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

Friday, 19 January 2018

Summoning "With Doom We Come" (2018)

To know the Austrian duo Summoning is to know this record. Forming in the early years of their Norwegian Black Metal scene, they infused the shrill and ghastly Metal of the time with a seemingly polar opposite sound, that of symphonic fantasy inspired the literature by Tolkien's middle earth realm. Symphonic Black Metal existed at the time but Summoning's adventurous use of melody and choice of keyboard aesthetics brought to life vivid visions from their inspired fantasy world. It took the band time to develop and evolve, over several records they grew to unite the contrasting sounds, rather than awkwardly shuffle between the two. Distortion guitars ended up following the mood the keys conjured and the clattering drums eventually gave way to the iconic booming tribal war toms performed on drum machines. "With Doom We Came" is a triumphant venture back into that familiar realm. With the bands output slowing drastically since 2001, it marks five years since their last release, an obvious sign that quality and inspiration comes first as there is no shortage of it here.
The roaring epic that is, comes to life again as we delve into the realm of mighty beasts, brave adventurers and breath taking beauty in the revel of mother nature. With gleaming horns and trumpets the tone of another realm is mustered as dense, ripping guitars elevate the darkness alongside Protector and Silenius's tormenting throaty screams that howl over the bleak guitars. Despite their grim nature they seemingly co-exist with otherwise, bright luscious and inviting instrumentation in the symphonic region that paint visions of the most serine and stunning places. Its spell bounding and enchanting as flutes, pianos and the like usher in timeless melodies of folksy tales from the beyond.

This harmony is what Summoning have grown to forge and it comes with little surprises. The usual rise and fall of grandeur occurs as guitars and screams drop out entirely, sometimes the other way around, allowing for a great sense of scale and scenery to bestow the listener as the elements disappear and return again. Its marked with the usual delights of choral reverberated chants, spoken word quotes from the books (i presume) and the epic roaring of dragons, filling great halls with its quaking echo. These ideas have been executed to perfection before but they are always welcome as they give the music another cinematic and visual dimension.

From the first listen and still today I am a little taken back by some production choices, firstly the distortion guitars come on so strong with a thick, dense and dark tone, its excessive, it has that gritty FL Slayer sound and I'm not keen. Perhaps they are still routed in low-fidelity ideals, much of the music clashes and peaks a little with a lot of noise crammed in between, smothering the lush instruments that rub right up against the shrill screams and gritty guitars. It can become a relief when they drop out. This album is ultimately exactly what you'd expect, with no tricks up the sleeves and a couple of stand out tracks among its many lengthy songs, this next chapter is more of the same, very enjoyable but leaves me with a feeling that it would be nice to hear some evolution in their ideas, especially when it comes to production as the dark Black Metal side of their sound greatly weighs on the fantasy realm the so vividly inherit.

Favorite Tracks: Silvertine, Barrow-downs, Night Fell Behind
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Eminem "The Slim Shady LP" (1999)

My affinity for this record has never faded, back when I was a troubled teenager, as most teens typically are, this albums excessive out pour of frustration, anger and hopelessness was comforting as an emotional outlet. It was Eminem's major label debut and it broke through with a ton of controversy over its lyrical content loaded with vile language, violence and rape. Em's Slim Shady character took the musical world by the scruff of its neck as a breakout mainstream artist with alarming content. Although his Marshal Mathers persona would go on to take this even further, I have always adored this moment in his career for being closest to his troubled upbringing and failure as a rapper, which lead to a very unique form of inspiration.

This record is Em at his breaking point. Haunted by his past and unable to forge a future in his adored Hip Hop world, the Slim Shady character is a persona unable to take anything seriously, a self parody born of despair and frustration in his dreams to make it as a rapper. In the 90s no lables would take him seriously but thanks to the EP released two years prior, he caught the ear of Dr.Dre which landed him on Interscope Records. And so this record marks a moment we will never hear again, a young, desperately ambitious and energetic Em, foaming at the mouth with his opertunity to flip the middle finger back at the world that rejected him.

 Obviously all the passion in the world would fall short without a sharp set of skills to express it and Em arrives unexpected as one of the keenest rhymers with an unrivaled technical prowess. With topics of self hatred, bullying and mental illness he turns Rap on its head, rhyming from the perspective of the victim as opposed to the all to common self affirming braggadocio the genre is drowning in. It was massively refreshing at the time yet smothered in controversy as Em expressed in through vivid violent lyricism striking out at almost everyone around, including himself of course.

That ability to turn it in on himself gives the record a subtle undercurrent of comedy rooted in self loathing that crops up all over the verses in brilliantly executed lines, one of my favorites "My mind wont work if my spine don't jerk". His talent is raw and powerful, illuminated by his use of conversational characters in songs like "Brain Damage" where his genius story telling walks us through the troubled tales of his bullied youth, intersecting the rhymes with sound affects and the voices of the people in his rhymes. It brings the words to life, the jump out of the song and paint a picture. His back and forth with Dr.Dre on "Guilty Conscience" another illuminated example of his brilliance and Em plays a devils voice whispering into the ears of characters in testing situations. "Just Don't Give A Fuck" gets a merit for its slew of disgusting rhymes taking aim at just about everyone. It includes the records best hook "So when you see me on block with two glocks, screaming fuck the world like 2Pac". Its loaded with smart rhyme schemes and tantalizing word play, including Em dissing the white rappers that came before him, he gets the names in so quick it can pass you by. Pete Nice, MC Serch, Milkbone, Everlast and Vanilla Ice get dropped in a couple of lines that flow swiftly from the talented delivery and unrivaled flow of Em.

Knowing every word of this record I could waffle on for hours about the topical schemes that come with every song on this record but to mention my favorites, "Role Model" has Em saying just about everything he shouldn't say as a potential role model for young people, of course its drenched in a critical, cynical sarcasm. "97' Bonnie & Clyde" tells a tale of Em taking his daughter in the car to dump his murdered wife in the lake. Its truly haunting, the sorrowful, gloomy instrumental paints an uncomfortable setting for Em talking to his infant daughter as they throw her body in the water for to nap in her "bed at the bottom of the lake". He is obviously venting his relationship troubles with Kim but the fantasy of him and his daughter disposing the body is alarming. Beyond the rhymes Em has the Bass Brothers at his side again, providing crisp and bold instrumentals with tight drum grooves that still sound ship sturdy to this day. The capture the mood and tone of Em perfectly with melodies that reflect the gloomy anger in his lyrics.

This record has undoubtedly been eclipsed by his follow up and Ive heard it talked about as a raw and unpolished precursor but Id have to disagree. I think this raw, of the moment Slim Shady is what makes this record everything it is, the frustrations and anger manifest into an endless string of genius rhymes draped in controversy and approaching a twenty year anniversary its rhymes still sound sharp, witty and potent. It has a few songs that fall behind the mark and sound a little aged but those are fantastic tracks among classics, which are mostly carried by Em alone who only has two guest rappers across the whole record. One of my all time favorites from the era where we form the strongest bonds with music.

Favorite Tracks: 97' Bonnie & Clyde, Role Model, My Fault, Ken Kaniff, Rock Bottom, Just Don't Give A Fuck, Still Don't Give A Fuck.
Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Danzig "IV" (1994)

This fourth installation in the mighty Danzig series continues onward with an ever so familiar blues soaked, devil horned grin rumble of metallic rock reveling in the ecstasy. With minor tonal changes and aesthetic nuances adjusted for a shade more sweat and muscle, IV marks a shy attempt to broaden the scope a couple outbreaks of nonchalant forays into gloomier sounds. Its mostly defined, once again, by Danzig himself who, between his ever command presence, offers up a whispering softness of attempted diversity on Cantspeak as well as a spoken word style performance on the grim, tribal and mystic Sadistikal, the likes of which we haven't heard of before.

Aside from the small pickings of adventures upon new land, IV marks the band still firmly in a potent stride, producing, as always, captivating music lined with a similar balance of variety and the hooks to dig in deep as Glenn relishes in the empowered delivery of dark, menacing lyrics to sing along with. The metallic, groovy songs loaded with distortion guitar riffs are on fire and their acoustic laden counterparts offer up a sense of ebb and flow that lets the album ride sweetly from front to back without a hitch! Its becoming a very familiar experience with not much to elaborate on but the quality is yet to subside, as I'm guessing they, like many bands do, will eventually come to some sort of decline, a quick flick into the fifth chapter does not sound promising though.

Favorite Tracks: Until You Call On The Dark, Bringer Of Death
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Puff Daddy "Forever" (1999)

I couldn't help myself, despite its poor reputation and some bad reviews I had to check out Forever. My love of No Way Out had me searching for more of the same on Puff's "solo" release, dropping the "Puff Daddy & The Family" moniker. It is perhaps telling of an album that focuses more on Puff as a rapper than producer yet it suffers from both mediocre production and a lack of spice the Bad Boi family brought on the last record. Despite almost every track having a feature, including the likes of Nas, Redman, Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, Bizzy Bone and a posthumous Biggie, the album fails to ignite a spark as it lulls through the motions.

Forever opens with a track to set the stakes high, the pressures of Puff's situation encapsulated with news sound bites, sirens, lightning strikes, gun shots and tribal singing slowly elevating with heavenly choral chants, spinning chopper blades and soaring bagpipes. Its an ambitious tone which slips away into the slick and pristine production of tight kicks and dazzling electronics sparkling around the piano melody on What You Want. You can hear the problem when Puff steps on the mic, his flow soft, timid and to calm to be the lead voice. He gets his point across with decent lyrics but the delivery lacks immediacy and energy to elevate the beat, his casual conversational style would prove to fall behind the production on almost every track.

 Do You Like It encapsulates a lot of this record, super slick late nineties production comes to life with tight snappy drums resonating off futuristic synths rattling electronic zap noises around the key vocal sample as the baseline strikes sparingly. Its one of the better tracks as Jay-Z brings it to life with a stronger, superior presence as a voice with power. Unfortunately this vision fades as quite a few weak cuts dilute the run time as the albums better instrumentals are drowned out. I must mention Pain, a brilliant sampling of the opening chords to Les McCann's Benjamin, however it was done better a few years back by Mobb Deep.

Puff's self obsessed, status oriented ego dominates the albums tone, every other song is affirming his wealth, success and it seems he is paranoid of anyone who doubts his riches. It gets tiring quickly and manifests into a handful of weak interludes that border being laughable. This obsession with status and perception reaches a bizarre point with the return of the Mad Rapper, Puff appearing in his dreams to rob him. Its a strange moment right before the closing track which no doubt is the records best cut. Puff declares himself as public enemy number one for a song almost redeeming of the record. A banging beat and enthusiasm in his rhymes goes a long way to create a bright end to a dull record.

Favorite Songs: Pain, Reverse, P.E. 2000
Rating: 3/10

Friday, 12 January 2018

Dead Can Dance "Spleen And Ideal" (1986)

Freeing themselves of the Post-Punk shackles their Self Titled debut was wrapped within, the Australian duo take a shy stride toward the vivid world they would come to inhabit on Within The Realm. This humble and quaint beginning is an exploration of imagination with a striking sense of nostalgia from cultures lost to the perils of time. Whatever the duos inspiration and vision for their music was, I find myself always overcome by a sense of worldly, earthly epic within the roots of a simpler existence, close to mother nature yet drawn to mystic and esoteric.

Initially the record strikes me as a half way house, a transition of sound but so swiftly do the supposed short comings of this record evaporate as its atmosphere engrosses with its rolling repetition. Drum arrangements and especially the baselines have hang overs from the Post-Punk record beforehand. The base guitar pops and plucks at a steady, unshakable pace on almost every song as if it were backing thick walls of distortion guitar. The drum patterns are somewhat stiff and repetitive, always churning away as if a requirement. Ironically it maybe these droning elements that help conjure the atmosphere as they provide a sturdy hypnotic backbone for the duos voices and spell bounding keyboard melodies.

With higher fidelity production and a richer array of synthesized instruments the spark is ignited. Gerrard's resonating voice memorizes without dense guitars muddying the rapid vibrato texture in her singing. Perry's deep and wholesome words relish in the reverb afforded to him in a more spacious production. It all amounts to a wonderfully relaxing and vivid experience of simpler lives yet beneath it all lurks an undercurrent of something eerie and haunting that never surfaces, always lurking in distant shadows. Despite the sense of mortal coil it remains a rather warm and endearing listen.

Favorite Tracks: Advent, Indoctrination
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Killing Joke "Democracy" (1996)

Having spent time routing through old posts, writing up my favorite records of 2017, I am reminded of a few artists who discographies Ive been getting through on this blog but yet to make It over the finish line. Killing Joke's 10th record Democracy is the next in sequence and their final release before a temporary split leading to a lasting reunion seven years later. With the bands identity so ingrained in my mind its been hard to get into this record, simply because its not as unexpected or challenging as those classic early records. That being said Democracy is a solid record with firm theme and consistent tone that fully realizes its own vision.

Moving on from the metallic Pandemonium, Killing Joke trade in the tight and cleaner production for a denser, noisy affair more in turn with Extremites... Its loud, muddy and flavored by the smothering dissonance of layered guitars. Commanded by singer Jaz's dominant personality, he affronts the establishment, crying out at the facade of democracy and its influencers, criticizing the dull reality that a working class dream is of a paid mortgage. Its bleak and moody perspective on the follies of modern man are parallel to its foggy tone as big, mammoth wailing guitars plunder through the marching, pounding Industrial drive of drummer Dugmore.

Light electronics and occasional use of flange and phasers add some texture to the fold but it mostly goes through the motions with unchanging pace. The intensity varies from track to track but as the record stretches on it becomes somewhat monotone given its singular direction and droning nature. A lack of event or evolution holds it back but then that's never been the Killing Joke way, they once again home in on a feeling and grind it down in their Post-Punk alike noise guitars and churning Industrial pace. It ends up being a rather average album with a couple of more favorable songs.

Favorite Tracks: Prozac People, Aeon, Pilgrimage
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Outkast "Idlewild" (2006)

On this music blog we have covered all but the legendary Outkast's last album. 2015 was marked by my discovery of a group who had always been there in my youth, on MTV and in the sound tracks of games but I never made the connection. Going through their albums one by one introduced my two the journey of two very talented individuals who brought a wealth of brilliance to the Hip Hop game. I lost my steam after their double solo records and given the negative press on this album I let it pass by but this year I want to fill in some gaps and tie up loose ends with artists who's discographies are incomplete to my ears.

Idlewild is unsurprising with its direction given the duo have steadily broadened their horizons. Andre's role as a producer continues to push the boundaries of Hip Hop but this time the duo take a leap into a specific vision nestled in the roots of Swing, Jazz, Soul and Blues from the first half of the century, bringing in a fresh pallet of instruments alongside is drum machine. Its tang and flavor comes on so strong that for most of the record the Hip Hop aspect seems secondary as crisp, sharp tightly fit drum arrangements hold a tempo for the retro theme to shape the tone, however with heavy use of electronic synths it too is pulled in slightly alien directions at times. I'm exaggerating a little, the raps hold in firmly in territory but instrumentally its vibe is persuasively retroactive.

A sense of theme is obvious musically but lyrically and thematically there are hints of narrative that come in from different angles. Is Idlewild a film? A tale? Its a DVD being bootlegged according to one interlude track of which their are many on this twenty five track stretch. Its a scattered idea that Idlewild is more than just the setting for the duos emotional, self expressive raps as the lyrical themes occasionally sync up. Its a typical flurry of topical raps that offer food for thought, Andre on "Mighty O" stabbing into systemic racism and the war on drugs yet on "When I Look Into Your Eyes" we are whisked back generations to piano heavy Swing with a very contrasting tone. The consistency should be a minor indifference but seems important given the high bar Outkast have set for themselves.

With their ambition and innovations for Hip Hop firmly proven, the album plays like two geniuses falling into a routine. Despite its successful attempt to circumvent norms and stylistically define itself with a vivid, romanticized theme, the album falls short of feeling as necessary and urgent as they once did on Stankonia. They have little to prove and so the duo flex their skills again for a charming, indulgent, mature experience. With the best tools at their disposal the artistry is gleaming but the fire behind is dim. Its a fickle thing to explain but a great album falls short when expectations are so high. Idlewild is a stunning place, a gorgeous listen but one without that spark to drag you back.

Favorite Tracks: The Train, In Your Dreams, Greatest Show On Earth
Rating: 6/10

Monday, 8 January 2018

Ulrich Schnauss "A Strangely Isolated Place" (2003)

Suggested by a reader, this hour of relaxing bliss was an instant fit for me. In patches its fondly reminiscent of Tycho's Drive with its washes of lavish, serine, sleepy melodies. German composer Schnauss comes off the back of the nineties with shades of Breakbeat, Trip Hop and Electronic scene of that time echoing ripples through his dive into synth oriented Dream Pop that plays like a trip. So swiftly can you fall into the spell of sweetly arranged sounds bleeding into one another with thick drippings of reverberation. Ulrich's voice creeps in like another instrument in the arsenal as his high pitched words are drifted in from the back like a ghostly voice in the distance. Only utilizing words on a couple of songs you can also here him as an instrument in places.

Its drum breaks hold the music together with a stiff injection of life and pace into an otherwise swirling self indulgence of vivid synths loosing track of time as the chemistry blossoms and ripens. These compositions have an organic, progressive element as contractions sweep through the musics wall of dreamy reverberated sounds. It allows for the often static feeling music to go through many transitions and transformations that feel entirely natural and without resistance. It lives, it breathes and the swarm of inviting sound is dense, with finesse and balance that can border on Noise in one or two songs but always its richness is a persuasion to be charmed by.

Everything hangs in the balance and through it all a warm breeze of peaceful intention arises. Although sleepy and sombre its always in awe of beauty, conjuring feelings of an innocent day in the soak of sunlight, a walk in the park, the simple things mother nature offers us. As the title suggests a shade of loneliness or isolation is in there but that's mostly down to interpretation. This record is rather wonderful and a better understanding of the electronic scene at the time may suggest this being a precursor to a lot of Dream Pop influenced electronica that has come by in recent years. Without a weak point or track to pick as a favorite it sits as a potential go to for years to come with the album playing as one big experience.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Converge "The Dusk In Us" (2017)

Converge, a band with a reputation, known as pioneers of the more erratic strain of a Heavy Metal and Hardcore crossover, the Massachusetts based band have never pulled me in yet. Skimming over some of their classics like Jane Doe, I couldn't feel the spark others have raved about for years and unfortunately that's all I can say of this release that has made a fair few top album lists this year... or last. Its mostly not working for me, a few bombastic moments grab a nod but its artsy emotional soundscapes of rip roaring guitar noise and fluttery melodies tangled in disharmony pass me by as they rub up against one another, much like the vocal and guitars.

Disheveled screams rattle away, rippling of the music in a fury of rage. They bounce from the music in their harsh rawness, dispelling any chemistry the bands vision had in store. Elasticated riffs spasm in perpetual motion, their fate at the mercy of the guitarists who love to wail in with hissing screeches of feedback amidst the aimless assault. Battering his kit the drummer flexes dexterously with a solid display of composition that queues the direction and holds musical ideas firmly in place.

I can hear what Converge are going for here. Expansive music lines the front of erratic pummeling Hardcore, broadening the scope with songs that opens up into vivid places far beyond the core of the sound. Singer Bannon's voice just doesn't sit right with me, the constant delves into structure devoid thrashings and nonsensical anti-melodies threw me off pace whenever the band get going. In a few songs, ie the title track, Bannon drops his screeching making an impression but whenever the album builds some atmosphere its quickly demolished. Would liked to of enjoyed this more but the majority of music here drags it down to far for my ears.

Rating: 3/10

Monday, 1 January 2018

Danzig "III How The Gods Kill" (1992)

This third chapter in the series continues on with a very expectant tone, the same knuckle strapped rock and rattle of Heavy Metal tinged in the bluesy voice of Glenn Danzig strikes again. Deep into their stride the band offer up another ten songs that will make a meal of picking your favorites, the energy is ripe, the music inspired and the tone dripping in a moody evil ready to persuade. With an increasingly metallic leaning, the intensity broods and moves a touch more expansive, the opening "Godless" a bold example as its thrashy uptempo pace collapses into a crawling swell of prolonged power chords fading into a soft and eerie synth. It parallels Doom Metal but only for this one song.

Much of what Ive said about Danzig and Lucifuge could be said again here, the music however catches up with Glenn here, the powerful intensity of the guitar work keeps up with his monstrous personality as the enigmatic front man with his cursed performance which always carries a burdeon. "How The Gods Kill" keeps the power at bay, a soft acoustic guitar accompanies Glenn who shows the soft side of himself in a pleasant melodic calm that unsurprisingly erupts with squealing pinch harmonic riffs to ratify the unease that lingers throughout.

Each of the songs ideas are executed with a touch more cohesion than before and the whole album is enshrined by its shadowy mystique, the songs turning the screws tight on a darker shade of the Danzig sound. Its chilling, spooky and perhaps best personified on "Heart Of The Devil" where Glenn affirms is evil intention, boasting the influence of his corrupt powers in a roaring performance. Followed by "Sinstinas" the mood drifts ethereal as the group take a turn with light synths and soft reverberated chords that plays like a sleepy dream pop love ballad reminiscent of Julie Cruse, of course its like a mirror to the darkside.

The edging of ideas creeping into new territory that can be heard here fits easily into the chemistry but only in the fractions it does. Otherwise this third chapter makes its self mostly known for its more sinister leaning and harder hitting guitar licks. As on every record so far Glenn's performance and persona illuminates the record and his lyrics get stuck in your mind. Its their most powerful asset, here as sharp as ever I think its fair to say this is my favorite so far! Chapter four is next.

Favorite Tracks: How The Gods Kill, Dirt Black Summer
Rating: 8/10