Some things in life are immaculate for what they tell us. Others are immortalized for what they keep secret.
The Mountain Goats' All Hail West Texas fulfills this mantra with emphatic honesty. Lyrics craftily engineered by front man John Darnielle encompass the emotions, lifestyles and ever-present sentiment of nothingness that permeates the warm, empty expanse of otherworldliness that is West Texas. While this concept album follows the lives of West Texas residents, it never reveals the absolute truth behind their stories, leaving a Brewster County-sized gap for the listener to reflect on.
Released in early 2001, All Hail West Texas was the last lo-fi album recorded on Darnielle's legendary Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox. For those unfamiliar with The Mountain Goats' work, Darnielle literally huddles around a boombox and records albums such as All Hails West Texas and The Hound Chronicles in real time.
All Hail West Texas is best defined as a loose concept album. While the cover of the album states "fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys." a true dialectical pathway is difficult to identify and follow.
Beside the West Texas geographical setting, the album also touches on the realities of life commonly found among West Texas residents, including depression, alcohol dependency and hopelessness. "Fault Lines" exposes the superficial existence of the young couple that seem to be the lead characters of the album as they find themselves with "the house, the jewels, the italian race car/but they don't make us feel better about who we are."
A key theme of All Hail West Texas is the quasi-freedom of youthful rebellion. William Stanaforth Donahue discovers the monetary allure of dealing drugs after his former glory as a football star is squashed after his knee buckles during an out of town game, only to end up facing federal drug charges. Jenny and her lover roar throughout lonely West Texas highways when she "points her head lamp towards the horizon/we were the one thing in the galaxy god didn't have his eye on" however they fail to find purpose in life and in each other, and slowly fall out of love. Jeff and Cyrus manifest ambitions of becoming the next stars of metal, using satanism and shock value as a springboard, only to have their dreams stifled by teachers and administrators from a school where they told Cyrus "he'd never be famous." The corrosive emptiness of the West Texas environment only packs on to the feelings of despair the characters in All Hail West Texas feel as they struggle with the harshness of life.
The lo-fi acoustics of All Hail West Texas is a perfect medium for the hopeless desolation present in Darnielle's lyrics. The soft treble and whispery static feedback makes the album feel like it is being transmitted through a distant FM radio station, perhaps the meaning behind the track titled "Distant Stations." The acoustics perfectly fit the lyrics, which perfectly fit the music, which perfectly fits the concept. All Hail West Texas strikes a chord with a sublime majesty that tumbles through crisp summer winds outside of Stockdale, Texas and creeps up to the New Mexican border, culminating in a big, orange sun that lights up magnificent silhouettes and brings night time to Texas.
"The Mess Inside"
"Chillin", the first single from the album, has already seen considerable play time on pop radio stations, a sure-fire byproduct of having the ever-controversial Lady Gaga on background vocals. Sampling "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam, Cool & Dre cooked up a catchy beat that fits the dynamic of Wale's flow and Lady Gaga's serene voice.
Wale is at his best on the most up-tempo songs on Attention Deficit. His go-go roots and subtle South African accent lend themselves to crafting a nifty hook on tracks like "TV on the Radio" and "Mirrors." While most artists use tiring gimmicks to make their music catchy, Wale's songs never come off as manufactured or soulless.
As a self-professed J. Cole fan, it comes as no surprise that "Beautiful Bliss" has quickly become my favorite track on Attention Deficit. According to his Twitter account, Wale wrote the song on the DC metro after he signed the mortgage to buy his first house. Composed around the uplifting vocals of Melanie Fiona, "Beautiful Bliss" radiates both Wale and J.Cole's passion for hip hop and personal expression. These two, along with former Degrassi star Drake, have been heralded as the "future of hip hop" for some time now, and this track may make many skeptics believers. J. Cole's verse is one of the best of 2009 as he ferociously spits "kick back and watch the sun set/kick back and know your son set/forever I ain't run yet/and never will/Nas told me life's a bitch/Pac told me fuck the world/And I ain't cum yet/You up yet?/My punchlines like gut-checks/I'm raw dog/I'm rough sex/I'm on deck/I'm up next/I'm God-blessed/I'm success/so fuck stress/You can get the fuck from round me/And if you're listening I know you're wondering where the fuck they found me/I'm from the Ville boy"
While the album does contain an endearing catchiness, there are several underwhelming songs on Attention Deficit. "Prescription" is an inherently boring listen, saved only by a Common-esque spoken word performance at the end of the track. "Shades" lacks the cunning play on words usually present in Wale tracks, consequently losing quite a bit of charm in the process. When I first found out Wale's first break out hit, "W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E." was not going to be included on Attention Deficit I wasn't too upset, however since several of the songs on the album are relatively disappointing, it's a shame that Wale's most recognizable song is missing on the track list.
Overall, Attention Deficit is a unique, creative expression of self and society, firmly influenced by the artist's roots. I'm personally looking forward to a prolific Wale career. Wale is currently on tour with Jay-Z, N.E.R.D., and J.Cole.
Review Score: 7.1/10
"Mirrors ft. Bun B"
I should stop pointing fingers; reserve my judgment of all those public action figures, the cowboy presidents. So loud behind the bullhorn so proud they can't admit when they've made a mistake. While poison ink spews from a speechwriter's pen, he knows he don't have to say it, so it, it don't bother him. "Honesty" "Accuracy" is just "Popular Opinion." And the approval rating is high, and so someone's gonna die. Well, ABC, NBC, CBS: Bullshit. They give us fact or fiction? I guess an even split. And each new act of war is tonight's entertainment. We're still the pawns in their game. As they take eye for an eye until no one can see, we must stumble blindly forward, repeating history. Well, I guess we all fit into your slogan on that fast food marquee: Red blooded, White skinned oh and the Blues.
"Lover I Don't Have to Love"
Cities soaring success can be contributed to its sparkling polish. Every note on the album was careful recorded, and producer Aaron Sprinkle did an excellent job molding Anberlin's sound to lead singer Stephen Christian's progressively introspective lyrics. In comparison to the band's sophomore release, Never Take Friendship Personal, the sound on Cities is bigger, distinct, and more full. Drummer Nathan Young provides strong, driving beats that allow the songs on Cities to retain the catchiness of Anberlin's previous releases, while abandoning the light hearted pop style of BPFTBM and NTFP.
Highlights from Cities include the anthem-esque "Godspeed." Led by blazing guitar riffs, Christian's vocal performance is top-notch as he hauntingly whispers "they lied when they said that the good die young" in the bridge between choruses.
Cities is an album that should not be praised for its vision or creativity, but rather for the pure excellence of its recording. Every track is distinct and powerful, wrapped in a neat package that pays perfect tribute to Anberlin's strengths. Stephen Christian's lyrics and vocal performance on Cities are among the best of the decade in alternative rock.
One drawback to digital media is the decrease in audio quality. Modern recording studios compose tracks in huge, lossless files that are then burned to physical CDs. No drop in audio quality occurs in this process, however as soon as the CD is deposited into a computer to rip the music into .mp3 files there is a huge drop in quality as the analog data on the CD is converted to bytes of 1's and 0's. This drop is only amplified once the .mp3 files are dumped on to an iPod and listened to through low grade ear buds. This decrease in quality is hardly noticed by the average listener and definitely is not a drastic enough shortcoming to threaten digital music's throne in the industry.
As I stated on my first entry in this series on the decade in music, the music industry finds itself at a crossroad in 2009. Certainly digital media provides music consumers with many advantages, however the industry needs to solidify its stances. Should physical recordings be abandoned? Should the music industry continue its vicious crusade on piracy? Do record label CEOs even care to address these issues as they witness record profits? As the questions pile up, it is apparent that the next decade of music will be just as controversial as the last.
This decade has been a transitional period for music. Fueled by the advancement of technology and social networking, the inner workings of the music industry have been fundamentally shifted. New inventions like the 808 drum machine, auto tune vocal processing and computer-controlled synthesizers have musicians struggling to find a balance between the ease and financial advantage of composing their music electronically while juggling with the authenticity needed to keep artists' work justifiable in regards to artistic integrity. In the 70's Bob Dylan was ripped for moving from acoustic to electronic guitar. This decade saw similar controversies arise in countless scenarios such as hip hop artist experimenting with "techno" beats, automated drum machines in recording studios, and exponentially active producers injecting layer upon layer of samplings into tracks.
Please note that the albums that I will be featuring in this series are NOT ranked in any way, shape or form. They all deserve equal respect in their own fashion due to their intrinsic quality and the impact they left on the music scene. These albums will NOT be graded on a scale.
Kanye West- The College Dropout
Both a commercial and critical success, Dropout made Kanye West a house hold name, standing right alongside the heavy weights of the rap game such as Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Most notably, Dropout solidified West's position as the most creative producer in hip hop, a consensus that began to form after his work on Jay-Z's The Blueprint album.
Dropout spawned many hits, including "Jesus Walks" (11 on U.S. Billboard) "All Falls Down" feat. Syleena Johnson (7 on U.S. Billboard) "Through the Wire" (15 on U.S. Billboard) and "Slow Jamz" feat. Twista, Jamie Foxx (1 on U.S. Billboard.)
College Dropout is a hip hop classic not because of the hit singles it contains, but rather the pure quality of the album. Well produced, well written, and well marketed, Kanye West single handedly took on the hip hop industry with his first release and consequently altered the previously accepted notions of a genre that was slipping into stagnation.
"Napalm & Nitrogen" runs at 31 minutes, with 11 songs about an aging punk rocker bitching and whining about how the world has left him behind. Attica! Attica! consist of Aaron Scott (formerly of De La Hoya and Marathon) and a couple of washed up punk rockers he could scrounge up to accompany him on tour for a week or two.
Aaron's songs are very catchy and sing along friendly, however the lyrics are elementary and off putting. Countless music aficionados accuse younger folk song writers like Conor Oberst of being "too whiney, bordering on emo," but when an older guy like Aaron relates the popularity of the President among songwriters to "the death of art" without being scolded forces me to raise the hypocrisy card.
Without exaggerating, every single track on "Napalm & Nitrogen" somehow relates to Aaron's depression, loneliness, or angst for happy teenagers. It's repetitive, annoying, and overall frustrating.
Don’t bother with TV
The networks never show the Broncos, it’s regional coverage
They do it to spite me
Why go out to the street? I hate the neighbors
How am I supposed to act like Elway if they won’t let me play QB
Yep, those are actual lyrics from this album. If you can get past the lyrics, 'Napalm & Nitrogen" is a pretty fun listen. Several songs have gang vocals and string sections making Attica! Attica! a great band to listen to with friends around. If shallow lyrics don't phase you, you may very well enjoy "Napalm & Nitrogen." And hey, it's free so you might as well give it a shot.
Review Score: 5.1/10
Download "Napalm & Nitrogen" here- http://atticaattica.org/download/