Tame Impala – Currents

Is psychedelic rock still a thing in 2015?

Sure, there are enough psych bands in existence to fill out the Austin Psych Fest and its sister happenings, and it’s nigh impossible to watch a cable drama without hearing The Black Angels soundtracking the credits. Yet the psychedelic craze, which peaked in the late ’60s, is now more of an influence than a genre. For every psychedelic rock band, there are one hundred bands in various rock sub-genres, many who take bits and pieces of psychedelic rock and ultimately incorporate it into something entirely different. Many former neo-psychedelic mainstays even found that turning straight rock and pop (or, in the case of the Flaming Lips, becoming a bad imitation of the Butthole Surfers) ended becoming ultimately more rewarding, at least from a commercial standpoint.

Perhaps that’s why Tame Impala is a disco band now. After two albums of psychedelic guitar- and synth-driven rock, Kevin Parker opted to not get pigeonholed as a psych artist and move on to a completely different track. The change should work in theory, but it has boring songs and awful lyrics working against it.

Lonerism and its predecessor, Innerspeaker, were enjoyable records that presented interesting musical concepts. Sure, they were filled with moments that were recognizable from 50 years of psych rock records before them, but they were worth a few listens and maybe a return every once in a while — just like ’00s-era Flaming Lips records. It’s hard to argue they were revolutionary when the sound and the songs were done before by everyone in Austin, San Fransisco, and elsewhere, but they were pretty okay on their own.

Currents follows the trend, but replace “psych” with a handful of dance genres in the last 40 years. Each track cherry picks influences from disco and electro/dance history, puts them in a blender, and adds cringeworthy lyrics detailing various parts of a break-up and a relationship — a first not only for recorded music, but for this year/month, so I’m told. If you were to walk into a room while Currents played on laptop speakers, you might not be able to tell the difference between a song on the album and, say, something on Songs from the Big Chair or a pre-roll movie theater intro from the ’80s telling you where the snacks and exits are located. It is barely indistinguishable from the dance stuff you hear on the radio or in the club late at night, albeit less formulaic and written by one person instead of 15.

I listened to the album ten times since its release, but I was able to understand it the best after a sobering train ride home and unwinding at 2 a.m. on a weekend. If you’re in a quiet house after a long night and all you hear are random ambient noises and Currents playing in the background, then it makes sense. It’s a pretty relaxing album, despite uptempo numbers and a heightened sense of energy, and I fully understand who it appeals to, why it’s talked about everywhere (aside from heavy marketing, but c’mon, we’re talking about a UMG band here), and in what context it works. Still, if I were in the mood for a slightly dancey, synth-heavy album worth listening to, I’ll probably stick to Sprits Having Flown in the future.

So why did Kevin Parker decide to move to ersatz disco if he can’t really pull it off? Why didn’t he just stick with psych rock as the spokesperson of a new generation? Why disco? Though it’s commendable for the artist to try something new and out of his comfort zone, it doesn’t land. Instead, Tame Impala became another group with synthesizer, who make music that sounds like all other music instead of doing something inventive with them.

Stupid Things Said by Musicians, July Edition

“I thought it was going to be like the ’90s and people would let art be art. You know, when you had Eminem saying all types of shit he didn’t have to explain that shit in interviews or on the radio or on camera or shit. People just said what they said and you had to listen to the next song to hear how they felt.”

A$AP Rocky on his art, defending a misogynistic couplet, and not realizing that Eminem spent his entire career saying horrible things for shock value that appealed to angsty suburban (predominantly white) youth — and offended everyone under the sun — to sell records, of course. (NME)

“I don’t fuck with the Bill Cosby slander. Of course I’m always against a rapist, but it’s just like y’all eat up anything the media feeds y’all. You internet kids know nothing except what they put in front of you on these devices. Every media site can start slandering anyone at any moment with some half-ass story and you guys will fuckking believe it. At the end of the day, y’all know the media is all propaganda and distractions anyway. The media rapes, [brainwashes], [kills], and [humiliates] more people than anyone on this planet, bruh. Fuck you mean? You always gotta know there is a real story underneath the cover story.”

Joey Bada$$, late to the party, apparently hasn’t read the Times‘ in-depth review of an unearthed deposition, which paints Cosby as a horrific sexual predator preying on women for several decades. Also, dozens of women coming forward with allegations of rape and sexual assault might point to something. (The Guardian)

“I was in LA a few years ago and for some reason we’d taken mushrooms, it must have been the end of our tour. I was coked up as well, and a friend was driving us around LA in this old sedan. He was playing the Bee Gees and it had the most profound emotional effect. I’m getting butterflies just thinking about it. I was listening to Staying Alive, a song I’ve heard all my life. At that moment it had this really emotive, melancholy feel to it. The beat felt overwhelmingly strong and, at that moment, it sounded pretty psychedelic. It moved me, and that’s what I always want out of psych music. I want it to transport me.”

Kevin Parker, of Tame Impala fame, on why his awful new disco album sounds like it was made for dudes in bathroom stalls and not for regular human consumption. (The Guardian)

Yuck – “Hold Me Closer”

London’s Yuck are one of the few modern bands who lost their singer/songwriter and continued to release amazing songs. After Daniel Blumberg left to start a solo career (and release a lackluster album with Royal Trux’s Neil Michael Hagerty), the band promoted guitarist Max Bloom to lead singer and continued down their ’90s revivalist path. 2013’s Glow and Behold saw the re-energized group stray from their obvious ’90s indie rock influences and draw inspiration from Creation Records bands, all while sounding different from any other shoegaze/shoegaze revivalist band. (I honestly prefer Glow and Behold to the band’s 2011 debut.)

Yuck are reportedly set to release a new album at the start of 2016, and today posted the first song from the album’s sessions. Listen to the fuzzed-out “Hold Me Closer” after the break. Also, if you’re in the New York area, be sure to catch them live (and for free) on August 8th at Pier 84 in Manhattan.

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Tony Molina – Dissed and Dismissed

In the time it takes you to read this, you could have listened to two songs from Tony Molina’s Dissed and Dismissed. The San Fransisco-based musician released a brief album on Slumberland Records last year, featuring 12 short tracks in just as many minutes.

Clearly influenced by alt rock staples like Dinosaur Jr. and Weezer, the songs neatly wrap up a verse and chorus in about a minute each, all with shredding guitar solos, dueling lead lines, and subject matter that would make Rivers Cuomo proud. Had Molina written a full verse, chorus, and bridge for each song and followed typical pop song structure, he would have an album great enough to rival The Blue Album. But Dissed and Dismissed instead follows the Guided By Voices song structure, even going so far as to cover Vampire On Titus’  “Wondering Boy Poet” in the process.

This experiment in brevity works, though by the time you realize you’re enjoying it, the album’s already over. As I found out a week ago, the short arrangements are equally surprising in a live setting; it took me several minutes before I realize that, yes, the band was playing awesome power pop songs and yes, they were over before I thought about them in depth. Perhaps that’s what so great about Dissed and Dismissed: the listener is forced to hear the album in the moment and think about it after the fact. Still, the hooks and melodies are instantly catchy and well worth hours of playing on repeat.

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The Internet – Ego Death

It is nigh impossible to listen to hip-hop and R&B these days without listening to artists dip a toe in psychedelia. From Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap to A$AP Rocky beating listeners over the head with a song called “LSD,” psychedelic drugs and leanings replaced Givenchy et al. as today’s lyrical mode in the last few years. Still, the fact that these artists also found their way on the radio while talking about psychoactive/psychedelic drugs (with a metric ton of censorship, mind you) is an impressive feat, especially since it comes several decades after rock’s head-on journey into the center of the mind.

Ego Death, the third album from Odd Future affiliates The Internet, seems like a more earnest exploration into the psychedelic realm than their contemporaries. However, instead of elaborating on an acid trip in lyrical content, the psych influence is felt in the album’s production. Syd Bennett, Matt Martin, and their backing band carefully craft blissed out synths and treated guitars to create tracks  reminiscent of both late ’80s 4AD recording artists and mid-to-late ’90s R&B video stars. The group somehow accomplishes both sounds at the same time, all with slightly melancholic hooks, layered vocals, and guest stars that don’t ever seem to feel out of place.

The most impressive accomplishment on Ego Death is that the Maxwell and D’Angelo lyrical influences are turned on their head, as singer Syd addresses the romantic highs and lows of a relationship with another woman. Though, yes, it is 2015, and such a thing should be commonplace and not considered out of the norm, it is worth noting again that this is an Odd Future record. Yes, the same Odd Future that instantly rose in popularity while using every homophobic slur under the sun just released one of the most amazing R&B records that just so happens to be entirely about accepting and letting go of love from the same sex. It is a stark contrast from talking about fecal matter and killing people, almost negating half a decade of juvenile lyrics over decent beats. Though the subject matter is nothing new for Syd and The Internet, it’s the first time the band wrote thoughtful lyrics over songs worth remembering, showing a rare maturity for an Odd Future group and an act worth following for well more than a viral hit.

Where I’ve Been

I took a much-needed vacation shortly after my last post, visiting family and friends in what is often dubbed “flyover country.” In a little over a week, I saw my best friend in the lovely town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, ate a metric ton of BBQ in the countryside, taught my girlfriend how to swim in my uncle’s pool, and relaxed in the beautiful outdoors of Neenah, Wisconsin.

This morning, I had to step over a drunk man who pissed himself in the doorway of my train. I am not too excited to be back.

I spent a chunk of time during the vacation sprucing up the Scott Steinhardt™ brand, including a multi-pronged social media approach to maximize user engagement and brand awareness. Or, I started posting on Twitter and Tumblr more. Though my audience is “super niche” at best, I realized that I need to get with the goddamn times and pay a bit more attention to social media while everyone pays less attention to the regular media (which makes me sad).

That said, you can find my semi-coherent ramblings on Twitter @ScottFromNY and look at my captions of pictures other people took on scottfromny.tumblr.com. If you’re going to avoid doing something important for the sake of passively thumbing around on your phone, then there’s no two better places to do it. I think.

The State of Scott Steinhardt: June

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Image: WWE

It’s not summer yet, but it sure feels like it. I’ve already biked to Coney Island three times, sat out in a couple of beer gardens until sunset, and witnessed my share of fireworks displays. I suppose I could argue that the lead-up to summer this year has been more productive than all of summer 2014.

I’ve also gotten two sunburns, so I need to step my SPF game up a bit. But hey, at least I’m going outside, right? Continue reading

ASAP Rocky’s Quest for Authenticity

AtLongLastASAPCoverImage: ASAP Worldwide/RCA Records

I embellished a lot as a kid. I told grandiose stories of events that were actually quite ordinary, and let on a bit more than was factually accurate to friends and family. When I stopped doing this later in life, I learned that I could contribute this stretching of the truth to a few things:

  • I was bored with my life (which, no lie, was pretty cool in retrospect),
  • I tried to impress others after all other resources were exhausted,
  • I obsessed over the arts (and still do), where constant exaggeration goes quite nicely with showmanship,
  • I was good at it.

As a so-called expert on skewed facts and popular music, I always quickly came to judgment on what I found to be authentic vs. inauthentic. I thought the Trent Reznor backstory of an angst-ridden, depressed young man was just PR schtick to sell loud, distorted rock music with arguably empty lyrical content. (I still like ’90s Nine Inch Nails albums, though.) I found the Eminem rags-to-riches story of success to be a bit goofy, especially when he built an entire empire on misogyny and homophobia and never uttered a single meaningful sentence. I thought the story of Jewel’s discovery was…endearing, I suppose.

I don’t know why I became so concerned with authenticity in music, but it’s always been a thought of mine. However, unlike the days where I would cry “sellout” and “fraud,” I grew up to realize that authenticity is a) hard to come by in music, b) doesn’t make a song good or bad, and c) probably hits close to home with some of my favorite slept-on/”cult” heroes. So it goes.

Nevertheless, a trend emerged in recent years where artists, primarily in the hip-hop genre, would claim to not only be the “realist,” and talk about their derivative works as if it were high(brow) art. Kanye West mentioned more than once about how he’s bigger than Steve Jobs. Lil Wayne called himself the biggest rock star alive. A$AP Rocky referred to himself as a pioneer.

But why? West did a great job taking hip-hop to uncharted places with awesome and unorthodox production/music styles, but he also spent an entire album telling you how amazing his art is. Yes, his art was essentially an LP-length critical review of himself, with a 10.0 and Best Artist Alive awarded throughout. Wayne did at one point have his name on everyone’s tongue and lived an excessive lifestyle that most arena rock veterans would only dream of, but he could not release a competent “rock” record to save his life. Rocky successfully married high fashion with various regions hip-hop styles, but has no one done that before in the last two-plus decades?

All three artists have worked together at one point, most recently on Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP. The PR rollout for the album, which surprise released last night, was filled with bullet points of a “psychedelic” and “unprecedented” song cycle promising an experience made to evoke a trip to an art exhibit or a well-written novel. Recently, Rocky even gave a “lecture” at the Red Bull Music Academy (yes, the energy drink), where he talked about his work as an artist, how he differs from other hip-hop stars, his impact on the genre, etc.

You wouldn’t know all this with a blind listen to the album. At.Long.Last.A$AP is about as subtle as my 3rd grade poetry. How does Rocky show psychedelic influences? A druggy beat helps — as does hammering your audience over the head with talk of lysergic bliss in interviews and a song called “L$D.” And how does he transcend traditional hip-hop? By referring to women as “bitches,” talking about them like they’re sex objects, and airing out deeply personal exploits by mentioning the other party by name.

To be fair, the new Best Coast album promised a new, more mature change for the pop rock singer, and all it really did was put her old music through a new pedalboard and tack on the same abstractions that my college-level poetry teacher told me to never use. And though I’m not upset at At.Long.Last.A$AP’s lack of authenticity — I could not give less of a damn — I feel a bit let down. I actually looked forward to a mildly thought-provoking album with wildly eclectic influences, like the recent Kendrick Lamar album. I thought I wouldn’t have to sit through over an hour of the objectifying women. I also anticipated two killer verses from Wayne and West, especially after lackluster ones on Tyler The Creator’s Cherry Bombbut why should I expect anything different?

Instead, I sat through an oversold and half-baked sophomore (and at times sophomoric) LP that desperately tries to remind the listener how it’s awesome. Sure, Rocky has an album to sell and a tour to book, but he and his PR team should sell it like it is — a typical rap album with different beats —instead of a bloated put-on.

If you want to listen to At.Long.Last.A$AP, you may do so below:

The Never-Ending Mixtape: Blur, Part 1

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Blur released more than two dozen singles throughout their career. I would argue that the band is best enjoyed by listening to their albums as a whole, but it was their (mostly) radio-friendly singles that brought them fame. The “Battle of Britpop” was both waged in the media and on the charts, and Blur succeeded over Oasis in the latter with a number of hits.

There’s really no proper starting point with the band, other than listening to their albums in chronological order. However, if you just want a taster, I went ahead and compiled the 10 album and non-album singles from their storied career. When I compiled this list, I was surprised by how many supposedly deep album cuts were actually released to the radio. It’s also worth noting that these singles were mostly released in the U.K.; Blur’s traction in the States pales in comparison to how they were received in their homeland.

97) “Song 2″
You’ve heard this before. Let’s get it out of the way, then, shall we?

98) “Popscene”
I found an imported 7″ of this in a record store in Florida. I still regret not buying it, as it’s probably worth quite a bit in a collection.

99) “There’s No Other Way”
I have a feeling this popped up in a recent Edgar Wright film. If it didn’t, it sounds like it would be quite at home in a British comedy, soundtracking a scene of rowdy friends enjoying the open road and a couple of smokes.

100) “Country House”
Like the last two songs, this single never really made it past college radio in the United States. However, it’s one of the band’s best and brightest arrangements. They retooled it during their reunion, and live versions exist on Spotify and elsewhere of this new “version.”

101) “M.O.R.”
For legal reasons, Brian Eno and David Bowie are both given co-writing credits here. This is due to the similarity of “M.O.R.” and a couple of songs on Bowie’s Lodger.

102) “Girls and Boys”
It’s impossible to visit a bar in Brooklyn for more than three hours and not hear this song played. I’ve probably heard it when I was out and about more times than I’ve listened to Parklife, and I’ve heard that album quite a bit.

103) “Parklife”
The call-and-response nature of the verses is what makes the song so playful. The super-catchy chorus just seals the deal. Phil Daniels, the speaking voice, later made an appearance on Think Tank in the hidden track, “Me, White Noise.”

104) “Coffee and TV”
Graham sang this one, which was appropriate since it was solely about him. The music video for the song  arguably gained more popularity than the song itself, as it featured an animated milk carton (“Milky”) and its quest to find a missing Coxon.

105) “Out of Time”
Think Tank was an album full of sweet songs, and “Out of Time” set the mood after the slightly frenetic album starter, “Ambulance.” Though rhythm is an important mechanic in all of Blur’s music, it’s especially apparent on the album and in this song, with interlocking drum and bass lines working hand-in-hand with a steel guitar.

106) “No Distance Left To Run”
Damon Albarn is one of my favorite vocalists of all time, but his strength as a singer isn’t always on display. However, his vocal and emotional range is as clear as day in this track, which is about the singer’s breakup with Elastica’s Justine Frischmann.

Thoughts on Tyler, The Creator’s Cherry Bomb

Tyler-The-Creator-Cherry-BombMy cousin came to town last week and gave me a call. He lives in LA with his wife and two kids, a 15-year-old and a ten-year-old. His children love to skateboard and are particularly fond of Odd Future.

We both discussed plans for the day, as well as what to do in the city. Per my suggestion, his kids were spending quite a bit of time at the Supreme store in Soho, which marginally relates to Tyler et. al. I then proceeded to get into a small discussion on Tyler, The Creator, “Golf Wang,” and how they’re so amped about the subject.

In the lead-up to the “surprise” release of Cherry Bomb, Tyler, The Creator made mention of this album being the realization of his hard work and maturity as an artist. It’s supposedly the most focused, while (also supposedly) showing a diverse range of interests. Simply put, Tyler, The Creator believes Cherry Bomb is an amazing album. I know this because it’s consistently stated throughout the actual album.

Cherry Bomb is a nice attempt, especially for a 24-year-old kid who was assumedly given complete creative control and deep pockets to do whatever he pleased. Sure, there’s commentary on gang violence, a “softer “side of Tyler, and a bunch of metaphors related to finding oneself (and possibly love). Still, everything falls flat and comes off as confused. Even the music switches between poorly mixed, distorted rock-influenced hip hop and N*E*R*D B-sides. It’s a big mess, especially when compared to the well-produced Wolf or even a couple of the standout singles on Goblin.

What Tyler needs to realize is that instead of trying to feign maturity and prove that his work is now high art, he should cater to his fanbase. After all, how does continuing to use the word “faggot” and a number of immature songs (with “Blow My Load” being the worst offender) demonstrate personal and professional growth? For those unaware of the whole Odd Future group (which, if you are, you missed the peak), the bulk of the demographic now consists of people like my cousins. These listeners are at the age when the gravity of certain words doesn’t mean a whole lot, and the concept of being deep is, itself, pretty deep. As an adult who feels that the “finding your wings” metaphor is tired and cliche, all while enjoying a good Migos track or two over the past month, I find it impossible to buy into this schtick.