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!

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.

JUICETHERIDDLER: CLEAR

There’s always more than meets the eye. Hip Hop out of any genre of music seems to be the most contradictory of musical genres. Nearly every rap song contains enough lyrics to be it’s own short story, yet at the same time it’s incredibly blunt, honest, and real. There’s no paragraph upon paragraph explaining why the protagonist is infatuated with a woman because of her beautiful hair. It strips away that bullshit. Because let’s be real; who the fuck falls in love with a woman for her hair? Now seeing a girl’s boobs through her white dress…that is believable.

Yet even if you strip away the beautiful poetic verses about a woman’s hair, or how a girl has perky titties, and a nice pussy–you’re still going to have the same problems. In JUICETHERIDDLER’s CLEAR you see an honest depiction of what it’s like to be a man in 2019. Whether it’s trying to impress your Dad, escape your peers to become a bigger success, dealing with vices, or having something as tragic as somebody cheating on you. It’s all presented with this brutal honesty that doesn’t hold anything back.

It’s the depiction of these problems that is where the contradiction lies. While at one point saying that he doesn’t want to have sex with someone he can’t connect with, the next he’ll rap about hooking up with some freaky chick with braces. There’s genuine introspection about his life, all of his goals, aspirations, hopes, and dreams–yet there’s this thing gnawing at him. It’s what gnaws at us all. And in this review we’ll look into what this “thing” is, and how JUICETHERIDDLER does such a great job of showing us these issues that surround every Millennial.

What a better place to start than My Life. Which is a perfect opener for this album because it does a great job of introducing us to JUICETHERIDDLER. The opening begins with these shimmering synths that sounds like a crib’s mobile, and this ethereal amorphous background. Then there’s this amazing bass, pitch perfect beat, mixed in with these faint vocals. The faint vocals appear throughout the entire album, which sounds like a choir of ghosts. Depending on the track they can either be literal samples of older music, or just be ambient vocals. Either way they do a great job of thematically showing us the past.

Which is what this track is, a reflection of the past. Or if this were a movie this would be the opening montage. We see the life that JUICETHERIDDLER had “Before the storm” we understand and empathize with his struggles. For me, personally, the line about wanting to be a doctor to help his Dad in pain does a great job of showing what kind of person JUICETHERIDDLER is. One being a doctor is an incredibly bold, and ambitious aspiration. It’s one of those societal benchmarks that shows that you’re a big shot. And two, the reason he wanted to be a doctor was to help his Dad.

This is the central drama within JUICETHERIDDLER and it’s laid out bare in this opening track. At one point you see the ambitious drive within him. You see how he wants to escape his surroundings, chose better friends, and get on the right track. Yet with ambition there is always baggage. Being a doctor is an automatic sign to people that you’re well off, smart, and hardworking. Yet how do you measure that success with music? With hot women, money, sex, power, etc. Yet at the end of the day JUICETHERIDDLER still aspires to something greater, something more noble.

Then we get to Family Ties, which starts off with that choir of ghosts. Which is fitting to the subject matter of the song which is basically the story of anybody who is going through the struggle. Either from foreclosures, poverty, financial hardships, family problems, unrealized potential, the pain of growing old etc.

It’s so blunt, honest, and raw that it’s songs like this is when Hip Hop is at it’s peak. Hip Hop has such a unique ability to tell long stories in a short amount of time. Yet with this increased verbosity, the stories that are told are so stripped down. It’s not something that you need to analyze to death, you either feel it or you don’t. Yet what JUICETHERIDDLER does here is something very unique and special. That is the “Slice of Life” samples. Whether it’s arguments, pieces of advice, or the emotionally honest ending, in which JUICETHERIDDLER just says what’s on his mind. It’s this technique that does an incredible job of relating what JUICETHERIDDLER’s life to that of the listener.

I can’t understate how incredible these samples are to this album. Let’s take the Smiths for example, nearly everyone of their songs have this day in the life kind of drama. But with Morrissey’s great lyricism, nerdy quotes from obscure references, and dramatized retelling of events–it adds a lot of style to these otherwise mundane events. Yet at the same time as an artist it’s easy to write a song about being a bigmouth and comparing yourself to Joan of Arc. But it’s incredibly hard to rap about your family, bring up deeply personal issues, have samples from your real life, etc. This is what separates Hip Hop from most other music genres. While most hide behind smoke and mirrors to deliver their message, Hip Hop cuts through the bullshit and says what’s on the artists mind.

Then we get to Niggas Ain’t Your Niggas/No Good. This is where I’ll have to mildly critique the album. There are about 5 tracks, that are in actuality two separate songs. While the production does a really great job of seamlessly blending each track, the tracks are each about 7 minutes long. Now unless you’re doing some avante garde piece, or are writing an orchestra, 7 minutes is a long time to listen to a song. Regardless of how well produced it is, most listeners will develop listener fatigue, and just give up a quarter way through the song. Which is a shame and a terrible thing, yet it’s the truth.

So with that out of the way let’s look at Niggas Ain’t Your Niggas. While the first two tracks introduced us to JUICETHERIDDLER the next two tracks introduce us to his environment. Immediately the tracks separates itself from the two preceding it, by placing more of an emphasis on the synths. While the other two were this amorphous ethereal atmosphere, the synth cuts through that. As though a bright light is being shown on JUICETHERIDDLER’s environment. Which is compounded by the slice of life lyrics of Niggas Ain’t Your Niggas.

Each one of these snapshots of his surroundings, and JUICETHERIDDLER’s maturity shows the pitfalls, traps, and barriers that he has overcome. Yet it’s told in a way that is both highly personal, and yet easily accessible. Let’s say that some guy who lived in a lap of luxury his whole life, grows up and goes to an Ivy League school. Or scratch that, he even is able to work as Vice President at his Dad’s company without a college degree. Eventually there’s going to be a point in his life where he realizes that not everybody is after his best interests. Not only that but they are willing to do anything to him to best serve their interests.

It’s when JUICETHERIDDLER gets venomous with this track that it becomes so cathartic for the listener. Because when we all go through that rat race of life, we’re all eventually going to be fucked over. Yet it’s this song that gives a voice to that, a release of that pent up frustration. Because whether it’s your group of friends, the streets, or a corporate board office–everybody eventually comes to terms with the fact it’s a dog eat dog world.

So we continue this slice of life with No Good. Immediately it begins with the ambient sound of people shopping. Then you hear it. The alarm that goes off when something hasn’t been scanned. Or when something has been shoplifted.

Immediately as a listener you’re on edge. After all when an alarm goes off it’s supposed to alarm you. Then when the heavy distorted bass, and open hi-hats start playing. It’s a sound that is a sound that is on edge. It’s not a celebratory sound, rather it’s one of danger, and caution. When JUICETHERIDDLER says, “Hoes give em’ top watch them like a hawk.” You feel that sense of why he says that from the production alone.

Yet while I complained about the combination of songs into one song, Niggas Ain’t Your Niggas/No Good may just prove me wrong. Because we see the surroundings that JUICETHERIDDLER is in, and how that has shaped his perception. Take for example one of the more tragic lines, “I thought she was my right hand, she ended up sucking niggas with her left hand.” Is thematically perfect for these two songs. When JUICETHERIDDLER asks you in Niggas Ain’t Your Niggas if you’d be willing to murder for another person. In No Good we get the answer to that loyalty: which is that the girl who is your “Right hand,” returns your loyalty by blowing a bunch of guys.

Now let me remind you that this kind of perception that’s laid out is even more tragic. It’s tragic because this is the same guy who wanted to be a doctor to help his Dad. It’s tragic because you can see that JUICETHERIDDLER is someone who wants something better. Yet there’s something there that’s gnawing at him. And to figure that out we have to go further in this album review.

The next song, Friends with Benefits. Is the rebound song. It’s got those stereotypical triplet hi hats, with the swirling pads, auto-tuned vocals, everything that’s pretty prevalent in Hip Hop today. Which isn’t a complaint. If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Yet the juxtaposition of the lyrical content between this song, and a few others is where the contradiction lies. Where before there was a desire to form a relationship rather than just having sex. Now there’s the desire to just say, “Fuck it, let’s just fuck.” Now if we were to employ the K.I.S.S. method it could be that this song was written before the events described in the previous tracks. Or maybe they liked the subject matter. It’s anybody’s guess.

I’m not a mind reader, yet when an artist chooses to include or exclude something from an album there is always an underlying meaning behind it all. This is where the album now becomes smoke and mirrors. Where before it was brutally honest, now it’s become a little more guarded. Why? Well Susan Sontag said, “It is not suffering as such that is most deeply feared; but suffering that degrades.”

When placed in an environment that is depicted in Niggas Ain’t Your Niggas/No Good, everybody is eventually going to be humiliated. It’s a fact of life. If you’re in a dog eat dog world, eventually you’re going to get eaten. You can’t escape from it, you can’t run from it, it will eventually happen. Yet it’s how we cope with this that separates the wheat from the chaff. For JUICETHERIDDLER he coped by making art, and if some of that art is him bragging about hooking up with chicks. That’s a very valid form of expression.

The problem lies with this track, and a few others in isolation. If I didn’t know JUICETHERIDDLER from his previous songs, I couldn’t write a review on his music. Mainly because there’s more to life than pussy. The other reason is that it doesn’t interest me. Yet his emotional honesty, in his previous tracks, are so brutal and so honest, that even if you’re a snob like me you can’t help but enjoy every aspect of this person’s music.

The next song, To The Party, I’m not even going to lie–I love it way too much. It’s that flute, combined with the beat, and even some of the lyrics that are just way too fun not to enjoy. He could literally be rapping about Chef Boyardee and I would still be in love with this song.

I know I set it up in the previous paragraph that songs about partying/pussy/seeing boobs through a white dress, is something I look down on. Yet I’m also the person who knows that staying up all night smoking, playing video games, and eating Dominoes pizza is bad for you; yet I still do it. I believe that the reason I like this song so much, is that it psyches you up so much for a good time. When I instantly heard this song I already felt like I was in a party. When he’s got lines like “Rolling up to the party, looking like Illuminati.” How can you possibly top that? You show up to a party looking like a global cabal of people who control the world. Doesn’t that psyche you up for a party? Don’t answer, because it does.

Next up we have Bitch/Pull Up (WYA?) which furthers this party kind of vibe from the previous tracks. It dials up the bravado to 11, and while it does really interesting production techniques, specifically with the reverse tape loop of the previous tracks. Yet this is one of the times where the combining of two songs doesn’t really work. They don’t really tie in to each other thematically, other than they’re both hype songs.

While I’ve addressed JUICETHERIDDLER’s lyrics. I haven’t delved into the technical aspect of his raps. Mainly because Hip Hop is at a plateau of sorts. When everybody praises Eminem for Rap God, Busta Rhymes was doing long before Eminem, and was far more technically adept. It’s at a point where rock was at with singers, guitarists, drummers, etc. Where it became overindulgent and as a result, newer and younger artists scaled back the virtuosity to deliver something new and original. So when looking at Hip Hop, technicality has to be judged as it is in Rock. Where, yes, Freddy Mercury can sing his heart out. But Kurt Cobain’s scratchy, marbled mouth vocals hits me in the feels and that’s all that really matters.

Which brings me to a critique, and something that I hope doesn’t discourage anybody but just a point in the right direction. Pull Up (WYA?) is technically proficient. It’s an incredibly clever, technical, piece of lyricism. Yet the delivery is where the problem is. Female vocals can add a lot to a track. Since,well women have a lot more pleasing voices (generally) then males do. Yet the lyrics are delivered in such a deadpan emotionless way. It could be due to nerves, production flaws, or focusing on the wrong aspects of a song. Yet if you’re bragging about yourself, you need to exude confidence. If that falls flat, then the whole song falls apart.

Next up we have BOD. Which starts off with this amazing loop of a guitar. It’s a guitar that is both sensual while at the same time maintains this sense of melancholy. JUICETHERIDDLER does an excellent job of using this soundscape to weave such an interesting and tragic look at relationships.

Now BOD could mean two things, it could be an acronym for blacked out drunk, or it could refer to somebody’s body. Both interpretations are equally valid. Yet this is where JUICETHERIDDLER gets back into form. I’ve said before how he vividly he described his surroundings in Niggas Ain’t Your Niggas/No Good. It’s in this song though he manages to describe all of our surroundings.

What do I mean about that? From the looped guitar, to the bleak lyrics, it all paints a picture of the current dating scene. Imagine if you would, describing Tinder to somebody back in the 90’s. Everybody would think that you would be describing some Sci-Fi dystopian world. Yet it’s the world that we find ourselves in. Where we are all connected to people all across the world, and yet most people can’t find a single date on an app that has millions of users on it. It’s a world where people would rather do drugs, than connect. That would rather be blacked out drunk, then to have a meaningful relationship.

Then JUICETHERIDDLER adds even more salt to the wound. That chicks would snort cocaine off of the floor, that they would sell their soul for more drugs, and through all of that, it’s only when they are high that they can show love. Then he reveals that they won’t even remember when they did show you love because they were so fucked up. If that’s not brutally honest then I don’t know what is. Now you could switch genders, and blah blah blah blah. Who cares? The point is that this track doesn’t portray drug addiction as some glamorous thing, it cuts through the bullshit and tells you how it is.

Now we go from the social to the personal in the next song, It Has Been A Min. Where we see the response that JUICETHERIDDLER has to this apocalyptic dating scene we find ourselves in. With the looped vocal samples, melancholy keys, and heavy distorted bass. It has this heightened sense of danger, yet at it’s melancholy, and has an almost introspective kind of sound.

This is compounded by the fact that JUICETHERIDDLER describes in vivid detail about a girl he’s with. How she is able to attend college, when he’s unable to, and he sees her change into a different person. She loses a bit of the innocence that she once had, as time goes on, and the song progresses we see how the distance between them grows greater. Until at the end when we hear the chorus, “It’s been a minute.”

This track has a lot of great aphorisms inside of it, my personal favorite is, “Love is not a noun, it’s a verb.” All of these little quotes, little slice of life dramas, are absolutely done in a perfect way. It’s like the Smiths except without the celibacy. This is where JUICETHERIDDLER is at peak form, and when he gets it right, he absolutely nails it. This song in particular does such a great job of nailing the dating scene for millenials/zoomers/or whatever.

If you think about it, the only difference between them both is that one went to college, and the other didn’t. But from that minute detail, that minor change of life, has completely changed a person into something they’re not, or at least shouldn’t be. Where before in Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone has this almost mythic story about a girl who has it all, and loses it all. Here in this song it’s told in a more realistic way. It doesn’t require beauty, wealth, genius, or whatever to lose your soul. Even if you go on the right track, go to college, get a degree, get a job, get married, etc. You are still capable of losing your integrity, who you are, and even your soul.

Next up we have another 2 for 1 song, 4eva Scarred/Love? 4eva Scarred has one of those great vocal samples that I just love. It has that choir of ghosts kind of sound, and the fact it’s looped throughout the track accomplishes this repetitive kind of misery. It’s misery that bangs on your head over and over again, like a thought or regret that you just can’t shake off. Which is furthered by the lyrics that deal with heartbreak.

Heartbreak is something that everybody has to go through. It’s one of those events that changes boys into men. It’s the event where you reevaluate yourself, and who are. Even the opening lines ask, “Why am I saying goodbye to you?” It’s that thought that gnaws away at you. That scrapes away your insides, emotionally gut punches you, and erodes all of your bravado. It strips you naked, makes you vulnerable, and even questions who you are. Are you still the same guy who, “Made that pussy purr?” Because if you are, then why are you saying “Goodbye?”

No matter how tough of a guy you are, a breakup is an ego destroyer. You’ll do anything you can to rebuild any resemblance of dignity in the face of the adversity. So when we get to Love? it’s the process of building yourself up. Not through bravado but through virtue. Where the morality of being in love is being assessed. Where before JUICETHERIDDLER has rapped 75% about the girl he’s with, and 25% about himself. In this song it’s a brutal reflection of what he was like in that rare state of mind we call “Love.” Where even though his heart was in the right place, his actions spoke differently.

Males have a variety of ways to deal with breakups, you can go hit up the clubs, binge on tinder, have one night stands, going on a drinking/drug binge, etc. All very unhealthy ways to go through the healing process. Yet when JUICETHERIDDLER goes through Love? we see the healthy alternative. Which is to see things as they are, to evaluate in brutal honesty who you were, who you are, and who you want to be. It’s in this song that we see that process unfold.

Then we get to Loose Ends. Which does an even a better job than Love? in my opinion, to illustrate how to deal with heartbreak. Throughout this album we’ve been hearing from JUICETHERIDDLER’s perspective. Now with this introduction from a female British poet, we get a broadened view of what love is, and what love can be. Because after all, if you’re trying to figure out the answer to love within yourself, it’s going to be like drawing from a poisoned well. This poet sample in particular seems like something that JUICETHERIDDLER or really anybody would use to help navigate the hostile mental landscape of what a breakup is.

Then there’s the actual music, the beat is at it’s peak in this track, the kick is phenomenally produced, and the snare is just so aggressive. Then there’s the amazing vocal samples, that sound like the choir of ghosts. Combine the samples, with the heavy beat, and it sounds like JUICETHERIDDLER is escaping his past. He’s moving past the breakup. While yes there are moments when he does relapse into thinking about his ex, trying to get back with her, and even at the end is this wonderfully produced phone call, there’s a sense of momentum. That while yes, it was painful to go through, it’s still painful to be going through it, eventually you’ll move past it.

Midnight Drive on the other hand, shows the ugly desperation that everybody will go through after a breakup. While the previous track had these really aggressive kicks, they seem more muted in this track. Even the snare which seemed to cut through everything seemed dialed down a bit. While the reverse open hi hats does the same thing as the synths in Niggas Ain’t Your Niggas, in that they have this harsh kind of tone which shines a light to this desperation.

Whether it’s making a scene at an Applebees, driving alone at midnight, or bawling in the front seat of his car. This shit is painful to go through. While other artists in other music genres try to dress up a relationship in this kind of grandiose romantic tragedy, JUICETHERIDDLER isn’t afraid to say, “Yeah I made a scene at an Applebee’s and right after that I was bawling in the front seat of my car.” That takes a LOT of bravery to write about a breakup in such a clear, vivid, and emotionally honest way.

That’s the first part of the song, the second part of the song is where I nerd out. Anybody who was alive at the 90’s immediately recognizes that DBZ sample. Which is a perfect kind of counterpoint to the rest of the song. I don’t think there is anybody who has watched DBZ and immediately wanted to be Goku. But it’s not just wanting to be Goku that is important, the escapism that Goku provides. That if you could just turn Super Saiyan, have the ability to destroy solar systems. You wouldn’t even need relationships. Fuck that. You could rule the world, have harems, all the money in the world, and all the power right at your fingertips.

Yet remember when I said that JUICETHERIDDLER was contradictory? Mainly because there are points in this album where he will state how deep his love is, and yet want to fuck random freaky girls. This is where it all clicks. That if you could just be more successful, if you could just have more power, money, and fame. Then you wouldn’t have to go through things like heartache, seeing your house foreclosed on, your Dad in pain, family troubles or any of that. You could just escape if you just became successful enough. Which what I believe gnaws at JUICETHERIDDLER just like it gnaws at me, you, and everybody else in this world.

It’s then when we get to songs like Hard To Trust. The ghostly choir is gone. We’ve moved passed the past, and now we’re in the present. Where we see the struggle, whether it’s going through a fight, and then right afterwards the girl says she loves you. Does she mean it? Is it sincere? There’s so much conflict, and even though there seems to be reconciliation, there’s still so much bullshit to put up with. “Forgiveness is the focus,” yet there’s so much baggage. The grudges are still there, it’s still a struggle.

Then we go to the escapism of Juss Wanna/Fiji. Juss Wanna is incredibly sensual with that looped soulful music. This song out of all of the songs is baby making music. There’s no denying that. Then there’s the lyrics, “I’m the king where’s my crown?” If this was a movie this would be the typical, “They Lived Happily Ever After,” ending. Where all of the issues that was addressed in CLEAR has finally been resolved. All the haters are gone, his girl calls him in the morning because she’s horny, his riding around in his car like a king, and his dad is proud of him. This is the ending JUICETHERIDDLER wants his life to come out to.

Then we get to Fiji which shows the counterpoint to JUICETHERIDDLER’s vision. In the opening seconds of this song we hear samples of a woman talking about some games she’s about to play on the guy she’s with. This is where the saying, “No man is an Island” that no matter how beautiful your vision is, no matter how great for both parties it is, you have to deal with other people. Other people with their schemes, their plots, their petty games, or even their own individualized grand visions. In which they’re the king/queen of their own world.

Then track opens up with this frantic flutes loop, frantic hi hat triplets, and even congas. The congas, I’m not going to lie, surprised me since it’s not something that’s typically used in Hip hop. Everything in this track is produced to create this frantic sort of feeling. It’s a desperate kind of sound. While the lyrics are about making a girl’s pussy so wet, that your dick slips in and out like water. The sound tells a different story. Put these two contradictory sounds together and you get the feeling, that while at face value it’s a typical rap bravado kind of track. Behind the smoke and mirrors it’s the wish of someone who is trying everything he can to salvage a relationship. To rebuild whatever chemistry they had, to have the relationship they once had together.

Then when we get to Special the hyper-sexuality increases. Whether it’s due to a guest rapper, a song written before the breakup, after the breakup, or whatever. Regardless the same principle applies. That if it’s included, it was by the artists’ design. This time instead of focusing on rebuilding the relationship, it’s the same kind of escapism that every straight male faces. The opportunity to hookup with a chick. Just some freaky chick, to get it out of your system, no love, no strings attached. I mean anybody who watches porn does this exact same thing.

It’s universal principle, to perhaps, all people. We all want to be loved, we all want to be in a happy relationship, and have our “They Lived Happily Ever After.” Yet there’s that lizard brain in all of us, who just so desperately want to fuck every girl that walks on two legs. To abandon those higher values of fidelity, marriage, having kids, and all of that. Just to be able to have sex with some freaky chick. Yet JUICETHERIDDLER like all of us, just can’t do that. We can’t go fucking all the time, there’s something deep inside of all of us that compels us to be something better.

I’ve mentioned this before in a Hip Hop review. Where I mentioned C.S. Lewis, and it applies here as well. JUICETHERIDDLER could just go around fucking chicks, and not give any thought to a relationship. He could just abandon all reconciliations, and go around being a fuckboy. Yet there’s something that compels him not to do so. There’s some higher purpose that he knows that he’s destined for. Even when his surroundings bring him down into petty squabbles, he still aims for something loftier, something with more substance.

C.S. Lewis proposed in his Christian Apologetics, that the reason we feel this way, that life somehow loses it’s luster. That it’s meaningless, hard, brutal, and just plain vicious. Yet we all sense that there’s a higher purpose, a grander journey, something that we haven’t yet encountered here on Earth. That really we are all waiting for the day when our souls leave our bodies, and we are greeted by St. Peter. We all have souls, we all seek higher meaning, and we will fight tooth and nail to see that higher meaning fulfilled. With JUICETHERIDDLER we see that struggle come into fruition.

So finally when we get to Comeback Season/Clear we are immediately greeted by this fantastic guitar intro. Then we hear JUICETHERIDDLER’s most vicious vocal delivery. This is where JUICETHERIDDLER finally confronts his demons. He puts all those who stood in his way in the crossfire, and it’s at this point where he sees things clearly. He’s no longer seeking escapism, he’s coming onto his own, and fighting through his struggles.

With Clear we the razor sharp focus that he has developed through the struggle. If this was a Rocky movie this would be the final round. He’s been beat up, bruised up, has 10 seconds on the clock, and we see JUICETHERIDDLER focused. Ready for that knockout punch. He’s ready for that moment to shine. After all that we’ve seen him go through in this album, it’s impossible not to root for the guy. Yet this isn’t a battle for success as it is for meaning. He knows what he wants out of life, who he is, and how hard he will work to make that dream into reality.

Then at the very end, when the curtain falls, and the audience applauds–we hear a sample. An ambient sample of birds chirping, cars driving off in the distance, and it’s a tranquil sound. A sound of someone at peace. At peace with themselves, their surroundings, and who they are and who they want to be.

As I’ve said before this album was contradictory, which it is at face value. Yet it’s not. It’s a story of a man who tries to rise above the magnet tar pit trap of modern life to be something better. It’s the story of someone who rises above his surroundings, and his struggle. Who no longer stares down at the dirt, but looks up to the heavens.

Though there are a few minor problems I had with this album, I truly believe that JUICETHERIDDLER will blossom into a wonderful rapper. With his brutal, and fearless honesty he has created a work of art that has cut through all the bullshit, and gave a voice to all of us going through the same struggles.

With this incredibly long winded review out of the way, I give this album my full recc. Because let’s be real if I write 5,000 words on something I’m not going to not give it my recc. Please check him out, and support him on apple as well as spotify!

Gh0stboy: Red Ep.2

Something strange occurred at the turn of the millennium.  A strange mish-mash of rock genres fused together, into one all encompassing rock genre. It was a rock genre that synthesized frantic energy of punk, the melodic guitars of The Smiths, the guttural screams of metal, and the depressed lyrics of alternative rock. It was new, it was strange, and it was at the top of the charts.

I am of course talking about emo. Emo has taken on a kind of negative connotation. Even when it was first termed, the pioneers of emo rock despised being called “emo”. After all if you’re a hardcore punk band, and you’re labeled emo(tional) hardcore it’s kind of insulting. Imagine whatever genre of music you specialize in, then imagine some asshole music reviewer calling it emo-(music genre). It’s beyond perplexing. Isn’t all music emotional? Why is it a bad thing to be emotional? Isn’t the goal of music to express yourself? Now some journalist just called the way you express yourself, “emotional?” Who wouldn’t be pissed off at that?

Now take that bizarre label, then add some teenage angst to the mix, sprinkle in some consumerism, and what was before a sincere music genre becomes a commercialized suicidal death cult. It got to the point where I knew that if someone wore an Alkaline Trio t-shirt I could tell you their favorite movie, their favorite store, their hobbies, hell I could even tell you their socioeconomic background. Then, of course, like anything in the entertainment business, if one thing is successful, then there has to be 1 million copies of said thing.

Emo became bland. It become mediocre. From what was once a deeply personal, emotionally expressive music genre, became the soundtrack to every teenager slamming the door on their parents, “Because they just don’t understand me!” Teenage angst maybe profitable in the short term but eventually teenagers grow into adults. Then the whole, “Fuck you Dad you just don’t get it!” Turns into “Holy shit I was such an asshole to my Dad.” That’s how angst turns into cringe, which turns into all of us being lame adults.

So now we finally get to Gh0stboy’s album Red Ep.2 . Which when listening you can hear a lot of those old Emo band’s influence. Yet it’s morphed, and mutated into something wholly different. After all Emo is dead, along with Myspace, and flip phones. Yet it’s when a genre is dead, and other artists have time to reassess things when art becomes interesting.

Take synthwave for example. If you were to invent a time machine, show synthwave to someone in the 80’s and they’d have no idea what the fuck you’re listening to. Yet synthwave is inextricably tied to the 80’s. Now why is that? Well it’s because time has passed, fans of 80’s music sieved through the shitty part of 80’s music to find the golden nuggets that made 80’s music so endearing.

Likewise, Gh0stboy is accomplishing the exact same feat with Red Ep.2. For example if we take the opening track, Hart Filmpje. It doesn’t remotely resemble what we would consider, “Emo” music. It’s atmospheric, dark, ambient, experimental, etc. All things that emo music could have been, yet never explicitly were. Yeah you could say songs about cutting yourself, suicide, and blah blah blah are dark. Hell even some emo guitar riffs are really dark.

Yet there’s a world of difference between sinister guitar chords, and a sinister atmosphere. While one sounds sinister, the other envelops you in a sinister environment. Or a better comparison, it’s the difference between a jumpscare, and The Shining. While one is a director showing off how he can make his audience jump out of their seats, and fling their popcorn in the air. The other director (Kubrick for those who didn’t know) creates an atmosphere that lingers with you for days. It gets into your psyche and disturbs you. It makes you bring a flashlight to a dimly dark room, checking every corner of the house, and haunts you in your sleep.

If we go further with the horror movie comparison, it can be said that The Shining is a slasher flick. After all it’s a crazed man wondering a hotel with an axe. Yet at the same time to categorize it like that would be missing the mark. It’s the same principle with Red Ep.2. While yes, it could be seen as being emo, it’s missing the mark. It’s an artists own interpretation of all the great bands we grew up listening to, and god damn does it sound good.

Which brings me to my next point on reviewing this album. This album isn’t really a typical emo album. Sure there are rock songs in it, yet you can hear A LOT of cloudrap influence. In fact it gets to the point where this could be categorized as cloudrap. Yet I’m not going to do that, and it’s mainly to illustrate a point. That point being that emo music died because it refused to adapt.

Let’s rewind a bit, and go back into the mid 00’s when VH1 was having a special on the history of Heavy Metal.

Now the interesting thing about this documentary is the transition of Hair Metal to Thrash Metal, and then the saga of Metallica being sellouts and playing a more melodic sound. Which is coincidentally what Hair Metal sounded like, albeit with less makeup and hairspray. But what was really interesting was how ardently defensive they were on their definition of Heavy Metal music. How Van Halen’s Jump was garbage because it had a synthesizer, how Punk was too political and wasn’t Metal enough. Then at the end nearly every one of those Metal elitists joined arm in arm to praise Nu-metal. The most cringey genre of music humanly imaginable.

Now we get back to Gh0stboy’s Red Ep.2. Immediately after the first track you’ll begin to notice the amount of collaborators, producers, and other groups. Where usually the criticism that “Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the dish” is a pretty good rule of thumb when judging collaborators on an album. Yet this principle does not apply here. In fact listening to each individualized track is a complete joy, not only for the song quality, but each interpretation of the genre.

Which should be every musicians aspiration when making an album. Just think of how many times you hear actors complain that they don’t want to be typecast into a role. Yet for some reason when it comes to music, musicians have no qualms whatsoever about being pigeonholed into one genre. Not only that, but they get angry when another artist strays away from that genre!

So now we get to the individual tracks, starting with Breaking Free (prod.madatracker) which starts with that stereotypical emo sound. With the melodic melancholy intro, to the the heavy distorted chorus of guitars. The vocals carry that kind of anthem for adolescent angst, with morose lyrics, and a chorus that just rouses the rebel in all of us. While yes, it is one of the more straightforward song in terms of it’s influences it still shouldn’t dissuade you from listening to it.

While the first song was kind of a shock to the system, Breaking Free (prod.madatracker) brings you back to a familiar state. Because after all if every song was like Hart Filmpje then this I wouldn’t be talking about emo rock. I would be talking about electronic ambient music. Yet because Hart Filmpje exists, followed by Breaking Free (prod.madatracker) it does something to the listener. Which is, it expands their perception of what an emo album can be, or even what a modern music album can be.

Take for instance the common tv/movie trope of the “Fish out of water main character.” It’s something that we as an audience take for granted, when exploring say film, novels, video games, or any other fantasy world. Look at Harry Potter for instance, imagine for a moment that he was brought up in the wizard world. Imagine how much exposition would have to be delivered to explain what a muggle was, that wizards exist in our world, that they send kids to a magical school with a Cerberus in the basement, whatever the fuck quidditch is, etc.

The basic idea is that the audience needs a character to relate to, something familiar for them to understand what is going on. Because no matter how imaginative the world is that the author created is, we still need to know what’s going on. Hence the “Fish out of water main character trope.” Which is exactly what Breaking Free (prod.madatracker) accomplishes. It’s a song that is familiar to us, and something we can latch on to. Yet as strange as the first song is, it sets us up to understand the rest of the album. That this is an exploration, an “Expanded Universe” of emo music.

Which brings me to my next song, Dark World (prod. L I L C L O U D I E ). This is the song where the album gets in it’s groove. While the two other tracks were both great songs, they served a sort of secondary purpose of showing the audience what they should expect in this album. This is the song where we get to see those expectations realized. 

From it’s moody, dark, melancholy guitar intro, to it’s trap influenced beat. This is the song which shows how Gh0stboy is willing to fuse together different genres, and work with other artists who are willing to experiment. Yet this isn’t like Nu-Metal where, “Hey let’s just rap over loud guitars!” Because there’s a lot more finesse that’s required to fuse together music genres.

So what’s the best way to fuse music genres? Well first look to the music aspect of it. Remove a singer/rapper’s vocals and I guarantee 99.9999% of people will recognize what genre of music that song belongs to. So if we were to go to rock music, what’s the most important instrument? What’s instrument that everybody pretends to play when listening to a rock song? It’s the guitar. What about hip hop? What’s the guitar of hip hop? Easy, it’s the beat. If you don’t believe me then listen to Dave Chappelle. So theory holds if you have a good beat, and a great guitar then it’s going to be a great fusion. Which is what this song accomplishes.

Next up we have Poltergeist (prod. D – Low) which further cements Gh0stboy’s hold into hip hop. From the creepy synths, to the beautifully distorted bass, and clear cutting percussion; everything sounds amazing. Then you have the vocals which are so well double tracked, and produced it creates this fun spooky environment. It’s such a cool song with the creepy ambience and just fucking amazing bass. It’s the kind of music that goth kids would walk slow motion down the street to, like in Reservoir Dogs, looking all badass.

Then we go to Past And Present (prod. Rodger) which is one of my favorite tracks I’ve listened to in a long time. Mainly because of that guitar/synth tone, or that melancholy atmosphere that reminds me of Silent Hill 2 which I’ve already written about how much I love that album. Even the lyrics about running away from your problems, combined with the melancholy atmosphere of the music just works perfectly with me. 

Which in all honesty, I don’t think this track which I enjoyed so much would have been possible for any of the emo bands I listened to growing up to make. From the weird distorted synth/guitar melody, frantic hip hop beat, and even the vocal performance with it’s emotional falsettos. Every single thing comes from a variety of influences. Yet they all work together to create this melancholy song about running away from your problems. Could you imagine My Chemical Romance, Hawthorne Heights, or Alkaline Trio using a hip hop beat? Or using that bizarre guitar/synth tone? No, they limited themselves, and while they made great music, I don’t see many kids wearing MCR t-shirts or listening to Nikki FM. Which proves to show, if you don’t look for every tool at your disposal, then no matter how hard you fight it you and your art will be forgotten.

With our next song, Red (prod. CASE B1ZZIE), we have to go back to the VH1 documentary on Heavy Metal. The whole documentary seemed to have this destination of Heavy Metal becoming more heavy, more brutal, more harsh, etc. They lampooned Van Halen for using synths, Hair Metal for being too commercial and pop sounding, and Metallica for making acoustic songs. Yet, not once did they ever mention using, say, different instruments, or using different techniques to sound heavier.

Red (prod. CASE B1ZZIE) is the song I’d show to any death metal band to illustrate how can be heavier by using a synth, samples, etc. For example let’s take electronic music, with the advent of Electro Punk, Death Grips, and even Dubstep. Electronic music has found a way to capture the same heaviness that was only reserved for heavy metal. In fact it creates a whole different feel, and aesthetic.

Take this track for example, it sounds like the ambient music of a nuclear holocaust. In fact the 808’s in this track doesn’t clash with the heavy metal sound of the song. In fact having 808’s in what would usually be a pure metal song only enhances the heaviness of the track. And if you want to purity spiral into being the heaviest sounding rock band, wouldn’t it be in your best interest to use tools that make your music sound heavier?

Next up we have My Oasis (prod.gangabeats) . This is the track where we can see not only how Gh0stboy is willing to experiment with different sounds/ambience/moods but how he can write a song that is thematically tied into the sound. The first thing right off the bat that you notice with this song is that great western sounding guitar. Well, not really a western guitar, but one that is used so often in media about westerns that we associate that kind of guitar sound with westerns. It’s like Johnny Cash’s albums made with Rick Rubin, while not sounding like a typical Johnny Cash album, all of those albums are still the most Johnny Cash songs ever made. 

Likewise the guitar captures this dry barren feel to it, and then Gh0stboys lyrics about “My Oasis” about having this emotional isolation. All of this works in tandem with that western acoustic guitar, that suggests this hot desert. The electric guitars sound dangerous, and the beat sounds like thunder in the sky. Then there’s the threatening lyrics about those who enter Gh0stboy’s oasis. None of this would work if the music didn’t create such a desolate environment. Change any aspect of the music, and I guarantee the lyrics, as strong as they are, would buckle down from the dark themes that are explored.

So now that we’ve addressed how Gh0stboy can write great lyrics, now we have to see how good he is at delivering them. Bringer Of Light has some of the best vocal performances on this album. Usually when Gh0stboy does falsettos he has that type of voice where you can hear a note off key, or some bizarre phrasing yet it’s so quickly corrected that it becomes a non-issue. Kind of like when you’re listening to some Post-punk, Brit-pop, indie or garage band where vocal virtuosity isn’t the center point but rather the emotion that’s conveyed with the vocals. It’s of course an acquired taste, and the argument could be made that while Ian Curtis couldn’t sing a Freddy Mercury song. Yet at the same time Freddy Mercury would be out of place in a Joy Division song.

With that out of the way, the falsettos in this track are done so incredibly well, and the harsh rap vocals in the beginning mesh beautifully with this smooth, harmonic, falsetto. Everybody notices the loud/quiet dynamic of, say the Pixies, but very few artists experiment with harmony and cacophony. We can say it’s rewarding as a listener to listen to a Pixies song, and hear the quite somber mood evolve into this loud grungy chorus. Yet there’s even a greater reward when an artist makes something that sounds unsettling, and morphs it into something beautiful. Which is exactly what Gh0stboy has accomplished in Bringer Of Light.

Then we get to the 9th song of the album, Number 9 (Prod Rise From The Ashez & Axiom). This is probably the only song I believe in the whole album which kind of failed on its premise. The reason I say this is because the intro is so strong, so emotional, and brings back those nerdy memories of HAL being disabled in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Master’s final speech in Fallout. The reason, personally I find it kind of disappointing is mainly because it would have explored themes that aren’t really present in emo music. While yes, the lyrics fit thematically with the rest of the album. The intro of what sounds to be a dying robots last words, juxtaposed with a heavy rock soundtrack, doesn’t really work for me. It’s one of those things where it either has to be cut out, or further developed.

Better yet, I’ll provide an example to illustrate what I mean. Imagine you’re watching a science fiction movie. The opening scene has this really emotional scene about an astronaut’s robot being disabled. Tears are falling down off the astronauts face. The robot tries to reassure him, and slowly his words fall off into a stream of gibberish, as the robot just repeats his name over and over again. Then BAM! Jumpcut! To an army invading a castle in 1208 and now it’s a historical drama. No matter how well done the science fiction or historical drama of the film is, because there wasn’t a thematic link between them it doesn’t work. There needs to be a theme behind it.

Or in this case since we are talking about music, there needs to be a motif. Some piece of music that carries over between the two parts. While the heavy metal sound of the rest of the track works really well, and Gh0stboy has some fantastic screams. The beginning sets it up for failure. Which is an easy fix, and still deserves praise for the very least being bold enough to experiment with music.

This Fear (prod. NeighbouR Beats) on the other hand succeeds where Number 9 (Prod Rise From The Ashez & Axiom) fails. Not only that, but it shows off how well Gh0stboy can rap. Yeah, I bet I didn’t think you’d expect that. But everything works well here the intro fits perfectly with the rest of the track. The apathetic vocals in the beginning contrast well with the frenzied rapping. The creepy atmosphere of the synths, and 808s. Everything just works, and shows how well a song can sound when it follows through with a single theme. 

This song is also perfect for showing how far emo has come along. With the advent of cloudrap, and the 2020’s soon approaching. Emo eventually is going to be in vogue. With artists like Lil Peep, $UICIDEBOY$, and XXXTentacion emo has infected hip hop. Yet we all have to remember this isn’t about emo becoming rap, or rap becoming emo. Rather it’s artists who are realizing that there are more tools at their disposal. Which is why it’s important to recognize what Gh0stboy is accomplishing in this album.

Now we get to Dog (prod. PENTA) which is 2 minutes of the heaviest, most vicious music I have ever heard. From the guttural screams, heavy distorted screams, and hip hop beat this is the most perfect song to illustrate what I mean by using every tool at your disposal.

Let’s do it like this, say if you as an artist are tasked with making the most aggressive sounding song. How do you do it? What tools do you use? I’m pretty sure that any musician has a thousand different ideas of what they would use. Yet most of the time those ideas are never put into fruition. Why? Because somebody is limited to genre. They’re tied down to their tropes. Yet here is Gh0stboy using every genre, sub-genre, humanely possible to make the most aggressive sounding song humanely imaginable.

Finally we get to Eyes (prod. Ichiban) which has that Yung Lean kind of mysterious intro. Then we get those thudding 808’s, and aggressive almost metal sounding vocals. This is by far the most hard hitting, and yet ethereal track. That combines this melodic dream like synth with harsh vocals and 808s. Yet it’s the most perfect track to end the album on. After all listening to this album, and hearing all of the various influences of different bands, genres, and subgenres. It’s great to hear something so unique, so special, as it’s finale.

Now a lot of what I wrote could seem hyperbolic, after all I am sure there are a thousand emo bands who explored the themes that Gh0stboy has explored. In fact I’m willing to bet that some emo bands even used the same musical genres to express themselves. I’m sure that there was an ambient electronic soundscape of a song in at least one emo bands catalogue. Yet that’s not the point of this review. This review is more about how to approach a genre. How to stay fresh, and to innovate. To keep your music interesting, take it into bold, new, emotional frontiers. As well as knocking down the barriers between genres, which more often or not, limits an artists ability to create.

There’s no other album which does this better than Gh0stboy’s Red Ep.2. As an artist your first, and most important mission in making music should be to express yourself. To do that effectively, and sincerely you need to use every tool at your disposal. A feat which Gh0stboy and his collaborators nailed on the head.

With his ability to give us this expanded world of emo music. I give this album my full recc. Definitely check this out.

First Kings: Exhibit EXE

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https://flamingovapor.bandcamp.com/album/exhibit-exe-2

Have you ever read a great book and thought to yourself, “Man this would make such a great movie?” Only to then destroy that thought because you know Hollywood would fuck it up?

It’s one thing to create a piece of art for another medium. It’s another thing to create a piece of art that is so well made that it would be impossible for any other art form to do it justice. When I read the request for this album, that the songs were originally created as a demo for a video game soundtrack, I was immediately curious. Then after I listened to the album, I thought, “Oh my God this would make a great video game soundtrack.”

To begin with there’s this feeling of childlike wonderment throughout the album. Whether it’s the particular sequence of notes, or the textures of each individual track–everything feels fantastical. When you listen to this album you’re no longer on Earth. In fact you’re no longer in this dimension. You’re immediately transported to something new, exciting, and dynamic.

Then there’s the emotional complexity of each track. Where most songs are emotional roller coasters, this album is an emotional environment. Something so concrete, vivid, and all encompassing that you can almost reach out and touch it. I’ve mentioned many times how music can transport you to other worlds, and this album in particular not only exceeds, but excels in that department.

So when presented with the possibility of this being a video game soundtrack. I imagined the fantastical world it would take place in, a flurry of ideas and new possibilities presented themselves to me. Then I remembered, “The book is almost always better than the movie.”

To illustrate my point we have to go to the first track, Unmade Exegesis. The song starts off with this deep low piano key, which immediately grabs your attention, snaps you out of complacency, and forces you to listen. Then a raspy electronic hum is heard, like the beginning of an electronic thunderstorm. It grows louder, when all of a sudden it’s overtaken by this amazing distorted sounding synth. That sounds so otherworldly, and so alien that it immediately gets the imagination going.

Yet it’s only a hint of what’s to come, a mystery yet to be solved. Like some brave explorer in the depths of some unknown wilderness comes across some strange artifact, a giant foot print of some unknown creature, or some new otherworldly technology.

Then when the heavy bass of the drums starts to kick in. When all the shimmering synths, swirling pads, and mutated choirs sing. It’s only then when you see the scope of the mystery unfold before your eyes. It’s a sense of wonderment and awe, a sense of discovery, and the realization of all the new possibilities–that stirs that excitement in your heart. And this is only the first track.

Next up we have Rampant Wild. This is the track which even if you don’t like video games, don’t like ambient music, or really don’t like anything–that you can’t help but like. This track could work with almost anything. I could imagine that if we were in the 80’s and Kate Bush needed a new single, this would be one of her showstoppers. While at the same time if there was some romantic movie that did a montage of a couple in love it would work perfectly.

It’s an incredibly romantic sounding song. Nearly every synth in this track just oozes this kind of butterflies in your stomach, love at first sight kind of sound. Whether it’s the subtle flute synths in the background, the plucking synth strings, or even that beautiful choir. Everything just screams romance.

It’s at this point where I desperately wanted someone to make this into video game music, and when I also realized that it’s not possible. Well let me retract that. It is possible. Just like it is possible for their to be a movie version of Paradise Lost. Yet it’s when one medium’s strength so completely overshadows another medium’s weakness.

This track doesn’t make you think about love, or look at it objectively. As soon as you hear those synths you are in love. You can feel it, touch it, and see it so vividly and so clearly. You would want any artistic medium that has romance in it to capture those emotions.

And yet when we look to video games, it hasn’t gotten up to snuff. Sure there are plenty of amazing video game relationships. Just like there are plenty of great movies from Hollywood. Yet let’s take any RPG where you can romance one of companions. Does it make you feel like you’re in love? Or are you looking up guides to say the right thing, and seeing if the character is mechanically useful to you? Because let’s face it, if a song sounds as romantic as this, you gotta be delivering on that romance.

Then we get to Interior Versions a soundscape that is so unique, beautiful, and borderline macabre. It’s like the music that would be playing in an underworld lounge. Where all the ghouls, and undead settle down and have a drink. It’s a very specific, and very different interpretation. Yet as I’ve said before this is an album that gets your imagination going. So you gotta forgive me for the liberal interpretations.

The reason I believe it’s able to keep your imagination going wild is that it has the amorphous structure. It appears at points to have a traditional musical structure. Then the track mutates, morphs, and distorts itself into something else.

We can see this in other tracks such as Failed Village, where the synths have this ethereal kind of edge to it. The ethereal nature of the synths gives it a kind of cohesion. Yet this cohesion unravels as the bass is introduced. It feels off as though the bass is playing wrong notes, is out of time, or maybe it’s not even the right instrument. Every instrument introduced after the bass has a musical cohesion. In fact the instruments are not only musically cohesive, they are also structured in a way that makes it sound beautiful. Only to then dissolve into a slowed down musical deconstruction.

Which provides this unique dichotomy. At one point the bass, and musical deconstruction–at the end–creates this sense of unease. Yet there’s these beautiful lush soundscapes. It’s like when you’re a kid and you accidentally watch a rated R movie. At first your terrified because you are told it’s forbidden. That it will give you nightmares. Yet as you watch it, even with the gore, sex, and violence. There is a kind of wonderment to it. An enjoyment out of the macabre.

Then where Failed Village, and Interior Versions is a leisurely stroll down the strange, bizarre, and unfamiliar. In His Museum is a spiritual journey into the unknown.

So how does First Kings accomplish a “Spiritual” sound? Well, we have to look at one particular instrument–the drums. While the beginning starts off with the typical kind of drums you hear on most electronic songs. Then a new drum is introduced. The conga. Now a conga is an interesting instrument. Sped up, it sounds like a Glorida Estefan song. Yet when it’s slowed down, that’s where it gets interesting. That’s where our cultural memory of “Spiritualism” comes into play.

I bet if you were to isolate just the congas alone, and to ask somebody what imagery comes to mind. They’d be saying things like, “Oh, I’m out in the desert in front of a fire. A tribal chief gives me these sacred herbs to eat, and now I’m tripping out.” Okay maybe it’s just me. Yet in our collective unconscious we have this residual memory of this kind of “Spiritualism.” Before organized religion, technology, and even civilization. I guarantee you that during those times they weren’t using Pipe organs to compose their spiritual songs–they were using drums. If you don’t believe me just think of tribes out in the Amazon, untouched by civilization. Are they plugging up the ole strat? Or are they playing on drums? I rest my case.

If you read this blog a lot, I’ve always been fascinated with artists who are able to combine the spiritual, and the technological. It’s that unique combination of synths, and tribal drumming. Except usually when a song invokes those feelings. It’s not with a lush synth soundscape filled with wonderment and awe. Usually there’s some kind of existential threat. Yet not with First Kings, who instead of fearing technological progress, and the reversion back to primitivism–seem to be enjoying it. Not only are they enjoying it, but there’s this sense of wonderment with it. That there’s this new world being created, that just begs you to explore it.

It’s with that sense of wonderment that Curating The Hive which starts off with a sinister synth. It’s so sinister that it made me recall the opening of The Shining.

Now while the opening of The Shining starts off sinister, and ends up being even more sinister. Curating The Hive starts off sinister, and begins to gradually become playful. How does it do that? Well listening to the track, you can hear a sort of eerie kind of synth. A synth wails in the background, this shrill guttural noise. Like the wailing some unknown creature that you’ve never seen before. Then as the synths cheerfully pluck away, bit by bit you realize it’s a creature that you’re not supposed to be afraid of.

That ability to tame a sinister sound into something more playful is an incredible feat to accomplish. Yet it’s that ability to harness in the harsh soundscape into something that has a sense of wonderment is where the true mastery lies. I can’t imagine how many hours it must have taken to precisely create this kind of sound. Yet somehow First Kings is able to layer the synths, arrange the music, and transform the strange into the beautiful.

Then when we get to Becoming Real it’s where you see the synthesis of the strange and the beautiful are fully fleshed out. Where instead of creating an strange sound that gets more tame as the track progresses; First Kings starts right off the bat with the strange and the beautiful. Whether it’s the notes that are being played in a creepy melody, while having this lush beautiful sound. Or a beautiful synth, playing side by side with some strange theramin, that sounds like it’s out of a 1950’s B-movie. It maintains this sense of finding beauty in the strange. Which reminds me of a GOOD Tim Burton film. Where we see strange things. We see ugly things. We see outcasts, social rejects, and monsters. Yet we never see them as being ugly, strange, or as monsters. We see them as endearing, interesting, and even lovable.

Now First Kings doesn’t have Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, a movie studio, cameras, or even a script. Yet somehow First Kings is able to accomplish this seeing beauty in the strange in a few tracks. While Tim Burton (who is undoubtedly incredibly talented when he’s not being a sellout) needs a whole movie to get you to see.

Then we get to the final track Mould Elegy. Which is an appropriate name. It is by far the darkest and most tragic track on the album. When listening to the whole album, I couldn’t help but feel enraptured by this strange new world First Kings had created. It was a place of beauty, and oddities something entirely new to explore. Yet the strange doesn’t transform into something beautiful, rather it dies.

The beginning of the track creates this swirling desolate soundscape, that’s harsh and brutal. The synths that before created a sense of wonderment, and even playfulness now sound like the last bleeps and blurps of a dying machine. If this song was by itself I would praise it for creating such a desolate soundscape. Which it does fantastically. Yet it’s within the context of the whole album that this song has a tragic undertone.

I said earlier that Rampant Wild was the point of the album where I realized that this album wouldn’t work as a video game soundtrack. Yet it’s Mould Elegy where I realized it didn’t need any other art form. The fact that First Kings was able to take me to this emotional landscape, and somehow to create a narrative, without a script, vocals, or associated imagery is mind blowing.

Yet at the same time I would love to see another art form be as creative as First Kings, and to use this album as a muse. That’s because this album begs you to be more imaginative. To see the world through different lens, and it’s just inspiring to hear as an artist. And as someone who makes art themselves, if your album makes me want to make more art, then I am going to have to give this album my full recc. Please check it out!

Palavas: Played

https://wormholeworld.bandcamp.com/album/played

One of the most daunting tasks any artist can take on is making a piece of art that is dreamlike. Dreams are peculiar, on one hand they are a fantastical series of events that could never happen in real life. Yet on the other hand they have to be grounded somewhat in reality, for it to be believable to the dreamer. Ever since Freud’s seminal work Interpretations of Dreams. Artists from nearly every field have been trying to replicate the theories found in that book, into their own artform.

Yet many miss the mark. If you look at a Salvador Dali painting, you aren’t thinking, “Yeah, this is definitely like one of my dreams,” unless you’re a crazy person or Salvador Dali himself. The only medium to get it well done is film. And the artist who succeeds in this far beyond any other filmmaker would be David Lynch. Specifically his film Mulholland Drive. 

Now why do I include this particular scene in a review of an ambient, acoustic singer-songwriter album? Well first we have to break this scene down. In the very beginning the scene is filmed so realistically. There aren’t any filters, music, abstract imagery, everything is within the bounds of reality. In fact if you were to mute it, or change the script this could very well be just a scene about two guys talking over lunch. It’s not until throughout the course of dialogue that you realize this underlying tension in the scene.

The dialogue is incredibly strange. A man is going to a restaurant because he had a dream about it? Then as he describes the dream in these abstract terms, “It’s not day or night, it’s kind of half night you know?” Then the tension begins to build, as parts of his dream are coming true. The atonal music begins to build up, and then you see it. That face. The face that made him come to this Winkie’s in the first place. It’s then where the dreamlike world and reality converge. Where the scene seems less like a guy trying to resolve his bad dreams, and more like the nightmare that was described.

So why bring this up? Well like David Lynch Palavas understands how to capture that dreamlike feeling far better than the majority of musicians who aim for that lofty goal. After all Film has more tools at it’s disposal, it has visuals, it has dialogue, it has ambient noise, it has music, etc. All of these tools are being used perfectly in David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive. Yet Palavas only has his vocals, strings, guitars, some samples, and a synth. But somehow in spite of the clear disadvantage, he somehow creates an album that achieves the exact same effect as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. So now we have to figure out how he does it.

Right off the bat with Eyelids we’re introduced to this airy flute. It’s so realistic, and sounds so organic. So much so that when you’re listening to it with headphones, you could swear that you are hearing it right next to your ears. In fact every instrument sounds so organic, stripped down, and at times lo-fi that you become conscious of the instrumentation.

What I mean by that is, whenever you try to focus on a dream you had, or one that was particularly vivid. You always remember how real it felt you can probably remember how nearly every one of your 5 senses was in overdrive. If you’re in water in your dream, you remember the chill you felt as your body entered the water. If you’re running in your dream, you remember breathing in that fire as you’re gasping for air. It’s all of those details that makes those dreams all the more surprising for you. Which makes it all the more surprising to wake up, and slowly realize that all of those hyper realistic moments in the dreamworld were in fact a dream.

So if the instrumentation seems incredibly organic and fleshed out, then how does Palavas invoke that dreamlike feeling? Well he accomplishes this with his vocals. Which is so bizarre and so daunting of a task. If you were to give any other musician the task of making a dream-like soundscape, nearly every musician would find bizarre instruments, drenched in reverb, atonal sounding, and then sing the song as normally as possible. That would be the go to solution for nearly every artist.

Yet Palavas is not your normal artist. His vocals have this ethereal nature to it, which is difficult in itself to accomplish. Even when the instrumentation is just limited to guitar playing tracks like, Oh Well, In Between, Numb And Blind, You Lose And I Lose, Understand, Real, and You’re So Violent. It still maintains that dreamlike quality, and it’s not from the acoustic guitar playing. If you don’t believe me, try to play an acoustic guitar that sounds dreamlike. Then once you figure out that it’s nearly impossible then you’ll understand how much his vocals carry this album.

I know what you’re thinking, “Well it’s only because Palavas puts his vocals through some sort of effects, and that’s how he does it.” And I would have supported that theory, until I heard You’re So Violent. Which is so stripped down and bare, that it’s shocking to any modern listener to hear. We’re all so used to that slick production polish, that when any song doesn’t have it we’re immediately taken aback. Then add that to the fact that the track still retains that dreamlike quality. It’s at that moment when you understand how talented Palavas is.

Then as mentioned as before, while the instrumentation firmly grounds every track in reality, Palavas also uses ambient noise. The ambient noise is so realistic that it feels like a field recording. Tracks like Real which has that ambient soundscape. Where it sounds like he’s playing in bedroom while children play outside, there’s shuffling around the room, you can even hear rustling of clothes as he re-positions himself. Most “producers” would be ripping their hair out if they heard any of that ambience in their slick DAW processed music. Yet Palavas uses it to his advantage. After all for a dream to be vivid it has to be grounded in reality.

Then there’s the tracks he uses samples for. Take Snow for instance, a song that has that hyper-specific sound of walking in a foot of snow. That unique kind of sound that can only be identified by somebody who has actually walked in snow can recognize. Then the string section propels this trek in the snow, to this feeling of wonderment. That unique and singular feeling of seeing the first fall of snow in the winter. While, yes the instrumentation and vocals do an excellent job of conveying wonderment. It’s the sample of walking in snow that really seals the deal, and provides such an excellent soundscape for a track aptly named Snow. Which for an album released in a scorching summer, is an absolute joy to listen to.

So now that I’ve tackled the ambient sounds, the vocals, and samples that are used in this album. Now it’s time to get to the actual music–more specifically the instrumentation. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, throughout this album there is an incredible organic arrangement of instruments. Whether it’s the beautiful string section in Good that provides this melancholy wistfulness, or the incredibly well produced guitar Oh Well, In Between that calls back some of the greatest guitar parts in The Smiths. Nearly every track has this incredible instrumentation that is so well produced, so perfected, and achieves such a pinpoint accurate emotional response that it’s no surprise that an author made this album.

To see what I mean, we have to look at Vladmir Nabokov one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. And in particular a story of when he was once approached by one of his students. The student wanted to be a writer, and this anecdote in particular that illustrates how Palavas is able to be so detailed in his soundscape.

Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window. ‘What kind of tree is that?’ he asks the student. ‘What?’ ‘What is the name of that tree?’ asks Nabokov. ‘The one outside my window.’ ‘I don’t know,’says the student. ‘You’ll never be a writer.’ says Nabokov.

When writing a book, unlike any other medium, you are not limited in your creativity. If you want to create gargantuan beast, the size of a planet with 10 heads, a body made up of spaghetti, and can turn people into ravioli by singing Frank Sinatra. You can write it. The problem lies in how to communicate that to your readers. Great writers like Tolstory, and Hemingway are experts in using details. Whether it’s a Princess’ quivering downy lip, or the stripped down story of 6 words. A great author is capable of convey complex emotions through his/her use of detail.

Likewise with nearly every instrumental on this album. Everything is produced so well, and each track creates a unique subtle emotional effect. Whether it’s the lack of instrumentation, the tracks that are well produced, how everything is mixed, etc. Every single track fits together so well, like this incredibly complex puzzle where if one piece were to be missing would distort the entire image.

All of this to create a unique dreamworld, something that seems so vividly real. Yet it wouldn’t be a dream, if you didn’t wake up. Up until Yourself, I would describe the dream world of this album to be a pleasant one. One that is emotional, vulnerable, and maybe even nostalgic. Yet it’s one that is incredibly cathartic. Something like resolving some deep seated neurosis in a dream, and waking up refreshed in the morning. Yet it’s in Yourself, that waking up proves to be far worse than being asleep.

Which is why Mullholland Drive is the perfect analogy to this album. The whole entire movie at points is unsettling, it is creepy at times, yet when our protagonist Betty, gets off the plane to L.A. and succeeds in being an actress. There’s this glamour throughout the film. That adolescent dream of getting exposed, and having your art displayed to the masses. Where you show up where you need to be, and everybody immediately recognizes your talent. Then the second half is ugly, that studio polish is removed. The film becomes harsh. Our protagonist isn’t successful in her acting career, personal life, and she isn’t even Betty, her name is Diane. Even the nightmare sequences of the first act, aren’t even remotely as unsettling as the reality we’re presented with.

So with Yourself a song that is so atonal, so unsettling, so harsh, so distorted, that it’s when we wake up from the dream. And with a title of Yourself Palavas shows us that it’s not a nightmare that’s terrifying, it’s our reality that’s terrifying. After all, it’s a common trope in horror movies to say, “This is something out of a nightmare,” when presented with some unfathomable horror. Yet Palavas says to us, “This is something out of my real life,” which makes it all the more existentially terrifying.

The fact that I am able to draw so many comparison’s to other mediums should stand as a testament to how well crafted this album is. After all every artistic medium has it’s shortcomings. For example it’s incredibly difficult to create an atmosphere with a painting the same way you can with video games, music, or movies. Likewise you cannot get as indepth into an individual’s psychology in film as you can in a book. Or you can’t recreate an event as well as you can in music; as you can in a painting, movie, or video games. Yet somehow Palavas somehow manages to do this with pinpoint accuracy.

So with that being said, I would be a fool to not give this album my recc. It is so incredibly well thought out and so well made. His vision is so complete and so concrete that it is nothing short of a miracle that he was able to accomplish in music, what other artists in other mediums struggle to accomplish. Even when they have better tools at their disposal. So please give this album a listen I will guarantee that you will love it.

Pink Dolphin Presents: Scary Monsters (an electronic tribute)

https://pinkdolphinmusic.bandcamp.com/album/pink-dolphin-music-presents-scary-monsters-an-electronic-tribute

When anybody asks me who my favorite musician of all time is, I don’t hesitate to tell them that it’s David Bowie. He was a man who was of his time, ahead of his time, and before his time. Pop musicians before Bowie never really evolved their sound. Yeah sure Ozzy Osbourne’s sound drastically changed when he left Black Sabbath, and had Rand Rhoads as a guitarist. There are probably innumerable examples like that.

But nobody before Bowie, killed a persona at the height of it’s popularity, to pursue something entirely different. Not only would he pursue something different, but each time he changed his sound, he evolved his sound. The best analogy I can make is imagine a martial artist, who is the world’s greatest kick boxer. Who after winning the heavy weight championship of the world, decides to get into Sumo Wrestling. Trains super hard, and becomes the world champion of Sumo Wrestling, then changes to Brazilian Jujitsu. Meanwhile, as he changes from sport to sport he adds his own personal flair to it, adds it to another sport, and BAM he creates something entirely original and destroys the competitors while doing it.

So when any artist is doing a cover of Bowie, we’re also participating in a piece of musical history. That’s mainly because Bowie was the king of being into something “Before it was cool.” There’s so many different genres, artistic influences, cultural references, and soundscapes that it’s only now with the globalized digital world we live in that we can see how the fuck the underground gay scene, mimes, kabuki theater, Pink Floyd, and Andy Warhol can even be synthesized into something entirely new.

With this broad spectrum of musical creativity, an artist has so much to work with. Even in this album, since Bowie used so many different genres techniques, sounds, and influences that any artist doing a cover of Bowie can almost do anything, and still it’s within the realm of possibility for a Bowie song. For example if you ask me to play a Black Sabbath sounding song, I’m not going to bring out a synthesizer. Ask me to play a Kraftwerk sounding song and I’m not going to bust out my ole acoustic guitar. Ask me to make a David Bowie sounding song, and I can literally do anything.

So with that preface, let’s dive in and review this wonderful album. The first song Cyber Monday – It’s No Game (Part One) already starts strong with the very first sample. In Bowie’s original It’s No Game (Part 1) it starts off with what sounds to be a tape recorder, maybe a cassette, or even a Walkman. I don’t know. Mainly because I never grew up using a cassette player. Yet when Cyber Monday uses that old classic internet dial up tone, we already know what it is.

It’s genius because it does two things, one updates a classic, because more people probably remember the internet dial up tone than a cassette player. And two provides a sort of commentary on music itself. We aren’t finding music rummaging through Record stores, we find music by internet streaming services. This kind of meta-commentary is often used by Vaporwave and if you’re going to be covering David Bowie, what’s a better place to start than by using a variety of different genres?

Next we go to the actual musical arrangement of this song. Where instead of using heavy reverbed out guitar, they use these spacious shimmering synths. Which anybody who really has dived into Bowie’s catalog knows how forward thinking he was in regards to synthesizers, and pioneered many of the sounds we take for granted. Using synths to cover guitar based songs can be tacky, if not out right disrespectful, to an original song. Yet this is David Bowie we’re talking about. In South Park it’s a running gag that any idea that’s out there, “The Simpsons already did it.” Which in this case, any musical idea can be answered as, “Bowie already did it.”

So when in the original song, the guitar sounds like it’s hooked up to an amp that is sparking out, short circuited, and on fire. The question is: how you can provide the same type of sound using a synthesizer? Then the next question that has to be asked is: does it sound good? The answer to that is: yes, to both of those questions. The synths take on this razor thin electronic hum that sounds so sharp that it would cut your ear drum. It’s the perfect synth answer to the bizarre guitar tone on the original song, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better synth tone.

Yet there’s something missing in this track that’s not in the original. That is the sample of a Japanese woman speaking. Now when Scary Monsters was released in 1980, hearing a Japanese woman speak on an album would call back to some exotic, mysterious world. Since at that time, unless you were incredibly cultured, or were David Bowie himself, Japan was still an enigma to most Westerners. Now with anime, video games, manga, etc. Japan doesn’t really hold that sense of mystery. I already have some conception of Japan. So listening to it now, it doesn’t provide the same emotional response as it would back in 1980. So when Cyber Monday removes it from their cover. It improves the song for modern listeners.

Because let’s face it, if there was a movie that had a bunch of Indians eating frozen monkey brains it would seem tacky, stereotyped, and not true. But in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was released in 1984, it seemed more believable. Mainly because people were ignorant of India, and it’s in that ignorance that you’re able to feel some sense of exploration into unknown territory. Yet we’re not as ignorant as we were 30 years ago. So when listening to this song now, it’s a great rock track with some Japanese woman speaking for some reason.

So next up is Foreign Technology – Up The Hill Backwards. The original Up The Hill Backwards is a lot more stripped down in terms of bizarre guitar tones. While at the same time is very vocal centered, with a droning organ, heavy hitting drums, and has an incredibly interesting groove. The main takeaway for this track would be, that it is a rock song. You could see almost any rock band covering it, and it would still work in their style. It’s a basic rock song, as much as David Bowie could be considered basic. With this simple foundation, the surprise will be how Foreign Technology utilizes this simple structure, to express their own sound.

So when listening to this track the first thing that you have to notice is the beefed up guitar tones. Then there’s the almost bagpipe sounding synths. Which before the droning organ in the background was so distant you’d swear you were hearing it from another county. You know when a cover is going to be great, when it already sounds ten times larger than the original.

The other thing is that while the original track was stripped down, it provides a lot of opportunity for experimentation. Which is in and of itself exciting, it’s like when you ask a Jazz musician to play their own version of say, Jingle Bells. Each musician’s interpretation of the song is going to sound incredibly different, yet each one is going to be jingle bells. You’re not excited to hear jingle bells, you’re excited to hear the artist play their version of it.

While the intro is hard hitting, beefed up, and sounds gigantic the rest of the track takes on a more spacious quality. Both in terms of sound, and thematically. While Bowie’s original song had the vocals in the forefront, and instrumentation in the back. This song does the complete opposite, and provides an entirely different kind of experimental tone. To begin with, the distorted vocals sound like an Astronaut floating out in space. Combine that with the reverb drenched spacious instrumentation, that constantly shifts, changes, and mutates. Kind of calls back to some sci-fi space exploration into some new unknown world. And what’s a more fitting tribute to the Man Who Fell To Earth?

Next up we have Depussy – Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). The original Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is still as fresh today, as it was the day it released. It’s so entirely bizarre, and thoroughly entertaining. It’s the song that also kind of bridges that gap between Berlin Trilogy Bowie, and “Phil Collins” Bowie. Basically after overcoming drug addiction, experimenting with Kraut rock, electronic, ambient, and world music. All of this to spite his former manager who ripped him off. He needed a way to branch out from the world of experimentation to the popular mainstream. And no song really encapsulates this better than Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps.)

This song in particular, since it is the namesake of the album, has a lot of potential for any artist covering it. Since it is the song, of the album, that transitioned Bowie from Experimental artist to Phil Collins 2.0. There are either two ways to go about it, you can make it more pop friendly, or more experimental.

Or instead you can do what Depussy did, which is make the song live up to it’s name “Scary Monsters.” From the bass thumping Techno beat intro, to the menacing vocal growl, this track lives up to the name “Scary Monsters.” In fact if they ever made a remake of Blade (which I know they won’t because Hollywood sucks) this would be a perfect song for it. This song is so menacing, yet with the upbeat tone of the original song it doesn’t go overboard into edge lord territory. In fact with it’s fast paced hard hitting synths, it provides the track with a lot of energy, and provides action to an upbeat albeit experimental song.

This kind of heart pumping beat provides the song with a pop edge. Because let’s face it, everybody loves a song that pumps them up. There is nobody on Earth who just listens to music to contemplate the nature of existence. Sometimes you just want to let loose, get in a fight, dance at a club, or dunk on some fools who think they’re the next MJ.

So like the original song, while it is experimental, it still retains a pop edge. Though how David Bowie accomplished it, and how Depussy accomplished it are two entirely different means, they still nonetheless accomplished an experimental pop song. So while each version ended up in the same destination, the journey taken was wildly different.

Next up we have Destination – Ashes To Ashes (Destination’s Messed With Major Tom Mix). Ashes to Ashes is one of my all time favorite songs. Ever. I cannot understate how much I love this song. It’s a song that I would always skip, when I first discovered David Bowie. Mainly due to it’s bizarre intro, and the bizarre groove it had. Then there was David Bowie’s fragile vocals. His voice (which at the time) sounded like it was going through puberty. I couldn’t listen to the whole song all the way through. I kept skipping it, over and over again. It wasn’t until a girl I had a crush on started to date another guy that I was finally in the right headspace to listen to the song.

Which really fits in well with the theme of Ashes to Ashes. David Bowie’s first hit was Space Oddity. A song that got him to the top of the pops. Yet a song that almost doomed him to be a one hit wonder. Created during the time of the Apollo moon landing. It was a song about a man, Major Tom, an astronaut who gets launched into space. Who the public admires as a hero, only to then have his communication cut off from the rest of the world, and now drifts helplessly out in the black abyss of space.

Then Bowie defied expectations, became Ziggy Stardust, and became the rock star he longed to be. Then came the drugs, the alcohol, the terrible management, a divorce, sobriety, a different, sound, and now we get to Ashes to Ashes. A song where the heroic astronaut finally is able to get back into communication with the rest of the world. And when he does, the world is horrified to find out that he’s become a junkie. Where the general public doesn’t want to know what shirt he wears, rather they tell their kids that if “You wanna get things done, you better not mess with Major Tom.” A man that fell from grace to become a loser. So when a romantically rejected 16 year old me gave this song a second chance, well you can see why it resonated with me so much.

So with that kind of emotional baggage, Destination has a lot to live up to. The question is, are they able to live up to this epic tragedy? Well obviously I’m writing a review on it, so yes, they are. One of the reasons I passed on the song originally was because of the bassline, and the groove. It fit incredibly well with the theme of the song, that is of drug addiction, and emotional isolation. Everything felt off kilter and as a result you don’t immediately understand the tragic nature of the song during the beginning parts. Destination, on the other hand does an excellent job of setting up the immediate tragedy of the song.

How do they do it? Well it’s mainly due to the instrumentation that they’ve chosen. The plucking bass in the original highlights that kind of false sense of bravado when you’re under the influence. While the electronic keys provide that melancholy sound that the song is themed after. When you combine these two elements, at first listen, they clash together. Which is why I suspect I kept skipping this song when listening to it. Destination on the other hand does something different. They focus on the melancholy keys, distort it, allow it to mutate, and it conveys both inebriation and tragedy very effectively. While the bassline is instead replaced with this synth swirling around your ears.

By utilizing modern techniques of electronic music, Destination is able to convey the melancholy theme of the song in an incredibly effective way. Yet there is one thing that is impossible to do. That is have David Bowie’s vocals. Like I said before, David Bowie’s vocals, when I first listened to the track, turned me off from the track. His vocals were so vulnerable, and it sounded like he was fucked up when he sang about being fucked up. They were so experimental, and he pulled it off so well that it cannot be replaced. They are vocals that each time I listen to them, they resonate more and more with me. Mainly because I’ve matured both as an artist, and as a musician.

Don’t get me wrong I believe that the singer for Destination did a fantastic job. She has a beautiful voice, that is a pure joy to listen to. Yet in this track out of all the tracks in the album, I firmly believe that nobody can surpass Bowie in his vocal performance. It would be like if Hollywood did a remake of The Godfather. No actor would even remotely want any of those roles. Mainly because the shoes that they have to fill are far too large for any actor to fill. Likewise with this song, and Bowie’s experimental approach to his vocals, no singer could ever replicate the depth of emotion that he brought to the track. But I have to hand it to Destination they got closer to capturing the emotional vulnerability of Bowie, than I thought that anybody could.

Yet due to Destination’s strength of being able to effectively use synthesizers, utilizing nearly every tool at their disposal they were able to convey that level of emotion that was in the original. This track is a behemoth, it is so well done, that for any band to convey the complex emotions of the original deserves a listen. This out of all the songs on the track is the most daunting challenge, and Destination did an amazing job. It took a lot of courage to even cover this track, and I have my utmost respect for them as artists. They were Rocky Balboas against an Apollo Creed, and the fact they are able to go the distance and stand on their on two feet, is something to be proud of.

Next up is Dead Amps – Fashion and unless you literally have had no contact with the outside world for 30 years, you’ve undoubtedly heard this song. It’s an incredibly pop sounding song. While yes, it’s still David Bowie, and it still has his unique flair. It’s so popular that there’s a realm of possibilities with the song. To understand what I mean, take Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. It’s an incredibly popular song, yet there’s still a lot that can be done on it. For example, the guitars could be heavier, Ozzy could be replaced with anybody, the guitar solo could be improved, etc. It’s the same principle with this song. Bowie doesn’t have to be singing on it, like with Ashes to Ashes. It’s just a fun song about fashion.

So with that in mind we have to look at how Dead Amps approaches this song. Like I’ve said before it’s a fun song about fashion. So what they really have to do is capture that fun. After all David Bowie wasn’t just a pioneer in music, but in fashion as well. This song while at times is incredibly goofy, is also capturing Bowie’s emotional reaction to one of his favorite past times that is fashion.

So let’s see how they go about this. Instead of the guitar intro, they use a heavy distorted synth. Which works so well for this track. The guitars in the original, while yes they were excellent, they also could be seen as abrasive. Which can be attributed to the specific guitar tone that is used throughout the album. By using a fuzzy distorted synthesizer, the song is able to be more pop sounding, and thus friendlier. And if a song is friendlier, well it’s going to be more fun.

Then there’s the vocals where the track really shines. Like I’ve mentioned before there are some songs where the vocalist can be replaced, and it wouldn’t make a difference, or even improve the song. While Bowie is an excellent vocalist, his vocals are not needed in this track. Yet with Dead Amps female vocals, and particularly the chorus “Turn to the left, Turn to the right.” By double tracking the vocals, and adding a bit of female charm to the track, the track instantly becomes so incredibly fun. Then there’s the fact this is a male song, sung by a female there is a possibility of a duet, while before there was only Bowie. The interaction between male and female vocals works so well for this track. And then just to add even more charm there are the robotic vocals. Which is just the icing on the cake.

All throughout these various synths are used throughout the song, and provides it with such a campy feeling. Then when there is guitar it’s so well produced and does such a great job at providing a funky rhythm section that, I can honestly say that this song is great on it’s own, without the baggage of being a David Bowie cover.

Next up we have Nathan Carlson – Teenage Wildlife. It’s a David Bowie song that looks back to the past. To those 1950’s teenage Americana of getting your own car, and driving Pacific Coast highway. It’s his most nostalgic, and has those 50’s throwback sounds. With the crooning background vocals, old rock rhythm sections, of the 50’s with the perfected guitar tones of 1980. This is the song, where if you don’t like the guitar tone of the album, this is the track that you just have to admit sounds good. It captures that sense of nostalgia that we all falsely have of our teenage lives.

So I highly doubt that Nathan Carlson has the 1950’s as a frame of reference for his teenage years. I know nothing about the guy, but just call it a hunch. Then what would be our version of the 50’s? What genre tropes can we use to invoke those feelings of nostalgia? If only there was a retro genre that captured that wave of emotion of our youths…Oh yeah, retrowave. That was probably the worst sentence I’ve ever written, but you get the idea.

Even if you didn’t grow up in the 80’s, you had parents who listened to 80’s music. We all latch on to certain aspects of it, the synthesizers, the robotic vocals, the electronic bass, etc. If Bowie was alive today he would have remade his song the way that Nathan Carlson has. Because it’s not the particular sounds that makes this song what it is. But it’s the emotions the song invokes. That of nostalgia. For people in Bowie’s age range, it would have been the 50’s. For us it would be the 80’s-90’s. This song excels because it so well captures the 80’s aesthetic. Instead of great guitar tones, it’s great synth tones. Nearly every compliment of the original song can be attributed to this song, except it’s with synths.

Now we’re getting into some interesting territory with, Waffensupermarkt – Scream Like A Baby. The original track is very dramatic. With a nearly campy start, with it’s drama, then it’s spooky synthesizers, and various people’s vocals double tracked. Is a lot like Fashion in that it’s a fun song. All though it’s not because Bowie is really into babies screaming like he is into fashion, but because it’s just a fun campy song. I mean there is a misconception about experimental music. Most people have this image of a tortured soul 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. When in actuality making experimental music is just having a party by yourself, and trying to see how much weird shit you can get away with.

So with a name like Waffensupermarkt what kind of music do you imagine they create? Hip hop? Bebop? Surf Rock? No. You don’t have a name like Waffensupermarkt without being experimental. Like I said before the track has a dramatic beginning, the riddle to this song is how Waffensupermarkt combines the drama, and experimentation into something his own. He beyond exceeds expectations.

The vocals are beyond creepy, and the synths can be so overpowering that they overwhelm you. Yet like I’ve said, making experimental music is incredibly fun. Listening to this track you know that this was probably a joy to make. Each synth is so unique, and something you’ve never heard before in your life, and just when it gets you to a point of familiarity, everything changes. Then you’re back to the experimental playground that Waffensupermarkt has provided.

Yet it’s the ebb in flow of the experimentation where the drama occurs. Where the atonal soundscapes provide the tension rather than Bowie’s dramatic vocals, and composition. By constantly shifting from the familiar to unfamiliar, we as a listener get conflict, resolution, and then more conflict. By embracing the experimental Waffensupermarkt is able to create a song that combines the creativity and forward thinking that Bowie was famous for. And it is definitely not a song for the faint of heart. Yet if you’re like me, make music, or just want to listen to something new. Then this would definitely be the track to checkout.

Now we’re in the homestretch 3 more songs to go. Next up is SutajioWest – Kingdom Come. Now Kingdom Come is another song that I believe is perfect. It’s the song where all the ideas of Scary Monsters come together and get ironed it. If I wanted to introduce someone to this album, this would probably be the song I would show them first. It does the best job at summarizing everything that the album is about. While at the same time, it’s a song that can stand on it’s own. Nearly everything about the track I believe is perfect the guitars, the bass, background vocals, Bowie’s vocals; everything is just perfect.

So now with SutajioWest he doesn’t really have the luxury of being able to create a summation of the cover album. Mainly because it’s a collaborative effort. Yet if there is one theme on this album it would be the creative interpretation of an artist who was renowned for his creativity. With that summation of the album SutajioWest does what this album does best, which is to be creative.

While the original song was very much a refinement of all the ideas that was throughout the album. SutajioWest creates something wildly different, yet somehow it captures the same kind of emotion. The song itself is about a man who has a rough life, either due to economic circumstance, or some emotional turmoil. Who just pleads for Kingdom come, where he no longer has to endure what he’s been put through.

Bowie used the backlog of all the techniques used in the album to convey this kind of quiet desperation, while SutajioWest has a different approach. From the distant vocals that sound so broken down, to the thumping trudging beat, and the synths that seem to never find a resolution, everything in this track paints a bleak picture. Then coupled with the electronic soundscape creates a cold and unwelcoming environment. While Bowie avoids synths during this song, and instead uses guitars, bass, and back up vocals. Bowie’s song sounds far more optimistic. While SutjijoWest’s cover sounds like a cold mechanized walk to the gulag. And what’s more relevant to our modern lives than some cold mechanized environment? Which like previous tracks on this album is a different journey to the same destination.

Now we get to the last song with vocals, Mark LaFountain – Because You’re Young. So with the original the track immediately starts off with some western kind of twangy guitar, and then there’s the glittering synths that flutter in the background. It’s again one of those incredibly upbeat fun songs that leaves the audience demanding an encore. The ending vocals in particular will knock you on your ass. It’s just so well executed, usually when you get to the end of an album, or on the B-side it’s where the creative spark of the artist begins to die. Yet with this song, it still maintains so much potential that it makes you excited to listen to the whole album all over again.

Yet this album is a collaboration, there isn’t any artist fatigue when there’s a collaboration like this. And when you listen to every track you can tell that each and every single artist has poured their everything into it. And Mark LaFountain is no different. While the bass was great in the original track, it’s in this track where the bass really takes off and becomes it’s own. I mean when listening to the original track, I’ve never thought the bass could be improved but God Damn Mark LaFountain has proved me wrong.

Then there’s his vocals. And God Damn this man can sing. Truly if there was a contender for a Bowie vocalist, this guy would be it. Nearly everything in the original has been improved in this track, and I don’t say that lightly. I mean David Bowie was known for being a great Saxophone player and I can imagine him listening to this, and going “Damn I should have played the sax in this song.” Then there’s the synths, guitars, everything is just pure excellence. If Mark LaFountain isn’t on your radar, then you need to readjust your life priorities and listen to this man’s music.

Finally we get to the end of this excellent album, of a collaboration of fantastic musicians with REKKT – It’s No Game (Part Two) [Instrumental]. Now even though the original had vocals, it wouldn’t be insulting to a David Bowie song for their to be an instrumental cover. After all this was a man whose B-side contained some of the greatest instrumentals of all time. And like the rest of the B-sides it departs from the main album by having an almost 50’s feel to it. With great backing vocals, old rock rhythm guitars, etc.

REKKT brings back the abrasive side of Bowie’s album. With a dubstep influence that fits perfectly with the bizarre guitar tones of the rest of the album. With a heavy synth that calls back memories to the Bowie produced Iggy Pop album it’s a great homage, and yet at the same time a great update. There’s one thing to retain an artists music to it’s purist element. But by that time you’re doing nothing more than just being a cover band. Bowie himself was incredibly creative and innovative at nearly every point in his career. By taking such a radical departure from the original source material, and yet at the same time utilizing some aspects that were lost in the source material. REKKT is both departing, and returning, to and from Scary Monsters.

And like I’ve said before this is a creative tribute to the artist who constantly changed his style, look, sound, and image all for the sake of his art. This collaborative effort is both a living monument to Bowie the artist, and to artists everywhere who were inspired by his work. REKKT recognizes this, and by creating an entirely new sound for an old classic, he is honoring Bowie the way he should be honored.

Every single artist on this album should receive nothing short of the highest praise. It takes a lot of balls to do a David Bowie cover. The man never lost his creative edge, and continued creating even when he was battling cancer. Not only did he continue to create but he continued to innovate. So when historians look back at this period of time, Bowie will be seen as something as a Mozart or a Beethoven. Some musical anomaly that happens only once in every generation. An artist who was able to constantly push the boundaries of what it meant to be an artist.

I believe that it’s impossible for any musician to deny David Bowie’s large presence on the music scene. We all have that moment of hero worship when it comes to his vast body of work, and for a group of musicians to create such creative works to honor him is nothing but spectacular.

This is a beautiful album that any Bowie fan should love, and appreciate. It will always remind us of why we fell in love with his music in the first place. And hopefully it will shine a light on the talented artists who did such a great job at honoring a great man. I knew from the moment this album was announced that it was going to be great, and it far exceeded my expectations. You all did a great job, and should be proud of yourselves. You have my sincerest thanks.

And with that I give this album my full recc.

YUNG CHUCK: His whole entire soundcloud page

You know when you’re browsing youtube late at night. You’re watching some minecraft videos, and before you know it you’re watching some freaky shit. Whether it’s pimple popping videos, people acting crazy on police cams, weird schizophrenic streamers, we all have gone down that rabbit hole.

I’ve only touched on youtube, but I believe I’ve found the weird part of soundcloud, and God damn is it amazing. YUNG CHUCK is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. At one point he will floor you with his creativity only to say, “Fuck it, I’m going to throw in random anime samples because why not?” It’s that kind of mystery in an artist that has everybody intrigued, where the thin line of genius and insanity is so razor sharp thin.

Now obviously since I’m not doing a review on an album but instead an entire soundcloud page this is going to be different than most reviews. I’ll mainly just be using songs to illustrate my point.

So let’s begin with weeoweeoweeo first off the name should kind of give you a hint as to what artist he is. Nobody who is trying to “make it” in the conventional sense would ever name their song weeoweeoweeo, unless there is some untapped market of people looking up nonsense song titles. Secondly one of the really interesting parts of YUNG CHUCK is that he will establish such great ideas, only to abandon it, destroy it, or let it devolve into gibberish.

Which is so refreshing to hear. As I’ve said before, yeah sincerity is a great thing to have in music. But if we look to the Kurt Cobain’s, Tupac’s, Jimi Hendrix’s, Jim Morrison’s we’re only going to kill ourselves or get killed. When an artist takes something so personal, and individualistic as music and completely makes a joke out of it, you’re either going to be pissed or laughing your ass off by the sheer audacity of it.

So to begin with this track begins with weeoweeoweeo and then there’s this vicious synth, and these edgy lyrics which you will hear so often on cloudrap. Then he raps about his nipples. It’s at this point where if you don’t get what he’s doing then please invest in my magical healing crystals on Ebay I really really need the cash.

Now the beginning of that song is so well executed (besides the weeoweeoweeo). It sounds so much like that edgelord cloudrap that you hear all the time. That YUNG CHUCK really shows his hand that he is more talented than you would be led to believe. In fact I would place money that he could easily make that kind of edgelord trap music, but the fact he abandons it so easily kind of shows the fragility of that particular music genre.

Nearly every aspect of this song, and nearly every aspect of every other song he does is almost a commentary of the state of underground music. Where anime samples are overused to death, males bragging about some false sense of machismo, edgelords being edgelords, etc. Because as soundcloud artists would like you to believe they’re popping Xanax, shooting cops, and catching up on the latest episode of My Hero Academia. It’s all nonsense, nothing on the internet is real, and yet people will still slop this shit up. Which is why in those song in particular I love the Jimmy Neutron Carl sample, almost so anti everything that soundcloud rap is, that is in and of itself is hilarious.

Now if you don’t believe me that YUNG CHUCK isn’t a talented producer then listen to Harvey Bean (beat)  which sounds so amazing. It’s the kind of song you want experimental hip hop to sound like. The song borders on being a cacophony of noise yet at the same time being so incredibly harmonious. It’s this kind of song where you see what YUNG CHUCK would be if he wasn’t poking fun at soundcloud, or just having fun on soundcloud (I have no idea what his motivations are.) Whether it’s crafted on a DAW or he uses samples, the point remains that it sounds amazing.

The same principle can apply to Achieve Nirvana which has this amazing rock track. Whether it’s sampled, or handmade is irrelevant. Since the does such a great job of switching between genres, beats, vibes, etc. And it all sounds amazing.

Which brings me to my next point. Remember when I wrote that article about Cringe? In that article I wrote that artists will purposefully sound mediocre, and goosestep in line because they’re so afraid that people will ridicule their music. Which is something so incredibly annoying, and draining to music as a whole. Yet YUNG CHUCK is probably the most fearless person I’ve ever seen online in my entire life.

I can’t tell you how many artists I’ve seen take professional headshots, go to photoshoots, pay people money to get “Professional” music videos, and all of it to look “legitimate.” Then there’s YUNG CHUCK in a school girl outfit. Which I love so much. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing someone dump a bucket of ice cold water on a party. Especially when everybody takes themselves so seriously.

Yet what’s truly ironic is that YUNG CHUCK is succeeding more than these wannabe “Professionals.” Why? Well, if you’re in a creative field and you want to be successful, then why don’t you–I dunno–BE CREATIVE!

So with everything his image, to the music he makes, the bizarre lyrics, to the absurd samples. Everything is just a breath of wild and crazy air. That you cannot help but enjoy. And if you don’t enjoy it, then you don’t get it, and you’ll need to reread this whole entire article all over again.

With his unique approach to music, his image, and everything else. I can’t help but give this guy my recc. Check him out, and hopefully you’ll get as much joy out of him as I did.

Meme-Brane: Shriek

So with a name like Meme-brane I kind of expected this album to filled with meme music. Distorted minecraft music, Despacito 2: Electric Boogaloo, the Shrek movie played at .0000003 speed. I was ready to listen to the ear drum melting music of the Zoomer meme generation. Then I saw the cover art. “Hm, maybe there’s something more to this artist,” I thought to myself. And then I listened to it. My jaw dropped down to the floor, and I was blown away.

To begin with it has everything I love in electronic music. It has these bizarre sounds, heavy drums, this cold detached nihilism, layered synths, dirty guitars, etc. When a lot of people say they don’t like electronic music, they usually refer to how artificial it all sounds. That there is no humanity in it aka emotion. And most electronic music sounds like the life has been sucked out of it. This is not the case with Meme-brane. Nearly every track is perfectly arranged, structured, intricate, and meticulously thought out.

So a better comparison for this type of music would be instead of picturing a virtuoso playing a violin in front of a crowd. Imagine an author instead. When you read say, Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, or Tolstoy–you know that every single line that is written was written with a purpose. There isn’t a period, comma, or word that isn’t carefully chosen, poured over, and thought through. Even media that is a collaborative effort such as film, envies the ability of authors to single handedly create their own worlds. The modern electronic music producer has the same ability, and listening to Meme-brane you cannot help but feel that this author has complete mastery over his sound.

To start with this album review we have to go to the beginning. The first song n1 is an incredibly intro, and what caused me to be so excited for this album. It has this distorted Brian Eno-esque synth playing. Which is incredibly minimalist, but which serves the song, and as a result the rest of the album.

It’s like when an author starts with an amazing opener, like let’s say, A Tale of Two Cities starting line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That opening line provides so much mystery. You immediately want to know how something so contradictory could take place. If you read more in-depth you realize that this is an excellent foreshadowing, because you know that there is going to be a lot of drama. There are going to be incredible highs, and incredible lows. You know everything this book is going to be about in the very first line. Yet the enjoyment is to see how the author plays this out.

Likewise with this album with the distorted synth mantra being played, the heartbeat that sounds like the electronic pulse of a machine, the swirling distorted pad in the background, and the shimmering keys that are being played. It sounds more like the birth of an electronic beast. Since I’m at the age where everybody is getting married and having kids, there’s nothing a parent loves than hearing the heartbeat of their unborn child. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me with their phones and made me listen to their unborn child’s heartbeat. Though instead of a child, an electronic album is being born.

This is where the authorship shines through. This is where where we change from reviewing an album, to reviewing a world. A world that Meme-brane has invented, and immediately from the intro we are thrust into this sense of mystery. This is Meme-brane’s version of, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

So with the next track Exponentialism we see the formation of what this electronic birth has brought us. It immediately begins with where n1 left off at. A seamless transition that rewards the listener for listening to the whole album rather than one song. This bizarre little electronic beat limps along. It’s obviously not strong enough on it’s own, and as listeners, we know that something needs to be added to it. The question is what? And the mystery is how Meme-brane is going to add to this track.

So along comes another beat. That just feels a little off. This syncopation adds this feeling of unease. It’s off balance, something isn’t right. We need a resolution, and when we get bizarre vocal samples. We are still not getting much help. If the beginning was an electronic birth, this song is a struggle for survival. For when we do get music that does provide us with a resolution, it’s harsh, brutal, and violent. The synths are heavy, distorted, so sharp they’d cut your eardrum. The samples are so strange, and alien to us that it’s like the ambient sounds of an alien planet. Then there are the guitars that are so heavy, and distorted they’d make Slayer blush. This is not a peaceful resolution to the mystery we were presented with.

This is the music equivalent of man who wakes up and has amnesia, and when he looks into the mirror, fails to recognize the man looking back at him. Then when he returns to his room, he finds a blood trail, follows it, and finds a murdered woman in his bedroom. We as listeners know that this mysterious sound that Meme-brane has provided for us, is not going to be peaceful. There’s going to be conflict, there is going to be harshness, there is going to be drama, and more importantly there is going to be emotion. Something that every person who doesn’t like electronic music, feels that’s missing in electronic music.

Now the scene has been set. We know the general rules of the album, and the next song Exit Strategy compounds on the ideas that were introduced in the prior song. We’re introduced to that same syncopated drum beat, except this time this sinister synth growls in the background. In terms of say a novel, or a movie. This is the part in the act where we get over the initial shock of the mystery presented before us, and now we’re fully enveloped into the world the creator has presented before us.

This sonic soundscape of a world we listen to is as ominous as it is mysterious. The track ebbs and flows, and has that typical dynamics in music. Yet it’s not played out in a stereotyped manner. Usually when a track gets quiet, it’s more meditative, introspective, emotional, melodic, etc. Yet here in Exit strategy. The music is just filled with this ominous sound. It’s bubbling right beneath the surface. You can hear the building tension, as though a rage is building up inside of you. And then when it finally gets loud, it’s abrasive, harsh, confrontational, and overall beautiful.

Next up we have Three Skinny Sisters which starts off with this incredible drum beat. Personally I love variety when it comes to drumming. Sure, the best thing you can do is create a beat that serves the song. Yet when a drummer knows when to use every tool (or drum kit) at their disposal it creates a different kind of mood. That being said, it creates a mood. With the gate-reverb kind of sound, and tom fill ins. It has this 80’s throwback kind of sound. Mix that in with the basslines you got a groove. So now that there’s an electronic groove going on, what do you do next?

Well seeing as Meme-brane has this authorship going on, and given the previous songs, this isn’t going to be a simple groovy song. We’re already immersed into the world they created so with the introduction of this sinister atonal synth. It creates this ominous sound. Which is only more ominous with the introduction of an arp that is so sharp, so vicious, that it gets your blood pumping. Which culminates in this orgasmic fat thick sounding synth, and at the end a chaotic swarm of shrill synths swarm upon your ears. It’s one thing to create a groove, it’s a whole other matter when it’s sinister.

Next we get to (404) Hope Not Found. Which is probably one of the greatest song titles that has ever been created. I kicked myself as soon as I read it for not coming up with it myself. Even looking at the wave points of this track you’re already hinted at the buildup that will transpire. Nearly every song has this excellent crescendo in rising tension, and how to get you pumped up. Yet it’s in this track that I have to mention the pure creativity of Meme-brane’s sound.

As I’ve mentioned earlier the drums on every track is incredibly well done. Each serving the song, and each providing additional emotional context. Yet it’s in this track where you realize the creativity behind each track. The beat is this amalgamation of drums, distorted synth bass, and metallic hi hats. It’s the fusion of these elements which creates this unique sound. Most artists are comfortable in having a few tools at their disposal and using only those tools. In this track you get an understanding that Meme-brane is not only adept at crafting great music, but at the same time exploring the possibilities within each song. You can imagine Meme-brane tinkering on an individual synth, a cymbal, bass, or whatever to achieve that perfect sound. Experimenting, combining each texture to create something of their own.

So while I’m on the point of experimentation. It’s no surprise that this track has some of the most experimental sounds of the whole album. As as soon as you hear the distorted robotic vocals on (404) Hope not found, you can’t help but smile. It’s the kind of sound that as an artist you see all the time (either as a DAW plug in or guitar pedal), you’ve probably tinkered with it, but have never found the use for. Listening to it so well executed in this track, provides that kind of joy when you realize that a door has been opened. That there are more venues for creativity than you’ve realized.

Now as I’ve said, you have to look at this album through the lens of an author. Any great writer can tell you how to make something dark. So I’ll paraphrase George Lucas, it’s easy to make someone cry, all you have to do is to kill a puppy. That’s easy. Yet it’s the dichotomy between dark and light that creates great art. Or in other words, your audience needs a breather. They need something to lighten the load. Usually in film it’s those comedic moments, or maybe just a comfy introspective page in a book. Something that lightens the mood. Which the next track Angel Grinder does perfectly.

The synths have the complex melodic structure. Which given the previous track is an excellent way to settle your audience down. The complexity  offers up an easy way to deescalate the harsh brashness of the previous tracks. While the melody offers up a way to truly lull you into a state of relaxation. Add on to this the soft pads in the background, and you’re already on a new state of chill.

Yet this song is called “Angel Grinder” and we’ve established the Angel. Now we gotta get to the Grinder. There’s this distorted synth, that gets introduced soon after the relaxing synths. It’s not enough to disrupt the peaceful mantra that you’re in, but it’s enough to say it’s not relaxing. Then there’s this ambient noise, a sort of guttural growl of a beat. Which kind of reminds me in those old Survival Horror games, where you find a safe room. There’s always this incredibly chill music that’s being played while at the same time a zombie is staring at you right outside the doorway.

When the beat kicks in, it adds a degree of energy to the track, a sense of momentum. The guttural growl of beat is still audible, but then there’s this clear synth being played, and quickly the guttural groan is gone. Then what is followed is a series of tape loops, glitches, electronic flourishes that pulsate, and flutter around, before finally finishing in this perfect ending.  Where all the sounds die down except for that peaceful pad, that creates the ultimate chill atmosphere.

So after the relaxation that was Angel Grinder, we gotta get up, and the next song for that is Factorial. Which has a lot of energy compared to the previous tracks. Either due to tempo, or simply by the way it sounds. While the tracks previous to it, were this bubbling under the surface viciousness, this track is of pure momentum. This track also has some of the best synth structure I’ve heard in a long time. Every synth is made so well, and sounds so radically different from anything I’ve heard that I could write an entire review on them by themselves.

Then there’s the beat. The beat in this track doesn’t come out until a quarter way through. And when it does, it’s not like the rest of the percussion which is always a little bit off beat. It hits on time, and it hits like a truck. It’s an incredibly bass-y kick, that combined with the clear precise sounding synths, distorted guitars, and deep electronic hums all blend well together to create this really enthusiastic sounding song. Which is an incredible feat since nearly every song prior to this was used to create an ominous, vicious, brutal sound, and yet the same tools are being used to create an incredibly upbeat song. You can’t help but admire Meme-brane after listening to this song, for not creating a unique sound, but creating a unique sound that can create so many different emotions.

Next up we have, ArcheTriptych which has one of the most bizarre intros I’ve ever heard. The beat sounds almost like noise music, as it squeals, mutates, and pulsates through. Then the drum beat starts, and then forms the cacophony into harmony. Which as I’ve mentioned before, is something I truly enjoy. It’s always a joy to hear something, in anybody’s work, that sounds so weird and atonal to then morph into a melody, and it’s always fun to figure out how it’s done. In this track it’s mainly accomplished by anchoring the sound to the drumbeat and then add additional instruments.

Then as the track progresses, as the drums play along, the synths stutter and pause, and the guitar’s power chords surge throughout the track. A bizarro kind of groove begins to emerge. Whereas before when a song had a strong groove it had a sinister quality, this track in particular has such a strange and mysterious sound. It’s almost like the music equivalent of finding Cthulhu. Something so alien and foreign that it defies human imagination. When I say I have never heard of anything like this before that is 100% true, and I believe it’s due to Meme-brane’s background in creating Ambient music.

I’ve reviewed plenty of Ambient albums and ambient albums can have some of the most original ideas. Since by it’s nature it’s not tied down to any musical structure, it instead relies on textures, different kinds of sounds to create different kinds of moods. It’s in this track where you see how because Meme-brane had a background in Ambient music, that Meme-brane is able to create such evocative pieces of music. Even the genres that Meme-brane self titled himself after Synthwave, Industrial, Gothic, Breaks, etc. I can’t think of a single artist that is able to create such unique sounding music.

Finally we get to Veil of the Cryptographer. Which immediately shows the ambient influence. With a swirling electronic ambience, and deep growl of a synth, punctuated by a sharp and precise beat. With 8 songs preceding it, you’d think Meme-brane wouldn’t be able to surprise you, yet you’d be wrong. In nearly every song there are key characteristics that carry through. Key sounds that is unmistakably Meme-brane’s sound. Yet there’s always an introduction of either a new instrument, new arrangement, a new subtraction, sample, etc. That always surprises you. You never know what to expect, and with a song that’s 8 minutes long it defies imagination how Meme-brane is able to keep the creative juices flowing for so long.

The best comparison to make is that it’s like reading about an intense weight lifting program from Arnold Schwarzenegger. You hear about how many hours he poured into the gym, the amount of willpower he poured into being the best bodybuilder, and you sit back in awe thinking to yourself how that’s humanely possible. It’s the same principle with Meme-Brane’s creativity. When after 8 songs, and during an 8 minute long song, that Meme-Brane is still able to remain fresh, creative, you cannot help but admire this superhuman power of creativity that Meme-brane has unleashed onto the world.

This album is by far one of the most unique, and interesting sounds I’ve ever come across, and I implore anybody to check it out. For any artist who has writer’s block, listening to one track of Meme-brane, you’ll be able to come up with a thousand new ideas that you never thought was possible. As I said I came into this album review thinking it was meme music, and came out of it blown away. I still have no idea how Meme-brane was able to pull this off, and with that I give this album my full uncontested Recc. You must check this out.

The New Pollution: Pushing Back

There’s a reason why there seems to be a generation of kids “Born in the wrong generation.” Turn on any Rock station and if it’s not Dad Rock it’s the exact same band you’ve heard a million times. That Nickelback pseudo grunge sound. Where every guitar sounds like pristine sludge, and every vocal sounds like a guy taking a shit.

Rock music used to be the experimental genre. It was the genre that kept pushing boundaries, going to new strange places that you’d never imagine music would go. Yet here we are stuck between, “I couldn’t make it as a poor man” and “There goes my hero.” Ad nauseum until either we, or the radio industry dies.

Yet there’s still hope. Rock music, as Neil Young sang, “Can never die.” Even though it’s stagnating, there are still bands out there pushing boundaries, trying new things, and approaching music with modern sensibilities. And this, ladies and gentleman, is where I introduce The New Pollution.

So to begin with, let’s rewind to the best period of rock music, the 60’s. Every Rock band you look up to in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s etc. All revere the 60’s and there’s a good reason why. It was a period of unprecedented experimentation. A period where the torch was passed from the experimental avant-garde composers of the 50’s to the up and coming rockers of the 60’s. Where tape loops, layered instruments, distorted vocals, genre bending, etc. were the norm.

Yet something happened, and that period of unprecedented growth soon stagnated. As each decade went on rock music became more and more confined. And who better to explain how this happened than Frank Zappa?

This extends to even the micro-level of music blogs, underground music, producers, etc. Where people are afraid to step outside their own little box, because they don’t want to upset the “taste makers” in who actuality know as much as you or I do about music.

So imagine my surprise listening to this band, a band who is completely unafraid to experiment. The first track Pushing Back is an incredible start to an amazing album. To begin with track opens up with this wild buzz saw of a guitar. The kind wild and crazy sound that you would imagine some band in some rough dive bar in the middle of Arizona playing. From just the tone and how treble-y it is, it immediately distinguishes itself from most of indie rock.

Yet what captivated me was what happened next. Usually with such an in your face aesthetic that the guitar tone provides, a band usually sticks within that narrow sound. If this was any other band, there would be this thick fat bass, distorted guitar, lo-fi vocals, and that’s it. And the rest of the album would all sound like that. Maybe there would be an acoustic guitar here and there. But I don’t have to describe it that much, since you already can hear what I’m talking about, because you’ve heard a thousand times.

So now let’s go to where the song deviates from the norm. You can hear this from the vocals. The vocals are drenched in reverb, and this doesn’t fit that kind of dive bar aesthetic I was describing earlier. Yet it does work extremely well with what follows. And what follows is these synth flourishes, you hear it now and then in the beginning. It adds a little quirkiness but doesn’t really change the song. But slowly and surely everything changes. The dive bar becomes this psychedelic journey as the synths take over, and then it’s at that point everything clicks. The reverbed out vocals fit perfectly and now you understand the song.

It reminds me of really great Jazz. Jazz can be a cacophonous nightmare, if the people don’t know what they’re doing. But when you see a really great Jazz Improv, it blows your mind. Because you will hear the most exotic, fresh, and innovate sounds that you’ve heard. This song like really great Jazz Improv has that since of exploration. The synths are so well musically structured, and are so well paced out. Like in a really great jam session when you just know to show off, or to let someone else show off. The sound just gels together and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this was all recorded live. It just has that energy.

Next we get to Pushing Back-Chinese Hackers Remix. This track has a tongue and cheek feel to it. Since it’s titled as the last song, except it’s a Chinese Hackers remix, and it almost sounds nothing like Pushing Back. It’s one thing to experiment, yet it’s another to have fun with it. When people usually think of experimental art, they think of these super intelligent people who have these crazy ideas. Who work super hard to perfect that crazy idea into something that resembles art.

It’s another to listen to someone just have fun and experiment. Better yet imagine a band onstage playing Improv Jazz. The audience is super serious, the band is incredibly serious, pompousness swirls around in the air like cheap cigar smoke. It’s all very tedious. Then imagine, say Metallica, after they play one of their sets, and they’re getting their guitars tuned they decide to play the Pokemon theme song, because why not. Immediately there’s a tonal shift. I want to go listen to that Metallica song, and I don’t want to listen to that jazz improv group. Because one is incredibly fun, and the other is incredibly pompous.

So when I compare, don’t compare The New Pollution to Improv Jazz. What I mean is that they are able to have the musical complexity that you would find in really heady music. Yet the same time it’s with a tongue and cheek feel, and every track just feels so fun and energetic.

From the soulful trumpet that wails in the background, the groove bass and percussion that drive the track forward, the weird little synth and guitar flourishes, and distorted and mutated vocals. Everything about this track is just this fun musical journey. It’s the kind of song that just let’s you be free. When a song has this anything goes kind of experimentation, it carries with it an everything goes kind of attitude. Which I could imagine being absolute hit being played life. Because after all, who doesn’t want to get rid of false pretensions and just let loose?

Finally we get to Sad Pricks. Which has this Joy Division kind of guitar and bass relationship. Where the bass provides the main melody and the guitar has this more rhythmic kind role. Then the song opens up, with this psychedelic organ. Which is immediately reminiscent of 60’s music. This coupled with the double tracked vocals, provides this great throwback. And what a better throwback to experimentation than invoking the 60’s?

Then the chorus kicks in with this beautiful organ, and great guitar panned to the left. It all is just so fun. Then when the track ends it ends with this out of control guitar solo. That just has so much energy, that you can’t help but listen to this album with a smile on your face. Then of course there’s the added bonus that song is literally titled Sad Pricks. Which again is so tongue and cheek you can’t help but like this.

Yet this review isn’t over yet. Usually when reviewing a band I just plugin their music video at the end, and don’t provide much commentary to it. Yet these guys deserve a shoutout for their music video. If you don’t get the music from the album, the music video will definitely clear things up. It’s so fun, so inventive, and so unpretentious that you cannot but help but enjoy it. Like people always say, “I’ll vote for that guy because he’s someone I can sit down and have a beer with.” These guys just look like they’d be a blast to hangout with. It has that youthful exuberance that you can’t help but appreciate. So I implore you to checkout the music video as well. It’s just as great as the album itself.

So obviously with not only an album review, but a music video plugin. I am going to give these guys my full recc. The album is short and sweet, and it’s got charisma. And let’s be real, if you got charisma and you got great music, well you’re going to go far.