Review: “IGOR” by Tyler, The Creator

IGOR represents a new creative high for Tyler, The Creator.

FFO: Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt

Tyler, The Creator made a name for himself in the 2000’s with his shock-rap verses, bars so intense that he became a household name while also getting himself banned in England.  Odd Future (shortened from Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) was truly the Sex Pistols of rap music, an outsider crew of young, irreverent guys with a big, harsh sound, and even bigger goals.  Their crew has yielded now legendary solo-careers with Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt becoming some of the most critically acclaimed musical artists of the modern era, but Tyler, The Creator has always held a different pace.  While his first three official solo albums yielded a similarly harsh, punky attitude to his work in Odd Future, his 2017 release Flower Boy showed a new, sensitive side to Tyler.  No longer hiding behind his bad-boy image, he showcased the sensitive should he always has been, rather than hiding behind his persona.  Flower Boy proved to be his most successful album to date, until the arrival of IGOR a few weeks ago. 

In many ways, IGOR feels like a natural progression from Flower Boy.  Many of the production elements remain the same: the melodic synths, the lush, gospel-inspired chords and emotionally raw lyrics.  The difference here is that he no longer constrains himself to a rap-image.  He proclaimed via social media that this would not be a “rap album.”  It is, but only loosely.  The first single, and early highlight of the album “EARFQUAKE” features pitched-up vocals, similar to Frank Ocean’s “Nikes,” in which Tyler sings for the entirety of the track.  Later tracks also feature this vocal style; Tyler sings nearly as much as he raps on this record.  The result is his most melodic-release to date. 

That is not to say that he does not have good bars on IGOR.  “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” has an incredibly catchy verse amidst the pitched-up vocals, with his classic punchy flow.  The following track “NEW MAGIC WAND” will please many Odd Future fans with the distorted synth-bass and lo-fi beat, although even here, his rapping is more melodically driven than it was on previous releases.  Over all, fans of his work on Goblin or Bastard might be underwhelmed, but that is not for lack of artistic prowess; it’s just a different style. 

Although IGOR is most clearly linked with Flower Boy, it is important to note that it is a distinct album.  Whereas the later adhered mainly to traditional song-structures, IGOR songs rarely follow a verse/chorus progression.  The songs are often short, but at the same time sprawling.  They are not traditional, and show-case Tyler’s visionary capabilities as an artist who can think out of the pop of the pop sphere, while still having mainstream appeal.  The record will (and does; it’s his first number-one album) have pop-appeal, but the impressive thing is that he thinks outside of the box to do so. 

Lyrically, IGOR is focused around the formation and destruction of a significant romantic relationship.  It is a break-up album to the max, but rather than be soft and whiny, it is at times angry, harsh, and mournful, but above all, catchy.  Tyler is not afraid to where his influences on his sleeve.  “I THINK” sounds like it could’ve been on 808s & Heartbreak, and Kanye is even featured on “PUPPET.”  The features on the album mostly take a supporting role, but are all positioned in a way that feels purposeful. 

IGOR represents a new creative high for Tyler, The Creator.  He continues to experiment to great success.  It’s amazing to think how one group yielded some of the greatest popular artists of recent decades.  IGOR firmly places Tyler in this tier, as he continues to grow and develop. 

Score: 8.2 (Best New Music)

Release Date: May 17th, 2019

Label: Columbia Records

For info on our rating scale, see : https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Review: “Phoenix” by Pedro The Lion

“Phoenix” successfully places the listener into the world of Pedro The Lion, memorializing a past with an urgency to be remembered.

FFO: Jeremy Enigk, Mineral, 90’s Alt. Rock

“But I remember what it was like / astride my yellow bike / first freedom, second life / all the places I could ride / Leaving early, packing light / that little ache inside / my kingdom for someone to ride with.” 

I knew very little about Pedro The Lion when I first heard these lines over the weekend.  My only experience with the late 90’s legend was a casual listen of 2004’s Achilles Heel, which I listened to with a good friend who loves the band.  My interest was piqued enough that when I discovered that indie-rock mastermind David Bazan was releasing his first album in fifteen years under the his old moniker “Pedro The Lion” (he has released under his own name since then), I decided to give Phoenix a listen with very little context for the projects’ long life span.

Jumping in on a new album from an artist decades into their career can feel like a daunting venture, but as it turns out, the album requires little-to-no context to enjoy.  I was instantly hooked on the first full song, “Yellow Bike.”  Everything about it instantly felt nostalgic to me . . . the guitar chords, thudding drums, Bazan’s worn, passionate voice that somehow calls to mind the bluesy tones of Randy Newman.  Through the image of his childhood bike, Bazan beautifully and simply ties his six-year-old self to his present day, forty-three-year-old self; it is an ode to freedom, and a yearning for companionship and belonging within it.  The closing chorus subtly changes the last line from “my kingdom for someone to ride with,” to “I’d trade my kingdom for someone to ride with,” exemplifying masterful songwriting, showing how the simple addition of two words can powerfully change the direction and meaning of a song. 

The album continues this reflective thread on later tracks, painting vivid images of childhood and connecting them firmly to the present moment.  In the song “Model Homes,” Bazan turns memories of house shopping with his parents to the adult longing for change, “Tired of where we live / hoping that it’s not if, but when / when will the wait be over?”  This motif is accomplished perhaps most memorably on “Circle K,” where Bazan reminisces on childhood overspending at the convenience store as if it were a prophesy, with a simplicity that denies heavy-handedness, “I spent it all at Circle K / and the good Lord smiled and looked the other way.” 

Sonically, Phoenix is a pretty standard rock album, which suits the ballad-like story telling very well.  On “Black Canyon,” the haunting tale of a man’s gruesome death under an eighteen-wheeler is punctuated by dissonant guitar chords as pounding toms underline the track, while the chorus jumps out like a stadium rock song.  The album’s big guitars and gritty bass could be played in massive arenas or small rock clubs; it does not sound underground, but not so produced that it feels phony. 

For as strong as the highlights are, there are some duller moments that don’t stick out as readily, making the album feel slightly uneven.  Songs like “All Seeing Eye” towards the end of the record (while brief) drags on a bit, as does the repetition of the simplistic chorus in “My Phoenix.”  They are not bad songs, but compared to the richness of the others, play out as obvious weaker-links. 

 The title Phoenix carries not only the mythical imagery of rebirth but also the name of the city where Bazan grew up.  This feels appropriate in both senses, as it seems to signify a new era in Bazan’s career that is firmly rooted in memories of the past with time-worn songwriting that pulls the two together quite well.  It successfully places the listener into the world of Pedro The Lion, memorializing a past with an urgency to be remembered.

“We could write me some reminders, I’d memorize them / I could sing them to myself and whoever’s listening / I could put them on a record about my hometown / sitting here with pen and paper, I’m listening now.” – “Quietest Friend”

Rating: 7.7 (Stand Out)

For info on how we rate albums, see our rating scale.

Release Date: Jan 18, 2019

Label: Polyvinyl Records

Review: “nice!” by kinda alright

Where so many progressive bands create stone-faced, mechanical spectacles, “kinda alright” choose instead to make music that’s downright fun.

FFO: Chon, Polyphia, Free Throw

Guitar music might not hold the same position of prestige in American culture as it once did, but it is far from dead. In sweaty bars and suburban basements across the country there is a thriving community of artists and fans still devoted to distortion and pushing the boundaries of their instruments. One place where this culture is particularly alive and well is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; a haven for punk, posthardcore, shoegaze, and all other forms of alternative. Known for producing such bands as mewithoutYouThe Wonder Years, and Modern Baseball, the “City of Brotherly Love” has developed a knack for spawning cult classic bands in niche genres. 

Math rock, with its emphasis on musical virtuosity and complexity, is a subgenre that is particularly popular in Philly, so much so that the city has developed its own distinct flavor of the genre. Where a lot of math rock is inspired by bands like This Town Needs Guns or borrows heavily from twinkly Midwest Emo, in Philly there is a tendency to combine the more technical parts of math rock with pop punk grooves, heavier overdrive, and an unusual reverence for Built to Spill. On their newest EP, nice!kinda alrightexemplify this distinct cultural trend and employ it to great effect.

Nice! is fifteen minutes of immediately satisfying guitar shredding and feel good grooves. Where so many progressive bands create stone-faced, mechanical spectacles, kinda alright choose instead to make music that’s downright fun. You can tell that each member is incredibly proficient at their instrument, because they make a point to show you as often as they can, but there is no overarching air of superiority. They may take their playing seriously, but they clearly don’t take themselves too seriously; a refreshing change of pace for technical bands. 

Stylistically kinda alright is comparable to Chon, had the latter gotten their start in pop punk instead of jazz guitar. Each track is energetic and rhythmically bouncy, none more-so than early stand-out track no chumpswith its ear-catching stop-and-start natural harmonic riffs. All of the songs except the closer algerbong copweeddealerare instrumental, but they have enough dynamic movement and guitar hooks to remain engaging even without vocals. The few lyrics that did make it on the album are pretty standard emo fare, but they do exactly what they need to do: provide a catchy and relatable melodic hook in between the riffs, which still serve as the focal point of the song.

As far as math rock goes, nice! is a pretty solid EP. Fans of this niche genre and its musical neighbors will find a lot to be excited about on the Philly three-piece’s newest release. It may not be the most groundbreaking thing to come out this month, but it also isn’t trying to be. Above all nice! is just a record made by a couple talented guys trying to have fun by making cool shit, and in that regard it is a wild success.

6.3/10 (Solid)

For more information on how we score records, see: https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Released: Jan 10, 2019
Record Label: Independent


Review: “Change of Scenery” by Buddie

“Change of Scenery” is as fun as it is earnest, a raucous album intent on engaging the world rather than escaping it, a thoroughly enjoyable musical paradox.”

FFO Weezer, Pavement, Built to Spill

“How can I live with myself not helping anyone else?” As the flurry of distorted guitars reach their blaring crescendo on opening track Sloth,vocalist Dan Forrest of Philadelphia alternative outfit Buddiesets the tone with just one line. Once a conservation biologist in Equatorial Guinea, Forrest now spends his time writing fuzz rock in the vein of Pavement and early Weezer, though where his forebears made their careers writing about unrequited love, on Change of Scenery Forrest instead writes songs that are much more uniquely conscious. They may still be dorky, but only in the sense that anything passionate that isn’t drenched in cynicism isn’t patently “cool” in 2019. 

Second track and early stand-out Sinktouches on exactly that: “Wear my heart on my sleeve / But it’s not cool to be naïve / And now I look a fool / While everyone else tries to be called cool.”It’s a shockingly vulnerable lyric for a song that eventually builds into an infectious power-pop hook centered on the lyric, “Oh no, I’m feeling like I’m Michael Cera.” But that is precisely the magic and strength of Forrest’s songwriting; he writes songs that deal with big-picture problems in a tone that is strikingly modest and good-natured. Though his background gives him plenty of room to preach, he never patronizes the listener. Even his most confrontational lines come out more earnest than angry, because at the heart of these songs there is more carethan there is angst. That posturing sets Buddiein a corner all their own in the world of fuzz rock, a genre usually reserved for the slacker, the stoner, and the lackadaisical character motifs.

Nowhere is this difference more apparent than in the anthemic closer Privileged Youthwhere Forrest grapples with his position of advantage as a white American, capping it off with the pseudo-psychedelic bridge: “The institutions are racist / The institutions are bigots / The institutions are fascists / And I reap the rewards / And they keep the poor poor.” Lyrically it’s more akin to early Anti-Flagthan Weezer, but even here at his most direct and unapologetic Forrest chooses to appeal to humanity first and foremost, concluding his thought with one last run of the chorus: “…It’s the same road everyone’s walking / There’s no traffic from here / I know you’re working, everyone’s working / But can’t you see we have the upper-hand? …” It’s a breath of fresh air from a perspective not often found in fuzz rock or even alternative as a whole.

Change of Scenery is much more than a rare endearing, political album, however. Beyond it’s thoughtful lyrics, its true strength is that it’s also just a kickass rock record. There are enough cathartic choruses, huge chords, and tasteful tempo changes to keep casual and critical listeners alike engaged and satisfied from start to finish. It’s proof that you don’t have to play it cool and put on a sullen demeanor to make impactful art. On Change of Scenery, Buddienever miss a second of fun while making their point; it’s the kind of album equally as conducive to guitar flips as it is to inspiring contemplation. 

If there is one weak spot on the EP, it would probably be the middle track Selva,which has the misfortune of falling between two of the hookiest songs on the album Sink and Anxty. It’s not a bad song by any means, an internal monologue about leaving the Equatorial rain forest after experiencing so much personal growth there and then trying to re-adjust to life in America, but it is the lone song that doesn’t reward the listener with an immediate earworm of a hook. Considering that’s the worst thing I can say about this EP, it’s pretty fair to say that Buddie nailed their debut.

All in all the new EP from Buddie is a clear stand-out within its genre, a fresh voice and perspective from a talented new songwriter with a dynamic musical core as his vehicle. Change of Scenery is as fun as it is earnest, a raucous album intent on engaging the world rather than escaping it, a thoroughly enjoyable musical paradox. We can’t wait to see what this promising young band does next.

7.8/10 (Stand-Out)

For more information on how we score albums see:
https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Review: “You’re Gonna Miss Everything Cool and Die Angry” by Catholic Werewolves

FFO: Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor, American Pleasure Club

It’s early January and those of us in the West are steeped in a holiday hangover. Just one week ago I was half a state away from home, surrounded by family and taking full advantage of any home-cooked meal I could get my hands on. Today I am back in Philadelphia, back to the 40-hour work week grind, and back to eating Wendy’s for lunch every day. With “normal” life once again in full swing it’s easy to romanticize the festivities of last week and blot out any of the frustrations that the holidays can also bring with them.

What are you doing with your life?” For many of us in our twenties that is the dreaded question, rivaled only by its usual follow up: “what are your plans for the future?” There is a prevailing unease that seems to pervade a large subset of our generation; a sense that we should probably be farther along than we are, a sense that we should be in different circumstances that seem unattainable, or for many of us who are “on the right path”, a sense that we should be happier with where we are. On their debut full-length You’re Gonna Miss Everything Cool and Die Angry, Davenport, Iowa punks Catholic Werewolves tap into this generational malaise effortlessly and effectively.

The album starts off with a patchwork of TV samples that capture the psychological environment of the prototypical “millennial burnout.” “What about YOUR goals?” “A bride suit…” “Another fatal police shooting…” “JACKASS!” “It’s yet another long series of diversions in order to avoid responsibility.” “And, uh… It doesn’t really matter. I uh… I don’t like my job and, uh… I don’t think I’m gonna go anywhere…” Before you can even piece together what’s happening the band roars in with the rousing sing along line “Hiding in your old pullover/ Not your friend, just a coworker.” It’s subtle alienation from line one; relational distance, the substitution of a cheap acquaintance where a friend should be. However, by the time the opening track reaches it’s mostly-sincere but sarcasm-tinged hook, “You’re far more than your circumstances/ Part-time job, or bad romances/ And certainly more than how your parents spin your/ Lifestyle in their Christmas letters” it’s clear that there’s more to be unpacked here than just another suburban punk record with vaguely Marxist undertones.

Where many similar albums slip either into full on “eat the rich” revolution mode or into despondent loserdom, YGMECADA lands where most people realistically are: wrestling with societal expectations that either seem unfulfillable or undesirable, trying to figure out what success means and what it’s worth, what makes life worth living and how you can pay the rent if your dead-end job is getting in the way of being a real human. Catholic Werewolves leave no stone unturned while exploring these themes, even calling into question their own anger and anti-establishment attitudes. This line of questioning culminates in one of the best lines on the album halfway through Tom Hanks: “It’s not the aesthetic of anti-capitalists/ Or the use of an anarchist plot-twist/ John Cusack has asked it/ Am I upset or/ Am I programmed by art that seems sympathetic?/ … (I am) Responsible for/ My love for my malaise.”

The immediate and easily relatable lyrics are accompanied by flurried, angry punk arrangements reminiscent of Jeff Rosenstock or early Joyce Manor, complete with frequent groove changes, melodic guitar hooks, and cathartic gang vocals. At least that’s the case on all of the tracks except the acoustic front-porch anthem Tuxedo T-shirt, which provides a brief respite from the energetic pace of the rest of the album. As a whole, the album also has a ton of replay value. For all of the grooves and shout along melodies packed into these eight songs, the full run time of the album barely tops the 15 minute marker, making it an easy listen and also leaving you hungry for more.

All that said YGMECADA does have a handful of detractors, mostly on the recording and production end. While completely listenable, the album as a whole lands just a hair more lo-fi than similar DIY punk records, which are as a rule already pretty lo-fi. The mix EQ skews a little heavy on the treble, not enough to be piercing, but enough to be noticeable. Beyond that, the performance, particularly on the vocals, is also a little shaky at points. Part of this matches and adds to the loose aesthetic of the songs, but there are several sections where the pitchiness of the vocals doesn’t come from a lack of ability, but just from a bad take on notes that the vocalist hits elsewhere on the record. With a little more attention to detail in the recording process this album would have shined even more than it already does, and it’s already a damn good record.

As it stands YGMECADA is a fun-packed and angst-filled banger, a promising debut from a young band that definitely has a lot of potential. In its niche, that little sliver of punk that isn’t fully emo or fully pop-punk but has the stronger elements of both, it stands out as one of the better recent full-lengths, combining the usual energy and catchiness of the genre with lyrics and self-awareness that are significantly more impressive. Hopefully this is only the start of what should be a very solid career, because I look forward to hearing what Catholic Werewolves become as their sound matures.

7.0/10 (Stand Out)

For more information on how we score albums, see: Our Rating Scale