Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Faces Of Eve "The Story So Far" (2015)

"The Story So Far" is an enjoyable debut EP from UK based "Faces of Eve" who appear to be a duo, however a lack of information is available on this group. The record opens up with lush, glorious reverb soaked acoustic guitar tune that glistens melodically in its ambiance. We are first introduced to the vocals, which will remain a polarizing aesthetic throughout the record. Light, soft and soulful they cruise effortlessly through the upper voice ranges with an immaculate delivery. A chunky Djent guitar creeps in from the background and leads the song to its conclusive moment as a bold, colossal grove drops in with the drums. It quickly impressions a feeling between Metalcore, Djent and Groove that would be solidified with the rest of the record.

"Feed" and the rest of the tracks on the EP follow this style with a relative sense of comfort and familiarity, with songs that play out commonplace Metal riffs with a fair amount of flexibility to throw some interesting ideas in on occasion. The vocals serve as the edge to define their sound, rising above the contrasting, crunchy heavies and layering a soft melodic soul above the grooves. At first its a harsh contrast, but with each listen it grows and grows, and in some moments sounds exceptional as the vocal range soars high on "Crime Of Passion" with the guitars ringing out some moody chords underneath. Theres a lot more chemistry in these moments, but overall its an enjoyable and unusual approach to Metal vocals that comes as a breath of fresh air.

Production wise the record sounds strong, it can get a little clustered in the low end with the Djents and slamming base which has a really chunky tone that sounds fantastic in the rare moments the guitars drop out. Drum machines are so commonplace with Djent ill assume they are used here, and they sound good throughout, all though their are some very harsh, mechanical rolls and fills on "Temporal Rotunda" which are a dead giveaway. Very enjoyable EP that shows great promise for a band who I think are yet to find the best of their chemistry.

Favorite Songs: For My Fallen Heros, One Man Show, Dwellers
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 30 March 2015

Death Grips "Jenny Death" (2015)

"Jenny Death" is the second half of double album "The Powers That B" and may just be the last thing Death Grips ever release, but maybe not if you have followed the bands unpredictable behavior over the years. From no-shows to break up announcements via a note scribbled on a napkin, they have made a reputation for themselves, one that will never overshadow the music which speaks in deafening volumes, given the hard hitting and abrasive sound the trio create. Death Grips hail from Sacramento, California. Consisting of MC Ride on vocals, Zach Hill frenetically pounding his drum kit and Andy Morin handling the electronics and production. Their 2012 release "The Money Store" is one I have been meaning to write up on for some time, its served as one of the most impacting and ear opening records I'd ever heard. It deserves its own article but ill be blunt, Death Grips are the most exciting band I can think of these days.

My excitement for Jenny Death was somewhat muted, I found myself disappointed with the first half "Niggas On The Moon" which was a bare and stripped down record I had little connection with. Jenny is quite the opposite, a dense cluster of thick tracks rich with textural noise, felt through additional guest musicians performing guitars and synthesizers and typically unusual approaches to delivering melodies and grooves as Death Grips so often do. For the most part Jenny is reminiscent of the debut "Ex-Military" sound, with Ride's performances having a similar intensity and merciless frenetic quality as his shouts are interwoven with glitched out vocal samples, cuts and effects. The return of featured guitars also strengthens this similar feeling. "Pss Pss" and "The Powers That B" have a "No Love Deep Web" vibe with more electronic eccentrics oriented sound and deep bass. Beside the familiarities, some new and expansive ideas emerge with "Inanimate Sensation" build a song out of an ugly accelerating automobile impersonation, finding a hook in the most un-melodic of pitch shifts. "Why A Bitch Gotta Lie" delivers a massive party riff wrapped in growing layers of distortion and jittery paranoid electronics and Ride's howling screams phasing in and out of the background before busting in with ridiculous robotized effects that amount to an assault of wild exciting noise with Zach smashing on his symbols with unrestrained force.

These songs have textural sounds, dizzying noise abuse, dense electronics and sampling that arrive in a twisted package as track after track questions your rhythmic and melodic sensibilities, creating hooks from off kilt timings and smothering the songs with compressed layers of sound that aren't afraid of colliding and peaking, using distortion to effect, alongside Zachs monstrous drumming that often amplifies the intensity in many of these songs. In front of the instrumentation Ride's performances and lyrics tie in concepts and attitude that without would leave a gaping hole. The track "On Gp" bringing one of his best, and darkest moments. Individually, each song brings forth a lot of character and identity, a concept of its own, something I would identify with almost everything on their first three records. Its a refreshing return to form that sounds lively and exciting, showing the group still have relevant musical ideas and an energy to deliver them authentically.

Favorite Tracks: Inanimate Sensation, Why A Bitch Gotta Lie, Centuries Of Damn, On Gp
Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Kendrick Lamar "To Pimp A Butterfly" (2015)

To Pimp A Butterfly has undoubtedly been the most interesting record I've heard in a long time. I've pondered on its meaning and message, loved its courageous instrumentation and felt frustrated with its pacing, despite the beautiful artistic construct. Its being raved about universally, hailed as potentially being the album of the decade, and an instant classic. I've given myself much time to consume and digest the record, and for all I love about it I'm not quite on the same level with it. I've been anticipating this one since discovering Kendrick's 2012 classic "Good Kid, M.A.A.D City", a stunning Hip Hop record, and in the three years since hes been hard at work on his third record, a undeniably strong one that has certainly not disappointed.

Kendricks expressions and vision is unrestrained on an unconventional and free flowing approach to the album experience, breaking down the conventional Hip Hop format and uniting a concept through a recited poem that features on many tracks, unfolding as with each recitation. The lucid nature of the record takes a step back from itself and reinvents the instrumentation with a closer connection to Funk, Soul, Jazz and even Disco, music thats had an undeniable influence on Hip Hop sound and culture. These songs let the power of the grooves, melodies and Kendrick's expression flow and evolve from track to track thats filled with interludes, poetry and transitions between the tracks that focus on the expression thats not all about raps. Spoken word and poetry reciting, Kendrick gets emotionally raw with his voice on "U" and other numbers that have classy instruments keeping the dramatic tone moving.

The expression is a point I've touched on a few times, and obviously its a racially, emotional charged concept that reflects these times where the racial inequality and police brutality is boiling in Ferguson Missouri. Its the specifics that are illusive, the indirect, poetic language thats powerful, and yet unclear. Kendrick reflects on many historic and cultural figures in black history in vague references that are tied to emotional stress and guilt, delivered with impacting force for thought. The most mysterious of which, "Loving you is complicated" where he ponders on a figure of reach who money made complacent and misused his power and influence. The song "Mortal Man" concludes the poem recital for the last time, leading into a conversation with Tupac who I believe Kendrick is drawing parallels with at a time where racial tensions are hot and he is a racially aware voice in Hip Hop similar to Tupac. Lines like the "Thought money wouldn't change you, made you more complacent" makes me think of Tupac's rise and fall from being the voice of the "young black male" to parading the bling bling image on MTV with gold chains, hot tubs and models. There are many racialy charged lines to ponder the meaning, "My heart is as black as an aryan", and most of "The blacker the berry". Although the specifics may feel blurry, its undoubted that Kendrick is fueled with anger and passion for his people.

When the end of "Mortal Man" rolls around, Kendrick recites a second poem, describing his world. A beautiful metaphor using the caterpillar and the butterfly to express the relation between artists like himself who escape the ghettos to be exploited for it. "To Pimp A Butterfly" comes together in this moment but still leaves a lot to think on as Tupac speaks no more, leaving Kendrick without an answer to his question, that this record might simply be.

The instrumentation and production is sublime, as mentioned before it has a lucid quality and focus on organic chemistry, breaking the sampling and drum machines with a live band feel that let songs grow, shrink, twist and turn with a freedom that looped instrumentation can't achieve without immense construction. A wide array of styles and instruments move in and out of focus and my favorite element, the drumming, is slightly subdued, laying down solid but subtler grooves that are gentle and powerful, bringing a lot of energy without any boombastic presence, its a classy touch and ones that at no time uses any cheap thrills or catchy hooks, this is all substance and style.

Theres a lot to love here, a dense album musically and conceptually which grows fonder with each listen, but my one gripe are the interludes, despite being expressive and theatric and an essential part of the record, they come at a pace that continually breaks up the songs and stagnates the flow somewhat. Theres more I could talk about, but by now id be nit picking specifics, where the album as a whole speaks volumes. I can see exactly why its being hailed a classic, but on a personal level it may take me a bit more time to feel it that way.

Favorite Songs: Institutionalized, These Walls, Alright, How Much A Dollar Cost, The Blacker The Berry, Mortal Man
Rating: 9/10

Friday, 27 March 2015

Say Lou Lou "Lucid Dreaming" (2015)

Australian duo Say Lou Lou caught my attention with a dreamy pop number "Everything We Touch" in the summer last year and have had me keeping an ear out for a full length to drop, as well as returning to the song often which is about as dream pop as it gets with a light dance rhythm, moderate progression and catchy lyrics, but the hook was strong and the airy, lush instrumentation fused with their voices, the aesthetic had me hooked. These two twin sisters have music in the family, their farther being Steven Kilbey of Australian rockers "The Church", and this, their debut comes after a string of singles dating back to 2012. Its taken a while for this one to come together.

Like the majority of pop records I've listened to, Lucid Dreaming blows its load with the first three tracks, putting the albums catchiest numbers right at the beginning, and leaving the album experience to drift into the darkness with thirty minutes of lack luster music. The opening two tracks have it down with rich, absorbing strings and synths that build fantastic atmosphere for the duos gentle voices to glide through and create a dazzlingly lush and dreamy energy, brought home with lyrics to inspire some imagination "all that glitter, all that foreign gold". "Games For Girls" switches lanes with a chirpy dance number that brings tight rhythmic groove and a playful theme, while retaining a little of their dreamy synths in places. Its simplistic and enjoyable, but after this point the album quickly turns stale.

"Julian" slows the pace down with a temperate mood, but its the lyrics on this track and many past it that fail to inspire, with direct and unimaginative use of language the spell is broken and the albums slowing of pace amplifies a lack of energy and spark the opening numbers had. One line in particular stuck out "Take another sip from you coffee cup, I'm looking at your lips as you're drinking up", it just didn't do anything for me, and despite some moderate vocal inflections and hooks it just didn't pick back up the energy or pace until the final track "Skylights".

There's not much to complain about aesthetically, the album has a great pallet of absorbing airy synths that border ethereal at times. They compliment the duo vocals and the rest of the instrumentation is accommodating, but nothing here that will surprise or astound, its relatively tame and accessible. The album was a big disappointment considering the contrast in quality between four good tracks and the rest. They definitely have a spark, but for the most of this record its muted.

Favorite Tracks: Everything We Touch, Glitter, Games For Girls, Skylights
Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Outkast "Aquemini" (1998)

Southern Hip Hop duo Outkast are a pair of musicians I'm growing an immense amount of admiration and respect for. I've been impressed with their intelligent approach to Hip Hop, showing strength and maturity with cerebral introspections and social commentaries, combined with charactered production that distinctively sets them aside from other acts. On this record "Aquemini", their third, the duo seem completely in sync with one another. Whether its lyrically, instrumentally, or conceptually, the two deliver a riveting and eloquent experience for the listener on a record thats filled to the brim with fine instrumentals, enticing rapping and an array of cultural interludes that tie the songs together. Good raps and beats is always the formula, but here the two transcend the genre with expressions and themes that create an air of expectational quality reflected in the album covers blaxploitation rendition of the two.

Aquemini is a rich, fluid listen thats stimulating from start to finish. Despite this, its surprising diverse in production, with different themes accompanying the stylish, charactered beats Outkast have put their mark on. "Slump", "West Savannah" & "Spottieottiedopaliscious" feel like throw backs to "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik", a fair few numbers have the spacious and darker, paranoid instrumentation of "ATLiens" and with songs like "Rosa Parks", "Synthesizer" and "Chonkyfire" the duo break the mold with supreme instrumentals that make use of live instruments like the harmonica, giving them a vibrant edge over the traditional sampling technique. The array of guest musicians contribute purposeful sounds that expand their pallet with guitars, pianos and marching band horns, creating a rich and lasting experience when combined with the sharp and crisp drum machines.

Beyond the illuminating instrumentals the duo deliver solid raps and killer hooks on a thought felt record where every word feels relevant. The themes expand on ATLiens socially conscious commentaries with the heart felt "Da Art Of Storytellin", themes of technological paranoia on "Synthesizer" and the pairs duality on the title track. Most exciting is the delivery which isn't afraid to expand with sung hooks and gospel vocals, in general breaking the monotony with catchy ideas of which all seem to work without fail. It can be felt in the vast array of guest musicians who add a layer and depth to many songs with vocal hooks working in the background behind the raps and the audacity to enhance the flow with layered lines and powerful, yet subtle reverb effects, empowering their rapping voices. I have nothing but praise for this album. Never a dull moment or skipped track, I thoroughly enjoy it in its seventy four minute entirety and can't praise it enough. Although relatively new to me, I can't help but feel I'll call it a classic with time.

Favorite Songs: Rosa Parks, Synthesizer, Slump, Mamacita, Spottieottiedopaliscious, Liberation, Chonkyfire
Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Dødheimsgard "A Umbra Omega" (2015)

I was flooded by a wave of excitement when the news of this record's release made its way to me. Its been 16 years since the band dropped "666 International" and with the disappointment of 2007's "Supervillain Outcast" I should of been cautious, but alas the title and album cover sparked my imagination with hopes of a glorious return to form. On arrival this one went straight to the top of my playlist, but quickly I groaned as it became clear this wasn't going to be my cup of tea.

The aesthetic of the record isn't exactly Black Metal, churning blast beats and droning distorted guitars aside, its a muted, muddy and warm production that dampens the aggression and paves the way for its more flamboyant qualities. On paper it sounds like something id love, long passages of unraveling music that transitions from aggression and evolves through dark, eerie compositions, giving way for a variety of lighter instrumental ideas and intensities that across the five lengthy tracks explore many moods. The instrumentals alone are well performed, indulgent numbers that lack a spark or flair to truly define them. But crashing into the fragile like a knife through butter is Aldrahn wailing theatrics, his tone and delivery dispel the atmospherics and cut the tension. His loose, emotional performances scrape and pull on the chords of pain as his screams, shouts and crys punish the listener with their intensity. I appreciate the performance art in tracks like "Architect Of Darkness", where Aldrahns despairing screams paint the pain vividly, but their was something deathly off between the two as his vocals continually dispelled any magic the song was building.

And the music has magic, there is clearly something at work in these instrumentals when they break from the metallic and into the acoustic, ethereal reverb lead passages, there are a range of musical styles contributing to the unnerving and eerie atmospheres, including the use of additional instruments like ghostly pianos and haunting flutes. It could all amount to something beautiful, but often fell flat, undoubtedly helped along by  Aldrahn and Victonik's theatrics. I will continual to listen in the hope of familiarity overcoming the soreness, but initially its been a lacking listen, at least "brightened" in one sense of the word, by its richer acoustic moments.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Guru "Jazzmatazz II The New Reality" (1995)

And we are back with the second installment of the legendary Guru's solo career records, "Jazzmatazz". This second record takes of where the last one left, giving us another helping of socially conscious Hip Hop fused with a current of Jazz that feels natural and organic. Its a chilled out record that doesn't try to push any new boundaries, but create a collection of enjoyable tracks within the parameters of the two music styles joining together. It has the same strengths and weakness as its predecessor, which wasn't much surprise, but did pull out some better numbers without changing the formula.

Just like before the production builds from a traditional format of samples and drum loops with a pallet of jazzy sounds and instruments that include guest musicians who contribute inconsistently as some numbers rely on samples, and others on live musicians, ie "Respect The Architect" which has pianist Ramsey Lewis gently painting the entire track with feel good keys, adding a steady variety over the repetitive beats. The inconsistency between ideas probably contributes to a varietal, richer listen in a record that has a fair few distinctive beats, but mostly its the instrumentals that take the light, rather then the guest musicians who include Brit Jamiroquai and Reggae singer Ini Kamoze.

With a fair collection of strong instrumentals Guru's presence is calming and laid back, which is fine but often his rhymes and presence on the track drift into the background as the messages and lyrics he convey are delivered in his typically one dimensional flow. Guru's tone and flow is steady but lacks an excitement or spark that leaves much of the lyrics out of mind. Theres plenty of positive messages and social commentary, but none of it packs a punch or a thought to ponder, and although the message is a good one, its delivery is tame. Overall its a collection of warm jazzy beats and mediocre rapping thats exemplified on "Count Your Blessings", where Guru tells his story of developing a positive outlook, expressed without any resolve or understanding that can be gravitated towards. I'm not hating on Guru, I like his style and hearing him flow, but here its an aesthetic enjoyment, more so than being at the mercy of his words.

Favorite Songs: Living In This World, Looking Through The Darkness, For You, Nobody Knows, Respect The Architect, Young Ladies, The Traveler, Choice Of Weapons
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 20 March 2015

First Aid Kit "America" (2015)

Considering their album "Stay Gold" was my favorite record of 2014 its no surprise I got excited for more with the announcement of this short EP back in January. I set myself up for disappointment with this 4 track release which offered just one new song along side a humbling cover and two alternate takes from the full length. Extended plays are a two edged sword, either a shorter concept or a collection of outtakes, in this case in was the latter.

The opening track is a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's classic "America", a gracious cover of which Klara's comforting voice elevates the originals quieter moments in a honorable cover that expands on the original, yet doesn't have the same charm, as you could expect most covers to do so. The next two are alternate takes with weaker backing tracks that don't sound or feel as fleshed out as the album versions and fail to offer much more other than a softer alternative to the powerful songs. The new song, Brother, is a humble poem of family and staying close that has the two singing over very gentle guitar and soft keys before climaxing with some beautifully sung Swedish lyrics, a nice touch to hear them sing in their native tongue.

Overall its a small collection of b-sides that wouldn't amount to much in comparison of a full length, but the cover and new track do have the First Aid Kit charm and will be returned to time and time again.

Favorite Song: Brother
Rating: 3/10

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Carnage "Dark Recollections" (1990)

In the mood for some oldskool Death Metal I scoured the Internet for something new and discovered this cult record hailed as a "forgotten classic". Carnage are a small unheard of band from Växjö Sweden who, in their short lived career, released this one full length album on the legendary Earache records. Judging from their band photo the group were young and very much into the trending Death Metal scene which was to peak in this era with some fine records of which the tone and style is comparable to this. The group was founded by Michael Amott of Carcass, who after dissolving Carnage would go on to form the highly successful Arch Enemy.

"Dark Recollections" is a dark and dingy record. With low tonal guitar sounds in their infancy, the dated mixing becomes apparent as serious volume is required to hear the depth of whats going on. With the decibels raised the record holds up well considering the era and size of the band, its an impressive mix despite their being a nonexistent span of sound in the mid to mid-low range on the EQ. The low guitars have ripped, crunchy texture that masks the bass with its low end sound, the drum kit is well represented in the mix and despite not having a big sounds it does well to bring some brutality into the fold. The vocals are raw, gruff shouts and screams that are mixed above the rest of the instrumentation, with a flash of reverb they have a now "classic" vibe about them, as much retrospection will do.

The guitar riffage is the main focus and has a Post-Thrash feel in its faster moments, with slower grooves and guitar techniques that are distinguished by lead breaks that follow atonal, chromatic principles, giving the record its "death" feel beside the aesthetic. Theirs plenty of good riffs, often highlighted by the drumming which breaks up the flow, crashing in with symbols alongside the crushing guitar chords to transition between riffs. It remains on the lighter side with kick to snare tempos that occasionally dive into a blast.

The records given some break out moments by lead guitar solos that are often short in nature, sounding fantastic with a vibrant tone, but technically immature, a few hammer-ons and harmonics thats given its spark by tone and excessive reverb. There's one moment in "Torn Apart" where a dark synth is used before a lead solo, its a nice injection of mood that unfortunately is only featured on this one track. Although a couple of other bands experimented with Death Metal and synth (Nocturnus), it sounds like it could of worked for them too. Great record with a good aesthetic and musicianship, often reminding me of Entombed's "Clandestine". Good memories.

Favorite Tracks: Torn Apart, Gentle Exhuming, Outro
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

I Built The Sky "Intortus" (2014)

Australian guitarist and one man band "I Built The Sky" dropped this EP, his second release, in early 2014. After enjoying his debut self titled it was mandatory to seek out more of this talented musician. Intortus is a short record extended with a few demo versions and remixes of the title track. Of the seven or so tracks that make up the main bulk of the listen there are a few ideas at work here which collide with one another from track to track. Its an inconsistent listen, but overall a positive one that certainly would of not lived up to a full length with the contrasting ideas and incomplete package. A couple of tracks had no conclusive progressions and fade outs that give an unfinished feel as well.

The record opens up with "Fibratus", an exotic introductory track with xylophones and soft pianos keys that loop as Djenty drumming builds up some atmosphere alongside dramatic piano chords and growing instrumentation. Its a unique track thats pallet of instruments disguises the instrumentations direction, if played on the guitar I'm sure it would sound like a regular track, but the change was warm and a highlight. The next four tracks play out the heavier and lighter side of his sound in an aesthetically pleasing, yet musically unremarkable way as each track works through a singular idea with expanding riffage that never strays far from the original idea before fading out. The record then takes a dark turn as "Undulatus" dives into dense Djent tones and pure polyrhythmic force as chugging riffs power into a massive break riff with alien hammer ons upping the anti in the background. Its followed up with some ripe string slides in between the heavy chugging that sound like laser bursts. Great track.

Between a couple of good tracks their is some pleasant filler thats nowhere on par with the debut record. A lack of consistency or direction really held this one back from amounting to something. With a couple of memorable tracks to cherry pick it has something to offer, but little as a complete entity.

Favorite Tracks: Fibaratus, Undulatus, Intortus
Rating: 4/10

Monday, 16 March 2015

IGORRR "Hallelujah" (2012)

Hallelujah! Every now and then a record passes you by that fills a void, scratches an itch, cures an ache and expands your musical senses. French musician Igorrr serves up a lavish helping of truly Internet era music where musical sounds spanning centuries of time and culture are stitched together in blasphemous perversion of maelstrom noise abuse. Its a blessing to the ears of one who wonders from the darkest hells of depravity to the uplifting, effervescent wonder of our longest surviving musical creations. To hear such bi polarizing expressions dance together is mesmerizing, and on Hallelujah we are blessed with the maturity and musical vision to unite and mold music that leaves no impression of an experiment. In an age where information is available at the touch of a button it is no surprise that such borders are broken down, as time or travel can not hold us back from exploring the music and culture of our world, present or past.

On this record Igorrr is essentially a break-beat musician working with sharp and dense loops that are cut and composed at breakneck speeds. Glitchy, intricate patterns dizzy away with memorizing levels of detail. Lots of strange, electronic noises jump in and out of the beats which chop themselves over and over until at times they sound like buzz waves. Its an impressive compositional assault which guides these songs through its contrasting sampling that ranges from the Classical / Baroque era, to Black and Extreme Metal. How it all works still feels mysterious, as the songs effortless move between graceful melodic string leads into punishing, evil blast beat frenzies as guitars and drums pound relentlessly. Its in the dizzying glitched out break-beats that Igorrr perverts the gracious and paves the way to darkness with increasing schizophrenic cuts that twist and move the musics tone with pitch shifts and rapid sampling that keeps the listener on their toes.

Despite a continual onslaught of heavy drums and sampling, the record sounds crisp and well rounded. Beyond its aesthetic the tracks excite with their constant shape shifting and on edge progression. The occasional screams and operatic leads fit in well but these songs feel like they unravel without a plan or design, something I feel is a strength, but may hold this talented musician back from achieving more with an already delightful new sound. The relentless nature of this record did have me questioning when I might tire of it, but so far its been a consistent pleasure, one I feel comes more from the contrasting sample choices, more so than the dark twisted core.

Favorite Tracks: Damaged Wig, Absolute Psalm, Corpus Tristis
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Papa Roach "F.E.A.R" (2015)

Papa Roach are an Alternative Metal group from California, America who have been together for around 20 years now. In my youth I was a big fan of their major label debut "Infest", an album that epitomized the Nu Metal movement. As a relatively unknown band their album was slow to sell on release, but the popularity of its music videos and continual airplay on MTV lead it to triple platinum status over the years. Many songs have been featured in games, movies and popular culture at the time, and thus it sticks in my mind as a big part of my youth. The groups success would decline over the years and after a follow up in 2002 the group switched their direction with 2004's "Getting Away With Murder", moving towards the rising popularity of Emo / Screamo music and changing their image. It turned me off their music, and listening to Infest again can also be difficult, the bands negative, self destructive lyrics don't offer a lot of positivity or good vibes, but I decided to check this one out to see where they are at 15 years later.

I wasn't expecting much from FEAR, but I wasn't going to be disappointed either, they are no longer a band I care much for and I was pleasantly surprised by the opening track, uplifting lyrics, big punchy Nu Metal guitars and a positive vibe. The song itself was simplistic but had a crisp, over polished, squeaky clean sound that worked well for it. The drum kit punches through with thudding base pedals like a Dance kick and Shaddix's melodic vocal hooks tied together well. The inclusion of a Trance like electronic synth brought a lot to the track and raised my hopes of it bringing a competitive edge to their music. From this track onwards the positivity and electronic element seemed to dissolve as "Skeletons" dived into a typically self loathing and moody indulgence of self inflicted pain with no resolve. A few tracks later it became clear the best of this album was over on the first song alone.

Musically the album tired its way through riff after riff, verses and choruses that felt uninspired and formulaic. The guitars riffed out simplistic drop chord riffs and chugging patterns that were dangerously dull, it felt like they just swum around the same idea over and over. Lyrically it got worse, more self destructive lyrics with nothing to offer but an indulgence into misery with no ambition. If the topics weren't a bummer already, the lack of lyrical creativity or expression made it worse, delivering the concepts with unimaginative expressions, very straightforward use of language that made me wonder where Shaddix gets his inspiration from after singing about his self loathing behavior all these years. I don't want to be condescending, but my only way of expressing my thoughts is to say its typically "teenage" in a way I once identified with their debut record.

This album offered a spark in the opening track but quickly descended into monotonous self loathing and uninspired, simplistic music that offered nothing. The super polished production didn't add any character to the lack of depth and a strange, short appearance from Royce Da 59 left this one with a sour taste.

Favorite Track: Face Everything And Rise
Rating: 2/10

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Sithu Aye "Invent The Universe" (2012)

Sithu Aye, pronounced see-too-ah is the name of this young Burman guitarist who is currently residing in Scotland where he performance and produces lively, jubilant uplifting Progressive Metal similar in style to pioneering acts like Animals As Leaders, Gru or Periphery, taking the Djent metallic foundations laid down by Meshuggah in a melodic direction, showcasing some of the best young talents in modern Metal guitar shredding. Sithu brings us an indulgent record of appealing tracks with plenty polyrhythmic grooves, audacious guitar leads and solos, airy synths and a helping of acoustic flair. This spacey themed record was instantly gratifying as a fan of this musical direction Metal guitarists are taking.

Sithu brings us into the record gently with ringing guitar notes and climactic strings that transition into glitched electronic beats concluding with the introduction of the guitar with its first Progressive riffage as the programmed drums and soft bass power us into the rhythm guitars impressive cohesion with the lead, expressing some layered ideas before momentary electronic glitches throw us into an adventurous, empowering guitar solo. From here on the album crusades through riffs and leads before brining in some bright reverb soaked acoustics to jam with a tight bass and drum groove. It sets the tone for whats to come and alongside a continual evolution of guitar work some lighter electronics decorate the outer layers of the music with subtle layers and rhythmic amplification best heard on the beginning of "Baryogenesis".

Each time the record plays through its a delight, passages of progressive unraveling riffage and tireless soloing that feels inspired every time. Theres a few grabbing moments where Sithu's riff's and leads strike a nerve but mostly he stands in a shadow cast by his counterparts in the scene. Without bringing anything distinctively different a lot of this falls in a comfort zone, but its one of positivity as the quality of his expressions are easily approached for fans of this melodic Djent style thats evolving. The production is equally impressive with the inclusion of electronic instruments, but as always the drum machine can be left. Sithu opts for a lot of tight breezy rolls and fast pedal blasts that feel mechanical and stiff as a lack of volume randomization amplifies the perfection in timing. Terrific record, a lack of surprises but a genuine talent, one I will be following closely.

Favorite Tracks: Grand Unification, Expansion, Recombination
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Karl Sanders "Saurian Meditation" (2004)

"Saurian Meditation" is the first of two solo records by multi instrumental musician Karl Sanders of the prolific, ancient Egypt inspired, Death Metal band "Nile". For the average listener this record bares no resemblance to the bludgeoning sounds of Nile's music, but for those who hear the cultural mysticism between the blast beats and growls will know this record draws from the same inspirations.

The music is rich, ripe with cultural instruments and sounds that illustrate a vivid folk music we associate with ancient Egyptian culture. Scuttling Sistrums, tambourines and Tombaks narrate rhythms of pace that roar with the crash of giant cymbals as guitars, lutes and lyre's pluck affluent mystic melodies in eloquent, lively soundscapes that takes you to the ancient times of past in a manor so vivid your imagination needs little fuel. Images of mortal gods, serpents, hieroglyphics, seas of sand and the pyramids are painted with sound.

Not so much can be said for hooky melodies or grooves, this is not a theme or hook for modern music to execute ideas with. These songs are moments, passages that sway, contract and expand as Karl expresses ideas relevant to the times hes inspired by. The result is substantial, a brilliant work of music that resides inside itself, never conforming to modern musical ideas and exploring the ancient mystic world through cultural instruments and rich musicianship that pulls together songs from lush layers of sound flowing in unison. Theres variety in the ten tracks that make the record up and the final track brings in a distorted guitar leads in the Nile tone that sees a dark song climax with a distant roaring solo to end the record on a high and pay tribute to his band as this journey ends.

Favorite Tracks: Awaiting The Vultures, The Elder God Shrine, Temple Of Lunar Ascension, Whence No Traveler Returns, Beckon The Sick Winds Of Pestilence
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Dusted "When We Were Young" (2001)

Dusted is an English duo consisting of producers Mark Bates and Rollo Armstrong of Faithless. I was turned onto this, their debut record, by a friend and was originally under the impression this was a soundtrack, due to a movie of the same name. I now know that its unrelated but this record actually played out like a soundtrack with many slow, chilled out, carefully crafted numbers that can shift moods and grow into big moments. It all came together like the setting for a tale to unravel and if anything, is the soundtrack to imagination and the power of music that is of the craft and subtitles this record posses in great quantity.

The opening track here sets a bright and warm tone for a record that in its chilled out nature will invoke good vibes and set a pleasant atmosphere of positivity and relaxation. With a traveling baseline groove and plucked melodic guitar strings the gentle, downtempo drum loops guide us into a warmth of sweeping strings and random electronic noises as the pace thickens like a rising sun, its rays of warm light arriving for the first time. With a memorable start the record it makes no strives to pick up the pace or jump into anything advantagous as it strolls through track after track, delivering chilled out, relaxed numbers that each deliver their own moment in between lush orchestration of layered sounds. Theres plenty of variety beyond the soothing electronics and steady drums, "Time Takes Time" introduces some graceful lead vocals and "Always Remember To Respect Your Mother" builds around stunning youthful choir leads that inspire greatly.

The album shifts gears with "The Biggest Fool In The World" as the tempo perks up with a big clap in the loop for a grooving moment in an otherwise chilled out record. As things progress we dive deeper into the Dusted world, continually exploring new territory with each step before climaxing with a dazzling piano number that ends the record with a lasting impression as the pianos descend into a wall of reverb. Overall its a breezy, carefree ride through chilled out music of craft and design, a concept played out brilliantly that unravels like the soundtrack to your imagination and inspiration.

Favorite Tracks: Childhood, Always Remember To Respect Your Mother, Oh How Sweet, Under The Sun
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 9 March 2015

Russian Circles "Empros" (2011)

American three piece instrumental Post-Metal group Russian Circles are a band I'm new too, having enjoyed their most recent record "Memorial" I decided to go back and listen to their previous record, the bands fourth. Like before I found a strange sense of passing immersion in their music which is powerful, moving and has a momentous gravity about it, but when the record wasn't playing there isn't much I could recall. I believe this is a reflection of their musical approach, no hooks or cheap thrills, not even straight forward melodies and leads. Its an unconventional approach to melody and noise which is not unfamiliar, but on this record their dive into momentous noise and sound is one of progression, atmosphere and cascading distortions.

Compared to "Memorial", "Empros" is a darker, grittier atmosphere, rough around the edges rhythmically aggressive on its darker tracks like the opener "309" which progressed into a primitive assault as the bass and drums pound out a crunching militant groove under expanding, noisy guitar ringing reminiscent of Godflesh in the "Streetcleaner" era. After this track the album takes a more melodic accent, yet with harmonious, cleaner notes ringing out, there is an underbelly of rumbling distortion from the bass and massive atmosphere from the drums that continually layer sound into the mix that goes beyond timing and groove, the crashing symbols and rolling toms expand the atmosphere into darker regions.

Unlike a lot of music, Russian Circles don't leave you with a hook or melody stuck in your mind, and its this I gripe with. Every listen has immersion, as soaring noisescapes expand and contract with dramatic enormous guitar tones, but the riffs are reactive to the moment, and never formulated to fit a structure or progression. Its impressive and remarkable in its own right, but the years and years of traditional verse chorus music has made it harder to re-imagine in the mind, and thus I find I never have an itch to put it back on. If anything I think its a reminder to diversify more often. I think this record has a fair amount to offer, but my aforementioned gripe has me wondering of its value to me.

Favorite Track: 309
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Joey Badass "B4.Da.$$" (2015)

"B4.Da.$$" or Badass, is the debut record of young rapper Joey Badass from Brooklyn New York who at the age of 15 made waves with a youtube video of himself freestyling and has since been active making several mixtapes leading him to a record deal that saw this drop on his 20th birthday. Its a strong debut that feels like the 90s was frozen on ice, as if we never moved on from that classic early 90s sound, that notably happened just before his birth. Its a surprisingly mature album, musically and lyrically Joey is smart, and offers a lot of substance on this one with no cheap thrills.

Production wise, this album uses hindsight and retrospect like an art. Track to track touches on many vibes from Boom Bop to Jazz Hop, theres grittier beats reminiscent of "36 Chambers" and Gangster Rap and uplifting soulful numbers with hints of RnB and Soul influences that can be heard in the choice samples. The quality is sublime, even with a modern production value these songs could easily fool you to what decade there from without closer inspection. The best of many styles of that era are cherry picked on this record that has 15 diverse choices, giving each one a flavor reminiscent of many classic beat producers. Towards the end of the record a few modern ideals creep into the mix, keeping things fresh and offering some new ideas as well as old.

As a young rapper, Joey's got a lot going for him, but its his potential to be truly great thats exciting. Hes got a chilled flow and great pronunciation and can change up his approach, pulling the aggressive style on tracks like "No. 99". With fantastic beats Joeys presence doesn't always find itself being the show, and as I played this over and over I found that a lot of his raps accommodated, more so than dominated. The most distinctive moments I remember where lines that are reuses of Nas's "Illimatic" and Wu-Tang's "C.R.E.A.M." with "Cash ruins everything around me", theres a couple of cool hooks like the "Check my style" on "Big Dusty" but most of his raps tell a tale without the articulation to really drive a home run. He's engaging in his moment, and pleasant to listen to, but I feel he has potential to improve and with this record has set himself up for great things if he can step his game up.

Another pleasant point to bring up is the maturity he shows and choice of topics, very little flash and a lot of substance, food for thought. You can tell he gets this wisdom from his mother hes so fond of, you can hear her offering him valuable advice on "Chicken Curry" about perspective and how he will known for how he's perceived, more so than who he thinks he is. Overall I felt the production and his attitude were the highlights on a very promising debut that will have me highly anticipating his second, whenever that comes around in the future.

Favorite Tracks: Save The Children, Piece Of Mind, Big Dusty, Christ Conscious, On & On, Escape 120, Curry Chicken
Rating: 7/10

Friday, 6 March 2015

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony "E. 1999 Eternal" (1995)

The once called "Bone Enterpri$e" Hip Hop group was signed by the late N.W.A. rapper Eazy-E in 93 to Ruthless Records. Acting as a manager and mentor he guided this quartet to success, giving them their name "Bone Thugs-N-Harmony" and producing their debut release "Creepin On Ah Come Up". This record is their third album and second on Ruthless Records that dropped four months after the death of Eazy E, the album title is a tribute to the late rapper and ties in to the groups origin neighborhood.

What sets BTH aside from other Hip Hop groups is their distinctive melodic rapping, the group harmonize together and sing melodies with their rhymes. Their annunciation is accentuated and delivered in a pacing flow, often accelerating and slowing while amplifying the syllables, creating a sharp continual jolt like pulse through the rapped words. Its a strong characteristic of the record that is emphasized on tracks which look to explore the possibilities through many different ideas with harmonization and overlapping. The performance and execution is dynamic and serves as no gimmick, but an enjoyable delivery style.

Behind the raps the instrumentals create a smooth, yet dark atmosphere thats got a subtle G-Funk vibe to it. Compositions consistent of clean instruments, bright pianos, synthesized strings, bells and ghetto whistles that come together in a mature manor, playing out their melodies without over emphasizes. The kits are laid back and sturdy, theres a lot of space in these tracks that don't try to over do it, giving plenty of room for the vocal element to take the lead. There's not a lot of hooks or breaks, a few strong melodies elevate a few tracks but most of the time its about the melodic raps.

As an entire record it dulls with length. Although the group establish a great sound and showcase their unique rapping style their is a lot of filler. The subtler, calmer instrumentals occasionally mis the mark, failing to deliver enough energy or any melodic hooks, and with 17 tracks theres a lot of material here that could of been condensed into something more grabbing. That being said their are also some great tracks where the chemistry between the two are spot on, but they are far and few between. I really liked this record on the first few listens, there were new musical ideas to digest but with continual listening I didn't feel a depth to many of the tracks which would mostly drift to the back of my mind. Well worth listening too though.

Favorite Tracks: East 1999, Eternal, Down '71, 1st Of Tha Month
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Gru "Cosmogenesis" (2010)

How did I discover this record? I actually have no recollection of how I found my way to it, but I do remember the instant gratification and connection I felt. "Gru" is a mysterious one man band musician from Poland who put out this masterpiece of Progressive Metal in 2010 and has since ceased any communications to the music community of his current activities. With no known identity there is no telling of the reasons behind his silence, I hope that the reasons are not fatal, for Gru has shared with us something timeless and beautiful with this peach of a record that in its short 34 minute length has never failed to delight and inspire.

"Cosmogenesis" is a lavish helping of inspired progressive bliss that shows off the skills of Gru's accomplished guitar manipulation, intertwining tight, technical Djent rhythms with organic, sweeping melodic scale shredding that weeps melodies and grooves movement that has two musical forces working in unison. The leads are bright and polished, continually sailing through seas of notes that blaze past at soaring speeds in what feels like a never ending solo. From track to track this lead presence is awe inspiring, shifting gears between drawn out bends, notes, harmonics and charging into sweep picked shreds and lightning fast playing that memorizes both technically and musically. The rhythm guitar is tight and audacious, performing complex time signatures with a forceful Djent that maintains clarity and understanding without diving too deep into the big distortions it could achieve. Its a solid backbone for the melodic adventure that unfolds above it, and on closer inspection you can often hear the two complimenting one another with the subtleties in timing.

For all thats written, descriptive or technical, its hard to describe the emotional response to this record. Its deeply satisfying, a sort of memorizing state is achieved as Gru sucks you into his universe of blissful sound that has a strong sense of character and theme, one which feels like space, looking to the stars in wonder. This is emphasized by the title and track listing no doubt. I've listened to this one over and over and it simply never tires. The production here is sublime in terms of guitar tones and general aesthetic. Theirs the presence of drum kit from hill, so common in one man bands but it fails to deter. Gru composes thoughtful fills and grooves that add a fair amount to the sound, as well as airy, spacey synths and electronic sounds that linger in the reveb. Its a beautiful record that I return to over and over. Hopefully one day we will hear more from Gru, a second album would be heaven.

Favorite Tracks: Pulsar, Stellar, Aurora, Andromeda
Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Killing Joke "Killing Joke" (1980)

Killing Joke's self title debut is one synonymous with its cover, an infamous picture taken amidst a riot in Northern Ireland with the groups name gratified onto the wall. Its an image that comes up a lot in music culture and appreciation. After connecting with their second release "What's THIS for...!" I got into this record quickly which was similar in nature, but less focused on the Industrial / Heavy Metal tones, and remained closer to its Punk influences. It also included the song "The Wait", covered by Metallica on their Garage Days EP recorded with Jason Newstead.

Quiet unexpectedly I found what initially grabbed me on this record to tire more and more with each listen. On this one Killing Joke play closer to the Punk aesthetic, but with some interesting twists, utilizing spacey buzzing synthesizers and morphing vocal effects to give their sound distinction along with the pounding, marching rhythm they play out through repetitious guitar riffs and a chunky bass. Its in the moments were the band deliver the hooks and catchy riffs that it stands strong. "Requiem" and "Complications" drop in with rocking grooves and vocal leads to sing along to. "Wardance" stands aside with its alien vocal musings, the droning mechanical rhythm and subtle drilling sounds draw a close resemblance to "What's THIS for...!", along with "Bloodsport" which follows the mechanical marching rhythm while playing through some "cheesy" sudden synth sounds.

As a whole it delivers a foray of experimental Post-Punk ideas and creativity that despite delivering a couple of classics, feels halfway their in terms of formulating its ideas musically. The lyrical content is more reflective of the albums cover, addressing and commenting on societal behavior concerning war, pollution and the negative sides of societies construct. The daunting themes aren't in-line with overall vibe which changes from track to track with changes in pace, tone and use of instrumentation. My enjoyment was soured a little by the lack of direction and although theres some great music here, its a little scattered and fails to build an engaging atmosphere that retains the excitement.

Favorite Songs: Wardance, The Wait, Complications
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Smashing Pumpkins "Monuments To An Elegy" (2014)

So far I have listened to the Pumpkin's records in chronological order, but while listening to "Machina" I couldn't help myself, after enjoying the "Being Beige" single I was itching to hear "Monuments To An Elegy" and didn't fancy the wait. The group split in 2000 and since Corgan revived the project it has received a mixed reaction from fans on critics alike, but the single promised a sound closer to their "classic" era, one I am very much fond of. On a side note I also like the album art here, whatever it supposed to be it looks different each time I see. Much like seeing shapes and face in the clouds.

Monuments is a straightforward record of simple pleasures, short, punchy songs that get straight to the point. The guitars aesthetic is reminiscent of the "Mellon Collie" era, warm tones of distortion that crash in with big chords and have a diverse composure that find new directions, bordering Indie at times but in general blurring the lines of rock and its counterparts in typical Pumpkin's fashion. Its exciting, an evolution of ideas that retains the core. Alongside the main instruments, Corgan brings in a strong electronic element through bright and vivid synth leads that add an expansive dimension to the sound. Either organs, bells, strings or phased buzz-saws, they gel with a contrast that matures with each listen and familiarity. On one track "Run2Me" a pulse dance beat and bright chirpy synth create a very different flow and vibe that really didn't work for me, it stuck out like a sore thumb in the middle of the decent track listing.

The instrumentals are strong, progressive and focused, but Corgan's charactered singing is the glue holding it altogether, every riff and groove is amplified by the eternal youth of his voice. Now approaching fifty, his voice still has the charm it did twenty years ago, most obvious on "Dorian", the most infectious vocal hook the record offers, one that gets me singing along with the simple to follow afflictions of the name. The chemistry at work on this song is a prime example of the album in its better moments, the instruments come together under his captivating lead, with a punchy dance kit, astral plucked strings, pianos and a crusading flanged guitar orchestrating a big atmosphere. Its a great record, only 32 minutes in length its quick to consume but has great songs and really sets a positive tone for Corgan's current creative state. Looking forward to the next record at the end of the year.

Favorite Songs: Anaise!, One And All, Monuments, Dorian
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Beyond Creation "Earthborn Evolution" (2014)

Canadian Death Metal outfit "Beyond Creation" from Montreal are back with another healthy serving of their tightly performed, squeaky clean technical onslaught of growling gutturals, crunchy guitars, fancy leads and tactical drumming. They caught my attention with a viral video of their song "Omnipresent", standing aside from other bands for two distinct reasons. Firstly the fretless bass, a bright colorful sound that bounces and slides its way from the background to foreground in a tasteful manor. Secondly the overall aesthetic is crisp and orchestrated with a delightful balance between the instrumentals which compliment one another in a genre that can often be plagued by emphasis on brutal tones. Their debut "The Aura" was an interesting one and I have kept an eye out awaiting a second record, which arrived late last year.

"Earthborn Evolution" is a cautious step forward for the band, working within the same frame they set for their selves as on "The Aura". In terms of production the most notable change is the drums, slightly softer, less of a sharp sting to them, otherwise it could almost be the same record. Musically its a continuation too, not a lot of evolution in style or experimentation, the band play out ten tracks of enjoyable high-octane technical death thats continually frenetic, shifting mercilessly with grindy riffage and shuffling blast beats while the fretless bass dances around between the instrumental onslaught. Constantly rearranging themselves, these songs unfold like a tapestry of ideas being unwound and stitched back together as the guitars and bass dance around one another with complimenting ideas the exhausting drumming narrates with its continual hammering. The guttural vocals come in with force and power over the top of the musical onslaught, they are captured with a textural quality that amplifies the brutality through that texture, as opposed to volume or force. It has a strange effect of leaving these songs feeling complete with or without their presence. When they come in they add a new dimension, but one thats not felt in its absence.

For all thats good and said there is a big negative. Across the 46 minutes of technical bliss there is little that feels memorable. It is pleasant to listen through each song musically unwinding its way through its gorgeous aesthetic, but never does it "strike a nerve" like "Omnipresent" did. There are a few share of unique moments, like the speedy bass fretting on "Theatrical Delirium", but its impact is momentary. After listening through several times it is apparent that for all they do right there is a certain spark needed thats absence can not be disguised. A good record needs to leave you with music you can't get out of you head, and despite being a great listening experience there was nothing here that did it for me on that level.

Rating: 5/10