Friday, January 7, 2011

2010 Album of the Year Picks

Indie: “Have One On me” - Joanna Newsom

On paper, it seems that Joanna Newsom’s latest release, Have One On Me, with its 18 songs spanning two whole hours, is a pretentious and futile attempt to trump her previous masterpiece Ys. But that was four years ago, and Newsom has changed quite a bit.

On the decidedly cosmic Kingfisher, she holds an internal debate over the credulity of mankind and her penitence under God. Then, on Baby Birch, she ruefully ponders the beauty and life of her miscarried child; in it, she then skins a rabbit “kicking and mewling, upended, unspooling, unsung, and blue” and threatens to find it wherever it may go before “it ran, as they’re liable to do.” Lyrics and material such as these prove that Newsom has reached womanhood in her musical expression; each word and chord serve a grand purpose in the greater scheme. And yet, one cannot help but doubt that Newsom has actually lived the subtle tragedies of which she sings.

Unlike the naïvely blissful debut or her audacious teenage foray into experimentation on her sophomore album Have One on me is a lyrical masterpiece of maturity. If you give this album the immense attention that it deserves, she will tell you stories deeper, darker, and ultimately more joyous than you had thought possible through music.

-Michael Becker ‘14

Hip Hop: “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” – Kanye West

Accompanied by ludicrous amounts of fanfare, preceded by weeks of free G.O.O.D. Friday releases, coming with a sprawling half-hour music video, and resulting from months of isolated work from an island stronghold, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy seemed to be burdened with crippling hype. But then the album actually dropped.

It is more than a hip-hop album. It takes the typical conceptions of what hip-hop should be and runs them through the grinder that is Kanye West’s mind. And the genre may not have survived the trip, as Mr. West succeeded in blowing it up with his swirling, staggering opus.

Personally, it’s the only album I’ve heard in a long time that gave me chills, and when I emerged from my first listen, I spent the rest of the day in a bewildered fog. This is because MBDTW takes you through Ye’s mind, a place of staggering ego, crippling self-consciousness, brilliant rhymes, and groundbreaking production. From Nicki Minaj’s intro to Gil Scott-Heron’s outro, and through all the hits in between, MBDTF is a towering accomplishment, a maximalist hip-hop manifesto.

-Trap Yates ‘14

Indie: “Contra” –Vampire Weekend

It is easy to just bob your head along with the light-hearted tunes of Vampire Weekend’s 2010 release, Contra. But underneath the understated ease, there is often an intricate intermix of energized

beats, vocal harmonization, and a splash of heart-rending orchestral reflections. It is clear that Vampire Weekend has definitely taken the time to craft their encore album, collapsing various genres and sounds into each one of their songs without losing that quirky simplicity that characterizes the band.

They sing of poetic images and treat serious subject, especially human hypocrisy and pretensions, with the same flippant tone and the listener can never be completely sure whether they’re serious or not. And it is easy to be infected by that uplifting, happy-go-lucky attitude towards life whenever you listen. There is something very exquisite and endearing about their music-box, bubbly children’s rhyme quality. So even under the crushing load of dean’s date papers and JPs, pop in the Vampire Weekend CD and somehow, be tempted to just shrug everything off!

-Grace Ma ‘14

Folk: “The Wild Hunt” –The Tallest Man on Earth

Musicians don’t drop 10 out of 10 albums the way they drop good beats. A great album, even a BEST album, might only be a 5/10, and a hyped album even less. And then there is “The Wild Hunt.” 10 out of 10 tracks, 10 out of 10 stars. It is a work of music so distinctive, so profound, and so stunning that the thrill of its discovery was to me something akin to my first encounter with a band like the Rolling Stones.

To put it short, Kristan Matsson, the brains behind The Tallest Man on Earth, is an artist with the ability to truly remind you why you even bother looking for music in the first place. His has a pungent, yet utterly compelling voice that, when paired with the unpretentious jangle of his guitar makes you do a double-take, and then a triple-take, until before you know it, you’ve listened through the whole CD about 15 times through.

Critics are generally quick to compare Matsson to Bob Dylan, and it is not unfounded in terms of the visceral voice, complex melodies, and folky feel. But equally as impressive is that in all of his artful optimism and contemplation, Matsson is entirely his own person. Just as Joanna Newsom can be no one else except Joanna Newsom, Matsson is the one and only, the Tallest Man on Earth.

-Lisa Han ‘13

Experimental: “Cosmogramma” –Flying Lotus

The staggering beats of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will always take center stage in any discussion of the beatmaking of 2010. Of equal worth, if not equal notice, however, is the unique genius of visionary L.A. producer Flying Lotus. Since his first beats hit the masses a few years ago, FlyLo has been churning out a ridiculous volume of material, developing his sound from hazy instrumental hip-hop into…well into Cosmogramma.

At first listen, especially to the uninitiated into FlyLo’s sound, Cosmogramma sounds dangerously disjointed. That Flying Lotus manages to weave together all the disparate elements that make up his music defies belief, and initially, defies the ear. But once you adapt to the flood of sounds barraging your ear, the pattern emerges.

It’s a beautiful pattern. The songs are amazingly lush, and each new listen-through reveals an entirely new layer of precisely placed sounds. The album lacks singles, allowing the songs to just flow together. And in between the sounds clarity emerges, until when listening you have a hard time even hearing Cosmogramma’s random elements in the midst of its manic cohesion.

-Trap Yates ‘14


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mixtape of the Week: K’ La –The Coldest Winter Ever

Who knew Gary, Indiana, of all places, was such a hotbed of rap? I wouldn’t have guessed it, but there must be something in the water. K’ La joins Freddie Gibbs as one of the GI’s top ambassadors as she sings and raps her way through The Coldest Winter Ever. Honest, and introspective in all the ways that most rappers aren’t, K’ La impresses with her debut, which explores love, being left, raising kids in material America, and trying to break into the game.

When I say K’ La raps and sings, I really do mean she does both well. She is not like some femcees whose rapping overwhelms her singing (here’s looking at you Minaj) or vice versa. She is genuinely versatile, smoothly transitioning between crooning and rapping in a style reminiscent of Lauryn Hill, not to drag K’ La into that tired old comparison.

K’ La also shifts equally comfortably through subject material. She plays the angry lover, the loving girlfriend, the up-and-coming artist, the struggling mom. She is able to switch around so comfortably because of she is unrelentingly down-to-earth. This is best typified by the tape’s standout song “Who I Am,” an unflinching, soulful reflection upon her personal development.

Overall, it’s an exciting start for K’ La, and now that she’s out of The Coldest Winter Ever, I think it’s only a matter of time before she gets hot.

Cop it from her site:

-Trap Yates '14


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Classic Movie of the Week: Die Hard (1988)

It’s the holiday season, so I thought I would post about my favorite holiday movie. The cinematic masterpiece Die Hard features neither Santa nor Hanukkah, nor the Holiday Armadillo (if you don’t know who the Holiday Armadillo is, you should click here). Yet, Die Hard is a movie about what the holiday season should be about: killing terrorists by means of one’s own sheer awesomeness.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a detective with the NYPD, who is attempting a Christmas reunion with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). He finds her at a holiday office party in the high-rise Nakatomi Plaza. After a fight with his wife, McClane finds himself alone in a private bathroom. Before he can attempt to rectify the situation, a group of terrorists (the majority of which look quite a lot like Fabio) led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) seize the building. In the confusion, McClane is able to slip unnoticed into the building’s maintenance areas, but now it’s up to him to safe the rest of the hostages, including his wife.

Click here to see McClane spreading the holiday spirit.

Click here for the trailer.

Have a great winter break everyone!

Die Hard sadly cannot be found at any of the Princeton University libraries. However, it can be watched instantly on Netflix.

--Lolita de Palma '14


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Singles of the Week: December 22, 2010

Rap: “Roman’s Revenge” – Nicki Minaj ft. Eminem

What could Eli Manning, Aladdin, dungeon dragons, Roman Polanski, Lil’ Kim, S&M, the Vatican, and straightjackets possibly have in common? Well, they’re all somehow relevant in the eagerly anticipated collaboration “Roman’s Revenge” between provocative rap icons Nicki Minaj and Eminem. And it certainly delivers; Nicki’s more aggressive than most male rappers could dream of being, and Eminem’s crazier than a Brown student. It’s angry. It’s explicit. It’s twisted. This shit’s as cathartic as it gets. So whether you like it or not, listen, because it seems as though music like this has become a legitimate form of artistic expression; and to be honest, I think it’s brilliant. As these icons say, “when Shady and Nicki’s worlds clash, it’s high class meets white trash”, and I think they’re here to stay.

(Just for fun, try to determine which rapper is high class and which is white trash. I haven’t slept in days trying to figure it out. It’s driven me mad.)

-Michael Becker ‘14

Hip Hop: “Beast Mode”- B.o.B.

I should preface this by saying that I grew up watching “Beast Wars” and “Beast Machines,” the shows from which this song draws its central metaphor. So any song drawing upon that paragon of nineties cartoons had a direct line to my heart. But besides my own personal nostalgic satisfaction, “Beast Mode” is a great song. It’s the B.o.B. I came to know and love before “Airplanes” seized America’s radios by the throat and choked the general population, threatening to extinguish B.o.B. the up-and-coming rapper entirely. But with “Beast Mode,” that version of Bobby Ray is back. He brings the manic energy that made his Lawnparties show so live, and complements with an attitude of seething desire bordering on anger. And it’s awesome. This is the B.o.B. that got himself noticed in the first place, as “a beast unleashed, raging.”

The accompanying vid:

-Trap Yates ‘14

Indie: “Chinatown” – Destroyer

Why I decided to finally break my yearlong Pitchfork abstinence to pick this song is somewhat of a nebulous explanation. I was craving something smooth, and something modern, and this song by Destroyer turned out to be about as satisfying as a cream filling. The intertwining voices, acoustic guitar and rhythmic beat is sensually light, almost a seamless homage to Nico in “Femme Fatale” with the Velvet Underground. Then there’s this smooth jazz horn section from the 80s, something from an elevator or a sitcom, which makes you think first, “this is totally wack” and then immediately afterwards, “I kind of like it.” There’s a strange irony as I listen to Dan Bejar and Sibel Thrasher croon into my ear “I can’t walk away/you can’t walk away” whilst scrambling to finish the semester with one foot out the door. But this song, altogether too short and too sweet, is as soothing as a bubble bath. Let it be a reminder, it’s never too late to take a mental break.

-Lisa Han ‘13


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fashion Trend of the Week: Phone Cases

Since the holidays are right around the corner (or for some they have already passed), I thought this week's fashion trend should also be a great gift idea. After searching far and wide, there is one gift that is perfect for everyone and anyone, no matter their style, age, or gender. What is it? A phone case!

Phone cases serve many purposes. First and foremost, they protect your phone. Duh. A good phone case is worth its hefty price tag, considering it is MUCH cheaper than purchasing a new phone nowadays (a new Blackberry costs about $450). Also, phone cases can put your personality on display. Whenever you text, talk on the phone, or check e-mail, everyone around you can see what your phone says about you. For girls, phone cases serve them well on weekend nights when they go out to the Street. Some phone cases, especially gel skins, allow you to put your prox and some cash in them, which means you don’t have to bring a purse or wallet with you to the Street—you simply need your phone!

If you don’t want to make an extreme statement with your phone case, go for something like a gel skin or a plain hard case. Gel skins are VERY popular for Blackberrys. On E-bay, you can get 5 Blackberry skins for about $6, including shipping. There is nothing cheaper than that! However, you must be aware that every make and model of Blackberry is different—be sure to get a skin that is for your Blackberry!

Although gel skins are enough protection for a Blackberry, a touch-screen phone such as a Droid or an iPhone really require a hard case of some sort. This Talon case for the Droid X runs only $14.95 and comes in 3 different colors. For iPhones, there are many options, but Belkin and Incase are the two top brands. At Best Buy, these cases will run you about $30, but they are very durable and come in a multitude of colors. For all other phones, your best bets are SPECK cases. Although most stores don’t carry them, you can still find them online at

If you want to make a statement, go for a “blinged out” case. These cases are covered in rhinestones (or real Swarovski crystals if you REALLY want to go all-out) and will certainly draw some curious glances. These are most easily found at the little kiosks in the mall or at fashion-forward boutiques, such as Niko Niko in Princeton. You can get any design you like, from skull and crossbones to stars or leopard print. One thing you need to be aware of when purchasing a bedazzled case is that quality is VERY important. You want the sides to look as seamless as possible and you want the stones to be evenly spaced. Although you can get low-quality cases for as low as $15, a high-quality bejeweled case costs around $40.

If you have butter hands and can’t help but drop your phone ALL the time, then an Otterbox is a good option for you. Otterbox cases, meant for those who are very tough on their phones, are indestructible. Although the case just about doubles your phone in size, you literally cannot break your phone. Not only can you throw it across a tile floor, but you can throw it in the pool and your phone will be perfectly fine! It may seem ridiculous, but it works! Otterbox cases retail for about $50.

To be honest, phone cases never go out of style (I mean, who wouldn’t want to protect their phone?), but they are an integral part of your style choice on a daily basis. Make sure you choose a phone case you love and it will always be able to brighten your day. Cases make a great gift for friends, family, or even yourself!

--Lisa Fierstein '14


Monday, December 13, 2010

Mixtape of the Week: No Genre - B.o.B.

Dear Trap,

I just heard B.o.B’s new mixtape, “No Genre,” and it made me very sad. I feel like my upcoming mixtape is now irrelevant. Hell, my actual album doesn’t seem worth it anymore. What can I do to get back my self-esteem and make my career important?


Up-and-Coming Mixtape Rapper

Dear Up-and-Coming,

Honestly, give up. B.o.B’s tape is better than your tape and your album put together. From the bangers that it opens with, through it’s more introspective moments, and even when B.o.B gets weirdly paranoid like on “Dr. Aden,” “No Genre” is an absolute classic on every level.

His production would be inspired for an album, and is beyond brilliant on a mixtape. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t even know what to do with beats this good. His use of Coldplay’s, “Lost!” is a stroke of genius. I want to meet whoever put together the beat for “Shoot Up the Station,” one of the most creative tracks I’ve heard in a long time.

“No Genre” jangles, bumps, and generally just barrels through your headphones with palpable energy perfectly suite to Bobby Ray’s flow. He can mix double-time raps with actual singing. His lyricism is piercingly intelligent. And despite his recent commercial success and Grammy nominations, B.o.B sounds hungrier than the vast majority of other rappers, including you.

This hunger causes him to rap like he’s got something to prove. And he did have something to prove. He had to prove he is more than that one song. As it turns out, he is. He’s one of the best rappers in the game.

Good luck with your career,


The tape:

“Watchers” video:

--Trap Yates '14


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Classic Movie of the Week: Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind has always been one of my favorite movies. I grew up watching it. I’ve secretly always wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara (probably not the best role model) and I’ve always not so secretly wanted Rhett Butler. Scarlett and Rhett are what make Gone with the Wind brilliant. These two characters are so real, so strong, and so magnificent that they are impossible to turn away from. And if you’re not looking at them, you’re looking at the bewitching backdrops that make this film so special.

The movie begins with Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), the very pretty and very headstrong daughter of an Irish plantation owner, flirting with two twin boys. It is the South right before the Civil War, all is calm and idyllic, but the viewer can sense chaos on the horizon. She goes to a party at her neighbor John Wilkes’s house, where she confesses her love for his son Ashley (Leslie Howard) and learns of his impending marriage to his sweet cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). She also meets Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), witness to her rejection. He ridicules Ashley and further enrages Scarlett (a not unusual state for Scarlett, who spends the majority of the film enraged, especially where Rhett is involved). Then, the Civil War breaks out and the peaceful picturesque world of the Old South is set on fire…

For a great Scarlett and Rhett scene, click here.

For the trailer, click here.

Side Note: The book is awesome too.

Gone with the Wind can be found at the Humanities Resource Center and Netflix.

-Lolita De Palma '14