Monday, 16 July 2018

The Carters "Everything Is Love" (2018)

I was really excited for this album after hearing the hypnotic, Trap alike, attention grabbing Apeshit single. The prospect of this famous couple finally working together on a project was intriguing to say the least but its turned out to be a rather hollow record that lacks an exciting or distinct personality. Its vision is lackluster and fails miserably to get substance out of the duo. Its mediocre, its best moments are barely its own and the production has a range of talent involved but its instrumentals play it all safe.

Admittedly I'm unacquainted with Beyonce's music beyond hearing Desinys Child on MTV as a teen. Her singing on the record is loaded with flamboyant inflections that flavor every word sung with a spice but whatever shes expressing with her voice, I feel a complete emotional disconnect from. As well as singing she dips in with some half way raps and deliveries that feel a step behind the curb, as if playing catch up with trending styles in the Hip Hop sound. This reigns especially true with the adoption of the "skrt skrt" and other trendy lyrics, styles and vocalizations heard in the first half of the album before the two settle into a rhythm.

Jay-Z doesn't come into his own until the records second half. At first hes a quiet presence behind Beyonce who takes the lime light. One of his first raps has him spitting a weak repetition of rhyming words on the hook, nice nice nice, night night night, lights lights lights, ice ice ice. Its a bore and a lot of his lyrical themes fail to jump of the page however by the records final songs he drops some tighter verses but by then the album has lost me. Its a shame, they really don't spark anything unique together, it sounds almost routine at its inception.

The records best moments come on Still with a classic hook borrowed and reworked from Dr. Dre and unsurprisingly it does little other than remind you of how good of a record 2001 was. Its second stride of promise is on the single track Apeshit, which boasts strong Mumble Rap and Trap influences on the instrumental. It wasn't produced by Travis Scott but you can hear his influence and that of the Migos. Nothing more than reflecting the scene but it was pulled of well. Ultimately there is little to this record that's innovative or exciting. Feels like the two came together to do what they know rather than explore their musicality and chemistry.

Favorite Track: Apeshit
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Sequestered Keep "The Vale Of Ruined Towers" (2017)

Continuing our dive into the mysterious, adventurous realms of Dungeon Synth we come across this praised release by an artist I was already familiar with. I have many of the previous records from the American composer known as Sequestered Keep, because they were free and plentiful. In a span of a few months they released a dozen albums onto bandcamp, all with a striking monochromatic covers of mythic castles, epic landscapes and darkly forests. Unfortunately I wrote the music off as being far to minimal and effortless, I got the impression it was more about the fantasy of Dungeon Synth than the music itself, minimal because it was put together hastily.

If that is true or not there is no doubting this new logo and introduction of color in the album art signifies a shift in quality. The majesty unfolds with a gleam of medieval fantasy and mystic imagination not far from the kin of Fief. With bright melodies reflecting playful adventures and carefree mischief The Vale Of Ruined Towers paints a rather warm and serine setting within the so often gloomy and decrepit micro genre. Playing into the fantasy side of its sound, a welcoming tone invites the listener in to stay in this carefree realm.

The aesthetics take on a bright, pronounced and glossy sound as luminous instruments in the form of harps, bells, horns and choral synths chime in tandem through compositions of layered melodies which often stack up to several layers, creating a colorful web of sound. Its held together by a constant but easily overlooked percussive line of steady hi hats and the meek shaking of a quiet tambourine without a kick or snare in sight to enforce any groove beyond keeping tempo. Its result is a colorful vision of glory from mystic realms of surreal natural beauty where kings and queens bestow their lands.

With a fairly consistent tone its scope may sound a little narrow as its song structures and musical progressions rarely break the mood and atmosphere of the instruments. It gives the whole album a stagnancy within a beautiful setting. When instruments fade, melodies shift and songs turn direction its as if it goes around in a circle. The record sets a fine tone and atmosphere for the specific mood but on closer inspection feels like it has the power to grow and expand yet the songs remain firmly in the same spot. A great record in some regards yet being familiar with this style It feels like the opertunity as passed to push it further.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 12 July 2018

YOB "Our Raw Heart" (2018)

Its burly, dense and a meaty affair, another lengthy adventure, a Doom Metal crawler that is not quite to my taste but clearly epic in design. Our Raw Heart follows up on the Oregon bands seventh record, Clearing The Path To Ascend, of which the song Marrow remains a timeless classic among some less favorable cuts. That song is the main reason I checked out this record, in the hopes they would deliver something else as special. Unfortunately little of the record sparks any magic for me, however I hold it with a higher regard as objectively interesting music within the lands of Doom which rarely manages drags me all the way in.

Much of the music is focused around the dynamic duality of the bands long serving front man Mike Scheidt, his emotive vocals and sludgy, brooding riffs play off one another as the elasticated and temporal sway of his guitars crash on the shores. Its like a wave and he is surfing it with ranged singing from clean to grizzly and always earthly, rooted and authentically raw. The tempo held down by the drums crashing around him, compliments the musics direction and in its slowest moments they feel like the bare essentials to hold the sluggish lunging guitars into place as Mike rises over the top of his scenic waves with a meaningful energy.

The texture of the distortions are thick, muddy, crusty, a slab of almost tune deaf noise with a rich detail, unfortunately they don't evoke much beyond an interest as the pace and direction of the songs rarely seem to escape themselves with exception to Beauty In Falling Leaves. It has a bleak yet serine build up and sense of scale that unfolds. On the other end of the spectrum The Screen deploys a dirty, gritty, greasy chugging riff into the fold with not an inch of color about it. Its the albums most boring piece as the riff grinds on monotonously, its breaks and variations offering no counteraction to the ugly and repetitious chug.

Bar the one song I don't think its fair to be critical in anyway of music that you just can't connect with. Ive given it a fair try but in the future I probably wont give them more than one spin in the hopes of them having another song that captures my imagination just like Marrow did. It could be mood, or timing that made it hard to find a connection. In the Doom Metal scene this record will likely be praised but it just wasn't my cup of tea.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, 9 July 2018

Nine Inch Nails "Bad Witch" (2018)

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are offically the duo that makes up the current Nine Inch Nails line up of this specific era. Atticus expands his role into songwriting with Trent after having produced all the groups albums for the last decade or so. Bad Witch is the third and final in this series of mini albums following Not The Actual Events and Add Violence which the pair have written together. The three records make up a larger experience which I am yet to enjoy in one session as a whole musical piece.

In my mind this thirty minute ride splits itself into three phases with the first two songs focusing on the lyrical content. Shapely words fit to mold your feelings can be interpreted in many ways but give the focus on the now and the mutation of change, one line in particular "celebration of ignorance" strikes me as being aimed towards the social-political climate we currently endure. Its fuzzy, hard and grizzly guitars channel the aggression into singular moments as its tightly tuned drums propel us through the aesthetic landscape of Industrial noises and layered synths that forge a disenfranchised mood.

Its next songs include the saxophone which adds a distinct voice to two songs that unpack themselves with groaning landscapes, heaving, expanding and contracting as the musics various layers of sound slowly evolve through their duration. The first track has a beautiful break in the middle for layers of sax to work mysterious magic before the track winds down gracefully. God Break Down The Door seems to mirror this approach with the sax taking a backseat. The inclusion of Trent's voice and the lively drum and bass percussive loop greatly ups the energy it exudes.

Moving into the third phase we have our ambience tracks, the first a soundscape piece of paranoia and phobia driven by a brooding baseline that drags us forward as alien, dark and dystopian noises build up a closing sense of dread that culminates to a hellish moment in the middle, letting the music repeat itself over. The following Over And Out is my favorite song from the record. It lays down a foundational drum groove and woven synth sounds for a big grooving baseline to patrol. Ready for extensive repetition, these quirky, off key, ambiguous piano notes float around the music, mixed into their own carving of audio space. The song sets itself up for length but wisely Trent brings in his voice to drive home a narrative that time is running out and the instruments are pulled through the volume sliders before descending into a drone of airy reverberation to let the music calmly fade out.

Its hard to say exactly what I feel about this record. Much of Nine Inch Nails music from this era demands much of your time to unpack the depth these songs possess. With each listen more is uncovered but it is only inches to the mile, excuse the pun. After quite a few listens the music still feels like it has a lot to offer however It does not wedge itself in the mind. I will listen to all three together at some point and then happily move forward with this band who I appreciate greatly but never quite get sucked all the way in.

Favorite Tracks: Play The Goddamned Part, Over And Out
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 6 July 2018

Death Grips "Year Of The Snitch" (2018)

One of my most anticipated records this year has now arrived and with it comes that familiar Death Grips experience again. Initially alien, esoteric and bizarre, the music plays like a morbid curiosity, an avant-garde experiment into the estranged and then after some time it suddenly clicks into place, you feel as if you have known these songs forever. After the banging, fan pleasing Bottomless Pit the Sacramento trio return to their more adventurous side with an another unusual musical construct that echos some of their Exmilitary roots former glory.

Year Of The Snitch is primarily an aesthetic experience with its rich and vivid tapestries of synths, samples and unusual sounds that approach from all manor of odd angles as you would expect. The performance drumming of Zach Hill livens up the musics texture as the songs interchange between some tightly sequenced kits and his frenetic drumming, making itself know with fast shuffling grooves and fills in and among the chaos of sound one has to unpackage. Mostly the programmed drums hold down tempos and help along the experience with synthetic, quirky kits as opposed to pumping out grooves and energy like the previous record.

MC Ride is fantastic across this project, his lyrics are typically cryptic, quotable and require some thought as per usual but on this release specifically there is a strong mix of freedom, creativity and energy. All of his vocals feel free from any burden, Ride has and endless stream of ideas for delivery and flow that holds nothing back. The use of reverb, voice modulation, sampling, pitch manipulation and scratching enriches the already individual experience as a tapestry of voices emerge in bursts throughout the record around his main vocal line.

The trio demonstrate their growing chemistry as all the ideas on this record come together so cohesively, Rides vocal performance seems to melt into the detailed, layered instrumentals. As per usual wide range of sounds come together in a mania of variety and oddities and once again they find their own dimension, this may be in part to the striking return of rock guitars that throw back to the debut Exmilitary mixtape. There is also a noticeable sampling and snippets of vocals and sounds from their older songs thrown in the mix, giving it a stronger link.

All in all, Year Of The Snitch masters the side of Death Grips I have not been keen on so far. Ive loved the band when they strike with a touch of groove and those banging percussive beats but projects like Jenny Death that steer away from this backbone have yet to dazzle. In this instance I think the group found a balance that really works and loaded it with a depth of texture that really takes up your attention when focusing on the details in sound. The atmosphere they create and what all that madness adds up to is a wonderfully odd and unusual, a cluster of emotions drifting through the cosmic void.

Favorite Tracks: Death Grips Is Online, Black Paint, The Fear, Disapointed
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Pusha T "Daytona" (2018)

Daytona is the first to be released from the so called "Wyoming sessions", another Kanye produced record with seven songs clocking in at twenty one minutes, adding up to "all killer no filler". This is Virginia Beach rapper Pusha T's third record, who interestingly didn't get into the rap game to his mid thirties. Its the first time Ive checked his work out, not a bad place to start! Daytona will be in contention for the best of the five Wyoming records, Its on par with Ye, miles better than the disappointing Nasir but Kids See Ghosts has to be my favorite so far, that record keeps growing on me with continual listens.

Daytona is a project all about the rapper's presence on the mic. Pusha T has a healthy toned and youthful voice that's well spoken, crisp, delivered on a steady, sturdy flow. There is a distinct lack of loud, obvious wordplay or an attempt to be overtly fancy with the rhymes or flashy. Its all focused on getting the fundamentals down and delivering the narrative which he does with precision. Initially I found his vocal clarity and plain flow to be dull but with repetition the power of his verses shines through with well articulated narratives and thoughts that creep up on you as familiarity sets in. His underplayed presence hides smart analogies, comparisons and clever cultural references that emerge with each listen as the words become better known. One of the more obvious accents to this record are the call outs to Hip Hops history. Pusha T interpolating classic flows and rhymes from the likes of Jay-Z and Tupac into his songs with tasteful timing.

Behind him Kanye throws together a collection of sturdy instrumentals that don't do a lot to dazzle the listener but they do hold down a firm tone and musicality for Pusha to make his presence known. The features help add some flavor and spice up the flow with addition voices and some well timed cultural singing from Mike Dean. My favorite moment on the record is when the two team up on "What Would Meek Do?" for a grittier, dark song where Pusha asks Kanye how he would respond to the hate and Ye drops in with a carefree "whoop... scoop... whoop... whoop-di-whoop". Its so odd but the timing is just right and it lets him roll into his response with a fresh, powerful energy. This record is fantastic, sturdy, bullet proof rapping that leaves you wanting more!
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 2 July 2018

Steve Roach "Dreamtime Return" (1988)

American composer Steve Roach's third major release, Dreamtime Return, has been lavished with praise, finding its way onto many essential listening lists, especially within the Ambient community. I share in its appraisal but must also put my trust in the critics who cite the records significance. The ideas on this record are not new to me, its execution however is stunning and to put yourself in the mindset that this is the first emergence of these new approaches to sound creates little more excitement. It barely elevates the already metaphysical experience at hand, which is truly transformational music at heart.

Temporal, meditative and deeply spiritual, the sonic pallet of spacey, exploratory electronic synths advance into the winds of life as the beating heart of mother earth pounds through slow, vast tribal drums and percussive instruments. They form a disconnected experience as their tempos are stretched by the lack of any measurable groove. In sway deep, engrossing sounds, phasing in and out of existence around the illusive anchor to reality. The atmospheres are large and engulfing yet with the percussive backbone they feel earthed by scale, as if primitive man gazes in awe upon the unending lands of earth he can explore eternally.

It is simple to dissect and understand the musics formula yet the power and persuasion it has over a willing listener is the work of a master. Dreamtime Return lasts over two hours and there are some sections that will appeal more than others but its length is testament to the metamorphosis it takes into the roots of our culture-less heritage. In my personal experience I see baking red deserts, vast savannahs and tropical paradises, all beautiful and deadly, the life of an apex predator far from the emancipation of civilizations neutering.

The spiritual side, embraced by the sweeping, windy synths, induces a subtle psychedelic quality that make me think of native Americans on spirit journeys or vision quests, an intrinsically profound experience under the aid of chemicals. There is a strange sense of isolation within the music but it is not loneliness, the hypnotic nature of the record will let one find their symbiosis with mother nature and bask in the awe of insignificance we are as individuals. Where Structures In Silence gazed upon the cosmos, this record gazed internally to the core of our being.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, 29 June 2018

Old Tower "The Rise Of The Specter" (2017)

Our journey through the dark mystical realms of Dungeon Synth continues on and this thirty minute project split into two halves is a peach of a find. Hailing from the Netherlands this Dutch musician has been active in the past couple of years releasing many mini albums comprised of one to two songs usually ten or more minutes in length. Each record comes with its spooky artwork of high contrast, black and white imagery using ambiguity to evoke ancient nostalgia. This one in particular sets an unsettling tone, at first glance one might mistake the hooded figure for a tower next to the brooding castle. On closer inspection the ominous black circle in the sky gives one a sense of night time, as if the image as been inverted and the moon is now black, it sets a spooky atmosphere for the music that awaits.

The darkness of the music is not terrifying, or as mysterious as one might suspect, Old Tower is a uniquely meditative and calming experience as its slow, lethargic approach to melody soaks in its surroundings within a low fidelity, reverberated setting. Bold punchy synth tones loose their cheese in the wake of an aesthetic that's mostly akin to hearing a church organ from within the church itself. The naturalistic echo lets notes bleed into the space of a large hall and when instruments layer up their is an emergence of spiritual sound that becomes difficult to decipher yet heavenly in its presence. It takes on a temporal form so to speak.

The two halves of The Rise Of The Specter have clear progressions which we might normally expect to be split into individual tracks, I believe the split may take homage to tape nostalgia and the turning over of sides. Either way the songs go through obvious shifts and some passages drift from the power when composed with fewer instruments, many listens has worn them a bit thin but the middle phase of the first half is a prime example of the magic at work. Slow scaling synths churn over between distant choral voices and culminate to the menacing rise of a foggy, deep war trumpet, setting an unshakable sense of importance to which a second gleaming synth rises over creating an epic sense of scale.

The records vision is particularly vivid for me, on some occasions I see visions of vast ethereal forest and in overs its cliff side castles battling the walls of fog rolling in from the distance. It is however a truly Dungeon Synth sound and can aid ones imagination in visiting the places associated with it. This particular style however comes with a soothing pace, softness and meditative state perfect for a more relaxing and introspective experience that is rather unique.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Myrkur "Mareridt" (2017)

There's always music to be discovered and this year at Download Festival I decided to wander over to the forth stage while grabbing some food and to my delight caught an unexpected amazing show by the Danish group Myrkur. A combination of furious Black Metal and angelic singing played right to my tune, I knew I would have to pick up a record and my first is their second.

Mareridt, Danish for nightmare, reveals so much more about their sound from the live experience, although it is probably a dimension to their sound your just not going to hear first time around at a show. The record however shows depth and emotion in abundance as the contrast between singer Amalie Bruun and her band goes beyond a simple concept and aesthetic, tapping deep into the folk sound of pagan cultural roots.

The record achieves a meditative, indulgent state just at its surface level alone. Steady, naturalistic songs let the light draw to Bruun's singing as she delves into soft angelic singing with accents of Scandinavian heritage, on De Tre Piker she goes all the way in with what could pass as on old hymn handed down through generations, stunning singing reminiscent of Lisa Gerrard. Behind her the music finds different temperaments with the Black Metal aspect of the music finding many intensities to approach from, occasional bursts of ugly, snarly spats of grimness fuel some darkness but more often than not, it rides on the uplifting gleam of awe inspired lead melodies, similar to the epic grandiose scale of an act like Saor. It mostly serves as an aesthetic for the theme.

As the distortion guitars and drumming compete for their moments they sway up again the persuasion of heathen sounds. Violins, harps, modern synths, organs and pianos grip firmly on the naturalistic experience that will have one smelling the outdoors air, feeling the breeze as it rustles through the leaves of tress. One can really feel the spiritual connection to the forgotten past when man was closer to mother nature. The swaying and competition between two sounds gives the album a healthy flow that finds an interesting middle moment on Funeral as Chelsea Wolfe lends her voice to an abyssal, slow, crushing instrumental that could of easily been on her own record. It highlights some similarities but more so adds to the diverse pallet these songs have with one another.

On first listen I felt the Black Metal aspect to be rather rigid and stiff in its volatile phases. I could hear a lot of 90s abrasiveness at work but with each listen as the overall theme became clearer its chemistry in relation to Bruun's voice and the other cultural sounds gave it a far more organic and Post feel. Perceptions change and I am finding myself loving this record more and more with each listen. Its moods, feelings and vision run deep, the music comes to life with vivid visuals of dark and ancient times filled with pagan mysticism.

There is a very personal and mischievous period in the outro track Bornehjem, a childish Golem alike voice talks to its demons, leaving me to believe there is most likely a much more personal theme running through the lyrics, of which I haven't read, perhaps that is something I should make the effort to do. This band will undoubtedly be one of my favorite new discoveries this year and luckily there is their debut record to get into next.

Favorite Tracks: The Serpent, Elleskudt, De Tre Piker, Funeral, Ulvinde
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 25 June 2018

Kids See Ghosts "Kids See Ghosts" (2018)

This release is another in the so called "Wyoming sessions", its twenty something minutes spread across seven tracks, just like other Kanye produced records Nasir and Ye. This project has West collaborating with Kid Cudi under the Kids See Ghosts moniker and it kicks off with a fiery opener that sets a new president for gun play in Hip Hop music. A violent instrumental of sharp percussive strikes firing like gunshots rallying away, forming a groove as vocalizations of gun sounds take on a new form, they are sung and turned into a melody. Its over the top, theatrical and clever but not quite to my taste however the rest of the music takes on a much calmer vibes that have faint echos of psychedelia.

Kanye's instrumentals are on point, each track forges an atmosphere fit for the tone of his raps and Kid Cudi's halfway talking that's flat and toneless in delivery, sounds good when he softens it down into halfway singing on the self titled track. As per usual most the lyrics pass me by but Kanye drops in with a striking verse on Cudi Montage that has him painting the raw emotional reactions and forming their relevance to his wife's recent work with the president to get a pardon for false imprisonment.

Its really the underlying music that made this short record enjoyable for me. Getting to the core of his beats, they often sound minimal and stripped back, but the sounds they focus on do all the work to make these songs come to life with quite a few tie-ins between the verses to give it a lot of life. The singing and use of voices to spruce up tracks as so often is a treat and a mark of his style. It all comes together well and makes sense of the shorter run time, there are two others to come from this collection of records produced in his Wyoming studio and I'm quite excited to hear them after this one!

Favorite Tracks: Freeee, Kids See Ghosts, Cudi Montage
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Nas " Nasir" (2018)

Finally the six year wait is over, the highly anticipated return of legendary Queens rapper Nas is upon us and after rumors of reunion albums with DJ Premier, a song from DJ Khaled titled "Nas album done", it seems neither of things has any relation to this short record. With Kanye West as executive producer it seems this seven song, twenty something listening experience is not only for Ye but anything he touches with side project Kids See Ghosts having the same setup. Is it a big deal? Probably not but then again Nasir is the first Nas record Ive ever felt disappointed by.

Why is it disappointing? Nas's skill and prowess on the mic is firmly intact, sounding as good as ever but lyrically the topics that stand out do so for the wrong reasons. With Kanye producing the beats there is an unsurprising emphasis on voices and downplaying of the percussive presence that leaves Nas's firm and well spoken voice flowing without its backbone, contrasting the tame beats he raps over. Nether the instrumentals or the rapping are unappealing but they only find a fitting chemistry on the soothing grooving "Bonjour" and "Cops shot the kid" where a sampling of Slick Rick's classic crates a numbing repetition for the two to spit hard over.

The track Everything is a bittersweet seven minute tune lined with moving, soulful singing from Kanye, setting the tone over a fragile beat with Nas dropping his most lively rhymes from this record in the verses. Unfortunately his genius seems to fall wayside to some strange tangents. The opening line "When the media slings mud we use it to build huts" is either a comment on the pettiness of public discord and it closing people into camps but more likely a statement of taking controversies to continue building their platform. When the song descends into vaccination paranoia it worries me that Nas is in the same camp as Kanye, saying what you "think" just to see how it feels...

Its a strange record, a mixed bag of fruits that fails to become more than the sum of its parts. It ends up being a precursor for discussion on the topics approached and the ones avoided. When you boil it down to basic's Nas doesn't sound all that great on Kanye's production style which is a shame because both seem to be in their element here, but together the chemistry is patchy. Nas has had one of the best discographies of any rapper alive today, consistent, even with some dips but this short record isn't anything in comparison to his previous works.

Rating: 5/10