Who’s Next – The Who

I can remember the first time I ever heard The Who, I was sitting in the back seat of a truck heading towards Boy Scout camp, attempting to pass hour two of four by reading quietly while my scoutmaster switched CDs. There are twenty-one tracks on the first disk of The Who: Ultimate Collection and I did not hear the first twenty. Then “Baba O’Riley” came on and my whole world stopped. For five minutes and six seconds I did not move, I did not blink, I barely breathed. My whole perception of rock music, to which I had previously been more or less indifferent to, transformed to the tune of a rapidly oscillating synthesizer, some arena-sized power chords, and a fiddle solo. When I got home from camp, Who’s Next was the first CD I ever bought for myself and I would listen to it for hours on my “No-Skip” player. I imagined that I sat alone on the floor of the ocean, my problems distant blue waves above me, as Roger Daltrey asserted, “I don’t need to fight/to prove I’m right.” My life can successfully be described as BTW and ATW: Before The Who and After The Who.

Who’s Next began as Lifehouse, Pete Townshend’s ambitious sci-fi companion to his seminal rock opera Tommy. When that project fell apart, Townshend used songs from it most prominently on Who’s Next, with other selections appearing on later albums.

Who’s Next does not feel like an album resurrected from the ashes of a failed project. It soars with a pulsating rhythm section accompanied by soulful guitar licks and warmly programmed synthesizer riffs. The songs of Who’s Next acts as an examination between freedom and what “My Wife” and “Going Mobile” expressed two sides of an intangible idea: the desire to be free and what keeps one from being free. In “My Wife,” a man spends a night in the lock-up because of his drinking and fears the retribution of his jealous wife. He is trapped between a rock and a hard place: he can’t go home without taking abuse from his wife and yet the longer he stays away from her, the more vicious her attack will be. “Going Mobile” describes the love of the open road, the joy of being an “air-conditioned gypsy.” It’s a happy tale of casting off the cares of the material world and settling where the gas runs out. “Bargain” becomes a sweet song disguised as a tough man trying to explain his love. He tells the listener that his relationship was “a bargain/the best I ever had.” But things get tenderer in the bridge when Townshend takes over for a moment to assert, “one and one don’t make two/one and one make one.”

Other superb hits on Who’s Next include “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Both express a weariness of the world and a resignation to accept what pain may come. The marvelous pathos within “Behind Blue Eyes” works so well because the narrator pushes away the listener: “Nobody knows what it’s like/to be the bad man/to be the sad man.” Yet the viewer knows these feelings and becomes more involved in the narrative, trying to connect with a voice that wants to be understood on his own terms. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a synthesizer opus, call to revolution, foot stomping end to Who’s Next, but the fate of the narrator isn’t so final as his rebellious efforts have resulted in “meet[ing] the new boss/same as the old boss.”

Who’s Next emerged from Pete Townshend’s breakdown over Lifehouse, but The Who triumphed over adversity and changed my life in the process. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by my adolescent life, I’d smile and whisper, “it’s only teenage wasteland.”

Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

This first release of the two volumes, which will be catalogued together as the band’s fourth record, takes on the Yin of Chinese philosophy – the Yang to be taken care of in vol. 2. Roughly translating to “the shady side of the hill,” the Yin in vol. 1 is used as a vessel to take on a more grim subject matter, moving through night and dark, bumping into ideas like how vague and black the world can be. This is all according to the duo themselves, Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada. They found themselves in the darkness of a Portland winter at the start of making this record, and having ended in the season of infectious scents that is a northwestern spring, they thought it would only make sense to evolve this record as winter to spring, night to day, dark to light – Yin to Yang.

Pigeonholing themselves in the genre of what they call “repeat-o rock” (their incessant repetition and uncompromising loop of riffs provides a cadence that probably first attributes to punk legends, Suicide) they surface their dark contemplations, batting off with “The Death Set.” Setting the stage for rest of the record’s ambience, the track contains relentless fuzzed out guitar, a beat you can coolly nod your head back and forth to, synths attacking from all directions and soft, yet demented, gospel-like vocals that keep you in tune with the evolution taking place. “Cold Fear” and “Will of the Devil” bring on more of the same allowing the band to flex their commitment and show that if something gets stuck in their heads it won’t be over for at least another five minutes. But it’s when we get to “Creepin” that perspective shifts a bit and listening to it you feel like you could be on some coastal highway zipping along the beach in a convertible. Ironically, given the dark tones and discrepancy of light within the rest of the album, this will probably be the composition that sticks with you come the end of the album. However, I might only think that because we are in the dead of winter and I could really use a beach. “Cross-Town Fade” and “Cult of Moloch” are great tracks that alleviate the bite from a cold breeze; the former surfaces the likely influence of Suicide bringing out old-school drum machines that compliment the playful synthesizers that might sound familiar if you’re into the Brooklyn art project Japanther, and the latter elevates the band to their most tenacious mode demonstrating a duel of two soloing guitars above the atmosphere of drum machines and fuzzed-out-guitars-on-repeat.

Vol. 1 comes to its conclusion, and where it will pivot to the Yang and sunny skies in Vol. 2, in “White Rose.” The track channels in with sound of ambient winds, almost like air moving through an indefinite valley, void of time and consequence, until the beat kicks in and you remember that you’re listening to a song. The song itself moves in and out of its gospel, clashing synths and guitar solos, but never let’s that beat stop. Not for a second. Not until the ambient winds return after 10 minutes and it fades away under the stiff breeze, and you’re once again lost. The winds push through the valley, revealing to your mind that they will come again, like all seasons – winter, spring, summer, fall, winter again – and that life is just a repetition of rotation of earth. Like the beat, the winds fade away and you’re back from void, but with all of this still realized, and it’s the moment this record ends that you understand that a good life isn’t a lack of repetition, but rather, an excess of variation that you can fade in and out of.

What’s What on SoundCloud

It’s TRV aka The Realest Vegan aka The King of Soundcloud Finds, back with a list of what I’m listening to this week. First off, another hit from the jazz group gone electronic production trio, 3lo, this time with their spin on Rae Sremmurd’s Black Beatles, aptly titled Bl5kBtls. The song takes an interesting, future bass inspired twist on the chart topping hit from 2016 (ignore the poorly photoshopped album art, this song is sick trust me).

Tennyson has been one of my favorite artists for a long time, and in celebration of his upcoming concert at Kilby Court (which you should definitely check out), I had to throw in Like What? An audiophiles delicacy, this track first pleases your senses, then takes you on a journey as you search for post-production perfection. It’s weird, raw, and groovy.

Quickly Quickly’s Trilogy is an electronic masterpiece produced solely by a highschooler out of Portland, OR. The progression of themes in this song proves this kid doesn’t mess around, displaying his musical prowess over his peers. His musical progressiveness in this emerging electronic sub-genre puts him leaps ahead and makes him a must watch as he rises through the ranks of soundcloud’s greats.

To round off this week’s finds, we’ve got a super funk collab from Tall Black Guy and Darondo. Doing other collaborations with rising artists like Masego and Rommel Donald, Tall Black Guy has a refreshing retro-groove influenced sound that’s already earned a timeless place in my books. If you’re not riding Tall Black Guy Railway, you better hop on soon.

I hope you guys enjoyed this weeks tracks. Hit me up on twitter @K_UTETRV and let me know what you’ve been listening to!

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

 

This latest release is something Cloud Nothings’ front man Dylan Baldi describes as “slowed down.” Coming from the angst of the highly acclaimed Attack on Memory and that of the group’s latest release Here and Nowhere Else, Life Without Sound does slow down their usual tempo and reveals new existential concern rather than just their past worries about being young and insecure. In an interview published by Stereogum, Baldi said the album “is about bigger things than me complaining – in my mind, at least.” Though Baldi might still be a little insecure about one thing or another, he’s not scared to take on the world providing his band’s most polished and thought out work yet. Moving through the sequence of tracks like “Internal World” and to “Realize My Fate,” it’s clear on which precipice he stands: one with a perspective reaching for knowledge and enlightenment while realizing nothing is for certain. It’s a record that, while it is dark and challenging – what else would a Cloud Nothings record be? – it’s also supposed to be something that gets your head out of the existential dirt; “It’s supposed to be inspiring.”

“Modern Act,” the single off the record, and the most lighthearted track seen from the group since their 2011 self-titled debut, relates to making a huge issue out of the small stuff of everyday life “when you feel like an ocean coming out of a creek.” It’s an existence that takes a step back to realize your problems maybe aren’t that big of a deal. “Internal World” gets off on a similar foot trying to refrain from a usual narcissistic solipsism, or just trying not to be the asshole that thinks they’re always right. It’s also here that it comes to mind how instrumentally talented the band has become. The drums really come alive in an equally poppy and tenacious manner through the intricate chords and riffs that have come to illustrate the complex, dark yet playful nature of the group. “Darkened Rings” also touches on this throwing their sound back to the earlier and angrier punchy tracks like “No Sentiment.”

But, again, these new songs aren’t as focused on expressing how angry you are but why you’re angry. Contemplating and trying to separate emotion from fact, “Enter Entirely” reflects on actions on the past and what ultimately motivated them. It calls for an existence that makes you truly examine your choices and try to understand your fears a bit more. How are you affecting your world and what effects do your concerns actually create? An album as caught in the middle as this is naturally is wrapped up by knowing that there is purpose but with the frustration of not knowing what it is. In “Realize My Fate” Baldi screeches out “I believe in something bigger/But what I can’t articulate” closing with a perspective that is as optimistic as it is bleak. Sure, there is truth in the universe, but where the hell is it? For Cloud Nothings, it’s up in the air. With this fourth release and US/European tour ahead, the band probably won’t come to any conclusions soon. They’ll be too busy promoting their current concern for existence and making sure others share in their bleak search for truth

On the Radar – Glass Animals

“Twee vole go dig your hole/Squish squirmies in your nose/Tree hairs in your eyes/You smile so super quiet.” I have heard some strange lyrics before, but none as poetically odd as the ones featured in the song “Wyrd” by Glass Animals. Dave Bayley, the lead singer, is a genius when writing intriguing lyrics that’ll make your ears tickle with delight. Of course, the music itself is enough to do that.

Glass Animals are an English indie rock band that have entranced many due to their hip-hop inspired beats and trippy tunes. It all started in St. Edwards School in Oxford when Bayley would occasionally spend his free time writing songs and lyrics. It wasn’t until after college that he was able to convince his friends to start a band with him. Despite never being in a band before, Drew MacFarlane, Edmund Irwin-Singer, and Joe Seaward joined him by playing guitar, bass, and drums respectively. In 2012, they released their first EP Leaflings which caught the attention of producer Paul Epworth (Foster the People, Bloc Party, Crystal Castles, etc.). From there, they proceeded to work on their first album.

Their debut album Zaba was met with great reviews by critics, and it was well worth the praise too. Zaba happens to be one of my favorite albums because of the curiously phrased lyrics and minimalistic, psychedelic instrumental compositions. Zaba is exotic with a very jungle infused theme rhythmically all the while being a bit seductive with its soft, somewhat electronic ballads. The creatively made ambient sounds throughout the album are enough to make you want to really listen to what’s actually happening. It’s rare to find an album where all the songs are likable and mesh together so well, and yet Zaba does this almost effortlessly. “Gooey”, one of the band’s more popular songs, is deeply R&B inspired with some weird verses such as “Right my little pooh bear, wanna take a chance?/Wanna sip the smooth air, kick it in the sand?/I’ll say I told you so but you just gonna cry/You just wanna know those peanut butter vibes.” “Hazey” is a soothingly simple song filled with pops and snaps that make it hard not to dance to.

How To Be a Human Being, the band’s second album, was released earlier this year being the complete opposite of what Zaba was. It wasn’t shrouded in mystery or a dreamy atmosphere. On the contrary, their lyrics were more straight-forward, the tone was happier, and it felt like more of a groovy indie pop album. They decided to take a different approach and make a concept album where each song is a story about a different character. “Life Itself” for example takes the listener through a peculiar man’s life and the downward spiral it takes because he refuses to live in reality. “Youth” is a bittersweet melody about a parent giving up their child in hopes that they will live a better life. “Mama’s Gun” is a particular favorite from the album because of the sweet flute samples from The Carpenters and Bayley’s delicate vocals contrasting with the morbid subject matter of a woman with a mental illness, probably schizophrenia, murdering her husband.

Glass Animals are slightly weird and mesmerizing. They have the ability to awaken your senses by painting a vivid picture with their songs. The amount of detail they put into their music is so amazing that it deserves to be listened to on a nice pair of headphones or a speaker to really appreciate it. If you are ever in the mood for calm yet whimsical music, I say Glass Animals is a must.

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

On Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece, To Pimp A Butterfly, we heard him calling out to the world, “We want the funk.” It seems like Childish Gambino heard him and indulged his request because Awaken, My Love! is oozing with soul. Donald Glover unveiled this newest project at a three day album-listening event called Pharos in Joshua Tree National Park, CA. This was in September and many fans were prepared for the upcoming release then, only to be disappointed until December when we received another iconic album from a hip hop demigod.

Donald Glover picked up right where he left off on Because The Internet. Towards the end of his 2013 LP, Gambino focuses a little more on his singing and introduces some voice augmentation, which are staples of this new record. If you are a fan of Donald’s rapping, this new album might be a little disappointing for you.

I’ve been a sick boi (fan of Childish Gambino. Girls are called Gambino girls) ever since I heard “Crown on the Ground” in 2009. To give you an idea why, check out KaptainKristian’s video about why Donald Glover is the ultimate modern renaissance man (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgQ3Hpj-CBU). One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Donald Glover is that he never seems to shy away from who he is. He is impressively authentic and it’s what draws so many adoring fans to his shows. For much of his career as an entertainer, he has been an oddball: a token character trying to find his way in a world where not a lot of people look like him. It seems like this type of isolation plagued him as a child as well but his art has been a lovely side project in what I’m sure is a very confusing life. Donald Glover has been many things in front of his audiences: Goofy, mature, unfiltered, closed-off, the list could go on. But the one thing that Childish Gambino has always skirted around is his blackness. He has always poked fun at it in his raps and stand-up shows and he was never being disingenuous when he did acknowledge his skin color. He was simply being Donald. But it seems in this latest LP that he is ready to declare his ethnicity to the world. Instead of it being the reason why the kids at school made fun of him or why he is automatically given a pass to rap as an actor, it is the reason for his deep love of life and his fellow humans. He doesn’t even talk about him being black specifically on the album. He just is. And it’s beautiful.

If you like good, energy-filled, touch-your-soul type of music, this album is for you. My dad raised me on funk and soul music so I am definitely a little biased in my opinion of this record. It’s not perfect by any means but damn is it fun to listen to.

Score: 7.6

Concert Review – Mr Little Jeans

There was a palpable excitement in the air as the crowd, myself included, in Kilby Court anxiously waited for Mr Little Jeans to appear. The crowd huddled around the stage both to get a good view and to warm up from the frigid night. Some decided that the best view was actually outside looking in through the window. Everyone started to cheer when the background music turned off and the lights started to dim. The time, albeit a little late, had started.

Norwegian born singer Monica Birkenes, better known as Mr Little Jeans, is as graceful as she is talented as she hopped onto the stage with her black dress and green bomber jacket. Her performance on November 18 proved that as she playfully danced across the stage while singing her beautifully composed songs. Her name had been on my radar since I had discovered her cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” She took the wonderfully cheery song and transformed it into a slightly ominous, electric ballad. From that point on, I was drawn to the “electro-pop diva” and her dreamy, synth-pop tunes.

There was a good mixture of old and new as Birkenes performed hits from her debut album Pocketknife and songs from her latest EP F E V E R S. She brought the spunk on “Valentine” as she swiftly hit the high notes in the chorus. Everyone started moving the second they heard the hip and groovy opening drum beats of “Lady Luck.” Birkenes’ vocal talent was truly showcased in “Fever” where her airy vibratos echoed through the audience.

You can tell Birkenes was born to be a performer as she commanded the stage. She danced in a delicate matter as she skipped from left to right on the somewhat cluttered stage. With a venue as intimate as Kilby Court, it’s easier for artists to interact with the audience during shows. Birkenes took full advantage of this as she tried to talk to her audience before, sometimes during, her songs and even asked for assistance in singing one of her songs. During “Rescue Song,” she jumped off the stage and asked many in the crowd to hum the background melody for her. Eventually she found her gal and she all but exploded from happiness watching this girl hum along.

Despite being a relatively short set, about under an hour, there was no shortage of entertainment. After the show, my friend and I decided to visit the merch table because I had wanted a poster. Unfortunately, there was no poster, but about two minutes after I had had entered the merch area the leading lady herself appeared. Her bubbly personality that was previewed on stage was just as evident as she autographed memorabilia. Birkenes is a kind soul with a smile that can go on for miles. Meeting her was a pleasure and her concert is one I’m sure I won’t forget.

Ricky Eat Acid Interview

I sat down with Maryland musician/producer, Sam Ray, from Ricky Eat Acid to talk about his new album, performing live, and what life’s like on the road.

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If you’re new to Sam’s music, like I was, it’s hard to label his sound as one thing or another. However, his most recent album, Talk To You Soon, can be best described as experimental, soothing, and complex trance music. Typically, trance isn’t my favorite genre, but there’s something special about Ricky Eat Acid songs. Each track makes you feel something different. With mainly instrumental music, it’s easy to fall into patterns where songs begin to sound similar, but Sam creates music that’s unique yet familiar at the same time.

I met up with Sam downtown at Kilby Court on November 11th. Everything was bustling as the crew was setting up for the show later that night. Because Kilby Court is such a small venue, the vibe is very personal and organic. String lights lit up the main courtyard and graffiti from past performers covered the walls.

As Sam exited the green room, we greeted each other and walked towards the merch table. He comfortably pulled his knees to his chest as I set up for the interview. I first asked him about his newest album, Talk To You Soon. While listening to it I noticed that all of the songs sounded very different yet cohesive at the same time. I asked him if he had a certain concept in mind while writing the album. He talked about how he wanted the album to be a progression, saying that:

“The idea for that [the album] was always that it was based on this thought of there being somebody who meets and gets obsessed with this glowing ball of light and it eventually eats the person and turns into a predator and devours it.” 

This explains how the album evolves from the bright and relaxing opening track, “‘Hey’,” to the more dark and sinister song, “As We Speak (feat. Wreck & Reference).” I then proceeded to ask him about his ongoing tour, and how it’s different performing live music:

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“Anything you perform in your whole life is reliant on a crowd…Anytime I’ve ever played Ricky Eat Acid sets… I’ve noticed that it’s almost reliant on that [artist/crowd dynamic]… There was one night on this tour at a college show, two girls walked up on the stage and asked me to play “Gold Digger” over and over because they thought I was just DJ’ing… I’m just like ‘I can’t do that, like I don’t even have wi-fi. I couldn’t even if I wanted to,’ and they got so mad at me. I tried to be very nice about it but they told me I’d never be welcome back at the college… So it’s always unexpected.”

Lastly, I asked him about the pros and cons of being on tour. He mentioned that the biggest con was feeling exhausted and how he ended up with pneumonia and the flu by the end of one tour. However on the pro side, he talked about being on tour with his wife, Kitty, and being able to travel:

“Performing is very cool, but everything that comes with it, whether it’s seeing places or going anywhere I’d ever wanted to go…and meeting tons of people you never would otherwise is really cool, and it never stops being cool. Even when someone who has never heard of me comes up and is like ‘That was cool,’ is the best part of it I think.” 

As we wrapped up, Sam and I shook hands as he headed backstage to get ready for the show. I sticked around after the interview to watch the rest of the concert. While the interview overall was fairly short, Sam was very humble and it was a pleasure to talk and get to know more about him and his music