Khalid’s American Teen is a View to the Future

Plenty of musicians can write about the experience of being a teenager, usually long after the time they were one. It’s one of those few experiences that’s almost certainly better examined in hindsight. Almost. That was the case until the release of American Teen by Khalid.

Born Khalid Robinson, the El Paso, TX, artist recently came to prominence after his track Location was in one of Kylie Jenner’s Snapchats. It’s a bit of good luck for the 19-year old artist who manages to capture the feeling of exactly what it’s like to be a teenager in the 2010’s, but with the self-awareness and maturity that artists twice his age still struggle to possess. The album’s self-titled opening track begins with the sound of an alarm going off, blending into a pastiche of airy 80’s synths. Khalid’s easy croon sings, “So wake me up in the spring / While I’m high off my American Dream / And we don’t always say what we mean / It’s the lie of an American teen”. It’s instantly-relatable moments like these that separate Khalid from the pack of forward-thinking R&B. The slow burn of “Young, Dumb & Broke” – about, yes, being just that, as well as ruminating on not wanting to commit but still having ‘love to give’.

Then there’s “Location”, a blippy slow-burn ballad that has certainly earned the attention it’s getting – here, Khalid humorously states that “I don’t want fall in love off of subtweets, so let’s get personal, I’ve got a lot of spots we can go,” It’s the latest in the line of communication-as-an-obstacle songs, a sort of an update on Hanging On a Telephone for the data plan era. For being his first album, Khalid’s debut is an assured piece of work. Coaster, with its ghostly choruses and mournful vocal – “So I’ll be coasting, roller-coasting / Through my emotion / I will be coasting, roller-coasting / I’m hoping that you’ll come back to me,” illustrates beautifully what it feels like to be young and in love that doesn’t exactly feel balanced. It’s not long after that his optimism in the face of uncertainty on Hopeless, an up-tempo jam where he’ll remain “hopeless, hopelessly romantic”.

On American Teen, Khalid has crafted a debut that negotiates the distance between the ambitiousness of someone with a bright future coupled with the actuality of being young and maybe not having all of the resources just quite yet. Khalid’s desire to ascend to the next level is coming to the surface, but as the phrase he uses says, being “young, dumb and broke” just a little longer might suit him (and the rest of us) until he’s ready.

This review originally posted on Vinylmnky. Check out their great vinyl subscription service and site!

L.A. Takedown’s II a Journey Worth Taking

You don’t need to have been to Los Angeles to best experience L.A. Takedown’s latest album, II. It’s an album that’s evocative of a time and place, though it’s one that may or may not exist. The fact that it’s almost entirely instrumental (save for some lightly sprinkled vocoder in its final moments) doesn’t provide any concrete evidence. It’s an album length mystery, and one that’s worth the patience of letting it unfold.

Led by Los Angeles-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron M. Olson, the seven-piece band’s follow-up to L.A. Takedown’s 2015 self-titled debut is the first release featuring the full band – keyboardists Ryan Adlaf and Jonah Olson, guitarists Miles Wintner and Stephen Heath drummer Mose Wintner, and bassist Jessica Espeleta. ‘Composer’ is not a loose term in this case – Olson studied classical music history and theory at San Francisco State.

Full of perfectly slick guitars, heavy beds of synths and keys and crisp drums, II feels less like the work of a rock band, and more like the score to a night out in one of the west coast’s foremost cities: a place where it seems permanently dusky and all the signs are neon. Effortless syncopation of guitars on tracks like “L.A. Blue” and “City of Glass” have the warmth of a Xanax buzz. Everything feels a little out of focus, the kisses are a little softer, and sleep feels imminent the minute the eye settles behind the eyelid. (It probably doesn’t hurt that the album cover is an illustration of a similar-looking pill between two fingers.)

Songs like “Night Skiing” feel like hero’s journeys – driving percussion and synths give away to the album’s loosest shredding eventually building to a climax that would get a nod of respect from the most ardent Van Halen devotees. Each song has a way of feeling like a mini symphony that fits perfectly in the whole of the album – the most 80’s dry-drum sound of “Bad Night at Black Beach” is even worthy of its place, even if it doesn’t feel much more like an extended interlude.

What L.A. Takedown have done with II is create a record that forces a listener to really feel. It’s imaginative, ambitious and in a weird way, a little ponderous. It feels like a place you can visit, look around and feel the breeze. Is it Los Angeles? Is it somewhere in the desert, or the sound of driving down an empty highway with the top down? That’s not entirely clear, and maybe it’s best not to think about it. It will take you somewhere new each time.

II is out May 12 on Ribbon Music. Listen to “Night Skiing” below.

Sorority Noise Look to the Past to Evolve on New Album

What is emo? A classicist view may lend itself to sounds like The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good or Weezer’s Pinkerton, which gave way to second-generation icons like Brand New. While The Promise Ring and especially Weezer never really quite built on the successes of their early records, Brand New began as a yawpy pop-punk band that suddenly transformed into a wiry, textured post-punk punk act that felt a little less emotional and a little more devastating with each release. It’s this template that has given birth to bands like Sorority Noise, whose third album You’re Not As _____ As You Think just arrived on Triple Crown Records.

The Hartford, CT band are often mentioned in the same sentence as artists like Modern Baseball and Julien Baker, friends that they reference casually in both press and in songs. Together, these artists are part of a new wave of punk that shows a staggering propensity to grow quickly musically and lyrically with each record. Sorority Noise’s 2014 debut Forgettable is a clever (but not inaccurate) name. It only offers a preview of the promise the group – Cam Boucher’s early lyrical prowess and a few guitar atmospherics. This was refined on next year’s Joy, Departed, a record that seems less like a band with something to prove, sounding a little road-tested, adding texture to songs and having more than a few killer tracks, including the hooky self-doubt of “Art School Wannabe”.

You’re Not As _____ As You Think represents another evolution – it seems to be a little less about relationships and self doubt and a lot more of contemplating loss and death and questioning the existence of God. (Of course, there’s also ‘look-how-far-we’ve-come‘ moment for a 31-year-old reviewer, even referencing the Gaslight Anthem’s “The ‘59 Sound”. It’s always going to feel too early for that.)

Opening track “No Halo” details Boucher experiencing the loss of a friend, skipping his funeral but later on driving to his house forgetting he had passed away. “Disappeared” is straight out of the playbook of Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald – wordy verses with something that sounds like a hook but the secret is that it’s not quite one. The most intriguing tracks are the two “Letters” songs that feel a little more like interludes – “First Letter from St. Sean” and “Second Letter from St. Julien” that Boucher uses to further the loose narrative. “Sean” talks about the emptiness of loss, while “Julien” – an obvious reference to his friend and practicing Christian Julien Baker – sounds like he’s letting us in on a personal conversation and it’s not pretty – “You say there’s a god/And you say you’ve got proof/Well I’ve lost friends to heroin/So what’s your god trying to prove?”

With maturity and a willingness to confront tough subjects on record, it’s clear that You’re Not As _____ As You Think is the best offering from Sorority Noise to date. For a band whose median age is 23, it’s an impressive record that is part homage to the bands that inspired them while also working to take chances with their sound a little more quickly than expected. It’ll be exciting to see what they come up with next. It probably won’t sound anything like this.

Japandroids Return with the Right Album at the Right Time

It’s a weird feeling to be in transition: constantly thinking about where to go next, the thrill of excitement just out of reach, and possibility feeling so endless that it’s overwhelming. What do you do?

With Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Japandroids first album in almost five years, that feeling of being flux is everywhere – literally. Song titles contain words like “near” “to” and one song is simply named “North East South West”. It’s a record about growing up, moving on, and exploding the tiny moments in life that feel so much bigger in retrospect than they do in the moment.

Both 2009’s Post-Nothing and 2012’s Celebration Rock faced some criticism for sounding somewhat piecemeal in their sequencing. The latest album represents the first time the band feels like they’ve done something deliberate – and it works. As two guys from Vancouver bashing out some of the most euphoric jams that could be made two people at a time. By slowing down and looking a little more inward, they have made something that really feels like an album, as they’ve detailed in notes for the release. “Side A and side B each follow their own loose narrative. Taken together as one, they form an even looser narrative, with the final song on side B acting as an epilogue.” While they’ve succeeded, they may have done it at the cost of throwing off any fans who were expecting Celebration Rock II.

The production is larger and the songs have a sense of space not found on previous Japandroids records. Make no mistake, this record still has plenty of the fiery romanticism and the hooks that made the band so irresistible, but there is simple separation in the sounds to take that all in. There’s prominent synthesizers – the warped 7-minute “Arc of Bar” is a great example– and then another sound not found on previous Japandroids releases – acoustic guitar strums on the gorgeous “True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will”. Just these small touches alone show that the band is taking small steps to distance themselves the bash-and-blaze chaos of the first two albums.

Like every Japandroids record, this one feels kind of like a small miracle. They are a band who feels like they’re just on the verge of disappearing at any time. They make some of the most immediate and visceral sounding rock and roll and really seem to take that role seriously. Perhaps that’s why they take long gaps between albums with nary a hint of when they’ll resurface.

In a sense, Near to the Wild Heart of Life reminds us of some truths that we all eventually face. Everything is constantly changing. Right now is the youngest you’ll ever be. Eventually, we have to all take chances if we want evolve. Sure, the album is not perfect, and some experiments don’t work. That sounds like life. It won’t bring us back to the time where we felt infinite. But when it’s over, it’s a small reminder to keep going in hope that next day will be better than the last. That in itself is a victory – at this moment in time, that is exactly what we need.

Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is due out January 27, 2017 on Anti- Records, with a special early release for vinyl on January 24.

The Rest of the Best of 2016

Favorite Moments of 2016

1. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Being in Wrigleyville during the series. Being at the parade. Pure emotion. Being with Jordan when they won. Eamus Catuli switching to all zeroes. Not quite giving up hope when it seemed all but over MULTIPLE times. Continuing to ride that wave.

Katie Nixon and I near the seventh largest gathering in human history.

2. Meeting Bruce Springsteen the day before my birthday. Also, his show at United Center on August 28. Magic in the night.

3. The Hold Steady: Reunite with Franz Nicolay, play a bunch of really awesome shows behind my favorite album of all time. The Frenchkiss reissues of AKM and Sep Sunday. Lifter Puller twice in one year, including the opportunity to stand on stage at Red Rocks. Denver meh, Chicago good and New York was wonderful but I could have done without the concussion. Great openers: Titus Andronicus, Laura Stevenson (so nice!) and Lifter Puller. Nights go on forever and guitars are cool.

4. Nashville visits, March-August (Just a few: recording in the Third Man Booth, all the food, Infinity Cat House, Doom, Tim buys a guitar, City Winery, meeting Daddy Issues and Diarrhea Planet, and pretty much everyone that made my time there awesome.)

Hanging with Emmett and Evan from Diarrhea Planet.

5. More travel: Austin, TX trip with my Mom. Hanging in Boston and candlepin bowling with some of my best people and Vineyard Youth in Pawtucket, RI. Additionally, anyone who came to visit me and had a good time.

6. Health and wellness: PRing my third 5K on the October 30 Hot Chocolate Run. Exercising regularly for the first time in my life. Reading the most books this year than I’ve read in a decade.

7. Personal: Getting the opportunity to write for Men’s Journal and interviewing Dolph Ziggler, Chad Gable, Hot Doug and Andrew Wyslotsky.

My team beat his in the World Series. I ain’t sorry.


8. Wrestling: American Alpha winning the NXT and WWE Smackdown Tag Team titles in the same year (all of the great wrestling this year, seriously.) Owens and Zayn at Payback in a total mindblower. Zayn and Nakamura at Takeover Dallas. DIY and Revival at Takeover Toronto. Meeting Jerry Lawler randomly in Memphis inside his restaurant and being able to tell him we shared a birthday.

9. Food: Qui, Parachute, Rolf and Daughters, Husk, Mitchell’s Delicatessen, Maketto, Pinewood Social, Row 34, Mission Chinese and a ton I’m missing.

10. Trash Pandas releases two EP’s and having involvement in them. They make me laugh and proud I did a thing that’s out in the world.

Shows

I saw 37 shows this year. Take a look.

Everything I Listened To

I made a playlist for every month this year of everything I listened to individually (excluding albums). Check it out.

Favorite Songs of 2016 (And Other Stuff)

My Top Songs of 2016 playlist, favorite 2015 discovery of 2016 and Honorable Mention albums. Heads up, the song list is 80 songs long, so hit shuffle and enjoy!

Also, “Home” by Big Sky Hunters

Favorite Non-2015 Discovery:

Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker

Honorable Mention Albums:

Carolina Ghost by Caleb Caudle
If You See Me, Say Yes by Flock of Dimes
A Seat at the Table by Solange
Robert Ellis by Robert Ellis
Southern Family curated by Dave Cobb