Kanye West “808s & Heartbreak” Review

In three months Kanye West has stirred up a ridiculous level of hysteria surrounding 808s & Heartbreak, putting the album’s hype on par with any other release this year (almost). That being said, the album is just as much an experimental artistic venture as it is an experimental study in digital market and consumer behavior. When he was running around airports asking people to listen to samples of his new recordings, Kanye wasn’t just looking for feedback from strangers. When he debuted the video for “Love Lockdown” on the Ellen Degeneres Show he wasn’t just debuting a video. When Kanye continued to push the release date of the album up, he wasn’t doing so to simply compete with pirates who might leak it. Regardless of what’s driving him, the man has become the most effective self-promoter in the digital age of music; Kanye is his own street-team, does his own promotions and takes care of his own research and development. In that respect, 808s is an album like no other before it. But all that aside, when actually listening to the music, the first thing that comes to mind is, “What’s with the autotune asphyxiation, Kanye?”

Part of the ingenuity of 808s is that it has been recorded, produced and released within a period of a few months. Accompanying that, however, is an album that might prove to be the first of Kanye’s to sound dated in a couple years. But considering how current Kanye is attempting to keep all things associated with 808s, his overuse of autotune shouldn’t be questioned - for better or worse, autotune is 2008. One can only imagine that when Lil Wayne was performing on Saturday Night Live earlier this year, Kanye was tuning in and thinking that he could not only do something similar, but do it better (thankfully though, he hasn’t picked up a guitar… yet). And that’s exactly what he’s done here - Kanye has paralleled the ideas of other contemporary pop artists while building something far greater in the process.

The album’s first song emphasizes its direction immediately, “Say You Will” utilizing vocal distortion throughout. And in the song, as with the entire album, are beats just as strong as those on any of his previous releases. Continuing with “Welcome To Heartbreak” Kanye molds the album’s vocal trend around some of his most personal lyrics. “Dad cracked a joke, all the kids laughed / but I couldn’t hear all the way in first class.” Verse after verse, Kanye recalls the cost of continually hustling and maintaining his high profile status, having to give up opportunities that he might otherwise be able to enjoy. But the song doesn’t lean on self-pity or the idea of being a victim of celebrity entirely, rather it acts as a journal questioning the value of what he’s doing. You’d think that money would allow him a bit of time to spend with his family, but Kanye is in a rare position to live in a reality that many will never be able to empathize with or relate to myself included). It’s easy to judge, but it’s a lot easier to hate than it is to consider the twisted perspective on reality one must have when looking down from the top.

Continuing into the belly of the album, “Love Lockdown” doesn’t sound nearly as out of place as it did when it was initially released. The single also serves as a fantastic bridge to “Paranoid,” featuring Mr. “don’t call me Jennifer” Hudson, which is the most electric song on the album. With the track Kanye’s rhymes bounce for the first time on 808s, the song sounding closer to that of his recent collaboration with Estelle (”American Boy”) than to anything on the rest of the record.

In the week’s prior to 808s‘ release, the majority of songs began showing up on a variety of blogs and other sites; sometimes as finished products, sometimes as rough demos. One of the final songs to leak was “See You In My Nightmares” featuring Lil Wayne. For the second time in two years, however, Lil Wayne’s contribution leads to the most forgettable track on Kanye’s album. “Nightmare” isn’t terrible, and is genius compared to last year’s “Barry Bonds,” but if there is a low point on 808s, “Nightmare” is it. On the other side of the leaked song spectrum is “RoboCop,” a track which leaked and was immediately shot down by Kanye via his blog, I DID NOT LEAK ROBOCOP!!!… THAT’S NOT EVEN THE FINISHED VERSION… I’M PRETTY UPSET ABOUT IT BUT THAT’S THE WAY LIFE IS SOMETIMES!” The album’s version kicks off with an industrial-teasing introduction that surges into a wave of overwhelming pop-strings. If 808s & Heartbreaks represents Kanye West right now, “RoboCop” represents the epitome of what Kanye is doing musically; the song is an over-the-top genre-bending pop gem.

The eight-minute live track/freestyle “Pinocchio Story” concludes the album, expanding on the implication that Kanye’s living in the moment with 808s. While being a solid track, it’s not something that fits into the rest of the album, and its inclusion reflects what might have been a last-minute decision. But “Pinocchio” is as much 808s as “Love Lockdown” is. Both tracks might not work a few months from now, let alone a few years, but they reflect the musician’s attempt to feed off the moment and create something unique in the process. And while interacting with fans, dropping samples of his music at will and attempting to expand his audience, Kanye has done just that - he’s created an album that reflects the moment while being entirely unique and in a category of its own; kind of like Kanye himself.

Atlatl "My Devil’s Evangelical" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, D. Kent Watson of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Atlatl describes the band’s single “My Devil’s Evangelical.”

~~~~~

I didn’t know how to word this for some time. I have very specific references for most of my songs, but they are scattered. Scattered in the sense that I will pick up different verses from different parts of my life. Unless, say, I’m writing about love, which I try to avoid. I just don’t like to write about love.

(”So you can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll / Im very sorry, baby, doesn’t look like me at all / I’m standing by the window where the light is strong / Ah they don’t let a woman kill you / Not in the tower of song” – Leonard Cohen).

But when I do I can very easily write about a girl or a moment and continue with a continuity for the entire song. On the other hand a song like “My Devils Evangelical” came to me after experiencing several different things and piecing them together. I guess I believe a song should be about something, or mean something but I don’t think there should be any specific approach to attaining that. I don’t set out to write a song about the economic crisis and then just write it. I will usually get somewhere by accident. By living. By having as many experiences as possible. That’s my favorite approach right now anyways.

“My Devils Evangelical” is about fundamentalism. About not admitting you’re wrong, the necessity to admit you're wrong. About not being yourself because it's easier to blend in. About being human.

Me and a friend last summer started a project where we visited different churches and listened to the service. We wanted to know why people went to the churches they went to. How much of it was belief? How much of it was comfort and how much of it was convenience? Then we would go to brunch and discuss it. We then wrote responses on a blog called tour of the congregations. We went to a few evangelical super churches. I’d say a lot of the first verse came from that.

It was the first song where I got to be the conductor rather than a player. It was the first song where I got to bark orders in the studio. It was a great learning experience. It’s a lot of fun to play live and I think it was a stepping stone for us. – D. Kent Watson

Britney Spears “Circus” Review

On pop-merit alone, “Womanizer” is enough of an earworm to draw interest to Britney Spears’ new album from even the most hesitant of listeners. The single, which is her first chart-topper since 1999’s “…Baby One More Time,” continues Spears’ trend of having about as much lyrical zest as Metallica’s James Hetfield. That being said, it has a beat with a solid enough punch to drown out the overly repetitive chorus, and it comes across as something comfortable to the singer. Seemingly out of nowhere Spears has found reprieve in the studio, one of the few remaining places where paparazzi aren’t lurking and she’s away from the public eye. And away from that drama, her relaxed approach has left her with nearly 30 songs that she has reportedly recorded during the sessions for Circus - 18 of which will see eventually be released. But does a rush of material and a relaxed attitude mean that Britney’s back (bitches)? Not quite.

In 1991, after being rung through the critical washboard, Michael Jackson moved beyond being a sum of his notable eccentricities to release his third chart topping album, Dangerous. While Jackson and Spears are clearly different people in different situations with different public “issues,” Circus might grant Spears’ musical career a similar rebirth. Granted, on the surface Circus doesn’t have the potential for nine singles like Dangerous had (though I’m sure Jive would be willing to milk nine out of the album), but it has a sound suggesting that the musician is taking a serious interest in her work again.

Alongside “Womanizer,” “Radar” sounds vibrant, blending in nicely with the Kanye’s of the current pop-radio-landscape. Its pulsating beat creates a solid base for the song, and Spears’ voice shines within the track. While Spears doesn’t have the range of many other singers, “Radar” succeeds because she’s not trying to reach beyond her capabilities; a trend that is evident throughout Circus. Additionally, “Radar” is heavily produced, but not to a point of detriment, and when blended with her (seemingly) lightly produced vocals it easily stands out amongst the pack. And while “Unusual You” has its blindingly apparent moments of vocal tampering, it’s far from coming close to the level autotune used in Cher’s “Believe;” produced in a way that would make Kanye and Lil Wayne blush with envy.

The biggest problem with Circus is that it sounds like Spears’ “best” tracks from her recording session have simply being tossed together without order. Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes recently spoke on his band’s decision to release a string of EPs rather than a single album, “It’s a little bit more interesting to write and record four songs at a time than having to concentrate on 12-14 songs for a full length. This way you can do something new and exciting… I wish people just recorded singles instead of albums, actually.” Circus is a prime example of an album that should have been a series of EPs. The banger “If U Seek Amy” is rightly lumped with “Unusual You,” but the two standouts are surrounded by ballads and other tracks varying the album’s pace beyond the restraints of tolerance. Simply considering the volume of material produced for the album, four or five EPs could have easily released, each having at least one single, each revealing a different side to Spears. But as is the case, while being a surprisingly strong effort, Circus is too varied for its own good.

Is an onslaught of (mostly) refreshing material enough to reinforce the Dangerous comparison? Not really. But it’s her attitude tha’s helping influence her reintroduction to the epicenter of pop music. Rather than releasing an album of material furthering the public’s belief that she’s lost within her own reality, she’s putting songs out that suggest that she’s firm where she’s at right now. In “Womanizer” Spears hisses “You say I’m crazy, I got your crazy,” and while it’s a dimly lit stab at her naysayers it suggests that she’s coming to grips with her life. She’s not the most stable person in the world, but it is what it is. Circus doesn’t represent anything that would necessarily suggest that Britney is “back,” but rather, that she’s just here making some good songs - and for the first time in a very long time, she’s comfortable with that.

Guns N’ Roses “Chinese Democracy” Review

“Chinese Democracy” opens with a shrieking Axl Rose whose voice overwhelms a surprisingly sharp rhythm section. The song ignites the near-mythological album, also tossing aside any preconceived notion of what Chinese Democracy should sound like. But at this point in time, any interested listener has had access to various bits and pieces of the album for not simply weeks, but years - questioning not why it has taken 17 years to release a follow up to the brilliant Use Your Illusion albums, but rather why has it taken so much time to release tracks that sound essentially like they did a few years ago?

The dramatics behind Chinese Democracy are more than enough to suggest that there is some sort of credence behind its drastically prolonged release date, the band’s constantly changing lineup and Axl’s own perfectionism barely skimming the surface of the album’s history, but as a listener, a fan even, it’s hard to not initially feel like Chinese Democracy isn’t really worth the wait. Such a feeling first springs up with “Shackler’s Revenge,” which churns out a thumping “Dragula“-like riff before breaking into one of the album’s many solid choruses. Despite the solid composition, there’s an awkwardness in the transition to the next song that results from the puzzle-piece reality of Chinese Democracy; on an individual basis, each song is at the very worst, good, but as a whole, the album is a culmination of parts pieced together over the course of well over a decade. It’s there that the initial feeling of disappointment sets in.

The street glam feel of “Shackler’s Revenge” is followed by the album’s first stand-out, “Better,” but lost in that transition is the previously mentioned feeling of solidarity between the album’s unique parts. Then again, forget 17 years, how is a recording that has taken five years to compile supposed to reflect a consistent focus or artistic goal? In 2003 when the first rough demo of “I.R.S.” began circulating, the song presumably reflected Axl’s focus as a musician in 2003 - is it even possible to suggest that 13 more songs, added over the course of five years, would hold any sort of consistency? In that respect, Chinese Democracy is one of the most unique rock & roll albums ever recorded - not only has Axl had to overcome personal and public expectations of the music, but he’s had to combine nearly two decades worth of rough drafts into something fluid. Despite the awkward transition between “Shackler’s Revenge” and “Better,” when consideration is made for the process behind the transition, it’s amazing that the tracks sound as good together as they do.

“Street of Dreams” continues by rining true to the Guns N’ Roses of the past. Like “Catcher in the Rye” does later in the album, “Dreams” finds a balance between a daunting mountain of sound and that horrible armpit of a niche known as a “rock-ballad.” It’s in “Dreams” that Axl becomes a victim of his own creation, because at about a minute and a half into the song, a guitar comes crashing in, attempting to rip it in half, and the resulting feeling is that… well, Slash could have destroyed this song. Though the solo that later materializes easily stands up to anything else on Chinese Democracy, the song unleashes a shadow of past-successes that casts a cloudy feeling of sentimental longing for a band that no longer exists. Here, the idea of living in the moment and appreciating what it is that Guns N’ Roses have turned into becomes secondary to the what-ifs, if only temporarily. But the eventual reality of the situation isn’t that the songs could have been better if performed by the original band members, but rather that they sound just as good now as it probably would have in 1995 - no matter who’s performing them.

There are a few exceptions, “Scraped” in particular, that sound out sightly of place, but as the album continues ahead those sharp transitions become softer and Chinese Democracy starts to sound like something complete. Questioning at first why the album took even a few years to “perfect” becomes superficial as the album rolls on - the key to Chinese Democracy isn’t that it’s a culmination of 17 years, but rather that no song on the album stands as something entirely out of place. Any song could effectively have been released during the past 15 years and it wouldn’t have sounded any better or worse at any point time than it does now. Hearing “I.R.S.” and “Madagascar” two years ago for the first time, I can’t say that I’m any less impressed by them now than I was then. How many albums from any of rock’s giants can the same be said for? Think of the bands that have been releasing mediocre albums since 1993, U2’s Pop or Metallica’s Reload for instance; chances are that time will prove those albums even more dated sounding and stuck in the moment than they sound now. Such a reality is one that I don’t believe Chinese Democracy will have to face.

In his review, Chuck Klosterman began by questioning the relevance of even attempting to review the album, “Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It’s more like reviewing a unicorn.” Summing up a few words in reflection of the music pales in comparison to the epic release and the history behind it. Putting aside all thought on expectation, what the demos sounded like, why the album has taken so long to release, and if the final product sounds remotely good all becomes secondary to the fact that Chinese Democracy is finally a reality. For what it’s worth though, when considering the obstacles faced prior to its release, it’s nothing short of remarkable how good the album sounds.

Golden Bloom "Doomsday Devices" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. In this edition, Golden Bloom’s Shawn Fogel describes the myriad of influences that inspired both the song and the music video for the band’s single “Doomsday Devices.”

On “Doomsday Devices”:

I once read an interview with Neil Young where he talked about his songwriting process being that when he sits down to write a song he doesn’t get up until it’s finished. This left me a bit envious of Uncle Neil’s level of focus and determination, as it seemed to be the polar opposite of my usual songwriting method. Often it starts with a chord progression and a little melody, and “Doomsday Devices” was no different. I think the last song I had listened to before I sat down to write was Band Of Horses’ “Is There A Ghost,” and I must have been inspired by it’s simplicity, powerful melody, and dynamic arrangement. When I put down my guitar I had a song with no words, and a phrase stuck in my head, “Doomsday Devices.” For some reason I find it easier to write lyrics for songs when I’m traveling. Ideas start to percolate when I’m driving, and rarely do I get on a bus or train without a notebook. In fact, I wrote the words to “Doomsday Devices” on a Metro North train from NY to CT.

I’ve watched “The Atomic Café,” the 1982 documentary on the development of the atomic bomb, dozens and dozens of times. The collection of newsreel and army training footage are somehow humorous and horrifying at the same time. If it was fiction it would be comedy, but the fact that it’s all real leaves me with a chill. My obsession with this film may be where the initial idea for “Doomsday Devices” came from, but there is also the Bush administration’s insertion of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” into the American lexicon. The surface level meaning of this song can be seen in the music video that was made for it, where the President of the United States (who in the video is myself) alludes to his hidden agenda of using Doomsday Devices. In the opening line of the song, “You think you see me but it’s only what I’m willing to show, you think you understand me but it’s only what I want you to know.” Most of my songs have been first person narratives, but this is one of the first songs I’ve ever written in a different voice, where the “narrator” if you will, is someone other than myself. – Shawn Fogel

When I first recorded this song, it was shaping to be a guitar heavy rock song, much like the Band Of Horses song I mentioned before. But with a name as dark as “Doomsday Devices,” I decided I wanted to push the pop factor and come up with an arrangement that would be in stark contrast to the title. Working with studio guru Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Mates Of State, Longwave, etc.) really helped the pop shine through as we began to layer it up with synths galore, glockenspiel and the Casio drumbeat bridge. In the end, “Doomsday Devices” doesn’t really sound like any of the other songs that will accompany it on the debut Golden Bloom album, and that’s probably why I like it so much!

Jesse Elliott (of These United States) Interview

Prior the the band’s show at the Turf Club last weekend, playing with Bitzen Trapper and Horse Feathers, Jesse Elliott of These United States took some time to discuss a few questions with Culture Bully’s Chris DeLine. After discussing the band’s ties to Kentucky, the two continued by touching on the band’s ongoing outreach to fans via social media, the band’s tour, and why These United States is the best band in the world.

How do guys feel about being called Lexington’s equivalent of a super-group?

Jesse Elliott: Well, we’re not all from Lexington, and we don’t think of ourselves as all that super. But, yeah, we’re a group. And we’re pretty equivalent, too. Like, we balance each other. Sort of.

You're one of the most “connected” bands that I’ve come across in a while, utilizing tumblr, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and ilike. How have these mediums allowed you to not simply stay connected to your fan base, but to expand it?

Jesse Elliott: It’s hard to tell, honestly. It seems like maybe when you’re up on the next Level or three above us, or a very well known band, even, these things would be natural platforms for tons of people to interact on. Where we’re at, sometimes we see some serious feedback from people, and sometimes it feels like we’re just filling time on our laptops between tours. Good time, mind you. Connected time. But still just time. What was I saying?

Oh, yeah, the good old-fashioned way. I think that’s still how a band like ours does it, gets out there, and perhaps, little by painfully little, expands the circles of folks we reach and meet and connect to and crash on the couches of.

Your web site has a detailed list of gigs the band has played going back to 2005 – how important is it to you to journal your process as more forward?

Jesse Elliott: We like to remember the bands we’ve played with and the places who’ve been so kind as to host us. And there’ve been a lot of those. So, really, it’s just a memory device, something we can go back and look at when we’re thinking about heading through a particular geography again and wondering who were the folks who really lit us up there. So, yeah, it’s a journal. But more of a private journal in some ways, a tool mostly just for ourselves. Of course, a lot of people ask about tour history. So why not post it for the world to see, have a convenient spot to point others who are as curious about our own past as we are?

Between A Picture of the Three of Us… and Crimes – which would you say you were more comfortable with through the recording process?

Jesse Elliott: They were so completely different, it’s hard to compare. Apples and snakes, you might say. Picture was starts and fits, real and unreal, floating along, wrapped up in life and time. Crimes was fast, mean, wild, direct. Six days. Six glorious horrible non-stop 12-hour days. Maybe it’s more suited to where we are now, as a band and as people. But Picture is something pleasantly ethereal to think back upon, too – much more dream-like.

Do you think that you’re a better band now than when you recorded the last album?

Jesse Elliott: Yes. We are the best band in the world. Including Lexington, Kentucky. I don’t think there’s any reasonable person, in the world or in Lexington, Kentucky, who would argue us on that point.

After the band’s shows across the Western states what are the plans?

Jesse Elliott: More shows. More albums. More driving. We keep trying to think of other clever things to do, like maybe strike up a friendship with The Flaming Lips and go on an African safari with them. But until we do, we’re just a band; therefore: more shows, more albums, more driving.

Deerhunter "Microcastle" Review


Opening with the comparatively quiet "Cover Me (Slowly)," Deerhunter's Microcastle quickly evolves into something less abstract and inherently more familiar than the band's previous offerings. While 2007's breakthrough Cryptograms was applauded for its abrasive intangibles, Microcastle sounds harnessed and reflective of, rather than in conflict with, the band's inspirations. But rather than just sounding like Sonic Youth or the Pixies, Deerhunter transcend a culture dying for immediate nostalgia and creates an album suggestive of rock's illusive "next wave."

It's odd to think of obscurity as an advantage, but whereas bands were once given the ability to hone their sound over a matter of years, today's modern climate demands immediate evaluation and categorization, allowing for little time to develop. Microcastle's second track, "Agoraphobia," reflects a sound characteristic of what was once termed "slacker rock" and a casual lyrical style reminiscent of that of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. But while Deerhunter avoid the noisiness often associated with the art-rock trailblazers, uncharacteristically leaning toward sounding like a "rock band," they base the core sound on something that took years to develop. Likewise, "Little Kids" sounds as though the band inherited a sound the Pixies lost somewhere between internal conflict and addiction. In attempting to expand upon a variety of influences that took years to cultivate, in a very short time the question that arises isn't "what's next?"—it's "is next possible?"

The curiously self-debasing lyrics of the album's closing track, "Twilight at Carbon Lake," evolve into Microcastle's increasingly dramatic and intricate conclusion. What becomes the loudest song on the album is also the most telling of what might become of the brilliance that the band generously exudes. With guitars twisting and sounds colliding, the album peaks before fading out into silence—and if that looming "next wave" of rock 'n' roll is ever to materialize, part of its success will lie in bands such as Deerhunter not similarly fading away into silence.

[This article was first published by City Pages.]

Pale Young Gentlemen "The Crook of Good My Arm" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. For this edition Mike Reisenauer breaks down the titled track from the Pale Young Gentlemen’s latest release, Black Forest (tra la la).

On “The Crook of Good My Arm”:

I’d been working with the verses for sometime before I finally wrote the title to this song. Once I had that, the song basically wrote itself. It’s really a standard A-A-B-A song in the tradition of “What a Wonderful World” and the like, but I wanted to make it longer so I added another chorus to it (The “Run, Run” section).

I set up the rhyme scheme and built the strings so that it moved up and into the “Crook” line- a musical and lyrical exclamation point. The clanking percussion on that song is comes from a Pottery Barn fruit bowl that was handy when I was demo-ing the song. It sounded just right, so we used it for the actual recording as well. – Mike Reisenauer

Japanese Motors “Japanese Motors” Review

Singer Alex Knost’s slow, purposeful drawl follows an echoing introduction on “Single Fins & Safety Pins,” the lead track from Japanese Motors. Considering the generally laid back feel of the Orange Country quartet’s entire album, the track is a fitting opener - wading in a cool tide of sound with no real rush to go anywhere. As the album moves on, the sad realization of the situation is that the only reason that the Japanese Motors aren’t on Top of the Pops right now (other than because Top of the Pops no longer exists) is because 2008 is not 2001.

Or rather, the music that was popular in 2001, is no longer as popular in 2008. Japanese Motors would fit perfectly within a musical landscape teeming with albums such as White Blood Cells and Veni Vidi Vicious, but whether it be a changing fashion, or shifting tastes, the popularity of like-sounding records have gone the way of The Vines. “Better Trends” morphs a killer surf-line into an upbeat interlude, both signifying a sound that is seemingly harmless, but one that inevitably sucks you in without you even realizing it. The following track, “Spendin’ Days,” is a tragic listen because it’s a very good song that was released a few years too late. If any of the The bands had put this track out in their prime, it’d be a guaranteed hit - but as is the reality of the situation, it will probably end up lingering in relative obscurity.

Japanese Motors have released an album that is good, but something that doesn’t reflect the energy of the band’s live show (or so I hear). Even at “good” it remains an album that could have probably been viewed as “great” if the sound which is at the core of the album were still fashionable. A lot of bands who made comparable music around the dawn of the decade weren’t as solid as Japanese Motors, and a lot of those bands became wealthy from throwing together a popular sound when it was ripe. Japanese Motors may not get rich from the album, but that doesn’t mean it sounds any less solid than those which sold millions.

Japanese Motors gives the same sort of feeling that you might get if you were to see a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll now. Outside of the context surrounding its release, it was a good toy - one that still holds up because it was and is solid. But in no way should it have ever been as highly in demand as it was during its peak in popularity. You can still still find these dolls, and they’re still great toys, but they’ve since lost their shadow of hysteria. Likewise, the garage rock revival was a bit of a fraud, and its popularity elevated a number of bands who made good, well crafted, basic songs and blew them way out of proportion. Looking back, the bands that once had an inflated level of popularity are no less talented now than they were then - it’s just that they’re not as popular now. Japanese Motors is a very solid album, but even after a single listen it leaves the impression that given a different context, it could have been “great.” Despite the reality that garage rock is no longer the Tickle-Me-Elmo that it once was, that doesn’t mean that it holds any less value. That is especially true with Japanese Motors.

Bottle Up & Go "Wayward Sun" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, Bottle Up & Go’s Keenan Mitchell reminisces about days-gone-by, connecting them with “Wayward Son,” a song written in repentance of drunken tomfoolery.

On “Wayward Son”:

This song was written the summer before last, back when we were getting kicked out of every bar that we played in. The night before we wrote it Fareed walked off the stage and fell flat out on his face, I got kicked out for insisting that I could bring a backpack of malt liquor into the bar because I was the goddamn performer even if I had puked already, and Lucas took off his shirt and tried to fight the bartender, and then the bouncer, and then a bum outside.

We woke up on the floor to find out our whole band had sat around a table at someone’s house later that night scaring them by all talking in absolute gibberish as if it were real sentences. I felt like I should write a song in penitence.

“Wayward Son” is a song, like most of our songs, that takes an American archetype and filters it through our own experience. I felt like writing it about the ever-regretful drunk, with every morning’s recollection a blank slate that gets filled in slowly by the people you wake up next to. I think that’s how we were all feeling most mornings, until the king cobra and orange juice started going around the table in a big bowl.

That’s the character its about, until the middle, when it gets quiet. Then it’s actually about me. Calling my mom from jail, having other people call her to tell her I am in the hospital, calling because I crashed the car. We take turns singing that part in the live show; it goes to whoever feels the most wayward at the time. Lucas has had it on lock down for a long time, but now that I owe my mom a thousand dollars for an ambulance I drank my way into I think I might just take it over again. - Keenan Mitchell

Japanese Motors “Brand New Everything”



You’re hearing it here first: a b-side from the latest self-titled release from Orange County’s Japanese Motors. “Brand New Everything (version 2)” is two minutes and 24 seconds of fury - the song rips into your soul, grabs a beer, and shotguns it before you can say “hey, don’t rip into my soul.” Check out some exclusive videos of singer Alex Knost recording the song after the jump.



Remember the absurdity of the David Lee Roth’s vocal track from “Runnin’ with the Devil”? No matter how much DLR’s jams rule within the context of the song, they’re a bit goofy standing alone on their own, right? It’s all in the context, baby… it’s all in the context.

Q-Tip “The Renaissance” Review

I like Q-Tip. Even at what many considered his worst (his “Vivrant Thing“-era), I liked him. So it’s without shock that I think The Renaissance is fantastic. Prior to the album’s release, with the videos for “Gettin’ Up” and “Move,” it was easy to hear that Tip was falling back on what made him relevant in the first place; not necessarily on level with A Tribe Called Quest, but solid all the same. “Move,” in particular, pumps a beat ready to be bit on by a hundred mixtape MCs. Last month Q-Tip joined a legendary cast of artists in celebrating De La Soul for VH1’s Hip Hop Honors. During his multiple performances, Tip put out a fantastic energy, one that made me feel like he was “back,” and that energy effortlessly transfers to the album. “Dance on Glass” has a beat that revisits “Find a Way,” and “Won’t Trade” blends Tip’s casual style with a blistering lyrical pace. Even while I didn’t think Amplified was too bad, songs like these make me scratch my head, thinking “where has this Q-Tip been for the past decade?” I guess that somewhere along the way, the MC apparently reconsidered why people loved him 20 years ago. The Renaissance isn’t a rebirth, or a reinvention of self, but rather just a statement saying that Tip remembered what separated him from other MCs in the first place.

Eagles of Death Metal "Heart On" Review


In a promotional video released weeks before Eagles of Death Metal's new record, singer Jesse Hughes exuded joy as he described the current state of his hometown: "Hollywood feels like this opening sequence to Saturday Night Fever. Everyone seems like they're ready for action—and the action is go." If only that sort of abundant energy translated to the band's new release.

A decade after being merely a Josh Homme side project, Eagles of Death Metal has taken the role of being one of rock 'n' roll's loudest, cockiest, and cheekiest bands. Between the group's first two albums, Peace, Love and Death Metal and Death By Sexy, EoDM created its own universe; one which focused almost exclusively on hard rocking, innumerable double entendres, and the devil. With Heart On, however, the luster is gone, the rocking isn't as hard, and the sexual innuendo isn't nearly as fierce as it once was (album title aside). Whereas Jesse "The Devil" Hughes once sang about the mixed emotions associated with diving into the depths of questionable sexual eligibility, the band now takes a thematic higher ground, often focusing on "emotions" and "relationships." Hughes himself asks the question late into the album: "How can a man with so many friends feel so alone?"

Things aren't entirely blasé with Heart On, however. The album's lead single "Wanna Be in L.A." sounds like a reckless, beer-soaked surfer, barely hanging onto a repetitive flow before wisely fading out. "Secret Plans" prominently expels much of the record's tired sound, adding the tight-fisted chorus "I want what I want, what I want, what I want, what I want." And if repetition and the occasional suggestive lyric could save the album, Eagles of Death Metal would be solid gold. Instead, Heart On sounds far less like a vivacious representation of the city, and a lot more like the cliché that Hollywood has become.

Natalie Kuhn Interview

David Byrne’s current tour has been subject to a phenomenal level of acclaim amongst critics and fans alike, largely due to Byrne’s supporting cast of performers. The expanded show includes a set of lively backup singers, an extensive backing band and a trio of modern dancers - everyone interacting with Byrne during throughout the duration of each concert. As the tour continues, Culture Bully’s Chris DeLine was able to get a few words in with one of the show’s dancers, Natalie Kuhn, discussing the choreography of the show, the selection process, and hot air balloons.

Word has it that you’re a graduate of the NYU theater school - how did you make the transition over to dance?

Natalie Kuhn: I graduated NYU with a BFA in Drama. During my training at the Atlantic and at the Experimental Theater Wing I took many different movement classes ranging from Suzuki and Viewpoints to West African Dance. But I wouldn’t say that I have made a “transition” over to dance because this is actually my first gig where I have been hired specifically as a dancer.

What was the selection process like during the auditions?

Natalie Kuhn: It was an invitation only audition held in July. The four choreographers and David were in the room the entire time. The choreographers are Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs who work as a team known as Robbinschilds, Annie B Parson, and Noemie Lafrance. Each choreographer would have about an hour working with us and at the end of each hour (or so) there would be a cut. By the second day there were nine of us that stayed the whole day doing different exercises and routines.

How long did you have to practice with the choreography team prior to heading out on tour?

Natalie Kuhn: We had one week with each choreographer (three weeks total) and on the fourth week, we spent three days putting all the elements together. We had three days in Easton, PA for tech/dress rehearsals and then off we went!

What have you learned about the creative process through working with this production?

Natalie Kuhn: I suppose I have begun to see how everything has the potential to affect your current creative project. For example, one of the inspirations for two of the dance pieces was a Japanese film that David saw and then lent to Annie-B. After one of our shows, a few of us ran down the street to catch the last bit of Deerhoof perform and their show in turn has inspired some movement in a new dance piece we are beginning to work on for the tour.

Jonathan Valania described the show for Rolling Stone as “modern dance for people who don’t like modern dance.” He continued by touching on one of the show’s highlights, “Midway through ‘Once In A Lifetime,’ one of the dancers literally vaulted Byrne while he took a guitar solo.” What role do you play in the show?

Natalie Kuhn: While I do not vault David, I do think we all have a similar role and that is to have as much fun as possible. At least that’s how I see it. I’m having a great time, I’m pretty sure all of us up there are, and it seems that the audience is as well. It’s a symbiotic relationship I think; you have fun - I have fun.

What is attempting to be communicated through the movements of the show?

Natalie Kuhn: I’m going to pull a lame high school English teacher move and ask you - what was communicated to you? A lot of people have asked me after the show, “what does the dancing MEAN?” And whether or not there is concrete meaning behind each dance piece, would it be any fun if I came right out and told you? I think the most important thing is how the dancing, singing, and music combine to create an overall experience. Hopefully a positive one.

David Byrne has been keeping his online journal up as the tour goes on, his 9/21 post adding the following, “The dancing element of the show really lifts everything to another level. At first, I was concerned that it would even ‘work’ and be a real integrated part of the show. It is.” How much does positive feedback like this drive you and the show’s other two dancers? How much interaction do you have with David, himself?

Natalie Kuhn: Positive feedback is certainly great to hear. I definitely want David to be happy with the work but I also trust David and the choreographers to tell us if something needs to change. It really is a collaborative environment, he throws out ideas and opinions and he asks for ours all the time. To answer the second part, I’m sure there are some headlining musicians who only see their fellow performers at the gig but that is not David. Often he is the one to put together a group hike or a bike ride. Someone will throw out a plan - like hot air ballooning - and whoever wants to go, “meet in the lobby at 9am.” David is always game. He is a real adventurer, athlete, and is very inclusive.

Were you a Talking Heads fan prior to the tour?

Natalie Kuhn: Oh yes.

10 Biggest Anti-Bush Songs


In the eight years he's been in charge of the nation, George W. Bush's approval ratings have hit all-time lows. That sentiment has, of course, been manifest into song, as well. To help us prepare to say goodbye to eight of the most disheartening years in the country’s history, here are 10 of the biggest anti-Bush songs of the era.

Beastie Boys: “In a World Gone Mad” / Internet Exclusive [2003]
"But you build more bombs as you get more bold/ As your mid-life-crisis war unfolds/ All you want to do is take control/ Now put that 'axis of evil' bullshit on hold."
Released in 2003 via sites including MTV, MoveOn.org and Win Without War, Beastie Boys' "In a World Gone Mad" takes aim at the Bush administration's resolve to send American troops to Iraq. It may include one of the most ridiculous Beastie Boys lyrics of all time ("George Bush, you're looking like Zoolander/ Trying to play tough for the camera"), but it also has one of the most poignant: "Now how many people must get killed/ For oil families pockets to get filled/ How many oil families get killed/ Not a damn one, so what's the deal?"

LL Cool J &Wyclef Jean: “Mr. President” / Exit 13 [Def Jam, 2008]
“Mr. President, truth or dare/ Terrorist is hiding. Do you know where?”
Released on LL Cool J’s 13th and final Def Jam album, “Mr. President” finds the MC taking a nonpartisan look at the reality of the past eight years, ultimately asking for the truth on where the country stands. For the most part he uses nonaccusatory statements, something that is a rarity on this list, but ultimately “Mr. President” paints a similarly bleak picture: “I’m not Republican or Democratic/ I’m independent; I want the facts/ When are the soldiers come back?/ Are we prepared for a terrorist attack?”

Pearl Jam: “Bu$hleaguer” / Riot Act [Epic, 2002]
“He’s not a leader, he’s a Texas leaguer/ Swinging for the fence, got lucky with a strike/ Drilling for fear, makes the job simple/ Born on third, thinks he got a triple.”
Roughly two years into the Bush administration, Pearl Jam released “Bu$hleaguer,” a wordy chop at the faltering president. Comparing his competency as leader of the nation to the ability of a minor league baseball player, Eddie Vedder criticizes Bush’s credentials and path to the presidency before fading off into a wasteland of poetic commentary. It’s a little easier to make the squad when your dad runs the team.

James McMurtry: “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” / Childish Things [Compadre, 2005]
“Will work for food/ Will die for oil/ Will kill for power and to us the spoils/ The billionaires get to pay less tax/ The working poor get to fall through the cracks.”
A commentary on the state of the nation, James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” is exponentially true four years after he first wrote the song. Throughout the story McMurtry delivers examples of things that break his heart — eventually pointing the finger at the source of the trickle down, “if the president wants to admit it or not.” In 2005 the economy was relatively solid compared to today’s, but now more people are hurting and more fingers are being pointed. A lot of people are looking at the administration and saying, “We can’t make it here anymore.”

Bright Eyes: “When the President Talks to God” / [iTunes, 2005]
“When the president talks to God/Are the conversations brief or long? Does he ask to rape our women’s rights/And send poor farm kids off to die? Does God suggest an oil hike/When the president talks to God?”
Conor Oberst’s poetic protest, “When the President Talks to God” caustically chastised Bush for the conflicts between his outspoken Christian beliefs and his administration’s policies. Oberst performed the acoustic song on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in May of 2005, pausing momentarily before stepping into one of the song’s most infamous lines, “When the president talks to God/Does he ever think that maybe he’s not? That that voice is just inside his head/When he kneels next to the presidential bed/Does he ever smell his own bullshit/When the president talks to God?” While Oberst faded the song out of his live rotation by mid-2006, the track would still go on to win Song of the Year at the 2006 PLUG Awards.

Zack de la Rocha and DJ Shadow: “March of Death” / MarchofDeath.com [2003]
“Here it comes the sound of terror from above/ He flex his Texas twisted tongue/ The poor lined up to kill in desert slums/ For oil that boil beneath the desert sun.”
For the many looking for a glimpse of some (even then) long-overdue Zach de la Rocha solo material, “March of Death” was a gift. Distributed for free via MarchofDeath.com, the song focused de la Rocha’s anger and frustration into roughly four minutes of pounding beats. Co-opting a one of the last solid tracks DJ Shadow produced before his dreadful The Outsider album, “March of Death” is as much a banger as it is a fierce commentary.

The openly outspoken de la Rocha accompanied the song’s release with this message: “Lies, sanctions, and cruise missiles have never created a free and just society. Only everyday people can do that. Which is why I’m joining the millions worldwide who have stood up to oppose the Bush administration’s attempt to expand the U.S. empire at the expense of human rights at home and abroad. In this spirit I’m releasing this song for anyone who is willing to listen. I hope it not only makes us think but also inspires us to act and raise our voices.”

NOFX: “Idiot Son of an Asshole” / Rock Against Bush, Vol. 2 [Fat Wreck Chords, 2003]
“Cocaine and a little drunk driving/ Doesn’t matter, when you’re the commander in chief.”
A B-side from 2003’s War on Errorism that was also released on the Rock Against Bush compilation, “Idiot Son of An Asshole” doesn’t hold back in explaining how Fat Mike and NOFX feel about George W. Bush. It isn’t poetic, it isn’t overly thoughtful and it’s a little too dense for its own good. But then again, all of those characteristics apply to Bush, as well.

Green Day: “American Idiot” / American Idiot [Reprise, 2004]
“Well, maybe I’m the faggot America/ I’m not part of a redneck agenda/ Now everybody do the propaganda/ And sing along to the age of paranoia.”
“American Idiot” was released as the lead single for Green Day’s 2004 politically focused “rock opera” of the same name. The hugely successful single propelled Green Day back into the spotlight, raising the profile of the band not just because of its energetic hooks but also because of the political leanings of the songs. Criticizing the administration’s stance on gay rights is nothing new, but to call a conservative minority out on its own sickening rhetoric was a step in the right direction.

Neil Young: “Let’s Impeach the President” / Living With War [Reprise, 2006]
“Let’s impeach the president/ For hijacking our religion and using it to get elected/ Dividing our country into colors/ And still leaving black people neglected.”
The Grammy-nominated song was released on Neil Young’s Living With War album, primarily taking focus on the Patriot Act, Al Qaeda, New Orleans and the seemingly innumerable contradictions made by George W. Bush during his presidency. Blatantly calling for his impeachment, Neil Young closes the song by chanting “Thank God,” poking at the skepticism behind the President habitually putting his “born again” values ahead of the law, the nation and the world.

Eminem: “Mosh” / Encore [Shady/Interscope Records, 2004]
“Rebel with a rebel yell, raise hell we gonna let ’em know/Stomp, push, shove, mush, Fuck Bush, until they bring our troops home.”
The single from Eminem’s 2004 album, Encore, proved controversial for both its lyrics and the accompanying Ian Inaba-directed video. Opening to a sequence depicting Eminem surrounded by newspaper articles condemning Bush’s administration, the video depicts a nation lost and angry and on the verge of an uprising. “And assemble our own army/ To disarm this Weapon of Mass Destruction/ That we call our president, for the present/ And mosh for the future of our next generation.” The closing scene of the video, which accompanies those words, depicts citizens standing in a voting line, all bitterly wearing masks of dissent. Here, four years later, the only thing that has changed is that the line is a lot longer.

[This article was first published by Prefix Magazine.]

Medeski Martin and Wood "Free Go Lily" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, Chris Wood describes how Medeski Martin and Wood describes how an old field recording influenced the group to make something old, new again.

On “Free Go Lily”:

MMW has always used field recordings for inspiration whether it be from West Africa, Cambodia, or the Appalachian mountains. Last year I bought a box set called Art of Field Recording which is a compilation of field recordings by Art Rosenbaum. Mr. Rosenbaum is a history professor in Athens Georgia who, for the last 40 years, has been making field recordings of musicians in the south. We learned the song “Free Go Lily” from his compilation. We took a very short performance of the song by a man and a woman singing and expanded it into a full instrumental arrangement. – Chris Wood

Oldfolks Home "I Hate Dell" (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. Here, Ricardo Lopez of Winnipeg’s Oldfolks Home describes the song that may forever remove the group from consideration for a Dell sponsorship.

On “I Hate Dell”:

In January of 2003, I received my very first computer which I had ordered from Dell computers a few weeks prior. I was very excited because this finally meant that I could download anime straight to my own computer and not my roommates, and more importantly, I could start recording music at home. Whilst I was waiting for the computer to arrive, I had been searching through the depths of eBay to find cheap recording gear. It all arrived at around the same time so I went about the business of learning how to use it all and getting the software I needed. That’s when I encountered my first problem.

While trying to record, it would stutter and I couldn’t record for more then a few seconds. I tried my audio card on another computer and it worked fine, so I thought, “it must be the computer!” So I called Dell.

When you call Dell’s support line, you’re calling India. I must have called India everyday for almost two weeks. Thinking that it was a problem with their computer, they sent new parts, several service
people, but nothing seemed to work. In my own research, I found out that the motherboard on my computer had issues routing USB audio cards and that all I needed to do was to change the routing in the BIOS. No problem… one problem.

Dell set up their BIOS so that you can’t change the routing. I learned this by calling Microsoft (who’s call center is also in India) and they assured me that windows was capable of making these changes, but it was Dell that had disabled the ability. So we called Dell, they denied there was a problem, and then there was an argument between two people who were probably sitting in the same building. After Dell admitted they had disabled the function, I was escalated to their highest help desk, which was located somewhere in North America. The now-humbled Dell employee assured me that I would receive a call the next day at a certain time and I was relieved that this now two week ordeal was going to be over! They didn’t call that day at all. It was that evening that I wrote “I Hate Dell.” I still have the tear-soaked page I wrote the lyrics on.

When they finally did call, they said it wasn’t their fault, which it wasn’t since no one could predict how the new motherboard would react with old USB audio interfaces. So I hung up, sold the card, and got myself one that runs through firewire. I haven’t had a problem since. - Ricardo Lopez