Categories
Classic Album Review

“Jubilee” by Japanese Breakfast Album Review

Michelle Zauner is an extremely talented songwriter, and her talents especially shine on Japanese Breakfast’s 2021 album, “Jubilee.” The third LP released by Japanese Breakfast, “Jubilee” is a sickeningly sweet and at times devastating record that Zauner herself says is meant to be joyful. 

This is my favorite work of Japanese Breakfast’s as I’m a sucker for an indie-pop record and this is a masterfully-made one. With ten songs that clock in at just over 37 minutes, this Grammy-nominated album is one I’m sure will continue to soundtrack my early 20s. 

Although Zauner says the album is meant to be a joyful one, a lot of the lyrics seem like they’re more adjacent to yearning than joy. “Be Sweet,” the album’s most popular song, has lyrics that beg for kindness and attention: “Be sweet to me, baby / I wanna believe in you” and “Make it up once more with feeling / Recognize your mistakes and I’ll let you back in.” “Kokomo, IN” begs the desperate question “These days I can’t shake the awful feeling / I’m missing something I can’t place, is that you?” in verse two. The feeling of longing is littered throughout the album, making even your first listen to it a painfully nostalgic experience.

The production, done by Michelle Zauner and Craig Hendrix (Japanese Breakfast’s drummer), is dreamlike and nostalgic, at times large and sweeping and at times intricate in a smaller and more subtle way. 

Upon the album’s release some critics said that the album fell short in the back half, and while I agree that tracks like “Sit” and “In Hell” aren’t the strongest, the album is tied together fantastically with one of my favorite songs of all time, “Posing For Cars.” It is the album’s final track and is nearly seven minutes long (the back half of which is 3 minutes of the most beautiful guitar solo you can imagine) and is just absolutely devastating in a way that could bring anyone to their knees.

So while I don’t agree with Zauner that “Jubilee” elicits much joy, it does feel summer-y: wide open, nostalgic, filled with the highest highs and lowest lows.

Rating: 9.5/10

Categories
Classic Album Review

“Donuts” by J Dilla Album Review

J Dilla’s “Donuts” is in my opinion the greatest album of all time and I would like to tell you why. Before we get into the album itself we must first get into the man who made it.

J Dilla was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and early on started making hip-hop beats. He would start a group called Slum Village and would eventually get their demo tape to Q-Tip which led to him getting discovered. Q-Tip found Dilla in 1995 which was a year Tip was busy producing for Mobb Deep so when people would ask Q-Tip for beats he would recommend them instead use Dilla. This led to Dilla working with a ton of artists such as The Pharcyde, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, and even A Tribe Called Quest.

After this Dilla became a pioneer in hip-hop and a sought after producer. People were really drawn to his unique drumming style where he wasn’t drumming in straight or swing time but instead on his own time called “Dilla Time”. He had some success but really stayed a bit out of the main stream most of his career and would develop a cult following.

Everything was going well for Dilla until around 2003 he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease and also lupus. In 2004 he started his stay at Cedar-Sinai hospital in LA and instead of resting and retiring he would start to create his magnum opus.

Most of “Donuts” was created in the hospital with Dilla sampling from records people would bring him or stuff he would pick up when he would occasionally leave. The album was completed and then released on February 7, 2005 and Dilla would sadly pass away three days after the release.

Now without the information of Dilla’s passing the album is still great but much of the content on the album would be missed. Dilla was suffering greatly making this album and he knew he would eventually pass. So the way he chose to handle it and come to terms with his eventual death was to do what he did best and make amazing beats from old records.

But once you start to put the context of Dilla’s situation with the album the hints start to show themselves like the scratching of Jadakiss to ask “Is Death Real?” on “Stop”. The song “Don’t Cry” is as blatant of a message you can get. The song “Workinonit” seems to be a message about an artist life of creating. But the most chilling on the album is on “Welcome to The Show” the outro track the message isn’t obvious until you look at the sample which is “When I Die” by Motherlode. The sample says “When I die, I hope I’ll be the kind of man you thought I’d be” which is crazy to think of him listening to that during his time in the hospital.

“Donuts” is also unique because many of the moments are up for interpretation and have no answer since Dilla never had a chance to explain his choices. One example is the album starts with the outro and ends with ” Welcome to The Show”. The song that repeats “Only One Can Win” is titled “Two Can Win”. The tracklist is 31 tracks which is the age Dilla was when he made it. The messages in the album aren’t obvious or even totally proven so finding them you never knew what he truly meant or if he truly meant it.

This album the more you listen to it becomes obvious what its goal was. The goal was to leave a message to his fans and his family that can never go away. Dilla was in the hospital and felt that his best way to communicate was to chop up old samples in a way that would create a message about his impending death that his friends and family could listen to after his passing and think about him. If that is not the craziest thing you’ve ever heard I don’t know what is.

I hear people say all the time that no one would like the album as much if Dilla hadn’t of passed and that it is the only reason people like it. But they are entirely missing the point because without the situation Dilla was in the album would not exist and is almost entirely built around the concept of his passing so not taking in that context leaves out the subject matter that is in the album.

I recommend everyone listen to this album and hopefully hear what I hear in it. It is an album that could put on for so many situations like just hanging out or studying but everytime you listen you hear something new. I hope this album is spread for generations to come and Dilla’s legacy be continued forever.

10/10

Categories
Classic Album Review

“Acquainted with Night” by Lael Neale Album Review

ALBUM: “Acquainted with Night” by Lael Neale

RELEASE YEAR: 2021

LABEL: Sub Pop Records

RATING: 9/10

BEST TRACKS: “How Far Is It to the Grave”, “For No One Now”,  “Some Sunny Day”

FCC: None

Lael Neale is a Virginia native and current L.A. resident. “Acquainted with Night” is her second album she has released, with “I’ll Be Your Man” being released back in 2015. She made all the music for “Acquainted with Night” in California and all of the videos in her hometown in Virginia, as stated on her Bandcamp page.

The album mainly consists of her airy, wispy vocals and the Omnichord, which she picked up to create “Acquainted with Night”. I would consider the tracks to fall into the lo-fi indie pop genre for the most part, as we can hear the crackle of the recording instruments often. All the tracks are filled with existential questioning and beautiful imagery. 

Favorite Bits:

How Far Is It to the Grave” is easily one of the most unique tracks on the album. The twinkling of Neale’s Omnichord brings me immediately into the light of the moon. The track is filled with the ponderings of an assortment of characters, who all question how much time they have left in their lives. In its eerie beauty, Neale responds, “It’s only a life dear friend, dear friend”. 

In “For No One Now”, Neale leads us on a positive journey. Forget everything that makes you worry and take whatever you desire in life. This anthem shines bright in the lonely, sunny mornings. This song is hope and love jumbled together, which celebrates the best of days in all their glory. 

My third favorite track is “Some Sunny Day”. The Omnichord’s ever-present hum of a few simple notes helps highlight Lale Neale’s vocals and lyricism. Also, a rare guitar appearance for this album is present, which adds a pleasant vibration. This track looks towards the future and holds the present in a melancholic state. Neale again looks to hope and destiny as her savior.

The Other Bits:

Now, the rest of this album is also extremely enjoyable, but some tracks aren’t nearly as distinct and loveable as the three songs mentioned above. For example I lump “Sliding Doors & Warm Summer Roses”, “Third Floor Window” and “Let Me Live Down by the Side of the Road” into a ball of comfort. I like listening to these songs, but it’s hard for me to pick them apart from each other. 

I didn’t want to include too many songs in my favorites section, but some honorable mentions are “Every Star Shivers in the Dark”, “Blue Vein” and the title track “Acquainted with Night”. Each of these songs are gorgeous, but don’t strike me the same as my picks above. 

Conclusions:

Overall, this album is a great set of tunes to listen to in the morning or late in the evening as the sun is setting, especially for all you lo-fi lovers out there. I personally love to put on “Some Sunny Day” while I water my plants. This album reminds me why I like the lo-fi genre’s simplicity. It feels so welcoming and homely that I can snuggle up and enjoy hot coffee or tea and watch pretty white clouds float on by in peace. 

Lael Neale released a new song earlier this year, “Hotline”, which you can check out on her Bandcamp, if you feel so inclined. I am excited to see where her career ends up next, and I hope my love of this album can inspire y’all to enjoy her music too. 

Keep eatin’

DJ chef

Categories
Classic Album Review

“Over the Edge” by Wipers Album Review

ALBUM: “Over the Edge” by Wipers

RELEASE YEAR: 1983

LABEL: Brain Eater / Trap

RATING: 8/10

BEST TRACKS: “Doom Town”, “Romeo”, “No One Wants an Alien”

FCC: None

THE BAND

Kurt Cobain has deliberately name-dropped Wipers as his and Nirvana’s inspiration for their sound (as stated by this Rolling Stones article). I am not the biggest Nirvana fan, but Kurt Cobain’s legendary status in pop culture history helps his comment carry a bit more weight. 

Wipers was a Seattle based punk band that formed in late 1978 (so says their tiny bio). The founding members were Greg Sage, Dave Koupal and Sam Henry, but the latter two members weren’t a part of the band for the creation of “Over the Edge”.  

“Over the Edge” has Greg Sage on vocals, writing and guitar. There is no credit given to any other band members, so let’s get into this release. 

THE TRACKS

The title track, “Over the Edge”, of course is a great song, but to me the highlight track of this album is “Doom Town”. The longer periods of instrumentals in this song highlight Sage’s ability to bring the right amount of noise and vocals to his music. This song is not happy. “Doom Town” puts hundreds of pounds of pressure on our ears with the inescapable feeling of being trapped in a dead city, and I love how well it conveys this feeling. 

“Romeo” is one of the band’s more popular tracks, and rightfully so. Stumbling about in the hazy dark, you burst into an adrenaline fueled sprint. You don’t know why, but you’re searching for something. This foggy rush is my best interpretation of “Romeo”. I have no clue what we are searching for in this track, but I have to keep looking. 

No one wants to feel ostracized, but at some point we all feel this barrier from a social circle keeping us out. “No One Wants an Alien” expresses this feeling beautifully. Sage knows outcasts and uses his stage to shove them into the light like so many punk rockers, metalheads, and really all musicians. Sage takes the weird, new sounds (for 1983) and fuses them to create a twang-y, punk anthem that is this track. 

FINALE

I keep returning to this album and Wipers in general to hear the roots of punk. With this album I can gain a broader perspective of the journey music makes just to reach our ears. Greg Sage’s ability to let his dreams be heard is remarkable and I will continue to appreciate his writing as I sink into his sounds. 

Keep eatin’

-DJ chef

Categories
Classic Album Review

“Drive My Car” Soundtrack Appreciation

“Drive My Car” has an outstanding list of accolades that would blow most films (besides “Parasite”) out of the water. Most of the achievements of the film are focused on acting, cinematography and best foreign film, but not nearly enough give love and credit to the composition of music that flows so beautifully with the pictures on the screen. 

The director, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and screenplay writer, Takamas Oe, adapted this film from a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami. The collection, in my opinion, features some of Murakami’s best works, so I was naturally excited to see this film introduced to the world. 

Eiko Ishibashi, the composer of this film and independent musician, has a prolific career collaborating with different artists to make “acclaimed singer-songwriter albums to film scores for film and television to improvised music settings” according to her website.  

In this film, Ishibashi conjures emotions with simple, soft sounds. One of the benefits of movies with softer soundtracks is how unaware the audience is that music (in combination with cinematography) feeds into their emotional attachment to a scene. 

The track, “Drive My Car”, has light pianos and strings to allow viewers to take in the scenery and picturesque beauty of the film rather than watch an awkward silence encompass two people talking to each other. The soundtrack itself has sounds from the movie recorded in it, so the film is inescapably part of the soundtrack.

One note about the OST is that almost every song’s name is a different version of the original. By that I mean each song is a variation of its predecessor, which I think is a neat way to make a soundtrack. Each song is noticeably different, but every variation still holds true to their original. 

One more track that I hold dear is “We’ll live through the long, long days and through the long nights (SAAB 900)”. I consider this track the ode to the gorgeous car, the SAAB 900:

Red 1983 SAAB 900 GL on a street with shrubbery behind it.
Photo by Niels de Wit of a 1983 SAAB 900 GL. Creative Commons license.

The song has the heartbeat of a car, and makes me feel like I am driving with smells of old leather and sunbaked seatbelts. I love how Ishibashi made this car into a song. Usually, I don’t care for cars, but the combination of the film and music made me fall in love with this machine. 

If you haven’t seen this film or heard the music, make sure to check it out if you feel inspired to. 

Keep eatin’

-DJ chef

Categories
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 

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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

Categories
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

RELEASE YEAR: 2009

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.

Categories
Classic Album Review

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

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

RELEASE YEAR: 2008

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. 

Categories
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.

-Erie