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.

http://www.brckhmptn.com

BH_Iridescence

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): DENZEL CURRY – “TA13OO” | 2018-08-01

I thought I’d switch it up a little bit on these ARM frequencies and throw my reviewing hands, eyes, and ears onto one of the latest Lofi hip hop mix – Beats to Relax/Study to [2018] tapes, only to then quickly realise it would’ve represented a mighty and pretty insurmountable task in and of itself, so the option faded away almost as rapidly as it initially came to fruition in my consciousness. While I’m profoundly fascinated and thrilled by said current musical phenomenon, partly encapsulated in the output tape above, I’m not sure any of its prime cultural artefacts – regardless of whether fully recorded or live-streamed – would truly fit the formula of a written critical artistic assessment of sorts, given how all over the place, diverse, disparate, and stuck together all of its intrinsic parts are (which, just to be clear, are greater than the sum of them all). So, although this is yet another extremely positively saturated music release period, with recent iridescent drops responding to the names of The Internet, R+R=NOW, as well as a whole bunch of new post-Ameer BROCKHAMPTON cuts unveiled one week at a time via their latest Beats 1’s featured radio show Things We Lost in the Fire, yours truly had to inevitably resort to SoundCloud rap sensation and Florida native prodigy Denzel Curry‘s highly anticipated and buzzed third LP TA13OO.

Denzel Curry has been turning and spinning my head for a while now, having recently delved deeper into his back catalogue after overdosing acoustically on his monumentally furious and immediate second studio album Imperial, unarguably one of the best and fiercest rap projects of the decade. Thus, after journeying on an artistic listening experience that led me to a navigation of his debut Nostalgic 64 as well as a couple intriguing EPs (2015’s 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms and last year’s 13), my experiential momentum with the 23-year-old cloud rapper/trapper gained even more meaning on the 13th July, as the MC announced the release of his full-length follow-up to Imperial, trickily entitled TA13OO, alongside unveiling its lead single “Clout Cobain“. Following the debut of previous TA13OO tracks “Sumo” and “Percs” in April and May this year, the project’s main preview track came accompanied by the revelation that the whole album would in fact be rolled out across three main acts; the 1st Act, dubbed Light, is composed of four songs and dropped on the 25th July, quickly followed in succession by Gray (2nd Act, five tracks) on the 26th, and with 3rd Act Dark wrapping up the release ceremonies with the final four cuts on the album, landing on Friday 27th. Speaking of which, this is how Denzel’s camp is promoting the project across the various channels:

“Each previously-released single represents one of the album’s acts, as “Sumo” represents Light, “Clout Cobain” represents Gray, and “Percs” represents Dark, which come together cohesively to form TA13OO. Across the three sections of TA13OO, Denzel explores topics including molestation, the presidential election, fame, hatred, paranoia, revenge, love, the current state of music and personal tales of his own near death experiences. Sonically, the album ranges just as widely as its subject matter, sounds of paranoia, fear of loss, brooding melancholy and mood swings straight from hell all find their way onto TA13OO, making this Denzel’s most groundbreaking musical performance to date.”

Needless to say, quite the refreshing approach here, defying both industry-standard Friday releases and controversial subject taboos (the pun is pretty intended), which to be fair did see more and more of the mainstream limelight recently, thanks to the whole hip-hop/rap scene self-referentially devoting more time, thought, and resources to topics like substance abuse, nihilism, violence of all sorts, as well as mental health, the latter clearly spearheaded by the groundwork lied down by none other than Kanye West in recent memory. Clocking in at just about 43 minutes, with 13 tracks of fully new material, the album came out on Beverly Hills-based Loma Vista Recordings and, much like the aforementioned promo description, ranges widely in intensity, both sonically and conceptually. Luckily, the journey takes off in the best possible way, both sounds-wise and from a sentiment standpoint, with an array of flourishing, sunset-y, and at times very catchy tracks making up the accordingly themed Light act. The eponymous album opener is an incredibly pleasant, mellow, and romantic introduction to the record, with capacious and inspired bars taking up the central portion of the cut, flipping up the conventional verse-chorus-verse formula creating a successful slow-burner, in sharp contrast to his previous album Imperial’s epic opener “ULT“.

Black Balloons” at number two on the tracklist already spoils the listener with some of the best moments this project has to offer, with a wholeheartedly gracious heat-of-the-summer number with tons, tons of retro palm tree-vibes and synths tucked on top. Discussing subjects as varied as “Sky is the limit, I could die in a minute / Got my mind in a skillet, suicide not the mission / See the vibe very timid, I’m timid and very sad / Translated my thoughts and feelings I pivot into the pad” as well as “And I just wanna be the rightest I could be / Show my son to think / so he could fly high as could be / Always show examples how they kill ni**as like me / Thinking as straight as me, but call me crazy“, the track finds Denzel and wingman GoldLink as sweetened and complaisant as never before. For sure a serious contender for jam of the summer season this year, for those flirting with the genre. Next up, as part of Act 1, is “Cash Maniac“, carrying forward the progression down the keys and synth-laden path, leveraging a delicious chorus sung by fellow Carol City artist Nyyjerya and injecting a little heavier trap-meets-funk groove and rhythm compared to the first two tracks, albeit keeping the overall BPMs in the slower average region.

The acid and visceral “Sumo” transitions the record into its middle Grey portion with enough grit and good intentions, although probably not enough to be worthy of a single-status promotion, before landing on a interstitial limbo surface that causes the album to lose a little bit of its sharply bright focus and melody it so well carried hitherto. While the short, pounding, and hypnotic “Super Saiyan Superman” might even make some sense as it is, with the exception of the deep, informative, and socially-conscious “Sirens” (“State of mind, brain is minimized, put me on the news, only criticize / Revolution will never be televised / For the enemy, they never empathize / And I never voted, never sugar coat it / With my finger itchin’ and my gun loaded“), all other cuts composing the Grey portion sound just like a more-of-the-same, quite safe, and easy territory for Denzel, both from a compositional and a delivery point of view. Sure, while “Switch It Up” and lead single “Clout Cobain” in particular are great at mastering sticky hooks and catchy sung refrains, unfortunately the overall impression from this batch of same-y tracks is that they all come across a little too slow, spacious, indulgent, and pretty repetitive. There isn’t a great deal to say about their lyrical impact either, and generally, while there is nothing wrong in slowing down the dynamic of a project and toying with laid-back moods for a while, they would’ve probably worked better and been more bearable as a single song somehow merging them three together, rather than fleshing these out across almost 11 combined minutes of running time.

Curry tries pretty hard to turn the run of play on its head for the final, gloomy, and unapologetic Black act, however he only achieves mixed results. Dark opening number “The Blackest Balloon” has nothing that would recall its Light cousin’s musical substance and impact, other than the similarity in the track title, as it carries the listener through pretty banal vocal melodies and an extremely stripped back beat production with occasional irritating sound effects coupled with very underwhelming ornaments. Fortunately, “Percs” is quite the hammering and stomping mood saviour and clearly spearheads TA13OO’s final act, even though it is filled with trendy and noteworthy features elsewhere (JPEGMAFIA and ZillaKami). Besides its sonic and delivery ferocity, lyrically “Percs” also aims at many of the overarching album topics, including especially the current state of rap and its self-destroying addiction to opioids: “With these dumbass ni**as, and they don’t say shit / Sound like “Durr, durr, durr”, you like “Oh, that’s lit” / With yo’ boof ass hits, “I’ma fuck yo’ bitch / I just popped two Xans,” Ni**a, fuck that shit!“. Penultimate song “Vengeance” sports the duo of collaborators listed above and shows signs of enhanced songwriting significance and compositional quality, otherwise not to be found so easily in the latter part of this LP. JPEGMAFIA’s verse and the song’s main refrain are probably the best moments on this very track, successfully marrying deep distortion with surgical rap flows, transitioning into a weird, flat, yet purposeful slow ballad-y outro towards 3:20, sampling a certain Mickey De Grand IV, according to genius.com.

TA13OO finishes with “Black Metal Terrorist”, a song that carried much excitement and anticipation among fans ever since the tracklist was first revealed, given its hype-building and namedropping dating back to Curry’s Imperial time. Truth be told, the cut turns out a little half-baked, partly because of its thin length and production arrays, but mainly because it shows clear and illuminating sparks of brilliant executing aggression, but somehow fails to deliver on the good promises. Flirting with the more experimental side of Denzel, the song results too all over the place and fails to express a distinct and unique identity, again a take away mainly to be ascribable to its short duration as well as the failed opportunity to legitimise specific parts or aesthetics due to its constant section twists. In many ways the album closer is actually a fair and decent representation of the project as a whole, showcasing flawless and pristine moments of high quality and lyrical self-consciousness alongside underwhelming and at times tacky beats that end up sounding a lot like fillers. It’s funny how there is a certain notion in the creative world that predicates the idea that some of the best art and music ever created stems from very obscure and dark places, both inside and outside the creator, yet here, Denzel just proved – either deliberately or not – that often times it’s the lighter side that produces the best material. Let’s embrace said proclamation based on recent evidence and let the bright side prevail, surely something not too difficult to achieve during summertime. There you have another taboo debunked.

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

DENZEL CURRY

“TA13OO”

2018, Loma Vista Recordings

http://www.ultimatedenzelcurry.com

TA13OO_FINAL_ALBUM_COVER

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): KIDS SEE GHOSTS – “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” | 2018-06-29

Just in case y’all esteemed readers haven’t noticed, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun at this so please excuse me as I continue to productively proliferate the meanders of this site with soon-to-be critically acclaimed featured review of selected popular music being released in 2018 (and beyond). To be completely honest with you, it would be hard to do otherwise, as all of us earthlings get inundated with tidal waves of exceptionally excellent new music as of late, especially more so after the Kanye West-architected five week G.O.O.D. Music label marathon, which began with the impressively astonishing Pusha T release Daytona and culminated just mere days ago, on Friday 22nd June, with the drop of Teyana Taylor’s mild and rather anonymous K.T.S.E. And by the way, who knows what else Ye and his camp have in store for us next, as history taught us numerous times that, albeit them being superior drops of ethereal wisdom, Kanye’s promotional tweets aren’t necessarily the most reliable and validated source to go by. Fun fact: for as strange, surprising, and peculiar as it sounds, this very ARM piece is actually the first official instalment dissecting one of said five album releases, even though multiple associated namedrops and mentions have indeed occurred throughout these very airwaves recently. So, whilst begging the pardon of you all music aficionados for the slightly dislocated delay in putting this one out – as most of you might already be aware of the original release date of this album – without further ado it’s time for a review of Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s new duo self-titled debut, also known as hip-hop supergroup Kids See Ghosts.

Actually, there is in fact some further ado, as I didn’t want to miss my chance to shout-out my man Jason Butler’s latest musical endeavour (of letlive. and The Fever 333 fame), in form of the raunchy and gnarly Pressure Cracks side-project, a punk-hardcore five-piece from Southern California that catapulted itself into the world with its eponymous EP at the end of May. It’s a radically bittersweet, fun, in-your-face, and formative ride through sonic highwaves of meat-and-potatoes hardcore angst, all encapsulated in a handy and modular 15-minute of punk fame journey spanning four tracks. Previewed by the aggressively dope and dynamically excellent “Be a Wolf”, all cuts on the project do bring something valuable to the table, from the break-down-filled electrifying opener “Collages & Collagen”, to the high-speed grit and kinky violence of closing number “No Yourself”, passing through the powerfully entangled and abrasive “Stay Inside, Stay Alive”, which also doubles as one of the few sporadic moments on the record showcasing interesting clean vocals motives by Butler, who I’m sure must’ve not been able to speak for a whole week after recording this EP. Check with your own ears and you’ll know what I mean. If nothing else, it’s a full gust of fresh hardcore breeze for these times, which have so frequently and so intensely been exposed to hip-hop lately that one might not have realized how much the world missed some guitar-driven wall of sounds as well as good old screams and growls. I bet this EP can provide the same service to you, too.

Back to our regularly scheduled programme, which sees Kanye West and long-time protégé/wunderkid Cudi (see what I did there?) dropping one of the most highly-anticipated albums of the year on Friday 8th June – the third in the G.O.O.D. Music series –, synthesised for better of worse into mere seven tracks clocking in at just about 25 minutes (incipit: for those of you late to the party, a while back and amidst the whole MAGA-hat/Trump-endorsement drama, Kanye decided that albums have now just seven tracks, and stuck to this creative formula for his recent outputs, albeit making an exception with the last 8-track Teyana Taylor instalment). The excitement and thrill for this release got further cemented pretty quickly through incredibly positive early reviews of the project – above all a staggering and mega controversial 10/10 score by the Internet’s busiest music nerd Anthony Fantano – as well as all of those bells and whistles surrounding each of these recent Kanye-produced drops, including exclusive listening parties all over the USA, raining from his creative compound-ranch in Wyoming to hip neighbourhoods in Los Angeles. With that being said, my very personal expectations going into this album weren’t exactly sky-high, given the rather disappointing and surprisingly underwhelming ye record that preceded this (both TLOP and Yeezus are miles ahead), coupled with the recent radio silence from Kid Cudi as far as his creative outputs was concerned.

They say that one shall be best pleased when her expectations aren’t disproportionately high or shooting for the moon, and this I feel is exactly what happened with this record, as overall it’s quite literally an impressive and thorough artistic endeavour, ranging from off-the-wall experimentation and never-heard-before Kanye (“Feel the Love”), to precious, sensitive, gorgeous white gloved sampling (“Cudi Montage”). Right off the bat, one has to recognise and acknowledge Kid Cudi’s standout contributions to the overall aesthetic of this project, which for a great part could be reduced to his much-acclaimed and welcomed-back “humming” style of singing, but that in reality reaches out to so much more, adding a special je ne sais quoi, a triumphant coolness without even trying. Whilst opener “Feel the Love” is appointed with setting the record straight (another pun intended…), making way to a kickstarting palette of aggressive experimentation and welcoming back good ol’ Pusha T taking care of the main bars, it’s Cudi’s brilliant verse on “Fire” (“It’s so many days I prayed to God / All this pain, I couldn’t seem to find a way / On a mission livin’, carry on / Got my family, I’m seein’ through by the days / Never late, pull up a seat and come grab a plate / Check the date, let ’em hate“) that lends this project the feeling of an instant classic. Elsewhere, “Reborn” at number five (a good one, but largely overstaying its welcome) is a song very much up Kid Cudi’s alley, whereby the Cleveland, Ohio prodigy goes to dominate the melodic delivery and firmly grabs the rhythmic steering wheel, only to leave a smaller intermezzo to Kanye in the first half.

Track number three “4th Dimension” is a genius piece of patchwork by Ye, sampling an old jazzy refrain by Louis Prima that flows into a groovy and very tongue-in-cheek two and a half minutes stunner (“It feels so good, it should cost / Bought her alligator, I ain’t talkin’ Lacoste / Made me say, “Ugh, uh” / Like a mix of Master P and Rick Ross (uh, uh) / She seem to make me always feel like a boss (uh, uh) / She said I’m in the wrong hole, I said I’m lost (uh, uh)“), becoming a work of art that also best exemplifies how well Kanye and Cudi build on each other’s strengths, as if Kids See Ghosts had been a thing for decades and this was their watertight winning formula. Moving on, “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)” displays an extremely interesting vibe with a grungy aesthetic almost bordering something that could’ve come out of a modern alternative rock production, with a stomping and captivating drum work glueing together some of the most gorgeous vocal harmonies the rap mainstream might have seen in a while.

Similarly – albeit overall coming across a little bland and too predictable – the self-titled track at number six offers, among other things, a chilling and almost Michael Jackson-esque harmonisation passage at 3:22, that suddenly opens up the whole track making it breathe and exhale a perfect ending climax. Last, but definitely not least, album wrapper “Cudi Montage” is close to pure Kids See Ghost perfection, the kind of song you’d play to an alien coming to visit planet earth asking what modern day rap should and ought to sound like. Sampling none other than Kurt Cobain off his posthumous Montage of Heck record, the cut carries a haunting and steely guitar lick progressing over a syncopated drum machine, accompanied by dark and caustic bars by Cudi first and then Kanye (perhaps their respective best verses on the whole album), flowing into a superbly liberating and outstanding self-help chorus.

Every streaming service and user music library will have this album categorised under the rap/hip-hop genre, and rightfully so, but when looking at it – or rather, listening to it – the elements that leave the strongest marks are actually found outside the typical hip-hop starter guide; like the wonderful singing melodies by both Ye and Cudi, the boundary-pushing genre-blending sampling experimentation, the sharp and witty lyrical content, or again Kanye and Kid Cudi’s innate ability to sound so well-oiled and complementary to one another. It’s thus virtually impossible to pigeonhole this project within specific genre/trend/mood tags, precisely because it’s so eclectic and charismatic, revealing previously undisclosed and different sonic elements with every new listen. Finally, another positive spillover effect projected to stem from this significant effort by the duo is the probable revival of the much-polarising and incredibly rich Kid Cudi catalogue, with many listeners likely to go back and revisit some of his older material, reinvigorated by his excellent humming form on this Kids See Ghosts LP. The same could certainly be said for Kanye West and his old repertoire, although in his case it does feel like there shouldn’t be any need whatsoever to do so, given that he took up this type of task completely on his own, a couple months back, as he started to hysterically generate buzz, controversy, and anticipation surrounding his whole private and artistic persona by heavily employing this generation’s favourite micro-messaging tool for single white males: Twitter. Please don’t @ me.

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

KIDS SEE GHOSTS

“KIDS SEE GHOSTS”

2018, Getting Out Our Dreams II, LLC

https://shop.umusic.ca/artist.html?a=kids_see_ghosts

KIDS SEE GHOSTS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

A$AP ROCKY

“TESTING”

2018, RCA Records

http://www.asapmob.com

asap-rocky-testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

PATRICK PAIGE II

“LETTERS OF IRRELEVANCE”

2018, Patrick Paige 29 LLC/EMPIRE

https://soundcloud.com/patrick-paige

patrick-paige-II-letters-of-irrelevance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

J. COLE

“KOD”

2018, Dreamville Inc.

http://dreamville.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

THE FEVER 333

“MADE AN AMERICA”

2018, Roadrunner Records/333 Wreckords Crew

http://thefever333.com

TheFever333_MAA