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Monthly Archives: March 2011

House of Ballons Who is the Weeknd? I’ve done research through several Google searches, music Web site hits, and an attempt searching on Wikipedia, and yet I still have no idea who is creating these chilly R&B cuts. The most that I have found is that The Weeknd is from Toronto, and I’m sure we’ll be learning much more about this project soon.

I have been very skeptical of this “indie-R&B” trend that has surfaced as of late. Among The Weeknd are its contemporaries in the likes of James Blake and How To Dress Well, and I have written those both off as over-hyped. But The Weeknd is less like them and more like Junior Boys or Fever Ray, especially in the ability to create dark, cold, and affecting tracks, and it is in that respect why I find The Weeknd more favorable. Another part of The Weeknd’s appeal is the mystery surrounding the origins of these eclectic and hollow, drugged-out tracks. I originally thought what perked my interest were the “indie-friendly” samples that are re-appropriated, Beach House’s “Gila” on “Loft Music” or the Siouxie and the Banshees cover of “Happy House” which is re-titled as this mixtape’s title track. But, that wasn’t it either; House of Balloons is simply brilliant, despite how much this release bleeds cross-over appeal.

The subject material of this mixtape is dark and narcissistic. Maybe we’re entering a post-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy pop music landscape, but House of Balloons has lyrics like “I’m living for the present/And the future don’t exist” followed by “What you doing in the bathroom? /It’s OK, we can do it in the living room/Only girls we fuck with seem to have twenty different pills in ’em.” All of it takes place in the envisioned world we would see in a Chanel or Gucci commercial, a world that thrives off of materialism and a world one would strive to reach at others’ cost. Although once you’re there you find that have nothing left but the beautiful girl who is leaving you for the next man.

The lyrics aren’t the only factor that creates these feelings, the music does it too. During the tracks “The Party & The After Party” and “The Morning” you can nearly see the skyscrapers outside the studio’s window. Further along in the mixtape, near the end of “Coming Down” the listener is left with a vocal loop of (what seems to be) a woman crying and the refrain of “Pick up your phone/I always want you when I’m coming down.” And then even later is the mixtape’s lowest and deepest crash which is the end of “Loft Music” that has everything stretched-out with feelings of melancholy. The production throughout is high-quality with subtle elements picked up at exactly the right spot and then left to drift away. The singer’s voice is in pitch with the myriad elements carved into these icy tracks. Each instrument is purposeful, be it the strum of bass, tap of a key, or the drop of a beat.

This self-released, free mixtape is certainly worth your time, especially if you’re into R&B or if you’re just getting into dubstep. The download is linked right here. As long as The Weeknd is able to keep creative freedom with future releases, as this project will undoubtedly be linked with a major-label in the future, this R&B meets underground dubstep trend will be fruitful. The production quality here is tight already and it will (or at least, should) only get better with more money behind it.

(Reviewer’s Score: 4.1/5)

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TouchIf you had read my “Best Albums of 2010” post, you would have noticed that I included a “best tracks” section, but you already knew that because you read it, right?. Among those tracks was the outside-of-our-solar-system dubstep track called “YR LOVE” by Holy Other, which was awesome, wasn’t it?. That track was haunting, dark, spaced-out, and unreal. Now, Holy Other has a new track called “Touch” and it exceeds “YR LOVE” in space, sound, and its capacity to blow minds. If you click this link your browser will mosey on over to gorillavsbear.net where you can listen to this track, or if you have a good internet connection, perhaps your browser will run or skip over to that site. Since you’re going to like this track so much you’re probably going to want more info on this group, am I wrong? According to their myspace page (what is that?) they’re from Manchester. They only have a couple 7″‘s and cassettes released so far. There you go. Bonus points go to the reader who comments first on how many sentences I ended with a question mark.

The King of LimbsIn 2007, Radiohead released the album In Rainbows and it was met with much critical acclaim. It had a pioneering “pay-what-you-want” marketing scheme and it featured music that pushed the band forward from their experimental-leaning Kid A and OK Computer albums. Then, in the years between 2007 and 2011, the band essentially kept quiet. In late 2009 we were able to hear the song “These Are My Twisted Words” which was generally OK, perhaps sounding a little like a forgotten track from the same mindset that created In Rainbows. Rumors then began to circulate about Radiohead releasing an album in 2010 from interviews with Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. This never came to be, but in February of 2011 Radiohead revealed that they were to release an album just a week after their announcement. This isn’t too surprising though as they did this same release-schedule with In Rainbows. Another thing that isn’t too surprising is that everyone began hyping the album to high expectations.

The King of Limbs is an album that sounds like a band just beginning to explore new territory, although ultimately it does retread steps taken in previous albums. It is more in-tune with Amnesiac or perhaps Kid A, but that doesn’t mean that great music isn’t to be heard here.

The album opens with “Bloom” and “Morning Mr. Magpie” and each sound chaotic, with the sense stemming from Jonny Greenwood’s quick electric guitar plucks and Phil Selway’s snare taps. On an early listen of the album I wrote them both off as sounding too similar, but with repeat-listens I was able to hear the exploratory electronic rhythms that set each track apart.

The third track of the album is “Little by Little” and it is probably the album’s best track. It continues with the chaotic soundscape from the preceding tracks, but an acoustic guitar is brought in during the track’s chorus. As this track is written more like a pop song I feel that it can resonant more with the listener, instead of washing over them like “Bloom.” Thom Yorke’s famous falsetto and his ever-cryptic lyrics comment on the hardships associated with monotonous everyday life. “Obligations/Complications/Routines and schedules/A job that’s killing you.” “Feral” is the track that follows and it is the album’s only instrumental, which is actually uncommon for Radiohead. This is the track that has the band exploring new sounds, particularly UK dubstep as it has a huge sense of space, bass, and a vocal loop of Thom Yorke’s voice that picks up tempo to give the track an idea of urgency.

The second half of the album (or so I am to assume, since I don’t have a physical copy of this recording yet) starts with the most poppy song of the album, “Lotus Flower.” Before The King of Limbs was released this song was released as (essentially) its single, with a music video. The video has Thom Yorke dancing around and singing, reminiscent of an R&B music video, and in actuality, it sounds like an R&B song. With Yorke’s ever-present falsetto, ear-perking hooks, and handclaps, the track sounds radio-ready. The chaos of the first five tracks is left behind during the rest of the album. “Codex” and “Give Up The Ghost” are percussion-less and full of space, with keys, strings, brass, and chirping birds. The latter is an album highlight, most importantly for its songwriting. The repetition of the lyrics “In your arms” offers emotion to an album that has an otherwise critical and cold outlook on today’s societal norms.

The King of Limbs could become Radiohead’s divisive album simply because of the hype that was generated when this album was announced. Many found In Rainbows to be Radiohead’s best (although I will counter that notion) so the hype surrounding its release was justified, to an extent. The album does not sound like In Rainbows but it does explore new territory with limited success. If one wanted a continuation of their rock sound from In Rainbows, the album may disappoint.

Another important aspect of this album that hasn’t been mentioned is how it will be released. Initially as a digital download, The King of Limbs will be later released as a newspaper titled “The Universal Sigh” (a lyric taken from “Bloom”). I can’t comment on this newspaper (as I had previously mentioned, this is a review of the digital download), but it contains art and poetry. However, I will comment that this album, and how it is released as a newspaper, continues with Radiohead’s trend of commenting on how music, or any other form of art, is represented as a tangible item and how the item can be distributed. The music industry (or lack thereof a music industry) must adapt to the changes that have occurred in reference to society’s ideas of how music is received by an audience. Fortunately for us, we have a creative group of musicians pioneering this change.

(Reviewer’s Score: 3.9/5)

Ford & Lopatin, who were formerly known as Games, have an album coming out called Channel Pressure via Mexican Summer later this year (June 7th, 2011, not to be confused with June 7th, 2082). Ford & Lopatin is the Italo-disco side project of Daniel Lopatin’s main project, Oneohtrix Point Never, with the addition of Joel Ford.

Tennis Shoes & Tuxedos If you’re into hip-hop by any means at all, you must check out Curren$y’s blog. This site possesses some of the most exciting hip-hop mixtapes that are being released. Earlier this year we heard solid music from Curren$y’s Return to the Winner’s Circle (Mixtape), Stalley’s Lincoln Way Nights (Mixtape), and now we can add Tennis Shoes & Tuxedos, from the ex-No Limit/Ruff Ryder O.G., Fiend, to the list of great mixtapes from this blog.

The element that sets this release apart from anything else in the current hip-hop landscape is the production effort. Tennis Shoes… sounds like maximalist Ski Beatz, drawing from influences of lounge (“Paradise”), jazz, psychedelic rock (“Luvin Life”), even spaghetti-Western soundtracks (“Cali-Fornia”). The track “Absolutely” features the stand-out beat, utilizing a digitized voice sample that stutters throughout the track emphasizing the bass-thump layered beneath.

As is the case with a lot of these Bluroc mixtapes, there are several featured artists who are essentially label mates on some of the tracks. Big K.R.I.T., Smoke DZA, Trademark da Skydiver, Corner Boy P, and Curren$y appear intermittently throughout the course of the mixtape, and Fiend’s flow holds up to the everyone on that list. Well, perhaps not quite with Curren$y, who is featured on the album’s anthemic “Luvin Life,” and it can be said that Curren$y’s verse is distinctly better than anything else on here for that matter. Perhaps he’s riding the vibe of just signing to a major-label (which is Warner Bros., here’s to hoping that he doesn’t sell-out, I’m not interested in hearing any WILL.I.AM. beats, that is for sure). But to specific about the verses, remember that this is dirty-South hip-hop. You’re going to hear a lot about cars, money, women, and weed. But, if that doesn’t bother you, you will be satisfied with this mixtape and you’re also going to be anticipating whatever it is these guys release next. Now, for the time being, JETS!

(Reviewer’s Score: 3.7/5)

http://www.ganggangdance.com/widgets/glassjar.swf

Following this link will bring you to the widget that plays Gang Gang Dance’s latest song, titled “Glass Jar,” which will be on their forthcoming album Eye Contact (due to be released 5/10 on 4AD). When I last saw this band, nearly two years ago at the Bug Jar in Rochester, NY, the band was starting to explore the material that comes to fruition in this amazing 11-minute track. At that show, they played just two tracks from Saint Dymphna and then went into long playing disco/house jams (they did play “House Jam” too). “Glass Jar” has a long intro but near the five-minute mark, the percussion rolls in to give the song a sense of pace and structure to back-up the synthesizers and arpeggioed keys. Also, Liz Bougatsos’s gentle coos sound better than ever in this house-y track that will allegedly be the album’s opener.