El Valerie: I D A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So then combine the music with the lyrics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slave Beaver Revolt: Occulture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lis: donotcross/acetone march

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Meme-Brane: Shriek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dissonance: Ascent

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https://dissonanceband.bandcamp.com/

There’s always that one band.

There seems to be a common theme in music lovers, where in adolescence they loved everything that was blasted on the airwaves. Then one day, all of a sudden, it all changed.

If you were to ask them about that moment it would be like asking a romantic about their first kiss, or an alcoholic their first beer. It’s that band that changes their perspective from music, from that of a bystander to that of a participant. It’s the band that made them change their wardrobe, by new headphones, get a new hairdo, and change their lifestyle. In that moment when everything clicks, when you finally find a band that speaks to you, challenges you, and changes the lens through which you see the world–nothing can ever replace that feeling.

So when reviewing albums, there’s always that romantic notion of the underground. Currently finding great music in the mainstream is like trying to find an oasis in the desert. Yet to find buried treasure you have to go underground. So with great joy, I am pleased to review Dissonance’s Ascent, a musical tour de force with the capability of being that band to someone out there.

The first song, Break Myself is a great introduction to the album. The first thing to notice is how great Dissonance is at blending genres. Musicians have this terrible habit of stampeding to one kind of sound, one kind of style, and then when it’s beat to death, nobody wants anything to do with it. So all the innovation within that genre dies because nobody wants to be associated with it.

For example in this song you can hear traces of EDM, House, Techno etc. In fact you could probably pinpoint the decade, or even the year, in which each sound was popular in electronic music circles. Yet what Dissonance does is incredibly amazing in that each genre is blended together, synthesized, and restructured in a way that makes this album sound so incredibly unique.

Listening to this track, or any other part of this album–you understand the artist’s taste. They stuck their chin up, and embraced electronic music. Whereas other people try to runaway from a certain type of sound. Dissonance is able to evolve that sound in an incredibly unique way. That coupled with the variety of subgenres within each track–creates this electronic music fan’s wet dream of an album.

So that’s just with the electronic aspect of the track, then there’s that late 90’s guitar, beautiful vocal harmonies, and larger than life drums. It’s one thing to embrace all of electronic music, it’s another when you improve electronic music.

What do I mean by improving electronic music? One of my main gripes with a lot of EDM tracks is with the beat. People harp on how important the beat is. There are entire youtube tutorials on how to make the perfect kick, how to program 808’s, the best way to make hi hat triplets, etc. Yet it all sounds so similar, and it’s similar in a way that lends itself to mediocrity.

This isn’t the case with this track. The drums have that stadium rock kind of feel. When I first heard the drums I wasn’t thinking EDM, I was thinking Led Zeppelin. It’s details like this that push the genre forward. It would be like if there was no distorted guitars in Heavy Metal. The music could sound dark, it could sound menacing, but as soon as you introduce some distortion to the sound everything changes. Having these heavy real drum kits pound away is as important to EDM as distortion is to Heavy Metal. It’s one thing to create a beat to dance to, it’s another to create an emotion with a beat (primarily that of aggression). That’s one of the reasons why people don’t like electronic music, because it doesn’t sound human, aka has no emotion. And that’s what separates Dissonance from the kid making tracks on soundcloud.

Then we get to the next song Poison Kiss which continues this musical exploration. This track borders on being pop. In fact I could see this being some kind of mutated pop music. Where Lady Gaga was bathed in radioactive waste and blasted with gamma rays. Instead of getting cancer, she would have superhuman abilities to create really great original music. (Also it should be noted that I actually like Lady Gaga, especially her song Alejandro.)

So what do I mean by this mutated pop? This song has the structure of a pop song. It has the feel of a pop song. Yet there is this musicianship that prevents it from being full on pop. There’s this layer upon layer of synths, subtle guitar tones, and chord progression that’s far more complex than what’s on the radio.

Now this isn’t to detract from the music, or to critique it. The best comparison to make is that it would be like eating a gourmet burger at a restaurant. Everybody knows what a McDonald’s burger tastes like. Yet when you’re at a gourmet restaurant and they offer up a burger. It’s immediately going to pique your interest. Because you want to know: what does a gourmet burger taste like? The same principle applies here, you want to know, given the musicianship of the previous track, what a pop song would sound like through the creative lens of Dissonance. Which is an incredibly rewarding experience to listen to.

Next up we have Murder of Love, which has such a creative intro. It’s the type of intro that as a musician you kick yourself for not thinking of it yourself. Then the rest of this song has this sensual kind of groove. Then the lyrics which paints this kind of doomed romance that most adults find themselves in. That passionate kind of love, which is in equal parts love and hate. You want to get out of the drama, but at the same time the drama reels you back in. These lyrics are so incredibly precise and anybody who has ever been in those kind of relationships, it will immediately resonate with you.

I-I’ve been a victim of your love, like many before
So many before
You- You strangled me with all your charms
I yearn for more

It doesn’t get it any realer than that.

Then when we get to the chorus and this is where another one of Dissonance’s talents shine through. Listening to all of the tracks that preceded it, you get a glimpse of how incredibly talented Dissonance is at vocal harmonies. But it’s in this track that you really understand how well it’s done.

The best comparison I would make is that the vocal harmonies are like George Harrison’s guitar playing. George Harrison is famous for his incredibly precise, and melodic lead guitar. And while he wasn’t the most technical, or the most blues inspired guitarist, his guitar always served the song. It always made the song better. So for vocal harmonies to take on the technicality of a musical instrument, and still retain that simple melodic structure is an incredible feat. If you don’t believe me play a piano chord. Then when you’re done, try to layer your vocals to that piano chord and see how difficult it is.

Next up we have Taste. This song in particular, calls back to a Nine Inch Nails influence. Which isn’t a bad thing. If you don’t like Nine Inch Nails then you are a mouth breathing troglodyte. Yet as great artists, Dissonance manages to make their own unique take on it. Which can be attributed to a more modern sound. Dissonance as I’ve said before isn’t afraid to take pieces and parts of modern electronic music and making it their own.

One example of this would be panning the synths all around your ears, and having this 3 dimensional kind of sound. So while it does have a throwback to a band that was incredibly popular in the 90’s (and is still pretty popular but for the sake of argument, we’re going to be looking at 90’s Nine Inch Nails) it still manages to make it incredibly fresh. By being so progressive and using modern production techniques.

Then we get to Drive which also begins with this crazy creative intro. And it’s also interesting because it starts off so atonal, and so abrasive. It’s one thing to have an abrasive sound, it’s another to warp and bend that abrasiveness into a melody. We as listeners know and trust that Dissonance will resolve this in their music, but the mystery is how they are going to do it.

They accomplish this by anchoring this abrasive sounding synth to the vocal melody and beat. And when they do this, no longer are we talking about abrasiveness, we’re talking about an atmosphere. The sultry vocals and the instrumentation, combined with the abrasive synths create this cool vibe. The abrasiveness creates a sense of danger, while the sultry vocals ooze a degree of coolness. But nothing is cooler than flirting with danger.

I touched on briefly on the vocals, but the vocals throughout the album are incredibly well done. But it’s in this track where the just fit in so perfectly. It’s like when you see an actor in a certain movie role. Like Al Pacino in The Godfather or Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. If you were to replace either actor in the movie/tv show that they were in, it would completely change the entire movie for the worst. Likewise you cannot have this song with any vocals, except for the vocals in this track.

Finally we end on Starstuff a track that is so incredibly fun to listen to. Usually artists do one or two things when ending an album. They either make the last song the most depressing song ever, as sort of a statement on society/their emotional state/political views etc. Or they end it on a high note, a celebration of all that has come before it.

Dissonance chooses the latter and decides to end on a celebratory tone. Which is absolutely perfect for this album. Because this whole entire album is really a love letter to electronic music. It’s a celebration of everything that has come before it, during it, and improves on areas where it is weak. Which takes a certain love and devotion to electronic music to understand it’s flaws and improve upon them. While at the same time embracing what made electronic music resonate with them so much.

The whole entire album can be a “Best of” selection electronic music. But it’s not the synths that sell the album. Though expertly done, it’s the vocals, the beat, the guitar, all of the other elements that are usually in electronic music. That are usually neglected, but here are fully fleshed out, and because they are fleshed make this album such a joy to listen to.

A bad musician always defines themselves to a genre, a mediocre musician defines themselves to what they aren’t, and a great musician defines themselves by who they are. Dissonance understands that they are an electronic music band. Yet they know enough about their own particular strengths to allow them to shine through. Those moments of individuality that really sets the album apart from the rest of the music scene.

And as I have said before great individuals make great art, and it’s when a band makes great art that they become that band. When I said that this group had a potential to be that band. I sincerely meant it. There is enough innovation, and individualism for even the most hardened music cynic to take another look. So I implore anybody who makes music to check these guys out.

And with that, I undeniably give this band my full recc.

boycalledcrow: Emerald

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CD: https://wormholeworld.bandcamp.com/album/emerald

One of the great thing about being a 90’s babies is that we grew up in a golden era. We didn’t recognize it as such, but there’s a reason why there is so much nostalgia for that period. Everything seemed tailor made for us. Then when as we got older, things got more bland. We couldn’t put our finger on it. But we knew something was missing.

Fast forward to today and we consume media to the point we’ve become morbidly obese. And like somebody who is morbidly obese, we consume these empty vacuous pieces of media, not because we enjoy it, but because we are starving. Starving for something more meaningful, starving for something with more soul, starving for something original–you get the idea. So if we wanna figure out how we can be fulfilled–we gotta work for it. Luckily you have me, and luckily there are artists like boycalledcrow.

Now there’s a reason why I bring up “media” in this album review. First off look at the cover art. Then listen to Clouds and Flurt. So what form of media do you recall? Movies? Literature? Plays? Video Games…?

It’s video games.

Now video game music is an incredibly bizarre phenomena. Since the art form is so new, it’s an accident that most of the music that we liked was even likeable in the first place. Plays always had music, ever since the Greeks, there was always some type of music being played. And since movies were originally an extension of theatre, it wasn’t frowned down upon to be a film composer. Even the silent film era, music was an integral part of the medium.

Video game music was basically a cop out. It was for artists who never fulfilled their dreams. Yet our generation lapped it up. Even today look up game soundtracks of the 80’s, 90’s or early 00’s. Look at the amount of views there are. On paper this should not be happening. How could the music of people who couldn’t make it in the music industry be popular? How did they make music that resonated with people with the lack of hardware, instruments, and studio polish of most major label bands?

So now we get to boycalledcrow’s album Emerald. An album that has refined the music of misfits into an art form.

There are 10 tracks on this album, and boycalledcrow somehow figured out 10 different ways to create a feeling of comfiness. Now unless you wake up on a bed of nails, drink bleach to wake you up, and shower in acid–you, like anybody–should love feeling comfy.

To begin the review let’s start at the beginning, Clouds. The first thing you hear and what is a defining part of this album is the ambience. How does boycalledcrow accomplish this? Mainly through his ability to craft these swirling pieces of background ambience. They always have this really melodic structure even though at first listen they don’t appear to be melodic at all. Rather they swirl around a melody, touching it ever so gently, and then dispersing. Which in all actuality, sounds like what vaporwave should sound like, since it’s sound is so ethereal.

Then there’s this pitch perfect kick drum that introduces the next crucial piece of this album. Which are the synths, which as mentioned before has this video game type of aesthetic. While every track carries this aesthetic, it’s hinted at with Clouds and compounded on with Flurt. While yes, the 8-bit synths in Flurt can at times be distorted and morphs into something atonal–it never really loses it comfiness. Mainly as part of the generation who grew up on video games, the synths carry a sense of nostalgia.

Now I don’t believe I’ve ever made any claims on being objective, but personally anything with that 8-bit video game kind of sound has immediately garnered my attention. I say that it carries with it a degree of nostalgia. As it does for the rest of my generation. Yet not for the reasons that you think. You see, even though people born in the 90’s always talk about how great the 90’s were, it’s almost always never what the 90’s were like. Rather it’s what we wished the 90’s was like.

Growing up you’re never fully conscious of the things around you. Everything floats around you, you never really are apart of the experience. Then the things you do experience, become apart of you to so much a degree that you don’t recognize that it’s apart of you. If you sat anybody down and asked them what their favorite games growing up would be, people would rattle off games like Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy 7, etc. None of those games have that characteristic 8-bit sound. Yet ask any “90’s Baby” what they loved about video game music, and you get the same answer the 8-bit synths.

So with just two songs, boycalledcrow has done something really remarkable. He’s created the musical ambience of time traveling back to the 90’s. That time we briefly remember as kids, and the things that emotionally resonated with us. He’s created a sense of familiarity, a sense of coming home. It would be the equivalent of showing our grandparents old adventure serials of the 40’s. Even if they didn’t grow up on them, it still emotionally resonates with them.

Yet as I said before, even though we all say that we grew up on that 8-bit style of synth, it’s almost always never the case. So now we get to the next song on the album Ghost. This is the more authentic version of what “90’s babies” actually grew up listening to. The ambient tape loops, fuzzy bass, crystal clear percussion, and zombie like moans (which sounds like something out of an N64 game) is more or less what we actually grew up with.

The 90’s and 00’s were a transition period where everything became either incredibly sincere, or either incredibly corporate. You had artists like Kurt Cobain who wrote songs about being sad, and showed how sincere he was by shooting himself. Then you had Biggie and Tupac who wrote songs about being gang bangers, and show how sincere they were by getting shot. I know I’m simplifying things for effect but the fact of the matter is we were not apart of that.

I grew up when Brittany Spears and Boy Bands were getting popular, and if you liked them it meant you were a mouth breathing troglodyte. So by complete accident I, and other people of my generation got funneled into video game music. I mean what other options were there? Listen to music that you had to follow with 100% sincerity, and either be thought of as a wrist cutter or gang banger. Or listen to music that everyone thought was shallow and if you enjoyed it you were an idiot for liking it. Either way we had no say in the conversation, but we did have one piece of media we could like. Without any judgement from our peers. Video games.

Since video game soundtracks had a lot of moods to capture. Think of any video game of that period, and think of the different genres they had to pull off whether it’s the creepiness of a Resident Evil, the since of wonderment of The Legend of Zelda, or the melancholy piano of Silent Hill. When I say boycalledcrow sounds a lot like video game soundtracks. It’s not a pejorative. It’s the highest praise you can receive.

Because if we return to Ghost it is musically an incredibly avant garde piece of music on paper. From the repeating tape loops, to the shifting rhythm, and the zombie like moans–if you were to take this to someone who didn’t grow up on video games–it would be incredibly experimental. Yet for millennials it’s impossible not to feel a sense of familiarity, and therefore comfort in the sound. And it’s all due to video games. From the people who couldn’t make it in the music industry, still trying to create good music. So since they were still trying to create good music, they were going to use the tools of the experimental, underground, classical composition, etc. To create the music we grew to love. And why I believe it’s so easy for boycalledcrow to make such emotionally resonate music.

To illustrate this point let’s look at the next song, Distant. With it’s spacious luscious keys, that has this incredible sense of intimacy to it. Which is a pretty difficult task to accomplish. Capturing a sense of warmth and a sense of distance. Before you listen to it, postulate on how you would try to accomplish it. What type of scenario would cause you to feel distance, and yet feel a since of intimacy? Now that you have the scenario–and here’s the tricky part–what would it sound like?

So I’ll give you my take, and then I’ll offer an explanation of how it’s accomplished. It’s like after an incredible first date, when you have dinner and both of you have this incredible chemistry. Then after dinner, you drive her home, work up the courage to kiss her, and on the car ride back you feel this intense sense of intimacy. The person just left and you drive farther and farther away. Yet the connection you had just grows more and more inside you. How boycalledcrow accomplishes this feat is mainly the instrument choice which provides a sense of distance, and then the music structure which has an incredible sense of warmth. Combine these elements together and BAM! You get a song like Distant.

Next up we have Birds. Now Birds is the song I would show anybody to illustrate how great boycalledcrow is at creating melodic synths. The snyths have this heavenly kind of melody to it. From the spacious keys and textures that reverb throughout the background. To the melodic piano and synth arpeggios.

I always praise artists who understand synthesizers. That they’re not like an electric guitar that you can bend, hammer, or spontaneously interject your own flair to. Yes it can be done on synthesizers, but when you’re dealing with electronic music you need to understand music in and of itself. You need to have a bit of an ear for composition, structure, and general music theory. You’re not a rockstar, rather you become a composer. Replace any of the synths on this track with classical instruments and it would still hold it’s own. Yet it’s boycalledcrow’s ability to use the synths at his disposal, and utilize them in a way that creates this wonderful soundscape.

Now we get to Africa, and no it’s not a remake. This track with it’s 8-bit bass, exotic percussion, swirling pads, twinkling mallets, and synth arpeggios doubles down on the nostalgia. As mentioned previously that 8-bit sound always carries emotional weight since it’s always associated with video games. As a millennial video games were the default medium. But then boycalledcrow does something interesting.

He adds these exotic sounding percussion, and twinkling mallets. Which really adds to the child-like sense of wonderment. So what do I mean by that? Well, the percussion like any the percussion in any great song adds a sense of energy to the track. That, and the fact it’s so exotic, or rather has such a unique rhythmic structure which makes it exotic. Then there are the mallets which even further compounds on this since of child-like wonder. It could be because this sound is so often associated with childhood whether it’s from a music box, or a mobile (the thing above a baby’s crib) it all has that same texture.

Then combine that with a name like Africa. Now as an adult when you think of Africa you think of politics, humanitarian issues, social issues, or whatever. But ask a kid what they think of Africa, and 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be about Lions, Giraffes, Zebras, etc. It’s that child like sense of wonderment that what makes this track great. And showcases how boycalledcrow and create 10 different tracks of 10 different kinds of comfy.

Next up we have Butterfly and Vapor. Both are tracks that start off aggressive. Whether it’s the distorted synth arpeggios of Butterfly, or the sharp snare and growling synth of Vapor. Yet as I said before every track on this album is comfy how can something be aggressive yet at the same time be comfy? Well as mentioned before boycalledcrow has an incredible ability to create great pieces of ambience.

This ambience is able to seamlessly morph, fluctuate, and shift. This fluidity is what’s able to temper even the most aggressive of sounds. Yet it’s the juxtaposition of these two sounds which causes a different kind of comfy. It’s the kind of comfiness you get after working long hours, going on an exhaustive vacation, or being in a social setting for a long period of time. While physically taxing, these tasks are nonetheless relaxing. As the case with this song, the music might aggressive, yet at the same time you can still feel an incredible sense of comfort.

Finally we get two the last two songs of the album, Amber and Grid. Amber can serve as the best representation of this album. All of boycalledcrow’s strengths, of creating beautiful melodic pieces, while maintaining this incredible atmosphere are all in splendor glory here. Yet it’s Grid that’s the real show stopper. With it’s more dramatic intro as the kick introduces these spacious keys, hi hats that create this incredible sense of rhythm, and then an orchestral synth that overwhelms you. This song in particular has a larger than life appeal to it, and is the perfect ending to an already great album.

It’s the kind of ending you’d imagine that audiences would cheer for. As the band is about to pack up their things, the audiences demanding an encore, and then the band plays their most epic song. The band plays to an audience wide eyed, and jaw dropped. Then when they’re done, the audience doesn’t demand an encore anymore. Not because they weren’t satisfied, but because they are speechless.

Every millennial looks back in time and we look at how great the media we used to enjoy was. But the fact of the matter is, is that it was great because WE made it great. I highly doubt any CEO would have predicted that a Japanese Cartoon about an alien fighting other aliens over dragon balls that could grant wishes would be a smash hit. But WE made it into a smash hit. Music industry moguls would have never have guessed that video game music would be as enjoyed as much as it is today, yet here we are. And it is only possible because WE made it possible.

boycalledcrow did something amazing with this album. He showed us all the power that we truly had. That WE have the ability to create an oasis out of a desert. We can make great art that captures the things that we held so near and dear to us. So with that ability to create greatness, and a greatness that is unique to our generation, I give this album my full recc.