Sunday, August 30, 2015

Return of the Reviews: Summer 2015

Ok. So it's been quite a while since I've done anything here. Was in the middle of a move and what not, but I've been listening along. Just going to share some brief opinions on some of the albums that have come out in the mean time. More to follow, since a lot of projects I was interested in came out this summer.

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Ghostface Killa: Twelve Reasons To Die II
My interest in Ghostface has been waning a little bit. The skill is still definitely there, and I can appreciate the scope and ambition of a full concept album, but the jazz and soul production is starting to get a little repetitive. Counting Sour Soul with BadBadNotGood, this is the fourth project he has released with very similar production. Hopefully this Action Bronson beef will stir a return to the dirty old school sound, or something else entirely. I would hate for Ghostface to become predictable.

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Lil B and Chance the Rapper: Based Freestyle Mixtape
I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. I'll check out pretty much anything Chance is releasing at this point. There are flashes of brilliance and decent flows here and there,but as this is all freestyles, a lot of this is disposable and forgettable. You definitely need to hear the NoName Gypsy feature on the first track though, just because of how hilariously awkward and embarrassing it is.

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Frank Zappa: Dance Me This
Zappa's 100th official release is more of classic Zappa. Wildy original, amazing, complex and weird as all hell. This is mostly and instrumental album, though there are some Tuvan throat singers featured here that really give some of these songs some original coloring. A must listen for Zappa fans.

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White Reaper: White Reaper  Does It Again
The title says it all. White Reaper brings the noise with another synthesizer infused take on garage rock. If you like power pop that is furious, raw and fast, this is for you. Pretty well crafted songs, memorable hooks, interesting synth and guitar leads and a great lo fi approach.

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Bilal: In Another Life
Kendrick collaborator and card carrying Soulquarian Bilal returns with another Neo-Soul gem. I'm really appreciating the direction that this album and others have been taking with their production with incorporating more jazz instrumentation. If you liked the last D'Angelo album, To Pimp a Butterfly or some of the stuff Brainfeeder has been putting out lately, I'd give this a shot.

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The Internet: Ego Death
I've found the Internet to be very hit or miss. Syd isn't a great singer, the production isn't really that amazing, and the subject matter has always been pretty meh. Maybe this doesn't mean anything, but their first project post-OFWGKTA break up really invigorated their music. Syd sounds a lot better and the production is getting better, incorporating a lot more live instruments to play deep grooves. The song subjects are still a little shaky, but the progress shown on this album gives me a lot of hope for the next one.

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Iron & Wine and Ben Bridwell: Sing Into My Mouth
This collaboration album is a testament to the skill of Ben Bridwell and Sam Beam as arrangers. Here they perform covers from so many genres, and twist them into a folk and country framework. Let's just say you've never heard the work of Talking Heads, David Gilmour, or John Cale performed like this. It's a well crafted project with great acoustic guitar work, brilliant arrangements and some intricate harmonies. Reminds me of Working Man's Dead to a degree, and that's definitely a compliment.

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William Basinski: The Deluge
After the ordeal of getting this album (the first pressing was recalled due to a manufacturing error, and then during the move it took longer for the record to get to my new apartment), it was all worth it. This piece really builds on Cascade in a very interesting way with the arpeggiated feedback loops of the original piano loop. It is also quite different from the live version given as a download with Cascade, so don't think that if you've heard that, you've heard this piece. There are some orchestral flourishes and other additions in the Denouement section not heard on that version, so this is strongly recommended.

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Tame Impala: Currents
I've never really been that into Tame Impala, mainly because of the obvious Beatles homage that borders on thievery. But I'm taking that all back, because the new direction is just so much worse. I'm not opposed to electronics and synths in rock, but they are combined in such an uninteresting and repetitive way. The repeating loop on 'Let It Happen' seemed interminable. I just can't behind it at all.

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Thundercat: The Beyond/ Where the Giants Roam
Bass virtuoso Thundercat came out with a soulful mini album with some good songs, and of course great work on the bass. Thundercat has really been on a roll recently with To Pimp a Butterfly, The Epic, and now his own solo project. My only compliment is with the length. At only around 16 minutes, I just end up wanting more Thundercat by the end. Hopefully this is a taste of more to come.

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Richard Chartier and William Basinski: The Divertissement
Speaking of people on a roll, William Basinski teams up with frequent collaborator Richard Chartier for his third project this year. This is album perfectly captures the mood of utter isolation. It mostly consists of ambient tones, distant ringing, piano notes, and what I can only describe as "Predator clicks". Put this on at night when you're home alone and prepare to get creeped out. It's like listening to the soundtrack for a desolate city hit by nuclear fallout.

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Wilco: Star Wars
Just as I was starting to wonder where Wilco went, they dropped this project out of nowhere. This is probably Wilco at their noisiest. They are really starting to experiment with some abrasive textures, and I can't say enough good things about it. At the beginning of the first track, I had to make sure I downloaded the right album. It sounded some crazy experimental noise rock. They have definitely come a long way from AM.

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Titus Andronicus: The Most Lamentable Tragedy 
For a band that is known for their ambitious concepts, Titus Andronicus really pushed themselves for this album. After stripping down their sound for their last effort, Local Business, they decided to follow that up with a punk rock opera spanning an hour and half and 39 tracks. While I can applaud the concept and ambition here, there is a lot of filler here in the form of some meandering interludes, and while I appreciate a good majority of the music and playing here, Patrick Stickles' voice can definitely get grating when listening to it for this long. It'd also be a lot easier to understand the concept of the album if the lyrics were a little more understandable. That's not something I usually complain about, but lyrics for rock operas are kind of one of their most important aspects.

I'll be back soon with more reviews. Now that things are more settled, I hope to be posting more regularly.

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