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Concert Review: Skating Polly at Cat’s Cradle

photo(1)By Mack White

Cat’s Cradle consistently proves itself as one of the best North Carolina music venues in my mind because no matter where you’re standing, you always feel so close to the artists on stage. Last night I saw Skating Polly at the Cradle, and the sheer intensity and energy of their performance ranks among my favorite shows I’ve ever seen at the venue. It was the duo’s first time performing in North Carolina, but they absolutely left their mark at the site and made a serious impression on me that they are welcome back anytime.

A bit of background information for those who don’t know about Skating Polly: they’re the stepsister combo of Kelli Mayo, 13, and Peyton Bighorse, 17. Exhibiting the same musicality of the essential riot grrrl acts of the ‘90s, the two also play songs that have a punk rock and pop element to them. We’ve been spinning them on our station ever since their album, Lost Wonderfuls, dropped in April. If you’re interested to know why we enjoyed it so much, check here, but if you want to know how they bring their energy to live shows, you’re on the right page.

The divisiveness of their songs shows that the duo has an eclectic taste, so I’m not really sure what they first song they played was, but I can one-hundred percent guarantee that I enjoyed it. It set a definite tone for the rest of the night, saying that they were going to play loud and they were going to play fast. The next song was “Carrots,” a standout from their album. Kelli’s vocals rivaled that of the studio track; it is comforting to know they bring the same passion to their live shows and in the recording studio. The chorus was extremely fun to bounce in the crowd to, plus I couldn’t resist singing along with their visual description of the vegetable.

I was unfamiliar with next song, but I became ecstatic when it segued into “Placer,” among my favorites from Lost Wonderfuls. The slow-fast-slow-fast structure of the song was Nirvana or Pixies-esque, but I also couldn’t keep up with the changes in pace because I was trying to dance to it and every time there was a change it proved how incapable I am of dancing in any scenario. Aside from my lack of confidence, the song was perfectly suited for Cat’s Cradle, with the riffs shooting straight out of the speaker and expanding into the minds of the listener.  It made me wish I had gotten to the show earlier because it was definitely a performance I would want to to be in the front row for.

The next one I knew was “Blue Obvious,” our most played song at this station by them. Featuring a catchy harmony by the two, I felt this one exhibited their musicianship the most since at the beginning of the show, Kelli was on lead vocals and guitar while Peyton was on drums providing backup vocals. For this one, they switched parts. Their voices mesh extremely well together and the change up in instrumentation was very different from the other shows I’ve seen at the venue since it happened so naturally. Plus I’ve always enjoyed the line “Maybe I don’t need a doctor after all,” hearing that made my night.

My friend who I attended the show with yelled out the song he wanted to hear next, “Mr. Proper Englishman.” Kelli asked Peyton if she’d be up for it, and to our amazement, they obliged. It felt even faster than the studio recording, and the shrieks canon to the album were brought back at such decibels that could ensure ear damage. It was awesome that they catered the show to fans, a genuine sign that they care about the people attending the show to see them. They ended with a song called “Alabama Movies,” I was unfamiliar with it but I’m hoping we get a studio recording of it soon because it ended with Kelli shredding on the guitar and knocking over the hi-hat. It was totally punk rock in every sense of the word.

The icing on the cake is that Skating Polly were the OPENER for the OPENER. That’s right, there were two other acts after them. We only stayed for Skating Polly, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to follow their act. With a great music skill at a young age, Skating Polly proved in the live sphere that they are here to stay. Hopefully they get the recognition from this tour and can come back around soon as headliners.

Listen to our exclusive interview with Viper the Rapper!

Youll+Cowards+Dont+Even+Smoke+Crack+Youll+Cowards+Dont+Even+Smoke

Today on WSOE we hosted Viper the Rapper. Following a huge online fanbase, Vipermania is catching on and we got to talk with Viper about his favorite music, how he got started in the music industry, how he’s dealing with this sudden success, and much more. Also check out the interview to hear two never before heard tracks, “All This Money” and “Shoestrangs”. If you’re looking for more information on Viper and his music, check out his Twitter and Reverbnation page. You can stream the interview below.

If you want to download the interview, right click here to save it!

 

Concert Review: Neutral Milk Hotel at the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit Festival

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 11.34.47 PMBy Mack White

Even though I was seeing them before my very eyes, I was still in disbelief that it was actually happening. After a fifteen-year hiatus, Neutral Milk Hotel are back together and touring. They headlined Friday night of the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit Festival in Asheville and the show was standing room only in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. There was a line of people waiting outside the venue to be admitted inside, appearing as if every attendee was waiting for their chance at a glimpse of the band. Alongside some of my friends who I knew love Neutral Milk Hotel as much as myself, we were only a few rows away from the band at their first festival appearance of the millennium and the greatest concert I have ever attended.

At the beginning of the show, the lights dimmed. A silhouetted Jeff Mangum walks out and waves to the crowd as the stage becomes illuminated. He picks up his guitar and strums the opening chords to “Two-Headed Boy.” I’ve heard this song easily over a hundred times, but all of a sudden it kicked in that I was seeing Neutral Milk Hotel, and a new intensity was brought to the song that I’ve never experienced. Since it is an acoustic song, it was only Jeff performing. As he belts out the last few lyrics, the remainder of the In the Aeroplane Over the Sea lineup of the band (with some help from a few members of fellow Elephant 6 band Nana Grizol) take the stage. Drummer Jeremy Barnes takes the lead, and after a few drum kicks and cymbal crashes, the band segues into “The Fool.” Scott Spillane directed the energy of the band by letting his horn section take center stage. Every member of the band participated in the instrumental, making it among the peak performances of the night.

Continuing the track listing of Aeroplane, “Holland, 1945” came up next. A punkier version of the song was played, but it came complete with Scott Spillane’s signature horn solo. Barnes was a machine on the drums, keeping the rest of the band in time while Julian Koster bounced around on stage. The song did not end with Jeff saying “okay,” but transitioning into the On Avery Island staple “A Baby for Pree” assured the crowd that everything was going be fine. Originally just Jeff on guitar, the whole band performing added a lo-fi element to the song. The studio version clocks in at under two minutes, but Jeff lead the band in an unexpected jam at the end that transformed the acoustic ballad into electric perfection.

Apparently the crowd hadn’t had enough of the On Avery Island tracks, so the band trashed into a hardcore version of “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone.” Faster than the studio recording, the boys brought an unrivaled energy to this one, Scott swinging his instruments back and forth repeatedly being a highlight. The transition was beautiful, Jeff taking a longer pause so the brass could have an extended solo.  After the song, Mangum told the audience to refrain from taking pictures or video and to enjoy the moment, adding to the mystery of his own mindset.

I went into the concert expecting to hear songs from their two studio albums exclusively, but my favorite surprise of the night was hearing the opening riff to “Everything Is,” the title track of their 1994 EP. Hearing this live was a primal experience, so different from the original with Jeff hitting high notes as opposed to speaking in monotone. Barnes destroyed the drums and Scott abandoned his horns for a guitar and rocked out with the rest of the group. After the song, Koster wanted to thank the Moog company because his organ broke earlier and Moog helped him out instantly and said it was so nice of them.

Jeff picks up his acoustic guitar and strums the first few notes to “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. One” and it’s as if he was a camp counselor and the audience are his campers, locked arms and singing around the campfire. The warmth and brilliance in Mangum’s voice flowed perfectly into parts two and three of the song, and of course, the crowd did not refrain from shrieking out in union, “I love you, Jesus Christ!” Part three especially sounded great with the band together, the track is not complete without Barnes starting out on accordion and then going back to his native drums.

“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” came next, and hearing it live with the singing saw was a spectacle of an event. You normally hear about guitarists shredding or massive drum solos at concerts, but I take comfort in saying that a singing saw solo is among the greatest concert sights I have ever seen. Koster compliments Jeff’s guitar and the light drum and horn sections. Plus the softer tone was continued with the subsequent “Naomi.” The thing that makes Naomi so great is how it keeps building, and the band did not hold anything back. Jeff brought his vocal intensity back for the last chorus and even one billion angels couldn’t hold him down, allowing him to shine.

The haunting “April 8th” came next. Jeff’s delivery of lines such as “Offer up your steps so I can climb” and “Let me hear the rain tap on your street” rivaled the studio version. Jeff even followed through with the partial humming improvisation at the end, resulting in him holding out a note that harmonized with the rest of the band and left the audience stunned. Unfortunately there wasn’t a transition into “Pree-Sisters,” instead the band left the stage except for Jeff. The audience knew what was coming next: “Oh Comely.” Jeff performed a spellbinding version of the fan favorite, with the band joining him back for the last minute of the song. The shrill horn notes, the cryptic lyrical imagery, the song had everything. The only thing missing was Robert Schneider yelling an expletive at the end from another room, which I’m pretty sure a person a couple rows behind me yelled anyway.

After performing a set of slower tunes, “Song Against Sex” came running in next with full force. The horns, the guitar, Jeff’s voice, it was just ecstasy. The crowd was fumbling with the lyrics, understandably, considering the only person who fully understands them was singing it right in front of us on stage. Adding to the list of surprises was a performance of “Ruby Bulbs.” Not even having an official release until a little over a year ago, the song was droned out with Jeff’s voice and it was amazing. But what could make it even more amazing? Having it flow into a chilling performance of “Snow Song Pt. One.” Jeff held notes that were previously muffled into a multi-track recorder where no high quality version existed, and hearing the clarity in his voice is something that leaves me pretty much at a loss for words, so all I’m going to say is that it was awesome. The band set down their equipment and left the stage, but were they done? Of course not.

Jeff picks up the guitar when he comes back and leads the band in “Ghost.” Every member of the band was performing at their peak during the song, even the non-members excelling at great heights. As soon as they finished the song, Neutral Milk Hotel did something that I thought could never happen again: they finished out the greatest album ever recorded, only this time they did it live. I heard the opening notes to “Untitled” and started jumping up and down with the rest of the crowd. The audience was singing the way they thought the song sounds, and the band meshed it with the most beautiful instrumentation of the night. And of course, if you’re going to finish out Aeroplane, it’s not over without “Two Headed-Boy Pt. Two.” Julian segued into the track with the singing saw and Jeff completed the job with maybe his greatest vocal performance of the night. Then once again, just like on the album, he set down his guitar, took a few steps, and it was over.

Except this time, they weren’t done.

Jeff and the band walked out to the audience’s surprise, where Jeff said they were going play some unreleased material. “Ferris Wheel on Fire” was performed with the full band, an arrangement of it that only exists on live bootlegs. Ultimately, the night ended with Jeff going into “Engine,” complete with singing saw and all of the admiration of the crowd. Jeff even said before it that they were going to play a lullaby for the crowd, but it did everything but put us to sleep. We had two false calls, but this time, they were actually finished. They bowed, and just like that, Neutral Milk Hotel had left the building.

The fact that these guys haven’t played together in over fifteen years, yet they managed to put on the best show I’ve ever seen really says something about how skilled they are as musicians. A band as enigmatic as Neutral Milk Hotel transcends time, music, and the lore of the band themselves, but bringing so much energy, passion, and entertainment to a show means so much to the crowd. It’s comforting to see that they still enjoy performing and bring a raw, new intensity to each show. Is this the beginning of a new chapter in the mystery book that is Neutral Milk Hotel? We’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

Album Review: M.I.A. – Matangi

MIA-MATANGI

By Michael Papich

The new Arcade Fire album is a weird, patoisy disappointment! Let’s talk about a surprisingly great album instead!

 

Namely, M.I.A.’s new album, Matangi. It’s quality isn’t surprising because M.I.A. has a reputation as a bad artist. Her breakthrough album, Kala, and the globe-ensnaring song that came from it, “Paper Planes,” threw pop music into disarray. It had ambitious production, instrumentation that borrowed from styles few underground artists even used, and had political lyrics that brought up issues out of the periphery of many British listeners and definitely most Americans.

 

But then her next album, Maya, wasn’t…all that interesting and M.I.A. quickly got wrapped up in a lot of controversy that ended up eclipsing any music she was trying to promote.

 

Now, with Matangi, M.I.A. is throwing another fantastic album into a chaotic year marked by all kinds of surprising albums. From the first two tracks, “Karmageddon” and the title track, Matangi sets a consistent theme of more intense, house-influenced production with quicker, wittier rapping. M.I.A.’s lyricism is more sarcastic and shade-throwing than her previous, knife-to-the-gut style of spitting. Take “Y.A.L.A.,” which matches her clever, boasting lyrics with a sticky, mocking tone. Instead of trying to flat-out cut down listeners, on this album, she is slyly putting enemies in their place.

 

To summarize the production on Matangi, the best way may be to say it was what everyone wanted from the new Major Lazer album. It is a pumped up, at times dubstep influenced, house music hip-hop album. But, it also incorporates the South-East Asian instrumentation M.I.A. is famous for in serious ways that actually contribute to the songs. On Major Lazer’s Free the Universe, house music was sloppily mixed with reggae and dub to create a pandering mess. Of course, Major Lazer’s Switch and Diplo gave plenty of production help to M.I.A.’s Kala and Switch still gave production to almost half of Matangi, so the influence might still be lingering. But on Matangi, M.I.A. still completely blew Major Lazer out of the water.

 

M.I.A. even does reggae-house better than Major Lazer on Matangi, with “Double Bubble Trouble” bringing all of the rhythm and relaxation as a slow drive through an idealized vacation movie set.  Most of Matangi actually has fairly easy to trace musical influences. “aTENTion” (with production help from Julian Assange?) and “Y.A.L.A.” both use British dubstep and electro-rock respectively to a great degree. “Only 1 U” and “Warriors” sound like they’re influenced by the new forays into glitchy, electronic hip-hop used by American artists. And that’s not even touching on the massive house music sound permeating the entire album.

 

The main complaint with Matangi is, weirdly, the presence of “Bad Girls.” Somehow, the reemergence of this song that’s been out for almost two years disrupts the listening experience. And “Bad Girls” isn’t a bad song, but it feels out of place in the fresh Matangi. The production doesn’t fit with the rest of the album either.

 

Matangi serves as a cool, engaging listening experience with no true drop-off of bad area of the album…except for maybe “Know It Ain’t Right.” The production is powerful and textured and M.I.A.’s rapping is as unique as ever. After all the controversy and the disappointment of Maya, M.I.A.’s new album puts her back into the musical discussion strongly and proudly.

Album Review: Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On

Moonface - Julia With Blue Jeans On

By Michael Papich

Spencer Krug has hung up his warlock hat for over three years now, and with that, a surprising array of musical experiments have come forward. The incredibly lush instrumentation of Sunset Rubdown and the focused, rhythmic electro-rock of Wolf Parade brought out a totally new beast in Krug’s current solo effort, Moonface. Earlier Moonface releases saw a bizarre approach to minimalism, with strange electric organs humming on and on while Krug crooned with his signature esoteric lyricism. Then, Moonface’s next big release, With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery, took another side-step, with Krug partnering with a more traditional rock band and putting out an album that was, in many ways, more conventional than even a Wolf Parade release.

 

Now, on Julia With Blue Jeans On, Krug is taking another out-of-left-field approach, this one possibly his most severe: Krug is foregoing everything in favor of just a piano and his voice. As largely unexplored territory (the piano Sunset Rubdown track “Us Ones In Between” still featured smatterings of keyboard, guitar, and drums), it was unclear how well Krug would be able to pull this experiment off.

 

Happily, Julia is an impressive musical adventure. Stylistically, it is a much different experience than other Krug-affiliated albums. Julia is probably his most passive album. The musical medium Krug is using lends itself to the imagery of a man hammering away at a piano and singing loudly to himself on the city streets. Which is not to say that Krug is a plain or blunt pianist. His pieces are all immaculately played and still eccentrically arraigned. “Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark” closes with a quick, expectation diverting flourish of ivory. Much like Krug’s own voice, which easily evokes a wide range of his emotions, the piano on Julia traverses the album’s tones near-effortlessly. The title track is a gradual and well-chiseled build to a grand head. “Barbarian II” begins with crude, avant-garde composition that slowly dissolves into glistening, gentle chords. Not all of the pieces are athletic shows of piano mastery. “Black is Back in Style” is a typical kind of barroom piano tune of loss and personal history.

 

Julia’s main fault, however, is in its lyrics. It’s not that the lyrics are bad, per say. The main issue is that the piano and lyrics sound like they are mixed together, making it difficult to always hear Krug over his playing. And perhaps more listens are needed, but classic, mysterious Krug lines are not jumping out as easily as “You should have been a writer/You should have played guitar/But your face looks like a statue in the dark” did on “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor” from Moonface’s first full-length release, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped. Still, Julia has great spots when it is understandable, like “Everyone will end up talking to the sky/Or looking the elephant in the eye” on the metaphor-thick “Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark” and “Let me take you like a lamb/To the slaughterer with a knife” on “November 2011.”

 

Moonface has been one of Krug’s biggest musical laboratories and Julia With Blue Jeans On is another big step and big success on Krug’s part. The album is surprisingly intricate for such a limited medium and new facets come to light with each listen. Julia is also a much more accessible album for listeners who may not be able to palate Krug’s other, instrumentally eccentric releases. In whole, an intriguing listen, especially for Spencer Krug fans, but likely for music fans of many stripes.

 

 

 

 

 

Album Review: Courtney Barnett – The Double E: A Sea of Split Peas

cbarnettBy Dan Konzman

Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett is getting her introduction to the music scene with her first major release which came out October 15th.  Though is far from perfect, this release is a gripping set of songs that has me on the edge of my seat for whatever she puts out next.  The 25-year-old Barnett gives us The Double E: A Sea of Split Peas, which is – as you should expect – a collection of two earlier-released EPs with equally long-winded titles: I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose.  Barnett’s music is carried by her guitar and nonchalant delivery of her lyrics that gives the impression she’s in the midst of a conversation.  Her songwriting explores the mundane, the everyday, and those thoughts that tend to drift through your head on a lazy day.

The real standout from The Double EP is “Avant Gardener”.  Like most of her songs, the chord progression is nothing you haven’t hear before, but this song is the perfect introduction to her unique vocal style and storytelling.  The atmosphere of this song has a dreamy quality that is made down-to-earth by Barnett’s rhythmic delivery, giving an overall feeling of being half awake on a Sunday morning.  “Avant Gardener” tells the story of Barnett deciding to do a bit of summer gardening to make her house look a touch less like a meth lab.  It’s a hot day and her plans are thwarted by anaphylactic shock.  “I’m having trouble breathin’ in” is the sing-songy refrain, giving the impression Barnett doesn’t much mind this turn of events.

Avant Gardener is followed by two more top-notch songs: “History Eraser” and “David”.  The former is the closest Barnett gets to a love  song, though it is honestly more of a recollection of the events of a date than anything emotional – I guess that’s not her style.  “David” is another example of Barnett’s tendency to shy away form overly exciting topics: this one is about planting a tree.  These two songs, with “Anonymous Club” at the end, round out the first of the two six-song EP that comprise The Double EP.

I feel it may be inappropriate to criticize Barnett’s track order with her insistence that people not consider this double EP an album, but I feel I must.  The first two tracks are among the weakest on the release.  I almost didn’t make it any further into her music, but I sure am glad that I did.  The opening track starts off with piano, which is a bit deceptive considering that every other song focuses upon guitar.  Neither song is bad, in fact I quite like “Don’t Apply Pressure Gently”, but they are no way to set the stage for “Avant Gardener” and the rest of Barnett’s repertoire.

The second EP, however, starts off much more strongly.  This one opens with “Lance Jr.”, which is one of the most interesting songs Barnett shows us.  Trying to characterize the song, “brave” is a word that pops to mind.  The opening remarks on this track are the straightforward admission that “I masturbated to the songs you wrote”.

“Are You Looking After Yourself”, the longest song, comes next and shows us a Barnett that isn’t afraid to explore her voice a bit more.  This track has her coming closer to traditional singing than any of her other songs and highlights her aversion to traditional ideas of success: “I don’t need no nine to five telling me that I’m alive.”  There is also much wider use of electric guitar on this track that is continued for much of this EP.

“Scotty Says”  and “Canned Tomatoes (Whole)” come next and they build upon what “Are You Looking After Yourself” starts.  They each have their own mood, but both have great use of guitar and really pull the listener in.

Courtney Barnett has given quite the breakout performance with this release. Not expecting much when I gave it my first listen, I quickly fell in love with the songs she wrote (no, I didn’t masturbate to them).  Since my main complaint with this release is continuity and track order, I am excited to hear an album once she puts one out.  He writing and delivery are very unique and worth getting familiar with. I’m proud to say The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas is one of the best things I’ve listened to this year.

Album Review: of Montreal – Lousy with Sylvianbriar

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By Dan Konzman

of Montreal is back with another album and this time it is something to get excited about!  Lousy with Sylvianbriar is the twelfth album from this psychedelic pop group, making it the latest chapter in their 17-year history.  This album is a harkening to the band’s early days and is certainly their strongest since 2007’s Hissing Fauna, are You the Destroyer? The three albums between these two weren’t exactly bad, but they were a departure from what of Montreal does best, which is in-your-face psychedelic freak-out, with a good helping of raunchiness.

Syvianbriar is a return to a bit of the chaos and variability that makes of Montreal such a fun band to listen to.  The album’s first track, “Fugitive Air”, sets the stage well.  The opening chords of the song slide into frame like a movie star with only his socks on.  The song goes on to be a fun and catchy song standout for the album.

From here, lead singer Kevin Barnes shows off the diversity he’s bringing to the table with this record.  “Obsidian Currents” takes on a slower and darker tone that recurs throughout the album on tracks such as “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” and “Amphibian Days”.

At times, Sylvianbriar can be quite deceptive as to the direction it is bringing you in.  For example: “She Ain’t Speakin’ Now” starts off with a relaxing verse that makes you find a slightly more comfortable position in your chair.  Then, suddenly the façade breaks and you find yourself in the midst of the funky groove you should have been expecting from Barnes all along.  This song ends up being on of the album’s strongest and really shows off the dynamics and contrasts that of Montreal loves to incorporate into their music.

The record’s third song, “Belle Glade Missionaries” sets up a prevailing theme of the album: fun, happy-sounding songs with a dark message.  The funky beat of this tune is undercut by the cheerfully delivered refrain, “they’re letting kids get blown up in their schools today so they can get them back to their factories.”  A song later in the album, “Colossus”, furthers this.  The song opens introducing that someone’s mother committed suicide  while pregnant and asks them to consider the sister they never had.

“Triumph of Disintegration” is one of the Barnes’s most well-constructed  songs from this release.  Electric guitar riffs make this a good bit rockier than much of the album, but it is Barnes’s vocals that make this song soar.  The chorus highlights his voice and allows for him to present a gripping melody unlike anything else on the album.  Though far from the catchiest track – the album is full of them – this is certainly a song that demands attention.

Second to last comes “Raindrop in My Skull” which brings a somber, emotional tone to the end of Sylvianbriar.  With this song, the band’s newest addition, Rebecca Cash takes the lead and she delivers!  Cash’s tender voice brings you to a more beautiful place than you’ve been though this album.  Violin, tambourine, and melodic guitar come together to form the ideal atmosphere for her to really shine.  With slide guitar incorporated that reminds the listener of the album’s opening track, it is almost surprising that this isn’t the album’s finale.  It is certainly deserving of the spot.  Not to say the album’s true closer is a bad song, it just isn’t nearly as fitting as Cash’s lovely tune would have been.

Overall, I can’t overstate how pleased I was with this album.  With what I heard from the last three albums, I was apprehensive to say the least.  But I am glad to say that my fears about of Montreal’s future have been alleviated thanks to Lousy with Sylvianbriar.  Upon repeated listens, this has quickly become one of my favorites of Montreal has ever put out.  With a return to many of the elements from their early years tempered with the band’s maturity, Lousy with Sylvianbriar is not only a step in the right direction, but one of the best releases from of Montreal.

Album Review: Andrew Jackson Jihad – Live at the Crescent Ballroom

ANDREW-JACKSON-JIHAD-guns-portrait-e1332449467350By Mack White

The boys are back in town. Live at the Crescent Ballroom is the latest release of your favorite folk-punk rockers Andrew Jackson Jihad, a recording of a high-energy concert in their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. Loaded with amps and bombshells, the boys never play the same song twice, offering different arrangements for almost every song. The album introduces new content by the duo, but also delivers the tunes that the fans crave that could only come from the minds of Sean and Ben themselves.

They open their set with an ironic one, “We Didn’t Come Here to Rock,” considering hearing so many of their songs with electric guitars and drums as opposed to their standard acoustic guitar and standup bass is refreshing. It allows for a more concert-oriented sound and provides the listener with eagerness to wonder how the many songs of Andrew Jackson Jihad will be altered for this heavier environment. Their opener and the following “Distance” both have Ben louder than the studio recordings, exhibiting the vocal chemistry between the two of them. The songs at the beginning are a great preview that this is not the AJJ you’re used to hearing.

A new song, “Inner City Basehead History Teacher,” followed the vein of many songs on their most recent studio album, Knife Man. Pretty much an audible political cartoon, the song focuses on the drug use of many students in impoverished areas and how the teachers can’t help them since they’re high too. It features a lot of exaggeration for a song that clocks in at barely over a minute, but that’s part of the irresistible charm of Sean and Ben.

“Sad Songs (Intermission)” wasn’t much of a break as the title implies. Instead of having the rockabilly and western sound featured on Knife Man, it was more of a punk song featuring a straining Sean on vocals. The normal player piano riff was played on guitar, which brought a new, tighter atmosphere to the track. Just one of the many surprises featured on their live record.

Even though the only consistent members of Andrew Jackson Jihad are Sean and Ben, they didn’t hesitate to bring out some of their friends from back home. Having a full band called for a new version of “I Am So Mad at You,” featuring a groovier, disco hook for the opening guitar licks. They also utilized the band extremely well for the presentation of their new song, “Kokopelli Face Tattoo.” It’s a song that has a recognizably hateful vibe, but even if you don’t pay attention the lyrics, you can appreciate the fact that Sean and Ben clearly comprehend how to make a song that’s love at first listen. It absolutely makes the listener curious as to how the studio version of the track will sound.

An underappreciated feature of live albums is the banter before songs. Even the great live performers like Springsteen can be mundane when talking to the audience, luckily AJJ are funny and genuinely interested in what the audience has to say. Talking about all the hardship including hurricanes, destroyed cars, and broken limbs they’ve experienced on the tour, the band always seems to keep it relevant and segue well into the upcoming song.

A track like “People II: The Reckoning” may have been better if they kept it similar to the studio version. It’s a cleverly written a song that blatantly attacks your insecurities, so it fits with the toned down instrumentation since the main focus is the message. The full band somewhat distracts from that, but the blues feeling this version exhumes is still worth a listen.

Hearing the opening chords to “Bad Bad Things” is among the most powerful parts of the album. Backed by a mandolin, the chorus is extremely loud and the crowd feels obligated to sing along. If the song couldn’t sound any deadlier, the live performance is even faster and more intense than the previous versions. Sean belts it out vocally, a presentation pretty much unrivaled until the end of the album.

Andrew Jackson Jihad definitely knows how to balance an album, whether it’s in the studio or in front of an audience. Taking a break from the heavier side of things, “Back Pack” comes along and, even though appearing as relaxing, has the sinister underlying theme that the duo strives on. The chorus sounds different without the high pitched backing vocals, but Ben is a worthy replacement for the refrain.

The last unreleased song they played was “#Armageddon.” Discussing current obsessions in the world that are frequently looked down upon, mainly social media, the song has pop culture references and, as always, some hidden truths disguised through violent imagery. Even though the boys discuss some disgusting topics (specifically murder, abortion, and countless other things you’re not used to hearing about), Sean has a way to get his point across and in that sense is a very underrated lyricist.

A novelty song of sorts, mainly since it doesn’t sound like anything the band has ever done before, “A Song Dedicated to the Memory of Stormy the Rabbit” features a guitar to cover the percussion part standard for the tune. Still invoking the same mysterious and haunting aura that the studio produces, the live rarity is full of all the alliteration and wild transitions a fan of AJJ could ask for. Their albums are so well constructed it’s difficult to imagine other compositions of the songs challenging them, but this version of “Stormy” is definitely a contender.

The album ends with none other than “Big Bird,” Sean’s greatest vocal performance on any of their studio records and, you guessed it, the strongest vocals of the entire live album. Building up until the tipping point, the entire band performs at their peak, displaying the rawness of their music while not obscuring Sean’s singing and vivid lyrical imagery. The song is longer than most of their normal material, but it’s fitting since it’s anything but normal. Odd structure and weird composition only allow the band to go up and end the album on a great note. It’s noble that Sean and Ben don’t hold anything back for their live performances, exhibiting the same enthusiasm you hear on their studio work.

Apparently the show actually ended with a cover of “Where Is My Mind?” by Pixies, but the boys didn’t have permission to put it on the album. It would’ve been a great addition, but a finale like “Big Bird” is more suitable since it encompasses everything the band works towards and leaves the listener destroyed and broken in the best way. Live at the Crescent Ballroom is enjoyable if you’re a fan of folk, punk, or pretty much music in general. Andrew Jackson Jihad are fun and put on an unconventional show that spans across their whole career. The duo allows the listener to be part of the experience, whether you were in attendance or not.

David Bowie: A Catalog Assessment

David Bowie is one of the most widely known rock musicians in the canon and has had a major hand in popular music since the early 70s. And yet, nearly everyone you typically talk to about Bowie’s music will only have a few words to say about him. Whether it’s rock-heads who say that Ziggy Stardust is one of the best albums to 80s babies who like to sing along to “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” to hipsters who can’t be restrained in their adoration of albums like Low or Station to Station.

But with a catalog as long, diverse, and plainly good as David Bowie’s, these quick, focused adorations do not do it service. So, let’s do our best to set the record on Bowie’s career with an overview of the man’s career over the last third of the 20th Century.

 

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Self-Titled Album: Your Dad’s Hilarious Prom Photo

 Every true Bowie fan will, at one point, get curious about that very first album he put out and want to see where it all began. This may or may not be a good idea, depending on your perspective. What you get is a full album of bizarre, British-invasion pop music. Very flowery, very cheeky, and of course, very cheesy. But, it’s hard to call these songs “bad.” In the way that many early Beatles albums are cheesy but still somewhat beloved, the titular Bowie album works in such a way. Songs like “Rubber Band” and “She’s Got Medals” are enjoyable and I’ve still got friends who love to bring out “The Laughing Gnome” and giggle along to the ridiculous tune. In general, the self-titled album can be a fun look at where such a massive artist began, especially if you snicker “oh no” through a clenched smile.

 

Hunky Dory: The Most Underrated Overrated Album

 Hunky Dory is a great album. It really is. And it doesn’t get much of the attention it deserves in Bowie’s catalog. But it also has several flaws that need to be addressed immediately. First and foremost, “Changes” is a horrible song and its popularity is baffling. Hunky Dory has many good spots, but there are plenty of pretty cheesy songs. If the self-titled album was Bowie’s Beatles for Sale, Hunky Dory is his Revolver. Some goofy bits, but the clear beginning of great music. “Life on Mars?,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” and “Queen Bitch” push Bowie into his more lyrical direction and start to show the stripped down instrumentation that would follow into his next few albums. And he still remained experimental with odd songs like “Quicksand” and “Andy Warhol.” It is certainly not as sophisticated as many fans claim, but it was a clear, strong step in the right direction.

 

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the rest of the long album name

Yes, the one people usually know! I prefaced this article half-complaining that less savvy Bowie fans usually point to this as his best album, but…they’re kind of right. Ziggy Stardust is one of his most consistent and interesting albums. The concept is relatively easy to follow, the hard-rocking parts flow in and out in a way that makes sense, his lyricism is in display throughout nearly every track. The quality of every song is hard to argue. And here, we see the beginning of the “funky” Bowie sound that’s so present throughout his career. “Hold On To Yourself” and “Suffragette City” have a magical rhythm about them and tracks like “Moonage Daydream” and “Ziggy Stardust” have this inherent motion about them. And that’s not to underscore lesser-known songs. “Soul Love” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” are some of Bowie’s most gorgeous songs and “Star” a consistently overlooked great, weird rock tune. As an album, Ziggy Stardust serves as a sterling flagship in Bowie’s career.

 

Diamond Dogs: The Real Best Album?

Imagine an album with all of the hard-rocking elements of Ziggy Stardust, but then carried over throughout an entire album. That’s Diamond Dogs. The title track is an anthemic, grimy rock track, “1984” is a perfect example of what disco got right, and “Big Brother” is a darkly poetic song that’s hard to pin down. And, of course, everyone gets a little excited when the guitar melody to “Rebel Rebel” first comes in. Diamond Dogs also shows the beginnings of Bowie’s most experimental composing, with the “Sweet Thing” and “Candidate” medley, which serves as a long, perfect mix of minimalism and maximalism in Bowie’s composition.  Bowie fans would be remiss to overlook the entirety of the Diamond Dogs album, which it unfortunately seems to usually be.

 

Station to Station: The Easiest Listen

Station to Station is the second big shift in Bowie’s catalog, Hunky Dory being the first. From the opening title track, he gives us a 10-minute song with a lengthy, bizarre, soundboard beginning. The rest of the song is one of his strangest lyrically and it relies on even more jazz sounds than the previous, lackluster Young Americans album had. And, of course, it’s all-amazing; truly one of his best songs. The rest of the album is a little less bombastic, but the heavier reliance on funk sounds and a sharp turn away from rock music is still prevalent. “Wild is the Wind” is almost an R&B song and when the little drum fills come in, it can take your breath away. Songs like “Word on a Wing” and “Golden Years” are kind of corny, but that’s balanced by the ambitious, funky “Stay” and the truly bizarre “TVC 15.” Station to Station is a relatively short album, dominated by its opening title track but contains numerous other songs that don’t slouch.

 

Low and “Heroes”: The Inseparable Duo

Ah, the “cool” albums. Part of the “Berlin” trio that saw heavy involvement by Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and Tony Visconti. But the last part of the trio, Lodger, isn’t too note-worthy. But Low and “Heroes” live up to their hype…somewhat. Low especially heralds a lot of ambient music and the album’s second side sounds like something made by Daniel Lopatin. “Heroes” has its own ambient sections, but its incorporated more with rock and especially jazz so it has a more specific “Bowie” sound. And both albums have plenty of engaging funk and rock songs as well. “Breaking Glass” is a cool little song and “Be My Wife” is a perfect example of minimalist rock music. “Heroes’” first half is filled with amazing rock songs, like the title track of course, but songs like “Joe the Lion” and “Blackout” are absolute bangers. And “The Secret Life of Arabia” is an addictively rhythmic hidden gem at the end of the album. Low and “Heroes” are both great albums, but in both cases, especially Low, they may not live up the high lauds it gets from some sections of music fans, depending on your love for ambient music.

 

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps): The All-Over-The-Place Album

 Scary Monsters is a difficult album to pigeonhole, which is definitely not a bad thing. But this album hit the highs in each of Bowie’s styles of music. The title track is one of his most bombastic rock songs, “Ashes to Ashes” is his most screwed-up weirdo tracks, and “Fashion” steps up the tongue-in-cheek disco music to amazing, hilarious extents. He also takes more odd steps with the opening and closing songs and in “Scream Like A Baby,” which sounds like a mix of Bowie’s earlier, concept-album era and the grimier sounds he started to move toward on this album. Overall, Scary Monsters is a return to Bowie’s rock sound and a showcase of how the genre has changed over active 70s.

 

Let’s Dance: The Embarrassingly Good Album

 It would be the easiest step in the world to just skip this album altogether. Although Bowie hit some of his biggest popularity heights in the 80s, his real impact on music dropped off pretty sharply at this point. And most people know the songs on the album as his real “pop” songs, so there’s not a lot to say. But here’s the thing: the reason everyone knows the songs from this album is because they’re great. “China Girl,” “Let’s Dance,” “Modern Love,” “Cat People.” They’re all here and they’re all amazing. “Let’s Dance” has an undeniable groove that can really move people to dance. “China Girl” is a shifting, difficult pop song and the Iggy Pop version should definitely be listened to as well. “Modern Love” is cheesy, sure, but it is engaging and has dazzling, coke-fueled saxophone. Let’s Dance as an album can be easy to put down and overlook, but its impact is undeniable and a revisitation can be eye-opening.

 

Outside and Earthling: Please Hear Me Out

Everyone loves to rag on 90s Bowie. And it makes sense. He tried to do the whole Tin Machine experiment, which crashed and burned, and he put out some of his most embarrassing albums. But Outside and Earthling were the decades’ two big works he put out and they’ve been debated healthily by critics. But Outside has some impressive songs, like the exciting “Hallo Spaceboy” and the creepy, anthemic “Voyeur of Utter Destruction.” Outside is often put down as an imitation of “industrial” music, but the only band that ever seems to apply to is Nine Inch Nails. And sure, the album kind of sounds like NiN, but it still carries Bowie’s iconic voice and his little flourishes of eccentric arrangement. Earthling, the “electronic” Bowie album is a harder case to sell. I…I like it, I dunno. Just try it even though it’s really not defendable.

 

The Next Day: It’s Not Bad

 The rest of Bowie’s career was pretty rocky. Heathen, in the early-2000s is not a bad album, but it’s hard to really write about. But after a long hiatus that everyone assumed would be a permanent stop in music, Bowie announced The Next Day and it was not just a cheap cash-grab album. It was a real attempt at a return to music and a last note of what Bowie has to give. So, since this will likely be his last album, it’s important to look at what The Next Day has. And it’s just…hard to really summarize. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s just rock music. Some tracks are easier to see Bowie’s earlier styles, like “Dirty Boys” has some of the Scary Monsters-era grime and the best song, “Set the World on Fire,” is a return to the same uniquely-arraigned rock music that was seen on “Diamond Dogs.” But overall, The Next Day is a bit of a sad final note. This is how the world ends: not with a bang but a whimper.

Album Review: Danny Brown – Old

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By Mack White

In case you didn’t already know, Danny Brown is the most consistent rapper in hip-hop right now. It’s been two years since he’s given us the privilege of exploring his explicit, drug-ridiculed mind, but this time is no exception to his legacy of excellence. Old is the 32 year-old’s album that sends his career into left field. It’s a new direction, but like Brown himself, it works in unconventional ways.

A worthy follow-up to 2011’s XXX, Brown organizes his new album in a similar fashion. Telling his story again in two parts, he splits the album pretty evenly with investigation upon his own actions meshed with a solid set of party tracks. Though this time, Danny doesn’t talk about the past, he’s all about living in the moment. Old is an ironic title considering Danny Brown has thrown his own hip-hop playbook out the window and adopted a new set of rules that only he has the ability to follow.

“Side A (Old)” heralds Danny’s latest journey, a fascinating song that explores where he has been and where he is headed. Sampling his own song “New Era” is only part of his self-dissection, telling the listener that he is no longer the “old Danny Brown.” The subsequent song, “The Return,” also introduces Brown and reinforces that he is back and crazier than you would think.

Danny (for a PG-13 audience) told us two years that he’s a smart dude who does dumb stuff. One thing that he is never dumb about is his collaborations. His last album only had two songs with features, while Old has a staggering seven. The most interesting of his collabs is “25 Bucks” with synthpop duo Purity Ring. The vocals of Megan James assisting Brown’s quick wit is an unbelievably effective combination, showing the Detroit rapper’s ability to adapt his flow to any environment.

“Lonely” and “Clean Up” is the strongest two-song set on the record. The first analyzing Brown’s current state of having a status but risking relationships to get there, while the latter shows how his own addictions have broken him. He preaches about how his daughter texts him saying she misses him but he would never want her to see him in his current state. He goes all out, releasing that he puts himself in danger far too often and he’s come too far to give it all up due to his own indulgences.

If you’re listening to Old on vinyl, you’re in for a completely different album around the thirty-minute mark. As soon as you flip the record over, remember that this is not a split, and that Danny is now showing you the never-ending drug trip that is his mind. “Side B (Dope Song)” opens with a regal horn section, when a sudden trap beat absorbs the listener, setting pace for the craziest EDM vacation you’ve never signed up for. While XXX’s first half focused more on Danny’s party side, this time he saved those experiences for the long stretch home.

The trap and electronic act that the second half offers is refreshing since Brown has never dove too far into the genres, but the gimmick does lose its flair after a few songs. Luckily he has a couple of strong performances, “Dip” immediately coming to mind for its infectious chorus and Brown’s recognition for how wild he actually becomes under the influence of drugs. “Kush Coma” also is another song that benefits his potential to have a club hit and also is a frequent closer for his live shows. A$AP Rocky’s odd imagery mixed with Danny’s diverse lyricism works and is a definite coma-inducer, shocking and very far from anything the listener has ever heard.

For the second album in a row, the final track is the strongest. Featuring electronic game changer Charli XCX, the beat changes and Brown barely has the energy to discuss his thoughts, gauging his dependency on narcotics. He spills on how his only wish is to grow old and see his influence on future rappers. It’s difficult to imagine that someone with such a unique persona has the power to be so passionate in a field that we learn is of such importance to him. Danny Brown is definitely crazy, but sometimes it takes a madman to convince us of a reality we thought was unimaginable.

Another great addition to the musical canon that can only be described as Danny Brown, Old challenges hip-hop through its unorthodox samples, lyrics, and organization. Even if this is the first album of Brown’s that you’ve heard, he makes you feel like you’ve known him for years since he’s so vivid with his words. By all means an artist, Danny Brown again paints a picture in the listener’s mind. He may be getting older himself, but Brown’s skill refuses to age. Even with a title like Old, the record is new in every sense of the word.