Five DJs from WCFM praise the music that shaped their summers.
Noise-rap group, clipping, a collaboration between rapper Daveed Diggs and producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hudson, brought a more polished sound to their sophomore album CLPPNG, one of the most daring and sonically varied hip-hop releases of the summer. That doesn’t necessarily mean that CLPPNG is any easier on the ears than their debut, it can be deliberately, even provocatively, harsh. The first track, “Intro,” has Diggs rapping over (in lieu of a traditional beat) a sustained beep that degenerates into a cacophonous fuzz. On “Get Up,” Diggs’s accompaniment is a bleating alarm clock, to which harmonizing notes are added, slowly turning it into something melodic. But the success of CLPPNG lies in its taking the group’s characteristic harshness and applying it to a more traditional hip-hop formula. “Work Work” is a genuinely catchy track, and one of my favorites of the summer (due in part to its brilliant music video, directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada). Listen carefully, though, and you’ll hear a sample that rarely finds its way into typical beats: the sound of a cinderblock smashing against the ground. (The group also used, among other things, a recording of a trash can being thrown down a flight of stairs.) One might expect a rapper to be subsumed by beats like these, but Daveed Diggs seems to preside over them easily. He’s a technically astute MC, enunciating with machine-gun speed and clarity, but his greatest gift is storytelling. There is no first-person narration on CLPPNG; instead, Diggs weaves dark tapestries of violence and perversion, taking us into the minds of a gangland killer (on “Taking Off”), a serial arsonist (on “Story 2”), and a man-eating seductress (on “Body and Blood”). On “Inside Out,” he explores the surreal horror of a suburban shooting. The group functions as musical chemists, dropping hip-hop and noise into a beaker to see what bubbles up. Luckily for us, their experiments have produced something that feels new, compelling, and unique.
My go-to album this summer was Salad Days by Mac DeMarco. Although the album was released in April, it was the perfect soundtrack to the slow, hot days of the summer holidays summer. DeMarco’s apathetic vocals and love for drawn-out chords make this album sound like a float down a lazy river. It is a great accompaniment to a day at the beach or a post-work chill session. In the song “Brother,” DeMarco actually tells listeners to “take it slowly.” Despite its laid-back sound, this album is not monotonous or boring. Mac DeMarco comes up with interesting and captivating chord progressions that keep me listening. Take the chorus to “Goodbye Weekend:” just as DeMarco finishes the first line, the guitar swoops up to hit a high note that is unexpected, but fits in seamlessly. Although it sounds like DeMarco recorded a large portion of this album while sitting in bed, it’s clear that he put time and thought into his third release.
This summer, spent in sunny, idyllic, classless Williamstown, Mass. was a game of musical catch-up for me. I spent a lot of it down in Tunnel City or on the quad listening to albums I’d long neglected, ranging from ones whose releases I’d simply overlooked such as Jamie Lidell, to more integral ones to which I’d never really bothered listening (Neutral Milk Hotel, I confess). However, one of my favorites ended up being Tangerine Sky, a June release from the Honolulu-based Blackbird Blackbird. Tangerine Sky is a hypnotic album whose musical style falls somewhere between the ambient dream pop of Washed Out and the rhythmic vocals of Beat Connection. It’s by no means high-energy; the first several tracks, though all discernible from one another, melt together in their sleepy, steady electronic beats and low-key voice-work. The album slows down to Hot Chip levels of electro-soul with “There Is Nowhere” before picking up speed with “Treehouse.” Listening to the whole thing the entire way through is akin to lying down and watching mesmerizing, LED-illuminated clouds drifting by, it’s a relaxing, slightly mesmerizing, and overall lovely sensory journey.
This summer has brought on yet another wave of indie pop artists, some packing Grammy credentials on their way to indie stardom. In particular, I’m talking about Bleachers, a side project of pop band FUN.’s lead guitarist Jack Antonoff, and their long-awaited debut album A Strange New Desire. Skeptical of pop bands in general, I gave their lead single “I Wanna Get Better,” which came out in February, some time to gain traction before jumping onto the band wagon; now I’m hooked. The album is a little bit of a slap and tickle with a mix of ’80s vibes and electronic undertones. It’s a cohesive album with an overdone theme (love and heartbreak or whatever), but nuanced in a manner that is rare for a pop music offshoot band. If you haven’t heard already, they’re kind of a big deal: On YouTube, they have over a million views, and for a pseudo-indie band that’s kind of wild. I suppose a Grammy or two can do that to a new band; thankfully, this one has the chops to justify it.
I’ve kept an eye on FKA Twigs ever since she released the stunning “Water Me” back in the summer of 2013. The unflinchingly intimate music video coupled with lyrics that desperately appeal to a lover in a deeply damaged relationship grabbed the attention of music blogs across the Internet. Musically, FKA Twigs uses disjointed drums and vast haunting synths to evoke an aural space that is as lonely as the one she herself inhabits in LP1 in the song. The ideas she hinted and teased at in her first two EPs come to bloom in the full album. The songs are as diverse stylistically as they are thematically, ranging from sexually discomforting R&B-esque odes to dub laced electronic anthems. Everything is deeply layered and complex, so much so that I keep finding new levels and corridors after each listen.