Sunday, February 19, 2017

Loosies Of The Week, Feb, 13-19

Welcome to yet another Loosies Of The Week, a wrap-up of this weeks singles, throwaways, leaks, and any other loose tracks I find. A hodgepodge of releases this week, from mainstream Pop Rap, to Slowcore, to SynthPop, to Funk. 

Thundercat - Friend Zone

Thundercat's talents are indisputable. However, I've never really fallen head over heels due to his sometimes immature lyrics. The last song I've heard from him, 'Bus In These Streets,' was expectedly funky but was overloaded with silly banter that took me out of the groove. But alas, once 'Friend Zone' poured it's bass and synths into my head, a sudden realization hit me. Funk is founded by fools. My favorite band in the genre, having gone through their entire discography, is ParliaFunkadelicment, and many of their pieces are overloaded with over-the-top George Clinton mannerisms and topics. 'Friend Zone's' ridiculous lyrics aren't, or shouldn't be, annoying as I was wrongfully assumed them to be so considering the genre the track's in.

And even still, take away Thundercat's talk of Mortal Kombat, Kendrick Lamar references, getting stuck in the friend zone, and failing to get head, and what's left is an imaginative Funk track that's hefty, provocative, and excessively alluring. His instrumentation is beefier than ever, filling a room with relative ease. There's no way you can't nod your head, tap your feet, or snap your fingers to something this groovy. It took me a while, and the understanding of Thundercat's main inspiration being Funkadelic, to welcome in his juvenile banter. Just like I forgave Clinton and company for their foolish ways, I must do the same to Thundercat. If there's one genre that doesn't diminish from poor songwriting, it's Funk, and 'Friend Zone' is great, current evidence of that.

The Shins - Midenhall

The name Shins was surely not unknown to me, even though I had never listened to them and often times confused them with The Strokes. Never said I was a bright man. Nevertheless, the Indie Pop group has a new album coming out soon, Heartworms, and a month or so ago 'Name For You' fell in my lap. Like the litany of other long withstanding Indie acts I had never given a chance, listening to that song was a no-brainer. However, like those songs, 'Name For You' was slightly underwhelming. It wasn't bad, as a group like The Shins surely can muster enough talent to make something late in their career passable, but it lacked a certain invitation for new listeners to appreciate their style. In generalities, it was largely by the books. And considering I can't remember a lick of what it sounds like right now, an album filled with that style would surely be forgettable.

That's where 'Midenhall' comes in. And no, it's not some epic that thwarts expectations by adding a new wrinkle to their style. The track is quite subdued, especially for a single, which is what causes a raised level of intrigue. Prominently featuring lead singer James Mercer and his childhood stories, 'Midenhall' gives off a strong hint of singer/songwriter. It's minimal but certainly inviting, pleasant, and content, despite Mercer's somewhat dejected lyrics. In some respects, 'Midenhall' aligns more with Alt-Country than Indie Pop, but it works nonetheless, drawing comparisons to Wilco and their two-tone split between the two genres. At the very least, 'Midenhall's' presence proves Heartworms will be more than one-dimensional, and for an aging band on the tail end of their career, that's a massive plus.

Your Old Droog - Help

It's a name I've seen floating around the underground Abstract Hip-Hop scene for a minute now without properly investigating. Leave it to Edan, who I had thought was retired, to reveal himself on 'Help,' both with a verse and the production, to force me to listen to Your Old Droog. Along with Wiki of Ratking, whom I've had a handful of experiences with thanks to Lil Ugly Mane and Earl Sweatshirt, 'Help' has quite the cast to boot. To think this track didn't appear on Wiki and Your Old Droog's recent EP What Happened To Fire is insane, and reason enough for me to check it out. If nothing else, just hearing Edan rap, something I hadn't heard since 2005's Beauty And The Beat.

While I'm not enthused by typical braggadocio bars, how all three emcees move over this rumbling beat, which samples Rob Base's 'It Takes Two,' is enjoyable to say the least. They've all got the wherewithal to attract attention even though their bars aren't too unique. They're good, just not unheard of. Both Wiki and Edan have recognizable voices, something that's carried their careers and help them on 'Help,' and while Your Old Droog doesn't have the same benefit, it strangely reminds me of Nas and his super concentrated flows that fail to journey outside of their designated path. Makes for some great rapping overall, and the beat doesn't slouch either. Not much bad to say about this one.

Little Dragon - High

Little Dragon's high-brow brand of ElectroPop tends to be fairly hit or miss. That is, of course, speaking only on behalf of the songs I've entertained, many of which come courtesy of many eclectic artists she's worked with. From Big Boi to Mac Miller to Gorillaz, the Swedish band helmed by lead Yukimi Nagano has made their rounds in attracting unusual attention from fans who might not partake in classy Pop. 'High,' an impromptu single released this past week, defines the group quite well, moving delicately around Nagano's vocals and the constantly pulsating percussion behind her. There's a certain purity present, a whiff of clean air permeating the waveforms, as if no interfering dust has made its way in. Being that this is art, that's not necessarily a good thing, and like many other ElectroPop artists, Little Dragon can be criticized for being too pristine.

But that's entirely user-preference. While Little Dragon follows more traditional measures, I'm likening 'High' to Son Lux's work, in the stylistic approach of sharp edges, rigid constructs, and straight lines. Nothing's placed inappropriately, as all the instrumentation, layered atop one another, are eloquently placed around Nagano's wavering falsetto. Like many song's she's appeared on, Nagano's the highlight on 'High,' working among the production with relative ease. Much of this talent can be attributed to her vocals, but it's really the way she presents herself, a mix between the seduction of Contemporary R&B and the tastefulness of quirky Indie Pop stars, where Nagano's true light shines. Still, 'High' can only reach a certain peak before the limits of its own restraints catches up to it. For a quick indulgence of SynthPop, it works. Being memorable down the road though? That's a different story.

DJ Khaled - Shining

With how much DJ Khaled flaunts himself in all foreseeable aspects, it's easy to forget he's a producer at heart. Even I have a tough time challenging this idea, as I see Khaled more as a hype man for mainstream Hip-Hop as a whole than a single producer whose got his name and phrase slapped on a handful of tracks. Even when "we the besttttttt" comes blaring through my speakers it seems more directed at a style than the man himself making the music. This can largely be attributed to his lack of instrumental work, solely working with high-profile artists but pushing his namesake to the forefront. There's no better example of this than 'Shining,' an unexpected single that features everyone's favorite (or least favorite) married couple, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Apart from his slew of subpar work where he's been the weakest aspect, Khaled actually represents the best aspects of 'Shining.'

End of the day though, the song's still not good, nor memorable. Given whose positioned on the track, it's clear 'Shining' is a trend-grabbing commodity, intent on shooting up to number one off image alone. For the better part of the track BeyoncĂ© acts as main enforcer, even dueling with Khaled a bit during the hook. Her appearance isn't excellent and more focused on her aggressive, braggadocios demeanor, which, while enjoyable, doesn't have much impact in the long run. Jay-Z has even less so, but that's par for the course in my eyes of an aging vet who's content with sticking to Hip-Hop's rules. Surprisingly, Khaled's the best here. Not vocally mind you, I still hate to hear him speak, but sonically, using thumping drums that really add some oomph. Above that, there's some sample cutting here too, used well especially towards the end when it's given time to shine. Still though, 'Shining's' your prototypical Pop Rap hype track, without much depth to speak of. 

Peter Silberman - Ahimsa

Known to most as frontman of Indie's most popular Slowcore outfit The Antlers, Peter Silberman has had the talents to make it as a solo artist since 2009's infamous Hospice proved the singer as a phenomenally heartbroken songwriter with a knack for emotional unraveling's. That day has come, as he's set to release Impermanence next week. After the two previous singles 'Karuna' and 'New York' proved that nothing much would change given The Antlers' absence, 'Ahimsa' has gone on to confirm that. The near-seven minute track is about as slow as you can imagine, meandering like melting ice, using strictly Silberman's voice, his guitar, and some added ambient noises for added effect. It lacks the direct shock and awe of anything off Hospice, the musical capabilities of Burst Apart, but feels aptly comparable to 2014's Familiars, which might've been The Antlers' slowest release to date. 

'Ahimsa,' which is a Buddhist word that means the principle of nonviolence towards all living things holds quite a distinct meaning for the song it now shares a name with. Silberman, through his wheezy falsetto, shares with us the definition repeatedly, essentially droning on with his voice and the line "no violence today." It's quite nice and peaceful, but lacks that needed payoff. Instead of turning into something grander than what it led itself onto being, 'Ahimsa' merely fades away, and for a seven-minute song that's quite a disappointment. However, that's not to say the minute or so or refrained bird chirps and echoing instrumentation aren't pretty, they just act as if something immaculate happened, when, instead, the song slowly made its way towards that point. With Impermanence right around the corner, it'll remain to be seen how 'Ahimsa' fits in with the rest of the LP, especially if we continue to follow the similar Slowcore mindset Silberman has found himself in recently.

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