Saturday, 31 December 2016

My Top 10 Albums Of 2016

So the year has come to a close and its been loaded with impressive releases, many of which were hard to cut from the list. Its surprising how some records seem fantastic at first then tire quickly, and others can sneak up on you over time. There has been variety but certainly no classics. As much as we have been spoiled with great music nothing ground breaking or earth shaking has reached my ears but rather a lot of records that make good on whats already known. If you didn't catch my top ten musical discoveries check it out here.

(10) Metallica "Hardwired To Self-Destruct" Link

It was a hard choice to put Hardwired on the list but I think merit has to be given to Metallica for finding a part of themselves that really works and putting it to record after many years of disappointment. Nothing like the good old days but they have churned out some new classics with this one.

(9) Korn "The Serenity Of Suffering" Link

This one wins worst album cover of the year, that's for sure. There has been no doubt in my mind it would make the list, the band somehow found a return to form after fourteen years of garbage. The Nu-Metal teen within me has been having a riot with this record.

(8) Lord Lovidicus "Book Of Lore Volume II - A Vespera Ad Lucem" Link

An initially uneventful record, its character and inspiration slowly emerges with each listen and before you know it the music is transforming your imagination and taking you to exotic sands far away.

(7) Avenged Sevenfold "The Stage" Link

An unexpected source of excellence, "The Stage" has Avenged searching for new ground and finding it on a record that's before solid and experimental where the band expand their horizons.

(6) Savages "Adore Life" Link

Overall, its probably not as good as their debut but the bar is already high and with their second record they established more sublime, charismatic songs and bolstered there live set with more engaging music
(5) Moonsorrow "Jumalten Aika" Link

I had barely listened to them before, maybe not at all but their 2016 release blew me away. In its immediacy its nothing special but as the songs progress and unfold they seem to have a magical engrossing quality that sucks you into their realm and hitting you with breakout moments and captivating melodies.

(4) Regina Spektor "Remember Us To Life" Link

Regina has such a charming honesty about her with music and I was unsure what to expect. It had been a while since she last caught my attention but this one has the best of her creativity, mirrored with passion, perspective and emotions that blossomed into gems of songs, each with their own charm.

(3) Plini "Handmade Cities" Link

A bright and colorful record that takes Metal music in a creative, luminous direction. The anticipation was certainly there and boy did it deliver! Ive listened to this countless times and its melodies are still as charming each time.

(2) Devin Townsend "Transcendence" Link

You can always rely on Devin to bring the musical inspiration. Initially I didn't quite feel it but as time went by the energy and wonder that radiates from such songs as "Stormbending" just wouldn't get out of my mind! It makes his recent output feel a step behind the feels this record brings.

(1) Death Grips "Bottomless Pit" Link

With the year passing by its proven to not but a perfect record but a large bulk of this one is exactly what I wanted, that sound they create crafted to the bouncy, mosh friendly side of groove they have. As the year goes on a can't stop myself from coming back to it again and again.

Friday, 30 December 2016

My Top 10 Music Discoverys In 2016

Another year rolls by and the musical journey continues in full effect. There could of easily been another ten artists Id like to see on this list but I had dwindle it down. 2016 Has been hectic with moving and full time youtube but Ive managed and caught some great live shows too, seeing the Savages twice, Korn & Deftones twice as well as their Nu Metal buddies Limp Bizkit. Babymetal, Black Sabbath, Periphery, Cypress Hill, Ministry, Enter Shikari, Bring Me The Horizon and most of all, finally got to see Death Grips! What a year. If you didn't catch my top ten albums of the year you can see it here.

(10) The Future Sound Of London

Although I'm yet to get deeper into their discography but their "Lifeforms" record was a fantastic experience in lucid music that could take many forms. A truly impressive feet of music I am glad to of discovered.

(9) Deafehaven

Their debut Sunbather didn't do it for me, I'm yet to give it a try again but "New Bermuda" really cracked it open for me, their genius revealed on a remarkable record. It would of made my top 10 had I listened to it last year.

(8) The Contortionist

Recommended by my buddy Rendog as one to listen to over and over till it hurts, I certainly gave it a good try, it was only later in the year when the dust had settled that I really grew to appreciate them and their new direction.

(7) Babymetal

Initially I dismissed them as a gimmick but how wrong I was, now I realize behind the front trio, who have great voices, are a set of great musicians pushing Metal in strange and new directions which are to be celebrated.

(6) Echo And The Bunnymen

Again I'm guilty of not getting further into a band but with just one record they have won me over as a terrific band and every time a song comes on shuffle I am always engaged. Making this list I know I'll have to put another on next years playlist.

(5) Kate Tempest

I'm guilty of passing up the opportunity to see her perform live, something to correct next year. Kate's mix of poetry, rap and spoken word is unique and expressive, both her albums so far have been fantastic and I hope she keeps progressing as an artist. There will be many good things to come.

(4) Kauan

Not as impressed with their back catalog but "Sorni Nai" maybe the closest thing to a modern masterpiece I can think of in recent memory. It wont be for everyone but the atmospheric doom based around the legend of the Dyatlov Pass incident it is truly engrossing.

(3) Dusty Springfield

 A household name to many, seeing Dusty's record praised in top lists all it took was one listen and I was hooked, "Dusty In Memphis" has since become one of my absolute favorites. Her voice has so much love and compassion it is always a joy to hear her sing.

(2) Savages

One of our brightest new bands, Savages really won me over with their sublime live shows and records to match. The Post-Punkers re-imagine a moment in time, bringing it back to life with new ideas, charisma and musical creativity it buckets. There records however cannot do the energy of their performances justice.

(1) Dead Can Dance

Ive always had a soft spot for music that reflects time and culture of the forgotten, ancient and perished. Dead Can Dance bring other worlds to life not only through music but through the voices of the duo who sing as if from different cultures and eras of history. A truly remarkable band who I need to continue with given their large output of records.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Napalm Death "Fear, Emptiness, Despair" (1994)

Birmingham's Grindcore legends Napalm Death have an extensive discography of seventeen full length records and that makes for quite the interesting experience. When cherry picking what too visit next this release caught my attention as the first to incorporate elements of Groove Metal into the bands sound. Consisting of the "classic" lineup established on the previous record, "Fear, Emptiness, Despair" captures the chemistry and elements I like most about the band in its infancy.

The result is a harrowing, dark and gloomy atmosphere where the Death Metal tone still lingers as the grooves are yet to be emphasized and at the forefront of attention. The guitar tones are maroon, dense and thrashy, poised for both bludgeoning and bouncy riffs. Barneys guttural shouts get the best out of this style of screaming, not to rough to distort his words but carrying plenty of weight and menace about them. His performance has a tempered variety as the occasional break from the norm makes great use of echoing reverbs, shrill screams and distorted spoken word to spice up an otherwise limited style.

The records tempo has its flairs on tracks like "Remain Nameless" but mostly its a slower, mid-tempo setup where brutality is conveyed through atmosphere and tone, rather than needless blast beats and fast playing. The drumming has its hand to play with beats to compliment the riffs rather than hammering down hard to create intensity. The song structures are seemingly creative however the consistency of records tone masks a fair bit of its creativity when it comes to such things.

In its darkness, a morbid atmosphere of lifelessness and depravity, the record unfortunately plays down its own brilliance. Its loaded with creativity but much of it feels subdued as the energy of the guitars is set back by its dense tone and many fantastic riffs sound a little muddy when the drum are blasting. Drum patterns too do lots of interesting things rather than conform to simplistic beats. Its mood and tone does give the record a consistency that's enjoyable and that would be the word, enjoyable. Its a great listen but tweaks and changes could of unleashed a more frontal beast.

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Twist The Knife, Hung, State Of Mind, Armageddon X7

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Void Thru Materialism "Converge Into Unquiet Spaces" (2005)

Opening with an almost acoustic, slightly distorted, quiet guitar being strum you might reach for the volume dial only to have the music blow up a moment later as aggressive distortion guitars burst in with groovy, thrash energy and a seasoning of polyrhythmic goodness. Void Thru Materialism have there mark on my channel, the "void" added to Xisuma given the username was taken and I was listening to this band in search of one. They are a French band from Paris, born out of a one man band project that started back in 2001. How I discovered them is still foggy in my mind but despite next to no success in terms of exposure I adored them. At a time when online distribution was in its infancy any free music was a gem to find and since then I have always gone back to this band.

Void's inception and identity comes just before the Progressive Metal sound took its current direction. With the Djent guitar tone and Meshuggah time signature influences they reside in a space where Groove Metal and Metalcore on noticeable aspects on there crunchy guitar chugging sound. Between slamming the low notes on singular strings the band has many power chord driven riffs, something Meshuggah dropped after "Destroy Erase Improve" ten years earlier, something fans of the band do comment on missing.

With a sensibility for good grooves, guitar chugging and power chord ringing, the bands brains, Cheney, accents it all with great melodic guitar leads that counter the otherwise mechanical, metallic sometimes Industrial sound that pummels away. In good fashion the songs take on conventional song structures with room for expansive moments in the longer cuts. The title track "Converge" loops its killer riff at the four minute mark for a spacial guitar lead to elude us of a conventional solo as its deep reverb and indifference to the crunching polymorphic riff beneath have it wandering its way towards the void, forever meandering without conclusion other than the rigid cut at the track end.

The music is fantastic, its production is both a flaw and strength for me, the drum kit from hell is obvious and overall it could do with a bit of polish and clarity but its far from harmful. Its charm is in the DIY aspect, there is passion within this music and the necessary means have been found to connect us to it. Another aspect of mixed results is vocalist "R" who has a unique and polarizing style with a forceful, disjointed, unconventional approach that steers clear of normality at every turn. Having known each song inside out, with Cheney doing his best for vocals, I initially disliked the change but over time its grown on me, out of familiarity. One thing I do like is the obscure growls and cryptic murmurings that fill the silence between sung, or spoken, words. His performance certainly has character.

As much as I adore this record I can't be too generous, this is just a four track EP, or five with the bonus, and much of my love for "Converge" comes from the demo album that came before it. I know the songs inside out due to my fanatical listening of their demos back in my youth and so it holds a special place and a good feeling within me. For the average listener I'm not sure what they would get from it, I do however think with a fair few listens much of what I can hear would come across, there are a lot of strong grooving, time signature oriented riffs at work.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Low Roar "0" (2014)

Low Roar's second full length album, simply titled "0" has gained significant exposure this year from its use in media advertisements. On first listen I was convinced this was a Sigur Ros side project, brainchild of singer Ryan Karazija his voice is remarkably similar Jon Birgisson and both groups are from Iceland. It could be the accent, but Ryan's high notes are uncanny in tone and delivery. Both being from such a small country, in terms of population, there is probably no one who hasn't heard of Sigur Ros's international success and their influence seems to be everywhere on this record.

Zero is a personal, searching record, heartfelt and exposed you can hear an artist trying to work it out through the music. Its sedative and mournful within a state of melancholy that can be all too much on a couple of songs. Of the many months Ive listened to it Ive wrestled with its mood, often not keen on walking the same path. Its depressive state is hidden with words among soft serine music that will change the tone of your day. Its hard to love but in its own way its a truly great piece of music that cuts like a knife.

With no particular formula, a range of instruments take to the music with mainly quite percussive lines, sometimes glitched and electronic. Between them acoustic guitars strum chords, sometimes with deep reverbs adding an ethereal touch. The string sections are most prominent, soft and strung with care they line most the tracks with the somber mood. It all revolves around Ryan's voice, with fluidity, the soft music masks its structure, accompanying and complimenting the softly sung vocalist.

Of its seventy eight minutes some moments do linger. When Ryan goes quiet, so does the music and the first half feels like it takes the share of emotionally impacting songs. In its prime it is engrossing, moving and tear jerking, however when missing the mark it does drift from ones focus and that's where the latter half lets it down. In its best it challenges the listener with a deep sadness, that to easily drifts away as the album progresses and rarely does the music get to step in front of the vocal narrative. Its an interesting record but for all its brilliance one that doesn't command much of me.

Favorite Tracks: Nobody Loves Me Like You, Half Asleep, I'm Leaving, Phantoms, Vampire On My Fridge
Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Brian Eno "Ambient 2 The Plateaux Of Mirror" (1980)

A name maybe unknown to the masses, Brian Eno is an influential person in the landscape of music. His most known works are the Windows 95 start up jingle and "An Ending (Ascent)", a song many people would know from its use in modern cinema. Beyond these peaks he has been a big influence on electronic music and the evolution of Ambient, experimenting with minimalism and a theory before execution approach to composition. Active since the seventies with roots in Art Rock, Eno has has built up a large body of work revolving around many collaborations with big names in music.

"The Plateaux Of Mirror" is the second of four in the Ambient series and the first to "crack open" for me. The power and involvement of the subconscious in this form of music is essential as proven by the magic of shuffle, or "random" mode. Preoccupied by mundane chores, the music in the background soothed me into a calmer state of being. As the songs changed, my mind was focused on other things and my awareness of what was playing lowered but its effect still intact. Moments like these are why I always have music playing, your undivided attention can get in the way. With the subconscious taking it in a few minutes rolled by and I notice how tranquil and calming the atmosphere is, of course I then put the record on and soaked up its brilliance now understanding its purpose.

And that is to sooth, relax and unwind the listener with soft innocent sounds that disappear into themselves. Pianist Harold Budd improvises as Eno controls the atmosphere through reverbs and additional instrumentation. The result is a slow, ambiguous listen that can sound either sombre or carefree depending on how you interpret the mysterious sounds that accompany the piano. Its illusive, evocative of the imagination like a passing dream or mirage. Its ambience is both in substance and design. The reverbs shroud each moment in its own passing and the notes played are directing the moods without hooks, melodies or anything condensed or simplified. At the same time they are not elaborate or complex, just a passing collection of notes that drift us by, forming feelings and moods with out a distinguishable melody or memorable moment. I find myself in awe of their collaborative genius.

I like the records cover a lot, It resembles a map without being one, its suggestive of the equivocal sound held behind where things are open to interpretation but still powerful and vivid. To enjoy this record now is a treat but this and many others of Eno's are considered to be true artistic endeavors that paved the way for what is now a familiarity in soundtracks, video game music and within the Ambient genre. Hearing this at the start of the 80s must of really been something. For me its another mood inducing remedy to put on the shelf, left there to await the moment it is called upon.

Favorite Track: Wind in The Lonely Faces
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 23 December 2016

Tycho "Epoch" (2016)

Five years since his breakout record "Drive", American, San Fransisco based musician Scott Hansen is back with Tycho's fourth full length record, another semi ambient dive into electronic psychedelia with chilled out downtempo vibes shimmering in the wake of lavish sounds gently soaked in reverbs and echos. Its essentially a carbon copy of "Drive", a slightly less ambitious sound where the oozing reverbs are dialed back for a little less ambiguity. The guitar licks have more prominence and involvement in the forefront of the music. Percussion feels somewhat "live" in some places where tom rolls and shuffling hi hat to snare grooves break away from the underlying electronic thud and snap. It gives balance to tempos that can be fired up by lively percussion without loosing its pace.

Of the nuances that differentiate it, most if not all is clearly an improvement. "Epoch" is a solid record, a masterful execution of Tycho's signature sound but in that comes a hefty amount of predictability. Once accustom to this sound it becomes a painting to frame on a wall, the soundtrack to a mood or vibe your searching for. Where this latest installment does that so well there is a lack of excitement in the unknown, nothing out of the ordinary and for that little reason for it to be fully engaging. It rarely command ones immediate attention at any point.

Predictability aside, its a fine sounding record. In comparison "Drive" sounds a little lost in itself where clarity of the instruments shines bright here. The production is excellent, a crisp sound where everything compliments one another. Deep soothing baselines groan under the ever steady thudding of the kick drum and all sorts of twinkling synthesizers stack up into walls of light as sunny melodies emerge alongside echoing guitars which pluck lightly away. Its a solid record but its short comings are obvious in a lack of adventure from what has already been done before it.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Common "Black America Again" (2016)

Socially conscious rapper Common is back with another charged record thats very much relevant given the social climate and resurgence of black struggles in American society. With the title alone the topic is made clear and through the fifty six minutes he barely takes a step of the path. It's certainly the time for music to reflect the atmosphere but that doesn't necessarily define a good record. "Black America Again" fails on many fronts, mostly its religious inspirations and Common's unchanging approach. As a 90s fan of 90s flows, Common is one who's barely changed a lick, an old rapper with an old flow and unchanged rhyme style. He was never a particular favorite, he has gems in his discography but what mainly appealed to me was the positive, intelligent commentary of his persona in the raps.

There is a ton of subject matter I agree with on the record but the music is spoiled where biblical themes and words of praise come into play. With all the problems addressed he frequently turns to prayer and god as a solution to them. I appreciate the warm intention but for a person who see societal issues as systemic, the call for praise of Jesus over engagement or practical solutions infuriates me. Another difference of opinion grinds me on "The Day Women Took Over", a song calling for an oversimplified ideal that Women's disposition to empathy and caring would make them better leaders. Considering there are many women in positions of power around the world it would again suggest that our societal issues are systemic, related to power, wealth and its corruptible qualities. What Common has is simply utopian, poetic statement that lack any depth or substance beyond a nice but ludicrous idea.

Behind my indifference to Commons lyrics a rather sweet and soothing record exists in the instrumentals. Toning down the bombastic nature of the beats, soulful influences and roots of black music are given room to shine with occasional string sections bringing subtle crescendos too. John Legend's singing on "Rain" tunes out the drums for a stunning piano and singer song that only resembles a Hip Hop track thanks to Commons verses rapped without a beat. His raps are steady and mostly solid but its a style unchanging. On "Pyramids" a bit of technicality comes to fruition but otherwise hes mostly stagnating on a un-progressing approach that disappoints without the lyrics to match. There are good moments in the record and I have tried to love this record but large sections of the raps just didn't work for me.

Favorite Track: Black America Again, Pyramids, Rain
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Dillinger Escape Plan "Dissociation" (2016)

Announcing it would be their final record certainly enticed me to listen to Dillinger for the first time in many years. There reputation and legendary live shows are undeniable but the erratic math rockers never drew me in at a time where I was far more close minded. Its their seventh full length in eighteen years and a farewell as the group decide to call it a day and part ways. I wasn't quite sure what to expect but "Dissociation" drew me in instantly and the past few weeks I have been enjoying it ever so much. Its a fun wild ride with all sorts of crazy sporadic music and jazzy inflections between the dizzying onslaught of elasticated aggression.

At times you will be scratching your head, how do these guys perform this dizzying onslaught of erratic noise? Between more convention repetitions the music rolls into bursts of odd time signatures that have the guitars thrashing frantically as blast beats blast without form and it all sounds like a mess, a somehow how delicious, exciting mess. The record is diverse though, between its loaded moments they find measures of melodics, conventional song structures and vocal hooks to sing along to. "Fugue" marks itself as a fascinating interlude of disrupted melodies, schizophrenic baselines and glitched out drum programming quite reminiscent of "IGORRR". In the midst of "Low Feels Blvd" the music breaks from its frantic persona into a splendid affair of smooth Jazz in whats initially a cold break but the music finds its was back to its usual self as the elements get increasingly energized before a blast beat takes us back to the insanity normality.

Another quality of the record I enjoy is the layers of sound. At several moments in the the record there are submerged layers of synth and sound that creep out between the chaos of the leading instruments. It has its moments of simplicity but otherwise its a weaving organic web of sound elasticizing back and forth at the mercy of odd time signatures. There's little to fault, maybe singer Puciato's screams might turn you off but I just loved how much energy and emotion he put into his turbulent screaming, raw, harsh and animalistic although between those moments many more conventional styles arise.

"Dissociation" is a finely produced record with a ton of variety. No moment in the record feels like its retreading old foot steps and the constant evolution of the music keeps one on their toes. With little knowledge of their rest of their discography it seems like a solid record to sign off on however It leaves me wanting more of this sporadic art, luckily their is a back catalog to digest!

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Saor "Guardians" (2016)

Ive been awaiting this record for some time, Saor, a one man band, really impressed me with his last release "Aura", a fine record that took traditional Black Metal values to a serine, warm and heart felt setting inspired by the Scottish highlands. It was a mature, seasoned piece of music that took all the mockeries away from the extreme music and imbued it with the sombre beauty of the natural world. It ended up being one of my favorite records of the year. So Saor returns, still a one man band and unchanged in approach "Guardians" stagnates somewhat, repeating the same successes of its predecessor.

Its a noticeable step up in fidelity, richer clarity in the guitar distortion and organized space gives room for the stunning string sections and earthly bagpipes to gleam through the walls of blast beats and guitar shredding. The songs take on grandiose themes and progressions with each clocking in over ten minutes and going through many passageways, soaring high, tumbling lows and climatic peaks in their wake. A little more groove and rhythm feels present in the guitar styling than before but mostly its power chord whirling as the flutes and fiddles inflict human melodies and cultural folk roots into the heathen music.

There are times where deep guttural shouts accompany guitar focused sections and it can drift into a sleepwalk between its grandiose moments. Although aesthetically polished and stronger the music competes with its own style as some parts feel like a repeating formula. "Tears Of A Nation" tips the scales with a break at the six minute mark for a truly memorable moment as the album concludes with a timeless melody, heightened by the continual shifts in intensity that comes from the Metal instruments. Its a solid record but more of the same, which is not a bad thing given the brilliance of this project, however it doesn't surpass the benchmark of "Aura" for me.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 16 December 2016

Suicidal Tendencies "World Gone Mad" (2016)

Mediocrity is currently the theme but its not surprising when getting to the older acts who released new material this year. Its usually the fresh faces that push boundaries and Suicidal certainly had their moment in history being the band to mix Hardcore and Thrash Metal, known as Crossover Thrash. Their song "Institutionalized" was a big hit on MTV, when MTV played music videos and a couple of their early records are considered genre classics. Singer Mike Muir is the only remaining original member on their 12th full length record which includes the recruitment of legendary Dave Lombardo of Slayer on drums, who does a solid job but little to save the record from its averages.

So the album opens with a real banger, "Clap Like Ozzy" a furious fast passed thrasher with a meaty base line rattling away under the high intensity guitars. Mike Muir does his usual thing but fails to make much of an impression beyond the title hook, most of the chorus / vocal hooks are in the title making for rather predictable moments. You could guess the records theme by the title alone and its no surprise that the lyrics delve into many problems of the world, however little insight is provided beyond pointing at apparent hypocrisys and madness observed.

Like many run of the mill records the best songs are loaded at the front and the initial thrashy, fist pumping energy gives way to a fair amount of acoustic moments which wind down the record with two finishing acoustic tracks which had potential to be far better. "Happy Never After" caught my attention with eerie Gothic guitar leads reminiscent of Christian Death but that was as out of the ordinary as things got. There not much more I can say, its passable, listenable, mostly forgettable but has a couple of exciting tracks to remember.

Favorite Tracks: Clap Like Ozzy, The New Degeneration, Living For Life, Get Your Fight On!
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Helmet "Dead To The World" (2016)

Helmet are an Alternative Metal band who had their moment of success in the early 90s among the grunge hype. They have been cited as a part of Nu-Metals development through their influence on bands like Korn with their dropped guitar tuning for accessible power chords. Essentially they are tinged with a grungy sound that is partly Alternative Rock and has a metallic overtone. After four records the group split before front man Hamilton reformed with a new line up 2004, releasing "Size Matters", my favorite of their releases. Six years since their last they are back with "Dead To The World", the bands eighth.

Its no grand ambition of creative endeavor. Unsurprisingly the band return with their usual sound for a collection of tracks to pass the album mark at thirty six minutes. The songs stroll through simple structures and enjoyable riffs that focus on chunky drop d grooves and chord progression riffs that derive from power chords too. At times it can get a touch atmospheric, in others its heavy, crunchy and a little mesmerizing with the way some riffs are strummed over and over as the get lost in the dense sound. The occasional simplistic solo might drop in over a riff to fire a bit of color into the music.

Unfortunately its all a bit to mediocre, unspectacular and forgettable. As pleasant and listenable the record is, it does very little beyond appease the appetite for their sound and with better records in their discography its not going to make much of an impression. One thing that dawned on me is a similarity between Hamilton's vocals and that of Billy Corgan. Not a mirror but there are moments where he sounds alike. "Dead To The World" is passable with a couple of good songs in the first half of the record but overall is just lackluster after six years.

Favorite Tracks: Life Or Death, I Love My Guru
Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Chance The Rapper "Coloring Book" (2016)

I still can't get get my head around the difference between a mixtape and an album. Of the ones Ive listened to, a mixtape feels like an album. This one is true of that at fifty seven minutes in length with a theme and sense of continuity at start and end. With all the critical acclaim "Coloring Book" has received it seemed like a good time to check out a fresh face from the new generation of Hip Hop music. Chance is from Chicago and yet to release a debut record with this being his third mixtape, it has broken into sales charts and topped album of the year lists from various critics. Of the months Ive been listening to it I haven't shared much of the same feelings, however it does have some remarkable production moments sprinkled in.

Since "To Pimp A Butterfly" many artists have been retroflexing on the roots of black music and so we enter a sort of Hip Hop Renaissance as many mainstream artists seem jump on this wave of revival. Already having a keen ear for Soul, R&B, Gospel and Jazz, a lot of the sounds and vibes explored aren't particularly fresh to me, its a mixed bag of fruits. To new listeners its probably quite marvelous. Chance employs a production where the beats are toned down, subdued, as pianos, strings and gospel vocals step to the forefront around his raps. In the mid section of the record it steadily gives way to more traditional tracks and that's when the music starts to loose me, not to be pulled back at the end by some great church music.

Chance's flow is laid back, easy going and casual, to the point where his soft croaky voice sounds like he may just be talking if it weren't for the steady timing and occasional rhymes. Not much of it hit home beyond the story telling, biblical "praise him" tracks don't do it for me. The album also has its helping of "to be dated" trendy vocal styles and word slurring that I'm doubting will hold up over time. Songs like "Finish Line Drown" are fantastic but essentially like gospel church songs of praise, played with a full live band and spiced up with a bit of flashy production. It and a lot of the record remind me of Kanye's debut records, there is a lot of use of vocals with a helping hand from the Chicago Children's Choir it plugs into those gospel roots. "Coloring Book" has its moments but it mostly comes from borrowing rather than innovating.

Favorite Tracks: No Problem, Summer Friends, Finish Line Down.
Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Avenged Sevenfold "The Stage" (2016)

It was fifteen years ago I first heard Avenged Sevenfold, abbreviated as "A7X", the Californian rockers burst onto the scene amidst the storm of Metalcore's commercial arrival. I remember it fondly, a wild sound, slightly unhinged, with bursts of melody and harmony between a screechy onslaught of groovy goodness and boundless energetic drumming. Their following releases steered away from the heavy aspects of their sound and I lost interest. Over the years Avenged have become a huge name in Metal, Rock and Alternative music, much of it passing me by but the opening song, the title track and single caught my attention. How glad I am that I decided to tune in, "The Stage" may be one of the years best records, an epic, lengthy concept record that delivers a continual level of class across its seventy three minutes, concluding with the fifteen minute epic "Exist" featuring none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson.

So the record takes on the common theme of mankind's potential self annihilation through a plethora of lyrics that unsurprisingly amount to little for me, given my more musically oriented mind most the words are in one ear and out the other. M Shadow's clean voice doesn't particularly resonate with me and he is no annoyance through this record but there were only a handful of moments where his presence helped elevate the music, "Everyone lives on borrowed time". Fortunately the instrumental aspect of the record is so strong it does little to tarnish the theme and direction of the music.

"The Stage" is a metallic treat that stretches its might into a few unexpected crevasses, "Fermi Paradox" showcasing a brief Black Metal blast beat and shadowy riff. For the most part its a generally Progressive Metal record with moments of Thrash Metal intensity, rhythmic moments of Groove Metal with Hard Rock and Heavy Metal antics. Its pulled together with luminous guitar leads that flex melodies and energetic guitar solos seamlessly in the transitional moments. The songs don't just hammer down on the heavy, with gorgeous, bold and slightly metallic acoustic tones the instrumentation comes together flexing its muscles between intensities as songs organically move through the motions. Calming a storm in one moment and blowing up the next.

Each track makes its distinction and on some with the help of additional instruments that sneakily drift into the music, disarming us of their presence. Keyboards, strings, trumpets and the like crop up throughout the record, often to participate in just singular moments of a songs journey. "Sunny Disposition"s chorus has M Shadow softly singing over a Mexican sounding horn section, its astounding catchy. If not an additional instrument, the core music is always exciting with quality riffs and song structures that come together with a lot of fire and energy. It plays through like a true epic.

The albums conclusion "Exist" is an almighty one, starting off with gritty thrash beat downs that are brought to life by fast, colorful sweeping guitar leads, then it bursts into an unsettling tone with looming organs. Once again the gears shift and grooving riffs rhythmically slam before light horns lead the way back to the organs. It plays back and forth a charm, steadily culminating into a storm before the song blows out its steam and calms to an acoustic tone before steadily building towards its grand finale, a stunning, inspiring and deeply meaningful speech from Neil deGrasse Tyson that plays through the music and with each words takes more of the focus.

Whatever Avenged were up to before this record I think it would be a fair assumption to say they have out done themselves. "The Stage" is lengthy, yet without filler. Its production is modern, crisp, clean and balanced for it to never be a concern. The inclusion or rich instrumentation and the general ambition of the record speaks volumes in the quality of each of these tracks, there is never a dull moment.

Favorite Tracks: Paradigm, Creating God, Fermi Paradox, Exist
Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 10 December 2016

In The Woods... "Pure" (2016)

Surprises seem to be common this year and there is certainly a contest for most "unexpected". The news of a new record almost passed me by, surely "Pure" is just some compilation record I thought... "In The Woods..." are an obscure Black Metal band who released the remarkable "HEart Of The Ages" in 1995. It was and still is an obscure release, an absolute gem to me in my youth, a distinctly different record for the time that homed in on inspired pagan and nature themes within the stark context of extreme music. It still strikes a nerve with me to this day, unfortunately I didn't get along with the two following records, which moved in an Avant-Garde direction, the band then split in 2003 and here we are thirteen years later. As I look up the history of their lineup I learn that the only change is singer Fogerty, the other three have been in the band since day one, I find this interesting because this record gave me some serious "one man band" vibes, a curiosity in the cover that had me painting the records voice, Fogerty, as a lone musical force. This should be a compliment to how "together" this record feels and how much the identity of their roots is intact.

"Pure" is lengthy, a sixty seven minute epic that has no measure in pace. Its a Post-Black Metal record in the truest sense where traditional values have been further removed as its extremities give way to the vision that Fogerty illuminates with his raw and charismatic, heathen voice which calls out from across the mountains. In its mercy of natural wonder a burgeoning of emotion spills through the music in many moments of this record, there awakening built through lengthy passageways of dense progressive music. With a lot of clarity and volume these instruments carry forth an honesty in the raw, chunky guitar distortions, loose drum environment, nostalgic archaic synths and ethereal acoustics that harbor the authentic, natural qualities of low fidelity without compromise in its audibility.

The band immerses us in rich atmospheres as there songs, one by one, move through the motions, varying metallic intensities, dropping back for acoustic moments and soaring with earthly vocals. Its all a familiar affair as many composition techniques are the same as on that classic debut. "Towards The Black Surreal" has a deja-vu moment where the song suddenly shifts to a seemingly identical piece of music, bar one or two notes, from "Yearning The Seeds Of A New Dimension". There is no moment quite the same, but in seems two parts of guitars and vocals overlap perfectly, capturing the beauty of their early music.

As much as ill rave about this record, it has a flaw. I felt in the right mood it would captivate and transcend yet It wasn't one to make that happen through the music alone. "Pure" has a stunning tone and solid aesthetic to match but mostly it draws through temperate passages that only light up if in the mood, however it is littered with plenty of attention grabbing moments too. Whats most remarkable is how alike to their debut this record is. Overall its got a meatier sound and no breakaway tracks like "Morning The Death Of Aase" and "Pigeon" but they are just differences. I hope this return is not a one off, the band still have a lot to offer.

Favorite Tracks: Cult Of Shining Stars, Towards The Black Surreal, Transmission Krs
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Animals As Leaders "The Madness Of Many" (2016)

Further exploring their texture driven acoustic Djent sound, American Progressive Metal trio Animals As Leaders return once again, taking another step towards abstraction with further removed time signatures and strange guitar manipulations for all sorts of mathematical grooves and acoustic breakdowns. Unfortunately its the more conventional guitar leads that make the record light up between there regular intervals of polyrhythms, a string of experimental guitar noises chugging through arrangements of complex, dexterous patterns that spark little emotion within me. Initially they are unusual and interesting, yet quickly become dull.

The record bounces back and forth between these luminous, colorful leads and textural experiments in time signatures. The result has no song reaching its purpose, pursuing any peaks or developing a path. They meander and meddle through the motions settled in the various, tempo, texture and identity of that particular song. Its been quite a disappointment after there last release "The Joy Of Motion", an experiment in Latin guitar sounds that was both inspired and technically brilliant. The technicality of this record is in bizarrely complex breakdown moments and guitar chugging that yields little groove, elasticity or much beyond a curiosity.

I've tried hard to love this record and one place it succeeds is in its pleasantries. Guitar leads are mostly gentle and soothing, aesthetics are gorgeous and in its ambience its a great record to not pay much attention too. One song "Ectognesis" starts with a synthesizer lead that opens a door but its involvement in the music is quickly drowned out. It teases at a subdued element in their sound stepping forward but it seemed to be a singular moment in the record. High expectations have left me disappointed but nothing here is particularly negative, it just feels as if these musicians are capable of more, this is a record that feels more calculated than inspired.

Favorite Track: Ectognesis
Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Nails "Unsilent Death" (2010)

Pushing the Grindcore sound to its groovy extremes, Nails are an American underground band from California who Ive been noticing over the years have built a bit of a cult reputation. Ive sighted them frequently mentioned as one of Metal's most extreme sounds. To my ears they have re-invented the wheel, taking the core Punk and Metal values of Grindcore and reinvigorating the attitude with a dense claustrophobic wall of sound production that will have you foaming at the mouth in the wake of its aesthetic intensity. Formed in 07, "Unsilent Death" is the bands debut "full length" clocking in at just under fourteen minutes across its ten songs.

And so the album opens like a flood of water bursting through the seems. Our ear drums are pelted with a ruthless pummeling blast beat, furious throaty screams of anger and strangulating guitars that smother and creep into every each of sound with their monstrously dense distortion tones. Its disorienting, fast and nauseous but as the smoke settles and one adjusts a quite simplistic set of grooving riffs emerge as the musical backbone. With hints of Thrash, Punk, Hardcore and Groove Metal the riffs alternate between different intensities and in their short life cycles they steer clear of wearing themselves out. It plays like one big song that's forever shifting gears as the burdening aesthetic intensifies all that's on display.

The records most interesting moment comes on the title track as screeching guitar feedback sounds intimidate over the top of a gorgeously low and textural bass guitar that groans in its over driven tone. It leads into an effective but primitive breakdown that has notable influences from the Deathcore scene and trends of the time. Beyond that its business as usual, with nothing out of the ordinary. Nails's strength is in the aesthetic which is certainly something to marvel, behind it a rather atypical set of riffs that don't defy expectation. They are like Napalm Death on crack, so much so hearing some of their records with this aesthetic would be an interesting treat. The bands overwhelming sound intensifies what might not be as impressive in a regular setting, either way its a fun listen to get you fired up for some carnage and hand banging which ends with a monstrous riff in the closing moments of "Depths".

Favorite Tracks: Unsilent Death, Depths
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 2 December 2016

Navie D "Opra EP" (2014)

Following up on the newer "Post EP" record we check out another seventeen minute collection of five tracks that are very much of the same vein, so much so the two roll off one another. "Opra EP" shows the formula was minutely refined with big luminous leads, synths and ghetto whistles sparking the tracks to life with memorable melodies to mark a climactic moment in the tracks trajectory. This is very much the same record without those moments to kick it up a notch from the mediocrity these ambient, ambiguous beats can fall into when they fall from the forefront of attention.

As mentioned these instrumentals are atmospheric, a collage of dissonance where traditional synth instruments are distorted in ambiguity and oddities that give them an organic feeling of disorientation. When giving it a keen ear the instruments fall into place and seem more traditional. Its this leaning to the unusual that gives the record its dark dystopian flavor that revolves around the mid tempo beats that fade in and out of focus. With steady and stuttering Trap hi hats the pace is marked along with screeching, howling synthesizers and samples of operatic voices eerily drifting in from the shadows. Its melodies are subdued and server to not been seen as much which is where I feel the record looses something its follow up has. Progression for this sound is certainly on a positive path and with Navie D having released his full length debut It will be next on my playlist.

Rating: 4/10