Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Between The Buried And Me "Colors II" (2021)


Once a fresh and exciting band on the rise in my youth, Between The Buried And Me now have two decades to name. To my ears, their identity settled around the landmark record Colors. Since then its been a string of familiar and fun romps, blasting a Progressive Metal brandished by their particular flavor. With a recent personal desire to branch out I wanted to skip this one by, feeling that Between had become a little predictable with ambitious by design music. Then again, this is the sequel to the album with Prequel To The Sequel! Colors II! Surely something special is at play?

Either by exhaustion, saturation or my mood, sadly my enjoyment cannot say this is worthy of the title. Beyond that, the music has played out like a sporadic array of twisting aggression, sudden pivots and crowded complications has the instruments often cramming in a lot of unnecessary texture and notation that its songs end up like disorienting river rapids. Some arrangements, riffs and moments have power, intrigue and excitement but mostly it drones on as its mammoth eighty minutes grind away.

 I can't help but feel that Tommy's harsh, snarling shouts added to this grinding feeling. The album is interspersed with beautiful clean singing and non metallic instrumentation which often amounted to my favorite moments when the unrelenting subsides. That's when themes flourish and melodies lead the way but some of them too get a little to self indulged too. Progressive music like this is a tightrope to walk. In this case I felt as if it came of with more thought than feeling. Too much of the record is unnecessarily complicated and overloaded, amounting to an overly busy set of songs with some moments of fun and grooves sprinkled throughout.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 23 September 2021

AZ "Doe Or Die II" (2021)

Twenty six years later, New York rapper AZ releases a sequel to his Mafioso Rap gem Doe Or Die. In the world of Hip Hop there isn't a great track record for artists reviving classics further down the road. That's why I almost passed this one up but a quick check in had me impressed. Now approaching fifty, AZ's voice sounds barely aged, a little rough at the edges but his slick flow and youthful tone is well intact. Most surprising of all, hes got expression in abundance, riffing bars from start to end without an inch of nonsense to be found. This is quite the exception for an aging generation of rappers.

With his timeless flow intact, the tightly stacked rhymes flow again. Grooving off his effortless cadence the lyrics weave between wisdom and observation as AZ drops knowledge and intelligence into his tales. Reflecting on the angels and devils of lifestyle and environment, he paints a path out the dangers of street life with a keen maturity that oozes with confidence. The Mafioso flavor creeps in here and there with his poetic word choices painting lavish pictures however its often withdraws from the violence as his words wave weary warnings to the dangers of such lifestyles.

Its a total pleasure, AZ shines with every verse of this record. Its strangely his guests who spoil the flow. Variety is important and Lil Wayne brings an interesting approach for his feature but every other rapper here just doesn't fit with the vibe. They mostly work in the shadow of AZ, trying to deploy a similar style. English actor Idris Elba also lends his voice for the intro too, however it again doesn't feel like the right fit for an album opening monologue. I think I could of just listened to AZ from front to back. This leads me to another observation, the absence of Nas. With both being active its a shame they didn't hook up again. AZ was a special part of Illmatic, arguably the greatest Hip Hop record of the 90s. Who would of thought these two would still be on top their games all these years later? With them on such good form, hearing him here would of been sublime, I'm sure!

With such an abundance of great rhymes, sadly the beats that struggle a little here. Mostly they conjure moods adjacent to the 90s style. Sample oriented and using oldskool break loops they provide a firm footing but lack a cutting edge. Often toned down, they give space for AZ to occupy clearly, not being overly ambitious or overbearing. On one hand they've essentially crafted beats within the 90s time machine. On the other that doesn't give it much in the way of freshness but I've got to give props to the craft, of all the artists trying to relive that era, this probably came closest. The closing bonus song however throws most that out the window for a more modern sound with some Kanye inspired vocal inclusion with the hook.
 Doe Or Die II is an anomaly, a sequel mostly worthy of the name. It can't replace the original but it compliments it wonderfully. My only qualm is a sense of its impressive stature being more analytical than emotional? This is a common problem when observation intersects the nature of mood and inspiration. Is it me or the music? I feel like I could love this more and as I often say, into the collection it goes ready for shuffle to find me again later down the road. I'm sure then these songs will be more than a welcome surprise.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Carcass "Torn Arteries" (2021)


Its been eight years since the legendary Grindcore *and* Melodic Death Metal pioneers Carcass returned to the scene with their mighty Surgical Steel record. My excitement for this new album was stirred greatly by the EP Despicable released as a holdover comprised of outtakes during the pandemic. Its strange but what mustered my interest seems missing on many of the new songs here, mostly in its aggressive arrangements. Perhaps the music falls into the routine and expectant as Bill Steer and Jeff Walker write this collection of new songs from safe space creatively.

Torn Arteries is another power house of Melodic Death Metal, executed with a clean, approachable tone and embellishing production to give the aggressive snarling shouts and blast beats a softer edge. It illuminates the web of melody and cushioned groove woven between its harsher elements. Chugging guitars drift into melodic inflections as bright luminous lead guitars turn a lick into a solo. It all sounds gorgeous with a notable easing up from drummer Daniel Wilding who's kick and snare grooves come with space at easier tempos to give room for digestion of the entangled guitars.

 In its opening phases the temperament is all a little too contained and unadventurous, at least in terms of finding new ground. I can't put my finger on quite why but its not until In God We Trust that I get any goosebumps. I'd say at the mid point with The Devil Rides Out, the pace picks up as bigger riffs and more exciting stints of aggression come into play. I adore this sound and style but Carcass stick so closely to it. Perhaps that's what I liked about the cuts that didn't make this record? In not being up to snuff, they had a little difference I found exciting.

One thing that rocks throughout is Bill's lyrical hooks. His snarling shouts are often a bit much to decipher but he gets the catchiest lines out with a knack for creating ear worms. The way he barks "Whats the joke?" or spewing wordings like PVC and Skullduggery. He has a knack, obviously, for that twisted medical savagery they embellish their identity with. "As the serpent rises from a maternity ward" being a favorite as it paints an utterly bizarre image of genetic experimentation gone wrong.

I've sat on this one for a while now, spinning it over and over, hoping that some much needed adrenaline would flow, like other Carcass records do for me... but still its not quite there yet. I can't critique much here at all, I think its a fantastic set of songs with a great sounding production. Its probably the lack of novelty or originality that is missing for me. At a time where I am starting to think I need some new musical adventure, this was just all too routine? Either way, I can't knock Torn Arteries, it will go in the collection for rotation and hopefully the surprise of shuffle will reconnect me with these songs in the future.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Little Simz "Sometimes I Might Be Introvert" (2021)


I have been dying to hear this album ever since its second single Woman with Cleo Soul dropped. What a stunning track! Perfectly blurring the lines of R&B and Hip Hop, its a mover. Warm, bold and audacious, its lush instrumentation is led by a grooving baseline as Little Simz delivers a fine perspective on female empowerment to compliment. Much of this tracks charm is what the record as a whole is about. A brilliant production has its percussive beats and raps anchored in a classy setting that sways in and out of its own theatrical pantomime. Developing an overarching theme of perception, reflection and ambition grounded in reality, Simz navigates the present moment on a mission of affirmation and intent that is this record.

 With a blinding string of opening tracks, we go on an emotional journey. Riveting, bold and poetic, Simz walks us through so many personal struggles and perspectives on an effortless stride. Lyrically the flow and cadence is so smooth and concise, yet her words resonate so deeply. Reflecting on how she was stabbed and yet sees the perpetrator as a victim of the same circumstances she endured shows so much maturity. It blesses this record with much wisdom interwoven in her raps, as well as a lot of candid talks on family issues. Either reflecting on past woes, commentating on present problems or thinking positively ahead, almost every topic here is illuminated. Not only working through intimate and personal issues of abuse and struggle does she also dissect broader societal concepts and ills into the meaning of all shes going through. Its some of the finest lyricism I've heard in a while.

Where the foot comes off the gas is in the records runtime. At sixty five minutes the bulk of material fits closely to this dynamic union of theater and theme. As the record rolls on a few songs break up the mood, which can often be a good addition of variety. Speed does this well with its stiff baseline toying with simple groove and zany synth melodies. Simz switches up the flow and topicality with a fun boisterous stance. It works but in its reflection Rollin Stone arrives abruptly like a trend chaser. With a dark and gritty street vibe it contrasts the rest of the record. Half way through, Its beat switch and slyly sung lyrics feel so aimless and the track ends with a lone use of auto tune sounding like a half baked hook left way out of place.

Fortunately it pivots into Protect My Energy offering up some energetic 80s vibes with its snappy, hasty percussion and punchy melodies. Quite the song, seemingly out of step yet acts as a tribute to her introversion that pops up throughout the record as she comes to grip with it. Point And Kill and Fear No Man bring a little Caribbean flavor to the record but again, feels off point from the main theme and thus drags on despite being equally interesting tracks. Its the vibe shake up that looses its way on the path to the last three songs which wrap things up on a wonderful stride of introspection.

 Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a stunning expression of an artists life. A slice in time that flirts with the genres classics as its own identity strides for greatness at every turn. Strangely, the criticism is a common one, bloat. With exception to one song, its mainly a case of solid, interesting songs detouring of the path walked by the greater contributes. To pull four of five tracks would have me completely hanging on her every word - I feel as if no respite from this stunning stride was needed.

Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Yagya "Always Maybe Tomorrow" (2021)


With little in the way of a stylistic divergence to be found, Always Maybe Tomorrow is the sort of release I prefer from an artist who I enjoy, yet may not find something new as they remain in their lane. This is a straight forward four track EP of droning dreamy cuts with the typical Yagya sound. Its synths, percussive pallet and ambiguous noises seemingly recycled tones from past projects but in this brief format its a welcome place to revisit. So much so that I'd fail not to repeat myself in describing it.

Each song is a deployment of rich textural aesthetics. Its perpetual deep bass pounding a soothing rhythmic backbone for a one way drive through the varying temperaments of its various instruments. Dense with atmosphere and calming in nature its quite the meditative experience for focus with no human voices to provide any distraction from the entrancing experience of these dreamy drones.

Perhaps I could remark on Standing Still In A River for a more prominent synth melody that repeats on itself endlessly, upfront in the tracks limelight. Beyond that excursion I find myself with little to comment on. This is a very typical set of tracks from Yagya, great to enjoy but not to much in the way of breaking new ground, which I doubt was ever the intent.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 10 September 2021

Jinjer "Wallflowers" (2021)


Is the world of modern Metal is one in decline? A lack of freshness and new ideas has left the genre stuck with innovations now twenty years old. At a "mainstream" level, the prevailing trends seem to still be Meshuggah's Djent guitar tones and the repackaging of Hybrid Theory song writing. As a band with an "underground" buzz, Jinjer don't delve in either of these directions specifically, bar the modern guitar tone. Most of what I hear still feels like a reformation of ideas explored before in the world of Metal. I would label them "Post Metalcore", with the general framework feeling closely aligned. However these songs frequently morph into a Progressive beasts loaded with challenging entangled riff work hinged around some non 4/4 time signatures.

As a listener I feel somewhat torn, these songs feel chromatic, downtrodden and gloomy, bustled along by bursts of anger. Never do they seem particularly appealing to me, perhaps mirroring the Nu Metal perils of negativity without resolution. Yet upon spinning the record do I find myself frequently pulled into the mania as dizzying, brooding discordant guitar works bounce from wall to wall, playing of Tatiana Shmailyuk's gristly shouts and harmonious, yet grounded clean voicings. Its a mean affair, exploring the darker topics with little in the way of upbeat hooks or metallic gimmicks to give you a cheap reward or burst of adrenaline.

The broad topicality of Wallflowers catches my ear for the self portrait of trauma, abuse, a struggle with introversion in the face of social pressures and once again, the teachers! From their EP Micro, Teachers caught my attention with its plain and frank language for story telling. The recurring sentiment signals a deep grievance it would seem... and that words says a lot about this band. Grievance, these songs frequent a mood of dealing with grievances in the metallic context, using the aggressive instruments for struggle and pains rather than bombast and momentum. Of course they do load in the occasional "phat riff" or mosh moment, best heard at the end of of Vortex or a little Deathcore charm in the closing of Dead Hands Feel No Pain.

For me, this Ukrainian outfit remain to be a morbid curiosity. I'm never enamored or moved to goosebumps yet there is something undeniably "them" at play. The more I listen, the more I think its a focus on the uncomfortable and unease. Expressing pains and dark emotions, it culminates through Tatiana's words, her vocal style ferocious when roaring and oddly pristine yet lacking a typically effeminate charm in her clean voice. Wallflowers will have me tuning back in for the next one. If their evolution will lead to places I really vibe with remains to be seen.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Erang "Prisonnier Du Rêve" (2021)


Its album number nineteen for Erang! A release that arrives with a drastic stylistic shift, the first to truly shed the Dungeon Synth and Fantasy origins. Heading for a new adventure in the realms of electronic nostalgia, the pallet of instruments migrates to buzz saws, sine waves and all manor of oscillating synths to house a familiar sense of composition and melody. Initially starting out with a chirpy and upbeat vibes of childhood wonder, Machine Humanoïde reels the mood in towards familiar darkly Synthwave vibes of Anti Future and Songs Of Scars for just a few tracks. Its presentation and promotion, all conducted in native French, plays into the albums narration, a mischievous voice narrating the twists and turns that come about with each song. Of course as linguistic illiterate, this is just my interpretation.

With a more familiar middle, its start and end sections jostle melodies in such a predictable way that I almost want to abstain from opinion. The shift in pallet doesn't drift far enough for a surprise. Being this deep into the French musicians discography, there is little that of the chord progressions, arpeggios and general notation that feels fresh or unexpected. The production style also leaves little out of focus. With all its instruments and percussion crisp and clear, the textures of big bustling old-school synth waves overpower the focus and rather quickly does it overstay its welcome. Its a nostalgic affair for old school synth and early electronic music with spacey overtones. It doesn't always click when dealing with and aesthetic heard many times before.

That being said, Erang always has vision and intent. Emotion is ripe and present as one feels the realm they carve out for themselves. For me, C'était Demain and Demain Les Mondes ride the basics a little to hard on bare bones compositions where as L'avenir Et La Mer and Passage land the ending well scenic and soundscape alike compositions weaving between the melody led strides. Ultimately I've enjoyed Prisonnier Du Rêve for being what I like about this musician but the artistic stride for something new and different feels only knee deep this time around.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Deafheaven "Infinite Granite" (2021)


With a dramatic withdrawal of extremity, Deafheaven emerge from a cocoon reborn in a new form both drastically different and strangely similar. With one fell swoop the band land on a thing of beauty with Infinite Granite. The deeper instincts of their inspirations blossom as they distance themselves from the Black Metal, or Blackgaze they are associated with. Dialing in closer towards traditional Shoegaze, an invigorating, textured wall of sound ebbs and flows with intensity, swaying through calm breezes and emotive storms with an effortless grace that feels so right.

It is singer George Clarke who illuminates and makes sense of this shift in tone. Finding a new voice, he swoons with purity, navigating the shimmering ethereal nightly mood his band mates conjure. As an anchoring force, his gentle and sincere presence adds so much meaning and grace, especially when dreamily drifting with a softness through the instrumental turbulence, riding out the storms. The particular style is one I can't quite put my finger on. Its a little Morrisy perhaps but there is some 80s voices I'm sure he holds a candle to with this remarkable performance.

All the beauty converges with these remarkably busied and bustling instrumentals. The drums shuffle and rattle ceaselessly. The bass guitar works a dense underbelly for the shimmering guitars to sway back and forth between dark glossy acoustic chord plucking and rapturous build ups of swelling guitar distortion. It all ebbs and flows together as one cohesive force, the songs rolling of one and into another. Between it all subtle electronic keyboard tones weave in and out of focus and making itself known with the misty ambiguous instrumental piece Neptune Raining Diamonds.

The initial, noteable thing of remark is the departure from Black Metal, however these intensities with screaming and surges of instrumental force are found here and there as wretched crescendos push whats beautiful in this dark realm to its absolute limits. Although it feels more like traditional Shoegazing, the dense wall of sound and depth of texture is quite the meaty affair. It seems melodic and emotive yet its laid on heavy. Its seemingly a big change but more so a smart re-arrangement of select pieces on the chessboard, to break it down from a more technical perspective.

Infinite Granite will be one of my favorites this year and not a moment of it turns me off. Will its spark dull with time? I hope not, I adore this engrossing experience. It feels like one to be enjoyed as a whole, ending with the remarkable epic Mombasa! If anything written here sparked your interest, give it a listen! Surely it wont disappoint!

Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 4 September 2021

C418 "Cookie Clicker" (2021)


A return to always be welcome with open arms is that of C418! Creator of wonders such as 148 and the timeless Minecraft soundtracks, excitement always blooms with news of fresh music. Three years on from Excursions, Daniel gives us a short twenty two minute release most alike that of his signature Minecraft sound. These new songs compliment that niche well, as I have learned, binging Cookie Clicker on repeat while residing within the blocky virtual realm. Its five songs connect like a single thread, carrying its main musical theme and melody from start to end.

It's a typically dreamy, whirling affair of progressive arpeggios bustling on with the ebb and flow of surging synths that rise and fall to briefly fly alongside it. Initially percussion is bare bones, building intensity and design with its steady pace as the music moves through several sudden shifts, eventually finding a burst of light for its crescendo. The mood is one of ethereal beauty, lost in a passing day dream.

With Grandmapocalypse that all changes as deep baselines and brooding waveform synths muster a little night life Synthwave flavor to lure us into a lean and dark corridor for the charming main melody to navigate. Danger lurks but one is always safe. Ascend then deforms much of the music into clusters of ambience and soundscape design, passing by before Click Forever brings back the arpeggio for one last swing.

The freshness of this music is exciting but ultimately it is one main musical theme fleshed out and thoroughly explored in its twenty minutes. On an album it could be but one single track. With more repetition I wouldn't be surprised if its magic dulled a little but thoughts aside its just nice to hear this musician again! His sound is still his own.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 3 September 2021

Kanye West "Donda" (2021)


Currently on a downswing of poorly received records, one of musics biggest names suffers the discomfort of bloat with a tenth record that could have been gold. Twenty seven new songs make for over one hundred minutes of music. Its a daunting bulk of tracks that's slow to get going and concludes with four alternate versions. Some of this may have been out of Kanye's hands, the release of the record a typical mess of delays that also make for a lot of free press. Its hard to know where the truth lies as he has stated since that the project wasn't released as he planned, creating yet another news cycle talking on the album again. I'm being somewhat cynical here.

To mirror its length, Donda feels like a whirl of converging stories taking place in the artists life. The passing of his mother and divorce with his wife being two recurring themes among many other stories, including his plea to grant clemency to Larry Hover. Its more of the endearing vulnerability first heard on Ye. His heart felt lyrics and words, where they occur, reflect internal and external realities and on occasional drifts between disillusion and heartbreak, given my perception of how the media interprets and presents his personal life. At his best Kanye is raw, expressive, impassioned and authentic but the lack of focus means its found mostly in the mid to latter half.

The opening string of eight tracks, from Donda Chant to Ok Ok, lack pace and urgency. Most these beats are subdued with sparse percussion hinged on a couple of lively bass stabs. Slow tempos and moody atmospheres in themselves make up a concept and style but the record will pivot. These songs also feel outweighed by guests who take up much of the airwaves. Jay-Z pops up on Jail to usher in an underwhelming echo of their Watch The Throne collaboration. Cushioned by extended instrumental sections and drawn out loops, its sluggish pace drags on.

Then with Junya things pivot. Its an ugly track, with Playboy Carti and Kanye making a variety of strange noises over the uncomfortable, gritty basslines. There is a friction with the church organ behind it, however that signifies the arrival of his Gospel influences from Jesus Is Born. Sampling Lauren Hill's classic Do Wop That Thing, suddenly the gears shift on Believe What I Say. From here Kanye sings on track after track, bringing in more harmonious and tender musical themes housed by his sparse yet timely percussive grooves and lifted by light choral alike synths. Kid Cudi fits in perfectly with a lovely presence on the drumless track Moon. Its a string of songs ending with Come To Life that I'd consider to be what Donda should of been.

This chunk of the music represent the best of Kanye, with the aforementioned vulnerabilities coming to light and him taking up more of the focus on a record that seems to have multiple collaborative hands on every track. Things hit a peak on Jesus Lord, a perfectly composed instrumental loop that pulls on the heart strings as Kanye bleeds his feelings for Donda. Its the albums gem, a wonderful moment preceded by songs that reside in its shadow with Come To Life concluding the theme with a beautiful piano performance to exit on. It feels like a final note but then No Child Left Behind brings another wave of closure with a heavenly arrangement of choral synths and organ tones to bow out again before the bloat returns with the additional part two collection of tracks, to which hearing The Lox again was a highlight.

Having now dissected my thoughts and feelings on this one, it feels like two projects mashed together. An evolved take on Jesus Is King in the middle, surrounded by another theme that brings out Kanye the rapper who frequently drop the rhymes that make me chuckle. Chanting "I know god breathed on this" a keen example of when his sharp remarks don't land, not quite as genius as he thinks he is. "I got this holy water that's my beverages", "They playing soccer in my backyard I think I see Messi", there are a few of these lines sprinkled in that feel unnatural and contrived. There are plenty of counters to these examples, moments where he gets the rhymes and hooks just right but I prefer him vulnerable, straight and not trying to be to clever with the rhymes. Ultimately, Donda is a bloated record, one I'll condense to my own selection of songs to enjoy from here on out.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Alan Parsons Project "Eve" (1979)

As the third of three Alan Parsons records labeled his best, I've had a familial experience again. Diving deep and finding the same fond web of timely influences, I still can't escape these songs! In the months between I Robot, Pyr△mid & Eve, I have been on a binge, one that can't end here. These numbers are the soundtrack of a childhood I never had, the missing sleeves of Progressive Rock vinyls I was raised on! Eve is no exception, Its feminine empowerment theme a strong and bold overtone that leads to timely singing with strength and gusto on one track, flipping to tender expressions on the next. Its broadness is a perfect compliment for the range of temperaments and meandering journey that Eve goes on. It may have even been an edgy, progressive statement for the times, however with age any sharpness has been dulled by current norms of western societies progressive direction.

Looking past the lyrical landscape to the instrumentals we have the usual suspects. 70s electronic tones weave through opening track Lucifer with exotic bells, haunting chorals and rigid percussive grooves, Its quite the mash up that works wonderfully. From the intro we pivot into the regular songs, kicking off with echos of Pink Floyd underpinned by a strong Funk influenced groove to cruise off. On I'd Rather Be A Man the mood turns dark with its rapturous nightly bass synth line pounding through the song. Then comes the big pivot as the vibes soften with tenderness and calm ushered in before the rest of the record becomes an amalgamation of all above!

Don't Hold Back has quite the charm as it hook sings, "Touch the sky with your minds eye, Don't be afraid to reach out!" lovely stuff. The guest singer reminds me of Dusty Springfield on this one. The following Secret Garden embellishes us with a glorious and fantastical composition, a signatures track style. Cinematic and symphonic, Alan lets the music lead itself without word and a web of charming sounds, something each record seems to have a song or two for. From here the record bows out on a sombre note as tempos slow and pianos usher in a final ballad to close on. Overall, its pretty fantastic, oddly feeling short yet being the lengthiest of the three! From here I will venture to the debut record.

Rating: 8/10