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The Post Millennial 2014 Top Five Albums

The gleaming and digesting is complete, and the ears are awash with all the cuts dropped. Overall the year hasn’t be an album-heavy year for me. Granted, the ones that made the cut are my favorite, yet I wonder how many will infect me and stick in my aural DNA for years to come. It has been more of an exploratory year filled with mixtapes and solo YouTube clips heard in the middle of the night. I have a Spotify playlist that I have developed a blog post, sitting in draft form, describing them. I’m going to expand it tomorrow and post it as well. Now, on to the albums.

Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

“212” was not the greatest of songs when it was dropped in 2011. In its proper place, however, it is the true banger people made it be a while back. Banks’ debut combines a variety of sounds – house beats, R&B, garage, Latin music – and melds it with her sing/rap combo, creating an extended party playlist best played on a sound system in the best clubs. Which is a far better home for her songs than anywhere else, and I don’t mean that in any denigrating manner. This is fun hip-hop the radio shouldn’t get in its filthy goddamn hands.

Favorite song: “Gimme A Chance” – Azealia goes hard over horns, turntables, then brings her Harlem on and belts out lyrics and rhymes in Spanish. Can’t say no to that.

Caribou – Our Love

What kind of emotion does Our Love achieve? It has a steady undercurrent of subtle happiness hidden beneath many of the songs in this album. Even when it picks up on songs like “Julia Brightly” it has this downtempo joy embedded under the faster BPM. The music drives you and cools you down at the same time, which is an interesting prospect to have for an electronic album to have.

Favorite Song: “Mars” – Snaith masterfully started that drum sample to start the song, serving as the backbone for the rest of a frenetic mix of repetition of other samples. What came out: a danceable, amazing semi-paranoid jam.

St. Vincent – “St. Vincent”

The breadth of Annie Clark’s work is quirky and enjoyable before the self-titled. They had pop sensibilities, but not enough to really grab a sizable amount of people. This album, however, changes that.   In a less-crappier world where the radio would allow at least decent music, a couple of the songs on this album would have been on the cycle. This really is the most accessible St. Vincent album as she comes at you, guitar riffs and all, and pulls you in.

Favorite Song: “Digital Witness” – Her normal singles are good guitar-infused jams, but this one has sonic maximalism  that comes from the brass and electronic sounds in the chorus.

EMA – The Future’s Void

What EMA does on this album is take the desolation found in cyberpunk and at make it into music. If you have heard her work in the past you have see her do similar things, but this time around it is refined, like a short film shot in 4K-quality, shot through a distorted fliter. Her zine/manifesto on the creation and basis of the album really goes into this, I highly suggest you read it. The next time you feel the internet is filling up your mind, your lungs, you bones, go and give this a listen for a purge.

Favorite Song – “Neuromancer” – An electronic tribe song taking down Instagram whores, reminding them Big Brother is not in your PC, your phone, and your tablet – he’s in you as well.

Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

On their debut album, Mike and El bounced a rap grenade off one another, waiting to pull the pin. Well, it was finally time to toss the motherfucker into the general population. RTJ2 is threatening, political, dirty as hell, but retains the humor of the previous album.  So many parts of the songs can’t help make the listener let out a devilish smile as Mike paints the picture of a prison riot or El reps his NY so hard it messes with his gait, or the uber-lewd romantic masterpiece that is “Love Again”. The duo give no fucks about your sacred cows, and it’s apparent here –  people are robbed and waterboarded, all to the soundtrack of El-P’s signature dystopia beats.

Favorite Song: “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) (Feat. Zack De La Rocha)” – There are a lot of amazing guests on the album, but bringing De La Rocha out to grace us with 18 bars of fury with Miles Davis and Blade Runner references? Done.

Honorable Mentions

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

RATKING – So It Goes

Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Banks – Goddess

Christian Löffler – Young Alaska

Phantogram– Voices

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Music Overdose – Atari Teenage Riot to St. Vincent

Atari Teenage Riot – Is this Hyperreal?
Most reviewers criticized this album for having a dated political screed and a lack of change in their sound but honestly it doesn’t matter. A great comparison of this album is The Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die. The band always kept true to their sound, with a couple of stumbles with Always Outnumber Never Outgunned aside. They came back out guns blazing, which wont to do for groups like The Prodigy and ATR. “Activate” opens the album with an upgrade to their electropunk sound, but only slightly. Adding CX Kidtronik to the band brought anew kick into the system, and as far as his opening statement on racism and Barack Obama on “Re-Arrange Your Synapes”. Other songs of note are “Black Flags” and “Digital Decay”.

Das Racist – Relax
I don’t even…just get on this. Heems and Kool A.D. are insane on the wordplay ( and that’s not to say anything of El-P’s bars on Shut Up, Man) and their references make Childish Gambino sound like a punk (sorry Donald, stick to funny). Oh, and “Punjabji Song’ is reminiscent of Punjabi MC on Jay-Z’s “Beware the Boys” but this song puts a flag on that then drops 16 weed-filled deuces on it.

DJ Shadow – The Less You Know
OK, I have to finally admit one of my greatest sins: Up until recently, I’ve never had a good pair of headphones. I’ve always rocked the cheap Sony wrap-around blue sports one – it was the only one that’d survive my clumsiness – and now that I have these massive Skullcandy ones with the ultra bass, I’ve heard songs in completely new ways. I’m still not a snooty audiophile (I’m too lazy to convert to lossless formats) but…oh, the drums..the drums on a Shadow song on them.

Truth be told, The Outsider sucked. Only Phonte on “Backstage Girl” and “Artifact” saved that album for me. But from track one on The Less You Know… Shadow established that his scratching is back. The follow-up song”Border Crossing” sound like a poorly made 90s action movie version of “Artifact” (actually, check out “HYPERPOWER” from NIN’s Year Zero if you want a better version of this song). The “Stay the Course” team-up of Posdnuos and Talib Kweli is pretty solid; Kweli especially got to me seeing as he’s been off my audio radar for a minute. It’s amusing that  Shadow dropped an emphasis on the lull in the next three songs by putting up a song titled “Tedium”. The slowed down vocals and acoustic guitar on “Enemy Lines” gives the album an Entroducing pick-me-up before the break beats of “Going Nowhere” rolls in. that, along with “Run for Your Life” should get any Shadow fan at attention. Sadly, on “Scale It Back” Yukimi Nagano does her first lackluster performance on a song she’s featured on.

Now, let’s get to the singles. “Def Surrounds Us” renewed my faith in Shadow with his effective use of vocal samples, pounding drum beats, a sprinkle of hyphy and dubstep, and pianos and apocalyptic choir singing. “I’ve Been Trying” was in the first lull I mentioned, so I didn’t realize it was a single. Oh, back  the topic of new headphones: listen to the other single “I Gotta Rokk” on them. Trust me on this.

Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
It’ s a little late to review this album without looking like a punk against ones like the fake Ghostface’s review. Instead, I’m just concentrating on the singers. First off, Frank Ocean dominates on his two songs; even if “Made in America” was one of the lesser cuts on WtH, he still delivers on it (and don’t get me started on his hook on my new banger “No Church in the Wild”). Truth be told, the only other ones of note is Elly Jackson of La Roux on “That’s My Bitch” and The-Dream on “No Church…”; I didn’t know that the unintelligible bridge on the “That’s My Bitch” was Bon Iver, nor did I really care. As for Beyonce on “Lift Off’, the song was pretty bad on its own, and she didn’t really help to bring it back. Mr. Hudson’s voice on “Why I Love You” reminds me of how the last time he brought something good to an album is still 808s & Heartbreaks. Oh, and Swizz Beatz needs to stop putting his “talking while straining through a bowel movement” voice all over a track.

Kasabian – Velociraptor!
Halfway through, I stopped listening it and went back to West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum.

Ladytron – Gravity the Seducer
It’s interesting to see the career trajectory of these electro-Liverpudlians, not just in their sound but in their whole look. The aesthetic in their music videos and photos from each album mirrors the songs of the album attached to them. In this album’s case, there is this a baroque, upper-class sound far different from the utilitarian beats in 604 or the cold grinding pulses from Witching Hour. There are some glimpses of Velocifero in “Melting Ice”. Songs like “Altitude Blues” and “White Gold” reinforce an 80s sci-fi soundtrack vibe (even the album art is reminiscent of the opening scene from Blade Runner). One of the biggest issues with the album is that there are too many songs that sound alike; “Ace of Hz”, “Mirage”, and “Aces High (which is just a boring instrumental of “Ace of Hz”) are the culprits of this. Overall, this is not as good as album as the previous one.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
It took one song from her Actor  album to really make me into a stan for Ms. Annie Clark (go listen to “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood. The title is deceiving.). “Cruel” lets her gets it starting with her great vocals (it kind of reminded me of Feist) on the end of her verses. Then she reminds you “Oh yeah, I still got the grind” on “Cheerleader”. The eponymous track has an 80s synth thing going on until it hits you with her guitar/vocal one-two punch. The album fades out a bit until “Hysterical Strength” which reclaimed my attention with its driving drums and piano.

Keep

Watch the Throne is already in my library – hearing Kanye beat out Jay-Z on this (I think that’s intentional, but on the other hand, Jay’s skills are waning) is good enough to make it a keeper. DJ Shadow and St. Vincent stay as well. I can’t say no to Shadow’s masterful sampling/mixing and Annie Clark’s singing/rocking.

Second Listen

Ladytron might grow on me like Velocifero did. We’ll see.

Toss

ATR and Kasabian

Music Overdose: Atmosphere to UNKLE

It’s another edition of Music OD, and this time instead of waiting a few months, I’m dropping this in just one. Let’s  see what I’ve blasting from my headphones this month:

Atmosphere – The Family Sign: I must say, the opening two tracks are suicide-level depressing. The piano and guitar work (the work of Erick Anderson and Nate Collins, respectively) is on point throughout though, especially on “Became” which connects to Slug’s wintry narrative. His flow on that song is on par with “Lovelife” from God Loves Ugly.  By the time acoustic guitar on “Who I’ll Never Be” comes up, it becomes apparent that the solo guitar on “Guarantees” from the previous album has stepped up quite a bit. Just keep to those types of songs on this one; the others sound like failed Ant beats or feckless indie rock. Read the rest of this entry