An Experimental Album Collective: Oscar Lang, Big Thief, and More

I decided to do an experimental four album collective review and recommendation this week. These four albums from Oscar Lang, Big Thief, Meth Wax, and Keane are ones I’ve just recently been getting into, and I’ve been loving all of the varying genres and moods that come along with each one.

Oscar Lang’s release gives off a more indie and thrilling vibe, while Big Thief is more eerie, warm, and noisy. Meth wax is explosive, wild and punchy whereas Keane emits a softer, more nostalgic mood. Overall, these four LP’s have something to offer everyone, no matter the music preference or taste. All four are dynamic, emotional, and thrilling experiences. These are definitely some of my go-to’s when picking from my record collection.

1. Oscar Lang – bops etc. 

A friend recently recommended this album and it perfectly fits the mood of waiting for school break and reminiscing on summer. It was released in June of this year and recently on the Dirty Hit record label. Being 6 songs, it is more of an EP, but the mood and feeling is summed up overall in these few tunes. I especially like the light mood around all of the tracks and how airy the record feels and sounds. “French Girl” definitely stood out to me, the melody is strong yet up and down. It also features Johnny Utah, who is a great indie-go to and is known for his song “Honeypie.” The synth is very arpeggiated and I like it in front with the guitar, bass, and drums being more focused towards the back. “Change,” being more guitar focused, is a cute, nostalgic tune with catchy lyrics; the walking bass line gives the slower guitar chords a boppy groove. The last track, “Pull Me Up,” is a ballad type song over hearty synth and slower drum beats. This is a great one for indie and alternative listeners.

2. Big Thief – Masterpiece

Every melody on this line surprises me and leaves me grabbing for more. Adrianne Lenker’s vocals stand out against the music yet complement it so perfectly at the same time. Her voice is elegant and soft yet so strong, being fitting for the genres Big Thief fronts. The guitar riffs beautifully go against the vocals and melodies of each song. The chords are surprising which is very refreshing when listening to Masterpiece as I feel as if I’m experiencing something new every time I listen. Every song on this album gives off ease and confidence, yet angst through the dynamics, shifts, and balance between the full band at times and the guitar and vocals at others.

The whole album feels like a long, heartwarming, reassuring journey through the depth of lyrics and maturity of sound over the 12 tracks. Two songs that particularly stand out are “Little Arrow” and “Velvet Ring.” “Little Arrow” sounds like it is played over an old radio or cassette machine; a more lo-fi track with just guitar and vocals. “Velvet Ring” is one of the only acoustic songs, the guitar picking style and walkdown chord choice vary to the rest of the album but nonetheless, fit it in a perfect way. The melody choice and lyrics are immensely unique here, and go so well with the background noises that it almost sounds eerie. Overall, I would rate this album a 10/10 and definitely recommend it to anyone who likes alternative and experimental music.

3. Meth Wax – Meth Wax

The lower quality of this album gives it a lot of character and makes all the difference in the energy that the album gives off to the listener. This lo-fi garage group gives off a slower, grunge vibe but there are also a few more upbeat, surfy tracks that stand out. Instrumentally, the production is the perfect pop-punk and garage tone and release. The guitar has a deep gutty and punchy feel to it and the drums are washy, muted, and perfectly balanced between surfy breaks and beatdowns and head banging fills. The vocals and lyrics are especially unique, being fronted and catchy. Released in 2016, this independent release is an easy listen and great for driving, hanging out, or just as background music. This release is an engaging and impressive listening experience, it mixes non-serious topics with deeper subjects together. I recommend to any Ty Segall fans or any lofi, garage, or punk lovers. 

4. Keane – Under The Iron Sea

One of my best friends recently showed me this album and I fell in love with it the second I started listening. This is a sentimental and mesmerizing album. Under the Iron Sea is my go-to rainy day album and it is a great walking and driving album as well. This release, being an older album from around 2006, captures the listener and takes them on a journey of finding themselves and being in the world. The lyrical content is hooking and powerfully written, alongside the string instrumentals, almost unnoticeable harmonies, and fronted piano lines and chords. It feels like a winter cold fairy tale, and a sense of warmth coming from it, almost like a fever dream. My favorite track is definitely “A Bad Dream” as it’s almost nostalgic and makes me feel like I’m in a different time period. Dominic Scott’s vocal range is always surprising and leaves the listener not knowing what is coming next. Keane’s music feels somber yet refreshing, and I’m always in the mood for it.

These four albums are there for any mood and time, and have become some of my favorite records over this past fall season. Hopefully, this becomes a new favorite record for someone or a song that makes someones day. Have a great winter break, stay warm, and keep updated for more tunes to come!

Written by: Jesse Miller

Peep This Joint: Mos Def – Black on Both Sides Album Review

October 12, 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of his universally lauded album, Black on Both Sides by legendary rapper Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def. 

This project marked his debut as a solo artist after receiving critical acclaim on his collaborative effort with another veteran rapper, Talib Kweli with their full-length LP, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star that released just a year before this project. 

Released in 1999, Black on Both Sides is a bonafide 90’s rap album that remains a hallmark and defining sound for underground boom-bap hip hop. Despite the vintage production style, Mos Def manages to utilize the sound to create a timeless record that stood the test of time and still bumps even today. 

Especially after the tragic deaths of Tupac and Biggie that nearly closed off the golden age of hip-hop, Black on Both Sides serves as a final hoorah to the definitive era.

Due to the album’s timeless feel despite its sound being centered around boom-bap, the album is universally praised as not only one of the best albums of that era but also of all time. The album stands as an ideal introduction to 90’s boom-bap due to its accessibility and timeless sound.

With passionate and thought-provoking lyrics mixed with an effortless flow dispersed throughout the project, it’s clear to see that Mos utilized the album to restore sociopolitical consciousness into the rap game and bring hip-hop back to its roots/foundation. 

The song, “Mathematics” is a prime example of this which is filled with meticulously-crafted lyrics and effortless delivery. Under a beat laced by legendary producer DJ Premier, the Mighty Mos Def addresses the racist prison industrial complex that particular targets people of color:

“When the average minimum wage is $5.15/

You best believe you’ve got to find a new grind to get cream/ 

The white unemployment rate is nearly more than triple for black/ 

Some front-liners got their gun in your back/ 

Bubbling crack, jewel theft and robbery to combat poverty/ 

And end up in the global jail economy/”

Regardless of the fact that this album came out in ‘99, many of the bars Mos spits are still relevant today. Mos reveals that many social issues that plagued the world then still exist today and time has shown that it has only gotten worse. Further in the same song, he spits about the growing use of government surveillance:

“40% of Americans own a cell phone/

So they can hear everything that you say when you ain’t home/

I guess Michael Jackson was right, you are not alone/”

Besides the overarching effort to spread awareness and enlighten his listeners, Mos does come through with more lighthearted tracks such as “Ms. Fat Booty” where he tells a story of a girl he met at a club who eventually ghosted him. He flexes his story-telling ability and his delivery demonstrates just how vivid of a picture he can paint with his bars. 

Some more standout tracks from the album that you should listen to include “Hip Hop”, “Do It Now” featuring Busta Rhymes, and “UMI Says”. 

As mentioned earlier, this project is flawless from top to bottom and is a shining example of sharp Mos Def’s pen and flow is. With a signature 90’s sound, he manages to create an album that stood the test of time sonically and is still relevant in today’s politically charged environment. 

Go peep this joint!

Rating: 10/10

Written by: Johann Oribello

A Four Album Collective

Through the hot San Diego fall, I’ve been searching for new music that fits my “fall mood.” This week, I’ve decided to do a collective of four albums that I’ve had on repeat during these autumn months.

1. Time & Space – Turnstile

Time and Space, released by Turnstile in 2018, is one of my favorite albums of all time. The transitions, powerful color, and aggressive liveliness of this record is something that brings me back for more every time I listen to it. I could best describe this album as Hardcore, but with a mix of garage, post-punk, and sometimes jazz. Brendan Yates has one of the most powerful voices, and this, combined with Turnstile’s catchy chants and riffs, is the powerhouse behind this band. Two of my favorites are “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind” and “Can’t Get Away.” The ballad-like singing in the background mixed together with the gritty, distorted guitar, and the screams of Yates make Turnstile one of the most energetic and bold bands I’ve listened to.

2. Drunk Like Bible Times – Deer and the Headlights

Drunk Like Bible Times is a new discovery to my music collection this fall but one that I haven’t been able to put down. Released in 2008, Deer and the Headlights have been around for quite some time and have established themselves since then greatly. The instrumentals on this record are refreshing and flow well with the vocal performance coming from the very talented, Ian Mertzger. This whole record is a beautifully emotional, pop-rock 12-song listening experience. “I’m Not Crying, You’re Not Crying, Are You?,” “Carl Solomon Blues,” and “Talk About” are three songs that especially stand out to me due to the blend of classic ballads and rock chords mixed with experimental hand claps, piano, and different time changes and tempos. Overall, I would recommend this album to anyone who loves a mix of alternative, rock, and pop.

3.Favorite Worst Nightmare – Arctic Monkeys

The Arctic Monkeys are always a classic go-to for fall music. Favorite Worst Nightmare, released in 2007, is one of my personal favorite albums of theirs and has been for years. It’s a bit more gritty than some of their earlier releases but not as sharp or mood-elusive as the four albums after it. Songs such as “Old Yellow Bricks,” “Only Ones Who Know,” and “505” give the album different contrasts between more upbeat songs and melancholic slower grooves. The lyrics of the songs on this record are real and the catchy tunes keep you listening for more. 

4.Chroma – Mt. Eddy

Chroma, released in 2017, is a ten-song record that is a mix between garage rock and alternative punk. Chroma has energetic guitar riffs and impressive, fast-paced drum beats and fills. The almost surfy-tone and pace of this album is a great indie rock record to listen to any time — whether you’re on the road, at a concert, or just need background music. Mt. Eddy, consisting of four members, including frontman Jakob Armstrong, is now a newly formed band called Ultra Q. They have just recently released an EP, “We’re Starting To Get Along.” A favorite off of Chroma would be “Working Title”

These 4 albums are going to keep me going through midterms and finals this fall semester. I highly recommend them to any experimental alternative rock lovers. Happy November!

Written By: Jesse Miller

The Goldmine-L.A. Woman by The Doors

L.A. WomanFor this first blog post we will be going back to unearth the famous album L.A. Woman by The Doors. The sixth and final Doors album with lead singer Jim Morrison, L.A. Woman is considered one of the bands’ masterpieces. It is a fabulous array of blues rock from one of the seminal psychedelic bands of the late 1960’s. Released in April of 1971, the album was recorded under tense conditions by the band, who were attempting to spurn the notoriety that Morrison had attracted which had landed him in jail in several states.

Immediately evident is the distinct lack of all dark psychedelia that The Doors built their careers on. L.A. Woman would pick up where their previous album, Morrison Hotel, left off. A drive deeper and deeper into blues rock. All while incorporating Jim Morrison’s unique and thought provoking poetry. The album features two additional musicians to the band members themselves: bassist Jerry Scheff who was Elvis Presley’s own bassist, and guitarist Marc Benno to play rhythm, this allowed Doors guitarist Robby Krieger to play lead guitar lines and solo without overdubbing in the studio.

Side A

L.A. Woman begins with some driving funky blues of courtesy of The Changeling. Drummer John Densmore plays sharp and tight while Ray Manzarek’s super-funk organ and Scheff’s bass set the tone in this rollicking tune.

Following The Changeling is Love Her Madly, one of the more popular radio songs the band wrote, featuring Manzarek’s signature flair on the keyboard that was the musical lynchpin of the group.

Up next is Been Down So Long, a swaggering and dirty blues-rock song oriented around Krieger and Benno’s guitar play. Morrison sounds so at home in his blues man persona; the days of Break On Through and Light My Fire from their first album The Doors sound from a completely different time and place. In the tours before the recording L.A. Woman, Manzarek would join Krieger on guitar because there are no keyboards on the track.

If Been Down So Long is The Doors playing blues-rock at its best then Cars Hiss By My Window is The Doors playing straight up blues at its best. Listen closely for an eerie second vocal track by Jim Morrison hidden in the mix. Another fun open secret about this song is the ‘guitar solo’ is actually sung by Morrison to mimic a soulful blues six string performance (whether or not you find it convincing is up to you.)

The rather abrupt end of Cars Hiss By My Window brings us to the title track: L.A. Woman is perhaps the best song The Doors wrote in their blues phase and one of the crowning achievements of the band. Evoking dark, mysterious images and murky tones that place the listener into the world of an LA night. The American fascination with the underside city of Los Angeles is fleshed out and embodied by this track; equal parts wonder, mystery, and danger. L.A. Woman is the longest song on the album, clocking in at 7 minutes and 49 seconds, so each band member gets his chance to properly stretch his legs with some fantastic improvisation. The song builds up from a bluesy interlude into a furious finale through the chorus. A seminal moment of the recording career of The Doors can be heard when Robby Krieger is striking the guitar chords after Morrsion sings “city at night” backed with the textural piano playing of Ray Manzarek and John Densmore laying down a pounding beat. We conclude the first side of the album with Jim Morrison yelling “L.A. Woman” as the music fades out.

Side B

Beginning the second side of the album is a truly deep and dark piece of music called L’America. The sinister opening of creepy noises begins the journey into a different sort of city, one with none of the wonder but all the darkness conveyed in L.A. Woman. Densmore’s half-military style drumming moves along the track and features Ray Manzarek back on his electric organ, something more akin to the earlier work of the band.

Speaking of the earlier work of The Doors, the elegant and sad Hyacinth House sounds similar to works like The Crystal Ship off the The Doors’ first album. Hyacinth House shows off beautiful organ sweeps by Ray Manzarek, some of the finest work of his illustrious career. Jim Morrison tells a sorrowful tale of loneliness that many critics thought of as a reflection of his own feelings in the months leading up to his death.

Next up is Crawling King Snake, one of the bluesier songs on the album after Been Down So Long and Cars Hiss Past My Window. An old blues piece The Doors is breathing life into with their own special style. Robby Krieger is at home on his slide guitar and gives the song the mystique of the dirty southern bayous that generated the blues itself.

A bit more of a Doors version of the blues can be found on the following track: The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat). It’s blues but with a Doors psychedelic twist. Just like the song itself suggests, the back beat is in charge and drives the song along. Manzarek’s funky organ plays along with Kriger and Densmore, all playing loose at times but coming together for those moments that show you just why The Doors were one of the best bands the United States ever produced.

Finishing off the B-side is the other centerpiece on the album aside from the title track itself. Riders On the Storm begins with the sound of thunder and rain, leading us through a murky and dark journey to conclude the album. Each band member gets in on the action, Krieger solos with underrated feeling and precision on guitar, Ray Manzarek’s electric piano washes over like the storm itself. Scheff’s bass and Densmore’s drums are sharp but understated, perfect for evolving the atmosphere the track. Underneath Morrison’s evocative vocals is another ghost-like, whispering voice that follow his vocal track like an echo of the thunder. Aside from L.A. Woman the song, Riders on the Storm is one of the most well known and popular songs The Doors wrote. The sound of rain fades out, ending the album. For listeners everywhere it would be the last of Jim Morrison any of them would ever hear, the singer died a bit under three months after the release of the album.

If you listen to the 40th edition of the album, slightly different mixes of songs can be heard. Along with that two extra tracks:You Need Meat (Don’t Go No Further) is a bluesy romp sung by Ray Manzarek, and Orange County Suite is a sorrowful song recorded by Morrison alone on the piano and given sparse back instrumentation by his band mates after his death. It was likely written for his girlfriend Pamela Courson.

L.A. Woman is one of the best albums to come out of the fall of the counterculture movement in the late sixties. Most people in that generation were extolling the happiness and freedom a life of love and drugs could bring. The Doors were a band of that exciting time set apart by their propensity to explore the darker elements of the summer of love. It is the final album by The Doors with Jim Morrison, widely regarded as one of the most popular rock icons of his generation and a national poet for the counterculture movement. The album is certified double platinum in the United States. Give it a listen if you have 40 minutes to spare.