Beneath The Surface: Thom Yorke – Anima

Thom Yorke’s solo release, driven by nuances of electronic and minimalist sounds, takes an experimental approach to create a compelling concept album.

Anima is the latest body of work from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Coming three years after the band’s dreary, emotionally packed album, A Moon Shaped Pool, Anima sees Yorke solo (aside from his co-producer, Nigel Godrich), further exploring many of his familiar stylistic influences, with relatively minor distinctions from his prior releases. Every track on the record gets a full, but minimal, treatment of synthesizers, white noise, and understated vocal lines. The record echoes lyrical themes of dystopian futurism, self-transformation, and technological development. This release was also accompanied by a short film of the same title, which is not covered in this review but is available with a Netflix subscription.

The first track, “Traffic”, sets the tone for the album. Yorke laments societal corruption and the rising role of social media in people’s everyday lives, singing “Submit, submerged, no body.” The piece also takes heavy influence from electronica and dance music. The instrumental is progressive, and builds on itself with (supposedly) analog synthesizers and electronic drum kits.

Next, we segue into “Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain)”. Personally, I see this as a weak point on the record, as the track plays like something gone wrong on a Jon Hopkins record. This track sees the same forms of experimentation as “Traffic” while allowing Yorke’s vocals to come further into the forefront of the mix. While this is effective in the first half of the song, it loses its way in the back half when it introduces an unpleasant, whirring synth sound that serves little purpose other than to remind the listener that they’re listening to an experimental record.

Conversely, the pseudo-ballad, “Dawn Chorus”, is one of the album’s brightest moments. Yorke croons in a forlorn tone over ambient pads and strings, as he lyrically reflects on lost love, regret, and inability to change. This is a fantastic example of a track that does not try to be more than it is, and finds solace in its simplicity. Of all the moments on the record, this one evoked the most observable visceral response for me. There is not a single “standout” line in this piece, which is part of its beauty. The lyrics weave a larger narrative, following the progressive form of the instrumental.

“Not The News” brings back the aforementioned whirring synth but pairs it with a more cohesive set of lyrics. The second stanza reads, “A fortune teller, sea bird feather, cue the sliding violins, in sympathy.” I interpret this as Yorke losing grip on an optimistic perspective as the world descends into disarray. The sound of sliding violins can symbolize melancholy, which is confirmed when the listener is affirmed of the violins’ sympathetic tone. In this context, the sound that ruined “Last I Heard” for me is actually very effective. I find this implementation of the synth to be far less offensive, and even slightly additive to the track’s intentional monotony.

The album’s finale, “Runwayaway”, subtly departs from the tone of the rest of the album. Although the same motifs of instrumental and lyrical repetition, driving synths, and time-consuming progression are as present as ever, this song has a distinction. It does not rise throughout the piece, concluding with its climax.

It slowly devolves into nothingness.

The nearly six-minute cut sees its climax around the four-minute mark. After this point, it begins slowly stripping away instruments one by one until we’re left with only a muffled kick drum and Yorke’s understated, pained groaning in the background. Narratively, this track strikes me as a surrender of sorts. The protagonist in the world that Yorke has built gives himself to a dysfunctional society, begrudgingly accepting that he is unable to change it. It’s an understated but powerful ending. 

All things considered, this record is very effective for what it is: a concept album.

Some cuts are beautiful and artistic, while others fail to strike me with much purpose at all. I believe that Yorke intended for many moments on this record to sound underwhelming, as they contribute to the narrative of monotony in everyday life. While I don’t think the singer explored any uncharted territory, he seems to incorporate a bit more electronic (particularly techno and minimal) flair than usual. I look forward to hearing Yorke’s next body of work!

Rating: 7/10
Support the album here

Photo taken from: Pitchfork
Written by: Grant Jordan

Khalid’s “Free Spirit” Album Review

The remarkable R&B innovator Khalid released his sophomore album “Free Spirit,” while working hard to give the fans what they want.

Khalid is no longer “Young, Dumb, and Broke,” but he is an emerging pop star who has been working tirelessly to give his fans an adequate follow-up to his debut album American Teen. The 21-year-old reflected on the pressure he felt while recording Free Spirit in a recent interview with his close friend and collaborator, Billie Eilish.

“You have your whole life to write your first album. You don’t have your whole life to write your second album. And, with your second album, you have to write more of what people want.”

Free Spirit provides a mix of genre-less songs with Khalid’s melodic voice fitting perfectly over every instrumental. With 17 tracks and huge collaborations, the emerging pop-star carries the same beloved style that his first album brought us. While American Teen focused on shouting-out all the sad kids facing regular teenage struggles, Free Spirit attempts to showcase the singers growth as an individual. He is opening up about his true self and embraces what it means to be grown-up.

In the albums intro, Khalid tells us about his struggles with a relationship that is coming to an end: “I can’t even live with being by myself / That’s the part of me that really needs your help / Lately, I haven’t been doing very well / That’s the difference between heaven and hell.”

We can hear a similar story being told in songs, “Talk,” “My Bad,” and “Don’t Pretend,” following the theme that relationships require hard work. Not only do these songs have a relatable message, but they feature powerful collaborations: with “Talk” being produced by U.K. house duo – Disclosure, and “Don’t Pretend” featuring SAFE.

Other remarkable collaborations include John Mayer’s appearance on “Outta My Head,” which features subtle but beautiful harmonizations between the two. The album also credits Father John Misty for his assistance in producing “Heaven,” Murda Beatz, and John Hill (producer for Portugal. The Man).

Hundred” is a song that highlights the battle between staying positive during hard times, stating: “Life is never easy when you need it to be / Try to knock me down but I get back on my feet / Everybody’s angry, and they’re coming for me / But I can’t give them energy that I won’t receive.” These powerful lyrics make this song stand out as he attempts to bring peace amongst those who feel hopeless.

Self” is another powerful song that features the internal dialogue the singer faces in moments of self-doubt, making it one of my favorite songs off the album: “Does my raw emotion make me less of a man? Always had a little trouble with self reflections.”

The album clearly shows the musicians internal battles, and it is hard to hear from someone who is still so young and constantly in the spotlight. With lyrics like ““Heaven, make me an offer / Lord, there’s nothing left for me out here” off of his song “Heaven,” the singer is openly sharing his struggles to the world.

Khalid also offers a range of care-free pop tunes like “Better” and “Right Back,” reminding us that there is still a big part of the musician that is cheerful and grounded. Both songs have beats that will warm your heart and catchy choruses that keep you hitting repeat.

It is always difficult for an artist to top their first album, and it is still undecided if Khalid has done so. However, he deserves admiration for the truth he tells through his lyrics. Khalid has been recognized as a man of the past and present. He is still young, but there is an old-soul tucked away in his heart. He is seeking growth and experience, and refuses to repeat himself. Khalid is a remarkable pop/R&B star of our generation and has nothing but big things in store for the future.

Written by: Brittany Roache

Maggie Rogers “Heard It From A Past Life” Album Review

Heard It From A Past Life

Sharing her life story through strategic songwriting, Maggie Rogers rises to fame as her debut album “Heard It From A Past Life” continues to dominate the charts.

Appearing on festival lineups like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and the 50th year anniversary return of Woodstock, singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers is on her way to the top. The 24-year-old pop artist experienced her rise to fame immediately after sharing her song “Alaska” to Pharrell Williams during a masters class at New York University. She wrote and produced the hit song in under 15 minutes, and blew away one of the worlds most renowned producers. While I had heard many amazing things about this young, female artist, I had yet to listen to her debut album, Heard It From A Past Life.

After researching her past, I found that Rogers grew up playing the harp, piano, and guitar all by the time she was in middle school. Her heart has always been in folk music, and the banjo was her primary instrument of choice. She fully kicked off her songwriting career during the summer of her junior year after attending Berklee’s College of Music program and won the program’s songwriting contest. Maggie is a hardworking individual who always put her best foot forward and has never tried to be anyone but herself. 

With as many as 4 million monthly Spotify listeners, Maggie Rogers has already made her mark on the world. As many of my friends continuously rave about her music, I decided to review Heard It From A Past Life from start to finish.

Opening the album with her song “Give A Little,” Roger’s introduces her audience to a light and somewhat dainty beat. She is combining her background of folk music with pop and indie styles of production. The song’s chorus is heart-warming and simple, radiating Haim-like catchiness.

Overnight” is next up, fitting perfectly as she reflects on how quickly things can change overnight. In this track, the synths were made from the sounds of glacier frogs, holding true to her creativity and strong connection to nature.

The Knife” has a unique intro that sets the tone to let loose and enjoy life to the fullest. “Beautiful as it all pours out, after dark, after life” are lyrics that prove her purpose of this song to dance and be free.

Alaska” is the song that gave Roger’s the success she needed to get this album started. The video of Pharrell’s initial reaction to this song fully shows the emotion and creativity behind her songwriting, and it is a beautiful video every fan should watch.

Light On” is another heart-warming track that features light guitar and strong vocals. I can hear the emotion and soul pouring through her voice as she shares her struggles with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed by her own thoughts.

Past Life” is a ballad that focuses on the changes that are about to come and take over her life. The slow piano combined with her stripped vocals are enough to bring fans to tears by the end of it.

Say It” combines Roger’s love for electronic production with her love for nature as she uses synths and vocals to paint a picture of the Alaskan mountains and snowy hilltops. She sings about the innocence of having a crush, “every evening, every time, I keep replaying in my mind, and wondering if you do the same.”

On + Off” features smooth bass lines and layered percussions, representing the layers shared within a relationship with someone you love. With an incredibly groovy and catchy chorus, this unique track has to be one of my favorites thus far.

Fallingwater” has an off-beat tempo that captivates listeners from the start, then moves into a vocal progression that might catch you off guard. This track has emotion that takes her voice to new heights as she sings about the challenges of change.

Retrograde” tells the story of struggling between wanting to stay in a dream-state all day, and wanting to give up when things get hard in our everyday lives.

Burning” mixes clapping beats with face-tased percussion as Rogers jumps around vocally as well. This track gives listening to illusion of running through the wild, emphasizing the wild ride relationships can take you on.

Closing the album with “Back In My Body,” this track perfectly showcases her story-telling abilities through songwriting. She talks about her time in London and Paris and the emotional impact those cities have had on her life. This song is powerful, majestic, and the best finale to an incredible debut album.

Final Thoughts?

I am now a full-on Maggie Rogers fan. Initially, I thought that her pop and folk styles of music would turn me away, but after researching her story, reading her lyrics and the meanings behind them, and hearing her creativity pour through her music, I have become pleasantly surprised. It’s no wonder that Heard It From A Past Life reached #2 on Billboard’s charts following the release of the album. Roger’s has never tried to copy anyone’s style; she is unapologetically herself at all times. Her story telling abilities are something truly special, and I can already tell there are big things in store for her future.

Written By: Brittany Roach

Top Music Picks of 2018 (That I Actually Listened To)

2018 was a year of new music from established favorites, debut full-lengths from up-and-coming artists, and singles in advance of forthcoming releases

As 2018 comes to a close, so too does my time at KCR, at San Diego State, and in San Diego in general. Between bouts of crying and while avoiding thinking about returning to Canada (the land of arctic boredom and a much more affordable healthcare system), I’ve spent some time reflecting on the new music released in 2018 that has soundtracked my California existence.

Southern California is a melting pot for the surf, garage, and punk genres, music that’s perfect for cruising down the freeway in the sunshine to (check out the undercard for this year’s Tropicalia Festival lineup and you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about). As such, the majority of the new music I’ve been listening to and seeing live this year has come from bands based in California. However, the Golden State is almost always a stop for touring bands, so I’ve also had the chance to hear new stuff from those that hail from outside our perfect West Coast bubble.

So as a final parting gift to the loyal readers of my KCR blog posts (read: people on my Facebook friends list), I present to you: California Andrayah’s* favorite music released in 2018. As a fun bonus, I’ve included the most fitting freeways and neighborhoods to serve as a backdrop for your listening, based on my personal experiences. Let’s be real: you need a car to get around in San Diego, and since you can’t pick up AM 1610 all over the county, you’re going to need to play your own music if you can’t listen to San Diego’s Best AM/FM Radio Station according to The San Diego Union-Tribune 2018 Reader’s Poll. I’m talking about KCR here. It’s us. We’re the best.

*as an (un)interesting aside, every person I’ve met in California has pronounced my name like An-DRAY-ah. Technically, I am actually AN-dree-ah. I might stick with my new moniker, though, in an effort to try to convince myself I’m still in San Diego, going to Better Buzz four times a week and drinking alone at the Ugly Dog Bar when they’ve got a sour on special for $3 Tuesdays.

Records:

hoodratscumbags – Beach Goons

hoodratscumbags

Logan Heights’ Beach Goons released hoodratscumbags this August, and my introduction to the band was through this record on the day it came out. If you were lucky enough to catch them at The Live Wire, KCR’s new flagship concert series, back in September, you know that Beach Goons offers SoCal surf/garage rock with a Cumbia twist. hoodratscumbags marks the first release for Beach Goons in a couple years and the new record was highly anticipated by their fans. Founding member Pablo Cervantez sought to recognize Beach Goons’ Chicano/Mexican heritage with their new music, and songs like “Chunti” and “A.M.” really emphasize this influence.

Top picks: Vatos Tristes, Hrsb

Best use: Is it lame to listen to Beach Goons while driving down Logan Avenue? Maybe, but I’ve done it. Otherwise, hoodratscumbags is a good choice for driving around Ocean Beach. Consider playing it as you roll up to the Robb Field Skate Park so the skaters know you’re down with the local music scene. I recently bought my first skateboard, and this is a fact that I like to make known as much as possible.

My Own Mess – Skegss

My Own Mess

Australian garage/surf trio Skegss released their debut full-length back in September before embarking on a tour of their homeland with Chicago’s Twin Peaks. Maybe it’s Australia’s similar climate and its cultural emphasis on surfing, but My Own Mess fits right in with our SoCal music scene. It’s chock-full of slacker anthems about partying, watching TV, and fucking up. My favorite track on the record, “Margarita”, is one of those rare songs that I heard and instantly fell in love with, immediately qualifying it for Banger Status. If you’re a fan of bands like The Frights, SWMRS, or FIDLAR, you’ll probably be stoked on Skegss.

Top picks: Margarita, My Mind

Best use: Skegss is the band you want to start your day with. Not if your day consists of school or work, but when your day will be spent doing something fun, like laying on the beach or skateboarding. I have a skateboard now, so I can relate to this. My Own Mess is reserved for the 8 West (never the 8 East – this ain’t for driving home at the end of your fun day) on your way to the beach, or maybe the 5/805 North, if you’re bougie and heading to a beach in La Jolla.

I Don’t Run – Hinds

I Don't Run

This April, Hinds released I Don’t Run as a follow up to their debut record, 2016’s Leave Me Alone. Their sophomore effort is similar to Leave Me Alone musically, but it’s not a carbon copy. The all-girl garage rock group from Madrid, Spain digs a little deeper on I Don’t Run, and lyrically the songs get personal and serious at times. That’s not to say the music is slow and sad – the record still largely consists of the irresistibly fun and catchy songs Hinds is well known for.

Top picks: Tester, Rookie

Best use: Take a girls-only day trip to Los Angeles and put on I Don’t Run as you roll down Melrose Avenue scoping out your next Instagram photo op. Otherwise, a fun and semi-manipulative idea is to play “Tester” when driving with a guy who you suspect could be cheating on you, particularly for the lyric “Should I have known before you were also banging her?” I’m not actually speaking from experience here (give me a little credit), but I could see myself doing this. Or at least considering it.

Onion – Shannon and the Clams

Onion

I think Shannon and the Clams is one of the most underrated bands of our time. They blend doo-wop, surf, and garage rock into a unique sound that’s perfectly nostalgic, a sound that’s not often heard these days. I’m usually more of a music person than a lyrics person, but the lyrics on Onion‘s tracks stand out with their raw emotion and poignant themes. Set to the Clams’ signature retro instrumentals, the result is foot-tapping, danceable songs that are painfully beautiful underneath.

If I had to pick one record from this list to recommend to someone who hadn’t heard any of them, in the hopes that they would discover a new band to obsess over, it would be Onion. Send tweet.

Top picks: If You Could Know, The Boy

Best use: I like to listen to Shannon and the Clams during the rare times when I’m in 5:30 PM traffic, because I can be safely reckless and dance along to it while driving. A favorite spot is getting off the 163 and onto the 8, near Fashion Valley. It takes fifteen minutes to move half a mile – you can dance through the first five songs on the record while you wait.

The Dream and the Deception – The Aquadolls

The Dream and the Deception

Like Shannon and the Clams, I think The Aquadolls don’t get nearly the amount of recognition they deserve. The tracklist for The Dream and the Deception features nineteen songs that span the emotional spectrum, from sad to silly to pissed off. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter Melissa Brooks’ commitment to The Aquadolls is admirable – she self-released this record online in October and has plans to press it in on vinyl via her own label in the new year.

Top picks: Cigboi, Communicationissexy/Idkhow2communicate

Best use: My top picks above are fitting for driving home on the 94 East on a moody, rainy Friday night. You’ve left-swiped through everyone on Tinder and you’re feeling hopeless and lonely. “Why am I so alone?” you cry, as you ignore everyone and make no effort to meet people. Switch over to something more upbeat and positive, like “I’m a Star”, to remind yourself that you are, in fact, a star.

3 – Sextile

3

Good god, do I love Sextile. I love getting into music that’s a lot different than the usual things I listen to (see every other record on this list), and Sextile stands in stark contrast to the reverb-heavy surf rock that’s so popular in Southern California.  The Los Angeles based duo is not like anything I’ve ever heard – all the headbang-inducing and moshpit-inciting energy of punk with the added twist of a new wave dance beat. If you’ve ever wanted to go to a club and dance all night amid cool visuals, but you’re a bit too punk rock for something like that, check out Sextile.

Top picks: Spun, Paradox

Best use: Don’t listen to this in your car. See them live! Dance around in the strobe lights! Inhale the smoke machine smoke! Get slammed into and have your front row spot taken by a psycho ex! It’s all part of the experience.

Hypochondriac – The Frights

Hypochondriac

The Frights put out their third record, Hypochondriac, on Epitaph Records after signing with the punk label earlier this year. It’s quite a departure from 2016’s You Are Going To Hate This, and an even farther trip from 2013’s The Frights. Many of the songs are a lot softer and sadder, with the exception of the pop-punk/emo track “CRUTCH”. The new sound is good in its own right, but if you’re looking for the same surf-inspired tunes that put The Frights on the map, you’re going to need to look elsewhere.

Top picks: Alone, Whatever

Best use: The Frights will always remind me of driving on the 8 East and taking the College Avenue exit to get back to State (shoutout to “Cold” from The Frights for being my spring 2018 anthem). Otherwise, the driving vibe can vary: sometimes I’m shouting along angrily to “Over It” as I drive to the Taco Bell at University/College, sometimes I’m crying to “Goodbyes” on the 5. It’s a spectrum.

Singles:

“Drip” – The Marías and Triathalon

Drip

A definite outlier on this list, but if Statistics 101 taught me anything, it’s that…outliers exist? They validate your data? I don’t know. Anyway, this is a cool song. The Marías call themselves a “psychedelic soul” band, and Triathalon makes lo-fi R&B. The union of the two results in a multi-layered song that coalesces flawlessly – The Marías come in first with their signature funky-yet-smooth sound, Triathalon enters with a slowed-down, dreamy verse, and they link up in the outro. It is, in a word, a vibe.

Best use: This one’s a bit tricky. It’s definitely a nighttime song, but it’s not a party song. Play this at the end of the night, when you’re winding down and driving home after drinks at Sycamore Den in Normal Heights. The freeway is nearly empty and you can really feel the groove.

“Are You High?” – FIDLAR

Are You High?

Where can I download this damn song, FIDLAR? One of four tracks released by the band in 2018 (together with “Alcohol”, “Too Real”, and “Can’t You See”, from their upcoming third record Almost Free), it seems “Are You High?” was only released along with a music video on YouTube. It’s a shame, as this song is catchy as hell. It’s FIDLAR through and through, with strong guitars and lyrics referencing struggles with addiction. Guess you’ll just have to catch it at one of their live shows.

Best use: I’ve only ever listened to this on my Macbook while sitting in bed. So that, I guess.

“Glo Ride” – Hot Flash Heat Wave

Glo Ride

When I asked Nathan Blum and Ted Davis of Hot Flash Heat Wave (flex) if “Glo Ride” was indicative of what was to come for the band, Davis confirmed that their next record would be full of “headier, but still pop-oriented songs” like it. That appears to be the case, as they’ve since released two more songs that are in the same vein as this one. HFHW definitely seems to be heading in a more psychedelic direction, and “Glo Ride” is leading the way.

Actually, now that I’m listening to it again, this song is more similar to “Drip” than it is to the other music featured in this list. I’m not sure how this data affects the validity of my claims here. Oh well. Who really needs statistics? Just kidding. Stay in school, Aztecs.

Best use: I don’t really want to say this is a good makeout song, but… this is a good makeout song. Find a spot to park, and I’ll leave it at that.

Check out this Spotify playlist for all of the songs mentioned here.

Written by: Andrea Renney