Elephant Jake makes the most of discomfort with “Classic.”

This piece originally published on my radio show’s website, Finding Emo

EJ

by Jeff Dunn

“I don’t wanna talk, talk, talk anymore than we have to,” croons Sal Fratto on Sebastian Bauer, the second track from Elephant Jake’s LP “Classic.” released March 17, 2017, on Wreck It Records. As the line would imply, Fratto and Colin Harrison cut straight to the point on “Classic.”, blending that now-quintessential emo revival sound with just enough indie rock to make it stand out palpably.

Fratto and Harrison don’t pull any punches lyrically, crafting intimate imagery with their words, reminiscent of Modern Baseball, Slaughter Beach, Dog, and Marietta. Fratto and Harrison capture the indeterminate feelings that come with maturing; fears of being alone, hesitantly leaving comfort and the familiar for the sake of changing and growing. “But it’s alright,” Fratto and Harrison offer on Minute Hands; “Everything’s alright.”

I don’t want to present the album this album as the saddest thing you’ll hear this year – far from it. “Classic.” is as irreverent and fun as the dudes who make up Elephant Jake, and this carefree attitude shines through in the opening riff to Six Four (You Know Better Than I Would), guaranteed to get your toes a-tapping, and At Least For Now’s tom-heavy drum beat.

Elephant Jake has songwriting ability in spades; “Classic.” sounds like it couldn’t have been written any other way. The album bounces from song to song, keeping your attention at all times. Energetic electric guitar riffs trade the spotlight with somber acoustic ballads; both pull your ears to the center of the music and drop you gingerly into verses where Fratto and Harrison’s voices weave around each other like they were two heads on the same body.

There’s a certain honesty to “Classic.” that a lot of indie/alternative rock misses the mark on. Elephant Jake isn’t out to prove anything on this album. They’re here to rock and give you a 42 minute long peek into their psyche.

Ultimately, this album comes from a place of discomfort and awkward social interactions and turns it into something beautiful, channeling primarily negative emotions into positive outcomes.

Stream/purchase Classic. here

Check out our interview with Sal and Collin here

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Mineva’s “Precious, Endless” a cathartic expression of reflection

this piece originally published on my radio show’s blog, Finding Emo

by Jeff Dunn

On March 15, Nik and I had the pleasure of playing a few tracks from the recently released “Precious, Endless” EP from Connecticut post-hardcore five-piece Mineva.

“Thematically, they address stages of grief and dealing with different loss that we dealt with in our personal lives,” bassist Peter Strockowski told us on-air. “There’s a ton of emo influence in our music, I don’t know if it comes across as simply as that, in a less teenage angsty, since we’re all a little older now and have been around the block a few times, but it’s definitely very introspective in an emotional way.

The best lyrics are always introspective, and Mineva pulls at their own hearts to find meaning in their music; “I’m still stuck somewhere between selfish / and a question still unanswered / it’s only fear that’s speaking back to me / year after year i just want you to be happy / as I overthink everything about me annually” rings the chorus to the opening track Annually, hitting the themes of introspection and reflection early on.

Sonically, each track on “Precious, Endless” sweeps effortlessly from the softness of a reverb-soaked arpeggio to the raging punches of hardcore verses and back again. I find something new to love about the guitar work on the “Precious, Endless” every time I listen; subtle dichotomies between the lead and rhythm parts demand your attention several times over.

“There’s an Alan Watts quote dealing with love and enemies,” Strockowski told us. “It kinda came to us, what he was saying about loving like a faucet and the necessity of enemies to someone as a part of basic human relations, it’s really incredible. A lot of people these days wouldn’t say they necessarily have enemies, but it’s a reflection of how your relations grow and change as you mature.”

“A great deal of damage is done in practical human relations by saying that you love people,” the Watts sample monologues over the opening riff to “bluesummers (The End With You).” “when what you mean to say is that you ought to (and don’t). You give the impression, and people begin to expect things of you which you are never going to come through with.” The Watts quote mixes well with bluesummers’ lyrical themes of a fear of loving. “It’s like we always wanted/ to hold hands and watch the end / to find closure in compassion / and hope to love again” sings Kevin Covill, before Watts returns; “But love is not a sort of rare commodity—everybody has it. Existence is love. But its like water flowing through a hose, it depends on what direction you point it.”

A beautiful album with a direct theme and wonderfully unique sound, “Precious, Endless” will restore your belief in love while taking you on a deeply personal journey through the hearts and minds of Mineva. Get it for pay-what-you-want on their bandcamp.

Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock tried to warn Seattle

Album artwork for Modest Mouse's second LP The Lonesome Crowded West. Isaac Brock, the band's frontman and lyricist, predicted the metropolitan nightmare that Seattle would become in the years following the album's release.
Album artwork for Modest Mouse’s second LP The Lonesome Crowded West. Isaac Brock, the band’s frontman and lyricist, predicted the metropolitan nightmare that Seattle would become in the years following the album’s release.

 

By Jeff Dunn

Isaac Brock was right. In the album released by Modest Mouse The Lonesome Crowded West, Brock predicted the now-inevitable metropolitan megalopolis that will end the Seattle-Tacoma area as we know it.

OK, you could say I’m a bit bitter. Lonesome Crowded was released in 1997, just before the city began to feel the weight of its own size and expansion. At the time, nothing was being done to prevent issues Brock points out. We’ve made progress since then, but too little, too late, and for the foreseeable future I will be forced to endure the endless monotony of traffic up  and down the I-5 corridor.

The satisfaction we gained from our rapid and immediate expansion has cost us much more than just our elbow room. We would’ve been better off “compacting” our conscience and keeping it safe for another time, rather than to “bottle and sell it.”

Nineteen years later, Lonesome Crowded‘s predictions for a dystopian Seattle have come to fruition. To someone like Brock, who was quick to point out that he was an Issaquah native, and who penned such lines as “I didn’t move to the city, the city moved to me,” which carried more weight under the surface than above it. Brock becomes (or already was) the character Cowboy Dan in the song of the same name, who rails against the city encroaching on his lonesome, crowded west. On “Convenient Parking,” Brock bemoans the destruction of nature to make way for the paved world. He even comes off as accusatory (Well aren’t you feeling real dirty/Sitting in your car with nothing/Waiting to bleed on the big streets).

Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine opens with “From the top of the ocean / To the bottom of the sky / I get claustrophobic.” Here, at the top of the album, Brock sings against the dangers of consumerism. Brock’s entire world is shrinking around him. The Seattle he knows and loves is rushed with wave after wave of new residents, draining themselves into spaces that weren’t there before, propelling the city ever-forward on its capitalist tide. The influx of Amazon employees has long been touted as the reason behind rising rent costs in the downtown and South Lake Union area (Brock couldn’t have predicted Amazon specifically when he wrote “Workin’ real hard to make that internet cash/ work your fingers to the bone while sittin’ on your ass on the album’s fifth track, Jesus Christ Was An Only Child).

Seattle has crested since 1997. The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area added 57,000 people in the last year and remains the nation’s 15th largest metro area, with 3.61 million people. 65,000 of those people live downtown, and 24 new residents move in per week. That’s a lot of people. And all of these people are always out and about. I don’t know if you’ve tried to get anywhere downtown recently, but it’s a nightmare. It’s the 5th most traffic-congested city in the U.S., with drivers in the metro area waiting in traffic for an average of 89 hours per year.

Seattle has nearly 100,000 parking spaces downtown. But, as Seattle Business editor John Levesque puts it, “it always seems that my car is No. 100,001 in line.” Brock and Levesque share the feeling that though we live in the metro area, something as simple as convenient parking has gone down the drain.

The city has not been stagnate in getting traffic flowing again. In November of 1996, (yes, 1996) King, Pierce and Snohomish County voters approved a tax increase which allocated funds for a 25-mile light rail system. Thus began what is collectively known as the “Dark years” for Sound Transit. I’m not being dramatic for effect, the time between 1999 and 2009 wherein the project faced numerous political and financial delays is referred to in numerous source documents as “the Dark years.”

While the Link is open now, and in fact just opened two new stations in Capitol Hill and the U District, it isn’t a solution. The process that was funded 1996, won’t even be anyway to “Ride the Wave” line to ride from Federal Way until 2023.

Seattle is, however, ranked the best city in America to find a job, the fastest-growing big city in the country and the most “cultural” city in the United States, according to the State of Downtown 2015 release. We may have made small steps in the right direction, but Brock’s central message was ignored; the time has come to pull the bottle of conscience off the shelf, pop the top, and drink up.

 

Review: The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

The dust has settled around Kanye West as the juggernaut of events that was “The Life Of Pablo” release comes to a close. The album, released Valentine’s Day exclusively via Tidal, comes with a resurgence of communication from Kanye via Twitter, for better or worse depending on your view.

“This is a gospel album,” he announced during Yeezy Season 3, the part-fashion show, part-album release and listening party befitting Kanye’s maximalist style. The album opens with the heavenly “Ultralight Beam,” immediately establishing the Christian influences Kanye weaved into the album. Both his and Chance’s verse read more like gospel than hip hop, and the full choir mixed with horns and organs takes us home to that sweet spot between genres.

The intense megalomania that comes with super-celebrity will consume and destroy those of us who cannot fathom it. Kanye West is not, however, incapable of fathoming it. Kanye’s ego explodes across the tracks, taking him to new highs of vanity and new lows of self-deprecation. Even so, he presents himself as the narcissistic anti hero we know and love, though he’s cracked a bit under the pressure of being a social icon, and we can see his anxieties are peaking through the cracks in TLOP. See: “Silver Surfer Intermission,” a track that holds no value except to prove that the temporary album title “Waves” was meant as “love and support” for rapper Max B (cited by Wiz Khalifa as the originator of the “wave”).

The album progresses in a much different style than previous Ye releases. Average track time is about three minutes, outliers being “Real Friends,” “No More Parties in L.A.” and “30 Hours.” Each track is different from the previous, and different from the rest of his discography, but still manages to fit together like a piece from one of the album’s namesakes, Pablo Picasso (though music reviewer Anthony Fantano would argue the tracks are “more Jackson Pollock than Pablo Picasso”).

Despite making each track feel different from the others, there’s still elements from old jams. “Waves” is reminiscent of the golden choruses on “We Major” and “Devil in a New Dress.” “Freestyle 4” and “Fade”  pull from the loud, angry Kanye that made Yeezus. The beat-chopping throughout the album solidifies Ye as the best at what he does.

Kanye draws parallels between himself and the three Pablos (St. Paul the Apostle, artist Pablo Picasso, drug lord Pablo Escobar) throughout the album. Kanye sees himself in “No More Parties in L.A.” as a messenger from God, as an artist pushing his limits,  and as the enemy of the media (I feel like Pablo when I’m workin’ on my shoes / I feel like Pablo when I see me on the news / I feel like Pablo when workin’ on my house).

It’s impossible to analyze his music in a vacuum. While it’s true that a separation of art/artist is possible on a smaller scale, Kanye’s case is different. He’s an immensely influential artist, with seven full-length albums under his belt since 2003. He’s been in the pop culture spotlight at least since then. He knows the things he says have far-reaching effects. Kanye should know better; Kanye definitely thinks women are objects, definitely thinks he can run for President of the US in 2020, Kanye thinks Bill Cosby’s innocence is something he can joke about.

Some would argue that TLOP is more spectacle than art. If that were true, wouldn’t that mean that all the preceding rants and tweets and freakouts were all part of this spectacle? Can we reduce Kanye to nothing more than a symbol in the media? Isn’t this exactly what he’s upset about?

All things considered, Kanye is nothing more than a man. A man that has created his magna opus, a piece of work that serves as both a reflection on where he’s been, an intimate peek into his daily life, and a glimpse at what could possibly lie ahead.

“Harmlessness” and breaking through the Emo Ceiling

Harmlessness was released September 25th, 2015
Harmlessness was released September 25th, 2015

by Jeff Dunn
dunnja@plu.edu

This piece was originally written for The Mast

8/10 Stars

“The Emo Revival Ends Here” reads the title to Noisey’s review of Harmlessness, the sophomore album from The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (abbreviated TWIABP), released Sept. 25 via Epitaph Records.

With a history almost as long as their name, TWIABP has become (by none of their own intentions) the poster-children of the so-called “Emo Revival,” but this new release has cemented their transition into a more accessible indie rock sound without losing the core themes that have permeated their previous releases.

“Emo” as a genre carries certain connotations that elicits negative responses from unaccustomed listeners. People are often turned off by harsh vocals or shouting, which emerged as a major part of the genre from its punk and hardcore roots. Contrary to their previous full length, “Whenever, If Ever,” 2013, “Harmlessness” has no screams. In fact, the album features the band’s female vocalist on several tracks, “January 10th, 2014” being my personal favorite.

Rebranding to a more accessible style is often met with accusations of “selling out” by die-hard fans. Really, that argument only works under the assumption that a band is making its music for you, which is pretty self-centered of you. For shame. It’s a momentous occasion when artists can sustain themselves long enough to really “feel out” their sound and fine-tune it.
Members of the band have noted in interviews that writing this album felt more cohesive than “Whenever, If Ever.”

“For ‘Whenever, If Ever,’ that whole thing was just a mess,” guitarist Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak said in an interview with Themusic.com.au. “You know, it’d be like, two or three hours in the studio every couple of weeks, and not everyone would be there. We lost our vocalist during the middle of recording. It just wasn’t focused; we kind of rushed it.”
“Harmlessness” is full of references to the band’s first EP, 2010’s “Formlessness.” Since then, the band has fluctuated in size between four and 10 members. But just because they’ve gone through a few lineup changes doesn’t mean they’ve slowed down at all. If anything, TWIABP has done the opposite – pushing the limits of their sound to new heights. What they’ve done is nearly impossible for many great artists; maintaining their popularity long enough to keep going back to the studio.

On Pitchfork, writer Evan Rytlewski writes:

“TWIABP have succeeded where past generations of emo bands have often stumbled: tidying up their sound without losing any of the exuberance and immediacy that made that sound so striking in the first place.”

Throughout all of their musical endeavors, TWIABP strives to create a sense of community and collaboration. This album doesn’t disappoint in those regards, and takes it a step further to tackle myriad issues from mental well-being and displacement from old homes to new ones, to violent revenge against sexual predators and everything in between.

It’s these themes that landed TWIABP the “emo” title in the first place. The lyrical content is reminiscent of any twenty-something’s search for meaning and purpose in their world.

Writer Ian Cohen summarizes this album better than I ever could in his review from Noisey:

“As much as I want to say “Harmlessness” is what the emo revival was leading up to, that still feels like selling it short[…]The emo revival ends here because its flagship band made the best indie rock record of 2015, period.”