Saturday, 17 March 2018

Watain "Trident Wolf Eclipse" (2018)

My opinion of this band will be forever tainted by their live performance. Severed pigs heads impaled on the stage and the stench of animals blood filling your nostrils was one thing but the moment singer Danielsson decided to put out a burning stick with his hand grasping a fist around the flames just took the biscuit. He huddled wounded on the stage, nursing his hand which has dripping with blood, clearly in a lot of pain. It was all rather pathetic and although I like evil and satanism in the form of art or entertainment, it often becomes utterly ridiculous when in practice. The so called "ritualistic" performance came across as a joke and they were the punchline.

Either way I'm here for the music and Swedish Black Metal outfit Watain have risen to prominence with their fifth album, The Wild Hunt, released five years ago. I have never been massively into them but you can't ignore that they have become one of the genres biggest names in recent years, a time where experimentation and diversification has seemed ripe. Watain have gotten here by sticking to a very traditional approach on the genre, one which makes their music obvious, atypical and unsurprising yet its execution and production value gives it a weight of value in pursuit of dark and evil sounds that have been thoroughly explored before they arrived.

If you're hoping for new Black Metal records like the classics De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas & Pure Holocaust etc... then there is probably a lot to like about this record. Its sharp, fast and vicious, loading in and endless stream of creepy, evil melodies between furious bursts of jagged tremolo picking and punishing blast beats. Its got enough measure to illuminate its own atmosphere with demonic ambiguous vocal passageways, the booming of deep tribal drums and cymbals striking like a gong give it that extra spark of mischief. Plenty of breaks disperse the intense atmosphere with plucked chords breaking up the linear power chord riffs that drive most the record.

All in all its all just a little to expectant for my ears. Despite a terrific production and well written songs, the album could do little to surprise or feel fresh and different from what Ive heard of the genre before. Their success is possibly paramount to appealing to the old guard who resist change within the sound but for me that is boring and so this record sounds as good as my appetite for Black Metal on the given day that I'm listening to it. That being said the closing track Antikrists Mirakel defines itself as different, having the final say it takes a step beyond the norm with a deeply ritualistic atmosphere of ruin and heresy that's simply engulfing. Its slow sluggish pace, illusive chants and gloomy wash of reverb makes for a gem in an all too typical record.

Favorite Track: Antikrists Mirakel
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 16 March 2018

Nina Simone "Pastel Blues" (1965)

It's been years since I first got my hands on this record. As with some of the great, appraised music from past generations it can take some time to get into. Walking home from a Kendrick Lamar gig in an ecstatic mood another song from Pastel Blues came on and I was captivated, engulfed. In an instant it all clicked and since then Ive binged on this fantastic record from Nina Simone. She has a fascinating voice, ranging from softly effeminate to a shade manly with a powerful, navel tone that's drenched in a strange sadness. A strong vibrato resonates when she holds a note, somehow able to squeeze the sound to a point almost inhuman, but not too far gone. Its wonderful and not saturated as she awaits the inspired moments to let it flow.

With jazzy pianos, folksy acoustic guitars and soft percussion the instrumentals play a resounding roll in tipping the mood as the temperate backings swing back and forth, track to track, between bluesy, worrisome sorrows and self-empowered songs of resolution and poetic wisdom. Even in these uplifting numbers something in Nina's voice feels as if it would easily slip into a sadder setting. Even when the words don't quite match there is somehow a lingering sorrow as if she sings to escape something haunting her. Given how little I know beyond the music of this record, her life, or who she is it may simply be the way I hear things but I can't shake the sadness.

The record has all the roots of black music showing themselves, Jazz and Blues dominate the spectrum but shades of Soul, Gospel and R&B creek into the fold and most noticeably the opening tracks "Be My Husband" has the dominating clank of a chain gang song, the singing between often tailing of with soulful vocal afflictions. Its a rather short run of songs bolstered by the ten minute Sinnerman which stands out for its, in comparison, ambitious song structure which grows and broods in a healthy amount of repetition. The best moments for me are the sadder songs, that's when her voice illuminates and becomes truly special.

Favorite Tracks: Be My Husband, End Of The Line, Tell Me More And Then Some, Strange Fruit
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Code "Resplendent Grotesque" (2009)

Continuing my foray into a variety of Black Metal records we have another British record, Resplendent Grotesque, which is Surrey based Code's sophomore record. It initially did and still doesn't feel like anything personally special to me, however with repeated listens it becomes apparent just how much vocalist Kvohst's voice dominates the tone, giving the grotesque something unique, a chemistry to call its own. Armed with an arsenal of chord arrangements, guitarist Aort also brings a defined and different sound. With shrill, intense guitar tones he pushes a continually disenchanting smothering of discordance resonating from intricately plucked strings interchanging with chord shredding that is constantly scaling itself.

It mostly seems akin to a Post-Black Metal sound, yet rather then being atmospheric and absorbing, the record feels like a hell ride of discomfort and torment. Kvohst's estranged afflictions mingling within a powerful, burly yet higher ranged clean vocal add a very humanistic and suffering tone to an otherwise demonic and monstrous record. The light never seeps in, just a continual haze of fiery, unforgiving grimace. When some respite is offered, it is unsurprisingly gloomy and downtrodden. Only Kvohst's voice offers any sympathy to the darkness we endure on this adventure. It has been enjoyable, nothing seemed to resonate that much so I am left wondering if some absence will let the shape of this record click into place as one can appreciate what another would find genius about it.

Favorite Tracks: Smother The Crones, Possession Is The Medicine, Jesus Fever
Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Johnny Cash "American Recordings" (1994)

Knowing the reverence and notoriety of Johnny Cash made approaching this post a little daunting. With a career spanning fifty years across six decades and over ninety albums produced, there is an abundance to be said about his music that critics and enthusiasts alike will be talking about for time to come. Ive only heard The Ring Of Fire and Walk The Line before going into this record. American Recordings intrigued me greatly for two reasons. Firstly It was produced by Rick Rubin who had made a name himself in Metal and Hip Hop, working with the likes of iconic names LL Cool J, Run DMC, Danzig and Slayer. Secondly at this point in time Cash was a broken man, his career in tethers and with Ruben he formed a close friendship that would rekindle his musical fire and restore parts of his life and happiness.

With just a voice and his guitar, Cash can burden you with the depths of his struggle. His deep, baritone voice has the texture of times scars, a weight he holds on his shoulders felt through the catharsis of his expressions. With a deep, soft and alluring voice his hurt soothes with its release as the heavy subjects of life's regrets and struggles are caught in a memorizing bubble that is Cash's heart felt sincerity. Its far from gloomy, as Johnny works through his inner demons, one can feel the redemption as he comes to terms with events transpiring through his poetic lyrics. Its an intense experience that can suck one into the grasp of its simplicity, the acoustic guitar often feeling entirely irrelevant in the shadow of Cash's iconic voice, with exception to a few songs like Thirteen, where the strumming of dingy chords feels like the tone setter.

Going into the record I was expecting some twang and yee-haw! Known as a Country artist, I have to say this is far more personal and Folk like however one track, Tennessee Stud, greatly amuses me for its praise of a regional horse. The real story in the song is overshadowed behind the enthusiastic crowd, cheering all mentions of the horse. This album captures a man coming to terms with many things and turning much of it around, which is parallel to the critical and commercial response, which makes a lot of sense If you think about it. Ruben's minimalist approach to production seems a perfect fit for Cash's needs, however knowledge of their strong friendship makes me think the revival of this man goes far beyond the production we can hear on this fine record.

Favorite Tracks: Delia's Gone, The Beast In Me, Thirteen, Like A Soldier
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Pallbearer "Foundations Of Burden" (2014)

Praised as their best work, this sophomore record from the Arkansas Doom Metal outfit Pallbearer has all the measured, weighty wonder of its successor yet strips back most of its prettier, gleaming guitar tones and melodic, Progressive Rock influences. I am talking in reverse however, this record that came before it has scale and craft protruding from its dense and meaty lunge of crunchy, fuzzy guitars accommodated by slow burgeoning drums. They form a stunning atmospheric setting, its mood caught between natural beauty and mortal sorrow.

Foundations Of Burden feels closer to the formula of sluggish, punishing paces and dreary, gloomy atmospheres associated with Doom Metal. Some sections reveal their simple construct with minimal guitar work between the strikes of bass kicks and lonely hi-hats but despite this the tempo shifts and guitar work can erode all sense of structure and repetition that is commonplace as a web of expression unravels itself beyond all tropes. In these moments it feels like the music escapes its own limitations, the layering of guitar leads and stunning vocals has the music blossoming into vivid, indulgent places.

Some of its riffs are aggressive and grooving on paper but the warm fuzzy distortion tone and lack of urgency in performances spins so much of what is "Metal" into feeling like the distortion is almost irrelevant to what it creates. The heart of the music is in the melody and voices of Campbell and Holt, the grizzly belly of drawn out power chords only drives the music when all engines fire, otherwise it drifts into a commonplace setting however this push and pull is essential to the magic that unfolds as these songs progress into wondrous places. Really memorable record!

Favorite Track: The Ghost I Used To Be
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 5 March 2018

Keep Of Kalessin "Armada" (2006)

With an itch requiring scratching I recently picked out a few records by bands Ive yet to hear in a guide to Black Metal list that fortunately didn't focus on the classics I know inside out. It shone its light on overlooked and underrated albums from lesser known bands. Armada keenly caught my attention in comparison with Emperor's classic Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk. Interestingly enough Keep Of Kalessin, who Id never heard of before, were active in Norway during the scenes formation years but due wavering commitments of drummer Larsen, who was touring with Satyricon, it took him a decade to settle down and focus on the project as his main ambition, leading to a string of albums of which this was the first released.

Armada's sharp, angular tone of shrill ripping guitars and rigid hellbent drums blasting at dizzying intensity had me initially finding this one hard to get into. As with this genre more than any other, repetition is key! The old lesson of familiarity, letting the music blossom, however Vengeance Rising will always test my boundaries with its utterly ridiculous and inhuman blast beat that pushes tempos as hard as they can go. The record is full of breezing bursts of pace and eruptions of anger, bearing the hallmarks of blast beats, arriving in common, yet frequently impressive fashion. There is no arguing over Larsens talent, his rapid feet and dexterous arms make for a distinctive flavor.

With his wild rattling barrages of drums at the forefront of much of the music it takes on quite an aggressive attitude, the fast and thrashing guitar work charges at its side with plenty of all out tremolo shredding and technical chugging grooves plucked in between, plunging towards the listener with a racing pace. The antagonizing screams of Isaksen linger in constant menace as burly howls are unleashed with a shrill roughness that's rarely trying to win you over, however the breaks to ancient, cultural, Viking choral chants conjure a lot of atmosphere in comparison, its unfortunately infrequent.

The second track, Crown Of Kings, sets a bar the rest of the record doesn't keep up with. That song has whats missing, progression. Its chaotic opening riffs whirl away through fiery intensity that builds, builds and then importantly gives way. A few minutes in the drum drop to half time and an upbeat baseline ques in a moment to breath as the guitars gleam in a glittery riff. Its the shift in gears that made Emperor's aforementioned effort so fantastic and this record really feels like in needed those breaks, because without them its intensity is unrelenting and that can be burdening. I do think that was the artistic intent here and it is mostly fantastic but a lack of fluid respite in the music made it a little to strong for me.

Favorite Tracks: Crown Of The Kings, Winged Watcher, Deluge, Amada
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Krtis Blow "The Best Of Kurtis Blow" (1994)

My adoration of Hip Hop, its fascinating origin story and evolution, has put a lot of names in my mind, some of which Ive yet to get around to. Hearing Kurtis Blow's break out single The Breaks recently from 1980 had me itching to check out the Rapper who's name Id heard a thousand times over. The song itself wasn't particularly defining of Kurits because its essentially a remake of Rappers Delight with an interchangeable instrumental and signature baseline aesthetic and playing. Either way I was impressed by Blow's easy going rhymes and steady old school flow and since his records are like gold dust to find, the best I could get my hands on was a best of compilation CD released six years after his run of eight back to back albums.

All these songs take place before N.W.A and Public Enemy, they are fun, care free and strangely innocent in retrospect. Kurtis picks many surface level topics, stitching light rhymes together that string references and simple expressions about basketball, America, parties and even some festive rapping. Even when Hard Times rolls around Kurtis spins a positive mentality response to struggles he barely scratches the surface of. Its all light and smiley, the rhyme schemes seeming almost comical given the feats rappers would go on to do. Its essentially the blueprint of that old school era.

The music is great, Blow's flow is powerful, pronounced and lively. The instrumentals are of their time, heavily Disco influenced, with a dash of Funk spice and a sprinkling of Synthpop production its all as crisp, punchy and pronounced as Kurtis himself. Some songs topic are a bit drab like the ultra patriotic America and obnoxious AJ Scratch with its awkward chorus singing. I made a fun discovery with If I Ruled The World, a song Nas would rebuild with its chorus and sampling from Tears For Fears on his Stillmatic album. That's one of the reasons I love exploring Hip Hop's history, there is much connectivity to learn and although this isn't something I'll listen to often, it was really great to enjoy another slice of the Hip Hop evolution.

Favorite Songs: The Breaks, Christmas Rappin
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Migos "Culture" (2017)

I wasn't moved by their break out hit Versace at all but having heard the Migos mentioned so often recently I figured I would give the American Hip Hop trio a try. I didn't expect much but walk away really surprised with how much I enjoyed this record. Its one half dope beats and another half comedy as these soon-to-be-dated over stylized trendy vocal sounds utterly dorky and ridiculous to the point where I find myself chuckling away at the "skrt skrt" noises and other comical sounds they conjure up, not to mention a rap from Lil Uzi Vert who sounds slightly concussed in his rhymes.

The production here, handled by many hands, is tight, crisp and modern. A spacious approach leaves lots of room for the excessive reverberations to bounces around in the space between instruments. Trap influenced hi-hat grooves rattle away over sub base kicks that snappy snares pop off of. Simplistic short melodies play steadily on pianos and similar synthetic sounds with occasional symphonic strings and the like in the backdrop. The tempo is steady and track after track sounds sharp, slick, laid back and oddly relaxing with a slight air of danger and eeriness on a handful of numbers. Its just the right atmosphere for the Migos to do their thing.

Lyrically... the verses are lacking substance, not a lot of the lines stuck with me beyond acknowledging the excessive braggadocio however I felt these modern and triplet flows were pulled of really well, lots of the vocals resonate in the atmosphere and the use of auto tune and pitch shifting effects felt aesthetically pleasing. Some of the records most memorable lines were essentially borderline gibberish but the delivery kept getting them wedged in my mind however the most fun was with the strange sound effect alike vocals making "pew pew pew" and other strange noises over the shoulder of the rapper on the mic. It amused me greatly.

Rating: 6/10
Favorite Tracks: Bad And Boujee, Deadz

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Machine Head "Catharsis" (2018)

 Four years since their last effort Bloodstone & Diamonds the American Groove Metal outfit return with a lengthy seventy four minute record that has divided opinions across the board. I was somewhat unexcited about Catharsis for the aspects that Ive ended up enjoying it for. Machine Head peaked with The Blackening back in 2007, a riot of a record that's worthy of being mentioned alongside the best Metal records ever unleashed upon the world. Since then their output has felt like stagnation, more of the same sound and so I went into this record hoping they would do something new. Whats ironic is there attempts to broaden their horizons are an utter turn off and the predictable Machine Head is here in droves sounding pretty wild and fun!

Stomping, chugging grooves, bendy, bouncy riffs and the razor sharp gleam of stiff guitar leads wail away in their typical uniform. The opening three tracks throw together some cracking riffs held together with lyrics to sing along to. These numbers will fit great into the live show but the next stretch from California Bleeding to Bastards sees singer Robb Flynn attempt to break the mold firstly with his voice, embracing the rougher, grouchy and musky, liquor stained attitude. Plain language, the blunt vulgarity and graphic story telling weighs down the atmosphere with its downtrodden tone. Going into Bastards the instrumental tries to come along with him into uncomfortable territory, reaching beyond their grasp it falls flat.

The soreness of failed experimentation casts quite the shadow over this record as the reasonable portion is great if not atypical of the band who are sinking into a broad range of ideas they have covered before in the past. They do however get their experimentation right on Behind A Mask, echos of Spanish guitars and the gentle build up to soothing, soft vocals, soaring in the moment is wonderful. Given its length and lack of unification in theme, Catharsis is really just a big cluster of songs from a band saying "here you go, have fun". If I were to cut the time in half and fill it with my favorites It would make a killer record, however its bogged down by a lack of filter and purposeful direction they were able to maintain on previous albums.

Favorite Songs: Volatile, Catharsis, Screaming At The Sun, Behind A Mask
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 26 February 2018

Saturnian "Dimensions" (2012)

Plucked straight from the mystic realms of symphonic darkness, the Reading based band Saturnian leave us with just a single record from their short four year lifespan. Fans of Dimmu Borgir, Old Man's Child and Aeons Confer will rejoice in these Britons classy execution of the sound the Norwegians pioneered and popularized. Sharp, crisp Black Metal fused with the wondrous sounds of astral symphonies give us a rich experience with all the hallmarks, including a helping of clean vocals breaks and keyboard led interludes. There are no surprises here, just quality songs performed and recorded like the best of them do it.

And so the album unfolds with a temperate pacing, a measured consistent intensity. The drums batter away with pacy blast beats and plenty of double pedal rolls as they continually shift between the common beats of this sound. Its involved, always having a hand in steering the direction but never feels to upfront, a good balance for the overall feel. Its the keys and guitars that steal the show. They have a formative chemistry, the guitars shred out tremolo leads and linear grooves while the airy synths enrich the atmosphere, however at any moment either can jump into focus as the driving melody of the music with orchestral symphonies and blazing solos.

The raspy, scowling vocals aren't much to be desired, more of something Ive become accustom too, they taunt at the forefront of the sound with little sinking in. Its the choral chants of burly men and the effeminate clean vocals that are most illuminating for the music as a whole. Its expansive melodic sections leaning into Gothic territory in brief moments very akin to fellow Britons Cradle Of Filth. In summary its simply a great record exploring a well established sound. It brings nothing new to the table but that doesn't stop it from being very enjoyable and engrossing.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 23 February 2018

Childish Gambino "Awaken, My Love!" (2016)

Upon its release I was immediately drawn to the memorizing, neon yet tribal album cover, It sucked me in, I wanted know more. After hearing just a single track on Youtube I was buzzing with excitement and then some how... its two years later. Only now have I finally gotten around to this record and I have clearly missed out on music that will keep giving for years to come. The multi talented Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, who got the persona name from an online Wu-Tang name generator, ditches his rapping and follows his gut for a truly inspired wild ride.

"Awaken, My Love!" Is a bold and vivid, psychedelic journey through shades of 70s sounds re-imagined with a bright, colorful intensity that's lively and engrossing. Its a luscious tapestry of sounds, never static, always animated, going through the motions as a wide pallet of instruments get involved between songs. The infectious grooves of Funk, sensibilities of Jazz, soothing vibrations of Soul, the jive of Disco and singing voices of R&B all echo through a trippy, humanistic soundscape. The union of electronic and natural instruments is effortless and a keen ear can hear such a wonderful array of sounds working in tandem, it all sounds gorgeous.

As a record its a fun experience but its not without its flaws. Despite every song having its own flair, a lot of the tracks slip into feeling more like jams than songs built on direction. As a result much of the record feels interchangeable, sometimes grounded and other times loosely themed. Where Donald moves from rapping to singing his presence isn't that powerful and his full singing voice is not far off the mark but it feels like he compensates with artistic inflections and stylized, softer vocals on most tracks. As a result he is rarely the focal point of the music and all to often his backup singers outshine him. When he comes to the front, his quieter approach lulls as the music often outpaces him.

This is a small picking in a big package, this album is loaded with goodness but sometimes these details let you understand whats holding it back from becoming greater. There's a lack of hooks or punchy moments and little of the singing gets stuck in the mind. The music plays like an ooze of flowing awsum that's just to fall where it may. Its needed a bigger helping of direction and focus but despite that its still really wonderful. Shame its the last from Childish Gambino who has retired the project.

Favorite Tracks: Me And Your Mama, Riot, Redbone, Terrified, Baby Boy
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Brockhampton "Saturation III" (2017)

This third chapter in Brockhampton's hasty trilogy has been the least exciting of the three. Its another thick jam of voices with a variety of beats showing little if any overarching themes or concepts to hold the songs together. The return of Spanish spoken interludes and serine singing over gleaming acoustic guitars on "Team" affirms some consistency in approach but with frequent listens I find myself unable to be sucked into their world, or whatever it is critics are raving about. For me, the lyrical substance falls short of making itself known and clever rhymes and keen ideas fall flat without a punch of meaning behind the rap facade, it comes across as a cluster of ideas.

The record does however kick of with a banging tune, "Boogie" is a wonderfully energetic song with a lot of hype and animation about it. It edges being noisy and slightly chaotic yet I could totally envision heating it on the radio. Its "wow wow" siren goes on and on yet never gets irritating! Everyone jumping on the mic has a lot of energy however I feel like the beat carries a lot of mediocre lines on this track and again for most of the record. That's about all I have to say, its made the least impression on me out of the three, Ill be curious to see whats next but I'm not really feeling where its currently at.

Favorite Tracks: Boogie, Team
Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Harm's Way "Posthuman" (2018)

Hailing from Chicago Illinois, Harm's Way are a Hardcore five-piece outfit who have been at it for twelve years, recently putting out this release, their forth full length record. I can't decide if its the music of Posthuman, or my apatite for excessively aggressive music dwindling that's minimized my enjoyment. Harm's Way are just a step behind the cutting edge and thirty three minutes of this dense, meaty pummeling anger echos too many shades of other bands for something unique to emerge.

Coming from Hardcore and Metalcore roots, one can hear a pursuit of aggressive aesthetics overtaking the core of their sound as the continual barrage of fiery riffs assaults on a tonal level before the music itself, in other words mediocre riffs propped up by intense textures. Mammoth crunchy guitar distortions and punchy drum strikes hammer away in unison through a production that compresses as much sound into tiny spaces as it can, giving the music a claustrophobic, suffocating power when its guitars chug away at full pelt. It doesn't go to the extremes that a band like Nails do but one can hear the creaks and groans of extreme distortion ready to burst at the seems.

In a guitar dominated record, their Hardcore riffs often feel extenuated with a touch of Grindcore's ferociousness. The syncopation of Nu Metal riffs from days gone by delineates its influence and the bounce of Groove Metal jumps into more persuasive breakdown riffs. A couple of songs exhort Industrial Metal tonalities, pounding beats with mechanical, industrious drives from the drummer. The song Temptation feels like a direct response to Code Orange who have been experimenting with mixing atmosphere guitar dissonance leading into sonic beat downs, the song is akin to some of theirs and despite being decent feels like a carbon copy.

The album plays through with a very consistent intensity, which is much the same of their one dimensional singer. In the first half its more in sync with my words so far and as the last few songs roll around it feels as if their roots come across stronger. The Gift however sounds very inspired by Godflesh. All in all there is not a lot that stands out here for anything other than being too similar to sounds I'm exhausting my apatite for. Its a fair record with little to criticize but without that spark of excitement for something new and fresh it quickly becomes dull.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 16 February 2018

AZ "Doe Or Die" (1995)

A year beforehand Brooklyn rapper AZ made his debut with Nas on Hip Hop's finest record, Illmatic. Although its mark as the epitome of smooth 90s beats and Nas's poetical flows take much the praise, critics rarely fail to mention AZ who illuminated himself with an unforgettable opening verse on "Life's A Bitch". The pair team up again on a couple of tracks for his solo debut "Doe Or Die" which follows in a similar vein, smooth jazzy samples complimenting rugged grooving drum beats with a barrage of swift, intelligent lyricism that rolls of rhymes faster than you can digest them.

The album defines itself through the lyrical vibes of an emerging Mafioso Rap sub genre, AZ's slick technical flow is idealistic for the fast flipping of crime family imagery, he drops names of known criminal figures between that of expensive brands, luxurious goods and of course plenty of word play in the firearm department. Talk of excessive wealth, luxury living mixed in with the contrasting world of government agencies spying and the paranoia of Illuminati organizations paints the tone intensely. Samples clipped from mafioso movies and slick instrumentals find themselves on a similar wavelength however the production is rather varied, the title borders on a West Coast G-Funk sound with its ghetto whistles for a song fondly reminiscent of Skee-Lo, while other tracks like "Sugar Hill" move on different vibes with deep rumbling low-fi baselines and R&B singers in the choruses.

Eleven tracks handled by nine produces is understandably mixed but a few weaker cuts have it falling short of variety as a strength. It strikes pure gold when AZ and Nas team up on "Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide" the two teeing up their best rhymes, sweating out luxurious criminality spoils between the violence and murder. Much like Nas, AZ paints a vivid picture with his words, and that technical, swift flow of his is engrossing, especially when he drops into story telling. He brings a wealth of material to the mic but somewhere between his abundance of talent and varying degrees of production it feels as if the brilliance is only glimpsed at. Immensely enjoyable record but leaves me feeling it fell short of being truly special.

Favorite Tracks: Gimme Yours, Sugar Hill, Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide, Doe Or Die
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Röyksopp "The Understanding" (2005)

Röyksopp are a Norwegian duo of producers in the realm of Electronic music I found through fellow Norwegians, the Black Metal group Enslaved. Their cover of "What Else Is There?" had my curiosity sparked but imagine my excitement when none other than Karin Dreijer aka Fever Ray is the lead vocal on the track. It instantaneously felt like a song close to my heart and one I known I'll enjoy for years to come. I am a little saddened that she was just a feature on that track alone. I thought I had unearthed another project of hers but alas I wanted to listen to the whole record anyways.

The Understanding feels very much of its era, a post-Daft Punk Discovery world of Electronic pop music echoing shades of Techno, House, Downtempo and Trip Hop. It finds its feet with an appropriation of gentle, unobtrusive, calming music to politely invite you into its smooth and simple world. Temperate drum patterns groove on steady, repetitive beats and the range of synthesizer sounds drift from obscure and quirky, electronic and robotic all the way to light soft airy synths that linger in the atmosphere. A few songs into the record it builds up some gusto as the music expands with lively energetic drums and jiving baselines that play off Disco vibes of times gone by.

Alpha Male sticks out us a lengthy track that lures you in with its soft cinematic opening, slowly building its pace an intensity into an explosion of Electronic Progressive Rock on a exploratory tangent ever so similar to the ideas executed by Contact on their records. Its a warm, inviting record with little to fault other than being somewhat too subtle at times. Its always interesting, never quite engrossing bar a handful of songs that step away from the slow start the record kicks off with.

Favorite Tracks: What Else Is There?, Alpha Male, Dead To The World
Rating: 6/10

Monday, 12 February 2018

Goodie Mob "Soul Food" (1995)

 Welcome to the Dirty South! A term supposedly coined here on this debut record from the four piece group Goodie Mob, closely associated with fellow Atlantians Outkast. Both Andre 3000 and Big Boi feature on the record, their voices but mostly production by Organized Noise, home in on those laid back, smooth southern vibes they established a year beforehand. Soul Food is a rugged affair, tight punchy beats charmed by the accent of Jazz, Soul and R&B set a serious tone for a weight of rich, meaningful substance entirely fitting of the records title.

Its a decisive collection of reflection and introspection, the usual topics of street life, the drug game and racial tensions in American life feel urgent, on the edge as the energy of these four rappers bring has words bursting at the seems as emotions spill over the mic from their intensity. With deep burly voices pushing powerful pronunciations as they flow, the message in their words is felt with sincerity. Unlike a lot of other Hip Hop records, they stick very firmly to their point. Barely an inch of braggadocio or flaunting makes its way into the lyrics which track by track approach an abundance of topics, dissecting, reflecting, providing the listener with a wealth of thought to dive into.

As Cee-Lo says on "fighting" featuring Joi, the name Goodie Mob stands for The Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit. It illuminates the statement and intention of the group who debut with a classic record. The whole sixty minutes stay on track with a consistent string of indulgent beats that set a laid back tone with an under current of sorrow fit for fruitful expression through rhymes. There is little to flaw here other than my own enjoyment which has been a little muted as of late, possibly due to other stresses in life. I think this record is fantastic now but when I return to it in the future I'm sure its going to click on another level of appreciation.

Favorite Tracks: Dirty South, Guess Who, Live At The O.M.N.I., Goodie Bag, Soul Food
Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Pallbearer "Heartless" (2017)

Smooth, serine harmonies and scenic wonder wrapped in sadness, Arkansas based Pallbearer reinvent the Doom metal sound to their own liking, at least to my ears. Having not had a lot of experience with the genre Ive mostly come to know it for sluggish pacing, dense morbid atmospheres and gaunt guttural vocals that explore a romanticism with sadness and depression. Pallbearer on the other hand seem to explore that plane from a balcony of gleam and glory, turning this undercurrent of wallow into a luminous, uplifting crusade through the epics of the soundscape we traverse, of course that feeling of burden and melancholy lingers not far behind.

With an inviting, tonally pleasing yet dense and thick measure of distortion guitars we are lured into a dazzling arrangement of riffs, licks and leads that melt and ooze over one another in an endlessly animated, yet steady, movement of music. Guiding the motion, tight crispy drums pack a crunchy punch as the gorgeous production gives them a spacious, primed setting to work around the involved riff work. Coursing over the ornate arrangements of unfolding magic, singer Cambell illuminates much of the record with serine vocals that saddle the lines between power and vulnerability, sadness and gleam as the instrumentals lure us into spotlights for him to overwhelm the musics persuasion.

What is most charming for me is the attraction of opposites, the doom and gloom finds itself rubbing up against beaming guitars with potent a brew of indulging melody. They have the tone and texture of aggression and force, the rumble and grit of distortion cries out yet its execution is delicate and measured, finding dimension for the anger to bleed out and the meaning prevail. This feels like a record ill have fun with for some time, it has certainly made an impression and as a friend pointed out, it has that faithful re-imagining of Metal ideals much like the band Ghost. Definitely getting their first two albums now, which I have heard are supposed to be even better than this!

Favorite Track: Cruel Road
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Kaitlyn Ayrelia Smith "The Kid" (2017)

Its an involved, vivid experience... zany, eccentric and astral, "The Kid" is wild ride through a tapestry of electronic quirks and swirling synthesizers reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, engulfed in an intelligent, synthetic Art Pop construct. I saw this release in a few lists, noticeably in some "Avant-garde" sections. Its American composer Kaitlyn's sixth full length in as many years with a consistent output that seems to be building steam among critics. Unfortunately I do not share their praise, for all its vivid intensity and use of marveling sounds, I found such sounds mostly novelty with little emotional cohesion between her voice and the accompanying journey through sounds. Some passageways have direction, a sense of rise and full but a large half load in a calamity of colliding sounds that don't visualize anything too obvious.

"An Intention" Is the one song where passion and emotion pervade in the instrumental which scales back its quirkiness and gives focus to Kaitlyn's synthesized voice, always heard through some mix of multi harmonized pitch shifting. The human robotic tone is utterly engrossing as words and sung notes sway between the two ends. Its atmosphere is mysterious, nocturnal and very akin to the Fever Ray self titled record, yet it has as greater freedom in its instrumental to explore as winds whoosh and alien organ synths gleam maddening melodies over the steady, slow murmuring bass kick.

Its the a rare time across all thirteen tracks that balance is achieved, for in most the other tracks her voice plays second fiddle to a swarm of quirky, adventurous, playful sounds exploiting the dimensional space of the listener with mysterious manipulations and smothering them in a dense web of intricate noises which mostly have little melodic value. It could be considered an "experimental" approach but it feels as if the point is missed. A lot of the synthesized noises, often imitating natural, jungle sounds, feel messy and unorganized, the result yielding little spark or pizzazz to get excited about beyond aesthetics. It has certainly been an interesting experience but its hard to enjoy what feels like a deliberate move away from convention when the convention clearly works wonders. There are plenty of fruitful ideas and interesting compositions here, to often do they seem to steer away intentionally.

Favorite Track: An Intention
Rating: 4/10

Monday, 5 February 2018

Brockhampton "Saturation II" (2017)

The second of three released in 2017, Saturation II is unsurprisingly very much in the same vein as its predecessor. Hip Hop collective Brockhampton from Texas hastily put together this record just a couple months after their last and in terms of production you wouldn't of guessed it. Sixteen tracks of tight hitting quirky beats and banging grooves make for a lively, energetic album that's mostly a ton of fun, with a sprinkling of illuminated instruments like "Sunny" that leaps to your attention with its glorious, luscious acoustic guitar conjuring soothing vibes counterpart to the hyped energy on the microphone.

Lyrically the large assembly of voices and styles fall wayside in patches as the commonplace cursing and excessive braggadocio dominate the premise of the groups weaker rappers. Much like the last record the album frequently drifts into streams of forgettable nonsense but luckily the gifted few wage in with substance. The track "Junky" is a milestone in terms of topics in Hip Hop, one of the group being openly gay and questioning how homophobic rappers can be. In the same track the topic turns to another progressive train of thought, questioning another trouble of the genre, misogyny, and males attitudes towards women when rhyming on the mic without a filter.

There is a lot of creativity flowing from this group. Their passion, excitement and youthful resilience leads to a freedom unleashed in fruitful ideas, not always hitting the mark but there are great hooks, rhymes and compositions that ooze with fun. Moving forward an ear for filter would suit them well, cutting out the weaker raps, rhymes and dimes this forty eight minutes could of been a killer thirty as it is a little bloated in places but certainly a big step forward from their first endeavor.

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Queer, Jello, Junky, Fight, Sweet, Sunny, Summer

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Bell Witch "Mirror Reaper" (2017)

Seattle based Doom Metal band Bell Witch have topped many lists for best Metal album of 2017. The artwork so reminiscent of Zdzislaw Beksinski and heaps of praise lured me into a record fondly familiar, its acoustic drones reminding me of Earth's Hibernaculum. Packaged as a double album it comprises of two lengthy songs totaling over eighty minutes of deathly slow and bleak Doom Metal that goes to the extremes of pace with several seconds marking the distance between the striking of snares and cymbals. It flirts with temporal timing and lets notes ring out and bellow as the distortion guitars, despite being fairly soft, drone out into a textural fuzz before the next strike is drawn. Its performance is impressive, the art of playing slow seems flawless as the group coordinate immensely slow tempos that seem organically stretch and sway but it is the lethargic nature of the music that makes these instantaneous shifts dissipate from focus.

Tempos aside, Mirror Reaper has a strong current of sorrow and sadness in its atmosphere which drifts between other worlds as the slowest moments yield little presences for melodies to pervade this somber dismay. In doing so an enticing atmosphere is illuminated by distant, sinister chants sung with a choral cleanliness. It does find its counterpart in drawn out gruesome growls, rumbling like a textural layer in the aesthetics. A few grisly howls an shrill screams erupt in one violent, conflicted moment in the music but it is mostly an instrumental affair as the sluggish drones of elongated notes crawls onwards.

For me, this album is interesting, indulgent and oddly soothing, however it never musters anything that quite hits the nerves and that is the same for most Doom and Drone music. The first track's opening twenty minutes is rather enchanting but as the song drifts inwards for grit and gusto its melodies and musters of aggression dispel that atmosphere. The second song is stripped back with faint guitars and ambient echos painting a chilling setting for a lone voice to sing a serine sadness with an almost heavenly voice. For all its beauty, the slow, spacious and minimalist approach sucks much of this away but that is a person preference. It drifts into a morbid, dirge organ solo that really drives home a current of sadness but at this length into the record my attention is a little worn out. I enjoyed checking it out and very much appreciate the brilliance on display but its not quite for me.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 2 February 2018

Cane Hill "Gone To Far" (2018)

Labelled by some as Nu Metal, New Orleans based Cane Hill represent a handful of bands who in recent years have been resurrecting some of the principles and aesthetics from the millennium era music which has been subject to much mockery and hate within the Metal community. To my ears Cane Hill come forth on this sophomore record as a group still figuring out their identity, yet writing fun and cohesive music, wearing their influences proudly for all to see. They bring the best guitar work from Metalcore, Groove Metal and Nu Metal. It collides in a whirl of excitement with a spark of Industrial Metal in the noisy, full on wall of sound, giving these tunes a weighty clout of forceful metallic power with a dense aesthetic.

On first listen singer Elijah Witt makes a very distinctive performance with a variety of approaches to his presence that bares sometime uncanny resemblances to other Metal singers, his range can throw out fiery screams of vengeance to soaring, soft, soothing Chino alike "ohh"s on "Singing In The Swamp". The prior track "Lord Of Lies" chorus sounding like its pulled straight from the Masatdon catalog as his voice elevates the bouncy groove that rumbles and crunches away beneath. Echos of Corey Taylor can be heard but most noticeably Chad Gray of Mudvayne frequently dominating the tone of singing. The slower, crushing moody track "Erased" sounds completely akin to Cray's style in both the unleashing screams and introspective clean moments.

Its no criticism, Elijah has a wonderful talent that's perfectly complimentary to the instrumentals. Being a fan of these bands the record became immediately inviting and appealing. Behind him the chemistry is tight, shuffling bombastic grooves drive the music from the driving seat of drummer Devin Clark who has a knack for finding the right intensity to direct the atmosphere. The guitar work explores all the tropes of the aforementioned genres, slamming in with big chords, chugging gritty grooves and plenty of greasy guitar dissonance with the splicing of harmonics and squeals. The occasional break downs echo some Deathcore ideals but the eruption of racy, dexterous guitar solos keep the music feeling like it can go anywhere and not hedge itself in to one particular vision.

At thirty five minutes with a ripe pallet of ten energetic songs, Gone To Far is an impressive release that shows a ton of promise for the group. I would be somewhat critical to say there is a lack originality or something definitively new about their music but the ability to bring together the best of Metal's most criticized era and make lively music, brimming with excitement, is something to behold. Depending on what the group go on to do next, this could be seen as either a high point, or just an old record that proved they always had it. Definitely going to be keeping up with this band in the future!

Favorite Tracks: Erased, Why?, It Follows
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Dead Can Dance "Into The Labyrinth" (1993)

After a string of five records, Australian duo Dead Can Dance take a little longer to get their next effort out with a compilation released just a year after Aion. It follows a familiar construct of the two exchanging the lead roll as a sole voice over enchanting, cultural instrumentals. Two mesmerizing accapella's make an appearance in the eleven tracks mainly distinguished by an Mediterranean persuasion. First heard in slapped bongo grooves and steady tambourine alike percussion it grows with the record as the melodies feel increasingly sun soaked and the rich tapestry of instruments grows increasingly exotic and foreign with a desert sand tinge.

Its mostly Gerrard who indulges in these traveled voices. Sublime might be an understatement, her singing was under no contest but one has to be taken back by the cultural echos she inhabits with an ever expanding set of voices. Rich in texture and flawless in execution a emotional resonances illuminates her songs. Perry on the other hand often pulls the record back to the mystical, fantasy, medieval side of their sound, choosing to sing on the tracks rooted in sounds previously explored. They two are equally enjoyable but certainly fitting into whats been heard before.

Into The Labyrinth has little surprise. The excellence and inspiration this band can achieve is performed again and perhaps where they could of fully dove into new territory they have tread the lines between two strong ideas for an album most excitable when exploring the aforementioned cultural sounds of heated climates. With balanced measures of complimenting instruments, they once again muster together another set of magical songs to transform your imagination and take you on a journey through other worlds, times and beyond.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Eminem "Soul Intent" (1995)

Although labeled here as an Eminem record, this cassette EP was a self titled release from the Detroit group known as Soul Intent, consisting of Eminem, Proof from D12, plus few others, although on the microphone it is only Em we hear rapping on the two tracks "Fuckin' backstabber" and "Biterphobia". Back in the Napster days this was a godsend to get your hands on this, the earliest recordings known at the time however doing a little research reveals now you can hear recordings of Em rapping as far back as 1988. Astonishing! I thought this was the final piece to cover on Ems roots and although there is more uncovered I will probably not return to writing about them for now...

Comprising of two sets of raps over muddy, dingy beats at cassette quality there may not be much to get excited over here and that is certainly true of the first track. Em still finding his feet shows off his pronunciations skills as he doubles up the consonants of his words in true Das EFX style. The higher pitched voice and vocal inflections are strangely distracting from the flow and strength of his rhymes as they divert attention from the songs narrative. Its a reasonable song but the low fidelity sucks the wind from its sails.

"Biterphobia" is where things get interesting, the beat musters up a lot of atmosphere and urgency in its intro before Em steps to the mic and drops in on a prolific flow. Fast swift and effortless Em breezes through a crafty assemble of tight rhymes that land like knockout blows. Its a moment where his talent comes to fruition in a raw and energetic form as Em raps about spraying spiders with aerosol and lighters. The two songs encapsulate his roots in learning to rap via imitation and where he is heading, finding a voice of his own and defining himself with a brilliant set of rhymes on the second song.

Favorite Track: Biterphobia
Rating: 3/10

Sunday, 28 January 2018

First Aid Kit "Ruins" (2018)

Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna return for their fourth full length record, one I have highly anticipated as their previous release, Stay Gold, resonated with me deeply. Its such a joyous record that has provided me with much warmth in the few years since I discovered it, as much to say it would undoubtedly make a favorite albums of all time list. With the stakes set high and a familiar sound the duo show their influences boldly on a strong and unsurprisingly luscious album with a sense of era and character about it, the album cover reinforcing this concept with a striking chromatic gesture labled by its staple mark seventies font. You wouldn't blink an eyelid if you found this floating around in a box of old crinkled vinyl sleeves.

Ruins comes on strong with more Americana and Country influences the two wear on their sleeves. The slick country tang guitar accents in the opening songs set a strong southern undercurrent amidst a sweet and warm production full of rich instruments. Fleshing out the acoustic strumming, strings, country pianos, additional guitars and wholesome percussion enriches these simple heart felt folk songs. Often complimentary there is a couple of moments where it takes lead over their voices which, as we know, are soft, heavenly and the soul of the music.

Hem Of Her Dress embodies a flaw with this record. A rousing scream mid sentence feels out of place as the sentiment of the song falls misplaced. It slowly builds intensity to an eruption of group singing that lacks charm and a sense of purpose, perhaps in this moment their influences border imitation as the lyrics, in this song and others, feel recreational of the genre's known characteristics. That got me thinking about how little of the lyrics stuck in my mind. Stay Gold was like an introspective awakening, coming to embrace life's finite and ever changing experience, ever lyric offering a wealth of seniority. It felt from the heart where as Ruins references whisky, interstate highways and other topics steeped in a different familiarity.

I'm sad to say this one hasn't struck a chord with me, Its opening tracks start out strong and Fireworks has some surreal moonlight singing to tug at your heartstrings but as the record stretches on the spark fizzles out as the southern country feel outpaces the songwriting. Although a stunning sounding record, their beautiful voices only go so far to make these songs work. The lyrics don't resonate and so a very pretty sounding record dulls as it stretches on. Its unfortunate but that's just how I heard this one.

Favorite Track: Fireworks
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Summoning "As Echoes From The World Of Old" (2018)

To compliment their new full length album, With Doom We Come, the Austrian duo Summoning release a fifteen minute, two track EP from the same recording session. The first a steady burning flame of nine minutes journeying its burly guitar droning and hunching Nazgul screams through an epic landscape marked by the pounding of deep Orkish drums and continual melodic inflections on a mysterious harp like instrument. Its climaxed by a warm flute melody that rides above the music and ads a focal point for the song as it drops in and out with more accompanying instruments harmonizing like empowering trumpets each time.

It gives the song a sense of linage which the second track doesn't get close to. With a gloomier, thicker guitar dominance and the returning pounding of tribal drums its similar construct and steady pace doesn't achieve the same charm as its complimenting melodies stem from a more sorrowful, uneventful source of imagination. These two, more primitive songs, could of made the final cut but you can see why they are bonus tracks, they are rather simplistic and repetitive. A fair setting is conjured but it doesn't scale near the heights of the full length.

Favorite Track: As Echoes From The World Of Old
Rating: 2/10

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Eminem "The Slim Shady EP" (1997)

My recent dive back into the roots of Rap titan Eminem has left me with one other rare release to talk about beyond this character defining EP. Its an understatement to say it was a flop, shifting only 250 copies it was another step backwards from the failed Infinite album. Thank goodness this found its way to Dr.Dre at Interscope, how this release didn't make waves in the Detroit scene seems absurd retrospectively. The tone of this record indicates it may have been his last attempt at making it in the rap game too, who would of known this struggle would take him so far!

The record name is a direct link to the Slim Shady LP, Eminem fully defining the character that would inhabit his major label debut here on this EP. One cut is identical and two others would have the instrumentals remixed for the LP. With two skits and a pair of radio edits you'll find three songs that didn't make it to the album, "No Ones Iller" a lyrical mic passing, the D12 group upping each other with dark, gritty, offensive lyrics set to shock anyone in sight. "Murder, Murder" a gloomy, downtrodden storytelling Eminem walks us through a crazed loot and murder spree with a tragic tone and vivid, violent lyricism that's got an utterly oozing flow.

And then there's "Low Down Dirty" which could essentially be the Slim Shady anthem, Em loading his smartest self depreciating lyrics and rhymes, talking of self inflicted gun wounds, molesting himself and getting convicted, his split personality having an identity crisis and the classic line, "Murder murder, red rum, brain size of a bread crumb, which drug will I end up dead from?". Its a brilliant string of rhymes with a cheeky lifted hook, Em instructs to smack anyone who sounds like him, and question the origin of the raps, precisely as Redman did with the same words. Its a brilliant song and it, like the other two, could sweetly fit into the LPs track list.

That brings us on to the production. Working with DJ Head, DJ Rec and the Bass Brothers, Em has the same tone and vibe we would here on the LP, despite being self funded and released on a small indie label there is very little between this and the breakout that would sell millions of records. Everything is essentially fully formed here, the surviving songs would get some polish and reworking on the LP but all of Em's rhymes stay intact, even the recordings are the from the same session I believe. One thing it has over that record is the birth of the Slim Shady character on the cinematic intro, an evil voice birthed into the mind of Eminem who has to confront himself in the mirror, Its a real treat, as is the whole EP.

Favorite Tracks: Low Down Dirty, Just Dont Give A Fuck, Just The Two Of Us, Murder Murder
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Danzig "V Blackacidevil" (1996)

Given the streak of four solid, successive records I was expecting a downturn at some point along the line in the Danzig legacy, however this drastic shift in style was not anticipated. With vague echos of their former identity lurking in the shadows, the group choose to reinvent their sound in a different vein. Released the same year as Antichrist Superstar, they move into the currently exploding Industrial Metal scene. Vocally this performance sounds very akin to Nine Inch Nails on one track, Danzig himself ditching the voice that made the project dazzle in favor softly sung, half spoken verses in the same fashion as Trent Reznor. Mostly though he adopts another familiar approach, the distant yet channeled shout, that of Ministry's Al Jourgensen.

Initially all of this was a bit much to stomach, a harsh and rigid tone fronts the listener as its chiseling, roaring guitars drone under a dense layers of sampled drum loops and the drummer churning out steady grooves to keep the tempo. An unsurprising compliment of machine like synths whirl and buzz out half melodies on Industrial sounding noises to thicken a lifeless texture. It all forms into a clatter of noise which mostly has little charm. A lack of groove, energy or purpose dominates the dull vibes as the songs mull through simple song structures with the odd mustering of unusual sounds within breaks. It really comes off like an imitation game of sorts, with Danzig missing the mark.

With familiarity a couple of better songs emerge but mostly for being more tolerable in a string of unexciting, tedious Industrial drones. Although the production style initially seemed a stiff and harsh it turned out the lack of melody and texture to the songwriting gave it a rough entry point. As my ears adjusted across several listens it become apparent the music itself was the real problem. Their racket of a cover of Black Sabbath's "Hand Of Doom" another low point on a record that only produced two good songs at best, their attempt to follow in the footsteps of others a disappointing one. They threw away a golden sound, I can only hope the sixth chapter gets back to what they are great at doing.

Favorite Track: Sacrifice
Rating: 3/10

Monday, 22 January 2018

Eminem "The Marshall Mathers LP" (2000)

Having crash landed into the mainstream music world, Eminem swiftly followed up on his brilliant and wildly controversial Slim Shady LP with a prolific and monumental record that would smash sales records and go to ship massive volumes of sales. Commercial success aside it was an artistic statement the world had never heard before, Em dropping his Slim Shady persona, for all but one song, and striking back hard and critics and fans alike. Em didn't take kindly to fame and the heat he came under for his lyrics, in response he mustered this firestorm of emotion lashing out in all in his path.

If the despairing self parody of Slim Shady, drenched in drug abuse and self harm, wasn't enough, Em stepping back from his character and coming from his heart proved to be an even more violent and troubled affair. His emotional expression manifested to new extremities with alarming tracks like "Kill You" about raping his mother and the wildly theatrical "Kim" where he in-acts a frightening argument between the two and eventual torturous murders of his wife. The enormity of his struggles channeled through his raw talent makes for a level of involving song writing unheard of before.

At the time it was Em's make or break record, unsure if his fate would be that of a one hit wonder, the pressures funneled into a wildly reactionary record that would fuel the flames of controversy higher than ever, to the extent that protest groups brought it federal courts to discuss if it would be banned. Of course freedom of speech protected, all this would do is aid sales as it brought more and more attention to the rapper. With memorable MTV Award performances and a duet with Elton John at the grammys Em had forever solidified his place in music history in just a couple of years after many more as a struggling artist no one would take seriously.

Controversy and sales aside, The Marshall Mathers LP is a frozen slice of time spent inside the mind of an artist thrusted to the forefront of the worlds attention. Its reactionary nature is genius and from the keenest mind with cutting edge rhyming schemes and an undeniable flow comes a slew of consciousness that crushes all in its path. Em also brings on more guests voices, the likes of RBX and D12 upping the anti with equally vile and destructive lyricism who can never have the last laugh with Em dropping classics like "When I go out, I'm a go out shooting, not when I die, when I go to the club stupid" and "We don't do drive bys, we park in front of houses and shoot", his verses crush, its pure menace.

The record has a couple of "sequels" with Dr.Dre and Snoop teaming up to reinvent Xzibit's Bitch Please. Its a masterclass production from Dre and Mel-Man who could of easily snuck it in Dre's 2001 record. Drug Ballad is admittedly a weaker song in a string of classics but one can't help but notice the similar beat and flow to "Cum On Everybody", both are the 13th track and this song feels like a bridge between the two records. While we are talking on specific tracks I couldn't pass up on "The Way I Am" and "Stan". Two dark and harrowing songs of lyrical genius, both singles that would thrust dark subject matter to the top of the charts. The first a vivid, animated, passonate response to his critics and memorably defending Marylin Manson in a couple of lines. "Stan" is a work of art, rapped from the perspective of Em and a deranged fan exchanging letters. The scribbling of pencils and cinematic sound design but wholly the back and forth story telling has solidified it forever as a truely timeless song.

Its all been said before and it will be talked about for time to come. For me It all happened at the beginning of my love for music and every time you turned on MTV this guy was killing it. Fond memories but listening to it back all these years later its as air tight as it was then. The level of profanity and alarming lyrics that went over my head as a kid is a curiosity of sorts, especially the amount of Columbine references with Em rapping of stolen trench coats and machine guns reaching kids... There is certainly more to this record than I realized at the time but its brilliance has never been in question. A must listen for anyone who's curious.

Favorite Tracks: Stan, Remember Me, Amtyvile, Bitch Please II, Criminal
Rating: 10/10

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Brockhampton "Saturation" (2017)

Having heard nothing other than hype and praise of this fourteen strong Hip Hop collective from Texas, I walk away from their debut album, one of three released last year, somewhat disappointed. Brockhampton certainly have character and a style that is their own but their best comes among a mixed bag of tricks. They do however, at times, represent the traditional focus of beats and rhymes against the current trend of Mumble Rap and glossy trap beats, so It felt more at home having rhyme schemes to follow. That being said various members of the group drop in with loose flows and trendy auto-tune hooks too. Its pulled from a different angle but not always hitting the mark.

The instrumentals prop up a lot of this record with spacial textural arrangements creating a back bone of quirky flavor and depth in the sound, feeling both interesting, lasting and very synthetic. Deep growling baselines drop in and out as an assortment of instruments, vocals snippets and the like create an inviting, zany mood to indulge in as its light presence provides both the tone and interest for a keen ear picking out the various manipulations and construct of these well crafted beats ranging from soft and swooning to dark, gritty and Industrial alike grooves. Not everything pulls off well but the constant flow of luminous beats makes for a fun listen with plenty of tunes to get stuck in your mind as well as classic lines like "Ill break your neck so you can watch your back".

Diversity is the records hallmark but not its strength. With so many voices and styles one song to another could sound from different records entirely. Traditional flows mix in among some members who play the one word rhyme game, the difference in quality is obvious between sharp rhyme writers and slur sprayers clutching on curses. As the album grows pitch shifted raps pop in with chipmunk like vocal manipulations, dropping trashy rhymes. Using auto tune and the like another flavor is thrown in the mix and the vibes shift swiftly. Despite this "Fake" is a favorite songs with its fantastic "yippy yay" chorus. This vocal inconstancy make it feel like another project all together.

With a large pallet of voices the album ultimately sways from its sides as the group pull together different styles with a lack of structure or organization. In a way it gives it a looser, free flow feel, as if the music for is a playground for anyone to jump in. That notion may become endearing with more time on this record but as previously said its mixed bag of tricks, its highs parallel to its lows.

Favorite Tracks: Star, Fake, Swim, Bump, Waste
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Eminem "Infinite" (1996)

Back at the turn of the millennium during the infancy of the Internet, Eminem's debut LP "Infinite" was somewhat of an urban myth, listed on underground websites yet not acknowledged by the rapper himself. Thanks to the emergence of peer to peer sharing, this record could reach many curious fans, surpassing the reach of its limited print. With only a thousand vinyl copies produced it has become a collectors relic, with many bootlegs appearing for sale on auction websites. Of course today you can probably just jump onto youtube and hear it within seconds compared to the days of MP3 sharing on Napster I had endured to hear this gem of a record.

There's a novelty factor to hearing the prolific rapper at a younger age, noticeable in the higher pitch of his voice. At twenty four his talent was already a bright star shining and so swiftly does that novelty wear off as his flows and rhyme schemes lock you in for a smooth ride along his effortless raps that can change pace and switch rhythm mid sentence. At this stage in his career Em had yet to birth the Slim Shady character and so the rhymes drop with a lack of swearing, violence and vile energy. Its endearing of his natural ability as he spits clever, witty instances of rhyme and wordplay with an expansive vocabulary. It may require a dictionary to keep up with the word meanings he swiftly stacks on top of one another. Its almost a crutch at times, frequently using this double rhyming in practically every verse. Otherwise its an impressive performance with Em infrequently cursing.
Infinite is an intentionally friendly, accessible record and that may ultimately seem as its downfall but the reality is its final stretch of songs from, "Never 2 Far" to "Jelousy Woes II" tend to drop off from the strong opening tracks. The albums production also falls a couple years behind the trend curb, aiming for those warm fuzzy Hip Hop vibes the likes of Nas's Illmatic peaked with in the early nineties. Em even samples and references rhymes from Illamtic and sounds a fair bit like rapper AZ who backed up Nas on that classic record. Its a clear inspiration for Infinite and the first few songs get the vibe just right with Jazzy samples and tight grooves however the quality is sub par. Instrumentally everything is a little muddy and gloomy despite having an uplifting mood. It doesn't hold back Em, or the songs themselves but by the time the last four tracks roll around its outstayed its welcome.

Its obvious now why this record didn't launch Eminem's career, for all the technical prowess and undeniable talent, he had yet to carve a character, a niche that would stand him apart in a crowd. Attempting to get radio play on a flawed production it ultimately ended up in this being a complete flop but now its an absolutely treat for Eminem fans to enjoy the world over. If your a fan, give it a listen, Ems rhymes are dynamite and carry it far, there arn't many rappers that could make a flawed concept sound so good.

Favorite Tracks: Infinite, Its Ok, Tonite, Open Mic
Rating: 6/10