My generation has trouble focusing. This includes me. I’ve been struggling to write this first paragraph for half an hour, and would be lying to you if I claimed to have been working on it the whole time without going on Facebook (twice) and checking my phone. To put it bluntly, our lives are bombarded by way too many distractions and our attention spans crumble. We prefer to receive our news in the form of 140-character updates and lose interest in doing something if it requires a little more effort than we’re willing to put in. Now, is this necessarily a bad thing? I’m not sure. Regardless, this is the current state of my generation. We are overloaded on information, but lacking in depth and detail.
On ADDled, Toronto-based rapper and producer A-Merk captures this hyperactive zeitgeist with a surprising amount of accuracy and self-awareness. Like his (and my) generation, ADDled intentionally darts from one subject to another, failing to establish any sort of focus. On “Introducing the ADDled”, A-Merk alludes to the difficulties of paying attention and various addictions. He expresses his frustration with cops, racism, and society on “Shredder”. And on “Sharks in the Grass” he warns of freeloading, backstabbing high school kids. It’s clear that A-Merk genuinely cares about these topics, but like his generational peers he is unable to concentrate on only one.
Eventually, his inability to pin down his thoughts becomes overwhelming and A-Merk needs to escape, choosing to do so through drug use. The effects of the drugs are felt throughout the album as the tracks become progressively slower and trippier, especially on the latter half where songs like “Lost in the Waves” degenerate into formless, chaotic soundscapes. A-Merk frequently ponders the legitimacy of the supposed freedom he has achieved through drug use, as well as the possibility that his addiction gives rise to multiple personalities. A-Merk, or at least the character on this album, is deliberately confused and insecure about the person he is.
November 16, 2013 – There’s something magical about performing in your home city. There’s also something magical about listening to homegrown talent. Maybe it’s because we form a deeper connection with them, given that we’ve walked the same streets as them and eaten at the same greasy spoons. Shad himself must’ve felt this way as he proudly revealed on a cold Saturday night that kids from his grade 6 class were in the audience. And if his music indicates anything, it’s that Shad is all about remembering your roots. The dude was glad to finally be home.
The opening acts were decent. London-based hip hop group The Nicest spat stoner rap after stoner rap. Toronto rapper Casper the Ghost brought his TreeTop Entertainment cronies on stage and exchanged a couple of words. And We Are the City left the crowd drenched in glorious waves of dreamy, saccharine feedback. I’m also quite certain they left a number of people scratching their heads, what with their off-kilter drumming and math rock tendencies.
But Shad stole the show, as expected. He flashed his trademark smile and dove right into “Lost”, the opening track on his new album, Flying Colours. From there on, the crowd was his to command. If he wanted hands in the air, they appeared in seconds. If he wanted a chorus, the crowd gave him one. Even I’ll admit that I was rapping every word to “Stylin’”. Shad could simply do no wrong.
Most of Flying Colours’ hits were delivered, but the real treat, however, was when he dug deep into his discography and brought out his old hits, the tracks that have chronicled his rise as a Canadian hip hop figure. I’m talking about “Rose Garden” and its iconic video, the humorous narrative in “The Old Prince Still Lives at Home”, and “I Get Down”, the song that probably started it all. Needless to say, the crowd went crazy.
No matter how good he may be in years to come, Abel Tesfaye’s music will always be doomed to comparisons with his breakout trilogy of mixtapes. It’s an inevitable fate. Those mixtapes ripped apart the skin of a genre that had grown a little too safe, and injected it with a generous dose of innovation. We heard it in the grimy nightclub party vibes of House of Balloons, in the noise-meets-acoustic mashup on Thursday, and in the sprawling yet epic Echoes of Silence. But let me stop myself before I too fall victim of these comparisons.
On Kiss Land, The Weeknd’s major label debut, the production is cleaner and the sounds are more ambitious. Album highlight “Belong to the World” opens with a crack of thunder and the chirping of birds, only to fade into a jarring, sped-up beat sample of Portishead’s “Machine Gun”. The vocal overdubs on the chorus are angelic yet dark, and Abel comes through with the lyrics, painting a somber love story full of heartbreak and regret. Another high point is the title track. It starts off mysterious and nocturnal, accompanied by haunting screams and shimmering wind chimes, but at the halfway point the beat picks up and the song descends into a hypnotic nightmare of blurred moans and swirling synths. I can’t help but think of Abel running through the dank, smoke-filled alleyways of Neo Tokyo, his figure illuminated by the neon signs that line every storefront.
Unfortunately, the songwriting and imagery run thin on Kiss Land. “Professional” could not be a more unfocused opener as Abel struggles to fuse two separate ideas. Its abrupt end doesn’t help either, and leaves much to be desired. “Live For” boasts an overly-repetitive chorus, and Drake’s verse, while not a bad one, doesn’t seem to fit the off-kilter beat. And when we’re on the topic of not fitting in, “Wanderlust”, with its straightforward beat and funky melody, sticks out on the album like a sore thumb. The song is catchy, and I find myself singing along with the chorus, but it should’ve been released as a separate track.
Tags: The Weeknd
These days it’s seemingly impossible to distance one’s self from the gripping distraction that is technology. With handheld devices that do a million things and the internet just a click away, we’ve become enslaved by it. It’s ironic because technology, under our control, is designed to simplify our lives, and yet we’ve become dependent on it to the point where it controls us. Our daily routines are dictated by our phones and computers, our actions sparked by the looming desire to share a photo or update one’s status. In this world of technological diversions and piercing stimuli, Savages are grasping for something organic, something raw. And if their concert signs (or the album name, for that matter) aren’t obvious enough, the music they make drives the point home. Savages want your attention and that alone. No videos, no flash photography, nothing. Just music.
But don’t misinterpret their back-to-basics philosophy as an act of simplicity. On Silence Yourself, the all-female quartet’s brand of gothic post punk is equal parts chaotic and composed, and showcases a knack for musical diversity. From harsh punk (“Hit Me”) to sprawling, atmospheric compositions (“Waiting for a Sign”, “Marshal Dear”), Savages are able to cover a lot of ground. Much of the credit goes to the band’s playing abilities. Jehnny Beth’s voice is energetic yet sorrowful, and her banshee-like wails on songs like “I Am Here” are spine-chilling. Ayse Hassan’s throbbing bass and Fay Milton’s powerful drumming form a menacing rhythm section. But guitarist Gemma Thompson steals the spotlight. Her dynamic style transitions from shimmering melodies to distorted power chords to noisy waves of feedback, albeit with such poise and certainty. Together, these four women burn through song after song with relentless stamina and passion.
Musically, Silence Yourself is a turbulent mix of gloom, fright, and angst, and the lyrics only amplify those feelings. Album opener “Shut Up” is a bold statement about the distractions of today’s world and how they rob us of our identities. “No Face” follows in a similar vein, but delves into desperate pretension and mimicry as a means of defining one’s personality. And “She Will” is a tale of lust, sexuality, and the consequences that may ensue upon the embodiment of such traits.
It’s hard to believe we’re four months into 2013. Winter has worn out its welcome, spring is slowly creeping into the picture, and another year of university has come to a close. This mixtape is pretty self-explanatory: a collection of nine tracks that have accompanied me through yet another semester.
A cold, calculated piece of electronic sprawl from Thom Yorke and company. I love the clickety-clack beat and the icy synths on the chorus, which are so hostile and distant. It feels like I’m back in the land of Kid A.