Some Songs Considered #015: Al Rogers Jr., Drake, and the Pitchfork Music Festival
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
Al Rogers Jr. – BABYAL
by Bryce Rudow (@brycetrudow)
A few days ago, a writer named Jana Hunter wrote an op-ed for Pitchfork called “White Privilege and Black Lives in the Baltimore Music Scene” that everyone should at least open up in a tab and eventually read before the end of the weekend#.
To give you a quick excerpt:
“It has at times proven difficult to talk about these things with white peers in Baltimore. I think white individuals, whether we’re musicians or not, often avoid discussions about our role in racism because we’re afraid of admitting our complicity in and collective responsibility for the centuries-long suffering of black people, let alone the horrific extent of that suffering. We may also be afraid of speaking out of turn and beyond our authority, although that may also be a lie we tell ourselves to mask the fact that we’re afraid culturally of being conspicuous. Because of that fear, white people are given to thinking about racism as society’s problem instead of a personal issue, and we don’t confront it, or at least not in the ways that would be most useful. White people need to talk about it amongst ourselves more often and in depth. We need to not just be aware of racism, but work to actively destroy it.”
But in a more passing line, she brings up a great point about Baltimore’s growing national spotlight:
“People reading this are likely to be at least nominally familiar with Dan Deacon, Future Islands, Wye Oak, Beach House and/or Lower Dens, but that you might not also know Al Rogers, Jr., :3LON, or even TT the Artist is indefensible.”
So here’s your primer on Al Rogers, Jr., my personal favorite of those three listed above (though TT the Artist is a close second, and live, she is fucking unstoppable).
In 2013, Al Rogers released the ALMOST mixtape, which he describes on his site as “2-3 years in the works boiled down to 46 minutes of life’s triumphs, personal struggle, family issues, peer pressure, love, love lost, and a lot of SWOOZ.” It was an enjoyable, if not overstuffed, collection of mostly hip-hop jams.
But over the past year or so, Al Rogers Jr. has been releasing tracks via his Soundcloud page that are something else entirely. Apparently they are teases at an upcoming release that he’s calling BABYAL, and they are an eclectic, enlivening mix of hip-hop, Baltimore club, R&B, and what can only be described as “swooz pop”, a genre of Al’s own invention.
He’s also a living ball of energy live. As he said in this interview with Electric Llama before a headlining Kahlon show, “I make music that makes motherfuckers dance…I just really want everybody to just enjoy themselves and I think we’re going to rock out tonight.”
Now go read Jana Hunter’s article and think about what you’re doing to quell our country’s woes.
Drake – “Hotline Bling”
by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
I typically use this column to say the things that I’ve long wanted to say about some of my favorite songs, but with the Drake vs. Meek Mill drama dominating headlines and social media, it’s appropriate to highlight the one good thing to come of it: Drake’s “Hotline Bling.”
This gem emerged from Drake’s Beats 1 radio show, OVO Sound, last weekend. The “Cha Cha” – inspired record is extremely familiar Drake territory: how his metamorphosis has impacted the women he knows. In his signature sing-song charm, he addresses it at the very beginning of the song’s opening verse:
Ever since I left the city you, got a reputation for yourself now
Everybody knows and I feel left out
Girl you got me dyin’, got me stressed out
‘Cause ever since I left the city you, started wearing less and going out more
Glasses of champagne out on the dancefloor
Hangin’ with some girls I never seen before…
Part of Drake’s shtick is that he’s this self-styled underdog who rose to become the man, against all odds. As he moves (upward) through life, he leaves holes in other people’s—vacancies they attempt to fill with things and people which are not Drake. Yet because Drake is both vain and emotive, it affects him. It takes listeners back to Nothing Was the Same’s “From Time,” where he asks “Who you settlin’ for/Who better for you than the boy?”
While everyone continues to overanalyze the Drake/Meek Mill situation, the infectious swing of “Hotline Bling”# is going to fuck up parties this weekend and for the remainder of the summer. We’ll likely get a preview of its live power when he performs it at OVO Fest this weekend, with all of the requisite Drake mannerisms.
The 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival
by Lindsay Hogan (@LindsayHogan88)
Pitchfork should be the closest thing to a perfect festival for music lovers. Superior acoustics, an audience-friendly layout, and an impressive line-up of mostly emerging artists.
Nevertheless, on the second evening of the festival, while killing time before Future Islands, my over-thinking brain felt the need to unpack why the serious music lover still goes to music festivals. What was I really looking for, and more importantly, why I wasn’t finding it in Union Park?
The music festival has become a musical experience as essential as the album release, the award show, or the music video. You can find nearly-identical festivals around the country on almost any given weekend between June and September, and as a result, there’s been plenty written about the commercialization and death of the music festival as a place where engaged music lovers can actually enjoy music.
The modern music festival is a mess of underage, under-dressed crowds using the event as an excuse to get as inebriated as possible in a short amount of time. Living in the moment has been replaced by social media documentation. And as the Washington Post‘s Chris Richards painfully wrote, “the music has become background music.”
So is there hope for the festival? Can it be saved? I don’t have the answer yet, but I do know there are still brief moments that make the festival worth it.
Before we get there though, lets recap the weekend in Chicago.
Conceptually, Pitchfork gets a lot right. The proximity of the two main stages allows festival goers to enjoy multiple shows and stake out a good spot for the upcoming The New Pornographers set while taking in the ripping energy of Parquet Courts from the opposing stage. The AV capabilities were also damn good. The multi angle camera work projecting on the jumbotrons managed to enhance the experience for the 5 ft 2 concert goer like myself.
And the line-up was incredible. Headliners Sleater-Kinney and Wilco used their seasoned and rock heavy sets to pull in even the most distracted youth. And festival-closer, Chance the Rapper put on a uniquely memorable performance to a devoted hometown crowd. Chance was bombastic and so intensely in his element- but never broke his thankful and endearing connection with the crowd.
Pitchfork also served as a showcase for some of the more compelling emerging artists this year. Lower tier acts like Bully, ILoveMakonnen, and (especially) Shamir have the potential headline this whole festival in a few years.
But there is one thing the Pitchfork festival was not. Weird. Maybe I’m asking too much, but why go to a festival if you’re only goal is to see good bands and (presumably) good live performances? That’s what club shows are for. Air-conditioned, crowd-controlled, smaller venues are the obviously more enjoyable choice for a serious music fan. I go to festivals for the elusive sense of community with a bunch of nerds like myself. We’re looking for that rare drug, the moment of musical escapism when nothing matters but the shared experience of the crowd and the sounds from the artist on stage.
But Pitchfork takes place in a city, as most festivals do these days. It closes its gates by 9:30pm. Festival goers go home, sleep in fluffy beds, or find a trendy sponsored after-party to squeeze into. Its hard to really escape when you’ve got to fight the crowd on the L-Train home.
And there’s an additional down-side to the urban day-festival. Pragmatically, there are performers who don’t thrive in mid-day sets under the beating July sun. Panda Bear, the purveyor of wildly innovative electronic music can create an other-worldly ambiance in a small club around 11pm. At 6:30pm, in direct sunlight, his double tiered boards and unnatural vocals got lost in front of a hot, tired audience, speckled with Wilco fans who just didn’t get it.
Similarly, (and most of the internet will disagree with this) Jamie XX’s Sunday afternoon set was atmospherically underwhelming. His album is among my favorites this summer but his live show, as sonically innovative as it was, belongs in a dance hall, not a muddy field. So unless you were part of the teenaged festival demographic, pushing twelve of your friends to the front of the crowd mid-set while rolling your face off, it wasn’t that captivating.
But I’ll give credit to the shows that managed to transport me despite the heat and obnoxious crowds. Future Islands put on a truly next-level show. It was the sort that rewarded fans with honest interaction from the band as well as their infamously unhinged performances. Caribou also gets credit for filling a sunny Sunday evening spot with luscious, extended renditions of their catalogue.
Perfume Genius was slotted at the festival’s smallest stage in the peak of the afternoon heat. And despite having one of the more complex sounds at the festival, managed to enthrall the audience with haunting electronics and heartfelt ballads. The centerpiece of that show was the wild vocal capacity of Mike Haderas who oscillates from gentle lullabies to inhuman, screams of passion.
Yet despite the impressive sonic performances, I still felt a loss for the communal aspect of the festivals. By Saturday night, the closest I had come to really uniting with my festival goers was after Ex Hex was tragically cut off three songs in by an oncoming and memorably violent storm. During the rain-blinded, lightning dodging crowd-crush to the gates after the announcement that the festival would be closing, my optimism tried to acknowledge this moment of (admittedly uncomfortable and pissed off) festival camaraderie.
Predictably, the storm blew over in less than 20 minutes and we crowded back up to the gates, dripping wet in anticipation when the official word went out that “the Pitchfork festival will be reopening at 4:20pm.” High-five and damp joints were exchanged between strangers, and I felt for a second, that we were all in this together.
The only thing missing was the music.
Which brings me to Todd Terje and the Olsens. I knew very little about Todd Terje, except a) his album covers are hilariously misleading, b) the song “Delorean Dynamite” was groovy as hell, and c) Random Nerds golden boy, Charles Bramesco, and my new-best-festival-friend Max assured me his set was going to be legit. This set however, was not only scheduled as the last performance before Chance the Rapper, but overlapped almost entirely with the rightly-hyped Run the Jewels slot. While Charles made the respectable and obvious decision to see Run the Jewels on the main stage, I decided to take my chances with Todd.
I exchanged wary glances with Max as El-P’s distant bass vibrated the ground beneath our feat in the moments before Todd Terje took the stage. We spent a foolish few second discussing whether we had made the wrong decision before Todd and company engulfed us in the best dance show I’ve ever been a part of. Todd’s live set fused thoughtful nu-disco electronics with the playful joy of the jam band. The Olsens featured Lars Horntveth alternating between guitar, bass, flute, and saxophone flanked by Todd’s brother Olaf on drums and Martin Windstad on the bongos, looking the happiest dude in all of Chicago. The set progressed with a steadily increased tempo allowing the small but devoted crowd to gradually lose their inhibitions. By mid-set the audience from the barrier to the sound booth was a bunch of dancing fools. There wasn’t a single inebriated train of teenagers in sight as I traded many dance moves and few words with the strangers around me.
So there was the highlight of the Pitchfork music festival; a whole crowd collectively losing themselves in the moment. And I’ll admit that even with a few Bonnaroos under my belt, it was the most picturesque festival show I’ve ever been a part of.
I’m still not willing to give the whole Pitchfork fest a rating over 7.1 or defend festivals as a whole, but I found the moment I was looking for in the last hours of the weekend. And if that’s all the modern music festival can really provide, a few transcendent moments, then I’m willing to keep coming back for more.
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