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Rachel Ledesma

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Rachel Ledesma (RachelLedesma)

  • Email: ledesma@chapman.edu
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  • Registered On :2018-06-05 20:39:18
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  • Author ID: 298

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Like a Baby is Lucas Nathan’s latest release as Jerry Paper and his first record since moving back to L.A. from New York City. The move inspired in Nathan the existential theme of human desire and satisfaction, heavy material he explores in the sweet and breezy track, “Grey Area.” Featuring Weyes Blood’s melodic vocals, the laid-back tune centers around life’s in between moments that are neither good nor bad, though not exactly comforting. It’s a realization that hits no matter where you are. In Nathan’s case, the cereal aisle (“Grey area come and find me/In the cereal aisle”).

Listen here.

“This isn’t Hip Hop, this is an experience,” said Alexander Anyaegbunam, otherwise known as Rejjie Snow, to a handful of audience members on a Wednesday night at the Santa Ana Observatory. Wearing a blue jumpsuit and a black beanie, the Irish rapper’s mellow attitude was mistakably Californian, though he’s currently based in the East Coast, far away from his hometown of Dublin.

The distance shows. If it weren’t for slips of his accent in between verses, Snow’s voice and style are seemingly American, though the emotions behind those words are rooted back where it all began. It’s another aspect of Snow’s rare spot in the rapping world which he carved for himself in 2012, pushing out a series of EPs and mixtapes, gaining serious online buzz and eventually signing with 300 Entertainment (Fetty Wap, Young Thug). The hustle and the hype resulted in Snow’s debut, Dear Annie, released earlier this year, defining Snow as an artist unlike many others with unbound potential.

Snow gives away none of that on stage. He is smooth, mellow, relaxed. When a fan offered him a blunt, he unhesitatingly accepted and handed it back. Swaying his body back and forth, Snow melted into tracks new and old, settling into a steady rhythm punctuated by his command to the audience to bounce. A more intimate show compared to the larger venues he played on his U.S. tour, Snow encouraged the crowd to come closer, to be together. During instrumental intervals, Snow looked into the crowd asking, “How we doing? How’s the mood?” The audience replied with cheers, some holding up phones, others holding up beers.

But behind Snow’s coolness is a mind still figuring everything out. “I got a lot of things to say, I just don’t know how,” said Snow, who often opted for silence between songs rather than filler. He decided to let the songs speak for themselves. “Let go of sorrow like there’s no tomorrow ‘cause tonight might be your last,” Snow sung on fan-favorite “Egyptian Luvr.” Featuring a smooth backbeat and soft, dreamy vocals courtesy of Dana Williams, who opened the night, the track is Snow at his best.

Eager to show his gratefulness, Snow then dedicated “Sunny California” to the Santa Ana audience, who sung along every word. Though the October night was dark and foggy, Snow made it feel warm, like another day in perpetual summertime.

The night ended around midnight as Snow’s chilly beats and melodic harmonies came to a close. But the look on Snow’s face suggested he could go on until sunrise. He would have to wait a few more hours until his performance at the El Rey in Los Angeles, the last show of his U.S. tour. But the Dublin rapper isn’t going anywhere; the nomadic Snow is here to stay—at least for now.

 

“Walking in mines underground New York City.” The first words off Donzii’s debut single, “Mines.” With a funky backbeat and front woman Jenna Balfe’s unfazed tone, it’s a fitting introduction for the post-punk group that produces ominous yet danceable music. Hailing from Miami with roots in Brooklyn, Donzii combines elements of no-wave and avant-funk into their performance art. With an EP under their belt and having opened for The Growlers, where Donzii may go next is as unexpected as they sound, though it’s clear they’re already a bewitching listen.

Listen to Donzii here.

There’s a certain look that consumes Samuel T Herring’s face after performing a song, as the lights fade and the audience stops dancing. Somewhere between gratefulness and exuberance, a momentary pause from the euphoric nature of performance, a welcoming of reality, of what it means to be together. It’s a look he gives after every song, the final expression on his face just as potent as when he first walked onto stage.

It’s a captivating honesty so rarely seen in real life, one which has set Herring apart as frontman for Future Islands, described as “one of the best live bands around” by Consequence of Sound. It’s easy to see why: Herring takes his duty as frontman seriously by embodying the honesty he sings. He swings his limbs, he rocks his pelvis, he beats his chest, he kisses his hand. He loses himself in passion and feeling, succumbing to his vulnerabilities before a sea of strangers’ eyes. It surpasses performance and abandons the theatrics of live music; what Herring does onstage is a raw exploration of the pain, joy and heartache Future Islands has been presenting since 2006 when the band began until now.

This is what has garnered the post-wave band a considerable following of dedicated fans; some have tattoos of Herring, others have followed the band on tour and most spot merch from the band’s earlier days. These fans gathered for the second time on a Sunday night in September at the Santa Ana Observatory, where Future Islands would return to a sold-out stage after performing just days earlier. And where, in 2014, the band played the smaller Constellation room, a 300-capacity space for up-and-coming bands Future Islands could fill ten times over today.

“We’ve been here before,” Herring sung, the first words of the night from “Grease,” off their third album, On The Water.

By the song’s end, Herring’s button-down was showing sweat stains. Three songs later—“Ran,” “Beauty of the Road” and “A Dream of You and Me”—and it was drenched. But his energy remained the same. He glided across the stage, squatting to the floor, reaching into the audience, hugging fans, kicking his legs over his head, never missing a beat. He stopped only to introduce his bandmates, who often go unnoticed though they’re always heard.

It’s a common theme for the band, who, as described by their opener, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, “cares about the weirdos.”

Half way through their set, Herring reflected on the songwriting/performing process. How a song’s meaning and those attached to it evolves; how a love song becomes a goodbye. “Cuz what was gold, is gone and cold,” Herring confessed to the audience during “Cave.”

But that change is to be expected, and to Herring, is a continuous process. It’s wrapped up in the band’s most widely known song “Seasons (Waiting on You),” which still rings true, lyrically and musically, though the live song differs slightly from the original. Because the song, like its content, is kept anew by time and changes with it.

The band left the stage after the lively “Spirit,” leaving a sweat-drenched pit not ready to quit. So, after a few minutes of cheering, they made their final entrance onto stage, jumping into the cathartic “Inch of Dust” for the four-song encore. Herring paused before introducing the final song, staring past the lights into the crowd, losing himself in the distorted bass which echoed through the venue before proceeding with the once happy song, now turned sad: “Little Dreamer.”

“My little dreamer, I’ll always, always, dream of you,” Herring professed, a new look upon his face, somewhere between regret and bliss. He left the stage thanking the audience for the night, his shirt dripping, though it seemed like he could do it all over again.

But while the stage became empty, Herring’s words from earlier in the night hung in the air.

“Let go of all your prejudices. Replace them with compassion and humanity. When you leave here, take this love and know that everything you need is in your heart,” Herring said to the crowd staring back at him, cheering and applauding. “All the pieces we need are right here.”

Waxahatchee has made a name of itself–or herself, rather. Though the name belongs to a river in Alabama, Katie Crutchfield has made something new of it, which she continues to do with her unconfined musical project as Waxahatchee.

But Crutchfield wasn’t always known by the name of the lake where she grew up. She began as one-half of the Ackleys, a band formed with her twin sister, Allison (who works as a solo artist and lead on Swearin’). From there, the sisters launched P.S. Eliot, an indie-pop influenced punk band. Only after the band’s breakup did Crutchfield become Waxahatchee, writing and recording the project’s debut in a week when she returned to her childhood home. Since then, Crutchfield has released four albums under the moniker, gaining a considerable reputation for herself and signing with Merge Records.

That’s what makes Crutchfield’s latest release as Waxahatchee all the more surprising. Last year, Crutchfield released Out in the Storm, a critically acclaimed album that gained a spot on Pitchfork’s top 20 rock albums of 2017 list, and touches on vulnerability and relationships, concepts that she has explored since the project’s birth in 2011. Following the wave of success her rock album garnered, Crutchfield has decided to turn away from it all, focusing on her soft early sound with Great Thunder.

The EP is a compilation of reimagined songs written in 2012 when Crutchfield partnered with Keith Spencer and formed the lo-fi duo, Great Thunder. A lot has happened since the songs were first imagined; Crutchfield is in a completely different place career-wise and emotionally. Yet, the reworked songs sound new. Not to say Waxahatchee has abandoned her roots, but rather, has reinterpreted them, emphasizing the beauty of old and present feelings alike. “It’s a throwback to how I started,” writes Crutchfield.

And it starts with honesty. “We get comfortable with our detachment to our oldest friends,” discerns Crutchfield on “Singer’s No Star.” Though her voice is warm paired with simple piano chords, the lyrics cut deep. Crutchfield is ready to tackle the emotions she’s been processing for six years. “I cried all night when you came to my side,” Crutchfield recalls on “You’re Welcome.” We feel her pain and hear the loneliness in her voice as she speaks of the tragedy of love, hers or otherwise: “Mothers pray for a padlock on their door/Half their love is just ignored.”

Crutchfield goes deeper. Not a moment is wasted in the EP’s 17-minute runtime. She boils it all down in “Chapel of the Pines,” the emotionally-charged lead single. The song combines feelings of nostalgia and regret embodied in the question: “Will you go?” The question takes on a new meaning every time Crutchfield repeats it. She punches out “will,” then holds onto “go.” She sounds confident, then broken. And when she repeats the question for the final time, met by a brief silence soon swallowed by instrumentation, she sounds at peace. Because Crutchfield knows how the story ends. Crutchfield originally wrote the lyric as “would you go?” when her question had yet to be answered. But time has passed and Crutchfield is out the other side wiser, if not moved on. She’s accepted the answer and let it go.

But emotional maturity isn’t pretty. In “You Left Me with an Ocean,” Crutchfield recounts a toxic relationship, consisting of “swimming in garbage” and being left to pick up the pieces amongst “the dirty and the fallen.” Her devastation is audible, but not all of it is directed outward. Crutchfield takes responsibility for her actions because it’s the only way she can move on. “Cause I swam in it too,” Crutchfield admits.

Though Crutchfield has come a long way, as an individual and as Waxahatchee, she’s still growing, still reminding herself not to resort to her old ways and the pain of the past. The EP closes on “Takes So Much,” a track as cathartic as it sounds in which Crutchfield finds herself sacrificing her own happiness for another’s. “Take it out on me baby,” Crutchfield commands a lover. She’s asking to be used, the ultimate form of self-sabotage. As Crutchfield repeats her painful request, her voice breaks down until it cracks. She’s been depleted. But that doesn’t mean she’s empty. Far from it—she’s overflowing as Waxahatchee. She’s unbound by style or sound and set free by her songwriting which has proven itself to be timeless.

Blood Orange loves voices. Singing, talking, whispering. Fragments of conversation, monologues, prayers. Anything. Because it’s not the voice itself, but rather the emotions behind it. Attitudes, fears, desires revealed through the slightest vocal inflection. Accents that reveal the community you grew up in. Blood Orange hears beyond the voice and sees behind the words to the soul. Because Devonté Hynes, the mastermind behind Blood Orange, realizes that if he’s not listening, no one will. On his fourth studio album, Negro Swan, Hynes reaches into his core, uncovering his past and current traumas, and demands to be heard.

But not everyone is willing to listen. It’s a reality Hynes is used to as a black man in today’s climate, caught in an odd space between being ignored or fetishized. “No one wants to be the Negro Swan,” Hynes admits on “Charcoal Baby.” To be wanted and hated, loved and feared, ugly and beautiful at the same time. To be never just one thing. Hynes knows it’s a troubled place to be; he’s occupied the marginalized space his whole life.

“After school, sucker punched down,” Hynes remembers on the album’s opener, “Orlando.” His early years consisted of daily beatings, sometimes leaving him in the hospital, always leaving him afraid to live. Hynes explores this even more a few tracks later on in, “Dagenham Dream,” named after the town where he grew up, whose grip he is unable to escape from even now. But more painful than the physical harm Hynes endured, was the repression inflicted upon him. The solutions to broken teeth and bloody noses were to be quiet and ashamed–like the pain was his fault.

Hynes hasn’t fully recovered nor does he think he ever will, but he’s found forgiveness, love and acceptance in place of hate. He’s found a family, not related by blood but by background, tied together by similar fears and misconceptions, set free with no judgment. Hynes utilizes activist, Janet Mock’s, candid voice in the spoken word verse, “Family,” a 42-second revelation exploring the nature of community when not constrained be race, sexuality or gender expression.

Hers is not the only voice Hynes uses to speak his truth. On “Hope,” a beautiful blend of smooth R&B and dreamy chillwave, Diddy and Tei Shi dance around each other’s vocals, hopes and fears. “What is it going to take for me not to be afraid, To be loved the way, like, I really want to be loved?” Diddy asks as an emotional proxy for Hynes. The answer comes in the outro, as Hynes speaks for himself: “Follow that wave/Chase what you know/cover your weave/jump in the flow.”

But as much as Hynes uses voices throughout the record, his use of sound is never more apparent. The album opens with New York street sounds–car honks and alarms–repeated throughout the entire album. These sounds show up unexpectedly, in between funky downtempo beats, electric piano and clean guitar strums, blurring the lines between pop and experimentalism. The result are 16 tracks that sound like nothing Hynes has made before, though they all have his creative mark.

Negro Swan could’ve easily turned into an unfocused compilation of noises proclaiming self-love and nothing more, but it doesn’t with Hynes. Though at times certain tracks may stray too far, Hynes is able to balance multiple spotlights and genres of sound within his creative control. He never gives in fully to the darkness that plagued his childhood existence, nor does he accept blind optimism. Instead, Hynes finds freedom, realizing his healing will never be complete.

“Lord I just wanna be/Rooted and grounded in thee.” The first lyrics off “Holy Will,” a collaboration between Hynes and singer, Ian Isiah, who delivers a powerful gospel performance centered around the Clark Sisters’ “Center of Thy Will.” It’s a plea for hopefulness and an acceptance of what is to be.

If “Holy Will” is a prayer, Hynes receives answers in the album’s closing track, “Smoke.” This time, it’s only him singing, paired with acoustic guitar and sounds from a community space–laughter, yelling, cheers. Hynes has never sounded more at place. His voice is exposed, his heart is open, and vulnerability is turned into a declaration of contentment. “The sun comes in, my heart fills within,” Hynes professes, and we can tell he means every word. He’s come out of the darkness and found the light within.

“My God, I’m so lonely.” The first lines of “Nobody,” the lead single off Be the Cowboy, Mitski’s latest release, where alone, behind a piano, she pours out her soul and spills our secrets. That’s how it usually works with Mitski. She stretches her own vulnerabilities through songwriting often described as diarylike, though her words are much more existential. She’s not writing in a diary; she’s excavating every emotional layer within her being because she wants the answers no matter how bad it hurts.

So her realization of loneliness is immediately swept away into a question: “Why am I so lonely?” It comes as the closing line of “Lonesome Lover,” after Mitski realizes her desire to return to an unhealthy love rather than be alone set to happily strummed guitar. But it’s not the only form of self-sabotage the 27-year-old owns up to. In “Geyser,” the album’s opening track, Mitski professes the push-pull relationship she has not with a lover but her musicianship. “You’re the one I want,” Mitski sings, willing to throw the whole world away if just to have her music. And she does, expecting it to save her: the artistic condition.

That dilemma—wanting to be saved from yourself—is carried onto the next song, “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”  This time, Mitski is talking to an ex-lover, one she pushed away and blames for letting her get away with it. “Paint it over,” Mitski hopelessly begs, no longer able to convince herself of her innocence, staring at the ugly truth.

For all its dazzling vocals and intricate instrumentation, Be the Cowboy revolves around the ugly—in codependent relationships, fame and art itself. Mitski lays it bare because she’s tired of spending an hour on her makeup just to prove something. She’s fed up with the seemingly perfect surface level as seen on the album’s cover, where she wears a white swim cap as a tweezer plucks out uneven eyelashes. Because she’s staring straight at us, knowing it’s all for show; that who she is on the album cover is not who she is inside.

At the same time, Mitski can’t help but want to be immortalized. In “Remember My Name,” we hear her battle over the constant dissatisfaction of wanting to be known. She wants her feelings to be heard and her truth witnessed. The song ends with repeated cymbal crashes, as though not wanting to end or be forgotten, punctuating Mitski’s shout into the void.

But it’s more than being heard to Mitski. She wants to be enough. “Toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart,” Mitski requests on “Washing Machine Heart.” She’s putting her heart on the line for emotional labor; she’s willing to be used. But the loneliness never fades. Her washing machine heart only isolates her more, trapping her in a self-inflicted cycle of loneliness.

“I thought I had traveled a long way/But I had circled/The same old sin,” Mitski confesses on the emotionally charged, “A Horse Named Cold Air.” It’s one of the quieter songs on the album, boiled down to just keys and vocals. It’s Mitski alone—completely vulnerable and for once, content in her loneliness. She’s realized the cycle, acknowledged the pain and found somebody within herself. She sets herself free—she becomes the cowboy.

The album ends with “Two Slow Dancers,” in which Mitski focuses on two characters, former young lovers aged by time. It’s a tragic tale of memory and regret set during the couple’s final dance. But the song ends before the dance does, and in that moment, the couple is dancing forever. They’re free from the mess of life and content with themselves. So Mitski escapes herself by finding herself within the context of love and loss; she finds the answer after all.