Some Songs Considered #017: Sun Drug, Frank Turner, and Diplo
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
Sun Drug – “Wildman”
by Bryce Rudow (@brycetrudow)
There was a time when saying a band was destined to blow up LA radio stations was the biggest compliment you could give a burgeoning rock group. Since first premiering in November of 1962, KROQ helped launch not just bands, but entire genres, not to mention the careers of its on-air staff (which include LA gems like Adam Carolla, Chris Hardwick, and “The Insane” Darrell Wayne). But this is 2015 and it’s no revolutionary claim to say that the radio sucks.
Which leaves the Silver Lake quartet of Sun Drug in an interesting position.
With a few albums as the more experimental and more terribly named Vanaprasta under their belt, lead-singer Steve Wilkin and 3 of the other 4 Vanaprastians decided to go in a different sonic direction and after consulting with a very underrated singer-songwriter named Rocco DeLuca (who could easily steal Alt-J fans if he found himself opening up for them), they’ve reemerged as a very tight, very talented ‘stadium rock’ group that is drawing comparisons to the likes of Kings of Leon and the Black Crowes. Buzz Bands LA even blatantly said they were perfect for “fans of Muse and other FM radio giants.”
But until they become one of those FM radio giants, they have to walk a very fine line.
While “Wildman,” the song you are currently being blown away by, is an irrefutably great track, they are this close to drawing the wrong kind of Kings of Leon comparisons, which is not what you need when trying to get music blogs to write about you.
Their first single, “Easy In Your Attitude,” has a solid enough verse and a great breakdown#, but ultimately, there’s an unmistakeable veneer atop everything that makes it feel unattainably cool. Essentially, it sounds too much like a hit song already, like it was cultivated in a lab#.
That’s great when you’ve already convinced the audiophilic masses that the Emperor rocks out to it, but when you’re building a name for yourself, it’s hard to ignore the obvious Los Angeles-ness of it all.
“Soaked,” the single they just released a little over a week ago is a nice counter though.
It’s more of a barnburner, with overdriven fuzz and an urgent tempo but with enough of a pop sensibility to make it accessible from the very first listen. Even then though, that raw thrill it’s presenting feels so LA that even at its grungiest, it seems undeniably pretty.#
Only that’s what makes “Wildman” so great, which is where that fine line comes in again.
That incredibly slick production feels right at home in this electro-R&B banger, and even though the lead guitar riff that kicks in feels like it was poached straight from Kings of Leon’s Only By The Night, it fits in this sonic mashup of a song. And balancing it out are Wilkin’s gripping vocals, which feel much more like NYC’s Autre Ne Veut’s take on bedroom R&B (see below) than anything west of the Mississippi.
And it’s worth noting that the video for “Wildman” is a testament to DIY achievement.
Directors Brian Randall and Taylor Brown, who plays bass in the band, used projection mapping on an Xbox Kinect (and a paste consisting of flour and water) to make Steve Wilkin the wild man you see in the video:
I used a kinect in conjunction with a slightly modified version of the 1024_architecture MAD_kinectMasker QC patch to create a mask layer in VDMX. Then, in VDMX, on the “background” layer group (which was actually the top-most layer in VDMX) I used an alpha mask effect and used the image from the kinect as the image mask, which cut out the “foreground” layer group (the images projected onto Steven) to make it look like that layer was on top of the other one. For the MIDI – OSC conversion within Ableton, I used LiveGrabber.
It’s going to be interesting to see where Sun Drug goes from here, but “Wildman” is a great place for them to start from. That is, as long as douchey bros don’t steal them away first…
Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People
by Lindsay Hogan @LindsayHogan88
If you’ve been consuming music for years, then there will inevitably be a day when you find yourself exhausted by the mediocrity and homogenization found in almost every genre. You’ll reach a point in your discussions about commercialization, EDM, and Mumford & Sons, and you’ll conclude that we are past the point where music can really save us. Frank Turner is for those days.
The folk-punk Englishman has been making rebelliously positive, open-hearted music since 2006, and his stage production has grown from scrappy acoustic shows to touring and recording with The Sleeping Souls, who fill the stage like his own E Street Band. You’ll be more inclined toward his music if either folk or punk comprise a large swath of your secretly soft heart (and even then you might find it easy to dismiss and conflate his sentimentally for simplicity) but cynicism be damned, when I find an artist who can sell out show after show and grow bigger each album without making me doubt his passion or authenticity, I hang onto them.
And because Franks song’s are inherently personal, its been fulfilling to live through his discography, watching him wrestle with lessor demons and fight the various emotional battles that determine entire albums. His three most recent releases, including last week’s Positive Songs for Negative People, have been a steady climb towards personal acceptance and a guide book on how too keep climbing despite the inevitable tragedies that try to derail us. Whereas 2013’s Tape Deck Heart was an effort toward personal forgiveness post-heartache, Positive Songs get evens even closer to redemption, despite or maybe because of the sudden loss of friends.
Now its obvious that I’ve been fan of Frank for so long that critical objectively is a bit of a challenge. He’s created a cult of personality and those outside of this cult may find the album’s energy repetitive or needlessly melodramatic. Even fans who have latched onto Frank’s punk sensibilities will find themselves dissatisfied with any song about the change of seasons. But if you gravitate toward the folksier side of his music, tracks like “Mittens” and “Josephine” showcase the earnest storytelling of the wandering romantic. Like any good folk musician, he finds profound meaning in the simplest of things; thrift stores, postcards, or snarky couples’ Halloween costumes.
However, I don’t think I have the space to unload the heartbreaking relevance that Positive Song’s final track has to the music fans of Washington, DC. Random Nerds‘ Editor-in-Chief and DC-flag tattoo-haver, Bryce Rudow had a few good words to say on Frank Turner’s “Song for Josh,” when he started playing pieces of it back in 2013, but beyond its relevance for every DC music lover who’s ever had a spiritual experience inside the 9:30 Club, “Song for Josh” is Frank’s most poignant and heartbreaking song to date. Its a tribute to a good man and a missed friend. But its also an apology from the people who would do anything for another chance to say “I love you.”
I haven’t been this emotional at the close of an album since Two-Headed Boy, Part 2. Well done Frank.
Diplo, CL, OG Maco and RiFF RaFF – “Doctor Pepper”
by Marcus Dowling @marcuskdowling
2015 has been Diplo’s year. However, lost in all of the hype of his unit Major Lazer’s moombahton smash “Lean On” and his partnership with Skrillex for Jack U yielding UK funky-influenced ballad “Where Are U Now” is the long money hitmaker defining his big year and whose video just dropped.
In accurately defining the future of pop music, more attention must be paid to the Riff Raff, OG Maco and CL trap-as-EDM banger “Doctor Pepper.”
Somewhere in the future of music there’s going to be a point where all of these crazy strains of things happening in music are going to crystallize in a crazy way. What I mean is that probably by like, 2017, every song is going to be “Doctor Pepper,” and we have nobody to blame for this but ourselves.
The key to why this song is so deplorably great is in its component parts. Diplo’s the EDM producer whose hand is so firmly on the zeitgeist, pockets so full of money and access to the sustainability of festival dollars so apparent. Thus, if you’re a one-hit wonder trap rapper like OG Maco, Diplo’s literally the only look for making another massive paycheck.
Add to the mix Riff Raff, who has found a happy space in Diplo’s court as the official rap jester of EDM. He wins because he knows the joke’s on him and he’s having way too much fun with it to care. As the one white rapper who’s like, “I’m white, I shouldn’t be here, so I’m going to be a parody of myself,” he’s allowed because he’s seemingly benign. However, as long as he’s on these Diplo songs and getting albums remixed by OG Ron C, he’s actually not benign at all.
CL’s the cherry on top, the k-pop princess for YG Entertainment’s 2NE1 who’s blessed by the fact that what makes k-pop so great is that South Korean pop stars can do note-perfect mimicry of 90’s-early 2000’s R & B tropes. As long as people love Aaliyah, Missy, Janet, Jade and 702, she’s going to be considered “cute” and continue to get by until one day we’re going to wake up and she’ll be running the game.
Diplo and this crew of interchangeable parts just put the whole game on ice, bitch. Doctor Pepper. Stay woke.
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