ComplexCon returns to Long Beach Nov. 6 - 7 with hosts J. Balvin and Kristen Noel Crawley, performances by A$AP Rocky and Turnstile, and more shopping and drops.
Secure your spot while tickets last!
This is going to sound pretentious as hell, so just to get it out of the way: there is some music that you don’t like because you just haven’t listened to it enough.
Don’t worry, we get it. Sometimes, the din of recommendation gets to be enough to force some hard second, third and tenth listens and an eventual reevaluation. Every time you go back to a piece of music it feels like second-guessing your taste and, as weird as it is, it’s almost always worth it. It might feel forced or more like work than entertainment, but once you’ve taken apart a piece of music, put it back together in your head and finally had it click – that feeling of understanding is one of the best out there for a listener and one of the major reasons critics are out there writing reviews.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a perfect example of a band where it’s worth sticking with the music until it begins to settle in your mind, and with their first release in a decade out this week there is a whole generation of indie fans out there who are going to press play on one of their albums without knowing what to expect. We laid out why it’s worth the work to jump into their catalog along with four other examples of artists that need multiple listens to appreciate.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
What To Start With: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
How Many Listens: 5-10
To call the reaction to new music from Godspeed You! Black Emperor as “excited” would be about as large an understatement as possible. The hype cycle that dominates the music world today is a constant, but sometimes things like this, the release of Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, feels very genuine. Everyone is ecstatic to hear from a band that existed for just half the length of their recently-ended hiatus in the late ’90s and early ’00s, and it’s easy relate to a new listener, playing catch up and wondering what the fuss is about. Most Godspeed You! fans, after all, have had extra years worth of listening, memorization, nostalgia and buildup to this.
The place to start with Godspeed You! is the politics. They are a band that is engaged on every level. From their public persona to what they’re making music about, all of it is deliberate and passionate. A recent manifesto-esque interview with The Guardian gives a good idea of what this band represents and how they go about doing it, and the band has always been that engaged. They existed grappling with the real world situations – they were writing music engaged with the social situation at the time, in their own mish-mashed style, and you knew what they were writing about. To go back to old Godspeed You! albums is to go back to a very real reaction to the recent past, and they now function as artistic historical landmarks.
Context explains the longevity and certainly provides a reason to listen to the band. The rest, as in the music itself, is challenging but absolutely worth the listens it takes to get accustomed to their post-rock soundscapes. It is aggressive, careening, chaotic music that is just as often euphoric, harmonic and uplifting. It may take a while but you can’t ask for much more from a band.
What To Start With: Boxer (Album)
How Many Listens: >10
If there’s one understandable complaint about The National it is that they are boring. One man’s stately is another man’s sluggish. Matt Berninger’s baritone is mournful to some, lethargic to others. Some people appreciate the shifting attention to detail, other people just want the song to go somewhere already. It’s an understandable complaint, but on the first listen only.
The thing about The National is they are one of the most exciting bands in indie rock, and one of the few to relatably portray the upper-middle class American existence as a legitimately harrowing and occasionally heroic endeavor. Nearly all of their songs are ones to sing along to; whether rousing anthems (“All The Wine,” “Fake Empire,” “Mr. November”), crushingly sad hymns (“About Today,” “Daughters of the Soho Riots,” “Sorrow”) or tortured points of catharsis (“Available,” “Abel,” “Mistaken For Strangers”). To really appreciate that, though, The National need you to adjust to their way of doing things.
To date, the best album to start with is Boxer. For the first few listens few most of the songs will seem nearly indistinguishable from each other. This album is their most defined by a single, steady approach and the individual tracks bleed into one another fairly easily. However, the more you listen the more each song takes on a life of its own. The melodies that seem simple and boring at a first glance have a way of worming their way into your head and staying there forever if you give them a chance and the lyrics that seemed to be deeply drawled snatches of disjointed poetry at first begin to take shape once you get used to Berninger’s uniquely affective writing style. He has a gift for recognizing the biographical for universal and phrasing it just so.
When people call The National boring the first instinct is to talk about subtlety, sophistication, texture and imagery. Pretentious things for a band that a lot of people see as pretentious. But those are just ways for people to try to explain that you will like this band as much as we do, if you just listen to them some more. Because when it comes down to it, we like them because they’re catchy, powerful, romantic and extraordinarily relatable, which are the main reasons anyone likes any kind of music.
What To Start With: “Don’t Hurt My Love,” “And I Say (Ft. Scout LaRue)”
How Many Listens: 5-10
To explain this one, it’s best to look at “Don’t Hurt My Love,” a free EP title track Nicolas Jaar released about a year ago. It’s not a part of an album or mix, which can often be daunting, but a standalone track. It’s got Jaar’s expected minimalist attention to detail, but tones down the ambient experimentation that characterizes some of his bigger pieces. It starts slow and builds itself up painstakingly gradually. 5 minutes of construction for a minute of hip-hop breakbeat that seems structured to be a “big” moment but still feels somewhat restrained if you’ve been raised in the current EDM-inflected landscape of drops and barrages. However, the name of the game here is just to listen again (as with every piece of music in this list). The interesting part about “Don’t Hurt My Love” isn’t that the final big moment and vocal sample seem to get bigger once you get used to the song, it’s that the buildup itself becomes a collection of big moments. The song isn’t one long buildup to a drop, it’s not constructed to be that; instead it’s organizing a bunch of randomness into structures, and every step that’s made is a piece in the puzzle. After a little exposure and that becomes clear, the whole song is one big head-nodder from front to back, even though the Soundcloud waveform might look different.
The reason this song works as a good explanation for what there is to get out of Jaar is both its unconventional nature and the way it marries his deliberate, occasionally difficult experimentation with the straightforward immediacy and funk of his best singles, namely “And I Say.” It took a little work to get why Nicolas Jaar is getting critical praise from all angles today, but it’s more than worth it once the songs begin to click.
What To Start With: Any collection of several hundred Lil B songs. Include “I’m God,” “Motivation,” “Woo Woo Swag” and “Miley Cyrus” for zeitgeist purposes.
How Many Listens: Just keep that playlist on shuffle 3-25 hours.
Everyone loves Lil B, for an immeasurable amount of reasons. He’s the most diverse act in hip-hop right now, the curator of the most outrageous feed on Twitter, and a constant beacon of positivity for the rest of us mere mortals. When explaining him to the uninitiated, the first words that come to mind are things like “weird,” “ridiculous,” and “funny.” The thing is, we’re not always describing the music.
Lil B is a lot of things, but first and foremost he is a musician, and a challenging one to listen to at that. At this point in his career it would be close to impossible to listen to every Lil B song in existence, and there really is no reason to. If you did, you would mostly hear just lo-fi, stream-of-consciousness rap. Hundreds upon thousands of hours of songs that feel slapshot and thrown together (which they often are). Just listen to a few tracks and it’s easy to shrug B off as a novelty act – a weirdo rapper with a cult following because everything on the Internet can get a cult behind it eventually. However, give that massive catalog a few hours of your time—minimum of three—and the whole thing starts to come together. The best way to get close to understanding Lil B is just to gather up a few hundred of his free songs, put them on shuffle and just start listening. Eventually it will start to make sense.
It was often unclear what Lil B was doing when he released things like a 676 song mixtape or what the significance of the different colors are for his Flame series while it was happening. Lil B is releasing an ambient album? OK, I guess. It all seemed eccentric just to be eccentric, but at least it was something to talk about. Now, after over a year of listening sporadically to Lil B, it’s clear what the main positive to his incomprehensibly massive output is: he was creating a persona. Today, that persona is fully realized, with enough details and facets to remain constantly interesting. In the way great imaginative novelists can create a universe, B has been steadily creating a character with an underlying philosophy and the ability to do a multitude of things, and once you’ve listened to enough of his music it starts to make sense.
This is an artist that can go from saying things like, “Girl, shake that ass on my dick/Woo, Woo, Swag” to entire songs ruminating on why you should love yourself no matter your skin tone. He can release a terrible rock song and a hip-hop song in Spanish, and it just becomes him trying to break genre and language barriers so more people are included in this huge persona he’s created. Once you get used to Lil B, it becomes an unironic listening experience of an artist who is compulsively creative – Lil B seems to make art because he has to, and the sales of any music he’s put up for purchase can attest to that. Instead of the individual song, he’s concerned with the macro view of things and making a catalog so large that he can do anything he wants and it still fits with the character he created. Funny, sad, introspective, socially conscious, aggressive and downright bizarre; Lil B can do it all.
Until you’ve tried it and become indoctrinated to some extent it probably doesn’t seem that interesting or sincere. But once you do, it’s one of the best fan experiences you can have in hip-hop today.
What To Start With: “Someone Great” & “All My Friends”
How Many Listens: As Many As You Want
For some, this might seem like an odd choice. However – if you missed out on earlier LCD Soundsystem and jumped in after Sound of Silver, James Murphy & co. are difficult to get into. It’s intellectual dance-rock, not exactly an easy genre to get into, and the 10-minute tracks that characterize the discography are not the easiest to swallow. More than once, I turned away LCD tracks simply because of the time it would take to finish them. The music is danceable, catchy and smart – definitely – but it’s also abrasive, disaffected and intelligent, which can throw any listener off.
The thing that’s tough to understand jumping straight into LCD Soundsystem is Murphy himself. He’s cooler than you, he’s tired and doesn’t care about the same things as you do and he’s lived his entire life devoted to music cooler than what you’ve been listening to. What LCD fans seems to get instinctually, and the rest of us have been playing catch-up on, is that he’s also incredibly vulnerable, earnest and insightful behind that facade. So if you jump right into This Is Happening with the accompanying Pitchfork review as a guide, LCD Soundsystem might give you the wrong impression. What will help is starting with the one-two punch that serves as the centerpiece of the entire bands catalog – “Someone Great” and “All Your Friends.”
The latter of the two is the more famous, an undeniable anthem for the 20-something hipster set that affirms almost everything you’re doing with your life in a beautiful sing-a-long backed by a piano riff that never has to end. “Someone Great,” though, is the prettier, wistful version take on the things “All My Friends” doesn’t cover – the things that you might well regret, and makes them attractive in their own way. Together, the two songs are Murphy at his most bare, proffering his best, scattered anecdotes as advice and together they show Murphy at his most relatable. Once that curtain’s drawn back you can go back to the other music and see evidence of the heartfelt cynicism peaking in around every cool, well-informed piece of guitar-work, drumming and sneer.