El Valerie: I D A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So then combine the music with the lyrics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death and Daddy Issues: MELODRAMA MINUTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take for instance this Fred Armisen bit about Musicians.

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

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

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

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

 

Pretty O.P. : Satisfaction Guaranteed

So I’m going to be honest. I am 100% biased when it comes to this review. This guy has been making back to back masterpieces, and to say that I’ve been unaware of him would be a lie.

Usually whenever you hear underground music, it sounds like it came from the underground. With trained ears you can hear the mic pops, the muddied bass lines, the out of tune vocals, etc. Yet it’s because of its sincerity that we keep coming back to it, again and again. But what if I were to tell you that there was a soundcloud musician out there, whose songs brim with sincerity that sounds so polished, so pristine, and so perfect that it makes every person on soundcloud look like the amateurs that they (and I’m including myself) are?

Now I introduce you to Pretty O.P. a musician who lives up to his name. Where to begin with this song? The first time I ever listened to Pretty O.P. I was blown away by his vocals. He’s got so much range, and it has that quality that everybody loves in a singer which is his ability to emote. They say that the mark of a good singer is his ability to stay in tune, and the mark of a great singer is to stay in tune and emote. This song is no different, yet he introduces so many new elements to his vocals that you cannot help but be amazed by his singing.

Then there’s the musicality of Pretty O.P. the chord progressions, the electronic flourishes, the pitch perfect guitar solo, the ebbs and flow of the track. There is literally hook after hook in this song. In one moment you’re blown away by the acoustic chord progressions, then there’s this psychedelic dubstep sounding synths (a phrase I never thought I would ever write), and then it goes lo-fi with the ambience of children playing over what sounds like a tape recorder.

So you’d think after that one long ass run on sentence that that would be all there is to the track. You’d be wrong. It’s better to listen then to read a review so I implore you to checkout an artist who has been slaying it, track after track.

James 3K: You Make Me Want To Talk About It

Who doesn’t like a song with a nice groove? Nobody. That’s the answer to that rhetorical question.

Immediately the track starts off with this amazing guitar. The kind of guitar that if you were to listen to it on the street, you’d immediately start walking with a swagger. That’s how cool it is. Yet I said this track had a groove, and I’ll be getting to that, but you gotta recognize style when you see it. After all if you wear the flashiest suit on earth, but don’t have the confidence to back it up, then you turn cool to cringe. And nobody likes to cringe.

Nobody can deny the coolness of a track that’s got some groove. Yet it’s how you present it that matters. From the funky bass lines, the heavy synths, the amazing vocals, the gunshot samples–everything just works. Even the guitar at the end with that pitch perfect funky tone. And if you follow this blog you know how much I love a good guitar tone. All of these elements combine with a drum beat in this kaleidoscopic manner–where everything shifts and morphs–while retaining the core funkiness that’s needed for a track to have a nice groove.

Now everybody needs to be cool every once in awhile. Listening to this track is the equivalent of being the bigshot in town, walking down the street, feeling like a million bucks, looking like a million bucks, and who doesn’t like that?

Yet it’s not just about being cool. After all we’re in the underground here, and perhaps it’s hipsterdom, perhaps we’re a bit too clever. But being cool doesn’t really cut it anymore. As I mentioned before the track has this kaleidoscopic type of sound, the sound you won’t often find in the mainstream. While most songs bludgeon you to death with the same notes over and over and over again. This track, has so much variety, in such a short amount of time. It doesn’t become experimental, yet at the same time, you can see James 3K being fairly adept at experimentation.

So it’s not just cool. After all your older brother going to college and coming back home, seems like the coolest thing ever. Then when you find out that everything he says and does is cliched, he’s not as cool as you thought he was. This track has enough individualism, and artistry that it’s impossible for it to be cliched. So as a result the coolness never feels forced, it just permeates throughout the track. Which really is the basis for being cool–just being yourself.

Lo! Peninsula: AKA Lo Peninsula

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https://lopeninsula.bandcamp.com/album/aka-lo-peninsula

There’s always an existential crisis when it comes to music, and musicians. Which is, what is it about me that makes me want to create music? What drives me to do this? Why can’t I just be a music fan? What is it that separates me, from the average person, who just listens to music?

After all it isn’t cheap. The gear, the promotion of your music, the recording studio fees, the amount of time trying to perfect that one take, etc. It’s essentially a large money pit, that requires you to learn as you go, any mistake is costly, and that’s not even the half of it. There’s an extremely high percentage that most people won’t listen to your music, and it’s not even a question of whether your music is good or not. It’s up to fate, and nothing is more existentially terrifying than leaving something up to fate.

So when Lo! Peninsula writes that, “Our debut EP, AKA Lo Peninsula, is a catharsis of the existential crisis that we have been facing since the band was formed. This is our response to all the trials and tribulations that we had endured since we took our baby steps as a band.” Anybody who makes music immediately understands what they mean.

To begin with Lo! Peninsula’s AKA Lo Peninsula is an amazing album. For anybody who says rock n’ roll is dead, or has quit innovating, I would encourage them to listen to this album. The vocals innovate on the best of indie rock. With it’s production makes it sound like not just a rock singer, but like a voice high up in the mountains singing lyrics that peers out to the horizon–that sees all struggling artists–then articulates everything that they’ve been felt and experienced. For example take the lyrics in Quicksand (Nuffin).

“Drowning in quicksand everyday
Locked in a dreamy haze again
Look how we anticipate
A blizzard in the midst of a sunny day
To celebrate our own defeat”

It’s a song that encapsulates that natures of dreamers and artists–who in spite of all odds–strive for something greater. Something that is so exceptionally different from the regular person who is just solely focused on what’s in front of them, that they forget to look up at the stars. Yet as an artist knows, that no matter how long you stare up at the stars, at the end of the day you still need to pay the bills.

The psychedelic guitars even further illustrate this point. Psychedelia was originally started from artists who were pushing boundaries, expanding their consciousness, and changing the status quo. So what better sound is there to encapsulate the archetypal spirit of the artist than psychedelia? The guitar with it’s psychedelic tones, creates a sound that is not only unique but also celebrates everything that preceded it. Take Sleight of Hand with it’s thundering bass, spaced out guitars, and cool laid back drumming. It not only creates music that is expansive, and conceptual but also music that has a groove; a sound that you could dance to, or just listen to in your room. Regardless of which you choose it’s music that you can lose yourself in.

Yet even if you create the best art in the world and nobody listens to it. Take Evil Favours a song that begins with a melancholy sample of a thunderstorm. With a reflective and introspective sound, it asks questions that most artists themselves. Is it all worth it? Lo! Peninsula reflects on these questions that artists often ask of themselves, and provides an answer.

We broke all the rules
To spend a lonely lifetime together
And tiptoeing down memory lane
To find another spark of love to treasure
Should we be counting on evil favours forever?

We sailed across the ocean
To play our parts along and undefeated
And crushing down the castles in the sand
To find another spark of love to treasure
Should we be counting on evil favours forever?

Oftentimes musicians take for granted that we even have the ability to create. Many people waste their whole lives wondering, “What if?” Yet Lo! Peninsula offers us a hand and provides us with the context that so many artists desperately need, that often it’s not the destination that matters, rather, it’s the journey.

Take the only track that does not feature any lyrics, Flashback Kid. With it’s reflective soundscape, and hopeful upbeat tone; it recalls a period in time when every musician picked up that six string guitar and started strumming away. Each section of the song feels like a discovery, of that time when you found a new chord, bought a microphone, recorded your first song, or bought a new guitar pedal; that feeling you get when you can finally start expressing yourself in a way, that words just can’t.

Finally Final Roar brings the album to it’s conclusion. The track has a false start, then you hear what sounds like a cassette being popped out of a cassette player, like a musician reminiscing on his music, the music that failed to provide a living, the music that cost so much, the music that they poured so much of themselves into, only to get nothing in return. Then the music returns with a reinvigorated energy that sounds uplifting and focused. No, they aren’t going to stop. Because like Lo! Peninsula says,

“Because it’s time for the final roar
To be awake forevermore
Well it’s time for the final roar
To be awake forevermore”

Lo! Peninsula created this album as an expression of the existential questions they faced as a band. Yet, this album not only expresses the indomitable spirit of the artist but that of all humanity. That challenges we face when we no longer tread the beaten path, but blaze our own path; and the triumph of the individual overcoming all obstacles in their path.

For it’s amazing psychedelic sounds, celebration of the human spirit, and everything else that this album has to offer, I give it my full recc.