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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

A$AP ROCKY

“TESTING”

2018, RCA Records

http://www.asapmob.com

asap-rocky-testing

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NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO ONCE – NASTY UPLOAD | 2018-06-07

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

———- NFB

Summer festivals are slowly but surely starting to appear around Europe, as the premiere annual season for open air gatherings kicks off its dances, to the appreciation of many music fans. Needless to say, Barcelona isn’t standing still, as outdoor gigs take over the urban cultural spotlight throughout May, June, and July.

In fact, our last instalment visited one of Catalonia’s largest annual musical events, Guitar BCN, which stretches over an impressive six months. Meanwhile, the second weekend of a very pleasant month of May saw the first edition of a brand new independent punk rock event taking the streets of Poblenou, a neighbourhood we’ve also already explored.

Appropriately named Poblenou Goes Punk, the debut of this all-Catalan free festival took place on Saturday 12 May at the Casal de Joves Can Ricart, a charity space right in the heart of the post-industrial district. It’s yet another great DIY initiative stemming from this productive musical hub, and the hope is for it to continue to evolve with new editions and creative discoveries in the years to come.

In this regard, a few of the bands booked on the Poblenou Goes Punk line-up have already generated quite some buzz in the regional punk scene, leaving us mouthwatering for more. They are very much worth delving into – we recommend you check out the Terrassian The Ramones-meet-Beach Boys Panellet and festival headliners The Demencials.

This month we made it to a highly-anticipated Friday night gig by Madrid-based up-and-coming punk rockers Los Nastys. Playing the flashy and stylish Poble Espanyol de Montjuïc nightclub venue Sala Upload on 18 May, the four-piece presented their new garage studio album ‘Música Para El Amor y La Guerra’ – out on their hometown imprint El Volcán Música last March – as part of a smaller Spanish tour.

Sala Upload was one of the few outstanding clubs on our list hosting underground live music in town, so the headlining gig by these Madrileños felt like the perfect occasion to go check it out first hand. The 500m2 multi-purpose venue sits on top of stunning mount Montjuïc, west of the main city center, as part of the Poble Espanyol open-air architectural museum, which recreates traditional Spanish villages through hundreds of building replicas.

Those of you unfamiliar with Los Nastys should know that they come from very much the same Madrid garage-punk revival scene of groups like Hinds, who are currently turning a lot of heads in the music industry. This group of punk rockers has been quite productive for the better part of the past five years, and is composed of brothers Luis and Fran Basilio (vocals and guitars), bassist Omar Montalvo, and Argentinian drummer Luli Acosta Quintas.

The band have released ten different efforts between singles, EPs, and albums. Their latest LP follows their 2016 surf rock full-length project ‘Noche de Fantasmas con Los Nastys’. They are generally known for their playful, slackerish, fuzzy, noisy, and lo-fi interpretation of modern garage-filled punk rock. For their headlining gig, Los Nastys chose to be accompanied by charismatic and controversial Barcelonian trap rapper Cecilio.G.

The support act-headliner pairing was without a doubt an interesting choice on the promoters’ side, and this appeared to be clear right from the initial moments of the show, with a huge scene and aesthetics cross-over, mixing young trappy kids embracing rap with streams of hipster-looking alternative wannabes.

While Cecilio.G’s set might not necessarily be of interest to our readers, it’s nonetheless worth noting how the Barcelona native’s opening show – started with significant delay – was actually quite ‘punk’ indeed, with the cloud-rap MC delivering a raucous and abrasive vocal performance over potent gnarly and splashy hi-hat beats, as well as a good chunk of the audience enjoying their moshing rituals over his tunes.

In a weird way, Cecilio.G as the opening act turned out to be a fitting premise to the main course, eagerly awaited by a half-empty Sala Upload main room, perhaps dissuaded from reaching an indoor space atop of a hill outside of town by an otherwise warm and pleasant Friday night. Yet, for those who were there, the vibe and atmosphere was thrilling and electric enough, as the four nicely-dressed members of Los Nastys took to the stage at around 11pm.

The punk rockers seemed at home from the very first notes – both artistically, as they connected so well with the fans in the audience, and physically, as they championed the restricted Sala Upload stage as if it were their usual practice space. Notwithstanding the long-lasting rivalry that still exists between Madrid and the Catalan metropolis, the youngsters tried to convey the impression of playing a hometown show, spearheaded by the humble and passionate guitarwork of the Basilio bros and their full, riveting delivery.

However, the overall reception of Los Nastys’s live performance revealed a somewhat subpar sound and aesthetic, barking a little too much up the noisy and overly reverbered/delayed tree. Song sections were at times unrecognisable, disguised as coarse lo-fi frying sonic mantels, infecting guitars and main vocals especially. Surprisingly enough, the Madrid quartet were at their best when hitting really hard, both instrumentally and vocally, with a special mention to bassist Omar’s outstanding job on background vocals.

Sala Upload’s amplification system and the general stepped layout of the main room didn’t help with transmitting a more distilled sound to the audience. To be fair, it didn’t appear very remediable at source, even though some might view this as a conscious stylistic choice. Yet for this night, it felt a bit too far-fetched to consider it as such, with Los Nastys’ entertainment saved by their passionate and energetic presence as musicians on stage, as well as their clever mix of faster, punchier cuts and slower ballads.

All things considered, this evening at Sala Upload represented a timely concert, simultaneously hip-hop and sub-culture, raw and authentic, transcending styles and scenes. It proved that open air events aren’t the only thing worth attending for live music fans in the summer festivals season.

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

LosNastys_Upload

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): PATRICK PAIGE II – “LETTERS OF IRRELEVANCE” | 2018-05-20

So the new Arctic Monkeys album, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, came out last week and I still think it’s pretty wack and extremely underwhelming, so I’m simply not going to give a review spin. Can’t be bothered. I’m willing to accept the idea that I’m somewhat “not getting it”, but man, how only God knows hard it is journeying through those eleven tracks every single time. I mean, at least half of those songs to me are so identity-less and undistinguishable that I’m still not able to tell which one is which without repetitively looking at their long titles, as they do nothing but converge into a wishy-washy space-rock reverberated slime that would’ve found a better home as Alex Turner’s The Last Shadow Puppets B-sides. Also, in other news, next week sees the release of the debut self-titled EP by Californian punk-hardcore outfit Pressure Cracks, for which my man Jason Aalon Butler doubles as screaming vocalist. Make damn sure to check out their mighty, tasty, and infuriated first cut “Be A Wolf“, streaming now on YouTube and YouTube alone (which I don’t think is the best idea and ROI-strategy for the group, as we all know Google pays out the lowest average playback rates of any streaming service… Guys, you should really at least hit Apple Music or at the very least Spotify with that shit).

All this to convey the message that, in the meantime and while waiting for Pressure Cracks’ debut release, it was on me to find a new project that would grab my attention, maintain it, and nurture it stupendously enough to have me draft an unpacking ARM piece to hit the ether airwaves, so as to feed upon the algorithmic logics of SEO and nowadays’ promotional marketing keeping this site afloat. Such an epiphany came to me whilst browsing through the meanderings of Twitter, as a while back I rested my active listening attention on Los Angeles jazz-rapper Patrick Paige II’s debut solo single “On My Mind/Charge It to the Game“, released back at the beginning of April as first promo cut for his full-length studio album Letters of Irrelevance, which instead came out just mere days ago on 18th May. Unfamiliar with the dude, a quick web research (and most publications’ headlines) revealed at the time how Patrick Paige II is none other than the bassist and in-house producer for the influential and critically-acclaimed R&B/funk-soul collective The Internet. My bad for not knowing that right away, but hey, we’re all fallible. While the latter band never really did anything for me – yes I did try purchasing and forcing myself to listen to their flamboyant Ego Death, but something about the mellow and continuously laid-back delivery of frontwoman Syd was always a little too off-putting for me – my curiosity was struck with this first single of Paige II. I didn’t love it right off the bat, in fact I thought it was kind of ok (even though the resemblance to anything Thundercat would put out is almost frightening, plus Syd sings the freaking chorus on this one…), but I glimpsed enough potential to keep an eye on the release of his full LP.

And thank the Lord I did, because in retrospect I wouldn’t have blamed myself too much for not having done so. That is, the 8th of May saw the advent of a second teaser single, called “Voodoo”, which I found to be quite weak and once again very reminiscent of the type of work Patrick Paige II would undertake as his main day job in The Internet, which here reads as ‘not a good thing’. The song is a slowed down, washed-out lounge-y neo-soul/R&B scarcely led by intermittent background vocals that ought to put a little toddler to sleep at night, given the right circumstances. So when the full project dropped a couple days ago, I was tremendously glad I barely held on to this and got repaid back with high interest rates and general gratification. Paradoxically, even now in the context of the full album, I find the two promotional singles to be among the weakest moments on the record – although the ‘second song in the song/outro/beat switch’ “Charge It to the Game”, kicking in at about 3:15 into the track, is actually pretty rad and enlists a superb refrain by Arkansian hip-hop artist Kari Faux – and I still can’t fathom who in their right own mind would select these two as teaser cuts when the tracklist elsewhere contains terrific gems such as “The Party Song (Do My Dance)” or “Ode to Inebriation“.

Speaking of which, the latter track brings to the attention the fact that Letters of Irrelevance is actually a project dealing with a number of extremely serious and relevant subject matters, ranging from loss and mourning (Patrick Paige II dedicates various moments on the album, case in point the intro number “Silent Night”, to his late mother), loneliness, mental health, addiction, and family. Overall, and I still stand by my now-publicly-available initial reaction, this is a very dark and thematically uncomfortable record that ought to be understood as a coming-of-age of sorts and therapeutic-cathartical process for the Los Angeles-native, who it turns out is incredibly good at pairing such heavy topics with tremendous and brilliantly fitting compositions as well as instrumentations. One of the best examples of this is track number two “The Best Policy”, which sees a dreamy and cloudy keys instrumental synched with prudent drumming, accompanying substantial bars delivered in a surprisingly talented fashion by the bassist-turned-MC (“Skeletons in my closet and it’s so many, doors is wide open / This is dope shit for the birds, I contemplated leaving Earth / The only reason I ain’t do it, I’d rather not go to hell and burn / Plus my moms would be upset and I’d rather not chance that“).

Letters of Irrelevance (a tribute to the ephemeral and timely phenomenon of overestimating problems of the now when looking back from a bigger picture in the future, in the words of the creator himself) gets absolutely excellent in its second half, after scattered sparks of self-indulgence (“Heart and Soul [Interlude]”), blandness (“Voodoo”), and uselessness (“Voicemail”) are left behind. Leading side B of the LP is the gorgeous and sensual soul number “Red Knife” (featuring superb singer Daisy), which is essentially the best example as to how to successfully re-interpet The Internet’s flair and style in a solo manner. What follows is an extremely hooky, catchy, and G-funky/gangsta pair of tracks at number eight and nine, embodied first by what should’ve been the lead trappy single for this project, “The Party Song (Do My Dance)” with an accomplished appearance of singer/songwriter/producer ForteBowie, and then the fantastic, gloomy, and atmospheric “Get It With My Ni**as”, featuring cameos by Sareal and G Perico. At number ten comes what is arguably the most important song on the record, the aforementioned tell-all and introspective opus alcohol addiction testimony “Ode to Inebriation” (“Never the less I confess, this shit never helps / Destroying myself, abusing the potion / Make the pain slow-motion, just bad as a cry for help / Man, I got it bad when a ni**a mad or a ni**a sad / I don’t need a glass, man fuck a flask / Drink it just what I bought it in just like my dad“). The track not only showcases Patrick Paige II’s talent as bold and daring songwriter and lyricists, but it’s also one of the best expressions of his immense gifted skills on electric bass.

“The Last Letter” is what follows and it wraps up the album altogether and, to be frank, pales a little bit in comparison to its predecessor on the tracklist, although being treated with great rhymes, verses, and intentions, not to mention one of the best beats on the whole record, glowing placid jazzy dynamics with thriving drums and splendid guitars. Yet, one of the best aspects about this project, is that portions of it – the second half – hit you straight from the first listen, but it also acts as absolute grower, revealing deeper cuts as well as bits and pieces of it throughout long-term listens. Moreover, its lyrical narrative is a whole other topic on its own, existing almost distinctively from the accompanying sound and unveiling stories of pain, longing, struggle, remorse, and self-therapy. Hat’s off to this young and talented songwriter/rapper/bassist/producer, who not only decided to put it all out there transparently for the world to tap in, but he also chose to do so on his debut solo album, further justifying the attempt by unwrapping spectacular instrumental motifs, beautiful melodic lines, and a general gist for essential, honest, real, and transmitting songwriting. Among other things, The Internet have a new album coming out later in July this year, the follow-up to their Grammy-nominated Ego Death, but I’m almost certain and willing to bet sums of money that in times of critical recaps at the end of 2018, it will be Patrick Paige II’s release that will have delved into more hearts.

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

PATRICK PAIGE II

“LETTERS OF IRRELEVANCE”

2018, Patrick Paige 29 LLC/EMPIRE

https://soundcloud.com/patrick-paige

patrick-paige-II-letters-of-irrelevance

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): J. COLE – “KOD” | 2018-04-27

ARM is back as I sort of forced myself to switch gears from relentlessly sucking up all of Kanye’s new tweets and the constructively enlightened discourse his catalysing sparks of debate are generating every time he rapes that blue bird submit button. As you might have realised, the hip-hop editorial leitmotiv is back too, after having caught a little break (and a fever) more recently in favour of punk-rock execution. Whether I like it or not, mine and any above-average music fan’s exposure to the rapping game has in current times become as inevitable and ubiquitous as parsley for Italian cuisine, while the genre and its underlying culture went to be the dominant form of cultural expression in the mainstream. Digressing a little bit on a different artistic form tangent for a moment, yours truly can’t recommend enough HBO’s four-part TV documentary miniseries The Defiant Ones, revolving around the rise (and no fall) of Apple Music boss and industry influencer Jimmy Iovine as well as rapper, record producer and all-round don Dr. Dre. The documentary narrates their relationship through the decades as well as extremely insightful glimpses into how to create, run, and destroy successful music ventures in the modern age. It should be available on Netflix depending on where your praiseworthy soul is based, so go check it out if y’all trust your hostess with the mostest.

Now, this very ARM instalment is some sort of unchartered territory for me as three Michelin star-studded music critic, because for as terribly and unforgivably late to the party I might be, North Carolina-rapper J. Cole‘s newest album KOD is honestly his first one of I listened to, out of his now 5-unit strong discography. I’m not really sure why, but something about the woke and modern conscious rapper par excellence never really clicked with me, and out of the eternal epic rivalry between him and King Kendrick that both the trade press and different fanbases initiated years ago, I’ve actually always kinda been more of a K-Dot guy. However, this ephemeral platonic musical marriage between who writes this sentence right now like, for real, and J. Cole was probably bound to happen at some point, as only a few months ago I was to remain quite impressed and affected by a sung feature of his on the track “Zendaya” by Los Angeles-MC Cozz, off the latter’s debut release Effected, out in February earlier this year. Incidentally, Cozz’s album came out on Cole’s own Dreamville Records label, which goes to explain not only the artistic collaboration between the two but quite probably a timely heightened creative rollercoaster for Mr Cole himself.

So without any further ado, let’s delve into J. Cole’s latest (fifth) studio LP KOD, which as the Fayetteville-native explained himself, holds various different meanings and interpretations (Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed, Kill Our Demons), which I bluntly choose to convey at discretion of each listener’s preference. The project came out on Friday 20th April on Dreamville and runs over a thin-for-hip-hop 42 minutes, spanning 12 songs with no external feature whatsoever – except for his alter-ego alias moniker kiLL edward on a couple tracks. I thought this was a rather interesting and debatable choice, given his prominence of late shining on other people’s material. Anyway, the album was promoted by the bouncy and malicious “ATM“, accompanying a catchy hook with a fast-paced and muddled verse flow spitting reflective bars philosophising over the vices of money lust (“Proceed with caution / I heard if you chase it only results in / A hole in your heart / Fuck it, I take the whole cake and I won’t leave a portion / It’s only an organ”). Not much later as part of KOD’s release week, J. Cole unveiled another music video for song number seven on the tracklist, “Kevin’s Heart“, starring comedian and actor… Kevin Hart. In fact, very much on brand with its visual casting skills, the track turned out to be rather underwhelming, only partially made bearable by a pleasant intro motif/refrain sandwiching tedious and off-putting trap vibes stretching throughout the too long verses.

So much for a promotional campaign of KOD (to be fair, J. Cole himself only announced the arrival of the record mere days before the 20th April at scattered record listening parties thrown in the USA and UK), although luckily, this realisation doesn’t get in the way at all, as the best moments on this album are all to be found elsewhere. Beginning with the powerful, groovy, and elastic title track at number two (preceded by a slow, dusty, and soporific jazz-infused skippable intro tune), which has the NC-rapper put on his more braggadocious and haughty clothes, slugging and kicking the listener with ferocious lyrics very much in a tell-all mode, as well as one of the most fortunate and successful choruses on the whole record (“This is what you call a flip / Ten keys from a quarter brick / Bentley from his mama’s whip / K.O.D., he hard as shit”). Unfortunately, “KOD” is followed by the complete mess and swerve that is “Photograph”, which despite its laudable and illuminating message (put your phones down, kids), completely fails in both melodies and delivery/production.

But earlier we were trying to head somewhere nice, somewhere pleasant, and this can actually be achieved by going down the “Cut Off” road, a song immediately following the wasteland that “Photograph” provoked, and one of the longer cuts on the project just short of four minutes in length. Perhaps J. Cole’s “Yah”, the track features the MC as kiLL edward in form of a tuned down, low distorted preaching voice cradling a main harmonic melody wrapped by dangerous and introspective bars flowing at what I might dare to say could be J. Cole’s sweet spot in terms of vibe and aesthetic. Similarly, the bulk of lengthier cuts on KOD actually turned out to be the most enjoyable overall, offering convincing song dynamics, lyricism, and general artistry manifesting in various refreshing ways (once it’s through high-pitched intermezzos, another time spitting out jaw-dropping lines about family, friends, and the value of life). Tracks included in this latter elite inner circle are the monumental and instructive “BRACKETS”, the wonderful and painful “FRIENDS”, and the trap-done-right “Window Pain (Outro)” (albeit not actually the outro on the album).

Regrettably, this album does entail 12 records after all, and almost half of them aren’t actually able to leave a mark on me as listener and three Michelin star-studded music critic, even less so when taken into perspective with the more fortunate compositions on here discussed just above. In addition to the previously mentioned wretched pipsqueaks “Intro”, “Photograph”, and “Kevin’s Heart”, the tasteless and corny “Motiv8” as well as – brace yourself for… – the too minimal, too dry “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)” go join this group of rejects, perhaps partly reminding myself why I never really vibed with Mr Cole in the first place. So all in all, it was nice to eventually meet you J. Cole, you are a talented and smart rapper sparking long-overdue and much-necessary conversations, but you should know that your final packaging often betrays your praiseworthy quality of intentions. “FRIENDS” and “Window Pain” are outstanding tracks and trust me when I tell you that I shall be spinning them for long. But man, four to five subpar songs out of a total of twelve is simply too many. See you perhaps in another five album’s time again?

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

AV

J. COLE

“KOD”

2018, Dreamville Inc.

http://dreamville.com

180417-J-Cole-KOD-cover-800x800

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

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 mighty 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, 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