Our Music Editor, Benjamin Hawken, gives you the low-down on all the musical acts in Starfields 2019.Read More
Staff writer Lewis Walsh writes that we should listen widely and be proud of our music tastes
It’s a house party, complete with drunken chat and dubious dancing. All of the ingredients of a successful night are in place, yet there’s one element left shamefully unattended: the music. Conversation is rendered near-impossible due to a cacophonous drunken sing-along:
Coming out of my cage, and I been doing just fine!
And after all, you’re my wonderwall!
I know when that hotline bling!
This playlist is an act of aggression. After being granted access to the almighty aux cable, I decide to play “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul” by James Brown. It’s groovy, danceable, and (perhaps most importantly to party attendees) relatively familiar. I look around the room for faces of approval, but am met only with ones of scorn. 30 seconds pass before once again the air fills with top 40. I may be defeated but my attitude is not: I leave the party thinking that their music is terrible. Mine is far better.
This is pretentiousness. Pretentiousness is often associated with condescension, playing inaccessible music and carrying an air of unwarranted “coolness”. However, it’s important to use this label when talking about people, not music. I have met people who think they’re God’s gift to music consumption. They’re irritating, but that doesn’t mean their music taste is bad. Controversially, the opposite tends to be the case.
Although I agree that listening to music is a subjective experience, and it’s near-impossible to qualify something as objectively bad, objectively boring music does exist. Some examples of this are the viral Youtube sensations in which a guitar player is able to play over fifty charted songs using the same three or four chords. The audience gawks and applauds, viewing the spectacle as “amazing”.
But is it actually amazing? There are a couple of sad conclusions to be drawn from these videos:
- People are entertained by the continued use of just three or four chords.
- Modern pop music exploits this, as the majority of chart music is composed in strict alignment with these chords, with only the musical garnish being changed.
These facts provide a strong case for such music being unoriginal, and, ultimately, boring.
What is it that differentiates this music from “pretentious” music? For a start, pretentious music tends to exist outside of the mainstream. Generally speaking, it’s free from the clichés that are rampant in pop music, such as four-chord progressions and structural conventions. There’s more room for experimentation.
Going beyond the mainstream opens up a musical gamut that the top 40 doesn’t cater to. The exclusion of this music to the zeitgeist provides another aspect of pretentiousness: it requires effort. Listening to mainstream music is easy. Any mainstream transportation or public space plays the radio, thus the experience of listening to this music becomes passive. Listening to music outside of the mainstream requires effort on the behalf of the consumer; it’s proactive. By investing time into their musical habits, listeners care more about what they listen to. Subsequently, they ask more questions about it. Where did this artist come from? Are there any artists who sound similar to this? What is this genre called? What began as finding one band becomes a rich tapestry of musical movements, connections, and histories. Proactivity in music discovery means gaining access to a world of musical knowledge that would otherwise be of no concern.
As previously stated, one of the elements of pretentiousness is an unwarranted sense of “coolness”. Now, this concept can be cringe-worthy and off-putting. However, this perceived coolness can also be extremely desirable. James Murphy, frontman for LCD Soundsystem, provided insight on this other attitude in an interview with The Guardian in 2010. He said, “[...] the first time I read Gravity's Rainbow, I did so because I thought it would make me seem cool. That was my original motivation. But now I've read it six times, and I find it hilarious and great and I understand it. You can't be afraid to embarrass yourself sometimes.”
To listen to something for social currency isn’t uncommon. As Murphy points out, this passive engagement can breed a genuine respect and love for the music. What starts as:“Well, actually, I listen to this very obscure band,” can very quickly become: “They’re my favourite band. I’ve heard all their albums, seen them live, listened to all their side projects. I am one with this band.” The desire to be cool through musical status can certainly be seen as the wrong motive. However, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t provide a platform for people to engage with music that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
I am aware that this article is not applicable to everybody. Music is sometimes a means to an end, whether that be dancing, studying, or working out. This I fully respect and am not about to lecture against. Still, I believe that if you genuinely care about music, then you owe it to yourself to believe your taste is the best. Experiment with genres that you wouldn’t have previously considered. Dig deep into musical history to learn where it is your favourite music comes from. Be proactive in your music listening and appreciate the kaleidoscopic landscape that is original and interesting music. Anyone who takes the time to listen to and explore music owes it to themselves to be proud of their taste in music and be, even just a little bit, pretentious.
Books Editor Henry Crabtree reviews James Blake’s fourth album, Assume Form, in light of his earlier work; deciding that having finally ‘waved [his] fear of self’, Blake finds his greatest success in honesty and warmth.
From humble beginnings on synthesisers in his bedroom, James Blake might seem the unlikeliest superstar of 2019: humble, private, and unassuming. Yet delve a little deeper into the production credits and features of some of the world’s top artists and you’ll find one name plastered everywhere you look: James Blake.
His early work – electronica and fragmented synths on funky basslines – caught popular attention when championed by Radio 1 DJs, Gilles Peterson and Zane Lowe, and his debut, the eponymous James Blake, made the longlist for their Sound of 2011 list. Including the Feist cover “Limit to Your Love,” which set the tone for a crooning, piano-based sound that drew as much from electronic music as it does from powerful ballads. Covers of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and EPs followed before his second record, Overgrown. On this album, Blake attempted to find the balance between his nous for these ballads, which show off his distinctly classical talents with the ivory keys and his penchant for fragmented, synthesised and hip-hop clips. This resulted in an album that couldn’t quite find its feet. Caught between the melodic hums of “Retrograde” and Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA’s distinct feature on “Take a Fall For Me,” Blake was struggling to reconcile these two compartmentalised styles. At the time, his Radio 1 Residency with 1-800-Dinosaur showcased his remixes under the alias Harmonimix and tended toward the post-dubstep styles of his first album.
At this time, Blake’s work steamrolled through critical acclaim like the 2013 Mercury Prize for Overgrown, beating favourites Laura Mvula and David Bowie to take the crown. A three-year gap ensued as fans waited for his third full-length studio album, grasping at releases on his Radio 1 Residency with urgency. Blake revealed that although the work began in England, he retreated to the U.S. to finish the record under producer-to-the-stars, Rick Rubin. A feature on Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade on the song “Forward” cemented his place as a must-have voice for the more emotional songs on superstars’ albums.
The third album The Colour in Anything, released 2016, was purported to include a track with Kanye West, but this was cut from the final album to maintain its style; a brave decision from Blake to remove what would have been a highly-anticipated feature. Instead, the album continued in the veins of previous work: the angelic ‘I Need a Forest Fire’ (featuring Justin Vernon of Bon Iver) and ‘The Colour in Anything’ provided the emotional power to sustain the album, though it was undercut by the discordant inclusion of Blakean-hallmark songs that alleviated the melodic ballads with sharp, dubstep rhythms. Akin to Overgrown, Blake couldn’t make the album a holistic and undivided piece; it grappled with the dual sides of his music and couldn’t quite achieve the heights of either side due to the discordant presence of the other.
Blake’s credits list grew ever longer between 2016 and late 2018, collaborating with Kendrick Lamar on “Element,” Frank Ocean on his visual album Endless, featuring with Travis Scott again on “Stop Trying to Be God” from Astroworld, and working with Beyoncé’s husband Jay-Z on 4:44. Appearing in the music for the 2018 movie Black Panther on “King’s Dead” with Jay Rock and Future, and “Bloody Waters” with Ab-Soul and Anderson .Paak (under Lamar’s musical direction) was another in a long line of nods from titans of hip hop, rap, and pop music that Blake, though long typecast as music’s ‘sad boy,’ was capable of more. After the release of a single “Don’t Miss It’, which critics used as exemplifying this ‘sad’ image, Blake rightfully complained about media presentation of a toxic masculinity that stigmatised speaking about emotions. Calling it an ‘unhealthy and problematic’ stance, the artist warned media outlets that amongst an epidemic of depression and suicide amongst young people, that typecasting and deriding the emotional energy in music could lead to nothing good. His statement that ‘the road to mental health and happiness (…) is paved with honesty’ led the unashamed tweet; his fourth album lays a testament to his honesty.
Having moved to L.A. to work, and found stability with former Radio 1 DJ and current The Good Place star Jameela Jamil, Blake released his fourth full-length album, Assume Form, on the 18th January 2019. While earlier albums struck the tone of a lament for love lost, or missed, Assume Form is Blake let loose: a passionate and lively album that finally reconciles his two styles, with help from incredible features from Travis Scott, Metro Boomin, Moses Sumney, ROSALÍA, and André 3000. Blake, interviewed by Apple Music, insists that the album stems from the feeling of ‘ease of coexisting’ with his partner, and the parity of their feeling (a ‘joint account’) strikes an altogether different tone in his music than the unrequited love of albums past. “Into the Red” insists that even in ‘doing nothing, I am making the most of somehow’, a beautiful sentiment of internal validation and fulfilment he finds in his relationship with Jameela Jamil. The sweet, if not clichéd, image on this song that ‘By all means, she can get ahead of herself / (…) I’ll already be there to meet her’ works on this album through the raw emotion and intent behind it. The star turn on the album comes from ROSALÍA on “Barefoot in the Park”, a collaboration Blake chose due to the ‘vulnerable and raw and devastating’ quality of her voice. Despite the implicit worry one might assume from “Where’s the Catch?,” which would be a fair assumption given his previous albums, I believe this is Blake rising far from melancholy and into disbelief at his position and happiness. The outro, “Lullaby for My Insomniac,” fulfils best the parity of this love on display in the album, insisting that ‘I’d rather see everything as a blur tomorrow / If you do’.
With songs produced by fellow 1-800-Dinosaur members Dan Roat and Dominic Maker, the album’s various love songs build to a greater whole than their disparate parts. There is no song here that quite measures up to the beautiful sonics of ‘Retrograde’ or ‘Limit to Your Love’, or one that quite captures his mastery of electronic music like various pieces on the first album; yet, in the whole, there feels a sense that Blake has, as he states in the title of this work, ‘assumed form’. From the early albums’ artworks’ depictions of Blake blurred, or far away, or caricatured into a Quentin Blake sketch, ‘Assume Form’ features the artist centre stage, hands on his head, as if he can’t quite believe the success or the happiness he now feels that is so present on this warm, lovely album. He might not be able to comprehend it, let alone believe it, but we can.
If you would like to contribute to our music section you can e-mail Claire at email@example.com
Our third student playlist of the year comes from Kylie Andrews.
1. Where are you from?
St Pete, FL
2. What year/what do you study?
3. Why do you like what you study?
SO many reasons. The main one is it makes you look at the world critically, question the things you take for granted, and expand your horizons.
4. What was the first album you bought?
ughhh, either the Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana or Lil Wayne.
But as a kid it was mostly ABBA, Queen, Sir Mix-a-lot and that Jock Jams CD.
5. Who has most influenced your music taste and why?
My friends. All my friends listen to different genres and its through them that I am exposed to music I would not have found on my own, but also I just stalk them on Spotify etc. OH and Insecure, the playlist of all the songs played on the show.
6. What was the last song you listened to?
"Carried Away" by H.E.R.
7. Are there any new artists/tracks you have come across that you would recommend?
Yes, all on the playlist. I realised a few years ago that my music was comprised of a lot of men and not a ton of women featured unless it was pop. So I have been slowly changing that over the years, and it makes music so much more enjoyable when its an empowering female artist telling you that you are amazing the way you are.
8. Do you have an absolute favourite, go-to song that you listen to, and if so, what is it and why is it your favourite?
"You Rock my World" by Michael Jackson. It’s an amazing beat and just overall care-free/ happy song. It can make my good moods better and my bad moods go away.
Self - Noname
As I Am - H.E.R.
Drew Barrymore - SZA
Rude Boy - Mr. Twin Sister
Q.U.E.E.N. - Janelle Monae
G.A.F. - IAMDDB
Be Careful - Cardi B
Frustrations + Solutions - Kilo Kish
Tomboy - Princess Nokia
BBYGRL - Nitty Scott
My Vag - Awkafina
Trader Joe - Junglepussy
Good as Hell - Lizzo
Rage - Rico Nasty
Money - Leikeli47
Crayons - CupcakKe
If you think you could provide a good Student Playlist and would like to be interviewed, or are interested in contributing to our music section, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.orgEditor: Claire Peacock
Hello and welcome to the Music Section of The Tribe. My name is Grace Campbell and I am a soon-to-be third year English student from Edinburgh, and this year’s Music Sub-Editor. This year I am hoping to create an eclectic Music section, one that reflects a broad range of tastes and publishes a diverse variety of articles. While I intend the section to be committed to shedding light on new and current music, I also want to show the idiosyncrasy of people’s musical passions — the way music informs and shapes our lives, the way our lives inform and shape our taste in music.I am hoping to continue several of the article formats that have previously featured in the section. Perhaps you have a neglected musical hero, or a bone to pick with some aspect of the industry — opinion pieces will always be much in demand in the Music section, whether that is a discussion of topical issues like piracy, festivals or the enduring power of celebrity, or examinations of the way music intersects and dialogues with fashion, film and even literature. Or maybe you are an avid mix-maker, someone who carefully soundtracks each area of their life and derives a pedantic satisfaction from a well-chosen list. In that case you should put your finely honed skills to good use creating playlists that will be published both on The Tribe Online and on The Tribe’s Spotify account for our readers to listen to. And of course, the section will always be looking for reviews, the more current the better.This year, I am also particularly interested in broadening the focus of the Music section to include more reviews of live-music events in and around the St Andrews area. While as a small town we do not tend to attract big-name touring acts, St Andrews nevertheless maintains a healthy music scene bolstered by student clubs and societies such as Music is Love. In 2015 artists such as Johnny Flynn played the town; the 2012 Eye o’ the Dug festival brought acts such as King Creosote, Hot Chip and Django Django, and of course with every academic new year comes the hotly anticipated (and currently yet-to-be-revealed unrevealed) Freshers' Week headliner. On a smaller scale, throughout the year there are numerous student-run open mic nights and performances from groups such as the Acapella Society, Jazz Works and Ukelear Fusion, all of which arguably warrant more coverage than they receive. As Music editor, I would like to establish stronger links with the music-related societies of St Andrews, as well as attempting to procure interviews with any acts that might be passing through. Perhaps you know (or are) a St Andrews dwelling musician, DJ or member of a music society, or maybe you would like the chance to attend some student music events free of charge — The Tribe would love to hear from you.But as well as these perhaps more conventional approaches to writing about music, I am also looking to explore a more intimate, personal approach in the articles this year. One that explores what music means to us, the way the songs we love can acquire an obscure and talismanic significance. Not just the songs themselves —those opening chords that never fail to raise goosebumps over our arms, or that lyric we have poured over and analysed like scholars over an arcane script— but also the ghosts the songs contain. Maybe that ghost is a former self we look back on with a curious mixture of fondness and embarrassment, like that teenage self who loved a certain band or artist for the way they exemplified a liberating cool, a glitter of possibility beyond the fraught hierarchies of high school, or simply because something in their songs chimed sympathetically with the retrospectively wince-inducing angst of adolescence. Maybe the ghost is that friend who first sent you the link to the song saying ‘here, listen to this,’ or maybe it is just the feeling of a place or a time of day; whether that is a muddy festival field at sundown, the blue-tack marked walls of your childhood bedroom, or the quiet backseat of a car at night.So as well as the latest releases, I also want to hear about the music you like not just because it is cool or current or has a high Pitchfork score, but because it means something to you that is as vague and formless and difficult to articulate as it is powerful. I am a firm believer that the instinctual, irrational, emotional response is not inferior to the detached rational one, that we should move beyond the parameters of the objectively ‘good’ to what makes us cry, quickens our heart-rate, stirs our memories, or makes us want to dance. Whether it is country music, 1970s punk or techno — if you love it, the Music section wants to hear about it. Contact me at email@example.com. Grace Campbell
Feminism is becoming a buzzword, and an increasingly popular one. It is thrown around in the media, by politicians, and by universities throughout the world. At its heart, feminism is about gender equality, but what exactly that means and how we achieve it is a matter for dispute. Feminism is a complex and diverse movement with multiple factions, and feminists will often take opposing sides in debates. This is not necessarily a problem: feminism is a broad movement and there should not be a central authority dictating what it means to be a feminist.In many ways, this surge in popularity makes it an exciting time to be a feminist, but it also brings problems. As feminism becomes more prominent in mainstream consciousness it often becomes simplified. I do not think anyone has the right to instruct people on ‘how to be a feminist’, but I do think that the movement should be open to critique.One of many popular figures living out a seemingly feminist agenda is Megan Trainor, a singer who rose to prominence through her smash hit All About That Bass. She is a very influential public figure, who has a significant impact on the feminism of many people, especially young women. Whilst no one has the right to define her feminism, or even if she is a feminist, her influence calls for a closer inspection of, and a more thoughtful reflection on, some of her lyrics.All About The Bass has put her on the map and, arguably, is a song about body positivity and ignoring society’s message that you have to be skinny. So far so good, but some have argued that Trainor's angst about ‘skinny bitches’ is part of a skinny-shaming culture that is just a different kind of exclusionary. She does seem to turn this round with the phrase, ‘No I'm just playing’ but, whatever your position on this issue, I do not think it is the biggest problem with the song.On first listening to the lyrics, the song may sound like a positive reclamation of the female body and an enjoyment of her shape and size, but it is not all so positive. The reason she feels it is ok to be her size is because, 'Boys like a little more booty.’ She does not seem to have reclaimed her body for herself but rather embraces her size solely because some men like larger women.At an individual level, she is more than welcome to her personal opinion, but this is a dangerous message to be offering young women. To suggest that a woman’s worth rests on her body type, and that her body type can only be validated through male approval, is not a form of feminism I am entirely comfortable with. I do not think ‘fat’ is an insult, nor do I think it means you are unhealthy, nor do I think anyone should have any reason to feel ashamed of their body. All body types should be celebrated, but not because men will still sexualise you, because you believe in your own self-worth.Megan Trainor’s feminism is often confusing-- she offers a positive message only to undermine herself. She does this in Dear Future Husband, where she seemingly undermines gender roles, only to reinforce them again. In the first part of the song, she sings out, ‘you’ve got that 9 to 5, but baby so do I, so don’t be thinking I’ll be home and baking apple pie.’ Whilst this is rather simplistic, it is a positive message of women’s right to work and not be reduced to domestic chores. It undermines the expectation that women can work only if they also perform a more ‘traditional’ function as well. The lyric suggests that this is a partnership of equals, and that the man should not demand anything of the woman he would not do himself.But then she undermines herself. Having subverted traditional gender roles and placed the characters in her performance on an equal footing, she seems to return to a traditional view of a man and woman's role in a relationship. She demands that her partner always tell her she is right and ‘don’t forget the flowers every anniversary.’ That is not gender equality, nor is it a helpful message to be spreading through a supposedly feminist lens.Conforming to the stereotypes of women as demanding, mercurial, and obsessed with flowers is not helpful when singing about gendered dynamics. If she, as an individual, wants flowers and always to be given her own way then that is no one’s business; but to suggest this is something women as a whole want is ludicrous. If she thinks it is wrong for her to be expected to make apple pie, why does she not think it is wrong for men to be expected to buy flowers? Her feminism seems simplistic and ill-thought through. Her lyrics sound to me like those of an enthusiastic sixteen year old girl who has discovered feminism for the first time, and is excited to learn that others feel as she does. That is perhaps endearing, and may make her songs popular, but it is not helpful to a complex movement aiming to ensure gender equality for all.Her latest song My Name is No is in many ways less problematic, and is a positive message about women’s right to say no to whoever they choose. Perhaps this is a sign of progression? Who knows, but it is interesting to trace the journey of Megan Trainor’s music, alongside the development of the feminist movement.I do not deny her as a feminist if that is a label she ever chooses, nor her right to express herself as she wishes, but she is putting her music out there through very public platforms and, in my opinion, that leaves them open to critique. The music industry is notoriously sexist but many feminist themes, songs, and performers seem to be coming through. I look forward to seeing how Megan Trainor’s music develops, and whether her feminist ideology becomes more complex over time. Jo BoonImages courtesy of Pixabay and Flickr.
Haley Scheer went
Rating: 5/5On Tuesday 16th October, Broadway superstar Idina Menzel finished her UK tour with a night at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Idina rose to fame by initiating the role of Maureen in Jonathan Larson’s RENT, and went on to also play this character in the film adaptation. However she is best-known for originating the role of green-skinned Elphaba in Wicked on both Broadway and The West End – and is featured in the only studio recording for the production. She more recently featured in two stints as Shelby Corcoran, Rachel Berry’s biological mother, on hit TV series Glee – largely due to her uncanny resemblance to Lea Michele who portrays Berry.Last year, Menzel finished her North American tour with a one night gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall, but this year decided to return to the UK for just over a week: four performances in London, one in Manchester, and one final show in Edinburgh. After spending a few hours in the pub across the road from the concert hall, my friend and I made our way, excitedly, into the one hundred year old stunning hall, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Menzel, as the orchestra warmed up with some verses from Wicked.The lights dimmed and the orchestra started playing the familiar melody as an off-stage Menzel started to softly sing the July Garland standard “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, eventually belting a few of the lines in her classic fashion. The curtains opened as Idina made her way to the front of the stage, welcomed with loud applause and cheering, as she made her way into “The Wizard Of I” – a fitting choice, giving that in Wicked it is Elphaba’s first song. What was to follow was amazing vocals, instrumental masterpieces and both hilarious and heart-felt anecdotes about Menzel’s pre-career wedding singing, as well as tributes to RENT writer Jonathan Larson, who died the night before the show’s dress rehearsal, and the recently deceased Marvin Hamlisch, who has accompanied Menzel on her tour last year as both conductor and pianist.
Whilst all songs were exceptional, the early standout was, for me, the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” as well as unrecorded (hopefully not for long) song “God Save My Soul”. Menzel then sung her half of the duet “Take Me or Leave Me” before inviting various audience members to help her finish the duet, before going on to singing a very emotive version of “No Day But Today”, also from Rent. The audience was then silenced as Idina took her ear-pieces out, the orchestra put down their instruments and Menzel’s microphone was unplugged. She took centre-stage and sung an a-cappella and unplugged version of “For Good” – one of Wicked’s most famous songs. The audience were stunned as her voice, with no audio help, were able to reach every ear in the vast concert hall.My friend wept as Menzel’s vocals proved to be every bit as powerful and clear as the recorded version, with a new depth of emotion being reached. The audience seemed reluctant to stop their standing ovation after this number, until the orchestra started with Menzel’s most famous song “Defying Gravity”. A slightly less Broadway style version of the song, more similar to Menzel’s solo version or Lea Michele’s version featured on Glee, followed, as Idina’s vocals smoothly worked through the song culminating in her traditional belting of the high-E at the end of the ballad. The crowd were on their feet once more as she jokingly waved to go off stage before returning for her encore.An emotive version of Broadway composers Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s new song “Learn To Live Without” was followed by West Side Story’s “Somewhere”, which Menzel had covered in a duet with Lea Michele in Glee (Season 3, Episode 2). This felt like a good culmination of the night's events, as she combined emotive elements with extremely powerful notes, resulting in one final standing ovation.I had been looking forward to finally seeing Idina Menzel live since purchasing my tickets a few months ago, but the night far surpassed the already high expectations which I previously held. Her humour, the breadth of which I had previously not realised, was the glue which stuck her flawless performances and anecdotes together. Michael Stephen HahnImages by tempusfugate
One of my absolute favourites is non-album bonus 'Girl At Home'; now, I don't want to compare this to such B-Side classics as Oasis's 'the Masterplan', but if Noel Gallagher had penned this back in 1995 he wouldn't have to constantly answer to the name of 'the Taylor Swift of 1990s BritPop'. Album closer, 'Begin Again', is one of the album's finest and most tender moments. But, frankly, you are probably still assuming that I'm being facetious. It's actually great though. There is also a song somewhere in there where Taylor Swift duets with Ed Sheeran, but I refuse to listen to it. You may question the principles of a reviewer that will give Taylor Swift five stars, but refuses to listen to Ed Sheeran. Don't bother though. Just assume that I'm right.So, does Taylor Swift's Red album correspond to our generation's version of the Beatles' White Album? Probably, yes. But hopefully she won't marry Yoko Ono and screw everything up; she will, instead, marry me, despite the fact that she is easily a foot taller than me in heels (by which I mean me in heels, her in flats). But seriously, listen to it. It is so much better than any of the Indie nonsense The Tribe will review in the next four years. So crack open a Magners, load 'Red' onto your iPod, get inebriated and write a review of it that you will probably regret come morning-time. Ian SamsonImage 1 by Eva RinaldiImage 2 by avrilllllla
Recent claims that hip-hop is “dead” have been confirmed by its increasing lack of identity. In the modern age, hip-hop has become something of a false art in many respects, a medium distorted to fit the commercial expectations of many a listener and few an artist’s vision. It says something about how the medium has changed that, when you ask somebody at a party to play a hip-hop song, all you hear are the abrasive synths of Lil’ Wayne or - even worse - the weed-whiny, self-righteous rhymes of Wiz Khalifa. Blue Scholars’ claim that “hip hop is not dead / it’s just malnourished and underfed” surely can’t be right either, because nobody seems to be feeding the point of the medium in the first place. Hip-hop has become, to quote New York rapper J-Live, a medium that is exploited by many yet understood by few.
Behold The Doppelgangaz, a duo from the out-outskirts of New York - a little town called Peekskill - who realize this painful deterioration. A generation of rappers inspired by the raw, masked poetry of MF Doom, the duo (Matter ov Fact and EP) attempt to find the role of the poet - the storyteller - in hip-hop, and Lone Sharks, their second LP which was released in 2011, both acknowledges and heals the decay of the medium while returning to the organic realness that characterized the best of the golden age of 90’s hip-hop.
A haunting vocal sample over a nostalgic piano sequence opens Lone Sharks, repeating “although you are full of misery / you have to learn to show a happy face.” It’s a haunting interlude even the first time you listen to it, precisely because of the way it defines the whole album’s sinister yet nostalgic atmosphere. It is the next track on the album, “Nexium,” which demonstrates the duo’s poetic ferocity: “On hip hop and nexium for three months / And still sober as day but acid reflux free,” EP says over a warm, steady piano sample complimented by a fixed, rhythmic beat. EP’s honesty is real, and the awareness of the “acid-reflux” free rhyme and production is something the duo maintain throughout the album.
“He seems so placid / It’s cuz his diet is lacking in essential amino-acids,” rhymes EP on “Get Em,” a mournfully charged allegory about a kid who, malnourished and unable to eat, cannot even go to the hospital to “even pay the stitchin’ fee.” Looped around a lonely rising sax sample, the song’s chorus screams “Get EM!” In its allegory, the song recalls Common’s classic “I Used to Love H.E.R” yet in the yearning of its beat the song becomes something of a dirge for the near-death of hip-hop.
The duo’s lyrical mastery is subtle and their flows are never forced, rather smooth, but there is something about the selection of their words and images which carries weight. The production of the album - co-produced by both members, without a single track from any other external producer - also carries this biting, sinister atmosphere. It’s certainly not inaccessible; in fact, it’s inviting precisely because of its mysteriousness. Characterized by its organic piano, guitar, and keyboard samples and matched by deep bass and drum lines, and haunted by its eclectic vocal samples, the production is thick and authentic, but most importantly, it is consistent.
It’s the final track on the album, “Suppository,” which matches production and rhymes masterfully, confirming The Doppelgangaz as nothing if not poets: a sample of bats leads way to a vocal sample of a laugh out of a horror film, as an enigmatic, airy piano chord loops around a rising, thumping bass and a simple jazzy snare. “Society’s secrets / black cloak mystique needs sequence,” rhymes Matter ov Fact in a smoothly assured manner. “And yo it’s cloaks not capes,” he rhymes. It is clear here the notion of the artist: like the masked MF Doom, he needs to be cloaked, not exposed; he needs to be man, not machine; and most importantly, he is not one figure but many.
1) Freddie Mercury came ludicrously low
The man that placed 55th was a singer often credited with being the greatest performer in the history of the planet. It is impossible for anyone who saw it to forget the Live Aid show where he held 72, 000 spectators at Wembley, and millions more worldwide, in the palm of his hand with nothing more than some guttural yelps that could be vocal warm ups. His lasting legacy includes changing the way people think about live music shows and the writing of some of the most enduring pop hits in the modern era. Yet he was so much more than this. He was an openly gay man in a time when being gay was only recently legalized, never mind accepted by society at large. He was a man that fought a debilitating illness that eventually claimed his life by carrying on making music. As a result of his tragic death from AIDS the Mercury Phoenix Trust was set up by the remaining members of Queen to fight for the spread of awareness of the disease. Although perhaps more than anything he was unique. He was totally unorthodox in everything he did. His yellow leather jacket and white skinny jeans are images that are etched onto the retinas of everyone that has seen him. He is the definition of an icon. Why then, did he come so preposterously low? I mean really, he was beaten by Lily Allen…
2) Where are all the women?
In the top 60 list there are 11 women. Now this may seem like a reasonable proportion, however when one considers that in the top 20 there is only 1, the figure seems less palatable. Indeed, the list as a whole has some very notable omissions and some baffling inclusions, (see point 4). One of the most shocking of the former is the absence of Aretha Franklin. It is truly sad that Amy Winehouse, credited with bringing classic soul and R&B music into the 21st century can be number four on the list, when the woman who made soul music popular in the mainstream in the first place cannot get into the top sixty musical icons list. It is akin to suggesting that the person who invented low fat crisps deserves more plaudits that the person that invented crisps. She was a hugely significant figure in the Civil Rights Movement, one of the most important of the century, indeed one could say of the past thousand years. On several occasions she sang alongside Martin Luther King at rallies to further the cause. I defy anyone to suggest a person that is more worthy of icon status than her. Bjork? I don’t think so.
3) Liam Gallagher came ridiculously high
It is impossible to think of Liam Gallagher as the second greatest musical icon ever because he is quite simply a poor imitation of the greatest. Oasis have made a career out of copying The Beatles songs and their style. Gallagher is the biggest plagiarist since Samsung decided to make app icons with slightly rounded edges (the swine!). The only feature of his persona that is not totally ripped off from John Lennon is his attitude, but that in turn makes him less of an icon and more of a notorious gimp. A testament to his status as possibly the most overrated musician of the modern era is the fact that his new band, Beady Eye, makes music that is as unlistenable to as someone farting the German national anthem through a walkie talkie.
4) Where the f*ck is Mick Jagger?
The Rolling Stones were potentially the biggest band of the past sixty years. He is the original sex crazed rock and roller. A legend? Yes. Obviously. Then what on earth were people doing not voting him in. Let’s take a look at some of the others on the list. Courtney Love has made a career out of being married to the most inspirational figure of the 90s and making some ‘music’ of her own, or something. She is as much a musical icon as John Terry is a UN Peace Ambassador.
5) Beth Ditto was actually in it
It has become very apparent to me that it is impossible to escape this American singer songwriter. Despite a reasonably consistent low standard of music, she refuses to go away, or more pertinently, the media refuses to drop her. She is everyone’s favourite leftfield figure whose inclusion is bound to get any publication some respect points for being edgy. I would like to point out that I am no dinosaur. The only thing about her that I have issue with is the fact that she fills no criteria to make her an icon. Firstly, she is not worthy of inclusion in terms of musical accomplishment. And while I am not asking her to be the next Beethoven, it seems to be no coincidence that the majority of the shortlist are at least reasonably good songwriters. Secondly, at least the ones that had no clue were symbols of a particular movement or a feeling. Sid Vicious was as good at the guitar as Chris Brown is at not being the scum of the Earth. Yet he defined the anarchy in the UK period. He was punk music. Beth Ditto will eventually be remembered as the woman who sang the Skins music and was always naked on the cover of magazines. Alex Dry Freddie Mercury image by kentarotakizawaAretha Franklin image by bo mackisonLiam Gallagher image by ant217Mick Jagger & interviewer image by Ben LawsonBeth Ditto image by trash world