Monday, 10 December 2018

Review of 'Some Rap Songs' by Earl Sweatshirt

The biggest challenge with Some Rap Songs is the lack of actual ‘songs’.

Earl Sweatshirt has been getting progressively weirder and less accessible over the years. On this last album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, he did away with hooks and resorted instead to poetic depressed rambling over gritty and dark beats.

Now on his latest album, he’s groaning out each bar like it pains him, barely trying to stay on beat. Not that it's easy to rap over these beats – they’re so glitchy and jittery that they barely follow a rhythm in some cases, often sounding like a scratched CD. Every track begins and ends abruptly, lasting little more than a minute and made up of a single verse. The result is an album of hookless, grooveless, directionless rough cuts that can barely be classed as songs.

The first time I listened to this album I hated it. Even though I loved the lead singles ‘Nowhere2go’ and ‘The Mint’ for their weirdness, a whole album of abstract tunes was too much. It felt like trying to scale a concrete wall with nothing to grip onto.

Fortunately, this is the type of album that proves you need to give things a second chance sometimes. After listening to this again, I actually enjoyed it. As the rough samples and off-kilter rhythms become more familiar, it becomes easier to digest and you can start to lose yourself in the atmosphere of the album. In fact, it adds to the lyrical theme of the album, which sees Earl confronting feelings of being lost and muddled as he sinks worryingly deeper into a black hole of depression. Similarly, Earl’s loose and monotone flow helps to add to the feeling of being lost of muddled – were he sounding tight and energetic it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.

I’ve since grown to love even the woozier and more disjointed cuts such as ‘Loosie’ and ‘Red Water’. I think ‘Peanut’ may still be a little over my threshold, but otherwise I no longer mind the lack of conventional songs. There’s a hypnotic way in which they all feed into each other that gives these jarring tracks a sense of harmony. The short length of the tracks (and the short length of the album overall) also helps. Not only does it make it easier to give this record repeat listens, but it gives this album a fast pace that counteracts Earl’s slow delivery.

Towards the end of the album, there’s also a lot of personal meaning to the tracks. ‘Playing Possum’ sees him including recordings of his mother and father talking, weaving them together as if having a conversation with each other. ‘Riot!’ meanwhile features a snippet from a song recorded by his father’s friend – perhaps a tribute to his father who recently passed away. This helps to give a sense of what might be the source of Earl’s depression, even if he never goes explicitly into detail about it.

All in all, this album is certainly rough around the edges – so rough that listening to it the first time practically gave me splinters. But this itself helps to portray Earl’s mental state. Whilst I still love a song with a catchy hook and a nice groove, this is the type of the album that doesn’t benefit from conventional songs. An album simply need to be a body of work, and how that body of work sounds on the whole is what matters.  


Saturday, 1 December 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 01/12/2018: Gesaffelstein, DUCKWRTH, Arctic Monkeys and more...

The Arctic Monkeys are now making lounge music and I think I'm okay with that...


‘Reset’ – Gesaffelstein

The dark lord of EDM has returned after several years lurking in the shadows. His latest track is an eerie mid-tempo trap number with flourishes of detuned synth and jazzy horns. The music video features a bunch of rapper caricatures (one is definitely supposed to be a parody of Tekashi69) all trying to compete to lay down the best verse (which looks funny given it’s an instrumental). At the end we then see, Gesaffelstein standing there looking out of place, which I guess is a metaphor for how he feels right now in the music industry surrounded by all these wacky attention-seeking rappers. Is he suggesting the music industry needs to reset itself?

‘Soprano’ – DUCKWRTH

Gospel? Am I listening to the right artist here? *Beat switches at 0:48 and I am blasted off my chair by the bass* Ah, that’s more like it! Yet again the Californian rapper releases another banger. It hasn’t got the political lyrics of ‘Fall Back’ but given the energy of the track, I don’t think that matters. The fact that he dedicates that section at the beginning to gospel singing also just goes to show how diverse this man’s talents are.

 ‘Feel Ya’ – Ehiorobo & Tomggg

This is my first exposure to Tomggg and I’m liking his cutesy and bubbly style of production. It matches Ehiorobo’s quirky soulful voice (check out my interview with Ehiorobo here). There’s a lot of dark and moody music out there at the moment and sometimes it’s nice to hear something sweet and bouncy.

 ‘Anyways’ – Arctic Monkeys

The Arctic Monkeys have been continuously slowing down since AM and now they’re literally making lounge music. Ordinarily I don’t think this would be my cup of tea, but Alex Turner’s poetic rambling is kind of hypnotic to listen to. My favourite line: ‘nosebleeds from epiphanies I took full in the face’. By the way, what’s this band’s fascination with vacuum cleaners?

‘Chemical Spirit Connection’ – Andrew Goldring

This track is about a ‘strange encounter one night at the neighbourhood dive bar’. The fuzzy guitars and laid back vocals do a good job of capturing the drunken haze of the moment and I’m loving the whimsical lyrics.


‘Gunner’ – Insaine Caine

His goofy delivery makes him sound like he’s trying to voice a cartoon character and the beat sounds like something from the ‘00s. But hey, what was I honestly expecting with a thumbnail like that?

Monday, 26 November 2018

Review of 'The Wake' by Voivod

14 albums in, Voivod still sound like no other metal band.

Nobody writes riffs like Voivod. Their riffs are like lemons (bear with me) – they’re so dissonantly sour that they make you want to scrunch up every muscle in your face, and whilst some people may hate this sensation, for others (strange folk like myself) it’s the entire appeal.

Even after the death of their guitarist Piggy, the Canadian prog thrash weirdoes continued to deliver the same positively fucked-up guitar sound on their last album Target Earth (which happens to be the first album I ever reviewed on this blog). My review of it was criminally short and doesn’t really get across how much I enjoyed that album. It was one gloriously twisted riff after another and the frantic percussion was equally satisfying. My only gripe was that it didn’t really explore any new territory for the band.

The Wake meanwhile explores lots of new territory - especially in its latter half. Opener ‘Obsolete Beings’ commences with eerier rotor-blade-like whirring and then dives into a fairly conventional (by Voivod standards) thrash riff. It allows the listener to ease their way in before entering the tumult that follows on ‘The End of Dormancy’ – from here on in the pace changes multiple times per track as the band throw you from one riff to the next. Fourth track ‘Iconspiracy’ is a particular highlight, opening with spidery chugging before plummeting into what may be the first blast beat I’ve heard on a Voivod album.

As mentioned earlier, it’s the second half of the album where the band really get into their sonic adventuring. The band start to play with epic string sections and the transitions per song seems to increase. ‘Always Moving’ is bustling with creative ideas from its off-kilter thrash riff to its zero-gravity verse made up woozy chromatics, and features a brief but gorgeous guitar solo towards the end. Closing twelve minute track ‘Sonic Mycelium’ meanwhile ends up being a mash-up of every track that preceded it, building up to a climax of strings before dissipating back into dissonance (they could have ended it melodically, but that wouldn’t be very Voivod-esque would it).

Belanger’s snarling vocals seem slightly weaker on The Wake and at times they take on an irritating nasal quality that reminds me of Dave Mustaine (yeah, I’m not a fan of Mustaine’s voice). The sci-fi lyricism and Belanger’s willingness to break into comical na-na-na-ing stops me from taking them too seriously, but considering that every other instrument is perfectly orchestrated, it’s difficult to ignore. Given that the band are all aging, I think it's something I'll just have to accept - you can replace worn guitar strings, but worn vocal cords aren't so easy to fix. 


Friday, 23 November 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 23/11/2018: Earl Sweatshirt, Captain of the Lost Waves, Ariel Pink and more...

Earl Sweatshirt gets weirder and Ariel Pink gets too weird.


‘Turin Girl’ – Stephen James Band

Today I learned the term ‘sophisti-pop’ – I don’t know if I like the word, but I’m going to add it to my glossary of pretentious music journo terms anyway. ‘Turin Girl’ certainly sounds like sophisticated pop. Rather than following a traditional pop structure, it plays out like a Broadway number in which the groovy guitars and drums speed up and slow down to match the pace of the lovelorn lyrics. It’s excitingly unpredictable and I’ve found myself continuously going back to it. The Stephen James Band is made up of two members, Stephen James (it would be weird if he wasn’t a member) and Zach Meyer, both hailing from Chicago. They have an EP out soon titled Dead Phones And Dogs.

‘You Will Fill My Head’ – wwoman

The longing in these lyrics borders on being creepily obsessive, as the chorus ‘you will fill my head’ later transforms into ‘even when I’m dead’. It’s another superb song from wwoman (who I’ve featured on this blog before) featuring some similarly groovy bass and shiny synth swells. The minimal quality meanwhile helps to add to the eerie atmosphere in the lyrics.

 ‘Uniforms’ – Captain of The Lost Waves

If you’re wondering who this wacky vaudeville character is - he’s The Captain and according to this lengthy interview he’s stepped out of the 1800s and now resides in a timeless vortex (no way, some of my favourite bands come from the timeless vortex!). His wild persona definitely had me intrigued and thankfully the music’s pretty exciting too. This new single ‘Uniforms’ is a critique on how we’re all dictated by fashion – even those that claim to be against the curve - delivered to the accompaniment of theatrical instrumentation. The music video is one big party in which a mix of soldiers and bikers discard their uniforms. I thought everyone was going to get naked at the end, but sadly they didn’t.  

‘The Mint’ – Earl Sweatshirt ft. Navy Blue

Earl Sweatshirt is sounding rawer and weirder than ever before. Whilst the dusty beat may not be quite as avant-garde as that found in ‘Nowhere2Go’, the way in which the bars follow a different rhythm to the beat makes this equally jarring to listen to. At the same time, the whole track has a hypnotic quality. Will I able to handle a whole album of songs this rough and ready? We’ll see…


 ‘Mopehead’ – Ariel Pink

The video kept me engaged simply for the fact that it’s downright creepy. As for the ‘music’ – it took me about two minutes to realise that this was just going to be an entire track of static noise. Ariel Pink is clearly having his Metal Machine Music moment. I like experimental stuff, but I draw the line at this.

‘Zombie Bastards’ – Weezer

Were Weezer ever any good? Weren’t they once a rock band? Given the zombie theme, shouldn’t this have been released around Halloween? Whatever the case, this is trash.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 18/11/2018: Fontaines D.C., Old Paradice, Zayn and more...

It's time for another weekly roundup...


‘Sunkissed’ – Old Paradice

Old Paradice is the new joint project of UK rapper Confucius MC and UK producer Morriarchi. Their first single together features a deliciously groovy lo-fi beat over which Confucius lays some playful bars. It comes with cool visuals that are literally rose-tinted to match the nostalgic sound of the beat. The duo have a new EP out next year titled The Last Resort.

 ‘Too Real’ – Fontaines D.C.

Is it too real for yaa?’ I love it when an Irish singer embraces their accent, although ‘singer’ probably isn’t the word here – this is more like slam poetry. It’s accompanied by some creative guitar sliding made using a beer bottle that loops in an industrial fashion. The video sees them all performing in a pub with googly eyes made out of cue ball. I don’t know what it all means (it’s clearly all too real for me), but I love it all the same.

‘Your Touch Is Tender’ – Oh Genius ft. David Verity, Mike Evans and Dopein

This new sensual single comes courtesy of UK producer Oh Genius. It features a cosmopolitan mix of guest vocalists hailing from the US and South Korea. This mix of vocal styles and the combination of soulful synths and trap percussion adds lots of dynamics to the track (my personal favourite part is at the 1 minute mark when the female vocals and sub-bass come in).

 ‘Flicker Of Empty Flags’ – Rumour Cubes

This instrumental track from London six-piece Rumour Cubes is the best political statement one could make right now considering no words can accurately describe what’s going. Opening with rolling snares, melancholy pianos and some pulsing bass, the track slowly builds into a climax of tumultuous strings and angry guitar. The band are described as post-rock, but they seem to be reaching beyond that into their very own genre. Post-post-rock?

‘Yellow’ – Good Days

New York based act Good Days are in the middle of a fascinating project – they’ve been writing and recording songs in rooms filled with a certain colour to see what impact that colour has on the musical style. ‘Yellow’ was created under yellow lighting (they’ve also recorded a ‘red’ and ‘orange’ track and have plans to cover the entire spectrum on a future release titled ROYGBIV). Glossy pianos and sunshiny vocal melodies help to give ‘Yellow’ an undeniably bright feel. The track even morphs into a Monkees-esque 60s pop song at the end complete with cheery vocal harmonies.


‘No Candle, No Light’ – Zayn ft. Nicki Minaj

I’ve never understood the appeal of Zayn – he’s just a watered-down Justin Bieber. Here he sounds more flavourless than ever, backed by what may well be the most generic pop beat of 2018. As for Nicki, well done for making it into my worst tracks two weeks in a row!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Review of 'FM!' by Vince Staples

Vince knows how to cram a lot of energy into 22 minutes.

These trap bangers come in hard and fast. The Long Beach rapper has always had a knack for choosing the wildest beats conceivable, and whilst he may not have SOPHIE producing for him this time, these are still some filthy instrumentals. Most artists begin or finish on their hardest tracks, but Vince shoves them in the middle – ‘Run the Bands’, ‘FUN!’ and ‘No Bleeding’ hit like a concrete donkey (that’s a Worms reference for those that are scratching their heads).

Speaking of esoteric references, this record is full of them – not to mention generous doses of West Coast slang. As a British listener, I had to use Genius to decode a lot of these bars (I still don’t know what getting ‘chipped’ means). The lyrics may as well be gibberish to me, but there’s no denying Vince can rap. His flow is just as sharp as always, whilst his usually laid-back tone feels more spiky, bordering on Danny Brown squawking on tracks like ‘Don’t Get Chipped’ and ‘Relay’.

FM isn’t as creative as Big Fish Theory, but it’s also less messy. All the songs follow a trendy trap sound. You could argue he’s gone too radio-friendly, but it makes sense given the whole album is designed to sound like a radio playlist. The interludes are the most innovative part of the album – we get an exciting 20 glimpse of a new Earl Sweatshirt song and a not-so-exciting 20 second glimpse of a new Tyga song. Is this going to be a future feature on hip hop albums – will rappers be advertising snippets of upcoming material on other people’s records?

I would have loved to have seen Vince experimenting more as he did on Big Fish Theory, but despite this FM is still a fun listen. Its strength is its ability to shove so much into its short running time. Drake, take note.


Friday, 9 November 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 09/11/2018: Ariana Grande, Earl Sweatshirt, Milk Buttons and more…

Personal pop and moody rock make up this week’s tracks.


‘thank u, next’ – Ariana Grande

After several high profile breakups and the death of her ex Mac Miller, Ariana Grande is understandably done with relationships – at least for now. She’s decided she’s the only one good enough for herself right now: ‘I know they say I move on too fast/ but this one gonna last/ Cause her name is Ari/ and I’m so good with that’. It’s inspiringly positive music for facing life’s challenges, continuing the same vibe as Sweetener. I’ll admit that it’s musically a little too poppy for my liking, but the personal lyrics and Ariana’s delivery are enough to make up for this.

‘Nowhere2go’ – Earl Sweatshirt

Earl Sweatshirt also seems to be sounding more upbeat (relatively speaking – if you’ve never listened to Earl before, you’ll probably still find this suffocatingly depressive). The beat is also one of his most experimental yet – it’s a muddy mix of warped vocals, rumbling bass and shrill pops. You could argue it’s kind of directionless but then again it is titled ‘Nowhere2Go’.

 ‘Some Impression’ – Milk Buttons

I featured this alt-rock duo on my blog before and I remember them being deliciously gloomy. Opening with some time-signature-morphing riffage, this latest single from Melbourne/Brisbane-based duo Milk Buttons seems to continue in that same depressive vein. ‘Everything is going fine’ is the closing line, delivered in a dejected tone and smothered by the guitars on top so that it’s as deliberately unconvincing as possible.

‘Feel My Skin’ – Edited People

These vocals are utterly wild. I was already drawn in by the spooky guitars and mean distortion, but it’s her crazy inflections that really make this track special. They’re very Siouxsie-Sioux-inspired but with added unhinged-ness.

‘Anti romantic’ – Passive

The word ‘anti-romantic’ sums up most of the music featured this week. This track comes courtesy of Watford indie rockers Passive and it’s an intriguing mesh of sounds, containing whirring organs, close-proximity guitars and some melancholy harmonised vocal woos. The lyrics meanwhile are fairly dark, ending with the ominous line ‘I need to give up’.


‘Dip’ – Tyga ft. Nicki Minaj

Horrible lyrics, although I did enjoy the beat. Thank u, next…