ambient to post-rock, but there is music for which ‘textural’ is a perfect adjective. One such example is The Knife’s fervent fourth album, Shaking the Habitual, which puts you in the middle of a seethingly alive jungle.

On “A Tooth For an Eye”, Karin Dreijer Andersson’s wild, unintelligible chants soar and whoop like tribal cants through her brother Olof Dreijer ‘s electronic safari through a rain-forest. The strongest beat lies on “Full of Fire”, which could form the ominous soundtrack for a dream that wakes you up sweating and disturbed.  You could get lost in the labyrinth of “Raging Lung”, gasping for breath while your masked overlords laugh at your ghastly predicament. It’s like each song comes with its own dizzying music video.

I will freely admit that I wasn’t a fan of The Knife prior to this album; their much-hyped Silent Shout came off as far too pretentious, like early Animal Collective gestated too far into the sinisterly inaccessible. However, after a few listens of Shaking the Habitual, I found myself getting enveloped in the ethereal gauze of “A Cherry on Top”, the busy techno of Networking” and the dark drama of “Wrap Your Arms Around Me”. While it’s still not the most accessible music – case in point, the 19-minute horror-movie diegetic “Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized” – there may hardly be an album in 2013 more imaginative and textural (there’s that word again) than Shaking the Habitual. Recommended, for those willing to stomach it.

Best tracks: “A Tooth For an Eye”, “Raging Lung”

4. Pure Heroine, by Lorde

Pure Heroine

Contrary to what twee stars may have you believe, being a 16-year-old famous pop star is not always easy or even fun. Even a normal teenager’s world seems to change all too rapidly; imminent rise to fame can only cause further confusion. Lorde’s Pure Heroine (full review here) is a meditation on this theme, a sort of commentary piece to the young New Zealander’s sudden rise to fame.

But sudden does not mean unexpected. In her mid-teens, Lorde possesses musical chops like none of her peers. She wields her whip-sharp pen – writing cleverly about teenage romance and suburban life and impending fame – with as much confidence as she sings, sly smirk in place. Add to that a magnetic personality – the hair! the winged mascara! – and you’ve got yourself a true pop star. The difference is that she really doesn’t want to be one. “We crave a different kind of buzz,” she explains on her hit “Royals”, before going on to claim her personal throne: “Let me be your ruler/ You can call me Queen Bee.” She fears fame, too, with the intensity of a small-town girl pushed into big-city spotlights: “How can I fuck with the fun again, when I’m known,” she wonders wistfully on “Tennis Court”. It’s quite a refreshing take on success.

Pure Heroine by Lorde – note the effect of the foisted ‘e’ in both cases – is perhaps the best debut of 2013, and one of the best albums overall. It will be interesting to see where true fame takes Lorde in her follow-up albums. She’s one to watch, for sure.

Best tracks: “Tennis Court”, “Royals”

3. Days Are Gone, by Haim

Days Are Gone

Every once in a while, a true revivalist comes along, making music that sounds like it should have been a famous hit already. On their debut Days Are Gone (full review here), Haim have managed pay perfect homage to a discography spanning synth-heavy hits from the late 70s all the way to glossy-lipped R&B from the 90s.

Haim comprises three attractive sisters – Danielle, Este and Alana Haim – whose first band was called Rockinhaim, composed of themselves and their parents. The girls make sunny, honest, genuine music that speaks of their pedigree as much as it does of their home in California’s carefree San Fernando Valley.

That Days Are Gone is a debut is a little hard to believe at times. Just listen to the sludgy-cool “My Song 5” or the shining hooks on “Honey & I”. This is music that already has a classic feel. In fact, Days Are Gone often feels like a best-of compilation of female-fronted music from pop’s golden eras, which is probably what the Haim girls intended to do.

Whether on the breezy post-breakup title song or on the irresistibly catchy “The Wire”, Danielle, Este and Alana have the confidence of old sessions regulars with nothing to prove, or world-famous musicians with several concert tours under their belts. With that sort of aura, it seems only natural that the Haim sisters are set to be superstars.

Best tracks: “The Wire”, “My Song 5”

2. AM, by Arctic Monkeys

AM

In late 2005, four young British lads released a kicker of an album about life as young British lads that immediately shot to unrivaled success. They hadn’t planned on fame: neighbors Alex Turner and Jaime Cook asked for guitars on Christmas only a few years prior so that they could play some songs together with their high school friend Matt Helders. Somehow, in an accident that involved the novelty of file-sharing, MySpace and a shamelessly salivating British music press, the boys became superstars: shy, ill-suited for fame and too wordy for their own good, but superstars nonetheless.

In 2009, Arctic Monkeys took a break from their witty chronicles of getting turned down by girls in clubs and headed to the California desert with Queens of the Stone Age front-man Josh Homme, who lent a heavy black aura to their music and lyrics. The band lost a legion of their earlier fans with the resulting album Humbug; even I, a devout fan-girl, was tempted to think that the Monkeys were losing their touch with this strange new direction. It didn’t help that the follow-up Suck It and See was lacklustre at best, with elliptical lyrics and a conspicuous lack of blistering indie rock that diverged sharply from their original image.

But now it all makes sense. Themes from their entire discography – the lusty darkness of Humbug and the way lyrics were carefully wrought on Favorite Worst Nightmare  – make an appearance on AM, which may just be their best album yet.

Every part of their act has gotten tighter. Alex has evolved as a vocalist, effecting a sly, jilted prowl on “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” as easily as the whipped desperation on “Fireside”. His lyrics, too, have gotten even better. “It’s much less picturesque without her catching the light/ The horizon tries but it’s just not as kind on the eyes,” Mr. Turner sighs about the eponymous woman on “Arabella”, going on to croon, “And her lips are like the galaxy’s edge/ And her kiss the colour of a constellation falling into place.” Quite the poet he is.

But the band is not a one-man show. On AM, Arctic Monkeys have damn near perfected the art of drawing organically from influences to create a their own new sound. Jaime Cook’s ponderous riff on “Do I Wanna Know?” evokes a stripped-down QOTSA while “Arabella” could be slipped into a Black Sabbath mixtape. The best example, though, comes on “Mad Sounds”, a beautiful ballad that fittingly brings to mind the late Lou Reed, complete with “ooh la las” sprinkled over a sparkling-pop everyman love song.

The Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album is the latest stepping stone on their journey from clever cads with guitars to mature musicians. AM is at once the culmination of everything the band has done so far as well as an exciting direction for the future. One thing’s for certain: as good as this album is, their best is yet to come.

Best tracks: “Arabella”, “Why’d You Always Call Me When You’re High?”

1. Random Access Memories, by Daft Punk

Random Access Memories

Putting Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (full review here) above an Arctic Monkeys masterpiece really made me think. On one hand, I’ve been a rabid Arctic Monkeys fangirl for the past decade; on the other, Random Access Memories is otherworldly genius. In the end, timeless genius won over everything else, and that is why Random Access Memories is, in my opinion, the best album of the year.

There’s very little to say that hasn’t been said already. We can talk about the featured artists – industry legends and indie superstars alike – and how their combined starpower with Daft Punk resulted in perfect collaborations. “Doin’ It Right” sounds exactly like how an Animal Collective-tinged Daft Punk song should sound, while “Instant Crush” featuring Julian Casablancas would fit in uncannily well on the Strokes’ Comedown Machine.

We can talk about the theme – futuristic humans-turned-robots finding their way back to humanity through love and the power of music – and how perfectly every song fits into the overall idea, like robot-manufactured puzzle pieces. The story stretches from the disco heydey on song-of-the-year “Get Lucky” to the magnum opus “Touch”, which is basically a fantastic, musical version of Pixar’s Wall-E.

We can talk about the music itself, ranging from lackadaisical bliss on “Lose Yourself to Dance” to instrumental fantasia on “Motherboard”. But in the end, it’s as Giorgio says on the epic “Giorgio by Moroder”: “Once you want to free your mind about a concept of harmony and music being correct, you can do whatever you want.” This, in essence, Daft Punk’s idea for Random Access Memories.

This is not music. It’s expression: timeless and impossibly perfect.

Best tracks: “Get Lucky”, “Lose Yourself to Dance”

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The Top Five Albums of 2013: Nikhil’s List

30 Dec

It’s been a pretty full year for music and now as it comes to an end, it’s time to separate the gods from the frauds. These are the five albums that struck deepest within me.

5. The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe is a hard person to describe. Adjectives flow easily; inventive, bold, imaginative, talented, but as she proudly states, she defies every label. The Electric Lady makes parts four and five of her seven part science fiction concept album series and lives up to the high standard of the previous entries. This albums sees her a little more free and a little more comfortable than in her previous work. While The ArchAndroid is still definitely the better album, the soul that fills the second half of The Electric Lady is still wonderful. Janelle Monáe has consistently been one of the most interesting people in music since Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) was released in 2007 and The Electric Lady does nothing but reinforce her already solid status. This is a fun, danceable album and I recommend it to everyone.

You can read the full album review here and our review of her concert here.

4. Without A Net by Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter’s return to Blue Note after 43 years is an astounding piece of modern jazz. This is fiery jazz, the kind that forces you to sit up and take notice of it. Not only is it of unparalleled technical proficiency, but the band members are almost psychic in how well they play off each other. They’ve been working with each other for over a decade now though, so I suppose that is only to be expected. Although this is beautiful jazz, it may be a little too obscure for people new to the genre. For anyone who has heard Wayne Shorter before though, not having this album would be a sin.

For those still on the fence, the full album review is here.

3. Days Are Gone by Haim

Days Are Gone

Each of my final three albums is an emotion and this one is happiness. This is a fun album to listen to and a fun band to watch. There’s none of the pretentiousness that characterizes so much of the indie scene. This is a very varied and consistently excellent album and doesn’t feel the need to shove the fact in your face at every turn (I’m looking at you, Arcade Fire). It’s hard to single out any songs in particular, “Honey & I” feels like Stevie Nicks at her best, “My Song 5” has an incredible bass riff, “Running If You Call My Name” is heartfelt, all of their songs are worth talking about. This is the band that loves making their music as much as I love hearing it.

We’ve already put “Falling” on our album review and “The Wire” on Neeharika’s Top Five Songs of the year, so for this list you get “Don’t Save Me”.

 

2. Silence Yourself by Savages

If you’ve never heard the album, then it’s hard to explain why this album is so important. After all, indie musicians borrowing heavily from past music is nothing new and this is just Joy Division with a female singer. The thing is though that this album is very, very good. Painfully, brokenly good. Each of these last three albums is an emotion, and this is depression.

This album burns with a searing, undecorated intensity. Jehnny Beth screams and taunts throughout while the rest of the band perform their bludgeon-work upon your prone body. This is not a subtle album, an album with whom you can reason and share quiet moments by the fireside. This will shout at you, often just a single word, and you will listen because you know that the rest of the day is just going to be a pale echo of those submissive moments.

1. Yeezus by Kanye West

Yeezus

Yeezus (full review here) is Kanye at his biggest, his most brash, his funniest, his most aggressive. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is still probably his best album, but that did not make the sort of statement that Yeezus did. This album’s emotion is anger. Leaving aside the refusal to release singles until well after the album released, the music is intentionally difficult, the lyrics intentionally off-putting. Discomfort is the aim, but not without reward as well.

“I’m In It” for instance is some of the most menacing music I’ve heard this year, but has no problems juking you with unexpected comparisons and a mention of swag-hili. It is then followed by the exceptional “Blood On The Leaves”, which samples Nina Simone’s cover of “Strange Fruit” beautifully. “New Slaves” is rage coalesced (and fully reviewed here) as “I Am A God” is hubris. Every line in “Black Skinhead” is a call to action. Even “Bound 2” makes for an excellent closer.

You can see the work, the brilliance and the anger behind every line. You can, in fact, see Kanye West.

@murthynikhil

The Top Five Songs of 2013: Nikhil’s List

26 Dec

2013 was a great year to be into music. It’s hard to think of the last time that things have been quite this interesting. There have been stellar debut albums and big name comebacks (including a return to Blue Note bandleader after no less than 43 years). There has been major rap release after major rap release after major rap release after major rap release (with a very refreshing minor rap release thrown in for good measure). We even managed to see the return of science fiction. It’s been a great year with great music and here is my take on its top tracks

Honorable Mention: “Valentine’s Day” by David Bowie

Adding an honorable mention to lists like this is cheating, but I couldn’t write this without touching on this song. “Valentine’s Day” was both heartfelt and topical. With barely anything at all, Bowie manages to paint a complex picture of the eponymous Valentine. His description of the planned school shooting is extremely personal and that lets you fill in what pushed Valentine this far. The song itself shifts from tender as he goes over his treasured plans and power trips to frenetic as he is about to take action. Frightening and remarkable, this song is David Bowie as good as he’s ever been.

You can read our full review of his album here

5. “5 AM in Toronto” by Drake

It’s easier to laugh at Drake than to like him. Nothing Was The Same did nothing but reinforce how soft he is. I mean, have you seen “Hold On, We’re Going Home“? It wasn’t actually a bad album though and that speaks volumes about his talent. “5 AM in Toronto” though is Drake going hard and is excellent. Look at this

The part I love most is they need me more than they hate me
So they never take shots, I got everybody on safety
I could load every gun with bullets that fire backwards
You probably wouldn’t lose a single rapper
Niggas make threats, can’t hear ’em over the laughter
Yeah, that’s cause I’m headed to the bank, nigga

Why he chose not to put this in Nothing Was The Same is beyond me, but album complaints aside, this is just really good rap. At the end of the day, this boy has talent.

You can read our review of his full album here.

4. “Lies” by CHVRCHES

So, CHVRCHES have finally arrived. Now that they’re here, I was disappointed by their album, but had a ton of fun at their concert. I like intelligent pop with female singers, and this covers that in spades. This song pulls off the same sound that made me fall in love The Knife and Lauren Mayberry’s voice is glorious. Besides, that chorus just can not be resisted.

This is dark, beautiful and glorious to listen to. Her story of self-confidence through control over her lover is splendid and made much more so by the motif of lies. This is perfect pop.

Again, album review here and concert review here.

3. “New Slaves” by Kanye West

When I first heard Yeezus, it was actually “Blood on the Leaves” that straight up convinced me that Kanye West was still on top of the game. It has been a while though and “New Slaves” is the song I most return to. The menace on that opening beat is palpable. You could cut a block out of it with a knife and use its inner fire to heat a home for a month. And that’s before Kanye opens his mouth.

This song is rage. This is pure in the way so few songs are. This is Kanye upset and rightfully so and calling out things that are wrong. You shouldn’t have to be a god to do this, but of all of the players this year, no one else has proven godhood as convincingly. Everything I’ve said until now though does nothing but diminish the song. Rage and menace is worthless if not as crafted as this song. It may have been forged in a crucible instead of handwoven on an ancestral loom, but this is masterwork nonetheless.

Album review, link. You’ve got this by now.

2. “She Will” by Savages

The Savages’ debut album was one of the most intense things that I heard this year. There are very few albums that affect me so deeply that I need to carefully monitor when and how much I listen to it. Silence Yourself acts on me the way Unknown Pleasures does, and that is a very high bar to reach. Songs like “She Will” can absolutely break me.

Jehnny Beth is scathing and confident in her takedown of gender roles. Although takedown is far too mild a word for this song. Evisceration is much more apt. Fay Milton’s drumming is primal and the guitar and bass work could be a song in themselves. These individual points are meaningless though because their sum is so much more. Everything fits in, everything works together and as a listener all you can do is what it says. This picks you up and hurls you where it wishes. That repeated refrain of the title at the song end is far to commanding to ignore.

This is the kind of song that you need to sit alone in perfect silence and breathe after. You can still hear it though. You’ll never really escape it.

1. “Control” by Big Sean (feat. Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica)

Let’s be clear about this. No matter what the title may say, this is K.Dot’s song. I haven’t seen a song been snatched quite so hard since a young Eminem killed Jay-Z in his prime on “Renegade“. The other verses are fine, but I’m not even going to go over them.

Kendrick Lamar has put it down with this song. Rap is going to change because of this and with it music and with that society. The world has moved and his verse is what did it. Let’s start with the easy part to talk about. He just claimed both coasts. With one hand, no less. He name-dropped everyone. Even people performing on this very song weren’t safe from him. Enough nice-guy rap, things are going to go hard again and Kendrick has brought the golden age back.

Now, let’s get to the song. Kendrick’s flow is still impossible. He rides this beat so hard it dies the moment he gets off it. Honestly, its heart probably stopped beating minutes before and K.Dot pushed it anyway. That moment when in the middle of calling out competition he takes a breath because the list is so long, that’s as much of a statement of confidence as wearing the crown. Don’t even talk to me about the replies. The mic was dropped with that verse and not even Thor has the ability to pick it back up. We’re done.

@murthynikhil

The Top Five Songs of 2013: Neeharika’s List

23 Dec

With about a week to go before the end of the year, 2013 is being hailed by critics across the board as a good year for music. We saw the emergence of new, promising artists like Haim and Lorde, and saw great followups by established acts such as Arctic Monkeys and Daft Punk. My Bloody Valentine made a reappearance twenty-two years (!) after their previous album, while Kanye West released a mad-hatter album whose hype rivals, if not exceeds, that which surrounded his blockbuster from 2010. Chance the Rapper and Earl Sweatshirt, too, released important rap albums. All in all, it was a good year for music. Here’s my take on the top five songs of the year. Hope you like it!

– Neeharika

5. “The Wire” by Haim

Haim

There are a handful of songs in the world where all the elements – the music, the lyrics, the style and the influences – sync perfectly and irrefutably together. These songs are very, very few and far between, and are invariably propelled to ‘instant classic’ status. It can be said, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that “The Wire” is one of these songs.

Haim, a trio of sisters from sunny California, has been making all the right kind of headlines since their debut Days are Gone released in September. Even though they have been compared to everyone from Fleetwood Mac to the Dixie Chicks, Haim has an unshakeable foundation which lets them use their influences as flavoring rather than as the main ingredient. However you look at it, Haim is one of the most attractive and truly talented bands out there today.

“The Wire”, a confessional about wisely letting go of a failing relationship, is an irresistibly catchy example of Haim’s allure. Existing in a universe where The Bangles open for Madonna (or maybe the other way around), “The Wire” is one of the best songs of the year and perhaps one that 2013 will be remembered for, well into the future.

View our full album review here.

4. “Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand

In early 2004, a Scottish indie rock band released an eponymous debut album, smartly titled after a European archduke who catalysed one of history’s largest events. Fittingly, the album provided a similarly intense shot-in-the-arm for the indie rock world, which had been languishing since The Strokes released their unbeatable debut three years prior.

Franz Ferdinand’s post-punk/steampunk hit “Take Me Out”, which was coupled with a video that showcased the band’s monstrously creative art-school sensibilities, remained the band’s song to beat. Now, almost a decade later, Franz Ferdinand has finally created a true successor to their best-known song – and man, it’s good.

“Right Action” is an almost-love song (“Sometimes I wish you were here, weather permitting”) that paraphrases Buddhist tenets (“Right thoughts, right words, right actions”) over a relentless dance-party riff. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the song’s a riot and a half. The video, like all Franz Ferdinand videos, is mindblowingly artsy, and the boys are as slick and well-dressed as ever. Alex Kapranos has said that the band’s raison d’etre is to make music that girls can dance to. Franz Ferdinand may be a decade old, but you can bet your skinny tie that they can still own any dance party.

3. “Bad Girls” by M.I.A.

London-via-Sri Lanka swag goddess MIA has always been known for her ridiculous amounts of devil-may-care confidence. But nowhere in her career has she been as swagtastic as in the video for “Bad Girls”. In front of an audience of traditionally-attired Arab men, MIA drag-races – on cars tilted 45 degrees to the vertical – while repeating her feminist, fuck-you mantra: “Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.”

MIAThe implicit understanding that the video is taking place in Saudi Arabia – where woman drivers, let alone irreverent women atop cars, are forbidden – makes “Bad Girls” one of the rowdiest things that MIA has ever done. The song itself tilts, much like MIA’s cars, between exotic mysticism and gilded braggadocio, and in a way, it’s a metaphor for the artist herself. Whatever the angle, though, it’s just a ridiculously good song.

2. “Royals” by Lorde

Ironically aristocratic teenage sensation Lorde is, ironically, 2013’s It-girl. On “Royals”, her break-out, chart-topping lead single, Lorde sings about her inability to associate with the gaudy extravagance of popular musicians. “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair,” she asserts, placing herself firmly in the zone of the non-celebrity.

Over a deep-drum, threadbare beat, Lorde eschews the trappings of fame for a more localized aristocracy: “Let me be your ruler, you can call me queen bee,” she says. Ironically, though, this very song catapulted her into immediate pop royalty, charting her over self-indulgent pop mainstays such as Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. Not bad for a sixteen year old, wouldn’t you say?

View our full album review here.

1. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk

“Get Lucky” was first released into the world through a 15-second advertisement on Saturday Night Live in early March. The rabid craze that followed that brief snippet foreshadowed the near future: a particularly enthusiastic fan even spun that 15-second sample into an extended 10-hour jam (!).  At that point, the world didn’t even know much about the song – apart from a warm, glittering riff that somehow automatically brought to mind a disco ball. By the time Daft Punk released the song in April though, everyone knew all the words. It was, in mid-spring, already the song of the summer.

“Get Lucky” is musical perfection enveloped in four minutes. It’s the reckless abandon on a disco dance floor. It’s the magic of meeting someone more promising than you’ve met in years. It’s the realization that love keeps the planet spinning, that music rebirths from itself like a phoenix. “Get Lucky” is a gift from a pair of robots to humankind, reminding us of a forgotten truth: that the past is golden and the future holds endless possibilities.

In 2013, musicians around the world made music that impacted some of us in certain ways. In 2013, Daft Punk made a song that could – and should – eventually be sent out of our world into endless space as a symbol of what humankind can achieve… with a little help from robots, of course.

View our full album review here.

So there you have it! Stay tuned for more Top Five lists coming up soon, including our Top Five Albums of 2013!

Earl Sweatshirt: Doris

22 Dec

It’s been a while since Earl Sweatshirt has been on a mic. His wordsmithing and flow is much of what made Odd Future into the sensation that they have become. Now, after a long stint at a Samoan retreat for at-risk teens, he is back, has moved from gut-provoking to insightful and in doing so released an excellent exception to this year of mediocre rap.

This is an album that unabashedly requires and rewards work from the listener. The first few times I heard it, it felt more monotonous than mellifluous to me. On repeated listens though, that monotony reveals itself to be deeper and more oppressive than at first blush. Rap has changed from this style of production, now it struts in suits instead of shuffling around, hands in pockets, in the underground. This album comes at you hard and strong the way rap should.

The deep and dark productions fit the deep and dark lyrics well. There are so many standout moments in the murkiness of the album. Earl absolutely destroys in Burgundy as he goes over how he’s struggling with being a commodity. Hoarse runs off a sick, shifting beat and absolutely dazzling wordplay to submerge and almost suffocate the listener. Chum drops you straight into a litany of family issues and leaves you to learn how to swim in it (It’s probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless/And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest/When honestly I miss this nigga, like when I was six/And every time I got the chance to say it I would swallow it).

Additionally, the guest spots do incredible work. Vince Staples steals Hive from Earl and Frank Ocean does great work in the trippy Sunday. Big brother Tyler is unmistakeable in Sasquatch (Man, I suck now, I ain’t still dope (nope)/But Chris and Rihanna’s fuckin’ again so there’s still hope/Oh fuck, I went there, balling bitch, I’m Ben’s hair). My favorite though is the RZA dropping the hook in Molasses, which would fit in a Wu-Tang album even without him.

Doris is real rap. The kind of rap parents worry about and that gives kids who shouldn’t be listening anyway nightmares. Rap for people who want to think and talk. Rap so good that it’s broken. Rap you should listen to.

@murthynikhil

Lorde: Pure Heroine

17 Dec

Pure Heroine

“Don’t you think it’s boring how people talk?” begins the opening line of the debut by 16-year-old New Zealand wunderkind Lorde, a.k.a. Ella Yelich-O’Connor. An introspective teenager too frank and frugal for the feigned opulence of today’s youth, Lorde awes through all 37 minutes of Pure Heroine through poignant lyrics that often overshadow her beautiful voice. Throughout the album, almost-poetess Lorde uses many motifs – the cusp of fame often coinciding with the cusp of adulthood, pulsing veins and white teeth, and the overarching theme of aristocracy – but it never gets repetitive. In fact, the repeated themes only highlight the fact that the young singer wrote all the lyrics on the album, giving it an artistic integrity that most artists, let alone teen-aged female pop musicians, fail to achieve. In a world where Miley Cyrus’ twerking makes it to the front page of the Huffington Post, it’s a relief to know that true talent still exists.

Picture courtesy Billboard.com

Picture courtesy Billboard.com

Lorde may be best known for her sparse, chart-topping “Royals”, but album opener “Tennis Court”, the follow-up single, is menacingly good in its own way. In a voice that echoes Adele’s honesty, vulnerable-Lorde talks of impending fame at a young age (“How can I fuck with the fun again when I’m known?”) even as confident-Lorde sneers at her supposed contemporaries (“I’m doing this for the thrill of it, killin’ it”), setting the tone for the main thematic elements of Pure Heroine.

Her cynicism of modern pop culture resurfaces on “Royals”, an almost-gospel gem where she embraces her low-key lifestyle that, sadly, may soon disappear. “We count our dollars on the train to the party,” she says of herself and her suburban friends, before going on to explain, “We didn’t come from money.” Sure, she may never be pop royalty, but that isn’t the kind of royalty she wants anyway. “We don’t care/ We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams,” says Lorde, in a showcase of the maturity that lets her separate reality from fantasy. In a way, she’s the anti-thesis of Lady Gaga, and that alone puts her on the throne in my book.

“Team”, her third single, is a brilliant critique of club-oriented pop music that cleverly meta-references the same by using a club-ready beat. “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air,” she confesses, conspicuously putting herself in the everyman ‘us’ as opposed to the larger-than-life ‘‘them’.

Of course, being a teenager, famous pop musicians aren’t the only group of people that Lorde fails to fall in with. “White Teeth Teens”, a cleverer cousin of Lana del Rey’s brand of youthful angst, talks about Lorde’s incongruity with the (seemingly) picture-perfect teens around her. “I tried to join but never did/ The way they are, the way they seem is something else, it’s in the blood,” she explains, pulling to attention her own “royal” blood.

“400 Lux” is essentially a carefully-crafted love song about teenage romance in suburbia. “Got a lot to not do/ Let me kill it with you,” asks Lorde, elegant in her lyrical prowess. The almost-spoken-word second verse, reminiscent of Natasha Khan, is a jumble of thoughts and emotions that reveal her worries all too clearly: much like on “Ribs”. There, a non-sequitur lyrical phrase (“The drink you spilled all over me/ ‘Lover’s Spit’ left on repeat”) paints a picture of a kid whose adult-like nonchalance belies her true nature.

In a lot of ways, Lorde is just a teenager – albeit gifted – from a sleepy town at the edge of nowhere, and her charm lies in the way her background consciously or subconsciously permeates through her music. It’s refreshing, to say the least. To me, it also brings to mind to a riotous album in 2006 that made stars out of four young Sheffield lads talking about chatting up girls in clubs and getting turned down. Whoever she does or – more importantly – doesn’t sound like , it’s clear that Lorde is indeed royalty in her own, unadulterated way.

Xiu Xiu: Fabulous Muscles

16 Dec

Xiu Xiu’s Fabulous Muscles is very accessible for noise pop and very powerful for all that. Painfully intense and brutally personal, this album gets under your skin and worms around within you.

I can’t discuss Fabulous Muscles without talking about “I Luv The Valley OH!”, Jamie Stewart’s tale of family and suicide. The song holds its pretense of straight pop almost throughout, and yet cuts you with its lyrics and delivery. The one break is in the titular scream, which shocks in the truth of its release.

That song is the essence of the entire album, where the excellent synth-pop of Crank Heart or Brian the Vampire appear to cover disturbing tales of broken childhoods and broken people, but instead form a structure that reinforces the destructiveness of his lyrics. This is a hard album to listen to, and intentionally so. Support Our Troops OH! has Stewart graphically describe the killing of a young girl by a US soldier while throwing pure noise at the listener. Nieces Pieces holds the feeling of inevitability that a failing family creates.

That is a large part of what makes this album so strong. The characters of each of the songs are clearly defined, but never with standard words. The striking part of Bunny Gamer is not the desire for someone you can never have, but how easily the rejection is given and taken. Little Panda McElroy is hesitantly, delicately beautiful noise that helps the story of maybe being able to break the ugliness of yourself this time. Clowne Towne hits you hard with its lyrics, but is affectionate in how it tears you down.

This is an album that actually explores what goes into depression rather than dismissing it as sadness. It is about actual pain rather than the ideas around it. It is deeply uncomfortable to listen to and undoubtedly a masterpiece for all that.

@murthynikhil

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