Tracing J.Cole's Millennial Journey

J. Cole's most recent album, KOD, arrived at an interesting point in pop music: Lil' Pump and the other lil's are dominating the headphones of teenagers, filling in a cultural void with blue hair, Xanax, learn, and generally ignorant behavior. Such is the long-told story of youth. 50 years ago the Beatles were wearing their mops, smoking marijuana, and perfecting the devils music. They said they were bigger than Jesus. People burned their records. Old timers complained about the hippies. Those hippies grew up, and complained about the gen-X kids who were fed a steady diet of malaise, Beavis and Butthead, punk rock, and Mad Magazine. Those kids grew up and had millennial's- a generation of spoiled, but poor kids who whiz through life on apps, killed the traditional music business, elected Obama, and deferred their student loans.

J. Cole, born in 1985, is a millennial, and perfectly typifies the general experience of a millennial in many ways. His first album, (which wa…

Improve Our Oblivion? Or Something More?

Better Oblivion Community Center? The phrase itself purports that we make a collective attempt to improve on our, well, failure. It's sort of what we run into as we scroll through Instagram, as corporations feed us the anecdotes to the anxieties they create, and the market is awarding them. The better the oblivion, the bigger the profits, the deeper the oblivion-inducing claws sink into our very humanness. At least that's the idea that two songwriting aces, Conor Oberest and Phoebe Bridgers, came up with- releasing a concept album of sorts detailing the feelings that fill each step between us and the outside world- a political parade with confetti- a small black box we live through. 

Heavy political notions and societal critiques aside, if you listen to any song off of Better Oblivion Community Center, let it be "Dylan Thomas". Named after the famed early 20th century Welsh poet, "Dylan Thomas" greets us with a jingly, bright, energetic guitar riff before de…

the Fourth of July

Sufjan Stevens, the guy who's in tune with the inner working of the heart, has a song for us this independence day: "Fourth of July", off of his excellent 2015 album Carrie & Lowell. The album itself is a reflection on Sufjan's turbulent childhood, with images of his mother dying her hair and smoking cigarettes in the bathroom, leaving him at the video store when he was 5, day drinking, and other similar scenes filling the contents of the record. In this context, "Fourth of July", a song about her death, finds itself placed right in the middle of the album- constituting the heart of the Carrie & Lowell project. The song is carried by a hauntingly beautiful piano melody that seems to sweep right through you- delicate, yet strong in the sense that it all but demands a wide-eyed introspection of some sorts.

Here, Sufjan encounters his emotions, a vivid imagination, and the natural world as he retells the story of his mothers death. He imagines his mot…

If Jesus had a Gun . . .

Hiss Golden Messenger is the musical moniker for singer/songwriter MC Taylor. In 2010, he released a stark, acoustic based album entitled Bad Debt. The album is full of late night brooding. . . a kitchen table lit by candles and a baby sleeping in the other room. The kinda dark hours where you're soul bursts, explores some dark territory, and scans all corners of the mind, trying to map meaning.

The best of the batch of songs featured on Bad Debt is represented by "Jesus Shot me in the Head". A provocative title, for sure, meant to convey the radical act and nature of an instantaneous religious conversion experience. Here, the metaphor of salvation- or dying to your old self- comes in the form of Jesus' killing off one's old self, in order to be "born again". Often, born again conversion experiences are preceded by a life lived on the low, which is accurately described here- the rough friends, the Motel 6, the drugs, the drinking. . .it's all packa…

Back on the Pavement, Let it Loose

Phoebe Bridgers had been circling around the L.A singer-songwriter scene for a few years. It was inevitable that her talent would see her through- with an ear for melody and class A writing skills, Bridgers steadily attracted the attention of many- and unfortunately, that of Ryan Adams. Adams, who was revealed by the New York Times to be at best, a manipulative, misogynistic, and coercive force (see the article here) that dangled record deals and studio time for talented young women like Bridgers. In this context, "Motion Sickness" is a song that recounts an ill-fated, manipulative relationship with an older man. A few steady sweeps of an electric guitar greet us at the start of the song, sending the whole enterprise in motion, down the sidewalk, down memory lane, down a reflective L.A. street lit with regret, anger, and just enough catharsis to roll everything downhill.

Middle of the River in a Lawn Chair

Most summer recipes call for long memories, a grandmother or two (if they're around, or at least the memory of them) rivers, companions, lakes, night skies, loons, and the months of June, July, and August. The big, circular-picked guitar rhythm that greets us on Big Thief's excellent 2019 song "Cattails" encompasses all of it, as we get locked into the sweetness of one of the best acoustic guitar patterns I've heard in a while. Wistful is the word, here, but of the light variety, like mulling over your problems by a river on a beautiful summer day. The circular, repeating guitar pattern, like Saturn's rings, reinforces the strong notion of seasons, natural cycles, and memory. The light does come shining. Just don't forget your lawn chair.

A Cautionary Tale?

Cautionary tales are often cemented into the catalog of stories for children for a reason. Their simple moral framing allows them to serve as anecdotes of utility, passing along moral knowledge from one generation to the next. The content of these stories is such that the emotional impact is up front, the lessons clear, and the call to action is cemented in the developing brain.

However, at a certain point a cautionary tale loses its luster- it's black and white ethics don't hold a candle to the world lit with grey in front of us. Instead, we search for nuance, meaning, and dignity. When cautionary tales won't do, we are brought to a place of enrichment and meaning through songs like the Drive By Truckers emotional rocker entitled "The Fourth Night of my Drinking" off of their 2010 album The Big To-Do
"The Fourth Night of My Drinking" may appear to, on the surface level, provide listeners with a cautionary tale on the perils of drinking. Certainly, i…

Ignore the Elephant

Jason Isbell certainly has a penchant for writing detailed, heartbreaking country-tinged folk tunes. For perhaps his saddest, look no further than "Elephant" off of his excellent 2013 album Southeastern. Although this is a song specifically about cancer, like the best written songs, it is about so much more: denial, substance abuse, communication, and the valuing of human connections in the midst of suffering. Vivid details color the track: sitting on a bar stool, doctors notes, country songs. You can picture the relationship between the two in the song- not talking about the cancer- drinking in bars- both their minds covered over with the gloss of sickness, drinking, and unsaid words. Pair it with Isbell's sweet n' sad southern drawl and minor chord guitar patterns, and out comes this tear jerking classic from a master songwriter.

No Label, No Brand, Just Human? Pop Culture is Trash? Noname's new "Song 32"

AWW SHEEET. . . was my first reaction when I heard the opening swirls of an organ, deep bass, and snare hits that greet us on Noname's new single entitled " Song 32". More than anything else she's put out to date, " Song 32" accounts for her thesis statement on her name & places her identity in the music world at large. She's so far away from dropping in on Ellen, showing up at a Democratic candidates rally, or exploding on twitter. If you're into that stuff, the art that gets approved by mainstream pop culture like I am, "Song 32" will call you out for your bullshit and make you feel like you've been sleeping, failing to see the world from a critical lens. You know she's right. You know liberal savior Obama bombed Lybia. You know Nike shoes are the same thing as Walmart shoes, minus the swoosh. This anti-branding, anti-corporate stance, which is reflected in both her name and the title to this song, comes complete with refere…

Live Review: Drive By Truckers

It's not often I see live music alone, which is funny, because often music is heard alone. It is an individual experience filtered through our headphones, as the current world gets erased and enriched by ideas & sound. However, seeing a live show is an exercise in community, energy, tone, spirit, and feeling. If you go alone, you are almost more free to witness the natural community that it forms, since everyone there is presumably a fan.

I saw the Drive By Truckers play last night at Infinity Hall, a small venue in downtown Hartford, CT. There was no opening act- and around 8:30 the lights dimmed, the band banged on some loud chords, energized like race horses out of the starting gate. The songs bled into one another, a mesh of doom-filled power chords, melodic sidetracks, and stories straight from the gut. It was exactly what you'd expect from the grizzled veterans of the road, who still sound juiced by the chance to preform in front of a gracious, if not somewhat rabid…