Sunday, 31 January 2016

Deafheaven "New Bermuda" (2015)

American Black Metal or "Blackgaze" outfit Deafheaven from San-Fransisco have been both critically acclaimed and at the center of hate fueled controversy with Black Metal elitists and keyboard warriors of the web who believe the bands music taints the supposedly puritanical nature of Black Metal. Jokes aside I never find myself offended by music, which is what many comments, articles and online ramblings would suggest fans of traditional BM are when it comes to this band. Their breakout record "Sunbather" in 2013 was one I cared little for and despite its praise I found myself somewhat puzzled to what the "magic" was, however this time around its hit me like a firm slap across the face. I don't care much for the debate as to if this band is "true" or not, I came here to enjoy some filthy dark music.

The bands sound is somewhat deceptive, harsh, threatening screams penetrate the pummeling, rattling blast beats and menacing guitars that glaze through darkness at a racing speeds. In the bleak, cold and unforgiving sound there is a sense of something warmer that steadily emerges with each passing phase of the song, blossoming into a gorgeous Post-Metal soundscape of transcending serenity. This was my experience of the first song. In breaking it down I felt a lot was to be learned about what makes this record tick and much of the same can be said for the following four songs that make up the record.

Aesthetically the relentless drumming, dark distortion tone and vocalist Clarke's sharp, sinister screams create a harrowing black accent but the guitar work transforms them with Shoegaze and Post-Metal / Post-Rock ideas, techniques and song structures. They create quite the enigmatic experience as the dark and light are held in a unique, original balance. They toy between one another, stretching, elasticizing as songs themes move back and forth in a singular progressive motion. Not all the songs move on the same path. "Baby Blue" starts with acoustic guitars, shadowy blues in color and cuts rather immediately into its dark counterpart. I especially like the mysterious synth at the end with a woman making an announcement about the George Washington bridge. Its eerie and unsettling, seemingly because the message shouldn't be? Its odd and I like it.

The record sounds fantastic, the guitar tones are especially dense, magnetic and immersive. My only quarrel were the vocals, although fitting and powerful, the cut like a knife and never let up, sometimes it felt a little much with a singular delivery style. The five songs have zero filler and take us on a unique journey that fades out with a satisfying melodic climax. The heart of this music is traditional Black Metal and I see how it gets some fans up in arms but that attitude of elitism and "true" is only holding a listener back from an expanded experience. A stunning record which I've barely put down in recent days.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, 29 January 2016

Kate Tempest "Everybody Down" (2014)

This record was a gift I received at Christmas and that first, instantaneous impression was not flattering. Disjointed of-kilt beats droned underneath a monotone Londoner's voice talking the story of when Harry met Becky. Things u-turned quickly and within a couple of tracks the magic shone brightly through this brilliant sound like an epiphany. Unique, authentic and original within the context of what I've heard, Kate Tempest is an English poet, rapper from Brockley, London who has so brilliantly deconstructed the foundations of Hip Hop and rebuilt it poised between spoken word and poetry. Retaining the core elements of beats, rhymes and social commentary its spirit is in the same place yet it cannot help itself but come across as truly different.

Kate delivers her rhymes through a strongly spoken, casual tone accompanied by slightly sung lines for hooks or choruses and impersonating voices for the characters that crop up in her stories. A lot of the lines are rhymed but the casual spoken style lets them drift by as if they are unnecessary as we are locked into to the narrative Kate has us following with series of social stories. They link up through the course of the record, characters drift in and out of the songs before they all converge on the final track. These tales are told with a grit for reality and avoidance of glorification. Observational and blunt, Kate find room to inflect the emotional perspective between the events her characters go through as we follow them on their ark.

Behind her the soundtrack of suburban dystopia drones through moody, dinghy synths that glow like luminous lights through muffled aesthetics. The drums keep pace with unconventional beats that shuffle back and forth, paranoid, between sounds that resemble kicks, snares and cymbals. Off-kilt baselines wobble and groove under the two. It comes together without a big moment, phat groove or memorable melody, playing into a perfect subtlety that lets Kates stories stay in focus as these claustrophobic sounds and tempered beats build a grimy, paranoid atmosphere. The record has been a real experience, unique and original to my ears, defying expectation through a remarkable chemistry between beats and rhymes and a sharp, keen talent for engaging the listener.

Favorite Songs: Theme From Becky, Circles, Happy End
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Dan Terminus "The Wrath Of Code" (2015)

Browsing through upcoming releases for games on steam I came across NeuroVoider, a fast paced rouge-light top down shooter with a dark, atmospheric and synth heavy soundtrack. My ears immediately perked up and with a little research I found the soundtrack was made by one man band, French musician Dan Terminus. It was this record, "The Wrath Of Code" and if it was composed with the games soundtrack in mind? I am unsure but my impression is that this is another record, his third, in his discography that the developers picked up to use as a soundtrack for the game.

What was initially striking about Dan's music was a lack of predictability. Despite being relatively mild and traditional in composition style for modern music, I found myself mostly at the mercy of uncertainty to the direction it was heading. I found this experience extremely enjoyable and now after many listens I can put my finger on it. The "Dark" side of this music isn't what I'm used to, normally I gravitate to emotionally darker music, where minor, pentatonic and other such scales prevail. In this music we find a playful retro fantasy of dark cyber realms where the atmosphere create visions of movie-like heros adventuring through the electronic landscape.

The music itself is well realized with lush electronic tones oozing retro buzz saws and sine waves with a balance of harsh and softer tones that meld together in a smooth array of reverb. The atmosphere creeps through from behind with quiet ooh and aah choral synths playing in the distance and cueing the biggest moments between the the songs lead instruments. The drums are quite contrasting, with highly compressed, cutting snares and thudding kicks that lack reverb or cushion. They cut through the mix and it ends up serving as a key component in the records chemistry, the contrast in style holds the music in a unique balance.

Another notable distinction is the manipulation of dense snarly synths that roar and moan like demonic monsters, they crop up in some tracks and do wonders the further enforce the fantasy cyber world scenarios these songs conjure. I feel i should also mention this is an instrumental record, something I neglect to do as it feels irrelevant, it wasn't until writing this that it crossed my mind. "The Wrath Of Code" has been a fresh and entertaining listen however with familiarity it has lulled somewhat. It was nice to find something new, but despite being a well rounded record, there is a lack of gems or stand out moments to ascend this release into something great.

Favorite Song: The Chasm
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Redman "Dare Iz A Darkside" (1994)

Reggie Nobel, or Redman as he's known, is an American rapper who I was introduced to through his acting career, noticeably his lead in "How High" with Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan. Although familiar with his hits, It occurred to me Ive never really given a record of his a proper listen. Noticing the album covers inspiration from Parliament's "Maggot Brain" I thought why not this one? Very quickly I found myself deciphering the albums chemistry and quirks while enjoying the bombastic, braggadocios battle rap style of Redman who track after track reaffirms his substance with an array of humors lines, crafty lyricism and hyped delivery.

Not long into my first listen it became very apparent this is the rapper who Craig Mack emulated his style from. When Mack dropped this flavor it felt rather lack luster and tame in spots, but Redman has the style in the balance, although too many spins it can get a little tiring which is understandable considering ninety percent of the content is about self affirming his flow and lyrical format. Its fun, playful and Redman is full of energy, spitting tight rhymes with a grooving flow that continually bounces off the energy of the instrumentals. He's light on his toes, throwing punch after punch, left hook, right hook, throwing forth the rhymes like a boxer. In between the steadier verses Redman brings the hype with some effective techniques, double tracking the rhyme words, using echos, reverbs and on occasions a love/hate pitch shifted Chipmunk like voice that's unmissable for its blunt presence.

Behind his voice a unique instrumental style plays, underwhelming in immediacy but genuinely grooving and unique for its loose feel. There can be much chaos between layers of samples and a lack of continuity gives the sound its mark. Sometimes the samples will clash a little and underneath most tracks on the record a deep baseline rocks out to its own accord. Its an unusual chemistry that gives itself a lot of leeway and flexibility and ultimately sounds atmospherically bombastic with a touch of boom bam in there too. Defining for Redman's style and a solid record with little to criticize, however apart from a couple of preferred tracks, like "Rockafella" sampling Snoop Doggy Dogg, there's no surprises or ground breaking raps, its a safe album that sticks with what works.

Favorite Songs: Rockafella, Basicly, Wuditlooklike, Sooperman Luva II
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Izioq "New Songs For Old Kids" (2016)

The new year has finally landed! Our first record of 2016 is none other than the wonderful Izioq who has been injecting a healthy dose of smiles into my time-lapses and livestreams with the playful and spirited music that plays tribute to the wonder of the childhoods of my generation. I was undoubtedly excited to see this record released and once again suffered from a little of first listen confusion. It is a curiosity to how first impressions can be telling for some and in the case of this record, misleading. Since the second listen I have be loving this one, another warm and welcome dose of soothing, delightful melodies to fill the soul with good vibes.

What this record has going for itself, compared to the previous two, is a current of continuity, a steadier sense of theme and mood which flows from track to track breezing with a calmer and settling vibe, reflected in the shorter track listing and an average of longer songs. The album doesn't encroach on many new ideas and sits firmly in the comfort zone of its predecessor "My Own Private Video Game", with the track "My Cereal Box Song" indulging us in a playful, mischievous throwback to the nostalgic 8-bit sounds of "Retro Life" although its "break" or transitional mid phase lavishes us in an ethereal wash of swirling synthesizers. 

It kicks off with a burst of energy and the cracking "Welcome To Izio Qlub" that delivers the charming, inspired melodies we love with a chirpy upbeat punch and chunky bass-line. Its followed by stunning and dramatic strings narrating the swiftly paced traveling song "Epic Grandpa". Not long after the record calms itself into the quieter, atmospheric songs the other half of Izioq's style explored much on the predecessor. It concludes with the songs most inventive track "Song For Robin Williams". A personal tribute that drifts through an unusual, lost dimension between sorrow and wonder. Its quite the emotion jerking song when you think about who its for.

This record came together well but fell a little short of expectations, a few brighter, energetic melody driven numbers in the latter half would have given it a familiar feel, drifting between two styles but the atmospheric numbers didn't have quite the same spark. That being said, this was a very enjoyable record, that fits right into my Izioq playlist and shows there is more to be enjoyed from this universe of music.

Favorite Songs: Welcome To Izio Qlub, Epic Grandpa, My Cereal Box Song, Song For Robin Williams
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Sikth "Opacities" (2015)

With the recent touring reunion of infamous English metal outfit Sikth, its no surprise to see this mini-record released after nine years of silence since their second full length in 2006. It consists of five songs and a brilliant acappella performance in the vein of 2003's "The Trees Are Dead And Dried Out..." weird and eccentric closing track "When will the forest speak?". It has been great to hear the group back together however nothing here stuck quite like the classics of their past but didn't stop it from being an exciting listen and a welcome return.

Opacities bares the signs of a band getting back into the groove of things, but not quite where you'd expect. What they have got right are the aesthetics. Their identity is intact, mostly in the vocal department with Mikee and Justin reuniting their distinctive chemistry, dynamic range from clean to guttural and theatric, playful performances, sounding as youthful as the decade gone by. The guitar tones are on point with many of the notable techniques, like hammer-ons, sounding the same as where they left off. The underlying music however doesn't follow the same flow as before and sounds somewhat more generalized of a modern Metal band.

Opening with a bombastic groove riff they quickly conform to more comfortable metallic styles unlike their previous unpredictable nature. Where they were once spectacular in the spectrum of unusual or unfamiliar musical ideas there are now echos of these ideas surfacing between the groove heavy poly chugs that take charge for most of this record. Given their track record and the sparks of excitement that crop up through the EP they sound like a band still reconnecting with their identity. 

It may sound a little gloomy but this is a band that have set high standards for themselves and Opacities is a charged, energetic ride of a record that never settles for a dull moment. Its ripe with enthusiasm and punch, plenty of atmospheric moments and inspiration to soak in, but its still just a sign of where they can go. If a full length is in their plans they have certainly shown the signs of getting back into their prime.

Favorite Song: Under The Weeping Moon
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 15 January 2016

Dead Can Dance "Aion" (1990)

Here's a fascinating record that was sent to me by a dear friend, I've had it on repeat often and have been looking forward to sharing this gem. Dead Can Dance are an Australian duo who formed in 1981 and have produced eight records under a myriad of musical styles and influences mostly from within the sounds that emerged from Post-Punk and Neoclassical. On this record we get a strong Medieval vibe that feels recreational and purist in spirit but lets a few modern musical ideas in to great effect. The records cover features a tiny snip-it from the Triptych "The Garden Of Earthly Delights" from the early Renaissance era.

In a truly recreation style the dramatic moments of this record follow the breath taking performances of Lisa Gerrard, who's vocals transform time and age with a stunningly powerful and spiritual performance that changes ones surroundings to the aged wood oak of church pews. You can feel the cold stone beneath your feet, the robes around ones body, the smell of candles drift by as we get a feeling of our ancestry through sublime Gregorian chants. Brendan Perry also gives enigmatic performances that are transforming as if from a man not of this time. Its truly remarkable and the backing vocalists that join them on a couple of tracks also give a spirited performance.

The record drifts between three types of song, some instrumentals composed though sounds of the era, vocally led numbers with minimal compliment, like an organ or bagpipes and songs that trip gently into modern ideas through the use of 4/4 drum beats. It's the use of rigid drum machines and sequenced electronic instruments that gives this record a point of interest. Not to tip the scale in either direction they are both recreational sounds and inventive elements. For example "Black Sun" has the most rigid and repetitive sounds looping from a sequencer and its atmosphere is less purist as a result, yet its also one of my favorites for its captivating atmosphere.

Its a mixed bag of nostalgic treats, all of which has been a joy to indulge in. Id like to hear more of this group, however it would appear that something different should be expected of each record in their discography, which in a way gives me more reasons to give them a chance considering the quality of this one. I'm left curious as to how often I'll get an inkling to return to this one.

Favorite Songs: The Song Of The Sibyl, Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book, Black Sun
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Lard "The Last Temptation Of Reid" (1990)

Investigating some of Industrial legends Ministry's many side projects I stumbled into the abruptly named "Lard" that features Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra alongside the Ministry lineup of the time. Delightfully for me it retains a lot of the attitude and industrial aggression of the group at their peak, with Jello's vocals providing a slightly maniac dimension. The biggest point of contention would be the chemistry between the two. Having spotted Biafra in Ministry's "In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up" live show VHS it wasn't quite a surprise to find the musicians from different scenes has struck up a friendship. Jello's theatrical and flamboyant style is a little soar against the rigid industrial sounds of drummer Ward's machine like timing and Jourgensen's mechanical guitar riffs. It grows with each listen but never finds the right cohesion.

The guitar work is undeniably in the same vein as Ministry at their best, the drums too, and much of whats on offer feels like it could be reworked and slipped into one of their classic records. At times some Hardcore Punk influences show their merit but the main separation is the inclusion other musical ideas, some punk, some more melodic, cropping up in-between the repetitive onslaught of the instrumental Industrial beast. Of what sounds best, is mostly of what that is most familiar, however the track "They're Coming To Take Me Away" steals the show with a dark, grizzly and haunting march through the sounds of mental insanity as a gritty baseline plugs away behind a military drum march that as the sounds of screams and cries filling the void between scary coo coo clocks. Jello gets his performance spot on with his creepy "Hee hee", "Ha Ha" and "Hoo Hoo"s. Its a dizzying track of metal darkness but makes its point splendidly. Great record for a Ministry fan, but nothing to spectacular taking place.

Favorite Song: They're Coming To Take Me Away
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Tycho "Dive" (2011)

Turning to something calm, upbeat and electronic I browsed my way to a record that really grabbed me a few years back. Its not a classic, it has its flaws but indulgences us in a unique style of electronic psychedelic and dreamy wet vibes delivered with a touch of accessibility. Tycho, or Scott Hansen, is an American electronic musician who's been actively releasing records under this moniker for over a decade and "Dive", his forth full length record, was the first of his music I heard.

The records style, substance and pallet establish itself immediately as the echoing, vibrato synths warm up into a pleasant and calm atmosphere. The down tempo beat comes in steadily with a hard, thudding kick and light snappy snare that feels as effortless as the breezy atmosphere that's growing. The song winds down a little before kicking back in with faster drums and growing layers of instruments and rich synths. A bold and calculated baseline grooves under airy synths that ooze and drift between the other sounds in an entrancing state. It washes over with an almost ethereal vibe, one that's much brighter and uplifting. At times these synths expand and contract to the beat of the bass drum, reinforcing a strangely organic vibe that creeps through electronic tapestry.

From the opening track alone you get a a vivid picture of what the rest of the record will offer. With such a lush and enigmatic sound Tycho fails to push the initial premise any further and the album can certainly lull if your not quite in the mood. But that's not what this record is about, its a moment of beauty, calm and serine, entrancing and psychedelic that stretches on and on. Although each song is great in its own right the lack of variety or imagination in the melodies has each song feeling like the one before it. The approach is the same each time and little is expanded on from the first track, which I feel could be a love or hate scenario. Maybe you want that one moment to stretch on, or maybe like me you need some spice and theater in a fifty minute record. Its brilliant, but flawed and on a final note I love the album art. Its simple but beautifully painted, and is a perfect fit for the sound inside.

Favorite Songs: A Walk, Dive, Melanine
Rating: 7/10

Friday, 8 January 2016

Agalloch "The White" (2008)

Browsing through my archives I stumbled into and old gem, a lost treasure, something that must be shared for its intrinsic beauty and deeply spiritual sound. Agalloch are a highly praised American Black and Folk Metal band who released this record between a string of noisier counterparts. Not being that familiar with anything else in their discography I remember it as a u-turn to the roots of their Folk influences, a tribal, pagan ethereal experience that places one at the heart of nature.

The record establishes its Pagan theme immediately opening with a sample of children chanting "We carry death out of the village" from the movie "The Wicker Man" about a Pagan community on an isolated island. Its followed by bright, infectious acoustic guitars, vivid and clean they swoon simple melodies and chords with a Folk charm. It reminds me of the acoustic moments present in Metallica's "Battery" and "To Live Is To Die", a similar tone but a loud and strongly plucked playing style.

Aside the core instrument, the guitar, there is a imaginative variety of sounds that give each track its own dimension, "Birch Black" has swirling synths falling from the sky, a crunchy theatrical baseline signaling the tribal drums that pound the way for a tremolo plucked lead to crash into and narrate the song from a soaring height. "Hollow Stone" plays with brooding ethereal noises that sound like soft winds with distant voices in a choir, morning a lost beauty. It paints a picture of great loss in the cold foggy moors of the countryside as night is setting in. "Sowilo Rune" has a warm, adventurous but tamed piano playing of a soothing chemistry between the ethereal synth and strummed guitar chords. Whispering voices and a deep base moog give it a touch of mystery and mysticism while remaining an upbeat and positive song.

The final song ends where it all started, with a sample from "The Wicker Man" and often it is my cue to return to track one and enjoy it all over again. Its a record of substance and inspiration, one could of wished for more but of the thirty two minutes, not one moment is wasted. Its a mesmerizing, spiritual record, isolated in a bands discography, unlikely to be returned to again. Either way its a treasure I've enjoyed countless times and will continue to as time races on-wards.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

C418 "148" (2015)

C418 returned late in 2015 with a lengthy, two hour epic record titled "148", the rearrangement of numbers slightly confusing. Initially cited as a "departure" from his traditional sound I found myself at a loss to what this departure was, with a big dose of new sounds and ideas there is certainly a freshness in the air but this record is about as C418 as It gets. Its starts at a strolling pace with a trilogy of down tempo sleepy numbers breezing in with the sentiment of "I don't need you to agree with me" on the opener. It concludes with a gradual climax as airy, dreamy synths grow around his vocals gently musing the lines along "life's illusion" before returning us to a familiar setting on the next song. C418 distinctive melody style and pallet comes into its own here as it does throughout, often shifting between his more traditional sounds and some of the new ideas this album plays with, which often revolves around the beat.

Its not long before the records longest and most delightful track "185" kicks in and sets us on an electronic dream world journey through a continually grooving baseline led dance groove that plays out like a drone. Unusual quirky synths slowly grow and transform alongside the other instruments while the groove hammers on and on in a trance like state. The following "Jimitention" plays around with sleepy lullaby melodies in the beginning before finding its way to a harder groove following the principles of its predecessor, transmuting and morphing around the core.

"Tsuki No Koibumi 2" brings in one of the albums brightest moments with some beautiful, unusual and softly sung vocal lines from Laura Shigihar and her charming foreign language. After "Friend" the record drifts into a string of House tracks that play out in the typical C418 manor, full of slow and sweeping transitions between steady thudding kicks leading the beat and unraveling synths that stealthily change. They are deep and atmospheric, lengthy, spectacular and having an entrancing quality that's calm and relaxed. The track listing gets broken up a little with some different songs, "Divide by four add seven" bringing some bright bells to the forefront to play a soothing melody directly and the remix of "Beta" an energetic transformation of the classic minecraft song.

Its long, lengthy and full of tracks that take their time and surprisingly it holds up across the two hours. Its the kind of album you can dive in and out of and although their is no overall theme or uniting concept it has a lot of continuity and flow. His traditional style is met with some stronger House and Drum n Bass influences but overall its still the same style and charm we are used to from C418, or Daniel. Looking forward to whatever is next.

Favorite Tracks: 185, Jimitention, Tsuki No Koibumi 2, Aria Economy, Divide By Four Add Seven
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Judas Priest "British Steel" (1980)

Pounding the world, like a battering ram! British Steel is English Heavy Metal band Judas Priest's sixth album released at the beginning of a new decade for the band, the 80s, and would be their most definitive and celebrated record. Having pioneered a heavier, unique and charismatic style in the 70s with records like "Killing Machine" it was this record that it all came together to produce an anthemic collection of songs that paraded the hard metal and leather niche of Heavy Metal they had created for themselves. I was lucky enough to have found this record at a young age around fifteen years ago and time and time again its been a go to record for getting the adrenaline pumping with Heavy Metal fever.

Singer Rob Halford's unrivaled vocal range leads the charge with a commanding and fearless attitude through a forceful strength in his voice which despite being relativity smooth and audible has the grit and clout to enhance the bands heavy attitude. Alongside him the guitars blaze a trail like the sirens of Heavy Metal, assaulting the listener with crisp, metallic tones, dynamic and powerful as they combine a sense of melody and rhythm together in a power chord led offensive of endless tunes to hum along to. The bass takes a tamer roll, often mirroring the guitars but sounding solid and bold. The drums have a mighty tone, a rounded, cutting snare and a thudding bass kick that arrives in the higher ranges gets a workout with double pedal techniques cropping up on occasions. Considerably heavy and progressive for the time and holding up as sturdy backbones for the songs.

Nearly every other song feels like an anthem, or one of importance. The radio hit "Breaking The Law" probably needs no introduction. "United" a true spirited sing along that combines the groove and grit of metal riffage with a shoulder to shoulder chorus of unity. "Red, White & Blue" sounds like an alternative, metallic version of the American anthem and was actually a popular live song when they toured there. Each song has its own reason to be great and my favorite might just be "The Rage" for its genre bender intro which could pass as a piece of Reggae or Dub before crashing in with a thunderous beast of a riff, excelling into a ferocious atmosphere led by Rob's vocal foray.

Its the moments where Rob unleashes the high end of his range that are truly riveting. The power, speed and pitch is mighty and unrivaled as he broods his way through songs, ready to unleash his climatic falsetto at the given moment. Even more impressive is the length he can hold these notes for, reaching mountainous heights and holding his breath longer than the listener. The guitar solos also leave a lasting mark on metal with a slightly chaotic flair that would influence bands like Slayer. They erupt and explode with an energy that illuminates with a frenetic momentum that could go in any direction. The whole thing is an absolute treasure and for its time you can't find a flaw with it. Its stood the test of time and as much as it did for them then, its still a Metal classic.

Favorite Songs: Grinder, United, You Don't Have To Be Old To Be Wise, The Rage
Rating: 10/10