Thursday, July 30, 2015

Are You Onto Júníus Meyvant? Listen to His Gorgeous Debut EP

2015 is the year of many big things; some of which include a massive hip-hop revival, Rihanna and the rise of Scandinavian superstars.

There's been no shortage of discussing the latter on here, but it's usually centred around progressive Scandinavian female pop stars and their bridge into North America. In this case, the Nordic star worth praising is Júníus Meyvant (or, 32 year-old Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson) - who, for some reason unbeknownst to me, no one else is really talking about. Seriously, what is going on? This guy is brilliant.

In late 2014, I stumbled across Sigurmundsson's breathtaking first single "Color Decay" (which I promptly added to the top five of my 'Best of 2015' list) and then began the patient wait for more. More music, more critical praise, more uprising around his soulful folk balladry that keeps up with the big likes of Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez and The Tallest Man on Earth. Two weeks ago, new music was finally released in the form of a four-song, self-titled debut EP - but I find myself still waiting for that aforementioned chatter. I'm more than happy to do the talking until others hop on the wagon.

Hailing from the Vestmann Islands, the Icelandic father of two speaks little English - but that doesn't stop him from stringing together poetic lyrics about romance, which are more often than not delivered via nature similes. Instrumentally, his melodic odes are the musical equivalent to 'everything but the kitchen sink' - piecing together horns, robust string sections, percussive odds and ends and his distinct, haunting guitar plucks (most perfectly heard on my favourite new track, "Singles"). His voice, either barely there or endearingly husky, could be one of the strongest new voices out there - so, here's hoping it spreads further soon.

Have a listen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Get in there, Nicki.

I love Twitter. A lot.

I can't speak for other industries or subject matter, but most people who work in music or write about music are constantly engaging in open, hilarious, honest Twitter dialogue on everything that's happening. It's a never-ending goldmine. A few minutes perusing Twitter each morning and I'm not only up to date on what's going on in music, but I've likely formed a strong (hopefully pithy and funny) opinion along with hundreds of other music writers.

One thing that's been seemingly plaguing a lot of us lately is Nicki Minaj, or a lack thereof. 

Last week, Meek Mill, Nicki's fiancé, accused Drizzy, Nicki's good friend and labelmate, of having ghostwriters. Also last week, Taylor Swift took Nicki's accurate Twitter criticism of primarily white, female VMA nominees to heart and responded. Save for a few quick social responses, one of rap's indisputably most talented females has remained musically mum.

Quite frankly, it's killing me. Common assumption is she's waiting for the right time - when Drizzy cools it on his (quite dope) surprise diss tracks or when her man Meek (a talented artist who's yet to musically respond post-accusation) has the chance to fire back himself. But, Queen Nicki is nothing short of vehemently opinionated, and although she's in the middle of her (already praised) The Pinkprint Tour - there's been a lot of sh*t happening in her world lately, and she's just got to have some fire brewing. 

For those of you wondering why anyone is waiting for anything, there's really no explanation other than, at different points in history, this is hip-hop. It's personal, fast-moving and impossible to look away from. In this genre, filled with real writers, there's no need to craft the perfect instrumentation or package music before releasing it. They just have to get in front of a mic, wait for the sun to go down and hit us with the real talk. So, please, Nicki - drop it. Drop it now and put the whole thing to rest.

Below, my favourite tweets from the Twitter discourse.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Best New Track: Drake's "Hotline Bling"

After getting charged up earlier this week over Meek Mill's accusations that he didn't write his own lyrics, Toronto ambassador Drake has decided to do a little more of what he does best - drop unsurprisingly amazing surprise tracks.

Last night, Drake pushed another new track onto maybe the world's coolest remaining (honestly, how has the OVO crew not sprung for a different URL?) titled "Hotline Bling." If the island-y sample sounds familiar, it's because Drake has pulled from D.R.A.M's groovy "Cha Cha," which dropped in March.

In what might be 2015's sing-rap response to "Hold On We're Going Home" or "Tuesday," "Hotline Bling" has Drizzy laissez-faire crooning about yet another hometown hunny who no longer booty calls him on his cell phone, leaving him wondering where she is and who she's with. Poor Aubrey; it seems the higher (way, way) up he gets, the more down girls he loses.

So far, all of Drake's recent exclusives have been premiered on his must-hear Beats 1 OVO Sound show. If you want to get to these hot new tracks before they hit the aforementioned blogspot, you should probably tune in.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Best New Album: Tame Impala's 'Currents'


I just did something that I rarely do - I took a substantial vacation. And, unlike Christmastime, when I take vacation but also count down (daily) the best songs of the year, I vowed to not do any blogging. Which at the beginning felt nice, but then drove me slowly crazy, because I love it and feel like my hands are tied when I'm not sharing new music.

And let me tell you, a week away from the music wire amounts to so. much. new. stuff! I considered us in a little bit of a 'new music drought' prior to my leaving (which really meant, like, one slow week of new releases), but, man, things revved up once I left. 

Mainly in the form of the new Tame Impala album. My goodness, what a perfect place to start.

Currents, Aussie mastermind Kevin Parker's third release, was staged in my mind as one of those releases with so may exceptional singles that the filler bits might sound mediocre or much more understated compared to the first tastes. Let me tell you - there is no filler on this album.

With this glittery new release, Parker unabashedly embraces the power of pop, and the power of admission, on each disco-laced track. He strips the reverb, allowing that strong falsetto narrative to shine while he admits his relationship wrongs. On "'Cause I'm A Man," he blames his masculinity for love lost. On "The Less I Know The Better," the 70s-reminiscent "Yes, I'm Changing" and "Past Life" (my two favourites of the non-singles) he comes to term with his old self and moving on - promising nothing and so much more all at the same time. Painted with bright patterns of psychedelic keyboard and muscle-moving percussion, the deep soul found within Parker's softer side amounts to his greatest work yet. And, quite likely, the album of the year.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Best New Music: The Internet's 'Ego Death'

If you know anything about my oh-so-deep love for Odd Future (RIP) and its members' burgeoning solo careers, you'll know that love encompasses all OF spin-offs, including The Internet - the alt-R&B project founded by members Syd Tha Kid and Max Martians.

On the six-piece collective's new album Ego Death, they've accomplished what several Odd Future solo projects have this year (albeit, two releases later) - their most focused album yet. The minimalist experimentation is welcome on the full band-backed album, as it sways between jazzy downtown hooks and sticky soul. Although led by fearless female vocalist Syd Tha Kid, punchy cameos by Vic Mensa and OF mastermind Tyler, The Creator add some zest throughout. Similar to others dabbling in the alt-R&B genre (cough, Miguel), The Internet doesn't shy on intimate, sometimes explicit declarations of love and betrayal, but they're so caked in smooth, sultry instrumentation it likely won't even faze you.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

On The Rise: LÈON's "Tired of Talking"

'Tis the season for female vocalist-led tropical house jams that leave you wanting to pour an easy drink and watch the sun go down or groove the night away in a sweaty bar.

Enter LÈON - the latest instalment in a seemingly never-ending round-up of up and coming Scandanavian singer-songwriters - whose chart-climbing single "Tired of Talking" has all the right, accessible ingredients to be that summer night staple. The delightful neo-soul tune shows off the newcomer's laidback croon and apparent knack for ticking off the laundry list of likeable production bits: a funky bassline, some finger snaps, whistling and horns. If making feel-good songs comes this easy to LÈON, I hope we hear more from her soon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Are You Onto Christine and the Queens?

If someone were to tell you or any of your English-speaking North American friends that one of the most interesting up and coming artists hails from France and includes her native tongue in most songs, chances are you might be a bit disillusioned.

But, it looks and sounds as if French electro-pop artist Christine and the Queens is going to be the exception to that. Already certified platinum (three times) in France, 26 year-old mastermind Heloise Letissier has landed a deal with Neon Gold Records, embarked on a cross-continental tour for her debut EP and raked in a number of A-list admirers, including Mark Ronson, Lorde and Madonna (who was so impressed with CATQ's stunning "St. Claude" video that she enlisted the directors' help on her own promo). 

Although there aren't physically any "Queens" ons stage with her (she explains them as her "fairy godmothers"), Letissier is more than enough on her own to become music's next it girl. Outside of the studio, her edgy, masculine sartorial sense has scored her the cover of French ELLE Magazine and front row at multiple fashion weeks.

A now-staple in my daily rotation, Letissier's music is perfectly uncomplicated, yet sonically lush - blending beautiful bilingual lyrics and melodic retro beats that captivate when delivered by Letissier's dynamic voice. Although a third of the time you might be unsure what she's singing, you'll be enamoured enough to find out, and hear more.

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 Beyoncé comparisons escalated into territory and behaviour that clarifies the two are freakin' night and day. Also groundbreaking, Beyoncé 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