Seeing Suge “Breaking” (Influenza)



Blackbird Blackbird is a California-based producer who churns out music described by Nialler9 as “reverb-heavy” “dream pop jams,” and I Guess I’m Floating as “sunny, idyllic dreamwave.” Star Slinger is a UK-based producer who creates a sound which Dazed Digital has called “heavily rooted in the fundamental laws of hip-hop.” Emay is an Ontario-based producer and MC who has “a way with words and lets loose thoughts that seem like they’ve been internalized and scratching at the door waiting to be freed” (Pigeons & Planes). Together, the trio of like-minded beat-makers has gathered for the creation of the Seeing Suge collective. In this edition of Influenza, Emay explains the formation of the trio, the internet’s role in bringing them together, and the idea behind his lyrics for “Breaking,” the first single from the group’s forthcoming digital cassette titled Collaborations.

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Seeing Suge pretty much started when my dude Star Slinger showed me his remix of the song “Lately” by Memoryhouse. Although I’m a big fan of his work, I’m usually not inclined to just write for every single dope beat I hear. It has to be the type of instrumental that tingles my spine from beginning to end. So, in other words, I loved it a lot. I listened to the instrumental for about a week before I started writing to it, just to let it sink in, and it sunk deep. Although my lyrics are obviously themed around “Breaking,” you’d probably assume it’s about me breaking up with a girl, but it’s actually about me “Breaking” up with apart of myself.

At first me, Mikey (Blackbird) and Darren (Star Slinger) were simply messing around when we thought of naming ourselves Seeing Suge after we’d watched a freestyle by UK rapper Giggs. It’s a freestyle promoted by Tim Westwood, and me and my friends would always quote lines from it as a joke, so as we were sharing funny videos with one another, this line made us laugh the most, “They only seeing bad, but I’m doing good/I’m on my P. Diddy ting, but they seeing Suge!/At the BET awards, chillin in the hood.” The thing that amazes me, and I’m sure I speak for the other guys to, is that this track wouldn’t of happened if I didn’t randomly stumble upon Mikey’s MySpace page earlier this year.

N.E.R.D. “Nothing” Review

Somewhere over the course of the past decade Pharrell Williams‘ name became synonymous with style—not simply style, but innovation as well. Musically, if your project had the man’s name associated with it, its chances of failure were nil; even his 2006 solo debut, In My Mind, somehow avoided universal critical backlash despite being marginally bearable. Like Pharrell, his production team the Neptunes has also consistently been praised for their forward thinking approach when working alongside some of the era’s most colossal characters. From Ol’ Dirty Bastard to Britney Spears, from the Clipse to Kanye West, the Neptunes have backed them all. But for every “Drop It Like It’s Hot” there have been a dozen flat beats along the way, an inconsistency that has been no more apparent than with N.E.R.D. In the wake of two commercially successful outings—2002′s In Search Of… and 2004′s Fly or Die—the trio of Pharrell, his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley returned with Seeing Sounds in 2008—a largely inconsistent LP that missed its mark with fans and critics alike. Now comes Nothing, which raises the question of whether or not Pharrell and his crew can actually release a consistent album that lives up to their abilities. In short: it does. But the reason why it succeeds might surprise some.

Unlike the group’s previous album, the rock element is largely subdued here—the songs are sewed together with elements of funk and pop so seamlessly that they neither bear a resemblance to the aggressive sounds of “Rock Star” or the pulsating energy of “Everyone Nose” that have so greatly defined their sound to this point. In discussing the album to Much Musicrecently, Pharrell addressed the influences that are so clearly heard throughout Nothing, pointing out the Doors, America and Crosby, Stills & Nash as a few of the names which helped steer the direction of N.E.R.D.’s new songs back to the ’70s. Think sexy, think horn-driven TV soundtracks, think filthy, nasty funk; whatever you do, don’t think rap/rock when thinking of Nothing.

The energetic “Party People” opens Nothing with a crusty organ and rumbling bass line. Later T.I. steps in for a rapid-fire verse which works within the barriers of the album; the result is an all-too-brief cameo that adds to the track and helps set the tone for what’s yet to come. “Hypnotize U” follows by relying heavily on a hypnotic beat that works well beneath Pharrell’s whispered falsetto. As is true throughout much of the album though, his lyrics seem off-the-mark, and his attempts to sound sexy come off with all the romantic allure of the introduction to Deep Throat, “I can make your storms feel sky blue… If I’m not beside you, I’m inside you.”

“Help Me” peaks with a horn explosion; something which is echoed throughout Nothing with the rattling drum beat of the ’70s cop drama theme song-sounding “Perfect Defect,” the use of a sax in “I’ve Seen the Light/Inside of Clouds,” and “Sacred Temple.” Weaving between the bouncing “Victory,” the Steve Miller-reaching “I’ve Seen the Light/Inside of Clouds” and the nasty funk of “God Bless Us All,” the album begins to hit its stride following the slow crooner “Life as a Fish.” “Nothing On You” and the Nelly Furtado collaboration “Hot-n-Fun” then catapult the energy into a higher level, one which holds up through to “The Man.”

Nothing isn’t a drastic shift in sound, but it’s an interesting direction nonetheless. You can still call it rock, but it’s really the group’s first honest attempt at a complete pop album. The trio doesn’t fall into any grinding tangents which break up the momentum of Nothing, and there aren’t any tracks which disrupt the flow of the sound. Even Pharrell doesn’t come off as out-of-place despite lyrics ranging from the innocently goofy “While the federal buildings blow, below fish glow” (“Life as a Fish”) to the passive aggressive “No, I won’t kill you, but I’ll watch you die” (“Help Me”). In doing so they’re showing a little more evidence of why they’ve been revered so highly all these years. Maybe it’s the unexpectedly smooth direction, maybe it’s the lack of depth from the group’s chart-topping contemporaries this year, but with relatively little fanfare leading up to its release, N.E.R.D. has put together one of 2010′s most surprisingly complete pop albums.

Junip “Always” (Influenza)



Largely unknown as a group stateside, Junip began in the late-’90s as a collaborative effort from Tobias Winterkorn (organ, synth), Elias Araya (drums) and José González (vocals & guitar). As the three members continued on with their separate paths however, the reality of recording a full length release became a casualty of their own unique journeys; Araya spent time travelling Europe to study art, Winterkorn dedicated himself to teaching, and González recorded and released the remarkably successful Veneer which has since sold a million copies worldwide. Understandable, then, that with everything going on the band wouldn’t record a proper recording until 2005′s Black Refuge EP.

It wasn’t until after the release and subsequent touring behind González’s 2007 album In Our Nature that the band reconvened with the goal of producing their long-overdue full-length debut. Last month the group’s decade-long project finally culminated with the release of Fields via Mute Records. As to be expected the album was met with open arms from fans and critics alike; the New York Daily News‘ Jim Farber described the group’s sound as “sweet, sensual and inward-looking” and Pop Matters‘ Matthew Fiander concluded that Fields is not only “another solid entry in Jose González’s discography” but a “fitting next step” for the musician.

Similar to the vocalist’s solo-material, the band gracefully floats through soft-spoken airy rock with “Always,” a song which González recently described as “groovy.” In this edition of Influenza, Tobias Winterkorn explains the process of crafting the single: developing it, re-shaping it, expanding the song into a music video, and lastly, performing “Always” live.

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We recorded a version of “Always” half way through making Fields that we were quite satisfied with. When we played the track to our co-producer Don Alsterberg he thought that we should make another version, groovier with more of an up-tempo. For at least a week we were slaves under his oppression while we recorded. But it was worth every minute. The second version of “Always” turned out much better than the first. I don’t think the music that we make is necessarily hit music, but “Always” has the potential to be a single. It felt quite natural to put out “Always” as our first single.

And once you have chosen your single, you need a music video. Andreas Nilsson made our first video about five years ago, it was perfect. He always makes perfect videos. We asked him and a couple of days later we received a short manuscript that said: “We are going to go to Finland during the World Championship for air-guitar and we are going to have a magician and a former world champion in air-guitar to teach you how to play without instruments!” The idea was fantastic. We are lousy actors so we felt very anxious and scared. But we did it.

To play “Always” live is really hard for us, we don’t know why. It’s a mystery. It doesn’t turn out as good as we want it to be live. We tried moving it around… to have it in the first half of the set, in the middle, almost as a last song and as an encore. But nothing fits. Almost every time after the show we think it sounded quite bad. Except when we play it quiet and unplugged, then it sounds great. Strange, maybe. Maybe not.



[Junip will kick off the band's North American tour with a show November 1 in Philadelphia. A full listing of the tour's dates can be found here. Also, Hipstamatic is presently hosting a contest which is offering up a wide range of Junip-related prizes.]

Lykke Li “Get Some”

Serving as the title track for her new two-song EP, “Get Some” rumbles along in the background as the Swedish songbird cautions “Like a shotgun needs an outcome, I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some!” Rarely do open-ended threats sound so alluring. Teasing with the single and its B-side, “Paris Blue,” Lykke Li promises not to make fans wait too much longer for new material, commenting on her MySpace blog, “It’s a little some some of what will come later. OMG; album due to release early next year!”

Taylor Swift “Speak Now” Review

Something became quite evident as the term alternative rock morphed into a bastardized parody of itself in the mid-to-late-’90s: there was little left to be an alternative to. Bands such as Creed who were curiously pinned with the label helped contribute to its death, and as the new millennium dawned the vast world of mainstream pop and rock never looked so homogeneous. A decade later, when the term only serves as a distant memory—a seemingly ancient relic which defined a generation, music has shifted once again. We now find ourselves in an era where pop and rock idols are increasingly streamlined and boast a widespread sexual extravagance that is incomparable to generations gone by. Sure, it’s old news, but it helps offer some background on why someone like Taylor Swift has found such widespread success.

Unlike the (for lack of a better term) college rock bands that first helped bring widespread notoriety to the term a few decades back, alternative takes on a different meaning when approaching music in today’s landscape. But what hasn’t changed is the audience which it could be aimed at. Overlooked by the majority, alternative could still represent a music which isn’t being marketed enforce to any and everyone who have ears and an expendable income. Enter Taylor Swift, an unassuming young singer with conventional good looks and banal songwriting. Generic, sure, but the catch is that she’s seemingly secure with herself, her music, and her place in pop culture. Since her 2006 debut she hasn’t sexed things up, publicly struggled with internal demons, or allowed the “real Taylor” to manifest itself in overly detailed lyrics about her sexual exploits (something Christina Aguilera might call a process of self-examination). Rather, she continues to be casually shy through interactions with the media and reveals no more than ambiguous details about relationships in her songs. There aren’t paparazzi photos of her walking her pocket-sized Chihuahua on route to a Starbucks, chain-smoking and dawning light-inhibiting sunglasses help to nurse the hangover from the previous night’s exploits. In 2010, more now than in 2006 even, Taylor Swift’s success can be narrowed down to this: she has become the alternative.

It doesn’t take a stroke of genius to realize that the record industry has figured this out. She is the proverbial record-selling yin to Eminem‘s yang: without both sides neither would bear the same impact. But in browsing the Billboard charts week after week it becomes apparent that the fan base which has been so supportive of Swift’s career is now being catered to less and less. Gone are the days when pop stars would be ridiculed for casually tossing in “fowl” language—the parental advisory sticker means nothing now (as if it ever did) more than ever; Rihanna‘s Rated R would have been perceived as R-rated if it were released in the ’90s. Rather, Swift’s appeal is aimed at young listeners—listeners too young to have an honest knowledge of the adult concepts being forced on them at every turn. More importantly, Swift’s music is also aimed at their parents. Take this NY Times photo for instance: children and their parents greeting the singer, asking for autographs, and taking a few quick photos as the singer makes an appearance. All the while there are few, if any (I don’t see them), aggressive paparazzi battling for their paychecks. Seems a bit strange, doesn’t it?

No musician would be a star if not for scandal though. If only to reinforce Swift’s clean-cut image though, anything remotely resembling a scandal has found her playing the role of victim. Be it Kanye West‘s highly profiled hijacking of Swift’s award speech at the 2009 VMA’s or her public relationships with other celebrities: Swift’s only been at the center of attention due to little to no apparent fault of her own. Her response to any such headline has only materialized in songs faintly aimed at their highly-debated marks: on Speak Now Swift is to have taken on West in “Innocent,” as well as her relationships with John Mayer and Twilight‘s Taylor Lautner in “Dear John” and “Back to December” respectively. Again though, mum’s been the word with Swift and all of this is highly speculated hearsay until confirmation actually comes from her.

Sadly, Speak Now is about as unbearably dry musically as is her public persona. Normally this would be of great burden, but again, the 14 songs on Swift’s new album only go to reinforce the her image. Opening with a sugary set of “Oh oh oh”‘s, “Mine” leads the way as a straightforward pop song which is supported later by “Speak Now”; each referencing love, each lyrically unremarkable. “Sparks Fly” finds Swift romanticizing amidst the sound of lighthearted rock which is echoed, albeit a little more enthusiastically, in “The Story of Us,” “Better Than Revenge” and “Haunted.” The bulk of the album is occupied with sweeping ballads however, an approach that accentuates Swift’s songwriting.

Being the first album that Swift has written entirely on her own, early supporters of Speak Now have made a pattern of treating her confessional approach to songwriting as if she’d reinvented pop music itself; a view which is likely to be echoed by her fan base. But to the casual listener, these slow-moving songs, each with their own faintly individual sound as provided by the small army of Nashville’s finest, do little to add any honest depth to the album. There’s a difference between being safe and being generic, a line which Swift clearly continues to straddle despite taking on a greater role with her new songs. One of the few tracks that diverts from the dull sentimentality of the album is its lead single, “Mean.” In the track Swift branches out musically, doing her best Dixie Chicks as if to realign herself with the increasingly questionable country label which she is so closely associated with. Summing the album up lyrically, the track focuses on her drive to leave behind destructive relationships in her search for glory. The lone issue to take with the song reflects a larger issue however: Just as it is unequaled in tone, it is also musically unrepresentative of the rest of Speak Now.

To approach Taylor Swift critically is difficult. To lavish her music with praise might reflect a lack of any sense of the vast world of pop music and the creative magnitude of many of its most talented artists. To stubbornly dislike her music might reflect a sense of arrogance on par with a cultural elitist. While both sides of the argument have their merits it’s difficult to overlook the state of pop music and Swift’s place in it. She is the alternative to the vast majority, but she is the alternative for a reason. Say what you will about your Katy Perrys and your Ke$has, but they bring with them a sense of enthusiasm and originality (albeit a typically tasteless mediocre sense of originality) that Taylor Swift’s music does not. It’s no fault of hers though—she’s just being herself—and there’s a place for each of them in pop music. That said, Speak Now is simply white bread being served up to those who enjoy white bread, acting only as the music of the moment for many before they graduate from the uninteresting.

Mally “Heir Time” (Influenza)



“I am sick and tired of doing shows at these grimey no show bars!” While still a young name on the scene, Mally has been rapping since 2002 and released his first album, The Letter, in 2007. The 26-track collection drew a bit of nation-wide praise for the Twin-Cities-based MC, but none higher than that offered by Fresh of 33 Jones, “I’ve become convinced that he has the talent to make a legitimate career out of being an emcee. There aren’t a whole lot of unsigned artists I can say that about, but if this kid stays focused it’s only a matter of time before some label signs him up.” He continued, “His flow is impeccable, he’s able to craft a story with his lyrics and still throw in the occasional one liner, and he’s got a great ear for beats. In short, he’s the full package.” Following up The Letter, Mally dropped the equally ambitious 17-track album The Moment in 2008, which was trailed by The Passion late last year. It was around the time of that release when I caught up with Mally for the interview where he laid down the aforementioned quote, venting his frustrations on playing to empty bars. Add to that statement his issues with the overwhelmingly problematic nature of trying to break into the indie-rock dominated world of college radio; something far more difficult to do in Minneapolis if you’re not cosigned by the Doomtree or Rhymesayers crews. But with a little help along the way Mally’s seen a bit of play on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current this past year and has found his way onto bigger and better bills; one such event is tonight’s CD release show for Muja Messiah‘s M-16′s where he’ll be performing along with the ever-stunning Maria Isa. The man hasn’t strayed from maintaining a solid release schedule either, dropping a slew of digital singles including “Heir Time,” the track featured in this edition of Influenza. In speaking to his persona of “HEIRrogance,” the MC explains his collaboration with producer the Sundance Kid, the duo’s ability to read one another, and the process behind the formation of his lyrics; all the while confirming time and time again that there is no shortage of pride in his game.

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Where do I start with the song “Heir Time” and how it came about? In all honesty, I believe the lyrics of the song have been brewing inside of me for years, but didn’t have the right beat to converse with. So one day after discussing the success of my track with the Sundance Kid, “Lights Off,” he forwarded a YouTube clip of an old soul sample and I was in love with it from the jump. Repeatedly I kept listening to the lyrics of the original song crooning “Your-Wish-Is My-Command” and “I’m-Just-A-Maaannnn” and that’s when the light bulb went off. I immediately called the Sundance Kid like “Yoooo, this shit is insane and I know if you flip this, everybody will love it…”

Even a couple days later I still hadn’t received anything and was patiently waiting to hear what he came up with. The day he blessed me with the final beat I was excited and all of the pieces that produced the whole beat made me think of confidence, arrogance [and] royalty along with all the accolades and shortcomings that come with being highly admired, but breathe, walk, eat and sleep just like the next person. If this makes any sense, I was ready to have a conversation with the Sundance Kid in each verse of the song. The only thing that worried me was that the track was only going to be two verses but SDK believed it would go over well.

Within the hook and sections of the sample I found inspiration to think like a king, but place my own twist on what it meant to be one. In the verses I give an idea as to why everybody loves me, a flawless description of self image (“An image so perfect, they give it so I live it…”), what my attitude is like, even down to the type of scotch I enjoy! The hook is where the twist gives the listener a glimpse of humanity in this “HEIRrogant” persona of Mally when I say “I’m just a man, will the throne be mine?” By then I start to question am I really that damn good or have I started to become what you (the people) have created?

“Heir Time” is a song that I truly believe about myself and many other people that I have worked with, or aspire to work with. The only difference is I had the courage to say “I am the shit, I thank all of you for making me feel like the shit through purchasing my merchandise, my music and telling me I should be signed and touring with the big boys and granting me access to rights everybody wouldn’t get. And in the same sentence I believe I am human and no different than you because I too make mistakes, fall short of the glory and just happen to be a talented MC, so do I deserve to sit in a throne or be put on a pedestal?”

Lastly, the artwork and audio clips of Muhammad Ali tied the song together perfectly when he expresses “I’m young, I’m handsome… and can’t possibly be beat!” concluding with “The average man something could happen and nobody knows about it but I could say something, it’d be world news.” I do believe that helped people understand why “HEIRrogance” or “Heir Time” exists.

[Along with Maria Isa, Mike the Martyr & DJ Turtleneck, Mally will be performing tonight at Muja Messiah's M-16's CD release show at the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis, MN.]

Eww Yaboo “I’m Not Afraid” (Influenza)



Described as a “sleepy coal mining town,” the unlikely setting of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is where Eww Yaboo’s collective fortress, affectionately known as “The Notch,” has taken on a reputation due to the “noise” that continually resonates from deep within. But to the trio of Drew Carsillo, Nathan Andre and Pat Austin “The Notch” isn’t simply a recording studio or practice space which also doubles as a sonic nuisance to nearby neighbors—it’s also their home. Recorded there this past August by Joe Grocki, the band’s first two tracks sway between rhythmically enticing (“Don’t Change Yer Mind”) and infectiously energetic (“I’m Not Afraid”). In this edition of Influenza the boys discuss the latter, explaining the production behind the track and how the song lyrically relates to Andre’s own personal “Old Man Marley” experience (a la Home Alone). If that’s not enough to spark your interest, “I’m Not Afraid” has already spawned its own tribute video on YouTube; and if that’s not telling of how sick the song is, I don’t know what is.

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Pat Austin: Recording this track was a strange, exciting process. We had only been together for two months. All of us are poor, the typical story, but we have no cash—especially for any real studio time. The three of us decided to pull our small amounts of funds and, along with the help of our fourth roommate Joe Grockie, we turned the second floor of our abode into a recording setup. We were able to scrape together enough money to rent two Neve preamps and two Neumann microphones from Joe and Nate’s friend, colleague, and former mentor, Paul Sinclair. I am probably the least techy guy in the band but I was assured on all fronts that in no way should we, with our lack of funds and much less than spotless house, really have possession of this equipment. Our house, “The Notch,” quickly became something I could have never imagined. Apparently everyone in town hates us due to the constant noise coming from the house. I have heard that the locals have given us the name “that Band House.” Nate’s room was the control room. We recorded the tracks using a free copy of REAPER recording software, due to Nate’s version of Pro-Tools slowing his computer down to a glitchy mess. Joe manned the board, and we went through a few live takes, picked the best one and layered several guitar and vocal tracks over the rhythm section. Pretty standard. For these sessions we wanted to stay loyal to our live sound. We put 10 hours of time into this track. Joe did an initial in-the-box mix and this is how it came out. Pizza and RC Cola made it all possible. The story seems rather typical but we knew we liked what we heard after this track was finished.

Nathan Andre: Jokingly introduced at our shows as a reference to the film Home Alone, there does lie an inspiration: New York City; my year of family loss, serious career confusion, and Drew breaking his ankle, thus removing his bike messenger abilities long enough to not pay the bills and we’re home, back home. Depression? Yes. But we were determined to make something of our time here (now almost two years—YIKES!) I started seeing a doctor professionally, learning to want to start breathing again and shaking off all faulty expectations. It felt like there was someone standing outside of me ready to offer me something beyond just being content in my former, although fiscally sound, yet draining and depressing NYC stint. God? Companion? Lover? There is something really awesome about finally going up to the man whose been shoveling outside all those years and confronting him with the mentality of “why fear”? Near the end of the song there is an apology to anyone I may have been a jerk to in my few years of serious post collegiate confusion. Salvation to the three of us has very different meanings, but playing and living together with these two guys is truly a part of my new found lot. We’re giving it a go.

Drew Andre: This song and this band simply represents where we are all at in our lives: Living in a sleepy coal mining town with these guys and a schizoid cat, back in the house I grew up in, trying not to lose our minds, moving forward and not being afraid of what happens in the meantime.

Ne-Yo “Libra Scale” Review

Ne-Yo’s new album, as he has explained in numerous interviews leading up to the release of Libra Scale, is a self-described conceptual piece which focuses on the conflicts that arise between love, power and money. In one such discussion with Rolling Stone‘s Sean Fennessey the vocalist detailed some of the primary influences that impacted the direction of the music, “The whole idea to do this for my fourth came from not doing an album in ’09 because I was doing two movies, learning how to write for the screen.” He continued, “And then, the inspiration was furthered by Michael Jackson’s passing, looking at ‘Thriller,’ ‘Moonwalker,’ ‘Bad.’ Those were more than just videos—those were movies.” But after releasing the album’s first three singles, including the house-influenced “Beautiful Monster” (which was the highest charting of the three in the U.S., peaking at #53 on the Billboard Hot 100), the singer was critical in his response to the tepid reception his new music was receiving. In discussing his frustration, he explained to London’s PunchBowl TV that, “The last time somebody did a concept album was year’s ago. In that the way that we’re telling the story I was aware of the fact that it could possibly go over some people’s heads.” But is the concept of the album so innovative that it has creatively distanced Ne-Yo from much of his fan base? Not at all. Rather, and keeping his outspokenness in mind here, it’s Ne-Yo’s picturesque vision of what the album should be that unfortunately fails to come close to what Libra Scale actually sounds like.

From the opening moments of “Champagne Life” to the closing moments of the second to last song on Libra Scale—the aforementioned “Beautiful Monster,” produced by the largely hit-or-miss Norwegian production duo StarGate—there is no evidence of this master plan that Ne-Yo has so persistently stood behind. There is no mention of the internal struggle faced by the story’s lead characters—revealed by Ne-Yo to be Jerome, Clyde, and Leroy: a group of garbage men-made-good (whose roles are only vaguely referenced visually in the singles’ music videos)—and there is no evidence anywhere that supports the talented singer’s claim that the album is the musical accompaniment to a “147 page script” which he wrote chronicling these characters’ stories. The songs in Libra Scale are simply about love and sex, rounded out with a little bit of romance.

“Champagne Life” opens the album with a tremendous bounce, but lyrically the only cloudy reference to the “plot” is Ne-Yo’s reflection on living the good life in his hook, “Living the champagne life, everything’s okay.” “Makin’ a Movie” hints at an opening sequence of a film as the song’s introduction reveals “The stage is set, the lights are on, and this is where the magic happens/So without further ado: our feature presentation,” but it ultimately lapses into a slow moving track laced with party clichés, “We’re making a movie/And the director is me, so when i yell cut we gonna leave.” Ne-Yo comes on strong with his best Michael Jackson in the sultry “Know Your Name,” but again: the song is simply about hitting on women. “Telekinesis” continues by slowing things down musically, but its only real redeeming factor is that it adds one of the steamier lyrics to the album, “Girl have you ever had someone take the time/So sex your body, but also sex your mind.”

“Crazy Love” finds the singer wading in confusion over a destructive relationship before Fabolous takes over the track, humorously concluding his verse with “Hit it from the back hard/Hope you got Geico.” “One in a Million” and “Genuine Only” follow as lyrical odes to finding one’s soul mate while “Cause I Said So” lyrically teases a domineering relationship, “Do it ’cause you want to, you want to ’cause I said so.” And while being one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Beautiful Monster” merely unfolds much in the same was as “Crazy Love” does, “You’re a knife, sharp and deadly/And it’s me that you cut into/But I don’t mind, in fact I like it/Though I’m terrified, I’m turned on but scared of you.” Libra Scale closes with “What Have I Done,” which stands as the only variation from the thematic focus on personal relationships, but any resemblance to the movie that Ne-Yo had painted in his mind is ambiguous at best, the song focusing on guilt and remorse for vague wrongdoings, “There’s blood on my hands, guilty party/Ain’t no sense but I’m the one/I’m responsible for this, sure as the moon shines, ’cause I’m the sun.”

Musically the album is consistent as the production matches Ne-Yo’s charismatic flow and is ceaselessly enjoyable throughout. But not unlike his perception of the lyrical themes, Ne-Yo’s view of the musical range of Libra Scale is highly questionable. Continuing with PunchBowl TV he addressed his approach to music, and more specifically: the album, “At the end of the day I can’t be the kind of person to do the same thing over and over and over again.” “I’m an artist,” he continued, “and as an artist, what it is to be an artist is to expand and grow and evolve; take risks, take chances, I feel like that’s what keeps the shit interesting.” He then concluded his thought by lashing out at the state of modern pop, calling it “stagnant” and “wack” before explaining how “Everybody sounds the same, everybody looks the same, everybody shoots the same videos, sings the same damn song.” Ceaselessly enjoyable—sure—but Libra Scale is far from remarkable, and certainly not a record that captures the spirit of innovation that is so highly oversold by the singer.

The only way that Ne-Yo’s thematic claims might make sense is if there were in fact a movie to complement the music; something which is apparently on its way in the form of a series of long-playing videos which should supplement the album’s previously-released music videos. But without the visuals any puffing concerning an of out-of-the-box approach, whether it be musically or lyrically, which the singer has—on multiple occasions—expressed concerning the already lukewarm response to Libra Scale is nothing but a smokescreen to mask an unspectacular pop album that does little to separate Ne-Yo from all of the other “stagnant” and “wack” hit-makers who continue to sound the same, look the same and sing the same damn songs.

Dark Dark Dark “Wild Go” (Influenza)



Having released the band’s full-length debut, The Snow Magic, in 2008, Minneapolis’ Dark Dark Dark quickly built a reputation for standing outside any single genre, or single city, actually, as the group roamed between the Twin Cities, New York, and New Orleans. In his review of the album The Line of Best Fit‘s Adam Nelson commented on how the band’s music “Ambles out of the speakers like something from an age gone by,” while Absolute Punk‘ Travis Parno expanded on the makeup of the group’s sound, calling it “One part cabaret, one part lonely train ride under darkened skies.” While maintaining a hectic touring schedule Dark Dark Dark still managed to find time to release a pair of EPs: last year’s Snow Magic Remixes and this spring’s six-song Bright Bright Bright, which City Pages‘ Erik Thompson praised for its “impassioned, engrossing songs” which contrast “hushed emotion” with dynamic instrumentation “reminiscent of the brass-infused cabaret sound of Beirut.”

This month the band returned with Wild Go, the group’s sophomore release which found Dark Dark Dark comfortably settle into their recently expanded lineup. In discussing the album, Reviler‘s Jon Behm focused on two songs in particular, weighing in on their individual idiosyncrasies: the “Slavic infused ‘In Your Dreams’ which is punctuated by a profoundly deep men’s chorus” and the “accordion and piano dirge ‘Daydreaming,’ in which [Nona Marie] Invie again shines.” It would seem as though the two tracks stand out to the group’s Marshall LaCount as well, as he recently focused on both “Daydreaming,” the album’s lead single, and “In Your Dreams” for the latest installment of Influenza. In choosing between which track to hone in on, LaCount eventually settled into the creative process behind “In Your Dreams” and how the band’s nomadic tendencies led them to Europe where the song eventually sprouted as a product the group’s experiences.

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Seriously, I was going to choose “Daydreaming” because it’s obvious. It’s beautiful and spacious. It’s the first single. It has an official video. It was written in response to Elephant Micah’s “Wild Goose Chase,” which was written in response to Hazel and Alice’s “Ramblin’ (Wo)man,” which was written in response to Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man.” That’s a lot of back story and music history. That’s interesting stuff. It’s the way folk, or in Nona‘s case, some kind of subtly epic chamber folk pop, music happens. She rides around on her bike saying “Ooh ooh, ooh ooh,” for two weeks, and then the rest of the song happens in one hour at the piano. It’s the first and only time guitar appears on any of our recordings, three EPs and two full lengths in, which we were proud of. It’s the first time the banjo got to behave like a noise and texture instrument, fully electric and hidden behind vintage effects. That’s all fine and dandy, but that kind of talk smells like carpet from the ’70s, and wood panel walls, and maybe the stale cigarettes and beer of some rocker’s practice space.

I’d rather choose “In Your Dreams,” except all I can remember is rehearsing the choir parts with the crew from a project called The Swimming Cities of Serenissima, sitting in a grove on what felt like our own private island near Venice, Italy called Isola della Certosa. I asked Nona where she wrote it. Couch surfing at Massimo’s in Vicenza? He was a total stranger that four of us ended up living with for two weeks, writing and rehearsing for the project. He was a good cook and a great host. He seemed fond of women from foreign countries, and it didn’t always come across as completely innocent. In Eindhoven, Netherlands? We were in Europe a lot that year, not only touring, but working on these collective art projects with Miss Rockaway and the Swimming Cities. I’m not trying to brag. I’m trying to share how fortunate we’ve felt and how grateful we are. I just haven’t gotten there. Okay, this is weird now. I still pick “In Your Dreams.” It’s the only time we’ve gotten to “Hah-um” and snap our fingers, and it’s fun. I love the drums on it, too. Working with Brett [Bullion] has been so nice.

Kings of Leon “Come Around Sundown” Review

Since its release in September of 2008, Kings of Leon‘s Only by the Night has sold some 6.2 million copies worldwide, becoming the highest selling digital album in history in the process, has earned the band four Grammy Awards in addition to a slew of other prizes around the world, and has never really left the Billboard 200. The breakout record skyrocketed the group to “stadium” status which evolved into the role of headliner at such festivals as Bonnaroo and the prestigious Glastonbury and Reading festivals in the UK. But the success came with a price: fans and critics alike balked at the band’s shift in direction, its uncharacteristically pristine sound, and the gaudiness of such songs as the massive “Sex on Fire.” Perhaps the most glaring issue that arose from the band’s success was within the group itself, however; most notably lead vocalist Caleb Followill who has gone off on fans (calling newer supporters “Not fucking cool”), the band (“We know you’re sick of Kings of Leon. We’re fucking sick of Kings of Leon too”), and the music (calling “Sex on Fire” a “Piece of shit”). As David Smyth of the London Evening Standard explained recently, leading up to the release of Come Around Sundown the band of brothers is in a rare state of limbo, “Kings of Leon are at a point where they need to decide whether this breath-restricting altitude is where they really want to be.” And to call the struggle “apparent” within the album would be a gross understatement.

One of the main points of curiosity concerning Only by the Night was its distinctly polished sound compared to the band’s past work, something which the band attempts to confront with Come Around Sundown. The album is nothing if not cohesive-sounding—glistening with much the same production value as Only by the Night—but the band has made an obvious attempt to add a sense of familiarity which was lacking from the multi-platinum success. “The End” is a looping, distorted ballad, “Pony Up” features a bouncy bass line that signals back to some of the band’s earlier records, and “Mi Amigo” comes closer to a classic rock vibe than anything else the band has done in recent memory. Even Sundown‘s lead single, “Radioactive,” features an invigorating guitar line that coils itself around the track’s infectious hook. But despite its reinvigorated sound, Come Around Sundown is still ripe with that air of uncertainty which Smyth previously alluded to.

The hook to “The Immortals,” for instance, bleeds stadium-sized swagger, with Caleb bellowing “Out on the streets and stars, and ride away/Find out what you are, face to face.” Despite appearing distraught over tracks like “Sex on Fire,” “Pickup Truck” suggests that there’s no immediate lack of egocentric lyrics passing through the band’s songwriting sessions, “Walk you home to see where you’re living around, and I know this place/Pour yourself on me and you know I’m the one that you won’t forget.” The most glaring source of frustration comes with “No Money” however, Caleb lyrically battling between what he has and what he wants, looking at his success and still feeling emotionally bankrupt, “I got no money but I want you so/I got so much I cannot handle.” Unlike the band’s previous efforts which centered around Nashville as a base, Sundown was recorded in New York City, which only seemed to add to the stress of the situation. Caleb recently explained, “It was kind of a depressing experience. If we’d made it is Nashville, we’d be out playing basketball or goofing off. Here, I’d wake up and hail a cab to the studio, then spend 12 hours a day in a room with no windows.” He added, “It felt like we were going to the office.” And as “No Money” winds down this ambivalence is only amplified, “And all this pissin’ around, cut me loose of this fucking town: I ain’t comin’ back.”

And that seems to be one of the main issues the group has had over the past two years: a sense of being lost. While financially secure for generations to come, they were essentially thrust into superstardom, and as Caleb’s aforementioned comments reveal, there’s an internal conflict that comes with that. “The End” bluntly uncovers this feeling, “I ain’t got a home, I feel all alone,” while “Pyro” wallows in a feeling sadness, “All the black inside me is slowly seeping from the bone/Everything I cherish is slowly dying or it’s gone,” and “The Face” outright calls for a return home, “If you give up New York I’ll give you Tennessee/The only place to be.” The obviously-titled “Back Down South” takes this feeling one step further in shifting not only the lyrical focus, but the musical focus toward the style that the band was so longing for; a slide, fiddle and acoustic guitars accompany a chorus of hollers and laughter as the song closes out, “I’m going back down south now.”

At this point in time, it would be easy to be one of the many who are sick of Kings of Leon. For two years the band has seemingly been exposed on near-Lagy Gaga proportions, and you’d be insane to think that you’ve heard a song like “Use Somebody” for the last time. But it doesn’t make much sense to be overly critical of a band for using the tools which were made available to them, nor does it make sense to mock success simply for the sake of doing so. All of that is in the past now, and Come Around Sundown reveals itself to be the first step in a shift toward what made the Followill brothers so alluring in the first place. Sure, there are songs like the oddly placed malt-shop rock of “Mary,” but there are also songs like the vaguely twangy “Birthday,” which is far sexier—lyrically—than anything having to do with someone’s sex being on fire, “We’re gonna come together, we’re gonna celebrate/We’re gonna gather around like it’s your birthday/I don’t want to know just what I’m gonna do/I don’t care where you’re goin’, I’m coming home with you.” If you keep an open mind you’re likely to find a solid mainstream rock album that sounds much more like a product of band that enjoys “goofing off” more than it does “going to the office.” Time will tell which of the two directions the group takes—whether they chase success or continue the search for soul—but if Come Around Sundown is any indication, the future of Kings of Leon will be just as enjoyable as the band’s past has been.

Silver Swans “Secrets” (Influenza)



What was originally meant to be a single collaboration between vocalist Ann Yu and DJ/producer Jon Waters sparked something between the two, a rare sense of chemistry which ultimately led to the formation of Silver Swans. Whether their sound be explained as a combination of “dance floor energy, a laid back lounge refinement, and a nostalgic nod to 80s-style synth pop” (The Examiner) or simply dubbed “electro pop” (The Owl), the cooling blend of Yu’s airy vocals and Waters’ electronic backdrop unveils itself as a refreshing contrast to the vocalist’s other act, the relatively guitar-heavy San Francisco-based group, LoveLikeFire. This bubbling contrast between the two is no more evident than on their new single, “Secrets.” The track, which will be released on the duo’s forthcoming EP of the same name, progressively swells with synth as Yu skims the surface of the rumbling song with her angelic vocals; RCRD LBL‘s Kev Kharas recently described her as having “the sort of voice you’ll feel on your neck.” In this edition of Influenza the singer further explains the lyrics behind the track while also delving further into the unusually efficient songwriting dynamic between herself and Waters.

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Jon and I try to keep our song making process as new as possible—trying to challenge ourselves by never sticking to a formula that has worked in the past. Sometimes he’ll shoot me an idea and I write a melody to it. Other times I’ll write a guitar part and melody and he’ll take that and transform it, changing everything about it but the melody. Other times we’ll just get together and work on it from the ground up, part by part based around a melody alone and then change everything about it including the melody. Jon is an insanely talented and prolific producer, he can transform anything into something I connect with.

“Secrets” was one of the quickest collaborations we’ve had for the EP and is also the nearest to my heart lyrically. I was at home in San Francisco one night, having come back from an uninspired day at work, thinking about where I was five years ago and where I will be five years from now. So I wrote “Secrets” to myself, like an honest letter to me. That night, I recorded a demo of the vocals and guitar part and I remember being in my cartoon puppies snuggie sweats, recording it just like I wrote the lyrics, just for myself really, ’cause I’d never wear my hideous snuggie sweats for anyone else. Writing and recording the way that I’d do anything when no one else was watching me behind closed doors. Maybe that says something about me. I sent this to Jon and he sent me back something beautiful and I loved it immediately. That’s why we called the song “Secrets,” because it started off that way; but I guess it’s not much of a secret anymore.

Lil Wayne “I Am Not a Human Being” Review

Despite being held up at Rikers Island Correctional Facility for a large chunk of 2010 Lil Wayne has somehow still proven to be not only one of the most prolific artists alive, but one of the most skilled. Not to overlook the wave of videos which were unleashed earlier this year in support of his rock-inspired Rebirth, but in releasing his eighth proper studio album Weezy’s not only ensuring that he’s not forgotten while out of the public eye, but that he’ll once again be up for consideration when outlets begin dolling out honors for the best records of 2010.

Cut before Lil Wayne was incarcerated, I Am Not a Human Being was originally scheduled to be released as an EP rather than a full-length, but to be fair, when considering the man’s propensity to write and record music, 10 songs still seems a little on the lean side. One thing that hasn’t been culled back for the release is the quantity of solid collaborations, however, as a solid cast of Young Money regulars make appearances all throughout the record. Whether it be Jay Sean working with a solid beat while backing up Wayne for “That Ain’t Me,” Lil Twist dropping a solid hook with “Popular,” or Nicki Minaj doing her best Rihanna with “What’s Wrong With Them,” each guest appearance does well in adding a unique feeling to their respective song. T-Streets’ raw cameo in “Hold Up” might be most out of place when considering the overall sound to the record though; a sound which can be summed up with a single word: Drake. Working as a duo on four of the record’s tracks, Wayne and Drizzy further showcase their chemistry with the soulful “With You” and the relaxed “I’m Single,” while they both roll out solid verses in “Gonorrhea” and “Right Above It;” the latter of which reveals one of Drake’s strongest lyrical contributions on the record, in all of its flossin’ glory, “I got a couple cars I never get to use, don’t like my women single: I like my chicks in twos.” But even with the stellar production and strong collaborations that enrich throughout, as with each of his past records, there is no question that the focus here is aimed directly at Weezy.

It has long since become a standard to expect a lot in terms of lyrical content when approaching Lil Wayne’s music, and with I Am Not a Human Being the man does not disappoint. What shines through is Wayne’s lyrical aptitude, his sense of humor, and his approach to romance; three things which need to be emphasized after his lackluster stab at “writing songs” with Rebirth. And for fans who were waiting patiently for Wayne to return to form, I Am Not a Human Being is just that—actually the album is a bit problematic in that it’s slightly overwhelming in terms of the quantity of bars that the MC lays down. Concerning his philosophical stonerisms, Weezy’s on point, dropping a seemingly endless string of quality lines: “Sanity kills, so I live the crazy life” (“What’s Wrong With Them”), “Ride on you like Shaun White, I’m high all day, call that shit a long flight” (“Bill Gates”), “Life is a beach, I’m just playin’ in the sand” (“Right Above It”). At the same time his tongue never seems to leave his cheek, “ Rockabye baby, homicide baby/That’s more tear drops, call me crybaby” (“Gonorrhea”), “Just checked my watch and that bitch said sometimes” (“Hold Up”), “Yall’s a buncha squares like a mother fuckin’ grid” (“I Am Not A Human Being”). He even finds time to work in commentary on one of the decade’s most destructive disasters, “Trust that flow on my innertube, when they turn my city into a swimming pool/Before that it was a living cesspool” (“That Ain’t Me”). But—as if it weren’t already implied with Drake’s heavy influence on the record—the main theme that runs throughout the album is, well, sex.

It’s hard to defend a sexist attitude, on any level, but it’s also difficult to not appreciate the witty approach Lil Wayne takes to lyrically seducing women. Whether it be explaining his game plan, as he does with “I’m Single” (“Swimming trunks and bathing suits, then go hit the bedroom and tell the naked truth”) and “With You” (“Tall glass of Merlot get her in the mood/Two tall glasses of Merlot get her out her robe”), or simply sounding genuinely romantic (something he does well with “Popular”: “Don’t need another one when we got one another”), the man continues to lend evidence supporting his claim as being (one of) the best in the rap game. Hell, the guy can even make knuckleheaded rhymes sound sensual, “Damn you the shit/And I would rip my heart out and hand you the shit/And I don’t really know how to handle the shit/But tonight it’s moonlight and candles and shit” (“With You”).

I Am Not a Human Being is essentially being released as the precursor to Weezy’s forthcoming album Tha Carter IV. But more important than that—even more important than keeping Lil Wayne in the public eye—the album does well to wash away the bitter aftertaste of Rebirth. Even if you enjoyed the record, arguing that it was up to Weezy’s usual standards is an uphill battle if there ever was one. Not only do tracks like “I Am Not a Human Being” rejuvenate the idea that Wayne might actually be able to work well amongst a backdrop of guitars again, but the bulk of the album reminds us how fantastic a lyricist he can be. The stage is now set for what might be Lil Wayne’s biggest album to date, and if I Am Not a Human Being is any indication: Tha Carter‘s next installment is going to be a classic.