ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALEX G, A$AP ROCKY, BLACK THOUGHT & TBS SINGLES | 2022-06-19

As the feel good heat of the Western Hemisphere summer nears and approaches arts patrons the world over, so it seems a brand new sorcerous episodic ARM segment touching down on a gauntlet of unrelated and loose singles accompanied by rapid (vapid?), forthright, passionate, and gate-kept opinions. It is a jolly and momentous round up of enthusing one-off, lead, and follow-up records alike—in some cases anticipating a pre-announced full album release, whilst in others simply dangling the pendulum of disparate speculation and excitement for more to come in front of thirsty music pundits’ noses. A few of these are long-awaited, highly-anticipated returns to form, others flat out surprise drops, all with the addition of a perhaps once unthinkable crossover no one really asked for, yet in twenty-twenty (surgery) hindsight of its release genuinely asserting its rhyme and reason.

Philadelphia-native and 2000s lo-fi indie royalty Alex G does truly appear to be back on his dragged feet as of late, following almost three years of near noble silence since offering the mystical, God-forsaken, and form-less art pop exploit House of Sugar—a quasi-benchmarking essay in late stage capitalism’s induction to morph purposeful noise and tender melody in a hodgepodge of feels. Mere months ago, the 29-year-old Domino Recording Company talent showed up and delivered on the unlikely role of principal scorer for Jane Schoenbrun’s coming-of-age horror drama We’re All Going to the World’s Fair soundtrack. The Utopia-distributed, Sundance Film Festival-premiered feature-length film comes through attached to a glowing, foreboding, and glacial 13-track OST album, wholly curated by Alex G. Such an extra-curricular outing by the normally insular and elusive singer/songwriter features both a “Main Theme” opener and an “End Song” coda reprising the motion picture’s primary musical and lyrical undercurrent. Both manage to effortlessly gallop alongside the frail and cathartic razor’s edge courtesy of the Frank Ocean-protégé’s trademark musical ethos. Bone-less bendings leaning from the edge of gloomy bedroom pop leakages atop of a self-deprecating throne. Pure, raw, and untouched Alex G canon.

Perhaps more relevantly, just weeks after the release of said full OST project, the six-string troubadour saw fit to also dish out what for all intents and purposes oughta be considered the first real lead single from his yet to be announced forthcoming ninth studio album cycle. Unveiled officially on 23rd May, “Blessing“‘s three minutes and change of uncut 90s alt-rock-borrowed distortion, mixed with a tight straightforward rhythm section, comes and goes as a flickering tide of melting sonic verses and intelligently woven counterpoint melodies—delivered in a suspiciously forlorn beck-and-call whispering mode that results ever so out of place vis-a-vis the balls to the wall synth layering earmarking the cut’s post-chorus, or outro. Deceivingly enough though, the singular tune wonderfully sticks its experimental landing, and actually proves to render itself more and more memorable with time, unfolding ounces of sticky and addictive replay value with each listen: it’s esprit d’escalier galore if there ever was one.

Meanwhile, Lord Pretty Flacko himself blessed the mainstream hip-hop lore with the comeback hit single “D.M.B.” (aka DAT$ MAH B!*$H) earlier in May—a hallucinating chopped-and-screwed tape-mounting experience masquerading as his very personal joie de vivre ode to both narcotics and women, to be understood as fitting marijuana and Rihanna’s descriptions. The experimental number was first teased online as part of an advertisement for disgraced Swedish fintech company Klarna as far back as summer last year, and is slated to be appearing on A$AP Rocky’s speculative and crowdsourcedly-named forthcoming fourth studio album, ALL $MILES. Sonically, the RCA Records-earmarked song is a warped and invertebrate psychedelic rap cloud of multi-layered overdubs, spanning viscous samples, a sweet and endearing electric guitar lick, as well as an expansive and spastic drum machine syncopation—sporting the joint venture trademark production of a slew of co-signs including grime heavyweight Skepta and D33J.

Soaked and buttered in many of the stylistic aesthetic inklings prevalent on his formidable last major project Testing—coasting through everything from sly vocal manipulation to phasers set to stun—”D.M.B.” reveres in a ridiculously elliptical and hivemind hook (“Roll my blunt, fill my cup, be my bitch / Hold my gun, load it up, count my slugs / Yeah, they don’t know nothin’ / Roll my blunt, be my bitch / They don’t know nothin’) and rises above the fray by way of the endulced, serenading, and heavenly bridge kicking in 2:40 minutes into the track: “Baby / It’s been a little time since we both / Felt full since our first encounter / And baby / Don’t let another n**** try my baby / Girl you know I’m one call away / It’s nothin’ / And baby / My angel and my Goddess, when my head get clouded / You’re my soulmate, my Goddess / And baby / Took a little time in a gray place / For nothing, nothing“.

Elsewhere, it is a bona fide meeting of the underground hip-hop minds the one that finds 44-year old musician, songwriter and record producer Danger Mouse sculpt modularly poignant tapestries of soulful spine-bending backtrack beats for the unparalleled and envelope-pushing wordsmithing craft of The Roots’ mainstay MC Black Thought. Cheat Codes, the brand new back-to-back collaborative LP set for release at the tail end of summer, sees its anticipatory lead up campaign already in full steam mode inasmuch as two abstract and elusive teasers unveiled ahead of its full street date on 12th August. “No Gold Teeth”’s cleverly laced, dramatically sensual samples paved the promotional way with a somewhat soft surprise drop in early May, piercing through with Black Thought’s both life-affirming and tongue-in-cheek sixteens alike. Lending a substantial urgency to every verse, the joint ushers into gangster territory in a ‘heat of the moment’ fashion, hitting a runtime cul-de-sac before one quite wishes to realise, despite its formal two minutes and a half of clockwork.

A few months later—and sequenced right after the aforementioned dental blonde on the full length’s tracklist—the dusty and rough-around-the-edges stream of posse consciousness inertia encapsulated by “Because” significantly upped the realness ante. Trading fierce and inflammatory flows navigating through a smokey, cavernicolous, and woody production whilst periodically getting re-centered by Dylan Cartlidge’s affable refrain, Philadelphia-native Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, Joey Bada$$, and Russ get (listeners) in meticulous line and build upon each other’s pamphlet of maximes and truisms about notions of survival of the blackest/fittest as well as success’ fatalist nature. With such additional guests poised to be featured on Cheat Codes’ remaining joints as the above A$AP Mob leader Rocky, the late MF DOOM, as well as A-list rap collective spinoffs like Run the Jewels and Griselda Records’s very own Conway the Machine, it’s safe to say that the anticipation is running high for what might well turn out to be one of the most essential hip-hop listens of the year.

Lastly, there are so many ways in which a Taking Back Sunday and Steve Aoki collaboration could have gone terribly, irreparably wrong in 2022. Out of the myriad of parallel universes that cohabitate our existence, it’s both baffling and flabbergasting that the one graced by our very own human sentient presence would have been the one to gestate it. And to think that it’s not that TBS were scraping their creative barrel out of content saturation anxiety as of late. On the contrary; aside from questionable band anniversary bundles, throwaway acoustic B-sides left on the cutting room floor, a legitimate Weezer cover song, as well as the upteenth reissue of their modern emo classic Tell All Your Friends, the Long Island alt rock veterans have essentially kept quiet and passive for nearly seven years since the straight up no frills alt rock of Tidal Wave. During that time, really nothing much to report—absent the regrettable departure of founding member and rhythm guitarist Eddie Reyes in 2018, their cutting ties with California-based indie Hopeless Records, as well that Fuckin Whatever side supergroup project. Hence why, the improbable outfit pairing between John Nolan, Adam Lazzara, Mark O’Connell, Shaun Cooper and the 44-year old American DJ, record producer, and Dim Mak record executive strikes as all the more haphazard.

Yet amazingly so, the riveting musical joint venture revealed around a week ago on “Just Us Two” panned out strong and convincing throughout. Thankfully, the one-off collab follows admittedly more of a third act Taking Back Sunday trademark formula with the sparkled addition of peppered Aoki flairs on top of it, rather than the other way around. This manifests primarily in the form of the DJ’s bouncy, elastic, and spacious synths playing second fiddle in accompany mode to the odd 6/8 song’s principal edgy refrain (“I remember the way that it felt / I remember the way that it felt / Watched the sun go down / Sitting on your roof / And the air was thick / Yeah our heads were too / Watched the sun come up / Sitting on your roof / Yeah, the air was thick / It was just us two“), as well as the anthemic and triumphant post-chorus group chants. However, one can’t help but feeling like it’s giant shame lost on our zeitgeist’s ears, for if it weren’t for today’s jeopardising goldfish memory span, the latter are made of the stuff that could define a generation: “These are the days / Always remember / These are the days / Always forever“.

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

ALEX G

BLESSING

2022, Domino Recording

http://sandyalexg.com

A$AP ROCKY

D.M.B.

2022, RCA Records

https://www.asapmob.com

BLACK THOUGHT & DANGER MOUSE

CHEAT CODES

2022, BMG Rights Management

https://twitter.com/blackthought

TAKING BACK SUNDAY & STEVE AOKI

JUST US TWO

2022, Dim Mak Records

http://www.takingbacksunday.com

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – ROMEO & JULIET | 2022-04-27

Fret not, dear reader: you are not seeing double. Or perhaps are you indeed? One workhorse and singer/songwriter extraordinaire Ryan Adams really did just unveil another two-sided album to the public, a mere month removed from the windowed self-release of his raw brotherly tribute Chris, a double LP in its own right. Announced, promoted, and eventually unwrapped within the span of a few weeks—and hitting the exclusive digital shelves of his own PaxAm record imprint on 25th April, exactly a month to the day after the last instalment in his recent trilogy—Romeo & Juliet sticks its astonishing sonic landing just shy of eighty minutes of brand new material. In a similar dedicative vein to Chris’s familial worshipping ethos, this Shakespearian-titled body of work stands as an ode to his recently perished feline household companion Theo, as evidenced by both Instagram-housed testimonies from the alt-folk wonderkid himself, as well as a cat-friendly tracklist sporting cuts such as “This is Your House”, “At Home With the Animals”, and of course, “Theo Is Dreaming”.

Records happen. Sometimes you have to wrestle them down like a bronco, other times you wake up to one song…..something you dreamt – and the next thing you know that song called all its friends over to a party. Without telling you. That’s exactly this.

Romeo & Juliet is a summer album. It’s maybe the first summertime album I’ve ever made, on purpose, front to back. It’s like the tall, long slightly mysterious sister to Easy Tiger. There’s a lot of room here and the stories all unwind like a long hot drive in the south with the windows down – sunshine blasting everything. And by the time the record ends it’s just early night – still blue notes in the dark purple patches of stars up the road hurling towards the hood of the car.

When this album is on vinyl, you’ll open the first page and it’ll just say “For Theo” because this is his album. This is his house.

He loved music so much and many of these songs had a bass part or vocal part being played with him asleep on my lap or curled up beside me. He was omnipresent when I made music or listener to albums. He is still. The others were made with him close by or on my mind. And the last few, made on his last few nights on earth – attentively listening to me play, eyes half closed with that low rumble of a purr. He was my best friend. He saved my life and loved me when I became a shadow to the world. That turned out to be the biggest gift I could have been given. That last couple years with him letting the days unspool – lost in the mirth.

These songs are about old loves, about Theo and about celebrating old loves and old friends that were here once and are now gone – in a big wreath of memory and monochromatic visions of times that go by too fast. It’s a summer album with summer chords and meant to be like that heat in the middle summertime where everything is so electric and so bright – and the world feels like another planet, a new neighborhood now alight and made of bright yellow and green halos. Squint and you’ll hear it. 

One of my favorite albums ever and still to this day is Louder Than Bombs, a long 24 track album that although were once singles, came together in a new way to make this big beautiful sprawling album you could collapse into – and discover new things in over time. It lasted all summer and became like a summer memory by fall. By winter it was like a fireplace in my Walkman.

To me that is what Romeo & Juliet is. I dreamt that title song and dreamt a few after like “At Home With The Animals” and followed that river here – to this album -just as it is. One song at a time.

So with great love and affection and excitement, I pass it on to you now.

Ladies and Gentlemen….

“Romeo & Juliet.”

For Theo. 

XO

DRA

If it were not self-evident enough, the above is the sole available excerpt of official accompanying text stemming from the North Carolina-native’s camp one could have pass as PR material surrounding this latest exploit. Romeo & Juliet is the singer’s twentieth studio album as a solo act. Recycling and reinforcing the marketing roll out tactics adopted for his still fresh hot off the press March double threat, Adams opted once again for a cut-out-the-middleman antic: offering the record as an exclusive high-fidelity digital download purchase through his label (complete with two bonus strings attached; the Nebraska-indebted “Desperate Times” and an alternate take of supreme album track “Somethings Missing”). The project is to remain solely available via PaxAm for about three weeks, before receiving a more widespread digital release and distribution on licensed streaming services on the eve of his acclaimed return to live shows on the US East coast in May, after a four-year absence on the road.

With another two waxed sides and nineteen new numbers to comb through barely a month after his long-awaited and highly-anticipated Chris offering, the 47-year-old artist and poet truly is demanding extra overtime from his core listenership (for reference, this is Adams’ fourth album within the span of just fourteen months, since his splendidly somber and dour December 2020 Wednesdays project). Luckily for him, most seem to be onboard and are supporting his new found retail venture in earnest. According to him and the aforementioned citation, Romeo & Juliet is a summer album. The first summer after the pandemic. And a polished and sanitised one at that, too. May we add. With the slight exception of Big Colors‘ high-grade mixing and major label studio-earmarked production, by nearly all standards this latest effort sports a significantly more refined and careful sound compared to both the dusty direct-to-tape feel of Wednesdays and the draft-like low-fidelity of his more recent Chris.

The veiled and latent recalls to his 2007 Easy Tiger LP mentioned in the press release might only ring true to a limited extent, as well. For Romeo & Juliet is clearly and evidently a post-self-titled Ryan Adams creation—an epistemological third act career record. Granted, cuts like the well-mannered and forlorn piano-led ballad “Rain in LA”, or the epic six-and-a-half minute Cardinals jam and side A coda “In the Meadow”, come across as true blue mid-to-late 00s Adams lore. Yet, on the other hand, the bare and stripped back title track, or the aforementioned “At Home With the Animals”, immediately throw listeners into a more current and relevant Wednesdays-era folk benchmark. Elsewhere, the undeniable album standout and endless catch “Doylestown Girl”, as well as the strong and memorable album opener “Rollercoaster”, sound like they are rocking Big Colors fingerprints all over them (as a matter of fact, the former was making its way to middle-of-the-road heartland radio stations in promotion to said record as far back as 2019).

If Chris was an album made for his untimely and dearly departed namesake relative, Romeo & Juliet is for everybody else (and Theo). Strikingly more accessible and immediate, this collection of songs was deliberately earmarked as a collective solstitial soundtrack for the whole world to enjoy. Crucially, in doing so this 19-track opus sees a Ryan Adams freed and liberated from preconceived templates, allowed to move past the commitments of a self-inflicted trilogy bandwidth three years ago. Unlike Big Colors—another project billed as a sunny season musical companion by its head sculptor—this full length exhumes and emanates a sonic authoring depth that the former major label-inked record could not quite afford to indulge in, for a multitude of reasons. The soft, tender, and melancholic “In the Blue of the Night” at number two on the tracklist, for instance, is easily one of the stickiest and addictive numbers the musician has put out in the last decade. Similarly, the plastic and glossy soundbed ornating the soulful “Anything”, as well as the inherent musical development arranged on “Earthquake” and “Losers”, all denote superior musicianship and a songcrafting paralleling career-highs for the rocker.

More deceivingly, coarse and fibrous offerings such as “Somethings Missing”, “This Is Your House”, and “Theo Is Dreaming”, show us that the former Whiskeytown ringleader still knows better of oversterilizing dangerous, unsolicited, and incongruous feelings. Yes, these three songs do sound like demos, but that is kind of the point. In contrast to a few genuinely underworked and awkward mixes making their way onto Chris’s final bundle last month, the unfiltered and existential impetus behind these songs is perfectly at home within the walled confines of such imperfect and erratic wrappers: “This is your house / It’s where you live / Now I’m the one the one who’s waiting by the door to let you in / I know, I know / I’m supposed to move on / To let it go / But this is your house / Until you come back to me / Until I fall asleep“. Then again, one of the most enthralling elements about this project is Adams’ ability to undercut such moments with legitimate catharsis, made of joyousness and elation (lest we forget, on paper this remains another monument of eulogy, albeit zoological). This is best evidenced by the upbeat artistic lifelines of numbers such as “I Can’t Remember”, “Run”, and the waltzy evocative album closer “They Will Know Our Love”.

Early fan reception to this release seems to indicate that this might go down as one of Ryan Adams’ most well received and widely appreciated records in over a decade. While Romeo & Juliet does not have the focus and cohesion of his 2014 self-titled, or even the lavish grandeur of Prisoner, it does stand to represent probably the most generous and forgiving gateway to the pen, mind, and music of one of this millennium’s country rock prodigal sons. All is left for new, old, and lost listeners alike, is to approach the Veronese balcony window this album is leaning over from, and start serenading its big wreath of memory and monochromatic visions of times that go by too fast.

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

RYAN ADAMS

ROMEO & JULIET

2022, PaxAm Recording

https://paxam.shop

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – CHRIS | 2022-03-27

Surely no one thought they would get away without a pernickety blow-by-blow review of a new Ryan Adams project in this part of Web-city, did they? Reporting a mere 48 hours after the Jacksonville, NC-native singer/songwriter delivered the third and final instalment as part of the promiscuous trilogy of studio albums he originally announced to the world in early 2019: Chris is an 18-track double LP epic that stands as the 47-year old alt country royalty’s musical tribute to his recently departed brother of the same name. Formally the sole chapter in the album series to have retained its original scheduling roll out slot—for 2020’s Wednesdays and last year’s Big Colors wounded up switching running orders compared to Adams’s initial plan—this latest collection of tracks comes at a sizeable full hour worth of raucous heartland rock material. It is hitherto exclusively available for windowed purchase via Adams’ PaxAm label website, awaiting a full public availability release on global digital platforms on 1st April (fool’s errands permitting, knowing the DRA character…).

Strikingly dour in both sentiment and sound, the double-disc project wireframes the artistic experience coasting through a sequencing of nine tracks on each side, while also throwing an unrelated, throwaway, and 1984-channeling nineteenth bonus track on top of the PaxAm digital edition, titled “Don’t Follow”. The creative direction across the sixty minutes of critical mass on here is significantly and directly indebted to the former Whiskeytown and The Cardinals honcho’s recording sessions that led to the release of his 2017 critically-acclaimed studio album masterpiece Prisoner. The analytical prism of fixating Prisoner as sonic and thematic cornerstone as a means to dissect Chris naturally thrusts a certain watery, washed-out, and reverb-soaked aesthetics into secretion—a combustion that, for better or worse, is noticeable in spades across these chorus-effect filtered tapes.

Yet on Chris, the inherent creative elixir exhuming from Adams’ pen and strings might be stretched back even further, as far as his spotless and immaculate self-titled triumph unveiled three years prior—a triple Grammy-nominated record that still charts as his most definitive and accomplished body of work for who writes. Concretely, a track like “Aching for More“, queued up at number six on Chris’s A-side, with its galloping strumming and nocturnal acoustic-to-electric guitar interplay as well as evident mixing session parallels, comes across as something that might have easily been written the same day as the self-titled standout “Am I Safe“. Well as it turns out, “Aching for More” was actually originally placed as the B-side for that project’s lead promotional single “Gimme Something Good“‘s physical issue, in anticipation to the full album release in September 2014.

The throwback timeline references to said specific creative juncture don’t end there, though. When listening to the tenderly sour sensibilities of track number two on Chris, “Still a Cage“, one can’t but notice melodic vocal inclinations in the song’s main verse stanzas recalling a record like the stern and austere “I Just Might“, tracklisted at number nine on the self-titled, and Adams’s Springsteenian worship to end (and precede) them all. Moreover, examining a different exploit such as the cloudy, hazy, hollow, and ethereal “Dive“, opening the more amiable and dejected B-side on Chris, affords one the chance to draw a not-so-veiled parallel to its sublime older sibling “Shadows“, a true pièce de résistance on Adams’s 2014 record and one that sounds like it programmed and configured the exact same pre-amp effects and filters to stoke something as vaporous as “Dive”.

Notwithstanding the songwriting and recording influences of the PaxAm label owner and poet’s leanings during the front-end of the last decade, the undisputed sonic roadmap sprouting a collection of tracks as dense and raw as those that make up Chris is without a doubt his Prisoner record. For God’s sake, “Say What You Said” at number seven rings just like it’s laundering pound-for-pound recycled melodies, rhythmic patterns, and verses from the sweet and tender Prisoner acoustic ballad “Tightrope“. Further case in point, the throttling and low-fidelity indie rock number “Lookout” on the record’s side B: the demo was literally offered as exclusive bonus track on the physical deluxe boxset End of the World edition accompanying the main œuvre that same year (alongside “The Cold“). And lest we forget, the sappy and sugary standalone non-album Valentine single “Baby I Love You“—dropped mere months away from the principal Prisoner event—saw the Chris-housed “Was I Wrong” being served as companion piece for its physical release (further circumstantial evidence surrounding its being given birth during the lengthy and sumptuous Prisoner writing sessions can be found here, sourced straight from the horse’s mouth).

In agreement with fellow Chris reviewers, labelling this record as the final instalment in a discographic trilogy comprising Wednesdays and Big Colors could be inaccurate at best, decoying at worst. Much rather, one would be better off thinking of Ryan Adams’ nineteenth studio effort as the culminating double LP-relicts result of a working trajectory started with his 2014 self-titled, and fully emancipated and realised with his essential Prisoner outing three years after. Archival and cataloguing reflections notwithstanding, this effort takes listeners through an overall spotty, dusty, and erratic listening journey across 18 emotionally raw and occasionally overbearing cuts. Some, like the aforementioned “Lookout”, still come across as rough studio drafts, some sound like they never hit the final mastering round desk (album opener “Take It Back“, in spite of its compositional poignancy and momentum, cues two seconds of silence before playing back), while others sound overproduced and EQ’d too loud in the mix (“Replaced” at number sixteen).

No harm no foul; grieving, mourning, and penitence are imperfect and unrefined processes by definition. Throw at it the captained vessel of Adams’ sentimentally vulnerable assembly of atoms, tasked to act as primary conduit of canvassed messaging, and you’ll end up with the confused and unhinged hodgepodge that is Chris. Ultimately, what remains most vividly and brightly, after repeated front-to-back replays of this brotherly dedication in art, are quintessential third act Ryan Adams numbers. When navigating the menagerie on this thing, resort to the morally viscous and emotionally syrupy “About Time” (interestingly enough, one of the vastest pre-release leakages as part of this ‘album cycle’); the heavenly enchantment of “Schizophrenic Babylon“, a ballad for untimely lost angels and one that, can you believe it, borrows indiscriminately from Prisoner’s gnarly “Haunted House“, as well as the indescribable spiritual lightness of the title track. Of course. RIP Chris Adams.

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

RYAN ADAMS

CHRIS

2022, PaxAm Recording

https://paxam.shop

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): DENZEL CURRY TIER LIST | 2022-03-25

Support Denzel Curry:

https://denzelcurry.com
https://music.apple.com/se/artist/denzel-curry/631440154
https://www.instagram.com/denzelcurryph
https://twitter.com/denzelcurry

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

UNTITLED UNRELEASED. | 2022-02-21

We’re practically two months into the new year and still devoid of any conclusive information as to what timeline, shape, or form Kendrick Lamar‘s forthcoming studio project is to take. Which basically marks a whole lustrum since his last—the Pulitzer Prize for Music and Grammy Award-winning magnum opus DAMN. More damagingly, we are now quietly coming up on seven years since the release of one of the 21st Century’s most essential bodies of work, as the 34-year old Compton native graced both mainstream music and contemporary social theory studies alike with To Pimp a Butterly’s unparalleled epistemological substance. Since then, technologies, governments, and diseases have come and gone, and yet the Top Dawn Entertainment MC who now calls himself Oklama has hitherto surrendered little to no hints pertaining to his next big musical statement.

In times when rough draft B-side collections such as his throwaway untitled unmastered. compilation retain more inherent artistic value than most of what’s being glossed and primed on the entertainment frontline, a world surrogated by NFTs and fifth vaccination jabs is in excruciatingly dire need of a new Kendrick Lamar project. Sure, there was his ‘at service’ pgLang transmedia company announcement a few years back. Then a handful of microwaved slim picking mentions in outlets of varying credibility. One has but to decrypt the tea leaves to realize that juncture is overtly ripe for K.Dot to sculpt and place a new societal lighthouse. As distributed and hypernormalized social textures implode underneath the inertia of a post-structural world, the closest antidote to a panacea of all said ills would embody the likeness of the coloured canvass that only he could crystallize.

Don’t take it from us, but turn to one of Lamar’s most promising and minutely defined rap disciples, Chicago’s very own Saba, who just weeks ago took one for the whole team and rendered his personal introspective account of a cross-generational journey coasting through maturation, grief, and repentance on his spectacular third full length conscious hip-hop helping Few Good Things. Albeit infused and informed by different compelling events across incongruous geographical latitudes, the Pivot Gang‘s co-founder reduction of distilled socio-ethnical errands, coupled with the undercurrent of an inevitable splash of survivor’s remorse, orbits around the same solar system that birthed wise-beyond-their-years coming-of-age chronicles such as Kung Fu Kenny’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and the aforementioned TPAB. We’ll take Few Good Things for now, but Kendrick going another full year without dropping would entail catastrophic consequences.

Authors and tastemakers are crumbling under a similar pressure. The near embarrassing proliferation of retrospective album reviews, video essays, and pleas for release involving the most revered Black Hippy member’s discography of late is proof. Most recent in this slew of saturated accounts is a whole entire official podcast season dedicated to the ideation and production of TPAB, courtesy of Spotify’s exclusive podcast series The Big Hit Show; involving a who’s who of auteurs and contributors shaping the work of art that went on to win, inter alia, the Best Rap Album prize at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Shockingly, given its hosting platform donors, the show is underwhelming and reductive at best—nonetheless it stands to denote how pronounced our current lack of new Kendrick Lamar alimentation really is.

Inconveniently enough for our zeitgeist’s re-aligning wellness, pgLang came out of the woodwork to spoil some of the anticipatory thrill apropos a new and still untitled Kendrick Lamar album at the beginning of the year, as it revealed the production of a live-action comedy film jointly with Paramount Pictures to begin in the spring. The theatrical collaboration is set to include South Park honchos Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Vernon Chatman, with its plot ellipsing around a Black man’s tribulations whilst working as a slave re-enactor at a living history museum. Either Oklama manages to cut all the musical God’s nectar he needs to bundle, package, and manufacture his fifth studio LP before April, or else we might be in for another agonizing, this time somewhat ‘justified’, wait for an updated map for the lost.

So here’s to Kendrick Lamar quenching this mean old world’s thirst before long. For despite love, loss, and grief have disturbed his and our comfort zone, the glimmers of God speak through his music and family. While the world around him and us evolves, we reflect on what matters the most. The life in which his words will land next. As he produces ‘his final TDE album’, we know he feels joy to have been a part of such a cultural imprint after seventeen years. The struggles. The success. And most importantly, the brotherhood. May the Most High continue to use Top Dawg Entertainment as a vessel for candid creators. As Kendrick Lamar continues to pursue his life’s calling. There’s beauty in complexion. And always faith in the unknown.

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

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): EARL & CORDAE LPs / JACK WHITE & EDDIE VEDDER SINGLES | 2022-01-22

What’s Earl gotta do to afford an exclusive, dedicated, non-morphed critical account recounting one of his bodies of work on these premises? Bless, we’re asking ourselves the question too—yet for a second time in a row, following the embedded critique of his 2018 AOTY list-featured Some Rap Songs, the former Odd Future bars-wizard can’t seem to score anything more than a byline mention amidst a cacophony of other critical appraisals around here. For some order’s sake: Los Angeles’s very own abstract and jazz rap MC Earl Sweatshirt recently issued his fourth official solo LP SICK!, which within a relatively short span of time went from announcement to full release, piercing through the new year and hastily turning the record into an early 2022 highlight in the wake of a somewhat lukewarm and by-the-numbers tail end of last year.

Earmarked and distributed via his own Tan Cressida imprint as a (semi-) free agent and a little nudge from recording royalty Warner Records, the project clocks in at just about 24 minutes of runtime, and got teased and promoted by the scintillating mist of the watertight “2010“, the auxiliary posse cut “Tabula Rasa” featuring fellow envelope-pushing wordsmiths Armand Hammer, as well as “Titanic“, a nocturnal stream of consciousness smorgasbord that seems to come and go in the blink of an eye. All three singles saw the light of day between late November and early January this year, just in time before the full album hit digital shelves on the subsequent Friday 14th. With the minor exception of the latter, this batch of lead singles accurately sections the principal contents of this record, candidly illustrating their unhinged and earnest sonic palette.

Not unlike with his last two official collections of tracks—lest we forget, the 27-year-old Chicago native unleashed the deboned and boundaryless Feet of Clay in 2019—SICK! concerns itself with further honing and perfecting a particular type of linear and elongated incongruous musical narrative committed to tape, devoid of any spinal infrastructure, but rather extracting pure diluted elixir from a primordial soup of a fuzzy and hollow strain go hip-hop made of minimalism, reduction, and synthesis. Cuts like the cloudy and cotton-padded Alexander Spit-produced “God Laughs“, or the devastatingly floundered title track, not only sport some of Sweatshirt’s best and most distinctive wordplay to date, but they also warrant him to urgently do so in less than 120 seconds. Amidst it all, notwithstanding the more frequent and reassuring glimpses of sun-lit serenity exhuming throughout this thing, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile’s effortlessness in ferociously pulling listeners into long-forsaken abysses remains unparalleled.

On the same exact new music Friday that brought us SICK!, the rapper formerly known as YBN Cordae presented to the world his sophomore full length studio album, entitled From a Bird’s Eye View. We’ll get this full disclosure out of the way before too long: we’re only really coming around to ‘getting’ the Cordae hype now—and that’s on us. Yet, with little to no preconceptions and fields of reference, the Atlantic-released twelve-track project from the budding Raleigh, NC-born rapper coasts through with an amount of efficacy, immediacy, and originality that only a handful outings a year can strive to. God forbid, one knows an album has got quite a lot going for itself when even the interludes sound as evocative and poignant as some of the key cuts. Case in point, the fly and verbose project opener, coming courtesy of Cordae’s imprisoned brother Shiloh.

A hip-hop disciple equally indebted to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly as to pre-Tha Carter IV Wayne, on the fabulously and lavishly produced FABEV the former YBN collective-member is spellbinding on both pensive and introspective tell-all numbers (“Jean-Michel“, “Momma’s Hood“), as well as on irresistibly quotable 16-bars on sticky hip-pop dancefloor fillers (“Want From Me“, “Coach Carter“, “Westlake High“). Counterintuitively, none of the aforementioned standouts feature any guest acts, unlike the rest of this project where, unavoidably, both old (of course Lil Wayne, Freddie Gibbs, Stevie Wonder) and new (Gunna, H.E.R., Lil Durk) black guard connect—yet alas without turning as many memorable heads as solo Cordae manages to pull off on here. This young MC’s talent is undeniable, his songwriting sharp as iron, and with refrains as hooky and earworm-y as these, one could not be faulted to bill him as one of the big headlining names in the 2020s mainstream rap pantheon.

While one promising and enthralling career arc is opening up beyond the sky’s limit, two other significant ones just slithered their final nails in their respective coffins, with curtain call albums released in 2021 by now-defunct legendary Buffalo, NY-metalcore quintet Every Time I Die and the hardest working boyband in the world, BROCKHAMPTON. Hailing from genres and styles that could not be further apart on the musical spectrum—the same can’t however be said for their grassroots, DIY, and underground springboards—both groups recently announced their untimely break ups. Each concluding their own special and iconic trajectories of influential and boundary-pushing artistic output, they did so not without dishing out two final LPs that each landed coveted spots as part of our 2021 Albums of the Year list. Before we move on to our final crop of singles under consideration, we wanted to tip off our hat to both outfits, similarly pioneering and proficient in their own lane and style; thanking them for having graced us with such magnificent and eclectic art throughout their celebrated tenures.

Lastly, let us take a look and put a pin into two old rock and roll cats’ forthcoming studio albums and their respective auditory sneak peaks, slated for release later in the year. While both Jack White and Eddie Vedder need no introduction, it still feels enthralling to report that they announced highly-anticipated solo albums during the latter half of last year, and are thus in the midst of promotional cycles churning out one single after another. The former White Stripes-frontman did not stop at one, but rather saw fit to tease toward two completely separate new LPs in 2022. Fear of the Dawn is set for release in early April and will reportedly feature the Detroit guitarist’s conventional garage rock flair, whereas later in the summer he will funnel the acoustic folk-laden eleven tracks long Entering Heaven Alive. Web punters were afforded a first abrasive and annihilating nibble of what’s to expect as part of the first electric release back in October last year, as White unveiled the spine-frying and unforgiving devastation of the epic “Taking Me Back” (his first solo offering in four years), incidentally doubling as lead score for the latest video game rage Call of Duty: Vanguard.

Not long after said inaugural sonic obliteration, on the same exact mid-January new music Friday that brought us SICK! and From a Bird’s Eye View, the Third Man Records-founder and underrated upholsterer pulled a one-eighty on the world and gently ushered the delicate arpeggio woven into the somber affair that is “Love is Selfish“. Of course, the tune stands to premiere the second of the two albums anticipated by White, and consists of an intelligently found balance between opinionatedly insecure lyrics (“I’ve been trying over the years to / Try and overcome these fears, but / Nothing I come up with proves I can / And I work real hard to make you understand / Yeah, I’ll try my best to help you understand“) and a chorus-less songwriting, consolidating few good ideas around a backbone that allows him to flesh out his creative muscles across three minutes of runtime.

Just as enthusing as two new albums from Jack White is Pearl Jam‘s very own and grunge rock icon Eddie Vedder’s first solo offering in over a decade, Earthling. A thirteen-chaptered collection planned to drop in just a matter of mere weeks on 11th February, the project can now count on a third and final lead single unveiled on the same exact mid-January new music Friday that brought us SICK!, From a Bird’s Eye View, and Jack White’s “Love is Selfish”. Denoting a stark and asserted departure from anything to be found on his previous solo discography, the striking and emotional “Brother the Cloud” sees the 57-year-old rock compadre juggle lyrical stoicism, timeless melodic arrangements, and a chorus bound to reside rent free in many a listener’s cerebral dwellings. Amen to estranged former frontdads, bands that split, and gnarly juvenile hip-hop flagbearers for ensuring 2022’s early musical hodgepodge is healthier and more fun than ever.

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

EARL SWEATSHIRT

SICK!

2022, Tan Cressida

https://www.earlsweatshirt.com

CORDAE

FROM A BIRDS EYE VIEW

2022, Atlantic Recording

https://www.cordaemusic.com

JACK WHITE

TAKING ME BACK & LOVE IS SELFISH

2021 & 2022, Third Man Records

https://jackwhiteiii.com

EDDIE VEDDER

BROTHER THE CLOUD

2022, Republic Records

https://pearljam.com

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2021 | 2021-12-22

RYAN ADAMSWEDNESDAYS & BIG COLORS (PAXAM RECORD COMPANY)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.
BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

PAUL MCCARTNEY — MCCARTNEY III & IMAGINED (CAPITOL RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE.
BUY IT HERE.

WEEZER — OK HUMAN & VAN WEEZER (ATLANTIC RECORDING CORP)

BUY IT HERE.
BUY IT HERE.

JOHN THE GHOST — I ONLY WANT TO LIVE ONCE (8123)

BUY IT HERE.

KINGS OF LEON — WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF (RCA RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

GENESIS OWUSUSMILING WITH NO TEETH (HOUSE ANXIETY)

BUY IT HERE.

BROCKHAMPTON — ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE (RCA RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

J. COLE — THE OFF-SEASON (DREAMVILLE)

BUY IT HERE.

TYLER, THE CREATOR — CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

BLEACHERS — TAKE THE SADNESS OUT OF SATURDAY NIGHT (RCA RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE.

THE KILLERS — PRESSURE MACHINE (ISLAND RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

TURNSTILE — GLOW ON (ROADRUNNER RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE.

KANYE WEST — DONDA (DEF JAM RECORDINGS)

BUY IT HERE.

ANGELS & AIRWAVESLIFEFORMS (RISE RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

THIRD EYE BLIND — OUR BANDE APART (MEGACOLLIDER RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE.

SAM FENDER — SEVENTEEN GOING UNDER (POLYDOR RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

EVERY TIME I DIE — RADICAL (EPITAPH RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

THE WAR ON DRUGS — I DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (ATLANTIC RECORDING)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

ABBA — VOYAGE (POLAR MUSIC)

BUY IT HERE.

MAKAYA MCCRAVEN — DECIPHERING THE MESSAGE (BLUE NOTE RECORDS)

BUY IT 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

A BARN’S CRAZY OLD HORSE | 2021-12-13

No Interweb argonaut under the sun needs any further thinkpiece or featured essay on anything to do with legendary and God-like status singer/songwriter Neil Young. The 76-year-old Canadian-American Grammy and Juno Awards winner has successfully been conducting a prolific and accomplished recorded musical career for over fifty years now, has put out around fifty studio albums depending on how one counts, and can probably tally up articles, reviews, and profiles about him in the thousands at this point. Gentleman’s got content under his cowboy belt—whether that’s auditory wavelengths captured, fixated to medium, and dished out first-handedly by Young himself, or shelled by the wider “villain” media and entertainment lunar system, the sheer critical mass of information readily available about the glorious Crazy Horse bandleader is pretty much countless.

What’s certain is that this is not the right place to find an objective, lineage-faithful, enduring, or even chronicling literary pièce de résistance on the former Crosby, Stills & Nash-affiliate. Instead, much like previous instalments hitting this neck of the webwood, the presently unfolding before your very eyes sets out to be a rather short, straightforward, passionate, and biased two cents-container attempting at making head or tails of yet another sublimely mesmerizing and thoroughly compelling late-into-the-calendar-year, early December alt-folk outing for the ages. Whilst admittedly being taken aback and left disarmed by the whole notion of a new Neil Young & Crazy Horse collection of original tracks to begin with, the rootsy collective’s fourteenth studio album to date Barn materialized as a low-key two for two for the Ontario-native musician, following in the outstanding spiritual footsteps of last year’s re-exhumed Homegrown.

While clearly ontologically fungible from the above hypothetical continuing field of comparison on account of the not-so-insignificant addition of Young’s iconic and larger-than-life backing band Crazy Horse—which after inordinate amounts of line up changes both imposed and by design, in 2021 responds to the names of Billy Talbot on bass, Ralph Molina on drums, and former E Street Band six-string fixture Nils Lofgren—barring a few live re-issues in-between the two projects, Barn represents the official successor to Homegrown for all intents and purposes (which in turn, mind you, was actually recorded in the mid 1970s). In many ways akin to the latter in its nonchalant low-fidelity woven into straight up memorable songwriting immediacy, this latest Volume Dealers-produced LP came out on Warner Music’s Reprise Records on 10th December, and can be further unpacked, dissected, and experienced on the folk rock heavyweight’s brilliant digital Archives service.

At the risk of sounding microwaved and self-evident, a communal musical undercurrent to all ten cuts on this thing is their off-the-cuff, pulsating, (other)wordly, if haphazard ethos: admittedly not always working to the record’s presentation and packaging favour (one can’t but irritatedly fret at how unsanitized, butchered, and abrupt the fade out outros on “Canerican” and “Shape of You” ring), there is a sharp ‘in the moment’ sewing through the album’s tapestry. Much of this sweaty and stoic oomph could undoubtedly be attributed to the rustic and rural recording sessions and their live take approach, taking place in, well, a barn skewed deep into the soil in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Reflecting the very edifice’s rudimentary, leaky, and perforated architectural layout, these songs sound simultaneously like the best version possible of a rough draft demo and as polished and glossy a taping round could get in such a dusty and austere environment. If there ever was an album in 2021 for which overused and gentrified attributes such as earthy and organic could be stitched to, then it’s Barn.

In spite of his best efforts to balance it all out for the heretic master compressions required by skimpy contemporary digital streaming services, Young’s voice is barely audible when buried in the EQ and mixing on fierce rockier standout “Heading West” or even the defiant blues-soaked “Change Ain’t Never Gonna“, giving listeners the impression they oughta move closer to the stereo PAs funnelling the vocals to properly make out what’s being sung. Modern sound engineering 101 breaches notwithstanding, such an idiosyncrasy directly adds to the record’s charm, mystique, and charisma, poetically annulling sterilized barriers of gatekeeping control exercised by today’s means of music distribution. The fact of the matter remains: this album—and above all its recording—is flawed, spotty, but grand, looking a little too sonically obfuscated and muffled to lure in casual Zoomer listeners, but emanating too much intention and earnestness to be written off by musical savants. Not unlike the very wooden angular barn depicted on the project’s front cover.

There exists lots on this full length that is perhaps purposefully left to mystical imagination, such as a subdued yet clearly registerable nod to Young’s storied creative kinship with Pearl Jam (the aforementioned “Canerican”‘s clawed opening riff tastefully recalls that of the grunge giants’ smash hit single “Alive“). Meanwhile, the record’s tail end is a pure sight for romantic eyes, with “Tumblin’ Thru The Years“, “Welcome Back“, and “Don’t Forget Love” all supplying boundless degrees of unconditional tender and elliptical daydreaming, one after another, rarely dared to display in the mainstream. It’s genuinely hard to imagine a seasoned and surly old man pushing eighty—of Young’s caliber, no less—melt like Swiss cheese over lyrics such as: “When you’re angry and you’re lashing out, don’t forget love / You don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t forget love / When the wind blows through the crime scene and the TV man starts talking fast, don’t forget love“.

Lest this goes unnoticed: pretty much every composition on Barn sports but a handful of chord changes throughout itself, and any additional bell and whistle fleshing out the necessary meat on each song’s bone clocks in as nothing more than instinctive and captivating instrumental improvisation (case in point, the beautiful intermezzos of the formidable “Welcome Back”). They say growing old bestows perspective, wisdom, and tranquility upon the bearer, and in Neil Young’s case—and crucially on Barn—such a rite-of-passage appeared to have translated into a confident back to basics approach. Everything from the songwriting, to the innocent topical focus, through to the undeniable stickiness of some of the hooks, sounds dated, evergreen, and entropic in nature at the same time. Mr Young might be an old man by now, but he sure has been first and last, nimble enough to look at how the time goes past, ascertaining that he might still be all alone at last: ultimately rolling home to his true inner self.

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

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): STEREOPHONICS – OOCHYA! SINGLES | 2021-11-14

Oochya!, the title of the forthcoming twelfth studio album by legendary Welsh alt rock fixture Stereophonics, does not really amount to much, according to the quartet’s frontman Kelly Jones. Yet unbeknownst to him at the time of naming the 15-track project due out in March next year, it also just so happens to coincide with an Urban Dictionary definition of the ASMR-esque onomatopoeia of “the sensation of being snapped on the buttocks by a towel“—clearly a discovery not quite bothersome enough for Jones to take the title of the first Phonics studio LP in three years back to the drawing board. On second thought, the inadvertent semantic spanking alignment might in fact fit the underlying ethos currently being dispensed by the band’s camp like a glove, for it’s touting how “people who’ve heard ‘Oochya!’ say it sounds like a ‘Best Of’ album, just of songs you’ve never heard before”.

What’s particularly interesting about this upcoming collection of songs is that it began as a curatorial embryo for a, well, collection of songs. As a matter of fact, the 1992-formed post brit-pop sensation was initially looking to sculpt a tribute compilation including unreleased B-sides and rarities to celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band since issuing their first debut single in the mid Nineties. However, Kelly and co. quickly realized that building a whole new album of original material around a core batch of long-lost drafts sounded like a more compelling plan instead. Next thing they knew, the creative impetus unearthed from those earlier sessions gestated as many as fifteen gritty new cuts, which according to the British outfit’s key songwriter are “90 per cent uptempo […]. [Oochya!] is like a mixtape, with a lot of different styles on there.”

Such a high-octane and oomph-laden stylistic trajectory turn—conveyed by a raft of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sonics, if one’s to go by the aforementioned mixtape comparison—might not come as a gargantuan back-to-basics surprise, considering the mostly acoustic and unplugged detouring affairs dished out as part of the Stereophonics canon as of late: 2019’s enchanting and delicate full-band Kind LP, as well as Jones’ live solo album Don’t Let The Devil Take Another Day, scoring the sensational accompanying documentary of the same name the following year. Come to think of it from a bird’s eye view, with the marginal exception of their hit or miss 2017 effort Scream Above the Sounds, one could argue that it’s been over eleven years since the Cwmaman-natives last churned out an outright bona fide rock & roll, guitar-first bundle, as they released the spotless, catchy, and cohesive uppercut of Keep Calm and Carry On at the turn of this millennium’s first decade (2009).

When Oochya!’s rowdy and tongue-in-cheek lead single and album opener “Hanging On Your Hinges” hit the interweb airwaves in early September, it took less than a minute into the record for the world to fathom that old proto-garage, sleazy, and swaggerish Phonics were back in the saddle. “You got love on your side / But you think it’s gone away / You got the devil on your back / And who’s the sinner? Who’s the saint?” croons Jones in its opening chorus, atop of sampled percussive slaps as well as a set of dried out and deep fried guitar riffs that would instantly turn on both motorcycles and young studs alike. The whole near-three-minute of runtime is made of the type of badassery one would expect Danzig coasting on top of, preferably tied into late 2010s Queens of the Stone Age tapes—yet it’s Stereophonics and it progresses into an even more revelatory and mischievous curtailing refrain: “You got time on your side / But you think it’s all a race / You got me hanging on your hinges / Slamming doors right in your face“.

If “Hanging On Your Hinges” brought the riffs, the black leather vibing, and all of the girls, then Oochya!’s second teaser in anticipation to the full length project out on 4th March next year, “Do Ya Feel My Love?“, took care of songwriting prowess and emotional captivation. Without compromising on wall of sound density or even immediate melodic attack, the tune exhumes a certain deal of Pull the Pin leanings and sensibilities—distilling some of the more quality elements off the superb, raw, and sensual 2007 Stereophonics outing, one that has proved to have aged best in their whole discography no less. “Do Ya Feel My Love?” comes armed with a ripe and robust writing at the core of its track, introspectively yet charismatically ridden by Jones on lead vocals and guitar, co-founding member Richard Jones on bass, Adam Zindani on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, as well as newest addition Jamie Morrison behind the drums.

Lyrically, the musical work tastefully dabbles in the fleeting realization that one’s cornerstones in life are only as meaningful as one is willing to stoically hang on to them, as well as the process of coming to terms with it: “The time that we shared was the time that we cared / But some things change, nothing stays the same / So now, what now? / You left me falling down and walked away / But that’s okay“. Musically, aside from a fairly straightforward and watertight backbone, the variation on the second chorus’ outro kicking in at 2:30 into the record is of highest artistic features, with the Zindani-led BVs pristinely harmonizing in contrast to the angular and filthy electric guitar laments underneath them—seamlessly and compellingly shepherding the song into its third and final refrain amidst gelid tensions and climactic releases.

So far so good—it’s two for two from the Phonics. Fans of the the Welsh stalwarts can keep calm and carry on with their high anticipation of Oochya!. It’s safe to say they can hang onto their kind and encouraging hinges for the time being, for these two sonic teasers are proof that they can still feel their love. This, at the very least, will get them all through until Kelly, Richard, Adam, and Jamie eventually pull the pin on the whole project in early March next year.

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

STEREOPHONICS

OOCHYA!

2022, Ignition Records

https://stereophonics.com

TWELVE GOING OVER | 2021-10-14

The idea of bonus tracks in recorded music has always been both an intriguing and polarising one, historically affording somewhat uncalled for opinions coming from a plethora of stakeholders and contributors in the wider music space. Everyone from fans to critics and artists themselves seem to hold moderately loaded mixed bag stances on the notion of bundling non-album cuts as part of deluxe, or expanded, versions of studio LPs. Their modes of employment might just be as varied and versatile as the opinions they go sprout, as both songs originally left on the cutting room floor, as well as alternate versions of tracks included in the main full length tracklist (spearheaded by acoustic and live re-takes), have habitually found themselves getting second lives breathed as part of single B-sides, territorially-bound album versions, celebratory anniversary reissues, and more recently optimised digital streaming economy unit economics.

Despite quite literally ‘not making the cut’ on whatever final incarnation a full body of work translated into, artists old and new (and, crucially, their sly record labels) have long been known to be stoking alternate ways of stitching superfluous bonus tracks on top of some physical or digital variation of packaging for their official projects. English singer/songwriter Sam Fender, who recently unveiled his second studio album Seventeen Going Under on Polydor Records, saw fit to dilute his nominal 11-track album version through five additional records, sequenced on the so-called 16-cut Deluxe version of his critically acclaimed Bramwell Bronte-produced outing. This is per se nothing under the sun new for the 27-year-old North Shields native, who had hitherto widely flirted with both intra-LP-cycles non-album tracks (see 2018’s EP Dead Boys, or singles such as “Millennial“, “Greasy Spoon“, and “Hold Out“) as well as bonus offerings on fully fledged studio LPs (case in point, the live rendition of “Use” on his debut LP Hypersonic Missiles).

However, Fender’s latest curatorial choice in time affords us the weird and wonderful opportunity to decouple the faux-embedded five-track EP stacked across tracks 12 and 16 on top of the sonic gesamtkunstwerk represented by the Seventeen Going Under Deluxe version. Instead of embarking onto the conventional highway of reviewing the real record Sam intended listeners and year end’s list to appraise, we’re shifting gears to zero in on the throwaways; the fat that was supposed to be cut. Starting with the mystically hypnotising glazed tenderness of “Better Of Me“, sequenced at number twelve on the revamped tracklist, a softly blistering cry of monolithic matter-of-fact earnestness espoused with unambitious allegoric poetry: “And I hated you / I was so jealous of your standin’ / And I envied your happy family / Oh, I looked like shit / Stuck in all my vice rotations / Tryna’ find light in every broken soul“. Easily one of Fender’s most out-there ‘experimental’ outings to date, the song dabbles in both sampled loop tapestry and one-dimensional syncopated drumming, to render a bona fide moment of cathartic implosion.

The following careless and lighthearted “Pretending That You’re Dead” is a successful exercise in pure The River-era Springsteen-meets-Smiths worship, complete with unadulterated ‘end of the world’ lyrics and seas of chorus-effected guitar licks that don’t quite seem to want to give the tune any melodic respite. Meanwhile, the sheer forlorn weight of the brilliant “Angel In Lothian” sits at number fourteen on the deluxe project, fiercely distributing heart-wrenching accounts on awarding the number one prize for the most ruthless sabotage to one’s very self: “And I claw at the door every bad night / But somehow it’s blocked from thе other side / I claw ’til my skin comes apart / Until I feel something“. Out of all five bonus tracks making up this crop, this is hands down the one that should have made the official record—both for reasons of focused thematic addressability and watertight musical delivery.

Penultimate offering “Good Company” aptly showcases the barer and starker nuance of the widespread acclaimed heartland rock artist, conveyed through a relatively impressive lullaby-esque handpicked arpeggio, sped up to such an extent where one can’t but admire the awe-inspiring muscular elasticity of the performer’s fingers. Although a tad underdeveloped—lest we forget, these are records Fender did not find worthy of his main course offering—lyrically the song sticks out for its emotional and assertive ambivalence, with Sam caught drowning under the blank bullets of the existential crossfire that comes with some degree of acceptance of the duality of man. If anything, it acts as a necessary wind down from the prior aguishly dense full hour of music, segueing into the conclusive piano-led “Poltergeist“, an introspective ballad pulling the curtains over the roller coasting one-man ethics errands show that just preceded it, with some of the most evocative and poignant vocal passages on the whole record: “I haven’t been the best of men / Morality is an evolving thing / I can blame the times, I can blame the weeks / I can blame the things that we saw as kids / I’m a waster darling, and I’ll tell it straight / With all my failures on a platе / She picks at them and doesn’t chеw / And spits them out for me to view“.

Be it the darlings that were never properly killed, file them under a philosophical approach on the quantum physics notion of God’s particle, or lace them into a Lacan’ian theory of inverse psychoanalysis—some might argue that aside from allowing and affording the true enjoyment of the main musical oeuvre to begin with, Fender’s ‘hidden’ EP within Seventeen Going Under inherently stands as a significantly deserving little project of its own. These renegade cuts, more than ever before in the English act’s still relatively infant discography, stand to signify the wide-reaching and holistic songcraft prowess of one of the UK’s biggest musical prodigal sons. By creating a superalbum of sorts, Fender managed to turn his sophomore full length into a meta ‘project of projects’, simultaneously upholding and defining the curtailing confines of conventional music release formats. Much like Erwing Schrödinger’s cat experiment in quantum mechanics, Seventeen Going Under is both eleven and sixteen tracks long, and its boundless enjoyment (or distaste) ought not be attained in spite of the five extra bonus tracks, but precisely because of the inclusion of the excessive bells and whistles.

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