Band Appreciation Friday – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs are known exclusively for their rebellious, dark, and fiery personalities, as well as the upbeat, evocative tracks they deliver to their audiences so well, which makes them perfect to talk about on a holiday as terrifying as Halloween. Karen O is such a powerful force to be reckoned with, and it’s clear she doesn’t let anything stand in her path. It’s important to note her defiance and tenacious strength as well as her sensitivity and emotion in writing and performing these tracks, which is why, in the long run, the band has evolved and matured into something amazing over the years.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs have such an exhaustive discography, so to go through each one would make this post incredibly lengthy. Instead, I’ll just mention some of the outstanding tracks that made me love Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the first place! The first song I ever heard by this band was the amazing song “Maps” (come on, you saw that coming), and immediately I was hooked. That incessant, unrelenting guitar trill that marks the start of the song is absolutely genius, because it gives Karen O the ground she needs to stand on. Her voice is so wonderfully strange because of the fact that she’s not afraid to embrace her lower register, and doubly unafraid to let loose in the second half of the song. Although at times her voice can turn into faint shrieks and awkward gasps as if she is trying to keep up with demanding instrumentals, it still seems to work within the context of the song she is performing and takes away that aura of peculiarity. Their art-pop, rockabilly, garage-rock embraces also come out in the song “Date With The Night” and “Man” where the instrumentals provided by Nick Zinner and Brian Chase are the main showstoppers. These instrumentals, throughout the span of their albums, are rarely background, but rather piercing instruments in which more emotion bleeds out.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs are nothing if not versatile, which is why their transition to disco-punk in their album It’s Blitz! was taken well. Fever To Tell was basically just a warm up, with it’s often times loose construction and strange content, and now this album showed off a new, focused aesthetic that refused to back down. Karen O’s vocals are more matured here, and things seemed to have an aged intelligence that is clearly heard. That mindset didn’t push them back in the slightest, for this album was almost world’s better than their debut. Of course, there’s the single “Heads Will Roll,”as well as one of my favorites, “Dragon Queen” in the new disco-inspired beats shine through. Everything from the lyrics to the complex guitar parts in these two songs is perfection, and both never fail in providing ample emotion and intricate lyric construction. It’s because of how well things are organized that allows Yeah Yeah Yeahs to get away with an overall simple instrumental backing, and shows their skill as arrangers. “Runaway” shows off the slower, eerier side of O, and sounds delightfully creepy and grotesque, something that the band seems to embrace through their song titles and album artwork. Speaking of which, Mosquito was probably one of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s greatest conquests, and from the title track “Sacrilege,” its so obvious to hear. Another thing about Karen O is how blatantly direct she is with her target audience, as heard in “Mosquito,” while “These Paths” show off that heavily desired slower, more evocative pace instead of overwhelming with their aggressive instrumentals. Mosquito, as an album shows, most importantly, how much the band really has grown from the grainy, aggressive debut album they released ten years ago, and their maturity and confidence throughout it all, which makes Yeah Yeah Yeahs so iconic.

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Spires – “Sleepy Eyes”

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Speaking of seventies inspired music, band Spires are taking the more psychedelic route, keeping other wonderfully surreal, old fashioned bands like Temples and Tame Impala in very good company.  The Brooklyn band released a two song EP back in 2013, and are now following up with their new single “Sleepy Eyes.” There’s a slight post punk/Parquet Courts feel in the background instrumentals, with a gauzy, hazy tone in the vocals. It’s simple in it’s construction, but it definitely works here, and shows that Spires has a lot more to show.

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Foxygen – “How Can You Really”

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Los Angeles based band Foxygen have slowly started to gain a massive following with their 2013 album We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, and now with their newly released album …And Star Power. It’s clear that the band has a fixation with the older days (hence the seventies inspired instrumentals and vocals), but not a kind that would be mistaken for psychedelic rock. Here, there’s more of a set structure, but also gives tracks like “How Can You Really” a hazy Americana feel that’s wonderfully nostalgic. The massive album can take some time to listen to, but from various other reviews and articles, it’s a journey that’s worth it.

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Cage The Elephant – “Cigarette Daydreams”

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Cage The Elephant’s new album Melophobia is chock full of amazing tracks. Of course, there’s their single “Come A Little Closer,” which is both aggressive as it is sensitive, and “Spiderhead,” which is as intense and crazy as the title says it is. However, one track stands out among the rest on this album, and that is the stellar song “Cigarette Daydreams.” If there were ever a Cage The Elephant song that perfectly encapsulated the bitter, cold feelings of sadness and isolation, it’s this one. The swelling of orchestral instrumentals with Matt Shultz’s throaty, grainy voice work in the song’s favor, and thus mixes together elements of hard and soft. The music video is so well done, and even features Shultz’s wife (they got married quite recently). I believe it’s song about leaving behind your old self and starting new, and Cage The Elephant have done an amazing job in communicating the contrasting feelings that come along with that journey.

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Band Appreciation Friday – Majical Cloudz

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I first heard of Majical Cloudz about a year and a half ago when I came across their song “Bugs Don’t Buzz” during an off period at school. I guess it had an effect on me, because I distinctly remember hitting the repeat button over and over again for the rest of that day. The stark piano loop that propels the song had me in it’s clutches, and the sparse, grim, almost terrifying vocals mesmerized me and inspired me all at once. Needless to say, I was intrigued, and started to go deeper and deeper into this dark, deep, yet unbelievably beautiful void that is Majical Cloudz. The journey was well worth the time, because now they are one of my absolute favorite bands.

Devon Welsh is the force that makes Majical Cloudz so brilliant, although synth programmer Matthew Otto helps as well. However, it’s Welsh’s voice and stage persona that separates this band from all others. It’s as if he gets into this trance-like state whenever he performs, and often times, it almost seems like he forgets to blink. It’s quite intense, but makes sense with the ideas and words he so passionately sings. The music itself is minimal, with these beautiful effects that transform simplicity into a muted, subtle complexity with the touch of a key. Their debut album Impersonator was one of the best of the past year, and each track is nothing short of a masterpiece. Title track “Impersonator” shows off Welsh’s amazing ability to be emotionally direct, and there’s immediately a sense of urgency that runs throughout the rest of the album. “This Is Magic” touches on some deeper lyrics, and the slow, haunting beats and tones help to bring on the eeriness of the whole thing. Then there’s “Childhood’s End.” This is definitely one of my favorites, and the most evocative song on the entire album as well. The repeated piano notes take on their own persona, and pushes Welsh’s vocals so that they float on their own accord. The lyrics are so dark, depressing, and desolate, but again, like all of their songs, the way they are sung so passionately and beautifully gives them a softer edge. It is here where the listener can truly hear his voice in all it’s glory, and the story he sings is enough for you to relate it to whatever is happening in your own life, though there’s a chance you haven’t been through the same things that he has. “I Do Sing For You” and “Mister” relate directly to the subject of love, and each approaches the subject differently but effectively. I do have to mention that Welsh’s voice reminds me a bit of Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode (which I love), seeing as though they both have that gruff that sits around the edges of their voices. “Turns Turns Turns” is different and plays around more with the synthesizer, and provides this sort of movement that’s a constant force. “Silver Rings” and “Illusion” much like the duo I mentioned earlier, seem to be related in some way. These particular tracks seem to build as the song plays on, adding layers and layers of instrumentals and emotion, as well as Devon Welsh’s powerful upper register. Since the release of their first album, Majical Cloudz have also released singles “Love Soul” and “Savage,” both of which are some of my favorite tracks they have ever done. “Love Soul,” again, showcases some repeating elements, with a echoing piano chord, while “Savage” is probably very close to being the best vocal performance that Devon Welsh has ever done. Impersonator, as a whole, however, was a really, really personal album, something I’m sure was a bit difficult for them to release. There’s obvious pain and sadness to the record, but there’s happiness and hopefulness too. It’s often times difficult to hear and appreciate, but it’s there, almost like a ray of light into hordes of lurking shadows. It forces you to contemplate more important things and pushes you into the line of embarrassment, but it’s something you’re grateful for later. 

I really admire Devon Welsh because of how deep and sensitive he really is. He’s so personable and respectful towards others and aims to make each member of his audience feel included (just read his blog, you’ll know what I mean) and that sort of thing goes a long way in a business that seems to put musicians and artists on this unreachable pedestal. It’s incredibly inspiring, and adds to the intense beauty of their songs. It takes time to understand and relate to it, and I always seem to think a little deeper about myself and the world around me when I listen to any of their beautiful songs.

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Braids – “In Kind”

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Braids’ music, as a whole, is an acquired taste. It’s extremely unique in every way, the most remarkable being Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s flinty, malleable voice. Their music, on it’s own, is incredibly playful and curious, and plays upon your senses in amazing ways. Often times, experimental music like Braids seem to be overlooked based on how eccentric it really is, but it’s almost always worth a listen. “In Kind” is the showstopping closer to their 2013 album Flourish // Perish, and it succeeds in making the heavy, contemplative lyrics sound fanciful and lovely with energetic, boisterous instrumentals that fluctuate and dance. The vocals are otherworldly, and conveys such emotion, something that Braids doesn’t skimp on.

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Daedelus – “Belonging”

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Alfred Weisberg-Roberts, better known as his stage name Daedelus, is a music producer based in Los Angeles. His work spans over ten years, with many albums and collaborations with other vocalists such as Will Wiesenfeld (Baths) and Inara George (The Bird and The Bee). His new album, The Light Brigade, shows a different side of his work, especially with this track titled “Belonging.” It reminds me of fellow music producer Bibio, who utilizes and specializes in vague, hazy, dreamy vocals and instrumentals. For a musician who decided to name himself after the famous mythological inventor, he is truly showing some skilled inventions of his own with these beautiful sounds.

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Tennis – “Never Work For Free”

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Tennis is a husband and wife indie duo that seems to specialize in dreamy folk songs with an alternative edge. There’s also a slight Americana feel to their sound, and there’s also some Blondie inspired psychedelic beach pop sprinkled in for good measure. It’s a combination that really works well, and has this vibe that makes their songs seem like they belong in an eighties movie, something that I love. In “Never Work For Free,” Alaina Moore’s vocals seem to float on top of smooth, yet powerful drums and hazy guitar tones, and it becomes such a beautiful ballad. “Never Work For Free” is from Tennis’ album Ritual in Repeat, which was released this year.

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