Monday, 1 June 2020

Xzibit "40 Dayz & 40 Nightz" (1998)


Ive seen this sophomore record of the famed West Coast rapper Xzibit often hailed as his best work. My adventure into these eighteen tracks has been both fun and insightful. It would seem there is a significant tone heard in mood and production style that would be a precursor to Dr. Dre's masterful 2001 and Eminem's generation defining Marshall Mathers LP. Released a year earlier there is a undeniable stylistic similarity. 3 Card Moly would slip easily into 2001without the blink of an eye!

The only apparent link is Mel-Man who handles production on Los Angeles Times, a stand out track with a crunking groove and sparse bassline for X to bounce his rhymes off. Sir Jinz, Xzibit himself and a few others put together the rest of the songs. Given their worlds would collide over the next few years, I'd never thought it was mister X to the Z with the apparent weight of influence on that era that helped define my youth.

Onto the album itself, X is far more pronounced and assertive than his previous effort. His aggressive energy is channeled into his flow well, making for explosive strings of rhymes that click with the beat. Nobody Sounds Like Me's opening verse a great example of stars aligning. Bringing on a helping of guests keeps the records pace interesting but its not all gold. A disappointing feature from Method Man on Pussy Pop pulls together a disposable track with a flimsy hook from the Wu-Tang legend.

Xzibit can't help but let a little of his humorous nature through. Ironic rhymes, amusing interludes and bizarre tracks like Shroomz crop up for relief in places. He also has a very serious side too, not shy of addressing topics often challenged in conscious Hip Hop music. His story telling is elevated too, Inside Job is a brilliant word by word ride of a high stakes incident playing out through his swift rhyming. Vivid song!

One of my favorite track has to be Let It Rain, bringing together again his liquid crew for everyone to run through with a series of solid verses. Its got such a fun groove and vibe to it and summarizes my overall experience, its a really fun record that doesn't get too deep into any of the variety it offers. The main surprise was the similarity with musical landmarks yet too come. Xzibit is a talent but even on his "classic" work I don't feel like we see the best of him.

Favorite Tracks: 3 Card Molly, What U See Is What U Get, Nobody Sound Like Me, Focus, Los Angeles Times, Inside Job, Let It Rain
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Queen "The Miracle" (1989)


There is now just two more records to go and so our journey resumes with an obvious low point for these British legends! The Miracle see's out the decade with the gaudiest, over produced and sterile sound to date. The bands eclecticism manifests with a bold metallic edge fit for the cheesier strain of arena sized Heavy Metal.

Brian May's beaming guitar features heavily throughout yet somehow its bold synth tones and song writing of the fading 80s Synthpop scene dominates the vibe. His solo work is often quite the delight, dexterous shredding finds itself overlooked as its brief arrivals do little to combat the overall theme that leans heavily of borrow ideas.

A fair helping of these songs have elements clearly borrowed from the Synthpop and classic Heavy Metal scenes. The Invisible Man may have a killer baseline and drum groove but Freddie's singing imitates the Ghost busters theme song to little merit. I Want It All is the one iconic song however the title track misses its mark sorely.

 Despite this sounding resoundingly negative, the album has its listenable tracks and quite a few musical arrangements and ideas that certainly peaked my interest. Was It All Worth It has simply booming symphonic elements at play, a joy within a dull song. On all fronts their is at least something to be enjoyed yet I feel for Freddie. Its a weak contribution, little of his singing exploring the emotional ranges he is so capable of.

Some lyrics clearly deal with his health and diagnosis which were likely a contributing factor. Its a sad observation unfortunately however it all felt a bit routine and dialed in. The album was poorly received at the time and I think rightly so. It may be easy on the ears and simple to digest but there just isn't a lot to take away from this. Two left now!

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 22 May 2020

The Weeknd "After Hours" (2020)


When a name crops up frequently in mainstream culture its often a red flag for me, however a readers recommendation had me curious. Being introduced to the heavily 80s inspired Synthwave leaning tracks first, I picked up this new release a bit too hastily. As my first record with the Canadian artist, the popular appeal is obvious. Ice chilled vibes, smooth glossy production and silky singing makes for easy listening.

After Hours hinges heavily on 80s Synthpop and classic R&B, fusing them with modern production tones to create an almost spacey night life drive under neon lights. Beats are postulated with the pace, craft and groove of that era. Its liquid synths ooze dense atmospheres into life. Even the songwriting and melodies mirror its nostalgic inspiration with similar structures, tropes and arrangements. The track In Your Eye's exemplifies this with its classy and almost cheesy Saxaphone solos.

I can tolerate and enjoy these tracks immensely. Where the record losses me is its sways into laid back R&B. Abel deploys his voice with a high pitched softness that just rubs me wrong. Its all to vulnerable yet self assured for me to extract anything of value from the overtly care free lyricism. Its only about half the runtime that dives into this avenue of unwound indulgence but I struggle with it. Not my cup of tea i guess!

For the side I did enjoy, the lack of originality beyond a keen reassembling of ideas heard from decades gone by made the experience a little shallow. One can appreciate the gorgeous atmosphere and slick warmness of the music but its lacking in musical surprises given how closely it sticks to classic pop tropes. The production is a marvel and his voice a seductive one, in the right refrain of course. Its been an enjoyable bunch of spins but I personally don't buy into the hype on this record.

Favorite Tracks: Blinding Lights, In Your Eyes, Save Your Tears
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Little Simz "Drop 6" (2020)


Having adored Grey Area, it is simply criminal that I had yet to dive into the young British rappers catalog of records. Her output is loaded with mixtapes and these mini "drop" EPs. This new release is obviously the sixth and its a blast! Five swift tracks roll past with keen lyrics and a sharp chemistry emphasizing the warm tones of the Boom bap era, its cultural origins in black music, all infused with a modern twist.

Simz kicks it off with a fantastic statement of intent. Her prowess on the mic with tight rhymes and an inspired flow is mesmerizing. Hailing respect back to Lauren Hill, she affirms herself as an artist comparable to the best around. Its in these moments and the likes of Venom that she certainly does however the nature of the format suggests its not all gold as the short tracks breeze by without reaching this peak again.

You Should Call Mum addresses the current pandemic with a level headed, insightful mind and food for thought. Another smart run of rhymes however the brief durations and feeling of them passing by suggest to me the format almost limits the potential. I might be too used to a few more minutes of indulgence but its as if these songs are underdeveloped. Her talent is undoubted but this release feels more like a teaser... I might be dwelling on this too much as I've had a blast with the beats and rhymes!

 Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Xzibit "At The Speed Of Life" (1996)


Seemingly always in the mood for 90s Hip Hop, It occurred to me Xzibit would be a great artist to dive into. I've always been fond of the famed MTV Pimp My Ride rapper, his features with Dr. Dre and Eminem were fantastic back in the day. At The Speed Of Life is the West Coast artists debut and one I actually got into a decade or so ago when really binging into the scene. The single hit Paparazzi holds up well over time but its not much of a surprise that the rest of the record doesn't have the same stick.

Xzibit has a very firm grip on the mic. Aggressive, coherent and articulate, he stands boldly. His vocal tone has a little flavor similar to the looseness of East Coast rappers Redman and Eric Sermon but he stays firmly on track with his rhymes. A steady flow with plenty of sensible word play he almost lacks a spark or flair of sorts. In the wake of weaker lyrics he can be unremarkable but for the most part the story telling and train of through is powerful enough to affirm himself with some serious credibility.

All these years later his more personal oriented rhymes really stuck in the mind but where the record falls short is production. Often gloomy and urban toned beats, swaying between some more rugged bouncy tracks, are all a tough thin and stiff. Somewhere in its composition a little oomph is missing. The ideas are great, the atmospheres forged make much sense but it can't help but feel sparse. The into and interludes also bloat the records pace with a lack of purpose or conception.

This debut record is a good platform to get moving as an artist, he shows his promise, puts together plenty of solid story telling as his explains his life journey to this point. The features are a little varied, he lets a handful of compadres on the mic and they often make for duller moments in the albums flow. Hurricane G on the other hand brings a lot of excitable energy that compliments X well. Its enjoyable, a fun handful of listens can be had but lacks a spark to make it memorable.

Favorite Tracks: At The Speed Of Life, Paparazzi, Carry The Weight
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 18 May 2020

Austra "Hirudin" (2020)


After a steady decline from their debut Feel It Break, Austra return with their fourth effort, Hirdudin. Its a resurgence of inspiration spearheaded by heartbroken pains that ripple through the warm mix of soft pianos and electronic instruments tinged in melancholy. As they do, simple song structures and short looping melodies create a glossy and modern, yet 80s Synthpop inspired setting for Stelmanis to flex her remarkable voice, becoming the beacon that makes it all work. Its opening songs remark on this stasis of hurt, after going through a brutal parting. The juxtaposition with playful, uplifting melodies is entrancing as her words walk a dark path.

 Growing past its powerful opening, the album plays with some sparse instrumentals to emphasize the power of Katie's stunning vibrato, almost robotic and inhuman at times, mesmerizer! On the track Risk It she again surprises with chipmunk high pitched singing thats surprisingly catchy, fun and not annoying. The mid-tempo dance groove below livens up the mood and after a couple more songs Mountain Baby is another ear catcher with its stiff yet charming nursery piano melody leading the tone. Not doubt this inclination is played up by the choir of kids singing sweetly in the intro.

On the very first play few I knew the album had come to an end with the arrival of Messiah. It reminded me of The Beast, a very powerful closing song from their debut. The piano and Katie's singing build up this oozing suspense that gets suspended and dissipated as the chords hammer away as airy reverberations and subtle cosmic synths sweep it all up and away. A stunning finale to a reasonable record that's far from perfect but has plenty of emotional out-pour to be embraced.

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Anywayz, All I Wanted, How Did You Know, Mountain Baby, Messiah

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Oranssi Pazuzu "Mestarin Kynsi" (2020)


Returning from a cosmic darkness of maddening psychedelic infused in the Black Metal abyss, Finish outfit Oranssi Pazuzu serve up another engrossing slice of darkly paranoid wonder. Four years on from Värähtelijä, the group return with six lengthy tracks of mystic torture and devine black magics. Atmosphere is ripe, the music brimming with thick busying layers of sound decorated with whirls of cosmic ambience between its pounding baselines, thick distortion guitars and aggressive instruments.

Toying with the listener through repetition, tension and menace brood as simple arrangements loop with a hypnotic persuasion. Between the cracks an eeriness lurks, croaks and groans are heard deepening the bleak persuasion as the music lunges into upheavals of spite and hate with the most harrow and distressing of tones amending its peaks. It does find balance however with a glorious sense of galactic mystique emerging through stunning synths. It gives balance to a challenging listen.

Every track feels fleshed out with a concept. Some central idea hinges and holds together an intense journey through the mental madness this band explore. In its best moment, Kuulen Ääniä Maan Alta deploys an utterly snappy groove to underpin its spat with the heavens. It births a strange dance of demons you could almost move your feet too. Followed by Taivaan Portti, my least favorite, abrasion is dialed up on an incessant drone that stiffens all the weird yet wonderful progression behind it.

The rest of the record is remarkable, a progressive journey with many a bizarre and curious assemblies of sound that suck the nectar dry on this psychedelic horror they incur. Front man Ontto deserves a nod for the utterly foul vocal performance. Regurgitating guttural groans are wrenched from within, delivered with a spite and hate heard through the bleak textures tortured from his chords. Its a style Ive grown bored of but when done right, its a treat. Great record, they have a finger on the pulse.

Favorite Tracks: Ilmestys, Kuulen Ääniä maan alta
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Loathe "I Let It In And It Took Everything" (2020)


Its my first record with the Liverpool based five man outfit. Six years together, their sophomore album gave me an initial impression that hasn't shook after a plethora of listens. I Let It In And It Took Everything strikes me as the collision of three bold ideas converging with little cohesion on behalf of its heaviest aspect that cuts with a blunt soreness I'm yet to along with. Disjointed barrages of dirty guitar distortion, pounded in through bleak Hardcore grooves and Djent polyrhythms make a despairing gap open between the beauty on the opposing side. I'm sure its conceptual but not for one moment does it feel like a natural progression for me, the listener.

Its key counterpart is the sombre yet blissful, soaked in beautiful sadness uplift of melodic tinged Metal, deeply in the vein of Deftones and Fightstar. Its a gorgeous execution of moody Shoegazng guitar noise and soaring vocals that is a pleasure to indulge with. Its arrival often comes parallel to the third axis, serine and meditative temporal synths, brilliant tonal work on the keys that have an uncanny resemblance to the spiritual magic of Steve Roach. They often slide into play with ambient environment sampling, building a curious tension for the next thread to unravel.

The album plays with a jarring sense of pace, routinely lunging from a warm, flowing, wall of melodic noise into upheavals of dispersing rhythmic tension. Slabs of gritty guitar, Industrial noise and gristly shouts interrupt routinely. On occasion it does have merit, finding a groove or weight to deliver, its just rather inorganic. A track in the middle, New Faces In The Dark, is perhaps best suited to melding these opposing sounds, finding some elasticity between sides where its more often, simply abrupt.

My take away from the many spins Ive endured is a record that feels like two simultaneously hashed together. I enjoy both aspects however they don't meld well. The colossal abrasiveness of the metallic ambushes dispels the sombre magic of Chino inspired vocals over colorful Metal and in a way, vise versa. Perhaps it is my own expectations that get in the way but I just wish it would stay in one place when I'm listening. Despite being hung up on all this, its got cracking songs and plenty to return too but as an album experience its a mess!

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Theme, 451 Days, Scream, Is It Really You, Gored

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Grimes "Geidi Primes" (2010)


Time alone justifies these ten years of evolution leading to Miss Anthropocene. Its practically unrecognizable in this infantile form, even the gap between Geidi Primes and Halfaxa is remarkable with just nine months between them. A DIY enthusiast and bedroom producer arrives at a raw inception with some peculiar parallels with whats to come. As a first impression, I may not have perused this discovery further but luck luckily reputation and repetitious listens yields a strange charm emanating from this low fidelity affair of narrow dingy production and Etheral voices. Despite being a little stark in comparison to its follow up, I like Geidi Primes for its simplicity more so.

Every track deploys a thin, distant and monotone percussive beat on a short loop. It holds tempo, contributing to the aparent starkness of style. Other dingy, muddy instruments chime in with a lack of clarity. The lack of punch or reach for fidelity gives it all strange shyness. A fondness is birthed by Grimes's voice who starts of with basic echos on her voice, then progresses along with the record, layering up, becoming central to the music. Avi is a good track where she surpasses the production, her singing becomes a wash of dreamy, ghostly wonder over sheltered instrumentals.

A track like Gambang with its choked up acoustic guitar sample gives a sense of intention to the low fidelity aspect, yet on the other hand it seems almost amateurish, wandering in through lack of knowing any better. Its eleven tracks bumble through this strange dimension with their short repetitions droning into obscurity. Innocent, dreamy and flirting with a lonely darkness, strange just doesn't seem to justify the actualization. Is it accidental brilliance or focused vision? Either way I feel this record, despite seeming simple, has depth and with each session I enjoy it more so.

Favorite Tracks: Rosa, Avi, Venus In Fleurs
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Enter Shikari "Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible" (2020)


Reeling back upon The Spark's softening shift in tone, Enter Shikari return with a spicy self historical mix up. Nothing Is True has rolled up a little bit of everything tried so far in their five records leading to this sixth installment. The four lads have been together since their teenage years, forging a unique identity that can be felt through the chemistry. I have a deep affinity for their music. Ive seen them go from local pubs, clubs and schools to headlining festivals. Its been simply magical and I will always have a soft spot for them, making it hard to not enjoy anything they do!

The albums sentiment comments on our technology driven age haunted by science denial, trolls, bots, fake news and social media hysteria. Its a finger on a pulse that has been pounding for a while, the perspectives often shaped through a dystopian lens seem second fiddle to the groups excellent song writing. The power of hooks and catchy lyrics are better felt through the passion Rou delivers them with than there content. That may just depend on how deep you've dove into these topics beforehand.

Its fifteen songs are cracking, a constant roll out of fun, energy and passion with a retroactive array of aesthetics, keenly from the synths that pull from the best of electronic oriented sounds experimented in the past. Its a framework around songwriting that periodically dips into trendy Alternative Pop stylings. Despite all being good songs, Crossing The Rubicon, The Pressure's On & Satellites reek off imitation with a direction clearly emulating others, rather than perusing that Shikari purism.

The rest of the record has that uniqueness intact with a fair spread of experimentation that occasionally gets a little wild. Elegy For Extinction breaks things up with a moment of pure symphonic wonder as a dense orchestral composition builds a fiery intensity to propel the music into its most bipolar moment with rave synths and dirty pounding dance floor percussion firing off under modulated vocals. Its a wild treat that shows the band still have a knack to pull together all aspects of influences.

If their is anything left to be desired, perhaps the group didn't do anything unexpected. As fantastic as their endlessly youthful and exuberant style is, this unifying sound of all attempted before misses an opertunity to surprise which is something each record has had to it before, a new territory to uncover. Despite that, its familiarity plays like a group of old friends returning to give you new stories you'll cherish. Nothing Is True is loaded with songs to subtly slip alongside the best of their setlists.

Favorite Tracks: The Great Unknown, The Dreamers Hotel, Apocaholics, T.I.N.A, Elegy For Extinction
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Plini "Birds / Surfers" (2020)


Inspired by two accidental photographs of quite literally birds and surfers, forward thinking Australian multi instrumentalist Plini has delivered us with a pair interlude tracks. Both numbers clock in under two minutes but as the artists does with his main releases, Handmade Cities & Sunhead, so does this miniature record naturally possess quality over quantity. Its first half Birds toys with dense Post-Rock atmospheres with bright sombre melodies gleaming over soft synths and pattering percussive claps as a deep and gritty acoustic low string guitar plays with Djent ideals in a completely non-metallic way. Its a textural treat with an inviting tone to be enjoyed in its brief arrival.

Surfers has a similar temperament, its atmosphere bruised by a bold murmuring bassline that bleeds a contained deep fuzzy warmness. It leads to an ascension as pumping rave synths are mustered in the fog of its beautiful hazy atmosphere. They never take control but somehow propel the music on despite the polar relation it has to Plini's colorful acoustics. As it fizzles out and ends the record its obviously all to little but the nature of both songs departure has one wondering if these songs could of been more? They are sublime experiments that perhaps the artist couldn't quite figure out where to go with them.

Rating: 3/10