Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Janis Joplin "Pearl" (1971)


It was quite a few years ago that I first heard of Janis and her legendary performance at Woodstock 69. I got my hands on Pearl with a whole bunch of other records from a top 500 list and have had it on my phone since, waiting for shuffle to catch me off guard and precisely that happened the other day with Half Moon, a feel good, upbeat, jiving song on the first side of the record. Reading up on Pearl I am saddened to learn it was released posthumously a few months after her death in 1970 where she suffered a heroin overdose. Interestingly the album was recorded in the failed four channel quadraphonic format which would eventually become surround sound. It also held the top album slot for nine weeks and sold over four million copies.

Whats impressive about Pearl is its energy and dynamism, from both Janis's charisma and the wonderfully involved, vibrant instrumentation behind her. The record rocks and sways between heartfelt emotions and feel good, rocking vibes. A powerful fusion of Funk, Soul, R&B and Blues Rock jives on with a colorful intensity as the accompanying Fult Tilt Boogie Band illuminate these songs with fleshed out and inspired music making a rich setting for Janis however they too take the lime light with bursts of powerful organs and guitar licks between the ever present liveliness of the deceased Richard Bell's pianos. Its dense in its involvement, yet audibly crisp and inviting, each instrument having its space in the mix to shine as they jive in tandem.

All of the band give a riveting performance, you can simply just zone in on one instrument and be moved but the biggest mover is Janis out in front of them who has such a fascinating and emotional voice. With such sincere passion and expression in her singing, the half hit notes and croaky, scratchy strain she frequently visits become engulfed in the moment, sounding natural, charming and despite technically being "flawed" its transformed by her charisma. She even goes has far to push her voice in to a surging shriek on occasion, which is too just an unleashing of urgent expression. Its truly riveting and endearing, her young death truly a tragedy.

Its practically a flawless record, thirty four minutes of emotional engagement with exception to one track which I can't help but feel modern corporatism has spoiled as I'm sure Ive heard it in a commercial of the same name, Mercedes Benz. Its a short, lower fidelity accapella where Janis sounds a little rusty on her own, singing sarcastic prayers for consumerist products. Its really quite a nice piece but feels tainted by its snug fit with advertising culture where everything becomes a commodity, even the song, which only makes sense retrospectively.

My time with this record has taught me what I'm learning over and over again, that a musicians personal expression can transcend any preconceived musical preference if given a chance. The sixties is a fascinating chapter in the history of humanity and certainly the beginning of the cultural freedom we experience today. I'd never been keen on the music but I'm glad that's changing. Janis's voice feels free of its time but the instrumentals are firmly rooted in the era and Its great to hear familiar 60s aesthetics expressing something I can relate with, however writing that makes me realized its perhaps the ever changing self that is now coming around to this wonderful era of music and cultural significance.

Rating: Cry Baby, My Baby, Half Moon, Get It While You Can
Rating: 9.5/10

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Post Malone "Beerbongs & Bentleys" (2018)


Debuting at number one and going platinum within a week it would seem the success is only growing for the young artist who is yet to win favor with a majority of critics. Beerbongs & Bentleys is Post Malone's Sophomore record clocking in at a bloated sixty four minutes that shows little signs of any measurable evolution from his sound on Stoney. Across these eighteen tracks we have a similar of sequence of Trap influenced Hip Hop beats mixed up in the wish wash of indulgent reverberations and instruments set to maximize the laid back vibes and chilled out tone of Post's music.

The record falls short in its lyrical substance, most tracks are dominated by superficial topics. The gloating and boasting of lifestyle and wealth props up a thin backbone of topics revolving around the glorification of intoxication, petty drama and partying that are so atypical of the youth and who could blame them for it? As an older soul there is little I can relate to other than a reactionary sigh at seeing reflections of a former, younger self. Post does at times find some deep lines in brief glimpses but its mostly buried in the slew of style and catchy slang over substance in lyrics that many of his guest features indulge in too.

Its all so trendy and such are the instrumentals too. The charisma of Post's singing voice, with auto tune or without is a constant pleasure and transformers the mood of these beats into chilled out, laid back places, calming and serine through the chaos of the stuttering hi-hat led beats. The quality varies track to track, Same Bitches with YG sticking out like a sore thumb, its beat clearly by a different producer working on those west coast vibes. A couple of songs like Rockstar with 21 Savage hit the right mark however Post's songwriting sounds rather muted across the record as the trendy beats and self-indulgent lyrics dominate the records tone and posture.

In one moment we get a pure beam of light, the main reason I have my ear on this artist. Stay is a glossy, gleaming song filled with sun soaked acoustic guitar playing, coming on like a daydream as Post's voice soars over blissfully with some beautiful singing and vocal inflections. No Trap beats, no trendy slang and this is where the substance is in this musician. I hope in the future he follows this path more as I believe its where he flourishes I would happily listen to a record of tracks like this for hours on end! Unfortunately Beerbongs & Bentleys is yet to head in that direction.

Favorite Tracks: Rockstar, Stay
Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Lord Lovidicus "Saeculorum" (2018)


Upon seeing its sacred, biblical art album cover I was overcome with excitement, Lord Lovidicus has been one of the most interesting artists to follow over the years. Progressing from decrepit visions of mysterious, nostalgic Dungeon Synth, evolving the sound to lush and serine compositions of runic magic, his music has been painting vivid and uplifting visions of ancient cultures. That path is probably why I found myself instantaneously understanding what this record was about, its cover a perfect fit for the music behind the facade and an inspired step forward for the artist.

More than ever does Lord inch closer to the realms of whats unfortunately generalized into "video game music". To more accurately describe the style, its akin to scenic soundtracks of dragon-born kings and fairy-tale lands, the likes of Skyrim and the other Elder Scrolls games. I think Lord's vision here is more likely to be routed in the Roman era with the Latin title signifying the length of mortal life and its two songs, split into smaller tracks, Latin for gold and silver. Whatever its inspiration the music is majestic, yet cultured and very much romanticizes with a forgotten civilization.

With soft and simple stringed instruments, the cries of trumpets, horns and the occasional pounding of war drums, the opening track Aurum has an uplifting gleam of might about it as we travel on a timely adventure across lands. It climaxes with the wonderful Saturunus Dethroned, making its mark with an intriguing pallet of arcane choral synths that meld human voices with the gods, as if calling down from the heavens above. Argentum paints a similar cultural vision of splendid valor from the upper echelon of society, its glory and wealth soaring its way to the clouds above. That is just my interpretation, I picture scholars and politicians lavished in white robes, gazing on grapes, lounging in serine gardens as they indulge in conversation of primitive philosophy as adventures explore beautiful scenic lands off in the distance.

The aesthetic value of the music is carefully poised. It sounds fit for the rich and lavish production a studio budget could afford yet resides on basic midi tones dressed in soft reverb. Its just enough to capture the majesty the compositions behold. The music shines brightly through it with this pallet of instruments however it in some moments becomes crowded in layered crescendos and some lighter compositions like Rivers Of Nectar sound a little exposed when only two instruments are in play at once. Its nothing to complain about, the whole record is spell bounding with impressive song progressions and structures that show Lord is continuing to both evolve the sound and grow as a musician.

Favorite Tracks: Saturunus Dethroned, The Monad, The Divine Spark
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 11 May 2018

PRhyme "PRhyme 2" (2018)


I always suspected there would be a sequel to PRhyme, a collaborative effort between DJ Premier and Royce Da 5"9. Casting my mind back, it was only a few months into this blog that I covered there first album together over four years ago! Time flies and the absence has yielded a follow up record twice the length yet lacking much to talk about. The original never made a big impact but showed promise however four years later I can barely remember a hook, beat or rhyme from it.

The same will be true of this record too, its unfortunately a tiresome record that starts of with a bang. Black History has a quirky instrumental, a cut without a kick or snare! Its like a clock ticking down with a string section dancing around it and then the song erupts into a bright uplifting gleam as the drums drop in. With that and the intro song the duo set a stage, stating their return and then Royce painting a picture of his birth and leading on to brief us on some Hip Hop history, giving shouts out to Guru of Gang Starr and some others too.

Following it up with a self affirming braggadocio track the album swiftly falls into a routine of reasonable beats and reasonable rhymes thats all so reasonable it forgets to be inspired or challenging. A string of obvious and atypical rhymes boasting status and lifestyle drown out spurts of impressive rhyming and topical substance. Its in there somewhere but on a lengthy album clocking in at over an hour the record tends to drone on. Hearing old rappers moan about modern trends and how it used to be done becomes tiring even if your a fan of that era. Its an all to common trend from the old heads it seems. Not a bad record, just something I couldn't really get into.

Favorite Track: Black History
Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Dimmu Borgir "Eonian" (2018)


Its been well over a decade since the Norwegian Symphonic Black Metal outfit Dimmu Borgir were in their prime, I would consider 2004's Death Cult Armageddon to be the groups last truly great record. Since then the bands activity has slowing, their records In Sorte Diaboli and Abrahadabra haven't lived up to the former glory. With a worrying eight year gap between albums I welcome anything from my favorite band but reserve any excitement as it would be foolish to expect them to rekindle the old flames. This newest adventure embarks us on a ritualistic journey through ancient astral lore as its tone and track listing would suggest.

This new chapter been a fair listen, an easy, enjoyable record that does little wrong but lacks the intensity and atmosphere to elevate its core ideas to epic proportion. Further exaggerating what they have done before, Eonian is finely tuned with its crisp and gleaming production, polished to a fault. It takes a real hammering of blast beats and guitar trashing to create anything remotely overwhelming. Instead the record often indulges in this sleek sound with eruptions of lush atmospheres that lean on its light, audible guitar licks, comforting symphonics and expansive drums that conjures a sense of scale with its lumbering pace packed with arranged fills.

Either its crutch or a crux the record continually embellishes many of its climatic and powerful passageways with these strong choirs, often effeminate voices soaring with a touch of devilish mischief and between them plenty of choral synths line much of the musics design. Often its fantastic, on a few instances a little soar but most of all its an obvious progression from a trend on Abrahadabra that leaves the guitars playing second fiddle to everything else. Its not something to take issue with, just an observation that they are toned down by these musicians who used to bring so much venom and exhilarating annihilation through their power chord shredding riffs.

Behind the aesthetics and nuances of composition we have some fantastic song writing that tends to stray towards cosmically majestic and uplifting moments as opposed to the hellish plunges into darkness they would so commonly do in the past. Essentially these are seasoned musicians evolving their sound in the opposite direction yet holding onto their "extreme" identity. It results in mixed feelings, an appreciation of the now more expansive music, yet an attachment to how these songs might of once played out decades ago in a more to the point manor. With lingering elements of their old identity holding on it sounds like they aren't quite through a transitional period, however Eonian clearly reaches the other side with quite a few strides on this decent record.

Favorite Tracks: I Am Sovereign, Archaic Correspondence, Rite Of Passage
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 7 May 2018

Rich Brian "Amen" (2018)


Amen is the debut record of teenager rapper Rich Brian from Indonesia, a former Viner who's been active as a creator from a young age. Gathering his influences from this newest generation of Hip Hop, he represents much about these times, the accessibility of music and information bringing the culture across seas through the connectivity of the internet, a place where a young Brian found his creative platform. His break out single hit a couple years back but the hype of this record is where I have first heard of him.

Going into this record relatively blind his charm and persona stuck out instantly, the deep baritone voice, his calm, relaxed pace and easy going delivery is persuasive. It sets him a step aside from other rappers, his almost spoken word style has to be far easier for skeptics to digest. Unfortunately I don't think there is a ton of lyrical substance here. A lot of the time he's caught up in the moment, divulging shallow topics of social status and occasionally reflecting on his self perception. There is however a endearing youthful air and innocence about his thoughts and tales. It comes in a moderate dose and matches his tone, most the positive energy comes from his simple and fun rhymes schemes, keen and witty links like "I need space like astronaut". When his flow matches the beat it becomes very enjoyable and hypnotic even if the lyrics aren't making the mark, however the opening track does a fantastic job of introducing himself and setting the stage for the rest to come.

I especially liked the production of this record, its Trap influences feels measured and inspired as opposed to trendy. The melodies and tone can vary from the uplifting, sun soaked vibes of Flight to the club banger Tresspass that came before it. Each track brings together a tight beat with a smart set of programmed instruments that gel together seamlessly. Tuneful synths and simple melodies on layers of subtle instruments remind me of Dr. Dre's philosophy on 2001 in a roundabout way.

I think Brian has a bright future ahead of himself. As I didn't mention it is Rich himself who handles almost all the production according the records footnotes. Thats largely impressive for this emerging talent who's got so much of his life ahead of him. Amen is a decent debut, flawed but fun and enjoyable. Lyrically I think more life experience would bring some last and depth to his words but on the other hand his instrumental game is very strong and the album flows so smooth from track to track, its a really easy to enjoy record.

Favorite Tracks: Amen, Occupied, Introvert, Tresspass, Flight, See Me, Enemies
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Logic "Everybody" (2017)


It seems Ive been set on a path to work backwards through each of American rapper Logic's yearly releases, this being his third album and his first to debut in the stop spot on billboard charts. Its as convincing as the Bobby Tarantino II mixtape, a bright, energetic album full of charisma and energy emanating from the talented MC who handles a fair amount of production with his own beats on this equally enjoyable record. It doesn't have a lot to separate it from the mixtape format other than being a little more consistent with its theme and topic.

Logic, his long time collaborator 6ix and a handful of others forge a fine selection of flowing modern beats with a healthy mix of sampling, programming and trap influenced beats, as well as a couple of pop rap tracks for the radio. They set a fine stage for the raps which totally dominate the tone with a ton of food for thought. Through story telling, point making and generally speaking his mind. Logic tackles these personal problems and criticisms head on in a very upfront, straightforward and unapologetic way. These topics are heavily focused around racism and how we as people treat one another in this society.

It can be problematic how self involved in a progressive politcal world view he is. At times the lyrics can be naive and lack nuance and certainly walk down a very entrenched path but for me the message is clear, between many of his narratives he reinforces the message of love and compassion for one another. This endearing warmth goes a long way and although his lyrical content isn't as issue for me I could see it being divisive for others who may have a different world view.

Take It Back is a mighty track, Logic engaging us with his technical delivery over a very repetitive beat that becomes hypnotic as he reminds us to take it way way back. Its a powerful song, Logic having to defend the perception of his racial identity in the face of criticism. He walks us through his life's struggles and how it relates to a much larger picture. Other features make a large mark on the record too, the inclusion of Neil Degrasse Tyson in interludes adds this fantastic layer of thought to the nature of meaning and existence. He also brings legends Killer Mike and Chuck D to the album.

Overall its a fantastic yet flawed album mixing a handful of ideas in the pot that doesnt quite formulate into a coherent vision yet forges some fantastic musical moments and plenty of food for thought. The most endearing aspect is the character of Logic himself, through all you can hear an honest and kind hearted person, it goes a long way to make the album feel less weighed down by its subject matter and lifted by the beats and inspiration.

Favorite Tracks: Hallelujah, Everybody, Take It Back, America
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Deftones "Koi No Yokan" (2012)


Emerging as a forerunner in the formation of the short lived Nu Metal wave, Sacramento based Deftones swiftly made artistic strides to separate themselves from the scene and grow as artists. With the years passing by as they do, the band have ended up with a stellar catalog of records worthy of much discussion and praise. I always found It difficult to pick favorite songs and records with the Deftones specifically because their music is so inviting and persuasive. After six years with this record and another recent binge on it, I am once again in awe of Koi No Yokan for its sonic and textural beauty, a moment where the bands music transcends itself with a timeless presentation of deeply engrossing music with gorgeous aesthetics.

On its surface one might link the bands former two record together. The bombastic intensity of Stephen Carpenter's eight string guitars from Diamond Eyes and the blissful, color soaked experience of the melodic Saturday Night Wrist seem to embrace one another as the record cruises through dynamic movements. Transitioning between tidal grooves on its crunching guitars and beautiful landscapes of serine moods has a record gleaming in its own reflection as all elements seem to fall together for this moment. Like icing on the cake, vocalist Chino truely finds his moment here with a performance that lasts, illuminating every song, elevating the music with his infectious passion and swooning delivery that will have you singing along with every chorus.

In its less obvious persuasion the Deftones fire up their typical formula of hard hitting riffs and melodic counterparts that stands apart from their previous work. With a tighter inclusion of subtle textural electronics fleshing out the canvas and the aesthetic influences of Post Rock and Post Metal drawing in on the guitar tones, a sonic experience unravels as the line up of riffs drift into noisy, textural places with depth and grit about them. It gives the record another dimension, one that endures repetition with these dense and matured tones feeding back into the music its sounding out.

Beyond engrossing aesthetics, grizzly grooving riffs and Chino's sublime singing, the albums mood and tone is oddly palatable to its environment. Warm or cold, day or night, sun soaked or drenched in miserable rain, the power of these songs find a way to relate, however that may be my enjoyment of the record speaking loudly as one can not deny the acoustic guitars which often bring a dark, cloudy dreariness with them. Its powerful and perhaps that explains why a string of indulgent, melancholy moments can seem fit for any occasion, Chino's voice often leading as the respite from the dark allure as he brings us in.

Upon its release, Koi No Yokan was just another collection of solid Deftones songs but over the years each return to the record has pulled me in further. It plays front to back without a weak spot and so often do I loose myself as soft and subtle instrumentation strings you in to an eruption of mammoth guitar tones grinding out sonic grooves, morphing into expansive atmospheres of energy and beauty. With time the musics graphical pallet continues to outlast itself as its textural depth is endearing to the inspiration the songs hold. Its gotten to the point where I binge in ecstasy over how glorious this band are in this moment. I believe it is their crowning moment as a group, of course it would be wonderful to hear them reach these heights again and I wouldn't be surprised if they did.

 Rating: 10/10

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Celph Titled & Buckwild "Nineteen Ninety Now" (2010)


I first heard about this collaborative record eight years ago when it was first released. That was right in the prime of my interest in 90s Hip Hop, which this album its unsurprisingly all about given the record's name. I was reminded of it recently having dived into Kool G Rap's 4,5,6 album which Buckwild handles a few beats on. Finally getting around to it has been fun but given how much more open minded to music I am now, I can't help but feel I would of enjoyed it far more back when the 90s was all I would listen to. So who are this duo? Buckwild is producer who's worked with the likes of Brand Nubian, Big L, AZ, Puffy Daddy, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. Celph I know less about, however I learned through this records lyrics he was part of the group Equilibrium, who's debut 7" record I've enjoyed for years.

As a conceptual record Nineteen Ninety Now worships a glorious part of Hip Hops history by fully embodying the era's aesthetic and attitude. Buckwild pulls out a full set of prime instrumental beats that could mistake anyone of the decade. A keen ear can hear an increased clarity but the atmosphere, the vibes are spot on, as if they've been plucked from Lord Finesse, see Tingin', and Big L, see Wack Juice, records to name a few. These beats seriously parallel the whole approach and style that will have you hearing nods and tributes on every track. Swashbuckling runs through a few beats with heated baseline akin to House Of Pain. The previous track "Fuckmaster Sex" takes a page from the classic Doggystyle, a cut you could easily slip into that record, Celph even does the high pitch rhyme affirmations just like Snoop did. I could go on, its as if Buckwild has made a whole bunch of templates from the era's slickest beats and its all fantastic.

Lyrically I have to be critical, Celph's flow and rhyming ability is undeniable, he has really mastered his swift and well enunciated style but the amount of self affirmation and braggadocio gets tiring as his lyrics reveal a rather bitter and out of touch streak in his personality. Lots of the lyrics get drowned in homophobia and excessive gun worship between criticizing newer generations from a close minded, elitist perspective and hating on many different groups of people. It may be lyrical fun but hes lashing out at a fair few stereotypes that seems overtly judgemental and unprovoked. It could of been an annoyance but unfortunately these topics dominate the narrative. The opening tracks stirs up some fun as the two introduce themselves and praise the era but it doesn't take long for the hate train to start. Its a bittersweet record, the beats are sublime, some fantastic features too but Celph's attitude spoils the message which should of been love not hate.

Favorite Beats: Eraserheads, Mad Ammo, Tingin', There Will Be Blood, Miss Those Days, Styles Ain't Raw
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Equilibrium "Farenheit 813" (1998)


How did I find this obscure 7" vinyl release? I can barely remember, it was over a decade ago I first heard the Florida trio Equilibrium and found a download on some random, probably now defunct website but the reason I'm writing today is because another record I'm currently enjoying has a voice vaguely reminiscent if not matured and grown up. Then in the middle of a verse reciting his history over the years, rapper Celph Titled drops the name Equilibrium and it all clicks into place!

This four track release comprising of three unique songs and a remix is no gem but it is a fun release with a distinct 90s character that a pair of youthful rappers put there mark on. With young voices and enthusiastic attitudes they bring a plethora of smart, clever rhymes that may not rise to the top but you can certainly commend them and get behind their passion on the mic. The track Windows 98 embodies the charm of their inexperience as they string together all sorts of computer hardware and operating system references into a nonsensical narrative based around the latest OS of the time. The beat made from system sounds is a fantastic touch too.

The other two songs pair bombastic beats with lively samples as the duo rap impressive strings of rhymes with a snappy pace, clever rhyme schemes and intelligent word play. Critical Conditions dives deep into paranoia and government conspiracy theories that makes for an entertaining theme. The remix of that track uses the opening sample of Nancy Wilson's famous Ain't No Sunshine, a classic sample Ive heard used by Method Man & Redman, M.O.P & Lords Of The Underground to name a few. Farenheit 813 is a short but sweet record Ive enjoyed many, many times over the years, a fun listen for a Hip Hop fan.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Lil Uzi Vert "Luv Is Rage 2" (2017)


 Of all the so called Mumble Rap that's peaking these days, Lil Uzi Vert has been the most interesting to catch my attention, his dazed and confused feature on the Migos song Bad & Boujee and an infectious "all my friends are dead" hook on the Xo Tour Lif3 single has had me put off this record for too long now. It's his debut album, a squeal to a mix tape of the same name and after a few years of building up steam he debuted at the top spot of American billboard charts, going on to turn platinum earlier this year.

Success aside the music is the most interesting aspect of course and Lil Uzi marks his presence as an emotional voice centered in the heart of the aesthetic. Although they call it rap, he blurs the lines, often singing infectiously with a wealth of auto tune and dreamy reverberations to abstruse his words and let the feelings flow as dissonance and "mumbling" often makes for many incoherent sentences that aids it to feeling over clarity. When in the rhymes its often simplistic, overtly repetitive and so ones attention might drift into the chemistry that's beyond the words, however when singing the record really illuminates as a plethora of memorable hooks and singing charms each of the songs.

Despite being trendy and currently "mainstream" these instrumentals come across as esoteric and dystopian, in an oddly warm and inviting way. Images of rain soaked neon light cities come to mind but that is my personal experience. Lil Uzi raps his way through heartbreak and pains on an open, emotionally lead journey that has its moments of braggadocio focused on wealth and lifestyle but mostly offers something rather different from the norm. Around him washy, deep and swooning beats create an airy atmosphere that's constantly lost in its own haze. Its indulgent, relaxing and often memorizing as exotic synths bleed with reverb over tight, contrasting trap grooves.

Each of the songs create a distinction and a few stand out. On the stripped back and gritty For Real, Lil Uzi drops back on his rap skills for a track that feels of a totally different temperament. Early 20 Rager does something similar and the flow is broken up as a couple of tracks pull away from what really works and that is Lil Uzi singing, getting into his zone and lighting up this strange and wonderful place that's emotionally honest and yet feels out of space, like a never ending drug trip.

Favorite Tracks: The Way Life Goes, Feelings Mutual, Malfunction, Xo Tour Life
Rating: 6/10