Sunday, 14 December 2014

2014: Favourite 100 Tracks

It goes without saying that 2014 was another damn good year in music terms - then again, pretty much every year is - and as is customary for blogs, we're poppin' off a few lists of our favourite bits and bobs from the past year. First up, here's 100 tracks we really liked, in something of a rank order. Our choosing of the number one pick was pretty much the easiest decision in //APEX history, and there's plenty of other goodness elsewhere on the list, whatever your tastes may be, from smash hit singles to mixtape deep cuts. No write-ups here; we reckon these songs speak for themselves.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Reviews: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, DJWWWW & MC PLAY-STATION®

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Pika Pika Fantajin (Warner Japan, 2014)

It's a little difficult for me to consolidate my feelings towards Kyary Pamyu Pamyu without reaching for the overblown imagery of her Western mega-pop counterparts; your Lady Gagas, Katy Perrys et al. Hell, even Avril Lavigne has paid tribute to Kyary's outlandish style with the blog-stirring video for "Hello Kitty". But if you manage to look past the ultra-kawaii maximalism of the visual and performance aspects of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, you may find some of the most enticingly crafted pop ohrwürmers of recent memory, in any language. Her latest offering, Pika Pika Fantajin (which roughly translates to "Shiny Shiny Fantasyperson"), is more of the same, which is to say: stuffed to the brim with colourful instrumentation, viral hooks and a glorious sense of unreality. It does falter in places - "Ring a Bell", Kyary's first entirely English song, is so lyrically insistent that it winds up being a tiresome experiment above all else - but for the most part, Pika Pika Fantajin will likely be one of the most gleeful pop pleasures of the calendar year. That is, until Momoiro Clover Z release their new album.

DJWWWW & MC PLAY-STATION® *'~ 僕らのFANTASY *゚​+​.​。​:​;​+​.​:​;。​+​゚​*​♡ (Wasabi Tapes, 2014)

DJWWWW, MC PLAY-STATION®; purveyors of TOTAL SENSORY OVERLOAD and DENSE, NEBULOUS "COLLAGE" MUSIC (or, better yet, "epic collage"). Made up of 10 tracks with none of them edging over 4 minutes in length, *'~ 僕らのFANTASY *゚​+​.​。​:​;​+​.​:​;。​+​゚​*​♡  is a post-post-Oswald exercise in sheer sampledelia, almost totally forgoing melody and rhythm in the process. Well, maybe that's a little untrue; it's there in traces, only to be wiped out by a wave of digital noise or crushed beneath another sample almost instantaneously. Perhaps the real entertainment of *'~ 僕らのFANTASY *゚​+​.​。​:​;​+​.​:​;。​+​゚​*​♡  is picking out the blink-and-you'll-miss-it plundering; Kanye West, Waka Flocka Flame, Autre Ne Veut, D/P/I (I think?) are all given the DJWWWW/MC PLAY-STATION® treatment, sometimes all within the same 30 seconds, and it amounts to an amazing mess of pop culture and Bandcamp cool/weird/other.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

New Video: Beat Detectives

Man, these Beat Detectives guys are capital-dub Weird. Their musical output stands as pretty strong evidence of this, with groggy-azz tapes for Moon Glyph, 100% Silk and Night-People all capturing my attention last year. Their latest release, the wonderfully titled ASSCOP, captures those “3am basement house party” vibes that followers of the Detectives will already be accustomed to. As if the psychedelic fug of the music wasn't enough, their visual accompaniments also happen to be next-level BAD trip material (as is well-documented on their YouTube channel), and the Nic Wilson-animated vid for "Fresh Out The Pack" could well be the strangest of the lot, featuring a nude CGI Bart Simpson doing all sorts of hoodrat shit; namely, walking through a mountain range, navigating a black void, and setting himself on fire. Yeah. Watch it above, and cop the ass outta ASSCOP from 1080p here.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Review: The Soft Pink Truth

The Soft Pink Truth Why Do the Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey, 2014)

Can popular music ever exist without politics? Even in mainstream, charting music, one cannot help but get the sense that, now more than ever, artists are bringing an explicit political agenda to their work. Beyoncé, perhaps the foremost singer in pop, male or female, described herself as a "modern-day feminist" in an interview with Vogue UK, before taking this notion to its logical extreme on her self-titled album late last year: surely only Yoncé can shout "bow down, bitches!" over a drilling trap beat, before dedicating the middle portion of the same track to an excerpt from feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. An overtly political record, then, but also the fastest selling album in the history of the iTunes Store. Away from the Billboard 200, the likes of Sleaford Mods and Young Fathers are spinning intriguing political narratives of their own, deeply rooted in background and personal circumstance.

Perhaps, however, we try to shoehorn politics into a musical context too hastily. For all the thinkpieces and articles on the supposed feminism of Miley Cyrus, the tracks on Bangerz, both lyrically and musically, remain effectively apolitical in nature; this is music for the party, which by design defies any political reality. This escapism is ultimately shallow, but Cyrus most certainly knows that she needn't create discussion through her music, so she doesn't. In the case of Cyrus and Bangerz, it's the aesthetic which takes precedence, and while on some level she may attest that her image subscribes to feminism, she is also aware that sex very much sells. Unlike Beyoncé, her ass is less a liberation front and more a platform from which to sell records.

This, then, poses a different question; can popular music exist without sex? In a Freudian sense, sex has manifested itself across all "popular" (I use this term quite broadly here) genres; not just amongst charting/radio music, but also at the more esoteric end of the popular music spectrum. From a distance, black metal might appear to be totally and utterly sexless, with many of its practitioners employing distinctively misanthropic, sacrilegious imagery in their work. It is upon closer inspection that themes of sexual desire and lust begin to appear, and this also happens to be where Drew Daniel's Soft Pink Truth project enters the fray. The Soft Pink Truth is the Matmos member's playful dance-orientated output, probably best known for 2004's Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth?, a collection of hardcore punk songs reimagined as synth-heavy house. Having spent the better part of a decade mainly focusing on his operations in Matmos, Daniel has emerged with the first Soft Pink Truth record since Do You Want New Wave...: this time, an album of black metal covers.

That Daniel should even touch genre classics such as Venom's "Black Metal" or Darkthrone's "Beholding the Throne of Might" is problematic in and of itself; black metal fans are famously dogmatic, and reconfiguring these tracks as house/electronica is enough to provoke bile-spewing internet comments as it is - indeed, the video for the "Black Metal" cover has already had a number of commentators express their distaste for Daniel's treatment of the original - but the most provocative issue underpinning Why Do the Heathen Rage? is sexuality. Daniel occupies a unique vantage point, as both a self-professed black metal fanatic and a homosexual man. It is this situation that drives the very essence of Why Do the Heathen Rage?, for this isn't so much a "profanation" of black metal as it is a complete genre deconstruction, not only gleefully attacking the dogged authenticity it strives for, but also the extreme homophobia and prejudice of some of its practitioners.

Daniel's makeovers penetrate themselves deeply into black metal's kvlt principles, reimagining aggressive riffs as acidic synth squeals, blast beats as punchy drum machine patterns, and so on. Interestingly enough, it's not only black metal that is being retooled here; baffling house and pop interjections appear throughout, such as Chuck Roberts' famed "let there be house!" proclamation on "Let There Be Ebola Frost". While this certainly smacks of a kitschy, self-indulgent appropriation of the genre, this tongue-in-cheek approach is not without a degree of respect for the material that is being worked with. The lyrics of the respective tracks Daniel takes to are kept intact, and the vocal delivery of these lines tends to retain the same raspy growl; clearly, these covers function not only to critique the narrow-mindedness of the black metal community at large, but ultimately to celebrate the music itself as Daniel confronts the fascistic ideals of his beloved genre.

As an exposé on the abstruse sexuality of black metal, Why Do the Heathen Rage? succeeds spectacularly, with lines like "riding Hell's stallions, bareback and free" reframed to now perhaps indicate the latent homoeroticism of some of the sacred cows of the staunchly masculine genre. It also succeeds as both an imitation and a respectful tribute to the unfuckable-with musical and thematic values at the beating heart of black metal. Above all, however, it succeeds as a Soft Pink Truth album; even without the serious historical subtext of Why Do The Heathen Rage?, it can be appreciated on its own terms as a hard-hitting, amusing and, occasionally, even danceable set of tracks.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

2014: Favourites of Q2

Where does time go? 2014 is already half-way through, and having honoured the best albums of (roughly) January-March, we're back to honour the best albums of (roughly) April-June - this time, however, we decided to actually quantify why we like these albums so damn much rather than just straight up list them. As ever, expect a nice grab-bag of styles and sounds, from alien grime to dusty jazz-hop with a gangster rap edge; terrifying doom metal to shimmering psych-folk, and so on.

Shout-out time; many great releases from Q1 slipped through the cracks initially, along with the sleeper hits we didn't realise we liked so much until after the list was finalised. These include Isaiah Rashad's Cilvia Demo, New Balance's Formes De Viure, Kassem Mosse's Workshop 19, Sun Araw's Belomancie, Ana Caprix's For Seven Nights This Island Is Ours, Ekoplekz's Unfidelity, Migos' No Label 2, Magic Eye's Babylon and Kevin Gates' By Any Means.

More shout-out time; the past three months have been particularly kind to us, so here are a load of releases that barely missed the cut from Q2: BADBADNOTGOOD's III, Foodman's DRUM DESU, Valerio Tricoli's Miseri Lares, Traxman's Da Mind of Traxman Vol. 2, Life Sim's This Life, Gobby's Wakng Thrst For Seeping Banhee, Fear of Men's Loom, Dynooo's These Flaws Are Mine To War With, GFOTY's Secret Mix, Lil B's Hoop Life, Klara Lewis' Ett, Fushitsusha's Nothing Changes..., Mac DeMarco's Salad Days. Every single album mentioned above is worth checking out along with our top 20, and who knows, maybe they'll grow on us in the coming months.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

2014: Favourite Tracks/EPs So Far

6 months have passed in what is already shaping up to be an outstanding year in the world of music. As a new age of musicians begin to leave their mark on the face of the industry, whether it be the future garage sounds of Jamie xx or through hypermodern UK grime as demonstrated by Serious Thugs, it is evident that the underground scene is thriving more than ever. As is usually the case, it has been immensely difficult for both myself and Joe Sherwood to keep the list's maximum at 15 tracks, and so considerable mentions must be given to Swans' "Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture", Hannah Diamond's "Attachment" and "Slave To The Rhythm" by the late Michael Jackson to name a few. We'll be releasing our list of albums with a short review for each very shortly so keep on checking back for that. Until then, enjoy our favourite tracks and EPs of the year thus far, complete with a Soundcloud playlist for each of us (tracks not on Soundcloud are linked to YouTube/Spotify).

Monday, 9 June 2014

Review: Death Grips

Death Grips niggas on the moon (Harvest/Third Worlds, 2014)

Death Grips have never taken a conventional approach in releasing their albums, with 2012's NO LOVE DEEP WEB being leaked by the group against the will of their ex-record label, Epic, and 2013's Government Plates dropping out of the blue to the delight of hype-beasts and experimental hip-hop junkies everywhere. niggas on the moon was no exception to this rule, with their latest release going viral via their Facebook page, with little more than the information that the Icelandic avant-garde veteran, Björk, features on all 8 tracks, alongside the kind words "have a sad cum bb". The post was then signed off from "us", which incidentally has caused much dispute over the album's controversial title considering the ethnic backgrounds of both the drummer and producer in the band.

Rory Ferreira A.K.A Milo, nerd-rap's "loquacious public speaker", had an awful lot to say about say about the choice of the title niggas on the moon almost immediately after the album's release early in the morning of the 9th of June, stating that "two white dudes [Zach Hill and Andy Morin] just put out a record called niggas on the moon and i hate them for it". A bold comment with logical reasoning, no doubt, but Twitter's general lack of acknowledgement towards to the album title really epitomises the current state of hip-hop lyricism whereby the 'n word' has become almost meaningless. The offence that the word once carried has effectively been forgotten and thus it is used in the bad taste that Ferreira spoke of more often nowadays, so it will be interesting to see the band's reaction to the criticism at a future date.

The album's content, however, is indisputable, and although it is clear that the band has taken yet another extensive change in direction with their latest release being driven by MC Ride's fervent raps as opposed to the synthesisers and percussion loops that very much distinguished Government Plates, the band's most powerful attributes have been grinded together and in doing so, Death Grips have produced their most refined work as of yet, and what can only be described as a contemporary masterpiece. niggas on the moon opens with a thunderous track, "Up My Sleeves", that really sets the scene for the album as it is characterised by the violent darkness of Ride's lyrics; 'I was conceived by my disease' being a particularly stand out line with it feeling like an extension of NO LOVE DEEP WEB's introductory track "Come Up and Get Me" due to the harshness and brutality of Ride's raspy flow.

One thing that can be said for listening to the album for the first time is that it is certainly difficult to follow, with aggressive lyrics being lost in the mix of noisy drum patterns and Björk samples on "Have A Sad Cum" and footwork-like production on "Voila" adding a new dimension to the niggas on the moon experience. It is an album that unforgivingly forces itself upon you and leaks frenzied energy into your eardrums, but as far as experimental music goes, the first half of this album is an absolute game-changer.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

New Music: Cool Angels

Following on from the sublime Formes De Viure tape back in February (scope it out here), Exo Tapes are comin' through once again with a new set from Cool Angels, the brainchild of Nicholas Ray aka Speculator. Much like previous releases under the guise, Hole is a melancholic yet comforting reverie, a meditation on reggae and pop communicated through hiss-drenched, spacious soundscapes. It's just the kind of summer comedown music you need as we approach the holidays, so listen to the digital stream below and maybe grab a tape from Exo here; there are only 35 of these in existence, so it's not to be missed.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

New Music: Foodman

It's been over a month since the last //APEX post, and in our dormancy some fairly astounding records have been released. One such album is DRUM DESU, a new tape from the slippery Japanese footworker 食品まつり aka Foodman, which was released unto the web by Noumenal Loom on May 9. If you've had the pleasure of following the music of Foodman, you'll know that the footwork connection is an extremely distant one at this stage; DRUM DESU continues his expansion into what is near-enough uncharted territory, characterised by his use of garbled samples, digital squelches and barely-there drum patterns. Bewildering stuff indeed, but it should leave you thoroughly satisfied if you're in the market for an alternative experience. Stream the whole damn thang below, and maybe grab it on cassette from the label here.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

New Music: Serious Thugs

Enter Serious Thugs: the latest and greatest contribution to the discussion on the low/high art distinction. Possibly. The group, which consists of William E. Wright (aka Yung Willuminati), Alis Pelleschi (aka 3D Slut) and DJ Warlord, have released two tracks thus far in "Link Ting (Other Girls)" and "Ur Not a Baller". An initial glance may indicate that Serious Thugs merely appropriate "chav" culture, just as Sadboys and Gravity Boys have aped the fashion of their favourite rappers. Much like their Swedish contemporaries, however, there's more to ST than meets the eye; this isn't so much appropriation as it is fetishisation, and while it would be easy to dismiss as mere irony/click-bait fodder, there appears to be a genuine appreciation of so-called low culture at work here: fake Air Max, chains, Rubicon and Burberry lingerie all feature in the video for "Ur Not a Baller".

The comparison to the y[o]ung Swedes could be further extended to the music itself; Serious Thugs are to grime and UK bass/funky what Sadboys/Gravity Boys are to cloud rap, with a sound that captures the strange saccharine urbanness of 3 Of A Kind, and more recently Sophie's anthem "Bipp" (one of my favourite tracks of last year, I should add). Whether it was their intention or otherwise, Serious Thugs have crafted a potent mixture of yesteryear's [un]fashion and hypermodern, ultra-slick pop, and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next. Watch "Link Ting (Other Girls)" and "Ur Not a Baller" below, and keep an eye out for ICE ARENA, their forthcoming album.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Mixtape Roundup, Volume 1

After the success of Joe Sherwood's 'Cassette Roundup' series, I figured that I had also better host a set of reviews for my own series that is based on my primarily-rap-orientated personal taste, because let's be honest, who doesn't like a mixtape or two?

The way in which hip-hop has functioned as a genre has transformed dramatically over recent years due to the introduction of the internet and the wider advertisement that artists are able to get as a consequence of this, and although mixtapes have been knockin' about since the 70s, the birth of the internet mixtape was a pivotal point for the music industry due to its easy accessibility. I am here to make this an even easier journey for you by bringing the hottest mixtapes straight to your screens on a regular basis, and I've even thrown in a couple of links and what not because I'm just that nice a guy.


Big Narstie What's The Story? Brixton Glory (Dice Recordings, 2014)

Whether it's his vibrant vocabulary of London slang or his comically nonchalant approach to slating the week's latest singles for FACT magazine, there has always been something undeniably lovable about MC and founder of the Base Defence League, Big Narstie, and his latest EP, What's The Story? Brixton Glory, is testament to his charming presence in the UK grime scene. Sure the beats aren't exceptional, and there are some more than questionable sample choices such as 'Clocks' by Coldplay and of course '(What's The Story) Morning Glory?' by Oasis, the track by which the entire mixtape is based around, but Uncle Pain continues to have no difficulty in persuading avid grime enthusiasts nationwide that he is in fact one of the founding fathers of this generation of grime; his energetic vibes and tongue-in-cheek bars are qualities to be admired by any emerging young rapper. A word of advice: make sure that you take as much as possible from the experience of listening to Big Narstie, and whatever you do, do not fuck up the base.

CyHi The Prynce Black Hystori Project (G.O.O.D. Music, 2014)

In a recent interview with Complex, Cydel Young revealed that his inspiration for Black Hystori Project was actually his nephew's school teacher who claimed that he wasn't 'monumental' enough to be considered for a report in black history month at the school. So, to retaliate to this claim, CyHi got on the phone to his close friend Kanye West and began to work on his own project that would cover historic milestones that changed the way in which blacks were seen in society with an inevitable G.O.O.D. Music spin on things. Not a bad way to prove a point, huh?

Of course, the influence of West is almost inescapably obvious, especially on tracks such as 'Mandela' whereby CyHi refers to himself as being "Muhammad to the rap game", similar to Kanye's God complex personality that shines through particularly strongly on his controversially titled Yeezus. However, this powerful lyricism is more than fitting considering the strong nature of the thematic imagery as Young schools the listener about the uprising of black community figures such as Desmond Tutu (the first black Archbishop of Cape Town) that contributed to the resolution of apartheid in South Africa, all over TEC BEATZ and Sekou Muhammed's hard-hitting drum loops.

Black Hystori Project is easily CyHi The Prynce's greatest work as of yet, and with Hardway Musical scheduled to be released later this year, I shall be eagerly waiting to see whether it lives up to the high expectations set by his latest tape.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Cassette Roundup, Volume 2

C L E A N E R S Real Raga Shit Vol. 1 (Bootleg Tapes, 2014)

A triumph of style and substance. Despite making it into our favourite albums of 2014's first quarter list a few days ago, I don't think either of us has really managed to attest to the brilliance of Real Raga Shit Vol. 1. It's an interesting proposition from the outset, with what its release on Bootleg Tapes (quite possibly my favourite label around right now), two intriguingly named side-long tracks, and some fancy artwork to boot, but the music contained within is the real star attraction here. In a similar vein to much of Bootleg's catalogue, the C L E A N E R S tape is a haphazard meeting of samples from entirely disparate sources, from Coltrane's "I Love You" to the most obvious Casablanca quote, with an undercurrent of tape hiss and analogue noise throughout. This approach to sound really shouldn't work, but by sheer dexterity and intuition, C L E A N E R S pulls it off with a very large degree of panache, connecting the dots between the least likely of entities and making it sound fantastic in the process. 

EQ Why ChiTokyo Mixtape (Orange Milk, 2014)

Footworking is resolutely a location-centric genre, with many of its finest practitioners hailing from Chicago, but outsider contributions to the movement are not only preventing footwork from falling into an easily- replicable template, but they are also providing some of the most worthwhile contributions to it. This calendar year has already seen a few shining examples, such as Thug Entrancer's Death After Life and Foodman's hamakko EP, but one of the best "outsider" efforts thus far comes from an actual Chicagoan. EQ Why - a cheeky dig at RP Boo? - merges the malleable styling of Chi-town footwork/juke with the weird and wonderful Japanese take on the scene, and appropriately calls it the ChiTokyo Mixtape. Essentially, the tape is an hour of primo footworking, which bridges the gap between two rather different modi operandi, and thankfully never takes itself too seriously. If you've ever found yourself enjoying the likes of DJ Rashad or DJ Spinn, as well as the warped worlds of Paisley Parks and Foodman, then ChiTokyo Mixtape might just be your calling.

Magic Eye Babylon (Not Not Fun, 2014)

Reverb and distortion have been getting a bad press as of late, and it's totally understandable; it's the go-to method of distraction to mask lazy songwriting, or to obscure lyricists who have nothing worthwhile to say (I'm looking squarely at YOU, Perfect Pussy). Thankfully, Magic Eye utilise these effects to a particularly artful degree on their latest release, Babylon. The album came about after a distasteful experience at an "overly pro studio", which left the resulting recording "grit-less and dried out"; mercifully, upon hearing the opener "Japan" it would appear that the grit and earthiness has been well-and-truly reinstated, and the tape retains this beautifully lo-fi aesthetic throughout. It amounts to an exploration of the limits and boundaries of the humble cassette tape, in all of its noisy, scorched glory.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

2014: Favourites of Q1

We're just about 3 months into 2014, and the year is already shaping up tremendously well. As such, myself and Joe have decided to offload our favourites of this first quarter (as well as a couple of last-ditch efforts from December), with the second and third to follow before the overall year-end list. It's never easy to mash each of our respective tastes into one comprehensive guide, but at least it makes for an interesting list; it's actually quite heartening to see the likes of C L E A N E R S slot alongside Real Estate, or for Sicko Mobb to cosy up next to Have a Nice Life. As ever, there are a few honorable mentions to be made: Live at the Cairo High Cinema Institute (EEK), 37 Minute Workout (Russell Haswell), What's The Story? Brixton Glory (Big Narstie), Divine Ecstasy (Supreme Cuts), Beyoncé (Beyoncé), Lay-By Lullaby (Janek Schaefer) and Oxymoron (ScHoolboy Q). So, in no particular order, here is a rough idea of where we're at with 2014...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

New Music: disrupt

I wouldn't count myself as an avid listener of dub, but then again, Dub Matrix with Stereo Sound is hardly your average dub release. Constructed primarily out of the bleeps and bloops from disrupt's "Gamebwoy" - a modified Gameboy system capable of providing "maximum bass weight" - Dub Matrix is a wonderful diversion which introduces the sonics of 8-bit chiptune to the tried-and-tested dub sound. If it sounds a little gimmicky, think again: according to Jahtari's website, "this mini LP is not a joke ting", so take their word for it and stream "Babylon Wavetables" above (also, consider downloading this thing from Boomkat).

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

BRITs 2014: The //APEX Winners

Following on from yesterday's hypothetical //APEX nominations for this year's BRIT Awards, we would now like to reveal our winners (sponsored by MasterCard of course). Some difficult decisions had to be made, but myself and Mr Gilbey are confident that our ruthlessly democratic method of selection - some 10 minutes deliberating on a Facebook chat - has returned the correct results for the blog's widely-flung taste.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

BRITs 2014: //APEX's Shortlist

Almost a year has passed since the 2013 BRIT Awards whereby Emeli Sande and Ben Howard surprisingly picked up two awards each over the night, and so we can only speculate what this year will give us considering the nature of the nominees. Household names such as David Bowie, Ellie Goulding and Arctic Monkeys have all been shortlisted for various categories including British Group and the "prestigious" British Album of the Year award, but are these nominations testament to the greatest pieces of musical art that have been released in the UK over the past year? With Jake Bugg losing that original novelty that shone through in his eponymous debut album through his latest release, Shangri La, and Tom Odell receiving a hefty 0/10 from Mark Beaumont of NME who then went on to say "I wish I could say there’s a place in Hell reserved for Tom Odell", it can be quite easily argued that the British Male Solo Artist, and all of the other categories for that matter, are severely flawed. For this reason, Joe Sherwood and I have decided to collaborate in order to create an alternative set of nominations for each BRITs category for those who we feel are most deserving of the title.

Monday, 17 February 2014

New Music: Lil B

It's been just under 2 months since The BasedGod dropped the monolithic, dizzying 101-track opus 05 Fuck Em, and now he's back with a new tape, titled Basedworld Paradise. Peep that #rare cover art up there! But just remember this, children: on 2012's superlative White Flame tape, Lil B declared that he ain't no joke, and given the quality of the "leaked" tracks from this latest release, he clearly ain't stuntin' on Basedworld Paradise either. Cop this #based art while it's hot, and, as ever, love and protect the BasedGod. *SWAG*

Review: Sun Kil Moon

Sun Kil Moon Benji (Caldo Verde, 2014)

Despite having a back catalog of over 30 full-length albums dating back to 1989 and being a profuse frontman for Red House Painters, and unforgettably Sun Kil Moon, it feels like it has taken nearly 25 years to actually get to know Mark Kozelek. He has never been shy when expressing feelings towards his idols or openly grieving over various family members or ex-girlfriends, but like Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d City or any of Thom Yorke's releases alongside alt-rock legends Radiohead, Benji is a personally driven story highlighting Kozelek's painful life experiences by draining repressed memories and recounting life events that shaped his career, for better or for worse.

Of course, an ever present theme in Benji is that of death, which is hardly surprising after learning of Mark Kozelek's boxing fanaticism and the history of fatalities that go along with the sport that influenced his own musical sound and direction so strongly that he changed the band's identity from Red House Painters to Sun Kil Moon in homage to Korean lightweight boxer, Sung-Kil Moon. Kozelek was in attendance at the Manny Sanchez fight in 2001 whereafter Sanchez was brutally murdered, and stated to Mark Ortega of The Queensberry Rules boxing blog that "it hurts when anyone dies young, but when you see the backgrounds of these guys and the path they've taken to try to find some light in their lives, it hurts to see them die young." This draws strong parallels to the opening track, 'Carissa', whereby Kozelek gratingly intones "Carissa was thirty-five, you don't just raise two kids and take out your trash and die"; he doesn't just want to put you in the situation of those directly affected, he intends to relate these emotions directly to the lives of the listeners.

Like many of Sun Kil Moon's previous releases such as Ghosts of the Great Highway, Benji is an unpredictable array of meandering folk-rock sounds that is primarily distinguished by acoustic guitar riffs and underlying instrumentals, but then other overpowering contemporary sounds suddenly begin to prevail as the listener is dragged deeper into the gloomy macabre. 'Pray For Newtown' demonstrates this through the introduction of dispiriting drums whilst Kozelek pleads his audience to "think of their families and how they mourn and cry", clearly referring to the massacre of 20 children and 6 adult teachers in the 2012 Connecticut shootings. The album isn't all doom and gloom however, with tracks such as 'Jim Wise' being accompanied by a vintage electric keyboard to give it an air of natural simplicity, and 'Ben's My Friend' supplying us with one of the most dubious saxophone solos of the year thus far.

Whether you have followed the work of Mark Kozelek for the past 25 years or you've only recently discovered his projects as part of Sun Kil Moon, he has nothing left to hide. Benji is the perfect exposition of both the beauty and ugliness in society, and whilst it is an autobiographical album that is very much personal to Kozelek, it is one of the most accessible albums of 2014. It investigates the way in which darkness is constantly affecting our everyday lives, which is a topic that's seldom explored in popular song; "everybody got up and stretched and yawned and then our lives went on", and that's what makes it such a profound listen.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Review: D/P/I

D/P/I 08.DD.15 (Leaving, 2014)

How does Alex Gray do it? His prolificacy is undeniable, but it is never at the expense of quality; ever since 2011's absolutely essential I'm Fuckin You Tonight under the retired Heat Wave guise, he has managed to retain a creative hot streak matched by few in the (veritably Fukd) game. Perhaps the key to his consistent freshness is the sonic and stylistic flux he undergoes between projects, from crafting lucid thoughts as Deep Magic to the garbled, glitchy sampledelia of the D/P/I project. Gray was particularly productive in 2013 under the latter alias, releasing two fantastic albums in Espresso Digital - #35 on my list of favourite albums from last year - and Fresh Roses, as well as a collaborative mixtape with Ahnnu which was composed solely of Drake samples.

With the artistic momentum very much working in his direction, Gray's latest D/P/I joint, cryptically titled 08.DD.15, continues in the same vein as his preceding ventures under the moniker: sample-based microscopy, disorientating beats and an uncanny pop nous which binds the whole thing together. Many artists operating within the realms of musique concrète and glitch, such as the likes of Rene Hell, tend to favour sonic abstraction over melody, and this is where Gray's deconstructions differ slightly. While 08.DD.15 is still a decidedly bizarre, experimental album, his ability to displace sounds and re-compose them into something that is aesthetically pleasing is a remarkably unique trait of his. The track "HE.YY" is a case in point - what begins as a molecular reconfiguration of a vocal cut is transformed into a dynamic synth-like texture, complete with a stuttering drum kit for good measure.

08.DD.15 captures the very essence of what Gray is shooting for with D/P/I - the strange, almost hostile sounds of experimental music colliding with amiable street smarts (lest we forget that the 'D' stands for DJ). It also continues in the lineage of being wonderfully incomplete; in a lot of cases, this might be a negative, but it makes perfect sense for an artist who can seemingly toss out quality releases at will, ensuring that every passing D/P/I album is as invigorating and unpredictable as the last.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

New Music: Meili Xueshan I&II

One of my favourite paradoxes is the existence of an underground community of musicians on the Internet. The World Wide Web is surely the way of getting your music out there, but for every Chance The Rapper out there riding a tidal wave of web-induced hype, there are a huge number of names who, while not commanding the popularity they often deserve, are sticking to their guns and releasing some of the more peculiar, but nonetheless intriguing music of the day.

Meili Xueshan I&II, curated by the wonderfully named Hi-Hi-Whoopee, is an exemplary survey of the Internet's underground scene as it stands right now, featuring the likes of *ahem*: D/P/I, 18+, Foodman, AyGeeTee, Ahnnu, YYU, E+E, Diamond Black Hearted Boy, Giant Claw, Seth Graham, C V L T S, Sofa Pits (aka JCCG), but to name a handful. So, to you I say this; check this the hell out, and remember these names, because I have no doubt there'll be plenty more where these came from.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Review: Young Fathers

Young Fathers DEAD (Big Dada, 2014)

Ever since leaving Black Sugar Records in 2011, this Scottish alternative hip-hop trio have moved further and further from their self-proclaimed "psychedelic hip-hop boy band" sound and into a far darker realm of the genre, carrying with them their trademark percussive sound and ever-faithful young hipster fan base. DEAD perfectly embodies this vehement movement as it isn't only a showcase of their most emotion-heavy work to date, it is also a conscious blend of the group's mixed heritage of Nigeria, Liberia and Scotland, with proof of the latter coming through eminently in the droning bagpipe and military drum ridden opening track 'No Way' which sets the tone for the rest of the album; a raspy procession of intoxicating rhythm and blues numbers, with strong overtones of abstract hip-hop and intelligently cultivated production.

NME dubbed the band as being "locked somewhere between De La Soul and 3T, but re-imagined for the hipster generation." which is an undoubtedly fitting description as DEAD clearly wasn't created with the intention of appealing to mainstream audiences, it appears to be more of a statement of anti-genericism which is also a strong theme in De La Soul's critically acclaimed 1989 debut 3 Feet High And Rising. Despite the unconventional feel, however, all tracks bar one clock in at under 4 minutes long, making it a tightly wound project that is constantly shifting between the twisted and distorted beats that effortlessly merge together in a sonic frisson similar to that of the works of Seattle-based Shabazz Palaces.

Young Fathers' collective lyrical dexterity is among the strongest assets on this project, with powerful hooks and profound verses being an immanent feature throughout the album. A track that epitomises this literary mastery is 'War' which begins with the lyric "big fish little pond/more like a whale in the motherfucking ocean" to portray strong feelings of desperation and solitude before continuing to tell the story of a mother that lost her child through the tragedy of warfare; Massaquoi and Bankole don't make it a comfortable listen by any standards.

For me, DEAD is a paragon of the warped musical universe that Young Fathers have created through their immense communal understanding of the various genres that are explored in their work, and although it may not be their most mind-blowing album to date, it is distinguishable as a project that challenges the audience as well as pushing the boundaries of their own musical capabilities. With this in mind, the future holds much potential for Young Fathers, and it'll be more than interesting to see which route they continue down in forthcoming releases.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Review: Actress

Actress Ghettoville (Werkdiscs, 2014)

Sometimes, a new album comes out and questions my very relationship with music, and my own consumption of it. The last record that significantly challenged me in such a way was probably Far Side Virtual, James Ferraro's nightmarish ringtones-turned-performance-art dystopus (if I may invent a word for it). While a lot could be said about Ferraro's philosophical influences and conceptual insight, channeling Baudrillard, grime and Second Life, what made Far Side Virtual such a hellish cultural hallmark was that it reconfigured seemingly redundant sounds - MIDI, computer blips, the Wii start-up menu - into a Frankenstein-ian monstrosity of a generation's maximalist values. Beneath the chintz and the promises of the digital age, the scariest thing about Far Side Virtual was that it was grounded in reality; as noted by its creator, "people kind of live in it already."

What's the connection, then, between this ersatz album and Ghettoville, the latest (and possibly final) release from Darren Cunningham's Actress project? The niches carved out by the respective artists couldn't possibly be further from each other: while Ferraro crafted a claustrophobic, densely layered simulacra of new age synths and Garageband drum loops, the two preceding Actress albums have been spatial, micro-repetitious deconstructions of house and techno. Ghettoville, however, is an intriguing entry into Cunningham's artistic lexicon, as it forgoes the cosmic sonics of R.I.P and Splazsh and retreats into a congested, dusty headspace which recalls industrial music and crud-infused beat tapes.

Naturally, Ghettoville can be viewed as a direct sequel to Actress' slept-on debut album, Hazyville: not only in name, giving the impression of a release cycle coming to an end, but also in the atmospherics conjured up by Cunningham. If Hazyville spent the majority of its time shrouded in a mysterious fug, Ghettoville takes the haze to its logical extreme, with a scraping, scratchy aesthetic imposed on near-enough every last congenital fiber of the album. Moments of clarity are few and far between: this is a nebulous record, and as such it's possibly the most aurally challenging of Actress' transmissions to date.

Cunningham's deployment of vocal samples had always been subtle, a secondary aspect to the loops, beats and keys of the music itself, but Ghettoville subverts this by not only making vocals a central element of the sound, but in some instances the focal point of the track. Some commentators have noted the parallels between Actress' treatment of samples and the Internet micro-genre vaporwave, which similarly dislocates and reimagines vocal cuts from sources such as pop, RnB and soul. The vaporwave connection becomes an extremely significant one upon further examination: indeed, the aforementioned Far Side Virtual is very much stylistically attached to the vaporwave genre, and a notable element of the ethos of these enigmatic online presences (INTERNET CLUB, New Dreams Ltd. et al.) is that they explore our fascination with the Internet's convenience as a platform for distribution and the ensuing throwaway culture it consequently creates.

It's telling that one of the most poignant moments contained within Ghettoville is a simple vocal loop, accompanied by a three note progression. "Don't", which spans just over a minute in length, carries the intonation "Don't stop the music", possibly extracted from a rather ubiquitous pop artist. With the album's press release calling for music's eulogy, this track can be straightforwardly dissected: the "pseudo artists" run rampant, reducing the essence, the wonder of music into a hollowed-out void. No hope - "Zero satisfaction." The unbearable truth; the music will, at some point, stop.

The perceptive unity of what is actually a rather diverse release is a testament to Cunningham's hoodwinking approach to sound. Amidst the crushed sample-and-loop aesthetic, the sophisticated inner workings of Ghettoville will reveal themselves with intent listening: it's formed upon the basis of a ghostly shell of techno, fused with productions tics from the left-field. However, I still must ask myself - does Ghettoville question my relationship with music as Ferraro and the plucky web enigmas have? In a nutshell, yes. With what is possibly the final release in the Actress image, Cunningham has evoked a hopelessly bleak existence - the musical ghetto - and while our innate desire for music will continue, we are already living beyond music history. R.I.P Music 2014.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

New Music: Yong Yong

Here's the lowdown: if you're anything like me, you can't get enough of the Hype Williams sound. Crumbling synths, broken drum patterns, detatched vocals, all stitched together in a miasma of pop culture references - it's all good stuff in your book. You're also a little sad that Hype Williams appears to be no more, with what Dean and Inga seemingly severing ties (although this could just be an elaborate ruse - who knows?).

If the disbandment of Hype Williams has left you without a reason to be, then you should probably check out the new Yong Yong album, titled Greatest It's, for it may bring a ray of sunshine back into your miserable existence. Their debut statement Love was practically Hype Williams worship, but Greatest It's sees the mysterious Glasgow-via-Lisbon pair branch out into new territories, with some dreamy, almost Badalamenti-esque compositions and mutant, kush-cloud pop excursions. It's a rather beautiful thing, albeit said beauty is somewhat obscured beneath a hazy fug. Stream it in full below, and if you really wanna, you can purchase it from Boomkat.

Friday, 10 January 2014

New Music: Grapes (James Ferraro)

The ever-mystifying James Ferraro has been pretty hot damn prolific lately, and it would appear he's got a new alias as Grapes. The two tracks he's dropped thus far, "." and "Sherm", feature Jim rapping (for the first time?) over some woozy-ass instrumentals (definitely not the first time), replete with movie samples and sirens aplenty. Give them a listen below, and expect more to come from Grapes.


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

New Music: Young Scooter

It's been one year since the excellent Street Lottery dropped, and everybody's favourite coke-peddling Atlantan has returned for a sequel. The aptly-named Street Lottery 2 doesn't appear to have another "Columbia" on precursory listens, but there are gems littered throughout: the Future-assisted "Nuttin About It" and "Roadrunner 2" have been in rotation on my playlists of late. Barring a few clunkers - well, mainly "My Boys" - this is another solid tape, and it certainly whets the appetite for Scooter's debut proper, which should see the light of day before the year is up. Stream and download Street Lottery 2 below, courtesy of DatPiff.