After this summer’s truly exceptional Channel ORANGE, it has been difficult to predict what Frank Ocean’s next musical step forward would look like, as it generally is with an artist who has clearly poured so much of their soul and talent into an album. After reportedly struggling vocally over the summer and canceling the European stretch of his tour with Coldplay, the blogosphere buzzed with rumors that Channel ORANGE would be Frank Ocean’s last release. It should come as no surprise, though, that Frank is back, slipping a new track quietly and unceremoniously onto his Tumblr last night before his FADER show in New York City. As usual, there was no fanfare, no Twitter countdown; he didn’t even supply a title to accompany the track (although sources are saying it is called “Blue Whale”). Just the music.
It might come as a surprise to some that there is no singing on “Blue Whale.” Those accustomed to Ocean’s crooning falsetto might be taken aback by his calm, nonchalant rap flow on this track, but their surprise will surely give way to satisfaction as the song progresses. “Blue Whale” is a discussion of the art of slowing down, re-assessing, and moving forward. Stream the track in its entirety below.
“Relaxing / I ain’t racing no fuckin’ rats / I’m relaxing / and if its wrong to yah / well life goes on brother, that’s one thing about it.”
All too often, and for far too long, musicians’ work has been associated with and affected by the artists’ personal lives; it has become a fact of the industry that fans not only absorb an artist’s music, but that they become acquainted with the artist as a human being as well, for better or for worse. Frank Ocean has been the subject a lot of Internet buzz over the past few weeks, and sadly, until Tuesday, very little of it had anything to do with the music he makes. Sexual orientation has no effect whatsoever on musical ability or songwriting talent; that being said, countless reviews of Frank Ocean’s superb new album, Channel Orange, seem focused solely upon attempting to tie various lyrics to alleged homosexual feelings or actions. That type of review is both useless and ridiculous, in light of the quality and effort so clearly apparent within this project.
Channel Orange would have been the same album whether or not Ocean had chosen to discuss his sexual orientation publicly the week before its release. The experiences he describes in the album had already passed, the lyrics had all been written, the verses recorded. Although we at The Astral Plane were overjoyed to see a respected and revered artist like Ocean publicly come out despite the potential for backlash, the blogosphere’s reactions to this announcement (positive OR negative) play no role whatsoever in the musical entity that is Channel Orange. It is rather useless to spend time either congratulating or criticizing Ocean’s lifestyle, and frankly I’m sick of reading track-by-track reviews of this album that seem intent upon pointing out the number of times per song where Ocean says “he” instead of “she,” as if attempting to decide upon the “gayest” song of the album. It’s exhausting to see so many people attempting to analyze the personal life of an individual they have never met in what should be a review of the music.
The most beautiful aspect of this project, and the thing so many bloggers seem to be missing as they scrutinize Frank Ocean’s sexuality in loose or imagined relation to the lyrics in Channel Orange, is the fact that Ocean has created a multifaceted and comprehensive portrait of love in this album. This is not love as viewed through the eyes of any one individual; instead, it is love as a concept, viewed critically and with trepidation and awe. This album is a 17-track rumination on the many flavors of fondness and affection. Read the track-by-track review after the jump.
One of LA’s most underrated indie festivals, FYF Fest (formerly Fuck Yeah Fest), will be back in full swing this September. According to the festival’s website, the event will expand this year from one day to two, taking place on September 1st and 2nd at the State Historic Park in Downtown LA. FYF is known for putting together deliciously eclectic lineups, with an appealing mix of well-known artists and newcomers from a wide array of genres, sure to please a variety of musical and cultural tastes. This year, the festival’s headliners consist M83, Beirut and Refused; other notable acts include JamesBlake (!!!!), SleighBells, Desaparecidos, SimianMobileDisco, Tycho, PurityRing, GoldPanda, Chairlift, AesopRock, AABondy, DamFunk, and many others. The festival possesses a laid-back, sun-drenched vibe, and its accessibility in Downtown LA makes it a unique setting for some really fantastic performances to take place. This is not one to miss.
Weekend passes start at $77 and go on sale this Friday, the 22nd. Check out the full lineup after the jump.
Fresh Espresso have long been the unsung heroes of Seattle hip-hop. In a predominantly Caucasian city where much of the hip-hop scene focuses upon social consciousness and minority awareness, Fresh Espresso provides a welcome respite from the drudgery and pessimism of much of Seattle’s rap. They don’t put out the kind of socially conscious hip-hop we’ve come to expect from the Blue Scholars or RA Scion, and they don’t coast around on the Town’s local pride like many of the rappers from the area. Originally hailing from Michigan, Fresh Espresso’s P Smoov and Rik Rude seem like an unlikely duo, and in previous releases, their differing flows have slightly lowered the overall listenability of their material. Their lyrics are usually somewhat humorous, and their live shows are stuffed full of energetic antics, pelvic thrusts and the hipster aggressive-head-bob. Two years ago, the duo released their first album, Glamour, which went relatively unnoticed outside of their dedicated fan base within the weirder Seattle hip-hop circles, despite its sophisticated production and extremely catchy tracklist.
Last night, Fresh Espresso released a new full-length album, amusingly titled Bossalona. Although I was fortunate enough to see the duo live at Sasquatch almost two weeks ago, where they performed the majority of the new album, I was immediately taken aback by the production quality of the studio recording. Every track on Bossalona was composed and produced entirely by P Smoov, and his production has matured a great deal since Glamour. Smoov mixed and mastered the entire album as well, a skill that further sets him apart from other local hip-hop artists. His samples are sophisticated and smooth, most notably on “You Can Have It” and “Air Brazil.”
Much of Bossalona stays true to Fresh Espresso’s signature goofiness, but the lyrics are certainly far more focused than many of the tracks off Glamour. Although Smoov’s flow still seems to lead the overall feel of the music, Rik Rude’s sound has improved significantly over the past two years. His flow feels more focused and on-the-beat, eschewing his previous tendency to yell at the mic in favor of a calmer, more balanced feel to his verses. Because of this, the two rappers’ verses alternate more naturally and equally, resulting in a more listenable product.
The highlights of the album stem from Smoov’s definitive ability to harness the style of a sample and combine it with his signature heavy bass and compressed drums, crafting a beat that makes the listener move almost involuntarily. “Yommie” is the rebellious saga of someone whose “rock star life” is despised by his girlfriend’s mother, and from the ridiculously weird intro to the catchy hook, Smoov’s sampling ties the track together and drives it forward. Even though the studio version of “Hush” was released back in February (download the single for free here), the track deserves a second look as a part of this album, because although its lyrics aren’t the slightest bit emotionally driven, from a production perspective it’s a veritable work of art. “Lake Michigan” is a tribute to the duo’s home state, giving us our first glimpse into the origins of Fresh Espresso. “Bossalona” samples the Barcelona Sporting Club’s “Si Si Señores” very successfully, tossing in a healthy dose of bass and double-time toms; Smoov throws down a line that is especially poignant in the comparison between Fresh Espresso and the rest of the Seattle hip-hop scene: “Yeah I’m about to put Seattle on the map. And that’s the first time I ever said Seattle in a rap, ’cause that shit’s cliché, and we lookin’ for change.”
One downside to the playfulness that surrounds most of Fresh Espresso’s material is that we rarely get a glimpse into the more personal side of the duo, which is something that often provides the most eloquent and meaningful verses in rap music. Though I love odes to girls, money and fast cars just as much as anyone, I find it especially significant when a musician is occasionally able to express their more vulnerable side. Consequently, “Goodbye My Love” is one of my favorite tracks off Bossalona. Rik Rude is absent from this track, and P Smoov describes his struggles with drugs, depression and relationships over a fantastic sample-rich beat, which includes a subtle melody reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” At Fresh Espresso’s Sasquatch show, Smoov announced to the crowd his six-month sobriety, something that has surely changed his approach to production and performance. However, Smoov isn’t relying on this “transformation” to create his musical personality; he’s simply throwing it in because it brings a certain realism to the album that is a welcome change from the group’s more lighthearted material.
All in all, Bossalona is a great success. It displays Fresh Espresso’s musical maturation while highlighting P Smoov’s masterful production, providing the perfect combination of skill and amusement. If you get a chance, do yourself a favor and go see these guys live, because they put on a really exceptional show. They’re playing Neumos in Seattle this Friday (21+) with Slow Dance and White China Gold, so if you’re from around here, go check them out. Bossalona is available to stream and purchase below.
It seems to me that much of musical proficiency today (at least in the spheres that we tend to cover at The Astral Plane) is measured in an artist’s ability to produce bangers. You’re familiar with the kind I’m talking about; the type of song that can get a crowd jumping and screaming with up-tempo (or half-tempo) heaviness, a catchy rhythm and sonic depth. It’s sometimes hard to remember that not all good music has whomps or snare rolls. I became reacquainted with that important fact at Sasquatch this weekend, most notably after experiencing the ethereal miracle that was Active Child’s Sunday evening set.
The sun was just beginning to set behind the modest crowd at the Yeti stage as Active Child’s Pat Grossi appeared. Grossi exemplifies one of my favorite musical phenomena: an individual who doesn’t visually fit their musical sound. Grossi looks a little like a combination of a California frat bro and a Northwest hipster (think black wayfarers and khakis). However, that image was in stark contrast to the beautiful wooden harp placed casually on the left side of the stage, behind which Grossi immediately sat and began to perform. As we mentioned in our Active Child feature back in April, Grossi was trained in a boy choir and as a classical harpist, and both of those skills served as the pedestal onto which Grossi sculpted his set.
The first half of the set involved Grossi playing harp and singing in his signature falsetto, backed by his touring drummer and guitarist/bassist. The tone was calm and melancholy. Highlights of the first half included “You Are All I See” and “Hanging On,” both harp-heavy tracks featuring electronic drums and subtle bass, adorned with Grossi’s harmonious crooning. Halfway through the set, Grossi switched from harp to laptop, showering the audience with some of his more electronic and rhythm-heavy tracks, such as “Playing House,” with deep ’80’s dance drums in perfect contrast to his smooth vocals and echo-y synths.
The crowd was clearly a blend of first-time listeners, looking for a new discovery during a break in the schedule, and die-hard fans who knew every lyric. Both groups were equally entranced, swaying with eyes closed as the incredibly unique sounds washed over them. The set was a beautiful respite from the performances over the weekend that could be so easily placed into one distinct genre, and Active Child surely garnered many new fans after the set was over. Perhaps Active Child doesn’t make you bang your head up or flail your limbs around as though you were having a seizure, but that’s not always the point. Here, the intention is clearly the conveyance of pure and delicate emotional sound, a concept that is astoundingly rare but especially poignant. Looking back at the faces in the crowd after the set was over, it was clear that a connection had been made between artist and audience, and that is all any musician can hope for.
What to say about this one… it’s a mashup of an edit of an edit; in other words, Ryan Hemsworth has done it again. This time, he took Nicolas Jaar‘s remix of Shlohmo‘s staple track “Rained The Whole Time,” and threw in a little (just kidding, it’s a lot) of R. Kelly’s “Number One.” Not all that surprisingly, coming from musical masterminds like these, the combination is quite effective.
The fantastically whimsical UK-based Gold Panda has graced us with a brand new single called “Mountain,” backed with a great track titled “Financial District.” These two tracks include familiar elements from previous Gold Panda material, such as Middle Eastern and Asian-influenced instruments and samples, paired with noisy percussion and head-bobbing beats. At about two and a half minutes in, “Mountain” morphs almost entirely from an ethereal, low-key musing to a full-on glitchy celebration. The B-side, “Financial District,” balances upon warped horns and chopped-up vocal samples, sounding like something shiny swimming around at the bottom of the ocean. Listen below.
Kohoutek Music & Arts Festival is a 39-year musical tradition at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Named after an anti-climactic, significantly over-hyped comet, Kohoutek was predicted in 1973 to display spectacular “outgassing” as it entered the inner Solar system. However, it fell short of expectations, failing to display the levels of light that were predicted. Somewhat predictably, at Pitzer College, this sequence of events made Kohoutek a particularly endearing concept, spurring the first ever Kohoutek Music & Arts festival in 1975. Check out our previous Kohoutek post for some of the most popular headliners from years past.
Fast forward to 2012: the Kohoutek tradition continued this past weekend, celebrating its 39th year, and drawing from a particularly eclectic selection of artists to create a lineup sure to please the wide variety of musical tastes at the Claremont Colleges. With headliners like Vetiver and The Juan Maclean, and appearances from talented performers hailing from the realms of jazz, hip-hop, bluegrass, electronica, and everything in between, Kohoutek 2012 was destined to be a success before the festival even began. Everything seemed to fall into place effortlessly; the weather was perfect, attendance was impressive, the vendors were unique and enjoyable, and the music was undeniably excellent. After the jump, we’ll attempt to give you an overview of some of the most enjoyable performances throughout the weekend, as well as photographic coverage of several of the performers. Check out some additional photos from the weekend here.
Shabazz Palaces have added a little (or a lot) of their crazy magic to a track off Philadelphia rapper and producer Lushlife’s recent Plateau Vision release. The track, “Hale-Bopp Was The Bedouins,” features Das Racist’s Heems along with Fly Guy Dai and Thadillac. Shabazz Palaces’ own Palaceer throws down a verse in the remixed version as well. Check out the remix (and the original below) right here:
Eleven weeks ago, the Sasquatch Music Festival lineup was released to much fanfare. Like all festivals, some hated the lineup while others loved it. For the more levelheaded, it appears to be a very balanced lineup with a deep undercard. From here on out we will be underscoring the lesser-known Sasquatch artists by highlighting a different artist each week. Beyond delving into each artist’s bio, sound, etc., we will attempt to give some insight into what will make their performance at Sasquatch so amazing.
tUnE-yArDs is the creatively-capitalized alias of musician Merril Garbus. (Hey, at least she didn’t leave out the vowels, right?) Hailing from Connecticut and currently based in Oakland, Garbus is full of surprises, musically and otherwise. She’s unlike anything we’ve ever heard before, and it works. Garbus possesses an incredibly powerful and unique voice, and this gift provides the pedestal on which she constructs her musical skyscraper. The vocals in her music have been compared to a cross between Aretha Franklin and Yoko Ono. Her range is unbelievable, varying from a deep, almost masculine grumble to a high soprano wail; she can sound convincingly assertive, angry, carefree, peaceful, contemplative, and celebratory all in one album. Her influences are drawn from Afro-pop, funk, R&B and folk, but there’s something else there. Garbus throws in a stylistic dexterity that is irreproducible and astounding.
The components that comprise her music-making technique are simple, but they merge to create something elaborate, almost labyrinthine. In addition to providing her one-of-a-kind voice, Garbus also plays the ukulele and dabbles in a variety of percussion. She uses a loop pedal to overlap the different elements of a track as she builds the instrumentation. As she told NPR’s All Things Considered back in April 2011:
“[The loop pedal] is this really wonderfully simple device that is somewhat of a limitation. I love to see how I can stretch using that limitation to its farthest reaches of musicality.”
tUnE-yArDs also throws in snippets of recordings of ambient sound, conversation and spoken statements. It is the amazing variety that makes Garbus’ music so incredible. From track to track, her style progresses through stages of emotion and musical form, like a long walk through many distinctive neighborhoods, all housing entirely different groups of people, but together comprising a diverse and vibrant city.
In June 2009, Garbus self-released tUnE-yArDs’ first album, BiRd-BrAiNs, on recycled cassette tapes. BiRd-BrAiNs was recorded using a handheld voice recorder and mastered somewhat crudely by Garbus using Audacity mixing software. In July of the same year, tUnE-yArDs signed to 4AD, and re-released a remastered version of BiRd-BrAiNs in November 2009 containing two new bonus tracks.
In April of 2011, Garbus released tUnE-yArDs’ second album, w h o k i l l. The album was produced by Garbus, but engineered in a professional studio. For this album, Garbus added bassist Nate Brenner to her lineup, and this change played a central role in the progression of tUnE-yArDs’ sound in their second release. w h o k i l l is the perfect departure from the lo-fi quality of BiRd-BrAiNs, while continuing to surprise us with incredibly elaborate sound. This newfound clarity in Garbus’ work makes the album an entirely different type of experience, but her style certainly benefits from the added professionalism present in w h o k i l l.
Aside from her recordings, there has been quite a bit of focus in the blogosphere upon Garbus’ talents as a live performer. Again drawing from her chat with NPR back in 2011, Garbus describes her incredible stage presence, self-confidence, and passion for performance:
“I’m confident enough to grab people’s attention and say, ‘Hey, I’m up here. Don’t be chattin’ into your beer. I’m right here, and this is what you want to be looking at.'”
We eagerly await her Sasquatch set. As an artist who based so much of her origin and style upon the ability to function as an individual in a live setting, creating a multitude of layers all stemming from the simple functions of a few instruments, tUnE-yArDs will surely put on a fantastic show. Chances are, it will be unlike anything else you see at Sasquatch, and that is a draw in and of itself. tUnE-yArDs will be performing at the Bigfoot stage on Saturday at 7:30; don’t miss out.