Good News by Mac Miller

Anybody who has been a long-time reader of my posts knows how much I care about Mac Miller and the musical legacy he left behind. Underappreciated during his time and recently discovered by many after his passing, there has always been more to him than people assumed. Even when I first started listening to his music and went to a concert on his Divine Feminine tour in 2016, I was under the impression that he was vulgar and overly explicit, and that his music left a lot to be desired. Looking back now, my first impression wasn’t entirely off, especially considering that The Divine Feminine is one of his raunchiest and most shallow albums. However, I eventually listened through his discography and found something strange; there was an innocence and relatability to Mac Miller, and a story that was more complicated than first realized. Eventually he released Swimming, his last album before passing, which was a somber and existential monument to his musical talent. Just recently his producer released the posthumous album Circles, which was well received by critics and fans alike. In my opinion, it didn’t encapsulate the personality of Mac Miller like Swimming did, but it gave the world his final gift: Good News. Released as a single before the album, Good News is by far the shining star, and is a tear-jerking farewell to the life of Mac Miller.

The simple, plucky instrumental that introduces the track is catchy and subtle, and is followed up by the gentle voice of Mac Miller himself. Immediately the tone of the song is set; it’s an intimate and vulnerable look into his emotional state, with a focus on his voice and lyricism. The words themselves are devastating:

Why can’t it just be easy?
Why does everybody need me to stay?

Good news, good news, good news
That’s all they wanna hear
No, they don’t like it when I’m down
But when I’m flying, oh, it make ’em so uncomfortable
So different, what’s the difference?

Well, so tired of being so tired

Mac so perfectly conveys how tired he is with his mental state, fighting his inner demons and the pressure of being in the public spotlight. It’s a feeling of giving up, which is even more tragic considering he was only 26 when he passed. On one hand, it seems as if he has finally resigned himself to his fate, and on the other hand there is a feeling of hope and nostalgia, a reason to keep living. One can’t even begin to imagine what he was struggling with, or how his life led him to this point of existential questioning. He used to be an outrageous and energetic performer who didn’t care about public opinion, but now it’s obvious that he was much more complex than he portrayed. These final few lines are some of the most gut-wrenching and self-aware in musical history:

If you know me, it ain’t anything new
Wake up to the moon, haven’t seen the sun in a while
But I heard that the skies still blue, yeah
Heard they don’t talk about me too much no more
And that’s a problem with a closed door

There’s a whole lot more for me waiting on the other side
I’m always wondering, if it feel like summer
I know maybe I’m too late, I could make it there some other time
Then I’ll finally discover

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the world cried listening to these final words. What a punch in the heart; how could he be so prophetic and aware of his fate, and yet welcome it with open arms. He finally stopped fighting himself so that he could be at peace. I would argue that these words leave no room for another album: these are the words of a man who has nothing left to say and has realized and come to terms with the meaning of his life. I have so much respect for him and everything that he made, especially at the end when it was clear that he was struggling. He managed to write his own eulogy, and in doing so left the world with his greatest gift, and for that I’ll always be thankful. Rest in peace Mac Miller.

Reviewing Music

I often write about new albums and songs, giving my subjective thoughts and opinions on the production, content, and presentation. When I write about a certain album, it’s because I have strong feelings about it that I can’t help but share, whether they’re extremely negative or positive. The result is a volatile review system, where it seems like I either love something or hate it, and more often than not it seems like I love everything, since I usually write best about the songs and albums that I love. I find myself overthinking this often, especially when I’m writing; I start to question whether or not the review is objective, and what makes a valuable review for the average reader. In examining these questions about music reviewing, I find myself turning to YouTube’s self-proclaimed “internet’s busiest music nerd” Anthony Fantano, who is notable for his frequent album reviews on his channel theneedledrop.

I only started watching Fantano’s reviews a few years ago, and hesitantly at first; I didn’t believe that music could truly be judged, since it is inherently subjective, and I often disagreed with his reviews of my favorite albums. However, there was something fascinating about his approach to reviewing, specifically the vast amount of musical knowledge and terminology he used when examining albums. He is able to fill a ten minute video entirely with thoughtful musical opinions, grounded in absolute reasoning. He certainly has biases (easily seen by genres he prefers), and always reminds his viewers that he is just sharing his opinion, but he always approaches new music and genres with an open mind. I still disagree with some of his final ratings (especially the 3/10 he gave Mac Miller’s Swimming), but I find it hard to argue with him; nothing he says is factually wrong, and at the end of the day it just comes down to a different taste in music. For example, he says that Mac Miller’s singing is off-key and mediocre, with a weak presentation, but I hear the same thing and find it intimate and endearing. It just comes down to a subjective interpretation of objective musical facts, and I find that relationship so fascinating in reviewing music.

After thinking about what makes Anthony Fantano such a fair and interesting critic, I narrowed down great music reviews to two important things: understanding and discussing music objectively, and being passionate about the review. With only objective facts you have a boring and generic review, and with nothing but passion you have an intellectually shallow review that offers no value to the reader’s understanding of the music. With these two thoughts in mind, I look forward to writing more music reviews in the future; thankfully there is no shortage of new and interesting music.

Unlocked: Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats

Denzel Curry is a versatile musical artist with a distinct style that breaks genre boundaries, and Kenny Beats is one of the biggest up-and-coming music producers in the industry, working with a wide variety of artists such as Vince Staples, JID, and Ed Sheeran. Although an unlikely pair, the duo recently released a short music project titled UNLOCKED, only 8 tracks long with a run-time of under 20 minutes. However, it makes the most of every minute: it’s gritty and experimental, combining the aggressive and powerful style of Denzel and the innovative and off-kilter production of Kenny into a thrill ride of an album.

UNLOCKED by Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats

There is no unifying concept to the album (although there’s a great accompanying music video about the two having to recovered the leaked track files in an animated, cartoon-style universe), but the album cover gives a great idea of the overall aesthetic. The art is brutal and objectively cool, with an over-the-top presentation and self-aware attitude that lends itself perfectly to the music. My favorite tracks are Take_it_Back_v2, Lay_Up.m4a, and DIET_; each one is a great representation of what makes the duo so great, featuring clever wordplay and dynamic production. I’m always left speechless when I pay special attention to either Denzel or Kenny; when I focus on Denzel, I’m blown away by his energy and clever lyricism, and when I listen to Kenny’s production, I always find new depths to the instrumentation and sampling. It’s honestly incredible how well the two styles complement each other, and I think a lot of the credit goes to Kenny. He seems to perfectly understand the aesthetic Denzel is working to achieve and makes it a reality.

Although the project is short and lacks a unifying concept, I think it works as an amazing example of the experimental power of this musical duo. Each song packs its own unique punch, and even after listening to the album at least 30 times, I’m still constantly surprised by its style and production. Considering this was only a small project, and that Denzel is known for releasing few full albums, I’m really hoping that he takes this style and runs with it, and maybe even works with Kenny Beats again for his next project.

Spring Playlist

Spring is the best time for a fresh start, whether it be cleaning, changing your attitude, or starting a new music playlist. As a result, I’ve been exploring a variety of music recently, in order to change up my playlist and fall in love with something new. I’ve found a lot of great music in my search, and a couple artists and songs that have especially stuck out, and I want to share them and discuss what makes each one unique and why they’ve been added to my spring playlist.

classic j dies and goes to hell part 1

Image result for glass beach album cover

The opening track on the album the first glass beach album, by the band glass beach, is bold, exciting, and surprisingly catchy. Although the album title, song name, and lack of capitalization all drive me a little insane, I think it provides a good expectation of what the album sounds like; it’s unconventional, a little tongue-in-cheek, and generally fun, since it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This song is my favorite (although glass beach is a close second) due to it’s dynamic range, both in style and instrumentation, switching between jazzy and soulful to chaotic and over-the-top. The drummer doesn’t hold back, often overpowering the song and creating a destructive yet genuine atmosphere, reminiscent of a punk 90’s garage band. The unique style and presentation give the song an endearing quality, making it a great candidate for my spring playlist.

Alone, Omen 3

Image result for man alive king krule album cover

From the recently released project called Man Alive! by King Krule, Alone, Omen 3 stands in stark contrast to glass beach: it’s melancholic, haunting, and subtle. It features fairly simple instrumentation, but with a great rhythm and surprising dynamics, accentuated by amazing sound effects and sound design. The lead singer has a quiet and casual tone, but one that draws your attention and demands a close listen. Although it’s hard to tell if there is a lot of lyrical substance, there is definitely an incredible atmosphere and feeling conveyed throughout the song, which makes is a great listen that doesn’t get old. The entire album is incredible, and I’d love to write a post about it after I spend more time with it.

 

 

Infest The Rats’ Nest: Environmental Thrash

One music genre that I struggle with is new rock and metal. There’s usually just too much noise and screaming and it gives me a headache, not to mention I have no idea what is going on lyrically or even musically half the time. On the other hand, I really WANT to enjoy heavy metal; the aesthetic is so raw and emotional, and great heavy metal music (think Iron Maiden) can be extremely motivational and profound. So I’ve spent a long time searching for new metal that I can actually enjoy, and that long and tedious journey finally led me to Infest the Rats’ Nest, a thrash metal album conceived by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (don’t ask me about the name, I have no idea). Immediately this album set itself apart: it was clear and concise, with real musical composition that was understandable, it featured an environmental theme focusing on humanity’s destruction of the Earth, and although it was still more aggressive than I was used to at first, it was so catchy that I couldn’t stop listening, and it’s one of the most insanely energetic albums I have ever been able to listen to.

Surprisingly, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard usually produce psych rock and noise rock, which shares a lot of commonalities with thrash metal: it’s loud, over-the-top, energetic, and features a lot of interesting instrumentation. However, I can’t seem to enjoy any King Gizzard project as much as Infest the Rats’ Nest, and I think it’s because it’s the only album that strikes a great balance between the actual music and the content. This album in particular features a great concept that is executed flawlessly, unlike other albums that are all over the place, both in ideas and composition. The story of Infest the Rats’ Nest starts with a burned out planet Earth, largely destroyed by the unsustainable and destructive practices of the human race, portrayed best by these lines from the opening track Planet B:

Urbanization

Scarification

Population Exodus

There is no Planet B

Open your eyes and see

Not only do these lyrics hit close to home in the current day and age of environmental concern, they are so raw and accurate that it takes you by surprise. I never would have thought that thrash metal was the place to convey an environmental message, but listening to this song for the first time was mind-blowing: it makes perfect sense that the destruction of Earth, our home, should be portrayed with cynical clarity and thrashing aggression. These lines are especially powerful due to the perfect delivery by the lead singer and the accompanying gut-wrenching guitars and drums.

On the next track, Mars for the Rich, the perspective is that of a farmer left on a scorched Earth, poor and doomed to die a horrible death, while he watches the rich traveling to Mars on TV. The irony is strong after the haunting message of Planet B, and shows how although there is no planet B for the human race, there is for the rich and privileged.

Mars for the privileged

Earth for the poor

Mars terra-forming slowly

Earth has been deformed

The next track of interest is Superbug, which is exactly what it sounds like: a virus that is immune to antibiotics and ravages the Earth, infecting the population and lasting for generations. The concept of this song is best summed up by these lyrics:

Superbug gave a shrug

And ate all your prescription drugs

and never, ever, ever stopped

Unnecessary

Anti-Bs

Likely killed humanity

This track is almost prophetic given today’s situation, although it was bound to come true eventually given how accurate is and how careless humanity is with antibiotics, especially in relation to factory farming. One thing I love about this song is how gritty and terrifying it is; the Superbug is portrayed as indiscriminate and inevitable, while the narrator anguishes about the Superbug in his blood, knowing that he is doomed and so is the rest of humanity. Again, I think this song really emphasizes how perfectly thrash metal and environmental consciousness complement each other, using grim lyrics and devastating instrumentation to convey the looming destruction of the Earth.

The second half of the album is just as interesting, if not more sci-fi oriented, and continues on the environmental themes of the first half. I would love to discuss it more but unfortunately this post is already quite long; therefore I recommend giving it a listen yourself. Pay attention to the message of each song and how they all connect, while also noticing how well the music complements the message, then feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss it further. Regardless, Infest the Rats’ Nest is a stand out metal album, the only one of its kind, due to both the quality of the composition and the effective presentation of its unique environmental message.

2020 Grammy Performances

First off, I don’t watch the Grammys or follow the awards; I have no idea what the categories are, how the winners are determined, or how Billie Eilish can win 5 Grammys, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year (what’s the difference again?). But I did catch the aftermath this year, namely the musical performances which tend to be an iconic part of the awards show. Personally, I was most interested in the performances by Tyler, the Creator, Bilie Eilish, and Lil Nas X, of which Tyler is the most senior, having been rapping and pushing the limits of the genre for the last decade, while both Billie and Lil Nas are recent stars on the hip hop/pop scene. All performances were interesting in their own way and extremely telling of the current music industry, and for that reason I want to look at how successful each performance was and what defined them.

My favorite performance by far was Tyler, the Creator performing a medley of songs off of his most recent album Igor, which you may remember me writing about last fall. It ended up winning Best Rap Album of the Year, which is somewhat controversial, considering how experimental and genre-breaking Igor truly is. Many critics of the Grammys (including Tyler himself) point out the historical connotations of the Best Rap Album award, which has been one of the only awards consistently won by African American musicians, and feel that the forcing of Igor into this category further displays the role of the rap award as a participation trophy for African American artists.

Regardless of the politics around the award, nobody can argue that Igor didn’t deserve the Grammy; it truly is one of a kind, a fusion of multiple genres and saturated with personality and aesthetic. Tyler brought these exact qualities to his explosive performance, featuring a beautifully sung intro, then wild and intense effects followed up by an insane, almost heavy metal raging and dancing, leading to another beautifully sung reprieve, and finally a crescendo of visceral craziness and adrenaline, leading to a fitting climax. I definitely recommend watching it yourself; words can’t do it justice. Even if you don’t usually appreciate that style of music, I think the performance is objectively fantastic. I found that my heart was racing when I was watching, and I caught myself smiling at the end, that’s how much I was drawn into the over-the-top qualities of the performance. Not only was it more entertaining than any other performance, it actually put the music on display, perfectly conveying the themes and emotions that go along with the album.

The next performance I watched was Billie Eilish performing an acoustic song off of her most recent album with her brother on the piano. It was certainly well done and haunting, but its impact was almost insignificant compared to Tyler’s. I should acknowledge my bias towards Tyler first however; I simply appreciate his style and musical development more than Billie’s. I was a fan of hers when she first started, but I quickly felt like all of her music sounded the same (which is a pretty generic critique, I know). Perhaps her style is just meant to be subtle, and I missed the point of her performance, but regardless I felt like it left a lot to be desired, which is surprising considering how many Grammys she won.

Last but not least was Lil Nas X performing a medley of Rodeo and Old Town Road, both viral hits last year. They’re great songs and all, certainly very catchy, but it’s hard for me to see him as anything more than just a meme. I don’t mean that with disrespect; I definitely think there is a place in pop culture for viral music and his endearing personality, but I think he objectively lacks the artistic skill of more serious or developed musicians. He might grow into a more serious artist one day too, who knows, but for now I think his music is just meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator of today’s pop culture, which I think was put on full display during his performance. Studded with other celebrities and musicians, his performance felt like an odd fever dream with some familiar faces, but no unifying style. It was practically a musical advertisement for the music industry, not an example of outstanding creative performance. It makes sense that Lil Nas would rely on the reputations and popularity of other musicians, considering he has just started making a name for himself, but it certainly doesn’t help him to stand out or create his own musical legacy.

Hopefully this didn’t turn into a rant (it can be hard to tell sometimes), and I think my biases are pretty obvious, but regardless I think that comparing these iconic performances can reveal a lot about what makes award show performances so important, and what makes a performance stand out or blend in. In my opinion, Tyler’s performance is the gold standard of memorable, experimental, mold-breaking, and artistic. It might not be fully appreciated by general audiences, or appeal to the popular culture spheres of today, but I think it will be remembered as iconic in the history of award performances. The other performances will likely be forgotten by the next Grammys, but hopefully those artists will have another chance to prove themselves with more experience and perspective under their belts.