Joey Bada$$- ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$

On We got it from here… Thank you 4 your Service, Q-tip raps, “Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole/ The gatekeepers of flow”. The last three MC’s he mentions made sense to me: Kendrick being the greatest alive, Earl Sweatshirt is the best lyricist of the progressive movement in hip-hop (sorry Danny Brown and Vince Staples), and J. Cole went platinum without any features. Twice. I had listened to Joey Bada$$ a little bit before I’d heard that line and from what I’d seen, his name wasn’t worth mentioning in this list. At that point, A$AP Rocky had done a much better job of representing the beast coast and Brooklyn’s Own was only 21; I needed a larger sample size to put him on such a pedestal. On April 7th, I got what I asked for and then some.

ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is the album Joey Bada$$ needed to launch himself into the rap stratosphere. He’s given himself an identity with this project and personally, I think he has surpassed J. Cole as the penultimate voice in conscious rap. But before I get into that argument, I’ll quickly talk about the beat selection, production, and features: All fantastic. There isn’t a a song on here that I would scrap and I think each track shows a different side of Joey thanks to Kirk Knight and Statik Selektah, among the other producers on this project. As for features, Chronixx and Meechy Darko were amazing. While I think everyone on the project did an awesome job, those two were the only artists on the same level as Joey. Now that’s not to say no one went above and beyond Mr. Bada$$ because there was one artist who absolutely destroyed his feature. Like threw it in a body bag and dumped it in the Hudson. Of course I’m talking about Schoolboy Q on ROCKABYE BABY because that was some vintage, Oxymoron-style Q. The quality of this project was an absolute 10 out of 10 for me but there is one area that I think could use a little work: The substance.

I believe that this album is Joey’s good kid, m.A.A.d city or Born Sinner. For Kendrick and Cole, respectively, these projects cemented these artists as top tier spitters. They were able to communicate their observations of the world in a commercially and artistically successful way that people could relate to. They were bringing up real issues and were story-telling but they weren’t problem solving. As young MC’s, they weren’t going deeper just yet, giving us a look into why they deserved to be voices of a generation. We waited for 2014 Forest Hills Drive/4 Your Eyez Only and To Pimp a Butterfly/Untitled Unmastered to see how the newest, most prominent voices in hip-hop wanted to use their recently acquired fame. I think Joey did a better job than Cole in this first phase of rap stardom. He is starting to see the world as a 22 year old but can he start to lead his fans to the promised land, to a better AMERIKKKA? I don’t know but I’m damn excited to find out.

Score: 9.1

What’s The Deal With Jam Rock? (Or, What Happened to the Tuesday Rock Show?)

As one or two of you may have noticed, the Tuesday Rock & Roll show has gotten a little weird over the past couple of weeks.  Gone are any semblance of verse-chorus structured songs, or even any song structures at all.  Instead, long, meandering jams, seemingly devoid of any purpose, often lasting well over ten minutes, seem to have taken their place.  So what’s going on with this spaced-out music and why is it a part of the Rock Show?

Vermont-based jam band Phish (http://phishthoughts.com/tag/new-years/)

Jam rock has deep roots in rock music; there is no genre that describes it more closely, hence its name.  But listen a little more closely, and you may hear the country-blues-rock-jazz fusion of the Grateful Dead, the Zappa-esque funk grooves of Phish, the “jamtronica” of Lotus (peep Jessica’s recent review of Lotus at Park City Live: http://kuteradio.org/tag/lotus/), or the progressive influences in the music of Umphrey’s McGee.  This is an eclectic genre that truly shines in its most unrestrained form, live performance.  Jam bands, in a practice that is not widespread around the live music scene, never perform two shows with the same setlist.  More importantly, though, no two songs are ever performed exactly the same.  Jam bands perform their shows “without a net”, that is to say, they have no set plan for how any single song will be played. Instead, their extended musical explorations, which often branch out of rehearsed song sections, are reflections of a single moment in time which will never be replicated.  Such is the beauty of jam rock: it is an endless supply of new music due to the fact that no two performances will contain the same music.  Though it may be a hard concept to explain, there is no greater musical gift than to be able to constantly hear totally new versions of your favorite song, with familiar parts where they should be, and totally new pieces elsewhere.  Thus, live recordings (apart from going to concerts!) represent the best way to consume jam rock, which each unique performance captured as a musical snapshot of a particular moment.

Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead (https://www.pinterest.com/farrelltimlake/homegrown-dead/)

So you might be thinking, “Just because they jam doesn’t mean that it is good!”. You would be absolutely right.  With such unplanned, improvisational music, flubs and truly aimless jams are bound to happen.  But when all elements come together and bands are firing on all cylinders, amazing moments occur.  At their best, for example, the legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia can be heard weaving flowing melodies throughout the rhythmic tidal wave of the Grateful Dead, and Phish’s legendary ability to turn jams on a dime gives them an ability to bring frenzied musical-freak outs to soaring, totally focused peaks.  Often, audience reactions can be heard slightly on recordings, and there is a clear sense of mutual exchange of energy between the bands and their audience as each push each other to continue exploring musically.

http://www.dead.net/fanphotos/jfk-stadium-7-10-87

Before you dismiss jam music as only for spaced-out hippies and freaks, give it a listen.  It works equally well in the background or for focused listening.  Let the bands take your ear with them wherever they decide to go, and recognize the depth of musical theory, knowledge, and experience that allows these bands to step onstage without a set plan.  You may begin to notice clear signs of totally unspoken musical communication between band members, and you may be surprised to hear the return of familiar chords and lyrics after particularly meandering or intense jams.  Should you enjoy the music and continuing listening, you may begin to get the sense that there is a huge community around this music, but that topic is for another day.  In the meantime, you might be able to start to understand how a little Vermont band like Phish can sell out four nights in a row at Madison Square Garden nearly every New Years weekend, or how a bunch of hippies from late-60s San Francisco, called the Grateful Dead, were able to fill football stadiums well into the 1990s.  There is truly more to this music than first meets the ear.

Smino- blkswn

I wanted to give you guys a comparison of Smino Brown to someone else, just to give you a sense of the type of artist he is, but I can’t come up with anyone. There is no one in music right now or that I can think of in the past that has been making the type of music Smino is making. The closest group I could come up with is Outkast but to say that Smino is another Andre clone would be doing him a massive disservice. This rapper/singer out of St. Louis seems to be taking the best parts of rap from across the country and combining them. He flows like he’s from Brooklyn, brings the jazz and soul from the south with his voice, uses the grand production and showmanship that has been coming out of Chicago, and he’s been liberated by West Coast rap, talking about what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants. He’s so incredibly versatile on this tape but at the same time staying incredibly cohesive. For a debut album, blkswn is everything I could have wanted from Smino and then some.

That’s not to say that this album is perfect. I certainly have a few gripes here and there. The biggest issue for me right now is that there are a couple songs on blkswn that don’t have that same sort of easy-going way about them. The first one that stuck out to me was “Maraca”. He just doesn’t seem to settle into this track the way he does on the opener and even though there are other songs on the album where he flows a lot faster than on “Maraca”, something doesn’t seem quite right on this cut. I hear it a little bit on “Glass Flows” and “Edgar Allen Poe’d Up” where Smino seems like he’s either a little behind the beat or that he’s trying too hard. Those songs are all at the beginning of the album and as the track list plays, he seems to find his groove a little more, switching in and out of flows like it’s nothing. Personally, there are very few albums more than 15 songs long that I wouldn’t change at all. That seems to be my subjective threshold for LP length so this might just be me but I could do without two or three songs on this album.

With that criticism out of the way, I have to say that about 10 of the songs off this album have been on heavy rotation for me since the release. “Wild Irish Roses”, “Flea Flicka”, “Anita”, “blkswn”, “Long Run”, “Innamission”, “Ricky Millions”, and “Amphetamine” are all on my “favorite music right now” playlist. I also really like the song “B Role”, partly because it bangs and partly because it’s a risk for Smino. An artist as special as this guy could just run with his own sound but he is still trying to push boundaries and find new avenues to explore. I can’t help but respect that and I am excited to see where this rhyme smith will go in the future.

Interview with Bad Suns

As a long time fan of the LA alt-rock band, Bad Suns, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down and talk to them about their newest album Disappear Here. Along with that, I was also able to interview the band about their current tour, as well as ask a few questions about their previous album, Language & Perspective.

My first encounter with Bad Suns was in 2014 when I ran into their music online. I quickly fell in love with their songs, and after a couple months I received their Language & Perspective vinyl as a birthday gift. Their catchy hooks and energetic songs make them the perfect band to sit down and jam out to, but they also don’t shy away from music that focuses on more serious issues and contain a lot more lyrical depth.

I met up with the band at The Complex on February 28th; the winter weather was still lingering as fans huddled up in a line outside of the venue. I met up with the band inside where I was able to meet all of the members. I was first introduced to Christo Bowman (Lead vocals and guitar), then Gavin Bennett (Bass), Ray Libby (Guitar), and Miles Morris (Drums).

After we all sat down, I asked the group about their newest album, Disappear Here, and how  their sound has changed and evolved from their first album, Language & Perspective.

“We felt in a lot of ways that Language & Perspective feels like the first couple of dates with a person; you present yourself the best that you can, showing the best sides of yourself, but with Disappear Here it’s kind of a bit more like falling in love…There’s more vulnerability there and it goes a bit deeper, but at the same time it’s still the same person,” Christo explained.

While Language & Perspective is still one of my favorite albums, it’s easy to tell that Disappear Here feels more confident and structured while still maintaining their original sound.

I then asked the band about the album title itself, Disappear Here, and how the name came about.

Christo explained, “We were in the studio and I was reading the book Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, which is one of my favorites, and there’s a billboard that appears in the narrative a few times that says ‘Disappear Here.’ I remember we were thinking of album titles…and it kind of encapsulated everything we wanted it to. It’s like instructions too, to an extent, it’s like sit down, put your headphones on, and disappear here.”  

For myself, music has always felt like an escape, but with the track list for Disappear Here it’s very easy to follow the album’s directions; just sit back and get lost in the music.

Lastly, I talked to Bad Suns about their most recent tour. Coincidentally, Salt Lake City was their first show on the list, so I asked them about what they all looked forward to the most when performing live on their tours.

“I was talking to my uncle just the other day about this. It’s a really cool real life manifestation of your hard work. It manifests itself into people physically spending their time to go buy a ticket or drive to the show; it’s really encouraging.” Ray explained.

Christo chimed in, “Yeah it feels like the reward aspect of what we do…It’s one thing when we put a record out, and it’s great to see that people are listening to it…but you don’t really get the full picture until you come to a show and you see a room full of people singing along to the entire record and you go ‘Oh wow, this is real, these people are actually spending time with our music,’ and that’s just an incredible feeling.”

It was definitely really nice to see how humbled the band was to be playing live, and as a fan, I was definitely humbled to be able to sit and interview them.

If you’ve never listened to Bad Suns before, make sure to check out the song below. Sadly, they’ve already passed through Utah, but if you’d like to see them in the future during the rest of their tour, be sure to check out their tour dates for this Summer!

 

Lotus: A Park City Live Review

When there’s nothing to do in Salt Lake City, it’s sometimes worth checking up on SLC’s smaller neighbor, Park City. While packed during the Sundance Film Festival, Park City has a toned down local feel for the rest of the year. With the size of city being so small, it’s surprising that it still manages to pack a strong punch when it comes to booking top quality bands. Park City Live is a concert venue in the center of historic Main Street. Their Winterfest concert series helps people like me who dread the winter to have something to look forward to during the year’s darkest months. This year the venue booked current big names like Major Lazer and Marshmello, but also has some more eclectic picks ranging from Bluegrass bands to Reggae in the lineup. No matter what your tastes, its likely Park City Live has booked some serious talent within your favorite genres.

Last Saturday the venue hosted Lotus, a band formed in 1999 that has since been heavily touring venues and music festivals across the country. They’re pioneers in a genre best labeled as “jamtronica”. A mixture of classic jazz band jamming and improvised electronic music. The combination of the two leads to a unique sound and a wide range of tempos from get up and dance or sit back and chill.  While the band worked as a well-oiled machine with each musician playing off one another, the guitarist Michael Rempel really stood out. The riffs he provided often brought the funk to their songs, getting the greatest reaction from the audience. Near the end of the set the band played their song Greet the Mind, during which Michael’s playing brought the filled venue to a state of boogie.

The crowd Lotus brought together is a testament to their music. It’s free of any labels of classification and requires only a mind open to good music. Just looking into the crowd you could see a range of people from those dressed in full costume to elderly couples swing dancing. Going solo to a Lotus show like I did only means there’s a greater opportunity to meet friendly and interesting people. Amongst the crowd I met a group of real estate agents from San Francisco, a raver chick from California, and a nomad who shapes his travel itinerary according to the touring schedule of the band. After questing him more, I realized that he was hardly an anomaly. Lotus has a grouping of roadies that follow them from show to show particularly for the open-hearted scene their music creates. This following is also due to the jam aspect of their set. No two Lotus shows are the same, providing a unique experience only available in the present moment of their concert.

MUNA – About U

When people ask me what albums I’ve been listening to recently, MUNA, an all-girl band from California, is definitely at the top of the list. Their style is extremely unique, and with songs that include lyrical depth as well as catchy pop beats, they’re a band you’ll say “I knew them before they were cool” when they climb up the pop and alt charts.

Surprisingly, I first discovered MUNA’s music through my mother. I was lying in bed when she sent me a text saying she bought two tickets to MUNA’s concert at Kilby Court on February 13th. However, being the ornery college student that I am, I brushed them off thinking they just wouldn’t be my style. But after their concert, I realized how wrong my judgements actually were.

MUNA entered the stage with members Katie Gavin (Lead vocals/Production), Josette Maskin (Lead Guitar), and Naomi McPherson (Rhythm Guitar/Synth/Production). Even though the stage was small, they definitely put on quite the show. Their microphone stands were adorned with white flowers and Gavin’s audience rapport made the show feel very intimate and organic; an experience that’s sometimes hard to find in a live performance.

As soon as the concert ended, I went to iTunes and downloaded their CD “About U.” Though their song “I Know A Place” is the main single from the album, my personal favorites are “Promise,” “Crying On The Bathroom Floor,” and “End of Desire.” But no matter the song, there’s always a catchy element to their music that leaves you tapping your foot and humming along. Plus, Katie Gavin’s vocals have a certain unique tinge, similar to Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries, that pulls you in and leaves you wanting more.

One of my favorite things about MUNA, however, is how they combine the sound of an indie-pop band with an aesthetic that’s dark, eerie, and unexpected. Their album cover is mostly black featuring images of roses and chains; a somewhat 90’s goth look for a band that’s so pop. But I think this is why I like MUNA. They juxtapose their pop sound with lyrics that are darker and deeper than what’s typical of the pop genre.

Along with their unique image, MUNA identifies as a “queer girl band.” None of the band members identify as straight, and they all made a conscious effort to exclude any gender specific pronouns in their songs. They also challenge current political issues, such as adding the lyrics “He’s not my leader, even if he is my President,” to their live versions of “I Know A Place.” While some of MUNA’s songs may cover touchy subjects, their overall message is that of acceptance and being confident with yourself even if that means not adhering to social norms.

MUNA is still a relatively new band, but I have a feeling that won’t last for long. Their sound, image, and message combine into something that’s a breath of fresh air for the current pop scene. And with appearances on both Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Shows, I can only imagine we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.

 

The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings

The Orwells are at it again with their third release almost three years after the well-received Disgraceland. However, with this new record comes a new set of challenges for the group: not only are they in competition with their earlier releases, but also, the question of how long rock and roll records are going to keep getting attention. In some views, The Orwells are our today’s Strokes: five dudes making rock and roll; claimed to be saviors of the genre; youthful, spirited, sexy; etc. But it’s the contrast between the two bands and their respective eras that bring up the obstacles of reality this new record faces: the Strokes got to be in a world where MTV still gave a shit about music; the Orwells get to hope that a portion of one of their songs play while VH1 transitions between episodes of “America’s Next Top Model;” the Strokes got to release records when people were still buying them; the Orwells get to have their pennies snubbed by Apple Music and Spotify; the Strokes were able to inspire a generation of kids to pick up a guitar; the Orwells might be some of the last of those kids. However, their situation isn’t all dismal. They are still able to tour as a group and they do have an unprecedented ability to make old rock and roll tropes seem alive and well.

https://is1-ssl.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/Music71/v4/0c/4c/ce/0c4ccea5-8262-49ad-5a77-7c23fd948b06/source/1200x630bf.jpg

“They Put a Body In the Bayou” came out late last year and made promise the band was going to make another good delivery. Batting off the record it sets a high standard that are quickly followed up by “Fry” and “Creature,” two tracks that demonstrate the sassy yet relatable demeanor that has become loved of the band. “Buddy,” also an early single, probably comes out of the record as the best looking track. It’s quick, under a minute-thirty and is about one-night-stands, which has always been a favorite of rock and roll. “Hippie Soldier” and “Heavy Head” keep the record moving at solid rates with tormented guitars laments of “the easy way out” until it arrives at “Body Reprise,” a minute-fifteen ambient track full of hollow “ooooohs” with a vacant drum beat that I’m sure Brian Eno could at least nod at.

Wrapping up the record, “Ring Pop” and “Last Call” bring on a noise level that calls across to pond and time to those 1970s pub rock bands like Duck Deluxe and Dr. Feelgood who were as indifferent to the last call as the Orwells are to diminishing record sales. “Double Feature,” clocking at a surprising 7:18 for the band, brings on a perspective of questioning life choices and what chance a man has “from the wrong side of the tracks.” After few verses and choruses, the band dive into an instrumental break with guitar technical that surfaces images of what Television was doing years ago and introduces more howling vocals similar to what was going on in “Body Reprise.”

By the end, though, this record turns out to be a solid release, but, however, nothing more significant than that. It’s an album defined by the rock and roll tropes it lives up to. Nothing is out of place, wrong or a short step from the Orwells, it’s just very familiar. Without a newer cause or figurative idea of what rock and roll could be, it comes out as another record. Thirty years ago if this had been released it would have gotten a fair amount of attention and deserved it. Though, if it were released a hundred years from now no one would probably know it. Terrible Human Beings is a good record, but, however, because of the times and with all of the other noise out there, it’s just not that exciting.

Lotus: A Park City Live Review

When there’s nothing happening in Salt Lake City, it’s often worth checking up on SLC’s smaller neighbor, Park City. While packed during the Sundance Film Festival, Park City has a toned down local feel for the rest of the year. With the size of city being so small, it’s surprising that it still manages to pack a strong punch when it comes to booking top quality bands. Park City Live is a concert venue in the center of historic Main Street. Their Winterfest concert series helps people like me who dread the winter to have something to look forward to during the year’s darkest months. This year the venue booked current big names like Major Lazer and Marshmello, but also has some more eclectic picks ranging from Bluegrass bands to Reggae in the lineup. No matter what your tastes, its likely Park City Live has booked some serious talent within your favorite genres.

Last Saturday the venue hosted Lotus, a band formed in 1999 that has since been heavily touring venues and music festivals across the country. They’re pioneers in a genre best labeled as “jamtronica”. A mixture of classic jazz band jamming and improvised electronic music. The combination of the two leads to a unique sound and a wide range of tempos from get up and dance or sit back and chill.  While the band worked as a well-oiled machine with each musician playing off one another, the guitarist Michael Rempel really stood out. The riffs he provided often brought the funk to their songs, getting the greatest reaction from the audience. Near the end of the set the band played their song Greet the Mind, during which Michael’s playing brought the filled venue to a state of boogie.

The crowd Lotus brought together is a testament to their music. It’s free of any labels of classification and requires only a mind open to good music. Just looking into the crowd you could see a range of people from those dressed in full costume to elderly couples swing dancing. Going solo to a Lotus show like I did only means there’s a greater opportunity to meet friendly and interesting people. Among the crowd I met a group of real estate agents from San Francisco, a raver chick from California, and a nomad who shapes his travel itinerary according to the touring schedule of the band. After questing him more, I realized that he was hardly an anomaly. Lotus has a grouping of roadies that follow them from show to show particularly for the open-hearted scene their music creates. This following is also due to the jam aspect of their set. No two Lotus shows are the same, providing a unique experience only available in the present moment of their concert.