Tag Archives: Kendrick Lamar

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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Hot Routes: Week Nine

26 Oct

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 Nine

Due to some extracurricular activities going on this week at Dan Swanky’s, this version of Hot Routes will be a bit shorter than usual.  There’s no need to worry – you’re still getting the hot tunes that can soundtrack the victory parties you’ll throw after these picks work themselves out.

A couple of quick notes for this week:

Kendrick Lamar’s new album good kid, m.A.A.d city is represented in these track selections for good reason.  It’s one of the best hip-hop albums of the past several years, and is both an excellent homage to classic West Coast gangsta rap, and a crazily unique foray into new sonic territory.  Don’t just listen to one track here and there – go all in.

This is a proving weekend for a few teams that could be competing for the National Championship in a couple of months.  Alabama gets its first semi-test, and while I think they’ll win, I don’t think they’ll smash Miss. State as they have other teams.  USC is coming in at only -6.5 in Arizona, and I expect them to continue the improvement they’ve shown in recent games.  They’re getting a lot better, and Arizona is not.  Lastly, Florida seems to be riding a bit too high right now, and while I didn’t pick their game below, I think there’s a sneaky potential for Georgia to pull off an upset.  But don’t hold me to it.

USC (6-1) at Arizona (4-3)

The pick:  USC (-6.5)

The track:  Thriller (DiscoTech Remix) by Michael Jackson

Notre Dame (7-0) at Oklahoma (5-1)

The pick:  Oklahoma (-12)

The track:  So Good To Me by Chris Malinchak

Mississippi State (7-0) at Alabama (7-0)

The pick:  Mississippi State (+24)

The track:  Money Trees by Kendrick Lamar

Seattle (4-3) at Detroit (2-4)

The pick:  Seattle (+2.5)

The track:  Don’t You Evah by Spoon

New York Giants (5-2) at Dallas (3-3)

The pick:  New York (-2.5)

The track:  The Keeper (Banks Remix) by Bonobo

New Orleans (2-4) at Denver (3-3)

The pick: Denver (-6)

The track:  Graveyard Girl by M83

Last Week’s Record:  4-2

Overall Record:  25-21

Hot Routes: Week Eight

20 Oct

 

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 Eight

 

Baylor (3-2) at Texas (4-2)

The pick:  Baylor (+8.5)

The track:  Fucking Problems by A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, Drake & Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar was all over the interwebs this week, and his new album doesn’t even drop until next Tuesday.  This isn’t anything to complain about, however – his wordy, fluid rhymes and eccentric musical tastes are an energizing new force in hip-hop.  Kendrick started building buzz based on his affiliation with Dr. Dre, but the strength of his last album and the early buzz on his new one is pointing towards a big breakout in his own right.  With that breakout comes a recognized acceptance into the ‘young elite’ club of today’s hip-hop world, and “Fucking Problem” is a showcase for some prominent members of said club.  While fellow breakout star A$AP Rocky gets the top billing on the song, Kendrick, Drake and elder statesman 2 Chainz all get their chance to shine over a beat that draws out some of their top-drawer efforts.

 

South Carolina (6-1) at Florida (6-0)

The pick:  South Carolina (+3.5)

The track:  Me and My Shadow by M. Ward

A potentially major issue in this game is Marcus Lattimore’s health – if he can’t go, then the Gamecocks might be starting at a disadvantage.  If he can go though, I think this is going to be a hard-fought game that stays within 3 points.  The Ball Coach will have his team ready for a fight in The Swamp, and even though they just lost to LSU, I think S.C. will play Florida tougher than LSU did.

 

Kansas State (6-0) at West Virginia (5-1)

The pick:  Kansas State (+2.5)

The track:  The Page by Chromatics

It was surprising to see this line come out in favor of West Virginia after the embarrassment laid on them last week at Texas Tech.  Sure, the Mountaineers  are now at home, where they can draw upon the lusty, booze-fueled rage of the Mountaineer faithful.  But some home-field momentum can’t fix a defense that hasn’t stopped anyone all season, and Kansas State’s defense most likely picked up some valuable tips from Texas Tech on how to slow down WVU’s vaunted offense.  Kansas State has the edge here, and should send the Holgorsen Mullets to their second straight defeat.

 

Arizona (4-2) at Minnesota (4-2)

The pick:  Minnesota (-6.5)

The track:  So Many Details by Toro y Moi

On his new track, Toro Y Moi maintains some of his signature sound – laid-back funky electro and spacey croon – while also pushing things in an expansive, moody and interesting new direction.  Electronic squiggles and guitar loops float in and out of a beat that takes its sweet time building up to an emotional climax in step with the brooding lyrics.  When everything winds down in a swirl of drum beats, you’re left wondering what it was you just listened to – and why it sounded so strangely compelling.

 

Green Bay (3-3) at St. Louis (3-3)

The pick:  Green Bay (-5)

The track:  Poetic Justice by Kendrick Lamar feat. Drake

Aaron Rodgers submitted the “Fuck You” game that many expected last week, and it succeeded in putting a reeling Packers team back on track after a rough start.  The Pack looked great last week, and while the excitement from that fired-up win should be tempered going into this Sunday, the newfound confidence of Rodgers’ offense should be feared by the Rams.  St. Louis has played decently at home this year, but if Green Bay is anywhere close to the level they were at against the Texans (which they should be) this game is not going to be within a touchdown.

 

Pittsburgh (2-3) at Cincinnati (3-3)

The pick: Cincinnati (+1)

The track:  It Gets Dark by Holy Ghost!

I’m not sure if it was intentional, but it’s suitable that Holy Ghost! released their newest single around Halloween.  This track features the same energetic, expansive new disco sound that made HG!’s debut album so compelling, while also adding in a dark, menacing tone that lends a great edge to everything.  It’s a little bit of Thriller by way of LCD Soundsystem.

 

 

 

Last Week’s Record:  4-2

Overall Record:  21-19