Closer - All This Will Be

For New York’s latest emo/post-hardcore outfit Closer, a chance encounter in a practice space sparked a creative partnership, and the rest is seemingly history. Firstly, its members originate from the lineup of Brooklyn-based indie stalwarts Real Life Buildings, which include Crying’s Elaiza Santos and Vagabon bandleader Lætitia Tamko. While it’s not a requirement for every emotionally raucous band to spawn from a fantastical blood oath or brutal mosh pit duel, the inception of Closer attests to their unpolished professionalism on the well-worn stage and in the home studio. Their debut off of Lauren Records, All This Will Be, dismantles the bravado set forth by Real Life Buildings’ première Significant Weather and channels its boundless passion into an original and intense work of art.

Whereas Significant Weather embodied a broad range of songwriting with hallmarks of biting power pop and modest slacker rock tossed into the fray, All This Will Be is a calculated, yet brooding change of pace. Amid Ryann Slauson’s splintering drumming and the teamwork of Griffin Irvine’s murky bass and Matthew Van Asselt’s chiming guitar, there’s a merciless finish that coats the nine cuts on their debut. From their tapered dynamics to their employment of dissonant segues to bridge tracks together, Closer pounce at every opportunity in the pursuit of evoking the raw and impassioned ethos of their hardcore superiors.

Instantaneously, the rapid-fire momentum of lead single “Gift Shop” trims their turbulent performance into a rough-hewn formula for the rest of the album to maneuver around. As a vocalist, Slauson is wrenching and guttural relative to the mania behind her pleas while her verses conjure a rift one imposes between themselves and the outside world (“All these people/And I just want/To crawl under the porch where I belong”). Equally rife with vigor but harmonically upbeat, “This Year” chronicles the convalescence from a break-up with a uniform emphasis toward loss and the prospects to come. Although Closer’s delivery recalls the strong-arm operatives of post-hardcore greats Fugazi and Unwound, the trio offsets indignation with a devastating exploration of adolescent dread.

With a trove of definitive bands in the contemporary emo circuit venturing into the canopy of indie rock as a counterpoint to brash and lawless exploits, All This Will Be is a refreshing and life-affirming return to form. Midsection highlights “Dust” and “Birdhouse” stretch their capacities past the five-minute mark with an arsenal of spoken word samples and post-rock-inspired arrangements at their disposal. The latter vacillates between hushed passages ostensibly lifted from Sunny Day Real Estate’s seminal Diary and ear-piercing climaxes marred by waves of feedback. To the contrary, fizzling bangers like “Hardly Art” and “Rec Room” encapsulate the band in the throes of confusion while keeping their composure under the brink of total collapse.

Compared to their contemporaries, Closer leans toward sincere musicianship without disavowing lackadaisical nuance. Forgoing the trend of pertinent political and societal undertakings constructing the thematics of hardcore in recent years, All This Will Be is the product of internal meditation demanding an immediate and uncensored outlet. As piercing and often unsettling as the final product may be, their antipathy is far from ungraspable. Wallowing beneath the commotion are songwriters accustomed to uncaging their ambitions and fears in brisk sweeps—only this time, the setting is natural and the effect is consistently engaging.

Alvvays - Antisocialites

Alvvays channeled the bane of youth on their self-titled 2014 debut. “Too late to go out/Too young to stay in,” singer/guitarist Molly Rankin bemoaned on “Archie, Marry Me,” cementing herself as the voice for preoccupied twenty-somethings who feel like the first generation to experience quarter-life-crises all on their own. Three years later, Alvvays’s newest release Antisocialites sees Rankin and company still feeling preoccupied, but this time, the crossroads between commitment and abandonment, nostalgia and uncertainty are textually more defined and far more intimate as Rankin catalogues broken promises and painful choices.

Much of Antisocialites is engaged in a larger struggle to pin down what, exactly, happiness is—at least for now, at a point in life when true adulthood starts to meet reality and aging suddenly becomes a creeping thought, consciously or not. Sometimes Rankin looks for contentedness in simple routines. “Meditate, play solitaire, take up self defense,” she sings on lead single “In Undertow.” These small acts of control help stave off the dread of growing old, or just growing up in general, but not for long as Rankin asks in the very next line, “When you get old and faded out will you want your friends?”

Other times, Rankin wonders if lovers might ease some of this anxiety, mostly finding that they just add to it. On the punchy and distorted “Your Type” she laments a crush that leaves her feeling lonely, “I die on the inside every time/You will never be all right/I will never be your type.” Songs like “In Undertow” and “Your Type” are as much homages to 60s romances as they are send-ups to the submission and loneliness that underlies many hits within that era of early bubblegum pop. But Alvvays is able to place that feeling in the present. “I can’t buy-in to psychology/And won’t rely on your mood for anything,” Rankin coos before the chorus of “In Undertow,” highlighting her ability to tap into the frustration of love at a time when there are myriad ways to “know” how someone feels, most of which seem like open-ended pseudoscience.

Musically, you’ll find Antisocialites highlights Rankin and lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley’s ability to write using musical cues beyond vaguely alluding to their influences here-and-there. Rankin takes on the indignantly cool attitude that plagues indie music on “Plimsoll Punks” singing, “Your postures blocking out any possible light/I can hardly see … You’re the seashell in my sandal/That’s slicing up my heel.” Over this, O’Hanley’s standout guitar work plays with song structure, calling and responding by inverting earlier musical motifs in the song as the second chorus comes along. It’s cheeky, and you can feel the “See what I did there?” moment coming from O’Hanley, but it adds to the playfulness of Antisocialites, which feels like such a rare quality beyond just indie rock when its pulled of as expertly as it is here.

Ultimately, Antisocialites is for anyone who knows the power struggle between what we feel and what we want to feel. Rankin plays it like she’s losing this game for much of the album, but she knows better than to leave the listener so low. In the album’s finale “Forget About Life” she calls a truce with her bleak outlook on relationships and adulthood. Letting out a gentle, but nonetheless celebratory “woo” she asks, “Underneath this flickering light/Did you wanna forget about life with me tonight?” It’s a complicated question for a complicated relationship, but Rankin knows it’s at least possible.

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar’s latest album Damn. explores feelings of isolation, and his struggle with the negative side of fame and fortune. These are themes that were touched on heavily in his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly, but this time around we hear them from a different perspective. On TPAB, Lamar was a bit younger and coming to terms with fame and fortune for the first time, but now almost 30, Lamar addresses this struggle from a more mature point of view.

kendrick-damn-during-tpabArt by GoufyGoogs

At this point in Lamar’s career he is well acquainted with the woes that wealth carries and the negativity that fame has brought out of people around him. He often feels as though he is alone in life and those that grow closer to him are just trying to get a cut of his paycheck. These feelings are heard with the recurring line “ain’t nobody praying for me,” heard on the tracks “ELEMENT.” and “FEEL.”. Amongst the artistry of his emotional struggle, Lamar also gets back to work shutting down his critics and other rappers who find themselves determined to bring him down. He addresses these subjects in songs such as “HUMBLE.” and “DNA.” Lamar further asserts his dominance on “GOD.” when he raps,”This what God feel like, huh, yeah.” Damn. also features a heavy arsenal of guest performers such as Rihanna (“LOYALTY.”) Kaytranada and BadBadNotGood (LUST.), as well as the legendary U2 (XXX.).

The thing that I find myself impressed with the most about Kendrick on this record is the way he articulates his verses, or even sections within a single verse. He raises and lowers his intensity or modifies his intonation in sync with the lyrics and the rhythmic structure the producer creates, whether it’s Sounwave, Bekon, 9th Wonder, or The Alchemist. Kendrick treats each producer as a member of his band and like a true musician he listens to their contribution and fits himself perfectly within that structure. This is what I believe really sets him apart from other hip-hop artists as well as why I think he works so well with jazz musicians (see To Pimp a Butterfly). It’s not just a sick beat with some flow thrown on top, Kendrick is out here composing honest and serious music and taking every aspect of the listening experience into account. Everything you hear on Damn., every musical motif, every vocal inflection and so on, is decision that was carefully made.