Saturday 28 March 2015

Review of 'I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside' by Earl Sweatshirt

This album title speaks to me. Sadly, Earl’s monotone often sleepy vocal delivery doesn’t. Admittedly, there does seem to be a newfound grit in the Odd Future rapper’s voice on some tracks such as ‘Mantra’. However, there are other points where he gets so lethargic I’m surprised he doesn’t nod off mid-verse (the backend of ‘Grief’ being a prime example).

Fortunately, Earl’s engaging rhymes and oddball imagery have always made up for his lazy flow, and this record sees him continuing this with humorous examples such as ‘fifties in my pocket falling out like fucking baby teeth’. I would have liked to have seen a few more individual song themes on this album, which Earl seems to have sadly scrapped in the pursuit of rawness. In fact, Earl has stripped away a lot of things on this record including the number of guest stars and any signs of a hook. The record is all bars and beats – which will please a few hip hop purists I’m sure. A lot of the songs feel very stream-of-consciousness, Earl rambling whatever depressed thoughts enter his head. It makes the record freer and more intimate, but without any hooks or song themes to tie it all together, it can also feel a bit unfocused and aimless at points, a beat change being the only thing separating one track from the next.

Personally, I think Earl’s last effort Doris had more standout moments, due to the fact that tracks like ‘Sunday’ and ‘Chum’ had individual stories and messages behind them, instead of being a mass of melancholy thoughts. Hooks have never been Earl’s thing, although Doris had a few to give the songs direction such as the ‘Like its nothing cos it’s nothing bitch’ refrain on ‘Hive’.  

Maybe Earl could improve in these areas, although I feel the greater rawness on this record may be where the rapper feels more comfortable. In the end, it’s the self-produced beats that really save this record, and will have me returning. Consisting of lo-fi percussion and melancholy jazzy chord progressions, Earl’s attempt at rawness really pays off here. The atmosphere is beautifully bleak, every instrumental blanketed in grey clouds. No-one does moody quite like the Odd Future crew. 


Wednesday 25 March 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 25/03/2015: FKA Twigs, Blur, Chic and more...'

If music blogging was my full time job and I didn't have to sell my body and brew moonshine to make extra money on the side, I'd probably still not have time for the crazy amount of material that's been dropping recently. Hyped albums from indie big names such as Sufjan Stevens, Earl Sweatshirt, Death Grips and Kendrick Lamar have had me so distracted, I've barely had time to check out new tracks. However, for you my loyal readers, I've managed to find that time, and here are the results.


'Glass & Patron' - FKA Twigs

I’m never sure whether to be attracted to Twigs or terrified of her. This disturbing music video has helped resolve things somewhat. CHICKS GIVING BIRTH TO RAINBOW RIBBONS IS SUCH A TURN ON.

As for her music, well, it’s weirder and arty-fartier than anything she’s attempted before, and that’s saying something. Personally, I’m loving it. The suspense is beautiful as always. It’s not very danceable, although that certainly doesn’t seem to put off the voguing performers in the music video.

'There Are Too Many of Us' - Blur

Britpop troupers, Blur, deliver this ode to overpopulation to the accompaniment of a slowburning melancholy chord progression. Admittedly, it could do with a better hook. Is it overoptimistic to expect another ‘Park Life’?

 ‘Sushi Noir’ – Dead recipe

The description on this Californian duo's Bandcamp page says it all: ‘Music about pronouncing your favorite word wrong. The soundtrack to your cult induction ceremony. Songs for babies in the womb on laughing gas. Songs to dribble a basketball to. For when you come home to a decapitated pig head on your doorstep. Glossolalia. From the deepest point in the ocean. Blue Mondays ask your hand.  

'Nubian' - Leks Rivers

Remember when r&b wasn’t a dirty word? This London singer/producer takes us back to that time with a velvety instrumental and a soulful voice that’s sensual enough to turn lesbians straight and straight men gay.  

'I’ll Be There'  - Chic

Part of me knows the current disco revival isn’t doing much for the evolution of music, but part of me also doesn’t care because let’s face it disco is awesome. Maybe we’ll be reviving dubstep in thirty years. In any case, Chic are back and sounding just as funky as they were in the 70s.


Time of Our Lives' – Pitbull & Ne-Yo

Club music has now reached a new low lyrically, convincing young people that it's okay to fritter away your hard earnt cash in an overpriced club every weekend even if you can't pay your rent #ThugLife #YOLO #carpediem #HowToGetEvicted

Sunday 22 March 2015

Review of 'To Pimp A Butterfly' by Kendrick Lamar

The first time I heard the grammy-winning single ‘I’, the song’s positive message immediately clicked with me, but my alt-loving hipster side was apprehensive. Was Kendrick about to go all radio-friendly? Was he going to sell out?

Thankfully, no. In fact, To Pimp A Butterfly couldn’t be less radio-friendly if it tried. Set to a backdrop of complex and jazzy Thundercat-and-Flylo-produced beats, Kendrick mindfucks the listener (mindfuck is now a verb), spinning an intricate web of lyrical metaphors and clever contradictions, rapping in flows that vary from loose spoken word (‘For Free’) to verses so tight and bouncy they rival Big KRIT (‘Alright’).

The Compton artist’s last record, Good Kid M.A.A.D City, saw him showing off his storytelling skills, delivering the tale of a young man trying to make his way in the world whilst dealing with girl problems, peer pressure from his homies and an impatient dad who really wanted his Dominoes pizza. This time K-dot puts on his mortarboard and exchanges the storytelling for poetry. Running through the entire album is a single poem that Kendrick slowly reveals between tracks. This poem centres around the exchange of ignorant arrogance and insecurity for positive self-love and confidence – a theme that runs through the entire record.

Alas, Kendrick also proves himself to be a philosopher. The first tracks all deal with ignorant arrogance and insecurity. There are tracks like ‘Wesley’s Theory’ about using women for sex and tracks like ‘U’, a bitter and uncomfortable serving of self-loathing. Later, we get tracks which represent finding oneself and reaching enlightenment – ‘I’ being the most prominent one. Race also plays a key theme throughout the record – Kendrick giving us the beautiful hook ‘complexion don’t mean a thing’, the angry attack on racial violence and black hypocrisy ‘The Blacker the Berry’ and an eye-opening description of why it’s acceptable for the  black community to use the word ‘n***a’ as it derives from the old Ethipian word ‘negus’ meaning king.

This all ties in with the main theme of self-love – as well as promoting that we all take pride in ourselves, Kendrick is also promoting black pride throughout this record. Not the ignorant white-hating kind that we sadly have all come to associate black pride with either, but a more positive cultural embrace.

Clearly, there’s a lot of seriousness and depth on this record. However, unlike some rappers who can sometimes take things to preachy extremes, Kendrick knows how to keep his music philosophical but still fun. One of his party-tricks used on this album is his talent for method acting. Instead of preaching his messages from the perspective of himself, he often uses characters to portray his viewpoints. ‘U’ sees him playing a drunken depressive, whilst ‘The Blacker the Berry’ sees him portraying a frustrated hypocritical black militant.

In each case, Kendrick goes the extra mile adopting not just the persona but the tone of voice of that particular character. ‘The Blacker The Berry’ sees him spitting his bars out more angrily than Ice Cube, whilst ‘U’ sees him sobbing into the mic like a broken man. This makes his music both more emotive and entertaining than your usual monotone emcee. In fact, Kendrick barely ever uses the same voice twice on this record, constantly shifting his pitch and intonation from one song to the next in a schizophrenic fashion.

On my first listen, some the whacky voices did strike me as slightly over-theatrical/annoying particularly the ‘This dick ain’t freeee’ part in ‘For Free’ and the ‘boo boo’ parts in ‘Hood Politics’. Repeat listens have made me loosen up and appreciate the humour in these parts, a humour that’s needed to counterbalance the profound solemnity of other parts of the album. The creativity of these multiple voices is also impressive.

This is after all a very creative album and Kendrick takes every chance to throw a new idea out there that hasn’t been done before. The slowly-revealed poem running through the record is one of the most ingenious of these ideas, but the real piece de resistance comes in the form of the twist at the end of the record. The listener realises the whole time that Kendrick has been reciting this poem to surprise guest star, Tupac Shakur. Adding to his talents as rapper, storyteller, poet, philosopher and method actor, Kendrick proves at this point that he is also a psychic medium, inviting the listener into an interview between him and the deceased rap legend.  

Clearly, Kendrick is aware that he is an influential figure, but by featuring this interview he is also showing us that he too has people who inspire him. It ties in with the idea of positive self-love – as much as it is important to respect oneself, it’s also important to respect other people, no matter how successful you are. Unlike the Madonnas and Kanyes of this world that see themselves as the second coming of Christ, Kendrick realises his influence on the world but still sees himself as a human being and this is what makes him and this album all the more likable.

If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us. But I don’t know, I’m no mortal man, maybe I’m just another n***a.


Wednesday 18 March 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 18/03/2015: Tame Impala, Death Grips, Muse and more...

This week Death Grips trade electronica beats for psychedelic rock whilst Tame Impala trade psychedelic rock for electronica. Meanwhile, big names such as Muse and Kanye West also have new singles out (plus Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt, although I didn't deem either good or bad enough to make this week's selection).


'Let It Happen' - Tame Impala

This kaleidoscopic seven-minute electronica adventure sees the Australian five-piece rock band dropping their guitars for epic synthesizers. The entire second half is practically one big ever-evolving outro. I'm particularly liking the broken-record looped part in the middle and Animal-Collective-flavoured vocal harmonies towards the end.

'On GP' - Death Grips

The experimental hip hoppers have surprised everyone yet again by going down a new sonic avenue - psychedelic rock. By Death Grips standards the track is fairly soft. MC Ride also offers some depressive and unexpectedly human lyrics. The song is set to be the ninth track on Death Grips' up-and-coming semi-album, Jenny Death, which may or may not be released on March 29th.

'Psycho' - Muse

The lyrical message is about as subtle as a sledgehammer and the Full-Metal-Jacket-drill-sergeant-skit-thing could ideally be cut out, but sweeping all that aside this is a hefty and badass rock song from the UK trio with a riff that makes me want to beat my chest and smash furniture up and generally act like a psycho. The absence of operatic warbling and wubs is also a plus.

'Reflections' - Django Django

Like Tame Impala, Brit rockers Django Django seem to going more synthy. There's a real bounce to this track and the out-of-the-blue saxophone section is really cool.

'Never Awake' - Drenge

This new track from Derbyshire duo, Drenge, seems to be a step into cleaner production, which is worrying considering the rawness of their debut was half their appeal. Fortunately, the instruments are still sounding primal even if the sound quality isn't, and the lyrics are still top notch.


'Awesome' - Kanye West

Another week, another new Kanye song. This time it’s a cheesy auto-tuned ballad dedicated to his bae, Kim. Lyrically, it's not his best work, lines like 'I'm gonna cook, you'll be dessert' coming across like bad chat-up lines. He even manages to dedicate a few lines of the love song to himself towards the end: ‘I’m also awesoooome!’. He just can't help himself, can he?

Monday 16 March 2015

Review of 'Rebel Heart' by Madonna

There are few fifty-six year old pop stars that would dare to sing over a dirty Diplo-produced trap beat. There are also few fifty-six year old pop singers that would dare to sing about drugs, cunnilingus and the art of being a bitch in such explicit detail as can be found on this album.

It’s admirable that after all these years Madonna is still making music that’s current and controversial. Back in the eighties, songs such as ‘Like a Virgin’ were pushing the sexual boundaries of pop music. By today’s standard such a track is tame. In fact it’s hard to make a genuinely shocking sex song in 2015 and yet on Rebel Heart, Madonna somehow manages it – the Kanye-produced ode-to-oral-sex ‘Holy Water’ containing lines as outrageous as ‘Yeezus loves my pussy best’.

Kanye produces several of the beats on this record.

It’s crude. It’s hilarious. It’s embarrassing. It’s commendable. The ageist part of me thinks that she’s simply too old for this shit. However, the more liberal part of me respects her for not doing what every other middle-aged musician does. Quite frankly, it would have been too easy for the pop icon to do a folksy right-of-passage album about her life lessons. Similarly, it would have been too easy for her to jump on the eighties-revival bandwagon and continue churning out retro hits like Duran Duran and more recently Kylie.

Instead, Madonna has gone the hard route and tried to play catch-up with the edginess of today’s divas – the Mileys and Kanyes of this world. The result is an album that’s semi-ridiculous in its arrogance and shock value. Containing track titles such as ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ and an entire song dedicated to the illuminati, Rebel Heart is a diamond chandelier of gimmickry. Half the songs make you think to yourself ‘did that just happen? Did Madonna really just do a song with Chance the Rapper and Mike Tyson? Did Madonna really just dedicate an entire track to her ladyparts?

Yep, Mike Tyson is on this album. lolwot

Known for taking herself rather too seriously at times,  one could argue that a lot of the songs' boastful and outrageous moments prove that the Queen of Clubs does in fact have a sense of humour. Indeed, I too could believe this if it wasn't for the equal number of bland and forgettable sincere moments interspersed into the tracklist, moments so bland and forgettable that they're just as offensive.

'Ghost Town', 'Joan of Arc' and 'Living for Love' tackle Madonna's own fame and take the format of cookie-cut radio-friendly electro-ballads that feel more like attempts to fit in with today's pop crowd rather than stand out amongst the crowd. Some people may remember 'Living for Love' in years to come if only for it's unforgettable Brit performance, and even then this will forever be for all the wrong reasons.

Madonna during her Brit Awards performance of 'Living for Love', accidentally being yanked off stage by her cape (yeah, I had to mention it in this review) 
Overall, Rebel Heart sways from being overly obnoxious to not obnoxious enough. The only track that really sits anywhere in the middle is 'Devil Pray. It's lyrics about sniffing glue and doing E are edgy, but not pushed to outrageous extremes. Meanwhile, the instrumental isn't a tuneless Diplo synth-squeal, nor is it a boring electro-ballad. Instead we get a guitar-strummed beat that's memorable for the simple fact that it sounds good.

Perhaps that's what's missing most from Rebel Heart - feelgood melodic songs that don't rely on gaudiness to get engrained in your head.


Thursday 12 March 2015

Review of 'The Mainframe' by Joker

The other week I praised Sour Soul for sounding like a movie, but this largely-instrumental electronic epic, The Mainframe, really could be a Hollywood movie score. 

It’s creator is Joker, a Bristolian producer and a pioneer of a music genre called purple – a melodic take on dubstep that blends bassy abrasive wubs with nostalgic 90s-inspired synths.

Purple derives it’s name from the effect it has on some music listeners with chromesthesia – a cool psychological condition that causes people to associate certain sounds with colours. Different genres of music, keys and tones allegedly cause people to see different colours. Artists such as Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean and Pharrell Williams all claim to be magically gifted with the condition.

A colour chart made by people who can not just hear but also see musical notes.

Joker’s second album, The Mainframe, sees the artist expanding on his signature purple style. It feels less purple this time round and more rainbow (can that be a new genre?). The sounds and contrasts are more diverse and more intense. There are orchestral strings this time round and every synth texture imaginable. Subtlety has taken a backseat. In fact, subtlety has jumped ship completely. Instead, the listener is given stark extremes. One minute you’re been wrapped up under a warm blanket of soft, soulful electric pianos and next moment you’re diving headfirst into a shrill dubstep drop fearing the sudden movement in your bowels.

Sometimes, it does feel like Joker is throwing slightly too much at the listener without giving you a chance to breathe. His songs refuse to sit still the same way the camera does in a Michael Bay movie, each scene shaky and packed with an equal amount of explosions. This busyness and excessiveness is frustrating at points. However, more often that not it’s what makes the album as exciting as it is.

There’s never a dull moment on this record because it’s so fast paced and so chock-a-block with ideas. Joker shows all the impatient playfulness of a child but all the cohesiveness of an adult, constantly going off on different stylistic tangents but always keeping the album flowing (every track on this record segues neatly into the next). There some truly creative moments such as the Peruvian synth panpipes on ‘Scene 3 (Spirit Ruins)’, the catchy and melancholy groove on ‘Mahogany’ and the cold and industrial introduction of ‘Fuzz Bop’. Perhaps the only idea that really falls flat on it’s face is ‘Lucy’, a track featuring a vocal feature from Sam Frank in which the white artist sings rather cringeworthily in falsettos ‘Let me be your little honky boy’. I’m usually inclined to skip this track, but otherwise the tracklist’s pretty solid.

The Mainframe definitely won’t appeal to EDM fans who like their music minimalist. Overall, its more of a showy album, but one that has a charm to it. These aren’t dense Oneohtrix-Point-Never-style tracks full of cold and skittering bleeps and bloops and ever-changing time signatures. Despite the density, the tracks have a real sense of melody and an element of fun that overall outweighs any pretensions. 


Wednesday 11 March 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 11/03/2015: The Prodigy, Sun Kil Moon, Mumford & Sons and more...

Soko and Ariel Pink are sounding like the Human League, Mumford and Sons are sounding like Coldplay and M.I.A. is sounding like PSY. It’s equal parts smiles, equal parts frowns this week.

Monday 9 March 2015

Review of 'Dark Sky Paradise' by Big Sean

Baby, I want you to take me serious’ is the hook on the fifth track of this album, which basically sums up Big Sean’s intentions here.

Friday 6 March 2015

Review of 'Rose Mountain' by Screaming Females

New Jersey punk trio, Screaming Females, are priviledged to have such a badass vocalist. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to call her style ‘screaming’ as the band name suggests, it’s definitely a step up in intensity from your usual average rock chick vocals - a kind of manic, blood-pumping wail of sorts more similar to Siouxsie Sioux or that dude from Glassjaw (forgive me if I’m just listing off random names. It’s how us music bloggers work).

Wednesday 4 March 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 04/03/2015: Action Bronson, Toro y Moi, Kanye West and more...

Congratulations. You all survived the winter. Now we’ve entered Spring, the season of rebirth. The leaves and the bees and wild Kanyes are all re-emerging and everyone’s happy and frolicking in the streets because 2015’s going to be the best year since 2014. I CAN JUST FEEL IT.

Anyway, here are the best and worst tracks of the week.