Skepta is a big name in the Grime scene but he’s not one to waste words on ego construction. His flow remains straightforward. His beats hard-hitting and dance-able. On “Numbers” he dismisses the obsession on material worth instead seeking to prove his worth purely through his musical conviction. When faced with rappers who talk about their success, Skepta questions them, asking “Then how come they are never on tour?” He also asserts his dominance when he wonders “How [he’s] killin’ all these [guys] in the scene” towards the beginning of the song.
The assertive theme of the song matches the punchy nature of the beat. Generally speaking, Konnichiwa accomplishes an especially sleek sound aesthetic. Here the use of a very melodic bass line and simple snare hit keeps the beat smooth and subdued. Rather than over using these metallic, electronic sounds in the style of some of the world’s pop-EDM producers, Skepta avoids excess through his subtle rhythmic articulations rather than overly dense dance beats.
Konnichiwa serves as a great example of a quick moving album that remains intriguing from beginning to end. Skepta is a rough and tough character, but his production always remains very sleek and musical. By avoiding extremely active, slick sound stylings, Skepta sounds more convincing as he rips a big hole in the music scene around him.
Nick Fraser is a huge name in the canadian jazz scene. His exquisitely modern drum chops never cease to take risks making him a force to be reckoned with in the live setting. On his new album, Starer, Fraser takes his ensemble through a quick moving collage of various jazz sound aesthetics culminating in a release that values contrast without dwelling on specific ideas for too long.
One of the standout aspects of the album is it’s quick-hitting nature, a rare quality in the landscape of modern jazz. Although the album includes one song of over 10 minutes in length, Fraser wastes little time in his idea development, quickly moving from minimalist beginnings to high-energy final blows. The opening track “minimalism/416-538-7149” begins with quiet, oscillating plucked strings with Fraser himself playing a bit of a solo amongst the rhythm section. Eventually, saxophone player Tony Malaby joins in along with other sparring melodic moments from the rest of the ensemble.
Fraser’s drum chops are on display constantly. His textural approach to tom playing outlines the melodic developments perfectly without becoming too heavy. Also, he seems to have a true knack for rhythmic articulation in a non-specified rhythmic space. The album, as a whole, simply moves forward very well never remaining in stagnant, open-spaces for too long.
The group uses the two string musicians quite well. Along with Fraser’s drum conception, Andrew Downing and Rob Clutton add an interesting texture that matches the singing nature of Tony Malaby’s saxophone phrasing. Also, the idea of texture is reinforced by the ability of the ensemble to include both plucked Bass lines and elongated cello lines in the same space, which makes the absence of piano an afterthought.
Overall, Starer seemed to be a very well put together album on my first listen. Fraser’s ensemble takes risks and maintains a heightened sense of musicality throughout resulting in a sleek, modern release with little room for excess.
On his new album, Incantation Suite, Tony Malaby chases a minimal, contemporary sound with a band of heavy weight jazz musicians including Ben Monder, Elvind Opsvik, and Nasheet Waits. Beginning with the slow introduction of each member of the ensemble, the Incantation Suite eventually introduces the band’s leader in the form of a high pitched sax squeal that fades into the mix out of nowhere. Certainly the centerpiece, Tony Malaby then leads the band through an extensive composition with mixed results. The album somewhat dances along the line of free and swung with highs and lows showcasing little dynamic-ism resulting in an album that lacks spice or groove, in what seems to be an uncharacteristically stale album release from Tony Malaby.
One of the issues with the album seems to be the lack of commitment and cohesiveness between the member of the ensemble. There are pieces of the album that seem to be chasing ambient minimalism with Ben Monder’s electronic playing and generally subdued nature, but this doesn’t seem to fit in with Malaby’s sound conception very well as he can be found digging in to heavy swing grooves. Rather than both of them deciding to value high energy swing or minimal ambiance, the group accomplishes this strange middle ground, making the album fall very flat.
Particularly on “Artifact” the issue of Tony Malaby and Ben Monder not communicating with each other causes significant issues in aesthetic. The piece begins with a lackadaisically executed song form of sorts eventually launching into Monder’s solo. Monder takes a laid-back approach lightly dancing atop the groove established by the rhythm section. Malaby is given the throne next. Here, we find the rhythm section slowly gaining momentum into more high-intensity swing playing (the use of double time comes up around the five minute mark). The issue with the song is that at the end of this solo, Monder slowly implicates electronic work lulling the song to a very awkward stop, which ruins the effect of the intensity of Malaby’s playing. Despite the fact that contrasting pairs of players can lead to fascinating results, these two members of the ensemble seem to nonsensically pull apart from each other.
The lack of commitment in sound aesthetic seems to effect the development of the pieces on the album as well; the climactic points of the work are simply not very exciting. For example, “Hive” spends too much time exploring vast expanses of empty space only giving the audience screeching excitement at the very end of the piece. Also, the same basic song development tactic is immediately used again in the next tune, “Procedure,” furthering lack of spark on the album.
Perhaps deeper listens will allude to more enjoyment, but I simply felt quite bored listening to this album. The album both doesn’t fully commit to a swing sound or a free sound resulting in a bland overall aesthetic with strange communicative choices between Tony Malaby and Ben Monder.
“Wolfe’s beautifully reverberated voice is the only source of light in her black sonic landscape forged by punching distortion and primal drumming”
“The genre of Chelsea Wolfe is a bit hard to put down. In 2015 she released Abyss, an album that epitomized her turn from a darkly tinged folk artist into a full-fledged member of the gothic rock community. Although the music was dark and powerful, her slow tempos and vocal delivery still hearkened back to the days of her more folk-related stylings. The title of this album serves as the best possible description of her music, Wolfe’s beautifully reverberated voice is the only source of light in her black sonic landscape forged by punching distortion and primal drumming. On May 16th at the Fairmount Theatre in Montreal, Wolfe showcased the ability of her music to translate to the live setting. The night was surreal. Wolfe effortlessly combined her creepy, Halloween themed vocal whisperings with the smashing capabilities of her band, switching between unsettling intimacy and apocalyptic destruction constantly.”
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“effortlessly combines guitar-based rock music with sounds of Montreal’s underground resulting in one of the most interesting contemporary releases of the first half of the year”
“On their new album, Hold/Still, Suuns take darkness as their muse, filtering their post-punk creations through a dimly-lit room with industrial electronics and distorted rock grooves delivering heavy punches on the listener. The whole album finds uniqueness in its ability to combine dense production tactics with unpredictable songwriting. Certain moments value building tension as synthesizers crackle with distortion highlighting the driving beats. Rather than sending the subdued tension into the territory of raging, guitar-heavy choruses, the band seeks contrast in their ability to create visceral atmospheres for their lead singer’s enlightening falsetto. The band effortlessly combines guitar-based rock music with sounds of Montreal’s underground resulting in one of the most interesting contemporary releases of the first half of the year.”
On The Impossible Kid Aesop Rock offers a collection of highly detailed narratives over his guitar-heavy underground hip hop sound aesthetic. The production highlights Aesop’s rhythmically advanced flows making for a very smooth, cohesive piece.
Lyrically, the album touches upon themes of Aesop Rock’s history of isolation. On “Dorks,” Aesop finds himself discussing the characters he’s met in the rap game and makes a point about how artistic people seem to find it hard to fit in: “I think we’re all a bunch of weirdos on a quest to belong.” Aesop paints a mysterious aura about him with the line, “Always been a private dude who couldn’t keep a tally of which lies to tell who” from his song “Supercell. Beside these thematic points, Aesop weaves stories in excruciating detail. On “Blood Sandwich,” Aesop gives insight to his family life through a basic story about a little league baseball game. In this particular instance, Aesop’s brother is in the outfield being distracted by some sort of animal, which frustrates his couch as he allows a homerun to pass him by: “New left fielder give a fuck about a homer/Got a homie, little rodent, head and shoulders out his hovel.” He then makes a connection between his brother’s cluelessness and his grandmother’s cluelessness as his grandmother continuously shouts “Go Cubs” throughout the song; Aesop then specifies that the “Cubs ain’t playing.”
As far as production goes Aesop favors darkly tinged soundscapes very heavily leaving little room for contrasting ideas or standout tracks. Distorted guitars and reverberated synthesizer sounds are rampant throughout. The beats are generally very acoustic sounding avoiding the electronically tinged trap beats of modern hip hop, resulting in a somewhat throwback sound. His lack of vocal features allows for the album to remain subdued throughout, but he also doesn’t create any ear worm hooks or standout tracks. Although catchy hooks aren’t necessarily a requirement for good songwriting, Aesop’s sound also isn’t very experimental or unique resulting in an album that’s fun to listen to, but not very memorable.
Overall, the album seemed to serve as a good rundown of where Aesop Rock is as an artist. He’s a strong producer and lyricist. The album entertains from beginning to end, however, it’s certainly not breaking all of the rules or providing the world with any radio hits.