Music is why we do this. It drives passion into our days, keeps us cozy in our down time, and introduces us into vastly different worlds that poetic wordsmiths craft a lens to superimpose shoes onto our feet. No matter the sensory avenue, experiencing the manifestation of an artisan's skill is enlightening. An amalgamated expression of experience, talent, patience, and knowledge.
I have steered clear of gear talk in The Music Den in the last few appearances because I've tried to get away from listening to gear, and more invested in the fuel of my audio system. The songs, albums, and discographies are what I'm trying to focus on enjoying. I spent too much time in years prior caring about the signal chain's influence on the music. The number of variables in my system has decreased, while the enjoyment and synergy has increased. I'm finally willing to open the door and update you on the physical composition to my music digest.
Lately, I've been enjoying my Bryston BHA-1 amplifier with a handful of dynamic driver headphones. One of those headphones has been the Sennheiser HD650, the other a Focal Utopia with a fresh set of leather on the ear pads. Both of these have been able to provide a yin and yang to my music consumption. The HD650 providing the easy-listening contrast to the ruthless Utopia.
J.I.D. - The Forever Story
I admit, the primary reason I have this as a recommendation this week is due to me seeing theneedledrop's video on it. It's part of the reason why I started checking out Dreamville-signed artist releases after some previous releases just sat in my old Tidal favorites and I continued to acknowledge their presence in my saved albums. Considering 2018's DiCaprio 2 getting the scrolling treatment in my albums I still needed to listen to, I finally gave The Forever Story a dedicated handful of listens.
First and foremost, this album has variety. If there's ever a point where a song doesn't sit right with you, just wait a sequence of measures and there'll be a detour to snatch your attention for a bit. Second, I recommend giving the whole album the attention it deserves. Sit down for an hour, and engulf your ears in the mesmerizing wordplay that is the antithesis to the bigoted "mumble rap" stereotype of modern rap music. Dynamic. Fresh. Engaging.
The final track Lauder Too reveals a large chunk of the "Forever Story" that J.I.D. is presenting the listener with. Lyrically, it drives the message home that no matter who is behind a celebrated album's lyrics, it falls upon deaf or unmoving ears and voices. That the messaging could be behind an individual's change, but the bigger picture continuously fails to budge.
Megadeth - Rust in Peace
Anyone who knows the "Big Four" of metal knows that Megadeth and Metallica are tragically tied together until the end of time. There is no mention of Megadeth without also intertwining of Dave Mustaine (guitar, vocals) and his former band. If Metallica had the "Midas Touch" in the 80s and early 90s, Megadeth was always playing second fiddle to thrash metal's Goliath. What didn't help that cause was some of Dave's interpolations of Metallica songs into Megadeth releases or song accreditation in Metallica releases pre-...And Justice For All. Some examples are Mechanix for Mustaine's up-tempo version of The Four Horsemen, song credits for Jump in the Fire when he was still in Metallica, the variation of The Call of Ktulu in the intro of Hangar 18, and infamously the Leper Messiah he said, she said debate.
Somewhere along the way, I wanted to finally give attention to some of the classic works of Mustaine and friends' efforts.
My introduction to this album was through Guitar Hero 2's inclusion of Hangar 18 in the tracklist. Diving deeper into the tracklist, however, proved to be fruitful on the instrumental front! Poison Was a Cure kicks some major ass with technical guitar riffs that are impressive even to this day. While the song takes a little bit to get rolling, the drum cadence about a minute in opens the curtains for Mustaine and Marty Friedman to make anyone attempting to learn the song weep. The lead single Holy Wars...The Punishment Due is a binary form composition with lyrics surrounding the religious conflicts of the time. The Holy Wars section being the first 140 seconds, then transitioning to the Punishment Due section after the acoustic guitar "bridge" (of sorts). The album deserves its inclusion in the metaphorical thrash metal hall of fame.
Hayley Williams - Petals For Armor
The first solo project of Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams, Petals For Armor is a collage of tracks celebrating independence after a grueling relationship tortured the lyricist. My S.O. and I have visited this album upwards of a couple dozen times each, in part because Paramore is probably the group that bridged the gap between our music consumption. She enjoys her favorites on repeat until she wears them out, I appreciate the ability to cherish an album once in a great while to maintain its luster.
I view this album as a collection of three EPs that all released in the first half of 2020. As we all went through some changes, so too did her and I. As the singles and EPs would drop, we were given rationed content in quarantine when we all were fiending for more to escape from reality.
As a biased fan of Williams and Paramore, it's hard for me to pick specific tracks today. Of the fifteen tracks, I skip three if I don't just hit play on the whole album with my better half: Creepin', Taken, and Crystal Clear. The rest provides an instrumental eclectic batch of tracks that lift some veils on what it was like to be in a toxic relationship. In a cheesy kind of way, it helped me immensely when I was analyzing myself. Where good intentions can still fail miserably.
death's dynamic shroud - Faith in Persona
I'm deliberately going to limit my words with this one. I was hooked after the opening song late last year, and this still gets played at least once per month in its entirety.
This past week or so has proven to be an excellent time to finally dig through some of the ol' backlog; the stuff I'd been meaning to check out finally got its due. I don't know if I'm alone in this, but sometimes I hear so many people talking about an artist or record that I purposely avoid whoever they're talking about for no good reason. I don't even know why I avoided looking into some of these records in earnest, but I'm glad I finally did.
The first on the list is the one I avoided most consciously, and unfortunately, this is the one record that proved my unexplained hesitation correct. Parquet Courts' newest Sympathy for Life is the latest in a series of records that seems like it was destined to disappoint me. Their last record Wide Awake!, for example, had some fun moments but nothing I'd call seminal or exciting. By contrast, their first two LPs were some of the most incendiary, classic, moment-defining punk music out there... but the streak they've been on since Wide Awake! seems, frankly, low-energy, washed out, and uninteresting. Especially since there are at least a few glimmers of the anger, fire, and urgency in places on this record that just make the listener wonder... damn, where has this been?
There's only one moment on this record that harkens back to what is in my opinion Parquet Courts' golden age, and that's the single "Homo Sapien," a straight-up-no-bullshit punk song reminiscent of Wire's most accessible moments. For three minutes on this record, Parquet Courts is the punk band I want most in this world to listen to... and in the rest, they are gesturing towards a more funk-infused sound that unfortunately bores the crap out of me.
However, this disappointment was short-lived because the next thing I gave time to was Rina Sawayama's SAWAYAMA... and it blew me the f••k away.
Sawayama glides between genres that would seem completely incongruent if anyone else were doing it, but she slips in and out of them like immaculately curated outfits. The through-line of all of it seems to be a conscious appreciation and respect for the music of the 2000s. On the first three songs alone she jumps between Evanescence-like theatrical bombast, Timbaland-esque pop, and something that straight up sounds like you'd hear it from a band opening for Limp Bizkit.
The highlight of this run, if I have to choose, is easily XS, a song so thoroughly drenched in the influence of Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, and Britney Spears that it can't help but be received as a love letter to a time when pop was coming out of its shell, wearing danceability on its sleeve, & simultaneously being unapologetically saccharine and sexy. The purposefulness of using the strummed acoustic guitar as a core rhythmic element in particular reminds me of some of my favorite tracks of yesteryear, and hearing it done in such a blended, chaotic, genre-agnostic way makes for an exciting listen every time.
Keeping in the vein of the modern, sexy, and clubbable... my partner and I have been watching the newest season of Love Island UK. Yeah, I know. As much as I love the show, the biggest surprise has actually been the music sometimes being fire. There was one moment where the islanders were woken up by the lights in the bedroom being turned on, accompanied by an eerily well-recorded sample of a light switch, immediately followed by the second verse of Charlie Puth's Light Switch.
Upon hearing this, I quite literally stood up and said out loud: "goddamn that is HOT.'
Immediately, I Siri'd the track, added it to my playlist to listen on my hifi system later, and I was not disappointed. The recording and mix were clean as hell, the beat is fun, and the vocals don't take themselves too seriously and let the momentum of the beat dictate what they need to do to keep up. It's a faster paced song but the vibe here is actually best summed up as a "polished chill." The rest of Puth's newest record CHARLIE isn't out yet, but hopefully it follows in Light Switch's footsteps and delivers something fun and easy to love
And finally, probably the thing I'm most obsessed with on this list but the thing that leaves me most speechless:
emma løv's Hot is one of the best singles I've heard this year and I can't really explain why I'm so enamored with it other than it's an incredibly dynamic pop song with deceptively complex arrangement and an unf••ckwithable vocal performance at its center. This has to be one of my favorite choruses this year.
While not every song is a hit... sometimes, it hits. Whether emotionally, spiritually, or hell even physically (I see you out there, subwoofer enjoyers... and I am jealous), the feeling of being hit is what we're in this for. We want the passion of the artists to connect with our senses viscerally enough that we have no choice but to move, gasp, cry, or smile. The never ending chase for this feeling that so drives us is what brings us to the Music Den every week. Fortunately that chase doesn't look like it'll stop any time soon.