Wednesday, 25 February 2015

BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah - Sour Soul

Certainly one of my most anticipated albums of the year, Sour Soul has arrived and there are a few things that anyone anticipating this album needs to know.

One of the most unique rappers in history, Ghostface Killah – A man who has now peaked in three different decades since coming to the fore with “Wu-Tang Clan” in 1993 off the back of “Enter the Wu-Tang 36 Chambers” – an album that still today matches anything the genre of hip-hop has produced – paired with “BadBadNotGood” – an anomaly in hip-hop where a group enter the genre without an M.C. and gain a substantial cult following as well as collaborating on tracks with Earl Sweatshirt, JJ DOOM, Danny Brown and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan for “The Man With Iron Fists” soundtrack. This combination was sure to have hip-hop fans frothing at the mouth to hear what kind of, imaginative project would unfold.

But in reality, it was never going to be that simple.

You see; BadBadNotGood, although indented in hip-hop are mainly a Jazz group and have only contributed to individual tracks for the aforementioned artists. Furthermore, BBNG create Jazz interpretations of Hip-Hop songs which mostly veer off into outright jamming, a feature which most of their audience are drawn to due to the spontaneity and energy these jams bring to the recordings. Moreover, the first three BadBadNotGood albums have ALL relied heavily on improvised Jazz solos from Keyboardist, Mathew Tavarez and Bassist, Chester Hansen with the fulcrum of BBNG’s hip-hop aesthetic stemming from Alexander Sowinski’s snappy, dense drumbeats.

Similarly, Ghostface Killah’s delivery and storytelling have him citing lenghty verses and taking his thoughts and ideas off-course. Mainly on solo projects, Ghost prefers to reel off lines like:

“Trauma, hands is like candy canes, lay my balls on ice
The branches in my weed be the vein
Swimsuit issue, darts sent truly from the heart, boo, I miss you
See daddy rock a wristful
Modern slave God, graveyard spells, fog your goggles
Layin like needles in the hospital
Five steps to conquer, Ax Vernon debt, big ass whistle Ziploc your ear, hear thistle.”
Ghostface Killah – One (Supreme Clientele)

With both artists making their respective names at what I describe as “Going Off”, neither have really done so on collaborative projects. And if now both made that decision and said "fuck it", would that work if both did?

Therefore, the idea that you would get the very best of both artists on this album was highly unlikely and although that proved to be true, in my opinion, both Ghostface Killah and BadBadNotGood bring you an album of short concise hip-hop songs that cut through any fat and go right to the bone.

Sour Soul, by and large, is as good as I could have hoped it to be. This album doesn’t "go off" for any noticeable length of time but instead uses its pacing across the 33 minutes it lasts, as well as its intricacies, to create a journey which has myself both, coming back for more and more listens, whilst simultaneously wishing there was more for me to enjoy.

Instrumentally, BadBadNotGood make it clear from the start that they will follow on from last years, “III”. However, as the album unfolds the trio use more guitars and orchestral arrangements than they have before. Lazy thinking would lead anyone who has heard Ghostface Killah's last two projects, to see the trend of old soul influences being the backdrop for him, and believe it is becoming a trend. But as I listen more and more, my understanding is that the instrumentation is as much BBNG becoming more experimental outside of their normal relm to embrace larger, more methodical soundscapes, without straying far from their normal rhythms and core drum, keys and bass tones.

Take the end of Ray Gun ft MF DOOM and its heavy, low-noted Piano-chords that end a track that sounds like the scene of an early 70s crime thriller that’s been animated in the form of a comic book or TV show. DOOM’s inclusion in the song makes this possible and demonstrates BadBadNotGood’s ability to compliment the rappers that they work with – Especially here, when DOOM drops a trademark final statement, “Blammo!” at the end of his short-lived verse providing the perfect Seg-way for BBNG to do their thing.

BadBadNotGood drop numerous moments of stellar instrumentation throughout, with the menacing drums and modulated guitar on Six Degrees providing the perfect backdrop for Ghostface Killah to get angry and spit, “Dangerous thoughts mind of a militia…” which sets the scene perfectly and ties in the thuggish mood of the track from the start. Danny Brown’s wacky high pitched voice breaks up the instrumental flow to allow Ghostface to finish off the track with a trademark, nasty, confrontational verse. The extraordinary waling slide guitar sounds on the following track “Gunshowers” are a unique venture for BBNG and help the track progress with a perpetual motion as Ghostface flows smoothly with an undertone of his usual anti-hero, ‘Tony Stark’ persona, rapping about blowing minds with his words whilst being the “…next Escobar or Sosa”. “Tone’s Rap” sees Ghostface blowing off steam as he reaffirms his gangster status, but this track belongs to BadBadNotGood with a spectacular progression and yet another soundtrack-esque instrumental.

“Mind Playing Tricks” and “Street Knowledge” hark back to “Twelve Reasons To Die”. The first of which Ghostface rides a frantic flow reeling off tales of paranoia similar to “Enemies All Around Me”. The latter of the two features “Tree” with his deep, crusty voice taking the listener on a guided tour of how to operate as a gangster on the streets with Ghostface taking over the hook and inforcing similar ideas before continuing this trend in his verse.

Side-note; hip-hop seems to be looking at fewer features on albums, a trend that I fully approve of – RATKING, Run the Jewels, Joey Bada$$ and now this.

Perhaps the track that provides a template for the album that could have been, Nuggets of Wisdom kicks off with Ghostface “Going off” but for a shortened period of time before a beat-switch half way leaving BadBadNotGood improvising for the rest of the track. This is a tiny showcase of what everyone anticipated this album to be. The fact that it is the one track in which both artists reach their stylistic peaks, reinforces my theory that BBNG and Ghostface Killah fans wanted something they were never likely to get.

BadBadNotGood close the album with Experience, a fully orchestrated composition of strings and horns which hopefully provides an insight to the solo album they are expected to drop later this year. But what should have been the albums closer in my opinion, “Food” possibly provides a blueprint, obviously, along with Ray Gun, for what Ghostface Killah and MF DOOM’s highly anticipated collaboration might sound like.

One can only hope.

In the end, it depends on what you look for in this album. I expected stellar instrumentals with nasty Ghostface verses and a few good features - that is what I got.

Well done everyone involved!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

'Superfood' - Don't Say That

Superfood bring a melodic, rhythmic, guitar-driven instant classic to the table and should be the biggest band in the UK because of it.

The British music scene, on a popular scale, has been in the toilet since the hype around Arctic Monkeys died just after their second album Favourite Worst Nightmare. That was the death of a minor resurgence of Indie. Even on an underground scale there hasn't been anything worth shouting about. Grime was the biggest non-event of any underground "movement" possibly ever, electronic music hasn't been seen since The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy and Pop music is best left out. It has all gotten very USA.

Recently, Indie bands such as Temples (psychedelic), Peace (proper indie) and Palma Violets (post-punk) have threatened with Radio1 plays but released albums of the 6/10 variety. On the electronic front Disclosure came out of nowhere with a modern House album that punches above the others but fails to tip anything over the edge. More left-field we have Sleaford Mods and The Fat White Family. The former offer a, lo-fi, mostly drums and bass instrumental package with witty, observational lyrics that comment on everyday social occurrences and Britain's current political abomination, where-as the Fat White's bring a dark, twisted melting pot both lyrically and instrumentally. see "Divide and Exit" and "Champagne Holocaust" for more details. 

It may not be a goal of either band to become huge but even though Sleaford Mods and The Fat White Family offer something fresh, neither will threaten the charts. Neither will threaten the cretinous popular Radio1 DJ's, the corporate news channels or create a viral video to gain internet fame. 

What they lack is sugar. 

When speaking about "Imagine" John Lennon said it was a sugar-coated version of tracks like "Working Class Hero" and "Mother", both of which were banned by various radio stations.

Through every minute of their debut album "Don't Say That", Superfood rock a bittersweet sound with enough grit and melody to be a Rock n Roll band and enough grooves to keep you listening again and again.

Starting with the rhythm section. The beats and basslines on this album are the grooviest a British group have conjured up since The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. The opener "Lily For Your Pad To Rest On" sounds familiar to the melody on Carole Kings "It's too Late" yet comes in just after the 20 second mark leaving it standing on it's own two feet. Title-track "Don't Say That" has a striking up-stroking guitar intro, which combined with the menacing, ascending double bass hits, provides the track with a quirky, dark feeling. The Beck-like break-beats on both "Superfood" and "It's Good To See You" are nasty. Overall the drumming has your toe tapping, a feat most Brit-Pop groups provided at the peak of their short-lived abilities.

The rhythm section on nearly every track allows the melodies, harmonies and Graham Coxon-eque guitar work space to breath and layer these well written songs.

Melodically, "You Can Believe", "Mood Bomb", "Like a Daisy" and "Melting" are flawless. Summers day, blissful, sugar-coated, Rock n Roll stomping, flawless.

The harmonies feature perfectly in the songs' seamless melodic transitions, with under-stated hooks rising to the surface with every listen. That as well as the few chorus and verse harmonies which help drive the album along are full of the sugar-coated bliss that makes one drool over "Superfood".

The guitar work completes the set of what makes this album stand-out. "TV" cranks up the distortion to a point where it nearly breaks the threshold of what lies between classic, British Rock n Roll and modern grunge-inspired rock music. However this a rare moment where they do so. Most of the notable guitar work comes from the layering, with guitar lines weaving around the melody just like the harmonies.

All of these elements and layers make up one jaw-dropping Rock n Roll album. 

Lyrically Superfood don't bring much of a social or political comment to the table but do push some quirky/thought-provoking lines and ideas, "You're melting away, ware yourself out" from "Melting" is one example whereas the track "Mood Bomb" takes a simplistic look at going from feeling down to feeling good by forcing yourself.

Even the short seg-ways - "i" and "ii" bring some variety, with the former featuring what sounds like a Mellotron, reminiscent of "Strawberry Fields Forever".

In my opinion this is the most exciting, well-rounded album a British band have produced in a long time. This band are a breath of fresh air and the Radio/Music Channels should be taking a chance on them. This fixed into the top 40 would be akin to The Smiths playing "This Charming Man" for the first time on Top of the Pops. That sparked the first wave of Indie music in the charts, this has the ability to spark the next one, or it would if given the chance.

'Don't Say That' - Instant Classic

Monday, 20 October 2014

How People Listen to Music - Bizarre

Getting into vinyl over the past 12 months has opened my eyes to something bizarre.

People don’t listen to music the way they should. I know that sounds like an incredibly ‘music-snobbish’ thing to say, but I’m not alluding to the format, it’s what comes in-between.

To listen to a record, you need a turntable, and depending on what turntable you get (anything under £100 is probably poor unfortunately), you need some sort of speaker/headphones and amplifier setup. This is what baffles me most, for a few reasons.

Reason 1: Lack of HI-FI Systems

How many people have a HI-FI system in their house? I’ve never had a conversation with anyone about their setup, probably because they don’t have one. However, I have had numerous discussions with friends and classmates on how they watch movies and TV shows. Surround sound systems are far more common-place in people’s houses, and a discussion on their best film role (I find) is more likely to follow a conversation about an actor, than a discussion on the best Beatles album, when talking about how much Paul McCartney is worth.

This leads me onto my second reason

Reason 2: Nobody listens to albums

Why don’t people listen to albums, old and new?

 The Long-Player (LP)

Forget about formats, a high-quality mp3 beats a bad vinyl pressing, believe me. I got Warpaint’s latest album on double-red vinyl and side C has so much static in the left channel, I have to switch my receiver/amplifier over to my computer for the last four songs, with the free mp3 download linked to the album, coming in handy.

If someone says they don’t have time for albums, they’re lying. I would estimate that most albums last from 30 to 45 minutes, that’s about the length of your weekly TV show, or half the time of most mainstream films (excluding huge budgets films) at around 90. Time does not matter here

It is then very strange when comparing Film and TV with an LP. Most people fail to realise that albums by-and-large have no filter from its inception until its end. What I mean by this is, artists that write their own material, especially independent artists, have their ideas fleshed out exactly how they see it. A true musical artist gets what is in their head, onto a recording. And whether or not they write the song with band-mates or have a producer, the song starts and ends with that artist. Film and TV writers on the other hand, require an idea to be pitched to a company, pass certain regulations, have it directed and produced (although some do these themselves), have it portrayed by actors and see the best takes edited by a post-production team.

An album therefore, is much more direct.

Reason 3: Cost

A HI-FI system requires a CD/Record or even an MP3 player, an amplifier, speakers and or headphones.

My HI-FI setup consists, at the moment of:

  • Headphones at £100, for studio quality Audio-Technica ATH M50’s.
  • A Stanton T.92 USB capable turntable at £230
  • A Yamaha AV Receiver from my family's surround sound system of which I do not know the price of
  • No speakers (surround sound doesn’t do the job for me, however some will be purchased)
The headphones and turntable may seem a steep price, but in reality, most houses now have at least one or more HD TV(s) ranging from anywhere between £150 to £1000 from various sizes and specs. Add a surround sound system on top and you’re looking at nearly £2000 for your overall audio-visual needs. In this instance, the two systems are not too dis-similar and if anything, HI-FI is cheaper.

 The new money-maker

So how do YOU listen to music?

I know of 3 people that listen to records, two of which are brothers. To my knowledge, they don’t have HI-FI systems unless something changed whilst writing this piece. The rest listen to music mainly in their car, where their best quality lies, via their iPod/Phone on low-quality headphones or (where the real fun begins) laptop speakers.

 The Enemy of speakers

But how can something like music, that can change the way people think, speak and look, receive such low-quality consumption?

My emphasis on comparisons with other art-forms is crucial to this observation. I don’t know of anyone who would watch a film in 240p resolution, yet I know of people who will listen to music, judge whether or not they like that music, and dismiss it in less than 30 seconds by listening to it through laptop speakers.


So in conclusion, I urge you, if you haven’t already, to start with a pair of budget, studio quality headphones and work your way up. It’s a sad thought that the highest quality music system most people have is situated in their car. And even if you don’t have the desire to buy records or even CDs, treat the music you listen to with more respect. I guarantee, you WILL enjoy it more, you WILL want to listen to more music and you WILL ask yourself why you hadn’t done this sooner.

I know I did.

Monday, 13 October 2014

'Hozier' - Album Review

Andrew Hozier-Byrne is a great singer.

This worried me, a lot going into this album.

This worried me because great singers don’t tend to write great songs these days.

The reason why great singers don’t write great songs these days is because their voice is their main asset. Normally great singers have a certain range, a certain style, a certain pocket within the music that they feel strength within. That is who they are, and it is what gets them results.

Pockets are small. Pockets don’t give you room to breathe. Pockets are the enemy in my opinion.

Adele is a great singer. No one can take that away from her. But man, does she love her pockets. Once you hear one song from her, you hear her pocket. Pockets are the enemy.

Comfort zones… good god! Comfort zones give a little more space to breathe, but comfort zones don’t let anything in or out. For better or for (in the case of contemporary singer-songwriters) worse. They amount to nothing more or less than what that artist feels is required. Comfort zones are the enemy in my opinion.

James Morrison is a great singer. No one can take that away from him. But man, does he love his comfort zone. Once you hear one song from him, you’ve heard them all. Comfort zones are the enemy

Pockets and comfort zones leave little to the imagination, which in turn leaves little creativity. Most singer-songwriters these days have little creativity. Throw them an acoustic guitar or a piano (don’t throw that, wheel it to ‘em this isn’t jackass), show them a few minor chords, a finger picking pattern and you have a top-ten album, guaranteed.


Andrew Hozier-Byrne holds one of these traits and discards the rest.

Andrew Hozier-Byrne is a great singer. No-one can take that away from him.

However, Andrew Hozier-Byrne doesn’t do comfort zones. Nor does he do pockets.

Hozier, brings a lot more to the table.

For nearly an hour, Hozier doesn’t amount to just the piano or the acoustic guitar, he does that, and then some.

Electric guitars on the epic opener “Take me to Church” (which you’ve probably heard on the radio) put the normalities out the wondow from the get-go.
Furthermore, the alternating between a striking reverb riddled guitar and haunting Piano chords on “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” is brilliant, great song title too! Well in Hozier!

Even the song afterwards which provides a quirky riff, has guitars. This album loves its guitars!

The reason I mention guitars is because this album took me by surprise. I was expecting more singer-songwriter, pain and melodrama. Yet another one hit wonder album, which takes the meat and bones from the song that put the artist on the radar, and fill an album full of the artists' comfort zone. Get him his vocal range pocket, and there you have it. Just another album. You’ll never hear of this artist again.

I want to hear more of Hozier. Even when you feel he is slipping into a filler in the form of “From Eden” 3 minutes in, and an array of Sgt Pepper-esque strings enter the fray, utterly UN-comforting, then blending back into the intro guitar line, Brilliant.

Speaking of intros, Hozier nails every single one of them! Whether it be a clean, crisp finger-picking guitar, a slow, off-beat drum groove, or a grandiose piano, the album never stagnates. It is constantly evolving. Evolving in a way that Hozier appears to have looked at other singer-songwriters and believes he knows how to make a better album than them. Instead of being simply an acoustic guitar, finger-picking, melancholic vocalist (which he does really well on the few occasions he gravitates towards this realm). Hozier embraces huge chorus’, fully orchestrated rhythm and blues stompers and alternative rock anthems.

ANTHEMS! From a modern day singer-songwriter, who’d have thought it?

There are moments of beauty darted across this album, mainly in the guitar leads and Andrews chilling falsetto vocals from time to time. But there also moments of darkness which lyrics such as “Take me to church, I’ll worship like a dog in the shrine of your lies, I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife” only perpetuate.

This album took me by surprise.

Hozier joins Angel Olsen and Sun-Kil Moon in my all too short, favourite, contemporary singer-songwriters list.

Evolving, from beginning to end.

'Hozier' - A Pleasant Surprise

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

'Royal Blood' - Album Review

Approaching something with a mind-set can be both good and bad. Especially when you have had a good part of the experience in advance (In this case, four of the ten songs). 'Royal Blood', a heavy rock duo from West Sussex manage to stand aside from other 2-piece bands that can fall into their ball-park. The main difference here is that front-man Mike Kerr swaps a guitar for a two-way octave fuzzed up Bass Guitar two accompany band-mate Ben Thatchers hard-hitting drums. As well as that, most other rock duo's tend to side with Blues or Indie like The White Stripes, The Black Keys and Blood Red Shoes, but Royal Blood are without doubt, straight up heavy rock.

“Melt my face off!”

That was my mind-set when delving into Royal Bloods self-titled, number one debut album. A band that pride themselves on gnarly riffs and heavy drums, should, over the 32 or so minutes in which they have my attention, do this very thing.

So have they succeeded in doing so?


The opening track ‘Out of the Black’ starts the album off in this way. Singer/Bass guitarist Mike Kerr’s opening, muted riff, coinciding with drummer Ben Thatcher’s parallel striking, before exploding the track into life, sets the president for the albums ingredients. Unfortunately though, the album reaches its lyrical peak here with the menacingly confrontational lines, “Don’t breathe when I talk, ‘cause you haven’t been spoken too.” Followed by, “I've got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it”. What’s more, the breakdown at the end of the track is equally as confrontational, only this time, musically. The bass solo, built up by the drums, exploding the song back into life again, displays the clear instrumental talent from this heavy rock duo.

This track truly did melt my face off!

However this is as exciting as it gets until the halfway point.

The following track “Come on Over” isn’t just lyrically vague. A story about god interfering in a relationship “There’s no God and I don’t really care.” Combined with Kerr suggesting, “Let’s run away, get out of here.” In the same narrative seems as if he is just throwing out random scenarios. This under-pinned by how much the track seems to be a diluted version of the previous track, doesn’t move this journey forward.

This did not melt my face off.

Furthermore, the next three tracks fall under my, “meh.” category. This stems mainly from the focus on riffs turning the progression of the song-writing into a secondary process with Royal Blood starting the songs with a riff, moseying along a bland melody, and then hastily getting back to the initial riff. This is evident with ‘You can be so Cruel’ and ‘Figure it Out’. Both tracks only seem to go anywhere interesting towards the end when Kerr decides to break into a jam session-like solo and try and melt my face off.

Only momentarily do two of these three tracks bring a mild sweat to my forehead.

Furthermore, none of these tracks go anywhere lyrically. For a band that sight ‘Jeff Buckley’ as an influence you would think, narrative would play a major part in their make-up. Not that you would expect a singer to deliver as spine-tingling a range of vocals to the table. However, the way in which Buckley, like his father Tim would build a story and take the listener on a journey seems to have been lost on Royal Blood. Vague lyrics such as “All the glitters is gold” (stolen from ‘Led Zeppelins’ 'Stairway to Heaven) off of track 7 ‘Loose Change’ and “Cut loose like an animal fired out like a cannonball” in ‘Ten Tonne Skeleton’ make the group seem far too much like a cliché. Lines like these in my opinion don’t possess the power of a lyric such as, “That dark angel he is shuffling in, watching over them with his black, leather wings unfurled”. (Jeff Buckley – “Dream Brother”). Descriptions that try and amount to this fall short of the mark, and are a dime a dozen as well.

The second side of the album starts much like the first. ‘Little Monster’ offers up a blood curdling amount of distortion and heaviness from the very first slide down Kerr’s two-way octave driven bass. The riff conjures up a platform for the rhythm of Ben Thatcher’s heavy-hitting drums to move the song along, before exploding into a rip-roaring chorus which swirls around your head as drum fills and riffs match together perfectly before repeating the cycle. Much like ‘Out of the Black’, the song breaks down into a bass guitar solo which is then built up via a drum solo before ripping back into a chorus followed by a part drum fill, part solo. Melodically, this is how Royal Blood best build a song around a riff.

This song took me on a journey.

This song succeeded in melting my face off!

Aforementioned lyrical cliché’s ‘Loose Change’ and ‘Ten Tonne Skeleton’ carry on the trend of an idea getting in the way of song progressing. Both songs again, displaying solid riff work, ‘Loose Change’ being the most low-fi on the album and ‘TTS’ providing a different change in guitar tone, but amounting to no more than two more album fillers.

Either side of these tracks however, showcases where Royal Blood impress. ‘Careless’ has Mike spitting venom at the subject who he can’t stop thinking about yet they “couldn’t care less”. The wailing guitar sounds spin round and take off twice before combining the only backing vocals that come to the fore on the album, contained in the bridge.

This song did not melt my face, but the song-writing meant it didn’t have to.

"Finally!" ...we get to the albums masterpiece.

‘Better Strangers’ is the track in which most of this album should have resembled.

The layering of distorted bass guitar over a normal rock-steady bass line on this track is like nothing else on the whole album, and conjures up an anthemic behemoth. The heavy, head banging riff, morphing into the melodic chorus is like something Queens of the Stone Age would have done on their last album, ‘…Like Clockwork’. Kerr’s soloing on this track is fuzz heaven and once more, displays his work In this regard, to be a strong point no matter what type of song in which it appears.

This track took me on a journey.

This track made me feel as if this band can produce the most exciting heavy rock music of this generation.

This track, every time, has and will, Melt my face off!

Going into this album, riffs, fuzz and heaviness were the main attraction. But in conjunction with that, Royal Blood’s supposed best friend also becomes their worst enemy. Bringing forth “face melting” riffs also brings forth unfinished tracks that don’t seem to get off the ground. I am left however with the sense that this band can grow, and am anticipating already, the various ways in which they aim to melt my face off more.

‘Royal Blood’ – Mixed Bag