The Month in Music: Ben Taylor, Divine Fits, Yeasayer

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Listening – Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor is an incredibly talented songwriter, and it kind of figures: his parents are James Taylor and Carly Simon. Pretty good pedigree. He tried to avoid music for a while, but eventually found himself drawn to it, and the results have been impressive. He’s been one of my favorite artists ever since I discovered his album with the Ben Taylor Band, Famous Among the Barns, back in high school, and since he’s gone solo (well, more solo I guess), his work has been even better. Another Run Around the Sun is one of my all-time favorites (check out “You Must’ve Fallen”, “Someday Soon”, “I’ll Be Fine”, and everything else on there), and the goofily-titled The Legend of Kung Folk, Part 1 (The Killing Bite) (I guess there’s no part 2?) was excellent as well. Another Run was more acoustic and organic-sounding, while The Legend of Kung Folk leaned more towards R&B in its instrumentation and arrangements. Considering the somewhat dramatic shift between albums, it was going to be interesting to see which direction he went on Listening. The answer is mostly still in the more electric, sultry vein of The Legend of Kung Folk, but this time around, especially towards the end of the album, he throws in some busy electronica, not dissimilar to what Sufjan Stevens did on The Age of Adz. (Although certainly to a lesser degree, practically by default. Sufjan went cray-cray on that one.) Unfortunately, much like Stevens’s effort, these songs tend to get bogged down under the weight of all that’s going on. However, the first half of the album is less cluttered and shines like his previous work. The title track is a contemplative slow burner, and then “Oh Brother” picks things up with a bouncy ode to his twin stepbrothers (and an appearance from his famous dad). “Not Alone” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Legend of Kung Folk, save for some tastefully scattered synths in the chorus that foreshadow the greater electronic involvement on the record. Despite its weaker second half (which is not to say every song is bad – “You Could Be Mine” is a fun, reggae-tinged number), Listening is still certainly worth your time.

Start with: “Oh Brother”, “Not Alone”, “Giulia”

 

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A Thing Called Divine Fits – Divine Fits

Ok, I’ll admit that I was severely predisposed to like this album because one of the guys in this indie supergroup is Britt Daniel, the genius behind Spoon, probably my favorite non-Beatles band. (Come on, the Beatles are in a league of their own. It’s not really fair to put anyone else up against them, so I don’t try.) I had high hopes for this project, and A Thing Called Divine Fits does not disappoint. The only way to describe this album is cool – it makes the Barry Manilow tracks in your library feel very insecure. Divine Fits’ sound definitely bears the mark of Daniel’s influence – sharp, precise beats; well-behaved guitars that flame out in walls of distortion – but also reflects the contributions of Dan Boeckner, formerly of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and Sam Brown of the New Bomb Turks. The most notable example of this is Boeckner’s voice, heard in half the songs on here. It’s very different from Daniel’s but is awesome too, with a sound that is roughed-up and desperate in a good way. Divine Fits also use synthy bass lines where Spoon never does, and this calls to mind the Cars (as does the cover, in my opinion). Divine Fits sound like the outstanding musicians they have proven themselves to be in other endeavors, and it’s awesome to hear them meld their styles together into something great.

Start with: “My Love Is Real”, “Flaggin a Ride”, “Would That Not Be Nice”

 

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Fragrant World – Yeasayer

Historically, I’ve never really been able to get into Yeasayer. I could tell that they were talented musicians writing good songs, but I don’t know, their sound was always just a little too world-beat-kooky for my taste. But hey, lots of people love them, so what do I know. However, they went in a new direction with Fragrant World, one that dips into the darker sounds of the electronic realm, and I love it. The songs are more focused, with fewer stylistic deviations within each, making for a more cohesive, powerful attack. The apocalyptic synths and nervous beats that drive songs like “Longevity” and “Devil and the Deed” are awesome, and it’s impressive that Yeasayer can utilize this sonic palette so expertly. If you’re already a Yeasayer fan, don’t worry, they didn’t completely eradicate their old sound: its influence can be heard in places like the extended outro to “Henrietta” and the intro to “Demon Road”, among others. And to top it all off, their label is called Secretly Canadian, which is hilarious. Definitely check out this album.

Start with: “Longevity”, “Henrietta”, “Devil and the Deed”

The Month in Music: Beach House, John Mayer, The Walkmen, and . . .

Bloom  Beach House

Beach House is an excellent dream pop band from Baltimore that started getting significant buzz with their last album, Teen Dream (they had that title first, Katy Perry!). Bloom largely follows the philosophy “don’t mess with a good thing”, but there are significant differences from Teen Dream. For this album, Beach House decamped to west Texas to record, and it sounds like the sweep and grandeur of their surroundings crept into the music. Leadoff track and single “Myth” sets this tone, with singer Victoria Legrand’s breathy vocals soaring at perhaps their highest heights to date over epic, swelling waves of guitar and synthesizer. In fact, “epic, swelling waves of guitar and synthesizer” is a pretty good description of most of the album, but that’s definitely not to say that the songs all sound the same. Beach House does a great job varying the mood and dynamics from track to track, delivering a record that is compelling, captivating, and beautiful from start to finish.

Start with: “Myth”, “Lazuli”, “Wishes”

 

Born and Raised  John Mayer

John Mayer is back! I was largely disappointed with his last effort, Battle Studies – the songwriting sounded unfocused to me, perhaps understandable given his highly publicized, ah, distractions – but he completely rights the ship on Born and Raised. This album is infused with a rootsy, soulful sound that leans towards country and Americana where Continuum leaned to blues rock. The sound perfectly complements the lyrics, which point to a calmer, more peaceful Mayer, who sounds like he has overcome many of the demons that landed him in the tabloids numerous times over the past few years. This is perhaps best illustrated on “Shadow Days”, where Mayer sings “I’m a good man with a good heart, had a tough time, got a rough start, but I’ve finally learned to let it go” over a steady drum beat and peaceful slide guitar. Only he knows if those words are true, but given the contentment and peace that seem to pervade this album, I believe it. Another favorite of mine is “Something Like Olivia”, with Mayer’s bluesy electric guitar recalling the best moments from Continuum and the lyrics singing the praises of Olivia, who though taken, Mayer finds a good model for what he should be looking for. (And of course, because of his tabloid past, you gotta wonder if he’s talking about Olivia Wilde and we’re about to get another round of headlines here.) It’s great to see John Mayer back at his best, because he’s one of the most talented musicians we have today.

Start with: “Queen of California”, “Shadow Days”, “Something Like Olivia”

 

Heaven  The Walkmen

 The Walkmen’s last album, Lisbon, is absolutely fantastic and one of my all-time favorites. If I was doing my favorite albums of 2010 list over again, it would without a doubt be in the top 10. (For the record, so would Dr. Dog’s Shame, Shame and LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening; Sleigh Bells’ Treats would be honorable mention.) Lisbon was influenced and inspired by a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, as well as Elvis music. Go figure, right? This, combined with the fact that the Walkmen could have best been described pre-Lisbon as a gritty post-punk band, made for a really interesting and excellent album. The follow-up to that album, Heaven, is not as great, but is still pretty good. As every review of this album will tell you, the Walkmen are getting older, and this album exudes the happiness and reflection that comes with moving into new stages of life. On some of the songs the practical meaning of this seems to be that the band is just less energetic. Thankfully though, this isn’t the case on all the songs, and there are several outstanding tracks: “Love Is Luck” and “Heaven” are, in my opinion, the best songs on here and stand up well to any of their previous work. Even some of the slower, more laid-back tunes, like the short homage to their love of old country music, “Jerry Jr.’s Tune”, are well done and enjoyable. Unfortunately, a few of the songs just never quite come together, which is surprising given that no song on Lisbon could be described that way. And producer Phil Ek, whose work I actually admire, doesn’t seem to be a great match here. The band talked in interviews about how exacting he was, how he made them do things over and over until they got it right, how he made them actually tune their instruments, etc., which they were grateful for and described as a good thing – but part of the Walkmen’s charm has always been how ramshackle and ragged their music can sound, and Ek’s attention to detail kind of rubs that out here. All in all though, I don’t want to sound too negative – the Walkmen hold a special place in my heart and this really is a good record. It’s hard not to compare it to Lisbon, but that’s not totally fair, and when looked at on its own the stronger tunes stand out and make this an overall satisfying listen.

Start with: “Love Is Luck”, “The Love You Love”, “Heaven”

 

 

And last but not least, those who know me know I couldn’t go without saying anything about . . .

Listen Up! – Haley Reinhart

 . . . my celebrity crush, Haley Reinhart. She won me over completely on American Idol last season because of how effortlessly and charmingly different she was from not only all the other contestants, but from what the Idol powers-on-high seem to want in their contestants. Her voice is incredible and unique, full of soul and grit and power, and this album does a fantastic job of channeling all her strengths and quirks into a batch of bluesy, soul-infused pop tunes that have a ton of personality. Reinhart co-wrote all but one track, and even though a couple of tunes in the middle are a tad snoozy, overall the songs are excellent. The only real minor complaint I have is B.o.B.’s appearance on “Oh My!” – he sounds like competition a little out of place, but to be fair, the more I’ve listened to it, the more in tune I’ve gotten with it. All biases aside, this really is a good album, not just for a former Idol contestant but for anyone.

(And man, that album cover . . . the typography is excellent. What, where did you think I was going with that?)

Start with: “Liar”, “Wasted Tears”, “Keep Coming Back”

The Month in Music: Alabama Shakes, M. Ward, Norah Jones

Boys & Girls – Alabama Shakes

Based on word of mouth that spread like wildfire, Alabama Shakes became one of this year’s biggest buzz bands, garnering lots of hype leading up to the release of Boys & Girls, their debut full-length. As with any buzz band, once the hipsters all realized, “Wait, other people actually like this band?” there was a little bit of backlash against them – but now that the dust has had time to settle, what’s the truth about this album? The truth is that it’s awesome, full of sweaty, earth-rattling, honest-to-goodness blues rock that gets as deep into your bones as it does your head. Alabama Shakes is mainly influenced by the bluesy, soulful music of the ’50’s and ’60’s (think Otis Redding, The Temptations, etc.), but what makes them interesting and distinctly modern is the simultaneous influence of contemporary indie rock, an influence they readily acknowledge. This is heard best in songs like “Rise to the Sun” and “Hold On”, which sound like they could be old standards until some distinctly modern-sounding guitar squall kicks in and overwhelms everything. The ingredient that makes their music so satisfying, though, is front-woman Brittany Howard’s voice. It’s gritty, soulful, and passionate, and she’s in complete control of it, whether howling in rage about how she’s been done wrong or cooing sweet nothings in barely a whisper. This is an outstanding debut that proves the band is way more than just hype, and that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Start with: “Hold On”, “Hang Loose”, “Heartbreaker”

 

A Wasteland Companion – M. Ward

Perhaps better known as the male half of She & Him with Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward has had an outstanding solo career for several years now, and A Wasteland Companion, his eighth solo album, continues that pattern. I once read a description of his sound as “soft-spoken, hard-edged Americana”, and that to me is the perfect way of describing it. He mixes a poignant tenderness, heard often in the gorgeous, wistful sounds of his acoustic guitar, with a sharper edge and irascible sense of fun, and this is as true as ever on AWC. While it doesn’t quite hit the pop peaks of some of the tracks on its predecessor, 2009’s Hold Time (see songs like “Never Had Nobody Like You” and “Epistemology”), it nevertheless contains a ton of true gems, from the fun (and insightful) bounce of “I Get Ideas” to the beautiful, classical sound of the title track. Ms. Deschanel herself appears on two tracks, “Me and My Shadow” and “Sweetheart”, and Ward uses her voice to great effect in very different ways, as a haunting background touch in the former and a sly, flirty presence in the latter. The only minor misstep here to me is “Watch the Show”, which sounds really cool but never totally develops the narrative in the lyrics, which dampens its emotional impact. Minor quibbles, though, on an overall outstanding effort from Mr. Ward.

Start with: “Primitive Girl”, “I Get Ideas”, “Pure Joy”

 

Little Broken Hearts – Norah Jones

There is one gigantic shadow that hangs over this album and must be addressed before anything else, and it is that of Danger Mouse. When I heard that Norah Jones was working with Danger Mouse on this album, I was apoplectic. Let me explain. It is undeniable that Danger Mouse has a very distinctive sound, sort of like a highly compressed spaghetti western thing, and that’s OK (even if it unpleasantly reminds me of Quentin Tarantino movies, which I hate, but that would be a whole other post). His sound is not in and of itself bad – I even like his work with, for example, Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells. What I hate, though, is when he works with artists who are already established and forces their music into The Danger Mouse Mold, rather than working to bring out their true sound. Put more simply, ALL THE MUSIC HE PRODUCES SOUNDS THE SAME. It’s almost as if he’s a musical parasite, latching onto the host artist and infecting their sound with his annoyingly clipped drums and watery guitars. That’s a little harsh, because I don’t totally hate his sound; I just hate how he seems to be homogenizing the indie rock landscape by working with lots of different artists and giving them all the same makeover. So, much like Beck’s Modern Guilt and the Black Keys’ El Camino, on Little Broken Hearts we end up with a very good album that is marred by the fact that it sounds more like Danger Mouse than it does the artist who created it. All this aside, though, the songwriting on LBH is excellent (and while Jones gets the lion’s share of the credit for that, Danger Mouse was credited as a co-writer, so to be fair, he probably had something to do with it as well). This is most definitely a break-up album, and Jones pulls no punches lyrically or otherwise. Highlights include “Say Goodbye”, in which Jones sends off a failed relationship in a sinisterly deceptive sing-song voice; “After the Fall”, which is gorgeously heartbreaking, driven along by a numbly disinterested drum pattern and Jones’s pained harmonies; and “Take It Back”, which has the restrained danger in the melody that was so appealing on much her last album, The Fall. It’s certainly no surprise that Norah Jones has produced an album full of quality songs, and I hope that next time around she’ll ditch Danger Mouse and continue to develop the excellent sound she has proven she already has.

Start with: “Say Goodbye”, “After the Fall”, “Happy Pills”

The Month in Music

Hello everyone! My name is Stephen and I will be your Resident Musical Correspondent, reporting the first Friday of every month. My goal will be to highlight albums from the past month that I’ve particularly enjoyed, unless there haven’t been enough of those, in which case I’ll make something else up (musical of course, I won’t subject you to my thoughts on what I had for dinner or anything). The region of the musicsphere I tend to occupy is that between mainstream and indie rock – basically, indie bands there’s a chance the average person has heard of. I don’t do Nickelback (obviously), but neither do I do That Obscure Electrodisco Quartet from Oslo That Only Twelve People Even Know Exists and Which Releases Its EPs Exclusively on Analog Tape. Those kinds of bands I tend to find are obscure for a reason. Anyway, March was conveniently a very good month in music, so let’s get right to it!

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Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit

Either this or Dr. Dog’s Be the Void is my favorite album of the year so far. I was first turned on to Delta Spirit because of frontman Matthew Vasquez’s foray with the indie folk supergroup Middle Brother (also featuring Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, another great band you should check out). Delta Spirit’s last album, History from Below, was reasonably good, but it wasn’t anything life-changing – on this album though, they’ve taken a huge leap forward. In fact, it’s self-titled because they felt like they nailed the sound they’ve been trying for, and this is how they wanted to define their band. Talk about a good sign. Rolling Stone put this album up on their website a couple weeks before it came out as an exclusive early listen, and in their description of it they said that like Wilco, Radiohead, and My Morning Jacket before them, Delta Spirit had expanded their sonic palette and gone in new directions with their sound. This may have been a bit hyperbolic (that’s quite some company to be thrown together with), but it largely hits the mark. Perhaps the best example of their new and exciting approach is “Tellin’ the Mind”. It starts out with a distorted amalgamation of voiced beats, with Vasquez trilling shrilly over it all and flaming out in a yelp. Then the guitars and organ pour on slowly, finally exploding hot and heavy under loads of distortion after the first chorus. The verses are all restrained tension, Vasquez spitting his lyrics over a confident, bluesy bass line. I love everything about this song, but those trills in particular. They provide the perfect release to the tension built up in the verses, and are a good example of what I love most in music – stuff that comes out of left field, but works well musically and sounds awesome. Anyway, I’ve given that one song a lot of real estate here, but literally every other song is outstanding and showcases their startling growth in musicianship. This album also specializes in memorable hooks and choruses – “Tear It Up”, “California”, “Idaho”, “Otherside”, “Tellin’ the Mind”, “Time Bomb”, and “Money Saves” all definitely have snatches that will stay in your head for days on end – and that’s over half the album! Great stuff. The lyrics are also quality; some of my favorite lines are: “I want you to move to California for yourself, but not for me” and “Meet me on the other side / No I can’t be honest with myself / No I wouldn’t believe a word I said”. If I haven’t convinced you to go listen to this album, I don’t know what to tell you.

Start with: Geez, well, I guess . . . “California”, “Otherside”, “Tellin’ the Mind”

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Happy to You – Miike Snow

This album is much weirder than their smash debut, and it’s very interesting because of it. They paint with a largely electronic palette again, but this time they move to the edges of that palette, weaving less conventional sounds and effects into spooky, alternate-universe club anthems. Pretty much every song has a sticky melody (from Stephen’s Glossary of Made-Up Musical Terms: ”A melody that gets stuck in your head easily”)  and at least one or two really memorable parts – for instance, check out the chipmunk synths in “Enter the Joker’s Lair” or the creepy vocals contributed by Lykke Li to “Black Tin Box” (whatever that box is, you clearly don’t wanna be messing with it). Despite its depressing lyrical content, “God Help This Divorce” is a particular standout, with plinking synthesizers, harp runs, and metallic percussion underpinning singer Andrew Wyatt’s wistful vocals.

Start with: “Devil’s Work”, “God Help This Divorce”, “Bavarian #1 (Say You Will)”

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Port of Morrow – The Shins

Port of Morrow has been a long time coming – it’s been almost 5 years since the Shins’ last album, 2007’s excellent Wincing the Night Away. To say the band has undergone some changes since then would be an understatement. Frontman James Mercer, always the brainchild behind the Shins, is the only one left in the band from WTNA, and how that came about was a little controversial. Mercer basically dismissed the old drummer and bassist – albeit for the very intriguing reason that he wanted to go for a groove-heavier sound – but they took to the media to vent their displeasure, and while the Shins has always been Mercer’s project, it did kind of give off bad vibes. So for reasons karmic and otherwise, I was skeptical that this album would be all that solid. Mercer is over 40 now (I know, hard to believe, sorry if I just made you feel old), and, well, indie rockers have a mixed record when it comes to aging gracefully. Thankfully, however, Mercer dismisses all such petty concerns on Port of Morrow and delivers an excellent collection of songs. The groove Mercer wanted is there, though it doesn’t beat you over the head, instead ably driving along Mercer’s infectious jams. Like WTNA, each song is stuffed with quirky little fills and riffs, most of which are contributed by Mercer’s new bandmates –  but of course Mercer’s voice stands out above it all. I saw them live at SXSW in March, and he is definitely a talented singer – he makes those ridiculous high notes (for example, see the chorus of “Simple Song”) look easy. Every song is high quality, the only minor complaint being “No Way Down”, which while excellent musically, is typical fare for musicians who get political (liberally oversimplified, in multiple senses of the phrase). The title track provides a trippy close to it all, with Mercer’s croon soaring above music that sounds inspired by his sojourn in the side-project Broken Bells.

Start with: “Simple Song”, “Bait and Switch”, “For a Fool”

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Busting Visions – Zeus

On their second album, Zeus polish the great sound they crafted on their debut, giving a modernized, unique take on classic rock. Many of the elements they use are recognizable from eras past, but Zeus tie them all together in unpredictable ways, whether it’s rinky-dink pianos slashing randomly into verses, or harmonies sneaking up from underneath noisy guitars. The album gets off to a rollicking start – “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” is a strong contender to be my favorite song of the year – and keeps going until settling down into “Let It Go, Don’t Let It Go”, a slower, more psychedelic number along the lines of “The Sound of You” off their debut. Later on, “With Eyes Closed” starts off sounding like something the Hollies could have put out in their heyday, but as the chorus approaches, a gaggle of ghostly harmonies floats in and makes the song Zeus’s own. It’s by doing things like this, experimenting with their arrangements and structures, not to mention the instruments they choose to use and when they use them, that Zeus keeps their sound fresh and exciting. Another solid effort by a solid band.

Start with: “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?”, “Anything You Want Dear”, “Hello, Tender Love”

Back With A Brand New Edition

Guys. I’m back.

I thought about posting a long explanation as to why I’ve been gone for so long, but that felt awfully sappy, and as you know, that is the antithesis to my being. In short, I was depressed, got on medication, got better, then tried to stop the medication and re-lapsed. Nothing major, and nothing to worry about, but I’m back on my meds, evening out, and feeling much better. So let’s blog.

Camp – Childish Gambino

Definitely not a camp for children

My love for Nicki Minaj aside, I’m really not a fan of rap. In general, I can’t handle the MASSIVE EGOS of most rappers, or in the case of Lil Wayne, the incoherent giggling. I like Nicki because I saw that she was able to skillfully navigate between bravado and soulful honesty, and because she’s a true performer, in every sense of the word. Childish Gambino is all that, and so much more.

Childish Gambino is actually Donald Glover. If that name sounds familiar, it should. If it doesn’t, it still should, but I get to tell you why. Donald Glover was part of the comedy group “Derrick Comedy” in college. As in the people behind Spelling Bee, Opposite Day, Keyboard Kid (my personal favorite), and the one most people are probably familiar with: Bro Rape. Ever watch The Daily Show? Yeah he wrote for that. What about 30 Rock? Yup. That too. And he’s on Community. And he’s a legit DJ. And a rapper. Did I mention that he’s under 30 years old? Yeah.

So anyway, Camp is his first studio album, a concept album about childhood and adult insecurity. The most common description of Glover’s rap style is that it’s “cartoonish.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I’m guessing it means that it’s really exaggerated. Which isn’t for everyone, I’ll be the first one to admit. I like it, though to be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was a parody of rap or not at first.

Regardless, the album just feels… epic. There’s heavy bass (duh), but you’ve also got lots of background strings, piano, and operatic chanting. It gives it a sense of legitimacy and importance. Obviously Gambino isn’t the first or only rapper to do that, but I think it works really well. Glover also manages to bring in a lot of his DJ experience, blending electronic influences with hip-hop. I’m a particular fan of this, since I’ve been a fan of electronica since I was thirteen.

Before I get to the main things I liked about the album, and why it resonates so deeply with me, I’ll go through the few things I’m not in love with, or that others might/do object to.

I’m trying to decide how delicate I want to be with this. Screw it. He talks about his dick ALL THE TIME. I mean, like ALL THE TIME. I get that rappers talk about sex a LOT, I do. And honestly I don’t feel like Gambino goes into as much detail and grossness as Lil Wayne or some others. But you’re going to hear about the size of his penis, so don’t be surprised.

The other thing is basically the exact same, just with female genitalia instead of male. You’re gonna hear about those a lot too.

OK, so what did I really like about this album? Basically two things.

1. This album is so honest. In fact, I would say that it’s the most authentic, personal album I’ve ever heard. Yes, 21 by Adele is a personal album, as is Battle Studies by John Mayer. But those are just sad breakup albums. Why can’t artists get personal about anything but breakups? OK, I guess Continuum by Mayer is pretty personal, with its pervasive fear of growing up, but Camp outstrips it. Donald Glover talks about all sorts of things, from growing up poor, to being rejected by whites for being black, to being rejected by blacks for being too white, to thoughts of suicide, to fears of being an alcoholic, to just having fun. I mean, wow. It’s not everyday you just tell thousands of people that you sometimes think about killing yourself.

This album really made me think, which is rare for modern in music in general, and rap in particular. I guess I never thought about what it was like to be a black man in America. I mean, maybe I did abstractly… but I never realized what kind of pressure there is to fit a certain mold. I never realized that black kids that speak well are ostracized from their culture for “talking white.” I never realized that black kids with dads are accused of not really being black. I never realized how important it is to dress a certain way, to talk a certain way, to only like certain things. In some ways that isn’t so different from white culture, but in some ways it’s totally different. Which kind of brings me to the second thing I love about this album.

2. I relate to it.

At this point, your mind may have exploded. I mean, what does a 24 year old suburban white kid from Texas know about being black – let alone about not being black ENOUGH? What do I know about sleeping around, or being afraid I’m becoming an alcoholic? I’ll admit – not much.

But I can relate to a kid who gets in trouble for talking despite being the smartest kid in class. I can relate to being called “faggot” just because I talk or dress a certain way. I can understand a guy who likes nice clothes and Sufjan, who disappoints his mother, and who never fit in growing up.

[Sidebar: If you say the word “faggot” around me, I might still twitch. And inside, I am livid. I might not fully understand what goes through a black person’s mind when they hear the N-word, but as someone who has been called a faggot his whole life, I think I get it more than most white people. It is a horrible, offensive, cruel slur, and I encourage you to never say it again. And the same goes for calling things you think are stupid, “gay.” It’s not alright. You don’t call stupid things “black” or “Asian,” so WHY is it OK to call it “gay”? Answer: IT’S NOT.]

Anyway. Camp is awesome. There’s some really great wordplay and one-liners. There’s some epic background music. There’s some legitimate singing. There’s electronic influences. There’s bravado. There’s serious introspection. There’s social commentary. It’s an impressive album, assuming you can get past an exaggerated style and some really foul language (which decreases as the album progresses). Here’s a truly fantastic – and creepy – single.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

But hopefully you’ll find it worth the wait.

Crap, now there’s pressure to perform.

And now I’m hyperventilating. I’m flashing back to junior high. I’m on the bus. I’m being picked on for being short and wearing glasses. I’m trying not to cry. I’m internalizing the pain. It will affect me for years to come in numerous and unexpected ways.

I CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH PRESSURE YOU GUYS.

You’re just going to have to lower your expectations on this, because I can’t live up to them and stay sane.

OK, maybe this relation is toxic. And not the Britney Spears ‘Toxic,’ the BAD kind of toxic.

ANYWAY… sorry I forgot to post on Thursday. To be honest, the Monday/Thursday thing is not working for me. Because who wants to blog on Monday? And there’s something so… bllluuuuuggggghhhhhh… about Thursdays. So let’s try out Tuesday/Friday. And yes, I know today is Saturday. Stop judging.

So, recently I discovered the band Karmin. I literally have no idea how. I really really don’t. But somehow I did and am better for it. [I feel less cool knowing that Ryan Seacrest blogged about them first. He’s the Anti-Hipster, destroyer of all things underground.]

So, this band is an engaged couple. And they’re TOTALLY ADORABLE. They have some original songs, which are great. I’m eagerly awaiting their debut album. But I really really enjoy their covers. Their version of Look At Me Now by Chris Brown pretty much blew my mind. I’ve never seen a pretty white girl rap that fast. And when she isn’t rapping, she’s singing. Really well. And did I mention that she’s pretty? Similarly, the cover of Super Bass by Nicki Minaj is close to my heart, for obvious reasons.

LOOK HOW ADORABLE!!

I don’t know what I find appealing about two-man (OR WOMAN CHILL OUT) groups doing covers, but I just do, OK. I suppose it’s kind of the definition of derivative, but they’re having fun singing it, and I’m having fun listening to it. Plus, I really feel like they go out of their way to add something to the original.

[Sidebar, my general rule for covers is that it should either be EXACTLY like the original, or TOTALLY DIFFERENT. Don’t be half-assed about either attempt, it always ends badly.]

So anyway, look them up on YouTube. They’re kind of goofy/weird, but for me that’s icing on the cake. OR IN THE CAKE if it’s a Boston Cream Pie which is really just a cake and I don’t know why they call it a pie maybe it’s like some sort of like 3/5ths Compromise thing where the Pie Party was like “OK Cakes you took Cheese Cake from us and it is totally a pie so in exchange we demand Boston Cream Cake and we will re-name it Boston Cream PIE and it will be totally awesome but totally confusing.”

This is what happens when you make me relive childhood trauma y’all.

Music Review – Codes and Keys by Death Cab for Cutie

There’s a reason Rebecca Black didn’t sing about Mondays, amiright?

Anyway, welcome back to Tellurian Things, your bi-weekly dose of pop-culture critique and general dramatic snark. Today, we’ll be investigating the latest album by one of my favorite bands – Death Cab. A new feature I’m adding to this blog is “Snap Judgments,” a couple-sentence review of the subject, located at the end of the blog. Just remember folks: I’m doing this for you.
So, Codes and Keys starts out decently enough with “Home is a Fire.” I feel like this is only a solid track, somewhat in the vein of Plans, which was only a solid album. It’s somewhat fast-paced, but not really upbeat. But, this being Death Cab, I keep listening. The next track, “Codes and Keys,” is similarly decent. It sounds like something else… Rilo Kiley maybe? That’s what I think. But again, this is good, and more “classic Death Cab.” Not sure why it’s the title track, but whatever.
The third track, “Some Boys,” is one of my favorites. I find myself whistling it constantly. Both in terms of sound and content, it is reminiscent of Transatlanticism. It mixes an upbeat sound with a melancholy theme – how young boys hurt young girls with their “love ’em and leave ’em,” ways. I. Love. This. Song. “Doors Unlocked and Open,” is also really fun, vaguely Narrow Stairs-ian. “You Are a Tourist,” has a really fun guitar melody that gets stuck in your head, but for some reason I find the lyrics utterly forgettable. “Unobstructed Views” takes quite a while to even HAVE lyrics. This song would fit very well on Transatlanticism, but I’m not sure why it’s here. To me, it seems like the album was building a nice momentum and this slow, largely instrumental song kind of kills it. It’s good, but still.
“Monday Morning,” however, is STELLAR. I like to think it’s about Zooey Deschanel, with lyrics like “She may be young but she only likes old things, and modern music – it ain’t to her taste.” This is probably the most happy Death Cab song I’ve ever heard. It acknowledges that Ben Gibbard isn’t still a young guy destined to break hearts and die alone. He is, in fact, a happily married man with an incredible wife. This song is about growing old with that woman, who doesn’t even know how great she is.
The rest of the album passes quickly. “Portable Television,” returns to the “finding meaning in really random crap left on the side of the road” well, which is a compliment. “Underneath the Sycamore” is pretty standard DCFC fare, which again is a compliment. “St. Peter’s Cathedral” is great. It builds slowly from a simplistic song to something interesting and complex. The final song, “Stay Young, Go Dancing,” is an excellent note to end on. Beautiful, hopeful, catchy, and again possibly about Zooey. 
SNAP JUDGMENT and/or CONCLUSION
If you’re not a fan of Death Cab, this album isn’t going to change your mind. If you are a fan of Death Cab, this album isn’t going to change your mind. It’s no Transatlanticism, but then that’s one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard so there’s no shame in that. This album is great. A little short, and it lacks a “Cath,” or a “Brothers on a Hotel Bed,” (two of their best songs, ever), I also find that it’s far more consistent than either Plans or Narrow Stairs. The fact that the best songs are hopeful and happy is somewhat strange, but has me excited that future albums might stray from the melancholy (or perhaps melodramatic) feel of previous DCFC, and into new territory. All in all, a solid album.