Sunday, May 14, 2017

Loosies Of The Week, May. 8-14

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 monumental week filled with lots of amazing, interesting singles. Guarantee they'll be something to enjoy here. 

Cornelius - If You're Here

All I know of Cornelius is that he released Fantasma in 1997 and it was amazing. A kaleidoscopic array of genres smashed together, one after another, was the ultimate calling card of that album. Sure, it could easily be labelled under Shibuya-kei, but I, and the majority of your typical American listeners I presume, have no idea what Skibuya-kei is, or the style of sounds it entails. Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Shoegaze, Plunderphonics, Dream Pop, Ambient Pop, Psychedelic Pop, Instrumental Hip-Hop, all of it, and more, could be found under the roof of Fantasma. It's one of the most eclectic albums I've ever heard, and while I've never listened to a lick of Cornelius' work outside his heralded epic, there was no denying that seeing a new single appear under his name would unquestionably spark my attention. Turns out, I didn't even know, that this is the lead single to his newly announced LP Mellow Waves, his first album in 11 years.

And guess what? 'If You're Here' is great. Not surprisingly, although I am losing faith in numerous artists failing to change their sound despite aging more than two decades, 'If You're Here' sounds nothing like the rambunctious attitude running rampant on Fantasma. Cornelius has clearly matured since 1997, causing the music to mature along with him. The best part? There isn't a dip in quality whatsoever. It's tough to pin down 'If You're Here' to a single genre, but Art Rock might do a well enough job. There's certain elements of Synthpop, but the well-mannered grooves and slow pace prevent this from becoming a hit. The musicianship on display is excellent, from all corners, whether technical or organic. And while I can't understand Cornelius' Japanese, his vocals glide off the ease and welcoming nature of the production, made all the more enticing by the incredible music video that accompanies the track. If you're pressed for time, at least listen to the last two minutes, which features some immaculate structuring, pacing, and overall quality.

Shabazz Palaces - 30 Clip Extension

If Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star wasn't enough, Shabazz Palaces went on to announce that July 14th, the same day that album releases, Quazarz Vs. The Jealous Machines, an entirely separate record, will drop too. Hallelujah! I'll never deny more music from one of my favorite acts, especially one that's clearly centered around a focused concept. Just like 'Shine A Light' revealed the aura behind the first album a few weeks back, '30 Clip Extension' seems to be doing the same for Jealous Machines. Apart from the Experimental Hip-Hop backdrop that Shabazz Palaces always abides by, the two singles share a collective similarity in their topical nature; that of criticizing those currently in Hip-Hop's limelight.

I'll be the first to admit, if it weren't for their unusual approach, the condescending tone Ishmael Butler takes would be reduced to your classic le wrong generation. Remember, this is the same Butler that spearheaded the Digable Planets nearly three decades ago, the futuristic music he now makes doesn't nullify his age. While 'Shine A Light' merely intended to criticize fakes in the industry, '30 Clip Extension' goes directly at rappers who flaunt their wealth, showcase hypocrisy, and have ghostwriters doing all their dirty work. Where '30 Clip Extension' loses me isn't in the concept, which seems to follow something chronologically as Butler notes each passing verse with a year, but rather the redundancy. Shabazz Palaces has done this before, a handful of times. Calling out musicians isn't anything new for them, and can be found all the way back on 2011's 'Yeah You.' Let's just hope the entirety of these albums doesn't obsess over it.

Fleet Foxes - Fool's Errand

A few months back Fleet Foxes released 'Third Of May / Ōdaigahara,' a massive, nine-minute lead single that officially marked the group's return to the Indie spotlight. After taking a six-year break, which included Robin Pecknold, leader of the Folk purveyors, studying and graduating at Columbia University, the Fleet Foxes finally returned with something so beautiful, breathtaking, and glorious that I couldn't help but reconsider why I was just merely a passerbyer to the group's greatness. While I had only heard their debut, nothing on that record all those years back was as impressive or daunting as 'Third Of May / Ōdaigahara.' It conjoined the simple, laid back Folk scene with that of progressive, modern epics. It was as if the overindulgent Prog Rock of the past was made by rural freethinkers than gutsy artsy types. Supremely well-composed no matter which angle you looked at it, 'Third Of May / Ōdaigahara' set the bar extremely high for Crack-Up.

And while 'Fool's Errand,' the album's second single, doesn't reach that plateau, expecting it to do so would've been foolish in and of itself. Even so, while the quaint, romantic, reflective track bears more similarities to Fleet Foxes' work on Helplessness Blues, the constant shifts in tone proves even more so why Crack-Up may be the first highly-ambitious Folk album in god knows how long. As with 'Third Of May,' and every single song on Crack-Up I can predict, 'Fool's Errand' is heavenly in the combination of Pecknold's vocals and the dancing production behind him. I do feel the hook, or how Pecknold sings it, is a tad weak, as it lacks the ability for a listener to latch onto it. The bread and butter of 'Fool's Errand' can be found in the progression and structuring, which always stays on its toes, despite each moment, even the Ambient passage at the end, feeling as though it's been carefully crafted to never defer attention.

Danny Brown - Kool Aid

The streak for Silicon Valley continues, as Danny Brown comes around with a one-off banger entitled 'Kool Aid.' As a big fan of the show, one of my favorite moments each week comes not from the actual script but the surprise of hearing a random, often times lauded Hip-Hop track adorn the credits. This week's was one of the best as Dr. Octagon's 'Blue Flowers' sent me back years to the comic book hysteria of Hip-Hop's mid-90's to mid-00's period. It's only a matter of time before DOOM himself appears on this soundtrack. Hell, Danny Brown himself, even though he doesn't hide behind a mask, is one of the few characters upholding that cartoonish devilishness of the past. Listen to Atrocity Exhbition, one of 2016's best albums, and you'll see why. Untethered creativity mixed with an incredible producer made for an album that could be seen, in later years, as a peak to what mid-2010's Hip-Hop can be.

'Kool Aid,' unfortunately but not unexpected, doesn't fit into that line of thinking. For one, it's a loosie primed for a TV show soundtrack, it's not going to be the best material. I know that, you know that, and Danny knows that. Silicon Valley's Hip-Hop typically centers around bombastic bangers that are wild, claustrophobic, and daring. 'Kool Aid' is certainly that, but feels a few years behind the times, as direct comparisons can be drawn to Danny Brown's Old. It goes without saying, the second half of Old, the one overflowing with coked out bangers meant for tweekers, ravers, and psychotics. 'Kool Aid' fits that to a tee. If that was your cup of tea, as it is for me given the right mind frame, then 'Kool Aid' will be right up your alley. The production feels inspired by TNGHT and Flume, despite including some frantic percussion that feels pandering and lackluster. As for Danny himself, the persona is there but the lyrics are as trivial as Old's second half was.

Like Grizzly Bear one week before them, I decided to check out The National's 'The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness' because of the hoopla surrounding the famous Indie Rock band making another album. These two, along with a few others, have always inhabited the same mental space for me, as groups that exude quality but rarely impress. That was merely my assumption mind you, I haven't actually listened to The National or Grizzly Bear apart from 'The System' and 'Three Rings' respectively. They fulfill the breadth of Indie without actually creating new lanes. They act as the necessary fillers that keep Indie Indie, while more outlandish groups like Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens, or Arcade Fire go about their business pushing the envelope.

Considering I thoroughly enjoyed 'Three Rings' last week, a track that oozed Neo-Psychedelia despite me not having a clue Grizzly Bear partook in the sub-genre, I figured why not take a poke at 'The System' and see where it leaves The National in my heart. Unlike Grizzly Bear, it's in the exact same place they began. This is Indie Rock. It's very by-the-books. It's not bad, but it's not sensational, because it doesn't really do anything to deserve that. There's something about the purposely unspectacular vocals of Matt Berninger that rubs me the wrong way, like a more subdued Sam Herring. Apart from the bridge there isn't a part of his I'm truly enjoying, and that goes a long way into enjoying 'The System' overall. Musically, the assortment of instruments helps to beef up the stature of 'The System,' but again, they're simply rudimentary guitars, drums, and keyboards. Only the subtle backing vocals slide somewhat onto the line of creativity.

Chester Watson - Marble

Chester Watson's one of those uber talented Hip-Hop up-and-comers who will, more likely than not, never achieve the acclaim he deserves. That's not to say 'Marble's' indicative of that, this is just an instrumental after all, but I'm using 'Marble' more to speak about Watson's overall talents and place in the industry. Here's a quick and easy way to understand just how close he was/is to being a household name amongst Hip-Hop heads. If Earl Sweatshirt didn't exist, Chester Watson would take that spot. However, the lack of a mysterious background, affiliations with other noted artists (Watson has none), and definitive material released in album-form have been the primary reasons for Sweatshirt's notoriety over his. Their talents as rappers and producers are essentially neck and neck, despite Sweatshirt eclipsing him in the personal element. If anything, 'Marble' just shows that sonically they're similar too.

'Marble' isn't a good starting point to get into Watson, of course. The breezy, Cloud Rap Trap fails to feature his vocals, which would've truly sent this thing to the next plateau. I was biding my time, hoping there'd be one excellent verse to cap 'Marble' off. Unfortunately, I was expecting it given the runtime, which at three minutes doesn't seem like all that much, but is longer than the majority of the scatterbrained tracks on Past Cloaks, Watson's debut. Speaking on behalf of 'Marble' itself, it's pretty damn impressive. The multi-layering of well-mastered drums, synths, and vocal samples creates this musty atmosphere that feels like a dank basement if the colors were inverted. Watson's DOOM influence is felt, but at the same time elaborated upon, as if he's advancing his styles to something that's more inspired by the zany psychedelics of El-P and the Hip-Hop wit of 9th Wonder.

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