Track Review: Darkside – “Gone Too Soon”

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By Zachary Kaczmarek

Yesterday, the duo comprised of guitarist Dave Harrington and electronic mastermind Nicholas Jaar known as Darkside, tweeted that their run as Darkside is “coming to an end, for now”. But on the bright side the duo leaves us with two unreleased tracks as a parting gift – “Gone Too Soon” and “What They Say”.

The former is a delight which gradually forms with a repetitive funktastic bass line, Jaar’s low key vocals,  and layers upon layers of sound that naturally fall into place. Harrington breaks in around the two minute mark with his spine chilling, reverb-entrenched riffs that take the track to psychedelic places as the glitchy samples and hand drum rhythms keep everything bolted down and steady. It’s a perfect summation of Darkside’s wide reaching boundaries and their  vision to move beyond dance or experimental electronics in doses that ranged from a two or three minutes to eleven-minute electronic gold like “Golden Arrow”.

As Harrington’s fill chords fill the air and ring out, there is a strong desire for the track to continue on and never reach that fade to silence. Although the track – and this chapter of their partnership – may have ended too soon as the title suggests, it does so on the highest of notes and without ever touching the ground or wearing out its (their) welcome.  Gone too soon? The answer is a resounding yes, but if their tweet is to be taken to heart, we’ll all be waiting patiently for their return.

 

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Album Review: FKA twigs – LP1

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LP1

Release Date: August 12, 2014

Score: 10.0

By Zachary Kaczmarek

Tahliah Barnett may have only surfaced and risen to the top of every music blog’s watch list- under the moniker FKA Twigs – within the past two years, but her minimalist, celestial R&B creations sound like the work of a mind that has been perfecting and molding this craft for years. Prior to the attention she received for her self-released EP1 and the slick, Arca-produced EP2, Barnett was backing up the likes of Jessie J and Ed Sheeran in music videos as a dancer and simply wading through the backgrounds of someone else’s dream. But as both her EPs proved, Barnett was without a doubt the smartest person in the room at any one of those video shoots.

LP1, twigs’ long-awaited debut, has slowly built up momentum on the basis of EP2 tracks “Water Me”, “Papi Pacify”, and “How’s That”, where vibrant, glitchy beats served as the backbone for airy spaciousness that delivers sensual undertones in a massive chamber of sounds. Equally as impassioned as the brief glimpses into her world that were both EPs, LP1 carefully stretches the tension from the opening of the masterfully layered “Preface” until Barnett’s angelic whisper fades to black one last time on the finale, “Kicks”. Initially it’s difficult to imagine the mixed bag of soft, nimble synthesizers and tight coiled rumbles of bass sustaining their cloudy, dream-like allure for an entire record without the occasional yawn-inducing moment or struggle to give each track a unique identity, yet within her deceptively limited scope of influences there are an abundance of nuances and diverse electronic samples that have a distinct personality of their own and allow Barnett to adjust her light, hypnotic vocals accordingly.

The lyricism and the directness that Barnett sings with slice through a forest of cluttered trap arrangements and strike with a pure innocence that is magnetic. “Lights On”, despite its erotic nature, views love and trust through a wide-eyed gaze and is incredibly soothing and beautiful without resorting to the cheesy, sexualized imagery that modern day pop rests on. “I shy away in my mind/In the hopes that I could share this place with you”, “Cause the man that you are is defined/By the way you act in the light”, she sings in the opening verse, setting up a chorus line – “When I trust you we can do it with the lights on” – that bears the weight of such a tense subject as the layered click-clack percussion and weaving bass line intensify her words. It truly is a difficult art to master – concisely touching down on locked-away desires that are typical suited for low-key ballads and attacking with such fervor and excitement – but FKA twigs sultry in-your-face method of bearing her soul is truly one of a kind. 

Her placement of sporadic high hats, claps, freakish sci-fi synth – which is comparable to the psychedelic mind-bending style of Flying Lotus – and her spectacular display of vocal range establishes “Numbers” as the essential takeaway song from LP1. The strange level of dissonance and spliced vocal samples that are paired with lyrics addressing Barnett’s fear of being “just another number” in the eyes of her significant other, make for a heartbreaking tale that sounds like she is calmly floating above the Earth in a space station all alone.Exuding this type of serene intimacy is almost expected at the midway point of the album, and as unfair of a standard as that may be, twigs obliges and never fails to set the stage with a tranquil, isolated atmosphere seals off the outside world.

But all weirdness and avante-garde, R&B experimentation aside, FKA’s best moment does not come in the form of shaky an unbalanced rhythm or spontaneity, but the pop-infused “Two Weeks”. The chorus is the real gem here, ascending to empowering heights that might have you believe that Barnett could be destined for radio had she not chosen this current path, which makes LP1 all the more rare and wondrous. Although it’s only a brief flash of what could become a reality for FKA twigs – an unbeatable dual threat of pop and space age R&B – “Two Weeks” makes for one of the best alternative pop songs that has come along in years and puts a spotlight on her underrated abilities as a pop-songwriter extraordinaire. Throughout the song there lingers a feeling that Barnett simply messed around and stumbled into pop territory, thereby delivering a potential monster hit. Like many other beautiful and groundbreaking moments on LP1, “Two Weeks” is a microcosm of what Barnett does so well – creating smart R&B jams from yesteryear and the future that operate at a complex level on the surface, and end up surprising you with a humble, tender-hearted core that rarely accompanies such proficient musicianship. 

Essential Tracks: “Lights On”, “Two Weeks”, “Pendulum”, “Video Girl”, “Numbers”, “Kicks”

Watch the video for “2 Weeks” below:

Track Review: “Piece of Mind”, a track from Lorde’s days singing with her high school band And They Were Masked

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By Zachary Kaczmarek

Prior to Lorde sub headlining festivals across the globe and releasing chart-topping singles, the 17-year-old pop phenom dabbled in PJ Harvey, Mars Volta, Massive Attack, Fugazi, and At the Drive-In-inspired tracks with her friends in a band called And They Were Masked. As noted by Consequence of Sound, Ella Yellich-O’Connor was not the full-time vocalist of the band and her presence can only be heard on a few tracks like “Piece of Mind” and “Sands of John” which were released back in 2012.

“Piece of Mind”, unlike “Sands of John”, features Yellich-O’Connor on lead vocals, and uses gritty snares and drum fills that are similar to those you might find on a Fugazi or At the Drive-In track and the tinny, spookiness of the clean picked guitar melody recalls PJ Harvey’s last few releases and some of Mars Volta’s softer work. The strangeness from each influence is tightly packed and repeated throughout in a pop formula. Moreover, the track showcases Yellich-O’Connor’s vocal range that is typically masked behind the low register that she prefers to work within on Pure Heroine. If her association with the band and passion for forward thinking artists is any indication, her next full length album could be mighty enticing.

Listen to “Piece of Mind” below and check out the band’s Bandcamp page here.

Album Review: Jenny Lewis – The Voyager


Jenny-Lewis-The-Voyager1Jenny Lewis

The Voyager

Release Date: July 29, 2014

Score: 9.0

By Zachary Kaczmarek

Jenny Lewis as a solo artist has never really been the most exciting listening experience, not because she lacks passion or vocal ability, – even the biggest Rilo Kiley detractors who have heard even one of their tracks can attest to her bold personality and range – but due to the lack of creativity that left her stripped down bluesy pop sounding like bored recreations of her now defunct band. The former Rilo Kiley front woman established decent footing on her first solo effort back in 2006 with Rabbit Fur Coat, which featured the Watson twins, but her 2008 follow up, Acid Tongue, took a step back due in large part to the crutch that was a revolving door of unnecessary collaborations and cameos which unintentionally reduced Lewis to a small contributor on her own LP. The Voyager however seemingly goes out of the way to give Lewis the spotlight that she was always capable of owning, and with production from alt-rocker Ryan Adams, it bravely tosses aside the strictly, blues-tinged, indie rock that Lewis has surrounded herself with her whole career in favor of an unexpected turn towards honey-coated guitar pop.

Wrapped in a bright array of rock and blues and filtered through a poppy lens, Lewis maps out her struggles and dreams which are both insightful and charming. The lead single “Just One of the Guys”, is an airy, Beck-produced, arena-sized anthem to the pressure that Lewis’ faces as a childless woman in her late 30s and the resistance against her biological clock. The drum beats are crisp and reverb-heavy as they echo out into a cloudy sky, the backing vocals angelic and yet so defiant and strained, creating an atmosphere that is not exactly akin to the typical major existential crisis, but that’s a testament to the allure and magic that Lewis is able to bring.

Even when the topic is taboo or slightly awkward, Lewis still manages to orchestrate a pleasant experience. In fact, the entirety of the song nearly soaks in with ease as Lewis goes back and forth before putting the matter to rest once and for all with the show stopping line of the entire album. “There’s only one difference between me and you: When I look at myself all I can see/I’m just another lady without a BABY.” Not leaving any of her work to personal matters to interpretation, Lewis never ceases to swiftly close out the most pivotal moments with exclamation. One moment she’s reeling you in with saccharine harmonies and choruses, and the next she casually moves on to kicking out the chair and throwing lyrical haymakers.

And yet, as alluring and charismatic as “Just One of the Guys” proves to be, it’s incredibly misleading, in the best possible way imaginable, because it shares very little in terms of sound with the rest of the album. When the single initially dropped there was the impression that Lewis was simply trotting out another light, traditional, pop record drawing from the 60s and 70s, perhaps similar to a She & Him record, which never seem to divert from the opening track and churn out one singular sound for 40-something minutes. But that criticism could not be more wrong when guitar solos like the one that is featured on “Slippery Slopes”, which abruptly introduces a psychedelic, face melting, wah pedal madness that should feel out of place in a sea of harmonized “oh, oh, oh, oh”s, but instead only intensifies the moment that Lewis and Adam somehow pulled off.

This fascinating pairing of skip-along pop rock and outside influences is risky but it’s responsible for giving The Voyager all of its stamina and durability. The brilliant transition on “You Can’t Outrun Em”, which opens with a seedy, twangy, Metallica-esque guitar intro before seguing into Lewis’ typical exotic, acoustic pop, is a real eye opener and demonstrates Lewis’ adaptability at this point in her career, molding her velvety, sublime vocals around whatever style invigorates her, and the genius is that every variation feels natural.

Emotionally, The Voyager matches the audacious musical spirit that is embedded in nearly every track that Lewis and Adams worked crafted, and there’s no doubt that the title of the album is perfectly suited for the introspective side that Lewis displays. In recent interviews Lewis has been incredibly vocal and candid in admitting how painful the years that followed Rilo Kiley’s dissolution were, and as she sings the chorus on the title track, –which is also coincidentally the closer – “The Voyager’s in every boy and girl/If you wanna get to heaven get out of this world/You’re the voyager/You’re The Voyager”, “I’m The Voyager”, it becomes apparent that The Voyager is one of those rare pieces of music that attests to the healing powers that an album can possess. In the wake of reflecting upon the loss of her constant, her equilibrium, Jenny Lewis sculpts the album of her career – with Rilo Kiley or as a solo artist – by venturing off into the deep recesses of the unknown and using her music as the vessel. Except the real headline is how she managed to bring everyone along for the ride.

Essential Tracks: “Just One of the Guys”, “Slippery Slopes”, “You Can’t Outrun Em”, “The Voyager”

Watch Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart breakdance and act as members of Jenny Lewis’ band in the video for “Just One of the Guys” below.

Track Review: Banks – “Beggin for Thread”

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By Zachary Kaczmarek

Banks’ debut album, Goddess, is set for release on 9/8 of this year but the L.A. singer continues to favor slow and steady release, posting the latest track, “Beggin for Thread”. Unlike the previously released tracks, which laid on a thick misty haze around minimalist beats, Banks’ newest track features forceful synth progressions and poised lyrics which show off a harder, more playful side that is brimming with confidence. It finds a nice middle ground in a similar fashion to most of her released tracks, containing just enough lift and rhythm to avoid becoming an icy ballad, and yet downplaying the excitement and groove that it possesses.

Macarons (and the mistakes I made trying to make them!)

This post is also available on my other blog, muffinswithmustaches.wordpress.com

Just recently, I returned to my home state of Arizona after spending a year of my life abroad in wonderful Paris, France! This meant that for an entire year, I was surrounded by some of the world’s best cuisine (and I make the distinction to say surrounded by it, because I’ll admit I didn’t always get the chance – or have the courage – to sample it). Inspired by my time in France, I’ve challenged myself with bringing some of the world’s finest and best delicacies to my own  kitchen. First up, I’m diving right into the deep end by attempting to bake the king of all confections: the macaron.

I was warned that making these devilishly good treats would be extremely extremely difficult. However, right before I left France I picked up a pocket-sized cookbook dedicated exclusively to the macaron – and to be honest it made the whole process look like a piece of cake. Yet just like baking anything else, making a perfect macaron is an art; and if that’s true, then you could say I’m still on the step where I’m learning to fingerpaint.

In the end, I attempted to make four different but complimentary varieties of the confection: chocolate, coffee, caramel, and vanilla-nutella. For a first effort, I was quite happy with the results, even if they fell a bit short of expectations. Actually, they were, without any doubt, far from perfect. Always looking on the bright side (and like any good chef), I’ve decided to focus on my mistakes and learn from them. Here are some of my takeaways after baking the macarons; my hope is that these notes provide insight to anyone who is considering attempting to make their own batches.

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Almost a Mistake #1: A Cookbook in French

I’m fluent in French, so a French language cookbook isn’t a deal breaker. Despite making only minor use of a dictionary, the cookbook still posed it challenges. For example, the book was written using the metric system in mind, and some of the ingredients were harder to find here than in France (plus the quality of products can vary from country to country). In the end, I’m not afraid to admit that I did have to remake parts of the recipes due to misfollowed steps. Not a huge deal, but obviously it’s a waste of time and ingredients.

Almost a Mistake #2: Four Different Varieties

This wasn’t a cardinal sin, but in hindsight, trying to make four different varieties during my first attempt wasn’t the best of ideas. It felt hard to keep track of everything and the quality definitely suffered because of the quantity. To make things easier, next time I’m planning on focusing more on a smaller variety so that the overall quality isn’t compromised.

(Real) Mistake #1: Not Aging the Egg Whites

As it turns out, the verdict is that aging egg whites is an important step in the baking process. Partly because of a translation error, I skipped this step. The recipe I was following did in fact call for the egg whites to be refrigerated overnight, however I falsely thought this was because eggs aren’t always stored in the refrigerator in France. Assuming the cookbook was simply implying that the eggs should be cold, I beat my egg whites right after cracking them: a big no-no.

Mistake #2: Not Beating my Eggs Stiff Enough

Okay, so the mistake cited might not be the actual problem, but regardless my batter felt a lot runnier than it should have been. It possibly could have been because I didn’t beat my egg whites enough, but at the same time I can’t rule out too much downtime (remember, trying to make four kinds at once!) or the Arizona heat that could have melted the batter (it’s a serious thing!). Next time I’ll definitely be more in control of the factors I can, and hopefully by beating my egg whites longer and by being more efficient I’ll end up with a better result.

Mistake #3: Not letting the batter dry

Going off of the last mistake, since it felt like my shells were melting too quickly, I used my not-so-great improvisational skill and had the “genius” idea of putting the shells straight into the oven. This, of course, was the exact opposite of the step in the cookbook that was telling me to let the shells rest and dry for an hour. The reason this step is important is because it’s vital in order for the macarons to get their famous ‘legs’. The result, of course, is that my macarons turned out just like cookies. At least they tasted great!

Mistake #4: The Fillings

Just when I thought I couldn’t mess up anymore: I did. With the exception of the Nutella filling, which was simply just a spoon of Nutella, my fillings were less than perfect – atrocious even. The chocolate ganache filling just felt a bit too overpowering. The coffee filling tasted superb but was runny like a sauce. The worst of the lot, however, was the caramel that instantly hardened up and turned the macarons inedible. In all fairness to me though, I’ll attribute this mistake to the recipes (in French) that I was following.

Fortunately, my attempt to make macarons did have its bright side!

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 Victory #1: Caramel Shells

So remember when I said I put the macarons straight into the oven? Well, as it turns out, I did let one batch sit and dry up. Can you guess what happened? They turned out perfectly, with legs and a glossy finish! Obviously, since I’m not an expert I can’t say 100% that letting them sit was the reason this happened, but having them turn out the way they did was fantastic! Unfortunately, I did mention that the caramel filling was horrid, but at the very least I’m happy with these shells.

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Victory #2: The Coffee Macarons

Without a doubt these were the hardest to make of the batch, and it showed. I ended up tossing most of the shells, and the filling was runny like sauce. All that being said, the few that did turn out surpassed my expectations when it came time to sample them! Absolutely amazing! Although I’m on the lookout for a different, thicker recipe for the filling, the coffee macarons were a hit!

Bonus Victory: Making Brownies

In the end, my chocolate macarons turned out a lot like mini-brownies. Considering the goal was to make macarons, it wasn’t the best of results, but I really enjoyed them anyway!

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In all honesty, for a first attempt this wasn’t bad at all. I learnt first hand the hardships of making these little devils, and in turn why they’re often so expensive and hard to come by in stores. The caramel macarons had perfect shells yet a disastrous filling. The chocolate macarons turned out more like brownies. Finally, both the coffee and vanilla-nutella macarons looked like monstrosities, but they tasted far beyond their looks. Next time, with the lessons learned from this bake, I’m planning on being more efficient and streamlined. And since macarons come in all different varieties, I’ve got my eyes set on some of the fruity varieties for next time. Hopefully with this advice, my next batch (and yours as well if you decide to make them!) will turn out better, and I’ll end up with delicious, fantastic looking macarons.

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Top Albums of 2014 (So Far)

By Zachary Kaczmarek

Seeking out the best music from endless genres that are constantly evolving can be an arduous task. Reviews can dance around the subject and tend to take the drawn out approach instead of giving a simple thumbs up or down – admittedly this blog is guilty of this as much as any other. But to save you the reader hours of sifting and consolidating, we’ve compiled a list of the  best releases that 2014 has bestowed upon us to this point in time.

18. Katy B – Little Red

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Katy B’s debut represented the perfect mixture of Americanized R&B-pop a la Beyonce, Aaliyah, and so on, combined with house and funky UK beats that have catapulted names like Disclosure to worldwide success. Unlike her debut, Little Red’s invests in various ballads which tap into a more solemn place below the surface that goes beyond club bangers and a night out on the town.

17. Clipping. – CLPPNG

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In the world of hip-hop there are the innovators, constantly incorporating previously unrelated elements into their compositions, and then there’s clipping. There’s no question that the industrial mix of glitch synth and snares limits the reach and appeal of clipping’s sophomore album, but the sound as a whole is cleaner and well-polished without sacrificing the bizarre off kilter approach on Midcity. Daveed Diggs does not posess the greatest flow or the most insightful lyrics, but his style fits in well with the abrasive lo-fi approach of Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson.

 

16. Protomartyr – Under the Color of Official Right

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Upon first listen, Protomartyr sound disjointed and sloppy, simply flailing around for the sake of it – the vocals of Joe Casey which sound improvised and off the cuff at times have a lot to do with this. But this reckless style is also their greatest strength, plowing through multiple tracks without a care and somehow establishing a consistent rhythm along the way. It’s not random chance or dumb luck that Under the Color of Official Right sounds good by the time the gem of the album ‘Come and See’ tears into its reverb heavy chord progression. Protomartyr has its share of gaping flaws – an overabundance of chaos, scraggly, sloppy vocals to name a few – but they wisely turn those critiques into pillars of strength. Under the Color is meant to be enjoyed in an unhinged state of bliss, not in a coffee shop, analyzing the deeper implications of their uninhibited nature.

15. Warpaint – Warpaint

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The self-titled release by LA-based quarter Warpaint, favors musicianship and slick grooves over the cavernous vibes that their debut, The Fool, relished and bathed in. There are certain moments that feel like more of an exercise than an impassioned LP, but in the end their strengths – psychedelic riffs and fills and a newfound mid-tempo druggy haze – win out and make up for a slightly generic sound. Each expert display of musical brilliance is accompanied by a Portishead style of shadowy appeal to love and everything else that comes with making brooding rock music.

 

14. EMA – Future’s Void

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Tackling the theme of technology and some of the unintended negative consequences is not why Erica M. Anderson pervades a sophomore slump, but the way that she scores a dark, complex society with complementary sounds and loops, and the presence of dejection and anxiety looming overhead, prevents an overused concept from seeming empty. She adopts more abnormal samples and dramatic synthesizers than guitars this time around, but it’s fitting considering the disgust towards the modern obsession over technology and social media. The spooky part about her bleak perspective is that the future in question is not a post-apocalyptic world staring at us from afar, but a world that already exists, re-imagined through sinister electronics.

13. Lykke Li – I Never Learn

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Setting aside the bright melodies and uplifting, dance-inducing arrangements, Li finds herself churning out one melancholy ballad after another. The percussion is softer, the lyrics are somber, and Li’s sound as a whole is perfectly retrofitted for a classic breakup album. I Never Learn may not have a defiant urge to seek independence or find confidence in a freefall, but it does show a toughness that aspires for more than just self-loathing. More than anything, Li masters the art of the bare-bones ballad, a skill that the pop of her last two albums – a pop which she now claims to hate – could not fully harness.

 

12. tUne-yArDs – Nikki Nack

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If tUne-yArDs self-titled debut was the proper introduction to the zany mind of Merill Garbis, Nikki Nack serves as the collection of moments that solidify her brand of messy, avante-garde pop not as trend that ran its course, but as a viable sound that will carry tUne-yArDs for years to come. Garbis tightens down the loose structures and unleashes all sorts of havoc, lyrically with her politically/socially charged quips, and sonically with a full arsenal of popping, Afrobeat percussion and layers of spastic vocal samples. As strange as and chaotic as Nikki Nack can be at times, it never strays away from the idea that this is pop for a strange new generation.

11. MØ – No Mythologies to Follow

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Riding the recent wave of Scandinavian pop that has infiltrated ears in each corner of the world, Danish singer-songwriter Karen Ørsted, or MØ as many now know her, fuses hip-hop laced beats and percussion with moody hooks that have a unique anthemic presence. Sure, the vocal delivery and inflections will have some making silly claims that Ørsted is aping Lana Del Rey, but the heights that Ørsted’s choruses soar to and the eclectic interaction between guitar licks, horn rhythms, and bass is undeniably hers and hers alone.

10. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Pinata

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Gangsta’ rapper Freddie Gibbs is not the world’s most underrated MC or one that needs reexamination, his discography is, for lack of a better word, decent. But Madlib, whose influence runs through the veins of modern hip-hop, lays down some of his finest beats and production work to cast Gibbs in a different light, one that has Gibbs delivering the performance of a lifetime. The diverse samples and spacious layout draw the best out of Gibbs and his narration of street life, and to this point create the best hip-hop LP of 2014 thus far.

9. Eagulls – Eagulls

Eagulls-Album-Cover-608x608The debut from the Leeds post-punk group Eagulls do not take home any awards for originality – but to be fair how many completely original acts these days can stake such a claim? The influences are unashamedly worn on their sleeves – the Clash, the Cure, perhaps a heavier-sounding Joy Divison – and the truth is there’s nothing with that. It’s a remarkable skill that Eagulls have mastered; being able to parley the soul and contempt of their British rock heroes into fresh explosive brand of punk. It never sounds like a cover band trying to relive a golden age because the urgency and manic personality that Eagulls channel so well, is far too pulse-elevating and convincing to be a half-assed homage.

8. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

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What a criminal statement it would be to mistake Lost in the Dream as a stunted ode to classic rock. Despite the unmistakable traces vintage Americana, psych rock, and the folk of Dylan, Lost in the Dream finds its own personality by inserting a ballad or two and feeding off a newly added new wave component. There’s not a lot of parity from one track to the next – the similarities can become tiring – but the results are definitely more satisfying and consistent than a scatterbrain record that explores for the sake of being diverse.

7. First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

Small_Gold_Album_-_First_Aid_KitThe irresistibly heartfelt folk pop of Johanna and Klara Soderberg reaches new heights on Stay Gold, ditching the simple aesthetic for a beefed up sound that makes every climatic moment feel larger without sacrificing any purity or sincerity that made their first two records such a delight. While Stay Gold may not be sexy, unpredictable, or fringe, its consistency in an age where even the most veteran acts can put out a dud ends up being the saving grace.

 

6. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness

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Maintaining her love for the heartwarming twang of the 50s and 60s, Olsen turns away from the charming, quaint rock from her debut. The elements of garage rock allow Olsen to channel fuzz drenched, frustrated sentiments that were far too bold for the passionate, understated songwriting of Half Way Home. The grittier distortion that underlies Olsen’s lyrical chops show just how versatile Burn Your Fire can be – breaking hearts with silent acoustic ballads and generating unrest in lovers quarrels through psych rock. However Olsen chooses to frame her work – gentle or caustic – it tugs on heart strings all the same.

5. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St_Vincent_artworkAnnie Clark’s fourth LP is not exactly the best jumping off point for newcomers. Clark’s self-titled record is lyrically stirring, taking sardonic jabs at selfie takers and consumers, and also fearless in its adventurous style sonically. The haywire personality that is characterized by freakish guitar tones and jazz-based rhythms is stronger than ever as Clark allows herself to explore new extremes while still working within a very broad definition of pop. Comparing the exciting gambles that Clark takes on this eponymous record to the work of her contemporaries does not feel right, not because it’s a discussion of apples and oranges, but because it seems Clark could one day end up in far grander and more intriguing discussion, with the likes of Bowie and Byrne.

4. Royksopp and Robyn – Do It Again

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When a collaboration of this magnitude occurs, it’s difficult not to expect something unparalleled and brilliant that ventures into new territory or redefines a genre. Unfortunately, Do It Again does not expand the boundaries or implement a shelved idea, but meets expectations and allows the unique pop sensibilities of Robyn to coexist and flourish inside the large array of synths and beats that Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland construct. Do It Again is the peak of sophisticated synth pop that has the potential to produce an enjoyable, dark horse, hit single of the summer (“Do It Again”) and still be incredibly daunting with all its complex and intricate parts.

3. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

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Storytelling is often an underrated skill in today’s music but Mark Kozelek prides himself on constructing some of the most compelling and powerful lyrics that 2014 has brought us so far. The lengths vary between 3 minute cuts and 10 minute free form, evolving tales, both of which are equally gripping and heavy, even for the genre of folk. Kozelek effortlessly transfers all of his experiences, joys, and woes onto anyone who lends an ear. The art of being subtle or mysterious never crosses Kozelek’s mind as he thrives on songwriting that prioritizes being forthright and candid. Whether a line is embarrassing or demoralizing, Kozelek stands tall, because there is no charade or persona to which he is a slave, and his loyalty to honest storytelling is what makes Benji one of a kind.

2. Swans – To Be Kind

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If Swans have proven anything it’s that a band is never over the hill and the freshest of rebirths could occur decades after forming. The experimental rock pioneers last album, The Seer, redefined the limits for expansive rock that almost feels too large to process at once, and To Be Kind possesses the same colossal weight. It’s not hard to feel engulfed in tracks that can reach the 30 minute range and are evolving There aren’t as many chilling moments that haunt the mind but To Be Kind is every bit as versatile, meticulous, and unnerving as any album that Swans have released.

1. White Lung – Deep Fantasy

white-lung-1402422002 Lengthwise Deep Fantasy might not seem like much to gawk at – the runtime falls just short of 23 minutes – but Vancouver post-hardcore act White Lung make every second count on their third LP, which is nothing short of a swift kick in the ass musically. The opening blows of kick drums and overwhelming explosion of hissing riffs generate the kind of unhinged intensity that is impossible to fake and Mish Way’s Kathleen Hanna-meets-Karen O. vocal delivery propels each pummeling sequence of furry with a confidence that has a slight pop addictiveness. Albums of this kind usually don’t suck in the casual listener that fancies pop or charting alt-rock, but in an age that has less boundaries and more cross-over than ever, Deep Fantasy has the potential to do just that.

Album Review: White Lung – Deep Fantasy

white-lung-1402422002White Lung

Deep Fantasy

Release Date: June 17, 2014

Score: 9.5

By Zachary Kaczmarek

White Lung possesses a high octane motor and the kind of ferocity that is impossible to fake. Sure, maybe for a track or two the average punk or hardcore band could match the blistering, relentless torrent of fury; but for an entire album? Not likely. This is a record that triggers all the right fervent emotions that lay below the surface and commands them masterfully. Vancouver has gained a reputation within the past few years of churning out white hot punk rock as if it’s their main export, and Deep Fantasy only elevates that status.

Biding time is something almost sacrilegious in the eyes of the quick, pummeling mindset that Deep Fantasy drapes itself in. As quick as the run time may be – a total of twenty-two or so minutes – the deliciously face-melting riffs, violent pounding kick drums, and siren wails of Mish Way are unsurprisingly efficient and achieve more than most bands could in 40 minutes. The joys of this tightly packed album are not just based on pure rage alone as ‘Face Down’ proves, with breakneck melodies and in-your-face lyrical splinters like “The dumb won’t make a sound, when you want them/Ugly dies face down.”

Way’s kamikaze presence and hasty lyrics are inarguably the reasons Deep Fantasy kicks so hard and still manages to have addictive qualities without compromising any of the viciousness that was plentiful on Sorry and It’s Evil. The chaotic Way establishes herself as one of the best in the land due to her siren-like Fever to Tell-era Karen O.-meets-Kathleen Hanna, type highs that she calls upon, matched with chilling yells and screams.

Sonically, it’s hard not to gush over the versatility that White Lung discovers on their third go at it. The lighter, but still very aggressive ‘Snake Jaw’ utilizes bright chords and quick alternate picking that stand out among the ravaging bursts of distortion on heavier tracks like ‘I Believe You’. But as far as unparalleled sounds go, the epitome of Deep Fantasy proves to be ‘Drown With the Monster’, an anthem for thrashing around eviscerating everything in sight.

White Lung’s destructive masterpiece might not be for everyone – hell, mentioning a combination of words such as “hardcore, post-hardcore, or punk” in the same sentence could very well elicit a premature “that’s not really my cup of tea” from friends or colleagues as if it’s taboo. But if there ever was punk/hardcore album that a casual listener who consumes nothing but the finest middle of the road pop and rock could get into, this is it. It’s a devastating, nasty, and hellish ride – in repetitive doses – but by the end a repeat listen or two is inevitable. 

Essential Tracks: ‘Drown With the Monster’, ‘Down It Goes’, ‘I Believe You’, ‘In Your Home’

Album Review: Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

sia-1000-forms-of-fear-album-cover-1402954560Sia

1000 Forms of Fear

Release Date: July 8, 2014

Score: 8.5

By Zachary Kaczmarek

If a “man on the street” survey were conducted in order to find out when the average casual listener was first exposed to Sia Furler more than likely there would only be one or two varying answers – A) The piercing vocals featured on David Guetta’s 2011 hit ‘Titanium’, or B) The music video for “Chandelier”, an inescapable YouTube sensation posted back in May that left some viewers wondering if Sia was an unhinged 11 year-old ballerina in a blonde bob wig. Most radio listeners are probably unaware of her past as a veteran multi-instrumentalist/songwriter, or that she wrote one of Rihanna’s biggest hits, “Diamonds”, in about 20 minutes or so, and they may not even realize that she’s responsible for countless other charting singles that flood the airwaves which other pop stars claim as their own.

The recent television performances of ‘Chandelier’ Jimmy Kimmel or Ellen, both in which Furler performed with her back to audience, and her unwillingness to show her face in interviews only further the mystery for those who are not familiar with her decorated past. Questions that are raised and confused viewers seem be a fitting response to Sia’s rebirth and decision to step out from behind the curtain (well sort of), considering her latest album sounds like it was constructed by a complete different artist. The Aussie singer-songwriter’s sixth LP, 1000 Forms of Fear, works within the parameters of basic pop music, while maintaining an unmistakable personality and employing an added dimension that her radio contemporaries lack the urgency to pull off. It’s not so much an attempt to become one of the Billboard elite, but an interpretation of streamlined 21st pop through the lens of a pop star who with all her might, resists the idea of becoming a world renowned pop star.

‘Chandelier’, the undeniable peak of Sia’s reinvention, opens the album with a vocal style a la Rihanna (although to be fair Rihanna shifted her vocal inflections to mirror Sia’s delivery for “Diamonds”) and an all too familiar vibe that has been beaten to a pulp and dragged through the muck last few years in the mainstream, but the impeccable timing of the otherworldly bombast and natural crackle in her voice create a timeless chorus the likes of which pop has not experienced since Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’.  Very methodically, Sia follows this pattern throughout, time and time again starting off rather slow, only to salvage it all with a higher octave or a bleak lyrical example of the emotional hell that her life has been dealing with alcoholism and addiction since the release of her last LP in 2010.

As the album progresses, dark, personal confessions give life and detail to the anonymous image that Sia projects at the start of the album, almost to a point where these revelations of such strong character and struggle are introducing her to the world for the first time. On ‘Cellophane’ Sia confesses in the least subtle way possible “While I’ll fall apart you’ll hide all my pills again”, which could be interpreted as a misstep due to how blunt it is, but it’s this sort of shameless, skewed perception of herself that does not bring to mind the lyrics of easily digestible pop, but something along the lines of Fiona Apple or Cat Power. On “Fair Game”, a string and xylophone-driven confessional, Sia continues down this path by ripping away all the drums and noise, and letting her voice carry most of the weight as her meek lyrics like “You terrify me, cause you’re a man- you’re not a boy/You’ve got some power, and I can’t treat you like a toy”,  and “You disregard the mess, while I try to control the world/Don’t leave me, stay here and frighten me/Don’t leave me, come now enlighten me”, leave her exposed.

However significant the differences in Sia’s rendition of top 40 may be from the rest of the pack, make no mistake there is the inevitable moment of déjà vu that occurs when the chorus of ‘Fire Meet Gasoline’ revs up in Beyonce-like fashion, or the Amy Winehouse soul that drips from ‘Hostage’. But eerie similarities vanish when uniquely designed grooves like ‘Elastic Heart’, which features the smooth falsetto of the Weeknd and a tantalizing series of loops and tumbling beats from Diplo, allow Sia to ascend with her ethereal vocal abilities that no one could mistake for another.

1000 Forms of Fear can undoubtedly be considered a success and Sia’s finest creation without going to extreme avant-garde lengths to prove her credibility or recycling old sounds to remind newcomers of her eccentric jazz pop from years past. The reality is that Sia could have remained semi-anonymous in the shadows, crafting best sellers for the rest of her days, and she could have followed through with retirement from singing and performing as she claimed she would. But rather than offer up her finest work to the Perrys or Keshas of the world, she keeps the best heartbreaking ballads for herself and proudly steps into her own once again with a new beginning. The idea of a complete “pop album” climbing the charts may be long gone, with hit singles being the primary focus for major label artists, but clearly someone forgot to tell Sia. Favoring the less abstract and more tightly wound pop constructs may not further the genre or reverse the trend of pop incessantly eating itself, but Sia outperforms the big budget divas at their own game by excelling where they fell short; writing a cohesive pop album filled with one hit after another, all while having the potential to last longer than a single season of pool parties or a week’s worth of car rides around town.

Essential Tracks: “Chandelier”, “Eye of the Needle”, “Elastic Heart”, “Burn the Pages”, “Fair Game”

Meal time: Nandos Chicken

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Summertime is in full swing, which means it’s the season to get down with all those beloved summer clichés. It’s time to brush the dust off from the grill, pull up a chair and grab some cold ones, hang out with good company, and relax by the pool. And of course, summer is absolutely synonymous with good BBQ. But despite the fact that red meat is king this time of year, it’s always good to mix it up every once in a while. Next time a good meal is in order, there’s no harm in considering some mouthwatering chicken recipes to please a crowd.

For a sure-fired hit, SORTED Food has come up with a Nandos [Copycat] Chicken recipe, which is the perfect headliner for a chicken-based meal. For those not familiar with Nandos: it’s a chicken-based chain restaurant that operates worldwide. Their specialty is their flame-grilled Peri-Peri chicken; simply put, chicken seasoned with South African spices. The unique chicken recipe is a worldwide hit and those who have tried Nandos can’t stop raving about it. Fortunately for East Coasters, Nandos has a couple locations in the area and its famous sauce is sold in stores. For the rest of us, this imitation recipe tastes spot on. The sauce is effortless to make and can used to marinade the chicken beforehand and then cooked to perfection in the the oven for about an hour.

To compliment the chicken, serve it up like the restaurants do with a side of fries. For a superb “chip” to go along, consider the extra effort of making Chef Heston Blumenthal’s “Triple Cooked Chips”. With three cooks, this method of making fries is a bit more tedious then others, but the end result is glorious fry perfection. Start these fries early in the day, and don’t forget to add on a small salad to go along with the meal.

No summer meal would be complete without a cool, light summer drink and some desserts. On a warm summer night with a good meal, nothing hits the spot more than this White Wine Sangria. It requires time to mix the wine and fruit flavors together, so prepare the night before (this also makes serving a breeze come mealtime). In a rush? Another quick option is to head to Trader Joes and buy a not-too expensive red wine (two buck chuck anyone?) as well as some Orangina to make some cheap Sangria by mixing equal parts over ice. To finish off, try some of these healthy Chocolate Pots. They’re quick and effortless to make, taking no more then 5 minutes to prepare, and can be stored in the fridge for a stress free dessert at the end of the meal, or to eat as a great snack on a hot summer’s day.

This summer, don’t hesitate to be an adventurous cook, try new things, and make great food. There’s nothing better than sharing a fantastic meal with family and friends.

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