Kylie Minogue “Aphrodite” Review

Sexuality in the realm of female-fronted pop music, or music in general, is nothing new. But in the past couple of decades what has evolved has shifted closer to a sort of “forced sexuality”: overt eroticism with little regard to context or artist. Sure, each situation is as unique as the individual in question, but whether or not an individual’s sexuality is accurately reflected with their public persona isn’t necessarily relevant when there are studio-heads, producers, agents, or any number of other people involved in the picture with interests in their own financial well-being that are tied directly to an artist and their commercial viability. And as the shift of what’s in demand continues its evolution we’re left with increasingly absurd results: Regardless of whether or not this takes the form of a 16-year-old Miley Cyrus taking to a stripper’s pole on stage, a 17-year-old Britney Spearsassuming the role of a sexy School-Girl on screen, or a 22-year-old Christina Aguilera simulating sex in a music video, it’s hard not to step back and wonder “When did this become normal?” While it’s easy to condemn the outrageousness of this shift, it’s just as easy to forget that it didn’t happen over night. Madonna was doing her Sex-thing in 1992 and she was far (FAR) from the first to blur the lines between music and sexuality; but even Madonna was allowed to take things at her own pace.

While Kylie Minogue, herself, leaned on the allure of a revealing outfit in her 2001 video for “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” something about the visuals spurred a different feeling than that of her contemporaries at the time: Minogue glowed, and continues to do so to this day, with a playful sensuality. Maybe this has to do with her personality, but it would hardly be unfair to suggest that it comes down to the time she was given to expand as a public persona, an artist, and ultimately as a woman. She was doing “The Loco-Motion” five years before Miley Cyrus was even born and the push wasn’t there—perhaps, at least not like it is now—to immediately move toward prematurely developing a sexual persona. Ultimately, over time, she was allowed to mature on her own and this came out as her personality evolved. And now at the age of 42 this is something that still translates, leaving her music, videos and performances in high contrast to much of what else is out there.

Assuming the title of the Greek goddess of beauty, love, and sexuality, Minogue’s 11th studio album is a celebration of living. “Dance,” she declares in the album’s opener, continuing, “It’s all I want to do so won’t you dance.” “All The Lovers” leads the album with its basic production and acutely focused lyrics lending themes that would be continued throughout Aphrodite. “Get Outta My Way” follows by taking an enthusiastic stance, Minogue reflecting on her urge to explore life while at the same time giving her frustratingly sluggish partner an ultimatum, “This is what’ll happen if you ain’t givin’ your girl what she needs.” Again, Aphrodite is about living, and for Minogue that simply means finding love and searching for something more.

The self-explanatory “Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)” is followed by “Closer” which introduces a pulsating electric background that arouses similarities to the electric harpsichord used by ABBA back in the ’70s. “Everything is Beautiful” captures a (relatively) slowed down beat which allows Minogue the opportunity to expand on her vocals which, to this point, have been largely under-emphasized. With a cheesy “Can you feel me in stereo?” introduction, which is repeated throughout the song, the album’s title track actually adds a surprisingly sharp chorus as it rounds out the first half of the record, “I’m fierce and I’m feeling mighty,/I’m a golden girl, I’m an Aphrodite, alright. Alright, yeah, yeah, yeah/I’m fierce and I’m feeling mighty/Don’t you mess with me, you don’t wanna fight me, alright. Alright, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

The Euro-pop “Illusion” is followed by the rhythmically engrossing “Better Than Today” which finds Minogue breaking down what might be the simplest personal mission statement ever: “What’s the point of living if you don’t want to dance?” The Calvin Harris produced “Too Much” introduces a pulsating synth that separates the song’s sound from the rest of Aphrodite, though still a sound which bleeds into “Cupid Boy,” a track co-written and co-produced by Sweden-based DJ Sebastian Ingrosso. The lighthearted “Looking For An Angel” and the upbeat “Can’t Beat That Feeling” close out the record, lending the second half of Aphrodite a tremendously energetic feeling, and certainly one that fails to subside.

Hardly overwhelming in their lyrical appeal, the album’s songs are founded on production largely akin to early-to-mid ’90s dance with bits and pieces of today’s musical influences scattered amongst them for good measure. And to say that Aphrodite was created for anything but dancing would be reading far too much into the music. But with Kylie Minogue that’s par for the course, and definitely not a bad thing. When it comes down to it, Aphrodite is a simple album and it doesn’t carry much weight beyond its pop-appeal, but it stands as a sincerely alluring alternative to the artificial feeling left behind by that “forced sexuality” which is perpetually being pushed by a younger crowd of pop icons. And if only for that reason alone, the album is a breath of fresh air.

Hypebot Interview

Recently, I spoke with Chris DeLine, who is a writer and author of the music blog Culture Bully. In this interview, Chris shares his perspective on a number of big ideas, ranging from late-bloomers to the Hold Steady to the ten-thousand hour rule to the work of economist David Galenson, and back again.

In recent years, as the media hype cycle has accelerated, so too, has the creativity time-line for artists collapsed. Put differently, the Internet has amplified the speed of word of mouth and music publications have interlocked themselves in never-ending competition to see who can champion an aspiring artist first.

With a seemingly endless supply of new artists to advocate for, publications no longer need to worry as much about the merits of the subsequent albums by artists who have since lost their buzz. In tandem, the acceleration of the hype cycle, the amount of space between, or “downtime” rather, that an artist can afford to take between releasing new creative works has shrunk, based not on the discretion of the artist but of the demands set forth by the changes in society.

The range of expectations that the audience puts forth have changed. Together these two trends, among others, have reshaped the demands that surround the artistic endeavors and created the great paradox of our times—that not only do albums lose momentum faster due to the velocity of the cycle, but artists now have even less time to produce new works. This has the potential to force artists to push out work, often times, causing them to follow-up before they’re ready.

In what ways have these societal and technological shifts reshaped the careers of artists and forged a path through the media landscape that requires a new breed of entrepreneurial and digitally fluent artists?

Chris DeLine: In terms of technological changes affecting musicians there have been a lot. They haven't just begun with the advent of music on the internet though, but instead, I think this is just another step in a long line of changes. Radio brought new ways for audiences to experience music, and expanded the number of acts that any given consumer was exposed to; television added to this, music television did the same, and I guess you could throw in things like tape trading and people burning CDs for one another. The internet—specifically, at least in my own experience, things like IRC, Napster, AudioGalaxy, (the original), and Soulseek—added to the next huge step in the time-line (some call it the hockey-stick effect, where a figure begins to grow exponentially...), suddenly allowing millions of people instant access to an endless supply of music from an endless supply of musicians they'd never heard of.

I don't know that technology over time has made it easier or harder to get noticed because I don't know that there were (per capita, at least) any fewer bands 50 years ago than there are today. That said, it's easier to gain access to bands now and it might just appear like there are more bands struggling for the same piece of pie now because it's easier for bands to reach out to listeners. The flip side is that now there are all these musicians that have started up IN the age of the internet who appear to believe that they need instant gratification: if there isn't instant buzz online about them, somehow that has some bearing on whether or not they're good, or enjoying themselves, or like the process of performing and creating, or whatever. As best I can tell, this is only blown further out of proportion because over the past decade thousands and thousands of blogs/online zines/whatever-you'd-prefer-calling-them have started up, offering up free music; legal or otherwise. And as the shift continued you then have people who might have once used outlets like Napster in the late-'90s who are now turning to these sites to find music. The whole thing seems like a three-headed beast that is feeding off of itself: There has been an increase in the number of bands who are looking for online exposure, there has been an increase in the number of outlets that are looking to offer online exposure, and (I assume) there has been an increase in the number of internet users who are looking online for new music. Like you said, the “downtime” between releases has shrunk for many due to an endless queue of bands waiting in the wings to be heard next and a slew of websites and readers eagerly waiting to jump on board for whatever the next big thing might be.

I'm not entirely sure what being “digitally fluent” means anymore, but there are still some traditional paths which have tremendous weight in terms of the prolonged success of any musician. Practicing, for instance, and performing live—both are key for many acts, not only in terms of maintaining interest in themselves for more than an instant, but actually getting better and expanding their real-life fan base. To paraphrase what someone far smarter than me once said, there's a difference between being famous and internet famous. I think more musicians need to keep that in mind before spamming tens of thousands of MySpace accounts to try to gain some new ears. That is, unless if they don't aspire to reach any remote level of “success” outside of the interweblogosphere... Actually, if they're still under the belief that MySpace friends are where it's at, I'm not sure there's much hope for them anyways. featured a story the other day titled "Before I get old: Success for late-blooming bands." In it, reporter Mark Morgenstein writes about the even more counterintuitive situation where three bands—The National, the Hold Steady and Spoon—“have each hit their highest positions ever on the Billboard 200 album chart with albums released in the past few months.” The interesting part is what they all have in common: they’re members are all in their thirties; have been playing together since the nineties; and until now, none of them had much commercial success with their music.

As the music and record industries evolve and as does the nature of the Internet itself, it doesn’t seem inconceivable that the media hype cycle will only get more pronounced and the creatively time-line for artists will continue to shrink. Do you think we’re moving towards a future where a story like that of these three bands can happen again? Or, have we pushed ourselves, both as and industry and a society, to the instantaneous direction of “NOW!” to the point where anomalies like this aren’t as likely?

Chris DeLine: I don't think so, I mean I can't see it not happening: experienced acts rising to prominence. That said, it's not like 2010 was the year that these three bands suddenly gained their respective fan bases, or started selling out shows, or sold a few records... It's just the year that they sold the most records. Is it because there weren't journalists and bloggers writing about how awesome these bands were five years ago? Not really... I mean, while not as influential then as the site is now, Pitchfork planted both Spoon and the Hold Steady in the top 50 albums of 2005; the same year the site slapped a 7.9 tag on the National's Alligator. In five years I imagine we'll have some band who are pretty tight right now come through in a big way.

What’s also significant about these three bands is that they had been playing together for about ten years before they had any commercial success with their music. “And what’s ten years?” Malcolm Gladwell questions in his book Outliers. “Well, it’s roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” In it, Gladwell does a short case study of the Beetles and concludes that they were in fact the beneficiaries of a special opportunity in the Hamburg strip clubs.

Do you think that, in the ten years that The National, the Hold Steady and Spoon have been playing together, that they have been the beneficiaries of any hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allowed them to work hard and create great music at time when many artists were unable to continue their careers?

Chris DeLine: This is likely going to chop any credibility I might have left to shreds, but I really don't listen to these bands often enough to offer up the best insight. That said I'm not sure that they had any more or less opportunities than any other bands along the way; plain and simple: they're good at what they do and they work really hard. The Hold Steady has a tremendous fan base that dates back to the days of Lifter Puller, and while that might not have initially helped propel them to stardom, it did help make sure that they weren't starting from square one. Once they outgrew the Twin Cities, they took their expanding presence to New York and over the course of the following years built their fan base up ever further to a point where in 2010 they're setting a personal record for first week album sales. A few years back the National were playing some hole-in-the-wall bars and now I can't imagine the band not selling out everywhere they go, regardless of whether it's 1,000 capacity venues in Omaha or 6,000 seat venues in New York City. The same goes for Spoon. I don't think that they're outliers in the sense that they've had some extraordinary luck—though a little luck along the way never hurts—but I think that they've worked really hard to not only become really good at what they do, but also make sure that they've gotten enough face-time with audiences along the way to leave an impact on them. Without either of those factors they wouldn't be where they are today.

Another interesting angle to this news story is the word “late-bloomer.” Both Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Pink have written quite extensively about this subject. From the perspective of Gladwell, we “sometimes think of [late-bloomers] as artists who are discovered late; the world is just slow to appreciate their gifts.” He thinks we assume “the prodigy and the late bloomer are fundamentally the same, and that late blooming is simply genius under conditions of market failure.” Yet, what the arguments made by economist David Galenson suggest is something different—“that late bloomers bloom late because they simply aren’t much good until late in their careers.”

Based on what you know about the careers of The National, the Hold Steady and Spoon, do you think they follow the archetype of the “late-bloomer?” Or, was Morgenstein wrong to pin them as that?

Chris DeLine: Well, just going by what the article implies term to mean I can't see how they're full-on late-bloomers; it's not like they created huge musical turds until this year, they're just being greeted with the most commercial success this year, is all. I like the example you sent me where Pink referred to Jackson Pollock's piece “The Key,” which he created at age 34—in the article the painting is literally called “a piece of crap”—and how in the same article he defines Pollock's work some seven years later as “spectacular.” So if the “late-bloomer” is someone who works diligently to realize their potential while stumbling many times along the way, I'm not sure it fits here. I'm not even sure that each of these bands' last albums are their best, which only adds additional evidence against them falling under the “late-bloomer” label.

“On the road to great achievement,” Gladwell writes, “the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all.” In Ripped, Jordan Kurland, manger of Death Cab for Cutie and Feist, said, “Now, you run into this phenomenon with people propping things up that shouldn’t be propped up quite so soon… It is a society of instant gratification now, and bands are built up and torn down before they’ve had a chance to create a body of work that represents who they are or what they can do.”

Have we as an industry and the publications that cover it progressed in a way that shuns late-bloomers and rewards only the new prodigies? Have music publications prematurely judged and and thwarted the careers?

Chris DeLine: You betcha! But to some degree I think that's always been true... I'm going to go back to that Jackson Pollock reference again, just to keep things consistent. From the Wired article:

“Nobody would have heard of Jackson Pollock had he died at 31. But the same would be true had Pollock given up at 31. He didn’t. He kept at it. We need to look at that more halting, less certain fellow and perhaps not write him off too early, give him a chance to ride the upward curve of middle age... Of course, not every unaccomplished 65-year-old is some undiscovered experimental innovator.”

I like that suggestion a lot because it's two-fold. (I'm only using this band as an example because of their public labeling as a “blog band.”) Sure, an band like the Black Kids might be “late-bloomers,” and sure they might still possible create a monster-hit so earth-shattering that it would become so culturally and commercially omnipresent that it puts today's most important songs to shame, but a lot of people who were once behind them, or even once "liked" one of their songs, have already either forgotten about them or written off the group. Then again, maybe they only had a few good songs in them to start with and are simply an average band. Who's to say? If Jackson Pollock had given up due to his mediocrity or lack of determination, he would have likely been long-since forgotten, and his presence would have never been felt. But how many others did give up who were brilliant, or how about if Pollock had peaked with mediocrity... there are a lot of ways these scenarios can and have played out, and certainly too many for me to think that the entire burden of shunning “late-bloomers” and rewarding “prodigies” in this context should rest on the shoulders of music publications.

In David Galenson’s study Old Masters and Young Geniuses, he writes “Experimental artists build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods. These artists are perfectionists and are typically plagued by frustration at their inability to achieve their goal.” To me, this point relates to the careers of many artists like Prince, who took five albums before he came out with Purple Rain, or Fleetwood Mac who took ten albums before they came out with Rumors. Judged by today’s terms, they would’ve been complete failures. Then, in contrast, you have artists like Panic At The Disco who hadn’t even played a show together live before they got signed.

What happens in a day and age where artists lack the financial means and the time-line to produce the kind of creative music that proceeds through trial and error and necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition? Has our culture shifted in a way that no longer provides the environment for an experimental artist to grow and be nurtured?

Chris DeLine: Well, “complete failure” is a bit harsh, it's not like Prince or Fleetwood Mac weren't “names” before those releases, but we can save that for another discussion. Gladwell's “Late Bloomers” article bluntly says that without strong financial and emotional support many would have never made it to the trial and error stage, let alone been able to work through that stage to find whatever brilliance is lurking within them. While this likely dates back far, far further into the past, his examples date back to the 1800s, and I don't know that it's really shifted as much as it's been magnified, just as the internet has magnified the number of musicians out there trying to get their nut. I don't think that I'd say that our culture has shifted away from nurturing artistic growth on the whole though, maybe just here and there, in bits and pieces. Take funding away from “the arts” in schools or cities, and you stop nurturing “artists.” That's just one instance that hacks a little piece away from the larger picture, but it's one of many factors that contribute to the shift you alluded to. People are still talking about this issue which means that it's still got to have some relevance, so if you're asking me, I think that there's still a ton of support for artists out there. But maybe things aren't as simple as they used to appear to be.

[This article was first published by Hypebot.]

The Roots "How I Got Over" Review

When we last heard from the Roots, the group had released what was then-deemed their last album, Rising Down. The themes on the record often pointed to dark clouds — examining the bleakness of the times — and leading the way was the album’s first single “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction).” If you’re looking for angry, “75 Bars” is it. In less than a year’s time however, the group unveiled the first single from what would become How I Got Over, performing the record’s title track early on in their residency on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the surface, MC Black Thought’s lyrics are still focused on the bleak, the song examines our culture’s shift towards a police state as well as society’s increasingly cutthroat nature, but the foundation of the track is built on the positivity repeated in the hook, “Out in the streets, where I grew up/First thing they teach us: not to give a fuck/That type of thinking can get you nowhere/Someone has to care.” This trend is repeated throughout the record, but while How I Got Over struggles lyrically with politics, religion, and society’s shortcomings, the message is clear: Hope is not lost.

The angelic chorus provided by a trio of female vocalists from the Dirty Projectors—Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle—leads the record, shaping a wordless harmony over the subtle beat provided by the band. Picture yourself at a house party with the music flowing throughout the crowd and everyone’s having a good time. Then “A Piece of Light” comes on; had it not been made apparent that the song was in fact from the Roots, it would be hard to imagine anyone making the connection—think acid jazz with a hint of funk. It’s not long before the Roots step from behind the curtain and unveil themselves, the spotlight returning to the main players as “Walk Alone” rises from the speakers. Truck North and P.O.R.N. serve up the track’s first two verses, focusing on the trials of the solitary citizen, and Black Thought chimes in for the third, eventually likening the journey to that of a lone soldier, lost in the unknown: “A kamikaze in the danger zone far from home.” But like “How I Got Over,” the refrain once again sheds some light on the situation, urging the strength from within to reign supreme, “You know I walk alone, always been on my own, ever since the day I was born/So I don’t mind walking alone.”

The understated keys of “Walk Alone” flow seamlessly into the Jim James-led “Dear God 2.0,” a reinterpretation of Monsters of Folk‘s second single from the indie-rock super-group’s 2009 debut. “Why is the world ugly when you made it in your image/And why is livin’ life such a fight to the finish,” asks Black Thought, continuing, “For this high percentage, when the sky’s the limit/A second is a minute, every hour’s infinite.” Concluding with a sense of clarity that there’s an endless possibility for good after flowing through bar after bar of lyrics aimed at economic, environmental and apathetic peril, the song does well in continuing the process of finding the good amongst life’s most damning issues.

By the time “Radio Daze” gets its turn to shine the band is in full effect, ?uestlove leading the group with a weighty beat as the hook continually lurks in the background while Blu and P.O.R.N. flow over the top. Little Brother’s Phonte joins in on “Now or Never,” the song highlighting the need to change for the better regardless of whether or not the world around us is changing for the worse. Similar to the hook that runs throughout “How I Got Over,” “Now or Never” repeats, “Everything’s changing around me and I want to change too/It’s one thing I know, it ain’t cool bein’ no fool/I feel different today, I don’t know what else to say/But I’m gonna get my shit together, it’s now or never.” “DillaTUDE: The Flight of Titus” rounds out the first half of the record as the laid back interlude creates a chilled vibe that cleanses the palate in preparation for what is yet to come.

Icelandic vocalist Patty Crash joins in for “The Day,” the track finding ?uestlove maintaining the flow with a subtle beat on the snare as Blu and Phonte return to the picture. Throughout the track the duo focuses on appreciating life rather than living in the gutter, “I got to try different things in these trying times/20-10 is different than it was in 9-5/It’s come alive-time, I picked a fine time, so get open off life like a fine wine.” “And I finally understand my right to choose, my preacher-man told me it could always be worse: even a three-legged dog has three good legs to lose,” spouts the song as it comes to an end with Crash raising the tone even higher, “‘Cause today’s gonna be the day’s, gonna be the day’s, gonna be the day.” Working in Joanna Newsom‘s “Book of Right-On” from her 2004 album The Milk-Eyed Mender, “Right On” continues the female-focused chorus from “The Day” while Black Thought presses hard on the need to stand strong, “It’s a cold world, I’m not frontin’ like it isn’t/It’s no time for comin’ up shorter than a midget… It’s precious cargo you gotta be strong to lift it.”

“Doin’ It Again” crashes heavy with a pumping piano while ?uest keeps heads nodding. John Legend takes to the mic during “The Fire” on the song’s chorus, helping drive home the same point that is repeated throughout the record, Black Thought adding, “Something in my eyes say I’m so close to having the prize/I realise I’m supposed to reach for the skies/Never let somebody try to tell you otherwise.” The bubbly “Tunnel Vision” acts as the second brief interlude, priming the field for Peedi Peedi and Truck North to jump in on “Web 20/20.” After taking over the final half of “Right On,” STS makes his second appearance on the album with “Hustla,” the track offering a sharp, unique sample dubbed under pounding, heavily distorted bass. Focusing on making the world a better place for the coming generations, the song is the only on How I Got Over to step into pulsating, amped-up production and away from the sound of the band. While not being the liveliest track on the record, the beat on “Hustla” raises the thought of how truly beautiful the music has been throughout the album. While the band is by no means unnoticeable, the lyrical girth that is showcased on How I Got Over often overshadows the backing beat; but again, it would seem that the year the band has been working together on Late Night has given its members a bond ripe for the recording studio.

It’s difficult to come out of How I Got Over with a sense that the world is a beautiful place. With the exception of the lyric-less introduction and the two interludes, each track touches on the weighty burdens that cramp daily life for the majority, also addressing the difficulty to keep struggling when the results can seem so minimal. But the point is there — almost to the extent of becoming redundant, actually: No matter how troublesome daily life may be, the true battlefield is in the mind. And if you can overcome that, you’re a million miles ahead. It would have been a shame if the Roots had bowed out with Rising Down, not only because the group has been one of the most consistent acts in hip hop for over two decades, but because we wouldn’t have ever had the chance to hear How I Got Over. The record goes a long way in reaffirming the Roots Crew’s “legendary” tag-line, but more importantly it focuses on finding inner strength in a world that can tear the soul right out of you; something we need now more than ever.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Mojo” Review

It was once said that “the longer you live, the better you get.” In recording Mojo, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took to the studio in a way they hadn’t done before (at least to such an extent); not only did the group go into recording the album with an entirely blank canvas—the decision was made to go into Mojowithout any demos in hand—but much of the album was essentially recorded live: no headphones, each member facing each other while they played out their ideas. Speaking to Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, Petty shed some light on the process, “This is a record we couldn’t have made in the ’70s and ’80s because we weren’t really good enough as musicians.” He continued, “We’re using our age as a plus in this sense, in that we’ve become better musicians.” It would seem that Petty would agree with the statement of aging gracefully, if only in terms of he and his band’s musical evolution. And if Mojo is the evidence that we have to either confirm or deny whether Petty and the Heartbreakers have gotten better or worse with age, it would seem wholeheartedly irrational to argue the latter.

In 2006 Tom Petty released his third solo album, and first in over a decade, Highway Companion. That same year a number of other veteran acts (Young, Springsteen, the Who, Frampton, John, Meat Loaf, etc.) joined Petty in releasing new material, though the majority of the releases proved the initial quote to have plenty of exceptions. It’s fitting that those aforementioned words were muttered by Bob Dylan as he also released an album in 2006 (Modern Times); one that serves up even more evidence supporting the quote. While Highway Companion was expectedly strong, the album eventually claimed spots on a myriad of year end lists, it doesn’t resonate in the same way as Mojo; which might, once again, relate to Bob Dylan. Further along in his interview with Kot, Petty revealed the prime influence on Mojo, “For the last 10, 11 years, I’ve been immersed in blues. That’s what I listen to all the time and we got caught up in that vibe on this record.” It might be a bit of a stretch, but Dylan’s last two albums (or at least the last two albums that weren’t nut-bar crazy) also cracked at the seams with the blues. Putting the similarities to Dylan and the focus on the blues aside for a moment however, the album actually does have its fair share of tracks that sound like the Heartbreakers of old; even if Mojo‘s opening song is titled “Jefferson Jericho Blues.”

“First Flash of Freedom” introduces itself in a truly familiar style: understated guitars lurk in the background as the rhythm section accompanies Petty’s calm vocals. An echo-laced solo eventually breaks out, breezing by so effortlessly that it’s easy to overlook the skill behind it. “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove” is introduced with a bluesy guitar, but relaxes on that front, settling into a slow tempo that allows each of the band’s players to allow their instruments to breathe. “No Reason To Cry” follows a similar slow pace, but it highlights one of the most enjoyable aspects of Petty’s songs: they can be emotional without being dreary, adding a realistic aspect to the body of the theme without having to explicitly make the song sound autobiographical. One of the three songs initially released through the Mojo music video blast, “Something Good Coming” contrasts the touching backdrop of the slow ballad with an overwhelming feeling of hopefulness, “I need some time, get my life on track/I know that look on your face/But there’s somethin’ lucky about this place/And there’s somethin’ good comin’/For you and me/Somethin’ good comin’, there has to be.” All in all, this is definitely Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at their best.

Consistency aside however, there are a few small detours on the record. Lighthearted in its lyrics and instrumentation, “Candy” is a bit of a predictable throwback; it’s not a bad song, but it doesn’t really add much in comparison to the rest of the record—why have ground beef when you could have filet mignon instead, right? “Don’t Pull Me Over” has mild reggae overtones, but doesn’t sound entirely out of place; the slow groove sounds more like Clapton than Marley with Petty lyrically wading through the music, “Don’t pull me over, Mr. Police Man.” That said, Mojo‘s focus is clear: Petty’s talkin’ ’bout the blues.

“Running Man’s Bible” offers a smattering of tangled guitars before leaning on Petty’s croon as well Ron Blair’s bass—the song continues by teetering between rock and blues throughout its chorus and verses. “I Should Have Known It”—another of the records first tracks to be unveiled—is a gritty guitar romp that weaves Petty’s raspy wail within the boggy sounds of bottleneck slides and a dense rhythm. The song eventually runs head first into a wildly entertaining solo that eventually reincorporates the entire band; the song is truly one of the best stompers from the Heartbreakers in a long time. “U.S. 41″ is a gritty deep-south blues track that recalls a story of a troubled existence set to the sounds of rambling guitar, harmonica, and a floor-stomping beat. “Takin’ My Time” has a rumbling beat that lends the impression of something of a Chicago-blues band far more than that of a seasoned rock group. “Let Yourself Go,” “Lover’s Touch” and “Good Enough” only go to further showcase the deep influence that seeps out of the entire album: It’s interesting how a slight detour seems so interesting after such a long time spent following a relatively similar musical style—it could have to do with the blues being something of a universal among music listeners, or maybe it’s simply because Petty and the Heartbreakers have infused the style with their sound so effectively.

All things considered, Mojo is still a rock album though—very much so, in fact—and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are still a rock band. It just so happens that in this instance the record’s influence is worn on the band’s collective sleeve, lending a unique angle to the group’s classic sound. It might work for you, it might not, but as Petty concluded in his interview with Kot, the band isn’t willing to spin its wheels for the sake of doing so, and will go where they want regardless of whether or not fans want to hear “Learning to Fly” again for the millionth time: “We will not turn into a jukebox.” Enough said.

The Chemical Brothers “Further” Review

While it continued the Chemical Brothers‘ trend of chart topping releases—2007’s We Are The Night was the duo’s fifth consecutive album to go #1 in the UK—the album awkwardly relied on a bevy of unusual collaborations (though, in reality, no more so than 2005’s Push The Button) which left it bearing little consistency. With Further they bucked the trend of reaching out for external collaboration (save for vocalist Stephanie Dosen who backs up Tom Rowlands on three of Further’s tracks) and in doing so they have created a piece of music that oozes continuity; each track morphing into one another without the slightest bit of hesitation. Further is an album that sounds more like the Chemical Brothers of old than the group that released “The Salmon Dance” as a single; which is to say that it’s supurb.

The Chemical Brothers’ press release relates Furtherto a payoff from all of the duo’s work throughout the years, “Further is the culmination of nearly two decades of psychedelic exploration, an immersive collection that finds The Chemical Brothers at their least-restrained and most-melodic best.” While keeping in mind that, yes, this statement is indeed a plug for the album, it does little to provide any unnecessary hyperbole: Further is a return to a the duo’s melodic style; each focused arrangement sketches out a different picture that relates to a period of the duo’s past.

The glitch-infused “Snow” opens Further, slowly setting the record to boil while the rest of the tracks are prepared. “Your love keeps lifting me higher” whispers Rowlands and Dosen as the song morphs into the 12-minute “Escape Velocity.” The build-up in the track’s first couple of minutes is magnificent, the momentum progressively growing before eventually culminating with one of the most propulsive beats on the entire record. The song itself builds like a tremendous wave, all the while pushing forward before inevitably fading back into itself. The tremendous storm of sound eventually collapses into an electronic tease reminiscent of “Baba O’Riley.”

After a brief introduction, “Another World” launches into a series of echoed thumps and wavy synths that hint at a growing progression similar to that of 2002’s brilliant “Star Guitar.” The lack of guest support on the record is an interesting move, considering that it’s the first time the Chemical Brothers have ever gone down such a route. While the unlikely guests who collaborated on We Are The Night left an awkward feeling at times, some of the duo’s most memorable standouts are those that have featured guest vocalists; 1995’s “Life Is Sweet” featuring Tim Burgess of the Charlatans and 2002’s “The Test” featuring Richard Ashcroft, to name just a few. In “Another World” however the minimalist vocals come off as so relentlessly smooth and alluring that it’s hard to argue with the decision to keep everything in house.

In an interview with The Times, Ed Simons revealed just how enjoyable it was to work on Further, “That’s exactly it, it’s the sound of fun, of grown-ups at play.” Not only do the choppy breaks of “Dissolve” add further evidence of the enjoyment the duo has in creating music, but also the greater appeal of the album: Never for a moment does it relent, continually reaching towards striking an emotional chord with each new track. The song melts into the familiar electronically distorted vocals of “Horse Power”—which literally uses samples horses neighing. The throbbing beat momentarily eases up before re-establishing itself, eventually subsiding and allowing “Swoon” to take over. The track continues the record’s trend of slowly gaining speed before crashing down with a stunning break. Drums make an appearance on “K+D+B;” the introduction eventually bleeds into muted warped synths and Rowlands’ carefully paced vocals which continue throughout the track. Slowly growing, “Wonders of the Deep” concludes the album as a song that signals the high point of melodic rave, the Bros. aurally painting the picture of passionate dancers finding their high, regardless of what their drug might be (regardless of whether there are drugs in the picture at all). The track is a fitting end to the album, capping off an illuminating journey into sound.

While it’s likely that many would argue that the Chemical Brothers never really hit a low-point, Further demonstrates that We Are The Night was perhaps a simple hiccup, if only thematically, in the grand scheme of things. From the rigged glitches of the introductory track “Snow” to the progressive rave of “Wonders of the Deep,” the dynamic flow throughout the album presents itself as a return to glory for the duo. In speaking to the Guardian, Simons reflected on the duo’s career, “Longevity for its own sake is meaningless; it’s not hard to stick around.” Continuing, he revealed what might be the most important aspects of Further, “To keep making records that mean something to people is the difficult bit.” Few faces in electronic/dance/rave/house/or whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it remain relevant for long periods of time. As trends shift and new innovations are made it becomes increasingly difficult to approach the genre with a belief that time will be kind to either yourself or your music. But the Chemical Brothers’ records are something of an anomaly in this regard, from the earth-shattering Loops of Fury EP to Dig Your Own Holeto Come With Us, there is a timeless quality that gives the duo’s music a continued relevance. Longevity for the sake of longevity is, in fact, pointless. With Further, however, the Chemical Brothers have established once again that they are still creating music that is in a class all unto itself.

Eminem “Recovery” Review

With “Not Afraid,” the confessional single which drives Eminem’s new album Recovery, the MC alludes to a change which has steered him in a new direction. Not only does he call himself out, admitting that last year’s Relapse was mediocre (“And to the fans, I’ll never let you down again, I’m back/I promise to never go back on that promise, in fact/Let’s be honest, that last Relapse CD was eh/Perhaps I ran them accents into the ground/Relax, I ain’t going back to that now), but he also showcases a new, refreshing perspective. “I’m not afraid to take a stand/Everybody come take my hand/We’ll walk this road together, through the storm/Whatever weather, cold or warm/Just let you know that, you’re not alone/Holla if you feel that you’ve been down the same road.” But despite the hook’s focus on redemption, the rest of Recovery does little to reinforce the idea that the new Slim Shady is really all that different from the old Slim Shady.

One of the biggest distractions on Relapse was Eminem’s failure to find a comfortable flow. Through the entire album he seemed to be scratching away at his skin, hoping to peel everything away and reveal the “real” Marshall Mathers. But he couldn’t: Forever falling back into various characters, Relapse receded into a record that failed to express Eminem’s talent, combed over with tired attempts at being provocative and shocking. With Recovery there is less of a sense of desperation which translates through Eminem’s lyrics, once again depicting the MC as the confident icon that his fans have come to love.

After reintroducing himself with “Cold Wind Blows” the MC lays down a series of lyrics in “Talkin’ 2 Myself” that erase any doubt that he has lost his touch. The introspective track finds Shady revealing many of the insecurities and fears that led to jealousy overtaking him; “I turned into a hater.” “Hatred was flowing through my vains/On the verge of going insane/I almost made a song dissing Lil Wayne/It’s like I was jealous of him ’cause of the attention he was gettin’… Almost went at Kanye, too.” Reaffirming his feelings about Relapse Eminem continues, “This time around is different, the last two albums didn’t count: Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing them out/I’ve come to make it up to you now, no more fucking around/I’ve got something to prove to fans, ’cause I feel like I let ‘em down.”

“On Fire” follows, though it fails to retain the same level of emotion as “Talkin’,” replacing heartfelt confessions with soft one-liners, “Saliva’s like sulphuric acid in your hand, it’ll eat through anything metal, the ass of Iron Man.” Calling out Brooke Hogan and flaunting that he’s wasting punch-lines does little to help the MC’s cause here, leaving it as the weakest on the record. Pinkopens the next track, gently moaning over an aggressive beat provided by DJ Khalil. The confrontational lyrics in the track lead to one of the album’s most unexpected moments: The record momentarily goes silent as the volume on the track is literally turned down, nearly muting the artist and the beat, “Tryin’ to turn me down, that’s why I’m talkin’ to you/Turn me up, what are you insane?”

“W.T.P.” (“White Trash Party”) teases a few tight bars, “Even my dentist hates when I floss,” but the white trash theme is something too far played out for even Shady to reinvent, the drunk and disorderly theme coming off as stale rather than cheeky: “I don’t need a tank top to be a wife beater.” Sampling Ozzy Osbourne’s unforgettable vocals from Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” “Going Through Changes” follows and revives the album, Eminem examining his recent pitfalls and erratic behavior throughout the track. Recalling his lapse into darkness, the MC closes out the song by relating his issues to his now-optimistic state of mind, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I’ll just keep on going through changes.” “Seduction” follows the aforementioned “Not Afraid,” its slow beat accompanies an awkward wave of lyrics that flaunt Eminem’s sexual prowess, relating his abilities to his lyrical technique. Like “W.T.P.” before it, the track has some strong lines but it ultimately adds little to the record.

Eminem’s contribution to Lil Wayne’s Rebirth,”Drop the World,” ended up being that album’s strongest track; fitting then that the Lil Wayne collaboration lands as one of Recovery’s most well-crafted tracks. The immediately recognizable Haddaway sample helps introduce Weezy’s verse—the MC lending the track some of his most entertaining lyrics in recent memory.

“Throw dirt on me and grow a wildflower/But it’s fuck the world, get a child out her/Yeah, my life a bitch, but you nothin’ ’bout her/Been to hell and back, I can show you vouchers/I’m rollin’ sweets, I’m smokin’ sour, married to the game, but she broke her vows/That’s why my bars are full of broken bottles, and my nightstands are full of open bibles/I think about more than I forget, but I don’t go ’round fire expecting not to sweat… Be good or be good at it, fuckin’ right I got my gun: semi-Cartermatic.”

Eminem follows suit, standing firm and condemning the people who left him when he was at his weakest, bleeding hostility throughout the rest of the track, “I’m alive again, more alive than I have been in my whole entire life… They call me a freak ’cause I like to spit on these pussys before I eat ‘em/And get these wack cocksuckers off the stage, where’s Kanye when you need him?”

“Space Bound” continues the retribution theme and “Cinderella Man” returns to lyrics that reflect his retrospective disappointment in Relapse, “Fuck my last CD that shit’s in the track, I’ll be goddamned if another rapper gets in my ass.” “25 to Life” further emphasizes Shady’s focus on returning to his prime, focusing on his torn relationships, but just as the record starts teetering on the brink of becoming repetitive Dr. Dre steps in with a dense beat in “So Bad.” In the track Eminem ties together a thread of bars that bounce right along with Dre’s beat, “There ain’t nobody as bomb as… me, I’m as calm as the breeze, I’m the bee’s knees, his legs and his arms/I’m a superstar girl, I’m ready for you mama, why you think the only thing I got on is my pajamas?” “Almost Famous” continues with a heavy bounce, Eminem immediately kicking down the door with reckless abandon, “I stuck my dick in this game like a rapist, they call me Slim Roethlisberger/I go berserker than a fed up post office worker.”

Rihanna introduces “Love the Way You Lie,” a sentimental track that surrounds eroding relationships; though Shady still finds a way to inject his ultra-violent lyrics amongst Rihanna’s brokenhearted chorus, “If she ever tries to fucking leave again I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” This only goes to further emphasize the ever-polarizing aspect to Eminem’s records. Like each of its predecessors, Recovery is loaded with vulgar, sexist, and homophobic lyrics. Depending on how you approach the MC, you’re either going to focus on the intelligence reflected by the majority of his bars or take him literally and view him as an unforgivable bigot. The first track, “Cold Wind Blows,” stands as an immediate confrontation between Em and the listener, offering some of the album’s most outrageous lyrics as if to say ‘enter if you dare, but this is what you’re getting yourself into.’ In these terms he’s never been shy, and he’ll likely stoke the argument further with each new album he creates. It’s hard to overlook his lyrics, and the damaging effects they may have, but for each track that finds him assuming this crass character, there is a song like “You’re Never Over” that reminds the listener of Eminem’s humanity. The track is a rapid-fire lyrical assault that leans heavily on uplifting bars aimed at overcoming the grief associated with the loss of his longtime friend and D12 member Proof, “This depression ain’t takin’ me hostage… Lord I’m so thankful, please don’t think I don’t feel grateful, I do/Just grant me the strength that I need, for one more day to get through/So homie this is your song, I dedicate this to you.”

It’s not any sort of revelation to find out what Eminem meant by saying that he feels like he’s a new person, the MC bluntly explaining that “the new me’s back to the old me” in “Talkin’ 2 Myself.” But what comes with this return is a renewed sense of clarity that has freed him of whatever was holding him back with Relapse. It’s one thing to say that Eminem is a changed person, and it’s another for the MC to actually come through with an album that reaffirms the statement. With Recovery he’s done just that. Perhaps it’s Eminem who should have released an album called Rebirth and not Lil Wayne, because with Recovery Marshall Mathers sounds more confident and clearheaded than he has in years, and it’s left the MC with one of his most complete records to date.

Hank Williams III at The Whiskey (Calgary, AB)

The I last time I saw Hank Williams was a little under three years ago and the show drew what I still remember to be one of the wildest crowds I’ve ever been a part of. While I can’t say the same for this show (which probably had as much to do with the ticket prices as it did the overzealous meat-head “security” that lurked over the crowd for the entire performance) what impressed me the most this time around was the absolute precision that the band displayed on stage. From the opening moments of “Straight to Hell” to the the chest-rupturing wails from Gary Lindsey during the night’s Hellbilly set (not to mention Assjack), even with what seems to be a continual turnover of the occasional band member (the band sported a new bassist and fiddler since last I’d seen them) the group never missed a beat.

Working their way through a series of songs that have long-since become standards in the set—”Thrown Out of the Bar,” “Smoke & Wine,” “I Don’t Know,” “Pills I Took”—Williams and the band also threw in a few covers that changed up the pace of things along the way, working in some David Allan Coe and a rendition of the final single that his grandfather ever released during his lifetime: “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”

The set continued on with an onslaught of familiar tracks that continued to engross the crowd, “The Devil is My Friend,” “3 Shades of Black,” “Country Heroes,” “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Crazed Country Rebel,” “Punch Fight Fuck,” “Dick in Dixie,” “Crazed Country Rebel,” and “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” to name a few.

One of the keystones to Williams’ shows has been a song that criticizes the powers that be within the Nashville music scene for their refusal of Hank Williams Sr. into the Grand Ole Opry, “The Grand Ole Opry Ain’t So Grand No More.” With the recent disaster in the city, the flooding consuming much of the Opry and the surrounding area, it was a classy move in omitting the crowd-favorite from the set, no matter how many people may have missed hearing it.

Before sinking into the band’s Hellbilly set, the group romped through “Six Pack of Beer,” “Low Down,” “Legend Of D. Ray White” and the title track from Williams’ most recent album, The Rebel Within. Following a few scattered appearances throughout the night, Lindsey returned to the stage as Williams and the band geared up for the second part of their performance, cranking “Go Fuck You,” “Prayin’ For A Heart Attack,” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” which was the highlight of the set—if you’ve ever heard Gary Lindsay go at this song, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

While the inept crew at the club neglected to change the marquee outside—the sign still reflected the Misfits’ show, or depending on how you look at it: the Jerry Only show, that had taken place five days earlier—Williams and the Damn Band never once slowed down or stumbled, delivering some of the finest country music on the planet to an enraptured crowd in city that prides itself on its cowboy-loving heritage.

Drake “Thank Me Later” Review

Drake has nearly 650,000 followers on Twitter, 225,000 fans on Facebook and 31 million page views on MySpace. But for every fan the young vocalist has garnered, he’s also found a hater. And understandably so as the 23-year-old actor-turned-MC has never shied away from displaying his affluence, his privileged upbringing, or flaunting and flossing every last bit of it. Oh, and he’s done all of this while also occasionally lapsing into near Kanye West levels of egotism, “And Toronto, they say, is the Screwface capital. They say it’s a city of hate, we’ve never really had that icon, someone where we can say, that’s our hometown hero. I’m not saying I am that guy yet, but I think that I’m well on my way.” That quote is from an interview with Complex, early in 2009, mere days after his So Far Gonemixtape had been released.

In a Loop 21 article published last month, Marc Lamont Hill (Associate Professor of Education at Columbia University) further provoked criticisms of the former Degrassi: The Next Generation star,

“Drake has mastered neither the art, science, nor stylistic etiquette of MCing. From his frantic attempts to stay on beat to his inability to improvise even slightly, Drake represents a dangerous historical moment in hip-hop culture where rapping has overshadowed other dimensions of MCing, like freestyling, battling, and moving the crowd… Take one look at Drake and you can almost hear the calculations of greedy record execs looking for the next crossover act: Preexisting white fanbase: check. Exotic Ethnic Background: check. Light Skin: check. Celebrity Cosigners: check.”

For the criticisms to bear any weight however, they have to have some foundation in the reality of who Aubrey Drake Graham actually is. But despite a wave of potentially damaging claims, Drake has had no trouble finding major supporters to stand behind him: Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Timbaland being just a few of the names to contribute to his full-length debut release, Thank Me Later. Or is that just more evidence of the Drake-as-a-product suggestion? Or is it a sign of his underlying talent: some of music’s top names openly willing to work with a young artist who has but a few mixtapes, an EP, and a pool of guest credits to his name. Thank Me Later provides evidence supporting both of those options.

While still in his Degrassi days Drake dropped a pair of mixtapes, 2006’s Room For Improvement and 2007’s Comeback Season; the second of which spawned a video for “Replacement Girl” which was featured that year as a BET “New Joint of the Day.” While being a casual honor, at the time no other unsigned Canadian MC had ever garnered the title. Drake met the arrival of 2009 with his So Far Gone mixtape which eventually led to the Young Money/Cash Money release of an EP of the same name later that year which included five of the mixtape’s tracks along with two new songs.

Within the span of a year Drake had gone from a member of Lil Wayne’s Young Money crew to one of the most discussed names in hip hop and R&B. “Best I Ever Had”—which was also released on the So Far Gone EP—and “Every Girl” both debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 (entering at #3 & #10 respectively) which marked a groundbreaking accomplishment for the then-unsigned artist. When the EP was eventually released, it debuted at the #6 position on the Billboard 200. It has since sold over 450,000 copies. His unheard of success was met with equal celebration from a number of powerful sources: winning the 2009 BET Hip Hop Award for “Track of the Year” (Every Girl), and “Rookie of the Year,” Drake was also nominated by the MOBO Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, and Soul Train Awards in 2009 as well as the Grammy Awards and Juno Awards in early 2010. The latter ended up honoring the vocalist with both “Best New Artist” and “Rap Recording of the Year.”

Again, keep in mind that all of this overwhelmingly powerful support was essentially bestowed on Drake primarily on the basis of a mixtape. This, likely, is where anyone with a remotely cynical attitude would raise the bullshit flag and questions, just as Hill did, the authenticity of the unbelievably fast rise of Drake’s star. Seeing as though he was also tied to Universal Motown by the time that the wave of acclaim began to flow, it’s no wonder why Drake had attracted such a mob of people attempting to debunk his authenticity. But one of the benefits that accompanies flaunting your history and flossing what you have is that as long as you’re being honest within that realm, there’s really little that can be said to compromise your story.

Within moments of the first piano notes of “Fireworks,” Drake begins to assess his position, be it in terms of finance or class, and he does so in a manner as honest as anyone could ask him to. Had he spouted off about his struggles or his hard-luck rise to the top it would be easy to raise a fuss over the track. He does anything but in “Fireworks” however, as Alicia Keys joins in vocally on the chorus while the song begins to relate to the lack of certainty within the business—and within life—Drake eventually reflecting on how quickly everything can vanish, “My 15 minutes started an hour ago.” One of the most interesting elements of the track comes with his digression into the realization of how truly green he is despite his success, “Haters so familiar to me, tell me I’m so to embracing it/Doesn’t come naturally, bear with me it could take a bit.” Naysayers in mind, within the first five minutes Thank Me Later Drake has blended Keys’ smoky vocals with a blunt explanation of how he’s not only keeping an ear to his critics, but that he concedes to there being a bit of truth to some of the flames being shot at him.

“Karaoke” follows with a choppy beat and a slowed down R&B-leaning flow that showcases the duality of Drake’s musical persona. New York City’s Francis and the Lights, who have covered Kanye West and opened for Drake in the past, add the musical backing and production for the track. It’s not long before Drake rediscovers his inner-rapper however, sounding like a less smoked out version of his mentor, Lil Wayne. Produced by Toronto’s Noah “40″ Shebib—who worked with Keys on her single “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)“—“The Resistance” finds the vocalist spinning a series of short charming one-liners, a trend which is repeated throughout the entire record. “I avoided the coke game and went with Sprite instead” and “The game need a life, I put my heart in it” being just two of the simple bars laid down within the track. Again Drake returns to a personal revelation with the song however, looking at himself in the mirror he reveals, “I live by some advice this girl Alyssa told me/The other day Alyssa told me that she miss the old me/Which made me question when I went missing, and when I start treating my friends different.” Rhetorical, sure, but all the same the questions are clearly there: “Did I just trade free time for camera time, will I blow all of this money, baby—hammer time.”

“Over” and the Kanye-produced “Show Me a Good Time” both serve to re-energize the album, each continuing Drake’s pattern of dropping simple, yet sharp, bars: “I can teach you how to speak my language, Rosetta Stone,” landing in the body of “Over” and “I live for the nights I can’t remember with the people I’ll never forget” in the latter. “Up All Night” features 2010’s it-girl Nicki Minaj who comes through with a surprisingly tight verse that raises similarities to Lil Kim in her prime; surprisingly only because of the song’s contrast to her recent collaborations with Lil Wayne and Christina Aguilera.

The album’s clear-cut club banger “Fancy” follows with Swizz Beatz painting a boombastic aural picture, immediately setting things off with a crowd-hyping “Go, go, go, go ahead” chant. T.I. eventually jumps in with a flow that isn’t as impressive as it is smooth; combined with some of his other recent collaborations and DJ Drama’s Fuck a Mixtape, his “Fancy” verse stirs intrigue as to just how deep his forthcoming album King Uncaged might be. Drake follows T.I.P., maintaining his presence as he continues,

“Cinderella ’bout to lose the glass off her foot, and when I find it is when I find you/And we can do the things we never got the time to/Better late than never, but never late is better/Hey tell me time is money, but we’ll spend it together/I’m down for whatever, you just lead the way/We go to dinner you don’t even look at me to pay… I just knew that she was fine like a ticket on the dash.”

He’s not killing it by any means, but as the album continues Drake is by no means proving himself to be the lyrical slouch that many claim him to be.

The Dream slows things down with Drake on the panty-melting “Shut it Down” (“I feel like when she moves the time doesn’t”) and “Unforgettable” finds Young Jeezy absorbing some of the same smoothness, offsetting the typical grittiness of his voice and style, and sounding great in the process. “Light Up” continues with a great Tone Mason beat that reveals sharp drums snapping below Drake’s vocals, “Welcome to Hollywood and don’t let this town ruin you, and if you pillow talking with the women that are screwing you, just know that she gonna tell another nigga when she through with you.” Jay-Z’s verse is strong as well, offering a bit of his typically cheeky stuntin’ along the way, “The smart money’s on HOV, fuck what the dummy’s taught. I don’t do too much bloggin’, I just run the town, I don’t do too much joggin’.” Bun B momentarily jumps in on the Lil Wayne collaboration “Miss Me,” a song which initially reveals itself as a revelation about Drake’s evaporating level of trust for women (or maybe just strippers) before unravelling into an all-out dedication, “I love Nicki Minaj, I told her I’d admit it/I hope one day we get married just to say we fuckin’ did it/And girl I’m fucking serious I’m wit’ it if you wit’ it, ’cause your verses turn me on and your pants are mighty fitted/Ah, damn, I think you caught me in a moment…”

While it serves its purpose—including “interlude” in a title typically implies something about the song—“Cece’s Interlude” is ultimately forgettable; a lackluster guitar solo eventually lurks in the background while 40 goes over the top with the beat. By the time “Find Your Love” digs in “Interlude” has already become a distant memory. For all of the arguments suggesting that Drake sounds like a mix between Kanye and Weezy he doesn’t do himself any favors with “Love,” his vocoderized “I’m more than just an option, hey hey hey” sounds so much like 808s‘ “Robocop” that it’s hard not to make the comparison. The Timbaland-produced title track closes out the record, again immediately likening itself to Kanye, this time around sounding more like “The Good Life.” If you can listen to the flow and not hear even a hint of similarity, you might be best off checking out Graduationagain—it’s definitely there. “Shout out to my city though I barely be in town. I’m the black sheep but Chris Farley wears the crown, and I know life is just a game where the cards are facing down.”

Does Drake deserve his fair share of haters? Absolutely. Regardless of Drake basing his lyrics on his reality, there’s still a fair share of truth to many of the claims being made about him: he can’t freestyle worth a damn, his stage presence is still questionable (he practically tripped over himself on stage last year which resulted in a torn ACL which he’s still rehabbing), and upon the most basic dissection of his lyrics he fails to come close to the greats. Most of this criticism comes under the pretense that Drake is a pure MC though. He isn’t.

What’s true of Drake is not only true of him, but of pop music as a whole as it continues to evolve. There are still rigged lines that separate genres, but like an ever-broadening grey area Drake is working around standards and doing what he pleases. Following a club-banger with a slow-jam isn’t anything new, but when considering the consistency exuded throughout Thank Me Later, it’s hard not to take notice of Drake’s talent. Just as the album has its moments of lyrical predictability, Thank Me Lateralso has its moments of triumph. Granted, if it wasn’t for the stellar production and the album’s stacked cast Thank Me Laterwould be an entirely different animal and Drake’s talent might potentially translate as far less skillful. But that’s all theoretical: If you can’t get behind the album, you still have to give it credit as a well-crafted retort to his detractors. But if you can get behind Thank Me Later then you’re likely to approach it as not only one of the most creative releases in pop/rap/hip hop/R&B/or whatever you want to call it, and as a telling sign of the potential Drake has to create something even more stunning in the future.

The Hypnotic Allure of Braids

Hype can be a funny thing sometimes, especially in terms of music. It can lead to exaggerated slants on bands that might not be entirely grounded in reality, but it can also help shed light on artists who might otherwise not have been given the time of day. “Braids are by no means a sure bet. But the payoff could be huge,” writes Jeremy Morris in the National Post’s “Music writers on the Canadian bands they’d invest in” article. Sure, the idea of “investing” in a band is more than a tad preposterous, but the inclusion of Braids in such a list is not.

Joining together in Calgary as the Neighborhood Council in 2007, the band quickly drew attention—both by winning the youth category of the 2007 Calgary Folk Music Festival’s songwriting competition, and in releasing its first EP, Set Pieces. Within the group’s first year together Stereogum perked its ears up and showcased the EP’s opening track, “Liver and Tan.” “It’s a nine-minute piece of pop that would’ve made sense next to the Ropers on a split Slumberland 7″, but with some of that early Pacific Northewest sound, like what you might expect from the Softies, only on a more shoe-gaze tip with gentler dueling Excuse 17-style harmonies, nice ride patterns, breezy ‘oh’s for color.” Though the relation to any Pacific Northwest sound might be a bit of a stretch, it’s hard to argue that the song isn’t fantastic. “Liver and Tan” is a prime example of the band’s self described “texture pop,” instead of coming apart at the seams it exudes patience as it slowly unravels. Manipulating repetitious chords and lyrics, the track fails to become tedious despite its length, settling in at a natural place before fading away after nearly 10 minutes.

While in the process of releasing the band’s second EP, once again recorded at the University of Calgary’s CJSW radio station, the group made the decision to make the move to Montreal, a process which accompanied the band’s name change from the Neighborhood Council to Braids. In an interview with AWMusic, vocalist/guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston explained the transition, “Well we changed our name to Braids, not because we didn’t like it, but because we changed entirely musically, right? So back then the Neighborhood Council was, when Stereogum wrote, I feel good about it, I don’t regret that they didn’t write about us now.” But they did.

Last month the site featured a follow up article highlighting Braids’ full-length debut, the self-produced Native Speaker. “This time it’s Velocity Girl who keep surfacing amid the piano, guitars, extended pulsations, and ambient breaks and builds. They’re still not afraid to let things flow—a couple of the album’s seven tracks are above eight minutes, two are above five, and none dip below four and a half.” In a recent interview with Lookout discussion eventually turned towards the new album, further revealing influences that affected its direction. “I think Animal Collective was huge for us last year, definitely. It changed the way we think about how to make music, for sure.” This influence is no more evident than with “Lemonade,” a track which finds itself mimicking moments from last year’s phenomenal Merriweather Post Pavilion; almost to a fault, actually. Allowing the song to flow through its near-seven minutes of peaks and troughs however, “Lemonade” is far more than an explicit gesture at an influence, but a hypnotic blend of sounds that blankets the band’s continuing process of finding “its sound.”

Chromewaves commented on both “Lemonade” and “Liver and Tan” in a precursor to a review of Braids’ recent show opening for Holly Miranda at Toronto’s El Mocambo, “Both are fine balancing acts between aural experimentation and pop smarts, where complex vocal and guitar arrangements still resolve into hooks and however far they meander, they don’t lose sight of the melody.” But the live performance failed to translate the same energy as the band’s recordings, “If these songs—which I believe bookended their set—were representative of everything in between, then I’d happily be adding my voice to the chorus of praise. Unfortunately, much of what else went on sounded like the above description but without the pop element—there was plenty of impressive musicianship and four-part vocal chorals, but little in the way of structure.”

Despite having a few years of history together, with ages ranging from 19 to 21 Braids is still a band early on in the development of its sound and direction. Putting any glaring comparisons aside, its progression is an interesting one, and if the group of young musicians continues to sharpen their direction and focus on developing further as performers, Braids could very well fall into line with some of Montreal’s finest. As silly as the angle of the National Post’s article is, I’m hard-pressed not suggest investing some serious time with the band. After all, “the payoff could be huge.”