Our favorite things this week include Kendrick Lamar, Volcano Choir and the 1945 Loyola Wolf Pack.
Repave, Rethink: One of my favorite bands is also perhaps one of the most divisive bands around today. I get what people may not like about Bon Iver - the brainchild of falsetto-abuser Justin Vernon - and the band's affinity for quieter, often-labeled "boring" work. But I've always believed a close enough listen could show anyone that Vernon is behind some truly beautiful music. As if I couldn't be more of a fanboy, I now have on endless repeat Volcano Choir's latest Repave, a record I already adore and connect with even though it's only been streaming for a short time. It's a cleaner, bigger, more crowd-pleasing version of Bon Iver's 2011 self-titled record. Noting the similarity in sound and songwriting quickly, Repave initially gave me hope that more people could hop on the train with me. After all, Repave sees Vernon dropping the infamous falsetto on some of the record's best tracks.
But will that be enough? How much does it take for an artist to overcome the labels, criticisms, idiosyncrasies, etc. already held against him or her when embarking on a new project? It's a strange line to teeter, and there is something to say in defense of those who think a band only has one shot at getting our attention. But from the perspective I have via my love of all things Bon Iver, I've accidentally learned to be more forgiving of bands. (Sibilie)
Life During Wartime: There has rarely been a more aptly named book than Fight, Grin & Squarely Play the Game. Loyola grad Ramon Antonio Vargas tells the story of the 1945 Loyola Wolf Pack basketball team, which won a national championship, and the book's title suggests a set of values straight out of yesteryear.
After the team won, a former player serving in the military in Italy wrote coach Jack Orsley to say, "Gosh but that was swell news to me - have followed your every game via clippings sent to me by my family." That, too, sums up the book as Vargas tracks the season through box scores and accounts in The Maroon and The Times-Picayune. It's a storytelling method that doesn't lead to strong characterization or narrative, but he picks up the language and voice of his source material, so much so that it's possible to imagine a slick-talking reporter with fedora pushed back on his head narrating the story with a stogie wedged in the corner of mouth. References to set shots are some of the few clues that basketball was a different game back then, and World War II is an ever-(very)present backdrop. (Rawls)
King of New York: Saying that 2013 has been a good year for Kendrick Lamar would be a gross understatement. His second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, won the praises of nearly every critic, citing it as one of the best concept albums of the year and him as one of the best rappers. His records have influenced the future of hip-hop, challenging artists to create smarter music, diversify the subject matter and delivery in their songs. More importantly, Lamar has revamped popularity for mainstream hip-hop concept albums, shying away from a focus on hit singles.
Lamar has recently come under fire from many artists in the hip-hop community regarding controversial verses in "Control," a newly released collaboration with Big Sean and Jay Electronica. The song will not be included on Big Sean’s new album because of copyright- infringing sample, but Big Sean leaked the track online, tweeting that “IT IS NOT no radio shit… Straight rap.” In Lamar’s portion of the song, he makes claims of being “the king of New York,” and calls out a number of rappers saying, “I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you.” While few of the artists that Kendrick actually listed in the song have made a statement, a number of lesser-known rappers have responded with remixes dissing Lamar. I understand that having a Compton-based rapper refer to himself as the “King of New York,” is a sensitive issue (the same subject that sparked a vicious feud between Nas, Biggie and Jay-Z), but I think the responses thus far have been ridiculous. Besides Nas, none of the rappers who have made statements against Lamar have innovated like Lamar, bringing art records with an underground sound to the mainstream and succeeding so wildly.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the statement from Macklemore, who claimed to be angry for 48 hours after hearing the song, but in the end, was inspired by the verse to work harder. “Kendrick is a competitive dude,” says Macklemore, “He’s always said it and works his ass off. I think he’s at that place in the game where he can say something like that and back it up. That’s the beautiful thing. It challenges everyone else to raise their bars and work as hard as he does.” (Halmon)