Thursday, 27 July 2017

Lorde "Melodrama" (2017)

Fun fact for you, Lorde is the first musician in my archive from New Zeland! The young singer made her mark on pop music a few years back as a raw talent and teenage sensation, however this record is the first Ive heard of her. Written alongside Jack Antanoff "Melodrama" is fundamentally an introspection of party life, drinking culture, relationships and breakups, dramatized and illuminated in the ever passing Ethereal haze of glossy, reverberated instruments and Lorde's breathy soft yet strong voice. Its written and performed beautifully, playing with an ever growing sense of meaning as the record builds upon itself, climaxing with a couple of great songs at the end.

This introspection is a poetic rendition of moments that matter, its a glorification and resolve simultaneously as Lorde works through the two themes that clash in my mind. Between the cracks of party culture and substance euphoria, Lorde finds some stunning sentiments, "I'll love you till you call the cops on me" when the record swings back to her heartbreak. Inspired moments like this come through both lyrically and musically, a strength that frequents as moving lyrics collide with swooning instrumentation and she immortalizes her pain.

The concurrence of a smooth, bright piano makes it way though the songs, alongside Lorde, as contractions of muffled slow dance beats shuffle the tone and tempo. A frequent of click beats guide many of the percussive tracks and the emergence of dense synths and electronic jitters make up the sounds that character the record and develop its songs, often wrapped in shapely reverbs that craft the atmosphere. Its chemistry matches the range for vulnerability and strength as the emotions come through in sturdily sung notes of resilience and the moments where her singing collapses to a breathy talk in the wake of her words.

Its a powerful performance that hits you on the personal level with tracks like "Liability" and can lift your mood up with timeless hooks like the chorus of "Perfect Places", an elevating end to a fine record that has little to fault other than your preference of subject matter. Its a cleverly crafted, inspired piece of genuine "pop" or "popular appeal" music that almost anyone could get their teeth into. Considering words are often a weak point for me with music It probably a testament to the strength of her articulation, I'll end this ramble with one of my favorite lines "I am a toy, that people enjoy, until the tricks don't work anymore". Beautiful musings.

Favorite Tracks: Liability, Winter In The Dark, Liability (Reprise), Perfect Places
Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Sikth "The Future In Whose Eyes" (2017)

After a seven year hiatus, England's infamous Progressive Metal outfit Sikth reunited with their original line up and unleashed a very promising EP, Opacities. Reunions can be a fickle business, able to swing in any direction. It set the bar high for this full length release but I wasn't anticipating the band to, dare I say it, out do their classic debut The Trees Are Dead And Dried Out... . Its a bold statement to make and it comes over twenty or more listens where learning the ins and outs has only strengthened my adoration of a record that plays through hit after hit. There isn't a weak point to be found, everything is utterly brilliant and the albums moving, emotional poetic breaks performed by Mikee Goodman on "This Ship Has Sailed", "The Moon's Been Gone For Hours" & "When It Rains" perfectly fit the theme while juxtaposing the musical intensity of the Metal tracks persona. Upon writing this Ive learned that Justin Hill left the band before the record, his replacement Joe Rosser barely noticeable, fitting snugly into the Sikth sound with a similar vocal style.

Reflecting on the current social political state of affairs, Sikth's concurrent theme of disconnection from nature seems the ideal stage for their statements littered throughout insightful lyrics. The most potent of which found neatly packaged as punch lines in the illuminated choruses and hooks that spark every song. "Century Of The Narcissist" remarks on the sharing obsessed social media generation and the impact it will have on us. The best of it comes out in the choruses "Money makes the world go round, they weave the web without a sound" breaking from the frantic screech and shouting to glossy melodic, sing along hooks that will make wonderful moments live.

Each song is armed with these hooks and the compositions are thick, dense, rife with ideas. Never does a song get dull, the compositions find plenty of temperament to direct the energy into different direction with passageways of Post-Rock melodic, shimmering acoustic guitars, djenty time signature break outs and all sorts of creative avenues. In its density the band fly out the traps with intrepid riffs, bouncing off one another with lively fret board blazing melodies interwoven between chugging grooves. The drums charge down with an arsenal of tricks to liven the show, in every song you can hear stunning moments of creativity that might pass you by with an inattentive ear. The bass gets in on the action making itself known with jiving high strung slaps to rise from the backbone groove and add some aesthetic dazzle.

I touched on it before but this album is simple loaded with stunning sing along moments as the choruses come with a masterstroke to elevate what are mostly already excellent, absorbing songs. Guest vocalist Spencer Sotelo of Periphery may steal the show with one of the albums best, his powerful, bright, pristine voice is quite possibly becoming my absolute favorite in this generation of Metal. It all comes together through a production that I barely noticed. A total compliment, everything feeling so together and on point that never the texture of the instruments come into question, or do they ever clash. The albums flow is superb, each song a pleasure and rolling from one to the next you'll find yourself at the end drooling for more. If I had any criticism it may be a lack of the experimental flavor tracks like "Emerson" and "Tupelo" brought their debut, however it in no way feels lacking of a need for it. The album stands on its own two and those elements of their sound are left in the past. "The Future In Whose Eyes" is utterly brilliant, a contender for best album this year.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

KRS-One "The World Is Mind" (2017)

Hip Hop legend Kris Parker, also known as KRS-One, is a phenomenal voice in Rap music. He was there in the golden years with the group Criminal Minded who dropped their influential debut back in 1987. His musical partner Scott La Rock was killed during the recording of their second album which eventually set Kris onto a solo path, releasing his brilliant "Return Of The Boom Bap" solo debut in 93. Since then he has been rather consistent releasing records every few years up to this day. Kris is a very bright and intelligent voice within the Hip Hop community with an eye for observation and mouth for impacting social commentary. His talent for clever, witty lyrics with a sharp, potent point holds up to this day, flow and delivery so fine tuned its probably effortless now.

"The World Is Mind" plays like a rolling collection of strong 90s themed instruments with thoughts, topics and ideas brought to them through the lyrics. Pretty standard stuff, no overarching theme, unpredictability or challenging sounds. In its strengths it falls down, covering no new ground and rarely providing a spark of excitement, doing the old formula to a science. Kris recycles lots of themes, stories and commentaries Ive heard him recite before. He criticizes the modern scene, talking down young rappers and boasting about how it was done "back in the day". Its all delivered with the finesse and brilliance you'd expect but its a tired experience when tuning in with oldskool rappers who haven't evolved their direction.

Littered through the album you can find knowledge and wisdom in various lines, verses and themes of the track. Kris's rap style is as potent as ever but given my tiring ears for a recycled sound it becomes a bit dull against the rigid boom bap beats that barely evolve beyond their entry loop. A few modern ideas emerged on a scarcity of tracks like "No Problems", using lush synth sounds and snappier beats. This would of been stellar fifteen years ago but in 2017 their is more exciting music happening elsewhere in the scene, I can't fault the record for anything other that not been inline with my taste right now. The record does however wrap up with a fantastic title track, a poetic fable deciphering the album name meaning, that the world is constructing in your mind.

Favorite Track: The World Is Mind
Rating: 4/10

Monday, 24 July 2017

Manet "Dark Side Of The Valley" (2016)

With my late night rabbit hole browsing of the Internet Ive stumbled into another Doom Jazz artist! Perfect, I was looking for more after being introduced to the genre via Bohren & Der Club Of Gore. Manet is a one man band project from Norway, this being the fifth of sixth releases and on my initial listen I felt the same crime riddled city blues of moonlit streets, smokey alleyways and shady dealings that I have so far identified as the Doom Jazz vibe. With each passing listen the experience grew and although this record has a similar tone, aesthetic and pace, its ambience and vibe didn't journey to the same city, or any place at all for the matter. Although soft yearning pianos and a suspect VST trombone murmur in similar shadows, it doesn't feel as Jazz like as one might expect.

With a template of deathly slow pacing, quite, unmoving drums and slow, cautious instruments one would suspect there isn't a lot of depth to the genre, that's a dangerous assumption. Despite a composition and tonal similarity none of these songs spark that rich atmosphere my previous encounter had done. "No Rest For The Dead" may stir some emotions with its elevated lead piano but mostly the record just passes by, only managing to stir so mediocre atmosphere and soft ambience. The record finds a strong moment with "Movember Pain", a reference to mustache growing? The soft groaning of distant whirling synths over its backdrop strings gave me goosebumps!

I believe this records shortcomings is in what is most likely a digitally composed piece with VSTs and the like. Because everything is tentatively slow, soft and quiet, hearing the distinctions of an electronic instrument isn't so obvious. Listening back to Sunset Mission again in comparison It becomes very vivid how much life and character each musician breathes into their soft and subtle playing. Manet also misses a very expressive saxophone or trombone like instrument that can act as a voice for expression amidst the slow smokey atmospheres. Its a reasonable effort but obviously amateurish in counterpart to a professional Jazz outfit.

Favorite Tracks: Movember Pain, Obscured Visions
Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 22 July 2017

On Reflection: Linkin Park's "One More Light"

Two days ago we lost a voice in the Metal/Rock community, tragically Linkin Park's lead singer Chester Bennington chose to take his own life. It comes around a month after his close friend Chris Cornell did the same, a lot of voices are speculating he would still be alive if Chris where too. Chester has spoken openly about his childhood abuse and inner struggle in the past and with the reality of his actions we now realize the extent of pain and suffering he was going through. In my teenage years Chester was a big, immensely talented voice in our generations music and their massive album Hybrid Theory remains the most popular Nu Metal album to date. I never kept up with the band over the years however that record holds a special place within.

I recently decided to check in with their latest release One More Light, mainly due to a morbid curiosity with the media backlash for the bands change in direction. Listening to it again the record feels almost unrecognizable when focusing on the lyrics. My main criticism of the album was that of a disingenuous feeling between lyrics that glorify pain and suffering through what were yesterdays squeaky clean, sunny pop sound. Now reality illuminates the authenticity in his words, the sincerity all to raw to accept. Listening back to the classic "Crawling" again sounded like a whole new song, a chapter had been closed on that page. The words "crawling in my skin, these wounds will never heal" have a tragic weight about them now.

The point of this article is perception, the master of our reality. In my case a sense of a disingenuous expression has turned out to be utterly false. Ill never enjoy this record now as its drenched in a harrowing sadness given Chester's passing. Whats to be learned is the same lesson I'm trying to teach myself all the time. Everything is just a perception. You are a perception of yourself, you only perceive others and that all comes with a wealth of ignorance that our minds bypass in order to give us a sense of understanding. We are wired to think we know best when we actually know an infinitesimal amount of whats to be known... I conclude that we should grant artists some authenticity with their music, regardless and lessen our instinct to pass judgement. The same should be said of people in our day to day lives too, for we our all capable of feeling pain and should never let those expressions fall on deaf ears.

RIP Chester

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Tombs "The Grand Annihilation" (2017)

To write this post I had to remind myself why I was following this band. I think my interest In this sort of Metal is slowly wavering but after an initial disappointment, a more few spins gave me a clearer image as the music came to my mind. I was quite impressed by the Brooklyn bands 2014 release Savage Gold, listening to it again reminded me that Tombs are a very temperate, measured band that seek atmosphere in the pacing and patience of their music, a Post-Black Metal venture with shades of Death Metal casting a spell of unforgiving doom without any cheep thrills.

At forty eight minutes its quite the grind, a bleak, monotonous grind of unearthly rumblings in the mist. Tremolo shredded notes pluck and propel us forth into the baron wastelands as icy lead guitar licks breath some life into the desolate setting. Intensified by bursts of blast beats and interchanging dissonant chords, the occasional Thrash Metal intersection makes itself known as the songs cruise through a construction of riffs that sway the tone and direction with craft and intention. These songs are well constructed, without straying to the grandiose or loosing its sense of burden, Tombs hold together a consistently heavy, gloomy tone that creeps in subtle climactic moments with guitar shifts leading to sorrowful yet elegant solos. The deep bellowing vocals of Mike Hill adds to the damning atmosphere, there dominance over shrill screams much more preferable and fitting.

There's a lot to praise on this record, its obvious these are talented musicians with a good ear for song structure. The production is sturdy, crisp and clear instruments with enough mud in the tones to bring about the bleak atmosphere the band conjure. There is little to fault but my enjoyment is saturated. When its playing it makes for good company but in its absence it barely crosses my mind. As I said before I think its just my taste in this style that is fading. Nothing wows or feels unheard, unexpected, its all become a bit of a routine journey into a familiar shade of darkness.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

DJ Shadow "The Mountain Has Fallen" (2017)

With a new album on the horizon DJ Shadow drops a short, four track EP to get us warmed up for whats ahead. It sparked my interested thanks to its guest features, the legendary Nas of Queensbridge and new blood Danny Brown who both drop strong verses on their respected tracks, the chemistry between Shadow and his featured rappers is an interesting aspect for a reasonable set of Hip Hop instrumentals, with only the closer "Corridors" providing some genuine impressions of notoriety.

"Systematic", possibly a play on Illmatic, has Nas breaking down the self serving nature of the dominant power structure that governs our western society, then using it metaphorically for self affirming rhymes. Shadow deploys a relatively comfortable beat for the 90s era rapper with Boombap beats and a plucked guitar groove that gets expansive in the chorus with a range of colliding laser like samples and upfront vinyl scratching. Its got energy and charisma, its own sound but nothing special. "Horror Show" steps out of the comfort zone to accommodate Brown's persona with off-kilt beats that dizzy with seemingly two overlapping grooves playing off one another. Action effects stack up in the spaces between while evil super villain synths clime the notes to ascension. The tone is slightly manic but I can't help but feel the drum sampling would of benefited from something slicker and modern.

"Good News" feels like an experiment left unfinished, a spasm of drum kicks and snares messing around with time signatures seem to lack any groove. The glitched manipulation of samples may be reminiscent of IGORRR but it has no pzazz. "Corridors" is the albums best as a progressive song that builds up its atmospheric synths to meet a hard thudding bass kick decorated in reversed samples and lavished with layers of noisy sampling that increases in intensity to break into a calm moment that brings us back with a crescendo string section that doesn't really climax the song and then the needle skips, stutters and were out. Interesting listen but very little here to return to.

Rating: 3/10

Monday, 17 July 2017

Vince Staples "Big Fish Theory" (2017)

It was only a while back that I was introduced to the young Compton rapper. Summertime '06 won me over so another album springing up so quickly Is a pleasant surprise. Big Fish takes of where Summertime left, working with the same producer Vince retains the distinct production style behind his rhymes, sub baselines crunch under tight shuffling hi hats and steady, cautious snare kick grooves. Where Summertime had a smoother tone with fragrant samples and a more "traditional" Hip Hop vibe, Big Fish takes a turn to new territory with strong influences from House and Electronic music that has much of the instrumentation used performed by an array of synthesized sounds.

 The album kicks off with "Crabs In The Bucket", if you removed Vince's voice from the track it would unrecognizable as a Hip Hop track, Its sweeping wind synths lead us into a smooth Dance groove with Kilo Kish laying down soft, echoing vocals over a climatic jiving baseline groove reminiscent of G-Funk. This tone follows through the record, many tracks would fall into another category if it wasn't for Vince's rhymes and that's the albums brilliance, Its abridged styles and created something of its own, a unique fusion that seems just right for this artist. The records tone has a rather cold and spacious quality, many of these crunking baselines and tight shuffling beats intersect with abstract electronic noises without an upfront melody. In response the baseline rhythms become a focal point of direction and Vince's often flat, leveled delivery reinforces the chilling tone. It works especially well when his lyrics go into darker regions.

With a handful of banging baselines and catchy hooks the album sets off fires in one instances and puts them out with its quirkier tracks that don't quite vibe the same. Not to say they are bad tracks but there is a note able difference despite a rather consistent tone. I like Big Fish Theory for its unique crossover between style two genres and much is to be merited for that success but it doesn't mean all the songs are automatically destined for greatness. With new territory comes new challenges and through the thirty six minutes I felt as if there was an imbalance between the quirky, rhythmically arranged synths and an opportunity for more dance laden melody and atmosphere, however that's just a matter of taste and unfortunately what started out as a really interesting album started to fade somewhat by the tenth listen or so as the overall picture of the record came into view. The songs just don't quite hold up and an overall direction is lacking, most notable on Alyssa that comes in with a long vocal snippet that has seemingly nothing to do with the rest of the record. The great ideas are scattered in here but they don't find their way to cohesion.

Favorite Tracks: Crabs In The Bucket, Love Can Be, 745, Bagbak, Rain Come Down
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 15 July 2017

How Do I Rate Albums?

The reality is that us humans like to measure value with numbers and systems to condense the unique and personal experiences. The need to simplify and digest information is strong yet Music is subjective, like art, cinema, etc... Despite this we are wired to be appeased by rating systems and the like. To me its all rather trivial and yet I myself have a rating system on this blog. That decision was mainly for myself as I frequent back to the blog to remind myself of records I'm fond of and listen to them again, id hope the words would do more for the reader than an arbitrary number stapled at the end of a post.

My aim is to describe the nuances of what Ive heard, the emotional response and other thoughts that swirl through my mind as I listen. Sometimes I feel I articulate myself well, on other days not so much but my aim is to write frequently as I get though records. Its an exercise that's therapeutic and useful as a means of self expression and memorializing. The words wont always come out right but the moments where they do are fantastic. Where I don't quite hit it off right the practice of engaging with the process continues and the record of my musical journey resumes.

So what do the numbers mean? They are in a sense a buffer between other records. Everyone has their 10s and based on my enjoyment of a record, the numbers will fall into place accordingly. This is why the words are important too. Take for example Deathspell Omega album I recently reviewed, I could understand its merits, marvel at its technicalities and appreciate its vision yet the emotional connection wasn't strong. Subjectively a lower score than a "objectively" higher one. For me the musical experience Is about finding that connection with the artists vision. Albums that do it best will give me goosebumps, adrenaline and feels time and time again, these are the ones I rank. In short its less about objectivity and more about the subjectivity of my own taste.
  • 4 - Were starting this list near the middle. Four is the benchmark, the passing grade, an entry point. This number represents a comprehensible listen that has what it takes to get an enjoyable listen out of the run time. Its the sort of record that doesn't do a lot wrong, but nothing spectacular either. Everyone's turned up, done their part and the result is mediocre.
  • 3 - A three tips its toes into the negative. Something things are a turn off, ideas fall short and in general the experience gives you the impression it could of turned out better, despite not being awful.
  • 2 - At this point were straddling the threshold of tolerance, a lack of attributes to get on board with and the stench of disappointment turns the air stale. The kind of record you'll never remember a second of.
  • 1 - Not a lot to say about these records, its only merit is its better than silence.
  • 0 - A rarity in its own, to find something so intolerable and irritating that silence would be preferred. Ive only come across one record I gave this score, it was a total and utter turn off were every idea fell flat on the floor. Doubt ill find another so awful.
  • 5 - Now lets good to the good stuff. A five is like a four, however some there is stronger music in store. Not the kind of record to return to but would at least have a song or two that may peak my interest.
  • 6 - At six we can find the music that hits the feels, the sort of record that will lure you back for another listen time to time. Good, strong music occasional with some flaws or quirks.
  • 7 - Strong records full of good songs find themselves at seven. These album Ill come back to often to hear those favorite tracks or the whole record, depending on my mood.
  • 8 - This is where the music I cant get enough of starts, eights and above are my classics, the music that hits me hard in the feels, gets the blood pumping and adrenaline flowing.
  • 9 - A nine is like an eight, just some how its a little better, if that's even possible. These three are all pretty similar in my mind, there just needs to be some system for ordering the best of the best.
  • 10 - My all time favorite records. The ones that hold a special place in my heart. If I write about a 10 its for a good reason, and I am very doubtful of a new record becoming a ten. It usually takes years and years of listening to full verify the musical enchantment at work!
That's about the best I can explain it, with a little humor sprinkled in of course. A few important things to note, length effects the score. Anything below thirty minutes may loose a mark or two. This blog is about albums, I love an experience that unfolds between thirty and seventy minutes. Anything shorter can be equally brilliant but I prefer to indulge in those musical realms rather than swing by for a brief visit. Another factor is my mood. Sometimes writing is easy, sometimes hard and my connection with the music can change on a daily basis based on whatever the chemical in my head are doing. I often go back and revise the number a few days later once the dust has settled so to speak... Thanks for reading this! Hope you enjoyed it. I thought it would be fun to try and explain what a rigid system of numbers means in the spectrum of experience.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Slowdive "Slowdive" (2017)

Waiting for Run The Jewels to headline Field Day in London, my ears were captivated by a beautiful haze of Ethereal droning coming the rammed tent where Death Grips had played earlier in the day. As I shuffled my way over, nursing a hot tea, the bands logo hung in massive letters, dwarfing the band members and I found myself in awe yet unable to stay. It looked like one heck of a show but I wanted to see them properly, not just for fifteen minutes before Id have to charge over to the main stage. I covered their EP Blue Day a while back but never got around to the rest of their discography. They were a short lived band in the boom of 90s shoe-gazing and couple of years back reformed, resulting a new self titled full length, notably their debut record was also named Slowdive.

The album bleeds into itself, in the same way the music does. Every moment drones on with lush melodies, falling into shimmering reverberations as soft serene singing ushering in a lullaby state of relaxation. Where these songs retain themselves in an eternal moment found through blissful shoe-gazing, the album consequently feels as if its without progression or direction. Whatever song is playing, that is the moment right now, any order of songs could of proceeded. I love how consistently soothing the calming mood and hazy tone of the record is. Its as if its without start or end, forever stagnating within its own slice of time.

As one singular experience there's barely any strong or weak points, its all very steady and even. A few songs start with the bare bones, slow, cushioning drums and warm baselines wait for the eruption of epic scaling guitars to come crashing in with a thick wave of echoing wonder. Its all rather somber and melancholy yet the flickering of tuneful melodies shining through the walls of sound give it a warm uplifting air. The voices of the two singers, Neil and Rachel, bouncing off one another resonates deeply into the music and can often be "that moment" in a song when there words peak through the haze of sounds. For forty six minutes it is a sweet musical indulgence, one that could of gone on for longer. As I mentioned this record is like one continuing moment, if your in the mood for its meditative vibes then its a real treat to be enjoyed.

Rating: 7/10