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Q&A With The Airborne Toxic Event

It’s no secret that tough times can lead to great songwriting, and in the case of Los Angeles’s Airborne Toxic Event, they can be the reason a band gets together in the first place. That’s what happened in 2006, when frontman Mikel Jollett turned a particularly awful week into a handful of songs, and eventually into one of the most successful rock groups around.

Currently on tour to support their second full-length, All At Once, the five-piece is still busy turning difficult personal experiences into universally appealing songs. We got a chance to chat with guitarist/keyboardist of Steven Chen about the new album, the lingering impact of “Sometime Around Midnight” and the risks of shooting videos with cats.

OS: We hear it’s a sad story, but can you give us the rundown on how this band got started?

SC: Well Mikel and Daren met through mutual friends, in I think the summer of 2006. And Mikel had all these really tragic things happen in his life—his mom was diagnosed with cancer, he got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, he quit smoking, he broke up with his girlfriend and he just spent a year writing a ton of stuff. He met Daren, and then the two of them were just playing, practicing for a whole summer. And then I had known Mikel when we both lived in San Fransico together, and Mikel knew the rest of the people in the band. They were all his friends. So we just all of the sudden sort of came together, having casual meetings at his house where he would invite people over and we would drink and play music and record some stuff. Eventually… I came in and played, and Noah was in there, and Anna was in there, and there was a very palpable chemistry. Eventually it all just worked out, and we played our first show within a month of officially forming.

OS: It seems like you guys gained momentum pretty quickly right after that.

SC: Well I don’t know, it looks a certain way from the outside… It’s hard to figure out what a good frame of reference is. This is my first band, but it’s not Noah’s and it’s not Daren’s. I guess it was like a year where we just played around LA a lot. And then we were just dropping off demos at radio stations and going for the local shows and stuff like that. So you know, we’ve been around for four years, a little over four years now.

OS: You’ve been compared to everyone from Bright Eyes to U2, but who would you say you were inspired by as you worked on All At Once? Who were you listening to?

SC: Oh man, I think we listened to all kinds of stuff. Mikel listens to a lot of Leonard Cohen, and we listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan when we were getting ready to record the album. The Clash is big, everyone in the band loves The Clash. Daren, the drummer of our band, he’s sort of like our resident music historian… Noah is an upright jazz bassist, so he like a weird mix of jazz and like, punk rock. He’s played in jazz bands, he’s played in country-western or punk bands, so that’s sort of where he comes from. And me, I listen to a lot of indie rock or brit-pop like Pulp or Pavement or The Smiths. I’m a big fan of late ‘70s, early ‘80s New York pop—New York Dolls, Dead Boys. And British punk.

OS: The video for your latest single “Changing” starts off with you turning off the radio as it’s in the middle of playing what sounds an awful lot “Sometime Around Midnight.” Was that something that was important to you on this record? Stepping away from that single?

SC: [Laughs] I don’t know if we thought about it too much. It was just more… it was kind of funny. And it’s our song, you know? It’s very much a part of our band, and we thought [“Changing”] was kind of a different vibe of a song. It’s kind of just tipping our hat to “Midnight.” I think it was like, a five minute discussion, and it was in there. People have been talking about it a little bit, but I don’t think we were trying to say, “Oh, screw that,” or anything.

OS: Several reviewers have said that it really sounds like you’re really defining your sound on this album. Did you find that was the case— that you really hit your stride as you worked on All At Once?

SC: You could say anything in retrospect, everything looks different. I think when you’re doing it, you’re not really trying to create a specific sound or a kind of music. If anything, Mikel had a really strong idea of how he wanted to kind of lyrically write around a theme. The songs on the album, from the first track to the last one, they tell a story. It deals with a pretty big concept. But when we were doing the record, Mikel had written all the stuff. He had written upwards of forty songs… and we worked on them the whole summer of 2010. We were just at his house every day, drinking coffee when we were there in the morning. We had a wall of songs that we were working on, and we had moved them around, moved them to the bottom of the pile or worked on them. But we just wanted to create the best songs that we could create. You never think about genre, you know? I think you can just be a rock band. The genre is generally more trouble than it’s worth… I don’t think you need to be pigeonholed, or lock yourself into a certain kind of sound.

OS: It’s interesting that you mention the storytelling aspect of your songs, because it seems like lyrically you always try to paint a really vivid picture.

SC: Yeah, Mikel’s very good at that. And it’s vivid because it’s true. All the songs—or most of the songs—are true stories. “Midnight,” you know, we were all there that night. It’s funny because every single member of the band was there that night as the story was unfolding. But yeah, the story is the thing. He really writes from the gut… and that’s what people respond to. There’s a lot of truth in it, and people recognize that story in their own lives. We hear that all the time, people will come up to us after the show or before the show. Some people are near tears, and some people are like, “I just divorced my wife, and this song got me through it.” There’s all kinds of stories.

OS: As you were gearing up to release the album you did an Origins Tour, where you played cities 5 nights in a row, beginning at the smallest venue and working your way up. Why do you think your sound translates so well to both back alley bars and huge arenas?

SC: Well we have a saying in the band: you play the show that you’re playing. You’re not playing another show, you’re playing that particular show—whether you’re playing for fifty people or you’re playing for 50,000 people. You’re playing that show. So if we’re playing at a small place… a lot of those small venues, you kind of just play to that room. If there’s something in the air that’s a little bit unhinged, maybe we play a crazy punk show. But then, if it’s more intimate, maybe we tell our stories and play songs that are a little more intimate and not quite as out of control. We just get a vibe for the room, and we play to that room.

OS: You also did this “Bombastic” series of one-shot acoustic videos to promote the new album, similar to those you did when you were promoting your debut. Why is that something you keep going back to?

SC: A lot of it’s for the fans, you know? When we did it the first time, we got such an overwhelming response. More than we ever thought we’d get. And in the band, we always feel that a good song is a good song in any genre. If a song is a good song, it’ll sound good as a country song, as a punk song, as a folk song. So we just wanted to strip it down and play the song as it was, and do it in one take. I think it’s in the spirit of being able to show the song at its really stripped-down level, and different things come out depending on how you’re playing it. Sometimes we’ll switch parts, so maybe the viola will get the electric guitar part or vice versa. So that happens. It’s the same way we play live shows, we never use tracks. We never have pre-recorded tracks. A lot of bands do that, we just never felt that was appropriate for a live show. We just want to get in that room and play. The big change was the setting—we had a lot of good ideas of different settings where we could play, and we chose the ones that were the most interesting.

OS: So are there any crazy settings that you still want to try out?

SC: [Laughs] I can tell you what we tried to do with one of those settings, that was unsuccessful. With the Bombastic video for “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing,” we had this idea… if you watch the video, unless you watch carefully you don’t notice that there are actually cats sitting on a rocking chair. Kittens. And we originally had, like, fifty kittens. We weren’t terribly loud, but they were running all over the place and it was really, really difficult. There was like, one kitten that stayed in the shot. So that was one that we unsuccessfully executed. We couldn’t execute that one, but we like the idea of it. But we’ve done a few in moving vehicles, we’ve done one in a car, a boat, and then on the new album we’re on a bus. It’s kind of fun to have it be a challenge, where it’s kind of difficult or you have to improvise.

Don’t miss The Airborne Toxic Event on tour, and give their latest single “Changing” a listen below.

Businessmen, Bankers And Biomedical Engineers: Rockers With Degrees You Wouldn’t Expect

Earlier this month, Bad Religion founder Greg Graffin announced that he’s taking a break from touring after the band’s summer dates in Europe. But the reason is not to work on a new album. No, he’s going Ivy League, teaching a class on evolution at Cornell this fall.

He already has the nerdy but cool professor vibe down

The news might come as a surprise to fans of the legendary punk pioneers, but Greg (or Dr. Graffin) actually earned his degree from Cornell (the guy has a PhD in zoology), wrote a best-selling science book/memoir and even has an ancient bird fossil named after him. And as it turns out, Graffin isn’t the only rocker who gives credence to all those “Be cool, stay in school” PSA’s. Quite a few performers earned degrees in fields that might completely surprise you.

We knew Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, was a smart fellow… not just any old schmuck can weave together seemingly unrelated musicians like Queen and Rihanna and make it sound both awesome and original. But we never would have had him pegged for a Bachelor’s degree-wielding biomedical engineer. Even more surprising? Gillis actually worked in biomedical engineering while he was building his career as Girl Talk. Lucky for us, he quit his day job to focus exclusively on music in 2007.

...is this the look Graffin was channeling in his picture?

Milo Aukerman, frontman of SoCal punk band the Descendents, inspired the title of the group’s quintessential first album Milo Goes to College when he was studying biochemical engineering from UCSD. He eventually earned his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There really must be something punks like about advanced degrees, because the Offspring have had two smartypants in their ranks. Frontman Dexter Holland has a Master’s degree in molecular biology—he left USC when the Offspring blew up while he was pursuing his doctorate. (Thank goodness, because while we don’t know much about molecular biology, we do know that we love “Pretty Fly for a White Guy.”) Former Offspring drummer James Lilja must not have been as certain about the band’s future as Holland was; he left in 1987 to pursue his own medical career…as a gynecologist. No, we’re not making this stuff up.

While these degrees may seem unrelated to the career paths of the musicians who wield them, plenty of artists have degrees that fit perfectly with their musical persona. Andrew Bird has a Bachelor’s in violin performance from Northwestern, which isn’t too surprising given his masterful fiddling. The lyrically gifted Ted Leo, of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from Notre Dame in 1993 and equally wordy Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo earned a Bachelor’s in English from Harvard in 2006. Cuomo isn’t the only Harvard alum; Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine graduated with honors in Political Science in 1982, and we can only assume that fueled Rage’s socially-conscious lyrics in later years.

Rivers Cuomo is rocking that graduation cap

So what can we take away from studying the careers of these multi-talented musicians? Besides the obvious—they’re way more intelligent than we’ll ever be—it all comes down to this: cut records, not class.

Get Lyrical: Death Cab For Cutie’s “Some Boys”

We’ve always been pretty jealous of Ben Gibbard; he’s released eight successful albums as the frontman of Death Cab for Cutie, seen success with the Postal Service and his solo material and is married to ultimate indie chick Zooey Deschanel. And it’s hard to fault him for any of that, since he also comes off as sweet, thoughtful and reserved both in his songwriting and during interviews. But on the upcoming Codes and Keys, Gibbard changes things up with “Some Boys”—the quiet, indie rock equivalent of a diss track.

While he doesn’t explicitly call out anyone in particular, it isn’t hard to imagine some of the bands he could be referring to when he sings that some boys are “making a killing at the top of the billing/It’s their role and that’s all that they know.” He clarifies his criticisms in the second stanza, calling out a few specific character flaws: “But some boys don’t listen, some boys don’t listen at all/They don’t ask for permission, they lack inhibitions/No walls and they get what they want.” Even cavalier sexual attitudes are brought under fire, as Gibbard points out that they’ll be “singing the blues” after “Joylessly flinging with the girls that they’re bringing to their rooms.

Sounds kind of like getting reprimanded by your dad, doesn’t it? The whole song oozes with that feeling of, “we’re not mad, we’re just disappointed in you.” (Although now that Gibbard’s a married man who’s no longer allowed to be “flinging,” maybe there’s also a tiny bit of jealousy pervading these lyrics.) But either way, he makes it clear that after a while there’s nothing fun about being an asshole and taking part in empty flings. “Some boys are sleeping alone/Because there’s no one that’s keeping them warm through the evening/And they know that they’re on their own.”

Of course, it’s also possible that Gibbard and co. could be referring to younger versions of themselves. After all, two Death Cabbers—Gibbard and bassist Nick Harmer—got married as the band was working on this release. But with the ominous closing line, “They won’t get what they want,” we don’t think that’s the case. As the band gears up for one of the most highly-anticipated releases of the year, it would appear that they have almost everything that they want.

Give “Some Boys” a listen below, and be sure to check out Codes and Keys—out on Tuesday (5/31)!

Have an interesting story behind your lyrics? Let us know at pr@ourstage.com!

Q&A With The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus‘ anti-abuse single “Face Down” essentially launched the Florida natives’ career back in 2003, earning them a slot on the Take Action Tour as it helped their fans deal with depression. But since then, things have been a little tough—the band left Virgin after just two records, and are independently releasing their upcoming album I Am the Enemy. We got a chance to catch up with Red Jumpsuit Apparatus frontman Ronnie Winter to talk about the impact of “Face Down,” the band’s genre-jumping abilities and how their split from Virgin just might be the best thing that could have happened to them.

OS: The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus was really popular in your home state long before you blew up everywhere else—what was it like to grow as a band in that Florida scene?

RW: It was pretty awesome. There’s quite a few bands, actually, from our local area. So just growing up there was a lot of really good music to look up to that came from our local town. I feel like that had a lot to do with it. Red Night Scare is basically from our hometown, so is .38 Special. Also Yellowcard is basically from the same hometown that we are. So a lot of bands have become successful from the area. When we were in high school we really felt if you do good enough, you have a shot. I think that’s cool. Lots of kids kind of get that idea in their head, that if it’s not you it’s somebody else, you know what I mean? Then we just started writing songs… And I don’t know, eventually we just decided to play a show, and it was one of those things where literally right after the first show we just had a lot of really great responses. Everybody wanted the CD, and we hadn’t made one yet. We didn’t even have tee shirts, everybody was asking for tee shirts. We had other bands who were there that had CDs and shirts and nobody wanted them, and we didn’t have CDs or shirts and everybody wanted them. So we were like, “Okay, well maybe we’ll put our other bands on the back burner, we’ll focus on this thing for a while.” And literally less than a year later we’re selling out big venues and selling a lot of CDs on our own… we made enough money to quit our jobs and live off the band almost a year and a half before we even tried to get signed, so that was really cool.

OS: A lot of that early success was thanks to your first single “Face Down,” which was a very personal, vivid description of abuse. How did it feel to hear that all over the radio?

RW: It was definitely weird, especially, you know, when my Mom and Dad heard it. [Laughs] That was weirder. But I don’t know. When you write a song, you don’t think about what this is going to sound like on the radio, you know? You just write what you’re thinking, and on that particular day, that’s what I was thinking about. I wrote it, I showed it to Duke and the rest of the guys in the band, and I was like, “You know, I feel like this is a pretty good song, what do you guys think?” It wasn’t really that big of a deal to us at the time, we were just writing a lot of honest songs like that. There’s another song called “Getting By,” which is almost to the same beat that I wrote “Face Down” in, talking about basically after you graduate high school, realizing how shitty the world really is. Everyone goes through a little bit of a depression phase, I think. Either you shoot into college, you get straight A’s, full scholarship or someone helps you out with money, or you’re working full time, so that’s hard to get by. It’s the same kind of scenario. We were just writing from the heart. It was a little interesting to hear it on the radio, but it definitely is a true story, so I’m glad people were able to relate to it. I have thousands, literally thousands, tens of thousands of emails of people thanking me for writing the song, saying that helped them get through a difficult time. That wasn’t the intention, the intention was just to describe what I was feeling, but something positive came out of it.

OS: After that single, you guys did a lot of positive stuff—you joined the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and participated in the Take Action Tour. Do you feel like there’s pressure there because of that—that there are certain themes you have to cover?

RW: Well, not really, because most of the stuff that we’ve done has always been really fan-driven. You mentioned NCADV—they actually approached us and said that they’d had some kids calling in and saying that the song made them want to call in and talk about their problems and change their lives. So they reached out to us and just said, “Hey, we really like your song ‘Face Down,’ would you be willing to do something with us?” And we were like, “Yeah, that sounds awesome.” So they actually initiated, you know what I mean? That’s not us. We didn’t like, decide to go grab them. Same thing with the Take Action Tour. As I said earlier, we have a lot of songs that deal with depression and teen suicide because we believe that’s a topic that needs to be talked about. Teen suicide is still happening all over the place, and people talk about it like it’s not a big deal, but it is. It is to us. And we believe that a lot of the time, you can save a life if you just talk to somebody. The Take Action Tour knew that that was kind of our vibe, they addressed us and asked us if we wanted to do the tour even though it’s a charity tour. There’s not really any pressure because a lot of times there’s not anything to be pressured about. People just come to us and ask us to do stuff, and if we think it’s cool and a cool vibe, then we do it.

OS: Speaking of tours, you’ve been with everyone from poppy acts like Amber Pacific to hard rock bands like Shinedown to the current tour with hardcore band Yashin. Why do you think you’ve been able to mesh well with so many different types of bands and fans?

RW: We actually have a lot of really different sounding songs. We definitely don’t try to stick to one genre with our music. Both of our first two records, if you put one song next to the other a lot of people say they don’t even believe that it’s the same band… Everybody in my band has completely different taste in music, which is cool. We all sort of bring that into the mix when we write. Some of our guys are really big into hip hop, some of the guys are really into country, I’m mainly into post-hardcore and punk rock, and some of our guys are straight up alternative and old-school rock. I think that helps, the fact that we have enough different style songs that we can mold our set list to whatever band we’re playing with to where it sounds cohesive. Or not! Sometimes we’ll do the opposite, and we’ll want to stand out. If we’re playing with a bunch of hardcore bands, we’ll play a really poppy set so we totally stand out and don’t sound anything like anybody else. One time we played with Fergie at an arena in New York, and we played every song that we have that was all screaming and barely any singing. So we stood out in that scenario. I don’t know, it’s just kind of fun. We do what we want I guess. We’ll find a way to make it work.

OS: You guys went through some tough times after Lonely Road was released, and you ended up firing your manager, Steve Tramposch. Do you think having a manager was important or did you do okay on your own?

RW: Now we have a management company called the Collective. The thing is, we had a guy who was just one guy in his office. When everything started, it really wasn’t that much work. He could totally handle it, and he was a good manager for sure. He worked 24/7 for us, and that’s what we needed. That’s what we always wanted was to pay somebody money to open doors for you. It’s that simple. It’s nothing personal, it’s business… After we had a couple records out, when the workload got to the point to where it’s more than what one person could actually handle, he just wasn’t able to keep up, and we had some conversations, and we parted ways. It’s that simple. We partnered with Collective, which is actually a management firm, so instead of one guy we have an entire team of people behind us. Everybody’s got their own job, nobody gets overworked, and your band is taken care of 100% of the time. I think we just grew as a band out of that situation and into where we are now. Nothing personal, it just is what it is. It wasn’t a lot of drama or anything… we were with him a long time, and we parted ways, and that was that.

OS: In the video for “Choke“, you guys are killing what look to be some record label execs. Was that inspired by your split from Virgin?

RW: [Laughs] I get a lot of questions about that video. The first thing I want to say is it’s actually part one of a three-part series. A lot of people don’t know that, and we did our best to try to explain that, but a lot of kids will throw up one video on YouTube—once they see it, they’ll throw it back up. It’s impossible to embed in their YouTube stream, “Hey, this is part one of three.” But if you go to our page, it explains that in detail. The actual story is a string of characters who are just basically criminals… They go into this place and they kill a bunch of people. In the second video, they go to a little hideout. They’re drinking booze, they’re smoking cigarettes, they’ve got money on the table. Basically it’s a robbery, but you never see the robbery scene. And then in the third scene, it’s them being chased down by the cops and there being like a showdown at the end. We all get shot because we won’t turn ourselves in, we fight the cops. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s just a story like any other video. We wanted to stretch it out and make it three parts because we thought it would be cool. We’d never had an opportunity to do that with Virgin. So we’re like, “Hey, now that we’re independent we can do whatever we want. Let’s do one long story in three songs.” If you look at the video in context, it’s clearly not about a record label. But if you just watch that one video, for sure, it obviously looks like it, because we actually shot it in our management firm’s office. So you can see, like, gold records on the walls and stuff. And we thought that would be fine, because we thought that some people would pick up on that. But obviously, who cares? It’s rubber guns, you know what I mean? And yeah, it was a little bit of a message to Virgin. But the real message was, “We can do whatever we want now.” Not, “We’re gonna come kill you.” Anybody who thought that is basically just out of their mind. It’s stupid. First of all, if you’re gonna kill somebody, don’t make a video of you killing them first and then send it to them. That’s pretty dumb. Basically it was just showing them that we don’t have any kind of restrictions as far as graphic or artistic—we can literally do whatever we imagine now.

OS: So it’s been a positive thing, the split from Virgin?

RW: Absolutely. 100%. You can believe it or not—we’re not going to put a bunch of our personal files online—but in the beginning there was a lot of people who were like, “Oh, Red Jumpsuit got dropped.” And a lot of bands say that they didn’t, but we 100% didn’t. It’s very simple. We actually signed a deal with them that was three solid, two optional. That was the deal. So what that means is we absolutely had to make three records for them, and then if they still wanted to make records with us, then we had to make another two for them. But we only made two for them, because when the third record came around, basically they couldn’t honor their contract. They sent us a new contract with all these weird, additional things in the contract, like “Okay, we can’t honor the contract because we didn’t sign the musician. I’m a new guy, and we don’t have the budget we had back when we signed you, and everything’s changed, and blah blah blah.” And we were like, “Guess what? We don’t give a shit. We had a contract. You’ve been doing this to us for four years, saying, ‘Follow the contract, follow the contract, follow the contract.’ And now that the contract’s in our favor, you don’t want us to follow the contract? I don’t think so. Follow the contract. Take your own advice.” They didn’t want to do that, so there was an option in our contract that said if they didn’t follow their contract, we could get out. So we got out. Bam. It’s pretty rad, actually. Doesn’t usually happen that way. It’s pretty rare.

Check out the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus on tour with Yashin, and give their new single “Reap” a listen below!

Tyler, The Bizarre, Talented, Offensive, Genius, Divisive Creator

He’s been attacked by gay and women’s rights groups, defended by music bloggers, edited by writers who would presume to tell an artist how to create their work. He’s incited riots on rooftops and been arrested for disturbing the peace. He’s been described as a visionary, an obnoxious teen, a genius and a sexist homophobe. Only one thing is certain—Tyler, the Creator is a phenomenon. Still, we find ourselves wondering what exactly is it about this guy and the rest of the Odd Future collective that gets everyone so riled up. Isn’t he using the same schtick that catapulted Wu Tang Clan into stardom in the nineties? Aren’t his rape fantasies oddly reminiscent of Eminem’s murder fantasies circa 2000? What’s going on here?

The most important element of Tyler’s popularity is undoubtedly his charisma, and he has it in spades. His devil-may-care attitude towards what he says is oddly endearing, and he can get away with being completely ridiculous and spontaneous because he knows that the critics will love him no matter what. After all, when you can use the line, “Rape a pregnant b***h and tell my friends I had a threesome/You got a f*****g death wish, I’m a genie it’ll get done,” you can pretty much get away with anything. He’s also clever when it comes to marketing—actually running his Thurnis Haley Golf Wang spoof on the Golf Channel. In spite of ourselves, we find that we’re amused more and more by each Odd Future meme and video clip that pops up. (Have you seen “Grandma Reads Tyler, The Creator’s Tweets”? Gold.)

Tyler is also highly offensive, and that’s historically been a great way to drum up some chatter. (We’d include some more of his lyrics here, but we’d rather not repulse you and there’s only a certain amount of asterisks a person can use in a blog post without looking stupid.) Sara Quin of the indie folk duo Tegan and Sara was the first person of note to call him out on this last week. “The more I think about it, the more I think people don’t actually want to go up against this particular bully because he’s popular,” she writes. “Who sticks up for women and gay people now? It seems entirely uncool to do so in the indie rock world, and I’ll argue that point with ANYONE.” You can read her full letter here; it’s wordy but incredibly well-written—much more so than Tyler’s Twitter response: “If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!” Wow. Homophobic and sexist in less than 140 characters.

Sara has a point when she writes that critics don’t take on Tyler because he’s well-liked. And we agree that it kind of sucks that he rose to fame thanks to sexism and homophobia. But to be clear, his act is just that: an act. He’s not the first artist to write horrorcore songs, and he won’t be the last. It may seem like a lame defense, but it’s an important distinction. Tyler is—or at least claims to be—straight edge, so even his raps about drug use are just part of the fantasy. Plus he’s only twenty, and last time we checked twenty-year-olds are notorious for disregarding consequences and speaking without thinking.

And putting out this kind of letter less than a week after the release of Goblin? That’s only going to help the album surpass the 50,000 mark it reached in its first seven days. Because there’s one other reason Tyler is blowing up right now: he’s talented. Very talented. Like, we’ll find ourselves unabashedly putting “Yonkers” on repeat. The album-spanning conversation with his therapist packs a punch despite their lack of fanfare, laid over beats that are simple, often almost barren. We’d argue that he isn’t on par with most of the members of Wu Tang Clan; in fact, he may not even be the most talented rapper in Odd Future. But Tyler is the group’s obvious leader, and with Earl Sweatshirt hidden away at boarding school, he’s stepped into the role with more than enough swag. Despite a few similarities to those rappers who paved the way for his collective, he maintains that aura of being an original, something fresh, something we haven’t quite seen before.

So what’s the consensus here? It’s tough to wade through all the B.S. since every blogger with a keyboard and a set of speakers has an opinion—often a very strong one—regarding Tyler and the rest of the Odd Future gang. But whether he’s just a flash in the pan or busy carving out a permanent role in the scene, we guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot about him for a while. For now, we’re content to sit back and enjoy the chaos that surrounds these Californians and their crazy music. And we’ll continue to justify Odd Future’s place on our iPods with the NPR feature “Why You Should Listen to the Rap Group Odd Future, Even Though It’s Hard.”

 


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