Tuesday Two Step: Thomas Rakowitz

rakowitz

With all the hip-hop and indie coverage over here at Irrational Confidence, it may surprise you to learn that I consider myself a bit of a metalhead as well. Mastodon is probably in my top ten bands of all time and I’ve really enjoyed seeing what acts like Deafheaven and Pallbearer are doing for their various sub-genres.(I’ll scream about Deafheaven’s Sunbather for approximately forever. Shoegaze-ish instrumentals with blastbeats and black metal vocals. Tell me that’s not great.) So when I got my hands on Thomas Rakowitz’s Ghosts of Myself EP, I was excited to put it on expecting some shreddy goodness.

You might remember Rakowitz as one of my favorite parts of Brian Altano’s Misanthrope. His guitar work was a great added texture to the dystopian electro-hip-hop of the rest of Misanthrope. When I first pushed play on the EP, I was taken aback just a bit. What I knew of Rakowitz’s work was either from Misanthrope or his bombastic shred work from his YouTube channel, such as this awesome cover of the theme from the Black Knight 2000 pinball machine. I was prepared to get my teeth kicked in by the powers of rock, dang it! But what followed instead was the beginning of the title track, an almost proto-flamenco with an ethereal choir backing the guitar. It was, at the risk of being a little too on the nose given the title, haunting. I felt like this was the wide sweeping shot at the beginning of the horror movie, as the scene gets set for what’s about to happen.

And then we shred. Oh, do we shred! Immediately we’re joined by some breakbeats, some super crunchy chords and some riffs that come in with the desire to say that we’re getting straight to the point. Rakowitz even comes in with vocals, something I didn’t expect from him, and the rawness present in his voice as he swaps between clean and growled vocals adds to the emotion of the track. Rakowitz had made reference on Twitter about this EP being a personal, almost therapeutic project and in his vocals I could almost hear him screaming out his demons one by one.

There’s almost no time to rest in this short EP. There’s only five tracks plus the awesome bonus instrumental “Elements,” another departure from the rest of the EP and a soothing recovery from the rest of the project. From start to finish I get what I expected from Thomas Rakowitz: some technically impressive metal that feels like it wants to destroy me (The solo on “The Consuming Flame” is the best example to point to in this case) but the album really shines when it shows off the versatility of the artist. The introductions on both “Ghosts of Myself” and “Whispered Nightmares” are enough of a shift that I perked up and paid attention and when the metal kicked back up to 11, it felt like a release. I was ready for it again. These moments of tension, waiting for everything to blow up are what make the Ghosts of Myself EP special. You can pick up Ghosts of Myself for the low price of $2 over at Thomas Rakowitz’s Bandcamp page and hear a demo version of “The Consuming Flame” below.

Octave Minds Enlist Chance the Rapper to “Tap Dance” All Over Their Beats

octaveminds-octaveminds

I’ve been in a Chance the Rapper mood all day today. When I woke up, I saw an announcement that Chano was going to be playing a show at the school where I’m currently doing my Master’s work. This sent me running back to Acid Rap, Chance’s 2013 breakout mixtape and my personal album of the year. Just about the time I got to “Juice” I checked Twitter to see that, as if sent from the heavens, Octave Minds had released the new single off their self-titled debut featuring none other than Chance the Rapper. It’s been a good day.

While the feature may get the brunt of the attention on “Tap Dance,” it would be an absolute crime to leave out the work that Octave Minds have done on the production. With jazzy piano and warm horns, the collaboration of Chilly Gonzales and Boys Noize create a 6/8 groove that seems like it came straight out of a film score. This is a very different kind of hip-hop sound and Chance goes from being just a great get for the project to the perfect kind of weirdo to handle this project. Chance’s verse feels more like a waltz than a literal tap dance, but as he spins and glides over the beat painting a picture of a duo moving through life you realize that there are few partnerships that work as well as Chance and Octave Minds. There’s almost no one that could spin this kind of song out of this beautiful jazzy beat and yet here we are. I’m now really looking forward to hearing what comes next from Octave Minds and STILL super excited to finally see Chance live. You can listen to “Tap Dance” here and check out Octave Minds’ debut album when it drops September 15th.

Night School “Birthday”

7 Jacket (Glue Pocket - No Spine) [OB-GD17-001]

From the very beginning of their debut single, Night School proves that they’re not what you expected. The first three seconds of “Birthday” are a crunchy, repetitive guitar riff that I expected to kick off into a bombastic, aggressive song but what I got was something I didn’t know I wanted and it’s so much better. What happens at 0:04 is the track opening up and becoming some kind of combination of The Strokes and Phantogram. The garage-rock grit is still there, but it’s accompanied by a dreamy almost shoegaze vibe as well. The vocals from Alexandra Morte (Whirr, Camera Shy) are warm and comforting with faded harmonies adding to the full package as the song swirls around through your speakers. You can listen to “Birthday” below and be on the lookout for Night School’s debut EP Heart Beat releasing on October 7th.

People Keep Talking About That New Hoodie Allen

 

pkt coverIf there’s one thing I can always count on from Hoodie Allen it’s a clever visual to go along with an equally catchy song. Fresh off the Happy Gilmore-inspired video for “Show Me What You’re Made Of,” the New York rapper heads back to the cinema for “Movie,” the new single off his upcoming album People Keep Talking. In the video, Hoodie raps his way through a series of movie sets, ranging from a noir picture, a Michael Bay-esque action movie and a pretty pitch perfect Wes Anderson parody all in the pursuit of his leading lady. The production from longtime collaborator RJF is a stand-out here as well, with a thumping beat driving an almost surf-punk guitar line that helps set the track into a nice groove for Hoodie to direct as he sees fit. If this is a good look at the album, I’ll advise you to follow Terrell Owens’ advice and get your popcorn ready. You can check out the video for “Movie” below and get ready for Hoodie Allen’s full-length debut album People Keep Talking dropping on October 14th.

How to make shark week better

Shark Week, like bacon, is more popular for being popular than for being what it is. I’ve thought of a few tweaks to ensure that Shark Week lives up to the cultural fervor surrounding it.

  • When researchers/idiots are trying to use a new technique to capture or film a rare shark, Mark Cuban should show up and incredulously say, “This idea is bullshit. Do you even have a patent? What’s keeping me from recreating this deep sea camera lens in my garage tomorrow?”
  • Many of the programs are currently narrated by, I’m assuming, failed action-movie-trailer narrators who overly dramatize moments that don’t even directly precede commercial breaks. These hacks should be replaced by a) successful action-movie-trailer narrators, b) shark experts who can provide interesting science facts, or c) people who know nothing about sharks. The last option might be preferable, because they would either say very little and allow viewers to focus on the shark videos, or hilariously comment on peripheral aspects of the footage (a la Karl Pilkington).
  • Whenever a shark bites something on camera, a little image of a Finding Nemo character should appear in the bottom corner and chant, “SHARK BAIT, HOO HA HA.” There should be no cap on the number of times this can happen in a segment.
  • There should not be hashtagged facebook updates from viewers on my TV screen, ever. This should be a given for any show, unless the aforementioned viewers are Charles Barkley.
  • Discovery Channel should replay the exact same programming from Shark Week ten years ago and see if anyone notices, and when they don’t, replay the same lineup in nine years, and so on until all the annoying little tweets at the bottom of the screen say things like “Anyone else think these same shark shows were on during the shark week six months ago?”
  • The Mythbusters should tackle the myth that Shark Week only happens once a year.
  • Regarding the title, “Deadliest Catch” is a gigantic letdown. During Shark Week, there should be an episode of “Deadliest Catch” where the fishermen somehow haul up a shark in one of their crab traps and have to scramble to throw it back. If he’s available, it would also be good to have Ashton Kutcher come out at the end and reveal that Discovery Channel spent a ton of money orchestrating the prank. If Ashton Kutcher is busy, Kyle Korver will do.
  • The divers and people on the boats above should have radios that actually work. Being able to understand the dialogue is more important than injecting no-budget-horror-movie tension.
  • There should be commercials for shark care products and nutritionally superior shark foods.
  • Every time a diver expresses concern about going into sharky waters, an infographic should pop up to warn viewers about something that kills more people per year (adjusted for exposure, of course) than sharks do, like stairs or champagne corks.

These adjustments would catapult Shark Week from a pretty good concept to a fantastic cultural phenomenon worthy of all the fawning facebook updates it currently inspires. I give you, Discovery Channel, permission to use any and all of these ideas without further instruction from me. I look forward to next year’s Shark Week.

Follow your passion, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have one

Successful people are always telling you to follow your passion, even if you don’t think doing so will allow you to pay rent. Don’t worry about the money, they say. Do what you love and the money will follow. This is 100% true, as long as you’re passionate about finance or fossil fuels.

Much of the advice young adults get about choosing a career and developing a professional life comes from people with a skewed perspective on what it takes to be successful, and this is a problem. When everything has turned out okay for you, it’s easy to tell other people that if they just be themselves and do what they like, everything will turn out okay for them too. It’s easy to realize that you’ve been successful at something, but it’s very hard to pinpoint why. And so when successful people try to articulate the causes of their success, they often fall on one fashionable, click-inducing reason: they followed their passion, and everything fell into place. They might say they got lucky, and they might know intellectually that success is partially about luck, but they don’t feel it. The outcome tints their view of the process, and they really believe that doing what you love leads to success and stability.

So what, you ask. Maybe people are advocating for following passions based on slightly irrational thinking – is that such a bad thing? Doing what you love is still a good idea, right?

Yes. I agree. But what’s not good is telling people that it’s only worth doing things you’re passionate about, and that’s often how this kind of advice comes across. When the theme of a motivational speech could be described as “doing anything you don’t love is selling out,” something is wrong.

It leads to people wearily insisting they’re passionate about some topic that might as well have been chosen out of a hat, because it puts enormous pressure on young adults to just be passionate about something (bonus points if it conveniently sets you up to make a lot of money). But in all the excitement over doing what you love, we’ve forgotten that you aren’t necessarily an awful person if you don’t have a burning desire to help underprivileged kids go to college or to save an endangered tree species. You shouldn’t feel like a failure if nothing particular comes to mind when guest lecturers and bosses and TED talk people tell you to follow your passion. Having a quirky mission in life and trying to turn it into money isn’t the only the only thing that makes life enjoyable, and it’s certainly not the only indicator of whether a person is worthwhile.

Simon Wright and Andy V Are In the Loop

I’m always fascinated by what can be done with a loop station. Maybe it’s because it starts out as a puzzle, with each new layer building upon the last until you can finally recognize what song’s being played. Or maybe it’s just me being amazed at how easy it is (or at least how easy the most talented people make it seem) for one person to turn themselves into a full band. Or maybe I’m just a huge Reggie Watts fan. That could be it too. Whatever the case may be, I’m always eager to see what someone has done with something familiar just by building it in a new way.

Irrational Confidence favorite Simon Wright (You may remember him from our review of The Simon Wright Band’s excellent Live at 52) hooked up with one of his old bandmates, Andy V, to play a series of shows in Koh Tao, Thailand and did a ton of cool loop covers while infusing their signature blues/funk stylings.They’ve packaged it up in a neat five-song highlight reel and are giving it away for free. My favorite track on the album (and I may be a bit biased due to how much I love the original) is the duo’s cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Wright’s lead vocals are so smooth and sweet that you can’t help but be drawn in and Andy V’s harmonies fit in and don’t ever once feel like they’re just along for the ride. The loops with Wright’s guitar and Andy’s keyboard work add layers upon layers to one of my favorite old soul songs all building to a magnificent saxophone solo from Andy V. While I was prepping for this review this was the song I kept coming back to, and that says a lot about how well constructed all of the loops and other instrumentation are.

The other standout track is the one original track on the album, a blues jam that makes use of Andy V’s best Ray Charles impression on the keyboard while Simon handles beatbox loops and eventually guitar and vocals as well. It’s everything I’ve come to expect from the Simon Wright Band, a jazzy instrumental, some well-crafted funk/soul vocals and a beat that I’m more than happy to shuffle along to no matter where I am when it comes on. The loop stations just add another level to the considerable creativity that these two artists clearly have as it gives them practically unlimited space to work with and it shows that they’ve been honing this tool set for a while when one man with a saxophone quickly turns into a whole horn section.

I can’t recommend Simon Wright and company enough. I loved what he did with a full band and what he and Andy have accomplished as a duo is equally impressive. From the tracks I’ve mentioned to their cover of “Wanna Be Starting Something” and to the rest of the album, they’ve put together something special. If you missed out on them the first time I posted their music, don’t let them slip by you again. You can hear the Al Green cover below and make sure to check out the rest of Live on Koh Tao on the Simon Wright Soundcloud page where you can download the whole project for free.

The Two Step: Cancers and Mike Bell and the Movies

The best/worst way I can think of to describe Athens, Georgia group Cancers debut single “Be Cool” is a more melodic Sleigh Bells mixed with “Mellon Collie”-era Smashing Pumpkins. There’s so much more to this song than that reductive comparison, though (however accurate I think it might be). The crunch of Lenny Miller’s guitar erupts out of the intro and demands to drive this track back into that wonderful 90s pop-rock sound. The distortion and glorious noise of the instrumental stands in contrast to Ella Kaspar’s vocals, a breathy, airy tone that reminds me so much of something like “1979.” The hooks are catchy, the melodies are positively pop to the core, but bubbling underneath are the riffs that are waiting for their chance to explode and change the tone of “Be Cool” from a simple sing-a-long to an anthem. You can listen to “Be Cool” below and be on the lookout for Cancers’ debut album Fatten the Leeches coming out September 16th. 

Next up we have Philadephia’s Mike Bell and the Movies who sent over the video for their new single “Everyone” from their most recent release Nothing Works. The video must have been an endeavor as it simply features the band’s frontman Mike Bell getting punched in slow-motion over and over again. It hopefully was worth it because it introduced me to this amazing power-pop outfit. The story of the song, a lovelorn protagonist wondering if he can change his luck as everyone around him marries off, is instantly relatable and the onslaught represented in the video drives home the feelings that come along with it. The song as a whole was burned into my brain instantly with its soaring guitar solos and a huge hook for the chorus. You can see the “Everyone” video for yourself below and make sure to check out all of Nothing Works at Mike Bell and the Movies’ Bandcamp page

Storm

Once again I wrote and performed this tonight at Union’s Naked Stage

I have a tenuous relationship with storms.

Living in Oklahoma you have to get used to them pretty quickly

But all that does is help you forget the power that comes along with them.
I remember, or do I?

As the winds swirled, like some reality of Oz, taking away homes and lives of people I never met

As my parents moved me, still sleeping, to safety.

And when I awoke, I was safe, back in my bed, like nothing had happened

Years later I found myself outside, watching as that beautiful day turned jet black

As winds began to turn and a wall of clouds lowered from the heavens as if to say “Stay Back”

And I knew what to do

But there wasn’t much time as things began to swirl and rain began to fall

I dove in to a basement of a stranger and waited, waited, waited as the storm howled

And when we came out, it was like we were standing in a new world

Because the old one had been ripped away in a brief gust of wind

And this time, everything has changed

Wonderful Humans Live Up to their Name

There are days in which I go looking for new music (or it gets sent to me) where I listen to it and enjoy it but know that there’s a few kinks to work out in subsequent releases. This is not one of those days. New York City’s Wonderful Humans have come out of the gate firing with some finely tuned indie-pop that reminds me a ton of Arcade Fire right down to the near-flawless “woah” sections for which I am the biggest sucker. From the opening on “Together Now,” it’s clear that Wonderful Humans have put together something to appeal directly to me. There’s a synth line after my own heart over some breakbeats combined with a bouncy bass line and harmonies that come together to a point that I kept unconsciously flipping between the vocal lines trying to sing along because they were so intertwined in my head.

There’s so much more to love about Wonderful Humans in just the brief five song offering of their Soundcloud page, but the vocals are definitely a high point. From the effortless, lo-fi(ish) beauty of “High Up” to the singalong perfection (featuring the aforementioned “whoas”) of “Big River” with its triumphant chorus and lyrics describing the need for adventure while also realizing that you might not be entirely in control of your own life. Existentialism has never been so catchy! The instrumentation is appropriately energetic, and every song feels like it’s going somewhere at all times. Mostly relying on drums, synth and bass, Wonderful Humans aren’t shy about adding in some glockenspiel or guitar when it feels right and the constant build adds that much more punch when they drop the floor out for an a capella section. If this is what Wonderful Humans can do on their early releases, it’s going to be wild if they keep improving. You can check out “Big River” below and check out more from Wonderful Humans on their Soundcloud page