Some Songs Considered #036: Sun Club, “FACTS,” and Teena Marie
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
Sun Club – The Dongo Durango
by Lindsay Hogan (@LindsayHogan88)
Last year on Random Nerds, I dug into Beach House’s mediocrity, Girl Band’s disturbia, and Lana Del Rey’s head-spinning, backwards feminism. So as we start a new year, let’s turn down the seriousness and explore some pure fun…
Sun Club sounds like an uproariously precise mess, and they have perfected the art of the reckless and sloppy, making euphorically fun music in the process.
After releasing their debut EP in early 2014, the lovably goofy Baltimoreans finally released their first full-length album, The Dongo Durango, in October of (now) last year. Named for the band’s all-purpose, meaningless, filler phrase, it’s a record that shines for its wild scrappiness, its basement DIY sound, and its worry-free summertime aesthetic. It’s a miraculous product of a band that takes un-serious music very seriously.
The first time I saw Sun Club live and heard their (also gloriously named) EP Dad Claps at the Mom Prom, I assumed the recklessness of their sound and the signature moppy-haired, tongue wagging, flailing physicality of their live shows were both a blessing and a curse. I remember thinking, “This band is having too much fun. They can’t possibly have their shit together enough to release an album, let along survive a European tour.”#
Well let me dislodge my fat foot from my mouth so I can apologize for misjudging their determination.
Their reckless style has obviously paid off, as The Dongo Durango is 27 romping minutes of offbeat psychedelic pop-rock that refuses to slow down for silly things like introspection or reflection.
The orchestrated chaos packed into every song is balanced by melodic guitar, keyboard, and even the occasional xylophone. The unmistakable, but often indecipherable vocals of Mikey Powers are the perfect, nonsensical foil to the stop-start chaos of the band behind him. And even with all this going on, Sun Club still manages to move in unison, with the boys contributing background shouts, grunts, and chants on tracks like “Worm City” and “Language Juice.” (Have I mentioned Sun Club’s unmatched brilliance for naming things?)
“Beauty Meat” — a carryover from their Dad Claps EP — is undeniably rapturous thanks to its horns and xylophone and goofy dancability; the epitome of their cavernous and wild, precise yet sloppy sound tinged with the tiniest smidge of bittersweet. While harmonized woahs are often denounced by joyless music snobs, “Beauty Meat” proudly wields the harmonized woah with refreshingly messy liberation.
Sun Club hits all the sweet spots of constructed pop music balanced with the unpolished weirdness of their personalities.
Thankfully, their variety of worry-free pop doesn’t make me feel like I’m getting subliminally seduced by Top 40 radio. Instead, it feels like I just got day drunk by the river with my 5 closest dude friends.
FAQs on Facts on “FACTS”
by Justin McCarthy (@JustinSMcCarthy)
There’s an enigmatic philosophical roadblock standing in the way of any formal evaluation of “FACTS” one might attempt to conduct.
It’s best expressed in the form of a question that loosely resembles the Omnipotence paradox. To look at it one way, it’s a question of music criticism’s plainly material and prejudicial double standards. To view it in another light, it becomes a question of faith.
The question, as best I can put it, is this: can Kanye make a bad song?
I want to suggest that the question is graver and less hyperbolic than it may seem. We can’t evaluate “FACTS” like we can most songs by artists on Kanye’s level, songs that are meant to be understood as common denominator-aimed consumer products created by many for many. To call a Kanye song bad is to make a very different claim than calling, say, a Justin Bieber song bad.
What is a bad Kanye song in a world that has seen Yeezus, an album of intentionally unlistenable music that critics (myself included) adored?
But even if you take Yeezus out of the equation, Kanye has a track record of singularity and intentionality that makes him virtually unimpeachable — his art is always an auteur’s expression of a specific vision, and those visions are often great, always interesting, and never straight up bad.
So in lieu of calling “FACTS” a bad song, I’m going to compare it to Kanye’s last January 1st offering, “Only One.”
“Only One” is a classic Kanye song because it is so specifically his, and yet it is simultaneously bursting with universality like beams of light from the seams of an angel’s human costume. If you cut it, it would shine. It’s the stuff of miracles; surely Kanye, he of the buzzsaw synths and acrobatic dick punchlines, could never successfully collaborate with Paul McCartney of all people. Surely a world-conquering avant-garde rapper would never release a sensitive straightforward piano ballad about his infant daughter. Surely a song released on January 1st would be overlooked in the hangover haze of the year’s dawn and be lost to the world on arrival. And yet now, a year later, the whole thing feels like it could have been foretold in a lost gospel, in ancient Aramaic and cartoon bear sketches on tattered papyrus.
Conversely, nothing about “FACTS” is miraculous. Everything about it, from the ersatz hi-hat beat to the borrowed flow to the low-hanging cultural references to the tone-deaf sneaker talk, feels embarrassingly mortal, and human, and fallible. There are artists who can do mortal, and human, and fallible — like John Darnielle or Larry David — but Kanye, whom we’ve happily elevated to God status, cannot pull it off. Worst of all, “FACTS” seems to forecast a fusion of Ye’s business persona and his artistic persona. Sadly, it’s a merger that makes sense given the diversification of his brand and the logistics of the craft – in 2015, Kanye was more “fashion mogul/Kardashian” than “music artist,” and as a rapper your lyrics are always going to reflect your day-to-day, for better or worse.
Whereas “Only One” is a song that evokes the beautiful paradoxes of Kanye (specificity vs. universality), “FACTS” evokes the uncomfortable, faith-shaking ones. It’s sloppily derivative, it’s painfully out of touch, and it hurts to hear. Honestly, it’s giving me doubts. And maybe it’s Kanye sending us into the desert, to be tested. Or maybe it’s a weary God, slouching away from Bethlehem, asking us to move on.
It’s going to be an interesting Yeezy season, music fans. Let us pray.
Remembering Teena Marie
by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
Earlier this week, Julian wrote a wonderful piece remembering Teena Marie, the Ivory Queen of Soul. You should read it in its entirety, but here’s a nice snippet to whet your appetite. – Bryce
Ever so often, we’re blessed with singers whose voices stick with us after the song’s over. Whitney Houston had one, Mariah Carey has one, and so does Adele. But while Mariah’s voice is known for its range and Whitney’s for its power, Marie’s claim to fame was that her voice soared.
Take “Déjà Vu (I’ve Been Here Before),”# for example. Marie’s vocals build to a crescendo on the chorus, and that high-note before the first “I’ve been here before” sounds like a flock of doves being released into the sky. On “Where’s California” #, she sings the hook with pristine clarity before hitting those four notes in the song’s final 30 seconds, climbing one level higher each time.
“Portugese Love” is a flair exhibition, as she switches tempos and languages at ease before fading away like the intense harbor nights she sang about.
And those vocal capabilities were just as impressive as her versatility…
Read the rest of Julian’s piece (and hear more from the Ivory Queen of Soul) by clicking here.
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