Early 2017 Favorites

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.

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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.

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Migos; Culture (2017) Review

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Culture by Tre Simmons

It’s a well-known internet fact that Migos are a better group than The Beatles. While this might be overstating the case of Migos as a cultural phenomenon and critically/commercially/fan acclaimed rap group, the trio of rappers have seen a level of prolificacy matched with a consistency few besides the Fab Four can claim. Their forefathers are Outkast and the Dungeon Family, who channeled in a sweet, slightly psychedelic and all-together innovative manner of combining technical potency with an ingratiating sense of humor, topped off with a set of producers who create catchy, menacing beats for them to rap over. Simply put, Migos are at a cultural pinnacle, staking claim to #1 sales, rave reviews, and a fan base that simply won’t quit. On their new album Culture, they have made their best work to date and have firmly established the idea that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Beginning with opener “Culture” (featuring producer/yelling connoisseur DJ Khaled), Migos stretch out their now-signature triplet flow (among many others) over the various productions given to them from a star-studded cast of beatmakers, including the aforementioned Khaled, as well as Metro Boomin’, Cardo and Nard & B. There is a blues/psychedelic/trap hybrid moving through most of the songs, and as usual, a bass-heavy low end to round out every lyric and mad-hatted ad lib throughout the album. Lead single and standout track “Bad and Boujee” extends their cultural currency, with appearances from fellow rappers Travis Scott and OG Maco appearing in the music video. The collaborative efforts continue sparsely throughout the album, but are utilized to maximum effect (including another sterling verse from post-prison Gucci Mane on “Slippery,” and my personal favorite song “Deadz,” featuring equally idiosyncratic rapper 2 Chainz). Not one to let their guests outshine them in any way, however, Migos get in some of their strongest hooks here that even outweigh the memorability of their earlier, simplistic choruses that began their cultural cache in the first place (compare the hits “Hannah Montana” and “Versace” to the inescapable “rain drop/drop top” chorus on “Bad And Boujee” or the crooning, sing-songy melodies on “What The Price”).

Their punchlines continue to shine, as well as the duality evident between the more hedonistic respects of their lifestyle and religious beliefs. As evidence, you can look to “still be playing with pots and pans/call me Quavo Ratatouille,” and contrast this with verses from guest appearances on Young Thug’s “Quarterback” from 2015, featuring lyrics such as “the world is gonna end one day/read it in Revelations,” as well as references to a passed grandmother giving her blessings on “Out Yo Way.” Migos are equally in reverence to those who raised them and made them who they are, and the manner in which they currently live their lives. On Culture, they have created a singular piece of work that extends their reign as one of the (possibly, best) rap groups in the annals of rap history by simply doubling down on everything that has made them successful thus far. They may not quite be on the level of legendary that a lot of people give to four mop-top British men who (admittedly) altered the pop zeitgeist (especially if fellow group Rae Sremmurd have any say), but Migos have definitely crafted a unique lane of Culture all their own.

An Intro To…

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Me! by Tre Simmons

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.