Nov 22 2015

Weekend Videos: Al Berkowitz – ‘How Could We Get Ourselves So Lost’

There are things you ought to know: a) Al Berkowitz is not a person but rather an art-rock ensemble. b) Al Berkowitz is also a person. c) Al Berkowitz the person is not part of Al Berkowitz the ensemble. d) However, Al Berkovitz is named after their former member and mentor Al Berkowitz… Glad we got that out of the way.

How Could We Get Ourselves So Lost‘ follows in the fine tradition of artists mixing folk influences with a modern approach offering a touch of Bon Iver, a little Elvis Perkins and even a bit of Jose Gonzalez to create a wonderful sonic landscape. Almost by magic the track works its way into your brain with each added instrument lending to the general mood. The video itself deserves a mention, it’s black and white imagery works wonders next to the song and every shot looks and feels essential.

A Long Hereafter / Nothing Beyond‘ is an album that is definitely worth checking out as leader Ignacio Simón and company have seemingly curated every detail down to it’s finest points. Having recently relocated to the UK to record their next opus Al Berkowitz is a name you should be looking out for in 2016.

A Long Hereafter / Nothing Beyond‘ is out now on Tempel Arts



Jan 9 2014

Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2013: Kanye West – ‘Yeezus’

Kanye West Yeezus (albums of 2013)

Love him or hate him Kanye West succeeded in simultaneously being the most talked about and the most outspoken artist in 2013. While many of us were eager for a follow up to 2010’s brilliant ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy no one fully expected the barrage that is ‘Yeezus‘.

We’ve waxed lyrical about it and we’ve compared his record to other Kardashian romancer Lamar Odom but here is why the Cougar team loved it.

If there was a land where an artist’s talent was to equal his/her ego, Kanye West would most certainly be the King. The self ­proclaimed ‘creative genius’ once again tops my list of best albums of the year, and with the humbly named ‘Yeezus‘ proves that you can copulate with a Kardashian and name your child as a direction yet still remain on top. Yeezus‘ is completely different from his previous work, and from anything that had previously been done, yes I mean by ANYONE. It perfectly represents him though:  angry on ‘New Slaves‘ and ‘Black Skinhead’.  Extravagant, pioneering, grandiloquent on ‘ I am a God‘, and yes, even funny. This album also proves that he can mix genres like no other, but also bring people together like no other merging electronic music, hip hop, rock, jazz and punk gathering genius from all around the world including the best of the french electronic scene (Daft Punk, Brodinski, Gesaffelstein), Brit DJ/producer Hudson Mohawke and his collaborative project TNGHT, and contributions from indie darling Justin Vernon and R&B hard hitters like Uncle Charlie Wilson and Frank Ocean” – Olivia

“‘Yeezus‘ mighty “On Sight” kicks off the album with the angry Kanye beats we knew he was about to lash out at us at any moment. About a minute in everything comes to a halt with an angelic sample of Holy Name of Mary Choral Family singing “Oh, he gives us what we need. It may not be what we want.” Perfectly summing up Kanye‘s understanding of why he believes he was put on this earth, and that he truly considers himself to be a God of music.

An album of mostly heavy synth beats ‘Yeezus‘ holds true to Kanye‘s unique craft. The best display on the album, “Blood on the Leaves” opens with the haunting Nina Simone sample, piquing curiosity only to guide you right back into Yeezy‘s dark underworld. The bottom line: Kanye refuses to let anyone see him as anything other than brilliantly out of his mind“. – Jabes

This dark album was sometimes a challenge, but I mean that as a compliment. It’s gritty production and forceful performances really take you into the head of one of music’s most creative souls. “Black Skinhead” was ferocious but at the same time intriguing. The great use of vocal samples and futuristic synthesizers compliment the danceable yet artistic pieces of rage in this modern masterpiece“. – T.R. Wicks

“Its hard to classify ‘Yeezus‘ as just an album. It is much more than that. Starting with the SNL performances, to the cryptic guerrilla marketing, then the album, then the aftermath… In the previous month, Kanye released the video for “Bound 2” which rapidly went viral in combination with the James Franco/Seth Rogen spoof*. Kanye also went on a morning radio rampage claiming to be the ” No. 1 most impactful artist of our generation” and “Shakespeare in the flesh.” Unfortunately, I think he may be correct. The album lives up to the hype. Its dark. It’s creative. It’s heavy. It’s sexy.

* I have a theory that the spoof was Kanye organized/commissioned. The exact frame-by-frame tribute came out too quickly and was too good. This also wouldn’t be out of Kanye character” – Robin Petering

Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2013




Jul 3 2013

“Let ‘Em Eat Croissants” A Yeezus review by Robin Petering


As a preface, the following review comes from a serious Kanye West fan. If this review seems bias in any way, it’s because it is. ‘Yeezus‘, Kanye’s sixth solo album, is a fantastic album. The beats are complex, the samples are unexpected, the production is immaculate and the lyrical content is histrionic. At first listen, ‘Yeezus‘ feels like the angst-ridden teenage spawn of ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy‘ and ‘808s and Heartbreak‘ except there aren’t any superstar guest verses (No Jay, no Nicki, and no Rozay) or upbeat radio hits (No Ri-Ri hooks) and only minimal autotune. For long-texrm fans, ‘Yeezus‘ is another piece in West’s epic career trajectory and it delivers. Complete with cryptic guerilla marketing and inescapable internet hype, this album represents Kanye’s continued exploration in melodies, emotion, distortion and genre-crossover.

Yeezus‘ opens with “On sight”. Daft Punk or not, Ye’s MC’ing on this track is the most reminiscent of the early 2000’s. He’s fast paced with goofy lines like “No sports bra let’s keep em bouncin’.” He brings you in quick to “Black Skinhead” which is the album’s standout track. Despite his performance on SNL and the Governor’s Ball, I don’t think anyone was expecting this track to go as hard as it does. Kanye goes off about modern race relations with a goth-drill team and a dirty bass line to support him. The energy of this track is toxic and I’m curious to see if “Black Skin Heads” will take off this summer as a club hit. It may be the needed relief for a scene that is currently being drowned in repetitive trap beats. The album continues at pace and Ye offers meme worthy quips (“Hurry up with my damn croissants!”) and a sense of self-awareness about the role he plays in modern culture. Kanye states that he isn’t interested in ‘turning shit up’. He’d prefer to make his statement about racism, about his chick (and ex-chick), and about his croissants.

Hold My Liquor” is very reminiscent of MBDTF that may be the result of the presence of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon distorted intro. Unfortunately the rhyming found on this track is the type of Kanye rapping that fuels his disbelievers (“Slightly scratch your corolla/Okay I smashed your corolla”). Something new on this album, that we got a taste of with last summer’s “Mercy” (off G.O.O.D. Music collaboration album Cruel Summer), is a blatant reggae influence. I’m a sucker for reggae and hip hop crossover, so the use of reggae samples and artists across multiple tracks got me extra enthusiastic. Although there aren’t any huge names as features, Ye shows Chi-town love for up-and-comers Chief Keef and King L. He also calls up his lackluster progeny Kid Cudi to close out “Guilt Trip”. This track I could live without. Cudi maybe Kanye’s biggest flop yet. I’m not sure why he keeps trying to make that happen. Kanye’s not known for his loyalty (see Damon Dash).

Ye also provides a range of samples. “Blood on the Leaves” opens with a melancholic clip of Nina Simone then sharply drops in with a piece from electronic act TNGHT’s “R U Ready?” with Kanye reinvigorating the aformentioned Trap scene. ‘Yeezus‘ closes out with “Bound 2” which has that high-pitched soul sampling that Kanye is known for. The beat is nostalgic and the track appears to be his shout-out to his baby mama, Kim Kardashian. What ensues is a ‘love song’ that is probably as deep as what Kanye and Kim deserve (“Hey you remember how we first met?/Okay, I don’t remember how we first met.”). He’s a keeper!

All in all, for Kanye fans he delivers on the things we love about him the most: the narcissism, the vulnerability, and the manic episodes. Those same beloved traits also deliver fuel for devoted Kayne-haters and amateur music critics. MBDTF might be better overall (it might be perfect?) but that is not what is important. Kanye West is a trajectory. ‘Yeezus‘ is only one step along a path. In the short term, he gave us a major summer album with some serious bangers. Is Kanye West a god? In the world of hip-hop, probably. Does it matter if people disagree? No, but people will continue to talk, tweet, post their opinions through the summer and then some (which only further perpetuate ‘Yeezus’ godliness).

What I love the most about Kanye and his last four albums, including ‘Yeezus‘, is that he has changed the culture of mainstream hip-hop. No one before him has done what he’s done but many will emulate him. For me personally, Kanye’s ability to successfully release ‘non-traditional’ hip-hop albums pushes the genre in invigorating new directions. Being able to experience ‘Yeezus’ makes me so thankful to be a hip-hop fan living in what could be the golden era of the genre.


Welcome on board Robin Petering / twitter: @monstertrvcks



Yeezus - Kanye West


Jul 30 2012

When Good Music Is Bad Business

NPR recently ran a story, “Put Away The Bell Curve”, covering new research that challenges, however inadequately, the traditional understanding that in most activities, we expect performance to fit a the bell curve whereby a few people are very good, a few people are very bad and most people are average.

In the end, the study suggests that the bell curve is not an accurate model of human performance; rather most of us actually perform below average, while a majority of the output comes from a couple superstars.

The study looked at over 633,000 people, and multiple segments including entertainers and musicians. Now, this is where my feathers start to get a little ruffled.

Where they lost me, was when they decided to measure this so-called “output” by counting Grammys, Billboard hits and Rolling Stone lists.


My qualm is two-fold. First, it’s very difficult to measure qualities of artistic merit, and you certainly won’t get anywhere by looking to these sort of commercial institutions. Second, in today’s global, Internet culture, just because you’re not one of the “superstars” doesn’t mean you’re not a major player in the music world.

The study’s failure to acknowledge the implications of these measurement tactics leads me to believe that they were comfortable with it, or perhaps that the beneficiaries would be. Because to most any music fan, the idea that Grammy Awards are in any way exemplary of an artists’ performance is preposterous.

It’s a matter of integrity. Take Justin Vernon of Bon Iver’s uncomfortable acceptance speech for the Best New Artist Grammy earlier this year, for example. As he said to the New York Times, “98 percent of the people in that room, their art is compromised.

So who are we awarding? And why are we modeling the development of the music industry around systems that fail to value artistic integrity?

As Seth Godin, author of “We Are All Weird”, put it, “The word normal … started in statistics and what it says is there is a distribution bell curve. Most people are in the center. And most people who make music…care about the middle of the market because there’s more people in the middle.

It’s this mass market mindset that drives so many superstars’ careers – these hit factories that reach 10s of millions at a time with palatable pop music – and pacify audiences everywhere into thinking this is it, this is music.

But as the article suggests, the bell curve no longer applies. It’s deflated. However, for me what it fails to acknowledge is that we’re a smarter, more empowered audience now.

Again, to quote Godin, “For a 100 years the model was really simple, we make stuff you get to watch it, we cut records, you get to listen, if we add up the hours spent watching YouTube, culture is created by the public and consumed by the public. And the professionals are running some sideshow over there.

So there’s hope.

The study claims that their selection of ‘performance measures‘ was decided upon for their ability to affect important outcomes; but Grammy awarded, albums sold, and even Rolling Stone (any more) are not indicators of good musical  performance.  They indicate good business.

One cannot truly measure the performance of artists by counting awards or sales.

Case in point, NME just ran a story “50 Massively Depressing Facts About Music.” Here are a couple highlights:

  • In the US, the cast of Glee has had more songs in the charts than the Beatles.
  • Jack Johnson has sold more records (18 million) than The Strokes, Arcade Fire, MGMT and The Smiths combined.
  • David Gray’s ‘White Ladder’ has sold 14 times as many copies of Ryan Adams’ ‘Gold’ album.

In weighing this idea, I began to wonder – what could we measure to adequately reflect artistic performance? The only things I could come up with were dancing, goose-bumps, or other symptoms of arousal.


Post by Nicole @nikki_redhead



May 28 2012

Andrew Bird ‘Break It Yourself’ reviewed

As a fairly mediocre musician myself, Andrew Bird is typically the kind of performer I love to hate— he was a talented violinist at the precocious age of four; he plays every instrument under the sun with perfect ease; he has headed successful bands that easily stride the gamut from pre-war jazz, to zydeco, to blue grass infused folk. Oh, and he’s a virtuoso whistler. And yet I find myself completely disarmed by his March 2012 release, “Break It Yourself“.

I think it must be the bare sincerity of Bird’s songwriting that makes this folk rock album so irresistibly charming; it is ingenuous and whimsical, free from rigidity or any reliable conventions. Much like the most recent Bon Iver album, several of the songs flout the structures of modern songwriting—stretching into expansive vocal swells, or else swooping into low orchestral waves. I can almost see my music theory professors shaking their heads in amazed confusion.

And how to achieve all this without the appearance of pretension? Bird punctuates the track listing with simple, stripped down ballads, or friendly, upbeat jaunts. Apart from guitar, he uses a variety of instruments, from lap steel to violin, and even his impressive whistling abilities, to buoy the songs from classic folk to something newer and infinitely more fun. After completely failing to narrow the tracks down to a few favourites, I can only offer up a few which I think typify the varied talents and imagination that appear in every song.

Lusitania” is what I imagined Andrew Bird’s album would sound like when I first heard of him—sweeping, simple melodies, lifted more by pleasing harmonies than by any bold instrumentation. “Danse Carribe” is the type of track that would kill at a festival, picking up from a slow, bare opening to a frisky full-band hoedown, complete with fiddle. “Near Death Experience Experience” is a haunting and unusual song (it floats somewhere between sensual and dark), helped along by a female vocalist who appears on several tracks. And “Sifters” is the perfect example of Bird’s ability to craft a love song so heartbreakingly sweet that it is almost a lullaby.

The album as a whole is a lesson in perfect sequencing. The variety in “Break it Yourself” could be almost chaotic; but the record is arranged so that each song feels like both a respite and a continuation of the previous track. Bird even added a prelude (vocal), interlude (strings), and postlude (bells, and a few cheeky crickets), which draw attention to the album as a collective work rather than a jumble of individual tracks.

At a time when many bands add layer upon layer to a track until it is bursting with instruments and vocal effects, Bird’s restraint and pared down simplicity is refreshingly modest. In the end, I am willing to overlook his disgusting monopoly on musical talent because he doesn’t rely on it to lift his work above the usual standard—it is the newness and ingenuity of every track that sets them apart.


Post by Emily /@public_emily



Eyeoneye by Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird – Near Death Experience Experience

Break It Yourself - Andrew Bird

Feb 12 2012

Cougar Microbes Writer Picks 2011: Thom’s Top 10

1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

2. M83- Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

3. The Strokes – Angeles

On their latest album, The Strokes never promised to be anything other than themselves. Although rarely wandering from their earnest and melodic rock and roll, Angles‘ is another visceral slice of slick indie.

4. Lykke li – Wounded Rhymes

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

5. Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx – We’re New Here

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

6.Tieranniesaur – Tieranniesaur!

Tieranniesaur have the perfect mix of dirty dance riffs and pop melodies, ‘rockblocker‘ off their debut album was the perfect summer drunken night, and one of the coolest songs of the year.

7. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part II

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

8. Alexander – Alexander

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

9. The Whip – Wired Together

The Whip really nailed their sound on wired together. It saunters with unshakable confidence, delivering atmospheric and avante garde synth pop whilst never getting above it’s station.

10. White Lies – Rituals

Even without the atmospheric density and grit that covers ‘Ritual‘s outer punk rock layers, it is an album of solid songwriting. Its fog only creates a more complex and moving second album.


Calgary by boniver

Midnight City by M83

01-Rockblocker by tieranniesaur

The Whip: Keep Or Delete

White Lies – Strangers

I Follow Rivers by LykkeLi

Gil Scott-Heron And Jamie XX – NY Is Killing Me

Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win (featuring Santigold) by Beastie Boys


Feb 10 2012

Cougar Microbes Writer Picks 2011: Jazmin’s Top 10

1. The Decemberists- The King is Dead

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

2. Beirut- The Rip Tide

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

3. Death Cab for Cutie- Codes and Keys

I have been a Death Cab super fan since about 2001. ‘We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes’ is one of those albums that stopped me in my tracks, and ‘The Photo Album’ will always be one of my favourite albums of all time. However, whilst Death Cab’s quirky under the radar indie sensibilities may have been what won me over in the first place, I am unashamed in saying that indie rock pop songs (such as 2005’s ‘Plans’) are often when they’re at their strongest. Which is exactly why ‘Codes and Keys’ is so fantastic- tracks such as ‘Stay young, go dancing’ and ‘Portable Television’ are perfect indie pop for the Portland generation.‘Codes and Keys’ basically solidified it for me: Death Cab For Cutie are most definitely the band that I will never fall out of love with.

4. Bon Iver- Bon Iver

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

5. Braid- Closer to Closed

Okay, so it was only an EP, but if 2011 can be remembered for only one thing, it has to be the welcome return of Braid and their melodic pop accompanied by Bob Nanna’s distinctive vocals. This 4 track EP is hopefully the shape of what’s to come from a full length in 2012- Kinsella-core style tunes with heartbreaking lyrics. Roll on that 2001-era emo comeback..

6. Surfer Blood- Tarot Classics

Another EP, but one that is too good not to mention. Surfer Blood’s follow up to their 2010 debut ‘Astro Coast’, is all kinds of wonderful. ‘Tarot Classics’ is 4 brilliantly upbeat Beach Boys-esque tracks- the kind of songs that make you want to do spontaneous handclaps as you listen along. Main single ‘Miranda’ is Surfer Blood showing they can take the sound they encapsulated on their debut to the next level- polished hyperactivity if you will. With their second full length due next year, Surfer Blood well and truly remain ones to watch.

6. The Horrible Crowes- Elsie

Filling this year’s Hold Steady/Gaslight Anthem void in my life, The Horrible Crowes debut album oozes Jersey and Springsteen sensibilities. This is the kind of record that is made for dive bar jukeboxes, soundtracking ill advised all night whiskey drinking (the above may or may not have been based on personal experience). Brian Fallon’s vocals sound just as affecting as they do on Gaslight Anthem records, but yet benefit from the stripped down simplicity of The Horrible Crowes’ recording style. It’s a rare thing when side projects contain enough good songs to stand along, but ‘Elsie’ most definitely slots into that elusive category

7. Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

8. Bright Eyes- The People’s Key

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

9. Mister Heavenly- Out of Love

An indie-rock supergroup comprising of members of Modest Mouse, Unicorns, Man Man with Michael Cera on touring bass, Mister Heavenly had pretty good odds in producing one of the albums of 2011. Bursting full of upbeat style indie-pop, accompanied by 1950s influences, ‘Out of Love’ is a must listen for anyone who has a remote leaning towards catchy indie rock that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And if that’s not enough, their biography states that Mister Heavenly are ‘very excited by the prospect of their music being used in a big-screen, teen romantic comedy’, which is pretty much all I could ever want from a band’s press release. Instant scene points? Yeah, I think so.

10. Alex Turner – Submarine (Original Movie Soundtrack)

Movie soundtracks aren’t often strong contenders for albums of the year, but Alex Turner’s self composed soundtrack to Richard Ayoade’s ‘Submarine’ is more than worthy of a place in the list. As a huge fan of the book, the songs that Turner produced for the film managed to perfectly encapsulate the melancholy and quirkiness of the story, whilst also showing that there is more to his musical repertoire than just the Arctic Monkeys. All haunting vocals, slow beats and acoustic guitars,especially on stand out track ‘Stuck On The Puzzle’, this a mini album that is most definitely one of the best things to emerge in 2011.


The Decemberists – This Is Why We Fight

Beirut – Santa Fe

Death Cab for Cutie – You Are A Tourist

Calgary by boniver

Braid – “Universe or Worse”

Surfer Blood – Miranda

The Horrible Crowes – Behold the Hurricane

Fleet Foxes – Bedouin Dress

Bright Eyes- Shell Games (k-noble booty folk remix)

Mister Heavenly “Hold My Hand” Live at KDHX 11/12/11

Alex Turner – Stuck on a Puzzle 

Feb 1 2012

Cougar Microbes Writer Picks 2011: Emily’s Top 10

1) Gotye – Making Mirrors

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

2. Adele – 21

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

3. The Decemberists – The King is Dead

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here

4. Rufus Wainwright – House of Rufus

A massive 19-disc box set of all the magic of Rufus—live performances, albums, singles and b-sides. Even though I could never afford this, it makes the list for best releases. And my Christmas wish list.

5. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here.

6. Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What

I have always surrendered to anything written by Paul Simon, but this album has charm and wit in spades. He even managed to hold back on that penchant for African drumming.

7. Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here.

8. City & Colour – Little Hell

Although I’m the first to admit this album doesn’t top City & Colour’s previous efforts, it says a lot that it still crushes most other releases of the year.

9. Cake – Showroom of Compassion

Made the Cougar Microbes Top Albums of 2011 list here.

10. J Mascis – Several Shades of Why

I’m not usually brave enough to name a favourite album, but this year it was easy. Mascis brings the power of Dinosaur Jr, the simplicity of bare and honest lyrics, and then his godlike guitar virtuosity, to bear in this true 2011 masterpiece.


Eyes Wide Open by Gotye

Adele – Rolling In The Deep

The Decemberists – This Is Why We Fight

Calgary by boniver

The Afterlife by Paul Simon

Florence & The Machine – What the Water Gave Me (DhARMA Edit)

City and Colour – We Found Each Other In The Dark

J Mascis – Not Enough