PB #12: Passion Pit

Album Review: Passion Pit | Kindred

In July of 2012, Passion Pit frontman and mastermind Michael Angelakos opened up to Pitchfork Media about his mental illness: chronic depression, bipolar disorder, and dissociative psychosis. While dark themes and pained lyrics had appeared on Passion Pit’s earlier material, Angelakos’s revealing interviews helped define the motivations behind their discography. The band seemed to be in flux. Their drummer left. After the Constant Conversations EP, Passion Pit disappeared. Then, in January, out of nowhere, they released “Lifted Up (1985)”. A soaring stadium-pop track, “Lifted Up” is an ode to Angelakos’s wife, Kristy. It signaled an evolution in Passion Pit’s thematic direction. If their debut Manners was the beginning of a downward spiral, and the follow-up Gossamer was rock bottom, then new release Kindred is the recovery, stemming from the power of love.

The first impression new Passion Pit listeners have, positive or negative, is of Angelakos’s fragile, insistent falsetto. One can imagine the child on the cover of Kindred singing the lyrics, like in “Five Foot Ten (I)”: on the chorus it is sung that “All alone, I wanna be all alone, with you.” It’s a clear sequel to Gossamer‘s wonderful “Carried Away”, with it’s driving pop beat and major-chord synthesizers. I personally love Angelakos’s voice, but it can occasionally be off-putting. Take “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)”; what lyrically is a sweet, sappy love song is almost difficult to listen to in the chorus and bridge, as the vocals nearly leave Angelakos’s range.

This is Passion Pit’s most clearly defined “love” album. What has become the norm for the band’s discography is to include songs that are essentially filler, allowing for the highs of the pop masterpieces. In this album, tracks like “Dancing on the Graves” and “Looks Like Rain” take that position, failing to bolster the weaker second half of the album. The most interesting track on the album, by far, is the closer, “Ten Feet Tall (II)”. It’s actually pretty hilarious, and seems to either address Columbia Records or fans of Passion Pit themselves, confronting the desire for more Passion Pit. As Angelakos sings, “These motherfuckers with their goddamn woes/ … saying I better sing these songs“. It’s all sung over a stadium-rock instrumental and with Auto-tuned(!!) vocals.

As usual, Passion Pit is at their best at the two extremes of the pop spectrum: subdued grooves and impossibly bright production. “Where The Sky Hangs” reminds me of a more relaxed “Constant Conversations”, which is Passion Pit’s best song. It’s the one track on this record that clearly says “80s” to me, with it’s acoustic bass and resolved chords. It’s an extremely pleasant track to listen to. In contrast, the soaring “Lifted Up” sells the year 1985 really well (“1985 was a good year!“).

Unfortunately, apart from “Ten Feet Tall (II)”, there aren’t any tracks that compel me to revisit Kindred over and over. It’s not a bad album by any means, just not one that will change lives or make many people feel anything. It’s excellently produced synthpop with a solid gimmick, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Score: 7/10

Five songs I’m listening to this week:

Passion Pit | “Ten Feet Tall (II)”

Hudson Mohawke | “Ryderz”

Cakes Da Killa | “Serve It Up”

Kanye West | “All Day (Remix)” feat. Kendrick Lamar

Kanye West | “Wolves” feat. Vic Mensa & Sia

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PB #11: Tyler, the Creator

Album Review: Tyler, The Creator | Cherry Bomb

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. That name alone would be enough to turn off most listeners from OFWGKTA leader Tyler, the Creator‘s off-kilter brand of Los Angeles rap. Notable for his shock lyrics and juvenility, Tyler has been fairly prolific as an artist, and earlier this week released his fourth studio album Cherry Bomb. His first two albums, Bastard and Goblin, have the quintessential Tyler sound: horrorcore synths layered under Tyler’s distinctive growl. While I didn’t really enjoy these two albums, I was compelled by the story around Tyler and Odd Future, and anxiously awaited Tyler’s third LP, Wolf. This record was one of my highlights of 2013. It really saw Tyler grow as a producer, and his influences (most notably The Neptunes) really shown through. Introspective songs like “Answer” and “IFHY” were relatable, and bangers like “Jamba” and “Domo23” blared through my speakers throughout the summer of 2013.

That brings us to Cherry Bomb. The first two singles, “Deathcamp” and “Fucking Young”, couldn’t have been more different. “Deathcamp” was an angry piece of rap-rock that was difficult to listen to; in fact, it was difficult to hear what Tyler was saying at all on this track. Meanwhile, “Fucking Young” may have been the lushest song Tyler has released to date. There is limited rapping in this song, and Tyler shifts his vocals in an effort to sing about this girl who’s much younger than him. He loves the girl but is paranoid about police showing up in some sort of statutory situation. It’s a little bit jarring, but a pretty and easy-to-listen-to song nonetheless.

While Tyler has shown that he can be thoughtful and can make interesting production, not much of that shows up on this record. He rips off Pusha T’s “Numbers on the Board” sample of Bunny Siglers’s “Shake Your Booty” on the track “Buffalo”, which is confusing: the sample doesn’t add anything to the song. Later on, songs like “Cherry Bomb” and “Run” are just incredibly unpleasant to hear. I wasn’t compelled to come back to listen to these tracks, and they suffer from the same issue as “Deathcamp” in that there’s no way to know what Tyler’s saying. It’s like listening to a poor Death Grips instrumental without any of the personality. The title track is probably my least favorite Tyler song to date, behind classics like “Bitch Suck Dick” and “Sandwitches”. It’s just no good.

While a lot of the N.E.R.D.-inspired tracks on this album left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, the sweeter, prettier songs on the album redeemed a lot of enjoyment. “Find Your Wings” is Tyler’s least angry song to date. It talks about taking control of someone’s own life and finding their place in the world, but it seems out of place on Cherry Bomb. The strings on “2 Sea Her” are beautiful, and help make it my favorite track on the album. I really enjoyed Lil Wayne‘s feature on “Smuckers”; Kanye West shows up as well, but Tunechi steals the track.

While the production makes a large portion of this album a tough listen, what really hurts the LP is Tyler’s insistence on using the word “faggot”. It’s annoying. He’s almost 25 years old. People respect his music, and he doesn’t need to rely on shock value to attract people to his music anymore. The use of homophobic slurs nearly invalidates the entire album.

I wanted to enjoy Cherry Bomb. I like Tyler’s discography, especially when collaborating with fellow Odd Future members Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, and Hodgy Beats. We’ve seen that Tyler can make compelling statements in the media, and his marketing with Odd Future is compelling. I just wish he had music that helped retain my interest.

Score: 5/10

Parker’s five favorite Odd Future songs

Odd Future | “Oldie”

Frank Ocean | “Super Rich Kids” (feat. Earl Sweatshirt)

Tyler, the Creator | “She” (feat. Frank Ocean)

Earl Sweatshirt | “Hive” (feat. Vince Staples) 

Earl Sweatshirt | “Sunday” (feat. Frank Ocean)

Five songs I’m listening to this week

Tyler, the Creator | “Fucking Young”

Chance the Rapper | “Sunday Candy” (feat. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment”

Waxahatchee | “La Loose”

Towkio | “Heaven Only Knows” (feat. Chance the Rapper)

The Mountain Goats | “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”

PB #10: Miguel

Los Angeles-based R&B singer Miguel has a lot of fun. It’s easy to gather that fact listening to his music; he nearly always sounds like he’s singing with a smile. In a genre where it can be difficult to separate yourself from your peers, Miguel has carved out a niche as one of the smoothest artists around.

Miguel burst onto the scene in 2010 with his wonderful single “Sure Thing” and subsequently released his debut album All I Want Is You. While his artistry and vocal talent were easily identified, Miguel had difficulty exhibiting why people should care about his music. All I Want Is You didn’t have a focus or identity and therefore didn’t gain much attention. When Jive Records was closed down and absorbed by RCA Records, Miguel was given the opportunity to showcase his talents for a major label debut. He was labelmates with R&B legends D’Angelo and R. Kelly.

Miguel’s second studio album, Kaleidoscope Dream, allowed him to find his sound and saturate his talents. This album was one of my favorite of 2012, and it’s remarkable that Miguel could stand out in a year where other excellent R&B artists (Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Janelle Monáe) released material. The music on Kaleidoscope Dream was beautiful. It included soaring synth flourishes, innovative chord progressions, and Miguel’s infectious voice. Lead single “Adorn” was extremely sweet, and ended up being nominated for multiple Grammys. The simplicity of themes on this LP helped it succeed: where other artists tackled difficult issues and sensitive subjects, Miguel just wanted to sing about how much he loves his girl. 

It’s fitting that perhaps Miguel’s best song is titled “Do You (Like Drugs)”, as Miguel essentially creates the musical equivalent of muscle relaxants. Miguel and his producers have mastered the art of tension and release, and when that resolution finally hits its peak, it’s like chicken soup for the soul. His collaboration with Mariah Carey, “#Beautiful”, is what waking up with your significant other on a summer Sunday morning would sound like if it were translated to music.

Miguel’s third album, Wild Heart, is set to be released later in 2015. If his nwa.hollywooddreams.coffee EP is any indication, Miguel is fleshing out his sound to assist his staying power. Whether it will continue to appeal to his fans remains to be seen.

shoutouts to Cara for the suggestion

Five songs I’m listening to this week:

Miguel | “Do You”

Carly Rae Jepsen | “All That”

Tame Impala | “Cause I’m A Man”

Charli XCX | “Famous” 

Sam Hunt | “Take Your Time”

PB #9: Meghan Trainor

note: originally published as an April Fools’ joke

Album Review: Meghan Trainor | Title

Every few years, it seems, somebody bursts onto the scene of pop radio and completely takes over with innovative music, creative lyrics, and deep melodies. We saw it with OutKast’s “Hey Ya”. We saw it with Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”. And now we’re seeing it with Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”.

“All About That Bass” is a tour de force in pop, one that reinforces positive body types and fat acceptance. When Trainor sings about “skinny bitches”, she’s confronting women who treat their bodies well and knocking them down a peg. And when Trainer’s mother says “boys like a little more booty” she’s (rightly) reducing the strain a woman has on being comfortable with her appearance to how boys think about her. Queer women don’t even have to worry about their looks!

Don’t worry: Trainor keeps up her strong and carefully constructed feminist ideals at the forefront throughout the entire album. On the title-track of Title, “Title” (what a mouthful!), Trainor sings “You gotta treat me like a trophy/ put me on a shelf“. Women in feminism need to be shown off: your body is what’s valuable, not your mind or intelligence.

It’s rare to see such refined songwriting from such a young artist. It’s even rarer to see such unproblematic politically charged statements appear on pop radio. Hopefully Trainor will be around for a long time.

Score: 10/10