What We Were Listening To In March 2015

kendrick-jppgIt’s the end of the month! Here are 20 Monsters and Critics’ Music staff (Bella, Kieran, Anthony and Ethan) picks you should be listening to!

Bella Elbaum
Kendrick Lamar- King Kunta

“To Pimp A Butterfly” has been the most talked about album this past month, and probably will be for the upcoming year. It’s dark, twisted, and really makes you think about your attitude through life. “King Kunta” is one of my favorite songs off the album, from the bubbly beginning to the abrupt small line from his poem at the end. The song hooks you in with it’s disco like beats and funk. Kendrick is once again illustrating the self-confidence and personal growth he has acquired throughout his career so far. Spitting lyrics like, “Now I run the game got the whole world talkin.” Saying what is truly on everyone’s minds. He has become the king of rap these past couple of years, and no one can get enough of him. Through his lyrics we see how the art of rap is being diminished by certain rappers through the use of ghostwriters. “I was gonna kill a couple rappers but they did it to themselves.” It worries Kendrick that people are not staying true to the art, and taking the easy way out. He brought himself up in this industry and he will only be going higher.

Tame Impala- Let It Happen

The beloved modern psychedelic Australian band has released a new single to their upcoming album, and they have traded in their guitars for some synthesizers. Do not fret though, they have not lost their magical psychedelic touch. The song is about 8 minutes long, and the first half is classic Tame Impala, while the second half goes into a delightful synth jam. The drums are clear as ever and the bass is sounding as crisp as it always has. Tame Impala has been hinting for a while that they are trying for a more electronic sound, and they have truly succeeded.

LCD Soundsystem- You Wanted a Hit

“This is Happening” was the LCD Soundsystem album that James Murphy connected back to more personal experiences. Before this album, Murphy was playing around and joking with songs like “Us Vs Them” while on “You Wanted a Hit” he sings about his own relationships. “We both know that’s an awful line, but that doesn’t make it wrong.” Murphy discusses the hardships of the music industry on the band, which eventually led to the heart wrenching break up. Murphy layers his instruments in a clean and precise manner, but it still comes out feeling natural and fun. He uses a lot of synthesizer but never forgets to keep some classic instruments in their as well.

Jeffrey Lewis- Back When I Was Four

Jeffrey Lewis is the epitome of an indie kid without even trying. He writes kookie folk songs and is an amazing artist who makes comic books as well! I heard “Back When I Was Four” when I was about ten years old, and thought it was the coolest shit in the world. He told a life story in about 4 minutes, going from age four all the way to 106. He touches on all of life’s awkward stages, but doesn’t forget to talk about the good stuff as well. He pretty much strums the same few chords the whole time, but what can I say, It’s indie folk music.

Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers- Pirate Love

Johnny Thunders is one of the most talented musicians in my opinion and to see his career taken away so quickly from his is devastating. He is punk, glam, rock, and everything in between. The whole record, L.A.M.F. is kind of sloppy, dirty, and sex and drug oriented. Exactly what Johnny is. Johnny sing to us, “I never ever needed it so bad” and I always wondered whether this song was referencing his sexual desires or just his desire to do drugs. Yet, you never really have to think more about the song beyond that. We all knew exactly what Thunders was talking about all the time.

Kieran MacIntyre

TacocaT – Bridge to Hawaii

It’s starting to get pretty hot here in Los Angeles, no better way to prepare for the coming summer than with a fun tune practically dripping with sunscreen. This peppy cut from TacocaT’s 2014 album “NVM” is a summer jam if I’ve ever heard one. The Surf rock outfit (with a goofy palindromic name) have a sound that is idiosyncratic with their Seattle origins. The perfect amalgam of Beach Boys sing-a-long and Pop Punk energy all ready for the beach party. Vocalist Emily Nokes offers building a bridge from their overcast stricken hometown to a warm tropical Hawaii, illogical but a very fun idea to propose to the listeners. Sometimes the best songs are the simple ones, “Bridge” is an infectious tune that will immediately get stuck in your head, plus it’s definitely a must for your pool party playlist.

Girl Band – Lawman

This past weekend I was at the fourth annual Burgerama in Santa Ana, among the great acts I caught was the Irish quartet Girl Band, who completely blew away with their Noise Rock output and extremely intense live show. Their style recalls Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth with young fervor put in overdrive. This 2014 single is a distorted monster bordering on dissonance, but not completely descended into cacophony. “Lawman” has a menacing snare that stomps through, a bass seemingly tweaked to hit impossibly low frequencies, frontman Dara Kiely’s stark raving mad sneer has a Jack White tinge but non-stop power unparalleled and a guitar that cuts through like a buzzsaw very much on it’s last legs. Running over six minutes long, the song seems straightforward, but at the four minute point it all turns into a clamorous breakdown that is guaranteed to blow speakers, then Kiely’s screams come in to snap it back to familiar territory for it’s closing.

Formation – Young Ones

This Dance rock beast is a must for anyone who has a fever that can only be rectified by the audible elixir that is a cowbell. Formation, consisting of brothers Will and Matt Ritson, came out with their new “Young Ones” EP on March 24th, and I haven’t stopped listening to it since. The titular fourth of the EP has an insatiable groove anointed with the mystical cowbell, peripheral bongo hits and a juicy bassline. Vocalist Will’s singing in this song invites strong allusions to James Murphy, which is not to be taken as a bad thing, Will’s deadpan vocal style has a great hook to it and the instrumentation comes together with it in amazing ease. “Young Ones” is like a dive into a contemporary Studio 54, overrun with hip young people bobbing their heads as they swipe right on this song, but something this sexy doesn’t even need to be on Tinder (or Grindr, Mixxer etc.).

Gil Trythall – Folsom Prison Blues

This tune always weirds out people when I play it, which is their problem, because this, without a doubt, is the greatest Johnny Cash cover ever. Easily a legend among 20th century Electronic music composers, Dr. Gilbert Trythall made an album of Moog driven Country in 1970, aptly titled “Country Moog”, among it’s tracks was this abstract rework of the classic Johnny Cash tune. Trythall’s “Folsom” may feel ancient by our standards today, but 45 years in prior Moog music was an analog glimpse into the future. The vocals are transformed into robot gibber that skim the lyrics of the original and the arpeggiated synth line in the back feels like a Nintendo game’s underwater level. There is no VST or DAW that can replicate this song, this the work of a mad scientist who was meticulous in his craft. If you are truly a fan of modular synths and any other of Moog’s early models, this progenitor of remixes and it’s respective album captures everything you love of the vintage technology.

Yo La Tengo – Nowhere Near

There’s a salubrious need for sad tunes, sometimes it’s okay to just get lost in someone else’s dejection. “Nowhere Near” is an incredible song that sits somewhere between reality and the dream world, despite it’s gloom the song has a magical reverie to it. New Jersey based Yo La Tengo have been constantly evolving in their enigmatic 30 year career, any record of the trio is great, but the seminal “Painful” record is an understandable place to start with the group. It was with their sixth studio album, released in 1993, that made them a ballast to indie rock with their sharp creativity and bold forays into untouched sounds, “Painful” is a brilliant masterwork and among my favorite from the 90’s. This cut from the album is equal parts smooth, withdrawn and hypnotizing, like a late night drive home through a slew of ghost towns. The lyrics have simple but have brevity, drummer Georgia Hubley sings on “Nowhere” with her mellifluous vocals, as if they were dipped in a pool of honey and reverb. This song is crestfallen as any sad song, but it’s the wonderment planted within that leaves a sweet aftertaste.

Ethan Goodman

Deerhoof — The Tears and Music of Love

Oh Deerhoof, why are you so cool? Opening 2008’s “Offend Maggie” with this raw and tricky track, Deerhoof sound like they’re going to war, and are excited about it. The guitars have a throaty, nasal quality that rounds out the angular riffs while fuzz bass plucks along carefully as the ping-y drums flail and crash around the band. As usual, Satomi Matsuzaki’s cute lilting melodies balance the band’s aggression before it all falls away for a gentle breakdown that ends the song.

of Montreal – The Party’s Crashing Us

Earlier this month, I got to see of Montreal at the newly opened Regent Theater, and as always, it was a blast. Dancing, screaming, lysergic projections and on-stage insanity joined Kevin Barnes & Co. for a crazy show with a balanced set list that included a surprising number of songs from 2005’s “Sunlandic Twins”. “The Party’s Crashing Us” was a rave-y highlight, and the new wave synths, funky guitars and David Byrne delivery were a fun foil to the heavier, art punk tracks from last month’s “Aureate Gloom”.

Chastity Belt – IDC

Seattle’s Chastity Belt have returned with their new record “Time to Go Home”, which sees the girls stretch their songs and expand their raw punky sound with a healthy dose of reverb, strong grooves and stoned philosophy; the kind that comes from hazy conversations had while cleaning up last night’s celebrations. “IDC” finds singer Julia Shapiro bored at a bad party, drinking to pass the time and asking ‘is it cool not to care?” a contrast to the slacker attitude found on their previous album “No Regerts”. It’s a mellow anthem with a smooth beat and a laid back feel punctuated by plinking, clean guitars and a band questioning the culture they have made for themselves.

Spoon -Not Turning Off

My bassist was rifling through CDs donated to the pet rescue at which he was volunteering, and amid the soundtracks, Smashmouth and Everclear; he struck gold. That gold is in Spoon’s first record “Telephono”, which I didn’t even know existed until now. Their angst and minimalist, spiky guitars are still present, but it’s clear that the band were still searching for their own sound, borrowing liberally from Wire, Pixies and (surprisingly) NIN. “Not Turning Off” is based on a twisting 5/4 groove, using tape loops and a waltzing breakdown ripped right out of Nine Inch Nail’s ’94 classic “The Downward Spiral”. It’s a fun track that shows the band experimenting in their early stages, so give it a listen if you ever wanted to hear what Spoon would sound like as a 90s band. If nothing else, Britt Daniel’s comical, squawking falsetto make the track worth a listen.

Buena Vista Social Club – Bodas De Oro

In the mid 90s, legendary guitarist Ry Cooder was asked to record an African band in Cuba. Through a mix up of visas, the band couldn’t enter the country, even though the studio time and additional musicians had already been booked. Rolling with the punches, Cooder quickly gathered a group of classic Cuban musicians that were regular performers at Havana’s popular Buena Vista Social Club in the mid 1940s. The record they made was a huge hit, spreading classic Latin music across the US and Europe. Here in LA, it’s already feeling like summer, and thankfully a collection of outtakes and live performances from the album was released, so grab a mojito and chill out to some smooth Cuban grooves.

Anthony Augello

Saint Motel – My Type

Pop music is difficult to navigate through. For the most part it all can seem to blend together as one popstar (or pop group) melds into the next and there always seems to be a new one every six months. “My Type” by Los Angeles based Saint Motel is one of those songs that comes on the radio and is just awesome. It’s got a very disco feel to it and singer A/J Jackson has an incredible voice. It’s very easy to be snobby and completely snub pop music entirely. However, eventually all teenage music snobs must grow up or at least they should. After all, Rock N’ Roll is pop music and a good song will always be a good song, this one is no exception.

Minutemen – Little Man with a Gun in His Hand

“Little Man with a Gun in His Hand” is a song written by one of the greatest punk bands of the 80s, the Minutemen. This one in particular was written by the late, great D. Boone, the guitarist for the Minutemen, and Chuck Dukowski, the original bassist for Black Flag and currently the Chuck Dukowski Sextet. This song was performed with the same intensity and skill only the Minutemen could pull off. It builds in drama as the tension between the bass and guitar is raised bit by bit by the amazing drumming of George Hurley. This culminates in D. Boone’s howl “Little man with a gun in his hand!” over and over until the song is over far too soon.

Minutemen – I Felt Like a Gringo

This is another awesome razor-sharp Funk-Punk song performed by the Minutemen. They are one of the most unique bands to come out of that 80’s. While everyone was playing as fast as they possibly could and screaming their lungs out or growing their hair out and teasing it to be just like Motley Crue, this band of longshore men got off work and played brutally fast and technically impressive funk with a Punk attitude and biting political lyrics. This song, written by bassist Mike Watt, is a perfect reflection of the best this band had to offer.

Hüsker Dü – Eight Miles High

Hüsker Dü’s cover of “Eight Miles High” is absolutely amazing. It was originally written and performed by the Byrds, the classic 60’s Folk Rock band from Los Angeles, that at one point featured Gram Parsons. Hüsker Dü released a cover of this song as a single shortly before they released their album “Zen Arcade” in 1984. It starts with the vocals sang normally and by the end completely tears them to shreds with Bob Mould’s near unintelligible screaming of the lyrics that still fits the line, making it entirely different from any sort of aggressive and guttural sounds so many bands attempt to pass off as vocal lines. The entire time his heavily distorted yet melodic guitar playing fits perfectly over the steady drive of the flawlessly tight rhythm section that is Grant Hart and Greg Norton.

Hüsker Dü – Whatever

“Zen Arcade” is probably one of the only Punk concept albums in existence. For the most part, it seems most Punk bands either out of anti-establishment feelings towards the music industry at the time or sheer poverty rejected the idea of a concept album since there really aren’t many out there. “Zen” coalesces new ideas and approach with the hard hitting hardcore reminiscent of their “Metal Circus” release. “Whatever” comes near the end of side three of the double album and has brief piano introduction before breaking into the fast paced and beautiful song that it is. This is one of the best examples of the blending of raw aggression and melody that is Husker Du.