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Download. Listen. Discard.

Dan Brombach | Friday, October 26, 2012

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To say Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s new album “The Heist” was a breath of fresh air in today’s rap music scene would be somewhat of an understatement.  I think more fitting praise would be given to the duo’s lyrical and production wizardry combined with their ability to convey a gripping and relevant message through their music. It is this skill that is setting a new standard for the entire industry.  The bar has been set high – a bar rappers like Rick Ross can’t reach and one crooners like Drake can only whine about.

What makes “The Heist” such a fantastic and unique album is its variation between feel-good party tracks and gritty, serious songs that truly inspire reflection.  Funny songs like “Thrift Shop,” in which Macklemore boasts about how his thrift shop purchases, such as old gator shoes and a used “fur fox skin,” make him the best-dressed person at the club, are juxtaposed with songs like “Same Love,” a heartfelt endorsement of gay marriage, and “Wings,” a critique of rampant consumerism and its consequences.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are irreverent yet sincere, vulgar yet also refined, jokers who also inspire.  You may not enjoy a particular song off their album, or may disagree with the message it conveys, but the fact remains it came from a place of genuine talent and conviction.  I hope the duo continues to make music for years to come, and that you support them by downloading “The Heist.”

Listen
I’m not afraid to admit I’m a huge fan of Ellie Goulding.  Not only do I enjoy her music, and think she has a beautiful and distinctive voice, but I also have a slight to modest to moderate crush on her.  Okay, fine, I have a pretty big crush on her, so sue me.

Despite this confession, I was nonetheless slightly disappointed by her latest album “Halcyon.”  The album certainly has its gems, including “Anything Could Happen,” a catchy, techno-inspired song you may recognize from recent headphone commercials.  I also enjoy “Figure 8,” a track continuing Goulding’s long-standing love affair with dubstep. (If you haven’t heard the remix of “Lights,” look it up, or hang your head and go back to the comfortable rock you likely live under.)

The issue of dubstep brings me to my main critique of the album: Goulding at times sacrifices lyrical depth and creativity by leaning too heavily on slick production.  Some tracks are unmemorable and simply not worth more than a single listen. My favorite song, “My Blood,” is the only song I believe showcases Goulding’s vocal range and ability without overdoing it on the production end of things.

Long story short, I think “Halcyon” didn’t truly express the talent and charm that drew me to Ellie Goulding’s music in the first place. However, the album is still definitely worth a listen.

Discard
Upon first listening to the steaming pile of musical garbage that is Gucci Mane’s new album “Trap God,” I can honestly say a small part of me died.  If Kevin Federline’s ill-fated rap album “Playing With Fire” was a punch right to rap music’s jaw, Gucci Mane’s latest travesty took off the gloves and knocked it to the mat.

All the songs on “Trap God” feature the stale, bass-heavy beat used by seemingly every wannabe, no-talent cookie-cutter rapper.  Lyrical creativity or any sort of authentic style is completely absent.  

Gucci Mane is content to spend his time rapping about cars, guns and diamonds, occasionally showing flashes of musical genius such as rhyming “up” with “up” four times in a row.

Not confident he could ruin rap music by himself, Gucci Mane assembled a cast of featured artists on the album that could be fairly called the musical equivalent of the 2006 defeated Detroit Lions. I don’t know who rapper Little Scooter is, but I strongly urge him to never pick up a microphone again.

In conclusion, “Trap God” is the “Norbit” of rap music. If you think I’m being too harsh, I would encourage you to give the album a listen. Actually, no. I wouldn’t wish that fate on any person. Even Gucci Mane.
 

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Download, Listen, Discard

Dan Brombach | Tuesday, October 2, 2012

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I’ll admit I have a tendency to be slightly irrational when it comes to Mumford & Sons, but I thought the band’s newest album “Babel” was simply fantastic. “Babel” is one of those albums you can listen to beginning to end without skipping any tracks – an increasingly rare feature in this modern era of auto-tune, stale beats and Nicki Minaj.

The album starts strong with “Babel,” a song infused with the band’s signature folksy sound and boot-stomping rhythm, and doesn’t slow down from there. “I Will Wait” is another of my favorite tracks which channels this sound, with its frantic, banjo-plucking beat and soaring vocals never failing to get my feet tapping.

As in their first album “Sigh No More,” Mumford & Sons taps into a more melancholy vibe for a number of their songs. Tracks like “Holland Road” and “Ghosts That We Knew” are certainly mournful at times, yet their simple beauty and lyrical depth should make them appealing to those looking for something beyond just a sugarcoated party song.

I’ve heard some people criticize “Babel” for failing to significantly depart from the band’s first album, “Sigh No More.” This may be a valid point, but if their music ain’t broke, then why fix it? There’s no need for Mumford & Sons to experiment with some new, avant-garde sound just so fedora-wearing “Grey’s Anatomy” enthusiasts can sleep well at night. The band has found a style that works for them, and I hope they continue to draw inspiration from that style moving forward.

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After going through months of Kanye West withdrawal, I was thrilled when West and his Good Music crew finally dropped their new album “Cruel Summer” this September. West brought together a star-studded cast of rappers, including Big Sean, Jay-Z, Pusha-T and Kid Cudi to create one of this year’s most widely-hyped set lists. Unfortunately, “Cruel Summer” revealed that the difference between hype and reality can be large indeed.

Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoyed a number of songs on “Cruel Summer.” “Mercy,” “Clique” and “The Morning” feature fantastic, bass-heavy beats and lyrical wordplay from some of the best rappers in the game today. Jay-Z is certainly at his arrogant best on “Clique,” smoothly flowing over the track while making sure to politely remind you of his superiority in all aspects of life.

Refusing to be outshone on the album he put together, Kanye teams with his partner in crime from “Runaway,” Pusha-T, to produce a memorable verse on “New God Flow.” Nobody is off-limits for Mr. West, who takes irreverent stabs at a variety of celebrities, including the late Whitney Houston, before casually comparing himself to Moses.

The album falls slightly short, in my opinion, due to its inclusion of rapper 2 Chainz, who actively strives to ruin all tracks on which he is featured. I’m still not sure why Kanye West chose to invite 2 Chainz into the Good Music crew. At first I thought it might be an act of charity, like picking the kid with the broken leg to play kickball in grade school, but then I remembered Kanye’s swollen ego, and his swollen ego’s swollen ego, and promptly went back to being confused.

Kid Cudi also strikes out on his track from the album, “Creepers.” I’m offering a reward for whoever finds Kid Cudi’s talent, which he seems to have misplaced during his brief and ill-fated debut on the rock music scene. 

Overall, “Cruel Summer” is solid yet slightly disappointing, outclassed by Kanye West’s previous collaboration efforts. However, I would definitely still recommend giving the album a listen.

Discard

It may not be fair to give Lupe Fiasco’s new album “Food & Liquor II” a discard rating, but I feel it’s somewhat appropriate given my current frustration with the direction his music has taken.

I understand Lupe Fiasco’s musical identity is defined by his intelligent, and often radical, lyrical critiques of political, racial and social realities. However, I feel like he focused too much on producing inflammatory lyrics and political commentary in “Food and Liquor II” while neglecting the other integral components of enjoyable music – production value, memorable hooks and some degree of catchiness.

Songs like “Lamborghini Angels” certainly contain a socially charged message, yet are simply not songs I would listen to more than once, let alone buy.

The song I would recommend from the album, “Around My Way,” is one of the few managing to provide social commentary without sacrificing listenability.

Lupe’s music has simply gotten too preachy for my tastes. If I want someone to call me names and accuse me of being a terrible person, I don’t need to buy one of his albums. I have plenty of friends living right down the hall who would happily do it for free.

Contact Dan Brombach at dbrombac@nd.edu