Dethklok is the fictional band in the animated Adult Swim show, Metalocalypse, one of the funniest and most metal shows on TV. It also makes death metal accessible to a vast audience, most of whom would likely anticipate finding the genre frightening and unappealing. The album has already become the highest charting death metal album of all time (overtaking Dethalbum II). Though I honestly have never given the genre a decent shot, I would probably not actively seek out death metal to listen to. It’s rather intense music, and I don’t often feel like I’m in a “death metal mindset,” whatever that would be. This album, though not as laugh-out-loud funny as the show it comes from, is far from the frightening, Satan-worshipping image that death metal is often, fairly or unfairly, associated with. Though fictionalized in Metalocalypse, Dethklok is also a real band made up of some very talented musicians, including Mike Keneally, the “stunt guitarist” in Frank Zappa‘s touring band. The songs are highly melodic and quite catchy, if you don’t mind screaming. It also doesn’t hurt that songs have titles like “I Ejaculate Fire” and “Impeach God.” Though it can get a little repetitive, this album presents an excellent opportunity to check out a genre you might have otherwise ignored.
Try #1 (“I Ejaculate Fire”)
Titus Andronicus’ last album, 2010′s epic The Monitor is almost impossible to top. It was a concept album about the Civil War with some of the greatest punk (or for that matter, regardless of genre) songs of the past decade on it. After witnessing their outstanding live show at Eclectic (which was unfortunately marred by an incident detailed here) two years back, they solidified their position as one of my favorite bands around. On first listen, this does seem like a slight let-up from The Monitor, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an excellent album in its own right. Titus has abandoned the lofty, conceptual thematics of that album, but they can still make some killer music.
Try #s1 & 5 (“Ecce Homo” & “My Eating Disorder”)
ZZ Ward (birth name, Zsuzsanna Eva Ward) is a young singer from Oregon, who grew up loving the blues, discovered hip-hop, and decided to combine the two. The approach works well, since she has a great soulful, bluesy voice, and good ear for arrangements and collaborators. Two of the best rappers around, Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs, appear on this record, giving it credibility and making her one of the few young, female blues/soul singers to collaborate with the cream of the new hip-hop generation. She has also gotten production from hip-hop legends Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Til The Casket Drops is distributed by Hollywood Records, a subsidiary of Disney, and the title track has been featured in a promo for ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars. So she’s riding a line between mainstream accessibility and underground cred, but there is nothing exploitative or overtly commercial about this album. It is simply a well-made, classy blues/soul album with some well-placed hip-hop influences.
Try #s 5, 6 & 10 (“Cryin’ Wolf (ft. Kendrick Lamar)”, “Save My Life” & “Criminal (ft. Freddie Gibbs)”)
Ultraísta is a new project for Radiohead-producer Nigel Godrich and Beck drummer Joey Waronker, along with vocals by the young, sweet-voiced Laura Bettinson (AKA Femme). These are some smart, talented people, and they have created a dreamy, beautiful record. The band took its name from the Ultraists, a group of minimalist Spanish writers of the early 20th century (including Jorge Luis Borges).
Try #s 1 & 8 (“Bad Insect” & “Party Line”)
Black Moth Super Rainbow is a mysterious psychedelic synthpop group from Pittsburgh, who have now released their fifth album since 2003. They raised money for this one of Kickstarter and it sounds like they put it to good use, as the sound here is very detailed and immaculately produced. I’m a newcomer to the group, but I dig this one a lot. The sound reminds me of Daft Punk and Justice at their best, i.e. very fun dance music that isn’t obnoxious or abrasive.
Try #s 1 & 3 (“Windshield Smasher” & “Hairspray Heart”)
After three years toiling in anonymity, sifting the hidden gems from the, at times, overwhelming pile of mediocre CDs constantly being sent into our station, and holding painful conversations with promoters about how that White Boy Wasted record is doing, being a Music Director has finally paid off in a big way. In these five days of CMJ, I’ve seen some of the best concerts of my life, met some awe-inspiring musicians, and overall, had a ball. After spending a day and a half at Wesleyan, I trekked back to New York on Friday through 3 1/2 hours of some of the worst traffic I’ve ever had to deal with (it involved bewildering drives through Greenwich and the Bronx). Again, this was all worth it because of CMJ.
Day IV: Friday
My first stop on Friday was a non-CMJ event, the Third Man Record Truck at the Ace Hotel. Third Man Records is Jack White‘s music label, which puts out a ton of strange, awesome releases by the likes of Tom Jones, Conan O’Brien and, most bizarrely awesome, a cover of Mozart‘s scatology-themed piece “Leck Mich Im Arsch” by Insane Clown Posse (In case you weren’t familiar with Mozart’s poop-obsession, there is, quite helpfully, a rather long and detailed Wikipedia article on “Mozart and Scatology”). Third Man’s Record Truck operates much like a food truck, except that it sells records out its window. There I picked up a vinyl copy of The White Stripes‘ classic early single “The Big Three Killed My Baby.”
Next up, I met up with Adam and my friend Timmy at the Gramercy Theater for the Mass Appeal CMJ Take Over. The line for the event stretched around two sides of the block. While waiting in line, we met a Russian chainsmoker named Vlad, who told us we could buy a tank in Russia for 60 grand. This showcase was a hip-hop show, which reflected to some extent the current diversity of styles and content in the genre. Since the show was free, a large portion of the crowd seemed to be there just to see something free without any prior knowledge of the acts. Also, Asher Roth was the headliner, despite there being at least 6-7 more talented/respected acts on the bill. So while this show displayed plenty of what makes hip-hop, in my opinion, the most exciting, interesting genre around these days, this was far from a perfect concert, and there was plenty of bland, mediocre, and down-right terrible rap on display.
Starting things off was Alexander Spit, about whom there is little to be said, except that he wore pre-torn jeans and raps over obnoxious beats. Following him came Bodega Bamz, a rapper from Spanish Harlem, who has put out tracks with the likes of A$AP Ferg, Joell Ortiz and Flatbush Zombies, who came out for his last song on stage. His set was a definite breath of fresh air after Spit’s, but while his rhymes were serviceable and his beat-selection decent, he appeared to be merely a mid-level talent in the grand scheme of today’s rapidly expanding rap game.
Next up came Angel Haze, who released an excellent debut EP, Reservation this summer. Obvious comparisons have and will be made between her and the two biggest female rappers of the day, Azealia Banks and Nikki Minaj. Haze, however seems more interested in simply spitting fire than in the more schtick-y aspects of both Banks and Minaj. She had great stage presence, finally managing to get the lethargic crowd somewhat interested in what was going on on-stage. And she rocked a tube-top/crucifix outfit. I came out a big fan. Following Haze came Troy Ave, a street rapper who took his name from the street he grew up on in Crown Heights. Vice informs us that he “owns a grey Jeep and at least one gun.” Like Bodega, Troy Ave is another mid-level talent, who can rock a mic without embarrassing himself, but lacks any defining characteristic to push him to the next level. The most memorable part of his set was him leading the crowd in several chants of “Powder!” The next act, Ninjasonik made me almost nostalgic for Alexander Spit. When you look up the word “wack” in the dictionary, there should be a recording of this band performing their terrible pop-rap over that Matt and Kim song that your annoying co-worker has as her ringtone. Following their set, a fight broke out between a rather inebriated girl, who took offense with the young man next to her for not even being from Brooklyn. It was far classier than Ninjasonik.
There could hardly be a starker contrast than there was between Ninjasonik’s embarassing soft-as-a-lamb-rap and the sinister, coolheaded, wildly inventive Boldy James, about whom I can only gush as an unabashed fanboy. Boldy James is the kind of talent who should be spoken of in hushed tones by anyone who cares about rap as an artform. At this point, he is still relatively unknown, though well respected among true hip-hop fanatics, having collaborated on many tracks with Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks of The Cool Kids, as well as appearing on this summer’s posthumously-released J. Dilla comp, and working on a soon-to-be-released album with The Alchemist. I first became a massive Boldy fan when I heard the track “Life Time” off his debut 2011 mixtape, Trapper’s Alley – Pros and Cons: The Quikcrete Ready Mixtape. The song samples the hauntingly beautiful “Here’s to Life” by Shirley Horn and is perhaps the most vivid description of what it’s like to be in prison I’ve ever heard. It also features a virtuosic section in which Boldy recites a seemingly endless list of friends in jail, with names like “Slick Rick, Stank Mo, Marley and Blaylock.” Though it might not be out of the usual for a rapper to talk about serving time, Boldy has a way with words and a use of alliteration that is pretty unparalleled. I found an interview with Boldy on the blog Nothing Can Save You, in which he replies to the question, “Are you eating strictly off music now or is music a side hustle?” by saying, “In between the tic tocs of door knocks, rain drops, & gun shot’s, 3 hot’s & a cott, while runnin from the cops. Rap don’t feed me, so I eat from doin other things. It’s not a hustle yet it’s just something that I love to do whether I get paid for it or not. I look at it as therapy & I’m my own personal psychiatrist.” From that point on, I couldn’t get enough of the man. His set did not disappoint, featuring some of my personal favorites, “Home Invasion” and “I Sold Dope All My Life,” as well as his recent Inglish-collab “For the Birds.”
Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire showed up next, putting on a crowd-pleasing high-energy show. It was my third time seeing eXquire and I don’t think I’ll be getting tired of seeing him any time soon. After the show I met his masked DJ, who told me that their show at Wesleyan last year was the moment when they knew they had made it. He also let me in on plans to jump on stage during an indie rock show at NYU.
Last up for us was Roc Marciano, a veteran MC from Long Island, who was once a member of Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and collaborated with Gangrene (Oh No & The Alchemist) on last year’s excellent Greneberg EP. He had good stage presence despite his low-key, icy delivery. As seen in the photo above, a large man in a Long Island hat carried Roc’s drink for him during the set, and another mysterious white guy wearing a cross, beret, leather jacket, sunglasses, and one black glove rocked out next to him. This is a good example of why you can safely say that rock is generally a less interesting genre than rap these days. Action Bronson, the big bearded man in the red hat next to Roc, came out for the last song, “Pouches of Tuna” off Bronson’s Blue Chips mixtape. He received, by far, the biggest crowd reaction of the night and threw several blunts into the audience. Again, when’s the last time you went to an indie rock concert like this? We headed out before Large Professor, The Alchemist, Prodigy and Asher Roth played their sets, having already taken in 4 1/2 hours of hip-hop.
Day V: Saturday
Saturday started with a return to Piano’s where Adam and I checked out Foxygen, a group who is quickly becoming my favorite new band. They released a great debut EP, Take The Kids Off Broadway this summer and seem poised for very big things. They look and sound like they were transported by a time machine from the ’70s and their lead singer even yelled out some endearingly bemused comments about the Internet. Pitchfork ran a snarky, meanspirited article about the band’s earlier performance at CMJ, written by Carrie Battan, who also managed to call Lil B‘s recent excellent, hilarious mixtape Obama Basedgod “downright boring, joyless, and indistinguishable from hours upon hours of the rapper’s throwaway material.” Seriously, “United States of Thuggin’” is boring and joyless?! I must experience joy and boredom in a very different way from this lady. Here’s what she wrote about Foxygen: “These kids are nothing if not serious students of their parents’ record collections, and their live show read like a mid-aughts Battle of the Bands at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. Luckily for them, there’s no shortage of nostalgics hungry for their brand of sturdy, boilerplate psych and glam-rock tunes.” Ouch. While it’s true that Foxygen clearly are serious students of music history, I see this less as something to make fun of than to celebrate. Shouldn’t we want our young musicians to care about what came before them? And I must disagree with her characterization of their music as “boilerplate.” While the band comes from a lineage of fuzzy, exuberant psych/glam/garage rock, they have crafted their own distinctive sound. Additionally, the hilarious stage banter of their lead singer Sam France, and the clear fact that they’re having the most goddamn fun when they’re on stage sets them apart from any band I’ve ever seen live.
After Foxygen’s set at Piano’s, Adam went off to Brooklyn to watch his sister in a play. I met up with Mara of Lyons Den at DROM where we saw Boldy James for my second time. Outside the venue, I overheard one concertgoer tell his friend, “I go, ‘Is it CMJ down here?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, but it’s hip hop.’” Boldy put on another excellent show to a sparse crowd, and won over Mara as a fan, who dubbed him “the hipster Jay-Z.” After the show, I got to say hi to Boldy and was, far and away, the most star-struck I had been during CMJ. We agreed that he seemed like a genuinely good guy, whom we’d love to hang out with.
We capped off our CMJ experience with the most fun show of the week, another set by Foxygen, this time at Fuzz NYC, an unmarked venue in Chinatown, which reminded me of the exclusive day spa in Zoolander, so exclusive no one knows about it. Bizarre karaoke videos for Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston, Madonna and some Japanese singers played on projectors behind the band. Foxygen rocked out and the audience was very receptive. All the band members are about 5’5,” but they make a hell of a lot of racket for some little people. They also slowed things down for a Suede cover. Sam Franceyelled out things like “This song goes out to the Teletubbies!” “Who here’s on mushrooms?” “I’m in love… with a milk cow!” In short, a perfect way to end a terrific week in New York.
This year, for the first time in recent memory, WESU sent three delegates to CMJ, the conference and music festival held annually throughout New York City. I’m lucky enough to be one of those delegates, along with my fellow Music Director, Adam Isaacson and our Dear Leader Who Rules With An Iron Fist, Avery Trüfelman.
Day 1: Tuesday
Our first stop Tuesday was Pete’s Candy Shop in Williamsburg, where we saw a Wesleyan group, Lyons Den, led by the lovely and talented singer/songwriter/guitarist, Mara Connor, along with Zain Alam, Neo Sora and Sam Lyons. Mara sang several of her own compositions, along with covers of The Boss’ “I’m on Fire” and the Neil Young classic “Heart of Gold.” It was an intimate show, but the whole audience was enraptured by the group. Expect to hear more from them.
Here’s a video for their song “Strangers”.
Next up, we tried to catch The Mountain Goats at the Bowery Ballroom, but as we quickly learned, nothing really goes according to plan at CMJ. For example, we also planned to check out Teen Daze, who were playing two different sets on Tuesday, but we wound up missing both. Flying Lotus was also originally scheduled to play Tuesday, but that was rescheduled for a super-secret show Wednesday night. Finally and most disappointingly, Mystikal‘s set with opener Earl Sweatshirt was cancelled for some reason. Does this have anything to do with ‘kal’s budding porn career? We may never know. We were a couple minutes late for the Mountain Goats show, and badges were no longer accepted at the door, so we moved on to Piano’s where we caught a set from the Louisville group Murals.
Day 2: Wednesday
Avery left Adam and me to our own devices Wednesday and we checked out the Terrorbird party at the Cake Shop where we met up with our favorite promoter, Karen Moran-Thomas. Also at Cake Shop, we saw a set by transsexual rapper and collaborator with Wes-alum Le1f, Mykki Blanco (pictured above). Mykki kicked serious ass.
We then headed back to Brooklyn to the Grand Victory where we checked out Sidewalk Dave, a group that has recently relocated to Brooklyn from New Haven. I had previously seen them twice back in the Have when they were primarily a folk group. In a conversation after the show, Sidewalk told me that his move to more of a rock sound was in part a reaction against the commercialization of folk by groups like Mumford & Son. I was greatly impressed by his move to rock & roll. As you can see from the photo above, it was a really cool show.
Stay tuned for more…
–Jesse “DJ JBrent” Brent
Each week, the music directors of WESU, Jesse Brent and Adam Isaacson will be picking out our favorite new releases from the big pile we sort through at the station. Here are four recent records that jumped out at us:
Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth
The new Mountain Goats album made quite a splash on the blogosphere. Here’s what the Wesleyan Argus had to say: “a testament and tribute to the strife of the depressed, the destructive, the addicted, the hopeless and an unflinching and triumphantly empathetic paean that ranks among John Darnielle and company’s best work.” We recommend track #3 (“Cry for Judas”).
Stereo Total - Cactus versus Brezel
Kudos to Forced Exposure for sending this irresistibly fun album from established Franco-German electro pop duo Stereo Total. Their 11th studio album delivers cheesy English lyrics and basic French vocab on top of playful melodies. We recommend the first two tracks (“Jaloux de mon succès”, “Pixelize me”) and more.
Jack of Heart – In Yer Mouth
Where did this band come from? And who did the album art? We know that Jack of Heart hail from somewhere in the south of France, which is surprising enough considering their psych-rock tendencies that hearken back to its heyday – with a little Serge Gainsbourg thrown in for good measure. They sing about Oscar Wilde: awesome. Check out #1, 3 and 4 (“Baby B****”, “Lady Wilde”, “Joh Jett III”).
Night Moves - Colored Emotions
JB calls Night Moves a more psychedelic My Morning Jacket. The Minneapolis Star Tribune called this album “slow-grooving, neo-twangy, cosmically baked.” Whatever you liken these guys to, be sure to give Colored Emotions a listen. Here’s another great band out of the Twin Cities. Song #1, “Headlights”, could have been on the Drive soundtrack if the movie had been more trippy than brutal. Play the whole dang thing.
Each week, the music directors of WESU, Jesse Brent and Adam Isaacson will be picking out our favorite new releases from the big pile we sort through at the station. Here is our first installment:
We were both big fans of Tame Impala’s debut Innerspeaker, so seeing this waiting for us in the board room was definitely exciting. This, their second album, is far from a sophomore slump. The boys from Perth keep it coming with satisfying, hard-hitting psychedelic rock with plenty of sweet guitar solos. It’ll take some time to tell if this one tops the debut, but it’s a keeper for sure. Recommended track: #3 (Apocalypse Dreams)
Tim Maia- World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia
In the midst of a mescaline trip, Tim Maia discovered the manifesto for the obscure cult, Cultura Racional. He became an adherent of the cult, making two albums largely written about his devotion to it. That hardly matters when listening to those albums (Racional Vols. 1 & 2), several tracks of which are featured here. What does is that the music is some of the funkiest, best soul music I’ve ever had the pleasure of grooving out to. Knowing the backstory just makes it that much more weirdly awesome. Recommended tracks: #s 4, 5 & 8 (Ela Partiu, Quer Queira, Quer Não Queira, Nobody Can Live Forever)
Alvarius B- Alvarius B
One of the perks of being a music director is getting record labels to send us free stuff. In this case, we emailed Forced Exposure and they sent us a big package of CDs and vinyl, which was very cool of them. Thanks Forced Exposure! My favorite discovery from this collection was this reissue of a double album (first released in 1998 but recorded in the 80s) by this Sun City Girls member. Forced Exposure describes the album as “Perhaps the most deranged collection of original folk songs ever cut to wax. Dark, twisted & apocalyptic.” It reminded me at first of some parts of Captain Beefheart’s experimental classic Trout Mask Replica. As song titles like “Cooking with Satan” and “Seeing-Eye Latte” suggest, he’s got a good sense of humor too. This is definitely for fans of out-there stuff, and it won’t all be easy listening, but it’s got its rewards to it– great, and often hilarious songwriting. Recommended track: #4 (Seeing-Eye Latte)