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That Handsome Devil

By Bridget Hurley

 

That Handsome Devil is an enigma in this current scene in which most bands have very established genres. Described as everything from gypsy jazz to gonzo rock to “bizarre hip-hop”, THD is that type of band that will never fail to surprise their listeners. Recently, THD came out with an album titled “The Jungle Book”, which exclusively covers songs from the Disney movie. That Handsome Devil juxtaposes the seemingly benign lyrics with a deeper, darker meaning, comparing the jungle to their native Brooklyn, the animals to the people in the city, and the plot of the movie to the constant search for drugs, liquor, and some semblance of satisfaction that they see their peers struggling with. The Jungle Book is available for free on That Handsome Devil’s website, and if an entire download is too much of a commitment, don’t miss their cover of “The Bare Necessities”, or if The Jungle Book isn’t your style, be sure to listen to “Yada Yada”. Happy listening.

Album Review: Skating Polly – Lost Wonderfuls

By Mack White

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You’ve heard the story before: A girl group with heavy riffs, powerful vocals, and lots of angst. Here’s the part of the story you’ve never heard – the only members of the group are 17 and 13 years old. That’s right, and Skating Polly are one of the best new artists that I’ve had the enjoyment of listening to.

Oklahoma natives Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse bring various sounds to their new album, Lost Wonderfuls. Songs like “Carrots” bring back the sounds established by riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney, while songs like Blue Obvious are so beautiful and sloppy at the same time that it’s reminiscent of something Stephen Malkmus would have done with Pavement.

The song “Mr. Proper Englishman” was instantly one of my favorites. The simplicity of the lyrics, especially the chorus, are irresistible to sing along with. The vocals sound somewhat shrill, but the rawness of that track are what makes it so enjoyable.

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The standout track to me was the conclusion, “Oh Well, We’ll Win”. Stepping away from their punkish edge, the girls used simply their voices and a ukelele to look back on the steps they’ve made in their lives as musicians and as teenagers.

The girls have already gained compliments from established artists like X and Dollyrots, and what’s even cooler is that they’re opening up for The Flaming Lips this year. I can’t imagine how surreal it would be to perform before musical legends and you’re not even old enough to vote, truly amazing.

It’s incredibly inspiring to me to see so much talent out of young people that it makes me kinda angry. I wish I could have had the musical ability these two young talents did when I played saxophones throughout middle and high school. Regardless of my self-esteem, Lost Wonderfuls is an excellent release from open to close. I’m looking forward to see what the future holds for Skating Polly, so far it looks like nothing but sunshine.

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Album Review: Atoms for Peace – Amok

By Mack White

It’s difficult for Thom Yorke to do wrong. His made some of the biggest musical strides in history as lead singer of Radiohead, he’s made a solo album that showed that he doesn’t necessarily need the same gang to make great music, and he’s producing other artists to spread his musical knowledge to others. So how will Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace fare against previous projects?

Hearing the song “Judge Jury and Executioner” last week when it was mysteriously uploaded to numerous file sharing websites by the band only added to my excitement of Amok. The song showed similarities between songs like “The Eraser” from Yorke’s solo album The Eraser. An atmospheric sound meshed with Yorke’s vocals is customary and backed up by an incessant drum pad is customary of “Judge”, giving us our first look of Yorke’s next endeavor.

Here’s where the album falls off. Songs like “Ingenue” and “Default” provide us with a landscape of somewhat depressing lyrics, enshrouded by the brief guitar tones distorted to give a surreal sound. Effects and filters like those are customary for Yorke’s project. While this always entertaining and a good listen, it makes me wonder, is what Yorke is doing new?

 

The answer is no. We experienced this with the last Radiohead album. While The King of Limbs, Radiohead’s latest release, was definitely appreciated the more we listened, it wasn’t distinguishable enough from a Thom Yorke solo album. It’s difficult to complain about something Thom Yorke put his hand in, but after listening to Amok it feels like I’ve been playing the same album over and over. Nothing really bring new life to Amok, which is saddening considering most Radiohead albums require multiple listens to fully enjoy.

The album definitely has some standout tracks. “Before Your Very Eyes…” sets the scene of man pining for a woman by studying her mannerisms and is hoping she can study him. Despite how kinda creepy it sounds, the vivid imagery that Yorke provides in his songs always complements their unique sound very well. Where Amok missteps is at the beginning, it takes too long to reach the high points of the album and having to filter through the songs at the beginning of a listen is not entertaining.

Overall, I can’t say that Amok was a bad release, because it wasn’t. There were multiple songs that I think should have been left off the record, but also some songs that challenged the band and redeemed their stumbles. It makes me wonder about what’s next in Yorke’s future and if Atoms for Peace’s only contribution to the world will be Amok. In the end, any from of a Thom Yorke release will get a listen from me.

Album Review: The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

By Michael Papich 

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The Knife. That is one of the most blunt, brutal, evocative band names that exist. A
single silver stab from behind the curtains, from just around the corner, from the
dark of the stage. And more importantly, it’s a band name that fits. The Knife comes
at you relentlessly with each song they put out while remaining as mysterious as the
shadow hands from The Shining.

Now, overlooking their entire discography, this is not always super blatant. The
closest thing they had to a big hit, “Heartbeats” is a very poppy track, but it still
sloops and sweeps bizarrely and the infectious nature pierces the mind of the
listener. Then, you of course have the even knifier Knife songs like “Manhood” and
“Wanting to Kill,” all of which culminated with the overwhelming “Silent Shout” back
in 2006. That album is the closest anyone has ever come to turning the sensation of
being lost in the icy wilderness into music.

But now The Knife have come back with this masterpiece, “Shaking the Habitual.”
And it is a masterpiece. After “Silent Shout,” it’s hard to know where a band would
go next if they wanted to progress their sound. “Shaking the Habitual” is absolutely
that next step. Where “Silent Shout” had complex beats, “Shaking the Habitual” has
chaotic synths. Where “Silent Shout” had fear, “Shaking the Habitual” has defiance.
Where “Silent Shout” has the cold, “Shaking the Habitual” has, um, steel drums.

Let’s talk about steel drums. Steel drums sound amazing and weird and would
not be expected in an album about feminism by Scandinavians. But “Shaking the
Habitual” has a consistent calypso influence in it, probably most prominent in
“A Tooth for an Eye.” It makes for a much more interesting rhythm section than
just drum machines, which The Knife and most other electronica bands rely on.
But don’t worry, MPC fans, because there is still plenty of electro beat patterns,
like on “Networking” and dark, icy synths, like on “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,”
throughout the album. If you are familiar with the other band fronted by The Knife’s
Karin Dreijer Andersson, Fever Ray, then you will be happy about the same creepy
sounds that fill “Shaking the Habitual.”

So by this point you have probably gathered that I enjoyed “Shaking the Habitual” a
great deal and I would recommend it to music fans. Ttttthat’s true, BUT, I would not
say this is an easy listen by any stretch. More than half of the album’s songs are over
eight minutes long and many of them contain long stretches of drone or dissonant
instrumentation. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the 20 minute drone track
in the middle of the album, “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized,”; a song that
honestly interrupts the enjoyment of the listener and really sucks.

But that is not to say that it is an impossible listen. This is no Swans album. Even
in the drone segments of the album, there is “A Cherry On Top,” which is the best
drone song I have ever heard. It creates compelling and pleasantly weird noise and
the airy vocals that come in send shivers down the spine and you ache for Karin’s
throaty voice.

There are also semi-poppy songs, like “A Tooth for an Eye,” “Without You My Life
Would Be Boring,” and even the first single “Full of Fire” is pretty engaging for a
nine-minute song. The entire album is also buoyed by an overwhelmingly positive
message of overthrowing the patriarchy and being free as humans. The Knife have
always had that kind of political slant to their music, but it is crystalized in the best
way on “Shaking the Habitual” and the album serves as the greatest message of
destroying the shackles of the past and moving forward with music, with art, with
politics, with belief that I have heard in my many millennia on this wet planet.

Album Review: Major Lazer – Free the Universe

By Michael Papich 

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Let’s count the totems sacrificed to create the new Major Lazer album: the trophy for Indie Song of the Summer 2012, Snoop Dogg’s name, non-mysoginy in live music, a life spent not knowing who RiFF RAFF is. But it was all worth it. Diplo is the weird club music figurehead in the world right now and he has a reputation to deliver it all. Beats, music, shows, acts, tweets, bad haircuts, everything.

With that in mind, “Free the Universe,” Major Lazer’s second album was sure to be amazing. Diplo and S̶w̶t̶i̶c̶h̶ Black Chiney were back with another great reggae and electro album that blew us away so effectively the first time. The first Major Lazer, “Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do” brought us “Hold the Line” and “Pon de Floor,” and possibly more importantly, it kept Santigold prominently in the musical forefront. And on top of that reputational hype, “Free the Universe” was set to have more Santigold, Wyclef Jean, Busy Signals, and even some of Dirty Projectors. And on top of THAT, the album kept getting pushed back by weeks and months, giving the audiences the chum of remixes instead to keep the anticipation at prison riot levels.

And then the album came out.

Diplo seems to have misunderstood how to make house music? So many tracks on this album show a severe disconnect between beat and melody, like a relatively basic snare pattern laid under a chill track is not enough to turn it into a banger. And the way to fix that is not to add more Jamaican patois. Much of “Free the Universe” shows this bizarre lack of competence in making electro songs. Tracks like “Keep Cool” or “Wind Up” just won’t know what they are supposed to do; whether they should be smooth, rave, dubstep, or very reggae.

In fact, a lot of the reggae type of sounds that “Lazers Do” had is done very poorly on “Free the Universe.” The closest track to actually capturing that feel is probably “Jah No Partial,” which balances house and reggae is the perfection we now expect from Diplo, and it makes it one of the album’s strongest songs. But so many others just include a Jamaican vocal track but then either show no further effort or totally mismatch the singer with some poorly made house track. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Reach For the Stars.” This song seems to think that Wyclef Jean’s Haitian-ness will overwhelm the song and make up for its lack of depth or variety. It doesn’t. This song is awful.

I can’t even see these songs really making people go crazy and dance outside of a Major Lazer show, which are famous for having great showmanship and honestly are recommended no matter how unpalatable this album was. There is such a lack of a hard or sensible beat on so many of these songs and Diplo misses so many chances to go hard to go for a drop or do something interesting. In addition to that, some tracks are just lazy, like “Bubble Butt.” This song, featuring Tyga, Mystic, and Bruno Mars (wow it had Bruno Mars and it sucked? Weird.) was just a run-of-the-mill bad rap song, but it somehow got even worse with bizarre production surrounding it.

Now, “Free the Universe” isn’t all bad. “Get Free,” which was released last summer, was THE song of the summer, in my opinion, and it is fantastic. But it also knew what it wanted to be. If Diplo had tried to make it more of a party track or add in some more reggae sounds like he did with so much of this album, it would turn into moist crap. That balance, which is also seen on tracks like “Jah No Partial” and “Watch Out For This” is something that “Lazers Do” did so well while also creating something new and exciting. “Free the Universe” does not do that.

Reading over this, I realize this is a really snippy review, but it was just so baffling. Diplo is a clown, but he’s backed it up with great music, like the first Major Lazer album, and the tracks that were released in preparation for this album. But there was so much bad about this. Bad production, lazy vocal pairing, Ezra Koenig being…bewildering. Yeah, a major disappointment and I am now a lot less willing to put up with Diplo’s hamming. Time to listen to “Get Free” and weep.

Album Review: Tyler, the Creator – Wolf

By Mack White

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The trinity is finally complete. Tyler, the Creator was a newbie on the rap scene four years ago, but grew to overnight success with the free release of his debut album Bastard. Two years later, Goblin is released to prove that Tyler and his Odd Future collective are worth the hype they receive. So that asks the question of what purpose does Wolf serve in the trilogy?

Wolf is a step up from Tyler’s previous release lyrically and production-wise. Opening songs such as “Jamba” and “Cowboy” take the listener into Tyler’s mind. You would think a person as well-respected as him in the music community are happy, but fame is the last thing on his mind. Still curious about the whereabouts of his father, Tyler breaks down and wonders how different his life would be if he had both parents in his life when he was young.

The album definitely has low points, such as “Colossus / The Bridge of Love”, which reflects on a time when Tyler was a theme park and an excited fan tried to ask him for a picture. Tyler paints himself as some sort of god in this song where fans don’t realize how important he is. I can see where he’s coming from, but I think Tyler should remember that his fans got him there in the first place. The song seems like a weak attempt at recreating himself as an Eminem lyricist, but falls off early in the first stanza.

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Another part I was disappointed about was how they decided to discontinue the therapist aspect of his albums. It is rumored that Wolf is actually a prequel to Bastard and Tyler’s therapist is the camp counselor featured in the title track among others. The therapist added a somewhat sinister element to the album, showing how even the people who try to help Tyler feel happy are being consumed by his negative persona.

I had the opportunity to see Tyler and several other Odd Future members in concert last month at Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill and the songs from Wolf sounded much stronger live than his previous material. The horn sections in the song “Domo23” are incredibly catchy, and when rhythm sections like that collide with Tyler’s wit and fast-paced rapping the product is always amusing.

Wolf is worth a listen no matter how many of the previous Odd Future releases you’ve listened to. Tyler is one of the last effective hip-hop storytellers, and his latest release takes you into a corner that only he knew for so long. While incredibly depressing at most times, it does make me happy that he decided to open up and share it.

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Concert Review: Jimmy Webb at Whitley Auditorium

 

By Mack White 

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An almost packed auditorium, a single spotlight, and a piano were all Jimmy Webb needed to put on his performance on March 14. For an hour and a half, the singer- songwriter could do no wrong. Webb, 66, is renowned for writing compositions such as Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, but Webb did not hesitate to enlighten the crowd with some of his new material as well. Webb opened his anecdote-filled performance with a story about writing a song for country music legend Waylon Jennings.

In 1986, Webb came home to find Jennings drunk on the couch, telling Jennings, “I won the Grammy for Country Song of the Year!” to which Jennings retorted, “Which country is it from?” His set list opened with a spellbinding performance of the previously mentioned song, “Highwayman”. Webb attacked the piano, striking each note and complementing it beautifully with his rugged voice. Songwriting was a major point in the tales Webb told, even saying that he got into songwriting through “a childish prayer to God”. He discussed his process for writing songs in the ‘60s, involving stealing some parts from songs he learned in church.

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The hits continued a lively performance of “Galveston”, as made famous by Glen Campbell. Webb put a unique touch on the performance by extending the song an extra few minutes to play part of the song in Morse code on the piano. He told the crowd that the message could be deciphered to say “I need beer immediately”, later saying proudly that he had not had a sip of alcohol in 13 years. Webb’s creatively was shown in full when a booming train passed right by Whitley and Webb said, “I wish I had a song to play about a train.” No less than five seconds later, Webb improvised a song about trains that garnered a standing ovation from the audience. “I always feel comfortable around trains,” he said. “It reminds me of my days in Oklahoma.”

The crowd did not hold back as Webb played the song he wrote the Fifth Dimension, “Up-Up and Away”. Encouraging the crowd to sing along with him, Webb stopped playing halfway through the song, saying, “I can’t hit those notes like I used to!” The audience roared with laughter, giving Webb a second to pause and continue his performance. James Crooks, ’16, said, “As a Music Technology major, it was impressive how under-produced the show was. The fact that he could entertain the whole audience using one instrument exhibits how powerful he is as a musician.” The crowd opened with applause as they recognized the piano riff of Webb’s composition “Witchita Lineman”.

Despite not having the ability to match country croon voice of Campbell, Webb belted out the chorus, making it irresistible not sing with him. Elaborating on his canon of musician friends, Webb nearly brought the crowd to tears when he told us that he found out Linda Ronstadt would have to “retire from songwriting indefinitely” due to a rare medical condition. He didn’t say much about her after that, but ended with an incredibly engaging rendition of the song he wrote for her, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”. Marty Lucero, ’16, was in the line after the show to buy a copy of Webb’s latest album and said, “I had never heard of Jimmy Webb, but the show was one of the best I’d ever seen. He was more lively than any of the younger performers I’ve seen.”

I had the chance to talk with Webb after the show and he said that he loves coming to college campuses to play because it allows him to “bring the songs that inspired him to a new group of people to be inspired by”. Webb brought new life to his classic songs and demonstrated how essential songwriting is to the musical performance. The was not a dull moment during his concert, and was impossible to look away and miss a second of the musical legend’s daring performance.

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Why I Love the Mountain Goats

imgres-3By Michael Papich 

This was probably back in February – I was on my dorm floor and I was hanging out in a neighbor’s room because my roommate’s “big” had sent him a present, the details of which I can’t repeat without blushing. Anyway, in my neighbor’s room, we were shootin’ the breeze about midterms, and as the conversation switched, he asked be for music suggestions. I was hardly surprised, being the illuminating trendsetter that I am, so I told him about the big artists from the previous year: M83, Real Estate, St. Vincent. I also listed off some of my favorites: Wolf Parade, An Horse, “and of course,” I said, “the Mountain Goats.” We both shrugged understandingly, because my affection for the Mountain Goats was not something I kept secret.

 

“Why do you like The Mountain Goats so much?” he asked. I was about to correct him and say that the “the” is lower-case, but instead I just said, with a clear mind and a heart full of conviction, “I dunnuyh.” But it got me to thinking: why do I like the Mountain Goats so much? They are definitely my favorite band, so I should probably have a reason for why. So here goes.

 

John Darnielle’s music is, typically, an acoustic guitar, with John’s wild lyrics and weird voice. Is the guitar playing great? No, but it’s what’s necessary. His chords always find a way of going perfectly with the tone of the song, and if he needs intensity, he can expand on his playing whenever he needs (check out West Country Dream). There’s no sense of awe in his skill, but you still feel incredibly touched hearing his playing. You can feel the harmony with the song and the emotion bleeding off of his fingers.

 

Is his singing great? No, but it’s what’s necessary. He’s a man armed with his own emotion, and he’s going to get it out any way he can. There’s a real honesty in his voice, and the sense of a small, insignificant being expressing himself in the face of a vast and ambiguous force (check out Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace). And if you see him live, the emotion in his voice comes forward even stronger, and by the end of a Mountain Goats concert, there are very few dry cheeks.

 

Are his lyrics great? Okay, this one is a little harder to explain. John’s lyrics are beautiful and poetic (check out Fault Lines, or There Will Be No Divorce, or really any of his songs) and a lot of my love for the Mountain Goats really comes from this aspect of his songs. I love language and I love lyrics in songs. But unlike, say, the glorious lyrics of, say, Spencer Krug, John Darnielle’s lyrics are applicable to life all the time. He sings about shared human experience and emotion, even if he has to be really weird and crazy about it.

 

What I’m trying to say is that there’s no sense of pretending or trying to be a songwriter or musician in the Mountain Goats music. It is incredibly human music. And that expands to all parts of the Mountain Goats. Peter and Jon, the bassist and drummer for the Mountain Goats respectively, are from other bands originally, but there is such a strong sense of friendship from all of them, which even bands who grew up together and formed together don’t always show. On stage, John jokes and tells stories like he’s your buddy and interacts with the audience in such a conscious way that all of the weird, voyeuristic feelings that go with seeing live music vanish like the armies of Mordor.

 

And John Darnielle himself is such a cool person. He does tons of charity shows, for animals, women’s rights, domestic violence prevention, and he always has such a firey passion for everything he does. It was also a changing experience for me to see him talk about how much he loves North Carolina, his adopted home, because I always felt that way about the state (since I was born in Canada), but never thought I could learn to love it. But thanks to his push, I’m trying.