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Music News and Interviews

Courtney Love Is Plotting a Comeback

Okay, this topic is a little bit of a landmine, but you may have noticed that Courtney Love has been floating around in the news lately. We here at WKNC aren’t usually much for covering straight-up celebrity gossip, but the history of Love’s public image is personally fascinating to me, and the topic seems to be floating back into relevance for the first time in decades. We’ll try to keep things mostly above board.

Let’s start with the story that got this article rolling. Olivia Rodrigo, pop princess extraordinaire, has a concert film coming up, and for the promotional image, she recreated Love’s classic “Live Through This,” album art. That is a pretty cool callback, Rodrigo’s music is a teeny-bopper version of Love’s in a lot of ways, especially “Good 4 U,” and it’s nice to see her promoting a classic album by a pioneer of female-led rock.

Courtney Love did not agree with that assessment.

Yes, Love took to Instagram, remarking that it was rude for her and the photographer to not be consulted, and despite Rodrigo vocally stanning her, was generally dismissive and unhappy with her. This is, at least arguably, defensible, at least in the abstract, but reading what Love actually wrote left me confused. In fact, everything on Love’s social media left me kinda confused and put off. So, let’s talk about Courtney Love, and the past, present and future of her public image.

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Band/Artist Profile New Album Review

Faye Webster- Artist Profile and Album Review

Faye Webster isn’t a huge star right now, but she definitely deserves to be. Her latest album is a triumph, and it’s exciting to see her get both critical attention and actual commercial success from it, as it’s currently on Billboard’s Heat Seekers and folk charts. So let’s get to know Faye Webster, and see what she has to say for herself.

Webster is, first and foremost, a country musician. Based out of the ATL, she has a very retro countrypolitan sound reminiscent of Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt. 70s pop country is uncool both within country music, where it garnered a pretty big backlash for selling out, and outside of country where it’s mostly been written out of pop history. But for several years, country musicians were having number one albums getting multiple pop hits a year by being just aggressively sad.

Webster has forgone the pop hits and success, but boy can she be sad with the best of them. She takes the twang out of her voice and relocates to some deeply melancholy lyrics (and some great slide guitars). Her album “I know I’m funny haha,” is perhaps the best indication of what kind of artist she is. It makes her music engaging and beautiful, but in a way that’s not much fun to talk about. If you’ve heard any indie folk, you know what to expect.

Her last album, “Atlanta Millionaires Club,” however, yields a few more interesting details. The album is a tribute to the musical history of Atlanta, both White and Black. The default instrumental palate is a fusion of her countrypolitan aesthetic with classic 70s soul, a fusion that works so well I’m honestly surprised it’s not done more often. There’s even a token country rap song, which, despite not really blowing me out of the water personally, beats the heck out of Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan.

So, if you want to know where to start, I might suggest listening to a few of her top songs on Spotify, then hitting up the new album when you’re feeling a little blue. Fusions of country and indie are just getting better and better these days, and Faye Webster is an excellent addition to that trend.

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Music Education

Modernism: From Classical to Experimental

This is part two of a series on the birth of avant-garde music. You can read this article alone or view part one here.

Alright, so we spent part one introducing the topic, now it’s time to get into some specific music. Today we’re going to look at the earliest precursors to modern noise music: modernism. These composers still thought of themselves as part of the classical canon but listening to their music….well let’s just say it’s a little “out there.”

Modernism is a term used in art history a lot. Now I didn’t pay very much attention in high school English, and in visual art I have the taste of toddler, but Wikipedia confirms my vague recollection that modernists sought to replace old forms of art with newer and more exciting forms that reflected a modern, industrial world. This resulted in some notable artists like Pablo Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright and Georgia O’Keeffe. In literature, this resulted in writers like Virginia Woolfe and James Joyce, who I’m sure some psychopathic English major actually enjoys.

So, with these beloved figures of art and literature attached to the word modernism, surely there are some fondly remembered musicians from this period? Well, no. Modernist music was roundly rejected by literally everyone. Audiences routinely rioted at modernist concerts and even through today no one actually likes it.

THE END.

Okay, that might be a little harsh. A more accurate way to put it would be that audiences don’t really know what to do with modernist music. The composers associated with the era, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Satie, Shostakovich, wrote very difficult music that eschewed tonality and easy-to-digest sounds, opting instead for novel forms of composition that pushed the boundaries of what music could be.

The result is that modernism is the oldest Western music that doesn’t feel like classical or folk music. It’s so unconventional that it just kinda sounds like, well, noise. Take Schoenberg for example. Schoenberg didn’t like classical harmony, and he wanted to write music that lacked a key and favored no particular note as a harmonic center. To accomplish this, he organized all 12 notes of the chromatic scale in a random order called a set, and then layered the different notes backward and forwards in different octaves and on different instruments to create something that could, arguably, be referred to as music. His masterpiece, the opera Moses und Aron, is absolutely terrifying, as exemplified by this production featuring an underwear Moses for some reason.

However, you would never really mistake Schoenberg for modern avant-garde music either. He still composed for orchestra, piano, and operatic voices, it still features conventionally defined notes, and there aren’t really any of the mechanical banging and scraping sounds that typify noise. It’s too rigid and formal to be genuinely fascinating, but too weird to be good on its own. This is what I mean when I say no one really likes modernism. Classical musicians end the common repertoire right before modernism, and experimental pop listeners don’t find it edgy or daring enough. Modernism, in my opinion, is best approached as a historical document, and a demonstration of how hard it is to push the envelope of music. When you’re steeped in a certain musical tradition, the boundaries of the system can start to feel natural, rather than limiting, and the formation of experimental music took genuine imagination and work. Your toddler might be able to make experimental music, but you might struggle.

The exceptions to this rule are Russolo and Satie, the only modernists who I can enthusiastically recommend. Luigi Russolo, who was associated with the Futurist movement in Italy, made straight-up noise music. Like it would sound completely normal released today—he just tried to impersonate the sounds of steel mills warming up. Futurists were not merely extending the classical cannon like Schoenberg; they were rebelling against it. Satie, by contrast, wrote tranquil piano music that sounds beautiful, but had such a simplistic and amateur quality that his music anticipates the ambient and minimalist movements of the 60s and 70s, which we will get into later. If you want to hear the very earliest inklings of musical rebellion, these are the two artists I would recommend.

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New Album Review

Colaboyy- Prosthetic Boombox Album Review

This is an album from word-of-mouth only, so I don’t have a lot to go on. The context I can give you is that this is an R&B album, it has a warm nostalgic sheen to it, and that the artist is “A Comrade.” Beyond that, we’ll have to take the music on its own merits, so let’s talk about Neo-Soul for a moment.

Neo-Soul refers to exactly what you’d expect. If an R&B album features little to no rapping, dense retro instrumentation, and is mostly lyric-driven, chances are someone has called it Neo-Soul. If that definition sounds a little vague, it’s because it is, but in practice, the genre is more cohesive than you might expect. The scene started as a specific revival movement for 60s and 70s soul, before taking on a life of its own by incorporating more disco, Motown, and hip-hop stylings. The big mainstream moment for this style was in the late 90s when Lauren Hill, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Common took off. The commercial success of the style has waxed and waned over the years, but it has never really gone away. Recently, artists like Tyler, the Creator, Tierra Whack, Frank Ocean, and D’Angelo (again) have been making waves with the style.

Colaboyy is an artist in this tradition, but his musical influences have moved up 20 years, a move that actually took me off guard. Conventional Neo-Soul takes inspiration primarily from the classic soul era, especially the chill yet political work of Marvin Gaye. Colaboyy, by contrast, is stuck firmly in the 90s. He’s not copying 90s Neo-Soul, mind you, that would get a little recursive (Neo-Neo-Soul?), his influence comes from electro-disco and early 90s R&B, before the genre began margining with hip-hop. Boys 2 Men, Poison—this is a pretty fondly remembered era, so it’s cool to see an artist fuse it with a 70s disco aesthetic. He was also inspired by Latin funk according to his website, but this is something I personally struggled to hear in his latest album.

The album isn’t perfect, in fact, it’s a little lacking in cohesive songs, but, as I’m pretty sure my fellow kids are saying, the vibes are immaculate. Colaboyy isn’t trying to make “what’s going on” at the moment, he’s content to make an atmospheric and elegant album with some light political and social theming. It’s easy listening and can play in the background of literally any activity, so give it a shot.

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Music Education

From Classical to Experimental Pt. 1

So, I’ve been on a personal mission to get back in touch with classical music. This doesn’t normally apply to the popular music covered by WKNC, but for the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some musical history that might interest you, even if classical music isn’t really your thing. The subject in question is experimental music, and how it came to be the way it is.

To begin, let’s talk about what these two genres are, and what they have to do with each other. Experimental music is a loosely defined genre of popular music that features unusual or unconventional elements in a way that will be challenging but accessible for a general audience. The related to interchangeable term “avant-garde” means basically the same thing, but is generally less accessible and more out there.

“Classical music,” while it is a term with a technical meaning among musicians and academics, has come to be a catch all term for written music from the European tradition prior to World War II. This typically includes music composed for orchestra, piano, solo stringed instruments, and ensembles.

These two genres seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. One is rigid, formal, and based in traditional Eurocentric traditions, while the other is defined by experimentation and challenges to rules and has often been embraced by those in the margins. However, this has not always been the case. Most classical musicians today pull from an era known as the “Common repertoire,” while includes everything from Bach to Debussy (roughly 1580-1910), and is generally conservative in taste and inoffensive. However, orchestra and piano composers didn’t just stop writing music after 1910.

After 1910, classical music started getting really weird. Unmarketably weird, and while you might not recognize many songs from this era, the influence of 20th century classical on experimental rock, jazz, metal, and by extension mainstream pop, is massive. Noise, atonality, drone, synthesizers, many of these innovations have some roots in this era. Additionally, many famous indie musicians including the Velvet Underground, Pharoah Sanders, and the Sonic Youth have backgrounds in 20th-century classical music. So, it’s worth taking a look at this era to see what popular music borrowed and what it added.

[Also, I just bought a book on this topic and I feel like I need to justify that purchase somehow.]

I’ll be back in a few weeks to discuss modernism, but if you want some light previews of what’s to come, here’s some recommendations from modern day backwards:

  1. Lingua Ignota- Caligula; contemporary music fusing classical back with noise
  2. Glenn Branca- The Ascension; an interesting touchstone for noise rock and alt rock
  3. Steve Reich- It’s gonna rain; an early use of electronic tapes in composition
  4. Terry Reily- In C; a pretty famous piece of minimalism, precursor to synthesizer music
  5. Elaine Radigue- Trilogy de la Mort: early inspiration of drone music
  6. Karlheinz Stockhausen- a Young Person’s Guide to Music; the definitive precursor to noise
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Band/Artist Profile

Kelsey Lu: Local Music Profiles

Alright it’s time to shine a spotlight on one of North Carolina’s own, Kelsey Lu. Hailing from Charlotte, she grew up in a strictly religious household before attending UNC School of the Arts. In short, she’s about as Carolinian as a musician can be.

So, from the above album cover (cropped for nudity) you might expect an R&B singer, or perhaps some kind of melodic indie rocker, but at the risk of disappointing you, Lu fits somewhere in the realm of baroque pop. Yes, that UNCSA education was apparently in classical cello, because Lu is basically inseparable from the instrument. Her music weaves in a variety of strings including viola and violin, supplementing thoughtfully written songs that border on spoken word at times. One word that would not describe her, however, is orchestral, as her arrangements are incredibly sparse, rarely doubling more than one instrument besides her voice, and eschewing chords. The result is somewhat expiriemental, while remaining accesible

If classical isn’t really your thing, still give Kelsey Lu a shot, because the restrained conservatism of her upbringing and stylistic influences are not reflected in her music. She gave one anecdote of listening to 36 Mafia in her sister’s car in secret. Side note, while I can’t speak as to whether that story represents the community at large, it did make me laugh for how much it fits the profile of most Charlottean Jehovah’s Witnesses I’ve met. Her rebellious nature is not just targeted at her roots though; she turns a critical yet loving eye to the outside world. Her 2019 album “Blood” targets hippies, art school grads, and her parents’ generation all in the first song. Her music is in equal measure restrained and rebellious, and an excellent entry in our state’s cultural tapestry.

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New Album Review

Home Video- Lucy Dacus Album Review

Patron saint of moody ex-fundies everywhere Lucy Dacus has returned with her third full length album “Home Video.” After big deal releases from her boygenius bandmates Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, expectations were high for Dacus, and she has delivered on “Home Video,” a tour de force in nostalgia and coming of age documentary.

Prior to this album, Dacus was something of an enigmatic figure. Her music was autobiographical, but opaque. Her most personal, (and by far best) song, “Night Shift,” was unique for blending intensely individual details with a kind of universal songwriting style that made it relatable to nearly everyone. But beyond this, you really didn’t get a good feel for Dacus’ internal world or emotional landscape only her musical world.

On “Home Video” Dacus gives a far more grounded account of her life without sacrificing the universal and biting songwriting choices that made her stand out. It’s set not in the abstract fantasy world of song, but in the very specific realm of an evangelical community in Virginia in the 2000s. Every song is set somewhere during high school or the first year or two of college, but the order is scrambled. It’s a mess of early memories, filtered through a sheen of warm, yet critical nostalgia. Dacus isn’t here to defend contemporary evangelical Christianity, but she is here to put herself in that context without shame. A queer woman of questionable faith who actually has some warm memories of her hometown and congregation. It feels a lot more honest than any number of leftist punk rebellions or Katy Perry-style party phases.

Putting aside the core concept, this album is just immaculate. Dacus flexes every musical and lyrical muscle she has, and I can remember some melodic or poetic detail from literally every song on here. Dacus is a master of her craft, and “Home Video,” will likely impress anyone with an appreciation for folk, indie rock, or music in general.

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Band/Artist Profile

Ic3peak’s Not So Subtle Rebellion

Russian musicians live with one eye over their shoulder. Music has provided one of the few remaining outlets for anti-government dissidence, but protest is a dangerous career, as three members of Pussy Riot found out in January. However, while many dissident bands prefer to keep a low profile, or remain entirely anonymous, the same cannot be said of Ic3peak.

Ic3peak are an experimental electronica duo consisting of Anastasia Kreslina and Nikolay Kostylev. They did not ostensibly begin with the intention of involving themselves in Russian politics. Until 2017, they sang entirely in English and toured Europe and Latin America, keeping a fairly low profile in their homeland. Their early music reflects the overall gothic and depressive state of Russian popular music and youth culture, an aesthetic sense Kreslina ascribes to economic decay, an unresponsive government and little hope for change. This attitude should be well known to anyone familiar with the myriad Russian Doomer post-punk playlists that overtook YouTube a few years back, but the rest of Ic3peak’s image might be a little more surprising.

Unlike their post-punk contemporaries, Ic3peak’s sound is brash and aggressive, formed on industrial hip-hop beats adapted from Witch House. This association with Russian hip-hop is, according to the speculation of NPR, likely what first landed them in trouble with the government, as hip-hop is seen as especially subversive and degenerate in the eyes of the President. However, it would not be Ic3peak’s music that would catapult them to fame, but their response to government pressure, particularly in the form of their absolutely insane music videos.

Music videos are a little bit of a lost art form, but Ic3peak wields them more effectively than perhaps any other indie band working today. The muted but cohesive color palates, violently macabre imagery and darkly comic political satire combine into videos that feel deeply pointed despite never making a precise political stand. Their visual art complements the dark, yet not explicitly abrasive music, using images that are too over the top and ironic to be scary, while retaining a sense of grounded seriousness.

This is the kind of video that can get you killed, but Ic3peak’s overwhelming popularity has likely helped insulate them. As Kreslina said in the video for “Death No More,” “I fill my eyes with kerosene, let it burn, the whole of Russia is watching me, let it burn” [translation from their closed captioning]. As their profile and music video budget rises, the whole of the world has started to watch as well.

The authorities have been unable to definitively silence Ic3peak, but that hasn’t stopped them from making their lives as difficult as possible. They have been caught in a wave of cancellations by local security forces, with live shows either outright banned or prevented by temporary detention. Government backlash has grown to such an extent that from the talk page of their Wikipedia article, the government appears to be paying third parties to edit in more flattering appraisals of the government reaction. This, in addition to being extremely petty, shows just how serious the threat this duo of 20-somethings poses is.

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Music Education

Lilith Fair Retrospective

So, 90s nostalgia is officially back in swing. Pop radio is playing non-stop 90s throwback sets, rock is getting grungier by the day, and, call it a premonition, but I smell a new boy band on the horizon. So, to celebrate the long-overdue death of synthpop revival, let’s take a look at one of the more low-key trends of the Clinton era: Lilith Fair.

Lilith Fair was a series of annual concerts from 1997 featuring entirely female solo artists and female-led bands. Founded by singer-songwriter Sarah McLaughlin (more on her later), the concerts were ostensibly open to woman from all genres and backgrounds, but the phrase “Lilith Fair” has come to be used as a neutral to negative descriptor for female acoustic alt-rock and folk. Artists like Fiona Apple, Jewel, the Indigo Girls, Lisa Loeb, Paula Cole, and several others had top 40 hits with styles that could conceivably be called Lilith Fair. However, the artists biggest stars, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, and Alanis Morrissette steered clear of any association with the phrase. How did such an influential series with such big names attached come by such a stigma?

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Music Education

Industrial 101

I’ve had a long term suspicion that many people are interested in noise and industrial music but intimidated by where to start. “Heavy” music has a kind of adolescent fascination to it, with everyone racing to find the most brutal and unforgiving music so they can say they like it. I’m not above this, adrenaline seeking is an excellent pastime, but I expect many people get turned off from these styles by the machismo of that culture, which is a shame because there’s some nuanced and even beautiful music underneath.

However, there isn’t a lot of easily accessible information on how to get into industrial and noise music. The best I could find when I went through my noise phase was this Pitchfork article. While it does a good job of highlighting industrial’s roots in the queer community and addressing some of the style’s faults, it does little to give you an entry point, as it puts some of the heaviest albums available next to party music, with little guidance as to where to start. There is another guide published a few months ago, but I think it’s a little rigid in its definition of noise and lacks diversity, so I’m making my own.

I’m going to give you a number of different paths into industrial music that suit a wide variety of tastes. Look for the one that meets your listening habits best and give these albums a try. Start with the first bullet point and work your way down each list, as they’re sorted by accessibility.