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

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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

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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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2018 | 2018-12-20

AAL_2012 A.A.L. (AGAINST ALL LOGIC) – 2012-2017 (OTHER PEOPLE)

Buy it here.

 

August-Greene-Album-Cover-Full AUGUST GREENE – AUGUST GREENE (AUGUST GREENE LLC)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

TheFever333_MAA THE FEVER 333 – MADE AN AMERICA (ROADRUNNER RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

pusha-t-daytona-artwork PUSHA T – DAYTONA (G.O.O.D. MUSIC)

Buy it here.

 

KIDS SEE GHOSTS KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS (G.O.O.D. MUSIC)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

TA13OO_FINAL_ALBUM_COVER DENZEL CURRY – TA13OO (LOMA VISTA)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

Paul-McCartney-Egypt-Station-Album-Cover-web-optimised-820 PAUL MCCARTNEY – EGYPT STATION (CAPITOL RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

BH_Iridescence BROCKHAMPTON – IRIDESCENCE (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

181112-jid-dicaprio-2-album-cover JID – DI CAPRIO 2 (DREAMVILLE RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

 EARL SWEATSHIRT – SOME RAP SONGS (TAN CRESSIDA)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

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

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): JID – DICAPRIO 2 | 2018-12-05

You all know I have done this before, so I’m just going ahead and wrap up two separate and distinct music reviews into one single textual hamburger – which can be thought of as of vegan nature at one’s discretion too – primarily because like the good people over at DJBooth point out, there is simply too much music being released today on a quasi-daily basis, especially when it comes to the hip-hop/rap scene and community. Wait though there is more to it. In fact, the main musical work of art being reviewed and dissected in the present piece, Atlanta jazz-rapper and Dreamville Records prodigy JID’s DiCaprio 2, is not only arguably one of the most important rap releases of the latter part of this year, but its creators and strategists also saw fit to drop it on an anonymous and bland Monday – yes you read that right – thus defying all precious and long fought for music industry marketing and promotion harmonising conventions. The thing is, during that same week progressing further from DiCaprio 2’s publication date (26th November), when the usual run-of-the-mill puffy new music Friday tidal wave came along, it brought with it yet another one of the most highly anticipated hip-hop releases of 2018: Some Rap Songs, the third studio album from anguished and tormented Los Angeles-based articulated wordsmith Earl Sweatshirt, once the crown jewel of seminal and influential rap collective Odd Future. So ladies and gentlemen, I guess the cat is out of the bag now; all the while modern notions of time and space reduce us to the confinement of their ephemeral and slippery nature, this forces music and art reviewers to offer all-you-can-eat-like formats to accommodate the enriching creation of cultural artefacts in the new millennium. 2 for 1, let us go.

In this case though it’s more like a 1 and a half for 1, given that Earl’s gorgeously titled and inspired new full-length project – out under his own label imprint Tan Cressida and distributed by powerful Columbia Records – comes as a fantastically miscellaneous Russian salad of experimental spastic beats, avant-garde jazz loops, obscure out-of-tune samples, and prestigious spoken word excerpts, all clustered, smashed, and packaged into a 24-minute long and 15-chaptered abstract auditory experience, easily describable as hypnotic and mesmerising across the board. Teased over the course of November by two elusive yet sensorially abrasive, dark, and densely doughy singles, “Nowhere2go” and “The Mint” (with the latter cut representing the longest song on the album at just 2:45), Some Rap Songs is a weird and strenuously wonderful sonic patchwork that lives and breathes like a musical, emotional, and lyrical rollercoaster, enlisting a variety of juicy guest contributions from Navy Blue, Standing on the Corner, as well as vocal samples of Earl’s family with parents Cheryl Harris and Keorapetse Kgositsile and an instrumental sample of his uncle and prominent African jazz pioneer Hugh Masekela. In retrospect, the LP sounds more like an extended, un-edited, and uncut free stream of consciousness mixtape-format, displaying a rich and sensitive palette of moods and feelings, albeit fundamentally tied together by some kind of impending negative sensational mantel doom. It viscerally permeates and finds its peripheral ways into multiple lyrical passages on the project, as exemplified by lead single “The Mint”: Two years I’ve been missin’, livin’ life / You was wildin’, every day was trash / Crackers pilin’ in to rape the land / Early morning, wash my swollen hands.

Mind you, Earl’s third full-length record is a pristine and elevated creative effort, pushing multiple contemporary artistic boundaries to the next level all at once, spanning production, beat choice, flows, lyricism, and content weight as well as rawness. Superior cuts such as the gelid and fuzzy “Cold Summers” (“Really, I’m just makin’ sure my promise is kept / Chuck a duece if you know it’s the end / Kept the truth in my palm and my chest / See it through, keep a noose hangin’ off of my neck“), the cathartic, gorgeous, and heavenly sampled “Azucar”, or the touching and endearing family reunion as collated together on “Playing Possum” doubtlessly make for some of Earl’s most beautiful tracks ever, but it’s the overarching and inherent cohesiveness of this project’s addictive storytelling that will probably leave its clearest and deepest mark on both casual and experienced listeners. This realisation emerges in spite of – or precisely because of – the additional contextual background surrounding both the gestation as well as the packaging of Some Rap Songs, including but not limited to the premature death of his poet father earlier in the year. No reason for yours truly to delve into said subject matter right now on this platform, for it would require a whole contextualisation on its own and frankly it’s already been discussed enough online, so if anyone is interested in exploring this side of the story I highly recommend this piece by Vulture that fetches the telling straight from the horse’s mouth. All in all, I’m fully aware of the potentially misguided and biased overrepresentation in best-of end of year lists of albums published close to the turn of the annual calendar, however this project stands out so much from the noised crowd of meaningless industrially produced music release schedules that its timeless and evergreen impact would make any year’s best-of shortlist. Watch this space for more.

Now, for real without further ado, onto the main cinematic bit. Admittedly, I personally have never been hugely captivated and compelled by the whole J. Cole led Dreamville-camp‘s vision or output, yet when it came to JID and recollecting the first time I came across him, I immediately bookmarked him as an unmissable release as soon as I figured he was working on the follow up to his 2017 debut studio album The Never Story. Something about him, and yes it might as well be the clear resemblance and recall of Kendrick Lamar‘s flow/MO, pitch, and delivery, intensely appealed to me right from the first moment I saw and heard him, so here we are finally taking a look at his long-awaited sophomore release, dropped after an allegedly lengthy and tedious sample-clearance roadshow-meets-crusade on the label side. This thing is the second and final instalment to the “DiCaprio series” that was started with JID’s eponymous free EP, and compared to the aforementioned Earl project has one fewer track but runs more than twice as long, compiling a solid and robust 51 minutes of running time (this figure refers to the bonus track version containing previous cast away standalone single “Hasta Luego” as fourteenth track). The album was previewed by two singles: the incendiary and stomping shapeless cut “151 Rum” (released on 19th September) and the enraged and hurried marquee lead single “Off Deez“, assisted by JID’s protector and hip-hop royalty J. Cole, dropping a few weeks before the full-length. Incidentally, the two songs stand shoulder to shoulder on the tracklist at number four and five respectively. As part of the anticipation and hype-building for DiCaprio 2, JID also embarked on beefy promotional stunts across online and TV media outlets, drafting two further cuts off his album – arguably almost more fittingly chosen than the official singles mentioned above – upgrading them to quasi-single status. These songs are the soul and R&B infused slow burner “Working Out“, extremely reminiscent of the vibe and aesthetic Kendrick was partially going for in his rap opus To Pimp A Butterfly, as well as tender ladies’ ballad “Skrawberries”, premiered during his network television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

The batch of promotional “singles” floating around the main course like gravitational satellites keeping the main planet centred and balanced are an almost perfect distillation of the sonic and production variety DiCaprio 2 has to offer as a whole, however the best moments probably live elsewhere. Take for instance the idyllic and confident “Off da Zoinkys” at number six, a supreme rap number encompassing flawless flows, gentle yet remarkable instrumentals, and self-aware if not preachy memorable lyrics (“I gotta make sure my vision is clear / Oh God, no, it’s not what it seems / Six, five, four, one, two, three / .45 tote, you know me / You don’t want smoke, so what it’s gon’ be? / Gotta watch what you say when you lookin’ at me“). Similarly, at number twelve we find the powerful climax of “Just da Other Day”, captured in a soft and marvellous sound texture producing a fairly linear lyrical texture with refined flows and a very sticky hook: Just the other day I was goddamn broke / You got a five, I got a five, let’s smoke / Just the other day I was running from them folks / Like (Woah, woah) ni**a you too slow. Or again, standard album version closer “Despacito Too” finds JID on a determined solo parade moving from bar to bar armed with a bunch of hypnotic synths and a straightforward drum machine spitting out some of the best and most convincing thematic substance on the whole album.

With all that nice and sweet being said, there are various moments on this record that leave a lot to be desired, and come across pretty lacklustre and tedious. Funnily enough, these tend to coincide almost always with the joints enlisting featured guests, which include collaborators such as 6LACK, A$AP Ferg, BJ the Chicago Kid, Ella Mai, J. Cole, Joey Badass, and Method Man. The A$AP Ferg-assisted messy and redundant glockenspiel found on “Westbrook” makes for arguably the corniest, most prosaic, and most cringeworthy sound on the whole album, whereas “Tiiied” – featuring fellow East-Atlanta MC 6LACK and English singer/songwriter Ella Mai – sounds boring and one-dimensional all the way through, making it a prime filler on the 14-track long DiCaprio 2. Another low moment on this album is “Hot Box”, sporting Method Man and Joey Bada$$ as guests, a cut that results like a fish out of water in the sonic context and aesthetic of the whole album, resurrecting glimpses of 90s East Coast hip-hop production that only really feel at home underneath the Wu Tang Clan vocalist’s verse, but otherwise sounding very off during JID and Joey’s bars. However, with all this said and considered, one should not be fooled into thinking that a mere three underwhelming-to-bad cuts off fourteen can actually overshadow the sharpness and brilliance of the project as a whole, because that is far from reality (as is JID’s cinematic overall theme retracing actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s most iconic motion pictures through more or less subtle references). No, ladies and gentlemen, this is an artist at the top of his form, blossoming under the hip-hop pantheon sun and in front of our very spectator eyes, sounding slick, agile, deep, and intelligent like few others in the mainstream realm, and with yet more improvement potential ahead. So let us not commit the same mistake the film and entertainment industry made with DiCaprio the actor, let us hand this man an Oscar already.

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

JID

“DICAPRIO 2”

2018, Dreamville Records

http://jidsv.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

SMASHING PUMPKINS

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

2018, Napalm Records

http://smashingpumpkins.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

BROCKHAMPTON

“IRIDESCENCE”

2018, Question Everything Inc./RCA Records

http://www.brckhmptn.com

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