Review: Run The Jewels 2 – Run The Jewels

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In 2013 Killer Mike and El-P smashed open the gate and released their self titled debut in a duo titled Run the Jewels. After the high standard set by their debut they’re solidify their status as one of hip hop’s best artists  further with the sequel, “Run the Jewels 2”. Whereas their first album was a over a half hour of lyrical beat downs this effort slows it down a bit, looking inward while expanding on the formula established by their first album. The ferocity is still there, though more tempered and refined. Tracks like “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”, “Lie, Cheat, and Steal”, and “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F*ck*)” put technical ability at the forefront as El and Mike rapidly interchange rhymes abounding with sharp wit and tactical melody. Other tracks, such as “Early ft. Boots” or “Crown ft. Diane Coffee”, contain an abundance of social commentary and political statements. On “Crown” El raps from the perspective of a soldier, spouting bars like “Carried the flag in some other men’s name, loaded my weapon and swore to them vengeance and stepped with aggression right into the fray” that paint a beautifully bleak picture. While their first album had some political lyrics, “A Christmas F*cking Miracle” for example, this album is full of references to police brutality and seething discontent at the system.

In addition to his lyrical wizardry, El-P is again the producer on this album and the production is top notch as usual. Songs like “Angel Dust” provide a simple yet powerful backdrop for their lyrical wizardry throughout the album. The features are fabulous as well. Boots’ hook on “Early” is infectious and haunting, De La Rocha’s rapping on “Close Your Eyes” is potent and angry, as one might expect, and Travis Barker’s percussive contributions to “All Due Respect” hammers home the savagery of Killer Mike’s lightning fast delivery. The album’s weak points are few and far between. “All My Life”‘s hook isn’t quite as catchy as the album’s other choruses and Gangsta Boo’s verse on “Love Again” feels unnecessarily trite and explicit, but these are minor gripes as these songs are still extremely satisfying. Few rappers posses the abilities of Killer Mike and El-P, but together it seems they’re nothing short of unstoppable. Run The Jewels 2 succeeds every way, straddling accessibility, wit, and jaw-dropping lyricism in one masterfully performed record.

9/10

Review: The Physical World – Death From 1979 (2014)

The Physical World, the name of Death From Above 1979’s long-awaited follow-up, evokes empiricism–the philosophical belief in all that can be observed with the senses–and with it the hope that the band can champion good ol’ rock and roll–an all-out assault on those aforementioned senses–without the processed excess of modern-day pop. It’s a hopeful prospect. DFA1979’s first couple of releases were unapologetically hardline, a lo-fi one-two combo of bass-driven hooks and punchy drums. Now, after a 10 year hiatus, DFA1979 has reunited. But a lot has changed since 2004…has DFA1979’s identity changed, too?

With band members Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler using their time apart to explore more melodic ventures (Sebastien Grainger exploring solo work, and Keeler lending his gilded bass lines to MSTRKRFT’s dance halls), it’s unsurprising that these influences bleed into DFA1979’s new album. What is surprising, however, is how much more dated The Physical World feels as a result. Earlier releases were defined by their sparsity and repetition –kinetic anthems that were stamped with a “who cares” attitude. Comparatively, The Physical World is a more professional release, with cleaner vocals and greater instrumental variety. Consequently, The Physical World feels closer to the operatic productions of ’90s bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Muse, as opposed to 8-track revivalists that still flourish today. This approach might appeal to some, but it strikes me as a betrayal of their identity –why name a band 1979 if its sound is disconnected from that era?

That said, there is a strong EP to be found in this 35-minute LP. Songs like “Right On, Frankenstein,” “Crystal Ball,” and “Nothing Left” fall right in DFA1979’s wheelhouse, with a 4/4 kick drum providing scaffolding for Keeler’s indelible basslines. This is the music of spilt beer, split ends, chipped teeth and nail polish, ripped jeans and speaker mesh. The Physical World isn’t quite a return to form, nor is it a great leap forward, but Grainger and Keeler’s musicianship is tenacious and vital when they’re fit. Keep an eye out. 6/10

Otherness – Kindness

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Pop sensibility, jazz and modern R&B influence (take that as you will) would be the only real way to describe Otherness. The album starts with a sort of neo-jazz techno influence synth sort of song that could only really be described as a groove. On top of this, the album contains a fresh cast of featured vocalists, first to mention Kelela, who is on the tracks World Restart and With You. The album also features the collaborations of such artists as Robyn, M.anifest, Devonte Hynes and Tawiah, an eclectic yet inspiring circle.  There’s also a compelling collection of musicians in the backing band, bass and brass sections that keep you questioning whether you’re somewhere in the 80’s or 60’s. The lyrical accompaniment is what you’d expect from this sort of new wave jazz product, but even still, it contains a fresh tenderness, and as mentioned the abundant featurings makes it feel like a collaborative process, and so the sentiment seems heartfelt.

Kindness is the solo project of british musician Adam Bainbridge, who contributed to Blood Orange’s 2013 Cupid Deluxe, and the influence has certainly carried over into his new album. Otherness sounds a lot more thought out than his 2012 debut, World, You Need a Change of Mind. The groovy sound is still there, but Otherness explores other emotions than brooding gaiety that was oh so prevalent the first time.

I found myself tapping my foot numerous times throughout listening to this album, then caught in a trance during other songs with hypnotising woodwind and bass drum, such as 8th Wonder, which then caught me by surprise with a verse from M.Anifest, and then later still caught me off guard with a harp solo.

Otherness is definitely worth a listen, and who knows, you might find yourself exploring the British R&B jazz scene a little further.

 

8/10

-Spencer Graves

 

Review: You’re Dead! – Flying Lotus

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Ambition is an odd force in music. Sometimes it seems an artist has none, churning out albums hardly any different from each other, content to stay within a style. Others experiment, failing or succeeding to various extents. It’s a thin line to walk, risk and reward intertwining on both sides. With You’re Dead! Flying Lotus walks the line of ambition, veering from his previous albums into a mixing bowl of death and jazz.

The album’s songs are short, most around a minute and a half in length, flowing into each other, beginning where the last left off. Unfortunately this limits the accessibility of the album, as it’s not particularly interesting to listen to unless done sequentially in one sitting. Setting up the songs like this can make an album more interesting in some cases, Between the Buried and Me’s Colors for example, but here it just makes a large amount of the songs incredibly boring when listened to individually. While this album does seem to be ambitious in a storytelling sense it lacks substance or memorable songs.

The album’s first single, “Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar”, was released a few weeks in advance of the album and actually sounded quite promising, blending jazz, rap, and electronic deftly to great effect. In fact, it’s probably the album’s best song. However, that song is the only instance of such flash on the album.  It’s not the only collaboration with hip hop on the album either, “Dead Man’s Tetris” features Snoop Dogg but plods on dully and without purpose. A few tracks, such as “Moment of Hesitation”, “Obligatory Cadence” and “The Protest”, show hints of promise that just aren’t capitalized on. Unfortunately that seems to be representative of the album as a whole, a few ambitious ideas that aren’t executed nearly as well as they could be.

4/10

I’ll Be The Tornado – Dads

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Dads, the duo hailing from New Jersey strikes again with their newest and second full length album, I’ll Be The Tornado. “A two piece punk duo?” you might ask, but let me tell you, between the guitar, drums, and lyrics, where the band lacks in members it makes up for in a strikingly simple yet idyllic “punk” sound.

I’ll Be The Tornado comes almost a year after their 2013 EP Pretty Good and almost two years after their first full length album in 2012, American Radass , and the improvements of both musicians is apparent. The album’s themes are more modern, and yet the tempo changes and chord progressions still have that Dads sound we’ve all come to expect, and it shows that there is still much to come from Dads.

The album features aggressive and jovially punk songs as Sunburnt Jet Wings, somehow simultaneously tragic yet uplifting tales as Take Back Today, and still more melodic songs, such as Fake Knees, and Grand Edge, MI . The punk aspects do shine through in certain lyrics, “We could be drunk together, we could be punk together” and even still more possibly romantically punk, such as singing the line “waiting there for me “ and proceeding to shout “with your coffee breath” for a few bars.

The addition of harmonious accompanying vocals from the drummer gives the bands sound a certainly more complete product, and while songs have become more emotional, Dads has trading their previous whiny emotions for emotions that sound genuine and experienced. Despite all I’ve written about the changing sound, the familiar Dads touch still comes through with progressive and melodic tunes that’ll have you reliving those days where you feel like you simply can’t be understood.

Overall, I’ll Be The Tornado is a solid product, and better yet, is all the proof that Dads needs to show that they’re a serious band with room to move up.

7/10

By: Spencer Graves

 

The Juan Maclean : In A Dream

Echoing 80s Dark wave, Nancy Whang’s lyrics on The Juan Maclean’s third album In a Dream (following Less than Human and The Future Will Come) lay over the seamless disco-infused back beat in the album. Under all of these intricate toss-ins from various genres of course, is the expected house dance beats. But unlike most house bands, The Juan Maclean’s mix of backgrounds in the music world, from Whang’s LCD Soundsystem days to Maclean’s Six Finger Satellite post-hardcore past expands the sounds and influences prominent on the record to more than your everyday DFM album.

Tracks such as “You Were a Runaway” and “Charlotte” lay dark, exposing lyrics on top of fast paced dance tracks and lush guitar riffs still manage to be separate entities of their own while helping pull the album together as a whole. There’s also the main stays of the album, opener “A Place Called Space” and follow up single “A Simple Design”, and although “A Place Called Space” is a dazzling arrangement of musical talent, it doesn’t make the following songs on the album seem any less spectacular. Instead, it opens the door for the following tracks (as an opener should) and builds anticipation for the rest of the album. The most miraculous part of this album is its strong tracks all the way through. The few, if any, weak tracks on this album are covered so thoroughly by the rest of the music that the tracks seem to meld together in one beautiful hour-long set.

9/10

By Stephanie Whalen