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.
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 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
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
One of the most unrecognized and unappreciated music genres is ambient music; I should know, I hadn’t really listened to an ambient album until this year. It wasn’t out of strong feelings either, it was just a lack of knowledge about what defines good ambient music and what the purpose of ambient music is in relation to other genres. Personally, I ascribe a specific emotion or mood to certain genres, just based on my experiences with them and their energy. For example, I listen to metal to get angry or determined, classic rock to be happy or calm down, hip hop to be challenged musically, classical to feel studious or refined, etc. Previously, I associated ambient music with boring music, simple to make and unimportant. Only recently, when I started listening to the Monument Valley soundtrack on vinyl in my room, did I start to appreciate the unique place of ambient music. Now I want to present three of my current favorite ambient albums and give some thoughts on what makes each one stand out.
If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you’ll know I already discussed Monument Valley in detail and how much I love it for its style and simplicity. Those same principles work just as effectively on its soundtrack, which is airy, vibrant, and absolutely gorgeous. While some might argue that it belongs in a different genre, I would say that the subtle instrumentation and clear effort put into the sound design and composition place it firmly in the ambient genre. This record has been my first experience with ambient music and it has made me realize that ambient music is meant to be appreciated thoughtfully; each note is placed with purpose and every silence is more expressive, since there are no distractions from the minimal atmosphere. Other music genres often become formulaic (intro, hook, bridge, chorus, repeat), but ambient music is forced to do more with less, leading to really fascinating instrumentation and musical development.
Another ambient album I’ve been listening to is the Minecraft soundtrack, Volume Alpha by C418. You might be surprised to see another game soundtrack on here, especially one that you wouldn’t recognize if you haven’t played the game. However, it has recently become appreciated as a truly special ambient album; people who play the game might not be able to tell you a song or what it sounds like, but they’ll be able to hear it and tell you exactly where it’s from. Most interesting to me is how well the soundtrack complements the style of the game, but also how well it stands alone. It features a lot of bright piano and synths, along with some really unique instruments that are folksy and adventurous. It’s a great example of the creativity that ambient albums embody, not only in composition but also in atmosphere. Whether in games or as stand alone projects, ambient music is often interpreted as a means of creating atmosphere with background music, but there exist many albums such as this one that are even more interesting and unique when appreciated alone.
Last but not least is this gorgeous record Kankyo Ongaku (Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990) by various Japanese artists. I never would have found this if it hadn’t been reviewed by theneedledrop, who gave it a very favorable review and piqued my interest. This album stands apart from the first two, not only because it is a stand alone ambient project, but because of its Japanese compositional influences. It fits the common mold of ambient music, featuring crashing waves, chirping birds, and other natural sounds (as expected by the title), but it defies the typical boring stereotypes that usually accompany that style. It does so by being expertly crafted and full of intention; the opening track itself is a testament to the articulate style of the album, featuring precisely placed bells and drones, each with a specific balance and design that creates a thoughtful, meditative space. The whole album is intricate beneath the surface, and requires sharp attention to detail; I listen to it with headphones at night, when everything is quiet and I can truly appreciate every perfectly placed note. This album is the perfect example of what makes ambient music so unique, and I hope that more people can develop an appreciation for these qualities just as I have.
Hope you all had a wonderful, restful MLK weekend!
I’m back again this week to discuss my answer to the question: What music do you listen to as you’re doing studio sketches or modeling?
First things first, I’ll just say, I have always been someone who’s been easily distracted no matter the context. So, getting me to focus and stay still to focus on specific tasks under a seemingly far away deadline is like pulling teeth. Whenever I do my structures assignments, I’d say that I listen to anything really, I find that classical music is alright too (I did used to be in orchestra, in case you were wondering how I don’t fall asleep listening to it for two hours straight). For any assignments that involve in-depth writing, like essays or reading, I listen to instrumentals. Again, orchestral music is great with me for this. I also really enjoy listening to dub step or even just instrumentals to tropical pop songs, and even remixes. I’ve even done quite well listening to non-English music. As soon as I hear English music, I find it inevitable that the lyrics will end up somewhere in my paper haha. As for my studio design sketching and modeling, I guess I do not really distinguished playlists for either of the tasks. I enjoy listening to anything really, as long as its upbeat. So, pretty much anything within the genres: pop, EDM, tropical house, and synthetic instrumentals, I find quite inspiring to my work actually. Besides the fact that sometimes I will find myself awake or still-awake at unearthly hours, I just find that anything upbeat and catchy just sets a great groove for me to “settle” into the work that I need to do. I oftentimes find that the beats and catchy lyrics keep me energized for hours, as I’m usually doing some sort of tedious, repetitive task either with my knives on the cutting mat or on my laptop with the software. I do also think that the devices that I use to listen to my music influence my ability to make this work as well. Sometimes. if there is just too much linework, or powerful renderings that need to be done, I will go to the BT Lab (our PC classrooms with very powerful computers) and I just end up listening off of their PC with my earbuds. If I’m at my desk doing my work on my laptop, I’ll just listen off of my laptop with my earbuds or my wireless headphones- the only downside with the headphones is I often get too warm or my head starts to hurt from the weight and pressure put on my ears for the extended period of time. Now, if I’m modeling, I find it immensely more convenient to use my wireless headphones- you can imagine, there’s a ton of materials and blades and sketches scattered on the desk, so the last thing you need or want is a tangled wire of your headphone getting caught on stuff, as you’re constantly re-positioning in order to produce the most effective cuts. I’ve definitely forgotten to charge my headphones and ended up using earbuds, and the result was just some wasted minutes to untangle things, or bring my phone and headphones along wherever I moved. Aaanddd, here’s what you would consider the click bait of this post: an excerpt of my playlist! I hope ya’ll will give it a go, whether you’re sprawled in bed or doing your own work. If you do, (or don’t I guess) and have comments or suggestions, feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments below, or reach out to my instagram at: themichiganarchitect Ciao 🙂
TheMichiganArchitect Work Playlist Winter 2020 🙂
Mike Perry feat. Tessa: Stay Young
Sistek feat. Tudor & Amy J Pryce: Pitfalls
Doja Cat: Say So
Far East Movement feat. Jay Park: Sxwme
Maggie Lindemann (Cheat Codes and CADE Remix): Pretty Girl
Bazzi (Bazzi vs Young Bombs Remix): Mine
Timeflies: Once In a While
Timeflies & Shy Martin: Raincoat
Alex Ross feat. Dakota & T-Pain: Dreams
Ali Simpson: Guilty
Allie X: Catch
Overstreet: Carried Away
Jax Jones & Ella Henderson: This is Real
Arizona: Electric Touch
Kim Petras: Icy
Alexandra Stan: Little Lies
Adventure Club & Crankdat feat. Krewella: Next Life