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Feedback with Lizi von Teig: Lover by Taylor Swift

 

It’s an interesting choice for Taylor Swift to release a Carly Rae Jepsen album the same year as Carly Rae herself. “I Think He Knows” fits just as well on Dedication (Carly Rae’s album from earlier this year, which I wrote a review of but scrapped due to it not being long enough), as it does on Lover. The saxophone on “False God” also would feel at home on that album. The Grammy’s will have a tough time picking the Carly Rae album of the year.

My catty remarks aside, I’m very positive on Lover. I wrote on May 2 in a review of “ME!” I was not optimistic about Lover going in. That initial single was so disastrous I wasn’t sure if Taylor would release another good album “until the 2030s,” although it gets even worse on the album version with the removal of “hey kids, spelling is fun.” But that article proved to be whatever the opposite of prophetic is because, as with Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars, this album is a hit. “ME!” did not prove to be particularly demonstrative of the album as a whole. Lover feels like the 1989 follow up that we’ve been waiting for. Reputation infamously “killed” old Taylor, but Lover proves that the upbeat, lovestruck, slightly surface Taylor we love can rise from the ashes like a phoenix.

Which isn’t to say this is just another Taylor Swift album. It’s not a return to Speak Now and Fearless, it’s an evolution from 2014’s 1989. Steeped in synths and pad-based rhythm sections, it most blatantly follows up that Pet Shop Boys tribute album on the songs “London Boy” and “Cruel Summer,” but the guitar riff on “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” the acoustic ballad with the Dixie Chicks that is “Soon You’ll Get Better,” and the “Holy Ground”-esque rhythm and beat on “Paper Rings” demonstrate that she’s synthesizing what she did on Speak Now and RED with her new sound.

Rolling Stone has published several articles on Lover, the only one of which I read being by one of my preferred writers from them Rob Scheffield, and I think he exaggerates the album when he describes it by saying “It’s her career-capping masterpiece: She touches every place she’s ever visited along her musical journey, and makes them all sound new.” She doesn’t have any of the grand ballads that made Speak Now a masterpiece (although I think there is a lyric that references “If This Was A Movie” on this album), nor is there any of the country influence that was displayed on the self titled album — not even on the Dixie Chicks collaboration — but there is a certain amount of that lyrically. The album is deeply referencing her previous works in ways that long time fans will recognize but still make sense to the casual listener. She builds on all the themes she’s written about before, but now with the maturity of a nearly 30 year old.

If you want a detailed analysis of each song, there’s no shortage of those, and I’m sure there will be 100 more by the time this is published, but here’s a few thoughts about individual tracks. “Miss Americana” requires some close listening. At first glance, as Teen Vogue writer Claire Dodson observed, can seem like lyrically like it’s a superficial teenage romance, but further analysis finds it’s more of a deconstruction of the tropes than a return to them, particularly with that repeating line “you play stupid games you get stupid prizes.” “The Man” is a less powerful feminist anthem than a lot of the Swifties are making it out to be, but nevertheless it’s a stronger social message than we’ve seen from Taylor before. “False God” is another standout track in terms of Taylor playing with heavier themes — although I doubt she’s speaking literally of The Almighty, it seems more a meditation of the cult of love in the greater context of the album.

I’m writing this in the midst of my third listening, and there’s nothing on this album that will match the power of lyrics like “our song is slamming screen doors, sneaking out late tapping on your window” or the memetic capabilities of “She wears short skirts I wear tee shirts.” There is nothing on this album to compete with the unabashed brilliance of “Long Live” or “New Romantics,” but it’s an album of upper-middle tier Taylor Swift songs and is the comeback from Reputation that Taylor desperately needs in 2019.

Lover is out now everywhere.

 

Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.

 

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Feedback with Lizi von Teig: Hello Sunshine and ME!

 

Unless Black Pistol Fire decide to drop a new album on the same day as Springsteen’s, April 26 was the most exciting day of my musical year. Both Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift dropped singles. I normally don’t review singles, cause they’re too short for me to say much about, but two of them coming from artists I specialize in, I think I’ll make an exception.

“Hello Sunshine” by Bruce Springsteen

“Hello Sunshine” is pretty much exactly what I was expecting from the announcement Springsteen made April 25th, when we all first heard about it. It was billed as a callback to his solo work (meaning Tom Joad and Devils and Dust, Nebraska is so removed and had such a different writing process it sits in its own category,) and it certainly is. The snare drum brushes, the plodding guitar, the way instruments are consistently added at predictable intervals in the song — if they lyrics weren’t so generic, I’d say this is what you’d get if you played a robot those two albums and asked it to create a song replicating them. The only particularly novel thing about this song is the use of strings in a role that would traditionally be filled by Roy Bittan on organ (no word on who is on this album yet), which harkens back to The Rising, the 2002 album he released in between his solo records.

What really concerns me isn’t that this is such a low quality song coming from Bruce Springsteen–that’d only be surprising to someone who hadn’t been paying attention since 1992. It’s that this is the debut single off the album. This is what Bruce thinks is so good, he’s putting it forth to sell us on his new idea. If this is his new idea, his new idea is older than him. Springsteen doesn’t sell like he used to, but he still has that guaranteed sales. I think the upcoming album, Western Stars, will be certified Gold, maybe even Platinum, but will not get kind treatment from the critics like Wrecking Ball did, if this song is indicative of the album.

I keep waiting for him to write the follow up the Wrecking Ball. It was such a great album, a real comeback from the slump he’d been in for 10 years. The mixing of what he learned working with The Sessions Band with his rock n roll roots, it was really something special. The last album, High Hopes, was mostly outtakes from albums with the E Street Band from the previous years. Now this is outtakes from solo work. When are we going to get a truly new Bruce Springsteen album?

“ME!” by Taylor Swift

Just before starting to write this, I wondered “what will we think of Taylor Swift in 30 years?” The rock stars of yore did some horrible stuff, but we don’t really confront their fans about it the way we confront fans of contemporary pop acts about their choice in music (note: I’m not old enough to know if people ever confronted Jerry Lee’s fans about that 13 year old he married in the 50s). Time has a way of absolving artists of the details of their careers. Only time will tell if Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande will have redeemed legacies like Chuck Berry or have permanent stains on them like Ike Turner.

That said, Taylor isn’t doing a great job of shaping her legacy. Her latest single, “ME!,” falls into the same trap as Reputation of writing in a style because it’s popular, not because you know how to do it. The video has some really good moments in it, but those moments are completely unrelated to the song. If I’d had listened to this on Spotify instead of watched it on YouTube, I would have an even more negative opinion of the whole thing. The music is as uninspired as “End Game” and the lyrics are as tired as “Bad Blood.” The only hope it gives me is that it’s got a sense of humor about itself. Taylor yelling at Brendon Urie in French while referring to their cats as “our young children” was obviously the highlight, but also moments like the contrast between the dozens of actors suited identically to Taylor as she sings “you’ll never find another like me,” or even the odd lyric “hey, kids, spelling is fun” that I thought was a laugh for the video but when I listened to the Spotify version is actually in the song. Maybe Taylor is trying to be funny? I don’t know. ME! raises more questions about the future of Taylor Swift than it provides answers.

Mind you, it’ll never be too late for Taylor to reinvent herself into something better. She put out 5 stellar albums. She’ll be collecting royalties on “Teardrops on My Guitar” for the rest of her life. Even if she doesn’t put out another good album until the 2030s, she’ll never leave the spotlight enough that we won’t notice.

 

Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.

 

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The E.A.R.: Any Press is Good Press

 

If there’s one thing that I find entertaining, it’s the way the internet seems to react to things. I find it hilarious that once again y’all are surprised, and even baffled by Kanye’s support for Donald Trump. If this sort of thing from Kanye shocks you in 2018, I’m afraid you haven’t learned anything from the last few years of “Kanyeisms.”

Controversy and backlash have become the new utensils in which Kanye composes his art with. Did you guys ever stop to think for a second that maybe, just maybe this backlash is exactly what he wants? THIS is his new marketing strategy, the way he’s gonna build hype for whatever work he puts out.

He will undoubtedly lose some of his black base, but he will gain a new base of Trump supporters who are gonna eat this shit up. When someone does something we don’t agree with, we raise our digital pitch forks, and boycott everything in sight. The Oscars don’t have enough African American nominations? #boycotttheoscars! Two black guys get arrested in a Starbucks? #boycottstarbucks! Someone of color gets arrested in a Waffle House? Well shit, I guess we’re gonna ride that #boycottwafflehouse as well.

If you haven’t figured it out, Kanye is a staunch believer of “any press is good press”. It doesn’t matter what you think of Kanye; he’s trending, and that’s all that matters to him. Controversy has sold art since the dawn of time, and that isn’t going to magically change in 2018.

Show of hands: How many of y’all bought Grand Theft Auto back in the day because Peter Jennings and every politician complained about all the messed up shit you can do in that game? How many of y’all bought The Marshall Mathers LP way back in the day because people were losing their shit over the fact that his lyrics came off as misogynistic, and homophobic?

*Sees a sea of hands so deep I could drown*

You can rant about Kanye all you want, but it won’t hurt one bit. As a matter of fact, y’all just ensured he has one of the biggest albums of the year. Those who shunned him will come crawling eventually because the music will be fire. Y’all can call Kanye a coon all you want, but I think this is pure marketing genius, and probably the best form of marketing since the shit he pulled on Taylor Swift at the VMAs several years ago.

Stay classy…

 

Flemmings Beaubrun is an avid gamer and lover of music. When not working, Flemmings likes to spend his time whipping up dank beats for the masses. He also spends his weekends thrift shopping for rare video games and obscure electronics. Other times he’s in front of a TV with a giant bowl of cereal enjoying shows from the 90s.

 

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Junkman Radio: Episode 6

 

Listen to it here!

The Set List

  1. Swampcandy — Baseball Bats
  2.  Dirtwire — Tepotzteco
  3. Uprising – MY BABY
  4. Father John Misty (Taylor Swift cover) — Welcome To New York
  5. J C Brooks and the Uptown Sound — Before You Die
  6.  

    Greg von Teig is an independent musician. He released his first EP in May of 2015. His most recent collection is Prisoner of His Dreams, a Bruce Springsteen cover album. Dedicated to his craft, he tries to find and promote the finest music by other artists through Junkman Radio.

     

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A Twist of JP Lime: The Grammys

 

G1This Sunday, February 8, LL Cool J will return to host the 2015 Grammy Awards, his fourth such appearance. It’s been a while since the Radio star took home a Big G, (1997, “Hey Lover”, Best Solo Rap Performance) but he is the proud owner of two such trophies (the other for 1992’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”, same category), and has been nominated 9 times, most recently for his 11th album The DEFinition in 2005. Though “NCIS: Los Angeles” LL is rather different than the LL of “Rock the Bells,” he is truly one of the genre’s earliest, biggest and longest-lasting stars, worthy of both our fandom and our reverence.

Sunday he will play host to the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, the accolade culmination of the previous year in professional music. The biggest stories this year are the 6 nominations apiece for Pharrell, Beyonce, and British singer Sam Smith, each of whom is up for Album of the Year. Smith will look to join elite company with Christopher Cross as the only artist to win the Big 4 in the same year (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist). Adele is the only other artist to own all four, though not in the same year. Also up for Album of the Year are Beck with Morning Phase and Ed Sheeran’s album written as “X” (but called “multiply”). It’s also worth noting that while Pharrell is up for Album of the Year with G I R L, he is also a producer on two of the other nominees’ albums in Beyonce and Ed Sheeran.

 

For Hip Hop heads, the big battle will be for Best Rap Album, a somewhat diverse group of nominees with two clear front-runners. Childish Gambino is nominated for his album Because the Internet as is Wiz Khalifa for Blacc Hollywood, two albums that I rocked when they came out and I was glad to see get recognition. Based on lead single “Collard Greens” I was excited for and then disappointed by Schoolboy Q’s OxyMoron, though I know there are those who disagree, and I’ve only heard a couple tracks off Nobody’s Smiling but I’ll never say that Common isn’t due some props.

G3But the award this year I think comes down to two clear favorites in Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2 and Iggy Azalea with The New Classic. MMLP2 was actually released in November of 2013, missing the September 30 eligibility deadline by five days and pushing it to this year. Given her hype, the hugeness of “Fancy”, her appearances nearly everywhere, and the constant discussion regarding her place in Hip Hop it’s hard to not foresee Azalea Macklemoring this year’s most coveted award. Mathers, though, dominates the category, winning every year he’s been nominated (5) and only having one album of his career not take home the big prize (Encore, 2004). Either way you slice it, it’s pretty stunning to think that the top Rap Grammy Award will most likely come down to a white guy versus a white Australian girl here in 2015.

Over in the Best Rap Song category, it seems likely that Azalea’s sister-in-feud, Nicki Minaj, takes home the award for her song “Anaconda,” though I’m pulling for Kendrick Lamar’s infectious dance/Zen jam “i,” that song is awesome. Also nominated are Drake’s “0 to 100/The Catch Up”, Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boyz”, and Kanye’s “Bound 2.”

Best Rap Performance was the first Hip Hop award introduced to the Grammy’s (1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, “Parents Just Don’t Understand”), was split into two separate awards for soloists and groups in 1991 and then rejoined in 2012. I attempted to discern the actual difference between Best Song and Best Performance (for any genre) but came up mostly empty – anyone with insight into this question please tweet me @DrProfEsq. There is generally a high degree of crossover between the two awards and this year both “i” and “0 to 100/The Catch Up” are nominated for both. Also nominated for Best Rap Performance are Childish Gambino on his track “3005,” Christian rapper Lecrae for “All I Need is You,” and Eminem with “Rap God” and its (literally) record-breaking speed.

There is another pair of Grammy awards that are perennially confusing in their similarity and overlap to the point that I and others have asked, “What’s the difference between Song of the Year and Record of the Year?” In turns out the distinction is pretty simple: Song of the Year recognizes the songwriter who composed the song while Record of the Year awards the production as a whole and specifically the performer. The Grammys began in 1959 and for its first decade 6 out of 10 Songs of the Year were won by songs where the performer was not the songwriter. It’s far more common these days that the songwriter and the performer are the same person – 2003’s “Don’t Know Why” performed by Norah Jones and written by Jesse Harris is the only SOTY winner since 2000 to have the two be separate, making for less differentiation and more overlap between SOTY and Record of the Year. This year only one song doesn’t overlap between the two categories. Nominated for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year are “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor , “Chandelier” by Sia, “Stay With Me” (Darkchild Version) by Sam Smith, and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. Irish musician Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” rounds out the Song of the Year group while “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX is the final Record of the Year nominee.

Grammy night always promises some spectacular performances –remember last year’s Kendrick Lamar-Imagine Dragons team-up? – and this year we’ll be eagerly awaiting the trio of Kanye, Rihanna and Sir Paul McCartney most likely performing their new song “FourFiveSeconds.” Duets will be a theme this year as Tony Bennett joins Lady Gaga, Mary J. Blige teams up with Sam Smith, and Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani bring their voices together. Also set to hit the Grammy stage on Sunday are Madonna, Beck, and AC/DC. Perennial performer Taylor Swift is noticeably absent from the list of acts this year, choosing instead to focus on preparations for her 1989 Tour, though she will be in attendance and presenting the Grammy for Best New Artist.

When you tune in for music’s biggest night on Sunday, be sure to follow along with our live tweet @JPLime and using the hashtag #GRAMMYs. Will Iggy take home Best Rap Album? Can Sam Smith make a clean sweep of the Big Four, for only the second time in Grammy history? Let us know your predictions and join us live on Sunday night.

 

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