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Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Plain and simple – what else can you expect from a self-liberating artist going by the name of Lady Gaga?

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Even after half of the tracks from Born This Way have already managed to creep their way into my ‘Top 25 Most Played’ songs on iTunes, I’m still a little fascinated and perplexed with each listen. The reasons? I could list them all, but plain and simple – what else can you expect from a self-liberating artist going by the name of Lady Gaga?

First things first, Born This Way is not just another album. Whereas 3 years ago, Gaga was singing of her “Summer Boy” and “Brown Eyes” – now, it’s “Government Hooker” and “Judas”. You can connect the dots yourself. Lyrically, and conceptually, Gaga has evolved beyond her humble (in comparison) beginnings. The theme of being born this way isn’t just employed for the title track, and is more laced throughout the album than initial listens would allow you to realise. A track with a similar formula would be “Hair”, an empowering furore wherein the rebel inside Gaga finds it’s realise – even with the somewhat juvenile attitude of going crazy with ‘that’ hair – 

“I’ve had enough / this is my prayer / that I’ll die living just as free as my hair”

Gaga herself continued to tweet that she’ll “dye” living just as free as her hair. She’s crazy AND has a sense of humour. Who would’ve known?

Something already established about Gaga is that she pushes boundaries – that much we know. It seems like only yesterday she was bluffing with unmentionable body parts (see ‘Poker Face’) and now she’s blatantly singing about being employed to flaunt said unmentionable body parts (see ‘Government Hooker’). Surprisingly though, the efforts don’t seem forced (in the most case) and it really does make for some incredible dancefloor music:

“Put your hands on me / John F. Kennedy”

I’m not sure how he’d feel about being referred to in such context, but again, one of the stand out tracks for sure.  The album is full of moments like the above – a tense silence, a clenched fist and frozen glare, as for half of the first listen you wonder how she gets away with it all. Scheiße (read ‘shy-za’) blares German from the speakers, as ironically, Gaga sings over the noise “I don’t speak German/but I can if you like”. It makes no sense but it works. The controversial Biblical references come thick and fast too – “Judas”, “Bloody Mary”, “Electric Chapel” and “Black Jesus†Amen Fashion”. Maybe she’s converted, but I don’t see her becoming a nun anytime soon (except when singing about her multiple Italian lovers – see “Alejandro”).

Perhaps the clearest thing of all about the otherwise shady record, however, is the sheer musical quality. Crisp and polished on all fronts. It’s a totally fresh sound, like none heard before, and GaGa’s vocals layered on top simply add to the masterpiece. Listening to “Born This Way” and then returning to her roots (“The Fame”), her origins don’t have a patch on her new sound. If this is only album two, her evolution could birth wondrous things still.  It’s a term often thrown around, but Gaga truly is a revolution. Comparisons to previous icons (Madonna’s “Express Yourself”) lead only to fuel her to defend her creations, and my, she does a fine job.

Although often shrouded in hooks about highway unicorns and heavy metal lovers, Gaga does allow the softer side of herself to peek through, even if just for a moment, on the closing songs of the record. “You and I” is a throwback to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and has such a simple sound and idea that is just brought to life with Gaga’s help:

“You said sit back down where you belong / in the corner of my bar with your high heels on”

A break towards the end of the track has Gaga announce that there’s “something about the chase – 6 whole years” and the feeling emerges that she’s not only talking about her Nebraska guy, but her chase of this whole dream, her whole dream.

It’s the track “Edge of Glory” however that has the responsibility of closing the cover on this chapter of Gaga’s life. A power ballad and disco anthem all in one, a lament and yet a song of extreme liberation she leaves us with these final thoughts:

“I’m on the edge of glory / and I’m hanging on a moment of truth / I’m on the edge of glory”.

Another homage to heaven none the less, but, I can’t help but think she’s long past the edge and is on to something glorious.

And that is the pleasure of it all. You need not know what it is that is so fascinating and perplexing about it all. It’s one huge piece of elaborate Gaga fantasy that we, the so-called “Little Monsters” can consume and take a little piece of it back to our everyday lives. Whether for simply a moment, or something infinite, the evolution is upon us all the same. 

(Interscope Records)

Interviews

The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites

We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!

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It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.

The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.

It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.

Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?

It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new. 

It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?

We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home. 

How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?

It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked. 

Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?

Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.

I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them. 

For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?

We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music.  With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since. 

How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?

It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. 

I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?

It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first. 

Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?

I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world. 

Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?

I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s. 

How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.

I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album. 

The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.

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Reviews

Allweather – Through the Floor

Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen

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Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.

It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.

“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.

For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.

(Paper Street Cuts)

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