Hip-Hop: Back From the Dead

It’s an exciting time to be enamored with music, especially hip-hop. The earl sweatshirtbest thing about being a music lover in 2015 (as opposed to being a fan back in the ’80’s) is that you have the ability to decide what you want to listen to now more than ever. The advertising departments of labels don’t play nearly as much of a role in terms of what we listen to as they used to. All it takes is someone relatively unknown writing about an album; people find it and do the advertising themselves without realizing it. We document every single thing that we do nowadays, including throwing a screenshot of the new favorite album on Twitter or Instagram. One Google search later the next person’s headphones are filled with your newest obsession, and thirty minutes later they are texting their like-minded friends about said artist.

travis scottThis push towards finding more obscure hip-hop artists has helped to catapult the amount of interesting rappers in the mainstream community. Rappers like Earl Sweatshirt, A$AP Rocky, and Travi$ Scott have been able to establish a very strong fanbase not in spite of, but because of their strangeness. Producers are given much more leeway to create what they want; no longer are beats created in a boom-bap fashion to appease listeners. Beat-makers like Erick Arc Elliot (Flatbush Zombies) and Blue Sky Black Death give tracks more atmosphere than they have ever had, which in turn makes the lyrical content less important. The art in hip-hop was always relative to the lyrical genius of artist, but now we have rappers with questionable rapping talent sitting at the top of the charts. It doesn’t necessarily point to a flaw in what we are enjoying as fans, though. The harsh truth is that there has always been some terrible artists sitting on top (remember Styles P? Ja Rule, anyone?), but now that the beats are more important in the construction of a track, it makes these rappers inherently more interesting.

This has in turn made hip-hop more interesting the past several years. We have watched the likes of Mac Miller teaming up with Rick Ross for a song without batting an eyelash. It has also allowed for hip-hop artists with something legitimate to say like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples to vince-staplesascend the ranks as well. A$AP Rocky’s At Long Last A$AP melds soul and rock samples in a smooth package that has been one of the highlights of this year, and Vince Staples’ double-disc release Summertime ’06 combines lurid storytelling with hypnotic beats. The glut of amazing albums this year proves that hip-hop is alive and well, or at the very least risen from the grave. The undead genre is lurching about and giving us the most creative listening this side of early Wu. I have included a list of songs from 2015 that you simply can’t miss this summer. Turn the bass up in your car and jam to these amazing tracks; thank me later.

1. Vince Staples – Senorita – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OAYMMod9Wo

2. A$AP Rocky (featuring Bones) – “Canal St. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kf_fcj–Zxw

3. Drake – “Energy” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-AjsctjklI

4. Wale – “The Middle Finger” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86gxgtVWlAk

5. Meek Mill (featuring Drake) – “R.I.C.O.” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgRrxFsX538

6. Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker the Berry” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AhXSoKa8xw

7. Lupe Fiasco – “Mural” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwS6Qn7hCcA

8. Earl Sweatshirt – “Grief” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZ5Mu2gs-M8

9. Joey Bada$$ – “Paper Trail$” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stoLqWXsIOY

10. Flatbush ZOMBies – “Did U Ever Think?” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIoMfcyYXJw

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Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

rtj

I’ll be honest-I almost wanted this release to disappoint me. Many friends had a countdown going for the release date, and I soon became tired of hearing about the album before I even heard the first song released. The amount of hype was staggering, albeit for good reason. Run the Jewels was undoubtedly the surprise of 2013, with El-P producing synth-drenched soundscapes that dwarfed any other hip-hop release last year and both rappers giving top-notch lyrical performances. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of listening to the two was the undeniable fact that they were having a blast creating music together. And the good news with Run the Jewels 2 is that the chemistry between Killer Mike and El-P has only gotten better this time around. Truly what it comes down to is that these two bring the best out of each other whether they’re introspectively rapping over a subtle beat on “Jeopardy”, or simply slinging their patented creative braggadocio on tracks like “Blockbuster Part 1” or “All My Life”.

It’s hard to determine if Run the Jewels labored intensively to make as perfect a record as they could, or if they just went in a studio and had the time of their lives. It skirts a fine line between meticulous construction and haphazardly (yet confidently) throwing together everything that they ever wanted to test out. The Zach de la Rocha-featured track “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” should have stood out like a sore thumb on this release, given the fact that his style couldn’t be further from Killer Mike’s syrupy Southern delivery and El-P’s quick-draw precision. It ends up not only being a strong standout, but it left me wistfully hoping that the dynamic duo would soon be allowing a third into Run the Jewels due to the natural collaborative effort. Having de la Rocha’s proclamation of “Run them jewels fast” looped over the beat was a stroke of genius and propels the explosive track into the stratosphere, with Zach providing a stellar verse at the end of the song. Travis Barker (of Blink-182 fame) lends his drum talents to the high-octane “All Due Respect”, where Killer Mike goes from throwing nuns in a double penetration situation to making a Pulp Fiction reference. It is deliciously irreverent, but at this point it’s exactly what listeners expect lyrically. On top of the ever-improving lyricism, it also seems that El-P is only getting better in terms of producing infectious yet still low-key beats. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is a stiff contender for song of the year. The spacey and minimalist beat unobtrusively drapes over the rappers as they trade off effortlessly, producing an endless amount of quotable lines.

Run the Jewels 2 shocked the shit out of me; not because it was good, as I certainly expected that. I just didn’t expect it to be this good. “Crowns” sees Killer Mike looking inwardly at his guilt for selling cocaine to a pregnant mother years ago, only to find that the child was having developmental issues later on. The heartwarming bars of, “I release you from all your sins and your shame/Cause I’ve been redeemed/I found in Christ/Whatever it take I hope you find it, Mike” introduce a vulnerability not heard in the Run the Jewels music thus far. These small deviations (or maturations, if you prefer) from the normal formula embraced are what make this album so good. The ability to take musical risks while still not seeming to end up too far away from where Run the Jewels resides is certainly impressive. “Angel Duster” is a seductive, slow closer, proving that Run the Jewels will continue to surprise its fans; Killer Mike and El-P have waited a long time for their time in the limelight, and they obviously have a death grip on it now. We might as well enjoy the ride.

Rating: 4.8/5

Tracklist:

1. Jeopardy
2. Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
3. Blockbuster Night – Part I
4. Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) [featuring Zack de la Rocha]
5. All My Life
6. Lie, Cheat, Steal
7. Early (featuring Boots)
8. All Due Respect (featuring Travis Barker)
9. Love Again (Akinyele Back)
10. Crown (featuring Diane Coffee)
11. Angel Duster
12. Blockbuster Night – Part II (featuring Despot and Wiki) [Bonus Track]

Tiny Moving Parts – Pleasant Living

TMP

 

Pleasant Living is certainly an interesting listen. With emo and post hardcore being the two main influences, it wouldn’t be difficult to expect subdued melodies and somewhat depressing lyrics. With so many  bands embracing the same “sad” Midwestern emo sound, there aren’t many ways to escape from the monotony. Admittedly, many bands embody the sound very well; it’s absolutely the reason why the emo revivalist movement has exploded in popularity, especially the past few years. Tiny Moving Parts have allowed themselves to stand out from their peers with just a few tweaks to the proven formula. Armed with a more energetic, pop punk approach and lyrics encroaching on endearingly hopeful territory, Pleasant Living is a breath of fresh air. From the Modest-Mouse aping guitars (this is a compliment, of course) in the beginning of “Movies” to the concluding yell of “There is so much more/Out there waiting” in the mostly subdued “Skinny Veins”, the album is proof that bands can still stand out from a glut of bands within the scene.

The continuity of the album is incredibly impressive, as it sounds natural without the tracks sounding too similar to distinguish from one another. The catchy qualities of the album are also at the forefront of Pleasant Living, providing plenty of vocal hooks (“Sundress”) and memorable angular guitar lines (“Always Focused”). The absolutely anthemic “Boxcar” is a foot-stomping and invigorating song from start to finish, transitioning from a low-key sound complete with hushed vocals to an energetic frenzy with ease several times in the two and a half minute runtime. It’s more than just a strength of the band, as they make those transitions quite a bit throughout the entirety of the album; it’s actually the biggest determining factor that allows them to stand out. “Entrances and Exits” display some of the best lyrics on the album, and also some of the most incisive lyrics about the topic of friendships in general. Tiny Moving Parts are able to make themselves seem human through their lyrics and music, which is the biggest compliment that a band can receive.

With all of the praise heaped onto this album, there is still some room for improvement. The lyrics range from incredibly insightful to full-on cheesiness at times, and while it fits with their aesthetic it does detract from an otherwise excellent release. Closer “Van Beers” add piano and horns to their sound, and they have never sounded more natural or energized because of it. It points to an even better progression for the next album, but Pleasant Living is a more than welcome placeholder while Tiny Moving Parts perfect their sound.

Rating: 4.2/5

Tracklist:

01. Sundress
02. Always Focused
03. Fourth of July
04. I Hope Things Go The Way I Hope
05. Whiskey Waters
06. Movies
07. The Better Days
08. Boxcar
09. Spring Fever
10. Entrances & Exits
11. Skinny Veins
12. Van Beers

The Best Artists You’ve Never Heard Of

The strength of unknown music continues to grow exponentially; more and more bands have access to better recording equipment, and with little to no outside influence bands are getting very experimental in all genres. With that being said, there is a downside to this as well. As the pool of bands gets bigger, it becomes harder to stand out. Here are five artists that have managed to stand out from the rest, whether it be through progressing through strange sonic territory or just plain improving on formulas already existent.

1. Fearless Leader

Fearless Leader Album Art

 

I feel like I’ve been shouting about these guys from the rooftops for quite some time, because they are just so damn fun. Jazzy, spastic drums, impassioned screaming, and angular guitars are the key ingredients for this Seattle band, but it isn’t quite what makes this band so unique. They toe the line between a fun listen and serious one as they aren’t afraid to eschew technicality for atmosphere when the song’s progression calls for it. Fearless Leader will be going places once a full-length comes to be, make no mistake about that.

Genre: Math Rock

 

Bandcamp: http://fearlessleader.bandcamp.com/

 

2. MC Abyss

mc abyss

 

David Armacost, going by the moniker of MC Abyss, has released some seriously spacey hip-hop. By juxtaposing smooth beats with crushing synths and other effects, Abyss has effectively given us some strong hip-hop to jam in the final frontier. His EP  Off World is meant to go along with a serial graphic novel that Armacost is working on, but the release itself tells an original story and leaves one to wonder what sonic boundaries he will be able to break on a full-length.

Genre: Hip-Hop

 

Soundcloud: 

 

3. Oxford Drama

oxford drama album

 

Oxford Drama show how beautiful and ethereal pop music can be, and are a perfect example of why I haven’t given up on the genre as a whole. Low-key electronics mesh organically with sultry female vocals to create songs that seemingly float by inoffensively, until you find yourself singing the lyrics to yourself hours later. This is music that ebbs and flows like a live organism, and certainly deserves to be heard by the masses.

Genre: Electronic/Pop

 

Bandcamp: http://oxforddrama.bandcamp.com/

 

4. lovechild

lovechild

 

This band is just perfect; pissed off hardcore punk songs that aren’t afraid to be mid-tempo even with short lengths. The vocals are sneering and the lyrics are somehow satirical and impassioned at the same time. In-your-face feedback and spastic drums greet you from the beginning and never let up in the less than fifteen minutes of material present. The replay value for these guys is incredible, and they are sure to make a name for themselves if they stick around.

Genre: Hardcore Punk

 

Bandcamp: http://whoislovechild.bandcamp.com/

 

5. Three Thrones

three thrones

Three Thrones rules. They riff, riff, and then they riff some fucking more. This instrumental threesome have created music that is simultaneously heavy and fun. The psychedelic passages pave the way for a rollicking good time, and these guys straight up sound like Mastodon on acid with an identity of their own. I can only imagine what their live show is like, but these guys deserve all the support that they can get.

Genre: Sludge/Doom/Psychedelic

Bandcamp: http://threethrones.bandcamp.com/

 

 

 

City and Colour- The Hurry and the Harm

City-and-Colour-The-Hurry-and-The-Harm

Singer/songwriter Dallas Green has built quite the following for himself, and rightfully so. His blend of stratosphere-shattering vocals with heart-rending lyricism has the ability to resonate with a wide variety of fans, from listeners of folk music to modern pop lovers. After third release Little Hell brought more exposure to the band in the form of single “Northern Wind”, they continued on in the same commercial-friendly vein with The Hurry and the Harm.

There is markedly more atmosphere in this album, as evidenced immediately in album opener “The Hurry and the Harm”. The ever present acoustic guitar starts off the song after a bit of built-up distortion, but the beautiful steel guitar in the background sets off Green’s crooning and ethereal vocals even more so than that of past albums. The crystal-clear production continues throughout the entirety of The Hurry and the Harm, and the first four songs breeze by beautifully without any missteps at all. “Of Space and Time” mixes a lush soundscape with hand-wringing self doubt in the lyrics and a triumphantly jangling guitar line, while “The Lonely Life” boasts the most beautiful and ear-catching chorus of the album. Unfortunately, the album slows down dramatically after that. “Paradise” relies heavily on Green’s sincere vocals to succeed, but is ultimately nothing new compared to the back discography of this already-accomplished act. This is truly the album’s crux, as most of the album seems to be a retread of earlier work. The going-through-the-motions ethos is the antithesis of the passion that was present on past albums and marks The Hurry and the Harm as merely enjoyable, nothing more.

It’s a bit head-scratching to think that just a few years ago Green was lyrically at the top of his story-telling game with gem after gem; most tracks seem to contain tired, overused clichés. “Commentators” adopts an unnaturally (for this band, at least) peppy tone that flows awkwardly from the overpowering chorus to yawn-inducing verses. “Thirst” sounds like City and Colour trying to recreate “The Fragile Bird” from their last full-length; while it’s an incredible song in its own right, it feels like a cheap imitation. When “Ladies and Gentlemen” washes over the listener with warm atmosphere and beautiful melodies, it’s too late to name this the band’s best release to date, but not too late to say that this still contains some of the band’s best songs. It unfortunately feels like some of these were left over from Little Hell, and considering the incredible leap from second LP Bring Me Your Love to Little Hell, it was fair to expect a little more progression from this full-length release. As it stands, Dallas Green and company have created some of their best songs and continue to stand out as one of the more distinguishable alternative pop/folk acts.

1. “The Hurry and the Harm” 4:23
2. “Harder Than Stone” 4:26
3. “Of Space and Time” 3:33
4. “The Lonely Life” 4:34
5. “Paradise” 3:38
6. “Commentators” 3:35
7. “Thirst” 3:26
8. “Two Coins” 5:32
9. “Take Care” 3:38
10. “Ladies and Gentlemen” 4:05
11. “The Golden State” 5:18
12. “Death’s Song” 4:43

Score: 4/5

 

 

 

DEAD INSIDE-Millions Dead EP

dead inside

First off, let me be clear about Millions Dead; this is not for the faint of heart. If you enjoy some melody with your aggression, you should probably pop your Emery album back in your car stereo. If the gore on the delightfully malevolent cover (akin to Aborted or General Surgery) is any initial indication, Dead Inside want to give you as violent of a soundtrack as possible, as punishing beatdowns are aplenty here. Incredibly, the guitar is tuned to Drop E, which only makes the affair heavier and more intense. Vocalist Daniel performs admirably on this EP, not only showing a strong range but also giving the listener some incredibly sick and misanthropic lyrics. Truth be told, if Millions Dead seems over-the-top, then you probably aren’t getting the right idea; Dead Inside have intentionally crafted some of the most enjoyable deathcore that I have heard in quite some time, and it is intentionally visceral. The horrific imagery in the lyrics, the slowed down breakdowns, and the beneath-the-depths-of-hell vocals are to create an image of total and complete despondency.

The production on this is truly incredible, especially for a band that is still making a name for itself. The crunch of the guitar and the crashing cymbals echo cleanly while still giving the appropriate amount of grit. Standout track “Severing the Filthy Head From Neck” exemplifies this the best; as the crushingly heavy track hits hard, everything drops out for one of the only respites of melody on Millions Dead. Guitarist Jack Boaden plays a haunting and ominous guitar line as the ending beatdown leaves the listeners bloodied to a pulp and begging for more. As Dead Inside continue to build their sound, one can hope the more moments like this happen on future recordings, as the unique intricacies of Dead Inside’s music reveal themselves with multiple listens. The beginning syncopated drumbeat in “Deicide” is immediately engaging and invigorating, and the line, “If there is a god, he will have to beg for my forgiveness!” is deliciously irreverent. The inclusion of some small movie sound-bytes recall some nostalgic loves of mine (old Through the Eyes of the Dead and Killwhitneydead, anyone?), but also doesn’t detract from the music present on the EP.

Though it is firmly entrenched in the beatdown genre, Millions Dead is impressively heavy and monolithic. There is not much crossover appeal for fans of other extreme metal, who potentially could find the slower, heavier passages arduous. However, there is no doubt that these songs will translate very well in a live setting, and the production quality just propels the release even further. There are a few missteps here and there (“For Every Infant A Body Bag” was unfortunately everything you’ve ever expected out of an intro track, despite the promising name), but overall there is stunning consistency and not a bad track to be found. If you find beatdown music to be your bag, there is not much out there that will be as fun of a listen as this release. Well, what are you waiting for? Grab Millions Dead and “swing like your girlfriend’s pregnant!”.

Rating: 3.8/5

Purchase and stream Millions Dead here.

The Top 5 Most Underappreciated Post Rock Bands

Pretensions aside, post rock is a genre that is standing in brackish water right now. I suppose it’s true that it is better to have a glutton of bands in a specific genre than not enough to find some enjoyable acts, but this genre is really testing the limits of what is considered plagiarism. In terms of looking at it as the rabid fan that I am, the overarching issue seems to be the exclusion of different influences. Post rock has been living in a bubble for so long that it rarely seems like it carries any emotional weight at all, and unfortunately it just doesn’t take long for bands to keep recycling the same drivel over and over again. Moody, subdued pieces build up to a climactic fury before it fades into obscurity; it’s becoming a familiar story to say the least, and unless a band does it extraordinarily well, it’s practically always a snoozefest for the listener.  In lieu of these points, I would like to direct you to some of the lesser-known post rock that are simply doing things just a bit differently than most out there. These are the bands that make me sit back and close my eyes, the bands that take me to the edge of a precipice and spring my eyes open, revealing all of the world’s problems and the beauty that surrounds us. You see, post rock in its purest form is really just trying to articulate that life is individually depressing but unilaterally beautiful, and thus worth it. That is my interpretation of it, and these bands bring these hard-to-explain emotions to light better than most.

1. Giants

Giants bands

Giants have all of the makings of a great post rock band, but the thing that sets them apart from the myriad of others that sound similar are the stark differences in atmosphere that they employ. There are these passages of absolutely beautiful guitar work that create focused pieces of ethereal music, exploding into cathartic and majestic distortion. However, the most interesting oddity that makes them different is the meandering little guitar lines that are incredibly reminiscent of late-nineties Modest Mouse and the minimalist drums that accompany them; Giants aren’t afraid to sound bombastically larger than life one moment, and then morose and delightfully one-dimensional the next. It’s the aural equivalent of plodding along a path, one foot in front of the other, until you raise your head and see a vast expanse in front of you. Giants’ 2008 release Old Stories takes on a story of a fisherman at sea, and delivers perfectly. The somber atmosphere explodes at just the right moments, and they take ample time to build up to their individual water-soaked climaxes. Take a listen to the pensive and dreading “Fisherman’s Prayer” and watch it transition into the joyous and sun-filled conclusion of “At Last, Ashore”, and you’ll be able to see exactly why this band is so special. This is a band that can tell a cohesive story without any words, and one with a happy ending at that.

2. Joy Wants Eternity

joy wants eternity

On the outside, it would be easy to assume that Joy Wants Eternity is just another post rock band. That’s certainly what I thought when I first listened to You Who Pretend to Sleep. It sounded formulaic to say the least, and after I purchased it, I didn’t come back to it for quite some time. One fateful night, I was tossing and turning in bed with a fever that just would not go away. Simultaneously sweating and freezing, I miserably tried to find something, anything to take my mind of my sickness. I chose Joy Wants Eternity, and 38 minutes later I was floored. The low feeling that everyone encounters when being sick was what it took for me to understand why this band was incredibly unique; they were beautifully melancholic. When I say that, I don’t mean that they had some pretty and depressing twinkly guitars that reminded me a dead dog; it was deeper than that. Whether Joy Wants Eternity is punishing the listener with spastic and fuzzed-out guitars (“Existences Rust”) or creating subtle mood with ambient-esque soundscapes (“Death Is a Door”), they are tapping into the human condition in a way that is incredibly difficult to do. Mellow keyboard work meshes with post rock bravado to create something that is starkly different.

3. Lavinia

lavinia band

Much of this genre is about isolation; post rock often hints at the despondency associated with it. It is a logical theme to grace the music; after all, how emotionally affecting can a peak be without valleys? Lavinia take this idea to an extreme and are all the better for it, taking their brush and painting Impressionist valleys and Jackson Pollack-like peaks. Instead of bothering with any sort of positive climax, Lavinia take depressive atmosphere and superbly craft it into angry and aggressive pockets of music. Nate Schumaker’s vocals sound like Robert Smith from the Cure decided to try his hand at a heavier approach to music, these elements coalescing into some of the strongest songs of the genre. Hell, how they are able to make this angry music sound so beautiful is certainly beyond my understanding, but they are treading new terrain on a planet that appeared devoid of new life.

4. …Of Sinking Ships

of sinking ships

…Of Sinking Ships is a creation of ex-Hopesfall guitarist Chad Waldrup, and it’s about as unique as a one-man post rock outfit can get. In Hopesfall, Waldrup would utilize clean-sounding guitar to accent the more oft-used heavily distorted passages, which was a revolutionary stylistic departure from what a lot of melodic hardcore was seeing. With …Of Sinking Ships, Waldrup does the exact opposite, using the distortion of the guitar to create an underlying atmosphere and allowing clean guitar lines to breathe in all of their beautiful glory. The unique aspect of his music is that it focuses on the journey, rather than reaching any sort of definite destination. Instead of incredibly serious passages building up to cinematic explosions, OSS is content to take a gorgeous melody and jam on it for several minutes at a time, employing very small variations as the song goes on. It creates a hypnotic appeal, and sunny disposition heard in the majority of these songs give it a starkly different feel than most of his moody contemporaries. …Of Sinking Ships knows exactly how to have fun with an album, and luckily for us, Waldrup included us fuddy-duds on the guest list.

5. The Candlepark Stars

the_candlepark_stars_js_070812

There aren’t many post rock bands that are able to make music as beautiful as Kerry Muzzey. The man behind The Candlepark Stars moniker, he has continued to put out gorgeously-textured soundscapes that are incredibly affecting for years now. There is a contemplative atmosphere that exists in Muzzey’s work that allows for the listener’s mind to wander to its own set of desires and worries, and then float away into the relaxing and vast expanse. Sometimes music becomes too convoluted for its own good, allowing image and genre restrictions to edge out what really matters. The Candlepark Stars simply make beautiful music to remind you that the world is, well, beautiful. If it doesn’t seem like that novel of a concept to you, I’d say that you’d be hard-pressed to name an album similar to this gorgeous ambient-meets-post rock  hybrid. Sit back and enjoy a beautiful moment in life while this man guides you through it in your headphones; we certainly all deserve and need it.