Album Review: Kendrick Lamar Reclaims Rap’s Throne with DAMN.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2010, you may have a decent idea of who Kendrick Lamar is. Since his official label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar has earned himself worldwide appeal as both a popular and conscious rapper. Now, two years since his genre-shattering To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar has returned to the spotlight with DAMN., a record dense with personal reflection and exemplary production that once again establishes him as one of the all-time greats.

“So I was taking a walk the other day…” Kendrick starts DAMN. off with a short narrative in which he describes his own death. It seems that the remainder of the album revolves around Lamar contemplating his own life, considering if his life would have been worthy of living had he actually died. The album even reverses on “DUCKWORTH.”, the final track, and returns to where DAMN. started off. The song titles cut no corners; each previews the song’s subject matter. “HUMBLE.”, for example, delicately balances on Lamar’s own bravado and the constant reminder to “sit down” and “be humble.” Other tracks cut deeper. “FEAR.” outlines Lamar’s fears, including death’s unpredictability and of losing the fame and wealth he’s earned. The mood throughout the album sways between vulnerable and confident; it’s a blend of what made both To Pimp A Butterfly and good kid, m.A.A.d city unique. Despite relying on similar tones, Lamar delves into new topics and makes DAMN. feel just as unique as his previous two works.

Unlike To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN. features a departure from jazz rap, rather fusing pop, electronic, alternative, and trap music into a refreshing sound that caters to Lamar’s versatility. The production credits are indicative of such; to name a few, James Blake, 9th Wonder, James Blake, Steve Lacy, and BADBADNOTGOOD all lend their production talents on DAMN. Each song is an otherworldly experience on its own, yet listened to side by side reveal the narrative of Lamar’s latest work. “XXX.” features perhaps the wildest beat switch (one of many) on the album, exploding from a dark, bass-driven beat into a flurry of sirens. Other highlights include “LUST.”, a song empowered by a delayed entry of the drums, and “PRIDE.”, whose guitar chords slow the pace to a melodic crawl.

To Pimp A Butterfly took some time to grow on me when I first heard it. I was initially disappointed because I was hoping to hear more tracks reminiscent of good kid, m.A.A.d city, but instead what I got was vastly opposite. Once I had come around to it, however, I learned that artists aren’t supposed to rely on formulaic music to become successful. Real artists grow and change; they learn and evolve to create new, exceptional music that keeps them one step ahead of the competition. Lamar’s competition, Drake, has fallen victim to this and chosen to stick to what works rather than take risks and mature as an artist. Lamar, on the other hand, continues to grow and surprise his fans, with each new album being more unprecedented than the last. DAMN. is a shining example of such. An album inspired by Lamar’s own life and attitude, it stands alone as a masterpiece and singular experience. Lamar continues to solidify his placement upon the Mount Rushmore of rap, and he will most certainly surprise us all with whatever he has planned next. Listen to DAMN. here.

Archie O’Dell

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Festival Foreshadowing: Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival

In the minds of a  festival-goer, January and February could be considered “messenger months”–8 weeks filled with announcements and leaks detailing the lineups, dates, and ticket information of the year’s upcoming music festivals. Mainstay festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo have already released their featured artists, while other festivals such as Washington’s own Sasquatch or Chicago’s Pitchfork have followed suit. One up-and-coming festival, the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival, is spreading its secrets to its fans in an unusual way.

The Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival had its inaugural session last summer in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Organized and orchestrated by Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, songwriter and guitar player for The National, the festival was a huge success. Featuring headlining acts by Bon Iver (in their first show in over three years), The National, Sufjan Stevens, and Spoon, the festival was attended by over 22,000 people, and was well received by critics.

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I was fortunate enough to attend the inaugural festival, and it stands as my top experience of 2015. Standout sets included the chillingly beautiful harmonies performed under sweltering heat by English trio The Staves, a heart-pounding act by Sylvan Esso, and a wonderfully balanced set at dusk by Sufjan Stevens. Bon Iver’s festival-closing performance will hold dearest to my heart, though, as  it was the culmination of a long wait to see my favorite band perform live.

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Besides the sublime individual performances that occurred over the two-day event, the biggest takeaway from the experience was the overall vibe of the festival. Eaux Claires featured a large attendance and high-profile artists, yet had an intimacy and solely-for-the-music energy usually only found in small, local festivals. The commercialism evident in huge festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza was nonexistent at Vernon and Dessner’s creation.

This focus on intimacy has carried over into preparation for 2016′s Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival. As an attendee of last year’s festival, I was eligible for their Early Bird ticket special back in October, and was able to purchase tickets. A few days ago, I, along with other Early Bird purchasers, was sent a package from festival organizers. The package included an old-school tape, aptly titled “DEUX”. An accompanying letter describes it as “a mixtape with b-sides, demos, home recordings, and spontaneous contributions from some of the artists featured in the year two lineup”.

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The mixtape provides clues on a number of artists who may perform this year, most notably being a track titled “Untitled 2″ by Fall Creek Boys Choir, alluding to the collaboration between Justin Vernon and English electronic singer-songwriter James Blake. An old b-side by Bon Iver titled “Haven, Mass” also appears on the mixtape, suggesting Bon Iver may reclaim the stage. Other songs link Aaron Dessner and his brother Bryce Dessner, Bruce Hornsby, Phil Cook, Jon Hopkins, and Nathaniel Rateliff to the festival. Arcade Fire members Richard Reed Perry and Sarah Neufeld are also featured on the mixtape, possibly suggesting a headlining spot for the acclaimed band. A skit-like track titled “Good Music” teases a connection with Kanye West, founder of record label GOOD Music, Inc. Last year, a hopeful minority of attendees hoped that Kanye would make a surprise appearance at Eaux Claires. Justin Vernon has collaborated with the rapper on his last three projects, and while the idea of Kanye traveling to a small Wisconsin city to perform remains improbable, the connection seems to be not fully coincidental.

These performance mysteries will become clear soon, as the full lineup is set to be released on Thursday, February 11th. Regardless of how significantly the mixtape will end up previewing this year’s acts, the idea demonstrates the uniqueness of this growing festival. What kind of festival announcement is more exciting than one that includes two hours of exclusive music?

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Ellis Mayne


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Oh Wonder—London artists debut for tour

In a packed venue full of eager and interactive fans,
Josephine Vander Gucht takes the microphone, looks at her partner Anthony West,
and back to her fans saying, “Listen, you can be an individual and you can be
weird and you can different.” The crowd roars in emotion and agreement and a
soulful song between the two begins.

Meet Oh Wonder. A London based duo, singing smooth and mellow,
R&B influenced synthpop (whose favorite band is none other than Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie), the two
artists began their career together writing and releasing one single a month at
a time—which eventually turned into the development of a much loved, internet
crazed album.

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When asked about how the two first met, both artists look at
each other and chuckle, delving back into their past from years ago. A completely
chance meeting, the two met at a gig Vander Gucht played at in a small venue in
London, with West running lights for her show. One year later, the setting is
reversed and Vander Gucht finds herself at West’s show. Flash forward one more year, and the two finally find
themselves in a studio through a mutual friend and remembrance of their coincidental
meetings.

The two began writing songs together, and I went over
this in my mind as the starting point.  “Is
this where Oh Wonder first started—with
that first songwriting session?” I had to ask.

The two adamantly shake their heads.

“We weren’t looking to perform our songs at all, when we
first started,” Vander Gucht says to me, snuggled up on a dressing room couch. “We
had our own projects at the time.”

“We wrote together, purely as a writing project, as something
to improve our portfolios, to show what sort of work we could write as artists,”
West adds.

Finally in September 2014, Vander Gucht pushed West towards
putting their work online and the two began to publish one song a month, over
the course of year, the project developing into their now debut album. Soon after that, the two began touring together for the first time.

Having never toured together as combined artists during their
entire songwriting process, Vander Gucht smiles coyly at the mention of that
fact, remarking, “It almost became a joke between us, never playing live—never
wanting to play live.”

“We were only supposed to play 5 shows total, when we resigned
ourselves to playing live at all,” West says, almost chuckling. “5 cities
and that was it, but somehow, it turned into an entire tour.”

Modest, but talented, you almost can’t believe the mindset
the two have about their own music. With millions of streams on both Spotify
and Soundcloud, the two have become an internet sensation.  After completely finishing the recording of their
album and setting out on their American tour just a couple months ago, the reaction
across the states toward the artists has been incredible.

“We’ve scheduled a show at a smaller venue at every city on
our tour, but every time, we have to upgrade to a bigger venue!” Vander Gucht
laughs, almost in disbelief.

“We weren’t expecting to sell out so fast, and we actually
told our manager that we didn’t think it would happen,” West adds.

But it did.

And how are they holding up now with the tour and an overwhelming
number of fans at their shows every night, you might ask?

“We always knew people were listening. We just never figured
those streams would translate so tangibly and so effectively into actual people
showing up to your shows,” Vander Gucht says.

“It’s so much more real playing our songs live,” West adds
in.

And it is. Playing their biggest show on their tour thus far,
the two artists of Oh Wonder completely
sell out a packed venue at Neptune
Theatre
, with an audience responsive and emotionally engaged in every
single song the two play. The vibe of their music is stripped down and very focused
on lyrical melody, reminiscent of Joni
Mitchell
and her guitar. Yet at
the same time, the synthy pop influence in their music gives their album and
live performance a more current feel (think fellow contemporary Jack Garrett), highlighting the perfect
mesh of West’s alto and Vander Gucht’s soprano voices.

When asked about what the two like most about playing their
songs live, both West and Vander Gucht smile and reply, “It’s a completely
different atmosphere, it’s like our songs don’t belong to just us anymore.”

Vander Gucht chimes in, “I love performing ‘Landslide’, it’s
totally different live, and everyone is so good, everyone is singing and there
is just so much energy to it.”

“My favorite to play live is a song we do called ‘All We Do,’”
West replies after thinking about his favorite track to perform. “Live, it’s an
almost therapeutic thing, with the crowd singing it back as loud as they can, because
you know, they’ve all been listening to it online for ages, not being able to
sing it out loud, and live, it’s their first time to be able to sing it out
loud and I’m singing to them and they’re singing back to us and it’s
incredible.”

It’s almost a surreal experience watching the two perform
their songs live, in their first ever Seattle show, because they’re right—it is
incredible. As Josephine and Anthony sing the chorus of “Drive,” a smooth pop
song, layered with their soothing voices and perfectly timed violin, the entire
audience dances and sings in complete harmony. There is an unreal energy between
every person that ties the whole performance together. The soul and depth in
their voices, similar to James Blake
or Ben Howard is unbelievable, contributing to the quality of their stripped down, melody focused music.

“We just started
writing some songs in our bedroom and somehow…we made it to America,” West says.

And somehow…I’m not surprised they did.

Check out their album here,
and be sure to follow their tour here

—it’s
completely worth it .

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Ariana Rivera



Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!

Jarryd James – “Do You Remember”

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Almost a month ago, Jarryd James (broody-looking guy in above photo) released his debut single, “Do You Remember”, confirming his status as an artist to keep an eye out for in the near future. 

The track is a lovely mixture of genres–a little bit indie, a little bit electronic, a dash of folk. James, who is from Brisbane and is currently opening for Angus & Julia Stone on their Australian tour, reminds me a lot of James Blake and James Vincent McMorrow. Vocally and lyrically, he is definitely on par with both. 

That falsetto. 

The gentle riff that begins this song is catchy and calming, and James’ breathy, soulful voice on top of the deep, rhythmic percussion that kicks in is enough to make anyone feel at peace. I dare you not to sing along when the chorus rolls around for the second time.

It seems unfair to be left hanging after such a great debut, but I strongly suggest following Jarryd James on Soundcloud and/or Twitter to stay posted on what’s to come–if this single is any indication, it’s going to be unreal. 

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malz

gnovs’ groove: A Magic Midterm Playlist

hi fellow dawgs. if you’re like me, these past two weeks of midterms have been a struggle… and it’s not over yet. if you need to just vibe out and get a good music high, here’s a quick playlist to decompress between the hours of studying that lie ahead.

Wet – Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl

SZA – Childs Play (Chance The Rapper)

M83 – I Need You

Hippie Sabotage – Sunny

Jai Paul – BTSTU (Demo)

James Blake – Life Round Here

Chet Faker – Blush

Active Child – I’m In Your Church At Night

have a good week 🙂

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gnovs