Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Lightning Bolt- Fantasy Empire

Artist: Lightning Bolt
Album: Fantasy Empire
Record Label: Thrill Jockey
Release Date: 24th March 2015

Innovative Rhode Island noise duo start to sound like they're slightly running out of ideas on album number seven

Almost straight from the word go on 'Fantasy Empire', the 7th studio full-length by Rhode Island noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt, it's business as usual. Opener 'The Metal East' features tight but frantic instrumentation and screaming feedback terrorism. However, like many of the other tracks here, it falls short of having any particularly exciting character that one probably hasn't heard from the band before. 

The moments that exude character are electrifying. 'Over The River and Through the Woods' is six-and-a-half minutes of disgustingly sludgy yet eventually melodic riffing and impossibly primal but rhythmic drumming. Drummer Brian Chippendale's vocals reach a sense of Michael Gira-esque mania on 'King of My World'. But the slightly hypnotic groove of 'Horsepower' doesn't offer a great deal to sink your teeth into, and the riff on 'Runaway Train' is frustratingly predictable. Even though the playing on 11-minute closer 'Snow White (& The 7 Dwarves Fans)' is intense, the duo don't really bring anything new (in the Lightning Bolt sense of the word) to the table. The moments of character are ecstatic, but ultimately much of 'Fantasy Empire' fails to be moving. 


Key Tracks: 'Over the River and Through the Woods'
For Fans Of: Hella, Battles

Monday, 27 April 2015

New Song: Between The Buried And Me- Memory Palace

Image credit: Natalia Balcerska Photography (https://www.flickr.com/photos/harry_manback/)

North Carolina progressive metallers Between The Buried And Me will release their latest full-length "Coma Ecliptic" on July 10th via Metal Blade records, and the 10-minute 'Memory Palace' is the first song to be made available for your listening pleasure. Crisp and cleanly produced, in some ways it's business as usual for the chameleon-like quintet; it's particularly melodically accessible, but they still weave their way through a myriad of styles and grooves from cosmic, off-kilter slants to tight-knit heaviness and lush psychedelic soundscapes. Keyboardist and frontman Thomas Giles Rodgers' vocals generally lean towards the cleaner end of the spectrum, though his occasional guttural growls still hold plenty of weight and there's even an unexpected foray into the manic weirdness range. Lyrically the track is a spectral but vaguely human affair, with Giles singing "I sit drenched in the summary of my past... Live in the name of the ghost". 

New Song: Coldplay- Fix You (Four Tet Remix)

Image Credit: Paul Narvaez Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/the_photographer/)

First made in 2005 but only broadcast to the general public as part of Jon Hopkins' takeover of the Radio 1 late night Residency a few weeks back, legendary UK electronic musician Four Tet aka Keiran Hebden has replaced Chris Martin & co's dish-water bland arena rock with his wonky, this time xylophone-orientated vision. Lots of Aphex Twin-esque rushes of electronic scree add interesting colours and odd-ball noises to the proceedings. The mix then shapes itself into a gorgeously twinkling, reflective climax, the sweet synths providing a more heartfelt dynamic than the original's two-note guitar riff and crashing cymbals. 

Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp A Butterfly

Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly
Record Label: Aftermath/ Interscope
Release Date: N/A

Kendrick Lamar's latest full-length is both intensely creative and vitally distinct in its understanding of community, race and empowerment

There probably isn't another MC in mainstream hip-hop who can create a narrative as vividly as Compton's now world famous upstart Kendrick Lamar. His intensely powerful portrayal of growing up in suburban, poverty-stricken LA on 2012's 'Good Kid, Maad City' has lead to that album being upheld as a modern classic in many people's eyes; a rightfully deserved but semi-dangerous accolade that has condemned his third full-length 'To Pimp A Butterfly' to a serious amount of pressure. 

Those approaching 'To Pimp A Butterfly' expecting more of the same as was on the previous album will be immediately thrown, both musically and lyrically. It speaks volumes about the kind of "mainstream" force Lamar is that despite achieving rigorous critical acclaim, his latest offering is probably his most left-field major release yet. The continuous concept of the record lyrically is a pivotal one, revolving largely around issues of race, pride, unity and self-identity both in a personal and universal sense. However, as we've come to expect, there are so many layers and so much content thrown in to many of the songs here that's both endlessly ambiguous as well as upholding a distinct ideology. 

The Isley Brothers-sampling lead-off single 'i', on the album version, is a live performance cut short half way through by Lamar to deliver a righteous speech about equality. It's less about his mental health an d more about empowerment. It's a clever move with, in the hands of someone less capable, would have just come off as corny. On 'Institutionalized' he's "trapped inside the ghetto" and seems ashamed; Just like 'Money Trees' on "Good Kid..." it sees him longing to escape the double-edged life he experienced growing up. 'These Walls' is a funky, poetic and graphic re-living of a sexual encounter that at its mid-way point becomes a remorseful and cynical eye cast on the temptations Lamar's been offered by his new found life, and how empty they leave him feeling. 

'U' is perhaps the most deranged and vulnerable Lamar has ever sounded. "Loving you is complicated" he wails as the song's chief refrain, and as it continues and he gets consistently more angry and helpless it becomes clear that he could be referencing a plethora of the issues he's had to deal with, from the President to alcoholism and his own depression. 'Momma' is about the importance of staying in touch with your roots no matter how far removed it seems you've become, and 'How Much a Dollar Cost?' unveils a sharp story about an encounter with a homeless person used as a metaphor for all the pot-holes in the constitutional and economic system, as well as the personal insensitivity wealth can inspire. 

It's the sense of race and identity that carries the heaviest message of the record though, and three songs in particular epitomise this. 'King Kunte' is the album's pop song, an insatiably Mark Ronson-esque bass-driven funk lunge which sees Lamar identifying as the cult African-American hero (sample lyric: "Everybody wanna cut the legs off him... Black man taking no losses"). 'The Blacker the Berry' is a heroically fiery assault on racism and at a deeper level perhaps a slight hit at the more institutionalised aspects of it; "I'm as black as the heart of a fuckin' Ayreon". The monolithic 12-minute closer 'Mortal Man' could almost act as a summary for Lamar's entire moral persuasion and intended message. "Just because you wear different gang colours to me doesn't mean I can't respect you as a black man" he intones during a recital of the poetic monologue he drops in and out of throughout the album. The track ends on a mysteriously recorded conversation between himself and 2Pac, and serves as a final unifying and empowering note. 

'To Pimp A Butterfly' is an imperative release for two primary reasons. Firstly, Lamar has increased his individuality rather than allowing it to be swallowed by record label tycoons who would have him imitate Big Sean. Secondly, for a mainstream rapper to appropriate and deliver race conviction as powerfully as Lamar does here gives one hope that not all commercially favoured rap is as flaccid as radio 1's daytime playlist. 


Key Tracks: 'Momma', 'The Blacker The Berry', 'Mortal Man' 
For Fans Of: Ab-Soul, Joey Bada$$, Flying Lotus

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Leviathan- Scar Sighted

Artist: Leviathan
Album: Scar Sighted
Record Label: Profound Lore
Release Date: 3rd March 2015

Jef Whitehead's controversial one man Black Metal project comes through with its most diverse, unpleasant and life-affirming album to date

As is nearly always the way with any controversial figure in modern music, the reaction to Jef Whitehead's (aka 'Wrest') new album as Leviathan, "Scar Sighted", has been saturated by references to his somewhat contemptuous personal past. It always seems like a record is handed a bit of a short straw when the judgement of its music, as a force of its own, is weighted by moral condemnation. Whilst Whitehead's personal life and world view certainly inform his output (most infamously on his gruesomely divisive 2011 effort "True Traitor, True Whore"), on "Scar Sighted" it seems almost entirely irrelevant in the context of the album itself which is, by the way, a work of breath taking magnitude. 

It begins with '-', a 2 minute long bout of depth-ridden, reflective synth atmosphere that pans out in eerily colourful style the range of influences that coalesce here. It leads into the thoroughly unpleasant 'The Smoke of their Torment''; "Every fuckin' thing that crawls is gonna pay... Rejoice" intones Whitehead as the first audible gambit of the album over a disgustingly thick and sludgy hybrid of Black and Death metal nastiness. Between vicious bouts of ugliness and spoken-word nihilism, it sets the precedent for the record's epic scale. 

'Dawn Vibration' re-tracks a more traditional BM blueprint, flitting between a myriad of rollicking tremolo picked riffs and melodies. Whitehead's vocals reach perhaps their most feverish on the album, and all of it sounds absolutely massive. 

Whitehead's understanding of the multitude of musical styles he endorses here comes through at some point on every track. There's a slight post-rock inflection on the spaciousness of 'Wicked Fields of Calm'; 'A Veil is Lifted' begins in slightly stripped back form. Mystical, Eastern-tinged effects on the plucked guitar interventions add ethereal ghostliness to the lumbering dirge before the cascading force and rhythmic pummeling charge the foray into full-throttle territory. Just like 'Dawn Vibration', it feels almost triumphant in its harrowing but soaring climax, Wrest sounding like he's transmitting his vocals from the descent into the nine circles of Hell as though it's a sort of homecoming. 

The agonisingly slow slither of the 10-minute title track is the most "fuck me, this is bleak" musical moment you're likely to have this year. It's as though its layered, cold and eventually vast oeuvre is the soundtrack to Whitehead crawling out of the grave. 'Within Thrall' is a barn-storming slice of BM punk aggression, complete with otherworldly clean vocal harmonies and the album's most rock 'n' roll indebted groove towards its close. The celestial heights reached by the fusion of marching drums, the same heartfelt synth overture from the intro and glorious tremolo picking on 'All Tongues Toward' recall a more nihilistic slant on the sort of transcendentalism endorsed by much modern US black metal. 

It's a shame that a record which is so obviously a considered piece of art will be forever marred by moral indignation. But for those of us who believe that music should be received on its own merits, "Scar Sighted" is absolutely the whipping boy that fans of black metal and extreme music in general have been tearing at the carcass of modern American metal for. That's less to say that unique modern metal albums are hard to come by and more to say that this is Whitehead's most life-affirming offering yet. 


Key Tracks: 'Scar Sighted', 'A Veil is Lifted', 'Wicked Fields of Calm', 'Dawn Vibration'
For Fans of: Altar of Plagues, Lurker of Chalice