I’m Henry Bova, a second-year honor’s student at Northeastern University majoring in Journalism. I have written articles for Entrepreneur.com, Tastemakers Music Magazine, Yale Daily News and more. I am originally from New York and am now based out of Boston.Check out some of my work below!
Ime Udoka Suspension Complicates Celtics’ Fans Feelings Towards Him
Following a finals appearance in Ime Udoka’s first season at the helm, the last thing Celtics fans thought they’d need to worry about this offseason was coaching. The news of the head coach’s year-long suspension has upended that entirely.
“I was in disbelief, and I’m still in disbelief,” said Aaroh Jugulum, a second-year math and finance major at Northeastern. “I thought after the Finals in June we were heading in the right direction, and now this happens.”
The Celtics put out a press release on Thursday confirming reports that Udoka was in a relationship with a female staffer which violated team guidelines, and added that his future with the team would be determined at a later date. Reports of the suspension leaked late Wednesday night, with the cause unknown until Thursday morning.
“Everything was super vague. I did not know what was going on,” said Jugulum. The next morning, I saw he was facing a year-long suspension, and I was shocked.”
Udoka, who has been engaged to actress Nia Long for seven years, was initially reported to be in a “consensual” relationship with the anonymous staffer. As details have slowly emerged, such as how he made “unwanted comments” toward her in July, many wonder what the full story really is.
“The more information that comes out, the worse it’s looking for him,” said Mitch Whelan, a second-year math major at Northeastern. “I initially thought the season long punishment was extreme, but now I’m understanding the situation more. He let us down.”
The suspension came following a two-month long investigation launched by the Celtics’ organization in July. As key facts of the story continue to surface, reactions of frustration with Udoka’s behavior have become increasingly prevalent.
“He exhibited great character and demanded great character out of his team,” said Chuck Fountain, longtime sportswriter and retired Northeastern journalism professor. “For his undoing to be a character failure on his part was a disappointment. This is a lose-lose situation. They had that code of conduct, and he was in clear violation of it.”
Disappointment may be elevated because of how successful Udoka was in his first season as head coach. After a shaky start, the Celtics dominated the rest of the season and earned an NBA Finals berth against the Golden State Warriors. The team lost in six games, but Udoka’s impact was noticeable.
“I don’t think last year’s team was built to be a Finals team,” said John Karalis, writer for the Boston Sports Journal and host of the podcast “Locked on Celtics.” “Ime Udoka got a lot out of those guys, and he rode everyone hard to achieve what they achieved.”
His intensity resonated with players last season. Though the offensive talent of players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown paired with the defensive prowess of Marcus Smart and Robert Williams helped power the team to a championship appearance, Udoka established that gritty team identity.
“You saw an edge develop,” said Karalis. “One of the things I wrote when they were struggling was ‘they need to find an asshole to put on the team.’ They still don’t have it necessarily, but they grew into a tougher collective team with Udoka.”
With Udoka out of the picture for 2022-2023, assistant coach Joe Mazzulla will serve as the interim replacement. A finalist for the Utah Jazz’s head coaching job this offseason, Mazzulla is tasked with keeping the Celtics on track for a title run. The team will have to prove that their talented roster can rise above this disruption.
“Controversy aside, they’re still a good team,” said Karalis. “It would say a lot if this tore them apart.”
Udoka’s return to the team certainly hinges on the team’s success — or lack thereof — without him, but it also depends on what further information is divulged.
“I want to see all the details, because I’m still guessing at what actually happened,” said Markus Elbert, second-year chemistry major at Northeastern. “If there was no sexual assault, and he just messed up, I would want him back because he did light a fire under that team.”
Still, what is clear is Udoka’s actions were in violation of the team’s protocols, and warranted internal punishment.
“Anyone who tries to paint Ime as the victim I don’t agree with at all,” said Elbert. “Maybe you think a year is too long, but Ime is not the victim. Don’t try painting him as one.”
How a Trip to a Guatemalan Orphanage Inspired St. Louis Cardinals Manager Oliver Marmol and Amber Marmol to Launch a Company That Gives Back
Originally published July 8th 2022 for Entrepreneur.com
In the midst of an eventful first season as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oliver Marmol hasn’t lost sight of his biggest hobby: business. He and his wife Amber are the founders of VS, a sports education app that taps pro athletes such as Albert Pujols, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Jessica Mendoza to help train and provide advice to anyone who subscribes.
Featuring high-level workout drills and ultra-specific responses to any question a user may ask, VS is unique in the accessibility it grants inside the life of a professional athlete. “If there’s one word I want you to take away from this it is ‘access,’” the Cardinals’ skipper shared. For him, the access he had to great minds in baseball through his playing and early coaching days led him to one of baseball’s prime managerial jobs, and it’s something he and Amber strive to provide to anyone out there with similar ambitions. The co-founders spoke with Entrepreneur over Zoom about growing their startup while managing their super busy lives, why treating the talent and clientele kindly goes a long way, and how a trip to Guatemala fueled their desire to give back.
What separates VS from other training platforms?
Oliver Marmol: Everything else out there right now is just content that you’re consuming. You’re sitting there, listening to an hour course, taking your notes, and then you’re done. What our platform allows you to do is at any point throughout this course, you can stop training and ask that talent questions with the technology that we’re using called conversational AI. Our talent is able to answer up to 500 questions. Anyone could stop the program and ask, “Can you tell me more about experiencing doubt in the minor leagues?” or “What did the best coaches you’ve had do well?” They also will get into the nitty-gritty of mentality and the emotional components of success.
Amber Marmol: One of the things we’ve always seen with Ollie and the players that he’s dealt with is there are a lot of guys that make it not solely because of their physical ability, but also it’s their mentality and their grind to persevere. For those that are pursuing their dreams, it’s your mentality that really is what’s gonna get you there and what’s going to sustain you through the good and through the bad times.
What inspired you two to launch this platform?
OM: We took a trip to Guatemala years ago and stayed at an orphanage for seven days. We saw some of the worst poverty we’ve ever seen in our lives, and on our way back to Miami, Amber looked at me and said, “How do we build something that allows us to give back to this community and people in need?” At the time we had zero money — and I mean zero — but Amber said, “Why don’t we start a business where you give lessons?” We then decided to donate 50 percent of everything that came in at the end of the year.
I started giving lessons and we sent a check at the end of the year. Those kids were eating one meal every three days, and at the end of what we sent over, they were eating three meals a day for about six or seven months. Amber looked at me after that and she said, “All right, how do we do this times a million?”
With the people that we know, let’s allow them to teach, put a high-level production around it, monetize it, and still have a give-back component to underserved communities and give access. If I look back at what gave me this opportunity to be the manager of the Cardinals, it’s all the access I had. When we sit back and think, well, a bunch of kids just like me don’t have that access, how can we provide that? That’s what the heartbeat of this platform is.
How did you secure superstar athletes to share their talent with the program?
AM: When we started this company, we knew that culture was going to be very important to us. That fed into not only how we interact as a team, but how we treat our athletes. They have a tremendous amount of success, and we value that, but we also just value them as people. We really try to do a great job at just meeting them as people and serving them in that way. We built a really great reputation among the first people that we’ve brought on, and from there it spread by word of mouth.
OM: No doubt. Think about all the different commercials that Albert Pujols has done throughout his career. He came on set and told us he’s never been treated like this where he didn’t feel like he was just the talent being moved from one room to the other. For female athletes, it can be easy to shortchange them and do a lower-level production, but one got into the building with us and said she was treated like a high-end male athlete. That’s what we want to make sure we communicate: the way we treat our talent will continue to allow us to get more talent.
Is there any advice you would give to entrepreneurs looking to start a tech company?
OM: Early on, you often feel like whatever opportunity is in front of you is the last one. I would advise being very slow when making those decisions. Don’t delay unnecessarily, but at the same time, really take your time and figure out is it the right talent? Is it the right team member? Is it the right partnership? Think of the long game and not just the short game of how this helps me right this very second.
AM: I would just add that you have to know your values. We’ve done that, but all within the values of our core principles and beliefs. For us, working with honest, high-quality, and high-character people is so much more important than that quick fix and instant success. Take the time to make sure that everything aligns with the culture that you’ve always had in mind that you want to build.
Concert Review: Beach House 7/20/22 at King’s Theatre (Brooklyn, NY)
Originally published August 2022 on tastemakersmag.com
A common phrase used to describe dream-pop powerhouse Beach House, whether as a compliment or insult, is that a lot of their songs “sound the same.” Musically speaking, this is untrue, but the mood of much of their music is undeniably consistent. There’s a familiar yet distinct atmosphere to many Beach House songs, one that’s equal parts comfort and despair. At King’s Theatre in Brooklyn, they proved how their consistent style is their biggest strength.
Playing to an entranced audience, the duo of Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally, along with tour drummer James Barone, brought the lovesick haze of their strongest material from the past 12 years to life. From early hits like “Silver Soul” to many tracks off their newest album, Once Twice Melody, Beach House flexed their live performance muscles and showed off their deceptive sonic range. They strung together a continuous, dream-like experience where the emotional weight of each song piled up on the audience until its finish.
After lovely harp passages from opener Mary Lattimore set the tone, Beach House emerged on stage, launching into the propulsive and enchanting title track off Once Twice Melody. As LeGrand began singing in her trademark low croon, a wave of calm crashed over the audience, instantly immersing everyone from the floor to the back of King’s Theater in Beach House’s auditory and visual experience.
Their keen understanding of how visuals can elevate a live performance immediately jumped out. Like many of their songs, the lighting was striking in its simplistic beauty. Calmer songs like “Levitation” and “Silver Soul” featured a singular color gradient background, with additional flashes of strobe lights peppered in throughout each track. Other songs—like “Pink Funeral,” “Lemon Glow,” and the especially stunning “Dark Spring”—featured sharp strobe light shots accentuating the tension each track conveys. The band was backlit the entire night, rendering each member merely a silhouette and adding yet another mystical element to the performance.
The rest of the set, however, was carried by Beach House’s tight musicianship. Taking minimal breaks between songs, the band put the strength of their catalog on full display. Favorites like “PPP,” “Myth,” “Lazuli,” and the indie fan rite of passage “Space Song,” all made an appearance. Material from their newest record, widely considered to be one of their strongest works, shined just as bright, with “Superstar” and “New Romance” being huge standouts. For an hour and a half, buzzy synths and laid-back guitar lines flooded the venue’s speakers, pierced through by Barone’s sharp live drums and the occasional distorted Scally guitar solo.
The duo has been making music for over 16 years and effectively showed off all the sounds they’ve been toying with throughout their career. Grandiose synth-led songs populated much of the setlist, but they sprinkled in some more energetic tracks off the new album such as “Only You Know,” “Modern Love Stories,” and the show’s closer “Over and Over” to inject juice into the set. Other times, they brought the energy to a complete standstill, like the particularly heart-wrenching rendition of the piano-led “On The Sea” off 2012 album Bloom.
Ultimately, it was the voice of Victoria LeGrand that stole the show. Among vocalists, she has always stood out for the low notes she effortlessly eases into on each track. Hearing her live was breathtaking, especially when she put her full vocal arsenal on display, much to the audience’s delight, on “Space Song” and “Myth,” sticking high notes and holding them out. She has consistently impressed on studio recordings, but hearing her live made her talents that much more apparent.
The vocal abilities of LeGrand paired with Scally’s bed of slow, reverb-soaked guitar passages has proved to be a winning formula since the start. Though their music has constantly evolved since the mid-2000s, at the root of it will always be that Beach House emotional tinge. Whether you’re listening to “Space Song” for the 1000th on headphones or seeing a full set live in an old, classical theater, it’s a truly special thing.
Northeastern’s Decision to Close Cabot Testing Center Alienates Members of Student Body
On May 6th, COVID-19 PCR testing at Cabot Center will officially come to an end as Northeastern University continues to shift toward treating the spread of the virus as less threatening. After ending the weekly test mandate in late February and the mask mandate in early March, this is yet another university decision to roll back a key aspect of its once robust COVID response.
Jared Auclair, technical supervisor for the Life Sciences Testing Center and director of biopharmaceutical analysis and the training lab at Northeastern, is a scientific advisor who’s been involved in many of the school’s COVID-related decisions since April 2020. While he understands why some feel uneasy about this change, he also believes now is the right time to change course. “We have vaccines, we’ve all been boosted, and we’re really at a state where the pandemic is transitioning into an endemic. We did a really great job, and now it’s time to move on.”
This sense of optimism has been noticeable across campus. Many students hope that finally, this is the moment where COVID-19 tapers off. There are other students who feel the school is moving too quickly to label the worst of the pandemic as over.
Hannah Kim, a second-year bioengineering major, has consistently challenged Northeastern’s approach to defeating the virus. “Northeastern wants to win its ‘war with COVID,’ and I think when you’re fighting a disease like this, you’re always going to lose,” Kim said. “When someone gets sick, you’ve lost.” She said this attitude also led Northeastern to change its key metrics from total number of positive cases on campus to number of severe cases. The much lower number of severe cases makes it seem like the university is winning.
Kim is a member of Diversability, a Northeastern club that creates a community for disabled students. Although she said students on the club differ on whether PCR testing should end, they nonetheless agree that Northeastern’s shift in handling the pandemic has left at-risk students out of the picture entirely. They are being left to their own devices, while everyone else goes back to a pre-pandemic normal. “You always have this idea of ‘disabled people should stay at home if they’re at risk,’” she said. “That feels like sequestering disabled people and keeping them out of the public eye and imprisoning them.”
Auclair said that immunocompromised people should be expected to make decisions themselves to ensure their own safety, despite the speed at which COVID-19 is now spreading. “Immunocompromised people have always existed with viruses that have been circulating, and have been able to take the necessary precautions to keep themselves safe,” he said. :I feel like that’s the same case here.”
Kim said no one really knows whether they might be severely affected by the virus whatever their perceived health status is. “The reality is, we don’t know how this virus affects us in the long term,” she said. “How do you know you’re not the next person to have long COVID?”
That message rings especially true for Karl Adrianza, a fourth-year ASL interpreting and psychology major. Adrianza got COVID-19 in December. Although he was asymptomatic and infected with the perceived-to-be milder Omicron variant, he’s since noticed problems with his lung capacity and waves of nausea that have made working while on his co-op job difficult sometimes. “I have felt a little too sick some days, and I’ve had to step away from work for a few minutes every once in a while to get my symptoms under control,” he said. “It makes me think, how many people after infection are dealing with the long term impacts? That’s something I don’t feel Northeastern has addressed.”
Even for some who are excited to see COVID-19 restrictions disappearing, they still think PCR testing should be available. Sofia Maricevic, a fourth-year finance and accounting major, did not feel personally affected about Cabot Center closing in the same way that Kim and Adrianza did. “There wasn’t a big reaction from myself or my friend group after Cabot closed because we all stopped getting tested after the testing mandate was lifted,” she said. Still, she said that it should remain open for others. “If students want to get tested, I think that’s their right that they have that option on campus.”
Emma Cole, a first-year bioengineering major, expressed similar feelings. “I don’t personally care too much about Cabot closing,” she said. “I understand the school not wanting to devote all of that space in Cabot Center to testing at this point in the pandemic, but I think testing should stay open on a smaller scale for others.”
Northeastern sent out an email on April 5th detailing what COVID-19 testing at the school would look like going forward. Rapid antigen-based tests will be provided free upon request to students after Cabot closes. The university hasn’t announced the process for obtaining these tests. Questions about the accuracy of these tests compared to PCR tests were raised by Kim, Adrianza, and Maricevic.
Kimmy Curry, a third-year architecture and graphic design major, had similar concerns. She also said that no matter how much the school tries to push COVID-19 away, the virus will come surging back. Curry recalled the school dropping the mask mandate prematurely in early 2021, only to reinstate it before the 2021-2022 school year due to the Delta spike. “My co-op last semester was working in the Northeastern sign shop,” she said. “We had to take down the mask signs, then put them back up, then take them down again. I thought getting rid of the testing center was silly for that reason, because I really feel like we’ll just need it in the fall again.”
Should the pandemic take another unexpected turn, Jared Auclair said Cabot can quickly be turned back into a PCR testing facility. The lab at Northeastern’s Burlington campus that processes the tests will still be functioning.
To these students, though, PCR testing disappearing on campus is an unwelcome change and a sign of disconnect between school officials and the student body. “Having a test center meant my University was trying to do something significant about COVID,” said Adrianza. “Beyond that, it meant to me that Northeastern has plenty of funding to allocate to public health when necessary. It’s really important to keep pushing the University to do better with their policies and bridge that gap between students and administration.”
Album Review: Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers – Kendrick Lamar
Originally published May 30th, 2022 on tastemakersmag.com
All it took for Kendrick Lamar to drum up fanatical excitement across the world were a few simple announcements that his newest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, would release on May 13th. It had been five years since the 34-year-old Compton rapper released his last project, DAMN., which only further solidified his status as one of hip hop’s all-time greats and the savior of his generation. As the release date loomed, rumors swirled about what he’d been up to over the past five years. What would he unleash to completely shift the paradigm next?
The answer was nothing. As the content on the double album details, Lamar spent much of the last five years turning towards therapy and the spiritual teachings of author Eckhart Tolle, denouncing the savior complex surrounding him and purging himself of the demons he’s kept hidden from the public eye. The resulting music, while pristinely produced, is incredibly emotional and paints the most earnest and enigmatic picture of Kendrick Lamar listeners have experienced to date. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers serves as an intense, hour and 13 minute long therapy session, jumping from style to style (and topic to topic) and sacrificing cohesion for emotional expression.
This project is not the same tightly woven sonic tapestry of past Kendrick Lamar albums, and that becomes apparent immediately from the instrumentals. Though DAMN. had a fairly wide instrumental palette, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is truly all over the place, covering not only some familiar west coast (“Die Hard,” “Rich Spirit”), boom-bap (“Purple Hearts,” “We Cry Together”), and trap stylings (“Silent Hill,” “N95”), but also featuring a heavy use of somber pianos. These tracks display a different side of Lamar, and even though they don’t all work—the song “Crown,” for instance, employs a notably dull arrangement—moments like “United In Grief” and “Mother I Sober” make for some of the most powerful tracks in Lamar’s whole discography.
Likewise, Lamar is a volatile narrator. Though the two discs can be thematically split into songs about confronting his problems and songs about accepting and overcoming them, he cycles through many different emotions as the album progresses. The brash confidence of “Count Me Out” and “Savior” is met with the chilling introspection of “Mother I Sober.” The energy of “N95” and “Rich Spirit” is met with the muted solemness of “Worldwide Steppers.”
The scattered nature of the project presents Lamar at his most unfettered, but to say he leaves listeners with a complete portrait of who Kendrick Lamar truly is would be wrong. He reveals his current mental state, his harmful vices, and previously unknown stories from his past, but paradoxically, the more he says, the cloudier the image of who Kendrick Lamar really is becomes. Learning about his unfaithfulness to longtime partner Whitney Alford on multiple tracks, as well as learning about the cycle of abuse and emotional trauma that has plagued his family on songs like “Father Time” and “Mother I Sober,” challenges everything fans thought they knew about him. Though this may be unsettling, this was ultimately one of Lamar’s goals with this project: to show that he has issues he’s still working out, and in order to do so, he can no longer be your savior, like he defiantly proclaims on “Savior.”
The risk Lamar took by laying everything bare as one of the biggest artists in the world cannot be overlooked. Vulnerability is not a new aspect of his music; everything he’s released to date has featured autobiographical accounts of his past along with snapshots of his current mental state. The biggest difference between Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and past albums such as Good Kid m.A.A.d City and To Pimp A Butterfly is that this project does not play out as the same neatly packaged, larger than life story for fans to consume. Lamar on this project is not talking to 2Pac or reflecting on a chronological microcosm of life in Compton. He is instead portraying himself as a truly flawed individual with real human issues, something that contradicts the godlike persona he and listeners have mutually built up over the past ten years. As the project resolves, Lamar presents his audience with a choice: they can either be happy for him that he’s rejected his white knight status and prioritized himself, or they can forever mourn the Kendrick of old and jump ship.
This is not to say he always lands his points with listeners, however. There are a few moments that haven’t sat well with the general public thus far, like the multiple lyrics where he lambastes political correctness and cancel culture claiming it stifles creative thinkers. “Auntie Diaries” has also caught flack for using a homophobic slur on the song’s hook, a move that many understand in context of the song but still think detracts from the powerful pro-trans message Lamar delivers otherwise.
These moments do make parts of songs difficult to stomach, but it’s hard to discount Lamar’s overall journey towards a sounder state of mind. The power with which he delivers the line “As I set free all you abusers, this is transformation” on “Mother I Sober,” along with the final line on closing track “Mirror”—“Sorry I didn’t save the world my friend, I was too busy trying to build mine again”—makes you truly feel the weight of generations being lifted off of Lamar’s shoulders. Through all the mental bramble he’s had to fight through, Lamar has finally attained a slice of the peace that he’s been hunting for over the past five years. The free spirit that he embodies throughout the album—though sometimes leading him to say unagreeable things—is spellbinding, and sells just how major of a hurdle he’s finally cleared.Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is not exactly the genre defining, generational project some were hoping for. It is, however, an incredibly enthralling double album that grows more enjoyable with each listen and proves that Lamar is still willing to take huge risks in his music, this time risking his saint-like status among fans. Even though he’s embraced the mindset that he can’t please everybody with what he says or does, stripping away the narrative frills and opening himself up to this extent could’ve easily alienated his longtime audience and left new listeners confused. He masterfully avoids this by backing the message of denouncing his own saviorhood with the same high quality pen and production ever-present throughout his discography. Though he now leaves some in search of who their savior truly is, Kendrick Lamar can retreat back into reclusion with a little less pressure bearing down on him this time.
Concert Review: Genesis Owusu, 4/3/22 at The Sinclair (Cambridge, MA)
Originally published April 30th, 2022 on tastemakersmag.com
Genesis Owusu is not yet a household name, though if you’ve seen him perform live, you would be shocked he isn’t selling out massive arenas. The Australian artist hasn’t quite made massive waves yet despite the praise his genre-defying 2021 debut album Smiling With No Teeth received in hip-hop and R&B circles. He just wrapped up his first ever U.S. tour, playing various small-to-mid sized rooms across the country and leaving fans buzzing about his charismatic stage show.
Employing backing dancers, costume changes, and various props, Owusu turned the small and intimate stage of The Sinclair into a large-scale theatrical production, bringing the tale of the “black dogs” – a metaphor for the effects of racism and depression that plague him – to life. He created not only a fun environment for fans to sing along and mosh to his music, but a world where his inner demons were put on full display and cathartically exorcized. Backed by his two dancers (initially dressed in black masks and tight black clothes), a chain link fence, and a flag reading “Beware: Black Dogs,” Owusu stumbled towards the microphone at about 9:15 wearing a black suit with his face covered in bandages. He essentially was playing up the character of himself: a man whose struggles with finding happiness have left him physically and emotionally scarred.
Owusu split the concert into two distinct acts, with Smiling With No Teeth closer “Bye Bye” serving as the midpoint. The first half was entirely about being trapped by the black dogs and how outrunning their looming darkness can prove difficult. Each song’s placement was hyper specific, illustrating his chronological journey towards recovery. Bouts with depression (“What Do I Fear,” “The Other Black Dog”) and racism (“I Don’t See Colour,” “Whip Cracker”) were grouped together at the start and end of the setlist, with Owusu explaining mid-set that when one black dog finally goes away, you realize another has been there the whole time. The medley of the two racism-centered songs was maybe the most impactful moment of the night, with Owusu barking out orders at the crowd to march and chant along with him until everyone packing the Sinclair was screaming their lungs out.
More tranquil moments filled out the first act as well, such as “Waitin’ On Ya” and “Gold Chains.” Spoken word interludes guided the audience from song to song and through the mind of Genesis Owusu, the character. Through the first act, the audience saw Genesis Owusu at his most defeated, his most complacent, and finally his most embattled, striking back against his oppressive forces and setting the stage for a much looser, energetic second act.
Hitting the stage once again with a fresh red suit and his bandages removed, Owusu and his now unmasked dancers immediately melted away the dark, intoxicating energy of the first act. They kicked off with the danceable “Don’t Need You,” which ingeniously led into Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat” blasting out over the venue’s soundsystem. If that doesn’t signify a tone switch, I don’t know what does.
This portion of the show mostly strung together his most upbeat, positive material to signify him (temporarily) overcoming his demons, in addition to allowing Genesis Owusu to shine through to the audience as a person, instead of just a performer. Out of character, he was interacting with the audience more, stopping songs short to demand more energy and making light of a few technical difficulties that marred his penultimate song. He clearly reveled in the spotlight, whether he was running wildly across the stage during “Drown,” moshing in the audience during the encore song “Black Dogs!,” or leading singalongs during “A Song About Fishing” and “No Looking Back.” The relative informality of this portion may be more what one would expect from a typical show, but when examining how it related to the story he told throughout the night, his looser performances felt that much more powerful.
Tickets for the Genesis Owusu show were quite a bargain for anyone who was in attendance. Unfortunately for fans, the next time he makes his rounds throughout the U.S. his tickets may come at a premium. Genesis Owusu is clearly destined for a bigger stage based on the strength of his debut album alone. If there were any doubts, the quality of his live show only solidifies where we may see him in just a few years time.
Album Review: Melt My Eyez See Your Future by Denzel Curry
Originally published May 2nd, 2022 in Tastemakers Music Magazine
Shortly after the start of the pandemic, Florida rapper Denzel Curry’s eyes melted.
Not literally, of course. The metaphor is one that Curry uses to signify confronting his issues rather than running away from them, the first step towards reaching a sound state of mind. It’s also the one that inspired the material on his new record, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, his most conceptually fleshed out and cohesive project yet.
In a 2021 interview, Curry mentioned how each album he’s released up until this point was guided by the need to differentiate himself from the field, while simultaneously appealing to what fans liked. However, the pandemic led the 27-year-old rapper to directing all of his focus inward. This spiritual struggle to find both his true identity and his inner peace birthed music that was much more introspective than anything he’s released before.
The clearest difference between Melt My Eyez and his previous projects is in the instrumentals. Curry always had a flair for fusing new and old sounds of southern hip-hop – and it continues here – but this project sees him rapping over the jazziest production he’s ever had his hands on. Many of the songs feature piano and vocal samples that are quite soothing, a word that has rarely been associated with Curry’s music prior. The drums are dusty and heavy sounding, as if they were plucked out of a Massive Attack or Portishead track. They clunk along in the background of songs like “Worst Comes To Worst” and the monster posse cut “Ain’t No Way,” providing the album a consistent bounce that carries from song to song.
This album may feel muted when compared to 2019’s ZUU or 2018’s TA13OO, but there are still moments that give the album its bursts of energy. “Troubles” featuring T-Pain, “Zatoichi” featuring slowthai, and the first and second halves of “Ain’t No Way” and “Walkin” respectively all snap out of the smooth boom-bap style and offer something a bit more modern, while still staying well within the album’s established instrumental palette.
The meditative instrumentals lay the groundwork for Curry to walk on towards a better understanding of himself and his mental health. Walking forward to Curry embodies the mindset of not letting the present or past problems drag him down. It’s a strong motif recurring throughout the album, and although its “meaning” is quite obvious, having a simple mantra that can cut through the noise can be crucial. It’s clear how much “keep walking” has helped Curry push through his demons, as that sentiment fuels Curry’s journey throughout the album, and is overtly repeated on opener “Melt Session #1” and (obviously) on “Walkin.”
Still, there’s a real ebb and flow to Curry’s mental state throughout the project. For every moment that he walks forward, there is an inevitable melting, a moment where his journey is brought to a momentary standstill.
“Melt Session #1” is where Curry lays everything bare, mentioning how he’s distant from his friends, feels shameful for objectifying women, and has had suicidal thoughts. He even reckons with being sexually assaulted at six years old, something only vaguely alluded to on TA13OO. “John Wayne” initially may read as a braggadocious, gun-toting anthem, but Curry’s exasperated delivery and lyrics about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery paint a depressing picture of the endless fight against police brutality and systemic racism just to survive. “The Last” is a doomed look at society as a whole, with Curry fretting about the pandemic, gun violence, and the impact of social media without being able to arrive at a comforting thought.
However, for every roadblock, relief follows soon after. When “The Last” starts to fade out, for instance, the hook on the next song, “Mental,” floats in on top of a smooth piano line and reminds him, and the listener, that “it’s all in your mental.” Keeping a clear head is a difficult thing to do, and the weight of the task is apparent to him on songs like “Angelz” and closing track “The Ills.” Though if he hasn’t overcome his demons, the moments of reaffirmation throughout the tracklist show how much progress he’s made, even if the results haven’t presented themselves yet.
The record’s displays stunning artistic growth from Curry, yet there are a few moments that don’t mesh with his changing style. The themes on “X-Wing” of Curry’s deep drive to gain material wealth work well with the album, but the track’s auto tuned vocals and violin-backed trap beat are jarring. “Sanjuro,” though, feels out of place in almost every way, essentially being a two-minute trap detour for Curry and featured artist 454 to get their bars off. It doesn’t do much to add to the album’s overall narrative, and it directly follows another short track, “The Smell Of Death,” that works much better due to its soulful beat.
Melt My Eyez See Your Future is not a typical Denzel Curry album. It’s a therapeutic odyssey through the mind of one of hip hop’s brightest stars, with less emphasis on mic presence and a greater focus on lyricism and cohesion. Most importantly though, by internalizing the “keep on walking” mentality, it’s the result of him journeying toward a brighter future.
Album Review: Ants From Up There – Black Country, New Road
Originally published March 23rd, 2022 in Tastemakers Music Magazine
In one year, Black Country, New Road went from being a fresh band on the rise to arriving at the crossroads of their existence, staring uncertainty down the barrel. Days before the release of their second album, lead singer Isaac Wood, citing his worsening mental health, departed the group. Although the split appeared to be on good terms and the other six band members announced they’d continue making music under the BC, NR name, the news disappointed fans and made the release of the new album, Ants From Up There, a bittersweet one. It would’ve been exciting seeing how the band progressed as a full unit into the future, but at the same time, this record—which is ultimately this iteration’s swan song—is one of the boldest, most emotionally crushing statements in rock music in years.
In an interview prior to the release of their debut, 2021’s For the first time, Wood said that one of the band’s goals was to be “the next Arcade Fire.” At the time, this was a strange comparison to make, as the band’s winding guitar passages and their sullen, self-loathing delivery put them closer to being “the world’s second best Slint tribute act,” as Wood sarcastically remarked on “Science Fair.” However, Ants From Up There sees a surprising infusion of chamber rock into the band’s sound, bringing Black Country, New Road closer to that aspiration. The added strings and piano along with the increased use of horns create a vibrant atmosphere and build tension to match the dramatic quiver coursing through Wood’s voice.
Take, for instance, the theatrics of “Chaos Space Marine,” featuring instrumental breaks for a violin solo and a galloping piano straight out of Broadway. There’s also the saccharine swing of “Good Will Hunting,” where the guileless piano and guitar feels particularly Arcade Fire inspired. The entire project instrumentally feels much warmer than its predecessor, even on the more spacious cuts like “Haldern” and the instrumental “Mark’s Theme.” Aside from instrumentation, the use of backing vocals creates an organic atmosphere for Wood’s most tender songs to flourish. They range in scope, from the lone female croon in the back of “Good Will Hunting” to the cathartic singalong in “The Place Where He Inserted The Blade,” but they equally contribute to the album’s heavy emotional sound.
Compared to the band’s last record, Ants From Up There’s lyrics are much more collected and narrative-driven to match the record’s storytelling. The album documents a romantic relationship that is all-consuming to Wood, but perhaps not mutually so. “Concorde” is where the woman is first mentioned, reminding Wood of a Concorde jet that whizzes by, only leaving him with a passing glance. Still, he would do anything for this woman. Even if after their brief interaction she’ll simply fly away and he’ll suffer, “For less than a moment, we’d share the same sky.” “Bread Song” then details their relationship dynamic with a metaphor about eating toast in bed. His partner tells him that she doesn’t want him “leaving particles of bread” in her sheets, meaning she doesn’t want him to open up and reveal himself too much.
While there is a lot to love in the first half of the record, it’s the last three songs, totaling to 30 of the album’s 58 minutes, that leave the listener speechless. The three tracks pile on top of each other to create a gargantuan finish, letting their collective emotional weight crash down on the listener as Wood’s relationship tumbles to an uneasy end.
“The Place Where He Inserted The Blade” kicks this run off with Wood speaking directly to his lover, “I know you’re scared/Well I’m scared too,” and part of the jubilant chorus, “I get lost, I freak out/You come home and hold me tight/As if it’s never happened at all.” The crescendos into the chorus are magical, ending with Wood shouting “Good morning!” over a triumphant piano line. While at first glance the track reads like an uplifting love song, other lyrics hint at the opposite. At this point in the relationship, the effects of codependency are starting to wear on Wood, and the song more so illustrates how he’s prioritizing this woman over his own well-being. The moments of love in this relationship are celebrated, but they only accentuate the backbreaking work Wood has to put in to keep this relationship going.
Still, he doesn’t want to let go of what he has or else he’ll feel lost. The following cut, “Snow Globes,” then begins with perhaps the most subdued instrumental on the record, featuring gentle guitars and a lone, wavering horn. Wood comes in around the three minute mark, trying to reassure himself that the downturn in his relationship is happening for a reason, repeating the mantra of “snow globes don’t shake on their own.” When the refrain hits, a pummeling flurry of free drumming envelops the track, very much reminiscent of “Piggy” by Nine Inch Nails. In both cases they symbolize the same thing—a total spiral out of control.
This despair Wood finds himself in is solidified on 12-minute closer “Basketball Shoes.” A multi-phased track, the lyrics are the most self-referential and bitter on the whole album, as his rose-tinted view of his partner is now completely gone. Still, he is left broken, unable to focus on anything and unable to cheer himself up. The song’s slow buildup culminates in a wall of guitars and drums, and Wood’s final, devastating line to his partner, and possibly fans as well: “Your generous loan to me, your crippling interest.”This version of the band, with Wood on vocals, has left an undeniable mark on rock music despite their brevity with Ants From Up There. There will be more music to come, but sadly, Black Country, New Road as we first knew them has whizzed by like a Concorde, leaving us with just a passing glance to remember their greatness.
Buffcorrell: The Last Authentic YouTuber
Originally published March 23rd, 2022 in Tastemakers Music Magazine
Little is publicly known about Correll Budford II, aka Buffcorrell. Most of that information stems from a video aptly titled “ABOUT CORRELL” which was uploaded 13 years ago to an old channel of his. We know he lives in Sierra Vista, AZ, served in the army for three years, and took up bodybuilding to escape his previously reckless lifestyle. Another fact we know about him? He loves to sing and dance his heart out to anything and everything.
With hypnotic poplock dance moves, thick black makeup caking his eyebrows and scalp, a poster on his wall of himself staring into the soul of the viewer, and his signature strained and underdeveloped vocal performances, Buffcorrell has become a cult hero for his 387k subscribers on YouTube. Since posting his first song cover almost nine years ago, Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love,” he has been on a near daily upload schedule, and has never diverged from singing and dancing in his bedroom even once. At the mercy of his fan’s requests, he’s covered everything from The Beatles to Death Grips to Christmas carols. His videos typically ebb between 900-5000 views, with a few taking off, such as his cover of Tame Impala’s “The Less I Know The Better” (1.9 million views), “Fireflies” by Owl City (1.7 million views), and “EARFQUAKE” by Tyler, The Creator (737k views).
Buffcorrell’s content has remained unchanged for years, with the one seismic shift in the BCU (Buff Cinematic Universe) being a camera angle alteration five years ago (fact check this) from a straight on shot to an angled mirror shot that shows off more of his room and gives him more space to dance. Other than that, his videos have followed the same formula for years: a slurred intro after which he crosses stage left to begin his vocal warmup, loads the song up on the karaoke machine he keeps off screen to read lyrics off, then performs the song in its entirety. In none of his videos does he promote any social media or a Patreon, and he has never been sponsored. Buffcorrell is truly the last of a dying breed: he exists solely to spread the joy of music.
In many ways, he harkens back to the era of YouTube that he began posting in 13 years ago. Viral videos were home movies without much production and any budget, and it seemed anyone could blow up in an instant by filming themselves doing whatever. That statement borders on born-in-the-wrong-generation-core, but it truly is a rarity today to have someone online making videos consistently just for personal fulfillment and entertainment. Just like the original slogan of the platform decried, Buffcorrell is broadcasting himself to the fullest extent.
This approach to both video making and singing has struck a chord with viewers over the years, and has bred an ecosystem of pure positivity in his comment section. Everyone routinely compliments Buff’s singing and dancing, noting how happy it makes them, and excitedly requests a new song, hoping to one day ride the high of having Buffcorrell take your suggestion (as someone who recently had him take a suggestion – “Dreams Tonite” by Alvvays – that feeling is truly unparalleled).
To many, watching a Buffcorrell video simply means taking part in an inside joke, laughing at a man who can’t sing try to cover any piece of recorded music that comes his way. However, the goal of Correll Bufford is not to flex his vocal chops or kick start a music career, he simply exists to entertain and spread unadulterated happiness in a time where all corners of the internet seem to be marred by discord and corporatism. Buffcorrell’s videos are a force unaltered by space or time, they simply exist without any ulterior motives. Gussying up anything about what he’s doing would sully the joy for Correll and the viewers and dilute his goal: make others happy as well as himself, one poorly performed cover at a time.
Dissect: “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
Originally published March 2022 for Tastemakers Music Magazine
In 2004, Montreal-based indie rock band Arcade Fire released their emotionally boundless debut album Funeral. Their ten-track opus is equally as uplifting as it is soul crushing. Sonically, the album features many twee indie songs with both the volume and catharsis cranked up to 10 with choruses that play to arenas. Lyrically though, as the name of the album may suggest, it mainly deals with death. At the time of recording, many of the band members were grieving deaths in their families, and they channeled that energy into a record about mourning both physical loss and the death of childhood innocence. Each song serves as a separate snapshot of the life of a child dealing with these problems, either using love as an escape, fretting the inevitability and consequences of death, or unifying with a call to arms and reclaiming their joy.
The opener to the record, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” falls into the first category of the songs. It’s a whimsical profession of love from one kid to another that if things get rough, they can simply tunnel through the snow that’s currently blanketing their town to see each other and live together forever. The message is so sincere and heartwarming that it becomes heart wrenchingly tragic when put into context with the rest of the record.
The song begins like an old music box hampered with cobwebs, taking its time to lock into step. The main piano line, accompanied by guitar, trembles tentatively, and the nervous energy is supplemented by lead singer Win Butler’s frail voice, where he sets the snow-covered scene that our two characters find themselves in. Coupled with the gentle music, the snow battering the town feels almost magical. As the first verse continues, Butler’s voice slowly gets more confident, as he repeats a mantra of “I’ll dig a tunnel/From my window to yours,” reassuring himself that he has this person no matter what.
As Butler gets more lively, so does the song, adding on a simple, danceable drum beat that chugs along with the jaunty piano and guitar embellishments. Here, he details his fantasy for their life together out in the snow, saying they’ll meet in the middle of the snow, “And since there’s no one else around/We’ll let our hair grow long and forget all we used to know/Then our skin gets thicker, from living out in the snow.” This leads the song into its first chorus, “You change all the lead/Sleeping in my head/As the day grows dim/Hear you sing a golden hymn.” Here, the narrator is saying that this other person has pseudo-alchemical powers to turn his worthless and heavy thoughts into gold. He feels that whenever he’s down, all he has to do is picture them singing a “golden hymn” to feel better. Each instrument on the chorus revs up even more, dramatically blossoming as the narrator’s love does. Butler’s raw, high vocals, particularly on the words “all,” “in,” “day,” and “sing,” only further accentuate how honest the message is.
On the second verse though, the dark themes to come on the album are hinted at. The fantasy continues, where the two kids alone together This comes particularly in the line, “Then we think of our parents/What ever happened to them?” The implication here, though much more subtle than on songs later on like “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” “Haiti,” and “In The Backseat,” could possibly be that there’s a loss they’re dealing with. This could be the literal death of their parents, or it could be a metaphor for wistfully reflecting on their bygone childhood. Their way of coping with either loss is to live out this fantasy dream together, hiding away in snowy tunnels and starting a family. Listening back to the full song with this in mind, the snow is not quite as magical as it once appeared. This nature metaphor is recurring throughout the record, coming back on “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).” In the song, nature is a destructive storm that leaves the kids stranded and without power, and they’re now where kids are roaming the streets in complete anarchy trying to find the light, or a sense of direction following the horrific event.
The key differences between these two songs is the tone of the narrator. On “Power Out,” there is clearly something wrong, and the narrator is frustrated and deeply angry. However, on “Tunnels,” these outside problems are fully in the peripheral vision of the narrator. The only thing that matters is being with this other person and living out their fantasy world in the snow. The second chorus makes this resonate with the listener even deeper with the addition of some extra lines following the repeated refrain. Using the same melody, Butler follows the chorus with “Purify the colors/Purify my mind/Purify the colors/Purify my mind/And spread the ashes of the colors over this heart of mine!”
Right as Butler’s warbly voice turns to a full shout on the last line, the track stops chugging along and ascends into the stratosphere, where Régine Chassagne, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and wife of Win Butler, takes over on vocals to deliver a saccharine vocal line mirroring the piano and guitar. Her vocal contributions to the song, although clocking in at around 20 seconds, offer an immensely gratifying conclusion, where these two characters are truly unified and locked into this golden hymn they sing when they’re together.
“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” resonates so strongly because of how much it leans into the idea that love conquers all. There is a lot of darkness that leads to confusion, depression, and anger elsewhere on the album. For now though, the conviction of the narrator coupled with the raw, whimsical instrumental that swells and eventually bursts really makes the listener believe that despite all the trials and tribulations of navigating a world alone, these two will be okay as long as they have each other.