Review: Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Everybody’s favorite post-punk group are back with their fifth studio album, and with that, possible their most focused and enriching release to date. Parquet Courts, sometimes stylized or otherwise known as “Parkay Quarts”, are New York City transplants originally from Denton, TX (a city with an arguably equal amount of musical happening). The band, formed in 2010, consists of guitarists and co-lead singers Andrew Savage and Austin Brown, bassist Sean Yeaton, and drummer Max Savage. A typical Parquet Courts record feautres expertly crafted riffs, steady drums, and vociferous vocals, but there has been a small shift in sound since their last notable release, 2014’s Sunbathing Animal.

After critical acclaim and mounds of Pitchfork cred with the release of both Sunbathing Animal and Constant Nausea in 2014, 2015 saw the Parquet Courts diving into a more rough, experimental, and instrumental sound on Monastic Living, which despite ambitious intentions, didn’t quite hold up in the eyes of most fans. With the release of Human Performance, Parquet Courts have returned to form and succeed to reestablish themselves as indie heavyweights.

Although their sound might be more of an acquired taste, the band can really dish up some wonderful tunes, and that’s exactly what Human Performance does. The recording took place mostly in upstate New York’s Dreamland Recording Studios with a brief stint at the Wilco Loft in Chicago. On this release, there seems to be a heightened level of production, where more than just the typical instrumentation takes the spotlight. On the album’s longest track, “One Man, No City”,  congas are featured in accompanying lead guitar, and a mellophone can be heard scattered on multiple tracks, including “Human Performance” and “Berlin Got Blurry”. The swirling and hypnotic “Captive of the Sun” even has hints of vibraphone. Though sporadic, these new textures give the tracks more depth and allow for an enhanced sonic experience- a wider array for fans new and old to digest.

Logistically, the album seems to be divided up into three parts, where the first and last third are occupied by Savage’s vocals, while the middle is where Austin Brown shines. The guitar work on Human Performance might be some of Brown’s best, as highlighted by tracks like “Outside”, “Captive of the Sun”, and the title track, while tunes like “One Man, No City” and “Steady On My Mind” allow him to further showcase his unique vocals. Brown displays his love of Houston rap by providing these songs with a similar type of delivery, working well in contrast with the involved instrumentation.

In addition to Brown, Human Performance is a step up in Savage’s already impressive and witty lyrical world as well. “Berlin Got Blurry” pays tribute to their Texas routes with a spaghetti western riff whilst simultaneously providing a dense lyrical platform for Savage to spread his thoughts on isolation during travel. The title track, far and away the highlight of the album, is a narrative of a man falling in and out of love and the consequent darkness of his broken and lonely state. The line “No music plays and nothing moves without drifting / into a memory” stings deep within this context. “Outside” could even be seen as this same narrator apologizes and comes to terms with his mistakes, where Savage sings, “Dear everything I’ve harmed in my life, the fault lies on my tongue / And I, take it holy as a last rite”. On the lighter side are the humorous quips of the opener, “Dust”, where the band works to describe the amount of dust around them, along with a nice suggestion of what to do in a situation like that (hint: sweep).

Truly, the content of all that makes up Human Performance is a game changer for Parquet Courts. The array of themes and textures create a bold and concentrated soundscape for the veteran band, and a solid release altogether. It might be too early to tell at this point, but I can bet you’ll see the artwork of Andrew Savage near the top of Album of the Year lists when the time comes.

Top Tracks: “Human Performance”, “Captive Of The Sun”, “Outside”

image courtesy of Rolling Stone

 

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Concert Recap 4/9/16 – Porches/Alex G

Lineup: PORCHES / ALEX G / YOUR FRIEND

Venue: THE BOTTOM LOUNGE (West Loop, 1375 W Lake St)

I was sold the minute I saw that Porches were playing a concert with Alex G, and it was even better that it was at a venue I hadn’t been to before. New experiences are cool in the music world, and it’s especially great to experience a venue for the first time, mainly to hear how the acoustics compare to other stages across town and how an artist can interact with the space. The Bottom Lounge definitely lived up to expectations, as the stage wasn’t too elevated and allowed for a more intimate connection with the audience that places like the Aragon Ballroom, where your neck hurts hours after a show.

The only thing that made me skeptical going in was the show time, which was noted on the ticket as 5pm, but it turned out to be a plus by the end of the night. Doors at 5pm, the show started at 5:30 and then was over by around 8pm.

Your Friend opened up the night and is fronted by Taryn Miller from Lawrence, Kansas. The band definitely surprised me with a big sound straight away, and seemed to blend the addition of synth well with guitars drenched in reverb and chorus. They played a short set, lasting only about five songs, but captured my attention with an experienced stage presence and some catchy hooks.

Though my interest mainly lay in seeing Porches, Alex G was an act I was excited about. The lo-fi artist is originally of Bandcamp fame (a la Car Seat Headrest) and creates gritty and authentic short stories from the comfort of his home in Philadelphia, PA. “Kicker”, “People”, and “Animals” were crowd favorites, and rightfully so. The stringy and sun-soaked guitars sustained my attention for most of the set, but I ended up getting thrown off when there was no introduction and no real audience interaction. Time between songs, albeit short, was filled by the drummer, who seemed to be the most excited to play for the crowd. Alex G and band took on a heavier sound live than what I had expected, but ended up being an above average performance and an enjoyable experience altogether.

Once Porches hit the stage, there was an immediate difference between band ecosystems. Aaron Maine, now bleached blonde and proud, conveyed a certain interest with the audience he was facing tonight, and it showed. Songs like “Headsgiving” and “Car” immediately filled the room, and the infectious and openly cheesy choreography added a fun element to the set. Though I had doubts about how some of the more electronic songs would pan out live, “Be Apart”, “Underwater”, and “Braid” had wonderful and full arrangements that showcased the drummer’s ability to mix programs with the acoustic. After the bassist was brought into the crowd on the shoulders of an Alex G band member during “Permanent Loan”, Maine closing out the concert with an encore of “Xanny Bar” in the dark.

All in all, The Bottom Lounge provided an exceptional setting for a night filled with up and coming indie music acts, as I expect all three artists to continue rising up the ladder with subsequent releases.

Support the artists!

Your Friend – Gumption (2016)

Alex G – Beach Music (2015)

Porches – Pool (2016)

Review: Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing

Originally from the DIY indie scene growing out of the online music community of Bandcamp, Frankie Cosmos is the artistic moniker of NYC-based singer/songwriter Greta Kline. If you head to her page, Kline has built an impressively large discography by publishing songs almost instantly after completing them, seemingly without much care of public reception. This style of music distribution attributes to some of the charm her project emanates, as most songs feature Kline and accompaniment unaltered and raw, relishing the human element of music altogether. At over 50 albums deep, most of her work encompasses short bursts of melodies and narratives with hidden gems scattered all around, with other aliases such as Franklin Cosmos, Ingrid Superstar, and Zebu Flur.

Her 2014 label debut, entitled Zentrophy, saw Frankie Cosmos exploring the range and possibility of a full band, where lighthearted songs like “School” and “Birthday Song” struck a chord with a wider audience than previous works. The album was even named by multiple publishers as one of 2014’s best releases, showing Kline that her music was more than a personal patch. On 2016’s Next Thing, Frankie Cosmos moves towards a more professional fashion, capturing the essence of growing past teenage years with heightened production and tightened arrangements of older classics from previous bandcamp sessions.

Oddly poetic in their delivery, Kline’s lyrics consist of the most natural and simplistic subjects, from her dog to love in general, but seem to maintain a wonderfully elaborate sense of connection and consciousness. She charms listeners while offering a keenly transcendental lens on living as a 20-something in the big apple. “What If” sees Kline speculating on the future as she asks her partner, “what would you do for our kids?” Astute observations such as, “When you’re young, you’re too young / and when you’re old, you’re too old” on “If I Had a Dog” find her commenting on the nature of living. Kline seems all too real and genuine to believe, but that’s exactly the kind of game Frankie Cosmos plays.

Besides for maturing lyrically, Kline has honed her lo-fi sound whilst simultaneously branching out to add more depth. Glittering synths fill “Outside with the Cuties” and “I’m 20”, while “Is It Possible/Sleep Song” combines two separate songs altogether (which also contains my favorite line from the album: “goodbye forever / what the fuck?”). “Interlude” doesn’t even have a guitar present, and “O Dreaded C Town” shimmers with rain-like texture.

This maturation may be due to the newfound element of a critical audience not present before, but Kline doesn’t seem to halt under the corporate pressure, maintaining all the likeness and viability of her signature sound without compromising at any point. Nothing on the record seems to be filler (although in a Bandcamp interview, she does admit to having many filler songs unreleased, citing it as a “weird” occurrence), which allows for a breezy flow of songs, much like the car ride fronting the album artwork. Each song seems fleshed out without straining quality, showing experienced restraint. For me, this is also one of the very few faults on the record: I want more! Next Thing definitely cures my Frankie Cosmos fix, but also fuels the addiction further.

All in all, Next Thing adds more fire to the flame as a more accessible entrance into the world of Frankie Cosmos for newcomers, while providing equal quality and longevity for dedicated fans. Next Thing also proves that Greta Kline and co. mean business, even if her music is made to enjoy in leisure. If anything, this release legitimizes Kline as one of indie music’s heavy hitters for 2016 and beyond, and frankly (ha), that excites me a lot.

Top Tracks: “Too Dark”, “Sappho”, “Outside with the Cuties”

image courtesy of Bayonet Records

Review: Homeshake – Midnight Snack

It’s not the easiest decision to leave the world of Mac DeMarco behind, but when the rock and roll lifestyle leaves a lot to be desired, touring guitarist Peter Sagar left it all behind to pursue his own musical interests. For the past two years, Sagar has been creating and performing under the pseudonym Homeshake, and his music is an R&B-infused chillwave experience. After writing his debut LP, In the Shower, back in 2014, Sagar split with DeMarco to focus solely on future Homeshake projects.

Sagar currently tours with his band, consisting of Greg Napier, Brad Loughead, and Mark Goetz. His music offers up a more intimate approach to solo work, and when listening to it, feels like he is playing right in your living room as the night carries on. With his lo-fi attitude and smooth delivery, Peter Sagar and Homeshake may have one of the best under-the-radar albums of 2015.

With the release of his sophomore effort, produced by Jack MacIntosh, Midnight Snack sees Sagar opening up to his listeners, providing them insight on the life he lives with his girlfriend Salina Ladha, who happens to designed all of Homeshake’s album cover art. The decision to fuse his organic sound off his first record with newfound and playful synths yielded a delightful result, as all twelve tracks of this record are sonically pleasing to the ears, adhering to the mantra of, “less is more”. Each track feels like entering a different room in Sagar’s Montreal home late in the evening, covered in masses of blankets to keep warm. In the space Sagar has opened up, it allows him to let his jazzy chords and intricate progressions echo and have time to be fully absorbed as they relate the feel in full.

Opening the record is the quick “What Did He Look Like”, where Sagar brilliantly captures a conversation between two confused partygoers who are unable to decipher who Homeshake really is besides the wonderful moniker. In this, there are hopes to clear the slate for his second album and bring it all to the table as the conversation melds into the next track, “Heat”, where the synthetic timbres envelope Sagar as he sings of being sick of the cold.

With the introduction of the harsh and immediate texture of drum machines complimenting Sagar’s almost monotonous, falsetto croon, songs like “He’s Heating Up!” and “Faded” offer up a stripped back take on going fully electronic with the narrative of feeling disheveled after long road trips. “Under the Sheets” finds Sagar with nothing but his voice accompanied by punchy synth has he churns out the record’s catchiest chorus. In “Love is Only a Feeling” and “Real Love”, he juxtapositions the theme of love with a somber backdrop, leaving the listener wondering if Sagar is doing alright. Anchored by melodic bass and atmospherically warm synths on the title track, the bouquet of assorted drowsiness means to comfort whoever is listening to this album’s highlight; such is the nature of a midnight snack. It seems as if Sagar was close to falling asleep recording the entire album due to the lethargically captivating nature of almost every line and hook, perfectly exemplifying the melancholy of someone on the edge of slumber. He has swaddled the record in drifting tones and airy guitar licks, never rushing too fast so we can all soak it in.

The real genius on the album was the decision to keep more than half of the tracks under the 3 minute mark, allowing Sagar to slip in and out of every anecdote, never overstaying his welcome. The short length makes each song more poignant and effective by comparison, leaving a sweet taste by the time the instrumentally lush “Good Night” slips out of range as Sagar trails off, back to bed. The simplicity in Midnight Snack makes it a beautiful indie-pop dream, and will certainly be on repeat until his next effort arrives.

Top Tracks: “Midnight Snack”, “Heat”, “Faded”

The science behind what makes Mac DeMarco’s music so addictive

It seems as if DeMarco, as of late, has caused his own cultural revolution; one filled with mismatched fashion, uncut guitar strings, and a whole lot of viceroys, but that’s the side effect of what the real intrigue is to me. I used to be opposed to anything related to Mac’s sound, his style, and even whatever the heck is going on with his band. I didn’t get it, and I’m sure that a lot of people who have a grasp on today’s music scene can echo my sentiments. The timbre and effects on his guitar didn’t really do anything for me, and I was at a loss every time I watched him fling his persona and character all about the stage.

I finally decided to give in when DeMarco released his mini-LP, “Another One”, back in August 2015. Everyone around the internet was extremely excited at the prospect of new Mac DeMarco music that I thought I was feeling left out not divulging myself into his discography, so I started with “2”, his full length debut, and it finally clicked. What I have come to love about Mac DeMarco’s music are things that seem fairly simple, yet when executed effectively, can lead to dangerously addictive results, so here we go.

Categorized as jangle pop, lo-fi, and at times psychedelic by his critics, Mac’s genre really fluctuates from time to time, but he has self-proclaimed his style of music as “jizz jazz”, gracefully enough. You can definitely hear the Steely Dan and Dire Straights influences straight out of the 70s, but also aspects of classic 80s pop. In one song, “Chamber of Reflection”, the melody is sampled from an electronic jazz song from 1975, by Japanese artist Shigeo Sekito, and the name? Taken from an old freemason tradition. Even the title of his second LP, “Salad Days”, comes from a Shakespearean term describing the ills of youth. Behind the lovable slacker persona, there’s a more methodical artist working hard to master his craft. Mac definitely knows his shit and he’s not afraid to let you know.

The meat of Mac’s sound, though, comes into play with the compositional techniques he uses, be it with his noodly guitar fed through presets of reverb and chorus pick ups on his earlier work, or with the warm synthesizers and Rhodes 54 keyboard he has smuggled into his later records. He records on analog tape, which is a reel to reel system that allows for a much higher fidelity than other techniques, mirroring the sound of the 80s that this practice was popular in. In an extensive interview with Pitchfork, the distorted guitar sounds on “Salad Days” actually come from excess smoke that warped his tapes over time. As it would go, he liked the sound and stuck with it for the release.

At first listen, most of the songs seem to follow the same pattern as any pop song would, but instead of employing the usual aspects of a hit song, Mac sticks to the basics, and it works. A good verse and chorus couple doesn’t seem to need much else to make a bang, and he seems to know his craft and how it will work. It’s apparent on the laid back “Ode to Viceroy” or lush “Passing Out Pieces” that a smooth transition from one section of a song to the other is much more sonically pleasing than playing “pimp my track” and adding a pre chorus, bridge, or even key change.

Digging deeper, there is a tension and release factor than really makes a Mac DeMarco song tick, and the magic is within his affinity to create complex chords progressions not usually seen in the music industry. Looking at the composition of, “Another One”, DeMarco stacks the album with a motif of 6th chords throughout. The 6th provides the chilled out, lo-fi feel that most of Mac’s music emanates, as it isn’t as harsh as a straight 7th chord. In addition to this, he has been liberal in the about of major and minor 7th chord use in his work, which has lead to a softer, somewhat ethereal tone overall. It makes the whole experience of listening to one of his albums like its own little trip through a dense layer of fog, but I digress. That’s enough music theory for right now.

I think what really gets people is how much they can relate to Mac as a person. He isn’t a guarded figure that “leaves it all on the stage”. He’s relatable and he has his own life besides for being a rock star (which he fully embodies while assuming the role, don’t get me wrong). His sets are always fun, and it seems like he is truly enjoying what he does on stage. It has been noted that he likes to say whatever first comes to mind in the microphone, and really doesn’t take anything too seriously-except for music that is. “I take making music seriously,” he says. “But you have to have a sense of humor about yourself. I invite people into my life. That’s how I do it.”

Ultimately, Mac DeMarco is just being himself. He’s also making damn good music at the same time, and to be honest, there really isn’t any science there.

 

 

 

Pimping the Butterfly: The jazz influences behind Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed 2015 release

There is nowhere a music listener can go without at least seeing the album art of Kendrick Lamar’s third studio effort, To Pimp a Butterfly, which was released earlier this year. The album, with not even a year’s worth of exposure, is already being hailed by critics as one of hip-hop’s greatest records, and Kendrick’s own personal magnum opus. The critics aren’t wrong, and as the Grammys for 2015 were announced, To Pimp a Butterfly has been nominated for Album of the Year, Best Rap Album, Song of the Year, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance (“Alright”), and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (“These Walls”). President Barack Obama has named “How Much a Dollar Cost” his favorite song of 2015.

With an increasingly apparent jazz influence, Kendrick speaks out on major socioeconomic and political issues such as tax evasion, the obsession to be rich, ingrained African American stereotypes, and even calls out President Obama on “Hood Politics”. Since Jazz is such an integral and important part of African American culture in America, the musically styling only helps to accentuate the topics he raps on. Just like renowned jazz bassist Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus” before him, Kendrick boldly tackles societal problems and hopes to form change from the music created and inspired by the music that helped to spur the civil rights movement 50 years prior. To achieve such a lush, layered, and authentic sound, Kendrick brought in some up and coming names in jazz to head the task of creating the environment that sustains To Pimp a Butterfly all the way through.

The principle bass player featured on the album is Stephen Bruner, better known by his stage name of Thundercat. Bruner, a native of Los Angeles, has been all over the R&B world, collaborating on an amazingly high number of projects, most notably with producer and artist Flying Lotus on his albums Until the Quiet Comes and You’re Dead! in 2012 and 2014, respectively. Kendrick brought Thundercat in shortly after the release of 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and had an immediate impression, opening him up to the wonders of Miles Davis’ work which prompted the hiring of Taz Arnold to produce “Momma”, “u”, and “For Sale (Interlude)”, according to the Rolling Stone interview that took place back in April. Cited as being “at the creative epicenter” of the recording process, it is clear how much influence Thundercat’s presence had on the album’s final sound. In addition to session work and collaboration, Thundercat has three solo albums, 2011’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse, 2013’s Apocalypse, and his latest in 2015, The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam. His solo work alone, complete with dark and warm experimental R&B, is enough to catapult his status as a figure in the music world, but his presence as a producer and collaborator make him that much more of a rising star.

Another center point for Kendrick is tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, currently hailed as the second coming of jazz great John Coltrane. Throughout the album, Kamasi gives To Pimp a Butterfly extra weight by arranging and conducting the string section, as well as provide his virtuosity on sax. At 13 years old, Kamasi picked up saxophone and eventualy formed the Young Jazz Giants quartet, which included fellow student Stephen Bruner. His involvement stretches across the musical spectrum, appearing on records by the Broken Bells and Harvey Manson, although his most focused work came on Flying Lotus’ label, Brainfeeder, home to both him and Thundercat. In 2015, Kamasi released his first solo album, the 3 LP The Epic., which spans a journey through the jazz, fusion, soul, and even choral worlds. His compositions are complex, intricate, and ultimately, give the listener substance to create entire storylines mentally. Washington has already proven to the Jazz world he means business, and his collaborations with Kendrick are just the beginning.

In addition, Snarky Puppy drummer Robert “Sput” Searight was brought in to drum on tracks “For Free”, and “Hood Politics”. Searight’s masterful drumming and use of linear patterns brings a gospel-like approach to the rhythms of the album, where he got his formative skills. His experience with multi-genre styles and arrangements can be heard in his ability to complement the intricacies of Kendrick’s voice and pattern, using jazz comping to enhance the cohesiveness of the music altogether.

To Pimp a Butterfly might be a rap album, but the jazz influences of all ages is clearly demonstrated in both the soundscape of the record and in the personnel brought in to achieve such a feat. In an interview with The Guardian, Kamasi Washington expresses his awe of Kendrick, and how he let them, “put that much of their selves in there. I was happy to be a part of it, but I was really proud of them to have created something that beautiful”. By surrounding himself with budding jazz figures, Kendrick was able to grow as a musician with his latest work, reaching back in time to capture the essence of his commentary at its peak, and it’s this that makes the album so powerful and effective.

(image courtesy of The Guardian)

Why Kevin Parker will be this generation’s most influential music figure

2015 has seen a crazy amount of high quality, sustainable releases from so many high profile artists. With release dates being more or less regulated to Fridays, there appears to be a higher awareness of the influx of music we received, and thus, consumed over the course of the year. So many artists and individuals have come to light, released breakthrough albums, or even released a magnum opus.

We are approaching a sort of modern belle époque of music, in which the art of this generation seems to be innovating at alarmingly successful rates. Along with this era of high creativity and cultivated culture come the figures that make such a time period gain legacy, and that is no different that what I am attempting to explain now. There’s something stirring quietly in the music world, something and someone that has been hiding in shadows for quite a while now, conveniently thrust into the spotlight at exactly the right time.

One of the figures finding himself leading this exciting era under the newly furnished spotlight is Perth, Australia’s Kevin Parker, front man and creative mind behind Grammy nominated and ARIA winning group, Tame Impala. Now, just from a distance, those accomplishments hold some weight already, but the manner in which this recognition was achieved is even more impressive. Tame Impala, essentially, is a one-man project. On his first two records, “Innerspeaker” and “Lonerism”, Parker wrote, recorded, and assisted in producing every aspect of each album respectively. By the time of his third effort, “Currents”, Parker added mixing and mastering to his job title as well, completely the album alone in his home studio in Perth.

What sets Parker apart from other artists currently is the presence of his ability to create self-aware music, and ultimately fully express himself sonically through what he releases. The 2015 release, “Currents”, has one of the most visceral storylines of any album since the start of the decade. Looking inward, Parker examines the duality of a person changing, and battles with the philosophy of how changes are natural, impending, and overall, something to look forward to. His commentary on such internal conflict provides a rare and unique peak inside the mind of a tattered perfectionist, who after critical acclaim still believes the album to be “unlistenable”.

Besides his work in Tame Impala, Parker is starting to gain a reputation as a producer for other musical projects that have gained a significant amount of success under his wing. In Mark Ronson’s Grammy nominated “Uptown Special”, well known for its mega-hit, “Uptown Funk”, Parker is both featured on and produces 3 of the 11 songs, including “Summer Breaking”, “Daffodils”, and “Leaving Los Feliz”. His work is echoed in the French psychedelic scene, where he both produced and recorded drum set for the up and coming group, Melody’s Echo Chamber, who’s success on their eponymous debut can be attributed to Parker’s direction. Back in Perth, he sustained success in producing Pond’s 2015 release, “Man It Feels Like Space Again”, garnering ARIA nomination, and hip-hop group Koi Child, in which he produced their lead single, “Black Panda”.

What I am excited for is not what he has already done, (though I could talk about that for a while…) but what he will do moving forward. Already, Parker has gone beyond the definition of musician, leaving an effect on everything he touches, even catapulting artists into success. Before, Parker hid behind a full band moniker, but is slowly but surely ditching the shell for a much more desirable position of ownership of his work. Now with a permanent recording studio, I can see Parker starting his own record label, with bands wanting to get their album produced by him, a la the likes of Steve Albini and Rick Reuben. Parker is not just one of the best musicians to grace the stage in 2015, but one of the best creative minds. Mark my words and take this as a warning, this guy’s doing some pretty hip stuff.

(image courtesy of Vice)