Gibbs and expectations

If you know me, you know I'm down with Freddie Gibbs. This past Saturday he put on one of Memorial Union Terrace's most memorable shows, if only because he so defiantly paraded the very things the 5 Elements of Hip Hop diversity festival and MU Terrace were set out to destroy—drugs, sex, "f@#$ the police" chants.

It was kind of liberating in some ways, but one thing at the show that did bother me was his very vocal homophobia. He repeatedly mentioned the strict enforcement on "No gay shit in the Freddie Gibbs show," among other "no homo" taunts.

We've taken to crowning him the next gangster-rap icon, the most likely to write the next "Changes," or whatever 2Pac mantle you want someone to take—and many of Gibbs' insights into the streets makes him seem worthy of this title. He has the chops to attract ears and the wisdom to open eyes. We want people to listen to Gibbs because—when it comes to poverty, gang activity, what have you—he has some genuinely productive things to say. But what happens when we appoint someone as a spokesperson and they don't say what we want them to? You can't hate a tiger for wanting to fight, and I suppose nor can you hate a hood rapper for having some less-than-ideal values.

I suppose it's partially our own fault. We excuse his criminal activity because we can sympathize, and maybe some of us feel semi responsible. He steals money because The System has put him at a greater disadvantage and he needs to get his income some way or another. He smokes weed because it provides him the catharsis from his oppressive lifestyle that we've reinforced in such a closed capitalist system. He fornicates with copious ladies because, well, he's Freddie Gibbs and there's nobody who's going to tell him no. But he doesn't approve of gay people? We had no hand in that.

After writing through that, though, I guess there's still a further paradox that even that thought process yields the hypocrisy of deciding when a subject is black-and-white and when it's got a lot of gray matter. Either way, we're trying to project our own values onto someone who we're asking to shoulder more responsibility than ourselves. Maybe he isn't as enlightened as we set him up to be, and maybe that's enough to turn some people off.

And from where I'm sitting, this is just one of two fronts he's yet to prove himself on—Gibbs lacks a truly signature style other than amorphous. He can spit any flow and fit any beat. He's the five-tool emcee who can do anything and everything, but what happens more often than not is he flexes too much without lifting any weight, if you follow the metaphor. He can change his flow, he can wrap it any which way, but he eludes any identifiable trait other than the trait of elasticity. He doesn't belong to any established geographic field of rap, which makes it even harder. In all likelihood, he needs to recreate midwestern backpack rap (is that even what you call College Dropout?) to fit his modes.

That said, Gibbs' amorphousness has a ways to go before reaching ambiguity, and he still sounds fresh as ever over this new slow, southern joint:

Final verdict: I don't care if he's our spokesperson or not—he just needs to make up his mind and keep rapping.

Camera pop

Matt & Kim need to coordinate this stuff better. Their previous record, Grand, came out in January; they got naked in the winter; and now they drop this decidedly summer romp just when everyone's gearing up for autumn (link to The Fader's stream). But it's, like, whatever.

The brass-infused hook is pretty hot, and this is easily the most involved Matt & Kim beat we've heard yet. I tend to lose interest in the lazy chorus (since when do Matt & Kim let things swell up like that and abandon so much latent energy?), but I can appreciate the sentiment. Life is short, don't get stuck in the moment so long that it becomes the past—inspirational, right? That's how I know they don't blame me for turning it off in favor of this new No Age leak all the time.

After last year's Losing Feeling EP, we got a sense the two-some might abandon their signature ethereal noise-punk for a more deliberate, pop-minded approach—but this new record is a lot more even-handed than Losing Feeling. They take their hand at capturing the same atmospheric nut-flexing without all the esoteric prodding; and they end up with a whole bunch of sweet pop songs in spite of it all. Of course, sweet pop songs don't always translate too well, and Everything In Between tends to lose traction. At times it almost sounds cute, and it's almost like a regression to '90s pop-punk predecessors. It's got the crunch we need from No Age, but not the stadiums of piercing hooks that Nouns delivered in bushels.

Their dilemma seems contagious, though. Nobunny's new joint, First Blood, is a strong statement and stark transition from the gutter-pop leather on Love Visions. It's more rockabilly, maybe, and invokes more twangy punk a la Spider Bags than the direct Ramones allusions he'd done earlier. It's a more open palette, and in the long run it may be for the best. But right now it just doesn't sound like as much fun—and that's all Nobunny is supposed to be about.

Beach sports

There's a new Beach House song, but this one sounds, uh, different. "White Moon" is not as lush or as majestic as anything on Teen Dream. It's more of a run-of-the-mill pop song—more practical, even. It sounds like it was recorded on a cheaper keyboard with a cheaper drum machine with a half-asleep vocalist. It's all smaller, more intimate, and yet it doesn't feel as intensely personal as Teen Dream. Whatever, it's still good. (via The Fader or via Pitchfork or via Beach House or via Sub Pop or whatever)
Beach House - White Moon (Itunes Session) by subpop

I guess what strikes me most about it is how out of place it sounds for summer. Teen Dream is an excellent autumn album, but it carries over especially well to the summer. "White Moon," though, doesn't sound at all like anything I would want to play at a cookout.

That's where these guys come in. Husband-wife duo Tennis play the kind of boat music I can get behind. It's gentler and less pretentious than Vampire Weekend, and I joke to myself (every bit as lame as it sounds) that they're the anti-VW. Their name is a reference to the husband's days playing that stuffy sport in college—a self-referential joke.

They've been around for quite a while now, but let's just throw this in the "Kyle's an idiot for ignoring them for so long" pile and pretend like we've been hearing this all summer.


And just in case anyone was suspicious about Ted Leo—once the man, always the man.

Chillwave shmillwave

In all honesty, I'm not sure what we're supposed to be taking from chillwave music. I know I like it because it sounds enchanting in a gloomy way. The chillwave I like most lets me wallow around—not so much in pity or misery, rather in a sense of exploration for the sake of not sitting still all the time. Ironically, I take most chillwave while sitting down.

And in all honesty, I don't know what that means for my consumption of chillwave. Take, for instance, Small Black, who's debut EP I gobble up whole and hard. They're probably not the best chillwave band in the world—hello, Neon Indian—but they seem like the one best suited to my conception of it as an exercise in monotonous relocation.

Their new single, "Photojournalist" from their forthcoming debut LP, sounds like all the other Small Black songs, but the vocals are more reverbed, more slippery. They sound like Washed Out—which is cool, but not as cool as if they'd still just sounded like Small Black. And when he sings "Rise up again / Rise up again like a ghost" it sounds more like a precursor than the chorus they've dressed it up to be. Chillwave is an exercise in monotony, but all too often it's an exercise in frustration as well. The chorus is a launching point, and the only thing that separates those things from cliffs is a strong motor. "Photojournalist" grooves alright, and if New Chain was filled with songs exactly like this I'd probably be just fine with it. But it only bolsters the argument that chillwave is too pretentious for its own survival. Sometimes pretentiousness just means you know more than everyone else—but if that's the case then someone needs to go to the head of the class and prove it.

But we can take solace in bands like P.S. I Love You, who are finally making the dots and lines to chillwave more pronounced. P.S. I Love You is a stupid name for a band, but a good band, you see. Their song from last year's split 7" with Diamond Rings was a seemless re-capturing of what made Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary so comfortably enriching. Matter of fact, I've already blogged about it.

Earlier this month we got two new songs from them, and neither recreate the same immediacy of "Facelove." "2012" starts out appealing enough, with that slick pick-work on the guitar, and it carries it throughout. My one concern about P.S. I Love You (other than the fact that their name sucks so much) is that they don't have enough ideas to sustain the dynamic nature their songs demand. But that's not really a problem here, and it seems "2012" sounds better each new listen.

"Butterflies and Boners" has the opposite deal going on. It starts out slow and lurching—I might even call it fluttering if that guitar wasn't so heavy. It ends up picking up with a pretty rad breakdown, led by that fluttering guitar finally finding a direction and doing what ultimately sounds more like fluttering anyway. Maybe the title has it backwards.

Either way, they're both pretty sweet, and especially interesting because of the lines we can draw between them and chillwave. They're muffled and not particularly thrilled to be getting in our ears, but they show how that can manifest in a more angular sound that accredits Wolf Parade (or, shit, Pixies and Guided by Voices) more than the Beach Boys. It doesn't hide itself behind such dense reverb, and it's not too pretentious for catharsis. If the whole point of chillwave is the unwillingness to get out of bed—and I could be wrong about this; I don't think I do enough drugs to really know—then it's about time someone cook themselves some goddamn breakfast, lest we all starve.

Secret Cities

I meant to write this up a few weeks ago, but, as is the case with most ideas, I forgot about it. But now I'm here some three weeks later and I'm still listening to Pink Graffiti.

Pink Graffiti is the debut album from Fargo, North Dakota's Secret Cities. It combines orchestral bombast (think Arcade Fire's "Intervention") with soft intimacy that immediately evokes the Microphones (in my mind, at least).

The thing about Pink Graffiti that grabs me most, though, is how much texture and geography they infuse into such soft-spoken medleys. For most people, I assume, Fargo may as well be the entire northern crust of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains; and Pink Graffiti feels like it covers that same distance. And when it's on, it matches the filthy honesty of such barren land. But when it's off, it tries to shy away in a sonic niche that doesn't lend many roofs to hide under.

Secret Cities are a young group, though, and it shows. The church-choir chorus on "Slacker" sounds too Hallmark-y, like it was ripped straight from the church scene in "Home Alone" (visually, at least—I know they weren't singing this song). I think what bothers me most about it is not the sympathetic predictability of the melody, rather the unsettling dichotomy between the message and the presentation. Pink Graffiti is about a lot of things (remember, sprawling geography), but mostly it covers raw, exposed wounds. It's abandoned and clawing its way out, and the religious imagery they evoke seems like a scapegoat. Confronting problems on our own is what we're here for, and it feels like we're getting rick-rolled when we're deferred to a robed choir.

Yet, there's a point in "Pink Graffiti pt. 2" when the church-choir hums along only to set the stage for the icy, direct chorus. The ascending lead sounds desperate, tarred and remote; and I think that's the whole point of this album. The sprawled arrangements and sloping arcs are all very interesting, but that kind of brutal honesty is what an album like Pink Graffiti thrives on.

Like I said, Pink Graffiti is an awesome debut (it's stuck around for over a month, remember); and those spineless confessionals are few. But they are enough to stall the pace on a record that depends so much on its ability to carry.

Indeed, much of this album sounds like it was strummed out to act as a vehicle for conversation on a late summer night. We're all among friends, and it sounds like they've got some pretty major issues eating at their skin—and in North Dakota, who doesn't? So if we're not talking about baseball, they'd better stop pussy-footing around.

Sing yr strings out

I generally have a problem with people saying inanimate objects sing. Wrong instrument, you know? And I think that's what makes it so hard for me to really appreciate post-rock. All those major breaks of suspended chorale resonate with me the same way the WNBA does. Know your role.

There's something different about Fang Island, though. Maybe it's that they actually have vocals every once in a while—but most of their songs don't. A big part of it is probably that their songs are not nearly as drawn-out or doggedly ethereal as actual post-rock bands. Fang Island play songs that sound like Andrew W.K. covering Animal Collective—arresting pop with great haste and intensity. It's just, they do most of it with their instruments, and when they do sing, it's usually in the form of group chants that drag along their guitars.

Their record, this year's self-titled debut, can drag on at times, and sometimes it lacks in fruitful ideas. But last night at the Memorial Union Terrace, their set was packed with jams, and stayed fresh—likely due to sheer force of will. They were loud, and they were awesome. For the last song of their set, they covered Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby." Maybe it's because so much of my youth was spent watching music videos on MTV, or maybe because it was such a perfectly executed dichotomy of an impossibly heavy band playing such a soft, breezy song; but one way or another it gave me overwhelming insight into what exactly people mean when they humanize guitars. "Do do doop, dum"—those guitars sang it.

Magic fossils

One album I've been giving a fair amount of attention over the last month is the Magic Kids debut, Memphis. Magic Kids shared that split 7" with Smith Westerns last year, but the commercial-grade twee that "Superball" did so well hardly captures what matters about Magic Kids: They're twee-ish alright, but there's a glossy shimmer to it that re-captures what I'm about to coin '70s chatterbox pop—it's all centered around an endless dialogue that never actually happens.

Perfect example: "Daydream Believer." It's head-in-the-clouds infatuation brought down to earth only through pop melodies. I like to think of Magic Kids as the Monkees to Smith Westerns' Beatles for basically that reason. On the surface both of their intentions are good; but while Magic Kids dream big and outwardly, Smith Westerns hardly muster the courage to think. Magic Kids buy new wardrobes for the dance; Smith Westerns buy 40s and talk about what girls they would have danced with had they not gotten so loaded. It's probably more rewarding to root for Magic Kids. I can relate better to Smith Westerns. Bingo bango.

You know what else I find myself revisiting just about every week is that self-titled Beach Fossils release. Nothing about it is spectacular—hardly any of it is even noteworthy. But its pop sensibilities are so fundamental and exact that it's usually the most natural choice to hear whenever I have a break. did a pretty sweet feature on this one time when they let Beach Fossils play their office party, and you can stream that whole thing on the site. I've embedded (probably) my favorite below:

They remind me quite a bit of the Drums, only they're not as eccentric (that is, gratingly poppy—more my speed) and their album is better (that is, more consistent). It's a lot more self-deprecating too, which I guess is part of it being more my speed. They get a lot of lushness out of how minimalist their instrumentation is, though, and I'm down with that.