Posted by Todd Hamm
Battles' sophomore Warp Records release, Gloss Drop leans less on the tweaked experimental angle than did it's predecessor Mirrored, but as always, the band's ability to graft largely unapproachable sounds into a coherent groove remains simply transcendent.
The first few minutes of the record set things up with an outstanding melody drop, where robot noises give way to a helicopter guitar effect (which could just as easily be steel drums being played through an office fan) before the rhythm section sweeps in. The drums, or rather the spacious recording on the drum tracks (it still sounds like they're recording in that glass case) on the album are a welcome human element to the production, which adds a comfortable familiarity to the mix of largely unidentifiable instrumentation on the tracks. This kind of juxtaposition plays into the overall complexity of the album, and is a good indication that the deviated course this album has taken from the other half of their discography was a purposeful departure, rather than one of necessity. Though the band is notably without their first album's vocalist Tyondai Braxton on Gloss Drop, the focus here lies more on the instrumentation and bounce than anything else, and one realizes--though Braxton's contribution filled the role nearly perfectly--that it always did.
After the silly, pop-friendly "Ice Cream", for which the band brought in guest vocalist Matias Aguayo, the album hits its stride with "Futura", a monstrous near-Ratatat guitar beat (check the video below) that is possibly the most radio-accessible track of the bunch, and there is not a low moment until the album's lukewarm finale "Sundome" (featuring journeyman vocalist Yamantaka Eye), which unfortunately brings the LP to a comparatively uninspired close. The meat of the album though, is packed with amazing tracks like "Inchworm", which evokes a baby elephant lope through soca country; the Caribbean dance-infused "Dominican Fade"; and the hard-hitting buildup "White Electric", that serves as reminder that Battles is still a highly capable rock band.
The "jam" is certainly strong on Gloss Drop, which could be expected by any conglomerate of seasoned New York area musicians, but the jam never takes over; the band never gets lost in itself. Here, Battles has created a focused, admirable follow up to the groundbreaking, nearly-impossible-to-follow-up Mirrored, that may not be exactly what a certain sector of Battles fans expected, but for what it's worth, they've done it in style.
Posted by Todd Hamm
Expansive, yet often airy and lithe, Oceansize's complex sense of melody has drawn comparison to everyone from Radiohead to Tool. It's been their ability to evolve and create within new parameters, to bound through seldom used sectors of their "genre" while maintaining a strangely cohesive aesthetic, that has set them apart from most progressive acts of the day. With their most recent Home & Minor EP, the Manchester quintet has taken the opportunity to explore their gentler sensibilities for half an hour; something like the "Music For A Nurse" or "The Frame" arrangements, but more focused and refined. They haven't tried to pack the entire range of their catalogue into a single song (although that approach often makes for their best material) this time around, and it has worked surprisingly well.
"Legal Teens" begins blurry-eyed and curious, the reversed effects splashing between left and right channels the way water refracts light. As captured in the video, lead singer Mike Vennart drifts in falsetto with the guitar sway, Steve Hodson's bass slowly instills gravity, as Gambler's keys flutter between rhythm guitarist Steve Durose's soft, deliberate riffs and Mark Heron's warmly batted tom drums. As the track fades on the EP, "Getting Where Water Cannot" clicks on crisp in the middle of a subdued action sequence, where the tricky drum click soon picks up bits of guitar, bass, keys and trumpet as it tumbles through scenery that is as much David Gray as it is Radiohead. The melodic feedback of "Monodrones" serves preface to the title track's wobbling reverb and gregorian vocality, and while it may be the weakest--and longest--song of the collection, the lack of repetition and anticlimactic fray at the end of the song make it bearable background music. "Didnealand" has the spacious qualities of an old house, complete with creaky furniture, hardwood echoes, the family's grand piano. Not a word is spoken, nor does it need to be. "The Strand" closes out the disk in haunting fashion, with Vennart's dark lyrics whispered over the whine of industrial fans, or perhaps the quiet hum of machinery. The track nearly foreshadows a return to the deep brooding tension of "Voorhees", especially given the eery cat-wondering-in-a-warehouse sounds to wrap things up--and yet, it is the end.
Home & Minor is an exercise in patience, a six track build-up, that, while hinting at some kind of climactic resolution, is able to stand on it's own as a delightfully moody assortment of sounds. It plays perfectly into the bigger picture; it's simply the next chapter in the discography they seem to have already planned out, with vastly different spikes in plot and character development, but that follow the same extremely well thought out arc. It's hard to tell how those used to the edgy prog-metal, spastic time signatures and tangential song structures typical of previous Oceansize material will react, but by the sound of it, the band doesn't care much, or are at least confident. They are however, due for an explosion.
Here's the afore-mentioned video for the opening track "Legal Teens" from the Home & Minor EP:
Posted by Todd Hamm
The infamous young rap pusher/gutter life documentarian Avatar Young Blaze released Baptized In Vodka today, the follow up to his sinister debut LP Warm Blooded Cold Heart; a disk he says got love everywhere from his current home city of Seattle to his native Russia, and even featured a verse from star of rap stars Lil' Wayne.
Though heavily steeped in expectation, BIV actually turns out more streamline than the gaudy follow-ups so typical of the genre. With more focused production and cohesive songwriting, the tracks are musically and thematically relative, as Avatar's ice cold tenor crackles through the bulky instrumentals and carries the tracks with ease. There are features on the album, but none close to as noteworthy as Weezy, and of little consequence regardless. It's when Av is given space to breath on his own, as on the latin guitar laced "I Am King", the future-gloss opener "Put Me Under", or the mafioso tinged "Shootouts", that he sounds most in his element, and when the mood is pulled back a bit, as on the finale "Goin' Insane", his delivery works most to his advantage as the smoothed out instrumental plays sharp contrast to his gruff style, more so than ultra-hyped tracks like "Turbo Mode" and "I'm A Gangsta", although they do have definite club appeal.
Aside from the tiring shout-overs from the project's mixmaster DJ Folk, BIV is a solid hardcore record through and through, and a full step forward for the MC. To accent our take, we caught up with Sir Blaze to gain a little insight into the creative process, and find out why he wants you to know that death only scares you. Listen in...
NWmainstage: How would you describe the overall sound of Baptized In Vodka?
International. Unorthodox. Gutter. Emotional. Classy. Fly. Social. Honest.
NWM: Where did the concept for the album come from? Are there any religious undertones (since baptism is mentioned in the title)?
It evolved naturally from my previous projects, with the whole Russian theme. The baptism is the cleansing, the immersing. Vodka represents fire, passion, my Russian/ Ukrainian heritage. Baptized in Vodka is basically a metaphor for a couple different things. First, being people are baptized in holy water, not vodka. With me, and everything I been through, I feel like I've been baptized in vodka. I'm more extreme then the rest. As far as religious undertones, I believe in God. Im Russian Orthodox. This is the oldest version of Christianity, where the most important thing is humility.
NWM: Who did you work with on the album? How do you feel they affected the music?
As far as production, The Alchemist, Araab Muzik, Ty Fyffe, The Olympicks... My up & coming producer homie from New York V-Don got a couple joints on there aswell, look out for him he's a problem. Shout out to Apoulo as well, he's from Seattle he definitely got it in. As far as features, Ackrite Da Butcha from Compton, Matt Blaque from the Bay, Carey Stacks, SkiMask Spec, Eighty4Fly all from Seattle.
NWM: How would you respond to people saying your rhymes are too violent?
Everyone perceives life differently, this is an aspect of life I've been exposed to, seeing as to when I rap, I rap about my life, not somebody else's.
I guess I've seen too much death up close. Death scars you.
NWM: Do you have any plans for a tour or any upcoming projects?
I got a mixtape Im doing with Ackrite Da Butcha "From Geattle to Bompton". Im also working' with Dj Nik-One from Moscow and some artists from Russia. Also look out for BIV II which I already started working on. As far as tours, I definitely got some things under wraps, especially overseas.
NWM: What do you want your fans to know about you?
I want my fans to know that I'm for real. I also want them to know that I love them and am extremely grateful for their attention. I get amazing feedback from all over the world: Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Columbia, Australia, Seattle, NYC, LA, ext. I don't take it all for granted. I want to continue to put myself and my emotions out for my fans. Theres alot of shenanigans going on in the game right now where rappers are just not credible on what they speak on. This is really my life, Im not trying to glorify negativity, Im a positive person. Im just speaking on what I been through, and where Im going.<NWM>
Baptized In Vodka is available for zero $s for a LIMITED TIME HERE, so get it before it hits iTunes.
Here's the new two part video from Avatar for the tracks "Cry" and "Everybody Get Low"--both off of Baptized In Vodka:
Posted by Justin Hoyt
There's very little question that the gulliest rap music coming out today is coming from Detroit. A city whose identity has long been fore-fronted as the capital of the financial downturn and whose crime and poverty seem to overshadow what has long been known to many as one of the countries greatest musical hotbeds.
Out of the rubble we are brought Guilty Simpson. The veteran MC is a master of more one-liners and shit talk than you're likely to hear in front of any corner store or backyard cookout this Summer. Simpson, who reminds me at times of the legend Kool G Rap (a major influence of Simpson's), is chock full of sport references and nostalgic tales of life in his city. His debut Ode to the Ghetto, was a solid effort chronicling his life in the slums of Detroit.
What he and collaborator Madlib (our review of Medicine Show No. 3... Beat Konducta in Africa can be found here)concoct on OJ Simpson however transcends the foundation he built for himself on Ode to the Ghetto. The sophomore album is a truly cohesive album centered around Madlib's always percussion focused sound and Simpson's formative, grimey flow. Championed by the late, legendary J Dilla, Simpson's greatest attribute takes a few times through the album to hear. At first listen Simpson's cadence seems unpolished, and you feel like any bar could slip off the rails and falter over Madlib's notoriously choppy patterns. Instead he follows the choppiness, mirroring in a sense the same appeal we have toward Madlib's beats. To a novice ear both seem unrefined but after further listens you realize every snare, high-hat, and word is right where it was intended. Simpson might never outshine many of his contemporary counterparts bar-for-bar, but he can do what many of them can't, make a complete song and a faultless album.
Hailing from LA, Madlib continues on OJ Simpson to prove why he is possibly the best producer in any genre. The drums sway through the headphones (the best way to listen to this, and any of Madlib's music) creating a psychedelic experience along with the random snippets of stand-up comedy, skits, and shouts all intertwined over Madlib's gritty version of funk. The interludes of this album are absolutely crucial to its totality and evoke an array of emotions from laughter, sadness, introspection, and the rarely found fear (not just anybody can give you the creeps through the speakers). It's a incredibly cerebral album, one worth getting blunted and listening to from front to back in the headphones in a secluded spot. But, it also contains the type of bangers, like "Scratch Warning", that beg to be turned up full blast in the car with the windows down and released into the streets.
The album is due out everywhere May 18, but is currently available over at Stones Throw.
"Cali Hills"-An ode to J Dilla:
Posted by Geoff Ross
Yeah...Madlib has another album out...and the more I listen to it the more I realize just how great it is.
Filled with interesting percussive rhythms, that very often take all your attention away from the more meaty parts of the track, Beat Konducta in Africa highlights the complex bounce that said continent is known for, while integrating his signature blunted Hip Hop thump. Being his third installment in the Medicine Show series, a monthly release project through 2010, and the 4th (7th & 8th?) installment in his Beat Konducta catalogue started in 2006, Madlib could be thought of as a quantity not quality artist in the age of the yearly EP.
I can with no doubt tell you here today that he is the embodiment of the fact that quality and quantity can coalesce, creating a brand new type of recording, both smash-mouth and delicate.
With similarities to his past releases (especially BK in India), while listening to this record you might find yourself thinking it could be any one of his BK releases...
The percussion has a swing on it that reminds me of a constant echo in the distance, heard while you are watching Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas hunt man-eating lions.
The samples feel familiar as that pair of jeans that already have my belt, wallet and lighter in them. But for some reason there is a bottle cap in my back pocket from a beer I have never had.
The voice's littered throughout the record haunt and educate, giving me the feeling that I am listening to NPR on Goree Island, Senegal.
With BKIA, Madlib has made as strong an instrumental album as he has ever put out. He seamlessly blends the old world organics of Afro-Rock, Soul and Funk, with his own style of handcrafted Cali-basement beats. This is not African Hip Hop, this is Beat Konducta in Africa.
Posted by Todd Hamm
Without ever releasing an album, Seattle's Spaceman has built enough momentum to work with some of the northwest's biggest names, and help shape one of the most promising young record labels in town. If you are yet unfamiliar with "Sportn' Life's sex symbol", allow him to take a moment and introduce himself:
The Greetings Earthlings mixtape is the first ever offering from Space, and fans will be happy to know that it's packed with all the exuberant punch line raps they've grown to love from his energetic live performances. His style on the 'tape jumps from his roaring Ludacris delivery that fuels pump-up tracks like "Fly Dena Muf*ka" and the Jake One produced "This is That Fire," to his sensitive side on "Lust 4 Life" and a reprise of Drake's "Fear Me." All in all there is good variety on GE and quality songwriting that I can't wait to be focused into a formal LP, so my formal recommendation is that you get on board early in the game and check out this mixtape...did I mention it's free?
Posted by Todd Hamm
Seattle's Grynch begins many of his sets by announcing his standing as "a nice guy" to the crowd; a comforting sentiment for many of today's more pensive show-goers, and as a personal friend of the artist, one I happen subscribe to. In fact, in the 10+ years that I've had the privilege of knowing the gentleman, his 'nice guy' demeanor has rarely wavered, even during such trying instances as being stuffed into the overhead compartment of a Grayhound bus on a middle school jazz band trip (which I have since apologized for), or taking jabs from the local press about the primarily rap-centric nature of his rhymes (which I have seemed to avoid to this point). Hence, The Rapping About Rapping Mixtape, a light-hearted response to such criticisms by title, and a serious collection of his recent rap adventures by nature.
Writing about Rapping About Rapping
Grynch spreads a mix of intentionally ironic rap-raps and unreleased rarities across fourteen of the RAR 'tape's twenty tracks, the remainder being jocular interludes and audio drops from the likes of Prometheus Brown (Geologic of Blue Scholars), JakeOne, Macklemore, Kyle Lucas and west coast legend Warren G. The MC plays to his strengths on tracks like "The Life I Chose", a chorus-less intro (produced by Sabzi of Blue Scholars) where he lets the listener into the world he exists in: "I'm just scratchin' the surface/just givin' you a peek behind the tracks that you purchased." An extended version of "You're On" from P Smoov's Face Scrunchers EP is another definite highlight, and the "Showtime" remix with Illa J is Grynch at his storytelling best (the J Dilla beat doesn't hurt the track's cause either). The bottom line is: while there may be a few filler songs or verses to be found on the mixtape, it serves well to close this obligatory chapter in his career in light-hearted fashion, and provides more than a couple of gems along the way.
Posted by Todd Hamm
It's fair to assume that whenever you pick up a new Gorillaz album, you're going to get something futuristic, something left of center that's pushing the boundaries of mainstream accessibility, and Plastic Beach is no exception.
Released yesterday, the third album from America's UK's the world's favorite digital band finds Damon Albarn and gang in a stranger, more electronic realm than both their self-titled debut and it's follow up Demon Days, which is probably the result of a mainly self-produced project. Having previously been guided by the production of Dan the Automator and Danger Mouse, the Gorillaz sound had been defined by it's prolific backing instrumentals, and showcased the producers' masterful craftsmanship more than anything else.
This time around, the liner notes credit only "The Gorrillaz" on production, leading one to believe that it's some kind of conglomerate of guest artists working along side Albarn, the man who's been the binding factor for the 'group'; the potion in the water. As a singer, his talent shines bright on most of the tracks, although the cool twenty cameos (several artists appear more than once) trumps the guest list on either of the other Gorillaz albums.
After a string intro, the disk kicks off with "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach", where Snoop Dogg does his thing over some smooth funk from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. The reggaeton "White Flag" follows then "Rhinestone Eyes" touches on the album's 'theme' of pollution (that is supposedly a result of Albarn's trip to an African landfill), and is also one of the best tracks on the album. The single "Stylo", which features Mos Def and Bobby Womack is like a more awesome Nightrider theme song, then De La Soul fills their usual goofball slot on the album with "Superfast Jellyfish". Sweden's electro quartet Little Dragon come along for the rad future-dance "Empire Ants", then The Fall's Mark E. Smith is nearly drowned in a deluge of synthesizers and bass on "Glitter Freeze". "Some Kind of Nature" featuring Lou Reed sounds like something Ween would have cooked up for Chocolate and Cheese, and both "On Melancholy Hill" and "Broken" are a little boring. Mos Def returns for "Sweepstakes" with Hypnotic Brass Ensembe, although HBE's role sounds a little more forced this time around. The title track sounds like you could do a mean robot to, then Little Dragon surfaces again for the lounge cut "To Binge". Bobby Womack again sings beautifully on "Cloud of Unknowing", then the album is closed out in neck-snapping fashion with "Pirate Jet", as the rag-tag band of animated troublemakers drifts off to make their next album.
As a whole, the disk is a little strange and not quite as focused as the first two Gorillaz efforts, but Albarn makes it work. He's a uniter, and incredibly versatile, and has yet again challenged the casual listener to tune their ears to a slightly different pitch.
Warning: this video contains kick ass shots of Bruce Willis dangling out the window of an El Camino with an oversized handgun. (Click the link, 'cause they won't let you embed the video for some reason)
Posted by Todd Hamm
The artwork's amateur, the production is lacking. The man behind the microphone, however, can rap. Gazmo, a name that brings to mind either Hunter S. Thompson's style of journalism or Trey Parker's 1997 box office flop, belongs to a recently transplanted Tacoma MC who's delivery sounds effortless, his skill natural.
Although he's recently moved down the coast to L.A., he's just released a mixtape called The Gazmo Show that, judging by his constant Seattle/Tacoma references, is very much a product of his time in the northwest. The mixtape, which can be previewed and downloaded for free HERE, features his raw lyricism over a disjointed mix of original beats and borrowed instrumentals from well known artists--in short, it's a pretty standard mixtape.
The music on TGS is a series of high and low moments as many of the tracks are backed by production simply too weak to support his talent, and in turn the verses on them are equally as forgettable. But when the beat is on the level of Biggie's "Gimme the Loot" (track five on TGS), or Lil Wayne's universal show-your-shit track "A Milli" (track thirteen) for example, Gazmo spits absolute fire.
In the do-it-yourself era of downloadable mixtapes and EPs, The Gazmo Show definitely serves it's purpose as bait for hungry producers to jump on. The kid's got potential, that's for damn sure, so listen, contact, collaborate, or just enjoy.
Gazmo - A Trillie
Posted by Todd Hamm
BeanOne is continually mentioned in the same breath as Seattle production giants JakeOne and Vitamin D by members of the press elite, and deservedly so. While his name might not ring as many bells as his Rhymesayers affiliated/Big Tune-founding counterparts (respectfully) for most of the scene's casual assemblage, the man they call Bean has been quietly cranking out classics for the better part of a decade (well, longer than that, but most notably the last ±five years, e.g. Framework's Hello World, Boom Bap Project's Reprogram and DymeDef's Panic EP).
Bean's most recent project is Short Circuit, a 32-track instrumental mix that ranges from feel good party hop to dub step fusion and quirky headphone grooves. While many of the tracks are built around samples you'll probably recognize--from the Eurythmics to Hendrix, Interpol to Chairmen of the Board--that recognition is soon followed by a 'well that's an interesting twist' feeling that comes from Bean's ever unique take on the sounds that surround him. With seamless transitions, and a decidedly uptempo pace, it's entirely possible to listen front to back roughly four times before you realize you've gone around the horn even once (as I just did). So do yourself a favor and DOWNLOAD THIS RIGHT HERE (for free!), then enjoy the next hour and six minutes of you life.
BeanOne - NeverBe4