Cuzco Music

Attack on Memory - Cloud Nothings

This Cleveland act has invoked the ghosts of hardcore and punk of past and dressed them in new clothes. There is a noxious air to this record that is filled with the sentiments of Generation X kids who now are of course women and men, all of their detachedness, their rage, their want for retribution, and the futility of it all. This album is a kind of exorcism from all of those dark emotions and times in which nothing was easily given and nothing mattered, which is why it matters of course.

 How could one not be affected or impressed by some of the yells and moments of sonic explosion in songs like “Wasted Days”? The climax of this song might be the best part of the entire record sounding like there are almost two people playing the drums and as though for a second they are Thurston Moore and company screeching away on their guitars. Nearing nine minutes this track took me to so many places and moments in my life that I felt like I had been listening to a Mars Volta record. Speaking of them, this album breathes an air similar to some of the music that Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala helped father in At the Drive-In, it has the passion, the feeling like this might make for an unreal live experience, and most importantly the fact that it is all purely admitted emotion.

Some bands fear the emo label like the plague but isn’t all music emotional to some degree at least? It is silly to fear this, and Cloud Nothings take this in stride and display it at its fullest force. There is also a great diversity of sounds all throughout, “Fall In” goes more with their earlier sound and is the more upbeat track on the album but after that it is all back to the grungey wails and noise. Some might call blasphemy but at moments there are hints of a Kurt Cobain attitude in this record, so disillusioned and almost content with the grim picture he paints. While I see it as a search for identity and a tear at their insides, it is also a great progress and a heartfelt record that begs revisiting.

BEST TRACKS: 

  • No Future/No Past
  • Fall In
  • Cut You

Django Django - Django Django

Before listening to this British psychedelic group, I didn’t know much about them and it took me a couple of listens to fully grasp the positive qualities of this very strong first release. They possess a large sound, often filled with chants, tribal-like drums, and ever-climbing chords.

The album contains a great range of sounds that compliment each other well while still maintaining a strong core sound. At times, it feels like space travel or back to the future, then shifts into what one would think Australia sounds like, then to an electronica sound, and the changes just never really cease to flow through. From the first track, fittingly titled “Introduction,” you already know the kind of climb this will be, with the chants and synths constantly elevating in unison with the strong drum sound, until it explodes into the jointed track “Hail Bop.” The best words I can use to describe the synthesizers that are at play in this track are mystery and discovery as they bounce on and off each other as if they are having fun with the notes. Of course the next track “Firewater” takes a sharp turn and goes into more of a bassy schoolyard tune with tints of western thrown in for fun. Another one of Django Django’s assets is the ability of their voices and melodies to extend and carry measures without the need to have much else going on. 

Shift three brings us to a quirkier and more upbeat (if you can possibly believe that) sound on the next two tracks, “Waveforms” and “Zumm Zumm”. The former’s beat strikes an odd resemblance to Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor” and I am in no way shouting plagiarism; on the contrary, I am complimenting on the choice of their influences. While the latter is goofy all the way from the title right down to the beat, it has a nice change of pace with the vocal break that settles things down before the inevitable climb.

The rest of the album takes a more slowed down western pace with less sonic expansion but simple guitar lines and soft gallop beats, and still it works for them. The last two tracks finish out with a louder bang filled with the more explosive synthy sound from the early tracks in the album, bringing it full circle. A worthy listen, though it won’t change your life, it still is one of the best releases of the year. Though Americans sure love to worship all things British, this one should not be chalked up to the anglophilia that plagues us.

RATING: 7.8

Best Tracks:

  • Hail Bop
  • Waveforms
  • Skies Over Cairo

The 2 Bears - Be Strong

British duo The 2 Bears’ debut effort is digestible but for those who are not fans of dance and smooth electronic music will not be converted by it. At times, they create textures of sound that feel as good as they sound, like the first track “The Birds & The Bees” which gives off a Lionel Richie “All Night Long” vibe. However, there is also the negative side, like “Bear Hug,” which is as torturous as it is long. The second track “Be Strong” invokes a Space Jam soundtrack feel, almost like Seal and Michael Jordan are there in black and white slow motion swaying along to the song.

At times the album does feel accessible, but it is in its moments that don’t feel like dance that it is best, which I’m certain is not their intent. Also some of their samples come off as pre-sets from a Yamaha keyboard like in “Ghosts & Zombies” (Music/Higher and higher) and though I know the lyrical content is not supposed to be as important in this type of music, they just feel generic at times throughout the entire album. Though variety is important in any album, sometimes they seem confused about their musical identity, like in “Time in Mind” where they can’t seem to make up their mind about whether they want to be dance cowboys or sailors; it’s almost as though Jimmy Buffet is in the studio with them. They seem to shine most when they keep their mouths closed; “Increase Your Faith” is the most socially spliceable track in the entire album and has the best production value.

All in all this will not be the album to define British dance music or make believers out of doubters but it is a step in the right direction toward bridging pop and dance music. You won’t feel a musical revelation going on inside your head but you won’t blow your brains out, and that is a triumph that many artists never even come close to.

RATING: 7.1  

Best Tracks:

  • The Birds and the Bees
  • Heart of the Congos

Björk - Biophilia

8.6 / 10

No one has been able to paint the human soul with a voice as consistently and honestly as Björk has for the past twenty years (thirty something if we count her first release as an eleven year old). There is no secret to her formula if there even is one, she has one of the most legendary voices of our generations, is a great composer, and always keeps challenging herself. Her music knows no boundaries, she has messed with electronica, jazz, trip-hop, pop, you name it and you can find elements of it in the veins of her work. Her new album Biophilia is her celebration of life and embrace of the digital era that now dominates the world from the farms to the skyscrapers.

The subtle whispering opening track that is “Moon” is very minimal but does not feel empty at all; her ability to arrange should not be lost on fans. The strong single bass drum hits vibrate like the stomps of elephants in the forest followed by the chirp of the harps that make up the beat. It feels as though only Björk would be in tune enough with nature to make an album whose title literally means the love of life, even going as far as basing the time signatures for her music on the lapses between the time the lightning is seen and the thunder is heard on “Thunderbolt”.

The first single released for the album and one of the best tracks is “Crystalline” that just like she narrates: “Underneath our feet/ Crystals grow like plants” grows before your ears slowly but surely. The harmonium-like arpeggios complimented by the light electronic drums serve as a perfect base for her layered belting full of which of course are filled with metaphors for love. Then when the climax hits and the drum roll gets louder and faster, an explosion the likes I have probably never heard before overtakes you like a rabid wave in the ocean. The ever so tasteful use of intense bass drum patterns and industrial-sounds just give the track that perfect closing almost like an orgasm.

One of her finer talents is her ability to write lyrics too, without it she would not be able to make an infection sound so desirable like in “Virus”. The way she sounds, almost desperate, committed and knowing she is already inside you makes it impossible for you to reject her: “The perfect match/ You and me/ I adapt/ Contagious/ You open up/ Say welcome.”

The feel of the aforementioned “Crystalline” is revisited in what kind of feels like one long track separated into two with “Sacrifice” and “Mutual Core”. They both give off a similar vibe of regret and endangered love. The former is almost like a guide to setting things right in this mess of love they have made, and the latter is a confession of human weakness that tells that even though they both gave it all it still was not enough. The reason they have a similar feel to “Crystalline” is the strong electronic drums and very Trent Reznor-like sound they give off, almost like they are coming from a dirty basement filled with ancient torture devices.

 There are always such personal strokes in her music, which is why I mentioned before that her music paints her soul, the way her voice sounds like it almost gives out, but never possibly could. It feels like she is always giving her all on every song, every melody, every measure, every second, and while we may say that we really don’t know her at all from her music it surely feels to me like I know at least a fraction of the person she is from the encyclopedia of poems she has given us. While Biophilia is not and will not be as large as her previous masterpieces, it definitely is a good and solid album, and an important album, people get lost in the transit of their own life but forget where they really are, at the very least this album might accomplish that; to slow down time just for a bit, or at least long enough for us to wake up.

Best Tracks:

  • Crystalline
  • Thunderbolt
  • Mutual Core

Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch The Throne

8.3 / 10

               What would happen if two of the richest most successful rappers of the modern era were to record an album together? The result is a very opulent and ostentatious record filled with expensive samples, great production, good verses, bad verses, and last but possibly most important a feeling of success and pride. Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne is the next step that the ambitious rappers thought would be logical in their plot to world domination. If listeners came here looking for a life changing experience of an album then they should look elsewhere, and most importantly people seem to be afraid to say that this is album is what it is; decent. Though I don’t want to say that the album feels rushed, it definitely does not feel like it had the same attention to detail and meticulousness that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (West’s masterpiece) was given.

As a listener and fan of both rappers’ body of work I must say I am saddened and hurt by the decline and betrayal of Jay-Z to his fans, the man has just gotten so lazy in his rapping that it has become embarrassing and baffling to hear. The moment I knew where he didn’t care anymore was in “Monster” from the aforementioned album, where he might have as well listed every fictional monster and pokemon for thirty two bars. Most listeners of rap I have spoken to agree when I say Jay-Z should have stayed retired after The Black Album, it would have been a perfect ending to a successful career that lead him to more than just musical success. He could have done right what Michael Jordan did wrong, instead he went and became Michael Jordan; next thing you know he’ll also style a Hitler mustache.

I understand that in the modern world of entertainment, artists have to adapt to survive so it is reasonable for both of them to try something new and modern to satisfy the audience of today; and that is exactly what they have done with Watch the Throne. Right from the start you can tell something’s about to pop off, that first almost muted guitar riff on “No Church in the Wild” followed by guest star Frank Ocean’s vocals are as much of a welcome to the jungle you will get. West and Hova don’t waste any time getting into the heavy stuff challenging monarchy and religion with their usual cockiness and bravado. However that feeling is lost on the next track “Lift Off” because it feels like it does not belong on this album, but on Beyonce’s rather. The majority of the song is dominated by her voice that it makes you forget Ye and Jay spit on this track.

 Never in my life did I think that someone would introduce a song with a Will Ferrell line but surely enough “Niggas in Paris” breaks the mold for most unusual song in the album. The feel of the beat is testosteronic, and feels like the kind of song that would be blasted out of car stereos at max volume on a summer day. Though the lyrics are mostly goofy and boastful, these are the kind of words needed for this type of song: “Doctors say I’m the illest/ Cuz I’m suffering from realest/ Got my niggas in Paris/ And the going gorillas huh!”

               In an album that is all about having fun and showing off, the one song that stands out the most in obnoxious taunts is “Otis” from its video to its lines to its rich and surely costly Otis Redding sample from “Try a Little Tenderness.” The entire song they mostly trade off lines and Kanye has one of his best lines that just makes you laugh, hate him, and respect him all in one: “They ain’t seen me cuz I pulled up in my other benz/ Last week I was in my other other benz.” The Rza produced “New Day” has a great beat and even a good idea (both rappers talking to their future children) but just doesn’t shine the way I thought it would, however it does provide one of Jay’s only good lines: “Sorry junior/ I already ruined ya.” The thing that impresses me most about the album though is its ability to shift beats so seamlessly like some sort of prog-rap album. Tracks like “That’s My Bitch,” “Who Gon Stop Me,” and “Murder to Excellence” all have so many shifts in beat and depth that it baffles you how much and how quickly hip-hop has evolved in these short forty or so years it has existed.

               When it’s all set in stone will Watch the Throne be remembered as the greatest hip-hop album of all time? Probably not, but what it did do for the genre is diversify it, give it a larger, epic sound, and of course build on the legend of “The Roc” which I’m certain will get larger as the years progress, regardless of our approval or disapproval of the music.

Best Tracks:

  • No Church In The Wild
  • Niggas In Paris
  • Otis
  • That’s My Bitch
  • Why I Love You
  • H.A.M.

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

9.4 / 10

You know that moment when you listen to a song and you lose consciousness of what is being said because everything is in such harmony that you drift away into a better place? That is what all of Strange Mercy feels like. St. Vincent’s third album plays like a very emotionally invested affair full of perfectly placed and played instruments. Annie Clarke gels together so many elements of music that it made me distrust her entirely whilst still throwing myself willingly into whatever room she would take me.

 At times it sounds like a dramatic musical minus the over the top drama, then makes shifts, like into the very groove driven “Surgeon” which sounds like a porn beat but in the best way possible, or in the renouncing “Cheerleader” which comes off as empowering and confessional. There are also many moments in which it all seems very taken apart and cacophonous and it still works perfectly; almost as though she could stake her life on the fact that such drumbeat goes there and such guitar goes there.

If Actor was her fairy tale album in which she led us through Oz-like and Wonderland-like passages full of flying monkeys, witches, and talking rabbits this is her musical. A musical about a woman who stands at the top of a mountain and shouts her heart out for all to hear; unapologetic and brash but so shrouded in genius musical veils that even the most perceptive of people would be fooled. In “Cruel” her vocal melodies right in the first few bars could be put on the same level as Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” and dare I say it? I find it angelic. But of course she would not just be satisfied with just sounding like that; so then she hits you with an effect filled guitar solo. On the note of guitar solos, the one on the aforementioned song is but a tiny fill compared to the frenetic, almost blaster sounding barrage we get on “Northern Lights.”

It is no big surprise that miss Clarke’s album will wind up in many best of the year lists due to its wholeness and near flawless execution. Her vocal melodies are always soothing, refreshing, and on point, while on the other side; the instrumentation always goes somewhere unexpected, exciting, and progressive. And it’s not just all the explosive moments that get you, it is also parts like when “Northern Lights” just begins as though it is a giant build-up ready to burst, or just the feel of “Year of the Tiger” that feels like the way the album should end, stomping, strong and almost like a football fight song of grandiose proportions. I believe that this will not only be the year of the tiger but also the year of St. Vincent. 

Best Tracks:

  • Cruel
  • Cheerleader
  • Surgeon
  • Northern Lights
  • Year of the Tiger 

    Neon Indian - Era Extraña

    8.2 / 10

    With every new release it’s becoming more apparent that this “small movement” of chillwave music is not such a small movement at all. Some might frown at this because it’s just 80’s music but now, but that’s the thing of it that is likeable, it is the feel of the eighties with our modern problems, and even more beneficiary; our modern technology. In this day and age, even the little guy can stand a chance next to the big shots with their million dollar soundboards.

    Neon Indian’s first release Psychic Chasms brought a fun, luminous, and summery atmosphere that really set a tone for that summer, but this sophomore attempt invokes darker and more somber tones. One could even say that Era Extrana is the after effect or hangover after the deadbeat summer, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, it gives us something great to look back to and bear the present season filled with tragedies like returning to school or work. Palomo has a penchant for lathering synth upon synth upon synth while still keeping a concise and tight sound and it keeps you constantly switching between whichever bubble gum popping melody you prefer. The leading track after the brief overture, “Polish Girl, embodies that post summer record kind of vibe telling us “But you fail to remember.” The track bleeds longing, heartbreak, and idealization, he wants this person to remember the beach mornings, the lazy afternoons, and the ambitious days that start at five and end at five the next day.

    Sometimes things look like they sound and that is the case for this record. When I first saw the promotional video for the mini synthesizer that came with the deluxe edition of the album, the old B movie feel it gave off with the giant processor computers and lab coats and the low quality videotape, in a way it is kind of reminiscing of movies like Rowdy Roddy Piper’s They Live. Though this record is not perfect, it definitely feels like Palomo tried harder and took a more mature approach with this album and succeeded greatly. “Hex Girlfriend also sends the vibe that this in a way is also a break-up record, separating itself from the mood and feeling of Psychic Chasms  but still maintaining a very joyous and floaty feel.

    Overall this album is a triumph for Neon Indian and is definitely a record worth listening to; it may even sway a few of the critics of chillwave and its status as a fad or its actual impact on modern music. Though I feel pretty strongly about this album I believe that in the third album we will be able to see the best of Neon Indian if he is able to combine both sounds and top himself. I don’t want to put too much pressure on Mr. Palomo but I guess we will find out soon.  _Diego                                                                 

    Best Tracks:

    • Polish Girl
    • Arcade Blues
    • Hex Girlfriend

    Best albums of the year so far

    I have heard a pretty good amount of albums this year, so I thought it would be nice to compile a list of the best albums so far.

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