Saturday, 19 January 2019

Wardruna "Skald" (2018)


Having enjoyed the Nordic ambience and cultural folk of Runaljod, I brought this album without a first listen. Its a departure from what I remember as Skald trades off depth and indulgence for a grounded minimalism that far better represents what this may have one sounded like. Einar Selvik stands as a dominate presence, a lone ancestral voice to guide us through the echos of heritage and its accompanying instrumentation, of which there is little. Naked and bare, his language is sung with inflections and an honest rawness to invoke what may have been in centuries past.

Purely by impression, his performance resembles runic scriptures and handed down heathen hymns. The poetry of cultures lost to time. His lone voice holds strong as simple single stringed instrument melodies repeat to set the tone. Only on Vindavla do the instruments switch to bring a darker, tense tone as the Lute alike instrument mostly delivers soothing and warm music. One can envision Nordic ancestors sat around a campfire as they exchange stories and sing poetry together.

At its end the record dulls with a fifteen minute accapella. His isolated voice not as charming alone. On my first few listens I struggled to be sucked in to this world but with patience it grew a little. The fault is probably with my own preferences as a richer instrumentation would have lured me in and cultural hymns are often not to my liking through human voice alone. It is however a remarkable performance in the right mood, a soothing and spiritual listen that will evoke historical echos of our humanity.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Anderson .Paak "Oxnard" (2018)


There was some hype around this record. I learned of its release from many places and so was compelled to check out Anderson .Paak who Ive only heard in features with Schoolboy Q and Dr. Dre so far. His voice is soft, slightly nasal, compelling, with an easy, laid back flow to his delivery and persona. Bluring the lines between sing and rap he drifts between both, rhyming verses at a variety of paces that makes his presence an indulgence of good vibes as he comes armed with bright instrumentals.

Oxnard rests firmly as a G-Funk, R&B hybrid of Soul and Hip Hop. Its slick and smooth, tight drum beats mark up against warm and jazzy pianos, glossy trumpets, expressive saxophones, announcing horns and silky string sections. Its essentially drawing from a trending direction in Hip Hop, where the samples are replaced with performing artists. This iteration feels as if its constructed from the ground up with the freedoms of composition letting some musical, textural dexterity flourish.

Its undoubtedly a gorgeous sounding record with its lush instrumentation but often it lapses into the cyclical loop a sampled track would have. With the drums dialed down a little it focusing less on groove and more so on the mood and tone. Its a smooth, laid back mood but my overall experience of these songs was that not much stuck from them. It felt like songs were going through the motions, th the most interesting aspect being the various topics Paak would dive into. Slick sound but failed to be infectious.

After many listens I'm left with not a lot to say about the record. Its ideas land but underwhelming. Perhaps I'm not on its wavelength? Its best moment is Tints which illuminates 80s Pop vibes and packages up the records best hook in the chorus. Besides that a few features like Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T and Q-Tip catch the ear but none of them bring anything dramatic to the project. Overall its been a very lukewarm listen which I would hesitate to criticize. I gave it quite a few go's and little clicked.

Favorite Track: Tints
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 14 January 2019

Portal "Ion" (2018)


Its January and that means digging through various 2018 top lists for last years treats I missed out on. Australian Experimental Death Metal band Portal caught my eye but not my ear. Its been a drag to see out this record which aims to deconstruct and reassemble Extreme music into the ugliest form imagined. The result is almost unbearable but with some tolerance and repeated exposures to this decadence, little magics were reveal below the surface bar one or two sparse incidents.

Assaulting with scratchy jarring guitar tones, Portal create blocks of sound out of maddening disjointed fretting noise that's mostly discernible. Lacking any rhythm, groove or melody its becomes a pure rebellion of established ideas and an experiment unto its own. Working with tension, disharmony and atonality the songs bleed into an anti-music mess, they all seem one and the same. Perhaps only Spores makes a mark in being even more wretched and disgusting with an injection of harsh noise and teeth clenching distortion that is at least of interest through aesthetic curiosity.

Each track amasses an arsenal of estranged guitar torture to burrow through in bursts of blast beats between build ups that seem to interchange with the roll of a dice. Not even a sense of momentum is reasonable. In its best moments it reminded me of the scattering, sludgy madness of a young Morbid Angel and discovering Death Metal for the first time, putting together the pieces behind the musics brutal and abrasive aesthetic. When ever a glimpse of that same magic starts to form its swiftly cast down by the shifting intensities that also work to dispel its brief and fleeting atmospheres.

Its most favorable aspect is singer "Horror Illogium" who consistently puts forth a one-dimensional whisper-like throaty growl that wouldn't sound out of place in a conventional Death Metal band. It feels like the only thing grounding the record but he too is a dull roar. Its entirely possible that I am missing the point, not connecting the dots and I'll probably give It a try every now and then but after five attempts its turned into a snooze fest of ideas that seem designed to disgust than inspired to incite.

Rating: 2/10

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Lil Peep "Come Over When Your Sober, Pt.1" (2017)


I've had negative connotations attached to this artist, Its lingered in the back of my mind from a few years back, his Hellboy mixtape, which I did not enjoy to say the least. Having forgotten about it I went into this record with little expectations and yet found a brilliance I have to nod the head and give props too. The young Lil Peep is now deceased having died of a drug overdose before a show on his tour bus. Drug abuse is a key theme of his music and from what Ive heard he advocated against their use but there is no doubt the music glorifies them as it does his over struggles which is the musics focal point. Its timing seems like a reflection to Americas prescription drug epidemic.

With each spin of this record its components become quite clear, Trap percussion lines shuffle and rattle out grooves with distinct tonal qualities. Clunky clicks and claps pop between shimmering hi-hats bursts and sub kicks that have a synthetic quality. Behind them gorgeous, sad and melancholy guitar licks pluck simple, steadily paced single note melodies alongside additional guitars, thick, atmospheric synths and a deep, filling baseline laying down foundational blocks. The chemistry is fantastic, dark broody instrumentals with a gleam of light emanating that will never escape its grasp.

Its Lil Peep himself who is that light, a clearly troubled soul who's bearing it all upfront as his outlet with the music. His voice is fantastic, a deep and rustic tone, he finds a soft spot to speak/sing words through a whirl of cloudy reverb. His pace and delivery comes from an easy energy. It doesn't manifest specifically into hooks as much of his simple language and lack of range but it makes for plenty of sing-along-able stints in the tracks, even his faster paced "raps" are easy to pick up on and learn.

The lyrics were originally the least likeable aspect but repetition has revealed much authenticity in his themes. Initially they felt teenage, angsty and glorified but Lil Peep was only twenty one and I think a younger me would really of lapped this up. "Sometimes life gets fucked up, that's why we get fucked up", far from poetic and insightful but through its cursory language and surface level wording a clear picture of his struggles emerge. Emotional pains, relationship woes and drug abuse dominate the tone, as he wallows in the struggle with little positive to grasp onto. "I wish I didn't have a heart to love you", powerful words but deeply saddening too.

Instrumentally, this record has a very concise and expressive sound. Its a brilliant stage for a troubled young man to let his emotions roll out and despite its depressing nature the glorification takes hold and elevates these into anthems in the best songs. I'm truly impressed, at first I thought I would enjoy it from a distance but Ive found myself sucked in to his world and reminded of what youth can be like. His death is a real shame however the tone of the music makes it sound almost inevitable. Next up I will get part two which was released posthumously last year.

Favorite Tracks: Awful Things, U Said, The Brightside
Rating: 7/10

Friday, 11 January 2019

Anna Von Hausswolff "Dead Magic" (2018)


This is my first record from Swedish singer Anna Von Hausswolff and It wont be my last! Her timeless vocals and meditative music an instant connection that's stoked the flames of emotion as her deeply resonate voice taps into the human life stream. She reminds me fondly of Lisa Gerrard who embodies worldly, cultural tones, however Anna has a voice that's strong, powerful and enigmatic yet caught in a blissful limbo of solace and sorrow. The music feels like the perfect setting for her haunting and grieving words to play out through spiritual, monotonous instrumentals that conjure earthly visions of nature alongside ambiguous echos of magical, evaded dangers. Its a unique cast of ideas heard in much of the music I enjoy. Here it comes together with a potent chemistry, a special touch that I simply adore.

The music has a fantastic droning quality, each song holds its moments together with a looping percussive momentum, letting shifts, turns and inclinations in intensity feel wholly natural and with true purpose. The deep pipe organs and embrace of droning synths smothered in reverb give each track its ambiguous belly as the drums come with tribal poundings to guide the flow. Rumbling, gritty, droning guitar distortions texture the mood on one track where another achieves this with acoustic chords and tambourine. String instruments weep there sorrow and synthesizers add to the Ethereal soundscapes along with many other sounds in the details.

The album starts in a warm place with a playful beat and two note melody guiding the musics into gleaming shifts of uplifting chords, chiming with her voice. The lengthy song collapses into an echo chamber of reflections as the pipe organ leads us to a dramatic and spiritual climax. It sets the stage for things to continuously darken as Anna exchanges her words between a gorgeously illusive and mysterious shimmering sound that drifts in and out of focus like a ghostly magic in the distance.

With Ugly And Vengeful we go on a dark journey, steadily descending into the depths on a sixteen minute epic that builds to an almighty, menacing atmosphere peaked by a unforgiving melody. The Marble eye is a beautiful pipe organ solo piece that gives one a sense of aftermath and loss with a creak of hope in its tone. The albums final track rolls out more of this feeling, bringing in her voice again with some wretched gritty noises of suffering buried deep under the organs brooding tone.

Dead Magic has been a recent addiction, a record I know I will treasure for times to come. A phenomenal spell is cast somewhere between her burdened voice and the brilliant instrumentals. With a meditative quality one embarks on a spiritual journey, each listen steers itself from knowing and embraces the abandon around her sorrow swept lyrics. It has a darkness far from evil or horror that's oddly comforting and unique given all the shades of shadows I enjoy. Wonderful record, would have been high up on My Top 10 Albums Of 2018 list. Now to get her other two albums!

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Ho99o9 "Horrors Of 1999" (2015)


Rounding up the records Ive missed we have another short EP from American experimental duo Ho99o9. Once again their fusion of Hip Hop, Punk Rock and Horrorcore seems far more enjoyable than the reputable Dead Bodies In The Lake where I started this journey. With one skit and five short songs the duo get into dark, grisly menacing vibes and flex degrees of raps and Punk screaming vocals with all sorts of distorted, pitch shifted and reverberated inflections. The pair firmly sit at the heart of the darkly atmospheres their puzzling instrumentals conjure. Industrial pallets of gritty sampling paired with abstract, slow and stretched out percussive grooves set the tone for the act to get maniacal on the majority half of the music.

Its vivid and concise but the most fun to be had is in the two Punk tracks. No Regrets and Savage Heads bring on a drummer to muster up some lively beats for a roaring buzzed out bass guitar to power the track forward as an array of unusual synth sounds chime in, often with little melody and a helping of oddity. This is where the two liven up, shouting out catchy lyricism with ferocity. Overall it makes for a fun and haunting listen with a splash of cheesy horror vibes in the middle. Again the potential to grow as artists is far more obvious at this point in time for Ho99o9.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Steve Roach "Mercurius" (2018)


Far from the minimalist magic of Structures From Silence or the spiritual revelations of Dreamtime Return, I underestimated what an old master would be up to far from the emergence of Ambient music. Steve has not lost his touch, Mercurius delivers four soundscape pieces amassing over seventy minutes between them. This lengthy record isn't about event and progression. Its built around mood and tone and with layers of select synthetic tones and appropriate reverberations Steve conjures gleaming, glossy and meditative atmospheres to sink the mind into. It may be thought of as background music but it is potent and powerful, sucking one in slowly.

Liminal is a light and airy piece of peaceful ambiguity, gentle murmuring synths drifting in and out of focus with a heavenly vibe that flirts with illusive melodies. The lengthy Immanent rumbles into darker, spacey territory with its deeper, dense synth tones bleeding lengthy notes that overlap as they fade in and out of each other. Aeon is my favorite, with a similar pallet to Liminal but spiraling instruments take on a psychedelic sense of exploration as a semblance of tune and melody creeps in. Mercurius has a thick, rich smothering of smooth synths with a grander stretch of sound fading in and out, having the closest sense of "event" in bulging growths of volume.

All in all its an easy record to let pass you by as its soft atmospheres breath slowly and the uneventful nature of the music may dull but in the right moment its meditative magic seeps forth and will cast its calming spell. It did take a few listens to click and now its a noted "go to" for in need of some calming relaxation. A great listen!

Favorite Track: Aeon
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 7 January 2019

Tool "Opiate" (1992)


Following up on their promising demo 72826, American Alternative Rock outfit Tool put together Opiate, an EP consisting of six tracks, four from the demo and two new songs. Its all recorded in a new studio however two tracks are actually recordings from a new years eve show. They sound fantastic in the live setting, giving a lot of charisma and energy to songs that previous sounded a little flat within that chromatic demo quality. Unfortunately these re-recordings don't add much to the experience. Hush and Part Of Me both sound mediocre on this recording. They have stepped up the overall clarity but things still have a sloppy demo sound, the bass guitar suffering the most.

The title track Opiate certainly raises eyebrows with its roaring scream of "We both want to rape you". The music aggrandizes this dramatic moment and a dive into the lyrics hides no secrets to its religious context. An exact meaning may be down to interpretation but it seems to criticize the evil that can be bestowed in the name of God. Its the records best song with a thunderous momentum of bustling tom drums and dramatic, sinister guitar work after pivoting from a more generic rock song. Eventually it fades out to a break of silence that reveals a "secret" track with some patience. This hidden music is a psychedelic jam of comedic musing and cried of Satan. Doesn't add much to the record, but it is its own experience.

The opening and other new song Sweat has crunchy rolling guitar riff work in its opening phases that sets the tone for some anxious lyricism. Its breaks to expansive, atmospheric driven guitar licks are appropriate but its far from a memorable song. So far Ive found myself understanding the music and picking up on the vibe but not feeling anything remarkable bar one or two moments. This rehashing of their demo was a little underwhelming but I am hoping for great thing with their debut Undertow.

Favorite Track: Hush, Opiate
Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Sarah Longfield "Disparity" (2018)


Following up on the captivating Collapse // Expand record, talented Guitarist Sarah Longfield takes a freeing step forward with Disparity, an album that further unshackles the chains of this colorful Post-Djent sound. With a notably more polished production Sarah lets her creativity and vision flourish in directions that feel unconstrained as her monstrous 8-string guitar drifts from focus and the other instruments, often electronic and welcoming, blossom into various avenues of exotic and cultural sound.

There are still two tracks that revolve around her excellent guitar playing. Cataclysm spurs up the dizzying Gru melodies and the following Sun has a noticeable gleaming guitar lead reminiscent of Sithu Aye. Sun, however, entangles its lead guitar with goosebumps conjuring exotic, alluring xylophone chords. They resonate with a summery warmth as the song then pivots with a Smooth Jazz saxophone lick, its reminiscent of 90s daytime TV theme songs to be heard again on the next two.

These are just a couple of examples in this stunning record loaded with bright, colorful, warm and harmonious instruments diving into luscious avenues over and over again. Every track has its own flavor and they are held together with recurring electronic tones and a slightly Ethereal vibe enhanced by Sarah's singing. She finds a new vocal approach, with a layering and harmony that reminds me fondly of Autumn's Grey Solace. Its mostly instrumental but she pops in at just the attune times.

The music offers so much and her percussive composure is exquisite, rarely falling into a simple beat, commanding momentum with shifts and turns that utilize other instruments in its build up. The drums often mingle in with the various electronic tones and uncommon percussive sounds too. Their is cohesion on all fronts and my only criticism may be that these songs never escape the three to four minute range. That may be a conscious decision but given the sheer excellent compositions at work, it feels like a time constraint of sorts given the progressive and expansive style of sound at play. This is the sort of record that's hard to tire yourself of. I can't get enough of it!

Favorite Tracks: Sun, The Fall
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 4 January 2019

Haken "Vector" (2018)


Ive spent a couple months with this record and come to a conclusion that some things are objectively better than your experience of it. That's not to say Vector is a poor record, quite the opposite. Its a sweet, dazzling album loaded with succulent, oozing Prog to melt in your mouth. I feel guilty that I should be enjoying it more! On all fronts this record excels yet it doesn't get me fired up in quite the way Id like. I very much enjoyed the modern Progressive Metal behemoths Haken's previous records Aquarius and Visions. I was hyped, excited and they delivered but like much of this breed of Metal I am a little checked out from the whole experience when the music is mute.

Firstly, this record sounds as you would expect, modern and crisp, all instruments are slick, lush and audible. There is plenty of dense music and build ups that cram a lot of instrumentation in, the production holds up well in its most challenging moments. The aesthetics are terrific, especially the bass guitar and vocals. The bass has a broad grizzly clunk that plods and pumps its rooted notes from deep below with occasional moments upfront as other sounds part. Ross Jennings soars at the front with his high pitched and silky smooth tones that get challenged on occasion but mostly get to emanate of the musics energy and crescendo the songs most powerful moments.

Song structures are grand and fleshed out as one would expect with a typically ever unraveling feeling to the whole experience. Bursts of synthetic drums and whirling electronics spice up a recurring aesthetic, yet subtle, theme. As you might expect the album flexes its intensities from thunderous clatters of sound, monstrous math guitar grooves and Djent open close riffing all the way too stretches of calming quiets of sombre singing over acoustic guitars and soothing jazzy interludes. Its a wild ride of peaks and valleys never ceasing to evolve and unfold in its inspired complexity.

Not falling victims to the folly of over-indulged technicalities and music theory hackery, Haken forge a fantastical journey through their inspirations and vision that all its songs share with purpose. Its one big experience that can be enjoyed at the surface or sunk into. When focusing on details there is a plethora of intricacies that all feel necessary in making it come together. The record ends on a high with its best vocals and an infectious riff that keeps recurring its way into the final heart beat of the song. It ends on a stunning note as it swiftly cuts itself short. Their best album to date no doubt.

Favorite Tracks: Puzzle Box, A Cell Divides
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Ho99o9 "Mutant Freax" (2014)


Mutant Freak is Punk Rock and Hip Hop duo Ho99o9's debut EP release. I was initially not so interested, I got the impression from the differences between Dead Bodies In The Lake and United States Of Horror that the pair where an upwards path. Occasional tracks bang with hard hitting grooves and heretic energy but a lot of their material revolves around unhinged "atmosphere" and aesthetics that culminate to a strange breed of rebellion born from their unique fusion of influences.

With Cyber Cop the two produced a very cohesive set of songs which mostly rocked from front to back. Its not what I expected but the three tracks of Mutant Freak do this too, without any apparent bangers or big beats. On this eight minute listen their dark aesthetics and sporadic mic presence finds a dynamism I didn't hear before. Their selection of gritty, night time synth samples play against loose drums as they drop darkly verses between odd vocal inflections with an interesting spark.

Split in the middle is Hated In America, a heated Punk Rock track with fast tempo drums, thrashing power chord guitars and a infectious amount of reverberation to echo and add some maniac energy to their screams. Its short but sweet and far better than I had expected. In this case the two forge engaging music that doesn't rely on head rocking tropes. Something I didn't think they did to well before.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Ice Cube "Everythang's Corrupt" (2018)


Its been a long time awaiting. Legendary rapper Ice Cube of N.W.A is back after a six year delay since the release of the albums lead single and title track. I'm unaware of what took so long to finish the project but to be fair, I wasn't anticipating much. Its decades since the West Coast rapper's hay day but approaching fifty years of age Cube can still deliver tight rhymes with his strong persona on the mic. Between a fair amount of braggadocio he gets into the state of affairs, addressing the American president, the latest statures of political correctness and events like Charlottesville.

Everythang's Corrupt is topical and current, Cube can deliver coherent verses, reasonable hooks and choruses over a distinct production style marked by electronic bursts resembling trumpets and horns that form the key melodies and tunes. A fair amount of Trap drum aesthetics and patterns creep into the percussive construct. Lots of synthetic instruments bring textural tones for the looping melodies that make its crispy clean production sounds sterile at times. Through the sixteen songs everyone is bound to find a selection of preferred cuts however Ain't Got No Haters and That New Funkadelic stand out as a break from the norm with Cube's classic laid back G-Funk vibes being resurrecting for shadows of his best work like Today Was A Good Day.

There is a lot to digest lyrically. Fifty five minutes of verses all of which are pretty coherent to follow dive into various topics and Cube's prominence on the microphone makes for no weak links however he resides firmly in the realm of expectation and thus not to many rhymes schemes leap out at you. He does try out a couple of slower paced, short line flows but not to much effect. Essentially this is a very established rhyme style however the last couple of tracks end on a high. The title track has an amazing energy thanks to the electric instrumental and it rolls into Good Cop Bad Cop which has Cube flowing with a little spice and passion in his voice that hails back to the immediacy of his youth, Its got some of the records best rhymes on it.

This record might be written off by some as an old timer coming back with a routine record for fans but I think Ice Cube's skill as an MC holds up. The instrumentals are infectious with repetition and perhaps some curation condensing this record to its best would of made for a tighter listening experience as their is plenty to enjoy here. Ive liked it more with every listen and I think I will continue to enjoy it until that steam runs out. When trying to hold together some objectivity listening I find that Cube has such an amazing persona on the mic that I always feel lured into whats going on.

Favorite Tracks: Chase Down The Bully, Ain't Got No Haters, That New Funkadelic, One For The Money, Everythangs Corrupt, Good Cop Bad Cop
Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Tool "72826" (1991)


I'm not new to Tool. I've been well aware of their reputation for many years but never found my way into their music. With a Download Festival show looming and a probable fifth album In the works its time to really give them a go! Working in chronological order we start with their demo tape 72826, a name which decodes to Satan. It feels like an excellent choice as I hear some clear links to sounds of other bands in the early 90s Alternative music era and I'm already picking up on some unique themes and concepts in their sound and identity.

On the lyrical front a majority of songs stem from personal relationship struggles manifesting into venting agitation yet most often with a streak of underlying intelligence. It rises to the forefront with Hush, its words challenge the ideas and norms of freedom of speach from a grounded, thoughtful position rather than that of rebellion. That perspective may be shaped by the more artistic and intentional construct of their sound. The words frequently blossom with clarity and wisdom as Maynard James Keenan cries out "I can say what I want to, even if I'm not serious. I can say what I want to, even if I'm just kidding". Its a thought provoking statement when juxtaposed with shouts of "kill yourself" which may initially seem thoughtless.

The music reminds me a lot of Post-Punk in some ways, just within the realm of Rock and Metal. Tool shape up their aesthetics and musical constructs with an ear for opposites, striking balances of melody and demonstrative groove with the guitars leaving space for big prowling baselines to clank and rattle in behind the animated drumming of Danny Carey. Its all comes together without a cheap trick of trope. Every track, although varying in quality, has a set of riffs that firmly establish the tone of the song without an over reliance on any particular instrumental approach or style.

The production for a demo in 91 is alarmingly decent yet objectively its aesthetic is brittle and colorless. The guitars are a dulled by their fuzzy distortion, the bass guitar clanks for volume like a Primus record and the drums lack depth, sounding metallic, especially the tom rolls. Despite all this the charm firmly emerges. Keenan establishes himself upfront with a great performance that reminds me on Eddie Vedder when he boards on a similar flamboyance. Its a great demo and has actually got me excited for the next few records as they will undoubtedly evolve to a Progressive behemoth.

Favorite Tracks: Hush, Sober
Rating: 6/10