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Month: June, 2016

Game of Thrones: Season 6 Retrospective

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Well, here we are. Whether you like it or not, the end is nigh. But it’s not like Game of Thrones ever had a reputation for being sensitive to our needs and wants as an audience. So, can you feel it now? Will you even acknowledge its presence? The invisible force that is pushing all of our heroes and villains towards a collective and precipitous end. It seems like an eons ago when Robert Baratheon and his begrudging Lannister posse strolled into a happy-go-lucky Winterfell. Ever since then, the chess pieces were brutally forced into place for the final formation. Now, with the conclusion of the sixth season, we are all witnesses to that bloody procession nearly coming full circle. And now it seems that we’re all headed towards an icy (or fiery) apocalypse, or rather more aptly put, it’s coming after us.

This season of Game of Thrones brought with it the unique experience of melding two different parties (“book readers” and “show watchers”) together for the very first time. Finally, we as a collective audience were forced to contend with the knowledge that George R.R. Martin’s ink and paper had run dry (for the time being at least). With The Winds of Winter still yet to be released, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and their team of writers charted out the labyrinthine arc of this season’s episodes based on scrap notes from the author. But there was a certain thrill in that understanding as the “render farm”, which is the collective internet, started to churn out fan theory after fan theory during the off-seasons leading up to the Season 6 premiere. Most obviously, Jon Snow’s resurrection led this pack, along with long-awaited confirmation of “R + L = J”, the “Clegane-bowl”, and “Arya-is-Jaquen” theories amongst many others. While the first two have happened, as very much expected, the rest were quickly shut down in the coming weeks (see episode 8, “No One”). For me, there’s a certain relief that some of these theories never came to pass as the show may have become too predictable or fan-service-y. Moreover, I didn’t want to see Game of Thrones lose the chaotic, unmerciful grip of its original maker, instead opting to heighten the tension and unpredictability right down to the final minute of the series finale.

Just two years ago, a Shakespearean tragedy set in the barren deserts of Albuquerque, New Mexico faced a similar path. A split final season, the end game in sight, an audience swelling due to its accessibility on new streaming sites. To me, Breaking Bad’s final run of episodes is the golden mean of how you close out a television series. The heart-in-your-throat quality of tension and uncertainty that escalated with each passing episode, delaying the denouement until the last possible moment in the series finale, “Felina”. But it’s unfair to compare these two series simply based on the concept of proper scaling. While one is a story about a single man’s fall from grace, the other visualizes all sorts of individuals climbing the ladder of chaos in their quest for power. And despite all of these divergences, that palpable tension and penchant for surprise has also reservedly appeared throughout the sixth season. Scenes such as “Hold the door!” to “The King’s (bloody) Landing” and “the Sept of Baelor” show the writers ability to still shock and awe, it’s just that these moments have come about in decreasing fashion when compared to seasons past.

As a tradeoff for those YouTube reaction vid worthy moments, Game of Thrones has rather leaned towards tying up six years worth of loose ends. While I may have stated in the opening paragraph that Game of Thrones never held any desire to satisfy our needs for an audience; the season finale, Winds of Winter, has changed all of that. What we just witnessed was nearly six years of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink storytelling in this series finally come to fruition. In the span of just an hour and fifteen minutes, we finally learned of Jon Snow’s royal lineage, the tragic truth of Cersei’s childhood prophecy, Arya’s first faceless kill, a Stark reclaiming Winterfell, a new King of the North and a Targaryen setting sail for Westeros. What I want to note here is that there’s a notable difference between fan-service and narrative completion. Season 6, undoubtedly, has felt more predictable that its predecessors. While we did have moments of genuine shock and horror, they were not peppered throughout these past ten episodes. This is because the earlier seasons also had the luxury of time. Their hand was unforced by the specter of the end. So, with an unconfirmed fourteen episodes now left in this series, predictability should not be viewed as an issue as long as Game of Thrones gave us an adequate reason to predict it. And that they did in spades.

So the challenge for Game of Thrones in these final episodes is to hit that sweet spot between unpredictability and narrative culmination. As we watch our main players, Cersei, Daenerys, and Jon make their power moves across the chess board that is Westeros, the final conflicts becomes clearer with each passing episode. But that’s where the Night’s King and his army of the Undead come in. Like a nuke to the fridge or the jump over a shark, the way the writers handle this frozen, zombified X-factor will determine how thrilling these final hours of Game of Thrones will be. Humans will always act like humans on this show. Their thirst for power, destiny or common decency will make them just as predictable as we’ve come to know them to be. But ice zombies? Who knows the daily thoughts and day-dreams that pass through those crystallized noggins. The White Walkers not only wield the power to raise the dead but also command the greatest power in Game of Thrones: the ability to sow storytelling chaos. So many questions about them remain. Will they push all of Westeros to the brink of extinction in these last episodes? How will they begin their march past the Wall? Will they triumph in their inevitable clash with Daenerys and her dragons? The only thing we now know is that all of these questions will be answered, sooner rather than later. All that’s left to do is to take up the black and patiently wait for another 46 weeks (give or take).

Our final watch begins.

 

What I’m Listening To: Week 5

1. Alaska – Maggie Rogers

A few weeks back, my sister and I stumbled across a video on Reddit of Dorian “Pharrell Williams” Gray reacting to an unreleased track crafted by NYU student Maggie Rogers. The clip went semi-viral as Pharrell vainly tried to control his excitement while taking in the track. That song, “Alaska”, is now available in its final and mastered version and is available to stream on Spotify. And the song itself? It’s unlike anything I’ve heard before; a summer cocktail mix of light pop, ambient electronica, ghostly vocals and minimalist sound that hits all of the right notes and hints. “Alaska” effectively conjures up a sonic experience with its aural magic that haunts your mind long after its final beat.

Maggie Rogers’ soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/maggierogers

Watch the clip of Pharrell and Maggie Rogers that went semi-viral below (starting at 18:15) 

2. You Don’t Get Me High Anymore – Phantogram

Phantogram returns with the exceptionally dark, moody and alluring single “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”. It’s a buzzing track that combines rock-electronica tunes with a hip-hop beat as Sarah Barthel spits out her lines at a near rap pace before her chorus hits. There’s a hypnotic quality here, a daze that the song lulls you into that feels chemically induced. And the raw emotional punch of the line “nothing is fun/not like before/you don’t get me high anymore” speaks to addiction, love lost, depression and inner angst all at once. It’s an exceptional single that hints at the turmoil and pain that awaits us when their upcoming album Three drops on September 16.

3. Sucker for Pain (w/ Logic, Ty Dolla $ign feat. X Ambassadors) – Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa and Imagine Dragons

There’s a lot going on here that it’s almost futile to try to sort through it all. So, just lean back, put on the cans and listen to it all before passing judgment. We whizz on by from the personified shouting match that are Imagine Dragons to the smooth, cold delivery of Ty Dolla $ign, then back again to Logic, who rattles off his verse like a semi-automatic. But it is Lil Wayne who shines through here as the song’s main selling point, spitting out convoluted and clever verses like “I’m devoted to destruction/A full dosage of detrimental dysfunction” and “Tongue kiss a shark, got jealous bitches up in the boat”. Even Whiz Khalifa and X Ambassadors make an appearance, allowing the already flowing testosterone to brim over in this track. “Sucker for Pain” knows what it is; a fun song that was made for an upcoming hit movie (Suicide Squad), but as long as it gives Lil Wayne a platform to properly release new material? I’m all about it.

4. Drug Dealers Anonymous – Pusha T (feat. JAY Z)

I keep returning to this song to take in the ghostly beat DJ Dahi has crafted for Pusha T and JAY Z to spit over. It’s a mesmerizing tune, eerie and foreboding at the same time. The type of music you would play during a late night heist montage in Miami or something. But my mind runs wild again, and this supernatural tune carries me away with it. Anyways. If there are two rappers with any credibility when talking about pushing and pulling “bricks”, it’s these two. And while there’s a difference between the glorification of the trade and a realistic telling of it, Pusha T and JAY Z will always lean in on the former. Who can blame them? It’s always more fun to do it that way. With lines like “The money count is the only moment of silence/Cause hush money balances all this drugs and violence” and “Federico Fellini in the flesh/Sergio Tacchini inside his mesh”, we’ll continue to listen to these two men as long as they’re willing to tell these tall dark tales of their former pasts.

5. Shapeshifting – Great Good Fine Ok

There are dimensions to “Shapeshifting” that seem to constantly be transitioning under one’s feet. Voices cut in and out, inter-spliced with a bubbly electronica tune that pushes in and pulls away at just the right moments. It’s a glossy song with vocals that crescendo at a moments notice. In that way, it’s a bit unpredictable and the lack of leveled ground throws its listeners off throughout the song. And that makes it a bit difficult to hang with what Great Good Fine Ok are trying to do in “Shapeshifting”. Still, it’s interesting to listen to what they’re trying to do with this song, despite how disorientating it may be at some points.

6. Make It Up – Shura

Ethereal. That’s the first word that came to mind as I listened to “Make it Up” by Shura, another single off of her upcoming debut album Nothing’s Real. And then the beat kicks in, transforming this song into a killer catchy track with its keyboard whines, clicks, pops and hand snaps. There’s a certain whimsy combined with an emotional pain as Shura sings over and over again, “Do you ever make it up?/Do wake up in the night and change your mind?” And as she takes on influences from 80’s electro-pop along with her Madonna-like vocals, Shura’s “Make It Up” is another reason why we’re all paying attention as her album drops on July 8th.

7. Wona – Mumford and Sons (feat. Baaba Maal, The Very Best, Beatenburg)

I have to give kudos to Mumford and Bros for trying something different here with “Wona”, a song off of their South African inspired EP Johannesburg. As the quartet tries to incorporate African musicians such as Baaba Maal, The Very Best and Beatenburg into their folk-rock genre, the resulting product is an affecting, genuine attempt at creating a new sound for themselves. Oddly enough, the lesser known musicians have less to gain than Mumford and Sons by doing this collaboration. The band still commands their presence throughout “Wona” and the EP’s other songs. With their name plastered across the album cover, they know that they’re the main draw to this parade. Yet, it’s the features that really shine through in the process, making for an collection of African rhythm and sounds that makes things interesting enough to keep you wanting more.

8. Rest In Peace – Yellowcard

Let’s bring it back to the middle school days, long before any of us were associated with the half-label, half-insult “millennial” term. Back to the days when bands such as Evanescence, Green Day, Switchfoot, and Hoobastank reigned supreme on our click-wheel iPods. And amongst that list was Yellowcard, who exploded onto the scene with the still-potent single “Ocean Avenue”. Now as we fast-forward thirteen years later, it’s the end of an era for the band. Yellowcard is calling it quits after the release of their tenth (!!!) self-titled studio album and a world tour. “Rest in Peace”, their aptly titled single off of that EP is a throwback to the classic era. Rest assured, there are no punches pulled here as their time-tested combination of violin, guitar, bass and drums rollicks on forward, rocking their way towards the eventual sunset.

What I’m Listening To: Week 4

1. Nobody Speak – DJ Shadow (feat. Run the Jewels)

Everything that Run the Jewels puts out is fire. I’m talking Dylan I-spit-hot-FIYAH. Guest features are no exception in this case. Rip-roaring their way through DJ Shadow’s new single “Nobody Speak”, Killer Mike and El-P, the duo that makes Run the Jewels, deliver an all-cylinders-firing performance on a track that bumps, grooves and meanly growls until the very end. The Ennio Morricone influenced guitar riffs are also a nice touch, adding a casual lightness to this bass blasting track. “Nobody Speak” can be found on DJ Shadow’s newest album (of five years) called The Mountain Will Fall, to be released on June 24th.

Watch Run the Jewels and DJ Shadow perform “Nobody Speak” on Fallon below: 

2. Frankie Sinatra (Extended Mix) – The Avalanches

Danny Brown and MF Doom featured over a rag-tag calypso tune? God I am so in. The Avalanches are back with “Frankie Sinatra”, a showtime tune spliced alongside the DNA of Chicago Rap and Electro Swing. While I can’t figure out the specific reason, there a certain soothing quality to the repetitiveness of this song. There’s a cradle-like effect in which the chorus is sung. Then its Danny Brown and MF Doom with the punch-ups that add just enough edge to the song to give it it’s hook. “Frankie Sinatra” is the first single off of The Avalanches’ second studio album Wildflower (to be released July 8, 2016).

3. Love / Dead – Faces on TV

Bombastic yet soft, Faces on TV’s newest single, “Love / Dead”, plays like a classic Enya song; it features a vocal lightness that just barely hovers over the tune’s emotional crests. It’s a song meant to be contemplated with, as the words are so passive that they just barely form in one’s ears. It flutters about until the song’s final minute, where “Love / Dead” picks up the tempo and sound, leaving a lasting mark with its brash horns, plucky piano tunes and fuzzy electro beat.

4. Crazy Dream – Tom Misch (feat. Loyle Carner)

Let the manic pixie voice guide you here through the soft, vapory tunes in Tom Misch’s “Crazy Dream”, the first single off of his upcoming Reverie EP. “Crazy Dream” is effervescent and sweet; a summer song with an light electronica beat that’s not too assuming. Loyle Carner’s voice is subtle here, keeping in with the delicate balance set forth throughout the song.

5. Golden Days – Whitney

Like some obscure music track ripped off of a poignant coming of age flick, Whitney’s “Golden Days” reminds us of those standout tracks from films such as Garden State with “The Only Living Boy in New York”, Into the Wild with “Hard Sun”, and Juno and “Anyone Else But You”. In such a way, “Golden Days” seems like it is candy coated in an Americana based nostalgia. The last throes of senior year high school. One’s first kiss on the Fourth of July ferris wheel. Idealistic visions of 90’s middle-class America are put forth. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this one. I’ll let you listen and decide that for yourself.

6. Talk – DJ Snake (feat. George Maple)

There’s a pleading going on here as George Maple sings, “All you wanna do is talk, talk.” And it’s the nicest way I’ve ever heard someone ask their partner to please shut the fuck up. “Talk”, a new single released by DJ Snake, mixes a tropical flute, piano and electronic beats to come out with a song not so different from the tribal sounding ways of Kygo. All in all, it’s a casually intense song to enjoy in the midst of the warmer season.

7. West Coast – Junior Empire

“West Coast” vocalizes an pop-rock anthem meant for the new wanderers as the verse sings, “I feel like I’m losing you/I feel like driving, driving, driving.” It’s a typical break up song about self-discovery and journey. But ignore all the grand themes this song tries to cart out and what you’ll end up with is a breezy, catchy song that’ll help you map out that long-standing road trip you were always dying to go on.

8. BOSS (Radio Edit) – Disclosure

There’s no ramping up here to be seen in this song by Disclosure. “BOSS”, one of three songs off of the brotherly duo’s latest EP, dives in headfirst into the rapid beat and lyrics. The song invites its listeners to give way to it right from the start. There’s no escalation in the way their hits like “Latch” and “You & Me” bridge out. However, there is a certain smoothness in “BOSS” that seems almost too effortless. It rounds away all of those quirks and experimental bits that are found in their earlier works, especially in their debut album Settle. Nevertheless, “BOSS” plays extremely well as a radio hit, a mysterious and entrancing song that never quite unravels itself fully for its listeners to fully enjoy.

9. When It Rain – Danny Brown

Distorted, wailing, squawking, chaotic, messy; these are all classic tenets in the makings of a Danny Brown song. This drug addled single sprints through with the near-shouting delivery that the rapper gives. It’s phrenetic yet coherent, imbalanced yet enticing. Moreover, it’s prerequisite to listen to a Danny Brown song several times to allow each and every one of his screeched words to really settle into your mind. Only then can you truly appreciate his delivery of over-the-top metaphors and allusions to his hedonistic Chi-town existence. “When It Rain” is a classic Danny Brown song, one that his fans will embrace with open arms as it hits on notes of artistic familiarity. And for newcomers to this nutcase rapper, it’s a great litmus test for those who choose to press the repeat button versus those that don’t.

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Kanye West – Saint Pablo

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Two Kanye West posts in a single week? Let’s chalk it up to a blessing by the Most High. This week, The Life of Pablo has risen again with a new outro song in its place called “Saint Pablo”. And barring any recency bias, this newly released track is one of Kanye’s strongest off of his newest album.

I know I’m the most influential/That TIME cover was just confirmation/This generation’s closest thing to Einstein

Early on, prior to the release of The Life of Pablo, it all started with a notepad. On it, Kanye’s Twitter feed would show updates to the pad; new signatures, denoting collaborators and family celebrities, and a track listing that moved about to the whims of its creator . One version of this list showed the album actually ending with “Ultra Light Beam”, a gospel-influenced song with pentecostal chants, prayers and a chorus. But then we all know that it was ultimately moved to the very front, as an opener to The Life of Pablo. There, it set the stage quick in terms of overall feel and message, that this would be an album of self-revelation, exploring the dimensions of Kanye’s struggles with his faith, family and fame.  And now, with “Saint Pablo” in its rightful place, that thematic atmosphere comes full circle, providing a deeply introspective (and somewhat satisfying) conclusion to this haphazard album.

I wasn’t supposed to make it past 25.

In terms of the big picture, it’s fascinating to see Kanye’s continued disregard for the music industry’s norms. Instead of resigning The Life of Pablo’s fate to a state of finality, he instead chose flux, keeping it in a state of purgatory and allowing it to spring back to life at he pleases. He reflects that sentiment in the opening lines of “Saint Pablo” when he states, “Yeah, 9:08 L.A. time/Back in the lab and shit.” It’s a casual declaration for him but one that commands so much attention and fervor from his acolytes. And he’s done it before, most notably with “Ultra Light Beam”, “Famous” and “FML”, tweaking the vocals and the chorus, submitting and re-submitting the album up on various streaming sites for re-release as he pleases. 

And you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky/Wonderin’ whether God’s gonna say hi/Oh, you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky/And you wonder where is God in your nightlife

Heard within the context of an actual album, I mentioned that “Saint Pablo’s” placement in the track list lends a certain agency to its immediate sense of belonging. It fits in with the “gospel” narrative that is the thematic backbone of The Life of Pablo. Specifically speaking, there is a certain type of beseeching going on here, amidst all his bragging, where Kanye vocalizes his familial conflicts, doubts and inhibitions for all to hear. Lines like “My wife said, I can’t say no to nobody/And at this rate we gon’ both die broke”, “When I turned on the news and they was buryin’ me/One set of footsteps, you was carryin’ me and “Checkin’ Instagram comments to crowdsource my self esteem” show those moments of soul baring, something that’s not too out of the norm for this artist. And yet, here it comes off as quite genuine, set to a minimal tune with Sampha crying out “Father, father, father…” in the song’s hook. In those moments, “Saint Pablo” listens like a ending prayer in lyrical form, coalescing all the chaotic streams of consciousness in The Life of Pablo into one uncharacteristically neat outro.

“Saint Pablo” is available for streaming on Apple Music and Tidal and purchase on iTunes.

Kanye West (Feat. Desiigner, Travis Scott, Big Sean, Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, 2 Chainz & Quavo) – Champions

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“Pray for me/I’m about to hit the Ye button.”

Nearly four years after the release of the first G.O.O.D. Music compilation album Cruel Summer, Kanye West and his merry band of label signees and frequent collaborators are back for a second (see: snowier) season. “Champions”, a chest-thumping rap anthem, is the first single debuted off of Cruel Winter (release date: TBD), a follow-up album to its more balmy predecessor. And with a murderer’s row of seven guest features, (2 Chainz! Gucci Mane! That Panda Guy!) “Champions” makes it clear that it isn’t just here to play around. From the very moment the gavel-like beat slams down, Quavo’s opening verse is emphatically punctuated with a untouchable bravado that sustains itself. There’s verbal intensity present in “Champions” that grabs its listeners up by the fisticuffs and demands that they start paying attention.

“1500/All in singles (straight up!)/Throw it up, watch it fall and drop/Round and round they go.”

Playing like another sonic monument to excess, “Champions” takes more cues from Watch the Throne than Cruel Summer. While the latter album has its moments of celebratory hubris and unchecked hedonism, never was it as laudatory, addictive and fun in the way Jay-Z and Kanye made it appear in the former. Listen carefully and you’ll hear that same sentiment reflected in “Champions” throughout. Visuals of “hundred thousand dollar chandelier[s]”, “wear[ing] pajamas to Ruth’s Chris” and being a “walking money machine” celebrate opulence sans any smidgen of buyers remorse. These lines denote an unstoppable joy found within a life filled with unbridled extravagance. Like the name of the song suggests; they’ve now won the ‘ship, what else is there left to conquer?

I’m a mothafuckin’ champion/This right here the fuckin’ anthem

“Champions” effectively re-hypes the return of a radically reshaped G.O.O.D. Music conglomerate. In addition, non-label features such as 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane have us salivating at the potential list of Cruel Winter collaborators. While Kanye takes the charge with the first full verse in “Champions”, he stunts his presence, allowing for the other guest features to take over. There’s Big Sean with a tommy gun-like delivery. Then 2 Chainz rapping with an aggressive braggadocio. Yo Gotti slithers about, letting the verses slip off of his tongue. And at last, Gucci Mane, back from a nearly two year stint in jail, accentuates his bars with a slightly intoned whine. So we patiently wait for Cruel Winter to drop whenever it does. In the meantime, “Champions”, with its bombastic noise, ego dripping pretense and champagne soaked lyricism, contains more than enough heat to hold us over before the long freeze sets in.

“Champions” is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music and for purchase on iTunes. 

What I’m Listening To: Week 3

1. LockJaw – French Montana (feat. Kodak Black)

The visuals fit the tunes in “LockJaw”, a new single by French Montana that features Kodak Black, an up-and-coming rapper. “LockJaw” is a song that’s meant to be driven to. The sharp drum beats kick in with punctuation. The moody ambient track empties the headspace. And the seamless back and forth between Kodak and French seem to transition smoother than the old-school vehicle they’re cruising in. Here in this song, there seems to be effortless chemistry between the two. While Kodak raps like he’s on one, French clears out Kodak’s lyrical daze with an acute, pointed delivery. And it’s that contrast that sets up an sonically inviting contrast present throughout the entirety of this song.

Watch the music video for “LockJaw” below:

2. Casual Party – Band of Horses

“Casual Party” is the first single off of Band of Horses’ new album of the same name. The song plays with a modern coastal rock vibe reminiscent of bands such as Surfer Blood, Best Coast and Delta Spirit. A straight-arrow rock song coated with a well-finished pop sheen, “Casual Party” is a welcomed change of pace and sound from the band.

3. All We Ever Knew – The Head and the Heart

Another rousing track by a traditionally quiet band; “All We Ever Knew”is a new single by The Head and The Heart that hits its listeners with a robust wall of sound. Combining a plethora of instruments ranging from the piano, violins, guitars and drums, The Head and The Heart craft a vivid and enjoyable melody here. Moreover, the chorus of voices rounds out the song with a fuller bang that leaves us with a better understand of what to expect from their upcoming album, Signs of Light (to be released in September 2016).

4. Gangsta Shit – Young Thug

Young Thug is a weirdo in the genre of rap and that’s a great thing to be if it’s done well. See Kendrick Lamar and his alien sounding voices,  Earl Sweatshirt with his minimalist-style rapping and Tyler the Creator for being, well, Tyler the Creator. After listening to “Gangsta Shit”, Young Thug deserves his place amongst this group of misfit hip-hop artists. And this categorization is due to the way he shapes his lyrics in the context and structure of a rap song. In tandem with the beats, second and third interspersed vocals, there’s always been a bit of a chaotic ambiance to his standout tracks. Just listen to Jamie XX’s track, “I Know Theres Gonna Be (Good Times)” for a good example of that chaotic melody and lyricism. Nevertheless, it’s that lyrical “clutter” that somehow melds into cohesion by the end that makes “Gangsta Shit” effortlessly sounding while maintaining its head-bopping catchiness.

5. I Need A Forest Fire – James Blake (feat. Bon Iver)

Bon Iver just announced that he will be performing a set of all new music at his Eaux Claires festival. Not surprising in the least bit seeing how active he’s been this year with his Asia tour. However, this isn’t Bon Iver’s first feature on a James Blake track. They’ve collaborated before on a song entitled “Fall Creek Boys Choir“, another whispery, electronic track . The duo’s follow-up track, “I Need A Forest Fire”, is a single off of James Blake’s newest album, The Colour in Anything. To expect anything less than a heavily falsetto laden song is folly. Taking a minimalist approach in everything but the vocals, the song shines as it allow for James Blake and Justin Vernon’s voices to cut through the track’s foggy moodiness.

6. C’mon – Big Gigantic (feat. GRiZ)

I was never big into the EDM scene but songs like “C’mon” by Big Gigantic convince me every so often to re-dabble with that music scene. The combination of the bombastic horns, high-powered synth and the concluding sax solo makes for a plain fun listen. And that’s all there is to it with “C’mon”. There’s no fuss here to be made about it. It’s just a straightforward, honest-to-God banger of a song.

7. Burn – The Temper Trap

We’ve come a long way since that scene in 500 Days of Summer where The Temper Trap slid into our ears with the effervescently catchy “Sweet Disposition“. Nearly seven years later, “Burn” is one of three featured tracks off of The Temper Trap’s newly released third album, Thick as Thieves. Here, “Burn” is easily the best track off of the new album. Crisp and clean, the song is a modern rock anthem that soars on the backs of its main vocals and chorus. It’s a stadium rock song with quiet moments that crescendo back into feelings of euphoria within just a few seconds.

Better Call Saul: Season 2 Retrospective

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Bob Odenkirk in “Better Call Saul.” Ursula Coyote/AMC

Better Call Saul’s second season uncovered the thrill within the mundanity of one’s day-to-day existence. And what a welcomed change that’s been from the caustic, unpredictable nature of its predecessor, Breaking Bad. Make no mistake, this is what Vince Gilligan and his writers fully intended to do. They assured and reassured their audiences that this would not be a retread of Walter White’s tragic saga and it’s safe to say that Better Call Saul is all the better for it.

So with that goal of differentiation in mind, how do you revisit a universe so overcast by a meth kingpin’s shadow that it bleeds into the past? You do so by trading in the exciting for the bland. Barrels of acidified human slurry for cocobolo desks. Cartel killing tequila for a working lunch Moscow mule. Raspberry blue crystal meth for a cherry red wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man. But that is not to say that Better Call Saul suffers due to this trade-off, instead it thrives off of being surrounded by ordinary plainness.

Plastered across Better Call Saul’s visual palate is a folksy, southern, well-mannered feel that acts as a foil to the apocalyptic western in Breaking Bad. These two shows are no more chronologically conjoined to one another as they are in narrative contrast to each other. Day jobs, night jobs, disparate families, begrudging friends, always-short finances, these are all central threads that mesh around the characters of Jimmy McGill and Walter White. However while Walter’s story goes about the way of a kamikaze, from soaring heights to final descent, Jimmy’s tale is simply content with drawing a moral boundary in the sand and dancing a jig on it.

In season 2, that feeling of giddy satisfaction comes from Jimmy’s ability to find joy in his work through his flexible moral stance. It’s both funny and sad how realistically the show depicts the gaping opportunities of moral bankruptcy in the show’s practice of law. From open acts of smarmy southern solicitation, beanie baby bribing, to the forging of pie kink evidence, it seems that Jimmy prefers the wrong way of doing things despite it being more difficult to pull off. And that’s because there’s an irresistible itch for badness and misbehavior that has been etched into the (multicolored) fabric of his identity. “Slipping Jimmy” as Chuck would decry. But we, the audience, just want to see more and more of that slippin’ and slidin’.

Season 2 delivered Jimmy’s slipperiness in spades by showing us how mediocrity would set his itch off. To trigger the Jekyll/Hyde transformation, you surround Jimmy with prickly rules and blasé limitations and appreciate how creatively he bests those hurdles at his own crooked pace. Set Jimmy on partner track with the company car and a corner office. Get fired for not flushing the toilet. Keep Jimmy on a short leash by way of his vigilant, untrusting brother, Chuck. Have Jimmy run mental laps around him by exploiting his physical illness. Tie him down by having him fall in love with Kim Wexler, the show’s female Clarence Darrow. Have that arrow flex to Jimmy’s immoral wills by way of slick cons and free drinks.

What’s better, Jimmy appears to be having so much fun while pulling off these stunts with a spry, ageless confidence. And that’s what hooks us in for the ride. We quickly forget to question the morality of the situation. If Jimmy is having so much fun doing it, what should stop him? That’s where the “joy in the work” concept that pulls the audience towards the wrong side of Jimmy’s line in the sand and keeps us there. We want to see Slippin’ Jimmy, not James McGill, esq., because it means conflict, which drives the story forward all the while keeping us on our toes. More importantly, when we see the “harmlessness” of Jimmy’s folly compared to the destruction Walt had wrought upon all who came into his orbit, all we can muster is an aw-shucks shrug to it all.

From running a law firm ad without the partner’s go-ahead to sabotaging Chuck’s ego with an exact-o knife at a local copy store, these are all harmless, mellow conflicts firmly entangled in the day-to-day operations of Jimmy McGill. Nevertheless, all of these micro-aggressions are fascinating to watch as they peel back the layers of the delicate chrysalis that houses the colorfully dressed Saul Goodman that we’ve come to know and love. While we have yet to reach that pivotal moment in the series where Jimmy goes full Goodman the way Walt went full Heisenberg in season 4. Nevertheless, it’s like waiting for an explosion to take place in a retirement home. An extraordinary event in an ordinary location. That dissonance is engaging. So as we wait for that transformation to finally take place, we’re distracted by the thrill of misbehavior within Jimmy’s day-to-day living.