It’s been a pretty odd semester for me in terms of classes; I didn’t really enjoy any of them besides the one I began writing this blog for. In a way, getting to write about music and draw my way through the semester help me maintain some sort of consistency and a small thing to look forward to. The main thing I found useful in running and maintaining a blog was the simple act of putting together reviews for some of the things I live that fell concurrently with this time in my life. I also think my (admittedly) small social media following ultimately helped my blog garner some minor level of outreach on the things that I like to write about and that make me happy. I’m also very orderly when it comes to statistics and online reach, so the stats page kept me mildly amused and entertained, as well as showing that my words can matter, even in the massive world of the internet.
Most of the things that I didn’t find very effective related to the widgets and various “extras” WordPress has to offer. I’m not sure if I just didn’t see how important they are to a blog or if I didn’t use them effectively, but ultimately they were the least beneficial in my mind to keeping my blog looking good and producing good content. I would ultimately like to improve the aesthetic appearance of my blog. For example, I love that this blog helped me to become better at drawing, color theory, and the like, but I would have also loved to have a high quality camera and a mini studio to get better images for my blog. Additionally, I’d like the layout of the blog to be a little prettier, which may come with upgrading to the Pro version of WordPress, or acquiring more knowledge in HTML and CSS.
Ultimately, this blog helped my want to pursue music writing in a more professional manner. The strongest week I had was when I wrote my post about the newest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild. I ultimately garnered 14 views from 10 separate visitors that week. My most popular posts were the reviews on Migos’ latest album and the 100% Silk labels’ compilation album, Sensate Silk. To me, that maybe stems from that artist and label having a very specific type of listener, which may have led to other people’s interest in reading what I had to say about them. I hope to be able to continue said interest in my writing as I continue on in college and beyond.
Year-end lists of our favorite media have become a regular occurrence for essentially any and all media publications. They allow us to reflect on what made the year great (or less than) while summarily offering a mental wrap-up of the goings-on in the closing year. In effect, we remember fondly and move forward, keeping the ideas of what we loved firmly intact with expectations of the next year to top it. What is less common, however, is to remind ourselves that great media is released all the time, and lists needn’t be just a reflection of the entirety of year; many things slip through the cracks, and because human memory is faulty, reflecting throughout the year can be a good way to not let too many things fall into our subconscious. As such, here are five of my favorite albums to be released in early 2017.
Arca; Arca – The Venezuelan producer has stayed busy over the past couple of years, releasing full releases and mixes of his work to keep his waiting fans satiated. On his self-titled album, he reestablishes what has made him great, while introducing a convention heretofore unseen in his work as Arca: his voice. The falsetto-laden, haunting vocal stylings Alejandro Ghersi utilizes over the course of Arca fold in an entirely new layer to his eerie, forward-thinking beats, evoking lovers lost (“Sin Rumbo”) and an alternate version of our reality where Ghersi could possibly even be a pop star. “Desafío,” for example, is a slo-mo pop masterpiece with simple yet effective harmonies that rival some (Björk, FKA Twigs, Kelela) of the artists he’s produced for. What keeps me coming back to Arca is how I never quite fully grasp the entirety of what he’s doing on the album; it is, so far, endlessly replayable because there is always something new to discover.
Goldfrapp; Silver Eye – Goldfrapp tend to switch between two main modes: glammy, icy synthpop numbers and a wistful, mysterious take on folktronica. On Silver Eye, they mostly continue this pattern after the character-driven Tales Of Us, replacing that album’s simple guitar strums and name-oriented approach with some of the most cavernous, dark and sterling synth touches they’ve released to date. It stands high in their discography, falling just shy of my other favorites (wonky-pop debut Felt Mountain and high-NRG rager Head First). Songs like “Tigerman” and “Zodiac Black” allow for previously unseen clarity in Alison Goldfrapp’s lyrics, while “Faux Suede Drifter” fits in with the beauty of slower, ephemeral tracks like Supernature’s “Let It Take You.” Ultimately, Silver Eye continues a winning pattern for Goldfrapp, and makes me excited to continually explore this album for years to come.
Migos; Culture – The best thing about Migos’ most recent album is that they didn’t change anything; rather, they doubled down on everything that makes their Atlanta-based trap rap work with somehow more personality than they already had. Each of the rappers has become more idiosyncratic and identifiably different (Takeoff stuffs every bar with dazzling fervor and as many words as possible, Quavo is consistently the most quotable and Offset keeping himself and the others grounded on a song’s given topic), and the music is never anything less than fun. The only thing that occasionally stunts this album, much like their work in the past, is their unfortunate choice in race relations (often, Latino and Asian people in their songs are reduced to drug dealer clichés). Despite this qualm, you’d be hard pressed to run across music this colorful, this sonically rich and this immediately identifiable with a specific artist in the realm of rap or any other genre. Any album that can stuff this much good across an hour-long album and still be concise, perfectly arranged and ordered and never boring is a winner in my eyes.
Mount Eerie; A Crow Looked At Me – Death is immeasurably sad; if you don’t get anything else from this album then that, Phil Elverum has done his job here. Released after the loss of his wife Geneviève to pancreatic cancer, it applies the melancholy of most of his work as Mount Eerie and The Microphones to concrete, nearly inescapable sadness. Elverum paints pictures of memories of his wife, ranging from the scattered, disorganized remnants of her artwork to scenes of him and his daughter camping, sans mom. Never content to dwell entirely on sadness, A Crow Looked At Me paints a portrait of directionless hope in the dreams of his daughter in final song “Crow.” It took an entire album of grieving and lyrics like “conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about / back before I knew my way around these hospitals,” and while the sadness will likely perpetually linger throughout Elverum’s life, this album is a snapshot of a moment in time where hope is ever-present yet wholly intangible. It does so much more than just linger on death; from the right angles, it can help any listener overcome grief and continue life without the physical presence of a loved one.
Visible Cloaks; Reassemblage – There is a distinct, vaporwave meets minimalism approach to the music Spencer Doran and Ryan Carlile make as Visible Cloaks. They bridge the gap between the nostalgia from a culture outside of their own (here, it is primarily the thin, wet synth tones of Japanese electronic pop from previous decades) and the globalization of sounds that tends to happen in the ever-growing world of electronic music. The music is never loud, with spare moving parts throughout that are content to float through the ether while still leaving an impression on the listener. Highlights include “Valve,” which features Miyako Koda in perfect synchronicity with a wind-blown synth tone and plinking notes, as well as “Neume,” whose title references a medieval form of song notation that forms the basis of how music is read today. On Reassemblage, Visible Cloaks do a great job of reinforcing the idea of ambient music as a pleasant, yet powerful force, one that is equally worthy of attention as it is to soundtrack the minutiae of our everyday lives.
Often in music, one thing we can parse from a song’s title is some kind of implicit meaning that will be mirrored within the song’s lyrics. More creative or less obvious artists often use titles to offer footnotes, extend a story or simply place non-sequiturs into the canons of their craft. Cupcakke (Elizabeth Harris), a rapper from Chicago, utilized the latter strategy to obfuscate the meanings of her song titles when separated from the context of an individual song’s lyrics on her most recent album, Queen Elizabitch. She mentioned the act of doing so on her lively Twitter feed in the buildup to releasing her new album, and said album does not disappoint in offering meanings that can’t clearly be deciphered from title alone. This, along with often vulgar lyrics and a light/dark contrast in song production across the album lead to moving feminist ideology across the course of the twelve tracks offered up on Queen.
Most of the songs with weightier subjects have a juxtaposition of minor key, minimalistic beats paired with blaring synths and dense wordplay. For example, on opener “Scraps,” the Kill Bill siren sounds off, leading into lyrics that skim across several human rights and social justice issues. Cupcakke lets off lines such as “remember times I ain’t have a dime, me and bestfriend sharing clothes,” and, “dark skin or light skin, you still African-American, society got y’all fucked up, y’all out here comparing skin,” which in a brief burst of words helps you recognize not only a small glimpse into Cupcakke’s past with her struggles in poverty as well as her keen knowledge and insight on colorism, or discrimination in the black community (from both black and non-black citizens) on the basis of how light or dark one’s skin is. She acknowledges all of these issues and more across many of the songs here, such as a detailed view of her homelessness of “Reality Pt. 4,” body positivity on “Biggie Smalls” and sex positivity on just about every song here.
The sex positivity is a large part of Cupcakke’s appeal; simply put, the vulgarity she puts into her songs is charming, and empowering. Nowhere on Queen is there a moment where one can or should be blamed for experiencing life vividly through sexual encounters, which more often than not is a part of a young person’s life. She espouses these ideas through tales of her own sexual proclivities, and though she has mentioned that her songs paint her to be more sexual than she is in real life, it allows her audience and herself to find strength in pursuing what they want (consensually, of course.) Cupcakke and Queen Elizabitch do a fantastic job of being a fun, socially aware romp through twelve tracks with a comprehension of problems society faces in a way that’s relatable, yet entirely Cupcakke’s own.
Breath of the Wild is the latest iteration of the successful The Legend of Zelda franchise, and it has succeeded on so many accounts (even becoming the 2nd best reviewed entry in the series) by combining the disparate parts of its predecessors into a fully functioning whole. It contains the cel-shaded beauty of Wind Waker and Skyward Sword; the constant movement and scheduling of non-playable characters in a similar way to Majora’s Mask; and it retains the open world and “choose your own order” feature of A Link Between Worlds. Much like all of the other games in the Zelda series, Breath of the Wild also boasts a beautiful set of sounds and music that fully ensnares players into its fantasy world. Nearly all of the other games in the series include creative takes on 8-bit soundtracks, as well as heavy orchestration and occasional other instrumentation to flavor key areas or games in order to stand apart from other entries. Breath of the Wild does something similar; while still containing past themes and motifs in the many places the protagonist Link can visit, BotW is the most ambient, utilitarian and (in my opinion) beautiful music in the entirety of the Zelda oeuvre, in part because of its sparseness.
Ambient, as put by the musician Brian Eno, is music designed to be “as ignorable as it is interesting.” This is to say, ambient music should be able to blend into the background and become one with the rest of the world as it should be captivating and intriguing in its own right. Breath of the Wild succeeds on both fronts; when traversing through the massive region of Hyrule, players can easily become lost in the many quests and enemies there are to triumph over. When facing down a troop of Bokoblins, for example, you can become so wrapped up in defeating said enemies and having weapons left over that the music can become entirely unnoticeable. However, in giving equal or a majority of attention to the soundtrack found within BotW, a Bokoblin fight can become that much more catchartic and triumphant.
Where Breath of the Wild differs from most Zelda games is its heavier use of piano in contrast to prior entries. When riding a horse, for example, a broken, ecstatic melody plays; in the interim during both the day and night, individual notes play in a protracted manner that, when put together, spell out major musical themes of previous Zelda iterations. In effect, it combines a little bit of both old and new music to the Zelda franchise that becomes its own idiosyncratic musical language. Older themes can also be heard when visiting the various horse stables found throughout the game, which hearkens back to Epona, the silent hero’s trusty horse companion. Various piano and accordion melodies can be heard everywhere throughout Hyrule that lend each sub-region its own distinct identity.
The spare melodies of the soundtrack also continuously change as you face certain trials in the game. Battles against one of the most fearsome enemies, the Guardians, begin with a dissonant piano before leading into a driving, tense 6/8 melody. Said music ends in a literal explosion only once a Guardian has been defeated or trails off into the more serene day or nighttime themes if Link is able to move far enough away from the range of the enemies’ laser attacks. Many other sounds spark interest and keep players on their toes in all areas of Hyrule. One can be taken aback by the sine wave sound leading into the common day and night variations, sparked into action by a puff of smoke which introduces a certain enemy, or simply bask in the field recordings of various real life creatures thoughtfully placed into the background of beach, field and jungle regions.
Simply put, Breath of the Wild takes a lot of care to fully envelop you in its world through stunning visuals, carefully wrought gameplay and its minimalist choices in sound. It has become one of my favorite games to play because of how placid and rich its sonic territory is. The density of the sounds hear never rises beyond three or four elements at any given moment, yet there is a world of depth and attention to detail that busier works can never even fathom. In this way, it reminds me of some of my favorite minimalist works of music; The xx’s debut album, Visible Cloaks Reassemblage and ANOHNI’s version of Oneohtrix Point Never’s song “Returnal” come to mind. Breath of the Wild took core elements of the Zelda world and filtered them in a way where an entirely new idea of the series has been created, and they have amply breathed new life into an already amazing series.
Charli XCX is no stranger to a good hook; she has, in the past, riddled her songs with them and made other, lesser artists more palatable through her writing and chipmunk squeaked vocals over their tracks (hello, Iggy Azalea). She’s also flirted with the idea of becoming a more concise, minimalist version of herself. On her most recent release, 2016’s Vroom Vroom EP, she utilized the hypermodern production talents of artist and producer SOPHIE to an unfortunately annoying, thin effect. The songs were bolstered by some of her most earworm-y choruses to date, but they weren’t much else. She also tried her hand out with rap cadences across the glossy sheen of the EP, and on Number 1 Angel, she effectively rewrites that EP as a stopgap release between it and her next album as she goes through label troubles. Number 1 Angel rejuvenates the ideas she had across all of her prior albums (mostly excluding the pop punk ready Sucker), and comes back with her strongest work since her major label debut, the stunning dark pop opus True Romance.
The best songs show Charli’s ability to work well with her producers and guest features while simultaneously filling in every space with previously untried rhythms and melodies in her canon. Opener “Dreamer,” featuring rappers Starrah and Raye, lets you know essentially everything you’re going to get into for the rest of the album. Heavily autotuned, constant forward motion and with hook after hook, it establishes the ecstatic energy that continues mostly through the rest of the album until “White Roses,” in what appears to be the antithesis to True Romance late album cut “Black Roses.” Rather than “falling victim to” her lover’s wiles, she sets forth a winter wonderland of a track where she seemingly can’t live without her loved one. Standout track “Roll With Me” is a hyperrave fantasy; it builds on the quick flows she built up on the prior two tracks and funnels it through a candy-coated and brittle thin pop-rave track from previous collaborator SOPHIE that never ceases to put a smile on my face, no matter how often I listen to it. The first three-fifths of the album are full of these joy-inducing moments, whereas post-“White Roses,” the album is content to mellow out and relax a bit.
The album occasionally falters when Charli becomes more beholden to standard current pop tropes; “3AM (Pull Up)” isn’t without its merits, but it gets lost amid the “tropical house” genre that seems to be pop’s recent M.O., and artist MØ doesn’t add anything to the track either with her “Indie Voice” stylings. “Babygirl” and “Drugs” (featuring artists Uffie and Abra, respectively) aren’t lacking in any glaring way other than energy; it feels as though Number 1 Angel mirrors a sugar rush in that aspect, crashing down once the album has rid itself of the sugar high it was on, and “Drugs” clichéd drug-as-love metaphor doesn’t help it in this regard. The album is never a slog to get through, however, and closer “Lipgloss,” featuring Twitter favorite rapper Cupcakke, adds a final dose of candy gloss and gleeful vulgarity to wrap the album up in what is the best feature across the entire album.
Number 1 Angel stays firmly in the lane of what Charli XCX has done previously, while simultaneously stretching the form and function of what she feels she can get done in a 3- to 4-minute pop track. The album likely will only continue her upward path into the upper echelons of pop artists, and might even bring back fans who were lost on the steely Vroom Vroom EP. If she can continue to hone the incredible energy she has on the best tracks here, she’ll likely forge a signature that will keep herself happy with the content she produces. The most apt way of describing her remaining firmly rooted in her pop strengths is, as she intones on “Lipgloss,” “It’s Charli.”
Death hovers in the edges of our peripheral vision; it is a constant neglected force, always taken for granted until the moment it hits bluntly and without grace. We smush ants underneath our shoes as we trudge to and from work and school; we see roadkill and think nothing more or less about it, unless we’re forced to smell it or wash it clean. We fawn over our loved ones in equal measure of the time we spend forgetting about them as we become enveloped in ourselves. And then people die. Best friends, lovers, long lost compatriots, a favorite teacher, your sister’s childhood bestie, and so on. When it hits this personally, however close or far, the impact skews reality just a bit; no longer do we walk a linear path. That trudge to walk becomes a little harder; the world becomes a little darker, more vibrant, more psychedelic, more stressful. Such is the effect of having multiple deaths in a year that mean a little and a lot.
Beginning with David Bowie isn’t easy, even as someone who only ever saw him in his influence. I love St. Vincent; she channels Bowie and Prince and Byrne with such grace, such panache, and yet she still stands resolutely herself. I still don’t know what Bowie sounds like, even after going back and listening to his greatest works. He’s there in influence and stature, but to me he works in the corners and the channeling of himself through others. It’s fitting, as he’s meant to be rock’s greatest chameleon, always wearing different suits to see what he fancies and dashing them off when he’s summarily perfected it. And even up to his death, trumpeting nefarious jazz under the guise of ‘Blackstar,’ an album I’ve barely listened to, he worked with grace and the ability to streak himself across the stars, shining the brightest among many. And now he’s gone.
Prince was the one; Michael Jackson was the one for many, Whitney Houston for others, but Prince meant and still means the world to me. Overlapping raw sexuality with gender fluidity and performative promiscuity, while still maintaining an undying charisma, humor, wit and the ability to shade with the turn of his eye and the slight tilt of his brow. He did all of this while being a straight black male, and while I’m prone to not give credit to those in privileged positions, Prince did everything in ways no one expected and continues to be a shining beacon for the outcast, the sissy, the art damaged weirdo, the kid discovering their sexuality and gender and race in a world that doesn’t see it for them to succeed. ‘Kiss,’ ‘I Would Die 4 U,’ ‘Planet Earth,’ ‘Raspberry Beret,’ and so on and so on and so on; Prince eviscerates the jagged corners of identity always and forever. And the last we saw of him, on the most humorous and idiosyncratic note I can think of for anyone, is him riding down a street on a bicycle, with purple flowing cloth draped over his lithe frame, afro high and firmly intact. He was the one. And now he’s gone.
And Leonard Cohen, what can I say? The iTunes album description for ‘You Want It Darker’ depicts him as a man who was “at 35, old; at 82, eternal.” His voiced stretched into abyssal bass ranges, his producers mastering his baritone for perfect head rumbling effect. His voice reached into the depths of death and love; he smiled back, lit a cigarette, and proudly proclaimed, “I am ready to die.” Cohen is a champion of the Grim Reaper, and even more so infatuated with love, the elusive thing we all seek to drink from, to know, to encompass, to spread with every fiber of our being. He’s not Prince; he might be a ladies’ man, but imagining him as a sexual being at all doesn’t calculate in my mind. Rather, Cohen embodies the smooth corners and longing glances out of a window, scanning the hills outside as you wait for your loved one to return (in some grim world, they never do; in reality, they return routinely and you cook pasta with them.) Cohen is the art we see in a near-extinguished flame, flickering back to life and closer to death with every step it takes. Cohen knew what it meant to be human; death and love are all we have to look forward to. He knew this probably better than anyone, and he shone most bright when he asked us if we want it darker. And now he’s gone.
And Travis Green. He’s one of my best friends even though I only knew him for two and a half years. The empathy, the hilarity, the weed trails and wine breath having Travis Green. He searched for love and friendship and success and legend when he could, and he surrounded himself with elite talent. Off On A Tangent and Vintage are his children; we continue on in the hopes of becoming that which he never truly reached, as his life was cut short by what I can only imagine to be irrecoverable love lost. He likely felt alone; he felt the cold and numb of a biting, uncaring world. He got himself out of the way and he left us without hope. And then we situated ourselves and realized there’s always hope, in his presence and absence. He exists in every memory, every song, every melody we sing, every play we write, everywhere and everything. He’s gone of this mortal coil, and yet he’s in the soil, the trees, the campus, the spoken word. He’s never gone; nor are Cohen, or Prince, or Bowie, or anyone else who’s dead. They don’t simply not exist anymore; we’ll see them again. It might be awhile, but they’re around.
And this is what it means to be human. To see death, to see love, to see a world where people are resolutely dumbfounded with the idea of being nice to one another and yet are willing to sacrifice everything for people who need it, and all of the things in between these two extremities. We are born; we live; we die. And in the transit between these states of being, we experience. We love; we laugh; we mourn; we bawl; we yell; we enjoy. Death hovers until it can remove, but we linger endlessly.
MovieBabble is a WordPress blog designed to review and critically assess new movies and what merits new movies may have. Beginning in late 2016 with a review of “Deepwater Horizon,” the creator (unnamed on their website) has strived to create a space to discuss movies in a way that is accessible to all, while also strengthening their own ability to write about and review that which they love. According to their about page, they “work to extract as much new information about everything movies from storytelling devices, cool camera tricks and anything else you could possibly ever think of.” Being a new follower of the blog, it should be interesting to see the manners in which they progress as a reviewer, as well as how their tastes may change. This could be reflected in the content they produce in addition to the way they visually present said content.
The first thing that sticks out to me about their site is the simplicity of it all. They have chosen, so far, to stick to a standard WordPress format with no extra bells or whistles. They have included their social media, as well as a contact page in order for others to reach out to them, but other than that, the site is relatively bare bones, and this would be one thing that could possibly be changed in order to make the site more visually palatable and draw in new readers. The place in which MovieBabble shines is wholly in the content they produce. From basic reviews of recent movies to some of their best (& worst) of lists through the past and present of cinema, each post is tailor made to the creator’s individual personality and skill in critically assessing film as we know it.
My favorite review of theirs thus far has been the one they wrote for the new film, “Get Out.” It is already one of my favorite movies of recent memory, and the creator brought up a handful of points that I didn’t even think of during and after watching the film. One major point, for example, is how “Get Out” managed to create something heretofore unseen in horror films; not only is Jordan Peele’s story completely original (not being sourced from any other form of media, not a remake, and so on), it also manages to tackle race and identity in ways movies of its ilk have not previously done. There have been Blaxploitation and black-produced or black-centered horror movies in the past, but these movies tend to play up satire and humor more than anything. With MovieBabble’s review of “Get Out,” I was able to think about an already amazing movie in a completely different way.
Overall, MovieBabble does a great job of not only building a repertoire of movies to watch (or avoid) personally, it also shows how much passion and joy goes into writing these articles for the creator of the website. I sincerely hope they continue on in the direction they are going, combining original viewpoints and tried-and-tested methods of writing about the media we consume into its own body of work that shines as a beacon of media criticism and the fun we can have when we participate in critical discussions. While the focus of my blog will continue to be based around music and the avenues we can explore in that world, it’s enlivening to see that other people are equally as passionate about other forms of art and media.
When we aim to assess any type of work critically, our goal is to truly understand how and why something is the way that it is. In order to do so, context, rhetoric, opinion and many other factors come into play. Critical thinking is beyond looking at the surface level of why something does or doesn’t work to us; it is to extend beyond ourselves, usually in written form, the ideas behind the work, what influences may have come into play, where biases exist or disappear, and how this particular piece of work can impact those it reaches. Critical thinking, however, is too often resigned to academia, and while this can be useful to those who are within this realm or anyone who has an interest in it, it fails to truly capture a mass audience into thinking beyond just why something is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ This false binary is largely where media criticism, in its many forms, comes into play, and it has the capability of reaching a far larger audience, and thus, being more useful in general.
Media criticism, much like any other form, can take many paths. We write “thinkpieces” to discuss a cultural event and what it means to the audience an individual website or magazine caters to. We write reviews, which are used to their full effect when, again, extending beyond a good/bad binary. Jezebel, Pitchfork, op-ed articles on various websites and many other avenues explore the world of media criticism in ways that are truly multi-faceted in their approach to the media we consume. This is where “Apocalypse, Gorl,” my new music criticism blog, comes into play.
My name is Tre Simmons and I’ve been obsessed with music for as far back as I can remember. I recall dancing to Michael Jackson and Ciara, and traveling down the cartoonishly dark avenues of Gorillaz and the dim, psychedelic depths of Goldfrapp. What I’ve recently learned about myself, however, is that I’m really interested in why these artists, and many others, have bodies of work that are largely influential, entertaining, and encompassing of the things that are ‘right’ about music. This extends from an audiovisual standpoint, to the production and arrangement choices made across albums, all the way to the emotional and physical impact it has on the listener. Simply put, “Apocalypse, Gorl” is here to explore the nooks and crannies of why music succeeds, and where, even if I don’t necessarily like something, how it can be a medium that means so much to everyone it crosses.