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Mace & Crown | April 22, 2018

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Monarch Music Minute: STRFKR, Alicia Keys, Sleigh Bells

Monarch Music Minute: STRFKR, Alicia Keys, Sleigh Bells
Richard Gabrintina
Staff Writer

STRFKR – ‘Being No One, Going Nowhere’ 💿💿💿💿

Because of IFC’s Portlandia, the city of Portland brings to mind the humorously eclectic. STRFKR, based out of The City of Roses, is certainly different but approaches music with seriousness. STRFKR has released a total of five studio albums since 2008. Their latest record, “Being No One, Going Nowhere,” dropped on Nov. 4 off of Polyvinyl Records.

Originally formed in 2007, STRFKR currently consists of frontman Joshua Hodges, Shawn Glassford and Keil Corcoran.

Their name, unabbreviated as Starf—er, was initially conceived from a joke. A former manager advised them to rebrand themselves as they rose to prominence, shifting between PYRAMID and Pyramiddd. The band reverted back to their roots, despite the challenges with censorship.

Inspired by eastern ideologies and Hodges’ exploration throughout California’s Joshua Tree desert, “Being No One, Going Nowhere” is a psychedelic introspection.

A poppy, dance-friendly hypnosis, “Tape Machine” introduces the album with rippling synths and gravitational bass grooves. “Satellite” is Hodges’ attempt to orbit toward enlightenment: “My thoughts all evil and pure / Gone away from my own design.”

On “Open Your Eyes,” Hodges surrenders himself to a stream of synths: “Take my body / Let it take me / Back to the river.” “Maps” is an unfolding, cinematic revelation: “You never had to lie / To keep them in your heart.”

“Dark Days” juxtaposes its title against jubilant and twinkling riffs. The title track concludes the album with reassurance for merely existing: “You’re alright where you are / Being no one / Going nowhere.”

Between psychedelic, space discos and riffs of rumination, “Being No One, Going No Where” distances the ego to adopt oneness with the universe. STRFKR is currently on tour and will perform on Dec. 1 at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Alicia Keys – ‘Here’ 💿💿💿💿

Ever since Grammy Award-winning musician Alicia Keys released “Girl On Fire” four years ago, there have been significant changes in her life and in the world surrounding her. She’s abandoned makeup products to protest female beauty standards and gave birth to her second child. In America’s increasingly tense social climate, Alicia Keys followed up with “Here” on Oct. 7 off of RCA Records.

At 45 minutes, “Here” addresses her roots, her position in life and where America currently stands. Tackling a range of issues, Alicia Keys adopts spoken word delivery amid signature, soulful crooning.

The album’s production is beautifully handled by creative team ILLuminaries, comprised of herself, husband Swizz Beatz, Mark Batson and Harold Lilly. Additionally, Pharrell assists on “Work On It,” a song about persevering in her relationship with Swizz Beatz. A$AP Rocky is the only feature on “Here,” delivering a verse on “Blended Family (What You Do For Love)” that celebrates family commitment.

“The Beginning (Interlude)” introduces the album with a soft piano arrangement and an empowering verse: “I’m the erratic energy that gets in your skin / And if you don’t let me in / I’m the shot in the air when the party ends.” Seamless in transition, “The Gospel” picks up in energy as Keys paints a portrait of her upbringing.

“She Don’t Really Care_1 Luv” is a hometown homage. Alicia Keys sings alongside a guitar about the unfair beauty standards imposed on women in “Girl Can’t Be Herself.” “More Than We Know” offers inspiration for progress.

In her latest, socially-charged album, Alicia Keys feels more down-to-earth but still offers empowerment for herself and for her audience.

Sleigh Bells – ‘Jessica Rabbit’ 💿💿

Born out of Brooklyn, Sleigh Bells is singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller. Churning out indie favorites like “Infinity Guitars” and “Crown on the Ground” off of 2010’s “Treats,” the noise pop duo is known for its signature drum machine pounds, addictive riffs and unabashedly crass delivery. On Nov. 11, Sleigh Bells released their fourth studio album “Jessica Rabbit” off of the band’s own record label, Torn Clean.

Debuting with “Treats,” Sleigh Bells entered the indie-sphere as an exhilarating novelty. By their third album “Bitter Rivals,” what distinguished them began to feel lackluster and played out. “Jessica Rabbit” seeks to propel the duo back to relevance by plunging itself through perilous experimentation.

On their fourth album, Krauss and Miller meticulously craft each track and enlist veteran hip-hop producer Mike Elizondo to aid in production and songwriting.

The album is introduced by “It’s Just Us Now,” where guitars shift in tempo and slash like a staple Sleigh Bells track. After that, however, “Jessica Rabbit” feels confused by ambient soundscape attempts and bombarded with an exaggerated drum machine.

“I Can’t Stand You Anymore” laments a fractured relationship with stadium rock verses and Krauss’ vocals ascend over raining keys in its poppy chorus. “I Can Only Stare” is a successful sonic reinvention, which Miller credits The Smiths as being partial inspiration.

While their latest album allows for lyrical complexity and for Krauss to have more involvement, it ultimately feels misguided and oversaturated with unintentional chaos. “Treats” might have ushered in an unheard-of sound that largely influenced pop music thereafter, but “Jessica Rabbit” is a desperate attempt to haphazardly reinvent themselves through forced complexity.

💿 — Face palm.
💿💿 — Eh…
💿💿💿 — We’re getting there.
💿💿💿💿 — I’ll listen to it twice, even.
💿💿💿💿💿 — Hell yes!