Alt-pop singer Amir Miles embraces and rejects the come up

By Josh Svetz

Uncensored version published on https://wsbufm.com/

Amir Miles believes he’s the next great pop star. This thought doesn’t come from a point of arrogance; he just knows that to survive in the ever-evolving music industry, you must believe you’re up next.

“In the local scene, I’m no Jimmy Wopo or Hardo, but I’m not a no-name,” Miles said. “I’m just confident in my abilities and my team.”

Miles, 22, is just one of many hopeful musicians trying to catch their big break in the business.

The Pittsburgh singer has already hit several milestones. In the past two years, the alternative-pop singer opened for GZA, Oddisee and Migos just to name a few. He also reached over 800,000 plays on Spotify for his song “Bad Habits.” And on June 6th, he’ll finally get to open for a singer that’s much closer to his music scene than a Migos when he warms up the crowd for Kali Uchis at Stage AE.

But to get to the come up, Miles had to make a lot of mistakes.

Born in Chicago and raised by a single mom, Miles moved to Virginia at age 11 where he began to take interest in music, forming a band with his friends in junior high school for simple reasons.

“We thought it’d be sick to play shows and get girls,” Miles said. “That’s what you expect to happen when you’re a kid.”

What came from that experience would act as the building block to his career in music. Miles played bass guitar and eventually transitioned into vocal work. The band itself disbanded after a year, but he continued to play bass and sing on his own. He started by playing covers of songs he knew, gravitating to rock and R&B music. But after not wanting to be a “copycat,” he started to play chords and make his own lyrics, changing his inflections and words depending on what the melody sounded like.

While the building block to his career laid in place, Miles didn’t believe he could make it as a musician. He originally attended Pittsburgh University to learn business and economics. He figured that getting into the world of music marketing or being the band manager would give him a good chance to get involved with the industry.

Fate had other plans.

His freshman year, he won a rap battle contest along with his resident assistant, Tory Hains, securing an opportunity to open for Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco. He then started to make songs like “On a Dime” and the musician bug bit him fully.

“People were just f****** with it,” Miles said. “And I enjoyed making it. I was set—I’m going to be a musician.”

As he continued to grow as an artist, his grades slipped. He felt misery every time he went to class. School just didn’t feel like the right path. So, he dropped out.

Returning home to Virginia, he struggled in the job market. After receiving two consecutive pink slips, Miles found a home at Zara, a retail company that he described as a European H&M. There, he met his current producer Nxfce (pronounced ‘no face’) and nothing would ever be the same.

Nxfce and Miles talked music regularly on the job, but Nxfce had reservations about working with Miles until he showed him his music. The first studio session, Miles said they didn’t get anywhere. The second studio session, they made “Bad Habits,” Miles’ most popular song to date and a turning point in his career.

Soon after, he returned to Pittsburgh because of the youthfulness of the city and already having a fan base intact.

Originally, he mirrored acts like the Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Miguel. Now, with Nxfce’s more dance-infused and rhythmic beats, he began to cultivate his own sound.

Trying to describe Miles’ sound would give even the greatest music critic problems.

At times, he brings an energy and vigor reminiscent of Michael Jackson. Not to say he matches the king of pop, but when listening to the opening of “Neon//Love,” it’s hard to not hear the inflection of late ‘80s MJ. On “Fade” he sounds like a more exuberant and upbeat Chet Faker. On “Bad Habits,” he inflects the soul of a Sampha, with the vivacious catchiness of “Can’t Feel My Face” Weeknd. No matter what track you play though, he keeps an atmospheric and sexy vibe intact, reminiscent of Ginuwine and Usher.

All these comparisons have one thing in common: it’s music that makes people move. It just so happens that Miles’ biggest concern when he makes music is if it makes people move or not. He used Drake as an example.

“People hear ‘God’s Plan’ and they’re willing to give themselves up (to the song),” Miles said. “They sing, dance, act a fool, because they know the song. They trust the song. They know where it’s going.”

While he may not be Drake, Miles’ recognizes that the buzz he’s obtained from projects like Faceless has made people more comfortable with his music. In turn, he’s starting to get the action he desires from the crowd — dancing.

“That’s what I get most excited about before I go on stage,” Miles said. “Watching people bop, jump, get rowdy. That’s what I love about making music.”

Of course, he’d be the first to tell you that there’s a love/hate relationship with the live show, especially as an opening act.

“Sometimes it sucks,” Miles said. “Yeah, you get to open for these great acts and be like, ‘Yo, I’m a part of the show, I’m a part of the experience.’ But, you’re usually performing for people that don’t know who you are, don’t know what you’re about, don’t care what you’re about and don’t want to learn what you’re about in 30 minutes. They just want to see the main act.”

Miles said he believes this mindset has spread due to the internet.

“I feel like in the ‘90s and ‘00s, people were more artistically curious at live shows because that’s how you found new music,” Miles said. “But now you find music on Spotify, so if you go to a show and haven’t heard the opener’s music on Spotify or SoundCloud, you’re less likely to care about their music.”

But Miles’ biggest concern comes from capitalizing during the come up. He knows he has buzz now and reflects on how people are watching him. Before the come up, he could do whatever the hell he wanted. Now, he has labels making decisions about distributing his music, concert venues considering if they should book him and most of all, people waiting for him to fail.

“It’s do or die,” Miles said. “The next singles have to hit, because if not, then there’s stagnation and that’s the kiss of death in the music industry.”

Again, Miles said the internet has changed the time window. The turnover rate due to social media has become so fast that you need to find a way to stay relevant. Otherwise, people forget you exist.

That’s just the double-edged sword of the modern music industry powered by what’s shareable and viral.

Miles obsesses over music. He soundtracks his life with Gus Dapperton and Rex Orange County. He sings when he gets ready to go out. Hell, even as he’s brushing his teeth, he’s working on his craft.

His conversation topics always include music. One minute he’ll talk about the intricacies of Migos, explaining what creates the draw to the triplet flow. Another he’ll dive into the mystery of Frank Ocean and why his aesthetic matches his art.

The unwind period for Miles comes from watching anime and being around people. He has a complex of wanting to be liked but doesn’t work hard to please. Genuinely, he just wants a good energy and for people to enjoy themselves.

In his dingy, lowly-lit apartment Miles plays Madden as he reflects on his career. He’s using the Seahawks, his favorite Madden team. In the time we’ve talked, he’s won one game but lost the other off a two-point conversion against the New England Patriots, of course.

Unlike the Seahawks though, he sees the end zone.

He’s planning to move out to Los Angeles next year to push his music more and work with other artists. He also plans to write for record labels. Going to LA may lead to one of his biggest fears: fame.

“I’m worried about turning into a commodity,” Miles said. “I don’t want to lose myself. I’ve seen enough people crack. One slip up and people pounce. They’re waiting for you to fail.”

He also worries about his relationships if he indeed becomes famous.

“They’re not going to be natural,” Miles said. “They’ll always be skewed, and people have agendas. Like, do they f*** with me for my music, for me? Do they want something? Do they truly just want to connect? That’s always going to be in the back of my mind now.”

Miles still has a way to go before reaching that point, but it still scares him. He’s not in the business for the money or the fame, or even the girls. He just wants the experience few will ever know.

“When I’m on my death bed and I think about where my life went, I’ll be able to say it went everywhere,” Miles said. ”I’m here for the adventure. I want my life to be a f****** movie.”

Check out Miles at Stage AE June 6th when he opens for Kali Uchis. Tickets are available here: https://www1.ticketmaster.com/kali-uchis-pittsburgh-pennsylvania-06-06-2018/event/1600546DDA6EB60E 

 

 

 

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Beyonce captivates audience with Lemonade

[image courtesy of hypebeast.com]

By: Liam McGurl  @Liiiammm1996

 

Fans might think Beyoncé effortlessly handles life’s curveballs because, well, she’s Beyoncé.  But her new, highly secretive album Lemonade is visual and sonic proof that’s not the case. Even further, her latest artistic effort shatters the typical boundaries of pop music—utilizing striking visuals to accentuate an already powerful message.

Opening with the prophetic words, “The past and the present merge to meet us here…What am I doing my love,” Lemonade’s official trailer left fans unexplainably disturbed, intrigued and downright confused. The promotional video itself didn’t include an excess of Bey-focused shots; rather, it put the attention on art—with starkly contrasted visuals of peace and tranquility, juxtaposed to utter chaos and destruction.

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Zayn Malik separates himself with Mind of Mine

[image courtesy of officialcharts.com]

By: Liam McGurl  @Liiiammm1996

 

After the release of Zayn Malik’s “Pillowtalk,” Directioners were split between their long-time-favorite boy band and its bad boy breakaway—with some taking a middle road.  Now, it’s looking like Malik will hold a fan base all his own after releasing two more successful singles off his upcoming album.

The 23-year-old singer’s first solos prior to his new album Mind of Mine teased the record with three contrasting sounds.  It was a move full of marketing genius and, surprisingly, impressive artistry.  He’s proven his diversity, a likely incentive behind his split from One Direction’s all-too-consistent sound.

At this point, virtually anyone who owns a radio has heard “Pillowtalk”—and rightfully so.  It is a major success, especially considering it’s Malik’s first promotional solo single—featuring psychedelic visual support to catchy choruses in its accompanying music video.

“It’s You,” officially written as “iT’s YoU,” making grammar fanatics cringe and conjuring roaring applause from music-lovers, gives a sound more distant from “Pillowtalk” than Malik’s relationship with 1D.  The ballad, possibly inspired by Little Mix’ Perrie Edwards, has an undeniably mature sound and message.  The track and its Apple Music video— both released on Feb. 26—are all about heartbreak and mistrust.  While heartbreak anthems are nothing new to the music industry—the lyrics lining “It’s You” serve a presumably all-too-real look at the Bradford, England, native’s specific relationship experience. It’s honest, down-to-Earth and spares us another cheesy tune—who can complain?

While “Pillowtalk” relied on catchy choruses, “It’s You” is grounded almost entirely in the single’s sentiment of self-conflict inside a failing relationship.  Singing, “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t/ Cover my scars/ I’ll let ’em bleed/ So my silence/ So my silence won’t/ Be mistaken for peace,” Malik shelves his badass reputation momentarily, letting us into his unvarnished emotional experiences.

The last album teaser, “Like I Would,” remains the least impactful release thus far—fluctuating between lethargic lulls and a funky chorus packed full of potential.  The track, released on March 10, opens with the words, “Hey what’s up, it’s been a while,” starting off on an Adele-esque note, both in lyricism and pace.  Well, that is until the buoyant chorus’ introduction, commenced with Malik shrieking, “He, won’t touch you like I do.”  It feels remarkably inconsistent compared to its preceding singles, a sure death sentence for any solo track.

In all honesty, Directioners’ reactions to the single seem to be more memorable than the actual effort behind “Like I Would.” Shortly after the song’s reveal, 1D fans took to Twitter, accusing Malik’s track of appropriating the boyband’s 2012 hit “I Would.” Regardless, Malik’s made it brilliantly clear where he stands on the group’s “generic as f*ck” sound and, so, it’s safe to say he isn’t stressing over the criticism.

Following the release of his album, Malik has established his aesthetic as a solo artist and solidified his newfound, independent reputation.

Adele’s 25 blows past expectations

By Liam McGurl  @Liiiammm1996

 

It was starting to feel like a “Million Years Ago” since we last heard from London native Adele, but her powerful new installment, 25, has arrived and is, arguably, her most daring studio album yet.

While the soulful ballad “Hello” stays true to the album’s lyrical message of pain in heartbreak, it’s robust, wholesome sounds aren’t exactly a testament to the overall musicality of 25—which is No. 1 on Apple’s iTunes chart in 110 countries.

In contrast to Adele’s preceding records, 25 gives fans the full range of the 27-year-old singer’s talents.  From the underlying pop sentiments of “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” to the Latin feel of “Million Years Ago,” the album’s as unpredictable as it is sonically satisfying.  In essence, it’s the model comeback album—and will likely help Adele reclaim her chart-topping, Grammy-snagging status.

Not surprisingly, the album sold at least 2.5 million copies in the United States in its first week—which, according to the New York Times is “… the highest weekly sales for any album since at least 1991…”

While the 2016 Grammy Awards are scheduled for Feb. 15—and that seems centuries away— it’s likely Adele will be taking home the awards in her nominated categories.  It’s all about timing, and with a new album and singles leading up to the award show, she’ll likely be the focus of the red carpet event—both on and off stage.  Let’s be honest, though, it’s not that big of a surprise considering the 2006 BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology graduate has already received 86 musical arts-based awards out of 168 total nominations.

As expected, the vocal caliber of the “Rolling In The Deep” singer on 25 met both anxious fan and critic expectations, but her noteworthy lyricality on the installment was the main supporter of her impactful trills and riffs.

Adele sings of yearning for renewed love in “I Miss You,” exclaiming, “I love the way your body moves/ Towards me from across the room/ Brushing past my every groove/ No one has me like you do.”  It’s a change from her previous content, opening up about more vulnerable, uncanny dimensions of love: regret and reminiscing.

Her usual sentiments of heartbreak line the record’s tracks, still, but she’s honest about the pain in a new way.

“When We Were Young”—a serious contender for a second single—moves us through the motions of hoping for a revived love life, while “Water Under the Bridge” takes listeners to that uncomfortable place of accepting failed love and hoping for peaceful closure.

“All I Ask”—the second to last track on the record—is a musical plea for that same sort of peaceful closure.  As the track’s chorus closes with the lines “It matters how this ends/Cause what if I never love again?” listeners are struck with relatability internalized as goosebumps.  It’s essentially the “breakup experience” in a single line—acceptance of one’s romantic standings but hoping to move to a place of forgiveness and progression past the pain.

While Adele’s content has remained consistent—and time out of the spotlight hasn’t changed her attraction to love ballads and breakup tunes—she’s used a variety of unexpected, and intentional, instrumentals to support her commanding vocals.

Light guitar strumming follows Adele’s soft vocals at the early formation of “Sweetest Devotion,” while pulsating drumming carries the track’s forceful chorus.  Likewise, classical piano carries the consistent dynamics of “Remedy.”

Adele’s captivating choices in accompaniment elevate her already moving vocals to a place of euphoria that acapella rarely meets.  Aside from her undeniable vocal gift, Adele’s lyrical genius and appropriate selection of instrumentation will likely carry 25 to record-breaking numbers of awards and continued positive critical acclamation.

Justin Bieber “Purpose” preview

By Liam McGurl @Liiiammm1996

After weeks of hearing Justin Bieber’s pulsating “What Do You Mean?” and EDM-heavy Skrillex and Diplo Collaboration “Where Are U Now” infiltrate every frat house basement and Ryan Seacrest show, fans were happy to get a new feel for the singer’s upcoming album.

First there was “Sorry,” then there was “I’ll Show You,” and now, “Love Yourself” has become our most recent Justin Bieber “jam-sesh” fix.  While the 21-year-old singer’s newest installment, Purpose, is set for release this Friday, Bieber has teased the much-anticipated album with a melody of hard-hitting bangers and subtle ballads.

Continue reading “Justin Bieber “Purpose” preview”

Album Review: Earl Sweatshirt’s “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside”

By Sean Lynch

[Image courtesy of factmag.com]

Earl Sweatshirt hit a rough patch after the release of his mixtape Earl when he was sent to boarding school in Samoa until he was 18-years-old.

Sweatshirt felt that he doubted himself in his first studio album released in 2012, shortly after his return from Samoa, Doris. Sweatshirt needed a voice after his days of conformity with rap group Odd Future and his lost mind on Doris.

Even through all the uncertainty, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside serves as a platform for Sweatshirt to reveal his true talent as an artist, and to finally let his voice be heard.

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Image courtesy of youtube.com

“Huey” serves as the opening track to Sweatshirt’s album. The song goes back to Sweatshirt’s Odd Future days with its comical lyric content as he rants on critics and talks about the change in his career as he came back to Los Angeles again. The song changes from a dreary organ to a simple drum beat with some synthesizer thrown in between.

“Off Top” creates an unsettling mood with its eerie piano and cold lyrics including “I’m only happy when there’s static in the air cause the fair weather fake to me.”  The production is extremely choppy, but it goes along with the rap perfectly.

“Wool” features rapper Vince Staples; he matches Sweatshirt’s dark rap with his own dark verses. The beat is simple with the use of a cut up piano and a simplistic drum beat that captures the dark tone of the song.

“Grief” is the hit single from the album and comes off as artistically driven. The beat is glitchy and gives an eerie vibe to the song. Sweatshirt takes us to a dark place in his life, rapping about his struggles with drugs and finding himself after losing his grandmother.

Sweatshirt was upset with how National Public Radio handled his album’s release.

The album was originally supposed to only have been a music video released for the song “Grief,” but Top Dog Entertainment released everything but the music video.

Sweatshirt said through NPR Music: “I was so mad cause it was like — especially because I feel like this is my first album. This is the first thing that I’ve said that I fully stand behind, like the good and the bad of it. I’ve never been behind myself this much. So for them to not treat it as importantly as I was treating it was just like — I couldn’t help but to feel a little disrespected, you know?”

Earl Sweatshirt took simplicity and turned it into something special. Though the glitchy beats and dark raps, Sweatshirt finally found his own voice. Over the past few years, we have seen Sweatshirt mature through his projects, and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside feels like the rounding off of his maturity. He has finally stepped away from the childish ways of Odd Future and has grown into a stronger rapper because of it.

Kendrick Lamar: “To Pimp A Butterfly” Review

By Joshua Svetz — @Svetz17

[Image courtesy of highsnobiety.com]

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly has not only defied expectations after his last album Good Kid M.A.A.d City, but it may go down as one of the best hip hop albums of all time, and I’m not the only one saying it.

Pitchfork gave it a 9.3 out of 10, Rolling Stone Magazine gave it four and a half stars and Spin Magazine gave it the first 10/10 in over nine years. Even the harshest of critics are singing this albums praise. With that said, dissecting this album is like dissecting a Picasso painting, or trying to dissect why Taylor Swift has so many issues with men – it’s difficult.

To begin, the production is incredible. Kendrick and the TDE team out did themselves this time as the creative hands that touch the album shine through with each producer providing their signature flair. Terrance Martin, Flying Lotus, Dr. Dre and Pharrell Williams are all on point each creating something that challenges the listeners’ preconceived notions of hip hop. By stepping outside the comfort zone using Miles Davis’s style of funk, neo-soul and 70s jazz replacing the typical hip hop beats, typical trap production is tossed to the wayside, a bold move with the overarching popularity of the sound.

To put it bluntly, it’s going to be tough for other rappers to use the beats Kendrick spits on. Of course, genius doesn’t need half-rate impostors to bring it down.

The funk comes about early in the first track “Wesley’s Theory,” where Kendrick introduces the album by making a multiple entendre in the song talking about women, hip hop culture, the rap game, the celebrity lifestyle and much more. The song is centered on a repeating chorus that brings it all together beautifully. Kendrick enlists the help of funk legend George Clinton to give the song even more kick than it already had, and it effectively sets the tone for the ride you are about to go on through the album.

The 16 track masterpiece has way too much content to review in a limited format – honestly, I might write my senior thesis on it – but some of the highlights consist of rhythmic spoken word poetry interludes such as “For Free?,” more double and triple entendres in “These Walls,” conversations with God disguised as a homeless man in “How Much a Dollar Cost,” an awesome feature verse from newcomer Rapsody in “Complexion” and a surprise ending that will jar the listener in “Mortal Man.”

Going into specifics, more time needs to be spent on maybe the most powerful hip hop song emotionally since Eminem’s “Stan,” in “U.” This song shows a moment of weakness. Kendrick hits a rock bottom where he questions his purpose on earth. He fights internally about his desertion of Compton and wonders if he’s lost himself in the celebrity lifestyle.

Simply put, this song hits your heart with a javelin and haunts the psyche as Kendrick’s lyrics create a movie-like scene in your head. Everyone is able to relate, on some level, to this song; however, Kendrick’s feelings are far more intense and exaggerated. It’s a listening experience that is tough to put into words.

In comparison to other artists, you can argue that there are often filler songs that can weaken an album. However, To Pimp a Butterfly doesn’t suffer this fate as all 16 tracks are top-notch quality and only get better with repeat listens. Even the Interludes are excellent, which is not the easiest task.

With all the good mentioned, there is criticism to address. Many people have complained that the album doesn’t contain any “radio hits,” “party music or “low riding music.” To those people I say this: you are missing the point.

This is not an album suited for the average listener. To Pimp a Butterfly requires intensive listening and understanding the complexity of the lyrics. Furthermore, this is about more than the rap game, or music in general, this is about Kendrick’s metamorphosis from a rap star into an activist, a voice of black culture. This is Kendrick essentially taking the step towards fulfilling his self-defined prophecy as one of 2pac’s disciples. You just need to sit down and let Kendrick take you on the journey for 80 full minutes, and you’ll come out a smarter human being.

Overall, years from now, the rap game Mount Rushmore may just have a space carved out for King Kendrick Lamar next to Rakim, Nas and 2pac. Still, for now, it is official, Kendrick Lamar is the king, and it’s extremely doubtful we see anyone take the crown as long as he lives and breathes.

 

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[Image courtesy of karmaloop.com]

 

Modest Mouse: “Strangers to Ourselves” Review

By Sean Lynch

[Image courtesy of static.stereogum.com]

Modest Mouse seemed to have bad mojo thrown their way the past seven years while creating Strangers to Ourselves. The band has recorded with artists including Krist Novoselic of Nirvana and Big Boi; however, these tracks were released. The band has changed producers multiple times and even lost their founding bassist Eric Judy. It seemed as if Strangers to Ourselves would be left in limbo, never to be released, but it has finally made it out of obscurity.

“Lampshades on Fire” is a song that carries Modest Mouse’s original indie-rock sound. Isaac Brock is noted for his unique singing voice that comes off shaky and often changes pitch – but it works for him. The guitar is vibrant as it bounces along with the vocals giving some energy to the song.

“Coyotes” gives a softer tone to the album with its gently picked acoustic guitar and silvery voice from Brock. “The Best Room” has a similar sound to that of “Coyotes,” but the acoustics are instead replaced by effect-heavy guitar and a heavier voice. While “The Best Room” begins smooth, a heavily picked guitar solo towards the end of the song creates a transition that brings the album together after their brief hiatus.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon - Season 2
Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock performs on Jimmy Fallon. [image courtesy of billboard.com]

It feels as though this album was left in limbo for too long. Even though it is a traditional Modest Mouse record at heart, there are no other improvements on it or brand new concepts. Not to say that is bad at all, it’s just that there is a higher expectation for more after seven years rather than just to play it safe. The album gives some great singles, but leaves a longing for something new and bold.

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Modest Mouse [image courtesy of mtv.com]

Even with that statement, the band members are extremely generous live performers because of the energy they put into all of their appearances.

Modest Mouse appeared on The Tonight Show and gave another great performance. They played “Lampshades on Fire” to large applause as they bounced and jumped around on stage. The performance was their first one in nine years on television since they released “We Were Dead before the Ship Even Sank.”

Modest Mouse will perform on the newest Late Late Show with James Corden tonight at 12:30 a.m.