Album Review: Major Lazer – Free the Universe

By Michael Papich 


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


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.


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.



Concert Review: Jimmy Webb at Whitley Auditorium


By Mack White 


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.



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.





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.

Album Review: Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

imgres-2By Michael Papich


Oh man, Foxygen. When Foxygen put out their first album in 2011 and then re-released it to more acclaim under Jagjaguwar in 2012, these guys were killing it. Nostalgic, throwback rock was undeniably popular. One need only look at the popularity of bands like The Black Keys or The White Stripes to see that, as much as people love their grindcore, their post-rock, their London laptop house music, people also love to just hear someone play some new songs on guitar and drums with a familiar groove. Foxygen stepped into the shoes of some of the 70s’ and 80s’ best big rock outfits on “Take the Kids Off Broadway,” their first album. And it worked perfectly. Each song was a blend of different styles, identifiable from many different bands at once, changing through the course of a song as it poured into the next. So it was no surprise that people who heard “Broadway” would be excited for Foxygen’s newest release.


Well, wanting the same level of righteous energy from Foxygen was, unfortunately, misplaced expectation. “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic” considerably tunes down the two-man outfit. When going through the album on the first listen, as this realization dawns upon you, there is a hopeful observation you might make. “Broadway” clearly took its influence from heavy, stadium acts like The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, with that same warbly voice and bombastic, melodic waves of cymbals and guitar. Now, they are trying the other, earlier side of rock music. There are obvious Velvet Underground influences, the track “Bowling Trophies” has a sarcastic Frank Zappa vibe, and the second track, “No Destruction,” sounds exactly like early Bob Dylan. Like, exactly. So, the ol’ Foxygen boys are just trying to show off their other musical loves.


This trend does not continue very strongly, and the album quickly begins to turn toward the duller side. None of the songs flow into one another like “Broadway” did, which felt like a near-seamlessly stitched together quilt, and by “San Francisco,” the fourth song, “Ambassadors” feels like a 60s beat album that’s just about some people living in a place that you can’t relate to.


The album does start to pick up after this point, with “Bowling Trophies” and “Shuggie” pairing together quite nicely, although “Shuggie” bucks the trend of the album and sounds more like ska-influenced folk from the 90s. The tracks “Oh Yeah” and the title track both contain the kind of changing, long rock tunes “Broadway” had in droves, so it’s a nice end to a bit of a let-down.


What’s the strangest is how Foxygen has seemed to actually reject sounding new in favor of adopting more of the sounds of old, much-loved bands. “Broadway” contained plenty of experimentation with modern keyboards and indie rock styles, of which “Ambassadors” is quite bereft. By retreating into the nostalgia that makes their music win so many fans, Foxygen may have lost the perfect balance that made their previous work so engaging. If slower, Dylan-like music is your thing, give it a listen, but don’t expect another 35-minute sound feast.

Album Review: Atoms for Peace – Amok



By Michael Papich


At first we thought it was a prank, or at least a fun joke. Or maybe only I did. Thom Yorke has always had a habit for breaking the fourth wall in the way he promotes and creates albums: the lyrics to future Radiohead songs hidden in the Kid A packaging (Kid A, incidentally, better than OK Computer. You just read it so now it’s true), In Rainbows secretly being the 2nd half of OK Computer (which, incidentally, is not better than Kid A). But this album saw sporadic tracks being released, hints, and that surprise show where an incarnate of Atoms for Peace performed at Coachella as
“?????” (which is actually one of the coolest band names ever).


But it was all real! And now we have the album to chew on. But like other things promoted through clandestine, DIY-research ways, it doesn’t feel like a groundbreaking discovery. I don’t mean that in the way that, say, Cloverfield ended up being a big dumb monster, but Atoms for Peace’s “AMOK” isn’t terribly shocking. For one thing, we’d already been treated to a few, albeit wonderful, tracks. The rest of the album is also not much of a jump from other albums and songs Thom Yorke has put out in the past years.


But! Not being shocked and not being entertained by this music are two totally different things. It’s like how you aren’t super-hype when a new Ty Segall project comes out. You know what he does, you know how these come out, but damn is it good.  “AMOK” is a fantastic album all the way through. Each track takes the best of albums like Radiohead’s “In Rainbows,” Thom’s solo work on “The Eraser,” and the tracks he did with Burial and Four Tet show considerable influence on this album.

It is through the synthesis and consistency of these elements that “AMOK” truly shines. Burial-style drumming makes you bop your head through tracks like “Judge, Jury and Executioner,” the beloved synth showcases giving considerable groove to tracks like “Default” and “Dropped,” and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea’s bass kills songs like “Reverse Running.” I must say, as someone who really does not like RHCP at all, I was hugely surprised and impressed with Flea’s bass skills. Like, to the degree that I am going to go listen to some more of their songs for a reassessment.


“AMOK” has absolutely no weak spots. It’s not the kind of album you can get really excited about while listening because it lays you out so hard, but not in a bad way or a way that endorses drug use for the youth of the world. It puts you in the mood right from the start with “Before Your Very Eyes,” keeps you going through what feel like the subway tunnels of London for a solid near-half hour, then kills it at the end with the title track and brings you back into the world of the waking. Yes, “AMOK” is not a shocking or perception-shattering album, probably because it’s the quality we expected from the band’s architect. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be raved about. Well, maybe not “rave,” but definitely a lot of verbal and textual praise, and a lot of late-night, home-alone desk dancing.

Album Review: Local Natives – Hummingbird

Local Natives’ Hummingbird album, released in January of 2013, is elemental and organic. Its instrumentation consists of guitars, cello, piano, and prominent drums, intricately and dreamily dancing together. The prominent beats are varying and unconventional, yet grounding. Poignant and authentic, Hummingbirds has a full sound that echoes distantly through your being.  Like an ocean, majestic, orchestral, and vast, crescendos swell up to crashing cymbals. Hummingbirds takes you through a jungle of life, interesting energy, and movement. This album is intense and dramatic, yet has a relaxing effect. Much like the waves of the ocean, which I imagine would have inspired this California-based band. The characteristic three part harmonies are earthy and authentic. Falsettos throughout are a particular strength. Overall, Hummingbirds is a strong, unified album, consistent with Local Natives’ instrumentation and style.


So you say you like live music?: A concert review


The Wonder Years, Misser, Hostage Calm, Fireworks 

Perhaps the best thing about the modern punk scene is the sense of unity and friendship amongst the bigger name acts. Pop-punk heavyweights The Wonder Years and Fireworks continue to tour together almost annually and they always bring a few other talented acts along for the ride. This time around, the bands brought Misser and Hostage Calm with them in a tour unofficially referred to as ‘The Soupy Nation Tour” (a play on the nickname for The Wonder Years front man and the simultaneous pop-punk Suppy Nation Tour).

The sonic variety of the bands on the tour was a crowd pleaser, with Misser’s heavier sound playing off the more acoustic, harmonized music from Hostage Calm. Members of both The Wonder Years and Fireworks have grown over the past few years to bring their musicianship up another notch. It’s clear both bands are masters of their craft. With all four bands poised to release highly anticipated new material this year, it’s exciting to see four bands each pushing punk in a unique direction.

DJ Frankie’s Corner: “On the Impossible Past”


“On the Impossible Past” by  The Menzingers
By DJ Frankie C. 

This indie-punk band from Philadelphia put out one of the best records of 2012. “On the Impossible Past” is an introspective look at Americana through the eyes of vocalists Greg Barnett and Tom May. It’s a great record to spin as the weather warms up and the band blends timeless rock with contemporary indie and post-punk flair. If you’re looking to test the waters with The Menzingers, check out “The Obituaries” or “Gates”, both from “On the Impossible Past.”