ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): VARIOUS ARTISTS – “BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM” | 12th February, MMXVIII

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

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NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO OCHO – NEW YEAR, OPEN MUSIC | 24th January, MMXVIII

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

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO SIETE – SMOKING HOT HOLIDAYS | 29th December, MMXVII

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

———- NFB

We all know that the Christmas holiday period is usually reserved for special treats and cheerful enjoyment, and this year should be no exception. In Barcelona you can do this by avoiding anything to do with the continuing sociopolitical crisis in Catalonia, and focussing instead on what the city is best for: discovering quality indigenous music.

However, this might be harder than you expect. December is another key month in the secession challenge, as the snap Catalan election invoked earlier this fall by Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy took place on December 21, after the regional government was removed from office.

Nonetheless, despite the undisputed political relevance of the month, the last one of 2017 was devoted to visiting what represents one of the most highly anticipated music venues of Barcelona: Sala Apolo.

Apolo is regarded as being among Barcelona’s coolest spots for the newest sounds, both local and foreign, as well as the most cutting edge musical styles. The club is a proper musical emblem of the city and has been for more than thirty years, comprising multiple concert halls and nightclub areas with a total capacity of around 1,000.

Situated in the culturally thriving neighbourhood of El Poble-sec – just West of the Gothic quarter in the city center – and residing at the feet of stunning mount Montjuïc, the venue is made up of two adjacent surfaces: Apolo 1 and Apolo 2.

Apolo 1 is the bigger of the two and has more of a classic vibe, notwithstanding some ancient theatrical flair: tall ceilings, a massive stage and vast amounts of red velvet. Apolo 2, on the other hand, represents the venue’s modern face, catering to club events. Its design is much darker and smaller, and it boasts an outstanding sound system and production.

Apolo’s cutting edge music programming, arguably best-in-breed for Barcelona, is fueled by established partnerships with numerous festivals and entertainment events, most notably a longstanding collaboration with the prestigious Primavera Sound.

Both Apolo 1 and Apolo 2 are open every single night of the week, as they function as live gig rooms until midnight, after which DJs usually hit the decks and take over the halls. The genres on offer tend to span everything from techno to punk rock, including, but not limited to, a wealth of hip-hop, dubstep, and burlesque.

The genre on offer tonight is an uncompromising throwback to rock and roll: the live show of Los Zigarros, a ’70s-indebted rock four-piece from Valencia. Taking their own spin on the word ‘cigarro’ (cigarette in Spanish), the band have so far put out two studio albums (2013’s self-titled debut and last year’s ‘A Todo Que Sí’) and are characterized by immediate, catchy, and fun proto-punk/rockabilly tunes.

Fresh from a prestigious exclusive supporting role for the mighty Rolling Stones in Spain, the Valencians are on tour in the Iberian peninsula throughout autumn/winter. Los Zigarros, who are signed to Universal Music and formed by brothers Ovidi (vocals and guitar) and Álvaro Tormo (guitars), Adrián Ribes (drums) and Nacho Tamarit (bass), had the whole evening for themselves, as no opening act was scheduled to play that night. Not a frequent occurrence these days, given the industry’s self-proclaimed emphasis on live performances in this age of falling traditional sales revenues.

Shortly after 9pm, the rockers appeared from backstage accompanied by police sirens to a nearly full-house audience averaging in their mid-thirties. Los Zigarros immediately took off with their direct and instigating dose of classic rock and roll, not without flirting with early ’77 punk elements.

Fitted with a lot of leather, tight shirts, and skinny trousers giving them the right dosage of bad boy look, the group seemed genuinely happy to be back in Barcelona and awarded the audience with their most catchy and thin sound driven by slick guitar riffs from the get go.

One of the things that stood out, as soon as Los Zigarros started their set, was the impressive sound production in Sala Apolo. Unlike some other venues in the city, Apolo is a venue specifically designed for and constructed around live music performances. That is, instead of leveraging the latter offering as a mere add-on to food and beverage catering to the public with obvious sub-par acoustic shortcomings, witnessing a gig at Apolo feels like an outstanding musical experience.

In addition to the infrastructure benefits, Los Zigarros did their part to contribute to a fabulous and sparkly show, led primarily by charming and riveting front-man Ovidi, as well as a commendable chemistry.

Bassist Nacho’s delivery was left a bit too much in the background, but the group’s sound was stomping, hard-hitting, and pleasantly reverberating. They wore their rock and punk influences clearly on their sleeves, feeling like a best-of selection of flashy retro vibes, delivered in constant fashion throughout the two-hour show.

Despite little familiarity with Los Zigarros’ catalogue, some of their cuts needed little time to stick to my ears, thanks to impressive hooks and effective songwriting found in most of their repertoire (but check ‘Dentro De La Ley’, ‘Baila Conmigo’, and ‘¿Qué Demonios Hago Yo Aquí?’ above all).

The band seem to have found a working formula for themselves, highlighted by placing either a lead guitar or bass lick earworm in most songs and sticking to it throughout their full set.

This formula proved to be an effective choice indeed, yet I’m not sure the audience could have sustained any longer of that ‘more-of-the-same’ approach when Los Zigarros pulled the curtains with a bombastic encore climax, closing a lengthy show with a series of popular and well-received cover songs (Nirvana, The Knack, The Kinks), as well as a successful audience marriage proposal on stage.

It was hard to avoid the surreal contrast of people lightheartedly enjoying their night out to ace rock and roll, while at the same time approaching one of the most crucial political weeks in their recent history. This felt even more so out of place at the dawn of the Christmas holidays.

Yet what better distraction from politics than some quality rock export from Valencia. The Spanish PM might have banned the whole Catalan government earlier this season, but tonight proved one thing: cigarettes won’t be banned for some time in this country.

Fins la pròxima vegada i bon Nadal!

———- 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

SalaApolo

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2017 | 22nd December, MMXVII

prisoner_ra RYAN ADAMS – PRISONER (PAXAM RECORDING)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

CWK_LADivine COLD WAR KIDS – LA DIVINE (CWKTWO CORP.)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

KDot_Damn KENDRICK LAMAR – DAMN. (AFTERMATH/INTERSCOPE)

Buy it here.

 

ATDI_Inter Alia AT THE DRIVE IN – INTER ALIA (RISE RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

68_TwoPartsViper ’68 – TWO PARTS VIPER (CHARIOT MUSIC, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

BH_Saturation BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

VS_Big Fish Theory VINCE STAPLES – BIG FISH THEORY (DEF JAM RECORDINGS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

Tyler_FlowerBoy TYLER, THE CREATOR – FLOWER BOY (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

BH_SaturationII BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

BH_SaturationIII BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION III (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

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 happy holidays this time around.

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BROCKHAMPTON – “SATURATION III” | 16th December, MMXVII

It’s been almost an astonishing six months since the last ARM instalment saw the light of day on top of these frequencies, which might as well be the longest gap ever as far as this page is concerned, but hey who’s counting really. Undoubtedly, this is mainly due to the orbital enterprise partnership recently undertaken by yours truly with almighty online music zine Punktastic, which has kept me fairly (and fairy to be fair) busy throughout the latter half of 2017 and materialised itself in form of the ongoing Notes From Barcelona column series. While it’s certainly true that I kept being tested and teased by music gems over time, each one asking me to find some time to draft up a speedy ARM review here and there (see Tyler, The Creator, The Killers, The Front Bottoms, and J Roddy Walston & The Business as main perpetrators), I was kind of waiting for the truly right release to drop and thoroughly steal me back into ARM mentality. So what better way to resurrect the instalment than the third album of an annual trilogy dropped by a boy band literally unknown even a year ago? Enter and welcome BROCKHAMPTON‘s Saturation III.

BROCKHAMPTON is a Texas-raised, Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective sensation – declaring to be preferably referred to as boy band – founded three years ago, primarily by a bunch of lively nerdy teenagers chatting on Kanye West tribute Internet forum KanyeToThe. What the 14-member strong boy band has achieved this year is nothing short of incredible, releasing three (!) full length LPs among a multi-media artistic trilogy called Saturation. That is, after their 2016 free mixtape All-American Trash, in 2017 alone the virtuoso Texan minstrels have undergone a terrific one-two-three album release constellation, with their debut record Saturation out in June, its follow up Saturation II released in August, and the very subject of this review Saturation III out on their own record label Question Everything just a day ago on 15th December.

By effect of the above, esteemed readers please be conscious that this is inevitably as much a review of Saturation III as it is of their whole gianormously epic Saturation fatigue, a go-to-market creative decision pretty much unprecedented in mainstream hip-hop music, as far as I’m concerned. Admittedly, I wouldn’t be undertaking an analysis of BROCKHAMPTON’s latest musical effort – and what an effort – if it weren’t for the Internet’s busiest music nerd The Needle Drop and his unbelievably favourable reviews of both Saturation and Saturation II. The notoriously harsh and commonly feared influential online music critic not only opened me the starry and pearly gates to the BROCKHAMPTON’s universe, but at the same time he also referred me to the boy band’s leader Kevin Abstract’s stunning recent solo album American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story by sharing related content on Twitter, a record which to be fair would be owed a separate and fully dedicated ARM review for itself. These two (well, three to be exact) sonic lightning strikes combined out of the blue led me to a deep, long, and tempestuous quest to becoming borderline obsessed with any thing to do with the California-stationed street posse.

This infatuation of mine with BROCKHAMPTON and particularly its lead members, fronted by the aforementioned mastermind Abstract and key member rappers Ameer Vann (doubling as album artwork-model for the Saturation series), Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, and Matt Champion, got stronger and stronger as I progressively discovered how fresh, avant-garde, modern, and digital-first their whole entire definition of a boy band is. Yes, because BROCKHAMPTON isn’t merely composed of singer-songwriters and musicians, their understanding of boy band extends to include producers, graphic designers, web developers, artistic directors, and even tour managers, as wonderfully and hilariously mapped out in their VICELAND TV mini-series American Boyband. No other contemporary artist – let alone vast hip-hop outfit – has in my opinion been able to capture the essence of being a modern-day, self-sustained, multi-media act in control of their own destiny better than these guys scattered in a huge old house in South Central, Los Angeles, manufacturing and shipping one convincing delivery after the other with literally no one else to interfere with their business or artistic ambitions.

It’s essentially amongst the above premises that I enthusiastically and frantically awaited for the third and final chapter in the Saturation trilogy to drop the week before Christmas eve, certainly not without some kind of an aura of mystery due to an early December promotional tweet by the group announcing that Saturation III would not only have been the last of their epic Saturation saga, but even their last studio album as BROCKHAMPTON altogether (only to be cryptically dismissed by Kevin Abstract in a later promotional interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio show). The first piece of music off Saturation III delivered to the public was its first groovy, intense, and elastic single “Boogie“, dropped just three days before album release alongside an enigmatic and convoluted short-movie called “Billy Star“, directed by none other than Kevin Abstract himself – who by the way conducts all music videos outputted by the BROCKHAMPTON factory – and crafted by the whole boy band. But there’s more. Shortly after the release of “Billy Star” the 22-minute short-movie, Kevin Abstract announced with a tweet that a full-length motion picture release for the same franchise is in the works with proper distribution in movie theatres. Talk of literal saturation of the market.

Wonderfully along those lines, Saturation III’s release day was truly nothing short of amazing, with not only the new 15-track record hitting the world’s airwaves for the first time in its full length, but the parallel release of a native smartphone app providing a ‘unique live audio experience’, as well as the almost unbelievable announcement of indeed a fourth studio album (!) coming out in 2018. Early listening experiences of the last Saturation-era LP were thus inevitably tainted with feelings of incredulity, admiration, and excitement. After having allowed enough time and repetitive spins to flush away any potential threat of biased judgement, the album certainly strikes as a fitting and well-rounded culmination and wrap up of the release marathon undertaken by BROCKHAMPTON this year. Even though both tracklist and running time have progressively decreased throughout the Saturation release cycle, the boy band still decided to play with numerous skits – all delivered in Spanish for the occasion by BROCKHAMPTON’s web developer member Robert Ontenient – as well as a slower, guitar chords-driven, mellow album closer (before Saturation III’s “Team”, it was “Waste” in Saturation and “Summer” in Saturation II) for the last instalment of the series. Another interesting parallel format across the three LPs is the inclusion of a gorgeous quasi-interlude/half-song towards the former section of the record, as exemplified by the dreamy and melancholic “2Pac” in Saturation, the sombre and raging “Teeth” in Saturation II, and the tell-all and introspective “Liquid” in this latest drop.

This almost mechanical reproduction of thorough art schemata is clearly something that the crew studied and achieved meticulously (no wonder the boy band labels their home-turned-recording studio the “Brockhampton Factory”), as in addition to the aforementioned recurring tracklist patterns, one could easily notice how all song titles within their Saturation trilogy were reduced to one single word with incremental numbers of letters with each new album released, with every last song on each record hinting at the increment that’s to come. That is, Saturation only contains 4-letters titles, Saturation II tracks have five letters, while Saturation III’s songs are all six letters long except for album closer “Team”, going full circle returning back to the first chapter’s title policy. But wait, there’s more. Remember how every last song on each record hinted at the next one and also how I said earlier that BROCKHAMPTON has already announced a new album for 2018? Well, guess what its working title is supposed to be? Team Effort. Pretty remarkable wordsmiths the young muchachos.

Saturation III to me is an album of dichotomies, juxtapositions, contradictions, much like the whole boy band at large. The record entails in my opinion some of the best and most forgettable cuts of their entire trilogy, with an overall approach that defines itself by less immediate tracks than its two precedents, but arguably bigger and more sophisticated productions as well as more convincing and distributed flows and deliveries by the group’s rappers/singers. On the negative side of the spectrum of juxtaposition I place songs like “Zipper” – which unofficially became Saturation III’s third single through the release of a music video for the track via their app – as well as “Stupid”. The former definitely feels too out of place on this record and would’ve perhaps found a more fitting environment on the G-funkier and exotic sounds of Saturation II, given that its impact simply feels too redundant following up the already siren-y, dense, groovy, and layered “Boogie” as second track on the record. The impression I get from “Stupid”, instead, is that the composition really tried to stay true to its title by leveraging trivial and at times irritating melodies and flows, not mentioning the slightly annoying and underwhelming refrain (“Boys wanna play with my cell phoneBut I don’t want nobody to see what’s in it“).

On the other hand, at the other end of the quality spectrum of Saturation III we find some of BROCKHAMPTON’s best songs ever, such as the gorgeous and heart-wrenching “Bleach”, with honourable mention of the outstanding and incredibly impactful lyrics (“They said do you make mistakes or do you make a change? / Or do you draw the line for when it’s better days?”); the weird, wonderful, and experimental “Sister/Nation”, perhaps the song in which BROCKHAMPTON’s versatility and artistic contradictions shine most; as well as the album’s second single “Rental“, the track chosen by the boy band as visual wrapper for the trilogy, and to me the one where they truly became a boy band in the traditional sense of the word, whereby even OG rapper Matt Champion mellows down with softer harmonic melodies. To this bucket entailing the best moments of Saturation III I can’t not include the magnificently contagious and visceral first single “Boogie”, in my opinion the most convincing single/teaser to a BROCKHAMPTON record alongside Saturation’s “Heat“.

In-between the quality bi-polarism of Saturation III there are a number of still sensational and unique cuts, such as “Johnny”, “Hottie”, and “Stains”, and truth be told this is the real chunk of tracks that actually have me realize how much of a beautiful holistic artistic oddity this group has been this year. Yes, because I feel like sometimes what are to be labelled ‘average tracks’ on a given album are in fact a much better and more reliable indicator for evaluating the overall musical impact of that record, and in BROCKHAMPTON’s case they are still sounding better and fresher than almost anything I’ve heard all year. Yet ‘average’ isn’t a word that ought to be associated with the Los Angeles-collective in any shape or form, given its composition of mixed race, queer, multi-disciplinary, and outstandingly talented members. It’s no wonder, with something this special, that with their Saturation multi-media album trilogy BROCKHAMPTON have accomplished one of the most uniquely defining moments in recent hip-hop history.

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

“SATURATION III”

2017, Question Everything Inc.

http://www.brckhmptn.com

BH_Saturation 3

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO SEIS – BURIED IN SPANISH MUSICAL EXCELLENCE | 30th November, MMXVII

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

———- NFB

While Catalonia’s secession demands exacerbate day by day, and no resolution is yet in sight, Barcelona is otherwise going strong, and continues to thrive even during the coldest months. This is particularly true for its culture and its music, two domains where both the city and the region have stood out for many years.

In this regard, yours truly’s main advantage, as a still relatively fresh expat with little to no prior experience with the region and its artistic artefacts, is how much can be discovered simply by speaking to insiders, staying up to date online – by being a little curious.

An ingenuous and light-hearted stroll around mighty Poblenou, the uprising sea-bordering neighborhood hosting a variety of exciting venues such as Razzmatazz and Rocksound BCN, led me to discover a rather concealed club called Sala Bóveda in early November.

Slightly further outside of the city center than the others, Sala Bóveda is close to the sea and made up of an imposing main vault. From an architectural standpoint, it inspires thrilling images of ancient catacombs – bóveda is the Spanish word for vault. And a terrific Spanish-bred metal line up was scheduled to play the club on Friday 10th November.

The gig was headlined by Catalan alternative metal sensation Ankor, with support provided by Girona-based melodic death metallers MorphiuM and alt-metal local promise Donuts Hole.

Ankor, fronted by Bristolian Jessie Williams, are one of the past decade’s most popular metal references in Spain, indeed really of the larger Spanish-speaking music market. Among a number of accolades, two years ago the outfit were named best newcomer band by the readers of the oldest and most prestigious rock magazine for Spain and South America, La Heavy.

Formed in Barcelona back in 2003, Ankor have so far released four studio albums plus an extended play, with their latest acclaimed LP ‘Beyond The Silence of These Years’ out in May earlier this year, promoted by singles ‘The Monster I Am’ and ‘Lost Soul’.

The album, mixed by Dan Korneff (Pierce the Veil, A Day To Remember, Paramore) and mastered by Ted Jensen (Avenged Sevenfold, Muse, Bring Me The Horizon), rapidly took them to a new level of notoriety and allowed them to embark on their first ever worldwide tour, taking them to Japan after this stop in Catalonia, with seven dates left to wrap up 2017.

However, the high anticipation for the show didn’t stop at the headliners, considering that both the other two opening acts are yet another quintessential example of the quality of local music. In fact, fellow Barcelona-mates Donuts Hole have swiftly become a favourite with a superb Spanish-sung LP on their backs, 2016’s ‘En Cada Hogar’.

The five-piece’s visceral amalgamation of djent, alternative, and nu metal is particularly fresh, forward-thinking, and well produced, at least as far as their recorded product is concerned.

What’s more, fellow opening act MorphiuM’s melodic death metal, infused with thick drops of goth and metalcore, is some of the best you might find from a non-USA or non-UK band. It’s most noticeable on their release from last year, ‘The Blackout’, which you can get as free download.

Entering the vault just in time to catch Donuts Hole’s drummer Sebastian A. Gonzalez counting in their first song on the set, the mid-sized main room was already well attended. Evidently, the appeal of supporting a local act opening in such an exciting occasion helped to fuel early arrivals.

Unfortunately, Donuts Hole’s forty minutes live set impressed less than their gorgeous recent LP, notwithstanding a decent tight sound and a dogged rhythmic groove. Drenched with additive elements of post-grunge – largely audible on ‘En Cada Hogar’ – and led by bassist Sergio Morales and frontman Ariel Placenti, the five-piece set the bar for the rest of the evening.

But it wasn’t without its hitches, with the band fighting technical difficulties and suboptimal guitars throughout. Nevertheless, the band landed  as one of the best musical discoveries of my time in Barcelona, alongside psych-sludgers Rebuig.

Given Donuts Hole’s struggles to get their sound right during their set, it wasn’t surprising to see a better outcome from MorphiuM. Led by a highly convincing angular and harmonic work by the two guitars, as well as an furious delivery from drummer Mori Kodax, the whole production rose to a peak when singer Alex Bace let his excellent clean voice shine.

At times there was a little too much happening at the same time, between two quasi-soloist guitar lines and a complicated intertwining of the rhythm section, wrapped up with a theatrical attitude and lots of horror/shock elements thrown on top of everything.

At that time into the show, one could realize how the unique formation and architecture of Sala Bóveda mainly benefitted the audience’s visual appreciation, rather than being an actual acoustic enhancement of the room, hence leaving the overall sonic output slightly suboptimal and surprisingly quiet. Despite this, the warm up section of the show offered more than enough encouraging sonic elements to look forward to Ankor’s main course.

After some delay, the headliners took the stage shortly before 11pm and right from the first bars confirmed their place as the main event, owning every single inch of the stage with frenetic and sparkly conveyance.

The crowd’s reception to the four-piece was one of the biggest and most convincing ones I’ve witnessed for a Spanish act down here, and the hype was tangible for being back in their hometown and hearing live cuts off ‘Beyond The Silence of These Years’ first hand.

Ankor’s concert brought back a wealth of fierce mid-noughties power-emo references, comprising all the essential and pitch perfect elements for a revitalising hybrid of early Paramore, From First to Last and Bullet for My Valentine. The group’s sonic execution and stage presence, amplified by heavy sound samples and a wealth of harmonies (partly to make up for the absence of a physical bass player), were both on point, resulting in a methodical and well-rehearsed show.

There was little to pick out and criticise from such a thorough and consolidated performance. It was nothing new in itself. Many of the song structures and segways might have appeared predictable to those more familiar with the genre. But this was nothing that seemed to bother the almost-full house that night, celebrating one of Spain’s most important alt-metal outfits on a rise to further fame.

Indeed, being sheltered in a remote Barcelonian vault on the Mediterranean Sea for a couple of hours, enjoying some of the best live metal music this country has to offer, made me realize how easy it can be to overlook foreign artistic excellence when you’re immersed in the major English-speaking music ecosystem. Burying yourself in a dungeon with an all-Spanish line up has its benefits.

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

Boveda_MainEntrance

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO CINCO – THE SOUND OF POLITICS TO COME | 30th October, MMXVII

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

———- NFB

As you’re no doubt aware, Barcelona and the whole Catalonia region are currently experiencing a pivotal socio-political crisis. After a controversial and illegal independence referendum vote on Sunday, October 1 amidst police violence, the relationship between the region’s capital and Spain’s central government in Madrid is still highly unstable. The tension and the political debate are hard to escape when out and about in the city.

Yet, perhaps a little surprisingly, such a political climate isn’t enough to stop this undefeatable and resilient metropolis from carrying on with its usual wealth of cultural and musical offerings, led by the 49th edition of the International Jazz Festival and the weekend-long Primavera Club 2017 festival spin-off. So it was with a special pinch of gratitude that I welcomed the opportunity to venture out for another live music exploration in the city.

The venue put under scrutiny this month is unimaginatively called Rocksound BCN – BCN being the conventional branded abbreviation for Barcelona, an acronym found all around the city – and is a medium-to-small club in the large post-industrial district of Poblenou, just East of the city centre. Having been recommended to me various times by both born and bred Barcelonians and expats with a flair for the local live music scene, the venue is one of the most popular clubs for alternative music and a next-door neighbour to the larger Razzmatazz.

The club, also known as Sala Rocksound, has a programming tinged with live and DJ’d rock music in all its variations, including but not limited to rockabilly, country rock, and blues. Moreover, every Thursday evening, Sala Rocksound transforms itself into the so-called Rude Club, where one can find Jamaican live music and local DJs mixing a wider variety of genres.

The live national debut of The Discussion on October 10 was the ideal occasion to assess the establishment first hand. The new post-punk/goth trio was formed by former Kylesa guitarist Laura Pleasants, after the Georgia-based sludge metallers announced their intentions to go on an indefinite hiatus last year. The Discussion’s stop in Catalonia was planned as part of a larger European tour extended throughout the fall that takes them across the continent from the UK to Greece.

To celebrate this string of live dates, the recently formed outfit – fronted by Laura herself now on lead vocals – even recorded a special EP of new material. Appropriately named ‘European Tour Ep 2017’, it was put out on Bandcamp alongside the following straightforward description: “5 song tour ep of all new original material. 300 CDs pressed for European tour. All are hand numbered on the back cover. Self Released.”

However, as if carefully planned so as to live up to the insecurity affecting the region, The Discussion’s show at Rocksound BCN got cancelled only hours before it was supposed to take place. A Facebook post on the same day of the concert accompanied the decision, stating that “because of the political uncertainty experienced the promoter decided to cancel the show”, implying in their messaging that public safety was their primary concern.

Nonetheless, Barcelona always does its best to rise above difficulties and offered to make up for the inconvenience with a thrilling substitute gig. The following Monday, US doom/death metal outfits Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice took the stage. This certainly speaks for Rocksound BCN’s quality concert programming, and represented a revitalising response following the previous week’s events. Furthermore, the hype was reasonably high for witnessing Blood Incarnation’s live delivery and the fact that both bands have a relatively short history with critical acclaim.

The bands are peers from Colorado, US, and embarked on a quick Spanish tour headlined by Blood Incantation, the more accomplished of the two outfits. The main performers released their debut album ‘Starspawn’ in 2016 on their homestate-based underground metal imprint Dark Descent, and also have a series of EP/splits/demos on their books. Fellow labelmates Spectral Voice have instead just put out their 5-track debut LP ’Eroded Corridors of Unbeing’, which their issuing label describe as “far more than just a sum of its parts, […] a unique and claustrophobic voyage, cavernous yet full of clarity”.

As soon as one gets to the venue – if at all, given that it’s quite hard to notice from the outside if not for a small wooden sign next to big billboard ads – one would immediately realize how small and bar-esque it is, triggering fantasies and excitement as to how unconventional a death metal gig would turn out to be (and this time not because of the potential disruption due to local political turmoil). The venue can’t fit more than 200 people, and witnessing such a loud, dark, and heavy bill in such a tiny and narrow space made for a unique experience from start to finish.

Shortly before Spectral Voice took the stage around 9:30pm, the main standing area of the room was already packed to what one would assume was its fullest capacity. Indeed, this got proven wrong by the attraction coefficient of the headliners, who managed to have almost the entirety of the surface taken up by amused and engaged audience members. As expected, the whole thing got very loud, moist, and sweaty very quickly.

Spectral Voice – translated on stage into a four-piece with a sole singing drummer – presented an uncompromising, no-frills 40-minute set of growling doom metal, at times brought to the canonical, extreme slow rhythmic pace with highly dosed vocals. Generally, the whole crowd seemed to enjoy the performance, although only a handful people at the front went for the whole headbanging ritual.

The club’s dimension and inconvenient shape didn’t help to achieve the best sonic results, especially when standing closer to the stage, and overall the biggest victims of this shortcoming ended up being the two undistinguished guitars, which dropped a couple tones for the occasion.

Blood Incantation were on shortly before 10:30pm and hit the ground running with fierce, brutal, and psychedelic intensity. The headliners were driven by their mighty, virtuoso guitars enhanced by a myriad of reverbing pedals and effects by both singer/rhythm guitarist Paul Riedl and lead guitarist Morris Kolontyrsky. Moreover, their impressive, barefeet drummer Isaac Faulk kept the whole delivery well-glued together and alternated sophisticated fills with potent blast beats. The audience liked their performance better than the openers, and sporadic singalongs were evidence of their familiarity with the material.

Overall, both shows suffered a little from the venue’s erratic sound set up as well as the limited size of the room, neither of them particularly catered to the loud and distorted wall of sound and layered instrumentation typical of heavier music. Yet, this is perfectly within the price to pay when attending gigs in this typology of bars-turned-impromptu-venues all around the world. Both bands’ live delivery was inevitably affected, whereby Spectral Voice seemed to have paid more of the consequences, and the headliners were better at making up for it thanks to both their technical ability and more audience participation.

At the same time, the concert turned out to be a very interesting and inspiring experience. Rocksound BCN has emerged as a key focal point for Barcelona’s alternative live music scene and helped fuel the underground support for lesser known bands with decently priced tickets and a wide variety of merchandising, not least being able to attract almost 200 passionate metallers on a regular Monday evening. Perhaps it’s about time the unstable world of politics turns to local music communities for inspiration.

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

NFB_Rocksound