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!

DuffDoes: YESTERDAYWASABLUR

Music is like a drug. For any music lover there seems to be that “one song.” That song that drew a line in the sand, from casual listening, to full on consumption. And while Harmony is the gateway drug, dissonance becomes the hardcore narcotic, that only the most desperate addict seeks out.

While yes, dissonant music is heard everywhere. Hell even Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze has some dissonance to it. Yet there is this thin line between chaos and art. What is pure garbage nonsense to one person, is a prized piece of art to another. Yet for me as a fan of music, and as a critic is not that the sound is dissonant. But rather, what does this dissonance achieve? What is the desired effect? And does the artist achieve this effect?

So it’s my pleasure to introduce DuffDoes, a man who knows how to use dissonance to convey an emotional response in the listener. I mean with a song titled YESTERDAYWASABLUR, we have to ask ourselves: how does DuffDoes achieve the feeling of a hangover? So with that all out of the way let’s nosedive straight into this hangover.

Right off the bat, we hear samples of water pouring. Or as the title suggests alcohol, lean, or whatever else kids are into these days. This sample loops over and over again in the intro. Kind of like when you wake up with a side splitting headache and while “YESTERDAYWASABLUR” the only consistent and immediate thing you know is that you were in fact drinking. That coupled with the reverberated synth, and razor sharp hi hat–does an excellent job in conveying that physical sensation of waking up with a hangover.

Then there’s the actual beat, the 808 kick, bells, clap, and hi hat do an excellent job in tying the whole song together. I mean after all while you maybe going through a hangover at the moment you did have fun while you were fucked up. It’s why every early 20’s something has the great idea that if they drink all the time, then they’ll never have hangovers.

Yet the melody of the song tells us a different story. While the beat ties everything together, the melody does all it can to mutate, transform, and change into this dissonant sound. As though while, yes, the night before was great. This hangover is a little bit different, and one hangover too many. After all burning your hand on a stove the first time is a funny story. Burning your hand on a stove for your whole entire 20’s, and then it’s just sad. Which is why the mutated melody provides this additional, almost tragic subtext to it.

This is a great song for any artist to listen to, just to understand how to use dissonance in an effective way. There are far too many times where it seems like music lovers go for the most obtuse, abrasive, ear piercing, atonal, music humanly possible. Not because it conveys an emotion, theme, or even music but because it’s so “different.” Not only does this track do a great job of conveying the emotion of YESTERDAYWASABLUR but it’s so well produced as well. Everything is crisp, fresh, and sounds absolutely fantastic. Which gives the experimentation of the track a little extra validity. After all, when a professional experiments it’s avant-garde. When an amateur experiments it’s shit. And DuffDoes is no amateur.

So give this track a listen. If you ever want to make that dissonant avant-garde sounding track that you’ve always wanted to make. There’s no better artist to look to then DuffDoes.

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.

RIPPLES IN THE MESH: DECOY

To begin this review, I have to ask a series of questions: Why does everybody like Homer Simpson? Why were the Beatles so big? What’s the appeal of the girl next door? The answer: it’s all attainable.

So when reviewing a docseries about some underground hardcore bands, there’s a whole set of circumstances, group identity, and a whole other slew of problems that pop up. Mainly the scene itself, the musicians involved, the fans, the experience etc. Yet when looking at this, you have to ask yourself is this attainable?

Everything in this docuseries is filmed fantastically. The cinematography was great, the music was outstanding, and there are some parts that do an incredible job at capturing the energy that these bands put out during their live sets. Yet there is a sort of central problem with this docuseries in that because it’s so focused on music, and in particular a music scene it doesn’t capture those little moments that make a scene so great.

For example let me relay a story, I remember I went to some Hip Hop show in San Diego. The show was really boring, I felt incredibly out of place, and the only upside was the fact that my girlfriend at the time was finally twerking on me. Yet it was when the show was over, and we went to an In N’ Out and I saw that everybody at the concert was over there. That it made the whole concert experience really worth it.

It was also when the people who I saw waving their hands up and down, like a scene from 8 Mile humanized. Or more specifically, in my mind I was out of place, I was uncool, I didn’t fit in. Yet here I am now eating In N’ Out and cracking jokes with them. I’ve been to other shows like that, whether it was some local shoegaze band, reggae, metal, country, etc. Each time what struck me most about the experience was actually talking to the people involved with that scene. The weird quirky personalities that you’d never find anywhere else.

I’m sure that anybody who has been to a concert has a similar experience, that it wasn’t particularly the show that blew them away, but the individuals that they met. Which is why, in my wholly subjective solipsistic view point, the docuseries needs a bit more work on.

I can see the passion of the music from the musicians on stage, the audience members, and even how well it’s put together. But I don’t know them as people. What are their fan’s jobs? What made them so passionate about this music? What are the bandmembers like? Can I hangout with them after the show? Can I sit down and have a beer with them?

Which brings me back to Homer Simpson. Everybody who fell in love with the Simpsons fell in love with Homer. Because he was like us. He hated his job, was lazy, overtly emotional, dumb, gluttonous, etc. Everybody can immediately relate to him, because we’re all in the same boat as he’s in. Yet if we take away all of his faults, and flaws he’s a man who has literally been an astronaut, has had every job under the sun, has a nice house, with a great wife, gets paid to do nothing. He’s living the dream.

Which if we bring that down to music, I can’t tell you how many people wish they were able to play guitar. Who were able to make music, but just didn’t have that creative spark. When musicians are playing on a caliber, as the bands mentioned in this docuseries are, it’s hard for the average Joe Schmo to relate.

Now you could argue that, “Doesn’t this mean that musicians shouldn’t aspire to virtuosity? That the dumb masses are too stupid for good music?” Which now I bring up The Beatles.

Which yes, I know is an unfair comparison, yet even if you look at most band interviews you can see a little bit of yourself in them. There are very few bands without personality. Everybody has some endearing quirk about them, even if they are the most depressing band of all time whose leader singer killed himself they still know when to let loose and have fun.

Which finally brings me to my last point the girl next door. Now when Gilligan’s Island came out, everybody thought that the redhead bombshell Ginger Grant would be the sex symbol of the show. Nobody would have predicted that the girl next door Mary Ann Summers would be the sex icon of the show. Now why is that?

Well to illustrate my point it’s because she was more attainable. She was more approachable, she was the girl who would give you a chance to talk to. That maybe if you played your cards right, and were able to say the right things she would fall for you. You didn’t have to be a movie star, millionaire, or Chad Thundercock, you just had to be you, and not fuck that up.

Which when we’re talking about Hardcore music, whether you think it’s hardcore or not. There is going to be some timidity when approaching it. I can read between the lines and see that there is a passionate community, that people are uninhibited when expressing themselves in this community. Yet is it only for “Hardcore” scene people? Can I join in? What the show is after my job, where I have to wear a suit and tie, and I don’t have time to change so I show up in a suite and tie, will I be ridiculed? How inviting is the scene, and the community?

All in all the thing that is lacking in the docuseries is a focus on the people who make the music, people who listen to the music, and the fans of the music. Because I can see quite clearly the passion of the artists and the fans of the community, but I don’t know them as people. Which is the central complaint I have with the docuseries, and which hopefully will be remedied, because I can see a lot of potential with the amount of passion that was on display. I really look forward to this docuseries and I hope that it grows, and that everybody achieves great success.

-𝐹𝒶𝒾𝓇𝓎 𝑅𝒾𝓃𝑔𝓈- Under A Different Moon

If there is one weakness, or bias, I have towards music is that I love a good piano piece. Especially one that is as soft and gentle as the one provided by -𝐹𝒶𝒾𝓇𝓎 𝑅𝒾𝓃𝑔𝓈- an artist who has made one of the most beautiful tracks I’ve heard on soundcloud.

Which shouldn’t be a surprise, judging by the cover art alone. It was that cover art that immediately grabbed my attention. I mean, it’s a bunch of fairy children fighting a bat. Who in their right mind wouldn’t enjoy that. Yet the saying, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” still applies. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen great cover art, only to be greeted by the ear rape of construction sounds. I’m so glad that this is not the case with this song.

The beginning has that Beatles Day in the Life beginning, as the atonal electronic landscape swells up into this beautiful piano piece. The piano is so rich, and so beautiful that it’s so refreshing to hear. With the advent of DAWs being available, either legally or illegally to millions of people, there’s something special about hearing a musician playing a competently well thought out piano piece.

Then there’s the vocals which lull you into this tranquil state of mind. The lyrics paint this melancholy vibe, which just adds more to the ambience of the whole track. Every musician loves that unique period in music, where the stars aligned, and pop music had substance. Whether it was The Beatles Sgt. Pepper, The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Prince’s Purple Rain, Nirvana’s In Utero or even Kanye West’s Life of Pablo (I don’t care, it’s my favorite album of his.)

It’s that moment where the sincerity and rawness of the avant garde meets the pop sensibilities of the masses. Where an emotion that seemed so individualistic, so private, to the artist is expressed, and the rest of the world nods their heads in an agreement that say, “This is what I feel.”

-𝐹𝒶𝒾𝓇𝓎 𝑅𝒾𝓃𝑔𝓈- is that artist. Who is able to express in such a beautiful and elegant way the emotions that at first may seem individualistic, yet are shared by all of us. He is an artist that, I cannot wait to see his growth, because I can see the potential. All that has to happen is for the rest of the world to hear him.

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.

Musicians as Authors: AKA Performance isn’t everything

This will be one of the most controversial posts I’ll make on this page, but it’s an argument that needs to be made. But before I do that, I have a confession to make: I hate going to concerts.

I’ve been uncomfortable in nearly every concert I’ve ever been to. Whether it’s when an all white audience moves their hands in the air, like a scene in 8 Mile. The constant standing, the one drunk dude who tries to fight you if you bump into him, and of course that particular annoyance of idol worship. Where the musician is Holier than thou, and every thing that they say whips the crowd into this amorous frenzy. Even though the object of their desire are at best 10 yards away from you.

Everybody always seems more into the particular artist than I do. Everybody dresses to the nines in weird little get ups for that particular artist, for that particular scene, and you never know whether they do it for appearance or to express some sincere form of fandom. It’s a social event for an individualistic experience, that being, your musical preferences.

Yet it’s weird that music seems to be built around this foundation of expression. Imagine if novels never existed. That in order to to make any work of fiction you had to make a play, act in it, and then be judged on how charismatic you were on stage. Imagine all the great novelists Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Dickens, Lovecraft, etc. If all of their art was considered moot all because they didn’t have a stage presence? That’s idiotic right?

But music is TRADITIONALLY a social event. You had to form a band, get many different people to play many different instruments, you had to actually play live to be heard, you had to tour to promote your album–you get the picture.

Yet times have changed. I literally have an entire electronic orchestra at my fingertips, I don’t need to get other people involved if I don’t want to, in other words I am in a way an author of sonic soundscapes. Which is why when Deadmau5 says all DJs just press play and every single journalist, musical purist, armchair rockstar, all got in arms–seems to me to be completely idiotic.

Say for a moment that was the case, how does that invalidate the art form? He made all of the music, even though he couldn’t physically play it. It would be like somebody reading a book and saying that it was terrible because the author couldn’t build a set to it. It doesn’t make sense. Not only does it not make sense but it also stifles the creativity of an artist.

Now obviously there are cases when a band’s live show does spectacularly well. Where you have to go to see them live just to feel the energy of the crowd, see the amazing special effects and stage props, feel the bass thumping deep in your chest, meet some cool and interesting people. I will begrudgingly admit that to be one of the major benefits to going to a live concert.

Yet at the same time when a show doesn’t have a live show, doesn’t perform, and you only judge them by their music–it can be, for me at least, a much more rewarding experience. You use your own imagination, picture your own fantastical world to explore in, and that’s why for me live concerts always leave something more to be desired. Because let’s face it, the book is almost always better than the movie.

So when I hear up and coming artists struggle with stage fright, have terrible stage presence, and aren’t social butterflies–I always want to tell them that it doesn’t have to be this way. But because in our cultural imagination we have it ingrained that not only must an artist, write, compose, sing, but also perform. Which speaks volumes to the amount of talent to the artists who can do all of these things. Yet at the same time artists should not beat themselves up, if they fail to perform.

We as musicians take so much for granted, we literally can achieve studio quality music from the sanctity of our bedrooms, we don’t have to have record label executives telling us how an album should sound, we don’t have to tour across country to promote our new material, we have complete creative control. And yet we will beat ourselves up for having so much freedom.

So if you are a struggling musician trying to make it big, there are many different avenues for many different types of people. If you don’t have to perform, you don’t have to. If you would rather perform, then by all means go. Yet it has to be known that there are more ways than one to become a successful musician.