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What's new with Tyler?

MUSIC | A new side of the Creator or same old antics?

The video for "Who Dat Boy" is just as oddly creepy as the dark synth intro to the track.

It's been a while since we've heard anything from Tyler. Since releasing Cherry Bomb two years back in 2015, he hasn't been around the scene too much. Sure, he hasn't totally disappeared but like most of the Odd Future gang, he doesn't hang around the spotlight too much. He'll pop and do something characteristically weird here and there but music wise he's been quite. Since making it big, he never really has been one to hop on someone else's track anyway. So while other artists try to stay relevant by getting some features in the interim between their projects, Tyler just sticks to focuses on his own.

On the other hand, a lot of artists recently have seemed eager to jump on the Creator's tracks. On Cherry Bomb, he got features for Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Pharrell Williams, among others. Over the past week or so, Tyler had been teasing at some new content in typical Tyler fashion. His countdown culminated in a video for his new song "Who Dat Boy" with none other than A$AP Rocky. This song and video, along with other teasers, have been released to hype up his soon-to-be-released album Scum Fuck Flower Boy (which has all the charm of an album you would hear and say "yeah, that's definitely a Tyler album"). The album will feature other collaborations such as Wolfgang brother Frank Ocean, former collaborator Lil Wayne, and singer Estelle.

The video accompanying the song "Who Dat Boy" is just as oddly creepy as the opening dark synth strings of the track would suggest. It opens on Tyler, back facing us, as we move through a dark hallway that frames him working on something. The kind of strange experimentation you would expect. Next thing you know, Tyler emerges outside and walks down the street with a severe gash across his face.

Then A$AP Rocky shows up, evidently to save the day by giving Tyler some facial reconstructive surgery. While performing the operation, a few cops bust in on them and they are forced to flee. Then it's revealed to us that A$AP has sewed some sort of white-face surgical mask on to Tyler and damn, it is creepy as hell. The pair continue to rap around outside until all of a sudden Tyler is driving down the highway, cops in pursuit, with a random teenage dude that seems to come out of nowhere. This is all before the song and video abruptly transition into another song on the album "911". This part of the video features multiple Tylers in a Cherry Blossom field or park.

All components of this video are pretty disconcerting but at the same time not at all something to be unexpected from an artist like Tyler. So much of his career has been based on a particular brand of strange antics and shock value. There could some potential race and/or police commentary going on in this video but like anything out The Creator, it's distinctly difficult to pick out the pieces between absurd and direct.

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A few other tracks from Scum Fuck Flower Boy have either been released or made their way out on to the Internet, including a song with Frank Ocean and the song "Boredom". "Boredom", the eighth track on the upcoming album, features Rex Orange County and Anna of the North. Some of this track rings back to the ending parts of Cherry Bomb, such as "Too Fucking Young/Perfect" and "Keep Da O's", with cuts of smoothness and Tyler swooning you don't often get to hear. Unlike "Who Dat Boy" that very much sticks to the sonic canon of Tyler's work, "Boredom" moves in a less abrasive direction.

The lyrical contemplation on "Boredom" hits with the same earnestness that likely has endeared Tyler to fans over the years. It's a simple subject, generally just waiting for something to happen and trying to find the peace of mind to accept that nothing is going to happen. It's the classic battle of trying to turn boredom into being simply content. This is evident in how the verses contrast the hooks sung by the features.

In a similar vein, the track "Mr. Lonely" (part of the "9/11/Mr. Lonely"), which has made its way online as well, deals with the theme of Tyler waiting on something or someone. The track, which features Frank Ocean, is another honest deluge of thoughts and emotions from Tyler who clearly has no trouble baring it all for fans. Although, I did mention earlier that discerning the meaningful from the prank-like wildness of Tyler can often be hard, many of his tracks are very cut and dry about his real feelings. Even though he often time goes extremely overboard, especially in his earlier work, it's pretty easy to tell the difference between raunchy tangents from his more poignant moments.

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On top of that, apparently the whole album has already leaked online. This have given hardcore fans a chance to devour the content and flood the internet with speculation about even deeper moments on the album. Evidently Tyler gets even more personal on the album and on at least one track may or may not come out of the closet? While, this is all operating on the lyrics of the album and not on statements from The Creator, given that this album seems to be a departure for him, it would stand to reason that his lyrics reflect reality this time.

As other have pointed out, Tyler no longer seems to be making jokes and messing around. While he has retained much of the style of his antics, the earnestness level seems to have been bumped way up. Perhaps it has lended itself to making him a better artist and rapper as he is ready to get real with his fans.

It may have been a long time coming to some but I'm sure there will be those who miss his old ways. Although, once the album drops officially, we will be able to listen and see if there is enough for both camps of fans to be satisfied.


REVIEW | Arcade Fire's "Creature Comfort" Analysis

MUSIC | What's poppin' with the dance-rock crew?

"Just make it painless" is the refrain of "Creature Comfort" that Win sings into his lightbulb mic

Arcade Fire has never really been a band of subtlety. Sure, they've gotten metaphorical here and there but the way they communicate has always been fairly straight-forward. For example, Reflektor in general was a largely built up on a Greek mythological analogy. Despite over-arching allusions like that, it's always been rather clear exactly what personal issues were plaguing the band, or more specifically Win Butler. His lyrics have sort of straight-to-the-heart-of-it approach. Personally, I've felt that while at times Butler's melancholic tendencies can border on a little cheesy, for the most part they are incredibly profound, or resonant at the very least.

The band's latest release, a manic-minded dance tune titled "Creature Comfort" might be one of the most stunning examples of Butler's direct communication yet. What makes it all the more effective is the music that accompanies the thought-provoking lyrics itself. Approaching some of the most glam-jam moments of 2013's dance-centric Reflektor, "Creature Comfort" features a synth opening reminiscent of Animal Collective, although the melody has Arcade Fire written all over it.

The first 45 seconds of the song would have you believe that it's going to be a fun, easy going track. Then Win comes in with "some boys hate themselves, spend their lives resenting their fathers", and the rest of the song follows down a similar path. The video itself bolsters the directness even further by having the lyrics streamed along the bottom and top of the video.

Clad in similarly shiny Reflektor-type garb, the crew of Arcade Fire seemed to be enjoying themselves in the video. They're on a minimalist set, essentially making a performance video. The camera is stationary throughout the video as the band dances around through flashing strobe lights. It seems to fit to the ethos of Arcade Fire, at least that of their recent efforts. That is, they're trying to make music that is serious in content but fun in execution. They want to create cathartic experiences that you can dance to.

Only a few weeks before releasing "Creature Comfort", the band dropped "Everything Now". The music and accompanying video, both far more dynamic and large-scape, demonstrate a diverse range to Arcade Fire's approach to their sound for their next album. Despite those differences, they still just as introspective as ever as the lyrics on "Everything Now" ring of similar tones as "Creature Comfort".

"Just make it painless" is the refrain of "Creature Comfort" that Win sings into his lightbulb mic and I'm wondering to myself is this something new? Is this something I could have heard from Arcade Fire before? What I really want to know going into their next album, is how have they grown and what's different. While in many ways, this is a song that sounds like it could have come off of their last album, there are parts of that seem fresh to me.

A lot of Arcade Fire's work is about their personal struggles. Win Butler's lyrics, while relatable to most of his audience, are about what he is grappling with. When first listening to the song, it seemed like he was widening his perspective, singing about others. He starts off singing about boys and girls that hate themselves and, at probably the most poignant moment of the song, a girl that "dreams about dying all the time" and puts on their "first record" when planning killing herself.

After the first chorus though, Win goes back to talk about how "it goes on and on" and how he "doesn't know what [he] wants" and he "doesn't know if [he] wants it". Undoubtedly, it's a powerful moment in the song as Win carries the lyrics with extreme emotional force behind the words. Nonetheless, it had me wondering about the thematic connective tissue of the track.

Is the creature comfort something that connects Win to those others who struggle around him, the boys and girls who hate themselves? He tells us that it is the "creature comfort" that answers the refrain's want of making it "painless". On a side note, one of the highlights of this song, as with any that she is featured prominently on, is Régine Chassagne's backup vocals. She has the impeccable power of adding a burst of flare to any track on the song.

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Many parts of this song sound like they're relating Win's struggles with those around him and how they all cope with their problems. These boys and girls that live in self-hatred and self-harm are always waiting for the "feedback". The concept of the "feedback" they refer to connected to the "make me famous/make it painless" notion could be the hope that fame takes away the pain behind all the self-hatred and harm. Thats where the song switches to Win's perspective, part of a band that has become famous, as he ponders whether or not being famous has really helped at all with his problems.

At the same time that Butler wishes "God, just make me famous", he also expresses a desire to be buried "penniless and nameless". The concept of dying "penniless and nameless" is a very prevalent trop and very real outcome for many now-famous artists. Win know that he's made it big and he's famous (as he sings "we're not nameless") so he's either expressing that he sees a trajectory where he winds up, despite his current fame, unknown and obscure in death. It's either that or he yearns to be back at a point where he was an artist alone without the notoriety. That would seem to fit the "I don't know if I want it" portion of the song. The same contradictory predicament comes up when Win sings "I'm a liar, don't doubt my sincerity". It's the sort of paradoxical lyricism I might expect from some of Isaac Brock's lyrics.

The song ends without a clear conclusion to the issues raised throughout, as if there will never really be answer to those introspective quandaries. Instead, they band continues to either confirm that "creature comfort" does in fact make it all painless or they are still begging for it to "make it painless". From there the song trails off into a classic "na na na" melody refrain. It's almost like they're saying "fuck it" to all the rumination, "let's just dance and sing and whatever".

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A look forward and back for MGMT

MUSIC | On the heels of their fourth album, watch "You Life is a Lie"

"How do we keep our authenticity as we make these big deals, as we get a hit single?"

It seemed that once upon a time MGMT owned the brand of indie-pop. When the genre was really taking off into the mainstream in the late aughts, their psychedelic electronics took the culture's ear by storm. They were youthful, introspective, and accessible. At some point, they got sick of their own brand and tried to break free, and landed themselves in relative obscurity, whether that was their ultimate goal or not.

They've been teasing new material for over a year now and with a festival run this summer, it seems like a new album is coming soon. Back in 2013, I questioned whether they were going to go further down the path of strangeness and experimentation or take it back to their roots, gunning for a more crowd-pleasing sound? They would up going way past the Congratulations side of strange with their self-titled third album MGMT. Even more than their sophomore album, MGMT seemed to estrange some fans and wasn't doing much to bring in new ones. So now I'm asking myself a similar question, what direction will they be going in for album number four. A return to their early sound or another leap into the unknown?

What happened to MGMT is really not different than what happens to a lot of small bands that hit it big right out of the gates. They, very understandably, got sick of what got them famous. They gained a small amount of popularity as "The Management" and once they transitioned to MGMT and released their EP Time to Pretend, they were mustering up support online and had some notoriety for their crowd-capturing performances. Their early sound was gruff electronic alt-dance rock, it even had a punk feel to it. They had their deep moments and their fun moments. They were an appealing sound as rock changed its forms, looking for a new movement to grab onto in those years.

So Oracular Spectacular comes out in 2007 and they are bonafide indie-rock stars. "Kids" is everywhere, and "Time to Pretend" and "Electric Feel" are lighting it up as well. Critically the album fared well, garnering a generally positive response, and chartered well to boot, eventually going Gold. For the next few years, they seemed to stay relevant while the indie-rock scene was really booming, with acts like Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse making waves commercially.

By 2010, MGMT seemed ready to repeat themselves. Early that year, Kid Cudi dropped one of the highlights of his career, the anthemic "Pursuit of Happiness", which featured MGMT along with the electronic-rock duo Ratatat. It seemed like the extra buzz generated from that single just months before Congratulations, their sophomore effort, would come out would poise the trippy indie-kids for success. And with the album debuting at Number 2 on the Billboard 200, it seems their momentum was holding true.

That momentum would slowly fade as the ambitious departure in sound and style that Congratulations was made it a hard sell to new fans and some old. While Oracular came into the sonic zeitgeist of 2007 and took off, Congratulations was an experimental and personal record for the duo. They opted out of some of their more electronic tendencies, just as bands like Foster the People were proving that style to still be in demand, in order to pursue a more full-band production. It became evident that they, like many acts before them, had grown weary of the sound they had become popular on. It was even evidenced in live performances, like the recording Qu'est-Ce Que C'est La Vie, Chaton? (Live At The Bataclan), where they would play parts of the set with only acoustic instruments, which they were sure to announce.

It's a legitimate struggle, mostly for acts that start small, without necessarily a strong aim to go big, that happen to get boosted into the mainstream fairly quickly. They grapple with concerns over entering into the big scary industry. "How do we keep our authenticity as we make these big deals, as we get a hit single?". They were certainly not the first band to battle with that transition. MGMT's response was essentially to make the record they wanted to make and move away from the growing indie-pop sound. In 2011, Frank Ocean's "Nature Feels" on Nostalgia Ultra, which sampled MGMT's "Electric Feel", would continue to prove the enduring nature of the band's early sound.

One thing I never doubted was their more dedicated fans. MGMT has seemed to maintain a following with a strong attachment to them, whether it be due to nostalgia or respect for their constant experimentation and disregard for convention. When I saw them at Firefly in 2013, they garnered a large crowd bubbling with excitement. People sang along and were generally entranced, for one reason or another. Although, there were definitely a few that were perturbed by MGMT's classic refusal to play "Kids".

It's hard to say what would've happened if they had stayed the course. It's very likely that had they stuck with the sound that made them famous, people would have gotten sick of it quickly. On the other hand, maybe they did push too hard and far away. Their self-titled MGMT might not have totally alienated dedicated fans but it certainly didn't attract too many new ones. While they were cautiously praised by some critics for their experimental efforts, in general critical and commercial performance was pretty weak… but I mean, do they even care about all of that?

In an interview given pretty early on in 2013, they answered my question of what direction they would be going in, and that answer was they were going weirder. "We're not trying to make music that everyone understands the first time they hear it," Ben Goldwasser told Rolling Stone. So fair enough, that's their M.O. Nonetheless, I'm wondering the same thing I did in 2013 about this next album, which they recently announced would be titled Little Dark Age.

The group has been teasing at new content for over a year and a half now, mostly through their Twitter. Like has happened in the past, the project's expected release has been continuously pushed further and further back. With a string of festival appearances this summer, it seems like the same timeline as their last album, so it seems right to expect it sometime in early fall. If I'm correct in seeing a similar timeline, we should probably be expecting a single sometime soon.

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As far as content goes, the most we've gotten at this point that they've personally released is a cryptic video appearing on their website. It's ambient. It's got a meandering dream-scape vibe that's only further reinforced by the video accompaniment. If this is what we can expect sound-wise for the new album, then yes, I think the answer is that they will again go down a strange new path. The operative there, though, is new given that while it still doesn't sound like they're trying to hit the same notes they did in their early work, the strangeness of this new sound isn't defined by the compressed, distorted anarchy of their last album.

So we'll have to wait and see. Hopefully they will be releasing more content soon and we'll get a better listen as to what we're in for. Given that Indie Rock has seemed to have fallen off the mainstream radar in the last few years, it's always interesting to see what the once-juggernauts are up to.

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Nick Murphy's sonic transition

ALBUM | Looking back on the work of Chet Faker in light of his newest EP

Nick Murphy is an interesting figure in the current music world. He doesn't seem to fall into one particular genre or scene. He seems popular but at the same time, obscure. Most people have likely heard him on a track at some point but he alone has never been a chart topper. His vocal features and commercial spots likely have given him more popularity than his solo work itself.

Up until late 2016, his career was defined by his musical persona Chet Faker. Late last year, he decided to kill off the character in favor of being known by his real name moving forward. In an interview with NME last November, he explained that for him the change in name denoted not just a nominal transition but marked a larger departure for him. He said, "I think it's a massive shift… It's exciting for me man, I haven't felt like I've been into a completely different world of music since I was 18, since I started. It's nice to be inspired again."

So when his latest project, an EP titled Missing Link dropped last month, I wondered what kind of sonic shift I'd be in for.

To see how his sound has progressed, let's take a look at where the Aussie artist started. His first big release was his EP, Thinking in Textures in 2012. It's a concise piece of music, a relatively restrained smooth and soulful meditation with sparse yet elegant production. It fits with a lot of the Faker sound, lots of dreamy piano and wandering vocal stacking. In the same year, Murphy, as Chet Faker, landed a feature on a track for his Future Classic label-mate Flume's debut studio album. The track "Left Alone", demonstrates an effortless collaboration between two artists with similar musical inclinations. Murphy's sound has always included a lot of electronic influences and his partnership with Flume always seems like a natural one.

It was in 2013, though, that Faker got his biggest break when a song from his first EP, a cover of Blackstreet's R&B/Hip-Hop classic "No Diggity", was featured on a Superbowl beer commercial for Beck's Sapphire. After that Faker gained somewhat of a cult following and it would serve as a launch to his career. Later in 2013, Faker and Flume collaborated again on a full EP titled Lockjaw. Very popular in Australia, the single "Drop the Game" became somewhat of an underground hit that still seems to get frequent listens today.

Next up for Chet was his first full studio album in 2014, Built on Glass. The album fits well into all of his earlier body of work. Lots of looped tracks, soulful groans, melancholy atmosphere, and plenty of slow burn heartbreak anthems with increasing electronic influence. The album was his first real charting success in the U.S., and provided three powerful singles. That on top of fairly solid reviews established Faker as an up and coming act with growing underground and mainstream attention.

Faker would release another EP a year later with English DJ Marcus Marr and then remained largely silent until the fall of 2016 when he announced he was leaving his Chet Faker identity behind. Along with the announcement and succeeding interviews explaining the choice, Murphy held a few performances under his own name and released a couple of stand alone songs to promote this name change. "Fear Less" and "Stop Me (Stop You)" definitely provided an abrupt, yet not disruptive, change in pace and style for the musician. While it was another big leap for him into his ever-growing electronic tendencies and jolting dynamics, the underlying resonance and soul of his sound still carried through. The songs provided a look into what was to come.

Early last month, Murphy dropped a little teaser trailer for the then upcoming EP Missing Link. The trailer in itself is a rousing work of art. A winding trip through excerpts from the most rambunctious, atmospheric, and strange moments of the EP combined with surreal scenes and neon moments that shuffle the styles of a plethora of modern aesthetics.

If the trailer was any indication, Missing Link is another new exploration of sound and structure for Murphy. It would seem that Murphy is far more comfortably working on EPs than full albums. Maybe that indicates that with each new sonic obsession or vision he's too eager to keep tinkering that he finds it hard to create a cohesive album, but still each new work is fresh and interesting.

Whether Murphy took a few pages from Flume's book after all their time working together or if he's always been inclined to an electronic sound, the experimental genre blends he's playing with here are evident. In that vein, he chooses to start off the EP collaborating with Canadian-Haitian DJ Kaytranada, who has worked with a diverse range of artists including Chance the Rapper, Anderson .Paak, and Alicia Keys, to name a few. It seems this track, "Your Time,", and the closer, "Weak Education", bear the most resemblance to his earlier work in his vocals and the songs' structures but nonetheless have clear departures in production.

The track "Bye,", both all the more igniting in its brevity, provides an excellent transition track. On top of that it starts off with a punchy guitar that could place it as some alternative rock track from another decade until a piercing drone comes in and knocks the track into some other gear. From there, the track "I'm Ready" seems to also be new ground for Murphy. The extended falsetto during the chorus is new for him, while its pace is fairly steady throughout.

The penultimate track of Missing Link might be the most fascinating. "Forget About Me" contains a lot of different elements and may be one of Murphy's most dynamic cuts. It begins with some chilling distorted angelic like choir vocals; a dark sepulchral high-pitched twist on a hymn is really the only way to describe it. Then comes a symphonic rise that amps its energy and muster into a driving beat and bass-line that carry the song. "Forget About Me" is a layered song full of riffs, dives, arpeggios, synths, and other flourishes that build its intensity.

A lot of his sound has clearly changed and the general energy that accompanied Chet Faker has largely shifted to a new tone. Still while it is obvious to see what Murphy meant about his new direction, it is also obvious that he meant what he said about Faker always being a part of the music. The same emotional resonance of his sound and the piercing sincerity of Murphy's voice and lyrics are ever present in Missing Link.