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.

Swans To Be Kind (Young God)

Some three decades since their inception, and Michael Gira's Swans still continue their forward march into realms of transcendence. To Be Kind arrives without the "culmination" baggage that came with 2012's The Seer, but even then there is a palpable feeling of completeness that courses through the veins of this record, a coalescence of the musical concepts that Gira has been toying with throughout Swans' career. The band's intense, pummeling repetition is present here, but never employed as a means of stasis; repetition becomes the platform for musical dynamism and complex, polyrhythmic structures, capturing Gira's refusal to cohere with familiar artistic templates. Above all, To Be Kind is less dread-inducing than it is celebratory, embracing the kind of ecstatic, physical release seemingly unheard in the music of Swans before now. Pre-release whispers of this album ranking as one of Swans' best yet seemed hyperbolic, but after spending time with To Be Kind, it becomes clear that perhaps this sentiment isn't so far from the truth after all.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib Piñata (Madlib Invazion)

Piñata has been cited by Tiny Mix Tapes reviewer, Gabriel Samach, as being 'the next Madvillainy', received a solid 8.0 from Pitchfork and is looking set to feature on most music critics' Album of the Year lists; an impressive feat for up-and-coming trap-hop MC Freddie Gibbs and none less for Madlib, a straight-up legendary name in the world of instrumental hip-hop. Naturally, hearing of an album with such impressive critical acclaim forces elements of scepticism to seep into one's mindset, but after listening through to the final track, an eponymous cypher featuring the likes of Meechy Darko of Flatbush ZOMBiES and Odd Future's Domo Genesis, I could only find myself asking myself how Piñata didn't manage to bag itself a 'best new music' seal of approval. The raw intensity of Gibbs' rapping style married with Madlib's genius expertise on the boards truly takes your breath away in places, with the production being easily comparable to that on classic hip-hop releases such as Madvillainy and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., making it a liberating listen for rap fans of any persuasion.

Brood Ma P O P U L O U S (Quantum Natives)

The inaugural release from a label that cites a Dummy magazine article on the "underground noise network" of London as something of a prologue should be intriguing enough on that merit alone. Even then, there is something admirably unique about P O P U L O U S, released on May Day as a free download. Brood Ma, so the press goes, is a "fractured, cybergothic nexus of tropes from weird literature, dystopian rave and high technology". Sounds about right to these ears; for all of its 25 minute-or-so runtime, P O P U L O U S keeps it suitably twisted, with percussive clatter splayed across industrial squall at just about every turn, echoing the combative aesthetic presented by the Quantum Natives label themselves.

Future Honest (Epic/A-1/Freebandz)

As far as 2014 is concerned, hip-hop is at it's most diverse stage since coming into existence in New York in the early 70's due to increasing variety in the genre; major-key synth newcomers Sicko Mobb introducing 'bop' from the streets of Chicago and artists such as Yung Lean experimenting with growingly fashionable 'cloud rap' being two fine modern examples of this expansion of the hip-hop subculture. Future's Honest is reminiscent of this ongoing change in direction with stripped-back auto-tuned vocals and boastful gangsta rap lyrics, but as opposed to being part of this generic movement away from the early sounds of the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Rock Steady Crew, Honest feels like the beginning of an entirely new movement in itself.  The mellow R&B guitar riffs on the sixth single, "I Won", give the album a wholesome feel as Metro Boomin's melodic pop-rap production breaks up the trap fuelled anthems in order to display the sincerity and contemporary beauty in Future and Kanye West's auto-tuned voices, but then the album soon returns to it's Southern rap influences with "Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)" featuring one of Andre 3000's most stellar verses of the decade thus far, emphasising why this album is one of the most important releases of 2014.

The Body I Shall Die Here (RVNG Intl.)

Calling The Body's new album 'horrific' might be selling it a little short; after all, it's probably just about what one would expect from a record with "I SHALL DIE HERE" emblazoned across the cover in block-capitals. All-out horror aside, there's an ominously oppressive ambience about I Shall Die Here. It is certainly thanks in part to the presence of Bobby Krlic (aka The Haxan Cloak) on the production boards, who launches wave upon wave of rippling sub-bass and delivers almost power electronics-esque programming in parts. Ultimately, however, it is the duo themselves who contribute most significantly; Lee Buford with his slow, punishing drumming style, and Chip King's guitar sludge and utterly, maniacally depraved vocal delivery. There is the occasional respite in the form of an ambient passage of seething guitar and bass, but terror always reigns throughout I Shall Die Here.

YG My Krazy Life (Pu$haz Ink/CTE World/Def Jam)

YG's debut major label release is everything that you'd expect it to be; punchy hook lines revolving around various illicit activities, numerous references to the 24 year old rapper's home town, "Bompton", and none other than DJ Mustard on the beat, hoe. Of course, this description is relatively generic in the sense that it could be used to describe an awful lot of West Coast hip-hop albums over the past 20 years, and perhaps that's what makes it a fitting one as My Krazy Life isn't technically too dissimilar to releases such as Nipsey Hu$$le's Crenshaw or High Times by Young Dro, but YG's unrefined and gritty flow gives the album a far more hard-edged and ruff-n-ready feel than most rap releases of recent times. Tracks such as "My Nigga" featuring Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan, the latter being an upcoming emcee recognised by XXL's Freshmen 2014, epitomise this bold attitude with lyrics such as "me and my nigga riding dirty, tryna chase them figures" characterising the track as being a title release from a Young Gangsta that certainly doesn't want to be messed with, and after this first-rate debut release, I can't imagine that he will be.

copeland Because I'm Worth It (Self-released)

Inga Copeland isn't one for grand statements, so it's rather appropriate that her debut solo LP Because I'm Worth It is tantalisingly brief at just under half-an-hour in length. She has shown she is capable of fantastic vocal pop - see last year's Don't Look Back, That's Not Where You're Going EP - so the decision to explore the murkier territory of her Higher Powers mixtape comes as a welcome one. Some tracks forgo vocals almost entirely, such as the claustrophobic shuffle of  "insult 2 injury" or the searing tones of "Faith OG X", and it's clear that she is attempting to forge new ways with her voice on cuts that do feature it, in particular the spoken-word narrative "advice to young girls" (a collaboration with Actress). You can't shake the feeling that the copeland project will remain in flux, unlikely to ever be truly resolved, but as long as it makes for affecting manoeuvres like Because I'm Worth It, I don't think anybody can complain.

Nick Mulvey First Mind (Universal)

As a singer-songwriter fan boy, learning that one quarter of Portico Quartet, a band nominated against the likes of Radiohead and Burial for the 2008 Mercury Prize, would be releasing a solo album that would consist of little more than his own voice and the sound of an acoustic guitar, it is fair to say that I was more than interested. After discovering this, Mulvey then appeared on BBC's 22-year-young talent goldmine 'Later... with Jools Holland' performing the easy-listening second track "Fever To The Form", showcasing his unconventional fingerpicking patterns through Cuban style riffs and catchy chord changes; if it wasn't already clear that the album would be a success on the proviso that Portico Quartet were an incredibly influential band for almost 10 years, then it damn sure became it after this performance. First Mind is a clean cut album with underlying naturalistic tones similar to those coming through on Ben Howard's Every Kingdom, but more importantly has unique qualities that sets Nick Mulvey apart from the rest, from the punchy acoustic introductions on songs such as "Juramidam" to the quirky patterns in the album's liner notes. A truly quintessential singer-songwriter piece.

Sd Laika That's Harakiri (Tri Angle)

Harakiri; the ritual act of suicide performed by disgraced samurai, disembowelment by their own blade. This violent imagery, along with the grotesque monochromatic album cover, sets the tone nicely for Sd Laika's new full-length for Tri Angle, home to a fair few //APEX favourites including Forest Swords, Evian Christ and Balam Acab. That's Harakiri operates as a deconstruction of grime and bass music, side-stepping conventional structure in favour of propulsive, hostile riddims and bludgeoning percussion. Despite being lumped in with the new wave of grime producers - Logos, Jam City et al. - Sd Laika's sound is a total antithesis to the skeletal aesthetics that are so characteristic of the scene, with thick layers of static hiss and congested drum patterns forming the basis of much of the album. Suffice to say, That's Harakiri is hardly a feelgood record for the floor, but it does fulfill its titular promise of violently disassembling any preconceived notions of the grime genre, and as such forges a unique position for itself in an already-diverse movement.

Ratking So It Goes (XL) 

Concerning the influences of their debut release, Ratking have ultimately steered clear of the ever-developing Flatbush sounds emerging from the New York hip-hop scene, and by doing so have put together an anarchistic album that is almost incomparable in terms of the energy that it emanates, and also in terms of the post-punk vibes that truly separates it from the common boom bap tendencies of the current decade. In a nutshell, it's a typical release from an XL Recordings artist; a wholesome project that effortlessly flows from track to track, spewing anecdotal memories left-right-and-centre whilst being firmly backed by rugged percussive loops and dreamy guitar riffs. If you're a fan of Young Fathers then this is the band for you.

Fennesz Bécs (Editions Mego)

Christian Fennesz's Endless Summer has to proven to be one of the most enduring releases in his vast body of work, a sun-kissed ode to the Beach Boys' pop whimsy performed through an acoustic guitar and DSP software. Over a decade removed from the album's 2001 release, Fennesz has given this landmark a "conceptual follow-up" in Bécs, marking a return not only to the Mego/Editions Mego roster, but also to the evocative style that Endless Summer presented way back when; eddying, shimmering guitar textures and abstracted pop structures, capturing the playful spirit of summer whilst simultaneously retaining a sonic curiosity that only an artist of Fennesz's caliber could create.

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

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... 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. Full review

Amen Dunes Love (Sacred Bones)

The notion of "love" contained within the latest album from Damon McMahon's Amen Dunes project could be approached from a number of vantage points. It's clear that the actual process of recording Love was decidedly more laboured than the improvisational nature of his previous releases, with an impressive cast of collaborators (Colin Stetson, Elias Bender-Ronnenfelt of Iceage and production from Efrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and a noticeably cleaner-cut sound than any preceding Amen Dunes record. This meticulous, loving process bleeds into the nature of the music itself; far removed from the cold and confrontational Through Donkey Jaw, Love is a blissful collection of open, almost confessional songs which ruminate over life and, of course, love, told through gently meandering instrumentals and McMahon's stirring warble.

Todd Terje It's Album Time (Olsen)

Readers, I bring you one of the finest albums of the second quarter of 2014, which is also a contender for the worst album art of... well, ever. However, don't be dissuaded by the poorly drawn clip art portraying a Nordic middle-aged man that hasn't yet been told that ABBA aren't cool any more, because although the album content is also very pop-based in that it's punchy and easily-accessible, it's very much a rarity for the simple reason that it feels like it's taking the entire pop sound forward via a euphoric space disco movement as opposed to conforming to mainstream needs. It's Album Time is a strikingly nostalgic record with many tracks such as "Delorean Dynamite" sounding like they belong on a 1980s game show, and although these synth-driven pieces are enjoyed almost ironically at times, it would be wrong to even begin to claim that they aren't enjoyable.

Ben Frost A U R O R A (Mute)

"Cinematic". It's something of a critical cliché, overused to the point of meaninglessness, and yet it still feels totally applicable to the expertly-paced music of Ben Frost (indeed, he has composed a number of soundtracks over the past couple of years). With records like 2009's By the Throat under his belt, Frost has demonstrated his ability to create and sustain musical tension, as well as unleash moments of pure cacophony and searing, white-hot noise. This hasn't changed all that much for A U R O R A, albeit this time around Frost has traded away the classical instrumentation of his previous efforts for more synthetic textures; this makes for a record that swings in ambiance from unsettling to euphoric, and just about everywhere in between, all without losing that trademark intensity.

Teebs E s t a r a (Brainfeeder)

E s t a r a is a blissful album by any standards, with 40 minutes worth of down-tempo ambient glitch hop weaving effortlessly together and forming a collage of serene sounds similar to those on Boards of Canada's prestigious 1998 release Music Has The Right To Children. No, it doesn't have the same next-generation edge that Collections 01 has, and it isn't a particularly attention-grabbing album due to it's 'background music' nature, but if you're looking for something to whack on whilst you're tucking into a candlelit dinner for two, Teebs has the answer in E s t a r a.

Sleaford Mods Divide and Exit (Harbinger Sound)

Although you might immediately recall the Fall in Jason Williamson's nigh-on spoken word rantings and the elemental, repetitious guitar-and-drums of Andrew Fearn's backing tracks, Sleaford Mods present a style which actually shares a lot with more contemporary genres: you can almost hear the unapologetic rawness of Original Pirate Material or Enter the Wu-Tang seeping through the post-punk riffage. Following last year's underrated Austerity Dogs, the duo have sharpened up their respective tools for their new album Divide and Exit. It's an evolutionary step for the band; slightly cleaner production-wise (although still astutely ruff-n-ready) and just as provocative, fierce and occasionally straight-up hilarious lyrically. The deeply rooted sociopolitical contempt that runs throughout Divide and Exit makes it a brutally honest statement, and at just under 40 minutes in length it doesn't outstay its welcome either.

tUnE-yArDs Nikki Nack (4AD)

Merrill Garbus, otherwise known as tUnE-yArDs, has always been known for her extravagant idiosyncrasies, from the primal screams that she emits on tracks such as "Bizness" to her knack (get it?) of working in harmony alongside some of the greatest contemporary sound-engineers in the industry, this time being Malay, Frank Ocean's recording technician on the critically acclaimed album channel ORANGE. Nikki Nack epitomises this quirkiness by pulling together and refining the characterising features of Garbus' sophomore album, w h o k i l l, and combining them with her re-established love for syncopated drums and dissonant euphony after studying drumming with Haitian-born teacher Daniel Brevil to merge together a playful mish-mash of playground songs and cacophonous anthems. It's not an album to take lightly, and certainly not an album that invites you into its harsh but colourful realms, but as far as art-pop goes, it's an absolute gem of a listen.

Jason Lescalleet Much to My Demise (Kye)

The analog medium, by its very nature, captures a certain juncture in time, one that is to be lost thereafter; however slight the degradation may be, a vinyl record will never retain the same fidelity as it did previously. Jason Lescalleet doesn't only acknowledge this fact on Much to My Demise, but he actively exploits it by consciously exposing his chosen tape reels to the elements, and even goes as far as to bury them in soil. The three tracks collected from the resulting tape document a tangible sense of loss and decay, with random glitches and noises permeating the entire recording. At times violent and haunting, at others serene, Much to My Demise is a sonic lamentation on the senescence of the analog form, the smouldering embers of musical purity.

Michael Jackson XSCAPE (Epic)

Posthumous albums have never particularly been anything worth looking forward to, especially considering that some of the most impressive ones released in recent years have been 2Pac's Better Dayz and Notorious B.I.G's Born Again; two over-hyped hip-hop albums that just felt... dead, I guess. The creativity and innovative nature of the two legends was lost in tracks that even sound engineers with as reputable a name as DJ Premier, a record producer that has worked with the likes of Kanye West, Fat Joe, Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z to name a few, could not stop sounding hollow and lifeless. XSCAPE, on the other hand, is an album that has never felt more alive. Tracks like "Slave To The Rhythm" really embody Jackson's energy and enthusiasm that encapsulated his early albums, with Bad being the most characterising example, and combined with the producing prowess of Timberland, the album was almost destined to break the trend of monotonous posthumous releases.

No comments:

Post a Comment