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Kristen May - Made To Love You

When Kristen May does anything it earns a post from us here at The Undercard. Today the Flyleaf lead singer teased us with a new song titled “Made To Love You.” For people who are fans of her solo work (me) getting a new song once every few months is better than getting nothing at all. By all accounts there should be some new Flyleaf music on the horizon that features a heavy influence from Kristen May. Listen and enjoy.

By - Craig A. Brenner

Follow on twitter @craig_a_brenner & @theundercard 

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We Are Scientists - TV En Français

It took four years but we finally have a new We Are Scientists album and TV En Français is exactly what I expected from WAS. This album is fast, not that long (10 tracks and clocking in at 34:30) and catchy lyrics.

I have always enjoyed WAS writing style on their albums mainly because the lyrics have a very authentic and realistic feel to them. They use phrases and words that I feel like people use in actual conversations. This is scene throughout the entire album and especially in the opening tracks What You Do Best. Speaking of opening tracks WAS does a really good job of putting one of their better songs as the opening song to kick off the album. Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt, Ghouls, Rules Don’t Stop, and now What You Do Best are all opening tracks. I know using the word clever when it comes to music makes people roll their eyes but when I listen to this album (and previous ones) by WAS that is the main word that comes to mind. They have an ability to take these everyday concepts and ideas (Dumb Luck, Overreacting, Don’t Blow It) and surround them with a musical sound that does a good job of not becoming stale.

The only issues I have with this album are there are moments when the lyrics get a little drowned out by the music and that the album is less than 35 minutes long. For my money you can never have too much WAS.

Random Thoughts:

* I bought a real life hard copy of this album and they don’t include any of the lyrics in the CD jacket.

* “When I said you were something else, I didn’t mean it as a compliment” is my favorite lyric from this album.

* I have always found it interesting that WAS has such a European feel to them considering they are from the Northern California area.  

* I am really upset WAS are not coming to Kansas City on tour. I saw them a few years ago at the RecordBar and it was amazing. That show is in my top five of all time.

Grade - B+

By Craig A. Brenner

Follow on Twitter @craig_a_brenner

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Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys: A reaction

"…a performance by Kendrick Lamar with Imagine Dragons…"

This was the preview given to us during the broadcast of this year’s Grammys. I was instantly intrigued. The Grammys are known for pairing artists for performances, and this year was no different. Chicago joined Robin Thicke, while Stevie Wonder performed with Daft Punk, Pharrell, and Nile Rodgers. However, the Kendrick-Imagine Dragons pairing stood out to me. With the others, you could kind of see how the artists styles would blend together. I didn’t really see this with KDot and Imagine Dragons. You had to figure “Radioactive” was coming from Imagine Dragons, which made trying to figure out what Kendrick would go with difficult. “Swimming Pools” is probably his most TV performance friendly song, while “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” is probably his most popular. It didn’t take long for this question to get answered, and in the end it made perfect sense.

Very rarely do I every get envious that I missed a particular performance. Outkast at Coachella was in that class until it was released they were planning on playing multiple festivals this year. So it’s not a stretch to think I might actually be able to catch them somewhere. And on top of that, a successful festival tour might lead to another album, which would probably lead to a headlining tour. Even the Hologram 2Pac performance at last year’s Coachella only gave me a “ehhh” feeling. This is not the case for the Kendrick/ Imagine Dragons Grammy performance. Even watching at home, I was blown away. The energy in that room had to be unbelievable. This was made clear by the audience reactions throughout and after the performance. The second the “GAH GAH GAH GAH” of “M.A.A.D City” dropped, my eyes got wide and my jaw dropped. “He’s actually doing THIS?!?!” were my exact words. And the best part about it? It worked. By God, did it work. The drums and guitar sounded incredible and gave the track a rock feel and a different level of energy. Kendrick matched that intensity with his delivery. The transition from “M.A.A.D City” back to “Radioactive” was seamless. And while I’ve never seen Imagine Dragons perform (thanks Kanrocksas…), they seemed to pick up right where Kendrick left off energy wise.

But we were just getting started. Little did we know that we were listening to a remix version of “Radioactive”. As the music dropped off for the vocal solo towards the end of the song, Kendrick jumped back in. He started off his verse slow and quiet, matching the musical backing. He then began to pick up the pace; the volume of his voice rising along with his delivery. Imagine Dragons answered with beats from various types and sizes of drums. Both parties raised their energy levels in unison. Soon, Kendrick was at the peak of his flow and was yelling his lyrics. Just as the energy had reached it’s apex, the drums cut out, leaving just Kendrick with a few A Capella bars and ending with a primal scream. And then an explosion of sound, bringing “Radioactive” back in. It was as entertaining of a performance as I have ever seen, both on TV or in person.

In the following days, I have thought a lot about this performance. I’ve had “M.A.A.D City” stuck in my head ever since, but there’s more to it than that. I think we learned something about the performers themselves. I now would really like to see Imagine Dragons live. If that performance is any indication, it looks like they put on a hell of a show. Also, I’ve gotten to like “Radioactive” a little bit more now.

But, above all, we learned some things about Kendrick Lamar. Some things we already knew were reinforced. Despite Macklemore sweeping the rap awards that night, Kendrick cemented his place as the best rapper alive. With all due respect to Macklemore and The HeistGood Kid, M.A.A.D City should have won Best Rap Album. It’s one of the best albums in the last 5 years. But maybe more impressive than his ability to put together a great album is his ability to deliver a show stealing verse. We’ve seen this before from KDot. I don’t think I’ve ever heard more people talk about a single verse more than I did when “Control” came out. This ability was on full display at The Grammys. His verse to close out the performance was incredible. It’s even slightly better on the studio version. The way he changes the tempo, volume, and even the sound of his voice is almost unheard of from any other rapper.

What I took away from this performance the most is that Kendrick is a transcendent talent. He is an absolute star. After watching the performance again and again (I’m on about 15 times and counting), I’m completely captivated by Lamar. He is totally in the moment. He head bangs and throws his body around during the rock portions of the song. He is completely in the zone while delivering his final verse. He bangs the shit out of a giant bass drum as the performance draws to a energetic close. Kendrick can do anything he wants. I think he can and will reach Lil’ Wayne circa 2008 levels. He already has a near classic album out. His features are second to none. Who knows what the rest of his career will bring. His next album should be incredible. And after seeing the Grammy performance, I almost hope he takes a page from Wayne’s book and does a rock album. But maybe something closer to Blackroc, where he teams with the likes of Imagine Dragons, Foo Fighters, etc. to make one badass album. Really, anything is possible for Kendrick Lamar. And I absolutely can’t wait to watch it all unfold.

By Kurtis Klay

Filed under Kendrick Lamar Grammys Imagine Dragons

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The Best of 2013

Kurtis Klay’s Best of 2013

2013 was a year of artists big and small. Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, and Beyonce all released albums, while small, independent acts like Macklemore and Lorde (more on them later) became household names.

But the year in music belonged to one man. This man could be heard all over the place and was a part of two of the biggest songs of the year. I, of course, am talking about Pharrell Williams. Easily one of the coolest people in the music industry, Pharrell was all over the place this year. From features on Daft Punk’s album; to producing for Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Pusha-T, and Beyonce; to helping produce the soundtrack for Despicable Me 2 (including making the incredibly catchy “Happy”, now featured on a Beats Pill commercial), Pharrell could do no wrong in 2013. So where to now for the super producer? Hopefully more features, but I personally will always look forward to another N.E.R.D. album.

Now that we have determined the winner of 2013, here are the albums that contributed to the year in music.

Honorable Mention: Matangi- M.I.A, Nomad- Bombino, Settle- Disclosure, …Like Clockwork- Queens of the Stone Age

10. Because, The Internet- Childish Gambino: The second studio release from ‘Bino is much different from Camp. A little darker and a little more electronic heavy in the production. But it’s pretty tough to make a solid 19 track album, and Donald Glover succeeds in doing that. The first half is mostly what you’d expect from Glover, while the second half is a little more artistic.

9. More Than Just A Dream- Fitz and The Tantrums: If you’re good at something, stick with it. Fitz and The Tantrums are good at making really catchy songs. And More Than Just A Dream delivers an album full of them.  

8. Reflektor- Arcade Fire: Finally, I see the hype. Their last album, The Suburbs, received high praise from critics and took home the Album of the Year Grammy. But personally, I just didn’t hear it. It was just a lot of noise. But on Reflektor, I hear why Arcade Fire is so critically acclaimed. On the album, they add a little hard rock to their signature sound. The result is highly enjoyable album start to finish.

7. Long. Live. A$AP- A$AP Rocky: One of the first albums released in 2013 turned out to be one of the best. Long. Live. A$AP. serves as the studio debut for A$AP Rocky and showcases the immense talent of the Harlem based rapper. The album features some of the biggest names in the industry; like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Big K.R.I.T., and Rocky shines with them all. Rocky also gets some help from unexpected places; namely Skrillex on “Wild For The Night” and Florence Welch on “I Come Apart”. The result is one of the most complete hip-hop albums of the year.

6. AM- Arctic Monkeys: This one took a few listens to grow on me. Initially, I longed for the hard guitar rock, punk influenced Arctic Monkeys I was introduced to in college and saw at Kanrocksas. AM is a toned down version of those Monkeys, but still effective. The hard rock is still there (see: R U Mine?), but the softer sound allows the songwriting to come through a little more than usual. And on this album, it is fantastic.

5. Yeezus- Kanye West: I think most people had the same reaction to this album; most weren’t a fan upon the first listen. The production was very odd and unlike anything Kanye had done before. But after the next few listens you hear some of the best production he has ever done and some of the best raping he’s ever done.

4. Random Access Memories- Daft Punk: One of the biggest acts in the world makes a triumphant return with a little bit of help. Ok, a lot of help. A lot of REALLY GOOD help. Julian Casablancas, Paul Williams, Todd Edwards, Panda Bear, Nile Rodgers, and of course Pharrell. But Daft Punk needs zero help with their production. The layering in every track is top notch. I don’t think it’s the best album of the year, but I really hope they take home that Grammy. Seeing two guys with robot heads accept the most prestigious award of the night would be priceless.

3. Evil Friends- Portugal. The Man: I reviewed this album back in July and thought then it had Top 10 potential. It was a really fun album to listen to and was filled with quality tracks. As I took another couple listens toward the end of the year as I was working out this list, I found that the album holds up really well; and maybe even gets better.

2. Old- Danny Brown: The “out of nowhere” album of the year. I had never heard of Danny Brown before this year. (I blame Kanrocksas for not knowing about him earlier, since he was supposed to be there.) As I was looking at end of the year lists online, this album kept popping up. I gave it a listen and was a fan immediately. The album is divided in to two “sides”. The first half of the album, or “side A”, is your typical rap album; featuring raw production and a focus on lyrical content. “Side B” is a modern club record. The production is heavily EDM influenced and Brown’s lyrics are raunchy and filled with drug references. And I love it.

1. The Electric Lady- Janelle Monae: Upon my first few listens, I didn’t think this album would be my top album of the year. But as I kept listening to it, everything just kept getting better. Even the tracks I listened to ad nauseum gained appeal. If I was skipping through my 2013 playlist on Spotify, looking for a particular song, and the opening guitar riff from “Q.U.E.E.N.” came on, it became harder and harder to skip to the next song. And that is what I look for in a top album. Can I listen to it over and over and enjoy it more with each listen? Electric Lady definitely meets this criteria.

Top 25 tracks

25. “Pusher Love Girl”- Justin Timberlake: The lead track on what I thought was a disappointing album. At least on I didn’t feel lived up to the hype.

24. “Kalopsia”- Queens of the Stone Age: The album didn’t hold up quite like I hoped, but I still really like this song.

23. “Control”- Big Sean ft. Jay Electronica and Kendrick Lamar: Let’s be more specific; this is really just about Kendrick’s verse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more internet buzz and industry talk about A SINGLE VERSE, much less a whole song, than I did with this one. The day it came out, about 75% of my Twitter timeline for a couple hours was just about Kendrick’s verse.

22. “Worst Behavior”- Drake: I’m not a huge Drake fan, but I have to give him credit here. Solid delivery over an incredible beat.

21. “Give It 2 U”- Robin Thicke ft. Kendrick Lamar: Sneaky great track due to that other song over shadowing it. Oh yeah, having Kendrick on it doesn’t hurt.

20. “Feds Watchin’”- 2 Chainz ft. Pharrell: rather than give a synopsis, I’ll just leave these here. “Billie Jean red leather/ same color Red Lobster” “Sendin flicks to my patnahs in the state pen/ I just bought some pants made out of snake skin.” Thanks Mr. Chainz. Oh, and #Pharrell

19. “Smokin & Drinkin”- Danny Brown: This A-Trak produced track epitomizes the back half of Old.

18. “Suddenly”- A$AP Rocky: A$AP showcases his rapping talent on this track. He recites his lyrics on the first half, then speeds up his flow without much change in the beat.

17. “Work”- Iggy Azalea: Found out about this one while watching the VMAs. Looked it up on Spotify that night and couldn’t stop listening to it for days.

16. “Happy”- Pharrell Williams: few could make a song from a kids movie so universally appealing. #Pharrell is certainly one of those people

15. “Latch”- Disclosure: Overall, the album was a little to 90’s for me. But I like this track from the start and have been listening to it more and more recently.

14. “Spotlight”- Leagues: Not sure where I heard this first, but I had to Shazam it when I did. A driving drum beat and a catchy guitar riff make this one of my favorites from late in the year.

13. “Q.U.E.E.N.”- Janelle Monae: Fun all around. Great bass and guitar riff. Great chorus. And Monae’s rap at the end is pretty impressive.

12. “Normal Person”- Arcade Fire: Probably the hardest song on the album. Almost Black Keys-esque during the guitar solos

11. “Do I Wanna Know?”- Artic Monkeys: The best song on a solid album. The lyrics remind me of the sham of a Record of The Year winner from Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”. Except, ya know, like 20 times better.

10. “Primetime”- Janelle Monae ft. Miguel: Both parties bring it vocally on this R&B ballad

9. “Song 5” - Haim: I can’t quite put my finger on what makes this song great. All I know is that I listen to it at least one more time after I hear it. Maybe its the tuba provided bass line.

8. “Evil Friends”- Portugal. The Man: Does hearing a song you already like on a commercial or the radio make you like that song even more? Well hearing this song on a Taco Bell commercial did just that for me. And I already REALLY liked this song. The increase in tempo at the beginning sets up for one hell of a song.

7. “Give ‘Em What They Love”- Janelle Monae ft. Prince: The feature should be all you need to know about this song. But Monae holds her own with the rock legend on a song that is right in Prince’s wheelhouse.

6. “Blood On The Leaves”- Kanye West: Just another Kanye track with top notch production and second-to-none lyrics. Ho hum. But seriously, the last verse in this song is among some of his best.

5. “Fuckin’ Problems”- A$AP Rocky ft. Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and 2 Chainz: Rap song of the year. 3 solid verses and a 2 Chainz chorus. Plus a great beat.

4. “Blurred Lines”- Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell and T.I.: Stop pretending you don’t like this song. I know you’ve heard it about a million times. But it doesn’t matter. This song is still as fun as the first time I heard it. This Roots and Jimmy Fallon cover didn’t hurt either.

3. “Thrift Shop”- Macklemore ft. Ryan Lewis

2. “Royals”- Lorde: For these two songs, I’m going to have to enact a provision that I just made up known as the Lorde provision. Technically, both of these songs were released in 2012. But there is no denying these were probably the 2 biggest songs in 2013. They were everywhere. It’s pretty hard to imagine the year in music without these two songs.

1. “Get Lucky”- Daft Punk ft. Pharrell and Nile Rodgers: There was a time where I thought “Blurred Lines” was better than “Get Lucky”. I know how to admit when I’m wrong. “Get Lucky” is the clear cut song of the year, and I was a fool to think otherwise. Sidenote: You have to feel a little bad for Justin Timberlake. “Suit and Tie” was the early frontrunner for song of the summer. And then it got pushed to the side by “Get Lucky” AND “Blurred Lines”. I don’t think anyone saw that coming based off the hype of JT’s new album.

 Top 5 Live Performances

 5. Tie- Every performance at Kanrocksas 2013: I mean I just can’t pick one…

4. Fitz and The Tantrums- Loufest, St. Louis: I expected a high energy performance from this group, and I got exactly that. But what I was happiest about was how well their sound carries over to their live show, especially an outdoor show. The organs, horns, and vocals sound just as good live as on the albums.

3. The Roots- Beale St. Music Festival, Memphis: One of the hardest working bands in the industry definitely do not disappoint with their live show. Every song just flows into the next one and Black Thought may be the most underrated rapper in the game. The Roots seem like the type of band that has a different show night in and night out.

2. Alabama Shakes- Loufest: Seeing The Shakes and, more specifically, lead singer Brittany Howard live is such a treat. Similar to Fitz and The Tantrums, the band’s sound translates really well to a live show. And Howard’s vocal ability is absolutely mind blowing in person.

1. Big Boi- Beale St. Music Festival: There is no question Big Boi put on the best show I saw this year. He is an incredible rapper and his ability to perform from his solo and Outkast catalogs makes this a must see show. I can only imagine how this Outkast reunion is going be. Hopefully I get a chance to see it in person.

By Kurtis Klay

Filed under best of 2013 nowplaying

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The Best of 2013

Craig Brenner’s Top Albums of 2013

Look at that….another album of the year list.  At least us here at The Undercard actually wait until the year has ended to do our lists and don’t pump them out the first week in December.  I love lists so doing a list like this is something I greatly enjoy.  My list is going to consist of the albums I most enjoyed listening to this year.  I look at other lists and the albums they put on there and I wonder if they actually enjoyed listening to that album.  I am sure there will be albums on my list that would never make someone else’s list but this is my list of albums that I had the most fun listening to this past year.  In the end that is what music is meant to be, fun and enjoyable.

Also, this year when deciding what albums would make my list I did not limit myself by putting a certain number I needed to fill.  I simply picked my favorite albums from this year and however many that was would make up my top albums list.  That made it where my list ended up being 22 albums. 

So shall we begin?

22. She & Him - Volume 3

I know there has been a lot of Zooey Deschanel backlash over the past few years.  Frankly I don’t really understand the reasons for this kind of reaction to her.  Volume 3 is the best album She & Him has done to date.  It does a good job of having enough variety within the songs, which was a problem on their previous albums.  Another reason why this album makes the list is that I am a fan of pretty much anything M. Ward does.

21. Talib Kweli - Prisoner of Conscious

Kweli doesn’t care about being an artist or being a mogul or being a multi-genre artist.  He only concerns himself with making really good hip-hop music and he did it again on this album.  He rarely disappoints and this album is another example of that.  And he got me to not completely hate a song that featured a verse by Nelly.  Bravo Talib Kweli Greene.

20. The Strokes - Comedown Machine

Some songs on this album (“All The Time” and “One Way Trigger”) worked better than others (“Welcome To Japan”) but this album showcased The Strokes doing what they do best: looking and sounding like they couldn’t care less about anything ever going on anywhere. 

19. Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals

At this point Sleigh Bells are not reinventing the wheel with their albums.  They know what they do and they know how to do it well.  Make loud music with loud ass guitar and drums and make it very catchy.

18. Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God

Jim James’ solo album was not what I expected at all.  To be honest I thought it would mirror a lot of the sound that you get from a My Morning Jacket album.  That is what tends to happen when the lead singer of a band does the whole solo album game.  See Gibbard, Ben.  That was not the case when it came to Regions of Light and Sound of God.  James does a good job of melding psychedelic rock with elements of a neo-soul type sound. Well-played Mr. James.

17. Lorde - Pure Heroin

I put off listening to Lorde for a good while.  In fact, I did not listen this album until about two weeks ago.  My main reason is that I knew there was no way it would live up to all of the hype I heard about it.  I really listened to it because I had to do so before making this list.  Well, it impressed me for sure.  The production is pretty stellar and I never got bored listening to the album.  It is pretty much Lana Del Ray but way better. 

16. Childish Gambino - Because The Internet

So…I am a pretty big CG fan and was really looking forward to this album.  After the first listen through Because the Internet I didn’t really like it that much.  Because the Internet is a true case of an album that grows on you the more you listen to it.  The production has moments where it is pretty damn impressive but also has moments where it gets too messy and extends itself too far. The first nine tracks of this album are the highlights for sure with a few gems towards the end like “Pink Toes”. 

15. Paramore - Paramore

Despite all of the changes with members of the band quitting and having one of their songs (“The Only Exception”) being featured in Glee they were able to pick up where they left off with their previous album Brand New Eyes.  That is not any easy thing to do for a youngish band.

14. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

For as much love and attention “Get Lucky” received “Touch” is really the best song on this album. 

13. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

I really hope Monae starts of trend of bring more style, class, and soul to the music scene.  She has a great sound and way about her that feels like the perfect blend of the new with the old.

12. Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs - Mosquito

I absolutely love YYYs, which made my expectations for this album completely unrealistic.  There was no way it was going to live up to what I wanted it to be.  That being said it was still very good and exactly what the world needs.  More Karen O in our life.  It has also given us this decade’s “Maps” with “Despair”.

11. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

When the album had it’s own set of highs and lows but the highs were really damn good.

10. Queens of The Stone Age - …Like Clockwork

QOTSA are one of those bands that understands how make an album and by album I mean creating an entire theme and world for you to get lost in.  It didn’t hurt that they got Dave Grohl to jump back behind the drum kit for a few tracks either.

9. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons To Die

I mean it is Ghostface from Wu Tang.  How could it not make the list?  I really loved the production on this album. It had a live band feel to it throughout.

8. Justin Timberlake -  20/20 Experience

JT will take what you are doing/have been doing for years and will do it better.  Case in point is this album. He took what Robin Thicke has been doing for years and does it better than he ever has.

7. Pusha T - My Name is My Name

He does a good job of showing that lyrically he is not a one trick pony and that he is not someone who is just an average rapper who sounds better because he is rapping over some good ass Kanye West beats.

6. Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap

Chance The Rapper is a very refreshing voice and album in the rap game.  I really enjoyed listening to this album and love the sound of his voice and his cadence.  It does a great job of towing the line of sounding slurred and inaudible to being clear and on point.

5. The Thermals - Desperate Ground

The Thermals are another band that is not reinventing the wheel with their latest album. There is not much to this album musically.  The Thermals say this was on purpose so the lyrics would be more of the focal point for the listener. The Thermals do a great job of making sure every album has a theme to them. This album falls directly into the “never got tired of listening to” category.  I know that there are many albums on this list that are considered “better” than this one but I don’t really care.  I just really loved and still love listening to this album.  Once again, that is kind of the main point of music.

4. Kanye West - Yeezus

We finally get to Yeezus.  I really liked moments of this album and really hated others.  But on an album that only has ten tracks and you really like seven of them then you have to conclude it is a really good album.  This album is not as great as everyone says it is but it also isn’t as crappy as everyone says it is either.  It is somewhere in the middle.

3. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP2

You can read my full review of MMLP2 here if you would like.  Long story short: Em is the greatest rapper ever and shows how great of a lyrical rapper he is on this album.  Also, it is a return to the fun, goofy, and off the wall Eminem from my younger days.

2. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels

I love that Killer Mike and EL-P made this album because they wanted to show everyone how good of rappers they are.  I find that really damn awesome.  This album is raw, energetic and unapologetic.  2013 turned out to be a pretty good year for rap music and Run The Jewels takes the crown as the best rap album of the year.

1. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City

I have yet to grow tired of this album.  Vampire Weekend is proving to be one of those rare and great bands that get better with every single album.  I did not think they could surpass Contra but they did.  This is such a well-done and complete album that is worthy of many listens.  There are so many highlights on this album but for me, my favorite song is “Hannah Hunt”.  I truly love everything about this album and what Vampire Weekend accomplished with it.

By Craig Brenner

Filed under Grammys 2013 album of the year

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Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below: 10 Years Later

2003 may have been the most important year in my life.

Turning 18 in May, I officially moved into adulthood. I graduated from high school in June. And, in August, I started a journey that many take that would help shape the person I am today. I left home and went 3 hours west to start college at Mizzou. Being from Illinois, this was out of the norm. The vast majority of my graduating class went to either the University of Illinois or Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Only two other members of my class joined me at Mizzou (shoutout to Traci and Kim). So the next few months of my life were going to be filled with new experiences, with new influences from new people. No where was this most evident, perhaps, than in the music I listened to. That year was when I first started listening to rap/hip-hop on a regular basis. Y107 (Home of B-Lova Lova.Your brotha from anotha motha. Deep down undacova, cuz there is no otha) became one of my favorite radio stations in Columbia. Also, I was hanging out with a lot of people from St. Louis and Kansas City, who had more exposure to a wider variety of music. You see, here in Springfield, we sadly don’t have a radio station devoted to rap/hip-hop. So, before college, the only rap/ hip-hop I heard was what was played on Top 40 stations. That selection was pretty limited.

One album would change that forever.

Well, technically two albums. It was in September of 2003 when Outkast released their duel album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. While the group’s name appears on both albums, the separate albums essentially serve as solo releases for the two members. Speakerboxxx predominately features Big Boi, while Andre 3000 headlines The Love Below.

Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx is exactly what you would expect from the duo. It’s Dirty South rap to the core. If you bought the duel album and listened to this one first, your reaction would be “Wow, I’m gonna get roughly 2 1/2 hours of this?! Well I’m good with that.”.Three tracks in we get “Unhappy”, which sounds like vintage Outkast. Big Boi picks up the tempo in his rhymes over a slower beat. The whole track is set up for a Andre 3K verse that matches the tempo of the beat a la “Ms. Jackson”, but it never comes. This is a theme throughout the whole album. However, this allows Big Boi to shine. Daddy Fat Sax possesses plenty of prowess to carry this half of the release. His flow is among the best, and he doesn’t let up. He gets a lot of help throughout the album; with appearances from heavy hitters Ludacris, Goodie Mob, Lil’ Jon, and Jay-Z as well as Dungeon Family members Sleepy Brown and Killer Mike. The highlight of the album is the main single “The Way You Move”. The song is extremely catchy, the production is fantastic, and Big Boi’s flow is top notch on such a pop-y track. It’s so good it sparks a Kobe-Jordan type comparison. Is “The Way You Move” as good/ better than “Hey Ya!”? Well no, but it’s a conversation that can happen without it being completely ridiculous. “The Way You Move” was at least good enough to knock “Hey Ya!” from the top spot of the American Top 40 after a 9 week run.

After listening to Speakerboxxx, you expect big things from Andre 3000’s The Love Below. Now I’m not going to say Andre 3K doesn’t deliver, but it is easy to be disappointed initially. The Love Below features very little rap. While Speakerboxxx has features from Jay-Z and Ludacris, Love Below has features from Rosario Dawson and Norah Jones. The entire album seems to take a more artistic approach. Andre 3000 dabbles in several different genres throughout the entire album; including funk, R&B, and pop. The album also exudes a bit of a soul vibe; so much so that it could be argued that this predates the neo-soul efforts of Cee-Lo Green and Janelle Monae (who started as a Dungeon Family member). And where Andre Benjamin does actually rap, he of course does it better than just about anybody. This is best seen on the final track “A Day In The Life Of Benjamin Andre”. This track in the context of the entire album sums up Andre 3000’s career after (and including) Love Below. He’s going to do what he wants to do. But nowadays, if you doubt his rapping ability, he’ll hop on a feature (or a full track in this case) just to prove that he’s still one of the best in the game. The singles off this half of the album are really what set it apart from previous hip-hop efforts. “Roses” got heavy radio play on the tails of “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move”. I’ve said before that, because of those two songs, “Prototype” is terribly underrated. It’s like if Parliament Funkadelic and The Temptations got together and made a song.

Outshining them all is, of course, the aforementioned “Hey Ya!”. Recently named “Song of The Millennium” on Grantland.com (and it wasn’t even close), it was immediately, and still is to this day, my favorite song of all time. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’ve listened to it about 10 times. In a row. It’s so well produced that it really is the perfect song. Each part of the track appeals to just about everyone. The kick drum and snare give it just enough of a hip-hop vibe. The bass and keyboard have heavy funk influences. The acoustic guitar backing mellows the song out just enough. The lyrics are infectious and easy to sing along to. Throw in a call and answer section and the immortal “shake it like a Polaroid picture” and you have a song that will last for the ages. When the song was at it’s peak, I remember my dad commenting on how odd the video was, but saying that he still really liked the song. And that I think speaks volumes for the song. When a 45 year old white guy says he likes an Outkast song, you know we’re seeing something special.

In 2003, I don’t think we knew what we had in Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Things became a little clearer on Outkast’s 2006 album, Idlewild, the soundtrack to the film of the same name. As time has gone on, the two rapper’s careers have mirrored the album’s paths. Big Boi has since released two solo albums, while Andre 3000 has taken up acting (while occasionally returning to the rap game). All in all, the albums together broke the mold for commercial hip-hop. With five radio singles, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below opened the door for more rap/ hip-hop to make it into the mainstream. This was justified by the duel release not only earning an Album of The Year Grammy nomination, but taking home the top prize as well. This was the first time a predominately rap/hip-hop album earned the award. It’s not much of a stretch to think that without the success of Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2003, we wouldn’t be hearing nearly as much rap/hip-hop on the radio as we do now in 2013

By Kurtis Klay

Filed under Outkast speakerboxx/the love below big boi andre 3000

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Album Review: Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

First off, I want to apologize to Janelle Monae. 

Her latest album, The Electric Lady, was released in early September and I’m just now getting around to writing about it. No big deal, right? Wrong. I say this because Monae is a prime example of “doing it right” in today’s music industry. She consistently breaks the mold and makes the songs that she wants to make. And they’re really good. And more people need to know that. So, I’m sorry Janelle. That’s my bad.
 
Fact of the matter is, I didn’t think I would need to be so adamant about spreading the word about Monae. She seemed poised to breakout. She had a decent hit in “Tightrope” on her last album in 2010. She was a part of two national advertising campaigns with Cover Girl and Target. Plus she was featured on the biggest song of last year, Fun’s “We Are Young”. She even won a VMA, the gold standard for mainstream music. The stage seemed to be set for Monae to finally make a splash on the Top 40 music scene. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be how things turned out. Despite having, by my count, four radio friendly songs on The Electric Lady (we’ll get to those later), Monae’s album has gained more critical acclaim than chart success.
 
But the thing is; Monae’s music is so fun to listen to. Listening to The Electric Lady sends the listener on a musical journey. Monae moves from genre to genre so fluidly and seamlessly blends new school and old school. Yes, some of it is a bit out there and not so radio friendly. But the production and musical content is so good that it’s hard not to enjoy it. Just about every song is good. And then there are some that are REALLY good. “Dance Apocalyptic” is a catchy, upbeat song that, as the title suggests, makes you want to dance until the world ends. “Q.U.E.E.N.” evokes the same urges, this time with a infectious hook and a heavy, funk-inspired bass riff. “Primetime” is a R&B ballad featuring rising star Miguel that gives Monae a chance to show off her vocal talents. And then there’s the album’s lead track, and my personal favorite, “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”. This track is best described as a Prince song by Janelle Monae featuring Prince himself. It’s a gritty, sexy song that builds up throughout the the duration to a killer guitar solo from Prince. I have listened to this song more times than I can count and it has not lost its appeal at all.
 
The Electric Lady has everything you could ask for in a breakout album. It’s eclectic and filled with appearances from notable names. It’s a shame Monae and her music aren’t bigger than they are. But as long as she keeps doing what she’s doing, Monae will be just fine.
 
Grade: B+ 

By Kurtis Klay

Filed under janelle monae the electric lady prince miguel queen

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Now Playing: The Shouting Matches

The fun part about supergroups is that every so often you can hear what each member brings to the table. Such is the case with The Shouting Matches. This supergroup (and, in this case, I’m using that term VERY loosely) consists of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Phil Cook of Megafaun, and Brian Moen of Peter Wolf Crier. These three come together to create a folky, blues-rock sound. And in listening to their debut album, “Grownass Man” (an all time album name, in my opinion), you can piece together where each artist’s influence fits in. You can hear Vernon’s airy,folk sound and vocal styling. Most of the tracks get their structure from the Cook’s bluegrass style. And many tracks have a little electronic undertone provided by Moen. If I had to compare them to anyone, I would say they are a combo of The Alabama Shakes and The Heartless Bastards. I highly recommend listening to “Gallup, NM” to get a feel for their sound. And “I Need A Change” is a fantastic change of pace from the rest of the album, delving into some blues/soul.

By Kurtis Klay

Filed under bon iver shouting matches megafaun peter wolf crier nowplaying

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Birdy - Skinny Love

This is by no means new, but damn is it good. A special shoutout to 96.5 The Buzz for playing this recently. It takes a great voice to cover Bon Iver and Birdy has it. 

Filed under Birdy Bon Iver Skinny Love

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Kristen May - You Raise Me

New lead singer for Flyleaf and friend of The Undercard Kristen May put out a video via her youtube page of a new song she has been working on. Although she says that the song is still untitled I am going to give a slight lean to it being titled "You Raise Me." 

This song reminds me of the reasons why I am a fan of Kristen May and her work. Mainly the fact that she has an incredible voice. This song showcases that along with her skill as a song writer. Now, all of that being said this song also reminded me of something else. We are all in desperate need of a solo album from Kristen May. 

I am very happy and proud of the success that Kristen May has found with Flyleaf. It makes me happy as a fan of Veda/Vedera and as someone who was born and raised in Kansas City. I love seeing someone from the area doing great things for themselves on a national and international stage. The term “good people” was created for people like Kristen May. She has earned all of the great things that have happened to her with Flyleaf. As her success with Flyleaf continues to grow it makes me sad to think that an album featuring her solo work seems to be put further and further on the back burner. 

Within less than a year I was able to see Kristen May perform three different times. Every time she played a lot of new material that was going to be featured on her upcoming solo album. I really enjoyed the songs she was working on and the anticipation for this solo album began to grow more and more. I know she has toyed with different ways to release the album but then her professional career took a giant upswing when she joined Flyleaf. Once again, I am so happy for her and her success but for me, personally I like my Kristen May a little more Vedera than Flyleaf. The solo stuff she was working on was a lot softer than the more aggressive Flyleaf and I was really drawn to it. 

This post is not meant to bash any of the success Kristen May has encountered in the last year-plus of her life. If you take that from this then I fear that you did not actually read the words I typed. I have been able to get to know Kirsten a little over the past two years and consider her an acquaintance. The things I am writing are coming from a selfish place. I selfishly want more original material from Kristen May because it would benefit my life. I have a feeling I am not the only one.

Follow me on Twitter @craig_a_brenner

By Craig A. Brenner  

Filed under flyleaf

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Childish Gambino - “3005”

First thing is first. The video for Childish Gambno’s brand new single is crazy creative and is perfect for the upcoming album. Oh yeah, we forgot to mention, there’s a new album on the way. Because The Internet is slated to be released Tuesday, December 10th and we have no idea what to expect. This album has flown beneath the radar and if “3005” is a sign, great things are on the way from the artist that brought you 2011’s most underrated album, Camp.

Aside from the new album, Gambino has been staying busy. Aside from his fantastic “Pound Cake” freestyle, he’s been featured on a few tracks this year as well. Check them all out below. 

By Aaron Potter

Filed under Childish Gambino Donald Glover because the internet

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Tame Impala - “Prototype”

You’ll have to excuse us. We are a little late on this ridiculously good cover from Tame Impala. Covering Outkast is not the easiest thing to do, but man, do they make it seem easy. If you haven’t listened to the entire Lonerism album from Tame Impala, you’re missing out. 

Filed under outkast tame impala prototype lonerism

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Lily Allen - “Hard Out Here”

We can only assume by releasing a new track that this means an album may be on the way. Let’s hope so. This song is refreshingly straight to the point as are most her tracks.

Filed under lily allen hard out here

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Arcade Fire Coming To Kansas City

Arcade Fire tweeted out a photo of a flier with tour dates for their upcoming Reflektor Tour in support on their latest album of the same name.  They will be bringing their talents to Kansas City on Saturday April 26th at Starlight Theatre.  No word yet on how much tickets for the show will cost or who they will be bringing on the tour with them. 

Below is a photo of said flier with the entire list of tour dates and cities. 

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Last time Arcade Fire was in Kansas City was on April 20th, 2011 when they played the same venue in support of their 3rd studio album Suburbs.  I have only heard great things about Arcade Fire’s live shows and Starlight is a perfect venue and it being a Saturday night makes it that much better.  Follow us on twitter @TheUndercard for all of the updates as they come to light and follow me on twitter @craig_a_brenner

By: Craig A. Brenner