Friday, October 17, 2014

Wicked Waters

High—maybe number one—on my list of “new artists you should know” is Benjamin Booker. Baby, he’s a firework. A force of nature. Fantastic.

The Florida native purveys a mishmash of blues, soul, and garage rock with sprinkles of punk on top. His sound harkens to a point in musical history when rhythm & blues connoted heavy kicks and jazzy guitar licks, before it morphed into the watered-down, vocal-run driven R&B we hear on the radio today. But while his influences are firmly rooted in the past, his delivery is wholly 21st-century. Booker’s inflection reminds me of a harder-rocking Connor Oberst: angry and angsty, spitting across story lines about starting families and skipping town. Like Oberst, his voice can hardly be called beautiful, and many of his lyrics are spoken on-key rather than truly sung. But like Oberst, the garbled timbre of his voice allows him to effortlessly translate raw emotion into song. When he really wants to drive a point home, he wails—as though he’s moments away from bursting into angry tears. It’s grating; it’s glorious.

The roughness of Booker’s voice and overall sound is what makes him such a delight. This isn’t one of those “revivalist” records meticulously crafted in a Nashville studio….looking at you Auerbach. It’s the kind that could have been hurriedly taped in the back of a car for a next-day release. (Indeed, Booker recently told Aquarium Drunkard that he cut his latest cover on an iPhone in a hotel bathroom.) Take the rollicking Wicked Waters as a shining example. A plugging organ crafts a vintage feel, but the frantic, relentless rhythm guitars lend the song a tightness that’s decidedly more rock n’ roll than blues ditty. It’s raw and urgent, and that urgency is what makes Booker’s music indispensable. So when he howls “I am what I am, I’ll make it on this run,” I’m quite inclined to believe him.

Booker is currently on a world tour, fresh off a string of dates opening for Jack White. I skipped his set when he opened for White in Chicago. I’m the worst. Don’t be me. Don’t be the worst. Catch Booker when he comes to a city near you, before he blows up and starts playing mainstages at every music festival from here to Australia. Listen to Wicked Waters below and BUY or stream his debut self-titled album NOW.

Wicked Waters - Benjamin Booker

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Human Sadness

One of my most-hated music ticks is when people insist that a song/album “gets better with repeat listenings.” 99% of the time it just means the song is objectively terrible. That said, I'm going to take my foot out of my mouth and tell you that this song genuinely begs more than one listen, if only in order to fully wrap your head around its sonic surfeit.

At 11 minutes long, Julian Casablancas & The Voidz' aspirational Human Sadness certainly reads like an exercise in rock excess. But if you can learn to anticipate the jolting, distorted scream at 2:40, you might just grow to love it (seriously though that thing made me jump out of my skin no less than three times). It won't click for most people at first. It's too weird, too meandering, too "wait this is The Strokes' Casablancas?" But sit with it for a couple days and come back to me—I promise the payoff is worth it.

The thing is, Human Sadness is just a couple steps away from genius. And I mean genius. Not really good or the song of the year, but transcendent. The caveat, however, is that it’s not quite there. (Though honestly had Ariel Pink released this, Pitchfork probably would have hailed it an art-rock triumph.) It wanders, dropping a theme before its had a chance to fully establish itself. It undermines absolutely riveting progressions with distracting, Nintendo-esque bleeps. But through the haze of noise-for-noise's-sake are prolonged moments of brilliance: rays of a discernible melody peeking out through clouds of distortion. It's a track that wants you to love it for what's inside and not what's on the surface. Which, in this Max Martin era of music, is quite a rare bird.

Listen to the track below once, then come back to it in half an hour and listen to it again. Just trust me.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pre Game Chillout

As summer winds to a close, we’re all struggling to find a way to hold onto the dream. Suff Daddy makes it a little easier with this little number, Pre Game Chillout.

The Berlin native captures the sound of 90s West Coast rap oh-so-perfectly A straightforward beat, simple synth melodies and jazzy bassline makes a man want to cruise around in his 6-4. The guitar riffs only add to mixture, a throwback to a simpler time when a producer only needed a few instrumental tracks to cook up something special. It’s refreshing to hear such a minimalist approach to beat making, and it goes hand in hand with the song’s title: chill out.

Check out more of Suff Daddy’s instrumental hip-hop on his Souncloud.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shine A Light

Hello again. After a three year hiatus from LL, I’d like to re-introduce myself via an indispensable track.

As LL’s primary purpose is to promote Goldroom and Flight Facilities, I thought I’d maintain the status quo by promoting the upcoming Flight Facilities album. Doing this without reposting Two Bodies for the millionth time proved to be difficult, however, so I thought I’d delve into one of my personal favorites from Oz, their remix of the C90’s Shine A Light

It’s hard to believe three years have passed since this gem was released. While it was ultimately lost in the buzz surrounding Crave You and Foreign Language, I would argue this as the quintessential FF track. No matter what’s happening in my life, this is one of those tracks that makes my problems melt away. Beautiful lyrics, a catchy chorus, and an introduction that grabs you in with cascading synths and simple, steering piano.

Kudos to Grand Theft Auto V for featuring this song in-game… during a mission where your character takes acid and jumps out of a plane. Well played.



Photo Via

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Righteous One

We’ve all been there: Girl meets boy. Boy likes band. Girl forces herself to like band. It’s a tale as old as high school. Except sometimes it can happen in your mid-twenties. That’s how I—rather appropriately—discovered The Orwells.

Early this year, a guy I was really into told me I should listen to The Orwells. He sold them as “The new Strokes.” I listened. They weren’t. But I was really really into this guy, so despite their inability to fill the gaping Julian Casablancas-sized void **OMG PUN INTENDED** in my music library, I gave them another chance. And another. And then another. But they didn’t click. Their scuzzy, simplistic garage rock was catchy enough, but it lacked that certain something that I could either relate to or revere. Eventually, the guy and I had a falling out and I no longer had anything to prove, so I gave up on The Orwells. I chalked them up as one of those indie things I would never “get”, like Grimes. Or almond milk.

But then by happenstance, I started following The Orwells on Twitter. And suddenly: I got it.

I don’t often let musicians’ internet personas dictate my opinion of their artistic output, but in this case it made all the difference. I’d read profiles on the band, I knew their general backstory and style, but it wasn’t until I saw them referencing my old stomping grounds that I began to understand their point of view. You see, The Orwells and I have a lot in common. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, not 20 minutes from their hometown of Elmhurst. I too felt completely smothered by the suburban tedium surrounding me, misunderstood and maligned and totally claustrophobic. We both used music as an escape—The Orwells formed a band and toured the world, I shipped myself off to boarding school to study opera. It’s the same thing, really.

Their Twitter’s plucky, cynical commentary on pop culture, the music industry, and this suburban world I know so well resonates: they echo many of the sentiments and frustrations I’d had when I was their age. (Though fortunately, when I was their age we had AIM status updates in lieu of Twitter; I could have gotten into a world of trouble as a teen on Twitter.) And when I began to understand their teenage ethos, and to remember my own, I began to connect to their music. A night of hiding in your car to drink underage, followed by puking on the bathroom floor? Been there. Lamenting a town where everything closes at midnight? Done that. The Orwells are angsty suburban kids, and though I’d like to believe I’ve transcended, inside I’m probably still just an angsty suburban kid.

And so I realized I’d been approaching The Orwells all wrong. The Orwells are not The new Strokes by any stretch. The Strokes weren’t relatable—they were iconic. No one listened to Is This It and thought, “Oh yeah this describes my life.” The Strokes were cool: they lived in the cultural epicenter of America; they went to elite boarding schools in different countries; they had absent parents; they undoubtedly had access to the most incredible drugs. The Orwells, on the other hand, are not cool by cool’s standards: they grew up in the Midwest; they went to public school; their parents probably drove them to soccer practice; and—speaking from experience—the weed out here is shit. The Orwells make garage rock for people who know what it’s like to have an attached garage. The Orwells are one of us. I get it. I totally get it.

It’s fitting that I came upon The Orwells by rather immature means, as they seem to inspire the younger, rawer me. What other band could get me to show up to a 12:45 set at a music festival? Literally, none. I’ve never done that. But I’m so glad I did, or I would have missed the best moment of Chicago's Riot Fest, when frontman Mario Cuomo brazenly proclaimed ”WE’RE FROM THE SUBURBS” before launching the band into a song about the mall. It was punk as fuck. And for a moment, I was a little jealous of the teenage girls in the front row.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Red Eyes

I’m seeing The War On Drugs this weekend.
I needed to get that out first and foremost, because I’m so stupid excited about it. You know who else is excited about it? My dad. Yes, my dad and I are going to see The War On Drugs together this weekend, and that’s amazing.

It should be noted that this isn’t a common occurrence. At least, it hasn’t been for a decade. In the early 2000s my dad came to concerts with me — I needed a ride, and he thought it kept him hip. (He still pats himself on the back when he recognizes an Interpol song.) But I grew up, moved away, and could drive myself, so my dad and I haven’t had reason to see a concert together in ages. But The War On Drugs are special. Really, really special.

You’ve probably heard at least some of Lost In The Dream—the band’s marvelous third album—by now. If we’re friends, you better have. It is the rock album of the year. (And yes, I’ve already listened to the new DFA1979 album.) You’ve heard of a road movie, right? Well, this is a seminal ‘road album’ if I’ve ever heard one. It’s the musical equivalent of Easy Rider for the millennial set, with the heartbreak to match. Adam Granduciel has woven the ultimate soundscape of disappointment and longing, at once expansive and deeply personal.

Granduciel hasn’t set out to reinvent the wheel; he’s polished it. Indeed, this album could have been released any time over the last four decades and would have held up just as well. Granduciel has spent a lot of time absorbing the influences of his idols, from Dylan to Springsteen to Stewart, and it shows. While he pays tribute, he exalts himself to their level by doing it just as well. That’s what makes this album so special, and why it translates across generations. Many artists play homage to their influences; few are able to capture their essence so completely that they could be counted as contemporaries. This is an example of stylistic mastery—take note.

But anyway, dads should love this shit. Mine does, at least. You know who else will love it? You will. I promise. Just listen to the single Red Eyes. Or go a little deeper, and listen to the album's 9 minute-long opening track, Under The Pressure. You'll get it.

The War On Drugs play the AV Festival this Saturday in Chicago (with a slew of other great acts including Valerie June, Empires, and Mac DeMarco). Look for me; I’ll be the adult woman rocking out with her dad.



Friday, August 29, 2014

Not Your Mom's BBQ

This week’s post was supposed to be a little thinkpiece on Chicago’s suburbia / a love letter to The Orwells, but I got really caught up in making a playlist, so you’re getting that instead. Plus, it’s a holiday weekend, and who wants to read anything of substance over a holiday weekend? Not I. We’ll tackle suburbia next week. In the meantime, here’s a playlist meant to soundtrack your long, lazy weekend. Not Your Mom’s BBQ compliments the type of Labor Day that involves a small group of friends, grilled meats, and a lot of weed.

Pay special attention to the Angel Olsen track Forgiven/Forgotten, which I think encapsulates that atmosphere perfectly (and whose lyrics really spoke to me this week). Her latest album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, strikes me as a kind of working girl’s stoner rock: atmospheric but contained, raw yet pointed. With clever, often devastating lyrics, she has just the right amount of girl power without being campy. A better Best Coast, if you will. Check out and download the song, and stream it in the context of the playlist on Spotify, below.

Forgiven/Forgotten