As a troubled youth with an anarchic streak and an interest in punk rock, I found a home in the Grand Rapids DIY community. Here, I fell in love with house shows and hung out with a lot of kids who dressed in all black. I love this city, but the problem is: when you stay in one spot for too long, you forget what you have. It can be hard to remember that most towns don’t have the opportunity to see live music. Having only lived in Grand Rapids my whole life, I saw the same people play in the same bands for years. In this limited worldview, I observed what I felt was a homogenous aesthetic develop.
Vaporwave, at its core, is the amalgamation of three feelings: One: Tranquility, as rain envelopes a small Japanese town wherein slumbering anxiety leaves you shielded away from the over-stimulation of city life. Kyoto glistens from out a small balcony; you dissect its radiance and solemnly breathe cigarette smoke between the echoes of passing cars and an occasional “meow” from the neighboring alleyway. Two: Nostalgia, and the fast-paced hyper-consumerism culture of the '90s that violently, perhaps too passionately, celebrated itself. Elevator music, Kmart shopping sounds, crudely drawn Saturday morning cartoons, that blue and purple pattern on paper cups that never happened to die. The birth of the personal computer, modern technology’s baby steps, the shallow, clip-art graphic design: artwork and sounds that would go on to be slaved and sundered by niche teenagers in 2015. Three: Greek busts and statues.
When a band releases their breakout album, they must face the question that all musical artists face in this situation: "Do I stick to the sound that won me all these accolades, or continue to reinvent myself?" In my opinion the truly great bands continue to reinvent their sound, even after achieving enormous amounts of fame. Artists like Arcade Fire or Kanye West consistently bring something new with every single release. For me though, Wilco stand out due to the fact that they have been reinventing themselves from day one. Spanning ten studio albums, one live album, and three collaborations with singer/songwriter Billy Bragg, Wilco’s discography reveals a band constantly evolving. When listened to chronologically, the albums illustrate them growing up, slowly maturing into the pivotal group they have become. It is impossible to discuss Wilco in any way without addressing the mastermind behind it all, lead singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy.
There comes a time in every music blog’s life where the impending Radiohead article breaks loose from its shackles and makes itself known. Amongst hundreds of other expositions that detail the band’s mastery, I assure you this piece is no more worthy than the poetry of a 10th grader who just listened to “Hail to the Thief” for the first time. Oh, the merciless Radiohead phase. It strikes when your eyes are closed, and has a bad habit of lingering over the course of a lifetime. It comes around to afflict almost everyone that habitually listens to music, and there’s something to be said about that in particular: they’re a group of artists that have made anguish very popular. For over two decades, they’ve been extracting every last possible ounce of heartache and hopelessness so professionally that it’s hard to call them overrated. Even though I believe they very much are.
It has been seven years since Jamiroquai released an album, and no doubt they were looking to improve on the fairly mediocre reviews for that last one: Rock Dust Light Star. In the years that've elapsed since, the world has changed quite a lot. Automation has been increasing and unemployment rates have soared due to companies relying on machinery instead of manpower. Naturally, Automaton focuses on this threat and at the same time presents a soundtrack to a dystopian world, integrated with robotic life that we could come to see in the near future. Does this album prove to be a psychic prediction of the future, or as misguided as Back to the Future’s expectations of 2015?
In the build-up of their new record, Taylor Kirk, lead singer of Timber Timbre, stated: “the tone and result on the record is utter chaos and confusion”. This in itself is not all that surprising. Ever since the Canadian band first released music in 2005, they have consistently conjured music that chills the nerves and heightens the senses. It’s like a lullaby that soothes one into a state of relaxation, unaware that a giant spider watches over them, waiting patiently. Their last two records Creep on Creepin' On and Hot Dreams, established the group as one of indie rock's most unique and terrifying acts.
Watching indie-experimental rock band Palm reminds me of the time I was strung to the back of a horse-drawn carriage tumbling down a desert mesa at the break of sunrise. That never happened, but I may as well have those experiences now. They wield rhythm like a halberd charging into battle, and never lose the groove despite abusing it with manic changes and lush melodies. Initially, I wasn’t going to write about them, but their performance left a profound impression on me. Headed by vocalist-guitarists Kasra Kurt and Eva Alpert, and strengthed by drummer Hugo Stanley and Gerasimos Livitanos on bass, the group is a force to be reckoned with. When they’re not occupied with feeling like they’re not.
Before Sub-Pop reached out to the Lobo regarding LVL Up’s show at Santa Fe’s illustrious Meow Wolf exhibition, I was admittedly blind to what I agreed to. LVL UP? An apathetic lo-fi indie rock band from New York comprised of two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer? With the name LVL UP. Really breaking new ground here boys.
The universe is a cold, unforgiving, arbitrarily chaotic, often very cruel sonuvabitch. I’ve used the album whenever the above statement has truly resonated with me, to remind myself of the terrible truth of existence – the universe is, in fact, a cold, unforgiving, arbitrarily chaotic, often very cruel sonuvabitch. Josh Tillman has followed up the critically acclaimed I Love You, Honeybear with Pure Comedy, a fantastic, seventy-five-minute journey through love, life, and the human condition. Honeybear was among the most acclaimed albums of 2015, appearing in almost everyone’s top two (I’d say top one were it not for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly), and for good reason, too.
Few genres of music manage to soundtrack the world quite like post-rock. A mixture of classical, jazz, rock, and a myriad of other styles, post-rock’s finest qualities can best be described in one word: cinematic. The music begs to be put behind a courageous hero as he confidently marches into certain death. It is made to accompany agonized souls as they grieve over lost loved ones. It begins as the first sparks of sunlight peek through your window on a Sunday morning. It transforms even the most mundane moments of life into vivid portrayals of human existence. The history of post-rock can be divided into two chapters: the 1990’s and 21st century. The former, when the genre was still in its infancy, was much more minimalistic in its approach.
The idea was probably conceived on a lonely Tuesday afternoon, after two glasses of zinfandel and a lengthy read through whichever Terry Pratchett novel was on the most convenient side of the shelf that day: Electronic music with swords. Ladies and gentlemen, you thought you’d seen it all when Amon Tobin debuted his projection-mapped stage for the ISAM 2012 tour. Or perhaps when Pendulum reunited to headline Ultra last year, that was it. “I’m throwing in the towel,” exclaimed a satisfied amalgamation of music enthusiasts, certain the best had sailed away faster than a confused monkey on the back of an accelerating 747.
“A Crow Looked At Me” is a masterpiece, but one that I wish didn’t have to exist. On 9 July 2016, Geneviéve Castrée, singer of Ô Paon and author of graphic memoir, "Susceptible," was killed by pancreatic cancer. She left behind her husband of thirteen years and their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Her husband, now a young widower and single parent, did the one thing he could to impede the sorrow: write and record the album, “A Crow Looked At Me,” which stands as an incredible monument to their love. Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie, The Microphones) is best known for his 2001 magnum opus, “The Glow, Pt. 2,” a lush, mysterious artifact which once won online magazine Pitchfork’s coveted Album of the Year title. But this latest release strips Elverum of his enormous musical and lyrical vocabulary.
Sunshine Theater played host last week to a brief but righteous concert by Alaska's favorite alternative-blues-chill-vibe-hip-hop-rock quintet Portugal. The Man. Despite falling trap to Danger Mouse's music box in 2013, Portugal established themselves unique by having an profound work ethic (releasing an album almost every year since 2006) and utilizing melodies so catchy that ramming one's head into a brick wall may just be the only way to free oneself from their grasp.
The Neighborhood House is beautiful, but anonymously so. Built in Grand Rapid’s quiet Eastown neighborhood by early 20th century Dutch immigrants, it stands small and unassuming in white and green. At the time of its construction, handsome streetcars ran just a street across on Wealthy, sending weekenders to ride rollercoasters and ferries on Reed’s Lake. This was long before General Motors paid the city to demolish the streetcars after the war, long before the white flight of the ‘60s, and the gang wars of the ‘90s, and the ongoing white gentrification of the 2010s.
It’s no secret that Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day have an active political voice. “American Idiot,” the title track on the group’s 2004 album explicitly states, “I’m not part of a redneck agenda.” This was back in 2004during the Bush administration, so you could imagine how the band feels now. Following the presidential election in November, the band performed a song off their new album “Revolution Radio,” “Bang Bang,” at the American Music Awards. Vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong tweaked the lyrics and repeatedly chanted, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!” This after the KKK had endorsed the president-elect.
On his second album, the California-based garage rock musician Ty Segall puts together an album that serves less as a venture into new territory than as a comprehensive culmination of his music to this point, jumping genres at the drop of a hat. I don’t know how Segall has time to sleep. He spends so much time recording and putting out album after album under the Ty Segall name and touring said music, in addition to his vast collection of side projects and bands. He is without a doubt among indie rock’s most prolific songwriters.
Western Massachusetts band Within the Ruins has come a long way from their massive, rhythmic metal albums of the early 2000s. With each new record they’ve released, the group has made strides in the genre, transforming a brutal deathcore atmosphere into melodic and highly technical progressive metal. Their most recent release, “Halfway Human,” sees the band exploring unfamiliar territory with old techniques to forge an album that, while true to style, incorporates the risks and experiments they’ve taken throughout their musical career.
Ever since the release of “+” in 2011, Ed Sheeran has emerged as a profoundly influential solo artist. Coming from his humble roots as a travelling musician in England to filling stadiums around the globe, Sheeran has earned fame with his earnest songwriting style and unique “one-man band” performances, but it’s his studio albums that showcase his true creative potential. Last week, Sheeran released “÷," the highly anticipated follow-up to 2014’s “X.” He took his creative process in a new direction this time around.
Real quick, right off the bat: This album is messed up, man. You are guaranteed to have never heard anything like it. On that fact alone, it’s worth your time. British experimental funk-pop producer Clarence Clarity released his debut album “No Now” two years ago in March 2015. This debut release was preceded by two extended plays: “Who Am Eye” in 2014 and “Save Thyself” in 2013, both of which showcased Clarity’s skewed, genre-bending production aesthetic. Clarence is a relatively new addition to the record label Bella Union, the same house that promotes artists like folk aesthetes Fleet Foxes, post-rock titans Explosions in the Sky and the electro-washed pop act Beach House.
The agony and helplessness of “The Queen of Camelot” would not have haunted the audience without the painlessly hopeful sounds orchestrated by Mica Levi in “Jackie.” The giddy limerence between Sebastian and Mia would not have had viewers dancing in their seats, at least not without the same romantic, calculated beats, if not for the involement of Justin Hurwitz in “La La Land.” As for “Lion,” Saroo’s journey couldn't have been a cultural phenomenon if not for the tragic, yet promising theme, spearheading the rest of the alluring soundtrack.