Mayer Hawthorne and the County, 10.14.11

I love this man. And his band.

That’s right, folks. Mayer Hawthorne has rendered me boring and redundant as a writer. Well, almost. I just warn you that this post might be super-gushy, so tread lightly, and please forgive me.

I saw this dude last year, at the same venue (Bimbo’s 365 Club), with the same friends, and I had a great time. And this time around was even better. I think my only complaint is that his 75-ish minute set was too short. I mean, yeah, it was too short and I’m a fan so I want it to go on forever, but that’s actually not a very long set. Two hours is the respectable set length, I think. But whining aside, Mayer Hawthorne really knows how to put on a show. He just sort of happened upon this whole fame thing, but instead of being bumbling and awkward, he’s got this natural charm and confidence about him that makes for a lively, adorable stage show. I do wish he’d interact with the audience more (READ: I definitely shouted out “GO TIGERS!!!” twice, expecting the Michigan native to give me some sort of reciprocation, but I got nothing. Weak.), because I think he could benefit from a little, as the comedians say, crowd work. He really is magnetic though, with his unabashed suburban skinny white boy good looks and his simple, clean, beautiful voice.

The new album, How Do You Do is a delight. You should buy it. But it’s even more worthwhile performed live. He and the County dropped several new tracks including “The Walk,” “A Long Time,” “Dreaming,” and my fave, “No Strings,” like they had been playing them for years. But to my surprise, they also went with several crowd-pleasers from A Strange Arrangement, despite the fact that this show was an album-release party for the sophomore record. “The Ills,” “Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” and my all-time fave, “Maybe So, Maybe No” got just as much love from the crowd as you’d expect. It was a constant state of soul music euphoria. To top it off, he also performed his rendition of “Love in Motion,” which he normally performs with Sebastian, as well as “I’ve Got A Crush on You” and Average White Band’s “Work To Do.” Solid night.

I may have said this before–and I’m too lazy to look and see if that’s true–but with all of the meaningless pop floating around, and all of the heavy-duty lyrics out there too, it’s so refreshing to have an artist like Mayer Hawthorne on the scene. His songs put a smile on your face so effortlessly because they’re good. Sure, he’s got the wordplay going (“You’re shaped like an hourglass / but I think your time’s up”) and the incredible Motown influence, but his music doesn’t stay on the surface or hit too deep. It’s at a balanced, manageable level. It can appeal to most people without being generic, because it’s so likable. And how can you not like this guy? He was wearing a red suit, for Christ’s sake.

What a ham!

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

I seem to arrive late to most pop culture parties, and this Grammy-winner is no exception. But I feel compelled to write about it after it received all of its accolades because, dag nab it, The Suburbs is fantastic. Everyone should listen to it.

I’m a huge fan of Funeral, but when I heard the opening track of The Suburbs, I was instantly hooked. Arcade Fire has this magical way of making their music seem messy and almost unrehearsed or unfinished, yet it is executed perfectly every time. They create a beautiful, but not intimidating wall of sound with all those singers and instrumentalists filling their performance space, too. It’s about time something real and gritty and weird took a mainstream award like a Grammy. I know I’ll look back on the music I listened to in my twenties and be proud that Arcade Fire was well-liked by most and frequently-played by… me.

I cannot choose my favorite song. I like them all. (Please don’t make me choose.) It might be “Modern Man” one moment, with its crazy time signature; it might be “City With No Children” the next, with its radio-friendly guitar and drums; it might be “Empty Room,” with its ethereal speed; or it might be “Rococo,” with Win Butler’s slow-burn vocal passion. Doesn’t matter. All I know is that the varying musical styles somehow come together to form this lovely, poetic album that captures the disparity of the suburbs while also making a topic so ugly and impersonal seem beautiful. And I’m not passing up an opportunity to see them live. Coachella must have been epic:

Win Butler, you crazy-haired maniac, you are a musical genius. More, please.

Watch the Throne

I know I can’t really get away with calling Jay-Z “Hova” and Kanye West “Yeezy,” but it’s impossible not to do it after listening to this album. I feel like I know these guys now. (And I want to hang out with them even more after watching this video.)

The kings of modern rap have done it. They’ve amped up an album way too much, and they’ve still managed to exceed my expectations. Granted, Watch the Throne is no My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but it’s a really solid collaboration, and one that I’ll be spinning for quite some time. My rap education has only recently begun, so pardon my novice viewpoint.

Hova and Yeezy are different dudes. The former is in his 40s, married to arguably the hottest woman in the world, far removed from his gritty upbringing, and beloved by most. The latter is in his 30s, outspoken and brash, enemies with many, and far from settled down. Neither compromises his style on the album, which actually results in some dissonance (if you can call it that), but dissonance is good. It’s not so much a concept album (a la “Fantasy”) as it is a collection of interesting thoughts by two very interesting guys. Sometimes they seem like they’re trying to crank out a club hit (“Lift Off,” “H*a*m”), sometimes they’re being silly (“That’s My Bitch”), sometimes they’re paying respect to the musicians who came before them (“Otis,” “The Joy”), and sometimes they’re thinking ahead for the children they see in their futures (“New Day”). Needless to say, the emotions are scattered and even unrelated, but they all come together somehow.

I’m partial to tracks like “Otis” and “The Joy” because I love when rappers sample really good shit, and soul music from Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield enhances anything that already has a good beat. (Stevie Wonder had Usher’s back in this one, for example.) But I also rap beats with rock flavor, like “Primetime,” “Why I Love You,” and my favorite on the album, “No Church in the Wild.” (I always dig opening tracks. So predictable.) The rhymes are incredible, as you’d expect, though I think their individual albums are a little more creative, but there are still some wicked one-liners I’d like to point out.

Kanye in “Primetime”: “Well, Adam gave up a rib so mine better be prime.”

Kanye in “Who Gon Stop Me”: “Niggas talking, they bitchmade, Ixnay off my dicksnay / That’s Pig Latin, itch-bay, who gon stop me huh?”

Jay-Z in “Welcome to the Jungle”: “I’m a tortured soul, I live in disguise / Rest in peace to the leader of the Jackson 5 / I died in my sleep, I’m still Big Pimpin’ / I ball at the mall, beginning of the ending.”

So… listen to this album. It’s historical. Period. I wish the tickets to see Hova and Yeezy live weren’t so damn steep, otherwise I’d be front row, the whitest girl in the building, and I wouldn’t even care. I’m just glad to be around while these two men are in their prime.

I can’t get enough of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours

It’s partially Glee‘s fault. I’ve had my ups and downs with the show over the past two years, but I cannot deny the catchiness of its best songs. And ever since the “Rumours” episode, I’ve been listening to the real deal non-stop.

It really is amazing how one 11-track album can convey such a clear, complex message——and while I’m sure that the tension between the bandmates have since dissipated, there’s no denying that the emotions they felt were preserved perfectly in the recording studio. Each song on the album has this certain angst to it, but instead of putting those conflicts into loud, abrasive songs, Fleetwood Mac somehow translated them into beautiful harmonies and melodic guitar solos and strong drumbeats and everything in-between. The result is an album with not one filler. Every song is a hit.

I gravitate towards the popular tracks, of course, like “The Chain,” “Don’t Stop,” “You Make Loving Fun,” and “Go Your Own Way,” which has THE MOST fun beat to steering-wheel drum on your way to work. But I’ve also grown attached to the lesser known “Secondhand News” and “Never Going Back Again,” which demonstrate Lindsey Buckingham’s incredible range. On the former track, he is loud, wailing, and electric; on the latter, he is reserved, melancholy, and acoustic. Both are gorgeous. “Gold Dust Woman” might be better than “The Chain” for Stevie Nicks, in terms of showing off her vocal prowess. And then there’s “Songbird,” which can bring tears to my eyes in an instant. Christine McVie’s heartbreaking ballad strikes some sort of unspeakable emotional chord in me.

Listening to Rumours, one gets an incredibly lucid view of how art imitates life, and how, unfortunately, the best art comes from the most tumultuous lives. Out of the ashes of the band’s disintegrating romantic relationships came the phoenix that is Rumours, and I can only hope that the success and beauty of the album provided the bandmembers some sort of calm after the storm of their tumultuous personal lives. I’m guessing that President Clinton’s decision to use “Dont Stop” as his campaign song in ’92 didn’t hurt, either.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West

Damn, it feels good to be writing an album review again. Haven’t done one in awhile, so please bear with me. I took the opportunity to listen to this album in the car—which might be the best possible way to listen to any album because of the closed quarters and the lonely space—and as much as I dislike the man that is Kanye West, I can’t deny that he’s a genius. This album is mesmerizing.

I like how connected he is, and always has been, with other types of music. He collaborates for the sake of artistry and exploration and creativity, he’s willing to pen lyrics that are incredibly unconventional in the rap world, and he’s especially open to the idea of making an ass of himself. On some tracks, he sings melodies worse than a tone-deaf two-year-old; on others, he’s perfectly in tune. It’s all one big strategy, though, and whatever that strategy was, it worked.

The standout track for me is “Lost in the World,” one of those songs with so many layers of warm sound that, even when your body is drained of energy, you could still muster the strength to pump your fist. Of course, Bon Iver helps Kanye create that sound, but still. The two in combination create something special. And I absolutely loved hearing each new voice come in on “Monster,” a track that’s as visually stunning as a song can be with all of its guest stars and horrific imagery. (Nicki Minaj, damn. That’s all I’m going to say.)

“Runaway” seems like the most personal track on the album, even though it’s about “other” douchebags and assholes and whatnot. Kanye West is notoriously crazy, but I get the sense that he’s also aware of how other people perceive him, and that he’s been called names like “douchebag” and “asshole” before. This song is written with people like him in mind, and it’s weird how he can make such crude, cheap language sound almost beautiful in this kind of context.

Of course, the whole album is one big narcissistic work; if you don’t believe me, watch the full-length video. He was trying his hardest to be Michael Jackson, or at least emulate his decadent music videos. Of course, “Runaway” is nothing like what MJ accomplished with his short films, but it’s a big, sweeping, 35-minute experiment, and you have to give Kanye credit for that. As Donald Glover says, Kanye West is basically just a black nerd, and My Beautiful Dark Twister Fantasy is his nerd-gasm. It’s a good one, though.

TV on the Radio, Dear Science

About a year ago, I remember most of my writers making a Huge Fucking Deal about this album. TV on the Radio is God. TV on the Radio is coming to the Warfield. I must tell you about TV on the Radio. That sort of thing. With my Important Editor Duties, I avoided this so-called “new music” and sunk deep into my Michael Jackson/Eric Prydz haze and proceeded to absorb as much AP Style as humanly possible. Then I graduated, went to Outisde Lands, saw said weird-acronym’d band in person, and gained some respect for their little outbursts. Hey, these guys are pretty fun to watch! Hey, that guy was in “Rachel Getting Married”! Hey, that guy has sweet hair!

So I bought the “best album of the year” according to many sources beyond my circle. And I listened to it. And … drumroll please … seriously? THAT WAS IT? THAT WAS THE BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR? SOMEONE EXPLAIN PLEASE.

I really don’t get it. I mean, they have some catchy beats and interesting melodies, but I’ve heard better music. I’ve heard a lot of better music, actually, and yet this little thing was at the top of every Top 10 last year. Granted, I think these guys are a live band, which is surprising because of all the electronic nuances and the lack of stage presence provided by the lead guitarist, but DAMN was I underwhelmed. I couldn’t HEAR a lot of the music. It was all covered up by those damn electronics. And all the mumbling.

Throw me a bone here, people. Tell me I’m ignorant.