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Mr. Robot: “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt1.tc” & “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt2.tc” Review

robot_s2ep1_elliotbasketballPhoto: Peter Kramer/USA Network

The sky is falling. The end is nigh. The day of reckoning is here. Take a look around at the state of our modern world and we find ourselves wrapped in an ever-growing presence of bleakness, despair and bloodshed. Uncertainty over our futures. Chaos becoming normalized. Violence settling into our day-to-day routines. It seems to me that with the two-part premiere of Mr. Robot’s second season, showrunner Sam Esmail and his writers have taken a good hard look at this current landscape and have chosen to slop that sentiment thick and heavy onto their own show. Like Mr. Esmail promised last fall, Season 2 is supposedly going to get “really fucking dark“. And after viewing Episode 1, it seems like the show is well on his way towards getting there.

But it’s the method by which Mr. Esmail and his writers fold in that darkness that allows the show not to devolve into a vignette of shock value scenes but rather steer towards a nuanced social critique. And they do that by adding in thought, concepts and beliefs into the show in a way that’s not too on the nose. The church group that Elliot attends. Therapy sessions with Krista. The solipsizing monologues by our main protagonist. The book of Revelations recited at the episode’s end. Nietzsche once famously wrote, “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back.” Here, Mr. Robot encourages its viewers to gaze into its pit of despair and brokenness. In return, the show channels back a furious and biting commentary on the state of our broken existence. The imagery and themes are thick and heavy. The visuals of a flaming pile of money just barely lapping away at a pristine One World Trade Center in the background. A quick economic rehash of the 2008 Financial Crisis led by E Corp CEO Phillip Price. A flash of a Nancy Grace segment as a character flips through morning TV programming. These are less-than-subtle hints. Flickers of an American pastime marred by crisis and fear. And it breaks down any happy thoughts for our character’s futures.

robot_s2ep1_elliotrobotroomPhoto: Peter Kramer/USA Network

We find Elliot at the beginning of the Season Two in a state of self-regression. He has gone radio-silent. Quit cold turkey. Disconnected if you will (mind the pun). Enrolling himself into a rigid existence that involves meal-based meetings with his new friend Leon (portrayed by Joey Bada$$), shacking up with his über-austere mother and most importantly, no interaction with any electronics or the internet whatsoever. And we get it at this point. He’s trying to extract the tumor that is Mr. Robot from his consciousness. But it won’t be as easy as a bullet to the cheek. No, this goes much deeper. There is something truly, deeply and frighteningly wrong with Elliot’s mind. From the visceral hallucinations of self-inflicted wounds and the chronic sleepwalking bouts. Elliot is far more fragile and volatile than the last time we’ve seen him. And most importantly, with him being the unreliable narrator of the show, this only heightens our distrust of what appears on the screen.

Meanwhile, Gideon, Darlene and Angela are all still contending with the fallout or direct consequences of their actions from season one. Gideon finds himself under the crushing scrutiny of the F.B.I. in relation to the E Corp hacks. Darlene still is mentally distraught by the little progress her hacks have achieved in the grand scheme of things. And Angela faces a existential crisis, trying to find meaning in work or sex or self-affirmation but ultimately failing to do so. So, the chessboard is in place with our main players for this season. Their arcs are visible. That is, until the most innocent of those three gets their brains blown out. With Gideon’s murder, a critical moral core for this season is lost. Earlier on, when he pleaded for Elliot to tell the F.B.I. the truth about the hacks, it felt like the show’s certain desperation for ethics and order before it’s final plunge. Elliot refused Gideon’s pleas but felt bothered enough by the Gideon’s hopelessness. Now, the show is free to spiral downward into a complete tailspin with the remaining three. Elliot, Darlene and Angela. I suspect that this season will see how far it can push these three characters into the darkness without any appropriate guardians or blowback victims to remind them of their moral straying, responsibility or guilt.

robot_s2ep1_elliotrobotPhoto: Peter Kramer/USA Network

“Unmasked” is the key word in the title of the first episode for Season 2. Elliot muses throughout the episode, saying pertinent things such as, “How do I take off the mask when it stops being the mask” and “What mask do you wear?”. He fights with his alter-ego Mr. Robot, a malcontent specter of his father intent on getting him back in “the game”. Throughout the first episode, they struggle back and forth. In conversations with strangers. In the bedroom alone with an imaginary gun, fake threats and hallucinatory bullet wounds. Elliot thinks he’s in control. The strict regiment is working for him. Until, he realizes it isn’t. Mr. Robot has found a loophole. Sleep. And during times of Elliot’s supposed slumbering, Mr. Robot awakes and begins to sow technologic chaos a la Tyler Durden and Project Mayhem. The mask is being placed back on. And this time its seems to be permanently affixed as Mr. Robot slyly declares to Elliot, “I’m gonna make you realize…that they see me”.

Losing battles. All of the characters in Mr. Robot are facing them in one way or another. Their futures seem personally apocalyptic in a sense. The readings from Revelations 21 at the episode’s end only further accentuates those feelings of Armageddon. There is no exit from this “infinite loop of insanity” as Elliot notes. That sense of bleakness for the future can also be seen in a seemingly out-of-joint scene in Part 1 of the first episode. The smart home of Madam Executioner that Darlene hacks is reminiscent of a short story by Ray Bradbury called “There Will Come Soft Rains”. In the story, all characters have died via nuclear war. All that remains is a smart home in California that slowly erodes into nothingness. That decay is relatable to the chaos that unfolds in Madam Executioner’s hacked smart home. Alarms blare. Sound system roar. Lights flash. It’s a reminder that our faith in technology is a fake promise, a lie, a con in “con-fidence” as the CEO of E Corp notes.

robot_s2ep1_ramiPhoto: Peter Kramer/USA Network

Therefore, moving forward, there is no shred of trust and goodwill we can give Mr. Robot in the upcoming episodes. As Elliot further descends into madness, the reality of the show becomes more complex and deceptive as his alter-ego. And while we cannot trust the storyline, there is a profound sense of fun and intrigue for us viewers due to that type of narrative uncertainty. Moreover, the moral culpability of Elliot’s actions are incredibly damning. Gideon’s blood is on Elliot’s hands. And with Gideon being a forced player in Elliot’s hacking scheme, he is simply collateral damage. His end was to muse about his failed existence over a neat cocktail and then bleed out on the floor of some random Manhattan bar. For every action, there is a reaction. And Gideon’s death shows that this show is more than willing to exhibit the consequences of its main character’s madness. But the question remains, just how far down does Elliot’s rabbit hole of insanity go?

Watch Mr. Robot Season 2 on USA Network at 10/9C on Wednesdays. 

What I’m Listening To: Week 8

*Apologies about the delay on Week 7’s installment. I was in Iceland for a week but we are now back to our regularly scheduled programming.*

1. Go Off – M.I.A.

M.I.A. is back with an electrifying single called “Go Off” featuring beats by both Skrillex and Blackstar. There’s heaps of energy found in this song, shoveled in exuberantly by all three artists involved. But here, M.I.A.’s rap delivery stands out amongst the rest, even when paired up against Skrillex’s chaotic synth production. Drum beats, echoing vocals, and alien-like sound effects pervade the sound space. However, M.I.A.’s vocals remain first and foremost here while sounding laid-back at the same time. There’s an incredibly deft comfortability in the way that her written words are spoken. They don’t impose their presence on the listener’s ears. They rather slink past smoothly in tandem with the beats and sounds. This is an addicting hit of a single, one that’s sure to boost the hype for her upcoming (and reportedly final) album AIM, out on September 9th.

Watch the music video for “Go Off” by M.I.A. below: 

2. Superlove – Tinashe

Listening to “Superlove” by Tinashe is like taking in a compressed hit of all the top songs from pop stars such as Katy Perry, Fergie and Nicki Minaj. Cop that with a quick dash of early 2000s R&B and you have “Superlove’. There’s an alluring feature to be heard here as Tinashe keeps the song’s tempo fast, the lyrics bubbly and the aura super sweet. This is a song undeniably oriented towards a female audience, meant for the ladies to proudly karaoke to. It’s an “celebration to happiness” as the artist describes herself and a solid attempt at nabbing a radio hit single for the summer. But who can blame her when she’s this good at crafting a mix as light and sugary as the pop idols who’ve come before her?

3. Silhouette – Goldroom

I’ve categorized dozens of songs throughout these past eight weeks as quintessential songs for the summer of 2016. Goldroom’s newest installment “Silhouette” should be proudly shelved amongst those already labeled and stocked. There’s a hipness to the single, in the way that it makes your body parts move to its graceful and electro-pop beat. There isn’t much thematic material or grand ideas to dive into here. Just a few repetitious lyrics, “Without you I’m a silhouette” and “Without you”, draped in an cloyingly fresh beat that’s prime material to be driven, partied or danced to. “Silhouette” is another textbook example of songs that’ll carry you through the long and hot summer nights.

4. Fever – Roosevelt

One of my favorite songs off of this week’s playlist. “Fever” by Roosevelt is just a cool-sounding song . But there’s nothing too extraordinary or out of the norm to be found here. It’s just that the song contains all the trappings of a solid take on summer electronica. Soft beats, light vocals and cresting synths. Try to not get addicted to the repeat button as the song fades into a light, airy and all-too-quick conclusion.

5. Library Magic – The Head and the Heart

Simple and melancholy. “Library Magic”, The Head and the Heart’s newest single plays like an up-tempo Simon and Garfunkel track. The self-reflective tone of the voices singing here only further cement that sentiment. Moreover, fans of the band will be delighted to hear the folk genre still running strong with this band. As the paired vocals insist on some vague hope for the future. Lines such as “There will always be better days” and “It’s easy to begin and hard to end” signal that longing for something better and yet a ways before they’ll reach that point.

6. Welcome To Your Life – Honne

“Welcome To Your Life” by Honne is a controlled take on an electronica song. There’s a certain level of restraint exhibited here even as the chorus vocals climb higher and higher. That aural hold-back keeps the listeners locked in and waiting for the moment until that restrictiveness is released. The push and pull between the verses and chorus displays a nice dynamic in vocal delivery. Muted then loud and back again, that pattern induces a soothing effect, keeping us hooked into its roller-coaster-like flow of plateaus, ups and downs.

7. Catching On – Elephante

Elephante has gifted her listeners with a sleek and catchy EDM single called “Catching On”. The song features beats crafted by Nevve that features an excited house tinge to its sound. That combination of the heavy percussion, a slight tropical vibe and the catchy hook makes Elephante’s  “Catching On” worth listening to during the hot season.

What I’m Listening To: Week 7

1. Friends – Francis and the Lights (feat. Bon Iver)

My ears deceived me as I listened to Francis and the Light’s single “Friends”. I was so unsure of whether I was listening to the artist himself or the song’s guest feature Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver, Volcano Choir and The Shouting Matches fame). And that’s because the two sound so damn similar to one another. The auto-tuned vocal layering, the song’s wave-like electro-rhythms and the soft celestial beat that pulsates throughout. All of it just further added to my confusion. Nevertheless, “Friends” is a hauntingly good song. Wholly reminiscent of “Beth/Rest” on Bon Iver’s self-titled album with a bit more pep in its step. This is a song you can slowly groove to, as seen by the synchronized dance by both artists in the music video below. Lyrics-wise, there’s a pleading that’s happening here. As the two artists sing, “We can be friends/Put your head on my shoulders”, “Still waiting on your sunshine” or “I can’t remember what it’s like/To never let go”, there’s a desperation that’s vocalized. But all of that is hidden behind the positive sheen of the music itself. While the vocals seamlessly splice in and out, the longing remains palpable and obvious. The song’s emotional pull showcases the human need to be heard and the ineffable desire to be seen.

Watch the music video for “Friends” by Francis and the Lights featuring Bon Iver and Kanye West below: 

2. Weekend – Louis The Child (feat. Icona Pop)

“Weekend” is assertive, almost cocky in its delivery. It immediately draws you with its jig-jag tunes and punctuated lyrics. Chalk it up to the vocal swagger of Icona Pop and Louis the Child’s chaotically hypnotizing beats. It’s a fun song, one meant to be played in heavy rotation at weekend house parties and late night dive bars. That’s because there’s a fleeting quality found in “Weekend”, which perfectly fits the nature of its namesake. Just clocking in at under 3 minutes, the song’s fast paced nature zips through and finishes without a hint at its sudden conclusion. And just like the weekend journeys we stumble upon and their half-forgotten memories by Monday, “Weekend” provides us with a good reason to hit that repeat button over and over to start re-remembering all over again.

3. Best To You – Blood Orange

Last week I wrote about Blood Orange and his single “Augustine”. This week I bring you “Best to You”, another standout track off of his new album Freetown Sound. Remember the song “Nothing Better” by the Postal Service? The lyrical pleading and denial delivered by Ben Gibbard (from Death Cab for Cutie) and Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame). “Nothing Better” is essentially a break-up conversation told via lyrical delivery. Here, “Augustine” takes that same concept in “Nothing Better” and flips it to the perspective of the female. This is a vision of unrequited love told from the female perspective. Here, Dev Hynes sings “Do you really want to?”, showcasing his half-hearted response to the sung pleas of Lorely Rodriguez (from Empress of). She coos off lists that exhibit her conflicted affection when singing, “I can be the only one”, “I can be the best to you, best to you”, and “I feel my bones crack in your arms”. Here, she reveals the pain caused by her love while continuing to chase after that feeling, unwilling to let it go. And in a devastatingly simple way, Dev Hynes closes out the song by rhetorically asking, “Did he even notice?” Incredible.

4. Higher – The Naked And Famous

The Naked and Famous is a mainstay from my college days. Their singles “Punching in a Dream” and “Young Blood” fueled my ears for tireless nights as I stayed up late writing essays and studying for finals. If I could send them a piece of my diploma without my parents finding out I totally would. And now I’m delighted to find out that the band has returned with a new single called “Higher”. It’s a cleaner and controlled song compared to their earlier works until that chorus. And then the nostalgia washes over me all over again. The cresting vocals cry out, egging each other on as the band sings, “Higher, higher/Tonight we raise the debt/Tonight we bury this in fire”. It’s a return to form for what works for this band A welcomed throwback to the type of songs that slithered into the ears of its fans from the very beginning. The Naked and Famous’ new album Simple Forms is set to be released on October 14, 2016.

5. Rising Water – James Vincent McMorrow

James Vincent McMorrow makes his return with an light electronica (!) single “Rising Water”. The song is a cool, soothing track that assuages all initial trepidations just as the moody bass kicks in with the twangy synth. Artists are humans. They grow as they take in life experiences and then use the medium of music to express that intake process. “Rising Water” is a prime example of what happens when an artist excels at that form of creative “exhale”. There is a subtle R&D type flow in “Rising Water” as the pace keeps kicking at a higher tempo. There is life to be found in the song, a sense of activity that hooks you in while the subtleties of the instrumentation ease your ears into a sense of comfortability. If “Rising Water” is a sign of the evolution of James Vincent McMorrow, I’m excited to hear what else he has in store. His upcoming album We Move is scheduled to be released on September 2nd, 2016.

6. WHateva U Want – ScHoolboy Q (feat. Candice Pillay)

Schoolboy Q just released a new album titled Blank Face LP. It’s good. Really good. And “WHateva U Want” is a standout track amidst an incredibly stacked tracklist. The song breathes a vivid nastiness with its lyrical twists and turns that Schoolboy Q pulls off with a certain finesse. Candice Pillay, a standout feature from Dr. Dre’s Compton, coos in on the background, acting as the foil to the jagged edges found in “WHateva U Want”. This track bumps and grinds. The beat selection in intriguing with a heavy electronica vibe coursing throughout. Then there’s the actual lyrics, a monument to the sheer fun of an excessive existence. Lyrics such as “Cribbo in the Hills/Table full of bills”, “Take my debit and go cray/Spend, spend every dollar, all way” and “Benz, Benz, want the rims on the truck” all but help reinforce that sentiment. Schoolboy Q’s new album Blank Face LP is available for purchase and streaming now.

7. Sinner of the Week – Daniel Wilson

“Sinner of the Week” by Daniel Wilson takes a promising mix of various musical influences, ranging from gospel, R&B, electronica and pop, and neatly packages it into a hit-ready single. Effortlessly catchy and seemingly cool, Daniel Wilson’s voice is the hook, line and sinker of this track. There’s a bit of Gnarls Barkley in his delivery, the way that his voice crests up and down according the song’s cadence without any hint of effort expended. The beat is vaguely MJ-esque and I’m talking the “Bad” Michael Jackson era, which, in my opinion, will always be his best years. A solid entry for the summer season, “Sinner of the Week” is a promising indication of things to come as the release date of Daniel Wilson’s upcoming EP, Sinner of the Week, approaches.

What I’m Listening To: Week 6

1. Augustine – Blood Orange

There’s a beautiful subtlety to “Augustine” by Blood Orange. Maybe its the bare bones rendition of the instrumental tracks, the whispering delivery by Dev Hynes or the echoing chorus reminiscent of a church choir. It’s hard to pinpoint all of these varying factors when listening to “Augustine” for the first time. The track plays with such a light and liberated quality that it glides through your headspace with such effortless ease. And the thematic vision of the song partners up with feelings of inevitable passage or ancient self-campaign (see St. Augustine, who inspired the song’s title). Lyrics such as, “My father was a young man/My mother off the boat/My eyes were fresh at 21/Bruised but still afloat” further cement those visuals of idealistic and youthful wandering while showing that they come at a cost.

Freetown Sound, Blood Orange’s new album is available to listen to now. Watch the music video for “Augustine” below: 

2. You – Brika

The first thing that strikes you about Brika’s new single “You” is the elliptical quality of her vocals. They elevate and descend without betraying any effort in their motion. The electronica tunes and sound effects that outline this single are kept simple to a fault. It’s a deliberate act, so as to emphasize the weaving passage of her singing voice. It guides you, and tries to convinces you to move with the beat, whether it be a beating finger, a head bop or a foot tap. Simple and seductive, “You” by Brika avoids the error of complicating things for its audience and leaves you with a fleeting zephyr of a song.

3. Second Nature – Stalking Gia

By far the most addictive song on this week’s list: “Second Nature” by Stalking Gia uses its pulsating beat and sultry vocals to hook its listeners in immediately. There’s a nightlife quality to this song. It’s something you’d want to listen to while cruising through the emptied streets of a vast metropolis. It’s a quieted anthem, if you will, that keeps pushing its head bobbing tunes until the very end.

4. Imad Royal – Bad 4 U

With a light touch of the tropical, Imad Royal has crafted a summer single in “Bad 4 u” that’ll remain under the mainstream radar but shouldn’t. The song has all the trappings of a hit radio song. From the text abbreviations in its title to its repetitiously simple chorus and the trendy use of its brass horns. There’s nothing to be said here other than “Bad 4 U” is exactly what you’d hear on the local radio, perfectly crafted for seasonal use and long forgotten about after the warmth fades away.

5. Bad Suns – Disappear Here

Is there such a thing as post-pop punk? As in the shattered musical remnants of my teenage years reanimated for the succeeding generation? Just recently, bands such as Sum 41, Blink 182 and Yellowcard have released new singles or albums. It seems like they’re catching onto a new trend that I’m just not seeing. But I’m willing to chalk it up to “being out of touch”. It’s the easy way out I suppose. Anyways, “Disappear Here”, the new single by Bad Suns, is what I’d categorize under that newly coined genre. The sound is undeniably reminiscent of my high-school glory days. The catchy hooks, guitar riffs and shouting vocals in “Disappear Here” are timeless in the sense that they bring me back to my Walkman-CD-player-in-my-cargo-pants-pocket era.

6. Melt – JONES

Digital soul. (I’ll admit, I found that term on JONES’ Spotify artist page) These two words perfectly summarize the sound “Melt” provides for its listeners. Cherie Jones’ vocals here are powerful without ever over-staying its welcome. There’s an aurally resonant quality to the single, a vocal warmth in the song’s delivery. “Melt” provides not only a lush overflow of sound but also a synesthesic quality of colors that fill in each note and tune.

7. Come with Me – ISLAND

Easily my favorite track from this week. Like being caught in a cool undercurrent, “Come With Me” by Island courses through your ears in refreshing fashion. It’s a short song, clocking in at just under three minutes. But I’ve always preferred the Irish goodbye over overstaying your welcome. Overall, “Come With Me” is moody, breezy and non-committal in tone. You can’t really grasp what it’s really saying because it doesn’t want to be understood. Moreover, the guitar interlude with the ringing tremelo is a nice touch. A simple yet alluring tune for the extended holiday weekend.

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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