Ghostface Killah The Apollo Kids Album Art Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids


Too often, a rap artist reaches a point in his career when he becomes blatantly self-conscious of a newly won veteran status and occasionally slips into tedious place-holding rhymes about past glories and misdeeds, to varying effect. Notoriously prolific Gucci Mane recognizes this on his 2009 mixtape The Movie 3-D: The Burrprint, “and yet,” he notes, “it’s still not time to write my memoirs!”

A world away, the similarly productive Ghostface Killah isn’t writing his memoirs, either, but that’s not to say his most recent release, this year’s Apollo Kids, breaks much new ground. Still, it’s an admirable affair.

The album’s production follows a familiar formula, with catchy soul samples riding comfortably along on thudding percussion and neon-studded synth. This aesthetic features most prominently on a track like “Superstar.” Ghost sounds typically muscular here, as the Wu-Tang’s resident lion-throated loudmouth rips through his verses against a funky guitar lick. A crew of sirens fills out the chorus, playing cheerleaders to the tongue-twisted interplay between Ghost and guest Busta Rhymes.

This soulful sensibility reaches a skin-prickling high on standout “2Getha Baby”. It’s Ghostface Killah trapped in “The Twilight Zone,” as a mellow, otherworldly Intruders sample in disarming conflict with the rapper’s angry flow.

Of course, the abundant throwback content never overshadows the fact that Ghostface Killah sounds absolutely fresh and ferocious as ever. And he chooses his guests wisely, spitting alongside typical partners-in-crime like Raekwon and Cappadonna. There’s even a reliably loopy turn from Method Man and Redman on the relentless album closer “Troublemakers.”

Hopefully, the album’s quiet, early January release won’t signify its future reception. Without bothering to brush up against any previously unexplored realms and barely even reaching 45 minutes, Apollo Kids certainly isn’t Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale 2. But here his reliance on arguably safer methods has yielded a sturdy effort worthy to stand up next to the heavy-hitters in his discography, even if it casts a noticeably smaller shadow.

Isolée – Well Spent Youth tracklist

  1. “Purified Thoughts”
  2. “Superstar”
  3. “Black Tequila”
  4. “Drama”
  5. “2gether Baby”
  6. “Starkology”
  7. “In Tha Park”
  8. “How You Like Me Baby”
  9. “Handcuffin’ Them Hoes”
  10. “Street Bullies”
  11. “Ghetto”
  12. “Troublemakers”
Now, Now - Neighbors EP album cover Now, Now – Neighbors EP


Rather than wait for a spot with Daytrotter or “MTV Unplugged” to go bare bones, Minnesota-based band Now, Now (they dropped Every Children from the end) takes the step and lines up both acoustic and electro versions of songs on their new EP Neighbors.

Electro-fueled songs dominate the short list of tracks and, although good, they’re shadowed by the two acoustic/electronic pairs.

The different adaptations of “Giants” are equally beautiful in play, but uniquely so. Each spotlights a different aspect of the same song so they don’t become repetitive or dull. “Giants (Acoustic)” carries more elegance. The acoustic guitar riffs are light enough not to intrude on Cacie Dalager (guitar/vocals) and Jess Abbott’s (guitar/vocals) vocals, but bring in a fullness of sound that works well to support them.

The acoustic rendition feels more tranquil, although Dalager brings an air of melancholy with her opening, “If I believed in God, I would not have done the things you’ve done.” But as the song progresses, the slight clash between lyrics and guitar becomes more prevalent. The soft yet upbeat riffs combat Dalager as she sings, “You’ve been alone, you’re singing to the sun, because you know you’re on your own and you’re going home,” acting as a warming filter for icy words. That bite shines through with the electro-interpretation of “Giants,” acting as a foil to the acoustic twin.

There is real emotion behind the instrumentals of the latter version. Right off the bat, the opening guitar version, while light and airy in acoustic, turns a few shades darker with an echo effect. Brad Hale’s drum work may have taken a backseat in the acoustic version, but here it breaks into the opening lines, making the more complex rendition pop. As with any song that has a lot of elements, not every aspect gets the spotlight. Dalager’s vocals, while a lead point in the prior piece, get buried at points when set against a strong instrumental backbone.

For the second pair, titled after the album, Now, Now goes in a different direction. Instead of embracing differences, there are more similarities between the acoustic and electronic versions of “Neighbors.” At first the opening riffs are virtually the same, just set at a slightly different pitch, but nonetheless appears the first song is repeating. The electronic version gets muddied when Hale breaks in with the drum work. Although good, the sound along with two guitars is too excessive.

In both versions, jingle bells feel out of place. Perhaps the release date (Dec. 7, 2010) had something to do with that one. Maybe they should have added more cowbell, and left the sleigh bells to rest. The band redeems itself with “Jesus Camp,” a brilliant, though short, piece that serves as the apex of emotion in the album. It exudes a to-the-core rawness that we rarely see from artists. Instead of tacking on fluff and layering on sounds, Now, Now keeps it simple, and shows they aren’t apprehensive about vulnerability. Like “Jesus Camp,” the entire EP is a quick listen, but the two years the band spent putting it together comes through with its seven beautifully organized, irresistible tracks.

Neighbors EP Tracklisting:

  1. Rebuild
  2. Giants
  3. Roommates
  4. Jesus Camp
  5. Neighbors
  6. Giants (Acoustic)
  7. Neighbors (Acoustic)
T.I. - No Mercy Album artwork T.I. – No Mercy


With the possible exception of P.O.S., Atmosphere and K’Naan, most rappers love to rap about the illegal things that they do. Dealing drugs, holding weapons, killing people—it’s a sensational medium ruled by the most sensational statements.

For a time, T.I. and his boisterous swagger ruled the land; “loaded .44 on the floor,” “drag you out that Bentley coupe and take it to the chop shop,” “I got keys by the threes when I chirp shawty chirp back.” When T.I. released King, it seemed like there was a Southern sun rising, a power figure to make the stale East Coast-West Coast rivalry a rejuvenated three-way debate.

T.I. was a monolith of Atlanta rap, untouchable and mercilessly confident.

Then he got caught. Then he got caught again.

2010 held many things for T.I. Whether the scrapped King Uncaged would’ve been a return to the vicious “chop you up with a butcher knife” flow T.I. exhibited on King is immaterial. No Mercy is the commercial product, for better or (mostly) worse. In an effort to keep his image as a public figure intact, T.I.’s latest album is a set of half-done tracks with limp-wristed platitudes subbing in for flow.

On top of that, T.I. plays the victim—“How Life Changed,” “Big Picture” and the blasphemous “That’s All She Wrote” carry the message that it’s “hard to be rich, famous, and powerful” because you’re in the spotlight all the time. Suddenly, the picture of who T.I. really is becomes all the clearer—T.I. is rap’s Lebron James. He’s a limitless, powerful, industrial and vicious talent with a knack for making bad decisions and having absolutely no idea how to rebound from them.

No Mercy is a long apology to fans for his indiscretions, when everybody (including T.I.) knows what we really want—that swaggering, competitive soul that showed up Bun B on his own beat.

To be fair, No Mercy at least makes a small effort to recover the Trap Musik sounds of T.I.’s halcyon youth. He makes the best of it at times (thank god for “I Can’t Help It”), then gets showed up by Drake of all people (it’s a crime that T.I. couldn’t figure out how to conquer an amazing beat like “Poppin’ Bottles”). T.I. has two modes that suit him—riding slow and smooth over a massive beat (“What You Know”) or delivering an unhinged Twista-like barrage. Thankfully, the latter shows up at points on No Mercy.

The former is absent, partially because the beats aren’t very good. “Big Picture” is bassless nonsense, “Strip” is a bad Lonely Island cover of “Whatever You Like.” “Get Back Up” is vocoder pop posing as rap, and “That’s All She Wrote” is like bad guitar rap. This isn’t T.I.’s wheelhouse, but the reason for his limp-dicked effort to cash in is obvious—these aren’t the songs T.I. wanted to make, and they certainly aren’t the songs he’s good at making.

Paper Trail was decent because it felt like a goodbye for a while, the big seller to tide everybody over until the comeback. Well, No Mercy tries to be Paper Trail 2 and ends up falling way short. In the end, T.I. needs to face facts—he publicly fucked up twice. Whatever chance he had at being a mentor are gone. Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane both know that it’s not about proving to everybody that you’re reformed so that you can go back to rapping about guns. It’s about fucking the critics and doing what you want because it’s what you’re good at. The travesty of No Mercy is that King Uncaged probably would’ve been great, yet T.I. still feels a responsibility to pose as the good son who just happened to get his hand stuck in the cookie jar—twice.

After the pathetically whiny “Castle Walls” ends, and after you’ve sufficiently scrubbed your ears clean of Christina Aguilera’s increasingly more grating voice, there is a moment when T.I.’s conundrum comes into focus. Like P.O.S. or K’Naan, shouldn’t T.I. feel a responsibility to his community to set a good example, both with his songs and his actions? Yes. But here’s the distinction—the songs shouldn’t come first. The actions speak first and then the songs back them up.

If T.I. is going to continually screw up his life and career and get put in jail, then the least he can do is recognize that his apology rap is a waste of his blessed Southern talent. T.I. is a popular figure, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be as vicious, transgressive or cutthroat as he needs to be. But, somewhat admirably, T.I. has elected to play the role of mentor and make a mixture of limp pop songs and urban platitudes. Fine. More power to you T.I., as it’s good that you’re saying you’re setting a good example. But to actually set a good example, you have to back words with actions.

Like Lebron, T.I. doesn’t know how to act according to his fame or his power in the community. And that is the real shame behind No Mercy, a largely throwaway LP.

No Mercy Tracklist

  1. Welcome To The World (feat. Kanye West & Kid Cudi)
  2. How Life Changed (feat. Mitchelle’l & Scarface)
  3. Get Back Up (feat. Chris Brown)
  4. I Can’t Help It (feat. Rocko)
  5. That’s All She Wrote (feat. Eminem)
  6. No Mercy (feat. The-Dream)
  7. Big Picture
  8. Strip (feat. Young Dro & Trey Songz)
  9. Salute
  10. Amazing (feat. Pharrell)
  11. Everything On Me
  12. Poppin Bottles (feat. Drake)
  13. Lay Me Down
  14. Castle Walls (feat. Christina Aguilera)
Frank Turner - Rock and Roll EP album cover 2010 Frank Turner – Rock & Roll EP


The trend of hardcore front-men turned singer-songwriters is permeating the music scene with greatly varying results. There are a precious few that are making music as engaging as their alma maters, but London’s Frank Turner is the only one to strike out on his own and surpass his previous work.

With the release of a new EP, aptly entitled Rock & Roll, Turner offers up five songs that show his strength as a musician and his greatly varied sound. The opening track and teaser for his forthcoming 2011 full length is “I Still Believe,” an uproarious sing-along about his love for rock & roll. It’s a highly accessible pop-rock song that never subsidizes Turner’s punk past. It’s easy enough on the ears to elicit simple toe-tapping and powerful enough for drunken pile-ons. It is this delicate balance that Turner always navigates with the utmost grace and makes him one of today’s most engaging artists.

“To Absent Friend” follows a similar path set by “I Still Believe” and proves to be one of the best rock songs Turner has ever written. On 2009’s Poetry of the Deed there were hints of the rocking potential that Turner’s folk songs had, but often found themselves loaded with gimmicky Celtic instrumentation. Regardless of the reason, both of the aforementioned tracks from Rock & Roll show Turner abandoning the Irish-punk formula and the songs are better for it.

The remaining three tracks on Rock & Roll display Turner’s ability to effortlessly transition to folk ballads without ever alienating his audience. “Rock & Roll Romance” only further displays Turner’s love of the genre – and apparently alliteration – by weaving a tale of a relationship that lacks the emotional investment, as characterized by Turner’s analysis in lines such as, “We’re cheating the world out of the fairytale love and conclusion/And that’s not really fair on us all.”

Each of the albums slower stripped down songs display Turner’s lyrical introspection, a trait that has proved to be one of his greatest assets since the release of his debut full length, 2007’s Sleep is for the Week. “The Next Round” closes out Rock & Roll and sees Turner delving into the reasons behind his use of alcohol and his attempted avoidance of alcoholism which all too often permeates the punk genre, “Drink has drunk my days away/I tried to live like Hemingway/Life just doesn’t work that way.”

Rock & Roll proves to be a great addition to Frank Turner’s already impressive catalog and a step up from the disappointment that was Poetry of the Deed. The songwriting on this EP is lively, the lyrics are inspiring and it shows Turner executing at a level that makes him one of the best songwriters of the modern day. If this EP is just an appetizer for what is to come from him over the next year then the music world is in for an intensely gratifying main course.

Rock & Roll EP Tracklist

  1. I Still Believe
  2. Pass It Along
  3. Rock & Roll Romance
  4. To Absent Friend
  5. The Next Round
Daft Punk - Tron: Legacy soundtrack album artwork Daft Punk – Tron: Legacy


The Master Control Program holds no sway over the 0’s and 1’s in Daft Punk’s realm.

Tron: Legacy sets the tone for a futuristic venture into the grid, with  French  duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s  meshing of  soundtrack numbers with stylistic bounce and dance beats.

On this album, Daft Punk opted for a full orchestra and live music in the background to set the tone for this rediscovery of a childhood fantasy.

Being sucked into the grid by the MCP comes with its own set of rules and straying from that path could lead to being derezzed.   The score from the original “Tron”, released in 1982, was composed by Wendy Carlos (who also include penned the score for Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”) and touts a synthetic air.  In addition, Journey performed the opening credits and to two additional tracks from the original soundtrack.

The music extended the lunging depths of the unknown computer world inside the grid by administering an eerily vast feeling of loneliness and despair.  The score chronicled Tron and Clu’s journey through the grid as they battled evil programs working for the MCP.

Daft Punk provides the same cold, sterile atmosphere to accompany the ever-expanding cyber world.  Each track is set to a specific part in the movie and there is no shortage of original score homages throughout.

“Overture” opens the soundtrack, building slowly into a crescendo of epic proportions.  It sets the tone of homespun synthetic beats that encompass most of the soundtrack.

“The Son of Flynn” has flair reminiscent of the original “Tron” score.  The song growls with a residual uproar emanating a dark, empty feeling conveying confusion and a need to leave the system. “End of Line” has a Daft Punk touch. complete with a video game background sound that draws the listener in, making them one with the game.

Songs like “Armory” and “The Game Has Changed” are menacing and carry an aura that programs sent by the MCP are lurking just around the next corner, poised to attack.  “Arena” and “Recognizer” are intimidating just the same, and the names hold onto the scenes they are meant to coincide with during game play in the movie.

“The Grid” has the most throwback appeal with sound bites of Flynn talking about “getting in” to the grid. The remainder of the track has shallow house beats in the background with a wave of soaring Casio tones toward the end, continuing to mimic the original score.

In essence, having Daft Punk mastering the soundtrack for Tron: Legacy would curl anyone’s toes.  The sheer thought of robot-minded musical guru’s melding together a masterpiece of monstrous proportions sends any Tron-loving geek reeling into the stratosphere.

For those looking for a dedicated Daft Punk album, stick to the duo’s original releases.  The only song that completely encompasses that sound is the single “Derezzed.”  From start to finish, the short song has everything from the Daft Punk stable, including stutter-start house beats.

The entire score stays true to the film’s ethos, as Daft Punk rallies to make a soundtrack pure and true to any devoted “Tron” fan.  To make anything less would be grounds for being derezzed. End of line.

Tron: Legacy Soundtrack Tracklist

  1. Overture
  2. The Grid
  3. The Son Of Flynn
  4. Recognizer
  5. Armory
  6. Arena
  7. Rinzler
  8. The Game Has Changed
  9. Outlands
  10. Adagio For Tron
  11. Nocturne
  12. End Of Line
  13. Derezzed
  14. Fall
  15. Solar Sailer
  16. Rectifier
  17. Disc Wars
  18. C.L.U.
  19. Arrival
  20. Flynn Lives
  21. Tron Legacy (End Titles)
  22. Finale
Duffy - Endlessly album artwork large Duffy – Endlessly


It seems that vocalists playing into retro style in some form or another will inevitably be assigned a musical ancestor. Zooey Deschanel’s cutesy, high-pitched voice draws frequent comparisons to Loretta Lynn. The coquettish Amy Winehouse’s songs quote the styling of her idol Billie Holiday. And hot on the heels of Winehouse’s throwback soul revival comes a new kind of voice that cannot quite be sorted into one musical family.

Welsh songstress Duffy is a veritable history book chronicling female vocalists of the last 50 years. Armed with the vocal power of Aretha Franklin, the funky beats of Kylie Minogue and the saccharine crooning of Dusty Springfield, Duffy seems to have achieved a diva trifecta. Her 2008 debut Rockferry launched her into the spotlight among a recent wave of soul singers, but the inescapably catchy “Mercy” was a cut above the rest and lead the way to chart-topping album sales. Her follow-up Endlessly, despite seeming to have a firmer grip on musical diversity, seems to have lost some of its raw, genuine delivery as it fills less of a particular niche and covers too many bases.

Endlessly could suffer the fate of a sophomore slump, but even as that it wide-ranging and intriguing album.

The album certainly has glorious highs. “My Boy” starts the album with what are perhaps too high of expectations. Duffy makes the worn down disco-pop shtick sound fresh and sexy, taking a genre that has been beaten repeatedly into the ground and reviving it fearlessly. “Keeping My Baby” and “Lovestruck” update the kind of tone that “My Boy” set, giving a Minogue-esque pop joy. Featuring afro-funk band the Roots, the first single “Well, Well, Well” seems to be trying too hard to become the epic single that “Mercy” was for Rockferry. The heavy-handedness of the Roots’ backing and Duffy’s unique voice cannot seem to find a middle ground and instead fight for the spotlight. Endlessly is at its best with slow ballads like “Too Hurt to Dance” and title track “Endlessly.” Duffy’s gentle vibrato quivers over string arrangements flawlessly, and she is able to make an emotional connection she missed for the majority of the album.

As previously stated, Endlessly lacks the care and craft that Rockferry received. It would be easy to blame this on the swapping of producers, but Duffy was well taken care of by seasoned veteran Albert Hammond Sr., who seemed to be a perfect fit for the songstress with similar groups like the Hollies under his belt. The fault partially lies with sloppily written lyrics. Duffy did admit that she wrote the album in three weeks’ time.  The end result is a hodgepodge of clichés cut and pasted one after the other. Even though she is allotted a certain number of painfully cheesy lines thanks to the nature of the genre, Duffy abuses the right and enters into the realm of being unforgiveable.

While on the topic of clichés, Endlessly could suffer the fate of a sophomore slump, but even as that it is a wide-ranging and intriguing album. It will most certainly not reach the level of success of its predecessor, just as Duffy may never achieve the kind of immortal fame of her many muses. But the steps forward that the album takes show promise for her future.

Endlessly Tracklist

  1. My Boy
  2. Too Hurt, To Dance
  3. Keeping My Baby
  4. Well Well Well
  5. Don’t Forsake Me
  6. Endlessly
  7. Breath Away
  8. Lovestruck
  9. Girl
  10. Hard to the Heart
Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit album artwork 2010 Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit


When fake leaks of Agalloch’s fourth album Marrow of the Spirit surfaced, the band posted on their Facebook page: “You either end up with a virus or the new Dream Theater. We’re not sure which is worse.”

Oddly enough, with this album they are closer to the prog metal giants than ever.

Agalloch’s atmospheric, folky black metal has been an antithesis for Dream Theater’s precise, big-riff prog metal. Oddly enough, with this album they are closer to the prog metal giants than ever. This isn’t to say any of the material found on this album is at all reminiscent of Dream Theater. Rather, the structure of the material and riffage take a similarly direct influence from prog rock. A three-minute string intro leads into five constantly shifting tracks, each topping nine minutes (most topping ten, one topping seventeen). These tracks find the band shifting adroitly from a black metal assault to acoustic guitar interludes, slowly adding electric swells and glockenspiel and then bursting into majestic leads. And that’s still only one third of the song.

What stands out on Marrow is the drum work. The band’s new drummer doesn’t clean up their notoriously sloppy foundation so much as provide a more diverse palette to work with. As the drum fill opens the second track and first actual song, it’s clear the band is returning to their roots for chunks of this record. While previous album Ashes Against the Grain’s only connection to black metal was the vocals, Marrow doesn’t shy away from classic black metal blast beats and tremolo picking. They incorporate the ambient, post-rock influenced perspective of Ashes seamlessly with this as well as the band’s signature dark folk passages and the result is as good as you would expect from such a fine band.

Another thing of note is the amount of riffs per song we’re getting. In years past, Agalloch has had a tendency to ration their riffs, a song often having two or three. Often, the songs would slowly develop and a key riff would serve as a point of reference or climax. Each was extremely powerful and saving them for the right moments made their effect stronger. On Marrow, Agalloch pulls riffs out of anywhere and everywhere; none hit as hard as on “Fire Above, Ice Below,” but they do all work well together and there is rarely a dull moment.

On the flip side, songs on Marrow aren’t easily memorable or for that matter as recognizable as 2002’s landmark album The Mantle. However, the general excitement the band stirs up with these riffs in conjunction with excellent dynamics and textures keep the listener tuned in.

They still keep the tones gritty and cold, the vocals sparse and performances raw, but it’s the first time we hear the band making a noticeable effort to create something grandiose. Where longer tracks on The Mantle were less impressive than stunning, the pieces here aim to blow your mind first and creep into your soul later. Perhaps it’s the hype, perhaps they’ve secretly been listening to Dream Theater—perhaps neither. Luckily, there is still a soul backing the album and despite its initial inscrutability, listeners will slowly be able to latch onto extraordinary moments (of which there are plenty).

There’s a lot to take in each track, let alone the full album. This is nothing new for an Agalloch fan, but new listeners should not be deterred. There is plenty to appreciate early on, which will allow for future adoration. Marrow of the Spirit may not be the masterpiece many were expecting and it probably won’t have the longevity of The Mantle or Ashes Against the Grain, but it is certainly one of the best metal records to come out in 2010. Agalloch truly are one of the most unique and vital forces in metal and this album is further testament.

Marrow of the Spirit Tracklist

  1. They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness
  2. Into The Painted Grey
  3. The Watcher’s Monolith
  4. Black Lake Nidstang
  5. Ghosts Of The Midwinter Fires
  6. To Drown
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album artwork Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


Hip-hop has been around far too long to have a Brian Wilson in 2010, let alone a Pet Sounds.

Thousands of rappers have made albums so self-involved they seem to almost inhabit a world onto themselves. Quite a few rappers are educated to a fairly high degree or possess the practical knowledge to operate well outside the rap game.

Most of all, a ton of rappers could be identified as misogynist nymphomaniacs with little regard for women beyond holes with breasts.

Given all this information, why does Kanye West seem like the transcendent, singular example of all the unique elements of rap? And why, after Late Registration, College Dropout, 808s and Heartbreaks and (less so) Graduation, does My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy feel like the best example of how beautiful West can make rap sound?

After releasing two less than perfect records and scaring off the monolith legend of his jaw wired shut and his go-getter past, West did what any man in the middle of mid-life crisis would do. He moved to Hawaii, sequestering himself in a studio with invited guests such as Raekwon, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and even fucking Bon Iver. In his own self-contained world, West could have easily created 808s & Heartbreaks 2: I’m Still Whining. However,  Fantasy is certifiably dark.

Above the darkness and his desire to seem awash in women, money and fame, West skillfully elevated the sum of his parts into a stratosphere rap rarely comes close to — great art.

Of course, it’s more like great art through a fun house mirror. West realizes how he is viewed (“LOOK AT CHA” from “Runaway”) and instead of throwing a hissy fit or building a Jay-Z-esque wall of “I got a Bentley, so suck it,” he plays along.

Fantasy is about a character created by the media and the public. It’s about a “Monster.” His perspective is so warped that it never seems arrogant for him to say, “I think I fell in love with a porn star” or to force an ingénue to come crawling back to Chris Rock with a whole new set of in-bed moves cooing “Yeezy reupholstered my p*ssy.”

No one man should have all this power, but that’s exactly what West seems has. With the notable exception of Minaj going absolutely apeshit on “Monster,” West commands other rappers and his handpicked beats like Brian Wilson did his studio. After all, West knows the sound in his head is the right one.

Fantasy is a singular vision, a nymphomaniac rave that puts most everything, rap or not, released this year in humbling perspective. It’s dark like Kid Cudi or Drake want to be, yet bouncy and pop smart enough to know where the hooks go. While West’s verse is creating a character in the way his conceptual imagination of a “College Dropout” never did, beats like “Devil in a New Dress” or “POWER” are rumbling under him.They quietly compress the great parts of every West record before them into a twisted masterpiece with the dark scuzziness of 808s, the stringy Jon Brion-isms of Late Registration and the confidence in the product of College Dropout.

West already knows “Who Will Survive in America,” and it’s him

It’s never that easy though. West may be an anti-hero, but the beauty of an anti-hero is that little sliver of the listeners refracted in the champagne toast at the end of ebullient bonus track “See Me Now.” That’s what makes West important, and what makes Fantasy remarkable and Pet Sounds-esque. The listener cannot understand everything about what’s going on. One can appreciate it, sure, and laud it for its numerous accomplishments, but the transcendent moments (the thoughtful exeunt of “Runaway,” the caterwaul closing to “God Only Knows”) allow the listener to see themselves in the reflection.

No one will write another Pet Sounds, but My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, closes on that stratospheric pinnacle of great art that so few creators reach. West created a moment where the listener realizes they are lost in the world of the piece, and once one finds their way out of the maze, it’s no small wonder that they don’t  turn and dive right back in.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Tracklist

  1. “Dark Fantasy”
  2. “Gorgeous” (featuring Kid Cudi & Raekwon)
  3. “Power”
  4. “All of the Lights” (Interlude)
  5. “All of the Lights”
  6. “Monster” (featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver)
  7. “So Apalled” (featuring Jay-Z, Pusha T, Prynce Cy Hi, Swizz Beatz & the RZA)
  8. “Devil in a New Dress”
  9. “Runaway” (featuring Pusha T)
  10. “Hell of a Life”
  11. “Blame Game” (featuring John Legend & Pusha T)
  12. “Lost in the World”
  13. “Who Will Survive In America”
Girls - Broken Dreams Club EP album artwork Girls – Broken Dreams Club


In a world of one-hit wonders, cookie cutter rock and all-too-poignant indie music, Girls hands the public an EP that shows  still is a softer side to rock ‘n’ roll.

Broken Dreams Club is a throwback to the good ‘ol days when crooners wore their feelings on their sleeve and didn’t worry about the hang-ups of being called emo or goth.

The band has grown since the release of its debut Album and recorded Broken Dreams Club with a passion that could go unnoticed by the untrained ear. There are plenty of nuances hidden throughout the EP that at first listen are uninteresting and lifeless. However, by opening the mind’s eye to the careful consideration of lead singer Christopher Owens’ point of view, the collection takes shape and brings out melancholy feelings.

On the EP opener “Thee Oh So Protective One,” Owens and crew drop a doo-wop song carrying plucky guitar riffs and horns in the background. Reminiscent of the ‘enchantment under the sea’ dance from Back to the Future, the horns and chimes add depth to a classic sounding, one-dimensional song about lost love.

With “Heartbreaker” the upbeat guitar and drums are reflective, with a late ‘80s sound. The album rocks back and forth with a whammy bar guitar reverberation that rolls in, mimicking the feeling of loneliness. The song’s purpose lends a toast to those looking for love with no avail.

On the first chorus, Owens sings “I just want to get high, but everyone keeps bringing me down,” a discourse on being limited by trivial problems in an unstable environment.

In the song “Substance,” Owens’ in-depth incantations suggest, “If you want to shape your brain, I know a substance that gets rid of everything and helps you rock and roll, out of control.”  It talks about throwing out all inhibitions, cutting loose and letting the substance of choice take control.

The song carries Owens as he says coolly, “Guitar solo, c’mon.” Meanwhile, the drums build and the guitar cuts through the wide breadth of background music, landing the song evenly on calm ground.

Broken Dreams Club is superbly mastered and renders a mature sound. Girls add  depth to its line-up and familiarity to the hearts and minds of the public,  by offering a glimpse into the band’s future. The result is bright for a brooding band determined to send messages of living, loving and losing.

Delta Spirit - The Waits Room EP album artwork Delta Spirit – The Waits Room EP


San Diego’s Delta Spirit has shown great talent over the course of its short career. With the release of its sophomore full-length History From Below this past June, the band has been garnering praise from critics and commercial audiences alike. Only a few months later, the band offers up The Waits Room EP. It’s a five-song effort that sees Delta Spirit showcasing its love of a traditional folk styling with mixed results.

Two of the tracks on The Waits Room are re-imaginings from the History From Below album. While both “Bushwick Blues” and “Devil Knows You’re Dead” are not egregiously bad, they fail to offer anything of substance. The original versions boast stronger instrumentation that engages the listener, but on The Waits Room it feels as if these songs were unfinished demo versions that somehow made it onto the release. Hearing the stripped down arrangements is an interesting listen once or twice, but knowing the fully realized History From Below versions exist make these tracks disposable at best.

It is unlikely that The Waits Room will help bring in new devotees, but it does a great job of preaching to the converted.

The three original offerings are marginally better but still lack the emotional investment that Delta Spirit has exuded on previous releases. “The Flood” is about as archetypal as one can get within the folk genre and this keeps it from ever feeling unique. The vocals on the track are densely layered and would lend it to being sung by a gospel choir, but it also keeps it from ever breaking from the stringently established melody.

The lone track that displays Delta Spirit’s blues-based rock chops is “John Henry.” There’s potential due to the added instrumentation, but there is not a second of “John Henry” that feels original. It is derivative and utilizes many of the same rudimentary chord progressions that have been heard from many of the recent blues-rock revival acts or on any album featuring Jack White. It’s an absolute chore to not skip the track when it comes up due to its monotonous and lazy execution.

The Waits Room closes out with its strongest track, “My Dream.” Shaking off all the failures of the rest of the track listing, it rids itself of the stifling vocal layers and uninspired instrumentation to create a piece that is gripping for the entirety of its duration. It is not groundbreaking work, but it is the most imaginative and intriguing section of the entire release.

The Waits Room EP proves to be a release tailored exclusively to fans of Delta Spirit. It is unlikely that it will help bring in new devotees, but it does a great job of preaching to the converted. It is at best a disappointing follow-up to History From Below and hopefully proves to be an experiment instead of a complete overhaul of the band’s direction.

Soviet League - self titled album artwork Soviet League – Soviet League


It may not be the future, but Soviet League’s debut is mind-blowing nonetheless.

Despite their retronym, this duo of Los Angeles’ Spaceland dwellers Ben Eshbach (The Sugarplastic) and Matthew Kelly (The Autumns) has produced something new and different, although it is not without antecedents. Sonically, they occupy the narrow space between XTC and their psychedelic alteregos The Dukes of Stratosphear, or they might be Grandaddy’s hip bone connected to the late Head of Femur.

The overall effect of Soviet League’s debut is extraordinary. It demands to be broadcast from speakers strapped to a hang glider whilst leaping from an alpine peak.

These guys aren’t just whistling in the dark—they’re whistling with alarming frequency, but it’s used as an instrument, not a gimmick (NB:  Peter Bjorn and John, Edward Sharpe, Axl Rose, et al.). It’s also easier to whistle than play the saw or theremin, and has as much musical value. In particular the whistling echoes XTC’s “Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)” or “Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down.”

“Shylight” has enough reverberations of “The Somnambulist,” (as collected on XTC’s Waxworks/Beeswax) to induce actual sleep (but pleasantly so; it’s chipper but eerie, in a “Twin Peaks” vein) and “Keep Sleeping” functions as a ’50s doo-wop style reprise.  If the holy quirk triumvirate of Brian Eno, David Byrne and David Lynch heard these hauntingly familiar compositions filtered through the vocals of Roy Orbison and the atmosphere of Annie Lennox, there would not be a closed jaw amongst them.

Once the record hits its stride and brings the rock guitar/bass/drums/piano(?) tropes of “The Mirror,” there is no doubt Eshbach and Kelly can pull out the proverbial stops—and no superlatives can capture the moment.

In contrast,“The Owl” is reminiscent of Andy Partridge in a palm tree, juxtaposing Beach Boys-inspired vocal harmonies with a guitar solo lifted from a luau (although the lyrics veer a tad close to “Flight of the Conchords”). “Girl” could have been a lost track from Smile with its jingle bell rhythms, vibe accents and ascending and descending keyboard parts, and the concluding cut “Holiday” begins with a stripped down guitar strum before launching back into the vast, lush sprawl of the ride.

With music this dense, it’s hard to get to the bottom of what it’s all about, but there is a creepy undercurrent— for example, “I’m Going To Find You” serves as the best stalker anthem since Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart.”

The overall effect of Soviet League’s debut is extraordinary. It demands to be broadcast from speakers strapped to a hang glider whilst leaping from an alpine peak. They have produced something much greater than a collection of influences, but if Phil Spector had produced Orbison singing with Fleet Foxes backed by the rhythm section of Cake with an orchestral score by Van Dyke Parks, it would sound not entirely unlike this.

It would be a shame if this record flew under the radar of the rest of the press, as it deserves top ten of 2010 consideration. Here’s hoping Soviet League does not become the next lost rock classic.


  1. Row
  2. Delaware
  3. Shylight
  4. The Mirror
  5. The Owl
  6. Girl
  7. All The Sailors Wave Goodbye
  8. Nurse Down
  9. I’m Going To Find You
  10. Keep Sleeping
  11. Holiday Game
  12. Holiday
Twin Shadow - Forget album artwork Twin Shadow – Forget


Under the moniker Twin Shadow, George Lewis Jr. jumps back a few generations and epitomizes true nostalgia with his delicately crafted, but confidently delivered debut Forget.

Despite the misleading name, Lewis has clearly not forgotten the wellspring of his specialty, as he draws on ‘80s influences, such as electro-pop pioneers Soft Cell and Depeche Mode to shape tracks. However, he removes the novelty from the best brand of sound and replaces it with detailed musical elements.

Guided by the careful hand of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, the result is a beautiful melding of guilty pleasures and artistry that can be enjoyed at a passive listen, but has the potential for favorite album status.

Perhaps, the most impressive thing about Lewis is his comfort with his work. As a debut album, Forget plunges fearlessly into a unique and structured sound that could potentially shut Lewis out of musical circles before he was even admitted. His influences are obvious and deliberate, and this lack of mystery can be somewhat dooming before it begins. He avoids the fate of just another niche-filler with an easy confidence.

Lewis sounds polished and delightfully passive in his construction. His synthesizer orchestra nearly drifts out of speakers, taking moments to float around the room before disappearing into the next ambient track.

The album begins dramatically with the droning and ominous “Tyrant Destroyed.” Coupled with lo-fi tweaks and chirps, the song is a slow opening to the Pandora’s Box of funky and almost frustratingly lovely compositions featured on Forget. The album is a slow-opening bloom.

Brights get brighter and slow jams groove more epically as it progresses, culminating with the guitar-laden title track that ends the album.

As a song, “Forget” is completely free of any of the drone that grows less frequent on the album as it moves forward. Instead, the track is free to swirl and dance in all of its saccharine glory. Even during its flightiest forays, the song remains grounded by impressive bass lines and distorted guitar, demonstrating Lewis’ willingness to keep non-electronic and electronic instruments working side by side.

Lewis executes Forget with a certain amount of melodrama. Often the songs sound like what the soundtracks would be if John Hughes turned to the avant-garde side of teenage romantic comedies – if those actually existed. This creates  a bit of a campy side to the album.

As a result, Forget is at its best with unabashed dance tunes like “Shooting Holes” and “At My Heels.”

The very nature of the songs makes it impossible for Lewis to seem like he is taking himself too seriously, removing the element of discomfort that can lurk in the back of listeners’ minds during slower songs.

Twin Shadow has emerged with ‘80s influences proudly displayed with the same kind of pride that Generation Y must have felt wearing neon workout clothes. Lewis created a shockingly familiar and nostalgic reversion to the roots of electronic music.

The question is if Forget can gather the same kind of following as its notoriously catchy forefathers.

Forget Tracklist

  1. Tyrant Destroyed
  2. When We’re Dancing
  3. I Can’t Wait
  4. Shooting Holes
  5. At My Heels
  6. Yellow Balloon
  7. Tether Beat
  8. Castles In The Snow
  9. For Now
  10. Slow
  11. Forget