Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn – The Transitory Poems

5 Apr

The most striking thing about The Transitory Poems is just how spirited it is. Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn are both known for how far avant they are of the garde and putting the two of them together for a live concert in the Liszt Academy in Budapest is the kind of set-up that is bound to bear fruit.

The amount of chemistry is staggering though. Two musicians so dissimilar have no right to work together so well. For that matter, an album so improvisational has no right to work so well. There are admittedly a couple of points were the momentum peters out a little and the musicians seem to be taking stock of where they are, but those are the exceptions in an album of the impressive energy of pieces like “Kairos.” At points, this energy becomes nothing short of chaotic. “Luminous Brew” is Pandæmonium if Hell were beautiful. The sound cascades and crashes. For a record with just two pianos, this in a very physical listen.

The clarity of just having two pianos works very well. The music is often exceedingly pretty, but always very bright and very sharp. Like crushed glass under a spotlight, it dazzles. It’s a jagged and difficult album and valuable for that. The artists constantly surprise and their deftness in resolving themes and then picking them up again is exceptional. This is not for the less experienced of jazz aficionados, but it is deeply rewarding for those up to the challenge.

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Monthy Playlist: Mar. 2019

1 Apr

Here’s a crazy fact: we’re already a quarter of the way into 2019! It felt like just yesterday that we at TFR were putting together our end-of-year lists, and now here we are. Wild, right? Anyway, without any further ado, take a look at our top five songs for March. And as always, let us know if you agree or disagree.

5. “In Your Head” – Nilufer Yanya

23-year-old Nilufer Yanya grew up in London, in a creative household with mixed Turkish / Irish / Barbados heritage. With a background that fluid, it is little surprise that Yanya’s approach to music is decidedly irreverent.

On her recently-released debut album Miss Universe, Yanya flits between bat-your-eyelashes pop moments and fuzzy rockstar vibes with an ease that simply can’t be taught. Perhaps the best song from the album is the lead single, “In Your Head”. “And I can do what I like / I’ll never know what it means / Some validation is all that I need,” she says, clear-headed about both her materialism and the lack of substance within. (Fittingly for a song that explores the emptiness of individualism, the music video is shot in Las Vegas.) In a way, she kind of reminds us of the best parts of the erstwhile Marina and the Diamonds.

Yanya stands out with her throaty voice, unique personal style and brazen lucidity. Keep an eye on this one – and take a whirl through Miss Universe while you’re at it!

4. “Patience” – Tame Impala

As die-hard Tame Impala fans, we would of course be remiss if we did not mention “Patience”, the latest song to escape the inimitable workshop of Kevin Parker’s brain.

It takes about 20 seconds for Parker to bring out his signature phaser sounds on “Patience”, but this time it’s different. With its dizzying synth garnishes and heavily processed bongos, the song winks at a sort of disco-by-way-of-world-music that no other Tame Impala song has really explored. Parker’s indecisiveness – and the dreamy psychedelia that results – is the real backbone of the famous Tame Impala sound, as we wrote about in our review of Currents (2015). On “Patience”, it’s clear that he’s still working on it. “Sometimes I get so tense but I can’t speed up the time,” he confesses, flipping around seconds later to ask his lover to take things slow.

Tame Impala are headlining a bunch of festivals this year, but haven’t yet announced a release date for a full album. “Patience” until we hear more, then.

3. “Black” – Dave

In many ways, Psychodrama – the debut album from British rapper Dave – is a spiritual successor to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid M.A.A.D. city (2012). Like K-Dot, Dave is blessed with an otherworldly talent to channel the realities of the world outside him into hard-hitting poetry – and with killer flow to boot. Our stand-out track from this album is definitely “Black”, Dave’s exploration of what it means to be a black man in the world.

With the oversaturation of American media, news and politics into global consciousness, it is almost easy to equate blackness – and the associated struggles – with a negativity-tinged African-American experience. Dave does better, thankfully. On “Black”, he shines light on truly personal experiences of what it means to be of African heritage in a Western country. There’s so many great lines here. On growing out of his surroundings: “Black is growin’ up around your family and makin’ it / Then being forced to leave the place you love because there’s hate in it.” On being divided and ruled: “Her hair’s straight and thick but mine’s got waves in it / Black is not divisive, they been lyin’ and I hate the shit / Black has never been a competition, we don’t make this shit.” And so on.

Psychodrama deserves a full listen, but if you’re going to hear just one song, make it “Black”.

2. “Choose Go!” – Chai

On first listen, the thick bassline and staccato drums of “Choose Go!” sounds like a hidden gem from the heyday of the indie rock revolution on both sides of the pond in the early 2000s. However, the reality could not be further from the truth. You may be shocked to learn (as were we) that the creators of “Choose Go!” are Chai, a four-piece all-girl band from Nagoya, Japan.

This isn’t Chai’s first rodeo, surprisingly enough. Their first album, Pink (2017), was very well-received, but the band has really found its footing with this months’ well-named follow-up, Punk. Sung half in Japanese and half in English, “Choose Go!” combines the relentlessly poppy vibes of, say, the band OK Go, with the lovable weirdness of Japanese culture.

1. “Exits” – Foals

Foals have been around for a while. Their 2008 debut, Antidotes, arrived during an early-2000s crest of the math rock genre, but stood out nevertheless. Songs like “Balloons” and “Cassius”, filled to the brim with frenetic chords and semi-shouted lyrics, shot Foals to fame very quickly. However, on their more recent two albums (2013’s Holy Fire and 2015’s What Went Down), the band took an unexpected turn. The frantic urgency of Antidotes was replaced by a mellow restraint; it felt like they were reveling in their ability to turn a musical phrase or two whenever they wanted (but not, as with Antidotes, all the time).

On their latest album (2019’s Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1), the band has really put two and two together. There’s restraint, yes, but Foals is largely back to their gloriously feverish roots. The star track is “Exits”: a serpent that twists and turns through more moods than you can count on first listen.

The first section, with its deliberate beats and dramatic lyrics (“Now the sea eats the sky / But they say it’s a lie / And there’s no birds left to fly / We’ll hide out”), makes way to a reverberating one-line chorus (“In a world upside down…”). And that isn’t the end of it. At about the four-minute mark, Foals break out into a heady, psychedelic synth solo that truly elevates the song to greater than the sum of its parts.

“Exits” is six minutes long but Foals entertain you every second of the way.

Offset – FATHER OF 4

31 Mar

There’s no question that Migos is extremely important in the moment. It is arguably the band most responsible for the rise of trap and just as arguably the most important group in trap today. FATHER OF 4, a solo act from Offset largely continues in the pattern that they’ve set down, but deviates in one extremely important way, the title track.

Trap, and contemporary music as a whole, have deeply internalized the mixtape culture and Migos has done that more than many. This is part of how their greatest stuff has come to be, but it’s also why all of their albums, without exception, suffer from bloat. FATHER OF 4 lowers this bar further with an absolute glut of mediocre music. There’s very little that’s actually bad and it mostly ranges from decent to fairly good, but there’s little here that’s memorable. From “Wild Wild West” to “Tats On My Face” to even “Clout”, which features a Cardi B reunion, the music is fun but unmemorable. “North Star” has the misstep of a CeeLo feature to bring down what would be a pretty good song otherwise. “Lick” is quite good though.

The reason to listen to the album though is the breathtaking title track. “Father of 4” sees Offset talking about and talking to each of his four kids and is beautifully heartfelt. His storytelling is nothing short of shattering in its economy. When he sings about his first daughter, he opens with the lines “Tell the truth, I ain’t really know if I was your father / Tell the truth, I really don’t even know your mama” and the story of growth that comes across from just those lines is vivid. His line later in that verse, “in the pen when she pushed you out,” paints a brutal picture.

In the same way, look at the fatherhood in the lines “My son, Kody, he three, rappin’ already lie me / Ridin’ in the car, you don’t play me, then he gon’ scream.” The start of that chorus is just also just wonderful. It’s uncommon in rap to see stories of parenthood like this. Jay-Z is out here with the investment banker’s approach to being a father, and that’s also great to listen to, but Offset’s story of maturity is unique and deeply compelling

While there’s unquestionably a lot of filler in Father of 4, the title track is just some of the best music of the year and honestly, the rest is pretty fun as well.

Alice Merton – Mint

25 Mar

Alice Merton’s debut album is really good pop-rock. She has solid, solid grooves with an energetic bass and a highly personable voice.

The single “No Roots” is definitely where to start with this album. It’s fun, up-tempo and immediately catchy. If you’ve ever wondered what Maroon 5 would sound like if talented, this hook is the answer.

There is also a fair bit of variety in this album. “Honeymoon Heartbreak” is a slightly more upbeat Lana Del Rey and “Why So Serious” is a slightly more sober Pipettes. “Lash Out” has some great riot-grrrl energy while staying true to its pop-rock roots.

The album occasionally falls too far into basic pop, like in “Funny Business”, but both “2 Kids” and “Learn To Live” are strong without the deviations of the other standouts.

Overall, in fact, it’s fairly straightforward pop-rock and would possibly have benefited from a slight bit more innovation. It’s just that it’s also well done. This is really quite a good album.

@murthynikhil

Little Simz – GREY Area

17 Mar

There’s a pocket of quiet British rap that’s well worth paying attention to and Grey Area might be the best thing to come from it yet. Little Simz is a very talented rapper and she throws a varied assortment of ideas at you over the course of this album. The cartoon effects over the hard beat and strong rapping in “Offence” and the Eastern-tinged beat of “101FM” are particular standouts.

Unfortunately, I feel that this is not the album to really transcend the limitations of the subgenre. Like the contemporaneous Kate Tempest’s work, the album is very impressive to listen to in the moment but a little forgettable after. I feel it just lacks the few real moments of honesty and personal truth that would have drastically elevated it. It could even use some moments of cleverness. It’s just a little too freewheeling where it would have benefited from drilling down into a couple of points that it developed.

There’s a lot of strong music in the album though. The storytelling of “Sherbet Sunset” and the groove of “Selfish” and beat of “Pressure” are all excellent. Little Simz is already a brilliant rapper going from strength to strength and GREY Area is well worth your time.

Beirut – Gallipoli

12 Mar

Given the Mediterranean undercurrents to Beirut’s music, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Zach Condon spent his pre-Beirut years backpacking around Europe, soaking in the sights and sounds of Sicily and the Balkans. Five albums, a bunch of EPs and 15 years since, those influences still burn bright in his music. Condon has a penchant for drawing a range of different soundscapes with the same set of ingredients. All of his songs sound somewhat similar on the surface but each one surprisingly tugs at a different chord. On Gallipoli, he and his brass army proudly carry on the tradition with predictable but entertaining results.

The album opens with “When I Die”, a classic track showcasing the familiar trumpet-ukulele-kick drum trifecta that’s been a staple with Beirut’s music. Then comes the title track, “Gallipoli”, the musical embodiment of a cavalry of soldiers bidding their kingdom farewell before heading to the frontlines.

That’s the beauty of Beirut. There’s always a very vivid mental picture that gets tied to each song even when there’s barely any lines sung. “On Mainau Island” is a pretty instrumental track that sees Beirut dabble with electronics, a side of him we would like to see more often. The very hypnotic “Corfu” again offers glimpses of where Beirut’s sound could head next, tastefully combining jazz melodies with an almost-tango beat.

On the whole, the album sounds a bit less rough round the edges than what Beirut fans are used to – but not in a jarring way. Experimentation outside Condon’s forte has been kept to a minimum on Gallipoli. It’s still the organ and the brass instruments that take center stage. While songs like “Corfu”, “On Mainau Island” and “We Never Lived Here” attempt to fuse the past with the future, the extent of experimentation seems frustratingly measured. Gallipoli might have met every old-time fan’s desire, but it is also a sign that Zach Condon is in urgent need of evolution. His sound is at risk of growing stale and we’re hoping we get to see a never-before-seen side of him on future releases.

Top Tracks:  “Corfu”, “Gallipoli”, “I Gardini

Higher Brothers – Five Stars

11 Mar

It’s an exciting period for rap and Higher Brothers are one of the most exciting things in an exciting period. This Chinese rap group is talented and raw and innovative. Songs like “Flexing So Hard” and “Sunshine” have some of the most interesting flows that I’ve ever heard. The choppiness is novel and their free-switching between languages endlessly novel. These songs and “Gong Xi Fa Cai” are them at their best.

Unfortunately, the album as a whole is a little inconsistent. “Do It Like Me” and “No More” are not particularly good. The big name guests of ScHoolboy Q and Soulja Boy just don’t do that much. Q is forgettable and Soulja Boy is anaemic. However, “16 Hours” and “Open It Up” are bangers and “One Punch Man” is quite interesting. 

Whatever quibbles can be found with the album, this is simply the bleeding edge of rap and so music as a whole and if you’re at all interested in seeing where things are going then you should be listening to Higher Brothers. Also, they’re just a ton of fun to listen to.

@murthynikhil

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