April 2015: Here’s What You Missed

Lots of great music released this April! Unfortunately, the new Passion Pit album was a bit of a flop, but Blur, Built to Spill, San Fermin, and Joywave all released fantastic records. We also saw some new Tame Impala and RATATAT, which was a very nice surprise. The new Alabama Shakes album is getting quite a bit of buzz, but it hasn’t quite clicked for me yet. The playlist is just under an hour, but here are a few songs that I think you need to hear:

Tame Impala – Cause I’m A Man

Joywave – Carry Me

RATATAT – Cream on Chrome

Heartless Bastards – Gates of Dawn

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Who to Catch on the Festival Circuit: Sylvan Esso

Planning on going to Summerfest this year? Of course you are if you’re from Wisconsin! Or maybe you’re making a little trip to Eaux Claires for a Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner curated festival? Or maybe even traveling to Lollapalooza, Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, or Firefly? Regardless of where you’re going, you do not want to miss electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso at these fests.

Based out of North Carolina, Amelia Meath (from indie folk band Mountain Main) and Nick Sanborn (from psychedelic folk band Megafauna) combine to form Sylvan Esso. After initially collaborating on “Play It Right,” the duo felt inspired to make more music together. They released a self-titled album in May of 2014, played Jimmy Fallon in July, and have continued to pick up steam as they have become a staple for the festival circuit this summer.

Most recently, they recorded a Tiny Desk Concert with NPR Music (which obviously makes them legit right?), and it is AWESOME. Check it out!

The stripped down nature of the music itself captures Meath’s vocals. As a result, her vocals guide the listener throughout Sylvan Esso’s performance and the album. However, the vocals could not be highlighted Sanborn’s elegant and ambient production.

An interesting element to the music is that the album gives off a rather relaxing vibe, while the duo revealed an ability to raise energy and build a faster tempo in the Tiny Desk Concert. Essentially, Sylvan Esso shows a potential for versatility in their live shows between lower/chiller vibes and more upbeat dance music. This versatility will make for an intriguing live show to experience.

Check out their whole album on Spotify! It makes for great homework music.

March 2015: Here’s What You Missed

WOW! March was a great time for music this year. With album releases from the likes of Modest Mouse, Kendrick Lamar, Death Cab for Cutie, Sufjan Stevens, Purity Ring, and Action Bronson, it was a challenge to keep up with the new tunes.

Here are some of my personal favorite tracks from the month:

“Wesley’s Theory” by Kendrick Lamar – you can see my track breakdown HERE.

“flood on the floor” by Purity Ring – Easily my favorite track off of the record. It evokes a pretty dark vibe, which tends to be somewhat rare with electronic music. At the same time, it packs a punch of emotion.

“Dreams” by Husbands – I had only heard of this band thanks to someone on Reddit, but their record has quickly become one of my favorites for the year. They’re based out of France, so it is a bit more challenging to find information about them, but you can hear their whole album on Spotify. They have yet to burst out into the bigger indie scene, but I think they have the potential to do so if they get more name recognition in the United States.

“The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” by Death Cab for Cutie – This record was probably my most anticipated of the year, and I have really been enjoying it so far. In all, it is nothing incredibly new for Death Cab, but their approach is already successful, so they do not need to change their recipe all too much.

“Vertigo” by Mini Mansions – This is a track off of Mini Mansions’ new album The Great Pretenders. The song features Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, which provides a darker tone to the song. At the same time, the harmonization and guitar work meshes with this dark tone to create a neat psychedelic sound. They’ll be on tour with Tame Impala, so hopefully you will be able to catch them too!

Thanks for reading!

Track Breakdown: “Wesley’s Theory” by Kendrick Lamar

Released just a week ago, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is already in contention to be one of the best albums of the year. “Wesley’s Theory,” the opening track, serves as a microcosm for the entire album. It is incredibly complex and multi-faceted in terms of themes and sounds, and I cannot get enough of it. Although I am a huge fan of the album, this song hits particularly hard. It has been my personal favorite from the album so far.

Purely from a sonic standpoint, “Wesley’s Theory” sets the tone for the record. It brings the funk and the energy, while including an excellent usage of sampling. In another aspect, the George Clinton feature signifies the importance of funk in the album. Perhaps more importantly, his feature stresses the cultural relevance of To Pimp A Butterfly. Funk music’s roots in African American pride and individualism reveal why George Clinton’s feature is so significant. So, it is clear that the presence of funk on the record emphasizes the importance of African American pride.

Interestingly enough, George Clinton (and Parliament Funkadelic) songs were used extensively by Dr. Dre for sampling, particularly on The Chronic. Both artists were featured on this track, which brings the relationship between each other full circle.

Back to content of the song itself – the track utilizes a sample that correlates with a greater theme of pride, which is highlighted in “i,” a track near the end of the album. It also examines the caterpillar/butterfly metaphor for which the album is named. There is some explanation to the metaphor in the last track “Mortal Man,” if you are interested in looking more into it.

George Clinton then introduces us to the album: “When the four corners of this cocoon collide, You’ll slip through the cracks hoping that you’ll survive; Gather your wind, Are you really who they idolize?, To pimp a butterfly.” Although there are infinite interpretations of what this metaphor means, I think there is one fundamental idea behind it. This is the thought that we need to examine ourselves as people to see if our unique skills and qualities are being “pimped.” Kendrick uses this metaphor to examine himself to see if he is simply being used by the music industry. good kid, m.A.A.d city was filled with deep tracks that ended up being radio and party hits (“Swimming Pools” comes to mind). In a way, some of his songs that had a lot of meaning were watered down to just another song on the radio. This may be a reason why he took such a different direction with To Pimp A Butterfly.

All of the above occurs before the first verse even hits! The first verse looks back at the time before Kendrick was signed to a major label and really made it big. Before good kid, m.A.A.d city. Not long after, Dre comes in and hits Kendrick with a reality check regarding the difficulty to stay relevant. Here he acknowledges that everyone is expecting something big from him to follow up GKMC. To do this, he crafted an album that is nearly impossible to compare good kid, m.A.A.d city.

Perhaps the most significant part of the second verse is this line, which is seemingly coming from Uncle Sam: “And when you hit the White House do you, but remember you ain’t pass economics in school; And everything you buy, taxes will deny, I’ll Wesley Snipes your ass before 35.”

Clearly, this is where the title of the song comes from. For those unaware, Wesley Snipes is an African American actor who has become much more known for his tax evasion. This line examines a greater theme in Kendrick’s music: the lack of education and generally harsh living conditions of African Americans still permeate their lives, despite being successful.

Another important factor is that Uncle Sam, a symbol of patriotism, independence, and America, is the one reciting the second verse. This factor introduces a harsh reality about the United States. We have a perception that we live in a country that offers anyone the opportunity to succeed, but certain living conditions make this American Dream impossible for many, many people. Even someone who manages to be successful, such as Wesley Snipes, still end ups in financial trouble ultimately because of initial living conditions.

I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of this song, let alone all of To Pimp A Butterfly. Regardless of the record’s place in the grand scheme of music or hip-hop, at the very least it poses questions about who we are as people and the kind of world in which we live. This song in particular reminds us to examine ourselves to see if we are being “pimped” and that the American Dream is not attainable just because you live in the United States.

February 2015: Here’s What You Missed

Hey all! I’m back at the blogging game, whether you like it or not! I’m going to try to be a bit more consistent this time around, but we’ll see how that turns out. Just to start off, I made a playlist of new tracks released in February. Some are songs that will be included on albums released this March, but I avoided repeating artists to get a decent mix. Enjoy!