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TEST SPIN: Sampha – Process

Last Friday, Sampha dropped his debut album, Process. However, calling it a debut album betrays his experience. Sampha might not have a household name, but that’s not because of his lack of influence in the music industry. Before the release of Process, he collaborated with an extensive list of big names in the industry, including Frank Ocean, Kanye, Drake, Beyoncé, Solange, SBTRKT and Katy B. On his own, Sampha has released two EPs, Sundanza and Dual in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Sampha’s life has been marred by tragedy.

COURTESY OF REACH RECORDS

Spinning Singles: Lecrae, “Blessings”

For a genre whose lyrics are typically built off of braggadocio and pride, hip-hop has been taking a humbler stance recently. Maybe “humble” is not the right word, but amidst the bombastic bangers and club hits, a few artists have put out introspective tracks acknowledging where they were in the past and thanking those who have helped them achieve success. Big Sean’s third single “Blessings” from 2015’s Dark Sky Paradise was an eerie and spectral track which saw him shout out his grandma and mom for their support. Likewise, the infectious, gospel-inspired “Blessings” off of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book though much more light-hearted, continued this same theme, with Chano expressing gratitude to God. So in 2017 when Lecrae releases a new single of the same name, does he offer anything new?

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TEST SPIN: Cloud Nothings— Life Without Sound

Cloud Nothings’ Life Without Sound explores the contradiction within its title.  Audiences expect recalcitrance and disobedience from the alternative Indie group; but their new album carries the irony of its name throughout each raw, mismatched track.  Artists have a long tradition of rejecting their genre.  Even the first English novel began with, in more complicated language, this is not a novel.  These writers wanted to create something new, something detached from form and independent of critical expectations.  The first modern novels told stories of self-invention that lent writers as much individual autonomy as their protagonists.  Naming an album — a mechanism of noises, phrases and harmonies — as sans sound has the same effect.  The first thing Life Without Sound does is deny its instrument and mute its impact.  It strips away its validity and then rebuilds with a notion of newness and impossibility.  There is, of course, sound in the world.  Front man Nathan Williams knows that and shares his own voice and noise in the nine-track album.  With his chosen title, he openly frees the band from the expectation of what kind of sound or silence his life and his album should exploit.  Cloud Nothings labels its album Life Without Sound and then fills a silent void with music. The reinvention begins from track one.  A mechanically-mesmerizing piano introduces the album as if breaking an infinite silence.  And like a child learning to walk it happens all at once — sound emerges.  Williams rises from a muted ambiguity: “I came up to the surface/ Released the air/ With no words to remember/ What happened there.”  He describes a relatable awakening to the rhythm of his bass guitar and breaks with the anticipated soundlessness to express a mental noise.  Like listening to music in headphones or getting lost in thoughts, sometimes life takes on a tone other than sound.  Cloud Nothings’ violent drum clashes with an electric guitar between Williams’ coherent words.  The fleeting cacophony walks the line that we repeatedly cross each day between silence, sound and noise.  Sound carries a certain connotative clarity — a cause and effect — that noise lacks. William’s choice of title plays to this thought.  Each track fuses new,  unidentifiable resonances.  Voice, guitar, piano, tambourine, drum, technological intervention meld in a novel, not-all unharmonious noise.  Cloud Nothings composes noise in a way that defies its displeasing essence yet retains the rowdy tumult.

Arguably, Life Without Sound evades the qualifications of sound.  With one contradiction reconciled, however, the album focuses on others.  The track list progresses from “Things are Right With You” where Williams repeats “feel right, feel right, feel right” to “Internal World” where he sings “But I’m not the one who’s always right.”  His indecision resonates with me and equals the mismatched instrumentals.  Feelings and thoughts don’t line up in Life Without Sound, just as in our lives.  The album brings this inner turmoil “Up to the Surface” with a screaming splash. Just like reading an author’s indulgent coda, the whole album ends up making sense after a few patient listens.  Life Without Sound signifies an internal existence breaking through.  Soundlessness blankets our reality when the mind’s noise grows too loud.  Life Without Sound violently splinters the divide between an inner and outer self; amid the chaos, Williams provides flashes of insight and understanding.  When you let the inner noise become reality’s soundtrack “You give up what you know/ Can’t explain where to go/ And you move in a world that moves on its own.”  But when you realize, like Williams, that “it’s time for coming out” that there’s “No use in life without sound” you pull back the blinding mental curtain and remove the brain’s earplugs to clear, coherent sonorousness.  This resurfacing and re-invention comes from a thought or a feeling, a sigh or a bang. Julia Curley is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.  She can be reached at jmc628@cornell.edu.

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Bassists McBride and Meyer Bring the Love to Bailey Hall

The double bass is a perennial fixture of many jazz combos. And yet, how rare to hear it on its own terms. Rarer still in duet with a like partner. The Cornell Concert Series kicked off its spring season by proving that a duo of basses could be more than meets the ear. As twin ramparts of their generation, Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer are as masterful as they come. Where one cut his teeth on the jagged edges of jazz, the other was baptized in classical waters.

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The Purest Form of Adulation: “Carolina”

The Mexican music scene is highly underrated, especially when it comes to anything that isn’t bachata, reggaeton, cumbia or other mainstream genres. Right now, one type of music that truly represents art is a hybrid of acoustic and indie with a splash an indescribable psychedelic element, which not many Mexican artists have mastered. It’s the type of music that you don’t have to understand in order to sway along to it or have it end up stuck in your head like a sweet daydream playing over and over again. I’m talking about music by artists like Siddhartha, León Larregui, Zoé and now Salvador y el Unicornio. However, if you do understand the lyrics, the experience is much more lucid and indulging.

COURTESY OF REV. SEKOU AND THE HOLY GHOST

“Get Free”: Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost to Perform at the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca

There was a great deal of hand-wringing about the dearth of protest art being made over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, and after the election of Donald Trump. These hand-wringers, however, appear not to have looked very hard at all. Reverend Osagyefo Sekou and Jay-Marie Hill met on the frontlines of a 2015 Movement for Black Lives protest. After being pepper sprayed arbitrarily by police at the demonstration, where activists were demanding the release of an illegally detained 14 year old, Reverend Sekou helped wash the toxins out of Hill’s eyes. Several weeks later, they would title themselves Rev. Sekou & the Holy Ghost, and release their anthemic record, The Revolution Has Come.

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TEST SPIN: Reach — My Shoes

Growing up in Chicago, I often heard the phrase “Imma make a mixtape.” Inspired by rap titans such as Chance the Rapper and Kanye West, who were birthed from the same city streets I walked (or at least lived in somewhat close proximity to), students would often jokingly fantasize about creating their very own rap project that would propel them to stardom. In between passing periods and behind the watchful eyes of teachers, my friends and I would pen our own lyrics with the hopes that with the right producer and beats, we could make a best-selling record. Alas, while I still have a notebook chock-full of hot 16s, I was never able to quite get around to making an album. Though I remain a fan of hip-hop and rap, I thought that the world of music-creation and album-production was best left to the professionals. The best I can do is be an educated and informed critic and consumer.

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TEST SPIN: Chance The Rapper & Jeremih — Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama

A holiday wishlist in 2016 is a strange concept, and I’ve found mine filled mostly with things that I don’t want. In no particular order: I don’t want any more surprise election outcomes, I don’t want music and film icons to continue dying in such quick succession and I don’t want to walk into another store that’s playing Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” I should have known that what I really wanted — what we all wanted — was a Christmas mixtape from Chance The Rapper and Jeremih. The surprise project arrives as a much-needed dose of relief, in particular for those faithful to the Church of Kanye West left rudderless by their leader’s newfound bromance. Last holiday season, I wrote a column on the sacred tradition of Christmas-themed rap songs, a small but undeniable canon that originated with Run-DMC’s classic “Christmas in Hollis” (which, not coincidentally, Chance parodied on last week’s SNL). In one fell swoop, Chance and Jeremih have nearly doubled the size of that canon, contributing nine original songs in a project more cohesive than it has any right to be.

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TEST SPIN: J. Cole — 4 Your Eyez Only

In all honesty, I feel let down by Eyez. As a J Cole fan since 2009’s The Warm Up, I cannot say that Eyez stacks up to his previous efforts. Eyez has a lot going for it. The instrumentation is lush; from the strings to the trumpets one cannot fault the production quality. From the bold trap hit “Immortal” to the minimalist masterpiece on the title track to the gentle vocal-driven melodies seen on She Mine Pt.1 & 2, Eyez is both an instrumental and melodic success.