Thursday, 20 July 2017

Tombs "The Grand Annihilation" (2017)

To write this post I had to remind myself why I was following this band. I think my interest In this sort of Metal is slowly wavering but after an initial disappointment, a more few spins gave me a clearer image as the music came to my mind. I was quite impressed by the Brooklyn bands 2014 release Savage Gold, listening to it again reminded me that Tombs are a very temperate, measured band that seek atmosphere in the pacing and patience of their music, a Post-Black Metal venture with shades of Death Metal casting a spell of unforgiving doom without any cheep thrills.

At forty eight minutes its quite the grind, a bleak, monotonous grind of unearthly rumblings in the mist. Tremolo shredded notes pluck and propel us forth into the baron wastelands as icy lead guitar licks breath some life into the desolate setting. Intensified by bursts of blast beats and interchanging dissonant chords, the occasional Thrash Metal intersection makes itself known as the songs cruise through a construction of riffs that sway the tone and direction with craft and intention. These songs are well constructed, without straying to the grandiose or loosing its sense of burden, Tombs hold together a consistently heavy, gloomy tone that creeps in subtle climactic moments with guitar shifts leading to sorrowful yet elegant solos. The deep bellowing vocals of Mike Hill adds to the damning atmosphere, there dominance over shrill screams much more preferable and fitting.

There's a lot to praise on this record, its obvious these are talented musicians with a good ear for song structure. The production is sturdy, crisp and clear instruments with enough mud in the tones to bring about the bleak atmosphere the band conjure. There is little to fault but my enjoyment is saturated. When its playing it makes for good company but in its absence it barely crosses my mind. As I said before I think its just my taste in this style that is fading. Nothing wows or feels unheard, unexpected, its all become a bit of a routine journey into a familiar shade of darkness.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

DJ Shadow "The Mountain Has Fallen" (2017)

With a new album on the horizon DJ Shadow drops a short, four track EP to get us warmed up for whats ahead. It sparked my interested thanks to its guest features, the legendary Nas of Queensbridge and new blood Danny Brown who both drop strong verses on their respected tracks, the chemistry between Shadow and his featured rappers is an interesting aspect for a reasonable set of Hip Hop instrumentals, with only the closer "Corridors" providing some genuine impressions of notoriety.

"Systematic", possibly a play on Illmatic, has Nas breaking down the self serving nature of the dominant power structure that governs our western society, then using it metaphorically for self affirming rhymes. Shadow deploys a relatively comfortable beat for the 90s era rapper with Boombap beats and a plucked guitar groove that gets expansive in the chorus with a range of colliding laser like samples and upfront vinyl scratching. Its got energy and charisma, its own sound but nothing special. "Horror Show" steps out of the comfort zone to accommodate Brown's persona with off-kilt beats that dizzy with seemingly two overlapping grooves playing off one another. Action effects stack up in the spaces between while evil super villain synths clime the notes to ascension. The tone is slightly manic but I can't help but feel the drum sampling would of benefited from something slicker and modern.

"Good News" feels like an experiment left unfinished, a spasm of drum kicks and snares messing around with time signatures seem to lack any groove. The glitched manipulation of samples may be reminiscent of IGORRR but it has no pzazz. "Corridors" is the albums best as a progressive song that builds up its atmospheric synths to meet a hard thudding bass kick decorated in reversed samples and lavished with layers of noisy sampling that increases in intensity to break into a calm moment that brings us back with a crescendo string section that doesn't really climax the song and then the needle skips, stutters and were out. Interesting listen but very little here to return to.

Rating: 3/10

Monday, 17 July 2017

Vince Staples "Big Fish Theory" (2017)

It was only a while back that I was introduced to the young Compton rapper. Summertime '06 won me over so another album springing up so quickly Is a pleasant surprise. Big Fish takes of where Summertime left, working with the same producer Vince retains the distinct production style behind his rhymes, sub baselines crunch under tight shuffling hi hats and steady, cautious snare kick grooves. Where Summertime had a smoother tone with fragrant samples and a more "traditional" Hip Hop vibe, Big Fish takes a turn to new territory with strong influences from House and Electronic music that has much of the instrumentation used performed by an array of synthesized sounds.

 The album kicks off with "Crabs In The Bucket", if you removed Vince's voice from the track it would unrecognizable as a Hip Hop track, Its sweeping wind synths lead us into a smooth Dance groove with Kilo Kish laying down soft, echoing vocals over a climatic jiving baseline groove reminiscent of G-Funk. This tone follows through the record, many tracks would fall into another category if it wasn't for Vince's rhymes and that's the albums brilliance, Its abridged styles and created something of its own, a unique fusion that seems just right for this artist. The records tone has a rather cold and spacious quality, many of these crunking baselines and tight shuffling beats intersect with abstract electronic noises without an upfront melody. In response the baseline rhythms become a focal point of direction and Vince's often flat, leveled delivery reinforces the chilling tone. It works especially well when his lyrics go into darker regions.

With a handful of banging baselines and catchy hooks the album sets off fires in one instances and puts them out with its quirkier tracks that don't quite vibe the same. Not to say they are bad tracks but there is a note able difference despite a rather consistent tone. I like Big Fish Theory for its unique crossover between style two genres and much is to be merited for that success but it doesn't mean all the songs are automatically destined for greatness. With new territory comes new challenges and through the thirty six minutes I felt as if there was an imbalance between the quirky, rhythmically arranged synths and an opportunity for more dance laden melody and atmosphere, however that's just a matter of taste and unfortunately what started out as a really interesting album started to fade somewhat by the tenth listen or so as the overall picture of the record came into view. The songs just don't quite hold up and an overall direction is lacking, most notable on Alyssa that comes in with a long vocal snippet that has seemingly nothing to do with the rest of the record. The great ideas are scattered in here but they don't find their way to cohesion.

Favorite Tracks: Crabs In The Bucket, Love Can Be, 745, Bagbak, Rain Come Down
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 15 July 2017

How Do I Rate Albums?

The reality is that us humans like to measure value with numbers and systems to condense the unique and personal experiences. The need to simplify and digest information is strong yet Music is subjective, like art, cinema, etc... Despite this we are wired to be appeased by rating systems and the like. To me its all rather trivial and yet I myself have a rating system on this blog. That decision was mainly for myself as I frequent back to the blog to remind myself of records I'm fond of and listen to them again, id hope the words would do more for the reader than an arbitrary number stapled at the end of a post.

My aim is to describe the nuances of what Ive heard, the emotional response and other thoughts that swirl through my mind as I listen. Sometimes I feel I articulate myself well, on other days not so much but my aim is to write frequently as I get though records. Its an exercise that's therapeutic and useful as a means of self expression and memorializing. The words wont always come out right but the moments where they do are fantastic. Where I don't quite hit it off right the practice of engaging with the process continues and the record of my musical journey resumes.

So what do the numbers mean? They are in a sense a buffer between other records. Everyone has their 10s and based on my enjoyment of a record, the numbers will fall into place accordingly. This is why the words are important too. Take for example Deathspell Omega album I recently reviewed, I could understand its merits, marvel at its technicalities and appreciate its vision yet the emotional connection wasn't strong. Subjectively a lower score than a "objectively" higher one. For me the musical experience Is about finding that connection with the artists vision. Albums that do it best will give me goosebumps, adrenaline and feels time and time again, these are the ones I rank. In short its less about objectivity and more about the subjectivity of my own taste.
  • 4 - Were starting this list near the middle. Four is the benchmark, the passing grade, an entry point. This number represents a comprehensible listen that has what it takes to get an enjoyable listen out of the run time. Its the sort of record that doesn't do a lot wrong, but nothing spectacular either. Everyone's turned up, done their part and the result is mediocre.
  • 3 - A three tips its toes into the negative. Something things are a turn off, ideas fall short and in general the experience gives you the impression it could of turned out better, despite not being awful.
  • 2 - At this point were straddling the threshold of tolerance, a lack of attributes to get on board with and the stench of disappointment turns the air stale. The kind of record you'll never remember a second of.
  • 1 - Not a lot to say about these records, its only merit is its better than silence.
  • 0 - A rarity in its own, to find something so intolerable and irritating that silence would be preferred. Ive only come across one record I gave this score, it was a total and utter turn off were every idea fell flat on the floor. Doubt ill find another so awful.
  • 5 - Now lets good to the good stuff. A five is like a four, however some there is stronger music in store. Not the kind of record to return to but would at least have a song or two that may peak my interest.
  • 6 - At six we can find the music that hits the feels, the sort of record that will lure you back for another listen time to time. Good, strong music occasional with some flaws or quirks.
  • 7 - Strong records full of good songs find themselves at seven. These album Ill come back to often to hear those favorite tracks or the whole record, depending on my mood.
  • 8 - This is where the music I cant get enough of starts, eights and above are my classics, the music that hits me hard in the feels, gets the blood pumping and adrenaline flowing.
  • 9 - A nine is like an eight, just some how its a little better, if that's even possible. These three are all pretty similar in my mind, there just needs to be some system for ordering the best of the best.
  • 10 - My all time favorite records. The ones that hold a special place in my heart. If I write about a 10 its for a good reason, and I am very doubtful of a new record becoming a ten. It usually takes years and years of listening to full verify the musical enchantment at work!
That's about the best I can explain it, with a little humor sprinkled in of course. A few important things to note, length effects the score. Anything below thirty minutes may loose a mark or two. This blog is about albums, I love an experience that unfolds between thirty and seventy minutes. Anything shorter can be equally brilliant but I prefer to indulge in those musical realms rather than swing by for a brief visit. Another factor is my mood. Sometimes writing is easy, sometimes hard and my connection with the music can change on a daily basis based on whatever the chemical in my head are doing. I often go back and revise the number a few days later once the dust has settled so to speak... Thanks for reading this! Hope you enjoyed it. I thought it would be fun to try and explain what a rigid system of numbers means in the spectrum of experience.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Slowdive "Slowdive" (2017)

Waiting for Run The Jewels to headline Field Day in London, my ears were captivated by a beautiful haze of Ethereal droning coming the rammed tent where Death Grips had played earlier in the day. As I shuffled my way over, nursing a hot tea, the bands logo hung in massive letters, dwarfing the band members and I found myself in awe yet unable to stay. It looked like one heck of a show but I wanted to see them properly, not just for fifteen minutes before Id have to charge over to the main stage. I covered their EP Blue Day a while back but never got around to the rest of their discography. They were a short lived band in the boom of 90s shoe-gazing and couple of years back reformed, resulting a new self titled full length, notably their debut record was also named Slowdive.

The album bleeds into itself, in the same way the music does. Every moment drones on with lush melodies, falling into shimmering reverberations as soft serene singing ushering in a lullaby state of relaxation. Where these songs retain themselves in an eternal moment found through blissful shoe-gazing, the album consequently feels as if its without progression or direction. Whatever song is playing, that is the moment right now, any order of songs could of proceeded. I love how consistently soothing the calming mood and hazy tone of the record is. Its as if its without start or end, forever stagnating within its own slice of time.

As one singular experience there's barely any strong or weak points, its all very steady and even. A few songs start with the bare bones, slow, cushioning drums and warm baselines wait for the eruption of epic scaling guitars to come crashing in with a thick wave of echoing wonder. Its all rather somber and melancholy yet the flickering of tuneful melodies shining through the walls of sound give it a warm uplifting air. The voices of the two singers, Neil and Rachel, bouncing off one another resonates deeply into the music and can often be "that moment" in a song when there words peak through the haze of sounds. For forty six minutes it is a sweet musical indulgence, one that could of gone on for longer. As I mentioned this record is like one continuing moment, if your in the mood for its meditative vibes then its a real treat to be enjoyed.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Ho99o9 "United States Of Horror" (2017)

The New Jersey duo Horror, stylized with three nines, blew me away with a wild performance at Download Festival last year. Their anarchistic fusion of Hardcore Punk and Hip Hop has a lot to offer, unfortunately their EP Dead Bodies In The Lake didn't quite live up to the hype bar one song. With their debut full length, things are different, the ideas are in sync are ready to bombard us with rebellion and chaos. Released a few months back, this one managed to sneak past me, in a moment of excitement I foolishly ordered an import copy from America, rather than checking Amazon... A silly mistake that cost me a pretty penny and had me waiting a few weeks more to listen. Given the bands underground vibe I figured it would be hard to get hold of but as everything is commodified these days its no surprise to hear they are signed to universal records with worldwide distribution.

The music is the message, and horror's message is a weapon, aimed at our societal norms and the values that need questioning. Kicking off with a child reading a corrupted pledge of allegiance, swearing loyalty to the nines, the duo fly head first into the critical mindset to set a spotlight on the perverse and corrupt. It rattles off at a sprint, flying through short burst of songs, swaying between its fast guitar thrashing metallic Punk and the dark, disturbed Hip Hop personas with an unusual ease. The styles are held together with a strong Industrial current of pounding mechanical drums and pumping, dense electronic synths that electrify the sound and give power to the wild energy the pairs dissatisfaction inspires.

Retaining a twisted atmosphere, the album drifts into its Hip Hop persona effortlessly, the tropes easily corrupted to fit the anarchistic mold, the fast shuffling Trap hi-hats and dirty sub baselines are menacing. "Hydrolics" takes up a fantastic opportunity to lace the track with a thick layer of sarcasm that serves their purpose well. Its a real collision course of sounds that the two use to forge a unique and distinct person that comes to fruition in the diversity through the track listening. Each time they lean into Industrial noise, Hardcore thrashings or devilish Hip Hop, it comes out the mixer with a distinctly different sound yet through all this diversity the album flows a charm.

I enjoy this record more so based on my mood and apatite, where sometimes it isn't as appealing or enjoyable. Objectively, I think all the positives here really add up to something special. As much as I like the idea of the chaos this duo brew, It isn't always my preferred taste. The way they have fused styles is inspired and unique and this debut full length comes together with a plethora of ideas and some solid direction. From here the coin could spin either way, I hope the continue to push and redefine themselves as the best could be yet to come.

Favorite Songs: Ware Is Hell, Face Tatt, Knuckle Up, United States Of Horror
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 7 July 2017

Power Trip "Nightmare Logic" (2017)

I was lucky to catch this band supporting Napalm Death at the Electric Ballroom a few months back in London. They put one heck of a show, I was captivated after one song and loved their set. Of course I had to get myself a copy of their latest album, a fast, to the point thirty three minutes of brutal thrashings spanning eight tracks. Hailing from Dallas, these Texans have been at it for almost ten years and as far as I can tell, this is their sophomore full length.

The band sound right out of the 80s. A fast ripping, power shredding Thrash Metal band with frantic chugging grooves laced between gritty metallic shreds and tight picking rhythms. Tinges of Crossover creep in and a Slayer like darkness marks their sound with eruptions of wild, noisy frantic solos that burst into the fold between conventional thrashing sections. Its quite atypical of the genre but well thought out and inspired, rather than repeating old ideas the band reinvent them with some vigor and resiliance.

The eight songs take on the same tone, intensity and pace with very little to break them up other than some echoing, reverberated effects between a couple of tracks. From start to end its all killer no filler. Hard to pick a favorite however "Ruination" stands out for its frighting gang shouts and the front mans beastly screams coming to life on the chorus. His shouts are audible and gritty, drenched in reverb to give it a sense of scale that falls inline with the music.

Its a weighty record with a well formulated thrash persona, a sturdy production that brings the sweet spot of the fast open string muted picking to the forefront of the sound. As a whole it possibly lacks one thing, some "break out" moments to sweep you off your feet. It pummels hard and fast but none of the riffs defy expectation and so its a cracking head bangers listen but lacks that spark to add memorability to the songs. Other than perhaps having the potential to do better this is a great listen.

Favorite Track: Ruination
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Puff Daddy "No Way Out" (1997)

I have a vivid memory of a brief moment in my childhood back when my record collection was just starting. I recall the busy wintry high street, the sizeable store, the layout of the sanitized shelves and myself picking this record up and staring at it for ages. I vaguely recognized the name Puff Daddy but had no idea who his family were, or that the Notorious B.I.G was one of them. This was back when every record on display was a mystery, something of interest. I had permission from my parents to buy one album and after contemplating for sometime I believe I settled on something I knew, Micheal Jackson if I recall correctly. It occurred to me a while back that their is nothing stopping me from ordering myself a copy. Its a strange sort of nostalgia, hearing something for the first time yet knowing this would of been "that" album to bring me into the wonderful world of Hip Hop.

No Way Out is Puff's debut as a solo artist, one that unsurprisingly incorporates many of the artists from his Bad Boy records who huddle together to make one heck of a statement. Its a marvel of the 90s sound but finds itself having a unique angle, the death of Biggie Smalls who was assassinated during the recording stage, he appears on three of the tracks delivering his usual brilliance, it has a strange contrast when Puff's lyrical direction is reflecting on death and people around him dying. Its saddening and captures a very dark moment in Hip Hop history direct from one of Biggies closest friends.

The music is on point, a classy production that brings out the best in the scenes transition into less sample orientation with programmed drums and instruments. There is however a lot of interpolation and snippets loaded between the beats. As the lyrics lead, the instrumentals reflects on a healthy variety of vibes. Summery, uplifting tales of wealth and success with bold jiving grooves can then swing to the shadows as they dive into the gangster oriented braggadocio with shades of Mafioso Rap and the horrifying sounds of gun splatter. Two sides of a coin that find a path as the record flows smoothly between its luscious Disco, R&B influenced tracks and its gritty, tragic side.

Production is Puff's strength but as a rapper he does nothing wrong. Such an easy flow and tone of voice amends his lack of lyrical gymnastics or tenacious wordplay that other rappers use to dazzle. Smooth and steady his very direct use of language goes down a treat, engaging us in his thoughts, narratives and stories at a steady pace. This of course resonates with the moment this record resides within, immortalized by the tragedy that looms over tracks like "Pain" and "Is This The End", where Puff picks up the pace and holds his own with some tighter flows in brief moments.

The features across this record are great, everyone brings their best and The LOX turn up again, I keep hearing them dropping slick verses, featured on many records. Their debut, released a year later, hasn't particularly aged well with me, perhaps they save their best for other peoples records. Black Rob really impressed me with his rhymes on "I Love You Baby" and Faith Evans on "I'll Be Missing You" gives so much soul on a fitting tribute to the death of Biggie. Ive always adored that song, I fondly remember watching it on MTV as a kid, perhaps that's were I knew the name Puff Daddy from, all those years ago.

No album is perfect and as stunning as this one is it has a couple of duller tracks as it draws on. An icky skit at the end of "Friend" we could of done without and the final track, a remix of "The Message" just doesn't hold up, its a bonus track but the rhymes and tone of Puffy and Mase just don't gel with the beat. Other than that its a pretty stellar record that Ill be enjoying for years to come. Should of brought it! But hey maybe I wouldn't of appreciated it in the same way back then.

Favorite Songs: Victory, Been Around The World, What Are You Going To Do, Don't Stop What Your Doing, If I Should Die Tonight, Do You Know, I Love You Baby, It's All About The Benjamins, Pain, I'll Be Missing You
Rating: 9/10

Monday, 3 July 2017

CKY "The Phoenix" (2017)

The legendary CKY from West Chester, Pennsylvania, also known as "Camp Kill Yourself", were a fond part of my youth. Soundtrack to the CKY movies full of skateboarding, pranks and tomfoolery, their songs were drilled into my mind as we watched them over and over alongside Jackass. I often return to their first two records and had the opportunity to see them live for the second time in a small and intimate venue recently. It got me hyped up for this record after having barely heard a thing from them in over a decade.

This is the bands first record without former front man Deron Miller who departed back in 2011. He's one of the original three and in his absence Chad Ginsburg has stepped up taking on the vocal role, performing the guitars, synths and continuing his duty as the bands producer. In Deron's absence their persona hasn't been tarnished, the music comes from the same place and Chad has the voice to fill his boots with a very similar vocal style that you may not of noticed had changed if you picked this record up unknowing to the lineup change.

The Phoenix is an album for the stage. Fun, lively and energetic, full of charisma. CKY continue to develop their unique sound while boldly showing their influences as flaming guitar licks emerge from their more traditional, grungy power chord grooving. With Chad in the limelight he takes the opportunity to show off his inspiring guitar skills with tones of wild, soaring guitar solos, blazing a trail of notes to try and keep up with as he quite frequently gets into the roll, especially on "Days Of Self Destruction" where the last ninety seconds of the song is dedicated to nothing but the shred!.

Many of the songs have similarities to their early classics, however they feel fleshed out with thick instrumentation that has synths humming between the cracks of bold audacious baselines that prowl and groove. The guitar leads stack up over the power chords with short lively melodies and Jess's drumming holds in all together with a subtle roll to gel everything together without being overly present. The sort of performance to impress when given due attention.

I love the density of this record. Without being overtly heavy CKY shine on the musicality that loads every passing moment with depth as everything has an intricacy. Although the song structures are rather formulaic and many sections repeat it always feels big and ambitious without being "heavy". Chad's Hard Rock and Funk influences definitely make themselves known here without taking away from their core sound. Its a very solid record with a few songs to match some of the classics.

Favorite Tracks: Days Of Self Destruction, Wiping Off The Dead
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Timothy Steven Clarke "Tribes 2" (2001)

Following up on the Starsiege soundtrack we have another title from the same universe of mechanized PC games published by Sierra around the millennium. Its the only other piece of work Timothy has had published under his name. Tribes 2 is rather similar beast, fusing Industrial noise with metallic guitar licks and a whole host of bombarding samples for a dense and weighty soundtrack.

This time around the experience is a toned down and tied together for a less abrasive, unsurprising listen, in favor of a more consistent and metallic experience. The distortion guitars are notably more present, louder and driving, sometimes offering big mechanical chunks of groove with clunky, robotic power chords or occasionally drifting into the distance, behind the other sounds to provide a layer of depth. A few quirky lead licks, soaked in flange, reminded me of Korn, a possible influence, however the direction is far more Industrial Metal with a distinct lack of a focal melody. These songs lay down sizeable industrial foundations to parry away any obvious sense of tune. Armed up with fast percussive loops and endless samples and whirling synths, dense blocks of sound pave the way for, distorted, manipulated cultural singing samples to rise to the top, becoming the focal point of a cybernetic noise storm.

The record consists of seven tracks, which appear to be themed around levels or arenas in the game, all roughly four and a half minutes. It is obviously designed with the game in mind and so the records and songs themselves start and stop with not much story or progression, probably as they were designed to be looped during game play. An exception to "Badlands" however, the guitar takes on a form of its own as the song builds tension, devolving into a riff fest that expands into somewhat of a solo, quite a nice touch. Either way it fits right into that quirky era where Industrial Metal's popularity crossed over into game soundtracks. I'd like to hear more of this if I can find some.

 Favorite Tracks: Desert, Ice, Starwolf
Rating: 5/10