MY TOP ALBUMS OF 2018

This year has been daunting. As I sat down to work on WRBB’s top ten list earlier this month, I found myself holding a tremendous amount of pessimism in association with 2018, and it wasn’t exactly unwarranted. This year’s events pushed Time magazine to make its person of the year “The Guardians,” a group of journalists who have been targeted for their work. This year found children in cages after seeking asylum. This has been a year where American citizens have had to come to terms with how vulnerable we are at the hands of large institutions, tech companies and the government. I won’t even get into international headlines.

Somehow, all of that pessimism bled into my perception of what the music industry had to offer this year. In reality, music has been the breath of fresh air keeping me sane this year.

Here are my top ten albums of 2018:

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10. Inside Voice

Joey Dosik

Joey Dosik is a fresh face in the industry, and he has already captured my attention as a master of contemporary soul. A member of Vulfpeck, Dosik’s solo effort has impressed me more than anything the band has had to offer in recent years. The album gives listeners a lot of new and original work, as well as some classic and beloved covers. Inside Voice may have JUST made the cut, but the album is a beacon of hope for what Dosik has in store for the future. Released under Secretly Canadian in August, this beautifully mellow album was a great way to cap the summer off. Rating: 7/10

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9. 2012 - 2017

A.A.L

I honestly don’t think this album was released with the intention of getting much hype, but it ended up taking the electronic music world by storm. Once it was revealed that Against All Logic is just a pseudonym for Chilean American artist Nicolas Jaar, I thought the album would be a collection of throwaways. But, none of the songs on here fit that category. 2012 - 2017 is a gorgeous and dynamic collection of songs that prove Jaar’s versatility as an artist. On top of that, there is a newfound soulfulness to the production on some of these cuts that I have never seen before in Jaar’s work. He samples David Axelrod on the opener! Released under Other People in February, this album was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise dismal year. Rating: 7.5/10

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8. Pastoral

Gazelle Twin

This album is terrifying. The second I put it on, my ears started to curl up. But, at the same time, I was dying to hear more. This album, released under Anti-Ghost Moon Ray in September, is a cathartic release of satirical rage from mastermind Elizabeth Bernholz. On Pastoral, the British avant garde artist takes aim at the state of politics and life in the UK, but it really serves as a statement on the world. It’s a fleeting project, clocking in at 37 minutes, but its impact is profound. Rating: 7.5/10

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7. Double Negative

Low

If somebody had told me that Low would make my top ten list for 2018, I would have laughed in their face. Then again, I would have laughed if somebody had told me about a lot of things that went down this year. This album is an avalanche of sludgy, warped and dark slowcore. It’s a step in the right direction for the veteran group. Released under Sub Pop in September, this album is really just one big song, as well as one big expression of fear and hopelessness. Rating: 7.5/10

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6. Your Queen Is A Reptile

Sons of Kemet

Man oh man, this album is a trip. It’s intense, it’s in your face, and it’s a whole new take on jazz. The UK has given us a lot of good music this year, and Sons of Kemet are no exception. They are also the leading figures of a burgeoning jazz movement in London. If you haven’t read up on that, check out this awesome feature by Kate Hutchinson for the New York Times. All in all, this politically charged opus is what the sound of modern jazz should be (not Kamasi Washington). Rating: 8/10

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5. Veteran

Jpegmafia

It took me a while to jump on the JPEG train. But once I did, I understood the hype. This album is like a slap in the face. It’s brutal, intense and still completely listenable through and through. The groundbreaking production and vocals are only further backed up by the witty lyricism from Barry Hendricks, who may quite possibly be one of the smartest rappers out there right now. Quit comparing the guy to MC Ride. If anything, he’s the new O.D.B Rating: 8/10

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4. Some Rap Songs

earl Sweatshirt

Everyone is comparing Earl’s new album to Madvillain. So much so that it’s a meme now. But I just don’t see it. This is a step further than Madvillainy. I may get shit for this, but the minimal production and the hard-hitting lyrics simultaneously contrast and complement each other in a way I have never heard before. This album is a change of pace not only for Earl, but for hip hop in general. Running super short at less than half an hour, the Columbia released project came out right at the end of November, just in time to dominate year-end lists. It only makes me hungry for whatever Earl has in store for us next. Who known when that will be… Rating: 8/10

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3. Orpheus vs. The Sirens

Hermit and the Recluse

This album is a movie. It’s rare to see a hip hop album that deals heavily and practically exclusively in mythology. Ka and Animoss coming together is also something that I thought I would never see happen, but sure enough, both did. And with that came Orpheus vs. The Sirens, released under Obol for Charon in August, it’s a bizarre and captivating trip into the New York firefighter’s mind, accompanied by some of the crispest production I have ever heard. Nothing beats a good film dialogue sample in a rap song. Be sure to sit down and listen to this guy all the way through. Rating: 8.5/10

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2. Cantos

Okonkolo

This album, released under Big Crown in July, came out of nowhere. Okonkolo is an afro-cuban god, and the musical group that now holds its namesake makes god-like music. The prayers that make up Okonkolo’s debut album are some of the most complex and beautiful that any classical tradition has produced. They are also some of the oldest, which according to the group, address Obatala, the creator of the world, Ochun, the goddess of love and beauty, and Chango, God of the drum. This is a masterpiece in modern religious music. I don’t say this lightly. I’m not religious. Rating: 8.5/10

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1. El Mal Querer

Rosalía

2018 is Rosalía’s year. She started it off by slowly trickling down a single or two, building fan expectations. The sound she was providing was crisp and new, showing tremendous promise. Her debut LP was a standard in flamenco, and many expected the same thing from her follow-up. But when El Mal Querer dropped, it seemed like the whole world was blown away. Produced almost exclusively by El Guincho, the album is an experimental flamenco-pop original. Remarkable in its ambition and execution, Rosalía has provided fans and new listeners with an unforgettable experience. I’ll let her music say the rest…. Rating: 9/10

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Cuba Pt. 3: The Pigeons

It’s hard to sum up what these pictures mean to me in such a brief post. The feature story I spent most of my time reporting on in Cuba is about pigeon breeders and the annual competitions that surround their hobby. But, it is also about much more than that. It is about Mandi Soca (Pic 3), a man who has dedicated himself to revitalizing a sport that is at risk of falling victim to the hands of petty crime. It is about Carlos Fernandez (Pic 2), a rookie in the sport whose passion for it is unmatched. It is about a hidden world inside Cuba, where swaths of men have created an entire culture that thrives right under everyone’s noses, or rather, above their heads on nearly every rooftop in Havana. This was the first time where I was given the opportunity to embed myself somewhere for a story, and I truly hope it isn’t the last. This story was much more than a piece of journalism to me. It gave me a better understanding of what drives human passion, and more importantly, it gave me new friends. I am so excited for the story to be live, and for a beautiful accompanying video produced by Zach Ben-Amots as well. A special thanks to Emily Moran for helping us so much in our journey.

Cuba Pt. 2: Alejandro

This post focuses on Alejandro, a man who runs a tattoo shop out of his home. He is part of a much larger story by Hannah Bernstein and Ysabelle Kempe that touches upon how the US embargo affects the individual lives of Cuban citizens. Alejandro’s son, Brian, is 6 and suffers from cancer. Thanks to government aid and his business, they get by. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Regardless, this man was one of the most kind and welcoming people I encountered in Cuba, and I can’t wait to go back and see him again.

Cuba Part 1

I’ve been posting about my experiences in Cuba recently, but now that I’m back, I want to formally share what I did. For 1 month, I was given the opportunity to report on this beautiful island. The people I met, the stories I got to tell and the lessons I learned are all priceless. For the next few days, I’ll be posting pictures that can briefly tell the story of my time there. Soon, our online magazine will be live and my articles will be there as well. I’m starting with a group of children playing community baseball. This might have been the most fun I’ve had taking pictures. The kids reminded me that baseball is more than just a sport in Cuba. It runs in their blood.

Personal Reflection: Framing Roxbury

Originally published here.

In starting my photojournalism assignment, I encountered some difficulty with the Boston history portion of it. Boston is drowning in historic artifacts, and yet, as I walked over to take the train into Copley one morning, I began thinking about originality as well. It is one thing to run over to Fenway Park or the Commons and snap a few pictures of stagnant Boston history.

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Then, I remembered a conversation I had with the kind older woman who checked me out at my local supermarket a week back. She had been telling me that her apartment complex in Roxbury was soon to undergo some serious renovations, and that she would have to be relocated for the foreseeable future. She was scared of leaving and of losing the home that had been in her life for so long. As I made my way back from class, I decided to walk over to the complex, only a block away from my own apartment. As I walked towards it, I saw “1952” engraved on the side of the building, and instantly, images of past families and experiences flooded my mind. There isn’t anything more organically historic about a city than its oldest residences. And here was a massive low income housing project that is at risk of falling victim to the grasp of gentrification. I decided to take pictures of an unconventional type of Boston history. A history of this city that will soon be erased, a history that has and continues to affect hundreds if not thousands of lives. I am in no way advocating ideology or politics with my pictures, simply demonstrating that not all history in this city is statues and plaques, sometimes there is so much value in some run-down brick building you pass on the way to work every day.

An Ode To The Hamburger Lady

Does sonic abstraction foster fear?

Originally published here.

“She’s lying there

 Hamburger Lady

Hamburger Lady.”

Throbbing Gristle is lauded as the band that gave birth to the industrial genre. It is also known as that band with the really scary song. “Hamburger Lady” has all of the components that make up a good Industrial track; it opens with silence, followed by a soft and constant thumping, and almost immediately after, that beautiful and ubiquitous droning sound that is so familiar to the industrial genre begins to drown the listener’s ears. It begins as a dim notion, an idea we pay no mind to, but slowly grows into all we can experience or think about. It intensifies and dims rhythmically, like a revving motor. The drone in this song is a particularly interesting one; it’s choppy, varies in tone and volume, and eventually becomes layered. Synthesizers follow, high in pitch and almost masking a man’s monotone voice as he reads from a letter about a woman in a burn unit whose disfiguration led to the nickname “Hamburger Lady”. The entire track sounds as if it is being played through a ceiling fan, spasmodic in sound and disorienting in presentation. A ripping electric groan interrupts the voice, and the voice fights back to relate in a sing song tone, “HAMBURGER LADY… HAMBURGER LADY”. The ripping groan begins to appear more and more prevalent as the song continues, and that early synthesizer becomes animalistic. Appropriately, the song stops each of its components as it fades into silence, and it’s on to the next track.

This music is meant to make you cringe, to have you sitting on the edge of your seat, indulging on the cheap sonic thrills that Throbbing Gristle is throwing in your face. But what is it about this track, and what is it about a majority of experimental music, that makes listeners as fascinated as they are freaked out? When I first heard “Hamburger Lady”, I had no clue what it was about, I simply heard the amalgam of sounds and the occasional decipherable word or two. And yet, without knowing of the terrifying burnt woman, I felt uneasy and ready for the song to be over. Scaring a listener is hard, and it usually takes elements of confusion and surprise to lead a listener to a fearful experience. This is where fear as a response to abstraction comes in. When listening to experimental music, it can be said that one isn’t fearing the same things that are feared when watching a scary movie or reading a scary book. The fear that is fostered by music comes from a more abstract area, and inspires us to react cautiously and with trepidation. Such a diversion from normality, especially in music, can naturally lead to distress, and this is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of any experimental genre. Famed industrial hip hop trio Death Grips does this all the time. In the first song they released, “Full Moon (Death Classic)” there are gut wrenching screams, savage lyrics, and dissected sounds of crazed drumming and heavy moaning. Listening to this music leaves me with my jaw wide open yet wanting more. It’s like riding a roller coaster and taking pleasure in the nausea. Investigating the meaning and purpose of Industrial music and all of its modern counterparts is useless. There is no meaning to “Hamburger Lady” but the cheap thrill it provides. Experimental music is useless if it doesn’t leave you questioning yourself, the sounds you just heard and the feelings you felt.

On a lighter side, artists like Tim Hecker don’t function on fear, but his sonic quality is one that is guaranteed to suck you in, make you question your perspective and give you a similar uneasy feeling. Hecker does the impossible in abstract captivation and embraces the seemingly mundane. More and more, genres of abstraction have grown out of cheap thrills and into more breathtaking territory. Electronic producer Iglooghost sends listeners flying through a world of abstract and digital complexity, without the use of fear, but rather the use of overstimulation. Fear in music is absolutely subjective and absolutely up to the listener, but when you look at it, the music that is most likely to strike fear and interest in one’s ears is that of abstraction and novelty. From Ornette Coleman’s free jazz, to Ash Koosha’s digital dreamscapes, abstraction is the key ingredient in forming that ever-present sense of uneasiness that we all love.

Thoughts On Radiohead’s “Burn The Witch”

Radiohead returns with a catchy tune of condemnation.

Originally published here.

Radiohead is back, and they’ve done it again. In their latest single for LP9, Radiohead has provided a song with a beautifully complex production, and seemingly simple Yorkeian (Orwellian) lyrics.

“This is a low flying panic attack
Sing the song of sixpence that goes…”

This is what Radiohead does best, they invest a song of sixpence into your mind, and it grows into one that is worth millions. When I first heard this track, I was a bit disillusioned with the lack of evolution since their last full length release. I expected a further dive into the abstract following King of Limbs, and this just sounded like a recycled track. But that’s ok. Radiohead is known to deliver well and with a purpose. Nothing screams political outrage more silently than this latest single. Nothing quaintly depicts the state of our world today better than the lyrics and that disturbing animation that follows in the music video, which helped relieve my fear for the validity of music videos as an extension to the song rather than a musical selfie. (This sort of relief has been coming in bursts and breaths. The last time I truly felt it was with Bowie’s video series for his culminating final album, which may be among the most remarkable musical creations of the last century.)

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Despite being charged and ready to shoot, the song stays true to its production. Yorke’s flawless vocals stay soft and melt into the sharp and rhythmic strings, which are a clear sign of Jonny Greenwood in action. His voice almost serves as an addition to the synth bass and sequenced cymbals, like a ghostly human synthesizer to the song’s simultaneously jagged and atmospheric flow. Radiohead has grown in this track, and there is a flavor for every fan here; the deep and varied electric sounds of King of Limbs and Kid A are present, while Yorke takes me back to OK Computer vocally, although he hasn’t changed much since then. The theme pulls me towards Yorke’s solo project, The Eraser and more specifically, the song “Harrowdown Hill.”

In all honesty, this is the least abstract Radiohead has been in over five years. And yet, the listener is left with so many questions after listening to it multiple times. The song somehow feels like a nonlinear experience, it leaves you in a dust cloud, thinking of your present and humanity’s past. It does manage to pull off a conclusion though, and it is unsettling. In all of its subtlety, the swell of the strings and the abrupt end leaves you breathless, as if you were the witch, running from a mob. The track’s lyrical accessibility and title speaks to the vile nature of humanity. Radiohead has done it again, a catchy tune to the tone of condemnation, because after all, we seem to burn more witches now than we did centuries ago.

Christian Triunfo, 2016

Track Verdict: 7/10

The Beautiful Sadism of Theatre

Originally published here.

How permanent are our thoughts? Can we really conform ourselves to a new lifestyle or are we simply suffering, longing to revert the entire time? Or is this just my brain, defending a pedophile? There is an omnipotent and overpowering sense of discomfort from the start in Blackbird, starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams at The Belasco Theatre. Ray (Daniels) drags Una (Williams) into his office’s dismal break room, a bland and bureaucratic rectangle, littered with colorful and anonymously dropped trash, already smacking the audience in the face with a recurring motif from the start. When their conversation begins, it feels acted. It feels like I’m watching a read through of the play. The dialogue is choppy and sporadic, and the actors seem like actors rather than characters. But this is the point. They are acting for each other, shielding their primitive nature. Eventually the dialogue and acting subtly shifts into a more humanized process, particularly after a captivating monologue by Williams, in which a droning electrical sound and a foreboding dimming of lights gives her something resembling a black halo, sucking the energy and sanity out from her slowly. It is then that we begin to watch two pieces of meat let each other in to the darkest sides of their psyche. Ray, a middle aged man, must face the tornado of confusion, trauma, love and utter despair that is brought by Una, a young woman that had a three month sexual relationship with him when she was twelve. Ray is by no means locked in the room with her, but it is obvious that he would never go. Una’s intentions feel vague, and her voice, her tone, and stability are constantly decaying. The same goes with Ray, who more silently crumbles into a jabbering caricature of a false victim, his posture progressively slumping and his eyes growing redder and redder with time. By the end, there is nothing but darkness outside that room in the hallway, which was once full of light and undecipherable faces walking by, sometimes stopping to listen. At one point, it seems and feels inevitable and natural to the audience that the two become what they’ve been restraining deep inside of them, apes. They fling garbage everywhere and make the audience feel pity for the stage crew. They heave and scream and tear each other apart, admitting all of their sadism and reverting to the impulses of their id without saying much. During bows, Daniels and Williams are not smiling or proud. They are ashamed, crying, and eager to escape backstage. This play succeeds because it goes where few plays go. It gives that fucked up part of your head two names, Ray and Una. And yet, these two fucked up beings are totally normal. We are them, and this is undeniably a love story between them. It is a play full of romance, no matter how twisted the thought of that may be. The audience, after a standing ovation is silent, contemplating their awareness and acceptance of what had just occurred.

The stage is no stranger to such psychoanalytic work. A Freudian king of theatre is Neil Labute, and this play is strikingly reminiscent to Some Velvet Morning, but entirely different in its conclusion. Human authenticity is instead verified in this play, and there is no hidden side to these characters, as much as you want there to be.

There are shows that have survived the test of time and now stand as defining plays of the last century. Just down the street, Long Day’s Journey Into The Night is playing, with John Gallagher Jr. Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne, and Michael Shannon. In that show, an autobiographical portrait of a day in Eugene O’Neill’s life is given to us, and in the end, there is an eerie sense of nothingness in the audience. Just as this family lingers aimlessly on a foggy shore, the audience lingers for a second, feeling brain dead, unable to identify with any character and at the same time looking into a mirror rather than a stage. Mary (Lange) ends the show with a soft voice, broken from her morphine addiction, and we know this means nothing, because after tonight, tomorrow’s another day.

But in Blackbird, the audience is not left drifting through time, disoriented, confused, or devastated by 4 hours of emotional stress. Rather, in only an hour and a half, we are ripped apart, and what follows is catharsis, and then a permanent and unsettling realization of our most contemptible qualities. This show is giving the audience deadly bait, and we know it. Hell, we look for it, seek it out. We can’t look away, as much as we wish we could. It’s a long journey home after this show, no matter where you live. I suppose it was appropriate that my companions on the subway back were a mumbling homeless man and a dead rat.

Christian Triunfo, 2016