Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes

Describing music with shimmering instrumentation and rich vocals as ‘beautiful’ is easy. But rare is music that sounds beautiful, as much as it feels beautiful – music that captures the many intricacies of our world and emotions in its own flourishes. This music is not superficially pleasant – often, it might deal with powerful themes that ordinary men and women are left to grapple with. But the result is immensely evocative, vivid in its detailing.

Musicians that can create truly beautiful music, then, are to be treasured; Fleet Foxes is among them, and Crack-Up is a stunning work of music, and art. Robin Pecknold is a wonder – his esoteric, poetic lyrics are incredible in their ability to defy the rigidity of time and place. His vocals resonate through every emotion he can capture. The band’s music takes instruments that so many others have used, and conjures new soundscapes with them; their sound is gorgeous and soaring, and the arrangements immaculately conceived.

Album opener I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar is a sprawling song that unravels in the manner of an internal monologue, tugging between doubt and faith, shifting between hushed-up whispers and exuberant proclamations. Third of May / Ōdaigahara, the lead single and one of the band’s best songs, is similarly a journey all in itself, contemplating nearly every nuance of relationships through grand swells and falls of music.

Kept Woman is ethereal, the kind of song that leaves you with a lump in your throat for no discernible reason other than being struck by its beauty. Fool’s Errand plays like a melancholy anthem, with driving percussion but strings that make each step forward feel a tad too heavy – “It was a fool’s errand/Waiting for a sign/But I can’t leave until the sign comes to mind,” Pecknold rues.

True to its name, album closer Crack-Up acts as a microcosm of the album – a jigsaw puzzle of a song that would sound disjointed in the hands of lesser bands. Much like the introductory track, it’s a meditation on the chaos of our self reflected in the song’s structure. According to Pecknold himself, “the beginning presents a question that is briefly solved and then there’s this sort of ecstatic burst of energy at the end like enlightenment or something and then it all kind of cracks up but in this really ecstatic way and then it kind of closes into closeness.” It might seem like a wonky explanation coming from the man who penned such evocative lyrics, but that’s the beauty of the music he helped create.

Crack-Up reveals a depth of humanness in our lives that might seem mundane if described any other way. Each track on here is worthy of praise in its own way, tied by the sentiments that bind us all. Fleet Foxes are the tools to coax these sentiments out of us – and for that, I am eternally grateful.

 

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Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes

RELAXER by alt-J

alt-J are a band of their time and place – they’ve got more than a bit of hipster aloofness, but their music sounds volatile enough to be earnest – their indie-gone-global catapult is reflected in their need to make music that is ‘true’ to themselves, yet appealing enough to their wide audience. With RELAXER, while they have created quite a bit of music that reflects that mosaic, along the way, they seem to have have lost the plot.

alt-J’s music has been characterized by harmony and subtlety, sharpened by rougher elements that lend form to the music, lest they wander into inoffensiveness. That balance is often disrupted on RELAXER – there are moments of sheer beauty, and moments of guttural, primal aggression, but not enough of the right blend of the two extremes. The singles remain some of the best tracks on the album. 3WW’s intro immediately intrigues, with subtle textures that nevertheless don’t recede into the background. The vocals are clean and appropriately moody. And then there are bursts of crackling synths that surface when the lyrics indicate a tonal shift. It’s impeccably produced, and a perfect introduction. The next track, and the second single, In Cold Blood, is a contrast; with its pointed soundscape, and lyrics that are rather incongruent, the track is a display of alt-J’s interpretability. But while both these tracks work great by themselves, their sequencing is questionable. The lack of cohesion in sound is repeated throughout the album due to its mere 8 tracks, as if a singular sound that the band wants to home in on has been deconstructed and its individual parts scattered across the length of the album.

Other tracks take alt-J’s notorious self-indulgence a little too far.  House… is melodically beautiful, where the strings create a stunning atmosphere as they pitch up and down with lyrical tone. But there are wordless sections that would benefit from an additional element, but are left hanging. Lyrically, while it’s an interesting take on an old folk song, the chorus is cloyingly ironic. Last Year is overlong and dull – it has probably the strongest narrative on the album, but the production is the boring side of simple, and there’s nothing memorable enough to keep the listener hooked. Adeline picks up and makes a pretty great track about halfway through, but the first half is simply too long. Hit Me Like That Snare, meanwhile, is downright terrible. alt-J simply isn’t a band that can create a great punk track; there is an outright lack of melody, Jon Newman’s nasally voice is at its most annoying, and the outro is baffling – it’s unclear whether this is the band’s attempt at being ironically self-aware, or an attempt to capture the bluntness of great punk, and it fails on being either. Which is a shame, because lyrically, this is the most intriguing track on the album (save the outro.)

The best tracks, then, are the ones where alt-J’s newer ideas are polished and come together perfectly. Deadcrush is dark and foreboding, the production combining a noticeable edge with impeccably earworm-worthy melodies – the hook succeeds with Newman’s nasal inflection what failed in Hit Me… Overall, the song is just fun – something that can’t be said for enough of the other tracks. Pleader is an ethereal, hymnal track that is an absolute joy to listen to despite its length, thanks to the many sections the track flows through effortlessly – it’s dynamic, but never jagged. And it’s the perfect closer to the album.

alt-J hasn’t really changed. Their esoterica is thankfully intact – who else would open their track with a lyric in binary?! There are musical choices that few other bands can pull off – the marching rhythm of the “ya, ya, ya” choral bridge in Adeline shouldn’t work. but it simply does. But the band is having something of a crisis of faith. They are unsure of their direction, and have faltered along the way. To their credit, they’ve definitely made some bold choices. Some of them don’t work, but when they do, the reward is immensely enjoyable. If they take their successes, and remold and improve them, alt-J’s next album will truly be a worthy payoff. Till then, RELAXER has enough great music to tide us over.

 

 

RELAXER by alt-J

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. I Promise – Radiohead

Listening to an album for the first time and realizing it will end up being one of your favourites is an astonishingly wonderful feeling. That’s what I felt with OK Computer, and to relive that wave of emotions with I Promise, a track tellingly recorded between The Bends and OKC is something a fan usually only dreams of experiencing. With melancholy strummed guitars and marching percussion, Thom brings us back to the delicate and intimate promises of a relationship in danger of tearing apart. It’s an emotional, beautiful track. And it’s quintessentially Radiohead.

#2. Perfect Places – Lorde

Pounding kicks open the track, followed immediately by the existential lyric  “Every night I live and die;”  akin to Green Light, this is a complex song, juxtaposing a dance-y electronic instrumental with exploratory lyrics. Tackling the escapist party culture of alcohol and casual sex with a nuance that acknowledges both the desire for mindless euphoria, as well as the resultant ennui, Lorde once again captures the seemingly-contradictory dichotomy of our youth like few artists do.

#3. Run – Foo Fighters

Given how long the Foo Fighters have been around, there isn’t much in the way of surprises they can throw at you – but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some damn good music their own way. Run begins with Dave’s voice – melodic, yet tinged with a growl bubbling underneath – before launching into classic Foo; the aggressively infectious guitar riffs, driving drums and snarling vocals. It’s a mosh-pit worthy fireball of energy that belies the musicians’ age (which is also the theme of the music video). Thank the musical gods for it.

#4. Everything Now – Arcade Fire

The sunny,  melodic production – co-production credits go to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter – and the indie everyman vocals of Win Butler on the title track of Arcade Fire’s upcoming album, Everything Now, offer an essentially personal narrative in the overwhelmingly populist reality of the world, where the human struggle is lost to consumerist, majoritarian agendas. It’s a bleak message, and more relevant than ever.

#5. 4 AM ft. Travis Scott – 2 Chainz

2 Chainz has come a long way – his flow’s gotten better, there’s some substance to it, and he sounds more reassured and confident in his rapping. With a smooth banger of a beat and a trademark Travis hook adding to the concoction, this has the potential to be a hit. Either way, it’s a legitimately great track.

 

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

With the way music is consumed continuously changing, the way it is created changes too – artists have found new and exciting ways to destroy the limitations of genre, meld an array of sounds together and shape it into music that pushes boundaries, while still retaining the core of musicality. This charge into a genreless future is being led by a few stellar artists, each in a class of their own while defying categories.

#1. Danny Brown

Danny has been a flag-bearer of irreverence since his breakout XXX mixtape, melding punk rock aggression and energy with hardcore punchline rap over harsh electronica. His drugged-up vocals had no real melody to them, but he flows over any instrumental through a form of controlled chaos, like a hulking rugby player bouncing off the punches of a musical pinball machine. His form of vocal delivery might be rapping, but his music has brought together aspects from an array of genres – from EDM to industrial to electropop – to form a genreless hybrid.

Also listen to: Dip25 Bucks 

#2. Bon Iver

Bon Iver began as Justin Vernon’s intimate acoustic project, expanding his sound on the next album with more layered production, alongside delicate, beautifully measured vocals. But the biggest left turn came with his decidedly weird 22, A Million. Legitimizing ‘folktronica’ with an unconventional blend of acoustic guitars and soft keys with ambient synths and electronicized percussion, the album is this generation’s Kid A. It’s quintessentially indie in its disdain for mainstream genre conventions, and Bon Iver has thus made music all the better for it. 

Also listen to: Skinny LoveHolocene

#3. Flying Lotus

FlyLo is the definition of a musical autuer – he can envision cohesive, stunning genre-melding like few other musicians can, and reject every notion of genre to create niche subgenres all his own.  From instrumental hip-hop, to IDM, to ambient electronica,  to contemporary jazz, he takes existing sounds and infuses them with his own contrarian tendencies, creating experimental music that is never comfortable sticking to established tropes. Flying Lotus represents the rebellious voice of this generation of music, thus laying the foundation for the future.

Also listen to: MmmHmmPutty Boy Strut

#4. Young Thug

Young Thug is a divisive figure, earning as much hate from hip-hop purists as love from the newer generation of the genre’s fans. But restricting him to the genre of hip-hop itself might be a mistake – his singsong voice is unlike any other, and he modulates it to be hilariously fun, a crooner or noticeably sneering. The production matches his tone – fromn trap bangers to smooth, glittering pop and RnB jams, Thugga’s repertoire of musical talent defies every box fans and critics alike have tried to put him in.

Also listen to: Best FriendDigits

#5. Kaytranada

Kaytranada, unlike FlyLo, has a definite sound – dominated by deep bass and hip-hop sensibilities, his base template acts as a blank slate into which Kay paints in strokes of a number of genres. He draws from soundscapes that date back decades, and brings them into contemporary music in a decidedly revisionist manner – he doesn’t assimilate funk, RnB and soul into his music as much as breathe new life into it while respecting its roots. Kaytranada makes music like a true fan – acknowledging the past while looking firmly towards a creative future.

Also listen to: Holy Hole Inna DonutDrive Me Crazy

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

Five Songs For The Weekend – IV

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. 3WW by alt-J

alt-J could’ve stuck to their indie art-rock vibe for another album, and most fans would’ve loved the album nevertheless. But this gorgeous, subdued track sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before, while reminding the listener in subtle ways that this is the band so many of us fell in love with – the gentle folktronica, Joe Newman’s unmistakable voice all remain. Few bands do esoterica that remains immensely enjoyable like alt-J does, and this track gives us plenty of reason to be excited for Relaxer. 

#2. Third of May / Ōdaigahara by Fleet Foxes

It’s been 6 long years since Fleet Foxes came out with an album, and no band has quite been able to fill the gaps they left behind. But Third of May / Ōdaigahara makes the worth seem wholly worth it. The sprawling track is a poetic masterpiece, a meditation on life’s ups and downs in a musician’s voice, with a warmth that feels like the quiet woods on a cloudy day. The instrumental outro section might be one of the loveliest pieces of music Fleet Foxes have constructed, and it’s a great sign of the music to come.

#3. Meditation ft. Jazmine Sullivan, KAYTRANADA by Goldlink

Goldlink is master of the bounce – he’s been making dance-floor rap for a while now, without having to resort to generic trap or club bangers. Meditation is mellower than his usual offerings, but thanks to a deep, bass-heavy instrumental by the incredible Kaytranda, it’s bound to get you vibing along nevertheless. Add in Jazmine Sullivan’s jazz vocals, and you have a smooth track more than worthy of a dance.

#4. Liability by Lorde

After the upbeat and bittersweet Green Light, the piano ballad that is Liability is a tidal wave of insular melancholy. It wears its sadness on its sleeve, exploring parts of Lorde’s psyche that she herself admits to have not written into her music before. As with so much of her music, it feels like it’s written for her audience as much as for herself. This is beautifully simple, moving song – if Melodrama sounds like this, it will cement Lorde’s status as one of the best musicians of our generation.

#5. Red Mercedes by Aminé

Red Mercedes is definitely not the song you’d have expected from Aminé after Caroline – this is a more traditional rap track in terms of melody, but it certainly retains the light-heartedness of the first track, albeit with an audible sneer post the success of Caroline. Aminé’s flows on the track with ease, the grimy production appropriate for the track’s mood. It’s going to be interesting to see where the budding artist goes next.

 

 

 

 

Five Songs For The Weekend – IV

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

grammy-awards

The GRAMMYs, till date, remains one of the biggest musical events of the year (even though it has its fair share of detractors) making it a good time to take stock of the biggest artists and music of the past year. With that in mind, we’re doing a quick rundown of the major nominees and their chances to take home that golden gramophone.

#1. Record of the Year

Adele is undeniably one of the most successful musicians on the planet, and Hello is one of her biggest hits. It mostly sticks to her formula of powerful, emotional vocals and sparse instrumentation to deliver a pop behemoth. As with most of her work, this has a solid chance of being a winner.

With similar odds of winning is Beyonce’s Formation  – a fierce, political record that uses of-the-moment references and trap production to deliver an unapologetic statement by a Black feminist and a legendary artist. Given the record’s controversial nature, (among angry conservatives, mostly) giving Bey this award would make for quite the moment.

Stressed Out by twenty one pilots – how far Twenty One Pilots have come – arguably the biggest song of their career is probably the least pop song in contention, but also one of the strongest songs. The sparse but fitting production and contemplative mood have tapped into the psyche of the generation its written for – possibly a surprise winner?  7 Years by Lukas Graham and Work by Rihanna, featuring Drake have been inescapable pop songs throughout the year, but their snatching this victory is doubtful.

#2. Album Of The Year

25 by Adele was the fastest selling album of 2015, and a massive success in every way. You know what you get with Adele, and she has few naysayers. Strong contender. Bey’s Lemonade  was similarly successful – for multiple reasons – and is considered one of, if not the, best album(s) of her career. And she’s a Grammy favourite, so there’s a solid shot.

Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is the standard left-of-field contender in the AotY category. A beautiful album with some of the best songwriting of the year, it has the potential to be one of those surprise victories.

Justin Bieber’s Purpose and Drake’s Views were both mediocre albums that were presumably slotted in because of their creators’ stature. Pass.

#3. Song Of The Year

Adele’s Hello is a great song, but its strongest suit isn’t its penmanship. This could go either way. Formation is raw, unfiltered and makes powerful statements in sharply delivered verses. Possible winner. Mike Posner’s I Took a Pill in Ibiza was a smash hit, but owing to the popularity of its remix, the lyrics were (unfortunately) secondary. Still a great song, though.  7 Years by Lukas Graham and Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself aren’t written as strongly as the others – standard pop fare.

#4. Best New Artist

Ideally, this should go to either Chance the Rapper or Anderson .Paak – .Paak came out with one of the best RnB/soul albums in recent times and is incredibly talented, while Chance has finally been recognized as a mainstream artist, along with having an insurmountable year of success. There is, however, a chance that The Chainsmokers will take this one home, given the success of their singles and the Grammy’s tendency to be myopic with these choices.

#5. Best Pop Solo Performance

This is Adele‘s all the way home. No other nominee has her vocal chops, and Hello has her using them at their best. Hold Up is a great song, but it simply doesn’t have the same levity.

#6. Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

This is truly a tough pick. Closer by The Chainsmokers is pop perfection, while Cheap Thrills by Sia featuring Sean Paul and Work were pop songs with distinct dancehall flavour that made for some immensely danceable music. But both 7 Years and Stressed Out were driven largely by their vocal performances, which brings them closer to the victory than the others.

#8. Best Pop Vocal Album

Nearly every contender here (sorry, JB) has a vocal style their own that puts them in contention for the prize, but as with the Pop Solo Performance, the clear victor here is Adele’s 25. You can fault her songwriting and production as much as you’d like, but you cannot deny the emotive strength and range of her voice.

#9. Best Dance Recording

This is one of those categories that doesn’t have much to sift through – fortunately or unfortunately – since it typically goes to the most popular of the lot, the honour here belonging to The Chainsmokers’ Don’t Let Me Down featuring Daya. With that being said, Flume’s Never Be Like You featuring Kai is the better of the successes, with shimmering bass-driven production complementing Kai’s fuller vocals. Maybe the jury will think the same way.

#10. Best Rock Song

Please give this to Blackstar . The David Bowie track is a reminder of Bowie’s genius, with its surrealist lyrics backed by intricate jazz-rock instrumentation – this is a tribute Bowie deserves. With that being said, Burn The Witch and Hardwired are brilliant tracks, w in their own right, by two of the best rock bands around, with the former’s imagery being particularly compelling. Heathens is a solid song, but it simply can’t match up to the other contenders.

#11. Best Rock Album

It would seem, like it’s happened so many times before, that the Grammy committee has missed out on several gems this year in this category. However, among the albums that make the cut, the cult favourite Gojira’s Magma is the strongest contender for the prize, although Cage The Elephant’s Tell Me I’m Pretty could make the cut too – it’s got the alt-rock sound the jury loves, and it’s far more emotive than the other records here.

#12. Best Alternative Music Album

Easily the hardest choice to make here. David Bowie’s Blackstar, Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, and Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool are some of the finest albums of 2016, each uniquely brilliant. Blackstar is an experimental masterpiece, and a fitting close to Bowie’s legendary career. 22, A Million is Bon Iver’s most left-field album yet – which is saying something – and creates a space in music all their own. But A Moon Shaped Pool is perhaps the strongest album here, its atmosphere capturing cosmic moments like none of the others do. The jury is out on this one.

#13. Best Rap Performance

Say what you will about Desiigner and  Panda, its energy is undeniable – this is truly a rap performance. No Problem, All The Way Up and  That Part are memorable, inspired tracks and some of the best work the respective rappers have been involved with – but purely based on how Desiigner sounds, the winner seems pretty clear.

#14. Best Rap/Sung Performance

Another tough category; while it is clear, unfortunately, that Drake will take this one home with Hotline Bling because of its unparalleled success, Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam is some of the finest music he’s created (Famous was pretty great too, if the jury can get past that Taylor lineand D.R.A.M’s Broccoli, featuring Lil Yachty’s best verse to date, is arguably catchier than even Hotline Bling. Maybe the Grammys will throw up another surprise here, though.

#15. Best Rap Song

Give Drake his Rap/Sung gramophone, but this one must go to Ultralight Beam. There is no other track in this category that matches up to its musicality. Kanyeezy did it again.

#16. Best Rap Album

Drake’s Views, as it happens, might be given the award simply because of his pop appeal, while Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo is a great album, but fat from his best. ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP , on the other hand, is his best work, but it doesn’t have the numbers or notoriety to win, sadly.

But Chance the Rapper has lobbied for, and won the right to be included in the Grammys, a moment that will change the face of the music industry. He’s a trailblazer, and Coloring Book is one of his finest hours. He deserves this trophy.

 

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

Process by Sampha

Sampha is an enigmatic musician, working from the shadows with the upper echelon of the industry (Kanye, Drake, Frank Ocean) – he doesn’t have much music out, but he’s left an indelible mark on everything he’s been a part of. But it’s clear that he’s taken his time finding his voice, so to speak, opting to quietly work on a body of solo work that wears its heart on its sleeve, delving into heavy introspection with a maturity rarely seen in debut albums. Sampha’s confessional songwriting style is wistful, exploring his anxieties and regrets with imagery that can be disarming and affecting in turn. Few songs have the emotional brevity of tracks like (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, a melancholy reflection on times gone by, or the strange, listless sensuality of Under. His vocal range is effortlessly expansive, with a knack for coaxing out vestiges of emotion in the listener, while making his own explicit. The music should sound familiar to those who have listened to his work with SBTRKT, and his (slightly underwhelming) Dual EP, maintaining an atmosphere of evocative electronica with smatterings of delicate piano.
The process that the title refers to then, seems to be one of contemplative reconciliation, a conversation with himself and the people in his life about his growth as a person, and where he seeks to go from here, ending with an assurance to himself that he can “always come home,” a sentiment which we all aspire to.
Process by Sampha