Enter Shikari – The Mindsweep

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All Enter Shikari has to do to make a bad album is to listen to anyone who finds merging genres unoriginal. Chuck the wide-eyed approach out the window, and just kick straightforward, aggressive songs. There are people in the 21st century who still find Slayer more original than Linkin Park. A lot of bands tried to appease the idiots by going heavy, even if it was clear their spirit wasn’t into it (I See Stars, for example). As good as Enter Shikari are, there’s no guarantee they won’t cave in.

Listen to the three pre-released songs, and this fear evaporates. “The Last Garrison” is the most boring of the three, and it’s miles ahead of most loud music. It’s an empowering anthem with electronics, screeching guitars and a drum and bass final to improve it. “Never Let Go of the Microscope” is a rap song that ends with a breakdown. “Anesthetist”, the best of the three, combines Big Beat drums, rapping, hospital noises, thrashing and a hardcore breakdown.

These are enough elements to build an album on. Most bands work with less, but these are merely for these songs. There’s a piano ballad in “Dear Future Historians…”. “The Bank of England” is the opposite of epic, and includes a little rappping. “The One True Colour” alternates between very hard and very soft. “The Appeal & The Mindsweep I” has a spoken word intro, hardcore screaming and anthemic singing. This wealth of ideas sure makes the rock canon looks pretty embarrassing.

Shikari’s musical ideas don’t exist just to contrast each other. The quiet-loud or the screaming/singing dynamic relies on the contrast, and rarely do the bands try to make the parts stand on their own. In many cases, the screaming or the singing is there to relieve the monotony, but it’s a mere interlude. Shikari puts emphasis on both sections, letting them stand on their own. There’s no need for clean vocals on “There’s a Price On Your Head” or screaming on “Dear Future Historians…”. Shikari’s handling of the elements is good enough so they can also build a song around a single one, instead of a dozen.

More impressive is that Shikari always remains in control of their ideas. The problem with this abundance is a loss of control. That’s where you get the double album with too much fat in it, or the bands who switch from genre to genre with no connection (Or Andrew Huang). Shikari don’t merely pile up the ideas, but connect them. “The One True Colour” is perhaps the best example of alternating between the soft and hard parts. The band doesn’t just switch from a soft part to a hard section. They start the song with playing both, and always hint at what’s coming next.

Even the songs with the weaker structures would stick out in an album by any other band. Shikari understands that while it’s okay to have a core for your song to revolve around, such as hooks, you can’t rely on them to make your songs. Plenty of bands create a fantastic chorus and get lazy on anything that surrounds it. Even if your chorus is the center of your song, it’s important to make the rest of the elements matter and to have a satisfying climax. Not every song has to be as progressive as “The One True Colour”, but on more accessible tracks, like “The Last Garrison” they make sure that what surrounds the hook is just as good. Every song here has a climax, even the simpler “There’s a Price On Your Head” and “The Bank of England”. For most bands, this is a rarity.

Special mentions goes to “Torn Apart”. The political lyrics tend to be inoffensive cliches, but in that song they finally say something with substance. Unlike most songs against racism, “Torn Apart” isn’t a cry for equality. It’s a cry against the whole concept of race. All races are not equal, because they have to exist first. There may be more important songs against racism, but this is one that thinks outside of the box.

The Mindsweep’s only weakness is that it doesn’t sound like Shikari reached their limits. They pushed them even further, so the bars raised higher. At first, it seemed like their classic album would be this, where they will expand on every element of their music. Instead, it just leaves you begging for more. The electronics are still here, but not enough. Now that Rou started to rap, they must turn it into another part of their sound instead of a single genre experiment. Shikari’s masterpiece will not be an experimental rock record. It will be an album where they will abandon the concept of genre, and be almost impossible to categorize.

4 microscopes out of 5

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Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

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Imagine if your average pop singer – Katy Perry, Rihanna, Kesha or Lady Gaga made a song called “This is What Makes Us Girls”. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that. There are songs called “We R Who We R” and “Run the World (Girls)”. In the world of Lana Del Rey though, girls don’t run the world, and who they are isn’t something to be proud of. The teachers said they’d never make it out alive, and Lana sings it with a sad agreement. The girls are not united, and instead they put their love first (Can’t run a world like that). The most telling moment is when Lana’s sing her best friend’s line – “Lana, how I hate those guys”. Lana sonds so vulnerable in that line, the complete opposite of the images other Pop singers are trying to project.

In a world saturated with empowering anthems, Born to Die is a dark album exploring the psych of the girl who’s attracted to bad guys, hard drinks and all that excitement. Happiness always comes with gloom. The aforementioned song makes it most obvious, but there’s also a summertime that’s full of sadness, and all the mentioning of swimming pools, make-up and Cristal in “Off to the Races” can’t cover up that insane reality. As soon as the chorus hits, it gets heavy. The hard drums don’t bang like a dance track, but are aggressive in the same way the drums rattle in Drill tracks. As the choruses go on, they get darker. Lana’s character is crazy, misbheaving, and wasted and falling down. There’s no joy, except perhaps a little spite at herself. When she sings “you are my one true love”, it’s not an expression of romance but of dependency.

The music is just as a departure as the lyrics. While it’s not exactly a sonically experimental album, it has a clear, unique sound that fits the lyrics. If most Pop singers drive their empowerment anthems with triyng to reach the highest notes, Lana’s singing is more subdued. The choruses, as catchy as they are, are never big and anthemic. Lana’s calm singing is closer to Dream Pop than anything. Even when she uses her higher voice, it never reaches Stadium territory. “Off to the Races” is the most energetic thing here, but its chorus is more aggressive than anthemic, something an Industrial Rock band would feel comfortable covering.

Where Lana departs from her male friends who revel in their self-loathing is in her treatment of it. Lana’s gloom is not as oppressive as Local H’s or Sadistik, and she doesn’t punish herself like Trent Reznor or Marilyn Manson. “This is What Makes Us Girls”, again, is the best at illustrating it. They might be no joy in “Off to the Races”, but when she mentions her beauty queen friends and partying all night in “Girls”, there’s a sad nostalgia in it. As if she’s saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if all this fun didn’t come with all this sadness?”. Perhaps this is why Lana was bashed as ‘antifeminist’. She explores her flawed and broken characters, but she doesn’t suffocate them with regret, or paints them as utterly clueless and shallow. There’s a reason bad boys and hard drinks are attractive. They’re fun.

That’s why there’s still room for gorgeuous pop melodies. Even if you strip away that concept, you’re still left with a ridiculous amount of great pop. Every song here has a great melody, and every one can be a single. After you manage to get beyond the first four tracks – it’s hard, they’re all brilliant – they quickly become just some more good songs. The sequencing is just as great. “Girls” appear at the end, wrapping up the album’s themes while “Born to Die” appears in the beginning, which gives us the basics of crazy relationships with crazy guys.

Some on internet go off talking about her being ‘manufactured’, faking her past, being antifeminist and behaving awkwardly in interviews. Reznor was also not that tortured while making The Downward Spiral, but that doesn’t it any less gripping. Music speaks for itself, the singer doesn’t. While the antifeminist accusation make more sense and are more interesting, they’re missing the point. Born to Die does more than tell girls how cool they are. It gives them a voice, explores their issues and talks about their falls and shortcomings without beating them up. Women are equal to men, and just like men deserve to have their issues explored and expressed through music. It sure answers a lot of questions than just telling a 15-year-old with a crush on a weirdo that she runs the world. As for how she acts in interviews, I’m a banana octopus.

4 bottles of diet Mountain Dew out of 5

VilleBillies – VilleBillies (2006)

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Only now I understand why a serious Country Rap movement hasn’t emerged. These genres are perceived as targeting very different demographics. Country is for white rednecks who probably never seen a black man, and rap is for black people, preferably ‘real black’ who don’t act like whites (Also, white rappers try to be black and steal black people’s music). Even weirder is that whenever there were attempts to merge the two genres, they came together so smoothly. They blend together even better than Rap and Rock. There were Nappy Roots, who have some Country influence and a few OutKast singles, but VilleBillies are a full-on Country Rap band.

It’s not a gimmick, either. The band shows perfect understanding of both genres and why they work. The rhymes are often simplistic, but they sound like people who did listen to a lot of rap, and they have no problem using different flows and styles. There’s fast rapping on “Whisky”, laid back on “Rolling Stone” and energetic on “I Got Moves”. Same with with the country elements. They know Country music is not just sticking acoustic guitars, some sliding and a banjo there. It’s not exactly the Alt-Country of Drive-By Truckers (There isn’t a lot of rocking), but they borrow the simple and catchy melodies of Bottle Rockets and the O Brother soundtrack. In some places, it’s more of a Bluegrass-Rap record than anything, sort of like Old Crow Medicine Show with breakbeats and rapping.

All of these makes for a very strong set of songs. Only “Mr. Brown Bag” and “Hey” are a drop in quaklity, and both are from bad either. The former has a fairly weak chorus, and the latter is a fun experiment in Punk that’s just not as attention grabbing as anything around it. The highlights though are just brilliant. “Whisky” is one of the best tribute to the distilled beverage, “Greatest Moment” is a perfect closer, “Mary” has the best melody and “Rolling Stone” is just gorgeous. No obsession over a song lasted as long as that one.

An underrated, brilliant gem. The band is still extremely unknown, but I’m glad that, at the time of writing, they’re still together.

Anaconda vs. All About That Bass or: Go, Fat Girl, Go!

When I saw the boring video for Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, I felt like this weird activity of shaking ass while giving me Rambo stares was somehow supposed to be feminist. I wasn’t a wrong. Plenty of people thought the same, and were serious. All of these people missed the point. A girl called Meghan also had an ’empowering’ song too, with a music video that contained very little skin and a really big guy.

This is all about the message in the songs, not about the musical quality. As a musical piece, “Anaconda” is terrible. It’s a pop song devoid of hooks and a rap song devoid of actual rapping. It’s more of a bad spoken word track. Coil have poppier stuff than this.

Anyway, “Anaconda” is not about the beauty of being ‘full’. She mentions about how guys like “something they can grab” and not “bony”, but somehow everyone in her music video has an hourglass figure. Tits and ass, especially the ass are everywhere. The ‘hourglass figure’ doesn’t mean thin. It means that the ass and the tits are much bigger compared to the waist. This is what’s considered the most attractive body type. Guys talk more about ass and tits than how thin some girls are.

The lack of ‘male gaze’ means nothing. Men or no men doesn’t make them any less sexually suggestive. The music video doesn’t have guys staring at her ass, but I’m encouraged to stare at it. Is there any other reason for showing so much? They may pose as amazons, work out and not smile, but this is just another fetish. Some people get turned on by tough girls, and what Minaj is doing is catering to those whose fetish is tough girls. A chainmail bikini won’t suddenly make you strong, and doing facial expressions like Rambo won’t make it any less of a fetish. At least Nicky Da B wasn’t serious, and that video had a bigger variety of asses plus an androgynus rapper.

Even its lyrics fall to stereotypes. All Minaj is doing is give a voice to the female MRA’s claim to fight – the kind that relies on looks to get money and doesn’t have much more than that. She doesn’t explore this trope or subvert it. She talks about how much she gained because of her ass, namely money and clothes. The only people who are shocked are people who find any sexual expression shocking.

Then comes Meghan’s song, which is a whole different thing.

Unlike Minaj, there is little to no sexualization in the music video. Meghan doesn’t even show cleavage. The lyrics are a longer and less vulgar of Mr. Exquire’s line, “Big belly, still take my shirt off like Nelly”. There are no hourglass figures. Meghan is trying to look pretty, but in the same way male singers will also try to look good in music videos. She doesn’t present her body as sexually appealing and doesn’t encourages us to look at it. She cuts that crap so we’ll focus on the words.

Reading all this, I feel bad for writing so much about women’s bodies in an article about music. This shows you how effective Minaj’s and Meghan’s “feminism”. Isn’t feminism’s aim to let women function outside of their gender? In all of these songs, the looks are considered good because men like them. In “Anaconda”, Nicki tells us men like something they could grab. Meghan’s mom tells her boys want some booty to hold at night. In the end, there isn’t much straying from the status quo. Nicki and Meghan just insist that men like hourglass figure/’chubby’ better. It’s the same message that Jason Derulo has.

None of that is actual expression. Sexual expression is Missy Elliot wanting a guy who can keep going, Lilly Allen getting annoyed at crappy sex, Peaches’ sexual aggression or Goldfrapp’s tenderness. Each of these women expresses her sexual experiences or tastes without the politics. Perhaps the biggest problem is that we turn sex into a political thing, and suddenly how many kilos we carry or what we do in bed becomes just as important as war and global warming.

This doesn’t mean women shouldn’t talk about women’s issues. I think feminism is still relevant today and there’s plenty of misogyny going on. “If you’re X, then I’m Y” though, is not the way to respond to a problem. The problem is not that thin is considered beautiful and ‘chubby’ is considered hideous. The problem is we pay so much attention to the shape.

Beatport Chart Review #1

This EDM thing is pretty big. There a lot of festivals where people gather together to listen to music and perhaps take drugs. Since major artists rarely release full-lengths – Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Martin Garrix and Nicky Romery from DJ Mag’s Top 100 don’t even have an album in the works. So, I’ll just go over the whole Beatport chart in order to determine whether everything is bad or most of it is bad.

Chart according to 21/12/2014

1. R3hab & KSHMAR – Karate
Is this Melbourne Bounce? The melody in the drop is nice, but the sound is too boring. I heard this horn thing too much. At least Big Room utilized different sounds. I also first thought the drop repeated itself three times. It’s too monotonous for its own good. Decent fodder for a DJ set, but nothing much.
2/5

2. Dusky – Yoohoo
Deep House at #2. That’s nice. Are they playing this stuff for the same crowds who want to see Avicii? Anyway, the drums are great. Four minutes into this, and all I can think about are the drums. Perhaps it has something to do with the other elements lacking. There’s a vocal simple that doesn’t do anything, aside from telling me that I call it love. The bassline just goes along with the drums. The piano in the middle adds some warmth which is a nice contrast to the cold drums. When it finally finds cool ambient noises it decides to cut back and end. Perhaps not worth the full six minutes, but it was pretty banging.
3/5

3. Michael Caflan – Treasured Soul
Beatport lists this simply as house. The drums in the beginning bang, and I love the vocal sample. The warm soft sounds in the drop made me cringe, but the piano and the chopped vocals make up for it. It used them to create rhythm, not these warm synths. I think this is what Knife Party tried to make with “DIMH”, but they missed the point.
2.5/5

4. Ed Sheeran – Don’t (Don Diablo)
Fuck a build-up! No, seriously, it starts with the vocal sample and then there’s a drop. I can live with that. The vocals suit the BPM, and the drop uses sounds that would make someone re-make this as a big room track. It’s like as if someone merged Diamond Pistol’s “Wrecker” with Michael Caflan’s track. Pretty good.
3.5/5

5. Maceo Plex & Gabriel Ananda – Solitary Daze
I don’t think this song is finished. It sounds like Dubnobasswithmyheadman-era Underworld, but it goes nowhere during its seven minute voyage. The ambiance is great, but by the time the fifth minute rolls around you’re hearing the exact same thing with almost no variation. It’s a shame, because that part they repeat is great, but few things are so good they can repeat themselves for seven minutes without changing.
2.5/5

6. Royskopp – Sordid Affair (Maceo Plex Remix)
Hello again! This one sounds more like Orbital, and unlike the previous track he gets what makes this style work. It uses melody not to create rhythm, but to create a dreamlike atmosphere. Melody is always more powerful in dance music when it’s pushed in the back, and changes as the drop goes on. The buildup/drop structure doesn’t really suit this style. It should be one continues thing, but I can forgive that. The most fully realized track here yet.
3.5/5

7. Natema – Everybody Does
Everything you need in a dance track here. There’s a great bassline and good vocals, and it keeps bringing new sounds all throughout its length. There’s a guitar that comes and goes, and sounds video games think belongs to radars. This one sounds like the work of a band who should have an album out.
4/5

8. Tom Swoon & Stadium feat. Rico & Miella – Ghost
There are big, dramatic drums in the beginning. I think the drop is going be either heavy or life-affirming. The vocals are leftover Afrojack and try to make me think this is actually very, very serious. How do people react to this at festivals? Do they all start reflecting about their past one night stands? The female singer has a much better melody and a much better voice. The drop was probably – here it comes – ghost-produced by Avicii. I hope DKS will use the female vocals and make a better remix.
1.5/5

9. Axwell ^ Ingrosso – Something New
I’m glad they put the “^” in their name, but it doesn’t excuse this crap. Here come more utterly serious and sincere singing and lyrics from a bad self-help book. It doesn’t express happiness. It’s faux-positive, saying a lot of pretty, inoffensive things. It’s boring, and there’s nothing here that creates rhythm. The drop is more of that Avicii crap. You can’t dance to this. This is why people think White People Can’t Dance.
1/5

10. MEM – Ecco (Ummet Ozcan Edit)
Does MEM stand for “Middle East Massacre”? Anyway, we’re back to starting with some great drums, and I wouldn’t mind a few more seconds of that build-up. The synth stabs at the chorus remind me a bit of Melbourne Bounce, but the drums sound more like Deep House. This weird fusion works. An acoustic guitar appears after the first drop, which makes zero sense in the context of the song even though the melody is pretty. The melody also doesn’t sound that bad when the synth plays it. The second drop repeats the first, but I can live with that.
3/5