“Nobody wins when the family feuds,” Jay-Z rapped on, well, “Family Feud” from 2017’s 4:44.
That statement makes plenty of sense for the traditional nuclear family. For The Carters, everyone else won when the family feuded.
First, Beyonce released Lemonade, a genius-level-work following a decades-long career of pop and R&B smashes. The audio-visual masterpiece aired her husband’s dirty laundry, while also addressing the plight of black women in America.
Then, a year later Jay-Z releases 4:44, his best record since 2007’s American Gangster. Jay accepted his role as an elder statesman. He faced himself as a man, husband and father by admitting his mistakes.
Now, America’s true first couple have renewed their marriage. On Saturday afternoon, they surprised us with their first collaborative album, Everything is Love. It’s a victory lap about rediscovering love and releasing two platinum albums while doing it. While Lemonade was anguish and 4:44 was an apology, Everything is Love is resolution and strength.
“What’s better than one billionaire? Two,” Jay raps later on “Family Feud.”
The Carters are rich beyond imagination. They don’t flex. They’re that rich. Everything almost feels like a throwaway. Bey and Jay could just spend a few nights in the studio while Blue, Rumi and Sir slept and churn this out for the hell of it.
This isn’t Beyonce featuring Jay-Z or Jay-Z featuring Beyonce. This is what marriage should be, an equal partnership. While Jay-Z will never, and should never, be a singer, Beyonce proves to be a real force rapping. It’s a beautiful thing to conquer the charts, and the world, with your spouse.
Everything manipulates a few storylines in the Jay-Z/Beyonce universe. Obviously, the Carters have concluded three years of public marital strife. With Everything, we get a joyous resolution.
The timing of this record heats up two of Jay’s cold wars. Kanye West was the last person to collaborate on an album with him. In 2016, Kanye took shots at Jay-Z at a Saint Pablo show.Everything was released in the middle of Kanye’s five-week five-album rollout.
Lastly, the couple attacks the music and entertainment industry as a whole. On “Apeshit,” Jay takes shots at the Super Bowl and the Grammys claiming he doesn’t need commercial approval. On “Nice,” Bey does the same to Spotify as Lemonade can do real numbers on Tidal. (The album was released on Spotify and Apple Music on Monday. Spotify has not put the album on the new releases page.)
Everything is Love is momentous. It takes us into the Carters’ world where hard work pays off and the riches are bountiful. Not only is this album a testament to their work ethic, but the hardships of marriage. They let us witness them work through something which tears families apart. Many couples wouldn’t forgive each other. The American royals have taken stock of their marriage and it’s worth the challenge.
While they’re world famous, Jay-Z and Beyonce have had a private marriage. This album is prideful of how strong their bond has become. Ultimately, if love cannot make it through the ringer, it may not be love at all.
I was in a slump. It felt like nothing was going right. Things just weren’t going my way. I turned to my favorite pastime, live music. Somehow, I ended up going to four shows in two weeks to, quote America’s pop laureate, “shake it off.”
I had received an invite to a show for a band I knew by name only, Japanese Breakfast. I could be pretty open-minded when my friend John was just handing me tickets.
Japanese Breakfast, like myself, are from Philly. The night before the show, John had gotten a only few hours of sleep. He bailed on the show, which he purchased tickets to. Neither of us wanted the tickets to go to waste so I took his other ticket. Another friend, Sachin, had coincidentally been listening to JB the night before, so he hopped along.
Japanese Breakfast was a fun and energetic live act playing the compact 9:30 Club. Their sound is comparable to a combination The XX and Big Thief, but if those two bands played at double speed. Michelle Zauner is essentially Japanese Breakfast. She is a charismatic and lively performer playing multiple instruments and bouncing around the stage.
The highlight was “12 Steps” from her latest album 2017, Soft Sounds from Another Planet. It’s chorus aches, “I can’t blame you, it’s just that we let love run its course/And it’s a little bit lonelier.” For a headliner with two openers, JB blew through their set in what felt like less than an hour.
Two days later, John finally got some sleep and planned to see Dirty Projectors, again at the 9:30 Club. Their self-titled album was one of my favorites from last year. The album was built around lead Dave Longstreth’s break-up with former bandmate Amber Coffman. (Coffman released a rebuttal album, City of No Reply last year as well, which was produced by Longstreth.)
Longstreth, like Zauner, is the entirety of Dirty Projectors on the latest album, but he is supported by a backing band in concert. For ten-plus years, he has been known as a guitar virtuoso playing sharp guitar and making dynamic indie-pop-rock. Before last year’s record, Projector had not been on tour in a very long time. There was excitement to finally see songs from the last album live as well as get a preview of their new album, Lamp Lit Prose, out next month.
Ticketfly, the best alternative to the Ticketmaster/LiveNation behemoth, had experienced a major cyber attack. It was impossible to buy tickets to this show online as their entire platform had been shut down. The show was surprisingly early with doors opening at 6PM on a Friday. I rushed out of work expecting the show to sell out.
To our surprise, only ten people were present at the venue before the opener. We easily grabbed a spot on the rail and make conversation with fellow eager fans. The opener, Buzzy Lee, played an early, intimate set to a crowd of maybe 30 people, who were gradually filling the club. They were small duo with a woman on keyboard and a man on guitar. We would find out later that this woman was Sasha Spielberg, daughter of Steven.
After Buzzy Lee, the venue was looking more like a show for a renowned indie act. Around 8 PM on a Friday night, Dave Longstreth and his crew took the stage. With three women and three men, including Longstreth, the band played a combination of traditional rock instruments plus electronic keyboards and gizmos.
Longstreth is an absolute genius on guitar creating the fuzzy, yet cutting thread that holds each Dirty Projectors song together. Directly in front of our faces, he shredded and shook through each tune. John gave Longstreth a “Hi Dave!” caught him off guard as he was on one knee tuning his guitar. Thankfully, the guitarist was cool enough to say hi back.
John told me a major portion of the set was unreleased tracks from Lamp Lit Prose, which helped me avoid embarrassment when I didn’t recognize many songs. The cuts from Dirty Projectors sounded smooth, yet retained a live pop. Multi-instrumentalist Felicia Douglass stood in for DΔWN on “Cool Your Heart.” The grating “Keep Your Name” kept its reverberations and contempt.
Dave Longstreth was able to regroup a set of completely new musicians and keep every step which made Dirty Projectors fantastic through the years. If I had one complaint, it was that they skipped “Up in Hudson,” the highlight of the 2017 album. It is also a seven-minute song that feels like a real-time recap of Longstreth and Coffman’s relationship.
The following Tuesday, John and I planned to attend another Philly band’s show at the 9:30 Club. However, John’s body had decided to fail him once again as he came down with a stomach bug.
Hop Along, a great indie quartet, had released their third album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, back in April. The album was led by the fantastic single, “How Simple,” a song about reaching a deal-breaker in a relationship and the split decision to end it. The chorus growls, “Don’t worry we will both find out just not together.”
With John incapacitated, I persevered and attended the show alone. (I could write a whole essay on going to shows alone is fantastic, but this is already a long piece.)The opener, Bat Fangs, were coincidentally a local D.C. band. While I couldn’t remember a song they played, I do remember them being fun. They had an 80’s hard rock kind of feel with a lead with a Joan Jett look and attitude. They played fast and furiously through a quick half-hour set.
Hop Along emerged roughly twenty minutes later from behind a net of dim lightbulbs. They led with “How Simple,” rather than keep it for the end. It was a sensible move to get the hit out of the way fast and retain true fans. Frances Quinlan, the lead singer, has a beautiful and singular voice. There is this expansive and enveloping depth to it, but there’s this grit on every word that paints emotional strain on every word.
The Philly band came with humility. Hop Along has paid their dues getting to a hit like “Simple.” The June 5th show was the first time they came to D.C.’s landmark venue as a headliner. They brought the kind of shy, indie rockstar charm, lightly smiling at woos from the crowd.
The hour-long set was about half songs from Dog with handfuls of songs from their other two albums. Quinlan’s voice stands out on the record, but that voice goes beyond live. The crowd could really feel the angst and wit fully behind the microphone.
Now, every previously-mentioned act has created truly great art. The songwriting and craftsmanship that went into “How Simple,” “12 Steps,” and Dirty Projector are pieces of true vulnerability. Yet, there is something about an act that has mastered their live performance over a decade of touring and festivals.
Chromeo has never been noted as a complex band. The Jewish-Arab duo of Dave-1 and P-Funk are talented electronic musicians. No one will go to this band for lyrical complexity or intuitive storytelling. I’ll tell you though, if you’re trying to have a good time, Chromeo know a thing or two.
It is too fun to describe Chromeo. I could say they were just two cartoon characters who came to life and decided to start a funk band. (Dave-1 was animated for Ezra Koenig’s Netflix show, Neo Yokio) I could say that they’re the funky version of Han Solo and Chewbacca. There is something equally campy and macho about them. I need convincing that these two are real human beings and not holograms.
When a great live act takes the stage, there’s something you feel the second they kick into gear. The stress in your shoulder dissipates immediately. If you thought you were too cool to dance, your body will tell you differently. The same feeling took me when I saw HAIM last month. (The sisters happened to star in Chromeo’s video for “Old 45s.”)
The show was at, you guessed it, the 9:30 Club. It was the first installment of their tour for their new album, Head Over Heels, out Friday. It was probably the smallest venue on the tour. The stage looked cramped with multiple sets of synthesizers tucked between a reflective catwalk and lighting array. They’ll be hitting bigger venues like New York’s Terminal 5 and Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater down the road.
The tight stage was nothing for Dave and P to worry about. The duo played a career–spanningset with plenty of duck-walking, strutting and guitar solos to go around. Chromeo puts on such a visual concert that they’re practically begging you to post to Instagram.
While the three previous acts could perform with a multitude of feelings and emphasize technical skill, Chromeo played 18 versions of the a slick, confident, electro-funk song. Normally, that could be considered an act of insanity, but they brought so much energy and pizzazz that it hardly mattered.
Did all these shows get out of my slump? Hell no. Did every time I left one of these shows I feel immensely better? Hell yeah. Dirty Projectors, Japanese Breakfast and Hop Along helped me really feel my stresses and Chromeo helped me shake them off.
Fantastic shows won’t solve your problems. There’s hardly a simple fix for any of us. For four nights, over the last two weeks, I forgot the world for a few hours with a friend and a beer or two in a dark room surrounded by happy strangers.
Two genius-level musicians returned from mental breakdowns last Friday. Kanye West proves he’s mortal. Father John Misty, on the other hand, may be too good for this world.
Kanye West – Ye (6/10)
It’s not easy to discuss Kanye West in 2018. We had all hoped post-election Kanye was just a sign of stress and exhaustion. Unfortunately, West has changed for the worse. Without going in-depth on Kanye’s recent political statements, let us tackle Ye, West’s eighth and shortest album.
First of all, this is Kanye West’s worst album by a long shot. However, even a poor Kanye album has glimpses of greatness. Kanye’s work ethic as a musician is to go against the grain. He has to change how we view whatever genre he works within. Sometimes these albums are hard to grasp (Yeezus) and sometimes they feel like creative detours (808s and Heartbreaks), but they ultimately changed how we hear pop music.
Ye is not a new take on Kanye’s work. It’s the trial version of The Life of Pablo. This isn’t boundary pushing work. These are leftover ideas brushed up by brash MAGA-Kanye trying to startle us. Half the songs remind me of the Weeknd-featuring “FML.” PartyNextDoor on “Wouldn’t Leave,” makes me wish for Young Thug on “Highlights.”
Ye sounds like a struggle. It’s scatterbrained, unfocused and unfinished. Is this the end of an almost two-decade run of success? We’ll have to see. This is a career that has been defined by the bumps in the road. Tomorrow, Kanye will release a collaborative album with long-time friend Kid Cudi called Kids See Ghost.
Overall, Ye is the worst and most forgettable album Kanye has released. At this point, this isn’t a suggestion to listen to it or not, because it’s 24 minutes long, and you were probably going to anyway. It’s worth wondering if it should be held up against his masterpieces.
*Collaborative albums with Jay-Z and G.O.O.D. Music, respectively.
**As confusing as this sounds, MBDTF is definitely in my top ten albums of all time, but Yeezus might not. Yeezus is the most true to form Kanye as Kanye album. One is a perfect all around album and the other is a perfect testament to the artist who created it.
Dont @ me.
Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer (9/10)
Josh Tillman isn’t a man with a lot of faith left in humanity. His work is deeply poetic and contemplative. Just last year, he released the incredible Pure Comedy. The album was long and deeply reflective on society in 2017. It was a commentary on our craving for entertainment from our phones and society’s decline. Comedy was full of twisted, yet vivid imagery.
Josh Tillman needs someone to keep him attached to reality. The listener can tell that Tillman feared he could lose his wife. It sounds like the couple has resolved their differences, but one would imagine a wild, heady and hedonistic figure like Misty is hard to love. On “Please Don’t Die,” he clearly fearing more than divorce. What separates Customer from his other albums is that it’s emotive and straightforward rather than whitty and cynical.
God’s Favorite Customer is Tillman’s shortest work. (It’s half the length of Pure Comedy.) He took a take-the-pen-out and bleed method to writing this album. It’s a testament to his brilliance as a songwriter than he can do so much with so little as well as be verbose and keep listeners asking for more. We know that Tillman can churn out beautiful simple lyrics with the one-off “Real Love Baby” and his songwriting work on Beyonce’s Lemonade.
GFC is still classic Misty. He can be ironic. “Last Night I Wrote A Poem/I Must have been in the poem zone,” Misty mopes on “The Palace.” The instrumentation doesn’t askew the normal FJM template. There beautiful pianos and guitar strumming occasionally accompanied by a boisterous horn section. (There’s even a bass part from Mark Ronson on “Disappointing Diamonds are the Rarest of them All.”)
God’s Favorite Customer is simply poetic album from a complicated man. Love is sold in movies as unrivaled joy, but Father John Misty cuts through it like Don Draper. Love is sad. Josh Tillman is dependent on his beloved Emma. She’s his muse. On “The Songwriter,” he broods that he profits off their love. She’s the person in his life who keeps him grounded. He can’t bear to lose her even if it costs him his sanity.
First, let me offer an apology. I haven’t posted in over a month. My sister graduated college in the middle of May. I spent the back half of the month moving to a new apartment. I still don’t have Wi-Fi in my new place. I will have a review of “Ye” and Father John Misty’s “God’s Favorite Customer” coming soon as well as a review of four recent shows I attended. While I get those together, here is a brief Nick’s Pick piece.
St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTIONwas the singer-songwriters foray into pop. Some considered it trauma-pop surrounding Annie Clark’s break up with mega-model and actress Cara Delevingne. The album was supported by two singles the somber “New York” and the shredding “Los Ageless.” In the back half of the album’s tracklist was its true gem, the retching “Slow Disco.”
Over half a year later, Clark has re-released the song as “Fast Slow Disco.” By adding a thumping house beat and a backing choir, the song claims new life as an actual dance-it-off disco track. “Fast Slow Disco” is not only feels an update of itself, but also an update of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.” With The Life of Pablo, Kanye West proved to listeners that albums and songs can be living and evolving organisms. From “Slow” to “Fast,” Clark turns “Disco” away from her heartbreak and toward her progress.
Plus a review of Janelle Monae’s new album and support for the R. Kelly boycott
Last Tuesday night, May 1st, HAIM, the trio of Jewish, California-born sisters, took control at D.C’s Anthem. They are currently travelingthe world on their Sister Sister Sister Tour in support of their 2017 album Something to Tell You.
Lizzo is opening for the sisters. If you’re unfamiliar with the singer’s work, as I was, you will be surprised and delighted. Lizzo is all about self-love and body positivity. She brings the showmanship of a Beyoncé with about 0.5% of the budget. HAIM and Lizzo’s music don’t necessarily complement each other, which made Lizzo’s showmanship more enticing as a delightful introduction to her work.
The Haim sisters are tour and festival veterans. They’ve played multiple Coachellas, including this year’s festival, and opened stadiums for Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon and Rihanna. This run is their biggest headlining gig with shows at the Greek Theater in L.A. and Red Rocks in Colorado.
Their experience shows. The Anthem is a troublesome venue. It’s too large for a club because the IMP, D.C. major concert promoter’s intention with the venue is to pull performers from Capital One Arena. The sound can get lost in the back and the energy can dissipate it’s not sold out.
HAIM managed make the cavernous club feel like the more-intimate 9:30 Club. During one song, the lights went low and they played in front of red neon lights, which somehow tightened the back of the venue a whole 20 feet.
The band ran through the entirety of Something to Tell You and about half of their first album, Days Are Gone. Every song was as recognizable live as as on record.
Danielle and Este, the middle and eldest sisters, are the most talented of the two. The second Haim shreds on lead guitar. Her solos sounded identical to the versions on the album on songs like “Little of Your Love,” and surprises on “Nothing’s Wrong.” Este is famously known for her “bass face,” which presents both her intensity and absurdity. Alana, the youngest, is gifted in her own right, but her role is to support on rhythm guitar and keyboard. The sisters are assisted by two touring artists on keyboards and drums.
Alana and Este bring the personality between songs, while Danielle is more reserved. There was about a five-minute period of banter about Family Guy, Randy Newman, bodysuits and Alana’s relationship status.
The sisters have a stage presence of 30-year touring veterans. They own the stage with true comfort. There is no theatricality, just expertise, enthusiasm and a sense of humor.
HAIM’s sisterhood is authentic. They’ve worked and learned together outside of the band. In all likeliness, Este remembers Alana being born. (They’re six years apart.) Another band might have spats behind the scenes that could ultimately rupture the ties that bind. Unless, HAIM ends up like Oasis, their love withstands it all.
Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer(8/10): Until now, Janelle Monae has never delivered an album as herself. Her name is on all of her records and EP, but she has always performed as a character, Cyndi Mayweather. Dirty Computer, her latest, has Janelle Monae performing as Janelle Monae. In a sense, Computer, is a debut. Monae recently came out as pansexual. By accepting her truth, she now unlocks a new level of brilliance. The album is an eclectic and energized work. Within its 48 minutes, I heard influences of funk, disco, indie, hip-hop and surf rock. The highlight is “Screwed,” featuring Zoe Kravitz. The song comes out full-force with amped-up guitars. It’s an ode to sexual liberation, which segues into “Django Jane,” where Monae spits arguably one of the hardest rap verses of the year for a full three minutes. Dirty Computer is a freeing work for a brilliant songwriter. Monae has reached new heights by fulfilling her truest self. Best Track: “Screwed” (featuring Zoe Kravitz)
#MuteRKelly:. I will admit that I have openly and vocally enjoyed R. Kelly in the past. No more. It is time to boycott R. Kelly. I stand with his victims, those in Time’s Up leading this boycott and Vince Staples. R. Kelly is a serial predator, with a 20-plus-year history of abuses towards young women and girls. His record label RCA has defended him and ignored the litany of complaints. It is time for streaming services, record labels and touring companies to boycott R. Kelly. It’s time for Kelly to finally go away.
While the weather on the East Coast continues to change like a bad mood ring, it is technically the middle of Spring. Ahead of summersongs gaining their momentum, I present my playlist for the Spring of 2018. Find in the links below and on Spotify, my mix including songs by Father John Misty, Anderson . Paak, Drake, Kacey Musgraves and 36 others.
On Sunday night, the New Zealand pop singer, Lorde, brought her Melodrama spectacle to Washington D.C.’s Anthem. The show was her tour’s only non-arena leg as the Washington Wizard’s held court at the Capitol One Arena. While the Anthem is not to be considered small, Lorde and her two openers, Run The Jewels and Mitski, lavished in the opportunity to make eye contact with the crowd.
Mitski, the smallest act of the three, played a short set. Most of the crowd was unfamiliar with her. The venue drowned her out, not the concert-goers themselves, but Mitski was given no assistance from the engineers on the soundboards.
Run The Jewels gained considerable momentum as an act that could fill the Anthem on their own.
El-P and Killer Mike have been a duo for a five years and working together for seven. I caught them on the RTJ3 tour last January and they brought the house down with sheer bombasity. Still RTJ, as an opener, brought the heat. Killer Mike is feeling himself as a performer shaking around his considerable mass. El-P, a down trodden Brooklynite, has found joy rocking crowds. (RTJ brought out the singer BOOTS for the song “2100,” to little reaction for a guy who wrote half of Beyonce’s 2013 self-titled album.)
About 30 minutes after RTJ’s fist and finger gun deflated, Lorde emerged from the fog in a white light to “Sober,” with six back-up dancers.
Lorde described Melodrama as a story of bodies and colors smashing into themselves during one graceless night. Between the frontstage and the backing band, a glass cage emerged as its pulley lifted dancers and Lorde herself up in the air. Lights flashed magentas, turquoises, oranges and greens (duh.) merging the singer’s senses with our own.
Another detail about Lorde you always notice is that she’s young. There have been plenty of pop prodigies throughout the history, but Lorde writes lyrics on a caliber rarely heard from veterans. She was signed as a teenager and made her breakthrough at 17.
Apart from her next-level talent, she’s only 21. Her presence lets that be known and she confidently knows it. The dancers had intricate choreography, but the singer chose when she’s joined her backup dancers’ movements. If she has to sing, she’s going to sing and she’s been known as an singular dancer for a while now.
Her stage presence and demeanor show that this is overwhelming, but we know she feels that way. It’s not nervousness, but giddiness, but it removes the tone of some of her somber works.
Nearing the end of the show, the music slowed for three songs where Lorde took a seat in the center of a semicircle made up of what appeared to flourescent lightbulbs you’d find in a corporate office. She made banter and jokingly, ordered a single malt on ice, which she did actually received from a bartender. This part of the show was for two of Melodrama’s most cutting songs, “Writer in The Dark,” and “Liability,” plus a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Solo.” These songs could make you sob, but instead her jovial nature cut them like the ice in her whiskey cup.
The show’s final three numbers were reserved for her biggest hits. “Royals,” is the singer’s most known work, but her most overrated. For non-radio listeners to take her seriously, it was not the proper introduction. That song was followed by “Perfect Places,” the strongest song off Melodrama. It was a fantastic sing-a-long, but lacked some oomph.
She saved her energy for the last number, Melodrama’s lead single, “Green Light.” Lorde begged the audience to go crazy with her and that we did. Clearly exhausted after performing for 90 minutes, the singer sung and shook her body with such voracity that the room went into a frenzy. Star-shaped confetti shot with tiny messages like “Melodrama forever” and “Just another graceless night,” printed on to them into the crowd.
Lorde writes and performs about the most visceral of emotions. Her live show wraps you in those hard feelings. The sounds, colors and, most of all, intensity of the Melodrama envelope you in her synaesthesia.
Two Non-Lorde Notes:
Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy (7/10): In a year where every up-and-coming rappers debut album feels like a check off a record label’s meeting agenda, it’s refreshing for Cardi B to deliver a start-to-finish testament to her hustle. Comparable to Migos’ C U L T U R E, Cardi is more than the hit single “Bodak Yellow,” with a spectrum of styles of rap like trap (“Money Bag”), pop-rap (“Be Careful”), salsa-rap (“I Like It”) and posi-rap (“Best Life”). Cardi demands attention and she deserves it after grinding this hard and this well. Best Track: “I Like It” (featuring Bad Bunny & J Balvin)
Drake’s “Nice for What”: Drake can’t lose. Aubrey becomes New Orleans bounce Drake like he’s been missing for a year and not currently number one on the Billboard charts. Now, he’s woke with a video featuring women like Olivia Wilde, Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae and other in frames of clout. It’s a response to Charli XCX’s “Boys” video which put famous men in the ludicrous positions women are placed in music videos. An incredible song, Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor” serves as the core sample for “Nice for What” with Kid Capri-like shoutouts from Bounce legend Big Freedia. The song of the summer contenders spring their heads in April.