Saturday, 30 January 2016

Review of 'Here Comes Washer' by Washer

This Brooklyn rock duo don’t do clean. I’m not saying they’ve got a swearing problem. And I’m not implying that the members of Washer don’t wash either. I mean to say that there’s nothing clean about these dudes’ sound, and it’s beautiful.

In this age of photoshop and spell-check and CGI in which everything can be digitally perfected, its sometimes nice to discover something raw and human and Washer are all about just that. Their songs are short and punky, rough around the edges and low on production quality, minimal but (importantly) not plain.

In their quest to sound organic, the band throw in a great deal of spicy volatility into the mixture. The band’s hi-treble twangy riffs often border on dissonance, the vocals sometimes erratically break into screams and the song structures are often entirely unpredictable. ‘Do it Yourself’ for example excitedly speeds up into double-time without warning for its last thirty seconds. It’s like the duo just downed a shot of espresso iced with cocaine midway through recording. Other tracks such as ‘Safe place’ meanwhile cut abruptly short, the band slamming on the brakes before hurtling into the next track.


The pace is so stupendously fast that even the unpolished parts that don’t quite work never hang around long enough to grate on the listener. Frontman Mike Quigley’s atonal chords and flat vocals on ‘Group Therapy’ mix about as well as a tuna and marmalade sandwich, but thankfully the track is a mere ‘1:13’ in length making it easier to stomach.

It’s not like we’ve got our shit together’ state the lyrics on ‘Pet Rock vs. Healing Crystal’, clear proof that this band are aware of their imperfections. They don’t want to impress anyone. But they’re not totally self-deprecating either. There are some glimpses of true positivity on this album - snippets of life advice ('it's too easy to compare yourself to anyone') and descriptions of bright nostalgia ('cardboard spaceship 3 2 1 hit green') - that showcase a band that are as confident as they are humble. Compared to some of their early stuff which contained hooks as hopeless as 'all I want to do is rot' this is actually quite a happy album. 


Friday, 29 January 2016

How I Feel About White Rappers Dropping the N-word...

A couple years ago, I stumbled across this freestyle by Oakland rapper V-Nasty. I was shocked. 'Always on my toes 'cos I've got to stay focused' what kind of shoddy lyricism is that? But that wasn't the real source of my dismay. Listen below and hear for yourself.


That was my reaction anyhow.

This freestyle got a lot of attention back in 2011 when it was first uploaded, a lot of people freaking out in a similar tone to me, some getting fairly angry with the former White Girl Mob member. Fellow emcee, David Banner, dedicated a diss track to her. Soulja Boy responded by calling her a 'fake ass industry rapper' (good one, Soulja Boy). Meanwhile, V-Nasty responded defensively for her use of the word, claiming it was a reflection of her background, a reflection of her 'struggle' (the usual 'I'm actually the victim here' crap).

After this case, I didn't think many white rappers would be daring enough to use the word again. However, I was proved wrong...

Time for a quick etymology lesson. Get your pens and notebooks out. No talking at the back of the class! Quentin, did I just catch you picking chewing gum from the bottom of that desk and putting it in your mouth? Five points deducted from Gryffindor!

Derived from the Latin adjective 'niger' (black) and the Spanish/Portugese noun 'negro', the nigglingly controversial word 'nigger' can be traced back to the 1600s when it was used to describe African slaves (spelt 'negar', or so Wikipedia tells me). Beginning its life as a non-offensive descriptive term for a black person, the word gradually evolved into the ethnic slur we know today, used solely to stir up feelings of hostility. To be black soon meant you lost your identity. Even if you weren't a slave, the white tobacco-chewing plantation owners didn't address you by your name, you were simply referred to as 'nigger'.

During the 70s, Black Americans decided to take the word back for themselves. They reappropriated it as a term of endearment. A word that had once caused so much pain and resentment, became something beautiful and positive.

Wouldn't the world be a better place is we all started using the word in this context? Sometimes I think it would be. Sharing is caring after all. If black people can use it in this context, surely all races should be able to too. Aren't we simply further dividing ourselves by encouraging racial privileges?

Here's the issue - sadly we live in a world where being black is still a disadvantage. It's not as bad as it was a hundred years ago - going outside doesn't put you at an immediate risk of lynching any more. In fact, dressing up in a KKK gown is much more likely to get you lynched in this day and age, which is a good thing. However, being black still isn't as cosy as being white. You're statistically more likely to get searched and less likely to get a job. You're probably more likely to accidentally get shot by a US police officer too. In exchange for the racism and discrimination that black people still endure, they deserve a privilege and that privilege is being able to use the n-word. Its a pretty meagre privilege but it's at least something, and yet some ignorant white rappers want to take this meagre privilege away.

Sure, there are examples where a white person using the word is perfectly acceptable (i.e. the 'hood pass'). If you've got black friends who are okay with you using the word, there's no point making them feeling even more uncomfortable by refusing to use it.

But that's as far as any hood pass should extend. There is no universal hood pass. There is no Global Black Community Head Office giving out printed licenses to white people who want to use the word freely. If there was, every closet racist would be queueing up to get one just so that they had a valid excuse to use it as an ethnic slur.

Music is a globally distributed medium and around the world there are still black communities who know the word only as a derogatory term. Just because your friends might be comfortable with you spitting the word in a freestyle doesn't mean the rest of Earth's population will be.

It's for this reason why the most sensible white rappers refuse to use the word - even those who've grown up hearing the word as solely a term of endearment. Just look at Eminem, El-P, Lady Sovereign and The Beastie Boys. Hell, even Yelawolf gets it.

 In short, racism is still an issue, and until we've eradicated it we should respect minorities and the few harmless privileges they have.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 29/01/2016: Father John Misty, Macklemore, Rihanna and more...

Father John Misty confronts your nightmares, Macklemore confronts racial politics and Rihanna confronts the ears. 


'Maybe Sweet One You Wont Have Nightmares Tonight' - Father John Misty 

Given the Machiavellian songsmith has never been one for joviality, I should have guessed this wasn't going to be some dainty lullaby. At first the pretty chords and soft vocals suggest so, but then you catch on to the sick joke at hand. 'And you realise your penis has become detached' is just one of the many fragments of disturbing imagery making up this surrealist trip through hell, the whole song meanwhile sonically spiralling into a sea of tortured screams. Even the bogeyman himself would listen to this and want to go to bed with the light on.

'Crooked, I Robot' – Horseshoe Gang

Long Beach rap group Horseshoe Gang take on a menacingly slimy beat with some incredibly speedy flows like ninjas battling a giant space slug (not one of my finest similes). It's a banger!

'White Privilege II' - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Jamila Woods

The culture was never yours to make better/ You’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea.’ Even if instrumentally this is a little too messy to function as a nine-minute song, the message is honest and thought-provoking. Macklemore might not seem like the most appropriate guy to confront white appropriation of black culture, but in fact he does an admirable job here, refraining from embarrassing himself, even owning up to being part of the problem. I'm just waiting for him to ruin it all by doing something stupid like going on tour dressed in blackface.

'On The Map' - Mick Jenkins & BADBADNOTGOOD

US emcee Mick Jenkins and Canadian experimental jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD team up for this track which is apparently a cover of ‘On The Map’ by The SenseiBlue. Who? I hadn’t heard of TheSenseiBlue either, so I checked him out. Credit where credit's due, the original is certainly smooth and funky, but not nearly as smooth and funky as this rework. Those synth splodges are damn near sexual.

'Divine Disaster' - XO ft. James Chatburn

This groovy deep house tune comes courtesy of UK producer, XO. Its bouncy and fresh and just the direction I wish Disclosure had taken their music in.


'Work' - Rihanna ft. Drake

Slathered in auto-tune and sporting a hook somehow more annoying than 'Umbrella', this new Rihanna song becomes all the more dislikeable when you realise it was written by eight people. Listen here.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Review of 'Adore Life' by Savages

Despite love being the running theme on this album, all-female London rockers Savages aren’t sounding any more romantic, certainly instrumentally. Aggressive drumming and sulky guitars make for some of Savages most savage tracks yet. ‘The Answer’ kicks off the record, sporting a galloping riff and driving vocals set to a disorientating whirlwind of percussion. Songs like speedy thrasher ‘T.I.W.Y.G’ meanwhile are less complex but just as satisfyingly pummelling. Sadly, for all its well-paced energy boosts, there are an equal number of slow-moving numbers that kill the momentum. ‘Adore’ plods along tediously for five minutes, only exploding for the last thirty seconds. The aptly titled ‘Slowing Down The World’ meanwhile comes immediately after, a mid-paced ambler with an unenthusiastically groaned hook that never gets going at all. A little more immediacy could have spiced things up. Whilst many of the songs do erupt magnificently at the end, the long wait beforehand isn’t always worthwhile. 


Friday, 22 January 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 22/01/2016: Tacocat, Guerilla Toss, Radiation City and more...

A lot of female fronted rock this week. And the new Savages album is on the way. Its time to embrace girl power and guitars!


'Tabloid Crush' - Blank Body

Still clueless as to whether Blank Body is a he or she, I’ve concluded the faceless electronic producer probably isn’t a human nor a robot or a ghost as I previously guessed but in fact an angel. From the commencing wind chimes I knew this was going to be a gorgeous track, but nothing could have prepared me for the divine outer body experience that would follow.  Listen and be converted.

'I Hate the Weekend' - Tacocat

As someone who currently and regularly works weekends I can relate to this song. This Seattle band describe themselves as ‘pop-punk-pop’. Their bio is worth a read and is much more cutesy and entertaining than anything I could muster.

'Somewhere or Nowhere' - Hannah

I love how loud this Manchester rock group sound, especially those intense post-chorus strums (yes, Hannah is a band not a person, and as far as I can tell none of the members are called Hannah either. Strange, I know.) Their entire full-length As The World Turns is free to stream on Bandcamp.

'Diamond Girls' – Guerilla Toss

When does noise rock become simply noise? Judging from the sour shrieking at the beginning I was inclined at first to think this was the latter, but then that groovy guitar riff entered the mix and won me over. Approach with an open mind.

'Milky White' - Radiation City

Fuzzy guitars and sparkly synths make up the backdrop of this bustling funk rock tune. If the chorus doesn’t get your shoulders moving, see a doctor because nothing will. Apparently, there are two couples in this band. They’re basically an indie Abba.


'Bloodline' - Roam

Dime-a-dozen pop-punk complete with De Longe drawl vocals. Obviously, Kerrang love it.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Review of '★' by David Bowie

I thought he was The Man Who Fell To Earth? I thought he was the Goblin King? Alas, no-one it seems - even the mystical and legendary David Bowie - is immune to dying.

Recorded whilst fully aware that he was terminally ill, Blackstar is a farewell album of sorts from the late idol. Many artists have attempted to confront death in the past. This record is special in that Bowie bravely tackles it head-on. It's a first hand account of the feelings one encounters when faced with the end and hence a very powerful listen.

For the most part its not very explicit in its meaning. Bowie intelligently invites the listener to think deeply about the void by employing metaphors such as the tale of Lazarus and ambiguous statements such as 'I Can't Give Everything Away'. Is the latter a tragic plead to not part with reality? Does Bowie yearn to be reborn?

We will never know the artists' true intentions. This mystery is in some respects the most beautiful part of this album. Of course some idiots will always read too far into things as a result, misinterpreting the broken stars on the album cover to spell out 'death' (they spell out Bowie, by the way) and claiming that Bowie knew he'd die on a Sunday hence the 'Where the fuck did Monday go?' line on 'Girl Loves Me' (I dont' know the true meaning of this line but would like to think it's simply spooky coincidence).

There are other dangers with death, one being that it becomes very hard to write an unbiased and honest review when criticising the parting gift of a dead man. Everyone becomes sympathetic of you when you're no longer alive.

For that reason, I've got to be honest and admit that whilst I did enjoy this album's sentiments and meaning, the album's sound didn't quite have the same effect on me. Blending jazzy horns, atonal guitars and electronica, this may just be Bowie's most experimental album to date, which is saying a lot. However, there are certain tracks such as 'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore' in which the noodling saxophones are so tuneless they're practically obnoxious, made worse by Bowie's odd shrieking delivery.

There were clear signs of Bowie's voice weakening on his last album, The Next Day, and whilst he does try to exploit his vocal fraglility on Blackstar it's not always pleasant on the ear. 'Girl Loves Me' is perhaps the best example of this with its aforementioned hook 'where the fuck did monday go?' yelped like a tortured dog. Or maybe Bowie's just been listening to Young Thug. Either way it isn't particularly pleasant.

Overall, there aren't many of the songs that I care for sonically except the brooding epic and title track 'Blackstar', which has all the grandeur of an expedition through the Egyptian desert punctuated by a brief stop in a sleazy Western saloon. This track feels brillaintly avant-garde without shoving its avant-gardness in the listener's face. Its bold and brilliant and I wish it could have set the tone for the other tracks.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 15/01/2016: David Bowie, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and more...

It’s unfortunate that the birth of this new year has already been memorialised with the death of a musical icon. Does this spell out doom and gloom for the music industry? I’d like to think not. Continuing my ‘Tracks of the Week’ segment I bring you this first annual instalment, kicking 2016 off with some big names to prove that all is not lost. Big names like globally-renowned New York rockers, Washer. Everyone knows them. I can’t say I’m all that familiar with this Kanye West fellow though…


'Lazarus' – David Bowie

Everything Bowie did was an artistic statement, even in his death. Watching this video at first, I assumed it all to be surrealist nonsense. But that was three days before he passed away, three days before I or anyone else knew he was terminally ill. Now it’s all disturbingly and vividly clear – Bowie writhing around on his deathbed, frantically writing material down at his desk before the end takes him, the evil cancer waiting for him in the guise of some ugly creature under the bed - it’s like some geniusly awful surprise plot twist has just been unveiled. As for the lyrics, they're not quite as easy to read into: 'I was looking for your ass'. 

'Untitled 2' – Kendrick Lamar

Previewed in a live performance on The Tonight Show, ‘Untitled 2’ may just be a leftover from last year’s To Pimp A Butterfly but it’s a tasty leftover regardless. A velvety funk instrumental offers the backdrop to some fiery bars from Kendrick about how wealth doesn’t bring happiness. I doubt we’ll see a studio version, but it’s something to keep us ravenous K-dot fans satiated in the mean time.

'Got Drunk And Ate The Sun' – Washer

Getting drunk and eating a kebab is boring. These unhinged Brooklyn rockers prefer to cure their alcohol munchies by eating giant balls of thermonuclear plasma. Most of this duo’s songs are a little demented in sound and given the subject matter it’s only logical that this track should follow suit. The way the singer breaks into screaming without warning midway through the track is beautifully volatile (if I tried to eat the sun I'd probably scream too).

'Real Friends' – Kanye West

There’s not much to the beat, but it’s a relief to hear Ye rapping with soul and being humble for once, reflecting on how he hasn’t always been a great friend: ‘I guess I got what I deserved’. A snippet of another song ‘No More Parties in LA’ meanwhile appears at the end of the track feauturing, of all people, Kendrick Lamar. 


'Facts' – Kanye West

Yes, it’s him again. Sadly this second-rate trap rap single appears to be nothing more than a laughable diss track aimed at sportwear giants, Nike. ‘Nike treat employees just like slaves.’ Just because you sponsor Adidas, Kanye. As if they’re any better. Listen here.

'You Are Killing Me' – The Dandy Warhols

Give these aging Britpoppers a pillow. They sound tired. Are they trying to sound like they’re not trying? Or are they simply not trying?