All posts by Morgan Booker

[Album Review] Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

Dirty Computer is the third and the latest standard length studio album by the indie artist Janelle Monáe who is most known for her unique afro-futuristic style of R&B, which often showcases a delightful mix of electro-funk, and soul. Monáe is also known for her ability to weave a compelling theme throughout her albums where, individually, they can stand on their own, but together can create an intriguing and edifying sonic education or narrative, and Dirty Computer showcases such talent brilliantly.

Shedding the Android skin of her Cindi Mayweather persona that graced many of her earlier works, Janelle Monáe steps into her own body, trading the shell of one machine for another. The machine which powers the human self.

Consisting of fourteen tracks, altogether, the album begins with the one in which it is named after, “Dirty Computer” which features Beach Boys legend, Brian Wilson, and Janelle Monáe harmonizing over a short psychedelic track where they sing about the transmission of information, the machine like nature of humans and the corruption which affects them like viruses or computer bugs, further corrupting and eroding the information we’ve transmitted.

The next track “Crazy, Classic, Life” is a pop-synth anthem which starts with an interpolated speech in which Dr. Martin Luther King Junior is made to recite excerpts from the “Declaration of Independence” It states:

“You told us we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The speech sets up the theme for the rest of the song, and indeed the body of the album itself. Among its’ tracks you’ll find a purveying of inspirational activism for the freedoms to promiscuity, polyamory, as well as the rights of African-American women to freely express their sexuality, and sexual identity without being hampered down by the social stigmas and judgments that are often cast down upon them. This speech begins a mission statement for empowerment and the mechanisms which grant control of self individuality.

For example, on the track “Screwed” Janelle is joined by actress and singer Zoë Kravitz. The title here is used for both innuendo as well as an allegory for the state of society in which the protagonists of the song find themselves in, a society in which they’ve suffered constant injustice. The innuendo refers to finding pleasure and escape through sexual satisfaction. In the songs’ outro Janelle raps:

“Hundred men telling me cover up my areolas
While they blocking equal pay, sippin’ on they Coca Colas
Fake news, fake boobs, fake food—what’s real?
Still in The Matrix eatin’ on the blue pills
The devil met with Russia and they just made a deal
We was marching through the street, they were blocking every bill
I’m tired of hoteps tryna tell me how to feel”

These lyrics reference the aforementioned injustices bestowed upon women in America, more directly, black women, from the double standard and sexism applied towards a woman’s state of dress, to pay inequality, as well as providing commentary on the current state of U.S politics, alluding to mass protests of President Donald Trump, and of his alleged collusion with Russian Government during the 2016 U.S Presidential election. During the outro of this track the instrumental and vocals seamlessly bleed into the next, which is a feminist anthem entitled “Django Jane” Here Janelle raps about the power of liberation, and exercising that power to demonstrate agency, and control. The song also illustrates Janelle’s personal triumphs as a black woman growing up in a society which marginalizes and oppresses her people and gender.

During a February 2018 interview with the web newspaper The Guardian, Janelle had this to say about the track:


[Django Jane] is a response to me feeling the sting of the threats being made to my rights as a woman, as a black woman, as a sexually liberated woman, even just as a daughter with parents who have been oppressed for many decades. Black women and those who have been the ‘other’, and the marginalized in society – that’s who I wanted to support, and that was more important than my discomfort about speaking out.”

Earlier this year I reviewed the single “Make Me Feel”, and wrote about the song “PYNK”, both tracks find themselves in in the midst of the albums tracks, and given the context of the album as a whole I feel that they both fit in perfectly. They further expand upon the essence of female anatomy and lesbian pride and lesbians’ grievances that permeates through layers of enchanting instrumentals and lyrics.

The album ends with the track “Americans”, a song that mirrors the sound of a gospel choir, and acts as a serenade that cuts its way through layers of a country with uncertain futures and a dark past, through violence and through racism and the traditions of bigotry in which the history of America is suffused with. In one verse, Monáe softly intones:

“War is old, so is sex, let’s play God, you go next
Hands go up, men go down, try my luck, stand my ground
Die in church, live in jail say her name, twice in hell
Uncle Sam kissed a man, Jim Crow Jesus rose again”

and in the chorus sings:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag
Learned the words from my mom and dad
Cross my heart and I hope to die
With a big old piece of American pie

Love me baby, love me for who I am
Fallen angels singing, “Clap your hands”
Don’t try to take my country, I will defend my land
I’m not crazy, baby, naw, I’m American
I’m American, I’m American, I’m American”

Which illustrates her feelings that despite the prejudices she and many other non-heterosexual women of color and suffer, she understands the potential for boundless pride in a country that offers freedom and acceptance.

It’s also important to note that the album is also accompanied by a futuristic short film starring Janelle Monáe and Tessa Thompson that Janelle describes as an “Emotion Picture: a narrative film and accompanying musical album.” It comes in with a runtime of about 47 minutes, and it provides some exclusive additions to lyrics and instrumental (PYNK finds a length new verse in its bridge) which aren’t found in the audio by itself. The film offers a visual treat, and leaves you captivated in all its’ abstractions and sci-fi motifs. The plot of the film features a woman named Jane living in an apocalyptic future where humanity is seen as abstraction and people are either dubbed “computers”, or “dirty computers”, where the later have to go through a reforming process of proselytization and brainwashing by the removal of their memories.

As far as criticisms go, there are some tracks where lyrics and vocals could stand to be a bit more elegant but as a whole, it does not distract from the works narrative or enjoyment it brings. They’re like a lowly piece of copper on a mountain of gold, largely irrelevant to the richness in view. In fact, this album (and film) is like a dizzying spin of lights, the color of stained glass dancing across the floor of a church, that Janelle has transported you to, she preaches from the pulpit as the lights move in tandem with the bodies above it. They’re all hip to hip, and limb to limb, and are at times chaotic and at others deliberate. It is a mosaic of movements, creating their own canvas, paintings that express pleasure, skin to skin, but also anger, flashes of protests, scenes of oppression, all contained there in the effervescence of Dirty Computer. And it is oh so good.

Amen.

Recommended Tracks
1. Make Me Feel
2. Don’t Judge Me
3. PYNK
4. Americans
5. Screwed.
6. I Like That

Sources:
AltWire+1
, AltWire+2, Genius+3, Genius4 The Guardian5, Hollywood Life6 YouTube7

[Songs For Spring] Christian Besa Wright – Cherry Blossom Oak

Music is powerful, and the lens through which we observe it can affect our feelings, whether we’re listening to music when we are happy, or sad, or when we are spending time with loved ones, or just enjoying time outside by ourselves. For every situation, we can overlay a track, and walk step in tune. That’s why I feel that the seasons too can be synchronized with music, which is the idea behind this new feature. Every few weeks of this season, and nature willing, the seasons to come, I will write a short review for a recent song that I feel accurate portrays the essence of the season.

So, what is this weeks song? It’s “Cherry Blossom Oak” by Christian Besa Wright.

Released in March by the Los Angeles based and up and coming indie artist Christian Besa Right, “Cherry Blossom Oak” is an airy folk song, aided by soft percussion and is at moments sprinkled with the twang of acoustic guitar. The song starts with soft harmonies where Wright sings perspicacious lyrics, reflecting on the uncomfortable and sometimes confusing realities of aging into adulthood. The song features a unique lyrical style that is without a standard chorus and instead contains eight couplets, with each one working as a new verse. In the beginning Wright sings:

“Born of dust and gold
Growing up is so uncomfortable

Tried to whiten out the yolk
All these questions were a handful“

Later he invokes the essence of Spring, and becomes inquisitive about the nature of the Cherry Blossom, which blooms in the Spring, its myriad of pink falling to the ground, and in the wind. In Japan the tree is called “Sakura” and it symbolizes the transience and the fragility of life, which is reflected in this song as each new verse falls down like the sakura petals, but instead of gliding in the wind, they instead whisk away in your mind, leaving you too to reflect on the nature of life.

Christian Bella Wright‘s music can be found on his bandcamp as well as all streaming services.

[Album Review] Frankie Cosmos – Vessel

Greta Kline known under her stage name as Frankie Cosmos is an independent pop artist from the city of dreams, known world-wide as “The Big Apple”, New York City. She started her musical career circa 2009, releasing various pieces of music via her bandcamp page under the moniker of Ingrid Superstar, and since then she has gone on to release three full length studio albums, and her latest being Vessel (and the first under the alias of Frankie Cosmos to be released as complete band, as long as her first work to be released under the Sub Pop label) and the subject of this review, had released just this past March, on the 30th of the month. Frankie Cosmos music is often inspired by literature and poetry, namely the works of Frank O’Hara, and she transverses the genres of lo-fi, and folk.

Vessel consists of 18 tracks, varying in length from 36 seconds to just a little over 3 minutes, and has a final length of 33 minutes. The album starts with Greta Kline quietly harmonizing with herself under the backing of the soft strum of guitars on the track “Caramelize”, where she sings about where she sings about rejection and self-consciousness:

“I want in on the other side
Love your eyelids where you hide
Or further in that neatest dark

But my boyish emotion
Keeps me soft like the ocean
Are you relieved when I leave? “

On the minute long track “Often As I Can” Greta sings about letting people know they’re loved as often as she can, and expresses a heart warming sensibility. Later on the album is the track “Being Alive”, which Pitchfork featured as “Best New Music” upon its release as a single earlier this year. It’s a track that explores the act of caring for someone when you’re not quite sure of how to actually articulate such feelings, and how the ways that you do express them become awkward, setting forth a cycle of trying to balance expressing yourself while still acting natural.

It’s true that most of the tracks on Vessel are quite short, but they’re often just as sweet and can contain a wide range of and emotions and musings that expand from love and self loathing, all the way to more abstract and existential inquiries. For example on the song “Apathy”, she sings about wanting to feel like she was specifically designed for a distinct purpose, rather than existing without any clear meaning. The instrumentals are filled with twang, and with the help of half spoken vocals, they pull at your heart to leave you to reflect on the many aspects of the human existence, and are most reminiscent of “Flake Musics’ 1997 album When You Land Here, It’s Time To Return.

You can purchase and stream Frankie Cosmos’ album Vessel via their bandcamp page, as well as on all streaming services.

[Fresh Music] Janelle Monae – PYNK​

Psychedelic soul and indie pop/rap artist Janelle Monáe has just premiered a new song from her forthcoming album and film project Dirty Computer. Premiered along with a music video starring Tessa Thompson and directed by Emma Westenberg, her new single titled “PYNK” is a collaboration with Synth-Pop/Electronica artist Grimes and follows the February releases of her singles “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane”.

Musically, the song has clear themes of the female anatomy, sexuality, as well as lesbian and bi-sexual friendly lyrics. These themes are complimented by cherry pop vocals underlined by a hybrid electronica and R&B influenced instrumental along with spoken word segments and a soulful bridge. Monáe had this to say about the song:

“… pink is the color found in the deepest and darkest nooks and crannies of humans everywhere… PYNK is where the future is born…”

Dirty Computer has been described by Janelle as both an album and as an “E-Motion Picture” “ a narrative film and accompanying musical album”. Dirty Computer is set to release April 27th this year. ​

Sources: TIME, Hollywood Life, YouTube

[Single Review] Mike Shinoda – Crossing a Line

Fresh off of the still spinning wheels of January’s Post Traumatic EP, by Mike Shinoda, which was the songwriter and vocalist’s first solo release underneath his own name (separate from Fort Minor), the established vocalist/multi-instrumentalist has just announced his first complete solo album, Post Traumatic. Along with the announcement of Post Traumatic Mike Shinoda has also released the album’s first single titled “Crossing a Line”, that includes a bonus track called “Nothing Makes Sense Anymore”, which also has a slot on the new album.

Crossing a Line is a song that tackles the internal struggle of what it is like to cope with dealing with the grief of losing someone close to you, in Shinoda’s case, his band member, and dear friend, Chester Bennington, and then running those emotions through a variety of creative outlets as a form of healing. The song itself takes influence from modern indie pop and R&B music, and features vocals with slight delay effects and an instrumental that builds up in diverse layers as the track builds up. In the first chorus is a quatrain where Shinoda passionately sings:

“They’ll tell you I don’t care anymore
And I hope you’ll know that’s a lie
Cause I’ve found what I have been waiting for
But to get there means crossing a line”

In the first verse, Shinoda speaks of either completely ignoring all of the fiends that torment him, or instead giving them a voice, using demons as an analog to the layers of grief, confusion and wayward thoughts that assail him.

Later in the song are the lyrics “This is not a goodbye now, I’m not going away, No I don’t have the answers but I do have the faith” which speaks to the fears of his fans and supporters that he could become lost in the echoes of tragedy along with his courageousness, hope and passion for creativity. This is a line where Mike quite literally says that despite the pain, he has faith in himself, and those around him, and he is not going to give up. Ultimately, “Crossing a Line” is a song about by crossing an invisible line which others may feel is a betrayal of your loved ones memory but is instead a method of coming to peace with grief that comes loss, and then finding a balance for healing.

The bonus track “Nothing Makes Sense Anymore” is more similar to recent Linkin Park songs, and has a bit more modern rock influences. The song shares similar themes to “Crossing a Line” but where as that song is mainly about healing, this one is more about confusion and being caught in devastation where your reality is usurped by surprise tragedy and the feeling of being lost and helpless, which is graciously demonstrated with songs first verse, where above an instrumental with a resounding reverb effects, Mike Shinoda despondently sings:

“I used to know where the bottom was
Somewhere far under the ocean waves
Up on a ledge I was looking down
It was far enough to keep me safe
But the ground was cracked open
Threw me in the ocean
Cast me out away at sea
And the waves are still breaking
Now that I awaken
No one’s left to answer me”

While it’s up for debate as to which track is actually the better of the two, they’re both great in their own right, and they both convey their message intimately, with lyrics that stay in your head, and pull at your heartstrings.

[Album Review] of Montreal – White is Relic/Irrealis Mood

From Athens, Georgia is the band of Montreal which come radiantly from within the depths of recurrent mind-binding musical trips which are in consequence of inspired 60’s psychedelic indie pop. Founded by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Kevin Barnes in 1996, of Montreal have gone on to release a mix of over a dozen albums and EPs since 1996, and on the 9th of March 2018, they’ve released their latest studio album, White is Relic/Irrealis Mood.

Said to be inspired by the dance mix tapes of the 1980’s, and a collection of artists and writings such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood comes in with a total of only 6 tracks, but all hit well above the 5 minute mark. The album features a collection of “split-tracks”, tracks which are divided into several pieces, sometimes in melodies, others in instrumentation and title, for example the album starts off with the track “Soft Music/Juno Portraits of the Jovian Sky.”

With Kevin Barnes quietly singing:

“Soft music drains the oxygen from besieged Bushwick streets,
reflexively retching Anglo influx, though there will be no gentrificating
of graffitied worship of summer love.
It’s hard to stop the triggering of one’s self-destructive urges.”

“Soft Music/Juno Portraits Of The Jovian Sky “ is clearly an indie pop track that contains a mix of intimate and personal lyrics, and it is also underlined by psychedelic bass-lines and the sometimes stoic but more frequently ardent vocals and melodies which support it.

At the albums midpoint is “Writing the Circles/Orgone Tropics”, which is a progressive indie pop track with lyrics such as “Did it happen the way we wanted? Maybe not. Maybe I love you like I love myself, not a lot.” which are filled with narcissism, but conversely, later in the track the chorus brings in a welcome amount of self reflection where Kevin sings to himself:

“Don’t complain about your personal hell.
You should be grateful you don’t have to share one
Naturally, it’s starting burn though
Writing the circles of your inferno
This acute loneliness that you feel
Has nothing to do with other people
A foundational flaw, I wish you
Could understand, it’s really the issue”

Ending the album is “If You Talk to Symbol/Hostility Voyeur”, and it is the longest track on the album coming in at eight minutes and thirty two seconds, and throughout that length the track makes evident that it is the albums greatest highlight and it is one of the most brilliant and inspiring tracks featured within its short track-list. The beginnings of the song are submerged in 80’s style synth-lines and ghostly melodies, that by the end of the track evolve into dark percussion, and then finally settles on a brilliant jazzy saxophone solo.

While White is Relic/Irrealis Mood contains a short track length, the quality of each track more than makes up for any such shortcoming, and the album proves to be one of the band’s best since the release of their 2007 album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Essential Tracks:

Soft Music/Juno Portraits of the Jovian Sky
If You Talk to Symbol/Hostility Voyeur

[Album Review] Garden City Movement – Apollonia

After 3 EPs in the span of many years, a remix album, as well as several collaborations in between, it is here in 2018 that Garden City Movement, the alternative, electronica and indie pop band trio that consist of members, Roy Avital, Yoav Saar and Johnny Sharoni from Tel Aviv, Israel, have finally released their debut full length record with their 18 track, experimental album Apollonia.

Apollonia starts off with the short introductory piece “Again” which sets the tone with a chillwave-esque instrumental that bleeds into the first proper track on the album “Passion is a Dying Theme” and it is with this track that the tone of the album is set, bringing forth themes of depression, and of shattered relationships, it’s a song that is saturated in distorted yet hard to make out vocals, as well as subtle layers of guitar.

Later in the album, we come to the track “Slightly all the Time”, which is the album’s first single, and it is here that the trio begin to showcase their full diversity in musicianship with a track that is full of subdued keyboard arrangements, catchy trip-hop beats, Asian inspired string segments, and even an interesting horn solo, again, while the lyrics are somewhat hard to make out, it is somewhat alleviated by their ethereal atmosphere, aided by the distorted vocal effects. As the albums first half comes to the end, it is in the second half where the tracks become a bit more poppy, incorporating more dance and electronica elements, along with more uptempo instrumentals.

All in all, it’s clear that Garden City Movement’s debut album is an impressive effort, while not exactly being a masterpiece. It is a great record to put on when you are in need of a comforting, ambient calm, or for when you’re taking a scenic hike, and throughout its stacked track-list, there is a clear diversity in genre and style, which is definitely worth repeated listening to catch some layers of music one might have missed the first go round.

[Single Review] Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel

Sometimes there comes along an artist that commands presence, and there are few others who exhibit such a quality better than Janelle Monáe. She comes along as if she were the cool breeze on your neck in the warmth of a summer night. But it is only then after you have realized she’s there that she eviscerates you like one hundred tons of dynamite to then leave you to unforgivably pick yourself up a tiny staggered piece at a time.

That is to say, there’s no question that Janelle is an extremely talented individual, she’s someone who has had a hand in modeling, producing, acting, and of course singing and songwriting. In 2007, she released her first public solo outing with the debut of her critically acclaimed extended play (EP), Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), and then went on to release her first full length in 2010, with The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady in 2013. More recently, Janelle announced her new project titled Dirty Computer and she describes it as an EMOTION Picture or an album with an accompanying narrative film and it is set to release in the month of April later this year. Excitingly, dropped along with this new album announcement came the two new tracks, “Django Jane” and focus of this review, “Make Me Feel”

Now, if one were asked to describe Janelle’s music, a good description would probably be that it’s a nice mix of funk, indie-psychedelic-pop, R&B, rap, and Soul. Bearing that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” contains qualities of each genre.

The song is marinated in 80’s styled synth lines (rumored to be the result of a collaboration with the late pop/funk music legend, Prince) and is highly energetic. Janelle sings “Yeah, baby, don’t make me spell it out for you, you keep on asking me the same questions and second-guessing all my intentions” “Make Me Feel” is a great jam, and at its core it is a song that illustrates the traversal of fluid-sexuality, the complexities of emotion one feels while being in love, and the refusal to submit to the concept that love is defined so easily.

[Album Review] 2 Mello – Memories of Tokyo-To

In the year 2000 North America saw the release of Jet Grind Radio, which is more famously known worldwide by its original title, Jet Set Radio. Jet Set Radio was a game published by SEGA, on their ill-fated Dreamcast home console. The games’ plot featured an eccentric DJ named Professor K, who hosted a pirate radio station as a DJ that broadcasted a plethora of catchy tunes throughout the fictionalized city of “Tokyo-to” and into the minds of the cities’ dueling gangs of graffiti spraying Rollerbladers. “Alright.” Some may ask, “But what exactly does this have to do with a website such as Altwire?”

Basically, the simple explanation is that high among the factors of the games’ popularity, (apart from its addicting and fast-paced game-play), is its magnificent and highly regarded soundtrack. You see, before the games’ release, the genre of music which makes up its’ score was relatively unknown to mass audiences. Somewhat similarly to the early music of the then rising band Linkin Park, the game’s music blended together a thrilling mix of electronica, rap, and hip-hop. The soundtrack was largely composed by Japanese remixer, and DJ Hideki Naganuma and apart from the three already mentioned genres, the tracks proved to be sample heavy while incorporating elements of jazz, funk, and pop rock.

Now, this February and a long 18 years after one of the most famous and idolized soundtracks in gaming came to the forefront, there finally arrives an essential original album inspired by the music that captivated so many. Created by the remixer Matthew Hopkins, who goes by the name of “2 Mello” (“known by some as the award-winning composer for the indie game “2064: Read Only Memories.”) and dubbed Memories of Toyko-To: An Ode to Jet Set Radio, the album is a beautiful 17 track epic tribute that faithfully emulates that same feelings of the game’s symphonic hybrid euphoria. Just like with Jet Set Radio’s famous soundtrack, 2 Mello’s new album mostly consists heavily sampled tracks that are filled to the brim with funky bass-lines and distorted synths.

The album starts with “Pump Up The Love”, a crazily nostalgic, mainly instrumental piece that will please many fans of alternative and indie rap music. Later comes the track “Midnight in Tokyo-to (Ft. Anton Corazza)”, an ambient slow dance marinated in jazzy sax.

Another big highlight is “24 Hour Party People” which even while including somewhat obscure references and amusing lines such as “I need my time alone in my home, create my zone, prone cuddlin’ with an old movie on and I’m gone. So if you callin’ me to come back to the streets and get freaked. please I ain’t even trying to compete” the song still proves to be full of charm, in part of its sometimes dubious lyrics rather than despite them. Its a track that also has an incredibly catchy hook that you’ll discover yourself uncontrollably humming along to as you head to bed, as it stays with you in the wee hour of the morning. With so many gems gracing this soundtrack, chief among them, the vocoder saturated closing track “Ba-da-Ba”, I believe that it is clearly evident that 2 Mello’s tribute album has enough funky, fun and energetic beats to keep you rhythmically tapping your feet for days.

And it’s with that conclusion that I’ll propose that for fans of the eclectic, “Memories of Tokyo-To: An Ode to Jet Set Radio” has a lot to offer, whether you’re the most casual, or the biggest gamer, or even if you do not have an interest in gaming whatsoever. In the end, it is the rare blend of delightfully alternative indie hip-hop/pop/jazz/rap and electronica that’s coated in well-crafted samples, and the charm of the sometimes nonsensical which effortless draws you in and casts its magic upon you that makes such a release so special.

Essential Tracks:

Here I go
Say Somethin
Midnight in Tokyo-To
24 Hour Party People
Ba-da-Ba

“Memories of Tokyo-To: An Ode To Jet Set Radio” can be purchased digitally and on compact disc on 2 Mello’s bandcamp page at https://2mellomakes.bandcamp.com/