NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO DIEZ – BIKINI ON STICKS | 2018-04-19

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

———- NFB

The warmer season is upon us in Barcelona. Marked by the official arrival of spring, the hotter and more pleasant temperatures accompany dreamy afternoons in the city. Like clockwork, this coincides with a flood of tourists invading Catalonia, particularly during the early April Easter weekend.

Another more positive consequence is the growth of outdoor events and festivals in and around town. With Sónar and Cruïlla joining Primavera Sound as premier summer choices for music fans in Barcelona, many smaller but equally intriguing open air music gatherings are being scheduled on a weekly basis.

One that caught our immediate attention is called Guitar BCN. A huge concert series with an eclectic line-up, it includes many renowned artists with a special flair for the world of the six strings.

The festival’s 2018 edition spans multiple venues throughout the city for an impressive six months (from 27 January to 26 June), and is being headlined by guitar giants such as Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, and Uli Jon Roth, alongside marquee heavyweights like Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.

Besides placing a significant number of its shows in many venues already familiar to us, such as Razzmatazz, Sidecarand Sala Apolo, Guitar BCN was a great opportunity to visit some new and unexplored clubs.

For instance, BARTS and Luz de Gas have long been on our radar and are both key event spaces in the Guitar BCN festival. However, the one we chose this time was a pretty, mid-sized venue located in the North-Western part of town, called Bikini Barcelona.

Situated in the city’s ‘zona alta’, just off the infinite Avinguda Diagonal, at the intersection of the historical neighbourhoods of Eixample and Sants, the club has been a central part of Barcelonian nightlife since its opening in 1953.

Although it doesn’t specialise in a specific kind of music, the venue prides itself on its ever-changing and adapting nature, which has enabled it to remain relevant throughout the decades. On Thursday 29 March, as part of Guitar BCN, the club offered an exclusive live performance of US-German prog trio Stick Men, and we took our chance to attend.

The core of the group formed 12 years ago thanks to drummer Pat Mastelotto and chapman stick-virtuoso Tony Levin (both of influential UK prog veterans King Crimson fame), only to be later joined by German multi-instrumentalist Markus Reuter on guitars in 2010.

The outfit, famous for its characteristic and peculiar heavy sound, bordering hard rock and progressive metal with everything in-between, has so far released six studio albums. Their latest is a brilliant 10-track effort called ‘Prog Noir’ and was released in 2016.

The night was opened by Barcelonians On The Raw, an instrumental quintet incorporating elements of jazz, rock, and electronic music. Its members, all stemming from previous established prog rock projects, are Jordi Amela on keyboards, Jordi Prats on guitars, Pep Espasa on sax and flutes, bassist Toni Sànchez, and drummer Alex Ojea. The band released their debut LP ‘Big City Awakes’ last year to decent critical acclaim.

On The Raw took the stage punctually at 8pm, overlooking a mildly attended main parterre area, reached from the outside through a curious and eccentric swallowing metallic tunnel spiralling towards a couple floors underground. For sure, one of the most off the wall venue experiences you can find in Barcelona.

Throughout their 45-minute set, the Catalans displayed gorgeous virtuoso melodic textures, switching their instrumental driving seat mostly between Jordi Prats’ spacey and technical guitars and Pep Espasa’s warm and fuzzy sax lines.

The audience seemed to appreciate On The Raw’s sophisticated and layered compositions, wrapped in multi-dimensional ambient sounds, effectively amplified by Bikini’s excellent sound system and space layout.

The band performed amidst clear jazzy influences, moving their sonic journey through frequent rhythmic switches, ranging from Pink Floyd-esque moods to dirtier oriental influences, all without vocal melodies – simply letting the instruments speak for themselves.

Stick Men climbed the Bikini stage at around 9pm and immediately took off with an hypnotic and intricate sound, led by an evident guitar-heavy rendering and a superior drumming aesthetic, delivery by Pat Mastelotto.

The trio offered an impressingly heavy sound considering the rather thin formation, with Tony Levin’s 12-string stick and Markus Reuter’s custom self-built 8-string electric guitar continuously switching roles between lower and higher octaves, much like keyboards, effectively replicating a mesmerizing bass-to-guitar dialogue.

On a similar train of thought, some of the tracks had a surprisingly abrasive sound filled with quintessential prog textures, resulting from what appeared to be a very well thought-through amplification set up. And in conjunction to that, Stick Men made great utilisation of looped sonic themes, giving the impression of a quintet, rather than just three musicians.

Spoken word-pieces and melodic vocal lines were delivered in turns with mixed success between Levin and Reuter, often humorously, spoofing everything from planet Pluto to Tchaikovsky.

This all made for another quality musical evening in an underrated part of town, starring two interesting and talented alternative bands that, if it weren’t for fantastic initiatives such as Guitar BCN, would otherwise perhaps go unnoticed.

The evening also marked one of the first concerts of the Barcelona warmer season. A Bikini, some chapman sticks, raw experimental prog rock, and King Crimson enthusiasts were all a part of it; no doubt a delightful way to venture into springtime.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- 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

OnTheRaw_Bikini

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE FEVER 333 – “MADE AN AMERICA” | 2018-03-30

I caught the fever. The music industry caught the fever. The world caught the fever. Yes because, last Friday 23rd March, Los Angeles-based soul-punk-hip-hop trio The Fever 333 dropped its first official bundled musical effort out of thin air in form of a 7-track EP entitled Made An America. The highly-anticipated and extremely urgent project includes a number of scene-setting and flagship songs already previewed throughout the course of 2017, namely the violent and ambitious “We’re Coming In“, the incendiary and furious “Hunting Season“, and the anthemic and explosive “Walking In My Shoes“. While it was continuously hinted here and there across their social media footprint, Made An America also acts as compelling event marking their heavyweight mentoring from superstar producer and Goldfinger-frontman John ‘Feldy’ Feldmann and true gangsta don Travis Barker, as well as their official signing to Warner Music’s portfolio label Roadrunner Records in association with what presumably is their imprint moniker 333 Wreckords Crew.

Now, since I’ve already written at length (<– read this!) along these airwaves about the band, its inception, and the main underlying motifs behind their origination, and considering my long-standing adoration and alignment with post-hardcore/punk letlive., at this stage I’m only going to remind y’all esteemed readers that The Fever 333 is composed of singer/instigator Jason Butler, guitarist Stephen Harrison, and drummer/percussionist Aric Improta, alongside the obliging acknowledgement that the movement is about so much more than just music and entertainment. The prominent and unexpected EP, just about shy of 20 minutes in length, acts first and foremost as primary conduit for the movement’s broader objectives, encompassing elements of messaging protest and resistance, catalyzation of socio-economical change, and strong components of charity and philanthropy. More specifically, the numerical reference in the movement’s labelling (333) points to a poignant triad of meaning, as frontman Jason Butler himself explained in a recent interview:

“The thing we’re putting forward is the idea of the three “C’s” — community, charity and change. I think that kind of encapsulates the idea of giving a f**k about someone other than yourself, which I don’t think [Trump] has exhibited the ability to do, [he has] truly full-blown characteristics of a nihilist, an actual egomaniac, his frontal lobe is f**ked, he’s crazy. I think ultimately there is this large idea of putting in efforts and consideration beyond one’s own and that, to me, is, if you were to distill the message, it would be three “C’s” and those encapsulate the idea of thinking about what happens when you’re not on this earth anymore. What are you doing today to affect tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade, next millennia? There are other bands doing this and I want people to know that and we need them to speak up. We need them to feel like they are being supported and part of this. Not only are there other bands, there are other people, many people out there that feel voiceless, that feel like they don’t have a platform or anyone who has dedicated themselves creatively, politically as a representative. And that’s also what this band is trying to do, we’re trying to offer representation for people to feel like they have a catalyst for change. We, as individuals, are not the catalyst, but the message we carry with us is in fact that catalyst.”

That being said, for as necessary and praiseworthy the different manifestations of the ancillary and contingent dimensions to the movement are, Made An America is principally an artistic statement processed and delivered in form of sonic audio waves, and therefore it most certainly warrants a closer, more detailed look at how exactly it presents itself musically. As introduced above, the EP entails all previously previewed singles by The Fever 333, which appear to have remained virtually unchanged except for a couple production embellishments here and there as well as, most notably, an additional marching drum rolling climax coming in – pun intended… – at about 1:20 and some deep, distorted incomprehensible outro lyrics in “We’re Coming In”.

The latter composition, curiously placed as second on the tracklist,  is quite clearly the band’s prime introductory statement in the world’s ecosystem, funnelled by insurrectionist lyrics (“So let me tell you about / Where all my people from / We hear them sirens come and then the people run / So let me tell you about / Where all my people from / We’re living hand to mouth and dying by the gun“). To this day, and holding through in hindsight to the release of the whole EP too, the song represents the best welcoming résumé for anyone new to the project. But, while the Travis Barker-featured “Hunting Season” – although it seems like the blink-182 drum-god allegedly recorded all drum tracks on the record – channels a lot of “We’re Coming In”‘s abundant rage and angry societal liberation coefficient, it’s the grungy and catchy “Walking In My Shoes” as penultimate cut on the tracklist that candidates itself most prominently for the spot as most important and exemplary hymn for group, championed by a superbly soar and meaningful rapped verse and a waterfall-y explosion in a perfect in-your-face refrain.

Taking a step back all the way to the opening self-titled song, kicking off with a futuristic and bubbly synth motif only to be abruptly replaced by a raw drum and bass section, the track’s first lines – delivered through a successful and convincing rapping by Jason – enlist the project’s whole mission in a perfectly distilled fashion: “We are the melanin felons / We are the product of / Plunder and policy that you gotta love / Casinos, amigos on forty acres, uh / They built this shit on our backs / Made an America“. Expanding on the latter argument, popular and brilliant UGC-music lyrics and meaning site Genius provides a useful, and in my view correct, interpretation of the song’s overall message:

“‘Made An America’ is a pun on the nationalistic slogan ‘Made In America’. The phrase is often used in the context of bringing jobs back to America or rejecting foreign goods because they are inferior. Jason sings/raps about American history in which the modern nation of the USA was arguably built by the efforts of brown and black immigrants and slaves. It’s a passionate indictment of the way white America suppresses historical truths through a racially tinted lens.”

(The First Stone) Changes” at number three on the EP features Alabama-rapper and Travis Barker-frequent collaborator Yelawolf for what is in fact a pretty underwhelming moment on the project, only to be partially saved and restored by an incendiary chorus and what appears to be Jason’s attempt at a speedy and technical flow spitting a series of bars taking over from Yelawolf on the track’s second verse. Moving on, following the aforementioned “Hunting Season” at number four, is the abrasive and heavy “Soul’d Me Out”, personally the highest and finest moment on the whole EP, whereby one can’t say enough good things about this cut, from the outstanding and groovy drumming work, to the fast and violently distorted guitars, passing through arguably Jason’s best vocal performance in years and a counter-intuitive yet perfectly adhering plain-landing chorus exclaiming simple but upfront lyrics, via a vocal line no too dissimilar from a lullaby melody (“Sell me out down the shallow river / Could I hate you more? / Could I hate you more?“), just moments before collapsing and disappearing into a scratching scream chanting the song’s central topic, perfectly mocked and intertwined with the expansive meaning of its title: “Sold me out, sold me out / You sold me out to the highest bidder / Sold me out, sold me out / You sold me out to the highest bidder“.

The EP’s closing track “POV” indeed leaves the listener longing for so much more, as despite the energy and voltage levels are being kept extremely high throughout the whole running 20 minutes, the necessity and urgency that The Fever 333 are able to transmit with their work demand so much more, and are clearly to be seen only as an initial sparking moment of a much bigger narrative. The track’s introductory crunchy and jungly drums, overtaken for the most part by a minimal yet charismatic drum machine texture, take up the driving seat for a short and fulminating raging wrap up, adorned once again by Jason’s nervous and fat rapping highlighting the quintessential recapitulation of much of this initial body of work arising from the band’s movement: “Middle finger to the face, that’s our point of view“.

This standpoint is such a fiery and glorious closure to an incendiary landing onto the wider musical scene and the world of art-driven activism and protest, which without wanting to sound like a broken record, is best understood when placed as only the beginning of an incredible global community invested in socially-conscious, bottom-up societal change. This sentiment is further solidified by the realisation that the band appears to have so much more material up its sleeve ready to be offered to the wider public, as revealed through their increasing and amassing demonstrations (support slots for Nothing More, Eyes Set To Kill, and To Whom It May, as well as might The Used are in the books for this summer) in conjunction with a smart keyword YouTube search.

That is, apparently The Fever 333 have already written and played live several other songs like “Animal”, “Endgame”, “Southside of Inglewood”, and “One of Us”, in addition to the unbelievable performance on US national TV of “Burn It” on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly. It really does sound like amazing things are ahead for The Fever 333 – and in turn all of us recipients of the message and ascribing to the movement –, hence dreaming of another chunk of recorded material being dropped fairly soon doesn’t seem too forbidden at this point. Considering the scope and magnitude of the broader project, a new record would merely be another little brick in the giant wall for these gentlemen (in real life).

Stand up. Resist. B3 Fr33. Letting them know, that there’s a fever coming…

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

THE FEVER 333

“MADE AN AMERICA”

2018, Roadrunner Records/333 Wreckords Crew

http://thefever333.com

TheFever333_MAA

 

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO NUEVE – MONASTERY OF METAL | 2018-03-19

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

———- NFB

Barcelona and its live music supply are back at full speed in the first quarter of the new year after a period of rest and assessment between December and January. The excitement for the local music scene boosted significantly about a month ago, as mighty music festival Primavera Sound revealed the full line up for its 15th edition, held in the Catalan capital at the end of May.

Once again, besides praising the festival for its innovative and variegated bill, international fans of the heavier alternative scene have plenty of reasons to be excited. Acts like Dead Cross, Watain, Shellac, Zeal & Ardor, and Here Lies Man all represent excellent bookings for an otherwise extremely colourful genre programming, at the same time cementing the special sweet spot that the mainstream event holds for the more extreme genres.

Yet, Primavera Sound is still more than three months away, so to keep busy in the meantime, we continued the exploration of the local scene by diving into smaller underground venues and event spaces. Admittedly, after having dissected most of the metropole last year, there isn’t a wealth of options left anymore. However, besides more established clubs like Razzmatazz and Apolo, the city has already demonstrated in the past that there is no shortage of bars-turned-venues that offer interesting and compelling gigs.

It’s exactly from this smaller typology of venues that the local music discovery resumed from last year. It didn’t take too long to stumble upon Sala Monasterio, a rather small seafront club located in the iconic and very touristic Port Olímpic, surrounded by beaches on both sides, and bordering with the previously mentioned – and in numerous occasions explored – Poblenou neighbourhood.

The venue caters to a variety of shows and genres, hosting a high number of concerts almost all year round. In fact, Sala Monasterio states that it proudly collaborates with a variety of cultural and musical associations promoting regional artistic endeavours, and specialises in ethnic music such as Brazilian forró, Uruguayan candombe, Argentinian tango as well as traditional Senegalese compositions.

Amidst such a strong musical contrast, one of the gigs that stood out took place on Saturday 3rd March, championed by a trio of Catalan extreme-metal bands: headliners Arcanus and supporters Metalfetamina and Last Dissonance. The show seemed like the perfect occasion to not only experience the venue first hand, but also add another lot of local acts to the list of trademark discoveries made so far stemming from the prosperous Spanish region.

Before delving into what went down during said evening, it should be mentioned that the beginning of February saw the latest edition of Punkat, a DIY festival with only “100% Catalan punk rock”. Unfortunately, conflicting schedules made it impossible to attend in person. However, it does represent a praiseworthy endeavour of the local scene, and a quick listen to headliners Guspira and Paüra made it seem worth attending. One bookmarked for next year for sure.

Once arrived at Sala Monasterio – not without difficulties due to a less than perfect external signalling, all hail Google Maps – what stood out was its asymmetric interior design and various instrumental paraphernalia hung on the walls à la Hard Rock Cafe. The venue succeeds in emanating feelings of both evergreenness and uniqueness at the same time, with rustic brick walls merged with pitch black roof layers, arranging its pavement space so as to leave most of its surface portion to the audience. It also gives the impression of being slightly worn out, indicating a great amount of concerts and people turnover.

As stated above, all three bands on the bill that evening were regional prides, and this appeared to reflect strongly on to the audience in attendance, confirmed by a decently crowded merch booth. This feeling also got amplified by the evident and strong confraternity among the crowd members. All signs pointed to the evening becoming an all things extreme metal Saturday night feast.

The headliners, groove-death metallers Arcanus, go back four years to 2014, when founding members Pau Bonet (drums) and Javier Muriel (rhythm guitars) recruited the rest of the band, welcoming lead guitarist Victor Vallespir and frontman Oscar Gallardo in quick succession. Shortly thereafter, the five-piece got completed by the joining of bassist Denis Fernández.

The band released their first five-track EP ‘Ashes ’in their current formation two years ago, drawing heavily from influences like Lamb of God, Gojira, Kreator, and Sepultura. In their own words, “‘Ashes’ is a compendium that intertwines the primitive ideas of the groove metal of the 90s and the roots of a modern really dark death metal”.

For the occasion, they were supported by speed/thrash metal outfit Metalfetamina, hailing from Girona with a self-released EP titled ‘El Ritual’ that dropped in 2017, as well as Badalonian deathcore minstrels Last Dissonance, who came together three years ago and are still working on their debut effort to be released in early 2018.

Metalfetamina, who surprisingly appeared on stage only as a guitar-drums duo, kicked off their opening slot at 10:30pm after various delays. However, this did little to upset a quite amused and inebriated audience, ready to hit the ground running for their night of fun. Too bad this had to to be postponed for a little bit, as the thrash duo took some time before getting comfortable enough to appear remotely loose.

The lack of a second rhythm guitarist and, more importantly, pumping bass frequencies didn’t help rectify an overall sound resulting too dry and slim, despite praiseworthy percussions skills. Betrayed by the extra vocal duties that the sole guitarist had to provide, the songs appeared a little too samey and didn’t present much variation amidst run-of-the-mill hardcore vocal deliveries.

Last Dissonance followed up by bringing a wave of electricity as soon as they climbed the Monasterio stage just before midnight, kicking off their show with a convincing abrasive attitude in both motions and sound. Sitting somewhere in-between a mild melodic death metal flair and ugly, stomping thrash metal hammerings, the Catalan youngsters played virtually non-stop for the better part of 40 minutes, before handing over the reigns to the house’s main course. Special mentions are in order for their spectacular captivating guitar work as well as their ability to interact with the audience.

The venue was pretty much packed when Arcanus climbed the narrow Sala Monasterio stage. Right from the first notes, the headliners transmitted firm cohesiveness and a smooth sound orchestration across all five musicians. Bassist Denis was especially instrumental for maintaining a constant tightness in Arcanus’ aggressive and wholly produced sonic aesthetic, often flirting with a fitting sludge/southern attitude.

Led by a catalogue mostly comprised of the impressive cuts off their latest EP ‘Ashes’, the outfit channeled their intense inner groove throughout their set, spearheaded by laidback frontman Victor’s thick and juicy vocals, with much complacency from the better part of the crowd.

Once again, underground venturing in search of quality local bands in the Catalan capital turned out to be a success, with the discovery of yet another interesting urban club offering fine alternative music harvesting regional talent. An evening to remember both for the facility and the artistic output, with the enthralling realization that a club in a strongly commodified area, for one special night felt like turning into a monastery of metal glorification.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- 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

Sala Monasterio_Signage

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): AUGUST GREENE – “AUGUST GREENE” | 2018-03-11

So this whole ARM thing is clearly getting out of hand, but trust me it is by no means my intention to interrupt your regularly scheduled social media programming as often as it is happening lately. It’s just that there is so much stupendous music coming out recently that it’s hard to resist the temptation of populating the ether-waves with due-diligence artistic criticism whenever a release truly warrants it in my eyes. So let me just cut some of the fat here and get to the point as quickly as possible. I’ve been closely following a specific cluster of hip-hop/soul/jazz-prodigies for a while now, originally captivated by the significance and wholesome effect of the intertwined sonic highways found specifically in Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 socially-conscious rap opus To Pimp a Butterfly. One of the members of this specific watch-group of musical excellence is Texan jazz pianist Robert Glasper, so when I saw that he announced the formation of a new jazz-rap supergroup called August Greene earlier this January – joined by the conscious rapper par excellence Common as well as multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist, but mainly drummer and Kanye West muse Kariem Riggins – I just had to keep an eye on their debut release.

Said debut release came in form of a self-titled, self-published, and self-released 11-track and 50-minute project licensed exclusively to Amazon Music as part of their ‘Original’ content series. Now before going any further and risking to go over this point too quickly, I thought this album distribution deal was pretty interesting to say the least. And this is for two main reasons. The first one being that in the present quintessential prime age of listeners requesting access to versus ownership of music, restricting such an exquisitely appetising effort to only a handful proprietary digital national stores through windowing is pretty much the 101 on what not to do in 2018 if one hopes to stand out from all the noise and remain relevant to the millennial musical discovery radar. Secondly, I guess this move puts Amazon Music quite significantly in a position to advantageously compete not only with the hundreds of other DSPs (digital service providers, i.e. Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer etc…), but also and perhaps most importantly against record labels themselves, despite what Amazon’s Head of Music likes to say. At a certain point it doesn’t really matter how and who handles publishing and recording for a specific album, if Amazon Music is all people see advertised and plastered in association with the content, then I’d say a whole new layer of issuing reality is constructed in the eyes of the consumers and the industry at large. But I digress, back to this gorgeous list of tracks.

August Greene first manifested to the world on 18th January through the release of their first single “Optimistic” featuring R&B-singer/songwriter Brandy, issuing a proud and uplifting soul-infused musical statement borrowed as cover song from Sounds Of Blackness‘ 1991 original composition. A month later, the star-studded trio delivered a mighty 35-minute acoustic live session as part of NPR Music’s stunning Tiny Desk-series, making it one of the most glorious ones amidst female empowerment, free-flow freestyles, and preview cuts off their debut release. Experiencing the whole session ahead of the album drop did nothing but enhance the excitement for such a unique combination of sounds, moods, aesthetics, and lyrical advocacy all comprised in just over half an hour. Do yourself a favour and give it a watch/listen, it’s streamable for free (as opposed to dubious and obscure album deals struck with Amazon geo-fencing the fruition of  content…), and you’ll leave the session enlightened and sonically content. You’ll thank me later.

August Greene’s debut work officially came out on 9th March after having been previewed exclusively on the aforementioned NRP Music, and overall strikes the listener as an inspiring, intense, and groovy ride spearheaded by Common’s top-form rapping and outstanding lyricism, Riggins’ unique blend of hypnotic and distinguished percussion craftsmanship, as well as Glasper’s channeling and pervasive output on keys. A song like “Black Kennedy“, the August Greene’s second single and Tiny Desk performance’s opening track, best encapsulates all of the above winning compositional and performing elements wrapped in a contextual discourse of racial empowerment, black excellence, and overall defiance to obstructionism. Common’s lyrics on this one are flawless both in significance and delivery (“The streets where we from, beats heavy drums / Wish I could put Jordans on the feet of everyone / Black Kennedy, royalty with black identity / Leader of the freestyle, I go to penitentiaries“, or during the poignant pre-chorus: “If I was a Kennedy, I’d be a black Kennedy / Black car, black tux, this is black symmetry / Raised in the Chi though my family from Tennessee / I remember me, ‘Riem, Dilla, we was in the D“), and the little help August Greene receives form New York-based pianist and composer Samora Pinderhughes feels quite fitting and nicely sewed into the texture of the track’s overall aesthetic, although it might come across a little awkward at first.

Pinderhughes actually lends his vocal duties on a number of standout tracks on the album, including the soulful and smoothy “Let Go (Nirvana)” at number three on the tracklist, as well as its follow-up murky “Practice”, a song as gloomy and heavy as it transforms into a call for hope and inspiration by yet another striking and well-oiled flow by Common (“Mountains sing songs, kinds dream long / In a simple act is when a scene forms / I improve to improve and involve the ‘been throughs’ / The ‘near falls’, the ‘them fools’, the ‘brickwalls’ and venues”). Another aspect bringing qualitative critical mass to this supergroup project is something that has already been explored elsewhere alongside these frequencies, namely the early placement on the tracklist of the better, most complete, and most convincing cuts of an album. Proudly represented by the piercing, sharp, and anthemic opener “Meditation”, a flagship thematic track for August Greene which finds Glasper’s simple but penetrating synth variations accompanying Common’s best and most meaningful bars on the whole album (“They body snatchin’ black girls in DC Politics and propaganda on the TV / Distractions, distractin’ us from action / It’s time for some, time for some passion“), clawed by Riggins’ signature syncopated dreamy drumming (no he’s not off-beat, I get that impression too but it’s actually not, in case you’re wondering…).

It might now become clear that this August Greene’s self-titled debut is not only a fantastic, well-rounded musical statement by three world-class musicians at the top of their respective games that don’t shy away from successful experimentation and cross-pollinated genre contamination on a nice blend of songs (“Fly Away” and “No Apologies” are guilty as charged), but also a very much necessary hip-hop/jazz insurrectionist opera seeing multi-award-winning protagonists re-inventing themselves yet again by converting into messengers for the oppressed and forgotten ones, quick to indicate that the only fruitful way to fight the machinery’s negativism is by juxtaposing to it the exact opposite, namely flourishing optimism.

I guess my only concern with this project is that it’s almost too short, as I most certainly would’ve loved to hear more from this good-shaped August Greene, especially as far as further musical experimentation is concerned. Besides the over-the-top and rather forgettable jazz opus and self-indulgent 13-minutes long album closer “Swisha Suite”, I wouldn’t have minded more artistic freedom and exploration on tracks such as the dull and linear “Aya” or the recycled “The Time”, as well as a mightier track listing more in general. After all, since it didn’t take long for Common, Glasper, and Riggings to get in a studio together and come out with a splendidly solid collection of eleven tracks, hoping for something more from them fairly soon doesn’t seem too unreasonable. For one, this type of optimistic faithfulness is exactly what this album preaches us to express. Lesson learned, I guess.

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

AUGUST GREENE

“AUGUST GREENE”

2018, August Greene LLC

https://www.facebook.com/pg/AugustGreeneband

August-Greene-Album-Cover-Full

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): TURNSTILE – “TIME & SPACE” | 2018-02-27

I was almost starting to get seriously afraid that I would never heal from my current and long-standing hip-hop appreciation addiction syndrome, contracted almost exactly a year ago and that kept me ruthlessly away from virtually anything that didn’t have something to do with the broader West Coast rap culture, this ranging from music to film and lifestyle. One might have noticed this by the pretty linear editorial trend that the latest ARM instalments (as well as other content on this page) took, kicking off almost exactly around the time of last year’s musical scrutiny of Vince Staples’ LP Big Fish Theory. I mean, even one of my favourite and most exciting non-hip-hop legacy projects coming out in the past year, The Fever 333, owes way more to the rap counterculture movement than I’d like to admit (considering that it directly stems from letlive., a quintessential soul-punk project with plenty of hardcore flair). Yet if you follow this site with some regularity, you’ll know that yours truly is a real punk rock OG minstrel at heart, reason why lately there has been the need for many reassurances and explanations to my closest homies, all aimed at justifying the sudden hip-hop extravaganza fever that recently got the best of me.

Luckily, words can now be accompanied by actions in that, finally again, a non-rap record caught enough of my attention to deserve a fully fleshed-out critically acclaimed artistic review within the ARM feature on this site. Now enter Baltimore, MD, hardcore-punk quintet Turnstile‘s freshly released sophomore full-length studio album Time & Space, released under Dutch-American major imprint Roadrunner Records on 23rd February. I’ve got to admit that the way I learned about this mixed-race punk outfit was (yet again) through one of my latest guilty pleasures on the Interweb, aka The Needle Drop, aka Anthony Fantano, aka The Melon, aka “The Internet’s busiest music NERD”. The funny this is though (and this also sort of acts as a plagiarism avoidance disclaimer), it wasn’t even through an actual music review that I started to embark onto the Turnstile discovery rabbit hole, but rather via his simple retweet of NPR’s announcement of the early exclusive album stream of Time & Space on their site. In fact, as of today, The Needle Drop still hasn’t dropped a review of the record, so it’s definitely a very good thing you’re first getting informed one here as I promise I’ll arm you esteemed reader with everything you need to gloriously banter about Turnstile’s latest effort in full class and style during your water cooler convos at work. Without further ado, now for the main bit.

So, pretty much in line with the average modus operandi of hardcore efforts, this album cuts at just about 26 minutes in length and lists 13 mighty tracks, with second single “Generator” being the longest one wrapping up at just 3:14. In other words, what for a noise/ambient metal group might simply be the prelude to an intro song in terms of track length, for this explosive and fiery punk opera it is its most diluted cut. Interesting though but I digress. While “Generator” might be the longest track on the album, it by far isn’t its biggest, crunchiest one, an award that has got to be mutually shared by Time & Space’s lead single/opener “Real Thing” – providing both hammering catchiness and an aggressive bass interlude encapsulated in a little over two minutes – as well as standout cut “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind“, slithering through a heavy bass intro flowing into a huge chorus (“KNOCKED OUT / WHEN YOU’RE AROUND“), wrapping one of frontman Brendan Yates’ best vocal performances on the  whole project.

While it’s true that I had little to no preconceived expectations about either the album or Turnstile as a group before jumping into this listen, what surprised me the most going into repetitive spins of this record is the excellent harmonic work on vocals and more generally the overall quality of song compositions. That is, this band isn’t your typical underground hardcore mould of just unorthodox speedy/thrashy wall of sound with aggressive, abrasive, and incomprehensible lyrics in your face for as long as you can sustain it. Quite the opposite, on many occurrences throughout Time & Space, Turnstile proves that the youngsters can indeed write their own music and aren’t afraid to flirt with poppy and conventional compositional elements. Case in point, the impressive and gorgeous “Big Smile”, with an incredible melodic twist after the initial 30 seconds of pure intense hardcore delivery as well as wonderful outro harmonies wrapping up the track at a minute and a half. Or even “Right To Be”, perhaps the most ‘classic rock’ song structure on the whole record, ornamented with sporadic drops of synth sounds (alongside production credits for freaking Diplo, of all people?!), which wouldn’t be too out of place on a Foo Fighters record, for example. But take also the gloomy, spacey and fun “Moon“, where bassist Franz Lyons takes over vocal duties only to deliver some of the catchiest hooks on the whole album.

The impression is that a lot of these songs can’t possibly fit your typical hardcore punk leitmotiv for as much as you might try to think otherwise, and I feel this is what makes a record like Time & Space so great, where incendiary rage and fury can coexist with more accessible and beautiful soundscapes within frames of extremely well-written and more than decently executed songs. While it’s true that this LP has its fair amount of self-indulgence, see e.g. a couple pointless and avoidable fillers (“Bomb” and”Disco”), one last track fully deserving a special mention is the wonderful, wide, open, and water-y “Can’t Get Away”, showcasing pretty much all of the best skills Turnstile has to offer in their repertoire. This ranges from outstanding guitars to eclectic percussion delivery, to songwriting sophistication and punchy lyrics (“Running since the day I lost control / Never gonna’ find me anymore“). What is there not to love in a good old hardcore punk record with just the right amount of everything it needs to kick ass? So much for a temporary obsession with hip-hop. To be continued…

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

TURNSTILE

“TIME & SPACE”

2018, Roadrunner Records

http://www.turnstilehardcore.com

Turnstile_TimeSpace

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): VARIOUS ARTISTS – “BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM” | 2018-02-12

After a period of over a month in which new exciting music releases were almost nowhere to be seen, perhaps understandably since most people were still wrapping up 2017 and/or getting ready for 2018, Friday 9th February came and saved the day for all of us. On said date, a wealth of both long-awaited and rather surprising releases hit Spotify’s New Music Friday shelves, offering a rich and large banquet to choose from across a wide variety of genres and styles. After sleepless nights and a lot of switching gears, my own personal choice eventually made it to a narrower clustered selection of three potential full-length studio albums to be reviewed among the ARM column. I was caught in a triple limbo between New Jersey rockers The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon’s sophomore solo record Sleepwalkers, indie-pop-psychedelia prodigies MGMT’s highly anticipated first LP in five years, Little Dark Age, and obviously, mighty Marvel’s Black Panther’s curated soundtrack album, executed by his Majesty Kendrick Lamar as well as Top Dawg Entertainment founder Anthony Tiffith. It soon became clear to me that all the signals pointed at both the challenge and opportunity of putting under harsh scrutiny a compilation of songs from various artists about a movie I’ve yet to see, as it was a one of a kind chance that I might not have had again for a long time.

Black Panther: The Album accompanies the massive Marvel Comics feature film of the same name, and, as anticipated above, was primarily masterminded by the multi-award winning Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar (performing on nearly all songs), who hasn’t necessarily enjoyed a ton of free time from the spotlight and the mainstream since releasing his breakthrough hip-hop opera To Pimp A Butterfly in 2015. Needless to say, this writing only and exclusively pertains to the sonic artistic output of the Black Panther franchise, that is to say, there is zero reference to the content of the movie or the comic books, not least because I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t had a chance to come round to enjoy and consume and of them yet. Yet, at the same time, I thought I’d be interesting to review a soundtrack hit compilation album so strongly tied to a different artistic medium and see how this sort of premise might influence both the listening experience and the overall judgement of the record.

The 14-song album, featuring more than 20 performing artists, dropped – rather predictably – under Kendrick Lamar’s home record label TDE, and was previewed throughout the whole January/beginning of February by three big, star-studded singles. First it was the record’s crown jewel and very melodic “All the Stars” on 4th January, featuring the curator himself paired with gorgeous and impressive label-mate SZA, followed up shortly thereafter by “King’s Dead“, a 4-minutes stomping epic that saw the return on the scene of Black Hippy member Jay Rock alongside Lamar, again, Future, and James Blake. The third and (as of now) last track premiering the full LP, debuting exactly a week before the full work, was called “Pray for Me” and saw commander in chief K-Dot deliver one of his most well-rounded and convincing performances on the whole project, albeit kept pretty brief so as to allow R&B megastar The Weeknd channel his most direct and harmonic Michael Jackson influences. The latter track, perhaps tied to “All the Stars”, also seems the one to have been chosen as prime flagship anthem for the movie roll out, judging by the amount of placements in airplay and promotional clips.

The choice of funnelling most of the album’s condensed promotional image to these three songs appears to be justified in my opinion by their extremely hooky melodies and refrains, as well as the portfolio of heavyweights featured on each track. However, if one were to stop here and try to forecast the rest of the musical critical mass on the album along similar lines, they couldn’t be further from the truth. While this selection of singles, championed especially by “All the Stars” and “Pray for Me”, has pretty much all it takes, from production, delivery, and lyrics (“Tell me what you gon’ do to me / Confrontation ain’t nothin’ new to me / You can bring a bullet, bring a sword, bring a morgue / But you can’t bring the truth to me”), to overshadow and outshine the rest of the songs, the album’s best moments live and breathe elsewhere.

A perfect example of such an unsung hidden gem on this Black Panther: The Album is “Redemption”, where Los Angeles-based neo-soul rising star Zacari mashes up with South African/Zulu singer Babes Wodumo, assisted yet again by Kendrick for a funky, groovy, and multi-coloured afro-beat hymn, previewed by a fitting interlude setting the scene for this high moment on the record. I figure the song is a quintessential example of what the overall project is trying to convene on a conceptual level, i.e. a global contamination of black music influences with an army of songwriters on a quest for expressions of freedom and empowerment. In the eyes of this type of analysis, “Redemption” ticks all the boxes.

Competing with “Redemption” and “All the Stars” for best cut off of the album is another hard-hitting, stomping industrial tornado of sound aggression, encapsulated in the fifth song on the tracklist “Opps”. The record features straight-edge rap/hardcore favourite of yours truly Vince Staples, accompanied for the occasion by another South African rapper Yugen Blakrok and – surprise, surprise – Kung Fu Kenny, who this time takes up more room than usual for it being a track not spearheaded by him. The song has abundant amounts of rough, hypnotic beats, that for one of the only times on the whole album, fit extremely nicely all featured artists, and to an especially pleasant degree Vince Staples himself, for whom it surely didn’t take long to realize that the tune could’ve easily been gestated during the afro-futurism-tainted writing sessions for his last album, Big Fish Theory. Furthermore, to me the song emanates just the right amount of carelessness and aggression that I’m somewhat expecting to perceive during the wider cinematic experience (albeit yet to be seen), this way solidifying its legitimacy to be a key sonic moment of the record.

Pretty unexpectedly for me, this LP doesn’t get away with a number of fairly underwhelming choices and sub-par executions. Interestingly, these are mostly to be found in tracks that draw heavily on the current trap trend (see ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz & Saudi’s “X”, or Kendrick & Travis Scott’s “Big Shot”), with slow, at times mumbly, high pitched charleston sounds and auto-tuned vocals that, with all due respect, might have little to do with a longstanding discovery journey through legacy black music. This gets even more exacerbated when I get the impression that some of the easy and safe artistic pairing choices came more from a deliberate intention to ride the zeitgeist, rather than daring to risk a bit more to achieve a more experimental outcome instead. Undoubtedly, this goes to de-value a little bit Kendrick’s work as curator, who this time I’m not afraid to say is not without blame and can’t get away from it all without some criticism (besides pointlessly featuring on almost every single track on the album, often times bringing little to no added creative value to each song’s table). For instance, why not include more folks like the brilliant Babes Wodumo, Yugen Blakrok, upcoming rap collective SOB x RBE, or even Zacari himself, instead of reheated soups like ScHoolboy Q, Future, and Travis Scott? Definitely a missed opportunity here for Kendrick to offer a huge platform for rising black stars to resonate and amplify into the entertainment mainstream.

Now, there indeed are enough decent solid tracks to make up for the aforementioned flaws across just about 50 minutes of newly assembled material. Joining the squad of favourite cuts out of this Black Panther soundtrack album are the melancholic and gloomy “I Am”, performed by the impressive Jorja Smith and another example of where K-Dot’s laid back harmonising support work fits very nicely with the overall mood and aesthetic of the song; the hectic and hooky “Paramedic!” (by Zacari, Kendrick & promising Californian hip-hop group SOB x RBE); or even the slow and gorgeous “Seasons”, where Sjava’s Zulu chants are wonderfully wrapped by two of the most convincing bar sections on the whole project, spit out by Californian rapper Mozzy and fellow South African MC Reason. That being said, this collection of songs does leave the listener with a slight bad taste in their mouth, found lost in-between safe and sexy artist orchestration choices that address current hip-hop and R&B trends, and an overarching struggle to find a truly owned identity that sets it apart, perhaps trying too hard to be liked by the ruling voices, at the expense of versatility, experimentation, and freedom. If you think about it, nothing too dissimilar from some of the dynamics found in wider societal racial struggles against power and hegemony. But that’s a whole other discussion that involves an ocean of additional considerations and voices. So let the music speak for now.

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

VARIOUS ARTISTS

“BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM”

2018, Top Dawg Ent./Aftermath/Interscope

http://smarturl.it/BlackPantherAlbum

Black Panther_The Album

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO OCHO – NEW YEAR, OPEN MUSIC | 2018-01-24

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

———- NFB

Notes from Barcelona returns with a slightly different spin. With live gigs and music events in the city slowing down over the Christmas and New Year holiday break, January seemed like a good time to delve into one of the few grassroot initiatives fostering live music in the Catalan capital: meet the OpenMusic Project.

OpenMusic is a Barcelona-founded movement looking at enabling and discovering emerging music talents in unlikely places, primarily by organizing pop-up live concerts in alternative venues around the city. The initiative started in 2014 and has so far put up dozens of gigs almost everywhere around town, ranging from local bars and shops to reclusive underground venues. To achieve this, the organisation works hard all year round to enable variety and continuity for both gig-goers and the project itself.

We had the chance to speak to OpenMusic Project’s Juan Criollo, who co-founded the initiative alongside his friend Eneko, playing a pivotal role in developing it into a fully-fledged reference point for the local underground scene.

Our chat touched upon a wide variety of topics, from assessing Barcelona as a musical city, judging the quality of local talents, to discussing how to maintain a cultural hub embedded in a region that is trapped in a deep socio-political crisis.

Juan first realised there was a big opportunity for alternative live music venues and experiences in Barcelona after noticing similar movements in France and England. He didn’t have to wait long before setting up a working group, motivated by a similar, shared enthusiasm among his peers. “The initial excitement and great potential behind OpenMusic Project resulted in an increase of the working team to five people. Each member with a real passion and creative skills ready for contribution”.

Despite the many potential obstacles, including inconvenient alternative spaces and venues, the goal of removing any separation between the artists and the public, both physically and metaphorically, keeps Juan motivated. “Big music festivals have you stand miles away from the stage with nothing but a giant TV screen videoing the performance. But to experience artists where you can nearly touch the guitar, that creates an entirely new way of experiencing, hearing and enjoying their music”.

After the success and traction of the first months, Juan was forced to reduce the team, primarily because of overlapping remits with venues’ catering and additional services. The team “has now returned to its original size of two people – myself and another friend, David from Xtrarradio Musicfest”.

“The collaboration with David has been monumental. Between him, myself and the various venue services, we are able to function and operate with great success and efficiency”. David’s scope includes booking and negotiations, leaving Juan to handle marketing and promotion. “This can range from posters, magazines, media, to deals and communications with agencies and sponsors. I also personally manage and cater for the bands once they arrive at Barcelona. Having bands crash on your couch is definitely one handy way of getting to know them”.

The conversation soon turns to musings about the notion of the Catalan capital as a recognised music city. Juan’s opinion is clear: he believes Barcelona portrays a strong image for being a music city internationally, yet at the same time it could do more to break away from its working leitmotiv only including the same handful of venues for all kinds of concerts and events.

In response to this perceived comfortable laziness on the part of the scene and its promoters, Juan counter argues that “the city actually offers endless potential spaces if utilised in the right way. Barcelona is full of aesthetically appealing abandoned spaces sitting idle and going to waste. The advantage of its amazing weather transforms public spaces such as rooftops and parks into perfect music venues”.

Whilst he figures that OpenMusic Project has only been able to explore a small portion of all that’s available in the city, the idea of Barcelona as a music hub is being leveraged by established stakeholders in order to reach out to the biggest and best players in the industry – not least hosting two of the biggest summer festivals in Europe (Primavera Sound and Sónar).

However, he also firmly believes that local underground artists aren’t being supported enough. “If it continues, they won’t ever see a local band headlining one of these big concerts. This is something OpenMusic Project is passionate about and influencing to change. No matter how big the band is headlining, we will always open with a local band”.

Almost inevitably, this stream of consciousness leads to the impact of the recent socio-political crisis – culminating in the unilateral declaration of independence of last October – and its effects on the scene. On this, he reveals that the sole noticeable change he observed when Catalonia’s secession challenge crisis first began, was that people were so consumed by political affairs that they weren’t wanting to go out and attend events as much.

In relation to such tumultuous times, he lets in that OpenMusic Project did receive a number of expressions of concern and insecurities on the part of foreign bands in regards to travelling to Barcelona. Luckily, this never had to lead to any cancellations or bigger changes in plans and now, “it’s just business as usual”.

We later touch upon some of his favourite moments since kickstarting the initiative, and while he admits that some of the project’s collaborations with “cool brands such as Kr3w, Obey, and Supra” were all highlights for him, it’s the creation of their own festival Mayday Mambo that holds his sweetest memory. The three-day, multi-venue event from last May gave OpenMusic the opportunity to gather and collect “all the bands we love from all over the world. We brought bands from Australia, Canada, UK and basically all Europe”.

It’s clear that punk rock, hardcore, and psychedelia all play pivotal roles as genres when it comes to OpenMusic’s concert programming and target audience. Some of the better musical discoveries made by the project have all come out of the broader alternative rock scene. Asked to handpick a few local artists to watch for the future, Juan is quick to select Los Nastys, The Parrots, Aliment, Biznaga, Futuro Terror, and La Plata.

We wrap up the conversation by looking at what’s next for OpenMusic this year: “Of course, the ultimate goal is to get bigger bands. However, this year we also want to work on further establishing a strong brand recognition for OpenMusic. We want to create a more solid local scene around the project whereby people value, respect, and trust the brand and the promoters behind it”.

It’s not hard to realise how this would translate in practice: a quest of achieving a transcendent awareness for the movement. Even if people don’t know the bands playing a given event organised by the project, by knowing that OpenMusic is behind said event, those people would still choose to attend, because they would be sure it’s going to be worthwhile as guaranteed by the OpenMusic stamp.

Why would this be such an important step forward for 2018? “Because ultimately”, Juan wraps up, “those would be the people who share the exact same passion we have for discovering new music unconditionally”.

Fins la pròxima vegada i bon any nou!

———- 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

OMP_Hero