Categories
Classic Album Review

Retro Review: Freedom Flight by Shuggie Otis

ALBUM: “Freedom Flight” by Shuggie Otis

RELEASE YEAR: 1971

LABEL: BMG Music Entertainment

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “Sweet Thang,” “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Purple”

FCC: Clean

Even though Shuggie Otis isn’t a name you probably know off the top of your head, his famous song “Strawberry Letter 23” sure is. After being covered by the Brothers Johnson in 1977, the song’s popularity skyrocketed. However, despite its success, many forget who the original artist was.

From an early age, Shuggie Otis showed incredible talent. His father, Johnny Otis, would let him perform with him at clubs when he was just a teenager. He released his first album, “Here Comes Shuggie Otis” at only 16 years old. His second album, “Freedom Flight,” which contains the original “Strawberry Letter 23,” came out only a year later.

I can’t even imagine being 17 years old and producing such a sophisticated album. If Jimi Hendrix and Prince had a lovechild, it would be Shuggie Otis. Not only did Otis have unreal chops on the guitar, but his songwriting, singing, and production skills were incredible too. “Freedom Flight” is a dream-infused journey through OG rhythm and blues.

Even though Shuggie’s claim to fame is “Strawberry Letter 23,” the rest of “Freedom Flight” is just as rich, if not more so. It starts off with the funk ballad “Ice Cold Daydream,” an upbeat, layered track with a hint of Otis’s young yet confident vocals. Where things really start to pick up is with the sultry song “Sweet Thang.” The way he layers the bluesy guitar with the piano is exquisite, creating a slow yet funky atmosphere. He twangs a similar mood in “Purple,” a fantastic instrumental. “Me and My Woman” and “One Room Country Shack” really drive home the liveliness of the blues. The second to last song, “Freedom Flight” is a jazzy, psychedelic epic that’s sure to send you into astral projection.

Though Shuggie Otis is far from being forgotten as one of the pioneers of classic R&B, he definitely deserves more recognition. “Freedom Flight” is an amazing album with unreal range.

Categories
Classic Album Review

Retro Review: Master of Reality

ALBUM: “Master of Reality” by Black Sabbath

RELEASE YEAR: 1971

LABEL: Vertigo Records

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “Sweet Leaf,” “Solitude” and “Into The Void”

FCC: Clean

The year is 1971. The “flower child” era is coming to a close, the Vietnam War is raging on and the people’s distrust in their governments grows stronger by the day. The music that arose at the beginning of the 1970s was no doubt fueled by this cultural shift. Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin had already begun to pave the way for a new, heavier version of rock, and Black Sabbath took it to the next level.

Today, “Master of Reality” is heralded as one of the earliest, and most prolific, metal albums to ever have been released. Sabbath’s first two albums could be considered the true beginning of heavy metal, but “Master of Reality” was an obvious turning point for the band in terms of sophistication. Unlike their earlier releases, it was recorded over the span of a luxuriously long three months. This gave them time for experimentation and re-recording.

The range on this album is impeccable. Part of what made Black Sabbath’s sound so unique was guitarist Tony Iommi’s finger injury, which he got while working at a sheet metal factory. To make playing less painful, he created fake fingertips that made a rich, heavy sound on his instrument. In “Master of Reality,” he also down-tuned his guitar to make it easier on his injured fingers. The result was otherwordly. Filled with the sludgiest sounds you can imagine, the album proved to be a staple of stoner metal with its leaden riffs.

But Iommi wasn’t the only standout. Singer and frontman Ozzy Osbourne truly came into his voice in “Master of Reality.” Ranging from high-pitched screeches in the classic “Sweet Leaf” to a soft, melancholy croon in “Solitude,” he really pulls out all the stops.

“Into the Void” is a six-minute epic with so many rhythm changes it’s impossible to sit still while listening. Iommi’s guitar solo in the last minute of the song is absolutely insane. “Children of the Grave,” another classic, is a powerful ode to the needless tragedies of the Vietnam War.

“Masters of Reality” stays true to its name. Sabbath’s goal was not to keep the carefree and idealistic visions of the 1960’s alive, but instead reflect the harshness of a new era with power and force.

Categories
Miscellaneous

DJ Butter’s Ideal Festival Lineup

Even though it doesn’t look like concerts will be back anytime soon, a girl can dream, right? I’ve actually never been a real participant at a music festival before (both of the ones I went to were when I was super young), but I really look forward to the day when I can be in a super sweaty mosh pit for days instead of just a couple of hours. Until then, simply to amuse myself, here’s my dream music festival lineup:

Headliners

1. The Black Keys
I am a firm believer that the Black Keys are the best rock band to grace this generation. I’ve heard that they’re fantastic to see live, which is no surprise considering how powerful and hard-hitting their music is.

2. Tyler, The Creator
I actually have seen Tyler live and it was the best concert I’ve ever been to. His stage presence is absolutely insane. Even though his studio music is heavily produced, he manages to create a really organic and cinematic feeling in his live performances.

3. Khruangbin
Crossing my fingers that the world will be in a better place by Khruangbin’s show at Red Hat in October. I cannot imagine a better group to vibe to while sitting out on the lawn.

Secondary Acts:

1. Solange
This woman owns my heart and soul. Apart from her live shows being musically fantastic, the videos I’ve seen show a high level of on-stage art direction. She’s a must-see!


2. Mac DeMarco
One of my favorite videos that exists on the internet is of Mac DeMarco climbing to the top of a 20ft balcony and jumping into the crowd during one of his shows. His live performances are apparently full of surprises and weirdness, despite his music being so laid-back. I’ve also heard he does awesome covers, including ones from bands like Steely Dan and Metallica.


3. Thundercat
Seeing NPR’s Tiny Desk show with Thundercat was enough to convince me that I needed to see him live. I would lose my mind hearing “Dragonball Durag” in person.


4. Allah-Las
Allah-Las has to be my favorite modern surf rock band. They seem to combine so many genres of music together so perfectly. Their guitarist is an absolute beast with the surf-guitar style and I would love to see it in the flesh.


5. La Luz
The ladies of La Luz are the certified queens of spooky, creepy, crawly surf. I’m obsessed with all of their discography, especially their most recent album “Floating Features.” Seeing “California Finally” live is a personal goal of mine that I hope to accomplish sometime soon.


6. Babe Rainbow
Babe Rainbow will always stand out in my mind as being one of the most relaxing bands to bless us with their music. Even though I’m a bigger fan of their earlier work, I think going to one of their shows would be a fantastic experience.


7. Mystic Braves
It would be a sin for me not to include them in this lineup. No, I’ll never be able to see The Sonics or The Rolling Stones (in their prime) live, but the Mystic Braves come pretty close. Their take on psychedelia and surf rock is reminiscent of early ’60s bands yet with a darker, modern spin.

Categories
Band/Artist Profile

Artist Highlight: Shinki Chen

Something I love about the counterculture movement is how far its influence could be felt around the world. Though it’s easy to have a very Eurocentric view when looking back at 1960s and ’70s rock, artists were experimenting with the blues, psychedelia and hard rock in every corner of the globe. Some of the most notable movements include Zamrock from Zambia (which you can read more about in DJ Chippypants’ recent blog) and Tropicália in Brazil. Japan also had an incredible psychedelic rock scene, featuring bands like The Mops and Flower Travelin’ Band. But one of the most iconic cult bands to emerge from the Japanese acid rock stages were Speed, Glue & Shinki.

Led by Shinki Chen on guitar, the trio only released two albums before they went their separate ways in 1972. Before their breakup, Shinki put out a fantastic self-titled solo album. Only being 21 at the time, his guitar skills gained him comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, and with good reason. “Shinki Chen” (also known as “Shinki Chen & His Friends”) is a revolutionary album. Though only seven songs long, each one is rich with fuzzy riffs and heavy basslines. Shinki’s powerful, raspy vocals flow across the entire record like smooth butter. After starting off with glittering, ambient strangeness in “The Dark Sea Dream,” Shinki quickly shifts between Sabbath-like force and sludgy blues throughout the album. It’s a great balance between the dreamy feeling of psychedelia and the intensity of old-school metal.

Oh, how I wish it were longer! The only downside to Shinki Chen’s solo work is that it was so short-lived, but I guess that’s part of what makes him such a special artist. Give him a listen!

– DJ Butter

Categories
Miscellaneous

Music Video Spotlight: Flunkie’s “Collapse // Rebuild”

Hailing from Copenhagen, Anna Degnbol is an illustrator whose work has appeared in projects both large and small. To be honest, I’d never heard of flunkie until I saw Degnbol’s animated music video for her song “Collapse // Rebuild.” Nonetheless, I was in complete awe as I sat through the short video, mesmerized by both the track and the animation. I’ve truly never seen anything like it.

Dengbol’s illustrations are colorful and surreal, focusing on themes of nature, dreams and identity. Though she mainly works with colored pencils, her work can be found in a variety of mediums. I’ve been following her on Instagram for a while now, but I only stumbled across the “Collapse Rebuild” video recently.

In an interview with creative blog “It’s Nice That,” Degnbol points out that her “lack of knowledge about animation [contributed] to some cool things.” She was given complete creative freedom by flunkie for the video, leading her to use her hand-drawn style to her advantage. The animation is done frame-by-frame, giving it a rudimentary yet organic impression. Even though there’s not much animation technically happening, watching the video makes you feel like everything is humming.

What’s so interesting to me about this video is how beautifully simple it is. It’s a short narrative, following a dreamlike sequence of different objects falling apart and reforming. Plants wilt and grow, candles melt and reshape. It all seems to be happening inside a girl’s dream, where she also meets a sun-like figure. It’s clear that her background in comic art shows through how the video is directed. She reflects the feeling of the song perfectly by balancing detailed closeups and airy landscapes.

It’s honestly so relaxing to watch and ridiculously beautiful. Degnbol’s animations really highlight how calm and lush “Collapse // Rebuild” is. Give it a watch!

– DJ Butter

Categories
New Album Review

New Album Review: The Battle at Garden’s Gate

ALBUM: “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” by Greta Van Fleet

RELEASE YEAR: 2021

LABEL: Republic Records

RATING: 7/10

BEST TRACKS: “Built By Nations”, “Age of Machine” and “The Weight of Dreams”

FCC: Clean

Bringing true rock ‘n roll into the 21st century can be tricky. Should we keep the sacredness of what was, mimicking the classic bands and their godliness? Or should we infuse it with modern styles and technology? Toeing the line between reinventing the wheel and being a nostalgia act is something Greta Van Fleet has dealt with since the release of their first album in 2017. Critics and fans alike endlessly compare them to Led Zeppelin, but “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” is an obvious attempt from the young band to create their own identity in the world of modern rock.

Part of the reason behind their meteoric rise to fame (and honestly the reason why I first started listening to them) is how well they’re able to echo the greatness of classic rock. On stage, they don’t lipsynch or use background tracks. Most of their first two albums were produced organically. It’s the powerful simplicity of their sound that has made Greta Van Fleet so refreshing for both new and old audiences.

“The Battle at Garden’s Gate” is a significant shift for the band. It’s cinematic and heavily produced, lacking both the grittiness of “From the Fires” and the twinge of blues in “Anthem of the Peaceful Army.” The running theme throughout the album is one of unity, peace and light. I love the sentiment, and I appreciate that they’re trying to go in a new direction, but it feels almost overdone. There’s a definite pop undertone in several of the songs which take away from the richness of the entire album.

Something else I noticed is how absent their guitarist seemed throughout the album. If you’ve ever seen their live performances, Jake Kiska is an absolute madman on the ax. He’s not afraid to spend some time on his screeching solos. Their first two albums were soaked in heavy riffs, which made their two hit songs “Safari Song” and “Highway Tune,” so fantastic. However, in “The Battle at Garden’s Gate,” his guitar work seemed like background noise at best. The few songs where he does have time to shine, such as in “Built By Nations” and “The Weight of Dreams,” are easily the best of the entire album. My question for them is why they opted for more of the lead singer’s wails instead of utilizing (in my opinion) their most powerful member.

Despite its flaws, “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” still has some beautiful tracks. “Age of Machine” is intense and atmospheric, while “Tears of Rain” whispers a heavenly acoustic ballad. Originally released as a single, “My Way Soon” is energetic and lively. However, if you’re a first-time listener, I’d head back to their earlier albums.

Categories
Playlists

DJ Butter’s Playlist of the Week Part 5

This week, I’ll be pressing rewind and going back to some of my older favorites! I recently used my DJ skills at a photo shoot and had to dive into my archives to find music that fit the “vibe” of the set. It was super fun! It’s actually crazy how much my music taste has changed over the past year, especially since my current show focuses mostly on retro tunes. I ended up rediscovering some of my favorite songs from freshman year, high school and even some from middle school. Here are some of my choice picks that I’ve been listening to this week:

1. OKAGA, CA – Tyler, the Creator (feat. Alice Smith, Leon Ware and Clem Creevy)

This has to be one of the best Tyler songs ever released. His talent as a producer really shines on this relaxing, serene track. It’s somehow romantic, haunting and tranquil at the same time.

2. ttktv – Injury Reserve

This song off of Injury Reserve’s first album, “Live from the Dentist Office,” is slow yet electric. I absolutely love the texture it has and the drum sounds that underline the track.

3. Infatuation – Takeoff

I’m not much of a Takeoff fan, but this song has an almost Pharell-like quality to it that you can’t help but fall in love with. It’s a tender track that’s lyrically pretty different from the rest of his solo work.

4. Tribe Quest – Sirius Blvck (feat. Oreo Jones & DMA)

The flow on this song is absolutely insane. Oreo Jones, DMA and Sirius Blvck really pull out all the stops. This was one of my favorite rap songs in high school and it still is!

5. Soap – Deem Spencer

This song was one of Deem Spencer’s first releases. If you’re into sad emo rap, you’ll love it. It’s a melancholy tune with lyrics somber enough to make you cry.

6. Grown Up – Danny Brown

I know it’s mainstream, but this is my favorite Danny Brown song. It really reminds me of old-school rap songs from the ’90s.

7. Didn’t Cha Know – Erykah Badu

Can’t leave out Miss Badu! Her music is always so relaxing and lovely. The use of the bongos in this song is AMAZING and her voice flows over it all like pure honey.

8. Where U From – HUNCHO JACK (Quavo & Travis Scott)

I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures (just like what you like! no shame!) but if I had to name mine, it would be this album. It’s SO underrated. “Where U From,” my favorite song off “Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho,” has an catchy, almost Asain-inspired beat to it.

– DJ Butter

Categories
Classic Album Review

Album Review: Psychotropic by Los Tones

ALBUM: “Psychotropic” by Los Tones

RELEASE YEAR: 2015

LABEL: Groovie Records

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “Psychotropic”, “Buchanan Hammer” and “Ordinary Man”

FCC: Clean

I am a firm believer that Los Tones are one of the most underrated psych-rock bands out there. Hailing from Syndey, Australia, the foursome specializes in fuzzy, heavy surf rock. If you’re a garage fan, you may have heard their hit song “Buchanan Hammer” off this very album. However, “Psychotropic” has so much more to offer than their most popular single. It’s stuffed to the brim with heavy, sludgy, spooky goodness. Think skeletons-surfing-at-Goo-Lagoon-type-beat.

“Psychotropic” is both fast-paced and rich, keeping you enraptured at all times. I know we like to think of The Growlers or Allah-Las as the modern kings of “beach goth,” but I’d argue that Los Tones could easily snatch that crown away. Though they very obviously draw inspiration from old-school garage bands like The Sonics and The Seeds, they add a modern spin with their high energy and intense ferocity. Many acid rock bands mimic that signature growling vocal style, but their lead singer adds a sneering provocativeness that is truly unmatched. It’s easy for that style to sound abrasive or even apathetic, but Los Tones master it perfectly.

The best part about “Psychotropic” by far is their guitar work. Their axeman is obviously a guru when it comes to the reverb pedal. Though each song is extremely lively in its own way, the way they switch speeds and intensities is relishable. Tracks like “One Horse Race” and “Waste of Space” especially show off this artistry, especially the latter. Right at 1:33, there’s an amazing solo transition that’s absolutely to die for. “Speed Boat” is a spine-chilling tune, reminiscent of The Cramps’ horror-core punk.

If you’re a fan of any type of garage, surf, or early punk, you’ve just got to give “Psychotropic” a listen. You won’t regret it!

– DJ Butter

Categories
Music Education

What Your Music Taste Says About You

For some of us (*cough* WKNC DJs), music is heavily intertwined with our identities. But how did we develop our taste in music? Where did it come from, and what does it mean? Of course, there’s no perfect way to measure personality, but we’ve come pretty close to pinning down what exactly our unique music tastes say about us as individuals.

In 2003, researchers Peter Rentfrow and Samuel Gosling were curious as to how our personalities correlate with our music taste. After conducting a test with over 3,500 people, they were able to identify four major personality categories based on music preferences: reflective and complex, intense and rebellious, upbeat and conventional, and energetic and rhythmic. Since this study, other researchers have refined these categories even further:

1. Refined Observer

Favorite Genres: jazz, blues, folk, classical

Personality Traits: Refined Observers are introspective, analytical and creative. They appreciate music for its complexity, structure and “genius factor.” They also prefer abstract, emotionally rich topics.

2. Heated Defiant

Favorite Genres: heavy rock, metal, grunge, punk

Personality Traits: As you could probably deduce from their title, Heated Defiants tend to be rebellious and explosive, though they may not show those traits outwardly. They also value the spontaneity of new experiences and unconventionality.

3. Easy-Going Conventional

Favorite Genres: pop, country, religious music

Personality Traits: This is for all those G105 listeners out there (no shade). Easy-Going Conventionals tend to be light, warm and optimistic. Rather than looking for the complexity in music, they prefer simplicity and catchy tunes.

4. Outgoing Mingler

Favorite Genres: hip-hop, rap, funk

Personality Traits: Energetic, sociable and friendly, Outgoing Minglers appreciate music with a strong rhythmic and lyrical feel. They’re natural extroverts, enjoying the company of others in all types of gatherings.

5. Serene Enjoyer

Favorite Genres: world music, electronica, soft indie

Personality Traits: Last but not least, the Serene Enjoyer loves music that is unconventional yet chill. They tend to be laid back and unafraid to venture into unknown musical territory. Though they’re very creative, they prefer music that airs on the lighter side of things.

Of course, this is not an extensive measure of personality by any means. Many of us like tons of different genres! Either way, it’s fun to see how your taste might correlate to certain personality traits. What’s your personality type? Do you have more than one? Let us know!

– DJ Butter

Source for the information in this blog.

Categories
Miscellaneous

Behind the Cover: Led Zeppelin IV

Welcome back to the “Behind the Cover” series! This week, I’ll be diving into the story behind one of the most iconic album covers in the history of classic rock: “Led Zeppelin IV.” I first heard about the cover’s origin in rock journalist Brad Tolinski’s book, “Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page.” Filled with interviews and stories about the guitarist’s life, one of the points Toliksni touches on in the sixth chapter is the making of “Led Zeppelin IV.”

The Backstory

By 1971, Led Zeppelin was quickly reaching international success. Fans around the world worshipped them and their hard-hitting, experimental rock, but critics weren’t as adoring. They chalked the band’s fame up to “hype, not talent.” Their first three albums, especially “II” and “III”, had the band’s faces plastered all over the record sleeves, leading harsh music journalists to believe that Led Zeppelin was nothing more than a fad.

The band and Atlantic Records had a steady, gracious relationship up until “IV’s” release. They gave the foursome full creative control over every aspect of their music, including the album covers. The band took a “retreat” to Headley Grange, a two-hundred-year-old mansion in the English countryside, to record the majority of their upcoming album. Free from distractions at the remote, crumbling house, the band used the natural acoustics at Headley to experiment with new sounds in their creative seclusion. It was rumored that their fourth album would be otherworldly.

Needless to say, Atlantic Records was devastated when they found out the album would have no name, no cover title, and no artist credits. It is now known as “Led Zeppelin IV,” but it was originally meant to have no title at all. The record label tried to convince the band that they were “committing professional suicide,” but their choice was final. They wanted to show the world that Led Zeppelin was more than a trend.

The Cover Art

The final cover design shows an antique painting of an old man with a bundle of sticks on his back, hanging on a peeling wall. This painting was found by lead singer Robert Plant in an antique shop. It spoke to the band because of its reference to the “destruction of the old,” which they contrasted with the photographs of skyscrapers on the back cover. The entirety of “IV” and its cover is very much an ode to balancing traditionality with the new.

The inside is just as fascinating and mysterious as the outside. Depicting the Hermit, an ancient figure used in Tarot, it is meant to represent “a seeker aspiring to the light of truth.” The record sleeve has a gorgeous Arts and Crafts style typography, spelling out the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven.” (Jimmy Page, the producer and guitarist, actually found a clipping of the typeface in a vintage magazine and hired a designer to remake the entire alphabet.)

Led Zeppelin IV inside cover (taken by me)
Led Zeppelin IV record sleeve (taken by me)
Led Zeppelin IV front and back album art (taken by me)

This is truly one of my favorite album cover stories. I think it’s so interesting how the band used it as both a representation of the music and as a reaction to their critics. They wanted to let the music speak for itself, and by god it did.

– DJ Butter