El Valerie: I D A

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https://lvalerie.bandcamp.com/album/i-d-a

New York City is not a city, it is not an idea, and it is not a symbol of something greater. New York City, is a cauldron. Whose ingredients are more shapeless, cryptic, and mysterious than anybody would ever guess. It’s a place where ideas spring up: fully formed, fleshed out, and realized.

If you don’t believe me, let’s look at Hip Hop. Imagine, that you are a record producer in the 70’s. Rock N’ Roll and Disco were dominating the airwaves. Music was becoming more and more complex, as the teenyboppers were growing up into boring Baby Boomer yuppies, and wanted their music to sound more “Mature.” So naturally Eastern Mysticism, cocaine fueled orgies, Rock Operas, Saturday Night Fever, were popular. That’s what the people wanted, and that’s what any reasonable business man would deliver.

Then all of a sudden, some kids up in New York start syncing together disco drum breaks, and rhyming over them. There’s no musicianship involved, they’re not even singing. Then another strange thing happens, a band in some Bowery bar called CBGB’s starts making this strange music. With only 4 chords–played rapidly in a downstroke–while the singer sings about sniffing glue(?) What the fuck is going on up there? How did we get from Led Zeppelin singing about the Misty Mountains, to guys singing about not going down to the basement?

Anytime that there is a scene in New York City. Anytime a new musical act comes out of New York City. They are always freakishly ahead of the curve. Everybody listens to Hip Hop these days, yet at the time it was made, there was no conceivable idea as to why it was made. Even The Ramones, the most digestible punk rock band( that doesn’t suck) seems like complete outcasts to the music scene they appeared in.

Yet what’s even stranger was that there seemed to be nothing leading up to it. Sure there can be some crypto-musicologist who can trace some influences from various influences. Yet it doesn’t explain how these bands were so weird, so set in stone, and so confident in their particular music genre. What’s even more impressive is that even though they are strange, they all became popular.

Which leads me to El Valerie’s I D A. An album that continues the cryptic mystery of New York City. Her music is set in stone, it’s well defined, confident in it’s approach, and yet is unlike anything I’ve heard. In this review I hope to shed some light on both El Valerie as an independent artist, and of the city as a whole. Because after all, wherever we are from we are all individuals, regardless of our background. Yet I would be amiss not to mention New York City in this review. So with that out of the way let’s dive in.

The first song on the track is The End of NYC, and the very first thing we should address is the drum machine. The drum machine in all of El Valerie’s tracks is really the most critical element in understanding her music. Why? Think about bandcamp, soundcloud, facebook, youtube, etc. What’s the most common thing you see musicians advertise, besides their album (and I hope to God not their merch)? It’s their beats. On nearly every platform where there is music being discussed, there are at least 10% of all musicians trying to sell you their beats. More and more people watch youtube videos on how to get the most perfect sounding 808’s, the bestest synthwave tom fills, the most incredible hi-hat triplets, the greatest most immaculate EDM kicks.

Then when you DARE make a track that violates any of these holy principles, my God, you are going to be crucified for it. Now comes El Valerie, whose drum machine violates all of those principles. Yet it does something that the most meticulously engineered beat cannot do. The drum machine has character, it has a charm, it has a degree of playfulness that’s infectious. This one slight of hand, this one decision, sets up the stage for the rest of the album.

Now the question is, is it because El Valerie couldn’t afford better equipment? Or did she consciously choose these drums for this album? And the answer doesn’t really matter. On one hand if she couldn’t afford better equipment, and yet still felt an incredible urge to make music, that takes more balls than most self described “producers.” And on the other hand if she chose these drums specifically for how they sounded, then she has a degree of confidence, and courage to express her vision as she sees fit.

Regardless of how the album came to be produced, it’s the same kind of New York City creativity we’ve seen played out, time and time again. Where I can imagine, some band going to the Ramones, and telling them, “Hey man, I really like your songs, but you gotta add a part for the guitar solo, or at least a drum solo. If you don’t do that you’re just not going to make it.” Or someone going to the pioneers of Hip Hop, “Hey man, I love what your doing with the drum breaks, and rhyming over them. But you can’t make an album with just speaking rhymes, you gotta sing, and maybe you can buy an instrument and learn to play it. You can’t just scratch records and call that an album.” Yet these pioneers in music stuck to their guns, and made great music.

With that crucial detail out of the way, let’s look at the rest of the song. The next that should catch your attention is the electronic bass. Which has the same production style as the drums that sounds like one of those little plastic toy pianos we used to get as a kid. Then we hear a more fully produced accordion sounding synth, which reminds me a lot of Xiu Xiu.

Now everything I’ve described doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. Taken at face value, this album should sound like most abominable creations on soundcloud. Yet El Valerie is a showmen showwoman? entertainer. Like any great entertainer she understands how to tread the line of chaos/order, harmony/cacophony. To illustrate my point let’s look at Penn and Teller.

Throughout this bit, we think we know what is going to happen. We know that Teller is going to be alright. Yet it’s the structured chaos, of what seems to be mishap, after mishap, only to end in a great reveal that completely floors us. It’s taking the standard magical act, and introducing a bit of anarchy. Yet if there was too much anarchy, well…Teller would be dead. It wouldn’t be entertaining.

Likewise a great musician understands how to use unsettling, unconventional noises, and knows when to tame that chaos into form. When it’s done incredibly well, it’s like magic, it floors you, amazes you, and makes you wonder how they were ever able to do it. If the chaos isn’t tamed, well, it sounds like garbage.

So what tames these dissonant sounds, what controls these bold decisions, what gives this music validity? It’s El Valerie’s vocals, and in particular her songwriting abilities. Her songwriting ability with her mish-mash of words. Which are both playful, inventive, funny, charming, honest, and just a joy to listen to. Take this verse in particular:

my situation is fucked-adjacent
it only hits me in my prime
and yet i can’t help but be patient
like i wait for fruit to ripe.
counting my obsessivisms
who knows if they have purpose?
whether they’re blessings or they’re chickens,
no miss universe
no miss “you nervous?”

Every line is like a magic trick. Take the very first line, “My situation is fucked-adjacent.” Naturally we expect her to say it’s fucked up, but she cuts that off to say adjacent. Our brain goes on the alert, “She was supposed to say fucked up. Why did she say adjacent? That’s wrong, she’s not supposed to say that.” Then the third line perfectly wraps it up, “And yet I can’t help but be patient.” It’s like when a magician asks you to pull a card out of their deck. You pull one out, without showing the magician, and he then pulls out a card that’s not the right one. He flounders about pulling out every card he can. He becomes flustered, and throws his hands up in the air in frustration. Then he asks you to look into your purse, and there’s the card.

Yet you can’t be a good songwriter on wit alone. There needs to be some emotional depth. Yet El Valerie somehow finds out a way to use her wit, to convey emotional depth. To illustrate my point, let’s look at the lines, “No miss universe/ no miss ‘You nervous?'” The most immediate thing that you should notice is the cleverness of the rhyming scheme. Then you notice the dichotomy. One is the promise that all millennials are told, “That you’re special, you can do anything.” Then there’s the reality, not only are you not special but nobody even cares enough about you to ask how you’re feeling.

Then when you realize the song is a woman coming to her own. Faced with the difficulties of not only being in a highly socialized environment such as New York City, but also being in an extremely socialized age. Where you can talk to anybody, at anytime, anywhere, and yet–you’re still not satisfied. As I’ve said numerous times before, if anybody from the past read up on our dating scene in 2019, they’d think it would be a dystopian science fiction novel. So when the city that is famous for all of these great scenes whether it’s the music scene, the art scene, the lgbt scene, any ethnic group scene, whatever. If the fact that you can’t even romantically connect with someone–the most basic, fundamental, relationship you can form with another person–doesn’t that really mean The End of NYC? Yet El Valerie gives us an answer.

in cities built for too many people,
we all lose our will to live
what it means, though
who needs that?

Next up we have Tinnitus, which adds an additional layer of sound. A guitar. Now if there is one thing that you should know about me, is that I LOVE a great guitar tone. Having a generic guitar tone is one of those things that I find inexcusable in music. There are countless guitars, countless genres, countless songs, that have guitars in them. If a guitar sounds generic, it’s the red flag of music. It’s the equivalent of someone you’re dating, telling you that they like to wear diapers (which sadly happened to me :'( ) It’s a turn off.

This guitar tone is perfect. It has this kind of rebellious edge to it. It a simple strum of a distorted guitar. Yet in context with a lot of the other music it can convey a lot of emotion. It can convey, listlessness, sensuality, danger, anxiety, violence, etc. In fact there is one song (that’s sadly not from NYC) that had this guitar tone. That in the 1950’s was only an instrumental, yet people were terrified that it could cause gang violence.

So the question is, how does this guitar tone that scared people so much that they thought would cause gang violence, work with El Valerie’s repertoire? Well let’s take a look at one of El Valerie’s incredibly clever piece of lyricism.

i’m losing my midas
touch me, baby,
never been so excited, but
i lie awake at night and dream
of peace and quiet

As mentioned before she does this magic act of making us expect one thing but delivering another. “I’m losing my midas/touch me, baby,” is a line that is incredibly well done. It does such an excellent job of portraying sexuality. I believe anybody who has had sex had one of those moments, where you lose control and give into temptation. Where you’re with a girl or guy, and everything is going fine. You’re talking,and having a great time. Then maybe the couch creaks as she scoots closer to you. Maybe he puts his arms across your shoulders and pulls you closer. Maybe it’s a coy expression, a slow bite of the lip, a blushing cheek, wandering eyes, or some other subconscious somatic signal. Then without any words exchanged, without permission slips being signed, you both kiss each other. One thing leads to another, and you’re having sex.

Speaking subjectively, I always wonder, “How did that happen? Why was it so automatic? How did I know what to do? What caused her to respond that way?” There’s no real answer, that I have found, in regards to those situations. But there’s something frightening about the human libido.

There’s a lack of control, a lack of objectivity, a lack of security. After all you’re naked, vulnerable, sweaty, it’s messy, and not everybody smells or tastes nice… Then after that incredible moment there can come feelings of bliss, euphoria, shame, guilt, victory, loss, etc. Or it can be a tangled mess of emotions that requires you to sit back and think about it.

Yet that singular addition of a guitar highlights all the emotional responses we can have in regards to sex. Since El Valerie takes her time strumming each chord, the guitar becomes a Rorschach test. It can capture any emotion you want on it. The guitar can sound dangerous to you, it can sound sensual, it can sound anxious, it sounds like whatever emotional response you have to El Valerie’s lyrics. The magic act in this, is not the clever juxtaposition of “I’m losing my midas/touch me, baby.” The magic act is your emotional response. Listen to the song again, and think how you feel about the guitar. Write it down, and I guarantee that the emotional response you recorded, is your emotional response to sex at that moment. Because let’s face it, how else does a guitar tone frighten 1950’s America?

Next up we have Chiqui Business now we’ve already established how the guitar impacts El Valerie’s sound. Now with the introduction of the arpeggio-ed synth there isn’t going to be any minor history lesson. Mainly it speaks for itself. It has a very nice thick tone, and due to the fact it’s coupled with an energetic snare drum on delay, it adds a lot of energy to the track. Which makes the lyrical content take on a more tragicomical tone.

The gist of the song is about a breakup. It’s one of the most timeless, repeating, and sincere songs. After all, the greater the emotional depth and honesty, the greater the artist. Yet El Valerie takes an approach to a breakup that I haven’t heard before. That is the awkwardness of being around your exe. Especially if they ended it.

Sure you can write this Shakespearean love song, about how deep your love was, and how they crushed your heart. That you would’ve sailed the most tempest seas, gone to the edges of the earth, just to warm that cold barren heart. Yet most of the time, you run into your exe at school, going shopping, at a party, etc. And it is not worth a Shakespearean love song. It is awkward, it is uncomfortable, you feel like an idiot, like a dork, and even if they are nice to you–it is so uncomfortable. Which is why I LOVE THESE LYRICS.

(’til it dies, prune its limbs. a higher climb, now i’m out of it)
when my hair’s its frizziest
is it me, or does it always get humid?
just when i see him
the heat’s rising, yeah, and i’m sweat-swimming
i feel like
an idiot
yeah

I love the honesty of these lyrics so much. Everybody wishes that they could roll up on their exe in a Rolls Royce, in a $5,000 dollar suit, with an even hotter girlfriend/boyfriend, while they’re under a bridge panhandling. Then you roll down your windows, throw a dollar in their slimy little change jar, and drive away laughing to your million dollar mansion. Yet that is never, ever, ever the case.

You’re always sweating, you always look terrible, you’re always trying to play it cool, you’re always trying to make it seem like everything is going great, but it’s not because they broke your fucking heart. Yet who sings about that? Who tells the truth? Who captures that emotional moment? El Valerie does. And as I’ve said before, the greater the emotional depth, the greater the artist.

Next up we have Tierra. In this track the kind adolescent sound of the base and drums, takes on an even more child-like sound. The bass has this incredibly playfulness, while the percussion has this almost video game kind of feel to it. The reason I believe the percussion has a video game feel to it, is mainly because it is so unorthodox to hear, in say, rock, electronic, or even some indie bands. Though video games typically have to experiment with a variety of ethnic sounding rhythms, in order to immerse the player in whatever environment they’re in. Yet at the same time most of what we call video game music, is created on a midi, or the bleeps and blurps of electronic circuitry.

With the energetic kick, and the metallic clang, along with the playful bass, it sounds incredibly playful. While the guitar instead slowly strumming, has a more rhythmic sound. Combine all of these elements together, it creates a danceable song, that you cannot dance to. The best way to describe it is when Stanley Kubrick was asked about his detail oriented approach to movies, stated that a good movie does not take a picture of reality, a good movie takes a picture of the picture of reality. In other words, instead of being a dance song, this song appears to be a dance song. Since the percussion is too exotic, the bass too playful, and the metronome like guitar playing lends itself more to fun, then dance.

Now how can this contradiction exist? I think with this song in particular, is so playful that it almost sounds childish. Yet this is not a fault. As C.S. Lewis said, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” Because of the music sounding so fun, it’s something I can’t imagine adults dancing to. If we think of great tracks on the club, it’s always very sensual. Whether it’s twerking to some mumble rap, energetically shaking your hips to salsa, or the slow refined intimacy of ballroom dancing. Nearly all dancing has to do with sensuality.

Yet this track is about having fun. It’s about letting loose. It’s about losing the bravado that comes with your sexual prowess, and it’s more about being goofy. Because let’s be real if all you had to do was be attractive, not say anything, and especially to not be goofy. Most people would go insane. Everybody has that close circle of friends where they riff on each other, do silly things, and make each other laugh. Yet we wouldn’t do it for complete strangers, there’s a degree of intimacy, and trust when we purposefully make fools of ourselves to other people.

So then combine the music with the lyrics.

i heard
male birds | dance
for the girls
i heard
worlds | end
every day
and we
never learn

The lyricism in here as a poignant kind of melancholy. A wistfulness over the human condition, where we can let our hair down, adults can’t act like children, and boys don’t dance for girls. There are barriers all around us, to prevent ourselves from acting like fools. There’s humiliation, misunderstandings, societal pressures, and whole other plethora of issues in regards to acting silly. Yet everybody in a way is silly, ridiculous, goofy, or childish.

Yet this is only a shade of intimacy. It’s something everybody craves, yet due to egotism, pride, and the fear of humiliation we all hide it as best we can, and only distribute it to those who appreciate us for who we are. This song is a picture of a picture of intimacy, and the desire for intimacy.

Yet how El Valerie illustrates this is a fascinating perspective. Because when we think about how we knew someone on a deep level, we don’t often think of the weird little jokes, the goofy little acts we would put on. Instead we think of it in these grandiose terms. We think of intimacy as that one time your friend confided in you their gravely serious familial problems, or that time somebody got undressed in front of you. Yet we never remember that time that a person took off that adult mask, and acted like the little child we all are.

So it could come to no surprise that the next song is named Heart Attach. Which is another clever play on words, which I shouldn’t have to explain. When listening to this track the most immediate thing you should notice is the clash of the hi hat cymbals. Throughout this track the open hi hats have been either closed, or were as loud as the closed hi hats. In this track they there is this immediate clash, which is so trebly that if you were to listen to it on the wrong headphones would slice open your ear drums.

Then there’s the bass which continues with this playful like melody, yet it’s distortion suggests a degree of danger. Like a kid playing with fire. Then the guitar tone isn’t as distorted or in your face as, Tinnitus. Due to it’s clean tone, and long lingering notes it captures a sense of serenity that wasn’t in Tinnitus.

The entire song thematically can tie into Schopenhauer’s the Hedgehog’s dilemma. Where a group of hedgehogs need to keep warm for the winter, and yet due to the fact that they are covered in sharp spikes, they cannot get to close to each other. While on the other hand if they do not get close to each other, they will freeze to death. This little aphorism has to do with human intimacy, at one hand everybody wants to bare their soul to the other person. Yet everybody who grows up has to come to terms that not everybody is trustworthy, or even worth your time.

The instrumentation in particular conveys this theme. Where the song oscillates from harsh, brash, clash of the open hi hats, to the serene placid strum of a guitar. All the while the bass suggests a sense of danger. That you are in fact playing with fire. Could this person hurt you? Does this person care about you? Do they only care about sex? Are you in control?

The game between the sexes is often like a game of poker. At brief moments you think you get a glimpse of their hand, maybe you figure out a subtle tell, or catch a bluff. Yet it is still a game where you don’t know what cards the other person is holding, and El Valerie illustrates this perfectly with this verse:

so is he my man yet?
remind me to thank him,
but i’d like a boyfriend
who’s warm like a blanket
’cause if he don’t want me,
he’ll do me and dump me
like that.

The end goal of every person is intimacy. Yet due to egotism, we can’t be intimate with everybody. After all everybody is an individual with carnal, emotional, intellectual, and shallow desires. Nobody walks the same path to the same goal, everybody has a different way of approaching the goal. Most people wander around aimlessly, lost, and confused. Until that chance encounter, where you find a path where another person is walking. Then until you find out they want to reach the same destination as you. The aimless wandering becomes a journey, and until you finish that journey, you are always on the alert for anybody who will take you away from that ultimate destination.

But until you reach that destination, the caution, trepidation, and worry that El Valerie writes about in Heart Attach becomes your primary concern. El Valerie writes it in such a way, that no matter what sexual orientation you identify as, you immediately can relate to her own personal struggles. What is usually a tangled up mess of emotions, becomes ironed out, straightened, and presented so straight forward. That you cannot help to appreciate this song.

Now we get to O Casio. Now I’ve mentioned before how El Valerie does this kind of balancing act between childishness and adulthood. Which in the majority of cases works extremely well. It has this, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise,” kind of quality out of it. Where most people would describe it as quirky (which is a description I hate), yet I would describe it as endearing. El Valerie is being really honest, and real in the majority of her songs. She doesn’t censor herself, and she has an envious amount of confidence in her approach to her art.

With the playful keyboard, fun lyrics, and fantastic vocals. The lyrics oscillate in a child-like irrelevance, with adult issues. I particularly like the verses:

i think i shaved my legs once
in my whole young career,
if it’s hot enough
i go to get my nails done, smudge them
all i see is pigment particles!

(what am i even complaining about?)
think of all the natural disasters
in the developing world,
to be rebuilt, like schools for girls
in Puerto Rico and everywhere,
think of the power that don’t care

It’s this dichotomy of having child like desires but at the same time trying to adult. I remember in particular, a year or so after I graduated high school, where everybody was obsessed with Kony. This one I guy I graduated with bemoaned how stupid everybody was for not paying attention to the child soldier epidemic in Africa. Yet this is the same guy who had no idea how to change a tire.

Oftentimes adults will try to do these large conceptual adult like activities. Where they go to some political activism event, go to cigar bars, dress up and attend these high brow art museums. Ask anybody what their opinions are on these issues, and they could almost write a novel on what their conception of these activities and why they’re important. Yet if you were to ask any of them, “Do you know how to change your car oil? What’s the interest rate on your student loans? Have you invested in life insurance? What’s a healthcare premium?” They will draw a blank.

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy it would be called intellectualization.  Where instead of focusing on what’s bothering you, whether it’s the fact your toe nail polish is all messed up, you don’t shave your legs, or whatever. You focus on these abstractions, for example El Valerie mentions “Think of all the natural disasters/in the developing world/to be rebuilt, like schools for girls/in Puerto Rico and everywhere.”

Yet let me provide another example of intellectualization, somebody tells you that you’re too ugly for them to date. A male may go MRA, and say that it’s due to cultural marxism, that western women are too shallow and brainwashed by communist propaganda. Or female may say, it’s because of the patriarchy, and the capitalist structure of society which pressures women into conforming into this unrealistic form of beauty.

Yet at the end of the day, the bare naked vulnerable truth is, that when that person dismissed you for being to ugly. It hurt you. That this person who you’ve ran movies through your head, of holding hands, going on dates, getting married, having kids, living a great life with you. Completely destroyed that hope and dream. All because of some variable that you cannot control.

Likewise learning to be an adult is an incredibly difficult thing to do. You have societal obligations that you are pressured to conform to, new monetary issues where if any sudden catastrophe were to happen you’d be financially ruined, you see your friends on facebook succeed while you’re stuck in the mire of mediocrity. Then on top of that you have relationships, trying to figure out what niche you fill in society, and you’re even struggling with finding out just what kind of person you are. Which are themes which El Valerie excels at more than any other artist that I’ve listened to.

This song in particular is amazing at capturing that authentic growing pains that people go through in adulthood. Where you know that what you’re tripping over is irrelevant, and that people have it worse. Yet it’s done in such a fun and tongue n’ cheek way that it’s equally honest, as it is dismissive. Like somebody who tells a shameful story, yet they own up to their actions, they’re vulnerable, and because they’re honest you can’t help but feel endeared to them.

Yet at the same time, all the songwriting praise that I gave this song, is almost all washed away in the end, where El Valerie giggles about a guy who is staring at her. This is where the balance of personal growth and immaturity, and tilts over to immaturity. I always artists to cut out any unnecessary bullshit, overextended intros, long aimless verses, and pointless outros. These are almost always song killers, without any exception. Even Beastie Boys Intergalactic becomes mediocre with the pointless, stupid, Flavor Flav section. Yet this outro damages the song even more.

The reason I so often praise El Valerie’s songwriting ability, aside from her astronomical wit. Is because it’s so honest, and authentic. When I was in the Navy, I went to rehab, twice, for alcoholism. I was there with people who attempted suicide, withdrawing from heroin, going through a divorce, having PTSD after being in Afghanistan and seeing your whole regiment either being blown up, or committing suicide. There were a lot of heavy emotions, with these incredible adult issues. Every single person went in there without any ability to express how they were feeling. Yet at the end of it, the deeper issues that caused them to drink, to attempt suicide, to do these self destructive behaviors were so plainly articulated by the end of rehab.

“I turned to alcohol because I felt like I was never good enough. That I wasn’t pretty enough, and I had no confidence.” “I turned to alcohol because I felt like it was unfair that I am still alive, while men better than me died.” “I turned to heroin because I didn’t want to feel the emotions I was feeling, and wanted to man up, to be like my Dad whom I idolize.” “I attempted suicide because my wife left me. I feel like I am unloveable, and fear that nobody will ever love me.”

I’ve went through about 16 accumulative weeks of rehab, and countless of AA meetings. Each time I struck by how simple these core emotional truths are, they are so simple that a child could say it. And in fact children are usually more emotionally honest because they don’t have that filter of cognitive dissonances. We cover up our emotions with intellectualizations, fantasy, and compartmentalize it to a digestible form.

Yet a great artist cannot do that. A great artist has to be constantly introspective seeking out those emotional truths within themselves, cutting through their defenses, and courageously presenting it to the world. El Valerie has done this so much throughout her album, that when I criticize her, it feels like kicking a puppy.

So when we look at the outro of her laughing at a guy staring at her, there are a series of questions that have to be asked: Why is it funny to you that he’s staring at you? What kind of person was he? Why would he be staring at you? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?  What message are you hoping to convey? Etc.

Any answers to these hypothetical questions immediately uncovers some emotional truth. Maybe it’s funny how much of a creeper he is, maybe you’re uncomfortable with the fact this guy won’t stop staring at you. Then if we look outward, do we even know their intentions? This is a form of cognitive dissonance called, “Mind reading.” Maybe you looked nervous, and he wanted to ask how you were feeling, maybe you reminded him of someone, maybe he wasn’t even noticing what he was doing, etc.

Bottom line is, that whole line of questioning is a song in and of itself. Yet when the outro of a song that is about growing into an adult and being frustrated that you’re more concerned with petty issues, and should be seeing a broader perspective. Then you end it laughing at some guy who is staring at you on a subway, which is very petty, and almost ruins the song.

So with all of that out of the way, the next song is Champurreo. Which has this fantastic music, from the keyboard, bizarre beat, and most importantly phenomenal vocals. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. English is a terrible language to sing in. It constantly has these terrible consonants that are so difficult to sing. Take “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” the Tweenk sound, is so nasally so unnatural, and just so unpleasant to listen to. While the romantic languages such as French, Italian, and Spanish sound so beautiful. Mainly because those languages have much more of an emphasis on the vowels. So let’s take “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and make it into “Estrellita, ¿dónde estás?” Doesn’t it sound so much better? Isn’t it a million times easier to sing?

Anytime I see somebody from a place where a romantic language is spoken, and they sing in English I want to rip my hair out. Yes, yes, I get it, that due to global capitalism English is now the de facto lingua franca of the entire world. Yet if there is a possibility of your music sounding more pleasing to the ears, shouldn’t you use that to your advantage? El Valerie thankfully shows us the advantages of singing/listening to a song in Spanish, and it sounds absolutely phenomenal. But unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for this review since it is getting rather long) I cannot dive deeper into the lyrics. Because 1) my Spanish sucks, and 2) it would be disrespectful to use google translate to figure out the meaning of the song.

So now we’re on the home stretch two more songs to go. So now we get on to Mango Marble. The production value on this, is one of my favorites on the album. The double tracking is perfect, where the vocals are able to provide this sort of exuberance. While the guitar playing, it’s not technically the greatest guitar playing ever. Yet it sounds so good, and captures this minimalist guitar playing that has been played throughout this album.

This is an incredibly cathartic track does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of coming right off of work. Where you’re incredibly happy that you’re done with work, yet at the same time you still have those adult obligations. Maybe it’s to talk to someone to see how they’re doing, maybe it’s to do a chore you don’t like to do, or some other adult responsibility that you don’t really want to do.

Which brings us to this paradox of adulthood, which El Valerie does an excellent job of contrasting:

oh, how can i give
a warmth in which to live?
i’m always asking my
self if i’m being selfish

’cause, no one moves mountains for
anyone, no
but time fixes everything, sooooo

Where due to adult responsibilities whether it’s your job, college, parenting, etc. you always feel emotionally, physically, and intellectually drained. Yet at the same time everybody around you has that same emotional, physical, intellectual drain. We’re all guilty of the same crime, when we expect others to give us some emotional nourishment, yet at the same time we are too exhausted to give that in return. Consciously we know that it’s a very selfish thing to do.

Yet with El Valerie’s production, and especially the characteristic mish-mash of words that is “Mango Marble.” It has this spunky kind of attitude, where instead of dwelling in hopelessness, El Valerie injects this vivacious youthfulness. That just makes you want to forget your troubles, and have fun in whatever “Mango Marble” is.

While before I praised her child-like nature of writing songs, and dismissed one song as being too immature. This track in particular is just perfect for how she expresses herself. It fits with the song, there is no outro, and there’s a degree of self awareness, fun, and warmheartedness that you can’t but help to find endearing.

Finally we get to the namesake of the album, Ida. The song starts off unlike any song that has preceded it. It starts off with this lo-fi kick. Which does an excellent job of building up suspense for the rest of the track. Then her metronome like guitar strums, in a pattern like Tinnitus. It’s a slower paced song than any song that has preceded it. Which allows the vocals and vocal melodies, room to breath, expand, and allows for some emotional nuance that wouldn’t be picked up on as much as the previous tracks.

It’s in this track that, and the culmination of all prior tracks that you get a sense of El Valerie as an artist. While mentioned before New York City has had a great track record of creating new, and original genres of music. Whether it’s the Velvet Undeground, The Ramones, DJ Kool Herc, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, New York Dolls, DNA, Sonic Youth, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Biggie, LCD Sound System, The Strokes or any others I failed to mention. NYC has done it all.

Yet people have a misconception about NYC music. They believe it’s a place of just pure experimentation, simplification, or somewhere to get famous. Yet it’s not any of these things. It’s a place where people who love music have the ability to sincerely express it. It is a playground, where a punk rocker can jam out to a Biggie song, just as much as a Rapper can jam out to an LCD Sound System song.

New York City doesn’t have this magical dirt, where as soon as you arrive there, you’re able to make great music. It has amazing people who are passionate about music. If you don’t believe me, then look no further than El Valerie, whose music about a woman growing up in the metropolis of NYC. Has been able to create some of the most individualistic music, I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

So I implore you, if you ever have listened in awe to the previous acts from New York City, then please listen to El Valerie. She surely live up to the expectations of New York City, and is definitely worth a recc!

Whimsical: I Always Dream Of You

One of the best/worst suggestions for any musician is to put their music out on youtube. After all, it’s where all the normies go to find their music. Yet making a music video is a struggle in and of itself. The thing is, music can be this spontaneous creation that, if you have the right DAW or recording equipment, can be instantaneous gratification. Music videos on the other hand, well you have to plan for that. You actually have to film it. Then edit it. And for the absolute worst part of it, you got to wait for the video to render… Only to upload it, and get 300 views…

This is my experience. As I’ve mentioned before I used to be an aspiring filmmaker, who made cringe video upon cringe video. So whenever an artist makes a music video, I already have a lot of respect for them. Then add to the fact that this is one of the most serene beautiful bedroom pop pieces I’ve ever heard. Well then, you’ve got my attention.

First thing first, this a music blog, and I have to start with the music. The guitars are an absolute joy to listen to. They have this wonderful soothing meditative tone, and each are layered in this melodic harmony. Each guitar piece in and of itself could be the lead guitar, each of them are that melodic. Yet instead of clashing together, they compliment each other. Then when the song goes to that quiet-verse, loud-chorus structure that’s in most alternative rock bands. The guitars take a back seat. Which I am so grateful for. Turn on the radio to any rock station, and you’ll hear that Nickelback sludge guitar sound on the chorus, and it absolutely ruins every song they are featured in.

While the guitars are fantastic, what carries the song is the vocals. Which are so angelic, and so pleasing to the ear. They’re the kind of vocals, that even if Buckethead heard them, he’d probably tone it down on the guitar. It’s kind of the same principle with George Harrison, who is one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Not because he was the talented virtuoso who ever played guitar, but because every single note he played complimented the song. While the Beatles had average vocals (objectively speaking, subjectively they’re the greatest singers of all time) they could make amazing vocal melodies. So having a guitarist shredding on stage, would just distract from the main focus of the song, that is the vocal melodies. And in Whimsical’s case you want to do everything in your power to highlight those amazing vocals.

Now we get into the music video. Which I really enjoy. Mainly because as I’ve said, any artist who makes a music video nowadays has my respect. But because they accomplish a lot, within a reasonable budget. Too many times I’ve seen artists get ripped off, paying $500 for a music video. When in actuality they could’ve accomplished the same feat themselves, and learned about a new art form in the process.

Most of the scenic shots seem to be from stock images, which I could be wrong about, but where the music video shines is those shots of the lead singer going down the tunnel. It’s an interesting place, couple that with a crossfade of golden clouds, and it’s like walking down a tunnel into heaven. Which fits the music perfectly.

There are a few problems I have with the music video. The strengths of the music video is how seamless the shots of the lead singer, and the crossfade of the scenic imagery is. It has that ethereal quality which does a great job of capturing the sound of the music. Yet near the end, that ethereal kind of feeling is taken away when the lead singer is too in focus. The lighting seems harsh on her, and the contrast between that and the gorgeous background makes the music video seem cheap. Kind of like when you’re watching a documentary about Romans, and all of the sudden you see one of the legionnaires in a pair of blue jeans. It takes you out of the experience.

Yet it’s a minor, itsy bitsy flaw that shouldn’t detract anyone’s enjoyment of the music, and music video. Definitely check this band out, and if you ever want to venture out into making music videos Whimsical is definitely the band you should study.

Slave Beaver Revolt: Occulture

There’s a reason why all of the greatest horror films ever made, were all made by people who didn’t make horror movies. Whether it’s Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, or Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Each one of these directors backgrounds were not in horror.

So then why were those movies so good? It’s because instead of focusing on gore, jump scares, horror tropes, random sex scenes mixed in with violence, etc. They focused on horror. Their own particular interpretation of horror. They took influences from Lovecraft, documentary films, novels, etc. Then blended it together, with their own craft, and made something entirely different, new, original, and just plain genius.

So why do I bring this up when reviewing Slave Beaver Revolt? Slave Beaver Revolt has experimented, well not even experimented, but excelled in almost every genre they’ve been in. They’ve done experimental music, punk rock, death metal, synthwave, etc. Nearly every genre under the sun they’ve done it.

Now the reason is that this is important not only to understand how great this song is, but how great as artists they are. Is that when an artist experiments with different genres, they pick up little tricks along the way. Say the Beatles for example when they were in Hamburg, Germany as a bar band. They had to learn to play whatever the patrons wanted them to play. So they were playing songs outside of their comfort zone, and when a rock band plays outside their comfort zone. Well, that’s how you get the Beatles.

This track in particular highlights, why it’s so important not to be tied down to any specific genre. The track is electronic, yet it has the lyricism of death metal, the aggression of punk, and the quirkiness of experimental music. It’s completely unique, out of left field, and incredibly enjoyable.

Whether it’s those phenomenally produced heavy industrial drums. The distorted vocals that growl, glitch, and scream. The electronic hum of an electronic organ, the pulsating bass, and that sinister lead synth that arpeggios around the chorus. It’s a track that combines all the great ideas of every genre that Slave Beaver Revolt has been involved in, and seamlessly synthesizes it into something wholly new and different.

This track is a must listen, and this band is a must follow. Nearly every song they post is gold. Not only for how good it sounds, but the fact they manage to nail down every genre they dip their toes in.

Death and Daddy Issues: MELODRAMA MINUTE

Let’s rewind the clock, go back in time, to the good ole days. The 90’s. Now everybody who says they’re a 90’s kid, didn’t really experience the 90’s. Pokemon, Nintendo 64, Fox Kids, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and roller skate rings that was my experience.

I was born in 1992, so I didn’t experience Grunge. I kind of experienced 90’s Hip Hop through my Mom because she liked that music. But other than that, everybody who is nostalgic about the 90’s is really nostalgic for their discovery of the 90’s. Where they heard Smells Like Teen Spirit on the radio, youtube, or MTV (back when it played music). Everybody cherishes that discovery, because it was so meaningful. To hear music that isn’t garbage, that’s not only sincere and angsty, but also incredibly popular. It’s still mind boggling that it even happened.

So when a millennial hears something that is “Grunge inspired”it means a lot to us. Because it was something that was always in the background, that we never paid attention to. Yet when we did it was at an emotional period in our lives, where we were receptive to Grunge music.

So when reviewing Death and Daddy Issues, it’s like when a widower dates a woman that reminds him of his late wife. Do you date someone who reminds you of what you lost? Obviously it’s hyperbolic, yet it’s a question that has to be asked whenever a throwback to an earlier sound is heard. Grunge has avoided the burnout that most music genres have felt, mainly because the bands from Seattle were REALLY THAT GREAT. And secondly, when the voice of a genre, and a generation commits suicide, it takes the breath out of the room. Yet with all of that baggage, does Death and Daddy Issues make something worth retreading old ground? And the answer is yes.

Now because I’m at heart a romantic person, I’m going to frame the album review as the widower who dates a woman who reminds him of his late wife. The first track on this album, O//X//Y//G//E//N is the first date. The grungy guitars, angsty lyrics, and borderline punk vocals is the first impression. If you wanted to listen to a great modern take on grunge this would be the song to go to. This would be dating a woman who reminds you of your late wife.

Nearly everything is perfectly done. From the dripping wet reverb of the bass, to that Weezer-like lead guitar, to the soft verse and loud chorus structure, to even the nihilistic vocal performances everything is perfect. It’s so perfect that it reminds me of a really great comedian who makes such an astute observation, parody, or imitation–that both gets both awes and applause from the audience.

The reason for that kind of reaction is because it takes a lot of knowledge on the subject matter. You gotta do your homework. You have got to be a fan. It’s in this track that you see how much Death and Daddy Issues are fans of music. If you don’t believe me, try to listen to other bands with “Grunge” in their titles. Nearly all of them will sound something like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or Soundgarden. Or maybe a combination of all three. Yet it’s the details that are in this album that separates Death and Daddy Issues, from an Alice In Chains cover band like Godsmack.

Yet as I’ve said before this is a first impression. Back to the widower metaphor, this is the first date. While the woman exhibits the same superficial similarities, it’s only when you spend more time with her that you see her own individualism. While this album is influenced by Grunge it doesn’t mean that it defines them. Which is why it would be insulting to say to the woman, “You’re my Dead Wife.”

Which brings us to our next song, 3:09 AM which is where we see the individualism of the artists begin to flourish. But before I get into that, let me bring up an old clip of Alice In Chains.

Now notice how the drummer in this video says, “We’re not just a rock band. We’re country, and western, and a rock band.” Yet what do you think of when you hear about Grunge music? You think of a very hyperspecific sound. A sound that was heavy like metal, melodic like the Beatles, and with the intensity of punk. Yet here’s Alice In Chains saying that they’re country, and western. Straight from the horses mouth, they are stating something that we as listeners don’t comprehend. We don’t comprehend it, because as humans, we all want to label things, we all want to give things neat little categories, so it makes sense to us.

Yet within every band there are two goals, one is to sound like the music they like, and the other is to make music of their own. 3:09 AM is where you see the larger picture with Death and Daddy Issues. That this is a band that is made up of people who REALLY do love the music they are influenced by. Yet they are creative enough to make something completely different from it.

Immediately from the beginning where the track forms this kind of groove, you immediately know this isn’t Grunge as we know it. From the sweet guitar tones, to the RHYTHM of the track (which is something rock bands have forgotten to do), to the bittersweet vocals, to even the faint organ keys. This isn’t grunge. This isn’t a song you can neatly categorize. It’s just a great song.

Which is really the ultimate compliment you can have for a song. It doesn’t feel like it’s stuck to the past, it doesn’t feel like it’s something strange and foreign from the future, it just sounds great. Which if we go back in time, isn’t that what made Grunge so successful? We can all say it was because it sounded futuristic, it stripped down rock n’ roll to it’s bare essentials, etc. Yet if it didn’t have great songs, then who cares?

Another reason why I think this song sounds so great is because it does an excellent job of capturing being fucked up. It can be on drugs, alcohol, or whatever vice. Where, at the moment, everything feels absolutely great. Yet in the back of your mind your conscious gnaws at you that this isn’t great. It’s sad. The lyrics, vocals, and music does such a great job of capturing this very specific feeling that you don’t have to have synesthesia to see this picture so clearly before your eyes.

Then finally we get to No Fear where all preconceived notions of this band being “Grunge, “Indie”, or whatever label is stripped away. It’s where the widower comes to peace with his dead wife, and to love the new woman he’s with as the person she is, and not the person he wants her to be.

Before I mentioned how 3:09 AM had a great groove. Yet it’s in this track where the groove morphs into a waltz. Which gives it this theatrical edge that most rock bands seem to miss out on. This coupled with the distorted guitars/synths in the background, circus like piano keys, the sinister lead guitar notes, and distorted vocals gives this track a creepier feel. Like imagine a 19th century ballroom filled with ghouls, and that’s the kind of vibe you get.

The comparison seems campy, yet the song is anything but campy. It’s got enough style and substance where every decision enhances the song. The subject matter is about a person who feels isolated in depression, only to be rescued by their fiance. Which the waltz kind of beat fits so well with. Because if you hear a waltz that romantic picture of dancing in a ballroom with a pretty girl/handsome guy flashes in your mind. Then with the distorted vocals, angsty lyrics, and sinister production it culminates in a song where the lyrics, and music coalesce in such a harmonious way.

So in the beginning I mentioned how as a millennial, I, like many others had to discover this background music of Grunge. That the reason it resonated with me, and so many others was because it hit me in the feels. We can all look back and see the flannel shirts, greasy long hair, goatees, and teenage angst. But really, if the songs didn’t speak to a generation of kids, then it wouldn’t have gotten as popular as it did.

Death and Daddy Issues, is a band that WILL hit you in the feels. Nearly every single lyric, guitar, and production choice was made in such harmony to create this wonderful emotional landscape that I cannot recc this album enough. When people bemoan the death of Rock, modern music, or whatever. They are oftentimes not looking hard enough. Because there are bands who are out there, making real music, that is sincere, honest, original, and an absolute joy to listen to. And Death and Daddy Issues is one of those bands.

Trees on the Moon: 40 DAYS

One of the things I truly love about IDM, is that it is first and foremost, a genre dedicated to experimentation. Just like how punk was a response to the over indulgence of rock music. IDM was the response to EDM. It was a more individualistic approach to electronic music. Which is something that’s sorely needed in every genre of music. I mean after all, if we were to make a time machine, show the Beatles any laptop with a DAW, and they’d be blown away. We’re at an age with infinite possibilities yet, very few of us take advantage of those opportunities.

Then there are artists like Trees on the Moon. Who manages to use every bizarre, nuanced, texture, to weave an incredibly enjoyable song. There are too many instances where I will hear somebody’s music, and I’ll immediately know who they are trying to imitate. Whether it’s slicing together K-mart shopping music and making a vaporwave track, to using gated reverb drums and orchestral synths to make a synthwave track.

More often than not, artists aren’t willing to use the tools at their disposal. Then there’s Trees on the Moon who not only uses unconventional synths, but creates a musical atmosphere that’s unlike anything I’ve heard in awhile. Whether it’s the frantic lead synths, chaotic layered drumming, and acidic basslines–everything is so rich and original.

Yet with all of this experimentation, there is still a solid musical foundation. Replace any of the instruments with say a violin or a piano–hell even an orchestra–and it still would work. It’s an interesting song just for that reason. Then layer on the experimental sounds, and you’ve got some next level visionary type of shit.

If there’s anything you can get out of this blog. Is that after awhile, you think you’ve heard everything. Then just when you think music has gotten completely stale, and uninspired someone like Trees on the Moon comes along. Definitely give this guy a listen, and definitely check out his music.

Notes From the Underground: Part one The Shaggs

Every artist fancies themselves as an outsider. After all, you have to be kind of crazy to want to make a living making art. From the low success rate, low pay, constant rejection, and constant scammers who promise you the world–it’s not a easy road to walk. There’s a reason why most people don’t aspire to become an actor, musician, filmmaker, or whatever. Automatically it’s an aspiration that separates you from 99.9999% of the population. Regardless as to whether you like it or not, you’re already an outsider.

Yet there are those of us, even in our community of outsiders, that are even more of outsiders than we are. I won’t even spoil, who I’ll be looking into, every artist that I will review will be on the album Songs in the Key of Z. I implore you to look into each of these artists on your own, and do your own research. Because in this album there are school teachers, bisexual cowboys, a proto-punk band comprised of all sisters, a divorced janitor, a man spoke gibberish, a geriatric experimental electronic musician and poet,  and last of all Daniel Johnston. A man whose story in and of itself, is as uplifting as it is tragic.

To begin with, let’s go straight to the Shaggs. An all sister quartet, that somehow in the 60’s, sounded more punk than punk. The story is kind of like the Jackson 5 (without the abuse). A strict disciplinarian Dad who finds out his kid’s passion for performance, and does all he can to make them realize their dream. Actually scratch that. A strict disciplinarian dad who forces his kids to play instruments and form a band, because his Mom did a palm reading and foretold that he’d marry a strawberry blond woman, and that his daughters would form a popular band.

So imagine being in these girls shoes, their Mom and Dad WERE NOT musically inclined. Even though it was the 60’s they weren’t even hippies. They were just normal blue collar people who were incredibly superstitious. Just imagine your Dad coming home one day, bringing home a bunch of instruments, and telling you that you need to form a band. It’s so strange and bizarre that I am almost 100% positive that there is at least one Simpsons episode based on this premise.

Yet, remember when I said that their music is more punk than punk? Well the thing about punk rock is, it’s stripped down rock n’ roll. It’s simplified Chuck Berry chords, it’s simplified Led Zeppelin, it’s a response to all the excess of late 70’s rock. Everybody said that punk rock was all about learning four chords, and forming a band. Yet everybody got better with their instruments. The synthesizer came along. Then we got post-punk, and new wave. It was a natural progression, because the goal wasn’t to transform music, it was to transform rock n’ roll.

So again let me reiterate, group of sisters are forced to form a band, with NO musical training, NO innate desire to make music, hell they weren’t even in A MUSIC SCENE. Even No-wave the movement that tried to do everything in it’s power to rebel against punk, and go back to it’s experimental side–still had a scene. And if there is a scene, there is some cross pollination of ideas, which leads to some cohesion.

Yet the Shaggs were all alone. It’s such a bizarre circumstance for any artist to be in, where they are completely out of their element, essentially swimming in the deep end, and trying to learn how to swim. This struggle though has created some of the most unique and compelling music ever to listen to.

To begin with, nearly everything is off kilter, whether it’s the drum beat, the chords being played, the vocals, nearly everything is off. Even the vocal melody which is the easiest part to nail down, because let’s face it, everybody can sing a song. Ask anybody off the street to make up a melody, and nearly everybody can do it. You could probably even go as far as figuring out what band/music they listen to. Yet with the Shaggs that is so off kilter, so bizarre, and so strange that you wonder, “What music DID THEY LISTEN TO?”

It’s due to this aspect of their music that I think what makes them so endearing. It’s kind of like when you try to find out how somebody came up with the idea to drink milk from a cow. Like what kind of person goes up to a cow’s titty, starts squeezing it, and then begins to drink the liquid that comes out? Reading that seems so strange and so foreign. Yet we all drink milk. So when we think about the fundamental rules about music, melody, harmony, chords, scales, etc. Imagine if we didn’t know the history behind it, it would seem incredibly strange how all of these rules, and structures came into place.

As artists we’re all influenced by somebody, and as a result you can hear the residual influences in all of our sounds. You can hear Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, and go, “Oh that’s just a Pixies rip off.” Yet it doesn’t discredit Smells Like Teen Spirit because it’s still an amazing song. It’s just that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

This makes it all the more impressive that this was all created in a vacuum. It’s like in the ending of Fight Club. You see there are two endings, in the movie Tyler Durden succeeds in destroying major financial institutions. He doesn’t outright want to destroy society, he just wants to change it. Where in the book, Tyler Durden wants some form of anarcho-primitivism where a busboy and CEO are on equal footing, hunting some elk with spears, wearing loincloths. Tyler Durden in the book wants to destroy all of history, starting with the nearby history museum. Rewrite everything, and do it all over, starting from the stone age.

Now the Shaggs are by no means nihilists. Yet everybody who has tried to accomplish what they accomplished, by wiping the slate clean, doing it all over again, have almost always failed. Because eventually, they get good at their instruments, they form a scene, certain motifs are used over and over, and innovation simply becomes a new music genre. Yet the Shaggs rose above that, and accomplished something, that I firmly believe cannot ever be accomplished or replicated.

Or that’s what should be the case. The Shaggs were lightning in a bottle, how can anybody ever replicate that? Well as we go down deeper into the underground, we’ll find how deep this rabbit hole goes.

lis: donotcross/acetone march

As I’ve mentioned before there seems to be a misconception about experimental artists. That they are these tortured souls living down deep in a basement. Alone with their synthesizer/guitar/whatever and making bizarre tragic music, to make sense of their bizarre tragic nature.

Which is never the case at all. The best part of creating, is experimenting. If you don’t believe me, just put restrictions on what a creative person can say, do, write, sing, paint, film, etc. There is a 100% chance there is going to be some conflict. Yet on the flipside, what happens when you allow a creative person to create? Well this is where you get original artists like lis. Whose two-for-one special of a song, highlights just the joy of being a creator.

To begin with, there is no standard sound in this track. Nearly drum, synth, bass, etc. has morphed, transformed, and mutated into something wholly different than anything you’ve ever heard before. It’s when somebody who makes music, hears a song like this–where there are so many new novel ideas–and not be inspired.

Whether it’s the frantic energy of the synths in the first half of the track, to the chopped loop of a siren going off, even to the sample of Judge Dredd. It’s the kind of track that hypes you up as a creator, that opens your mind, and shows you that the whole world is full of possibilities. Everything is so fun, and so freeing. It’s a song that I’d encourage any creative person to checkout. Even if you got your sound on lock, and there is nothing that will ever change that. You can at least appreciate the ingenuity of this track.

j a b o b o: Fire Makes the World Go Round

I’m not giving going to lie here. As soon as I was done listening to this group, I immediately had to ask myself, “How is this not the biggest band in the universe?” Maybe I’m being hyperbolic, maybe it’s because I’m so used to hearing people making music on DAW, or maybe this song just hit me in the right mood.

Regardless, this is something that has to be heard to believe. There isn’t any flaw with the music. I’ve said that before about another band, but I believe in each case it’s when you separate the amateur, from the professional. The kid using a DAW, to a band professionally recording. There is a world of difference.

Take for instance this Fred Armisen bit about Musicians.

Now of course it’s all comedy, and in jest. Yet when listening to this song, you can’t help but feel as though the musicians in this band treated each instrument like they were going wine tasting. Every single instrument, from the bass, the guitar, the drums, the cymbals, the snare, the kick, etc. All of this unique and varied texture. It’s like when you go to a 5 star restaurant and order a burger. You’ve had a burger before. Yet when you go to this restaurant, and bite into this burger; things that you weren’t aware about, you’re suddenly conscious of. The crispy freshness of the lettuce, the juiciness of the meat, the ripeness of the tomato, how the bun has this flakey sweetness that you’ve never encountered before, etc.

This band has made me aware of much of an impact musicianship, and mixing can have on a track. Everything is done perfectly, from the groovy bass that is panned over to the right, that amazing distorted guitar on the left, and the clash of each cymbal. All of these things combine, and make you understand when older musicians complain about how much soul is being lost in making music using a DAW.

Then there’s the vocals, which have this pitch perfect sound. It’s the ideal of what everybody wants an “indie” vocalist to sound like. Not too professional because then it becomes too cheesy, and sounds like a musical. Yet not off key, to where it becomes unbearable to listen to. What these vocals excel in is pure charisma. It just oozes off of this track, and if you don’t like it then–I’m sorry–you don’t have a heart.

I don’t know how long these guys have been out on the game but this track is good, and so promising that you’d be insane not to check them out. So go do it before everybody else does!

 

Thomas Dooley: Two Years

One of the great things about being a modern musician, it that we have at our disposal, a nearly infinite set of tools to which to express ourselves. Yet most of the time the majority of artists squander that possibility. Artists get too caught up in the rat race and forget why they made music.

Whenever an artist creates a song they invite you into their world, and you catch a glimpse of who they are. Maybe you see something that relates to you, an instrument you love, or a stylistic influence you can hear in that artists song. Whatever the case maybe, this song is one of the most beautiful, lush soundscapes, I’ve heard on soundcloud in a very long time.

From it’s beautiful upbeat guitar, that has just the right amount of jangle rock influence. To the phenomenal bass that just doesn’t trudge along by playing the root of each note, but is complex and is just a blast to listen to. Combine that with the beautifully done vocal reverbs, the fantastical percussion, and the layered synthesizers it’s a song that is just fantastic.

Then there’s the guitar solo which has the most perfect guitar tone I have heard in such a long time. It’s one of those guitar tones, that as anybody who love guitar pedals can tell you, you just want to go out and buy every pedal that made that tone.

All of this combines into this whimsical kind of song that can even melt the coldest of hearts. It’s what happens when an artist guides you to a land of wonder, awe, and whimsy. This is a song that you gotta check out, and definitely give Thomas Dooley a follow.

 

Why it Pays to be Unique

In 2019 there is literally no logical reason why a musician should sound like everybody else. I hear it constantly from electronic music, hip hop, rock, and every other weird and obtuse music genre that exists. I used to think that it was greedy music executives, who plotted and schemed to make music sound as bland as possible. Boy, was I wrong!

You can hear it in nearly every Soundcloud artist, who so desperately want to hop onboard whatever is popular at that moment. They do everything in their power to polish their sounds to a pristine mediocre copy. And guess what? 99.99999% of all of them are going to fail.

So what proof do I have? Well, let’s take a look at investing. A good investor always looks out for blue water. Blue water is basically the untapped market. The fresh original ideas that nobody has discovered yet. It’s where we get products like Apple, Walmart, Ford, McDonald’s, etc. If you notice that I chose all huge corporate conglomerates, there is a reason for that. It’s because they all became successful by doing something that nobody else was doing. Or better yet, if you don’t believe me then watch the video below.

Now notice that this guy, who is worth 2.3 billion dollars, who should be the very definition of an out of touch rich guy, is advocating originality. If a billionaire is telling you that being original is a wise market decision, then please for the sake of God listen to his advice.

But let’s say you don’t follow my advice. You got your plan down to a T. You know exactly how you’re going to climb that imaginary ladder to superstardom. Then I have to ask a few questions.

Do you come from a wealthy background?

Because if you don’t, then doing the whole starving artist thing is really, really, going to suck. Even Vincent Van Gogh, the epitome of the starving artist archetype, was given money by his brother Theo Van Gogh. Not only that, but do you know that one person in your graduating class? You know, the person who seems to be traveling all over the world, doing crazy shit, clubbing every night, and you just know that the only reason they’re doing it is because Mommy and Daddy are paying for it. Well guess what? That is going to be EVERYBODY from your graduating class. We can romanticize being a starving artist all we want, but the bottom line is being poor just fucking sucks.

Let’s not even look to High School, let’s go to your peers. If everybody is using the exact same techniques, the exact same rhythm, the exact same notes, the exact same formula, then who do you think is going to make it? It’s not going to be the guy who is working a double shift at Wendy’s passing out his mixtape. It’s going to be the guy who can afford to travel across the country, who can afford to buy the latest and greatest gear, who can afford to pay a studio to mix his single, it’s going to be the guy with the most cash. Yeah, it sucks but that’s the world we live in.

Are you incredibly attractive?

This is going to piss a lot of people off, but the fact of the matter is looks do count. You can always with almost 100% pinpoint accuracy tell when a music genre is beginning to die, by the amount of pretty boys there are in it. The fact of the matter is, when your music sounds like everybody else’s then what else do you have to offer? Because you’re not saying anything new, you’re not making anything that changes our perception of music, and you’re not doing anything that’s interesting. So then what do you have to offer? This can go from the Harvey Weinstein’s to the crowd of screaming girls, but all of that isn’t because of your music. It’s because of your looks. And unless you are a 10/10, one in a million faces, then you just aren’t going to get that recognition.

Do you have any connections?

This is self explanatory, yet it has to be said. That unless you got some connections, you aren’t going to make it, making unoriginal music. Now I don’t mean those kind of organic connections that every artist wets themselves over. You know the ones, “Oh, I was doing my Uber shift, when all of a sudden I pick up this guy. And do you know who he was? He was Rick Ross! So I played some of my music, and he liked it…” and blah blah blah. You get the idea.

No what I’m talking about is, your Dad was a tour manager for Led Zeppelin. You were one of Post Malone’s best friends growing up. Your Mom was a groupie, and you’re the progeny of some great rockstar. Kanye West is your Godfather. Etc. Unless you have one of those one in a million freak accidents, where somehow you know somebody who can hook you up, it just ain’t going to happen.

But for argument’s sake let’s say you do have that connection? What then? Well look at celebrity’s kids. Look at Miley Cyrus, Jaden Smith, Paris Hilton, etc. Look at how many people hate them. I mean, I’m guilty of it too. Whenever I hear about some celebrity’s kid doing something, I instantly want to vomit. Because I know that for some reason, celebrity kids have the reverse Midas touch, where everything they touch turns to shit. Where they think that just because their Dad is Will Smith, they can make an ear rape song about their hair. Yet there are those people, myself included, who think “Oh man, I really like so-and-so, and their kid is making music/movies/whatever so I’ll go check that out.” It’s such a large expectation to live up to, and when you make generic shitty music, people are going to be pissed at you. And why shouldn’t they? You had every tool at your disposal and you squandered it.

Do you have an interesting backstory?

Now I don’t mean some, “Man I was really struggling, I had to sell my guitar and amp just to have electricity” kind of story. That’s nearly every artist. Shit, that’s nearly every average Joe Shmoe. I mean the kind of backstory that could almost be a superhero origin story. You have to be missing arms, legs, be blind, deaf, dumb, get shot, have your wife murdered, your village raided, and your father’s sword stolen from you. Okay, I am being a bit hyperbolic, but the point still stands. Unless you have some incredible life story, that is so incredible that the audience feels sorry to boo you for your generic music. Then you aren’t going to make it.

Everybody loves an underdog story, because every single one of us see ourselves as the underdog. To have that catharsis, that all the struggle, all the pain, is worth it–because this one guy was able to make it despite the odds, means that we too can make it. It’s Joel Olsteen level marketing for musicians. Yes, it sounds like a cruel interpretation, but when you are doing what everybody else is doing; your life story is a marketing tool. It becomes a gimmick. And really, who wants their lives condensed to a such a finite point, only to sell tickets?

Are you successful in a different entertainment field?

Are you a popular youtuber? Did you write a popular T.V. show? Are you an actor? Were you a reality T.V. star? This goes back to the “Having connections” shtick but the fact of the matter is unless you have a built in fanbase who will follow you wherever you go, you aren’t going to make it. I will give Filthy Frank several listens, I will listen to Donald Glover, and I will even watch a Pewdiepie music video. Why? Well one, because I’m curious. And two, it’s the cult of celebrity. I don’t particularly like or dislike any of the artists above, but because they have brand recognition, I am at the very least curious as to what they are making.

I could say this is an American problem, but it’s not it’s become a Global phenomena. Where it doesn’t matter how shitty a person is, how terrible they are in their new field, the cult of celebrity is far stronger than any mediocre music that they make. And let’s be real if you are reading this blog, you haven’t got that hit of celebrity yet. Because if you did, we’d already be hearing about it.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that it is far too risky to follow genre rules, to stay in your lane, and to follow what everyone else is doing. Nearly every musician seems to be diving straight in the area with most competition, where they are competing against people who HAVE connections, who ARE more attractive, who HAVE a tragic life backstory, who ARE celebrities, and who HAVE more wealth. And if you are playing that much of a rigged game, then why play the game?

Now I’m not dismissing artists who self identify as a trap artist, an electronic artist, a rock musicians, etc. What I  am saying is that if you are within a genre, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT! Think outside the box. If your music genre is too simple, then apply some music theory, and become the Bach of Trap. If your music genre is too complex, make it fun, strip it down, and let it all hang loose.

But these are all superficial answers, because the bottom line is, you started making music, not because you wanted to be famous, not because you wanted to be rich, but because you wanted to express yourself. Ignore that desire for fame, ignore that desire for wealth, and focus on that singular goal. To make music that shows the world who you are. That maybe somewhere out there, there is some other wayward soul like yours, who feels the same way as you do. And maybe, just maybe, by writing that song, baring your soul to the world to see. You gave that person hope, that maybe, just maybe, they’re not alone as they thought they were.