Donnie and Joe Emerson hyped up the world of private press this past year as their time capsule record, Dreamin’ Wild, resurfaced across independent music blogs throughout America. It’s a record that gets you thinking about music’s limit– if it even has one. Just think about how many records have been recorded since the phonograph took off around the turn of the century? Millions. With this massive broadness, one could ask, “is it even possible to be a true fan of music when it has no limits, no boundaries, no end in sight?” Maybe. Jill Read, a virtually-unknown, late 70’s female singer, released a small number of soul/doo-wop singles in 1977 before going M.I.A. “Maybe” is a nostalgic ballad that would have been all over the radio if it was recorded in the late 50’s. Its malt-shop melody and teenage naiveté revoke mushy first loves and beachside romance. Read’s voice is just as unique as the song’s anachronism, it’s frail and pleading, but strong and pissed off at the same time. The singer’s mysterious background, culturally out of place soulfulness, and reverb drenched guitars blend together to form a beautiful ode to adolescent heartbreak music. “Maybe” is a great reminder of just how big the world of music is and just how mysterious it works.
People in bands have a sixth sense – a sort of a supernatural camaraderie that travels throughout the world from musician’s brain to musician’s brain. They’re all connected in sense that they’ve all experienced live and loud musical fusion. It’s an experience shared only by members of the fraternity, it’s a feeling that is absurd in explanation; its definition is like explaining the concept of love to a child. It just happens. “Another Place” by Austin natives, Unknown Relatives, begins with a lonesome guitar line that eventually joins with a wonderfully unkempt set of drums and a dreamy set of hushed vocals. At around the one-minute mark, the song cascades into a noisy garage-rock massage of turbulence, awaking you from the sleepy daze that the lullaby intro lulled you into. But the song’s best aspect is its amateur familiarity. “Another Place” has that feeling – that musical sixth sense – it’s a song born out of DIY, hard-work, and jamming out in a crowded room with your buddies. “Another Place” transcends aesthetic exploitation and falls into it’s own world of smoggy, Ducktails meets Ty Segall brilliance.
“His Pain” opens up with a jazzy isolated piano groove that is quickly drowned out by Kendrick Lamar’s soulful and pious rhyming. The rap titan is as tight with his flow as ever as he speaks of a casual day in the projects: death, cold, domestic abuse, and custody battles. Lamar’s voice is hoarse and vulnerable, cracking occasionally at couplets that are too rough for his smoke filled, cold riddled throat. “His Pain” feels so “Detroit” that it’s unreal. The piano sample, the double bass progression, the seductive saxophone, and B.J. The Chicago Kid’s preachy crooning at the song’s chorus create an impoverished, grandma’s vinyl collection atmosphere– and it works wonderfully. His voice is perfect for the urban ruggedness of the song, it’s not too appealing for the masses but by no means is it crude. Sitting back with a single listen to “His Pain” is like transporting yourself to the old living room of a Detroit slum: an old Marvin Gaye 45 on the turntable, a lone cigarette burning through the room, a Colt 45 sitting on the table near the fire place, relaxing in an old recliner, a distant gunshot or siren in the distance. The combination of B.J. The Chicago Kid and Lamar is one for the history books. The duo has created an entirely unique and refreshing experience to hip-hop: a snowy, Four Brothers-esque trip.
The 80’s gave birth to many genres: synth-pop, hardcore, post-punk–just to name a few. But you couldn’t discuss the music of the 1980’s without an inquiry into new wave– it’s when the genre really took off. Bands like The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Cure countered the overly twee synth-pop and mega-Madonna-pop-star movements with a culture entirely of their own. John Hughes films such as Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink popularized teen melancholy and individuality, revamping the old jocks-versus-greasers melodrama that was heavily prevalent in the 1950’s. These bands wrote introspective music with heavily effected guitars, electric drums, and unique melodies. From the ashes of the Scottish punk-rock band, The Skids, arose Big Country. Big Country is an 80’s new wave band that unfortunately gets lost between the Wang Chung and Taco LP’s in the discount bin. They were known for their highly engineered guitar production, Scottish influence, and their contemplative lyrics. Never really attaining popularity in the U.S. (with the exception of “In a Big Country”), the Scottish boys became a big “opening-act’ go-to for rock titans like The Rolling Stones and The Who. Not content with second place, lead singer/guitarist, Stuart Adamson, began struggling with alcoholism that eventually led to a divorce. After the commercial failure of 1999’s Driving to Damascus, Adamson fell into a deeper spell of depression and disappeared from the tabloids. In 2000, Adamson resurfaced and the band toured for one last time before the troubled singer succumbed to depression and committed suicide in November 2001. And although the band was never played next to the likes of Madonna and Prince, Big Country’s underdog legacy is ironically equitable to the queen of pop’s and the the artist formerly known.
Everybody has that one short period in their lives where they convince themselves that they’ll live out the rest of their days as a beach bum. They’ll buy a cozy beach shack, grow out long, golden, saltwater-kelp infused locks, and wear nothing but cut-off jean shorts and tank tops. “Charleston” by Australian beachsters, Set Sail, is a song dedicated to not just the beach, but the wide-eyed romance that comes along with the sand and waves. Its title is a reference to the spastically fun 1920’s dance, the Charleston, and is quite an appropriate reference– “Charleston” is filled with booming drums, jangly pop guitars, twisting and shouting, driving in El Caminos, whacky keyboard solos, and sweet, sweet pop melodies. If it doesn’t make you want to drop everything, buy a 1950’s Ford Woody with surfboards attached, grab your friends, and head to California, then I don’t know what will.
Just over two years ago, the raucous party anthem, “Whip My Hair” took over the airwaves and dance floors. It was an addicting, loud song that contained amusing nonsensical rhymes and its own “whipping-of-the-hair” dance– it was an epitome of 2010’s popular culture. But where has Will Smith’s daughter-turned-singer gone as of late? Judging from her new personal ballad, “Sugar and Spice,” she’s been on the leather couch of a shrink’s office. “Sugar and Spice” tells the harrowing story of the mentally debilitating repercussions of child stardom– after all, puberty is hard enough to go through in the eyes of your peers, nonetheless the whole country. “They wanna puncture me and then wonder why I bleed,” Smith sings, explaining how critics and the tabloids have attacked her. Smith is way beyond her years; clocking in at just twelve years old, she is already sampling Radiohead, properly using the word “melancholy”, and examining the paradoxical effects of fame. “Sugar and Spice” is heartbreakingly familiar and painfully voyeuristic. It’s a song that takes you back to the awkward halls of your high school and mercilessly sits you down in front of the mirrors you once avoided looking into. Journalists, bloggers, and critics take their words for granted. Our tongue is a powerful weapon and a potentially destructive one when behind a computer screen. As music lovers we should all be careful about what we say and write, after all Willow Smith is a human, and a young one at that.
Walking through a college campus in the cold is something everyone must do before they die– and I say that with complete sincerity. The cold wind stings at your skin and clears your nostrils, attacking the multiple layers of clothing that have attached their woolen exoskeletons to your body, acting as biological refreshment. Walking to class, gazing at the trees and collegiate architecture is something that mankind can only experience at a certain time in its life– the greek columns, the flying buttresses of the library, the bells, the intricate brick– they all encourage winter’s cold and make winter’s cold encouraging. “Done to My Love,” by Boise noisemakers, Gayze, is a psychedelic slow burner that will perfectly soundtrack an icy commute to class. While the trudging guitars, lo-fi production, and sloppy melody will warm your insides, the frigid lyrics and reverberated vocals will conspire with the winter, eliminating the quick warmth of the song’s instrumentation. “Done to My Love” is a stylistic track that serves as a love song, a stoner jam, and a rock n’ roll tune. Yet, despite the song’s versatility, it will never feel as perfect as it does when walking through a chilly campus– at least to me.