ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): SMASHING PUMPKINS – “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT, VOL. 1” | 2018-11-18

It’s been a long and winding two months since the last ARM dissecting assessment found its way onto the ethereal airwaves of this site, although I’m not exactly sure this has anything to do with the fact that here is the next one instalment in the acclaimed series. What I’m sure about is that quite a few exhilarating and enthralling things have blossomed during this interval of time, such as for example Frank Ocean setting his infamously mysterious and controversially debated Instagram profile public for the rest time, going for full widespread collective visibility, or Frank Ocean heightening semiotic symbolism across a wider design constellation of epistemological meaning linking up a Swedish software monitoring company with a portion of his recent creative output. Also, since two days ago was a November Friday weekday, with reference to the time of writing of this very critical essay, among other things it also saw the release of a wide variety of rich and colourful new music, ranging from the heavily promoted and record industry-testosterone-fuelled Oxnard – Anderson .Paak’s follow up to his multivariate and brilliant Malibu (what a stinky and tacky disappointment…) –  to a surprise surprise Mr Grinch-meets-Christmas-music drop by contemporary holistic pop culture provocateur Tyler, The Creator, all the while importantly passing through one of this year’s most highly anticipated mainstream rock releases: Smashing Pumpkins’ ludicrously titled tenth studio album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.

It’s kind of a great and arousing feeling to be analysing a non-hip-hop/rap project again after so long, and truth be told this doesn’t come without dusting off some of the aggravatingly accumulated critiquing rustiness and outdatedness of late. At the same time, giving closer look and listen to this new Rick Rubin-produced Shangri-La-bound, Malibu-sun-soaked record by one of rock’s most influential yet popularly underrated acts was sort of inevitable at this point, not least having recently re-sunk into their biggest unsung masterpiece of an album that 2000’s Machina/The Machines of God is, spending proper time and reflection trying to understand and connect to all of the fibres and textures of the sound that Billy Corgan and his troupe were able to manufacture for that record for the shape of heavy alternative music to come. For as heretical and controversial as it sounds to purist and fundamentalist adorers of the group, to me Machina/The Machines of God remains Pumpkins’ definitive work across songwriting, performance, production, delivery, and concept, as well as the one with the heaviest and most long-standing influences and permeations to the modern rock and roll zeitgeist.

As if this ignition were not captivating enough, just a few weeks ago my all time favourite musical outfit covered the Chicago alternative rockers’ world-wide smash hit “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” from their 1995 double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, as part of the noble and praiseworthy Songs That Saved My Life initiative, an arts-fuelled mission centred around music that played a pivotal role in the lives of artists and fans that benefits mental health and suicide prevention charities. Also of course, the whole bonkers PR frenzy around the fact that this new Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. thing was the Pumpkins’ ‘reunion record’ par excellence, and the first one in so long with the full original line-up (except for outlier historical bassist D’arcy Wretzky), obviously made it a must-listen for anybody with any minimal vested interest in weaving into the current rock leitmotiv and so on.

So this project was fully overseen and executively produced by someone who to yours truly is sadly one of the most overrated and worshipped record industry influencer and opinion maker of the last two to three decades: American record produced and hard-rock/hip-hop industry executive Rick Rubin. Just so that everyone knows, Rubin is somebody who when it comes to commercially released albums left his last true quality mark in the space through Kanye West‘s gnarly and time-bending Yeezus in 2013, arguably quite a long time in a day and age where rap artists release sixty-nine new projects and mixtapes every other Friday. Hence why, this recent revivalist transition back into heavier rock and roll sonic meanders sounded suspiciously fascinating and potentially extremely error-prone for the bearded sound engineer, after having peaked and reached superior excellence heights with all sorts of popular acts such as Metallica, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Linkin Park a couple decades ago, back in an era where alternative rock was actually thriving and permeating the commercial music mainstream.

Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. is a peculiar LP – strictly not to be labelled as an album in accordance to Billy Corgan’s own artistic senses – especially so for a usually dense, sophisticated, sarcastic, and layered recording act such as the Smashing Pumpkins. This thing is the band’s first release after 2014’s dull and average Monuments to an Elegy and is just eights tracks long, although sporting a little over half and hour and change of running time. This has to be the band’s shortest album (I’m sorry, Billy) in a long while if not ever, and even though the chaptered annex at the title’s end leads into thinking that there will be a companion sister release following the chunk of material present on this first volume, it’s certainly an interesting and daring choice for a group as always lyrically and sonically eloquent as the Pumpkins are. Partly compensating for the thinner material length with the hilariously infinite album title, and partly through the release of first teasing meaty yet sporadically messy single “Solara” on 8th June earlier this year, Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 results in an overall successful and accomplished record for the Chicagoans, at least with respect to not sticking to a commercially washed out formula such as tapping into the nostalgia aura and trying to recreate the sound and aesthetics of their monumental early records, or even settling for run-of-the-mill contemporary overblown and sanitised rock production vibes, something of a legitimate risk with someone like Rubin at the steering wheel.

Two months before the release of the LP the band revealed its second lead single in anticipation to the full length, titled “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)“, a song that even in retrospect, after hearing and digesting the full main sonic course, encapsulates perhaps the best variety of songwriting and production elements one could reasonably expect from 2018 Smashing Pumpkins. A three and a half minutes of linearly haunting and hypnotic guitar delivery, comprising of outstandingly superior lyricisms (“Stumbling before you speak / Stunning and stunning and stunning the black / You turn turncoat / Inward to seek out all your hopes / It’s your signals / That hurts me most“), hooky yet intelligent melody and harmonies, as well as that right and healthy amount of old Pumpkins spirit and rhythmic aesthetic pieces, with most people associating this tune with the band’s iconic melodramatic classic “1979“. Album opener “Knights of Malta” was unveiled as the unofficial third single a mere days before the full LP drop and joins “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)” in being hands down one the best moments on the project, while simultaneously conveying a particularly odd vocal-turned-riff motif by Corgan coupled by gorgeous choir-y singing that only grows catchier by the listen.

This record does however carry its unavoidable flaws quite explicitly too, as for instance with third song on the tracklist “Travels”, a very one-dimensional, hollow, lengthy, and lacklustre miscellaneous salad of rough ideas and half-baked melodies largely overstaying its welcome with an outrageous 5:23 of runtime (needless to say the longest cut on the LP). Albeit for different reasons, album closer “Seek and You Shall Destroy” too comes across as similarly underwhelming, with a song structure and rhythmic delivery trying way too hard and sounding like something that could have come out of a Muse album outtake, in addition to displaying a production style rocking all of those corny and overblown traits that one has grown to disdain in Rick Rubin over time. Luckily for any Pumpkins fan, the above two cuts emerge as controlled isolated incidents in an otherwise above-average and at times ingeniously inventive work of art by Corgan and co., perhaps best encapsulated by the feisty and powerful Machina-sound-funneling stunner “Marchin’ On”, or even semi-acoustic ballad beauty “With Sympathy”, showcasing the awe and brightness of some of the most quintessential Smashing Pumpkins lyrics ever (“For the love of irony / Let’s love, oh let’s love / For the love of irony / She’s laughing on, she’s laughing on / To stay confused / Disunion has its breaks / It’s ordinary aches and pains, I’ll take“).

There would be so much more to unpack and scrutinise with this – and for that matter any – Pumpkins album, starting from the whole idea of whether in the digital streaming era this ought to be considered a full length in and of itself to begin with (Kanye West says yes, while Billy Corgan calls it a collection of singles). Yet, with Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., there is a strange feeling of sorts calling for a need to accept and perceive its full artistic demeanour as if at face value, as though they were to give us the impression that these are the first scattered and spontaneous renditions of the new Pumpkins era, whether we like it to be true or not. Either way, it’s a fantastic and a hugely warming pleasure to have them back, even if for now only in form of a lighthearted, concept-less, and instinctive set of tracks that nonetheless are already able to hint at the outfit’s artistic grandeur and gifted song crafting abilities. My advice is to continue to watch this space for when Billy is ready to jump back onto the bigger-than-life conceptual rock opera bandwagon again…

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

SMASHING PUMPKINS

“SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT, VOL. 1 / LP: NO PAST. NO FUTURE. NO SUN.”

2018, Napalm Records

http://smashingpumpkins.com

SP_OhSoBright

Advertisements

ON THEM 777 FLIGHTS WITCHA | 2018-10-26

Sometimes cross-channel influence, cognitive association, and topical inspiration can strike from the weirdest, strangest angles in life, working perhaps in a subliminally unconscious way yet yielding their initial igniting spark when one least expects it. While I’m not really here looking for interpretation or struggling for inherent meaning of what I’m about to stipulate, it’s true that to many a readers this pairing of sorts will appear rather odd, as if permeating through the meanders of algorithmically computed processes. First things first. There is a visual album by Frank Ocean called Endless, his third music project overall, that was released in August 2016 as his last commitment with Def Jam Recordings so as to ingeniously fulfil his recording contract with the Universal Music-owned hip-hip imprint, shortly before dropping his highly-anticipated and critically acclaimed official second studio LP Blonde. Overlooking for a moment the scope of the very query beyond what the hell a visual album even is in the first place in today’s creative industries, Endless was initially distributed exclusively through Apple Music as an on-demand streaming-only 45-ish-minute video, before getting the sound recording re-issue makeover earlier in April this very year. The thing is, throughout its artistic and sonic existence, Frank’s audiovisual art piece always and forever existed in the shadow of his companion major album release and, needless to say, hitherto lived a life of critical overlooking and unwilling negligence.

I’d hate to be that guy, but this wasn’t the case for yours truly, who sincerely immediately connected with the boundary-pushing flair of the project’s experimentation, and almost continuously and consistently rated it above its sister (or perhaps, mother) marquee summer drop Blonde, the latter promoted and sponsored by antiquated industry ideas and appraisal canons supposedly ascribing what kind of attributes an album ought to have in order to be even considered as such. Speaking of reviewing conventions, and calling for a need of scrutinising standards, the auditory experience of Endless clocks in at about 40 minutes and change in length and, depending on which specific rendition one might be referring to, rocks about 20 quote-unquote cuts, ranging literally from atomised skits of a handful seconds to techno-reprises of intense seven minutes. What’s very interesting about this album is that it contains a special song entitled “Sideways”, sitting idle at number thirteen on my version of the track list, glowingly melting in a gorgeous fashion between crystal acoustic gem “Slide On Me” and choir-fuelled celestial “Florida”. Also, it’s interesting and noteworthy here to point out, in light of future revelations further down the piece, how the number thirteen is often viewed as carrying bad luck connotations by many superstitious cultures the world over and, more importantly, believe it or not many commercial airlines avoid its numbered seating row onboard their planes, out of that same superstition affinity. The track was crafted by London-based electronic music artist and sound engineer Vegyn, although further production handling on the song is credited to NY-based experimental glitch artist Nolife, who allegedly worked on the track with Frank himself while he was a temporary resident of New York City’s Mercer Hotel, even though he might as well have paid the whole mortgage for what he was spendingWhat I’ll do next is providing you with the full transcription of “Sideways”‘s lyrics, as a deep courtesy of genius.com:

[Verse]
I was in all them hours in it
10K, tokin’ mid strokes
Prime prime time of my life witcha
Puttin’ prime numbers up though
On them 777 flights witcha
Take a shower with it, gotta cleanse it
Keep the safety off innit
Now we finna have a mini
Outta wedlock, God forgive it
Then forget it
‘Cause only God can forget it
All this hotel living
Might as well pay the mortgage what I’m spending
Said the dick long as a swan neck
Put some real swans in the pond then
Fell asleep in the foreign
After the free show at the Garden
Let the LED roll, deer hunter
Leave the stage, watch it from the audience
Bet we sell the bickets out next week
On me on, my bodness

[Outro]
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m sideways, yeah, I set me straight
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m down they gon’ celebrate
Sittin’ sideways, too sideways
Nah, it’s not too late

Bear with me as here comes my main point. So all the while relentlessly tasting and indulging in repeated heightened listening experiences of and with Endless and specifically “Sideways”, I somewhere, somehow, sensed a sensorially bridged journey onto a a Swedish internet-based service displaying real-time commercial aircraft flight information on geographical maps, named Flightradar24. This freemium software includes flight tracks, origins and destinations, flight numbers, aircraft types, positions, altitudes, headings and aerodynamic speeds on a global scale. For affluent paid users, it can also show time-lapse replays of previous tracks and historical flight data by airline, aircraft, aircraft type, area or airport. Weirdly, this web app has become one of my biggest life companions as of late, given my quasi-frequent flyer programme status, which led me to reply to pretty standard – “where are you?” – questions from acquaintances on the phone with a weighted average value answer of – “on a plane” – during the past three to six months. My point here though is that every time I listen to Endless’ thirteenth track, or conversely spend enough time on Flightradar24, I am intensely reminded of the other one object, as if connected by a dotted figurative line, respectively. Something about the transcendent epistemology of both cultural artefacts was pointing out their intrinsic correlation, beyond my grasping almost in an ontological manner.

Now, it’s probably worth spending a couple words on Flightradar24 and its life-saving servicing protocol – just mainly as a public service announcement – without which many a times my airmile consumption patterns would have turned out even more painful and dreary than what they actually were. Like that time were I was quicker than the actual airline ground crew themselves to spot the mysterious air location of the aircraft that was supposed to come pick us up from Milan Malpensa (MXP) and fly us all the way to Barcelona El Prat (BCN) on a late Sunday evening. Or, that other time at Stockholm Arlanda (ARN) airport, where the service helped me figure out how big the apparent official flight delay actually was IRL (I was once again flying to BCN that time), given the incoming airplane’s route and location (unsurprisingly, there was a delta of about one hour and a half. Oh, no, not that Delta, this delta). Or again, and this might be my favourite inclusive utilisation modality of them all, when I would sneakingly monitor the exact route and location of family and friends I was supposed to go pick up upon their arrival at their destination airport, everything logically unbeknownst to all of them. Trust me when I say that you’d be glad you’d have used Flightradar24 before leaving your house to the airport when the specific plane you’re waiting for accumulated a delay of 2+ hours at source. At this point – and I beg your pardon if this comes too late – I would also like to point out that this is not a paid promotion advertorial in any shape or form whatsoever, but rather just an earnest and sincere shout out to not only an excellent travel companion, but also a subliminal Frank Ocean reference item.

You people have to trust me that the fact that this piece comes out into the Interweb on the very immediacy of Frank’s 31st birthday (he was born on 28th October 1987) is honestly a pure alignment of the stars coincidence, or perhaps yet another symbolic semantical component in the bigger meaningful design floating between 1) an Endless audiovisual art experience, 2) a software-as-a-service platform monitoring worldwide air traffic, and 3) a grander scheme of flight journeys. However, recently something perhaps too minuscule to itemise was able to cut through the reality distortion fielded mould and hit me with a sudden illuminating epiphany. I decided to get rid of all existing preconceived notions and mental conjectures that were supporting my struggle for meaning up until that point. Suddenly, I got it all. I got the apparent reason for the metaphysical connection between “Sideways” and Flightradar24, now all of a sudden so clear and yet at the same time always so latent throughout my consumption history with the New York City-nursed composition of 1:54 minutes. While it’s extremely hard to precisely and tangibly put a finger on it, at the end of the day it all has to do with Frank being my flight companion and travelling the world with me on airplanes. At first it might deceivably seem that a single line out of “Sideways”‘s lyrics score sheet could be the key to the mystery kingdom surrounding the opacity of such an obscure symbiotic and visceral connection, however upon closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that there is so much more to it than simply those five words.

Frank Ocean has actually always been the high-mile flight travel companion one would and should wish for (or is it Tyler Durden?), and he knew about Flightradar24 even before the Swedish folks who spun up and deployed its first source code of the beta software version knew about it. He was there ever since the free show at the Garden, when Kanye West introduced the idea of a living-breathing and upgrading album project to a puzzled and denying music business and mainstream press scene, at the time more concerned with his unbearable production delays in dropping the record and the elevated unpredictability surrounding his whole artist persona – an aspect notoriously shared with Frank Ocean himself – than the actual creative content embedded in the TLOP (w)rapper altogether. In a way, with Endless Frank followed Kanye’s advice, taking up the teachings of the grand master, in that he not only updated sonic and production elements of the original audiovisual album on the go, but effectively warped the whole nature of the artefact turning it into a CD-quality like studio album two years after its first release as a visual album. Very similarly, Flightradar24 tracks and updates flight movements on the fly across the world’s skies, no pun intended, drawing yet another parallel with the epitome of real-timeness which is the aural meditative immersion encapsulated in the minute and fifty-four seconds and the twenty-seven verses of “Sideways”, by Frank Ocean.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happiest birthday Frank.

AV

Flightradar24

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BROCKHAMPTON – “IRIDESCENCE” | 2018-09-24

Now that Notes from Barcelona – the Punktastic-hosted featured column series about the alternative/heavy live music scene in the Catalan capital – has finally pulled its editorial curtains and wrapped up a wonderful twelve-months of steady correspondence, expect this site to get even more flooded and infested by fierce jazzy music reviews, in addition to perhaps scattered musings and banters regarding books, TV, and cinema content here and there. For this reason and with this premise, partly because noblesse oblige, partly because of the topical relevancy of the significant subject matter, some time and space ought to be devoted to a recently released album which is almost too big to fail (and therefore ignore). What I’m referring to is none other than Sir Paul McCartney’s latest and 18th enthralling studio album Egypt Station, an opus work of art masterminded by influential and skilled producer Greg Kurstin that has unconditionally and inevitably been on heavy rotation on EMS’s playlists and mixtapes, almost exactly ever since its release on the past 7th September. Yet at the same time, conflictingly, the team here (?) is wholeheartedly, platonically, and consciously aware that one can’t simply review a Macca album as if it were nothing and just get away with it. Some appraisal tasks are bigger than one’s self, and with recording and performing acts like the Beatle par excellence, there simply comes a point where he transcends whichever semiotic symbolism (read: language, words) critics and reviewers might opt in to use in order to attempting at describing inherent artistic virtues, or lacks thereof, of any given creative endeavour by Sir Paul.

With that being said, the only thing I’d like to highlight and stress out, before embarking onto the actual music unit of analysis of the present critical assessment piece, is that the way Paul McCartney crafts and produces compellingly honest and raw storytelling through ornamented and layered melodies still goes unmatched. Much like a modern day raconteur or peasant minstrel distributing wisdom to his fellow villagers via insightful passages, Paul’s ability, or rather virtue, to construct simple yet universally addressable messages by way of simply-packaged and digestible power pop narratives is extremely sticky, and gains intrinsic value by the listen and by proxy of shared experiencing. Case in point, the tear-inducing and heart warming sly confessional of “Happy with You“, or the gracious and harmonic aesthetic of the very Beatles-esque “Dominoes“, all the way to Egypt Station’s more contaminated, experimental, and slightly left field cuts “Back in Brazil“, “Despite Repeated Warnings“, and album closer “Hunt You Down / Naked / C-Link“. No, ladies and gentlemen, I shall repeat myself, this isn’t a review in any shape or form, but just a testament of adulation to the biggest songwriter of our time and to his ability to instruct us all as to how to make sense of the world around us, almost since the world itself began, as Rolling Stone kindly points out when blasphemously reviewing the record: “Make a list of all the songwriters who were composing great tunes in 1958. Now make an overlapping list of the ones who are still writing brilliant songs in 2018. Your list reads: Paul McCartney. Sixty years after ‘Love Me Do,’ his legend already inviolable, Macca keeps adding new gems to his songbook, with nothing to prove except he’s the only genius who can do this“.

Now, the main LP getting dissected and scrutinised in this article actually has more in common with Paul and the Beatles ecosystem than one might imagine at first. Yes, because sensational rap/hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON’s fourth album iridescence was in fact recorded and produced at London’s Abbey Road Studios in just ten days, and no one needs reminding how that is linked to the Fab Four. So let’s not kid ourselves and act as if this isn’t a big deal. BROCKHAMPTON, the hardest working boyband in show business and arguably the biggest revelation to come out of 2017’s Western underground/indie/DIY artistic underbelly, conceived their incredibly highly-anticipated (and frequently retitled) follow up to the fantastic and critically acclaimed Saturation trilogy inside The Beatles’ legendary creative hub, and no one bats an eye? Well, in fact, many did bat an eye and because of that, many a stories came out in the run up to the album drop on 21st September, all fuelled by a wide variety of juicy, noteworthy, and controversial discussion topics, ranging from the queer group’s revelation and stellar rise last year to the unfortunate and regrettable exit of key core member Ameer Vann earlier this Spring, following a wealth of sexual abuse allegations put forward against him. What’s more, iridescence appears to be the first sonic instalment of yet another artistic trilogy dubbed The Best Years of Our Lives, to be issued by RCA Records (via their own production house Question Everything) after the Kevin Abstract-executively produced mega-group signed a much talked about deal with the Sony-owned imprint in March this year.

To be absolutely frank, the winding bias coefficient is not lost on me when approaching the artistic critical assessment of the fourth album of a performing act whose previous three full-lengths all featured in this site’s AOTY end-lists, during the same year. Nonetheless, the skilled and mixed race group’s influence and impact on the contemporary creative zeitgeist make for a kaleidoscopic perceived urgency that exists beyond any contributor’s personal preferences and warrants a judicial scrutiny all the same. Clocking in at just short of 50 minutes, and sporting a solid 15 tracks (including one and a half skits), iridescence kicks off with a grand slam in the listener’s face, with the fiery, hypnotic, and dingy “New Orleans”, sourcing top-notch deliveries by two of the boyband’s premier MCs, Dom McLennon (“When I die, these words gon’ need separate caskets in a hearse / I don’t rhyme, I freeze time and let these hands just do the work / I’m in tandem with my curse, going manic since my birth / See this canvas as I planned it, I’m commanding with my nerves“) and Matt Champion (“Bustin’ out the function, highly comfortable / Got this hot ting on my body, man my sweat lethal / Sweet kisses like the candy out the carnival / I’ma call my own shots, hit the audible“). After an unbelievably smooth and streamlined transition into what sounds like a Saturation-era-leftover, “Thug Life”, a powerfully dense trio of crunchy, distorted, and hectic cuts takes centerstage in this first half of the LP (“Berlin”, “Something About Him”, and “Where the Cash At”), lending a little too much messiness, although coupled with wonderfully intricate and layered vocal melodies, to the overall aesthetic. That said, the band’s mixing and mastering wizard Russell Boring aka JOBA’s outro on “Berlin” especially, is superior melodic songwriting, one that in the specific context of the moments of its happening takes the listener into a superlatively sweet, tender, and lucid direction after the intense and overwhelming sonic vortex populating the rest of said number.

“Weight” at number six on the playlist is an outstanding piece of compositional craft that virtually ticks all the boxes of best-in-breed modern hip-hop hit making, while at the same time marking a clear and distinct departure from the rap collective’s Saturation trilogy-universe: sound, theme, lyrics, production, delivery, structure, and flow. You name it, this song kills it. Moving on, the radically experimental and at times identity-less “District” wraps up side A of iridescence, glued together to its sister face by gorgeously pleasant filler “Loophole”, before diving into the grandiose and eerily dark-sounding and Radiohead-sampling “Tape” (on this one, take a moment to appreciate Kevin Abstract’s, JOBA’s, and Matt Champion’s damn fine flows and deliveries). Notwithstanding BROCKHAMPTON leader’s Twitter PSA warning, “J’ouvert” at number ten is the closest thing to a promotional single this project has got, and regardless of whether one wants to believe him or not, what a wonderful and striking choice that it. Everything from its tongue-in-cheek sound catchiness to each MC’s flawless vocal delivery, passing through the raucous, dangerous, and incendiary mood permeating the song throughout, “J’ouvert” hands down makes for one of the group’s most accomplished and astonishing tracks to date. What follows, “Honey”, is doubtlessly album peak to me, a stunningly creative and catchy patchwork that makes three minutes and change go by as if they were mere seconds. On this joint, heightened lyrical poignancy (“My people still dry snitchin’ whenever they touch the mic / That’s what happens when a therapist isn’t somewhere in sight / Take flight, never leaned to the left or the right / ‘Cause they turn the other cheek when our ni**as start to die“) gets coupled with fun and daring beats (that go as far as self-sampling Saturation’s chopped and screwed blasting gem “Bump” into a successfully reworked plug-in), but what takes this number up a millions notches is the unbelievably dreamy and heavenly elevating outro – or rather, second half – kicking in at about 1:35. Outta sight.

Across its final four tracks, the album isn’t able to match its top crown-y moments, unsurprisingly so given how much quality material is to be found distributed across the previous eleven cuts. Regrettably, the pale yet weird and chaotic “Vivid”, as well as dull and reductive album closer “Fabric”, lower the overall masterwork-status average of this record, only to be moderately counterbalanced in this late section by the stunningly robotic ballad “San Marcos” – curiously and un-intuitively inspired by the Goo Goo Dolls, still according to frontman Kevin Abstract – and previously unveiled lush and swanky tell-all dashboard confessional “Tonya”. All things considered, this major label debut and first instalment in the Best Years of Our Lives trilogy by the Texas-formed, LA-based collective represents a major flag in the BROCKHAMPTON career’s reign, a pivotal artistic landmark cradling inspired and gorgeously experimental sonic territory, forcefully navigated with the absence of a key founding member, but with a wealth of additional wisdom, depth, confidence, and virtue accompanying every steering turn and beat switch. iridescence is a fierce and dead serious candidate for a ton of further AOTY lists to come and a crystal clear conceptual delineation that the boyband isn’t comfortable simply resting on their Saturation laurels. Suddenly it doesn’t seem too crazy that, given ten days locked away in a quintessential Beatles reign creating on a 24/7 rotation basis, BROCKHAMPTON too might be eligible for the aforementioned Rolling Stone qualitative reasoning that worked so well for Macca. At least for now: “Make a list of all the songwriters who were composing great tunes in 2017. Now make an overlapping list of the ones who are still writing brilliant songs in 2018. Your list reads: BROCKHAMPTON”.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BROCKHAMPTON

“IRIDESCENCE”

2018, Question Everything Inc.

http://www.brckhmptn.com

BH_Iridescence

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO DOCE – BECAUSE SHE SAID SO | 2018-08-28

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

Notes from Barcelona is back one last time with a special instalment. This closing chapter revolves around a subject very close to Punktastic’s heart and mission.

Having reviewed much of Barcelona’s local and regional live underground scene over the last year – including a number of wonderful female-led acts – we thought we would bring you food for thought from a praiseworthy cause. One with a very unique tie to the city.

For this final feature we connected with shesaid.so, a global network of women who operate in the music industry, including a relatively small yet strong representation in the Catalan capital. Established in 2014, shesaid.so’s vision is to establish an environment that fuels collaboration, creativity, and positive values among female music industry practitioners and artists. Working on this goal, the project aims to provide a platform for discussion and community building around the world.

shesaid.so has been active ever since founder Andreea Magdalina toyed with the idea of consolidating an autonomous community for women fighting against the establishment’s structural discrimination.

From the beginning, one of its primary intents was to create interactive events for its members and their extended network, and to showcase talented female artists and their representatives. They do this by curating and speaking on panels aimed at promoting exceptional work by women in the industry, as well as offering partnership and networking opportunities to its members.

Today the community counts an active membership of almost 3,000 women around the world. Its headquarters are in London (where the movement originally began) and Los Angeles, while other key hubs are located in the Bay Area, NYC, Paris, Berlin, Mumbai and other musical poles around the globe, to a total of fourteen active cities. Barcelona is proudly one of them, as it quickly grew to host and coordinate more than 400 women across their professional and artistic endeavours.

We took the chance to speak to Barcelona-based director Georgia Taglietti and shesaid.so’s founder Andreea, discussing the origins of the initiative, the importance of keeping the community connected, the role of Barcelona in the wider community, and their new mentoring scheme.

Los Angeles-based Andreea, with a background in the UK music technology space, tells us how the idea for shesaid.so first came her when she realised that “music and technology have always struggled with diversity, particularly as one went up the career ladder to roles with decision-making power”. She noticed that the issues she was experiencing weren’t isolated, which is why she decided to put together “a group of women to start sharing these frustrations, and opportunities that would help us grow in our careers”.

One of the key objectives of the movement is the abolishment of gender stereotypes within music, by encouraging future role models. Explains Andreea, “It was important to launch initiatives that would help bridge the gap between men and women.” Primarily this would be achieved “by increasing the number of women who enter the music industry workforce, but also increasing the number of those who stay and progress in their careers”.

The initial reception to the cause, as well as its subsequent growth, have been excellent. “I wasn’t really planning for shesaid.so to become as big of an initiative as it has become”, admits Andreea, who now feels like she has the responsibility to continue with her work improving diversity and positive actions, regardless of what’s trending in the media and how much of a momentum there is at any given time.

This is why, to counter systemic and ideological struggles – and in times when even the most powerful female artists are sometimes accused of failing the Bechdel test – the community strives to achieve concrete and career-related goals by connecting the network together. “shesaid.so is a place where women can share job opportunities, interesting articles, personal stories, call for contacts and so on”, explains Andreea. “It’s all just useful stuff that helps their careers get better”.

Georgia Taglietti, who heads up the Barcelona hub, and also doubles as Global Board Member, is quick to stress how the Catalan capital represented an ideal working environment for the movement, due to its historical and cultural context. “Barcelona is still a quite conservative work environment, so I wanted to give local women the hope that things can be as diverse and inclusive as in other international music cities”.

Georgia has a wealth of experience in the music space, not least spearheading PR and communications for Barcelona’s very own music festival Sónar (where, she notes, her bosses “are all men”). Her resume and expertise put her in an ideal role when it comes to guiding and mentoring younger women within the shesaid.so’s sisterhood. She explains that “being one of the oldest members in the community, I made it a clear mission of mine to help younger and upcoming female professionals and artists going up the ladder”.

Having lived in Catalonia for 33 years, she is no stranger to Barcelona’s social and cultural dynamics. “Barcelona is a small city, however too often isolated clusters are quick to form within it, both privately and professionally”, says Georgia. This results in groups made up of “foreigners with foreigners, locals with locals, and people from the music industry not even talking to each other”.

At the same time, the seasoned shesaid.so Barcelona director knows that the movement possesses a global network and reach, both online and in-person. Ultimately, says Georgia, her contribution is “about promoting the bigger picture”, inspired as she was by the realisation that “before shesaid.so, girls and women who live here didn’t feel like there was real community for music industry people, let alone women in the music space”.

Today, Barcelona’s hub within the wider initiative is becoming increasingly mature, funnelling tangible benefits for all the women involved. “shesaid.so in Barcelona is very focused on sharing hiring options for younger local girls”, says Georgia, as “hiring is the most important thing here”. Interestingly, however, “some of the strongest and most active members in Barcelona are artists. The artist is the most visible manifestation of the movement for the public”.

More recently, shesaid.so launched its first global mentorship scheme, dubbed she.grows, after a successful pilot programme last year when it paired up 22 members of the shesaid.so community. Andreea tells us how she.grows is “a very practical way in which one can help someone else in her career, by simply mentoring them”. She adds that as part of this year’s programme, the movement will be helping 100 different women by connecting 50 pairs of mentors and mentees around the world.

When asked about some of the movement’s similar milestones over the years, the founder openly reveals: “I feel like every time I receive an email from someone who is thanking the movement for impacting their career or their life in any small way, that’s a huge milestone every single time”. This results in a win-win situation, as she is quick to point out how “that’s the kind of attitude that helps us push forward with our mission”.

Both Andreea and Georgia hope for shesaid.so to become a long-lasting effort with long-lasting effects, and they agree that things are starting to change. People within and outside the music space are noticing. “[Men] are getting more and more conscious, and that’s important”, reveals Georgia, adding how oftentimes “it’s almost like a fear-effect. They don’t look scared, but they are”.

Our two interviewees aren’t shy to admit that there is still room for potential improvement. In the years to come, they want to grow the wider network sustainably, for instance by building business plans with appropriate trade partners. And they want to optimise the intersection between female industry people and performing artists, by involving more women performers at their live events and showcases.

The overall impression is that shesaid.so is a powerful movement that is eager to achieve more, with an impressive trajectory that has great potential for the future of women in the music industry. There are big decisions waiting to be made, as the core team is working on optimising their communication channels and deciding what is best for their members. Today, both Andreea and Georgia are sure of one thing: “shesaid.so is about feeling stronger, together. And this feeling is amazing.”

Gràcies per tot i viva Catalunya!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

IMG_7093

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): DENZEL CURRY – “TA13OO” | 2018-08-01

I thought I’d switch it up a little bit on these ARM frequencies and throw my reviewing hands, eyes, and ears onto one of the latest Lofi hip hop mix – Beats to Relax/Study to [2018] tapes, only to then quickly realise it would’ve represented a mighty and pretty insurmountable task in and of itself, so the option faded away almost as rapidly as it initially came to fruition in my consciousness. While I’m profoundly fascinated and thrilled by said current musical phenomenon, partly encapsulated in the output tape above, I’m not sure any of its prime cultural artefacts – regardless of whether fully recorded or live-streamed – would truly fit the formula of a written critical artistic assessment of sorts, given how all over the place, diverse, disparate, and stuck together all of its intrinsic parts are (which, just to be clear, are greater than the sum of them all). So, although this is yet another extremely positively saturated music release period, with recent iridescent drops responding to the names of The Internet, R+R=NOW, as well as a whole bunch of new post-Ameer BROCKHAMPTON cuts unveiled one week at a time via their latest Beats 1’s featured radio show Things We Lost in the Fire, yours truly had to inevitably resort to SoundCloud rap sensation and Florida native prodigy Denzel Curry‘s highly anticipated and buzzed third LP TA13OO.

Denzel Curry has been turning and spinning my head for a while now, having recently delved deeper into his back catalogue after overdosing acoustically on his monumentally furious and immediate second studio album Imperial, unarguably one of the best and fiercest rap projects of the decade. Thus, after journeying on an artistic listening experience that led me to a navigation of his debut Nostalgic 64 as well as a couple intriguing EPs (2015’s 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms and last year’s 13), my experiential momentum with the 23-year-old cloud rapper/trapper gained even more meaning on the 13th July, as the MC announced the release of his full-length follow-up to Imperial, trickily entitled TA13OO, alongside unveiling its lead single “Clout Cobain“. Following the debut of previous TA13OO tracks “Sumo” and “Percs” in April and May this year, the project’s main preview track came accompanied by the revelation that the whole album would in fact be rolled out across three main acts; the 1st Act, dubbed Light, is composed of four songs and dropped on the 25th July, quickly followed in succession by Gray (2nd Act, five tracks) on the 26th, and with 3rd Act Dark wrapping up the release ceremonies with the final four cuts on the album, landing on Friday 27th. Speaking of which, this is how Denzel’s camp is promoting the project across the various channels:

“Each previously-released single represents one of the album’s acts, as “Sumo” represents Light, “Clout Cobain” represents Gray, and “Percs” represents Dark, which come together cohesively to form TA13OO. Across the three sections of TA13OO, Denzel explores topics including molestation, the presidential election, fame, hatred, paranoia, revenge, love, the current state of music and personal tales of his own near death experiences. Sonically, the album ranges just as widely as its subject matter, sounds of paranoia, fear of loss, brooding melancholy and mood swings straight from hell all find their way onto TA13OO, making this Denzel’s most groundbreaking musical performance to date.”

Needless to say, quite the refreshing approach here, defying both industry-standard Friday releases and controversial subject taboos (the pun is pretty intended), which to be fair did see more and more of the mainstream limelight recently, thanks to the whole hip-hop/rap scene self-referentially devoting more time, thought, and resources to topics like substance abuse, nihilism, violence of all sorts, as well as mental health, the latter clearly spearheaded by the groundwork lied down by none other than Kanye West in recent memory. Clocking in at just about 43 minutes, with 13 tracks of fully new material, the album came out on Beverly Hills-based Loma Vista Recordings and, much like the aforementioned promo description, ranges widely in intensity, both sonically and conceptually. Luckily, the journey takes off in the best possible way, both sounds-wise and from a sentiment standpoint, with an array of flourishing, sunset-y, and at times very catchy tracks making up the accordingly themed Light act. The eponymous album opener is an incredibly pleasant, mellow, and romantic introduction to the record, with capacious and inspired bars taking up the central portion of the cut, flipping up the conventional verse-chorus-verse formula creating a successful slow-burner, in sharp contrast to his previous album Imperial’s epic opener “ULT“.

Black Balloons” at number two on the tracklist already spoils the listener with some of the best moments this project has to offer, with a wholeheartedly gracious heat-of-the-summer number with tons, tons of retro palm tree-vibes and synths tucked on top. Discussing subjects as varied as “Sky is the limit, I could die in a minute / Got my mind in a skillet, suicide not the mission / See the vibe very timid, I’m timid and very sad / Translated my thoughts and feelings I pivot into the pad” as well as “And I just wanna be the rightest I could be / Show my son to think / so he could fly high as could be / Always show examples how they kill ni**as like me / Thinking as straight as me, but call me crazy“, the track finds Denzel and wingman GoldLink as sweetened and complaisant as never before. For sure a serious contender for jam of the summer season this year, for those flirting with the genre. Next up, as part of Act 1, is “Cash Maniac“, carrying forward the progression down the keys and synth-laden path, leveraging a delicious chorus sung by fellow Carol City artist Nyyjerya and injecting a little heavier trap-meets-funk groove and rhythm compared to the first two tracks, albeit keeping the overall BPMs in the slower average region.

The acid and visceral “Sumo” transitions the record into its middle Grey portion with enough grit and good intentions, although probably not enough to be worthy of a single-status promotion, before landing on a interstitial limbo surface that causes the album to lose a little bit of its sharply bright focus and melody it so well carried hitherto. While the short, pounding, and hypnotic “Super Saiyan Superman” might even make some sense as it is, with the exception of the deep, informative, and socially-conscious “Sirens” (“State of mind, brain is minimized, put me on the news, only criticize / Revolution will never be televised / For the enemy, they never empathize / And I never voted, never sugar coat it / With my finger itchin’ and my gun loaded“), all other cuts composing the Grey portion sound just like a more-of-the-same, quite safe, and easy territory for Denzel, both from a compositional and a delivery point of view. Sure, while “Switch It Up” and lead single “Clout Cobain” in particular are great at mastering sticky hooks and catchy sung refrains, unfortunately the overall impression from this batch of same-y tracks is that they all come across a little too slow, spacious, indulgent, and pretty repetitive. There isn’t a great deal to say about their lyrical impact either, and generally, while there is nothing wrong in slowing down the dynamic of a project and toying with laid-back moods for a while, they would’ve probably worked better and been more bearable as a single song somehow merging them three together, rather than fleshing these out across almost 11 combined minutes of running time.

Curry tries pretty hard to turn the run of play on its head for the final, gloomy, and unapologetic Black act, however he only achieves mixed results. Dark opening number “The Blackest Balloon” has nothing that would recall its Light cousin’s musical substance and impact, other than the similarity in the track title, as it carries the listener through pretty banal vocal melodies and an extremely stripped back beat production with occasional irritating sound effects coupled with very underwhelming ornaments. Fortunately, “Percs” is quite the hammering and stomping mood saviour and clearly spearheads TA13OO’s final act, even though it is filled with trendy and noteworthy features elsewhere (JPEGMAFIA and ZillaKami). Besides its sonic and delivery ferocity, lyrically “Percs” also aims at many of the overarching album topics, including especially the current state of rap and its self-destroying addiction to opioids: “With these dumbass ni**as, and they don’t say shit / Sound like “Durr, durr, durr”, you like “Oh, that’s lit” / With yo’ boof ass hits, “I’ma fuck yo’ bitch / I just popped two Xans,” Ni**a, fuck that shit!“. Penultimate song “Vengeance” sports the duo of collaborators listed above and shows signs of enhanced songwriting significance and compositional quality, otherwise not to be found so easily in the latter part of this LP. JPEGMAFIA’s verse and the song’s main refrain are probably the best moments on this very track, successfully marrying deep distortion with surgical rap flows, transitioning into a weird, flat, yet purposeful slow ballad-y outro towards 3:20, sampling a certain Mickey De Grand IV, according to genius.com.

TA13OO finishes with “Black Metal Terrorist”, a song that carried much excitement and anticipation among fans ever since the tracklist was first revealed, given its hype-building and namedropping dating back to Curry’s Imperial time. Truth be told, the cut turns out a little half-baked, partly because of its thin length and production arrays, but mainly because it shows clear and illuminating sparks of brilliant executing aggression, but somehow fails to deliver on the good promises. Flirting with the more experimental side of Denzel, the song results too all over the place and fails to express a distinct and unique identity, again a take away mainly to be ascribable to its short duration as well as the failed opportunity to legitimise specific parts or aesthetics due to its constant section twists. In many ways the album closer is actually a fair and decent representation of the project as a whole, showcasing flawless and pristine moments of high quality and lyrical self-consciousness alongside underwhelming and at times tacky beats that end up sounding a lot like fillers. It’s funny how there is a certain notion in the creative world that predicates the idea that some of the best art and music ever created stems from very obscure and dark places, both inside and outside the creator, yet here, Denzel just proved – either deliberately or not – that often times it’s the lighter side that produces the best material. Let’s embrace said proclamation based on recent evidence and let the bright side prevail, surely something not too difficult to achieve during summertime. There you have another taboo debunked.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

DENZEL CURRY

“TA13OO”

2018, Loma Vista Recordings

http://www.ultimatedenzelcurry.com

TA13OO_FINAL_ALBUM_COVER

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): KIDS SEE GHOSTS – “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” | 2018-06-29

Just in case y’all esteemed readers haven’t noticed, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun at this so please excuse me as I continue to productively proliferate the meanders of this site with soon-to-be critically acclaimed featured review of selected popular music being released in 2018 (and beyond). To be completely honest with you, it would be hard to do otherwise, as all of us earthlings get inundated with tidal waves of exceptionally excellent new music as of late, especially more so after the Kanye West-architected five week G.O.O.D. Music label marathon, which began with the impressively astonishing Pusha T release Daytona and culminated just mere days ago, on Friday 22nd June, with the drop of Teyana Taylor’s mild and rather anonymous K.T.S.E. And by the way, who knows what else Ye and his camp have in store for us next, as history taught us numerous times that, albeit them being superior drops of ethereal wisdom, Kanye’s promotional tweets aren’t necessarily the most reliable and validated source to go by. Fun fact: for as strange, surprising, and peculiar as it sounds, this very ARM piece is actually the first official instalment dissecting one of said five album releases, even though multiple associated namedrops and mentions have indeed occurred throughout these very airwaves recently. So, whilst begging the pardon of you all music aficionados for the slightly dislocated delay in putting this one out – as most of you might already be aware of the original release date of this album – without further ado it’s time for a review of Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s new duo self-titled debut, also known as hip-hop supergroup Kids See Ghosts.

Actually, there is in fact some further ado, as I didn’t want to miss my chance to shout-out my man Jason Butler’s latest musical endeavour (of letlive. and The Fever 333 fame), in form of the raunchy and gnarly Pressure Cracks side-project, a punk-hardcore five-piece from Southern California that catapulted itself into the world with its eponymous EP at the end of May. It’s a radically bittersweet, fun, in-your-face, and formative ride through sonic highwaves of meat-and-potatoes hardcore angst, all encapsulated in a handy and modular 15-minute of punk fame journey spanning four tracks. Previewed by the aggressively dope and dynamically excellent “Be a Wolf”, all cuts on the project do bring something valuable to the table, from the break-down-filled electrifying opener “Collages & Collagen”, to the high-speed grit and kinky violence of closing number “No Yourself”, passing through the powerfully entangled and abrasive “Stay Inside, Stay Alive”, which also doubles as one of the few sporadic moments on the record showcasing interesting clean vocals motives by Butler, who I’m sure must’ve not been able to speak for a whole week after recording this EP. Check with your own ears and you’ll know what I mean. If nothing else, it’s a full gust of fresh hardcore breeze for these times, which have so frequently and so intensely been exposed to hip-hop lately that one might not have realized how much the world missed some guitar-driven wall of sounds as well as good old screams and growls. I bet this EP can provide the same service to you, too.

Back to our regularly scheduled programme, which sees Kanye West and long-time protégé/wunderkid Cudi (see what I did there?) dropping one of the most highly-anticipated albums of the year on Friday 8th June – the third in the G.O.O.D. Music series –, synthesised for better of worse into mere seven tracks clocking in at just about 25 minutes (incipit: for those of you late to the party, a while back and amidst the whole MAGA-hat/Trump-endorsement drama, Kanye decided that albums have now just seven tracks, and stuck to this creative formula for his recent outputs, albeit making an exception with the last 8-track Teyana Taylor instalment). The excitement and thrill for this release got further cemented pretty quickly through incredibly positive early reviews of the project – above all a staggering and mega controversial 10/10 score by the Internet’s busiest music nerd Anthony Fantano – as well as all of those bells and whistles surrounding each of these recent Kanye-produced drops, including exclusive listening parties all over the USA, raining from his creative compound-ranch in Wyoming to hip neighbourhoods in Los Angeles. With that being said, my very personal expectations going into this album weren’t exactly sky-high, given the rather disappointing and surprisingly underwhelming ye record that preceded this (both TLOP and Yeezus are miles ahead), coupled with the recent radio silence from Kid Cudi as far as his creative outputs was concerned.

They say that one shall be best pleased when her expectations aren’t disproportionately high or shooting for the moon, and this I feel is exactly what happened with this record, as overall it’s quite literally an impressive and thorough artistic endeavour, ranging from off-the-wall experimentation and never-heard-before Kanye (“Feel the Love”), to precious, sensitive, gorgeous white gloved sampling (“Cudi Montage”). Right off the bat, one has to recognise and acknowledge Kid Cudi’s standout contributions to the overall aesthetic of this project, which for a great part could be reduced to his much-acclaimed and welcomed-back “humming” style of singing, but that in reality reaches out to so much more, adding a special je ne sais quoi, a triumphant coolness without even trying. Whilst opener “Feel the Love” is appointed with setting the record straight (another pun intended…), making way to a kickstarting palette of aggressive experimentation and welcoming back good ol’ Pusha T taking care of the main bars, it’s Cudi’s brilliant verse on “Fire” (“It’s so many days I prayed to God / All this pain, I couldn’t seem to find a way / On a mission livin’, carry on / Got my family, I’m seein’ through by the days / Never late, pull up a seat and come grab a plate / Check the date, let ’em hate“) that lends this project the feeling of an instant classic. Elsewhere, “Reborn” at number five (a good one, but largely overstaying its welcome) is a song very much up Kid Cudi’s alley, whereby the Cleveland, Ohio prodigy goes to dominate the melodic delivery and firmly grabs the rhythmic steering wheel, only to leave a smaller intermezzo to Kanye in the first half.

Track number three “4th Dimension” is a genius piece of patchwork by Ye, sampling an old jazzy refrain by Louis Prima that flows into a groovy and very tongue-in-cheek two and a half minutes stunner (“It feels so good, it should cost / Bought her alligator, I ain’t talkin’ Lacoste / Made me say, “Ugh, uh” / Like a mix of Master P and Rick Ross (uh, uh) / She seem to make me always feel like a boss (uh, uh) / She said I’m in the wrong hole, I said I’m lost (uh, uh)“), becoming a work of art that also best exemplifies how well Kanye and Cudi build on each other’s strengths, as if Kids See Ghosts had been a thing for decades and this was their watertight winning formula. Moving on, “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)” displays an extremely interesting vibe with a grungy aesthetic almost bordering something that could’ve come out of a modern alternative rock production, with a stomping and captivating drum work glueing together some of the most gorgeous vocal harmonies the rap mainstream might have seen in a while.

Similarly – albeit overall coming across a little bland and too predictable – the self-titled track at number six offers, among other things, a chilling and almost Michael Jackson-esque harmonisation passage at 3:22, that suddenly opens up the whole track making it breathe and exhale a perfect ending climax. Last, but definitely not least, album wrapper “Cudi Montage” is close to pure Kids See Ghost perfection, the kind of song you’d play to an alien coming to visit planet earth asking what modern day rap should and ought to sound like. Sampling none other than Kurt Cobain off his posthumous Montage of Heck record, the cut carries a haunting and steely guitar lick progressing over a syncopated drum machine, accompanied by dark and caustic bars by Cudi first and then Kanye (perhaps their respective best verses on the whole album), flowing into a superbly liberating and outstanding self-help chorus.

Every streaming service and user music library will have this album categorised under the rap/hip-hop genre, and rightfully so, but when looking at it – or rather, listening to it – the elements that leave the strongest marks are actually found outside the typical hip-hop starter guide; like the wonderful singing melodies by both Ye and Cudi, the boundary-pushing genre-blending sampling experimentation, the sharp and witty lyrical content, or again Kanye and Kid Cudi’s innate ability to sound so well-oiled and complementary to one another. It’s thus virtually impossible to pigeonhole this project within specific genre/trend/mood tags, precisely because it’s so eclectic and charismatic, revealing previously undisclosed and different sonic elements with every new listen. Finally, another positive spillover effect projected to stem from this significant effort by the duo is the probable revival of the much-polarising and incredibly rich Kid Cudi catalogue, with many listeners likely to go back and revisit some of his older material, reinvigorated by his excellent humming form on this Kids See Ghosts LP. The same could certainly be said for Kanye West and his old repertoire, although in his case it does feel like there shouldn’t be any need whatsoever to do so, given that he took up this type of task completely on his own, a couple months back, as he started to hysterically generate buzz, controversy, and anticipation surrounding his whole private and artistic persona by heavily employing this generation’s favourite micro-messaging tool for single white males: Twitter. Please don’t @ me.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

KIDS SEE GHOSTS

“KIDS SEE GHOSTS”

2018, Getting Out Our Dreams II, LLC

https://shop.umusic.ca/artist.html?a=kids_see_ghosts

KIDS SEE GHOSTS

 

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): A$AP ROCKY – “TESTING” | 2018-06-10

Yeezy season is not only approaching, but is in full-floating production and execution mode at this very minute, with a one-two-three G.O.O.D. Music-projects released Friday after Friday across May and June, packaged and delivered to us all mere mortals in form of excellent 7-track albums by Pusha T (Daytona), Kanye West (ye), as well as the most recent Ye and Kid Cudi’s hip-hop duo Kids See Ghosts eponymous debut record. In parallel, a mildly progressively heating Southern European late Spring period brought yours truly to the mighty international (but actually very British) fashion show that is Barcelona’s Primavera Sound. Whilst live music was nonchalantly put to the side in favour of Instagram selfies and enhanced drug use, I did manage to find some of the hidden stages and check out astonishing and enthralling live performances by artists such as the garçon Tyler, The Creator, baroque rock and roll monsieurs Arctic Monkeys, mega cat Thundercat, dangerously honest hood minstrel Vince Staples, and Swiss black metal primordial chanters Zeal & Ardor. Most importantly though, and way more prominently tied to the present music review piece, I got to catch the closing headline bill set by New York rapper A$AP Rocky, which followed the release of the A$AP Mob member’s third studio album Testing mere days before on 25th May. These two events combined made for quite the relevant alignment between Lord Flacko’s artistic manifestation and myself, so much so that it officially triggered an ARM alert and so here we are taking a closer scrutiny of this star-studded and featured record.

Quite similarly to what the preconditions were going into ARM’s recent effort on J. Cole’s last LP KOD, there is a little PSA/full disclosure statement that needs to be outlined, so as to better contextualise the present review of Testing: I secretly never liked A$AP Rocky and everything he represented, and almost never listened to anything coming from him nor A$AP Mob to be completely honest. After all, I come from a completely different background involving primarily alternative rock, hardcore, and punk, so I guess this mustn’t come as an unbelievable surprise. With that being said, as trap and cloud rap started to steal rock’s scene, both at live gigs’ mosh pits and in the charts, I too inevitably got caught in the current mainstream hip-hop fever, up to a point where now some of my favourite artists are prima donna MCs. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s delve into Rocky’s new studio LP, released under RCA Records and composed of 15 tracks, for almost 55 minutes of running time made of freshly baked new material. For Testing, the Harlem rapper-producer lined up a wealth of collaborators and contributors, ranging from the aforementioned Kid Cudi to Frank Ocean, to Skepta and Snoop Dogg. But spoiler alert, no one truly ever managed to take the full spotlight away from Rocky on this one, as he finds himself venturing into vastly experimental fields of industrial-trap hip-hop, while at the same time distilling pure moments of superior melodic craft.

The otherworldly and subterranean bass frequencies accompanying savage and fiery opener “Distorted Records” are something very rarely heard on mainstream projects, yet A$AP Rocky manages to pull it off in a very slick and contextual manner, whereby the inherent nature of the cut couldn’t be better epitomised by the literal name of the song. Such an opening high-note is well maintained throughout track number two, the album’s lead single “A$AP Forever“, sampling Moby’s pop crown jewel “Porcelain” and pairing a tastily belligerent flow with aspirational and tongue-in-cheeky bars (“I put A$AP on my tat / I put New York on the map / I put the gang on the flames / They gon’ remember the name“). “Tony Tone” at number three is a definite grower that showcases one of Rocky’s standout solo performances on this project, firing an abrasive warped groove filled with hooky sections and leveraging repetitions to make its way into the listeners’ psyches. The 101 on contemporary mumble rap/trap that follows, “Fukk Sleep”, enlisting the help of an extinguished FKA twigs, fails to leave a proper permanent mark, both as a standalone cut and as when placed in context with the full album, ending up being a pretty forgettable track overall. Second single “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)” featuring British grime don Skepta closes the first third of Testing with what seems like a fairly safe choice, both collaboration-wise and with respect to greater melody and harmonic textures, wrapping up an album section that promised so much after its first two teasers but that actually faded a little bit in quality as the tracklist progressed.

Sadly, “CALLDROPS” at number six does nothing in the way of uplifting the downward momentum of the album at this point, boldly continuing a pretty irritating trend pertaining to mainstream hip-hop records consisting of randomly including (real or staged) phone voicemail messages and turning them into actual tracks through a dubious genius spark of inspiration, not even remotely tied to the growing instinct of strategically increasing the number of album tracks so as to leverage modern streaming payout rate counts by dominant services like Spotify and Apple Music. Fortunately, the excellently produced and experimental “Buck Shots” delivers one of the highest and most fortunate moments on the album, driven by addictive and fun lyrical motifs (“Homeboy you ain’t know (ends where they buck shot) / Had a bitch suckin’ on a lollipop at the bus stop / Green Glock, red Glock (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot)”) as well as fitting beat switches and in-composition transitions that make the song go by in two shakes. The following set of three tracks (“Guns N Butter”, “Brotha Man”, and “OG Beeper”) ascribe some confusion and surging anonymity to the record’s mid-section that not even some A-list credited and uncredited collabs (Juicy J, French Montana, Snoop Dogg) are able to salvage, only for said clumsiness to be overcome by another fantastic cut in the form of the beautifully harmonised and sung ballad  “Kids Turned Out Fine” (admittedly Rocky’s favourite song off Testing).

The latter record also doubles as introduction to the last third of the album, and boy oh boy, was this worth the wait as well as a couple bumpy and subpar listens on the way of getting here. Every single track wrapping up this project in its latter section is a spectacular, handsomely crafted trap gem in its own peculiar way: from the dreamy, cloudy, chorus-y, and gigantically bigger-than-life “Hun43rd” (where I’ll go as far to say it might be one of the best songs this rap genre has seen in recent memory), to the introspective and fully confessional sentimental opus “Changes” (look out for the staggering beat/mood switch at 2:55 on this one), passing through the social critique and cathartic, punching lyricism of “Black Tux, White Collar” (“I say motherfuck you ni**as for the hate that you investin’ (yeah) / Fuck police cause he probably wanna arrest me (check it out) / Fuck the prison system, this injustice was ingestive (slatt) / All black tuxes, get the white collars jealous like / All my role models either dead or in the pen’ / I had no choice to be the ni**a that I am / Stuck with bros, stuck the code (yeah) / ‘Cede emblem on the fender (yeah)“).

The Frank Ocean-featured “Purity” acts as emblematic curtains close to the 15-track Testing in form of a gently guitar-picking lick leading A$AP Rocky’s growling distorted vocals, before making way to some of the best rapping and flow Ocean has shown in a while, taking up much of the song’s compositional and delivery substance pushing Rocky (and rap goddess Lauryn Hill, who’s featured in multiple spots on this cut) to taking care of vocal harmonising in the background. To be fair, such laid-back, supporting role of Rocky is not representative of the best material found on this album, whereby overall, the sensation is rather that the tracks stuffed with notable third-party features overshadowing Lord Flacko end up leaving something to be wished for (see particularly “Fukk Sleep”, “Praise the Lord [Da Shine]”, and “Brotha Man”). Contrarily, this album leaves its strongest marks and is at its most convincing precisely in those moments and situations where the perception is that A$AP Rocky is fully and wholly himself, for good and bad, in all his flaws, excellences, and vulnerabilities (case in point, the visceral “Distorted Records”, or the gorgeous “Buck Shots”, or again the album’s best four minutes with “Hun43rd”). J. Cole has recently demonstrated how even huge mainstream rappers can put out a whole record without a single external collab – albeit with mixed success – and now that I’m thinking about it, by naming this album Testing Rocky perhaps wasn’t actually hinting at its sonic and thematic experimentation, but he rather wanted us listeners to test out his individual artistic craftsmanship finding its qualitative peak, at the same time creating a legitimate precedent for what could grow into an actual, truly solo LP as its next big follow-up.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

A$AP ROCKY

“TESTING”

2018, RCA Records

http://www.asapmob.com

asap-rocky-testing