Monday, 3 November 2014

Time Is Too Short: Bumper Review Edition November 2014, Vol.1

Artist: At The Gates
Album: At War With Reality
Record Label: Century Media
Release Date: 24/10/2014

Gothenburg Melo-death pioneers At The Gates' first album since their seminal 1995 album "Slaughter of the Soul" (deemed by many to be the pinnacle of the Melodic Death Metal Genre), "At War With Reality" was always destined to suffer the wrath of keyboard warriors and the "Carcass 'Surgical Steel' syndrome" upon its arrival. Almost as soon as the record starts however it'll take the most stone-hearted of Metal fans not to pump their fists in relief. The eerie, Spanish spoken word intro leads destructively into "Death and the Labyrinth", a steam-rolling fusion of righteous tremolo picking and massive, rollicking grooves. Immaculately produced, both searing melody and crushing heaviness are served up plentifully here; "The Circular Ruins" is a definitive marriage of both those aspects, whilst "The Conspiracy of the Blind" is classic At The Gates in the truest sense. That song, along with the more mid-paced "Order From Chaos" are nowt short of beautiful in their melody. A return that had many trembling with nervousness should see the same people trembling with happiness. 


Artist: Flying Lotus
Album: You're Dead!
Record Label: Warp
Release Date: 6/10/2014

Experimental Hip-Hop, Electronic, Neo-Soul and Nu-Jazz producer Flying Lotus' fifth opus, "You're Dead!" has a rather self-explanatory fascination with the macabre subject of the end, and all its finality. Consistently diverse, captivating and colourful atmospheres and soundscapes are conjured, all inexplicably reflecting the album's morbid spacial comfort zone, all confirmed by its title and track titles like that of the 40 second stop-start haze of "Fkn Dead". Some of the finest moments here come from some of the features; Snoop Dogg makes an excellent appearance on the Nintendo-synth happy crawl of "Dead Man's Tetris", and upon closer inspection past the clash of compositional personalities Kendrick Lamar brings some absolute fire to "Never Catch Me". "Ready Err Not" is an eerie, bleepy transmission from a subterranean dimension, and "Descent Into Madness", featuring vocals from occasional collaborator Thundercat, is the album's darkest, most paranoid and genuinely spine-chilling moment. 


Artist: Leonard Cohen
Album: Popular Problems
Record Label: Columbia
Release Date: 19/9/2014

Here's the frustration with Leonard Cohen's 13th studio album "Popular Problems"; it may be slightly unfair, but it's hard to not want him to release something genuinely classic again. There are times on this record where he writes some of his most prolific observations for years; "Almost Like The Blues" combines some horrific imagery with with trademark razor-sharp wit (sample lyric: "There's torture, and there's killing, and there's all my bad reviews"). "A Street" too is a crawling, smooth reversal of morality. But for every one of those moments (see also "Nevermind"), there's the relatively lazy jaunt of "Did I Ever Love You?" runs far too close to daytime radio American Country music for comfort. "Born In Chains" is standard Cohen miserabilia, and "You Got Me Singing", despite some self-referential poetic observations, is just an irritant. Cohen's been in the game for 45 years, and at 80 years old, one suspects he's running out of things to write about. Let's just hope he doesn't exhaust the practice before it's too late. 


Artist: Obituary
Album: Inked In Blood
Record Label: Gibtown Music/ Relapse Records
Release Date: 28/10/2014

The second returning legendary Metal act to feature in this piece (this time stalwarts of the Florida Death metal scene), Obituary's 9th full-length and their first in 5 years "Inked In Blood" sees them attempt and largely succeed in re-capturing the vicious, feral and groovy-as-fuck swagger that made them such a force to be reckoned with in the early '90s. "Violent By Nature" is a track that screams "this is how Obituary should sound", all chug & riff heavy gnarly-ness and some melodic chord progressions thrown in for good measure. "Visions In My Head" revolves around a deliriously rollicking stop-start groove. Occasionally the hefty, pummeling mid-paced DM is interrupted by Hardcore-indebted Thrash ragers, like the opener "Centuries of Lies" and the mid-point banger "Violence". "Within A Dying Breed" flits seamlessly between a sequence of some of the album's stinkiest, most pulverising riffs. It's not all as engaging as its finest moments, but it's a straight-up, no Bullshit Obituary album, and as such it's hard to complain a great deal. 


Artist: The Twilight Sad
Album: Nobody Wants To Be Here & Nobody Wants To Leave
Record Label: Fatcat Records
Release Date: 27/10/2014

Epic Glasgow Shoegaze/ Indie band The Twilight Sad's 2007 debut "Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters" is deemed by some in the indie community to be one of the finest albums of its ilk this millenium. After their excursion into whispy synth-lead wonderland on 2011's "No One Can Ever Know", on "Nobody Wants To Be Here..." the guitars are back, as are the wholesome soundscapes, heartfelt stories and the bleak fog of winter that gave their early work such character. Straight from the off the album proves itself a listening experience for dark winter nights alone in front of the fire with "There's A Girl in the Corner", which drips with remorse from the melancholy reverb on the guitar to the assertion that "she's not coming back from this". The euphoric finale of "Last January" is one of the album's most life-affirming moments. James Graham's direct lyricism gives the impression of a coherent narrative more than any of their other releases, especially on tracks like the oddly titled but positive "Drown So I Can Watch" halfway through. Heartbreaking closer "Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep" will leave a lump in your throat, probably due to both its own sadness and the beauty of the piece as a whole. 


Next Time: Taylor Swift, Melvins, We Were Promised Jetpacks and more...

Monday, 13 October 2014

Busdriver- Perfect Hair


Artist: Busdriver
Album: Perfect Hair
Record label: Big Dada
Release Date: 5th September 2014

Veteran avant-garde MC offers up a healthy dosage of emotion, societal critique and satire on his 10th LP

It seems that the age of the Hip-Hop collective is mustering its forces and preparing for a coup d'etat once again. The past 5 years have bestowed upon us varying levels of attention grabbing communal groups via the likes of the A$AP Mob, Black Hippie (Ab Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock) as well as the Beast Coast movement (comprimising of the Joey Bada$$ featuring Pro Era as well as groups like The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies). In the more conspicuous but just as worthy climbs of the underground sit The Hell-Fyre club; A group of self-proclaimed backpackers who revel in nothing less than their own sharp-witted, self-conscious nerdy-ness. For avant-garde Rap veteran Busdriver to be named as part of this collective (which also features heavy indie-rap hitters Milo and Open Mike Eagle, amongst others) despite having a good decade of records beneath his belt may have ran the risk of seeming like a re-invention gimmick, but one thing proven by his 10th full-length LP "Perfect Hair" in abundance is that he deserves his title as an artful maverick perhaps more than anyone else. 

There's a strict binary aesthetic that underpins the Hell-Fyre Club, perhaps more so than in any of the aforementioned groups. An intense knowledge of wordplay and lyrical structure, as well self-deprecation, emotional substance, hilarious (sometimes deliberately cringeworthy) punchlines and a great big dollop of acute self-awareness to top it all off. It was more or less a blueprint laid down by Busdriver on his seminal 2002 album "Temporary Fever", and the oddness and intellect that has informed most of observations is in rude health 12 years later on "Perfect Hair". 

Throughout the album, whether produced by Busdriver (as most of the tracks are) or not, the instrumentals are twisted, layered and bottomless, leaving plenty of room for interest whilst not distracting from the MCs lyrical abode. Occasionally Busdriver's ruminations are inaccessible to the point of over-indulgence almost, but, as with the best work of rappers like EL-P and GZA, scraping beneath the surface offers the highest reward. 'Retirement Ode' begins by offering up a large dose of hilarious irony, as Busdriver intones in a reverential stance "the shit used during the 7 days in which "Perfect Hair" was recorded cost approximately everything". The rest of the song runs the line of schizophrenic balance between self-deprecation and humourous braggadocia, his enthusiasm drenched flow punching the ear drums like a fog horn. "My clothes are dirty, and I'm over 30... it's about time we admitted how sick this  has become", he notions ambiguously.

'Bliss Point' indulges in a gorgeously layered electronic bubble which sits over a driving but suitably un-distracting 2-step patter, with a lovely trumpet inflection that joins the foray later. His half-sung observations are wry middle fingers swung at the insidious and tabloid-friendly sojourns of the music media; "Does Hip-Hop really have the body type to pull off that outfit? Who is Hip-Hop dating?". 

"Yeah I know what you're saying, but is it sexier than torture?" begins the dark, distorted 6 minutes of 'Ego Death'. Busdriver is on absolutely furious form, his impossibly fast and verbose delivery making the equally as dextrous Aesop Rock (who appears next) pale in comparison. "Sleep and death have always been conjoined twins" he notes dropping a surreptitious Nas reference. The 3rd verse is delivered by Danny Brown, and along with his gambit on Rustie's 'Attak' released earlier this year it's one of the finest verses he's laid down in a while. 

"Upsweep" is entirely sung over a reflectively hazy, rising two-tone synth drone. Busdriver's lyrics take a satirically ambiguous note, as he protrudes that he's "bringing Obama-isms to an abrupt ending... I'm being targeted by a jet plane, because I'm so motherfuckin' subversive". There's a general wider street-wise consciousness at play here too as he sings "I can hear you dying just a little bit in the upsweep...". The same biting societal critique continues on to "When The Tooth-Lined Horizon Blinks". Fellow Hell-Fyre Club cohort Open Mike Eagle begins proceedings with a fantastic verse that sees him drop lines like "house party playing twister on the autism spectrum", before Busdriver assaults technological reliability and it's impact on morals as he raps "everybody's getting sentenced to death in the computer lounge". 

The heartbroken "Motion Lines" entwines beautiful, morose guitar notes with equally as reflective synth intonations. Busdriver is as passionate and steam-roller-esque as ever in his delivery, but it's his most tender moment on the record. "I'm impossible to love but can I keep an open mind?... You left me getting shredded in your motion lines" he asserts in the chorus before more brutally going on to say "My love feels like a Cervix tear". 

Although kooky, Kenny Segal's production on "Eat Rich" is the most accessible moment on the album. Its catchy synth melody is underpinned by a sequence of squelchy, Nintendo Gamecube friendly bass notes and intermittent wooshes of swirling noise. Lyrically it almost reads like a working class manifesto, as Driver delivers the hook "I'm so hungry man I could eat, eat, eat the rich" in purposeful tones. 

Like all rappers with an emphasised literary base, Busdriver sometimes becomes too cryptic to be able to listen to some of the songs here just for casual enjoyment. In the context of "Perfect Hair" however, this makes absolute sense. Like all his albums, it's a full piece of conjoined prose, an incomprehensible  but fully-formed beast that reveals more with every listen, and launches the kind of aural charge of emotion, political and social awareness and satire of which Bill Hicks would have been most proud. 

Key Tracks: 'Bliss Point', 'Upsweep', 'Motion Lines'
For Fans Of: Milo, Open Mike Eagle, Aesop Rock


Friday, 12 September 2014

6 For Friday: My 6 Favourite Songs Of the Moment

Hello folks!

I don't really get the time to write record reviews for the site anywhere near as much as I'd like to, so I thought I might try and get something a bit more regular in place. Obviously, the use of the term "regular" in this context is slightly preemptive; it might turn out that this piece is the biggest load of shite I've ever published. However, you don't know until you've tried it, right? (warning- definitely do not employ this logic with EVERYTHING that you come into contact with in life). 

The idea behind "6 For Friday" is that every week, on Friday (HA! you would never guessed it, would you?), I'll be publishing a piece entailing a small paragraph and youtube links to 6 songs that I've had on repeat over the last week or so. These will not all be songs released in 2014. For example, I think the only song in this edition that was released this year is Chromeo's "Jealous (I ain't With it)". Far more likely to appear in this piece are songs that have been favourites of mine for a long time (Souls of Mischief's "'93 Til Infinity") or songs that are so brilliant that no matter what decade, vortex or demographic they come from I feel the need to share. 

I will likely consciously make the effort to cover a wide range of different genres of music, so hopefully if you take the time to listen to any of the tunes I post you'll find something you'll like. It's totally understandable if you don't though, obviously. 

Jon Hopkins- We Disappear

Last year electronic wunderkind and sometime Coldplay arrangement master Jon Hopkins released his 4th full-length 'Immunity' which was widely (and deservedly) recognised as somewhat of a masterpiece. 'We Disappear', the first track to grace one's ears after pressing play, begins with recordings of the fug of outside traffic as Hopkins unlocks his front door and enters his house. Ghostly atmospheres then gather and build into a lushous, bleepy and chilly rave wonk. Melodically layered and wholesome, it's a song that twists within its own shell with remarkable, dance-floor friendly ease. 

Drake- Hold On, We're Going Home

Firstly, I know I'm late to the party on this one. Secondly, anyone who knows me well will almost undoubtedly at this point call to command all the times I've dismissed Drake as being one of the most dismal MCs I've ever heard. As a rapper, I still think Drake is far less appealing than auto-tuned, post- cough syrup OD Lil Wayne after pummeling a bullet through his chest. Alas, just as I was for a long time, you'd be a wally to deny 'Hold On, We're Going Home'. Drake's croon is perfectly understated as it glides over the track's driving beat, reflective synth-chord sequences and resounding, deep bass rattle, and in "you're a good girl and you know it" he's written one of the most fantastically ambiguous lyrics I've heard for a while.

Real Lies- World Peace

Some of you may remember that I wrote a gleaming review of this track when it dropped last year. Having heard it again for the first time in months just a couple of days ago, I was instantly drawn back into its glorious abode. Its Pet Shop Boys-esque synth arpeggios seem almost the ideal soundtrack to watching the sunset over decrepit London terraces, and its organic bass wig-out provides an ambidextrous backbone. There's still no sign of a full-length from the elusive trio, but here's to hoping pointers emerge soon. 

The Bug- Skeng (Autechre Remix)

Just a couple of weeks ago Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, released 'Angels & Devils', the follow up to his ground-breaking 2008 debut 'London Zoo' (review to follow shortly). As one of 'London Zoo''s darkest and most punishing moments, it makes perfect sense for warped electronic mind-benders Autechre to remix 'Skeng'. Their version takes nothing away from Flowdan's unnerving tales of murder and callous threats. Instrumentally the already nightmarish affair is twisted into an even more spine-tingling, eerie deap-seated rumble of intoxicating atmospheres, reshaped wobs and cavernous yet barely there synths. 

Souls Of Mischief- '93 Til Infinity

Over a magnificently blazed beat the MCs that comprise California's Souls of Mischief lay down virtuosity drenched flows and verbose verses in what has become one of underground hip-hop's stoner anthem ultimates. Best suited to evenings in the garden with friends clinging on to summer's last throes. 

Chromeo- Jealous (I Ain't With It)

Yes, the Daft Punk/ Nile Rodgers blueprint for entwining modern electronic wiggle with classic funk and soul flavours has been revisited ad nauseum since the release of 'Random Access Memories' last year. However, Chromeo have produced a single so unashamed, groovy and catchy whilst applying that blueprint that it's nigh-on impossible to dismiss. Go on... try not having fun to this song. I DARE you. 

As I said eariler, I'm hoping to have a review of the new album by The Bug up at some point next week, as well as maybe a couple of others. Failing that, 6 For Friday may also make a return. The future is lashed with the unprecedented. 

Until next time! 


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Ariana Grande- My Everything

Artist: Ariana Grande
Album: My Everything
Record Label: Republic Records
Release Date: 22/8/2014

Former TV starlet's second full-length unfortunately brings nothing new to the table

It's the kind of re-hashed old story that's regularly done the rounds over the last 5 years or so, but the Disney TV starlet turned rising pop sensation phenomena recently reached it's head with the re-invention of ye olde Miley Cyrus a couple of years ago. Cyrus shattered any illusion of her being the sweet-smile gifted teen star of previous years by making her tongue and mostly naked body the key to her right to expression. Making the point of her hyper-sexual re-invention seems redundant now, though; she was hardly the first (*COUGH* Rihanna) to make that transition, and therefore cement the notion that female sexualisation was now a corner stone of the cynical minds that skulk behind the curtains and in the dark gutter ways of the recording industry. 

Former star of the Nickelodeon show Victorious, 21 year old Ariana Grande, hasn't succumbed to the voyeuristic prying of those who would see her less well-made, it seems. 'My Everything', her second full-length LP, retains a sense of classiness (or perhaps innocence?) that sees it stay far clear of Miley-sized pitfalls of degradation. It's an issue that she addresses directly on the track 'You Don't Know Me'. "They try to tell me who I am, they don't understand" she croons, raising a pleasant but resounding middle finger to the tabloid sniffers and big money label execs. "You want a perfect picture to believe in... Well you can't be looking for me then" she continues. As decent a sentiment as it is, in a way 'You Don't Know Me' summarises the entire ethic of the album; well-meant and performed with conviction, but ultimately just another cog turning in the machine of cliched and insipid pop the modern charts demand. 

'My Everything' boasts one fantastic song. 'Hands On Me (ft. A$AP Ferg)' drops late in the tracklist, but it's layered, insanely catchy and sassy production is real rejuvenation by this point. It is a song destined for chart success, but has an undeniable sense of snobbery-devoid joy at its core. Ferg's verse is as superfluous as they come, but as with all his best work, it revels in its own numb-skulledness (sample lyric: "You got a cake can I put my candle on it?"). 

Other favourable moments include the rather organic and grandiose 'Why Try?', with its heavy-handed piano chords and rumbling, marching band-esque tribal beat. It's slightly later-era Katy Perry-lite, but it's a good song in its own right. 'One Last Time' is much more insipid and stops just short of trashy, but it is also catchy and somewhat euphoric. 2013's mega-hit 'Break Free', produced by Zedd, does cross the border into trancey-synth trash land, but despite its fabrication it does have a chorus to boot. 

But almost everywhere else Grande runs into the barrier of not being innovative or interesting enough in terms of lyrics to really claim to bring anything new to the table. The whispered male vocals over the rumbling bass of the bridge section in 'Problem' is an interesting dynamic, but fails to add anything to the wider equation, otherwise made up of Grande's well-worn perceptions, an obnoxious synthetic saxophone hook and a fast paced but lazy verse from Iggy Azalea. Big Sean shits awkwardly and irreversibly all over 'Best Mistake', which makes an impression purely because of how atrocious his verse is ("I know love can be like a beach with no shore"- oh, PLEASE Sean). 

"Break Your Heart Right Back" is the real kick in the teeth though. It's exceptionally produced; an atmospheric, reflective strut evolves into a sample of Diana Ross's glorious 'I'm Coming Out' for the chorus. Grande's lyrical premise of a cheating lover is sad, but her lyrics are as run-of-the-mill as is possible when it comes to dealing with heartbreak. The inclusion of Childish Gambino, although perhaps a shrewd manoeuvre to reel in the "backpacker" community, brings him no favours. Not only does it not at all fit with the song's subject matter (save the first and final bars) but for an artist whose solo output is so obsessed with the idea of personal integrity, hearing him rap of "money too much" and "when I step on the stage girls move too much" is striking to say the least. 

'Just a Little Bit of your Heart' sits quite well sonically as a piano-lead ballad, and Grande's voice rings with conviction, but so dour are the lyrics that (as is the case with most of the indistinct moments here) the song fades from memory almost before it's over. 

I'm still waiting on a young pop star to emerge who genuinely challenges the rather insidious nature of the mainstream pop pursuit. I thought it might have come in the form of Ariana Grande, and to be fair, she seems to be holding her own. However, very little in the way of innovation streams out of 'My Everything', which would lead the cynical mind to suspect a road trip into more distressing areas of daytime radio airplay on her next album. It seems harsh to say that I'd hoped for a lot more even if I shouldn't have expected it, but that is the case. 

Key Tracks: 'Hands On Me (ft. A$AP Ferg)', 'Why Try?'
For Fans Of: Katy Perry, P!nk 


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Godflesh- Decline & Fall EP

Artist: Godflesh
Album: Decline & Fall EP
Record Label: Avalanche Recordings
Release Date: 2/6/2014
One of Metal's most influential bands mark their return with 4 tracks of glorious sonic abuse
The Heavens have opened and the Gods of all things rhythmic, dark and hostile have returned to Earth! Throw aside your Fear Factory LPs and grab a sledgehammer, for Birmingham's secondary sons of mechanical, systematic and grey fear-mongering have returned!
Hyperbole aside (sort of), the return of Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's incredibly seminal band Godflesh is, for a Metal head, one of the most favourable pieces of music news transmitted so far this year. People well versed in Broadrick's dealings know that he's a maverick of several music spheres and sounds, but the influence and power that Godflesh instilled in Modern metal throughout the '90s cannot be understated.
'Decline & Fall', the band's first new material since they disbanded in 2002 (and subsequently reformed in 2010) is not only exciting; it's an opportunity that younger Metal heads should revel in. Like many indoctrinated into the ways of Metal in their young teens, bands like Korn, Slipknot and Deftones were a right of passage for me. It wasn't until years later that I realised that those bands, as well as a plethora of industrially minded groups and Black and Post-Metal bands, took more than first meets the ears from the blueprint laid down by Broadrick and Green. This new EP (as well as the new full-length, 'An Autumn Lit By Fire' to be released shortly) is so classic Godflesh that it could, and should, serve as a standard bearer for the precedent for all the slightly uninitiated people that haven't dug quite deep enough yet to find the worthiness of 'Streetcleaner'. 
There's none of the sprawling, airily bleak soundscapes that also perpetuated Godflesh's catalogue as well as that of Jesu (Broadrick's second most renowned project). The 4 tracks on 'Decline & Fall' are all inarguably bangers of the most uncompromising persuasion. 'Ringer' kicks things off in rigidly fine fettle. Brutal, repetitive and pounding, Green's bass ruptures your brain encapsulation into submission. Broadrick's riff is indebted with enough sludge and groove to level tower blocks. This is industrial urban repugnance, laying waste to its own backbone with head-bobbing precision. 
'Dogbite' is shorter and more melody centred. Green's bass is as virile and cocksure in its pulverising heft, but Broadrick's riff rises above in shimmering but unnerving style betwixt more descents into more swampy furrows. 
The most "Fuck me! They're back!" moment comes 3 tracks in, courtesy of the monolithic 'Playing With Fire'. It's ludicrously rhythmic in the way that everything meshes into a destructive, looping whole. "It's all pain... There's no gain" barks Broadrick over surely one of the finest riffs to his name. Amongst his slightly dissonant, echo heavy vocal effects its possible to discern dark ruminations of "tainted feelings" and "invisible chains". 

They deal one final bout of decimation with the closing title track, which is one of the more multi-faceted tracks here, manoeuvring seamlessly between cathartically violent riffing, screeching noise and the heavy-handed synthetic drumming that is dealt with steamroller-esque force throughout the EP. 

'Decline & Fall' is, in some ways, the ideal way for Godflesh to mark their return to the public conscience. It's only 4 tracks long and thus doesn't contain a great deal of their titanic scope, leaving plenty to be had from 'An Autumn Lit By Fire' when it's released. At the same time, these are 4 tracks of glorious sonic abuse that should make both old fans and newcomers spit out their morning coffee across their sitting room amidst feelings of joy, horror and relief. Essentially, it can ONLY be a good thing that Godflesh are back; still destructive, still artful, and still sounding not quite like anyone else. 

Key Tracks: All of it
For Fans Of: Godflesh, Anaal Nathrakh, early Korn


Monday, 1 September 2014

Ty Segall- Manipulator

Artist: Ty Segall
Album: Manipulator
Record Label: Drag City
Release Date: 26/8/2014

Ty Segall's latest is an unashamed exercise in self-indulgence but also shows off the rather visionary scope of his song writing

Over the last 2-3 years LA singer-songwriter Ty Segall has become one of the most blogosphere celebrated indie musicians of his kind. His strict DIY persuasion has seen him release at least one album (several under different monikers and collaborations) since his debut in 2008. On 'Manipulator' the musical sojourns he travels down are not particularly dissimilar to his actually quite individualistic take on '60s garage rock and psych-rock that he perpetuated before. But Segall is SO DIY that the fact that he rarely steps away from a strictly old school blueprint has more to do with his "if it ain't broke..." ethics than any critical acclaim. 

'Manipulator' is 17 tracks long and almost every single one of those tracks has one, maybe even two guitar solos (again, a testament to Segall's rigid morality of doing whatever he wants). There are times when the consistently blistering ascent into ravenous noodling becomes slightly tiresome and overloaded. But although none of the songs here are particularly complex or original, the charm lies within their simplicity, texture and melody, and the width of Segall's scope on these terms is actually rather visionary. 

'Tall Man Skinny Lady' is the kind of brilliantly catchy retro shuffle with its cracks filled in by the aforementioned soaring solos and screeching feedback that Segall has come to perfect. 'The Singer' is an almost Elvis Presley-esque waltz complete with swinging violin arrangements and that idealistic '50s idea of romance as he opens up "I can hear the sound, when my love's around". 'Feel' is a raucous Led Zeppelin- esque banger that starts as a humble shake-down but evolves into a hulking swarm of electrifying riffing and stinging virtuosity, which includes a jazzy, percussion heavy drum solo. 

Despite it being one of the album's paciest moments 'The Clock''s ambidextrous acoustic tumble and classically orchestrated instrumental dynamic sits very well. The hook provides the album with maybe it's darkest marker as Segall sings "Still we know, the clock will never show the wearing and tearing of the mind". 'Connection Man' is Segall's outright step into modernity and is carried by the chilling synth crawl its title suggests. The album's highlight, 'The Hand', is grandiose in its vision right from the start, and it's perhaps the ultimatum to the conundrum that you can do so much with very little, it's charming chord progressions never ceasing to be captivating. 'Don't You Want To Know? (Sue)' is a gorgeous track that subtly hits at a philosophical evaluation of life and the notion of youthful naivety. 

On 'Manipulator', like on most of Segall's work, it seems that the music comes first; lyrical substance is left a little bit by the wayside in favour of self-indulgence, and although Segall has a right to such musical braggadocia, your enjoyment of this record may depend on how many '60s rock albums you have in your record collection, and how much you enjoy guitar solos. All cynicism aside, 'Manipulator' is another worthy addition to Ty Segall's canon that proves that there's still a lot of varying types of thrill to be had in rock music, and the guitar certainly is not a forlorn instrument. 

Key Tracks: 'The Hand', 'Feel', 'Don't You Want To Know? (Sue)'
For Fans Of: '60s Garage Rock, White Fence, Tame Impala


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Common- Nobody's Smiling

Artist: Common
Album: Nobody's Smiling
Record Label: Def Jam
Release Date: 22/6/2014
Chicago Hip-Hop legend Common's 10th studio album occasionally strikes on hard-hitting brilliance, but often steps into the ditch of tiresome braggadocia too

Giving rappers passes for being arrogant is a dangerous ball game to play, especially in a post Kanye West-Taylor Swift encounter world. However, one could argue that Common has surely earned the riches and bragging rights he proclaims. Although not necessarily a house hold name outside of the Hip-Hop community (for his music at least), his appearance at the White House and the following controversy, as well as many appearances on US TV primetime shows have lead Common to the success that, on 'Nobody's Smiling', he clearly relishes. 

But here's the thing; 'Nobody's Smiling' is a strikingly disingenuous title for an album that sees Common spend so much time relishing his own technical ability and how much money he's got. This has been billed by some as his most personal record to date, and sure, there are moments of deeply heartfelt wordplay and subject matter that are among some of the most revealing tracks he's ever written. But the scales are tipped more heavily in the opposite direction by the amount of tracks here where Common fails to say much at all. 

No I.D.'s production is relatively stellar throughout the album. His beats are punishing when they need to be, bounding when they need to be and reflective when they need to be. His ear for sensitivity when matched against Common's wordplay at any given time is what makes their partnership such a rewarding formula most of the time. On the cocksure braggadocia of 'Speak My Piece' Common resides over a bouncing, modern boom-bap instrumental. The title track, one of the finest moments here in terms of wordplay, is a brilliantly grimey crawl that backs a bleak account of life at street level in Common's home town of Chicago, as he references big time drug dealing, poverty and Treyvon Martin. 

'Rewind That' is one of the most touching retrospective's Common has written in years. The first verse poetically relays the age-old story of working his way up from a life of hardship to one of fame, but it's the second that hits home the hardest as he, in deeply personal fashion, recounts his friendship with the late J Dilla; "You never gone you live on through the song, I feel it when I see 'em with the Dilla shirts on". 

Perhaps even more hard-hitting though is the 6 and a half minute album stand out "Kingdom" featuring a much hyped Vince Staples, who is on terrifyingly good form. Common's subject matter sees him talking us through themes of death, religion and being a father (amongst other things) with the kind of poise that only someone with a deep experience of all those things could. "These keys got me locked up with older men... they ended up being the keys for my life to end", he raps at one point. Staples delivers his own absolute slams throughout his verse too, at one point quipping "I'm trying to watch my back 'cause these stripes ain't free". 

But for every moment where Common has something to say, there's another where he has nothing but bragging rights to offer. 'Real' may very well be an accurate pinpoint of his life situation, but its shallow misogyny doesn't do him any favours. On 'Blak Majik' Jhene Aiko comes through with perhaps her most splendid contribution to date, however short lived, but once again Common's wordplay fades into mediocrity. 'Diamonds' is slightly more fulfilling; even Big Sean sounds OK, and Common's lyric "they say time is money, forever is my currency" reels off the tongue, but again there's little of substance there. 

'Nobody's Smiling' does nothing to knock Common's integrity, particularly, but all too often it leaves you feeling with in a state of "meh" rather than "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, suburban America is doomed!". As said previously, there are moments of brilliance here when Common proves exactly why he's so lauded state side, and maybe he shouldn't be vigorously blamed for suffering a little from the Kanye/ Jay-Z syndrome of being wrapped up in the life he leads. It's just that on 'Nobody's Smiling' there's not enough substance to counter the riches. 

Key Tracks: "Kingdom ft. Vince Staples", "Rewind That", "Nobody's Smiling"
For Fans Of: Kanye West, The Roots