Thursday, 31 December 2015

Mac "Shell Shocked" (1998)


Coming from the No Limit music factory, Mac's "Shell Shocked" is another from the year of 98 when No Limit Records pumped out 23 record from 20 different artists. Going for quantity over quality it would be hard for many of the artists on the hyped label to stand out and Mac is one of those who didn't sell as well at the time but this record is respected as one of the labels best. It's also got the most sensible album cover Ive seen of the over shopped and sometimes tacky southern style.

Its a typical record fitting Master P's formula. 73 minutes of solid beats stretching the format, compact disc, limit. On first listen it felt like Mac was being smothered by other characteristics, being another voice in a large crowd of No Limit artists it was the presence of Master P that seemed over the top with a barrage of over enthusiastic UGHs and Tupac pronunciations, emulating his delivery style and using similar lyrics, best head on "Money Gets" or "Memories". Getting used to Mac's voice I heard solid and steady flow more reminiscent of the east coast sound than southern. His lyrics flowed tight from word to word and sounded best when double tracking or using reverb on particular tracks.

Beats by the pound provided another set of sturdy beats with the typical range of styles and themes expected of this era. "The Game" recycled a beat from Silk's "Aint My Fault", nice to hear, and "Be All You Can Be" uses the classic melody from George Michael's "Careless Whisper", might sound odd but it works. I always enjoy noticing these entities in Rap music, as well as recycling beats the "Tank Dogs" would be reused Silk's "Southside Niggas" along with components to its beat. The records title track has some weak gun sound effects at the end, including the shotgun sound from the classic game Doom! "My Brother" also uses a sample from the eJay music composers that were popular at the time.

These quirks were fun to notice but the most important point is the strength of the beats holding the record from start to end, there maybe a few tracks you'd want to skip if not in the mood but it has what a good record needs and although nothing special happened in the lyrical department it still made for a great listen, one that's continuing the itch for more of Master P's brand of Hip Hop.

Favorite Tracks: Murda Murda Kill Kill, Tank Dogs, Can I Ball, The Game, Memories, Beef, My Brother
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My Top 10 Music Discoverys In 2015

 

Every year is a great year for music, because even if there isn't a lot interesting going on (not the case) there is an enormous ocean of the past gone by to wade through. As always I love to find new artists to listen to alongside the new records coming out from the ones I know. As well as countless good records Ive seen Meshuggah, Korn, Slipknot, Shikari, Devin Townsend, Nas playing Illmatic AGAIN! Download festival was a blast and in the summer caught Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg, Napalm Death, Death and Opeth! Later in the year Killing Joke, Manson, Deep Purple and Public Enemy! Its been one heck of a year! for my top 10 records released this year click here.

(10) IGORRR

Truly an artist of the internet era, with instant access to a vast depth of music, IGORRR's music draws from many obscure niches of Death Metal, Glitch and Baroque to collide in a frenetic maelstrom of noise assault. Perfect for my taste in aggressive oddities.

(9) Birocratic

Biro initially came across as a Nujabes clone but has managed to define his own style and sound across the course of a few records. Being a fan of Nujabes I obviously liked this from the get go, but it was great to hear Biro develop into its own brand of instrumental Jazz Hop.

(8) B.G.

My exploration of Southern Hip Hop hasn't led me to too many gems, but there's something to B.G's flow and laid back persona that really works, and when paired up with the right beats he makes a reputable impression.

(7) King Crimson

Their debut is a celebrated classic and having finally gotten around to giving it a listen I understand what the fuss is about and can't help but feel there is more on offer in their discography I wish to dive into soon.
(6) The Beach Boys

All I knew of this band were the Surf Rock numbers like "Surfin USA" which I had little interest in. Had no idea there was another side to the band, or more so Brian Wilson who composed the entirety of this record which I have fallen in love with.

(5) Master P

Master P was a name I knew of in the rap world, but this year I learned the story of his entrepreneurship with No Limit records and of the short lived success his label went through between 97 and 99. I wouldn't say he is one of the greats, but his style, the UGH and the crew he brought together he has definitely been responsible for a lot of enjoyable music that has satisfied my craving for more Hip Hop.

(4) Dead Kennedys

I've known about the legendary Punk group Dead Kennedys for years, but finally cracked the case this year with Frankenchrist which really struck a nerve with me. Although its significantly different from there other records its opened the door for me and I hope I'll get into their other records soon.

(3) Killing Joke

What a tough choice the top three has been, at third its Killing Joke, a band who I've heard of many times as an important influence on bands like Ministry, Korn and Godflesh I finally understand their importance and have grown ever so fond of their first two records, however the rest of their discography is proving to be rather patchy. I like their style, their identity which is very niche, a mix of Post-Punk and Industrial Rock with a charismatic voice.

(2) Kraftwerk

Its not strictly the year that Ive I learned about Kraftwerk's legacy and contribution to electronic music but it has been the year Ive really gotten to grips with their music and whats so fantastic and amazing about it. They had the vision to write emotional and imaginative songs at a time when electronic music was still seen as a novelty. The set the foundation for an explosion of synth pop in the 80s and subsequently everything else that followed. What's best of all is their music is fully realized and stands the test of time.

(1) Outkast

I have a soft spot for Hip Hop, so its no wonder to see Outkast here. Growing up I remember hearing B.O.B and Miss Jackson on MTV and this year decided to listen to their discography sequentially. Ive followed the journey of these two talented and articulate individuals who have crafted some of the finest Hip Hop records id never heard... or was waiting to hear? This is why I seek out new music, Outkast are one of Hip Hops greatest acts with a unique and defined sound that fit right into the vibe of the 90s. It was capable of pushing boundaries and I'm shocked its taken me so long to get around to that southern playalistic duo from my youth.

Monday, 28 December 2015

My Top 10 Albums Of 2015



So its nearly the end of the year and time to write about my favorite records released. Now that I think back over the year there have been some terrific records and compiling a top 10 wasn't too difficult as there had been about that many that stood out as being the most memorable and enjoyable. Alongside the best there were also a few stinkers, disappointing records I had been anticipating that unfortunately didn't deliver. Overall its been decent but not remarkable, of all that was great much of it was great within its own context with nothing ground breaking or revolutionary reaching my ears.

(10) Killing Joke "Pylon" Link

 Not a record I expected much from, having gotten to grips with Killing Joke's identity this one felt at home with everything they were about. The production and choices in the instruments tone really gave it a new dimension. Possibly their best since their first two records, however there still a lot of records for me to get through first.

 (9) Arcturus "Arcturian" Link
 

One of the most anticipated records I could ever think of. A decade of wait for the return of a band who's music has been both riveting and engulfing with their unique, distinguished sound and unforgettable songwriting that did not fail to deliver. It felt as if no time had passed, despite an awful production, the music shined bright and charmed once again with a familiar sound.

 (8) Izioq "My Own Private Video Game" Link
 

 Izioq second project was an interesting evolution from its predecessor. Moving away from the purist retro sounds of the debut, this sophomore record felt right at home while deviling into a more expansive and imaginative set of sounds that is full of charm and soul, creating nostalgic memories with the power of imagination.

(7) Joey Badass "B4.Da.$$" Link

I heard about Joey with a promise of a 90s nostalgia trip and boy did we get it! This record has the heart of the 90s spirit without being nostalgic or recreational, Joey brings his own style and flavor and it works. Solid record that's full of decent tracks.

(6) Iwrestledabearonce "Hail Mary" Link

I very nearly passed this one up. What a mistake that would of been! This has been the years most fun and "don't take seriously" record. Full of grooves, dichord abuse and maddening shredding, "Hail Mary" is an unrelenting onslaught of rhythmic aggression goodness that never lets the foot of the gas!

(5) The Underachievers "Evermore - The Art of Duality" Link

I like this duo a lot. They have a unique style and seem to be on their own path regardless of what trends are leading Hip Hop music. After checking out last years "Cellar Door" I had to pick this one up, turned out to be a real gem, conceptual and executed well this was full of food for thought and meaningful lyrics alongside tripy beats.

(4) Ghost "Meliora" Link

Heavily anticipated from one of the most exciting Metal bands active and they are going from strength to strength. Meliora gave a fan everything they could hope for and more with the classic "He Is" song. A true gem in one of Metals best records this year.

(3) Periphery "Juggernaut: Alpha/Omega" Link Link

A sublime double record with no shortage of inspiration. Periphery created possibly their best work to date with infectious grooves and lush harmonies bouncing back and forth from one another in the fold of progressive and creatively written songs that have been stuck in my mind.

(2) Marilyn Manson "The Pale Emperor" Link

 A stroke of genius, the return of a true musical great who's been drifting through obscurity in recent years. "The Pale Emperor" is one of Manson's strongest records, embracing a new introspective approach that works so well for the man who used to poke at anything else. Moody, dense and folk like, its a grabbing record that sucks you in.

(1) Enter Shikari "The Mindsweep" Link

From the first listen it was obviously a great record and possibly one of Shikari's best, but as the year went by this one wouldn't get out of my head. As a long time fan it made me realize how much the band had matured and progressed over the years. They have the same charm yet now their music has a greater sense of vision and clarity, a richer diversity of ideas and inspiration that keeps on giving. The band musically shape-shift through styles and aesthetics so effortlessly it has accumulated to the years most exciting record for the band who's future never stops looking brighter.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Native Construct "Quiet World" (2015)


Recommended to me as a cross between Haken and Opeth I couldn't pass up the promise of some epic Progressive Metal which Ive been enjoying over the festive season. This is the American three piece bands debut record released on Metal Blade Records and they will no doubt go on to become a popular band in the Progressive Metal scene that never seems to be short of new and promising acts.

The records colorful, lush and bountiful cover is a fair representation of the music that's full of bright and imaginative adventures unfolding within the organic flow of its ever changing passageways. Its quite an atypical and expected sound for the scene, but executed to a high standard within a flawless production of instruments captured in a luminous glory that's a simple pleasantry for the ears.

The record falls short in making its mark, defining what makes it unique in two different senses. Firstly no distinct characteristics in tone, delivery or composition jump out, for example a band like Opeth have Akerfeldt's voice and recognizable character in the guitars. On a second front the broader sense of themes within the songs never made themselves known. With a wide range of ideas and genre bends the record effortlessly flows and transition between extremes but it never make much sense of itself. Moving from doom blast beats and growls to serene ethereal synths and chilled, laid back rhythms sounds brilliant but its following a path that leads nowhere. As much as I enjoyed every listen, the songs never amounted to an experience where I could see the full picture. I don't want to put this one down yet, I hope with a few more listens it will make sense but it feels unlikely.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 14 December 2015

Cloudkicker "Woum" (2015)


 At the beginning of the year I enjoyed my first Cloukicker record "The Discovery" from the Pittsburgh based one man band. Seven years later "Woum" is unrecognizable from the noisy metallic Djent-fest I knew this project as. There is no disappointment, "Woum" is an inspired project, its only hint of the past is felt through the intricate, tight guitar performance and use of abstract noises in rhythmic synchronization with the percussion. Its got the feels of a Djentleman but is an acoustic Post-Rock affair that effortlessly flows through peaceful and calm compositions of melodic delight.

The guitars are light, bright and colorful, plucking away with reverbs and echos that feedback on themselves, masking the layers of quiter guitars that mingle underneath. They expand and contract as the intricacies unfold secretly before your ears, steadily growing in momentum and detail. Its held together by a loose and spacious kit that rocks untypical beats in a gracious and distant manor, at times feeling almost irrelevant, but still welcome. On select tracks there is a thick and textured bass underneath rocking grooves that work of the kit, and at other times it is more subdued in light of the lead guitars which were the focus of the record.

It all makes for colorful and bright listen that has a few notable moments like "Threaded", a guitar piece that makes fair use of a continually expanding reverb as the song gets lost into itself in a lurking flood of ethereal ooze. Its ambition and direction is short of the bigger picture for despite all its pleasantries nothing jumps out and grabs you, although you feel it may at any moment. Its a well realized and put together piece of music but it only goes half the distance it has the potential to do.

 Favorite Songs: Trim Splint, Threaded
Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Godspeed You! Black Emperor "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven" (2000)


Here's a record that's been in my rotation for a couple of years now. Hailed as a masterpiece and a classic I've failed to connect with whatever it is other people see in this album. "Lift Your Skinny Fists..." comprises of four lengthy 20 minute songs that entomb Shoegazing Post-Rock numbers inside a vault of murmuring drones and cascading ambiance. As I touched on in my post of "Celestite", such musical works can be a hit or miss even based on the tiniest of discrepancies but in this records case most of the choices in droning distortion guitars and gentle ambiances that grew and shrunk in-between where a turn off. In its quieter, brooding moments I felt little emotion or connection and in its big and dramatic, soaring guitar led Post-Rock drones I felt very little.

Its hard to describe a lack of connection or emotion, or to even pin point why but if somethings are not doing it for you its even harder when the more approachable content is hidden between lengthy intervals of dark, lengthy ambiance and dull drones. Despite my lack of captivation some moments show a sense of theme developing which come with some nice tempo changes that unfold. "Deathkamp Drone" was the most enjoyable piece from the albums fourth track but lost at the end of a ninety minute record it wasn't often I made it that far through. I gave it my time, I do wonder if its age and the context of that time makes it more remarkable but even so this record just wasn't for me.

Rating: 2/10

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Wolves In The Throne Room "Celestite" (2014)


Revisiting one of my favorite records from last year I found myself encapsulated in the mystic abyss that is "Celestite" again. Wolves In The Throne Room are an acclaimed American Black Metal band from Washington who never did much to catch my ear with their traditional sound, however this record, the bands fifth, marks a musical shift in style that may just be a "one off" or ambient record. A deep, dense, brooding guitar distortion lurking under the paranoid soundscape of "Initiation At Neudeg Alm" may be the only echo of their former sound as the group embark on mesmerizing plunge into the world of Dark Ambient and Drone music. In my experience these sorts of records are a niche in taste, they can easily turn you on or off with the nuances that make up the experience. In this case, everything here was primed for my taste, in the right mood one can get truly lost in these eternal soundscapes.

Drifting through the vast, colossal distances of space and time the twinkling of stars can be heard between the vicarious synths that breath in bursts of color and fade into the distance. These eerie and mystic flows of sound coarse past one another in a minimal environment that feels enriched by the quiet yet conjuring layers of intrepid synths that represent the infinite void. Its an experience of two half's, one facing the mysterious universe at its mercy and the other entrenching the spirit of evil with mean, brooding french horns and trumpets, orchestrating the feeling of a presence with a careful balance that lets no melody linger or feel prevalent. Each note works with the next to excite the imagination and paint the canvas with existential introspection in the face of vast nothingness.

The records second track dives deep into the evil, sinister side with thunderous and distant, deep droning distortions roaring alongside the sounds off descending planes and mischievous synths. Through it all the twinkling of the stars can be heard and slowly this heinous droning gives way to the abyss. After this the record continues on its haunting journey through the cosmos, droning and drifting seemingly forever, with only an inkling of evil returning on the title track.

The selection of synths and techniques used to create these sounds has been done with much care and inspiration. The compositions are lengthy, detailed, with many layers constantly working in tandem to maintain a grabbing atmosphere which plays out for 40 minutes through many progressions and drawn out moments that never make themselves to remarkable. The balance of melody and ambiance is sublime. The tunes playing the fewest of notes to whisper a tale, yet making no memorable mark, each time you are truly held into the songs moment.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Birocratic "BiroMakesABeet" (2015)


Back with an appetizer, a whiff of a record that clocks in at just under 10 minutes, Biro teases us with four of his finest beats to date. The charming Jazz Hop vibes flow in a stride of creativity and inspiration as Biro lets these beats swoon and groove in their moment, capitalizing on an excellent selection of samples and intertwining them with plenty of additional instruments to guide the songs through a few progressions that drown out a common sense of repetition. Gone are the trademark vocal cuts and missed they are not, where once the Nujabes similarities took hold there is now a great sense of individual style shining though the chemistry of lush whirly synths and jazzy piano driven samples.

With some great baselines and drum routines there is a strong undercurrent of jive and groove to move to under a dazzling array of jazzy, dreamy music. These songs are short in stature but maybe that's their strength? Biro has reinforced his loops with a pallet of instruments to keep the songs growing and evolving, but maybe it works so well because its in the shorter context. Either way its got charm, soul and is one of the best 10 minute records I've ever heard, although that's not many to compete with its got me hyped for what I hope will be a full-length release in the future.

Favorite Track: Next Stop
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 7 December 2015

Killing Joke "Pandemonium" (1994)


Killing Joke have quickly become a favorite band of mine and more so for their first two records than any of the others Ive been making my way through. After the noisy, discordant rock out, slightly metallic "Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions" the niche Post-Punk, Industrial Rock outfit took four years to create "Pandemonium" where their influence comes full circle. Having been a notable impact on American Industrial Metal band Ministry, the feedback loop can be heard as the band take a considerable step into the Industrial Metal sound with heavier distortions and a more Metal sense of rhythm, while keeping all that makes them unique and distinguishable.

The records stand out track "Exorcism" marks seven minutes of pounding industrious repetition and heavy guitar crunching under singer Jaz Coleman's theatrical performance of an exorcism, descriptive, practically visual sound effects included. Once again the band execute repetition to perfection on their heaviest track, which bares a strong resemblance to songs like "Just One Fix" and "N.W.O." from Ministry's "ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ" album, slamming the same riff over and over to pummeling, pounding drums. As I'm writing this I can't help but notice the symbols used in the title on the cover art.

Each track is its own beast taking on a distinct sound, "Black Moon" having a dreary vibe reminiscent of "Revelations", "Millennium" with a soaring sing-along chorus that has a typical 90s charm about it and "Whiteout" brings about denser percussion, with more layers and faster hi hats taking on some borderline Drum N Bass influences. The last two tracks trail off with a noticeable drop in production quality. Pandemonium has its impressive moments but comes off as a collection of fair songs kept fresh with the constant shifts in tone and vibe from song to song. With only one stand out track its a record you'll of wanted more from if your aware of what this band is capable of.

Favorite Track: Exorcism
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

B.G "Checkmate" (2000)


Following up on my favorite southern record "Chopper City In The Ghetto" is B.G's last release with Cash Money Records before his departure later in the year over money disputes. Its his sixth release in five years, rather remarkable when you consider he was still a teenager when recording this one. Once again he teams up Mannie Fresh for a production sound similar to the Big Tymers "I Got That Work" album released in the same year.

Much like the sparkling bling fueled cover art, the beats are crisp and glossy as the fidelity steps up a touch. With a finer selection of programmed instruments, the compositions have a greater clarity as layers of snappy, sharp, clean instruments jive together in a mix where you can clearly hear each and every instrument and how they contribute to the song. The drums inflect a southern accent with hi hats and various percussive instruments taking president over the kick snare groove. Around it plenty of noisier subtle electronic sounds and instruments move in the backdrop while the brighter instruments, pianos, guitars, horns and synths, make up the short and simple melodies that loop through these songs. It all adds up to a fair collection of beats that falls short of being remarkable or special, but far from being anything negative.

So when B.G. steps to the mic its his opportunity to elevate the record but his laid back, easy flow doesn't quite chime like it did before. These beats require some hype and energy and the disparity can be heard on tracks like "I Know" where the thumping orchestral hits don't match his tone or energy. A lot of the guest features do better for these beats and for all the verses and choruses Ive listened through there wasn't a memorable line to be had, unlike Chopper City with its many lines and hooks I can't get out my head. Although I enjoyed this record, there is little to talk about or take away, and I'm left feeling this one suffers from the factory approach to keep pumping out records regardless of inspiration.

Favorite Songs: U Know How We Do, This N Die, Get In Line, Run With My Chopper, Problems, he Used 2 Be A Man
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Darkthrone "Transilvanian Hunger" (1994)


On their previous record "Under A Funeral Moon" Darkthrone created a purist record that pushed musical boundaries in an "anti music" rebellion against traditional norms, even within their own emerging scene. At the time it must of been hard to conceive the next step but somehow the duo managed to take their sound to new frightening extremes. "Transilvanian Hunger", their first as a two piece, would take on three distinct progressions that set it aside from its predecessor and defined it.

The most obvious, and immediate characteristic is once again production. As if the harsh, colorless pallet of sound wasn't cold enough for their taste, Darkthrone pushed hard with a mix that removed the high end frequencies entirely and squeezed all the instruments into a memorizing haze through the mid and low ranges. Its a shrill wave of noise, narrow and claustrophobic, frightening and haunting as this dense hurtling wall of noise plunges us into the depths of a frozen hell.

The next trait may not be a rebellion, but certainly comes across as one. Switching from English to Norwegian lyrics would not be an original idea but certainly further alienated their music and added a element of mystery to foreigners listening in. Many of the vocals are already difficult to decipher as is, the language adding an extra barrier in the extremities, with exception to the title track and a few other lines that are in English. The title tracks lyricism is gloomily somber, a hopeless romanticism with cold and chilling misanthropy amplified by the bleak and pale music.

Behind this wall of sound and imaginative mystic lyricism lies an impressive take on the simplicity of progression through a singular line of direction. With an onslaught of rattling, whirling, never ending blast beats and mirroring base, the guitars leads us through a single dimension of sound, focusing on simplistic power chord shifts and the occasions whiff of a cold lifeless melody or frantic injection of inaudible solo leads. Through this harsh sound and linear approach to songwriting we journey through the expanses of the cold and dark side of natures cold and unforgiving reality. Keeping the listener locked in through pummeling repetition, a simple riff change can sound monumental, reminding me of the overall experience. Through so little can be delivered so much in the imagination that a peak of light shining through the keyhole sparks, wondering whats on the other side.

Favorite Song: As Flitter Mice As Satans Spys
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Darkthrone "Under A Funeral Moon" (1993)


Of the back of their transitional record "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" Darkthrone set out to write a purist record that would cast aside the remnants of Death Metal and delve deep into the spirit of the Black Metal scene. The result is a horrifically dark, chilling and blunt record with a strong satanic message. It brought about techniques, musical ideas and a classic low-fi production aesthetic that would have a vast influence on the future of the scenes music. It was also the last record with second guitarist Zephyrous who left the band as a duo that are still writing music together to this day.

The record opens with an ambush, "Natassaja In Eternal Sleep", dropping us immediately into what feels like the middle of a song with a temperate, ugly scaling guitar riff leading the way, the vocals drop in with a similar mid-song setting and we get a taste of the many rebellious, almost "anti-music" ideas this record experiments with. As suddenly as it starts, it ends, with the song simply fading out sharply, mid riff, after the last lyric is howled "And Natassaja, I'll get these god dam angels drunk".

The lyrics are a merit of their own, but the delivery and execution of Nocturno Culto's wretched screams are sublime. Working with both an immediate and delayed reverb, his snarl and throaty howls feedback on themselves before echoing out into the track. The texture is menacing and shrill, combined with the evil and sinister lyricism he comes off like an anti-christian weapon of malice, haunting us from beyond this realm. On the records title track Culto's walks us through the proceedings of satanic ritual with a chilling nocturnal lyricism, "Drinking the poisoned blood, I enter my shadowed coffin, two goats horns in my hands, I raise my arms and close my eyes, to receive the infernal hails from my brother in the land of the damned". Frightening stuff if you choose to take him seriously. I can't help but take it with a pinch of salt however I think the mood and tone of the record makes their beliefs and intentions very clear.

 The records production is a staple mark of the genre as the band pushed extremes and opted for a low fidelity sound to satisfy their rebellious "anti-music" fever. The guitars have a thin gristly fuzz distortion that feels narrow and evasive, the drums rattle and clash through a claustrophobic lack of dimension. The bass is buried in the haze and the performance has a fair few mistakes and inconsistencies that add to the charm. It was an intentional decision to downgrade the fidelity and it served as a feedback loop to bury the music in an unforgiving sound that would reinforce the ideology. Having listened to this one so many times Its become the norm, almost hard to imagine when I first discovered these record and saw a peak of light through the black, tarnsihed front.

Collectively its a flawless, cohesive collection of ideas executed sublimely but Ive always felt a selection of songs out-shined the others, leaving it slightly short of what would be a "perfect" Black Metal record. Exploring many dynamics of mood, tone and general "evilness" the group even throw down a slamming satanic beat down on "Summer Of The Diabolical Holocaust" that makes a masterpiece out the simplest use of rhythm and power-chords possible. It climaxes with a cryptic, wild guitar shredding solo that wails a noisy mess of sound in an almost piss taking tribute to guitar leads. The rebellion is real with this record, its black, bone cold and not for the light hearted. Beneath its ugly menacing exterior lies an exciting musical adventure that pushes all boundaries.

Favorite Songs: Natassaja In Eternal Sleep, Summer Of The Diabolical Holocaust, Unholy Black Metal, Under A Funeral Moon
Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Darkthrone "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" (1992)


In recent weeks I've been in the mood for revisiting old favorites and Norwegian Black Metal outfit Darkthrone are among them. Its been well over a decade since I discovered this band and their rebellious music, for new listeners in the genre Darkthrone are often one of the first names to crop up with one of the earliest records in the emerging scene and a prolific influence on the future direction of the genres sound that many of bands would come to emulate. "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" is the first of three records known as the "Black Trinity" or "Unholy Trinity" that marks a crucial part of the bands history as well as introducing the forever copied minimalist black and white album artwork including the classic corpse paint. In the next two posts I will cover the other records that make up the trio.

In 1991 Darkthrone released their first full length "Soulside Journey" an unremarkable Death Metal record that gave them a foot in the door when shifting sounds. Convinced by local musicians to change their sound Darkthrone would be among the first to release a full commercial record as a Black Metal outfit thanks to their record deal with Peaceville records. Although this record doesn't resemble anything along the lines of Death Metal, a closer inspection reveals some left over characteristics that would be non-existent in the follow up "Under A Funeral Moon".

The record starts with the classic 11 minute "Kaatharian Life Code", a deep satanic chant cries out between the echoing tom drum and eerie, hellish synths that create a soundscape of satanic mysticism. Before long it crashes into screams, blast beats and wailing Black Metal guitar shredding. The records aesthetic is sharp, cold and dense, the guitars have a fuzzy and thin tone that spreads a fair range over the warm but unfocused baselines. The drums hammer and drive these songs with a surprisingly flat and sterile quality. It comes together with a charm, magnified by Nocturno Culto's haunting screams, the rough and raw texture of his vocals burying themselves in the excessive, but short reverb. I may of listened to this record too many times, but it sounds fantastic for such an early record in an experimental genre.

Despite nailing the aesthetic, there's much to be said about the guitar work and general tone of the record, although frosty and grim on the outside the mood and undertone of the record isn't quite on the same wavelength. It may be a collection of great songs but the death metal influences are very distinct with the blast beats dropping the kick first instead of the snare, snare blasts being a staple feature in Black Metal. Many of the guitar riffs have a warmer tone and display many techniques commonplace in Death Metal. It sounds very much like the riffs were adapted in their transition between sounds and played at different tempos. That's just an observation though, Its a fine record with a continual churning over of power chord driven songs with plenty of head banger moments.

Favorite Songs: Kaatharian Life Code, In The Shadow Of The Horns, The Pagan Winter
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 20 November 2015

Juvenile "400 Degreez" (1998)


Returning to the dirty south again I picked up this record from the Cash Money crew that's been hailed as a classic. Fronted by one of the better heavily shopped covers it has Juvenile surrounded by fire, golden frames and a sprinkling of sparkling diamonds. Coming from New Orleans Juvy brings a weight of localized slang and pronunciation to digest as he spits with a limp, twisting words to his style, moving syllables, slacking on fidelity in favor of a southern rawness. Production is once again handled entirely by Mannie Fresh of Big Tymers who delivers a solid collection of beats with one or two distinct numbers.

The record opens up with a classic track "Ha" that could turn many a listener away with verse after verse of raps with a single rhyme, "Ha". Juvy shows his skills in other tracks but on this one poses a bunch of questions that creates a range of scenarios relevant to his environment. His flow is lethargic, in a laid back way, pronunciation loose and casual while keeping to the tempo. His charm comes from the subtle grooves and tone shifts as his delivery works like an instrument chiming in with the music. His deliveries trump his rhymes time and time again with the exception of "You see me? I eat, sleep, shit and talk rap! You see that 98 Mercedes on TV, I brought that!". Classic opening verse on the title track.

Its a standout track, and its production brings a dark and gritty vibe to an ethereal and spacey chorus as morphed vocals sweep through the spacious atmosphere, saluted with a subtle roll of bells in the mid. The tracks are mostly composed of electronic instruments typical of the era but in the rhythm department the kicks, snares, hi hats and stabs bring a distinct bounce and southern groove. Doubling up on the beat the songs often drop in shuffling hi hats and harsh 4/4 claps onto the beat. Its raw, and sets a president for further experimentation, which would have an influence on Trap music. Overall its a great record but between its better tracks the 72 minutes does feel stretched. Unlike B.G. these Cash Money rappers don't keep me captivated on that side of Hip Hop music as much as the instrumentals do.

Favorite Tracks: Ha, Ghetto Children, Follow Me Now, Welcome 2 Tha Nolia, Back That Azz Up, 400 Degreez
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Killing Joke "Revelations" (1982)


It was back in March of this year that I first gave this record a spin. After listening to their debut "Killing Joke" I moved onto their third and found it very difficult to get into this one. A lack of fidelity in the production made it unsuitable for earphones on a windy walk. Months later on my sound system I was able to distinguish a lot more of what was going on but still felt an absence of something important. With much reluctance I have finished listening to what I hope is the worst Killing Joke record, its pretty appalling, gloomy and tinged with Gothic influences.

The band's charm is in the dissonant guitars, mechanical stop start rhythms and singer Jaz Coleman's distinguished voice. On previous records it all came together with atmosphere, drive and meaning to form memorable songs that introduced new ideas and musical approaches in the Post-Punk scene that's had a profound influence on many bands, mainly Metal & Industrial. Going from the snappy rhythm led hook of "Tension" and anthemic dystopian sing along "Follow The Leaders", the band hit an inspirational bankruptcy on "Revelations". Opening with the mediocre track "The Hum" marks the high point for a stale and drab record which quickly drifts into obscurity.

The spark is missing, and it can be felt sorely after the first two tracks as the discordant guitar fails to ignite any atmosphere. Idea after idea, riff after riff falls hard on itself as obvious injections of "unexpected" sounds creep into the tracks with bells and acoustic guitars in the breaks. The drums pound and grind away uninspired rhythms that lack a groove or any chemistry with the guitars. Jaz's wails away in his own style but like the drums just fails to gel with the guitars and we end up with a collection of misfiring songs that drone through a moody and uninspiring setting.

It feels like the band where going for a darker vibe and focusing on the drone of the discord. In doing so they were unable to create anything memorable on a miserable record that felt like leftovers from a demo. I'm trying to be fair, but Its a poor effort with little chemistry and a lack of direction. There is also the absence of any electronics which in retrospect feels like an even bigger part of their sound. Disappointing, but I'm still keen to get through their discography.

Rating: 2/10

Monday, 16 November 2015

Ministry "ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ" (1992)


ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ marks the peak of Industrial Metal legends Ministry's commercial success as well as the musical peak for this classic era their sound with future records steering from the mood and tone of this social-politically charged sound of disillusion and despair with the status quo. Marked by the opening track "New World Order", Ministry create the soundtrack for riot and civil unrest through their mechanically repetitive song constructs of robotic guitar riffs and dystopian guitar leads. It had been many years since I gave this record a listen and hearing a feedback of influence in Killing Joke's "Pandemonium" I had to give it a spin again.

The record starts with two of Ministry's finest songs and sets a contagious attitude of outrage and anger that fuels the experience. Tightly performed distortion riffs churn over and over in a sublime execution of minimalism and repetition that never seems to loose its drive, despite mainly consisting of the same thing over and over, it gets me every time. Paul Barker's machine like drumming goes heavy on the snare with simplistic, pounding grooves that gel with the guitars and amplify there aggression. "Just One Fix" ends with a lead guitar playing a Slayer-esq dark lead that is a favorite moment on the record. Unfortunately from this point forward the album fails to maintain the mood established and only "Scare Crow" comes close with a slow and daunting atmosphere of dread with distortion chords ringing out under haunting leads and Al Jourgensen's eerie screams.

Around these songs a wild inconsistency of ideas obvious in execution make up the rest of the track listing, the fast relentless blasting of "TV II", Thrash Metal riffage of "Hero" or depraved noise horror of "Grace", each songs idea drifts to far from the original tone. Although the recurring use of sampling and mood has some consistency, the guitars input greatly different ideas to that of the opening tracks and are not particularly remarkable in their own right. As a collection of songs they are impressive but out of place with one another and so as an album it really falls short of amounting to anything as the shifts in mood, tone and sometimes aesthetic dispel the magic and potential this one shows in the beginning.

Favorite Songs: N.W.O, Just One Fix, Scare Crow
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Enter Shikari "The Mindsweep Hospitalised" (2015)


Remix albums are rarely a favorable listening choice for me. Seeing one of my favorite records of 2015 remixed, "The Mindsweep", I didn't get particularly excited. Enter Shikari have always filled there discography with EPs, remix records and mini albums that rarely have more to offer than the full lengths. With strong electronic influences in their sound its no surprise they turn to a host of different electronic artists to dissect and rebuild their tunes. Drumstep, Dubstep, whatever you want to call it, a few distinctive elements of the Mindsweep songs are reassembled into new entities.

Most of the songs here consist of high fidelity, temperate drum kits hammering away between atypical dance grooves and more intricate arrangements. Decorative synths and un-intrusive melodies fill the void above the thick baselines and occasional dub drops. On there own the songs hold up well, but feel over-shadowed by the deliberate inclusion of samples, mainly vocal, from the main record. It feels like a forceful tie and the memorable lyrics and delivery style of Rou have the originals playing out in the mind. With each listen the better aspects of the record began to show but as a whole this felt like a collection of mediocre Drumstep stitched to the original record with little inspiration. I could of enjoyed this much more without the needless inclusion of sampling to tie it to a great record.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, 9 November 2015

Dio "The Last In Line" (1984)


Dio are an American Heavy Metal band fronted by Ronnie James Dio who passed away in 2010. Named after their singer, ther band are very much defined by his soaring vocal presence, a powerful and melodic voice that can hold notes with an unrivaled tenacity. Being a metalhead of the 90s and 00s eras there are many 80s bands that are beyond my scope, but how Dio evaded me all these years is a mystery. The band have sold over ten million records and have a sound about as definitive of Heavy Metal as it gets, fitting in alongside the greats of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne.

The record starts with the fist pumping, anthem-like sing along "We Rock" setting the tone for an energetic foray of arena rock Heavy Metal that never slows down. From start to end its just classic fist pumping, head banging Heavy Metal with rattling drums, big grooving baselines and heavy chord driven guitars. The records tempo slows at times with elements of Ballard rock. The occasional use of synths fit in well but for the most part its a pretty traditional approach executed with a spark to define it as Dio.

The guitar work is solid, a great balance of thrashier picking rhythms and drawn out power chords that are elevated thanks to an excellent set of baselines courtesy of Jimmy Bain. They hammer and groove with a warm and bold tone that's high in the mix without overpowering the over instruments. Its often the focus of the energy alongside Dio's powerful voice commanding every note he hits. On the front of theme and execution everything here is pretty typical of 80s Heavy Metal, however nothing is corny of cheap, this is pure quality from start to end and made for the live audience with each song feeling fit for a stage in front of thousands.

Favorite Tracks: We Rock, Mystery
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Silkk The Shocker "Made Man" (1999)


Diving further into the dirty south I picked out this record from No Limit rapper "Silkk The Shocker" that marked his commercial peak with a platinum record that debuted first on the American billboard charts. There's an agitated and aggressive side to Silk's flow and flicking through this record I found it unappealing but decided to give this one a go anyway. Its often the case that familiarity makes music easier to understand and by the end of my first listen I was really starting to dig Silkk's style that sways between a smoother traditional delivery and the agitated, violent rap style similar to the energetic hyped flow of Mystikal who appears on this record too with a whole array of guests from the No Limit family, including RnB singer Mya who illuminates the single track "Somebody Like Me".

Like many records of this era "Made Man" stretches the CD length with 74 minutes of beats and raps that hold it together without dragging on. There's a fair amount of variety in theme and mood that shifts around from track to track. From gangster, to RnB with some heart felt tracks in between the mood can switch quickly yet somehow it flows. For example the rowdy rhyme stomping track "No Limit" where Silkk, Fiend & Mystikal spell out words is followed by the remorse for the dead song "End Of The Road". This chop and change approach helps keep the record exciting and beside the more traditional Rap tracks there's a handful of more creative and experimental tracks that where a breath of fresh air for the sound of this era. The album's name and opening track lay's down a theme and concept for the record which drops off immediately. Romanticizing with gangster culture of the Italian-American mafia, Silkk creates a scene of him becoming a "made man" like in the Godfather movies. There's not much mention of this theme after that, one of two tracks bring it up but essentially that's as far as it goes.

Silkk and the group bring a decent set of raps but nothing exceptional, Master P seemed excessively hyped with many of his enthusiastic ugh shouts in the background, couldn't help but put a smile on my face. It was nice to hear Jay-Z pop up on "You know What We Bout" but his style sounded out of place. The records production is solid and testament to holding this one together for 74 minutes. Its a typical late 90s collection of clean MIDI instruments with less sampling and plenty of creativity. One or two tracks stand out, but in general its a solid but not spectacular record that was worth giving a fair few listens.

Favorite Songs: Somebody Like Me, I Ain't My Fault, No Limit, Southside Niggas, Get It Up
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Underachievers "Evermore - The Art Of Duality" (2015)


Young Hip Hop duo "The Underachievers" from Brooklyn, New York are back with a follow up to last years debut "Cellar Door"! A dark and mysterious record with modern instrumentals, speedy raps and lyrical substance, somewhat of a rarity in this era of Hip Hop. The two showed a lot of artistic intelligence and there potential has been truly realized on "Evermore" where the two step up there game with bigger raps, tighter themes and another set of quality instrumentals. The record is split into two half's as the cover would suggest, the light and dark side, both fleshed out in concept and sound.

The two rally back and forth with engaging heart felt raps, telling there life stories and introspective thoughts with a touch of class in lyrical delivery that never takes the foot of the gas. Spitting fast coherent rhymes through their distinctive flows, I find myself reminded of the greats like Nas and Rakim who could engage from start to end as these two do for the most part of this record. Delivering positive messages of expanded consciousness and awareness the two struck a nerve with me and reflected a lot of my attitude towards the importance perspective and our roles in a collective experience with deep and meaningful ideas and lifestyle suggestions. The rhymes are on point as are the beats, the bright side complimenting their narratives with alien, exotic instrumentals full of spacey synths and harmonious oddities with a positive soul. There's a nice spread of variance, "The Dualist" getting generously jazzy and the record fails to repeat itself keeping each instrumental unique.

"Reincarnation" marks the dark side of the record with a deliberately evil and menacing trap instrumental. The two shift gears bringing the battle raps and boisterous rhyme spitting to prove there worth. The ghostly "ah ha" echoing confirmations return and a lot of the focus shifts away from the conscious raps and catchy hooks drop in as a focal point around the mean, showoff rap style. The instrumentals follow a similar spacey vibe but flow in a mysterious direction with trap beats pounding out fast fluttery hi hats and aggressive snare kick grooves.

The first half definitely takes the biscuit with much deep wisdom to be found in the lyrics and the instrumentals shine brighter than their counterparts, that's no pun. These were some of the best Hip Hop tracks I had heard this year. The second half is a mark behind but still fantastic and engaging. The duo really came through on this one, proving their potential and elevating themselves as artists with a focused and meaningful effort that turned into a memorable record I've been unable to put down.

Favorite Song: Star Signs
Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Meshuggah "Nothing Remake" (2006)


Back in 2006 this release seemed like a bizarre choice for the pioneering Swedish metalers "Meshuggah". Coming of the back of there finest record to date, "Catch 33", the band took to the studio to re-record their 2002 effort "Nothing" which was at that time my least favorite record of theirs. As you can imagine I had little reason to listen to this one, but shuffling through some of their songs it made sense to pick them from the remake, since it sounds somewhat better technically. In doing so I found my way back to this record and realized how much the re-recording elevates the concept of the record with a reinvigorated aesthetic and slight adjustment of play styles and tempos.

In 2002 "Nothing" was a record that further pushed the extremities "Chaosphere" created with the harsh tonal construct and Djent guitars tones. In developing this sound Meshuggah flirted dangerously with the void and the lifeless element of their sound, to the point where some songs easily drifted into the snooze as barbaric rhythms hammered away without an inch of melody. This was a guitar tone assault of amplified intensities as elastic grooves bounced with the noisy poly rhythmic drum machine, vocalist Yens's monotone screams adding another layer of force. The records short coming where in its hazardous production of competing volumes, a rigid drum sound with repetitive symbol sounds and a lack of sound in the low-mid.

The re-recording irons out all the flaws of the original with a vastly better produced drum sound that feels more cohesive with the guitars with are a massive element of this records sound design. They sound gorgeous! Deep, dense and thick guitar distortion fills up much the audio space and further enforces the elastic nature of the grooves with the elasticity reigning through the clarity of distortion captured. With such a finely tuned sound these songs are given a better chance to reveal what they are about, a slight tempo change on "Nebulous" and the brilliant guitar tone fuel the elastic energy grooving through the eccentric guitar riffs.

But "Nothing Remake" is still the same record, a self realized experiment in groove and timings that hacks into the primal heart of rhythm and extrapolates an array of unique and special ideas unheard anywhere else before at the time. Although a touch more tolerable it still suffers the same void and sterile incarnation that makes its experience drab and to lifeless at times. You have to be in the right mood, because it wont deliver that mood to you. Its got banging grooves throughout and tons of incredible moments, but as a record there's a lot of monotone and bleak to wade through between the inspiring moments. It has some of their best and worst output all rolled into one relentless onslaught, and on a final note id like to mention "Straws Pulled At Random" is a stunning song that starts out in violent frenzy of blunt force elastic aggression, steadily evolving into a moment of beauty as minimal melodic inflections breath color into a song of black and white.

Favorite Songs: Rational Gaze, Straws Pulled At Random, Nebulous
Rating: 6/10

Monday, 26 October 2015

Killing Joke "Pylon" (2015)


Thirty five years since their debut, "Killing Joke" are still at it. Their first two records a real pleasure to uncover and hear an early influence on Industrial Metal such as "Ministry" and "Godflesh". Unable to get into their third record "Revelations" I left this band alone and nearly passed this record by when I saw it in my feed. I wasn't expecting anything much but was quite surprised to find their identity intact, mostly thanks to Jaz Coleman's distinctive voice. An apparent shift in aesthetic and execution gives a refreshing overhaul to the vibe and themes that stay very much intact from their roots.

"Pylon" is a warning machine on cruise control, each song swiftly flying through the wasteland of a post apocalyptic world, with social commentaries and observations on the state of our modern society, its direction and corruptions. Its a message of doom and gloom broadcasted from the loudspeakers of a steadily paced set of songs that cruise onward and drone with big, fuzzy chord driven distortion guitars and one dimensional synths that play subtle roles in amplifying the atmosphere. Coleman's anthemic cries of disillusion and unrest tie the music to the lyrical themes with alterations in delivery to match the musical shifts that are present in every song.

Its a simple approach to songwriting coupled with a great aesthetic. The guitars are warm and dense, the drums have a fantastic, punchy, loud yet soft tone. The bass guitar thick, powerful, pounding away under the hazy wall of sound guitars and Coleman's voice is colorful, smooth and darkly. Select keys and electronics play a potent role in adding that extra layer to amplify moments of the songs. The overall mood and tone is definitely on the gloomy side yet when tackled head on by the music feels empowering and uplifting, all without exerting any forceful aggression. An easy flowing listen with a big mood and messages to deliver. Solid record.

Favorite Songs: New Cold War, War On Freedom, Into The Unknown
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Bring Me The Horizon "That's The Spirit" (2015)


So here we have the fifth and latest full length from English band "Bring Me The Horizon" hailing from Sheffield. The five piece Rock / Metal outfit have been together for over ten years now with a couple of line up changes on the second guitar, the four friends have stuck together from their formation when they were still in school. The band are now completely unrecognizable from their Deathcore roots. Since there inception they have managed to keep themselves in the lime light while shifting their sound from Deathcore, to edgy Metalcore, to some form of Eletronic-core, and now Pop Rock. The transition has been a big one, yet somehow through the shifts in sound they've kept an old audience happy while attracting more and more fans.

This latest sound is a shinny, bright and over polished, squeaky clean affair, fusing dense tonal guitars with gleaming electronics in a wall of sensual oozy delight. Compressed drums kick, punch and pound through the rich and airy sounds of layered synths racing with the guitar leads that range from Nu Metal to Alternate Rock and arrive with a Post-Metal sense of space. Vocalist Oli Sykes is impressive, showing a range of melody in well delivered cleans alongside his screams which were once quite gnarly and rough in the Deathcore days. The aesthetic is quite the achievement, and the music behind it is a mixed bag of fruits. There's a strong slice of cheap pop that coarses through this record in the form of hooks, lyrics and leads and the balance is a matter of taste and tolerance.

The record starts of strong with a bouncy grooving throw back to Nu Metal riffs that take charge on tracks like "Happy", its lyrics a sarcastic pun towards pop music which in the later stages becomes the focus. On "True Friends" the lyrics start with the teenage angst "twists" and cringing play on words "True friends stab you in the front". A lot of the lyrics on this record felt a little lack luster and hollow, not a lot of food for thought, but simple sentiments wrapped up in catchy word play. Its a double edged sword that works when the music does. "Follow you" delivering a delightful vocal hook that the lyrics do justice, but at other times it didn't quite come off as well.

"That's The Spirit" is a record that's challenged me. On first listen I could barely stand it, but a lot of the "pop" elements and catchy hook writing does deserve a lot of merit because its fantastically composed for a gorgeous aesthetic. Not a lot of whats on offer feels special or original and the second half drags a fair bit for me as the guitars get lighter and lighter with a bigger focus on the softer side of their sound. It leaves me with mixed feelings but there's songs here to be enjoyed and where they have progressed they've certainly lost what made them unique but the direction there heading in is a positive and potentially exciting one.

Favorite Songs: Happy Song, Throne, Follow You
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions "Bavarian Fruit Bread" (2001)


Following up on Mazzy Starr's "Among My Swan" and subsequent hiatus, this Hope Sandoval record is mistakable for her main band. With the help of "The Warm Intentions", Hope continues on a similar path with a collection of dreamy and mysterious folk numbers that induce a laid back trance as Hope's seductive voice soothes the soul with her soft and dreamy singing voice. Whats different between the two projects is subtle, the trademark bells and harmonicas feature as if the same, but the hazy distortion tones and darker leaning of the sound are gone.

"Bavarian Fruit Bread" is a lighter incarnation that has the same breezy, dreamy nature. It gives a lot more light to Hope's voice in a complimenting manor. The instrumentals can be a touch sparse at times with the drum kit being a rare feature in many of these songs and its very much a case of hit and miss. When in full swing like "On The Low" everything is just right, mellow and rural, charming and delicate. Indulging, at other times the lone guitar and Hope get's a little to baron to spark the magic, but its also a case of mood. Sometimes I could drift right in, but not often.

Its a terrific sounding record with sparkling acoustic guitars and dreamy echos. There is a couple of more striking songs than on the previous record but its coupled with plenty of tiresome songs that get a little lost with the wind. Hope's voice is beautiful throughout but it doesn't come together as a full length, great in the perfect mood but often a bit of a drab. As much as I wanted to like this album its flaws were all to apparent.

Favorite Songs: Suzane, On The Low
Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" (1966)


Listed on Rolling Stone's "500 greatest albums of all time" at number 2 I felt compelled to check out this Beach Boys record. I mean, who doesn't like the beach boys? Fun loving Surf Rock with those timeless vocal harmonies. Well "Pet Sounds" shows of very different side of this band, or more so Brian Wilson who composed and produced the entire record, so much so you could call it a solo record if it wasn't for his band-mates laying down the backing vocals. Being the first Beach Boys record Ive given a proper listen I found most of what I knew about them to be missing. The catchy hooks, surf themes and chart topping, single oriented songs where no where to be found. The only familiarity were their voices which were always the main attraction.

Pet sounds is a strange kinda of melancholy. Through it all a bright, warm soul that's got heart beats away, uplifting and littered with colorful instruments it has a deep sorrow that's felt through Brian's lyrics of heartbreak and loneliness. Its insular and sweet hearted, the sadness seeps through a swell of beauty in the world of music he isolates himself in. A musically somber moment arrives on "Don't Talk" as an outreach of support and comfort in Brian's lyrics reveal such deep sorrow in the music has gesture has exposed. The experience as a whole creates such a unique image of a man torn between pain and beauty, and pouring it all into the music.

The music itself is a dense and intricate pallet as a whole host of instruments and sounds embark on a journey to play out memorable, moving melodies that come in layers, overlapping and intertwining to make up the themes. Subtle instruments and quiet calming sounds fill in all the gaps, even in the slower moments theirs a continual tapestry of fine noises to notice. In the percussive department claps, tambourines, and coconut hoofs expand the drum kit as well as bicycle bells and horns cropping up in places, its quite a delight to hear such care put into it all. With flutes, organs, strings, guitars, pianos and a seemingly endless list of instruments, they all join into delightfully simple, easy to follow and cohesive songs.

Quite often the classic vocal harmonization's drift from the main focus of these songs, grand and captivating in their moments, Brain's voice and his music holds it own alone and some of the vocal lines feel like another instrument, its actually really soothing how they fit in with the instruments and become apart of the song in that way. Much could be said for the lyrics and themes but they are relatively direct and the sorrowful moments come across with sometimes blunt "This is the worst trip Ive ever been on" and sometime poetic words. Ive grown so very fond of this record and quite simply can't put it down. One day this will be a favorite of mine, I look forward to all the times I can enjoy it again.

Favorite Songs: You Still Believe In Me, Don't Talk, Pet Sounds, Caroline No
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Run The Jewels "Meow The Jewels" (2015)


 Following up on two claimed and well received records in concurrent years, Hip Hop Duo "Run The Jewels" return in 2015 with a crowdfunded remix record themed around cats... and meow sounds. I was hoping for a record to hold me over until RTJ3 arrives in 2016 but have found myself sorely disappointed with a record that's novelty didn't phase me for even a moment. This will be the first time I write my thoughts after just one listen, but I quite honestly don't want to waste my time with this record again. To be fair its not awful, there's just nothing here that tickles my fancy.

The albums overall aesthetic is bizarre, spacey, zany and damn right quirky. Meow sounds litter all the songs as expected, but accompanying them is an array of weird bass noises and other sounds which attempt to emulate instrument sounds through manipulated cat samples. The problem is these heavily stretched and pitch shifted sounds don't amount to anything exciting or even that musical. They suck the life out of Killer Mike and EL-P's raps which is quite the achievement considering the level of lyrical quality on the originals these remixes butcher. Across the entire record not a single moment or beat stood out and I can appreciate the novelty but without anything of interest for me here this one will be shelved to gather dust.

Rating: 1/10

Friday, 16 October 2015

Jay-Z "The Blueprint" (2001)


American rapper Jay-Z needs no introduction, a household name around the world he dominated Hip Hop in the naughties as an artist and a business man who's built a substantial amount of wealth. A true rags to riches story of a young man who went from drug dealer to international rap star. I've never found myself drawn to his music, however I adore the Mafioso Rap debut "Reasonable Doubt" he dropped in 96. Watching the movie "Dope" the lead character referred to this record as the end and "exclamation point" of the 90s era I love so much. Of course I promptly picked this one up and found a couple of familiar songs, "Izzo" I remembered from MTV in my youth and "Renegades", a menacing and dark duet with Eminem who drops a classic verse from the prime of his defining style.

So "The Blueprint" is hailed as a classic, and picking up a record like this its hard to avoid the acclaim and ratings the record received. It certainly set the bar high, but didn't get my blood pumping around the clock. That being said its a mighty fine record illuminated by production from Just Blaze and Kanye West who both make their breakthroughs with a fine set of instrumentals that was the highlight for me. It steps away from the radio rap of "Volume 3" and brings a soulful vibe to snappy beats with a variety of kits and themes to keep the track running fresh. The track "Girls, Girls, Girls" is a blinding moment on the record, Just Blaze sampling Tom Brock to perfection, a true example of what the art of sampling is about. Legends Q-Tip and Biz Markie dropping in with the hook borrowed from the oldskool Crash Crew while Jay-Z talks about his promiscuous lifestyle.

The record opens up with Jay-Z making his return statement before dropping into a diss track aimed at Nas and Mobb Deep, I know Nas's response "Ether" and "Takeover" pales in comparison but to give Jay-Z credit the raps are tight and creative but again the magic comes from the beat with its rumpus baseline and baron atmosphere characterized by samples between the kick snare and bass groove. Jay-Z's raps are alright, hes straightforward, easy to follow and light on the ears, but quite honestly he rarely does much to grab my attention. Sometimes a rapper just can't do it for you and its hard to put my finger on why. He did drop a couple of great lines though "I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell, I am a hustler baby, I sell water to a well" is one that's stuck in my mind as well as his tragic mathematics on the diss track, somehow calculating four records in ten years is a two in ten average.

The only other times Jay was grabbing my attention was dropping references or recycling classic rap lines. The best rap came from Eminem on renegade, also with a fantastic hook chorus. I walk away from this record dazzled by the production, desiring more from the lyrical substance and understanding its reputation. Surprised I didn't find this one sooner but there is an ocean of music out there and the size of a name is rarely a hook to pull me in.

Favorite Tracks: Girls Girls Girls, U Don't Know, Holla' Hovita, Heart Of The City, Renegades
Rating: 8/10