All posts by Johnny Loftus

Listen to Frontier Justice 3/25/17

Tei Shi has described her songcraft as a communion of many jams, tributaries of ideas meeting on a flood plain to the wide open sea. You can climb inside the layers on a track like 2013’s “M&Ms,” let the stuttering beat of 2015’s “Basically” blast from your imaginary boom box as weird thoughts bounce off your skull on the train ride downtown. And on Crawl Space (Downtown), the Argentina-via-New York City artist’s debut full-length, it’s this kind of stylistic pointillism that’s the name of the game. It’s a headphones record, speaking of train rides; Tei Shi’s vocals drift in from one channel in harmony, while they fill the middle space with Prince screams and hooks to set off another treated blast of brass or a well-timed percussion squall. “Justify” from Crawl Space kicks off this edition of Frontier Justice, and the low-end growl’s nearly as cool as Tei Shi’s multi-dimensional vocal trading barbs with that skittering effect over top. Let it get inside of you.

Spotify: Frontier Justice 3/25/17 (34 songs, 1 hr 59 min)

Speaking of multiple dimensions, Gorillaz have returned from the Fornax Cluster just in time to collaborate with a billion more tastemakers. Reggae has always been central to Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz star map, and here his drowsy vocal meshes well with the melodic chat of Jamaican dancehall hot shot Popcaan. The craziest thing about Gorillaz is how much it always sounds like Gorillaz, no matter what posse of guests Albarn’s rustled up. Perfect example? Jehnny Beth, fearless leader of Savages, leads the pulsing “We Got the Power,” which stands strong on its own even as it’s built from Gorillaz’ signature tool kit.

Debbie Harry has never stopped being cooler than everyone, and “Long Time” is the new proof. Written with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange and feeding on the genetic material of “Heart of Glass,” it’s one of the lead tracks from Pollinator, out May 5, which will also feature collabs with Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio), Johnny Marr, Sia, and the homie Charli XCX. Sitek is also the man behind the curtain on the hazy remix of “Hot Thoughts,” the title track to Spoon’s new record, appearing here alongside , who herself worked with XCX for “Drum,” which certainly bears the British singer-songwriter’s sixth sense for brash pop hooks.

Continue reading Listen to Frontier Justice 3/25/17

TRAX: MisterWives – Machine

Audio: MisterWives – “Machine”

MisterWives – Machine (Audio)

MisterWives is the band nineteen-year-old-me would’ve loved — a cool girl out front, being super posi and singing huge, soaring hooks. There’s also a groove, and that’s like No Doubt in its earlist, best moments. And oh yeah, there’s a horn section. There are less and less great things in this world, right? It’s a fucking hellscape out there. Who does not want to jump up and down in rhythm with a bass player wearing a drug rug.

This song goes the other way.

Yo, dummy: We’re not part of your machine.

JTL

Listen to Frontier Justice 2/19/17

The Thousand Points Of Light Memorial Waterfall lies dry at the center of the Super 7 Mega Mall food court tetrahedron, and everybody’s got an opinion as to why. Hair triggers, we have them. In this new reality of hot takes and burning questions, it’s fun to clamber onto a roof and shout “BELL BOTTOMS” over and over into the night sky. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion strut their way outta “Frontier Justice” in its college radio days and into this new consciousness, the latest FJ delivery system being Spotify. And speaking of that new consciousness, on this set JSBX drops into the void between Danny Brown‘s stuttering, claustrophobic “Ain’t It Funny” on one side and Lady Gaga‘s “Diamond Heart” on the other. Young, wild Americans, both.

Spotify: Frontier Justice 2/19/17 (35 songs, 2 hr 3 min)

At the top of the set, Norway’s Sigrid makes her debut with “Don’t Kill My Vibe” and M.I.A. returns with the typically martial “P.O.W.A.” Minor Threat and Agent Orange remind us that the establishment was riling up the youth in the early moments of the Me Decade, Patti Smith remains royalty, and “Said It Already” is new, incisive and grooving from young Londoner Ama Lou. Elsewhere, Tommy Genesis oozes volatility and effortless after-hours club cool on “Art,” and Dai Burger wants to be your class president. Did you know Michelle Branch is back? Hopeless Romantic is her first full-length in 13 years; it was written and co-produced with Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, and sounds like it. Angel Olsen released one of 2016’s best records in My Woman — The engrossing, cinematic “Sister” is a highlight — and digging deep into the Spotify Sound Vaults reveals classic material in a new light: Elvis Presley brings both vulnerability and bluesy swing to an alternate take of “Heartbreak Hotel,” and The Supremes are full of funky soul on “Bad Weather,” the 1973 nugget produced and written by Stevie Wonder.

There’s some Ratt along the way, because after all, what goes around comes around (and they’ll tell you why), L.A. Witch is back with cool new stuff for Suicide Squeeze, RTJ remind us to stay hungry and pissed, and Eminem is no less than unhinged on “No Favors,” one of the many standouts on Big Sean‘s terrific new record I Decided.

Making playlists isn’t protest. It’s not political action. But it can be a soundtrack for both dancing and dissent, and do its best to uphold the art of discourse, which in these polarizing times is increasingly under attack. And if you want to completely check out, there’s always room on Goat‘s delightfully weird magic carpet. Here, “Try My Robe.”

JTL

You can also try an Apple Music playlist. Let me know if this works. -ed.

Continue reading Listen to Frontier Justice 2/19/17

The Ministry of Found

What was once angry might once again inspire volume

It was a few days after the election when I found nihilism lying broken in the street. Scuffed, half-crushed, and sharing a gutter with chicken bones and an energy drink that didn’t take, it still had spittle in its beard, metal shavings in its throat, and gave off the vibe of not having removed its leathers for a decent spell. And by the way, ‘you party?

Ministry’s Land of Rape and Honey was in the gutter at the bus stop. A half dead cassette, still broadcasting to Past Me. The iconic Sire Records logo was apparent on its banged up, off-white housing, next to all of those rabid, reverse paeans to a god called Fuck You. “Stigmata,” “The Missing,” “Deity,” “Golden Dawn,” “Destruction”. Electric guitar and bass, arc welded to unholy electronics.

Just like a car crash. Just like a knife.

Released in 1988, Land of Rape and Honey continued Al Jourgensen and Ministry’s evolution from a largely electronic, but definitely weird dance act into something much more angry, and louder. Today we talk a lot about dumpster fires, right? This music was abraded in flames, reflecting in a million jagged shards of the devil’s disco ball. In Hell, no one can hear you party, and that’s mostly because of Jourgensen’s mechanized yowl. Mr. Acidic Robot Sarcasm, he was pretty much over the putrid mud from the sky, the shit storm of propaganda. It was time to scream obscenities at the Conservative Establishment. Oh, and society? You’re a bunch of boring-sex-havers. The title track even hijacked the bashy 1985 slink of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and applied skeezy synths and shouty polemic at maximum volume. You climb the mountain, you pray.

Past Me reveled in the pounding dystopian echoes of “Destruction,” how the martial beat and its bizarro hardcore punk churn resonated in my head. At a different bus stop, I cut its music video out of footage from the 1987 Patrick Swayze headband vehicle Steel Dawn. Back then I knew Reagan, Bush, and their cronies were schmoes, but I mostly wanted to max the volume on my Walkman in private solidarity with some scary people from the city who didn’t give a fuck about God, The Guv, or giving license to complacency. (Play it louder, blasted tape technology!) Land of Rape and Honey sounded like a middle finger built from amps stacked to the sky. And the sky could suck it, too.

Post-election, Current Trump, happening upon a bracing screed from my own past, I wondered how artists in the now will agitate the status quo. I fished out the remains of the tape, and said goodbye to the gutter. Our bus had arrived. We would make it in time.

JTL

Continue reading The Ministry of Found

Andrew WK Live in Chicago: Ten Years After

Andrew WK at Riviera Theatre
Chicago, March 25, 2012

All of the dudes were there, and that was just on stage. Flanked by four wild-haired guitarists, plus a drummer and his black leotard-clad wife, Andrew WK stood in a party line of his own making and flailed, writhed, pumped his fists to the rager soundtrack of ten years ago. This was the I Get Wet tour, featuring WK in all of his lank white denim glory ripping through the record that made him a star with the same heaping helping of gusto he’d brought out on the road in 2002. Clod-stomping metal riffs were kicked up against WK’s own keyboard flurries and supported with double-bass kicks that kept a hard and fast rhythm on two drum heads, each emblazoned with the maestro’s bloodied face. It was the same iconic shot from the I Get Wet cover art and the one that hung over the proceedings like the visage of a master propagandist. This was WK for Vendetta, and the crowd was eating it up.

“We are fortunate to be here tonight, to live here and be alive,” WK enthused to raucous cheers. And later, “Never forget the power of musical joy.” It was the same metal-vational speech he’d spouted between (too long) pauses back at Metro in 2002, and this time around he couldn’t resist playing a bloodied Tony Robbins once again. It was too much talk, not enough rock. The crowd was eating it up, sure, the same way the pit surged to the left and right during highlights like “Party til You Puke,” “Party Hard,” and the title track, hundreds of kids pushing at the stage in a tangled mess of frenzied limbs, following along with every hair whip and judo chop of their fair leader, who seemingly hasn’t aged in the interim. But WK’s shtick, fully invested as he is, still seems like shtick at heart. There’s a gear missing, that extra rev into crazed that turns a rock and roll show into a mirthful murder spree. He had so many guitars at his disposal, and so much hair whip back and forth. He had the ears and fists of the crowd in his hands. So why was the Riviera a stolid line of folks with their arms folded once you reached the sound board level? And why wasn’t that sound ripping hearts out of chests? It felt like an act, not an act of the party gods.

The post-9/11 fatalism that I Get Wet embraced and espoused in 2001 and 02 has its partner in the fuck-it-all, glittered-up party ethos of LMFAO and Ke$ha, and WK has savvily brought the record back to not only celebrate its birth, but indoctrinate a new flock to his projectile rock. And they were down there, eating it up. But just like his strange question-and-answer sessions of a few years ago, or his incessant web cam party patrolling on Twitter, WK’s rings of egoism before it does altruism. No one can question the stripped-to-its-core genius of “Party Hard”; it’s an anthem that wears the animal skins of a thousand other anthems into a battle against boredom. But why does the whole thing still feel like self-righteous zealotry and not visceral release? Why does it ultimately feel as shallow and rootless as LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”? Maybe that’s the populism innate to the I Get Wet material, though. Like a beer bong or box of fireworks, WK offers a necessary tool kit with which to party, but doesn’t do the real puking or exploding until your neighbor calls the cops. It’s always up to us to never stop living in the red.

JTL

Pitchfork 2010, Day 3: A Glowing Sunday in the Park

Pitchfork 2010Indie rock dies as our old ears get hungrier

If Lightning Bolt is free jazz, no one was getting out of this set without paying dearly for it. The Rhode Island duo hit the Pitchfork stage midday Sunday in a peel of overdriven guitar shriek and crazed flurries of snare and tom-tom that magnetized the humid Chicago air and transformed the hazy afterimages still resonating from Beach House’s pleasantly forgettable set into spazzy molecules of fucked up oxygen. Pins and needles were made to float, and eardrums were sunburned. Did I mention that Bolt drummer Brian Chippendale was wearing a terrifying mask? His arms pounding savagely into his kit, his face obscured by this luchador death rictus, and then, halfway through this caterwaul, he begins to sing. Sure, it was more of a moan, scream, or reverbed yell. But that he was doing anything while still thoroughly murdering his drums on fast forward is profound. That’s some classic concentration.

Continue reading Pitchfork 2010, Day 3: A Glowing Sunday in the Park

Pay to Slum: In the club at the end of the world.

Britney Spears - 3

Everyone has the flu, unless you work at Goldman Sachs, in which case you’re Johnny Amlerica, and your bonus check has too many zeroes. Children with the names of birds choke the sky in experimental flying vehicles, until it turns out they really don’t (Where the Wild Things Weren’t), and all the helicopter pilots west of the Mississippi go back to smoking crumpled cigarettes and grumbling about the clouds in the flight deck coffee. A president wins a Nobel Prize and everyone snickers, a panda conducts home invasions in an attempt to hawk Chinese food, and the world waits for word from the 1990s economy relay tower that it’s transmitting a schematic for how to fix everything. Too bad, because the software required to transmit that information wasn’t invented until 2006, which means it’s game over man, and we’re stuck out here with the hissing wind and a bad case of the Kardashians. There’s no control; we’re just grinding metal. And pop radio is full of mouse-click sleek songs that go nowhere beyond text speak platitudes and the lifted choruses of four-year-old Imogen Heap songs.

And then Britney, a French dude, and motherfucking Akon show up, and suddenly we’re in the pipe five by five. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Continue reading Pay to Slum: In the club at the end of the world.

Pay to Slum: Get me some cash out, baby. Let's do it again.

Video: Katy Perry – “Waking Up In Vegas”

Another week, another black eye for America. BEP are still our favorite Martians for a 21st week. Clearly this is a quartet with a diabolical plan to destroy us. Wasn’t that Taboo seen sneaking away from the Shuttle Discovery? It was he who busted the valve that delayed Discovery’s launch. But anyway, back to the Hot 100. There’s some other hilarity in the chart. Kenny Chesney is suddenly Dave Matthews‘ homeboy. Miley Cyrus also makes noise this week with “Party in the USA,” sure to be making noise as the preteen set heads back to school. “Ma, buy me these bedazzled jeans. Miley said to!” Something in that brew smells like freedom and commerce.

The charts also see a host of artists with less name recognition on the national scene, but an ability to make waves regionally and via download. See? With some clever local canvassing and an eventual big money push, your ringtone single with the autotuned sex scene can be on its way to a homeroom somewhere in the complacent heartland of America. It’ll be just like those dingbats yelling at congressional representatives. Only, you know, with autotune.

Continue reading Pay to Slum: Get me some cash out, baby. Let's do it again.

Pay to Slum: A beast goes to Mars.

Video: Shakira – “She Wolf”

Shakira‘s ‘She Wolf’ roars up 21-13 this week thanks to 75,000 new downloads this week. The song’s Spanish version, ‘Loba,’ goes to No. 1 on Latin Pop Airplay.”

Yeah, but what’s “roar” in Spanish? The crafty copy over at Billboard is accurate. It’s only been a few weeks since Shak again said “What’s Up, Doc?” to the US charts, and already, inescapably, like diesel artillery, her “She Wolf” is staring down the Black Eyed Peas‘ ceremonial altar like The Rock’s unblinking face spray painted on a boulder. And the saliva is pooling on the well-trampled earth.

Continue reading Pay to Slum: A beast goes to Mars.

Pay to Slum: A hologram at the end of the world and other tales.

The Dead Weather

Josh Groban might make the closed captions sing, but it’s Will.i.am‘s world to steal. Did you hear the news? i.am and his band, Los Angeles-based underground Tybo fighting champions and dance-pop vocal trio the Black Eyed Peas, have with this week’s activity on the Hot 100 been officially canonized by the ruling order of their native Mars. Their jerseys were also retired. But don’t switch off your hologram machines just yet, Midwestern children — “I gotta feelin'” your product placement party visionary and beloved spin move endorser is still gonna hologram his way across the nation. Will.he.WILL!

Between Fergie-offs at the local Y and keeping up with all Will’s tweets from the gaseous fog near Phobos (“I don’t even know where that is, but it sounds hologro-mantic!“), it can be difficult to remember that there’s a real rock ‘n’ roll band behind the digitized neon smoke and bedazzled mirrors. That’s right, and they’re called the Dead Weather.

Continue reading Pay to Slum: A hologram at the end of the world and other tales.