Wednesday, 27 February 2013

PRO ERA- PEEP: The Aprocalypse

Artist: Pro Era
Album: PEEP: The Aprocalypse
Record Label: N/A

With anticipation of backlash, I'll say that Pro Era are the most exciting thing going on in Hip Hop at the moment

As soon as anyone makes a statement that is even slightly sensational, such as the one above, they are subliminally and probably unconsciously committing themselves to a huge amount of "build 'em up and let 'em fall" type criticism from the masses. It's very fair to say that, come June of this year I might be calling another rap "the best thing to happen to Hip Hop so far this year." However, as it stands in February 2013, PRO ERA own said title, to this reviewers ears anyway.

"PEEP: The Aprocalypse" is not a life changing album. It's not a masterpiece, not in the most universal sense anyway. What it is is a showcasing of supreme talent that is devoid of any other Hip Hop clique to emerge with a clearly designed aesthetic in the last 2 years or so (Odd Future, A$ap Mob etc.). It really is something that bursts with character, flare and talent.

Every MC has their own distinguishable persona and almost every flow is lightning tongued and sharp- witted. The production is consistent in its gorgeously stoned trajectory, but also it's pulled back to the wings, as it were, so that every rapper's intelligent (and they really are) braggadocious charm falls centrefold.

There are moving moments, such as the opener "Like Water" which revolves around a stirringly profound piano melody, the tragic suicide of Capital STEEZ looming large, making it impossible not to realize what a true loss of talent said incident is. "School High" is a hilarious narrative about turning up to school stoned, whilst the romantic "Interlude 47" concludes on this brilliant assertion from Dessy Hinds: "I want to love you on a quantum level, like protons and electrons."
If "PEEP: The Aprocalypse" isn't a game changing album then it's a tantalizing monument to just how exciting and talented this young crew are. It's quite probably that their individual releases won't match up to this, but everything here from the refreshing, legitimate gang mentality to the beautiful music reeks of a bright future.
Key Tracks: Like Water, The Rennaissance, School High, Overseas
For fans of: Joey Badass, Outkast, Wu Tang Clan

Monday, 25 February 2013

Cakes Da Killa- The Eulogy

Artist: Cakes Da Killa

Album: The Eulogy

Record Label: N/A

Even if it's not that great musically, "The Eulogy" is a massively important album for Hip Hop in 2013

Any follower of Hip Hop, or indeed perhaps any close follower of the blogosphere will be aware of the somewhat revolutionary level of acceptance for homosexuality and gender crossing the genre has obtained over the course of the last year or so. For decades prejudice in the form of the useage of the term "faggot" and other anti- gay quips has been prevelant, even uttered from the mouths of some of Hip Hop's most prolific names. In 2012 however, the emergence of songs like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Same Love" and equally as accepting statements from the likes of A$ap Rocky seem to have brought the Hip Hop community to light on the fact that, you know, homosexuality might be OK.

Inevitably, such a revelation has made an album like Cakes Da Killa's "The Eulogy" a possibility. A 21 year old MC from New York, Cakes is an absolute embodiment of Gay pride throughout these 12 tracks. On every tune his delivery is full to the brim with character, exuberance and a lofty middle finger raised to anybody who might have a problem with his sexuality. He flaunts his lifestyle, sometimes in the most explicitly confident ways. He teases you with it without being necessarily imposing, although "The Eulogy" is certainly an in- your- face battle cry.

"He said he love me then he fuck me like he don't care" he spits over the minimal but jittery opener "Get Right (Get Wet)", after asserting that "I rap that other shit make a homophobe turn to a hypocrite." On the wonderful "Goodie Goodies" he raps with exceptional pace over a bratty, jump up beat and combines graphic imagery with the hilariously clever hook "He only want me for my goodie goodies... That's the power of my goodie goodies", showcasing both confidence and a sense of humour.

Even when he's not revelling in his own idiosyncracies however he still bursts with life, like his ridiculously skilled flow on the low- rumbling "Break Em Off" or bars like "I drop bombs with the lead in my pencil" and "Bitch what I spit is like Napalm" on "Da Good  Book."

The problem with "The Eulogy" is hardly ever Cakes himself, but the production. Most of it isn't that interesting or is just obnoxious, like the moombahton styling of "High Tides." Sometimes Cakes' exuberance can lead him a bit too far with the hooks as well, like the atrocious vocal affects on "Fuck ya Boifriend" which make it almost unlistenable.

Despite how unenjoyable "The Eulogy" can be at times, it contains two monumental strangths for Hip Hop. Firstly, this is a feat that two years ago would never have been accepted on a wide basis. A space has been created where "The Eulogy" can comfortably sit and Cakes Da Killa is revelling in it. It's almost empowering, and it's certainly vital. Also, Cakes Da Killa has such brimstone character that he is surely worth the watchful eye.

Key Tracks: Goodie Goodies, Break 'Em off, The Eulogy

For fans of: Haleek Maul, Cam'Ron


Sunday, 24 February 2013

Matmos- The Marriage of True Minds

Artist: Matmos
Album: The Marriage of True Minds
Record Label: Thrill Jockey

A brilliantly crafted masterclass in the unexplained

It is said (and on a sociologically pious note, proven by society almost every day) that we fear most what we don't understand. This interpersonal sensitivity is not something that needs to be explained to M.C. Mike Schmidt and Daniel Drew (the duo who make up Matmos) however. As a prospect who have consistently maintained an unbreakable enigma throughout their entire career, even in their characters in interviews, they have become representatives of that very senstivity in a musical outlet.

Initial reactions to the title of their new album, "The Marriage of True Minds" may be that it is a fairly narcissistic statement of intent. Are Matmos finally attempting to make us understand them? In many ways yes, but in many other ways no. Every song here is absolutely packed with ideas. So dextrous, so complex are the designs thrown together here that even after a good handful of listens it's hard to tell what's going on and when. It seems that all the ideas incorporated here are deliberately styled by the duo to expose exactly what it is that makes them tick, even if the finished whole is still dizzyingly strange.

"Very Large Green Triangles" is full of hellish, demonic melodies, unnerving vocal choirs and freakish piano and synth arpeggios. "Mental Radio" is 3 and a half minutes of monstrously ambidextrous percussion that doesn't really include any musical element until the spontaneous bursts of brass in the final minute or so. "Ross Transcript" isn't even musical; instead it's a wedding of excessively bizarre samples, low, ominous bass rumbles and weird static.

The more musical moments here are just as impacting in the same strange but intricately wholesome way. "Tunnel" is half delirious electro funk, half acid house driven by a digeridoo. "Teen Paranormal Romance" offers some respite from the mystical onslaught with its serene nature and beautiful synth flourishes. The album concludes on an 8- minute covers of The Buzzcocks' "ESP" which includes  Black Metal howls, marching drums and doom soaked guitar and keyboard chords, before exploding into an effervescent anthem at the end.

The key thing about "The Marriage of True Minds" is how exceptionally well crafted and thought out it is. It's a small glimpse into the modus operandi of Matmos, but not one that exposes any of the atmosphere that makes them so magical. A marriage of true minds indeed.
Key tracks: ESP, Tunnel, Teen Paranormal Romance
For fans of: Zammuto, Black Dice, The Books

Friday, 22 February 2013

Pissed Jeans- Honeys

Artist: Pissed Jeans
Album: Honeys
Record Label: Sub Pop

Scathing, furious and hilarious, Pissed Jeans 4th is more of the blood pumpingly brilliant same

Pissed Jeans are not the kind of band you would expect to dig out when searching for a band whose core values are clairvoyance, coherence and tunefulness. In that respect it's equally as surprising as it is brave that they're signed to Sub Pop, a label who have always specialized in records that find the perfect balance point between idiosyncracy and beautiful melodies.

Pissed Jeans are certainly not one of THOSE bands, but "Honeys" is aural pleasure from completely the other end of the spectrum. It spits bile, rage, hilarious wit and deep- cutting sarcasm, all to the backdrop of sludgy, dirty, guttural and frenzied noise that harks back to Black Flag as much as it does the Butthole Surfers and The Jesus Lizard.

Opener "Bathroom Laughter" and "Cathouse" are both absolute punk ragers, whilst there's plenty of Southern- fried swagger in the dirty riffage of "Vain in Costume." "Health Plan" is a hilarious middle finger to the American health system, spewing such lyrical gems as "You wanna know how I stay fit? I stay away from doctors!" Closer "Teenage Adult" is a groove laden beast that runs as an absolutely scathing character assasination of an unnamed protagonist.

You shouldn't be looking for any emotional realism in "Honeys", nor should Bad Religion fans be looking for clear cut, politically empowering power punk fist- pumpers. It's dirty, it's funny, it's feral, which pretty much ticks all the boxes to make an incredibly exciting punk rock record.

Key Tracks: Health Plan, Teenage Adult, Cathouse

For fans of: Black Flag, Butthole Surfers, The Jesus Lizard


Monday, 11 February 2013

Pusha T- Wrath of Caine

Artist: Pusha T
Album: Wrath of Caine
Record Label: G.O.O.D. Music
Booming production and "money and girl" lyrics find this largely promotional mixtape lacking in innovation
This largely promotional mixtape from Pusha T seems primarily concerned with two things, namely being 1) His full- length album "My name is My Name" (released January 28th) and 2) how much money and girls he has. Upon such analysis one ight turn and say, "well, what did you expect?" but in an age where lyrics in Hip Hop are of decreasing relevance, artists like Pusha T should be pouncing and proving their prowess. Perhaps he's saved that for the album.
Key Tracks: Revolution
For fans of: A$ap Rocky, 2chainz, Clipse


Sunday, 10 February 2013

Frightened Rabbit- Frightened Rabbit

Artist: Frightened Rabbit
Album: Pedestrian Verse
Record Label: Warner Music UK

Scottish quintet revitalize the old formula of pessimism and life affirming tunes on album No. 4

Painting mental images with words, and especially bleak images at that, is something that Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchinson has always been consistently capable of doing. His sharp ear for pessimism and his self- destructive way with a  pen and an acoustic guitar has seen him capture and shake hearts to their very core in equal measure, especially on the band's darkly humoured and often exceedingly bleak second album "The Midnight Organ Fight." After a bout of dallying in a more positive mind frame on 2010's "The Winter of Mixed Drinks"  "Pedestrian Verse" sees Hutchinson return to said pessimism, with a few brief moments of bright relief breaking through the ever dark cloud.

"Pedstrian Verse" is a complete product of everything that it encompasses. The music and lyrics work in seamless conjunction to create atmospheres, mental landscapes and emotions, and they work wondrously. Opener "Acts of Man" is a slow burning kick off with a heavy handed piano melody leading the charge and chilling realism as Hutchinson sings "While a knight in shitty armour rips a drunk out of her dress/ one man tears into another, hiding a coward's heart in a lion's chest." It seems strangely prophetic.

The accumulation of imagery is most prominently set up early on with the track "Holy." Lyrically it sees Hutchinson firing a discerning dart at religious piety ("I don't mind being lonely... You're acting all holy") but the music conjures an upbeat Arcade Fire- esque rush which sounds both warm and distant, like sitting in a lonely house in front of a log fire whilst a blizzard blows its gale outside. "The Woodpile" sits at the more positive end of the spectrum, containing a chorus with lyrics and instrumentation which is nothing short of life affirming.

"State Hospital" is an incredibly bleak narrative about an unnamed female protagonist with Hutchinson singing "All thighs here and magpie handbags, Saturday's uniform for the fuck me parade." The epic, New Wave- esque walls of synth make the sound sound uncomfortably cold and grey, like a desperate drug addict lying naked on the floor in a furniture- less room.

They save perhaps the most important moment for last though. "The Oil Slick" starts off as a poppy bop along with some fantastic interplay between acoustic and electric guitars and bleak murmurings from Hutchinson about his inability to write a decent love song. However two minutes before the end, it sees the incorporation of gorgeously layered harmonies and soaring and fulfilling trumpets and rushes of synth as Hutchinson concludes, after all that, that "There is light, there's a tunnel to crawl through, there is love, misery loves you, still got hope so I think we'll be fine in these disastrous times." It's movingly powerful.

"Pedestrian Verse" is subtly majestic, almost always moving whether conveying positive or negative philosophies. It's well pieced together and hardly ever feels out of place, even if some of the moments are less effective and less tight than others. Hutchinson and his band have done misery proud, once again.

Key Track: The Oil Slick, State Hospital, Backyard Skulls

For fans of: The National, Arcade Fire


California X- California X

Artist: California X
Album: California X
Record Label: Don Giovanni Records

One of the most authentic, if not anthemic visitations to early '90s chic

Since the slackerisms and down- tuned degenerate sweetness of late '80s/ early '90s alt. rock suddenly became cool again, it has fallen into the hands of a slew of bands who have projected largely passionless and meaningless albums into the stratosphere to receive an unprecedented amount of blogosphere hype. Thankfully, there are bands like California X who seem far less contrived in their transgression, and despite wearing their influences proudly on their sleeves, it sometimes sounds like they're recapturing the sound to the most authentic extent.

In a number of places, their self- titled debut has the tunes to justify such assertions. The songs here are a culmination of simple charm, but also of thunderous playing and dirty fuzz and distortion, occasionally propelling these tracks to sky high level. "Curse of the nightmare" is a No Age- esque scuzz- punk thriller with a killer hook in the chorus. "Pond Rot" takes a leaf straight out Rivers Cuomo's songwriting book with its sludgy, slacker trawl and rising lead guitar melody and tales of being "down in the fishy deep."

There are darker moments here too, like the moments of Helmet- esque heaviness on "Hot Hed" and the dirty, furious punk rush of "Spider X."

The problem with "California X" is that there are very few moments that are significantly distinctive. No matter how hard the band play, a lot of the melodies fail to be memorable. But there are ruminations here that California X could reach monumental heights, and a handful of the tracks here would certainly sound gorgeous come the summer in fields with cheap beer and a bunch of friends.

Key tracks: Curse of the Nightmare, Lemmy's World, Spider X

For fans of: The Men, No Age, Weezer


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Biffy Clyro- Opposites

Artist: Biffy Clyro
Album: Opposites
Record Label: 14th Floor

It's unlikely that there'll be a more epic compendium of arena sized rock this year

The best bands are those which manage to evolve and advance sonically from album to album whilst still maintaining at least a handful of the charms that made people like them in the first place. Now on their 6th album, Kilmarnock- borne trio Biffy Clyro, whilst pursuing a trajectory that delves further and further into the kind of sound that could potentially sell thousands of seats at Wembley, have held on to the angular, tricksy and sometimes unfathomably brilliant musicianship that dominated their first three records.

That early heritage does make an appearance on "Opposites", but it to be too much of a prevalent part would perhaps defeat the point of the album, not to metion take away much of it's monolithic, soaring and life affirming charm. Every pour of "Opposites" is grandiose, a seeringly loud, clear cut and well produced beast which boasts the band at arguably the most epic and wholesome that they've ever been. Whether joyous or deeply moving (and it has both spectrums of the emotional sphere in abundance) "Opposites" is a complete head rush.

Opener "Different People" is perhaps one of the most assuredly emotionally evocative things they've ever done. Frontman Simon Neil brings in an ecstatically bright and complex guitar line after the song's ethereal build up and is joined by an urgent, pummeling pattern and forms an alost tear- jerkingly beautiful chord progression in the chorus. "Sounds Like Balloons" is everything Biffy have ever tried to do achieved exquisitely, from the blindingly mathy riff in the verse and the fist pumping enormity of the chorus. The wall of thick Mogwai- esque tremolo picking at the end of "A Girl and His Cat" is genuinely moving, whilst the title track sees the first incorporation of heartstring- tugging, swelling synth orchestrations, tied with the heart breaking premise of "Baby I'm leaving here/ You need to be with somebody else."

This is also arguably the album upon which Biffy have branched out the most in terms of musical experimentation. The mostly synth lead "The Fog" then builds up into a bombastic climax of crushing guitar chords and an indiscernable racket of electronic fuzz. There's a harmonious choir of bagpipes on "Stingin' Belle", whilst "Spanish Radio" sees a mariachi band jive plesantly over rolling, tricksy rhythms and  increasingly hefty instrumentation. "Skylight" has incredibly deep, echoing atmospherics that breaks out into a twinkling electro ballad that brings to mind Muse's cosmic dubstep fancy.

As a double disc record, "Opposites" is an ambitious manouvre that only really could have been withstandeable if there was enough variety for it not to fall into the Foo Fighters trap of exercising the "too much of a good thing" notion. In those terms, the amount of experimentation on here only confirms that "Opposites" is the absolute pinnacle of Biffy Clyro finding their niche and writing some of the most anthemic, moving and epic songs to their name. The sense of unity obviously prevelant in the band is what shines through most here- "Opposites" sees them at their most together, andin being so, this is an album that will unite thousands in hope and fist pumping alike.

Key Tracks: Different People, Little Hospitals, The Thaw

For fans of: Foo Fighters, Muse


Monday, 4 February 2013

Rotten Sound- Species at War EP

Artist: Rotten Sound
Album: Species of War EP
Record Label: Rotten Sound

Finnish Grind legends release a blinder of an EP that leaves us hoping for a barn storming full- length

There's a fair chance that anybody unaccustomed to Finnish Grind Metal legends Rotten Sound will immediately be put off by the sheer intensity than runs riot throughout the entirety of this EP. It may take even the most well seasoned listener to discern any valuable grooves, hooks and melodies from "Species at War." A marriage of skull- crushingly relentless blast beats and disgustingly thick sludge, it's always fast, always mind numbingly brutal and strangely addictve. It's an absolute fucking rager, and we can only hope there'll be more of this to come via the format of a full- length later this year.

Key Tracks: War, Peace

For fans of: Nasum, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Nails