It’s that special time of year again! The seasons are changing. Midterms are coming up. Election day is right around the corner (click here for DJ Butter’s guide to voting in NC). Yes, it truly feels like the 21st night of September. Do you remember?
September by Earth, Wind & Fire is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s one that was burned into my consciousness from a young age. From the last cookout of the summer to dancing at my cousin’s wedding, September was the soundtrack. For me, it’s one of those songs that boosts my mood as soon as it comes on.
So what is the significance of the 21st night of September? According to Allee Willis, co-writer of the song, the date is arbitrary. Her and lead songwriter Maurice White went through every date – do you remember the first, the second, and so on. To quote Willis, “the one that just felt the best was the 21st.”
So there you have it: the most important holiday of the year was conceived simply because it sounded right. No symbolic significance, no deeper meaning – nothing. But I think there is a lesson to be learned in light of this revelation. In our digital age, we are inundated with messages and media that are supposed to “mean” something. But perhaps these artifacts have no intrinsic meaning at all, and our perception that one exists is a reflection of our human need to make sense of the world. I, for one, spend so much time dissecting things that sometimes I forget to enjoy them for what they are instead of what they mean.
During the recording sessions for September, Willis asked White what “ba-dee-ya” meant. According to her, “he essentially said, ‘Who the f— cares?’” Willis continued by saying “I learned my greatest lesson ever in songwriting from him, which was never let the lyric get in the way of the groove.“
I think this is not only great songwriting advice, but great life advice as well. Don’t let the lyrics of meaning get in the way of the groove of life. Happy September 21st, everyone.
Hailing from Akron, Ohio, The Black Keys have had a career that spans almost two decades. In that time they have explored blues rock, garage rock and psych rock, and though some of their efforts have featured more expansive instrumentation, simplicity is a cornerstone of their sound. Their focus has always been on the groove between Dan Auerbach’s guitar and Patrick Carney’s drums, as well as Dan’s strong songwriting skills. For this reason, few artists have been in my rotation longer than The Black Keys. With nine studio albums under their belt, however, it is safe to say that some are better than others. I’ve put together a tier list of their discography from worst to best – here are my thoughts:
F Tier: Car Commercial Music (Let’s Rock)
Let’s Rock, The Black Key’s latest release, is their worst album to date. Maybe it’s because they set the bar so high with some of their other work, but in my opinion this is the boys at their most uninspired. This album marks a return to their roots after the sonic departure known as Turn Blue (more on that in a second), but when compared to their previous albums, this one just sounds watered down. It’s inoffensive, focus-grouped rock music that belongs in a car commercial.
D Tier: Is This Even Canon (Turn Blue)
Released in 2014, Turn Blue is the Black Key’s most adventurous album. Produced by Danger Mouse, this album is much more psych/pop than their other work. While I admire the risks they took with this record, I don’t think they always played out well. Turn Blue never scratched that Black Keys itch for me, but there are a few tracks that I enjoy.
C Tier: It’s OK I Guess (The Big Come Up and Magic Potion)
2002’s The Big Come Up was the Black Key’s debut album, and definitely their roughest. While there is a certain charm about its uncompromising grittiness, I think this approach translated much better on Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory. Meanwhile, 2006’s Magic Potion is The Black Key’s most forgettable effort. None of the material on it is necessarily bad, but the boys had already set the bar very high with 2004’s Rubber Factory. These two are the last of what I consider to be non-essential Black Keys records.
B Tier: Slightly Spicy (Attack & Release and El Camino)
This tier marks the beginning of what I consider to be the essential Black Keys canon. 2008’s Attack and Release and 2011’s El Camino are both classics in their own right, but I have a slight preference for the former. Attack and Release represents a musical risk that paid off for The Black Keys: the instrumental flourishes of flutes, synths, and even banjos sound right at home on the boy’s first album recorded in a professional studio. By comparison, 2011’s El Camino is The Black Keys’ most commercial album. You can tell songs like “Lonely Boy” and “Gold on the Ceiling” were written with the Top 40 in mind. El Camino is everything that Let’s Rock should’ve been – radio friendly, but still retaining that roughness that put the Black Keys on the map in the first place.
A Tier: Hey That’s Pretty Good (Rubber Factory and Thickfreakness)
2003’s Thickfreakness and 2004’s Rubber Factory represent the first Golden Age of Black Keys music. These albums proved that two guys in an Akron basement (or abandoned tire factory) could make compelling rock music with little more than a guitar and a drum set. When making this tier list, I seriously considered putting Rubber Factory in the number 1 spot. These two albums are definitely the Black Key’s most visceral projects.
S Tier: Chef’s Kiss (Brothers)
2010’s Brothers was the The Black Key’s commercial breakthrough and what made them a household name. Perhaps I am biased because it was my first exposure to the band, but I doubt I’m the only one who would say Brothers is the greatest Black Keys record. With it, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney managed to craft an album that not only paid homage to their roots but also diversified their sound, making it appealing to people who aren’t even rock fans. Thanks to tracks like “Tighten Up”, “Ten Cent Pistol”, and “Sinister Kid”, Brothers could be mistaken for a greatest hits record. I am especially fond of Dan’s falsetto on “Everlasting Light” and “The Only One” because it beautifully contrasts his normally rough, bluesy voice. Simply put, there is not a bad song on the album, and that is why it stands as the pinnacle of The Black Key’s discography.
That’s the tier list! Are you a Black Keys fan? If so, how would you rank their albums?
Without further ado, here is this week’s installment of my favorite album covers of all time:
1. Midnight Snack – HOMESHAKE
I think I’ve talked about this before in another blog post, but I love how this album art looks like the “Goodnight Moon” book cover, which was one of my favorite books growing up (fun fact: I would cry every time my mom read it to me because it made me so happy). It really fits in with the whole LP’s vibe, which feels very woozy and dreamy. The hand painted look in this piece feels delightfully playful and cozy.
2. Pregnant With Success – Junglepussy
Junglepussy is honestly such a goddess, and this cover really captures her power. This portrait of her is composed so nicely, and I love how she simultaneously blends in with the elevator yet contrasts it with her gorgeous hair. The way the florescent lighting makes her face glow is exquisite.
3. BUSH – Snoop Dogg
This is another mm *chef’s kiss* cover. Produced by Pharrell, “BUSH” has a retro funk feel to it that complements Snoop’s smoothness perfectly. The simple surrealist-like feel this album cover gives off with the perfectly shaped bushes and bright bluedog is so great.
4. Steve Lacy’s Demo – Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy consistently gives us amazing album covers, but this one is my personal favorite. The colors are fantastic and I love how the photo of him is juxtaposed on top of this bright pink mystery material. The way he stands between his bass and guitar is so casual yet speaks so powerfully to his talent on both.
5. blkswn – Smino
Wow! Smino really overdid himself on “blkswn.” Not only is the actual content exquisite, but the cover art is too. The colors are divine and so is the composition. I love the way the album title is written on his comb, and the hands doing his hair seem to have personality and an air of movement to them. Keep it comin’ Smino.
This is a continuation of a series on my all-time favorite album art!
There’s so much really bad cover design out there, so when I find one that catches my eye it’s a great feeling. It’s hard to make a good album cover; to be able to capture the feel of an album and an artist through visuals is a real talent. There’s no doubt that music and design fit well together, but to find the sweet spot that encapsulates an artist’s vision while staying tasteful is difficult.
Here are this week’s albums that do just that:
1. JACKBOYS – JACKBOYS & Travis Scott
The everlasting king Travis Scott has done it again. He is honestly one of my biggest guilty pleasures, but his stuff is always so fire, including the JACKBOYS cover. This short album, with Don Toliver, Sheck Wes, and other guests came out around Christmas in 2019 and has to be one of my favorites from Travis. The grainy film texture and colors on this cover are amazing.
2. Still Striving – A$AP Ferg
I really adore the simplicity of this cover art. To me, the best covers are the ones that completely leave out all the information about the album and opt to provide a visual that speaks for the music itself. A$AP Ferg accomplished this beautifully with “Still Striving,” his 2017 release.
3. Chinese Fountain – The Growlers
Not the biggest fan of the Growlers right now if I’m being honest with myself, but the “Chinese Fountain” cover is a really stand out piece. The colors of the neon sign, the fog, and how it all mimics a restaurant you’d find in China Town really complements the album nicely.
4. Thickfreakness – The Black Keys
I love how the all the album info is worked into this cover. This is from one of the Black Keys’ older albums, but it continues to be one of my favorites now. All around, I just love the colors and composition.
5. Mint – Orions Belte
Recently, Orions Belte has been at the top of my listening cue. If you’re into any sort of psychedelic surf rock, you’d be into them too. The way the lines and figures all blend together is so fantastic and trippy.
Stay tuned for next week’s rendition of Album Art Gems!
What’s going on Butcher Crew?! It’s your Master Butcher, The Saw and I have a very fun and exciting post for you today! I will be listing my top 10 favorite album covers! I think album covers can be a really cool way for bands to show off what ~~vibes~~ they want their record to give off. Depending on the genre (for metal in particular), album covers can show you what type of style a band is. I love it when bands put in a lot of time and effort on the album covers, because visual representation can be very beneficial! My dad, the “OG Metalhead,” told me that when was my age, he would go to the record store and he would find albums with the coolest album cover and band names and buy it. This is how he found new bands and I think that is a really cool way to find different artists to expand your own musical discography.
Let’s get into my top 10 favorite album covers!! This list is in no particular order, these are all equally, badass.
1. Obituary – Inked in Blood (2014)
2.Cannibal Corpse – Eaten Back To Life (1990)
3. Whitechapel – A New Era Of Corruption (2010)
4. Pig Destroyer – Prowler in the Yard (2015)
5. Impaled – The Dead Still Remain Dead (2013)
6. Marilyn Manson – Holly Wood (2000)
7. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction (2015)
One of my greatest loves, that I really could talk about forever, is album cover designs. Get ready. This is going to be a weekly series of my favorite album covers of all time, simply because there’s too many to fit into only one blog post.
I am a graphic design major and designer for WKNC, so you can imagine that aesthetics is very important to me. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I think this foolish. Who wants to read a book that’s title is in Comic Sans? Not I.
Album covers help to communicate a lot about an artist and the message behind their music. There is something so beautiful to me about having one type of art inform another, and album art does just that. One of my favorite things to do is peruse Nice Price Records on Hillsborough St. and find a record with the coolest cover I can find. Even if it’s in completely random genre section that I would normally never listen to, this has been a great way to find design inspiration and new music.
Both a mixture of classics and newbies, here’s my top five for this week’s installment of Album Art Gems:
1. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange
If you’ve read any of my blogs, you know that I am a big Dev Hynes fan. His album covers are always so beautiful, but “Freetown Sound” is the most standout to me. The colors are divine, and it pairs wonderfully with his album’s message to highlight Black relationships and love.
2. Axis: Bold as Love – Jimi Hendrix
I LOVE JIMI HENDRIX. He was a musical god and his genius on the guitar and as a poet is timeless. I had the “Axis” cover as a poster in my freshman dorm for an entire year. With Eastern philosophy and psychedelics gaining popularity in America right around the time “Axis” was released, the Jimi Hendrix Experience reflected this cultural revolution in this insane album art.
3. DHL (Single) – Frank Ocean
Frank is known for his simplicity and anonymity. To be entirely honest, I have no idea what’s going on in this cover, but I like it a lot. The type design for DHL is really fun and interesting, along with the colors overall.
4. Vacation in Hell – Flatbush Zombies
This album cover is mm *chef’s kiss*. FBZ are the dark, expressive rap group we all need right now, yet this cover really contrasts their normal undead vibes. During an interview, they said that this shoot was scheduled on a day when it was completely overcast and rainy. Just when they were about to call it quits as the day was ending, the sun burst through the clouds and they were able to take the perfect shot.
5. Let it Bleed – The Rolling Stones
Finally, we have a great classic from the Rolling Stones. Like the “DHL” single, I really have no idea what’s happening, but whatever it is, it’s working. If you look closely, the bottom layers of the “cake” seem to be made up of a bike tire, a pancake, a clock, and a film reel canister. The colors and strange simplicity of this cover will always make it one of my favorites.
To be quite honest, I woke up and didn’t know that today was Earth Day. Of course my Instagram timeline was saturated with Earth Day appreciation, so I’m hopping on that train too. Check out my best Earth Day Recommendations below!
Listen to Earth Crisis
One of my forever favorite hardcore bands and a true legend in the scene. This group has been together since 1989, minus a six-year separation from 2001-2007, and have released eight studio albums in that time. My personal favorite is their first full-length album from 1995, Destroy the Machines. This album, a torrential downpour of rage and revolution, focuses on calls to direct action against environmental destruction and animal consumption. The band both supports and embodies the vegan straight edge mentality and has inspired future generations of hardcore fans for the last two decades. So give this record a spin and read the lyrics if you’re not pre-disposed to metal music. See if anything resonates with you on this beloved Earth Day.
I recommend tracks 1(Forced March), 5 (The Discipline) and 7 (Inherit the Wasteland).
Other good nature-based songs (but perhaps not environmentally focused) are below:
Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris by Hayley Williams
Houseplants by Squid
Leaf by Title Fight
honestly the entire album A Healthy Earth by Peaer
Cities Under Water by Short Fictions
Repot Your Plants
We’ve all done it. After winter’s depressive spiral everyone flocks to Home Depot and other gardening stores to buy bucketfuls of succulents, ivies and other plant babies. For the first month or two you’ll love those things like your own children and feel really good about it but as the semester ramps up, the plants wither (much like your desire to look after them). If they haven’t completely shriveled, give those plants some TLC. You’re stuck at home with them so give those big leafy babies the space and nutrients they deserve. ProFlowers has some guidance.
Respect the Bees!
This is been common knowledge for several years now, but bees are dying at an alarming rate. We need these bees. This semester I took Horticulture Science 201: The World of Horticulture and was truly amazed by the vast impact that horticultural practices have on a long list of industries and daily functions. What you eat, the clothes on your back, the landscape you live in, the fields our athletes play on and even the materials we use to build our world all come back to horticulture. Do you know what comes before all of that? BEES! Pollination is a key component of plant propagation and without pollinators, that can’t happen naturally! Respect the bees today. If you see one fly by, blow it a kiss and thank it for its service.
Here is a bee-autiful fun fact for you.
As reported by LiveScience.com, “The honeybees’ stingers can’t penetrate a hornet’s thick outer skin, so the bees swarm around an attacker instead, forming a spherical bee ball, and use their vibrating flight muscles to create heat. The mass of bees will heat the area up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius), enough to kill the hornet.”
Bees are amazzzzzzing.
Support a Local Farmer
My roommates and I have recently reoriented our shopping cycles to match those of the NC Farmers’ Market. We happen to source meat, eggs, and dairy from a local farmer outside of that list of vendors, but are currently trying to get produce from the Farmers’ Market. Supporting a local farmer is not only more ethical, as it is likely that you could speak directly to the farmer and inquire about their environmental practices– but you may even be able to tour the farm with their permission! Eating local also contributes funds directly to the surrounding community, instead of grocery corporations. This practice makes my roommates and I feel better about our consumption, and I encourage others to explore this resource themselves.
How are you celebrating Earth Day? Reach out to WKNC on twitter (@wknc881) to tell us about your day.
Video game soundtracks are one of the most underrated culturally significant forms of music. In my last post, I introduced some of my favorite video game soundtracks, but wanted to continue the series with a few more soundtracks that I really like and that still have an impact on me.
Doki Doki Literature Club
If you’re unfamiliar with this game, I will go ahead and say that you should check the trigger warnings associated with it that may affect you. This part RPG, part horror game has such a bubbly soundtrack, created by game producer Dan Salvato. The song Your Reality and its instrumental version has stuck with me through the years and I find myself singing it still to this day.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
I love all the piano instrumentals that come out of my favorite Nintendo games, especially Fire Emblem: Three Houses which came out last year. The entire soundtrack is a great complement to the game, with tracks that vary in intensity and are perfect for me to study to. I especially love the detailed piano composition the game provides, and how warm and home-like the main tracks are.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I love Skyrim and think it truly set the tone for open-world video game soundtracks. It was the first of its time to experiment heavily with deep orchestral notes and choir vocals (yes, they used an actual 30-person choir to create parts of the soundtrack). Listening to this over again reminds me of all the great times I had playing the game, and gets me immersed right back into that world.
Grand Theft Auto V
GTA V has one of the longest and most diverse soundtracks. I love that the game includes so many genres and a variety of artists. I thoroughly enjoy at least 90% of the songs and artists featured, with some of my favorites included like Phantogram, Little Dragon, and Wavves. The game also helped me discover some new music from different genres, which increased exponentially how much I enjoyed playing the game. Definitely recommend playing it or giving the soundtrack a listen.
Disclaimer: everything stated in this blog post reflects my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect WKNC’s views.
Often, I come across “problematic” artists. Today, the spread of news media is nearly instantaneous and thus as music listeners we have virtually unlimited access to information about our favorite artists. Because of this availability we are easily able to judge and analyze the actions of artists. There are so many “problematic” artists today, from misogynistic lyrics, artists who are known abusers, to musicians who are supportive of causes the general public is not, and more.
My favorite example of an artist whose views I disagree with is Kanye West. After years of political activism I aligned with, he publicly announced his support of President Trump, who has done significant damage to the country and whose political stances I am personally opposed to. Despite the unwavering support through his other allegedly problematic actions (Taylor Swift incident, anyone?), this definitely soured my opinion of West and his music. To this day, I can’t enjoy it to the same degree as before.
In addition, there are a ridiculous amount of artists I have completely abandoned all support of when I heard the physical or sexual assault allegations against them. Especially in my own local DIY scene, so many allegations have come out against band members that I no longer feel comfortable in those spaces.
The reason I’m writing this blog is as a discussion of how we, as music listeners, approach this conundrum. Are we allowed to like music done by bad people? Am I okay with supporting an artist whose values are extremely skewed from my own? I have reflected on these questions for years, since I was old enough to do research about the musicians I listen to. For me, it boils down to my gut reaction. When the evidence seems sufficient and the action is unforgivable (to me, personally) I feel the need to completely let go of the artist and renounce any support I once had for them. When it’s a lesser issue, like a political difference or distasteful comment it is easier for me to separate the music from the person who created it, and thus I can still enjoy the music.
Let me know if any of you feel similarly, or different. I am always interested in different perspectives.
You’re heading to the movie theater, the newest movie with your favorite actor is playing. You get to your seats just as the (hour long!!) credits end and the theater grows dark. Suddenly you can hear low music swelling up. Film company logos flash across the screen and the music only gets louder till the opening shot of the movie begins. The music is important. It signifies the genre and style of the movie you are about to watch. If there are loud droning tones it might convey the film is suspenseful or horror. If you hear a pop song, you should expect a rom-com or some kind of happy kids movie. Music sets the tone before we even lay our eyes on the set or characters.
That sound, during the credits and not the cinematic universe, is called non-diegetic. The music and sound the characters within the film can hear and can interact with are called, you guessed it, diegetic sound. Sometimes music can change from diegetic to non-diegetic and the other way around. For example, we can hear a song as a part of the soundtrack (non-diegetic) while the movie shows us the setting of the film. Then, the film shows the character turn off the radio causing the music, which we now realize is diegetic, to stop. Directors can play with our expectations of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, which draws interest in the film.
Horror is an easy genre to hear, how directors can put us in the shoes of the character for an effect. A classic example is heartbeats. If you hear slow heartbeats in a movie while a character is walking, the character is probably calm and the viewer feels the same way. If the heartbeats are speeding up while the character is also speeding up, viewers understand that the character is scared, and running away from something. For my Introduction to Film Class, we watched A Quiet Place and discussed how both diegetic and non-diegetic sound makes meaning throughout the film. In A Quiet Place because one of the main characters is deaf the film plays around with periods of silence as the audience is immersed in her point of view. This movie creates suspense so well when it uses sound to condition the viewer into hair-raising reactions from the dramatic score and sound effects.