Top 10 Songs from 10 Days at the Cottage

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I just got back from the cottage after a week and a bit. With no internet and no TV, I had the bonfire glow, the beautiful lake, and the general happenings of nature to keep me entertained or to experience — although I was not totally without my own resources. Loaded up with offline albums from Tidal, my phone provided some amazing music to serve as a soundtrack to the stay. Here, I picked out ten songs (in no particular order) from some of the albums I listened to. From the classic-level-old to old-new to brand new, these songs are great (in my opinion), but more importantly they resonate with me on some level. So here they are:

1. The Weeknd ft. Ed Sheeran – Dark Times

Beauty Behind The Madness

This is a dream vocal team-up. The British songster Sheeran and Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, push each other throughout this ballad. Simply put, they croon the shit out of this song. The slow, steady groove of the instrumental is prominent on this song and other tracks from the now-chart-topping album Beauty Behind The Madness. The two trade verses and alternate on the hook like true pros.

Favourite Line: Weeknd – “Only my mother could love me for me, in my dark times…” 

2. Dr. Dre ft. Anderson Paak & Marsha Ambrosious – All in a Day’s Work

Compton

Starting with a straightforward, inspirational speech excerpt from co-founder of Interscope Records and Apple Music, Jimmy Iovine, this track is an ode to consistent and disciplined work ethic amidst unbridled success. Dre raps and crafts songs with the hunger of an up-and-comer, even though he has done so much musically and thus financially. This was a great track to ride the bike and work out to.

Favourite Line:  “If you really wanna do it like this, shit you gotta work”

3. Have Gun, Will Travel – True Believers

Science from an Easy Chair 

A quicker-beat, chanty tune, ‘True Believers’ and the band in general have a Canadian music feeling (although they are from Bradenton, Florida and this recent album was release on the label This Is American Music). It has a simple message, and I find simple clarity in the music.

Favourite Line: “We are the only true believers that we have”

4. MGMT – Alien Days

MGMT

In all their trippy, abstract glory, The Management expertly dances around the concept of existence in human time on the opening track of their self-titled album. The playful track starts with a child reciting the first lines, and the song progresses along with floaty melodies leading to sequential cymbal explosions. What I’ve come to expect from MGMT, and I can’t seem to get enough.

Favourite Line: Hard to single out one line, especially considering the nature of the music, but – “You don’t need wings to hover 40-ton stones for a mile”

5. Bon Iver – Woods

Blood Bank

It is hard to describe or get across how I feel about this song, or how it makes me feel. I can say that it almost provides my mind with a reset. But perhaps even cooler than the song itself is the story behind it. Wisconsin native Justin Vernon’s most successful music “project”, Bon Iver, has produced three top-notch alternative/indie/folk albums, two of which (For Emma, Forever Ago; Blood Bank) were born out of the stuff of legend. Vernon went up to a cabin in rural Wisconsin for a few months after two breakups — one band and one girl — and, among other things, recorded those collections of songs. He started developing the song in North Carolina, while still with his band, and took an extreme liking to the Auto-Tune effect — including something called a “Harmony Engine”. Thus, the four-line, no-beat, layered harmony song was born. And those who like it are thankful it was. (Fun Fact: Most people probably recognize this song as it was used for the basis of Kanye West’s “Lost in the World”, which Vernon worked with West on along with other tracks on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)

Favourite Line: Wow, soooo many to choose from, but I like – “I’m building a still, to slow down the time”

6. Pink Floyd – Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1 & 2)

Wish You Were Here 

This is a two-parter, and the two parts together make a 25-minute song, so it’s kind of cheating. But who cares! I DO WHAT I WANT! Sorry. From the iconic Floyd album, or should I say the other iconic Floyd album, this is a wandering symphony of psychedelic rock and roll. It hits ups and downs, lulls and crescendos, transitions, and contains incredibly personal lyrics. It is a somewhat mournful tribute to former band member, and arguable catalyst for Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett. The talented and charming musician got deep into drugs, specifically LSD, after which point the rest of the band says he was never the same, and left The Floyd. Guitarist David Gilmour hit four notes which probably changed the trajectory of eventually one of the most revered bands of the last two centuries. The track in its entirety is one of those ethereal numbers you can put on in the background and just zone out; looking out at the water from the beach or a rock, or looking at nothing in particular. As mentioned, the lyrics are not only personal, but conceptually on point.

Favourite Line: “Come on you boy child, you winner and loser, come on you miner for truth and delusion, and shine!

7. City and Colour – Woman

If I Should Go Before You 

Dallas Green and his band depart from the acoustic-based, folky songs they are known for on the upcoming album, and on this song in particular (which is also Floyd-inspired). A plodding, subtly building track, Green reflects on and pleads perhaps for a lost love. It’s as if he is writing a letter into the ether, floating a bottle into the ocean with the message being the simple yet powerful lyrics of the song. You can relate to the longing, installing the archetypal ‘woman’, and pine for the love you once had (or even currently have, depending on your experience).

Favourite Line: “Woman, my love, is neverending, like a, sea with–out a shore”

8. S. Carey – Supermoon

Supermoon 

A bandmate of Justin Vernon and fellow Wisconsinite, Sean Carey gets real minimal on his third “solo” effort. The title track, and most of the project, just crosses the plane of absolute silence. Carey’s voice itself is so soft that it completely tunes you in to a new level of perception and thought. Because of the delicacy of piano plinking and the low fuzz of his vocals, he forces you to pay attention to the song more. From this new awareness, experiences were coming back to me from my childhood — playing in the neighbour’s backyard, climbing trees, catching frogs — that seemed so vivid as I laid in the cottage bed with my eyes closed.

Favourite Line: “Who’s to say, where we’ll end up?”

9. The Staves – Make it Holy

If I Was 

Another musical act with a connection to Vernon, the magnetic British sister-trio recorded this most recent album, If I Was, at the Bon Iver musician’s Eau Claire, Wisconsin studio. Vernon is also featured on this record, adding an even more extreme degree of harmony to the magical amalgamation of the three singers’ heavenly voices. Not much compares to the innocent sweetness this music contains; there is an inherently hypnotic element in its abstract contents.

Favourite Line: “Shaking out the sheets and holding on (holding on)                                                                  Following my feet until it’s gone, (until it’s gone)”

10. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Chile

Electric Ladyland

Another long rock hymn. The version of ‘Voodoo Chile’ on the album was recorded live, and it is a total jam in the most musical sense of the word. This is another one you can put on and just forget and come back ten minutes later when Hendrix is just shredding through one of many breakdowns. Drummer Mitch Mitchell, perhaps the Meg White to Hendrix’s Jack White, is to me generally underrated, and does a fantastic job not only on this song, not only the album, but all of The Experience’s performances. It is a very extra bluesy rendition as opposed to the more commonly known ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’.

Favourite Line: “Because I’m a million miles away, and at the same time I’m right here in your picture frame”

I couldn’t find ‘Voodoo Chile’ on YouTube, so here is probably my favourite video that exists of Jimi Hendrix.

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Dreams aNd Extremes Synopsis and About Author

The lives of two young men overlap, and at times appear polar, as they navigate through their respective lives in the town of Marsh. The dreams that the George brothers, Sam and Saul, experience are peculiar, haunting, psychedelic and inspirational — sometimes all at once. They leave this dream world optimistic, cynical, and shamelessly idealistic — sometimes all at once. The chase of these dreams is on, along with romance and conspiracy, and they surrender to both the traps and wings of philosophical thought. Watch as they both run to and from the extremes of psychology and consciouness, in the end striving to find balance before reality closes in.

Dylan Ullman is a three-time college dropout, amateur writer and visual artist. “Dreams aNd Extremes” is his first short novel, and experiments with different mediums and styles which are brought together throughout the work. One of the concepts, the character DeeUllConshus and his hip-hop album “Dreams 4 Sale”, is in the process of production and will serve as an accompanying soundtrack. Updates will be posted regarding this project here at deeullconshus.wordpress.com . Ullman was born in Toronto, raised in Fergus, and currently resides in Guelph, Ontario.

Kanye West – Yeezus (Summary/Review) Part 2

I’m In It – Don’t play this song at work. Well, it depends on where you work, I guess. If you work from home, or in the adult entertainment industry, or both, then this just might be your jam. This is porn in song form. And were it composed and executed by any artist other than Kanye, it would probably be considered to be vapid. However, the honeymoon mentality of the piece attracts the ear and pulls you into the canvas of Yeezy. Dance hall artist Assassin delivers a bridge with a choppy, head-spinning flow over an ever changing beat track — from an erotic moan on the intro, to sirens and rumbling bass on breakdowns. On such a sexual song, Kanye somehow manages to reference the civil rights movement twice, exclaiming “your titties, let ’em out, free at last/ Thank God Almighty they’re free at last” , playing off of legendary activist Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, and with the clever yet overt: “Black girl sippin’ white wine, put my fist in her like a civil rights sign“. The artist projects the love he finds himself in as trap-like, and the lust too exquisite to give up. He says “I’m in it and I can’t get out“. Again, can’t has many meanings. He is not able to, he won’t, he doesn’t want to. The highlight for me comes with yet another appearance from Vernon, who goes back and forth with Kanye on another transition (the song has at least five complete breakdowns), featuring masterful songwriting coupled with a shivering falsetto. In the end, Ye alludes to being married to this zeitgeist, but starting a new movement, and then hits us with a new Kanye-ism in the last bar: “they don’t play what I’m playing/ They don’t see what I’m saying/ They be ballin’ in the D-League/ Uh, I be speaking Swaghili” . Yes , Swaghili. A new language is born. In fact, linguist and writer David Peterson laid the groundwork for this new native tongue, as explained in this Esquire Magazine article:

http://www.esquire.com/_mobile/blogs/culture/kanye-west-swaghili-game-of-thrones

Blood On The Leaves- As proven time and time again, Kanye knows how to choose and manipulate samples, and construct a song around a sample. It’s just what he does. This time, the foundation was Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit”. The intro simply presents a chilling cut from the song, chopped up beautifully before the piano strikes. If “I’m In It” was the lustful honeymoon, this song is the quick and messy divorce. An auto-tuned Kanye starts off solemn and vulnerable, explaining away to himself, “I just need to clear my mind now, it’s been racing since the summertime” , and answering everyone in his ear, quietly muttering “I’ma need a little more time now, cuz I ain’t got the money on me right now, and I told you to wait, yeah I told you to wait” before slowly exploding into a manic crescendo where he simply resigns, saying “let’s get on with it.” An argument that looks romantic on the surface is a call out to the industry; the music industry, hip hop specifically. He claims “we coulda been somebody/ was it on your first party, when you tried your first Molly” . Good old Molly, a drug that has accompanied a hazy new-school mindset and has recently infected hip hop culture. Rap legend Jay Z subtly decried this trend on his album Magna Carta… Holy Grail with the lyric, “I don’t pop Molly, I rock Tom Ford.” As the song progresses, it is clear that the narrative is conveying double meanings. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish between the issues of romance and industry, to the point that they melt into each other, and two concepts appear: the love of business, and the business of love. West cries, “Before you called lawyers, before they tried to destroy us/ how you gon’ lie to the lawyers? It’s like I don’t even know ya” , referring to either or both marriage/divorce litigation, and the experience of making a style of music that relies on sampling — digging in the crates if you will — in the confines of law, with wolves on both sides hungry for their money. An aggressive foghorn beats in the background over Holliday’s voice and the piano riff, as Ye rattles off rhymes about trappings of The Life: gold diggers “tryin’ to get a baby” , drugs, financial problems, alimony, and superficial matrimony (yeah, they rhyme). Then, as the song seemingly winds down, Kanye gets back on the mic and experiments with the vocoder to perform a cathartic musical ramble. This heavily primal outro is done much in the mold of Dark Fantasy‘s “Runaway” with emotional hums that play through different registers. The lyrics provide some closure here, as West cautions, “Breath, and breathe…. And live and learn” .

Guilt Trip – The dark feel on the album keeps up on this track, opening with a barely-audible Kanye somberly singing “I need to call it off, I need to make it known” before a mellow trap beat injects a little life into his flow. A chopped sample of Lords of the Undergound’s “Chief Rocka” speaks for itself and is utilized very well, giving the track a ghoulish bounce and feel. This setting feels like a rainy afternoon, hungover or blunted (or both) reflecting on a love lost, but still feeling like you’re That Dude. Ye exemplifies this mentality by a ready-for-the-club-again set of bars: “On to the next saga/ Focus on the future and let the crew knock her/ Star Wars fur, yeah I’m rockin’ Chewbacca/ The one Chief Rocka, number one Chief Rocka ohhh” . The screwed sample returns before the versatile Kid Cudi makes an appearance, desperately crooning “If you love me so much then why’d you let me go” repeatedly, a lyric that comes with a tinge of irony, given its performer; Cudi recently announced that he is no longer with Kanye’s GOOD Music label.

Send It Up – As expected, Yeezy makes his return to the club scene, with a vengeance, proclaiming, “This the greatest shit in the club, since In The Club/  It’s so packed I might ride around on my bodyguard’s back like Prince in the club” , referencing 50 Cent’s 2003 hit smash, and painting a visual worthy of a Chappelle’s Show skit. The track features a looping airhorn melody, and does not offer much in the way of lyrical content. But perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be, given the musical disclaimer on the first track (“Give us what we need, it may not be what we want”).

Bound 2 – Finally, the closing track is where Mr. West might have given many long-time fans what they wanted. An adorably triumphant vocal sample of Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound” is one of several foundations of this track. Kanye narrates a back-and-forth conversation in the club on a Thursday. He addresses stories of his character: “I know I got a bad reputation/ ‘Walk around always mad’ reputation/ ‘Leave a pretty girl sad’ reputation/ ‘Start a fight club’ , Brad reputation” . He explains himself to his love interest, as the magnanimous Charlie Wilson pipes in with the refrain, “I know you’re tired, of loving, of loving with nobody to love…” . As things progress, it looks like the two lovers seal the deal. And by the end of the third verse it becomes clear: “I’m tired, you tired, Jesus wept” he raps before Wilson returns with the powerful chorus and a rangy outro. Another union consummated from a dance floor slow song, another chance to reach new heights.

So what is next for Kanye West? Well, gathering from the new interview on BBC Radio, anything is possible. He seems like a man possessed, and when the creativity flows in a visionary person such as him, it’s hard to predict where that energy will lead to. It is clear that the battery in his back is fully charged, but that cell has the potential to explode in ugly fashion or power him through. Personally, I hope the motivation he feels will be concentrated into a noble effort, and I will continue to draw inspiration from the vision of people such as himself: people who are always pushing the limit of human capability, creativity and imagination.

Here are Parts 2 and 3 of Kanye’s BBC Radio Interview with Zane Lowe:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx3X4r-eCYQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PED4zgjG3Ng&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Kanye West – Yeezus (Summary & Review)

Now that the latest mutant creation of the artist known as Kanye West, entitled Yeezus, has had some time to marinate in the minds of fans, critics, listeners and even haters, I will attempt to review it track-by-track and give my takes on the work. First off, it is such a diverse album with many different messages that it’s nearly impossible to touch on all of them, so I will be hitting on the few veins of perception I experienced on each track and the album as a whole, which includes lyrics, concept and meaning.

On Sight – Right from the moment you press play, you can tell this is a whole different Mr. West. A strobe-like, pulsing synth beat blasts through the speakers, and Kanye comes in with authority : “Yeezy season approachin’, fuck whatever y’all been hearin‘” . The initial verse makes me picture a kid storming through a house in a fit: knocking over lamps, jumping on the furniture (“Black Tims all on your couch again”) . Then, as the beat continues to freak and you think that we’ve lost Kanye forever, a haunting choir sample cuts in with perhaps an explanatory lyric: “Oh, you give us what we need… It may not be what we want,” . This likely best describes what you will experience for the next forty minutes.

Black Skinhead – Never one to shy away from the edge, Yeezy provides us a title that alone is provocative. The table is set perfectly for a marching, militant, yet dark, new-wave-sounding beat. The guts of the song, from the heavy-breathing rhythm to the way West invents his flow over it, set up what is actually being said to be taken in. It feels like a bumpy ride in the back of an el Camino and Kanye is beside you “ranting” about his encounters and outrage against critics. It’s noisy, so you can here what he’s saying, but not really. A lyric that came through to me on the first verse was , “if I don’t get ran down by Catholics, here comes some conservative Baptist/ claimin’ I’m overreactin’ like the Black kids in Chi-raq bitch” (Chi-raq is the nickname given to Chicago based on its warzone-like conditions). He ends the verses with a spiteful reflection: “If I knew what I knew in the past, I woulda been blacked out on yo’ ass“. Somewhat of a double entendre, Kanye would have been way darker, spazzed out way more and been much more driven to “fuck shit up” if he knew how things really worked before. Another interpretation is the reference to race: if he would have known how tightly locked the control system was, he would have gone way “blacker” from the jump. The song ends with a spiteful chant of “God, God, GOD”, which enters perfectly into the next track.

I Am A God – This is undoubtedly the point of no return of this album. If you’ve made it this far, then you’re in it until the end. If you haven’t, well, it happens. I heard this from Jay Z, but I’m not sure if he was the first to say it: “Great art is polarizing. If it’s not polarizing, it’s not great.” Kanye certainly spins most people to the poles on this one. A mellow grinding baseline intros into a understated, unconventional synth beat, with a sound that can be described as a demon moan. Then comes, “I am a God,” repeated before entering the first rant-ish verse.  Kanye ends the first verse with: “Until the day I get struck by lightning, I am a God”. He speaks on this concept in a new interview with BBC Radio’s Zane Lowe which I will link to, so I won’t reiterate too much of what he said here. But I think an important distinction needs to be made as to how one looks at this song’s meaning. If you listen and judge the artist, you wonder what planet he woke up on when he recorded it (or you may have a much more extreme view than that). But play this song and sing along with it, and suddenly, you are a God too. And doesn’t that feel a little empowering? My initial impression was that this was Kanye’s “David Icke move”. Mr. Icke was a musician and turned into a conspiracy theorist seemingly overnight. In the early 90’s, he appeared on a few television talk shows claiming to be the second coming of Jesus, but not only that, he had a handful of theories on the illuminati; the thirteen families who control the world as we know it; and, as he believes, the reptilian bloodline running through the global ruling class. The reason I think this is Kanye’s “David Icke move” is that while putting forth theories that expose mass organized control and conspiracy gets implanted into consciousness, calling yourself Jesus or God nullifies the validity of those theories for most, if not all, listeners. This is his setup for next track, the first single, whose video accompaniment was projected on sixty-six buildings worldwide. But we don’t escape the God cave without a visit from Justin Vernon, a previous ‘Ye collaborator, treating us with a haunting vow: “Ain’t no way I’m giving up, I’m a God.”

New Slaves – This is where the rhetorical shit hits the fan. Sonically, Kanye creates a curious cadence with his words over a Rick Rubin-reduced beat. This is musically in the same vein as Watch The Throne’s “Otis”, in that both songs rely on the artist(s) to really utilize their flow as a guide to the vibe of the song. Kanye’s rapping cadence shifts beautifully over the spooky electric keyboard stabs of the minimalist beat. The opening line, “my mama was raised in the era when/ clean water was only served to the fairer skin” , evokes the teeming frustration of racist policies experienced by his family. But that is really just the tip of the iceberg; by the second verse, Ye has called out corporate control with a visceral tirade, and posits that “the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] teamed up with the CCA [Corrections Corporation of America] /they tryin’ to lock niggas up, they tryin’ to make new slaves” . It’s not all that farfetched to think that he is speaking to an actual fact and a sick part of the paradigm in which we exist. In a recent performance on Later… With Jools Holland, Kanye riffed off of the original lyrics:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DR16DHB4hs&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Around the 1:40 mark, he broadens the concept of what a slave is when he sings: “New slaves… In your brand new car/ A new slave… With your brand new job/  You’re still a new slave… No matter who you are” . This deeply enforces idea that we as a society have moved from racism to class-ism, or “place-ism”. Now it is evident that, in his view, “nigga” is not solely referential to black people. He lays it all on the table and, at the end of the song, angrily wonders “what the fuck they gonna say now.” For me, the chilling part of the song comes at the end/interlude where the beat changes up and features a high-pitched Kanye Being Kanye. He catches me with an almost condescending lyric: “I can’t lose, I can’t lose, no I can’t lose/ but I can’t leave it to you/ so let’s get you high, get you high again“. I interpreted this as a spiteful challenge, looking at it as a creative person: to me, when he says “I can’t lose” , he’s not just saying I am too good to lose or I am just not able to lose, but that I will not lose. “I can’t leave it to you” is taking control and not leaving it to another person to advance creatively. So, “let’s get you high again” is his resignation to providing a spark of some kind of inspiration in the listener, to “get you high” with his music, his expression of excellence and idealism that happens to come through in the form of beats, rhymes, notes and keys.

Hold My Liquor- After the lucid, manic ramblings of the song (night) before, this song is a hangover anthem. A grovelling Justin Vernon returns with a signature voice before giving way to a heavily blunted Chief Keef, who exclaims “I can’t handle my liquor, but these bitches can’t handle me…” over the running tempo. Then the beat stops and Kanye is “back out his coma” with an instrumental screech. His lone verse is much like a half-drunk, one-sided phone conversation. The rest of the song features Vernon hazily crooning “calling up your uncle’s place, shit’s all over the place…”  and a freaky, squealing solo from what I can only assume is a guitar.  This song feels like a creation of Bon Iver (Vernon’s most notable music project) featuring Keef and Kanye, and obviously with West’s fingerprints all over it.

Part 1 of Yeezus review/summary: fin.

Here is Part 1 of the Kanye West BBC Radio interview with Zane Lowe:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2T0fMkZoMo&feature=youtube_gdata_player