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Photo by Matt Crossick_Global_Shutterstock

The story of psychedelics is intertwined with the story of music, and tracing their relationship can feel like going in circles.

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Diplo Seems Bored: Music Genres Are Dead

Thomas Wesley and Diplo need to have a chat

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Apparently, Diplo released a country song. It's called "So Long" and features someone named Cam.

Released under the moniker Thomas Wesley (Diplo's birth name) the cover art sports the Major Lazer frontman in an all-black cowboy get up — ten-gallon hat and all — with his eyes closed as he takes a cool, refreshing sip from an All-American Bud Light. The cover art has nothing to do with the song and the song has nothing to do with country music. Instead, what Diplo offers us is a toddler vying for attention: "Look Ma, I'm a cowboy, watch this!" Thomas says as he takes a gulp from his cool, refreshing, all-American Bud Light. "That's nice sweetie," we all say back to him, without looking. "Ma, look I made a country song! You hear that banjo twang? I added that in myself!" We all smile placatingly and roll our eyes, "Oh Thomas!"

The song sounds like a bad knockoff of Diplo's previous EDM pop crossover tracks, and as the DJ announces yet another side project, it's become apparent that Diplo's identity is now more ingrained in trying to capture and capitalize on what's trending than in making anything authentic. The results have been a mixed bag so far. LSD, his highly anticipated collaborative pop effort with Sia and Labrinth, was a total flunk of a debut album. Silk City, his Mark Ronson collaboration meant to seize on disco and house music, spawned 3 lackluster singles and is nowhere to be found in 2019. Jack U, his highly successful Skrillex collaboration, petered out shortly after the pair was allegedly booed offstage at 2014's Burning Man festival. Diplo's most popular venture, Major Lazer, is still highly successful, but they have regularly been accused of cultural pickpocketing, and their last two official releases, Africa Is The Future and Know No Better, received similar accusations, along with a tepid response from critics.

Overall, Diplo seems to be in a funk. With the overnight success of "Old Town Road," Lil Nas X's breakout hit seems to be the sole driving force behind the 40-year-old's decision to become a cowboy. "So Long" is fine. Chances are it'll get a few plays on Sorority pre-game playlists and Top 40 radio stations, but overall the track just seems lazy and safe. The Thomas Wesley moniker paints Diplo as an artist suffering from a lack of direction and an aging icon spreading himself too thin. If anything, Diplo's migration into "country music" solidifies the death of music genres overall, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Diplo may be in on the joke though, considering he has a history of trying his hands at things that aren't conventionally cool. "If reggae's the uncoolest music ever, I'll try to make a reggae album," he told The Guardian in 2018. But in the same interview, he also said: "I never want to ride the wave of the trends, I want to start them or mess them up." In that case, Thomas Wesley and Diplo may need to regroup and have a conversation.

Mackenzie Cummings-Gradyis a creative writer who resides in the Brooklyn area. Mackenzie's work has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, Billboard, and Metropolis Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @mjcummingsgrady.

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LSD's All-Star Debut is More Micro-dose than Full-on Acid Trip

Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo's debut album together is fun, but it never quite peaks like you'd expect

Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

The formation of musical supergroups is not quite as common an occurrence today as it was in the 1960s and '70s when the music world was graced with timeless all-star bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Journey, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Of course, there have been attempts at supergroups in more recent years as well, but for one reason or another – probably a complex concoction of rock star egotism, conflictingly jam-packed schedules, and the pressure of grandiose expectations – many of these more contemporary supergroups have flopped, either commercially, artistically, or both. Obviously, there are a few exceptions. But just look at the unfulfilled potentials and swift demises of bands like the Guns N' Roses/Stone Temple Pilots crossover, Velvet Revolver (2004-2007); the hip hop lyricist's dream team, Slaughterhouse (2009-2012); and the ambitious [but ultimately disappointing] hybridization of Sound Garden and Rage Against the Machine that was Audioslave (2002-2006).

When a collective of already well-known and respected artists band together, they inevitably face an uphill battle. The supergroups that venture into new sonic terrain and meld signature styles into something both comfortably familiar and refreshingly alien are the ones who will find success.

This is a balance that LSD (Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo) have managed to strike on their eponymous debut release, Labrinth, Sia & Diplo Present…LSD. This may not come as much of a surprise, though, as the three have a history of collaboration prior to this album. Sia, for example, has worked with both Diplo and Labrinth before. Most notably, with Diplo on her 2014 chart-topper, "Elastic Heart." Six of the ten tracks on the album were also made public ahead of the album's April 12th release date, one of which was the infectious single, "Thunderclouds," which served as the musical backdrop for a Samsung ad. Fans were already well primed for the group's unique collaborative sound.

This pre-release familiarity both helped and hindered the album. On one hand, listeners had plenty of time to become acquainted with the new musical directions the three solo artists took when they put their many talents and stylistic sensibilities together. On the other hand, there weren't many surprises in store by the time LSD officially dropped. For an album with a grand total of ten songs – one of which is a remix of the LP's lead single, "Genius," and is basically a reprise of the song with a quick (but dope) Lil Wayne verse tagged onto the beginning – that only leaves four brand new, previously unheard tracks for fans to enjoy.

And one of those four is the somewhat underwhelming two-minute intro, "Welcome to the Wonderful World of." The song does a good job at grounding the listener in the unexpectedly rich and folky vocal harmonies that recur periodically throughout the rest of the album, but it does little in the way of capitalizing on the gradual buildup of the song. The intro seems to hint repeatedly at a climax that never really comes, causing it to sort of fizzle out as it leads into the next track, "Angel in your Eyes." This song is much closer to the big, fun, and dynamic sound that fans were expecting. A fusion of oscillating synths, Caribbean rhythms, and Labrinth and Sia volleying catchy and quirky melodies all make for a Coachella-ready EDM-pop experience.

In addition to the obligatory R&B, EDM, and pop influences heard throughout the album; there are three unexpected influences that guide many of the standout songs on this album: gospel, bossa nova, and reggae. Songs like "Mountains" — led by an understated but soulful organ, and "It's Time," in which Sia and Labrinth show off the full range of their vocal abilities alongside solemn piano chords — almost trick the ear into hearing a gospel choir. Plus, the syncopated, samba-esque rhythms of "Genius" and "No New Friends" provide a blend of Brazilian and Caribbean flavors into the mix.

There is much to love about LSD – it is fun, sonically cohesive, and musically curious – but it has a certain rushed quality, making the listener wonder if maybe the trio could have given the project a little more time. It doesn't quite feel complete. Although Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo have successfully sidestepped many of the common supergroup pitfalls, this album seems more like a preview of their newfound collective sound than a comprehensive exploration and firm declaration of it. Here's to hoping the group continues to grow out of the promising roots they've planted with this debut release.

Dustin DiPaulo is a writer and musician from Rochester, New York. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University and can most likely be found at a local concert, dive bar, or comedy club (if he's not getting lost somewhere in the woods).

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Music Lists

Six Songs You Should Hear This Week: Musical Acid Trips

New tracks from Valerie June, Kevin Abstract, Norah Jones, AURORA, and more.

Photo by Danny Howe on Unsplash

Each one of this week's best new songs is a miniature revelation in itself, trippy enough to open your mind to new worlds.

For the record, the creator of this list has never taken acid; but these songs are what she imagines it would feel like, and truly, who needs drugs when you have songs like these? Transcendence, peace, revelations, a feeling of interconnectedness, swirly imagery—it's all here for your listening pleasure.

1. Drinker: Wave

Bicoastal NY/LA duo Aaron Mendelsohn and Ariel Loh (aka Drinker) have gifted the world with a gorgeous piece of pop psychedelia in the form of their new single, "Wave," released on Wednesday. The haunting track starts slow and ethereal, building up to a climactic tower of synths punctuated by bell-like guitar tones. A slow burn that's rewarding the whole way through, it's the kind of song meant for lying on a dock at sunset, sifting through memories and feeling the first hints of evening chill. Lyrically, it's a testament to the strangeness of time—the way it continues to move forward, but the past always seems to surge into the present. "Who is this? I'm stuck inside a wave," goes the refrain, a line that could be about dissociation, or fear of the future, or déja vu. "I feel like we've been here before," sings Mendelsohn, "but it wasn't you that I was here with." Hypnotic in its spaciousness, disconcerting in its dissociative leanings, this is an immersive sonic experience that bodes well for the duo's upcoming EP release on May 3.

2. Valerie June: Little Wing

Valerie June - Little

Valerie June has returned with a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," and it's absolutely breathtaking. Mystical and pure, raw and electric, it's a compilation of whirling guitars, whistling strings, distant organs, and eventually a horn section to drive it all home. June sounds a bit like Stevie Nicks, but perhaps even more weather-worn, her voice is ageless, meant for staticky radios. She proved her songwriting abilities on 2017's The Order of Time, but this cover is a testament to her aptitude as an arranger and a conveyer of raw emotion. In a way, it seems to come straight from a timeless dimension where there are only peace and starlight, and yet, at the same time, it cuts through to the core of something distinctly of this world, some pain known only to humankind. If you listen to one song this week, listen to this one.

3. Novo Amor: I Make Sparks

Novo Amor - I Make Sparks (official audio)

Nobody is better at making soupy lullabies than Novo Amor, but he's made a particularly beautiful one with "I Make Sparks," a title that—despite its swaggering implications—moves beyond the realm of woodsy folk. Ideal for the ending frames of a film, the song is a miniature vacation in itself. Light strings cast flickering lights over Amor's frail, breathy vocals, and though his voice never grows to anything more than a whisper, the music swells and grows throughout, reaching a satisfyingly disorienting conclusion.

4. Aurora: The Seed

For a slightly more energized but equally intense listening experience, AURORA's newest release, "The Seed," will do the trick. It sounds perfect for, say, the finale of a show like Game of Thrones—hopeful and dramatic, full of rhythmic humming and intense violins, designed for scenes of armies charging over snowy hills.

In essence, this is a song about environmental destruction—one of many, certainly, as we approach the end times. "When the last tree has fallen and the rivers are poisoned, you cannot eat money, oh no," she sings. Ominous, indeed; maybe avoid this if you're actually going to take acid because it could potentially send you on a bad trip.

5. Kevin Abstract: Georgia

Kevin Abstract announced his newest project, ARIZONA baby, in a cryptic Instagram post a few days ago. But the first single, "Georgia," is transparent and honest, a welcome return to Abstract's distinct solo work. On this song, he draws lyrical inspiration from the old classic "Georgia On My Mind" and spins it into a web of bells, swirling electric guitar, and gritty basslines. At heart, it's a love song, a tribute to the free-fall of true emotion, communicated through rapidly panned vocals and electronic vocal effects layered over a slow beat. Abstract is a master of his craft, and with the release of ARIZONA baby, he's continued his tradition of making some of the best atmospheric rap out there. (For better or worse, it was produced by Jack Antonoff, which may explain its sonic similarities to Lana Del Rey's "Venice Bitch"—the high-pitched synth is definitely the same—but that's another story).

6. Norah Jones: A Song With No Name

This song is the sonic embodiment of a tall glass of water, a breath of fresh air, a drive upstate in the midst of a New York City summer, a comedown after a wild night. In classic Norah tradition, it's easy on the ears and heart, just ambiguous enough to feel applicable to almost any kind of subdued situation, but has enough nuance to merit multiple listens. Striking lyrics cut harshly against soft acoustic guitar and not much else—"If I had a gun, if I had a knife, if I had your love if I was your wife," she sings, as gentle piano twinkles in the background.

Special Mention: LSD

This list wouldn't be complete without mentioning LSD, the project of Sia, Diplo, and Labrinth, whose debut LP dropped this Friday. But unless you have a taste for poorly crafted, shamelessly algorithmic, and lyrically embarrassing pop music, spare yourself the pain and skip this one.

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.

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