Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The I.L.Y.S "Bodyguard" (2017)

The I.L.Y.S are back with their third full length release! Two thirds of the legendary Death Grips, this Sacramento duo brings some of the bizarre oddities to a experimental Noise Rock setting. Bodyguard is seemingly more of the same but with more accustomed ears, Psychedelic Rock and other branches in the Rock umbrella become more apparent in a release that's toned down its Industrial and Punk leanings. There's a lot of conventional riffs, tricks, progressions and styles at work here yet its packaged with subtle electronics and interesting production choices that yield a slightly unconventional aesthetic as unusual sounds enter the fold. It has a rather tame tone in comparison to what they did with Ive Always Been Good At True Love.

Unfortunately my reaction to this record is muted. Mediocrity reigns supreme even though there is a lot of interesting and charming chemistry here. The bests moments or "hooks" seem to have a golden gloss to them, always feeling reminiscent of music from eras gone by. These moments of intrigue and curiosity are quite possibly dispelled by the vocals as my interest in the music never solidifies into a emotional response. The lyrical aspect of the record drifts in one ear and out the other, one string of words stuck, "like sperm on a hi-hat" purely for being rather bizarre.

The singing style doesn't resonate, it lacks power and oomph, the acoustic fidelity questionable as the words tend to level out with the other instruments, sucking the life out their contribution. In general its a disappointment that's not apparent. A seemingly reasonable experience that's entirely forgettable once the next record comes on. There are echos of good ideas here but the execution just isn't up to it.

Rating: 3/10

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Izioq "Music To Play In Your Head" (2017)

Izioq's latest assembly of fantasy, carefree and innocent video game alike music comes to us in two halves, a twenty eight track record split by a four track "Game Jam". Its the sixth full length and the first to potentially aim in a new direction however upon many listens it becomes quite clear that this release is an assortment of ideas and short compositions with no overall objective of theme beyond the usual carefree wonder of childhood Izioq aims to, and succeeds, in capturing with his melodies.

The majority of songs here are instrumental loops with several variations of melody from the lead. None of the songs surpass three minutes and tend to linger around ninety seconds. As a result there is very little progression or musical events at hand but rather moments of atmosphere captured by a small ensemble of luscious lullaby sounds to indulge with. In its first half we have more of the traditional style at work however strong influences of Nobuo Uematsu can be heard in a handful of places, to much delight of course. The middle "Game Jam" section is where the experimentation starts. Quirkier sounds and samples come into play, sequenced drums adjoin and beyond it the second half loosens up with songs like "Chop Chop" bringing a Jazz Hop vibe thanks to a sampled beat and "Organ Doctor" goofs around with a fast thudding baselines and quirky electronic melodies on top.

This second half looses me somewhat as the tracks tend to jump around from one to the next, the instruments, tone and vibes shuffle from one song to the next, dispelling atmosphere. As an album experience this doesn't amount to much more than a snug collection of compositions however the first half does have a lot more consistency that flows well. I hope this experimentation can lead to a more cohesive direction for Izioq as there are many interesting ideas on display here.

Favorite Tracks: Unagi Loneliness, Lost Marbles, Mare E Sole, Past Is Serious, Organ Doctor
Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Jay-Z "4:44" (2017)

As it says on the album cover, this is billionaire rapper Jay-Z's thirteenth studio album. Originally released as a Tidal exclusive, the album went platinum swiftly no thanks to business deal resulting in a bulk purchase to push it over the edge. This put me off giving the record a try, that and the play duration which is just thirty six minutes, significantly shorter for a rapper from the compact disc generation, usually filling the CD to the brim with cuts. Impressions are just that, from the opening track "Kill Jay-Z" you realize your in for an introspective journey. With the arrival of his twins, Jay is has a lot of reflecting to do on the lifestyle of his past and many of the decisions he now finds questionable. Its packaged as a collection of raw thoughts, rapped to his former self as he closes the door on that chapter, an interesting window into the life and mind of the self made man.

For me, Jay-Z has always been a tough nut to crack. His debut is a classic and The Blueprint too but beyond two projects he has never really dazzled me with his raps or production style. On this record the lyrical content has a real pull as he lays out his internal feelings openly at an interesting point in his career, cruising beyond his peak of his success yet still striving for more as a businessman. He shares his motivations about leaving his wealth to his family and future generation, while talking about the sins of his father who shamed their family name. In another track he touches on his past and unfaithful behavior, questing what his daughters will think if and when they find out. The openness is quite the endearing quality for this record and it spans several tracks. One of which, "Moonlight" has Jay-Z poking fun at modern rappers with the "skrt skrt" and "trill" slang, saying they all sound alike.

Behind it soft, soulful, jazzy, mood setting, yet rather tame instrumentals appease the stage for the raps to take the main focus. Sample driven, with many pitch shifting loop manipulations, the style is far from edgy and natural progression for a 90s rapper. It attempts new tricks with the old techniques and for the most part is solid, laying down coherent tunes that line up with toned down, tame drum beats, making it an accessible experience for the average listener. 4:44 is a fine record with little to falter yet doesn't do much to dazzle beyond its subject matter solidifying an interesting point in his life, its a reasonable effort, its charm is in its honesty.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Tyler The Creator "Scum Fuck Flower Boy" (2017)

Ive vaguely followed Tyler and his Odd Future collective over the years. Seemingly always in a spot of controversy, Its his music I am more interested in however it only takes a spin to realize his lyrics are always going to raise some eyebrows and ruffle some feathers. As someone who's generally not offended, his lyrics about rape and violence come off as a dark sense of humor and youthful rebellion rather than anything to take seriously. On this record though there is obviously more to take seriously, Tyler expressing feelings of loneliness and supposedly comes out but given his reputation for stirring the pot you've got take it with a pinch of salt. "Flower Boy" is Tyler's fifth album in seven years and to my ears his most cohesive experience with a fruitful production style rich in colorful sounds, melodies and fun.

Although I'm not entirely versed with Tyler's back catalog, this release feels he like finds his voice, maturing, coming forthright and letting down his guard to express his feelings of living in the limelight. Its a refreshing break from the slew of controversy stirring I once knew him for. Although I found it amusing and entertaining, this side of Tyler is far more endearing and sensitive. It would indeed be the ideal moment for him to come out. Given his history, lines about making out with "white boys" could possibly be metaphoric rather than literal but more than likely its him just trolling us again.

His honesty and openness really finds its home in a musically colorful and textured record that brings a wide array of instrumentation and voices together in a fluid and inspired journey that's adventurous, mellow and summery. Even though his maturity may extended to inner doubt and self questioning, the vibes are warm and fuzzy. Lots of quirky, friendly synths and R&B voices join him for a fleshed out experience that takes many detours of the path of verse chorus rap. "Skits" mix in among the songs with context and direction, further decorating this diverse and adventurous record that features a lo of compositional variety and creativity. A great example is "Garden Shed", a slow atmospheric burner that lets a guitar lead, Prog synths and singing, some auto tuned, to come to the forefront as it slowly leads us into one of Tylers best verses of the record.

Currently this album stands on solid ground with me but its been a slow burner, something with depth that's chewy and substantial. I can't help but feel my appreciation of it will grow with time, its a colorful experience and ironically my favorite track is its most contrasting and straightforward song, "Who Dat Boy" with A$AP Rocky, a dark and gritty banger with menacing strings and a dirty sub baseline rocking a traditional son structure. At forty six minutes its a really sterling effort that may go down as the young rappers best.

Favorite Track: Who Dat Boy, Garden Shed
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 7 August 2017

Horsebeach "Beauty & Sadness" (2017)

Here's another contender for my album of the year that's been stuck on repeat these past couple of months. "Beauty & Sadness" is the gift that keeps on giving, a wondrously expressive record tinged in a nostalgia that flirts with many styles and influences while graciously holding its own. This is my first experience with the Manchester four piece outfit who have released two full lengths prior to this third. Its a sterling introduction, ten concrete tracks weighing in at thirty six minutes, precisely what I look for in a record.

Describing their sound beyond its inspiration is a tricky business, Indie Rock might be your point of reference but shades of Post-Punk, echos of Psychedelic Rock melodies and the slight Ethereal charm of soothing reverberations put it firmly in its own grasp. Then there's the synths turning up on a handful of tracks, adding another dimension to their sound without any obviously intrusion to the chemistry, it sweetly brews into the chemistry without an eyebrow raised. On "How Far Must We Go" they bring a Smooth Jazz flavor, playing like a slick saxophone over a grooving baseline jam.

To walk you through the sounds and variety that I adore about this record, it kicks off with its most ambiguous track, morphing, swirling and burying a repeated sampled voice into a thick haze of synth that brings about, dare I say it, warm, fuzzy Vaporwave vibes. From there we step into a bright setting with a gorgeous melodic lead guitar with an infectious lead melody between acoustic chord strumming. We are first introduced to the records voice, a singer who knows his range, a sincere expression that can sway between a firm tone for adventure and a more vulnerable, softer side best heard on "My Heart Longs For You, Pizza" which has a golden oldies vibe I adore, it highlights the nostalgic use of reverberation that his voice often sinks into.

The albums production is a charm of its own, the music has a wonderfully aged feel about it. There's more texture and depth to be heard in the instruments, all smothered in a warm inviting reverberation that runs deep. You might think it just stands out as a breath of fresh air compared to all the squeaky clean, compressed, volume war music of modern production but the reality its chemistry is a charmer. Warm tones, indulgent room acoustics and thick, deep baselines illuminate the magic atmosphere this one conjures.

"Breeze" introduces an instrumental break in the midsection, a drum machine guides us on a Trip Hop alike beat as a echoing guitar jams a solo over a warm murmuring baseline and hazy strum chords. Its followed up with "Theme For Sadness", an entirely synthesized composition, a slightly spooky, teetering on mystery journey that to those familiar, is vaguely reminiscent of Dungeon Synth, in an unintentional way. The title track, possibly my favorite, lures us back in with a pounding baseline and memorable synth melody, very reminiscent of a famous Joy Division song, once you hear it you can't go back!

If you've read my ramblings this far then its no surprise I'm a big fan of this record but as Ive tried to convey my experience is charmed by a unique nostalgic vibe that has me hearing all sorts of styles, similarities and influences that never feel direct, or even close. It lured me in and once there the catchy nature of the melodies had me hooked. Horsebeach make their voice and own it! Can't wait to get my claws into those two records that came before this one.

Raitng: 9/10

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Autumn's Grey Solace "Celestial Realms" (2017)

This post will be short and sweet. Autumn's Grey Solace are one of my favorite bands. Their dark yet luminous, soft and sorrowful spell of Ethereal indulgence is an absolute treat. Serene and tranquil, the heavy washing of reverberated sounds lets the alluring vocals of Erin Welton soar graciously through gorgeous synths and shimmering guitars that meld into an ooze of soothing noise, sounding both luscious, ripe and harmonious. In the first few years of being heavily into their music, rotating it often, I grew to adore their releases but after 2012's stunning "Divinian", "Monajjfyllen" and "Windumæra" couldn't quite do it for me. With this release I fear the same fate, these songs are just unable to make an impact on me.

As a listener the problem is in predictability and similarity, not a moment passes by that feels unexpected or surprising, every strum of the guitar, chord arrangement or note sung feels like pieces of the puzzle re-arranged. No song here was a stranger, from start to end It feels like Déjà vu, all Ive heard before and that makes it harder to leave an impression. The records tone, production and aesthetic is sublime, one of their best sounding records but the music is so distinctively typical and within the usual tropes they perform it fails to make itself known or unique. After many enjoyable listens I feel as if I could of been listening to anyone of their recent releases, it lacks distinction or something to separate and call its own.

Favorite Track: Andromedea
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Municipal Waste "Slime And Punishment" (2017)

Its the sixth release from legendary east coast outfit Municipal Waste. Formerly viewed as "revival crossover" their sixteen year tenure has established them as one of Crossovers best. Last time I checked in with them was back in 2007 where they were riding a wave of hype that produced wild festival shows with fans literally bringing surf boards to crowd surf at the bands command. It was quite the memorable show but since then I never stayed tuned in with the band, after five years of silence it seemed like a good time to give them another whirl and see if their upto the same old tricks.

"Slime And Punishment" is a fast and fun, thrashy blast of party hard, headbanging aggression that's not to be taken seriously. They have hardly evolved in ten years and the addition of a second guitarist doesn't seem to have given their sound any new edge. There are not many parts of this record that utilize two tracks, beyond a backing track for a guitar solo its mostly unable to break away from linear guitar work. Just another riff fest of crossover that brings far more thrash in the guitar work with all the classic chugging rhythms and grooves, power chord shredding rearranged to create another set of mosh friendly tracks for the energetic live show.

Tony Foresta's strained shouts bring the hardcore edge with a constant barrage of gang vocals chiming in along side him. "Parole Violators" presents a missed opportunity as a breakdown riff leads into some comical role play between a corrupt sleazy cop and skate punk, painting a hilarious image of an oldskool corrupted authoritarian attitude, the sort you'd see in movies reflecting times gone by. This album would of have a real wild card up its sleeve with more of that comical edge. Unfortunately its just another rapid riff fest of head bobbing fun, composed, performed and produced with a routine level of excellence from experienced metalheads that lacked a spark to really get me into it. Solid album but didn't offer anything I haven't heard done before.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Chief Keef "Thot Breaker" (2017)

Chief Keef is a name Ive heard thrown around from time to time, often lumped into the category of "garbage rappers" who don't have the same lyrical principals of the generations before them. The young Chicago artist was in school and on house arrest when his popularity blew up online, leading him to a record deal with Interscope Records. His first full length dropped at the age of seventeen in 2014 and catching wind of this new release (an album? mixtape? or freebie, I'm not sure), I figured It was time to check out Keef and see what he's about.

After five or six spins Ive been shocked, Ive laughed, grooved and cringed but mostly felt utterly dismayed by the sheer ludicrous demeanor of Keef's record persona. His attitude embellishes self gratification, shallow materialism, bigoted sexism and drug addiction portrayed as a desirable lifestyle, at least to Keef who seems to relish in the excess he paints with his words. The record is littered with mind blowing lines. I always though of a "trophy wife" as a symptom of objectification and seeing measurable value in beauty, yet with a line on "Can You Be My Friend" Keef literally says "hold you slowly, treat you like a trophy". He also wears his addiction like a badge of honor, proclaiming "You trying to smoke what I smoke, you take a hit and die". I could go on but the point is Ive come up against an entirely different perspective and attitude towards life, people and morals that just shocks me, mostly because the music is an glorification of this world view and lifestyle.

Whats been so strange with this record is how much I dig the instrumentals, even the vocal delivery. Keef sing raps with a velvety auto-tune that sinks into the glossy, reverberated synthetic sounds that conjure a sleek, indulgent modern, night life atmosphere. Tight trap beats shuffle and rattle away sharp hi-hats and quick kick snares that hold a tempo for Keef and his synths to jive over. The chemistry is strong, the auto tune vocals often harmonizing, coming together with an organic feel. Its a great record to listen to when not paying attention to the lyrics but that aspect really spoiled my enjoyment of otherwise solid instruments with a lot of style and atmosphere.

Its loaded with swagger and braggadocio that plays into the compositions, its subject matter however just isn't right for my taste and as a result it sound rather goofy and soon to be dated, especially the trendy hype mans whispery shouts that back up the lyrics, saying "bang bang" in excessive auto tune, sometimes stating "bitch" over and over. I'm not sure who hes talking to but its kind of ridiculous... Checking out Keef on youtube it sounds like his older material might be more interesting but for now I need a break from this self centered madness.

Rating: 4/10

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