Music is why we do this. Whether instruments or voices, it all comes from the soul. Artists squeeze every last bit of their creative juices, including the pulp. The result moves our hearts and our bodies.
This week was a literal pain for me. A stubborn migraine meant that for most of the week, I couldn’t listen to music or look at screens for long periods of time. This meant every time I had an earworm, I couldn’t get rid of it by listening to that song or drowning it out with another. Eventually I figured out a compromise. That was setting my iPad to the lowest possible brightness and watching reruns of the first season of The Voice. It wasn’t ideal, but I used a single N400NC and made the best of it.
I’ll be the first to admit the show is a little cheesy and dramatic, but it’s the blind auditions that I came for. It takes a ton of heart to go through rounds of auditions, and even more to get up on stage and put yourself out there to millions. Speaking of the world, this show branched out far and wide. I had no idea there were versions in tons of countries around the world. Whether in English or not, there were some truly powerful performances that I gravitated towards.
From The Voice Australia’s 2020 season I came across Bukhu Ganburged. This man embodies the voice. He opened by playing the Morin Khuur, an instrument that by itself carries an immense amount of emotion. As he sang the first few lines of Mum and Dad, you could almost feel thousands of years of wisdom in his voice. It was rich and layered and I believed every single word I could not understand. Bukhu then transitions to Mongolian throat singing and everything I thought about his voice being transcendent multiplied by a factor of 10. It is truly an experience.
Pablo Carrasco performed on season two of The Voice Argentina. He performed Still Loving You by Scorpions. I’ve never heard the original and chose not to listen before writing this because wow… this performance was incredible. I don’t know his backstory, but he’s an older gentleman who showed up on stage with a cane. He opened his mouth to sing and nothing I expected came out. A higher pitched, 80s hair-metal power ballad of a voice belted from this man. The power of the human voice truly knows no age and no form. It is simply timeless, and this show proves it over and over again.
Sam Perry went full-concert with his performance of When Doves Cry. He threw the judges for a loop when he started laying down some rather odd sounds. They began to repeat, and the confusion intensified. He was using a looping machine! At first, I questioned why this was allowed, but it became very clear. It’s an instrument. He used it to the fullest and I don’t think many could replicate what he did. I thought “neat trick!” but I was skeptical quickly about his true vocal talent. Then he started belting the lyrics. This man is pure talent. He worked the looping machine, his voice, the judge, the crowd… me! I was all in. I forgot I was even watching a competition. He added layer after layer until by the end everyone was completely swept up in what he was doing. Truly incredible. It’s its own masterpiece separate from an already iconic Prince song.
Heavy Metal. You don’t hear that everyday on The Voice, and when you do it most certainly omits the growls. Stefanie Stuber didn’t leave anything off the table. She opened in full growl, singing Lamb of God’s Ghost Walking. The judges didn’t know what to make of it. She went on for quite a bit and I was nervous, but one judge turned. Right as he did, she switched from the growl to this full, beautiful, and powerful rocker voice. It sent chills down my spine, and I’m sure the remaining judges felt the same. This includes the judge who actually physically recoiled when she first heard the growl. Stefanie’s voice was undeniable. It didn’t matter what genre she was singing, she really and truly embodied music as a whole and it moved every single person who heard it. It was amazing to see her not compromise an inch on what she wanted the world to hear. I also want to give a quick shout out to the house bands on these shows. The adaptability is mind blowing. It didn’t matter if it was metal or jazz, they did not miss a literal beat.
I visited some of our contributor picks from The Music Den this last week, checking out listener's selections from Maya Hawke and Den's highlighting of Domi & JD Beck. "New Music Friday" in the recent weeks hasn't been as fruitful as I may have hoped this late into summer.
Sleep - Dopesmoker
This legendary stoner album was re-released by Third Man Records to streaming services allegedly using the original master tapes. I enjoy the album's behind the scenes story, however ridiculous one might interpret its origin. Since the album's concept is one hour-long song, I won't be commenting on the B-sides or various releases. Admittedly, Dopesmoker is more of an experience-driven song at that, I'll let the potential listeners judge it.
However, to say something about Dopesmoker that isn't just hyping up the fables it was created on, it's a groovy and grungy slog. The percussion hits are roughly 100 beats per minute; the guitars drone, noodle, and somehow present familiar themes over the 63-minute run-time of the song. All the while, vocals grunting from Al Cisneros that read just as hilarious as the mountains of marijuana smoked to get the final product.
TNGHT - Self-Titled & II
Enter Hudson Mohawke and Lunice's pair of EPs that I'm thankful I didn't have to wait for when I discovered Hudson's extra-curriculars. The self-titled debut showcases a level of Kenny Beats' trademark phrase "Don't Overthink Shit" that I didn't think was possible to hit hard and while being so skeletal in composition.
Goooo is the first example of this, with bass hits that you already know get played in car speakers to show off the wattage draw. The synthesized keys are phrased across the track, enhancing what little is going on at any one point in time. Higher Ground's beat-building with crass horns and modulated vocal snippets sound like any number of moments in this song could be used in visual adverts. Bugg'n and Easy Easy both contain left-field samples that sound like tortured memories of yesteryear, the former reminding me of industrial oompa-loompas and the latter encapsulating a carnival experience gone wrong.
Serpent's drum-circle introduction on II continues the skeletal yet abrasive production from the previous EP, but with production sounding a bit more polished. Dollaz is a highlight on II, with the primary line providing a level of catharsis when I'm at work. First Body is comically outlandish, with animated ad-libs popping up all over the track that make me chuckle while the song's instrumental hook pops in and out of focus. Club Finger's staccato hits litter the track, while the auto-tuned vocal "hook" is probably grating for most listeners but I find it unusually catchy. The last song I'll touch on is Gimme Summn, with its keyboard arpeggios unraveling into metallic scotch snaps that eventually turn into deconstructed aural computerized blips and bloops. The progression of this track is ear candy for me.
This album was recommended to me by a good friend of mine last year around the time of college football season coming to a close. I enjoy the digitized detours and nightlife soundscapes this album presents me. The sequence of songs from Under to Valley is synonymous in my mind with traveling to the airport for a red-eye flight. Open Up and Young Lies both have deep bass grooves that keep the pace up in the latter half of the album, with the latter containing a Damon Albarn feature.
Music is why we do this. It provides a safe haven away from the mundane, or the fuel to get me through the day. It's the only supplement I take for my ears when I want to seize the day. Seize your days ahead, and we'll see you all in the next edition of The Music Den.