Friday, 30 September 2016

C418 "2 Years Of Failure" (2016)

An initial wave of excitement hit as the release of a new C418 record hit my inbox, upon seeing the records name that quickly faded as "2 Years Of Failure" is obviously a packaging of b-sides, leftovers, tidbits and so called "failures". At an hour run time its a fractured record of experiments, unfinished tracks and alternate takes with a hidden gem at the end. "Stranger Think" is a wonderful remix of the Stranger Things theme song. It adds some density with extra layers of sweeping synth and a deep house percussion to absorb. Id almost prefer it too the original as it only enriches the atmosphere without altering or drifting from the original mood.

The record kicks of with six "90s" tracks dabbling in vibes and styles you might not associate with C418. If it wasn't for some of his distinct techniques and manipulations they could be anyone's songs. A touch jovial and with a touch of VGM chiptune these songs breeze past without purpose or direction despite being colorful, bright and enjoyable little numbers they don't particularly amount to more than the sum of their parts. Then follows "Pizza" a more experimental and unusual track, mixing break beats with Italian folk music that had little chemistry for me. It actually reminded me quite a lot of IGORRR, without the demonic, hellish intensity.

Its followed by a couple of halfway there tracks that lay down a pretty solid foundation for memorable songs but they seemed to have been left incomplete. Then rolls in the alternate takes which are a treat if you know the originals well. Its interesting to hear how changes in the composition don't obscure the bulk of the vibe and mood but let you really appreciate the level of perfectionism that went into the final output.

And that's it really. Unsurprisingly there is little cohesion, not much to get excited about in terms of the songs, however there was at least one thing to take away, the Stranger Things cover. I also very much liked the "185 pre", a favorite C418 song of mine. Not much of a tie over, I will always be very keen to hear whats next from this brilliant musician.

Favorite Tracks: Choice Broken, 185 Pre, Stranger Think
Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Metallica "Death Magnetic" (2008)

With a new album on the horizon and a couple of fantastic singles, the legendary Metallica sound like their heading back to form comparable to their glory days over twenty years ago. With the new single "Moth To Flame" it sounds as if the bands inspiration is without reflection to previous standards, allowing them to move forward in a new genuine direction. And that's what we thought of Death Magnetic eight years ago. I binged this record and caught Metallica playing live several times in the year but then eight years strolled by and I realized Ive never listened to it again. The reason why? Well having dug this one out again its become quiet apparent where its short comings are.

Two big factors stand in the way of this albums potential, one is production and the other is song structure. I remember at the time there was a lot of emphasis on long songs during the promo and each song is six or seven minutes with one ten minute song amounting to well over an hour long record. The problem is a lot of this length is needless repetition. Not all riffs are fantastic but there are definitely belters in here but they come between the drawn out song structures that make a meal out of appetizers. There is simply not as much core material for the length and so the record feels tiresome despite being genuinely energetic and interesting in the beginning stages.

Its second short coming highlights a problem that's cursed a couple of other records, ...And Justice For All's toy drum kit and baseless production has haunted what was a brilliant record and in someway comparable to this one with some needlessly lengthy songs and complex song structures. The other is St.Anger and its clanger snare and dense thudding base kicks. They went for a garage sound and certainly got that. So Death Magnetic joins them with its horribly over loud and over compressed production. Anyone could see this by taking a glance at the EQ with constant peaking across wide ranges. It sucks the craft and texture into a blunt aggression as the guitar texture competes with the crashing snare and drum kit in general. The fast guitar picking sounds fluttery and most instruments suffer from this poor production choice, tiring the listener with a constantly difficult distortions from peaking.

Underneath it there's some great music and memorable riffs in the albums opening songs, however as it stretches on either the music isn't as good or the tolerance for its aesthetic starts to hamper the listening experience. "Cyanide" its a rather weak song and that's where Death Magnetic never picks up steam again. "Unforgiven III" is a pretty lousy third part that bares little resemblance to the original. Its got its strengths but overall id say the record was a disappointment however it has its moments which were pretty exciting back when it was released.

Favorite Songs: That Was Just Your Life, The End Of The Line, The Day That Never Comes, All Nightmare Long
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 26 September 2016

Plini "Handmade Cities" (2016)

For some fans its been a long wait but luckily for me Australian guitarist Plini's debut full length drops just after Ive finished catching up on his three previous EPs. Timing couldn't of been better but since it dropped Ive spent much more time than usual with this record, for it has the potential to be one held dear. Even after a month I still find various melodies, grooves and moments in the record hitting me on different levels and I'm far from finished with it. What Ive heard is Plini really taking advantage of the record format with seven solid and cohesive tracks that play together like a singular experience.

Its an easy ride of gorgeous instrumentals emanating positivity, exploring creativity and toying with inspiration in a setting for lasting melodies and sublime grooves. Labeled as Progressive Metal and "Djent", this record further removes itself from the origin sound of its inception. As if in a loop, it sounds most like Progressive Rock but not in a traditional sense, more a technical similarity. Plini's sense for bright, colorful melodies in a temperate setting are dazzling and come through delicious instruments delicately captured for ripe and powerful sounds to arise from gentle playing. In its heaviest moments the crunchy low guitar djents of "Pastures" feel more like a cushion for tantalizing grooves to persuade so graciously. With a gleaming electric guitar solo cruising in from above and soothing acoustics ringing out it feels like a flood of inspiration came crashing out of nowhere, powerful.

This song is brilliant and its an example of something this record does, take its time. Its four minutes before the song engages with its sublime guitar solo and after the climax the chunky djents and acoustics gently unwind with expansive drums that feel so gracious in their awaiting of the lead guitar to see the song off. The record picks up its intensity as it goes along and the closing track "Cascades" maybe the most metallic in terms of its vibrant energy and it starts with these rhythmically supreme odd time signatures to lap up with the lead guitars 4/4 so brilliantly. It feels like a true inspiration of genius and in a brief mid track climactic moment a more cliched riff emerges with an exuberant performance that will have you yearning for more.

In "Handmade Cities" nothing is rushed, every moment feels leisurely and fluid, instruments can drop in and out of the mix noticeably in a strangely satisfying way. After trying to nail what was so clever about it I though back to the Prog Rock epics that could span up to twenty minutes. There's a lack of repetition at play, Plini keeps things moving and evolving at a dynamic pace that never gives up and so we get that epic and brilliant feel from short songs as everything its condensed down to its point. His continual presence with the lead guitar really masks the sections that could effectively loop to aid this marvelous sense of moving forward without urgency.

The records production also has a lot to say for what makes it so great. The instruments sound crisp, slick and smooth but as if they are alive, right in the room with you. At times there are a lot of layers of instruments, never clashing of feeling restricted together. Even in the moments where double pedals kick in or the songs break into metallic styling does anything feel overbearing. The synths that subtly creep in also have a powerful effect as their tones meld into the other instruments. In conclusion all aspects of these record are on the same wavelength. Inspired, gleaming with color and sounding spectacular. This is all the brilliance Plini showed in his previous records arriving at a new level.

Favorite Tracks: Handmade Cities, Every Piece Matters, Pastures, Cascade
Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Sorath "Devil Daggers OST" (2016)

Devil Daggers is a hellish, brutal and difficult game that hails back to the glory days of fps and Doom clones, where the themes were menacingly dark and demonic beasts assaulted the player, putting them under an intense physiologic challenge. The game was too much for me to handle, in terms of staying alive. The free soundtrack that came with it caught my attention. There is nothing quite like the sinister soundscapes these dark ambient tracks can conjure up and so the four tracks that barely make thirteen minutes have been playing over and over. I could find next to know information about who made the music, Sorath is simply the name of the developers studio attached to the MP3 files that came with the game.

"I" starts with the sound of a dead orchestra, dense layers of deep synths and organs unite with a tonal presence that commands attention as in the distance shimmering voices and bells can be heard. Its bright, luminous yet shrouded in mystery as no comfort can be drawn from its presences. "II" Plunges us into the darkness with whispering noises lurking in the shadows. A prominent voice calls out like a cry from the abyss, a warning to an intruder. With disjointed, alien synths a few notes feel devoid of musical meaning but speak like words of the danger approaching. The pitch shifting and distortion of this instrument is fascinatingly detailed and dense in its short bursts of life between the darkness.

"III" sets in the waves of fear and terror as wretched noises observe from the black culminating to a section of heart racing paranoia as pounding industrial strikes pound rhythmically alongside shrill screams and a growing arsenal of hellish sounds as the walls close in to a narrow escape that provides some respite despite a sense of dread not over. "IV" has a sense of conclusion as a melody creeps into lead synth. The shadowy noises are in retreat and its as if a bright light is shining deep into the abyss, revealing its corruption through the oddities of electronic distortion. It ends with the darkness still breathing, awaiting its next move.

Sorath has created a very memorable set of short dark ambient pieces that are both cinematic and nontheatrical in nature. There is a plethora of textures and intrigue to the sounds at play, they don't conclude and so the music hangs in a dreading sense of ambiguity. A lack of melody or convention leaves each listen feeling fresh new, and not so memorable as the record does not stale with each returning listen. Each time the harrowing adventure starts over again.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 23 September 2016

Travis Scott "Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight" (2016)

American Hip Hop producer Travis Scott's latest endeavor has been somewhat of a puzzle in my mind. Initially I disliked it, then it grew on me and a couple of gems in the track listing revealed themselves but now after plenty of spins I feel mostly disappointed. Last years "Rodeo" was a new and interesting listen for me but some of the tracks really grew on me over time and so I found myself rather excited for this release. Unfortunately my understanding of this record is that several forces are at work, a variety of ideas which on occasions add up to something fantastic but mostly fall flat. One of its biggest flaws is song structure, a lot of tracks meander and stagnate in instrumental passageways that use a lot vocal distortion and sampling between layers of synth. Without a direction the atmosphere and vibes conjured often fade into obscurity.

Lets start with the negatives. Travis likes to backup and affirm rhymes with echoing, pitch shifted "Yea" and "Straight Up" shouts. It gets tiresome quickly, they sound identical and there frequency quickly had me irritated. Secondly the rapping is rather questionable, Travis stroking his cactus? This record is loaded with bizarre lines and meaningless dribble which only for a couple of moments makes sense. The album kicks of with a feature from Andre 3000 of Outkast who really kills it. At first It was heartbreaking to hear such a talented and inspiring rapper drop into this new auto tuned sound but with each listen and familiarity with the lyrics I released he was killing it, showing how lyricism done.

With a lack of lyrical substance and cohesive direction there are moments of brilliance that spark from the experiment. Guest artist Nav kills it on "Beibs In The Trap" and makes sense of these lackadaisical rhymes styles. His overly simplistic rhymes and effortless style paint the careless attitude for the unsympathetic interactions hes expressing, its a moment where the style matches the intention. Then Travis jumps on the track and plays out these slow synthetic vocal moments, unstructured and drawn out they stretch aimlessly through this and many other songs. Oddly enough this same nuisance sounds genius on "Through The Late Night", my latest addiction. The songs chorus plays over and over and over while Kid Cudi hums a complimenting melody. Auto tuned and distorted it synthetically blends into the track like an instrument and is simply infectious. There are many other moments where these vocalized instruments jump into the tracks but rarely does it work like this.

The album experiments greatly with vocals as instruments, something Kanye pioneered in Hip Hop. Most of the time it doesn't amount to much and the core of these instrumentals seem to be washed with dense reverbs, auto tune and wavy synthetic sounds where only a few moments display genuine chemistry. In its moments of tolerance there's a barrage of shallow materialism, unemphatic attitudes and questionable morality in the lyricism that creates a rather disappointing feeling through its playtime. I'll probably tune back in from time to time but I don't think this one will grow on me.

Favorite Tracks: Through The Late Night, Beibs In The Trap, Sweet Sweet
Rating: 4/10

Monday, 19 September 2016

Navie D "Post EP" (2016)

Hailing from Toronto Canada, Navie D is a producer with a distinct, and to my ears, fresh take on Hip Hop instrumentals. "Post EP" is his second release and one with a consistent feel through the five tracks. It rolls at a slower pace with an emphasis on atmosphere and a less bombastic, more industrial take on percussion. The drum loops are programmed with a modern touch, shuffling hi hats show a subtle Trap influence but mostly the beats accommodate the surrounding music made of ambiguous sounds in a state of organic transformation. Its layered and stacked with minute details that blur the distinction between melody and rhythm as these songs progress to let singular moments of melody shine from within the dissonant shell.

Its an excellent execution of composition that has all sorts of creepy and eerie sounds drifting into the fold. You'll hear dogs barking, human voices malformed and chopped into the songs soundscape and on "NYC" a barrage of ghostly vocals pitch shifted, shuffled and thrown at the listener in a dizzying state. Some instruments and percussive noises have such an add tone I wouldn't be surprised to learn there were more voices at work in the mix. Its what gives this otherwise meaty and industrial construct an eerily organic and human vibe.

On paper it would seem like a dark and twisted experience but all that's at work is held on the lighter side of ambiguity. One feels like the observer of a strange curiosity unfolding without threat or worry. In between these peculiar unravelings moments of life occur as each track has its moment where an instrument can burst into life and illuminate the atmosphere with synthetic toned instruments playing bold melodies where the songs are normally devoid of something as distinct. On "Junkyard King" it takes the form of a ghetto whistle that manages to be as charming without playing a G-Funk vibe.

This short record really impressed me but it does make me wonder if a rapper could bring something more to it. Because the instrumentals are so distinct they are exciting and fresh but at the same time these instrumentals feel like they set the tone and leave a lot of room for something else to take the forefront. Either way this was a great listening experience.

Favorite Track: Junkyard King
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 16 September 2016

Fugazi "Repeater + 3 Songs" (1990)

One, two, three, four, Ribena! No, not the fruit drink, repeater is the word! A misheard lyric I just corrected myself on as I looked up the track listing preparing to write. "Repeater + 3 Songs" is the bundling of Fugazi's critically acclaimed debut record and a 3 track EP released months earlier in 1989. I've been meaning to get around to Ian MacKaye's music for sometime and was delighted to find something quite attuned to the Post-Punk and Hardcore sounds Ive been listening to recently. "Repeater" is fantastic for reasons I can't put my finger on. Its easy on the ears, full of life and energy with a raw authenticity that tackles the harder subject matter.

Formerly just the brainchild of guitarist, singer, MacKaye, "Repeater" is the turning point where the group decided to write music together. Its apparent they have a golden chemistry in this moment as an organic and free sound emerges that loosens the conventional song structures to allow all sorts of magic to happen between the guitars and drums with plenty of rhythm breaking and noisy atmospheric guitars to break up the repetitive riffs with expansive sounds often playing with feedback and reverbs. Much of whats hard about Hardcore remains in the moments of aggressive guitar playing as hints of Post-Punk, Rock and Grunge play into their sound but mostly its one of those records that's carved its own niche.

The records best tracks feature vibrant bass lines with a warm, bold, golden tone that the guitars play expansive riffs over, bursting Post-Rock like atmospheres into pockets of the songs. The drums join in too between conventional beats and syncopate with the instruments. MacKaye and Picciotto take turns on vocals and both of them bring a passion with light screams and emotional singing to further illuminate the energy exuding from the instrumentals. The whole chemistry is a fine thing and there is something rather momentary about this record that has been captured in a gorgeous recording that has stood the test of time, sounding fantastic to this day. Between its best songs a couple don't reach the same mark but that's simply a compliment to how excellent some of these tracks are. A deep, artful rock record with a slightly aggressive overtone addressing heavy subjects.

Favorite Tracks: Turnover, Repeater, Blueprint, Sieve-Fisted Find, Shut The Door
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Veldt "The Shocking Fuzz Of Your Electric Fur - The Drake Equation" (2016)

I picked up this short record after reading a rave review on this records "innovation" praising its inclusion of trap influenced drumming and dreamy ethereal overtones. I didn't really feel it and learning about the bands backstory added a lot of clarity as to why I didn't see eye to eye on this record. The Veldt have been inactive for almost two decades, they formed in the late 80s and their debut was released in the mid 90s at the tail end of the Shoegazing Dream Pop era. Their reunion and this record has an old sound brought back to life with modern percussive influences and a richer sound given the fidelity of present recording techniques.

The Shocking Fuzz is quite an inviting record, calm, serine and soulful, oozing synthesizers and bleeding guitars wash together in a haze of reverb for lead singer Daniel to drift into with soft, harmonious singing that's sleepy and calming in its authenticity. The walls of ethereal sound created in a typically shoe gazing fashion are distant, dense, mysterious and layered with details that swirl around, expanding and contracting with the music. The percussion varies in style from track to track and accommodates the wall of sound that blossoms in the track, as opposed to playing a key role in its direction.

Each track is a little inconsequential with no big arks of progression but singular moments that suspend the enigmatic sound of the dissonant guitars while they create expansive soundscapes with their rich and deep tone, best heard on "An It's You" where the guitars cut in and out of the track, rapidly transforming its depth and composition. With each listen the familiarity soaks away some of the charm and the singular nature of the tracks has them stagnating with a lack of events to spice up the setting. The talk of ethereal music mixed with Trap beats drew me too this record but their union here sparks nothing special, nor does it sound out of place. Its a short and solid record but nothing to get worked up about, just a chilled record for a certain mood.

Favorite Track: Token
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Shape Of Despair "Monotony Fields" (2015)

With my recent curiosity into Doom Metal, through albums like Desire's "Infinity... A Timeless Journey Through An Emotional Dream" and Candlemass's "Nightfall" I was recommended Shape Of Despair, a Finnish Funeral Doom band who's debut has quite the reputation. After an eleven year gap between records "Monotony Fields" is another heavily praised record but unfortunately one I couldn't really enjoy or get into.

Its slow, punishing act of doom and gloom drawn out through lush textural instruments that didn't add up to more than its parts. I can however, very much appreciate what this record could do for someone else. It is aesthetically gorgeous in its own morose way but the life is sucked right out of the atmosphere by the crawling pace and stagnent progression. The guitars, synths and drums mostly feel the same from track to track, in their lethargic drifting presence the differences and subtleties fall mercy to the postponing nature of these songs.

The synths set the sombre tone for dense guitar distortions to bleed out with monstrous guttural vocals being stretched over lengthy riffs with a remarkable consistency. In its moments the lead melody can conveys some epic, or emotional context but it too falls mercy to the stagnation of slow repetition. The pallet is quite memorable but it feels uneventful beyond setting a mood. For me this record dives to far into slow gloomy atmospheres for me to stay with it. Although it has an interesting texture, their is no progression or events to keep my attention.

Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Shura "Nothing's Real" (2016)

The BBC isn't my usual source of music journalism but their article raving on this Synthpop revival artists debut record caught my attention. From words to music you will loose a lot in translation and as because Shura isn't quite what I expected. This is revivalism in a rather pure form which benefits from three decades of aesthetic progression but stands firmly in the simplistic, formulaic pop roots of the genres era. Its almost a nostalgia trip and offers little new or unexpected ideas but the instrumentals and Shura's comfy, soft, easy on the ears voices caries the record over through its hour playtime.

Shura's range is quite contained, as is her delivery often staying within the safety zone of the colorful instrumentals with softly sung lines snugly fitting into the pleasant mold. Lyrically its rather cliched and atypical with a string of songs on love, what could of been and all the shades between. There's little external perspective or reflection in the lyrics so none of it really had any impact. The hooks are reasonable, nicely delivered but again lacking the depth to land a punch.

The instrumentals are fantastic. To my annoyance they reside within the verse chorus structures but otherwise there is a fantastic chemistry of layered instruments culminating a warm, vibrant and inviting atmosphere of simple pleasures. Lots of little melodic loops come from lively, colorful instruments with lavish synths adding to a continual density. Its a few steps away from being quite thick and far from being minimalist. Its a healthy helping of bright and sunny music with that classic Synthpop charm and musically is where it doesn't steer of that track but aesthetically its a little more expansive and revives the sound to much merit.

With a lack of twists or new ideas the record can be a little disappointing within the atypical pop format. At the same time its instrumentals provide such a vibrant sound that its time is welcome. The same thing apply to Shura's voice, easy and inviting but lacking any spark of uniqueness lyrically. The two add up to a record that's got looks but no brains. Its company is most welcome but doesn't leave much of a mark beyond its moment.

Favorite Tracks: What Happened To Us, Tongue Tied, The Space Tapes
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Atheist "Piece Of Time" (1989)

After reconnecting with this band of old I picked out their debut record to listen to next. Released in 89 it stands firmly with an "ahead of its time" label, although the album itself was recorded almost a year earlier in late 88. Fascinating stuff however this record doesn't translate to enjoyment at quite the same ferocity as its follow up "Unquestionable Presence" does. Putting a finger on why has been tough, it makes me ponder the impressions that other works can leave on records that are new to you. These records in one sense are two of the same breed however perhaps a seasoned maturity and flirtation with non metallic styles gives its predecessor an edge. Even then we are splitting hairs, "Piece Of Time" is a brilliant Death/Thrash Metal record, one well ahead of the crowd and worthy of praise.

Many of the remarks I could make about this one are similar to the article I wrote before so I will focus on the difference between the two and I believe it comes down to the production and tone of this record. Its still an impressive recording for the time but it feels a little less inviting, somewhere in the low to mid range is somewhat hollow and the guitars find themselves squeezed into a narrower range, leaving them rather visceral and sharp. It changes the albums complexion and the tone is rawer, a bit unchained and as a result I find it a little less comforting to sink into. The ears adjust but its always got a bit of unsettling venom about it.

With that sharper edge the music sticks to a much firmer aggressive state between the Death and Thrash with no musical breaks or odd time signatures, apart from the short album opener mixing light synths with the sounds of crashing waves and a symphonic piece for the final track. The riffs steer to a darker, aggressive posture and the groove element is toned down, many riffs feel like they are just a step away from some much needed bounce but given the overall theme that's not what the records looking for. Its another onslaught of short songs rapidly going through the motions with inspired musical ideas that culminate many fun and memorable riffs. The bass guitar holds back in comparison however the drums are as equally involved and wild through the albums course. A classic, however I find the follow up ticks more boxes for me personally.

Favorite Tracks: Room With A View, I Deny,
Rating: 8/10