by Arjuna Lemke, Hunain Ali, Gabriel Hatto, Tyler O’Brien, and Trenton Szeto
Trailblazers is a new monthly section of the HoofBeat dedicated to showcasing new songs by up-and-coming as well as established artists. Relax, and let the diverse tastes of HoofBeat writers guide you through the vibrant soundscape of 2017.
“Devil on HWY 9” ⸺ Danzig
“Devil on HWY 9,” released on April 21, the first single on 90’s heavy metal supergroup Danzig’s eleventh studio album, “Black Laden Crown,” slated for a May 26 release. Premiering earlier this month on the Whiplash radio station, “Black Laden Crown” will be the band’s first original release in seven years. “Devil on HWY 9” marks a break in the almost two year hiatus since the band’s cover album “Skeletons,” released in 2015 to mediocre reviews.
The track opens with a steady riff that maintains its tempo, escalating its sound not by increased pace but with the introduction of more complex and varied sounds. The chugging, road-inspired riff evokes the feelings of driving alone on a barren highway only to be interrupted with harsh pinch harmonics evoking danger and a sensation of alarm against the song’s rhythmically consistent body. Soaring above the bass, drums and rhythm guitars, a leisurely and intricate opening solo rips the listener from the safe monotony of Danzig’s signature low riffs and methodical harmonics. Listeners are hurled forward as the tune’s steady highway becomes a cacophonous deathtrap.
When the pace and ferocity of the track begin to set in as natural, the song grinds into a heavy pounding riff complemented by overt and flat snare sounds. The riff cruises along, welcoming Glenn Danzig’s signature deep vocals with open arms. The monotonous singing evokes the same somber collected attitude of lonesome night ride. Danzig’s voice rises and falls before climbing to a loud repetitive chant, “Devil on highway nine. A second solo enters in tandem with the chant, flying over the track like the song’s demon in question soaring above the road. The solo subsides into the familiar pounding riff as Danzig breaks into song once again.
The song dies as Danzig’s chant, the main riff and searing solo fade into the background. While not an indicator of coming greatness or a generational turnaround, “Devil on HWY 9” is exactly what it was intended to be; a steady driving song meant to accompany and amplify an activity as mundane. For anyone with a long drive ahead, “Devil on HWY 9” can cut into the monotony without upsetting the atmosphere.
“Man of Oil” ⸺ Animal Collective
Animal Collective can’t seem to stick to any particular style — the glittering synthpop of “Merriweather Post Pavilion” might be what they’re known for, but a career spanning almost two decades has encompassed dense noise-rock, abrasive freak-folk, submerged pop-ambience, and now, with 2017’s “Meeting of the Waters,” a swirling, forest-shrouded melange of folky introspection and skeletal melody. Recorded live in the Brazilian Amazon, the EP features only two of the group’s four — this time principal songwriter Dave Portner (Avey Tare) and musique concréte wizard Brian Weitz (Geologist).
Despite “Meeting of the Waters’s” flirtation with Walter Maioli-esque jungle avant-garde, “Man of Oil” is a testament to Animal Collective’s exquisite pop songwriting abilities. It shimmers into being with the insect-drone that is omnipresent on the EP, faraway animal cries, and looping, jerky melodic samples. Weitz’s modular synthesizer pops and whirrs, spitting out wooden percussion and inchoate yelps, and Portner’s guitar begins to shudder through the ambience with a warm, soft melody. Portner’s vocals, unusually devoid of warping electronics, recall Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, a high-school hero of the pair. The lyrics hold, as always, an understated kind of beauty, their immediacy veiled behind the abstraction and layers of psychedelia that are typical of the band: “Wizard with a wand, competing with the lightning/Coward and also a king, and a man of oil.”
“Meeting of the Waters” represents a respite from the exuberance of 2016’s “Painting With,” and features a rarely-heard pairing in Portner and Weitz, the first two of the band to meet and collaborate. Its Record Store Day release benefits the conservation of the Amazon, and showcases a lesser-heard side of the band’s musical output — more “Campfire Songs” or “Prospect Hummer” than “Merriweather Post Pavilion” or “Strawberry Jam.” It’s strongest at creating a place — perhaps even, as closer “Selection of a Place (Rio Negro Version)” softly moans, “a place to stay.”
“Stewardess (空姐)” ⸺ Gin Lee (李幸倪)
On April 7, 2017, Hong Kong artist Gin Lee (李幸倪) released her single titled “Stewardess (空姐)”. Lee has been well-known as one of the emerging China pop music stars in recent years after her debut in season four of “The Voice of China,” and has been in the Hong Kong since 2011. Born in Malaysia, Lee grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese and only began to learn Cantonese after moving to Hong Kong, which makes her many Cantonese albums even more impressive.
In “Stewardess (空姐)”, Lee sings of a girl who hesitates before boarding a plane, forced to make the hard choice between staying in her current situation or boarding the plan to move on to a new beginning. Throughout the song, Lee highlights the sorrowful clash between the desire to begin anew and the pain of leaving all that she loves behind her with her soft and hesitant voice. Throughout the song, the listener can hear the struggle and anguish in her voice as she questions the choice that she is about to make, lamenting her need to leave the past behind. This song is for anyone who has ever looked at their past before a big step into the future and thought about how it feels to leave behind both the good and the bad behind.
The song beautifully creates the tone of the song with its simplicity and slow, steady rhythm. The drums are spread out and only used sparingly. This allows it to serve as the background and rhythm, highlighting moments of particular strength or importance, rather than overtaking the song. Guitar and piano makes up the majority of the song’s background music and softly adds to the deep feeling of sorrowful thinking in the song. The chorus uses a mix of both Lee’s voice and that of her background singers to create a back-and-forth that is pleasing to the ear and filled with heavy emotion and reflection. The vocals are clear and soothing, standing out very well against the rest of the music in the song, allowing the listening to focus solely on Lee’s voice.
“I’m the One” ⸺ DJ Khaled
From his Snapchat chronicles to his self-promoted singles and albums as the best in the industry to his catchy phrases, DJ Khaled’s rise to fame has been very sudden and steadfast.
But what these things helped bring to the forefront is DJ Khaled’s ability to make hit songs. It is his ability to fuse so many different voices and genres into one song. A feat that might seem easy but it is actually quite difficult. Most songs cap out at one or maybe two features, since it is so hard to bring multiple voices that fit the mold of what the beat offers as most artists are so one-dimensional in terms of their genre.
DJ Khaled makes beats that are multidimensional. His beats do not just pertain to just simply one genre. Khaled’s beats create an environment where any artist can step in, take the mic, and create something of his/her own.
On Khaled’s new song, “I’m the One,” the different beats fuse to make a popping instrumental that flows as one but broken parts, the individual beats are clearly heard as they sonically pop out.
The main instruments in play are light drums, some snap of the fingers, and an auto tuned vocal pitched very high. What comes out is a beat that is very light and popping; something perfect for the summer. Throw in a chorus performed by Justin Bieber’s smooth and melodic voice, occasional shout outs from Khaled stating his patented name and phrases, and three verses absolutely nailed by Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne’s voices, and you have a hit.
DJ Khaled knows the recipe to make hits, and he has certainly delivered on this single as we head into the summer months.
“Let Me Fly” Mike and the Mechanics
Sharing the name of the album, the song is part of the first album release the band has had in five years. The twelve song album is the second from this lineup of musicians.
The song starts with a piano intro, which is relaxing, before quickly making the turnaround to something resembling an African spiritual song, background chorus and all. The tune is catchy, and carries an upbeat message–to let us be who we want to be. The track is a refreshing break from the usual hip hop of the modern world, coming from a musician who has been in the business nearly 50 years. Even for those who don’t usually listen to classic or rock tracks, this is definitely worth a listen.
Interestingly, Mike Rutherford is part of another band as well, Genesis, and he says this arrangement with the two bands works well for him.
“After 28 years, myself [and fellow Genesis members] Phil [Collins] and Tony [Banks] wanted variety, so we ran our band and our solo careers side by side happily for many years. To be honest, it saved Genesis. The fact I’m still doing it with the Mechanics just makes me smile,” says Rutherford for ultimateclassicrock.com.
He doesn’t say he has a plan for what’s coming next.
“I’ve never had a long-term plan, even with Genesis,” he said. “I’ll put “Let Me Fly” out and I’ll see where it goes. What happens this year will tell me what to do next. I like that!”