James Blake: James Blake

James Blake Album

The first thing that strikes you about James Blake is all that singing. His acclaimed EPs didn’t have much of that. But on his self-titled, debut album, Blake’s voice is the most immediate entrance into the albums emotion. Or, perhaps, “emotionalism” is a better word. Blake sounds like a person who feels things strongly, but rather than excite similar emotion in the listener, his emotion itself seems to be the subject matter. Listening to James Blake is then a strangely voyeuristic enterprise, where a subject is seen to be exhibiting signs of, for instance, pain without creating a reciprocal or empathetic relationship with the listener.

If you think of art as a way for someone to create a shared space of meaning, then, it seems like James Blake should be a failure. Continue reading

Disagree to Agree: Taylor Swift’s Speak Now, Pt. 3

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Taylor Swift is basically a goldendoodle.

In this new series, 10 Listens will publish two writers’ takes on a given record, artist, or concept. The exchange will be given as a series of brief essays, with each subsequent one a response to the previous. Today, B Michael responds to Brad Nelson’s response to his original post.

I do not disagree: Taylor Swift’s main songwriting strength is the ability to pick out one, two, or three details in a situation or story; she bludgeons you about the head, neck, and ears with her limited observational palette until you’ve mistaken detail for depth. Shining up a mirror really good doesn’t provide you with a singular biographer. At the most basic level, it’s still you and your experiences that are what allows you to parse and express your idea of you and your experiences. And I’m saying that Taylor Swift isn’t even a particularly well-polished mirror. She’s more like one of those pitted, surface-blasted plastic mirrors you’d find at a garage sale or broken into pieces in an alley.

Saying that something isn’t deep has already lodged within it the rejoinder that you’re not trying hard enough. It’s like, Oh, you don’t get the latest Almodóvar film? It’s like cutting the cheese in an Olympian’s hyperbaric chamber. Sorry…

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Disagree to Agree: Taylor Swift’s Speak Now, Pt. 1

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In this new series, 10 Listens will publish two writers’ takes on a given record, artist, or concept. The exchange will be given as a series of brief essays, with each subsequent one a response to the previous. Today, B Michael Payne leads off with his initial take on Taylor Swift’s Speak Now.

It’s the sort of thing we might not ever agree on, so I’ll lead with the fact that I don’t really care for how Taylor Swift’s Speak Now sounds. If I had to elaborate, or if you wanted me to “say more,” I would say that I somewhat dislike the music. But it’s more like I just don’t deign to notice it.

It’s much more interesting to me, what she says and what she says means. Continue reading

First Listen: Of Montreal’s False Priest


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Wow. The new Of Montreal album is getting some juice from its guest stars (bionic robo-soul singer Janelle Monae and the indie Knowles, Solange), but I suspect it will go down in history as one of the most acerbic, self-loathing, bleak albums. Which is to say: It is an Of Montreal album of recent vintage. While there are no tracks as fierce and shaggy as “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal,” the record features its share of cutting songs. While the musical mood of False Priest is somewhat bubbly, bouncy, and effervesescent, it has its share of claustrophobic neurosis vehicles. “Around The Way” sounds like a particularly demented Aladdin Sane-era Bowie track. “Godly Intersex” sounds vaguely chillwave-y, without the lack of substance and philosophic verve the genre typically displays. “Hydra Fancies” uses the deranged, multi-track voice effect to, well, great effect. The entire album is made of recriminations aimed squarely at self and chunky barbs that hurt everyone. While I can’t hardly imagine the amount of psychic pain that propels the creation of such a document, False Priest seems to make it sound pretty fun.

New Video: 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers “No Resolution 2″

As a follow-up of sorts to our Zilla Rocca interview, here is a new video from the 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers for the “No Resolution 2.” The video is a tribute to 12 Angry Men. It does a good job marrying the intense film to an equally intense song, which turns the Velvet Undeground’s”Venus In Furs” into a raucous party jam beat. The song can be found on the Broken Clocks EP (and downloaded here, for free). Enjoy.

Interview: Zilla Rocca

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Zilla Rocca is a busy man. He is a Philadelphia-based rapper who’s been writing and rhyming for more than thirteen years. From 2003 to 2006, he was a part of the experimental hip-hop group Crooked Souls, which released Break Bread & Nails. In 2004, he teamed up with Nico the Beast to make the rap duo Clean Guns.  He created Beat Garden Entertainment, a Philadelphia rap consortium, with Nico and Octavius “Big O” Mitchell. And then in 2008, Zilla Rocca teamed up with producer Douglas Martin (aka Blurry Drones) to create the 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers. With Martin on production and Rocca on the mic, they released a breakthrough album, The Slow Twilight, which was loosely based on the noir film Blast of Silence. Earlier this year, 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers released an EP, Broken Clocks.

The 5 O’Clock Shadow Boxers have gained a considerable online following by working unconventional (read: Indie Rock) influences into a gritty, East Coast rap sound. Rocca’s verses center around the feelings attendant to living among the urban decay and uncertainty of the burgeoning 2000s. You can stream the album and EP by hitting the links above. Earlier this week, Zilla Rocca took a break from rapping, blogging, Tweeting, and Tumblring to answer a few questions via email.

10 Listens: I have to admit, I first got into the 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers because of the song “Eric Lindros,” which samples Cat Power. It seemed like a novelty song. But after listening to the complete album, it definitely hangs together pretty cohesively. Did you and Douglas Martin plan on making an album that combined traditional indie-type music (Cat Power, Velvet Underground, Elliot Smith, etc.) with hip hop?

Zilla Rocca: I don’t think we planned on doing a whole album in that style.  It just happened to be the way Douglas was throwing beats together, and everytime he sent me something of that ilk, it spoke to me moreso than “traditional” hip hop sounding tracks, so to speak.  I think after 4-5 songs, we realized this would be the sound of Shadowboxers, but then again on our new EP, Douglas sampled Fela Kuti and pulled it off.  Whatever he’s listening to usually ends up in the beats I get from him.  During that stretch, I’m assuming he was heavily into the artists that ended up on the LP.

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Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

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I suspect that this will be a divisive record, and it’s easy to see why. The Suburbs seizes occasionally, like an epileptic, recalling the jarring, fresh sensibility of the Arcade Fire’s debut, Funeral. And right now, book it: “Sprawl II” is the second-best song of the year. The title track and “City With No Children” each proceed with a stylish shuffle. Songs like “Empty Room” and “Half Light II” rush out as towering, four-on-the-floor vehicles for propulsion. They offer what Arcade Fire is good at: melding the classy, high-register foliage of strings to slick, crashing guitars. You kind of expect frontman Win Butler to proffer one of his silly, winsome yelps. But Win doesn’t yelp anymore. Win doesn’t yelp anymore because Win is epically bummered. You see, after leaving his Québécois paradise to tour America, Win witnessed the great tragedy that threatens constantly the very edifice that makes us human in the most transcendent sense: Urban Sprawl. Continue reading

Best Coast: Crazy For You

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Best Coast’s debut album Crazy For You is like a lot of things: Lying in the sunny spot on the shag carpet trying to pick bits of weed out from Chips Ahoy crumbs and cat fur; a bitter slice of life from the frontiers of post-feminist living;  the sort of music Oedipa Maas would listen to as she journeys around California on her ultimately deranged quest. But what it’s most like is too many scoops of cotton candy ice cream in an overflowing glass of cognac and Coca Cola. Continue reading

Dancing About Architecture

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The sad pop song has existed since pop music began in America in the 1920s and 30s, during which time virtually everyone was sad. Women have had it particularly bad. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave them the right to vote. But it wasn’t until 1925 and the publication of Irving Berlin’s “Always” that women could go out and dance, meet guys at dances, and have those guys break their hearts. When the Greatest Generation went off to fight Krauts and Nips, ladies wallowed in their own sadness by listening to songs like Billie Holiday’s “Gloomy Sunday” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.”  In the 1980s, the sad pop song reached its apotheosis with synthesizer-dance numbers like “Don’t You Want Me,” “Hold Me Now,” and “Take On Me,” which, incidentally, were all written about the same guy. Every good sad pop song has since then fit into the mold cast by these songs. Of course, there are sad pop songs that don’t fit this tradition: “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Maps,” “Since you Been Gone,” Natalie Imbruglia’s pop classic “Torn,” and many others. But they fail to realize their full potential in some one or more ways.

Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” is one of the greatest damn sad pop songs in history. There are five reasons.

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