Columns

The Week in Reviews

Alan Vega

Suicide – ‘Frankie Teardrop’
Alan Vega died this week. I don’t have much by way of an obituary. I never knew much about him. I knew more about Suicide, but mostly that I liked them. I was seventeen when I found a copy of their self-titled album on my high school’s art computer and spent that night listening to it constantly.

Eventually I was looping the ten minutes of pain that was ‘Frankie Teardrop,’ wondering how I could make something like this. Not long after I stopped writing melodies and bought a loop pedal to make my guitar sound like a drum machine.

It was years before I got a real one, a drum machine, and I still can’t get it to sound like Vega and Rev did – like something being sequenced way off in the distance with an energy that felt machinic and frantic – the bass and synth moving with it, tempo-wise, but with Vega’s vocals and the song’s samples appearing out of the song, independent of the rhythm, and better for it. Where the rest of Suicide’s tracks sound like processed pop music from the last 20 years to that point, ‘Frankie Teardrop’ was sparse, paranoid, and angry in a way that I don’t think existed before and haven’t heard since.

It changed how I wrote music, and Suicide may well be the only artist where I haven’t sought out their other releases because the album I had was enough. But a lot of what I’m saying here is retrospective – I’ve been listening to ‘Frankie Teardrop’ constantly for the last hour and each time I’m hearing something that I’ve had in my head and am shocked at how much an artist I (admittedly) don’t listen to that much so thoroughly shaped my tastes and musical direction.

I still wish I could get that drum pattern right and sing over it like Vega does, I wish I could sound so ahead of my time like Suicide does. But time caught up with Alan. Rest In Peace.

Juelz Santana – Back Like Cooked Crack 2
Inspired by Pitchfork’s ‘Top Mixtapes of the Millennium’ list, I’ve been spending some time browsing DatPiff and LiveMixtapes in search of the best free music from the past decade-and-a-half. Perhaps it would be a stretch arguing that this Juelz Santana tape is up there with the best, but unlike a few choices on the otherwise solid Pitchfork list (i.e. offerings from Drake & Chance), it’s actually a free mixtape (I don’t quite buy the “if the artist calls it a mixtape, it’s a mixtape” definition) and a highly rewarding listen. In the past I’d glossed over Juelz as a Cam’ron/Lil Wayne sidekick, somehow forgetting his impassioned guest spots on tracks like ‘Nothin On Me’, ‘Hey Ma,’ and ‘Money Over Bitches’. Jules is charismatic and his stilted-yet-smooth flow is the perfect metaphor for the less-polished mixtape format. He complains about his label, raps over some popular beats (sometimes for just a verse), there’s a big single (‘Mic Check’) and a few badly-mixed skits, some good moments are cut short (‘Yup Yup’) yet the whole thing goes on for too long. Like any good mixtape it’s perfect for a listen or two before you pick your favourite tracks to return to later (for reference mine are ‘Back Like Cooked Crack’, ‘Bandana’, ‘I’m Hot You Ain’t’) and it’s a great reminder that free often equals good.

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