Friday, June 28, 2013

Totally Unauthorized 2013 2nd Quarter Playlist: April - June

Of all the quarterly reports, the midyear/summer one is always the toughest. April through June are typically the most fertile breeding for mindblowing music releases, and this year has proven that to be more true than most. After painstakingly narrowing it down, here is the best of the past three months.


Tyler has grown and matured since his last album, and in the process his mood pieces have become even more impressive. "Cowboy" serves as a dual threat by offering a relaxed, chilled out hook and beat while contrasting that with Tyler's deep sense of personal and social tension.


Here's a nice change of pace for you. Malian musician Bassekou Kouyate is skilled with the ngoni - a West African lute instrument. "Jama Ko" is full of political tension and dissension that has marred his homeland, but is also brought to life by rich African harmonies and intricate yet electrifying sound from Kouyate's strings.


No doubt one of the most insane songs of the year, "Full of Fire" is a masterwork that explores nearly every area of electronica conceivable. It's filled with primal, instinctive jungle beats, passionate sexual tension, and distorted vocals stretched to the breaking point. And that barely begins to scratch the surface.


Few would have predicted dreamy shoegaze heroes Deerhunter would have started pumping out dive bar music, and even fewer would have guessed they would do it this well. The guitars and drums are dirty, grimy, and totally captivating, while Bradford Cox's hazy storytelling method will leave you spellbound.


Post punk revivalists Savages sound like a powder keg under extreme pressure throughout this song. Vocalist Jehnny Beth resurrects the image of a defiant and empowered rock and roll vocalist in stunning fashion, while Gemma Thomspon's guitar strains pierce your consciousness like shards of broken glass.


The definitive song of summer for many, Pharrell's blazing collaboration with this French pop electronic duo had fans salivating. The long awaited return of Daft Punk was headlined by this tune, which features a supersize dose of sensuality, smooth falsetto vocal, and a heavy helping of Daft Punk's funky disco vibes.


The original wave of Gothenberg melodic metal bands have been dropping like flies, so it's nice to see that at least Dark Tranquility is still putting out quality content. "The Science of Noise" is melodic metal at its best, combining winding leads with catchy, driving hooks and rhythms.


Many people think of folk music as something mellow, but Laura Marling shows that intensity can crackle with nothing more than her voice and an acoustic guitar. The dizzying guitar work grabs your attention, giving Marling the chance to assert her claim as a dynamic force to be reckoned with.


Queens of the Stone Age have one of the best comeback stories in recent memory, and this cut is easily among the most compelling of their new material. Grooving rock and roll riffs combine with Josh Homme's heady wordplay to create one of the most footstomping sing alongs of the year thus far. 


Funky psychedelic rockers Portugal. the Man strike back in a big way. John Gourley's high falsetto may remind some of Dan Auerbach, but the musical backdrops are far more varied. "Creep in a T-Shirt" boasts driving piano, a big brassy sound, and lilting melodies that will burrow their way into your brain.


 With 2013 serving as the year of comebacks, this Scottish electronic duo couldn't allow themselves to be outdone. They're capable of covering many different emotional planes, but "Reach for the Dead" aims for a more blissful and serene type of vibe. It's the perfect type of sound for chilling out and vegging out.


Kanye reinvents himself on each successive release, but now he's gone somewhere far beyond what anyone could have imagined. Aphex Twin couldn't imagine beats this dense and foreboding in his worst nightmare, while Kanye himself unleashes a unprecedented torrent of anger over racial and economic inequality.



When three of the most explosive emcees of the year converge on a single track, you should expect things are going to get heady. This collaborative project between Killer Mike and El-P features lots of braggadocio and repping of Atlanta, while Big Boi steps in with his smooth delivery to provide a little contrast.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Seven (mostly) lesser known bands set to make Bonnaroo their bitch

There are few sensations greater than being able to scratch an artist off a bucket list, but let's be honest: one of the greatest parts of Bonnaroo coming home with a batch of new favorite artists. To help facilitate this, here's are a few bands who may not have crossed your listening spectrum:

Tame Impala

Sunday • The Other Tent • 6pm – 7:15pm

The field of contenders for best psychedelic rock album is a crowded one, but this Aussie outfit approaches it with a fresh attitude.They've drawn comparisons with everybody from The Beatles to Piper at the Gates of Dawn era Pink Floyd, and their star only seems to be rising. Their latest album, Lonerism, presents an overwhelming psychedelic flavor with loud keyboards and intricate instrumental passages which translates to an even more intense and tripped out experience live.

Of Monsters and Men

Friday • Which Stage • 3:30pm – 4:45pm

So many folk bands at the Roo, who to choose? All eyes will be on Mumford and The Lumineers, but Icelandic folk poppers Of Monsters and Men are my personal best bet. Their presentation is always upbeat and joyous, but under the surface some darker undertones are lurking. It's full of rich imagery -- imagine wolves running through the woods at dusk with dirty paws, or majestic whales emerging from the frigid ocean surface, and you have a good idea of what provides the magic at their shows.

Capital Cities

Thursday • New Music On Tap Lounge • 1am – 2am

This indie dance pop duo just dropped a new record this past Tuesday, and if it's any indication Thursday night will be bringing us one hell of a crazy dance party. They manage to sneak in a little bit of 80s New Wave influence, meaning that the synths are big, the hooks are glistening, and the music is just so relaxed and carefree.  Best get there ahead of time though. The combination of late night atmosphere and infectious dancefloor tunes makes it almost certain that the tiny On Tap Lounge will be packed to the rafters and will be flowing out into the night.

Lee Fields & the Expressions

Sunday • What Stage • 12:30pm –1:30pm

These days there are plenty of indie bands who infuse elements of soul into their sound but it's hard to find a good practitioner of actual soul in the middle Tennessee area. If you're not too still obliterated from Saturday night's antics, it's hard to think of a better way to kick off the festival's last day than a date with old school soul sensation Lee Fields. Drawing comparisons to the Delfonics, James Brown, and The Moments, Fields has been working the craft for over 40 years. He provides a chance not only to witness one of the most quintessential of American art forms, but to see it preformed at the highest level.

Purity Ring

Thursday • The Other Tent • 9:15pm –10:15pm

Enchanted electronic duo Purity Ring bring a fresh approach to synth pop. Megan James's childlike voice couple with Corin Roddick's twinkling production work to forge a mix designed to make you feel like you're stranded in the middle of a glistening, glowing forest late at night. Their live show is packed with passion and attention to detail, all the way down to the glittering cocoons that fill the venue -- a staple that their live shows have become famous for.


Saturday • Cafe Where? • 6:15pm – 7pm

If you need a great spot for Bjork, Beach House, or A-Trak it might be best to skip this set. But if not, here's a great idea. It's no secret this year's Roo is lacking in heavy stuff; thankfully this L.A. metal band is here to remedy that. Packed with tasty, crunching riffs and sizzling solos all over the place, Kyng excels in conjuring a type of sound that won't often be heard drifting across the farm.


Saturday • New Music On Tap Lounge • 6:40pm – 7:30pm

I'll throw these guys into the post as a bonus, though I won't vouch for the actual quality of this act. The concept, however, is just too bizarre to miss: two guys wearing cutout George Clooney masks rapping about what it's like to be clones of George Clooney. Whatever they're rapping about, it will probably be more convoluted than the plotline of Ocean's 13.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Queens of the Stone Age play by their own rules on ...Like Clockwork

Of the many bands returning from hiatus in 2013, Queens of the Stone Age seem to be one of the biggest beneficiaries from taking some time off. Before the break, the band found themselves in a creative spiral that saw them losing members and losing stature, and it sounded like they were losing their minds. Their previous album, 2007's Era Vulgaris, boasted some notable experiments, but it fell flat because they seemed to be more interested in tinkering with an exotic sound than they were with delivering solid craftsmanship. Six years later, singer/guitarist Josh Homme has retooled his approach and now delivers the most ambitious Queens record since their glory days.

It contains all of the necessary elements to make a successful record. The instrumentation is great -- there's fertile drumwork with lots of off time fills and complex passages. The guitar work is impressive. Some leads really jump out and demand your attention, while others are more subtle and affect you in ways you may not realize until you've spun the disc several times. For his part, Homme once again shows his value as a consummate everyman vocalist. His performances are always great, but the arrangements are simple enough that the average Joe can easily pick it up and sing along. That generally remains the case here, but Homme gets more of a workout than usual, which allows the band to explore some different directions.

To pigeonhole Queens of the Stone Age as a mere rock band would be a mistake. Unlike some of their earlier material, this album is not all rock all the time; Homme cleverly structures each song to include a vast array of sounds and styles. There are dark, moody ballads, up tempo tunes with soul and swagger, and plenty of high energy rockers as well.

"Keep Your Eyes Peeled" opens the album on an ominous and dissonant note; with its acidic guitar riff and sense of unease it bears similarity to "Turnin' on the Screw" from Era Vulgaris, but the complex drumming, appropriately fuzzy bass and Homme's haunting vocal quickly makes it clear this is a different beast.

The eerie downtempo ballad "Vampyre of Time and Memory" operates in a similar musical neighborhood, though this one starts out slow and minimalist while slowly but surely building up to a clear catharsis. It's a theme the album seems fond of exploring; in this case it manifests itself by concluding with some spacey and wigged out guitar work.

In terms of straight ahead rockers, "I Sat by the Ocean" is easily the catchiest, and is the track most likely to put a smile on your face. Homme shows off a wide range here as he weaves a tale of trying to forget about an old flame. His upper register vocals inject a swaggering sense of groove into the music, while the crunching guitars recall the glory of 70s rock and roll. It is guaranteed to get your foot tapping and your body moving.

And make no mistake -- when it comes to swagger, this record delivers in heavy doses. "Smooth Sailing" is very funk, groove and soul oriented, and it plays out like Homme asserting his claim to sex god status. It never lacks for braggadocio, as he asserts that he'll "make a mountain out of a molehill if the molehill is mine." If that's not enough, he also declares that he'll "blow his load over the status quo." Sexy or just eww? You be the judge.

Elsewhere, "Kalopsia" provides a stoned, drug induced haze of gentle serene relaxation which is broken up by a buzzy bedroom guitar riff during the main refrain. "Like a Tail," meanwhile, features some half scat/made up words from Homme during the lead in, and slowly grooves its way to a hard rocking conclusion.

As far as the much ballyhooed guest spots on the album go -- Trent Reznor, Mark Lanegan, Nick Oliveri, and Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys all make appearances -- the fact is you likely wouldn't notice any of them if you didn't know they were playing on the track beforehand. The band keeps their signature sound intact by donwplaying the role of guests on the album.

Of all of them, Elton's John's guest spot on "Fairweather Friends" is the most notable. Many songs on this album seem to start off slowly and then try to blow you away with a heavy riff, and this one is no exception. But this is perhaps one of the most fully formed songs on the album. Homme delivers his best performance on the album with his uplifting vocal. There are great rock riffs paired with plenty of winding and weaving guitar leads and solos pepper the song's landscape. Dave Grohl provides energetic drumming with lots of rolls and fills that open up possibilities for the rest of the band, and Elton John's piano work fits in so naturally with the rest of the mix that one would be hard pressed to imagine the track without it.

Yet in spite of the breakthroughs made on this album, some factors do hold it back. There is an over reliance on the method of opening a song with a quiet, downbeat intro only to build to a louder or more dramatic conclusion. There's nothing wrong with that approach, but the extent to which the band utilizes it here leads to a case of diminishing results as the album progresses. The penultimate track, "I Appear Missing," drifts back and forth between the whole quiet/loud dynamic as each verse gives way into the chorus. A handful of other songs, including "Kalopsia," "If I Had a Tail," and "Vampyre of Memory of Time" leans on this technique in some form or fashion.

This insistence on tempering the heavy rocking sections with those that are more subtle or quiet causes it to often feel like the band is trying to hold themselves back from rocking too hard. They tip toe around the rock on many of these songs, and it's hard to not wish for them to cut loose a little more often. It's fine to dabble in creative experiments but rock is one of the things Queens of the Stone do best, and sometimes it feels like they forget that. 

However, it's all for a good purpose. There are albums released this year which would hold more appeal for a fan of heavy rock, or someone looking for something intense. But Like Clockwork exercises more creativity than most of those records, along with a greater sense of variety. With this savory cornucopia they've delivered up, Queens of the Stone Age show their aim is to transcend the notion of being a mere rock band. It's a concept that bears a great deal of merit in its own right.

Score: 85/100