Back in March, I decided to accompany my friends to the Ra Ra Riot show at Neumos on a whim. Arriving after 9, I expected the opening acts to be finishing up their sets, but the first band, And The Kids, was just taking the stage. Normally, I’d honestly be a little pissed that a concert would be going so much later than I expected on a school night. This time was different. I’d never been to a show where I ended up liking the opener more than the headliner until that night, when I experienced the girl-power rock majesty that is And the Kids.
Hailing from Northampton, Mass., the trio consists of singer and guitarist Hannah Mohan, drummer Becca Lasaponaro, and bassist Taliana Katz. The three members combine their talents to form upbeat, catchy, riffy rock jams with just the right amount of pop. Their debut album, Turn To Each Other, released last year, is packed with one catchy song after the next. Mohan’s vocals, ranging from deep and heavy to light and breathy while always staying packed with some great folk-y vibrato, frequently intertwine with countermelodies in songs like “Cats Were Born” and “All Day All Night” to produce layered and interesting tracks that are sing-alongable in more ways than one. A spot on Ra Ra Riot’s tour, opening alongside PWR BTTM, as well as an NPR Tiny Desk session, put the group on the map. They’re also embarking on a small tour with Vundabar (unfortunately, Seattle isn’t on the list of stops).
The group is gearing up to release their second studio album, Friends Share Lovers (which drops early June), performing some of the new songs on tour and, more recently, at their new Audiotree Live Session:
The band’s new material definitely seems to building on its strengths of writing great riffs and interlocking melodies (especially in “I Can’t Tell What the Time is Telling Me” and new single “Friends Share Lovers”). The group also does a great job of transferring the energy of their music to the stage (with a little help from an inflatable deer…you’ll see what I mean if you ever have the pleasure of going to a show).
If one thing’s for sure, it’s that you’ll have at least some of And The Kids’s material stuck in your head all day after you listen to a few songs. The band’s perfect combination of catchy lyrics, danceability, and just the right amount of shred shot them right to the top of my long list of current favorite artists. Also, who doesn’t need more all-girl rock in their life? No one. Bottom line: just check ‘em out. You owe it to yourself.
For fans of: Chastity Belt, Tacocat, Cherry Glazerr
Notable Tracks: “Secret Makeout Factory”, “Wiser”, “Cats Were Born”, “I Can’t Tell What the Time is Telling Me”
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.
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.
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”.
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?
If you’re a firm believer in the idea that less is more, then you probably should avert your ears from St. Lucia’s sophomore LP, Matter. If you love 80s-inspired synthpop that’s extra-synthy, extra-poppy, and extra-excited, you should keep reading.
Jean-Philip Grobler, the man behind the music, had few reservations in creating his newest production, which is his first release in over two years. The album, a follow-up to 2013′s When the Night, contains not only the same retro-shimmery sound that put St. Lucia on the map (bad geography pun, anyone?) in the first place, but somehow adds even more hyped-up, repetitive choruses, sometimes to the point of excess.
This album is a monster. It’s 11 tracks and 53 minutes of non-stop dance/power ballads, giving H&M stores a lot of new material to play over their speaker systems for years to come. It opens with “Do You Remember”, a tune with a similar sounding backing track to “Elevate”, the lead single from the first album (but hey, that’s the St. Lucia sound you came for, right?). The song is pretty catchy, and is probably one of the less “retro” sounding tracks on the album. For a minute, I actually thought I was listening to a new Bleachers or CHVRCHES single. “Dancing On Glass”, the album’s first single, is a huge favorite of mine, and was one of my top tracks during October. It’s catchy, it’s fun, and it still feels innovative and new, all things that remind us why this album was so highly anticipated. “The Winds of Change” is also pretty good, which is due to fun vocal hooks and choruses.
This balance of indie-pop and dance is where the album (and band) shine, but, as the album moves on, we see how Grobler moves away from this, walking a dangerous line between modern edginess and straight-up overproduction. This is apparent in “Rescue Me”, which appears to be a six-and-a-half minute long mashup(?) of just about every artist to ever play on a soundtrack to a John Hughes movie, “Thriller”, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” (now I’m getting all excited thinking about Zoolander 2, dammit). By this point, the album is already starting to sound repetitive and tiring, and we’re only at track 8.
During the last few tracks of the album, Matter really loses its momentum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I don’t like the album, but I feel like there is a large proportion of weak tracks. This is amplified when the album is almost an hour long. However, I definitely have a few of the songs added to my playlists and listen to them frequently. One way that the sometimes excessive production might work is that it could translate really well to live shows(and St. Lucia will be at the Showbox in Seattle on March 2!).
So if you need a pick-me-up on a drab day, love synthpop, or still can’t let go of the fact that you were born too late to live in the 80s, don’t hesitate to give Matter a listen, and see what you think.
are releasing their first new album in four years and the alternative rock
scene is buzzing with excitement. The band went on hiatus in 2012 after the release
and supporting tour of their last full-length, Colourmeinkindness. Since then, they’ve released just one EP, 2014’s Further Sky.
The five-piece from Ipswich,
England blends pop-punk, emo, grunge, and hardcore. Their sound can switch from
angry and head-pounding to ambient and wistful at the snap of a finger. My
personal favorite song of theirs encapsulates this perfectly. The tune starts
out with vocalist Andrew Fisher
crooning about someone who is regrettably no longer in his life before quickly
turning into a hardcore jam.
Three singles have been released in
anticipation of the new album, Promise
Everything. The first single and title track of the album picks up nicely right
where Colourmeinkindess left off. The
bass break halfway though the song just slays.
The next single, “Oversized”, is
a slightly slower, softer, and more melancholy tune. It doesn’t jump out at me
like some other songs in their discography, but it’s solid.
The third and final single, “Aquasun”,
is easily my favorite of the bunch. The chorus is a little more poppy than
anything they’ve done in the past, but at the same time it just feels like a
classic Basement song. The bridge and outro are so chill. I love it. “Aquasun” also features the band’s first music video, directed by their very own guitarist, Alex Henery.
Everything will be released January 29th, and it will absolutely
be worth a listen if you prefer your emo with some bite to it.
Moving. That’s the word that comes to mind upon listening to Dealer, the second full-length album from
St. Louis’s Foxing. The band had a lot
of hype to live up to after making a strong debut with 2014’s The Albatross, and this new record
delivers in every way imaginable. I won’t hesitate to call it my favorite album
This record is moving in a couple of different ways. The
lyrics, which are nothing short of fantastic, will move the listener
emotionally. Vocalist Conor Murphy and
bassist Josh Coll pull no punches,
diving headfirst into a number of difficult and uncomfortable topics throughout Dealer. The lead single from the
album, “The Magdalene”, explores the antagonistic relationship between the
teachings of Catholicism and sex. “Indica” is perhaps the most heart wrenching
song on the record, as it details Coll’s personal struggles with PTSD stemming
from his time spent serving in Afghanistan. Lines like “[and] it breaks my mother’s heart to know
I came back broken” are brutally cathartic.
The music is just as moving as the lyrical content. The
songwriting here is top notch. Foxing have clearly mastered the art of
post-rock crescendos. Tracks like “Weave” and “Eiffel” take the listener on a
journey, eventually building up to goose bump-inducing climaxes.
The musicianship is tight too. Foxing’s rhythm section keeps
songs like “Laundered” grooving along. The guitar-work on Dealer is particularly interesting. On many songs you might not
even notice it, as the guitars sort of hide in the background building texture
instead of sitting in the forefront. You can hear this, as well as some
beautiful piano, on “Night Channels”, my personal favorite song off the record.
I’d say the biggest improvement over The
Albatross is the vocals. Murphy demonstrates much more control, as he
strains far less on this record. He nails some beautiful falsettos throughout
the album too, like on “Glass Coughs”. The male/female harmonies on songs like “Redwoods”
are just killer.
Dealer is an
incredible album. Check it out if you’re into post-rock, emo, or indie rock. It’s
emotionally draining, and I mean that in the best possible way. Foxing are
currently co-headlining a US tour with The
World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die and are being
supported by English math-rockers TTNG.
Cage the Elephant’s junior album, Melophobia (2013), pushed the already popular band further into the spotlight. This effort saw the band exploring their new, more unique sound; horns, strong bass and drumming, and addictive guitar riffs were part of this new approach. These guys’ next album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, drops December 18th this year, and we already have our first taste of what it’ll be like.
“Mess Around” is the second track off of Tell Me I’m Pretty. Fitting for the title of the album, frontman Matt Shultz sings about a woman who uses her charm to toy with men. An overly-dramatic, eerie whistle in the background compliments the warning to stay away from her–she’s bad news and you should be scared.
The beat and fuzzy guitars make this single sound more like a surf rock groove than layered, rainy weather record, Melophobia. Bass is more often relegated to the background, it’s upbeat, and the hook is easy to sing along to. It still sounds like Cage the Elephant, but “Mess Around” doesn’t take itself very seriously and is a lot less dreary than usual.
Are sunnier days ahead for Cage the Elephant? It’s unclear. According to an interview, “Mess Around” barely made it onto Tell Me I’m Pretty. That means it probably isn’t representative of the album as a whole.
And I hope it isn’t. This single is catchy, but it’s not much of a step forward. The previous record saw a clear attempt from Cage the Elephant to redefine their sound, and resulted in an exciting new take on alternative rock. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong and put out a great album that’s not gloomy; either way, I’m hoping the rest of Tell Me I’m Pretty is a fresh interpretation of their style established on Melophobia. In the meantime, I’d suggest we turn up the volume and sing along!
It’s 10 minutes before the interview and my phone rings to my dismay. The basement of Winkenwerder was not where I wanted to talk shop with one of my favorite musicians. But there I stood, with a piece of TP in one hand and a buzzing cell phone in the other.
“Shit,” I mutter – fully intending my pun as I answer the Texas caller ID.
“Hi, I’m calling for your interview with André. I know it’s not for another ten minutes but he’s ready now and we’d love to get started.”
“Of course!” I grin as it starts to feel real. Standing with my pants half-pulled up, I remember my situation. “Erm… Can I call you back in 5 minutes? I just need to get everything set up.”
“Yeah sure. I’ll call you then.” Click.
I fasten my belt, swing my pack over my shoulder and head out into the hallway – frantic to find a spot to sit in relative silence. Behind a giant stump that looks like it was cut from a forest a millennia ago, I slump over and attempt to set up my audio recording equipment before my phone rings again.
“Ready?” He asks.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I respond with slight hesitation as my recording fails to start. A familiar voice is heard on the line and some light indie rock can be heard in the background.
It’s about time Portland grew up
From his home studio in Portland, Oregon, André Anjos talks about the last six years of his life living in the eccentric city. “I feel like a local,” he states first off, “and I love it here.” He goes on to explain that the city has been changing “like crazy” just like the Bay Area and Seattle. Referencing a recent trend in real-estate listings, he laughs about seeing “No California”-stickers, “as if that would dissuade people from moving here.”
Photo courtesy of Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
“People are complaining,” he goes on to mention. “They’re saying that a lot of things that made Portland unique is getting lost.” Although he really has appreciated the “amazing food” and “interesting things” in the city, André wants Portland to grow up a bit. Hesitating, he puts off the rest of his answer – stating that he might have a better opinion in a couple of years.
Portland, prisons and college
“Everything post-college has been here in Portland,” André goes on to say. “Well, sort of. I spend more time at the airport than at home.” We laugh.
“A couple of friends moved here.” His buddy, Karl Kling, had a girlfriend out here in college and they had a place to move. Rent was “cheap” – at the time it was $500 a month. Coming from a life at Greenville College in Illinois, this was quite the change.
“Three thousand people in the town were prison inmates and they counted that as part of the population,” he laughs. “It was a very small town and a dry town!” He had never heard of something like that before, especially since coming from Portugal, where the drinking age is fourteen.
When asked about his major, André couldn’t help but make a few jokes. “I got a music business degree, which is hilarious.” Greenville college was in the middle of nowhere and the Portugal native decided to learn about music from a bunch of old Illinoisans. “Maybe some basic knowledge came in handy,” he continues, trying to give some credit to his education. “But the music industry changes every year and you’re learning information that’s five years old in college.”
So, in school, he learned how the music industry used to work. “I guess you could say I earned a music business history major,” we laugh again.
The idea of RAC, what happened to the collective
“From the beginning, we wanted to be a group of people that all do remixes under one name,” he explained. “We could gather some talent and do it as a group as opposed to an individual person doing on your own.”
“How did that work out?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“You know when you’re in a group project and you’re the one person doing it all?” He asked rhetorically. “Well, I was doing it all. A lot of people had jobs and real obligations – I was just in school.” So André took over the project and started doing everything under the same name, Remix Artist Collective.
“The name stuck and I kind of ignored it. When I started touring, I brought Karl who started DJing with me.” The definition of the name, he went on to explain had started changing during those tours until it stopped meaning anything. As he moved into producing original music, it ceased to make any sense but, “at one point,” he explains, “I decided that I spent six years of my life building this brand… I’m just gonna stick with it.”
“It’s called RAC,” he concludes. “It doesn’t mean anything – it doesn’t matter.”
Now that things have developed and he’s become a writer of original music, the name has unintentionally become a point of confusion. He’s now writing with other people, covering tracks with his wife and has even produced original music for the HBO series, Entourage.
Independence, album woes and staying relevant
"I feel like I put out a track every week,” André says. “A lot are remixes but… it’s just easier to focus on a song at a time and just put [that one] out.” Since recording his album in 2011 and having to wait three years for the record label to approve the content for legal and distribution reasons, RAC has taken a step back from the traditional record deal.
“After the album came out, I didn’t really feel like it was relevant to do that in 2015,” he says of the album’s long release schedule. As of June 2015, a month after getting out of his contract, André has been dropping music at least once a month with a staggered release schedule. From single tracks to lyric videos, these regular releases are his way of “keeping [his] head above the noise.”
“There’s a lot of amazing work, and a lot of mediocre work out there… [the internet] is so incredibly saturated [with it]. Fortunately, a thing I got used to with remixes is getting to do things very quickly.” Despite the constant work, André is satisfied with this new methodology as, “with a waiting period that was once three years is now two months at the most.”
When discussing the success of his album, he reminisced but responded contritely, “the music doesn’t represent who I am anymore. You have three years of built-up expectations and when they don’t go in [the way you want], it’s so frustrating.”
Making music, with new singles and successes
Last month’s single, “3AM feat. Katie Herzig” (embedded below) has been quite the success – garnering almost half a million plays in the weeks since its release. When I asked him how he felt about this, André answered estatically, “I feel like we’re gaining momentum and people are catching on to what we’re doing. We compare numbers a lot since we’re doing things independently. Keeping my eye on it [lets me] make sure things are going well. I think it’s been a very fun game to get into that that, [especially] in these last couple of tracks.”
With all the data analysis that he and his team had been doing, I followed up by asking why he still makes music. Despite a somewhat-programmatic release schedule and metrics to understand their success, RAC manages to keep the soul in the music.
“So who do you make music for then?” I asked, “Your numbers? Your fans? Yourself?”
“Myself,” André answered, “Absolutely.” Stating that he continues to make music “purely for [his] own entertainment,” the man just wants to be happy with what he does. As it turns out a big part of him being happy is making others happy!
“I’m not just stroking my beard, happily listening to my own music,” he says. “For one, I don’t have a beard and I see it as kind of a game and it’s my job and it’s something to have fun with.” His goal is to “keep going” as he’s noticed the music is “creating an outlet for this weird desire [to] ‘have to make music’ and want[ing] to keep that going.”
“Part of growth is being heard and having people listen to your music,” he says. For André it seems that this is the core of the game. “Artists that say it doesn’t affect them are lying,” he continues. “If a lot of people are stoked about your song, it really affects you.”
In regards to his fans, he said “it feels good when sometimes people will leave really kind messages like, ‘hey this helped me out during this time of my life’.” He hears me smile through the phone and continues, “I don’t sit down and write songs to help people in that way, but it’s a really nice validation.”
Building a synth and making some music
In addition to his solo work as RAC, André still finds time to record music with his wife, Liz. “There was this goal on the surface to release [them] as a free track to celebrate when we hit milestones on social media,” he says of the covers (check them out on soundcloud). “There’s obviously a selfish side of it and it’s a fun project.” Aside from the benefits of recording for fun, he also has been grateful for the opportunity to be creative in a way he hadn’t tried before. “Working with Liz is also really fun,” he sums up, “even though we live together, we rarely collaborate.”
In his home studio in Portland, the electronic musician mostly uses physical instruments, “whether that’s a synth, drum machine, guitar, bass… I have a lot of toys and I just work [here],” he says. “It’s a really nice balance with the touring and, when I’m not touring, it’s good to be home.”
When it comes to his own production, André just “feels more comfortable” playing an instrument rather than programming music on the computer. “You can create exclusive items that you just can’t make on a computer since most people don’t have [the same] instrument,” he explains. “You create a unique sound that’s impossible to replicate.”
“The problem is that I can’t work when I’m travelling,” he continues. “I can’t fix a mix or something when I’m on the road, which can be frustrating.” Despite his long time spent on the road, the remix artist still finds time to come home and write original music on his modular synthesizer. “I’m a building a modular synth,” he says excitedly. “It started with one box and now I have five. It’s so much fun and it’s so nerdy!”
Yet the synthesizer has been more than a toy in André’s creative process. With it’s inspirational aesthetic and pleasantly unique sound, the modular synth has become a “magical machine”:
You turn the lights on and it’s blinking. It gets really heady sometimes when I have to think about every wire. But it creates a situation where a lot of unexpected things can happen. Most of the time they’re very positive things, like happy accidents – you can stumble upon a sound. It’s a magical machine. There’s so much potential that sometimes it’s too much… but it’s great because of that.
After geeking out about gear, it’s easy to become existential in describing the sound of an instrument. So André concludes, “I’m very into the studio and that whole process. I’d say I probably enjoy recording music just as much as I do writing it.”
Inspiration and dedication, some advice for new artists
The PR rep’s voice came over the line, “Hey guys. We’re running kind of behind so this could be the last question or so.” Looking at my notes, I grew excited as I read, “Which relatively new musicians have you been listening to or enjoying lately?”
Immediately, André answered, “A decent amount of people know Pomo. He’s a guy from Montreal and it’s just a breath of fresh air compared to the EDM, droning military march stuff. I really like it. His remixes are really top notch and I always check them out and add them to our set.”
I followed up by asking what advice he could give new electronic artists. He answered:
I think it’s important to learn how a lot of these sounds are created, specifically for electronic artists. If you learn the basics and understand synthesis, it’s going to go a long way. You can’t do the production tricks if you don’t know it. Learn the basics of recording and avoid presets. They are an easy way to get a specific sound that sounds good but then there’s everybody else and they’re using the same thing. If you can distance yourself from that and try creating sounds from scratch, [you’ll find] you’ll especially know what you’re doing.
Another line could be heard coming into the phone call and André began to quickly finish up. “Musicians need to beat themselves,“ he said. "You don’t want to be somebody else since they already exist. You can be inspired by other people, but try to do something that, personally, you’d be.”
is hitting us full force with her new single, “Player,” following “Party Favors”
from her upcoming album Joyride. We can anticipate a music video real soon,
but for now we’ll have to settle with just the audio:
the get-go, “Player” hits us with a melodic trill that’s as bright as it is rhythmic.
Then the song goes from R&B to pop at the chorus, where you can easily
picture Tinashe gliding through a well-choreographed dance routine.
new single sounds almost like a transition piece. Up until now, Tinashe has
been swirling around in the R&B genre, just like the beginning of “Player”.
But as you get into the chorus, the beat and melody are unmistakably pop.
took a couple listens for me to fall in love with “Player” (due to the slightly
unsettling shift in rhythm between the verses and the chorus), but after having
it on repeat for a while now I can honestly say I am behind this track. It
sounds like an evolution of Tinashe from the slow and sultry songs of her
previous albums and mixtapes (Aquarius, Reverie, Black Water, andIn Case We
Die), all of which sound like they could all come from a single body of work.
Not a bad thing in any way, but it is nice to hear Tinashe beginning to make a
departure for a more focused sound.
I thoroughly enjoy this track and I am truly
looking forward to her coming album. Go
ahead and check out the teaser (directed by Tinashe herself) for the upcoming album, Joyride, down below:
Jay Rock’s new single “Money Trees Deuce” is a tantalizing release for his upcoming album. The last we
heard from him was the single “Pay for It”,
featuring Kendrick Lamar and Chantal. This was all the way back in late October of last
A reference to his feature on “Money Trees” off Lamar’s good kid, mA.A.d. city, this time around
the song is all Jay Rock. At almost five and a half minutes, it offers ample
support as to why the long wait for his next album will have been worth it.
Opening with smooth, dark horns, the beat implies a dim
story is about to develop. The relaxed vibe is decreased slightly with the
addition of a clapping snare as Rock begins his first verse, and the final
layer of subtle bass and drum kick sets the tone for a laid-back but charged
Rock’s lyrics and steady flow convey a tough story that he
is all too familiar with. Over his three verses, a drug-laced, fatal stumble
towards the all-encompassing goal of getting money unfolds. He raps, “I’m a
locomotive, steam rolling, gotta fight to keep that money stream open”, which
paired with his usual raw inflection, conveys the exhausting toll that this
non-stop grind creates. Rapping about the harsh confines of the ghetto is
familiar to Rock, with songs such as “M.O.N.E.Y (feat. J. Black)”, “No Joke (feat. Ab-Soul)”, and “Life’s a
Gamble” off of his first album Follow Me
Homeall describing in vivid detail where he comes from.
Towards the end of the grim song, he snarls “Had me snatch
that switch off that branch with some leaves on it, fantasizing bout some money
trees on em”. This line ultimately sums up the toxic relationship between the
chase for money in poor cities around the US, and the violence and damage
caused by this pursuit. The fantasized money tree is whipping those in pursuit
of it with the very branches being strained for.
All in all, “Money Trees Deuce” is a fantastic single from
Jay Rock, proving he is more than capable of finding shade in his own trees, no
matter how unforgiving the environment. If you haven’t listen the song already,
it’s definitely worth checking out.
It’s always admirable when a hip-hop producer can step in front of the mic and demonstrate serious lyrical and vocal talent. Artists like El-P, Flying Lotus, and Madlib got their starts crafting some fantastic beats before trying their hand at rapping, and each has found success on both fronts.
The latest artist to give it a try is D.C.-based artist Oddisee, who has built up quite a bit of hype in his hometown for his various talents. The Good Fight, his second official LP, is Oddisee’s most expansive and fleshed out release yet, displaying a newfound confidence from the MC. He manages to pay tribute to his city’s diverse musical past while also acknowledging current sounds and styles in hip-hop nationwide.
The most immediately noticeable aspect of this project is – of course – Oddisee’s production. The Good Fight is loaded with jazzy instrumentals that are just off-kilter enough to feel cohesive, but not dull. I could imagine someone like Chance the Rapper or Mick Jenkins sounding pretty great over these beats. Horns and acoustic drums are consistent features on this album, and they both help give Oddisee a discernible and recognizable sound.
I was pleasantly surprised by Oddisee’s abilities as an MC. His confessional and personal lyrics go well with his distinct voice and inflections. This isn’t the most creative or original sounding hip-hop album of 2015, but Oddisee deserves praise for the many strengths of The Good Fight. For example, he dismantles hip-hop’s standard 4/4 time signature by rapping in 5/4 on the track “Counter-Clockwise,” and it’s equally disorienting and impressive.
Where Oddisee could use improvement is the album’s hooks, which tend to feel out-of-place or otherwise pale in comparison to the usually dense and lyrical verses. The vocalists he tends to employ are good singers, but the melodies and lyrics on the choruses aren’t nearly as compelling as the production and verses.
Also, not every track on The Good Fight is a winner. The hook on “Meant It When I Said It” is too close to rap punchline G-Eazy’s “I Mean It” for comfort. I also don’t particularly like the outro that follows the last track, on which an unnamed interviewee sings the praises of Oddisee, comparing him to Blu, while also saying hip-hop has lost its replay value. Self-promotion and braggadocio are important parts of hip-hop culture, but it feels weird and superfluous in the context of this album.
Check out the whole album via the Bandcamp stream below:
All in all, Oddisee impressed me with this album. The production is consistently fantastic, and I love that the beats come off like updates to go-go, an essential D.C. genre. He’s also an ostensibly talented rapper, delivering some of the best bars of his career.
The Good Fight isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it does seem like a significant stepping stone in Oddisee’s career and path to independent hip-hop success. It’s a self-sufficient record that avoids most of the stereotypes involved with most indie hip-hop. It isn’t a “backpacker” record by any means, and I feel like straight-up hip-hop fans will find plenty to enjoy about this album without knowing much about Oddisee or where he comes from. The Good Fight is an admirable effort that doesn’t overstay its welcome or foster any moments of cringe. Oddisee does his thing, he does it well, and then he’s done.