Well, I Guess This is Growing Up: Blink 182’s Pop-Punk Revival

It was 1997, and Blink-182 were a group of absurdly crass upstarts who managed to write the rock song of the summer,”Dammit.”  The song’s themes of maturity and growing up caused it to become a classic single, and it remains legendary within the punk community.  Written by bassist Mark Hoppus, it tells the story of a breakup and the difficulty of seeing the former partner moving on and entering a relationship with someone else.  It ignited the beginning of an era, and in the late 90’s and early 00’s no pop-punk band could supplant Blink-182 because no one could write songs that were both immature yet inconceivably wise.

And you’ve been there for too long

To face this on your own

Well, I guess this is growing up

“Dammit” exemplifies Blink’s seemingly contradictory style of immature wisdom, and it has proved to be poignantly prescient in the past few years.  Mark Hoppus, guitarist Tom DeLonge, and drummer Travis Barker seemed to be inseparable friends, but Tom caused turmoil when he left the band to pursue his UFO obsession.

The subsequent fallout has been messy, and nostalgic 90’s babies who remember the band fondly have had to watch helplessly as one of their idolized childhood bands splinters and separates.   Unsurprisingly, fractured relationships is a central theme of Californina, their first album in six years.  Released last week, the album is the band’s first without Tom and their first with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba.  So for those of you who want to hear more of Tom’s nasally singing reminiscent of his famous “Where are you / and I’m so sorry” from “I Miss You,” you will not find it here.

Instead, Matt Skiba’s voice adds something that comes curiously close to solemn sentimentality, which was always rare from Blink’s past six studio albums.  Yes, Blink has always been capable of writing heartbreaking tunes (about suicide – “Adam’s Song”, or about divorce – “Stay Together for the Kids”) but they always returned to their pop-punk juvenile ways.  Skiba only sings in small doses, mostly ceding the floor to founder and band leader Hoppus, but when Skiba is called upon to do the vocals it makes for a pleasant change.

The change is so noticeable and the breakup lyrics so ripe with double meaning alluding to Tom’s departure that California is practically a concept album.  On the opener, “Cynical,” Hoppus laments,

 

There’s a cynical feeling saying I should give up
You said everything you’ll ever say
There’s a moment of panic when I hear the phone ring
Anxiety’s calling in my head

Is it back again?
Are you back again?

Receiving endless phone calls from his band manager or Tom himself about the state of Blink-182 must have been tormenting, and knowing a long lasting relationship was spiraling towards its doom?  Heart-breaking.  “Cynical” clocks in just under two minutes, but it leaves enough time for Skiba–from Tom’s point of view, perhaps–to respond to Hoppus’ cynicism, “What’s the point of saying sorry now? / Lost my voice fighting my way out.”

A lot of the album continues in this manner, but even in Tom’s absence, California sounds exactly like another Blink-182 album.  Which is as it should be.  On “Bored to Death,” the spacey drum intro and snappy guitar riff immediately signal that Blink-182 has returned.  Mark Hoppus would not even need to sing a note to make that evidently clear.

While Blink-182 has always been Hoppus’ brainchild, without the return of drummer Travis Barker this new album would have been a failure.  His unique style and relentless work ethic has sustained the band’s success and has proved necessary to maintaining their trademark sound.  His unique expressionless calm while performing combined with his absurdly fast drum rhythms continue to balance out his colleague’s volatile immaturity in such a way that holds the band together.  On “No Future,” he backs a potentially boring first verse with a drum pattern so interesting that it steals the show.  After listening to the album a couple dozen times I still unintentionally ignore the lyrics and am held hostage by Barker’s talent.

Despite the success of the throwback sound, Blink-182 are trapped in their melancholy nostalgia and angst a little too long.  Perhaps that comes with getting older, but California is much too long and it would have better suited their style if they had made something more concise.  Even though the 16 song album is only 43 minutes long, a lot of the songs accomplish their goal at their halfway point.

They also fall for a few clichéd traps, such as the tiresome pandering to “kings of the weekend” who have “no self control,” but even then their explanation of why they included it on the record (at first “Kings of the Weekend” was not at all close to the final cut) makes sense in almost an endearing kind of way.  And the song very nearly redeems itself with the line “Friday nights always saved my life / from the worst of times we ever had / thank God for punk rock bands.”  Later, on the de facto closer “California,” they sing about the depressing aspects of suburbia in a wholly unoriginal way, which is unfortunate because the song had the potential to join their podium of ballads.

Nonetheless, Blink-182 have once again made a good album, and after being around for a quarter-century, that is saying something.  They capture well the spirit of middle-aged malaise surrounding relationships and purpose, one that is entirely familiar and unchanged from their youth–for better or for worse.  It should also be noted that California dethroned Drake’s Views from the Billboard top albums chart.  It is Blink-182’s first number one album in over fifteen years, which is pretty incredible.

Twice during the album Hoppus pays tribute to the band’s infectious adolescent energy.  “Built this Pool” and “Brohemian Rhapsody” are seventeen and thirty seconds long, respectively, and the only lyrics on either of them are “woo woo / I wanna see some naked dudes / that’s why I built this pool,” and “There’s something about you / that I can’t quite put my finger in.”  Those only interested in the band’s golden age might frown upon California, but they will smile at these little quips and heed their message within the album’s larger narrative.  It is a familiar one, after all:  Well, I guess this is growing up?  Fuck you I’ll still hold on to my childish ways for as long as I can.  It sucks and the inevitability is suffocating, but you never have to grow up too much.

A tank of gas is a treasure to me

I know now nothing is free                      – “Carousel”  1994

 

My friends say I should act my age

What’s my age again?

What’s my age again?                               – “What’s My Age Again” 1999

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Julianna Barwick’s Pure Will

Will

noun
noun: will; plural noun: wills
1.  the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.
“she has an iron will”

synonyms: determination, willpower, strength of character, resolution, resolve, resoluteness, single-mindedness, purposefulness, drive, commitment, dedication, doggedness, tenacity, tenaciousness, staying power
“the will to succeed”

It is almost impossible to read about Julianna Barwick without learning about her biggest influence as a musician.  She grew up on a farm in Louisiana, and it was there that she would venture into her back pasture, climb into the hollow spaces of a massive tree, and sing.  Her voice would reverberate and echo through the different chambers, and as she crawled though the holes and laid in its branches, the tree nurtured her desire to make soothing musical masterpieces.  She calls the tree, “the magic place.”

She also spent a lot of time in church singing in a choir, and it shows.  By looping her own voice on top of itself and layering them over notes of piano and strings, she paints a very pastoral mood.  “Envelop,” the opening track from her major label debut, is a very good example of her style.  It begins with just her voice, which she then records and loops over and over again, slowly magnifying it with simple piano, violin and cello riffs.

Given how stunningly magnificent her first proper album was, Barwick’s sophomore effort was highly anticipated, and resulted in another fantastic project, Nepenthe.  The video of standout “Forever,” gives me chills every time I watch it.  It shows Barwick recording the song in an abandoned swimming pool (which has been transformed into a recording studio) with an all-girls Icelandic choir.  You can see the joy on their faces as they make something awesome.

Admittedly I was not excited when her third album was announced in March.  Barwick’s formula is predictable and I perceived it to be stagnant and without much room for growth.  But when Will was released on May 6, I was proved astoundingly wrong.  It is her best album to date.

Her first and second albums were 44 and 42 minutes respectively, and while her music is gorgeous, its simple nature can grow boring in that time.  Will does not have that fault, and it is the perfect length for Barwick to succinctly display her craft. In 39 minutes she packs a more emotional punch than most other musicians can in twice that time using lyrics.

For example, “Nebula,” the first released single off the album, is perhaps the most stark, somber tune that Barwick has ever written.  Fittingly, the music video is very dark and haunting, and not necessarily a comfortable watch.  What is truly beautiful about it, however, is every time she sings the lights come on.  Voice as light is a sweet yet fleeting notion, because the darkness returns to envelop Barwick as she is forced to release the note and draw breath.

“Nebula” sticks out on Will a little like a sore thumb–it is bizarrely out of character.  Among the synonyms for “will” is single-mindedness, the only relatively negative idea surrounding the word.  Barwick knows that her style can at times be dull, repetitive and unbecoming of most moods, but her dedication to her art is largely positive.  While she may be stubbornly making music that can be perceived as monotonous, the end result is a testament to her willpower and strength.

The following 31 minutes after “Nebula” are symbolic of this, most especially the final song, “See, Know.”  The album closer plays like a victory lap, like a resounding emergence of light.  Even though Barwick’s voice takes a backseat, the driving synths and percussion give the song a triumphant nature.  It is the first Julianna Barwick song to include drums and cymbals, which contributes greatly to this feeling of accomplishment.

In order to understand the magnitude of this album, it is helpful to remember the magic place.  The tree must be very old and wise, and did not grow in haste.  Julianna Barwick did not arrive at this point quickly either, and her slow, deliberate growth as an artist has become a tribute to her childhood refuge.  On Will, she shows how powerful her commitment truly is, and by the end of it she is basking in the glory of achieving her goal.  And just like the magic place, she is not done growing.

Inside Out Deserves Best Picture Honors

This morning I had the pleasure of seeing Pixar Studio’s Inside Out for the first time, and I left the theater with tears lingering in my eyes, amazed by the sheer emotional weight of what I had just seen.  My parents and I hit up the too-good-to-be-true $2.75 11am showing at the Frederick Holiday Cinemas, along with dozens of families with tiny kids trying to beat the somber, very gray rainy day.  The partner feature across the way, Minions, was definitely more crowded, but we were still surrounded by dads, moms and kids munching on popcorn.

After receiving nearly unanimous critical acclaim and breaking all sorts of box office records–not to mention the effusive word of mouth hype–I sat down knowing that Inside Out was going to please me.  Well, I was wholly unprepared.  It left me–for lack of a better word–feeling.  And not only was I feeling emotions intensely, I was feeling them all at once.

The movie follows eleven year old Riley, who up until the movie’s predictably typical yet satisfyingly effective plot device has enjoyed a wonderful life growing up in Minnesota.  Her emotions of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) are all personified and housed in a “control center.”  Along with other personifications of parts of her brain, her emotions navigate life through her experiences, doing their best to absorb the memories each day creates.  While each emotion has their own personality, together they are what makes Riley herself.

Do not worry, the film is actually more complicated than that, and that is the best part.  When operating at its best, Pixar manages to take compelling, complicated subject matter and deliver it through a medium that is close to universal but not watered down.  For example, taking something as trivial as a “train of thought” and literally turning it into a train that uncontrollably wanders around Riley’s head is not dumbing down how the human brain works, it is an accurate portrayal of how we think.

Perhaps the only critique that Inside Out has received is that it comes dangerously close to flying over kids’ heads, and it will for some.  However, that is precisely the point of the film and part of the reason why it is Pixar’s magnum opus.  As human beings, our brains and our emotions work in such a way that we are constantly changing and evolving.  At the age of eleven, Riley’s personality and maturity is in a state of flux and by the end of the film, she is not the same person that she was at the start.  How do you think that affects her emotions?

It is the genius question that drives the film and turns it into one of the greatest films ever made.  A debatable opinion to be sure, but at the very least it deserves best picture.  By making a movie about emotions, Pixar has managed to create arguably the only film that every human being on this earth can relate to, and I can think of no better reason why everyone should see Inside Out. 

5/5

3EB’s Dopamine: Good Thing Those Other Two Eyes are Still Working

Third Eye Blind never released an amazing album.  They had four (Dopamine makes it five) good LP’s with at most two thirds of the songs being better than average.  And let us be real here, some of those songs are storied heroes, but some of them are complete crap as well.  Take their best selling release for example.  Their self-titled debut has three indisputable classics: “Jumper,” “How’s It Going To Be,” and “Semi-Charmed Life.”  On the flip side, it is a record that contains “Thanks a Lot,” “Burning Man,” and “Good For You.”  These three may as well be a huge spike strip tearing the tires off an American-built juggernaut which would otherwise be speeding towards Mount Olympus for 90’s album deification.

Dopamine keeps that streak alive and well, and it unfortunately–even after all these years–only manages to prove that Third Eye Blind (3EB) will always be a famous 90’s band known almost solely for their singles and not a coherent album.  This obviously is not a damning statement.  Their fifth studio album–the band’s first in six years–has some quintessential 3EB songs that are worth holding on to.

Despite all the talk about 3EB capitalizing on millennial 90’s nostalgia, Dopamine’s keepers are not just predators of sentimental value.  That would be a fair point had this record been complete trash.  It is a bummer that the album begins with “Everything is Easy,” a song that definitely feels like 3EB is playing villainous puppet master with millennial heartstrings.  It sounds like the band, but does not feel like the band.  “IT’S A TRAP!” Admiral Ackbar screams.  It very well may be, but whatever, loyal fans will ride out the storm regardless.  Good thing those other two eyes are still work.  What the band did right in their heyday isn’t easy to duplicate, but they manage to recycle it, often to powerful effect.

Track number two is a beautiful example, and after the opening song feels simultaneously like a sigh of relief and a punch to the stomach.  “Shipboard Cook” reminds everyone that 3EB lyrics are bittersweet diamonds in the rough: they don’t seem like much when you first hear them, but they come back around and you realize how poetic they are.  But only after they’ve ripped your heart out.  At no time does this hold more true than during “Blade.”  For those who remember “God of Wine,” or “Slow Motion,” “Blade” is their equal in calamitous and passionate imagery.  A bold statement, but the lyrics speak for themselves.

Stephan Jenkins, the main singer/songwriting member of 3EB, is a brilliant poet who can provoke intense thoughts with violent, devastating lyrics.  It’s always difficult for a band to remain relevant over the span of decades, but those who do almost always have a genius songwriter who first and foremost uses the power of lyrics to propel the music forward.  Alas, 3EB has never been flawless, Jenkins least of all.  He is constantly dogged by lawsuits from former band members who accuse him of being a greedy egotist.

Perhaps the staggering weight of dealing with all ten former band members, including those he fired from the band, finally caught up with Jenkins.  On the penultimate song, “Exiles,” he writes, “Are we breaking up the band? / The naturals of dark arts / I think we like the feeling of falling apart.”  Unsurprisingly, it ends up being a half-assed apology, if it can even be called that.  He later sings, “Well I remember everything I said / And I don’t take it back / In the silence of this breakup all my cracks are exposed / And then the night goes black on black.”

At the end of the day, Jenkins is still the same person he always has been for 3EB’s 22 year lifespan.  He is a bipolar songwriter who even in his flashes of brilliance held on stubbornly to his flaws.  This album is purportedly the band’s last, so after this wave of nostalgia disappears and 3EB ends its current overpriced tour, they are done.  Too bad Jenkins decided to keep some songs off this album.  For those die-hards who remember the long-lost “Persephone” and “Second Born” and had hoped they would be on this album, we’ll just have to come to terms with the fact that 3EB never reached their full potential.  There are a couple amazing songs on Dopamine, but that third eye will always be blind, for better and for worse.

In Colour: Perfectly Walking the Trapeze Between Subtle Beauty and Infectious Dance

Club music should not be in your face all the time.   As I age, I am realizing how much the rave and EDM scene is targeted at the roaring youth, tripping and rolling into mad light shows and highlighter paint mobs.  I like raves as much as the next bro, but in order to truly appreciate dance music one must understand that dubstep is as much the product of Donna Summer as Taylor Swift is the product of Arlo Guthrie.  All music draws from tradition and history in some way, and The xx band member Jamie XX is set out to prove just that in his debut solo release, In Colour.

If you have been craving a sound and have not been able to find it since Daft Punk’s magnum opus Random Access Memories, look no further than In Colour.  As far as paying homage to the origins of modern dance music goes, Europeans just get it.  Yes, French house music is heavily influenced by Chicago’s dance movement, but many argue that the principle pioneer of American disco and dance is the famous Italian musician, Giorgio Moroder.  Of this I agree, but regardless of what nationality you are loyal to, music is a universal language, something that affects everyone equally.

Which is one of the album’s bright focal points.  Jamie XX’s British roots are the highlight, but two of the songs are dedicated to the Caribbean and its flourishing aura of positivity.  “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” features Jamaican artist Popcaan and “Obvs” showcases the power of steel drums, which is a Trinidad & Tobago instrument.  Jamie XX does not suffer from regional nearsightedness.

Comfort zones are still hard to escape, however, and there are two songs that feature The xx singer Romy.  That’s not to say that it was a disappointment to hear her on this album, but the other songs prove how much potential Jamie XX has as a solo artist.  “Loud Places” ends with Romy singing the lyrics “you’re in ecstasy without me / When you come down / I won’t be around,” and is a letdown given the album’s overall theme of triumph.  It would have better suited the cohesiveness of the release if it did not feel obligated to include an excuse why The xx might break up after In Colour is released to critical acclaim.

Ultimately that is the album’s only weak point, and it is not a damning one.  To blame someone for cautionary change would be a contradictory exercise and would rob Jamie XX of his humanity.  In Colour is an appropriate debut, one that does not take too much risk but packs enough in to declare an ambitious future.  A future that hopefully pushes dance music towards more advanced fare, one with piano arpeggios and beats established without the use of bass.  Opener “Gosh” is the perfect example of this because it is infectious, has an immaculate trajectory, and has the magical gift to initiate body movement–all without the overuse of bass.

It is impossible to decide whether to blast that on full volume or to listen to it with eyes closed at a moderate volume.   That exact beauteous balance on the trapeze high wire of dance music is not something easily achieved, and all 43 minutes of In Colour manages to instill that enlightened sense of a calm adrenaline rush.

Multifaceted acknowledgement of musical and cultural origins is one of the reasons why genres are able to sustain similarities while simultaneously achieving a state of fluid progressiveness.  This is not dance music moving backwards, but rather its ascent towards greater heights.  Jamie XX subtly yet exultantly proves that clubbing should gravitate towards finesse and move away from the abrasive migraine-inducing thumping that has become the norm.

The Not at All Definitive Top 50 Songs of the Decade So Far

I won’t waste your time introducing this list.  Except for some disclaimers.  So I guess I will waste a little of your time.  I honestly believe that no list of this magnitude is complete without covering all the bases.  It would be be dishonest and pretentious to completely disregard country or “stoner music” simply because, so I tried my best to make this list as diverse as possible while simultaneously retaining 50 of my favorite songs of the decade.  I also am 100 percent serious when I tell people I listen to everything.  Will I gravitate towards certain styles and artists?  Of course.  But from Ke$ha to the London Symphony Orchestra, from Skrillex to Shadia Mansour, all the music I was exposed to was taken into consideration.


50 

Main Attrakionz “Perfect Skies”

In the film Zombieland, the main character Columbus adds the rule “enjoy the little things” to his list of survival guidelines.  Not only does this help him relieve stress in a post-apocalyptic world, but it also keeps him appreciative of living life.  “Perfect Skies” begins with the line “I just want to kick my feet up / stack some cheese and light my weed up with my niggas.”  While some people might view marijuana and money as sinful “little things” to enjoy, putting your legs up and reclining in a comfy chair in the company of friends is definitely universal.  Squadda B and Mondre Man–the duo that make up Main Attrakionz–work really hard and will continue to strive towards a higher goal by doing something that they love.  And on the way there, they’ll enjoy the little things:

“My heart’ll feel lucky, still striving with a blessing

But I’ll always want more, so I’ll never meet perfection

Collected all my colors, the canvas is white

Rep that shit in here, a Perfect Sky”


49 

Bombadil “A Question”

This technically isn’t a meet cute since it appears the two people involved know each other, but I challenge you to find a declaration of attraction in song form that is both more adorable and amusing than “A Question.”  Spoiler alert: you will not.


Super Bass (Official Single Cover)

48

Nicki Minaj “Super Bass”

Nicki Minaj’s claim to fame was to occupy a space that badly needs filling.  Other then Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing),” and Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” Nicki Minaj is the only female rapper to reach Billboard’s podium.  That said, Nicki Minaj is not afraid to flaunt the Pop Diva within her, and “Super Bass” is the perfect blend of both genres.


black sheep clash

47

Metric “Black Sheep”

Sometime during the first of a dozen viewings of the film Scott Pilgrim Vs The World I had one obsessive recurring thought: “They’ve hyped up this mysterious band that is fronted by our protagonist’s ex girlfriend SO MUCH that the song they play better not be a let down.”  When the time finally came to hear it, I was not disappointed.  Actress Brie Larson brings Metric’s song to life so well that it ends up fitting the plot and scene flawlessly.  “Now that the truth is just a rule that you can bend / You crack the whip, shape shift and trick the past again,” are two lines that hold true to every you-said-this-at-one-point relationship spat and are so relevant to the film’s central themes that it’s hard not to place this song above the other two movie songs on this list.


46

Danish String Quartet Sønderho Bridal Trilogy, Pt. II

Normally these guys play Beethoven, but when they decided to play some traditional music from the place they call home, their true beauty was brought to light.


Scary_monsters_and_nice_sprites

45

Skrillex “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites”

In a Pitchfork interview Skrillex explained that DJ’ing was the least egotistical thing to do because when done right and to perfection you played what the audience wanted to hear.  He’s not choosing what to play, the crowd is.  It was this sort of attitude I tried my best to emulate when I worked Fourth Meal at Oberlin.  In the student manager position I could DJ and play music while people ate their food and socialized.  There is no better feeling in the world than when you string together a bunch of songs that ease the pressure of school and make people laugh and dance.  So when Sonny Moore’s project Skrillex took off, he didn’t feel too comfortable.  Dubstep has become such a phenomenon that artists like Taylor Swift have incorporated it into their songs.  Hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble” would not exist without “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites.”  To this day Sonny Moore does not feel entirely at home being the center of the EDM landscape, but he takes comfort in knowing that he brings his fans joy.

I remember seeing the full Daft Punk pyramid show in 2007. I went alone, drove up in my Honda Fit, bought a ticket off a scalper for $150, got on the floor, and had the best time of my life. I didn’t have a drink, no drugs. But I was high out of my mind. It changed my life. This is gonna sound really lame, but try to take it the right way: There have been a couple times where I’ve been so proud of what I’ve done live, like I feel like I’ve given someone the same kind of feeling I got at that Daft Punk show. And that feels so good.


44

Sufjan Stevens “Christmas Unicorn”

I’m just going to say it: this is the greatest non-classic Christmas song ever.  Sufjan Stevens sings about his complicated relationship with the holiday with such wit and gusto that not one second of this twelve minute exploration of bastardized tradition overstays its welcome.  It’s weird, because I just had a conversation about Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day and how they have been used to promote binge drinking and jewelry.  There’s something that can’t really be put into words, some sort of inkling or urge to experience holidays even when we are guilty or complicit in anxiously promoting grotesque consumerism.  Sufjan attempts to answer the question in one of the essays that accompany his Christmas set of EP’s:

In spite of my best judgment, in spite of public opinion, in spite of common decency, in spite of seasonal affective disorder, mental disease and Christmas fatigue, I’ve continued the musical tradition (ever onward forever amen), in pursuing all the inexplicable songs of the holidays, season after season (without rhyme or reason), relentlessly humming, strumming, finger-picking, ivory-tickling, finger-licking, soul-searching, fact-finding, corporate ladder-climbing, magic hatter rabbit hiding, rapping, slapping, super-sizing, miming, grinding, flexing, perplexing, plucking and strumming all the celestial strings of merriment with utmost Napoleonic fever. This tradition will not die.

What is it about Christmas music that continues to agitate my aging heartstrings? Is it the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen? Or the boundless Potential Energy inherent in this bastard holiday so fitfully exploited, subverted, confounded, expounded, adopted and adapted with no regard for decency. Christ­mas is what you make of it, and its songs reflect mystery and magic as expertly as they clatter and clang with the most audacious and rambunctious intonations of irrever­ence. And all its silly-putty, slippery-slope, slap-dash menagerie of subject matter (be it Baby Jesus or Babes in Toyland) readily yields itself to the impudent whims of its contemporary benefactors, myself included.


43

The Range “Jamie”

When I was in Champaign, Illinois for the Pygmalion Festival last year, I recognized James Hinton sipping on a beer across the street.  I was eating dinner with my friend and we were all relaxing before the exciting night of music began.  I nervously went over to tell him how much I loved his music.  He was flattered and taken off guard, but it was awesome because we ended up talking about gang violence in Chicago and about a few specific songs.

I wouldn’t say that he was upset, but he was a little unsettled by the fact that I recognized him.  His project The Range isn’t at all enormous, and I left his company thinking about the rap sample in this song.  “The more people surround me the more lonely I feel,” the rapper laments.  One of the biggest challenges for artists is dealing with that potential fame.  Some friends turn to enemies and they become surrounded by a lot of superficial people who fluff and bluff to grab a piece of stardom.  Because the pool of candidates grows, however, the opportunity to develop deep and lasting friendships increases.  That’s why halfway through “Jamie” the key changes and we hear some optimistic notes of piano rise to the surface.  The transformation is powerful, the kind that sticks with you long after listening.


42

Eric Church “Springsteen”

Eric Church sings the name Springsteen almost as an afterthought at the end of the chorus, but to see it that way would be a grave mistake.  By uttering the name of The Boss, Church purposely triggers all associations with his music, and as a result makes us think of any memories and moments we have that involve “Born in the USA” and “I’m on Fire.”  The music we listen to shape and mold our experiences and in turn our character and persona.  Eric Church realizes this, and even though it’s a little bit of a cop-out to provoke our feelings about another musicians rather than his own, it is still genuine and from the heart.   We associate the music we listen to with memories, and whether you hate this genre of music or not, you can appreciate the sentiment that comes packaged with this song about nostalgic auditory triggers.


41

Soulja Boy & Ester Dean “Grammy”

DeAndre “Soulja Boy Tell’Em” Way is one of those people of whom I am always thinking, “wow, we’re the same age.”  At 24, Soulja Boy is somehow old enough to have lived an entire career arc.  He made millions on the songs he recorded in his room and practically personifies that cursed “live fast die young” internet celebrity status which he still stubbornly struggles to regain.  “I deserve a Grammy” is not a statement of arrogance but rather the defeated plea of someone who painfully acknowledges his wealth and best music is behind him.  I can’t help but think to myself how many countless others were robbed of rightful accolades based on race and class.


If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late: Drake Is On To Better Things

Most of us who care that Drake pulled a Beyoncé on Friday and surprise-released a seventeen-track doozy on iTunes know that something about this record was different.   The If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late Drake is not the same Drake of Thank Me Later, Take Care, or Nothing Was the Same.  I wanted to see what Pitchfork, one of his most effusive admirers had to say about it but I was surprised to see the absence of a If You’re Reading review Monday morning.  I did see what they had to say about one of the songs:

Of all the middle fingers Tough Drake flips on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, “Energy” is the tallest, the most knuckly, the one that comes closest to popping out eyeballs. Worlds away from his days as hip-hop’s preeminent Mister Softee, Drake is now the supervillain you can’t help but root for—the raging kingpin perched aloft his Toronto penthouse, yelling at those sad plebs down below with a mix of pity and disgust. Like so many of the greatest shit-talking tracks, “Energy” is about everyone and no one: Drake is ushering wannabes into Ubers headed straight to Nowhere, he is putting a moratorium on saving other rappers’ careers with his hooks, and he is barking every word like his entire being is composed of indestructible titanium alloy.

Drake has always been bitter.  After all, I asked the majority of my colleagues at work today what they thought of him and the most common response was, “he sounds effeminate,” and “he doesn’t rap he croons.” But he is no fool and he knows what the haters out there are saying.  Thus pinpointing his anger is not enough.  It’s headed in the right direction, but fails to highlight the true significance of this new tape.  Make no mistake, as much as people are using the terms album and mixtape interchangeably to describe the project, If You’re Reading is a tape.  Why make this distinction? Because it ensures we know this release is not his hugely anticipated NWTS follow-up, Views from the Six and because it is important in the larger context of Drake’s deteriorated relationship with his record label, Cash Money.

Before I did all my research, however, I simply listened.  In doing so I noticed that Drake’s tonal pallet on If You’re Reading is more varied than ever before.  I had to do double takes on multiple songs and think to myself, “is that Drake or a featured artist?”  His voice hits deeper notes, and he often raps at a raspier and higher octave than usual.  This activated an alarm deep within me.  “No way….” I thought, “he sounds…..scared?”  This feeling solidified more with each listen, perfectly complimented by the nitrous, dark brooding production.  Drake is wounded with his back against the wall, snarling at the demons pinning him down.

A wounded beast is still a dangerous beast, and he entrenches himself for the long haul by developing a plan:  “If I die I’m a legend…You don’t know where you’re gonna go / I got this shit mapped out strong.”  Whatever he is battling, however, is too much for him, and glimpses of a defeated Drake add to the mounting bafflement.  On “Know Yourself,” he hits that raspier, desperate octave: “Running through the Six with my WOES!!!”  Cue double take — No, he must have said hoes, right?  Wrong.  He DID say “with my WOES!!!!”  The runner within my brother couldn’t help but sympathize.  “He’s just like me!  He’s running through his city with his woes!”

It gets worse.  “I been in the crib with the phones off / I been at the house taking no calls…Drapes closed I don’t know what time it is / I’m still awake I gotta shine this year…Haven’t left the condo in a week now.”  He is working so hard on this tape that he hasn’t left his condo in a week.  This could be either depression or dedication, either way, Drake sounds exhausted, his voice fluctuating up on the words “week” and “time” in such a way that suggest manic sleep deprivation.  Intentional or not, it’s a stroke of genius that highlights Drake’s deeply rooted emotional problems.

Again, what were those problems?  I was shocked that he sounded hurt and depressed, but ultimately understood that only Drake–the most mainstream rapper who openly shares his raw emotions and as a result sounds most human–was capable of this.  I was shocked with the motive and influence.  There was no indication that his feelings were caused by a woman or women, as in the past.  There was something I was missing.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.  The most logical target for such a title is the record label, Cash Money. Lil Wayne is currently suing the label saying he’s “a prisoner, and so is [his] creativity.”  On top of that, Nicki Minaj turned away Cash Money co-founder Birdman from a recent party.  These two individuals are incredibly important to Drake, and since they are both leaving the label as soon as possible, Drake is in danger of being left behind.  “I don’t wanna miss the boat I don’t wanna sit in coach / I don’t wanna sit at home I gotta get where I’m going / I’m afraid I’mma die before I get where I’m going” (“Now and Forever”).  For an only child who owes so much to friends and mentors like Lil Wayne and Nicki, this would be too much to bear.

Consequentially, Drake released what I think is his final contractual obligation to the label.  “I had to knock down the wall / Yeah I swear to god that I’m gone.”  Forget about digging a trench for a siege, he straight up clawed his way through the wall and out the back.  “My ex ask me where I’m moving I said ‘On to better things.'”

The last three songs are a testament to Drake moving on.  Early candidate for Song of the Year “You & the 6” is a magnificent tribute to his mother that simultaneously produces tearful joy and contemplative sadness.  “Jungle” is a throwback to his talent as a sublime crossover artist and “6PM in New York” is just him rapping proficiently for four minutes with no hook.  By the time he reveals what the last few months have been like for him and you slowly absorb the music and realize their weight, it’s too late.  We’re running to catch up, his woes flying by us in the breeze.

Drake-and-his-mother

Better Late than Never: 2014’s Best Music

I did it!!!!!!!  I published this on my self-imposed deadline of whenever!!!!  Before you venture into the vast amount of music critique below, a brief explanation of my method.  If I had my way, I would write about my top 50 musical releases of the year.  Indeed, that would be too much, so I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 releases as well as a few interesting/fun superlatives.  This was damn bloody difficult because music is such an ardent passion of mine and the pool of candidates is enormous.  In the end, my top ten releases were judged on strength of intrigue, play-count/replay value, emotional clout, relevance, artistic proficiency, nostalgia and innovation.  These include ANYTHING released during the year 2014, even deluxe reissues and live recordings.

Best Opening Track (Tie)

“Weight of Love” – The Black Keys, Turn Blue & “Palace” – The Antlers, Familiars. 

It’s quite cool to see a band as big as the Black Keys take a risk* and start a record with a song that is seven minutes long and entirely instrumental for the first two.  Not to mention the guitar solos are downright gorgeous.  The soaring brass in The Antlers’ “Palace,” meanwhile, is equally beautiful.

*Then again, is it risky? Or is it just a tribute to how rock used to be?

Most Enormous Yawn-Inducing Cop-Out Overdone Topic of a Track

“Welcome to New York” – Taylor Swift, 1989.

Seriously?  Singing about New York City?  Please, do go on and tell me how bright the lights are.  Come on Taylor, you are a way better songwriter than this.

Best Closer

“Long Way Home” – Gareth Emery, Drive.

This is melodic trance’s equivalent to an Ansel Adams photo.  Or a J.M.W. Turner and John Constable painting combined.  It is a wondrous smile-inducing must-have-on-any-road-trip song of epic proportions.  When it gets warm outside, blast it in your car with the windows down.

Best Bonus Song

“Alright” (feat. Big Sean) – Logic, Under Pressure.

Big Sean follows up the line “She doin’ tricks with her pussy, I guess she’s a vagician” with “Yellin’ fuck the 5.0, state troops / Any nigga with a badge, I don’t even trust the boy scouts.”  Hilarious vulgarity followed by compelling social commentary on an impeccably produced beat.  How this song didn’t make the original album cut is beyond me.

Most Amazing Song That Was Released On An Album in 2014 But Has Justifiably Been Played At Least Three Times At Every Party Since 2012

212 (feat. Lazy Jay) – Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste. 

If it wasn’t, now it should be.

…Also Best Album Name

Azealia212

Top 5 Played Songs on My iPod From 2014:

1 “Two” – The Range (190)

2 “Repeat Pleasure” – How To Dress Well (113)

3 “Words I Don’t Remember” – How To Dress Well (113)

4 “Habits (Stay High) [Hippie Sabotage Remix]” – Tove Lo (102)

5 “Spectre” – Tycho (97)

Whenever I Heard This I Dropped Whatever I Was Doing And Danced (Tie)

“In My Heart” – Route 94, Fly 4 Life EP & “Shut Up and Dance” – Walk the Moon

Biggest “Upon My Word!” Album Cover:

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On that note, I’ll begin my top 10 releases of 2014!!!!!!!!!!

tokimonsta-desiderium

10 – TOKiMONSTA – Desiderium

I stumbled upon Jennifer Lee’s project TOKiMONSTA whilst reading up on an unsurprising egregious music industry sexism story.  Some context.  Electronic trio Krewella broke up into two factions: 1) The two sisters Jahan & Yasmin Yousaf and 2) Kristopher Trindl.  As a result the two sisters became victims of plenty of gendered and sexist criticism.  Highest profiled of these was DJ and producer Deadmau5 who in a string of tweets  said the girls kicked out the “talent” of their act and “should have gone into porn” because “at least in that industry it’s acceptable to screw the people you work with.”  In an attempt to save face, he stated that he liked TOKiMONSTA’s work.  Right.  As if liking one woman’s music makes you not a sexist pig.  Jahan Yousaf later wrote an op-ed for Billboard discussing sexism in the electronic scene, which is even more bereft of women than other genres.

Anyway, I am grateful that Deadmau5’s rant led me to classically trained Lee.  This seven-track release is in my opinion her strongest, and the way she crafts her beats and molds them to perfectly accompany whomever is featured or sampled seems effortless.  On “Steal My Attention” she takes a typical 4/4 beat and throws in some half beats and syncopation.  When I first heard the song, this literally stole my attention.  Then, on “Dusty,” her Aaliyah sample just made me really happy.  All of her interesting time signatures make her music really catchy and makes her a really talented DJ.


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9 – Sun Kil Moon – Benji

“To get a look at those I’m connected and see how it all may have shaped me” – “Carissa”

For the longest time, this was for me hook, line, and sinker the best of album of 2014.  There was, however, something about it that got under my skin, and it wasn’t the tough lyrics and thematic content.  A good friend of mine was able to put into words exactly what I was feeling, and it was that Benji is way too specific.  Panera Bread is mentioned more than once and the album closer is about Ben Gibbard of the Postal Service and Death Cab.  My friend, who is a scathing Sun Kil Moon critic, explained that this dates the music and makes it sound like Kozelek is singing from a diary.  Of this I agree.  Art’s greatest strength is that it’s open to interpretation.  More often than not music lyrics should not be too specific but rather complex thought provoking poetry.  But this paints too simple a picture and doesn’t do Benji justice.  It is raw anguish and adoration that leaves Kozelek completely bare.  Almost every song involves someone’s death and there are warm loving tributes to his mother and father.  Connection.  Friendship.  Family.  Of these fundamental human themes no music from 2014 comes at all close to paralleling Benji.


LCD last

8 – LCD Soundsystem – The Long Goodbye (Live at Madison Square Garden) 

“I know it gets tired, but it’s better when we pretend.” – “All My Friends”

On Record Store Day of last year, I woke up at 7am hoping to grab one of the local hole in wall’s two copies of the vinyl box set recording of this show.  I was not nearly early enough (i.e. did not camp out), and my place in line was too far back.  Looking back on this memory makes me realize that this was more than fitting.  Many people loved LCD Soundsystem before I did, and when I got caught up, most of them moved on and left me alone to discover the harsh reality that there’s nothing romantic about growing older while still trying to experience life like when you were 18.  But the truth is, I am far from alone.  If you embark on this mammoth three hour emotional roller coaster ride you’ll hear the thousands of fans that are cheering, crying, and above all, dancing with me.  James Murphy could’ve never released a recording of their farewell show, but “If it’s crowded, all the better,” and for those of us who weren’t able to make it to MSG, we can all close our eyes and dream we were there.

LCD Balloons


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7 – Babymetal – Babymetal

“Babymetal doesn’t hide its contrivances at all” – NPR’s Adrien Begrand

Japanese teen girl pop metal infused with reggae, dub-step, and hip-hop influences.  It’s an ingenious marketing Frankenstein of epic proportions that makes sweaty greasy metal heads cringe and start cursing.  To the haters out there I say this:  Since when has relentless headbanging been reserved solely for western white men?  To hell with predetermined notions of “its all been done” and to hell with the idea that metal is for the aggressively masculine, because this….

babymetal concert

is happening.  In the words of Aaron Sankin, “Babymetal is kind of like a magical, leather-clad, fire-breathing, sonic unicorn,” and they stand alone as a current genre pioneer.  It is completely okay to let loose and have a ridiculous amount of awesome fun every once and a while.  With an emphasis on ridiculous.


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6 – Le1f – Hey EP

“It saddens me out that a straight man is the voice pop music has chosen for gay rights” – Le1f

When someone told me that Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” ripped off Le1f’s song “Wut,” I didn’t hear it and I argued that just because two songs use the same time signature and instrument doesn’t signal plagiarism.  The thing is, I’m probably wrong.  Because a white straight man saw success and queer person of color did not.  Macklemore also received tons of acclaim for his song “Same Love,” which cemented his image as a white knight for gay rights.  Le1f is pretty clear in his pointed criticism of Macklemore, but he doesn’t let it get in the way of him making fantastic music.

The nerdy and mood-alleviating lyrics over beats that hit as hard as any club banger out there are indeed so curious and awesome that it’s hard not to crack a smile and step onto the dance floor.  “Fire type, I flame throw and it’s over / I’m combusting, bitch check your locals / I’m a Charmander, a banjee commander.”  He later raps about how a flirtatious man tries to use all his pokéballs on him, but there’s “no capture.”  That’s from the first song, “Hey,” and the next track, “Sup,” is even better: “Rumspringa, Rumspringa!!… Serving it grande, venti, trenta / Skin color: spicy chai latte / Get some coffee, pop it like edamame.”  Later in the song it’s, “I’m in that garden / With Adam, Eve and Steven / You wanna rub the apples? / Call me Johnny, I’m seedin'”  These are lines written and rapped by a fiercely proud gay man who is not only justifiably confident but is also on a mission to prove he’s better than all the hate and corruption swirling around him.  The politics that Le1f attracts pisses him off and “if you ask a gay question [he will give you] a black answer.”

“Don’t ask me how I been cuz the answer is relentless

Innocent until proven filthy I’m wildin’ out here.

I hope the cops don’t kill me

They wanna see me blend in like Realtree

But I can’tz do thatz. I gots to do me”


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5 – Ex Hex – Rips

For Mary Timony, this is something like her fourth band.  I haven’t listened to her other work from other outfits, but my god, if they are anything like Rips I must get my hands on all of them.  This album is SO. MUCH. FUN!!!!!! It’s straight to the point catchy as all hell rock and roll, something that has unfortunately fallen by the wayside.  Made up of a power trio of bad ass women, a guitar, drum set, a bass, and two-and-a-half minutes are all they need to rock their way into your ears through to your heart and out your mouth making you “bumbumbum” right along with them forevermore.


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4 – How to Dress Well – “What is This Heart?”

“It’s hard to see how much of our social fabric is made up of a radical refusal to love people” – Tom Krell

When I went to see Tom Krell and his band How to Dress Well perform at U Street in DC last year I was expecting a haunting and evocative performance.  After all, Krell’s music explores devastating topics like heartbreak and suicide, just to name a couple.  So it was pretty cool and quite entertaining to see him lighten the mood with quirky quips in between songs.  As he was introducing the song “Suicide Dream 1,” however, Krell told a story about a dear friend and roommate who had died soon after Krell moved to Europe.  During this time, the audience held conversations over him, cheered and clapped.  To say I was livid would be a gross understatement.

I have introduced How To Dress Well’s music to many but still have not found anyone who comes at all close to sharing my intense love for it.  Reasons range from the understandable “obnoxious falsetto,” to the irritating “the band name is dumb.”  I cannot do anything about musical taste and it is annoying to see people judge a project by its title, but it is impossible to criticize Krell for the unequivocal expression of his emotions.  “What is This Heart?” is a masterpiece of immensely honest emotional expression that is so powerful it sometimes seems corny, but in the end deserves sympathy and respect.


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3 – The Terry Hsieh Collective – Multiplicity

During his 2014 set at Coachella, Beck told a story about how he waited in the rain to see a band play a gig in a small bar in his neighborhood.  As it turned out, that band was Arcade Fire before they became the enormous stadium rockers that they are now, and Beck made a point to say that the local music scene–wherever you are–is often the best.  I had the pleasure and privilege to attend Oberlin College, where I could see budding musicians play at one of the best music conservatories in the world.  I was exposed to some amazing things, and it was there that I saw my track teammate Terry and his jazz band perform his compositions.  WOW.  I vividly remember watching him that first time at the Cat and the Cream and getting completely blown away by the performance.  “Dream of The Red Chamber” moved me to tears.  To have a polished recording of his new work is an awesome thing, because brilliant artists all have a launchpad, and Multiplicity is a rocket ship.


American Football Album Cover2 – American Football – American Football (Deluxe Reissue)

“Play the sad one!” – Audience Member at American Football’s Pygmalion Set

Sometimes a band forms, records a classic album, then breaks up and moves on, never again to bless us with new music.  Sometimes this is perfectly necessary, and makes sense given the lives and feelings of those involved.  And sometimes they unwillingly set up something out of their control and greater than themselves.  Sometimes the music ages and transcends all boundaries.  Almost sixteen years ago American Football recorded their only album, a self-titled monumental pillar on the foundation of emo rock.  It inevitably spread, and for those of us who grew up with it nurturing our angst understand that those nine songs are impervious treasures.

So when it was announced that American Football was issuing a deluxe version and that they were going to play their first show in fifteen years in their hometown of Champaign, Illinois, people could not believe it.  In their own words from their song “But the Regrets are Killing Me,” the last fifteen years had been “a long goodbye / with mixed emotions / just fragments of another life.”

When you’re living teenage angst, you feel totally alone and there is no way on earth an adult understands what you’re going through.  Over the years we mature and discard the belief that adult feelings are completely different from those of a teen.  There are variances, to be sure, but they retain certain striking similarities.  This is why I come back to this album time and time again.  American Football’s music endures because the emotions are age defying and universal.  You could see this truth on the faces of the three middle aged band members while they played.  Their performance was the ultimate ending at the Pygmalion Music Festival.  The lead singer, Mike Kinsella, would repeatedly look out into the crowd in utter shock and disbelief.  He was overwhelmed at the sheer growth in his fan base, (the last gig they played fifteen years ago was in a half empty bar), but I suspect the real reason was the fervent cathartic realization that all in the audience identified and knew what they had gone through and felt all those years ago.

“Honestly I can’t remember those teen dreams

all my teenage feelings and their meanings

they seem too see-through to be true

all the who’s are there but the why’s are unclear”

American Football


 run the jewels cover

1 – Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

“This whole court is unimportant, you fuckers are walkin’ corpses” – El-P on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) [feat. Zach De La Rocha]”

That is, if the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown even made it to court to begin with.  They didn’t even get indicted.  These implications are inescapable when listening to Killer Mike and El-P’s collaboration, but Run the Jewels is a merciless, ruthless behemoth of a bullshit-caller, regardless of your political views.  “You want a whore in a white dress / I want a wife in a thong.”

I tried a few times to see what the hype was about, but I couldn’t get past the first song.  The same happened for my brother and girlfriend.  The reason?  The predominant mood on this album is uncompromising animosity.  We grew to adore this album, however, because beneath all the vitriol and abrasive beats is blunt, impartial wisdom.  Whether it be in television (“They all actors, giving top in back of a BM /I’d fall back if the casting calls are ending in semen…The fellows at the top are likely rapists”) or religion, (“The forehead engravers, enslavers of men and women / Includin’ members of clergy that rule on you through religion / So strippin’ kids to the nude and then tell ’em God’ll forgive ’em”), Run the Jewels is straightforward and unforgiving.

Later in the album the two rappers face their shame.  Killer Mike says he “Won’t be the same type of man that puts cocaine in this lady’s hand / Heard she was pregnant, I’m guilty I reckon cause I hear that good shit can hurt baby’s brain,” and El-P questions his doubt for the armed forces: “We’ll teach you to move without mercy and give you the tools to go after the causers of hurt / You’ll become death / You will take breath / This is for everything you’ve ever loved.”  Anger is difficult to deal with, guilt often worse.

There is a scene in the film Selma when Dr. King has a tense exchange with Coretta about constantly traveling and being away from the family, for he is on the verge of leaving once again.  The brilliance of Ava DuVernay’s direction shows that during the discussion Martin is fumbling around the kitchen trying to find trash bags for the bin he just emptied.  Problem is, he hasn’t been home enough to know their location, and a frustrated Coretta hands them to him.  Afterwards he is left stressed and very much aware of the burden on his shoulders.  Before he retires for the night, he phones Mahalia Jackson and asks her to sing for him.

After the death of a cotton-picker in the film 12 Years a Slave, those that he worked with gather around his grave to sing.  Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and lost everything, at first does not participate because he is completely disheartened and defeated.  As the voices swell and gain ground, however, he joins them, staring determinedly at a point on the ground next to the camera.

Music’s therapeutic qualities are just water molecules in the vast and complex ocean of African American history.  But what does it say about our society that the songs sung on plantations and the Black voices whose gospels inspired and comforted are evolving into enraged messages of malcontent?  That is why this album is so prominently prevalent.  Run the Jewels disguise the relevance beneath the ire because their work is meant to be experienced by those who are equally frustrated for the present and yet are hopeful for the future.  They are blue flames igniting our passionate fury, encouraging us to channel it into progress.

Martin Singing

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“I Woke Up Like This” – Beyoncé’s Self-Titled Masterpiece Turns 1

I did not have the pleasure of waking up on the 13th of December 2013 looking as fabulous as Beyoncé always does.  I was awake, numbly watching the internet react to the surprise release of her eponymous fifth solo studio album.  I use the word “numb,” because I just could not believe that Beyoncé succeeded in keeping the album a secret.  How the hell did the album not leak?  This cannot be emphasized enough.  It is impossible to talk about the album and not mention the fact that there was ABSOLUTELY NO PROMOTION. NONE.

If it had been anyone else, (i.e. U2) I would have been concerned that the release strategy was the desperate attempt of a dying musician to stay relevant.  Since it was Queen B, however, the thought did not even cross my mind.  But something definitely bothered me about the release, because 3am rolled by and I still hadn’t bothered with one song.  It was in part because I was frustrated with the pretentious audacity of a mega-rich superstar blind-siding me with a video album, but that was too stubbornly simple a reason not to listen to something.  Deep down, I was scared.  I was scared that this would not even come close to her previous album, 4.

The nostalgic impact of “End of Time,” “Countdown,” “1+1,” “Love on Top,” “Party,” and “Run the World (Girls),” (hell, the whole album!!!!!!!!) was and still is deeply cemented into my musical identity.  Here was a powerful new Beyoncé record, but I was without those I wanted to experience it with.  What if this new upstart album laughing in the face of marketing departments everywhere destroyed those feelings? Again, I was numb with shock and did not really know what to do.  So I slept on it.

The relationships that I have with songs, albums, and artists do not ruin my musical experiences down the road.  Above all, if the music is really good, it will absolutely not matter what prior baggage I bring to an artists new work. That is precisely what happened.  I sat down the next morning, hooked up my laptop to the TV, and proceeded to be proven a silly-goose-egg of a needless worrier.  How could I ever doubted her?

What stood out to me that time and every listen/viewing since was the extravagant confidence.  This might sound silly, (Since when has she NOT been confident?!?!?!?!) but hear me out.  Beyoncé is an incredibly ambitious record, what with all the videos and production and secrecy, but most importantly, its storytelling.  She sings about bulimia, self-esteem, the patriarchy, her dead friend, and her daughter, Blue Ivy.  Since when was a Queen B record this personal?  Beyoncé evolved from childhood star to girl band aficionado to Pop Diva into full-fledged Pop Goddess Mother of Feminist Awesomeness.  This is what makes the record a masterpiece.  All of her work, from age nine when she began her career, has led her to this point.

On “Grown Woman,” the final video on the album, she flaunts her sexual agency and feminism. This is her fully evolved form, and we are blessed to be shown glimpses of how she has grown.  I believe that this is why you cannot listen to the song individually, but are forced to watch the video.  No way is that an accident.  We see a blissfully happy Beyoncé growing up into a powerful woman who gets to “do whatever she wants.”  How awesome is that? Flawlessly awesome.