Wednesday, 24 June 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 24/06/2015: Thundercat, Duran Duran, Janet Jackson and more...


Excuse the lack of distorted guitars. I've been in a summery, poppy mood this week. Here are my favourites and not-so-favourites from the last seven days.

THE BEST:


'Them Changes' - Thundercat ft. Flying Lotus & Kamasi Washington



I expected some slinky jazz funk given the production credits, but nothing could have prepared me for the groovy mother of all basslines sported in this track. As usual, Thundercat injects the lyrics with his own warped sense of humour. The song turns out to be about losing one’s heart, literally: ‘Nobody move. There’s blood on the floor/ And I can’t feel my heart’.

'Pressure Off' - Duran Duran ft. Janelle Monae & Nile Rodgers




Rustle yourself up some cocktails and get the barbecue smoking. This new pop anthem from new wave legends Duran Duran has got me right in the summer mood. Funk guitar idol Nile Rodgers and neo-soul queen Janelle Monae add to the feelgood factor.

'Gold' - Kiiara



The chopped up vocals that kick this song off will either strike you as annoying or creative. Personally it’s this Illinois singer’s sweet vocal tone that’s drawing me in, the inflection reminding me a lot of Danish pop singer MØ. It perfectly suits the smooth but icy beat (I love that canyon-reverb click noise!)

'Everybody Knows' - Injury Reserve




Injury Reserve claim to be the ‘only good rap act in Arizona’, which is a bold statement to make, but I’ll roll with it seeing as I can’t think of any other Arizona hip hop artists off the top of my head. ‘Everybody Knows’ is their latest track and comes with an eccentric attitude and left-field instrumental.

'Down For This' - Vanessa Elisha



Australian r&b singer Vanessa Elisha delivers this spacey slowjam with a glitzy hook and lots of 808s. I wasn't too sure about it at first but then the chorus hit and floored me.

THE WORST:


'No Sleeep' - Janet Jackson




No sleep? Give this song a whirl and you’ll soon be out for the count. A lot of people (mostly hardcore Jackson fans I feel) have been hyping this track up, but it just strikes me as dull 80s lounge-revivalism without any kind of catchiness or flair.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Review of '32 Zel/Planet Shrooms' by Denzel Curry


The hip hop community are going to start getting serious bedsores if they continue to sleep on this Floridian rapper any longer. Sporting some of the tightest flows and creative beats in the game, this dude is a clear mile ahead of every other trap rapper in the game.

His debut album Nostalgia 64 was borderline flawless when it came to the flows and instrumentals. The lyrics weren’t bad either, displaying some truly gritty and sinister storytelling, ‘Parents’ and ‘Dark & Violent’ getting serious and socially conscious whilst impressively managing to stay fun and dumbed-down at the same time.  

This latest semi-album/double-EP-thing ’32 Zel/Planet Shrooms’ arguably doesn’t quite have the lyrical prowes of it's predecessor. There’s some pretty deep talk about the fear of death on the second half of the record that caught my ear, but otherwise it’s a lot of samey braggadocio and weed worship. 

Thankfully, the album makes up for this sonically. Comprising of one-half trap bangers/one-half trippy shit, the beats on the first half will get you so pumped up you’ll want to fight the Chinese army single-handedly, before zonking you out for the second half and transporting you beyond the astral plane.

Curry’s vocal energy meanwhile is at an all time high here. Leaping around each beat like an acrobat, the artist's delivery is dizzying in its ever-changing speed and surgical precision. The tone of his voice meanwhile sounds more animated than ever before, most noticeable on ‘Ultimate’ in which he sounds more livid than a bear passing a pinecone. 

The hooks certainly aren’t up to the high standard of Nostalgia 64. The same can be said of the lyrics. However, when it comes to the vocal delivery and beats, Curry is still sounding as fiery and fresh. I'm glad this dude didn't devolve into writing mainstream strip-club Migos-alike material. Instead, he’s continuing to carve out his own lane, bringing a spacey and cartoonishly dark feel that’s unique and exciting, suitable only for the strip clubs of Hell. 

TRACK TASTER:

Thursday, 18 June 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 18/06/2015: The Weeknd, Vince Staples, Beck and more...


I'm a day late with this weekly section. To make it up to you all, here are six gems - no duds.

THE BEST:


‘All In’ – Kehlani & Mr Carmack



Oakland singer, Kehlani, and Honolulu producer, Mr Carmack, team up for this hypnotic electro-ballad. I want to write something sappy like ‘this is the sound of falling in love’. Fuck it, I’ve written it now. This song is bloody gorgeous. Watch this Songs from Scratch video to see how it was made.

‘Can’t Feel My Face’ – The Weeknd



It’s taken me a long time to understand the hype behind this Canadian r&b artist, but now I finally think I get it. There’s no denying the funk. The bass slaps so hard in this song that now I too can’t feel my face.

 ‘Get Paid’ – Vince Staples




I wish the lyrics weren’t so dumb so that I could justify loving this track. Californian rapper, Vince Staples, won me over with his Hell Can Wait EP last year. Judging from this catchy banger, his upcoming debut album is going to be one to look out for this summer.

‘Hot Love’ – LEISURE


Upcoming New Zealand band, LEISURE, deliver this groovy number, consisting of smooth falsettos and sexy synth swells. Fans of funk, rejoice. It’s been a bounteous week.

 ‘So What’ – Kings Dead




Why haven’t I heard of this Chicago hip hop duo before? I’m loving the dude’s speedy flows and the beat is insane. Apparently, the group’s producer, Alexander Mendoza, is also a classical composer and scores TV shows and movies on the side.

 ‘Dreams’ – Beck




Yet another contender for funkiest track of the week! Grammy-winning US alt rock legend, Beck, takes a more glitzy and poppy direction on this new single. A lot of folk are saying it sounds like a Foster the People track. Maybe it does a little – although I’d argue the psychedelic guitar tone is distinctively Beck. 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Review of 'Drones' by Muse


Muse have never been masters at subtlety. Their combination of classical-inspired rock and Matt Bellamy’s operatic warbling at times couldn’t be more melodramatic if it tried. When singing about black holes and alien invasions a lot of this melodrama came across as charming. Like an explosion-packed action flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Muses theatrical sound represented nothing but indulgent fun.

But then Muse started taking themselves seriously, discovering politics.

The Resistance and The 2nd Law introduced the themes of government control and global warming. Around the same time, the group became less guitar focused - The Resistance dedicating a large section of it’s running time to classical noodling, whilst The 2nd Law dabbled in dubstep, confusing just about everyone.

Fortunately, Drones sees the band reasserting themselves as a rock band, bringing the guitars back to the forefront. Whilst there are still some odd sonic deviancies along the way, the majority of the album is dedicated to face-melting, whiplash-inducing, meaty riffage. ‘Reapers’ is an all-out bluesy jam complete with Van-Halen-esque tapping, whilst ‘The Handler’ is heavy enough to rival most metal bands. Fans of Muse’s softer side will be disappointed – ‘Mercy’ is the only tame radio-friendly single here. Personally, I’m glad Muse haven’t become another U2 or Coldplay imitation.  I haven’t heard a mainstream band deliver a rock album this loud in a long time.

Me air-guitaring like a dork whilst listening to 'Reapers'

Sadly, Muse’s choice to yet again get serious and political lyrically distracts from a lot of the instrumental fun. Essentially an anti-military rock opera, Drones centres around the tale of a drone pilot who realises he’s being brainwashed, goes rogue, sets up his own nuclear state and haphazardly destroys the world (oops, spoilers!).

Some of it is zany enough to forgive. The ten minute genre-cycling epic, ‘The Globalist’, paired with lyrics about a nuclear apocalypse on one hand has a cartoonish dystopian vibe to it. However, there are moments such as the ‘there are no countries’ line that feel like they’re actually trying to be profound.

The problem is that in order to be profound you need to be emotionally convincing, of which Muse are incapable of. Their theatrical style and Matt’s overacted vocal delivery make everything comical and goofy. Consequently, ‘Revolt’ sounds like a parody of a rebellion song, whilst ‘Aftermath’ tries to be a sad ballad but ends up like a corny Disney theme.

How I picture Matt Bellamy singing during 'Aftermath'

Other times, this attempt to be profound is simply ruined due to the bluntness of the lyrics. Whilst I largely agree with the anti-brainwashing sentiments of ‘Psycho’, the way in which it is candidly delivered makes it feel plain insensitive.

The way I see it, Muse are better off sticking to black holes and alien invasions for subject matter. Drones is probably one of the band’s most cohesive and impressive works instrumentally, but lyrically it’s full of potholes and this prevents it from being the fun rollercoaster ride it wants to be. 

TRACK TASTER:

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 10/06/2015: Hodgy Beats, Maroon 5, Travis Scott and more...


Ed Sheeran goes gangsta, Maroon 5 go club-friendly and Travis Scott goes proggy. What a musical mess this week has been! Fortunately, there have been some diamonds in the rough.

THE BEST:


'Lorry Park' - LA Priest



Quirky digital loops and bright synth vocals come together on this avant-garde electronic instrumental. It sounds like something that was concocted with a lab coat on. To be quite honest, I’m not even sure if LA Priest is human. I tried visiting his official website and ended up in this confusing alien cyberworld.

'Lake Como' - Puro Instinct



California dream-pop sister duo, Puro Instinct, combine their hypnotic vocals with detuned ambient synths to give the impression of time slowing down – or at least that’s how I perceived it. I’m reminded of that slo-mo drug from the recent Judge Dredd movie. Oh, how I wish that drug existed!

'Lay Back' - Hodgy Beats



Odd Future have apparently broken up, but let’s face it – the solo projects have always been far more interesting than anything Odd Future have tried as a collective. Already this year we’ve had an album from Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator. Hodgy Beats may be the next ex-member to drop a project. This aptly-named laid-back new single certainly has me intrigued.

THE WORST:


'Trap Queen' - Ed Sheeran




This isn’t an official single per se (thank god), but I’m putting it here anyway. Why do the whitest artists insist on covering the blackest songs? It just comes across as awkward. Admittedly, there are worse cases.

'This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like a Motherfucker' - Maroon 5



It’s about time a male ass got some attention in the music industry. Maroon 5’s latest music video sees Adam Levine baring his buttocks to the world. SEXY STUFF. As for the actual song, well, it’s proof Maroon 5 have become a full-blown pop band. The groovy instrumental isn't bad, but lyrically it's about as generic as summer anthems get.

'3500' - Travis Scott ft. Future and 2 Chainz


No trap anthem deserves to be eight minutes long, especially when it contains three of the most generic rap lyricists alive.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Review of 'Universal Themes' by Sun Kil Moon


I’ll tell you another story here, because you know, well, what the fuck’

48-year-old, Ohio-born, War-On-Drugs-trolling singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek (AKA Sun Kil Moon) released one of the best albums of 2014, Benji. If you don’t agree you either haven’t listened to it yet, or you’re an idiot.

What was on the surface essentially middle-aged death-obsessed ramblings revealed itself to be a masterpiece in raw storytelling that melded heartfelt emotion, brutal honesty, vivid imagery and bone-dry black humour. It was an album that was as positive as it was depressing, seemingly celebrating life’s tragedies as character-defining moments that make us who we are.

Mark Kozelek looking bright and happy

Barely a year later, we now have the tough follow-up album, Universal Themes. As the first track swiftly reveals, this is not an album about dying relatives, but rather dying possums. The focus is no longer on the effect of major past life events. Instead, Mark chooses to sing about the day-to-day trivia of the present – the HBO series he’s been watching, the gigs he’s been attending and the plight of eating pasta pomodoro for the 38th time in a month.

The tales are less dramatic. In fact, they’re quite mundane. However, this turns out to be part of Universal Themes’ charm.

Mark proves that the little things can have just as much of an impact on one’s life as major events. The dying possum becomes a metaphor for how Mark would like to live his life: ‘I want to grow old and walk the last walk, knowing that I too gave it everything I got’.

Of course not all of these day-to-details have a deeper meaning. Some are deliberately aimless, merely for comedic value – the brilliant title of the last track being an example of this: ‘This is my first day and I’m Indian and I work at a gas station’.

The motive seems to be to catch the rawness of real life – the fact that not every detail of life has to fit an overarching theme.

Another photograph of Mark Kozelek

Sonically, this rawness is also reflected. The music is arguably more detailed than on Benji (it’s not all acoustic guitars this time around and songs often have multiple progressions). However, there’s a feeling of fragility to it all. Sometimes it sounds like Mark didn’t even bother to tune the guitars up properly. Mark’s voice is also a lot more stripped back, often struggling to stay in key.

Sometimes this makes Universal Themes all the more earthy but there are moments where it doesn’t pay off. The song with ‘A Sort Of Grace I Walked To The Bathroom To Cry’ sounds like a bad garage rock song and Mark’s Barney-Gumble-yelling is simply painful to listen to. Similarly, the vocal tone on ‘Ali/Spinks 2’ feels just as awkward and ugly, taking away any beauty from the lyrics.

Overall, the best tracks are where Mark sticks to his standard vocal tone and keeps the guitars unplugged. ‘Birds of Flims’ and 'The Possum' stand out as my favourites. Here the shifting mood of the lyrics and the shifting mood of the instrumental really come together in a way I've never experienced before.

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Friday, 5 June 2015

Review of 'Ratchet' by Shamir


Whatever your views are on Shamir’s androgynous vocal style and appearance – whether you think he’s ‘a post-gender, adrogyne angel of a milennial’ like the Guardian or a ‘Faggot ass nigga’ like one eloquent Youtube commenter I came across – there’s no denying that this 21 year-old Las Vegas r&b singer knows how to pick a groovy beat. The cowbell-heavy electropop tunes on this album will make you want to vogue like Madonna. At the very least you’ll want to bob your head – unless you suffer from full body paralysis in which case I guess you’re excused.

‘On The Regular’ is the standout hit – featuring a shimmering instrumental that Azealia Banks is probably jealous of. ‘Call it Off’ and ‘Vegas’ with their killer synth riffs are equally infectious. Perhaps the album’s weakest spots are where Shamir tries to get all slow and ballady – examples being ‘Demon’ and ‘Darker’ which both kill the pace and offer no real inventiveness.

Personally, I’m on the fence with the vocals. The camp semi-rapping annoys me a bit (does that make me a homophobe?), although Shamir's nerdy lyrics can be charming: 'Guess I'm never-ending, you can call me pi'. The high-register singing meanwhile lacks a bit of power in places, particularly noticeable on the slower tracks like ‘Youth’. He clearly doesn’t have the control over it that a band like the Stylistics have. The groovier tracks are much better suited to him as here he seems able to inject a more playful energy. If Shamir could harness this through an entire album it might make for a more catchy and refined record (i.e. quit the ballads!). 

TRACK TASTER:

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Review of 'Are You Satisfied?' by Slaves


You are not stuck in traffic! You are traffic! Move!

Drummer and singer, Isaac Holman, and Hawiian-shirt-wearing guitarist and backing vocalist, Laurie Vincent, together make up the Tunbridge Wells punk duo that is Slaves.

Their sound and attitude is a throwback to classic punk before the Blink-182s of this world showed up and started writing soppy love songs about the girl next door. Slaves aren’t interested in the girl next door. They most probably think that the girl next door is a drone, a slave to society, ‘already dead’.

Slaves live
In an angry cockney inflection similar to Johnny Rotten, Slaves spend each song rallying their listeners to get up and rebel, even if it’s not clear what they want their listeners to rebel against. There’s some vague talk about global warming in the opening track ‘The Hunter’ but that’s about as explicit as the politics get. Never mind. The Sex Pistols didn’t exactly have a strong political manifesto either – they just wanted to shake things up, and that’s all I need in my punk. Messages can be preachy – it’s the attitude that makes for entertaining music.

What also makes music entertaining is a sense of rawness and a bit of musical talent – two things Slaves have that The Sex Pistols didn’t.

Refreshingly, these guys aren’t a manufactured band and they do know how to play their instruments. Their riffs are bluesy and rhythmically tight, the kind of riffs that make you want to start a bar fight or steal a car or ignore a ‘please don’t step on the grass’ sign. These riffs are also damn catchy as are the vocal hooks – a sign that this band has a clear ear for songwriting.

A sense of humour serves as the cherry on top. Most of this humour feels improvised, which makes it all the more earthy. Moments including marvelling the feedback of one song, and interrupting another to restart a verse. Then there are the random adlibs such as the ‘unicorns are real’ line shoehorned into ‘Despair and Traffic’. I’ve been waiting so long for a rock band like this. I am curious and excited to see how they’ll grow. 

TRACK TASTER:

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 03/06/2015: Mick Jenkins, Raleigh Ritchie, Eminem and more...



Mindblowing music videos, parrot-fronted metal bands and Games of Thrones characters over trap beats. This week has it all.

THE BEST:


'P’s and Q’s' - Mick Jenkins


Did you notice that almost all the words in this song begin with P or Q? Or were you as distracted as I first was by the mind-blowing slo-mo, one-take, shot-in-reverse music video? From the alliterative lyrics to the stunning visuals to the huge instrumental, almost every aspect of this Chicago rapper’s new single is a stroke of genius. I was so impressed on my first listen that I rose from my chair and gave a standing ovation.

'Take You For Dead' - Desta French



Desta French isn’t French. Rather confusingly, she’s half-Columbian, half-Italian and lives in London. ‘Take You For Dead’ is her latest single, a groovy eighties-inspired pop number with Chaka Khan undertones. The ending is all very epic. There’s even a guitar solo thrown into the mix for good measure.

'Never Say Die' - Raleigh Ritchie & Sounwave



As a fan of the violent pornography, Game of Thrones, I was intrigued by the news that castrated ex-slave warrior, Grey Worm, had a musical career on the side. ‘Never Say Die’ sees the actor showing his further talents for singing and rapping over a soaring trap-flavoured beat produced by Sounwave (the badass ‘fuck it, I never had a heart!’ line followed by walls of grimy sub-bass is definitely my favourite bit!)

'Left Behind' - Cln.



This Brisbane bedroom producer certainly lives up to his name. Despite this track’s multiple layers – the music box tinkles, the sawtooth synths, the 808 bass, the pitch-shifted vocals – ‘Left Behind’ feels impressively clean. I could see this electronic instrumental being picked up and used in a suave car ad.

'Seven Perches' - Hatebeak



What do all vocalists have in common? They're all human. Grindcore act, Hatebeak, have decided to think outside the box and employ a parrot on lead vocals - a Congo African 21-year-old parrot to be precise named Waldo. 'Seven Perches' is the latest single from the group's upcoming album 'Number of the Beak', featuring Pig Destroyer member Blake Harrison.

THE WORST:


'Phenomenal' - Eminem



This track is all a bit too overblown and messily-produced for my liking and the constant ‘phenomenaaaal!’ screeches during the hook are fairly irritating. I am liking Em’s angry delivery and choppy flows though. 

Review of 'AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP' by A$AP Rocky


New York emcee, A$AP Rocky, has become one of the more prominent names in the trap rap scene largely for his quirky metrosexual fashion sense (remember that time he once wore a skirt) and his banging selection of beats (the main appeal to me). When it comes to his actual rapping ability, there's not much to separate him from others in the game. His flow is adept and he’s a lot less annoying than some of his autotune-warbling contemporaries, but at the end of the day he’s just another dude spitting about money, drugs and bitches (which is fine if you’re not a lyric snob like me).

AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP sees Rocky taking influence from trip hop and ‘old 60s psychedelic shit’. At 18 tracks, it’s not the most concise album in the world, but it does manage to keep up the pace. Arguably, the best tracks are left until last. ‘Better Things’ might just be the prettiest here, swiftly followed by the hardest track ‘M’$’, that’ll make you want to fix your car with hydraulics.  ‘Everyday’ meanwhile features a killer boom-bap beat courtesy of Mark Ronson, plus vocal features from Miguel and – of all people – Rod Stewart (although I’m pretty sure it’s just a sample).

Me whilst listening to 'M'$'

Altogether, the album relies hard on guest performances. There are lots of names to gawp at. Many disappoint – I knew I’d find M.I.A. and Future’s verses annoying, but I expected more from Kanye who spends his bars rhyming the same word with the same word: ‘sometimes the best advice, is no advice, especially when it’s your advice’. Lil Wayne is the only surprise here, laying down a killer verse on ‘M’$’. Like his performance on the recent Tyler album, he proves he can actually ride a beat instead of delivering the slurry nonsense we’re all used to.

I’m yet to research into who exactly Joe Fox is, but he seems to contribute the most guest performances on this record, largely bringing the ‘old 60’s psychedelic shit’ influence. Four tracks feature folksy-sung hooks from him. They feel like something Eminem might do, except without the cheesiness that was all over The Marshall Mathers LP 2. In fact, Joe Fox’s recurring appearances seem to give the album the motif it needs, stopping it from becoming a jumbled mess and giving it all a sense of cohesion.

I Googled 'Joe Fox' and a picture of Tom Hanks came up. I am none the wiser.

The album ends with perhaps the most poignant of all the guests – a spoken section from Rocky’s recently-passed mentor, A$AP Yams. For me this is one of the best tracks here, not because of sentimental value, but because Rocky really seems to be rapping his ass off on it. It’s the only real song where Rocky sounds like he’s pushing his ability, and not simply cruising. Maybe we can expect more of this in the future. For now, the beats are still the clincher. 

TRACK TASTER: