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Top 10 albums of 2017- Joe Swymeler

Written by Joe. Posted in Lists, Music

  1. Dan Auerbach- Waiting on a Song

    The Black Keys guitarist/vocalist is back with his 2nd solo effort and it does not disappoint, with an outstanding classic rock sound that very much surprised me the first time I heard the album. With myself being a huge fan of both The Black Keys and Auerbach, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Yes, The Black Keys have drifted from their gritty blues garage rock sound heard in their first couple of efforts, so it is no surprise Auerbach has done the same, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a nice blend of country, soul, and folk, with a timeless feel to it. Notable tracks include “Waiting on a Song,” the excellent opener and title track, as well as the single “Shine on Me,” a very George Harrison-ish sounding track. Other excellent songs are “Malibu Man,” Living in Sin,” and “Stand by my Girl.” This album also features classic musicians such as John Prine and Mark Knopfler as well. Waiting on a Song is a breath of fresh air that I enjoy every time I listen to this album.
                                                                          

  2. Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory


    For me, Big Fish Theory, the sophomore album of Compton native Vince Staples, sounds like nothing I have ever heard before in terms of hip hop and that is a wonderful thing. You can clearly hear Staples interest in electronica on this album, with heavy techno electronic dubs, aggressive fast beats, and sometimes avant garde sounds make this album very interesting to listen to (and get down to as well). I have honestly never heard anything like it in terms of a hip hop album and that is what I like about it so much. Staples’ lyrics on this album are very much about the down side  of things, dealing with death as well as the horrors of fame and success as well as the current state of the world. The album features many appearances, samples and not, by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Damon Albarn (Blur and Gorillaz), and also is amazingly produced by the likes of Flume and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) helming the project. Big Fish Theory was definitely the most interesting and all encompassing album I have listened to all year, and I can’t wait to see what Staples has in store next.

  3. Mac DeMarco- This Old Dog

    Everyone’s favorite gap-toothed Canadian indie boy is back in his much anticipated fourth outing, but This Old Dog is much different in nature then the laid back indie rock lp’s we’re used to. It’s a much more moodier album than we are used to with DeMarco, with the album’s theme centering around the troubled relationship between Mac and his father, who wasn’t supposed to hear this album due to terminal illness, but interestingly enough he survived and the rest is history. Of course with any Mac album, there is many solid tunes on this album. Yes, it’s much more melancholy than say, Salad Days, but it doesn’t disappoint, having some of Mac’s best tracks.

     

  4. Kendrick Lamar- DAMN.

    Over the years, Compton raised rapper Kendrick Lamar has emerged as one of the greatest artists of the modern era, and his 4th album, DAMN, keeps that status alive. While not as story driven as Good Kid, M.A.A.D City or as full as To Pimp a Butterfly, DAMN does not disappoint. His past albums, particularly Good Kid and Section 80 deal with Kendrick’s struggle filled Compton upbringing. DAMN has a fair amount of weight to the lyrics, but it more of strikes a middle ground somewhere between success and struggle. It really doesn’t have a bad track on it and in my opinion, his songwriting and lyrics have never been better. Lamar is, in my opinion, one of the most ambitious and thought provoking musicians I have ever heard and that’s what I love about his albums. The subject matter definitely carries its weight, but that’s a good thing. DAMN is a very good balance between energetic fast bangers and thoughtful reflections, all revolving around Kendrick’s rap destiny, whether good or bad.


  5. Randy Newman- Dark Matter


    Throughout his 40+ year career, singer/songwriter Randy Newman has always had a keen sense of satirical irony and humor, as well as a knack for perspective and writing songs about characters in real and interesting situations. While most know Newman for his work on many Disney film soundtracks, particularly Toy Story, Newman’s work goes far beyond that. His latest album, Dark Matter, is gorgeous and thoughtful. There are many interesting scenarios in the songs, and that’s why it’s so good. It touches a lot on politics, particularly the first track, “The Great Debate,” an 8 minute mini opera of sorts, having characters debate the argument of science vs. religion. Other interesting tracks include “Brothers,” a humorous imaginary conversation between Robert and John F. Kennedy regarding the Bay of Pigs Invasion and Cuban girls, and “Sonny Boy,” the true story of blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson, who was murdered in Chicago and his name, songs, and reputation was essentially stolen by another man, Sonny Boy Williamson II. With a full orchestra on deck and Newman’s signature garbled voice and soft piano, Dark Matter is as touching and absolutely gorgeous as it is smart and satirical, and a must listen.

  6. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard- Flying Microtonal Banana


    At the end of 2016, Australian psych monsters/workaholics King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard said they would have 5 albums under their belt by the end of 2017. While many skeptics had their doubts about this claim, they were proved very much wrong as KGLW did in fact release 5 whopping albums, each one very good and more different than the last. The album range in genres from psychedelic lounge jazz to heavy Sabbath- like rock about a giant robot vomiting all over the universe. The quirk to this album is that all of the instruments are in microtonal tuning, which means every single note on the album is in a minor key, giving it an eastern and interesting sound for King Gizz, although it still has their signature sound written all over it. Still featuring their awesome harmonicas, flutes, and smashing drums and fuzzy guitars that make KGLW so much fun to listen to.

     

  7. Drake- More Life


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    fter lukewarm reviews of his 2016 album Views, Toronto native and music giant Aubrey Graham aka. Drake, returns with a absolute slam dunk. Let me tell you, I have always loved Drake. He has been a big influence on me, and I have been a pretty big fan since his 2010 debut, So Far Gone. His 2011 album Take Care takes the cake as my personal favorite hip-hop album of all time. The production on his records and mix tapes are always top notch, and he is an excellent rapper and singer. I thinks what strikes me most about his music is his ability to never hide how he feels. He is very “real” in that sense, and he isn’t afraid to show his emotions, and I like that. With that being said, More Life is definitely a blend of old and new, and everything in between. It goes back while treading new ground. It is a blend of everything from hip-hop and trap to afrobeat, pop, and Jamaican reggae inspired dancehall. Once again, the production is nearly flawless and every track is dripping with good energy and lush sounds, some would even say as the title suggests, life. It’s all flows and breathes really well and in that way it reminds me a lot of Kanye West’s 2016 album, The Life of Pablo. More Life serves as a reminder that Drake is still a excellent musician and a force of nature in a genre that never stops changing.

  8. Thundercat- Drunk

    American jazz musician Thundercat released his first album in 4 years, and this album really took me by surprise. Drunk is a unique blend of groovy modern jazz fusion with a constant groove going. It features many guest appearances such as Kendrick Lamar, Kenny Loggins, and Michael McDonald. The production is amazing and I really love the album cover for it. I’m quite surprised this album didn’t get bigger than it did, because it really is a good album listen that I find myself listening to a lot.               

  9. Joey Bada$$- ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
                                        

    Joey’s sophomore effort is very well done, and I was very struck the first time I heard it. This album is definitely a throwback to the 90s, “golden age of hip-hop,” but it still has a very fresh feel to it. It’s definitely one of the most politically charged albums I have heard in a while, but that’s a good thing in my opinion. The lyrics are definitely one of the memorable things about this album. Rap has always been rooted in politics, and it’s interesting to see a modern young artist like Joey Badass convert that feeling on a modern scale. The production is amazing, with a jazzy feel to it with plenty of samples and record scratches in it too. It’s the closest thing to old school hip-hop I have heard in a long time, and you can definitely hear it on this record. It reminds me a lot of A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy in particular.

  10. Fleet Foxes- Crack Up
           

    After a 5 year hiatus, Washington indie folk group Fleet Foxes is back with their 3rd album, and is an interesting departure in terms of flow for them. If you would imagine Fleet Foxes as a bunch of long haired bearded dudes playing acoustic guitars, you’ve got their image down, but their sound is so much more. They’re known for their immaculate chamber like vocal delivery, and excellent song writing, courtesy of lead vocalist Robin Pecknold, as well as Josh Tillman, now better known as Father John Misty, who left the band back in 2012 to pursue a solo career. Fleet Foxes also have a good sense of production, which is very important in a genre like folk music. In term of modern folk and Americana music, there are a lot of generic bands and sound-alikes, which makes the genre feel pretty stale to me. Fleet Foxes is the opposite, always keeping things fresh and interesting, and Crack Up is no different. It is definitely not as good and as their self titled debut album or Helplessness Blues, but that’s because it’s so different. Every song flows into one another and it can be hard to distinguish sometimes, but it’s a good album to get lost in. Each song soars and swirls with hoards of big drums and acoustic guitars. Sure they tried something different, and it made for an interesting album that mixes up things for them.

El Vy – “Return to the Moon”

Written by Joe. Posted in Music, Reviews

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I’m reviewing El Vy’s debut album, Return to the Moon. It was released on October 30th on 4AD records. El Vy, r at least this album, is a project set up by Matt Berninger of the National, and Brent Knopf of Menomena and Ramona Falls.

The first track is the title track, Return to the Moon. This whole song overall is very fun and happy. The guitar riff and jumping bass lines are just excellent and really compliment each other. Another part of the song that I like are the synths and keys. They sound very spacey and fun as well. The weary vocals compliment it all very well. Overall an excellent and fun song that would sound very good live.

On to track 2, I’m the man to be. When you first listen, it sounds very spacey and somewhat creepy, with what I think is animal noises as well as what sounds like birds. The you’re hit with this awesome bass riff and the magic starts happening. The heavy guitar, jumping bass line, and weary vocals are amazing. This song reminds me somewhat of the Black Keys like, straight out of Brothers, and I love me some Black Keys. The song seems to take place at a hotel with a vocal talking part in the middle. Overall, it is a very hard and rocking song with a good sound and suggestive lyrics.

Track 3, Paul is Alive. First off, I love the title of the song. I’m a huge Beatles fan so when I saw the title, I knew I had to mention it. Basically a rumor circulated in 1969 that Beatles bassist Paul McCartney died in a car crash in November of 1966 and was decapitated, and was replaced by a double that looks exactly like Paul even though he’s not the actual Paul. It also says that the 3 remaining Beatles hid clues about it on the cover art or in all albums from Sgt. Pepper onward. They can be found if you do things such as playing specific songs backwards or hidden silently in the background. It will take too long to explain what he rumor is about, so just google it if you want to know more about it (although I really want to talk about it in depth though.) So about the actual song, it’s really good. The song is about what I guessed, the Paul is dead rumor, or rumors in general. Its speaks about how no one can hide from rumors and trouble, thus the title, Paul is alive makes sense. Once again the bass, guitar, and lyrics are very good. A great song that’s definitely worth a listen.

Track 4, Need a Friend. This song sound very cool and slick. The bass and heavily distorted guitar work well and the drums are heavy and hard hitting. The synths work well in this song, as they give it a dreamy vibe. The lyrics are a guy in a club who, needs a friend and is heartbroken and lonely. Everyone can relate to it. The song has a hard rock sound and is just great.

Track 5, Silent Ivy hotel. This song is slower, and moodier. The guitar, keys, and vocals are slower as well. They keys on this track are the best, as the mix of the organ and piano remind me of 60s music for some reason. The lyrics are about people hooking up at a hotel. The song is good overall, but the little guitar solo in the middle is probably my favorite part overall though. It also reminds me of something out of a James Bond film too. Overall a pretty decent song.

Now for track 6, No Time to Crank the Sun. This song is slower as well. The meaningful piano and walking bass lines are the best part of the song. The lyrics are about having no time to relax, instead we just have to keep moving on and how time is slipping away. The whole thing has a dream atmosphere to it and is done very well. This song is somewhat relatable and is one of the best tracks on this album.

Track 7, It’s a game. This song is very dreamy and that’s what it’s about. Its wanting to just slip away and to go somewhere else to get out of reality for a while. I love the acoustic guitar as well as the synth, which is a sound I’ve never hear before. Once again this track is incredible and overall fantastic.

Track 8, Sleepin’ Light. This song is funky and free flowing. The intro to this song is great. The whole thing is dreamy and has a sleeplike atmosphere to it, which is just what the lyrics are centered around. It is a radical shift from all the other songs on this album, which makes it stand out and makes it very unique from the bunch. The lyrics are about a guy who wants his girl to come back to him, and doesn’t want to sleep alone. The keys are dreamlike atmospheric in nature, it hold the whole song together. This is one of the best songs on the album, it’s easily in the top 3.

Next up is track 9, Sad Case. This song has a very raw, powerful, and emotional sound. It features roaring guitar, crashing drums, and a dynamic bass sound. This song to me feels very passionate and raw as stated before. It has a very good and loud sound overall. The guitar and the guitar solos are the best part of this song.

Now for track 10, Happiness, Missouri. I like the title of this one, as my dad’s side of my family primarily lives there. I’ve been there before, and I can tell you it’s a very boring and drab place overall. Like the last song, it has a loud and rocking sound. Once again it faintly reminds me of the Black Keys. Overall it is a good listen.

Last is track 11, Careless. The acoustic guitar mixes in with the strings very well. This song is a very good song to end an album. It’s very emotional and powerful. I love the use of the strings. It just ads to the appeal. Once again it’s just a great song.

The whole album was alright overall. I’ve heard from other students at this station that they think it’s boring, but I beg to differ. El Vy has a good sound, although it feels like it’s a solo project by Berninger. I wouldn’t guess that it was two people. It can get a little repetitive or boring, but it s still enjoyable. I would give this album a 6.5/10.

Sun Club- The Dongo Durango

Written by Joe. Posted in Music, Reviews

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Today’s review is The Dongo Durango by Sun Club. This album was released on October 16th on ATO records. This is the second release by Sun Club, with their first being 2014’s Dad Claps at the Mom Prom. Sun Club is a recent indie pop band based in Baltimore. They are made up of 5 guys who always wanted to be in a band but never took up instruments. When they did, they shifted through many different genres, starting with metal and shifting to grunge before ultimately deciding on pop-rock. They have many influences, growing up on bands such as The White Stripes, The Beach Boys, and interestingly enough, Devo. This is the second release by Sun Club, with their first being 2014’s Dad Claps at the Mom Prom.

Track 1, Glob, Is a very weird song. When I say weird I mean weird. It starts off with a voice doing a mixture of laughing and coughing at the same time. It all mixes in with this atmospheric and somewhat creepy music in the background. After some time, you start to hear children laughing and playing, and the voices get distorted, it then shifts tone to a driving beat that gets louder and louder and shifts into track 2. Overall it is a very weird and atmospheric piece of music that is a bold choice for an album opener.

Next up is track 2, Summer Feet. It starts directly off of track 1. It is one of the singles off of this album as well. It is a very sunny and happy pop-rock song with loads of guitar, keys, and whimpering vocals. It reminds me of the many mainstream pop-rock songs of today. It has a very carefree and summer-ish vibe to it and I think it would sound very well if it were to be recorded live.

Neon Indian “Vega Intl. Night School”

Written by Joe. Posted in Music, Reviews

 

Today I will be reviewing the new album by Neon Indian, Vega International Night School. This album was just released October 16th on Mom and Pop music. This is their third album, with the other releases being 2009’s Psychic Chasms, and 2011’s Era Extraña.

This album has quite the backstory. After founding member Alan Palomo’s laptop, which contained several years’ worth of demos for the third Neon Indian album was stolen, he decided to work on other projects. This included music and soundtracks for other artists including an appearance in Terrence Malick’s film Lawless, and writing the score for the short movie Outer Osmo Ghost Mode. In 2014 he returned to Neon Indian, making the album I’m reviewing today. It was reported that Palomo made this album over the span of about 4 years as well.

Track 1, Hit parade, is interesting in terms of a song to start off the album. It is a one minute instrumental track that has a very unique sound. It reminds me of many songs, in particular the ending to the Beatles track Strawberry Fields Forever comes to mind. It is all quiet at first, then this wave of synth and sound hits you in the face. You don’t really know what to think, as it sounds somewhat frantic to me. After about 40 seconds, a beat comes in and it sounds rather funky, the synthesizers and bass compliment it well. There is a lot of complex sound for this song such as water. It all ties in for an interesting listening experience

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