Monday, June 25, 2018

mid-year pop music report: it's a Whacky World

When my son and daughter stopped by last weekend to top off Father's day with dinner at my place, Lili turned on her cell phone while we ate dessert. She and Luke soon engaged in a discussion about a local artist from North Philly they had both recently discovered named Tierra Whack, whose new "media project" had dropped two weeks earlier. I soon joined in: "What is this?" 

When I first heard it, it sounded like a clever advertisment for a fully developed album: 15 short pieces, each one only 60 seconds.  Each song was chock full of hooks and thought-provoking lyrics. In every case, the ear was begging for a taste of more candy. Was that it? The whole thing? An entire album of songs in just 15 minutes? Couldn't be: who would do such an audacious with the conventions of the timing of pop songs?

"Alot of my friends only listen to a song for 30 or 45 seconds," Lili told us. "They listen to the opening beats and the first verse and if they like what they hear, they'll listen to the chorus. But that's about it. That's as much as they want to hear." Luke then suggested that was exactly what Whack intended to do, construct an artistic "statement" that appealed to listeners close to Lili's and Whack's own age, 22.

It is music specifically intended to reach millennial pleasure seekers and media shifters who hopscotch from one engaging moment to the next on their electronic devices and whose attention is hard to hold for more than 30 seconds. This music is designed just for them and this moment and this album may well presage a new age of pop music for the latest generation of listeners. In interviews I have read with the artist since, Whack admits she made the record for people, like her, with attention deficit issues.

Whack told N.Y. Times reporter Joe Coscarelli "I have so much built up inside. To be able to put what I say into real life is just an amazing thing." Her definition of Whack World? "It's down, then up, down, then up. It's scary, it feels good, it doesn't. It's crazy, it's calm. That's exactly me. Like I was just washing dishes, eating grapes, now I'm about to go to the bathroom then I'm going to wash some clothes. Yeah. It's like a roller-coaster ride. My mom says I have - what is it, ADD. Can't sit still.....

"And my age, my generation, we get bored so easily. I know how I am - I'll listen to a new song and I only want to hear 30 seconds of it before I tell you, 'nope - trash.' I have a really short attention span, but I have so much to offer. I wanted to put all these ideas into one universe, one world. I'm giving you a trip through my mind."

The more we listened to it (three times through the entire project in 45 minutes), the more sense it made and the more I came to admire what Whack had accomplished. The Ramones created a paradigm shift in popular music in 1976 with their first, self-titled album: 12 songs in less than 30 minutes, some as short as 93 seconds. Whack's debut cut that time in half and adds three songs.

Once the entire project is viewed on YouTube, the genius of her plan becomes evident. As alluring as the song snippets are, the videos are also as eye-popping and engaging. Dan DeLuca's review of the album in this week's Philadelphia Inquirer put it succinctly: "Whack is getting attention not just because she's good. It's also because Whack World  is so weirdly and wonderfully short. The entire 15-song, 15-minute album takes the all-killer, no filler concept to an extreme."   

In the weeks since it dropped, "Whack World" has garnered high praise from a variety of newspaper critics and media bloggers, including rave reviews in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pitchfork. Some critics are already hailing it as the "album of the year". In the sense that it may change the way a new generation of media consumers listens to music, they may be right.

Whack World is, bar none, the most fascinating new development in the world of media entertainment in 2018.  See it in its entirety here:

The second best feel good music and media happening of the first half of 2018 was comedian James Cordon's drive through Liverpool with Sir Paul McCartney, doing one of his most amusing and emotionally uplifting carpool karaoke routines for the Late, Late Show with James Cordon. Cordon's hilarious everyman caraciture of a music fan singing along to drive-time oldies with a famous "passenger" has been a winning concept from the very beginning. Most of the videos clock in under 15 minutes and feature stars like Adele, Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus or Stevie Wonder singing their own songs.

The latest one with McCartney takes the concept one step further. It starts with the pair on a tour of Penny Lane in Liverpool with impromptu visits along the way to places the song made famous, such as Tony Slavin's barbershop where the Beatles got their hair trimmed. Cordon and McCartney, singing the song while traversing the neighborhood, give the video a sentimental yet life-affirming performance. Viewers then watch McCartney escort Cordon through the home he grew up in and reminisce about moments in his life that lead him to write the songs the world knows by heart.  

When McCartney and Cordon exit the house, it seems as if the entire neighborhood has gathered on the sidewalk to catch a glimpse of their most famous neighbor. McCartney's generous greetings of the folks in his hometown is hard not to admire. One of the most famous men in the world is as human and likeable as he has always been. 

The locals get "the surprise of their lives" when McCartney and his band perform an impromptu mash up of several of their songs "chosen" by patrons on the pub's jukebox.

The Late, Late Night segment is 23 minutes long, but worth every second. See it here:

Besides Tierra Whack's Whack World, these following CDs (listed alphabetically, not based on merit or a personal ranking) are worth hearing and represent a sampling of the music I've been drawn to so far this year.

Tell Me How You Really Feel - Courtney Barnett  (Mom & Pop)

Black Panter (soundtrack) -- Kendrick Lamar (Top Dawg / Interscope)

By the Way, I Forgive You - Brandi Carlile  (Elektra)

Hell-On - Neko Case (Anti)

God's Favorite Customer - Father John Misty (Subpop)

Bark Your Head Off , Dog-- Hopalong (Saddle Creek)

Dirty Computer - Janelle Monae (Bad Boy / Atlantic)

Golden Hour,  Kasey Musgraves. (MCA Nashville)

Hope Downs,  Rolling Black Outs Coastal Fever -- (SubPop)

Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 (EP) -- Tariq Trotter, a.k.a. Black Thought of the Roots 


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