Archive | November, 2012

Hot Routes: Week Fourteen

30 Nov

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Editor’s Note:  This is the Swanky roundup of our top picks and songs of the week, running every week of the 2012 Year of Football.  For a primer, check out the Introduction.

Week Fourteen

 

Oklahoma (9-2) at TCU (7-4)

The pick: Oklahoma (-6)

The track:  Come To The City by The War On Drugs

Many of tracks by The War on Drugs are akin to the feeling of walking into a smoke-choked room during a packed and noisy house party.  There’s a haze in the air, resulting from both the literal smoke and the much more figurative effects of drinking in a humid house with hormonally-charged strangers.  Everything kind of swirls around, feeling vaguely compelling, so that you are moved to stick around for a while.  And the more you stick around, beginning to get adjusted to the haze, you start to catch on to something in the room – a cohering thread that you can grab on to, and which eventually delivers in an emotional and consistent payoff that made the trip upstairs worth it.  “Whoo-hoo.”

 

Alabama (11-1) at Georgia (11-1)

The pick:  Georgia (+7.5)

The track:  Twenty Eight (Ianborg & Bronze Whale Bootleg) by The Weeknd

In the game that will decide who gets to beat the wildly overrated team from South Bend, Alabama is the better team.  They’ve got line advantages on both sides of the ball, and Alabama’s D in particular will be poised to take advantage of any and all Georgia mistakes.  Georgia is going to come correct though, and in a game that will be played in their backyard, they should be able to ride some charged motivation on the way to getting within a touchdown.  They just may not get farther than that.

 

Texas (8-3) at Kansas State (10-1)

The pick:  Kansas State (-10.5)

The track:  No Fun by The Stooges

Kansas State got embarrassed by Baylor in their last game, and as a result, they were kicked to the curb in the National Title race.  The Wildcats will have a pretty big chip on their shoulder coming into this regular season finale, and when that’s paired with Texas’ often porous defense having to matchup with a volatile offense, things do not look good for Mack Brown & Co.

 

San Francisco (8-2) at St. Louis (4-6)

The pick:  St. Louis (+7.5)

The track:  Take, Take, Take by The White Stripes

One of the many great things about Jack White as a songwriter is that he consistently refuses to take himself too seriously.  Amongst his various bands and solo efforts, there are plenty of straightforward tunes in which the emotions are just as deep as the blues licks being laid down.  Amongst these ‘serious’ songs, however, Mr. White will sprinkle tunes imbued with a sly, winking sense of humor, often relating surreal and esoteric little stories whose meanings, if those exist, are not readily available.  “Take, Take, Take” is such track, from The White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan, and it concerns an excellent re-telling of what seems like an actual dream dreamt by Jack himself.  Jack White could, and should, release an album in which he just puts all of his dream recollections to music.

 

Minnesota (6-5) at Green Bay (7-4)

The pick:  Green Bay (-8)

The track:  And I Say (Xinobi Edit) by Nicolas Jaar

Green Bay and the moustachioed Aaron Rodgers got their shit handed to them by the Giants last week, so they’ve got something to prove on their return home.  The potential return of Greg Jennings could add another dangerous weapon to Rodgers’ arsenal, and they’ll come out swinging against their division rival.

 

New England (8-3) at Miami (5-6)

The pick:  Miami (+9)

The track:  Bad Girls (Verdine Version) by Solange

Solange, aka Little Beyonce, dropped a short album this week, True, that solidifies her rep as the cool indie sister of the family.  The album feels somewhat lightweight on the surface, populated with spare beats seemingly culled from vintage Madonna outtakes providing a stark background for Solange’s powerful voice.  As the songs go on, however, the simplicity of the production shines through as a unique strength.  The open air between the drum beats, laid-back bass lines and keyboard flourishes is a perfect complement to Solange’s vocals; the singer explores the open spaces with her twisting vocal runs, wrapping her voice around the melodies with a sense of enjoyment that’s contagious.

 

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Last Week’s Record:  4-2

Overall Record:  39-31

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A Long Weeknd

20 Nov

Abel Tesfaye, the man behind the musical persona The Weeknd, does not seem to care for the concept of holding something back.  His songs routinely push the five-minute mark, with nary an efficient, radio-friendly pop hit in sight, and he seems to enjoy combining multiple themes into one song – pushing those particular track times to over seven minutes.  When it comes to lyrical content, Tesfaye pretty much puts it all out there.  He’s not going to edit lyrics out of a fear of being too offensive, or of coming across as too sensitive or eccentric.  Based upon many lyrical samples from his short career it seems that whatever’s going on inside Abel’s head is going to be explicated at some point in a breathy falsetto or low-register rap.  Explicit tales of drug use, kinky sex, heavy drinking – it’s all there in vivid, gory detail.

So no, Abel does not seem to be a proponent of restraint when it comes to many aspects of his musical output as The Weeknd.  In light of that, it didn’t come as too big of a surprise when his first major-label release, Trilogy, lived up to its name and dropped as a package of three ‘discs’ (or whatever you want to call them in these stream-heavy modern times).  Three whole ‘discs’ composed of over 160 minutes of music on a major debut – that kind of confident grandiosity is right up Abel’s alley.

When it comes to the music of Trilogy, that inescapable refusal of The Weeknd to scale things back defines the listening experience.  There are brilliant highs in which the production and the songwriting combine to create a wholly unique and darkly sexual sonic world that is more seductive than most other musical releases from the past few years.  At the same time, there are musical runs and entire songs that fall on the wrong side of indulgent and that would have been best left to an optional bonus disc.  While these weaker parts of Trilogy take away from the quality of the album as a whole, they seem, for now, to be a necessary evil if we are to still get the full potential of Abel at his best.

Tracks like “The Party & The After Party” or “House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” (both not coincidentally on the first album, but more on this in a second) are great because the artist behind them is throwing every idea he’s got into the composition of the music.  These songs feature shifting themes and concepts, both narratively and sonically, and take the listener on an emotional trip that could only come from the mind of someone unafraid to put it all out there.  It’s human nature, particularly for a young professional, to have questionable or just plain bad ideas at times, and when everything is being put on the table from an Idea standpoint, there’s going to be some poor judgments mixed within the good-and-occasionally-brilliant ones.  When you look at Trilogy as an uncensored and immersive transmission from a uniquely gifted musical mind, it’s easier to forgive the occasional stumbles and outright mistakes.

There’s another way to look at Trilogy, however, that offers a less-optimistic view on the artistic merits of The Weeknd both now and in the future.  The majority of Trilogy is made up of tracks that have already been self-released by Abel on three separate mixtapes, dating back to 2010.  These older songs are structured in mostly chronological order on Trilogy, with the first disc comprised primarily of tracks from House of Balloons ( March 2011), the second disc from Thursday (August 2011), and the third disc from Echoes of Silence (December 2011).  This ordering of the tracks clarifies an issue that was already becoming apparent with each subsequent Weeknd mixtape release over the course of 2011 – the new material hasn’t really matched or improved upon the quality of House of Balloons.  With each new mixtape release, HoB looked stronger and more unique as a whole, bringing up the worry that maybe, just maybe, Abel had peaked in the beginning.  The fact that pretty much all of the new, non-mixtape material on Trilogy is underwhelming does not help to assuage the concern about ‘diminishing returns’.

Hopefully these concerns are unfounded, and the mixed results from Abel’s more recent efforts are simply the result of an artist continuing to grow and develop in the early stages of a career.  The Weeknd release have offered a unique and enthralling new voice in the musical landscape, and it is exciting to think of the potential highs yet to be reached by an artist so endeared to the idea of holding nothing back.  No matter what happens, there will at least be Trilogy – a sprawling compilation of sexually charged tales that, in the right spots, features some of the prettiest dirty music you’ll ever hear.

Hot Routes: Week Twelve

16 Nov

 

Editor’s Note:  This is the Swanky roundup of our top picks and songs of the week, running every week of the 2012 Year of Football.  For a primer, check out the Introduction.

Week Twelve

USC (7-3) at UCLA (8-2)

The pick: USC (-4)

The track:  Know Til Now by Jim James

The awesomely weird and incredibly talented Jim James is taking a break from blowing minds with My Morning Jacket, and is set to release a solo album in February.  That release date can’t come soon enough.  “Know Til Know” features some of James’ musical loves – wide-eyed soul and some irresistible funk.

 

Ole Miss (5-5) at LSU (8-2)

The pick:  LSU (-18.5)

The track:  Promises (Plastic Plates Remix) by The Presets

Ole Miss will be coming into this game with the motivation a long-held rivarly can bring, but they’ll be running up against an LSU team that has finally started to look competent offensively.  In the noisy confines of Death Valley, LSU should roll.

 

Texas Tech (7-3) at Oklahoma State (6-3)

The pick:  OK State (-9.5)

The track:  Big Trouble in Little China (feat. Action Bronson) by DJ Yoda

Beat mastermind DJ Yoda relies heavily on Asian musical touches to craft a seductive and laid-back beat that Action Bronson promptly jumps on and works to his lyrical will.

 

Cincinnati (4-5) at Kansas City (1-8)

The pick:  Cincinnati (-3.5)

The track:  Randy The Musical by Action Bronson

Things were already going quite badly for Kansas City this year, and now they’re coming off a demoralizing loss on a short week, with uncertainty still hanging over the QB position.  Cincinnati needs the win, and they’ll take advantage.

 

Green Bay (6-3) at Detroit (4-5)

The pick:  Green Bay (-3.5)

The track:  Walk On By by El Perro Del Mar

Swedish songstress El Perro Del Mar dropped her new album this week, and it features some solid electronic grooves to go with her strong voice.  “Walk On By” hearkens back to some mid-90s chilled out jams, in the best possible way.  You could almost swear you heard it first on The Beach soundtrack.

 

Tampa Bay (5-4) at Carolina (2-7)

The pick:  Tampa Bay (-1.5)

The track:  Today Is Our Life by Memory Tapes

“Today” takes its sweet time getting to a musical payoff, but when it gets there, the result is some of the most blissed-out musical goodness you’ll hear this week.  Follow the airy voice, the furious guitar lines, the bedroom drum beat and the keyboards as they shift and change until finally hitting the spot.  ‘Sup synthesizers.

 

 

Last Week’s Record:  3-3

Overall Record:  35-29

Hot Routes: Week Eleven

9 Nov

Editor’s Note:  This is the Swanky roundup of our top picks and songs of the week, running every week of the 2012 Year of Football.  For a primer, check out the Introduction.

Week Eleven

 

Texas A&M (7-2) at Alabama (9-0)

The pick:  Texas A&M (+13.5)

The track:  December 4th (Sourface Remix) by Jay-Z

Sourfacetakes Jay’s Black Album track on a triumphant journey back to the 70s, with a warm old-school beat marked by swelling strings and defiant trumpet bursts.  The production of the remix mirrors the themes and tonal shifts of the lyrics, pushing this release above most of the over hip-hop remixes constantly being released.  Warm, soulful vibes are paired with Jay’s retrospective rhymes, and the result is a mix that sounds polished and natural – as if Jay’s original release was actually just a modern take on an old-school cut.

 

Kansas State (9-0) at TCU (6-3)

The pick:  TCU (+7.5)

The track:  Take A Walk (Classixx Remix) by Passion Pit

Both of these teams are coming into their Week 11 matchup with meaningful questions surrounding the quarterback position.  Collin-with-two-Ls- Klein got rocked in last week’s game against Oklahoma State, and wasn’t allowed to re-enter the game after the hit.  He pretty clearly had some form of a concussion, so his status and capabilities for this week are up in the air.  If he can’t go or can’t play at his customary level, then TCU’s defense could take advantage in front of a lively home crowd.  TCU, meanwhile, has been starting a redshirt QB for the past month, and while he’s been serviceable, he’s also an inexperienced freshman going up against the No. 2 team in the country.  A lot of things could go wrong – but I think the homefield advantage keeps TCU within a TD.

 

Utah (4-5) at Washington (5-4)

The pick:  UW (+1)

The track:  Mouthful of Diamonds by Phantogram

I’m well behind on the Phantogram tip, but later is still better than never, especially when it comes to dynamic and seductive songs like “Mouthful of Diamonds.”  Like many of Phantogram’s tracks, “Diamonds” melds together aspects of hip-hop, electronic beats, and polished indie-rock to create a sound that is both propulsive and brooding.  It sounds as if the Postal Service got drunk at a hip-hop show and found some swagger to replace some of the tears.

 

Denver (5-3) at Carolina (2-6)

The pick:  Carolina (+4.5)

The track:  I Will Dare by The Replacements

The Replacements were one of those hallowed, ‘underground pioneer’ bands that I ended up reading quite a bit about before ever actually hearing their music.  Whether it was through perusing indie-rock retrospectives or interviews in which current bands cited them as a huge influence, The Replacements were slowly built up in my mind as a raw, bruising rock band that could be called a ‘punk band’ over any other classification.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I cued up Let It Be and the first thing I hear is this shimmery, buoyant-sounding song called “I Will Dare.”  Since it is the Replacements, “Dare” pairs pop elements with a welcome edge; the result is a great song that captures a drunken and defiant rock energy.

 

Atlanta (8-0) at New Orleans (3-5)

The pick:  Atlanta (-2.5)

The track:  Glawio by Com Truise

It’s been said many times over the last few weeks, but it bears repeating for this game at least: Atlanta is getting very little respect as an undefeated team.  There’s no other way to describe the line on this game being under 3 right now.  Sure, it’s a home game for the Saints, but they play in a dome just like the Falcons do.  And while the Saints looked good against a catastrophic Eagles team last week, their defense remains highly suspect, and they’re now going up against the high-powered ground-and-air attack of Matty Ice and the Falcons.  Even if Drew Brees manages to put up some points, the Saints and their D have an uphill battle.  They won’t make it within 3.

 

New York Jets (3-5) at Seattle (5-4)

The pick: Seattle (-6)

The track:  The Party & The After Party by The Weeknd

As The Weeknd prepares to release his major-label debut this month, why not take the chance to look back at how this soft-spoken artist built up white-hot online buzz over the last two years.  Some of his early notoriety had to do with the mysterious persona he initially cultivated, but all it takes is a listen to some of his tracks from House of Balloons and you know exactly why he took the music world by storm.  On songs like “The Party,” the crooner crafts tales of drugs, sex, and models that sound dangerous, seductive, and weirdly nasty.  These are meant for rainy nights and early mornings, and they won’t leave your head.

Last Week’s Record:  4-2

Overall Record:  32-26

Hot Routes: Week Ten

3 Nov

 

Editor’s Note:  This is the Swanky roundup of our top picks and songs of the week, running every week of the 2012 Year of Football.  For a primer, check out the Introduction.

Week Ten

 

Texas A&M (6-2) at Mississippi State (7-1)

The pick:  Miss. State (+7)

The track:  Bonafied’ Lovin (RAC Mix) by Chromeo

Among Chromeo’s many irresistibly funky dance tracks, “Bonafied’ Lovin” has always stood out as being particularly hard to get out of your head long after you’re too tired to keep dancing to it.  There’s something bordering on dancefloor perfection behind the combination of those “oh oh oh oh” refrains, the slinky synth jump-off, and the promise of lovin’.  It’s no surprise at all that RAC’s take on this jam finds a hot groove of its own – the RAC guys are no stranger to the kind of funky, new-disco party vibe that Chromeo loves to do.  Put it on and step back.

 

Alabama (8-0) at LSU (7-1)

The pick:  LSU (+8.5)

The track:  One by Ghostface Killah

I’m still holding a grudge against both of these teams for last year’s National Championship “game” – although Alabama wasn’t the one that took a dump on the field (LSU) they both contributed to a performance that was an affront to anyone who enjoys the concept of exciting football, and that was most likely responsible for some number of potential football fans turning their back on the game forever.  I know that both of these teams are very fearsome opponents to play, and that Alabama is probably the best team in the country.  That said, let’s hope this is the only time this year that we have to see this slugfest.  In this particular matchup, LSU is too good at home to be giving up more than a touchdown, even to ‘Bama.

 

Texas (6-2) at Texas Tech (6-2)

The pick:  Texas Tech (-6.5)

The track:  Bright Lights by Gary Clark Jr.

Gary Clark Jr. is undoubtedly a powerful and exciting talent when it comes to the blues.  This man plays the blues with a fury that at times seems like it was inherited directly from the Delta swamps in Robert Johnson’s neighborhood.  His live shows are already approaching a must-see status at this relatively early point in his career.  One of the things that has afflicted other talented guitarists in the past is translating their live energy to studio records.  Clark’s new album Blak and Blu displays some of that difficulty in its diverse genre-hopping, but the good thing for Clark is that there are some songs that bring his searing blues-rock attitude to the forefront.  “Bright Lights” is one of them.

 

Denver (4-3) at Cincinnati (3-4)

The pick:  Broncos (-6)

The track:  Danse Caribe by Andrew Bird

 

Tampa Bay (3-4) at Oakland (3-4)

The pick:  Tampa Bay (+1)

The track:  Secret Days by School of Seven Bells

 

Minnesota (5-3) at Seattle (4-4)

The pick: Seattle (-4)

The track:  The Ballad of El Goodo by Big Star

 

 

 

 

Last Week’s Record:  3-3

Overall Record:  28-24