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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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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.

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TEST SPIN: Childish Gambino — Awaken, My Love!

This isn’t what we expected. Maybe if you attended Donald Glover’s PHAROS concert, or if you took him seriously when he said that this project would be completely different, you weren’t caught off guard. Though, for most of the casual listeners, the switch from hip-hop to soul/funk/R&B is an unprecedented move. Being that Paper Boi, a central character on Glover’s his hit television show, Atlanta, produced rap music, it seemed that Glover himself would continue on this path. Nevertheless, the decision to switch from his original genre didn’t result in a flop; rather, “Awaken, My Love!” is a masterful collection of Childish Gambino’s premier work.

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TEST SPIN: Various Artists — The Hamilton Mixtpe

Hamilton… a mere mention of its name opens a bevy of conversation. But really, what more can be said about ten-dollar founding father, that has not already been said? Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Broadway behemoth already has a Grammy Award-Winning soundtrack that reached #1 on the Rap Albums chart (apparently the first cast album to ever do so), and its shows have been consistently sold out, with some re-sale tickets going upwards of $2,000. Yet Miranda’s involvement with recent films like Star Wars The Force Awakens and Moana, seemed to signal his departure from the musical.

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The Sun’s Top 50 Albums of 2016

Join The Daily Sun’s Arts & Entertainment writers as they count down the 50 best albums of 2016, releasing 10 new albums every day. 

50. Horse Lords — Interventions

Horse Lords  — a four-piece avant-rhythms band from Baltimore with more creativity than they’ll ever know what to do with — have been specializing in freaking us all out since 2012, but Interventions is their first release which brings it all together into one coherent vessel you can really dive right into. Maybe it’s because they’ve finally said goodbye to anything resembling rock music; maybe it’s because they’ve figured out how to make that flitting groove stick around from start to finish. Either way, Interventions’ mind-busting polyrhythms and brain-zapping dissonances no longer sound like Pere Ubu outtakes or Steve Reich scraps. Every second on Interventions sounds just like Horse Lords.

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TEST SPIN | We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

The last time A Tribe Called Quest released an album was 18 years ago, when I was just learning to crawl. Now, they have released their much anticipated sixth and final album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. The quartet consisting of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White began work on the album earlier this year in secret after Q-tip and Phife repaired long standing damage to their relationship. During the production of the album, Phife Dawg lost his battle with diabetes at age 45 following ongoing health issues.

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TEST SPIN: The Radio Dept. — Running Out of Love

Swedish, indie pop-rock group Radio Dept. walks the line between complacent and passionate. Their sound in Running Out of Love, released this October, mixes easy to listen to harmonies with fast paced, energetic beats and shocking lyrics. The three merge to unpack social frustrations. With an eerily calm tone, their lyrics call to mind serious issues and leave them unresolved.

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TEST SPIN: Jimmy Eat World — Integrity Blues

Jimmy Eat World’s newest release, Integrity Blues, weaves its way through nearly every subgenre of alternative in 11 songs. It’s got a little bit of progressive rock, a chunk of emo, a healthy dose of pop and a block of dark electronic. It’s diverse, well rounded and flows pretty well. It’s not completely cohesive, but moves through its different phases as gracefully as possible. The first phase is poppy and catchy.