Young Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller has had a busy year– he signed to Rostrum Records in 2010 after building a buzz as one half of the rap group The Ill Spoken. Since 2011 began he’s released two mixtapes and On And On And Beyond, Mac’s latest addition to the world of suburban teenage stoner rap.
“Live Free” with one of the best trumpet lines since “SpottieOttieDopalicious”
On And On And Beyond is a breeze, and showcases Mac’s ability to write a few slick rhymes and appeal to a market that gets often overlooked– white kids who can’t relate to gangsta rap but despise Asher Roth. To get a handle on his demographic, here are a few lines from “Another Night”:
“That’s what usually happens/
Deserve some cool relaxin’/
Smokin’ herb and laughin’/
At Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Mac can reference Family Guy, the Beatles, and Fandango without irony or self-consciousness, and even his ‘when I’m old on the block’ track is surprisingly well-conceived for a kid who’s still not old enough to cop a a tallboy of PBR (legally) from the corner store. Plus, what other rapper would call himself “the cat’s pajamas”? Mac has the potential to be great.
The whole EP has a more-than-faint hint of mediocrity about it. Mac’s flow is competent but not impressive, the production is mostly generic, the subject matter predictable, and the lyrics dip too often into yearbook messages of self-reliance not too far off a Taylor Swift chorus. At times he sounds like the junior college version of label-mate Wiz Khalifa, or like Drake if he had tried rapping from his wheelchair on Degrassi.
There is a place in the world for laidback, lowkey, semi-SFW hip-hop, and guaranteed a shedload of high schoolers in PA are bumping this from their ’99 Civics. And not for bad reason. You can nod your head to it, and as long as you don’t listen too closely it’s worth several spins. Hey, it could be far worse. At least it’s not Asher Roth.
Dam Mantle (Tom Marshallsay) is an electronic artist from Glasgow who is good at fitting a lot of sound samples into as many places as possible. In listening to this album I have found that he is both a great musician and has a great knowledge of genres. I hear a lot of blips and bleeps, of course, but also hear more subtle references to post-rock and classical orchestration. His songs are interesting and dynamic, but when you put them into a formula for a full length album, what comes out is the equivalent of Richard James’, “ΔMi−1 = −αΣn=1NDi[n][Σj∈C[i]Fji[n − 1] + Fexti[n−1]]”. If that equation made you giddy, you will love this album.
Marshallsay succeeds at using sounds in ways that don’t become obnoxious if you listen to a song, take a break, and then return for another. The opener, “A Statue” is a really fun electronic track that would be playing in Santa’s sleigh if he was privy on the UK scene. “Rebound” takes off where Christmas left off with a harpy electro-vibe that is equivalent to opening a treasure chest in Zelda 64. I love the way he inserts everything from chimes to slippery vocals in his music. In “Gray”, I dug the 8-bit spurts and the tapping of spoons against cups. This music can be really interesting if you listen to it in sittings. Marshallsay knows how to layer the craziest cake, and the sounds never seem forced. I can dig this stuff…yeah, I can totally dig this stuff.
Fast forward to track five and I’m completely exhausted. I feel like I’ve been playing Mega Man for hours, and it has only been a few minutes. This is just too much to put into an album, so it becomes something other than an album. This sort of music shouldn’t be compiled, but enjoyed in fragments. In trying to create a full length out of his material, Marshallsay is doing his work an injustice. I don’t doubt his creativity and prowess, but I am completely exhausted. Although “13 Movement” gave me a much-needed reprieve with orchestration, it wasn’t enough to bring my nerves back down. That being said, the biggest criticism I can give to this album is: it shouldn’t be an album. I know that albums are expected by today’s standards, but if you are making the type of music that Mantle is making, is it necessary? This is an “album review”, and as an album, it doesn’t work too well. I didn’t feel like the tracks melded together in a symphonic way – they all went their separate ways.
If you can keep up with the layers and sporadic sound sampling, you might really enjoy this album. But, I guarantee if you don’t take a break, it is easy to become overwhelmed. It was too much for me. Is it too much for you? This is something you will have to decide for yourself. Just be wary of the amount of energy this album takes out of you if you listen to the tracks back to back. I might revisit a few in the future, but never play the album through again.
Empty Space Orchestra is a spacey instrumental group from Oregon. Maybe I just don’t have the taste for space, but this album, apart from the occasional drum punches, sounds completely uninspired.
Here’s A Jingle For You
Songs like “Tiger Puss” show a bit of post-rock talent hidden beneath the rest of the album. “Clouds” shows a tad less artificiality and has a decent riff, but still not amazing. My favorite part of listening to this album was the drumming from Lindsey Elias, which was very good. It is definitely spacey post-rock, which, for what it’s worth, delivers. Composition in tracks like “Clouds” is what really makes the record jump out. As with any instrumental band, if there is a good riff in there, it can drive a song into something more fruitful.
The melodies are usually bland. “Intergalactic Battle Cruiser” is a great example of how the album sounds. Everything from the guitars to the horns sound like they were found on a copy of Windows Media Player Jingles 1992. In fact, I almost thought they were having a go with Ska until I heard the rest of the album. Later, “Tennessee Red” throws a couple of pseudo-dive bombs, which is fun in a Dream Theater kind of way – it just isn’t nearly as refined.
I can’t figure out if these guys met at a Battlestar Galactica convention or an ELO concert. The album is a very scatterbrained and just doesn’t know where it wants to go. The musicians are talented, but they are not utilizing their talent in a tangible way or with production that would spurt their project onward instead of backward. The nail in the coffin for me were the instrument effects that got really cheesy. If that didn’t exist, I think my outlook on the album would have been a lot different.
I was thinking about our best of lists from 2009 and 2010 and how many albums do I still listen to. One album, David Bazan’s Curse Your Branches, was one I still very much enjoy. There is this poetic nature lyrically that is accented instrumentally. Although the formula is simple, like a risotto, it’s quite easy to screw it up if you don’t do it right. Sometimes it comes off lazy. Sometimes it comes off as overcooked. Sometimes it’s overpowered with flavor profiles that just dumb down the actual poor performance. However, there is this appreciation that sets in when you finally find something that is comparable to the greatest you’ve tasted before.
Honest Engines has that sort of David Bazan, slow-core vibe. One half is something very Pedro the Lion and the other half is something very Good Old War. How well do these Chicago natives put all of these parts together? Well…
Listen to “French Song” below
There is this core to this band that is felt straight from the onset of this song. It might be due to the live recording of this album. It might just be due to the complete chemistry these four Chi-town bandits have together. There is no questioning that they have that intangible that is hard to describe in sounds… you really just have to hear it. Something that is indicative of a great live show is the intangible chemistry between members. I haven’t seen these guys before, but I mean… I also haven’t seen The Roots live before and I hear they are pretty good live. On a liar’s note: I actually have seen The Roots before. If you are as good as those guys live, then you are doing something very, very correct.
Another pro is the amount of variety on this EP without losing out on the context of the band. I am not lost from track to track. Some EPs, bands try to fit too much in to profile what they are trying to do. These guys either planned very smartly for this EP or innately have this built into the band. There is a core that can only be explained through the intangible of chemistry between members. The only other explanation is if one of these guys are the primary song writer who makes one type of music very well and the others are robots. But I have a strange feeling that Honest Engines are more along the side of people than they are machine.
There are times when the album has a sort of jam-like feel to it that isn’t necessarily important to the songs. Sometimes, during extremely short durations, there are moments where I’m thinking “where the hell is this going?” and I am not led to that discovery until a few long seconds later. The variety of the songs sort of remedies my impatience, but only to an extent. The jam band thing isn’t what I’m looking for. Even poems drag on if you do it wrong.
There are smart production quips these four men have a knack for. There are also intangibles that these men have that great bands also possess. The tightness in the songwriting needs to be a few seconds shorter. The entire album itself only makes my mouth water for a longer album. Between now and whenever that LP comes out, I hope these guys write some of the best songs of their lives… because they are definitely on track to.
Robotanists are dreamscape designers who know how to make a great, great record. Sarah Ellquist, Daniel DeBlanke, Preston Scott Phillips, and Keith Boyarsky comprise the quartet. This is one of the most elegant and well-produced dream-pop releases I have heard in quite a while. This is the same band who created their own rendition of “King of Limbs” with a turnaround time that would make your head spin. There is so much beauty here to digest, so lets dive right in.
Listen To My Favorite Track
Sarah Ellquist’s vocals are gorgeous. They compliment the record as Karin Dreijer Andersson did with The Knife. Robotanists do not rely on electronica as much as Andersson’s projects, but the comparison is definitely there. Songs like the subtle “Terminal A” begin with smooth and stealing spaced out guitars. Where is my mind? There is so much Pixies flowing here (in a good way). Pardon my gushing, but “The Lack Thereof”, in my humble opinion, is the best track on the entire album. It begins with a country twang, transitions into melodic-ballad heaven, and crescendos into spacey bliss that is something you would hear from Philip Glass. The melody snowballs into echoey euphoric vocals that sent chills down my spine. “Plans in Progress” has a lot of chord play that is reminiscent of Radiohead‘s OK Computer or even Amnesiac material – moody bridges that always keep you guessing. I know the band has received a lot of critical analysis saying their sound is similar to Florence & The Machine. There is a big difference when you listen to tracks that share that vague similarity, like, “The Ghost You’re Haunting”. Apparent is a lot more artistic restraint on the band’s part which, in turn, is more avant-garde than Florence’s discography.
I wanted to see more of the orchestration and melodic vibes “The Lack Thereof” delivered for me. The layers in that song and composition were phenomenal. If there was a little more of that orchestrated vigor in “Plans and Progress”, for instance, I would have been a lot more keen on that track.
This is a great album that is full of surprises. As I said earlier, the band reminded me of The Knife in their execution. Their dreamy energy is sexy. They represent such a wide respect for so many genres of music and know how to weave them together. This is much more interesting to me than anything Florence & The Machine have produced and has a smooth sound that make replaying the tracks effortless and enjoyable. With indie being such a broad genre these days, a sensual treat like this is really hard to come across. You wouldn’t want to miss this.
Also check out their take on Radiohead’s King of Limb’s. You can find it here.
So how about this Blake Rice character, huh? Guy’s some kind of god damn superhero, showing up on the 402 scene and killing it this week. If he can keep up even half this pace, 402 is going to EXPLODE. Also, I am back on the case– was just elbow deep in other work for a while. So to start this week’s digs session, let’s go to our newest friend, Blake!
Screens – Dead House
Let me tell you something about Screens, they have a lot of talent and are capable of digging up some graves in the post-punk genre… Bauhaus would be so proud of this project. In fact, I’m proud of this album and I don’t even like the genre.
Chase & Status – No More Idols
I’m still recovering from listening to the album and will probably have it on repeat for the rest of the week. Every track is absolute club bliss. This is going in as album of the year material. Check out the video for “End Credits”, featuring UK acoustic grimer Plan B:
V/A – Monterey International Pop Festival 1967
These four discs could easily have been three (really, Lou Rawls, you can shut up now), but it’s worth the extra length to hear Jimi Hendrix cover “Like A Rolling Stone” or Mama Cass be Mama Cass at the pinnacle of her career.
Atmosphere – The Family Sign
I love Ant and Slug. I don’t love this album all that much, but there are a handful of very bright moments here. If I can avoid getting trapped by video games or (too much) booze this weekend, I’ll have a review up soon. For now, watch a doggy get sad in “Just For Show”.
Watashi Wa – Lost a Few Battles… Won the War
I was always interested in what these guys sounded like back when I was in high school… but their albums were never in the bins at Amoeba Music (my go-to album place). Particularly, there was this live image of one of the guitarists sporting a guitar with three hot rails… and I thought that was really cool.
Alvin Pingol videos
He covers Pogo remixes VERY WELL. Check it out!
“No More Idols” is a raving lunatic of an album and extremely accessible. Chase & Status (Saul Milton and Will Kennard / AKA the UK producers from heaven) jumped onto the scene 5 years ago and have had it by the throat ever since. To call this album a pleasure to listen to is an understatement. I haven’t reacted to a D&B album like this since, well I don’t remember. This album will completely wreck you if you like your electronic, drum & bass, and grime straight from the UK garage. They have been compared to bands like Pendulum, but after listening to this album (and also being a big fan of Pendulum), I can safely say they have them in a headlock.
Grab A Big Sub
What I loved most about this album is the progression in each track. The songs build off of each other in a masterful way. The opener “No Problem” is a modest introduction and sets you out on an electronic footrace with reggae infused drum & bass. The 3rd track “Let You Go” IS the best club track of the year so far. There is absolutely no comparison. It slaps so hard my teeth almost fell out only after sending chills through my body. Sweet Jesus, as soon as I can catch this track with a big sub, it will be bliss. Then BOOM! they hit you with the soulful and unbelievably dreamy “Blind Faith” with a little grime and a lot of trance. The Pendulum comparison is most apparent in “Fool Yourself”. The transition is a lot like Propane Nightmares and holds that same Pendulum-caliber intensity.
Ready? Lets jump in for more.
The appropriately named “Heavy” is (in my humble opinion) the grimiest track on the album. The bass on this track slaps so hard it will make your head cave in. The last track I’ll visit is the ethereal “Flashing Lights”. This track is grimy as hell with breakbeats brought to you from the streets of UK, and UK only.
There are no cons here. Every track is absolute club bliss.
This is going in as album of the year material. I’m still recovering from listening to the album and will probably have it on repeat for the rest of the week. It is too bad I missed their show in San Francisco in early April. I suggest you offer up your right leg to see their next show; I would let them take both of mine for a time machine.
Aderlating means “blood letting” in Dutch. These guys are an experimental black metal band from the Netherlands; a land that has bred a lot of great metal in its day. The truth is, if you were in Mordor (hypothetically of course), and set up a microphone in the main tavern at 2 AM when the drinks stop being served (assuming they abide by our law), you would have the hour that is this album.
Here’s a Noise
Did you know that aderlating means “blood letting” in Dutch?
Where is the black metal? I get the experimental, but where is the black metal? With this album you sit through 1 hour of asking yourself, “Was that a vocalist? Was that an instrument or just an animal noise?” I can deal with an album that has no structure. What I cannot deal with, however, is an album that makes you sit through an hour of no music. I was at least hoping for some Jesu-esque drone, but they didn’t even deliver that. It is an absolute travesty of an album with no redeeming qualities.
I love the Danes for their filmmaking, their metal, and their Aebleskivers. This album doesn’t do the genre justice and leaves an unenthusiastic aftertaste. If you are Norwegian and want to make a black metal album, do it right. This is just a disaster beyond belief.