Let’s take a moment and review some of the antics this group has caused in the past year and a half. They single handily won over an entire audience with The Money Store, which received worldly acclaim, and then gave the middle finger to the same record company by releasing No Love Deep Web without their permission. Remember the Sharpie covered penis? Yes, that was Death Grips. Following this, they began a massive tour, which they cancelled before to release No Love Deep Web, and then ultimately cancelled the SAME tour again. They didn’t even bother to show up to the Lollapalooza after show either, which received a lot of coverage as well. Now the hardcore hip-hop group released a new album, titled Government Plates, to the surprise of everyone in the music community. Coming across as a logical progression to No Love Deep Web, it combines the sound of the prior with the structure of the universally acclaimed The Money Store.
Now I’m a Death Grips fan. There’s no denying that I enjoy their music, but I went off for a few months without hearing a single song. It may have been the overkill with The Money Store, or the fact that I wish No Love Deep Web sounded like the previous album. It felt like getting back with an ex when I started the stream of the new album. From the beginning of Government Plates, I realized the group was back in business. The album opens with the horribly titled, “you might think he loves you for your money but i know what he really loves you for its your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat”. Yes, that is the title, and it’s all lowercase. The first noise on the entire album is a crash of something glass, and then follows the high pitched ringing that echoes the massive bass hits that seem to be a reoccurring theme on the album. It’s arguably the best song on Government Plates, and the worst title in music history.
Follows this is “Anne Bonny”, which is a great throwback to The Money Store. What this album does so well is it sets itself apart from any Death Grips album by being plain odd. There’s a lot more of MC Rides screaming, and the electronics on every song come across as extremely eerie, but dance-able. “Two Heavens” opens with a rotating synth chord, but then a double bass break comes in with a distorted voice. It’s something I can headbang too, but also sit in the dark and squirm until it’s over. Flatlander, the noise specialist in Death Grips, really steps it up for this album. He doesn’t try anything particularly new, but every track contains an immense amount of bass this time around so I can’t complain.
Zach Hill as well lets loose for this album. He’s pretty much given the OK to try anything, and that can be seen on “This Is Violence Now (Dont get me wrong)”. Over top the preset drum machine, Hill’s chaotic drum fills are fixated to the song like a metal-heads dream. Listening to Government Plates gave me a whole new perspective of the man’s talent, and reading that he was self-taught woes me every-time. It does make sense though, because he plays like he’s feeling the beat with his body, hitting everything in sight, but it does work well. He overplays, but in only the best way possible.
Now the overplaying can be tied into the reason for the free release. It proves that Death Grips aren’t in it for the business, but for the sake of a creative outlet. I don’t know any other ventures Flatlander and MC Ride are in, but Zach has had a resume full of past bands ranging from Boredoms to Hella to Wavves. The group seems to be a release from the world around them, and them allowing us to experience it seems to be a hard thing for them to do. MC Ride does hold back on this album, but he allows the other two members to stand out. His highlight does come in with “Birds”, which has some of the groups most cryptic and eerie lyrics possible. “I’ve got a black hat/ It might live,” is bad enough to pass up, but with the minimalist mess that surrounds it adds enough of an effect to show that lines like these have an effect.
Government Plates is the oddest release yet by Death Grips. The whole idea of them releasing a brand new album for free makes me wonder what their intentions are. Just to note how far they’ve came, when they released this album on their own website, it crashed within 30 seconds. I wouldn’t be surprised if they meant for that to happen, or they meant for the insane buzz that surrounded their no-show at Lollapalooza. What Government Plates shows us is an honest look at what Death Grips wants to do. They want to let loose, they want to have fun, and they don’t give a fuck. If people call Miley Cyrus “punk”, just wait until they know about Death Grips.
When Suicide performed their first concert in East-Side New York, they were booed off stage for their proto-punk attempts.Their simple forward-thinking combination of synthesizers and drum machines could be considered too much to handle for the no-wave crowd of the time. Ironically, the band’s legacy is still found today in top album lists and other artist’s music. I would have done anything to witness the first groundbreaking act, but luckily today musicians like Dirty Beaches have taken the opportunity to fill the hole.
Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai, who’s Montreal based stage name garnered quite the critical acclaim with the 2011 album, Badlands. The lo-fi release was almost polarizing to the general public, although it was labelled as a “Experimental-Rockabily” album. Now Badlands was easily in my top list for 2011, and the only knock I had on it was it’s length. It’s a very condensed form of what Hungtai plans to do with this wonderful act, and the 27 minute debut was not enough for me.
Pleasing me in every way, Hungtai has released the follow-up to the magnificent album with a double LP titled, Drifters / Love Is The Devil. To give a quick overview of the two remarkably different sides, Drifters is a lot like Badlands with the drum machine and reverb influences, while Love Is The Devil is an all instrumental guitar and keyboard work that screams ‘night time in an abandoned city’. What captivated me to listen to this album over and over is how quickly I connected emotionally. It wasn’t that I was drawn to one event, but that I was drawn to a series of thoughts while listening. The future, careers, home, who am I? why am I here? what am I? All of this flooded into my head while Hungtai’s eerie but beautiful loops.
Drifters begins quite normal, with “Nightwalk” setting a good tone for accessibly, but once “Aurevior Mon Visage” drives in, I realized that Dirty Beaches wasn’t like other experimental acts. The loops are so simple, but so polarizing. This album onward is the perfect soundtrack for Half-Life 2. It’s oddly catchy hooks on tracks like “Mirage Hall” are a guilty pleasure for a song that feels like Hungtai went to hell and back to record it. It’s 9 minute soundscape transforms into the ultimate form of self-destruction. Even coming up with words to describe this song is difficult. Hungtai’s echoed yelling only adds to the contrast of sound.
After the ride that Drifters is, I took another turn on the beautiful sadness of Love Is The Devil. I’d Normally review double albums together, but these two albums are extremely divided in sound. Opening with the freakishly emotional “Greyhound At Night”, I was caught in limbo for the rest of the album. It flew by, with only specks of memory still in my brain. It vanished immediately. Not that it was not memorable, because it was fucking super memorable. It was that this album is an experience. I’m not talking about a Warhol Factory experience where your insides are mush the next morning, but an experience of inner-peace. The sound of this album is a mixture of ambiance and no-wave. There was no yelling, there was no driving drum beat, and the only comparison to a semi-popular music piece is “Motion Picture Soundtrack” off of Radiohead’s brilliant Kid A.
Songs like, “This Is Not My City” add to the effect of loneliness and isolation, while still containing that hope beneath the surface. It’s like being in a hazy apartment building looking out the window onto a busy street corner, questioning what the meaning is to all of this. ‘This’ can be anything, that’s the beauty of this album. What ‘this’ means in that analogy is up to you. Hitting the climax at “I Don’t Know How To Find My Way Back To You”, Hungtai takes a page out of Arvo Part’s modern composition book with the gripping orchestration. It’s droning, and perfectly level. The final note is that this half of the album was recorded in an empty Berlin recording studio after closing. I get the feeling of this throughout my entire listen. It’s that sound that’s so captivating that I can’t get enough of.
When I heard Dirty Beaches’ Badlands I felt like I was given the short end of the stick by only hearing a snippet into Hungtai’s mind. Now with Drifters / Love Is The Devil clocking in at 75 minutes together, I still feel like I’m left with not enough. I’ve come to the conclusion that truly is the beauty of the album. The LP’s control emotion better than any album I’ve heard this year (So long Trouble Will Find Me!), although I still know Dirty Beaches are in the climb of their career. Both albums are brilliant, and even with their contrasting sound, they fit like a puzzle piece together.
Listen to the almost 10 minute epic off of Drifters:
This song is from Love Is The Devil:
Maybe it’s me, but films like this always mess with me because I can’t help placing myself on the receiving end of these desperate situations, that and the whole loneliness thing…argh…gut wrenching. I think the last time I felt like this was when I watched the Chris Kentis film Open Water. Any of you who’ve seen that movie knows what I’m talking about when I say “you need strong drink after that one”.
Director Alfonso Cuarón (Great Expectations, Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men) rolls out another cheerful diddy about two astronauts played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, that are stranded in space. This film has been on several cinephiles radars for a long time and now Warner Brothers has finally released this sneak peak trailer. It starts out beautiful, but get’s unsettling real quick. You may want to lay off the Pepsi when you see this one in the theaters cause your not gonna want to miss a second of this intense film, this one will be a real test of endurance.
Dr. Stone (Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone—tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they’ve lost any link to Earth… and any chance for rescue.
Both Vampire Weekend and Contra were released in the months of January. I never thought of their music having a winter feeling, but in the end, the record company has the final say on the release date. The New York City indie rock band has always had a summer flair to the upbeat and disjointed hits. From college radio to hit TV shows, their music could be all over every source of media. After a three year break, they’re back with a new big time release. Modern Vampires Of The City promises a full recovery from two massively exciting albums. The band also promised a darker, more down to earth tone that could contrast the earlier albums.
The album opens with a shocking tune. “Obvious Bicycle” is slower, more draining and doesn’t have that ‘get up and dance’ feel that past openers have had. It’s dynamically different, but I enjoyed it and I assume fans will still appreciate the change. The second song, “Unbelievers”, feels like any other VW track, as does the next few. Exciting, fast BPM’s, and a very disjointed drum beat that can get any crowd moving. What I noticed from the start is how the songs a lyrically darker, “I’m not excited / But should I be / Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?”. These themes carry throughout the longest album that Vampire Weekend has released, which clocks in at just under 43 minutes. Still, the fast, exciting tracks carry that ability to be crazy hits.
What caught my eye is how smooth the production is. I was walking around listening to the ending of “Unbelievers” and the beginning of “Step” and was blown away. The drum smash right as the song picks up carries the same energy as a club banger. Even the next track, “Diane Young”, has that goofy Vampire Weekend style to it. Ironically, I just caught on the the ‘Dying Young’ play-on-words that the title holds. I never saw the band as lyrically forward thinking, but they surely pick up that aspect with Modern Vampires Of The City.
Songs like “Don’t Lie”, “Hannah Hunt”, and “Ya Hey” show that dynamic shift in their sound. I still heard that same keyboard tone and drum sound, but the songs are slower and closer to heart. Even some tracks feel more experimental (pitch shifting, large amount of reverb, and uncommon instrumentation). To most fans of the previous fun, upbeat material, this will be a shock to them. With an open mind these tracks can be just as great, but in a different way the past albums were.I personally enjoyed most of the songs included here, but I did not like the closer, “Young Lion”. The song felt very forced and an awkward reprise of the stunner, “Diane Young”. Maybe Vampire Weekend listened to too much of The Suburbs while making this album? The difference is that Arcade Fire does that sort of closer well, and Vampire Weekend was practically shoving that track onto the album. A sad way to close a very solid album.
The first time I heard a preview for the album a few months, I was shocked. I was shocked because it was the first time I felt like Vampire Weekend was doing something wrong. The preview had songs, “Step” and “Diane Young”, included and I hated it. Ironically, those ended up being my two favourite songs on the entire album. As a whole, Modern Vampires Of The City clicks very well. The darker, eerie themes seem smooth and unforced throughout the album, and Vampire Weekend still has that emotional energy that was found on past releases. The three years of no deadlines brought together the band. With a more mature sound, Vampire Weekend has released their most complete and fulfilling album to date. I highly recommend giving this a listen.
Watch the controversial video for “Diane Young”:
I have a dark secret. Back in 2011, I skipped out on James Blake’s debut LP, James Blake, because of skepticism. That probably came from the uprising of bro-step, and another dubstep fad wasn’t something I was looking forward too. Months after it’s February of 2011 release, I decided to embark on a listen because of its astonishing reviews. Now I did listen to his early EP’s like: Klavierwerke, CMYK, and The Bells Sketch, but the full length was said to be entirely different than what he was already doing. I felt immediately ashamed and disappointed because the album ended up becoming one of my favourite albums of 2011, and still is a close favourite to me. When I heard the news of a new album for mid-2013, I couldn’t wait. This is up there with the most hyped albums of the year for me because of how great the first album was.
James Blake, the British music producer/electronica/vocalist is known for his soulful vocals over what has been coined as: “Post-Dubstep”. The genre has picked up hype with the help of associated acts like Mount Kimbie and Jamie xx, and hasn’t taken a step back. The innovation in the music for it’s ambient influences and chopped vocal tracks has been something I loved ever since James Blake’s self-titled debut. Overgrown is an album that expands on the first. From the get-go I heard immediate differences. The album contains more bass than it’s predecessor and the layers are clearer. I could have picked out every little sound from my headphones. The cleaner production (backed by electronic legend Brian Eno) on the LP, especially on tracks like “Overgrown” and “Our Love Comes Back”, give the album that slight push. The two songs I mention have a quieter sound compared to the rest of the album’s build-up tracks, and the production helps the song show all the complex layers added to the mix.
All ten of these tracks have their own personality. It was no wonder why Republic Records leaked five of them to public before the initial release. My favourite song right now is the seventh. Titled “Digital Lion”, the song reminds me a lot like “Unluck” (from James Blake) mixed with the break down of “Slippy nuxx” (by Underworld) . The way the vocals are mixed and mashed fits perfectly over top the delicate chords. The track just builds and builds to the ultimate peak where the drum beat starts to separate into different parts and the vocals are pushed through so much editing that I don’t know what the original sounds like. The next track, “Voyeur”, has a “One More Chance” (Bloc Party) feel if the song was more electronic. I could dissect every track on this album to little pieces, but that would be boring. What gives this album so much personality is that every listen is different. The accessibility is there, and I began to hear new sounds after every listen.
The new dimensions on this album also gave me new favourites more different reasons. “Retrograde”, which is the official single, is amazing because of the typical James Blake sound it has. The chords play out so well and it just sticks with the listener. “To The Last” has this Radiohead sounding vocals, and James nails the part perfectly. The undertones pack a major punch that leads perfectly into the striking chords that guide the song to it’s ultimate climax. “Take A Fall For Me” is the most surprising song on the entire album, and Blake’s entire career so far. He has GZA, from the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, guest star on the track. He lays down three and a half minutes of his greatness, and his pretty smooth flow over top of Jame’s vocals fits almost perfectly. The jealousy I have for the talents James has is huge. He’s such a diverse musician who hits home runs with everything he touches.
Now the album is a great listen. It’s replay value is extremely high, and will be one to look out for on the year end list. The only knock on the album is that the iTunes bonus track isn’t apart of the main album. When I first listened to the album, that was my favourite song. To learn that it’s not part of the original is slightly disappointing. After more listens, I understand why it doesn’t fit in with the atmosphere of the album, but to exclude it all together of the full album only degrades it. This won’t impact my ‘score’, but any readers here who wondered if there are any good bonus tracks that exist, there is. Be sure to listen to “Everyday I Ran”. There’s no excuse, as it’ll only enhance your listening experience.
Overgrown out did James Blake. While some songs off James Blake might stand out a little more, the overall experience of Overgrown is better. There’s no other way of saying it. This album is just plain, flat-out, BETTER. The production, chord progression, song structure, atmosphere, mood, and listening experience are an upgrade from the 2011 monster. While it isn’t in my all-time favourites (yet) because of how new it is, be sure to check the year end list to see if I can actually hold a valid opinion for more than 6 months! Overgrown is an album that sticks out in the vast world of electronic music. It’s very accessible, exciting, and emotional. Be sure to check it out at your next chance!
Here’s the single, “Retrograde”: