For all you lovers of diverse music taste this episode Review Rundown is for you. From R’n’B over garage rock to deathcore, we have you covered. This time around we have some real diamonds for you to discover in this already great year for music, featuring acts like Hundredth, Obacht Obacht and Copenague. Pick your favorites or do what I did and stuff them all in a playlist, press shuffle and enjoy.
Do you like John Wayne? Well, maybe Clint Eastwood? As a kid growing up, like many boys in that age probably did, I liked cowboys. Though as a child I never would’ve imagined that I’d be one day looking forward to a western with bleak Scandinavian undertones. That’s exactly what is happening with American black metal outfit Wayfarer now. World’s Blood, their newest record which came out on the 25th of May, tells the story of the bloody fights between the indigenous people of America and those seeking to enrich themselves.
Its melancholic atmosphere and hopeless often lethargic sounding instrumentation carries itself through the hot American south, although the general sound is anything but warm. Guitar and vocals are laden with reverb seeming like screams coming from mountain sites while the drums cut through the air like gunfire. The mix for this record was done by the incredible Colin Marston, and once again his work can be clearly heard. He precisely hits the right mix of lush hopelessness and desperate aggression the band conveys in the way it was written. Sadly, some those elements seem to sometimes drown in the mix and the bands unique voice drowns in the cries of similar black metal outfits coming out of the West.
In Germany there’s a legendary siren called Lorelei who lured sailors in with her sad song. This story also fits this band in two aspects. For one, they’re German. Furthermore, they managed to grab my attention with their melancholic siren song. First and foremost, Obacht Obacht is a garage rock band, which you can hear from their fuzzy, kind of lo-fi guitars, no care attitude, and laid back grooves. What differentiates them from other, similar bands, is the fact that they play with post-punk, prog rock, and psychedelic on the record. Of course their signature emotional weight isn’t missing and can be heard throughout the whole record.
It’s like an iron suit they have to carry around at all times, so when they finally get to the studio they sound tired, melancholic, and a little apathetic. Even the colorful solos psychedelic music is known for are turned around into what sounds like LSD synthesized from teardrops. All of this combined with their fuzzy sound pulls you straight into the desert, but not in the way other bands do, this time this desert is your own emotional landscape.
I am thoroughly infatuated with the current soul/R’n’B scene. Be it the more old-school-leaning parts or the unabashedly modern artists transforming the art form into whole new configurations, I can’t seem to go a week without discovering at least one new artist from those realms. So where does Kadhja Bonet, a singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia, fall on that spectrum? Smack-dab in the middle, I’d say! There are hints of times long gone by in her sound, but also traces of the current wave (like the wobbly funk bass that’s become kinda ubiquitous in the past few years).
‘Every morning brings a chance to be new’, proclaims “Procession” amidst a 70s-inspired psychedelic soul sound. The verses being sung in French and an added flute give a certain aloofness to this track. Changing over to “Childqueen”, the album’s title track, we are greeted by an Eastern tinge in the melodies and a wonderful string arrangement over a groovy beat. “Delphine” later delivers a hearty helping of the aforementioned bass sound, set against a sparse composition carried by what I consider to be Bonet’s best vocal performance on the entire album.
Childqueen is an enjoyable collection of competently composed and performed modern (psychedelic) soul/R’n’B with a strong throwback edge. For fans of this kind of music: you can listen to it without any reservations; it’ll be right up your alley. And even for those who aren’t, a look beyond one’s nose certainly can’t hurt when the music’s this good, can it?
Plain and simple, this man is a legend, across many different musical genres. Over the course of his long and illustrious career, which spans around 50 years by now, Jon Hassell has formed a singular vision out of his iconic trumpet sound and elements of electronic, jazz, avant-garde, ambient, minimalism, and world music. He worked with legendary musicians like Brian Eno, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young aside from realizing his own projects. Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) is his first new release in nine years, and it shows that Hassell still has it in him to grab the listener.
“Dreaming”, serving as an example for the songs to follow, rests on a minimalistic ambient beat consisting of fragmented rhythmic pulses and atmospheric synth pads. The trumpet irregularly jabs between those, playing melodies and harmonies which feel weirdly organic despite them being artificially contorted. It’s unobtrusive, easily mistakable for mere background noise, and yet it’s rich in feel and detail, a small sound painting that’s loftily suspended in empty space.
The individual songs on the album share the same aesthetic and attention to detail; they are all different reflections of the same whole. Where many so-called ‘ambient artists’ are content to let their synths drone on and call it a day, Hassell weaves many different layers, elements, and meanings into every single track that it’s hard not to admire his imaginativeness.
In short, this album sees one of the most important musicians of the 20th century add a late-career highlight to his credentials.
Last year, South Carolina melodic hardcore outfit Hundredth made one of the smoothest genre transitions with their LP, Rare. Without missing a beat they transposed their sound into shoegaze alt-rock that made us all sit up and take notice. It looks like the band wasn’t done having fun tinkering with their sound just yet. Ultrarare is a remix of most of the tracks from last year’s release and takes the sound and rinses out the guitars and in their place are some tubular synths and echoing chimes. It’s amazing how well this works.
When prepping for this little review, I went back to Rare and while the reminiscing was nice, I realized how perfect this transition is. Plenty of favorite get the remix treatment such as “Neurotic” and “White Squall”, but my favorite “Shy Vein” didn’t make the cut. Frankly this is my only complaint with this (re)release. It’s a fresh take on some fantastic songs, and proves that Hundredth are among the most nimble bands out there. The catchiness is intensified, the atmosphere deepens, making it even easier to get lost in these wonderful songs.
Alternative artist Petal probably isn’t a household name, it sure wasn’t for me before starting this review. If that changes I suppose remains to be seen, but I really do hope that her audience grows with the release of this record. Magic Gone starts out with an energetic post-punk vibe on the track “Better Than You.” It’s an upbeat track that has plenty to say and feels quite familiar. In fact this song, and a multitude of moments on this record feel like they are pulled from the 90s. The instrumentation is straightforward, and the vocals are crisp.
Other standouts on this album are “I’m Sorry” and “Comfort.” The lyrics across the album aren’t pretentious and come off as genuine and sincere. This is how I really connected with this album; it behaves like folk music. If I can criticize on thing about Magic Gone it’s the pacing. The opener is slightly misleading as it’s really the only uptempo song to be found and the other nine tracks lean toward fewer beats per minute. If you’re not familiar with Petal now’s a good time to remedy that.
Kiefer – Happysad
I have Spotify to thank for my knowledge of Kiefer, his easy going lo-fi/instrumental hip-hop was a key feature on their Jazz Beats playlist last year. That playlist got span a lot last year, as well as his debut record Kickinit Alone which released last year. I lept at the chance to lend my ear to his new record Happysad, which is a record I would happily frame as a perfect summer record.
The hip-hop percussion is really well produced, driving the songs forward whilst the piano or sampling layers add the atmosphere. “Highway 41” contains some wonderful basslines too, which aren’t always present in the songs, but dip in and out on a whim. Interestingly, the songs are designed to reflect the constant sparring of happiness and sadness, and lots of songs open with a light mood before becoming more atmospheric and darker.
Fans of BluntOne and Mujo will find comforting similarity in Happysad to the aforementioned artists, but Kiefer also draws on musical styles I’ve heard in artists like Mount Kimbie and even Blockhead, with samples fed through grainy filters to give an old-school feel to the music. For an example of this, check out “Magnetic”. This album though, isn’t one for someone looking to expand their mind, it’s much better as an album to zone out or chill to, so progressive metal fans beware.
My better half and I like some extremes of music, which the other can’t stand. Luckily, we come together on jazz, funk, electronica and now it seems Jorja Smith too. Whilst it’s not my favourite R&B/soul album that’s been unleashed this year (see Tom Misch / Leon Bridges / Dominique Fils-Aime), for such a young artist and indeed backing band, it’s an impressive record. The musical style backing up the brilliant vocals of Smith varies throughout the album. Some songs take a more traditional pop sounds, others feel more neo-soul and others even towards the lo-fi/hip-hop end of the spectrum.
Jorja Smith has featured on several artists songs before, but this is her debut album. The opener and title track “Lost & Found” is very mature musically and lyrically. These are two strengths that continue through the album, aside from some tracks like ‘Teenage Fantasy’, which are hard to identify with as a bloke in my late twenties.
It is an album I’m going to be throwing on at parties and events, but not one I’ll be throwing on for my own sessions. It has charm abound, but like a lot of R&B, I get bored and require something more engaging. I’ll be sticking to the artists above, but certainly give this a spin!
Not quite from the abyss, this ultra-technical death metal/deathcore band come from Quebec City in Canada. Their self-titled album is actually their third full-length effort (they call it an EP, but at 35 minutes it counts as an album) and on it, Epiphany From The Abyss exemplify the proud tradition of excellence in tech death in my home province.
Epiphany From The Abyss contains dizzying changes and a nearly constant stream of expertly-executed neoclassical shred. “II – Fury” features a stunning guest solo by Phil Tougas from Montreal’s Chthe’ilist which complements the shred-stream perfectly. This is the album Rings Of Saturn and their imitators wish they could make; but whose lack of writing proficiency will forever deprive them of such status. Epiphany From The Abyss stand far above that mess. “III – The Bargain” has a bass solo that almost reaches Obscura levels of brilliance. Even the moshy breakdowns on this album display originality, the one thing so hard to obtain in heavier music.
Sadly, this EP stays as a fairwell from the band, but they go with a banger.
Oh, the temptation to use superlatives and fawning, adulatory language on this one! I already violated two of my cardinal rules of writing with that first sentence but this band makes it almost excusable. Do not let the name Copenague fool you; they come from Argentina and they play instrumental progressive rock of seemingly matchless beauty.
If It Djents had a category for ‘Albums To Chill Out To’ or ‘Best Music To Accompany Passionate Lovemaking’, then Laguna would have to be at the top of both lists. Yes, the overall vibe is ambient, but the keyboards are used imaginatively rather than in the meaningless, gimmicky way that too many prog bands seem to affect. The songs have hooks (“Focus” stands out in particular), but they do not dominate the writing. Copenague show off technical chops aplenty on Laguna, but everything seems to fall into place in exactly the right way, at exactly the right time, and to exactly the most desirable effect. If ever an example would be needed of the positive effect that a solid music theory foundation could have on writing, then this album would fill the bill.