Thursday, June 21, 2018

a modern tragedy, vol 1 - EP - grandson

grandson is an artist I discovered (as usual) through Mike Shinoda, partially due to a playlist he put out featuring artists he has been listening to as well as his recent feature on "Running From My Shadow" from Shinoda's new album.

"Blood // Water" was the first song I heard of grandson's, and I found myself really intrigued by the variety of sounds and influences. On this song and throughout the album, you can find a mashing of rock, rap, EDM, and more, which reminds me of Linkin Park in their early days (in an obviously more modern setting).

But, what makes grandson stand out to me is the lyrical content. Over tracks with huge energy, raging guitars and thumping beats, grandson lashes out at the system and problems common in America today. Political music feels like something that has fallen to the wayside, despite there being plenty of issues to focus on. grandson manages to incorporate anger, rage, and melancholy in his songs both lyrically and instrumentally in a way that does not feel cliche or cheap. The lyrical content complements and enhances the music, in a way I haven't heard in a long time - perhaps since Rage Against The Machine (who seem to have been an influence for him).

I think another aspect that stands out to me about grandson is his combination of rap and rock. This is not something that's new, or even that relevant anymore - the rise of nu-metal came and went almost 20 years ago. What feels fresh is the way in which he combines the genres. His guitar parts have clear classic/hard rock influences, big distorted lines that are super gritty in comparison to the booming, sharp trap beats they roar over. While I have said in previous reviews that I'm not super big on trap, this is definitely an instance where it works really, really well.

Apart from "Despicable", it seems to me that most of the songs are politically based in the lyrical content. "Blood // Water" addresses corruption and the cost of it (perhaps more directly addressing the water contamination situation that Flint, Michigan has been facing for years), with lines like:

"The price of your greed
is your son and your daughter"


"You poisoned me just for
Another dollar in your pocket".

"Stick Up" is more centered around middle to lower class America, with the 2008 recession that cost a lot of people jobs and destabilized people's families and lives. It specifically goes through the story of "Tommy", with the first verse summarizing his situation:

"Now, Tommy's a good father
Of two sons and a daughter
But he wakes up and he asks himself:
"Why even bother?"
If he cannot feed his family
The wage he's paid, it's insanity
Every day he's dealing with a new calamity".

He's clearly not someone who is in an easy situation - trouble seems to be assailing him on all sides. The song tackles the fictional path that Tommy takes, feeling as though he has nowhere left to turn except to take action against the very people responsible for the economic downturn in a violent manner. While it's not the best solution to the problem, it demonstrates the level of anger and frustration people who live in Tommy's shoes might feel and the only path they can see left.

"6:00" and "Overdose" have political tones as well, but feel a bit more specific than the previous songs. "6:00" tackles the police brutality that has risen in the public eye in recent years, specifically referencing the death of Eric Garner at the hands of a police officer with the first half of the chorus:

"How can we stand by?
Yesterday, I turned on the TV
I saw another man down
He was screaming
He can't breathe no more".

The first line also touches on the apathy that seems to be prevalent with people’s reaction to the news and the terrible things happening. It’s a tough situation - seeing that something is clearly wrong, yet having an inability to act or create change. Often, I think people feel as though they can’t make a difference, that they can’t bring about change to the system or cycle that is occurring, so they choose to ignore it or not act.

“Overdose”  is about drug use and the way in which it can spiral downwards, especially when they’re used to ignore or block out the problems and struggles of life. The first verse sets the tone from the start:

“I'm trying to feel like a rockstar, but
I can't just do one now, no
I've been way to numb now”

Drug use can start small, start simply, but ends up leaving the user feeling far worse than they would have been without the drugs. It was only a distraction from the reality of things, and can’t help you escape from that which you’re hiding from.

Now, the lyrical content is incredibly important and relevant to political and social discussions, but it also has such an impact because of the instrumentals over which grandson rages against the system. Like I mentioned before, there are elements of hip-hop/rap, rock and EDM in all the songs, but in different amounts and blends. Some songs have a heavier rap/trap influence, while others lean more into the EDM influence, and the classic/hard rock guitar prevails throughout all. "Overdose" is easily the most trap oriented, both in the instrumental and the vocals, which works for the lyrical content. "Stick Up" and "6:00" both lean heavily into their guitar parts, where as "Despicable" and "Blood // Water" give these huge, satisfying drops for the chorus. While some of these elements may, in concept, sound overdone or trendy, grandson manages to do it in a way that magnifies the fire and fury of his words. The EP, though short, is a non-stop ride of thrills, getting you on your feet, fired up, and ready to make a change. That's the beauty of it - it's meaningful music that still manages to make you want to head-bang and rock out.

For a debut, this EP is remarkable. The quality and range of music and content on this release is so engaging, leaving you thinking about it long after the music ends. grandson reveals his potential, and I sincerely believe is an artist to watch; he has only just begun.

Rating: 4.5/5

Recommended: "Blood // Water","Despicable", "6:00"

Monday, June 18, 2018

Post Traumatic - Mike Shinoda

This is an album that I had a lot of anticipation for, while also feeling hesitant about looking forward to this release. Mike Shinoda, through Linkin Park and Fort Minor, has always been one of my favorite artists, and seeing him release music under his own name, without any sort of moniker has been incredibly revealing of him as a person and an artist. However, this release is a result of an immensely tragic loss, that of Chester Bennington last July. Nearly a year after his passing, Post Traumatic reveals, in its entirety, the journey that Shinoda has embarked on since that moment that altered his life forever.

While this album documents Shinoda's grappling with the loss of one of his best friends, it also shines a light on the process of moving beyond that struggle. In the course of 16 songs, the listener gets a deeper look into the personal and emotional states Shinoda as been going through in the time span of this album's creation.

I've already talked about a few of the songs in previous reviews - see my thoughts on the original EP here ("Place To Start", "Over Again", "Watching As I Fall") and the first two singles that came with the album announcement here ("Nothing Makes Sense Anymore", "Crossing A Line").

With an album like this, it's obvious that there's going to be a lot of focus and discussion on the lyrical content (and I will be no exception to that).

Where to even begin?

Shinoda goes over a lot of content and subject matter. Songs like "Ghosts" and "Hold It Together" touch a bit more directly on the notion of dealing with pain and loss. One of the lines from the latter that really stuck out to me was the following:

"They say that they sympathize
I'm grateful they take the time
But bringing it up at this six year old birthday
It kinda fucks up my vibe"

which is such an interesting insight into the process of healing. While people may have good intentions of bringing up someone's recent loss, there are good times and bad times to bring up something like that, and the birthday party for a six year old would definitely quality as the latter.

The chorus of "Ghosts"

"The lights go down
Holding every memory close
Tonight is for our ghosts"

feels like its from a moment that's a bit farther along the path of grief, yet still dealing with the unseen - memories and the imagination - creating moments of deja vu or unexpected sorrow or anger.

Some of the more intriguing songs, lyrically, were the more rap based tracks - specifically "Running From My Shadow (feat. grandson)", "Lift Off (feat. Chino Moreno & Machine Gun Kelly), and "I.O.U.". I've included my favorite lines from each song below:

"Wanna know where I don’t go
When it goes from OK to a oh no
When it goes from hi five to a low blow
When it goes from all five to a solo" (Running From My Shadow)

"You're the opposite of stars like rats spelled backwards
I flow poems out to Saturn and past it"
"Imagine me quittin' what a travesty that’d be
You space shuttle challengers are nothin' but tragedies" (Lift Off)

"I'm ‘81 Reagan with that nonsense, miss me
Father like Francis, Anakin or John Misty"
"A huge act man like I'm known for being Logan
X-23 I’m keen to leave 'em with a femur broken" (I.O.U).

All of these songs are very different, but what keeps them together is the spotlight all of them shine on Shinoda and his lyrical and stylistic versatility. While he has broken from his beginnings of simply rapping, the bars in these songs definitely showcase why he started there and his love for the game. He still has a fire, he can still flip a line and take someone down with lyrical wordplay, and isn't afraid to do it. It feels like him, in the sense that rap has always been a part of his identity. These moments show some progress on the path to the recovery of himself; changed for sure, but still there.

A big theme I found on multiple songs dealt with self doubt, something that's not surprising after such a loss, but also not as commonly talked about (at least from my experiences with it). "Promises I Can't Keep", "Make It Up As I Go (feat. K.Flay)", "Nothing Makes Sense Anymore" all specifically touch on this.

The chorus of "Promises I Can't Keep" is pretty clear in the grappling with confidence:

"I had so much certainty
Til that moment I lost control
And I've tried but it never was up to me
I've got no worse enemy
Than the fear of what's still unknown
And the time's come to realize there will be
Promises I can't keep"

as well as learning how to accept and acknowledge limitations.

"Make It Up As I Go" touches on this concept a bit farther down the line, where it's hard to know where you're at but you keep moving forward by making it up as you go:

"I keep on running backwards
I keep on losing faith
I thought I had the answers
I thought I knew the way

My brother said be patient
My mother held my hand
I don't know what I'm chasing
I don't know who I am

So, I make it up as I go".

One of the more interesting songs, lyrically, was "About You (feat. blackbear)". In an interview with Rolling Stone, Shinoda talked about how this song addresses the idea that a lot of people are going to assume all of the songs on this album are going to be about Chester when it's not necessarily the case. It's hard to avoid that association, but also a very good point, and something that I'm sure can be a bit difficult to deal with. The best summary of this concept comes in the second verse of the song:

"No, there's not a single thing that I can say
Not a single solitary, every meaning changes shape
Even when there's no connection back to you in any line
All of a sudden it's about you and it gets me every time".

Now, while there is a lot of focus on the lyrical aspects, the instrumentals should not be left out of the spotlight. In fact, the variety of sounds and vibes are a huge part of what help solidify and strengthen the songs and their messages. Some of the songs have just straight up cool moments. The outro of "Running From My Shadow" is this intense & gritty piece, distorted guitar over the booming beats that create a head-bang worthy moment. "Hold It Together" has a very Linkin Park-esc moment during the bridge, sounding similar to something the band might have done during the Living Things era, with the drums switching to a breakdown beat as the synth solos high while the guitar keeps itself lower and driving. The verses of "Make It Up As I Go" remind me a lot of the beat/sound from "Pray For Me" off the Black Panther soundtrack, which contrasts a bit with the chorus of the song and the inclusion of female vocalist K.Flay. Even the instrumental "Brooding" manages to build itself up from piano chords and a mellow guitar line to this thumping, headphone-rattling beat that reminds me a lot of the demos Linkin Park used to put out through the LP Underground. "Promises I Can't Keep", as a whole, feels like something that would have worked so well for Chester vocally. The fact that Mike can create and tackle something like that is a mark of the progress he has made and the talent he holds within himself. I could definitely hear that song fitting in well with the rest of the music from One More Light.

Cool parts aside, Mike goes all over the place with this album. We hear pop, we hear hip-hop/rap, we hear rock, alternative, electronic, all packaged up together in a cohesive yet versatile sound that shows the insane range of Shinoda as a musician. He wrote and recorded almost everything on this album himself, with some outside mastering and mixing help and the features from other artists. It's a really incredible piece of music, from beginning to end. Despite it's length, I find a hard time calling any of the songs filler. Each track feels intentional and specifically crafted to express some sort of sentiment or emotion related to the journey past the traumatic.

Not only is it something I know I'll listen to again and again, but that I can smile about. I know Mike is getting better, working through the struggles to move on with his life, and I hope that others can find the same sense of relief - it can get better.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended: "Promises I Can't Keep", "Nothing Makes Sense Anymore", "Running From My Shadow (feat. grandson)", "I.O.U", "Crossing A Line", "Over Again", "Lift Off (feat. Chino Moreno & Machine Gun Kelly)"

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Give Yourself A Try" (Single) - The 1975

After a countdown that started at the beginning of May, The 1975 have finally released the first single to their much anticipated follow up album, currently titled A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, which the band announced is scheduled to be released in October of this year. They also announced that they would be releasing another album in May of 2019, titled Notes On The Conditional Form, which they explained is not meant as a double album but all part of the same era, dubbed "Music For Cars".

The single, titled "Give Yourself A Try", immediately sets the tone for this new era as being pointedly different from the majority of the last album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It. The song begins with a more electronic sounding beat, and some feedback noises that cumulate in the guitar riff that continues for the majority of the song. It's gritty; almost a bit messy, unlike the clean and smooth tones of their last album, but still manages to be bright and poppy at the same time. The production on the track feels different, lending itself more towards being noisy and less of a crisp, super-high production quality. Matty Healy's vocals come in soon after, serving as contrast to the instrumental's noise with the slight set of effects applied to his voice (echo and pitch correction, if I'm correct). The highest point of contrast is the chorus, where the instrumental seems to peak in terms of the amount of distortion and Healy's vocals sweep over the track as he sings "Won't you give yourself a try?" again and again. 

The song is catchy as hell. It's obviously upbeat, with lots of bright tones despite the overall distortion and grittiness. However, there's an ever so slight sense of melancholy, perhaps a tinge of emo, that seeps through the whole song. A big part of that is the lyrics, which are one of the more intriguing aspects of the track and keeps me coming back time after time. The line that first caught my attention (for a few reasons) is in the second verse:

"I found a grey hair in one of my zoots
Like context in a modern debate I just took it out".

For those unfamiliar (as was I; I had to look this up), the term "zoot" is slang for a joint. I swore that they were saying "suit", which in my mind makes more sense; oh well. The line as a whole, though, is so simple yet absolutely relatable and true. I think about that line a lot now whenever I'm on social media sites, reading through stories and people's thoughts. It's so easy for people to take what they want from a story or source, and use it completely out of it's context to supplement their own argument or point. 

The third verse is also spectacular as a whole:

"'And what would you say to your younger self?'
Growing a beard's quite hard
And whiskey never starts to taste nice
And you'll make a lot of money, and it's funny
'Cause you'll move somewhere sunny and get addicted to drugs
And spend obscene amounts on fucking seeds and beans online"

The whole song touches a lot on dealing with the changes of growing up and dealing with the changes of adulthood, but this verse felt particularly relatable. The more I grow up, the more I find things I wish I could tell myself when I was younger; especially when it comes to this notion that growing up and being an adult makes everything better. As I've discovered and am constantly learning, that is not quite the case - being an adult has it's perks, no doubt about that, but it also has it's own pitfalls and struggles. I think the last part of the verse really exemplifies that notion, with making a lot of money (which people automatically assume means your problems go away) but usually just results in a different, more specific set of issues. I also just really liked the second and third line; as someone who is working on the beard thing and hasn't quite learned to like whiskey, I can laugh a little and know that other people my age feel the same. 

I absolutely love this song. I wasn't sure what to expect with this new album(s), but this song shows me that The 1975 will continue to be one of my favorite groups, and that I get to grow up with them in this new era. 

Rating: 5/5