Friday, July 3, 2015

Best New Track: Beach House's "Sparks"

In 2012, acclaimed Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House (made up of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally) transitioned from the druggy, whimsical anthems that wooed us on 2010's Teen Dream to the weightier indie-rock performance we heard on Bloom - one of the best albums of the past decade. Although similarly dreamy, it was good to know they had more than one sonic trick up their sleeves.

Three years later, they've dropped "Sparks," the first single off their majorly anticipated third record depression cherry, which pulls hints from both the airy shoegaze and melodic simplicity of their past. Starting with an awesome, feedback-riddled guitar line that's destined for large spaces, layers of Legrand's haunting vocals show up to coo about our favourite Beach House themes: youth and love. There's a lot more going on than we might be used to on a Beach House track, but that beautiful, repetitive hook ties everything neatly together, offering a glimpse into what might be a really expansive next effort.

depression cherry is out August 28 via Sub Pop.

image via beach house

Thursday, July 2, 2015

#BBHMM: Queen Rihanna Continues Trailblazing for Women in Music

Last night, Rihanna released the video for her platinum-selling single "Bitch Better Have My Money," and it was everything (and more) that was promised in Tuesday's trailer: nudity, violence, drugs and just a handful of other mind-melting things crammed into one blockbuster 7-minute saga. 

On the heels of being named the best-selling digital artist of all-time (meaning, RiRi has more than 100 million Gold & Platinum song certifications), I can't think of a better time to release this graphic video and cement what people have been thinking since she first hopped on Instagram - Rihanna might be the baddest bitch in music. With T-Swift and Katy Perry trailing close behind in single sales and now these cinematic (to put it lightly) new visuals, Rihanna is making it pretty damn clear she calls the shot-shot-shots.

In the #BBHMM video, Rihanna and her cohorts kidnap and torment her accountant's wife (or, the "bitch") in attempt to get what's owed to her. Co-directed by RiRi herself, they stuff the woman into a trunk, cart her around to warehouses, yachts, motel rooms and backyards where they drink, smoke weed and party alongside their hostage before returning to murder the accountant, who clearly never paid up. The video ends with Rihanna sprawled over heaps of money in the aforementioned trunk, sparking a joint, naked and covered in blood. Damn.

(If, at this point, you expect me to address what would happen if a male made this video - eff off, it's not the same.)

Since the end of her abusive relationship with King of Trash Chris Brown, Rihanna has been on the bad bitch upswing - constantly reinventing with each record-breaking single. What started as different stylistic strokes to separate her from BeyoncĂ© comparisons escalated into territory and behaviour that clarifies the two are freakin' night and day. Also groundbreaking, BeyoncĂ© is an otherworldly talent as a performer, singer and brand. Rihanna is 2015's Madonna-like slap-in-the-face to anyone who thinks women need to conduct themselves in any one way.  

An Island girl to the core, Rihanna hasn't woken up and decided to be a bad assShe's not newly shoving her liberation down everyone's throats (although, anyone who's been under a rock and is introduced to RiRi through the #BBHMM video might think so). She grew up in Barbados, with half-siblings who all had different mothers. She sold clothing on the street with her father, who was also addicted to crack and booze. She was discovered and made it out when she was 16, but is still admirably loyal to her family and roots.  

Instead of tossing out a wardrobe malfunction or girl-on-girl kiss at her first public appearance, Rihanna's @badgalriri evolution has been long in the making. 

It started with 2011's Talk That Talk and the sultry "Birthday Cake." Progressed to a body covered in tattoos. Snapchats loaded with her wild, female-filled entourage partying hard and enjoying her success. A music video and album cover where she glistens with sweat, rocks Frida Kahlo-thick eyebrows and sports baggy denim that hides her svelte figure. A see-through dress to the CFDA awards. Her anticipated return to Instagram and DGAF-themed posts. And now the explosive climax - a video like this.

You could argue young girls will look up to Rihanna and think it's cool to hit bongs and party, the same way you could argue young girls will look up to Taylor Swift's all-white model entourage and decide it's cool to be flawless. She's celebrating, glorifying and rolling in her success the way any male hip-hop or R&B mogul would do - except she's a hell of a lot more interesting, and unpredictable, to watch. 

One thing's for sure, Rihanna won't be remembered for prancing around on the beach, a fresh-faced 17 year-old Barbadian singing love songs, and she won't be remembered for getting her face bloodied by her ex-boyfriend on the way to The Grammys. She'll most definitely be remembered for the fearlessness that followed - and that's something every young girl and woman could stand to learn from.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Guest Post: Kendrick Lamar to America - "We Gon' Be Alright"

Opinions and love for Kendrick run in the family. My awesome brother, Sam, decided to hop on the ITR mic today to talk about the state of the US and hip-hop's response to it - Kendrick Lamar.

It’s been a tumultuous month in the United States, beginning with the atrocity in Charleston and capped with the landmark ruling on same-sex marriage. It’s a country exhausted and divided, which is made evident when you consider the three major appearances the United States president made in the past two weeks: one deflated address after lives lost, one elated speech after love won and one urging his citizens to find grace in their current circumstance.

Needless to say, Americans have desperately been needing reassurance that things will get better.

Enter Kendrick Lamar. During his astonishing performance of his new single "Alright" at Tuesday’s BET Awards, Lamar - one of the most important artists of our generation - drove that point home every time he chanted "We gon' be alright." As a known hip-hop messiah from Compton, always giving voice to the voiceless, Kendrick’s song undoubtedly means a lot to many people already. But it took on another manifestation when performed that night, this year, during an era of seemingly constant chaos in the United States.

As much as he is being dubbed the voice of a generation by supporters, Kendrick is also labelled dangerous by detractors. Most recently, by Geraldo Rivera and the ever-enraging FOX News panel. I came across this "discussion" of Lamar’s “Alright” while looking for the accompanying (and widely celebrated) music video. Urging the masses to "wake up," Geraldo claims that "hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years." FOX highlights the song’s lyrics "we hate po-po" and "my gun might blow" in bold letters across the screen, and then state that these are "Lamar's views on police brutality" - punctuating the diatribe with a smug, smiling mockery of his slang pronunciation of the words "for sure." Here is the full verse from “Alright”:

Wouldn't you know/ We been hurt, been down before/ N*gga, when our pride was low/ Lookin' at the world like, "Where do we go?"/ N*gga, and we hate po-po/ Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho/ N*gga, I'm at the preacher's door/ My knees gettin' weak, and my gun might blow/ But we gon' be alright.

It’s near useless to pit Kendrick Lamar against someone who thought a hoodie was as much to blame for a teenager's death as the man who pulled the trigger. I find it difficult to believe the two are of the same species. Geraldo and his team missed the point. In a two minute segment riddled with hypocrisy, mockery and faux-anger they manage to both belittle a person and a movement, while at the same time instilling fear and misinformation in their audience.

“Alright” is far from a hateful rant against police brutality, as stated by the panel - it’s a declaration of strength by someone who’s attempting to forge forward amid the confusion. Should they have examined the lines in full, a different picture would have been painted for the viewers. "My knees getting weak, and my gun might blow, but we gon' be alright" lyrically embodies both the literal weak-kneed, gun-toting criminal and a person exhausted by years of degradation, who endures.

This FOX segment is less about Kendrick Lamar's rapping on top of a vandalized police car (a metaphor in itself for rising above violence, which he’s condemned and been lambasted for previously) and more about waving shiny objects to misdirect attention from the larger discussion of race relations in the US. Geraldo emphatically states that it is "the wrong message" to associate the actions of Dylann Roof with the incidents of police brutality of late when they are, quite clearly, the same issue manifesting in different ways.

Now, while the comments on FOX News are disturbing and beyond infuriating, the shining light in the entire debacle remains Kendrick Lamar. We put a lot of pressure on celebrities to provide us with answers in times of worry. As much as some people look to a Kendrick Lamar, Tupac or Bob Dylan for comfort, others turn to Geraldo Rivera and his friends. The glaring difference between these two groups of celebrity soothsayers is that one believes they have the answers while the other asks the questions. I am not looking for answers when I listen to Dylan or Kendrick; they put me at ease because I hear them asking the same questions I am. So, while it aggravates me that Geraldo has pegged Kendrick Lamar and hip-hop as the downfall for the youth, I am put at ease by the fact that Kendrick Lamar and his art make me question 'why?' The old adage that the loudest in the room is the weakest rings true in situations like these, so I am quite content to let Geraldo and his ilk have their convictions while the rest of us keep asking questions.

- Sam Huddleston

The evils of Lucy was all around me
So I went running' for answers.

-Kendrick Lamar

If I wasn't Bob Dylan, I'd probably think Bob Dylan had a lot of answers myself.
-Bob Dylan

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Best New Music: Miguel's Continued Gospel of Sex on 'Wildheart'

Before Miguel's Wildheart was released yesterday, and was only a string of enticing, X-rated singles, it was already one of the best albums of 2015.

On the follow-up to his 2012 masterpiece, Kaleidoscope Dream, this generation's R&B Prince (as in, both royalty and "the artist formerly known as") is even more explicitly the brilliant, fearless purveyor of lessons on how to love and lust for a woman. 

Some of Wildheart's 16 tracks are listed in either small or large caps - a solid representation of what's in store on each one - and are a delicious mix of deep dirt and intimacy, all saying a different, but equally compelling, variation of the same thing: Miguel might understand the spiritual power of sex better than anyone, ever. Sometimes it's druggy and sinful, sometimes it's sacred - and you'll know the difference as the record's instrumentation moves between between buzzy guitars and sweet balladry. But every time, it's the impossibly soulful, hypnotic voice of Miguel that lays it on you without mercy - and that's what makes this album, and likely every Miguel album that will follow it, totally perfect.

Best Tracks: FLESH, Coffee, what's normal anyway, Hollywood Dreams

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Best New Album: Kacey Musgraves' 'Pageant Material'

Fact: Kacey Musgraves is the only contemporary mainstream country music artist I listen to. Or ever have.

Two years ago, I stumbled upon her feisty debut album, Same Trailer, Different Park, after reading a review that described her as the "Kendrick Lamar of country" - a badmouthing, expectation-defying rebuttal to (then still) country Taylor Swift and her fellow purveyors of country pop ideals. I was immediately refreshed by her disses of stale, white picket-lined towns and some of the laughable scandal and culture that accompanies it all. In her songs, Musgraves talks often about the need to get out - similar to some of raps biggest influencers - and, it's more clear now than ever, that she has.

Musgraves didn't have a dissimilar upbringing to any of the Hot Country-topping cowgirls - she grew up in Texas, began writing songs at age eight and hit local festivals and fairs to show her talent, before getting a record deal. Her voice and strummed melodies are sweet as pie, so she I'd bet she was always destined for bigger stages, but how she uses that voice and stage are what sets the 26 year-old firecracker apart.

On her sophomore album, Pageant Material, Musgraves weaves together another 13 breaths of fresh air. The uncomplicated (so, in essence, real country) instrumentation and song genetics are sort of genius; they allow her also-uncomplicated songbird voice to state her claims plainly, and wisely, from the get-go. There's no shortage of commentary about good values, love lost and being yourself - but it's how Musgraves bends the typical tricks and gimmicks of traditional country western storytelling ("I'd rather lose for what I am, than win for what I ain't") when doling out untraditional lessons that makes her the new queen of the genre.

image via

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell Cover "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)"

A month ahead of Iron & Wine and Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell's collaborative covers album, Sing Into My Mouth, the two have released a rustic-sounding spin on the Talking Heads' 1983 classic, "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)."

The famous new wave single has always been an awesomely unconventional one in the pop world, so this surprising, twang-riddled folk adaptation definitely jacks up the accessibility. Sam Beam (Iron & Wine mastermind) and Bridwell's harmonies are clear as glass throughout the soft Americana cover, reassuring (as if anyone had any doubt) that the two singer-songwriters are a collaboration match made in heaven.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Vance Joy Releases New Single: "Great Summer"

After his huge debut album, Dream Your Life Away, Vance Joy has dropped a one-of single that's set to be part of the soundtrack for the film adaptation of John Green's Paper Towns (starring Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne).

Straight up, I dig it. Sounding nothing like the folky balladry we've come to know from the Aussie songbird (born James Keough), "Great Summer" sounds like some expansive, early millennium Rogue Wave or Nada Surf college-rock that melodically hits all the right spots. Built off straightforward guitar lines, upbeat piano and some always-welcome xylophone twinkles, Keough's laid-back vocals are the perfect fit for this summery tale of lost love.

img via