Settle

disclosure 

2013 is shaping up to be a freakishly great year for dance music. The Knife released their first album in seven years. The compilation After Dark Part 2 brought amazing Italian house to America. Major Lazer continued to expand what we think of as dance music. But all of this seems to be overshadowed by one release. Random Access Memories has been out for a few weeks now, and it still stands up to scrutiny. “Get Lucky” is the song of the year so far, and Daft Punk has been dominating the radio. To be fair, there is a reason for this.  Random Access Memories is an instant classic, redefining Daft Punk and proving that dance music doesn’t always have to sound like the future. Instead,  Random Access Memories revels in the past, taking huge influences from disco and other old-school dance styles. It seems like RAM is the future of electronic music, and if it is, then I am perfectly alright with that.

It would be very hard for anybody to predict that Disclosure’s Settle could compete with any of the big names in dance music. As two brothers from England who claim to take influence from Burial and Joy Orbison, it doesn’t seem like they’re bringing anything remotely new or exciting to the dance music mix. England has seen its fair share of incredible dance music debuts in the past few years, but none of them have really managed to stick around. However, Disclosure looks to change things up.

What separates Settle from other typical dance music fare is the same thing that separates Random Access Memories. Instead of looking forward for inspiration, Disclosure has looked backwards. Yet while Daft Punk looked towards the seventies and eighties, Disclosure does not go back so far. Disclosure’s closest comparison is Basement Jaxx. Hopefully this doesn’t turn anybody off, because it is fair to admit that Jaxx took a very steep downhill turn after 2001’s Rooty. Instead, this is much closer to earlier Basement Jaxx efforts, in that Disclosure has a real knack for the pop hook. Settle has some great guest spots, with some of Britain’s greatest up and coming artists delivering amazing melodies and hooks throughout the album.

What makes Settle so listenable is the fact that Disclosure knows how to put together an album. Unlike far to many dance artists, Disclosure are experts of pacing. The first true track on Settle is a club banger called “When A Fire Starts to Burn”. Throughout the album, Disclosure explores various dance music sub-genres, from trap, to dubstep, to house, to everything in between. The album is never boring or tedious, a feat few dance albums can claim. While there is never anything as deep and emotional as “Giorgio by Morodor” or “Touch”, Disclosure never even pretends to try and make a Daft Punk inspired album. Instead, the brothers make the most fun, dance-able, and listenable dance album in a very long time.

It is hard not to compare Settle and Random Access Memories. The two albums were released around the same time, and, at least on paper, are made for the same audience. However, the comparison between Disclosure and Daft Punk is not a fair one to make. If you’re looking for an album that is full of fun, poppy, dance music, then RAM is not the album for you (other than “Get Lucky” that is). Instead, one should try out Settle. While Daft Punk may make some of the most expansive, meaningful electronic music of the year, Disclosure is making a very similar style of music with more pop flair. In fact, I’d be willing to say Settle has much fewer misses than RAM. Settle is as close to a perfect dance record I’ve heard in a very long while.

Kingdom Crumbs

kingdom crumbs

 

The past few years have seen a revolution in Seattle hip-hop. And no, I’m not talking about Macklemore and the insane popularity of “Thrift Shop”. Instead, the real Seattle hip-hop revolution is happening with groups like Shabazz Palaces, Thee Satisfaction, and the Cloud Nice record label. While Macklemore may be proving to the world that Seattle does in fact have a hip-hop scene, these artists are proving that Seattle hip-hop is not just poppy songs about going to the Goodwill.

Cloud Nice is an independent record label found in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. The label is one of the strongest Seattle hip-hop labels out there right now, and Kingdom Crumbs is their poster child. The group consists of Tay Sean, Mikey Nice, Jarv Dee, and Jerm D, four rappers and producers who call Cloud Nice home. As opposed to bigger area names like Shabazz Palaces or Fresh Espresso, Cloud Nice is a much better model of the Seattle hip-hop aesthetic. Everything is built in-house, with the rappers playing just as key a role in the production as anyone else. Cloud Nice uses a self-described DIY approach, with great success.

Seattle has a history of making music that is counter to the main-stream. When arena rock was getting huge we had Nirvana. When garage rock was becoming popular we had Fleet Foxes. Kingdom Crumbs and Seattle hip-hop in general is no different. While much of modern rap is known for bravado and is very in-your-face (ie. Lex Luger, Rick Ross, and Kanye West), Seattle hip-hop is thoughtful and overtly musical. Kingdom Crumbs raps over simply beautiful electronic beats, influenced just as much by Caribou and Aphex Twin as other traditional hip-hop influences. Tay Sean and Mikey Nice are incredibly creative behind the boards, with some songs using two or three distinct and powerful beats. If you have never listened to a Seattle rap group before, the production may need some getting used to, as it is incredibly different from any hip-hop outside of the northwest. There is a lot of stuff going on in these beats, and they are much more complicated than a simple Lex Luger piano riff. However, they are musically genius, and rewarding to the careful listener.

Listening to Kingdom Crumbs is an experience unlike many other rap albums. Kingdom Crumbs is a relaxing album, more so than most other hip-hop albums I’ve listened to. Kingdom Crumbs have some of the best production in the game. Now if only their lyrics can catch up. Aesthetically, their rapping is pretty good. Maybe even above average. However, their lyrics don’t bring anything new to the table. If you’ve ever listened to any indie or underground rap, you’ll have heard much of the same stuff that these guys are rapping about. Since I’m from Seattle, I love the 206 shoutouts sprinkled in throughout the album. However, to everyone else, these will sound like any other city represent. Considering that this is the groups first album, I expect great things from them in the future. They have work to do, but I am incredibly impressed with these rookies. Kingdom Crumbs is a must listen for any self-respecting Seattleite.

Free The Universe

maja laza

Major Lazer is one of the most polarizing/bizarre projects in music. Originally from the minds of L.A. producer Diplo and Jamaican DJ Switch, Major Lazer was designed as a dancehall/techno/hip-hop/indie rock side project for the two DJ’s. However, the project exploded in 2009 after the single “Hold The Line” was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. This produced the first official Major Lazer album, Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do. Guns was a very confusing album. Throughout the whole album, it was hard to find exactly what music style the two were going for, and not doing very well at mixing together any of them.

Switch is now gone, leaving Diplo alone to make Major Lazer’s sophomore album. If this had been any other DJ, it would have been safe to say that Major Lazer was done. However, Diplo is not just any other DJ. No, this is the man who made “Paper Planes” a hit for M.I.A., and who is responsible for much of the recent production for Beyonce, Usher, and No Doubt, just to name a few. Diplo is a musical genius, so anticipation for the second Major Lazer album has been high.

Not helping anything was the release of the first single from the album, “Get Free”. Featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, the slow, relaxed, placid reggae beat that Coffman sang beautifully over was a shock for Major Lazer fans. Never had Diplo produced something so relaxed, so utterly devoid of the typical disc scratches and random yelling you usually expect from the producer. Major Lazer was meant to be a dancehall project anyways, and “Get Free” was certainly not something you wanted to dance to.

Well, don’t worry folks, “Get Free” was not an indication of the direction the album was going. While it remains an amazing track, and probably my favorite on the album, Free The Universe is still very much a dance album. However, the dancehall influences have decreased dramatically with the loss of Switch. While Free The Universe still clearly has Jamaican dancehall/reggae influences, Diplo has brought more of his EDM background to his follow-up. Luckily, most of these changes are for the best. “Jah No Partial” features the British dubstep group Flux Pavillion, and is one of the few dubstep songs I can truly listen to. “Jet Blue Jet” is dancehall envisioned through EDM music, and leads to a crazy assault from all sides. “Keep Cool” begins as a very standard EDM song, until Shaggy comes in out of nowhere and turns the whole thing into a Jamaican party.

What is more surprising about Free The Universe is Diplo’s continued use of hip-hop beats throughout the album, with mixed results. The first track off the album, “You’re No Good”, takes the best parts of Major Lazer’s first album and mixes it into one song. However, there is also “Bubble Butt”. For my money, “Bubble Butt” has a serious run for being one of the worst songs released this year, mostly due to an insistence of using the chorus “Bubb-Bubb-Bubb-Bubb-Bubble Butt”. Big Sean also drops one of the worst verses I’ve heard from him in a while. And to make things even weirder, Bruno Mars whisper raps one of the most uncomfortable verses I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Luckily, misses like this are few. That being said, Free The Universe is an exploratory album. Diplo changes up sounds often on this album, even when he’s found one that works well. Sure, if he had stuck to the sound he uses in “Get Free” or “Jessica” (a great track featuring Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend), he would have made a much more consistent album. But then we would not have had such great experiments as “Keep Cool” or “Mashup the Dance”. Free the Universe is not for the faint of heart, but for those who don’t mind a little weirdness, it is a must-listen.

Indicud


indicud

Kid Cudi. Where do I begin? The Cleveland rapper began his career as another Kanye West protege. However, while many of Kanye’s proteges have faded into obscurity, Kid Cudi has stuck around. It’s easy to understand why. Kid Cudi is a hit with the so-called “Backpack” crowd: hip hop fans who listen to artists who aren’t “gangsta” or otherwise. Kid Cudi’s first album, Man On the Moon, was a backpack rap magnum opus, despite the fact that the album was a bloated, egotistical, self-absorbed exercise in self-pity. Hits like “Soundtrack 2 My Life” and “Day N Nite” were definitely great songs, but the album couldn’t help but fail under the weight of Cudi’s own ego. For his follow-up, the even more self-importantly titled Man on the Moon Part II; Cudi delivered an even more self-absorbed, bizarre, barely listenable disc. Cudi has been gaining more ground with his fans, delivering a few hits that seem to get back to his Man on the Moon part one days, but its hard to see how Indicud would be any difference.

Well, Indicud has leaked. Unfortunately, this is a continuation of Cudi’s past artistic output. Whats most infuriating is that there are quite a few great moments on this album. The first two tracks on the album are phenomenal set-up tunes. The slow buildup that is “The Resurrection of Scott Mescudi” and the dark brooding nonsense that is “Unf*ckwitable” make two great intro songs that get you in the mood for a tense, brooding album. This is where Kid Cudi is at his best: when his production takes prominence and his terrible, absolutely nonsense lyrics take the backseat to simply sounding cool.

However after these two songs, things begin to derail quickly. “Just What I Am”, after a passable verse from fellow Cleveland rapper King Chip (the artist formerly known as Chip da Ripper), devolves into a barely listenable robotic nonsense song. And then it gets worse. “Young Lady” takes a great Father John Misty sample and turns into an un-listenable dump. Cudi begins to sing-rap over a sonic mess of synths and guitars. What Cudi needs to learn about production is that you cannot have so many sounds competing for your attention. While sometimes this approach works, like on “King Wizard”, and “Solo Dolo Part II”, most times it simply does not.

“Solo Dolo Part II” is a great example of what makes Kid Cudi so infuriating to me as an artist. The song starts with an unintelligible verse from Kid Cudi, which hi-lights his weakness as a rapper. He sounds buried under his own beat, and in the moments where the beat pauses for a second and focuses on Cudi’s rapping, the listener is almost assaulted by Cudi’s absolute nonsense. Then, after a terrible minute and thirty seconds or so, Kendrick Lamar comes in and delivers a great verse. Where Cudi is stifled under his own beat, Kendrick takes the beat and uses it to his advantage. He spins the beat around and assaults you from all angles with it, using the confusion to make you feel confused and  insecure. While Kendrick makes you confused, Kid Cudi can’t help but be confused.

Simply put, Kid Cudi isn’t a good enough rapper to pull off an 18 song album. All of the guest artists kill him on his own tracks, from Wu-Tang’s the RZA to Too $hort. While Cudi’s rapping is terrible, his production has something to it. Some tracks have great beats, and with a better rapper, they would be great songs. However, Cudi simply cannot handle his own beat-smithing. Fans of his last two albums will certainly find something to love here, but if you’re in the same boat as me, expect to be frustrated yet again.

The Following

the following

Since I’ve started my blog my focus has been mainly on movies and music. However, I am a big TV fan as well, and no current TV show has me as excited as The Following on FOX. Joe Carroll, played  by James Purefoy, is an imprisoned serial killer caught by the FBI. However Carroll escapes, and soon becomes backed by a cult. And, you guessed it, everybody in the cult are murderers themselves! The FBI calls for Ryan Hardy, played by Kevin Bacon; the man who previously caught Carroll. What has followed over the course of this season is a dark, creepy game of cat and mouse, which has set a new bar for acting and directing in a network TV series.

following

The Following currently has the best ensemble cast on network TV. Nico Tortorella and Adan Canto all play emotional, nuanced performances as cult members who have may have gotten in too deep. Valorie Curry does an excellent job playing a crazy, homicidal, yet vulnerable girl who is influenced too much by Carroll and his teachings. And Annie Parisse plays a tough FBI agent who has a dark history with cults. While all of these performances are phenomenal and deserve a lot of credit, the show survives on the acting performances of its leads.

following 1

Kevin Bacon’s performance of Ryan Hardy is the best of his career. Hardy is an incredibly complex and difficult character. While on the outside Hardy may appear a typical TV cop, gruff and without mercy, in all actuality he is anything but. Hardy is haunted by his past encounters with Carroll, becoming an alcoholic and estranging himself from his past life. Hardy also developed a relationship with Carroll’s wife, played by Natalie Zea. While there is still plenty of chemistry there, it is clear that something has come between the two, not just the looming shadow of Joe Carroll. Every time Bacon and Zea are on screen together, they demonstrate an element of nuanced, subtle acting you usually don’t expect to see on network TV. While Ryan Hardy and Claire Matthews may make for great TV, their relationship cannot compete with that of Hardy and Carroll.

purefoy

In much the same way that Silence of the Lambs was dominated by Hannibal Lecter, so too is The Following owned by Joe Carroll. The shadow of Purefoy’s character hangs heavy over almost every moment of the show. However, Carroll is not just a copy of Hannibal Lecter. Carroll is not a high class maniac who would eat someone’s liver with a glass of Chianti. Carroll is instead the embodiment of pure evil. Carroll is much darker, and not nearly as willing to help. Part of what makes The Following so scary is the fact that anyone could be part of the cult. And the cult is scary solely because they worship Carroll, a character who we grow to hate for all the right reasons.  Purefoy plays Carroll incredibly well, with a performance that deserves the immensity of his character.

One of the things that sets The Following apart from other network shows is its maturity. The show never talks down to the audience, letting the plan unravel without feeling the need to explain itself. The show is also unapologetically violent. Their are numerous times throughout the season where the audience must grit its teeth through some very horrific moments. However, these scenes are not without their reason, and are not simply thrown in for effect. Instead, they help make the gravity of the cults actions and murder hit home much harder. When a character dies in the first episode, they don’t just show the body. They show the corpse with all of the desecration the cult has given it. Scenes like this bring the audience in closer to the heroes and heighten the hate for the villains.

f

However, not everything is black and white in The Following. While Joe Carroll is definitely evil, and Ryan Hardy is definitely good, every other character is up for grabs. This is not a straightforward show. Instead, The Following brings a steady dose of thought to the table, and makes you question everyone’s morals. If the past few episodes are any indication, the last half of this season is going to get very interesting. The Following in on at 9:00 on Mondays on the FOX network.

The Top 5 Wu-Tang Albums

wu-tang

The Wu-Tang Clan is one of my favorite rap groups of all time. Run-DMC may have been the first rap stars, Public Enemy may have been much more important, and A Tribe Called Quest may have a better track record, but Wu-Tang Clan holds a special place for me. The collective is one of the most prolific in history, with eight amazing MCs, many of whom would later go on to great success. With so many different albums  and side projects, it is sometimes hard to decide where to start with the group. To help alleviate this struggle, here are my top 5 Wu-Tang Clan and Wu-Tang related albums.

5. Method Man & Redman: Blackout!

meth and red

Method Man is the joker of the Wu-Tang Clan. His lyrics have never been anything to write home about. As opposed to many of the other members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man has never asked that the listener takes him seriously. There’s something to be said for this level of self-deprecation. While Ol’ Dirty Bastard was having a verbal freak out, or Ghostface Killah was getting emo, or Raekwon was telling dark street stories, Method Man only wanted to have a good time. And there is no more fun time in the Wu-Tang canon than Blackout!. Method Man and Redman had been collaborating for a while, with Meth appearing on Redman’s tracks and Redman dropping verses on Method Man’s albums. Blackout! is the equivalent of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne: two great rappers in their prime getting together to release an album where they could relax and have fun. And Blackout is very fun. Tracks like “Da Rockwilder” and “1,2,1,2” are nothing but great rapping and a lot of fun. Blackout! is a great crossover album; a place to start for those who are new to the Wu-Tang Clan.

4. GZA The Genius: Liquid Swords

liquid swords

GZA the Genius and RZA were the people who started the Wu-Tang Clan. They were the ones behind the collective philosophy, allowing each rapper to have a solo career so long as they agreed to promote Wu-Tang. Therefore it would make sense that GZA’s first solo album would be very similar to Wu-Tang’s first album. GZA takes the Wu-Tang obsession with kung-fu movies and extends it throughout a whole album. With intros and samples from classic films, GZA takes his street stories and sets them in a different tone. Liquid Swords relies heavily on RZA’s trademark production style, heavy on repetitive samples and dark, hazy style. Tracks like “Investigative Reports”, “Liquid Swords”, and “Shadowboxing” tell a much darker tale than Wu-Tang’s previous effort. Think of Liquid Swords as a sequel to Enter the Wu-Tang, with a darker atmosphere.

3. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale

fishscale

Ghostface Killah is one of the smoothest, intelligent, and talented rappers ever. However, he is also very experimental. While he does have a very specific flow, over the years he has deviated from the Wu-Tang style more than any other rapper in the collective. He has gone to everything from emo, R&B, and everything in between. Sometimes these experiments work, and other times they fall flat on his face (I’m looking at you Ghostdeini). Fishscale is one of the few albums where every experiment pays off big time. One of my favorite moments on the album is right after “R.A.G.U”, a track where Raekwon and Ghost get very old school Wu-Tang. There is a short skit, and then the very next track is “Whip You With A Strap”, a song about Ghost’s mom punishing him as a kid. The transition is crazy, yet also works spectacularly. On “Underwater” Ghost delivers the single most psychedelic song in rap history, with Ghost rapping about swimming with mermaids. But for the Wu-Tang faithful, there are also plenty of classic Wu-Tang style tracks, like “Shakey Dog” and “Kilo”. If you’re ok with a little bit of sonic experimentation mixed in with your rap, then Fischscale is the one for you.

2. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

only built 4 cuban linx

When it comes to the best hip-hop albums of all time, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is high on the list. Many people forget that after Enter the Wu-Tang, the only rappers to have massive popularity were Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Method Man. Ghostface Killah did not explode until after his many appearances on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx not only served as a coming out party for Ghostface, but also proved that Wu-Tang Clan could make just as good solo albums as they could as a group. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx relies heavily on Raekwon’s amazing lyrical prowess, as he crafts stories that rival any told in hip-hop before or after. On Enter the Wu-Tang, Raekwon acted as glue between the more out there MC’s like ODB and Method Man. On Only Built For Cuban Linx, he takes advantage of his time as a solo artist. As the focus is solely on him and Ghost, it becomes clear just how good of a rapper Raekwon really is. While he lacks the flair of the other members, Raekwon’s ability to convey emotional lyrics with an intelligent style makes him one of the best in the collective. Tracks like “Knowledge God”, “Heaven and Hell”, “Ice Cream”, “Guillotine”, and “Verbal Intercourse” (which features a great verse from Nas) are all instant classics. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is equal parts beautiful and raw, and deserves a spot among the greatest rap albums of all time.

1. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang Clan

enter the wu-tang clan

I can remember the exact first time I heard Enter the Wu-Tang Clan. I was in 8th grade, and I had heard Ghostface Killah on the radio. After a little more research, I downloaded Enter the Wu-Tang Clan. After I listened to it for the first time, I started the album over again. After I was done the second time, I put it on again. For my whole freshman year in high school, I listened almost exclusively to this album. What sets Enter the Wu-Tang Clan apart from the rest. Why, even after 20 years, is this album still so powerful? The answer is simple. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan gives the listener a peek into the life of the rappers themselves. By not changing anything about their style to appeal to the listener, Wu-Tang Clan gives the listener a sense of community. All of a sudden, their slang becomes the listener’s slang. They never talk down to the listener as other rappers are prone to do. As opposed to a tour of their world, Wu-Tang Clan drops you off into the streets of New York and makes you fend for yourself. Instead of taking you to the ghetto, like albums like Illmatic or Ready to Die do, Enter the Wu-Tang Clan takes the ghetto to you. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan is not only a musical triumph, but also a business one. Enter the Wu-Tang Clan was the first indie rap album to go platinum, as it deserved to do. I wish I could say which tracks you need to listen to in particular, but unfortunately every song on this album is required listening. If there’s really only one choice, I would suggest “Protect Ya Neck”, a track that is brilliant, if only for the fact that RZA somehow manages to fit all eight rappers into one song. However, every single track on this album is brilliant.

Airplane!

Airplane

I’ve come to the realization that, up until now, I have only been talking about serious movies and music on my blog. That changes now. I love comedies. While there are plenty of times for serious movies that explore deep topics and make us think differently, there are also many times where we just want to laugh. And if you just want to laugh, then there is no better movie to watch than Airplane!, the classic 1980 movie by Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker. Not only do I think Airplane! is a funny movie, I strongly believe that Airplane! is the funniest movie ever made.

There are two kinds of comedy movies: those made before Airplane! and those made after. Before Airplane! you had movies like The Jerk and Some Like it Hot. These movie were funny to be sure, but they were also very formulaic. The typical comedy consisted of the straight man and the joker. It made it very easy for audiences to understand where to laugh. All sorts of zany antics happened to the straight man and the joker, and laughs would derive either from the situations they were in, or the joker’s observations on these events. Airplane! put this predictable formula on its head.

Instead of having a joker and a straight man, Airplane! only had straight men. In fact, the Zucker brothers cast exclusively actors previously only known for serious roles. Instead of leaving cues for where the audience should laugh, the Zucker brothers kept all the actors faces completely serious. If anyone smiled or laughed at a joke, the directors would shoot the scene again. This sort of directing had been done rarely if ever before in comedy. However, without good jokes, none of this innovation would have made any difference.

Luckily, Airplane! has more jokes than any movie before. Before the Wayans brothers created a thing, Airplane! was pioneering their format. There is literally a laugh a minute in this movie. If you don’t find a joke funny, don’t worry, there’s another one coming faster than you can say, “I don’t get it.” Unlike the Wayans Bros, nine times out of ten you will find the joke funny. The jokes in Airplane! are not high concept in the least. They are stupid, ridiculous jokes that can really only be described as goofy. But if you go into the movie expecting high concepts, then you clearly don’t understand the point.

The jokes are classic. The drinking problem. The blow-up auto-pilot. “How do you like your coffee?””Black, the same as my men.” (A line delivered by an eight year old girl.) The jive talking nun. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a co-pilot. They are all immortal and timeless. We are now spoiled by movies like Anchorman and Caddyshack, that have aped this technique to great success. However, Airplane did it first, and still did it best.