Friday, 20 July 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 20/07/2018: Chance the Rapper, The Internet, Guerilla Toss and more…
‘I Might Need Security’ – Chance The Rapper
Chance The Rapper just surprise attacked us with four new tracks. This is undoubtedly the best track of the bunch – it sees the Chicago rapper getting political whilst delivering playful bars like ‘They think they Heath Ledger scary, they just Jack Nichols’. The backing sample used throughout the song is both pretty and hilarious – somehow I don’t think they’ll be able to make a radio-friendly version.
‘La di da’ – The Internet
This new smooth summer jam from soul band The Internet is deliciously funky with it’s wah-soaked guitars and groovy bass playing (it sounds very Jamiroquai-inspired). Syd’s breathy vocals are as heavenly as ever, although I’m not sure why she screams ‘Bridge’ like Pharrell at the end of the track (isn’t the bridge the bit between the verse and chorus).
‘Everything’ – Kaizen
‘Everything’ is one of those rare EDM songs that can remain intense through its build-up and still serve up a satisfying pay-off. Moody bass and melancholy vocal sampling opens up the song and the whole song gets busy quickly, but then at the one minute mark the tone shifts as it hurtles into a euphoric Rustie-like trap section. Kaizen continues to be incredibly dynamic.
‘Race Car’ – Joseph Tyler
I don’t think I’ve ever heard production quite like this. Shimmering synth arpeggios and walking 808 basslines provide a bouncy cartoonish backdrop that’s like some combination of Panda Bear, N.E.R.D and Gorillaz. It pairs well with Joseph Tyler’s jubilant lyrics about defying wasted youth.
‘Meteorological’ – Guerilla Toss
Former-noise-rockers-turned-avant-garde-funk-band Guerilla Toss released a phenomenal album last year titled GT Ultra. It seems that they’re already thinking about dropping a follow-up, serving up this groovy extravaganza with a weather channel themed video. The whole instrumental creatively pitch shifts up at the end and there are more synths than ever – I’m expecting more electronica from their new release.
‘Hair Cutter’ – Animal Collective
The psychedelic experimentalists have gone back to their droney sound and if I’m honest it’s a bit dull. The vocals also have a cheap mic quality that I’m sure is intentional, but it just doesn’t work for me.
Thursday, 19 July 2018
Rhythmless hip hop and undanceable EDM – these two albums are certainly challenging.
Death Grips and SOPHIE have never tried to make music for the masses. Avant-garde hip hop outfit Death Grips have spent the last decade laying paranoid shouty vocals over noisy beats incorporating everything from chopped-up Bjork vocals to gabber. Electronic producer SOPHIE has meanwhile spent her career concocting twisted EDM singles that blend cutesy synth twinkles and dark industrial clangs layered with chipmunked vocals.
Together they’re two of the most forward-thinking artists making music right now – although some people may just see them as a bunch of arty-farty noisemakers. Personally, I’ve always loved their unbridled experimentalism, even if tracks like ‘Hot Head’ and ‘L.O.V.E’ teetered on my threshold. For the most part, beneath the digitally altered vocals and distorted synth screeches, both artists have always carried a mean sense of rhythm – something that’s always held their unconventional songs together. In fact, Death Grips’ last album Bottomless Pit was full of head-bobbing grooves, whilst SOPHIE’s debut LP Product was a gauntlet of frenetic bangers that similarly made you want to move.
But now, both artists have decided to sacrifice even their sense of groove. Have they overstepped the line and devolved into self-indulgent noodling? Or are they still masters of organised chaos?
Death Grips’ Year Of The Snitch was the first of the two albums that I listened to and the first thing that struck me was how little hip hop influence was left and how much more rock influence there is. In fact, you could argue Death Grips are pretty much a rock band at this point. Many of the tracks are accompanied by satisfying guitar riffs – ‘Black Paint’ might be one of Death Grip’s best tracks to date with a sludgy Melvins-like riff driving it along. Much of the percussion is live drumming rather than digital beats, courtesy of long-time member Zach Hill, further adding to the rock sound. As for MC Ride’s barked vocals, they’ve always seemed closer to hardcore punk chanting than rapping anyway, and here they’re more punky than ever.
Whilst there are still some rhythmic anthems such as driving opener ‘Death Grips is Online’ and poppy misfit ‘Streaky’, much of the album is messier and more chaotic than its predecessors. ‘The Horn Section’ is essentially a drum solo with some glitchy synths layered on top, whilst ‘Shitshow’ layers speedy yelling over blast beats. Along with its rock flavourings, much of it comes across like a prog rock record – especially carnivalesque ‘The Fear’.
The jilted rhythms are just another attempt by Death Grips to be as extreme and ‘noided’ as possible. Given the lyrics are so deliberately garbled and the sounds are so abrasive, there’s very little cohesion left to grip onto. Fortunately, Death Grips do seem to have compensated this with a little more humour, mocking how absurd they’ve become with ‘Shitshow’ and closing track ‘Disappointed’. And whilst the lyrics are still very much dark (many of the tracks have Satanic references and themes of death), there are less tritones and eerie sounds in their music, substituted with a more bouncy demented vibe. Repeat listens definitely make it more digestible – but I’m still having a hard time loving something that’s so grooveless.
Moving on to SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-insides, the producer has also taken steps to further reduce her accessibility. Much of her previous tracks have been combinations of noisy and cutesy such as ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Hard’, but now she’s divided the two sounds up. The songs are either bright, atmospheric tunes or bludgeoning bangers – only on closer ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ are the two allowed to meet (and the track title even seems to divide them into two parts).
SOPHIE’s dark and industrial persona is the one I love the most - singles ‘Ponyboy’ and ‘Faceshopping’ tap into this side. ‘Ponyboy’ is sex dungeon music with bass blasts that ring out like gunshots, whilst ‘Faceshopping’ covers the topic of materialism to the accompaniment of signature metallic screeches.
I’m not quite as big a fan of her softer side – ‘It’s Okay To Cry’ serves as a soppy poppy opener that does nothing for me. Other than being a bit mushy, part of the reason these tracks don’t work for me is that SOPHIE has stripped away most of the percussion. She’s done this on a previous song ‘Just Like You Never Said Goodbye’, but now multiple songs have no percussion, seemingly building up without a drop, leading them to feel almost unfinished. Obviously, this is a deliberate choice to do away with the EDM cliché of a ‘drop’ and push electronic music forward, but it makes a song like ‘Is It Cold In The Water?’ feel like a load of unresolved tension. ‘Pretending’ gets away with it as it’s pretty much a time-stretched ambient track (and a thrilling one at that), but ‘It’s Okay To Cry Doesn’t’. Even harder track ‘Not Okay’ is sorely missing some cymbals and snares (along with being criminally short).
Of course, perhaps the aim of having less percussion and less danceabilty is to simply to reinforce the feeling of cold artificiality that SOPHIE seems to be celebrating all over this album. Not only are much of the track titles direct references to artificiality (e.g. ‘Pretending’, ‘Immaterial’ and ‘Whole New World/Pretend New World’), but the lyrics are also centred around themes of fakeness such as the clever materialistic wordplay on ‘Faceshopping’ or the identity crisis that is 'Immaterial'. 'It's Not Okay' and 'It's Okay To Cry' could be references to faking emotions. There's even the question of SOPHIE's gender - given that she is a transgender artist, perhaps she's also alluding to the artificiality of identity in this respect. And of course there's the music itself, built from scratch out of waveforms rather than using preset sounds to sound as plastic as possible. Perhaps this time around she decided percussion was too artificial to have its place in this album. Something that is danceable is too human.
As on Death Grips’ Year of the Snitch, a lack of groove is also a deliberate choice to push sonic boundaries. From an objective standpoint, both albums achieve what they set out to do – they’re adventurous and intentionally challenging. The likes of ‘Black Paint’ and ‘Ponyboy’ have enough immediacy to give these albums some replay value and I think both albums have great themes to pick apart, but only time will tell if I can grow to love the use of unrhythmic percussion – in the case of Death Grips it’s too busy, whilst in the case of SOPHIE it’s too bare.
Year of the Snitch by Death Grips ★★★☆☆
Oil of Every Pearl's Un-insides by SOPHIE ★★★☆☆
Sunday, 15 July 2018
BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 15/07/2018: Milk White Throat, Hollowlove, The Molochs and more…
This week I decided to take a break from the popular hits circulating the web and focus solely on the ton of submissions in my inbox (I’ve meaning to catch up for a while!). Here are some of the best (and worst) underground tunes that I came across.
‘Nearly Alive’ – Milk White Throat
The drummer of this Brighton prog metal outfit must be an octopus or a robot (or maybe a robot octopus). The percussion work is absolutely mental - particularly that tumultuous breakdown at the five minute mark! Evoking a sound similar to The Mars Volta but with a more thrashy edge, Milk White Throat deliver an eight minute rock masterpiece that keeps you hooked from start to finish with its multiple transitions. It must take some stamina to play this live! The band’s upcoming EP House of Fire is out August 3rd.
‘Hazard Lights’ – Hollowlove
Spiky synths make way for some breathy crooning followed by some surprise touches of jazzy piano in this seductive and pulsing new synthpop track by Canadian duo Hollowlove. They sound a bit like an updated version of the Pet Shop Boys. There’s a longer mix of the track for those that want more, but this concise radio cut makes for more easy listening.
‘I Wanna Say To You’ – The Molochs
This hazy new track by LA band The Molochs looks and sounds like a 90s Britpop single (with maybe a few Velvet Underground undertones thrown in). But despite the retro feel, there’s also something fresh about the snarky lyrics and vaguely psychedelic guitar.
‘Soylent Green’ – Niki Moss
Portuguese multi-instrumentalist and singer Niki Moss drops this electropop/rock hybrid ‘Soylent Green’. It’s a mixture of bright synths, chirpy vocals and groovy guitars. If you’re looking for something feelgood to bob your head to, this is your jam. I'm also loving the cute animated video.
‘In The Fields’ – Simon D James
The violins in the opening of this song made me think this was going to be your average village fete folk tune, but it turns out to be a lot more creative than that. There's some creative piano and guitar during the verse that give the track a unique character – it’s folk as you’ve never heard it before.
‘Bring It On’ - ???
It’s time for more terrible scientology rap. This one seems like it was conceived in a boardroom as an attempt to market scientology to young people and the result is a horrifically corny attempt to be hip: ‘How about we make a rap video? Young people love their rap! Can we get a token black guy to do some breakdancing?’.
Friday, 22 June 2018
THE BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 22/06/2018: Ariana Grande, The Carters, Firstworld and more…
This week I look at The Carters' new banger, the strange new single from Ariana Grande and the 'Flossing' dance craze that's blowing up on the internet...
‘APESH*T’ – The Carters
Music mogul power couple Jay-Z and Beyonce are now writing music under the alias ‘The Carters’. Lyrically, it’s nothing but braggadocio, but the crazy trap beat and energetic delivery make up for it (besides, if anyone has a right to brag, it’s them). I can’t bring myself to create a Tidal account just to listen to their new Tidal-exclusive album, but I do feel like I’m missing out now that I’ve heard this banger.
‘Not Obvious’ – Firstworld
I do love myself a bit of Chillwave. Firstworld’s new track is beautifully lo-fi complete with a music video simulated to look like warped VHS footage. There are elements of Washed Out and Neon Indian in his sound, but there’s also a uniquely dark feel to it all, especially present during the chord change that accompanies ‘and as my wallet begs for mercy, I can’t hear it’.
‘Alike’ – Auramancer
Belgian rockers Auramancer deliver this new song about a man who has reluctantly resigned to his boring everyday life (‘I paid my bills/ and it was fun’). It comes accompanied with a video that sees the protagonist trying to break out of the vicious circle by gambling and joining a Fight Club only for it to end in failure. It’s accompanied by some satisfying guitar riffage that feels very QOTSA-inspired, shifting to a meaner tone towards the end.
‘Graceville’ – Strangely Enough
‘Graceville’ pushes the bands’ already epic sound to cosmic proportions – with it’s sparkling synths, celestial strings and euphoric vocals the whole track feels absolutely huge as it glides along like planet on orbit. According to project founder Greg Olley, the song is about a ‘vain search for Utopia’.
‘The Light Is Coming’ – Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj
I actually think this is a really fun song – Nicki’s verse is fantastic, Ariana’s voice is gorgeously sultry as always and the bubbly synths are cool (Pharrell Williams produced the beat) – but that bloody sample in the background ruins it: ‘YOU WOULDN’T LET ANYBODY SPEAK AND INSTEAD…’. It’s completely out of place and is looped continuously throughout the song.
‘Flossin’ – The Backpack Kid ft. DJ Suede
‘Flossin’ seems set to become the new dance craze. It’s a pity the song itself is utter shite – how do these kids sounds out-of-tune even with autotune?
Friday, 15 June 2018
Big Shaq removes his coat and Slaves are soundly oddly upbeat.
‘Man Don’t Dance’ - Big Shaq
Big Shaq has taken off his jacket, but now he’s refusing to dance. Next year, I’m pretty sure he’ll be dancing and refusing to do something else. Man don’t stick to his principles. Sequels to meme songs are generally never as good, but this beat bangs hard and ‘I like my eggs with yolk, scrambled ting/ but please don’t burn my toast’ is the best opening line to a song I’ve heard all year.
‘Cut and Run’ – Slaves
Even if this is a lot less aggressive than their past work and a lot more like FIFA-game radio rock, I’m feeling the catchy lyrics and simple riffing. Also thanks for the workout video, Slaves - maybe there’s still time to work on my beach body.
‘Ha ha ha’ – Death Grips
The first minute of dissonant chaos was a bit much for me and even then I was too distracted by the disgusting artwork to enjoy the rest of the song, but the track has grown on me since – there’s so much crazy shit going on in it that I can’t help but feel a little awed by it. The track is set to feature on Death Grips’ upcoming album The Year of The Snitch – I’m hoping there are more innovative tracks like this one on it.
‘Heterosapien’ – Shatner
Described in the band’s own words, ‘Heterosapien’ is about how the 'human race is crashing the car whilst texting’. Musically, it’s an incredible mix of rock flavours – Shatner have been described as a mix of The Clash and the B-52s which is about as close as I can come to describing their sonic cocktail.
‘Blurs’ – Echo Vista
Echo Vista’s sound is equally hard to pin down. The layers of fluttering woodwind and gloopy synths feel like they ought to belong to two different worlds, but here they co-exist together. The vocals meanwhile weave in and out of the track. It’s a fun and unpredictable ride.
‘Midsummer Madness’ – 88 Rising
When I saw the signees of 88 Rising had come together for a collaboration I got excited, but this is really quite underwhelming. It feels like a commercial cash grab that doesn’t let any of the artists’ personalities shine. Joji sounds like Charlie Puth.
Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Rapper, producer, fashion designer and nutter, Kanye West, drops his eighth record. Is it his Kanye best, or is it a Kanye mess?
Kanye’s last album The Life of Pablo took forever to be released. After a year of hype, we finally got the album and it still felt unfinished – so much so that the rapper went back and edited the album after its release because some tracks weren’t up to spec.
Contrastingly, Ye seems to have had a rather speedy promo campaign. Much of the media attention beforehand was less to do with the album and more to do with Kanye’s typically controversial antics, confessing his love for Trump on Twitter and blurting out that ‘slavery was a choice’ in an interview. The fact that he mentions the latter in the lyrics of the album shows that this record must have been put together fairly quickly.
It certainly doesn’t feel as elaborate as his past works. At 23 minutes, it’s barely an album and more like an EP. The beats meanwhile are very minimal. ‘I Thought About Killing You’ is practically a cappella for the first 2 minutes, whilst the instrumental of ‘All Mine’ is just a vocal sample and a couple 808s.
But despite its brevity and relative sonic simplicity, this is probably the best Kanye West album I’ve heard thus far. It makes up for its short runtime and sparse instrumentation with some of the rapper’s most intimate and intricate lyrics. There are no cornballs this time around. The lyrics that try to be funny are genuinely funny such as when he rhymes ‘outcome’ and ‘without cum’. Meanwhile, the more introspective bars are packed with hidden meanings as he covers personal topics such as his negative media attention and its impact on his relationship with Kim on ‘Wouldn’t Leave’, his newfound respect for women now that he has a daughter on ‘Violent Crimes’ and his battle with mental illness on ‘I Thought About Killing You’ (which I interpret as a battle with his public and private self – hopefully he’s not referring to Kim!).
Kanye is still a raging narcissist and he clearly feels he’s misunderstood. But there are glimpses of insecurities that show that perhaps there’s another sensitive side to the confident persona that he won't let us see. It’s a voyeuristic look into the rap superstar’s psyche, which we've all been trying to pick apart for years. I’m reminded a lot of Jay-Z’s recent album – an equally personal record from a once arrogant rap veteran that’s as stripped back as it is full of meaning.
The choice of guest vocalists is probably my only gripe with this album. ‘Ghost Town’ could have been the best track on the album, featuring some incredible bars about Kanye’s struggles with being understood and some triumphant gospel-flavoured chords – but the singing from PARTYNEXTDOOR and Kid Cudi is almost unlistenable. PARTYNEXTDOOR’s mumbled crooning sounds like a dying sheep and Kid Cudi’s moaning sounds like a kid on the edge of tears. It makes Kanye’s sung verses sound good, and even they’re a little shaky.
The vocals could have done with some tweaking in the studio (or perhaps he should have hired singers rather than rappers to do the singing). Otherwise, I’m glad much of this album has been left rough and ready. It’s an outburst of Kanye’s feelings and had he spent too long in the studio tweaking the lyrics and the beats, he could have ended up taking away some of the exciting rawness. It frustrates me that so many other reviews on the web are letting Kanye’s political views distort their views on him as a musician – particularly considering the lack of politics on this album. Kanye’s cryptic personality has always been the most interesting thing about him, and its fascinating to see him looking inwards rather than outwards.★★★★☆
Friday, 1 June 2018
How the hell is it June already?
‘Don’t Miss It’ – James Blake
James Blake’s upcoming album could well be his best yet. First, he delivered the ethereal and jittery ‘If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead’ and now he’s returned to haunt us with this new track ‘Don’t Miss It’ featuring ghostly vocals and chillingly heartfelt lyrics on recovering from loss. It comes with a creative lyric video recorded on iCloud notes (it’s certainly one way to shoot a music video on a budget).
‘Come Over’ – The Internet
I first discovered The Internet on the internet about a year and a half ago only to discover that the soul group had pretty much broken up – all its members were releasing solo projects and whilst there was no official breakup it felt like an Odd Future situation. However, it seems The Internet are now back online with a new laid back single ‘Come Over’. Stomping drums and slow funky guitars accompany Syd’s breathy vocals in a signature display of smoothness.
‘Honey’ – Mike Green
For those craving some more smooth funk this week, Mike Green’s moody electropop single ‘Honey’ is certain to satisfy your ears. It’s got a sweet and sticky groove with some interesting synth textures going on. Mike’s vocals also have a Pharrell flavour to them that’s very cool.
‘Colossus’ – Idles
UK punks Idles release their first new single since 2017’s aptly-named album Brutalism. It’s a slow-builder that gets menacingly louder and angrier before exploding into a speedy thrasher. There are also plenty of standout lines: ‘I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin/ I put homophobes in coffins’.
‘Red Flowers’ - Pink Fireball
Pink Fireball transform themselves into comic book characters in the new video for their latest single ‘Red Flowers’. Musically, it’s an all-out bluesy jam-fest that packs as much energy into its three minutes as it can. I’m particularly loving the groovy riff that comes in around the two minute after the solos – it made me break out into involuntary air guitar to the point that I broke a sweat.
‘Scio Rap’ – Luke Ayers
An Australian scientologist ruins an absolutely amazing beat with some clunky rapped bars about the brilliance of scientology. This is what happens when you have lots of money but no talent.