Hidden Gems: Fashion Nugget by Cake

This week’s Hidden Gem is a deep cut from 1996 by the relatively obscure band Cake. If you don’t recognize the band, you might recognize one of their most popular songs, I Will Survive. To most people, Cake is a one-hit wonder, which might even give them more pop culture credit than they deserve; however, I’ve recently rediscovered their work and won’t hesitate to say that they are grossly underappreciated. Cake is the perfect combination of humor, experimental musical ideas, and genuinely good instrumentation, all of which are perfectly displayed in their sophomore album Fashion Nugget. Each track on the album is a unique experience with its own personality, but all related by the charming charisma of the band’s aesthetic.

The Distance was my first introduction to the band and immediately became one of my favorite songs. It starts out with an incredible intro: the lead singer gives an intense and understated vocal delivery as a throbbing bass drives the song forward. Then the drums and lead guitar come in, simple yet effective, perfectly accenting the lyrics and atmosphere. There’s an incredible buildup, an awesome drum fill, and then a heavy strumming guitar that is absolutely brutal and driving. Brass accents are sprinkled throughout, giving the song a dramatic and charismatic feeling. The plot of the song is extremely interesting and well-written, with a central character who is racing even after the race is over and therefore “going the distance”. These lyrics summarize the theme of the song the best:

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up
And long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s striving and driving and hugging the turns
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns

Cause he’s going the distance
He’s going for speed
She’s all alone
In her time of need

These words really resonate with me; I can understand what it’s like to be pursuing something to the ends of the Earth when it’s actually in reach the whole time, but is neglected in the heat of the pursuit. It’s easy to extrapolate these feelings to important things in life, like love, success, and happiness. The theme of the song is incredibly tragic, in that the protagonist aspires to some unreachable, yet noble ideal. It’s easy to think that they’re misguided and over-ambitious, but if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you can recognize and appreciate the narrow-sighted drive to “go the distance”. I think the song is surprisingly interesting to say the least, and the high quality instrumentation and charisma make it a great example of what Cake does well.

There are a lot of other songs off the album that are similarly exciting, with some of my favorites being I Will Survive, Friend Is a Four Letter Word, and Nugget. Each one drips with the same charisma, while also showing off the different aspects of Cake’s musical talent. They dabble in every genre of music with a surprising amount of success, which makes this album a thrill to listen to from start to finish. The entire album is a perfect mix of classic alternative rock and more experimental and odd ideas; none of the songs take themselves too seriously which prevents them from sounding pretentious or overbearing. Overall, Fashion Nugget is the prime example of a hidden gem: it’s underappreciated and overlooked, but full of surprises that make it an incredibly unique piece of art.

Hidden Gems: Man Alive! by King Krule

Michigan winters are the roughest time of the year for me; the lack of sunlight, the cold that bites to the bone, and now recently being stuck inside due to the pandemic. I get as much fresh air as I can, but as a solitary person who spends too much time on the computer, I find myself hardly leaving my apartment unless I have to. One of the things I miss most about the usual college experience is walking to class, even when it’s freezing cold, because it’s one of the only times where I’m not working and I can just live in the moment by enjoying the sights and listening to great music. I’ve discussed in the past how closely music can be related to certain times in life, and I find that’s especially true with the passing of the seasons. For me, winter is a time of melancholy music, albums that reflect the bleakness of winter days and the never-ending nights, songs that are dismal and depressing, and music that perfectly expresses the cold solitude of the season. Whether or not it’s good for my mental health, I just love how well certain music can complement the season, and I bask in the utterly dismal emotions that the pairing brings.

On that happy note, let me introduce you to my current winter favorite, the musical artist King Krule. I don’t know much about him as a person, as he’s pretty mysterious and relatively unknown, but I know that his music is incredible. I discovered his work last winter, almost exactly a year ago to the day, and it resonated perfectly with what I was feeling at the time. The first album I listened to was Man Alive! which was released on February 21st of 2020 and was welcomed with critical acclaim by the music community. It was a unique experience for me; I hadn’t heard anything like it before, and the slow, dark, and heavy tone of the album was a complete surprise. Every note of every song is hauntingly beautiful and perfectly placed. The vocals are understated and delivered with such melancholy that it’s almost seductive. It’s a kind of depressing that’s relaxing in a way, because it’s so calm and simple in it’s sadness. All of the songs blend together into one long experience of self-reflection and the lack of distinct separation creates the feeling of falling down a dark well and never hitting the bottom. The album is a rabbit hole of abstract despair, with nothing solid to grasp, just fragments of coherent thought strung together with flawless instrumentation. It’s somewhat comparable to Pink Floyd’s The Wall at times, with dismal chord progressions and lyrics that portray a character going mad in solitude. For all of these reasons, I found Man Alive! to be the perfect album for winter, and even as I write this post I’m soaking in the relaxing despair of the album. I can’t recommend it enough, especially during the strange times we’re currently living in. King Krule will single-handedly define the last two winters for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

An Introduction in 5 Songs

Hello! I’m Jackson, and this is my weekly music column, -core. As you all will primarily be getting to know me through my musical opinions and the like, I figured what better way to introduce myself than with some songs? Before I do that, though, here’s a bit about me and why I started this column. I’ve been into music for most of my life. As with many others, I grew up hearing music on the radio and from my parents, usually classic rock, 80s hits, and 2000s pop. However, it wasn’t until my early teenage years that I was exposed to the emo and punk music that eventually led me to where I am today. Along with being an amateur musician myself, I’ve always found music and the discussion around it fascinating, especially in the online music criticism community that’s grown in recent years. Talking about music with others is one of my greatest joys, and one of my hopes for this column is to get some good conversations started around music. In brief, for this column I’ll be covering new and not-so-new releases, local artists, specific genres / eras, and whatever else interests me. I’m entirely open to feedback and suggestions, so if there’s an artist, album, or anything else you’d like me to talk about, let me know!

Now, with that out of the way, here are five of my favorite songs at the moment.

1. Oblivion – Grimes

Starting off my current favorites list is “Oblivion”, the famed single from Grimes’ 2012 record Visions. I’ve encountered people (including my former self) who question the indie credentials of enjoying an artist’s most popular song, but in many cases, including this one, there’s a good reason why that certain song is so popular. Despite being nearly 10 years old, “Oblivion” is a futuristic work of genius, in both its production and songwriting. The stuttering beat that loops through the majority of the song is instantly ear-grabbing. The bright pianos in the post-chorus and the vocal samples that dominate the outro are lovely touches as well, all combining to create a rich, blissful sonic landscape. Yet the real appeal lies in Grimes’ vocals, which weave through the instrumental with an airy but effective presence. Add in the lyrical detail of her attempts at empowerment following a horrific assault, and you’ve got one of the most compelling pop songs of the past decade.

2. Easy/Lucky/Free – Bright Eyes

I had long been aware of Conor Oberst and his musical endeavors (Desaparecidos, Better Oblivion Community Center, etc), but had never taken the time to check out his main project, Bright Eyes. I recently listened to their pair of 2005 albums, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, this song being the closing track on the latter, and I’ve been unable to stop coming back to it. It’s a unique song for Bright Eyes in that it sounds huge, filled with dreamy guitars, swaying grooves, and an irresistible, yearning vocal melody. Outside of the strange inclusion of a sample of a baby crying, it could almost be a Beach House song. The bleak, dystopian lyrics contrast the breezy sound of the song, all talk of police states and bombs being dropped. The phrase “refrigerators full of blood” is especially chilling, not least for its resemblance to the “I open my wallet, and it is full of blood” line in a similarly apocalyptic track by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “The Dead Flag Blues”. But despite its inherently dark nature, by the time Oberst near shrieks his final chorus of “Don’t you weep”, and the song glitches and skips like a broken tape, it’s hard not to feel a bit more content in the face of our inevitable future.

3. Immaterial – SOPHIE

I would be remiss to not include something on this list by the late, great producer SOPHIE. Primarily known for her contributions to the bubblegum bass and electronic pop field so popular today, she’s produced for the likes of Vince Staples, Charli XCX, Let’s Eat Grandma, and Madonna, as well as her own work. While I never dove deep into her work before her tragic death this past January, I always held her in high regard for just how influential and innovative of a force she was in music. This track from her sole studio album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, showcases her skills as a master of sound and style. It’s bold and loud, but never overbearing or tacky. I don’t know how else to describe it except that it goes hard. Everything from the pulsing, blown out beat to the bright synths to the earworm chants of “immaterial girls, immaterial boys” just works. Once people are able to go out dancing again, I’m hopeful they’ll play this track, among others of hers, in an homage to her power as a wildly important trans artist, and to the joy she brought so many.

4. Plug In Baby – Muse

We’re throwing things back a bit with this one. I’ll be upfront: I think this is one of the greatest rock songs of the 2000s, and possibly of all time. Maybe I’m biased; it was one of the first riffs I learned on guitar that I actually felt cool playing, so I have a soft spot for it. However, I didn’t really pay attention to the song as a whole until earlier this year when I went through some of Muse’s earlier work. For me, listening to “Plug In Baby” is pure joy and adrenaline. Nothing gets me hyped like the blast of distortion before the guitar comes in. I could go on about the riff forever, but in brief, it’s one of the most seamless, well-composed melodies I’ve heard on guitar. There are some sour notes in there, but that just makes it more impressive that it all flows so smoothly. Outside of the riff, the actual performance of the song has great energy coming from every member: the bass and drums lock in together tightly, the guitars are noisy but not overbearing, and frontman Matt Bellamy’s voice is remarkably dynamic. His ability to enhance the drama of a song, as well as his knack for composing razor-sharp melodies, is seen in spades here, especially in the chorus. In my view, this song is essential because it operates on one simple notion: keep things to the fundamentals. Every part is entirely necessary, and as such, it doesn’t need any bells or whistles to make it great. It just is.

5. I Know the End – Phoebe Bridgers

I won’t go too deep on this track, as I plan on talking about the album it comes from, Punisher, in a future post, but I figured I should at least include it for the somewhat recent “controversy” it raised when it was performed by Bridgers on Saturday Night Live. Near the end of her and her band’s performance, she smashed her guitar in similar fashion to countless other rock musicians before her. I didn’t think too much of it other than that it looked cool, despite being a little cliché, but the Internet went pretty nuts over the whole thing, mainly old men who get angry about women doing anything men have already done for decades. It was completely ridiculous, but thankfully Bridgers took it well, responding in an Instagram post, “next time I’ll just burn it and it will be more expensive”. As far as the song itself goes, “I Know The End” is the dramatic conclusion to an already emotionally intensive record. It builds over the course of six minutes from a standard Bridgers ballad to a grand, expressive climax featuring horns, screaming, and a reprise of the harrowing melody heard on the intro to the album. It is simultaneously life-affirming and completely devastating in the way only a Phoebe Bridgers song could be. It is everything I want in a song from last year, and I’ll be listening to it long after the chaos that birthed it has passed. Hopefully, at least.

Hidden Gems: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

If you’ve never heard of the band before, their name alone might cause some hesitation, but I promise you that King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is the perfect example of a hidden gem. The Australian rock band was first formed in 2010 and has slowly grown a cult following with their bizarre and experimental rock music. They’ve been a breath of fresh air for the stagnant rock genre by exploring new musical territory with amazing success. More impressive than their musical range is their commitment to concept albums with authentic instrumentation and gripping narratives. I’ve mentioned in the past how concept albums hold a special place in my heart; they’re the perfect example of how different artistic elements can be incorporated into one project. They usually feature thoughtful narratives over multiple tracks, musical themes and callbacks throughout the album, and a unique aesthetic that is developed in every aspect of the project. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a master of this medium, to the point where they have developed an entire musical universe. Each album is a unique immersive experience, but with enough distinct elements that the band is consistent and easily recognizable. Since their discography is huge (and I mean HUGE, they released 5 album in 2017 alone), I can only cover some of their material, but I think these two albums represent what I love most about the band.

Infest The Rats’ Nest

Infest the Rats' Nest

Infest The Rats’ Nest is by far my favorite thrash album; the narrative is crushing and perfectly complemented by some of the most heart-pounding instrumentation I’ve ever heard. I’m not usually a fan of the thrash subgenre, mostly because it tends to be overwhelming and headache-inducing, but King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard knows what they’re doing. The instrumentation is clean and concise throughout the entire album, with some parts even sounding symphonic, like they were composed by a heavy-metal Mozart. Along with this, the band is not afraid to experiment with a variety of instruments: many songs feature electronic glitches used to great effect, while they also employ choirs, microtonal instruments, and heavily distorted guitars. The entire sound of this album can be summed up as an army rising up in rebellion, it’s absolutely visceral. If the instrumentation wasn’t enough, the narrative of Infest The Rats’ Nest is just as gripping. The core message of the album is environmentalism (believe it or not), with the first half detailing a science fiction hellscape that used to be Earth, which is now decimated by climate change, plague, and poverty, while the rich have left to live on Mars. The second half of the album details the perils of an escaped spaceship of refugees looking for safety in the vastness of space. Both halves are equally well written and developed, but I especially love the environmental themes of the first half and how well they’re conveyed through the music. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this great concept album, you can read my previous post here which dives more into the lyrics.

Murder of the Universe

Murder of the Universe

Murder of the Universe is an even more obscure hidden gem, and is even unpopular in the King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard fanbase. Many criticize the spoken word passages, the overall aesthetic, and some of the more experimental parts of the album, but all of these features make this one of my favorite albums. The first third of the album is a fantasy inspired nightmare about a man transforming into an Altered Beast, and from the first notes of the first track you know you’re in for a wild ride. I think this is one of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s most developed compositions, both thematically and musically. The entire narrative is incredibly cohesive and gripping from start to finish, with the listener experiencing pure chaos as the protagonist descends into madness. I also love how the main musical theme is developed throughout this portion of the album; just as the protagonist is altered into some monstrous beast, the musical theme is altered into a beast of its own, ultimately culminating in an explosive climax on the last track of this portion of the album.

The second third of the album is just as insane as the first, but now with a story featuring The Balrog and the Lord of Lightning. Again, this is an absolutely electric part of the album, with many of the same features that made the first portion so great: incredible musical motifs, fantasy storytelling that is dark and chaotic, and an overall aesthetic that is reminiscent of Greek mythology and epic battles. My only complaint is that this is the shortest section of the album and seems to be the least developed as far as the narrative concept.

However, the last third of the album makes up for what the second part was lacking in a narrative concept. Right from the start of the introduction track you can tell that there is something different; a monotone and robotic narrator welcomes the listener to “an Altered Future”, and suddenly you’re in a science fiction horror story, detailing the murder of the universe. This portion of the album follows the cyborg Han-Tyumi as he tackles what it means to be half-human, half-computer in the most unsettling and imaginative way. I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite part of the album, both because of how experimental the instrumentals are and because of how outrageous and mind-bending the story is. I don’t want to spoil the narrative, so all I’ll say is that it is a completely unorthodox take on artificial intelligence and what it means to be human, and could only be thought up by a band called King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Overall, this is an incredible album that lives up to the high expectations of a concept album. It has something for everybody and is a testament to the versatility of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Hidden Gems: There Existed an Addiction to Blood by Clipping

There Existed an Addiction to Blood by Clipping

Nothing sounds more contradictory than horror music; horror is usually associated with scary movies while music tends to be uplifting, inspirational, or just a lot of fun. That’s why I was so surprised when I first heard There Existed an Addiction to Blood by the experimental rap group Clipping. It’s a self-proclaimed “horrorcore” album with a modern twist, released on October 18th, 2019, just in time for Halloween. I didn’t know much about the group before I listened to the album, which added a lot to the mystery of the project, but I’ve learned a lot more about the group since then and it’s pretty incredible. The lead vocalist of Clipping is Daveed Diggs, who is best known as Marquis Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the hit musical Hamilton, for which he won a Grammy. I still can’t believe the artistic range and musical talent of Diggs, to win a Grammy for Hamilton and then go on to produce the incredible horror album There Existed an Addiction to Blood. The group also released the album Splendor & Misery, which was actually nominated for a Hugo award as an amazing work of science fiction. If it isn’t clear already, Clipping is an incredible group that produces groundbreaking music albums with thought-provoking and unique narratives. So in honor of the spooky season, I present to you the best horror album I’ve ever listened to and an absolute hidden gem: There Existed an Addiction to Blood.

My favorite track from the album is Nothing Is Safe, which was also the first single I heard from the album, and I can’t overstate the impact it had on me. It was like nothing I had ever heard, and I don’t say that often. The song starts off with a single dissonant piano key, reverberating in dense air, with a steady, hypnotic rhythm. It instantly brings to mind images of being alone in the dark, or walking down the dark hallways of an abandoned castle, with a bone-chilling fear of the unknown. Then this heavy, bouncing synth comes in, perfectly complementing the repetitive piano key and providing the perfect foundation for the rest of the song. Next up is Diggs: he comes in with an understated, menacing, and haunting vocal performance. The story starts with a sense of calm, but it doesn’t take long to realize that something is off: everything is too quiet and the suspense is tangible. Things become more frantic as the story develops, and the instrumental conveys it perfectly. The dynamics of the song are flawlessly executed, reflecting the intensity of the story and culminating in a heart-pounding chorus that is absolutely unforgettable. From start to finish this song is a masterpiece and it completely blew my mind the first time I heard it. I can’t recommend it enough; pay special attention to the lyrics and how cohesive the song is, and appreciate just how unique of an experience it is.

Some of my other favorite tracks from the album are Run For Your Life and The Show, which both read like short horror stories in the style of Edgar Allen Poe. They’re incredibly story driven with terrifying narratives written in the second person, placing the listener in life-threatening and horrifying situations. Run For Your Life is incredibly imaginative, both in the narrative in the instrumental: you’re running for your life from a killer, hiding in an alley, and cars drive by playing the instrumental, which pans from ear to ear. It sounds like a gimmick but it’s incredibly well executed and realistic, making the story immersive and a thousand times more terrifying. The Show is an extremely graphic and well written song about being tortured by a sadistic killer. It sounds awful and it is, which is perfect for the Halloween season. It’s also extremely catchy: the chorus is surprisingly addictive, although I wouldn’t recommend singing it in public. Overall, I mostly appreciate how immersive and convincing the entire album is. Clipping isn’t afraid to commit to intense storytelling, even when it crosses conventional boundaries and is legitimately terrifying. The group is truly groundbreaking in a lot of ways and it’s easy to see why. There Existed an Addiction to Blood is an outstanding example of their talent, and my favorite horror album to date. If you’re interested in Clipping as much as I am, you’ll be happy to hear that they’ll be releasing a sequel to There Existed an Addiction to Blood titled Visions of Bodies Being Burned on October 23rd, just in time for Halloween. I definitely recommend checking out both projects; there is a lot to unpack in Clipping’s albums and I hardly got started in this post. Feel free to start a discussion in the comments as well, I would love to discuss the album more!

Hidden Gems: Nectar by Joji

Nectar by JojiI cannot begin to explain how excited I was for Nectar to be released on September 25th. Originally scheduled to be released in early July, the project was pushed back due to the COVID pandemic, much to my dismay. The first single from the album was Sanctuary, which was released in June of 2019: that’s how long I’ve been anticipating this album. I have followed the career of Joji (the stage name of George Miller) since he was a YouTube creator, and I watched as he built a cult following in the music industry with simple lo-fi tracks that were authentic and intimate. A lot of fans are drawn to the personality and charm he displays in his music, which I can’t deny is infectious. Needless to say, I preordered Nectar and listened to it the minute it was released.  At 18 songs and 53 minutes it’s an incredibly substantial album, covering a lot of musical ground and showcasing the unique qualities of Joji’s musical style. Having listened to it countless times already, I can verify it as a hidden gem: it is well-rounded, musically intriguing, and unbelievably catchy. Here are a couple of my favorite moments from the album, which I think demonstrate what makes this album and Joji so special:


This song was one of the many singles released leading up to the album. My first impression was pretty lackluster; I dismissed it as a generic pop song with no character, thinking that it was completely contrary to Joji’s established style. Having listened to it multiple times in the context of the album, I’ve completely changed my mind. First of all, the production by Diplo is some of the best on the entire album. The instrumental is clean and vibrant, with a lot of great synths that really pop when combined with Joji’s voice. Joji’s vocal delivery is spectacular as well: he shows off such a wide range of style and emotion, and he commits to the chorus so well, it’s absolutely perfect. This is easily one of the catchiest songs on the album and I find myself replaying it constantly. It just captures this feeling of euphoria that I love, and I think it’s a great example of Joji’s musical ability.


I would argue that this song is the exact opposite of Daylight: it isn’t bright or vibrant, it’s subtle and understated, relying mostly on strong vocal performances and beautiful instrumental compositions. There’s an amazing piano and strings intro that is extremely reminiscent of Joji’s older music, which was more nostalgic and moody. It makes me happy to see that he has worked on developing the same themes from earlier projects and that they’ve come so far, both in terms of quality and emotional potency. After the intro the track takes a hard left into a simple trap beat and a flawless vocal delivery by Joji. Although the sudden change is a surprise, it perfectly complements the intro. Joji is rapping over a bare bones instrumental in this super sharp tone that feels both intimate and hypnotic and I absolutely love it. Then it develops into this beautiful chorus that brings back the piano and highlights Joji’s amazing singing voice. It’s another song that demonstrates the versatility of Joji and the outstanding quality of the album.

These are only two of my favorite songs, but together they reflect the two sides of Joji presented on Nectar. Some of my other favorite tracks include Run, Afterthought, Mr. Hollywood, and Your Man. I wish I could go into all of the reasons why, but unfortunately that would take a couple more posts. Overall, Nectar is Joji’s best work to date and I can’t recommend it enough. It certainly has low points, but every single song stands out and reveals more about the musical development of Joji. Definitely give it a listen if you can and let me know what you think!