Thursday, 31 December 2015

Mac "Shell Shocked" (1998)


Coming from the No Limit music factory, Mac's "Shell Shocked" is another from the year of 98 when No Limit Records pumped out 23 record from 20 different artists. Going for quantity over quality it would be hard for many of the artists on the hyped label to stand out and Mac is one of those who didn't sell as well at the time but this record is respected as one of the labels best. It's also got the most sensible album cover Ive seen of the over shopped and sometimes tacky southern style.

Its a typical record fitting Master P's formula. 73 minutes of solid beats stretching the format, compact disc, limit. On first listen it felt like Mac was being smothered by other characteristics, being another voice in a large crowd of No Limit artists it was the presence of Master P that seemed over the top with a barrage of over enthusiastic UGHs and Tupac pronunciations, emulating his delivery style and using similar lyrics, best head on "Money Gets" or "Memories". Getting used to Mac's voice I heard solid and steady flow more reminiscent of the east coast sound than southern. His lyrics flowed tight from word to word and sounded best when double tracking or using reverb on particular tracks.

Beats by the pound provided another set of sturdy beats with the typical range of styles and themes expected of this era. "The Game" recycled a beat from Silk's "Aint My Fault", nice to hear, and "Be All You Can Be" uses the classic melody from George Michael's "Careless Whisper", might sound odd but it works. I always enjoy noticing these entities in Rap music, as well as recycling beats the "Tank Dogs" would be reused Silk's "Southside Niggas" along with components to its beat. The records title track has some weak gun sound effects at the end, including the shotgun sound from the classic game Doom! "My Brother" also uses a sample from the eJay music composers that were popular at the time.

These quirks were fun to notice but the most important point is the strength of the beats holding the record from start to end, there maybe a few tracks you'd want to skip if not in the mood but it has what a good record needs and although nothing special happened in the lyrical department it still made for a great listen, one that's continuing the itch for more of Master P's brand of Hip Hop.

Favorite Tracks: Murda Murda Kill Kill, Tank Dogs, Can I Ball, The Game, Memories, Beef, My Brother
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My Top 10 Music Discoverys In 2015

 

Every year is a great year for music, because even if there isn't a lot interesting going on (not the case) there is an enormous ocean of the past gone by to wade through. As always I love to find new artists to listen to alongside the new records coming out from the ones I know. As well as countless good records Ive seen Meshuggah, Korn, Slipknot, Shikari, Devin Townsend, Nas playing Illmatic AGAIN! Download festival was a blast and in the summer caught Cypress Hill, Snoop Dogg, Napalm Death, Death and Opeth! Later in the year Killing Joke, Manson, Deep Purple and Public Enemy! Its been one heck of a year! for my top 10 records released this year click here.

(10) IGORRR

Truly an artist of the internet era, with instant access to a vast depth of music, IGORRR's music draws from many obscure niches of Death Metal, Glitch and Baroque to collide in a frenetic maelstrom of noise assault. Perfect for my taste in aggressive oddities.

(9) Birocratic

Biro initially came across as a Nujabes clone but has managed to define his own style and sound across the course of a few records. Being a fan of Nujabes I obviously liked this from the get go, but it was great to hear Biro develop into its own brand of instrumental Jazz Hop.

(8) B.G.

My exploration of Southern Hip Hop hasn't led me to too many gems, but there's something to B.G's flow and laid back persona that really works, and when paired up with the right beats he makes a reputable impression.

(7) King Crimson

Their debut is a celebrated classic and having finally gotten around to giving it a listen I understand what the fuss is about and can't help but feel there is more on offer in their discography I wish to dive into soon.
(6) The Beach Boys

All I knew of this band were the Surf Rock numbers like "Surfin USA" which I had little interest in. Had no idea there was another side to the band, or more so Brian Wilson who composed the entirety of this record which I have fallen in love with.

(5) Master P

Master P was a name I knew of in the rap world, but this year I learned the story of his entrepreneurship with No Limit records and of the short lived success his label went through between 97 and 99. I wouldn't say he is one of the greats, but his style, the UGH and the crew he brought together he has definitely been responsible for a lot of enjoyable music that has satisfied my craving for more Hip Hop.

(4) Dead Kennedys

I've known about the legendary Punk group Dead Kennedys for years, but finally cracked the case this year with Frankenchrist which really struck a nerve with me. Although its significantly different from there other records its opened the door for me and I hope I'll get into their other records soon.

(3) Killing Joke

What a tough choice the top three has been, at third its Killing Joke, a band who I've heard of many times as an important influence on bands like Ministry, Korn and Godflesh I finally understand their importance and have grown ever so fond of their first two records, however the rest of their discography is proving to be rather patchy. I like their style, their identity which is very niche, a mix of Post-Punk and Industrial Rock with a charismatic voice.

(2) Kraftwerk

Its not strictly the year that Ive I learned about Kraftwerk's legacy and contribution to electronic music but it has been the year Ive really gotten to grips with their music and whats so fantastic and amazing about it. They had the vision to write emotional and imaginative songs at a time when electronic music was still seen as a novelty. The set the foundation for an explosion of synth pop in the 80s and subsequently everything else that followed. What's best of all is their music is fully realized and stands the test of time.

(1) Outkast

I have a soft spot for Hip Hop, so its no wonder to see Outkast here. Growing up I remember hearing B.O.B and Miss Jackson on MTV and this year decided to listen to their discography sequentially. Ive followed the journey of these two talented and articulate individuals who have crafted some of the finest Hip Hop records id never heard... or was waiting to hear? This is why I seek out new music, Outkast are one of Hip Hops greatest acts with a unique and defined sound that fit right into the vibe of the 90s. It was capable of pushing boundaries and I'm shocked its taken me so long to get around to that southern playalistic duo from my youth.

Monday, 28 December 2015

My Top 10 Albums Of 2015



So its nearly the end of the year and time to write about my favorite records released. Now that I think back over the year there have been some terrific records and compiling a top 10 wasn't too difficult as there had been about that many that stood out as being the most memorable and enjoyable. Alongside the best there were also a few stinkers, disappointing records I had been anticipating that unfortunately didn't deliver. Overall its been decent but not remarkable, of all that was great much of it was great within its own context with nothing ground breaking or revolutionary reaching my ears.

(10) Killing Joke "Pylon" Link

 Not a record I expected much from, having gotten to grips with Killing Joke's identity this one felt at home with everything they were about. The production and choices in the instruments tone really gave it a new dimension. Possibly their best since their first two records, however there still a lot of records for me to get through first.

 (9) Arcturus "Arcturian" Link
 

One of the most anticipated records I could ever think of. A decade of wait for the return of a band who's music has been both riveting and engulfing with their unique, distinguished sound and unforgettable songwriting that did not fail to deliver. It felt as if no time had passed, despite an awful production, the music shined bright and charmed once again with a familiar sound.

 (8) Izioq "My Own Private Video Game" Link
 

 Izioq second project was an interesting evolution from its predecessor. Moving away from the purist retro sounds of the debut, this sophomore record felt right at home while deviling into a more expansive and imaginative set of sounds that is full of charm and soul, creating nostalgic memories with the power of imagination.

(7) Joey Badass "B4.Da.$$" Link

I heard about Joey with a promise of a 90s nostalgia trip and boy did we get it! This record has the heart of the 90s spirit without being nostalgic or recreational, Joey brings his own style and flavor and it works. Solid record that's full of decent tracks.

(6) Iwrestledabearonce "Hail Mary" Link

I very nearly passed this one up. What a mistake that would of been! This has been the years most fun and "don't take seriously" record. Full of grooves, dichord abuse and maddening shredding, "Hail Mary" is an unrelenting onslaught of rhythmic aggression goodness that never lets the foot of the gas!

(5) The Underachievers "Evermore - The Art of Duality" Link

I like this duo a lot. They have a unique style and seem to be on their own path regardless of what trends are leading Hip Hop music. After checking out last years "Cellar Door" I had to pick this one up, turned out to be a real gem, conceptual and executed well this was full of food for thought and meaningful lyrics alongside tripy beats.

(4) Ghost "Meliora" Link

Heavily anticipated from one of the most exciting Metal bands active and they are going from strength to strength. Meliora gave a fan everything they could hope for and more with the classic "He Is" song. A true gem in one of Metals best records this year.

(3) Periphery "Juggernaut: Alpha/Omega" Link Link

A sublime double record with no shortage of inspiration. Periphery created possibly their best work to date with infectious grooves and lush harmonies bouncing back and forth from one another in the fold of progressive and creatively written songs that have been stuck in my mind.

(2) Marilyn Manson "The Pale Emperor" Link

 A stroke of genius, the return of a true musical great who's been drifting through obscurity in recent years. "The Pale Emperor" is one of Manson's strongest records, embracing a new introspective approach that works so well for the man who used to poke at anything else. Moody, dense and folk like, its a grabbing record that sucks you in.

(1) Enter Shikari "The Mindsweep" Link

From the first listen it was obviously a great record and possibly one of Shikari's best, but as the year went by this one wouldn't get out of my head. As a long time fan it made me realize how much the band had matured and progressed over the years. They have the same charm yet now their music has a greater sense of vision and clarity, a richer diversity of ideas and inspiration that keeps on giving. The band musically shape-shift through styles and aesthetics so effortlessly it has accumulated to the years most exciting record for the band who's future never stops looking brighter.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Native Construct "Quiet World" (2015)


Recommended to me as a cross between Haken and Opeth I couldn't pass up the promise of some epic Progressive Metal which Ive been enjoying over the festive season. This is the American three piece bands debut record released on Metal Blade Records and they will no doubt go on to become a popular band in the Progressive Metal scene that never seems to be short of new and promising acts.

The records colorful, lush and bountiful cover is a fair representation of the music that's full of bright and imaginative adventures unfolding within the organic flow of its ever changing passageways. Its quite an atypical and expected sound for the scene, but executed to a high standard within a flawless production of instruments captured in a luminous glory that's a simple pleasantry for the ears.

The record falls short in making its mark, defining what makes it unique in two different senses. Firstly no distinct characteristics in tone, delivery or composition jump out, for example a band like Opeth have Akerfeldt's voice and recognizable character in the guitars. On a second front the broader sense of themes within the songs never made themselves known. With a wide range of ideas and genre bends the record effortlessly flows and transition between extremes but it never make much sense of itself. Moving from doom blast beats and growls to serene ethereal synths and chilled, laid back rhythms sounds brilliant but its following a path that leads nowhere. As much as I enjoyed every listen, the songs never amounted to an experience where I could see the full picture. I don't want to put this one down yet, I hope with a few more listens it will make sense but it feels unlikely.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 14 December 2015

Cloudkicker "Woum" (2015)


 At the beginning of the year I enjoyed my first Cloukicker record "The Discovery" from the Pittsburgh based one man band. Seven years later "Woum" is unrecognizable from the noisy metallic Djent-fest I knew this project as. There is no disappointment, "Woum" is an inspired project, its only hint of the past is felt through the intricate, tight guitar performance and use of abstract noises in rhythmic synchronization with the percussion. Its got the feels of a Djentleman but is an acoustic Post-Rock affair that effortlessly flows through peaceful and calm compositions of melodic delight.

The guitars are light, bright and colorful, plucking away with reverbs and echos that feedback on themselves, masking the layers of quiter guitars that mingle underneath. They expand and contract as the intricacies unfold secretly before your ears, steadily growing in momentum and detail. Its held together by a loose and spacious kit that rocks untypical beats in a gracious and distant manor, at times feeling almost irrelevant, but still welcome. On select tracks there is a thick and textured bass underneath rocking grooves that work of the kit, and at other times it is more subdued in light of the lead guitars which were the focus of the record.

It all makes for colorful and bright listen that has a few notable moments like "Threaded", a guitar piece that makes fair use of a continually expanding reverb as the song gets lost into itself in a lurking flood of ethereal ooze. Its ambition and direction is short of the bigger picture for despite all its pleasantries nothing jumps out and grabs you, although you feel it may at any moment. Its a well realized and put together piece of music but it only goes half the distance it has the potential to do.

 Favorite Songs: Trim Splint, Threaded
Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Godspeed You! Black Emperor "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven" (2000)


Here's a record that's been in my rotation for a couple of years now. Hailed as a masterpiece and a classic I've failed to connect with whatever it is other people see in this album. "Lift Your Skinny Fists..." comprises of four lengthy 20 minute songs that entomb Shoegazing Post-Rock numbers inside a vault of murmuring drones and cascading ambiance. As I touched on in my post of "Celestite", such musical works can be a hit or miss even based on the tiniest of discrepancies but in this records case most of the choices in droning distortion guitars and gentle ambiances that grew and shrunk in-between where a turn off. In its quieter, brooding moments I felt little emotion or connection and in its big and dramatic, soaring guitar led Post-Rock drones I felt very little.

Its hard to describe a lack of connection or emotion, or to even pin point why but if somethings are not doing it for you its even harder when the more approachable content is hidden between lengthy intervals of dark, lengthy ambiance and dull drones. Despite my lack of captivation some moments show a sense of theme developing which come with some nice tempo changes that unfold. "Deathkamp Drone" was the most enjoyable piece from the albums fourth track but lost at the end of a ninety minute record it wasn't often I made it that far through. I gave it my time, I do wonder if its age and the context of that time makes it more remarkable but even so this record just wasn't for me.

Rating: 2/10

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Wolves In The Throne Room "Celestite" (2014)


Revisiting one of my favorite records from last year I found myself encapsulated in the mystic abyss that is "Celestite" again. Wolves In The Throne Room are an acclaimed American Black Metal band from Washington who never did much to catch my ear with their traditional sound, however this record, the bands fifth, marks a musical shift in style that may just be a "one off" or ambient record. A deep, dense, brooding guitar distortion lurking under the paranoid soundscape of "Initiation At Neudeg Alm" may be the only echo of their former sound as the group embark on mesmerizing plunge into the world of Dark Ambient and Drone music. In my experience these sorts of records are a niche in taste, they can easily turn you on or off with the nuances that make up the experience. In this case, everything here was primed for my taste, in the right mood one can get truly lost in these eternal soundscapes.

Drifting through the vast, colossal distances of space and time the twinkling of stars can be heard between the vicarious synths that breath in bursts of color and fade into the distance. These eerie and mystic flows of sound coarse past one another in a minimal environment that feels enriched by the quiet yet conjuring layers of intrepid synths that represent the infinite void. Its an experience of two half's, one facing the mysterious universe at its mercy and the other entrenching the spirit of evil with mean, brooding french horns and trumpets, orchestrating the feeling of a presence with a careful balance that lets no melody linger or feel prevalent. Each note works with the next to excite the imagination and paint the canvas with existential introspection in the face of vast nothingness.

The records second track dives deep into the evil, sinister side with thunderous and distant, deep droning distortions roaring alongside the sounds off descending planes and mischievous synths. Through it all the twinkling of the stars can be heard and slowly this heinous droning gives way to the abyss. After this the record continues on its haunting journey through the cosmos, droning and drifting seemingly forever, with only an inkling of evil returning on the title track.

The selection of synths and techniques used to create these sounds has been done with much care and inspiration. The compositions are lengthy, detailed, with many layers constantly working in tandem to maintain a grabbing atmosphere which plays out for 40 minutes through many progressions and drawn out moments that never make themselves to remarkable. The balance of melody and ambiance is sublime. The tunes playing the fewest of notes to whisper a tale, yet making no memorable mark, each time you are truly held into the songs moment.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Birocratic "BiroMakesABeet" (2015)


Back with an appetizer, a whiff of a record that clocks in at just under 10 minutes, Biro teases us with four of his finest beats to date. The charming Jazz Hop vibes flow in a stride of creativity and inspiration as Biro lets these beats swoon and groove in their moment, capitalizing on an excellent selection of samples and intertwining them with plenty of additional instruments to guide the songs through a few progressions that drown out a common sense of repetition. Gone are the trademark vocal cuts and missed they are not, where once the Nujabes similarities took hold there is now a great sense of individual style shining though the chemistry of lush whirly synths and jazzy piano driven samples.

With some great baselines and drum routines there is a strong undercurrent of jive and groove to move to under a dazzling array of jazzy, dreamy music. These songs are short in stature but maybe that's their strength? Biro has reinforced his loops with a pallet of instruments to keep the songs growing and evolving, but maybe it works so well because its in the shorter context. Either way its got charm, soul and is one of the best 10 minute records I've ever heard, although that's not many to compete with its got me hyped for what I hope will be a full-length release in the future.

Favorite Track: Next Stop
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 7 December 2015

Killing Joke "Pandemonium" (1994)


Killing Joke have quickly become a favorite band of mine and more so for their first two records than any of the others Ive been making my way through. After the noisy, discordant rock out, slightly metallic "Extremities, Dirt And Various Repressed Emotions" the niche Post-Punk, Industrial Rock outfit took four years to create "Pandemonium" where their influence comes full circle. Having been a notable impact on American Industrial Metal band Ministry, the feedback loop can be heard as the band take a considerable step into the Industrial Metal sound with heavier distortions and a more Metal sense of rhythm, while keeping all that makes them unique and distinguishable.

The records stand out track "Exorcism" marks seven minutes of pounding industrious repetition and heavy guitar crunching under singer Jaz Coleman's theatrical performance of an exorcism, descriptive, practically visual sound effects included. Once again the band execute repetition to perfection on their heaviest track, which bares a strong resemblance to songs like "Just One Fix" and "N.W.O." from Ministry's "ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ" album, slamming the same riff over and over to pummeling, pounding drums. As I'm writing this I can't help but notice the symbols used in the title on the cover art.

Each track is its own beast taking on a distinct sound, "Black Moon" having a dreary vibe reminiscent of "Revelations", "Millennium" with a soaring sing-along chorus that has a typical 90s charm about it and "Whiteout" brings about denser percussion, with more layers and faster hi hats taking on some borderline Drum N Bass influences. The last two tracks trail off with a noticeable drop in production quality. Pandemonium has its impressive moments but comes off as a collection of fair songs kept fresh with the constant shifts in tone and vibe from song to song. With only one stand out track its a record you'll of wanted more from if your aware of what this band is capable of.

Favorite Track: Exorcism
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

B.G "Checkmate" (2000)


Following up on my favorite southern record "Chopper City In The Ghetto" is B.G's last release with Cash Money Records before his departure later in the year over money disputes. Its his sixth release in five years, rather remarkable when you consider he was still a teenager when recording this one. Once again he teams up Mannie Fresh for a production sound similar to the Big Tymers "I Got That Work" album released in the same year.

Much like the sparkling bling fueled cover art, the beats are crisp and glossy as the fidelity steps up a touch. With a finer selection of programmed instruments, the compositions have a greater clarity as layers of snappy, sharp, clean instruments jive together in a mix where you can clearly hear each and every instrument and how they contribute to the song. The drums inflect a southern accent with hi hats and various percussive instruments taking president over the kick snare groove. Around it plenty of noisier subtle electronic sounds and instruments move in the backdrop while the brighter instruments, pianos, guitars, horns and synths, make up the short and simple melodies that loop through these songs. It all adds up to a fair collection of beats that falls short of being remarkable or special, but far from being anything negative.

So when B.G. steps to the mic its his opportunity to elevate the record but his laid back, easy flow doesn't quite chime like it did before. These beats require some hype and energy and the disparity can be heard on tracks like "I Know" where the thumping orchestral hits don't match his tone or energy. A lot of the guest features do better for these beats and for all the verses and choruses Ive listened through there wasn't a memorable line to be had, unlike Chopper City with its many lines and hooks I can't get out my head. Although I enjoyed this record, there is little to talk about or take away, and I'm left feeling this one suffers from the factory approach to keep pumping out records regardless of inspiration.

Favorite Songs: U Know How We Do, This N Die, Get In Line, Run With My Chopper, Problems, he Used 2 Be A Man
Rating: 4/10