The Grammys SUCK

This piece originally published in PLU’s student newspaper, The Mast

JEFF DUNN; LASR General Manager: dunnja@plu.edu

As a rule, I don’t watch the Grammys. Never mind that I don’t have cable; even if Comcast wasn’t the devil, I’d still find something better to do with my two and a half hours than watch meaningless awards be handed out to the wrong artists.

What’s amazing is that my disgust at the Grammys doesn’t stem from general disgust of pop music. Believe it or not, there were some great pop and hip-hop albums this year, but for a host of reasons I knew they wouldn’t receive awards on February 12.

Beyonce’s “Lemonade” losing to Adele’s “25” for Album of the Year is by far my biggest peeve with this year’s ceremony. “25” is a vastly inferior album to “Lemonade.” We all know that. Anyone with ears knows that. Even Adele knows that: “What the fuck does Beyonce have to do to win Album of the Year?” she asked in the Grammys press room. Pitchfork gave “Lemonade” an 8.5/10, while “25” got only a 7.3.

“But Jeff! ‘25’ sold better in the United States! Adele sold nearly nine times as many albums than Beyonce this year!” You’re right, conveniently contrary writing device, but the Grammys isn’t a popularity contest.

According to their guidebook, the academy members are required to vote based upon the quality of the work. Their decisions can not to be influenced by sales, chart performance, friendships, regional preferences or company loyalty. Based solely on critical acclaim, “Lemonade” is leaps and bounds ahead of “25.”

Besides Beyonce getting snuffed for what feels like the millionth time, the Grammys voting committee proved their noncompliance with their own guidebook further by awarding Chance the Rapper “Best New Artist.”

Excuse me, new? “Acid Rap” came out in 2013, y’all, I’ve been listening to that album since before I came to college.

I know, I know, you have to sell your album to catch the Grammy, and “Acid Rap” was available for free via Soundcloud. But therein lies my main issue with the Grammys: selling music. If music is art, and art is a true expression of some honest message to share with the world, why should we sully that pure vision by remixing it so it’ll sell well? Frank Ocean abstained from entering “Blonde,” his highly acclaimed 2016 release, in any category at the Grammys. In a blog post on his Tumblr, Ocean wrote (in all caps) he would’ve liked to participate to honor Prince, but decided the best way to do that was to continue being successful without the awards ceremony:

“Winning a TV award doesn’t christen me successful. It took me some time to learn that. I bought all my masters back last year in the prime of my career, that’s successful. ‘Blonde’ sold a million plus without a label, that’s successful […] Use the old gramophone to actually listen bro, I’m one of the best alive. And if you’re up for a discussion about the cultural bias and general nerve damage the show you produce suffers from then I’m all for it.” Try listening to something that definitely won’t win a Grammy. Listen to something released for free. Listen to something that a Facebook friend from your hometown recorded in their basement and released on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. If you’ve gotta listen to pop music, just pirate it. I promise, Adele won’t miss the $10.99 you were gonna pay on iTunes for “25.” Her record company might, though.

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

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.

Lutes cut loose at LollaPLUza

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Otieno Terry’s performance was powerful, to say the least. Terry has played multiple fests in the Seattle area and was accustomed to performing in front of a large crowd.

This piece was originally published in Mast Magazine via mastmedia.plu.edu
Photos by McKenna Morin.

   Lutes cut loose at LollaPLUza 2016, just two weekends before the end of the semester. Students and community members sprawled across the golf course on the uncharacteristically-warm day in early May; dancing, singing or listening to the live bands the LollaPLUza team had booked for the event.

     At 1 p.m., the gates opened and student band Head Portal started the day off strong with a set of classic covers to get the crowd going. Caleb & Denae followed them up on the B stage while seattle locals Prom Queen set up. Runaway Satellite, an acoustic rock duo,  played between Prom Queen and Otieno Terry.

     Terry’s music is a charming mix of many different genres.

     “My biggest influences were video game soundtracks, and a lot of orchestral stuff,” Terry told the Mast after his set. “Eyrkah Badu, Little Dragon, Kanye West, Outkast, Crying Baby Ray. R&B, electronic music, and hip-hop.”

     “Last year, we did Madaraka festival at the EMP, we did Sasquatch, we did Capitol Hill Block Party, Bumbershoot, and the Homeskillet festival in Alaska and the John Coltrane Festival in North Carolina,“ he said. With a history of performing for large crowds, it’s no wonder Terry was a natural on stage at LollaPLUza. He credits some of his success to winning Sound Off! 2014 at the EMP, an all-ages music competition that helps artists showcase their music and launch their careers.

     “Sound Off kinda set things off a little bit,” Terry said. “Sound Off got me that Bumbershoot performance and Block Party, kinda opened the door to my name, people just started booking me. Also, it was cool to hook up with other people from the sound off, and the people from the EMP are really nice. Super down to earth.”

     The following hours saw sets from Navvi, Dave B., and the PLU Dance Team.

     This year’s headliner, Pickwick, blended sweet dancing melodies with driving guitars and came into a sound all their own on stage.

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Pickwick’s vocalist Galen belts out a high one over their groovy rock sound. They’re new album is scheduled to come out in fall.

     “I’d call our music rock and roll, but it’s fun to go disco at times, be chill at times, it’s been fun to try different things,” said Pickwick vocalist Galen Disston.

     Pickwick’s been hard at work recording their new album with producer Erik Blood. Blood also produced albums for Seattle artists Shabazz Palaces and Tacocat.

     “Here’s what I’ll say about it: It’s the best experience I’ve ever had making a record, we made [Can’t Talk Medicine], but it was kind of like a compilation, some songs we’d done two times already by the time we got here,” Disston said. “It felt fresh, some of [the songs] we had written right before we went into the studio. I don’t know how to describe it, but the record made this place that I want to be in […]  not the studio, just this place, metaphorically, that we were at when making it, and that i go to when i listen to it.”

     Throughout the day, a number of non-musical activities were available for participating Lutes as well; the rock wall, the obstacle course and food trucks were all hits.

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.