Having singer Clayton Hagen previously decried a savior in sake of his hate on “The Hustle” (from The Hustle, The Prayer, The Thief) there is a tremendous weight on A Night in the Box to follow up its debut album with something as equally thoughtful and compelling. With Write a Letter the band has done just what a fan might have hoped they would, A Night in the Box has written an album as true to its busker-rich history as to its previously recorded forward reaching traditionals.
A few tracks into the album, “Fiddle Foot Jones” debuts itself as a concisely written song, reaching eerily towards something far older than any of the band’s members themselves. But to judge anyone, anywhere, simply by their youth (no matter how relative it may be) is a far cry from treating that individual fairly. In this case A Night in the Box could easily double for a band twice its age and with countless times more experience. Playing this past January’s Best New Bands showcase at First Avenue might be proof enough of the band’s cohesiveness as the performance was the highlight of the night for many (bold statement, maybe…but it was certainly the highlight for myself).
Introducing a gypsy homage with “The Legend of Kevin Mitch” and a slow snare-heavy waltz on the album’s first untitled track A Night in the Box continues to justify faith in the belief that the band is just starting to find its voice and that the best is possibly yet to come. That being said, the key to the album is the alarmingly familiar-yet-unique sound created by Kaitlyn Spencer and her violin combined with Travis Hetman and his use of the slide on his guitar. Evidence of this sound can be found throughout, including “Broken-Down Radiator Romance Blues” and “Rich Man’s Table,” both proving an internal chemistry that many bands can only dream of. All that being said, again, the best may still be yet to come and with a band this talented such an idea is a very welcomed thought.
Long live life proclaims the title of Coldplay’s recently released album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. The album was recently released using the same repetitious iTunes marketing campaign that helped propel Bob Dylan’s Modern Times to platinum status, and while it too will eventually reach that level of commercial popularity, it is an entirely different type of animal. Whereas we are to understand that both Dylan and Coldplay were both promoting their work commercially, I believe there is a difference in intentions between Dylan’s “Someday Baby” and Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal talked of the band’s recent MTV appearance in his review, in particular a comment made by lead singer Chris Martin, “We look at what other people are doing and try and steal all the good bits.” Martin continued, “We steal from so many different places that hopefully it becomes untraceable.” Understandably, the majority of popular music falls under such a premise. It’s still a bit striking though to hear someone in Martin’s position say something so honest. I can respect that statement much more than the music that is supposedly a culmination of influential ideas repackaged as the band’s own. Coldplay has become the new U2 in that one can compare other uninventive, mainstream rock to them just like one could in the early 2000s with U2. Not to say that Viva La Vida doesn’t have interesting moments, the title track offers a side to the band that I was unfamiliar with - one that harmoniously develops a song with an enjoyable tempo and sound…and given a casual listen, it sounds OK. But, when you don’t think about what it is you’re listening to, so does Creed, right? As a whole Viva La Vida is exactly what one would expect of the band. Long live life? If this is the best life has to offer, I’m not sure life is worth living.
Attempting to explain Girl Talk's Feed the Animals and identify what succeeds or fails with the set can’t be done on the level of an album in its entirety, it’s hard to even approach each track on an individual basis considering what they are. Mashups aren’t anything new, nor is Gregg Gillis’ mix-heavy approach, but what’s detailed on this album is a new offering that exceeds everything that is out there, even 2006′s Night Ripper. And while attempting to explain the album may be difficult, explaining why it succeeds is not – Feed the Animals may have a lot more to do with the direction our culture has taken and how the definition of music as an art is changing than how it sounds.
With Tha Carter III‘s release I wrote that I felt Lil’ Wayne’s album was reflecting “the nature of the environment which he is a product of – a society riddled with various revolving doors continually making it harder to focus on a single idea for more than an instant.” While I’ll stand by that statement, it’s far easier to stand by those thoughts in the context of an artist like Gillis. The end product of his work is a piece of music that is almost impossible to recall, a piece of music that is fresh every time it is heard because of the fact that it passes the listener by with lightning-like speed. The fantastic Wikipedia page that has been assembled for the release counts some 274 samples which collectively make-up the album. Falsely judging our society’s shift towards a clip-heavy viral video addiction and suggesting that we’re collectively on a path to that depicted in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy might be a bit much, but the essence for the debate remains – we are slowly shifting towards becoming a nation demanding instant gratification, no matter the vehicle. There stands a partial reason for not simply the existence of mashups and mega-mix styled releases, but the reason they continue to exist and a suggestion as to why the material on this album succeeds.
Mashups are often, to some degree, kitschy, sugar-coated regurgitated second generation pieces of music lacking any substance whatsoever; and I should know, I love them. When done well they are fantastic gems that reflect not simply pop music as a whole, but some of its finer moments. The club culture that Gillis is submerged in isn’t necessarily conducive to mashups however – often they are fun pieces to listen to but just as often they only serve as momentary answers to irregular “what-if” questions (Question: What would it sound like if you tried to combine Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” with some sort of disco-based club track? Answer: Shit.) That being said, Feed the Animals works – not just as a collection of intellectually curated, professionally mastered mashups, but as a piece of music that excels in a club atmosphere.
As much as I try to fight the urge, ever since the mid-90s when the Chemical Bros./Fatboy/Prodigy contributed to taking electronic music to a whole new level of popularity I’ve been a fan of that sort of music, whatever you’ll call it. And while I tend to suggest that I enjoy music with more face-value substance, I love a lot of what’s out there in the clubs these days. The club culture has evolved into something just as unique, innovative and forward thinking as anything else on the pop music’s radar… nothing could help push that statement further than last year’s amazing reception of Justice’s Cross and Daft Punk’s insane festival draw. By propelling his project with the same intensity that these electronic artists demand of their music Gillis has prepared his output for an inevitable acceptance within that culture, it just so happens that he uses the term mashup as a vehicle for what he creates.
It’s not that Feed the Animals uses as many samples as it does and it’s not that it brings mashups to the mainstream or even invites people to further search within the genre. Feed the Animals succeeds because there may be an unspoken demand right now for such an exciting, terminally scatterbrained album. While Night Ripper was a solid release, there are contemporaries out there that are also solid – it just happens that with Feed the Animals, Gillis is the first to offer a release of such caliber. I still don’t know what Gillis’ aim was with the album or even how to critically describe what it is that I’ve been listening to for the past few days, but I can say this: the bar has been set, and it has been set high.
Granted, some of the bangers on Tha Carter III have been out there for a while; “A Milli” dropped on Da Drought is Over 5, “Lollipop” has for weeks been on heavy rotation on just about every pop-based radio station, “Mr. Carter” leaked a few weeks back, etc. - but there is still an unequivocal essence of freshness when finally hearing these songs as a whole. That being said, Tha Carter III doesn’t necessarily serve as fulfilling cohesive unit, it acts as more of a collection of moments…which is really what Lil’ Wayne is all about when you think about it. With a continually shifting focus Weezy has taken his self-proclamation as the Greatest Rapper Aliveand at least made a solid attempt as going down as one of the most prolific. With that however there is a continual shift between styles, patterns and themes. Something that works given the context of a twenty-something song mixtape, but it becomes less effective given a formal, polished release. Or maybe Wayne is just trying to reflect the nature of the environment which he is a product of - a society riddled with various revolving doors continually making it harder to focus on a single idea for more than an instant. If that is the case, it is there where Tha Carter III succeeds. Wayne’s one-liner’s are second to none, they hold little weight at times, but show enough linguistic ingenuity to make you believe that there is a Wayne we still haven’t seen. With the exception of “Phone Home” (which still has some sense of quality in its utmost absurdity) the first half of the record is proof that Wayne is doing his part to live up to the massive weight on his shoulders, “And next time you mention Pac, Biggie and Jay-Z don’t forget Weezy, baby.” Time will tell, but with Tha Carter III, Wayne is honestly attempting to prove that he might be right.
That little part of my heart that still has a soft spot for Slayer inevitably gawks at the idea of even remotely enjoying an album like Hercules and Love Affair. The album’s songs, which almost continually neglect any sort of climactic high, blend seamlessly into a single epic pile of retro-reaching Euro-trash waste…but, they kind of grow on you. They band is musically sincere, aurally satisfying and it acts as one of the few diversified groups in a landscape steadily influenced by Chromeo knockoffs…as if Chromeo weren’t average enough, y’know. What I question when hearing the album isn’t its pretentious modernism, but rather what might be below the chinks in its otherwise glaringly hipster shell. Does music have to sound timeless to be relevant, certainly not, and Hercules and Love Affair certainly sounds far from timeless. But like Slayer there is a denseness to its sound that aggressively denounces its mainstream appeal. Yes, this music is perfect for a club setting, but only certain clubs…the lady who sits next to you at work isn’t heading out to ladies night to request “Blind” - she still probably wants to hear “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and and butt-load of Nickleback…just how it is…(not that that’s bad either). It is kind of a shame however, because “Blind” is one of the best tracks on the album and deserves to be heard by a broad audience. All that in mind, just as with a band like Slayer, I’m not too sure that there’s a whole lot below the surface…hipster or the latter…which is why I imagine I’ll be giving them about as much of my listening time as I do Slayer…which would be to say almost none.
I’ve been meaning to give it up (way harder than Bama & Michy, mind you) for quite some time to a site called Jake And Amir - the duo’s (almost) daily clips have helped to keep me fairly content for quite some time now and it’s high time that I tell the world how I feel. While I’m at it - College Humor in general has done solid work since…well…I started checking the out the site when I, myself, was in college. Having said that, I only really stop by the site nowadays to check out their Original Videos; of which Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld take part in frequently. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I love stuff like this (this example is actually amazingly definitive of why I love the site), but I’m there primarily for Jake and Amir. Or maybe Jake And Amir. Whaevah.