Run The Jewels 3 Review

It sounds futuristic; it sounds foreign; it sounds like right here and right now.

8153716c802c4bcf1cd9378b33b12a6f-1000x1000x1

Run the Jewels is a back with a stomping christmas gift for all disaffected hip hop heads out there. The album, not being physically released until January 20 worldwide, is now available for download on the official Run The Jewels site here: runthejewels.com

This is non-conformist hip hop from the perennial experimentalists. It doesn’t sound like other rap and doesn’t really walk or talk like other rap. Yeah, they explore some of the same themes as other artists, but they do it in their own alien language. It’s like a poetry you’ve never heard before. Like 5 year olds talking about epistemology or CEO’s debating morality. It’s hard to say this album is a break out or a massive advancement on what they’ve already done because their first efforts came out with such force and coherence. And while this can be something that hamstrings artists—being expected to better themselves on every album— RTJ approach these expectations with zen-like good humour and effortlessness. RTJ3 doesn’t sound a whole lot different than its precursors. They’re not trying to be heavier, or slower or more melodic or take it in any direction. It’s just an advancement of what they’ve realised they can do: make very loud, intricate and earnest music that is completely idiosyncratic. On this release, they meditate on unexpected success (Down), an uncertain future (2100, Everyone Stay Calm, Talk to Me), the power of money and poverty (Gold, Don’t Get Captured, Thieves).

Run The Jewls has been together since 2013, a supergroup consisting of EL-P, an acclaimed rapper and producer from NY who has been a perennial maverick of hip hop’s smarter underground and Killer Mike, an Atlanta MC who released the critically acclaimed R.A.P Music in 2012. They have released two albums to wide acclaim since. Mike’s also recently became a salient political figure, being a visible proponent of Bernie Sanders in this year’s earlier presidential election, and although he’s always had sociopolitical bars, he harangues with the force of a prophet on this release. El-P’s electric tapestry of post-industrial jigsaw pieces has gotten darker and more mechanised; it almost feels devoid of any human touch. The virtuosic delivery of both Mike and El completes these expressionistic sketches, bubbling with cartoonish excess. It’s a dark accompaniment to late-Capitalism, a paranoid travelogue where all the characters seem to exist in a narcotised confusion, but for the two antihero narrators leading us assuredly by the hand.

RTJ3 is a longer and more exploratory offering, with more sounds and glitches, smoking circuits, more flows, and more ghostly electric hooks. Everything about this album is chimeric and eclectic. It never stays in one tempo or tone for long, always content to throw a new flurry at you. They’re like kids constantly rediscovering themselves on every new song. It makes for a riveting listen, as nothing has sounded more alive or ‘now’ than this. It’s the perfect counterpoint for 2016- loud, obnoxious, and exquisite in its ugliness and imperfection.

The album opens with the dour, electro-church lament of Down (feat. Joi), where Mike’s typically fair ground flow, with its extreme dynamics and tempo variations, is let loose over some swelling chords. It’s a reflective and anthemic opening to a real salad of an album. There’s a simple, chopped and screwed boom bap beat on the melody with Mike’s flow tying the spaciousness together and they don’t really get more introspective than this, except on maybe Thieves.

The electro-tribal boom bap continues on the rocketing Talk to Me, an androids dream of electric soul that sounds like a disco classic fro another galaxy. Mike sings along with El-P’s masterful conductors batten on the chorus and you can really hear the difference between the two emcees’ styles on this track. Mikes running, fluid grooves juxtapose with El-P’s staunch, reverberating punchline prowess and somehow they fit together like it was predestined- like a yin yang.

Call ticketron shows RTJ moving forward. The beat kicks off like a thousand electric cicadas, taking the tempo way beyond any frantic sprint they’ve yet made. Ratting along at 5000 miles an hour it’s a disjointed, shadow-chasing piece that the two emcees effortlessly dance over. Mouths full of angry verbs fly from El-P like litter from the back of the A train, while Mike’s lacquered boom carries us over the broken spacecraft below. If RTJ3 didn’t feel as natural as their last two releases, it would almost be showoff-y, filled with track to make both rappers and producers scared, but not alienating to the listener. The beats are throwing back to El-P’s solo, even Company Flow days where chopped up, sci-fi movie sounds bubble up from the layers of production. It’s all very virtuosic. Danny Brown on Bombaye is a logical feature. He’s one of the only other rappers touching beats as asymmetric and jagged as RTJ regularly do. El, despite being adventurous and untethered,  always seems to bring all the separate elements together on the chorus to create something powerful that’ll get stuck in your head.

Stay Gold sounds exactly like hip hop will sounds in 25 years. It’s got all the same elements of that Golden Age of 90’s hip hop- dual vocalists; spelling out the song title as the chorus; a heavy beat with a catchy hook; but no-one could ever have imagined hip hop becoming so jerky and weird. The whole album sounds like it’s come from a parallel dimension, leaked out like some cosmic secret, and now we’re just standing in front of the edifice, wondering: what the fuck? Similar with Panther like a Panther, another gritty update to hip hop’s dirty rolodex. The album stays strong throughout. RTJ have the distinction of not making bad songs. It never feels like they give up, or offer anything that’s less than perfect and unique. They don’t get tied to progressing conceptually– it’s just one postage stamp piece of fine art at a time.

RTJ are so good at vivisecting their music that at every level it can be looked at it is consummate and interesting. This is definitely an album that rewards multiple listens, like their last two releases. It would be a cliche to cal RTJ3 ‘Thinking man’s’ hip hop– yes, it’s filled with verbose wordplay, proud political commentary, and El-P’s usual countercultural references, but, on a surface level, it’s danceable and compels you to move your body. El-P waves his producers baton and conjures hooks from Mikes caramel baritone. He chops up melodies to make melodies in melodies, fractals that are striking in their incongruity. It’s anti-social album, in both its anger and voyerism, like from two aliens who’ve watched the world from an excluded perch. It might be that 2016 does have a conscious. It might be here.

 

YMHM: Non Phixion- The Future is Now

Instead of being dystopian or post-apocalyptic or post-human, this album depicts the final leap into the abyss. It’s a sidelong view of the nadir of human depravity; of society still (somehow) standing even as we all fall– survivalism the new norm while we tiptoe around a newly-erected police state. It revels in the inescapability of the end while watching it with a heavy heart and reddened eyes.

Non Phixion is a rap supergroup assembled by 3rd Bass’s MC Serch, comprising NY MCs Ill Bill, Goretex (now Gore Elohim) and Sabac Red and with production mainly from Ill Bill’s brother, Necro. Rick Rubin tried to sign them to Warner circa 2000 but shit happened and they self-released The Future is Now in 2002 on Ill Bill’s Uncle Howie Records. It went on to spawn several singles (Black Helicopters, Rock Stars, If You Got Love, Drug Music) and to reenergise the underground hip hop scene. Notable for its lyrical rapaciousness, head-banging boom bap beats, convoluted twists of many counter-cultures and unique packaging, Non Phixion were hip hop savants. Despite only releasing The Future is Now, all the members of Non Phixion went on to extensive solo careers. The Wu Tang diversification made possible by the redoubtable and unique talents of each of the members.

The album opens with ‘Futurama’, a colossus of Necro production featuring angry anti-political bars from Bill and Gore. A stream of consciousness sketch of the world heading into the future, or maybe heading down the drainpipe, or maybe just there already. They say, ‘They got aids affecting the globe, laser weapons and clones, comfortable as presidents, death, artificial intelligence, frozen organs, post-mortem, aliens.’ This salad of New Age themes, metal imagery, and sociological embeddedness typifies the paranoia and vivid counter-cultural motifs of the album. The realism of geo-politics meeting heady conspiracy veins meeting debauched street culture is the ultimate schizo mix of modern day ambivalence.

‘The C.I.A is Trying to Kill Me’ is indicative of the album both in format and lyrics. Its got the three members all going in hard; a necro beat; themes of governmental control (or is it paranoia??) and love for the everyman and his banal strife. The type of socially aware lyrics  instanced in this track are so rare in comparison with most hip hop (or even rock bands singing about similar ideas) and with the ferocity they are uttered are reminiscent of fat drippy graffiti on the Berlin Wall. These are street poets, or street prophets even, yelling rhetoric at you from some febrile haze while you run away because you recognise the truth they’re saying but are too terrified to believe it or talk to them. They embody a sadistic hatred of those above trying to kill us and masochistic love of self-destruction. The opening lines of Sabac’s verse are heavy as–he paints the picture that Non Phixion was forced to view growing up,

Symbolism, socialism, live life lead, learn
Struggle war whole drug fiends, the white house burn
Sex, pain, fear, freedom love, young guns be shootin’
Genocide, revolution, lost souls prostituting
Military confrontation, safe sex, and masturbation
Peace to all the homeless people livin in the train station.

egfqwnp87im
Look at that glorious cover. It painfully depicts the distorted current world but from behind the apathetic humour of young people who know they’ll be inheriting this stillborn baby. This artwork, by Mear One, with its comic-book franticness, mirrors the ways NP moves from representation to characterisation of people and scenes in their lyrics. Going Post-Human, you could say.

They basically created and popularised the crossover metal x hip hop image. Look at that title font, pure 80’s speed metal (created by Michael Langevin of Voivod, too). Plus they rock Slayer and Agnostic Front shirts and reference pit bands where other hip-hop groups wouldn’t have the vocabulary. There’s an intense grittiness to Non Phixion that other rap groups only attain when aiming self-consciously at ‘Horrorcore’ and its dark gimmickry. The apocalyptic sprint of late-80’s thrash metal and early-90’s serious hardcore mix like a ying yang. Like all 80’s-90’s metal bands, thematically there is a pronounced apocalypse-looming vibe to the album. From the raucous cover to the dystopic context, constant references to angel dust and other life-ending gambits, it seems to narrate the feeling of being driven to apocalypse by our leaders, but is more intelligent and mature acknowledging the sundry ways regular people, characters on the street, are contributing to the end just as much. It’s an album that refuses to just beleaguer world leaders for their negligent actions. As much as NP attacks Reaganomics and wider economic structures and the police state, there is just as much filthy detail about the decaying state of the everyman on the street and how this reflects the state of the world whilst simultaneously creating it. ‘Drug Music’, ‘There is No Future’, and ‘Black Helicopters’ are anthems for the ignoble downtrend of regular people. Obviously the epitome of these acerbic characters in the perennial Ill Bill/Necro walk-on Uncle Howie. Lyrical inspiration, label eponym, album cover, ad-libber extraordinaire, shoot relative, Uncle Howie is a survivor stoically navigating the underground; a mascot and extremified version of the blank faces on the street watching Black Helicopters above.

This album is NY AF, it could have been written as the consciousness of 70’s disintegrating Bronx, the  grit of the 80’s crack/aids epidemic, or the apathetic 90’s envelopment in conspiracy and social consciousness. Lyrically the album is dense, articulate, and so so cold. The blending of tones from wistful street noir, to the nihilistic embrace of personal and total apocalypse, to the unpublicised desires to better the populace though revealing hard truths, navigates a catalogue of powerful emotions. There’s paranoia, elation, terror, highs both real and artificial and lows the same. There’s beats that bang so hard with essentialist boom-bap (‘Drug Music’, ‘There is No Future’), brighter punchy beats (‘Rock Stars’, ‘It’s Us’), and horrocore heaviness that make 80’s icons like Iron Maiden seem downright soft (‘Cult Leader’, ‘Suicide Bomb’). 80% of the album is produced by Necro but there is production credits from DJ Prem, Beatnuts, and Pete Rock and Large Professor.

The impressionist sketches of urban life, pulling together glyptic flotsam from so many different sub-cultures and codes, explodes like a mine underfoot for the casual listener. It is an album that can’t not pull you in to its self-sustaining uniqueness and power. It’s got revolutionary zeal and the power of lyrical violence; the roar of youth shattering the silent cold war being waged on the highest lines by society.

‘Cult Leader’ might be my favourite track on the album. It’s stompingly hard, and embodies the heinous characters that populate the album. A heavy af A-Trak beat with Ill Bill shredding fire over the top, it’s a biographic sketch of a cult leader that celebrates indecency and perversion, Bill eulogising the egotistic power of a cult leader from the first person, ironically delving into outright immorality with a grin on his beaten face.

TALLICA!! x Grey Ceiling x Invidious Opinions

If you liked the Metallica album just don’t read this. Let’s just agree to disagree, and you can listen to Hefield Whoah-oho you to sleep each night while holding your inner child tightly.

Why would you bother with the new Metallica? How can I possibly get some form of cathartic release from the music made by 4 multimillionaires who are patently disdainful of their moronically loyal fanbase. If you watch Some Kind of Monster, they’re not even making music for the potent emotional release it affords. They buy art or ride horses or work on cars or surf for that abreaction. They rely on these hobbies to take away the dread realities of being famous musicians much the same way that young kids and unknown bands make music to escape their daily life. That’s why fuck Metallica–it’s a day job for them and just because they’ve had one good day amongst 20 years of being the workplace bludger doesn’t mean we celebrate them. That’s why we all hate working: the wrong people get the glory and attention, the glass ceiling exists always.

People saying it’s good are clearly saying “It’s better than we expected given the last 25 years of shit music they’ve asked us to buy off them”, and if this is all it takes to make “good music” these days then, Yes, it is good. It actually sound like Metallica from circa ’91, but a bit more Anthrax-y. Hetfield’s vocals are warmed with some reverb that resembles a comfortable diaper for him to shit in with his steroidal rockabilly crooning. Stylistically it’s just wildly inconsistent.

Moth to Flames sounds like power metal that Sonata Arctica thought was way beneath them releasing being sung by ageing music teachers whose idea of rebellion is smoking a cheeky durry behind the groundskeeper’s shed at recess. Like, it’s that toothless and mild.  Not to say there aren’t some good riffs occasionally, like one Atlas, Rise! or Murder One but there’s more to making good and effective metal than resuscitating some licks from your old book of cast-offs. It doesn’t advance heavy music in anyway; they haven’t drastically altered their image or ‘brand’; and they haven’t bought thrash–the genre they ruled for two decades– back into the mainstream. Before the purists come after me, it’s not even a thrash album, it’s like metal-core and heavy rock amalgamated half as good as the majority of modern bands would do if they didn’t see it as the most boring, corporate, old man sound to ever chase. Like if the world’s most renowned chef just cooked tepid pumpkin soup for every service, and called any youngster who made a virtuosic Galantine overly ambitious with no skill. Imagine the type of authority that has nothing to offer except its authority, nothing to say except: “you didn’t pay me enough debt for that.” Metallica, the grey ceiling. The sound of this album? Imagine Load and Reload funnelled through crunchy NWOBHM while sucking its own thumb to old glowing reviews.

Why does a band of millionaires who’ve already had their influence on modern music still get thrown these bones and get shine for bullshit? A new group has to smash all glass ceilings, come out with fanfare, and basically has to change the current face of music (either through their sound, appearance, or new methods of distribution) to even get noticed, and even then their music is not judged on its own but in the matrix of all new releases and the hallowed back-catalogue of classic. The only thing they’ve done different with this album is to release all the tracks simultaneously as individual videos on youtube which could be interesting if it wasn’t just a money grubbing ploy to get as much revenue as possible for their meagre efforts a la their Napster suits in the 90’s (Napster was the new wave, the precursor to the entire way the music biz is ran now, and Metallica hated it, hated change and newness as they still apparently do– even Fred Durst was more preceptive and liberal on the topic than them). This is what’s so annoying with modern consumerist culture and it’s influence on art, which should be free of mercenary concerns and purely about making other people feel. These album doesn’t make me feel anything except disgusted for my hero-worship of these guys when I was 14, and glad they’ll never get another one of my dollars. Everything I liked about them finally and consummately died around St Anger (2003), as I imagine it did for most fans. I’ll still love their earlier albums and acknowledge they were some of the best in metal EVER, still listenable to this day, but for every action there is an opposite reaction and that is what we are witnessing, like a supernova exploding, now.

The most metal things are: authenticity, non-conforming, and independence, something we’ve seen all the big 4 thrash bands disregard in the last decade (except Anthrax who were always the meaner more genuine little child). And still, young, forward thinking groups with an abundance of talent are being cut down and homogenised because they don’t want to follow the recipe, because they think and innovate and so have to be cut into perfect little squares by the music industry to survive without some god-like providence. All backward, everything Metallica stands for being destroyed with their every venal action.

Like, how can you market an album on the fact that its less shit than their other albums. Modern culture of the lowest common denominator.  Either listen to old Metallica the they were good, or listen to one of a plethora of modern bands who are better, more emotionally ferocious and more individual than these old codgers.

Trophy Scars Bad Luck

THE POST-HARDCORE BLUES 

Bad Dreams is the 4th LP of American post-hardcore group Trophy Scars. On this release the perennial experimenters, DIY to the bone and never compromising on artistic risks, take their music beyond the confines of any genre into a territory that musically resembles the auteur status of an indie-director, whose only genre is whatever his damn imagination conjures. This album sounds nothing like any post-hardcore album, ever. It does away with traditionalist stylistics even more than Alphabets.Alphabet so that anyone who finally managed to wrap their head around that release are probably going to either unilaterally ‘get’ this or be offended it doesn’t sound anything like it. It’s like C W Stoneking mixed with The Gaslight Anthem mixed with Funeral for a Friend and sung by a sailer on furlough. If it’s traditional at all, its in the wide tradition of blue-collar Americana jazz/blues with lyrical tales of ordinary life and ordinary people who somehow harbour behind their ordinariness the incomparable artistic skills of a renaissance great.

Bad Luck holds a very unique place, not just in the canon of popular music where it exists as an anomaly of disparate times and genres meeting, but in the cultish  devotion of fans who’ve opened themselves to its robust charms. This is probably the poster boy for albums that need repeated listens to be enjoyed but thankfully, those that don’t hear incredible melodies in the pastoral avant-garde will hopefully find enough in the genre-bending instrumentality to enjoy until the ear treads a track.

The first confrontation of the album: Initially we’re presented with Jerry Jones’ caustic, almost Tom Waites-like, singing which sounds as though he’s been soaking his vocal chords in cheap swill and marlboros since their last release. The effeteness that post-hardcore vocalists educe is not present at all here, with his gruff voice projecting more the image of jaded bluesman or down-at-heel troubadour. He alternatively croons, screams, howls and the band back him up with some masterful ‘whoa-oh’s and ‘oooh’s, a bird’s fountain rising out of overgrown grass. His mimeocraft of warring dynamics is sprawling, making for a vocalist with the presence of Leonard Cohen and the bombast of Arthur Brown.

Trophy Scars makes music that wouldn’t make sense played by anyone else. Like, anyone can listen to metal and make metal or pop and make pop, but only the really good can be better than the other 90% doing the same thing and get recognised. Then there’s the great, who do something only they could ever do and who make themselves unforgettable. This is the territory of the Trout Mask Replicas and Leaves Turn Inside Yous and Trophy Scars have indelibly etched themselves into this echelon. These songs are more than just melodic ideas and emotional themes, they are quilts of eclecticism braided from the meetings of mutually hostile terms that only Trophy Scars can reconcile. You can listen to this stuff 100 times and still not really understand how they’re doing it or how they even came to consider it.

Take for instance the opening track Bad Dreams: at 30 seconds in its a depressing theatre of loss; at one minute its a cathartic howl of grief; at 3 minutes a post-hardcore sing along; and at 4 mins you’ll cry when he says “Good morning/ you look so precious just dreaming of me”, then they’ll pick you up again and drop you into some hot Americana, throw in some violin and reverb on the voice. They never let you get bored or give you a break from the manic-depressive restlessness.

Expanding on the traditional armaments of hardcore, you’ll hear in the kaleidoscope of this album flourishes by instruments that shouldn’t be on a meat and bones rock album. It almost sounds like half a moody post-hardcore album was recorded over the unused master tracks of a jazz blues trio from some post-war period, and it just somehow worked, locked together far too neat to be disregarded. Its the incorporation of non-standard instrumentation like shakers, fiddles, upright bass, nylon strings and spanish scales that makes this album really stentorian. Its got nearly every element from American folk music involved, whether its a style of accenting a note, a structure, an emotional resonance an instrument or scale. It never feels overdone or self-aggrandizing though, but just there for the music. They also don’t fully eschew hardcore ideas though, there’s still the beautiful interlocking guitar melodies that only post-hardcore bands seem to be able to make.

hqdefault
Various motifs of time, mortality and luck populate the album cover

It’s this cinematic warmth that dilates the album and is evident on the duo of El Cowboy Red and Anna Lucia or the Geneva, Toronto, Nola three part tale. El Cowboy is a confessional tale of love gone boring and the hopeless fall into temptation, while Anna Lucia brings in the betrayed lover of the previous track for a bit of coquetry and revenge of her own. Its engrossing to hear this saga play, and the band aren’t pretentious about lyrics or the listener paying attention to this supererogation they’ve offered you, it just happens over some music that is so powerful it makes paying attention to one element akin to only looking at the colour orange in a Van Gogh’s work. Similarly with the other three tracks mentioned, which compose one long tragedy about a hitman searching for his ex-girlfriend (who is also a hitman) across the world and a special key she is in possession of.

Bad Luck has a penchant for high drama and melodramatic emotions. Their tunes are populated by desperate character doing banal things with a burning limbic system. Scenes occurs in nondescript dive bars, in beds during early morning or on the road. Like other american folk romantics it belleaguries its subject matter close to the point of cliche, except the characters and storytelling feel so alive and organic, and if the music didn’t score the emotions in such a perfect way it could be a little too deliberately left-of-centre and anti-populist. Most tracks mix anger with forgiveness, depression with rejoicing. Every song is like its own mini album with some new artistic abreaction or some new commentary on what can be done with any of the genres they briefly touch upon. It’s the sound of a great jazz band or delta blues group that never got to press and album and who all died in a car crash but were revived and listened to Saetia and Pg. 99 and other post-hardcore weirdos til this most unclassifiable album came out.

Imagine a cubist painting that from a distance turns into a perfect circle. Imagine this album not being released because of the literal bad luck that assailed this band on finishing this album (they spent all their money booking a tour that got cancelled) and it was pulled out of perdition by the donations of fans. Damn they spent their body well.

Yes Lawd! NxWorries

A long wait has preceded this album. For the aware that had caught NxWorries before hearing Anderson .Paak’s solo or guest work, this was the holy grail of delectable slow jams. After huge year of being inundated by .Paak hooks and tours and hearing the Suede & Link Up EP in 2015, it’s wild to hear this album and what you gotta believe is one of his more sustained efforts. Held down by incredible production from Bandcamp king, Knowledge (he’s released over 60 tapes on the platform since 2009), it’s one of the most transportive, cinematic hip hop albums this year. This is a holistic album that comes off best listened to in its entirety (preferably with a fat twist nearby). It’s relatively long and tessellated with many tracks and different vibes that never really settle for too long, but it seems more definitely rooted in hip hop and funk styles than other more pop .Paak releases.

The albums kicks of with some sampling then gets into the paired organ and choral vocals that pirouette through most of the tracks. ‘Livvin’, the kickstarter of Yes Lawd, lays out the after school special melody over layers and layers of .Paak vocal pyro that falls lusciously into itself like tiramisu. It’s a dynamic and very alive voice that croons, rhymes and runs through the soundscapes. It’s a testament to the closeness of the duo that they both know when to give the other the limelight to solo, and this provides for some elegant compositions that eschew more linear hip hop styles. This is an album that has the feeling of human hands on it- a Hip Hop/R&B album that plays like a live band, like a lottery of sessions musicians sweating away on the hottest days to bring you jewels. It’s got that collaborative chemistry and the soundscapes pull you back to their place in space and time. It’s comparable to D’angelo’s Black Messiah.

Lyrically, most of the tracks are autobiographical snapshots–slivers of break ups, and making love; making ends meet or flying out on tour; ballads and exploitative hymns to the booty and the merits of an obsequious woman–he switches gears and moods capriciously, frequently without prelude. The Knowledge production is much more consistently powerful, pushing things along even when the lyrics aren’t hitting.

The minimalism of the album cover hides a wealth of wonderful organic sounds, like chicken soup for the soul-deprived. There is more vocal and instrumental mountains climbed on this album than in most discographies. Paak’s ethereal vocals take away a lot of the pique contained in the sometimes dismissive lyrics. But this is an album by a hip hop duo, which people keep forgetting. Yes, .Paak has had a lot of commercial play this year and been on some softer songs, but this is something different- more homegrown, more uninhibited. Most people were probably expecting Malibu to sound more like this, grittier and less contrived- Yes Lawd just sounds natural and unaffected.

With a voice both sexy and stunting, incredibly emotional and affective yet cool and stylised, .Paak can really hit any target he decides to swing at. Like, you’ll here the meat and bones of the beat drop out just for .Paak to bring in a vocal melody in the gap. His lyrics, ambiguously located between R&B and Hip Hop are scene-setters, more props for the vocal displays that really express the intended emotion and bravura. There are already people saying the lyrics are misogynistic but I feel they don’t have any direct malice but are more intent on conjuring West Coast G-Funk in its most authentic vein, like on ‘Suede’ or ‘Best One’.

Knowledge’s beats have the depth and range of Dilla or any legendary producer, his name should appear seamlessly amongst Stones Throw’s elite beat makers like Madlib or Peanut Butter Wolf. The real talking point of this album, I can already tell, is going to be the Amazon-like depth and explorability of the beats. Spanning cut-up sampling like on “What More Can I Say”, to layers of dulcet vocals and church ambience, B3 organs, skanking guitars, crate-digging gone wild, some real esoteric samples that’ll have other music nerds going to Whosampled like crazy. Every filigree, every serif, every detail is perfectly rendered. The fluid dynamics of a man whose head spins with suggestion, who conducts symphonies joining disparate times and cultures. The clarity and integralness of an MD high, a sensual warmth that unravels around the listener and darkens the external world.

This wizardry is evident even on the seemingly interstitial track Can’t Stop which is really an instrumental, but really doesn’t sound like it because Knxwledge’s production is literate and speaks to itself in dialectics that constantly build to overspill the horizon with disco-ball shimmer. HIs technical mastery is pronounced, in his hands a relatively bland vocal readymade will turn into an alto sax and back to a human vocal chord, then back again and wiped in delicious reverb. He marionettes horns and guitars and vocals like the main character in Being John Malkovich. True fireworks left right and centre. And a Rick and Morty sample.

There’s a crazy broad emotional palette on this album, taking us into sun drenched retro vibes and wavvy West Coast smoke anthems (Lyk Dis, Get Bigger/ Do U Luv, Best One, Suede), to introspective slowness (Sidepiece, Kutless, Starlite), and general playfulness (HAN, Link Up). These are songs that are much more than lush. Truly carnal tunes equally sharable with a lover or with the boys. It’s an album for smoking, partying, falling in love and fighting, separating, celebrating the permanence of emotional scars and the transience of the moment. For taking the fun for granted as much as for self-condemnation the morning after. It’s mood music for the past-obsessed, emotionally stunted present, and fittingly the sentiment on the album is as much break-up as make-up.

nxworries-yes-lawd

The Nation Blue Review(s)

The Nation Blue released two albums today after a decade of illusory purgatorial existence. Get this straight it’s not a double-album or anything but two distinct albums recorded about 12 months apart in an historic building in Kyneton, Victoria. It’s a dense listen and a fair slog to work out which album you prefer and exactly how they differ. There’s definitely layers to Black and abstract compositions that take a few listens to open up and for one to sink their teeth into. Blue is more readily listenable without being any more commercial or slow or soft or pussified. It just hits more in the centre than the sprawling, chaotic Black and stay heading in one direction for longerOHMYGOD there’s so much spread across this churlish kaleidoscope you could never touch on every element so mia culpa in advance.

unnamed-15

Black is more experimental, not in the sense of unlistenable pedal-worshipping wankery, but in its refusal to stay in one speed or overarching mood. It’s beautifully recorded so that every shrill, distorted squawk makes it into the mix. It’s one of few albums that manages to capture the energy of a live performance. Awesomely thick and stalwart bass tone with a wonderful crunch of dissonance to the guitars. The vocals hint at Nick Cage circa Birthday Club era grunts, shrieks, calls and moans. It’s hugely instrumental as well, helping to shuttle the tracks along. Some great imagery in the lyrics that have a stark poetic quality to them and unravel in an authentic Australian idiom that repaints many typical Australian ideologies for what they have become.

Black opens with a vociferous acapella assault on the eardrums with the short track I Have No Representatives which has some of the most impassioned criticism of this country in music since Peter Garrett had the pipes rattling. It’s a vile condemnation of contemporary Australian values and governmental apathy and it builds brilliantly from blind rage to whatever is beyond that, some homicidal aggression.

Next track Australian of the Year kicks open the doors and sets a gruelling pace. It’s a stomping syncopated track with a wall of noise. A 90 second burst of blue collar Aussie aggression. Following that is Caroline, which is a demented post-punk song by people who’ve never participated in the genre’s tired gimmicks. Manic higher-pitched vocals doubled with a low-octave apathetic groan create a drunken farrago. It’s just so much more unhinged when you don’t know whether they’re gonna shift gears into glam-worshipping riffs or take off into a breakneck circle-pit grooves.

Then follows the one-two punch of Come in Stinger and Erectile Disfunction. There’s a lot happening on these tracks– lots of noise and other effects-loving, neck-jarring behaviour creating a grunge-industrial delirium. Come in Stinger has some wonderfully jarring feedback and a baseline that catapults things along at whiplash speeds while the guitars talk estuary english over the top. Crazy crying, almost moaned, vocals on the hook typical of the cathartic nature of the album. Erectile Disfunction starts off with a super ominous crunch, alternating between two chords and letting the ringout go for all its worth. Perfect amount of reverb on the vocals to leave them both crisp and legible with a massive sound like a pundit at a pulpit. The guitars are very expressive and abstract on these tracks with the bass and drums really pushing things along like the subterranean bass on intro to Come in Skinner. The low-end (and often the franticly inebriated singing as well) structures and propels the tracks while the guitars eke shrill sonics like Jackson Pollock painting the canvass.  Similarly on the intro of Rendition, the drum and base create a momentous mechanical groove; the guitar comes in, does a few curtsies, and leaves. Probably gonna have these one’s stuck in your head.

Black is an album that is bipolar even when it is most calm. There’s dystopian punk tunes like CCTV which sound like a mesomorphic Joy Division with added shred. This and Australia Day  are salient as meditations on National values. There’s some real lyrical street-magic on this album that I think right go under-appreciated because the vocals are at times so frenetic its easier to listen to them as an instrument. Take these golden bars on CCTV: “our Christmas-eve wrap party at a military drone school/flying one-handed drinking whisky running black ops hypotheticals/ and I can see your fiends on the other end and i pretend that god is my co-pilot/guiding my raid while I’m still stationary on C-CCTV”

Wild is a sing-along for a fucked generation and is probably my favourite track on Black. A belter that wastes no time and is completely emaciated of all pomp. This is followed up by the melodic Nations Capital that uses a good punky three-chord guitar riff to frame a pretty catchy vocal melody that, once again, has as much of a percussive element as it does a melodic effect.

Don’t think its too daring to say that this is an album with an agenda, saying a lot about this country even if its not all good, which makes them reformers, probably more patriotic than any Young-liberal in parliament. its got stark monochrome imagery of a hallucinogenic parliament house the almost looks like its been floated away on some aegean sea, while blue has the photo of the blue mountains?? but definitely something important to say more than, ‘Hey we’re back with more songs” It;s almost like the condition of Australia right now, the social disaffection, equidistant racism and over political-correctness, dehumanisation of anyone not a part of the general lowest-common denominator, has summoned the boiz back to make crazy pub-punk because after all where is the best place to talk politics. Nation Blue start this dialogue then recedee to the corner to play knife games and wonder when you’ll get it. youthful vigour to the songwriting + they just released two albums at once, yet a maturity to the voice and the way they handle their anger.

There’s heavy moments on this like on The White Death- probably the heaviest track on Black. It’s pure noisy tribalism almost getting to Butthole Surfers levels of pummelling too-much-happening tantrums. Then there’s softer moments like on Mansion Family and Be That Man which evidence songwriting chops easily on par with national darlings like The Drones. There’s moments for party Come on Stinger and moments for reflection (Nations Capital). A lot to keep the ear guessing and will really repay attentive listeners. For others it may come off as slightly confused, too bipolar and hard to get a strong purchase in. If this is the case, Blue is the album for you. It’s more linear and consistent in it’s emotional-spectrum.


 

 

the-nation-blue-black-blue

Blue is a less claustrophobic, more traditional listen. It’s still mad idiosyncratic and done in their highly personal style, but it’s just more approachable in its consistency. It’s very loud, the songs are quite quick, and there are more bop-along moments and melodies. It’s got its roots more in the traditional punk cannon but it is no way derivative or lazy or not entirely it’s own thing from the outset. It’s got whoah-ohs and oi’s over it making melodies the real DIY way, and some eminently listenable guitar riffs that should inspire a few bedroom karaoke sesh’s and TAB requests.

It opens with the blue cheer of Rotten, which is definitely a tune for late nights and bad decisions. Punk meets post-rock meets kitchen sink to the teeth with teeth. Green Around the Gills follows, a fast-paced stomper with some fucken awesome riffing that is both hairy and incredibly danceable. It’s characteristic of The Nation Blue on this album to create these really heavy riffs that blow your hair back but you can still dance to. Tired is another angry catchy song that you wanna yell along too, once you get accustomed to the angularity of what they’re giving you. Its got a really saucy, accented riff holding it down that occasionally jets off into more introspective territory. They create these dynamics on lots of the songs on Blue where one instrument will become hegemonous before the whole band comes back in again on the beat to pummel you an excoriating panorama of sound.

There’s a weird little interstitial track Short on Air which repeats the title words maniacally like the singer has caught the holy spirit. It does seem to borrow some of the post-apocalyptic stylistics from Black and is a bit anachronistic here. 

There is more unity and melody tempering the entropy on Blue. Black is like this monomaniac fugue that has a lot to say and sometimes get’s lost in itself. Less flat out and avant-garde songs like Blue Blood and Always Keep a Light On that sound like the Bronx with smarter melodies. You really get these fuckers caught in your head. Theres just some way-too-deadly guitar riffs on these, like the little lead lick that accompanies the chorus of Blue Blood. 

There’s also more sensitive moments like Blue Bloods which is almost a ballad (almost) with croons of  “I won’t let you go, I won’t let you go” on the chorus and an unashamedly slower tempo. Male vocal melodies are always a dubious thing and can come off as super gauche when not executed right but they’ve done a good job here to not sound cheesy at all but appear ingenuous and stoic.

They do the same things with songs that contortionists do with their bodies. On Blue there is this transcendentalist rejection of forbears. It’s hard to really place this album between other releases because there is just so much here and it really rewards having an open mind. They do things that shouldn’t be done, like have really emotional, abreactive moments in the middle of otherwise upbeat street-punk songs. Like on the superficially straight punk fun of Always Keep a Light On and I’m an Ape there are these beautiful melodic moments. God the bass on this album sounds like Pompeii going off too. I’m an Ape seems to be a forgotten song from the British Oi Punk days before it shifts into the chorus, dons a new costume, and become something only The Nation Blue could make. Truly peerless.

There’s moments on this album where, if you’re not paying attention to the anarchistic social commentary or serious emotional palette, there’s just some really good-time, brisk punk songs. But it would be rude to suggest that’s all this is. There’s definitely something more here. It’s got great dynamics, and is crystalline clear in the recording, not wanting to sacrifice any accent for the sake of being ‘heavy’ or anything preconceived. Like on Black Fax which starts heavy, with a heavy larrikin chorus, and then becomes soft and dulcet immortalising the banality of white collar office jobs. Like, it’s all backwards but only they could do it and make it this natural.

The incendiary, intoxicated sing-along of Baby Blue towards the end that just really makes sense being here. As does the stadium-ready classic of Paranoia which sounds like it could belong in Bad Religion’s oeuvre. Then there’s the grandiose, magnificent chunkiness of closers Soft Power and Black Light. Soft Power has this super stylistic jazzy texture and builds tension to a sleazy breakdown. Black Light is a sludgy closer that is just gargantuan in size with a melody that will trepanate you so you’ll be walking around singing it wondering where you heard it. It’s ponderous and brilliant and ambitious. For such a good song it almost disappears in the odyssey that is getting through this album. But it’s a wonderful way to close nonetheless and it like nothing that has accompanied it on either release. Just another arrow I the quiver, I spose.

Blue is definitely less lamenting and paranoid in tone. It’s the album you can put on when you’re kicking it with your mates and everyone will catch the groove of it. It’s more uniform in both structure and timbre and the songs are each more comparable to typical punk rock/post-punk tunes. But it’s noisy and shiny and upbeat like a mix of early Unsane x Japandroids x The Living End. Sometimes it sounds like it sounds like a stadium rock album, sometimes a dirty pub classic. It revels in both in everyday-ness and it’s singular intelligence. All with a distorted craziness genuinely lurking under the surface. Brilliant stuff. A treasure trove of creativity from muses fully unleashed.

 

YMHM- Darc Mind

Don’t get holes pumped in your mind with the Existential Nine

a2205597029_16Duo composed of X-Ray Da Mindbenda on the instrumentals and Kev Roc spitting some labyrinthine bars. Marked by the expressionistic jazzy production and Kev Roc’s deep voice and wordplay. X-ray has also worked with EMPD, DOOM, Monsta Island Czars, and MC Sham. Kev Roc was in Legion of D.U.M.E. The album is probably most readily comparable  to Jehru the Damaja’s The Sun Rises in the East or Kool G Rap 4,5,6.

It’s an album steeped in that dark soundscape that equally could be a 40’s noir murder in big band chicago as mid-90’s NY Boom bap. It’s really kind of ageless except for the macabre type of textures that don’t really feature in most Hip Hop nowadays, but were noticeable on like Gravediggaz’ 6 Feet Deep and Nonphixion’s early stuff. Kev’s rhymes emit like fronds from an alien tundra and perfectly complement the street-lit vibes.

Opener ‘Visions of a Blur’ is a classic underground gem. First heard on the ‘Soul in the Hole’ soundtrack, the only track off Visions of a Blur to get an official release before the album was buried when Loud, the label DM was on, folded in 2002 taking the record into the deep dark with it. It never saw the dusty light of day until 2006 when Anticon put it out, whereupon DM released Bipolar the same year- an eclectic collection of earlier material, demos and b-sides.

That being said, apart from some of the basslines and drum sequences which have the early-90’s starkness the group, there is no way to tell where the group comes from; could be NY, could be West Coast, could be via Saturn with Sun Ra.’Seize the Phenom’ has a caterwauling jazz horn on the verse that’s pure steamy Gotham City alleyways at night and then these almost outside-sounding keys on the chorus break. The utilitarian beat in the background like a cat strutting about, confident it owns the scene because it’s there at every crime without being fingered. ‘Knight of the Roundtable’ speeds things up a bit to bebop velocities and shows their diversity, while ‘Covert op’ has these dangerous chords ringing out dissonantly over sparse Dnb beat and reverb-drenched horns.

‘I’m Ill’ features one of the most idiosyncratic samples of the ubiquitous Nas soundbite, but over some really colourful brass and a hummable piano lick. There’s a great bit of crackle in the background of the beatscape as Kev shreds all over the top of it with his wildstyle eloquence.

In fact, what really marks this album out as singular is Kev Roc’s flow. A clear monotonous baritone that pulses like a metronome and is as dense as sulfur hexafluoride, it almost sounds like an alien language if your brain can’t process phonetics joined in such a skein. While it might take a few listens to even discern individual words from each other, off the bat the flow deserves veneration as one of the most original and percussive since Kool Keith. Even Rapgenius has nothing on Kev Roc’s verbosity (the only lyrics currently available are for ‘Visions of a Blur’). This is a real testament to the man’s wordplay and prose, as his delivery is lucid and metrical, but apparently too deep and coiled in intricate internal rhymes to reveal themselves in few listens. If you had to place the flow anywhere it would be akin to Charli 2na x Doom x Kool G Rap.

You’ve really got to be floored by some of Kev Roc’s lyrical collages like on ‘Outside Looking In’ where he spits something like: ‘On the eve of my release/ Pleasing my season and appease your peace/ Kev Roc steezing fine like fleece/Magnifique, Belisse *mwah*/ Mic checker/ this party be bomb I’m making the piece to be/ fogging up the bakery glass from all the pastry’ and ‘Rebuff and suffer me you hoes say/ running back as aperture collapse I beat a rap like OJ’ or ‘Impressive punk aggressor fuselage pressure deficit/ ill verse of my precursor punk I push him off a precipice/ Kev Roc a brother betwixt a hard place and L/ lacing L space i dwell with great taste and grace in jail’.

A seminal underground Hip Hop album that should be in the forebrain of more groups to show how a holistic sound can really be achieved. Also if anyone’s ear is slick enough to grasp the lyrics, send ’em atchaboi. Peace.

Check the Darc Mind discography here https://www.discogs.com/artist/239429-Darc-Mind and pick up their albums on their Bandcamp here.