5.

Jai Paul (Unofficial)
Jai Paul

Who is Jai Paul? His website (www.jaipaul.co.uk) does not answer this question; it is a blank, white page. His Twitter feed is equally unhelpful. Jai has tweeted once, only to announce that that he does not endorse this release. All other information about the enigmatic UK artist must be gleaned from his collection of self-produced demos.

As early as “Track 2” it becomes clear that Jai Paul is an extreme musical force. The song is a triumph of sonic fusion: electronic hip-hop meets Bollywood on an MDMA-fuelled dance floor. Jai Paul’s sensual vocals are complemented by Vani Jairam’s singing on the sampled, “Bala main bairagan hoongi.”

Two of the collection’s sixteen songs have been officially released. Track nine, “Jasmine,” is a subdued, pulsating slow jam. In the final track, “BTSTU,” Jai Paul alternates between haunting falsetto verses and a banging hook driven by electrified synth riffs. The music world has taken notice. “BTSTU” has been sampled by Drake and Beyoncé, and Jai Paul was signed to the British independent label XL Recordings on the strength of these two songs alone.

It is hard to believe that the other fourteen tracks are demos, for they sound no less complex or complete. Songs bounce across genres and moods. The cowbell-accented future-funky “Track 5” is worlds away from the undulating tropical vibe on “Track 15.” The album’s disparate sounds are made cohesive by Jai Paul’s vocals, which are at once distant and foreign, yet deeply intimate.

Some might argue that this leak deserves no place on a top ten list. Doubters, I bid you, listen to Jai Paul. His are among the most innovative sounds of 2013. Once you have listened through, relish the idea of an official debut album. Let us hope to hear it soon.

- Josh Spring

4.

Trouble Will Find Me
The National

When life gets overwhelming, we reach for a security blanket. It may not be with the same consistency as Linus van Pelt, but sometimes the tumult of the everyday can prove to be too much (as wretch-inducingly Thought Catalog-ish as that sounds).

The National’s sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, comes at the apex of their decorated career and provides the same wholesome comfort for the melancholy population as a tub of ice cream and shitty rom-coms do for spurned lovers. After suffering through relative obscurity and being pegged as sleepy miserabilist dad-rockers, all the acclaim the band has enjoyed in recent years could not be more deserved. In an industry saturated by one-hit wonders — Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, anyone? — it’s been refreshing to watch a band work their way up to widespread respectability.

I was surprised to face staunch opposition when I suggested this album for ANDY’s year-end list. Even though I’m a pacifist, I would have fought several bears or listened to Imagine Dragons to ensure its position. Though not as grandiose and immediately accessible as 2011’s stunning High Violet, TWFM is easily the most subtly brilliant record to come out last year.

It bears more of a sonic resemblance to 2003’s underappreciated Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers than its immediate predecessor. Although his young daughter Isla must be keeping it at its end, Berninger’s wit remains razor sharp. The baritone frontman will have you silently sobbing during the cathartic “I Should Live In Salt” (an ode to his younger brother) and laughing at the faux-morose lyrics on “Demons” (i.e. “When I walk into a room, I do not light it up”).

Jaded detractors have long labeled the National as overtly solemn, but they’re missing the obvious tongue-in-cheek nature of the music. Guitarist Aaron Dessner described the offerings on TWFM as “songs you could dance to—more fun, or at least The National’s version of fun.” After all, how could you insist that these guys take themselves seriously when the best song on their latest record is named after a nauseating cocktail, “Pink Rabbits,” and full of lyrics like, “I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park”?

- Tomi Milos

3.

Woman
Rhye

Sometimes I repeatedly write the word “Rhye” in the margins of my notebooks. Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal have refused to reveal the meaning or origins of their musical project’s name, and I am not even confident that I know how to pronounce it properly. But I just love how those four letters look together.

In this way, it’s the perfect name for a duo crafting soulful R&B music that, while perhaps not complex or profound, offers immense sensory pleasure. Horns, harps, and pianos are perfectly placed across Woman. Yet these flourishes always leave ample space for Milosh’s sublime vocals, which do not definitively register as either male or female.

His delicate, unplaceable voice enables Woman to deftly sidestep the hyper-masculinity and sexual aggression that frequently surfaces in male-fronted R&B. The cover art for R. Kelly’s recent record Black Panties, in which Kelly plays a naked woman like a cello, pretty much encapsulates this tendency. In contrast, when Milosh cries out “make love to me,” it’s a desperate plea, not an order. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sexual confidence, but Milosh’s style invests all the familiar pillow talk on Woman with a universal and somewhat subversive twist.

It’s true that a lot of other artists trade in similarly wounded, brooding R&B. In 2013, Autre Ne Veut, The Weeknd, and even Drake released albums in this vein. There is also some darkness on Woman. But perhaps better than any of their counterparts, Rhye balances such angst with the joy and jubilation of deep intimacy, even if there’s just “three days to feel each other.”

Woman opens with the couplet: “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs/I’m a fool for that sound in your sighs.” It may not be subtle, but what else is there to say?

- Cooper Long

2.

Yeezus
Kanye West

To call Yeezus an album seems to do it a disservice – it is a scattershot of punk, a flurry of electric, and a hard-hitting pulse of hip-hop. It is a political statement, a diatribe on the overinflated monstrosity of celebrity status, and a lyrical tornado scathing a music industry that produces pop tunes that leave a listener feeling diabetic. Misogynistic slurs, challenges to racism, and helter-skelter screams pepper the measures. It is disorder. It is calm. It is everything and anything in between.
And that’s just the first song.

Kayne West’s Yeezus is an exhausting, powder keg of music, if it can even be called that. Unlike Kanye’s other six albums, the classic soul sounds are almost entirely absent. There isn’t the vintage word flexing or pencil pushing to produce smooth beats. Instead a progression of dissonance with shrieks and deep bass lines, chaotic melodies and emotional layers grate the ears for forty minutes.

Listening to it all in one go is a marathon. The tunes come in torrents, thud after thud after thud, and just when it feels like it’s too much, when you can’t take the discord, jerkiness, and sudden tiredness, the song ends and the next one ambles on with shrill screech.

This is not to say the album is bad. It isn’t. The greatness comes in exactly what makes it disconcerting: a reversal on the perceptions of regular musical composition, as well as the artist’s ironic assault on himself and everything that has made him.

That, or the album could just be the loud grumbles of a narcissist parading as complexity. Like the album’s title suggests, God only knows, and I’m sure even he has trouble listening to some of the fubar ricocheting throughout the songs.

- Kacper Niburski

1.

Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend

Whatever you call it, Vampire Weekend’s third record is one that defies both labels and my writing ability to express how fucking amazing it is. It is both the ambitious conclusion of a coming-of-age trilogy as well as an impressive sign of things to come.They were originally pegged as just another buzz-band when they arrived in a musical landscape replete with twee and lazily ironic acts. But Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Baio, and Chris Tomson have proven their critics wrong at virtually every turning point in their careers. 2008’s self-titled debut was a buoyant amalgamation of classical influences Batmanglij picked up at Columbia University (no one ever said a V-Dubs song needed more harpsichord) and African-pop. 2011’s Contra built off the debut’s inventiveness while remaining accessible even when making references to typography (re: the oxford comma). As Pitchfork put it, the band was “in an enviable position: semi-popular and sincerely idiosyncratic.”

Perhaps that’s why the band’s utter domination of 2013 wasn’t surprising. Although Batmanglij was the sole producer of the first two albums, the band enlisted Ariel Rechtshaid to lend his deft touch and fresh ears to the proceedings. To call the resulting fruits of their labour “magical” wouldn’t be hyperbolic.

MVOTC is a barbaric yawp proclaiming the virtues of America and a brave confrontation of solemn issues like mortality and religion. “Step” functions in the same vein as Kanye West’s “Homecoming” as a clever love song about a city, with the metropolis in question being poignantly depicted in its accompanying video. The number of references to fire that pepper Koenig’s lyrics on tracks such as “Unbelievers” and “Don’t Lie” makes one wonder whether he was reading Dante’s Inferno in the booth. The songs are as grave in subject matter as the epic poem, but with the band’s trademark tongue-in-cheek still shines. “Ya Hey” is an ethereal conversation with a higher power, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to gyrate your hips to. Considering the sheer infectiousness of the remaining songs on the album, the sparse and intimate “Hannah Hunt” is certainly not the one you’d pick for radio play, but it’s easily their best yet. The sheer ecstasy it induces during its final minute is enough for anyone to produce a full-fledged Patronus.

No words of mine can really do this immensely important album justice, so I’ll just stop here and give you a chance to listen to it.

 - Tomi Milos

 

Normally, most people develop a healthy liking for a band that stretches from their angst-ridden teenage years to when they’re married with children and no longer make have time to listen to music. In opposition, a select group of fans let their mild affection evolve from a weekend pastime to a deep-rooted infatuation that pervades every waking hour. These members of society have been somewhat derogatorily dubbed fangirls/fanboys.

I have been an unabashed Vampire Weekend fanboy since 2009. Step into my room and you will be hard-pressed to find a patch of wall that is not plastered with computer printouts, show posters, and album art. Browse through my record collection, and you’ll chance upon the givens — the self-titled debut, Contra, and soon-to-be-released Modern Vampires of The City (on white vinyl, natch) —along with some rare finds like their early singles “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance” on yellow and white 7-inch vinyl, respectively. I can rap bar for bar with lead singer, Ezra Koenig, on all the tracks from his short-lived rap group, L’Homme Run. I’m even friends with Bryn on Facebook — yes, the namesake of track seven on their first record.

Forget the Beatles. Ezra, Rostam, Baio, and CT are my Fab Four. So when I heard that Ez and Rostam would be appearing on Much Music on March 25, I effectively retained as much of my graceful composure as a Jane Austen heroine. That is to say, none at all, but I managed to pull myself together long enough to email the event co-ordinator and reserve my seats.

After revelling in the news with some fellow V-Dubz fans, I praised my luck. Having been counting down the minutes until their show on May 16, I had been expecting to see them soon, but not “less-than-a-week” soon. The following days passed in a blur and I suddenly found myself in Toronto, Sharpie and boundless optimism in tow.

Each street corner was turned with the hope that I’d stumble upon two of my heroes, but fate had other plans. Although currently struggling under the megalomaniacal tyrant Rob Ford, Toronto seemed like a better place that day due to the fact that half of VW was somewhere amidst the depths of the impersonal concrete jungle.

Sheer adrenaline must have played a part in making time move faster, because the next thing I knew I was being shepherded into the studio along with droves of other fans, the majority of them female. The co-ordinator had told me that one’s place in the audience was not determined by one’s place in line. Confused, I soon realized that the studio crew held full control and tried to place an even number of girls and guys in the cameras’ view. Given the lack of males, I was planted firmly behind the couch, which meant I’d be admiring the back of my favourite musicians’ heads. My fortunes changed when the director was picking out members of the audience to ask questions on air. I raised my hand without hesitation, already with two ideas in mind, and my eagerness was rewarded with a coveted spot on the couch facing the interviewees.

To pass time, I got to know the other fans on the couch while fretfully going over the question I had in mind so that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself on national television. My first instinct was to poke fun at the plentiful lyrical references to fire on the new tracks and ask if they had been reading Dante’s Inferno in the studio, but then I remembered my friend had been pestering the band as to whether a banjo would find its way onto MVOTC and decided to humour her. After the director handed me a microphone and wished me good luck, my heart went into my mouth and I realized that we were about to go live. I vacuously listened to the VJ go through his motions before finally introducing Vampire Weekend. Craning my neck, I spotted Ez and Rostam high-fiving their way through a makeshift human tunnel and emerge to sonorous applause.

As trivial as it may sound, I was dumbfounded by their presence a mere six feet away. I tried to take a picture with my phone, but was shaking so hard that the result was a hazy blur. After five minutes of listening to the two discuss details of the new album, I felt more lucid and was ready when the VJ broke off his interview to say “We have an audience question from Tomi in the crowd, huge Vampire Weekend fan, what do you wanna ask them, Tomi?”

I cleared my throat, but my voice rose about five octaves as it so often does when I become anxious. With the nasal tone of a pre-pubescent 11 year-old, I asked, “Hi, I was wondering if you could reveal which song on LP3 would be featuring a banjo?” Perhaps to soothe my nerves, Ezra replied untruthfully, “Good question.” Smiling demurely, Rostam took the reins from there and said, “Well, it’s pretty subtle, but it’s the song ‘Hannah Hunt’ and it comes in on the second verse of the song.” That satisfied me to no end, and apparently the show too, as they cut to a commercial soon afterwards.

This is where I had to pinch myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming. After putting down his microphone, Ezra languidly rose from the couch and strode over to where I was sitting. With his lanky arm outstretched, he shook my hand and said, “Hey Tomi, I recognize you from Twitter” (note: I’ve had a few interactions with him on the social network). Wide-eyed, I looked at Rostam, who nodded and said with a smile, “Hey, Tomi”. Not missing a beat, Ezra began talking to me about their last show in Toronto on Sept. 7, 2010. I was shocked to hear that he remembered almost as much of it as I did; from when he rapped T-Pain’s line about Toronto condos on “Can’t Believe It” before launching into “California English”, to the guy in the Cheers shirt. As there were many more people waiting for a chance to meet the two, I settled for a quick picture with them using my disposable camera before saying my goodbyes (rather regretfully, I might add).

Though the film remains undeveloped, I already have a place of honour reserved on my wall for the special photo. As Ezra sings on “Ya Hey”, I’ll ride with Vampire Weekend “through the fire, and through the flames.”

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