Monday, 15 October 2018

Cypress Hill "III: Temples Of Boom" (1995)


It feels surreal to think that twenty three years have passed since Cypress Hill put together their third and iconic Temples Of Boom. With each record they continued to recreate themselves and this time the trio went down a dark avenue. The music videos went the same way too, resulting in MTV and radio refusing to play them. That didn't stop the record going gold and eventually platinum off their reputation alone. This was the first record I became obsessed with and if your familiar with my taste in music it should be no suprise as to why.

1995 marks a peak in the Mafioso Rap movement and despite the dark and violent, gang related themes, Cypress sidestep that particular narrative. It was when Hip Hop was transitioning away from bombastic sampling styles and production was growing towards sequenced beats and slick synthesized instrumentation. With retroactive ears Muggs's production gets a whole new level of appreciation. These beats hold up so well, Muggerud brings together the tightest kicks and snares samples, arranges them with a hard hitting, slick bombastic groove that resonates of dark vibes.

Track after track is hypnotically dark. Deep rumbling baselines glue the power and jive of the drums with their evil and menacing sampled counterparts. Muggs approach usually consists of ambiguous airy ambiences eerily lurking between the obvious instruments. With attentive ears much variety in that region, most notably cold icy pianos return frequently, playing upfront melodies but sometimes lingering in the distance. The mystic cultural vibe makes its mark here with the inclusion of the Indian sitar to bring about esoteric vibes between the beats. It builds up the unique feel of the record as well as the mythic terminology referencing the albums title and tracks like Stoned Raiders.

I will always put B Real in my top five, he is a phenomenal MC and criminally overlooked in the discussion of Hip Hops greatest. Every line on this record is fire, no filler. His nasal tone adds a sharp spice to his flow, giving his microphone persona a streak of attitude that requires no boasting. Its in the air tight delivery and variety of flows that keeps the goods rolling in from one song to the next. His ability to slip into half-sung hooks and killer refrains is timeless. His flows stealthily change pace and on tracks like Locotes they find a groove of their comparable to the beat itself. With Sen Dog chiming in and double tracking the best rhymes. His voice and lyrics hold up all these years later, still vicious and vigorous.

I'm not sure how many verses Sen gets on this record but as always his presences is illuminating, a great compliment to B Real. His roll as a backup man is never overplayed and easily underappreciated in the Cypress formula. No Rest For The Wicked has the group fire back at Ice Cube for stealing their hook and B Real is just an absolute monster with every line, from start to end. Its a savage diss track, almost on par with No Vaseline which he references with the line "No Vaseline, just a rope and a chair and gasoline". Brutal. Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and U-God turn up for some verses on one of the records dingy, dirtiest beats. A fitting match.

The record isn't all dark and shadowy, the lyrically ironic Boom Biddy Bye Bye lifts the mood with a memorizing piano melody looping over a warm, inviting baseline. The classic Illusions may sound a little nicer but its lonely atmosphere and paranoid lyrics quickly dispel the easy listening. A few beats do lean to a brighter degree but lets face it, its a darkened record. Strictly Hip Hop rests as a fairer beat setting a firm tone for the Hill to send out a clear message on the commercializing of the music. The lyrics read like biblical verses as B Real preaches some of the hardest truths on the business consuming the art form. Its my favorite song on the record and all these years later it truths hold up and Cypress Hill have proudly stuck by their integrity. A truly classic record, one of my first tens and perfection for my taste.

Favorite Tracks: Spark Another Owl, Throw Your Set In The Air, Stoned Raiders, Boom Biddy Bye Bye, No Rest For The Wicked, Killafornia, Locotes, Red Light Visions, Strictly Hip Hop, Everybody Must Get Stoned
Rating: 10/10

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Logic "Young Sinatra: Undeniable" (2012)


With only a few Logic mixtapes left on the list, my attention is drawn to how his recurring stories of personal struggles, proving his craft and defying the odds have extend all the way back through his records to this moment here, six years back. With an attentive ear one may also notice his voice is a little lighter and more youthful, something I was anticipating. Articulating his battles and ambitions Logic sounds as sharp and natural as everything Ive heard before. At some point I am expecting a dip but this is not It, intact for a fair portion of the record it has to be my favorite thanks to its avenues into classic 90s Hip Hop and the tight rhymes.

To my ears the record has four phases. Its opening tracks set the stage of his situation, his mission to prove himself, the actualization of its reality. The beats are tight, modern for the time, throwing in some piano samples fit for the classic era, illuminating with classic Nas lyrics for the hooks. In its second phase we get a string of Hip Hop's best. Biggie's Kick In The Door, Dr.Dre & Snoop Dogg with Deep Cover and A Tribe Called Quest's Electric Relaxation. Logic goes ham over these beats, toying with his technicality, flexing cunning rhymes, locking you in with his narrative. Its killer how he picks up untouchable instrumentals and puts a memorable mark on them.

Tic Tac Toe marks the third phase, its sudden beat switch to a sleek and swish club track sees a dip in quality as his subject matter becomes diluted and the lyrical successions are led more by his thoughts and the point hes trying to make. Its a long record at eighty four minutes and after a flurry of mood shifting tracks we land on Aye Girl, its summery popping synths and jaunting beat dazzles, prepping us for the forth phase as Logic once again picks up some classic instrumental to show his prowess on with the best of his rhymes.

Milkbone's classic Keep It Real, that plays like an AZ cut, Jay-Z's Bring It On from his slick Mafioso Rap debut Reasonable Doubt. Maybe its my love of these classic beats blinding me but it seems to bring the best out of Logic. The record has a couple more bright songs in it before ending on a really warm and endearing note as his fans call in, leaving voice mail messages over an emotional beat. Its a great way to tie up an important record for the young artist. He accomplishes a lot of within this record, only curation could of made the experience any better.

Favorite Tracks: Dead Presidents III, No Biggie, Disgusting, Relaxation, Aye Girl, Young Sinatra III, All Sinatra Everything
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 12 October 2018

Grouper "A I A: Alien Observer" (2011)


This record has safely made its way into my record collection thanks to its appraised placement in top Ambient record lists. Grouper is the name and behind it a lone musician, Liz Harris, who utilizes her delicate voice like an instrument. She adds an eerie sad loneliness with her solitary tone hazing the soundscape like a spirit drifting across the voids of space between stars. As the name suggests and possibly plants the seed, the atmosphere conjured feels distant, astral, unusual and alien. Yet its pleasant, spiritual and most importantly relaxing. This is a very warm and welcoming sound that flirts with ambiguity with innocence and safety in mind.

Unfortunately this music has not sucked me in all the way. Minimalism and ambience can often pay a price for its simplicity that leads to similarity. In the case of Alien Observer it doesn't feel all that unique. Liz has crafted a beautiful aesthetic of dreamy, weary instruments glazed in a mysterious low fidelity charm but the melodies that play through it are meandering and without intent even if childlike for the most part. Of course that can be a strength too in pursuing a vision but each track does little to stand apart as the experience seems to linger in the same spot.

All the songs feel the same. However Mary, On The Wall starts off with a music box melody. Its eerie background noise and slow pace creates a unique moment that vanishes as the notation concludes and rides us into the familiar wash of warm cloudy sounds. Liz's voice is magnificent, drifting through the cloudy ambience like a lost soul. Its endearing and in a couple of moments where she rises above the music with audible words it becomes illuminating but the instrumentals lack conclusion. Much of the record reminds me fondly of Julie Cruise. As a result the place we visit doesn't feel all to new and so it was an enjoyable record but didn't forge much to remember.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

40 Watt Sun "The Inside Room" (2011)


With exposure to just one song it only took a single listen to understand this project. Now that Ive gotten through the full record my initial reaction was practically complete. It happens every now and then, the music just makes sense of itself immediately. The five songs that are The Inside Room also stick rigidly to the formula heard at almost any moment of any given song. Its a one dimensional experience but that dimension is its own. 40 Watt Sun are an England based Doom Metal band born from two members of the disbanded Warning of the same genre. This record is their debut.

Slow and dark, brooding, corroding and groaning in pace, it has all the hallmarks of the genre but so often in music the aesthetics dialed to different degrees delineate its destination. Firstly the guitars gristle and wallow in a dirty, sludge of washing distortion guitar tone that plays drawn out power chords at a begrudging pace. The drummers symbols add to this haze as they constantly rattle and bleed into the noise, slicing in without a crash but echoing in the crevasse of the thick guitar tone. The bass provides a warm and steady footing to ground the experience with a deep softness.

Its not a particularly extreme sound. Despite being tonally gritty and sharp, its crawling pace makes an easy to follow setting as the music barely gets more ambitions than simple strings of steadily paced power chords. Where it all comes to life is with singer Patrick Walker who I will describe in the keenest of ways as being akin to Michael Stripe of REM. His voice has the same timber and holds a earnest vulnerability. His performance turns the darkness of Doom Metal into a personal, humanist struggle and strips it of all fantasy with his intimate, introspective and relational lyrics of hurt.

The music is simple, the whole record reveals itself swiftly with little in the way of surprises. It serves to put all the attention on the chemistry with their singer and has yet to wain in the several hours of enjoyment I have gotten from it. Id expect that to change at some point given the simplicity but I do wonder if that is its strength. It sets a tone and mood for the light to fall on Walker who puts on a captivating and emotional performance that makes the record glow. A worthy listen if you are curious.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

At The Gates "The Red In The Sky Is Ours" (1992)


My recent enjoyment of their latest effort, To Drink From The Night Itself, prompted me to finally get around to checking out a band held in high regards among the Metal elite. The Sweedish outfit have a near perfect score for this record over on the Encyclopedia Metallum. Its an ugly, gritty old school Death Metal record that does little conventional to charm and much experimentation to conjure a dark, broody wallowing atmosphere that would undoubtedly been more impressive in the context of 1992. Even if I Cast my mind back to the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Decide, Death, Hypocrisy and fellow Swedes Entombed, I couldn't specifically say why this record stands apart but I do have some hunches that become obvious on inspection.

Firstly the limited production ability of those times doesn't overwhelm us with thick, overtly loud and punishing guitar tones. Instead the instruments feel rather separated and sparse in comparison to what would of been common at the time. The result of which is music that's far less nauseating to follow and lets its melodic streak flourish in a limited sense of the word. It would be another two records before they would be associated with the emergence of Melodic Death Metal pioneered by Carcass. Here on The Red In The Sky Is Ours there is clearly an inclination to melody in its darker form over blunt force tonality and primitive rhythms.

After just a couple of listens it becomes very clear At The Gates are not trying to dazzle you with simple brutality, crushing grooves or bombastic syncopation. Many of the riffs feel non-circular and linear with some drawn out grinding leads and tremolo picking sequenced in shorter arrangements that cycle swiftly. The result is a spectacle of perceived oddity. With repetition it grows in vision yet the music always falls mercy to strange moments of unconventional riffs that stop the music in its tracks with drop outs between its notes. It is also characterized by the inclusion of folkish violins that both chime in and play linking interludes between songs. As stated before they don't immediately feel natural but end up making sense and leaving a memorable mark.

The unusual and strange runs deeper than its observations. The mood and tone of the record has vibrations unlike typical Death Metal. It leans towards atmosphere when its brooding tracks can culminate in layered guitar leads and violins that feel more visionary than primitive. But what is its vision? I am still unsure but I know it is dark and dimensional. In other times it drifts to the Avant-garde as its baselines plod to the forefront with a murmurous dance. The drumming arrangements seem to flop over from the battery of pounding atypical grooves into experimental sporadic shuffles of madness mostly helped on by a sloppy outdated recording aesthetic.

 Its clear the group attempted to write music that's complex, challenging and subverting norms within a subversive genre that has quickly established some boundaries. It has also produced results in doing so. A mysterious atmosphere brews through its endless string of experimental riffing that is continuously shifting, evolving, unwinding, providing delight and a unique mood to indulge with. Each listen uncovers another secret as one slowly dissects the arsenal of experiments crammed in behind the red haze of its ambiguous, red sky cover art.

Favorite Tracks: Within, Claws Of Laughter Dead, Night Comes Blood Black
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 8 October 2018

Autumn's Grey Solace "Eocene" (2018)


The consistency continues! Autumn's Grey Solace are one of my favorite groups from this "youtube era" of my musical addiction, maintaining a steady output of records through the years. After the disappointing Monajjfyllen I have been left thinking that the duo have essentially run out of ideas with little of their music feeling new or fresh. I also ponder if the powers of mood and timing play a roll in enjoying their unique Ethereal sound I adore so much. This new release Eocene embodies all that I feared in terms of originality yet it has been an absolute delight to indulge in.

Not a fraction of this record attempts anything unexpected. I know each of their other ten albums inside out and listen to this new shapter as if it were a greatest hits record. Singer Erin Welton once again blesses us with her lush and serine voice, indulging in lavish reverbs with the usual timings, demeanor and lack of lyrics. On most the songs she just cruises notes with her chords but on occasions her words are lost to a wall of reverb that quite often fills a small frequency range into a soft white noise keen ears will pick up on. Scott Ferrell again shimmers and glistens away on his effects soaked guitars. His production technique brings it altogether in an ooze of dreamy Ethereal sweetness, succulent in its helping of serine colorful melodies fit for the night.

For one reason or another the songs do indeed resonate with the best of what Ive heard them do before. Not every track tho, Untamed Flora for example sounds a little thin and short on composition. Its lack of depth lets its lead melodies stray into lulls. Most the songs transcend their parts and hit the emotions, which has been a problem for me when I understand the construct of their unchanging sound so well. Each song becomes a break down of previous drum patterns, vocal arrangements and exotic guitar sounds reassembled. This time it worked making for many indulgent listens.

Favorite Tracks: Gazing Across An Endless Sea, Echoland, Extinction
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Cypress Hill "Elephants On Acid" (2018)


I've been eagerly awaiting this record. The legendary Latin American Hip Hop group Cypress Hill have returned with their ninth album after an eight year absence. They were my first "favorite" group, as a young teen I became rather indulged and obsessed with their music. Binge listening and making copies of their records borrowed from the local library, I quickly came to know all their music very well and hold them in the highest regard. To this day I frequently return to their best records, Temples Of Boom being my favorite as the dark, spooky, mysterious Gangster Rap record with killer lyricism and timeless hooks. Going into this new record I had little in the way of expectations. It has been some time and anything can happen.

Elephants On Acid is a reasonable effort that does a fantastic job of establishing a distinct vibe and maintaining it. Cypress always had an exotic twist about them, using Latin lingo and inflections in the vocal department. At times their choice in sampling naturally leaned to Southern American and Eastern cultures, a niche characteristic. This record homes in on the latter with its sleepy esoteric atmospheres born of slower drum grooves, deep muddy baselines and the sprinkling of Eastern instruments to affirm an air of mysticism. In its second half the instrumentals start to brood in darker places. Locos, Insane OG, Warlord and Blood On My Hands Again unapologetically explore the creepier avenues of a dangerous vindictive world.

It is B Real who gives this record its merit. After eight years off the wax I had feared he may of aged but much like his live performances, he seems youthful and fully capable with a tight grip on the mic and his craft. Hes rocking the same nasal style, delivering lean raps with a weight of rhyme and wit that reminds me again how criminally over looked he is in the Hip Hop community. We may not hear his best here but he capably drops in plenty of steady flows, smart rhymes and one cracking line referencing Silence Of The Lambs. At his side Sen Dog seems unfortunately absent for many of the tracks, he is one to elevates the music with his unique chiming in. Even with a just small and simple roll he seems missed.

As discussed this record achieves a vision but unfortunately its a rather tame one even if distinct. The pacing is sluggish. Half baked instrumentals serve as brief interludes making up a quarter of the tracks. The main beats themselves are often indulged, brooding on atmosphere and the drum grooves rarely land with much intensity. Its obvious Cypress were going for this tone but the records best song, by no stretch of imagination, is Locos. The beat lands, its banging, the atmosphere serves it well and B Real is backed up by a mean sounding Sen Dog who throws in his aggressive call outs that land like threats. It the traditional formula and it works better.

It doesn't feel like there is much more to be said beyond going into specifics. Deep into the record hides Crazy, a song clearly trying to recapture the Insane In The Brain spark. To be fair its a fun track but once again the drum break just doesn't land with any intensity or groove. As much as Ive enjoyed these songs I really don't see myself coming back to the project to often. I commend Cypress for attempting to do something outside the scope of what you expect from a Hip Hop record. Its certainly nice to hear consistency and vision but if it doesn't bang its got to get something else right and I'm not sure what that's supposed to be on Elephants On Acid.

Favorite Track: Locos
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 5 October 2018

Revocation "The Outer Ones" (2018)


I have a strong connection to the Boston based Revocation. I caught their debut album Empire Of Obscene literately moments after it reached the blogspot scene. It was an instant connection and I regarded them as one of Metal's finest new acts, expecting them to rise to the top but it wasn't to be so. I still think they are criminally underrated but as the years stroll by and the excitement of "traditional" Metal wains I found myself becoming disinterested in them. This new chapter is a big step up from Great Is Our Sin, which in turn was a also a step up from the disappointing Deathless.

The group continue to firmly stick by their core identity of style and with that run the risk of repeating themselves. They call it diminishing returns, the first exposure always has the most impact but in the case of The Outer Ones they push the boundaries far, holding onto that distinguished character while creating a new and vividly animated universe of beastly Extreme Metal in the Revocation name. It holds up well to the ambitions conveyed by its spacial, maddening and slightly creepy album art.

The core tenants of brutality and Thrash hold true as forays into the antics of Technical Death and Progressive Metal bring about a detailed and dizzying web of indulgent music, punishing in tone but aesthetically gorgeous in delivery. Its production squeezes in the instruments with clarity and precision. As a result the bass guitar gets room to maneuver into focus with a luminous gritty texture in its select moments. David Davidson also stretches his voice down a peg with a significant amount of low, growling guttural vocals that land with a streak of menace, something he has clearly worked hard on. It gives the music many hair raising moments.

The music itself is a never ending sprawl of clever riff design and song structuring that creates a very specific atmosphere. I feel like a lot of the record gets caught up in the brutal aspect of their sound. Its the songs that offer the most respite from the slaughter that bring about the best moments, that and the guitar leads. These erupting solos evolve the songs, played with true intent and vision they time and time again mask the shifts of music and make the whole experience organic. That's frequently a tricky task for tricky music that is dexterous but often mechanical and without feeling.

This record has brought the utmost enjoyment, yet as I touched on, it is the subversion of the core tenants that bring about the magic. If Revocation where to explore directions that stray from the roots I am confident they would find gold. In a few brief instances I am reminded fondly of Opeth, a band that utilize clean vocals exceptionally well. At many times I felt the music was yearning for that but most likely that is my own taste exerting itself on a punishing and brutal record that for over half of its duration is dancing in the swamps of mean and ugly guitar playing brought to the mercy of groove and sensibilities. Its a cracking listen for any Extreme Metal fan.

Rating: 8/10
Favorite Tracks: Blood Atonement, Vanitas, Ex Nihilo, A Starless Darkness

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Brockhampton "Iridescence" (2018)


The Southern American, self proclaimed boy band is back! Brockhampton are riding the hype wave after a successful 2017, releasing their trilogy Saturation I, II & III within eight months, to much critical acclaim. I liked their music in patches but this new release Iridescence brings about much needed cohesion as the album experience takes a firmer grasp on its fusion of Pop and Hip Hop. Its typically eccentric and wild but between its quirky off beat attitude, pop melodies on pianos, more singing and catchier choruses anchor down an important sense of direction for the listener.

In some senses its style is all over the place. Obnoxious Hip Hop oriented lyrical themes slam up side against soothing melodies and wooing vocal lines that seem to sway back and forth from one another. That is the charm though and it plays out both thematically and aesthetically too. Crunking dirty beats with gritty samples quickly disintegrate as harmonious sing and chorals take charge, often with luscious strings and pianos behind them too. A few tracks straddle the middle ground like the second half of Weight and Tape as Jazz Hop vibes emerge with soft boom bap grooves.

One strength this record has that didn't feel quite so on previous albums is the amount of voices. With over ten members there is quite the range of tones to be found in the music. It plays to each of their strengths, as you might expect. Those who sing find their moment in the lush instrumentals, the energetic, obnoxious hyped up raping lines over the oddball, boisterous beats. Its the ground between that excels. When transitioning, a lot of creativity and cohesion in the directional shifts comes through from the human voice and the individual quirks they posses in bulk.

Not much of the lyrical content peaked my interest. Words sometimes do that with me, I think the instrumentals overpower my focus as their is quite the stretch of style and attitude at play here and its in a constant state of flux, routinely moving back and forth yet feeling natural and fluid. Its a very creative project that I have much appraisal for but on a personal level it doesn't connect as strongly as I know it will for others. I think this group have much potential and on Iridescence its certainly coming to life.

Favorite Tracks: Where The Cash At, Weight, Tape, J'ouvert, San Marcos
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Avenged Sevenfold "Black Reign" (2018)

 

Its that time of year, the shopping season is upon us, perhaps explaining why we see an increase in bands dropping EPs in the months leading up to Christmas. Avenged have scraped the barrel for a B-Side in the instrumental Jade Helm track. Its a strange track of build ups and grooves that have these awful pauses, lasting too long to keep time of the beat and anticipate its return. Maybe vocal rhythms would of tied this space over but without them the song sounds like a bunch of sub par riffs stitched together with shuffling, over involved drum patterns, things left out from other songs.

Before it three songs play that fans may be familiar with. Turns out Avenged have been collaborating with the Call Of Duty franchise for a few years and these songs are from the successive soundtracks of the Black Ops games. The first track Mad Hatter being the most recent stands out as a firm favorite. Its their only new material since the magnificent The Stage, can barely believe its been two years already! The singing style, composition and quality of riffs really reflects the maturity of that record and so we receive a well written track with a luminous mid-tempo break in the middle. It cruises from acoustic guitars into an epic guitar solo, shredding heights and erupting back into the song main riff, riding it like a wave.

I can't speak too highly of the other two tracks, they are from further back in time when Avenged where less appealing to me. A couple of moments appease but what I like of their sound is only present in fractions. If anything the one song is a good sign that they are keeping on track and capable of continuing to write on form. As for the record itself, its simply a stitching of extra songs to promote the new single.

Favorite Track: Mad Hatter
Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Dizzee Rascal "Don't Gas Me" (2018)


I really enjoyed Raskit released last year. It signaled a return to form from the UK veteran and this five track digital EP may even top it. Don't Gas Me gives off carefree vibes, artists having fun with the craft and enjoying the moment. If there was curation involved or not, these five songs are tight and precise, giving nothing but the goods. Firm instrumentals and keen rhymes let each tracks theme emerge with ease as Dizzee brings on some excellent features for the last three of five songs.

An almost cliche 90s Dance beat opens up the record with the title track. Its pumping energy, slapping claps give way to night time sirens and a dirty obnoxious synthetic base that grooves to its own accord. When Dizzee gets into his rhymes its all fun and games built on a firm flow, throwing in fun, silly rhymes about appletizer and getting his car clamped. Deeper into the track he reinforces the playful nature with goofy high pitched rhymes on the end of a string of words. Its greatly amusing while showing off his talent and ability to make great music.

Quality makes for a great follow up track as the instrumental pulls on summery 90s sounds and Dizzee gets more serious with introspective lyrics that drops into bursts of rapid rhymes. He sounds fantastic, on form. The features start with Skepta who I last heard on More Life. The two exchange verses but I think its the younger generation, P Money and especially C Cane who impress. Their youthful energy and opertunity to reach new ears plays up some fantastic flows and rhymes from the both of them.

The closing track swings things back to where it began with another 90s Dance beat and punchy synthetic base lines. Some subtle Dub vibes are brought to light as Afronaut Zu lights up the track with Reggae inflicted singing in the chorus. All in all its a fantastic but brief encounter that has a carefree Dizzee orchestrating some easily enjoyed tracks to keep fans happy until the next full length project. Wwith more songs attached this could of easily been that. These are no b-sides here.

Favorite Track: Spin Ya
Rating: 6/10