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Band/Artist Profile Playlists Short Stories

Death Grips: A Phenomenon of Embarrassment

The label “experimental hip-hop” seems to now extend to more artists in the industry than it used to, but there’s no denying Death Grips helped found the genre and still remain at its center. Though Zach Hill is often noted as the leading creative of the group, Stefan Burnett, better known as MC Ride, is the vocal star. His punk, industrial-inspired delivery feeds on noise and electronic styles and production to create an unmatched sound. With Andy Morin also on keyboard and production, the music trio has put out six studio albums, a mixtape and six other miscellaneous projects.

Death Grips formed in 2010 and I’ve been listening since 2015. Considerably late to the show, I still found myself among very few fans in my area during high school. That being said, I spent my teen years in Wake Forest, NC. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Death Grips’ internet and streaming popularity were stronger than ever and continuously growing. I was a proud, but delusional, DG fan. 

When you find a new project as inventive as Death Grips, it feels like stumbling upon gold. I thought I was nearly alone in this discovery and it took time for me to realize they were incredibly popular. As years passed and their popularity still grew, I found myself listening to Death Grips as often as I used to, but now in private. There was a certain embarrassment of Death Grips for me, and since talking to friends, I’ve learned for others, too. The embarrassment, perhaps stemming from a sudden jump of feeling special to being just a cog in the DG machine, was polarizing. Older listeners retreated to their rooms to partake while newer listeners were outwardly experiencing their newfound feeling of uniqueness.

Death Grips, despite their ever-altering audience, continue to put out music and I’ve noticed, both in myself and the people around me, the former DG embarrassment lifting. As people come to terms with liking music simply because it’s good and putting less concern into whether or not it boosts their individuality complex, I find that Death Grips is getting more public love from their long-time listeners. 

As an ode to my lifted DG embarrassment, here’s a short list of some of my favorite Death Grips songs (in order of release):

1. “Full Moon (Death Classic)” – Full Moon (Death Classic) (2011)

2. “Guillotine” – Guillotine (2011)

3. “Lil Boy” – No Love Deep Web (2012)

4. “Deep Web” – No Love Deep Web (2012)

5. “Hacker” – The Money Store (2012)

6. “Birds” – Government Plates (2013)

7. “Feels Like a Wheel” – Government Plates (2013)

8. “I Break Mirrors With My Face In The United States” – The Powers That B (2015)

9. “Inanimate Sensation” – The Powers That B (2015)

10. “80808” – Bottomless Pit (2016)

11. “Bottomless Pit” – Bottomless Pit (2016)

12. “Hahaha” – Year Of The Snitch (2018)

Here’s to the fact that Robert Pattinson plays guitar on “Birds”,

Silya Bennai

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Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

Is Sheryl Crow Actually Cool?

Most people our age remember Sheryl Crow from when we were kids. She was pretty popular in the early 2000s, I was born in 2001, so that means her last hits were around five years old when I first started hearing the radio. This is the perfect interval for music to feel nostalgic, new enough that we remember it, but old enough that we had absolutely no critical eye to determine who a song was by or whether it was good. When I was old enough to think about music critically, I personally filed Sheryl Crow away in a category I now describe as “Mom Rock.” Yes, we have dad rock, and if no one else has come up with this joke yet, I know claim inventorship of mom rock. This category entails bluesy, spiritual rock music by middle aged white women that was all the rage from around 1996 to 2004, and artists like Crow, Kelly Clarkson, Nelly Furtado’s folky output, Liz Phair’s self-titled album, songs like “Bubly,” “Unwritten” and that one song about feeling the rain I can never remember because it came out when I was like two.

Now, I have personally been reevaluating a lot of mom rock. Partially because a lot of this music was dismissed specifically for appealing to middle-aged women, and I want to give it a fair chance, and partially because it’s a warm wave of nostalgia for me (and most other people our age). So, imagine my surprise when I find that Sheryl Crow was uh… actually really good? Okay, obviously Sheryl Crow was a good artist, she has plenty of classic hits, but Crow’s ’90s discography is good an entirely different dimension than I expected.

As it turns out, all of the songs I remember were from her 2002 album “C’mon C’mon,” which was something of a change in direction. That was a pop-rock album, I might call it a sell-out if it weren’t filled with front-to-back bangers. We aren’t here to discuss that today because you probably already know “Soak up the Sun,” “Picture” and maybe “Steve McQueen.” We’re here to talk about her first two albums, which were, to my eternal shock, alt-rock.

To be clear, Sheryl Crow was not making grunge. She fit in more with the rootsy acoustic side of alt-rock, with her auditory aesthetic being more akin to a pumped-up Hootie and the Blowfish or a less dense REM. Crow’s take on the genre is still recognizably her own though, mixing in her country fusion, eccentric songwriting, and an eye towards pop hits with the typical REM formula. Her first two albums had a combined 4 hits, none of which I have ever heard. Maybe I’m alone in never hearing Crow’s ’90s output, but I suspect that a number of you haven’t either, so check out her self-titled album. The music isn’t just good, as a lot of her music is, but was, as the title suggests, actually kind of edgy and out of the ordinary. She went way too hard for even the alt-iest of alt-country, but too grounded and feminine for alt-rock, so I do not know how much credibility she had at the time, but to me, it sounds pretty awesome.

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Band/Artist Profile

Jack Antonoff: Pop Music Connoisseur

Jack Antonoff is a musician, writer and producer, who has been a part of many corners of the pop music industry. From being the guitarist and percussionist in Fun., to producing the soundtrack for the film “Love Simon”, to heading two of his own bands (Steel Train and Bleachers), to writing and producing for artists like Taylor Swift, Lorde, St. Vincent, The Chicks, Lana Del Rey: Jack Antonoff has done it all. He has done a great job of not only making a name for himself but also creating a sound for himself. So what makes his producing and writing so great? Grandiosity, honesty and a whole lot of synths.

As summed up in a review of Bleachers’ second album “Gone Now” by Pitchfork, Jack Antonoff doesn’t create the sleek and palatable pop music that is typical of the Top-40 Charts. His sound, especially in his solo projects, is chock-full of horns, bright piano, synths and samples. The grandiosity of his second album, “Gone Now,” was compared to Elton John in a Rolling Stone review. This same larger-than-life sound coupled with a good hook makes many of the songs he writes/produces addicting. Some examples of this being “Cruel Summer” and “Out of the Woods” by Taylor Swift, “Green Light” by Lorde and “Strawberries and Cigarettes.” Not everything he produces is as extravagant as those though, he also knows how to produce a down-to-earth ballad as can be seen in “Crowded Places” by Banks and much of “folklore,” Taylor Swift’s eighth album. 

There’s a certain honesty that comes with a song written by Antonoff. The best example of this radical honesty is, “I Wanna Get Better,” the hit single off of Bleachers’ first album, “Strange Desire.” Antonoff has been very open about losing his younger sister, Sarah, to cancer when he was 18. “I Wanna Get Better” is an autobiographical excerpt from that low period in his life. Many of the songs he writes and co-writes have themes of self-improvement and/or insecurity, “The Archer” by Taylor Swift and “Liability” by Lorde are great examples of this. Much of his work with Bleachers touches on themes of growing up in New Jersey, young love, childhood and heroes. It all feels very authentic, and, like the New York Times put it, sets him apart from the methodical and scientific approach to pop music others in the industry favor.

The mixture of extravagant instrumentals, authenticity in his songwriting and his love for synths is Antonoff’s signature, and his approach has been rewarded with critical acclaim. He’s won four Grammys for his work and is still actively creating. He recently released two singles at the end of last year, “45” and “chinatown (feat. Bruce Springsteen)” ahead of an album release that should be coming sometime in 2021. Until then, you can check out a playlist by Spotify user Nathaniel Cruel that has every song Antonoff has ever produced.

Until next time,

Caitlin

Image courtesy of Tyler Garcia (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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Band/Artist Profile

Against Me! Artist Profile

I’ve got something a little different for you today, an old fashioned punk band with a storied career: from underground darlings to this week’s savior of rock and roll to pioneers of the gender dysphoria blues, there aren’t a whole lot of bands with a career quite like Against Me! (Yes, the “!” is mandatory, so get used to it).

Against Me! has an early career that makes most punk bands seem like posers. A set of high school dropouts with felony convictions since the age of 14, brutalization by the police, anarchist leanings, and strictly independent promotion, you could hardly ask for a more nailed to rights punk story. However, their initial sound wasn’t quite as hardcore as you’d assume given these stories, they were really more like The Clash than Black Flag, and their debut album “Reinventing Axl Rose” is filled with drinking songs, dad rock, and political anthems that betray a surprising amicability with the mainstream. As a result, their albums sold shockingly well for a punk band in the mid-2000s with absolutely no label support, industry connections or nepotistic advantages. The biggest rock bands of this era were children of the industry (The Strokes, The Calling), holdovers from the 90s (Modest Mouse, Foo Fighters), or just straight up industry plants (Simple Plan, Limp Biskit). So expectations were high.

Then, Against Me! did the thing that no self-respecting punk band should ever do, they signed to a major label. Surprisingly, it went pretty well. Their style was already mainstream-friendly, so besides a clean production job and marginally less swearing, the album was authentically them, and it had the benefit of major label support. Granted, it was 2007, and rock and roll was truly dead, so their new album didn’t chart that well, but they had a few rock radio hits, and all the old school magazines like The Rolling Stone gave them absolutely rave reviews. Things were looking up, there was only one problem.

In the early 2010s, Against Me! was tired of major label bureaucracy, tired of touring, and their lead singer was tired of playing “the angry white man in a punk band.” Now, this is hardly unusual, as punk kids grow up and put their lives in a wider context, the freedom of a punk lifestyle starts to feel like its own restriction. The difference for Against Me! lead singer Laura Grace was that she was transgender, and tired of playing any kind of man in any band. The reasonable thing to do here would be brake up the band and move on to a new career in business or computer science or something like that, but you don’t get mainstream play as a punk band without having an excess of balls and a deficit of brains, so Grace tried something that to my knowledge no successful band has ever done in punk rock before: She transitioned while staying in the scene.

The machismo of traditionalist punk can at times make it an unfriendly place for any woman, much less a trans woman who until now had made music explicitly employing hyper-masculine imagery and attracting the kind of audience that connects with these symbols. In 2014, Against Me! released “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” where Grace, like many trans singers, continued singing in her original vocal range while unashamedly singing about her experiences and inner struggle. The album retains every bit of the fighting spirit of their early releases, with a new sense of vigor and direction. Their most recent album from 2017 is even better. I can recommend every album they’ve released without reservation. Whether listening to a 20-year-old punk kid reinvent Axl Rose, or a woman in her 40s fighting an entirely different kind of battle, it’s punk at its best: raw, real and ready to burn it all down to make way for something new.

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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

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Band/Artist Profile

Lucinda Williams: Country’s Goth Aunt

I’m not trying to make any presumptions about the type of person who reads this blog, but I’m going to hazard a guess that most of you haven’t heard of Lucinda Williams. Modern Country is about as far away from the “Independent/Alternative” ethos of WKNC as you can get. The genre is, in the opinion of most outsiders, directed by radio executives, skews towards a very young audience, dumb, and not especially risky. However, it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, for most of the history of Country music, it had the reputation as the most adult of genres. And not “adult” in the sense of safe or inoffensive, but adult in the sense of emotionally complex and preoccupied with serious problems and difficult subjects. This is the domain of Lucinda Williams.

Williams was atypical even in her time. She began her career in earnest at the age of 39, which is far from unheard of in country music, but for a woman in any kind of entertainment debuting at that age is still remarkable. Prior to then, she had released a few obscure traditionalist records in the early 80s, and when I say traditionalist, I mean like country circa 1930 when the genre hadn’t yet been segregated from the blues. Her self-titled 1988 album was released on Rough Trade. If you aren’t familiar with that label, it was founded by U.K. punks in the late 70s and was most known for releasing abrasive post-punk and obscure indie bands prior to signing their flagship band, The Smiths.

By the late 80s, Country had mostly made its peace with them long-haired hippies and their rock and roll, but this ceasefire did not extend to punk. This prejudice didn’t hurt Williams too much, as her music is only punk in spirit, but it should give you an idea of where she’s coming from. She has very little reverence for good old family values, which was a barrier long since broken down by the likes of Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, but Lucinda took this a step further by just being relentlessly sad. Country music has a long history of deeply unhappy music, but usually, it takes the form of a bad relationship or a family tragedy, Williams denies any such histrionics in her music. She just sounds depressed, to be honest. Even when she sings about love and relationships, there’s a kind of wistful yearning that doesn’t let up. She asks at one point on her debut “Am I too blue for you?” The answer was yes, evidently, as it would take a number of years before success finally chased her down. She never really had a top 40 country hit, though many people would find success covering her songs, her stature has grown in recent years, especially in the Americana and Alt-Country movements she helped pioneer.

If you’re interested in Lucinda Williams’ music, I would recommend either her 1998 masterpiece “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” or, if you aren’t up for a whole album, her song “The Night’s Too Long.” The song is a strange piece of songwriting. It’s in the third person, telling the story of a thinly veiled author insert named Cynthia who can’t take no more small-town living and sells all she has to move to the city. The song is honest in a lowkey way. There’s a happy ending, but there’s no closure, no grand sweeping statement on what Cindy’s story means as if a person’s life could mean anything at all. There’s just that lingering sense of wanting something more and deciding to settle for being happy anyways.

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Band/Artist Profile

Phantogram Band Profile

Created by Miranda

Phantogram was formed in 2007 by long-time friends Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter. The two met in preschool and remained friends, eventually deciding to pursue record making. Originally the band was called Charlie Everywhere, but in 2009 Carter decided on “Phantogram” as the new band name. A phantogram is an optical illusion in which a two dimensional image appears three dimensions. Though this was not Carter’s intent, it perfectly reflects that the band contains only two members but sound much more powerful together than just two people.

Phantogram released their first album, “Eyelid Movies,” in Europe and Canada in 2009 and in the United States in 2010. The album was met with great reviews, and the band continued to release singles and collaborate with artists like Big Boi and the Flaming Lips. Phantogram’s most well-known track, “When I’m Small,” was featured in numerous television shows and advertisements, another single “K.Y.S.A” was featured in Grand Theft Auto V and “Lights” appeared in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Their most recent album is “Ceremony” (2020) and while it did not chart as highly as previous albums, it is an amazing album that everyone should listen to. Phantogram creates enigmatic electronic pop with gorgeous vocal styles.

I recommend Phantogram to anyone who likes indie, pop, or electronic. Some of my favorites include “Saturday“, “Fall In Love,” and “Glowing.”

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Band/Artist Profile

Band of the Week: Gatecreeper

What’s going on Butcher Crew?! It’s your Master Butcher, The Saw, and I am back with another band of the week! If you like O.G. Death Metal, but also enjoy components of hardcore, then Gatecreeper is the band for you! 

This band combines death metal riffs and also hardcore riffs in order to formulate their sound. It gives their music a violent groove that you can both mosh and dance to! I first heard about Gatecreeper when they randomly started playing on my Spotify. I really like the feature that Spotify has in which it plays bands that they think you will like after listening to an album. I immediately added Gatecreeper to my library. They have that sound of death metal that I cannot get enough of. It’s so eerie but yet, so groovy! 

Gatecreeper is an American death metal band from Phoenix, Tempe, and Tuscan, Arizona that formed in 2013. They took the scene by surprise and seized the underground after their 2014 release of their self-titled EP. The band has combined the death metal style of Entombed but also added hardcore components. All the members of the band are fans of both death metal and hardcore, and listen to both genres frequently. Two members of the band are also in a hardcore band, Territory; of course, Gatecreeper will have some hardcore components. Their vocalist, Chase Mason, says that hardcore influence has always been there, and they do not use it any more or any less on their other albums. 

The lyrical content speaks about Mason’s heroin addiction, his former life before he joined Gatecreeper. Mason has been 8 years sober and will be at 9 years this coming August. I think it is great that Mason is open with his past and will talk about it within Gatecreeper songs because I’m sure people can resonate with the message. This is just another example of music being used as an outlet for not only the listener, but also the creator. 

Current Members: 

  • Chase “Hellahammer” Mason (vocals) 
  • Eric “The Dark Cowboy” Wagner (guitar)
  • Matt “Thunder Rage” Arrebollo (drums) 
  • Sean “Hell Mammoth” Mears (bass) 
  • Israel Garza (guitar) 

Discography: 

  • Gatecreeper (EP) (2014)
  • Sonoran Depravation (2016)
  • Deserted (2019)
  • An Unexpected Reality (2021) 

Stay Metal, 

THE SAW 

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Band/Artist Profile

Artist to Watch: reggie

There is a special feeling to hearing a song that stops you directly in your tracks. I was simply scrolling through music on Youtube when I came across the track “I Don’t Wanna Feel No More.” by reggie. The harmonies and guitar at the beginning of the song were warm and nostalgic. Yet it was once reggie began singing, that this song rocked me to my core. I knew at that moment, that this artist was something special.

Hailing from Houston, Texas, reggie delivers soulful and beautifully crafted music that is hard to ignore. With three singles available on streaming platforms, I can with absolute faith tell you he is going to be a very successful artist. Each one of the tracks he has put out has been unique in its own way while still capturing the reggie’s style and sound. The even better part? Each song is phenomenal. And this is not even exaggerating. As previously mentioned, the song “I Don’t Wanna Feel No More” separated my mind from reality for nearly three and a half minutes where all I could do is feel. It made me think about memories of youth, hard times, and in many ways hit very close to home.

Yet it doesn’t stop there. reggie’s other two tracks, “Southside Fade,” and “AINT GON STOP ME,” are also incredibly high quality. “AINT GON STOP ME,” is his more recent release, and creates a positive feel with lyrics that build up determination. On top of this, reggie has consistently quality visuals to accompany his songs. I especially love how the beauty of Black people and Southern Black culture are highlighted in them as well.

In conclusion, I am very excited to see what reggie does next and am very confident that he will exceed expectations for his fans. If you haven’t had the opportunity to hear his music yet, I highly recommend taking some time from today to check it out.

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Band/Artist Profile

Silver Apples: The Sounds of 60s Glitchpop

I have a special place in my heart for primitive uses of now commonplace technologies. There’s something so delightful about past people marveling over the revolutionary changes that, say, the microwave, will bring to our lifestyles. This extends into music. Electronic music technology was available 80 years before anyone had a clue what to do with it. Double credit for hippies convinced that synths will be the next brain-expanding discovery in the counterculture. So, given my interest in these kinds of cultural artifacts, I was surprised when my brother forwarded me an apparently prominent band in this genre whose name I’d never heard before: Silver Apples. This mystery was compounded by his only description for it, “It’s like straight up Glitchpop, but from the late sixties.”

Let’s make our introductions, there are two apples in this bunch, Danny Taylor and Simeon. They have a pretty standard hippie story until about 1967 when Simeon started to incorporate an audio oscillator into their psychedelic rock band, which promptly drove away everyone but Taylor. For context, an audio oscillator is not strictly an, uh, instrument? It’s a piece of technology used in telegraphs and radio transmissions to produce regular intervals of electric current. Like, if you set it to the right frequencies, it makes a sound, but only in the pattern of a sine wave, with a cyclical change in pitch and absolutely no change in timbre. It almost comes off as the endless repetition of a two-second recording, because the oscillator creates an identical cycle of sounds until the frequency or amplitude is changed. This limitation is doubled by the fact that there is only one audio setting total, and that is the sound of blooping robot noises.

So how does one go about making a disassembled telegraph into a musical instrument? Well, the honest answer is probably some form of now illegal drugs, but more to the point you stack like thirty of these things on top of each other and hook them to the same control panel, which is exactly what Silver Apples did. Now, for a bunch of technical reasons I’m not going to get into because trust me, you do not care, this machine is technically a form of very basic synthesizer. I did not know it was possible to make a homemade synthesizer, but Simeone managed to make one. Like most homemade instruments, Simeon’s synthesizer had its eccentricities. For instance, it wasn’t controlled through a keyboard like most synthesizers, it was controlled through a panel of telegraph levers that could be set on or off. This effectively means that playing Simeon’s “instrument” was like playing one of those flash game pianos that set each key on your keyboard to a note, except your playing it with sticky keys on, so to stop a note from playing you have to press the corresponding key. Oh, and each note isn’t one discreet pitch, but a sine wave of pitches oscillating from one extreme to the other.

If this sounds like a bit of a hot mess, you would be correct. While the music itself definitely has telltale signs of the technology used to create it, the overall effect is more calculated than you might expect. The lyrics, which yes their music has lyrics, were often written by non-musical poets the group was friends with, and Taylor is a decent art-rock drummer, comparable to her fellow female drummer in a male band, Mo Tucker. This means that their music is not an avant-garde experiment with emerging technologies, if it was it would have probably been listened to by a hand full of college professors before being forgotten. No, Silver Apples are a pop band… somehow. I can’t explain it but the whole is radically different than the sum of its parts here, and with early electronica, there are a lot of parts.

Does all this add up to Silver Apples being good? Well, to be honest with you I’m not sure. The band is certainly interesting, but there are some serious flaws. For one, I question their decision not to hire another singer, because Simone and Taylor have fairly limited ranges both vocally and in terms of expression, which isn’t great when the primary instrument is so monotonous. Also, despite the lyrics being contracted out, they are still not great. Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics have unparalleled camp value, but I’m not quite sure if “The flame is its own reflection,” is really the deep meaningful poetry Simeon thought it was.

Criticisms aside, I think there’s something to be said for primordial uses of basic musical elements. Listening to music like this reminds us that our current techniques for assembling sounds into songs are not final. Even fundamental concepts like pitch and rhythm are, at best, oversimplifications of the truth. Pitches can in fact be cycles, rhythms can be oscillations, and sometimes, music can spring from a Frankenstein’s telegraph someone built in their backyard.