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TEST SPIN: Japandroids — Near To The Wild Heart Of Life

Sometimes you can judge a garage rock album by its cover. Rock duo Japandroids have long opted for short, punchy album titles. The duo made their 2009 major label debut with the decisively named Post-Nothing, followed it up the next year with the similarly bold No Singles, a compilation of their limited-run EPs and then released Celebration Rock in 2012. Japandroids’ titles underscored their music: unadorned, fuzzed-out, straight-to-the-point rock tracks about Vancouver, traveling around and awkward love in your 20-somethings. As such, the title of the duo’s 2017 release — Near To The Wild Heart Of Life — signaled a change to longtime listeners.

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TEST SPIN: BTS — You Never Walk Alone

The collective K-Pop fandom is an intense place where Twitter wars, fan art, fan fictions, group orders and just about anything you can think of happens. However, each K-Pop group’s fandom will do anything to prove that the group they stan is the best, especially the BTS fan base. BTS is quite possibly the most internationally famous K-Pop groups. In just 24 hours, their newest music video, “Spring Day,” reached over nine million views on YouTube. Back in October, BTS left everyone speechless with their dark album Wings, which was based on the book Demian and all about breaking free from a toxic love and learning to love oneself.

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The Culture of Culture

When Donald Glover, better known as Childish Gambino, was called on stage to receive his Golden Globe on behalf of the show Atlanta for best TV series, people did not expect what he would say next. Donald did not take the conventional route of thanking his parents or making a political statement for unity and inclusion. Instead Donald said, “I really want to thank the Migos, not for being in the show, but for making ‘Bad and Boujee.’ Like that’s the best song…ever.” He would later go on to call the Migos “the Beatles of this generation,” high praise for the Atlanta rap trio who have been pioneering the new wave of trap music. To say that the Migos have been “hot”’ lately would be an understatement. In a matter of four months their chart-topping single “Bad and Boujee” has reached platinum status and the group has amassed a cult-like following that stretches from places like Atlanta, Georgia to Lagos, Nigeria.

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TEST SPIN: Big Sean — I Decided

Establishing an identity is one of the most vital parts of being a rapper. Unlike certain pop artists, who can attain fame simply by having a well-produced beat and catchy lyrics that they may not have written, rappers typically need to connect to their listeners through their personalities and the messages that they convey. This isn’t to say that pop music is an easier genre to succeed in, but rather that rap, stemming from its creation by oppressed people rebelling against systems of racism and poverty, has always emphasized the importance of the voice. Through absorbing a rapper’s words, the audience can start to piece together a preliminary mental image of who the artist is and subsequently relate their own experiences to this identity. Not all personas that rappers give off have to be real, and not all messages conveyed have to have moral substance in order for the commercial success to be gained.

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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.