Halloween Listening: SAVAGE MODE II [CHOPPED NOT SLOPPED]

After opening at Billboard 200’s top release, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s Savage Mode II was reworked and re-released by Houston legend OG Ron C. The release, titled SAVAGE MODE II [CHOPPED NOT SLOPPED] contains 14 songs, all given the Houston chopped and screwed treatment.

Chopped and screwed music started in the 90’s in Houston, pioneered of course by the late DJ Screw. The foundation of the chopped and screwed remix aesthetic lies in reducing the song’s tempo to about 60-70 beats per minute. This dramatically drops the tone of the vocal track. 

On SAVAGE MODE II [CHOPPED NOT SLOPPED], 21 Savage’s matter of fact vocal delivery turns him into a robotic assailant to-be. The reduced tempo unsurprisingly gives the lyrics more time to set in. Classic DJ Screw songs like ‘Tell Me Something Good’ use the technique to accentuate the bleakness, almost to the point of hopelessness, underlying classic rap songs. 

OG Ron C’s move from chopped and screwed to “chopped not slopped” underscores the evolution of screwed music, from the lofi tapes being sold by the thousands out of Screw’s house, to a more pared down blend of chopping, phasing, and of course reverb. This approach makes SAVAGE MODE II [CHOPPED NOT SLOPPED] bleed rather than cry. The grim reality of growing up in a chronically violent neighborhood is just as evident, but there is no question that Savage has reformed his ethics to fit. One for the Halloween season.

The album is available to listen to on most streaming services, including Youtube and Spotify. If you prefer physical releases–which you could even use to try your hand at scratching up yourself, vinyl presses are available for purchase at OG Ron C’s website. The site sells other releases, including RonC’s famous F*ck Action collection, a chopped up RnB LP containing memorable remixes of Twista, Usher, and other notorious street romantics.

Kanye West was ‘shaking in bed’ with Covid-19 earlier this year

Kim Kardashian has provided some detail about Kanye West’s experience with Covid-19, which she said he contracted in the spring, “during the time that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced that they had COVID.” Hanks and Wilson went public with their coronavirus diagnoses on March 11.

“Kanye had it way at the beginning, when nobody really knew what was going on,” the reality TV personality told Grazia, adding that she was forced to take care of him on her own.

“It was so scary and unknown. I had my four babies and no-one else in the house to help. I had to go and change his sheets and help him get out of bed when he wasn’t feeling good. It was a challenge because it was so unknown. Changing his sheets with gloves and a face shield was really a scary time.”

West first spoke about having had the virus in an interview with Forbes in July. Asked what it was like, he replied:

“Chills, shaking in the bed, taking hot showers, looking at videos telling me what I’m supposed to do to get over it. I remember someone had told me Drake had the coronavirus and my response was Drake can’t be sicker than me!”

In the same interview, West spoke about his decision to run for president, stating that “God just gave me the clarity and said it’s time.”

He has spent close to $7 million on his campaign, which Democrats fear could siphon crucial votes away from their nominee Joe Biden. When asked about this in the Forbes interview, he dismissed the notion and criticised Biden for his comments about black voters.

“A lot of times just like political parties they feel all blacks have to be Democrat,” West said. “This man, Joe Biden, said if you don’t vote for me, then you are not black. Well, act like we didn’t hear that? We act like we didn’t hear that man say that? That man said that. It’s a rap.”

Lana Del Rey scolded for mesh Covid mask

The inadvisability of turning Covid-19 masks into fashion statements was on full display this past weekend when Lana Del Rey wore a mesh face mask during a book signing.

“I’m doing a little book signing and we are at the Barnes and Noble in The Grove [shopping mall in Los Angeles],” the singer said in a video posted to her Instagram account.

In the clip Del Rey is wearing a crosshatched, see-through mask that clearly will do nothing to catch droplets and particles coming out of her mouth. She proceeded to meet with numerous fans inside the store and, if the photos are anything to go by, did not keep her distance from them.

Needless to say, the video resulted in Del Rey catching a lot of flak from fellow Instagram users, who called her “dumb,” “stupid” and an “idiot.”

It even led Billboard to contact an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, and ask him for his thoughts on the pop singer’s choice of facial covering.

“I am not very confident that it would prevent any spread of COVID,” Dr Chin-Hong said. “It looks interesting, but you don’t need to be a smart virus to get through that mesh. You could be the dumbest virus and it would be easy to get through that mesh.”

He continued:

“The holes are so big in the mesh that you might as well be wearing nothing. I can draw a mask on my face with a magic marker and it would have the same efficiency as a mesh mask.”

Which is not to say that Dr Chin-Hong supports “shaming” people for their mask gaffes.

“Shaming is the worst thing you can do,” he said, “because it makes somebody defensive.”

Del Rey was signing copies of her new book of poems, titled Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass. During the event she announced that her new album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, is due out in December or January.

Her last album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, was a critical and commercial success, reaching number three on the Billboard 200.

Brian Eno Announces New Album

Composer, producer, and ambient musician Brian Eno recently announced a new compilation album. The project, entitled Film Music 1976-2020, is a collection of songs that have been used in cinema and television. It is scheduled for digital release on 13 November, 2020. A double LP and CD will be available from January 2021. 

Eno’s career in film soundtrack began in the 70’s, when he scored the soundtrack to several small-release films. 

In 1984 he contributed heavily to the track “Prophecy Theme” on David Lynch’s Dune. The song’s drawn-out notes and occasional harmonies immediately distinguish it from the rest of the Toto-scored soundtrack. In terms of the Dune soundtrack reflecting the film, it provides the  essential cavernous underworld to balance out the harsh, authoritarian, surface of the planet.

From there, he went on to produce tracks for avant-garde horror director Dario Argento, as well as Michael Mann’s Heat, and even a cover of the soul classic “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in Married to the Mob.

Film Music 1976-2020 isn’t Eno’s first compilation of music intended for soundtracks. In 1978, he released a studio album, Music for Films. However, the songs in the album were not in response to or commissioned by any specific film (aside from the final track, Final Sunset). Ever the painter, he sought to make a film out of a soundtrack. Many songs on the album did end up being selected for film soundtracks soon after.

Other notable additions to Film Music 1976-2020 include songs from Momoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. The track, “One Minute Warning”, brings an uptempo percussive track reminiscent of the drum-heavy Akira soundtrack. Eno’s signatures here lie in the piercing but underlying rings, as well as some heavily modulated but still organic glitches that give direction to the rhythmically repetitive track. 

If you’re not interested yet, then just know that “Deep Blue Day”, which Danny Boyle used to soundtrack Ewan McGregor’s dive into a public toilet in Trainspotting

Model Emily Ratajkowski releases a thought-provoking essay in The New York Times

There used to be a time in which it was expected for women to be seen and not heard, but not anymore for model Emily Ratajkowski. In an effort to prove herself as with brains as well as beauty, the model released an essay with The New York Times Magazine supplement, The Cut. In the essay entitled ‘Buying Myself Back When does a model own her own image?’, released on the 15th September 2020, Ratajkowski reflects on her life and career as a model, and its subsequent relationship to her own image. 

Who is Emily Ratajkowski?

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, you’re almost definitely familiar with her image – which is partly her point. Ratajkowski dropped out of art school in California, USA, and worked her way into a modeling career to relative success in her early 20s. It was only when the controversial – but very sexy – music video for Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ went viral in 2013 did Ratajkowski’s career really take off. 

But wait, what’s happened?

In the quickly circulated essay online, Ratajkowski details her rise to fame, noting the ways in which her image has been exploited, stolen, and possessed in various ways by men in her personal and professional lives. Whilst there are several disturbing points to be noted from the piece – lingering possessive attitudes from family and past boyfriends where her image and public persona seem to provide a source for both support and contention is just one troubling aspect that comes to mind. 

The controversy of the piece however comes with the accusation of sexual assault on Ratajkwoski by the photographer Jonathan Leder. In the article, Ratajkowski details the night she and Leder spent together in 2012, where it is suggested he manipulates the situation and pressures Ratajkowski in the way she was expected to perform, before then sexually assaulting her at the end of the evening shoot. As if not bad enough already, Ratajkowski is then stripped of the rights of all images from that night through an alleged forged release signature, and subjected to the release and rerelease of photos from the night, increasing in popularity each time with her rising fame. 

Justin Bieber thumbs nose at public health orders in LA

As I wrote in my last post, Van Morrison is not a fan of using social distancing to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps he should move to Los Angeles, where pop stars are flouting the city’s public health orders by hosting garish house parties.

This past Sunday Justin Bieber and his wife Haley threw a big bash at their modest Beverly Hills abode. The occasion, according to the Daily Mail, was singer Justine Skye’s birthday. Loads of dubious celebrities turned up, including the frivolous Kendall and Kylie Jenner.

The question now becomes whether the Biebers will face any consequence for their reckless violation of LA’s covid-19 policies. A few weeks ago, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that anyone hosting large unapproved gatherings at their homes would have their utilities cut off.

“If the LAPD responds and verifies that a large gathering is occurring at a property, and we see these properties reoffending time and time again, they will provide notice and initiate the process to request that [the Department of Water and Power] shut off service within the next 48 hours,” he said at the time.

Garcetti made good on his threat last Wednesday after a “TikTok personality” called Bryce Hall held a number of parties at his house in the—you guessed it—Hollywood Hills. The mayor said a number of warnings had been issued to Hall, who continued to use his house as “a nightclub.” At that point Garcetti authorised the city to unplug the house’s power and water.

“With more than 2,000 Angelenos — and over 170,000 Americans — lost to COVID-19, we need every resident to undertake critical safeguards to stop the spread of this virus,” he said in a statement. “That includes not hosting or attending parties that put themselves, their neighbors and many others at risk.”

He added:

“Despite several warnings, this house has turned into a nightclub in the hills, hosting large gatherings in flagrant violation of our public health orders. The City has now disconnected utilities at this home to stop these parties that endanger our community.”

As Garcetti noted, more than 175,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. Over 5.7 million infections have been reported in the United States.

So, will the mayor stick to his guns and penalise Justin Bieber? Or do silly teen idols from Canada get a free pass?

Van Morrison takes a swing at covid ‘pseudo-science’

The practice of social-distancing during the covid-19 pandemic is based on “pseudo-science,” according to Van Morrison. The “Gloria” singer, who was knighted in 2016, made the claim in a short note posted to his official website.

Titled “Save Live Music,” the post derides the idea of playing live music to less than full capacity crowds, which Morrison is currently doing.

“As you know, we are doing socially distanced gigs at Newcastle Upon Tyne’s Gosforth Park, Electric Ballroom and The London Palladium,” he writes. “This is not a sign of compliance or acceptance of the current state of affairs, this is to get my band up and running and out of the doldrums. This is also not the answer going forward. We need to be playing to full capacity audiences going forward.”

Curious to see him assert that by agreeing to play to limited audiences he is not complying with public health guidelines. Why else would he do it? Because he wants to? Anyhow, he goes on to appeal to his fellow music industry professionals to lend him their support and help him “fight the pseudo-science.”

“I call on my fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this. Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudo-science and speak up.

“Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and myself appear to be the only people in the music business trying to get it back up and running again. Come forward. It’s not economically viable to do socially distanced gigs. Come forward now, the future is now.”

Thus far the response has been silence. Nobody has come forward, at least not publicly. But as Fox Business reports, Morrison caught some flak from his fans. As one of them wrote on his Facebook page:

“So you’re a scientist now too, Van? All because this is affecting you? Well, here’s news for you … it’s affecting us all. People who are fans of yours have gotten sick & some have died. Get your head out of your own fundament & think of others less fortunate than yourself.”

More than 800,000 people have died from covid-19 as of this writing. Morrison’s homeland of Ireland has fared better than most countries in Europe, with about 28,000 cases and less than 1,800 deaths.

How to protect your ears at a protest

Following decades of increasing police brutality and militarization in the USA and across the world, the Black Lives Matter movement has seen increasing numbers of protests occurring over the course of 2020. For those of us that have grown up listening to music made by Black artists and communities, now is the time to come out and support in whatever way you can those creators of the content you have been appreciating. 

Statements from those across the music and other industries echo this statement released by Pitchfork music website on June 1, 2020: ‘Black communities have been at the forefront of so many major American musical movements, including jazz, rock’n’roll, hip-hop, soul, and house. Loving this music means acknowledging the racial injustice that begat it. The fight for justice and equality is a matter of basic human rights, and we stand in solidarity with those working to demand change.’ Pitchfork go on to urge their readers to support the ongoing fight against injustice with a list of specific organisations doing more, such as: The Bail Project, Black Visions Collective and Movement for Black Lives. These coalition formed groups reflect the leaderless and rhizomatic working process of the movement, ensuring it as widespread and continuing without centering on key leadership roles. 

Whilst support can take on a myriad of forms, from donating to sharing or petitioning online or on social media, one active for in the resistance to racial equality is protest. With LRAD sonic weaponry being used by police in the USA, for those attending protests it’s important to be equipped in order to protect yourself from any lasting damage from incidents that may occur. Quality earplugs plus over-ear headphones are a must. If the LRAD is deployed it is recommended to shelter with dense or rigid surfaces to deflect the sound waves, or move left or right from it to deviate from its narrow audio path. 

Taylor Swift surprises with new album ‘folklore’

Announced just a day before its release, the 16 track album folklore by Taylor Swift came out on July 24th to a much surprised but very happy fanfare of appreciation from her worldwide audience. 

The 1 hour 3 minute long album includes tracks with titles such as ‘cardigan’, ‘the last great american dynasty’, ‘peace’ and ‘hoax’, which – known for her diary-esque writing process and time frame of the release – gives anxious fans a small insight into Swift’s lockdown mental state this year. The album features The National’s Aaron Dessner on 11 out of its 16 tracks. Of the unexpected collaboration he was quoted by Pitchfork as saying: ‘It was a product of this time. Everything we had planned got cancelled. Everything she had planned got cancelled. It was a time when the ideas in the back of your head came to the front. That’s how it started.’ So it is emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown that we are beginning to see the creative fruits of labours from that period of isolated time. 

Dessner went on to describe some of the songs from the album: ‘“Cardigan” is probably the closest to a pop song on the record—it’s this epic narrative.’ Other collaborations from the album include one track ‘exile’ with Bon Iver. The male and female parts were sung by Swift in a voice memo to Dessner in her pitch for the song: ‘ she sang both the male and female parts—as much as she could fit in without losing her breath. We talked about who she was imagining joining her, and she loves Justin [Vernon]’s voice’.

Pitchfork writer Sam Sodomsky notes a change in Swift’s sound in her new release: “Less than a year after 2019’s Lover, it marks a departure from the sharp, radio-friendly pop music that Swift spent the past decade-and-a-half building toward.”

Elton John’s ex says he breached their divorce terms and she wants him to pay a hefty price

Did you know Elton John has an ex-wife? Me neither. But he does, and she’s not happy with him. In fact she’s suing the “Levon” singer for £3 million.

Renate Blauel, a sound engineer born in Germany, married Elton in 1984, divorcing him four years later in 1988. Her lawsuit, details of which were filed this week in London, claims that Elton violated the terms of their divorce by writing about their relationship in Me, his 2019 autobiography.

Per the Independent, Elton did in fact excise sections of the manuscript at Blauel’s request. This was done before the book went to print. But she is still mentioned in Me (I haven’t read it yet), and she claims the book has led to a resurgence of psychological problems stemming from their marriage and divorce. (Her lawyers claim that Elton did not comply with her request to remove parts of the book, so the truth about that is still unclear.)

In the book Elton writes that he feels “huge guilt and regret” over their relationship, conceding that he did not do right by her.

“I’d broken the heart of someone I loved and who loved me unconditionally, someone I couldn’t fault in any way,” he wrote. “Despite all the pain, there was no acrimony involved at all. For years afterwards, whenever something happened to me, the press would turn up on her doorstep, looking for her to dish the dirt, and she never, ever has.”

He also revealed that he and Blauel are not friends, and that she refused his invitation to meet the two children he is raising with David Furnish, whom he married in 2014.

“But she didn’t want to [meet the kids],” he wrote, “and I didn’t push the issue. I have to respect how she feels.”

It seems she felt pretty awful for a long while. The Guardian reports, for example, that Blauel went so far as to change her identity to escape the memory and consequences of her marriage. She did this in 2001. In the years prior she reportedly suffered from severe mental distress, even undergoing electric shock therapy on a number of occasions.

Eventually, her lawyers say, she managed to put her past behind her. Then came Rocketman, the 2019 biopic directed by Dexter Fletcher, and she relapsed big time, complete with nightmares, anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia.

“Renate is particularly upset by the film which is inaccurate, misleading and insulting,” the lawsuit states. “In her mind, the film seeks to portray their marriage as a sham, which she wholeheartedly disputes and considers a false and disrespectful portrayal of their time together.”

We’ll see whether Elton’s guilt is “huge” enough to cover £3 million.