How To Dress Well —Love Remains, 2010 2010 ended with a bang. A year that felt lethargic and calm in June (musically, anyway) turned on its head, as we bore witness to some of the most ambitious, grandiose projects of the 21st century. This album isn’t an exception per se, but it doesn’t quite fit the mold either. How To Dress Well, Brooklynite Tom Krell’s alias, unleashes a reverb-drenched psychedelic fog of organic sampling and melting vocals that gets thicker as the album rolls on. But it’s far from gray and dull – on the contrary, Krell’s brainchild is as colorful as it is moving. If this year is best summed up by Kanye West’s epic nightmare, consider Love Remains the soundtrack for a profound dream conjured during a restful nap. After every listen, you’ll wake up refreshed and enlightened. There’s truly no better feeling. -Jesse Javna
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"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." — Victor Hugo
Kanye West's 2010 album—My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—caught the attention of just about everybody. 2008's disastrous not-so-well-received 808s and Heartbreaks, along with some off-the-field events, led to the general notion that West had lost his mind. This fear was further strengthened by the cryptic title of his new album.
The music Kanye has produced, though, is both unlike anything he has ever released and similar to everything he's done before. The album is long, the guest list even longer, and the flow both heavy and invigorating. One song that stuck out as I worked through the album was "All of the Lights." The song represents the album, in a sense that we can understand a lot about the album just by listening to this one track. The production is tightly packed: the drum beat is intricate and varied, making heavy use of tom drums, a style not often heard in hip hop. This is contrasted heavily by orchestral instruments—horns, woodwinds, and strings. The beat flows from one to the other over a synthesized droning line, and breaks down effortlessly.
So what lights is Kanye talking about? The lights of fame, it seems. Rihanna croons on this track, singing about seeing everything. The lyrics touch on the extravagance of fame—"fast cars, shooting stars"—while also lamenting its repercussions—the family troubles he's encountered lately. In this way, he manages to juxtapose many of the themes of his past works, a theme indicated quite clearly by the contrasts presented in the chorus: "Cop lights/Flash lights, spot lights, strobe lights, street lights/All of the lights, all of the lights." While 808s was an album fully about anguish, the excesses hinted at here get fleshed out in songs like "Flashing Lights." West wants us to see all aspects of his celebrity here.
But what is Kanye trying to say about fame? Is he trying to say, such as in "Welcome to Heartbreak" from 808s, that he would rather give up the luxuries afforded by his career? That he wishes it never would have come? If so, he never comes out and mentions it. Is he trying to speak to the ephemeral nature of fame? He talks about doing time for hitting his girl, and the surprise he received upon arrival of someone replacing him in his home. It appears that he's just trying to lay out the facts of what happened. On being barred from seeing his daughter, he says, "Her mother, brother, grandmother hate me in that order." While on his previous album West lambasted his ex, here he just explains what is going on, perhaps lamenting its certainty.
On the topic of famous people, it is important to note the astounding guest list on this track. Rihanna, John Legend, Fergie, Alicia Keys, Kid Cudi, and even Elton John make appearances. Some of these guests do not even have prominent roles: while Rihanna takes the choruses and Fergie and Cudi are featured, Legend, Keys, and John are not all that noticeable, bordering on imperceptible.
What, exactly, is the purpose of having so many high-profile artists on a song dealing with fame? There is the obvious—and cynical—response that more guests equals more radio play. But maybe it's not that simple. Perhaps West felt that by bringing in so many guests, it would lend credibility to his depiction of fame. Perhaps he felt that the extreme variety in musical style needed to be highlighted by a variety in vocal styles. This is partially supported by the heavily-processed version of the line "all of the lights" that is mixed in with the true vocals. Or maybe he just thought it would sound cool. Regardless, the vocals are very well put together. Kanye does not try to flex his rapping skills, which would sound disastrously out of place with the rest of the song, but rather gives a terse look into his persona.
"All of the Lights," more than any other song in Kanye's repertoire, veers wildly from triumphant and exuberant to bleak and morose. Somehow he manages to keep it all together, and he also manages to make it sound something like a Kanye West album. It may have a very different sound than his previous offerings, but it still retains his sensibilities in production. There is a reason Kanye vaulted to the stratosphere of producers, and we see that track-making skill used to great effect on this one.
It’s almost Thanksgiving, and I’m making lists of all the things I am thankful for, as well as the people to whom I am thankful. I am thankful the street artist Banksy for so many things, but among them is this song, which was featured in his recent ‘street art disaster film’ Exit Through the Gift Shop. In many ways, it is perfect song for the documentary, which a tale of mischief, art, opposition to authority, all in good and playful fun, but never failing to recognize the gravity of its message. The song is perhaps a bit childish in its polarized view, presenting a black and white picture of ‘us vs. them,’ ‘we who feel and love vs. they, with nothing in their souls, who seek only to blind us of our vision;’ but this affirmation of youth and fun perfectly represents the power that lies also at the heart of street art, one that reclaims spaces, feelings, and lives once controlled by established authority. We youth shall rise in the night and rejoice in the truth and feeling that we experience and express. The brilliance of this message shines ever brighter as Hawley sings it in an art-pop context, reminiscent of artists like Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. The heavy use of chorus and soaring strings strikes the listener as dated, even fogey-ish; this juxtaposition further emphasizes the urge to take back the night from those who wish to control and suppress its radical energy.
In our remix-heavy culture, it's tough to tell what's an original, or what's a remix of a remix. "Confessions" could easily be mistaken for a remix of some acoustic song, but that'd be missing the dark electronic sound at the core of Home Video. Check it out now, before someone remixes it.
Whether you’re a sucker for albums with a good recording story or just a fan of good folk music, the Great Lake Swimmers are among the most consistently interesting acts out there. Their fourth album Lost Channels was recorded in a variety of locations around the Thousand Islands, on the border between Canada and the U.S. There are rather obvious appearances of the geography in their music, with the Singer Castle bells chiming their way through an interlude, for example. But there is also a more subtle undercurrent carrying through the album, like a salty Atlantic breeze fills its lungs. “Palmistry,” the album opener, is reminiscent of some of R.E.M’s more mandolin-laden songs, and showcases the spirit of what remains one of my favorite albums from 2009.
Many musicians use their music to express the hardships of life below the poverty line. Rap duo Atmosphere take that idea and turn their albums into stories. Slug doesn't just rap about his life; he creates archetypal characters—drug addicts, single mothers, the homeless, etc.—and waxes about their trials and tribulations. On When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold, Slug's characters have a resigned view of the world. "Guarantees" places the listener in the mind of a warehouse worker struggling to cope with his problems. He reflects on his life: how did he get here? As he sits at a happy hour, he describes his problems at work, home, and in the neighborhood. As the guitar line—the only source of melody—adds to the sorrow, and the chorus questions the worth of life, you begin to wonder just how simple life really is. —Prasanna Swaminathan
There's no shortage of moody, introspective singer-songwriters out there, but there is a shortage of really friggin' good ones. Benjamin Francis Leftwich is one such standout. His recent "Atlas Hands" is poignant, heartfelt, and un-cliche. While you're waiting for Bon Iver and Iron and Wine to release new albums, check out his recent EP, "A Million Miles Out." — Joe Pinsker
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