Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Busdriver "Perfect Hair" (2014)

I picked up this album after a positive review from Needle Drop. Instant satisfaction, despite this being an unorthodox Hip Hop record I found it easy to listen to. Both the beats and Driver's flow are eccentric yet so approachable. Upon researching Busdriver I've learned this is his 10th album, the experience and maturity of an artist who's being doing this for 15 years explains the unusual accessibility of such a quirky sounding record.

Driver has a fantastic approach to his verbal articulation, he's got a charismatic energy that shines as he switches between rapping and singing in a effortless and unpredictable fashion. He accents his words with a bold character that gives him a voice that stands out loud. His chaotic flow can be difficult to follow throughout this record, but the tone and style he has speak volumes over the lyrical content itself.

The production is as interesting as the vocal entanglement. Jittery beats are accompanied by some varied instrumentals that have hard and dreamy synths that the drum kicks cut through to great effect. The themes and vibes of these tracks vary well from start to end, yet i find myself attracted to the collaborative producers tracks rather than Driver's, with the exception of "Retirement Ode" which has a synth lead the same as Lord Lovidicus's "A Quest For Silmarlils", pure coincidence of course, but i felt compelled to mention it. All in all a fantastic record which i am throughly enjoying.

Favorite Tracks: Retirement Ode, Ego Death, Upsweep, When The Tooth-Lined Horizon Blinks
Rating: 6/10

Monday, 29 September 2014

Limp Bizkit "Significant Other" (1999)


Limp Bizkit could well be described as the champions of the controversial Nu Metal / Rap Metal era of the late 90s/00s. At a time when MTV was still pushing alternative music Bizkit exploded into the mainstream with this, their sophomore album, topping the billboard charts on the back of hit single "Nookie". Bizkit's monumental success was fraught with controversy (Woodstock 99) and not long lived with line up changes hurting their forth effort in 03. Despite selling 40 million records worldwide they have been a love / hate band with front man Fred Durst a controversial figure often at the center of attention. I picked up this album around Christmas of 99. I was torn between Fatboy Slim's "Living Through Chemistry" and SO, which could of been a bitter disappointment, but luckily I made the right choice. Teenage angst is often cited in a negative light as a big part of Nu Metal's success, but 15 years later I still enjoy this record and appreciate what it did for me back then. At an emotionally torrid time while first discovering the world of music, deep bonds are made, I'm thankful that I've held onto them.

On SO Bizkit find their purpose and identity, evolving from the aggressive, bouncy Nu Metal outfit into a group with an immediately identifiable sound. Borland's guitar work is on a new level, pumping out phat, grooving riff after riff that gels with Otto's slamming drumming, which has a rhythmic Hip Hop quality. Rivers is always there as the glue holding the songs together and occasionally taking the lead (Re-Arranged). DJ  Lethal (once of House Of Pain) adds an extra dynamic to their sound with not just scratching, but choice samples that play well into the songs. Borland's riffage on tracks like Break Stuff is unforgettable and a huge part of what makes them so, but Durst is probably the most important part of their success.

Durst's style and attitude made him a figure of attention, his pursuit of celebrity status may have contributed to their success but it also made him a love/hate character in the eyes of many. His lyrical style is easy to attack, Durst is not the greatest of rappers and far from it, however what he brings to the table is the hook. Durst has an uncanny ability to write catchy, memorable lyrics that despite at times being cheesy and goofy, are universally relate-able. Everyones had one of those days, and "Everything is fucked, Everybody sucks" may not be deep, or poetic, but its relate-able, and thats his charm. He can also sing, has a fantastic scream too, and is the special ingredient along with Borland's riffs that gave Bizkit an explosive, original Nu Metal sound that captivated a generation for what now seems like a brief moment. Significant Other is the album that made it happen and I will forever treasure it as an important record that helped opened the door to a world of music for me.

Favorite Tracks: 9 Teen 90 Nine, Trust?, Nookie, Break Stuff, Re-Aranged, Nobody Like You
Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Guru "Jazzmatazz I" (1993)

In my exploration of Hip Hop music I'm somewhat bemused that I missed this record. Guru being one half of legendary Gang Starr, the fusion of Hip Hop and Jazz being a favorite of mine, this record somehow managed to elude me until recently. On this record Guru lays out an interesting approach to the fusion, brining in other established and respected musicians in the Jazz scene such as Donald Byrd to accompany him on the record. Initially I anticipated the Jazz aspect to take a bigger role in the direction of this record because of these collaborative artists, however it turned out not to be so.

The Hip Hop formula is prevalent here with drum loops, samples and verses carving each song into 4 minute tracks with the commonplace verse chorus formula. Many of the Jazz instrumentals feel sampled or looped, with only a few spare moments for the guest musicians to take the lead, not quite what i initially expected, but certainly not a problem, this is an enjoyable record, but one that utilizes the vibes and styling of Jazz into the Hip Hop mold.

Guru is average by his standard this record, theres many enjoyable verses and moments throughout, but nothing that quite sparks and sticks in the mind like some of his raps with Gang Starr. Theres also a great guest appearance from French Rapper MC Solaar. Despite not understanding a word he says, his voice and flow are indulging. The shine on this record comes from the beats and relation to the Jazz element, with the memorable tracks made by the instrumentals. Overall a very enjoyable fusion of to style I'm fond of, but far from being anything exceptional.

Favorite Tracks: Down The Backstreets, Le Bien, Le Mal
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 26 September 2014

Tim Shiel "Duet" (2013)

Tim Shiel is a musician and radio DJ who's music I picked up for free on bandcamp after a recommendation from a commenter here on the blog! Electronic can be such a broad term for music, as can Ambient, this is a Ambient Electronic project with a similar feel to C418, however despite some similarities Tim yields his own memorable vibes and soundscapes that i am continuing to enjoy.

Duets is an absorbing listen, a record that can sit in both the back and foreground of your mind, its gentle and relaxing, yet intricate with a sense of detail. The melodic leads are poised in a balance between being the focus, and being part of the atmosphere. The rhythm section his is nicely arranged with many variations and details, sometimes making effective use of wobbles and harsher sounds that splice between the gently crafted rhythms.

This album has an array of passionately engineered sounds and beats composed together with care. As a whole it comes a little short with a couple of the tracks falling behind the mark set by the more memorable tracks on the record. In its best moments its an indulging listen, but at other times its a bit tame. I look forward to hearing more from Tim in the future.

Favorite Tracks: Theme From Duet, Nay, Exchange, Arete II
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Arcturus "Sideshow Symphonies" (2005)

Arcturus are a highly respected outfit from Norway who pioneered their own Avant-Garde niche in the Black Metal scene. Starting out with more traditional elements they quickly evolved into a unique and energetic, chaotic showcase of intelligent and deep musicianship that delivered some classic and unforgettable progressive records that have had a resounding impact on my personal experience with music. Their Avant-Garde fusion of Symphony, Black Metal & Electronic styling has been legendary, however this album has been considered a miss by many fans and critics, and for me it is their finest hour. Where other felt they had "toned it down", for me, it was a sign of artistic maturity and an appreciation of powerful and subtle writing.

Sideshow Symphonies nine songs seamlessly drift through an astral journey with absorbing, atmospheric compositions crafted through the subtle and layered music. At every moment in this album many small and detailed elements paint a bigger picture. Whirling distant synthesizers, bright pianos, crunchy guitars and paramount leads, all gluing together effortlessly, with many moments in the album bringing different instruments to the forefront. The album sounds crisp and lush, with the subtlety of the instrumentals being the key element here. There is no competition between any of the instruments. Hellhammer's drumming is sharp as ever providing a strong, yet creative backbone for these songs to reside in.

With all thats good to be said about the instrumentation, Vortex's vocal leads steal the show. This man has a stunningly melodic and honest Scandinavian voice. On the track Demonpainter he brings a lead on another level thats unforgettable. I've had the pleasure of seeing him sing live a few times and there's no studio tricks, its raw talent, and its utilized well on this album which has been a favorite of mine for years. Every time i listen its all to easy to get warped up and lost in the wonderful Sideshow Symphonies masterpiece!

Favorite Track: Demonpainter
Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Underachievers "Cellar Door - Terminus Ut Exordium" (2014)

Hip Hop has changed, like all music it evolves over time, and for many fans of the golden/90s era the change is not embraced. Being a 90s fanatic this record gives me faith in its direction and makes me wonder where other acts like these are at. So who are The Underachievers? I have no idea, I picked up this record after hearing about it from the Needle Drop. With this being a modern record I was keen to listen in the hopes of finding something interesting and fresh, and this certainly was to my ears.

When it comes to rapping in Hip Hop its taken a backseat in recent years to the beats, and this record is no exception. AK & Issa are no rap gods, but there not half bad either, they both have a similar approach with fast and fluttery flows that can drift in and out focus with comprehension being a struggle at times. Either its the recording or mixing, or a bit of both, but at times it can be a bit fuzzy. At the same time their vocal style and recording really plays to effect when its done right, with the two dropping some decent verses in places. When it comes to hooks they know what they are doing, theres plenty of catchy ones throughout.

What makes this album shine for me is the beats, and in a way the production too. It's far from being a finely tuned and polished record, theres many muddy moments and inconsistencies, but it all works for effect. The sample selection is choice, accompanied by choppy momentous hi hats, crisp claps and snares and a subtitle bass presence, they build some great tunes with a fresh feeling about them. From track to track this album moves through many moods, from dark and paranoid (Chysalis) too uplifting and ethereal (Felicity), it keeps the listen enjoyable with much variety on display. This is a very enjoyable record!

Favorite Tracks: Luminescence, Caprice, Incandescent, Metropolis, Quiescent, Felicity
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Messenger "Illusory Blues" (2014)

I had the pleasure of catching this new emerging band at the union chapel in London supporting Casualties Of Cool. The setting was quite beautiful sitting in the pews of the communal church, the atmosphere in there was rich and absorbing and I found myself captivated by the harmonious aura their performance brought fourth. It didn't take me long to realize this was something special. Immediately after the show was over i headed to the merchandise stall to buy myself a copy of their album. Since then its been stuck in my CD player, and in my mind.

Messenger, and this album, have come out of nowhere to deliver us some exceptional Progressive music thats reminiscent of the great acts, from Floyd to Opeth, Porcupine to Genesis, there are influences to be felt in many moments, but through the similarities, Messenger really hold there own here. On this record they drift through many different musical passages with a strong melodic hold accompanied by some grandiose, honest vocal leads that resonate through the songs. Theres everything from dreamy, ambient passages, to heavy Zeppelin-esque riffs and its all beautifully bound together through some great musicianship, song structure and a great sense of melodic progression.

The icing's on the cake here. This album offers a lot to take in for the listener, and after many spins i am still absorbing much of the layered instrumentation. The recording here is befitting with no noticeable issues, however there are a few distortions i suspect where for effect in the heavier, riff oriented moments. This album is exceptional, i am liking it more with every listen and very glad i had the pleasure of seeing them live.

Favorite Tracks: The Return, Midnight, Somniloquist
Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Biz Markie "Goin' Off" (1988)

"Hey mum, whats for dinner? Go up you nose and pick a winner!" If ever you wanted to set the tone and let people know not to take you to seriously, then opening with a song about picking your nose is the way to go! Silliness aside, Biz might be comedic, but he has a steady and charismatic flow that quickly draws one into the song and the album. Biz ain't no joke, even if the subject matter is.

The golden era Hip Hop is one i have great respect for, considering how much innovation Hip Hop has been through over the years, the formula is always the same, beats and rhymes. Its a reminder that nothing is dated. Biz's flow, with its old-skool vibe, is captivating and witty and the lyrical content is there even if comical at times, theres also some socially conscious rap on the track Vapors which is a standout track on this record.

The instrumentals on this record aren't quite as memorable as others from the era (ie Schooly D's PSK), but they serve the purpose well. Theres also quite a few snippets on this album that have been sampled by post-golden artists which is always a nice listening experience for keen ears. Overall and easily enjoyable album if your into the golden era.

Favorite Tracks: Pickin' Boogers, Vapors, Nobody Beats The Biz
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 19 September 2014

A Tribe Called Quest "The Low End Theory" (1991)

Where has this album been my whole life? Right under my nose. I've had this Hip Hop classic for years, yet it was only earlier this year i gave it a proper listen. And oh my, what have i been missing out on? A lot. I also found out after getting deep into this record that Tribe played their last live shows last year. I had no idea they were still playing shows. I am sore but lets not dwell on that. Lets talk about this wonderful album.

Tribe are an upbeat, positive Hip Hop group from Queens, New York who broke out the year before with the classic "Can I Kick It". This album represents a fitting evolution in the groups sound that gave birth to one of Hip Hops greatest albums of all time, The Low End Theory has the trio bringing there very best to the table. Q-Tip's production on this album is inspirational, every song has fantastic chemistry between the beats and samples that make for some memorable jazzy, grooving tracks that will get you moving (Sky Pager). Theres many choice edits and breaks to keep the beats feeling fresh throughout, which is an art in itself considering the repetitive nature of Hip Hop beats. 

On the lyrical front Q-Tip & Phife Dawg are at the peak of there game with fantastic street wise & socially conscious story telling songs that have many memorable lines that will get stuck in your mind  (Yo! microphone check, one two what is this?) . Collectively there flow is just right for these beats and you couldn't picture having anyone else on these tracks... Saying that, Busta Rhymes makes an welcome appearance on Scenario, the albums darkest track. All in all the chemistry here is on point as a Tribe at there peak deliver a Hip Hop classic.

Favorite Songs: Butter, The Infamous Date Rape, Everything Is Fair, Sky Pager
Rating: 9/10

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Art Of Noise "The Seduction Of Claude Debussy" (1999)

Being a Debussy fan its no surprise this album grabbed my attention. Having recently discovered this band through a dear friend showing me their classic "Moments In Love" song, I researched them and this being their last album, would be my first. Information available on this record quickly sucked me in, promising such a varied range of music genres and vocals from Rakim and John Hurt. I felt I had stumbled upon something great, and I had. As the album opened with "Il Pleure", a piece that gracefully sets the tone, It was sealed for me. After many spins later I can say may initial anticipation was not let down. This album is a stunning work of art.

This record is comprised of many musical styling that fuse effortless in such artistic form that you may wonder how these styles have not met before. The Classical sound here is the main focus, with a strong rhythmic presence of Jungle / Breakbeat that interchanges as the main focus in different moments throughout. Sally Bradshaw brings her Operatic voice into the frame, just another part of what makes this record so great. Her vocals take lead on "On Being Blue", her voice here and throughout is just sublime. Theres also a strong but generalized electronic presence here with all sort of synth & styles just further adding to the depth this album has.

To top if all off the album is wonderfully narrated by John Hurt, a voice many of us know well, who brings the theme of this record in place. Theres also room for legendary rapper Rakim in this album. I felt his appearance a little underwhelming, although his classic calm and collected flow was there, lyrically it fell a bit short for his standards, but then again this isn't a rap album and he fits in here just fine. All in all this is a stunning album, one I'm sure over time will be a classic in my books.

Favorite Tracks: Dreaming In Color, On Being Blue, Metaforce, The Holy Egoism Of Genius
Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

C418 "Minecraft Volume Beta" (2013)

When this album dropped it somehow went under my radar, as both a C418 and Minecraft fan, it bemuses me somewhat that I missed it, but i finally made the time, and time is certainly what it is. Clocking in at 140 minutes this may be one of the longest album I've listened to, and for all thats good here, its the length that bugs me. I like albums, I like the listening experience, but it is hard in our busy lives to dedicate that time without interruption. Perhaps this isn't an album as such though, I do believe these are the songs that play throughout the game, however my music setting is muted so I wouldn't know any better!

So whats on display in this album? A lot, theres 30 tracks of lush soundtracks for your imagination to drift into. From quiet moody ambiance to quirky melodic leads and dramatic symphonies, there is a vast range of emotion, style and beauty in this record. C418 has a vast range of instruments and they are all crafted with a character that paints his sound on even the most routine of devices. Every composition here is lovely, in its own way.

For all thats good to be said i felt there was a lack of direction or momentum that took these tracks anywhere. Individually they shine, but as a collective the album drifts through many quiet spaces that drown out the more memorable moments. This makes sense, its a soundtrack for a game where the songs will creep in and out at random, and for that its fantastic, but as an album it's not quite what I'm looking for.

Favorite Tracks: Aria Math, Dead Voxel, Alpha, Ballad Of The Cats, The End
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Sabaton "Heros" (2014)

Sabaton are a Power Metal outfit from Sweden with a focus & inspiration on true war stories from the two world wars and other conflicts. Hero's is there 7th album since there inception in 99. I decided to give this a spin after a recommendation from a commenter here on the blog. What i found was a decent record, but it is unable to turn me onto Power Metal, which i have already struggled to click with.

This album was a refreshing break from the magic and fantasy themes so commonly explored in Power Metal. War & patriotism  is a bit of a touchy subject for me, however i found the lyrical content to be focused on the tales of soldiers who gave there life's for a cause, and this for me was enjoyable, however on "The Ballad Of Bull" i found myself a bit bemused. "Sometimes war is killing, sometimes its saving lives, its the judgment of fate, its nothing that man can dictate" No, just no. War is killing, war is made by man.

For me, the music behind the theme was pretty decent, but nothing special, there were not many moments that "blew me away" or stuck in my mind, and the leads/solos are pretty forgettable. The highlights for me were the rhythm guitar which was always solid, and the vocals! Joakim Brodén has a really distinctive voice, and i enjoyed the way his Swedish accent would leave its mark on some words, yet not others. It added a nice flavor to his mark on this record. Overall, pretty enjoyable but Power Metal still doesn't quite do it for me.

Favorite Tracks: Resist And Bite, To Hell And Back
Rating: 4/10

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Photek "Form & Function" (1998)

I found Photek through the song "Rings Around Saturn". It was the only song featured in a football managing game i used to play, it would spin endlessly as i enjoyed the fantasy of taking my team to the top and winning the league. Maybe through this i have attached some positive emotions to this song, but better yet i think its a masterclass track that never gets dull. Maybe over 10 years had gone by and i would still dream of this song, so one day i decided to dig around and find out who's song this was. With music so easily accessible via YouTube it didn't take me long to track down this album, which comprises of two sides, the first a remix of the second half which i have never particularly enjoyed and have always been a little baffled as to the reasoning behind this, the remixes in my opinion add next to nothing to the original tracks. The second half consisting of 6 unique ambient Drum N Bass tracks.

These songs all follow a similar principle, clean cut drum loops and abstract noises, together they create a chilled atmosphere and memorable hooks despite there being no melodic or vocal leads present. This is music striped down to effect. Tracks like "UFO" & "Rings Around Saturn" inject so much into this minimalist form, magic is born from the intricate workings of drum samples that have been broken down and reformed with exquisite detail and glittery rhythms that drill deep into the mind. The is so much soul and craft on display in Rings, with beautiful abstract sounds resonating in and out of focus, providing such a dreary, trancy ambiance that is heavily contrasted, yet complimented by a ever restless drum sequence. UFO offers up some sublime sub bass drops that guide the drums through some eerie and alien sounds. Theres also a fantastic sample of a person reporting they are seeing flashing lights in the sky that really sets the tone well for this track.

All in all there are some sublime tracks here, but a lack of consistency, with just 6 songs and 6 remixes this one really falls short for me on the album listening experience. Rings Around Saturn is a true masterpiece i will never grow old of but the rest of whats on offer just falls short for me.

Favorite Tracks: Knitevision, Rings Around Saturn, UFO
Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Napalm Death "Diatribes" (1995)

Napalm Death are a legendary, British and massively influential band in the world of extreme music, I'm quite unsure as to when it was i first discovered there music, but over the years i have grown very fond of there music and have found their discography to be quite varied. In the early days they were pushing the boundaries of sound with their sonic noise oriented Grindcore, and over the years they have dabbled with Death Metal, Grove Metal and other extremes. This was a record i had initially avoided after reading negative reviews, but having now grown to love this record i realize the negativity mainly stemmed from fans unhappy with a change of direction in the bands sound.

The album is not the most sizable of shifts in sound from 93's "Fear, Emptiness, Despair", a much darker, punkier vibe. Diatribes shifts to a clearer, more approachable mix, the drums are calmer (for Naplam) and adds some real kick to the grooving riffs that pop up throughout this album. Groove Metal may be the best genre to describe this record but doesn't give Napalm much credit for the variety this album offers.

There are many grooving head banging moments, but also its fair share of snaking riffs, atmospheric tracks like Cold Forgiveness and general variety in approach and style from track to track that gives this one a lot of replay value. Theres plenty to enjoy here for a fan of Metal and i have to mention a track "Finer Truths, White Lies" from the Greed Killing EP. Probably there best track of this era, a real bouncy thumper. I have no idea how i didn't make it onto the LP.

Favorite Tracks: My Own Worst Enemy, Just Rewards
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Fever Ray "Fever Ray" (2009)

Its always good to challenge yourself musically, In a search for some music out of my "comfort zone" i actually discovered something perfectly suited for me. This is Swedish singer/song writer Fever Ray's debut and only album, and its a work of art! Having recently discovered she is one half of The Knife i have certainly found something new to listen too, but lets talk about this record first.

This album represents an artistic craft of sound and soul, there is an air of ambiance and minimalism that is built out of detailed constructs of layered instrumentation extending through the rhythm, bass and synth in perfect unison. It produces some beautiful and memorable atmospheres that brings new understanding with each listen. Fever's voice glides over the gentle, absorbing instruments with a raw, charismatic charm that drives home the winning formula this album has.

This album provides many "moments" both lyrically and musically on this album, the lyrics are almost child like at times with Fever often focusing on the simplicity of wants and needs, with no consequence of reality. They make for some relate-able and memorable lines. There's also some great simple synth leads and hooks that jump out of the track and strike with such great timing to really drive home the tracks when they are at there peak. Fantastic songwriting.

Favorite Tracks: When I Grow Up, Triangle Walls, Concrete Walls
Rating: 9/10

Friday, 5 September 2014

Abnormality "Contaminating The Hive Mind" (2012)

In the Death Metal scene today there is a constant flood of new and emerging bands that, in my opinion, don't really offer much to the genre, or particularly go anywhere new or interesting. I thought Abnormality were one of those bands, I found there song "Monarch Omega" when browsing through the endless music videos youtube offers. Despite really enjoying that song, it took me some time to give this album a shot due to my prejudices with the scene.

Having finally got around to giving it a listen, i found was a solid record, one that doesn't try to be anything more that what it is, but delivers some memorable tunes. There is a very enjoyable creative approach to the riffing here that borders experimental at times, but doesn't stray to far from the bounds of the genre. It's a pretty typical Death Metal album, but it has an edge that will make you return when in that whiplash mood.

The recording of this album is crisp and clear, but nothing special, the guitars can be a bit muddy at times but overall the cohesion is good on these tracks, the drum kit has an especially punchy tone and a strong and pummeling presence in both the mix and the songs. Overall this is an easily enjoyed record.

Favorite Tracks: Monarch Omega, Taste Of Despair, Shooting The Messenger
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Casualties Of Cool "Casualties Of Cool" (2014)

Casualties Of Cool is a concept album by Devin Townsend & Ché Aimee Dorval. Being a big Towsend fan i was pretty excited for this album, however i have found myself distracted and have only gotten around to listening to it properly this week! At first listen i was quite impressed, but with further listens i found this record to lack the depth that would bring me back to listen again.

This record has a warm and loving tone soaked in re-verb and ambiance that very much compliments the voice of Dorval, however beyond the tone and sound there isn't much going on musically that is really interesting to me. Having listened to Ki & Ghost many times over i wonder if Devin's ambient charm has worn off on me with this record, but i don't think its that, there really isn't a lot of substance in the songs.

The opening track "Daddy" shows everything this record has to offer, but every track after this just continues in the same vibe with no "moments" like in this track where Dorval comes in with "Two by two they pass you by". Its the only part of this record that sticks in my mind, and with the 14 tracks that follow it doesn't happen again for me. Lovely sound, but something was missing in the musicianship for me.

Favorite Track: Daddy
Rating 4/10