Tame Impala Review Royale: Currents

Tame Impala



For having never touched a drug in my life (alcohol and prescriptions excluded), I’ve always been surprisingly in love with psychedelic rock. Maybe it’s its ability to transport you to another place, or just being heavily exposed to “Paperback Writer” as a young lad. Either way, nobody scratches my psychedelic itch quite like Tame Impala, Australia’s finest band.
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Wilco Review: Star Wars


Star Wars

Wilco Star Wars album cover art

Chicago’s hometown heroes Wilco surprised the city and the world at large this month with a surprise drop of a completely free album of new material out of nowhere late on a Thursday night. Not only was the drop surprising, but so was the album title and design: named Star Wars which was certainly the result of some goofy late night conversation the band had, and it boasts a furry white cat and some flowers on the cover (which certainly will help them avoid any lawsuits from Disney). The band surprised further by boldly playing straight through their new album to start their set the night after its release at Pitchfork Music Festival, a move that baffled the general audience but went straight to the heart of Wilco diehards like myself. If that’s not enough surprise talk, the real honest surprise comes in the music itself: a distorted, noise rock album that channels Sonic Youth, T. Rex, and Velvet Underground more than the pleasant alt-country sound they are best known for.
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Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment: Surf

Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment


Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment Surf album cover art

How did an relatively-unknown collective, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, get over 10 million song downloads? Well, they made it free for one, giving away the debut album, Surf, on iTunes, but more importantly, the collective includes one of the most exciting young names in hip hop: Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper. And Surf shows anything the playful young rapper touches turns to gold.

Donnie Trumpet aka trumpeter Nico Segal is the ringleader for this project, which primarily includes musicians Peter Cottontale (keyboards), Greg Landfair Jr. (drums), and Nate Fox (producer). Beyond the main contributors and the larger instrumental collective that contributes, the group brings in some heavy-hitters to contribute vocals, from major rap names like J. Cole, B.o.B., and Big Sean, R&B queens Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae, and 90’s hip hop staple and classic character rapper Busta Rhymes. Hip hop has always had a super collaborative approach in terms of sharing the spotlight – as most hip hop albums are littered with guest verses – but to have such a big and communal collective is pretty unusual regardless of genre. When you consider the wide-range of collaborators, it’s amazing how cohesive Surf sounds: one big joyful and psychedelic dream.

Having just seen and reviewed Love & Mercy, the new Brian Wilson biopic, you can’t help here a little bit of the Beach Boys’ experimental, introspective period in Surf: and certainly the title doesn’t hurt either. “Miracle” opens with a breezy vocal harmony before slipping into an intoxicating daze led by Chance, the sort of gospel-infused psychedelic soul that would belong right at home on a D’Angelo record.

“Slip Slide” pulls out the horns and the red carpet for the long-awaited return of Busta Rhymes, who delivers the sort of larger-than-life cartoony flow that made him one-of-a-kind. With the heavy use of horns and occasional marching band vibe, Surf recalls the better parts of Outkast’s Idlewild. “Slip Slide” even includes one of Idlewild’s biggest contributors, the beloved Janelle Monae, who delivers some nice harmonies into the mix. “Warm Enough” appears out of the haze that follows “Slip Slide” with a dynamite verse from Chicago slam poet Noname Gypsy, who delivers every one of her lines with incredible feeling and intent. There’s a sense of care and consciousness for the city in everything Chance dips his toe in.

Like “Slip Slide” and first single “Sunday Candy”, “Wanna Be Cool” serves as one of the only potential singles here. For the most part, Surf is one delirious and hazy ride built for the summer time, even though its lacks any big satisfying summer jam; it’s perfect lazy summer afternoon music. Chance the Rapper shows his flexibility on Surf as well, sometimes punctuating a song with a gentle croon like at the end of “Slip Slide”, sometimes going into his childish and cartoony rap-self like on “Wanna Be Cool”, and sometimes just playing it cool like on “Familiar”. At age 22 and already headlining festivals (like Pitchfork this July), the sky is really the limit for this young artist as long as he keeps exploring creatively and speaking truth.

I mentioned the amount of joy here, and there is some serious church in Surf. Particularly “Sunday Candy” could easily be sung out in churches all around Chicago, turning gospel into love songs like Ray Charles before him. It’s a vibrant singalong perfect to belt out from the pews or your car windows.

If you are looking for something fresh and playful this summer that also has some layers to it, look no further than Surf. And while you’re at it, pay Chance the Rapper’ first two mixtapes a visit.


Can’t Miss: “Miracle”, “Warm Enough”, “Sunday Candy”, “Familiar”

Can’t Hit: None

Retro Review: Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx’s We’re New Here

pop3_1829925bWhile I’m still sinking my teeth into In Colour, the latest release from Jamie xx, English producer-extraordinaire and namesake to the bedroom pop duo the xx, I thought I would revisit and hopefully bring people who aren’t familiar to the 2011 remix classic We’re New Here

Now I’ve never been huge on remixes or remix culture, this is an undeniably unique and interesting album. Jamie xx took spoken-word legend Gil Scott-Heron’s late career gem, I’m New Here, and remixed it for the dance club. It’s incredibly, soulful, unique, and song-for-song irresistible. Scott-Heron’s gruff, soulful voice works as the perfect counterpoint to Jamie xx’s bouncing, colorful rhythms. It’s electronic dance music with the feverish case of the blues.

To check it out, just use your streaming service of choice or just be bold and buy it on iTunes, Amazon or vinyl. I don’t think you’ll regret it.


Unknown Mortal Orchestra Review: Multi-Love

Unknown Mortal Orchestra


Unknown Mortal Orchestra Multi-Love album cover art

For some reason, over 40 years after the fact, some of the best psychedelic rock ever has come from the land down under and their little brother, New Zealand. As guitar rock has largely disappeared from the airwaves, the far-out sounds of Tame Impala have continued to permeate, as three albums in, they now stand as one of the best rock bands on the planet. The Kiwis ain’t no chumps neither. New Zealand-born Ruban Nielson has helmed one of the most fun psych-rock projects going today in Unknown Mortal Orchestra, a band whose playful sounds are nearly impossible to shake.

The self-titled debut turned 60’s era psychedelic pop into catchy, hip-hop infused ear candy. The second album, (aptly titled II) turned inward pointing at the darkness brewing just under those sunny, psychedelic grooves. Now, Multi-Love, takes the first two and extrapolates it out into the corners of soul, jazz, and funk.

The album title, unsurprisingly, is speaking about an ended polyamorous relationship between Ruban, his wife, and another woman who lived with them the two for a time; certainly strange material to cover in music, but probably not that unusual for a psychedelic rocker. What isn’t weird is the music that the relationship produced: with Nielson exploring his fragile state that emerged from this situation.

Rather than using the studio and money provided to him by the record label, Nielson chose to create a home studio (pictured on the album cover), where he would record in the middle of the night (remnants of the insomnia he was diagnosed with years ago). With this decision comes an intimacy in the music that is apparent from the lone keyboard that springs out of the opening track. Playing his guitar like a sitar, “Multi-Love” sounds like one of those Indian-influenced George Harrison tracks from the last few Beatles albums, except if you added in a dose of shake and shimmy. “Like Acid Rain” returns the celebratory pop of their first album, if only for two minutes and one second. “Ur Life One Night” releases a funky new side to the band, sort of channeling Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On with its distorted funk and catchy soul.

“Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”, Multi-Love’s lead single, is probably the biggest outlier in all their catalog to this point, but a worthwhile change. It pure disco dance pop that would have been right at home on the new Hot Chip record, led by one big and relatable hook, “I can’t keep checking my phone.” It’s a song that will likely alienate those that came to UMO for their big psychedelic guitar riffs, but it’s hard to deny its infectiousness.

The album standout comes in “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty”, a song that strangely conjures the genuine-hearted jazz spirit of Louis Armstrong. Nielson husks up his voice like Armstrong’s and has his father, a professional horn player back in New Zealand, play the soaring sax solo that takes the song to another plain. The song explores the sort of escapism we have all probably felt: what would it be like if we just left the baggage of our lives behind to start a new life happily together on an island somewhere, “abandoning extreme wealth and casual cruelty.” It’s an intriguing sentiment, one that feels instantly possibly and ecstatic from the sounds and mood that Nielson conjures up on the song.

The next track, “The World Is Crowded”, continues the spirit of escapism, in a highly romantic and funky slow groove, with Nielson channeling that slippery Prince falsetto. “Necessary Evil” keeps the groove going, with Nielson’s father playing a light trumpet hook to lift out of the murk of the rambling, anxious organ.

Multi-Love closes with guitars blazing on “Puzzles”, which certainly provides some visceral release after the strange haze of the rest of the album, but feels the least at home here. Still, at nine tracks, Nielson wisely keeps his albums nice and tight, even if the songs explore all corners of the known musical universe. Multi-Love is yet another colorful and stimulating album from one of the best voices in rock going today.


Can’t Miss: “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty”, “Ur Life One Night”, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”

Can’t Hit: “Puzzles”

Hot Chip Review: Why Make Sense?

Hot Chip

Why Make Sense?


Few bands churn out the dance hits like Hot Chip. In case you are unfamiliar, Hot Chip is five somewhat nerdy white Brits that know disco, house, and pop music like the back of their hand, releasing six infectious albums in the last ten years. The band has always been half-humor and half-heart, but especially with their last album, In Our Heads, they have really kicked up the heart. Why Make Sense?, their latest, continues the tender-hearted streak, turning to gospel and house music as inspirations for their danceable love tunes, their most consistent set of songs since 2006’s The Warning.
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Kendrick Lamar Review Royale: To Pimp a Butterfly



Wes’ Words

Nowadays in our crazy, interconnected world, it’s not even a week after a hotly anticipated album releases that we are already on to the next thing. With instant streaming, leaks before release, and the ability to listen on any device at any time, we are digesting music faster than ever, and getting bored and moving on to the next hot item over and over.
Continue reading “Kendrick Lamar Review Royale: To Pimp a Butterfly”