Tag Archives: Channel Orange

A Swanky 2012: Part One

21 Dec

[For an Introduction to A Swanky 2012, go here.]

 

The Bowl:  Las Vegas Bowl – Washington v. Boise State 

The Pick:  UW (+5)

The Album:  Blunderbuss by Jack White

Considering he was the predominant musical decision-maker in The White Stripes, it wasn’t too surprising that Jack White continued the musical themes of later Stripes’ albums on his first official solo release, Blunderbuss.  As the Stripes progressed through their discography, they moved from a messy, primitive version of blues-rock to more layered and polished songs that brought in instruments like pianos and xylophones to round out the sound and take things in new directions.  Blunderbuss is an extension of that well-rounded approach to rock and roll.

On Blunderbuss, Jack still has his signature guitar wail jumping around on tracks, but he also relies heavily on touches like pianos, fiddles, and slide guitars.  The result is an album that traffics in lush country and blues sounds, with more progressive and swelling musical moments than sporadic and frenetic ones.

Not that there’s a total lack of the sneering and balls-out electric attack that White made his name on – “Sixteen Saltines” and “Freedom at 21” in particular offer up a pure rock attitude that few other releases this year could consistently rival.  On the whole, Blunderbuss lives up to its name, with its emphasis on grandiose, powerful, and vintage musical touches.  What makes it a great record is that it also maintains an immediate and contemporary feeling – the deep emotions and energy pulsing underneath the music make an impact even if you don’t happen to be listening on your vintage record player.

 

The Bowl:  Pinstripe Bowl – West Virginia v. Syracuse

The Pick:  WVU (-4)

The Album:  good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar

Defining a ‘hip-hop album of the year’ is a trickier proposition than a lot of other musical genres.  The criteria that a ‘best album’ must meet depends on what side a listener comes down on a variety of different aesthetic arguments – the value of an independent release versus one from a major label, the value of lyrical content versus lyrical flow, the value of the beats’ production versus the value of the artists’ wordplay over said beats.  Different value decisions on arguments like these can greatly affect how someone perceives the overall strength or weakness of a particular hip-hop record.

Taking many of these value arguments into account, Kendrick’s good kid is the rare record that is an album of the year contender across the board.  Facing improbably high expectations as the supposed savior of West Coast hip-hop, especially after a public co-sign by the good Dr. Dre himself, Kendrick rose to the occasion by doing something many others before him had failed to do – he expanded his sound and opened his music to a wider audience without compromising the unique and singular artistic voice inside him.

Make that voices, actually.  Borrowing a page from Biggie’s book, Kendrick stretches his vocals all over good kid, delivering a wordy, mesmerizing lyrical flow in several different registers and time signatures.  The result is a breathlessly talented vocal performance, and one that backs up all the flash of the style with actual substance.  Kendrick pinwheels between entertaining tales of street life and haunting inner dialogues, pondering where he can find a compromise between an enlightened social consciousness and the hard-edged street mentality that’s glorified by his peers.

There’s not really a dull or uninspired moment on the record, with Kendrick indulging his jazz influences by taking songs in entirely unexpected yet brilliant new sonic directions.  And in the end, he manages to embrace, deconstruct, and elevate the West Coast hip-hop legacy that he was tasked to salvage.  On that front in particular, all you need to do is listen to “m.A.A.d city” – all the way through the insanely great 6-second instrumental coda that pours a 40 out in Eazy-E’s memory – and you know that the West Coast, and hip-hop as a whole, is in good hands.

 

The Bowl:  Alamo Bowl – Texas v. Oregon State

The Pick:  OSU (-2)

The Albumchannel ORANGE by Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean’s major-label debut was surrounded by a heady buzz before its release, due in large part to his public honesty about a past relationship with a man.  Once channel ORANGE dropped however, the music itself pushed everything aside as the only discussion point worth mentioning.  The album is a lush, seductive, and compulsively listenable showcase of Frank’s considerable talents.

Frank’s voice and accompanying production can sound a lot like Stevie Wonder at times, and ORANGE also sounds a lot like vintage Stevie at several points when it finds the sweet spot between getting spiritual and getting weird.  There are the earnest odes to past, current, and hopefully future lovers, and then there are esoteric excursions into whatever universal headspace Frank is concerned with at the time.

The soundscape of ORANGE is constantly shifting, and just when something like the proggy R&B of “Pyramids” starts to get too close to self-indulgent territory, a tightly wound piece of funky soul like “Lost” will get things moving forward again.  The most striking aspect of ORANGE  is arguably Frank’s gift for crafting and delivering vocal hooks, and when those hooks are put together with his voice, it’s a lethal combination.  “Thinking About You” is a perfect example of the rest of the record – it slinks into your head and doesn’t leave until you’ve heard it enough times to be convinced that Franks’ falsetto is your own.

 

The Bowl:  Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl – TCU v. Michigan State

The Pick:  TCU (-2.5)

The Album:  Fear Fun by Father John Misty

Hearing a beautifully melodic voice over a quietly strumming guitar deliver an opening lyric of “Pour me another drink / and punch me in the face / you can call me Nancy” was one of the most pleasurable listening experiences in 2012.  That piece of music and subsequent response can accurately sum up the rest of Father John Misty’s debut album, Fear Fun. 

FJM frontman Josh Tillman was introduced to the music world as the drummer of the Fleet Foxes, and he brings some of that group’s musical aesthetic choices to his new project.  There’s some of that vintage, folksy sound, the powerful yet delicate vocals, the use of choral-esqe harmonizing.  Outside of those similarities, however, the music of FJM takes a hard left from the classical, introspective, and straight-faced earnestness of Fleet Foxes.  Instead, we get a wicked sense of humor and dry, gleeful tales of overindulgent debauchery.

If you happen to catch a glimpse of an FJM live performance, you can get a pretty clear image of what Tillman’s getting at with this group.  There’s a serious band dynamic, and a clear love of the music they’re making – the soaring, almost achingly beautiful moments that FJM can hit have some real emotion coursing through them.  And then at the same time, there’s Tillman in the front, slyly smiling and unable to stop from slowly sashaying his hips to the groove as he drops one-liner after one-liner.  It’s rootsy, folkish rock music from a too-smart-for-his-own-good troubadour.  And it’s great enough to stand on its own as much more than just a big band side project.

 

The Bowl:  Chick-fil-A Bowl – Clemson v. LSU

The Pick:  LSU (-4)

The Album:  Young Hunger by Chad Valley

Chad Valley wears his musical influences loudly and proudly.  R & B and power pop from the 80s and 90s are embraced, dressed up, given beats to play with, and then left loose to dance all over Young Hunger.  The result is an album that sounds vaguely familiar, yet wholly unique at the same time.  Valley’s high-register vocals underscore the sensitive and lovelorn subjects and emotions his lyrics typically cover, and the earnest sentimentality of many tracks may turn off some of the more cynical listeners out there.

Underneath the shiny exterior, however, lay some funky grooves that hit somewhere deeper.  It’s here where Young Hunger becomes more than just a bedroom-produced homage to some music geek’s beloved genre classics.  Valley brings in some of indie music’s more promising new faces, and they help him build hook on top of hook before setting things off on inspired melodic runs.

Young Hunger will lure you in and lull you to a trance on the soft bed of Valley’s vocals and warm production.  Before you realize it, he’s locked you in, and the beats start getting a little more dynamic.  At that point, it’s only a matter of time before you’re out on the dancefloor, professing your love right along with him.

 

Part Two of A Swanky 2012 Coming Soon…

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Personal Soundtrack

16 Jun

The Song

Pyramids by Frank Ocean

 

With “Pyramids”Frank Ocean pushes beyond the sonic and temporal constraints of the standard R&B song and reaches for an epic scale.  Over the course of it’s nearly ten-minute running time, “Pyramids” journeys from the nightclub, to the night streets, to the bedroom, to Africa, to the pyramids, to a fantastical land populated by Cleopatra and cheetahs – all on the back of Frank’s silky smooth voice.

As the subject matter of the lyrics shifts, so too does the musical style and tone of the beat and vocals.  Early on in the song, a pulsing electronic hook takes over for a few moments, and it’s an early sign that this is not your typical down-tempo track.  This part of the beat wouldn’t sound out of place on a straightforward house track, but in “Pyramids” there’s something about it that’s mysterious, echoing, and expansive.  As if it were sounding out in the desert night.

The best part of the song comes near the halfway mark, when Frank shifts into a vocal style that’s very near to rapping.  Lyrical hooks come fast and furious, and the whole thing sounds as if the narrator of Usher’s “Nice & Slow” dropped E and went to the club instead of driving straight to pick up his lady.

It’s easy to make comparisons between the smooth voices of Usher and Frank Ocean, but the awesomely weird self-indulgence of “Pyramids” does a lot to set Mr. Ocean apart as a wholly unique artist.  With this song, Frank creates a track that doesn’t sound like anything else out there.  This is not a radio-ready track, even though there are sections of the song that could theoretically be cut and edited and released to popular acclaim on your local Hot 100 station.  No, this is a deep album cut, an artistic statement that showcases Frank’s beautiful croon, his ear for sneaky hooks, and his weird, freaky sensibilities.  “Pyramids” not only sets the stage for Frank’s full album, Channel Orange, dropping next month, but it also raises the appeal of catching him live.  Will he turn “Pyramids” into a 20-minute long showstopper?  Wouldn’t be surprised.

The Activity

“Mmmm.  B, where you going?”

“What?  Go back to sleep, baby.  I’m not going anywhere.”

“Fuck that.  I can see you in the mirror.  You just put your panties back on.  Those cheetah print ones I got you.”

“Oh, honey.  I’m sorry.  You caught me.  But I need to go.”

“What?  Where?  You can’t just leave like that.  Especially after what just went down in here.”

“Mmm.  Yeah.  But I really need to go.”

“Well, fuck.  Where are you going?  And what time is it?

“It’s almost midnight.  And don’t worry bout where I’m going.  I just gotta take care of something.  I’ll see you soon.”

“Whoa.  Slow up.  Are those six-inch heels you’re putting on?  Oh, fuck, babe, really?  The Pyramids?  I thought you were done there.”

“Frankie, baby, I’m sorry.  But you know how it is.  I have an obligation.  He’s the pharaoh.  As in The Pharaoh.  I thought you understood that.”

“Babe, there’s no reason you have to leave.  You’re with me now.  Fuck that Pharaoh title.  Listen to that jazz playing.  I got rubies in my damn chain.  My bills paid.  My whip ain’t go no gas tank, but so what?

“Frank, don’t do this.  I gotta go.”

“Fine.  I’m running a bath.  If you’re not back in an hour I’ll find someone else to share it with.”

“Frank!”

“I’m done with this conversation.”

“Don’t be like this.  I’ll see you later.  Okay?”

“Air guitar.”

[Door Slams]

“WhoaaOhhhhhhhhh…………”