CptHampton's Music Reviews
INTRODUCTION – DANCING ABOUT ARCHITECTURE
It seems no one quite knows who said it first, but there is a famous quote that states: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Well I was an architecture major for two and a half semesters and I'm not a terrible dancer, so I figure I'm qualified to give it my best shot.
Although most of you might know me for a fairly polarizing composition featured on Bosman v Wozniak, what you might not know is that I'm obsessed with music. I dabble in music production and sound design, and I even moved to Nashville, TN in 2014 to be closer to where some of the best music of today is happening. As many of you might have a passion for video games as an art form, I have a deep appreciation for music and its ability to play with our emotions and stick with us.
With the Grammy Awards coming up in February, I figured this was as good a time as any to start this blog. I'll begin with a month-long analysis of some of the bigger categories of the awards, posting twice a week on Mondays and Fridays until the awards on the 12th. Since the 13th is a Monday I'll probably use that opportunity to do a “Grammy Awards Wrap-Up,” then I'll attempt to keep a steady Monday-Friday posting schedule.
My aim for the main, post-Grammy content of this blog is to be primarily album reviews, with the occasional editorial sprinkled in if the mood strikes me. I figure since I'm using the EZA forums, I'll stick with the tried-and-true review method of a 5-star scale with the EZA rating scale of:
5 Stars - Masterful, 4 Stars - Excellent, 3 Stars - Decent, 2 Stars - Inferior, 1 Star - Terrible
(and include half star additions/deductions as I see fit)
While obviously these reviews are solely my opinions and there's an unavoidable level of subjectivity, I'll do my best to remain as objective as possible to the musicality and artistry of whatever I'm reviewing, even if it's not my cup of tea. Something I constantly tell my friends and family is “There are no bad genres, only bad artists,” and I'll do my best to stay true to that philosophy.
I'll attempt to limit most of my reviews to recently released albums, but if I find myself in a drought of content I might do some reviews of older albums, whether they were released in the past few years or the past few decades. If anyone has a recommendation of an album they want me to review or think I need to listen to, be sure to let me know and I'll do my best to check it out and fit it into my schedule!
[post reserved just in case I need the extra space later on]
Something I constantly tell my friends and family is “There are no bad genres, only bad artists,” and I'll do my best to stay true to that philosophy.
Oh, I agree. I despise Jazz, but even it has 1 or 2 songs that are ok:
THE 59th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS
The 2017 Grammy Awards are upon us, honoring all of the music that came out in...2016. Well technically the music that came out between October 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016. So all the music that came out between 4 months ago and 16 months ago (I feel like these awards could be better timed to make a little more sense...). Regardless, these awards exist to highlight the songwriters, artists, engineers, and everyone else in the music industry that make our own little corner of the entertainment world go 'round. While it seems to be a running joke that this is the lesser of the major award ceremonies in entertainment, it arguably provides us with some of the best examples of modern recorded music year-by-year.
One important thing to note is that the Grammy Awards don't necessarily exist to honor the “best” music in their respective categories. The level of entry for recording and releasing quality music has been lowered so much in the past 20 years or so that there is an absolutely massive amount that comes out. These awards are decided democratically by voting members of the Recording Academy, so inherently there's some minimum threshold of popularity for the nominees. Furthermore, it has been my experience in following the Grammys that rather than giving awards to the nominees who were listened to the most or even the ones that are the “best” in any given category, it seems that these awards instead exist to honor the zeitgeist of the past year of music. Whichever nominee best encapsulates and builds upon the trends that rose to prominence is likely the one who will take home the award.
To put it into terms many of you may be more familiar with, think of music in the context of these awards as a competitive multiplayer video game. Each year, there is a certain “meta-game” that rises to the top among the elite players. Instead of honoring the players that have the best raw mechanical skill or manage to be wildly innovative in their strategies, the awards more often go to the nominees that play exceedingly well within the current meta and perfect its finer details to the point that their victory in the competition seems inevitable.
With all that ranting out of the way, on to the awards! There are a staggering 84 categories this year up for awards, and there's no way any sane individual could (or should) cover every single one. Nevertheless, I'm testing the bounds of my sanity by covering 34 of the categories I'm most interested in over the next month. I've grouped the categories into “genres,” amounting to 9 scheduled posts before the award ceremony on February 12. For each category, I'll give a very brief review of each nominee, highlighting the good and the bad I see in each. To make it more fun, I'll then make 2 picks per category: a personal favorite and a pick to win. The personal favorite is 100% subjective and is just the nominee I enjoy listening to the most. My pick to win is who I think will actually take home the award based on how well (or maybe poorly) I understand of the “meta” of modern music in that particular genre (note that my two picks might manage to line up in some categories). In the wrap-up after the awards, I'll tally up how I did, and if you want you can play along and see how your picks stack up against mine!
Anyway enough editorial-style filler...on to the nominees!
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Day 1: Electronic (To be posted 1/13)
Day 2: Folk/Americana (To be posted 1/16)
Day 3: Country (To be posted 1/20)
Day 4: Rap (To be posted 1/23)
Day 5: R&B (To be posted 1/27)
Day 6: Rock (To be posted 1/30)
Day 7: Pop (To be posted 2/3)
Day 8: Production (To be posted 2/6)
Day 9: ___ of the Year (To be posted 2/10)
Wrap-up (To be posted 2/13)
DAY 1: ELECTRONIC
Electronic music has skyrocketed in terms of influence over the past decade, wriggling its way into what seems like every other genre of music. But any fans of the genre will ensure you that the music still thrives as its own separate entity, not to be watered down by shoehorning it into other styles.
This grouping is made a tad tricky by the fact that two of these categories focus on “Dance” as the main qualifier of the genre. Dance music, more than other genres, needs to be somewhat repetitive and easy to predict so as not to throw off the intended listeners in the intended context. Still, skilled artists in the genre are at the forefront of innovation for amazing sound design and the ability to pepper in tiny interest parts that really make their tracks shine above the rest.
Best Remixed Recording
Cali Coast (Psionics Remix) (opb Soul Pacific) – This track takes great advantage of an amazing original vocal that's perfect for remixing. It starts out by giving the song a more tropical vibe, expanding on the feel of the original track, but quickly evolves into a fully-fledged electronic piece with some massive synths and great pitched vocal one-shots.
Heavy Star Movin' (starRo Remix) (opb The Silver Lake Chorus) – I love the ethereal and mellow vocal arrangement in the original song, and this remix makes great use of them by sampling them as pads with some good filtering and chopping. Add a chill, mallet-like lead and some great down-tempo drums and you've got the perfect song to melt away your stress.
Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Five (Timo Maas & James Teej Remix) (opb Paul McCartney & Wings) – Remixing a song from Paul McCartney's album Band On The Run is a daunting task, as the song itself is wildly dynamic in tone and emotion. I almost feel like parts of this song would lend itself really well to a remix in the style of Daft Punk, but Timo Mass and James Teej go for more of an old school funk rock vibe with some heavy experimentation. It works okay for some sections, but falls flat in others.
Only (Kaskade x Lipless Remix) (opb RY X) – This remix stands out in that it has sections which are wildly different from the original song. RY X presents a song more in the style of Bon Iver, while the remix adds some life by layering in a danceable drum and synth beat into the choruses. The best part of this track is the verses allowing the feel of the original to breathe and shine through, piling on emotional depth when the energy ramps up.
Tearing Me Up (RAC Remix) (opb Bob Moses) – RAC adds some grunge to the original that reminds me a bit of the Arctic Monkeys in some ways. Unfortunately, it doesn't re-contextualize Bob Moses' song in any significant way that would make it worthy of being called a truly great remix.
Wide Open (Joe Goddard Remix) (opb The Chemical Brothers) – Being a song by The Chemical Brothers, the original has a bounty of great vocals, instruments, and themes for the remix to sample from. Joe Goddard turns this into a 10 minute epic with a nice slow burn, which culminates as a song that adds some nice bounce and jolliness to the otherwise introspective source material.
My favorite: Heavy Star Movin'
My pick: Wide Open
Best Dance Recording
Tearing Me Up (Bob Moses) – If you like your dance tracks to be more chill and even kind of depressing, you'll love this track. It reminds me a lot of “Gold” by Chet Faker in the overall vibe, but even more subdued. It goes for that old-school feel with some good room sound on the drum kit and a vinyl crackle in the background, but the energy starts pretty low and doesn't manage to peak much higher than that.
Don't Let Me Down (The Chainsmokers feat. Daya) – Not everyone can pull off “the drop” that came to prominence with the rise of dubstep a few years ago, and this track is a perfect example. A great guitar part, great vocal, and great build are all undone by an obnoxious synth hook in the chorus. It's a shame because the second half of the choruses (and an intense final chorus) really show off what this track could have been with some better decision making.
Never Be Like You (Flume feat. Kai) – A dreamy intro gives way to a hard-hitting, trap-like drum beat in this “electronic pop ballad.” Some great stuttering rhythms and artful detuning on the background pads show off Flume's ability to micro-manage an otherwise simple idea into a fully fleshed-out track that manages to hold interest. Not to mention an amazing vocal by Kai that puts some great restraint and vocal control on display.
Rinse & Repeat (Riton feat. Kah-Lo) – The best way to describe this track is a modern version of Benny Benassi's “Satisfaction.” The vocal is repetitive and monotone throughout, and the beat has a minimalist grime with some percussive bass. If you listen to the first 30 seconds, you've listened to the whole song (but what can we ask, the song is called “Rinse & Repeat,” after all). The biggest sin this track commits is that it doesn't feel like anything. This is probably the #1 track on that neutral planet from Futurama.
Drinkee (Sofi Tukker) – This track succeeds where “Rinse & Repeat” fails. The same criticism can be said about the vocal line, but the production of the music behind it actually brings it to life. The shining star of this song is the guitar riff that sounds like it's straight out of 60's psychedelic rock. Unfortunately this song's shortcoming is it's lack of energy apart from that one bright spot, with a bridge that feels like it should be building to something but ultimately just middles out.
My favorite: Never Be Like You
My pick: Don't Let Me Down
Best Dance/Electronica Album
Skin (Flume) – Flume benefits from a lot of great collaborations on this album, but the overall production of the tracks is the real star. Crazy experiments in sound that somehow gel into cohesive and, dare I say, “poppy” tracks are a marvel to behold. Not only that, but the choices in sound design manage to keep some wildly different tracks stay grounded as part of one, unmistakable whole. The final track, a collaboration with Beck, might be my favorite here and acts as the perfect way to drive the album home.
Electronica 1: The Time Machine (Jean-Michel Jarre) – This album is aptly named, as it seems to serve as an homage to classic synth music of the 70's and 80's with his own sprinkling of modern styles and sensibilities. There's even a collaboration with famed director and composer John Carpenter (this track, “A Question of Blood,” is amazingly creepy, by the way). My only real gripe is the song “If..! (feat. Little Boots),” which feels too much like the 2013 indie version of 80's synth pop rather than the genuine article (a criticism the other 15 tracks of the album have very little problem with). This album might also not hold the attention of those who aren't already fans of this classic style of synth music.
Epoch (Tycho) – Every track is a journey in this purely instrumental electronic album, from the quiet and reserved selections like “Receiver” and “Field” to the slightly more bombastic and hard-hitting “Slack” and “Local.” Well-arranged guitar parts carry much of the melodic content in lieu of vocals here, but a big criticism that could be levied against this album might be that there's not quite enough variation throughout to help the listener clearly identify any one particular track from another.
Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future (Underworld) – Underworld was one of the most significant artists in the electronic movement of the 90's, and they carry that clout into this 2016 album. They retain the analog, house sound that skyrocketed them to underground fame, while trying their hand at some more modern electronic techniques. “Trying” being the operative word here, because while this album is by no means a failure, it doesn't quite manage to seamlessly mesh their classic sound with the more current styles.
Louie Vega Starring...XXVIII (Little Louie Vega) – Out of all the nominations in this category, this is the one that is unmistakably a dance album. The opening track hints at some influence from Random Access Memories, but the album as a whole serves as a tour of modern house and club music pulling from genres like funk, disco, jazz, and dub over the course of its 28 tracks. The wide range of influences might serve as a detriment, though, as a lot of the songs sound like Vega is just putting the same house drum loop over classic, 70's-style songs.
My favorite: Epoch
My pick: Electronica 1: The Time Machine