Album Review: “Lantern” by Hudson Mohawke

Hudson Mohawke Lantern

Lantern
Released: June 16th, 2015
Reviewed by Erik Wermuth
Rating: 3/5

Almost two years ago, when Jay-Z’s album Magna Carta Holy Grail dropped, Hudson Mohawke tweeted that “This record could’ve came out 10 yrs ago and no one would’ve batted an eye lid”. Admittedly, the Glasgow native had submitted several beats for consideration that Jay-Z ultimately decided not to use. It should be fairly obvious that he was not in a neutral headspace about the album when it dropped, but the critique highlights one of the central conflicts in music today: now that the technology for production and distribution has advanced to the point where anyone with a computer and some time on their hands can put out a body of work, why does so much of it still sound so much the same?

It would be tempting to use Mohawke’s own words against him and his latest release, the LP Lantern, but that would be both cheap and incorrect. 10 years ago, his style alone would have (and did) raise eyebrows. After a series of mixtapes and a reality TV talent-search appearance in the mid-to-late 2000’s, the happy trapper (trappist?) started gaining a significant amount of traction, especially for an unheralded teenager out of Scotland. The work he produced during this period was hard-hitting enough to send club crowds over the edge, while providing enough passion and innovation to keep critical listeners coming back for more.

The unique blend of happy-hardcore intensity and trap rhythms that dominated his music in the last decade culminated in the prestigious Warp Records releasing his first LP Butter in 2009. The album’s combination of creative power and head-nodding accessibility made it a critical success that led to high-profile collaborations with the Canadian producer Lunice as the duo TNGHT and with Kanye West on his Yeezus album, both of which vastly increased his popularity with American listeners. It is within the context of his meteoric rise to fame and its aftermath that his most recent album Lantern must be understood.

Hud Mo is clearly a very talented producer, and nothing in Lantern shakes my faith in that. He has his sound down tight. After making waves in December with his contributions to the Rap Monument, he’s moved away from hip-hop/rap to a more R&B/soul-centered approach, particularly in terms of the artists he features such as Jhene and Antony Hegarty. He interviewed extensively in the lead-up to his sophomore effort’s release, stating again and again that he wanted to get away from his status as a trap god and move on to more interesting musical territory. This impulse, in and of itself, is an essential one for any musician who wants to develop his art. Sadly, instead of moving in new creative directions, the album sounds like a watered down version of his earlier works. Lantern lacks the immediacy and creative urgency that made early Hudson Mohawke so compelling. There are, of course, some exceptions: “Scud Books” is a strong, triumphal track, “Ryderz” has something of his old Saturday morning whimsy, and “Lil Djembe” is a short, but punchy beat that has flashes of his old brilliance. However, while none of these would be out of place in his earlier work, none measure up to the expectation of excellence he has established for himself.

Hud Mo achieved success by taking opposing genres and binding them into something greater than the individual components. Butter was so magical because he lashed two dominating musical forces together without losing the purity or energy of either. It drew praise for its accessibility, but it’s important to remember that being able to access something only matters if the content is worth accessing. Like all the best electronic music, Butter burst with inventiveness and left the listener with a real sense of passion– even when it grated, its freshness and originality were never in doubt. But praise can be toxic if misdirected, and I worry that Hud Mo heard too much about how surprisingly listenable Butter was and decided to move only in that direction on Lantern. The listener is still treated to the occasional whining treble and high hat nod to trap roots, but they serve more as a sad reminder of what was than as the basis for an exciting new direction.

Ultimately, Lantern is still a solid album by a great producer. Had it come out ten years ago, eyelids would definitely have batted. 5 years ago, less so. Coming out today it sounds like one long compromise to pop sensibilities, some of which Mohawke himself helped to create—a canned production of known quantities. The creative verve that was beneath the surface of all his releases from his first EP LuckyMe in 2005 to Butter in 2009 is mostly a no-show. The taming of his trap sensibilities that Lantern represents was a major disappointment, mostly because of how high of a bar he had set for himself. At best it represents stagnation for one of the world’s premiere electronic artists and at worst it marks the beginning of a long, slow creative death. As a cutting-edge producer, if mainstream news outlets are describing your new work as lush, listenable lounge music, it’s a safe bet that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line. That being said, this is only his second solo album, and his side work has remained impeccable. Here’s to hoping Hud Mo can right the ship. I give Lantern an uninspired 3/5.

80s music gems, Vol. 1

I wasn’t alive for very long in the 80s. But thanks to the radio stations I listened to while growing up, I know plenty of 80s tunes that still rock today. The genres from that decade reach all over the place, and there’s plenty to love. Here are some 80s music gems that I recommend for those who are feeling a bit nostalgic…

Whitney HoustonWhitney (1987)

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston was sensational! R&B truly shaped itself in the 80s, and Whitney’s vocal skills were powerful and internationally acclaimed. The album Whitney debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, making history, as it was the first album by a female artist to do so. The song “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” is absolute fire on here—catchy in the best way with tons of synthesizer. Plus the video is adorable.

 

Queen The Game (1980)

Queen the game

Queen! A favorite of many, Queen had already established themselves in the seventies as an energetic arena rock band. However, their 1980 release The Game marked the first time the band used synthesizer on their recordings. It was their only album to reach #1 in the US, and it went on to become their best-selling studio album, containing the memorable tracks “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

 

Violent Femmes Violent Femmes (1983)

Violent Femmes

The Violent Femmes are based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (woooo!). Apparently the band was discovered while playing in front of the Oriental Theatre the night of a Pretenders show, when Chrissie Hynde asked them to do a set on stage. Most of the songs on this debut album were written while the singer Gordon Gano was still in high school. It’s hard to describe their sound, but words that come to mind are: raw, gritty, angsty, and sarcastic. Great tracks on here include “Blister In The Sun”, “Add It Up” and “Gone Daddy Gone”.

Beastie BoysLicensed To Ill (1986)

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It’s hard to believe these guys started in the 80s! Songs like “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)”, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”, and “Brass Monkey” are still played all over the place. The Beastie Boys brought an interesting twist to hip hop at the time—they were white, and they incorporated a punk rock sound to their music. Licensed To Ill was the first rap album to top the Billboard chart. Their lyrics offend just about everyone if you pick them apart, but there’s something distinct about the band’s energy and voice that makes them unique and lovable.

What are your favorite 80s music gems? Let us know in the comments!


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


Do you agree with the “Blurred Lines” verdict?

The jury has spoken! If you haven’t heard, a lawsuit recently found Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams guilty of copyright infringement, as their hit song “Blurred Lines” has proven to be too similar in composition to Marvin Gaye’s classic 1977 song “Got To Give It Up”.

The results of this lawsuit sparked interest in the music world, of course because of the popularity of each song, but also because there are believers that Thicke and Williams aren’t guilty of any wrongdoing. They’ve argued that the similarities between the songs are on a R&B genre and style level, not on a composition level—but the jury thinks otherwise.

Thicke and Williams have to pay $7.4M to the Gaye family as a result of the lawsuit. But now, the Gayes also want a federal judge to prohibit all future sales, distribution and performances of “Blurred Lines”.

Marvin Gaye’s children, Nona, Frankie, and Marvin III, published an open letter explaining their reasoning. It’s a very interesting read in terms of understanding what happened with the lawsuit, since Thicke and Williams were actually the ones who brought the Gaye family to court.

The open letter has heavy meaning in terms of creating music in the future. If the results of this lawsuit will be applied to all future music creation, then musicians who try to emulate a style connected to a certain genre or time period will be in trouble. Take reggae for example—almost all reggae songs use similar stylistic elements and lyrics that fit them into the reggae genre. The Sleng Teng Riddim, for example, has been used at least 380 times in different songs.

Do you agree with the “Blurred Lines” verdict, which found Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams guilty of copyright infringement? Vote below! Add your comments too!

New to Me: Newly-found music gems (Vol III)

Don’t you just love discovering old music? It’s great finding an album that’s been around a while, and seeing how it can resonate with you in life right now.

That happens a lot on Murfie, since there are so many used albums in the $1 – $5 range that are easy to gobble up! Check out some of our favorites…

ErasureBrandon found Erasure by Erasure

“I’d heard of Erasure many times but never actually listened to any of their music (outside of ‘Always’, the theme music from the video game Robot Unicorn Attack). This album had me hooked after track two! There are dance-y tracks and down-tempo grooves, featuring rich vocals and fascinating electronic elements and harmonies.”

The Melody at Night with You Keith JarrettAndrew found The Melody at Night, with You by Keith Jarrett

“I hadn’t heard of Keith Jarrett until I ripped some of his albums for a vinyl kit. I didn’t think much of it until I recognized some of the melodies as samples on a mixtape I’ve really been digging lately. After checking out some of his other albums, I realized that he’s an extraordinary pianist and an even more remarkable composer.”

Mescalito Ryan BinghamJeff found Mescalito by Ryan Bingham

“I heard this guy like, yesterday and was really floored. I don’t listen to a ton of Western-ish stuff and it may have my bleary state of mind. Apparently he sang the theme song from the film Crazy Heart, starring ‘The Dude’ Jeff Bridges.”

The Miseducation of Lauryn HillKayla found The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill

“I’m late to get on the Lauryn Hill bus. After coming across this album on many ‘Best Of’ lists, I decided to give it a try, and I ended up really liking it. I’m impressed by Lauryn’s rhymes and the topics she focuses on, some of which are aimed at women from a woman’s perspective, which is great to hear in R&B. This album contains the catchy song ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’.”

Have you found something that’s not all-that-new? Let us know in the comments!

VOTE: 2015 Murfie Listener’s Choice Awards

If you’re like us at the office… then maybe you enjoy the excitement of the GRAMMYs, but you think the nominees aren’t really THE best out of all the music out there. Obviously a lot of it has to do with what’s mainstream, what’s played on commercial radio, and things like that.

The Murfie staffers discussed this a bit, and we came up with our own list of nominees and categories. We have a broad range of musical taste here and totally pride ourselves on exploring what’s not popular, without denying the popular stuff that’s rightfully good.

Now, you, the people, can choose the winners in our 2015 Murfie Listener’s Choice Awards! Voting ends on Thursday, February 5th at noon—one vote per person, please! We’ll let you know who the winners are before the GRAMMYs air on Sunday February 8th!

Click the “Vote” button after each category to save your vote.

[Click “Continue reading” to view all categories]

Continue reading VOTE: 2015 Murfie Listener’s Choice Awards

Caroline Smith Interview

Caroline SmithMy first interaction with Caroline Smith was way back in July 2012, when her band still went by Caroline Smith & the Good Night Sleeps. Caroline and her bassist Jesse Schuster agreed to record an interview during a house show in Madison, and the entire night was a lot of fun!

Over the past two years, Caroline developed a different style. The release of her 2013 album Half About Being a Woman marked a departure from her indie rock outfit to a more soulful sound. In my opinion, the new direction suits her well. It’s fun, and it’s completely genuine. It’s 100% Caroline.

From the beginning, I certainly knew she was talented—heck, that’s why I asked her to do a Murfie podcast. But ever since she tapped into her soulful roots, I’ve become really hooked on her music and current collaborations. In April of this year, we caught up again for another Murfie podcast, before her show with Dessa at The Majestic. The audio version is a lot of fun, but I’ve transcribed most of it below for your reading pleasure!


K: Right now I’m at Ancora Coffee in downtown Madison with Caroline Smith over here sipping her coffee.

C: Hi!

K: Thanks for meeting me! You mentioned you just drove here from Rochester, Minnesota, not Rochester, New York. So how are things in Minnesota?

C: Things are really great in Minnesota right now. I mean, if we’re just talking lifestyle-wise, the snow is finally gone, so life can begin again. People can start to smile again. But for us musically—for my band in Minnesota, things are better than ever. The regional music scene is just bar-none.

K: I’ve found a lot of bands now—I don’t think this has to do with the fact that we’re in Wisconsin—but Minnesota seems to be a hub for music now.

C: Yeah!

K: All kinds of music. Hip-hop….

C: Mm-hmm.

Half About Being a WomanK: Indie rock, stuff like that. I like the new direction that your album, Half About Being a Woman, is going in.

C: Thank you!

K: It’s kind of soul, R&B. The first few seconds of the first song, you know that something, something different is going down…

C: Something has changed, yes!

K: So tell me a bit about the evolution of your music—is this something you always saw coming, something that you always wanted to try?

Continue reading Caroline Smith Interview

Album Preview: “LP1” by FKA Twigs

 
LP1

Album
LP1

Artist
FKA Twigs

Release Date
August 12, 2014

Label
Young Turks

Pre-order Link
Pre-order Album

Preview
FKA Twigs may have earned her name from the way heThe xxr bones crack and pop, but she’s anything but old. The 26 year old Brit, born Tahlia Barnett, is set to release her debut longplay, the aptly titled LP1, next week. Though she originally moved to London to be a dancer, she ultimately quit the profession to write and record her own music. Her first products, the also-aptly-titled EP1 and EP2, showed her honing her own brand of dark, seductive R&B.

LP1 picks uGoodiesp properly where her two EPs left off. Its two pre-released singles, “Pendulum” and “Two Weeks,” have both earned Pitchfork Media’s “Best New Track” stamp of approval. They’re intriguing, ear-pleasing pieces of music, reminiscent of the vocal stylings of Ciara and Janet Jackson and the minimalistic intimacy of label-mates The xx.

LP1 comes out next week on Young Turks. It’s sure to add a nice layer of zesty, fluid R&B to a label already brimming with budding talent.

A teaser from LP1

Preorder your copy of LP1 at Murfie today! Each CD comes with unlimited streaming (Web, iOS, Android, Sonos) and downloads in mp3, aac, FLAC and ALAC.