Don’t Sleep on the Sax in 2018

When one thinks about the saxophone, the first thing that pops into their head might be “Careless Whisper” or perhaps Kenny G, but the saxophone is an extremely versatile instrument with much more to offer than sleep-inducing elevator music. In order to showcase the range of the saxophone and exemplify its continued relevance in today’s music, I decided to compile this short sampling of three new songs from 2018. Several songs this year have made great use of this instrument and pushed it to interesting and unexpected places. From rock to jazz, the saxophone can howl along with noisy instruments like electric guitar or add a gentle touch to a slow jam. This is a brief list of songs in no particular order, and I am aware that there are plenty of other songs that deserve to be recognized, but these three are some of my favorites that I think are worth checking out.

“Main Pretender” by Ty Segall from Freedom’s Goblin

On Freedom’s Goblin, Ty Segall added the saxophone along with various brass instruments to his band in order to develop a much fuller sound, resulting in more complex arrangements when compared to his past albums. The sax takes a front seat throughout the album, squealing out syncopated rhythms and catchy riffs, but one particular highlight is the track “Main Pretender.” The sax here is high-pitched and dirty, laying the groundwork for a hard-hitting counterpoint with the bass line. I love how the sax holds its ground against the loud distorted guitars in this track, but the best part is the wildly unhinged sax solo towards the end of the song. The instrument growls like it’s being choked, frantically squeaking and squawking like an angry swan. It feels like the instrument is being pushed within an inch of its breaking point at certain points in this solo, which is why I would rank this as one of my favorite solos by any instrument on a rock album so far this year.

“Call Me (On the Phone)” by Dante Elephante

Released in February, this single from Los Angeles pop/rockers Dante Elephante may have been released too early, because it feels like a summer song. Its type of song that comes on in the evening just as the sun is going down, work is ending, and you’re heading to a friend’s house just to chill. Taylor Penn plays the sax here, which isn’t heard until the latter half of the track, but when it does come in, it provides the perfect touch of nostalgia and freedom as it gracefully dances up and down. This seemingly insignificant touch shows how a bit of sax can turn a good track into a stellar track.

“When We Are” by Nubya Garcia

Jazz and saxophone go together like pinot noir and brie, which is why any list of songs featuring the saxophone would be incomplete without at least one jazz tune. Nubya Garcia, a tenor saxophonist from England, recently released When We Are, which features her own brand of jazz infused with the energetic vibes of night-club culture. On the title track, you can hear the club influence in the percussion, which has a contemporary hip hop feel to it. As for the cool saxophone playing, it transports the tune into the stratosphere. As the song grooves along, the saxophone tells a story about late night grinding and bumping in crowded venues. Her tone is very clean and bolstered by a strong rhythmic base. As an artist who is only just getting her solo career started, Garcia is an artist to pay attention to in the future for all your late-night saxophone cravings.

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MGMT: Little Dark Age Review

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“MGMT ARE BACK” reads a sign in the music video for “Me and Michael,” one of the singles from MGMT’s latest album, Little Dark Age. This is the fourth studio album from the band comprised of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, and it marks MGMT’s return after a four-year hiatus. From start to finish, MGMT’s latest release is captivating and meaningful. Whether or not you’re familiar with the band’s past work, Little Dark Age is an infectious mix of black comedy, unabashed quirkiness, and great pop-songwriting.

The opening track “She Works Out Too Much” addresses the pitfalls of dating in the super fast internet age. The lyrics playfully lampoon the instagram generation’s shallow obsession with swiping, tapping, and collecting likes. “I can never keep up,” laments VanWyngarden. The dancey electronic beat is punctuated by motivational phrases from a perky fitness instructor. The overblown enthusiasm of these snippets adds a sense of humor to the song. I particularly like the poppy brass and the saxophone toward the end of this track which wildly improvises around the melody.

Next is the title track, “Little Dark Age,” a brooding synthpop odyssey. The echoey quality of the heavy synthesizers and the reverb on the vocals create a moody gothic atmosphere. The lyrics further build on this feeling of dread. Certain images in the lyrics can’t be separated from the political message behind them, “Policemen swear to god / Love’s seeping from the guns / I know my friends and I / Would probably turn and run.” Although they may be somewhat cryptic, references like this to police brutality and other issues suggest there is something unsavory rooted deep within our own society, something we would rather keep hidden in the dark recesses of our mind than confront.

“When You Die” is an abrasive statement about death and what follows it. Ariel Pink has a writing credit on this track, and his fingerprints are definitely apparent in the playful cynicism of the chorus and the subverting of pop expectations. The song frequently teases a melody only to suddenly turn in another new and unexpected direction. The strange guitar part sounds like it’s moving backwards, but it works because it builds up brilliantly into the refrain which thrusts the listener into a surreal afterlife populated by a chorus of laughing voices.

“Me and Michael” stands out as the very accessible feel-good track on the album. The pulsating keyboard, straightforward percussion, and smooth vocal inflection make this one of my favorite tracks on Little Dark Age. The subject matter is nostalgic yet vague enough that it can be about almost any friendship you’ve ever had. In terms of structure, it doesn’t pull any tricks, but it doesn’t need to. The elements of this eighties-indebted song come together beautifully, resulting in a track that has been stuck in my head since I first heard it. When that chorus finally hits, its impossible to resist singing along.

The last track, “Hand it Over,” brings closure to the album. The song revolves around abuse of power and corruption, but the delivery is apathetic as if the observer in the song is up in the clouds watching us from a removed vantage point. The song certainly floats like a gentle psychedelic pop dream. The gentle ebb and flow of the heavy synthesizer washes over the dreamy harmonies like waves, while a groovy bass line bubbles just under the surface of the melody. Eventually, the dream fades away and you are left alone with just your thoughts.
Like great art, Little Dark Age doesn’t give us answers; instead, it prompts us to search inward for our own questions and solutions. I can see myself coming back to this album in the future for its countless memorable moments, the musical intricacies that reward multiple listens, and its great production value. You could not go wrong in giving Little Dark Age a listen.

Super Bowl LII Halftime Show: Touchdown or Fumble?

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Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images

103.4 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl LII on Sunday night. I was one of those people. Some watch for the big game, some watch for the commercials, some enjoy the snacks served at the parties, and others get excited for the halftime show. I fit myself into the latter two categories. I pay attention to the game, but I’m mostly there for a good cheese platter and an entertaining performance.

Super Bowl halftime shows can be hit or miss sometimes. In the last couple of years, several performers have stood out to me for giving great shows, but for every Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, or Katy Perry, there seems to be a Coldplay. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone when it comes to the most hyped-up and talked about performance event of the year, but overall, I thought that Justin Timberlake did a good job. It wasn’t one of the greats, but it at least kept my attention for thirteen minutes.

Justin wisely started the show with “Filthy,” a song from his new album, Man of the Woods. Quickly getting the new song out of the way is a smart move, because people watching the Super Bowl don’t exactly care about his new music; they come for the hits they can sing along to, which Justin delivered on. The setlist contained all of his most popular crowd-pleasers, including “Rock Your Body,” “Sexy Back,” “Cry Me a River,” “Suit and Tie,” “Mirrors,” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

One thing I liked about the show was how the musicians and band-members were showcased. Too often, the band is hidden out of sight in these types of shows, but here they were dancing and playing right next to Justin. During “Sexy Back,” I was happy to be able to see the trombonist, guitarist, trumpeter, and saxophonist grooving together. The University of Minnesota Marching Band also played a big role in “Suit and Tie,” in which they were all appropriately dressed in tuxedos. The whole marching band swinging their instruments behind Justin, as he danced around with a moving microphone on a glowing white box, was one of my favorite parts of the whole show.

 

Pepsi Super Bowl LII Halftime Show

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There was a lot of impressive dancing in the show as well. One stand-out moment was the dance break on top of the NFL logo. The synchronized dancing was well choreographed, and everyone involved made those crazy dance moves look effortless.

 

This year, I missed the wild and imaginative costumes of previous years. The back-up singers had some costume changes, but it seemed a little lame that Justin sported a caribou shirt the whole time. More creative outfits from the past, like Katy Perry’s beach ball dress or Lady Gaga’s shiny metal costume, left a lasting impression on my mind.

The Prince tribute was also a little bit questionable. Prince was once asked if he would ever consider using technology to jam with an artist from the past, to which he responded, “Certainly not. That’s the most demonic thing imaginable. Everything is as it is, and it should be. If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age. That whole virtual reality thing… it really is demonic. And I am not a demon.” Going ahead against Prince’s wishes and having Justin Timberlake sing a duet with him seemed disrespectful. The part where they lit up the entire stadium and its surrounding area purple would have been enough.

Overall, Justin Timberlake put on a good show, although only time will tell if his performance will stick in our minds like great Super Bowl halftime shows of the past. There were some great moments and there were some awkward moments, but hopefully everyone was able to find something to enjoy about the biggest sporting event of the year.

Captain Squeegee: Harmony Cure Review

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I went into Harmony Cure by Captain Squeegee, a psychedelic rock band from Arizona, expecting weirdness based on their name alone, and I was not disappointed. As I scrolled through the internet, the moniker of the band was what initially caught my attention, but their unique sound was what prompted me to stay and keep listening. Harmony Cure melds together ska, jazz, and rock, but it also aims to tackle themes like the meaning of music, protecting the environment, and depression. This colorful ep is packed to the brim with enough off-kilter oddness to make one dizzy.

The opening track, “Our Children,” immediately addresses the title of this project. The “harmony cure” refers to music and its power to bring people together. The song is filled with funky bass, fat saxophone, and a popping brass section. It’s the type of song that makes you want to get up and move. Danny Torgersen’s spaced-out vocals pull the song forward as the horns and electric guitars drive the rhythm. Another highlight is a guitar solo about halfway through the song that tumbles over itself into a crescendo resembling a digital overload.

The track takes an odd turn however, when the subject matter of the song abruptly shifts to aliens. Captain Squeegee throws aliens into the mix because it’s what their fans expect of them, not because aliens are necessary to this song. It’s a shame because this non sequitur detracts from the overall message of the song, which I really liked up until that point.

My favorite track on Harmony Cure is “Terrorist of Time,” one of the more upbeat songs and the track that brings the most ska-flavor to the ep. Lyrically, the imagery in this song stands out as provocative and socially conscious. The implication here is that the terrorists of time are us. We have polluted the water, destroyed the forests, and lost our ability to appreciate the beauty of nature. Although this is hardly a revolutionary or new declaration, the song works because it never explicitly says “We are the bad guys!” Instead, it lays out the evidence for the listener and lets them ascertain for themselves who the “terrorists of time” really are.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all of the tracks on Harmony Cure. “Smile Shield” in particular suffers from the band thinking it’s much deeper and profound than it really is. The image of hiding behind fake smiles is a stale and overused cliché. Captain Squeegee seems to think they are “red-pilling” the masses, but instead they come across as angsty and shallow on this song.

The closing track, “Ghost Ships,” brings the message about the significance of music full circle. One lyric that resonated with me was, “we use different hearts, but the art makes us feel the same.” This statement on the ability of art to make us empathize better with each other is what Harmony Cure is all about. It also doesn’t hurt that the song is catchy and makes great use of dynamic contrasts.

At its best, Harmony Cure offers interesting critiques of society and heartfelt statements on the importance of music. At its worse, Harmony Cure stumbles as it tries too hard to be “woke.” But even when concepts behind songs don’t land perfectly, Captain Squeegee’s latest  is undeniably fun. From wildly funky beats, to fusion jazz flourishes, to keyboard breakdowns, this album has a little bit of everything for everyone. Besides, aren’t you curious what a band named Captain Squeegee has to offer?

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard: Polygondwanaland – Album Review

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have returned with their fourth studio album of 2017, Poygondwanaland. Considering their already enormous output this year, how do they manage to make this new album stand out? Well for one, this sprawling prog-rock-influenced concept album is free. That’s right, you can go download the album and its art work from their website http://kinggizzardandthelizardwizard.com/ right now. The digital master, a CD master, and even a vinyl master (for those interested in pressing their own wax) are all included. With the release of Polygondwanaland the band triumphantly announced, “We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.” 

As soon as it was announced that people can do whatever they want with Polygondwanaland, creative fans quickly took to the internet and have already done some incredible things with the album. For example, a back cover was not included with the artwork, so people online have designed and shared their own back covers. Others have even made their own music videos for their favorite songs on the album. Releasing Polygondwanaland in the manner that the band did has allowed an unprecedented level of interaction between the music and the fans.

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Back cover by Reddit user epicwhyguy

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Back cover by Reddit user crunch_be

As for the music itself, Polygondwanaland feels much more complete and expansive than the band’s last album did. One of my major complaints regarding their previous album, Sketches of Brunswick East, was its meandering quality. Although I liked Sketches, many of the songs were short and felt underdeveloped.

This problem is addressed on Polygondwanaland right off the bat with the song “Crumbling Castle,” an impeccably composed and tightly woven ten-minute track. The opening song never falters or loses focus, instead driving forward constantly and immersing the listener into the strange world of the album. An emphasis is placed on unusual rhythms in this song and on the album as a whole. An unwavering bass line and propulsive percussion keep the momentum of the song steady as everything swirls and swells into a distortion-drenched apocalyptic conclusion. As an introduction to the rest of the album, this song wastes no time in establishing a mysterious and grand tone.

The opener is preceded by the title track, “Polygondwanaland” which continues the feeling of wonder and discovery. Ethereal flutes carry this song seamlessly into “The Castle in the Air.” Both of these tracks feature some of the harmonica that King Gizzard has become known for, but they also implement more electronic elements. Pulsating synths and mellotron add color and evoke an orbiting space-like feeling.

One of my personal favorite moments on the album is toward the end of “Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet” where the synthesizer is unleashed to its full potential and allowed to steal the show. The other instruments drop away, exposing the electronic loop and creating a great dynamic contrast. Initially, it sounds like something out of a classic John Carpenter soundtrack (or Stranger Things since its 2017). Then the drums kick in with the bass, adding a layer on top of the synths. Staccato keyboard, howling sirens, and wailing drones combine, crescendoing and swelling like waves pounding against a rocky beach. Finally, everything collapses into itself; the sounds are reduced to a clicking, and then, nothing.

In the second half of the album, “Loyalty” stands out to me for its ominous introduction. The harrowing and oppressive walls of sound and the buried clacking at the beginning of this track made me feel the same way that “On the Run” from Dark Side of the Moon makes me feel. There is an overwhelming sense that something dangerous and unsettling is closing in and time is running out. The lyrics sound like a desperate plea, “Where’s the loyalty?” All of these elements create a suffocating feeling of paranoia.

The album starts to drag a little bit during “Tetrachromacy,” which is one of the weakest points on the album. The song revolves around the concept of unlocking another color not perceivable by humans. Although I can appreciate what the band is doing with the vocal harmonies here, this song seems to lag behind the beat when compared to the rest of the album. As a result, “Tetrachromacy” loses the momentum of the music and fails to stay interesting.

Fortunately, the album picks up again just in time for the last song, “The Fourth Color.” The rhythms fall back into place, fitting together tightly like puzzle pieces in a mosaic. This song is mostly solid, but I am a little bit confused as to why this last track fizzles out into a false ending. At first, I incorrectly thought the song was finished. The instruments disappear into a barely audible wind sound, which lasts about thirty seconds, before suddenly exploding into a short outro reminiscent of “Robot Stop” from Nonagon Infinity. Perhaps this ending serves as a connection to the larger “Gizzverse,” but it feels very tacked on.

Polygondwanaland is a fun adventure of an album packed with many things to love. The overall tone and atmosphere of the album sucked me in immediately. I was engrossed from first track, and Polygondwanaland kept me enthralled through most of the journey. Unfortunately, the first half of the album is much more consistent than the second half. Looking back at King Gizzard’s discography, they have delivered so many great opening tracks, but not as many great closing tracks. The band has already proved that they are talented, and they worked hard to deliver four albums in 2017, but I can’t help but feel that they can still do better. None of the albums they released in 2017 are their best album. Yes, they have released some of their best songs this year, but as a whole, all of these albums have their flaws. In 2018, I would like to see King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard take a breather and take their time making their next album. Otherwise, they will never surpass Nonagon Infinity or I’m In Your Mind Fuzz. I know they are capable of making their best album yet in 2018 if they put their minds to it.

Is Public Access T.V. Worth Revisiting and Looking Forward to in the Future?

New York rock group Public Access T.V. is back with a new single from their upcoming sophomore album, Street Safari. The band, which consists of lead singer and songwriter, John Eatherly, Xan Aird on lead guitar, Max Peebles on bass, and Pete Star on drums, amassed a great deal of praise for their debut album Never Enough in 2016, but has their first album aged well enough since its release to justify excitement for this new album?

I was apprehensive about revisiting Never Enough. Although it was applauded upon release in 2016, I was afraid that perhaps it owes too much to the New York rock scene that preceded it. Much to the chagrin of John Eatherly, countless comparisons have been drawn between Public Access T.V. and the biggest New York band of the 2000s, the Strokes. Upon listening to Never Enough again, I found the band holds up on their own. Public Access T.V. deserves more credit for developing their own sound, a difficult task for a band that’s just getting started. Comparing every young New York band to the Strokes has become a cliché in recent years, and I feel that it is highly reductive. Instead of focusing on shallow surface level similarities, the band should be judged on the merit of their own songwriting and music.

There are numerous positive things to be said about Public Access T.V.’s debut album. One thing that stands out is the length of the album. It is concise and to the point, as opposed to being bloated and unfocused. Being able to trim the fat off of an album is a good trait for a young band to have and something many artists don’t know how to do. For example, one of my major complaints regarding King Krule’s recent album The OOZ is that it is too long; several songs could have been cut from that album and it would have been made more consistent. Never Enough, on the other hand, knows exactly what it wants to be. At only thirty-eight minutes long, it is just the right length for a rock and roll debut.

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Never Enough

This brings me to their newest single, “Metrotech.” Immediately, this song stands out from everything else the band has released. The propulsive repetitive baseline recalls funky rock classics like “Let’s Dance” or “Another One Bites the Dust.” The guitar adds color, taking a back seat to the vocals and bass. The drum beat is heavily syncopated and makes you want to tap your foot. The backup vocals are high falsetto, but cleverly snuck in as not to be too obnoxious or cheesy.

On the whole, “Metrotech” makes it clear that the band is moving in a new direction. The track record alone of Public Access T.V. makes their next album, Street Safari, an album worth looking out for. Only time will tell if the group will be able to follow up their above-average debut with another great album, but if this single provides any sign of what is to come, I can safely say that any excitement is warranted.

 

 

Viva Elvis: The Album Review

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If you listen to the Beatles a lot on Pandora like my family, then perhaps you have heard of Love, a soundtrack remix album of Beatles music from the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name. The show, which has been running since 2006, has a great soundtrack which succeeds in skillfully remixing popular Beatles songs into new medleys and mash-ups. Love crafts something new without ever removing the essence of what people love about the music of the Beatles.

In 2010 Cirque du Soleil attempted to recreate the success of their Beatles-themed show with an Elvis Presley-themed show called Viva Elvis. Viva Elvis only lasted 2 years before it was closed in 2012 due to low attendance records, so it’s understandable if you’ve never heard of this show; I only recently discovered it myself.

It was while browsing YouTube that I found ElvisPresleyVEVO. This was the first sign that something here was off; VEVO was created in 2009, more than 3 decades after Elvis’ death. Nevertheless, ElvisPresleyVEVO is a real account and it even features “Elvis Presley’s official music videos.” I decided to watch the “official” music video for “Suspicious Minds” which was a number one hit song by Elvis in 1969. Immediately, I was aware that this was not the “Suspicious Minds” that I knew nor was it the version that topped the charts in 1969. For the most part, Elvis’ vocals are kept the same, but the instrumentation of the track is totally changed. It sounds like Elvis if he was backed by a U2 cover band. I did a little research and found that this “Suspicious Minds” is a remixed version of the song from Viva Elvis. After this, I had to learn more about this show and its soundtrack.

Love was done so well, so why did Viva Elvis turn out so lackluster? Well for one, the producers of Love had real talent and experience. Legendary producer George martin and his son Giles Martin worked on Love. George Martin has been referred to as “the fifth beatle” by the Beatles themselves. He produced much of the Beatles’ catalogue, including Revolver, Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour, Help!, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. His son, Giles Martin, went on after Love to produce the fantastic 50th anniversary remaster of Sgt. Peppers, which came out  earlier this year. There could be nobody more qualified than these two for the task of making a new Beatles soundtrack.

But who produced Viva Elvis? It must be somebody very qualified, perhaps a person who knew Elvis or worked with him. Nope, Viva Elvis was produced by Erich Van Tourneau, whose production credits include nothing prior to Viva Elvis. In fact, the only albums he has worked on besides Viva Elvis are Now That’s What I Call Music! 36 and Bossa Nova Baby! The Ultimate Elvis Presley Party Album, which came out after Viva Elvis and features several of the same songs. It seems that Van Tourneau was barely qualified to be the producer of a tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley.

With Viva Elvis Tourneau tries to make Elvis Presley contemporary. He includes various elements from a range of musical genres in the album, including punk, alternative, hip hop, blues, and soul. The problem is that in imagining what Elvis would be like if he appeared as a new artist in 2010, Tourneau loses sight of what makes Elvis timeless. Adding vocal effects and record scratches might have seemed cutting edge and cool in 2010, but in 2016 these features just date the music. Much like many of the pop songs featured on Now That’s What I Call Music! 36, Viva Elvis has not aged well. The production is so cheesy and over the top. Also, there is no subtlety in the message of the album. For example, ham-fisted audio clips that appear throughout the album tell us how great Elvis Presley was. We know he was great, that’s why people still listen to his music today. Instead of telling us how fantastic he was, they should have let his music speak for itself. But that is the fundamental flaw of Viva Elvis: it has been altered so much that it no longer feels like the music Elvis Presley. These are not the songs that you know and love. Perhaps young children who are not familiar with Elvis Presley might be able to rock out to these songs, but I think seasoned fans will find it hard to forget the original versions.

The opening song “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (The 2001 theme) makes it clear right off the bat what the overall experience of the album will be. Audio of screaming fans and strange clips of Elvis laughing are layered in with a repetitive drum beat. This was probably meant to be an exciting build up into the start of the show and the next song, but it sounds more like a descent into hell. The laugh sounds so unnatural and unsettling out of context, like Elvis is hysterically laughing to himself. Perhaps if there was a joke or a statement that made him laugh, it wouldn’t sound so odd.

After a countdown, the first track transitions right into the second track “Blue Suede Shoes” which is my least favorite track here. This song features all of the elements that make the album as a whole so painful to endure. It kicks off with a generic guitar riff that sounds like a Rolling Stones rip-off. Then a filter is briefly added onto the vocals that makes it sound like Elvis is singing through a payphone. About halfway through the song, it devolves into a record-scratch breakdown complete with random “whoos” and undecipherable words looped over and over again. I hope you like to hear Elvis make incoherent sounds, because then you’ll love the album. After that finishes, the song switches gears again, this time sounding briefly like the hit “Gonna Make You Sweat” (Everybody Dance Now) by C & C Music Factory. The song tries to be about 5 things at once and fails at all of them.

To the credit of Tourneau, not every song on Viva Elvis is as bad as “Blue Suede Shoes.” Sherry St. Germain gives a memorable vocal performance on the song “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” although I wish they would have just let her sing the whole song as a cover. Instead, the song is a duet between her and Elvis. This ends up sounding a little awkward, because their voices are very different. There isn’t much of a chemistry between them, which isn’t surprising considering Elvis is not really there for her to interact with. All things considered, she does as well as she can.

In conclusion, Viva Elvis is not horrible in theory. Perhaps with some better talent behind the project, like there was with Love, it could have been less obnoxious and cringe-inducing. The problem is how cheap it sounds. The remixes come across as amateur like fan mash-ups. They mostly had the sense to keep Elvis’ voice as the main focus, but he often sounds out of place. Elvis never fits in with the music that accompanies him on these tracks, which is a shame because he is supposed to be the centerpiece and main attraction of this music. If there is one good thing that comes from Viva Elvis, it’s the confirmation that Elvis is really dead. We can finally lay the conspiracy theories that he faked his death to rest, because if he was alive, he definitely would not have allowed an album like Viva Elvis to be posthumously released in his name.

Alien Sunset by Cut Worms

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Cut Worms is the musical moniker of musician Max Clarke. After studying illustration in college with a focus on graphic design and working odd jobs for several years, Clarke decided that writing and recording songs is his true passion. Inspired by a roommate of his who challenged himself to write a song every day for four years, Clarke started by dedicating an hour to music every day in his free time after work. He took it upon himself to write two songs per month, and it is from this process of songwriting that Max Clarke wrote the six tracks that appear on his latest EP Alien Sunset.

The songs on Alien Sunset were recorded with an 8-track recorder by Clarke himself at home. As a result, the whole EP has a rough around the edges do-it-yourself aesthetic. Clarke sings and plays all of the instruments, except for some drum overdubs provided by Josh Condon. The first half of the Alien Sunset was written and recorded in Chicago before Clarke moved to New York City, where the second half of the project was made. Clarke listens to a lot of music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies, which definitely shows in these songs. In particular, the style of close harmonies Clarke employs recalls the Everly Brothers. For reference, check out “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers from 1958. Lyrically, however, Cut Worms is not so care-free and corny as the music of the fifties. Instead, Clarke takes more inspiration from rock and roll poets like Bob Dylan.

The title track “Alien Sunset” stands out for its interesting layering of multiple parts; bouncy backing vocals, playful strumming, dancing guitar rhythms, subtle bass, and a clap added in for good measure all factor in to make a very complete texture. The song sounds simple and easy-going on the surface, but the tune is more complex than it initially appears. This is true of several songs on Alien Sunset. For example, it’s easy to miss the keyboards underneath the melody in the song “A Curious Man.” Little touches like these show that Clarke has an ear for acute details that elevate the songs without you noticing them.

The final track on Alien Sunset is “Song Of The Highest Tower,” which Clarke wrote on the day that Lou Reed died. The lyrics are adapted from a poem by Arthur Rimbaud entitled “A Season in Hell.” This is a melancholy ballad that relies heavily on Clarke’s vocals. Clarke sings mournfully and honestly about death and loss. The roughness of the production actually compliments his delivery here, because he sounds distraught. His vocals are not perfect in the traditional sense, but the emotions captured feel authentic. This “realness” is often lost when a song is performed thirty times in a high-tech studio and edited to the point that it’s flawless.

Overall, Alien Sunset by Cut Worms has a demo-like quality. This EP certainly has a distinct sound, but it leaves more to be desired. Max Clarke has proved himself as a songwriter, however I would like to see him expand his music to be more variegated and diverse. Apparently he will be releasing a full length studio album in 2018, and I am interested to hear if he will be able to maintain the personal, authentic feel of his music while improving the production and moving in some new sonic directions.

Daft Punk – Instant Crush ft. Julian Casablancas

The song “Instant Crush” started to take shape in 2010 when Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, the two men behind Daft Punk, came to Julian Casablancas of the Strokes with an instrumental demo they wanted him to hear. Daft Punk was still working on the soundtrack for Tron Legacy at the time, but this track would end up being on their next album, Random Access MemoriesJulian loved the song when he heard it, and he provided the lyrics and vocals, as well as the lead guitar part. 

warren-fu-music-videos

Warren Fu

The music video for “Instant Crush” was directed by Warren Fu, a friend and frequent collaborator with both the Strokes and Daft Punk. He has also directed music videos for Snoop Dogg, the Killers, Weezer, the Weeknd, and the Growlers, just to name a few. Fu was a visual art director on Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and even designed the character General Grievous. He started making music videos in 2007.

The music video for “Instant Crush” is compelling due to its ability to forge emotional connections between inanimate objects. The protagonists are unmoving wax figures in a museum, but they feel alive. Warren Fu presents a love story between the soldier and the woman without them ever speaking or even changing facial expressions. Despite this, their longing for each other is palpable. It is through the language of shot reverse shots, closeups, and soft lighting that the viewer is made to understand this impossible love, without it ever being explicitly established. 

One of the most memorable aspects of the song are the vocals; They are distorted and synthetic, yet they sing of love and heartbreak in a very real and relatable way. The robotic voice effect was created by having Julian Casablancas sing into a vocoder, a device that takes the sound of a voice and inputs it through a series of signal filters. The voice is then processed and fed through a synthesizer, creating a futuristic sound that matches the tempo and tone of the voice. Whether it is losing someone and subsequently drowning yourself in fond memories that person, or feeling regret regarding a potential love that was never allowed to be realized, by juxtaposing recognizable human experiences with robotic vocals and inanimate subjects, “Instant Crush” makes us question the nature of humanity. What makes us human? Is it our capacity for emotion? Our ability to think? Our experiences? When a machine or an object can emote and recall memories, the line between us and them is blurred. Questions of identity are an issue that has been addressed countless times before, but never in such a sleek catchy pop package.

“Instant Crush” is a fan favorite among fans of both Daft Punk and Julian Casablancas. The song is a synthesis of the best talents from both artists; Casablanca’s voice and Daft Punk’s production. Many people have tried to cover this song with varying amounts of success, but nobody has ever surpassed the original in my opinion. This is why “Instant Crush” is still worth revisiting, even years after it was released.

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Music Video: Gamma Knife / People-Vultures

This is part of a new series I’m starting where I will talk about music videos. I chose Gamma Knife / People Vultures first because it is one of my favorite songs from my favorite album from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Nonagon Infinity. I love the album for its frenetic pacing and non-stop energy. Each song on the album flows into the next one seamlessly; the first half of the album feels like one long song with no breaks. The melodies are so memorable and I constantly have the songs stuck in my head. A unique feature of the album is the end of the last song goes into the beginning of the first song, creating a never ending loop.

The video is directed by Danny Cohen and Jason Galea, both of whom are based in Melbourne, Australia. Cohen has directed videos for and photographed the likes of Courtney Barnett, Mac Demarco, Kurt Vile, and the Murlocs. Galea is a consistent collaborator with the band, having designed most of their album covers and been involved in all of their music videos. He has worked very closely with the band for years to craft a unique psychedelic style of art and animation that matches their music very well. The occult robes and fantasy themes in the video take inspiration from from the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky, such as Holy Mountain. The second half of the video goes in a more ridiculous route with action that recalls the silly fight scenes from Power Rangers. One of the characters who confronts the people-vulture is even wearing an ant-man mask, which may be a sign of how small the budget probably was for this video.

The way the camera spins almost out of control and blurs the colors together perfectly captures the dizzyingly fast nature of the song and the album as a whole. There is a particularly epic moment when the camera movement suddenly slows down for a drum solo, like the eye of the storm before the final hurricane blast of wind at the climax and the end of the first half of the video. Apparently the second half of the video was shot in a grueling two days in the desert. The giant vulture is very impressive, so I would say it was worth the discomfort. The people-vulture section of the video incorporates some animation into the live-action fight, making for some interesting visuals.

Supposedly, the band plans to make music videos for all the tracks on Nonagon Infinity that will combine to create some sort of Nonagon Infinity movie. If they can actually pull that off, I’m all for the idea. Until then, there are several other great King Gizzard music videos to enjoy if you look them up on youtube.