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Music

Revisiting Mac Miller’s Faces – a mixtape ahead of its time

Mac Miller’s 2014 opus isn’t available to stream, but it sure is worth the download on DatPiff.

Six years after its release, Faces is still Mac Miller’s pièce de résistance. The 2014 mixtape came out during an interim period between Miller’s tenure with Rostrum Records and his subsequent signing with Warner Records. Following his sophomore album, Watching Movies with the Sound Off, Miller was making music at lightspeed. His projects, You, Delusional Thomas and Faces are a fraction of the projects that Mac released after 2012’s Macadelic. Miller was not shy about his work ethic as he proclaimed on his track, “Malibu,” “I’m recordin’ like I’ll die tomorrow.”

Having ditched Rostrum Records, Miller showcased his freedom by fleshing out his Larry Fisherman alter ego, producing 14 out of 24 tracks on the project himself. As mentioned by Miller over the course of his career, most of the songs on this tape segue from one into the next in an attempt to leave the project as a start-to-finish listening experience. Using production play and sample cuts from movies, classic jazz and famous writers alike, the tape draws from a variety of sources of inspiration. Faces features a variety of guest appearances, most notably Thundercat, Earl Sweatshirt, and Vince Staples.

Faces has no shortage of dark, funny, and borderline terrifying lyrics. On some tracks Mac is singing his own praises, other tracks see him joking around with his friends, on “What Do You Do” he’s alluding to his own demise (“A drug habit like Philip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin.”). This tape has no shortage of drug references, whether it’s PCP, LSD, or referring to cocaine as “the same shit that got Whitney,” Faces is an unadulterated view into Miller’s drug infested lifestyle at the time. His bars don’t sugar coat any of it, making this tape some of Mac’s most candid and soul-bearing work.

At the midway point in the album, Mac presents a trio of songs named after celebrations, “Happy Birthday,” “Wedding” and “Funeral.” Each one segueing into the next, the trio tells three separate tales of introspection going from an upbeat yet depressing birthday party, to a failed love story, ending with “Funeral,” where Miller admits, “Doin’ drugs is just a war with boredom but they sure to get me.”

The closing track, “Grande Finale” serves as the conclusion to the tape’s winding road of cocaine-induced delirium and wide range of sonic experimentation. The closing track sheds some closure as Miller admits his habits could kill him, as they eventually did. In an interview with Billboard, Miller admitted that “‘Grand Finale’ was supposed to be the last song I made on earth.”

From top to bottom, Faces is a complete body of work that takes listeners on a journey narrated by Miller. Coming in at a lengthy 86 minutes, this project isn’t necessarily the type of album you’d sit down and listen to start-to-finish, but the road that Miller navigates with Faces has something for everyone to appreciate. Whether it’s the snappy back and forth with Vince Staples on “Rain” or the psychedelic trip that is “Colors and Shapes,” this tape covers a variety of bases and still finds a way to be some of Mac’s best work lyrically and production-wise.

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Childish Gambino – 3.15.20

The final album from Childish Gambino sees the multi-talented artist distance himself even further from rap

Donald Glover doesn’t follow any patterns. Be it in his music, his movies, his TV series, there’s no one-word you can use to describe the Stone Mountain-bred artist. After an abrupt end to his rap albums with the beautifully retro Awaken, My Love! under the Childish Gambino moniker, fans wondered if they’d ever hear him rapping again.

Sure, “This Is America” is technically a rap song, and sure, his feature on 21 Savage’s “Monster” is a rap verse, but those two moments are literally the only times we’ve heard Gambino rap since his 2014 mixtape STN MTN.

Childish Gambino released his newest album 3.15.20 on a Sunday morning at 3 a.m.—on his website. You couldn’t download any tracks, nor could you even know what song was playing as it was just one long stream with no breaks in between tracks. As was expected, there was little-to-no rapping, which is for the best.

Rapping has never been Gambino’s strong suit. He’s been able to scrape by with inventive concepts that show how hard he’s trying to create a unique experience no one else is offering. Because the Internet was a millennial look at life in an internet-filled world and was accompanied by a script that reflected on mortality. Awaken, My Love! echoed the funk-driven sound perfected by Funkadelic, a prominent funk band from the 70s. It was also seemingly dedicated to his then newborn son.

3.15.20 feels like it’s lacking that conceptual drive. Instead of a cohesive storyline, the album feels like a loose collection of tracks that feel more like summer-ready bops than a narrative-driven project. The songs aren’t basic, as Gambino really tries to experiment with instrumentals, vocal effects, and track lengths throughout the 12 tracks.

“Algorythm,” (yes that’s what it’s actually called) is the first real track on the album that sounds like a computer-generated banger. Gambino’s lyrics are simple and uneventful, but the hook is enough to bolster the track from boring to decent. 

“Time” features the stellar Ariana Grande who shows great chemistry with Gambino as they both sing the chorus in an uplifting way (“Maybe all the stars in the night are really dreams/ Maybe this whole world ain’t exactly what it seems/ Maybe the sky will fall down on tomorrow”). Gambino manipulates his vocals to make them seem both robotic and drugged-out.

The hooks shine the most on 3.15.20 because of how sticky they are. “19.10” and “47.48” are breezy guitar-led tracks that sound like they came from the 60s while high on a cocktail of drugs.

The album’s highlights come in the shape of “12.38,” “24.19” and “42.26” (previously released as “Feels Like Summer.” The first of the three tracks features an excellent 21 Savage verse accompanied by a strong instrumental from DJ Dahi and bright vocals from Gambino.

“24.19” is a beautiful track dedicated to a “sweet thing” who moved to southern California and follows her parents’ orders daily. The lyrics are a bit all over the place (“If you wanna be happy, don’t look at my phone), and that somewhat brings it down, but the instrumental and the vocal effects are enough to distract from the few iffy moments. That said, the first verse without any alterations to Gambino’s voice is the most sincere part of the album (You wouldn’t change a hair/ Sometimes I wonder why you love me / But you love me). However, the track runs about four minutes too long and, along with many other tracks, overstays its welcome.

Gambino falters a little after that track as “32.22” and “35.31” are a bit underwhelming. The former track is one of the grimiest beats on the album but comes out of nowhere and seems a bit out of place. “35.21” is a childish attempt at making a country-rap crossover that sounds more like a kids’ song than an experimental island song the album seems to have been preaching up until this point.

Thankfully the album closes out nicely with “42.26,” “47.48” and “53.49” which allow Gambino to stick the landing on a good––but rather quaint––album. 3.15.20 is a step back from Awaken, My Love! but it is still enjoyable to an extent. It feels unfinished and the track titles are just psychopathic.

Glover  has been vocal about 3.15.20 being his final album under the Childish Gambino moniker. It may be time to retire him indeed, but Glover should continue to make music. It’s become evident that he no longer wants to rap, which is what Gambino is primarily known for (if you exclude “Redbone”). But if there’s one thing that 3.15.20 makes apparent, it’s that Glover should have been singing his whole career.

Rating: 7/10

Trial Track: “24.19”

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Music

Sounds from the shadows: Sasan’s story

Iranian Master’s student finds serenity in electronic and experimental music, regardless of what his home has to say

“They think Iran is just a desert with no culture, no music. They think it’s just politics, but it’s not,” said DSM.

As DSM – a 25-year old Master’s student in Building Engineering – explored Concordia’s SGW campus this past winter, shortly after arriving in Montreal from his home country of Iran, he stumbled across a copy of The Concordian on a stand in the school. After flipping through to the paper’s music section, he decided to reach out to its editor in an attempt to share his story.

“I thought, let’s try, send an email and see what happens,” said DSM. “I was also afraid because I thought you might not answer, or that you wouldn’t care to speak to me.”

Now we’re here.

See, education in Iran is often regarded as the ideal route, with other activities seen as extracurricular, and only that. “When I was in Iran I told myself that I was nothing,” said DSM. “I didn’t have good marks, and they think people who make music are just losers.”

For creators of electronic music, that principle reigns true, with an even deeper sentiment of taboo. “Many people believe that [western music] brings you to hell, and others think it encourages you to do bad things,” he said. “So we have legal music and illegal music.”

DSM, an avid techno-listener and experimental producer, began creating music in his house in Iran. He was inspired by a video clip he saw of superstar DJ/producer Tiesto commanding a crowd at a major festival, demonstrating music’s deep ability to bring all kinds of people together.

“It was so amazing for me to see that,” said DSM.

He first began dabbling in music by creating mash-ups, or “mixes,” for him and his friends on their long bus ride home from school. Though he later shifted towards producing his own songs, using the software Ableton Live. It’s now been four years since DSM has been seriously working on his craft, and the hard work is paying off.

DSM has been featured in Visions of Darkness, a compilation album of contemporary music by Iranian musicians, and is set to release multiple tracks through Montreal-based record label and creative agency, Husa Sounds. He also released an EP last December, titled Abstracted.

While his passion has continued to blossom, DSM chooses to keep his musical identity a subtle part of his life.  His parents are aware of it and are supportive of his musical endeavours so long as he stays in school and completes his Master’s.

“I usually play music at parties and gatherings, but also sometimes in my father’s car with my family,” he said. “We would listen to popular music in Iran, or old music that my father or mother love. I tried playing some mellow, deep house for them, not the hard stuff, and they liked it too. Sometimes I’d try to sneak in my own songs and if they didn’t say ‘next song’ I would tell them it was mine.”

For DSM, music is more than just a hobby or even a passion – it’s a form of therapy.

“I just wanted to release my feelings – it’s my way to calm down,” he said. “If I have too many things on my mind, music is the way to release my stress, to forget any bad things in my life. It’s like my Advil. If the music is so good you can get high on that, you don’t need weed or alcohol.”

Back in Iran, DSM was not able to peacefully enjoy electronic music as a result of the government’s strict rules and regulations surrounding public musical performances.

Musical performers are required to obtain a government license in order to perform publicly, whether it be at an art gallery or musical event. This leaves room for subjective decisions, which thereby controls the music scene in the country. However, a police officer’s bad day could very well turn into deeper troubles for a performing artist, despite whether or not they hold a license.

As a result of this musical censorship, many Iranians travel to remote locations throughout the nation, often deserts, where they can enjoy electronic music at any volume, dancing and partying through the night up to the morning. This added risk actually has its benefits, according to DSM. “If you want to have fun there you have to stress about the police. Even alcohol is illegal,” said DSM. “But if it’s harder, sometimes it really feels better.”

With one and a half years remaining for his Master’s, DSM hopes to maintain his 4.0 CGPA – though he continues to raise the bar when it comes to his music as well.

“I really hope that big DJs will play my songs at clubs or shows,” said DSM. “I hope that people are dancing and feeling my music. I really want people to feel it, that’s my goal.

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Music

Nostalgia through sound and style

R&B-pop artist Sophia Bel keeps her music fresh with hypnotic beats and moody lyrics

It was Britney Spears’ sophomore album, Oops I Did It Again, that made Sophia Bel want to become a singer when she was young. “I knew the whole thing by heart,” she said.

These days, though, the Montreal-based singer-songwriter has been listening to a lot of 80s and 90s house music and old jazz tunes for inspiration. Her newest track, “Winter,” dropped on March 24. The analog synth-based song features a 90s backbeat and drawn out, echo-y vocals.

“I was on a night out and I was coming home in an Uber, and I felt those late-night, post-party blues. I wanted to express that kind of ringing sound you can have in your head when you’re falling asleep after a party,” Bel said about her inspiration to write the song. “It’s about addiction and trying to get your life together.” The single premiered with an accompanying music video.

Bel’s music can be described as R&B-pop, but there are elements of jazz in it, too. “Right now, I’m really into 80s synths—like synth basses and keyboards. I’ve also been getting into vintage-sounding guitar pedals,” Bel said, adding her music has a nostalgic feel to it.

Singer-songwriter Sophia Bel’s sense of style is eclectic and vintage, qualities which reflect the essence of her music. Photos by William Arcand

Her personal style also bears this same nostalgic feel—her outfit ensembles are often reminiscent of those from an earlier generation—fitting, as she often shops at thrift stores. “I get inspired by either a memory from my childhood of a certain style that someone had, or I’ll have a t-shirt and I’ll build an outfit around it,” she said. “I enjoy being creative. For me [fashion is] a hobby, and it’s cool that it can help direct my image, and the vibes that I want to bring to my music,” she said. Her style, as she described, is “eclectic and slightly kooky.”

Bel is currently in her last year of the jazz music program at Vanier College. She said her studies helped her develop her sound. “I could write a catchy song [before], but now I can explore different textures, different sounds. I have a better view on the medium itself,” she said.

Her vocal technique has also changed over the years. When she first began singing at a young age, she would try to emulate powerhouse singers, such as Beyonce and Christina Aguilera. Now, she opts for a softer sound vocally. “I pay more attention to subtleties and the sensibility in the interpretation, and not so much showing off a huge voice,” she said. Bel’s voice on her recently-released tracks is soft, silky and smooth—nearly hypnotic.

While Bel is commonly known for her time on season four of La Voix, the Quebec music reality TV show, she does not want to be known as the reality show singer forever. She is grateful for the exposure the show gave her, but she said she felt she wasn’t portrayed in the best light—she was deemed the shy, awkward girl, which isn’t reflective of who she is or wants to be.

“The lack of control of your image when you’re on a show like that is kind of tough to deal with,” she said.

“[The show] taught me to be more authentic with what I want to share with the world,” she said. “It re-centered my focus—now I just want to focus on my art and the stuff I actually want to do.”

For her last performance on La Voix, she sang Lana Del Rey’s “High by the Beach,” a cover which she quickly became known for. “It was the performance that got me the most exposure. It was my most popular performance,” she said. So much so, she recorded a version of it on her Facebook page, which has over 74,000 views. “I got literally hundreds of requests to do my own version,” she said. Del Rey is also one of her musical influences.

However, Bel said she believes her biggest accomplishment is still to come. “A lot of people would say it’s La Voix, because it gave me a big boost in my development as a public figure,” she explained. “But my biggest accomplishment is my EP that I’m going to release—that’s how I feel right now.”

Her new EP does not have a release date yet, but Bel is aiming for the end of this summer or early fall. It will feature all new songs, which she described jazzy and sensual. Bel will also be involved with the artistic direction of the EP. “I’m inspired by space right now—aliens and spaceships,” she said, referring to the imagery she wants to incorporate in the EP. “I’m also thinking of the colour green and orange a lot. I don’t know if my inspirations are too weird,” she said with a laugh.

For aspiring musicians, Bel said, ultimately, it’s important to be authentic and develop a clear musical direction. “Unless you have something to say, no one’s going to hear anything,” she said. “[Your music] is not going to resonate if you don’t have a clear vision and a clear direction.”

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Music

Ryan Hemsworth revisited: one year later

This up-and-coming Canadian artist has continued to grow in his moments alone on the road

It’s been just over a year since Ryan Hemsworth was last featured in The Concordian, but in those 13 months, he’s grown to astonishing new heights.

Last October, I compared Hemsworth to a tree. Rooted in a childhood of guitar playing and lyric writing, his branches are ever-expanding; he’s toured across the globe, started a label, and released his second studio album. But with the release of Alone for the First Time, his focus is less on stretching towards the sky and more on strengthening his roots.

While many of his best-known songs are upbeat, Hemsworth used this album as an outlet for introspection; it’s a window into himself, an audible documentation of what it’s like to get to know yourself in the endless stretches of hotel rooms, plane rides and alone time between hour-long sets.

“I made this album in the past, like, six to eight months on the road, in between shows and at hotels and airports and stuff,” he said. “I produced it all on my laptop. But I got a lot of friends to help with it, so it’s a lot more collaborative than the last few projects I’ve put out.”

There’s no better place to start the process of self-discovery than childhood, and since he’s been making music since before the days of laptop production, this album incorporates those first roots of musical interest—playing the guitar.

“In ‘Blemishes,’ all that guitar part is me, and a few other tracks have guitar parts throughout them as well,” he said. “But ‘Blemishes’ is the one that I wanted to go all out and play a lot of weird, different stuff on it. If you hear any guitar, that’s me, rockin’ out.”

But one thing we won’t hear anytime soon is Hemsworth’s own voice in his music.

“All the features on this album are basically vocal features,” he said. “But I did little, like, bits of singing in the background, and then I would mess with it until it didn’t sound like my voice anymore. Since the guitar doesn’t come from my vocal chords, it’s a little less personal, I guess. I also made sampler keyboard sounds out of acapellas that my friends made, each singing one note, and then turned those into notes on the keyboard. That’s how I made the intro to ‘Snow in Newark’ and the outro to ‘Walk Me Home.’”

Alone for the First Time is an exploration. It’s hard to create an accurate image of the feelings it incites; you can simultaneously feel the rush of performing and the loneliness of life on the road. There’s something about impermanence—the view out of your bedroom window is never the same, and the scenery flashing by your car windows eventually becomes a kaleidoscope, indistinguishable from one place to the next.

“It’s hard trying to lead somewhat of a normal life when my friends are in one place and I’m not there,” said Hemsworth. “It’s a balance of mostly good and maybe slightly bad, because you’re just becoming a nomad and you don’t have a home. But in a way, you start to get used to it.”

For someone who’s a self-proclaimed introvert, travelling alone doesn’t have to be scary—it can be an opportunity for growth instead.

“It probably would either break you down or make you a bit more of an open person,” he said. “It’s definitely opened me up a little bit. Before touring and travelling, I was definitely a lot more shy than I am now, even though I’m still probably fairly shy. But it’s awesome to be able to start having little groups of friends in different cities. Regardless of not seeing certain people for a while, I’ll always have some friends around, which is cool.”

But as Alone for the First Time hints, a life of constant motion can be a lonely one. Surprisingly, the most crowded places—festivals and clubs, for example—can be the loneliest.

“It’s kind of weird,” Hemsworth laughed. “It helps a lot to be with a crew, because sometimes I’ve shown up at festivals just totally by myself. It’s definitely good to have some friends, and also to get a little drunk beforehand. Sitting backstage by myself is really not an ideal way to pump myself up to play in front of thousands of people, but it happens more often than people realize! But at least backstage we have chicken wings.”

To counteract that loneliness, Hemsworth has planted a forest to grow alongside him with the creation of a project called Secret Songs.

“It’s becoming a ‘label thing,’ but I started it as basically a way to put out my friends’ music who don’t have a lot of listens on Soundcloud or whatever,” he said. “That’s what everyone cares about nowadays, for some reason. I just wanted to use whatever popularity I had to get people into stuff that I think is probably better than my music. And on the tour I’m doing that’s starting up now, I’ve got most of them opening shows across North America. I’m trying to keep everything sort of like a family, I guess.”

Ryan Hemsworth plays at Le Belmont on Nov. 14.

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Music

Quickspins + Retroview

Little Chords – Afterlife (Lefse Records; 2012)

When B.C.-based singer-songwriter Jamison is not producing records under his other monikers, Teen Daze and Two Bicycles, he is churning out music as Little Chords, an ‘80s drum-based, lo-fi, indie pop project from Vancouver. His new record Afterlife was released for download on March 20 on Bandcamp.
Chiming guitars, bathed in reverb and delay effects, synths, drum machines and quiet, almost haunting vocals lead the listener through the journey of the record.
It’s a welcome excursion, as some of the songs, such as “Firsts,” seem as if they could come right off the soundtrack of an eighties flick—think The Karate Kid (no, not the one with Jaden Smith). Others, such as “Afterlife,” are quieter introspectives, giving the album balance and contrast.
The record runs just over 36 minutes long and treats listeners to a scenic, pop-psych drive. While it won’t bring back glam rock bands on cassettes, inline skates or Atari games, it will surprise listeners looking for a little something nostalgic.

Trial track: “Afterlife”

Rating: 8.5/10

– A.J. Cordeiro

Mark Stewart – The Politics of Envy (Future Noise Music; 2012)

Mark Stewart has burst back on the scene after a four-year break, with his raw and dangerously sexy album The Politics of Envy. I have a feeling Stewart would spit in my face if he knew what I’m about to say, but here it goes: This album is like TV on the Radio and Nine Inch Nails bonding at a dubstep-fuelled afterparty. Trust me, it’s a good thing. Stewart keeps alive the experimental, industrial, hip-hop sound that he’s been celebrated for since his first band, The Pop Group, split in the early ‘80s. The tunes are moody and rife with anti-“corporate cocksucker” messages and the album features a handful of punk’s and post-punk’s most respected pioneers such as Keith Levene of early Clash fame, Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt and The Raincoats’ Gina Birch. Birch’s deep, robotic voice makes “Stereotype” one of the most haunting pop songs I’ve heard this year.

Trial track: “Want”

Rating: 9.0/10

– Lindsay Briscoe

Tanlines – Mixed Emotions (True Panther Sounds; 2012)

What’s a better way to end the academic year than with something as overtly non-academic as Tanlines?
After years of teasing with endless singles and EPs, Brooklyn duo Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm have finally released their full-length debut album Mixed Emotions. Best described as electro-pop with a tropical flavour, this album is like a piña colada in a test tube: fun and refreshing, but completely synthetic.
At times influenced by Paul Simon’s Graceland, the production has a strong emphasis on dance floor beats and catchy pop melodies, with a heavy reliance on synthesizers and an afropop veneer. Emm’s muffled baritone vocals both accentuate and compliment the artificiality of the soundscape constructed entirely of relentlessly upbeat rhythms and repetitive drum patterns.
Like a coconut-wielding caricature imprisoned in a souvenir shop snowglobe, Mixed Emotions may ultimately be the desperate plea of a man trapped in a kitschy tropical dystopia.

Trial track: “Real Life”

Rating: 7.0/10

– Paul Traunero

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold As Love (Track Records; 1967)

Late legendary musician Jimi Hendrix has never failed to impress with any of his releases. Following the success of his debut album Are You Experienced?, Hendrix was keen on expanding his musical horizons. Axis: Bold as Love, recorded in 1967, combines elements of rock, blues, psychedelic and jazz, creating a beautiful hodgepodge of sound.
Out of the three albums Hendrix recorded, Axis is often the most underrated, largely due to the fact that it was released in between his two most commercially successful albums. With Axis, the late rock ‘n’ roll icon displayed remarkable growth as a tunesmith, asserting his position as a multifaceted and highly-skilled musician.
The album features one of Hendrix’s finest performances on the guitar, as well as his most emotional. “Little Wing,” a two-minute odyssey through sound, showcases his versatility and superior songwriting skills, forging a sound that no other artist could replicate.
All of Hendrix’s albums are definite must-haves for any music enthusiast, but Axis stands out as his most experimental and original record.

Trial track: “Little Wing”

– Gabriel Fernandez

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