ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – “WESTERN STARS” | 2019-06-15

How often can one stand the utmost tasty chance to review a fresh collection of original music by The Boss himself? Certainly not too frequently during the course of this past decade, within which — for better or worse — Springsteen fans have been forced to confine their new found comfort and abundance to a mere three studio LPs following 2009’s lukewarm Working on a Dream. Also, strictly speaking, for how beautiful, generous, and fulfilling his 2014 album High Hopes was, it ought perhaps not be truly considered as one, given that it encompassed twelve miscellaneous numbers based upon cover songs, out-takes, and re-imagined versions of tracks from previous projects, EPs and tours. So, needless to say, the arrival of his nineteenth (!) studio record, including nothing but brand new material for the first time in almost five years, kind of sent arousal shivers down yours truly’s musical spine. Bruce Springsteen‘s new project is titled Western Stars and came out worldwide yesterday Friday 14th June on Columbia Records, proudly sporting thirteen new cuts clocking it at just over fifty minutes and change of runtime.

Somehow, a part of me is tickled by a form of redemptive urge to begging your pardon, esteemed readers, as we jointly wonder how on earth could one be possibly in a position to critically appraise and dissect a body of work that came out 24 hours prior to said critique, let alone by an artist as mystical, deep, and timeless as Springsteen? Yet, the album really is that good, ladies and gentlemen, that I am left with no other choice but throttling away at full speed aiming at shepherding your present, past, and future listening experiences of magnetic Western Stars. Mind you, this thing is predominantly a melodic unplugged affair, borrowing compositionally as much from Nebraska (1982) as from Tunnel of Love (1987), throwing in Bruce’s evergreen and universal reliability plus, evidently, more than a few residuals from his recent years spent looking back at his youth in memoir-mode as well as holding Broadway residencies with plenty of acoustic guitars.

Right off the bat with album opener “Hitch Hikin‘” — a stranded, heartfelt, and liberating lullaby led and wrapped by guitars and strings only — we get a clear no-frills sense of where Bruce is headed with this, fully delivering on his pre-announced promise to explore stories and topics that “encompass a sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.” The unique blend of hopeless melancholy mixed with unconcerned limitlessness conveyed by this tune is straight up lifted from his bona fide Springsteen playbook material: “I’m hitch hikin’ all day long / Got what I can carry and my song / I’m a rolling stone just rolling on / Catch me now ’cause tomorrow, I’ll be gone“. Once again, I’m the definition of a broken record here but I’m just so pleased and gratified anytime I stumble across albums that waste no time fumbling around and hit up listeners with their highest moments right from the top, even better so if directly with the opening track. Western Stars is in my opinion one such record. So, if you are to only listen to one song off this LP, please I implore you make it this one. It comes in handy as it’s the first thing you hear by pressing play on the record.

Now, I’m not insinuating that “Hitch Hikin'” is hands down and indisputably the best cut on here, as one could confidently say that Bruce has spoilt us by choice with this new outing. That accolade should probably be bestowed upon the album’s title track at number four, which alongside the groovy and deliciously lush “The Wayfarer”, and the LP’s third single “Tucson Train” (dropped on May 30th), make for one of the most solid, coherent, and convincing first album acts of 2019. “Western Stars” actually moonlights as the official fourth single for the eponymous full-length (out on release date) and is attached to a stupendously shot and intricate music video; with that being said, the creative and business rationale behind it not being the actual first lead track for its is beyond my comprehension. The tune is a tormented, deep, yet hopeful exploration of what it feels like to be entangled and checkmate-d by Southern California fame, while at the same time running on an extremely relatable mundane mantel made of blessings and curses each one of us goes through in life. Bruce here needs nothing more than his inspired pen, a warm acoustic guitar, and a gelling rhythm section to remind everyone who the real American storyteller for the people is.

Fifth on the tracklist “Sleepy Joe’s Café” brings a fun and welcome change of pace to the overall introspective and mainly somber aesthetic that kicked off the album, leveraging typical country and Western sonic elements to make for an uplifting break. The track is followed by another highlight in the shape of the haunted “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)“, showcasing a beguiling sobbing piano and a gentle guitar that would’ve perfectly fit on any of his 80s records, while the main character is presented the check for the carefreeness and rebellion of his juvenile days: “At nineteen, I was the king of the dirt down at the Remington draw / I liked the pedal and I didn’t mind the wall / ‘Midst the roar of the metal I never heard a sound / I was looking for anything, any kind of drug to lift me up off this ground“. In a similar vein, banjo-led “Chasin’ Wild Horses” navigates through past acceptance and regret, as it spearheads what is perhaps the weakest section on the record, additionally comprising the somewhat dull and sanitised ‘full-band rock song’ “Sundown” and the unplugged filler “Somewhere North of Nashville”.

The stunning orchestral “Stones” at number ten reprises the glorious and spotless songwriting leitmotiv found in Western Stars’ first portion, making way for a compelling and terrific duo of tracks where each doubled as promotional single in anticipation to the full album release. “There Goes My Miracle” successfully displays a best-of of some of Springsteen’s more modern sounds, very much at show on his noughties records The Rising (2002) and Magic (2007), while also providing for one of the catchiest — albeit lyrically bittersweet — hooks on the whole project. The sweet and enchanting stripped down marching ballad “Hello Sunshine” instead is a country-folk gem sounding instantly like a Bruce classic, including his unique authorship trademark, blending universal sadness with the elevating power that comes with its embodiment: “You know I always loved a lonely town / Those empty streets, no one around / You fall in love with lonely, you end up that way / Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?“.

I don’t think anybody would’ve argued against having the latter track as the album’s epilogue, although the gorgeous cradling fairytale “Moonlight Motel“, aided by its unassuming embracing backdrop section and the inherent sunsetting nod included in its name, probably make for an even better curtain closer. All things considered, this thing is a near flawless depiction of enduring modern American songwriting, one where Bruce decidedly pulled out all the stops for the first time in a few decades — ironically by reverting back to just his acoustic six-strings. At a time when contemporary mainstream music — regardless of genre, but especially so for rock and roll — is being exposed as having a fundamental identity crisis, resorting more often than not to “everything but the kitchen sink”-formulas and algorithmic co-signs, embellished by branded deals, it’s so stupendously reassuring and refreshing to come across simplistic yet effective works of art such as Western Stars, utilising so little instrumentation but so much heart and emotion. If the price to pay for these types of flags in the desert sand, guiding us musically by way of spiritual reference points, is another five years of waiting, we’ll happily take it.

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

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

“WESTERN STARS”

2019, Columbia Records

https://brucespringsteen.net

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): TYLER, THE CREATOR – “IGOR” | 2019-05-26

Provocateur. Jackass. Instigator. Fashion designer. Clown. Cockroach-eater. Enfant terrible. Cheese Danishes lover. Homophobic. Lead odd futurist. Artiste. Prodigal son. Wolf Haley. Misogynist. Influencer. DJ Stank Daddy. Bastard. (Scum fuck) Flower boy. Garçon. Mr Lonely. Gimmick. Fraud. UK and Australia land limits outlaw. Auteur. Punk. Eastern European name adorer. IGOR.

The above are but a filtered bunch of the somewhat one-dimensional and reductive tags Mr Tyler Gregory Okonma, aka Tyler, The Creator, has been subject to pigeonholing with during his career as a solo artist and beyond. The 28-year old Ladera Heights-native rapper, singer-songwriter, and producer has been witnessing nothing short of a stunning chameleonic trajectory as it pertains to both his personal and artistic identity refinement, roughly chaptered alongside a before-and-after moment on this timeline, captured by his tenure at his now defunct trailblazing rap collective Odd Future. Post-OF Tyler, The Creator has then seen his creative itinerary alight at five distinct full LPs preceding his last, IGOR, pivoting and peaking at superiorly lavish Flower Boy station two years ago, an album that still haunts yours truly in the shape of a sacrilege for not having seized the occasion to fully unpack it and review when it came out.

However, pretty much all of the compartmentalising labels and tags thrown at him by both click-bait tabloid and woke media left and right, seem to miss the fact that Tyler is, actually, a fairly old-fashioned and nostalgic twenty-something post-Napster millennial, as much indebted to Roy Ayers and Pharrell Williams as to UK’s own Doves and Nigerian punk-rock. One only needs to pay a tad closer attention than the average to discover how the influential Los Angeleno MC’s cognitive scheme works by employment of rather old-school, anachronistic, and analogue architectures of thinking. Case in point; he still refers to his songs — or any song, really — by calling them by their track listing position, instead of their actual title, denoting a clear reliance on the album as a format and thought processing lens when it comes to music. Or, as a further supporting exhibit, just turn to the prevalent apparel leitmotiv expressed through his clothing brand GOLF, notably inspired by dated run-of-the-mill retro-outfits sported by “old dudes”, in his own words.

Considering the above melting potato salad of misconception, surface-level-judging, creative evolution, latent missteps, and uninhibited self-expression peppered throughout Tyler, The Creator’s multi-artistic career to date, the rather sudden arrival of his sixth studio project IGOR on Friday 17th May was arguably destined by design to be met with a combo of curiosity and excitement. Tyler’s camp managed to squeeze the entirety of the album’s promo and anticipation within two weeks and change, as the rapper’s social media accounts began teasing sonic sneak peaks of less then a minute in length, kicking off with scene-setting “IGOR’S THEME” on 1st May, delivering an hypnotic distorted synth attack chased chronologically by an edgy drum kit, additional layered keys, and the start of a refrain. Similarly formatted snippet clips followed in quick succession, first with the eerie and foreboding lo-fi of “WHAT’S GOOD“, then taking a left spin with the tasty and warm soul of “A BOY IS A GUN“, only to retract to another U-turn with the subsequent “NEW MAGIC WAND” teaser, another big, heavy, violent beat gelled together by a pitch-shifted spine and its quasi-industrial feel.

Unsurprisingly, as we’re dealing with Tyler — and in pure harmonic alignment with the nostalgia claims above —,  IGOR’s tasters ought not be considered as singles to the record in any way, shape, or form. While the former Odd Future honcho did in fact drop a full music video for his schmaltzy, sugary, and delicious tune “EARFQUAKE” on album release day — very much in the spirit of a lead flagship track statement for the whole record — he actually saw fit to publish so-called listening instructions for fans to heighten their proper engagement with the record as Tyler meant it to be. These include memos reminding listeners that “This is not Bastard. This is not Goblin. This is not Wolf. This is not Cherry Bomb. This is not Flower Boy. This is IGOR. Pronounced EEE-GORE.” and, most crucially, crossing Ts and dotting Is around pre-conceptions: “Dont (sic) go into this expecting a rap album. Dont (sic) go into this expecting any album. Just go, jump into it“.

Thus, in his defence, we can’t say we weren’t warned. And oh (flower) boy were those instructions predictively on point. This thing is as much a fuzzy R&B/funk soufflé as it rocks an abstract hip-hop flair, only if it were almost exclusively inspired by low-fidelity Neo-soul crooner-ish songwriting. I haven’t actually measured it so don’t quote me on that, but it’s probably safe to say that true blue MC bars don’t make up even half of IGOR’s total runtime of just about 40 minutes. Now, if Flower Boy were to be employed as some kind of MO trend indication in this sense, this shouldn’t struck as an inconceivable surprise. Notwithstanding this, IGOR isn’t simply a natural and evolutionary step forward in Tyler’s production, arrangement, and songwriting patterning. It’s more like a transverse 180· reboot, milk-shaking much of what he’s been (here’s looking at you, Wolf and Cherry Bomb), mixed with the holistically creative vision behind Flower Boy on steroids, and just a sea of pitch shifting effects. More than any of its predecessors, IGOR is a Tyler, The Creator statement of identity, intent, and emotion.

Counterintuitively, the project is in fact a mighty who’s-who concerto of features, collabs, and co-signs, yet its album art sleeve is here to heartily remind everyone that everything was written, arranged, and produced by the Tyler himself. Playboi Carti (“EARFQUAKE”), Lil Uzi Vert (“IGOR’S THEME”), Solange (“I THINK”, “A BOY IS A GUN”, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”), Kanye West (“PUPPET”), Jerrod Carmichael (interludes MC and wisdom spreading impresario), Santigold (“NEW MAGIC WAND”, “PUPPET”), La Roux (“GONE, GONE/THANK YOU”), CeeLo Green (“GONE, GONE/THANK YOU”), Charlie Wilson (“EARFQUAKE”, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”), Slowthai (“WHAT’S GOOD”), and Pharrell (“ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”) are only a selected few among the helping hands Tyler reached out to for the execution of the project, however no single one was deemed deserving and functional enough for an actual track-level display credit in the eyes of our favourite garçon.

Following a line of thinking warranting a full and overarching body of work appraisal, rather than a track-by-track surgical dissection of its fragmental building blocks, IGOR comes across as a bona fide example of an artistic whole being so much more than the mere sum of its compositional parts. It’s no coincidence Tyler or anyone at Columbia Records didn’t feel like spraying outward a single cut months ahead of the full LP release to entice the audience while at the same time canvassing a fairly representative sonic picture of what the full collection of songs was going to be. That would’ve in fact been a fool’s errand, whether we or Tyler like it or not. For one, perhaps paradoxically, no single track is in fact strong enough to exist autonomously and self-referentially (although the serene, catchy, and come-undone-revealing “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” comes close to that), a notion that with 20/20 hindsight was predictably anticipated by Tyler’s out-of-the-box instructions for use above. Furthermore, on a more mixing/production level of analysis, virtually all track transitions are established by continuous fade in-and-outs, doctoring a unique and uninterrupted listening experience from beginning to end.

What’s more, and quite in juxtaposition to the self-indulgent mission statement of the record, on IGOR Tyler is seen wearing many of his most explicit artistic influences proudly and confidently on his sleeves, to an extent where at times one couldn’t be condemned for thinking that this project was more of a compilation joint, rather than a concept art piece where the source artist acts as the be-all and end-all of its full craftsmanship. Note how his somewhat unrequited love for R&B/Soul blossoms on songs such as the aforementioned “EARFQUAKE”, the confessional and loaded “A BOY IS A GUN”, and perhaps most predominantly on the inquisitive and climaxing album closer “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?“. Kanye West, on his part, shows up both on wax (on vulnerably desperate number “PUPPET”) and as a conceptual reference point: indie-garage derivative track number three “I THINK“s main melodic chords progression sounds just like a “Stronger” cutting-room floor residual demo from 2007. Plus, lest we forget, this whole entire thing has got Pharrell Williams written all over it.

Lyrically, IGOR is recounting a tale arc made of romanticism, love, attraction, rejection, confidence, insecurity, resentment, identity, and acceptance, although it’s extremely hard to put one’s finger on what cut exactly expresses what feeling. Almost as if by careful engineering intent, it’s only with the full twelve tracks under one’s belt and inside one’s brain that the listener can begin to make heads or tails of the bird’s eye view narrative carved into this project’s ethos. When thinking back at specific emotions or cognitive landscapes perceived while sucking up its content, it’s rare that a single song off IGOR is truly capable of doing full justice to the specific feeling conveyed. There is almost a sense of performative uncertainty — or perhaps hesitation — to the scatterbrained itemised musical brushes encapsulated in the twelve distinct-yet-unified vectors that make up IGOR. This might support the evidence around the lack of a real lead single, or even a typical radio-friendly verse-chorus-bride songwriting structure. Instead, in order to funnel a kaleidoscopic, heterogeneous, and contradictory story, with IGOR Tyler was forced to resort back to the comfort of his artistic cognitive infrastructure more than ever, counting on only those few reference points he’s always been faithful to (hence why track number ten “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU” still has a two-songs-for-one structure, as with all his previous full-lengths).

It’s probably still too soon — or actually too late — to measure the impact of single tracks over the full body of work under scrutiny here, as it would admittedly and arguably be an exercise dead on arrival. The risk of not seeing the forest for the trees would be too high. But also, there is a suspicion lurking that Tyler knew it all along. That is, in the above mentioned listening instructions, he also writes: “As much as I would like to paint a picture and tell you my favourite moments, I would rather you form your own“. What better way to spill the beans upfront, revealing that there are in fact no such individual favourite moments, for this project is strictly meant to be digested as a whole unified and interoperable hodgepodge?

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

TYLER, THE CREATOR

“IGOR”

2019, Columbia Records

https://www.golfwang.com

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TTC_IGOR2

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): KEVIN ABSTRACT – “ARIZONA BABY” | 2019-04-27

Feed me anything stemming from the BROCKHAMPTON universe and I shall gravitate towards it like ducks to water. This predicament has held true pretty much every since the Texan boy band stormed onto the global music scene in 2017 and began turning a lot of incredulous heads as it went on to release its magnum opus Saturation trilogy within the span of a little more than six months. The fact that this latest project baked out of the hip-hop collective’s factory is earmarked by its founder and leader Kevin Abstract does nothing but add substance and critical mass of intrigue to the whole shebang. This is partly because noblesse oblige, but arguably more so due to the rapper/singer-songwriter having had to deal with a past twelve calendar months full of exterior dismissals, periods of self-doubt, and indirect solitary confinement while the boy band fulfilled the cumbersome release cycle around their ambitious fourth studio effort iridescence. For those of you not in the know, let’s just say that Kevin’s contribution to BROCKHAMPTON as of late wasn’t exactly a spotless and wholesome embrace on the part of audience and critics, with the advancement of more or less aggravating accusations ranging from him having lost any faculty of adding real value to the group’s new music to head-on reprimands of acting as entitled prima donna choosing deliberately to dim away from the creative limelight of the artistic project.

Needless to say, Mr Abstract must have had more than a few things to get off his chest. Acting as the group’s prodigal son — and by unfortunate curse of it, its scapegoat — while at the same time elbowing its way to cut through the cultural discourse of a more often than not bigot and retrograde society as a young black queer millennial can’t ever be understated.  However, the above are not the only reasons worth justifying a fiery engagement by way of heightened enthusiasm with Kevin’s latest third studio LP ARIZONA BABY. For one, his last solo project American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story (2016) proved to be a sensationally pretty and beautifully crafted body of work, all the while carrying enhanced lyrical and thematic value captured with a maturity certainly not evident for someone who had barely turned twenty years of age. So, after the exploit of a lifetime experienced on the BROCKHAMPTON trajectory, including a groundbreaking major label deal with RCA Records earlier last year, an inevitable soaring curiosity ensued to accompany the anticipation around his follow-up. Thankfully, Kevin did not disappoint. For starters, it’s not like the Texas-native and autotune-aficionado ever even properly announced the arrival of ARIZONA BABY, rather opting for semi-official hints of random album art renditions, scattered spring dates, and improbable Lana Del Rey shoutouts.

Let us try and make some order of the unfolding of events here. Firstly, it wasn’t until the 8th April that we got unequivocal indications pointing at new music from the MC, as Kevin dropped a music video for what turned out to be the first taster ‘single’ off the new project, coming in the form of an anxious and grinding minute-and-half Outkast-inspired bouncer called “Big Wheels“. Then, a few days later on 11th April, the BROCKHAMPTON crooner saw fit to drop a three-track single format pretty much without evidentiary explanation, simply dubbed ARIZONA baby. The bundle included the aforementioned lead cut, the lavishly carnivalesque “Joy Ride“, and the tear-inducing singalong stunner “Georgia” (whose sticky and sappy refrain “I got Georgia on my mind, ain’t nobody left behind / It’s just me, my team, my weed, my baby’s Audi parked outside / Call my mom and let her know that everything is alright” will live on for years on end already sounding like a classic). A mere week after that, it was time for Ghettobaby the EP, featuring all three above mentioned records with the same track listing order and the addition of three more. His native Texas hometown namesake “Corpus Christi” at number four is a stripped down palm-muted guitar-led intimate reflection on his past, while the Ryan Beatty-assisted “Baby Boy” stands hands down as one of the high points on the whole project, more so than the confusingly dull hodgepodge “Mississippi” that rounds up the EP. On “Baby Boy”, everything from its groovy and rhythmic verse laments to the irresistibly enchanting chorus as well as the clever instrumentation choice (incl. climaxing larger-than-life synths and warm sax lines) make for one of Kevin’s most well-rounded and wholesome tracks to date.

So at this point we were serviced with a pseudo-single with three loosely collated cuts and an accompanying EP sporting said three songs and a bunch more. Meanwhile, to many’s relief and excitement, the Los Angeles-based MC started dropping hints that what we were bearing witness to was in fact a gradually phased roll out for what was in fact his complete third studio full-length ARIZONA BABY (flashbacks to Denzel, anyone?). And then, fiercely defying industry release protocol norms, on Thursday 25th April the LP eventually saw the light of day, revealing a 11-strong tracklist — including all six previously unveiled cuts, shockingly — and supplying a little more than half-hour runtime of material. Moreover, on release day, the Abstract camp unleashed a brand new lead single and associated music video for “Peach“, at number eight on the tracklist. The joint is a gentle reverb-soaked acoustic tale of empowering self-discovery (“I ain’t sign up for no bullshit / I told my baby that I’m bulletproof / Mans made me take two sips / All things I couldn’t do“), and the video sees Kevin teaming up with not only most of the BROCKHAMPTON crew, but also introducing the raw up-and-coming performing talent of Florida singer Dominic Fike to the large rap collective’s audience. On here Dominic is in charge of lending the song’s chorus a lovely and delicious motif that is surely going to gratify numerous fireside chants this coming summer (“I’ll be your baby doll and your bodyguard if you tell me to / I’ll try to make it all not as hard if you let me through“).

Now, after having sat with the full collection of songs for a while, let me say this whole thing comes across as an extremely versatile and layered concept, one that I can already predict will hold a wealth of replay value and unpacking carved into its DNA. On the one hand, this record displays Kevin’s pristine pop sensibilities like no other before, presenting some of the catchiest and strongest tunes he’s ever written. On the other hand,  too often one finds themselves wondering how on earth to make heads or tails for many of the songs, with power-pop super producer Jack Antonoff (of Bleachers fame) and BROCKHAMPTON’s very own Romil Hemnani’s mixing and sound architecture shamefully overwhelming the listener into self-indulgence. Unfortunately, some of the tune’s intentions fail to stick their landing, too. Take for instance track number seven “Use Me”, namely an effective gospel-channelling joint at first, only to transmute into a wishy-washy melting pot of doctored sounds that serve no real purpose other than withdrawing the track’s sense of direction from its promising start. Similarly, the ninth song on here “American Problem”, notwithstanding its personal, praiseworthy, and noble thematic commitment, drowns figuratively in auto-tuned pitch-manipulation leaving a lot to be desired on many fronts, though mainly compositionally and delivery-wise.

While ARIZONA BABY swaggerish curtain caller “Boyer” funnels pound for pound the BROCKHAMPTON’s Saturation era aesthetics playbook — with its quirky beat and frenetically glitchy flow — it’s moments like penultimate track “Crumble” that both elevate the full body of work on show here to heightened artistic horizons, and act as reminder that crafting potent emotional gems leveraging gnarly genre experimentation is precisely Kevin Abstract’s wheelhouse. This song has everything we’ve come to love about his raw and honest songwriting brilliancy, coupled with ingenious authoring design, pulling collabs and co-signs straight to wax from all heavyweights involved with this record. Case in point, Dominic Fike’s once again infectiously harmonious licks early on in the track, Jack Antonoff’s distantly spacious so-called ‘chorus’, and Ryan Beatty’s subtle second-voice additions to the bridge. Even though it’s arguably the shaky reverberated acoustic guitar that lends the tune its heart-shattering delicacy, while simultaneously providing a bespoke sonic mantel to wrap up the intense sentimental energy of the song from cradle to grave.

Surprise surprise, this is Kevin Abstract’s most intimate and vulnerable record, outward-preaching and inward-internalising conceptions of empathy, compassion, emancipation, achieving an overall crisp sense of catharsis while doing it. The realisation that this comes in form of a motley melting pot of genres (rap, R&B, pop, jazz, indie-rock are all at home here), styles, sounds, and aesthetics, is secondary to the sublime principal mission statement of firing back at the world in the manner Kevin is known to do best: superior rite-of-passage songwriting.

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

KEVIN ABSTRACT

“ARIZONA BABY”

2019, Question Everything Inc / RCA Records

http://arizonababy.world

KA_AB

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH – “ANCESTRAL RECALL” | 2019-03-28

I’m starting to like this whole jazz-infused thing going on over here. Getting the horns of it, so to speak. This, even though, to be completely frank this new Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah project titled Ancestral Recall could hardly be contained within conventional and canonical jazz qualification criteria. Still, for starters, Apple Music and editorial co. do choose to file this release under said genre tag, so there you go with some industry machinery validation to all skeptics’ faces. In any event, with pigeonholing adversities out of the way, fact of the matter is that this new album by the New Orleans-native trumpet extraordinaire went on to steal my new heat scene ever since dropping last Friday 22nd March without too much fanfare. Issued jointly by his home-brewed imprint Stretch Music LLC and US East Coast label Ropeadope Records, Scott’s new joint sports a full hour of new material, broken down into twelve distinct cuts, which see the jazz composer/producer reach out for assistance to a decent list of collaborators, ranging from influential hip-hop musician, slam-poet, and activist Saul Williams to up-and-coming Bronx MC Mike Larry Draw. Other similarly drafted acts joining the project ranks are usual suspect partner in crime and flutist Elena Pinderhughes as well as alto saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and producer Logan Richardson.

Such a collaborative spirit is not only reflected in the varied batch of team-ups established to complement to the sonic palette of the record, for this quest for musical cross-pollination and style contamination is also mightily reflected in the genres and sounds throughout Ancestral Recall. Through his latest effort, rather quite explicitly, the trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, and soprano trombone prodigy sought to create “a map to de-colonialize sound; to challenge previously held misconceptions about some cultures of music; to codify a new folkloric tradition and begin the work of creating a national set of rhythms; rhythms rooted in the synergy between West African, First Nation, African Diaspora/Caribbean rhythms and their marriage to rhythmic templates found in trap music, alt rock, and other modern forms”. Faithful and devoted to his mission statement, Scott managed to draw all the suitable elements from a globe of musical jigsaw-repertoire to craft a superbly modern and audacious melting pot captured in form of a jazz record. Spanning everything from indigenous and tribal percussion rudiments, electro-industrial drum machines, sweet and sugary melodic soundscapes, intricate horn lines, free jazz suites, and of course 16-bars, multi-ethnic influences and anti-colonial creativity get tastefully entangled to output a coherent and unified listening journey.

The album’s eponymous lead single, released in early February, acted as vehicle for a first – partially misleading – sonic taster of the multi-modal canvas Scott was going for on his fourteenth studio effort. Presenting a hectic and frenetic lead rhythm extrapolating a percussive mix of djembe, mande drums, kaganu, tambourine, kalimba, bata, and congas (good luck figuring out which one’s which…), it runs on continuous high energy and drive throughout all of its six-minute runtime. Rallying with Williams’ pensive preaching spoken-word lines, this track’s sharp intensity only ever gets matched by the mechanically hammering and gorgeously melodically lush “I Own the Night” at number two on the tracklist, and perhaps tangentially by segments of the jungly “The Shared Stories of Rivals (KEITA)” – both incidentally enlisting Williams’ wordplay and co-sign. Make no mistake though, despite the A-list feat and the driving flame of this lot of tracks, heaviness and density do not account for an overshadowing of more laid back, reflective, and mellower moments on the album.

Vulnerable and fun opener “Her Arrival”, for instance, lands on the shorter side of track lengths yet baptises the auditory lifecycle of Ancestral Recall in an outstanding fashion, with its quasi-celestial crescendo of trumpet, flute, and flugelhorn lines exploding in a fulfilling cascade of waterfall-y harmonies, sustained by subtly glorious choir chants. Further down the tracklist, the middle section of this LP allows for a relaxed breather in a way that, unfortunately, is not always on point and successful, resulting very run-of-the-mill. While the spaced out reverb of “Diviner” cradling tribal horns atop of a contemporary trap beat might at least induce a hint of curiosity and warrants to be admired for its experimentation, “Overcomer” at number six can’t seem to offer anything noteworthy in the way of daring to overturn predictable compositional standards of the genre, unlike much of the rest of the tracks on this project. Likewise, song number eight “Ritual (Rise of Chief Adjuah)” checks in as a totally forgettable record, offering second-hand and unoriginal aesthetic elements found in much better form and rendition in tracks like the glitzy and tender “Songs She Never Heard“, or in penultimate mash-up “Double Consciousness”.

An entirely distinct commentary and reflection is owed to the Chris Turner and Mike Larry Draw-assisted “Forevergirl“, a fuzzy and reverb-soaked indie-acoustic number offering a supreme melodic texture embedded in a warm jazzy horn frame. Yes, you read that right. On here, soul-jazz NY crooner Chris Turner lends the tune the necessary vocal depth in order to fit both a main acoustic guitar riff that sounds as if sampled from a Front Bottoms demo and a marching syncopated tambourine rhythm. Granted, the overall mixing and mastering of “Forevergirl” does leave a little bit to be desired, yet when paired against the rest of the production output delivered on Ancestral Recall, this rendering ends up sounding more like a conscious stylistic choice weaving into the tune’s lo-fi B-side vibe, than an actual flaw in the creation process. Young rapper Mike Larry Draw provides one of the highlights on this thing with his bars peppered towards the front-end of the track, showcasing a fierce attack to the drumming beat carried forward by a decisive and swagger-ish flow.

More than anything though, this flagship tune has us go full circle with the premise of this review: this is as much a modern mainstream jazz record as it is a colourful kaleidoscope of sounds and 360-degree world cultures. Arguably, no single song on the album displays the vast multiplicity of such traits better than “Forevergirl”. So let us hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, as he spoke to The Fader about the track earlier this month. But please make it what you want. After all, didn’t we all just learn that in Christian Scott’s music, anything goes?

“I wanted to sonically mirror some of the things I had seen in an analytic cubist rendering of two lovers. In that form an object is taken apart and reassembled in abstraction to depict the object from as many perspectives as possible. Essentially giving a more global viewing of what the object is comprised of. I wanted create in sound what I was seeing. So there are a multitude of parts/voices collapsed onto one another to stamp out ambiguity in the composition, to help focus a more clear reading through sort of encapsulating the sentiment in sound into a confined space. You can hear this in the many layers of trumpet, muted and non-muted, and in what I wrote for Chris Turner. A different take on constructing a love song. As my brother Terrace Martin says ‘there’s a thousand ways to say I love you.’ I wanted to channel that in this one.”

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

CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH

“ANCESTRAL RECALL”

2019, Stretch Music LLC / Ropeadope

http://www.christianscott.tv/

CScott_ARecall

A PRELIMINARY INTRODUCTION TO: YESTERDAYS NEW QUINTET | 2019-03-10

In times of slim pickings and underwhelming new music Fridays, one can often find warming inspirational comfort in looking back and digging through some blasts from the past, with no particular rhyme or reason. Such a contextual predisposition is what sparked a fairly recent nostalgic drive in yours truly that fuelled an eclectic and colourful journey into projects, gems, and scenes that had pretty inexcusably slipped through the cracks hitherto. Admittedly, it would have been a little bit of a shame not to unify these new found trips down memory lane into a solid chronicle of selected delicious picks, so we figured why not put this out in some way, shape, or form, kind of like a pamphlet-resembling primer for those who might perhaps also not be in the know of a particular cultural phenomenon. So this is what happened when we began perusing the crates of Los Angeles-based independent record label Stones Throw by way of several ancillary and adjacent jazz releases a while ago. To spare y’all the details, what we mostly ended up on was a rather mysterious and elusive US jazz collective with a surprisingly prolific catalogue that went by the name of Yesterdays New Quintet. Little did we know that behind such moniker lied Oxnard, CA-native DJ, music producer, multi-instrumentalist, and rapper Madlib, who had apparently created a parallel sonic outlet in form of a virtual band – à la Gorillaz, for those wondering – that acted as a placeholder vehicle for him to explore the multiple universes of jazz-meets-electronic music over the span of almost a decade.

This educational rite of passage of sorts came as a blessing, not least for esteemed readers of this web property might have already noticed the scarcity revolving the reporting and critique of jazz projects, that have thus far only permeated and found their way to the surface by indirect means ferried inside of hiphop containers. In the hope of redeeming said thin editorial substance appraisal, we are humbled and delighted to introduce to you in this article a precious and reputable wealth of new nu jazz repertoire composed and performed by gnarly cats (just so you know, most of the historical information presented in here relies heavily on Stones Throw and has been adapted for brevity). So the story goes that Otis Jackson Jr, aka Madlib, first conceived Yesterdays New Quintet in the summer of 2000, after he had already made a name for himself in the indie hip-hop pantheon as creator and producer of Lootpack and Quasimoto. Right around the turn of the new century, he took an extended break from hip-hop production and, we quote, “decided to replace the SP1200 with the Fender Rhodes”. The initial Yesterdays New Quintet fictitious line-up comprised of Joe McDuphrey on keyboards, Malik Flavors on percussion, Ahmad Miller on guitar and vibraphone, Monk Hughes on bass, and Otis Jackson Jr. on drums, with each session player drafted under Madlib’s guidance and supervision as producer, arranger and engineer (personnel metadata fetched from Discogs and Wikipedia).

Having initially released a series of singles and EPs during the year following its gestation, such as the gorgeously tight and dry Elle’s Theme as well as the defining genesis statement Uno Esta, the instrumental collective went on and played various secretive and experimental shows, cutting their live performance’s teeth and starting to make a name for themselves in the West Coast alt jazz scene. Their 19-track debut LP Angles Without Edges – which borrowed multiple rough drafts from its preceding EP Uno Esta – was released on the untimely and unfortunate date of Sept. 11, 2001 and was as result “ignored by virtually everyone, except those who listened, and loved it”. The formative and consolidating year that followed saw the up-and-coming ensemble record and release a full album of Stevie Wonder covers, including but not limited to “Superstition”, “You’ve Got It Bad Girl”, and “Golden Lady”; another project that dropped without much fanfare in 2003 on Stones Throw Records. As the collective evolved and progressed, a vision began to take form in Madlib’s head, where each of the founding band members would have gone on and branched off from the core group releasing standalone records one at the time, all the while introducing entirely new – fictional – members and groups into what he would subsequently dub Yesterdays Universe. As of today, the transitional timeline describing the original formation’s evolution from Yesterdays New Quintet into solo offspring outfits and eventually the miscellaneous multi-dimensional supergroup cluster Yesterdays Universe could be described as follow:

Phase 1: Yesterdays New Quintet – 2000
Phase 2: Joe McDuphrey Experience – 2002
Phase 3: Ahmad Miller – 2003
Phase 4: Monk Hughes & the Outer Realm – 2004
Phase 5: Malik Flavors – 2005
Phase 6: Otis Jackson Jr. Trio – 2007
Phase 7: Yesterdays Universe – 2007

Soon after the twofold sound recording manifestation outed under the standard Yesterdays New Quintet alias (Angles Without Edges and Stevie), it became evident that Madlib had envisioned something reminiscent to New York hip-hop heavyweight Wu-Tang Clan’s orbit for the project, with each of the subsequent records following Stevie announced as different phases of the group under each member’s individual name. However, quickly after finding this new spin-off purpose shining well-earned light onto individual musicians, a wealth of even more jazz and funky performers joined the wider ranks of the collective, many of whom, it turned out, were invited to feature on Madlib’s Blue Note Records remix joint Shades of Blue (2003). As previously hinted at, this growing circle of more or less staple collaborators became known under the free and loose band Yesterdays Universe. It was very much in this spirit that the self-titled all-star 2007 compilation showcase LP was released (see official compilation jacket below), announcing both old and new side-projects, such as Young Jazz Rebels, The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble, Sound Directions, Jahari Masamba Unit, and Jackson Conti. By then, almost inevitably, what was manifested and recognised as the original Yesterdays New Quintet line-up had officially disbanded and indefinitely split up in 2007. Relatedly, home label Stones Throw had this public announcement to make when addressing various rumours coming through the grapevine at the time:

“At this point we should address the frequent claims that the five members of Yesterdays New Quintet and the entire Yesterdays Universe collective are fictional aliases, mere figment of Madlib’s hazy imagination. Unfortunately, our agreement with Yesterdays New Quintet/Yesterdays Universe prohibits us from divulging any biographical data about the group members or commenting on their physical status in space and time. We can, however, point out that there are documented live performances, and Yesterdays Universe artists who are known for their work outside of the Madlib circle – Karriem Riggins, Ivan “Mamao” Conti, Todd Simon, and Dan Ubick among them. But due to the private nature of Madlib and the members of Yesterdays Universe, we can say no more.”

The years following alleged diatribes and chaos surrounding Madlib and his joint venture with virtual jazz cats nurtured further full length releases from additional spin-offs The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble, Jackson Conti, and R.M.C., amongst others, while master conductor-conspirator himself Madlib saw fit to release yet another bold statement around the psych-electro-jazz experiment by dropping Madlib Medicine Show #7: High Jazz in 2010. As the title suggests, this was the seventh instalment in the Oxnard producer’s 13-album series of the same name, where a strikingly fiery number of even more outfits floating within his jazz universe got a platform to showcase their commercial works. These previously unannounced and latent names include Generation Match, The Kenny Cook Octet, The Big Black Foot Band, Russell Jenkins Jazz Express, and Poyser, Riggins & Jackson. Not that it would somehow help shed more clarity on the blurred fuzziness frame entailing the true arc and trajectory of Madlib’s electro-jazz-swing pet project, but here is a fairly comprehensive and updated discography of Yesterdays New Quintet and what became of it after its break up in 2007 (excluding unofficial releases, remixes, bootlegs, and live performances):

Yesterdays New Quintet – Elle’s Theme, 12-inch EP (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – The Bomb Shelter, 7-inch EP (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Uno Esta, 12-inch EP (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Rocket Love, 7-inch (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Angles Without Edges, Album (2001) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Heaven Must Be Like This, from Rewind, 12-inch, Album (2002) UBIQUITY
Joe McDuphrey Experience – Experience, 12-inch EP (2002) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Deja Vu, from Rewind 2, Album (2002) UBIQUITY
Yesterdays New Quintet – The Meaning of Love, 7-inch (2002) STONES THROW
Ahmad Miller – Say Ah!, 12-inch EP (2003) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Suite for Weldon, EP (2003) STONES THROW
Yesterdays New Quintet – Nuclear War, from Dedication: The Myth Lives On, Album, 7-inch (2003) KINDRED SPIRITS
Sound Directions – Skyscrapers, 7-inch
Yesterdays New Quintet – Stevie, Album (2004) STONES THROW
Malik Flavors – Ugly Beauty, 12-inch EP (2004) STONES THROW
Monk Hughes & The Outer Realm – Tribute To Brother Weldon, (2004) STONES THROW
Joe McDuphrey Experience – Entrando pela Janela, from Keepintime, 12-inch #2 12-inch EP (2004) MOCHILLA
Sound Directions – The Horse, 12-inch (2005) STONES THROW
Sound Directions – The Funky Side of Life, Album (2005) STONES THROW
Young Jazz Rebels – Miss K, from The Sound of L.A. Vol. 2, 12-inch EP (2006) PLUG RESEARCH
Sound Directions – Wildflower, from From L.A. With Love, CD (2007) ART DONT SLEEP
Otis Jackson Jr. Trio – Jewelz, 12-inch EP (2007) STONES THROW
Various Artists – Yesterdays Universe, Album (2007) STONES THROW
The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Summer Suite, CD (2007) STONES THROW
Jackson Conti – Sujinho, Album (2008) KINDRED SPIRITS
Jackson Conti –
 Upa Neguinho, 7-inch (2008) KINDRED SPIRITS
Sound Directions – Wanda Vidal, EP digital (2008) STONES THROW
The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Fall Suite, (2009) STONES THROW
The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Miles Away, Album (2010) STONES THROW
Young Jazz Rebels – Slave Riot, Album (2010) STONES THROW
R.M.C. – Space & Time, Album (2010) OROCHON
Madlib – Madlib Medicine Show #7: High Jazz, Album (2010) MADLIB INVAZION

To this day, it is not clear whether we will ever see another collection of tracks associated with Yesterdays Universe, and to be frank the quickly approaching 10-year hiatus doesn’t sound too reassuring for those in hope. One should not despair though, as during their fruitful decade of busy and dense manufacturing activity, both Yesterdays New Quintet and Yesterdays Universe including all its offspring collectives did not sit idle and delivered over thirty different exquisite, intricate, and sophisticated music products that ought to be able to whet the listeners’ appetite for quite some time. Whether that is through the more canonical jazz cuts flirting with rap production of the early Yesterdays New Quintet days, or the left field and off the beaten path latin jazz, samba/funk of duo Jackson Conti, there is certainly no shortage of auditory entertainment in this collective’s catalogue, displaying almost no artistic or genre boundaries, thus opening up a myriad of sonic ventures and new opportunities ahead, much in the spirit of Yesterdays Universe itself, really.

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 no, I still haven’t completely figured out whether Yesterdays has the apostrophe or not. Pretty on brand, at least.

AV

Yesterday_s_New_Quintet_Madlib_-_Yesterdays_Universe1_1024x1024

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): FEVER 333 IN CONCERT AT BLONDIES | 2019-01-18

We haven’t done these live show reviews in a very long while on these premises and it’s probably no coincidence that this new found motivation saw fit to strike again by way of former letlive. chief instigator Mr Jason Aalon Butler. These days Jason is perusing away from his home Los Angeles neighbourhood of Inglewood as he preaches, educates, and evangelises the masses by spreading political and socially conscious predicaments through the music and teachings of his new hip-hop/rock outfit Fever 333. It probably comes with no big surprise to any one reader that said alternative group has found its way onto the editorial gatekeeping of this very web property several times before. But let us now take a quick step back as we attempt to retrace the unfolding of subsequent happenings that brought yours truly to the epic and lush live show discerned hereby, as it is indeed no conventional chain of events. So, a bunch of months back I stumbled upon a pretty low-profile and innocuous tweet by UK alternative rock-fuelled publication Kerrang!, asking fans of the band to share their favourite Fever 333 tune explaining why they chose that particular song via an email to the newsroom. Whoever sent through their entry was then eligible to win exclusive tickets to a special and secret event with the band held in London, UK, on Wednesday 28th November last year. And here comes the first plot twist: after submitting my personal essay, it turned out I had miraculously won a pair out of about fifty of said tickets, revealing that my favourite Fever 333 song to date was “Soul’d Me Out” off their debut EP Made an America, going as far as shamelessly self-quoting the ARM review that dropped earlier last year as supporting evidence for my liking, stating:

“[O]ne 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“.”

Alongside the announcement of my victorious submission quest came various instructions that spilled the beans as to what the secret event was actually going to be, namely an extremely exclusive and intimate live performance by the band at North East London’s dive bar Blondies, an impromptu – and truly goddamn tiny small – venue that I only later found out regularly doubles as hosting space for Kerrang!’s Live in the K! Pit video series. The feature puts on regular underground live shows with no stage for about 50 fans, goes on to record them, and converts them into audiovisual transmissions syndicated online. Needless to say, excitement peaked at unprecedented heights, and unsurprisingly the actual live performance by the Los Angeles supergroup turned out to be nothing short of amazing. At this stage it might also be worth stressing out how this very show got squeezed in-between a very dense and relentless tour gig schedule that Fever 333 was under at the time, specifically supporting British metalcore giants Bring Me The Horizon across the UK and Europe. Wednesday 28th November, the night of the London secret show, was in fact their last “free day” before wrapping up the month-long touring leg with two enormous and bombastic final shows at the British capital’s Alexandra Palace venue (one of which – the Friday 30th one – I subsequently planned to attend as well, and so I did). Thus, on the last free evening of their extenuating tour schedule, the three Fever 333 minstrels decided to gift a very small portion of lucky fans one of the most electrifying and insane shows, further devoting part of the audience donation money collected at the door to charity, a regular praiseworthy tradition the group has been maintaining almost ever since its inception in 2017 alongside the creation of the Walking In My Shoes Foundation.

As soon as I got to the Hackney venue with my +1 and realised how infinitely minuscule the place actually was, I started to fundamentally wonder how on earth a punk rock show could have taken place in such a tiny room. Mind you, just to open up a quick parenthesis, as far as lead crowd instigator Jason Butler is concerned, a punk rock show is not simply some kind of slightly faster and more energetic version of your standard run-of-the-mill rock concert. No, ladies and gentlemen, live shows involving Jason are proper mental apeshit cathartic experiences taking up the form of intense collective electric explosions. You are all just one quick YouTube search away from witnessing his live show wilderness in all its glory. Consume responsibly though. So back to our regularly scheduled programme; as me and +1 enter the tiny dive bar, we notice how Blondies was already fully saturated and crowded from left to right, wall to wall, top to bottom. Admittedly, we were among the very last ones to make it to the secret location before their strict 8pm show start, which coincided with the venue’s door lockdown with no late admission allowed anymore. So that y’all esteemed readers can picture this, believe it or not, the entrance portion of the bar-turned-club was where stickman Aric Improta’s drum kit and a few free-floating mic stands were set up, making it the de facto impromptu same-floor-level “stage”, forcing the band to symbolically climb onto it from the main front door of the club, which made for a curiously unusual show entry to say the least (considering that the band had to hop onto the dive bar via the outside street).

An all-black canvas hooded Jason Butler was first to enter the ridiculously crowded and already steamy room, as a selection of scattered politically-oriented soundbites played in the background, followed shortly thereafter by technical drumming extraordinaire Aric Improta and electric guitars shredder and part-time model Stephen Harrison, moments before turning into the first abrasive drum patterns of new single “Burn It”, which anticipates the group’s first studio album outing Strength In Numb333rs, out worldwide today (happy release day, fellas). All hell broke loose after about 30 seconds into the song as Jason’s raw and biting scream welcomed Stephen’s big and crunchy distorted riff, potently guided by Aric’s stomping drums throughout the whole duration. As soon as the intro track finished, Jason immediately jumped into the raw and fiery primal scream of genesis heavy hardcore number “We’re Coming In”, FEVER 333’s first track ever to be written and unveiled to the world two years ago, shouting the now iconic call to arms: “So let me tell you about / Where all my people from / Where all my people from / We hear them sirens come and then the people run“. After the insane energy of their mission statement anthem, the band turned to their flagship song and debut EP title track “Made an America”, a topical and poignant cut for which the group got nominated for Best Rock Performance at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards just one week after this very show. Now, let that sink in just for a quick second. Insurgent, reactionary, and socially-conscious punk/hip-hop outfit FEVER 333 nominated for the preppiest, most corporate, self-indulgent award show ceremony in the space. How’s that for an irony. The times they are a-changin’.

A middle show section in which Jason found himself navigating every corner of the crowd’s meanders saw the inclusion of the brilliant ‘for the people’ equality hymn “One of Us”, a spectacular wandering beat box and drum solo fight between Jason and drummer Aric, as well as the potent and angry standalone single “Trigger”, explicitly denouncing the widespread virus of gun possessions and related violence in the USA. The singer and crowd instigator also took away some time to pledge a sincere and heartfelt tribute to all the women and girls in the room (Blondies is run by three sisters, Ed.) before launching into what is arguably FEVER 333’s biggest song to date, Walking In My Shoes. The short but extremely intense and captivating set got capped off by the wild, visceral, and abrasive Hunting Season off their debut EP, which gave everyone one last deserved yet barely exhausting chance to lose their collective minds whilst Jason and Stephen mixed up into a sweaty and squashed crowd all the way to the bar counter. The public display of musical insanity and individual freedom finally got to a plateau state, ears still ringing louder than ever and mics still hanging from ceiling pipes.

It probably comes with no surprise to any of you that the good people over at Kerrang! did indeed film and edit the whole performance with great love and curation. In fact, the final video version of the half-hour set just literally came out today in concurrence with FEVER 333’s album debut, and is now uploaded on the publication’s official YouTube channel. It is with great admiration, humbleness, and satisfaction that I report said broadcasting transmission to you all esteemed readers just below in form of a digital streamable video feed, embedded for your unbiased and unlimited viewing pleasure. So what else is there to say about a truly unique, mystical, and intimate experience so wonderfully captured in audiovisual form? Virtually nothing, hence why I choose to leave you with a tiny little piece of anecdote that might not be as easily retrievable on the Interweb (or perhaps it is by now, admittedly some months have past since I heard it). During their final Friday night opening slot for BMTH, Jason revealed how FEVER 333 had to drop the “THE” from their official band name for legal reasons, presumably on account of some form of name trademark infringement notice recently put forward against them by a third party. Fun fact: Jason elucidated the crowd on their recent legal dispute whilst tearing down their gigantic white stage backdrop banner flashing what at this point was the outdated (and illegal) THE FEVER 333 emblem, successfully tearing it down from hanging up above Aric before wrapping it all up into one indistinguishable piece of enormous candid cloth that got eventually donated to a resonating and salivating front-row audience. Arguably, there is no better symbolic rite of passage analogy for such an urgent and important punk rock outfit entering their next successful artistic phase, accompanied by a new name, a flattering Grammy nomination, a new fierce studio album, and all of the same old revolutionary aggression fuelled by social justice.

FEVER 333 played:

Burn It

We’re Coming In

Made an America

One of Us

Beatbox & Drum Solo

Trigger

Walking in My Shoes

Hunting Season

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

B3 FR33. Letting them know, there is a fever coming…

AV

fever-333-strength-in-numb333rs

TWENTY-TWENTY SURGERY | 2019-01-12

Yes indeed. It’s true. I was going to entitle this written prose Two Decades Under The Influence, or a similar derivative, toying with the idea of sliding in an intended fan-verified pun, recycling and distorting the title of one of Taking Back Sunday’s most distinguished and memorable cuts repurposing it for recounting the bells and whistles of the New York outfit’s celebrations of twenty years as a rock band. Yet, after stumbling upon one review after another from media outlets and publications on the Interweb employing exactly said double entendre, I profusely discarded the embryonal idea, letting it symbolically escape out of my conceptual editorial window. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s a brilliant and funny witty little joke that addresses and presumably pleases both long-time avid supporters as well as occasional in-n-out “fast-food” listeners of the group, but hey, enough is enough and we all know that even a delicious tomato soup meal can become nauseatingly redundant if repeatedly served every single day. Notwithstanding the above, however, there should at this point be an important content disclaimer for the whole entire esteemed readership willing and wanting to continue progressing with a perusal of the present blogpost; this owned and operated body of text deals with the most influential band on yours truly, a band that started it all for this site – one that even named this web property, for Christ’s sake – and a group whose compositions and performances have even made it onto my very epidermis and heart, straight as an arrow, multiple times.

What one should take away from such an eloquent and explicit warning, I figure, is that a miscellaneous semiotic salad of insider knowledge, pre-existing notions, double entendres, puns, and subtle wordplay references are to be abundantly expected throughout this creative appraisal. For better or worse, whether we like it or not, I can’t help it and you can’t either. It all starts with the title appointment of this post ending up being Twenty-Twenty Surgery, partly honouring a much overlooked and under-appreciated track off Taking Back Sunday’s biggest and most successful album, Louder Now, but mainly inherently implying a birthday wish to the band for as many more years of thriving artistry as the ones they’ve just left behind them. Anyway, I guess this is the final call to provide you all with the newsflash component of this update, before we get irreconcilably lost in digressive by-topical rabbit holes. Yesterday, Friday 11th January 2019, was a majestically important day for Taking Back Sunday. Yesterday, the alternative rockers officially released their fabulous career-retrospective 21-track compilation, dubbed Twenty for the occasion. The LP aims at celebrating and cherishing their best work over a long and accomplished journey as a band, that started at some point back in 1999. This 20th anniversary collection of tracks features shortlisted best-of cuts off all of their seven studio albums, starting from their 2002 seminal and trailblazing angsty emo debut Tell All Your Friends coming all the way to their most recent solid rocker LP Tidal Wave, dropped in 2016 to decent critical acclaim.

What’s gnarly about this compilation is that Taking Back Sunday actually included two brand new songs in it, both written and recorded just after the start of their last tour in support of Tidal Wave a few years ago. The first of two numbers, “All Ready To Go“, doubles as de facto promotional single for the wider release, and sounds very much like a big, dense, stomping amalgamation of all the differently related arena rock sounds the band has been flirting with ever since their 2010 reunion with the original formation, involving founding members John Nolan on guitars and Shaun Cooper on bass (although, to be honest, the track’s sound aesthetics lean more skewedly towards Happiness Is and Tidal Wave, than their 2011 come-back eponymous release). “All Ready To Go” kicks in heavily with a signature Mark O’Connell drum fill beat and a bouquet of water-falling guitars, before making space for a calmer and fuzzy bass-driven verse, flowing into a grand and potent chorus in which lead singer Adam Lazzara warningly shouts “I was livid and you weren’t listening / It didn’t matter cause you were leaving / You were all ready to go / You were all ready to go / You were all ready to go / Already gone“, perhaps uncannily alluding at the recent bittersweet departure of other founding long-time member and rhythm guitarist, Eddie Reyes. Nonetheless, it’s on the second exclusive new track, “A Song For Dan”, that the group seriously sets their artistic phasers to stun, with a sensational and heartfelt piano-led song discussing survival’s guilt and weaving in both an epic structural crescendo and an overall dramatically outstanding vocal performance by Adam:

To switch it up from such a melancholically somber spot, here’s a little piece of trivia for you all: it turns out it was drummer Mark who actually started it all for the track, coming up with the initial rough melodic draft as well as the overarching thematic subject matter the song ended up encapsulating: “You’re too far gone / To know where it goes / And I know you’re not coming home / Done too much wrong to know what’s right / And it’s too late to say goodbye“. Albeit perhaps surprisingly to some, those familiar with the Long Island emo veterans should know that Mark is not new to coming up with excellent and beautiful “early-days” riffs, licks, and motives that provided the backbone foundation for some of Taking Back Sunday’s most convincing and solid songs in their entire discography, such as the punk-rock stunner “Tidal Wave” or the gorgeously dark, vintage, sunburnt gem “This Is All Now“. Maybe it isn’t that surprising after all, that for a seasoned twenty-year-old band, who during the course of its life went through multiple incarnations, transformations, and line-ups – including charismatic scene veterans such as Jesse Lacey, Fred Mascherino, and Eddie Reyes – the longest serving member to date would be that best equipped to faithfully originate and translate the group’s zeitgeist into a sonic consensus that can still speak and resonate in such a captivating way with the audience. A special mention here is also due for frontman Adam – incidentally the other longest active member in the band – who after ramping up on his sound engineering and production knowledge by attending a specific programme on the subject during his spare time, saw fit to double as sound engineer for said two new tracks, saving the quarter a substantial amount of money and awkward producer-artist conversations in the studio.

Obviously, Taking Back Sunday is bringing the whole celebratory shebang on a global album-play tour, whereby for most legs of the live run faith and fortune will decide which combination of their first three albums (Tell All Your Friends, Where You Want To Be, Louder Now) the group is going to perform in full when and in which city. Which brings up a good point, frankly an unavoidable one whenever best-of compilations come into play; namely the quality and nature of the actual shortlist of songs that made the cut for the retrospective musical statement. So, let us get this right: Twenty, despite its name, actually sports twenty-one songs, two of which are the brand new tracks we just went through above. That leaves us with nineteen repertoire songs, split between seven full length albums to choose from. A quick skim through the tracklist reveals how some records (Louder Now, with four tracks) are more represented than others (New Again, self-titled, and Happiness Is only provide two tracks to the compilation). Which is obviously fine and, truth be told, pretty legit and in line with the mainstream fans’ appreciative leitmotiv over the years, let alone the actual commercial success of some of those albums. However, there is one big elephant in the room that oughta be addressed at this stage, since we’re looking back at the whole artistic evolutionary arch of the group: New Again. The album that no one seems to enjoy and fully appreciate, fans and band alike. A personal favourite, but whose recording sessions in the studio were rumoured to be among the hardest and toughest the band ever had, with newbie lead guitarist Matt Fazzi acting as the wild card/odd man out and the unpleasant blather heard sneaking through the grapevine alleging that all of Eddie Reyes’ guitar parts got secretly re-recorded, unbeknownst to most in the camp at the time. New Again was the studio effort supposed to follow the world-wide stirring exceptional success and excellence of Louder Now, only failing miserably both in terms of fans/critical reception and sales.

Look, I always have and forever will carry a ginormous soft spot filled with admiration and adulation for the 2009 LP (read: New Again, for the fast foodies). As far as a full album-listening experience goes, its curated sonic roughness, compositional resilience, patchwork of odd experimental time signatures, aggression of crunchy delivery, sublime guitar/bass work, and lyrical baggage, simply speak to me on a higher level than any other work outputted by the band, full stop. With that being said, I do believe that there are overall better individual songs found elsewhere in the New York outfit’s catalogue. Case in point, Where You Want To Be’s “A Decade Under The Influence“, “This Photograph Is Proof“, or “One-Eighty By Summer“. Still, to me New Again as a full length remains watertight, bullet-proof, and coherently unified from start to finish. Don’t @ on this one, as you wouldn’t even be reading these very lines on this very site if it weren’t the case. Yet all things considered, if Twenty as a collection of tracks walks like a duck, it should quack like a duck, and it is therefore only fair and compliant it faithfully reflects the band’s premiere musical output over the past twenty years in form of a best-of mixtape, in a relatively objective fashion and with the greater mass audience good in mind. With all this said and done: Dear Adam, John, Shaun, and Mark, here’s to another twenty years of marvellous career and success, continuing on your prime path of mending broken hearts, helping us decode relatable life experiences, enlightening darker times. But perhaps more importantly, here’s to maintaining a twenty-twenty vision on your mission to providing warmth and comfort to a myriad of scattered yet unified fans around the globe by way of goddamn good rock and roll tunes. We’re the lucky ones. 152.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happiest 20th birthday to Taking Back Sunday this time around.

AV

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