A Step In The Dark (AY) is the new album by Brock Van Wey, this time under his “normal” moniker, Bvdub, but where is he at this time? His music is pretty much more of the same, where he’ll carry the listener into a zone and keep you there in a repetitive yet meditative state, feeling lost in the emotions he is creating but being elegant in how he does it. Some of the elements in this song could be considered electronic easy listening, but then again he has never hesitated to step into that relaxed state and allow himself to play in that style of creaminess. I enjoy how he’ll take a line or quote someone sings and just make that the melody for a healthy portion of the song. On this 78 minute album, six of the seven songs carry you over the ten minute mark so he holds himself in what he is known for, making it feel as if you are enjoying the ripple effect. It’s the ripples that you look forward to, to find out if you should go deeper or remain on the surface. The repetition of his minimalism is quite seductive, which continues to keep people lost in the eternal musical ripples that help him who he continues to be.
Go to any part of City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto and you may mistake this as something by Jazzanova or Mondo Grosso/Shinichi Osawa. The reason for that is because of the musicianship, the arrangements, and complexities but with any musician, it’s all in the composition and presentation that may make it seem complex and it may very well be as easy as a coloring book. For Matthijs Rook, it may very well be effortless but the easy in how he does it is because it’s true to him, his creations and playing come from the heart. As Nicolay, he continues on his worldly travels, in a real sense or metaphorical/musical. In the words of Elvis Costello, “if you’re out of luck or out of work, we can send you to Johannesburg.” For Nicolay, the inspiration is to take himself to Johannesburg and find an essence to some of his creations.
City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto is a nice blend of vocalized song and powerful instrumentals, with easy song being a diary of sorts on the journey of his existence and experiences. As the voice says in “Sun Rings/Uprising”, direct language is all about being literal, to be honest in front of you without fear, of what you see and hear. You can then say that Nicolay’s music on this album is very much performed without fear and doesn’t hide anything, for what he feels is what you hear and thus visualize upon listening. You may bring to mind your own tales or for the songs with lyrics, escape into their worlds for a few minutes. What you’re hearing is the sensibilities of multiple heart beats and despite each one being individualistic, they are somehow connected, his musical painting of what he felt over the years while visiting Soweto. One may hear the name of the city and think of the Malcolm McLaren song of the same name but Nicolay creates a much stronger picture, vivid and utterly passionate in its execution.
Vocalists Carmen Rodgers and Tamisha Waden make their presence known but for me, I don’t mind saying that when it comes to Nicolay, I want to know what Phonte Coleman is doing and where he plays on taking me with his performances. The duality of the Foreign Exchange union continues to thrive and while both of them are more than capable of carrying something unique on their own terms, there is a sense of magic that may be unknown but it is felt. It’s something to listen to, sit back and just say “this is what it’s all about.”
As with much of Nicolay’s work over the years, as the album goes on, there’s a sense that the travels will go further for many ears to come. As with any true musician and composer, he plays with a sense in making his music open-ended in a Duke Ellington manner, as if to say “to be continued”. You hear a song like “There Is A Place For Us” and know he’s about to pull you towards the finish line. However, you know the end as nothing more than the beginning of another path towards a new race to take yourself to, another challenge forthcoming. It may not be an actual battle against anyone but ones self, but it can be all about the survival of the fittest. When you are balanced with ones sense of self, it becomes automatic. Effortless. Easy. Another page in Nicolay’s diary has been turned. To be continued…
After listening to Blueprint’s brand new album King No Crown (Weightless), it made me ask something: has he changed? What prompted me to say this? A few things. For one the Printmatic one continues to be one of the most solid rappers out today, and has been this day since I first heard him 14 years ago in the song “Time To Unravel”. It was his verse that made me go “holy shit, who is this?” Ten years ago, I stated his 1988 album was one of the best of 2005 and ten years later, I still feel that way. I’ve enjoyed his work over the years so what made me feel he has changed in any way?
For one, he continues to develop and polish, if not fine tune his matter of speak, which means he does not want to sound exactly the same with every release. He is consistent but on this album he sounds more like someone who could easily be alongside the likes of Talib Kweli. Blueprint’s lyrics continue to be personal and while some of the metaphors can be heard within, it’s less about darting around the issue and being direct and to the point, whether it’s about a relative or his own progression in life. The type of flow I’ve always enjoyed from Blueprint happens in the title track around the 3:14 mark and it made me go yes, and while it is the only part of the album where he does this, it at least showed me he isn’t afraid to do that style that was a big part of what also made Greenhouse Effect great. What works on this album is that he shows more growth and maturity, to let people know where he came from, how traveling is a big part of his life and career and that he isn’t willing to keep himself back in time for anyone.
With a hint of ego and pride, Blueprint says he is more than willing to be the voice of a generation. He should be but the lack of a major label contract has kept him out of the loop. He is someone who not only has something to say for a younger generation but for older fans who simply want to hear the music continue as a vibrant artform that grows along with themselves. He is someone who has always understood how he wants to be heard by continuing to produce his own music, so what you listen to is the creation of the mind of Albert Shepard. Regardless of level of status, Blueprint remains a voice that continues to be a force that never loses its passion, and it’s from the heart that makes him move forward with new stories to share.
Cherry Bomb (Odd Future/Sony) is the brand new album from Tyler, The Creator and considering what has happened since its release, maybe some are asking about the future of Tyler, or the future of Odd Future.
This is what we know. Odd Future as a collective are no more. Earl Sweatshirt seems to not be part of the camp. Other people who were within the camp have released music recently. Tyler, The Creator is still creating and on Cherry Bomb he shows why he is one of the best MC’s around and one of the best artists out today. If you feel that Tyler is trying to create music that is accessible to more people, then be free to say that. However, Tyler never does anything regular despite the fact that some of the songs here are more developed and arranged than his previous works. It’s a more in-depth Tyler, and it’s nice to hear him go off in that way. If he’s trying to answer to the current vibe of hip-hop, he does that in a number of songs. Yet there are times when he’s not only answering back, but adding his own sidebars and information to let people know he is in control of his destiny, he’s not trying to comply or simplify. There are tracks where he actually sings and jokingly says he can’t sing at all.
What I really like is when a song may have two, even three different arrangements so waht looks like an 11-track album may have 15 or 16 songs total. Some of it comes off like mini hip-hop operas in the vein of Beastie Boys’ “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” or Siah And Yeshua Dapo ED’s “A Day Like Any Other”, where you’re unsure where a part of a song will drift to until you listen to it in full. Even that will lead listeners to want to listen to it a few times to get a grip. While Cherry Bomb shows hints of where he came from, it very much shows a path he is ready to explore, where it’s the unpredictability of something along the lines of Divine Styler or maybe twist and get into MC 900 Ft. Jesus mode, all while showing a solid style that shows he’s more than capable of dropping in a hardcore way without getting freaky or eccentric, all while being that freak and eccentric rapper he is known as. The album is a nice balance of the known and previously unknown, so I hope he will continue to balance on that fine line for projects to come.
To say I was anxiously waiting for this album to be released would be putting it mildly and lightly. When Lightning Bolt create something new, I want to concentrate with all nine of my ears. There was a bit of a worry that Fantasy Empire would’ve sounded more polished, the songs would be more mainstream in how they were put together, and you would be able to hear drummer Brian “Black PUs” Chippendale sound in the same way Virgin Records made a cleaner mix of “American Woman” so you could hear a much more crisp Lenny Kravitz. Did it happen? Oh hell no.
He and bassist Brian Gibson remain as twisted and distorted as they’ve always been but as far as the construction of the compositions is concerned? Well, I’m not sure if other writers speak about Lightning Bolt and even bring up the word composition but what changed my view of their music was when Black Pus released his Primordial Pus album in 2011 and closed it with “I’ll Come When I Can”. I said it then and I’ll say it again, it’s the kind of song that I wish more people would cover so that the meaning of the song would be interpreted differently but still retain its definition. It made me listen to Lightning Bolt in a different light, for while it can be close to impossible to understand the lyrics without a lyric sheet, other times you can figure it out or read a song transcription elsewhere and go “I see, it may be twisted but there’s a lot more than that”. Gibson’s distorted bass can sound like a guitar and bass at the same time and other times you have no idea what kind of sounds he’s making. Is it a security signal or is it something he found at a pawn shop and decided to test it on the spot until it chokes? Yes, and more.
On the surface, just listening to Fantasy Empire and hear songs with a kind of spastic energy that will make you wan tto drive a car on a highway and jump out of the window. You may say that there’s a nice punk rock overtone or it’s just a ridiculous extension of 80’s metal. Imagine jamming in a basement and simply wanting to feel the space of electricity, but then knowing it’s a holiday weekend, you blast the amps until the police come over and playing loudly so that the officers will melt in front of your eyes. That’s Lightning Bolt in a sentence or two, and they are easily the best at what they do. “King Of My World” skips around with different tempo textures so that you are unable to dance in one way at any given time, but why should you? Are Lightning Bolt a dance band? Maybe, in a mixed-up world. Then again, we are in a mixed-up world, aren’t we? It’s wonderful to welcome yourself in the double Brian empire and get caught up in the beautiful ugliness they make. Sometimes it makes me wonder why more people have not become Lightning Bolt believers but hey, it’s more for me to enjoy.
Action Bronson is back with a new one called Mr. Wonderful (Vice/Atlantic) but is he wonderful? He is very much that, and he is better than a lot of rappers getting attention these days for being good but the different is that A.B. has skills, great lyrics, and a flow that has made people compared him to this generation’s Ghostface Killah. I think what people love is the passion that is heard in these flows and with a sense of humor that is upfront, Action Bronson is not hiding behind any curtains. When he’s serious, he will let you know directly and make you a true believer. When he wants to crack a joke, he’ll do so like a comedian where his path is designed to pull you in and make you bust out in laughter. Tracks like “The Rising”, “Terry”, “City Boy Blues”, and “Galactic Love” make me, hell, make us wish everyone was still doing hip-hop in this manner, where the samples (or nice interpolations of it) make you want to dig for more records just to find the most obscure grooves. The construction of this album is not boring or lackluster, everything that is needed to make a hip-hop shine nicely is here. This is easily one of the best albums of 2015, of any genre.
I Am The Albatross make some pretty risky rock’n’roll and in 2015, that’s a good, if not necessary, thing to do. Lonesome Son play something that would borderline on the Americana-side of things, or at least if you were to go to a Wilco show, you may very well see I Am The Albatross open up during a leg. What I love is the grit mixed in with the nice delicacies, or perhaps it’s the intricacies of what they do, a nice pop touch that isn’t afraid to intercourse with a bit of distortion and warble power to have the stories come through stronger that they may have in its original state. A song like “World Of Money” goes in a simple acoustic manner but as is, it’s a song you may imagine being a bit more fierce but it’s very nice as is. Lonesome Son is something that may influence a younger generation to want to start their own bands but I think for the time being, immerse yourself in these songs and see where their paths will pull listeners and forthcoming new fans.
“70s-esque, swaggering, peach-fuzzy guitar rock, drawing influence from T.Rex.” – PopMatters
“Cosmic Glam Rock ‘n’ Soul” – Last.fm
“Restrained, soulful storytelling.” – When You Motor Away
These are quotes in the press release that are meant to lure writers to get a chance to put them in their publications. Then there’s a quote that goes “Think Dinosaur Jr. meets Neil Young meets a mason jar full of sweet tea and bourbon before mason jars started trending on Etsy.” I listen to a song and I immediately here hints of “Cinnamon Girl” and then I hear less of Dinosaur Jr. and something along the lines of White Stripes, Let’s Active and Marshall Crenshaw. Can you imagine Young in your Crenshaw? It’s a nice and gritty sound with hints of 60’s pop and soul but then the rock is blasted in and you may think to yourself, with a big grin, “what in the hell am I listening to?” Well, you are listening to Tedo Stone and the song is just a sliver of what will be on his forthcoming album due out on September 18th called Marshes (This Is American Music). If this doesn’t shake you up profusely, listen to it again. Then again. Once more.
Liz Minou directed “Million Ways To Live” by Mapei and is being used in a TV show called Reality Road so if you tune in and catch it, you can say you know where you’ve heard it.