What we’re listening to: Nine Inch Nails, ‘Men in Blazers’ and Kitty
Welcome back to IRL, our series dedicated to the things that Engadget writers play, use, watch and listen to. This week, we’re focusing on music and podcasts, from Tumblr-Wave to Trent Reznor. First up, Managing Editor Terrence O’Brien uncovers some hidden SoundCloud gems.
I honestly can’t tell you how I found this album. I know I was randomly trawling for New York hip-hop on SoundCloud, but I can’t remember which sequence of artists led me to the profile of Bed-Stuy rapper Medhane (pronounced: meh-donny). But I just clicked on his most-played track, “Marie.” It starts with a slow build over a couple of samples stretched to their breaking point. Then skittering drums kick in, and Medhane launches into his first verse — I was instantly hooked.
“Marie” is the fourth track off of Poorboy, the second album from Medslaus, the project of Medhane and producer Slauson Malone (real name: Jasper Marsalis). The sometimes-lumbering, always unpredictable beats share some DNA with MF Doom and J Dilla but have a swagger all of their own. And Medhane’s delivers thoughtful lyrics with unwavering confidence. It’s New York through and through and even harks back to the heyday of NYC punk through its DIY ethos and aesthetic.
Three weeks after discovering this hidden gem I’m still listening to it almost every day and it has quickly become one of my favorite records of the year. Medslaus is giving the album away for free, but I highly encourage you to throw a few bucks their way. Art like this needs and deserves your support.
Men in Blazers
Senior News Editor
As an American soccer fan who’s still trying to grasp the finer points of European leagues, I need all the help I can get. Sure, there’s a load of coverage online, but if you’re trying to keep up with an entire league you didn’t grow up watching, the task can be rather daunting. Thankfully, there’s a podcast that keeps me up to speed on English Premier League happenings alongside a healthy dose of US National Team updates, MLS action and news from other clubs. Plus, the two hosts are hilarious.
The Men in Blazers podcast is the creation of Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, a complementary piece to their weekly TV show on NBC Sports. Davies is a Chelsea fan and Bennett an Everton supporter, so there are equal parts elation and disappointment during most shows and tons of British humor. Episodes during the European season typically feature a rundown of EPL scores and any newsy bits about US soccer or US players in other leagues. There’s understandably been a lot of talk about wonderboy Christian Pulisic at Dortmund, for example. Davis and Bennett break down the slate of results with a ton of wit and humor, hurling one-liners at an astonishing pace.
If I understand that Nymeria scene with Arya correctly, it was a faintly veiled retelling of Rooney’s return to Everton #GoTS7
— roger bennett (@rogbennett) July 24, 2017
The usual podcast stuff is here as well: interviews, comments from listeners and more. Players, managers and special guests all make an appearance for interviews on a regular basis to provide perspective on the game. Perhaps the best part is the episodes typically publish midweek, so the show gets me through until can get my live-match fix the next weekend. Well, that and all the bald jokes soften the blow that my own hairline is quickly retreating.
It’s been five years since Kitty (formerly Kitty Pryde) did whatever the musical equivalent of going viral is with “Okay Cupid.” She quickly became one of my favorite artists, drip-feeding a steady supply of great tracks in EPs like Frostbite. Since 2014, though, things have been pretty quiet, as the Florida-based rapper has been working on a debut album, Miami Garden Club.
That album is out at the end of the month, and its eponymous lead single is fantastic. If you’ve not been following Kitty closely it’ll seem a long way from her original sound, which Vice half-jokingly dubbed “Tumblr-Wave,” but it’s all the better for it. A dreamy, melodic track with almost nightmarish overtones, it’s her best track in years.
I never feel cool enough to contribute to our IRLs because I’m usually late to every movie, album or podcast in the world. But if there’s something I know better than my coworkers, it’s Broadway, and show tunes are just obscure and evergreen enough for me to provide a valuable suggestion. Of course, instead of telling you how awesome Hamilton’s soundtrack is or how the music from Wicked rouses deep feelings in me, I’ll point you to less-familiar titles.
This month, consider the lovely tunes from Baby, which originally ran on Broadway from 1983 to 1984. In particular, I’ve been learning to sing the song “The Story Goes On” sung by expectant mother Lizzie, who is just starting to realize the meaning of life and the endlessness of time. This is the number right before the musical goes to intermission, and it’s befittingly expressive, rangy and climactic. It’s a great track to get you marching on to work or to drown out noisy coworkers around you, but if you get a second to ponder the masterful (and clever) lyrics, you may find yourself contemplating your own progeny and even life itself.
Nine Inch Nails
Timothy J. Seppala
I’m an easy mark for Nine Inch Nails. While I regrettably spent my high school years listening to Korn, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot (the late ’90s were a weird time), my adult life has been dominated by Trent Reznor’s music, both NIN and his film scores with longtime collaborator Atticus Ross. New material from him is always an event. It means I have something to dissect and listen to on repeat for a few months, new merch, vinyl and probably a tour to check out. Thankfully Reznor’s been incredibly prolific lately. But for awhile, the idea of new music was more enticing than the music itself.
In terms of soundtracks, the Patriot’s Day score didn’t strike me the way the duo’s work with director David Fincher does. And as far as NIN goes, the band’s last full-length album, 2013’s Hesitation Marks, was a solid effort but was more The Slip than it was Year Zero or With Teeth. That’s to say, it felt like the 52-year-old Reznor was losing his edge as he entered the next phase of his life/career as a creative director of Apple Music and film scorer.
That started changing with December’s surprise release Not the Actual Events and its “sequel,” last month’s Add Violence.
At just five tracks each, there isn’t any room to meander. I’m not going to dig into the Reddit rabbit hole about how Events, Violence and the forthcoming third EP are connected and that they may or may not form a Year Zero sequel. For me, it’s all about the music. And what’s on Add Violence definitely feels like fresh ground. It feels like a return to sleazy older sonics and styles, but with a confidence that wasn’t present before. Case in point: the 11:44-long album closer “The Background World.”
It starts off with a seductive bass line before Reznor comes in with quiet menace, voice getting louder and stronger as the music builds in time. But rather than crescendo in typical NIN fashion with a caustic keyboard or guitar solo, the song peaks four minutes later with the multi-instrumentalist screaming “This is what you want?” That’s when a locked groove takes over for the next seven minutes, repeating the chord progression every few seconds and progressively fucking it up until it’s pure static by song’s end.
It’s ballsy, and on the first few listens it sounded like filler or a lazy way to eke out extra time on the album rather than writing another song. But closer listens revealed hidden intricacies and made it my favorite track on the EP.
I’m not sure where the third release is going to go, and from the sounds of it neither is Reznor, but thankfully I have plenty to digest between Events, Violence and his score for Ken Burns’ Vietnam War documentary before it arrives late this year.
Reviews Editor, Engadget UK
Some 16 years ago, a gig ticket was an extravagance. Despite being a Blink-182 superfan, teenage me just couldn’t justify spending the little money I had on a rock show. When the band announced an “indefinite hiatus” in early 2005, I thought I’d blown it — I would never see my beloved Blink live. When the group reformed several years later, I promised myself I would go to a gig every time they toured the UK.
Blink recently played two dates at London’s O2 arena. I bought my tickets as soon as they went on sale, nine months earlier. As you do, I spent the first few weeks of July revisiting the band’s pretty extensive back catalog. In between long stints of stress-relieving, 19th- and 20th-century classical, I nodded my head to the raw, messy, punky sound of Buddha, Cheshire Cat and Dude Ranch.
Then there was Blink’s international “big-break” album, Enema of the State. Compared to previous records, its slicker, cleaner production and accessible tracks like the hits All the Small Things and What’s My Age Again? came to epitomize pop punk. After Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, the self-titled Blink-182 album took the band to a much heavier and darker, more experimental place. Eight years later, and its post-hiatus comeback record Neighborhoods felt like it had a bit of everything, taking sips of influence from all the albums that came before it.
I’ve listened to Blink so frequently throughout the years, so saying I’ve been “revisiting” the music might be a bit of an overstatement. Truth is, in cliché superfan style, I love every album; every transition in sound. Apart from California, the band’s latest record released this time last year. Bored To Death is a pretty good track, but the rest of it is just really vanilla and uneventful.
Founding Blink member Tom DeLonge left the band sometime in late 2014/early 2015. Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba now fills that Tom-sized hole, and this is undoubtedly why California sounds the way it does — like a really good imitation of Blink, but lacking any soul or originality. The London show was borderline disappointing. Thanks to the pop punk/emo revival that’s been bubbling over the past few years, Blink-182 can sell out midweek shows at 20,000-capacity arenas.
It was a way more impersonal concert than I’m used to. Typically it’s sweaty walls, Gnarwolves T-shirts and Real Friends playing to a few hundred people. This time around, I wasn’t really at a show, I was watching one. There was fire, plenty of choreographed visuals, several generic tunes from California and Matt Skiba doing his best impression of Tom DeLonge. Not the most memorable of evenings, but, well, I guess this is growing up.
“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.