WKNC 88.1 FM - North Carolina State University Student Radio
Hi y'all, I'm Cashew and I'm a freshman majoring in Biology. I listen to a good bit of electro-pop, hip-hop and psych rock, but of course, I like to mix in other genres as well. I mostly write album and artist reviews, though I hop into discourse every so often.
I’ve said this before, but I could not imagine a world in which I didn’t have music to get me through things. Of interest here is how it can be used to actually be productive during the day and through long nights. I mean, I’m listening to some newly released singles while writing this.
Not all music is created equal in this regard, but there’s so many more possibilities for what study music can be than lo-fi beats streams or long jazz albums. Really, any music can help you grind through an essay or chem homework. There’s a couple rules of thumb to keep in mind, though.
Rules of Thumb
1. No intelligible lyrics
Whatever music you study with, make sure it doesn’t have lyrics you can understand. Instrumentals obviously fill this role, but any music sung in a language you don’t know, or whose vocals are too drowned out by other noise to make out are both great here.
2. Match pace of music with pace of work
Depending on the type of work you want to get done, you’ll find some music matches the intensity and tempo that you need to hone in. Completing a project last minute may call for some metal while an essay that needs steady progress may benefit more from techno.
3. Enjoy the music too
You’re not very likely to be getting much done while sitting through a “chill vibes” playlist that isn’t fitting your vibe. Making your own playlist can keep you from having to hit skip constantly to find “the right song”.
Yves Tumor is back with his fifth studio album, “Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)”. This extensively titled album actually has a somewhat short playtime, though not anything particularly shorter than their previous albums.
“Hot Between Worlds” keeps up Tumor’s heavy-hitting basslines and echo-y, melancholic vocals from their past works on songs like “Meteora Blues”. Unfortunately, so many tracks on here have such similar melodies that songs become difficult to distinguish from each other with a few exceptions.
First off, I don’t wish to imply that the songs that sound similar are bad by any means. For most of these tracks, if they come on a playlist on shuffle, I’ll gladly listen to them. There’s a lot of good introspection by Tumor on how his religious views and upbringing intersect with his queer identity. Some of the singles, like “Parody” and “Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood”, especially embody this type of discussion as well as Tumor’s percussion-heavy signature sound. They’re quite good in their own right, though I’m unlikely to seek them out independent of the greater album.
As for those exceptions mentioned earlier, “Operator” and “God Is a Circle” are definitely the highlights of “Hot Between Worlds”. While the former has the most inventive lyrics of the album, the latter has such a fresh, driving beat exemplifying Tumor’s exhaustion with feeling betrayed over and over again. The way “God Is a Circle” ends with such a climactic buildup is just perfect too.
“Operator” features Tumor’s most direct call to God yet, asking why God feels so distant. Their cries of “Hello” again and again only exacerbate that uncertainty over their relationship with God. Tumor’s trying to grapple with why there’s so much strain and hesitation which is amplified by the pervasive bass.
To be quite honest, no song on “Hot Between Worlds” is actively bad. Like I said earlier, there’s just not much differentiating many of these tracks from each other. Other than that, though, there isn’t much in the way of strong messages in Tumor’s lyrics on many tracks. They cover a lot of the same ground repetitively throughout the album, even in just 37 minutes.
Part of that issue may come from the minimal vocals on each song, leaving little room for expansive storytelling or metaphors. Songs don’t feel underdeveloped or rushed, they just feel like they need more space to work, which is something that seems to plague Tumor’s albums like “Heaven To A Tortured Mind”.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what brings people to the status of being “queer icons”. Many of these people aren’t queer themselves, yet they are subject of adoration by many queer fans. And, there’s so many people who are queer themselves and quite popular who never seem to receive this distinction. My knowledge in this matter is primarily focused on musicians, so I’ll keep this discussion limited to that realm.
Allies and Icons
Kate Bush is a good example of someone who isn’t queer herself, but her music resonates with those fans. “Running Up That Hill” has been interpreted by many as a trans allegory, where God swaps the places of the narrator with her male lover. “Kashka from Baghdad” laments the situation of a gay man who “lives in sin” in a relationship with another man.
As far as icons who are queer themselves go, Lady Gaga has certainly made her mark. She not only has music directly supporting queer people, but has contributed much to queer activism. Both artists pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to discuss in mainstream pop culture for their time. Keep in mind, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga was released four years before even the Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized gay marriage.
A Would-Be Icon
So why does someone like Kurt Cobain, who similarly supported queer people during his time with Nirvana, not have the same level of recognition as a queer icon as others? Cobain’s one interview during the release and promotion of Nirvana’s Insecticide was with The Advocate magazine which promoted “Gay and Lesbian” issues. He called himself “gay in spirit” and “probably could be bisexual”. He performed with Nirvana at a benefit concert in Oregon to oppose an anti-gay ballot measure being proposed in the state.
If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us — leave us the f— alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records
Liner notes for Nirvana’s “Incesticide”
Although Cobain was certainly popular enough to be known by queer fans, he’s largely left out of these kinds of conversations. I believe this may be due to the nature of Nirvana’s music. Most queer icons in music, at least in the 20th century, are women or they are men who write poppier songs and ballads. This trend is largely reflective of the perception of gay men and lesbians by themselves and wider society at the time. Gay men were stereotypically effeminate and lesbians were stereotypically butch (and any other queer people were ignored).
Even though Cobain often acted in line with these stereotypes, both in his private life and on-stage, his music was much more aggressive than the music of most other queer icons of the time. As such, there may have been a reluctance among the queer community in the 90s to adopt Cobain’s music as theirs because it broke from those stereotypes.
While popularity and queer subject matter may be important in making someone a queer icon, those don’t seem to be the only criteria, at least for older musicians. Actually this trend still exists to some extent today too. Rarely, if ever, are aggressive rock or hip-hop artists (many of whom are queer) seen as icons, even if they discuss the matter in their music.
Ian Bavitz (also known as Aesop Rock) was born on Long Island, New York in 1976. When he later started creating rap projects with his long-time friend and producer Blockhead, his style was heavily influenced by the 90s New York rappers he grew up listening to.
How is Aesop Rock?
His quick, verbose rapping over slow, bass-heavy beats helps emphasize the role of his vocals over all else. Of course, that same emphasis on having such a large vocabulary can often make his verses near unintelligible unless listeners put their full focus into his songs. While there certainly is a place for music that requires your full attention in order to understand what’s going on, there are often times where his rhymes are just a bit too incomprehensible to tell what’s going on anyway.
What has Aesop Rock done?
Over the course of his 20+ year career, Aesop has released nine studio albums, six EPs, and many more collaborative songs with other artists. Of course, over that kind of a career, an artist is bound to evolve. While his rapping style hasn’t changed much since his debut “Music for Earthworms”, the production surrounding him has shifted so much that the effect of his onslaught of words has taken on a completely different tone by the time of his 2020 album “Spirit World Field Guide”.
As his beats became more synthetic over time, Aesop ironically seems to just get more authentic and personal. That’s not to say his early work featured impersonal content, just that most of his lyrics focused on his day-to-day complaints with work that are often prevalent in conversations with friends. There isn’t much he raps about early on that isn’t already covered by other rappers, in other words. A lot of the complaints critics often place against Aesop’s seemingly pretentious nature comes from these albums, I believe.
Anyway, here’s Aesop’s most popular song that acts as a great introduction to his work: “None Shall Pass”
JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown’s collab album, “SCARING THE HOES”, has finally arrived. This album is the first of supposedly three albums that each are releasing this year, and it does not disappoint.
Isn’t this supposed to be fun?
Both artists are on point in their verses and JPEGMAFIA’s production is filled to the brim with inventive samples. Their disregard for mainstream success and popularity drives much of their motivation for this album. That motivation is made explicitly apparent on the eponymous track “SCARING THE HOES”.
Stop scarin’ the hoes Play that s— have them touch they toes “We don’t wanna hear that weird s— no more” (Uh) “What the f— is that? Give me back my aux cord” (Yeah)
Lyrics from “SCARING THE HOES” by JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown
The name comes from a tweet by JPEGMAFIA where he insults people who use this excuse to keep others from listening to weirder music. The song samples a piece of shrieking avant-garde jazz that may turn off a lot of mainstream listeners already. Peggy does work to turn the sample into a workable beat, though, making it more appetizing to a wider audience.
Through the rest of the album, the two artists just seem to be having fun with this collaboration. There’s so much bright percussion and synths on tracks like “Garbage Pale Kids” and “Where Ya Get Ya Coke From?” They’re not afraid to make music that sounds silly and lighthearted, even if the content is definitely not kid-friendly. It creates space for listeners to relax and unwind without feeling ashamed.
Though, there does seem to be something off with Brown’s energy on this project. He seems to have mellowed out some from his former projects, which is not what I would expect working with someone as eccentric as JPEGMAFIA.
Additionally, Peggy’s production can sound quite shallow in places when there’s no bass supporting it. While this works for Peggy’s deeper voice, Brown’s nasally vocals on top of some of these beats can feel lacking on tracks like “Steppa Pig”. However, the fast vibrant style of songs like “Fentanyl Tester” seems to accomplish the work of bringing each of their styles together well.
It’s possible that we’ll be getting more extensive collaboration in the future from these two considering their invocation of duo Run the Jewels as a song title. If so, I cannot wait for it considering how well this album ultimately comes together. While some tracks lack the energy that might be needed to maximize the impact of both rappers, the finished project is fun, off-the-wall, and has the potential to expand both of their audiences significantly. Or, they’ll sit by satisfied with scaring the hoes.
Have you been looking for some angsty electronic noise pop to pass your days? Black Dresses have got you covered. Their 2018 album “WASTEISOLATION” takes listeners on a sexually-charged trip through the duo’s past abuses. Along the way, they create an unnerving soundscape that bashes in listeners’ heads in the best way. The result is a fantastic listening experience to release the frustration of a rough day at work or a nasty breakup.
I’ve been listening back to Will Toledo’s original release of “Twin Fantasy” from 2011 as of late. I wanted to try to figure out why I keep coming back to this amateurish, messy project as opposed to its more polished re-release.
Where 2018’s “Twin Fantasy” (subtitled “Face to Face” for distinction) flows between its softer and more aggressive moments cleanly, there is often very little distinction between these tones on “Mirror to Mirror”. Toledo’s guitar work here is often frantic and uncertain. His backup guitar on tracks like “Beach Life-In-Death” plays like static noise for most of the song. His drumming is almost imperceptible under that static, and his voice often sinks into all the other instrumentation.
A Case Study
And yet, the older recording of “Beach Life-In-Death” is often the one I come back to. As a song that largely grapples with Toledo’s experiences as a young gay man (while homophobic rhetoric was still commonplace in the U.S.), that blurring of sounds seems to capture his anxieties on the matter better than the newer recording. In the last portion of the song, for instance, fragmented vocal clips attack listeners from all sides like they’re being yelled at. Even though the language becomes indecipherable, the stress from being attacked like that again and again accumulates through the song’s cutoff.
That portion of the song is replaced in the “Face to Face” version with a shorter, less human-sounding stutter. The replacement seems to reflect that Toledo has lost some of those fears from 2011. He’s dampened those voices attacking him as he’s matured.
When I listen to 2011’s “Beach Life-In-Death”, I can feel myself in the same position as Toledo was. As someone facing the onslaught of transphobic rhetoric throughout the U.S. now, I feel a stronger connection to his younger self dealing with people who despise him for a harmless part of his identity. Despite the song remaining mostly the same over 7 years, the message relayed to audiences changes with small tweaks in production.
Even though songs on “Mirror to Mirror” sound more shallow and low-quality, that essence also creates a better impression of what it’s like to be young, queer, and full of both anxieties and hope. The album feels like it was created purely out of self-expression and a need to put his voice out into the world.
“Face to Face”, meanwhile, reflects Toledo’s growth over the ears. He’s reinterpreting what his music used to be into something more confident. He’s no longer singing until his voice cracks, resulting in a lesser sense of urgency to get this music out into the world.
Just because you don’t have access to a studio or the best equipment in the world doesn’t mean you can’t make good music. That lower quality, though, will impact how your music is received. It might be childish, or it could have a youthful innocence and hope. It might sound cheap, or it could sound honest and unscathed by the need to profit off of your music.
On February 7, 2023, I made a commitment to myself and a small group of friends. For the rest of February, the only music I would listen to would be within the “drain gang”. For anyone who doesn’t know, drain gang includes a plethora of artists including Bladee, Ecco2k, Thaiboy Digital, and Yung Lean. The genre is a blend of hyperpop and trap, which many seem to enjoy.
I had never listened to any of these artists prior to that day. Naively, I assumed that this challenge, called “Drainuary” would be a good introduction to the genre. However, drain gang would soon take its toll on my mental health.
The Demise, Part 1
For context, I listen to approximately 6 hours of music every day. It gets me through both the good times and the bad. Music hypes me up for the gym and puts me to sleep. The issue with listening to this much music arises when I can no longer listen to a diverse music palette. Over the first 24 hours of Drainuary, I listened to about six hours of Bladee alone.
This statistic alone broke me. Exactly at that 24 hour mark, I decided to abandon the challenge, knowing that my mental state would only further deteriorate from there. I wasn’t enjoying the music that much, and I only listened to drain gang out of spite. But, this journey was not yet finished.
Hope, Part 2
One friend of mine suggested that I should instead listen to an artist that I actually enjoyed. After searching through my playlists for artists starting with an F (for February), I finally landed on Fiona Apple. Now, I would listen to no music except for that in which Fiona Apple played a part in creating. Although I hadn’t listened to all of her catalogue, I adored her latest album “Fetch The Bolt Cutters”.
Compared to Drainuary, “Fiona February” was a breath of fresh air. Her music spanned a far greater range of emotions than someone like Bladee, and I could assign an identity to each of her albums. As a result, cycling through her music felt far more natural, allowing me to keep with Fiona February for longer into the month.
The Demise, Part 2
Longer is a bit misleading of a term though. After five days of listening to nothing except Fiona Apple, I started having a mental breakdown and needed to use other artists to ground myself again. Granted, I was also dealing with other issues at the time, but Fiona February certainly didn’t help.
What I Learned
Despite what I had expected, intentionally limiting my listening to just one type of music is extremely difficult. I was unable to complete many tasks I can normally do just fine, because I felt like I didn’t have the “right” music playing. Additionally, I found out just how heavily I tend to lean into music as a coping mechanism for whatever I’m dealing with at a given time.
As a result, I felt like I couldn’t process things that arose in my life well, if at all. I don’t know if there’s really a moral or anything of the sort to gleam from this situation. All I know is that I can never actively limit my music listening to one or a couple of artists.
2023 has been off to a decently solid start through its first couple of months. As for more popular artists, some have seen a massiv surge in popularity, like Ice Spice. Lil Yachty put his heavily autotuned singing to use on a psych rock album. There’s still so many artists who may not be as popular, but their releases have been just as–if not more–intriguing to listen to.
Lumi – Snail’s House
If you’re looking for some new study music, Snail’s House has you covered. “Lumi” dives into a more soft-spoken future bass sound filled with magic and wonder. The only goal this album pursues is to uplift listeners, and it does so wonderfully. There is such a variety of instruments and melodies even if there isn’t much exploration out of Snail House’s typical genre influences. Whether you’ve hit a snag writing an essay (as I have recently) or are taking a short break from your work, “Lumi” is bound to bring your spirits back up and get back into the swing of things.
After the Magic – Parannoul
“After the Magic” might not be the most invigorating album you’ve ever heard, but Parannoul has seemed to hone in their craft with this record. Each track takes listeners on a journey, enabled by the nearly six minute average song length. While this makes individual songs euphoric to listen to, going through the whole album at once can be draining. The Korean shoegaze band did have some masterful production on “After the Magic” though. Everything blends together nicely without becoming a slurry of drums, guitars, and vocals.
The WAEVE – The WAEVE
The WAEVE is an artist I’ve been following for a short while. I’ve enjoyed some of their previous discography, but this album seems to drag behind some of that work. Many of the tracks aren’t active enough to keep me engaged, and the lyrics aren’t exactly revolutionary either. There’s a couple of songs that innovate on their relatively quiet, light sound though. “Kill Me Again” has a solid groove and bass guitar with a lot of presence on the track. Overall, “The WAEVE” just does not have a dynamic enough style to keep me invested.
Bless This Mess – U.S. Girls
U.S. Girls have quickly become one of my favorite artists as of late. This new album, “Bless This Mess” takes a synth-pop approach to Meg Remy’s new experiences with motherhood. The singles for this album, such as “Futures Bet” and “So Typically Now”, are especially whimsical and fun. But, even the remaining tracks on the album diversify and solidify U.S. Girls’s lyrical and musical range. From dance pop to more somber tunes, “Bless This Mess” was a joy to listen to from front to back.
My first introduction to Danny Brown’s music was through his 2016 album “Atrocity Exhibition”. After subsequently visiting the rest of his discography, this album still holds its place as Brown’s most introspective and critical.
Over the 45 minute runtime, Brown delivers a haunting portrayal of a life intimately tied to drugs, including all of the pleasures and struggles that accompany them.
Admittedly, it takes some getting used to his voice on the majority of “Atrocity Exhibition” tracks. However, Brown’s whiny, nasally rapping helps reinforce the sense that he is most certainly not sober as he raps.
“Ain’t It Funny”
Brown’s primary goal with “Atrocity Exhibition is to keep people from getting sucked into heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and other drugs. At the same time though, he knows why people do get involved, and much of the rest of the album is dedicated to exploring those reasons.
Live a fast life, seen many die slowly
Unhappy when they left so I try to seize the moment
Lyrics from “Ain’t It Funny” by Danny Brown
“Ain’t It Funny” explores Brown’s own denial of the dangers of hiding away his problems with drugs. Part of the denial comes from a place of drugs being inescapable. Growing up poor, drug use seems “inherited in our blood”. He also falls victim to toxic masculinity, seeing drug use as a sort of ritual that all the men in his area undergo. Therefore, even though he “might need rehab”, he’s not going to for fear of seeming weak.
The title of the song itself, “Ain’t It Funny” reflects Brown’s feelings on exposing his most vulnerable self to an audience primarily looking for entertainment. Especially considering his previous work, many listeners have taken home a message of: “doing drugs is fun kids!”
Brown simultaneously knows that people get drunk and high at parties to his music, which he does make a living off of, yet these tendencies are extremely harmful to both himself and others. He needs to stop, but he can’t due to addiction to the chemicals, the thrill, and the success.
A Race to The Bottom
If there’s anything Brown especially excels at, it’s pacing. The album never feels like it stalls anywhere, even when songs slow down their bpm and feature less intense beats. “Downward Spiral” begins the album with a raucous, uncertain experience of not feeling grounded. Intensity of tracks fluctuates slightly through the ghostly “Lost”.
All hell breaks loose as “Ain’t It Funny” hits and the energy from that climax seeps through the following four tracks into “Dance In The Water”. This track forces you to keep up as best as you can as it speeds through its sporadic yet hypnotic verses and party-fueled chorus. You feel pulled into the need to “dance in the water / and not get wet” as if that task were actually possible.
And then, everything just stops with “From The Ground”. The beat on this track is far more minimalistic than anything else on the album, especially compared to the prior song. Brown also shifts to his speaking voice, which sounds more sober, matured, and heartbroken.
“When It Rain” immediately contradicts this sense with the now familiar whiny vocals you’ve come to expect from Brown. The beat, which is almost completely made from sampling of the experimental “Pot au feu”, imitates the feeling of Brown taking an absurd amount of drugs to escape the worries he discusses on “From The Ground”.
Personally, I feel the urge to continuously speed up while driving when listening to the track. The thrill is invigorating, but it’s progressively more dangerous to both myself and the people around me as I do it. Brown’s whole point is to keep from giving in to that urge.
Only way you hang is with a noose
Beef with us, it ain’t no truce
Lyrics from “When It Rain” by Danny Brown
There is a level of depth of analysis that can be applied to “Atrocity Exhibition” that I’ve only seen a few other albums be able to achieve. Brown subverts the whole gangster rap genre while also fitting in perfectly by referencing all of the “right things”: gun violence, sex, drug abuse, etc. The entirety of the album reeks of irony: even though the experimental, sample-heavy instrumentals seem to encourage escapism, only excaping the grip of these pleasures will keep you alive.
Best tracks: “Ain’t It Funny”, “Pneumonia”, “Dance In The Water”, “When It Rain”