“Wilder Mind” — Mumford and Sons

Uncategorized


Back in the spring, I wrote on Twitter dot com that you die twice: One is the run-of-the-mill death we’ll all suffer once the earth is completely underwater and only the top of Mt. Trumpmore is visible above the waves.

The second, more devastating time is when you realize the Mumford and Sons of “Sigh No More” and “Babel” is gone.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. They wanted to change their sound, and I’m good with that. I mean — it’s like, OK, so pretend you’re a parent. You have a kid, right? Your kid’s name is, I don’t know, something innocuous, let’s just say it’s Marcus, and he’s in a folk band that’s incredible but then he and his friends hang up their banjos and denim jackets and change their music and you cry uncontrollably at a truck stop. That’s the perfect way to describe it.

I’ve resisted listening to any of their new music. I listened to the first half of “Believe” back when it was released, but I couldn’t make it all the way through. It was weird, like when you hear a word that you know is a word but it just doesn’t taste right in your mouth or ring right in your head. So I turned it off.

Since I’m probably going to come off as a little shit throwing a tantrum because a band he likes stopped playing music exactly the way he desired it, I’ll say this: I get why they wanted to change their sound. Like I said, I’m good with it. I’m not bitter.

Well.

But I finally listened to the album. OK.

Whenever I talk about how I was scared listening to “Wilder Mind” would ruin Mumford for me, the conversation turns to: Would you like it if it weren’t by Mumford and Sons? If your memory was “Men in Black’d” and you knew nothing prior to “Wilder Mind,” would you like the album?

I don’t know because that movie is fictional and about Will Smith killing aliens. But I don’t think I would.

Some of “Wilder Mind” sounds a lot like The Killers post-“Sam’s Town.” Which is good music, but I’m not as into it as I am “Hot Fuss” and “Sam’s Town.” The difference is, it was a gradual shift for The Killers to become that English rock band that they always sort of were.

It’s just not for me. The electric guitar is so weird to hear from Mumford. (We’re moving past the hypothetical where I haven’t heard them before. Keep up.) I can’t really explain it. It just isn’t music I like. That sucks to say because I really want to keep listening to them, and I’m sure they’re devastated to hear I’m lukewarm.

It’s a huge bummer that the Mumford I knew, the band whose concerts were the best I’ve been to, has moved on. I haven’t, and that’s because I’m a petulant child. I’ll always want more songs like “Babel,” where the energy and emotion is so palpable and loud you can feel it filling the air around you. But, as I said in my speech at my sister’s wedding, joy dies when you get older.

My fears weren’t realized. Listening to “Wilder Mind” didn’t ruin Mumford for me. But it will change how I listen to their old stuff, and it did make me think of my #genius #twitter #content from last year. We all die twice.

Advertisements

“I Can’t Stand the Rain” – Ann Peebles

Jams, OP-ED

Part of moving to a new city is exploring your immediate neighborhood until you become comfortable enough to expand beyond your general territory into the various areas around town. In Kansas City, there are the usual parts of town that everyone suggests you visit: Plaza, Crossroads, PnL, Westport, etc. Each has a distinct flavor and history that you’re constantly cognizant of, whether it be the fountains at the Plaza or white sunglasses and studded jeans at PnL.

And then there’s the West Bottoms. A former stockyard during KC’s rapid agricultural expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the West Bottoms now exist as a virtual ghost town to tourists and many close-minded or unaware locals.

The West Bottoms are a five-minute drive from downtown KC. You take a huge, lazily winding bridge down into what feels like the depths of the city. My first visit brought surreal memories of the underside of Gotham in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, save for the seedy crime and caped crusaders. Stoplights are non-existent, craters filled with water from some long forgotten rain abundant. Huge buildings loom overhead, seemingly deserted like something out of a “Walking Dead” set.

For the most part, the area is used for art studios, to host the annual Boulevardia festival and, in the fall, as a hotbed for commercial haunted house attractions. However, situated in an alley in the middle of the West Bottoms is an old speakeasy called The Ship.

It was here that my friends and I first ventured down to the West Bottoms in search of The Ship, which had been written about in a local news story. The outside looked like the site of an unsolved murder: wooden shack of sorts with dim, overpowering red lighting. If it weren’t for the electricity, you’d think this were the Unabomber’s vacation home. Inside, however, you feel as though you’ve been taken below deck on an old boat. An impressive “The Ship” sign illuminated by dozens of individual light bulbs greets visitors as they find their seats in the nautical-themed bar.

All of these elements combined create a dreamlike environment that, beyond the swinging double doors, teleports visitors to a completely different, indiscernible time period populated by a cast of characters sometimes as illusory as the place itself.

We met one of those individuals on our second trip to The Ship, an older gentleman who had spent seven years bartending in Hawaii (the place where Hawaiian Punch is made). It was around 7 pm – an hour or two after they open – and completely empty aside from us and another bartender. Our bartender regaled us with tales of bartending in Hawaii and The Ship’s fascinating past while the other man popped a quarter into an ancient jukebox near the bathrooms.

On comes these old soul tracks I’ve never heard before, mostly from the 60s and 70s, that at any other bar would seem inappropriate, but here, they just fit. The music is as integral to the bar as water is to sailing, and you can tell that each song has been hand-chosen by the people who run The Ship. After a few songs, Ann Peebles’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain” comes on.

It opens with these strange, almost unsettling guitar (?) plucks that transport the listener – if only for a few moments – to a nebulous space devoid of familiarity. You’re floating there, unsure of your surroundings, until Ann Peebles comes in seconds later, luring you back to reality with the smoky, soulful voice that was so popular in the 70s.

Percussion and organ follow shortly thereafter, with some horns thrown in as well, and suddenly the listener is grounded. However, those otherworldly guitar plucks linger in the background for the duration of the song, sounding almost like the score from an old horror film, and when combined with the traditional soul sounds make it one of the more unusual tracks I’ve ever heard.

I can’t seem to get this song out of my head. It feels ahead of its time while remaining a product of its time. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” coexists with the West Bottoms and The Ship in a way that many songs don’t. Every time I hear it I’m whisked away, if only for a few moments, to that strange part of town that always seems further away than reality would have you believe.

Some Really Great Sad Songs

Lists

For those especially well versed in today’s hip lingo, you could say that I don’t usually come down with cases of “the bummers.” But I do love sad songs, more than any other style of song. I don’t trust happy songs.

It may have something to do with my natural inclination toward cynicism, but listening to songs overflowing with smiles (think The Mowgli’s “I’m Good”) can become nauseating. Often these songs feel artificial, like the band sat down one day and decided they wanted their music featured in an insurance commercial so they wrote lyrics about “lots of love” and tossed in some #GoodVibes for safe measure.

Sad songs are uncomfortable. They remind us of the past or the present, of our various failings, scattered and half-hidden throughout our memory until a lyric or a note excavates it, often painfully and without permission.

The most powerful sad songs are the ones that would exist regardless of whether or not the artist was famous. They capture human emotion beyond “my girlfriend/boyfriend dumped me and it hurts.” It’s something deeper than that, something so isolated and illuminating about human nature that you wouldn’t notice otherwise if the lyrics appeared in an old poetry collection.

Here are a few of my favorites.

  1. “No Surprises” – Radiohead

“No Surprises” isn’t your average everyday sadness. It’s advanced sadness. It goes well beyond the realm of bleary-eyed snifflery and dives deep into downright depressing territory.

It’s got a simplistic, nursery-rhyme sound that seems almost comforting. It is, in a way, because if you’re able to wade through Thom Yhorke’s swampy bayou of enunciation, you’d see that the song is about an individual who’s given up, who welcomes suicide as a way out of their unremarkable life.

But holy shit does it get more depressing. The chorus goes “No alarms and no surprises (x3)” plus a “please” at the end. The subject of the song wants a life without worry or fear or any of the other emotions that plague people on a daily basis. But, according to the subject, there isn’t any escape from these feelings, and the listener hears this person come to terms with this realization.

The song ends with each line of the chorus echoed with “let me out of here” until the subject lays him or herself to rest, staring up at the ceiling, embracing the “handshake of carbon monoxide.”

Woof.

  1. “Cornerstone” – Arctic Monkeys

“Cornerstone” is about a girl who’s broken the subject’s heart. This isn’t new territory, but what sets it apart from other breakup songs is that the relationship is already over by the time we get to listen. We aren’t sure how long they’ve been broken up but it’s clear that the subject is still in love.

The song explores the concept of a jilted lover projecting their still present affection for their ex onto other people they become involved with. It’s a very real and unfortunate problem many people have experience with, either on the giving or receiving end.

Each verse finds the man in a different bar, spotting a different girl who resembles his ex. He doesn’t really want to get to know the girls because he values them only for their looks, and looking like her. At the end of every verse, he asks if he can call the girls by his ex’s name. WOULD NOT RECOMMEND.

The most heartbreaking lyrics come in the bridge toward the end: “Tell me, where’s your hiding place?/I’m worried I’ll forget your face/And I’ve asked everyone/I’m beginning to think I imagined you all along.”

Damn does that hurt. It can be so strange, seeing someone that was such an important part of your life act is if none of it mattered. But sometimes their complete absence from your life is worse, like being in some alternate reality where they never existed and you made it all up.

But what makes this song so sad is that after seeing his ex in multiple girls at multiple bars, the man finally gives up on trying to rehabilitate himself and instead calls a prostitute. He indulges in the fantasy, finding comfort in a stranger that mostly resembles his ex and is willing to be called by her name, which gives him the satisfaction he so desperately desires.

  1. “Holy Shit” – Father John Misty

I chose to end this list with “Holy Shit” because it’s simultaneously the most depressing and most uplifting song that I’ve ever heard, and it’s a love song. The story goes that FJM (Josh Tillman) wrote the song on his wedding day as he came to terms with embracing an institution (marriage) that he previously approached with ambivalence.

Most of the song is spent discussing the pointlessness of life, including its institutions and contradictions. Twice the subject returns to the line “Oh and no one really knows you and life is brief,” suggesting that none of it all matters because you’ll die alone soon enough, but is then immediately followed with the line “So I’ve heard, but what’s that gotta do with this black hole* and me?” Complaining about life and its inevitable outcome is totally justified and completely pointless.

However, to disappoint the nihilists reading this, there is a glimmer of hope at the end. “Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty/What’s your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve?/Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity/What I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.”

The subject concludes that while life is pointless, and everything means nothing, none of that matters because he is in love, and that means something to the two of them. Which is the single most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.

*The second line reads “atom bomb”

“Gorgeous” – X Ambassadors

Jams

If the three people that read my posts with any regularity had a chance to check out my last one on Sundara Karma’s “Flame,” then this latest Phat Jam may convince you that I’m an asshole hypocrite. But let me explain myself.

So, last time I wrote about how indie and alternative music is slowly moving beyond its pretentious, mostly synthetic electropop phase. Now, I’ll admit that these #buzzwords are used in a broad sense, to speak on trends within the music industry that I’ve noticed and have decided to turn away from. Because I am the king of what should be accepted within music.

This latest X Ambassadors track, “Gorgeous,” feels like a much cooler step-sibling to the first single, “Renegades.” While the latter is a good song on its own, and better fits into the current trending catalog of alternative music, “Gorgeous” sounds like a completely different band.

Okay, I’ll say it. I’m not afraid. Just didn’t feel like bringing it up yet. Whatever. Yeah, alright, I’ll admit that “Gorgeous” kind of sounds like a Maroon 5 song. And I guess I’ll admit too that I have a sweet tooth for “Sugar” from their fifth album, V. Regardless of its similarities to Adam Levine and those Other Guys, “Gorgeous” is a perfect summer song.

The first few seconds of “Gorgeous” sound like a roadie tuning guitars on stage forty minutes before the band goes on when nobody’s around to listen. Except your friends told you the wrong time so you’re there looking like an dumbass nursing a lukewarm beer that was on special. But then the singer strolls out for the practice run and holy shit he kind of sounds like Michael Jackson. But you don’t want to say that out loud, or even think it, because it’s such a cliché and unfair comparison. But you can’t resist.

The beat holds the room hostage and forces you to start moving your shoulders, and, oh no: bite your lower lip. Then at 0:32 the falsetto and synth explodes for a passing moment. Now you’re hooked in full dance mode. None of your moves make any sense, like a novice puppeteer using her non-dominant hand. But you’re beyond caring. The singer obliges and jumps right back into the chorus, which could last forever it’s so infectious. By the time those final “Cuz you make me feel gorgeous” lines land, your pits are stained from dancing and another beer miraculously appeared before you.

“Gorgeous” is such an awesome summer song that it’s amazing it isn’t being played on Top 40 stations in KC yet. It isn’t being played anywhere that I know of. But if you’re Top 40-averse like I was at 13, you can plan on hearing it on alternative stations sometime soon. Or, just keep coming to Daily Phat Jam and listening here. Just don’t tell anyone that I’m a hypocrite.

“1957” – Milo Greene

Jams

This song is pretty old, so old it’s sprouting gray hairs and hipsters are raiding its closet for stuff to wear to class.

I really like this song. It has a sort of melancholy sound, sad and wistful. To me, I take it as a song about a breakup, one where a friendship and deep dependence upon each other has ended. One partner, the singer, wants to forget completely. “It would be much better If I knew / nothing about you.” He (the dominant voice is male) wants to move on, and his method of doing so is to scrub his mind and his life.

The thoughts of the relationship — “the windows that we watched from” — “take him away” to a time when they were together. There are traces of her, “scents,” ghosts that haunt and reappear, triggered.

Despite an intimate relationship, the girl “acts like you don’t know me,” and thus “tempts my anxious mind” to say something, to engage and break his insistence to move on.

The song ends with a repetitive chant, “I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, I.” It reminds me of the end of “Breezeblocks.” This might go back to the breakup, when she left. It might be a threat from her. It might also be a threat from the narrator, to move far away to escape more the lingerings.

It’s just a great song. I found it last year, and even then it was old. But it’s still a goody.

“Can’t Feel My Face” -The Weeknd

Jams

Ever since Mark Ronson found a way to make himself the primary artist in “Uptown Funk” despite featured artist Bruno Mars singing the entire song, there has been an increasingly pervasive sound that has permeated popular modern music. Listeners sometimes refer to these songs as “funky” with both positive and negative connotations. While The Weeknd is often criticized for using his somewhat odd, high-pitched voice to sing a slightly different combination of words usually revolving around pussy, money, and drug use (original material, I know), he successfully captured this groove that artists have been experimenting with. The simple bass rhythm drives this head-bobbing tune while simultaneously contrasting the instrument’s low notes with the higher register of his voice.

And speaking of “Uptown Funk,” both songs have eerily captured Michael Jackson’s catchy pop cadence in several moments. Even some of the gasp-like noises and “ooohs” can be heard complimenting the main lyrics to the song.

Meanwhile, the lyrics of the song still ring true to The Weeknd’s “style” (if you want to call it that), which basically means that while the sound is fresh and groovy, it still seems like a version of his individual work, in part because he’s still doing his I’m-really-fucking-high-right-now-and-the-surplus-of-money-and-female-attention-is-awesome thing. Whether you’re a fan of his or not, if played loudly and with sufficient subwoofer support, I would challenge even the whitest of white people not to move to the admittedly repetitive but all around groovy vibe. Enjoy.

“Flame” – Sundara Karma

Jams

Once the tectonic plates of cultural sensibilities conclude crashing against one another, we’re left with settled dust and a changed landscape. Boomers still reference the Summer of Love with the faint glimmer of a twinkle in their eyes that only those remembering their first crush can summon. It was a period of time that saw dramatic and significant change, both culturally and politically.

Music works much the same way. Right after Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” came out in the second half of 2012, listeners were drowned with a biblical flood of clap stomp, hey-hoing by the likes of The Lumineers, Passenger and Phillip Phillips, whose Top 40 success marked the end of Mumford-styled music being cool, because plugging insurance companies isn’t what indie folk is about. It’s the banjos, man. The banjos. To put this in very depressing perspective: Steven Tyler – yes, that Steven Tyler – just released his own country/folk album.

In the last 5-7 years, music has seen a multitude of indie-pop, electronic-indie bands, thanks especially to widespread use of and access to the internet and streaming services, which made it easier than ever for bands to be heard. Aside from the tedious roulette of genre combinations these bands generate, where it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to one as new wave folk-indie pop, the fact remains that the sound has peaked.

Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” has appeared on every Top 40 and alternative station in KC for the last couple of months. Which is great, because I think those guys are a fun band and am really happy that indie-pop (or whatever the hell you want to call it) has found its way to Rick Dees’ eardrums. A band with a similar sound won’t eclipse the success they’ve had, seeing as how “Shut Up and Dance” peaked at 4 on the US Billboard Top 100 .

But this is it. This is where popular alternative music shifts. If you still don’t believe me, look at Passion Pit, who just a few years ago were one of the hottest bands around. Now, their latest release, “Kindred,” has received medium to medium reviews but doesn’t have a single that’s broken into the top 25 spot for any of the Billboard rock lists. Now they’re the 29-year-olds that still hang out at college bars. We get it, you still like to drink like it’s 2007. Nobody thinks you’re cool anymore.

Sundara Karma’s “Flame” is the result of those plates shifting. When I first heard the singer, I assumed that it was another song in the same vein as all the other indie pop bands out there. The voice is certainly similar enough. But it’s clear that this is very much a rock song, and Sundara Karma is very much a rock band.

I originally toyed with writing about another of Sundara Karma’s songs, “The Night,” a few months ago. It’s on my Absolute Best of 2015 Spotify list and never gets old. Same with “Flame.” Each listen rewards you with something new, whether it’s the jangly guitar or the peculiar way the singer pronounces words.

“Flame” is one of those songs that sticks with me. There’s not one thing that I can really identify that makes it so appealing other than that it never gets old. It’s always good to have songs like that in your library. And if Sundara Karma’s sound really does mark a renaissance alternative music, then I’m excited to see how the music landscape changes.

“40oz. on Repeat” – FIDLAR

Jams

There’s a certain satisfying nostalgia to being a hopeless romantic. Some songs and movies bring that nostalgia to the center of your attention, propped up just enough to be slumped over in sadness. It’s not that you miss being sad, or feeling lonely, but you recognize that those feelings used to exist in your psyche and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s comforting, actually, remembering that you used to feel a certain way. Strange enough, “40oz. on Repeat” hit me in this exact way.

I’d like to think that if I were 10 years younger, this song would be my anthem. I always saw myself as the “good guy,” the Jim Halpert of my life (then again, who didn’t? Does anyone really see themselves as Dwight or, God forbid, Toby?) who just couldn’t quite get the girl that envisioned himself with.

The opening lines of “40oz. on Repeat” aren’t cryptic whatsoever. They play like the inner monologue of a jilted Casanova, pissed at himself for his romantic ineptitude, at his failure to even take a chance at texting a girl. He later goes on to say, “I don’t care at all, I’ll drink some alcohol, it’ll make me who I really want to be.” He then says that he always drinks too much because nobody understands him.

FIDLAR has been on my radar for a while now. The video for their song “Cocaine” features a pissed off Nick Offerman going on a urine-soaked rampage. What’s not to love about that? They have a harder-than-usual sound for the surf-skate punk rock music that I’ve been into lately and “40oz. on Repeat” is no different.

Except it kind of is. It’s more reminiscent of their 2013 single “Awkward,” which feels like a spiritual predecessor to “40oz.” with its woe-is-me message. It’s authentic, though. FIDLAR expresses those kinds of feelings with angst and snarl, not butt-rock crooning a la Hinder or mellow moodiness found in early Death Cab for Cutie.

You can’t really anticipate finding a song that strikes you in such a way. Lyrics drum up memories the same way that a smell reminds you of the awful lunch your daycare used to serve. But the problem was that I had no reason to relate to those emotions anymore.

When you spend your formative years developing an inner monologue that insists you’re sitting, waiting, wishing for that special person, and you finally find them, these songs should mean nothing to you. Instead, they remind you that there was a time before your current happiness. A time filled with complex and gut wrenching emotions that kept you up at night, cursing yourself or a spin in Fortuna’s Wheel, wondering why me? Why?

And those songs meant something then. More than they do now. They told you that you weren’t alone, no matter how selfish you acted or idealistically you thought. Someone else knew what it was like to feel that way. But now, what you’ve got is a song that captures a glimpse of those memories, if only for 4 minutes, reminding you that what you went through will always remain.

Who knew a FIDLAR song could do that?

“Taro” – alt-J and “Dispatches” – Michael Herr

Jams, OP-ED

1.

I’m pissed off for two separate reasons. One has to do with my friend (and fellow contributor) Seth, and the other not, but I feel like blaming it on him anyway. I’m actually pissed at him because he already wrote about my favorite band, alt-J. I’m not actually pissed but feel like putting the blame on him for my having not listened to their song “Taro” until only recently.

See? Not his fault at all. But it just feels right saying it is.

Seth is also responsible for introducing me to “Dispatches,” a memoir written by a war correspondent that worked in Vietnam. During the war. Not in some “ivory tower” like all of these so-called “intellectuals” and “professors” seem to be doing these days. Turns out, things weren’t exactly like “Rambo: First Blood Part II.” I was in the prologue of my obsession with “Taro” when Seth started bugging me about reading “Dispatches.” Finally, about a month ago, I conceded defeat, bought the book and read it.

2.

I used to have a war book when I was younger. “Scholastic Encyclopedia of the United States at War.” Man, I loved that thing. There were incredible pictures on each page, dating all the way back to the Revolution. (There weren’t actual photos from that time period, just to be clear. They were paintings and drawings. Unless those were actually real, in which case, I’ve lived a lie my whole life.) I still owe the majority of my war knowledge to that book.

What always struck me about it though was the difference between the Korean War section and the Vietnam War section. You’d see photos of soldiers in Korea, bundled up beyond all recognition. Walking blankets with machine guns. Sometimes they’d be covered in ponchos. Actually, now that I think about it, there were only about four or five pages dedicated to the Korean War. Before it was WWII, which is the granddaddy of all American wars. How many movies have they made about it? Miniseries only count as half.

But then I’d turn to the Vietnam section. And there they were: Soldiers in full color, close up, personal, no blankets or ponchos in sight. Their fatigues unbuttoned with sweat beads so pronounced you almost felt the humidity.
When you’re a child, everyone more than four years older than you seems like an impossible age that you’ll never reach, like being 9 and having a 13-year-old babysitter. These soldiers just seemed so grown up. They smoked cigarettes for godssake! But I never really realized how young these boys were. Not even when I turned 18 or 19, when I finished up high school and lounged around in college, did I really understand what it meant. And I doubt that I ever will.

3.

I don’t remember the first time I heard “Taro.” I wish I’d catalogued that memory away, next to all my other valuable brain keepsakes (my friend and editor, also named Seth and coincidentally the same Seth from earlier, suggested I use a different word besides “memories,” so this is what you get) that I keep shoved in a cabinet somewhere in my brain. Actually, if I’m being honest, what has become my favorite song didn’t really strike me as anything other than another cool-sounding alt-J track (which pretty much describes their entire catalog). I heard it again in my girlfriend’s car one day and something about it stuck with me.

I had to find out what it meant. If you’re at all familiar with alt-J, you’ll know that it’s damn near impossible to understand what Joe Newman is saying. Go ahead, give it a shot. I’ve listened to both albums more than I can count and still don’t know 80 percent of the lyrics. It’s the kind of music that makes you mumble along when you sing in the car, and it feels like you’re nailing it even though you know you’re not.

I found this article while doing some research on “Taro,” as one does when they’re living on his own in a studio apartment. DIY Magazine interviewed alt-J and asked them about the meaning of each song on their first album. Here’s the description of “Taro”:

“Taro” is about two war photographers – Robert Capa and Gurda Taro – who met during the second world war. They became lovers and got engaged to one another and were head over heels, then Gurda Taro was killed. I don’t think Robert Capa ever got over it. He died about ten years later in Indochina, when he stepped on a landmine, so the song documents those moments just before, during and after he steps onto it. It’s basically talking about those moments and how he knows that he’s dying, but that he’s going to be seeing Gerda Taro soon.

This is heartbreaking. Even the “happy ending” is horrible. But, like the cover of an Animorphs book, the song changed into something completely different for me once I knew the backstory.

4.

“Dispatches” is a reading experience I’d never encountered before. Each page is a slow trudge toward a depressing anticlimax. It’s engrossing. Michael Herr puts you in Vietnam, where he and his colleagues worked alongside Marine “grunts.” They get to know the Marines. They become friends with them. They see them die.

And Herr and all his colleagues were there voluntarily. The Marines weren’t. Sure, Herr wasn’t holding a gun, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t in the war. His stories are more affecting, more truthful than any other portrayal of war I’ve ever read. He wasn’t there because he had to be. He wasn’t there because he had an opinion of the war, though he clearly did. He was just there.

Throughout, he talks about photographers who’ve won the Robert Capa Gold Medal award for “best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise.” The award loses a little of its glimmer though once you know Capa’s backstory, which is befitting of the stories of all the guys who shot and reported on Vietnam.

5.

“Taro” feels like a song from another culture. It immediately teleports the listener to a different time and place. Newman’s enunciation and delivery are equal parts confusing and foreign. The guitar plucks haunt your ears. Reading lyrics is essential to the listening experience. At 1:14, an instrument I’ve never heard bursts through the bush.

I literally can’t stop listening to it. And it’s such a bummer that Seth already wrote about alt-J because he, Chris and I want to share cool tunes and impress people with our music knowledge. It’s hard to do that when we talk about the same band all the time.

Some songs take on new meanings when you discover the artist’s intention. For example, I never knew that “Stoned” by Smash Mouth was about drugs until I learned what “weedajuana” was. “Taro” reshapes the way you view the album, alt-J and what songs can do.

6.

“Dispatches” should be required reading for everyone even remotely alive. What it has to say about war and man can’t be taught with history lessons or by watching documentaries. It will change the way you see conflict.

“Taro” should be required listening for everyone even remotely alive. The way it takes obscure source material and wraps it in song and lyrics is nothing I’ve ever heard or read before. It will change the way you see music and art.

“If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” — Drake

Jams

I’m not gunna lie, man. I’m a touch embarrassed by how much I’m listening to Drake lately. It’s not because he’s from Canada, America’s hat and hype man, or because he made his name by being on Degrassi (Jesus Christ, Degrassi). I don’t need to go off on some tangent to illustrate how odd Drake’s career as an entertainer is because you should be familiar. It’s a little bananas, really. And not bananas you eat, but bananas you slide around on in Mario Kart.

No, my past distaste was more because the middle part of his career was punctuated with pouty heartbreak music. It felt a bit like Wayne’s decision to try rock(ish) music for a little while. I’m not saying you shouldn’t branch out musically; look at Mumford & Sons right now. But man. Hard to go from Taylor Swift-type singing to rapping about “never letting the street down.”

But Drake, the Drizzy That Mounted The World, appears to be back. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late finds Drake largely back to his roots. Rapping more than singing (or whining, as it sometimes becomes). He’s matured; the album is almost entirely him, and it’s him pondering his roots and the state of the industry.

The tracks are crazy catchy. My favorites have switched rapid-fire as I play it on repeat, hopping from Legend to Know Yourself to 10 Bands. I’m currently on Star67, which features a dig at Birdman (whose dispute with his entire label has become public and as ugly as Drake’s jumpshot [OHHHHH]) and Drake’s reflecting on where he is now and where he was, a perfect summation of the mixtape as a whole

The number 6 features prominently, a figure that is apparently a nod to his hometown. His beats are fairly simplistic, his lyrics emotionally packed and featuring a better balance between hippity hopping and singing.

Largely, it’s a pretty good work that should draw people like me back to him. It’s filled with hits that are dope to blast out your windows or groove to as you annihilate children who are just trying to have a good time on Xbox Live.