Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell

Not often in a world oversaturated with simple singer-songwriters do we ever get to experience something as raw and emotional as Sufjan Stevens’ latest release, Carrie & Lowell. Much of Sufjan’s past works have been introspective, but this particular record seems to find its way deep into the soul and core of his being. It’s quite possibly one of the most devastating and disheartening records of the past year, but still radiates a bizarrely comforting sound.

Sufjan_CarrieThe record is named after his mother, a bipolar, drug abusing schizophrenic, and his stepfather, who currently runs Sufjan’s Asthmatic Kitty record label. For the most part, however, Carrie & Lowell is focused on the relationship or lack thereof between Stevens and his mother, Carrie, who abandoned him as a very young child. This record is a testament to how much his mother affected his life in his growing up and, eventually, in watching her die. All of the most horrifying experiences Stevens has had come to the surface in this record. It’s so personal and emotionally distraught that even if it was your best friend telling you these things, it would undoubtedly be a difficult, awkward, and very concerning experience.

Maybe it is the uniqueness of Sufjan’s painful experiences that make this record as beautiful and almost reverent as it is. In the song, “Fourth of July,” he delves into the final hours of his mother’s life and how she felt about leaving him as a child. “And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best/Though it never felt right,” refers to his mother’s choice to leave him, knowing she was unfit to raise children. In this unimaginably difficult situation, Stevens does not blame his parents for the traumas they put him through, claiming this record is not meant to make others feel sympathy for him but rather “to honor the experience.”

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Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

I’ve been attempting to write a review of the new Kendrick Lamar record, To Pimp a Butterfly, for weeks. But every time I sat down and typed out a few paragraphs, I’ve second guessed myself and deleted them. This record is so dense and so complicated, that the thought of providing an eloquent critique has been elusive. This record is intimidating. To Pimp a Butterfly is among the most ambitious hip hop records I have ever heard. It’s also one of the best.

tpabButterfly follows 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city as another sprawling, autobiographical concept album. But while m.A.A.d. city succeeded as both an homage to and as a subversion of gangster rap, this new record breaks out of the genre completely. Funk inspired beats take the lead here, but there are also elements of jazz and old school west coast hip hop. The studio band features pianist Robert Glasper, sax player Terrace Martin, and bassist Thundercat (a standout). They are key to the album’s atmosphere. Although these songs are all incredibly unique and vary greatly (samples range from Sufjan Stevens in “Hood Politics” to the Isley Brothers in “i”), the albums feels like one long live performance. It all sounds cohesive.

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SXSW Recap

KSDB’s Joey Wenberg and Alec Khoury were in Austin for SXSW last week, and caught quite a bit of live music. You can hear a full recap of their time in Texas on the air this Sunday, the 29th, at 3:00.

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Netherfriends

-Netherfriends had a very unique sound, combined with a powerful stage presence that was unmatched by no other solo act on the “unofficial” side of SXSW. The entire performance was created with some guitar riffs and loops that are made on the stage, and looped to create the sound he wanted the audience to hear. His delivery was engaging, humorous and easily got the crowd riled up for a great show. Netherfriends can be found on Spotify and Soundcloud.

Capyacchipper-jones-cavemen-capyac-42

-When you ask locals about Capyac and the influence behind them, there’s no hesitation when they say “Daft Punk.” The delivery is subtler, and less vocal driven than much of Daft Punk’s more recent work. Delwin Campbell, who we had the pleasure of grabbing dinner with, leads the two-man outfit. The University of Texas graduate has a degree in linguistics, knows three languages, and does silly foreign accents while on stage. By the end of the show, half of the audience was on the stage with the band, dancing and singing along.

Gusgus

-Gusgus was one of the more interesting groups we saw. Huge in Europe, the group has picked up popularity in the United States with the surging interest in house music. The group from Iceland brought in a sizable crowd, and energy pulsed from the speakers as the soft, soothing vocals of Daniel Haraldsson descended upon the audience.

Von Grey

-We only caught Von Grey very briefly, but they had a pretty large gathering in the small bar they performed in.

Shura

-This group opened for Catfish and the Bottlemen at a bar dubbed “Britain’s Music Embassy.” Shura provided a much softer dynamic preceding the much more in-your-face headliner for the night. The group has only officially released a single, “2Shy,” but loaded up their hourlong set with some stellar new wave music.

Catfish and the Bottlemen

-Not much can be said for the latest and greatest group from across the pond. The band that turned heads with the single “Kathleen” last year is riding the momentum of their debut album, The Balcony. Coming into the week, this was one of the groups we most looked forward to seeing, and weren’t a tad bit disappointed.

Captiva

-Only arriving for the tail end of their set, Kansas City-based Captiva gave us a taste of home. They provided a light and melodic sound with some funky rhythm.

Joywave

-One of the biggest takeaways from SXSW for us was knowing full-well that Joywave is on the brink of absolute greatness. Judging the number of people at the performance, you wouldn’t have guessed Joywave was performing given the amount of attention they’ve received as of late. The performance, however, was simply brilliant. On their singles and EP, it all sounds like synthesizer and vocals. When you watch them on stage, they come out in full force with guitars, bass, synthesizer and backing tracks, making it a much more organic product than the recordings. Everything worked for them. Also, it was also pretty cool getting to meet the lead singer.

Real-Estate-Band-1Real Estate

-A staple of the KSDB rotation and my turntable at home, Real Estate was a must-see at SXSW. Everything was as expected, and they drew a huge crowd at a venue that was almost reminiscent of Pillsbury Crossing. Huge natural limestone walls echoed with the Garden State band’s music, new and old. Meeting Martin Courtney was cool, too.

Bleachers

-Just a few days after we got to meet Jack Antonoff and sit a few feet from him at brunch, we got to see him take the stage at the Fader Fort. The Fader Fort is one of the most exclusive venues in Austin during SXSW, and it was an honor having access to everything they had there. The performance started the same as their record, with “Wild Heart” and was capped off with the ever-popular “I Wanna Get Better.”

Big Data

-Most famous for their collaboration with Joywave on “Dangerous,” Big Data delivered with a full set of awesome new music. They have an interesting sound that’s honestly hard to describe in words. It’s electronic, it’s big, and it’s energizing. Alan Wilkis’ vocals and the vocals of his featured guests just work well together on top of the heavy indietronica. We got to hear some of the new music from the album 2.0, which hits the shelves this week.

AWOLNATIONwaxahatchee

-This was our second time seeing AWOLNATION, and we knew exactly how intense their performances are. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a huge fan of the group or not, you’re going to be bouncing around and coming away from the concert thinking that frontman Aaron Bruno has a doctorate in how to play a rock concert. As we stood in the front row, we got a sneak peek at some yet-to-be-released songs from their upcoming album Run. We can also report that the only casualty from the concert was Alec’s knee after attempting to crowd surf.

Waxahatchee

-Best known for the song “Air,” Waxahatchee took the stage preceding Real Estate. Not to be confused with the town of a similar name just a few miles up the road on Interstate-35, the Alabama band had a great performance.

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Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

In the lead-up to Action Bronson’s major label debut, some wondered if Action Bronson’s meandering, ever-changing, irrepressible, sometimes vulgar, wild style would transfer well from mixtapes (and lesser releases) to a full-length major label album.

Mr. Wonderful answers that question with a resounding yes.

For the most part, Bronson’s style remains unchanged on the album.  The meandering conversations, Action_Bronson_Mr._Wonderfulmovie clips and random advertisements are gone, but the massive shifts in flow, rhythm and tone remain.  Many of those shifts can be attributed to the variety of talented producers employed on the album.

The Bronson many have come to know shines through in much of the album, mainly in the songs produced by The Alchemist and Party Supplies, both of whom Bronson has extensively worked with in the past.  Those most concerned with Bronson’s mainstream approach, though, will likely look to Bronson’s newest collaborations with Noah “40” Shebib on “Actin Crazy” and Mark Ronson on “Baby Blue” and “Brand New Car” as the most encouraging signs in regards to Bronson’s future success.  Each of these songs allows Bronson to show off his versatility while still maintaining a focused approach.

Opportunity be knockin’” and it seems pretty clear that Action Bronson is well aware.

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