Album Review: “Broke with Expensive Taste” by Azealia Banks

It’s finally here! After the surprise success of her 2011 single “212 (feat. Lazy Jay)”—which currently sits at 86M+ views on YouTubeAzealia Banks has finally released her debut album Broke with Expensive Taste.

Azealia Banks - Broke with Expensive TasteIf you’ve followed Azealia Banks in any capacity, you’ll know that the beginning of her career has its share of misfortunes. Beyond being a bit of a trouble maker on Twitter (a search for “Azealia banks twitter” currently brings up more results about her beefs than her actual account), Banks has been completely public about disagreements with her ex-label management at Interscope.

Shortly after dropping the video for “212,” Banks announced she was working on Broke with Expensive Taste and signing to Interscope. Things didn’t work out, and fans were left waiting. In the meantime, Azealia Banks did manage to put out her 1991 EP with Interscope and the self-released Fantasea mixtape. This past November, without notice, Broke with Expensive Taste was released by Prospect Park (Universal), and after another 4-month wait, the CD version is finally here.

That’s the lead-up, so how is the album itself? In short, Broke with Expensive Taste is a mixed bag. As someone who has waited for the album since its announcement, it’s great to finally have it in my hands. I can’t imagine the trouble Azealia Banks had to go through to get the rights to this album from Interscope and work out a new release plan, and the delays certainly did not help.

Broke with Expensive Taste is all over the place as far as production and style go. In a way, it feels a lot like her Fantasea mixtape; a combination of great house-influenced tracks and sometimes-odd experiments that don’t always hit. Banks’ verses are generally on-point, and her singing is mostly good—even if the results aren’t as consistent.

Album singles “Heavy Metal and Reflective” and “Yung Rapunxel”—both of which were produced by Lil Internet—were released quite a while before the album, and they’re both still enjoyable. Other album highlights include “BBD,” “Luxury” and “Miss Camaraderie”. My personal favorite has to be “Chasing Time”, which highlights the type of production and songwriting I enjoyed most on 1991 and Fantasea.

1991A few tracks like “Idle Delilah” have questionable production, and they’re just a bit of a mess. In the aforementioned track, Banks’ vocals (and much of the overall track) sound like they’re being pushed to distortion. It’s not necessary, and doesn’t fit well with the rest of the album. “Desperado” is similarly messy. “Gimme a Chance” somehow starts out as an indie-rock-sampling hip-hop track that morphs into a Latin dance. It doesn’t really work for me, but at it’s great to see this kind of experimentation early in the album.

Unfortunately, the Ariel Pink -produced piece “Nude Beach a-Go-Go” is an experiment that doesn’t fair as well as some of the others. While I do appreciate unabashed silliness, Banks’ decision to include a lo-fi beach party surf song on the album is iffy at best. Azealia Banks is known for writing some dirty, dirty verses, and she really missed an opportunity to work her magic on the happy-go-lucky surf tune. It sounds like she tried to go that route, but the result wasn’t as clever as Banks has shown she can be.

I think the history of this album’s release is important context, because it certainly feels like more of a baseline for what Banks can do, rather than a perfection of any one thing. Like her Fantasea mixtape, Broke with Expensive Taste really does have some excellent tracks, but it just feels bloated. There is a lot of stuff that doesn’t need to be here; besides the questionable tracks, “212” makes an unnecessary return, and it could have been cut after its release on 1991. Either way, this doesn’t need to be a 16-track album. Some of the tracks that were written back in 2011 and 2012 while Banks struggled with her label could have been cut.

That said, is it worth getting? Yes! Even though I will skip “Nude Beach a-Go-Go” 100% of the time, there is a lot to love about this album. I will certainly be excited to hear whatever Azealia Banks cooks up next, and I’m willing to bet we won’t be waiting another four years for it.


John Kruse
@johnkruse

John Praw Kruse is an Operations Manager, and Product Manager for the Murfie Vinyl Service. In his free time, John makes music, including scores for indie films and various shorts. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival. John devours new music.


Album Review: “Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” by Various Artists

I’m not the kind of person that listens to a lot of movie soundtracks. When I do pick one up, it’s usually because of its use in the film itself (see for example Hans Zimmer’s recent Interstellar score, or the excellent Clint Mansell collaboration with Kronos Quartet and Mogwai for The Fountain).

Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

As I write this, however, Song One‘s full theatrical / on-demand release is still a week or so away. While Interstellar‘s music blew me away in the theater, I went into the Song One soundtrack with a completely different context. Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) piqued my interest last November when it was announced that songwriting duo Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice were set to score the film and produce its soundtrack.

I’ve been a Jenny Lewis fan since the days of Rilo Kiley (side note: as a kid, I for sure had a crush on her in The Wizard, but that doesn’t count). Luckily, in the post-Rilo Kiley years, there has been no shortage of Jenny Lewis listening. From the b-sides Rkives album to her recent solo album The Voyager, Lewis has kept busy.

Jenny and Johnny debuted their collaborative efforts all the way back in 2010, which makes Song One an interesting place to reunite in a formal way. The pair serve as both writers for all but one of the soundtrack’s original songs and producers of the album and recordings. You’ll also find their talents in the form of occasional backing vocals.

Peppered among the soundtrack’s original tunes is a generally well-curated selection of other songs. Most of the songs fit really well, making Song One feel much closer to an album than a random selection of soundtrack-y hits. Standouts include the excellent “One Day” by Sharon Van Etten and America‘s “I Need You.”

While most of the soundtrack feels cohesive in tone, there are some questionable inclusions that may take the film’s context to appreciate. I’m a big Dan Deacon supporter, but in an album of folky, country-influenced rock songs, “The Crystal Cat” is a strange choice. And while Portuguese song “O Leaozinho” is interesting, I just didn’t enjoy this recording all that much.

Song One Still
Song One stars Johnny Flynn & Anne Hathaway

The meat of this soundtrack is clearly the original songs, which all—to my relief—feel like they could have been Jenny and Johnny canon. Nothing feels like a throwaway. In a world of cash-ins and sequels, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a film like Song One turn into a late-to-the-party Once ripoff, but it’s crystal clear that everyone involved with this soundtrack cared a lot.

My favorite originals have to be “Iris, Instilled” and the soundtrack’s single “In April.” It’s important to mention some excellent performances by one of the film’s stars, Johnny Flynn, the voice behind Song One’s originals. Beyond vocals, Flynn also contributes guitar, piano and violin throughout the soundtrack.

For a movie about music, it’s refreshing to see such obvious collaboration through and through. The songs that really work here are the ones where Johnny Flynn, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice are all involved. If you’ve heard a lot of Jenny Lewis’ work, it’s easy to hear that Flynn’s delivery serves her style of phrasing well.

While not bad per se, the lone original not performed by Johnny Flynn, “Marble Song,” was probably the most forgettable. Likewise, “Afraid of Heights,” which seems to be taken directly from the film, was not written by Jenny and Johnny. The recording quality on that track is notably worse than the rest of the album. If it was indeed taken from the movie itself, the poor mixing is a concern.

Song One (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is not perfect, but it is certainly a treat for fans of Jenny Lewis, Johnathan Rice or their combined efforts. The worst thing about Song One is that you might want to skip a track here or there, but that’s hardly a problem when the soundtrack is so generous with good, original music. Here’s hoping we get more Jenny and Johnny sooner rather than later!

Jenny and Johnny
Jenny and Johnny


John Kruse
@johnkruse

John Praw Kruse is an Operations Manager, and Product Manager for the Murfie Vinyl Service. In his free time, John makes music, including scores for indie films and various shorts. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival. John devours new music.


Mom-Approved Modern Music for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can often mean a trip back home to spend the day with a certain woman who raised you. I love a good family tradition (and I love my mom even more), but let’s face it: A day of listening to music released circa your mom’s high school years can get a little, well… old. Here are three suggestions to bring your mom into the 21st century, music-wise, this Mother’s Day. Take them for a spin this Sunday—they’re guaranteed to not contain too many lyrics that will make family listening time uncomfortable. (Author’s Note: All albums have been successfully test-driven by my mom.)

MI0003392585Channel Orange
Frank Ocean

This 2012 record was the beginning of something big: Frank Ocean is one of the most incredibly talented singers and songwriters of our time. This record is packed full of the stuff of legends: One-of-a-kind lyrics, an ambitious sound, and a sizable helping of passion and philosophy. Ocean is a storyteller, and his stories highlight the best and the worst of what it’s like to be alive.

Musically, this album is a mishmash in the best possible way. It fuses influences from decades past (think ’70s funk sounds and ’90s hip-hop) with a new and thoroughly modern groove, including truly awesome use of quiet electronic percussion. There’s also heavy soul influence here–moments on this album suggest flashbacks to Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. I rarely listen to R&B, but I sure would if it all sounded like this. The songs have tight verses that hit you with incredible impact. The sheer force of emotion on this album hits you hard, creating a soundtrack for those who have lived, loved–and most of all, lost.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Bad Religion”, “Pyramids”

MI0003341793Blunderbuss
Jack White

Up until now, Jack White has been part of a group, whether alongside Meg White of The White Stripes or the rest of The Raconteurs. On this album, however, he’s the star: Not only is this a great solo record, it also holds its own among White’s incredible discography as part of a band. White’s reflections on life and love might tear you apart, but you’ll manage to enjoy every moment of the gut-wrenching process.

For White, going solo means that all his crazy musical ideas and influences find a home. This album contains traces of everything from old-school R&B all the way through modern country music. From his cover of Little Willie John‘s 1960 hit “I’m Shakin” to his use of fiddles and mandolins on “Blunderbuss”, a lot of ground is covered here. Jack White isn’t an easy man to figure out-—nor does he want to be: despite track after track lamenting the heartbreak of love, his female backup chorus includes his ex-wife Karen Elson. A few listens of this album, however, leave you with the impression that Jack White does his best work when he’s a little shrouded in mystery.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Love Interruption”, “Sixteen Saltines”

MI0002921033Brothers
The Black Keys

For a group with such a stellar big-band sound, it’s hard to believe that The Black Keys are a two-man show. This album comes after both members took some time away from their main band, trying their hand at other projects. It was a well-needed break: This album is their best release in years, cementing their own unique sound and their position atop the blues-rock food chain. This is nothing incredibly new or different, but that’s why I love them: Consistency is key with a group that constantly delivers music that just sounds like a good time.

This album very successfully plays around with a variety of styles, incorporating everything from up-tempo beats on “Howlin’ For You” to quiet, haunting harpsichord on “Too Afraid to Love You”. My personal favorite addition, however, is vocalist Dan Auerbach’s incorporation of falsetto, For a band that’s made a name with its bluesy sound, a falsetto was certainly a surprise (and a welcome one at that). He nails the sound on tracks like “Everlasting Light”, bringing a much-needed new edge into the mix. For longtime fans like myself, this album set a new standard for the band, turning classic bluesy sounds into something fresh and creative.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Everlasting Light”, “Howlin’ For You”

Staff Picks: Ally’s Folk Picks

Up until recently, I definitely did not consider myself a fan of folk music—I barely could name a folk artist, and never thought to add folk music to my listening rotation. In the last few months, however, I’ve become hooked on folk as a new soundtrack to car rides, homework sessions, and everything in between. Here are a few of my newfound favorites.

The Head and the Heart - Let's Be StillThe Head and the Heart
Let’s Be Still

The Head and the Heart’s sophomore album has solved the problems of the bands overly fast-paced debut, slowing it down to allow for more thoughtful songwriting and lusher instrumentation. The melodies here are beautiful and complex, incorporating violin, banjo, piano and guitars into a smooth and mellow sound. Combined with singers Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell’s vocals, the album is the perfect combination of soulful and lighthearted.

This band masters the art of creating ballads that are heartfelt, not sappy, and it shows. Highlights like “Cruel” showcase the band’s excellent songwriting, which lends itself perfectly to their newly quiet and pensive sound. The result is a new kind of folk music—thoroughly modern, not lost or stuck in decades past—that seems to have real staying power. The Head and The Heart have discovered what works for them, and they’ll withstand any shifts in what’s popular in music. This album ultimately plays like a plea to just take a moment, be still and listen—the rest will work itself out in time, after all.

> Don’t Miss Tracks: “Cruel”, “Homecoming Heroes”

Indigo Girls - Indigo GirlsIndigo Girls
Indigo Girls

The Indigo Girls are everything a musical pair should be: they certainly collaborate, but their differences in style ultimately create a stronger and more interesting final product. This album at times has a split personality, moving from the upbeat, bouncy “Closer to Fine” (one of my personal favorite songs) towards brooding tracks like “Blood and Fire” that ruminate on topics like love and faith. Although the songs reflect each member’s individual personality, they nevertheless compliment each other seamlessly.

This album is raw and powerful—it feels almost unedited at times, but in a wonderful way. The tracks capture their passion and let their personalities and opinions shine through, never asking them to keep anything in check. The power that surges through these songs, however, suggests a musical duo whose talent will take them far. Combined with their truly poetic songwriting, the Indigo Girls create a commanding musical presence that captures attention and demands that you really listen to every last word they have to say.

> Don’t Miss Tracks: “Closer to Fine”, “Secure Yourself”
> Check out this Murfie Podcast that we recorded with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls!

Joan Baez - Diamonds and RustJoan Baez
Diamonds and Rust

Although previous installments of Baez’s work centered around her anti-Vietnam war activism, Diamonds and Rust brings her back to her soulful, yet commercial, roots. The album is flush with outstanding music influences, including contemporary jazz greats like Larry Carlton and covers of legends the likes of Stevie Wonder. Although Biaz shines on cover tracks, original songs like “Children and All that Jazz” reveal a new style that’s personal and extremely appealing.

The real hero of this album, however, is the title track “Diamonds and Rust”, arguably Biaz’s finest achievement as a singer/songwriter. Written about her relationship with Bob Dylan, the track reminisces about what once was in a way that is intensely intimate.  Her most popular track ever, the song is a folk classic and a whole new standard for the soul-baring love song category. The sheer power of “Diamonds and Rust” combined with the album’s other shining moments makes this album the best of Baez.

> Don’t Miss Tracks: “Diamonds and Rust”, “Winds of the Old Days”


Ally Boutelle
@arboutelle

Ally is a communications intern at Murfie, blogging about all things music. When she’s not typing away, she cooks spicy food, does hot yoga, and reads weird history books. She’s also a college student double majoring in history and journalism.


Sounds Like Texas: The Best of the Lone Star State

We know everything is bigger in Texas, but is the music better? This week, check out reviews of three albums by The Lone Star State’s greatest!

PearlJanis Joplin
Pearl

Listening to Pearl feels a bit heavy, and there’s certainly reason for that: Janis Joplin’s last, the album was recorded near the very end of her life. After succumbing to an overdose at 27, she would never live to see it finished and released. Her tragic ending was a symbol of how she lived: erratically, but remarkably—an incredible voice and presence that belonged to a very troubled woman. Pearl is both a testament to her incredible talent and a hint of what could have been.

One of the album’s greatest strengths is Full Tilt Boogie, the backup band that’s with her through every track. Together with Janis’ big voice, they create a sound that lets her rock, but keeps her refined and smooth. She doesn’t overpower them, nor they her—it’s a harmonious combination. On tracks like “Cry Baby”, Janis is her full, belt-y self, brought down to earth with Full Tilt Boogie’s influence.

This album has an organization to it that other Joplin records lack, and it’s a refreshing and new take on her music. Previous albums like Cheap Thrills have essentially lacked structure; while letting Joplin’s trademark rawness show is great, the extra guidance in these songs lets her shine in a different way. Her intensity is kept in check just enough to let the songs fully develop, but not so much that she never has her big moment. This album has taken an already incredible talent and refined it into something that much more listenable.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Cry Baby”, “Mercedes Benz”

 

370176-largeLos Lonely Boys
Los Lonely Boys

Los Lonely Boys are certainly true to their Texas roots—they call their musical style “Texas Rock n’ Roll”, a fusion of rock, soul, country, blues and Tejano. A group of three brothers, the band is forging those influences into a brand-new and extremely inspired sound. To cement their status as a true Texan band, the group recorded this album at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales recording studio.

At the heart of this album is their incredible music talent and creativity. Rather than making the album hard to follow, the group’s numerous musical influences instead work their way into a track list that is incredible varied and creative, yet cohesive. That variety turns out to be their greatest strength on Los Lonely Boys: “Crazy Dreams” is a masterpiece of guitar riffs, while “Dime Mi Amor” shifts effortlessly into a Latin-rock structure that echoes Carlos Santana.

Variety isn’t these brothers’ only talent, however: this album shines on instrumentals, vocals and songwriting. Rather than sticking to their Texas roots, their talent elevates them to what feels like a new genre: their songs are crafted with incredible nuance; they find a place in both your heart and your mind. Whether it becomes the soundtrack to your summer party or a quiet at-home listening session, this album deserves a place in any music collection.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Crazy Dreams”, “Senorita”

 

67224-largeGeorge Strait
Troubadour

It’s impossible to write a compilation of Texas music without at least one country album, and there is no country star more worthy of such a spot than the King of Country: George Strait. Texan-born, George Strait has released dozens of albums and had dozens of No. 1 hits. Twang is a testament to his signature sound and the solidifying of his status as country’s music supreme ruler.

A true Texas star, Strait’s collection not only contains nary a bad album, but manages to stay true to his Texas sound. After releasing so many albums, Strait still manages to find a new sound on Troubadour. The album finds him looking introspectively, creating a soft, mellow sound that is calm and soothing without ever slipping into melodramatic or depressing. On this album, he certainly sounds like a Troubadour—a singer who has had a long and varied career, but always manages to emerge that much better.

It would be easy to mistake Troubadour’s 12 songs for simple tracks, but his sound and songwriting prove otherwise. He’s enlisted a lot of outside songwriting help here, including Buddy Cannon and Monty Holmes, but the songs weave together into a calming, cohesive collection. Despite the number of people involved, the album keeps its attitude going all the way through: it’s a subdued, intimate album that sounds like the soundtrack to events you’ll want to remember. Strait stays true to his Texas roots for a reason: why mix it up when you do it so well?

Don’t Miss Tracks: “River of Love”, “It Was Me”

 

Daniel and the Lion: Death Head (side A)

ALBUM REVIEWS
Daniel and the Lion: Death Head (side A)

Daniel and the Lion celebrated the release of their new album, Death Head (side A), on Wednesday, May 16th, at the High Noon Saloon in Madison. The indie pop band consists of quirky duo Jimmie Linville and Daniel Pingrey: Daniel and the Lion podcast

Death Head (side A) holds true to DATL’s minimal structure. It lets smart compositions, Linville’s voice, and a few key instruments, including acoustic guitar, piano, and drums, come together perfectly. “Death Head” is my favorite track. It has a rich, layered sound and infectious melodies that make you want to move. You’ll want to sing along to this album, especially with the song “Need You” (“I don’t want to say-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh that I need you…”).

The album also goes in a lot of directions, from DATL’s classic indie pop and folk to a meandering, Americana-esque track, “Flash Flood.” The final track, “Good Reason,” is even reminiscent of Bon Iver or some Coldplay, as it shows off Linville’s vocal range and a sound that masters the art of being both full and empty.

DATL is a fun band to follow, as they frequently update their website and blog with stories, videos, and pictures. Keep a lookout because Death Head (side A) will be released soon and Side B will be released later this year!

Dueling Discs, Vol. 1: Frat Rock 70s vs Frat Rock 80s

Yes, you read that correctly. Frat Rock. What the “Now That’s What I Call Music!” series is to radio friendly pop hits, the “Frat Rock” franchise is to songs my dad did some serious broing out to (if that’s what they even called it back then). Lucky for you, in this inaugural installment of Dueling Discs, the “Frat Rock” albums from the 70s and 80s will do battle, giving you a better idea of which decade Belushied better.

Let’s start this clash with a breakdown of the track list from Frat Rock: The 70s. The album hits you in the face with frat by “Takin’ Care of Business” (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) and then shows you just how few shits it gives about the administration by “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” (Brownsville Station). Despite their improper use of the gerund, both of these tracks suggest that the 70s bro was a badass who laughed in the face of education, leaving plenty of time to be free, free as a bird. You guessed it; “Free Bird” (Lynyrd Skynyrd) makes an appearance on the album. At a whopping 9:08, this track is by far the…second longest track on the disc, topped by “Do You Feel Like We Do” (Peter Frampton). The length of these tracks surely means they were used as background music during late night hours at the frat, bringing new meaning to being a fan of Skynyrd or Frampton.

“Hey bro, heard you were singing with the talk box last night, awww yeeeaaa…”

Rounding out a solid lineup of tunes, none other than the live version of “Lola” by The Kinks adds that sensitive side to the album that every frat boy yearns to posses (in order to win the heart of his sorority crush of course). In total, Frat Rock: The 70s scores well on the Bromometer at 7 out of 10.

Next up we’ll take a look at Frat Rock: The 80s to see if more hair makes for a better brand of bro. The track that stands out immediately on the 80’s edition of Frat Rock is “Our House” (Madness). There aren’t many things more frat-tastic than sitting on your porch yelling at a gaggle of passing rival bros “This is our House… in the middle of our street… that isn’t technically ours; it actually belongs to a bunch of rich dudes.” Other highlights on the album include “Hot Hot Hot” by Buster Poindexter (just look at him, that guy is frat) and “867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone. Both of these songs could still get a rise out of a party, crafting a conga line or a late night sing along. Finally, “Whip It” by Devo gives this album some much-needed kinkiness. But will it be enough to top the brotastic lineup of songs from Frat Rock: The 70s???

Nope. This album comes in at a 6.5 on the Bromometer, making it the runner-up in this first ever Dueling Discs post. Confratulations to Frat Rock: The 70s on its big win! Those bros sure knew how to jive.