Author: Matthew Barlow

Makaya McCraven — Universal Beings

Makaya McCraven Universal Beings International Anthem Makaya McCraven is a fascinating dude.  Born in Paris, raised in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, and now based in Chicago, he has immersed himself in music. He had no choice.  His dad was an avant-garde jazz drummer, his mother the member of a politically dangerous Hungarian folk band.  In Western Mass, he participated with his dad in sessions with the likes of Yusuf Lateef and Archie Shepp.  By the time he enrolled at UMass-Amherst, he was already making enough money as a musician to support himself and he dropped out.  He eventually...

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Fucked Up — Dose Your Dreams

Fucked Up Dose Your Dreams Merge Fucked Up have a problem.  That problem is simple, their distinctive sound comes from Damian Abraham’s voice.  Abraham has dominated Fucked Up from the getgo in 2001, the founder and leader of the band and the primary driving creative force behind the band.  After 2014’s Glass Boys, though, Abraham hinted that he was ready to walk away, at least in part.  And so we get Dose Your Dreams. The bulk of this album was written by guitarist Mike Haliechuk and drummer Jonah Falco.  Abraham was only called in later to provide some vocals and the result, horror horror, he only appears on something like 70% of the tracks. Fucked Up have always been referred to as a ‘hard core’ band. Please. The only thing hard core about them was The Voice. You take that away, and they’re just another rock band. And Dose Your Dreams seems like the album where Fucked Up tried to find out what they sounded like without the Big Fella on vocals. And then panicked and called him up when they realized they sounded like another rock band. It’s not that Fucked Up sans Abraham are awful. Far from it. They’re actually quite good. It’s just that they’re generic in that nothing stands out about them. Or they sound like Dinosaur, Jr., at least on ‘Came Down Wrong,’ upon which J. Mascis...

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Calvin Johnson — A Wonderful Beast

Calvin Johnson A Wonderful Beast K Records Calvin Johnson is the central component to the music scene in Olympia, WA.  Long before Seattle was the boomtown of grunge, and long after that star faded, Olympia has been home to a vibrant, diverse indie scene.  And Johnson, who began K Records away back in 1982, has been at the centre.  His band, The Beat Happening, were one of the foundational and central bands to the Pacific Northwest.  Their 1989 album, Black Candy, was an essential part of my high school soundtrack, even if most of my friends didn’t get it (Hey, I played football after all).  Johnson’s atonal, droning baritone is like the rain of the region, comfortable and warm for me. So A Wonderful Beast  The album is dominated by Johnson’s voice, one of the most singular voices in modern rock music.  The album was produced by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, but that in and of itself isn’t all that exciting. Carney is kinda everywhere these days, but he is a pretty damn good producer.  He also played most of the instruments.  But back to Johnson’s voice; it just takes over the music, no matter way, as on the classic Beat Happening track, ‘Red Head Walking.’ A Wonderful Beast is Johnson’s first solo album in 13 years and a stunning comeback.  This is also, really, the first album Johnson has been...

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Cypress Hill — Elephants on Acid

Cypress Hill Elephants on Acid BMG For many of my generation, Cypress Hill formed a key component of the soundtrack of our youth.  For me, the first time I heard their ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man,’ I was hooked.  And floored.  They sounded like nothing else.  DJ Muggs created this paranoid, hallucinogenic world with his beats, which looped and swirled, but with a thumping back beat.  Rappers B-Real and Sen Dog offered brutal, heavy, and uncompromising views of the world, though delivered very differently.  B-Real, the main rapper, adopted a nasal voice, based on Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys.  Sen Dog, though he didn’t appear on every track, was harder.  His voice deeper, threatening almost.  The Hill was also the first massive Latinx hop hop act.  And over the course of their first two albums, their eponymous début (1990) and the masterful Black Sunday (1992), they were dominant.  They were trippy, they were vicious, they were uncompromising and unforgiving.  And the beats were supreme. For reasons that remain lost to history, Muggs gave up the producers’ chair with III: Temples of Boom, sharing duties with RZA.  Sen Dog was also out of the group temporarily.  And this began The Hill’s journey into the wilderness.  Over the late 90s and 2000s, they became increasingly difficult to follow, their lyrics became a parody of their early 90s selves.  And Muggs seemed flat...

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Dark Times, Music and Self-Care

We live in dark times globally.  White supremacy is on the rise in ways not seen since the 1930s.  The environment is dying.  Democratic Turkey is looking increasingly dictatorial.  Before Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France, we feared the rise of the Marine Le Pen there.  The far right is on the rise in Germany.  The American president is cozying up to murderous dictators and picking fights with erstwhile allies.  There are days where Handmaid’s Tale looks like non-fiction.  And Brexit.  Not surprisingly, a lot of the music I find myself listening to speaks to these darks and troubled times.  The messages vary from Mudhoney’s loud fuck you! to all of this to messages of keeping on keeping on to self-care. At an academic conference last year, I had a long talk with a friend about how we survive this, where it seems everyday the news brings another outrage.  We talked about the need to drop out of it all now and then, to recuperate, to recalibrate.  But I have found that’s not enough.  I need more to maintain my equilibrium from day-to-day. Last week, I was driving home from work, listening to two of the albums in heavy rotation in my world, Idles’ Joy As An Act of Resistance and Dilly Dally’s Heaven.  About the only think these two bands have in common is they like loud guitars.  But in the loud...

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