Don’t Change that Dial: WSLC Radio



WSLC, Sarah Lawrence’s student-run radio station, has a history much longer than many other student organizations on campus. Over half a century and counting, it’s shifted from its 1940s days as an FM station to a multifaceted station transmitted online via TuneIn. WSLC today, however, continues to thrive in the same ways as before: as a spirited group of individuals determined to bring their passion for music and spoken art to the Sarah Lawrence community.

Thomas Ordway (‘17), general manager of WSLC, discussed the structure of their broadcasted content. “We generally try to accommodate as many shows as possible, while making sure we build diverse programming,” he said. “While most of the WSLC staff will tend to have our own shows, as managers we try to step back and let the programming be shaped by whatever our current crop of DJs and show applications ends up including.”

Every fall, Ordway and the rest of the WSLC staff reconstruct their schedule based on brand-new student submissions as well as shows that WSLC has previously hosted. DJs must reapply at the start of the year to claim their spots.

“People come to us with a lot of different ideas—a lot of music shows, of course, but over the years we have had talk shows, sketch comedy, narrative sci-fi radio serials, and a few others,” Ordway said. He added, “We have a few shows that have been running as long as I've been working here, which I think of as staples.” 

Recently, in trying to reach a larger audience, the WSLC team has discussed the option of a wider broadcast—namely, to provide music for the Pub in place of generic radio. “Every year we have talked about this but it hasn't happened yet...[it’s] something I think some DJs are very interested in, and others very much not,” Ordway explained.

Kat Schubert (‘20), as co-host-and-DJ of the WSLC show Kitten High, brought a personal view to the subject. “I think it would be really cool for our show to be played at the Pub, though WSLC has weird hours and sometimes has technical difficulties so that would have to be something that people think about before moving forward,” she said. “It would be nice to reach an audience that way, but we'd probably have to up the quality of our show a little and be more aware of the weird shit we say.”

The WSLC team is also in charge of setting up live shows at Sarah Lawrence, including staging on-campus festivals and hiring DJs and other performers for the blue room. In the last three years alone, SLC has hosted indie bands Girlpool and Darwin Deez, synthpop soloist Porches, and Jonathan Richman of Modern Lovers fame—among several others.

“The [WSLC music manager] is responsible for dealing with music promoters to get tracks for airplay at the station, as well as reporting DJ playlists to radio charts, so they quickly start to see which artists our DJs like, and try to plan the live music booking in accordance,” Ordway explained.

WSLC’s live music shows also highlight a different crowd of SLC musicians than those who work with the music department. By organizing shows for student-based groups and solo performers on campus, Ordway and his team provide an outlet for the passion-fueled hobbyists and independent artists that might otherwise slip through the cracks.

“Over three years there's been a lot of singer-songwriter types, but we're starting to see a community of full bands and collaborative projects growing over the last year or two as well,” Ordway said. “It's been awesome to get to know the DIY music-making community that exists on this campus.”

Which speaks well to the general mindset of WSLC’s team. DJs (and other performers) are encouraged to be as spontaneous and creative as possible—but while still remembering to maintain the solid structure of a broadcasted radio show or concert.

“WSLC strikes a very good balance between taking ourselves seriously and also playing it loose and irreverent, so it's tough to know where to lay down the law,” Ordway said of his own position as general manager. “We want student DJs to be able to work on their own (and we are off-site for most of the time while they are doing their shows) but there are certain equipment setups and workflows that we need to make sure DJs do just because of our obligations as a licensed radio station.”

As a student DJ herself, Schubert described her semester’s worth of experience with WSLC as like being part of “a dysfunctional family.” 

“We're not exactly a well oiled machine but 95% of the time (when there's no technical difficulties) everything works out and everyone has a good time,” she said. “And that's really what it's for—[to] make good content and have a good time.”

Peck Trachsel '20

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Student Profile: Jaela Cheeks-Lomax

Picture of Jaela Cheeks-Lomax. Photo Credit: Olivier Kpognon

Picture of Jaela Cheeks-Lomax. Photo Credit: Olivier Kpognon

Sarah Lawrence’s Jaela Cheeks-Lomax (‘17) is the rising star of the Sarah Lawrence drama department. Last semester, she played Julie Jordan in SLC Musical Theatre Collective’s Carousel.

When asked about the most inspiring people in her field, she doesn’t even have to think to respond. “Number one would be Sarah Vaughan, and has been since I was, like, seven and knew who she was,” she told me. “There’s something about the musicality in her voice. There’s something really haunting about it, but also comforting. I would copy her as a kid,” she added with a laugh. “I didn’t even know what I was doing.” 

More recently -- and like so many others --  Cheeks-Lomax was struck by Cynthia Erivo’s performance in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple. “I don’t think I’d ever heard someone sing with that much passion live, with so much conviction, and the was honestly so overwhelming,” she said fervently. “I’ve never experienced something like that.”

Cheeks-Lomax draws from the jazz and Broadway singers, Vaughan and Erivo, equally in terms of motivating and uplifting herself. That’s not surprising;  she has belonged to two different musical worlds since her preteen years, growing up in Mount Vernon, NY. 

According to Cheeks-Lomax, her passion began to surface before she even left the womb. “My parents got a stereo when my mom was pregnant with me,” she shared. “From there, she would listen to music for hours at a time, and that’s really where she thinks that I started to like music.”

Her first performances were in front of the fireplace, her first audience her family. She would imitate the lofty tones of the jazz singers she heard on tape. At age seven, when she began booking gigs at restaurants and other venues, she realized for the first time that her hobby could become a career.

At age twelve, Cheeks-Lomax began taking theatre classes at Young at Arts (YAA), a Bronxville-based performing arts organization, that according to the official website statement, strives to “[bring] together children of different backgrounds and means in a collaborative environment.” She also played roles in several stage productions, including the mother duck, Ida, in Honk! and Sarah Brown, the stringent missionary worker, in Guys and Dolls. For the young Cheeks-Lomax, the world of theatre opened up an entirely new musical perspective. 

“The jazz came naturally,” she admitted, “[but] I’ve always had a hard time picking and choosing...I looked in these two different worlds and have been ever since.” 

Now a theatre third with her sights set on Broadway, Cheeks-Lomax reflected on how her past has influenced her present: “It’s worlds apart, but in a good way. It showed me that I’ve grown—as you get older you know you want to challenge yourself a little bit more.”

One of Cheeks-Lomax’s most recent challenges involved returning to her alma mater, YAA, as a coach. As part of her conference project, she taught third through sixth grade actors yoga and mindfulness meditation. “I wanted to see if that would change some behavioral issues I was having, or if some of the students were shy,” she said. 

Although she might seem flawless and unruffled, Cheeks-Lomax experiences difficulties just like any other performer. Her stresses range from pre-show jitters to being selected as the replacement lead for a show one week before opening night. (It’s a true story, and “the hardest thing that’s ever happened [to her].”) 

Most taxing of all, in her opinion, is conveying the honesty that must accompany every role. “When you’re a have to literally lay out all of who you are. There’s no hiding behind anything. It’s…who you are, and you hope people like it.” Citing her previous SLC role as Julie Jordan, Cheeks-Lomax expands on wanting to make her performances feel as real as possible. “I don’t want to ever play a caricature,” she said. “‘Cause this is a real person, I am telling someone’s story, whether it was based off of someone’s real life or pieces that the writer has taken to create this character. So for me, it’s always staying true to that being real and raw and honest, that’s important to me.”

So, how does Cheeks-Lomax push through the challenges of her everyday life? Three words: positive vibes only. “It’s all about doing the best I can, but being positive about it.  When you breathe positivity in, I think that you let positivity out as well.  It’s not easy all the time; I do have my really off days, but I really try to practice positive mantras for myself. And I also look at quotes constantly; I have apps, I have people—my yoga teacher will give me something after each class.”

But optimism doesn’t always cure everything. Cheeks-Lomax admits that longer-term problems such as lack of inspiration can be harder to overcome. For those who find themselves in that position, Cheeks-Lomax offers some simple advice: “Never give up.”

“The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary,” she continued, quoting a one of those inspirational offerings. “If you want that success, you have to work. You have to, it’s just the way it is. But I also believe that when your time comes, it comes. When you’re supposed to land somewhere and have that success, it happens at the exact time that you’re supposed to have it.”

Peck Trachsel '20

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Falstaff at the Opera di Firenze Review

Why would I want to leave a campus that I have grown to love so much? Should I stay and work in New York, and possibly get an internship? Is it worth leaving so much behind to study in a place I’ve never been before? These were just a few of the many questions I had last spring upon making up my mind if I wanted to study abroad in Florence, Italy this coming year. Looking back, these questions are laughable, looking at how enriching my experience has been here these past three months. As a music student in the birthplace of the Renaissance I have had so many opportunities to grow and be inspired through the arts that surround me on a daily basis. Whether it is in my theory and harmony class, where I am given a 30-minute lesson each week to go beyond what we are learning in class and compose or analyze pieces (much like conference work, which is irregular to have with music components in Bronxville), listening to a Maestro Batisti lecture on a whole range of topics in Music History from Verdi to Shakespeare to Victor Hugo, or in my private piano lessons at conservatory just outside Florence, every week I am continuing to deepen my musical education.

Deepening our education at Sarah Lawrence is about much more than what we learn in the classroom. It is what we learn from each other and how we apply what we learn inside the classroom to our everyday experiences outside of class. In this regard, the Florence program has been ideal in that it has given me (and the rest of the students on the program) an experience to see a concert nearly every other week at two great venues in Florence: 1. La Accademia Bartolomeo Cristofori  (a fortepiano museum), and 2. L’Opera di Firenze (the premiere opera house in Florence). As a pianist, the former has led me into this world of a more intimate recital setting with some of the greatest pianists of my generation performing sonatas on period fortepianos. La Accademia’s counterpart is the opera house, led by the great conductor Zubin Mehta. If I did not completely comprehend the quality of music I had been seeing in this city watching pianist Jin Ju flawlessly play one of Schubert’s last piano sonatas, by the time we saw Verdi’s final masterpiece, the opera Falstaff, I knew that only in Florence, and only at Sarah Lawrence, would I be treated to such high-quality performances that are understood to be part of my whole education.
The following is a critique of the production of Falstaff at the Opera di Firenze as was assigned for Music History by Professor Alberto Batisti.
From Dr. Caius’ opening cries of “Falstaff! Sir John Falstaff!” to the momentous final fugue, L’Opera di Firenze’s production this past week of Falstaff was glorious, and showed the world, as represented by the protagonist, what an outstanding and momentous figure Verdi is in the opera repertoire.

Playing the role of Falstaff, Ambrogio Maestri filled the theatre with his voice and presence while making the audience feel empathetic towards him, laugh at him, and laugh with him. The brief hints of an aria Verdi gives to Falstaff were sung as if it were one of his earlier dramatic operas, with a full range of emotion. The orchestra, led by Director Zubin Mehta was masterfully led as an equal for Maestri’s booming voice.
Opposite Falstaff was the young romantic Fenton, played by Yijie Shi, who represents whom Falstaff might have been in his youth, as a more passionate tenor in the operas of Verdi written 40 years previously (e.g. La Traviata, Il Travatore, Rigoletto). Likewise, Ford, sung by Roberto De Candia, was elegant and heroic, yet no match to Maestri or Mehta’s orchestra.
Directed by Maestro Luca Ronconi, the first two acts were very simple, with white canvases and various rolling steampunk carriages to move characters on and off the stage, which at times was slightly awkward, didn’t add nor take away from magnitude of the of music.
 It was in the third act that the direction really shone, highlighting the Shakespearean emphasis on the mystic world. After the second act’s comedic chaos ensued, a smooth transition into the dream-sequence that is the third act changed the atmosphere into something much more dramatic and dark, enabling us to look introspectively at what appears to be comedy. Ekaterina Sadovnikova’s Nannetta plays a fairy queen, with one of the only complete arias in the work, completely changing the tone of the opera to something that seems to be taken straight from A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Quickly, Falstaff wakes up from his dream and comes to realise the jokes that have been played on him. After a Mozartian comedic wedding and happy ending, “the play is over.” The cast sits on the edge of the stage for a grand finale declaring the whole world a joke, as Maestri points his finger at the audience. If the whole world is a joke, it is a great one, as tonight’s production so powerfully demonstrated. 

by Caleb Jaster ‘16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

A Valentine’s Day with Father John Misty



On Valentine’s Day, Father John Misty, a unique, extremely talented, and bold musical artist performed at the Bowery Ballroom on Delancey Street in Manhattan. Father John, whose real name is Josh Tillman, is a former member of the commonly known band Fleet Foxes. The doors opened at 8 p.m., with the opening act beginning at 9 p.m., and Father John Misty coming on stage an hour later. As it was Valentine’s Day, there were many couples at this concert thoroughly enjoying themselves as they danced and shouted and sang along to the majority of the songs played off of Father John Misty’s two albums made under his stage name, one of which came out only in February. He has made a total of ten albums in the past eleven years, but his most recent album, I love you, Honeybear, is garnering high praise from critics.

The atmosphere of the Bowery Ballroom was very comforting and intimate. The venue is not very large, and had a bit of a speakeasyvibe to it. The curtains falling down to the edges of the stage were lime green and velvet, and the lights on stage were light blue creating a very mellow mood.  

The first act of the night was a one man band by the name of Guy Blakeslee, who is based out of Hollywood. Blakeslee had a bracelet with bells on it that he would shake throughout the majority of his songs. His lyrics held much meaning and his tone was very ghostly, enchanting and even a bit eerie. 

At 10 p.m., five men came out on stage and began settling into their instruments. Father John Misty walked onto the stage roughly a few seconds into the first song being played the titular song off the recent album. Father John is slender, very tall and can be easily identified by his long hair, beard, and bright eyes.The audience burst out into exciting shrieks as he stood up on a drum and started dancing with his back to the audience. 

The following songs played alternated from the new album to the old album. A personal favorite off of the new album, “True Affection”, was one of the first songs played. He directly faced the crowd when he sang “Seems like/you” and “I/need to have a crazy conversation!” “True Affection” was one of the more electric sounding songs played during the concert. During “Chateau Lobby,” Father John had a man with a trumpet wearing a Mariachi suit come out on stage and join him. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” was sung closer to the end of the concert. This is one of his most well-known songs as it also has a music video featuring Aubrey Plaza from the show Parks and Recreation

Father John threw out his arms into the crowd many times throughout the night. Fans raced up to simply shake his hand. Near the end of the show he jumped off the stage, still with the microphone in his hand, and walked right into the audience! He serenaded several people and many fans tried to get close to him. The sarcastic and witty song “Bored in the U.S.A.” was one of the slower songs he played at the end of the show. He turned to the audience to sing, “By this afternoon I’ll live in debt, by tomorrow be replaced by children.” He danced up until the very end of his performance, with his long legs stepping along to the rhythm of each song he sang. 

His live performance was vivacious, genuine and energetic. Seeing his love for his music in person thoroughly proves just how talented and passionate he is about what he does. His next concert in Manhattan will be on August 5th on Central Park Summer Stage. It is hard to think of a better live performer or venue, so if you have the opportunity to see him, definitely seize it! 

By Palmer Smith ’17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

6 Upcoming Concerts in NYC You Won't Want To Miss

Credit: Julia Schur ‘05

Credit: Julia Schur ‘05

You are halfway through the school year, you are running out of steam fast, and the weather is not exactly encouraging. The music blasting on your iPhone earbuds can barely shut out the howling winds rushing through Kimball Avenue. Going to a concert actually starts seeming like a reasonable monetary investment. It is a well-deserved mental break from the campus hustle. Live music has the power to revitalize you – the right venue and performer might just provide the shot of electric excitement you need to get you through the semester. If you want to wait on it and celebrate the end of conferences with a dope live show, that is cool too. Either way, here are some suggestions:

Bonobo (DJ Set) @ Output
Feb. 5th 10:00pm ($15)

Bonobo's smoky hip hop-influenced style has established him as one of the most forward-thinking producers around today. Though he has been releasing great music since 2000, his two most recent releases, Black Sands (2010) and The North Borders (2013), really caught the public's attention. Though he is only DJ'ing this particular show, he will surely be playing plenty of his own stuff. Output is also a fairly new, burgeoning club, sure to provide the ideal atmosphere to properly appreciate Bonobo's genius. 


Lauryn Hill @ Rough Trade NYC
Sunday, Feb 17– 8:00 pm ($125)

After years of self-imposed exile, sporadic concerts/releases, and even a short trip to prison, Lauryn Hill is slowly getting back to doing what she does best. Known for her incredible 1998 solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the artist has achieved legendary status. Her elusive public persona coupled with undeniable talent only add to her mystique. Now, the former Fugees member is playing a series of small-venue shows, treating fans to acoustic renditions of some of her greatest hits. It is a bit expensive, but a dedicated fan would probably think the price worth it for an intimate experience with the amazing Ms. Lauryn Hill. 


Action Bronson @ Terminal 5 
Tuesday, March 24– 7:00pm ($30)

He is the talk of the town. Hailing from Queens, New York, this extra-large rapper has been making a name for himself on various fronts. Before kicking off his rap career in 2011, Action Bronson was a well-respected gourmet chef in NYC. Now he is preparing to take the game by storm with his forthcoming debut LP, Mr. Wonderful. His live shows are notoriously rowdy, often ending with him throwing everything from steak dinners, drugs, and even fans, into the crowd. And you can bet he will be extra turnt up for his hometown show on March 24. In the meantime, you can catch him on VICE Munchies, where he has his own web-series, F#!*k That's Delicious.


Chet Faker & XXYYXX @ Terminal 5
Tuesday, April 07– 7:00pm ($25)

Of the multitude of amazing musicians that Australia has produced in recent years, Chet Faker has proven to be one of the most innovative and talented. His musical style is often compared to songwriters like James Blake, due to his low-key, intimate vocals. He has recently collaborated with producers like Ta-ku and Flume, and he released a great debut album last year, Built on Glass. However, I wouldn't be surprised if his opening act stole the show. Nineteen-year-old producer XXYYXX, considered a prodigy by his peers, is known for his lo-fi sound, produced on self-made synthesizers. A deadly combination for what surely will be an unbelievably chill night. 


Stevie Wonder @ Barclays Center 
Sunday, April 12– 8:00pm ($108)

Literally forget everything you have read up to this point and go buy some Stevie Wonder tickets. In a world of young one-hit wonders, Stevie Wonder remains timelessly cool. The fact that this man, at the age of 64, is still touring is testament to his eternal greatness. This is your chance to see one of the last true living musical legends perform live. Sure, he has not released any new music in a while. He is not “what's popping” right now. You may not even know a whole lot of his music – he does have a pretty huge discography. But 32 number one hit singles and 25 Grammy nominations don't lie, my friend. Also, if you can listen to the twangy guitar intro to “Superstition” without grooving on out, you are dead inside. 


Purity Ring @ Terminal 5
Friday, June 2– 7:00pm ($25)
An eclectic electronic-pop duo from Alberta, Canada, composed of vocalist Megan James and producer Corin Roddick, Purity Ring stepped into the spotlight with their majestic 2012 album Shrines and they are currently gearing up to release their sophomore LP in March. James’ distinct child-like vocals and Roddick’s space cadet, trap-infused instrumentals make for an interesting combination. Not to mention, their music videos are consistently awesome and their live shows are an experience to behold. James has a magnetic stage presence and Roddick bangs on an LED-lit, octopus-like instrument in the background. You won't want to miss this colorful spectacle for anything (unless you are broke because you already bought your Stevie Wonder tickets). 


By Martin Blondet ‘16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Juan Wauters talks riding solo and college performances in anticipation of his SLC debut

John David Crosby interviewed Juan Wauters, a Uruguayan singer/songwriter who will perform at SLC this Friday. Photo courtesy Juan Wauters

John David Crosby interviewed Juan Wauters, a Uruguayan singer/songwriter who will perform at SLC this Friday. Photo courtesy Juan Wauters

In 2000, Alberto Wauters immigrated to Queens from Uruguay. Two years later, his son Juan joined him. Their story is one that has become familiar rhetoric used by politicians and fictionalized by writers—an odyssey of sorts. Yet as cliché as Juan Wauters’ story is, it is equally as real. Coming to the States at age seventeen,  without many friends and little family, Wauters’ turned took solace in listening to music and eventually delved into songwriting and lyricism.

His first music project was The Beets: a garage-folk band for which Wauters’ was the architect, primarily singing and writing the songs. It contrasted a vintage, folk lyricism against a more grungy, dirtier sound. Songs like “You Don’t Want the Kids to be Dead” and “Cold Lips” helped shape the band’s likeness to older groups of the early sixties’ such as The Hollies or The Pretty Things.

In 2014, Wauters’ released his album N.A.P. North American Poetry which featured the brilliant song “Water”. Pitchfork Magazine called Wauters’ a type of “playground philosopher...staring hearts and daggers into the center of the universe behind a pair of beat up Ray-Bans.”

The New York Observer also praised Wauters’, declaring that he is “the next big singer-songwriter…a hipster prince, [and] indie visionary.”

Ahead of his show here at Sarah Lawrence, I interviewed Juan over the phone, as he sat in his apartment in Queens. One of the nicest people I’ve interviewed, he is a real conversationalist; we spoke first about his tour— he will be passing through my hometown in North Carolina, so I have to tell him where to get good barbeque. We talked about his home country, about Uruguayan football and the World Cup (about which he is, like most of his countrymen, extremely passionate) and finally about his music: his American Dream of sorts.

John David Crosby: You’re playing Sarah Lawrence to kick off the new tour, and then you’re up to Wesleyan University and later James Madison University in Virginia. How do like playing college crowds compared to larger music venues or festivals?

Juan Wauters: I love it, it’s different you know? It’s different because college kids come with their friends and their groups, and they treat it as like a party on campus. It’s funny, because in some ways, I feel like a house band at someone’s party.

JDC: Does that mean you have to sort of work for the crowd at these places? More than you usually would?

JW: No, not exactly. College kids are really fun, so they’ll typically have a good time no matter what. [On tour] We’ve had some great after-parties too, so that’s always a plus.

JDC: Do you prefer this crowd  best then?

JW: I generally like any crowd that comes out when I’m playing!

JDC: The people you’ve worked with on N.A.P. make up quite an international band. Does that bring something to the table musically? You’ve worked with a core group of musicians from Israel, Japan, Argentina, and Mexico.

JW: Yeah, absolutely. They all bring some sort of style and sound that’s new and refreshing. It’s nice, because everyone is very different. I’m not working with them on this tour though, since I’m going for a new setup.

JDC: What sort of setup?

JW: I’m really interested in the idea of the traditional singers of the sixties’, particularly Alfredo Zitarrosa, who is this Uruguayan folk and traditional singer. He was incredible. So, because I’m interested in that, the band for this tour consists of just me on vocals and some piano, and two guitarists accompanying me. I wanted a change from the old setup, because I don’t really like playing with the same band over and over.

JDC: Why is that?

JW: Well, I’m very comfortable playing alone, writing music for myself, and I like playing with different players. It helps me grow as a musician. I am always searching for that right sound, that right direction. And hopefully I never find that, because I can continue to push myself to find new outlets in search of that perfect sound.

JDC: I want to ask you about the difference in songwriting for yourself, as opposed to for The Beets. For some, going solo can seem limiting, as it’s just you and your instrument instead of three or four other musicians who offer other options and outlets musically. How have you changed as a songwriter?

JW: Honestly, I feel more “free” as a songwriter than I ever did as a member of The Beets. For The Beets I wrote a bunch of these songs that I thought wouldn’t work for our sound. I would write stuff and save it for later, and now I can really go in any direction and use anything I like. I really love playing alone, and I’m still finding myself –my voice–which is the most important thing I think.

JDC: Playing alone also instills a lot of confidence in one, like it hits you and you think ‘wow I really can do this alone,’ which must be a really rewarding feeling.

JW: Absolutely, I think I’ve gained confidence in all aspects, you know? I feel really good about writing, performing, music, and lyrics.

JDC: You’ve put out a new single: “Wearing Leather, Wearing Fur”. It’s a duet with Carmelle Safdie. How did this come about? Were you looking to do some sort of musical collaboration?

JW: It just sort of happened. Carmelle featured on a couple of songs from N.A.P and she’s really fun to play with. I think the song is really weird, and it’s like fifteen minutes, which nobody ever does. But I like it, and it was fun for us to work on. It’s totally weird, but in a good way!

JDC: You’re from Uruguay, but you left at seventeen. You didn’t get to return for a while either, right?

JW: Yeah, because of my improper paperwork I didn’t go back for a while. I go back now a lot, but I don’t call it home. My family lives in Queens, so I don’t even have a home in Uruguay anymore. I still see friends of course, but my home is Queens.

JDC: So, would you consider yourself more American or Uruguayan? Obviously, you will always have that Uruguayan heritage ingrained.

JW: Yeah, I will always have Uruguay, and I love that. I am extremely proud of that. But I would say I am as American as I am Uruguayan. I’m a proud American citizen now, and an equally proud of being a citizen of Queens!

Catch Wauters in action when he performs at SLC on Fri., Feb. 13.

by John David Crosby '17

The Top 10 Best Albums of 2014

It was a weird year for music. 

Taylor Swift reinvented herself as the unwelcomed ambassador to New York City. Millions of people everywhere figured out how to remove U2’s new album from their iTunes library. Tom Petty scored a win for every AARP member still rocking out by finally achieving a Billboard Number One Album chart topper. Jack White got a really cool haircut while releasing the best-ever-selling vinyl for his record Lazaretto. Finally—and most recently—the lead singer from Creed became homeless and penniless. 

It seemed to be the year of comebacks and debuts in albums. Bands and artists like Royal Blood, Temples, FKA Twigs, Interpol, and Todd Terje all had an incredible 2014. Spoon, TV on the Radio, and Damon Albarn came back stronger than ever. Sophomore slumps seemed far rarer than not, and the likes of The Orwells, Jack White, Future Islands, and Parquet Courts heavily outweighed the underwhelming works by Warpaint and Foster the People. 

While it seemed impossible to top 2013’s year in music, there was no AM or Modern Vampires of the City or …Like Clockwork,  the music gods managed to send some gems this way. After all, it is the time of year where many publications release their Albums of The Year, and The Phoenix is no different! So without further ado, here are the 10 Best Albums of 2014:

10.    TV On The Radio – Seeds
TV On the Radio is the most recent arrival on this list, with Seeds just being released on November 18. It is the band’s first album since the death of bassist Gerard Smith, and it is a fantastic return. TV On the Radio has always been soulful and funky, but they exude those qualities on this record. “Happy Idiot” is the most danceable tune on the record, but there is no artificial pop element mixed in; there is no sort of over-production or engineering in the song or really the record. 
Key Track: “Happy Idiot”

9.    Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
It is fascinating to think that this is Damon Albarn’s debut solo album. After being frontman for the Britpop band Blur and co-founder of the virtual band Gorillaz, the singer/songwriter has churned out a beautifully melancholy record in Everyday Robots. The title song and opening track sets the tone of the album with a piercing string section and somber lyricism by Albarn. 
Key Track: “Lonely Press Play”

8.    Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
The intro to this album deserves recognition for it’s creative mix of electronic funk, - and the fact it’s called It’s Album Time. For fans of electronic music, Todd Terje has become a household name, and upon its release It’s Album Time has received top tier reviews. The album does well with combating the notion that all electronic music sounds the same, just look at track 8: “Alfonso Muskedunder – an eclectic mix of jazz and electronic music. 
Key Track: “Intro (It’s Album Time)”

7.    Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
Certainly the feel-good record of the year, Salad Days lyrically and musically achieves DeMarco probable aim: a very relaxed, vintage vibe. DeMarco is a Sarah Lawrence staple since headlining SLC’s S.L.A.M. FEST last year, utilizing his “college-sound.” There was no doubt that his album was met with great acclaim. not only by colleges nationwide but also by critics. Demarco incorporates African music, reggae, and independent rock into an eclectic mix of vintage sounding rock.
 Key Track: “Blue Boy”

6.    Spoon – They Want My Soul
Spoon does something exceptionally well on every album they release: they make pure rock and roll, the kind that never seems to grow old. With their first album in 2010, and lead singer/songwriter Britt Daniels off of working with indie super group Divine Fits, Spoon has made a solid comeback. Opening with “Rent I Pay,” Daniels and co. brings back a vintage sound that Spoon has perfected. They Want My Soul takes a turn with possibly the most beautiful song of the year “Inside Out”: a synth ballad utilizing Divine Fits’ own Alex Fichel’s keyboard abilities. The title track, “They Want My Soul,” holds the wittiest lyrics on the album, even referencing former Spoon track “Jonathan Swift.”
Key Track: “Inside Out”

5.    The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Though The War On Drugs were called out by Sun Kil Moon earlier this year for being “a beer commercial band,” Lost in the Dream cannot be denied its place amongst the greats of 2014. Living up to its hype and critical acclaim, the album opens with the beautiful and long-winded “Under the Pressure,” which seems to set the tempo for the album: an aesthetically pleasing, classic rock album that succeeds in producing a beautiful vintage sound. 
Key Track: “Under the Pressure”

4.    Royal Blood – Royal Blood
The heaviest of all albums on the list, but by far one of the best, Brighton duo Royal Blood broke thru this year via supporting Arctic Monkeys throughout their European tour. They also succeeded in achieving the fastest-selling debut album in Britain in the last three years. Royal Blood is a fast-paced and driving record that mirrors the work of The White Stripes, with just a drummer and guitarist providing the hard-rock sound that they have managed to make. Royal Blood has also become known as a fantastic live act (they have just recently been named supporters for Foo Fighters nationwide tour next year).
Key Track: “Figure It Out”

3.    Jack White – Lazaretto
Jack White’s second solo record has boosted his reputation as one of the most influential artists of his generation. The experimentation he exhibits makes the album possibly the most original record of the year, filling songs with fiddle solos, eardrum-bursting guitar effects, and even making the first single off the album, “High Ball Stepper,” an instrumental piece. The record is a step forward from his last one, Blunderbuss, musically, with an emphasis on fiddle, electric guitar and a more original lyrical pattern. Jack White also became one of the most acclaimed live acts in the world this year, performing off of both Lazaretto and Blunderbuss as well as including tracks from The White Stripes and The Dead Weather. He will be performing at Madison Square Garden on January 30, 2015. 
Key Track: “Would You Fight For My Love”

2.    The Antlers – Familiars
The Brooklyn band has always had a knack of making quintessentially “indie” records, often including just enough musical creativity, artistic lyrics, a little pretention and a dreamy, melancholy vibe. However, Familiars has perfected this musical melancholia. Nine songs, each titled with a single word help set the stage for an album that sounds as if it was composed of nine beautiful epics. Musically, The Antlers draw off of smooth and dreamy compositions incorporating horns, piano, airy guitar effects, and lead singer’s, Peter Silberman’s, – often falsetto – vocals, all leading to a climatic crescendo. Yet, though all nine tracks follow a pattern, no two songs off the album sound the same. 
Key Track: “Hotel”

1.    Temples – Sun Structures
Having recently been praised by Rough Trade Records as number 1 on their top 100, Temples’ debut album comes through on top again. It’s a classic sounding album with a retro feel and look. With mystic lyrics reminiscent of a 1968 summer rather than a 2014 one, Temples has created a record that is vintage, yet original enough to captivate modern audiences. Musically, the record is up-tempo and filled with driving bass riffs accompanied by psychedelic guitar riffs found off of an Eric Burdon and The Animals record (but with even longer hair). Singer/Guitarist James Bagshaw and bassist Thomas Warmsley compliment each other vocally on the record, with incredible harmonies showcased as drummer Sam Toms drives the album forward.
Key Track: “Question Isn’t Answered”

by John David Crosby ’17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Father and Son Create an Original Album, “Sukierae”

Jeff Tweedy and his son, Spencer. Photo via  The New York Times

Jeff Tweedy and his son, Spencer. Photo via The New York Times

Many alternative rock lovers are familiar with the name Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of Wilco, a band formed in Chicago twenty years ago.

However, they might not be familiar with Spencer Tweedy, Jeff Tweedy’s 18-year-old son. Spencer, who has grown up with the musical influence of his father, joined him in making what would have been Jeff’s next solo album. The album, Sukierae, confronts the difficulties of relationships in addition to the themes of death, love, and time. In the midst of the creation of the album, Sue Miller, Jeff’s wife and Spencer’s mother, was diagnosed with lymphoma. “Sukierae” is a nickname Jeff called his wife, and the father and son duo decided to dedicate this album to her. Many of the songs are reflective of her current condition and the father’s and son’s reactions to it. The album is both playful and upbeat as well as dark and somber.

Jeff told the New York Times that he “would never call [making the album] collaborating—it’s just fun…It’s rooted in sharing something that we find enjoyable to do, like sitting down with Matchbox cars or building Lego sets.”

The album was released in September while Wilco was already on tour. At one of their concerts in Port Chester, N.Y. on Oct. 30, Spencer stood backstage singing along to his father’s songs. Bopping his head up and down and smiling, it was clear that Spencer was excited to see his father perform with his band. The Tweedys are currently on tour in Europe, singing many of the 20 songs that comprise this beautiful album. 

One of the most well-known songs off of Sukierae, “Summer Noon,” holds itself to the highest standards of Wilco fans. It feels reminiscent of youth and warm memories. At times it has a hopeful tone, like when Tweedy Sr. sings, “Summer noon I can always stay,” in an excited manner. The song was featured in the highly regarded film “Boyhood” that came out this past summer.

“World Away” is a much more intense song that consists of striking drum beats and might even remind the listener of The Black Keys, to an extent. The lyrics are sung in a shortened, matter-of-fact way. Jeff sings, “Out of bounds of maps crawl / over the mounds of bones / is how I came to call you lonesome / over the telephone / over the microphone.” We get a sense of a lonely loved one, or even a stranger, that the father and son might be analyzing or reflecting upon. However, as Jeff’s lyrics are often interpreted in many ways, listeners can interpret its meaning on their own.

“Wait for Love” appears to be directed towards a lover once again. The whistling in the background of the song makes it both cheery and dreamy. The duo sings, “I still wanna look in your eyes and say I’ll wait for you.” This is a stunning line and might be directed towards Mrs. Tweedy.

“Low Key” proves to have more of a naïve tone. Tweedy Sr. sings, “I’ll always be your fool/and when it looks like I don’t care/I’m just playing it cool.” This song is easy to dance to as the melody constantly jumps up and down. There are female voices in the background, which also provide a more uplifting tone.

“Pigeons” is a quieter song. The line, “Let’s sing our songs for the pigeons / as common as religion / high on high on Mt. Zion / we’re all dandelions / all dandelions,” is a lovely, powerful lyric perhaps suggesting each of our own lives might be as small as “dandelions” but we should all still “sing.” 

“Nobody Dies Anymore” begins with a drumbeat that is quickly silenced by a guitar. Jeff’s voice is slow and tired at the start of the song, which sets the tone for the subject of the song. He sings, “Love every song that I know / you ask me well how so / strange I can’t defend / I love how every song ends.” This song could perhaps be about his wife. He wishes that “Nobody dies anymore / nobody dies / nobody dies.” It leaves the listener both impressed by the questioning of the subject matter and relaxed by its quiet tone.

Overall, this father and son team has created an album that incorporates both Spencer’s drum style and acoustic ideas while keeping Jeff’s poetic lyrics and originality. It is the perfect album for a long car ride, or simply for studying or hanging out with friends. On the surface, the songs are relaxing, but once one truly dissects the lyrics, the listener might never fully grasp what Tweedy is trying to say. Maybe that’s part of the album’s magic, however. It is safe to say in the words of Tweedy, “I can’t defend / I love how every song ends.” Well, we love the beginning and middle, too.

by Palmer Smith '17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

New first-year band Studio Picnic makes a splash on campus

Evan Berger and Anthony Vang jam on stage in the Black Squirrel. Photo courtesy Studio Picnic.

Evan Berger and Anthony Vang jam on stage in the Black Squirrel. Photo courtesy Studio Picnic.

Studio Picnic is the name of Evan Berger ‘18 's new band. Berger is an aspiring musician at Sarah Lawrence, originally from Cleveland. He has teamed up with Anthony Vang ‘18, who hails from Memphis, Tenn. "It's a project that we discussed for a while before coming here, over Facebook,” said Vang. “We shared music, we talked about things we wanted and now that we're here we're hoping to get it started.”

Berger and Vang often play for Berger’s roommates in Hill House. They have started performing at different areas on campus, such as the Yoko Ono sculpture on South Lawn and Open Mic Night at The Black Squirrel.

Their songs are primarily marketed through social media: SoundCloud, Facebook and Twitter.  Soon, they will distribute freshly printed business cards. Their music has been favorable among close listeners, who hope to see them perform professionally in the future.  "It's kind of like a John Mayer, Jack Johnson kind of thing,” said Berger’s roommate Chris Duffy ‘18. “It's very feel-good. There's a little bit of longing in it. Like longing for better times. Longing for the stress to go away.”

Albert Riley ‘18, another roommate of Berger’s, remarked, "I think the production of their music, Evan's music engineering skills...he's really good at that. The only thing he needs to work on is his voice. I think he can definitely be successful at making the music.”

Berger started playing music when he was about 10 years old and is a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, drums, bass, piano, trumpet and the “bull roar,” which is an aborigine instrument. Vang is also a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, piano, mandolin and harmonica, though he usually chooses vocals and guitar.

"We each bring in our own elements,” said Vang. “On bass Evan likes to have a more complicated groovy feel, yet while playing guitar he likes to keep it simple, almost resembling a kind of mellow rock pop. And I come from a sort of jazz and prog-metal type background, so I try to bring in those elements.”

"Evan's great and we get along really well,” added Vang about his bandmate. “Really we just need some more people we can get along well with who can make music with us."

Studio Picnic is in the market for a permanent drummer. Since their time at SLC, Berger and Vang have been able to pick up other musicians to play with them. Libai Jordan ‘18 is a violinist and singer who occasionally plays with them, adding his own sound to the mix.

Jordan explained, "We've been jamming in Evan's room. On the South Lawn we actually jammed for a couple hours on top of Yoko. Some people stopped by and were like 'hey, that's cool.'"

As a singer, Jordan has expressed interest in doing the vocals for Studio Picnic: “That might be happening. [Berger] might repost songs on his SoundCloud instead with my voice.”

"I've listened to them about three times a week," notes Hannah Ford ‘18, who has occasionally stopped by Berger’s room to hear them perform.

Prior to SLC, Berger played at The Red Lion, a restaurant and bar in downtown Manhattan, on Mondays. As he is under 21, his performances were limited to the restaurant section of The Red Lion.

Berger noted that he is seeking more opportunities to play for an audience, while also reflecting on why he plays music: “I play music because it's a coping mechanism for me. It's my way to dissolve my triggers from forming again. As a child I was...scared of the world, scared of speaking, scared of thinking wrong...but music was my voice. And I didn't find that voice until I was around 10 or 13.”

Berger thought of the name Studio Picnic when he was at a studio in Nashville, Tenn. called Cyber Production Studios. "We couldn't go out because we were in the middle of nowhere," he explained. “So the studio musicians went out and brought back Subway sandwiches to the studio, so it was literally a ‘Studio Picnic.’"

"Hopefully we'll be able to open for some larger acts and play a few shows for the surrounding community," said Vang. Both Berger and Vang agreed that the South Lawn performances and Open Mic Night were just the beginning.

"You'll definitely be hearing a lot more Studio Picnic in the coming semester," said Berger.

Check out Studio Picnic at

by Joseph McFarland '16


SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

U2 Own the new U2 album

U2 performing at Madison Square Garden in 2005  Image © Wikimedia Commons

U2 performing at Madison Square Garden in 2005

Image © Wikimedia Commons

This past week, U2 released their new album, Songs of Innocence, for free to everyone with an active iTunes account—whether you wanted the album or not. Of course this is not to say that free music is a new phenomena. With the Single of the Week on iTunes and sites like Bandcamp, Youtube and Soundcloud, artists have plenty of ways to entice new followers to listen to their music with a free song or two. Even putting out a free album is not completely unheard of. But U2 really went the extra mile. You already own Songs of Innocence. It is already on your computer, tablet and smartphone. After receiving many complaints, iTunes was forced to create a specific button that enabled users to delete the album.  Still, it is a bit of a drag to delete something you never wanted in the first place.

Is this the new thing to do in the music industry? Should I expect the next Rolling Stones album to wake me up in the middle of the night as a free gift? I do like the idea of being able to experience new music in such an easily accessible way, but I do not think this will be a widely used option in music distribution. Sources say that Apple spent 100 million dollars on this album and I am pretty sure they would not be willing to spend that kind of money on a band that doesn’t have the same name recognition as Bono and U2.

Also, I have trouble believing that U2 is doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. Though Apple is donating money to RED (an AIDS charity) in exchange for rights to release the record, the band is still making money off of this. In less than a month they will be releasing an extended edition of Innocence, which will include even newer songs and seven acoustic editions. This version of the album will not be available on iTunes, apparently to appease other retailers that are missing out on money from the first release of the record. Though I do not personally know anyone who is not happy with just the amount of U2 they got, I am sure fans will not hesitate in shelling out big bucks to make Innocence a success.

The album contains nothing truly surprising; it’s just more of the same sound U2 has produced for years. I can practically feel Bono wearing sunglasses through my speakers. The first single, “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” which you can expect to see in an iPhone 6 commercial any day now, has gotten the most hype, but still falls short in comparison to anything from the glory days of U2. “Raised by Wolves” and “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” both produced by Danger Mouse (The Black Keys) are two of the better songs on the record and have a sound that is nothing short of scintillating.

Perhaps U2 thought that this new album would help them gain a new generation of fans. Still, I cannot help but imagine a teenager walking down the street, listening to their iPod and being pleasantly surprised by a song they have never heard before. They look at the title and notice that the song is by U2. At first they wonder how this ended up on their iPod, but then they say to themselves, “I didn’t think U2 was still a thing.”

by Lily Frenette '18

Lily Frenette is a first year at Sarah Lawrence who is studying writing. When not complaining about burned out British rock bands, she can be found doing exciting things, like homework.

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is a grim, yet triumphant, 'absurdist chronology'

photo by Ellie Brumbaum '17

photo by Ellie Brumbaum '17

Two deaths punctuate Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, the new, absurdist chronology of Peanut Butter Wolf and his beloved Stones Throw Records. Though J Dilla was widely known before signing to PBW‘s label and Charizma never made music under the imprint, the two talents’ respective passings mark the creation and recreation of what is perhaps music’s strangest family tree.

Charizma, a dear friend of Wolf’s, is endeared to us via glimpses into the goofy, profound bond the two shared. “Together forever,” they repeat to a disbelieving interviewer. The hurt is only more palpable, then, when he is taken from us. The early framing of Charizma as one of the film’s main protagonists makes Wolf’s increasing hunger for success in tragedy’s wake all the more understandable. We mourn in unison with Wolf, Our Vinyl‘s lone standing hero.

Out of what he calls a “desperate” need for his music with Charizma to be heard, Wolf forges onward and founds Stones Throw. Instead of launching into the rest of the label’s history, we jump to the present for vignettes of the label’s most impressive current artists. Homeboy Sandman ponders on and nails what makes Stones Throw special (“they find artists, they don’t create artists”); Jonwayne makes a beat from his Newton’s cradle, among other things; and Guilty Simpson and Jonti are spliced together as evidence of the label’s paradoxical roster.

Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton is a jovial exploration of how style and substance careen off one another. Weaving the sloppier elements (grainy old show and studio footage, bizarre montages) with crisper pieces (hi-def interviews, perfectly remastered snippets of Stones Throw classics), Broadway delivers a tangible story of immense, crisp talent with an overarching distaste for rules, regulations, and cleanliness.

The dirty flash of Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton justifies itself, frame after immaculate frame. The film is stuffed with gorgeous shots of vast, bustling record shops, the LA skyline, rollicking, dapper parties, and palm tree after palm tree. Each of the interview settings is intelligent and engaging, yet never distracting. Madlib is enthroned on leather, Earl Sweatshirt squirms in a wicker chair, and Kanye reclines on a pristine suede sofa, his marble relics clearly visible in the background.

One interview shot stands apart from the rest. The camera peers down from the ballroom ceiling, and we see a slim figure, slumped in silence, his head and black fedora angling toward the floor. This is Peanut Butter Wolf, in the wake of the film’s second pivotal loss: the passing of J Dilla. Though Donuts was the Detroit legend’s only solo release on Stones Throw during his lifetime, Dilla receives nearly as much screen time as the label’s crown jewel, Madlib, and double Charizma’s emotional fanfare. We are wrenched by an old video of Dilla being wheeled out on stage one last time, and sympathize with Madlib’s departure from hip-hop when his friend passes.

The central, lone Wolf is deeply affected, too. Post-Dilla, PBW is freed by grieving into the oddest planes of his artistic taste. Stones spirals into absurdity, and though director Broadway does not shy away from criticizing his subject, all criticism is done with a resilient trust in Wolf. “A lot of labels put out what they think will do well. Wolf presses his little brother’s punk brand,” we hear, before seeing that average-to-bad punk band in action.

With death acting so prominently as the film’s (and the label’s) engine, it seems Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton would come out a rather grim, even trudging piece. Luckily, the film never lacks energy, and often boasts consistent laughs. Among the most energizing moments are our glimpses into the film’s many subjects’ mutual love. It is hard not to be giddy as ?uestlove recounts Dilla telling him that Madlib’s music was over ?uest’s head, that the LA producer could only be making music for Dilla himself. The film works largely as a comedy as well: try not to laugh at Earl’s weird posture, Kanye’s description of Dilla’s drums (“like good pussy”), or Madlib’s description of the work process for Madvillainy: “The only thing we did together was a lot of chocolate shrooms.” One of the best, fullest laughs comes on slowly, as the poorly-wigged, off pitch Folerio makes his first appearance, and those of us who were unacquainted slowly realize…Folerio is Wolf! The sight of the otherwise unassuming Wolf in a shimmering black wig, missing high notes by miles is hilarious, but it is more. The moment serves as a testament to a man and his team willing to travel endlessly inward and onward in the name of creativity and strangeness. Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton is a triumph: it is Wolf’s eighteen years of sustained, twisted lightening, captured in a lightening-shaped bottle.

by Ben Sherak '16

Schoolboy Q makes 'Gangster' an oxymoron

original artwork by Vasaris Balzekas '17

original artwork by Vasaris Balzekas '17

Wearing a pair of gold-rimmed, perfect-circle glasses and a top hat to match, ScHoolboy Q rubs his scruffy struggle beard and grumbles, half asleep, “I’m a gangster rapper, that’s who I am.” On the press run for his third studio LP, Oxymoron, Q has made it very clear how squarely he thinks he fits into the “gangster rap” category. The rap world’s collective agreement with his claim speaks to how far modern hip-hop is willing to let its normally icy machismo wander. To a larger and more abstract extent, Q’s challenging of the Gangster role shows how the world’s shifting perception of gender and masculinity is seeping into all areas of life.

ScHoolboy Q, the squawking goofball who hangs out with Mac Miller and calls himself “chubby” on records and “whack” in interviews is the Gangster Rapper of the moment. The genre has been home to rappers both self-deprecatingly funny (The Notorious B.I.G. called himself fat and ugly) and eccentric (Cam’ron and his affinity for pink) in the past, but no one has ever been as sloppy or self-deprecating as Q. 

The hook to “Gangsta,” track one on Oxymoron and a vicious ode to the Crip life that Q was long a part of, is a brute, uninhibited force. “Gangsta, gangsta, gangsta” he chants, with frightening venom. While certainly hyper-masculine, there is a vulnerable tinge to Q’s unhinged, mad-eyed performance. Cave-mannish lyrics aside, “Gangsta” remains important because of how far it lands Q from the forced composure of his Gangster Rap predecessors. ScHoolboy himself has often pointed, in interviews, to the dead-eyed 50 Cent as a defining beacon of the genre. Q has referred to himself as the hollow money machine “Puffy” (a.k.a. P. Diddy) countless times on Twitter. Absent from Q’s persona is the steely reserve of 50 and Diddy before him; it is replaced with tangible, approachable emotion. 

The content of Q’s lyrics, given the context of recent interviews, further challenges the typical notion of masculinity. On “Gangsta,” he chants, “They say they want that gangsta ****.” Track four, “What They Want,” echoes the sentiment: “This that **** that they want…This that **** they gon’ buy.” In claiming that he is only responding to a demand, Q ceases to endorse these individual representations of gang life as being the whole story.

 “It's embarrassing for me to even really be talking about it in detail. …Why would I go and do all that type of stuff, and take time away from my daughter," Q asked recently, on Hot 97. The ex-gangbanger is more than aware of how sinful his past life was. While he regrets it, he remains thankfully far from parodying gang culture. Instead, he is helping to portray it in a more honest, grim, and often unattractive manner.

Oxymoron reaches its ugly, cautionary peak on the semi-title track, “Prescription/Oxymoron.” In the opening half, Q details his addiction to Oxycontin pills in painful detail: “Dinner on my shirt, my stomach hurts / I had a ball sellin' 80s but yo, the karma's worse / I cry when nothing’s wrong.” To add to the lyrics’ wrenching effect, Q’s own daughter is featured on the track, crying out to her father, “What’s wrong, daddy? Wake up!” It is hard to imagine anything further from the polished cool of 50 Cent’s “What Up Gangsta,” a song that begins with the image of Superman’s S on his chest. ScHoolboy is so much more flawed, damaged, and passionate than 50 Cent. ScHoolboy is concerned with consequences—on Oxymoron, no deed, good or “gangsta,” goes unpunished.

Once the sad, clicking beat of “Prescription” slips us into Q’s coma along with him, the eager menace of “Oxymoron” slaps to life. Q becomes a cocky dealer, selling the very same pills that nearly took his life in the song’s first half.  Astute listeners will note that “Oxymoron” actually covers events that took place before “Prescription.” Q calls our attention to the consequences of a reckless, unsympathetic way of life by first wrenching us with an addict’s tale, and then showing us the dealer gloating about his sales.

ScHoolboy Q’s gangsta world is a distinctly human, unpolished mess in progress. The efforts on the part of the Black Hippy spitter to produce valuable tales of street life that are musically enjoyable and realistic are valiant, and, further, his very existence is important. As one of the year’s headlines and the culture’s tastemakers-to-be, Q’s authentic, well-rounded, challenging version of the “gangsta” persona is not only a solid step for hip-hop culture but for gender politics. If artists as stereotyped as Gangster Rappers can continue to push their boundaries, we move toward a world where the definition of masculinity more comfortably accepts reflection, vulnerability, passion, pain, and, ultimately, well-rounded people and honest success.

by Ben Sherak '16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Ben Sherak '16 breaks down his top rap picks of 2014

From the struggling twitter-dwellers to the predicted stars of tomorrow, rappers of all types have been trying to ensure that this year will be their year. High quality tracks have been plentiful, but few have reached the true upper-echelon of transcendently exciting, fun, or inspiring music. Luckily, though, there have been seven tracks that stand tall, that will likely still be as impressive once year-end list season rolls around.

Here they are:

7. Future Featuring Pusha-T, Pharrell & Casino (Produced by Mike WiLL Made It) – “Move That Dope”

Of all the entries on this list, “Move That Dope” is most indicative hip-hop radio’s status quo, but if that includes Pusha, Pharrell and Future, the radio might be a good place to love hip-hop. Future, breaking drunk-robot form, uses a human voice to deliver inhuman, confounding flows that challenge the listener in the best of ways. Pusha continues to expertly poeticize his Kanye-sized attitude (“Wearin’ designer s**t that I misspell”) but the true gem is Pharrell, who slides out of the producer’s chair long enough to deliver a wrap-around-the-beat double time verse.

 6. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib Featuring Earl Sweatshirt & Domo Genesis  "Robes"

Freddie Gibbs is the meanest rapper currently making music; Earl Sweatshirt is an awkward teenager; Madlib is the most prolifically strange and diverse producer of all time; and Domo Genesis is, by all accounts, average. Here, Earl rocks the sonic bed-head he prefers lately, offering a few spurts of cockeyed self-mythologizing: “Threw his demons off the cliff / The scenic route below, tires screaming in the mist.” The other true highlight is a Madlib beat that leaves chopped bits of soul lying collage-like on the floor. 

 5. Isaiah Rashad – “RIP Kevin Miller”

When Isaiah Rashad signed to TDE, Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q’s label, expectations were set near Everest. “RIP Kevin Miller,” reveals that the world may be lucky enough to see those expectations met. Rashad sounds like a Southern-tinged mix between Kendrick and 2Pac and works in simple, bold statements: “If I die today / know my legacy is straight / I’m the best they never heard / I’m your brother, just relate.” Both the molasses-thick hook and verses are catchy, their chant-like nature birthing memorable piece of language and music after memorable piece. 

4. Dyme-a-Duzin – “White Girl”

Most hip-hop that people throw on for parties has at least a few of the following: a platinum-selling star driving the track, a menacing trap beat, a genre-bending tune, or, on this campus at least, a female or queer rhymer. Dyme-A-Duzin’s wild, jazzy “White Girl” offers none of these, yet is somehow a viable party song. Over a quick snare beat designed to make you jump around, Dymez twists his tongue with a distinct slickness that not only livens up the already raucous party but also casts him as the cool and collected centerpiece. 

 3. Mac Miller – “Erica’s House”

The funniest rap song of the year’s thus far also one of the best. Mac Miller, cozying to his role as the rap game’s increasingly trippy former-bro cousin, raps like he is bored with the acid he has just taken. He is self aware, he is absurdist, he is hilarious: “Let’s go to Syria and have a war / Stop calling me Macklemore / That's not my name, well kinda…it's kind of my name.” The rest of the lines are too gleefully vulgar to print —journey to Soundcloud and enjoy.

 2. Alex Wiley Featuring Mick Jenkins – “Forever”

Boasting two innovative verses and clocking in at under two minutes, “Forever” has the most talent per square second of any rap song in recent memory. Sounding like an immensely talented real-life Eric Cartman, Alex Wiley starts “Forever” with some sputtering sing-rap, his flows as pretty as he is ugly (Google him). For once, though, he is outshined--the calculated and passionate Mick Jenkins spits pure poetry: “Man I been tryna keep it--potent / My people blind and they thirsty, they hungry, they hurting, they searching for water I brought an--ocean,” Jenkins raps, pausing before each final word, pacing his sermon like a true master of ceremonies. 

 1. ScHoolboy Q – “Break The Bank”

ScHoolboy Q is the best hip-hop artist of the moment. He is far from the best rapper, though: hundreds of people in the world can run laps around Q’s wordplay, imagery, storytelling, rhyme schemes, or punch lines. However, when it comes to grabbing your ear with catchy hooks and a raw, aggressive attitude, the South Central MC is unmatched. “Break The Bank,” is a swerving 4AM ride along with Q at his most sneering and determined. The balance between his sloppiness (a decidedly non-melodic hook) and his craftsmanship (the mirror-image rhyme schemes of each verse) is what sets this coming-of-age drug tale apart from and above the rest. 

By Ben Sherak '16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.