We all have that one person in our life who we cannot quit. No matter how hard we try, we always come back to him or her. For me, it is because I take solace in knowing I am wanted by that person.
It feels good to be wanted.
But as easy as it is to take two steps back, it should not be done. There’s a reason we’re not still with that person: he or she gradually poisons us into becoming a worse version of ourselves. Like with a drug, no hit, however heavy the dosage, beats the blissful and brain-melting rush of the first; we are, however, hooked.
Breaking this vicious cycle of self-validation through reaffirmation from the former [insert whatever hybrid of girlfriend/friend/hook-up is normal nowadays] is a bitch.
Yeah, that’s all I got. I don’t have any pretentious advice for you on how to break out of the cycle. I’m pretty bad at this stuff. You could probably Dr. Phil it or something. And yeah, I did just use “Dr. Phil” as a verb.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of the head versus the heart; the conflicting ideologies of the right and left-sides of our brains. On one hand, we have calculated, analytical thought reminding us we are rooted in reality. One the other hand, we have our reckless and impulsive intuition driven by endorphins, whispering best-case scenarios and setting ourselves aflutter.
Every one of us experiences both sides of this Great War; it is our decision at the point of no return that defines who we are. Those siding with the head settle for stability and predictability. The sure thing, if you will. Those with an instinct for the heart risk everything for the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Anything but the sure thing.
Go forth, my fellow irrational souls. May the odds be ever in your favor.
“Waste” is my most popular and well-received original. It has comprised over 50% of my total plays on SoundCloud! It is built off a verse and melody I wrote back in high school, but I only penned the chorus and bridge, and pieced the song together over a two-day span in December 2013.
I deliberately restrained myself from adding any additional embellishments to the meat-and-potatoes of the track in order for the melody to stand out. As a result, “Waste” is a single guitar accompanying unharmonized vocals.
I felt this was necessary because “Waste” is, out of the tracks on my EP, the one that hits closest to home. While the other originals take inspiration from my life events, “Waste” is completely rooted in reality; it is literally a the story of my life. “Waste” is me at my rawest, truest, most genuine. It is me not cowering behind the elaborate guise of metaphor and simile. Take that, AP English.
“Waste” is quite cliché, but as the cliché goes, “there’s a reason something is cliché.” Keep calm and cliché on.
I miss the days when my friends and I made mix CDs for each other. I would spend hours scrolling through my iTunes, making 16-song playlists for each friend, never using the same song twice. I would consider the merits of each song carefully: Will she like this song? How hard is he going to judge me for listening to Colbie Caillat? Is this the right track order, or should I have the Jason Mraz one before The Fray to balance it out? Maybe I should make it so the song titles spell out her name acrostically?
I miss making “album art.” Thinking of a clever name for the mix. Writing out the track listing on the back of the cover. Deciding whether or not to include the artist’s name alongside the title. Including an inside joke only the two of us would understand. Signing my name with one of those “S” doodles (yeah, you know the one) everyone used to chain during math class.
I miss putting the blank CD into my laptop and praying, oh praying to god iTunes wouldn’t fuck up. I miss the 50% success rate. The cacophonous whirring of my Windows XP laptop. The insurmountable joy of seeing the “Burn Complete” notification. Ejecting the CD drive and putting the mix into a jewel case. Using the $1.09 magenta Sharpie I bought at Hastings to decorate the plastic. Taking the CD and putting it in my stereo to make sure it worked. Ending up listening to the entire mix with the biggest grin on my face.
I miss giving these mixes to my friends. Seeing their faces light up. Watching intently as they read the text on the inside jacket, desperately hoping they’d get the joke, then grinning as a smile slowly spread across their face. Hearing the “thank you!”s and “you’re the best!”s and knowing they truly meant it. Having them Facebook message me that night telling me their favorite songs from my mix.
I miss getting CDs in return. Appreciating the thoughtful album art. Eagerly reading the inscriptions on the inside cover. Listening to each song end-to-end and knowing they chose each song for a reason. Trying to guess that reason. Playing my favorite songs from each mix over and over. Googling the lyrics to those songs so I could find out the artists. Listening to these artists. Downloading their albums and adding to my library, so I would never run out of fresh songs to include on my mixes.
It’s been a while since I’ve given or received a physical mix CD. Just as communication has (d)evolved, so has the art of discovering music. Sharing a Spotify playlist with someone just isn’t the same.
So this year, I am making a conscious effort to resume giving out these mixes. Because I miss everything about the mix CD. Because I’m an analog man stuck in a digital world. Because I want others to feel the same. Because I want to kick nostalgia in the balls and welcome back the good old days.
Hopefully, some of my friends still have CD players they can use to listen to my mixes.
Top 40 darling Ke$ha has released a music video to her upcoming single, “C’Mon.”
The video starts with our beloved Ke$ha doing a stellar white-trash-beautiful impression, arriving to work at the aptly-named Awful House restaurant carrying her trademark “DGAF” attitude. The plot is similar to the 2005 film Waiting… starring Ryan Reynolds; Ke$h is an unhappy waitress stuck with disgusting coworkers at a miserable job serving ungrateful customers. One customer serves the straw that breaks her back, and Ke$ha quits. We see her step outside and board a resplendent 1960’s hippie-wagon driven by somebody in a cat costume. Cue the music.
Ke$ha, dressed to go to Coachella, brings the party (would it even be a Ke$ha music video without a party scene?) to her tour bus, where she is joined by more of her animal costume-wearing brethren. Think the animal outfits worn by Taylor Swift’s band in her “Never Ever” music video, but less “inspired by adorable stuffed animals” and more “inspired by a psychedelic peyote bender.” The wild crew then hits up the “corner Maxi Mart,” obliterating well-stocked shelves and causing more damage than the Allstate “Mayhem” guy. Because all convenience stores have a “dance mode” button, it is activated and viewers witness a Maxi Mart rave. We see Ke$h fiercely bring a baseball bat to a piñata caricature of her Awful House boss.
By the time the song’s bridge arrives, Ke$ha is riding a BMW bike (a lengthy, obvious shot of the Bavarian logo gives it away) on her way back to Awful House. Alongside the final chorus, Ke$ha and her animal friends barge into the restaurant, and take revenge on her former employers by wreaking some major havoc. As with Waiting…, we are left feeling satisfied with the outcome. Per usual with Ke$ha, a dance party ensues.
With its huge, anthem chorus and typical Ke$ha flair, there is no question this song will be a commercial success; we will be playing it at parties and hearing it on the radio sooner than later. However, the music video is just as, if not more, captivating than the song itself.
Pusha T’s first release of 2013 is a collaborative effort with the Teflon Don himself. As the title suggests, the track revolves around the rappers’ penchant for practicing a luxurious lifestyle.
The refrain is excessively simple, consisting of the lines “Millions in the ceiling / Choppers in the closet” repeated more times than the “I guess Kim let Kanye finish” joke has been posted on Twitter. However, there is beauty in its simplicity; the easy-to-remember hook will prove handy when played at thousands of college parties where sloshed kids cannot recall the rest of the lyrics. Although the refrain is quite basic, the rest of the song isn’t; both Pusha and Ross deliver superb, intricate verses filled with clever wordplay and excellent punchlines. “Millions” has what it takes to be 2013’s first “Mercy,” that is, a song with an instant recognition factor that will be played everywhere you go.
In the past couple months, Nicki Minaj has experienced a rare spell of relative obscurity on the Billboard charts; After summer party-anthem “Starships” peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100, only one of Minaj’s last four singles, “Pound The Alarm”, has worked its way into the list’s top 20. Looking to break the trend, Minaj has chosen “Marilyn Monroe” to be her next single. While nothing is official yet, in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Minaj confirmed that “Marilyn Monroe” will be the latest cut from her album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (Young Money/Universal), to be shipped off to radio stations:
“We’re definitely going to have ‘Marilyn Monroe’ top off the year, and we’re going to spend quality time on the video. We’re going to take care of that one.”
Take a listen to the song right here:
Right off the bat, the piano-laden intro suggests that this track will be decidedly unlike anything Minaj normally does. Indeed, the piano motif repeats itself throughout the entire song, serving as an effective complement to an expressive and organic vocal performance. Minaj has teased us in the past with her solid vocal chops, but “Marilyn Monroe” will be her mainstream foray into purely melodic pop music. This slow-tempo pop ballad has all the right qualities to make it a commercial success, and it will shoot up the charts once it is released. Bravo, Nicki, bravo.
Trouble Man: T.I.'s Past Propels Him Into His Future
Fame and fortune has a price, and T.I. has paid his dues. For the last half decade, T.I. has experienced as many highs as he has lows. In between Billboard-topping singles “You Know What It Is” and “Whatever You Like”, T.I. served time for weapons possession. A mere six months after being released, déjà vu struck: Clifford Harris Jr. was back in jail on drug charges. It was clear that the hardships that accompany wealth and status had gotten to him. As he raps on “Hallelujah”, a track that borrows its chorus from the iconic Leonard Cohen song of the same name, “I went to jail, stood tall, then I fell again / It seems like I’m Jonah and right back in that whale again / I felt the panic when they locked me in that cell again / I had to pray and meditate, control my breath again.” The second time around, T.I. penned down his pressures, spending his sentence venting his frustrations through music and lyrics. The end result is a 16-song album that provides genuine and incredulous insight into his life. With his latest release, Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head (Grand Hustle/Atlantic), Clifford Harris Jr. has put himself back on the map.
Just as T.I.’s life has been dotted with valleys and peaks, Trouble Man does the same. Interspersed between strong cuts is weaker, more monotonous and droning material. Luckily, Trouble Man is more the former than the latter. A diamond-studded cast of collaborators, including Lil Wayne, Akon, André 3000, P!nk, A$AP and Meek, line up to guest star on the album. The first four shine, while A$AP (“Wildside”) and Meek (“G Season”) fail to break through the rough. Production centers around dirty, bass-boosted Southern beats (“Addresses”, “Go Get It”, “The Way We Ride”), an obvious homage to the Atlanta-native’s roots. Clever arrangements and uses of famous melodies by Marvin Gaye, Elton John, and Leonard Cohen shatter the aforementioned mold and make the album more diverse, complex and enjoyable. Trouble Man is many things, but above all, it is honest. The album’s music and music videos offer listeners and viewers a candid snapshot into Southern rap culture and the pressures that put Harris Jr. twice behind bars. By creating an album focused on his authentic thoughts, T.I. set himself free of past demons. Nowhere is this theme more apparent than on the Cee Lo-hooked “Hello”, where T.I. exclaims, with much bravado, “Just showin’ haters the tail lights of my two-seaters / Two heaters in my ride but I don’t need them though / Left evil behind me, that’s where I plan to keep it, go!”
I call shotgun.
Highs: “The Introduction”, “Ball”, “Hello”, “Wonderful Life”, “Hallelujah”
Road Trip Album of the Year: Born To Die the perfect companion for summertime shenanigans
With a name reminiscent of many an Instagram’d beach pic, Lana Del Rey does her best on Born To Die (Polydor) to sing in a similar fashion. The end product is an excellent debut that evokes feelings of driving a vintage Bel Air along the PCH with the windows down and the Wayfarers on.
This is Radiohead-meets-Florence/Machine. This is Mylo Xyolo-era Coldplay with post-rehab Britney. This is Lana Del Rey, a self-described “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Therefore, it is only fitting that Del Rey dropped out of school to chase the Hollywood lights. Her breakout is certainly not unwarranted. Del Rey’s lyricism is a unique blend of melancholy and nostalgia; her voice a haunting and sultry contralto. An emotionally souped-up Adele, if you will. With more swagger.
Brian Eno-esque production is the perfect complement to Del Rey’s skill set. Soaring, atmospheric backing tracks interspersed with ringing bells, sustained guitars, orchestral strings, and brilliantly-sampled vocals make the Born To Die songs serious contenders for film soundtrack use. James Bond, anyone? Born To Die’s elaborate production, while certainly a strong attribute, is also what weakens the overall effect of the album. At times the excessive use of reverb becomes distasteful, but Del Rey always manages, to pull listeners away from the abyss through her witty lyricsm. “Money is the anthem of success / So put on mascara and your party dress” she whispers in standout track “National Anthem.”
BAYTL: The Unwanted Lovechild of an East-meets-West Rap Collaboration
SF Bay-area spitter V-Nasty (Kreayshawn, White Girl Mob) joins Atlanta’s Gucci Mane for a fascinating yet mediocre effort.
At first glance, the collaboration is intriguing: V-Nasty’s cringeworthy delivery and uninsightful vulgarity together with the Ice Cream Man’s crude rhymes and erratic flow has potential to attain cult-classic status. However, the unexpected combination of flavors churns out a product that is neither spectacular nor bearable. BAYTL (Asylum Records) is reminiscent of every aspiring bedroom-rapper’s free mixtape…only featuring an All-Star lineup of George Carlin “no-no” words.
From a lyrical perspective, BAYTL falls flat like only Humpty Dumpty could. Gucci Mane’s annoyingly frequent use of repeating end-rhymes (“I walk around town with my white girl / End of the day she my night girl / She a fly girl / Yeah she likes girls”) can only be matched by V-Nasty’s incessant need to use the B-word. If she is given a penny for every time she says it, she would earn $1.07. Enough to hire somebody off the street to write better lyrics, gratuities included. Other nonsensical lines include V-Nasty’s “Leave a [girl] broke, like my tooth” and her “I’m hotter than Obama / Every time I hit the mic I eat it up, Osama.” V, please leave the hashtag raps to Kanye and Nicki.
The abysmal nature of the album carries into the song structure. Nearly every track adheres to the same formula: Refrain -> Gucci verse -> Refrain -> V-Nasty verse -> Refrain x2 -> Instrumental fadeout. With the lack of diversity in song structure, it comes as no surprise that the major themes of the lyrics do not deviate from the industry standard. Women, money and drugs form holy triumvirate of BAYTL. The strongest song, “Push Ups”, is not about bulking up in the weight room. Rather, Gucci and V wax on and off about accumulating Benjamins and the dilemma that is blowing all that money. Is there any vanity on this album?
The climactic moment happens when V proclaims herself as “more hood than David Banner.” Ridiculous and laughable, for sure. Fittingly, it is the sense of humor that one needs in order to endure all 12 songs. At points, Gucci’s wordplay (“Before you count to one-two-three / You see that four-five”) seems to rescue BAYTL out of its pity pit, but then V-Nasty interrupts with her nasal foghorn, and the end result is nothing better than a typical high school Freestyle Friday-off. Appropriately, V’s lyrics strongly echo my sentiments after listening to the whole thing. “Leave them in the hospital / [Girl] yeah in trauma.” Somebody bring me an Advil please.
For me, songwriting is my primary means of expression. Lyric and melody make for a potent combination; music is the medium through which I voice my opinions. I love staying up at night, staring at the starry skies with my moonlit eyes, pen furiously gliding over paper, my mind brimming with inspiration. I revere the folk musicians of the 1960s, whose words of change inspired countless men and women to stand for what they believed in. The true meaning of songwriting is not reaching #1 on the Hot 100 charts, the true meaning of songwriting is to inspire- therein lies the correlation between songwriting and the First Amendment. The most recognized achievement of the First Amendment is the prohibition of any rules or regulations that would abridge free speech. If there was no First Amendment, music would not have any influence today. The winds of change brought along during the 1960s would not have happened. The lyric I write on the uptown train, the melody I hum while jogging on the bike path, I create them because I want to inspire individuals; without the First Amendment, there would be little reason for me to write, sing, record and perform. Live for a reason – with every chord I strum, melody I sing, and emotion I describe, I find that my life serves more of a purpose. With free speech and countless other musicians by my side, I believe that my aspirations to inspire are worthwhile efforts.
It has never been easier to exercise First Amendment rights than today. Our society of the new decade is heavily dependent on the frenzied media. With numerous, easily accessible online outlets for expression, anyone with an opinion can post it for the rest of the world to see, judge, and criticize. Although the ideas that catch our eye are usually radical and extremist, it does good for us to read them. One such example is the opinion of infamous Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik. He tweeted, “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests.” Breivik is clearly referring to the atrocities he committed. By freely speaking of his viewpoints, he generated a torrential storm of responses; Breivik’s actions lead to overwhelming amounts of support for the victims of the attacks. By voicing an opinion, it is almost guaranteed that a response is elicited. These responses foster the feeling of community for people of all races. Without the ability to say what we want to say, intellectual growth and the coming together of a community would not happen.
The End of WRNX: Reflections on a great radio station
October 29-31: The Storm crippled Western Massachusetts. Because Northampton, where WRNX has its offices, was one of the harder hit regions, I didn’t find it particularly strange that WRNX’s 100.9 FM frequency was streaming country during the week after the storm. I didn’t think much of it, and continued with my duties as a first trimester high school senior. A few days ago, with all my exams and presentations finished, I came home, brushed the dust off my sound system, and dialed in on 100.9, intent on listening to a solid hour of “quality rock.” To my great surprise, “God Gave Me You” greeted my airwaves. Don’t get me wrong - I am a fan of Blake Shelton and the rest of the country music circuit (“Barefoot Blue Jean Night” is #7 on my iTunes Top Played) - but the country side of me had Pandora, Slacker, Stitcher, Bear Country 95.3, and thousands of other radio stations to satisfy my cravings. WRNX, on the other hand, was a station no internet radio channel could replicate.
I first stumbled upon WRNX in eighth grade. Back then, Soulja Boy was the bomb diggity, and everybody my age was head over heels for pop music. I was the guy who listened to “Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest” on Sunday mornings. A serendipitous turn of the radio dial one Sunday morning led me to the “Acoustic Mornings” broadcast on 100.9 FM, which just happened to be playing an acoustic version of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” a song my friends and I loved. A simple song turned me on to a whole new world of music: WRNX introduced me to Dave, Bruce, and other rock heavyweights, but also hooked me on to Edward Sharpe, Edie Brickell, Eric Hutchinson, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, Donavon Frankenreiter, Bon Iver, Alpha Rev, and many, many others. In essence, WRNX was an innovator, always ahead of the curb; I would hear songs on 100.9 months before they gained airplay on mainstream formats. WRNX’s eclectic brand of rock defied categorization. From Jack Johnson’s inaudible melodies to harsher Cracker cuts to live Peter Gabriel ballads, WRNX had it all. Diversity was something that defined the station, but was also what brought along its downfall.
One Sunday, WRNX’s “Acoustic Mornings” disappeared, replaced by a new show, “Jazz Variations.” My Sunday sunrise companion had ditched me; I had to find another station that ease me into a smooth morning after a hard night’s work. On other days, UMass Minutemen hockey, football, and basketball were broadcast on WRNX. Other nights had in-house bands perform short sets and do interviews. While these novel programs brought along additional listeners, it surely deserted a few along the way. In turn, those newfound listeners were not drawn to the WRNX brand of rock. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, WRNX was the worst performing of the four Clear Channel stations around Springfield. And so, on October 30th, WRNX spun its final song. This was no false scare the night before Halloween, this was economic reality.
While WRNX did not have a big following in the quantitative sense, the select group of Western Mass residents that tuned in every day were among the most loyal and appreciative. @Carndiggity tweets, “Really missing #WRNX, was the only good radio station around #scenicspringfield.” Spfldmommy writes, “In the midst of the top 40 garbage and whiny country singers that dominate the dial, there was one station that stood out above the rest.” Rrudd echoes my strongest sentiments, “One would hear an unknown fantastic new song on ‘RNX and wait with bated-breath for sometimes a half hour to hear the coolest-voiced “DJ” tell us what that song was and who the artist was.” I remember thinking about the Jack Johnson song “Go On,” only to flip the radio on and hear it playing on WRNX. I remember listening to an exceptionally cool song with a driving bass part, quirky vocals, and an outstanding “whistle fill,” only to find it playing on mainstream radio a few months later. This was no other than Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks.” And lastly, I remember dialing the car radio in on 100.9 and speeding down Route 10 with the windows down and the summer breeze flowing through my hair, heading towards my friends and our own barefoot blue jean night.
In the end, WRNX came and went in a fitting manner. No streamers or balloons were necessary to announce its exit from the airwaves. WRNX’s humble goodbye paid tribute to the incredibly grateful and thankful listener base it had accumulated over the years. WRNX never asked over the air for listener contributions; its DJ’s genuinely enjoyed spinning discs out of their third-floor roost in the Thornes building of downtown NoHo. Introducing listeners to great new artists was one half of the WRNX equation, the other half was playing lesser-known tracks from well-established musicians. This unique formula is impossible to find in the present day consumerist society. Call me old-fashioned when I say that Pandora and Slacker don’t hold a candle to WRNX, but there is, and never will be, anything like it. WRNX played a role in many of my high school memories, and I will forever be on the hunt for another station just like it. A futile effort, yes, but one I will undertake. For I would give anything to tune in to 100.9, and let its sonic waves wash over me again. Farewell, WRNX, you will be truly missed.
Who's World? Cole World Among the Best Hip-Hop Albums of the Year
In a genre where competition is fierce and recognition is everything, J. Cole separates himself from the pack – Cole World: The Sideline Story (Roc Nation) is anything and everything a debut album should be. With its brilliantly-produced instrumental backgrounds and Cole’s gripping lyricism, Cole World is a breath of fresh air, a shining meteor soaring through fields of dull asteroids (see: Tha Carter IV). J. Cole is acutely aware of his groundbreaking roots approach to hip-hop, and he is not ashamed to admit it. As he raps on “Sideline Story”, a track with a soaring jazz-piano accompaniment, “I call my own shots / I’m David Blaine / I’m breakin’ out of my own box / You stay the same” (see also: Lil Wayne). Cole serves up heaps of serious lyrical hot sauce in songs where, heaven forbid, something other than females and currency are the main subjects. All-Star collaborations with Trey Songz, Jay-Z, Drake, and Missy Elliot are solid, but Cole truly shines when he is alone on the mic, sharing sonic space with only a sparse instrumental. Highlight tracks on such a stacked album are hard to pick, but “Dollar and a Dream III”, “Lost Ones”, and “God’s Gift” are noteworthy in that they put Cole’s talents high up on a pedestal for all the world to see. Unabashedly proud of what he has achieved, Cole indirectly compares his own game to that of Michael Jordan and Lebron James’s. Not a hyperbolic comparison, as Cole World talks the talk and walks the walk.
All Filler, No Killer: Future History Better Off Forgotten -- Derülo's Sophomore Effort Overhyped and Overproduced
Jason Derülo, best known for his trio of 2009 chart-toppers “Watcha Say”, “Ridin’ Solo”, and “In My Head”, fails to summon the songwriting magic necessary to make Future History (Beluga Heights/Warner Bros.) an album worth remembering. Strong leading singles “Don’t Wanna Go Home” and “It Girl” tease with promises of sweet surprises, but all that remains with the listener is the disappointing aftertaste of Splenda. Utilizing the same end rhymes, chord progressions, and 808 beats as his previous anthology of R&B club-bangers, Derülo’s strict adherence to the formula results in a collection more suitable for a B-side supplement to his excellent eponymous debut. “Don’t Wanna Go Home” and “It Girl” are wisely selected to kick off Future History, but by the third track, Derülo’s vocal influctuations, falsetto pleadings, and incessant need to shout out his own name, coupled with the album’s layered vocal overdubs, synth beats, and sampled guitar riffs, start taking their toll on the listener’s ears. Electric keys, smh-worthy similes (“Just like the rain down in Africa / It’s gonna take some time”), and even a Pro-Tools cowbell add variety, but this variety is just more of the same poison, disguised in a different form. Hopefully, Future History's sales figures will reflect the quality of the songs, and Derülo can learn a valuable lesson. Until then, Jason Derülo can serve as a reminder to other major-label artists that the don’t-fix-it-if-it’s-not-broken ideology does not translate to success.