What’s Up? (3/2/16)

Vaporwave
I’m falling into a vaporwave rabbit hole. What the hell is vaporwave? Good question. Honestly, I don’t even think the internet exactly knows what it is. It’s a genre of music and art that has evolved greatly from its origin point, and in a short span of time. It’s defined largely by 80’s and 90’s nostalgia and commercialism,  and whether artists are embracing or criticizing that differs from case to case. One of my favorite artists used to go by the name Saint Pepsi; his album Hit Vibes is a collection of sampled funk/disco beats, sometimes slowed down, sometimes chopped together — not unlike what a low rent Daft Punk record might sound like, and I don’t mean that insultingly. One of the more popular tracks on the album, “Cherry Pepsi” is just a slowed down version of “BYOB” by Sister Sledge, but looped in an infectious way that required a lot of talent. I know first hand that sampling music is harder than one would think.

Still, as I think about why these stolen funky / elevator music tunes from the past are so great to listen to, I think it’s more about welcoming nostalgic/commercial feelings into yourself and rejecting them. Listening to Cherry Pepsi doesn’t make me want to drink a Cherry Pepsi, in fact, associating the word “Pespi” with a musician takes the power of Pepsi branding away entirely. A fun Pepsi commercial will only make me want to listen to Saint Pepsi’s music, instead of pursuing the product. Likewise the echoey songs of MACROSS and Master Stryker may remind me of 90’s shopping malls, VHS rental stores, and the good old Playstation and Nintendo 64 days – but carrying those memories in your pocket via Mp3’s completely removes the power that nostalgia has over you. When people remember what malls and Blockbuster Videos used to be like, they have this rose-colored glasses thing going on. They think about VHS rental stores once a year maybe, and say “wow I miss those, remember them?” But when you carry music that evokes those feelings, and listen to it regularly, it’s like you have a more well thought-out nostalgia. “I think about those every day, and while you may remember them fondly, there’s something eerily unsustainable about those businesses. If we think long enough about malls, and VHS stores and whatnot, their demise by the hands of the internet is so inevitable — and the internet didn’t destroy those businesses so much as it freed us from them.”

Dieting?
I think I can only go so far with all of my exercise before I face the unfortunate truth that one of these days I’m going to need to go on some diet. I really do mean unfortunate, because damn it, I love junk food. And not like fast food and potato chip junk food, but rather your hamburgers, fries, and cheesey sandwiches junk food. Carbs and fats. And pizza. Oh god I need to cut back on pizza. There’s only so much I can work off with exercise and sooner or later I’m going to need to find a way to cut a lot of meat, a lot of cheese, and a lot of breads from my daily routines. I’m not making any promises because, well:

That never worked in the past. 

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Queens of The Stone Age’s “…Like Clockwork” (2013)

It’s been six years since Queens of The Stone Age released “Era Vulgaris” back in 2007. Now they’re back, and it’s awesome. I last “heard” front-man Josh Homme back in 2009, on Arctic Monkeys’ “Humbug” which he produced. Coincidentally, Queens of the Stone Age are touring Australia and New Zealand this coming March with another band I last heard in 2009, Nine Inch Nails.

Q: In a year of comeback albums; where does Queens of the Stone Age’s “…Like Clockwork” (2013) fall?
A: Somewhere near the top.

The concise ten-track album sounds different than Queens of the Stone Age’s past material, in a good way though, in the way that a band should experiment, change, and improve over the course of six years. The band has always had a broken-machine-like quality to their sound; something about the heavily distorted guitars staying on such impeccable timing sounded like machinery, but in deviating from the timing, finding funky, catchy rhythms, and dissonant sounds, that’s where Queens of the Stone Age finds their appeal. Not unlike the robotic duo Daft Punk that happened to find their humanity in 2013, Queens of The Stone Age sounds more alive than ever here on “…Like Clockwork.”

“Kalopsia”  starts off the second half of the album with the pulse of a breathing machine. And perhaps Josh Homme’s time with Arctic Monkeys was a learning experience as well as a mentoring of sorts, as the peaceful piano and harp-like heavenly guitars paired with the prettier notes of Homme’s voice seem more out of Arctic Monkeys’ playbook than Queens of The Stone Age’s. Of course, everything beautiful falls apart, and the album’s thematic battle between hope and despair wages on, with the band’s old dark sounds (slightly-off guitars, distortion, unrelenting noise) clashing with the new sounds (pianos, falsettos, acoustics, orchestra).

From the album’s third track: “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”
“I’m alive – hooray! / You’re wrong again / ‘Cause I feel no love”

“My God Is The Sun” the fifth track on the album is a personal highlight for me. Outside of the thematic elements of the album, the song is catchy, has a really nice rolling bass, an energy you can really feel, drum breaks; the kind of track that I can see myself playing intensely along with on guitar in the privacy of my own bedroom. I spent so much time playing along with tracks from “Era Vulgaris” (2007) and “Songs for the Deaf” (2002), and I’m glad to hear that “…Like Clockwork” will give me the same emotion-venting satisfaction.  “Smooth Sailing” finds a funky rhythm after a malfunctioning electronic introduction, and “Fairweather Friends” determines that gossip, drugs, and snakes are the friends that get us back into bed.

Title song “…Like Clockwork” hits you with the heavy emotions and really shows off all of the good things that Queens of The Stone Age have have learned to do over the years. Josh Homme almost sounds like Damon Albarn, in the album’s conclusion, and the song just encapsulates the feeling of surrender so well. It really captures the theme I was getting at earlier, that I think you can find through the album, everything beautiful and quiet about the beginning gets sledge-hammered by the familiar sounds of the band’s past music, and when the song returns to the beautiful, it’s not without the ominous march of the noise behind it. The friends that have told me that “…Like Clockwork” might be the best Queens of The Stone Age album might just be right, though I’m not going to start ranking things, I have to say – it’s a damn fine album.

2013 Music Review Marathon

We have just over forty days left in 2013, which I think has been a pretty good year all things considered, filled with lots of hard times and losses sure – but more wins than losses! In an attempt to catch up on this year’s albums that I haven’t listened to yet I thought I’d vaguely plan out a few music reviews to last until 2014.

1. Arctic Monkey’s “AM” (2013)
Arctic Monkeys used to be one of my favorite bands ever, I used to buy every little EP and single that came out, back when there was only one album. Now, their fifth album “AM” marks the peak of their commercial success, and since I haven’t listened to any new Arctic Monkeys since 2009’s “Humbug” I thought I’d check out what my Arctic Monkeys have been up to.

2 Franz Ferdinand’s “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” (2013)
Franz Ferdinand’s last release, “Tonight” (2009) has a permanent place on my iPod, and is one of my favorite albums of all time, easily. I’ve given “Right” a few listens here and there, but haven’t really came down with a definite opinion on the album… yet.

3. Queens of The Stone Age’s “…Like Clockwork” (2013)
Josh Homme produced my favorite Arctic Monkey’s album, “Humbug” (2009), and QOTSA’s “Songs For The Deaf” (2002) and “Era Vulgaris” (2007) are just downright masterpieces. I’ve heard nothing but good things about “…Like Clockwork” and even claims that it’s QOTSA’s best album yet. We’ll see if that’s true.

4. The Fratellis’ “We Need Medicine” (2013)
The Fratellis’ “Costello Music” has to be up there in my Top 25 albums; there were months where I wanted nothing but my Fratellis on repeat, and they’ve accompanied me on many exercise sessions. I never listened straight through their second release “Here We Stand” (2008), but “We Need Medicine” marks the band’s reunion, and I’ll be damned if I don’t welcome it into my heart before the end of 2014.

5. Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” (2013)
Her single “Royals” hit me like a bad of bricks, it’s constantly stuck in my head, and I’m powerless to submit to frequent listens. I’ve listened to the full album, and I definitely like it, so I’m going to give Lorde’s first release the courtesy of a full review.

Roses’ “Roses EP” (2013)

Roses is a self-described “Romantic Rock’n’Roll Synthpop Band,” and while my experience with Synthpop may be limited I totally understand what they mean by Romantic Rock’n’Roll. Roses’ EP is a braid of soft keyboards, pulsing sin waves, clean guitars, and modestly pretty voices. The band has a particular way of describing painfully obsessive love.  The third track, So Very Wild asks the question “How can I love you when you’re so very wild?” with a sense of romantic honesty that reminds me of Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires of the City” (2013). Sometimes words fail us, and Roses doesn’t shy away from occasional non-linguistic chorus of “la’s” or “oh’s,” not unlike the The Fratellis’ sing-along-bar songs, if that particular bar was a little bit quieter and somber. My favorite thing about Roses’ EP is how they let songs step in both Romantic Rock’n’Roll and Synthpop. It’s not like they sat down and arbitrarily decided one song would be Rock and one song would be Synthpop, each song has a little bit of both and it makes for a dynamic and interesting listen on top of being catchy and pleasant.