Welcome to Musical Druggernauts

Unlike your ordinary, run-of-the-mill music blog, Musical Druggernauts is dedicated to providing you with pertinent album release reviews, and do so in our own unique way. The fact that you are even reading this section means a lot, but please stop reading this and read about what hot new albums we have reviews for. Why are you still reading this? Since, we have grabbed your attention even further, if you like what you read, please send us any artist/band album that you feel would make for a great blog review. You can stop reading this now, we promise.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city

Rap is a misleading genre. Back in the late 80s/early 90s it meant anti-establishment and anti-authority—singing about hating cops, doing illicit drugs, and trying to make that dollar—where there was an actual sense of street cred that went with being a rapper. Since this time, however, rap’s identity has shifted. You would be more correct if you called rap “urban pop” nowadays, with Drake, Lil Wayne, and Kanye being prime examples of such classification. Their songs are what we hear when we go out to our favorite clubs and bars, along with other Top 40 tracks. And now there is a new face—Kendrick Lamar, a Compton bred rapper—who in the last year has generated a ton of blog and label buzz.  He’s not your typical rapper, however. He is someone whose sound pays a certain homage to old school rap, not fully concerned with making radio friendly hits. His full-length debut studio album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, just released this past Tuesday.
Getting things started off with a bang is “Backseat Freestyle,” a track that you are obligated to listen to from beginning to end.  It’s not an overly produced song, but that’s what makes it so entrancing; minimalism at its best. The bumping bass pulses throughout the song accompanied by a church bell type sound that is subtle, yet paramount. The only way to really play this song is in your car, seat back, bass turned all the way up, and pretending that your life is recorded in slow motion. Simply put, it just feels right.
Lyrically, Lamar isn’t shy to say what is on his mind. Where most rappers throw out lyrics that are more clever than hard hitting, he accomplishes both. Like fellow Compton rapper, The Game, his writing isn’t meant to make him sound hard, but it’s just how he lives his life. In this track, for example, he has dreams of doing big things and his cares are seemingly non-existent.  In an interview with Hot 97, Lamar explained that this song was about him and his mindset when he was sixteen years old. Knowing this, the lyrics make sense as someone who wants a grandiose, opulent lifestyle, but sees it through a sophomoric lens. The hook in “Backseat Freestyle” is a perfect example of this:

     "All my life I want money and power
     Respect my mind or die from lead shower
     I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower
     So I can fuck the world for 72 hours."

One of the album title tracks, “m.A.A.d city” follows this same music recipe, with heavy emphasis on blasting that bass until those factory made speakers on your parent’s car blow. The thing that makes this track so great, however, is that it’s basically two records melded into one. A good example of a song on the radio doing this would be “Gold On The Ceilings” by The Black Keys. Not sure if Kendrick Lamar is a closet fan of them, but it’s hard to not notice a similarity between the album covers too. The Black Keys rocking a wood paneled Plymouth Grand Voyager, while Lamar’s shows off a rundown looking, purple Chrysler Town and Country (deluxe edition album only).  Coincidence? Yeah, probably…
            Back to the track itself, it talks about the harsh reality that living in Compton was for Lamar. He writes: “Hope euphoria can slow dance with society/ The driver seat the first one to get killed/Seen a light-skinned nigga with his brains blown out/ At the same burger stand where –hang out…That was back when I was nine.” Even with terrible moments such as this, he shows strength in finding a positive outlook and turning these feelings into a powerful medium. Putting your neck out on the line by criticizing the gang life shows that his words are a more powerful weapon. Rap is his answer and a compelling one at that.
            Other records to check out include: “Poetic Justice” (who doesn’t like Drake, after all?), “Swimming Pools,” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” If you’re a fan of rap, then this is definitely a must checkout album. With hints of Bone-Thugz-N-Harmony and late 80s Compton act N.W.A., Lamar is in good company. If you never thought music as cyclical, good kid, m.A.A.d city may make you reconsider. Until then Druggernauts!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Damien Jurado - Maraqopa

Very seldom do I discover a new artist whom I know I will be listening to for years to come.  I am constantly discovering new music I enjoy, however I frequently comb over my newly discovered music, to never return to listening to the song/artist/album that briefly captured my ears.  The availability of music has brought a “musical ADD” to our generation.  We listen, get bored and move on, constantly in search, never quite satisfied.  A frequent question of music lovers from our generation is “will there ever be bands as renowned as bands the likes of the Rolling Stones or the Beatles?”  I would tell them no.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still great bands.  We may long for the glory and fame of bands from the past, arguing that the 60’s and 70’s were the greatest musical era, but I would argue our era of musical culture is equally as great.  We are the first generation with so much access and freedom to music.  We have the ability to be independent music lovers, forever sailing across the endless seas of new discoverable music.

My most recent musical discovery comes from a man, who has been around for nearly two decades, a true musician who has secretly released eleven studio albums over his 13-year career.  Indie folk singer/songwriter Damien Jurado has lassoed my ears, with his insanely good discography dating back to the mid 90’s, to his recent 2012 album titled Maraqopa. The album twists and turns in different ways, taking the listener on a musical journey while maintaining cohesiveness.  It varies from psychedelic jam rock songs reminiscent of The Black Angels or The Doors to confessional pop folk songs evocative of Elliot Smith to soft acoustic meditative songs similar to Nick Drake or Sun Kil Moon.  Jurado’s lyrics are captivating, deep, and spine chilling when combined with his thin but beautiful falsetto.  The entire album deserves an entire listen through, however, hightlights of the album include “Nothing in the News,” “Maraqopa,” “Working Titles,” and “Museum of Flight.”  The melancholy album will have a place in my heart as winter rolls around, playing as I struggle to see through my frosty window during grey, cold morning, winter drives.  Its gloomy sound however will warm me up, as Colorado native folk singer/songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov said at a recent show “sad songs make me happy.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist

The rap game is much like the battle Hercules had with the Hydra. You cut one down and then two more sprout up. White kids that know how to talk fast think they are the next Eminem when, in reality, they come across as a poor man’s Asher Roth. Rap, like any genre, is filled with a lot of acts that are mediocre at best. Mastering the flow and being able to sound different from all the other greats before you is a lot harder than any average fan thinks. You have to be as different as possible. If you’re not, then what are you? It’s label heavy hitters such as Roc Nation and YMCMB that understand this to such a high degree that they have become the life and blood of the rap game. Not being a part of these rap stalwarts connotes that you still have work to do to garner that larger following, but is this really true? Tell that to Seattle bred MC, Macklemore. This past week he did something that a rapper not under a major label could only dream of, debuting at #2 on the Billboard Albums chart. It may have just fallen short at reaching the summit, but this is huge news for (rap) music. It further delineates that majors are not the be-all and end-all.
            Macklemore isn’t a young gun that stumbled into getting lucky. He’s actually in his late 20’s and his maturity shows in his newly released album, produced by Ryan Lewis, titled, The Heist.  His sound isn’t mainstream. His songs probably won’t receive any major airplay. That said, however, he knows what he is and The Heist is an archetype for that.
The opening track, titled “Ten Thousand hours” is a strong choice to open the album. Playing off the idea that it takes ten thousand hours to become a master at a particular craft, Macklemore is not afraid to let the world know that he feels his time is now. It’s a song that sets the tone, highlighting who he is as both a rapper and person. From the internal struggles of wondering if he has what it takes to the necessary cockiness that all legitimate rappers have—in believing that he has a profound message—he’s here to put the critics to rest.  His words hit a nerve when they hit your eardrum, sparking that inner voice that we all have. Macklemore writes:
                       “Now, now, now
                        This is my world, this is my arena
                        The TV told me something different. I didn’t believe it
                        I stand here in front of you today all because of an idea
                        I could be who I wanted if I could see my potential
                        And I know that one day I’mma be him
                        Put the gloves on, sparring with my ego.”

In this verse, he begs us to answer that question we ask ourselves on a reoccurring basis: “Are we really on a path to becoming who we want to be?” It’s as if Macklemore understands life’s precious gift better than most and is cognizant of the fact that you can only be truly happy doing something you have a passion for. We all have our struggles, but if we want it bad enough, nothing will stand in our way. It may be somewhat cliché to the casual listener, but rings true for those who really take those words to heart.

Riding a different musical wave, “Same Love” is one of those tracks that just feels like something that you would hear if your life was a movie. The opening has a very Atmosphere feel with a short, yet catchy piano progression. Wind chimes make a brief appearance if only for a moment, symbolizing the pure nature of this song. Macklemore writes about things that have an impact on our thoughts: “For those who like the same sex had the characteristics/The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion/Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition.” These words bear a weight that only a person devoid of real emotions couldn’t feel. It’s as much a damning about this old way of thinking as it is about how bigots think they know the true reason someone may like a person of the same sex. As Macklemore states, it’s not religion and politics to necessarily blame, but people’s narrow minded thinking.
            What makes this song resonate is how its theme is rather melancholic in tone, but the production implies an optimism that cannot be ignored. The lyrics, from beginning to end are not thrown around aimlessly, but thought out line for line. There is a respect that Macklemore has in each word he pens, an intrinsic characteristic for any real artist trying to strike a chord with his audience.
            Overall, this is one of those few special rap albums that come out only a few times a year, if that. There really isn’t a bad song on the album. Other favorites include: “Thrift Shop” (which I heard on the radio last night!), “Make The Money,” “A Wake,” and “Starting Over.”  No matter the mood, Macklemore has something for you that can ease the pain or trigger that lost ambition. Do yourself a favor and check out Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “The Heist.” You won’t be disappointed. Until then Druggernauts!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tristan Prettyman - Cedar + Gold

Tristan Prettyman is one of those rare talents. She isn’t mainstream by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, she’s signed to Atlantic records, but being signed to a major is about as important and appealing as chocolate flavored gummi-worms. Mumford and Sons seem to be doing pretty ok. Those who know of Prettyman throw her into that general category of female singer-songwriter along with the likes of Colbie Caillat, Sarah Bareilles, and Ani DeFranco. Her new album, Cedar + Gold, personifies what it means to be a songwriter who continues to really hone in on his/her craft. This album has been in the works for sometime, with her last full-length studio album coming out four years ago. During this time, the highs and lows that come with this journey that we call life have been brought to the forefront. Prettyman’s always had the ability to write thought provoking, sentimental records, and has proven it, but does this translate throughout the entire album? Go ahead and order that second cup of coffee at that favorite spot of yours (that everyone else refers to as Starbucks) before reading this week’s review of Tristan Prettyman’s Cedar and Gold; we’ll be here, waiting…you good? Good.
There is nothing like a cathartic song that transcends simply sounding beautiful, with an unnerving string accompaniment and kick drum that alludes to a pounding heart.  “I Was Gonna Marry You” isn’t one of those songs that you can fully appreciate in just one take. Rather, it’s one of those songs you put on repeat so you can fully divulge into and dissect each and every line, each every chord change, and the moments that take your breath away.
            Starting off with that pounding kick drum and a happy, yet somehow melancholic all at once, sounding piano, “I Was Gonna Marry You” wraps its arms around you as thoughts come flooding in of that one special person. Despite being a song with a sad message, it’s so poetic that it also offers this feeling of hopefulness. The song is a recollection of what was once fresh is now spoiled. Even if not in that particular mindset, the notion of cherishing what we have while it’s here is important to note, as it serves a greater purpose; cherishing what we do have and accepting what we no longer do.
Prettyman’s lyrics pull on our heartstrings from the get-go. She writes, “I gotta go/Time to spread my wings and fly/Higher than the bluest sky/Never did me any good waiting around/Only so much that my heart can take/Doesn’t matter what you say/Wishing for all we could have been.”  This is clearly not a song about a girl being overly dramatic about some relationship that lasted for a couple months and was deemed “true love.” She really felt for this person (Jason Mraz, in case you were wondering) and this song is her ode to that.

Check out her video below:

            “When You Come Down,” meanwhile, is a nice break in the album, speaking solely in terms of its production. It’s a light, airy feeling track that you could see Colbie Caillat singing. This shouldn’t be viewed as a detractor, but more as a compliment. She’s not quite as bubbly as Caillat, but she exudes a tone that is soothing and sweet. The majority of this album is a very singer-songwriter, acoustic driven sound with minimalist production, but “When You Come Down” is more done-up. The texture and layering is more apparent and appreciated, helping to create that rich, vibrant sound. Just as in “I Was Gonna Marry You,” Prettyman’s lyrical focus throughout the entire album rests on the complexities and ever changing moods that we all have in relationships.  “When You Come Down,” for example, harkens to the sentiment that no matter how hard things get, it is the people that truly care for us who understand that everyone experiences “those kind of days.” The chorus exhibits this overarching theme throughout the record:

“Even when I know you're feeling like flying away
Believe me when I tell you that my love hasn't changed
And the moment don't forget
Tomorrow it will all turn around
I'll be waiting when you come down
Waiting when you come down.”

From beginning to end, Prettyman displays how powerful an outlet her writing has been, subsequent to her broken engagement.  This is one of those special albums. It probably won’t be a huge seller, but that doesn’t denote how great it is. Whether contemplating the day-to-day questions to this riddle called life or listening to it as a form of catharsis, Cedar + Gold is worthy of a listen from beginning to end.  Until then, Druggernauts!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Grizzly Bear - Shields

Shields is Grizzly Bear’s fourth studio album.  The album is experimental, and each song pushes the album and its themes forward.  The album is perhaps the band’s most collaborative album yet, with unbelievable composition and writing.  Starting off “Shields” is “Sleeping Ute,” one of the album’s two singles.  Psychedelic guitars with plenty of reverb add to the song’s dreamy theme.  Edward Droste sings “Dreams a long day, just wandering free, though I’m far gone, you sleep nearer to me” bringing up one of the album’s reoccurring themes, the need to feel free and independent while at the same time yearning for the transcending unity of love.  The dream that “Sleeping Ute” is, concludes with a softly picked guitar that will have you floating contemplatively above pillow top clouds.
“Speaking in Rounds” again deals with conflicting forces of freedom and love asking, “Could I be alone?”  The song has a galloping rhythmic guitar with harmonies similar to what we are used to from previous Grizzly Bear albums.  The song builds in energy and progresses before transitioning into the experimental Pink Floyd-esque interlude Adelma.

The album’s other single “Yet Again” is a beautifully composed track.  Rich guitar strokes with soft drums highlight Ed Droste’s towering tenor voice.  The lyrics deal with the trials and unknowns of relationships.  Just as so many relationships are so wonderful until the end, “Yet Again” ends in horrifying chaos meant to stir up the listener’s emotions. 

Perhaps at the core of the album is the heartbreaking song “The Hunt.”  Ed Droste melancholy sings, “I’d hide it all away, taking back all of the silly things I used to say, and I’ll give you all of my time, because I’m foolish and never know how to resign.”  The lyrics and feelings expressed make no logical sense as many of us can relate to when in relationships.  Obviously he is not satisfied or happy with the relationship at hand, however he remains unable to walk away.

The piano based “A Simple Answer” brightens up the mood of the album after “The Hunt” with a gleeful piano, yet it maintains the feel of the album, retaining the psychedelic and experimental sounds and themes.  The track's epically composed ending builds, and will push you into the back of your mind as you close your eyes and paint your thoughts on the contemplative canvas of "Shields" next two songs “What’s Wrong,” and “Gun Shy.”

“Half Gate” is a powerful song with pleasant verses and a powerful ear-jarring chorus that contrast brilliantly in an effort to convey the albums overriding themes.  Concluding “Shields” is “Sun in Your Eyes.” 

As the sun sets on this beautiful album, I am left with a profound respect for the artistry that went into its production.  The cohesiveness of the album, with its overriding themes evident in the lyrics and composition, is unbelievable and reminiscent of some of the best concept albums.  The album takes one or two listens through to begin to fully understand its messages and themes and I plan on keeping this one in the car for morning and afternoon commutes for the next couple of weeks.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cher Lloyd - Sticks & Stones

Cher Lloyd got her start on UK X Factor back in 2010. Placing forth in that season, it was easy to see that her and those One Direction boys had the best chance to break big. Maybe it’s best that you don’t win, after all? After signing to Simon Cowell’s label, Syco, Lloyd soon showed that her spunky attitude was more than just a short-lived façade. “Swagger Jagger” propelled her into the artist limelight overseas, followed by “With Ur Love,” featuring that Posner guy who is always repping his Alma Mater, and “Want U Back.” Laying the foundation proved to be a smart move as Lloyd now finds herself trying to break it big Stateside. Her initial impression is strong with her US release of “Want U Back,” reaching the Top 40 on Billboard, with performances on “Ellen” and “Dancing With The Stars,” to help put her image out there to those who only know her by her voice. The title of her debut US album, Sticks & Stones, was released Oct. 2nd. Read on to get our thoughts.
            Just about everyone under the sun knows “Want U Back,” so let’s not beat a dead horse over it and move onto other tracks that deserve attention, good and bad.
“Oath” is Lloyd’s second single, featuring young rapper Becky G. It’s a fresh sounding track from the get-go, incorporating a California, feel good electric guitar progression, followed by Lloyd, whose vocals show a chip on her shoulder in the first verse. The chorus, however, is a different story. It’s a catchy hook that sounds a lot like Avril Lavigne. It’s not a bad song at all, but it does not reach the same level as “Want U Back.” Sure, the lyrical content is something that grief stricken teenage girls will flock to when in need of a happy sounding song that has “deep” lyrics, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a radio hit.  Check out the following lyrics from the chorus: “Wherever you go, just always remember/That you got a home for now and forever/And if you get low, just call me whenever/This is my oath to you.”  (See what I mean?) In terms of the Becky G feature, it isn’t necessarily a bad move, as it unites two songstresses that have a certain edginess about them, but it’s not necessary to bring the song to a whole.
            As it should continue to be stressed, the second single isn’t meant to follow in the coattails of the success of the first hit single. That said, “Oath,” is not a bad song, but it shouldn’t be the second single. “With Ur Love” should have been that choice, rather.
            “With Ur Love” has a very M.I.A. type feel to it. It’s pop, but not overly bubble gum sounding. The production and lyrics are spot on, but the real thing that makes the song is the melody. When this song was released back in the UK a year ago, featuring Posner, it seemed a little disconnected, a lot like “Payphone.” Here, however, Lloyd shows that she doesn’t need a vocal feature to keep someone listening. What makes her different from the other female solo acts out there is that she has this ability to be a cute, funky, edgy, brat all at once. This song proves that she has the gusto to be a multi-threat.
Check out her UK music video of "With Ur Love," featuring Mike Posner, below: 

            All in all, the album is a solid first effort from Lloyd. The real issue lies in her ability to tiptoe the lines between pop and “rappy.” Her best songs are when she successfully combines the two, with a moderate lean towards pop. Whenever her sophomore effort comes out, it will be received with open ears (from this person at least). Until then Druggernauts!