So, I have not been posting a whole lot in a while. Life has gotten busy. Busy to the point where…well…Vantage Point (or Samlovesmusic, as some people still prefer for some ungodly reason) has kind of fallen by the wayside. This has happened before, and it will happen again. In fact, it’s about to happen right now. However, it will be happening now for a very long time. Indefinitely, one could say.
I have loved writing about music for the past 3 years, and saying “goodbye”, as indefinite as it may be, is incredibly hard. There have been some incredible moments here. Great discussions have been sparked, friends have been made, and fantastic music has been discovered. I’ve written articles that I am incredibly proud of…and I’ve hopefully made some of you laugh. I ranted for and railed against some of my favorite musicians. I have had controversial opinions about others (Lupe Fiasco’s new album is still just one big pretentious mess, and I will not back down on my opinion).
Perhaps the coolest part about this whole “experiment” was my ability to directly communicate with some amazing musicians. From local greats like GGOOLLDD, Vic and Gab, and Buffalo Gospel to shout outs from national acts like The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die, Big K.R.I.T., and Killer Mike (Who is one of my favorite rappers/one my 126 followers on Twitter).
So why am I “quitting”? Part of it is my schedule and part of it is being tired. It has been impossible to write a decent review since early last year. Things have been busy, and this awesome hobby has fallen by the wayside. I like to think that my blog lives up to some standard of excellence. It may not meet your standards of excellence (sorry, random Hip-Hop forums that keep finding my reviews), but I like to think that every article here lives up to what I would like to read in a great album review. More and more, it’s becoming harder and harder. It has transformed from a fun hobby into a taxing chore.
It’s not that music is getting worse (Kendrick Lamar just proved otherwise the other day). It’s just that I am getting tired. The albums I do like (and want people to read about) never get any attention, while negative reviews drive in traffic. I guess one could say that I’m tired of the negativity. I’m tired of having to write about seemingly everything to maintain a curmudgeonly standard. It gets boring tearing apart bad mixtapes. It also gets boring praising everything. You need a balance of both. In the past year, that balance has not been there. Dealing with rude commenters (A Mac DeMarco fan once threatened to pee in my eye. Points for originality.) has also taken away the appeal that started this whole thing three years ago.
Also: I just want to be able to enjoy music again without feeling the need to criticize it formally. I want to spend less time trying to understand things I will inevitably dislike, and spend more time enjoying the things I do like. I want to be able to listen without being able to give all of my friends a detailed dissertation on why an album is important. Call it a regression of intellectual thought, I call it “easing up on being so pretentious all the time” (Note: I will still be opinionated about music. I just won’t feel the need to constantly WRITE about it).
I’m not leaving forever. I’m still doing a music “podcast” through my school that will (eventually) be posted on the Vantage Point Facebook. That will be a venue where I can freely talk about music I love and not feel obligated to talk about the music I don’t love. There are also other places on the internet where you can find me giving (albeit less formally written) opinions (I have relatively active accounts on Twitter, Rate Your Music, and Letterboxd (Yeah it’s movies but whatever) if that is of any interest to you).
Also, since I never posted my favorite albums of the decade so far*, here you go:
25. Killer Mike- R.A.P. Music
24. Japandroids- Celebration Rock
23. James Blake- Overgrown
22. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues
21. LCD Soundsystem- This is Happening
20. Meursault- All Creatures Will Make Merry
19. The Tallest Man on Earth- There’s No Leaving Now
18. The National- Trouble Will Find Me
17. Sun Kil Moon- Benji
16. Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
15. Frank Ocean- channelORANGE
14. Volcano Choir- Repave
13. St. Vincent- St. Vincent
12. The Tallest Man on Earth- The Wild Hunt
11. Kendrick Lamar- good kid, m.A.A.d. city
10. Grizzly Bear- Shields
9. Sufjan Stevens- The Age of Adz
8. Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City
7. Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels 2
6. The War on Drugs- Lost in the Dream
5. Titus Andronicus- The Monitor
4. St. Vincent- Strange Mercy
3. Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
2. Bon Iver- Bon Iver, Bon Iver
1. The National- High Violet
(*- Does not include 2015 potential candidates, including Father John Misty and Kendrick Lamar. Why I’m quitting in such an amazing year, I’m not sure)
Please patronize other blogs that I like. Imveryape is the only semi-obscure one on my “Respected” tab that still operates semi-regularly. His blog is great, please check it out. Dead End Hip-Hop and The Needle Drop are still great. I still really enjoy reading Recommended Listen, despite the fact Michael_ had somewhat of a falling out with me. He’s part of the reason I started this whole goofy blog thing, and I’m still thankful for the experience. I’m not sure if Rich Reviewz is still up, but check out his old stuff if you can. RIP Taken By Sound.
I’m not really sure how to end this article. I don’t want to say goodbye, but I know it’s for the best. I guess I’ll close with a couple of songs that I love. Seems appropriate. Goodbye, guys.
Music, love, music again,
Josh Tillman has been shining in the shadows for a long time. He had several obscure (and very good) albums under his own name a few years back. He brought his drumming and dulcet tones to Fleet Foxes. His debut album as Father John Misty, Fear Fun, was an underrated masterpiece when it came out in 2012. Now, Tillman is finally stepping out of the shadows.
With his theatrical alter-persona, I Love You, Honeybear revels in a dry irony. Unlike a lot of ironic Indie dudes, Tillman’s actually funny. This was apparent on Fear Fun, and it’s readily apparent here (See the “Literally” exchange on The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment). However, this sophomore effort proves that Tillman is more than a sneering and pretentious hippie sauntering around the sunny shores of California. Tillman finds some true moments of emotional weight–last song I Went to the Store One Day is a perfect example of this–buried underneath his tricky lyricism.
Tillman loves his character’s ironic, half-there sense of humor. The Ideal Husband shows some cognitive dissonance between the man he is and the husband he wants to be (while referencing Julian Assange, of all people). Then there’s the scolding take-down of the American dream on Bored in the U.S.A., a blow delivered via piano ballad. Referring to “President Jesus” and “White Jesus” certainly gets his message across.
As the ringleader, Tillman has become one of the most fascinating and talented figures in Indie Rock. The man takes his vocals to new places, howling with a passion that floats over the irony of everything around it. His voice seems to be yearning and indifferent, all at once. The passion conveyed on tracks like The Ideal Husband is incomparable. Each song features moments where Tillman’s vocals swell just as much as the sweeping instruments behind him.
I Love You, Honeybear also exceeds the greatness of Fear Fun by boldly stepping into new sonic territory. The electronic whirl of True Affection is unlike anything Tillman has given us before, and the shimmering trumpets of Chateau Lobby #4 are an album highlight. There’s a gospel choir sound that drives When You’re Smiling and Astride Me. A haunting ambiance crawls throughout Strange Encounter, followed by a brilliant guitar solo. Then there’s the stunning Bored in the U.S.A., which finds a gentle piano ballad backed by some ominous canned laughter. By giving his confident worldview a thickly fascinating backdrop, Tillman has created a brilliant masterpiece.
Summary: I Love You, Honeybear is an American masterpiece, mixing lush musicianship and biting commentary all at once.
Choice Cuts: Bored in the U.S.A., The Ideal Husband, I Went to the Store One Day, Chateau Lobby #4, I Love You Honeybear
Leftovers: Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow (Still a great track)
You can stream Father John Misty’s incredible Letterman performance below. I Love You, Honeybear is out now on Sub-Pop.
As of late, it’s been quite popular to rag on award shows for some troubling racial undertones. The Oscars were torn apart last year for giving Selma a pity nomination for Best Picture, snubbing it in nearly every other category (Most noticeably in the acting categories, which are filled with white guys who do and don’t deserve to be there). Then last night, we had the Grammys. White guy Sam Smith walked away with a ton of awards, and Beck won a career recognition award for an album that isn’t his best (but it’s still a good record, dammit) against Beyonce’s self-titled record. Did Beck deserve album of the year for Morning Phase? Probably not (Side note: at least it went to Beck doing a safe-but-actually-decent record on a night where legitimately offensive acts like Iggy Azalea were pulling in tons of nominations) (Side side note: Kanye said Beck needs to “respect the artistry”. Shut up, Kanye). But here’s the thing: the only reason everyone gives a damn about these “injustices” is because we put too much weight in shiny awards decided by dudes in suits.
The Oscars and The Grammys and all of these other award shows are fun to watch, but we give them too much weight. All of a sudden, we need to give meaning to something that is inherently meaningless. Often, we use surface level observations to confirm a wrong that isn’t there.
Now before this becomes a weighty race issue (which, it might…sorry), let’s make something clear: there are still problems with race in America. We do not live in a post-racial society (Sorry, Fox News); I even live in one of the most segregated cities in the United States. It is a real problem and we should be addressing every perpetual problem that leads to it–poverty, awful education systems, and our own culture.
Films and music are our culture, so we can praise (and criticize) how they effect our perceptions of society. We should be mad when a Transformers movie has a robot in blackface, and we should be angry that the only artists that get huge on the charts are simply aping a sound and culture for money (*cough* Iggy Azalea *cough*). So, I guess this is the next question –“So, why shouldn’t we criticize award shows?”. Plain and simple: criticizing them just perpetuates their power to maintain a status quo.
Kanye West’s MBDTF was not nominated for Best Album in the year of its release. Rap was not respected as a music form until Gogurt like Vanilla Ice stepped on the scene. Insane Jazz records from the late 50s and early 60s were pushed over for live standup and big band music. The Grammys have always been wrong, and they exist for the sole reason of keeping music the way it is: safe, normative, and profitable.
People like what they are familiar with, and the Grammys know this. That’s why Taylor Swift and geriatric rock bands have dominated the awards for years. It took OutKast making a rap album that was only 50% rap to win Album of the Year, and the same goes for Lauryn Hill. We need to stop expecting an organization that is designed to preserve the status quo to change the status quo.
The Oscars have gotten better in recent years, pressured by other award shows around it. 12 Years a Slave was able to win Best Picture last year, partially because the other shows that aired before it were able to recognize a great film and great actors. The Academy Awards pre-1960s would never really do that (They normally reserved black acting nominations for movies that depicted blacks as subservient to white people, like Gone With the Wind).
In the Grammy’s case, we need to find new ways of expressing what is good and–more likely–important. I love Beck’s album, but I’m guessing I’ll be the only one praising it 5 years from now. Beyonce’s record? That will stand the test of time. We need to find another outlet to reward music that deserves to be rewarded (Hey Pitchfork, start an award show).
Or…we could just ignore awards. This may seem like a stupid argument (THERE ARE CHILDREN IN AFRICA STARVING!), but putting so much analysis on award shows is exactly what the industry wants. We get angry about something that we cannot legitimately affect, since we are not part of an academy.
Television broadcasts are fun, but we often get caught up on awards that don’t matter. No one remembers that U2 album that won a couple years back. Herbie Hancock finally won for a covers album. The Oscars have also been notorious about this–No one remembers The Greatest Show on Earth, and for a good reason. Award shows are stupid and meant to entertain. The ones that didn’t win–Citizen Kane, Goodfellas, The Shawshank Redemption– those are the ones we remember.
What actually stands the test of time? Good music. Good films. People will remember D’Angelo’s new record. People will remember Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. People will remember Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and The College Dropout. People will remember Beyonce. Maybe the Grammys should get rid of the awards all together, and just become a huge and spectacular performance that represents disparate cultures and genres. Let’s talk about the music itself, and not about what some dude in a suit decrees as “the best”.
Also, here’s some baffling Grammy facts to end on a funny note, reminding us that award shows are kind of stupid:
- Bob Marley never won a Grammy.
- Neither did the Beach Boys
- Milli Vanilli
- Tenacious D won Best Metal Song last night. They are a comedy rock band.
- Chris Brown is still getting nominated for things
- Spoon was not nominated last night, nor any other night ever.
- One of the first Grammy awards went to a stand-up soundtrack to a TV show.
- Late 60s Sinatra beat The Beatles. Several times.
- Jethro Tull
I’ve always wanted more from Lupe Fiasco. Not because his early albums were particularly great, and not because of “The Hype” (which, in recent years, has been almost nonexistent). He just,on the surface, seems like something Hip-Hop needs. He’s got a ton of charisma, as proven by his massive verse on Kanye’s Touch the Sky from nearly 10 years ago. He also represents a conscientiousness that, in recent years, has fallen to the wayside to let sentimentality permeate through rap music. Lupe Fiasco should be more than just an afterthought, but his entire career has been built on afterthought after afterthought. Lupe Fiasco’s attempt at an experimental epic, Tetsuo & Youth, is just another entry on a long list of forgettable albums.
Let’s first talk about how derivative this attempt at a Hip-Hop epic is. Unlike albums in the pantheon of ballsy mainstream experimentation (namely, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Take Care, and good kid, m.A.A.d. city), Tetsuo & Youth haphazardly throws interesting ideas around without really thinking about them. Sometimes these interesting ideas are directly taken from other artists (The choir at the end of Blur My Hands sounds way too similar to the chorus on Drake’s Lord Knows, while many of the strings on Dots & Lines sound like they’re lifted right out of Kendrick Lamar’s Poetic Justice). Half the time, songs sound like they belong on latter-day Kid Cudi album.
Other times, new ideas just fail to launch. The folky banjos that bookend Dots & Lines are laughable (Seriously, I laughed really heard when I heard them for the first time), while the back half of Prisoner 1 & 2 sounds like an Akon song with all of those unsubtle jail noises. The Max Fischer style interludes, while pretty, do nothing to integrate with the rest of the album. Everything seems rather thrown together, without any thought going into a legitimate sense of cohesion.
ANGRY REVIEW INTERMISSION: Seriously, what the hell is up with conscious rappers trying to tackle the word “Faggot”? Lupe Fiasco tries to do something with it on Prisoner 1 & 2, but it just fumbles around on the ground. It lingers, mostly because it’s not remotely tasteful. J. Cole tried the same thing on Born Sinner a few years back, and that also didn’t work. Why bother? Simply saying “Faggot” is not going to become social commentary on its own. It needs context, and none of these rappers are doing so. It’s almost better when Tyler, the Creator is shouting it at people without any social intent. Ugh.
Which circles back to another thing that just doesn’t work on Tetsuo. Part of the problem Lupe Fiasco has is that his conscientiousness is unfocused and uncreative. Other rappers in the same “Conscious Rap” boat can often deliver a message in a way that is either communicative or entertaining. Common gives a clear message with a clear voice and direction, being very clear about what he is trying to say. Meanwhile, guys like Killer Mike will bash their message over your head with gusto, again being very clear. Lupe Fiasco seemingly drops buzzwords and ideas into songs without crafting them into something beyond that: ideas.
Lupe’s lyrics bounce around without really saying anything. He gets distracted by stories and anecdotes that confuse everything. Prisoners 1 & 2 is saying many things about the prison system of the United States…but I still have no idea what he’s saying other than “Our Prison system is bad!”. Then there’s Body of Work, which I think is about sex? All of this would be fine if Lupe was an abstract rapper…but he’s not. He tends to be very clear within individual lines, but none of the lines become cohesive within the songs. Lupe Fiasco himself also lacks a lot in the delivery department; his voice and delivery are incredibly monotonous, and this becomes painfully apparent on songs that sprawl beyond the 5 minute mark. He works in the capacity of a singular verse, but he often runs on fumes during a single song. This is a problem on an album with 16 lengthy songs.
A massive epic is hard to pull off. Some have done it with obviously rewarding results (Kanye), and others have done it in ways that reveal themselves slowly (Childish Gambinos’s Because the Internet is a perfect example of this). Tetsuo & Youth is mostly dead on arrival, failing to conjure up anything big to say or any moments that feel legitimate. It’s just one big flop from a rapper who, sadly, has made a name off of ambitiously creative flops.
Summary: Tetsuo & Youth is a confusing and unrewarding concept album from a rapper without much to legitimately say.
Choice Cuts: Mural, Dots & Lines
Tetsou & Youth is out now on Atlantic.
In retrospect, LCD Soundsystem’s debut is a peculiar entry by a legendary band. Compared to the fuller and smoother Sound of Silver and This is Happening, LCD Soundystem is a shaggy dog. Some songs are quick blasts of punk, others are extended dance experiments. The edges are rough, and the direction of the band is still a bit hazy.
James Murphy had broken out the year before with the band’s first single, Losing My Edge. There’s a reason the song blew up, and it still works over 10 years later. Murphy’s ho-hum confessions over an ever-changing beat just hit the right marks, creating something that was unlike anything released before it. The song’s opening transmission almost feels like we are tuning into the band for the first time, randomly discovering the brilliance of a band we would soon call our favorites.The whining drone at the climax of the song mixes well with the fantastic drums and weirdo synthesizers. The song, acting as the fulcrum for the album, still holds up as a show-stopping ode to getting old and lame. It brilliantly combines Murphy’s dance history with forward thinking Rock & Roll. Who knew that just listing awesome bands could become a defining moment for a band (GIL SCOTT HERON!)?
Combining disparate sounds is really what defines the record (And, to an extent, the band), which works pretty well. Disco Punk is the ultimate oxymoron, and Murphy & Co. makes the two go together like peanut butter and jelly. Give It Up thrashes and whines like a punk song, but synthesizers noodle in-and-out of the song to create an ominous sound. Tribulations is an intense and fast song, yet it relies heavily on a wormy electronic bass line. Murphy combines sounds and ideas in fascinating ways, creating the embryo for the stronger work of his future. The album lacks the cohesion of something like Sound of Silver, but it makes up for it with a bold sense of energy.
Knowing what would follow, LCD Soundsystem lingers in a weird place. There are some damn good songs here (The wild Tired, the insanely twisted Yeah (Crass Version)). But a lot of them would go on to be overshadowed- whether by other songs or by their live iterations. There are also some songs that are rightfully forgotten (On Repeat and Thrills are both the purest examples of a band still finding their sound). Then there are hidden gems (Never As Tired as When I’m Waking Up is a criminally underrated LCD Soundsystem track). The album is ingrained with debut fever; Murphy throws everything at the wall, hoping to find something that fits. The fact so many songs off of a debut album retain their luster is practically a miracle, considering the approach.
Unfortunately, LCD Soundsystem lives in the shadows of two major records. Sound of Silver changed the game (both for the band and music in general), and This is Happening exuded a casual cool that is nowhere to be found on this debut. But this makes the album special. It’s an embryonic blueprint for what hte band would accomplish in the future, and it revolutionizes what many labels at the time were trying to accomplish. It’s still entertaining from front-to-back, providing incredible thrills with little in the way of actual risk.
Summary: LCD Soundsystem is still a great record, even in the shadows of the two that followed. Featuring a younger and shaggier sound, it’s the birth of one of the greatest bands ever to grace this planet.
Choice Cuts: Tribulations, Movement Yeah (Crass Version), Daft Punk is Playing at My House, Losing My Edge, Tired
LCD Soundsystem has been out on DFA/Capitol
Ow My Hip is a new semi-regular segment where I discuss random mainstream pop tracks, because I’m looking to expand my writing beyond “This is great”, “This is amazing”, and “An intricate array of gleaming and shimmering synthesizer notes”. So yeah. Tell me what you think.
So Fifth Harmony are now a thing, whether you like that or not. They came to fame with BO$$ last year, which I hated. It’s basically the girls shouting popular words that exist (MICHELLE OBAMA! OPRAH!). So to my surprise (disdain), I noticed they had a new song drop on Spotify. And much like what has come before, it is an utterly derivative example of aimless bass pop.
Now, lyrically, I never expect much from pop songs. “I love you!”, “I’m better than you!”, and “I’m over you!” are all classic pop tropes that, at this point, are futile to harp on. Worth It…I’m not 100% sure what it’s about. Sex? I think? We’re seeing someone in the spotlight with style, and we’re giving it to them because they’re worth it? Is she worth money? American currency? Why is she in the spotlight when they’re going to have sex? It’s all very gross.
From a production standpoint, it’s distinctly of last year. The thick, squiggly saxophone would be inventive…if Ariana Grande’s awesome Problem came out last year. Worth It feels like a plagiarism of that much better track, to the point where it ruins the song. On first listen, it’s fine, but it’s a song that easily grinds gears with repetitious listens. Then there’s Kid Ink, who tends to suck. Here, they decided to bring in a rapper to…not rap. Ink just repeats the same line twice in the song. It adds nothing to the track. Also, the group is 5 different women. You cannot figure that out just by listening.
I guess this is about what I should expect from the VMA Pre-Show Headliners.
Sleater-Kinney, in general, kick a lot of ass. They take Riot Grrrl sensibility and beef it up with everything they’ve got. They’re also kind of legendary. There’s not a stinker in their entire discography, and The Woods is one of the best albums I have ever heard. So the announcement of their reunion late last year made me giddy. And Bury Our Friends is an incredible blast of Indie Punk ferocity, so that helped reaffirm my excitement. Could No Cities to Love possibly match my anticipation? Could these le….
Shut up, of course they did.
It’s not a perfect album, by no means (That would be The Woods). There are a few minor issues here and there that prevent this from being, say, album-of-the year material. Fangless is a really good song that doesn’t quite reach the greatness of the rest of the album, while Hey Darling is borderline feasible between behemoths like Fade and Bury Our Friends. And, while it doesn’t hurt the album whatsoever, this is definitely not an album for those infatuated with poetic lyricism.
But, damn, does this album rock.
Brownstein and Tucker bring some heavy power to the vocal department (By the way: on the Tucker or Brownstein vocal debate, I’m 100% Tucker. Trivial, yes, but just wanted to mention it). Brownstein’s guitars rip and tear everything apart. The basslines are insane. Then there’s Janet Weiss on the drums. The drums are insane. This band has always been a nicely tied package of many good things, and No Cities to Love is no different.
There’s not a bad track on the album, but some tracks rank among the band’s best. Bury Our Friends is a sneering track with growling and howling guitars and an enormous chorus. A New Wave steams forward, featuring some of the best-sounding vocals during the chorus. Then there’s the (deceitfully) slow Fade, which is a massive blast of heavy rock. The rhythmic shifts and shrivels throughout the song, allowing for some absolutely weird guitar licks. It’s a fascinating and brutal track, proving that the band still wants nothing to do with predictability.
Unlike some reunion projects in recent years, Cities to Love is not a disappointment. Everything here clicks into place without any semblance of rustiness.
Summary: No Cities to Love is a welcome return from one of the greatest rock bands ever. While it’s not their best, it’s still one of the better Indie Punk Rock albums to come out since the band left the scene. It’s a quick and heavy blast from a band that makes great quick and heavy blasts.
Choice Cuts: A New Wave, Fade, Bury Our Friends, No Cities to Love
You can stream Bury Our Friens below. No Cities to Love is out now on Sub-Pop.