Run the Jewels: ‘Run the Jewels 2’

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The unlikely pair of Killer Mike and EL-P have made a name for themselves as “the jewels runners, top tag team for two summers…”

A few months ago, the hip-hop tag team Run the Jewels (EL-P and Killer Mike) had the internet buzzing when they released the full details of Run the Jewels 2 online, which included a number of ridiculous pre-order packages such as the “Self Righteousness for Sale Package,” priced at $350,000.00 USD, and the “Run the Jewels Retirement Plan Package” for 10 million that would see the pair retire from music to make only one song a year for the lucky owner. However, the packages all come with a disclaimer: “run the jewels reserves the right to take your money and not fulfill any of the obligations outlined in any package priced 35k or more.” Ironically, the only package that garnered a serious response, the “Meow the Jewels Album Package,” is priced at 40k, and promises a re-recorded version of the album where the music is made using only cat sounds. Someone created a Kickstarter, and now EL-P and Killer Mike are looking for tonally-gifted cats. The Kickstarter has surpassed its goal of $40,000 by over 25k, and the project is still receiving funding every day.

Run the Jewels are just doing what they do best: running the motherfucking jewels. The unlikely pair of Killer Mike and EL-P have made a name for themselves as “the jewels runners, top tag team for two summers” with their abrasive style and heavy flow, rapping about crime, sex, and conspiracy with a politically-charged fervor unmatched by any other rappers in the game right now. RTJ2 is a statement stronger than anything they’ve done before, both collectively and independently, and shows them to be in a league of their own within the hip-hop world. If Run the Jewels proved that [they] was fuckin’ brutal,” on RTJ2 they have the authority to back it up, and the sharp-witted lyricism of songs like “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” maintains its punch even against EL-P’s hardest-hitting production to date.

The low synth-line of “Jeopardy” opens the album after an introduction by Killer Mike, whose bragging rhymes build into a solo-ing guitar riff and electronically modified horns. EL-P finally comes in after a washed-out break in the middle of the song, establishing two very different rapping voices from the outset, although they merge into one on the following track, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” when EL-P says “I do two things, I rap and fuck,” and Killer Mike picks up where he left off with “I fuckin’ rap.” RTJ2 is full of this interchange between its two main protagonists, “one black, one white,” but both “shoot[ing] to kill,” and Run the Jewels uses their dynamic to go straight for the jugular, taking down any and all systems of power in their wake.

Guest spots are filled judiciously: Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha appears for a verse on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” Travis Barker of Blink-182 drums on “All Due Respect,” and Gangsta Boo features on the sexually-overt-to-the-point-of-being-cringe-worthy “Love Again (Akinyele Back).” Beyonce-collaborator BOOTS takes the production to another level on “Early,” and Foxygen’s Diane Coffee adds to the slower vibe of “Crown.” “Angel Duster” ends the album with a trap-acid-jazz feel in a similar vein to Flying Lotus, jamming out on a jazzy keyboard line and a classic Run the Jewels repeated loop for the album’s final minute and a half.

The funny joke-turned-PR-stunt that has accrued so much of the hype for RTJ2 and its forthcoming Meow the Jewels remix album have only propelled Run the Jewels into new crossover territory; their latest announcement was for a project called ‘Tag the Jewels,’ for which graffiti artists all over the world have been enlisted to put up graffiti representations of the album’s cover. All of this shows that Run the Jewels know how to engage a modern audience. But there’s still a hell of a lot of darker social and political commentary running beneath the surface to be discovered.

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Childish Gambino: ‘STN MTN / Kauai’

By Pete Moorechildish-gambino-announces-gangsta-grillz-mixtape-stn-mtn-kauai-1

“Full of southern trap inspired sounds and classic mixtape reinterpretations of hit songs…”

Childish Gambino has always kept his fans guessing, and has always kept his fans excited for what is coming next. His last project, ‘Because the Internet’ showcased a new side of Gambino; a side of Gambino that was conceptual, contemplative, focused, and progressive. The album’s multi-layered and multi-media experience had the internet buzzing. So when less than a year after his 2nd studio album he started hinting towards the release of a mysterious project he was working on, there was no shortage of excitement. With no release date, the project’s sudden appearance online came as a pleasant surprise to everyone.

‘STN MTN / Kauai’ is a double sided project with the ‘STN MTN’ side as a Gangsta Grillz mixtape complete with commentary from DJ Drama and the famous “gansta gizzle” ad lib from Lil Jon. However, what comes off as a “ROYALTY” mixtape rehash goes deeper than what may come out on the first listen. The albums starts with a monologue where CG depicts a dream of Atlanta throwbacks. In this same dream he says he had his own Gangsta Grillz mixtape. By abruptly ending the album on “Go DJ” with the words “… and then I woke up”, he creates this meta, inception-like, “was it real” concept to just mess with your brain.

Concept aside, Gambino’s intent on the mixtape seems to be to prove that he is bonafide Atlanta. Full of southern trap inspired sounds and classic mixtape reinterpretations of hit songs, the album strategically starts with Gambino spitting over top of Ludacris’ classic “Southern Hospitality” and then transitions to “Partna Dem” by Rich Kidz, both Atlanta artists. ‘STN MTN’ is full of great gems. Where “U Don’t Have to Call” gives us a taste of the softer side of Gambino we might be more familiar with, “All Y’all” encapsulates the Gangsta Grillz feel perfectly. The mixtape can loosely be summarized by the line “God damn, I’m just being who I am / From that weird ass little kid to this ballin’ ass grown man” which speaks to the establishment of a tougher, Atlanta born-and-raised side of Gambino that we are presented with.

Despite this portrait ‘STN MTN’ gives us, ‘Kauai,’ the B-Side EP of this project, presents us with an entirely new style. Starting off with his single “Sober”, which sounds like a Bruno Mars and Kanye West collaboration, the tone is set early for this part of the project. With a singing to rapping ratio at about 3:1, ‘Kauai’ shows a much more poppy side of Gambino, and with “The Palisades” sounding like an early 2000s Justin Timberlake throw-away instrumental, this side of Gambino seems to draw influence from many pop icons. The album also adds to the story of The Boy, the protagonist from ‘Because the Internet.’ However, this time he is portrayed by internet legend Jaden Smith, who contributes some spoken word that tells the story of an adolescent boy on the beach with a girl in Kauai. Despite this silliness, ‘Kauai’ does have some replay value with songs like “Poke”, an OutKast-esque jam with an awesome verse from Gambino’s brother Steve G Lover.

Perhaps Gambino’s most braggadocious (but sincere) statement on the entire project comes on “Move That Dope / Nectel Chirp / Let Your Hair Blow” when he raps “I’m just making culture.” Gambino is pushing the boundaries of Hip-Hop, embracing new forms of marketing and exploring new musical frontiers. Although musically this might not be Childish Gambino’s most solid effort, experimentally it goes above and beyond. What the sudden release of ‘STN MTN / Kauai’ proves to Childish Gambino fans is not only is he embracing yet another (or two) new phases of artistry, but that after all he’s put us through, he still has a number of tricks under his sleeve.

Caribou: ‘Our Love’

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“‘Our Love’ finds Snaith at the height of his powers. “Silver” is an undulating, synth-based track that floats above itself as though in a dream, and the percussive “Mars” recalls ‘Swim’s’ dizzying “Sun.”

It’s hard getting past the euphoric “Can’t Do Without You” that opens ‘Our Love’ and into the rest of its spacious, infectious expanse. The opening track of Dan Snaith’s fourth album as Caribou is liquid MDMA, a titanic song that takes one simple loop, ‘I can’t do without you,’ and builds it up to dancefloor-filling capacity. Its repeated refrain is endlessly explorable, taking over your entire concentration for its four-minute running time.

Unlike most modern dance tracks, however, you can listen to “Can’t Do Without You” a hundred times without getting sick of it, even though it never really reaches a climax, or even a chorus. It’s the sonic equivalent of getting ready; it builds and builds without really ending up anywhere. EDM-heads that are all about the drop will wonder what’s the point, but Snaith has carved out a very different kind of electronic music with ‘Our Love’ that echoes life: it’s not about the destination, it’s about getting there. “Can’t Do Without You” has only been around for a couple of months, but it already feels like one of the best songs of the decade.

The rest of ‘Our Love’ proves that Snaith is worthy of this high praise. 35, married, and with kids, he seems like an unlikely character to be creating some of the most forward-thinking electronic music around today. Though 2010’s ‘Swim’ was considerably dance-influenced, Snaith’s background is playing in alternative rock bands, and he holds a PhD in Mathematics. A Canadian, Snaith moved to London in 2001, where he took cues from Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet), one of his closest friends. Since 2005’s ‘The Milk of Human Kindness,’ Snaith has been quietly creating some of the most astonishing electronic music of the last decade as Caribou, as well as under his dance alias, Daphni.

‘Our Love’ finds Snaith at the height of his powers. “Silver” is an undulating, synth-based track that floats above itself as though in a dream, and the percussive “Mars” recalls ‘Swim’s’ dizzying “Sun.” Title track “Our Love” perfectly thematizes the album, both in its depiction of a shared love and in its rhythmic pulse: the fractured bass and snare that define the genre, and makes those in the room want to dance.

The sexy “Second Chance” features the brilliant-in-her-own-right Jessy Lanza singing “Tell me if you really want it / Cause boy you know I do” and draws a connection to FKA twigs’ cavernous debut from earlier this year. The two-minute-long “Julia Brightly” sounds like it arrives from another planet, looping just a couple of words into its soundscape so many times they become incomprehendable. “Back Home” and “Your Love Will Set You Free” offer a compelling conclusion and a soundtrack for the end of the night.

But ‘Our Love’ finds its whole through its simple but effective theme: group love. Dance music has never been this inviting, this shareable, and this appreciable among a wide audience that ranges from indie to electronic lovers. This is music that brings people together, and some of its most prolific tracks could be stretched out to seven or eight minutes without losing their interest. “Can’t Do Without You” never wants to end, and “Our Love” already feels like a post-disco classic, but they’ll get the remix treatment, and have already been given extended mixes by Snaith’s Daphni persona. ‘Our Love’ is a dance album that feels club-ready, and yet so real that it echoes daily life. It’s the kind of album that you dance to with your best friends at the end of the night.

SBTRKT: ‘Wonder Where We Land’

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“‘Wonder Where We Land’ builds on the production ideas of 2014’s Transitions EP and fleshes them out with vocalists and sharp-edged lyricism.”

‘Wonder Where We Land’ has a long list of collaborators. Regular SBTRKT vocalist Sampha, newcomer Raury, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, fellow Young Turks signee Koreless, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, singer Jessie Ware, up-and-comer Denai Moore, and rapper A$AP FERG all make it onto the 40-minute eclectic cut from London’s most enigmatic producer.

All of this makes for a very different album than 2011’s ‘SBTRKT,’ and at times ‘Wonder Where We Land’ doesn’t seem to form a cohesive whole. Short, progressive interludes “Day 1” and “Day 5” introduce the dance-ready post-dubstep of “Lantern” and interpose the trap stoner-anthem “Higher” and the disjointed trip-hop of “Look Away.” A more familiar SBTRKT dominates the slow-burning title track, and “Temporary View,” and the jazzy, poppy “NEW DORP. NEW YORK” is an album highlight.

Perhaps what this points to is Aaron Jerome’s response to the single-dominated world of electronic music. He builds on the production ideas of 2014’s Transitions EP and fleshes them out with vocalists and sharp-edged lyricism. But the songs are just that: singles. There isn’t a complete sense of the immersive album experience with which ‘Wonder Where We Land’ wants to entreat us. The electronic interludes don’t stand up on their own, and the SBTRKT moniker becomes that of a producer: the beats behind the songs rather than the songs themselves.

This all changes when you see SBTRKT live. Field Day 2014: London’s most left-field electronic music festival. A giant inflated panther-like creature looms over the foggy stage, brushing against the tarpaulin ceiling of the massive packed tent and threatening to knock over the instruments ornately arranged on stage with one swipe of its man-sized paw. The air smells of cigarette smoke sweetened by designer drugs, and the ground is littered with nitrous canisters. Aaron Jerome and co. take to the stage, adorned in emblematic tribal masks.

Seeing SBTRKT live is a fully immersive experience. The songs are fleshed out with a five-piece band and guest vocalists have their work cut out for them if they want to command the stage. Sampha seems right in his comfort zone and has the crowd hyped even for new track “Temporary View,” and joining in on the lyrics for cuts from 2011’s ‘SBTRKT.’ 19-year old Denai Moore seems more tentative and struggles to hold the crowd on new song “The Light,” partly because she herself is new to the big stage, having yet to put out her debut. But where SBTRKT commands the most live is on the dancier instrumental tracks that become lost on the album, such as “Lantern,” or the building, vocal-sampled “Everybody Knows.”

SBTRKT works best when given our full attention, and on ‘Wonder Where We Land,’ the focus is on the names it champions, like A$AP FERG on the cool, laid-back “Voices In My Head.” The gorgeous electronic production becomes the background, and the moments when it stands alone feel like interludes. Rather than an immersive listening experience, ‘Wonder Where We Land’ is a collaborative project, which showcases Aaron Jerome’s skillful production but doesn’t really show the full extent of what he can do. For that, you’ll have to see him live.

Alt-J: ‘This Is All Yours’

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“There will always be artists experimenting with different styles. There will be few this good.”

Alt-J has always been discordant. Their debut, 2012’s ‘An Awesome Wave,’ epitomized modern music in its diverse and eclectic landscape, drawing on a number of different sources and ideas. Their follow-up, ‘This Is All Yours,’ travels further down the rabbit hole. Miley Cyrus vocal samples and bird calls weave around subtle hooks and rich textures. Whereas ‘An Awesome Wave’ was a triumph of eclecticism, however, ‘This Is All Yours’ is a concept album. Enter Nara—the album’s contextual framework—a city in Japan known for its large, aggressive deer. Unlike ‘An Awesome Wave,’ which was experimental and diverse in its sense of place, ‘This Is All Yours’ creates a fictionalized ‘Nara’ where nature and technology exist harmoniously.

2014 (and the latter part of 2013) has been dominated by ‘art rock’ albums that bring into question the relationship between humans and technology. Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’ suggested that art, like a computer screen, operates as a mirror for our own preconceptions and reflections. With ‘This Is All Yours,’ Alt-J has accomplished something a little different. In Nara we have a sort of utopia, where a technological society and the natural world function in harmony, an idea evoked by the refrain in ‘Arrival in Nara,’ “though I cannot see I can hear.”

Nevertheless, there remain darker complications in Nara—and of course it wouldn’t be a utopia if we had to leave. The climax of the album occurs as though in full wide-screen format in songs like ‘The Gospel of John Hurt,’ and the epic ‘Bloodflood Pt. II,’ which suggests the conflict of a movie battle scene. The song’s final build-up is evocative of Sigur Rós, and the line ‘A flood of blood straight to the heart’ now spans almost 10 minutes of Alt-J’s career.

Weaker songs like ‘Pusher’ feel like filler, but the album’s lead singles (‘Hunger of the Pine,’ ‘Left Hand Free,’ and ‘Every Other Freckle’) are instant Alt-J classics—although ‘Left Hand Free’ is the most distinctly different. Comparisons of its hillbilly alt-rock to The Black Keys miss the connection to fellow English artist Jake Bugg, the Black Keys’ opener on their latest tour.

Like any good album since Pink Floyd, ‘This Is All Yours’ has two sides, separated by the minute-long track ‘Garden of England’—an interlude comprised of bird noises and flutes. But the track that seems most Floydian in influence is quasi-title track ‘Nara,’ which renders the argument that Alt-J is ‘the next Radiohead’ beside the point. There will always be artists experimenting with different styles. There will be few this good.

‘This Is All Yours’ grows on you, like ivy climbing its way up a tree. It has a rawness, a sense of existing in the natural world interposed with sounds found in the hip-hop loop boards of old electronic keyboards. The sonically beautiful ‘Choice Kingdom’ and ‘Warm Foothills’ create an abundance of natural sound images—guest vocalist Maria Hackman and Joe Newman’s interplay on the latter (which also features Conor Oberst) injects the human side of ‘This Is All Yours.’ Alt-J ends the album after ‘Leaving Nara’ with a subdued cover of Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day,’ signifying our arrival back in the world outside of Nara—and it feels utopic. The effect is one of the strongest moments on ‘This Is All Yours’ and contributes to the ever-evolving sound of a band at the forefront of modern music.