Saturday, 4 July 2020

Xzibit "Weapons Of Mass Destruction" (2006)


As an applause from a crowd dissipates, eerie synths glow in the backdrop as former president Bush's voice gives a chilling speech of his nefarious plans and ill intent. It grabbed my attention by the neck, a fine piece of work stitching his many hours of recorded voice together. Listening casually, it almost sounds legit, on closer inspection the details can be examined with a keen ear. I'm not sure I've heard a manipulation that good before! It certainly set the stage for Xzibit to kick off the record with firm fiery raps and a big stage beat on the album's second track L.A.X.

Unfortunately its a swift downhill trend from here. The production team bring this over assertive musicality to the project. Tracks are scarred by sung hooks deploying overt melodies and the instrumentals follow. A dense use of music theory that lacks the ear for what works. Even Xzibit gets in on these gaudy hooks by singing, which doesn't work. Its mostly jovial, upbeat and cheery. The vibe doesn't mix and there is a lot of repetition for an approach that wants to load in melody and layers. Its a better setting for something with a little Jazz Fusion yet this musicality is packaged into stiff loops.

X actually drops a fair amount of decent lyrics. At times he is tight, on point with a lot to say. Cold World sticks to the albums theme with a Middle Eastern perspective that is hard hitting. When not at his best, the loud droning beats tend to take over attention. Without his usual entourage the shift in tone and style fails to yield much that is memorable and produces more of whats mostly on the irritating side. The project is obnoxious, aiming for a more musical, tuneful Hip Hop record that could grab the Pop audience in the record sales charts. Its execution however is deaf to what makes that work. Its sub-par and at an hour in length its over bloated and hard to get through.

Favorite Tracks: State Of The Union, LAX, Cold World
Rating: 3/10

Friday, 3 July 2020

Run The Jewels "RTJ4" (2020)


I've taken my time with this forth installment. Why? Run The Jewels records have a habit of aging well, something about EL-P's production takes a little time to become acquainted with. Its the unexpected nature of his production. Hinged on fairly unconventional sampling with a dystopian atmosphere, the charm and groove take a little while to unearth. After a ton of spins I find RTJ4 just keeps growing on me. For a duo that gets better on every album, this one could continue that trend... time will tell.

There is a heavily political theme at play, not something RTJ shy away from but with current events in the world, the album takes on the death of George Floyd and the BLM movement head on with some of its hardest hitting lyrics to date. "Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollars" a line from a hook that is embedded itself in the mind. It is mostly Killer Mike who unsurprisingly takes the lead with much of the political head way, driving home much food for thought while reflecting on his own position as a voice for change whilst weighing up his commitment to family life.

Its deep and dense, much like its beats which bring another arsenal of creative ideas to shape up a whole bunch of unique beats with a slightly disorienting flair. Layered and textural, EL-P crafts barrages of disarming sounds with studio manipulations to keep everything exciting and fresh. Its ironically the collaboration with the legendary DJ Shadow that yields a rare duller beat in the lineup, the hook too lacks oomph. Otherwise the music is all gold, with a string of better songs in its second half.

When Walking In The Snow kicks in, the album shifts into top gear, the lyrical intensity amps up. Mike gets a weight off his chest, speaking on the death of Floyd whispering "I can't breath" as the punch line in a powerful verse. It pivots into Ju$t further unearthing the historical tensions around slavery. Never Look Back gets a deep emotional reflection from the two and The Ground Below goes hard again on politic themes with one of the albums best beats. EL-P brings in a subtle yet concrete rock guitar riff to lay a foundation for a grooving bass kick clap groove to rock the boat.

Its a great and captivating stretch of songs. The album's end always felt disorienting to me. The music stops and some electronic synths lead in a narration referencing the first track Yankee And The Brave. The vibe feels just like a warmup yet its a brief one minute stint to see the record out. These are just some observations on a very enjoyable record that I'll continue to enjoy for years to come, just like the last! The duo's form is yet to waiver and their ability to be on the pulse of current topics only adds to the project. Can they keep it going? Id bet so!

Favorite Tracks: Goonies Vs Et, Walking In The Snow, Ju$t, Never Look Back, The Ground Below, A Few Words For The Firing Squad
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Behemoth "A Forest" (2020)


The ground shaking, triumphant beam of blasphemy that was Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel has had me with a keen eye on the Polish Blackened Death Metal legends since The Satanist's release back before I started this blog. Despite knowing they could be capable of more surprises, I picked up this EP with little in the way of expectations, a Cure cover and accompanying live version pained their music in a grim darkened tone that lacked much in the way of excitement, not to mention the guest vocals that are a little wretched, strained and stretched out of tune.

Shadows Ov Ea Cast Upon Golgoth plunges into a grim shadowy realm for a mid tempo track led by aggressive tom drum pummeling that tends to circle the waters in the way of progression a little guitar solo and thunderous ending do little to offer much in the way of gratification from this brief journey into its uneasy state of darkness.

Evoe on the other hands chops up some brighter tuneful, for extreme music, guitar riffs to oppose its dives into double pedal rattling groans of evil. At the mid point the song bursts open, a competent but hastily performed solo sort of achieving what the track before couldn't. I had a feeling It wasn't really worth forking over the dosh but I was curious and in all reality this is a really weak release from a band with a far higher bar of quality, even on an EP. Given these crazy times we are living through, maybe they were just looking to throw out something for the sake of sustenance.

Favorite Track: Evoe
Rating: 2/10

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Queen "Made In Heaven" (1995)


Another journey reaches the end of the road. Queen's fifteenth and final album, a somewhat "posthumous" release, arriving four years on from Freddie's passing. His voice features with normality, still powerful and beautiful, central to the theme, is clearly touched by his ill health. Most the music was recorded before his death and his band mates reworked parts of it after his passing to finish the recording. The result is possibly their blandest work to date, despite having a good spirit and message.

On first listen its gawky, tacky sense of uplift is rather dominating but with a few additional spins some of the Heavy Metal magic in the oppening takes hold. Brain May brings quite the bite in places with weighty hard riffs and bright, slick classic guitar leads in his defined style. Its layered with symphonic keys for a dense sound but as the midway point hits the attitude dissipates. The songs take on a softer tone with a lulling ballad energy focusing on Freddie's somewhat self cliched lyrics and persona.

Its the one record without a standout song, perhaps the title tack comes close with the best of Freddie here and some great cohesion as the song flows. Its counterpart however, Heaven For Everyone, follies as its well intended lyrics stack up the cheese with these ballad like "gentle epics". Its certainly not my cup of tea and ends up being the vibe most the music follows. It leaves me with mixed feelings.

Undeniably genius and brilliant in their element, Queen's eclecticism and eccentricity was practically miraculous in the best of their early output. Heading into the eighties that eclectic nature seemed to weigh them down as cohesion was waning and the song writing became more divided, rigid and lacking adventure. They developed a comfort in writing that lost its excitement and surprise. With Innuendo they mustered a little bit of that spark back but by Made In Heaven they lulled back into that comfort again. Its not a great record to end on but the journey has been immensely fun!

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Xzibit "Man VS Machine" (2002)


Following up on the mixed bag that was Restless, Xzibit brings a surprising amount of coherence to his forth album. Man VS Machine has a similar tone and entourage with Dr. Dre, Snoop and Eminem returning among others, as well as new collaborates DJ Premier and M.O.P. Kicking off with a typical self affirming braggadocio track, the substance then starts with Release Date, a tale of being released from jail and building a mentality for the transition. Its a moment where his rhymes grab your attention and handle a narrative. It happens rather frequently on the albums journey.

Man VS Machine is not without its tarnish, some features feel routine, a few stale overproduced beats and a couple of trashy raunchy songs in the mix but this streak of substance in X's rhymes stand out. He is still firmly rough and tough on the mic, his delivery hard and concise with a firm flow, typical X but between his hard hitting lines, socially conscious leaning verses pack some weight, food for thought in the mix. Its far from profound but as the tracks play these moments frequently pop up.

Heart Of Man remixes Toto's Africa, which might sound like a recipe for disaster and although X is a little harsh for the mood, it somehow serves as a highlight on the record, a rather uplifting track with a solid message of taking life seriously and putting in hard work to who you are and your ambitions. He reflects on his journey and how others and fallen behind, the way of expressing his work ethic is refreshing. It stands out against the overall tone, a lot of spiffing clean virtual instrument beats with enough variety and experimentation to provide something for everyone.

My Name is a fantastic tune, Eminem lends his voice and production for another track that could slip into his own discography. Nate Dogg's voice in the chorus hook really pulls together the vibe of the era. The inclusion of Eddie Griffin on a skit, akin to one on 2001, once again really expands this sounds universe. I was so fond of in my youth, much fun to discover more of it. Going into this I wasn't expecting much giving the historical response but their is plenty here to dig. With a little trim removing some of the fluff tracks it would be one solid record!

Favorite Tracks: Release Date, Symphony In X Major, Heart Of Man, My Name, Missin U
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 26 June 2020

Stevie Wonder "Innervisions" (1973)


A name known the world over in music, but one I had never come acquainted with until now. Stevie was a veteran at this point, a Jazz musician from an era where records where pumped out yearly. Innervisions, his sixteenth, is often frequented by critics as a landmark album, making top lists and the like. Its a highly enjoyable record, loaded with melody and thoughtful compositions. Brilliant songwriting has appealing pop sensibilities between a depth of expansive instrumentation. Initially I was drawn to a subtle streak of Progressive Rock, Visions almost acting as an echo of King Crimson. The overlapping influences of Soul, Funk, Jazz and Rock at play created a point of comparison with some Jazz Fusion records I have enjoyed.

Another thread of influence unraveled. Stevie's voice had a remarkable resemblance to Micheal Jackson, the high pitch woos and cries an obvious characteristic of influence on the king of pop, as well as some of his higher ranged singing carrying a similar persona. His presence is subtlety remarkable. Perhaps it is the competition from the artful instrumentation that competes for attention. Golden Lady a fantastic example of powerful singing that isn't over pronounced or dialed up beyond necessity. His music is warm, inviting and the songs often grow in stature as one is drawn in.

As familiarity settled the themes of social struggle and black life in American became all too apparent. Living For The City tells tales of hard life and daily struggles. The seven minute march opens up with a scenic passage, voice actors and city sounds depict an encounter with corrupt cops. It had me pondering. What was the origin of such an concept incorporated into music? I first heard it on Straight Outta Compton and its become a common feature in Hip Hop musics. Maybe it has its roots here?

Stevie has it all on this record. His instrumentation is a vibrant tapestry of instruments in tandem, reveling in melody, chord arrangements arrive with pleasing simplicity yet offer a wealth of creativity as the Funk energy personifies the synths and instruments with a bold liveliness. It has me appreciating it more with each listen but I may be far from done with Innervisions. Some songs towards the back end don't appeal quite as much when approaching the ballad spectrum but there is a wealth of great music here I can't deny and its been a fantastic introduction to the legendary musician.

Favorite Tracks: Living For The City, Golden Lady, Higher Ground
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Global Communication "76 14" (1994)


Plucking a recommended "ambient gem" from an old playlist, I found myself in a moment of awe as I thumbed over the release date. All the many similarities and artists I could reference flew out the window as this vastly predates the likes of Carbon Based Lifeforms. Now its praise seems all the more apparent given what little that is similar Ive heard before the year of 94. Global Communication are an English ambient duo who have built a timely, beautiful experience here, embarking on seventy six minutes and fourteen seconds of entrancing ambiguity and Downtempo meditations. Its songs are all equally named in length, a combination of two numbers to say little more of the music, other than how long each chapter will last.

This lack of additional substance lets the music take on its own form with no suggestion of what the artists intention might be. For me, an experience both cosmic and spiritual, meditative and temporal, even a little funky and jazzed out in its lively spaces. The music can be whatever you like! Its overall quality is a sonic experience, soft and suggestive with lapses into beat and groove as its lengthy building passages of suspense find release in steady percussive sways. They muster a warm gusto of pace an indulgence into deeply relaxed and chilled soundscapes.

 The record starts with its mighty astral synths playing folly to whats ahead. It opens a portal for a lengthy expedition guided by whirling synths and stitched to reality with its remarkable, tembre tick-tock of a clock, marking time passing by, It seems all to meaningful somehow. The songs then sway between experimental soundscapes and rhythmic rooted tracks that lay down easy tempos and build a world around it with various electronic synth sounds and murmurous bass lines.

 7 39 builds up an appetite with light Industrial vibes and a denser web of interchanging sounds. Its potent melodies overall vibe fondly remind me of Devin Townsend's Project EKO. Its a stark transition into 54, mysterious foreign voices exchange some shared language of communication as spacious beeps and whirls give of an astronomic vibe. It plays into the experience as the foundations of rhythm and melody seemed to be pulled back into ambiguity on a frequent basis.

As the closing tracks returns to the heavenly astral synths heard in the opening, they act like a wrapper for two particular strains of music held together in the middle. Ambiguous experiments in temporal texture and Downtempo chill out tracks converting the electronic music scene of the 90s into ambient form. All of it is fantastic and the way in which it flows just makes for an effortless listen. I can see why its held in such high regard. Hearing what it must of influenced beyond its release has certainly taken the edge off a little but it makes it no less fantastic.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 19 June 2020

Coprofago "Unorthodox Creative Criteria" (2005)


The crudely named Coprofago are a Chilean band likened to Meshuggah, once discovered at a time before the Djent scene had blossomed and an inch for the Swede's new sound was present. With roots in the Technical Death Metal scene, an influence of meaty seven string guitars hammering out blunt, looping polymetered riffs make themselves known from the kick off. With alien guitar leads akin to Fredrick Thordendal and harsh, bleak screams similar to Jens Kidman its easy to see the influence and how fans could be comparative between the two bands.

As the album plays, its other influences start to reveal themselves. The keyboards illuminate another angle, Jazz Fusion and Progressive Rock styling bring an exploratory nature to the music, it provides relief to the brutal onslaught of chugging mechanical riffs and broadens the scope of sound to quite the musical adventure. Tracks like Isolated Through Multiplicity go off on thees tangents of colorful expression, outbursts led by the synths as exchanges in musical electricity between guitar and keyboards play in contrast to the metallic edge and grinding drums.

The synth tones are somewhat cheap and cheesy when given focus to their aesthetic. Yet the performance and composition fits so snugly into whats unfolding that its barely noticeable. The whole thing is a classy affair from talented musicians rattling of their skills into Jazzy constructs of intensity and indulgence as the music often sways between an aggressive temperament and something far more exploratory and emotional, in a mysterious sense as they often pluck at more existential strings.

One could almost separate these two strands that tend to work in parallel rather than find common ground. The swing between is often blunt and swift yet with that it finds a charm perhaps learned through familiarity as this record is one I've frequented over the fifteen years since its release. Its always been a pleasure and listening to it again, breaking down the components I find myself really appreciating this niche era of influence when Meshuggah's legacy first started to spread.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Xzibit "Restless" (2000)


Xzibit's third record, Restless, unites the West Coast rapper with legendary producer Dr. Dre who brings his Aftermath entourage. Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Mel-Man & Nate Dogg all participate in the product. Their worlds collide, what seemed an inevitability giving the influential tone of 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz. This record was like unearthing a lost memory, the beats, hooks and features had the temperament of an era I knew fondly growing up with Em and Dre dominating MTV day in and out. His hit single X is the one song I remember from its airplay on the music channel.

After many spins, my take away is mostly disappointment. I'm sure I'd love it if I heard it at the time but the music mostly feels second hand to the style of production. The tone and temperament, flows and hooks echo of 2001 and his aforementioned guests dominate attention with their styles of the era. Don't Approach Me with Eminem is a fantastic track but as the two exchange verses and Em sings the chorus its practically a Marshall Mathers b-side as the songs weight is clearly on one of their shoulders.

 A couple tracks sour with weak hooks or trashy lyrics. Snoop on D.N.A is just ridiculous, made me reflect on how mean and vicious his attitude was at this point in his career. Its not all bad. X brings on other legends like Erick Sermon and KRS-One who put together two fantastic tracks, the loose yet sharp, goofy beat Alkaholik and Kenny Parker Show an old school banger bringing back the classic echos on rhymes.

What about X himself? I felt like he had less to say overall. The immediacy and thirst lacking a little which seems to be a common thread in Hip Hop once success is reached. His rhymes are solid and flow aggressive and rugged but a lot of the lyrical topics were mainly self affirming and defensive of his ability on the mic. Its the most common theme but unless bringing the sharpest arrangement of words its wont stick.

One track, Sorry I'm Away So Much, stands out as a thoughtful song about being a father from his the perspective of X's lifestyle but its a lone track of reflection among a lot of typical hard headed rhyming. Restless is a curious record, a project with a lot of hands on deck, bringing many sounds together that tend to cloud its focus where quality is sparsely found between mediocrity.

Favorite Tracks: Alkaholik, Kenny Parker Show, Double Time, Don't Approach Me, Rimz & Tirez, Get Your Walk On
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Trivium "What The Dead Men Say" (2020)


Having spent over a month with this record my dissatisfaction perhaps stems from a case of fulfilled curiosity with their previous effort, The Sin And The Sentence, being a proper introduction to the bands identity. What The Dead Men Say feels like a total rehash of the same summery anthemic festival Metal spun with the same craft, intensity and almost cheesy lyrics poised with a tone of might, honor and glory. Matt Heafy's wording and delivery bares it formula, making for a rather predictable string of songs that summit the same emotional struggles over and over again.

To give the record some merit, its a very credible romp of melodic tinged aggressive metal. Soaring its way through turmoil with streaks of grooving riffs neatly composed, the songs carry a constant sense of epic struggle and overcoming odds as the temperament tends to follow the lyrical narrative. The longer tracks carry some variety with breaks from the normative structures but despite regular creative shake ups the whole thing feels like an repeating echo of what just came before it.

It leaves me with not much to say. Its opening track IX creates quite the anticipation with its darkly acoustic but once the metallic guitar kick in with an appropriately crisp, octane production the music swiftly fits the cast its molded for with all the verses, choruses and hooks feeling so normative. Even if this Is all I focus on with my writing, its an enjoyable record, a fun ride of proud fist pumping Metal precisely in the anthemic style Trivium have mastered over the years.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Meshugah "I" (2004)


Part of the excitement leading to Catch Thirtythree was the build up in the Nuclear Blast magazine, the Swedish bands lable. Before its arrival the band would release another one song project, an EP with a lone twenty one minute song known as I. Rougher around the edges and with its drum machine identifications showing, I serves as the bridge between sounds. This was the Nothing and Chaosphere era of the band manifesting into a meaty riff fest of pummeling brutality with shades of the masterclass to come, however this was an exercise in sheer intensity.

Giving it a listen again for some time I find myself enamored by its coarse abrasion and flabbergasted as to how my memory of its genius faded. Perhaps that grinding intro of Bleed like guitar chugging meant I'd skip it over? How could I forget such magic? As the song grows it flexes some alien melodic guitar lines in the background, swelling groove and aggression in a hateful pot. Then comes the real axe grind, meaty poly chugs allure us into an absolute maelstrom of deafening blast beat madness... and then that solo! My word is it a blisteringly fast, finger bleeding assault on the strings baron of any melodic sense, it just starts, full on, then ends... I love it!

The song falls into a lull of discordant acoustics and then its returning riffs echo much of a Meshuggah in years to come with riffs conceptually liking to its predecessor. Pummeling its way on with simplistic grooves and far simpler slabs of head banging groove, a stretched elasticity starts to build suspension, unleashing more measures of hypnotic swaying. Those Catch Thirtythree shimmering tremolo guitars make an arrival in the background and I'm fondly loving the journey through this old treasure.

Listening again, one can really hear the transition play out as a progressive journey through the song. More elements of whats to come persuade the song as its birth through incessant brutality gives way to an arsenal of carefully crafted riffs that are just simply a delight to endure. Turning this song on to churn out some thoughts I am stunned again as to how much brilliance this band posses in their conceptual approach to ideas. These "one song" concepts steered the band from structural norms and in it the freedom to move births so many fantastical ideas. Its a real treat!

Rating: 8/10