KH - “The Track I’ve Been Playing That People Keep Asking About And That Joy Used In His RA Mix And Daphni Played On Boiler Room”
The Bilinda Butchers - “The Lovers’ Suicide”
Deafheaven - “Dreamhouse”
Clipping - “Outro”
Jai Paul - “Track 2”
World’s Fair - “96 Knicks”
Young Thug - “2 Cups Stuffed”
Chief Keef - “Love Sosa (RL Grime Remix)”
SZA - “Ice Moon”
Araabmuzik - “The Prince is Coming”
Future feat. Drake - “Fo Real”
Cakes da Killa - “Get Right (Get Wet)”
MIMS - “Fuck Your Feelings”
Elite Gymnastics - “私たちのもの ( O U R S )”
albums that i am certain will be among my favorites when i can download them but i can’t yet because my computer is almost dead and my harddrive is so full oh god i basically haven’t been able to listen to new releases since february oh man how it sucks :\ :/ :( so bummed i can’t even use capital letters or italics or nothin
matmos - the marriage of true minds
autre ne veut - anxiety
david bowie - the next day
marnie stern - the chronicles of marnia
the knife - shaking the habitual
james blake - overgrown
deerhunter - monomania
tyler, the creator - wolf
baths - obsidian
the national - trouble will find me
colin stetson - new history warfare vol.3: to see more light
charli xcx - true romance
mount kimbie - cold spring fault less youth
darkthrone - the underground resistance
vampire weekend - modern vampires of the city
jenny hval - innocence is kinky
ghost b.c. - infestissumum
deafheaven - sunbather
eleanor friedberger - personal record
The Top 2 Pat Summitt References of 2013 (Thus Far)
“I DVRed a documentary about the woman who designed all of Pat Summitt’s blazers” - Martha (Lynda Gravatt) on 30 Rock
“I got a team fulla hoes like Pat Summitt” - Action Bronson on “NaNa”
The Top Five Musical Works I Overlooked In 2012
Future - Pluto
Liars - WIXIW
Alunageorge - “Your Drums, Your Love”
Lonnie Holley - “Looking For All (All Rendered Truth)”
Jai Paul - “Jasmine”
The Top 5 Album Covers of the First Half of 2013
David Bowie - The Next Day
Kanye West - Yeezus
Run The Jewels - Run the Jewels
The Haxan Cloak - Excavation
Pusha T - “Numbers on the Boards” (Single Cover)
The Top 20 New-To-Me Films I’ve Watched This Year (Since I haven’t been able to listen to as many albums, I’ve been filling my free time by watching a bunch of movies.)
The Far Country
The Petrified Forest
Nights of Cabiria
Paths of Glory
The Naked City
The Bride of Frankenstein
Killer of Sheep
Boyz N The Hood
Ghosts - Italian Style
Wait Until Dark
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Village of the Damned
The 1 Film I Couldn’t Figure Out How To Place In The Previous List
Solaris (It’s glacially paced and an absolute slog to get through, but it’s also stuck in my mind more firmly than any other movie I’ve watched this year. Barely a day goes by that I don’t find myself thinking back on it. If you asked me about it immediately after I watched it, I would have said that it was a frustrating, flawed film that didn’t live up to it’s potential. But now, I think it might be a masterpiece.)
Normally, when I write one of these things about a cover song I focus how that song illuminates some aspect of an artist’s work, be it the original performer or the act covering the track.
BUT NOT TODAY!
Today, I want to talk about the barely audible buzzing sound in the chorus of Bat For Lashes’ version of Kings of Leon’s 2008 mega-hit “Use Somebody.” Listen for it when the lowest of the three synth notes in the chorus, and use headphones, because it’s just barely distinct. Since it always accompanies that particular tone, I think it’s just an extra sound that’s being generated when that note is played (I don’t know enough about recording to venture a guess as to what it is). It’s a really minor aspect of the song, and I doubt I would have even noticed it if it didn’t sound exactly like the muffled vibrations of a cell phone. There have been multiple times when I’ve mistake that phantom tone for the sound of my phone ringing, with the sound suppressed by headphones and my pocket.
Don’t worry; the point of this write up is not “THAT REALLY GRINDS MY GEARS, I TELL YOU WHAT!” Instead, I think that this illustrates the way we attach extraneous meanings to particular sounds. For me, that nearly inaudible buzzing sound is inexorably tied to needing to answer my phone. But, if I had heard that sound as recently as 2006 (before I had a cell phone) I would react differently to that sound because I wouldn’t associate it with anything.
I think this is something that we as listeners should try to be aware of. It’s basically impossible not to associate certain types of sound with styles or eras in which they were popular, so I think it’s paramount for us to be aware of these associations. That way we won’t be unduly swayed by them when evaluating a piece of music.
The Notorious B.I.G. - “Queen Bitch (Reference Track)”
Ghostwriters are the worst kept secret in pop music. There’s virtually no one who doesn’t realize that plenty of artists have other people helping writing their music, no matter if they’re credited or not. Yet, some of those artists still attempt scrupulously to cover up any trace of outside help. And no genre is more paranoid about this than hip hop. Barring the occasional anomoly like Dr. Dre,1 most rappers who use ghostwriters work furiously to keep it under wraps.2
That’s why I think it’s so interesting when evidence of ghostwriting in rap comes to light. There’s just something inherently intriguing about getting to look behind the curtains of a genre that’s so obsessed with controlling its own public image. For instance, I love the fact that Nas helped write “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” Aside from being a great fact to use to piss off ~real hip hop~ bros, it also allows you to listen to that song in a new way. The first time I listened to that track after I learned the truth about its composition, I found myself trying to find bits of Will’s verses that point to Nas’s involvement. Of course, there’s nothing in there that screams “NAS WROTE THIS LINE” but still, learning that fact altered how I listen to that record.
Perhaps no other musical artifact can shift the listener’s perceptions more seismically than a reference track, a demo recorded by a songwriter as a guide to an artist. The track above is an example of this, it was recorded by The Notorious B.I.G. to show Lil’ Kim how the verses to the song “Queen Bitch”3 fit into the track. This vocal demo is particularly notable because a small section of it appears in the final version of the song, where Kim left Biggie’s voice in for a couple of lines near the end of the track.
Aside from the sheer novelty of hearing an even-more-marble-mouthed-than-usual Biggie deliver line like “Got buffoons eating my pussy while I watch cartoons” or “With hardcore flows to keep a nigga dick rock”4 this track also gives us listeners a peek into the composition of the track. By comparing it to the original, you can pick out tiny tweaks and alterations that Kim put into her version, like how she tends to draw out the last syllable of line, or how she tends to spit out her words staccato while Big slurs his together. And I love the section in the middle of the demo where Biggie sort of scats / hums some filler sounds in the space that would eventually become a scratch solo. That’s really what makes this track an enjoyable listen; it’s a half-finished version of a whole we now have. Thus, by comparing the two we get a quick glimpse into the composition process, which (for me at least) is absolutely fascinating.
So, in short, while the whole rap world might be scared of the revelation, learning the truth about ghostwriting can actually be a boon to the listener.
1. I really don’t think Dre has ever written a single line. There are so many stories about dudes writing for Dre that if even a fraction of them are true, they would account for every song he’s ever rapped over. I mean dude didn’t even write “The Message” which is about his own brother’s death. And that’s okay! Dude’s a great producer, and knows that he needs help to write verses worthy of his instrumentals. (I really hope Detox features a Riff Raff collab called “Rap Game Carolyn Keene.”)
2. Unintentional / turrrrrrrible pun alert!
3. No, it isn’t a Bowie cover.
4. As far as I can tell, no one’s sampled any of Biggie’s vocals from this track, but wouldn’t it be an awesome sample for the chorus of a song by basically any LGBT(etc) rapper? If you know Mykki Blanco or Cakes Da Killa or someone like that, you should really send them a link to this song.
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to write about this reference track that Nicki Minaj made for Rihanna way back in 2009, but it really doesn’t fit because Rihanna never wound up recording the song. So I’m just gonna stick it here. Once again, it’s fun to hear Nicki refer to herself as “Ri Ri” and everything, but in this case it’s interesting because it’s an early instance of dubstep elements being incorporated into more straightforward pop. All of the sites that posted it did so with a description that was some form of “whoa wobble bass in a pop song? that’s new and exciting!” which allows us future-dwellers to laugh at their naïveté.
Back in 2008, my friends and I were fucking obsessed with Avril Lavigne’s cheerleader-pop anthem “Girlfriend.” It was, and still is, an absurdly catchy and endearingly dumb pop song. We all loved it the way you love a stupid but sweet golden retriever, or Channing Tatum. We knew it was mostly idiotic, but we also saw something inherently lovable in there too.1
Really, the only things we love more than “Girlfriend” were the versions that Avril recorded in various foreign languages. Yes, that’s right. Avril Lavigne recorded multiple versions of the song, with the chorus translated into a different language in each. There were 7 (7!) in total, and each has something distinct to offer. I’m going to give my brief thoughts on each, and I’m going to simultaneously rank them from my least favorite to my favorite, countdown-style!
7. Spanish I’ve never really liked the Spanish version, and I think it’s because I studied Spanish in school and still possess enough fluency to understand what she’s saying. And, between the song’s super simple lyrics and its chanting style, it sounds very Spanish 101. It’s probably just that Avril is clearly reciting the words phonetically rather than actually comprehending them, which makes her delivery seem slightly off when you can comprehend them.
6. Italian The Italian version of the track is the one I always forget when listing them, probably because it sort of blends in with the other Romance language versions. My favorite part is that the translation of “I know that you like me!” sounds like “Sock it to Piazza!” which is a pretty great mondegreen.
5. Portuguese Overall, one of my favorite parts of these rewrites is how they try to cram translated phrases into an English-phrase-shaped box. No matter how many syllables the translation contains, Avril is gonna make them fit into the song. In most of the songs, the problem comes from having too many syllables, but the Portuguese version has too few syllables at one point. To cover it up, Avril draws them out, which clashes with panned in backing vocals, producing a very strange effect.
4. Japanese I think the Japanese reworking of the song is one of the most natural sounding of the group. The syllables and emphasis seem to line up well, and the natural staccato delivery of Japanese works nicely with cheer-chant style of the chorus. (As opposed to the European languages that call for a more flowing style of delivery.)
3. French The only version that I think works better than the Japanese is the French, which really works in terms of syllables and emphasis (remember, Avril is French-Canadian). It’s easily the most natural sounding of the foreign language recordings. In fact, I probably find my self singing it more often than I do the original.
2. German The version sung in German is very clunky, and doesn’t really sound all that great, but it will forever be among my favorites because it totally sounds like she says “Frankenstein” at one point.
1. Mandarin Without question, the Mandarin Chinese version of the song is my favorite of the reworkings. Avril’s delivery sounds completely unnatural, to the degree that it sounds like she’s spitting out the lyrics rather than singing them. And, furthermore, they have to cram in like 40 more syllables than they have room for. There are definitely points where it sound like they chopped up her vocals and sped parts up to make them fit. It’s the clearest evidence that this was a terrible artistic idea, and I love it for that reason.
But, the question is not if this was an awful idea in an artistic sense (because it clearly was), but whether or not this was a bad idea from a promotional standpoint. The recording of these alternate versions was clearly intended to sell more singles, so did it? Did this clumsy, pandering gesture to the international community actually make Avril et al more money?
It’s honestly tough to say. On the one hand, “Girlfriend” is easily the biggest hit of Avril’s career. It was both her highest debut on the Billboard Hot 100 charts (at #5) and was the first (and thus far only) song of hers to hit #1 on that chart.2 The accompanying music video was the first YouTube video to every surpass 100 million views, and was at one time the most watched video in the history of the site.
But, there’s little to suggest that i’s success was in anyway indebted to those alternate versions. The sales of those versions were counted as part of the sales of the original version, and no records were kept of how different versions fared. Also, the success that the track found on YouTube was based solely on the video for the English version. Yet the fact that Avril has never repeated this approach on any of her successive singles might be the clearest indication that it didn’t work. If it had, is there any reason she wouldn’t do it again?
Regardless, though, I’m very glad that she did it in this case, because she brought me joy, she multiplied it eightfold.
1. For proof, here’s a video BIH made of our friends Travis and Sam that features “Girlfriend” prominently.
2. “Complicated” peaked at #2 and “Sk8er Boi” only reached #10. Surprising, right?
After writing part of this article, I realized that what I had so far was basically just a list of hooks that could draw one’s interest to Discovery. So, I made it literally into a list of hooks that could draw one’s interest to Discovery.
They’re a duo consisting of Rostam Batmanlij (of Vampire Weekend) and Wes Miles (of Ra Ra Riot).
On their sole album (entitled LP) they cover The Jackson 5, Ra Ra Riot, and (on the track above) a little bit of “The Electric Slide.”
LP also features guest spots by Angel Deradoorian (of Dirty Projectors) and Ezra Koenig (of Vampire Weekend).2
Sounds like fun, huh?
But, I think my favorite thing about this project is that it isn’t a joke. I mean, wouldn’t you assume that it was if you hadn’t listed to the track above or read the previous sentence?3 A couple of young, hip New Yorkers make a pop record full of auto-tune and cover songs? That’s gotta be a “hilarious” parody, right?
Instead, Discovery hits that perfect place between seriousness and levity. Their vocals are wholly earnest, but they never fall into melodrama. But, that sincerity doesn’t stop them from having fun. On the contrary, LP is above all a very playful record. After hearing it, it’s clear that Batmanlij and Miles genuinely love pop music, and had a blast making it. That passion (combined with the duo’s knack for writing hooks that still get stuck in my head four years later) makes LP such a delightful record.
If you’d like to hear more, you can actually still stream their only album in its entirety on their website, which hasn’t been updated or altered since 2009.4
1. That bulletpoint is the blueprint for appealing to BIH, but I remember him only sort of liking the album. [BEN, EDIT IN YOUR COMMENTS HERE]*
2. Actually, Rostam Batmanlij, Wes Miles, Ezra Koenig, and Angel Deradoorian have all been members of Dirty Projectors at one point or another! (On Dolphin/Shark, all roads lead to Dirty Projectors, Bjork, or cats.)
3. Or listened to the band before…but that’s impossible because I am a beautiful swan with unique music tastes and unrivaled knowledge that I hand down to you plebs in the form of Tumblr posts! (Here’s a picture of me right now.)
4. They never toured, and there’s no indication that they’ll ever be making more music. Sad emoticon, amirite?
*SUPERSECRET/NOT-SECRET-AT-ALL-BUT-RATHER-REQUESTED BIH EDIT:
Actually, all three of those things (synths, handclaps, vocal harmonies) are things genetically engineered in a lab to appeal to me.
I wouldn’t say “only sort of liking the album” but rather “only liking sort of the album.” Yes, that’s confusing! Yes, I sacrificed clarity for wordplay! I will explain further: I don’t like all of the songs, but I like a lot the ones that I do like.
The ones that I do like: “Orange Shirt” and “Osaka Loop Line” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and “So Insane” and “Swing Tree” and “I Want You Back (In Discovery).”
Upon listening to Patrick Stickles’s cover of “Hey Tonight” by Free Energy, you’ll probably be struck by how different it sounds from his recordings with Titus Andronicus. To a certain degree, that’s to be expected. I mean, he’s playing someone else’s composition without his usual collaborators. It only makes sense that the end product sounds noticeably different. Of course it’s not gonna have the massive guitar solos, or twelve sharp musical left turns, or million-man arrangements that we’ve come to expect from Titus Andronicus. “Duh doy, TWG,” you say to yourself. “Duh doy.”
But the thing is, I think Stickles’s cover sounds even more atypical than I would expect. Although you’d never mistake a Free Energy song for one by Titus Andronicus, they’re still relatively similar groups. Both have a knack for massive, anthemic shout-alongs, and they both have tons of Weezer alleles in their DNA1. Their similarities, however, really aren’t all that evident on this particular track.
The reason for that, in my opinion, lies in the track’s vocal part. While Titus do love them some short, repetitious vocal parts,2 those sections are always balanced by ones with much longer phrasing and SAT vocabulary. That dichotomy serves not only as a technical counterpoint to their shout-along, but also to make those sections all the more forceful. Take their track “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future.” In that song, hearing Stickles ramble effusively about losing his humanity through a dozen apt metaphors makes the ending refrain of “YOU’LL ALWAYS BE A LOSER” hit even harder in comparison. If anyone repeats something, then you know it’s important, but if Patrick Stickles repeats something, then you really know it’s important.
I think that’s why the track in question sounds so different from his usual output. The breathless shout-along section is still there, but there’s no sprawling, verbose verse to balance it out. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this approach, but it’s nevertheless surprising to hear it coming from an artist who regularly takes a different route. That’s really one of my favorite things about cover songs: they make artists do things they wouldn’t normally do.
Much of the output of Jane, a collaboration between Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox and Scott Mou, should sound mighty familiar to anyone who’s heard the first few records Lennox made with his main group, Animal Collective. The duo’s work is mostly spacey, languorous ambient music remniscent of tracks like “Two Sails On A Sound” or “Meet The Light Child.” Lennox’s sunny, wordless vocals are unmistakable as they float and echo over a gently undulating electric hum. While Animal Collective tends to counter their more ambient songs with some sort of manic element or frenzied follow up song, Jane’s recordings rarely do anything to raise their pulse above the resting heart rate (in fact, the endless 4/4 bass thrum on “AGG Report” feels like a four-to-the-floor drop turned into a steady, reassuring rhythm that’s strangely akin to a mother’s heartbeat). Their work is thoroughly enjoyable, but rarely innervating.
Well, except for the song above.
While most of Jane’s discography makes for engaging listening, their track “Slipping Away” is absolutely enthralling. The song is completely different from anything Panda’s made during his career, in an enormously exciting way. It opens with a skittering, mutating drone that wouldn’t be out of place on Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, but then, right around the time that Lennox’s vocals come in, a pulsing rhythm emerges and slowly grows. Soon, that rhythm becomes a massive, throbbing industrial beat with new elements leaping up as it progresses. Eventually, the song evolves into a full-on dance track, an ominous, quivering dance track, mind you, but a dance track nonetheless. Then, it devolves into a cacophonous outro of screeches and thuds that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Goblin soundtrack to an Italian horror film. From start to finish, this track is an absolute wonder.
So, allow me to reiterate: if you are a fan of Panda Bear singing reverbed, harmonized vocal sounds, you should really listen to “Slipping Away.” It’s completely unlike anything he’s ever done.
If you’re unfamiliar with the comic strip Pluggers, then allow me to give you a quick primer on it. Pluggers is a one-panel comic strip that relies on reader-submitted “pluggerisms” that serve as the premise for the strip. The art is provided by Gary Brookins. Supposedly, it focuses on the everyday lives of members of the American working class (or “pluggers”), depicting them as anthropomorphic animals. Brookins describes “pluggers” by saying, “Pluggers are self-deprecating and have a healthy sense of humor about themselves. They represent the majority of us who don’t live for the latest trend, who keep plugging along without fanfare and try to balance work, play and family life.”
In practice, though, a typical installment of Pluggers features cloying, Family-Circus-style sentimental humor, with accents of jingoism, luddism, and death obsession. Basically, it’s like your terrible grandma rendered in comic strip form. I’ve put together a quick album here that should get you acquainted with the unique (and awful) sensibility of Pluggers in just a few strips.
As you can see, the strip’s worst aspect (well, one of its worst aspects) is its support of prideful ignorance. I’ve estimated that 43% of all Pluggers cartoons feature some bear-man or chicken-lady staring confusedly at something newfangled and scary. Check out that be-sweatered man-dog in the comic above. He certainly doesn’t “live for the latest trend!” He doesn’t even know who those people are!
Previously in this feature, I’ve written about how dangerous it is for writers to try to use musical pop culture references as a way to establish how “cool” or “awesome” a particular character is. Here, Brookins is trying to do something similar. He’s name-dropping real but relatively obscure people to establish a character’s ignorance of them, and in turn, that character’s plugger-cred. For most readers of the strip, Brookins’s attempt was likely successful (partially because one of the names is misspelled, and the other is not a person, but a television show).
But, for people that are familiar with the people referenced above, the effect is just strange. It’s clear that Brookins (or possibly Brenda Paog) looked through a list of Tonight Show guests for some week2 and just wrote down some names that were unfamiliar, but it’s still weird to a strip like this reference someone like Jamie Lidell. That’s obscure overkill for Pluggers. It’s like if Mark Trail suddenly ran into Wolves in the Throne Room while walking in the woods.3 Yet, it doesn’t make the reader think differently about the character, or his lack of musical knowledge. That man-dog still just seems like someone’s grandpa who just doesn’t get what the kids are into these days.
For that reason, it seems to be easier to make a character seem uncool via a lack of musical awareness than it is to make a character seem cool by name-dropping bands.
1. Along with Little Britain and Michael Cerra Cera