Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “99.9%” by KAYTRANADA

Kaytranada’s debut album 99.9% propelled him from his Soundcloud days into a genre-defying album that I constantly find myself returning to.

The album hardly sticks to a pattern, with “TRACK UNO” doubling back and bending over and over. It sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the album, which out of all 15 tracks only has 4 without a feature. This isn’t to say these tracks are lacking- “LITE SPOTS” samples Gal Costa’s ‘Pontos De Luz’, a 70’s Brazilian pop-hit, in a way that is catchy and groovy with the vocals perfectly highlighting the beat underneath it.

The texture this provides is captivating, making it one of my favorite tracks of the album. Kaytranada is famous for his ability to flawlessly cut and mix samples that form the most inviting sounds I’ve ever heard.

Starting with an almost eerie sound to it, “GLOWED UP” featuring Anderson .Paak packs a hypnotizing rhythmic flow that really brings out what both Kay and .Paak are capable of together. The first time I heard this song I couldn’t stop listening to it. It’s one of those songs you forget exists and when you do come back to it, you remember how amazing it was when you first found it and it plays on constant rotation again. At least, that’s what I’ve been doing the last few weeks.

“BULLETS” featuring Little Dragon ends the album on a somewhat abrupt stop but not underwhelming. Little Dragon’s vocals flow perfectly throughout the track as they carry us through to the end. 

Not musically based but worthy of a shoutout as well is the cover art for 99.9%. Done by Ricardo Cavolo, his work perfectly captures the over-saturated, warm and vibrant feel of the entire album. The visuals Cavolo uses perfectly match how the album feels as a whole to me, giving it this psychedelic funky appearance parallel to the sounds of the album.

Side note- if you enjoy the album’s cover art, Cavolo’s book titled “101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die” is absolutely worth checking out. 

Written by Audrey Nelson 

Blog Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “The Natural Bridge” by Silver Jews

ALBUM: “The Natural Bridge” by Silver Jews

RELEASE YEAR: Oct. 1, 1996

LABEL: Drag City

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “Pet Politics”, “Inside the Golden Days of Missing You”,  “Pretty Eyes”

FCC: None

The Silver Jews’ album “The Natural Bridge” is easily one of the best lo-fi, country-rock albums ever created. That is not at all a biased statement. It is solely factual. Silver Jews was a band composed of David Berman (the lyricist and lead guitar), Stephen Malkmus (guitar and sometimes a lyric collaborator), and Bob Nastanovich (percussionist and keyboardist mainly). In “The Natural Bridge” Berman composed all of the tracks. His lyrics are full of metaphors, religious symbolism, and his monotone, gravel-ly, indie rock voice. 

This LP consists of 10 tracks and has a 35 minute and 42 second run time. Each song is distinct, but together the tracks are able to support each other to make a collective sound of loneliness, wandering, and beauty. 

The second song, “Pet Politics”, is easily my favorite of the record; it opens with soft acoustic strums and Berman’s calm voice. Then, it slowly dips itself into the heavy lyrics obsessing over death, new Bible creation stories, and pleas for safety. Because this song elicits so much emotion through repetition and simplicity, it feels complete.

Each track on this record itches a scratch I never knew I had. The satisfying guitar and keyboard synthesis puts me in a state of calm acceptance I cannot get from anywhere else, and Berman’s lyricism is one of the reasons I fell in love with this album.

Look at this line on “Inside the Golden Days of Missing You”: 

“What if life is just some hard equation on a chalkboard in a science class for ghosts”

This bleak image of the afterlife makes this album meaningful to me, as I love to learn about people’s perspectives on how the world around them works. 

Even the instrumental track, “The Right to Remain Silent“, has a purpose in this album rather than being a short filler between songs. Light drums march along, and I am transported to the dusk, empty streets of a nondescript American city. Every song accompanies you as you explore the beautiful, expansive streets of the world alone.

“The Natural Bridge” is no longer an album for me to listen to if I am feeling blue. It became a fervent necessity to focus on every note and word within each track. Silver Jews are able to blend the comfort of country with the exploration of ideology and emotion often seen in indie rock. I have become addicted to listening to this LP, and maybe if you start listening closely, you too might become obsessed like me.

Keep eatin’

-DJ chef

Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “It’s Not Me, It’s You” by Lily Allen

ALBUM: “It’s Not Me, It’s You” by Lily Allen


LABEL: Regal / Parlophone

RATING: 9.5/10

BEST TRACKS: “F-ck You” “Chinese” “Everyone’s At It” “Not Fair”

FCC: Explicit

Like quite a few of the pop artists of the day, then 22-year-old Lily Allen rose to fame on MySpace. This album was an absolutely massive hit, but I find it, along with Allen herself, is often forgotten in conversations about pop albums of the 2000s. 

This album touches on quite a few subversive themes for a woman pop artist to speak about in the 2000s. For example, “Not Fair” is about not being pleased by a partner in bed, “Him” makes quite a few overt political and religious statements, and “Everyone’s At It” is explicitly about the copious amounts of drug use in the music industry. Allen touches on all of these subjects in the same upbeat manner from song to song. 

Greg Kurstin assisted Allen in the songwriting and did all of the production on the album. Track nine, “Who’d Have Known” also gives songwriting credits to members of Take That because of the melodic similarities in the chorus. Notably, “Who’d Have Known” was later sampled by T-Pain in his song “5 O’Clock” in 2011 and was a massive hit.

There’s nothing spectacular about her vocal performance (although, she is one of those British singers who sings in a British accent which I find extremely charming), but her delivery is blunt and almost comedic at times.

This album, in my opinion, is a perfect pop album. Clocking in at 43 minutes with 12 songs, it’s short, sweet and to the point. There’s no dead air, every song is thoroughly enjoyable, and it’s nostalgic. This was one of the first albums I ever truly fell in love with and jump started my interest in discovering new music. I think we, as a culture, need to give Lily Allen credit where credit is due and recognize her as one of the defining pop artists of the 2000s.

Classic Album Review

“Tell It to the Volcano” by Miniature Tigers: Album Review

ALBUM: “Tell It to the Volcano” by Miniature Tigers


LABEL: Modern Art Records

RATING: 8.5/10

BEST TRACKS: “Cannibal Queen” “Like or Like Like” “Last Night’s Fake Blood”

FCC: None

An amazing debut for the then-Arizona-based indie-pop band Miniature Tigers, “Tell It to the Volcano,” is a straightforwardly good album. It’s simple and effective, not feigning a different identity, and giving fun melodies, bright guitar and clear vocals a home to thrive. Sometimes it almost verges on the stomp-and-holler genre, so much so that when I read that the band had toured as an opener for fun. in 2012, I wasn’t shocked at all. Their music is very different but at the same time not entirely dissimilar from fun.’s loud and deeply 2012 approach to music.

This 11 track LP clocks in just under 30 minutes, and is thoroughly enjoyable throughout. The melodies become a bit mundane and repetitive, but they’re catchy melodies, so I don’t mind that the album doesn’t excite much in this aspect. Charlie Brand, the lead vocalist, is the driving force behind the music on this album. At any given point, his vocals are the most interesting thing in the song, almost analogous to the effect Jenny Lewis had on Rilo Kiley’s music.

The lyrics on this album get a little silly, as is most evident in their song “Giraffe” whose main hook is “That’s what you get / For sticking out your neck. (Get it? It’s funny because giraffes have long necks). But at most points, the lyrics come across as honestly told stories. For example, the first verse of “Like or Like Like,” the album’s most popular track: “I watched you through your window / I was wearing that dumb sweatshirt / I looked like a goon, I was dressed for winter / Even though it was the middle of June.”

Overall, this album is an excellent collection of songs but doesn’t have a thematic through-line, at least not one that’s obvious to me. It’s an album most enjoyable when put on shuffle, if that tells you anything. It’s fun, easy to like and great for what it is– which is a 2008 indie-pop album. 

Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “A Life of Crime” by Office Culture

When making a story-focused album, especially a soft rock one where the instrumentals drop back to let the vocals take command, there are a lot of directions one can take to evoke emotion with listeners. There are many archetypes that songwriters will often fall back on, but a highly scheduled corporate life isn’t a typical one. Thankfully Office Culture proves there is a ghost in the machine with a beautiful album that sneaks up on you with its charm.

“Monkey Bone”, the closing track and my favorite on the album, exemplifies what I love about the project. There are explicit references to climbing the corporate ladder, the distrust and betrayal that comes in competitive settings, and a lot of the mundanity of the life within these structures, but the chorus is this cathartic release of emotion, the capturing of a single untainted moment “in the pale moonlight.” This juxtaposition of a very classic natural description to elicit emotion with the rest of the song heightens the effect, along with how it’s presented within the rest of the song, coming suddenly at the end of verses to feel that much more intertwined with the overall narrative.

Of course there are other highlights. “Hard Times in the City” is maybe the sweetest depiction of a stock market crash in music history, the falsetto and over-enunciation of “calculations” acting as a defense mechanism to conceal a quiet terror felt by everyone impacted. And “Diamonds” takes a different approach with relatively abrasive horns and emotional growls detailing how material goals affect relationships; the unsettling swirl of instruments fitting an angry yet resigned response to this phenomenon.

One unifying strength is the playful, understated instrumentals. The guitars pave a winding road for the lyrics to walk down, the little hi-hats and soft taps combined with a smooth piano on songs like “Too Many” present this very classy, elevator music ambiance for the stories being told, kind of like creating a corporate party atmosphere to talk about corporate life.

This album isn’t an instant, critically lauded classic, but it’s the kind of album that almost wouldn’t want to be. Along with the chill and lowkey instrumentals, the album’s relative obscurity almost adds to the experience, if this was a super popular project it wouldn’t achieve this underdog feeling it imparts. It’s a textbook hidden gem.


Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

Diamanda Galas: The Masque of Red Death

We’re starting the New Year right at WKNC with death, sadness, and AIDS. If you’re tired of the general malaise and continued pandemic of 2022, let’s throw it back to the bright shiny 80s, a time of general malaise and a pandemic that continued for far longer than it should have. Today, we’re taking a look at one of the few musicians to tackle this weighty subject head on, Diamanda Galas and her avant-garde classic, the Masque of Red Death.

Classic Album Review

Life Without Buildings “Any Other City” Album Review

Life Without Buildings was a Scotland based indie-rock band of the early 2000s, named after a b-side by the band Japan. Unfortunately this album and a few singles was all they ever released, as they were really short lived, forming in 1999 and disbanding in 2002. However, this record is a cult-classic for a reason. It’s mesmerizing, whimsical, fun and a unique take on math rock.  

Sue Tompkins, the vocalist, has an insanely mesmerizing way of talk-singing near-nonsense lyrics in such a way that it begins to make sense. It’s not what she’s saying, it’s the way she’s saying it. You want to sing with her, engaging in the childlike mumbling right there with her. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard (although, I’m sure other things like this exist, and if you know of them, please let me know) and it keeps me engaged in the music. 

The melodies are enchanting, the instruments are prominent but not overpowering and the lyricism makes absolutely no sense: it’s the perfect storm for good art-rock.

This ten-track record clocks in at 44 minutes and 31 seconds, and it’s impossible to not savor every moment. 
When doing research for this album review, I found a Youtube comment by user Devon Reed on a video that summed the band up perfectly:  “​​Did what many great bands do.  Recorded one great album.  Broke up shortly thereafter.  Forever preserved as a moment of perfection.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, Devon. There’s not much else for me to say besides, give it a chance. And if you still don’t like it, listen to it until you do (at least a little bit).

Classic Album Review

Revisiting “Zeros” by Declan McKenna

For several years, “What Do You Think About the Car?” by Declan McKenna was my favorite album of all time. So, in September of 2020, when he released his sophomore album, “Zeros” I was nervous to listen, and put it off an entire month. I wrote a song-by-song review in my notes app as I listened, but I’ll spare you that and share my overall takeaways:

“Okay so overall, a good album. Definitely more experimental with instruments and stuff, but the songs mostly follow the same layout where it starts off kinda normal and then by the end it’s either really instrument heavy/ or he’s screaming or both; which is fine but it kind of makes it sorta predictable. I'm also not a huge fan of releasing SO many singles before the album’s out but that’s just me. He definitely chose a PERFECT opener and closer. The songs definitely are all good on their own and I know I said they’re kind of repetitive but it doesn’t feel as cohesive as his first album was. Honestly, I think it’s a case of sophomore album syndrome (where the second album an artist puts out just doesn’t compare to the first). Also, none of the themes of the songs stuck out to me that much, but that could just be because I'm listening to it in a car with headphones turned all the way up as my dad blasts music on the radio so I couldn't hear the lyrics that well. this all sounds super negative but overall it’s a good album and definitely worth the listen.” — October 11, 2020

The following are my thoughts on this album one year later. I definitely appreciate this album a lot more for what it is now; I was expecting a part two to his first album and this wasn’t that, but it’s still a good album. However, some of what I said stands true. This album is ten songs long, but four of the songs were singles, that is entirely too many. Releasing 40% of the album months before the rest of it comes out is just not my preference as a listener.

My favorites on my first listen were “You Better Believe!!!” and “Emily,” but nowadays I’m more partial toward “Twice Your Size” and “Sagittarius A*.”

Overall, it’s solid indie-pop, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Rating: 8/10

Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “Fantasies” by Metric

I’ve written on this blog before about the way I often favor a heavily curated over listening to individual albums after one listen. This is because in judging a body of music one of the biggest factors I weigh is consistency. A playlist full of songs I know will hit beats an album with a minute and a half interlude which brings everything to a screeching halt. There are exceptions to this rule, though, with perhaps the album I listen to the most on its own being Metric’s 2009 album “Fantasies”. And in honor of Metric featuring on the upcoming Rezz album, I want to talk about what just might be the most consistent LP I’ve ever heard.

Consistently good, that is. There are a lot of rough albums where one track was no less awful than the last, but beyond just having an unvarying quality, the quality on “Fantasies” is also really high. Vocalist Emily Haines is the gateway into Metric’s universe, able to go from slow and sensual to opening up the floodgates and surfing on a guitar line to hurtle the listener forward like the first plunge of a roller coaster. And this is all just on “Gold Guns Girls”, she’s able to bring this versatility and creativity to all ten tracks on here.

The name Metric is a really appropriate one for this band, because their instrumentals feel perfectly measured and precise, almost machinelike. Riffs methodically drive the song forward over a drumbeat that can go from a whisper in the background on “Collect Call” to pounding and abrasive, setting the tone early on “Stadium Love”, a very memorable song about the animal kingdom engaging in an armageddon-like fight, “angel vs eel, owl vs dove”. But there’s a ghost in that machine, every note adds to the often tense and desperate feelings of the songs. The world of “Fantasies” has danger lurking around every corner. Iconic opening track “Help I’m Alive” comes to terms with the crushing weight of expectations and how they threaten to devour the song’s narrator. “I tremble, they’re gonna eat me alive” are the first lines Emily Haines sings on the album, ironically delivered to the very crowd causing her heart to beat “like a hammer”.

Earlier I made the claim that this was the most consistent album I’ve ever heard, and that’s a claim I stand by. It’s not just that every track on the album has found its way onto a playlist, and I can count on one hand the number of albums that have done that. It’s that from beginning to end this album fills a very particular niche, walking a very thin line between overblown arena rock (though they would tour with Imagine Dragons six years later) and thoughtful indie to create an album that is both punchy and forlorn, while never wavering from the same tone from the declarative swells of “Sick Muse” to the drawn out sighs of “Collect Call”. The characters that inhabit songs on “Fantasies” are all flawed but hopeful, ready to get out into the world yet already jaded. 

“You’re gonna make mistakes, you know” sends off the subject of Gimme Sympathy, whose chorus evokes two of the most iconic bands of all time with “who’d you rather be, The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” Ordinarily this would sound like a lazy name drop, but when the material is this good, the album as strong in it’s closing line as its first few drumbeats, the comparison really does feel earned.


Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “Pool” by Porches

There is a lot of music dedicated to the concept of transience and that resonates due to its exploration of the moment slipping away. And as the saying goes, life imitates art. There’s something poetic about a band who introspectively details attempts to capture the moment doing the same thing artistically. Here that band is Porches, and that moment is Feb. 5, 2016, the release date of their masterpiece “Pool”.

I want to start off by saying that Porches have been and remain a very solid band and I’ve enjoyed their albums released since that day. It’s just that “Pool” was lightning in a bottle and from “The House” onward, there seems to be an effort to recapture what made that album so special.

“Pool” was Porches second studio album and it marked a major departure from the style of the first. 2013’s “Slow Dance in the Cosmos” is a fun indie rock record with light, jangling guitars and lyrics drenched in liminality. In hindsight the sonic departure Porches would take was a logical evolution of “Cosmos”, but hindsight is of course 20/20. In the three years that passed between it and “Pool”, lead singer and bandleader Aaron Maine would record the album out of his apartment and reshaped Porches from a rock band to a synthy electronic outfit. The result was an album that was at once polished to a sheen and beautifully flawed.

The instrumentals are the star of the show here. Every track glistens like the surface of the titular pool. The synths on “Glow” add a distinctive bounce, turning a meditative track that could have dragged a little into a breezy experience that gets in and out while leaving a lot for the listener to chew on. Pacing is a huge focus, other than a slightly awkward 30-second outro on “Be Apart” there’s not an ounce of fat on this album. The structure of the songs never get in their own way; choruses aren’t distinct entities but instead bleed out of the verses they follow. The aforementioned “Be Apart” might be my favorite song on the album and the way the instrumentals melt around “cause I want to be apart” along with the way the “I” is drawn out across for syllables has imprinted this chorus into my memory in a way few have.

There are a lot of unlikely lyrics that somehow work perfectly with their surroundings. Over a shimmering synth line and skeletal drums Aaron Maine turns “Hi there, Franklin underwater” from a Frankie Cosmos reference into a triumphant nexus for relationship swan song “Underwater”. Porches detractors have called Maine’s vocal deliveries “flat” and complain that they drag down the music but I couldn’t disagree more. His voice is so distinctive and the way it blends with the instrumentals on this album evokes a swimmer bobbing up and down through waves.

On this album is an important qualifier because, like I said earlier, this really was a high water mark for Porches’ output. Something was missing from later albums that really made this one soar, and while they were still standout tracks like “Find Me” and “Back3School”, these stood out because of how they felt like “Pool” castoffs rather than a genuine advancement of the band’s sound. I think there has been some improvement here; 2021’s “All Day Gentle Hold!” was my favorite album of theirs since 2016 and I snapped up tickets to their April 15 show at Cat’s Cradle as soon as they dropped. But “Pool” was one of my favorite albums of the last decade, such a weird and wonderful collection of songs, that anything short of that feels like Porches aren’t reaching their true potential, and are instead stuck looking in the rearview mirror. Here’s hoping they can find the way forward again and deliver a masterpiece for the 2020s like they did for the 2010s.