Reviewing the Decade in Music: Entry #5

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.

The influence of West Texas on the album is immeasurable, so much so that the charm of the album may be difficult to adopt for listeners that have never had the... pleasure?.. to "switch to 285 in Pecos and head up to Red Bluff" however anyone who has ever found themselves lost in the West Texas desert with sweat trickling down their forehead and tumbleweed rolling alongside the highway will be able to imagine what Darnielle sees as he wrote songs like "Jeff Davis County Blues."

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"


Wale- Attention Deficit

After a decade long romp in the underground mixtape scene, Wale has finally released his first full length album, Attention Deficit on Interscope Records. A star-studded affair, Wale's freshman release is a promising hip hop album, carefully balancing smooth beats with poetic lyrics. The hip hop industry really came to Wale's support on the album, as Attention Deficit features collaboration from Bun B, Lady Gaga, J. Cole, Knaan, Gucci Mane, Pharrell and several other prominent artists.

"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

"Beautiful Bliss"

"Mirrors ft. Bun B"


Reviewing the Decade in Music: Entry #4

Coupled with the rise of indie rock in the 2000s, folk music has made a forceful resurgance. Leading the way in this rennaisance is Omaha, NE native Conor Oberst. Oberst, best known for his most succesful band, Bright Eyes, refueled mainstream interest in folk by reiterating the traits that led to the folk explosion of the 1960s-beautifully crafted lyrics and unabashed political activism.

Bright Eyes' commercial and critical acclaim reached a pinnacle point in 2002 with the release of Lifted, or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. With 13 tracks, most of which weigh in at over six minutes, Lifted is an arduous, yet rewarding listen. Oberst is quoted as saying he sought to create a "grandiose" sound on Lifted that he couldn't really put in to words. Several tracks include a grainy noise layer, giving the songs a warm and comforting feel that sharply contrast with Oberst's painfully woeful lyrics. Lively guitar licks and raspy snare hits keep songs like "Method Acting" bursting with energy, while more passive tracks such as "Don't Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come" and "Nothing Gets Crossed Out" rely on merely a stripped down acoustic guitar chord pattern or methodical piano section to underlie Oberst's vocals.

The brilliance of Lifted comes upon inspection of Oberst's heartfelt lyrics. Whether it be the cognative stream of conciousness on "The Big Picture" or the narrative driven "Bowl of Oranges," every song paints its own intrinsicly beautiful picture. The lust on "Lover I Don't Have to Love" is very tangible while we can all identify with the sentiments of impermanence in "Method Acting." In retrospect, it's very easy to see that Oberst aptly described the Bush era in the United States with "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)."

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.

There are no weak tracks on Lifted, however some may find the methodically slow tracks like "Don't Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come" to be off-putting. Even when the tempo is lethargic, the emotional and intellectual intensity of the album never wavers, and this is where Lifted excels as an indie folk record. It is a harrowing inspection of self and environment that refuses to pacify its fervor.

"Method Acting"

"Lover I Don't Have to Love"


Reviewing the Decade in Music: Entry #3

High on my list of top albums from the decade is Anberlin's Cities. Following up Anberlin's Blueprints for the Black Market and Never Take Friendship Personal, Cities was an uncharacteristically dark album, lush with powerful imagery and mature themes. Released on February 20, 2007, Cities saw relativly strong sales for an alternative rock release on a mid-sized record label (Tooth and Nail, Seattle) as the album debuted at  #19 on the US Billboard sales chart and reached number seven in top album sales on iTunes. Music critics fell in love with Cities, as a negative review is difficult to find.

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.

"Dismantle. Repair" is structured around a spacey guitar rhythm that leads into a hard-hitting chorus that features some of Christian's best vocal presentation on the album. The real head turner on Cities is the brilliant, nine minute opera, "Fin." A very low tempo melody provides a strong backing for Christian's powerful lyrics at the beginning of the track, while building up to a loud guitar section and a stifling performance from Christian. The rest of the track basks in the emotional remains of the first four minutes of the song,  including backing vocals from a children's choir.

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.




Reviewing the Decade in Music: Entry #2

On October 23, 2001, the face of music changed profoundly. The computer hardware company Apple unveiled a new line of pocket-sized music players, capable of carrying over 1,000 .mp3 or ACC files stored on a mini hard drive. While the iPod was not the first .mp3 player on the market, its sleek user interface and trendy complexion led to an explosion in the electronics market, spelling out death for personal CD and cassette players.

The birth and success of the iPod is significant because it encouraged the music industry to move away from the CD format in favor of digital media. The ease and relative inexpensiveness of buying music via iTunes and other mp3 electronic warehouses in the 21st century has boosted music sales by over 37% per year, regardless of what anti-piracy gurus at the MIAA would like you to believe.

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.

The impact of the digitalization of music has led to increased sales, thanks to the proliferation of music piracy. That's right. The ease at which music can be bought also mirrors to the ease at which music can be stolen. While music piracy is soaring through the roof, so are sales. Surely there is a correlation between the two. While there are indeed countless scum bags that are more than willing to take any product with out paying, music piracy introduces consumers to new groups, albums and artists that they will be inclined to support financially through purchasing future releases, attending concert dates, and spurring merchandise sales. Personally, it would be fiscally impossible for me to purchase music from every artist and band I am interested in. While I do pirate music, I also buy more than my fair share of albums and .mp3s. My music piracy impels me to purchase more music because I sincerely strive to support quality art.

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.


Reviewing the Decade in Music: Entry #1

With there being only two lone months left in the 2000's I have decided to trek back and pay tribute to some of the best releases we've seen since the infamous Y2K scare.

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

The first album, and perhaps the only debut release, is Kanye West's The College Dropout. Released on February 10, 2004, Dropout signaled a shift away from gang banging themes and profanity-laden lyrics in hip hop. While his counterparts were occupied with lines about pushing crack and peddling dope, West rapped about religion, self resilience, the nature of art and even the horrors of the inner-city education system.

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.)

West's lyrical prowress is evident on Dropout. The paradoxical contrasts Kanye draws between his underground rapper and star producer dual identities is aptly portrayed in the track "Breath in, Breathe out," where West rambles the lines "First nigga with a Benz and a backpack/ Ice chain, Cardi lens and a knapsack." Some of West's best lyrics come to fruitation on "Never Let Me Down" when he addresses the social image of African Americans that worship rap stars and put forth nothing more than political apathy while living immersed in an Anglo-Saxon dominated culture.

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.


Attica! Attica! "Napalm & Nitrogen"

Often in music the age-old adage "You get what you pay for" is routinely rebutted by outstanding free releases. Taking a look at bands like Bomb the Music Industry! Cheap Girls, and O'Pioneers! proves my point. Unfortunately, folk band Attica! Attica!'s latest release leaves listeners feeling like they were ripped off, even if the album was free.

"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
Believe it

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/


The xx- xx

I must shamefully admit that I do not like *almost all* British music. Whether it be The Who, The Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, or even The freakin' Clash, I have never felt a connection to music from across the pond for some unknown reason.

That being said, I am extremely impressed with The xx. This quartet of 20 year old Brits' debut album, xx, is reminiscent of Depeche Mode in their prime, harrowing back to the fledgling synth-pop scene of the 80's. The music is very low key; xx is a perfect album to throw on the iPod for late night writing sessions or some sensual love making. The album's composition is very smooth and settling, a dire contrast to the displacing "noise" movement that is currently sweeping indie pop with reckless abandon.

Co-vocalists Oliver Sim and Romy Madley lead the band with their harmonic, healing voices, elevating the music to a near supernatural aura. Since the band's emphasis is definitely focused on the vocals, the slow paced electronic beats on xx could not be more appropriate.

Singles from xx include "Heart Skipped a Beat," "Crystalised," and "Basic Space." My personal favorite, "Heart Skipped a Beat," is arguably the catchiest song on the album. Sim and Madley's voices contrast subtly in this track then sensually harmonize on the chorus, metaphoric of virgin sex- the theme of the song. "Crystalised" opens with alternating verses from Sim and Madley that create a conversational feel for the track. "Basic Space" is a bit more staccato than the rest of the album, yet it still feels completely in place. This goes to show the strength of xx- every track has an extremely unique sound, yet they all compliment one another perfectly. Not a single track comes off as misplaced or confused, quite an extraordinary accomplishment for a few 20 year olds that produced their own album with little guidance from music gurus.

xx has been received phenomenally well by music critics world wide since its August 17th release on Turk Records (October 20th in the states). The xx is amassing hype like the first snowball of winter, and have begin planning their first North America tour, which will assuredly feature performances on late night television shows. xx is a great album, from a young band with no where to go but up. There is a lot of opportunity to burst to stardom in indie pop, and I believe The xx will ride the coat tails of electro-centric bands like She Wants Revenge and The Postal Service to mainstream success.

Review score: 7.8 out of 10

Here's the music video for "Crystalised."


Media Goodies 10/06/2009

Here's a taste of what I've been listening to the past few weeks. This is just a hold over until I decide which album I want to review next. Talk to me in the comments sections, I want to know what you guys would like to see featured on the blog. More media? More reviews? More artist profiles? Also, I'd like to thank you guys for your support. This week I had 1,000 hits and 650 unique site visitors. That amount of traffic simply blew me away, you guys are awesome. Enjoy!

Why?- "The Vowels Pt. 2"

This experimental hip-hop is disturbing, nasty, dark, catchy and oh-so-good. Check it out.

Dear and the Headlights- "Bad News"

Vampire Weekend- "Horchata"

From their upcoming release, "Contra," this single displays Vampire Weekend's growth. I am personally hyped for "Contra" and I was NOT a fan of their first album.

Sleepercar- "West Texas"

Sleepercar is Jim Ward's alt-country experiment band. "West Texas" captured the atmosphere of the region Ward grew up in, which is something I love seeing from artists. I've been listening to this song this week, trying to lull myself to sleep.

Wale- "Chillin' ft. Lady Gaga"

Wale and Lady Gage. Does it get better? I think not.

Frank Turner- "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous"

One of my favorite British song writers.


Introducing: Mike Posner and the Brain Trust

Anyone sitting on a multi-million dollar record deal and still taking college classes garners my respect. Mike Posner is an emerging songwriter and hip hop artist from Michigan. A born musician, Posner was primed for success at a young age. Despite signing to J Records (Mario, Jamie Foxx, Pitbull) in August, Mike chose to enroll at Duke University for his final senior semester to receive his bachelors degree in both business as well as sociology.

This March, Posner released his first mixtape, "A Matter of Time" receiving widespread acclaim throughout underground hip hop circles. Another excellent production from Don Cannon and DJ Benzi, "A Matter of Time" has been a huge success for Posner. Evident of his widespread appeal, the mixtape soared to the #1 spot on iTunesU free download section.

Posner's music can be described as hip pop: vocal-centric, radio friendly, and appealing to a wide range of demographics. Posner's talent is lucidly apparent on "A Matter of Time." To get an idea of how skilled Posener is, "Still Not Over You feat. Eric Holljes" samples The Fray's hit "Over My Head". Mike sings verses that are, for a lack of a better explanation, not quite hip hop, and not quite pop. Other songs on the mixtape include "Drug Dealer Girl" and sleeper-hit "Smoke & Drive feat. Big Sean."

Mike already has made huge contributions to the hip hop scene. He has appeared on tracks with Kid Cudi, Wale, Drake, DONNIS, and many other hip hop heavy weights. As Posner continues to study at Duke, maintaining a high GPA, he plays shows weekly at southern universities across the US. He has completed recording his second mixtape, "One Foot Out The Door" which will be released on October 29th through his new home, J Records. Posner is currently in the production stage of his debut album, which will of course be reviewed here on Think Fast, Live fast.

To wrap things up, Mike Posner is a name music fans need to familiarize with. It won't be long until Posner begins to dominate the air waves, in fact, it's only a matter of time.

Click Here to Download "A Matter of Time"


fun. "Aim and Ignite"

Can anyone think of a band that fulfills their name as well as fun. does? This electric trio makes indie pop music with one goal in mind: Have fun! Led by Nate Ruess, formerly of The Format, fun. released their debut album named "Aim and Ignite" on August 25, 2009. This album is a real charmer. While fairly light in content, "Aim and Ignite" is capable of lifting spirits and putting a smile on faces.

fun. is an extremely unique, yet talented group. Musical comparisons can span from 70's pop to swing to Weezer, proving the band with an extremely specified sound. What differentiates fun. from other indie pop bands (Miniature Tigers, Phoenix) is their sheer instrumental skill.Their music is outstandingly well composed and feels fresh, innovative and inspired. It would be negligent to not praise Ruess' vocal performance on the album. While his voice is notably high, he possesses astonishing range which lends itself well to his soulful presentation.

Although "Aim and Ignite" is a very exciting release, it is not without flaws. While the musical composition is superb, the album's production fails to provide the instrumentation with its proper due, instead focusing on Ruess' similarly impressive vocal performance. The only problem with this seemingly permissible flaw is that it is fun.'s music that provides it flair and style, not Ruess' singing.

While every track on the album is worth a listen, "Aim and Ignite" feels more like a glorified EP than a truly fleshed out album.

Review Score: 6.5 out of 10

Amazon .mp3


Joe Pug- Pioneer of a New Americana

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Joe Pug. Joe is a man as weathered as his raspy voice, with lyrics that shine a beacon of enlightenment, emancipating human emotions from the souls of both artist and audience.

Pug was born in North Carolina, where we would attend the University of North Carolina while working on a stage production dubbed "Austin Fish." Upon the advent of his senior year, Joe decided he was desperately unhappy in North Carolina and abruptly moved to Chicago. Perhaps seeking purpose, Pug began to play guitar again, a hobby he had not practiced in years.

As Pug's interest in producing his play dampened, he began to construct songs around the play's content. What little cash Joe had at the time went towards impromptu studio sessions. Pug's simplistic approach allowed him to complete a seven song EP in just a few weeks.

Featuring little more than an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and Pug himself, Nation of Heat seems nearly counterculture in an era that embraces complicated production and high tech audio engineering. This promising release has already caught the ear of music critics across the country, paving the way for Pug to perform at numerous music festivals including Lollapalooza, South by Southwest and Bonnaroo.

The universal appeal of Joe Pug derives from his simplicity, honesty, and the brutality of his disturbingly truthful lyrics. Nation of Heat represents a strong leap backwards. Pug courageously steps away from modern music and echoes the style of Bob Dylan while incorporating themes and motifs exclusive to the 21st century. While Pug's music may echo the past, his lyrics are ahead of their time.

As he finishes production of his debut album, Pug has made a free EP named In the Meantime available to fans. If Pug visits your town, go to a show. The next time he returns it may be in a sold out stadium.

Joe Pug's Website
Excellent fan-produced music video for Nation of Heat
Daytrotter Session


"Man on the Moon: The End of Days"- Kid CuDi

It seems that just when a music genre is hitting rock bottom, a savior emerges from the dredges to resurrect that particular brand of music to its former glory. To say that hip hop is dead in a world in which “rappers” wear their sister’s jeans, emblaze themselves in colors only the Easter Bunny could be proud of, manipulate their voices through computer synthetic programs and steal beats from bands like “3oh3!” would be a disturbing understatement. The intelligence and creativity that once flourished in the 90’s hip hop scene is now gone, replaced by music that comes off like a get rich quick scheme. As Jay-Z put it in so aptly in his latest hit, “Death of Auto Tune”, “No lyin, your n*ggas’ jeans too tight/Your colors too bright, your voice too light”.

Last week I was convinced that hip hop needed a drastic revamp. Some emcee needed to come along with something new. Hip hop fans worldwide were desperate for a colossal breath of fresh air.

September 15th changed the face of hip hop indefinitely. Rather than basking in the quick “ringtone cash” that artists such as Soulja Boy are reveling in, a young man named Scott Mescudi from Cleveland, Ohio choose another route. Better known by his stage name, Kid CuDi, Mescudi took a genre void of originality and turned it upon its head.

Kid CuDi’s debut album, “Man on the Moon: The End of Days” is a riveting, refreshing release from an artist burdened with ceiling high expectations. The brilliance of MOTM is very easy to explain. While most emcees are more than comfortable with employing producers that spit out cliché boom bap beats (Yes Timbaland, I’m looking at you) Kid CuDi challenges himself to mold his lyrics and flow to excellent beats, rather than forcing generic beats to compliment his vocal performance. Featuring a symphonic sound, CuDi’s songs float and glide through 58 minutes and 31 seconds of raw emotion.

The structure of the album is simply genius. While many artists narrate their albums, very few rappers have the confidence to allow the narration to encompass the album, much less direct the album’s very existence and direction. Kid CuDi could not have chosen a better narrator. Common, with a voice ripe with intelligence and wisdom, speaks to the audience about Scott Mescudi’s life perils, pains and pleasures through five theatrical acts containing a total of 15 scenes.

Act I: “The End of Day” details CuDi’s maturation and abandonment of childhood. “In My Dreams (Cudder Anthem)” is one of the more mellow tracks on the album in which Mescudi seems to enter one of his many dream like states. As the track ends and the beat fades into the ether, Common begins his first narration, an extremely epic one at that.

Long before we know ourselves, our paths are already set in stone. Some may never figure out their purpose in life, and some will. There are a lot of us who are caught up in this hell we all live in, Contempt with being blinded by rules and judgment. We live in a world where it’s more okay to follow than to lead, in this world being a leader is trouble for the system we are all accustomed to, being a leader in this day and age is being a threat. Not many people stood up against the system we all call life, but towards the end of our first ten years into the millennium, We heard a voice, a voice who was speaking to us from the underground for some time, a voice who spoke of vulnerabilities and other human emotions and issues never before heard so vividly and honest. This is the story of a young man who not only believed in himself but his dreams too. This is the story of the man on the moon.”

This harrowing epilogue sets the tone for the duration of the album; a young man fighting against every sentiment that fame, pressure and drugs can implant in a man’s mind. The next song in Act I, “Soundtrack to my Life” tells the story of Mescudi’s adolescence, namely hopping in and out of poverty, his father passing away at a young age, and failing to instill connections with women. One of the top songs on the album, “Soundtrack to My Life” highlights CuDi’s ability to weave simple lyrics with complex emotions. The final song in Act I is “Simple As”. Produced by Plain Pat, CuDi spits his monotone flow over a sampling that belongs in a children’s book, not a rap track. The irony is outstanding, as the production on this song is extremely advanced, yet samples an elementary recitation to spawn an insanely catchy beat. The end of the song dawns the advent of Act II: “The Rise of the Night Terrors”.

Act II signifies Mescudi’s entrance into a new life of responsibility. Unable to cope with his faults and fallacies, CuDi delves into a world of depression and anguish. “Solo Dolo (Nightmare)” is, honestly, a painful song to listen to. CuDi’s lyrics raise questions that demand introspection from his listeners. Second in Act II is “Heart of a Lion (Kid CuDi Theme Music)” I have no doubt that this song will be used by the NFL or NBA in an advertisement series due to its high tempo and lifting lyrics- “at the end of the day I’m walking with the heart of a lion.” The final song of Act II adopts the same style of “In My Dreams.” Billy Cravens provides the bridge on the track with his chilling echo of “I told you so, this will be my world.”

As Mescudi leaves listeners feel cold and abandoned, Act II suddenly melts into Act III as “Day and Night” begins to hypnotize with his whirling beat. Act III is entitled “Taking a Trip” and revolves around Mescudi’s attempt to combat his sorrows and insecurities through drug use. There is no need for me to discuss Day and Night, as it has been whored over the air waves for half a year now, and remixed by every wannabe rapper on Myspace, which speaks volumes to CuDi’s weight in the rap game. The next scene in Act III is “Sky Might Fall”, produced by Kanye West. Of all the tracks on the album that address profound feelings, I believe “Sky Might Fall” surpasses them all. Mescudi’s desolation is apparent and West’s production couldn’t have fit the mood of the album any better. Following “Sky Might Fall” is “Enter Galactic (Love Connection Pt 1)”. With its spastic beat and flirtatious lyrics, “Enter Galactic” should be a hit in the clubs.

Act IV: “Stuck” finds CuDi at a particular time in his growth. After inhabitating his new substance supported home, Mescudi finds himself simply “Alive”, the first track of Act IV. Subtitled “Nightmare”, CuDi’s life is improving, yet he still feels trapped by his work and struggle. CuDi’s lyrics tell of his lonely travels into the night, alone in the city and intoxicated. This is the only time he experiences the feelings of happiness and self acceptance that have hid from him his entire life. Following Mescudi’s discovery of these foreign sentiments, he engages in a crusade to stay in his “CuDi Zone”. In this new state Scott worships his new mental phase in which he soars through life, high not only on drugs but also intoxicated by his own positive feelings. Third in Act IV is “Make Her Say”, featuring Kanye West and Common. Produced by West, “Make Her Say” samples Lady Gaga’s hit single “Poker Face”. Integrated with old school scratching and catchy “oh’s” from the Gaga sample, this track’s beat is one of the best of the year. Furthermore, Kanye’s verse is simply outstanding. Flush with sexual innuendos, West somehow managed to use sexual jokes to display his striking intelligence. The final song in Act IV is the album’s next inherent hit, “Pursuit of Happiness”. Accompanying Kid CuDi on this track is RATATAT and indie rock superstars MGMT. Glazed over with harmonious electric guitar riffs and reverberating bells, “Pursuit of Happiness” achieves an otherworldly aura of bliss. I admittedly get goose bumps when MGMT and CuDi sing in harmony “everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold. I’ll be fine when I get it, yeah, I’ll be good”. “Pursuit of Happiness” is the most ambitious song on the album, most definitely a lofty statement. Collaborating with an indie rock group is simply unheard of for a rap artist, yet Kid CuDi took a chance and produced what may be the top single of 2009. This success will lead other hip hop artists to experiment with cross genre projects without fearing mainstream rejection.

The final act of the album, Act V:"A New Beginning” embarks with “Hyyerr” an extremely slow paced bone thug-esque blazing anthem. “Hyyerr” does not gel with the rest of the album in the least bit. I would have much preferred Mescudi chose one of his songs from the mix tape “A Kid Named CuDi” to fill this spot in the track list, perhaps “Man on the Moon” or “Down and Out”. Rounding out the album is “Up Up and Away (The Wake and Bake Song)”. Following sharply in the artistic direction of “Pursuit of Happiness”, “Up Up and Away” is a breezy song that provides the album with the same sense of completion that Mescudi must have felt once he completed writing “The Man on the Moon”. CuDi’s lyrics hit his newfound carefree attitude spot on with the line “I be up up and away, up up and away, cuz they gonna judge me anyway, so whatever”. As the lifting buzz of the song dims, Common returns once again with a soliloquy to valiantly end the theatrical performance, as well as the album.

The impact of this mutinous release on the rap game remains to be seen. Whether or not Kid CuDi managed to alter the way hip hop artists operate in the next millennium will not be realized for months, however; when one looks at the risks Kid CuDi took in creating this album, one cannot help but hope he has challenged fellow artists to reexamine the music that they are making and what the definition of “hip hop” is in the year 2009.

Review score: 10 out of 10


Mean Everything to Nothing - Manchester Orchestra

Just in case you missed the memo, Manchester Orchestra front man Andy Hull is the most promising artist in indie rock today. Mean Everything to Nothing is a powerful, moving follow up to Manchester Orchestra's rookie release, I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child. Featuring 11 tracks, this LP ranges from poppy, feel-good rock to harrowing acoustic tales of lost love and jaded soul searching.

Although Mean Everything to Nothing is certainly not a concept album, the narrative weaves from happiness to heartbreak with a precise accuracy. The first five songs on the album shy from the solemnity of the second half of the record, with the sixth track, 100 Dollars, providing the disambiguating catapult to emotional tumult. The last five pieces of musical beauty cover such mature themes that is extremely difficult to believe Hull is a mere 21 years old.

Mean Everything to Nothing has achieved both critical and commercial success since it's April 21st release, and with good cause. Few albums are able to capture both sides of the human emotional spectrum with such brilliant proficiency. All music fans should give this LP a try, especially fans of Brand New.

Review Score: 9.5/10


Midnight at the Movies - Justin Townes Earle

Hate country music? Yeah me too. But don’t write the genre off just yet. The past month I have been habitually listening to this jewel of an album from Justin Townes Earle, son of the notorious musician and political activist Steve Townes Earle. Justin shuns the Happy Meal daddy time, rhinestone cowboy dress up, CMT bullshit that has polluted the country genre that Johnny Cash refined. Townes packs his songs with folk twang rhythms and honest-to-God lyrics that seem priceless in the 21st century. After hearing “Someday I’ll Be Forgiven for This” (and giving myself a few minutes to bawl) for the first time, I bought the CD. Townes Earle’s lyrics pack an emotional punch that will choke you up. There isn’t much I can do to sell this album to you other than ensure you that this is real, legit, grown man country music. Check out the title track, “Midnight at the Movies” as well as “Mama’s Eyes” if you don’t believe me.`

Review Score: 9 out of 10


Mama, I'm Swollen - Cursive

What the hell happened here? 

Mama, I'm Swollen was released on the indie-friendly Saddle Creek record label (Bright Eyes,Sorry About Dresden, Tokyo Police Club, Art in Manila, Criteria) this February. I am sad to report, this album is void of any emotional edge or flavor of any sense. As is the established norm with Cursive, lyrics include a pretentious attempt to mirror the highly intellectual words of other alt-indie artists. Problem is, these guys simply are not that smart.

This album is boring, lifeless and heartless. Of the ten songs on the album, I only particularly enjoyed "In the Now," "From the Hips," and "Mama, I'm Satan." In the Now is a rock-driven anthem song with lyrics proclaiming ignorance as bliss, "Don't want to live in the now! Don't want to know what I know!" From the Hips is a sexy tune addressing human's aptitude for communication through body contact. Good shit. Lastly, the only song that is truly worth your time on this album is the beautiful "Mama, I'm Satan." The song fluctuates from serene to haunting. Smooth music accompanies light lyrics for the first few seconds of the song until Tim Kasher reminds us ignorant music addicts - "The ego of mankind stirs in us all." This quasi ballad then assumes the role of a chilling expose of the evil in society's collective soul. Yeah, this song is gnarly, but it alone is not enough to save this album.

Review Score: 6 out of 10

Wait scratch that, just found out one of the band members shares the name of the Alaskan senator that created the bill funding the "Bridge to Nowhere."

Review Score: 5 out of 10


It's Great to Be Alive - Fake Problems

Released on February 17th, 2009, "It's Great to Be Alive" has already solidified it's spot as one of the top indie rock Cd's of the year. This organically beautiful album is the sophomore release of Naples, FL based Fake Problems. The follow up to the critically acclaimed "How Far Our Bodies Go", ITGTBA is a representation of the band's maturation. With a new found, subtle edge, Chris Farren now tackles issues such as frilly materialism in women, spirituality struggles, abusive relationships, and the human race's condition of inflated ego - "pretend your something more than you, but your not."

Fake Problem's music has improved exponentially. Bells and whistles are heard throughout the album ( I saw to god I heard a glockenspiel on Diamond Rings) and Heart BPM includes quite possibly the most moving guitar solo of the year. Sean Stevenson's drum performance on the album is remarkable, moving smoothly from staccato snare taps to filling tom beats. Farren's voice is much more diverse and satisfying, high lights include Don't Worry Baby and the emotional Heart BPM. The ever present cow bell is still around in IGTBA, however while it was starkly annoying and distracting in Fake Problem's previous album, they have somehow discovered a way to make Will Ferrell's instrument of choice into a legit musical piece.

Overall, "It's Great to Be Alive" is simply a pleasure to listen to.  The guys from Fake Problems should be applauded for straddling that fine line between releasing a rehash of their previous success and completely abandoning their established fan base. This album is a cherished piece of my musical collection. Fake Problems is currently on tour with the venerated Riverboat Gamblers who are promoting their newest release, "Underneath the Owl."

Review Score: 9 out of 10