Ryan Power

Identity Picks [full-album stream] / “Sweetheart” [video]

Ryan Power’s Identity Picks is out this week via NNA Tapes. Check out the new video for the song “Sweetheart” below, as well as a stream of the album in its entirety, with some analysis throw in for good measure. And if you want to watch Power play the jams from Identity Picks, be sure to check out his July dates here!


There are many things to consider when discussing Ryan Power’s newest album Identity Picks. I’ve already discussed the musical/structural material of the album to some extent, but it’s definitely something that’s worth briefly mentioning again. Power writes the kind of songs that beautifully marry his lyrical sentiments to chord changes and arrangement developments that complement each other in a manner similar to song cycles from the Romantic era. It’s exactly the kind of thing that other musicians freak out over. For example, on a recent road trip with a group of fellow MFA music students, I threw on Identity Picks and proceeded to watch all of my friends collectively lose their shit over the dude’s ability to work such theoretical/experimental ideas into a pop context. However, while I’d love to nerd out and give you a complete harmonic analysis of mode-mixing songs like “The Prize” or “Earth to Fuckface,” it’s important to look at exactly how Power’s text fits with his infectious music, a combination that makes Power a true songwriting talent.

Whether intentionally or not, Identity Picks is a concept album of sorts that reveals its themes slowly and subtly over repeat listens. Now, obviously the title has something to do with what Power seems to be going for here, but the meaning is not as readily apparent as it may seem. Throughout the record, Power is trying to make sense of what direction his life is taking, and whatever path he chooses forces him to pick out a certain identity of sorts. However, there is lyrical imagery throughout the album that suggests that Power is looking at picking his identity the same way one would pick teammates for a sport or competition of sorts, and as the album progresses, it becomes apparent these songs are about Power competing and fighting for a number of various goals.

This theme is apparent from the first track onward. On the excellent “Sample Lives,” Power sings “You can’t forfeit the game or choose a new side,” as he desperately tries to live his life and socialize. By the end of the track, Power realizes that its too late to placate the blame of his own neuroses on his significant others “need[ing] to go to therapy.” On the next track, “The Prize,” Power presents the most competition-based metaphors, as he proclaims “Shame on you you crazy fool! I am the prize!” The song works on a couple of levels: (1) Power could be singing directly to a lover about lowering their standards in an attempt for them to realize the absurdity of their demands, or (2) Power could be addressing himself and attempting to self-motivate in the same manner as “Sample Lives.” Reading the record’s title somewhat favors the second meaning, but the ambiguity of Power’s use of “you” and “we” allows a wonderful openness to interpretation.

This theme of competition, however inconspicuous, continues throughout the album. On the smooth R&B-referencing numbers like “New Attitude” and the album’s title track, Power expounds on his competition and his feelings towards the game. On “New Attitude,” he proclaims that he “can’t control it when they strut their stuff,” while on the title cut he sings “I’m not having fun” like a kid realizing that they just can’t beat their school’s rival soccer team. Power realizes the ability of his rivals and can’t quite convince himself that he’s able to overcome them. However, he gets feisty and defensive on tracks like “Earth to Fuckface” and “Well on Your Way,” where he essentially realizes that he doesn’t want to join the same club as stuff-strutting foes who wear “80s sunglasses, flannel shirts, and jeans that hurt.” By the time the album nears completion, Power seems comfortably defeatist, but only because he realizes that his rivals are worse off than himself.

Amazingly, the sentiment of each one of Power’s tracks is mirrored musically in some way. The defeatist songs are more down tempo and R&B-based, while his defensive songs are generally more uptempo and Rundgren-esque. Chords change and arrangements shift with the lyrics in subtle ways. It makes for a sort of psuedo-song cycle that becomes clearer with each listen.

In many ways, Identity Picks is similar to From Langely Park to Memphis by Power’s beloved Prefab Sprout. Like that album, Identity Picks is an immediately likable, sophisticated pop record that reveals hidden layers of meaning with each listen. Where Prefab Sprout’s record gives way to reveal simultaneously ironic mocking and sincere reverence for the landscape of 80s American pop, Power’s album functions as a similar portrait of 2013’s personal/musical landscape. And also like Prefab’s album, Identity Picks is in no way overt about this, inviting open interpretation even when the material is there for those who want to dig deeper.

• Ryan Power: http://www.ryanpower.org
• NNA Tapes: http://www.nnatapes.com

Bitchin Bajas

“Sun City”

If this is what “Sun City” sounds like, minus the Girls it seems, take me there. We’ll drive into town to the sound of one quavering organ tone as the sun over Sun City sinks into a sunset over Sun City. In the five minutes left of the day, that one tone will coast down the highway with us, growing louder along with the engine, until… yeahhhhhh, three more tones punch in to join it: right channel, left channel, center. It’s as simple as this. If we had more time, “Sun City” could probably scrub the sand off our boots like the wind does, erosion style. We pull over and we raise a monument of cactus and clay up to the sky and we stare at it immobile for hours after the sun sets, waiting for it to rise again.

The Bitchin B’s boys can do no wrong in 2013. Across a series of solid gold physical releases, Cooper Crain’s “side-project” alongside CAVE has evolved into the Chicago drone / neo-kraut scene’s finest full-time ambassadors of the 1970s. The Krausened EP shrunk us down to microscopic size and led us down an artery into the beating heart of Kraftwerk’s past earlier this year. On the upcoming Bitchitronics LP, due July 16th via Drag City (!), Crain and collaborators Dan Quinlivan and Rob Frye harness tape looping and delay systems in four sessions of beatless, gorgeous, hi-fi drone that channel the likes of Fripp & Eno, Tangerine Dream, and Alice Coltrane more faithfully than anything these ears have heard in a long while. While the album’s other sessions take their sweet, sweet time to develop, “Sun City” crams its full arc into five minutes of sublime oscillation.

• Bitchin Bajas: http://bitchinbajas.tumblr.com/
• Drag City: http://www.dragcity.com/

Ensemble Economique

Fever Logic

Ensemble Economique is all at once mellow and wasted and refreshing. Sort of like drinking wine for dinner, only to wake up eating grapes for breakfast. Thus, the title for Brian Pyle (Ensemble Economique)’s new LP Fever Logic on Not Not Fun is almost the perfect literal representation of his sound to date. Having dawned audiences/listeners this year (so far) with a tour CD-R, a split LP with Heroin In Tahiti, and a Shelter Press LP, Pyle is an unstoppable mad-man, driving that same blend of vigor and lax into anyone craving adventure.

In full premiere presentation, Fever Logic by Ensemble Economique is below and streaming in full, just to make your Tuesday a little more of a journey into the knowingly unknown. As well, the “LPs [are] in reptile lodge artwork designed in-house. 240 on opaque maroon vinyl, 210 on black. Edition of 450” (thanks Britt), out officially July 9 on Not Not Fun. Enjoy!

• Ensemble Economique: http://ensembleeconomique.tumblr.com
• Not Not Fun: http://www.notnotfun.com

[Photo: Clementine Nixon]

Locrian

“Eternal Return”

On the Locrian timeline of Terrible YouTube Comment Trolling, previous album The Clearing was to “What is this, it sounds like just an INTRO, where’s the song??? this is BOOoooring, omg so tedious” what new album Return to Annihilation is to “what is this shoegaze-y post-rock bullshit??? too much like a real song! go back to the old stuff!!!” The trolls will never be satisfied, of course, but anyone with functioning ears and eyes can observe that Locrian continue to fucking dominate. Check out the video for the album’s opening cut, “Eternal Return,” above.

What hasn’t changed: visually, Locrian still lead us through the decaying urban spaces that have perfectly accompanied their music for some time now. Steven Hess’s thunderous drums still pound their way into our skulls until our hands raise up as if by their own accord into clenched fists of victory. Terrence Hannum’s synths still occupy massive swathes of aural real estate, swallowing us in the low-end while delivering those airy, mournful melodies in the upper register. Hannum’s anguished vocals still take us there, too, down to a subterranean granite chamber where his howling reverberates from wall to wall to wall to infinity.

What has changed: “Eternal Return,” though admittedly the front-loaded intro of an otherwise deeeeeep album, feels more like a “proper single” than anything the band has released before: three minutes of discernible riffage, something like a verse-chorus-verse structure, and those killer clean-tone leads from guitarist André Foisy (“What is this, the new MBV?”). Even in their most “accessible” moments, Locrian continue to surpass expectations.

Return To Annihilation is available now on CD and 2xLP via Relapse Records. Pick it up, put it on, fall into it.

• Locrian: http://www.locrianband.com
• Relapse: http://www.relapse.com

Lil B

“4 Me”

My main man C Monster recently wrote an excellent post on the new Lil B mixtape, 100% Percent Gutta. In it, he describes “4 Me” as a “Fucking GAME CHANGER,” and I agree with him — so much, in fact, that I want to do another damn post just on the track. So basically, “4 Me” is the BasedGod’s take on Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” a track that was epic when it debuted two years ago but that has since become staler than a bag of Tostitos left in an overheated car for two years. But they don’t call him the BasedGod for nothing, because Lil B brings this track back to LIFE, in a strange, twisted, tone-deaf kind of way. “4 Me” consists of an intro, a verse, and a hook: a trolling, Sadean lovechild of a hook, repeated just the right number of times so that it’ll come creeping into your head 16 hours later. Indeed, the Auto-Tune on this song is unequivocally, awe-inspiringly awful, to the point that it actually makes Our Lord and Savior Yeezus Christ’s singing sound operatic by comparison (collaboration, guys, please?). Depending on who you ask, “4 Me” may be considered a triumph of transcendentally terrible art à la The Room, an earnest but nonetheless shitty take on a hit song — or maybe it’s just another excuse for Lil B to cavort around in a bomber hat and PJ pants. Me, I say it’s a combination of the three, plus a belated New Years’ greeting. Hey, it beats “Auld Lang Syne.”

• Lil B: http://www.youtube.com/user/lilbpack1
• Dat Piff: http://www.datpiff.com

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