Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra "Midnight Fullmoon" (1997)

Continuing our journey through the nostalgic realms of Dungeon Synth, I cast my mind far back as memories reach commands. Into my mind popped this strange cassette I obtained well over a decade ago. My memory of how and why I got Midnight Fullmoon are vague but I remember finding the band name somewhat hilarious. The music itself didn't captivate me since I only listened to it once, at the time I had no knowledge of DS or if that term had been coined yet. It was just a strange and peculiar piece of music from the early days of a now evolved and blossomed sound.

Its opening track wains in a balance between harsh, cheesed synths and whirling, spell bounding wave forms in the background. They relish the low fidelity setting and start to conjure the dark and indulging atmospheres one might expect. The following track nails this, a primitive composition pined by a beating heart as the sound of rain drops lowers the tone and thunder strike reinforce a lonely, gloomy setting steeped and an eerie, mystic vibe driven by its subtle synth lines. Track three is one I remember, or more so its familiarity to a well known melody which I couldn't pin down. The music is fine but the aesthetics are just to bold and punchy, it stands in contrast to what came before it.

At this point a direction, arching theme or sense of place fails to define itself. A swampy song is clustered with a selection of sounds including trumpets that seem to pull it in multiple directions, only to be followed by a dizzying six minute experiment with techno synths and buried electronica drums. It too suffers from an arsenal of contrasting sounds that fail to gel. A brief uplift from the short The Last Rays Of A Dying Sun is a brief glimmer as the following track plays around with bells and reoccurring theme of unsuited instruments chiming in with one another in an unmusical fashion of gap filling.

Its easy to point out flaws and focus on negatives. If I were to rid myself of the focus a charm does emerge, one of mysticism and distant voices of despairing figures. Its dark allure has a safe distance and a couple of passages ways do strike something of memorability, especially that ever present heartbeat. Another consideration is how primitive this was. I have no idea as to how these ideas spread beyond tape trading and its relation to the Black Metal scene. Although records like Depressive Silence had far more to offer at its time, this could be seen as a jewel if isolated in its inception. There are interesting and intentfull ideas at play here, they are just far behind the then curb.

Favorite Tracks: Raining Darkness Of The Forestland Midnight, The Last Rays Of A Dying Sun
Rating: 4/10

Monday, 13 August 2018

Travis Scott "Astroworld" (2018)

Anticipation for this record has been a thorn in the side, a constant ache commanding me to routinely check for its arrival with no release date mentioned. Its a frequent trend these days to drop albums with only a short notice. Although my reviews of Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight and Rodeo were not especially favorable I could hear something unique in Travis. Its truly manifested as the power of shuffle and time away from his music had those songs giving back more with each listen. After plenty of binging Id even consider Rodeo a modern Hip Hop classic. As my love for his sound grew, so has my apatite for more, hence the growing anticipation.

Astroworld had been grossly hyped. Given my knowledge of Six Flags Astroworld thanks to a Defunctland documentary, my curiosity was peaked as to what the closed theme parks roll in its topicality was this time around. Given my often disconnect from the lyrical aspects of music I certainly didn't pick up on any particular theme beyond a few references and so Astroworld has landed soft, nothing feels particularly distinct or intentional and so the promise of an obscure topic for a Hip Hop record is lost on me.

Reflecting back as to how the other records took months and even years to grow on me I figured its best not to rush into making up my mind on Astroworld. Although it hasn't charmed me I can analytically hear some stylistic progressions, expansive instrumentation and compositional ideas blossoming into indulging atmospheres, however the over saturated "skrt skrt"s and "its lit" cries coming from the background with excessive reverbs hold the music to its previous step, overshadowing what makes this record unique, retrospectively speaking.

The sleek dark atmospheres and romping grooves of tracks like Sicko Mode and Carousel are to be expected but get the album rolling in a different gear to the rest of its run time. The synthesizers and aesthetic of the music drifts into a peculiar place more psychedelic, dreamy and laid back than the urban darkness heard in his previous efforts. At times it can feel uplifting, the track Skeletons embodies this however its brief moment of what seems like a stream of conscious rap seems to loose its own train of thought as Travis morphs into a derogatory pair of rhymes spit very much in the style of Kanye West, a voice, tone and style you can hear in his flows often across the project.

My take away from Atroworld at this point is a lack of stylistic focus. Much of his production style traits stay intact and flirts with more excess as he layers some lyrics with gated reverbs and the like. The album steers its sampling and instrumentation beyond the percussion with R&B accents, some eclectic instruments like the harmonica and organ, it fails to nail a vibe that sucks you in. As stated above I am willing to let this one sink in and hope it reveals more meaning and indulgence with some absence and revival.

Favorite Tracks: Sicko Mode, Stop Trying To Be God, No Bystanders, Butterfly Effect,
Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Logic "The Incredible True Story" (2015)

To put it simply, this record is wonderful. Undoubtedly the best of Logic Ive heard as we travel backwards in time, going through his yearly releases one by one. Its his second full length, a sigh of relief after the disappointing, braggadocio riddled Bobby Tarantino. Held together with a meaty size of skits and sketches in the opening phase, this far from perfect project reeks of fun, inspiration and an artist living in the moment. The uplifting, jazzy, summery beats will elevate your mood between the amusing audio scenes depicting the journey of a spaceship crew in a dystopian future making their way to a questionable place know as "paradise". It takes up a fair portion of the run time but keeps your apatite fresh for when Logic comes back to the mic with a plethora of rhymes delivered on top of his game.

Logic's firm grasp on the art of rap hails back as far as the roots, specifically heard in tributes to Nas's classic Illmatic flows as well as his own. The crisp delivery and smooth articulation has the strengths and hallmarks of raps greatest traits while standing to one side with his scintillating stretches of swift flows and embrace of modern trends. The timely use of sung raps and a soft dash of auto tune in spots breaks up the monotony that a full length of straight rap can encounter. His appeal must surely be broad as this record offers something up for fans of all eras. The same can be said of collaberator 6ix and his beats, a mix of lean drum loops and aptly programmed kits also span varying styles but mainly focus on the modern aesthetic as tight grooves with snappy hi hats match up with subtler, tone setting samples to build a meditative atmosphere for Logic to get in the zone with.

 Speaking to the strength of this record, I was really surprised when I realized the albums run time creeps just over an hour. It rolls by like a fine breeze keeping you cool until you notice times up. The lyrics are engaging, the moods engrossing. There is plenty to pick apart and the best of it comes in those classic Logic flows where it feels like each word is one ahead of the next as you mentally catch up with the wit in the rhyme. It ebbs and flows as he changes up the pacing with the sung hooks and the instrumentals are right in step. I can't fault the record, it doesn't define itself as groundbreaking or earth quaking, Its a solid musical experience, so enjoyable, so fun and a pleasure to let spin when you have the time.

Favorite Tracks: Fade Away, Like Woah, Young Jesus, Paradise, The Incredible True Story
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Drake "Scorpion" (2018)

Canadian rapper Drake hardly needs an introduction as one of popular musics biggest names right now. Successive number one debuts continue as this newest double album smashes record and peaks charts as well as causing a little controversy with the record being shoved down the throats of spotify users. At ninety minutes, split into two halves, it is his lengthiest project to date with no obvious justification for its long run time, some suspect its to take advantage of listening habits and streaming service algorithms. Either way his music is enjoyed by many and in my opinion the easy listening nature of his style doesn't always equate to greatness and I struggle to see whats the appeal of such a record. Their is clearly some great music to be found here, If shaved down to thirty minutes we might have something special, as a handful of tracks do manage to rise above a wash of relative mediocrity.

As the album gets going one can follow Drake's current situation, self reflecting, confronting his status and ego, talking of beef, drama and assumed "hits" placed on him. He dives into more meaningful thoughts as he reflects on how his fame hurts relationships and complicates life. Its enjoyable but after a few songs the topical steam runs out or at least my enthusiasm for it does. His style and flow is so plain and simple its obviously the appeal, easy to digest and follow but his tone is a little to flat for my liking, not of lot emotion put into the voice itself. Their also isn't a lot of wisdom or food for thought beyond the self interest in his words. The other half to his sound is the auto tune singing, which seems to be split, the first half focuses mostly on raps and the second lulls the percussion and focuses on singing.

The instrumentals at work mostly have a sterile approach of punchy fast attack and sharp decay kits distanced from the accompanying samples that stir the tone and atmosphere, often with minimalism. They often go by with little distinction but on occasions strike a nerve. Don't Matter To Me has a soothing atmosphere and then drops in a previously unused recording of Micheal Jackson from the vaults. It sounds utterly superb and is one of a few gems in the rough. God's Plan is a great song that's been a hit and the newest In My Feelings single is another good song that suffers from some utterly obnoxious aggressive shouting and ridiculous rhythmic syncopation of vocal samples and bass kicks. It really turns a nice track on its side.

The last record I checked out, More Life, offered so much more in comparison. The instrumentation had variety and experimentation. Scorpion just doesn't have much charisma or flare to it. Its just a wash of loosely forged atmospheres that lack depth or dexterity. Its easily listened to but mostly goes in one ear and out the other. There are a couple of interesting songs that hold up but they are far and few between. Without any over arching concept or theme it just sound like an over bloated collection of songs aimed at creating a run time. This is evident more so in the second half where more dreamy R&B style tracks come into the fold with no real relation to what ran before it. For this listener Scorpion drags its feet to the finish line, which hardly feels like an accomplishment.

Favorite Tracks: God's Plan, Sandra's Rose, That's How You Feel, In My Feelings, Don't Matter To Me
Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Algiers "The Underside Of Power" (2017)

I first heard of this record in relation to Zeal And Ardor, referencing the singing which harbors bold accents of chain gang vocals and origin blues vocals. That lured me close and Ive since been sucked into this fantastically dark and rooted musical experience. Hailing from the southern city of Atlanta, Algiers are primarily a Post-Punk band fronted by singer Franklin Fisher, who's voice is a constant pleasure, strong and powerful he acts like the guiding light that unifies the mood and meaning of the instrumentals and gospel singers parading behind him. This is their sophomore album released last year to much critical acclaim and I have to share in their praise of these forty four minute of engrossing musical art.

Firmly at the core of the sound is a Post-Punk vibe emboldened by the dense, punchy baselines that patrol the musics underbelly, making itself known, laying a foundation for the atmospheres forged above. Its tight with the percussion, a refreshingly modern aesthetic that's executed without flash and flare. The tricky shuffles of fast high hats and grooving sub kicks of Trap music is to be heard but the approach is a million miles away from formulaic Hip Hop beats. With a wealth of kit samples, programmed sequences avoid repetition and meld seemingly like a drummer following the musics intensity and complimenting it as such. At times its organic and can appropriately take on a more mechanical Industrial form when its called for in darker times.

Out front, loading the music with texture, dynamism and charisma is an arsenal of instruments. Guitars, pianos, keyboards playing a myriad of synth tones, the saxophone, stringed instruments and even a glockenspiel makes an appearance as the four multi-instrumentalists utilize their talents in the dense web of sound they create together. It can be a lot to unpackage and after many, many plays through the soundscapes still feel like a maze of detail to stair into. Under its emergent melodies play drones, distortions and memorizing rattles of reverberated sounds that somehow don't descend into chaos and broaden the scope of sound.

The record flows with a sense of progression, in its opening phases Fisher commands the music with his empowered, deep, emotive voice, flexing his words with expressive affections that resonate with Blues and Soul vibes. The music is inherently dark in a personal manor, burden and destitute surround his voice, the source of strength and uplift that lurks beyond the pale. There is an almost biblical quality to the epic that is his presence and on the title track we have a moment of gleam and uplift, overcoming the horror as choral gospel chants illuminate his performance rising up above all else. As the record progresses the instrumentals seemingly grow and overtake his importance as the drums get more mechanical and two tracks nearing end have him in absence.

The Underside Of Power is a riveting experience devoid of a weak spot. Its engrossing chemistry of powerful song writing and an energetic textural experience lasts its run time without a hitch. Everything feels meaningful and full of purpose. Without a gimmick or flash in the pan this really feel like an album to stand the test of time. Its place in the musical landscape is unique, its not pushing boundaries in any direction but showing where overlaps are to made, a combination of influences and sounds that becomes more than all its apparent parts. Truly wonderful.

Favorite Tracks: The Underside Of Power, Death March, Hymn For An Average Man
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Czarface & MF Doom "Czarface Meets Metal Face" (2018)

Hip Hop trio Czarface consists of underground Boston duo 7LES and the legendary Inspectah Deck of the Wu-Tang Clan. I had not heard of the project before but a collaboration with the esteemed MF Doom put it on many radars, myself included. The album takes on a wonderful persona from the get go and sticks with from start to end. Its loaded with sharp, keen and witty lyricism, especially from Inspectah and Doom, creating a sweet vibe that holds. Themes of super heroes and villains, a fantasy world akin to comic culture plays out through beats, rhymes and alter egos as the fantastic narrating voice of Czarface guides us through the tracks with playful interludes and conversing. The tone of the voice is sublime, its gravely, animated and enthusiastic, the words of an evil mastermind leap of the comic book pages, you know who is talking.

The records instrumentals are a careful craft of tight drum loops and cherry picked samples arranged to liven the atmosphere with its texture and unobtrusive melodies. Its got depth that lasts with each listen and given its range of variations and attention to detail one can find a lot to enjoy in the production alone, especially the tracks with multiple phases and animated sound effects that illuminate rhymes and interludes.

Above the noise the three rappers take on loose directions loaded with clever rhyme schemes and a plethora of cultural and musical references weaved into their flows, as well as other rappers classic lines too. There is probably a lot I'm missing to given my lack of knowledge on comic characters but the free association style naturally draws attention to the wit revolved around a point of reference and sounds a lot more generalized as consequence to my ignorance. The beats however vividly conjure the fantasy vibes of villains and super heroes battling it out in a world of good and evil.

The record doesn't hit any peaks, nor does it dip into valleys. It rolls around at a keen and steady pace with every song hitting a firm grade of quality, delivering the goods from start to end. If I could fault anything it may be the consistency itself. On the lyrical front the record rarely lets up from the similar style of rhyming all three share and so the references and puns just keep coming and loose spark based on the listeners appetite. The instrumentals however are continually exciting as they create striking atmospheres again and again, I think its actually the stronger half of the formula against two of Hip Hops best MCs. Strong album, really enjoyable.

Favorite Tracks: Meddle With Metal, Bomb Thrown, Nautical Depth
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Dance With The Dead "The Shape" (2016)

After the disappointment of Send The Signal we jump forward to The Shape, the California duo's most recent album, which restores much of the dark and playful, EDM pounding, nostalgic Retro Wave to its prime. This record doesn't appear to revive the guitar leads and 80s Metal accents, instead it finds its form in a leaning towards the fun and comical horror of zombie movies and the like. Its key melodies play like a howl in the wind with a touch of the spooky and creepy, however the audience is kept safe from harm behind the glossy aesthetic of gleaming electronic instruments and the continuous thud of Dance beats.

Its a very likable record, it rests itself firmly within the night club as its relentless snare and kick drive keeps the pulsating energy flowing while its lead instruments explore the themes over top of chugging Industrial guitars that lay behind the dazzling synths to add some texture and force to the sound. Its a squeaky clean sound, polished almost to a fault as a lack of natural feel leaves the music lingering in a sterile environment where its monotonous pounding sometimes loses charm.

The mid song Adrift does an important job toning down the energy and giving the record some room to breathe as its punchy, fast attacking synths rarely break formation. Its organized, mechanical and industrious, all the parts of the machine fire on demand and leave the music without many organic or fluid moments but obviously that's not what its aiming for. Its a finely tuned engine blazing down the night highway, illuminated by neon lights reflecting from the towers of a never ending city. 

As the album draws on it drifts further from the undercurrent of spooky, horror related melodies that gave it some spice in the get go. It starts to feel rather generic and bland however its arrangement of sharp and keen synths keep a high energy engaging. The last two song bring back some guitar fever and Quietly Into The Night hits a high note as soft piano opens up a slow, open, atmospheric song that's engulfed by an epic display of lead guitar shredding. Its far from where the record but a great note to fade out on. Although the records theme doesn't last the stretch its got plenty of good to go around.

Favorite Tracks: Eyes Of Madness, Her Ghost, Adrift, Quietly Into The Night
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Myrkur "Myrkur" (2014)

Lastly for now we arrive at the roots of Amalie Bruun's musical endeavor, the debut, self titled EP which is surprisingly better than the full length M. It suffers the same entanglement of heavenly folkish sounds and beastly Black Metal but here the guitar work stands up a little stronger as the sways between dark and light are equally better despite a lack of flow. Unlike its predecessor which showed stark influences from the formation years of the genre, Myrkur's guitar aesthetics and riffs resemble a style far more akin to a band like Drudkh with harsh and thick tones that have a odd alluring indulgence.

As a purely Folk song, Frosne Vind shines like a beacon among the fog of dissonant aggression. Serine acoustic guitars washed in roomy reverberation paint an air of culture and meaning that her distant voice illuminates with a touch of divinity as the choral chant layers her voice blissfully. Its cut short as we are lunged into the hellfire of blast beasts and tremolo picking that highlights the records lack of cohesive direction or union between these two sounds she would go on to achieve with Mareridt. Her singing may be stunning but it is often cut short by these transitions.

When both Folk and Metal elements reside within singular songs the same rigidity occurs, Latvian Fegurð even has an odd bass heavy "gulp" noise as its beautiful, soft intro is cast to shadows in a sudden shift to snarling shredding. This records merit is in the interest both elements spark up as the aggressive side finds its moments of intrigue with atmospheric riffing. The problem, as to follow, is their contrast which is yet to find a middle ground beyond Amalie singing in her calming clean voice over shrill guitars on a couple of occasions. A reasonable start but as we know it will take another effort before they find what really works.

Favorite Tracks: Frosne Vind, Må Du Brænde I Helvede
Rating: 6/10