A PRELIMINARY INTRODUCTION TO: BOB MOULD | 2020-03-15

Since every March is APIT season, I figured this is as good a time as any to shine additional ethereal light on Bob Mould. Not that the 59-year-old guitarist and singer/songwriter would ever need it, but recent haphazard revisiting of his immensely prolific catalogue—spanning two major influential rock outfits and thirteen LPs worth of solo work—made it abundantly clear and poignant that the gentleman stands as one of alternative rock’s most paramount, characteristic, and genre-defining frontmen in the last forty years. I understand how filing this piece under the Preliminary Introduction To rubric might sound like an abhorrent affront to many a punk rock brothers and sisters. I hear you all and I agree—Bob needs no delirious preliminary introduction. Yet again, it’s March after all and this the ideal excuse to indulge ourselves one more time in this amply revered author’s relatable melodic distortion of harshness…

Ask any self-respecting ex-scene kid who came up in the punk, underground, hardcore, or alternative artistic milieus in the 80s what Hüsker Dü meant to them and their peers and you’ll be graced with passionate tell-alls aplenty. The Malone, NY-native fronted punk rock outfit—completed by iconic drummer/singer Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton—almost singlehandedly steered the cultural and critique agenda of alternative music’s heavier spectrum during the better part of the legendary decade, together with a few other core projects such as The Replacements, Minutemen, and Sonic Youth. With seminal and trailblazing concept albums such as the off-the-wall Zen Arcade (1984), as well as the quick succession of near-perfect gnarly full-length catchy ankle-biters New Day Rising, Flip Your Wig (both 1985), and Candy Apple Grey (1986), the St Paul, MN-band thunderously rose to the mount Rushmore of indie underground punk within the span of twelve months (despite ending up signing with prestigious major Warner Bros for the latter record).

Their songs had the intelligent melodic tapestry of The Beatles, but were performed with the intensity, sound, and ferocity of The Ramones. The following year’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories turned out to be the trio’s final studio album and de facto fulfilment of their fat major label deal contract, with Hüsker Dü dissolving in the wake of the tour in its support, allegedly due to creative differences between Bob and Grant Hart, exacerbated by the drummer’s drug use at the time. Bob certainly didn’t rest on his laurels though, and within the span of a year from the band’s break-up saw fit to put out his first, highly-anticipated solo album in 1989, coming in the shape of the almost wholly reverb-folk acoustic affair Workbook. His return to slightly heavier soundscapes on his foreboding sophomore solo project Black Sheets of Rain provided another assertive statement of post-Hüsker intent, before foraying into bona fide early 90s alternative rock canon with his cult and critically-acclaimed band Sugar.

Sugar—sculpted by Mould alongside bassist David Barbe (ex-Mercyland) and drummer Malcolm Travis (ex-Human Sexual Response)—turned out to be a relatively short-lived stint for Bob and co, albeit one of tremendous cultural resonance at the time. The band’s calculated turn towards more melodic fringes of punk, and especially its life-defining debut LP Copper Blue (1992), went on to attract both commercial and high-brow success amidst glowing reviews, most notably snapping the number one spot in the same year’s Best Albums list by at the time reputable music publication NME. Two more hollowly stark studio projects in swift timely succession (Beaster and File Under: Easy Listening) sealed Sugar’s brief yet terrific ascension spell, toothlessly completed by a handful of compilations and live recordings thrown out over the years following the trio’s disbandment.

It’s not until 1996 that Bob decides to reprise his solo project stick—notwithstanding the erratic vanity exercise of releasing bundled halves of his first two solo records as part of a Virgin-issued compilation titled Poison Years banking on Sugar’s acclaim in 1994—as he returned to the scene with his third eponymous outing, effectively re-launching his musical trajectory as a one-man show. A number of dime a dozen and partially uninspired studio LPs followed between then and 2008’s regal District Line, a robust 10-track exercise in his unique trademark sombre and sticky punk rock authorship. Distortion-drenched, capo-steered, gain-optimised Fender Stratocaster-generated sound waves had long been his superior discerned unique selling point as a popular punk rock songwriter, but nowhere are these better distilled than in his output during the 2010s. While I don’t mean to go over his 2009 preciously delicate and fragile Life and Times too thanklessly—one that incidentally provided the contextual building blocks for his heart-on-sleeve 2011 memoir See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melodythe work of art released over the past ten years might be his best.

By his own admission, the 2010s saw Bob go through a whirlwind of private and public emotions, ranging from the perishing of both his parents to the socio-cultural shock of relocating his whole entire life away from utterly hip and radical chic San Francisco to the even more utterly hip and radical chic Berlin, Germany. His first record under his new deal with imperial indie label Merge Records, the outstanding Silver Age in 2012, signalled a fortified return to raw honesty and compositional poignancy, unsurprisingly so, considering the motions the New York state native was going through at the time. Truly and honestly, pick any Bob Mould record past this point and you’ll be furnished with exceptional performances, impeccable delivery, quality ideas, and watertight no-frills punk rock truth. Guaranteed. 2014’s Beauty and Ruin might just be his best—it’s hard to describe what kind of music it conduits, collectively surrendering to the fact that one can’t quite understand what happens in those songs transporting to transcendental states—although both Patch the Sky (2016) and last year’s Sunshine Rock surely give it a run for its money.

All in all, in all his artistic forms and expressions, Bob Mould stands to represent a trustworthy, prolific, and timeless underground rock minstrel who approaches his craft with scientific-like devotion and method. It will come to no surprise to most that the infamous and sublime north star that keeps on guiding him like a lighthouse when led astray is the goal to perfect the quintessential pop song. Case in point, he always sequences his stickiest track, his calling card, the one with the most powerful hook and airplay rotation potential, at number three on his tracklists. This is true for Hüsker, Sugar, and his solo material. Go back to his discog and check that for yourselves. After all though, Bob Mould remains a relatable, fallible, pedestrian, and regular gay man. By happenstance, he somehow ended up being a very important one, too.

Below listed are Bob Mould’s selected works from 1982 to 2019:

Hüsker Dü

Studio albums
Everything Falls Apart (1983)
Zen Arcade (1984)
New Day Rising (1985)
Flip Your Wig (1985)
Candy Apple Grey (1986)
Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987)

Live Recordings
Land Speed Record (1982)
The Living End (1994)

Studio EPs
Metal Circus (1983)
Extra Circus (2017)


Sugar

Studio albums
Copper Blue (1992)
Beaster (EP) (1993)
File Under: Easy Listening (1994)


Bob Mould

Studio albums
Workbook (1989)
Black Sheets of Rain (1990)
Bob Mould (sometimes referred to as Hubcap) (1996)
The Last Dog and Pony Show (1998)
Modulate (2002)
Body of Songs (2005)
District Line (2008)
Life and Times (2009)
Silver Age (2012)
Beauty & Ruin (2014)
Patch the Sky (2016)
Sunshine Rock (2019)

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

Bob Mould_Portrait

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE STROKES – AT THE DOOR | 2020-02-12

I’m a simple man of simple pleasures like that—I see the biggest guitar band of the 2000s drop a new single slash announce a new album and I click. NYC garage rock stalwarts The Strokes just came out of the woodwork to gargantuously announce their sixth full length studio album The New Abnormal, out on RCA/Cult Records 10th April, peppering its earnest brand new lead single “At the Door” on top of it. While we’re speaking of RCA—allow me to ride off a swift digression over here, encouraging all of us to humbly collect our thoughts around what a tremendous work the Sony-owned label is currently doing when it comes to bolstering the alternative music scene within the broader mainstream pantheon. Just take a look around and think about it. For one, the American imprint can’t seem to get one project wrong—anything with their fingerprints on it spurs quality and taste from pillar to post. Plus, it ended up picking up nearly half of this site’s 2019 AOTY spots just a couple months ago, repping projects as disparate on the genre spectrum as abstract hip-hop and emo rock. Not that this alone would imply universal appeal or anything like that, but ya know—it’s ya boy’s opinion here.

Tying it back to the Julian Casablancas-fronted rock outfit—do jump onboard with me with frivolous excitement over the above mentioned announcement, esteemed readers. Let me put it this way: The New Abnormal is The Strokes’ first LP in seven years, following 2013’s sparkly, glitchy, and dense yet polarising hodgepodge Comedown Machine. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though; as of right now, according to its Apple Music pre-ordering landing page, the new record sports a mere nine original cuts, with no indication of total runtime to speak of. Naturally, not all songs will clock in at over five minutes, just like the album’s brilliant lead single does, hence let’s just say we’ll have slim chances of it beefing up its playback experience to a decent industry standard of three quarters of an hour. What I’m alluding to is that we might be in for a less-is-more, slim pickings-type of affair over here, ladies and gentlemen. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would die for the album to ultimately end up sporting “At the Door” as its shortest, radio-friendly edit, with every other track being longer than six minutes. However, that’s simply not going to happen.

Apropos not getting stuff wrong, The New Abnormal isn’t technically the group’s first batch of new music in seven years, as the quintet did come through with the somewhat lukewarm and gelid Future Past Present EP, back in 2016. Unfortunately though, said outing didn’t so much turn fans’ heads left and right, leaving a somber bittersweet taste in their mouth, speeding into the audience’s consciousness just as fast as it anonymously left it. Furthermore, in the band’s defence, it’s not like its members didn’t keep busy during the previous decade’s latter half. Frontman Julian architected his experimental lo-fi indie rock side project The Voidz and went on to release to major studio outings in the shape of 2014’s Tyranny and 2018’s Virtue, while rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr followed in on similar creative footsteps by reprising his mid-naughties solo act and putting out two LPs titled Momentary Masters and Francis Trouble in 2015 and 2018, respectively. Similarly, remaining band members Nick Valensi (lead guitar), Nikolai Fraiture (bass), and Fab Moretti (drums) all kept quite preoccupied throughout the same span of time, albeit as part of less flashy and flamboyant projects.

Eventually, this all led to The Strokes becoming USA Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ marquee backing band in 2020, as the God-like garage rockers found themselves doing the honours and headlining the senator’s New Hampshire concert rally on Monday 10th February. It’s during the same gala evening that the band first unveiled their highly anticipated comeback single via its laser-abundant, cosmonautically futuristic, sci-fi attached music video. The track sees the group embark on a beefy, synth-heavy syncopated motif, initially blistered by intermittent and piercingly clear cut croons by Julian, vocalising a profoundly self-suffocating yet somehow carefree existential stream-of-consciousness: “I can’t escape it / I’m never gonna make it out of this in time / I guess that’s just fine / I’m not there quite yet / My thoughts, such a mess / Like a little boy / What you runnin’ for?”. Erupting into a radically gratifying and gorgeous melodic release around the one-minute mark, the frontman’s vocals quickly begin to get enveloped by surgically strummed guitars as well as celestial layers of synths. A stern second verse then picks up where the first one left off, both sonically and lyrically:

Bang at the door / Anyone home? / It’s just what they do / Right in front of you / Like a cannonball / Slammin’ through your wall / In their face, I saw / What they’re fightin’ for / I can’t escape it / I’m never gonna make it to the end, I guess

Fab Moretti must’ve been left behind smoking in album producer Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La’s parking lot for most of this track’s recording sessions, as it’s not until past the second refrain that we get even the slightest hint of a drum beat. Awkwardly stumbling in around three minutes, an understated and subdued electronic kick introduces the song’s bridge, during which Julian grants himself a tad more creative freedom, ranging just lightly off the hitherto beaten path. The song’s fast-lived drumming track rapidly disappears again, as a cacophonously textured host of synthesizers steals the scene for a minute-long grim non-lyrical intermezzo, paving the way for a panning, fluctuating, sombre, and darkly bright solmizated outro. Leaving us all salivating for more.

Now, if it weren’t clear enough at this point, this is no Is This It or Room On Fire-era Strokes. Far from it. The lights are dimmed by red bulbs, the candles are flickering, and leather jackets have been swapped with space suits-like onesies and cologne-soaked shaved beards. Yet somehow, for the first time in over a decade, a similar reminiscing sense of trailblazing excitement for what blend of cultural implication a new Strokes album will carry is no longer to be denied.

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 STROKES

“AT THE DOOR”

2020, RCA Records

https://www.thestrokes.com

the-strokes-at-the-door-e1581432223801

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2019 | 2019-12-18

KA_AB KEVIN ABSTRACT – ARIZONA BABY (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

tyler-the-creator-igor-1250x1200 TYLER, THE CREATOR – IGOR (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

BruceSpringsteen_WS BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WESTERN STARS (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

Freddie-Gibbs-and-Madlib-Bandana-1561475407-640x640 FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – BANDANA (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

BH_Ginger BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

SamFender_HypersonicMissiles SAM FENDER – HYPERSONIC MISSILES (POLYDOR RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

Sandy Alex G_House (SANDY) ALEX G – HOUSE OF SUGAR (DOMINO RECORDING CO)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

blink-182_NINE BLINK-182 – NINE (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

third-eye-blind-screamer THIRD EYE BLIND – SCREAMER (MEGA COLLIDER RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

JEW_Surviving JIMMY EAT WORLD – SURVIVING (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

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

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE HELLA MEGA ALBUM REVIEW—3eb, JIMMY EAT WORLD, REFUSED | 2019-10-20

Rock and roll is dead, they say. Perished and gone past any point of salvation; de facto disappeared from the limelight. It’s undergoing a fundamental identity crisis, they allege, which started just at the turn of the the twenty-first century’s inaugural decade and slowly caused its vanishing from the charts, after nu-metal, emo, and garage indie guitar bozos kept it afloat on life support in the early noughties. Fast forward to the approaching sunset of another decade, and rock is blatantly accused of exercising virtually no more influence on popular creative culture. But then—quite ironically—a quick superficial scrutiny of today’s most successful hip-hop (read: mainstream) artists would be all it takes to denote how so-called faux cutting edge and avant-garde rappers and MCs do little more than lifting inherent and eroded rock staples. This manifests in both the artistic and fashion sense, beginning with the gentrified appropriation of industrial palm muted guitar-led walls of sound atop which they oughta spit out bars in pockets, a wide variety of emo sounds and aesthetics, as well as death metal iconography and design statements on their attires.

Then—as if by a divine intervention of sorts—Friday 18th October 2019 came along and flushed away any residual breadcrumbs of doubt as to whether rock and roll and ancillary alternative music were still to have a seat at the mainstream culture table. Most likely unbeknownst to one another, although the potential irony of this being a coordinated effort wouldn’t be lost on me (and yet this might suggest otherwise…), three monumental and highly influential bands repping the penultimate heyday wave of rock dominating charts and radio happened to release their latest studio albums on said same glorious date. Stephan Jenkins-masterminded California rock outfit Third Eye Blind, alt-emo veterans Jimmy Eat World, and Swedish iconic post-hardcore trailblazers Refused all dropped their highly-anticipated sixth, tenth, and fifth studio LP respectively on this proud mid-October Friday. This occurred much to the surprise of focus group-affine taste making gatekeepers, who thought that rock’s highest moments today ought to be confined to Guitar Hero and regional redneck fairs. One single listen to each record is enough to confirm that these three groups have never sounded tighter and more cohesive, notwithstanding that they’re all steadily embarked onto their third decade as bands.

Let us begin with Third Eye Blind (3eb), who return the favour to emo-rappers and genre appropriators by turning heads with a straight up tongue-in-cheek trap number at number ten on their new LP Screamer’s tracklist. In doing so, “2X Tigers” accomplishes what most generic trap beats can’t, in measuring out just the right amounts of rattling hi-hats, 808s, autotune, and lyrical razzmatazz. Overall, 3eb’s new joint is a generous 40-minute, 12-track outing helmed by carefully doctored synthetic atmospheres and soundscapes, employing trademark subaltern vocal deliveries by flamboyant frontman Jenkins, coupled with real pedestrian relatable storytelling. Carefree and lighthearted slow-burners such as “Ways“, sophomore single “Walk Like Kings“, and “Who Am I” stand to indicate that the record flows by sans the dirt and aggression off their early late-nineties projects, although Screamer’s stunning lead single slash title track, followed by the grassroots anthemic punk/rocker “The Kids Are Coming” prove that the San Francisco quintet hasn’t lost its bite and attack over time.

Recruiting the Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan as ‘musical consigliere‘ throughout the creative process certainly helped safeguarding a certain degree of weirdness and experimentation being factored in, too. This shows brightly on a few cuts on here, such as the EDM-infused “Tropic Scorpio“, as well as power-pop oddity “Got So High“, with the latter disclosing the inherent clue in its title right out of the gate, alas supplying cringeworthy lyrics and a pointless beat switch-turned-outro (“So I walked down on Tavern Riaz / I watched a movie starring Cameron Diaz / I got a guitar amp that’s louder than Jesus“). One might also wonder whether the self-indulgent custom Pac Man-esque listening video game launched as promo for the full length is to be traced back to a studio banter with Mr Corgan, though perhaps this stone is best kept unturned. All in all, Screamer finds 3eb delivering a powerful and assertive statement of eternal raging youth, sparkled with drops of hope, courage, and desire for bold change. Front to back, the album plays as slick and smooth as butter, and is wrapped up by one of the most earnest and delicate songs Jenkins must’ve penned in a long while (“Well they smashed us but well / We found our feet and found our voice / Now we give ’em all hell / And now they’re gone“). All killers, no fillers.

On Surviving, Jimmy Eat World on their part choose to tap into crisp, clean cut, yet larger-than-life sounds, haphazardly flirting with their 2007 Chase This Light sonic moodboard, making Surviving its spiritual successor. This comes with big choruses and thick guitars, immediately proven guilty as charged by opener combo “Surviving” and “Criminal Energy“. These are two of the punchiest, fiercest, and most unhinged songs to come out of their repertoire in more than ten years. However, the Arizonans make sure to reassure us they haven’t lost their knack for distilled melancholic melodies on follow up track “Delivery“, a stomping and tremolo-ed heart-on-sleeve emotional journey doubling as the natural—slightly more seasoned—hybrid between “Always Be” and “Firefight” off their aforementioned superior 2007 milestone. Elsewhere, Jim Adkins and co. kill two birds with one stone when they repurpose and remaster last year’s excellent standalone power chords-bonanza single “Love Never“, lending the hammering late capitalism anti-hero anthem a needed production re-tooling that helps better singling out the song’s urgency: “It’s gonna seem so far / It’s gonna feel so hard / Until you want the work more than the reward / Do you want the work more than the reward?”.

Together with “Surviving”, “Criminal Energy”, and “Love Never”, cuts like “One Mil“, “Diamond“, and epic 6-minute closer “Congratulations” reinforce the inherent heaviness of this project, without much concerns related to overdoing palm muting and/or distortion. Ever the subtle and refined writer, on this album Adkins also manages to sculpt one of Jimmy Eat World’s most singular and counter-intuitive works with the airy and celestial 80s drum machine galore “555“, a superlatively cathartic moment moonlighting as second single in promotion to the record. Speaking of singles, Surviving’s chosen flagship one (“All The Way“) is unfortunately the dullest and flattest chapter on here, coming across too sterilised and formulaic for anyone even remotely familiar with the Mesa, AZ band’s past output. That said, this new half hour and change procured to us by the alternative rockers sweeps by like a spinning rush of watertight loud rock, topping Jimmy Eat World’s more recent efforts (2016’s Integrity Blues and 2013’s Damage) on both the songwriting and sonic delivery front.

Hailing from the apparent idyllic paradise of Sweden and responsible for one of the mightiest watershed moments in the experimental post-hardcore scene, Refused are no strangers to leaving evident battered marks in the ground they cover. Tallying up just their fifth studio album to date in nearly thirty years as a band, the modern punk stalwarts have had to put up with a ‘too big to fail’ legacy that might or might have not prompted their 2014 reunion—after abruptly calling it quits in 1998 at their highest career peak. With their newest studio full length War Music, which follows up on their softer and dividing fourth LP Freedom in 2015, the Swedish woke and socially-conscious quartet choose to revert back to flat out in-your-face meat and potatoes mannerisms. Cases in point, the skin-crawling, spine-bending incendiary lead single “Blood Red“—a manifesto to holding up to one’s ethics and ideals from cradle to grave—and the violent bona fide hardcore throwback “Turn The Cross“. Perhaps unsurprisingly in this saturated and overproduced musical zeitgeist filled with loudness wars, the Dennis Lyxzén-fronted project generally opts for peeling back a few layers and marry stripped back, extremely raw and rebellious sonic contours, albeit not always so spotlessly.

Soul-punk and groove-distributor “REV001” works flawlessly as sonic baptism to the whole shebang, even though its efficacy can’t be reprised as seamlessly by its follow up on the tracklist (“Violent Reaction“), the latter resounding too tired and thin-stretched. Meanwhile, the album’s inflammatory closing set of overtly alienated socio-political statements (“Death In Vännäs“, “The Infamous Left“, and “Economy of Death“) vehemently address neo-liberal gimmicks, diminishing returns, thought leadership apathy and jadedness. Stuffed in the middle of this 10-track dissenting capitalist opera is a host of straightforward and true blue Refused playbook material (“I Wanna Watch The World Burn“), math rock riffing aggression galore (“Damaged III“), and exquisite foreboding marching potency (“Malfire“), with the latter track culminating in a witty and excruciatingly harrowing take on contemporary population management issues: “They came in boats, they came on land / Alone and scared with empty hands / The founding thought, come if you can / Your tired, poor, your huddled mass / In grand old eyes, a life reviled / Becomes a threat, a parasite“. Another solid, trustworthy, and long-overdue check-in from a band that has and will continue to make important waves in the current unenlightened climate.

This should suffice, though if the above supporting evidence isn’t enough, be my guest and throw in the following exhibits to counterclaim the assertion that alternative rock is no longer alive and well. These were all released within the last few months: Sam Fender’s Hypersonic Missiles, Puddle of Mudd‘s Welcome to Galvania, and blink-182‘s NINE. We love rock and roll, so put another dime in the jukebox, baby…

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

THIRD EYE BLIND

SCREAMER

2019, Mega Collider Records

https://www.thirdeyeblind.com

third-eye-blind-screamer

JIMMY EAT WORLD

SURVIVING

2019, Exotic Location Recordings/RCA Records

https://www.jimmyeatworld.com

JEW_Surviving

REFUSED

WAR MUSIC

2019, Spinefarm Records/Universal Music

https://www.officialrefused.com

Refused_WarMusic

ON (SANDY) ALEX G’S MYSTICAL LOW-FIDELITY MELODY LAYERING | 2019-09-15

I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. Hailing from the somewhat overcooked and saturated strain of post-2010 homegrown, DYI, Zoomers-appealing bedroom-extraordinaries who conquered much of Bandcamp’s real estate during this past decade, the 26-year old yours truly-namesake arguably still touts his personalised claim to fame as him being the main six-strings architect and arranger behind Frank Ocean‘s summer of 2016 legendary release combo Blonde + Endless. Reverse engineering and unpacking the latter two album’s contents over the past couple years often led me to him, in one way or another. Too bad the many tries and attempts at delving into Alex’s existing discographic repertoire to date pretty much always yielded nothing more than metaphorical cul-de-sacs, with little to nothing in the way of deeper creative connection to be established with his confused, hazy, and spotty musical work including everything up until his 2017 LP Rocket. Yet something inside me kept whispering that there was merit to be rescued somewhere in there.

The above leitmotiv fiercely and completely fell out of the window a few days ago, upon arrival of his latest Domino-issued studio album, House of Sugar. His third on the trailblazing and influential British indie label, the record is a gorgeously hallucinating compilation of layered harmonic sound waves just short of forty minutes in length. It’s by far unlike anything I have engaged with in very, very, long, and I’m not simply referring to the musical realm here. Right off the bat, and throughout its thirteen cuts, House of Sugar’s sonic mantel glues together perfectly woven instrumentations, assembling tenderly infectious motifs, licks, and riffs in both uncomfortable yet stupendously gratifying ways. From the cradle to the grave, this is a map for the lost. Almost too pristinely doctored to still be filed under Alex’s conventional lo-fi musical wheelhouse, the record’s raw and loosely defined contours are perhaps best gripped through a bird’s eye view of the whole, instead of artificial partitioning them across thirteen different chapters. Here, the artistic compromise of track-listing the project into separate songs feels more like a resentful trade necessity, rather than a creative boilerplate to interact with at the songwriting stage. The input might even be lo-fi, but the output is decisively HD.

In an era where former Presidents flex cool Spotify playlists, it should come with no surprise that this thing has no genre. Tracks like “Near“, “Project 2”, and “Sugar” are flat-out indescribable in their spatial-infrastructural depth and variegated melodic density. Yet, their inability to make heads or tails of single components acts as the creative statement’s unequivocal poignant strength, as opposed to it representing a lack of compositional clarity. Throughout House of Sugar, brace yourselves to be stoked head-first with elements ranging from mid-naughties alt-acoustic emo, to experimental lab beats and some of the most enduring Smashing Pumpkins-esque melancholic aesthetic refuges. One might as well throw in peppered nuggets of easy listening IDM, adult alternative radio rock atmospheres, unconventionally paired-up instruments, highly introspective and revealing lyrics, and suddenly one arrives at a place where they could begin to translate this record’s spirit and soul into dried words. Beware, as the act of pressing play on album opener “Walk Away” rapidly decays into a void and senseless protocol, fully overtaken by the full length’s mystical sonic might, one that centrifuges the whole 38 minutes into a unified vortex of light, beauty, and redeeming splendour. It would be easy to imagine House of Sugar as a short movie of sorts, plugging into multimedia sensory experiences exclusively by way of its sounds and aesthetics, an illusory plateau that perfectly comes to mental fruition with each repeated new listen.

I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. This album is fantastic, an interstellar journey venturing into otherworldly sound sensations, allowing one to come out of the other way with their filthy hands cleansed top to bottom. Perhaps leading us to states not too unlike the graciously cathartic ice skater’s depicted on the record’s sleeve, this collection of tracks’ dazed gripping potency places itself as an unquestionable frontrunner for modern day self-serving modularities of escapism. Let us not kid ourselves. There are no lead singles here. No official music videos. Just an enthralling and continuous stream of consciousness music tape supplying seamless stylistic mood transitions between thirteen not-so-distinct acts, all veraciously accompanying personal enlightened ascensions climbing metaphysical stairways to heaven. Come to think of it, this might just be the Bandcamp generation’s Endless.

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

Sandy Alex G_House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

KEVIN ABSTRACT

“ARIZONA BABY”

2019, Question Everything Inc / RCA Records

http://arizonababy.world

KA_AB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And no, I still haven’t completely figured out whether Yesterdays has the apostrophe or not. Pretty on brand, at least.

AV

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