Here’s the last MP3 drop of 2013. Some punk, some rock, some electronic, but mostly folk and indie-pop. It’s a good microcosm of how we rolled in 2013. Here’s to 2014!
1. “Hot Dad Calendar” – Cayetana. Female-fronted punk rock that sounds completely natural and inhabited. Pretensions = 0%. Good music = 100%.
2. “Double Secret Agent” – Commitment Bells. From that Bruce Springsteen school of rock that’s not so much rebellious as world-weary yet celebratory in sound, Commitment Bells!
3. “The Church Street Saint Leads the Marching Band for Truth (Demo)” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Hillig burst into my consciousness with the impressive Together Through It All this year, working in a variety of genres to get his emotive songcraft out. This new demo shows off his Paul Simon-esque restraint and melodic skills in a tight, spry, acoustic-based setting. I am thoroughly excited for his 2014 album.
4. “I Saw Three Ships” – Good Shepherd Band. Starts off as a rousing sing-along, then expands into a humongous, impressive arrangement for choir, orchestra, and folk/rock band.
5. “Broke, Not Broken” – Jamie Kent. Working-class, populist folk-rock with a Springsteen bent and great vocal delivery.
6. “For My Young Lord Drake” – Nettie Rose. This old-school country tune is not about the rapper. This tune is, however, excellently balanced between strong fingerpicking and uniquely interesting female vocals.
8. “All of Your Love (ft. Kotomi)” – Germany Germany. I love really kitschy techno, so anytime that a song even hearkens a little bit toward ’90s house and trance, I’m just super-happy. Rest assured there is more nuance here than that, but the influences are there.
9. “I Know You Love to Fall” – Message to Bears. Ambient/trip-hop/breakbeat with pressing piano and swooning strings. It’s super pretty.
11. “The Big Game Is Every Night” – Songs: Ohia. A heretofore unreleased 10-minute tune by the late Jason Molina in his slowcore style. The band here has a stronger presence than in some of his later, sparser work, allowing for some concreteness to Molina’s often vast, amorphous tunes.
12. “Hurricane” – Snowflake. A similar sense of forlornness and longing characterize this track; the vocals here echo Molina’s, while the arrangements are similarly in a foreboding but not ominous mood. A little more peppy than Molina’s work, but not by much; the guitars do get way heavy though.
13. “Dingy” – Elim Bolt. If you took out the rage from grunge but left the music largely intact, you’d have this track. Or, conversely, this is a less polished Blur. Either way: pop songs with careening vocals and dirty guitars.
Hoodie Allen has by now pretty much surpassed Chiddy Bang in my book as standard-bearer for the indie-rock sampling rap subgenre. Yes, Drake and Chiddy have higher profiles, but Hoodie Allen just does it better.
He just dropped a video for “You Are Not a Robot” off his mixtape “Pep Rally,” and it’s a pretty polarizing little video. Check the comments to see the effects its had on his listeners, which range from “U ROCK LOLZ FO REEL” to “What the fuck was that?”
It is a bit strange. It doesn’t exactly make sense, as a bunch of kids dressed as robots chase Hoodie under the auspices of catching him and presumably making him a robot. I won’t ruin what happens, but Wes Anderson is smiling somewhere, I think.
Worst comes to worst, you’re reminded of Hoodie Allen, and that’s never a bad thing.
I’ve been enjoying the new school of rappers throwing down lyrics on top of indie-rock tunes. From Chiddy Bang to Drake to Hoodie Allen (and, ok, the WTF Childish Gambino), they’re popping up everywhere. I love it.
G-Eazy is a rapper in that style. He has two singles kickin’ about the interwebz: The Tennis-sampling “Waspy” and “Good for Great Remix” of Matt and Kim’s track off Sidewalks, which I raved over a couple weeks ago.
“Waspy” is more of a production job than “Good for Great,” as G-Eazy (who produces his own beats) chops up “Marathon” by Tennis and puts a heavy beat behind it. It’s still recognizable as “Marathon,” which is cool, but the production leaves enough space for the rapping without the song seeming cluttered. The lyrics present a romance between a “punk kid” and a rich “WASPy girl.” The breezy Tennis track evokes an air of Ivy League privilege, making it a perfect fit for the lyrics.
G-Eazy’s rhymes are solid, and his flow is just ragged enough to be interesting. It’s not too erratic, but it keeps attention.
“Good for Great Remix” scrubs most of the vocals from the track and drops G-Eazy’s lyrics in. There is some extra rhythmic production, but it mostly beefs up what was already there. I love Matt and Kim, so I like the remix, even though the lyrics aren’t my favorite. It’s your standard “fuck school, go live life” set, which isn’t my favorite rhetoric (woo grad school!).
G-Eazy has some solid production skills, but I could stand to see his lyrics move above the standard rap motifs. Right now his production talent far surpasses his lyric choices (but not his rapping ability; the boy can rap).
Since Drake, Chiddy Bang and even Jason DeRulo (okay, not really a rapper, but hear me out) have been rhyming over indie music backing tracks, I’ve been a lot more interested in rap. While I don’t seek it out (yet), I do enjoy it when it falls in my lap. And that’s exactly what Pep Rally by Hoodie Allen did.
Awesome name aside (I love hoodies), this white boy can rap. He spits fast, and he can hold complicated rhythms and rhyme schemes together for several lines. His lyrics are quirky, fun and winning the “who can drop the most pop culture references in one album?” contest. His voice is smooth enough that you can tell what he’s saying, but not so flaccid that there’s no bite. His flow by itself is pretty impressive.
But that’s not all you get with Pep Rally. Allen’s producer, RJ Ferguson, knows indie music really well, and elevates Allen’s game substantially. When a dude’s rapping over Marina and the Diamonds, Cold War Kids, Black Keys, Death Cab for Cutie and Two Door Cinema Club (among others!), it’s pretty hard to completely dislike any track, even if the rap isn’t your favorite.
Ferguson’s beats actually work with the chosen tracks/samples to make new pieces of art (as opposed to Childish Gambino’s “turn down the track and turn up my vox” approach), and it’s incredibly impressive. My favorite instances of this are “You Are Not a Robot” and “So Much Closer,” which use “I Am Not a Robot” by Marina and the Diamonds and “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie, respectively. “You Are Not a Robot” screws with Marina’s voice and turns her into Hoodie’s personal hook singer. You will have that stuck in your head, trust me.
But “So Much Closer” is the best track here, as Ferguson and Allen transform the glacially-paced anthem into a pep rally-worthy anthem without making it feel like sacrilege. The song also namechecks Death Cab (see title) and Hype Machine, which made me smile. That’s totally where I heard the album first. Things just got meta.
If you’re into the whole indie-rock + rap = yesyesyes fad that’s been going on, Hoodie Allen’s Pep Rally is for you. I like the whole album more than Chiddy Bang’s The Swelly Express (my previous standard for this genre), although Allen has not yet produced any song as solid gold as Chiddy’s “The Opposite of Adults.” This is more of RJ Ferguson’s coming out party than Hoodie Allen’s, as I’m far more impressed with his half of the work than Allen’s. But I suppose that’s because I’m still getting in to this whole rap thing.
In mixtape fashion, you can get the whole eleven-song album for free right here. Go! Go get it. Go, Go, Go get it.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.