Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Poppy "I Disagree" (2020)


The only time I'd heard of American singer Poppy beforehand was in the middle of some good old "he said, she said" internet drama. The story goes that her image is modeled around her producer and collaborator's previous artist, causing creative identity controversy. Ditching the former musical partner, she's brought a new team to this record, taking an experimental stride to brush with the twisted aesthetics of Extreme Metal in a whirlwind of styles stretching from buttery Pop and lush Electronic, to the boom and bounce of Nu Metal with a little Industrial grit. I was turned onto this new release by friends but Ive got to be critical, its all a bit too contrived for my taste.

I Disagree's strenuous diversity and flashy eclecticism feels like a shallow facade as just about every pallet presented keenly remind me of other artists, styles and aesthetics heard before. This lack of originality is thrust forth by the stitched nature of its musical progressions. Sudden shifts, jolts and turns in momentum feel hollow as the music pivots from dreamy singing and sunny synths to dirty Djent guitars and hammering drums with little meaning. It leaves the song writing in an awkward place where its intent feels at the mercy of a failed attempt to be audacious and daring.

It's not all bad however. The various musical pallets play well, textures and aesthetics sound gorgeous from start to end, there just isn't any cohesion. Poppy sounds at her soft and effeminate best in the dreamy pop sections as pivots to extremities often suck away the mood in favor of nonsensical aggression. The lyrics too are a bit all over the place. J-Pop influences play out with a quirky manor that falls flat on me. "Bite your own teeth" and other lines fail to offer substance. I think Anything Like Me talks to the drama addressed above and with that some meaning and depth is found but its lacking elsewhere, another dimension that falls short.

For the most part each listen flys by. Its entertaining but with little digging in deep or getting stuck in the mind. It does however end on a fantastic high note as Sick Of The Sun actually sticks to one idea for the whole track, playing out a strange summery vibe that's slightly esoteric and ethereal. It almost feels like a two part epic as an acoustic plucked guitar akin to Metallica's Call Of The Cthulhu or Ozzy's Killer Of Giants brings us into a second phase. This then finds the album's best metallic riffs as giant meaty notes parade with mountainous stature, leading into dazzling guitar solos. Its fantastic song writing on an album that's sorely missing it for all the tracks leading to this ending. A great bow out but also the only two songs to take away from it all.

Favorite Tracks: Sick Of The Sun, Don't Go Outside
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 14 February 2020

Napalm Death "Logic Ravaged By Brute Force" (2020)


My excitement brews as alas it would seem the British Grindcore legends Napalm Death are inching closer to a new full length after line up changes and delays in coordination. Its been five years since Apex Predator, a record that has remained a disappointment in my mind for being all to sterile and lacking some mania and chaos that often sparks the magic in their music. The good news is this two track teaser EP shows promise! Although it only has the one original song, a grim, visceral cover of White Kross by Sonic Youth. It is a fitting match to this new tone and musical balance the group have brought together for their newest installment of madness.

Logic Ravaged By Brute Force plays to the bands strengths and atmospheric ability. Dissonance and a bludgeoning wall of sound brings about a crushing sound that doesn't over state itself with crisp production or over pronounced instruments. The drums are dense, a thick tone thats punishing, striking without overpowering. Beside them guitars navigate through the weaving of plucked high strings and snaky low end riffage that is forever unsettled. Its vibe is restless, below the music is driven by its baselines, pounding things forward. Above it all Barney howls in unending fury!

The song doesn't reach a conclusion, it bubbles and boils but no outbreak or slamming riff arrives, instead it revels in the tension. The bands aversion to chaotic moments of outburst are one of my favorite distinctions however with this track it feels like the right call. The songs tension simmers away as its brought to the edge. Its only one track but my reaction is that Napalm Death have pivoted to an atmosphere driven approach of tension and unease. With this powerful studio production the aesthetic is firmly in place to produce a fine record with this teaser track mustering my apatite!

Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Old Tower "Seelenasche" (2020)


Alongside Drachenblut and Finsterströmung, the Dutch musician and Dungeon Synth master Old Tower completes the "dark alchemy" trilogy with this newest release. Once again its three songs of dark, spiritual, meditative music with an eerie and unsettled quality. My immediate enjoyment of Seelenasche had me pondering on my complaints around musicians or bands getting stuck on a sound, failing to progress. In this case the premise of a trilogy has firmly set expectation and they have been met. This was purposefully the musical experience I wanted, however it is the weaker of the three.

Seelenasche sounds rather reserved and less adventurous in comparison. The mystique and tension is loosened as its commonly reverberated instruments are paced at a slow tempo with soft, inviting melodies gracing the rather welcoming droning of base horns that make up the atmospheric backdrop. The Chasm Within plays out a more mysterious tone with its lead instrument sounding lost and lonely in the beginning as the song builds up its layers to then meander back into isolation. Its all fair however the sense of lurking evil or a coming event simply isn't in these tracks, they are far more pleasant, relaxed and inviting, which is fine of course.

As the final, title track, rolls around the tempo and spirit picks up, ushering in triumphant horns over a smiling base line. With a couple more layers its denser tone feels as if the sun has touched it. A sense of gleam and wonder arises, perhaps in the wake of light flooding the deep dungeons this music so often conjures. Maybe this warmer climate creates a nice conclusion for the trilogy, a final resting place. Either way I have enjoyed all thirds. I'm excited to see what Old Tower comes up with next!

Favorite Track: Seelenasche
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 10 February 2020

Bring Me The Horizon "Music To Listen To…" (2019)


Having announced a planned departure from the album format, the Sheffield outfit Bring Me The Horizon swiftly follow up on Amo within the same calendar year. It is their first EP, a format which they've announced will be the new norm and surprisingly its the groups lengthiest release to date clocking in at seventy five minutes. Its no serious affair, the eight tracks stack up the run time with two ten minute songs and another at twenty four mostly consisting of a glitched vocal snippet on loop with some accompanying rambling dialog. Its an experimental piece, unstructured output paired with a ridiculously long record title. Its song names too tend to steer to the obscure.

What's obvious on first listen is the lack of format, a lifting of restraints. Music To Listen To... plays more like a collection of jams and experiments from the studio, perhaps a window into the process before the real writing takes place. Mostly devoid of its metallic component, the groups influences from Electronic music and Ambient play out in experimental fashion, showcasing the more eclectic taste as musicians. A Devastating Liberation is simply the backing track to Why You Gotta Kick Me When I'm Down. How the two came together would be a fascinating learn. It holds up well as a dark, foreboding electronic, symphonic hybrid of monstrous magnitude.

The songs mainly showcase a variety of shades from the massive web of styles that is Electronic music. For the most part it plays well, in a laid back relaxed context. There is little in the way of direction that feels expressive or envisioned. It is mostly a mood, tone or temperament that is established and then droned out at length. Snippets, moments and textures shine like elements of the bands normal dense tone, however they are simply laid bare on their own. Its an interesting insight to the bands process and creativity but as a record it makes sense to not call this an album. I've mostly enjoyed each listen but with that lack of structure, much of the music just floats in the present, making little impact or birthing ear worms for the subconscious afterthought.

Favorite Track: A Devastating Liberation
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 7 February 2020

Fatboy Slim "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" (1998)


This record has been my recent obsession, revisiting one of the very first albums of my youth, a time when I started to develop an affinity for music. It was just before the massive singles Praise You and Right Here, Right Now were to take off. The latter is still a staple song at sports events over twenty years on. Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim broke ground with this, his sophomore record and thrust the emerging Big Beat sound onto the masses alongside acts like The Prodigy and Basement Jaxx. It's not just this record alone I've enjoyed, digging around on the genre has really scratched an itch for the break beat eccentric sound that was all to short lived.

The sound is lively, its energy grooving and this hour of music slams through stitching of samples that still feel massive all these years later. Pushing the limits, Norman's ear for beats flirts with the harsher, almost Industrial breaks. The percussion is very involved, textured and layered as the drums stack up. Its dense, heavy and a key component that plays the line well, never going to the extreme. Alongside this back bone, Norman lines the songs with obscure sampling, flourishes of electronic melody and best of all an abuse of vocal snippets on high repetition which he manipulates with a variety of effects. A subtle genre bending flows throughout as its source samples bring a range of vibes together under its power percussive persuasion.

Powering its way through its breaks, the album pivots at the end as the colorful, piano led and toned down Praise You transitions us into the final two songs. They are built up with fresh Tencho melodies on its own electronic synthesizers. The slamming beats and drum grooves still accompany but these two tracks stand out by composition as they don't pivot around a core sample, freeing the music up to more progressive structures that move through some dramatic phases and layering. Its organic, less constricted as the electronic instruments open up to more masterful manipulation.

This actually speaks to one of the records downsides, not a major issue but something that does tire after many listens. With a repetitive nature at its core, the draw backs of sampling and great chemistry can get stuck on how to add variety and progression to the music when trying to break out of the verse chorus mold. This manifests into speeding up, slowing down, a lot of tempo phasing and rapid sample repetition. Of course obnoxious snare drum riffling fires off too, that usually links back into the main beat with a little spice thrown on top. It is perhaps emerging production techniques of the time being over utilized and thus now sounding a little dated. The execution on Kalifornia however is stunning, both its build ups lead to booming amped up breaks.

All these years later its still fantastic but as an album It fails to feel like more than the sum of its parts. Its not to say there are any stinkers or songs holding it back but as an execution of the Big Beat concept, it feels very much like the best experiments have been plucked from the crop, lumped together and polished to shine. There is no doubt to the longevity of its singles however, still a common one to hear on radio and television as its woven itself into the cultural British fabric. Its a fun record that jumps all over the place with that powerful percussion holding it all together. Adoring this sound at the moment, I think I need to dive deeper into this yet another 90s sound.

Favorite Tracks: Right Here Right Now, The Rockafeller Skank, Build It Up Tear It Down, Kalifornia, Love Island, Acid 8000
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 3 February 2020

Fever Ray "Plunge Remix" (2019)


My disapproval and contempt for this record mainly stems from my own impulsive purchase of what often lands a loss in the hit or miss equation of the contentious remix album. On the whims of pure excitement, the promise of a new Fever Ray record had my handing over my cash without thought, not even a quick stream to see what this Remix of 2017's exceptional Plunge album would be like. As you might guess, I am not impressed. The bar is set low as these ninety six minutes seem to have little in the way of a quality threshold. A whole host of names, none of which I know, jump on board to tear apart the instrumentals, with Fever's voice held together to form mere semblances of the original material. She is the highlight, her singing holds up to some of the monstrosities on here. It feels like a dumping ground for half baked beats and b-sides that have been lumped together, making little of interest to find new avenues through old roads. Its a wasted opertunity.

For the majority of songs, melody or song structure seems to be of little importance. Much of these remixes play like experimental exercises in rhythmic noise, abstractions of Dance and Club music. Electronic percussion patters around aimlessly maligning the samples and vocals snippets of the source material with uninspiring results. The energy is dull and with its reasonable songs squished into the first few numbers, its a long and painful ride. I can empathize that this isn't my preferred style of music, these sub par tracks may offer some intrigue to fans but Id be hard pressed to believe anyone would enjoy such stinking lows as Rip Me's "rework" of Idk About You. Its stark baselines, minimal whirl Trance synths and desolate deployment of harsh kicks is an absolute calamity of anti ideals assaulting the listener.

There is unfortunately a couple of equally bad songs that test my tolerance. I hope this serves me as a remind that Remix albums can be foul. This might be one of the worst in recent memory, perhaps it could rival Meow The Jewels. The take away is that this is a novel record, maybe not even for the die hard fans. I'd like a refund but the music economy doesn't work that way. I'm joking... or am I?

Rating: 2/10

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Eminem "Music To Be Murdered By" (2020)


Arguably raps biggest name, Eminem, has dropped a surprise album on us to kick of the new decade! Inspired by the acclaimed horror movie maker Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 album of the same name, the shock of its release and blood soaked album cover set off a spark in my mind. I yearned for the Detroit talent to be freed of constraints and pursue an interesting concept and avenue for his rhymes. This led to a rather disappointing initial listen as Em dives straight into the fatigued back and forth with his haters on Unaccommodating, continuing to fight his insecurity of the criticism leveled his way again. Its become a tired theme souring his recent string of albums.

There is good news however. With each listen the album grows as the weak spots reveal themselves to be clustered either side a string of decent songs in the middle. The underlying themes emerge, Eminem venting his personal relationships, childhood struggles and tackling the current wave of tragic shooter events in his country. Its articulated with a finesses and attitude only he can do. His technical prowess and wordplay is a splattered mess of gaudy, goofy and genius. I find myself not sure if I should love or cringe at his puns, punch lines and words between the lines. Finding reasons to enjoy is always better than the baggage of critiquing a musical prodigy tho.

Unsurprisingly there is deep well of topicality in his lyrics to get into and its all put together with variety. His slow, steady, purposely directed words on Darkness tells a tale from the narrative of a shooter at a concert, a typically controversial Eminem track but the tone is right to get the message across to those who are open to hear it. Moments before this glum sorrowful song Em is going ham with his chops of lightning spat rhymes as he rivals his own Rap God with Godzilla, perhaps a through line in the name there. The vibes jump from fun to sad with a track switch and so does his flow, as much of the album will move from one idea to the next, Em deploys a healthy variety to engage but consistency is something to be desired.

The production initially shook me up, I didn't like a moment of it. Familiarity drew me in on the second spin, Its a constant curiosity of mine how that works. Now I'm loving it. The beats are sharp, snappy and crunky, the percussion pops and provides an aggressive framework of liveliness to compliment the energy of Eminem and his guests. They were for the most part in Em's shadow, a hard place to make an impression from. The likes of Skylar Grey could stand out when she lends her singing. Yah Yah is possibly best of the bunch, bringing on Royce Da 59, Black Thought and Q-Tip for an exceptional song throwing all the hails back to the golden era of Hip Hop.

As a whole it has its peaks but valleys too. Marsh is a self indulged spew of puns and plays on his name, not sure If I like it. Another Little Engine deploys a ridiculous chorus hook and its usually the hooks that are contentious. The sung choruses hailing back to some of his best music doesn't always land. Stepdad is a wound of a song, Em pouring is heart out but the sung chorus... again I just don't know quite how I feel about it. Overall I think Music To Be Murdered By has a lot of quality and Em gets on track with his topics for the most part. A little curation might of served it well but I think the real test is for how long will these songs stick and will I come back too it often? For now though I've enjoyed it plenty and think its a worthy release.

Favorite Tracks: Godzilla, Darkness, Yah Yah, Stepdad
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Bolt Thrower "Mercenary" (1998)


I was vaguely aware of the now retired Bolt Thrower from Coventry England. Somehow I had it in mind that they were a Power Metal outfit? Well Bæst and their cover of No Guts, No Glory turned me onto this record and oh boy have I enjoyed it! Mercenary is a moderately simple yet very effective riff led expedition into a torrent of punishing mid tempo grooves. The band's sound borders Death, Thrash and Groove Metal, mostly the first. Its a melting pot of styles swaying between cruising low end melodies and surges of muscular guitar work with momentous persuasion.

The production is admittedly a hurdle to pass, requiring volume as its thick, dense guitars bleed into the consciousness. Its a tad muddy and monotone but serves its purpose as the groove and grind gets to resonate through this burly heaving sound. The drums plays a fantastic roll in illuminating the rhythm guitar, often hammering out steady grooves that pivot to alternates, making the same riff bounce with a renewed energy. Its not flashy and certainly doesn't overbear with blast beats and the like. They simply guide everything along its path with a powerful and effective chemistry.

Like an inconsequential layer of gruesome sound, Karl Willetts shouts his meaty groans and growls with a brutish demeanor. Its a rather atypical guttural performance that rarely breaks stride. It adds little to the music other than a reinforcement of variation over the looping riffs below him. I could take it or leave it. Given the discernible nature of the 90s Death Metal vocal style there was little of the war themed lyrics that came across with any solidity. Some of the easier understood hooks had rhyme and reason to them, especially on the aforementioned No Guts, No Glory.

The best aspect of Mercenary are the riffs, an arsenal of power chords, chugging grooves, low string grinding all spliced with darkly melodies to forge a riveting atmosphere. Its heavy on repetition with short bars being looped, the drums helping them along as the patterns often pivot to revitalize. The heavy is momentous and crushing, the melodies dark and foreboding and their pace moving together is perfect for that infectious head banging a metal head loves. Its the sort of Death Metal I enjoy most, not strictly but with a spice of other sounds. Great record, gotta check out more!

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Merauder "Master Killer" (1995)


I caught wind of this mid nineties crossover classic from a documentary about the music scene and bands of that era. The second track Life Is Pain perked my ears, catching my attention and upon buying the recorded I discovered a telling track, Downfall Of Christ. It was actually decades ago I first heard this song covered on a split album between Caliban and Heaven Shall Burn. It speaks volumes to how I initally perceived this record, another fractional style of the Thrash Metal and Hardcore union that would go on to shape the sound of Metalcore bands yet to come.

Master Killer is a steady moving, thirty five minutes of personal vented anger. Its wrapped up in a continuous wave of crushing grooves and thrashy guitar chugging that mixes sensibilities from both sides of the isle but more so the metallic. Rosado has a strained shout on him, the vocals groaned with a texture swaying towards the Death Metal spectrum but with enough gusto and frustration to ground his limited range of shouts in the Hardcore feel, which the occasional muted gang shouts reinforce. Its far from charming but his energy serves his purpose at the forefront.

The instrumentals are the selling point. Pummeling drums deploy intense patterns, utilizing double pedals and driving the music forward with intent. The guitar work lays down plenty of fast picking rhythms and punchy power chords but its the groove the two together bring out that really lights up the music. The majority of these components would easily separate into Thrash. Its solo's erupt and dazzle with electric energy too but with the right approach they have aligned to extrapolate this contagious sense of bounce and groove between the lines. Its quite contagious.

This is also a dated record, its percussion rattles loosely, guitars carry a meaty amount of low end noise and takes a moment for the ears to adjust. Its a great record to point at as a key link in the formation of Metalcore but no masterpiece. Although it has no stinkers you can't help but feels these songs could of reached a little further. Song structures are simple with not a lot of reshaping moments. The whole plays like an onslaught of riffs and grooves fit to simple structures. Its fun and energizing but rarely pushes beyond itself. Still a fantastic record, I've really enjoyed it!

Favorite Tracks: Life Is Pain, Downfall Of Christ, Take By Force
Rating: 7/10

Friday, 24 January 2020

Autumn's Grey Solace "Englelícra" (2019)

 

Somehow, someway, I missed this release last year by one of my favorite bands! I think I've struggled to enjoy their recent records as much due to a shift in direction and lack of evolution that's left one of the duo's most charming aspects, the singing of lyrics, in the dust. However going into this, their twelfth studio record, I was essentially prepared to embrace whatever it was. With that relinquish of expectation I found my self absorbed by the moody sombre beauty of their established sound once again.

With no surprises Scott Ferrell plucks out eight constructs of lavish instrumentation, all oozing in echos and reverberations. His shimmering guitars birth a luscious tropical darkness both beautiful and melancholy, a colorful sound that drifts into the pale. Driven along by soft but firm driving baselines and simple looping arrangements of cavernous drum patterns, the songs tend to exchange their complimenting sections back and forth before the run time concludes the song with no crescendo.

Singer Erin Welton lends her voice to the music more so as an instrument, singing just notes with a sweet and soft delicacy, coming in like a wind gusting through and fading back into the silence. Of course she is given a fair helping of reverb to achieve this ghostly yet beautiful tone. She tends to deploy melodies the likes of a synth would do, dropping on top of the instrumental with short notation loops to layer up the harmony. Their are occasions of experimentation and vocal dexterity but its mostly simple.

All the songs tend to echo the shades of previous songs as the formula has barely shifted and given the relatively simple song structures and lack of complexity the album really hinges on mood and atmosphere. To no surprise that is where they excel and so this record was warm and welcoming to dive into, getting exactly what you'd expect, an engrossing Ethereal feeling. I would still very much like to see them diversify and experiment but no complaints from me if this is all we get!

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 20 January 2020

Aurora "A Different Kind Of Human (Step 2)" (2019)


Now on my fourth Aurora record, either the familiarity is diminishing her charm or something is off. I think it may be the latter. Baring little overt relation to Step 1 other than aesthetics, this full length follow up to the EP just doesn't illuminate the stunning charm of her singing in the same way. Firstly the tone seems to of shifted. The River kicks the record off with bright, punchy, jovial synths that expand and contract, flowing with glossy melodies that shuffle along the strong Electropop vibe. Its a step away from the subtitles of the past and Aurora's voice just feels crowded in these moments.

The album grows with a range of song temperaments, some quieter than others and her voice is given plenty of focus to shine but it doesn't come together with the same magic. The instrumentals seem too energized, overplaying their role. Her range continually goes towards its strongest, lacking a vulnerability and sensitivity that previously blossomed into the moving moments. The cultural Nordic echos feel distant too and many of her vocal constructs we might refer to as the hook just don't land with the same engrossing nature. There is variety and creativity, just not at that level again.

It might seem like I am splitting hairs but its a knifes edge this style is balanced on. Going back to any of the past records I get all the feels but from this one? Not so much. Dwelling on the differences can easily overshadow what a great record this is though. Its delightfully easy on the ears and engrossing with its swells of colorful electronics and tribal percussion. Her voice is still a delight and the songs are warming to the soul but that soaring above and beyond isn't present, leading me to mostly focus on that as the record is clearly a step back. I am hoping she can steer things in a challenging direction moving forward as this one was a little to routine.

Favorite Track: Apple Tree
Rating: 6/10