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Snoop Dogg: “No Guns Allowed”

29 Apr

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There is a lot to talk about when reviewing “No Guns Allowed” from Snoop Lion’s latest album Reincarnated. The transformation from Dogg to Lion, the messages of peace, the imagery of the video and the news clips littering the song. This album is more than a new reggae release, this is a watershed moment.

More important though is whether it is good music. It’s okay. Diplo provides a solid background and Snoop, whose voice was always one of the most mellow in rap, sings quite decently throughout. His daughter Cori B provides a solid chorus and while Drake is nothing special, he does well enough. The song is quite listenable, just not outstanding.

The message though comes through quite strongly. The music video may be a tad overblown, but it says what it intends to. While his singing is not quite Bob Marley’s, it is certainly earnest. It feels good to see quite so positive a message from someone as large as Snoop Dogg and his past makes the statement stronger.

All told, this is a pleasant listen and made much more so due to the message. It may not revitalize reggae but it puts Snoop back on the map and not in a bad way.

The Strokes: “All the Time”

22 Feb

All the Time

In 2011, an impeccable ensemble of talented musicians contributed to a Strokes tribute album, entitled Stroked, to commemorate the ten year anniversary of Is This It?. Also in 2011, the Strokes released their fourth studio album. Wrap your head around that for a second: the Strokes elicited this voluntary, collective homage despite being a band that is young enough to add fresh material to its own discography. There are very few bands as iconic, as beloved, and as representative of a time and place in music history – while being fully functional – as the Strokes are. So how do you react when a vintage-yet-active band releases new music? Well, it depends on what kind of Strokes fan you are.

Type 1: The Uber Fan

Cooler than you'll ever be.

Cooler than you’ll ever be.

In 2001, the Strokes released an album that changed the face of music. Is This It? was and continues to be a flawless record, pushing thousands of kids into their garages to create bands that would never be as cool as Julian and the boys. But in a way, the very kids that played the Strokes’ debut all day every day made it rather difficult for the Strokes to move on as a band. Any deviation from ‘the quintessential Strokes sound’ was denounced; any song with more effort than ‘effortless’ was deplored.  Synths? Forget about it. (I’m looking at you, Angles.) “All the Time” is definitely no “Hard to Explain”, “Reptilia” or even “You Only Live Once”, but it has that undeniable, wholly inimitable Strokes vibe that’s sure to satisfy the most ardent of fans. In fact, it almost sounds like it could be wedged right into Is This It?, and that’s always a good thing.

Type 2: The Casual Fan

The Strokes perform on Ellen

If you didn’t spend the better part of your musically formative years analyzing every trough and peak of the Strokes’ debut, then you are going to like this song. Why? Because even if you’ve only heard a few of their songs, even on a bad day, even on a weak track, the Strokes are effortlessly cooler than anything you’re going to hear all day. On “All the Time” , the uber fan might think that the outro is too long, or that Julian’s voice isn’t crisp enough, or that the guitar solo lacks the sheen of the old days. All you’re going to notice, though, is how great this song is. Enjoy!

Type 3: The Non-Fan

Watch the following videos, and please let us know if you don’t convert to Type 2 or even Type 1.

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… we could go on.

Five long years passed between their third and fourth albums; just over two years will transpire between the fourth and the fifth. “All the time that I need is never quite enough/ All the time that I have is all that’s necessary,” sings Julian on “All the Time”, and we couldn’t be happier about that. Long story short, drop whatever you’re doing and listen, because the Strokes have released a new track. “All the Time” is the first single from the Strokes’ fifth studio album Comedown Machine, releasing on March 26th, 2013. You can listen to the song (with lyrics!) here.

Marina and the Diamonds: “Oh No!”

22 Jul

This is the perfect pop song. It is not the first perfect pop song that I have come across, it won’t be the perfect pop song in about a week from now, but for now it is and you must know about it.

Start at the beginning and watch the video. Firstly, it is a great music video and secondly it lets us discuss the surface of the song. This is unapologetic pop. The singer is a very pretty girl in her young twenties, which is a good thing, in case you suspect me of more hipster-ness than good sense. You can hear the Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani influences and there is more upbeat energy in three seconds of this song than I have managed in my entire life. Good, solid, unapologetic pop all the way though.

Now though, go a level deeper and listen to the lyrics. You don’t have to. This is a pretty good pop song even without them and you are free to enjoy the song however you like. However, take a moment and hear what she is actually saying. There are plenty of rip currents of depression running through this pink sea of happy pop. She may be singing that she’s going to fail and she’s going to die with the same smile that she has when singing she’s going to live and she’s going to fly, but you know that she is as earnest about the one as the other.

This is also a pretty intelligent record. The chorus of “I know exactly what I want and who I want to be” speaks layers about who she is and “The nod and a wink of TV told me how to feel, now real life has no appeal” followed by the repeated “No appeal” is easy to empathize with. More than that though, every time you watch the video (and I have watched the video many times indeed, did I mention how pretty she is?) you can validate a completely new interpretation of the song when you pair it with who the singer is. That for me is the borderline that separates intelligent art from the rest, when you can argue the nuances of its meaning.

 

Verdict: This is the perfect pop song. For now, everything should be this song. One week from now, I may be listening to something else, but as of now, this is what all pop should be.

– Nikhil

Childish Gambino: “Bonfire”

26 Jun

“Childish Gambino, homegirl drop it like the NASDAQ
Move white girls like there’s coke up my asscrack
Move black girls cause, man, fuck it, I’ll do either
I love pussy, I love bitches, dude, I should be runnin’ PETA.”

Childish Gambino (known also as Community star and 30 Rock writer Donald Glover) leaves no room for any doubt about his intentions with “Bonfire,” the first single from his latest album Camp. “Bonfire” is essentially one long unrelenting rant, from start (wailing klaxons, haunting gospel chant and a jarring syncopated drum-machine snare beat), to finish (one word – “bitch”). Along the way, we’re treated to an onslaught of offbeat and off-colour references, masterfully-crafted punnery and sheer unadulterated emotion, with some catchy hooks thrown in for good measure. While this version of Gambino has turned some people off (I’m looking at you, Pitchfork), for your sake I hope that’s not the case. Sit back, listen and enjoy.

The Gambino you’ll hear on this track is the raw unabashed Gambino from his earlier (free) single “Freaks & Geeks”, dialled up to 11. Gambino’s boasts are as frequent and grand as they are hilarious and fierce. You’ll find yourself grinning in appreciation at lyrics like “My dick is like an accent mark, it’s all about the over E’s” and “I made the beat retarded so I’m calling it a slow jam.” Or at least, you will if you manage to keep up with the fast-paced, blink-and-you’ll-miss it speed at which such gems are dropped.

That also applies to the pop-culture references liberally scattered over the track – Gambino seems to have made sweet passionate love to some form of pop-culture goddess (Aubrey Plaza perhaps?) in order to produce this single. Invader Zim? Check. Toe-Jam and Earl? Check. Hidden insult aimed at Drake? Check. Not all of his references work quite as well as they should (there are probably better ways to bring up Human Centipede) but Gambino delivers them all with absolute commitment.

Ironically,the song’s music video is where Gambino falls short. While it is indeed a wonderfully conceptualized and filmed piece of art, the story in the video just doesn’t quite match the lyrics and intention of the song. You’ll see Donald Glover in fine acting form, but not in Gambino persona.

Verdict: Bonfire is a song that needs to be listened to once, then once again after looking up the lyrics, and then once again after looking up all the references you may not have understood. After that, just sit back and take a break. Then go listen to it again. By now, a large chunk of you will have fallen in love with all that Gambino has to offer. For those few who remain (poor, poor Pitchfork), Gambino has some parting remarks:

“Rap’s Step-father: yeah you hate me, but you will respect.”

– Manickam.

Beach House: “Myth”

25 Jun

For a few years now, Baltimore duo Beach House have been the sort of indie heavyweights that fight in an arena filled with Arcade Fire, M83 and other darling ambient pop bands. The release of their critically-acclaimed Teen Dream further cemented their position as such: Pitchfork went gaga, then Pitchfork readers went gaga soon after, proving for one and all that this band made good music. (That’s how it works, right?) Point being, Beach House is a very good band, no doubt. Their brand of gauzy dreampop, laced with a peculiarly pretty gloom, lends their music a certain sad beauty that transcends most of their contemporaries. Teen Dream soared and bloomed with the naïve, introspective, perpetually lovelorn intensity of, well, teenaged dreams. The music on Teen Dream was succulent, but more often than not, the lyrics were the kind of self-important first-world problems that gives the hipster world (and first-world countries) a bad name.

“Myth”, the prettiest song from May 2012’s Bloom, is no different. The music is a lush sonic meadow: it’s as climactic, cinematic and charismatic as we’ve come to expect from Beach House. Spectacularly beautiful, haunting and repetitive floods of music lull you into musical contentment as Victoria Legrand beseeches you to help her make it. But make what? It’s unclear. Probably some ambiguously hipster thing, like tragically failed love or intense personal drama, which of course normal people never go through, right?

Verdict: Block out the words and enjoy the music. You won’t wince at the pretentiousness, and you get some insanely sweet music out of it. Win-win!  

-Neeharika

Passion Pit: “I’ll Be Alright”

25 Jun

Sufficiently hipster

Apparently, a passion pit is a slang term for drive-in theatres, traditionally known as old-school make-out spots for still-in-school lusty American youth. Massachusetts-based glitchy indie rock/synthpop band Passion Pit is already well known for creating the kind of atmosphere as their band name’s etymology. It’s no different on “I’ll Be Alright”, a full-bodied synthpop track that blips and pounds along much like most of their critically acclaimed Manners.  (On a side note, check out “Sleepyhead” and “To Kingdom Come”; you’ve probably heard their music already though, since most of the songs on Manners were used in some commercial or the other.)

On first listen, the music sounds exactly like an electronic version of Phoenix’s happy-go-lucky, tousled-hair, fashionably-dressed indie rock. The intro dazzles, the chorus swoons, and the bridge is funky like nobody’s business. But what you don’t immediately notice is the intensely dark lyrics, created by a passive-aggressive soul with self-esteem that’s excavating below Rock Bottom. “You should go, if you want to, yeah go if you want to/ I’ll be alright” sings Michael Angelakos, seemingly alright with yet another of his “many messes”. However, even before the verse hits the chorus, he changes his mind: “I won’t let you go unless I’ll be alright,” he croons, the anachronistically upbeat music giving his lyrics a maddened tinge. And so it goes, back and forth, for the entire song. It’s fascinating, really.

“I’ll Be Alright”, released on June 12th, is the second single off of Passion Pit’s upcoming album Gossamer.

Verdict: If you like MGMT (edible magic), Animal Collective (electronic genius) or Foster the People (cleverly-masked melancholy), give this track a listen. And then listen to Manners!

– Neeharika

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