Jøn Liefhold-Argusterfelder A-C: Album Review

Argusterfelder A-C cover art

On Argusterfelder A-C, soundscape artist Jøn Liefhold leaves the listener blissfully satisfied throughout while simultaneously amassing small pockets of tension that culminate into climactic peaks before jumping on to the next peaceful prairie of pleasant drone.  The delicate texture that surrounds each clean keyboard line changes the white tone color ever so slightly as tiny instances of nuance hypnotize the listener, allowing for huge swaths of time to fall by the wayside.  Perhaps the album dwells on certain ideas for a bit too long.  Sometimes thematic points repeat themselves for periods of five or six minutes, which certainly categorizes the piece as one that requires a large commitment in terms of focus.  However, the playful melodies pluck along different emotional strings just enough to continuously enthrall the listener with each gradual change of pace.

Each piece seems to have a certain moment where the bottom falls out; the bass line drops register a great deal leaving a lot of open space to play around with in the higher pitched sounds.  At around the four-minute mark in part A, the pulsating melodic idea from the beginning of the piece suddenly dissipates and a much cooler, low-pitched drone takes over as the main focus, with distortion highlighting the new-found bassy centerpiece.  By making this change happen so quickly, the piece is divided into two sections with starkly different moods.  The first breath of air in the beginning reads as infectiously optimistic, but this is put into question by the barren mystery evoked by the moodier sound in the second half.  In part B, something similar happens, but much faster, less than three minutes into the piece.  A bit more subdued than the change in the first track, here we find the already basic looping melody sucked into a scarce, ridged place, again suggesting a shift from kindhearted optimism to an air of uncertainty.  Although these instances of sudden change do not signify the only source of development, they help to break up the album further and specify memorable moments within the overall expanse of the piece.

That being said, Leifhold also presents a mastery of longstanding development particularly in the extremely expansive final track.  It would be somewhat fair to point out the roughly 90 second mark as well as the four-minute mark as areas of sudden change as discussed in the first two tracks, but the areas that surround them fit into each other much more cohesively and these instances hold less of a command over the way the track operates.  The soup of bright moods presented throughout the piece thrives on the swelling ups and downs of the different sounds involved.  By taking up much more space, Leifhold is able to give the music time to breath.  Change is a constant factor yet there is a comforting sense of stagnation.

An album like this cannot really be discussed without some consideration of accessibility.  At the end of the day, Leifhold is completely pushing himself away from the average listener, which isn’t an automatically honorable decision.  As far as this idiom goes, the piece does well to find a voice, but it does not completely carve a groundbreaking musical niche.  Aesthetically, many of these sounds have been used time and time again particularly by other artists on the Midnight Circles label (I’m reminded of the drone sounds of say Chemiefaserwerk).  Although the songs are well constructed, the cool, somewhat uninviting atmosphere detracts a bit from the memorability and emotional impact. Perhaps a bit more focus on melody would do well to improve the next piece.

-Donovan Burtan

Solid work but Leifhold could do a bit more melodically.

7/10

Vince Staples-Prima Donna: EP Review

Vince Staples is not one to be outdone by a beat.  Vince Staples also always seems to be rapping over the most vicious beat imaginable.  On his new EP Prima Donna, Staples follows up his expansive breakout album Summertime ’06 with a quick-hitting collection of verse heavy songs, the occasional catchy hook adding another element to the bouncy electronic atmosphere.  Again, Staples presents fantastic lyricism, depicting an introspective glance at his life and come up in the rap game.  The tape does fall into some of the typical follow-up EP traps.  The 20 minutes are filled to the brim with fast moving bangers and the sound aesthetic is only a shade more developed than Staples’ last project, however, it is nice to hear from him again and it is clear that he has a long career in front of him.

One of the additions to Staples’ sound is small vocal interludes, in which he lazily repeats phrases from his songs.  Although it is nice to hear something to contrast his usual aggressive style, admittedly these instances are a bit annoying.  The choice to begin the tape in this manner is also a bit questionable.  We first hear the dramatic click of a recording device then we hear Vince drone out the chorus from “This Little Light of Mine” for a long 42 seconds.  Luckily, we are immediately thrust into Staples’ typical deliciously produced sonic landscape with a brief verse from Andre 3000 on “War Ready.”  The impact is effortless yet powerful on this tune.  In retrospect there are really only like 3 or 4 tracks happening, but the bouncing keyboard melody fits into the minimalist drum set-up perfectly.  Next comes the catchiest tune on the EP.  Pulling a lot of sounds from alternative rock, “Smile” thrives on the combination of infectious guitar playing and a crunchy electronic vocal effect.  My only criticism of this song is how quick it flashes by.  Although the track is over four minutes long, it seems like Staples has exhausted all of his ideas by about 2:50, before dragging the listener through another vocal interlude.  The rest of the EP continues in a similar fashion. “Loco” features Staples unloading an impressive amount of words without even taking a breath, Kilo Kish adding a ghostly element to the dark overall texture.  A$AP Rocky has a similar effect on “Prima Donna,” with plenty of fierce verses to go around on the last two songs.

In accordance with Staples’ long form video for this work, the main subject material on this EP is fame.  On “War Ready,” the first verse makes connections between the black experience in America and situations of war, but the second touches upon how the rap game operates in a similar cutthroat manner.  Lines like “They only fucking with the rapper if the rapper rich/Or got a platinum hit” and “the music interchangeable” criticize the emphasis on short-lived, catchy songs rather than more well thought out lyrical pieces.  “Loco” provides an introspective narrative about what sounds like a slight breakdown at some point in Vince’s life.  First highlighting a sexual encounter with a fan of his music, Staples gets to the point of “staring in the mirror with a 44…having Kurt Cobain dreams,” implying suicidal tendencies.  Although certain aspects of his life have yielded him success, Vince clearly still finds himself wondering if he should keep going.  Perhaps a coincidence, Staples uses a similar lyrical device to Kendrick Lamar from his breakdown on To Pimp a Butterfly’s “U.”  Both songs feature a spanish-speaking female voice as a “housekeeper” knocking on the door as their episodes ensue.  Vince does not seem to be the one to intentionally steal an idea, but it’s hard for me to not draw comparison.

The EP certainly doesn’t lack artistry, but it’s hard to see a real separation between these songs and those of last year.  The hooks don’t make for a lot of replay value, verses are impressive, but lack newness, and the short vocal interludes add nothing more than length.  Big fans of Vince will certainly not be disappointed by Prima Donna as the production value and wordplay do remain strong, but it is certainly not a project that will be remembered for years to come.

-Donovan Burtan

Nice to hear from Vince again but I don’t think this will be remembered as one of his best efforts.

6.5/10

 

On the Monthly: August 2016

I know this is really late my bad.

Nao: For All We Know

“her wobbling funk music bounces with a certain fury giving her high, R&B vocals a smoldering impact”

Read the rest of the review here

Sylvie Courvaisier, Mark Feldman, Ikue Mori, and Evan Parker: Miller’s Tale

cover.jpg

“real effort for every sound to be justified, every raw melodic choice comes from a logical place making for a record that should appeal to most music fans”

Full Review here

Steve Lehman: Sélébéyone

S�l�b�yone album cover

“angular, modern-jazz melodies perfectly complement the jumping overtones of Gaston Bandimic’s flow with vivid production pulling from both idioms”

Full Review here

“emphasizes effortless, natural songwriting, each song sounding like an off-the-cuff melodic exploration”

Full Review

“Perhaps the album has some relatively lacking hooks, perhaps it over-emphasizes melancholy moodiness, but the return of Frank Ocean is certainly a spectacular feat”

Full Piece