Saturday, 27 May 2017

Linkin Park "One More Light" (2017)

Linkin Park are one of this millenniums biggest names in Rock music and I had pretty much checked out from the band after the release of their record braking Hybrid Theory. Its only a couple of years ago that I got around to Meteora and bar their Nu Metal records I have heard next to nothing from them. There change of direction never mustered much interest in me however this latest record has, for all the wrong reasons. Like a morbid curiosity I wanted to hear what the fuss was about and before I give you my thoughts I should say that I hold no artists to any ideals or expectations that says they can't change their sound, or pursue whatever their musical interests are. Sometimes suspicions are aroused that the music may not be the key factor in a change of sound. You or I can never know but something feels very disingenuous about this record.

Shedding skin and starting over, the groups sound is rewritten from scratch, leaving behind all traces of Rock and pursuing what I can only describe as yesterdays squeaky clean, overtly emotional, top 40 pop music. Chester sings in his softest of tones, everything oozing sweetly through slow, simple melodies with lyrics that make my skin crawl. Mind the pun, these lyrics are the sort that display "emotional depth" through a glorification of pain and sorrows without the resolve to get into the grit of whats really being sung about. It sounds vague, loose and very palatable. Weak features from Pusha T and Stormzy feel far out of place, like token rappers in a pop song, Mike Shinoda's one rap on "Good Goodbye" just lacks charisma or any measure of  memorability. He does however show his singing voice on a couple others and I can't fault him on that, he has a decent, if very soft voice on him.

The instrumentals are chasing yesterdays sound, in a painful way. Many songs have the popular chirpy, high pitched spliced vocals stuttering away in the mix. Soft Dubstep synth murmur in places and most the songs drop in some trendy "woah oah oahs" gang shouts into the background. Its awful, tone deaf, self indulgent and really misses the mark where it walks in the shadows of others. The best thing about this record is never listening to it again. In fairness the first few tracks are reasonable but as it draws on it turns into torture, the lyrics especially. Whatever the bands motivations, it is questionable that so much of this record hinges on other peoples ideas and yesterdays pop sound.

Rating: 2/10

Friday, 26 May 2017

Death Grips "Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix)" (2017)

With an excitable change of direction, the experimental, edgy, noise fulled trio Death Grips drop a twenty two minute mixtape a year after their finely tuned full length "Bottomless Pit", also announcing a new album in the works. The mention of Gabber in the title is no joke, the group experiment with the hard thudding, repetitive grind of Hardstyle which has the majority of songs driven by a fast thumping bass and kick syncopation. Its far more interesting than what I remember of these harsh electronica styles, MC Ride's vocal presence and the layers of electronic noises surrounding him making for a more expanded experience than one might expect given whos making the music. The production is rawer, less polish and that only aids it. The constant bombardment of strange, wild synth noises remind me of the Bomb Squad, its as if select moments of a wild, free flowing noise jam where selected to be repeated as sections of the tracks. The result are dense, thick tracks which an endless shuffling of squashed in noises. There is so much going on it could almost be overwhelming but luckily the balance feels just right as a listener can get a feel for the song yet spend ages listening into all the nuances.

The percussion is very lively, to juxtapose the relentless thudding of the Gabber style tones of unorthodox rapid rolls and fills barge there way in. Occasionally the tireless jamming of Zach Hill can be heard between them, filling out another dimension with groove. The unhinged style extends to MC Ride too who drops a great set of dark and life infuriated lyrics with his typical artistic flavor. They make use of many effects, delivery styles and go for anything creative thats off the path. Its an engrossing record made from a varied collection of ideas that offer up a lot for the listener, its got depth, direction and substance. I'm left as curious to where they will go next, if its either a teaser of whats to come, or a one of, it stands on its own as a great but short experience.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Ulver "Kveldsjanger" (1996)

I've always been aware of Ulver, never quite found my way into his eclectic collection of records however the recent release of "The Assassination Of Julies Caesar" has cracked open the door. "Kveldsjanger" caught my ear as I was skimming through albums. Its part of the "Black Metal Trilogy" yet has not a drip of anything Metal in sight. Ulver's first record had both Black Metal and Norwegian Folk music woven into one, the following two records would split the styles and so this release is thirty five minutes of enchanting, mythic, Norse Folk to sink into.

Serine acoustic guitars, enchanting flutes, a deep brooding cello and absorbing vocals paint a wonderfully primitive and spiritual experience, capturing the spell bounding beauty of the cold natural terrain. Its wooden acoustics have a natural chill about them, very earthly. They strum out layered arrangements that sway their linage, ever changing, there twang a touch Spanish in moments but rarely that temperate. Garm's voice has a few intensities, sometimes loud and burly at the forefront, performing a folk tale, other times hes heard holding notes and words in the distance like a hymn behind the guitars. It always brings a spiritual humanistic level to the music and puts a soul within the landscape.

The nuances of detail are almost irrelevant in how vividly the vision of times gone by come across. The vast Nordic countryside is brought to life with a rural honesty, the mood doesn't steer into paganism, darkness or some exaggeration. It has a grounded authenticity that lets your imagination set the scene. A slight streak of sorrow runs through some tracks but nothing ever feels obvious, Its mood and tone command the setting with compositions that feel like old Folk songs have been fleshed out and expanded upon. "Hiertets Vee" steps of the path with the sound of vicious whirling winds and the end of the song, lonely flutes are heard through it, painting visions of travelers hunkering down to see out a storm. Its just a single moment that's a little more cinematic than musical and it fits right in. This record is a wonderful piece of folk art, a go to record for that atmosphere of the ancient past.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Crazy Town "Gift Of Game" (1999)

Listening to "That's Not Metal" Nu Metal podcast special had me curious about how bad a record could be. Back in the boom period of the genre, Crazy Town's "Butterfly" was a song you couldn't get away from and I have fond, humorous memories of my friends mocking the song and band. I didn't mind the song much myself but it occurred to me I have never heard anything beyond it. That single alone carried the record to platinum sales and given the podcast duos angry musings on how awful it was I decided I could endure a little punishment. Given my fondness of the era and tolerance for Rap Metal I got a kick from of the record that Id never expect of anyone else. Even if some aspects were enjoyable in the first half of the record, the lyrical obnoxiousness and cheapness dragged it to the gutter and once you've past the single track its clear the bands ideas becoming exhausting.

Before we get to the tripe it should be said that the guitar sound, despite being generic for the time, does have some punch and bounce about it. The occasional riff is able to muster some interest and the drummer holds a reasonable beat. I quite liked some of the experimentation with various influences, synthesized vocal lines, Funk and Disco grooves, effect washed acoustics. Unfortunately these reasonable aspects are dragged down by the frankly appalling front men Binzer and Mazur.

The duo's raps are a constant bombardment of cheap, sleazy, thuggish braggadocios. They sound like sex creepers as many misogynistic lyrics show they have very little regard for anyone but themselves. There attitude says lyrical gangsters, yet all the street talk comes of sour, a lot of hot air spat between blunt tongue cursing. Its trashy, the two have passable flows but their tones are nasal, sharp and repelling, word play is cheap and stuck in the past with obvious, simplistic rhymes often arrive to at a great stretch of the path.

The last few songs start to take on a Beastie Boys persona, throwing it back a decade with a sampling of the classic PSK, deploying a faster old school flow. Unfortunately the legendary KRS-One becomes a casualty, lured into the studio to get involved in the Metal Hip Hop crossover. Seems he drew the shortest straw, his presence is by far the best thing the record has to offer. Crazy Town represent the worst of Nu Metals corporate days. If there is a passable record here, its drowned by the nauseating presences of the two "rappers" and their self centered antics.

Rating: 2/10

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Daryl Donald "Solitude" (2017)

From the northern chills of Edinburgh Scotland comes a producer with an ear for laid back, chilled out, summer breeze Jazz Hop. Solitude is Daryl Donald's debut record and what a fine, easily enjoyable and inviting experience is is. From the first listen one can instantly identify the vibes, smooth and mellow samples, steady grooving, temperate drum loops. The songs have a dreamy, ethereal edge drawn in through airy synths, production style and reverbs that give the record a cool, atmospheric indulgence.

The fifteen tracks just pass the thirty minute mark and even with an average duration of two minutes many of the songs end with additional loops and beats that have the experience breeze by, never a dull moment as the record chops and changes, yet firmly holding the same vibe from one track to the next. I can only say hats off to such a consistent and interesting production. Where the record becomes a point of contention is the accommodating vocal samples which seem to pull it in different directions and to what extent I am unsure as it certainly doesn't suffer from these additional layers yet they are quite different from one another.

Firstly, a lot of beats are abruptly moved on with lively vocal snippets of what I can only describe as Speedy Gonzales "Arriba" crys. They are unusual but I became accustom to them. Second, there are pitch shifted accapella raps, I believe from a De La Soul record, they add a fitting voice to the beats but given they only feature in one or two spots seems unusual. Other talking snippets from what I presume are old TV shows about music and advertisements are sliced in, again seeming unusual yet they work.

On reflection of writing out my thoughts, the short songs, continually moving forward and undergoing seemingly odd sample snippets are what made this record so great. It goes against expectations and that difference makes it stand out from regular records. I can only think of one frustrating moment, the end of "Still Life" ends with an interluding mini beat, a gorgeous Jazz piano starts to swoon and it ends all too soon, fizzling out with a swift fade out after the key change, I would of really liked to hear it fleshed out more. Other than that its a cracking, laid back listen to mellow out to.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 22 May 2017

Limp Bizkit "Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water" (2000)

Striking while the iron is hot, the Jacksonville Nu Metal band Limp Bizkit did not mess around getting another record out of the back of their massive success "Significant Other". Fifteen months later the group essentially release another album from the same blueprint, selling over one million records in the first week making it the fastest selling rock record of all time. Working with Terry Date again they make another chart topping collection of catchy, crowd bouncing, party moshing songs, tightening up the previous sound and recreating their formula for easier consumption. This was probably my favorite record as a teen. I still remember buying my copy at my local record store, the album cover was plastered all over the walls and shelves.

Every now and then I just have to give the Limp a listen. With this blog at the back of my mind I always have a more inquisitive experience with the music. This time around the exploits of this record seemed more obvious than ever. Limp master their formula for energetic, bouncy riffs, Fred's catchy hooks and rocking drum grooves, arranging them with a back and forth between the verse and chorus that slowly raises the mood for the "money riff" to kick in with a mammoth weight. They then wind it down, bring it back up and kick in with the knockout riff again before lumping in an alternate section at the end. The majority of songs follow this arrangement and those that don't come rather close, it must be said "Take A Look Around" is an absolutely brilliant perfection of this approach. The big riff is just slamming and the build ups get me fired up every time, even when you know exactly whats coming.

To my ears, Limp's guitar sound may just explain how such an angry, aggressive, urban and metallic band took their sound to the masses. The guitars are mostly contained within a space, when the distortion kicks in its got that ripe, vibrant texture and the groove is bold, loud and obvious, however unlike more traditional Metal guitar tones, its rather contained, within its own part of the mix and not bleeding out or smothering any other sounds, its not as dense or thick but tonal. Most of the songs have a lot of effects soaked acoustic guitars, lively, deep musical baselines from Sam and pumping Hip Hop grooves from John, the two have a fantastic chemistry and their professional background shows. In essences, the fiery rage the band have in their hooks is like a beast in a cage, brought out at just the right moment and locked up again for the average listener to recover from.

The albums fifteen songs flow is also really similar to its predecessor. The catchiest party tunes are loaded in the front end behind the intro, it starts to get more melodic and varied as the record plays on, a Hip Hop track jumps in towards the end, similar to "N 2 Gether Now" but this time with Xzibit, the two exchanging some sub par raps, however the alternate "Rollin" song has Method Man returning along with Redman and DMX, who Ive recently been listening to. The obnoxious beat was produced by Swizz Beats who also handled production on X's records. After it the album fizzles out with a long interlude outro track and like before a handful of "hidden" tracks are throw into the negative space of a tracks run time on the CD release.

I never thought this one was their best but from a popularist perspective it could well be, at the peak of the Nu Metal, Rap Metal craze the LB fine tuned their craft for the charts and I have fond memories of seeing them on MTV every day after school. To throw in some criticism, Fred's raps at times get rather sour for lack of a better word. I consider Fred to be a great front man for moving a crowd with his fun and quirky style. Rap is a tool for him to use but when paired up with some authentic rappers his rhymes sound flimsy and immature in comparison. He is always the point of contention and I think the rest of the group are nothing but solid, especially with their more expansive songs like "Boiler", "The One" and "It'll Be OK". Its not a record time will serve well but it will always be a gem to me, no thanks to the moody teenage feels those seventeen years ago.

Favorite Tracks: Hot Dog, Full Nelson, My Way, The One, Take A Look Around, It'll Be Ok
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Hiatus Kaiyote "Choose Your Weapon" (2015)

Now here's a record I never knew I needed! Four piece Australian Jazz Rock outfit Hiatus Kaiyote's second album came as a personal recommendation from the Ren-diggidy-dawg a while back and Its been on repeat ever since! The 80s aesthetic of the cover art says little to the flavor of the music but maybe volumes to the vibrant individualistic style and character the band posses. Fusing aspects of Funk, Jazz, Soul and Progressive Rock, the group take on their inspirations with an articulate voice and inspired artistic freedom.

The result? A classy musical indulgence soaked in the haze of competing instruments that bring every moment to life with their collaboration. Where direction is often led through syncopation and repetition, Hiatus take the other path and fill your cup with the spice of variety as each instrument helps color the canvas of every passing moment. The depths can be felt as each song is layered in instrumentation of which any could be the lead instrument. It brings the core songs to life as never a dull moment presents itself, we are always in the presence of animated instrumentation fighting for our attention and rarely letting one another take center stage.

The percussion brings a mix of flavors to fight for your interest. While holding the driving backbone of tempo down, a liveliness is felt in the range of sounds emerging, an expansive kit loaded with intricacies fleshes out the core rhythm with a constant energy for subtle polyrhythms, grooves, shuffles and vibrant fills. Alongside the drums guitars and synths play a similar roll of never settling for a simple and linear path, each instrument always has something to contribute, either an accent or added dimension to the songs density and trajectory. Especially the synths which make passionate use of the endless manipulation that knobs and dials can do to expand horizons and evolve the sound from a singular textured experience.

The record never stays in one place, its wild and free flowing nature has the carpet pulled from your feet right as your feeling settled. The grooves shuffle, the melodies swoon, the atmosphere sways and lights up the night with its charm but the fire starting spark of magic comes from singer Nai Palm. Her breathy voice has the range to stride with power, then whisper in the next utterance. If there is a lead here, it is her artsy voice that always rises to the top with its flair and quirk to remain fully motioned, never settling on a steady note and often adding inflections in time with the punch line of the drum beat. Its an instrument of its own, as animated and vibrant as any of the others. Some of her best moments come from the ditching of words as she devolves into the melody, free of conventional constraints, it reminds me of a child dancing, free of judgement from anyone, especially herself.

For all its merit, not everything attempted here will be to everyone's taste. Its strength is variety, which comes in a large engulfing dose. There is never a stale moment but the constant shifting and shuffling from one idea to the next doesn't always strike the charm the majority of it does and can move on you as your settling in. No bad words to be said, just that the genius chemistry these musicians have is really milked into every corner of the record. At just under seventy minutes its got so much to offer, a real cracker that's got to be the best thing Ive heard so far this year.

Favorite Tracks: Shaolin Monk Motherfunk, Breathing Underwater, By Fire, The Lung
Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

DMX "...And Then There Was X" (1999)

Making our way through the troubled rappers discography we arrive at his third and most commercially successful record. It shipped over ten million copies world wide no thanks to the massive hit "Party Up" and it being released in the prime of the industry's sales. Its not his best work but certainly has a more consistent tone about it. The instrumentals feeling very fitting one song to the next and X seems as ruthless and unforgiving as hes been so far. Its not to much effect however, beyond the savage nature of the stories told, his vocabulary doesn't expand much beyond a constant reliance on curse words which gets a bit tiresome where lyrical creativity is needed.

The albums theme has X diving deeper into stories of street life, painting an unapologetic image of him delving into crime, drugs and questionable behavior as he raps very directly about his experiences. They are often aimed at an individual, X threatening his actions through the music with violent imagery and insulting slurs. I'm probably focusing on the negative aspects as Ive heard him so frequently recently, his flow is still fantastic, wild, up beat and hyped with plenty of barking but it still feels like the lyrical content isn't anywhere near as exciting. On "What's My Name" he gets the hook just right to make one my favorite DMX songs thanks to a fantastic instrumental, however the records best raps come from The Lox on "D-X-L".

The production is tight, consistent and a little denser than before. Another set of programmed instrumentals and drum kits take a step forward with a shade more complexity and depth in the various arrangements. The drum loops are loaded with more cymbals and hi-hats, alongside them strings, pianos and various synths set the setting for X's dark criminal raps. Its got the atmosphere down but far from being special. Just a solid collection of beats from start to end with a hint of mafioso.

My one big turn off is "Prayer III", X's spoken word piece, a conversation with god that's featured on each record. This time it feels a little contrived and illogical for him to acknowledge his influence on his potentially impressionism audience, accepting his success and fame as a gift in the wake of his troubled behavior and antics. I'm not keen on this way of thinking, its enabling but I'm not here to cast judgement, just making observations from my perspective. Good record but only has a couple of sparks.

Favorite Tracks: The Professional, Part Up, What's My Name, D-X-L
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Ulver "The Assassination Of Julius Caesar" (2017)

Norwegian musician Ulver has an eclectic discography in the making. Emerging from his native native Black Metal scene in the 90s, Ulver gave up the sound after the third record and has since pursued many sounds and styles, often experimental. From Dark Ambient and Drone, to Trip Hop and Jazz, often with a strong current of Electronics, he has quite the remarkable journey. This latest venture outlines its premise and inspiration with the title alone, the music strides into new territory as an intelligent from of Synthpop emerges, rich in texture and dense in composition.

Lyrically its concept is obvious, stated in the albums title. As words often do, they go right past me however like a sore thumb one always picks up on the pronunciation of dates, events and the narrations that tie them together in the pursuit of historical ties. Sometimes we are following Caesar's internal dialog and other times from a third person perspective. Its one thing that caught my attention, however almost all of mine was captivated by the stunning instrumentals and Ulver's soaring, powerful yet persuasive voice.

 An array of beautifully crafted synth instruments unite under an inspired chemistry that brings about a truly swooning collection of songs. They play out like cinematic moments of emotion and event, with the power to transform and evolve seamlessly. The synths interweave bright, pulsing melodies with bold and poppy textures while soft, expansive strings grace the backdrop. Pianos, acoustic guitars and other instruments wage in too, the drumming is especially impressive, holding together and electronic sound without relying on booming thuds and thumps. There is a lot of hi-hat and cymbal work, subtle drum rolls and a good sense of rhythm to really flesh out the percussion without overpowering its way into the fold.

Its as if the level of craft and composition outplay its nearest neighbor, on one level it has the pop sensibilities to draw one in with fantastic hooks and inviting melodies, on another it plays so much deeper with all kinds of whispering instruments waging in, for example very quiet bongos can be heard here and there. With it the songs can be simple in structure and others more complex and evolved, however the album flows effortlessly between the varying degrees of approach. Brilliant record, can't stop listening to my favorites at the moment.

Favorite Tracks: So Falls The World, Transverberation, 1969, Coming Home
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Nightrage "The Venomous" (2017)

Its been over a decade since I last checked in with the Greek Melodic Death Metal group Nightrage. I don't remember much of them, other than their breed of melodeath being rather rough around the edges. "The Venomous" is a step apart from where I last joined them as the band treat themselves to a lavish, tightly polished production that is as crisp as it gets for this genre of music.

Walking in the shadows of bands like Carcass, Arch Enemy and In Flames, the band do little to set themselves apart from the tropes of the melodeath genre. Its as predictable an experience you could expect, every riff, scream, and drum beat fits neatly into the formula. That's not to bash on the band but when a sound is where it was ten years ago it can hardly be exciting for a seasoned listener.

The reality is Nightrage are a very competent band, clearly talented, technical and inspired the album is littered with tightly wound riffs chugging away on integral grooves and between them wave after wave of bright colorful leads and vibrant guitar solos. Song structures keep things oozing but it lacks the power to surprise. Not a single moment or riff felt unexpected, wild or out of the mold and so often it drifted to the back of my mind. Even so It was still an enjoyable record with little to complain about but for such a unoriginal piece of music it hardly made an impression on me. If you know Melodic Death Metal, you know this record already.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Oranssi Pazuzu "Kevät Värimyrsky" (2017)

After being blown away by the Finnish Psychedelic Post-Black Metal band's 2016 release "Värähtelijä", I was excited to hear talk of a new album, however this release is just a two track EP. The new record is out but released in the same month is this sixteen minutes affair to wet the apatite for whats to come. Its first track "Kevät" is a slowly and dreary wander through the foggy moonlight fields of desolation as a bleak atmosphere is cast by sombre acoustic guitars over distant hazy distortions. It progresses with an increasing unnerving as a slow gargling vocal taunts cryptic words, leading us into monstrous layers of dense rumbling guitar distortions. Sinister strings hide between the smothering sound it breaks apart as easy as it came, a creepy and morbid song with no charm for simple melodies, it is a grave soundscape of despair.

Starting with a singular, tonal distortion guitar and steady baseline "Värimyrsky" starts as another barren and desolate atmospheric piece. As it steadily groans a brief pause leads into a dramatic eruption as brooding tom drum fills lead us into a riff roaring whirl of metallic darkness. Twisted howls call out and before long the song breaks for respite as the vocal and distortion guitars drop out for a serine acoustic guitar to play out over a lively baseline and mystic organ like synths. With a guitar solo it lurches back towards the darkness and the song goes through several shifts, ever climaxing on its variations before breaking to a more enigmatic ending as a sense of glory and wonder emanates on the final moments of the song. Two excellent, crafted tracks. If these are outtakes from the full length then we are in for a big treat.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Raekwon "The Wild" (2017)

Raekwon The Chef, member of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan is quite possibly my favorite of the Staten Island group. His sturdy rap style, lyrical flexibility, ability to tell stories and mafioso flavor has always won me over. Truth is Ive barely gotten myself beyond his debut classic "Only Built For Cuban Lynx" but wherever Raekwon pops up on a track, if its Outkast, Mobb Deep or Schoolboy Q, you can count on him for a solid rap. Twenty five years into his career its fantastic to hear how well hes held together his craft. That and the production makes a decent record out of "The Wild" however it doesn't quite spark for the goosebumps and adrenaline I fiend for.

The song "Marvin" however is the exception, in itself an exceptional track that hits that mark, a remarkable and fitting tribute to Marvin Gaye, sampling his record, Ceelo Green singing his sorrows in the chorus and Raekwon telling the story of his life and tragic death and the hands of his father. His flow like a glue keeps me gripped on every word as he paints the heart breaking story for us. Its a wonderful tribute, a track Ill tune back into for time to come.

With that one exceptional moment out the way, the rest of the record is a rather diverse collection of instrumentals. Nostalgic samples of the 70's, the music of his youth, recycled Wu-Tang beats from 36 Chambers, dark club synth bangers like "My Corner" where he teams up with Lil Wayne and "You Hear Me". "Visiting Hour" is a dreamy bitter-sweet pop like song with bright pianos and airy synths and this varied selection of tracks is tied together with what sounds like people hanging out in the studio while a soulful voice sings some humorous lyrics as others laugh along with him. Raekwon is solid throughout with his stories, mafioso boisterous raps and fond reminiscing. Its all great but lacks a kick for the songs to transform into anything special, with exception to "Marvin".

Favorite Tracks: Marvin, Can't See You, Visiting Hour
Rating: 6/10