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REVIEW: Aaron Cohen’s “Potential Fans”

 photo AaronCohenPF_cover_zpsd99cde9e.jpg If you are to mention the phrase “potential fans” on Twitter, it may immediately lead to discussion about rapper Aaron Cohen, who is someone who offers different styles for the sake of wanting to be different, not because it’s the norm because it’s not. It is that need to be different in an era of sameness that will make him stand out, and on Potential Fans he shows how he’s comfortable in being the smart and clever rapper, while keeping a few ingredients on the side to be rough, rugged, raw, and a filthy man if he wants to be.

What makes this album work is that he sounds accessible and approachable and doesn’t try to be what he’s not. If he wants to exchange sex rhymes by the pound, he’s doing to do that with an MC friend or two, such as ABGOHARD in the Daimyo-produced “Nickvanexelrose”. When he wants to get into a soulful exchange and talk about the culture of hip-hop and its eternal changes, he’ll do this too, and all without sounding as if he’s deficient in one compared to the other. It would be too easy to call him ordinary as he is extraordinary, but think about those words for a moment. How can you be “extra” ordinary’, and how is being extraordinary better than just the ordinary? Eh, whatever skills that lie in his work, Cohen is showing it off to his fullest potential, and while he does this with ease, he also does it while showing a sense of genuine humor. Cohen is in it to win it, but if he makes himself left, why not find out if he will make others laugh and think at the same time. Keep an eye and ear out on him, he could be a dangerous force.

REVIEW: Pete Marriott’s “#REALHIPHOP”

 photo PeteMarriottRHH_cover_zps2fc972c2.jpg It is an album Pete Marriott has promised to make for years, always talking about putting together this and that, bringing different rappers and singers together but never quite making it to the point where he felt happy to put his stamp approval on it as a whole. After releasing a small handful of songs on an individual basis, the stamp of approval has made itself known and he is calling it #REALHIPHOP (The BRKLYN Collection). This is not only Marriott’s brand new album, but it is a statement of what he feels is hip-hop as it is and should be, the type of music that moved a generation and a world to become what it is today.

With contributions from Jermiside, Mr. Man, Da’ Lord Supreme, DVS Jackson Esq., #REALHIPHOP may sound like a throwback at first, especially with the opening song that sounds like someone went into the archives and pulled out an unnoticed gem. When things get kicking with “Bring It On Right”, featuring Otomatik, there’s a certain feel and vibe that is sensed, you know it’s going to feel good and you do not doubt the incoming force that is headed to the ears. You hear the bumping beats, the meditative drone of what sounds like a combination of vocals and synths, the twisted mix of beat textures that show Marriott’s music is not just about one thing or the other, it’s about everything and putting in your all and going for broke, all your effort into what’s good because the bad is not acceptable. Then there’s “Nice Redux”, which immediately reminded me of Too Poetic/Grym Reapera and Lakim Shabazz with the kind of lyrical flow that takes me back to 1989 and before, when being rhythmic was not just understanding the beat but understanding vocal tonality and how that could tell a story as well. You might hear some keyboards that may remind you of Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness” but the madness being heard is all Marriott, and every layer just sounds… right.

It’s the kind of album that understands its influences and rather than pay tribute to them, you can say this is just a continuation of the feelings originally felt, where you may have heard a horn sample, a blend of vocals, or just the right combination of drums and percussion that made you go “wow, this takes me back” or “this feels like the goodness of what this life has to offer”. There is nothing like a verse, a chorus, or a passage in a song that makes you forget about the bad times, and #REALHIPHOP is very much a good time album, even when you hear metaphors about murdering fraudulent rappers with killer rhymes.

While Marriott has organized an album that is meant to capture a certain feeling, it is not about being stuck in one corner or the other. Just as certain albums are timestamps of what was going on, #REALHIPHOP comes off like a mirror to let people know what they left behind and why the music is not something you should ever forget. As Sly Stone once said, music “is not a fashion in the first place, it is a feeling”, and while a feeling or vibe is not something you can hold, it is something that is understood and must be shared, even if describing it may seem difficult at first. The album is very much a showcase of the production and musicianship Marriott has done for decades, and whether it’s driving down a gritty street at 4am or watching a family picnic on a Sunday afternoon, those things are captured because they are not only understood, but is translated as best as possible within the music heard in these thirteen songs. For those who are doubters, #REALHIPHOP is the proof you never thought would come to fruition, and the proof sounds quite nice.

REVIEW: Constant Lovers’ “Experience Feelings”

 photo ConstantLovers_cover_zpsc33a5cb7.jpg It doesn’t take a lot for me to completely get into a band, all it takes is something that makes me want to raise my hand to the fictitious heavens and say “damn, this is fricken good”. The opening track on Constant Lovers’ Experience Feelings (Good To Die) had the kind of wailing that one might recognize from a Sonic Youth album or two, but then these guys get wiry, ultra-tight and at first unpredictable because I wasn’t sure how they were going to unfold each song. These guys are noisy as hell, sometimes singing in a nice fashion but other times free forming their screams and that’s when everything begins to fit in, even if what they do doesn’t necessarily fit in anywhere.

“I Am Your Skunk”, “14 Missed Calls”, and “Hey Bo Diddley” may sound like completely random titles, and maybe that’s what they are, but wipe away the titles and get lost in what they’re doing. It’s like they’re ready to gang up on everyone, kick people out of the way for the sake of playing and singing loud, but making the kind of songs you want to salute to because you feel they’re singing it from your perspective. Those experiences are shared, and the vulgarity of it makes you smile, if not cry. That could easily be one of the reason why this 10-song album is called Experience Feelings, for each of these songs are packed with the kind of emotional impact you want to experience many times over, and pass on to the next person to experience it in their own way. Constant Lovers are a joyful smack in the face, and I have the wounds to prove it.

REVIEW: Cayetana’s “Hot Dad Calendar”/”Ella” (single)

 photo Cayetana_PS_zps5fc7a57b.jpg Cayetana are a three-piece band whose love of playing is equally as strong as their songwriting. With a title like “Hot Dad Calendar” (Tiny Engines), one might wonder what that exactly means but upon hearing them sing about wanting to make it out of a situation (or make it out of a place), you’ll get what they’re talking about. “Ella” reminds me of the kind of gritty rock/pop that Nirvana would have done in the early days to show that they’re not about the in-your-face passion of their punk, which comes close to sounding a bit like The Buzzcocks or Green Day. These songs were originally a part of their demo, but I hope these two songs are the start of so much more for them, I look forward to seeing what else they come up with.

(The 7″ can be ordered directly from Tiny Engines Records. Digitally, you may purchase the songs below via Bandcamp.)

REVIEW: Brownstudy’s “Life Well Lived”

 photo Brownstudy_cover_zps38260f95.jpg Life Well Lived (Third Ear) is an album that one would have called “the future of hip-hop…today!” or “hip-hop with something extra”, but it is that extra that would have its share of haters. Brownstudy make music that isn’t your ordinary boom bap, they incorporate different styles and textures within their music, rap over it, and I think today’s audiences can comprehend what’s going on in all of these sogns, which has to do with love, respect, honor, and pride. When they do get into and within the boom bap sound, they do it in such a twisted way that it sounds weird at first but you realize “wow, this is what I’m feeling”. The sound Brownstudy has is very much left of center, and even if you may have old standards of what hip-hop is or should be, you’ll find this to be something you can take to heart because no one is quite doing it like this. Jason Hogans, the man behind Brownstudy, understands what is not meant to be understood, and just goes for it because he feels like it, without fear, which I feel is what hip-hop needs. It’s there, but that style is often neglected and I hope people listen to him for not only the neglected, but for what he may be able to offer in other projects. Different? Maybe to a degree, but I’d rather have some level of difference than something that fights to be the same.

REVIEW: Scraps’ “Electric Ocean”

 photo Scraps_cover_zps84354a36.jpg Cool cover, cool artist name, alluring title but I found Scraps’ Electric Ocean (Fire) to be slightly uneven and at times a bit stodgy. What I got out of their music is that they love new wave or early 80′s pop, and they find themselves wanting to bathe in it until their fingers shrivel up, and nothing wrong with that. What clashes is the tentative weariness of the music and the dreariness of the vocals. Normally it would be a perfect match but I felt it was going nowhere. It would be nice to say “going nowhere fast” but it didn’t even move on that speedy. Oddly enough, I found the instrumental portions to be very nice, it would have been cool if they went more down that route. I think the vocalist is effective, but just not with this set of musicians backing her.

REVIEW: Direct Effect’s “Sunburn”

 photo DirectEffect_cover_zps509c2ca6.jpg There are a number of ways I go into listening to a set of music for the first time but rather than mention them in detail, it all boils down to one thing: I listen. Upon playing the first track on Sunburn (Tiny Engines) by Direct Effect, I started thinking of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ and their cover of “Search & Destroy”. As the song continued on I thought no, the rough energy I feel sounds more like the original by The Stooges. Then I thought no, this is gutsy in a different way. It’s loud, it’s vulgar, the singer is screaming around as if he is watching surgeons cut up his abdomen and puking on the equipment. Then out of the blue, there’s a stylized guitar solo utilizing a wah-wah pedal and I thought “this sounds so out of place but it feels right to me”. I had to continue.

I played the A&R role for a moment, making myself someone who had to listen to music specifically to find people to sign for my company. It had been said that A&R folks want to be hooked by the music in three songs or less. I’ll admit, the adrenaline rush I feel from listening to these guys makes the blood rush up to my eyes and out. I’m sure that’s scientifically incorrect but no matter, I’m speaking in metaphor. It just sounds like these guys are pumped up in the studio creating the kind of sound that sounds as in-your-face as the music of White Mice or something you might hear on the Deathbomb Arc label and in three songs, I’m already sold. End of story, let’s put this album away for safe keeping for another day BUT NO!!! Once the band get out of the “first three songs” comfort zone, that’s when they go in to assassinate the listener by turning things towards 11.

As I said elsewhere, if there’s anything good coming from Florida these days, then attention should be placed towards Direct Effect’s direction, for these Orlando gents don’t care about Mickey or his cast of idiots. The music is meant to be heard here and now, it’s immediate and all up in you as good punk rock should be, but the additional qualities and… maybe quirks isn’t the right word to use, but it’s not just punk for the sake of being punk and “fuck you” all the time. It’s the little extras thrown into the mix that makes this an interesting listen, and making multiple listens something to look forward to. This does not sound like anyone’s debut album but it is Direct Effect’s first full length, and I would love to see and hear what they can do in five years time, if not a year from now in 2015. The lyrics? It can be intense statements or brief notepad sentences, but within that is a distorted collage that unfolds into something close to brilliant, which may not be a hardcore word to use but I’m going to use it. I like it, and if you like a clusterfuck of sound in your punk rock or would like to know what that sounds like, Sunburn doesn’t provide an ointment for relief but it means its sting will last much longer.

REVIEW: The Queen Annes’ “Something Quick: 1980-1985″

 photo QueenAnnes_cover_zps391be5d9.jpg The Queen Annes represent the kind of rock’n’roll I was introduced to as a new resident of the Pacific Northwest 30 years ago this year. Moving to the mainland was an opportunity to hear and know more about my surroundings and while Seattle would end up being 200 miles away for me, I regarded it as the distant local music scene. They were a band who one could read about in The Rocket back then, and 30+ years later we’re able to hear what they left behind with a great compilation called Something Quick: 1980-1985 (Green Monkey). The title itself may refer to the song of the same name, which opens this compilation, but seeing as this collection is also being promoted as a reflection of what was the pre-grunge scene and sound of Seattle, it is a timepiece but one that deserves to be examined and heard again. The music is incredibly tight for a group who called Bellevue, Washington their home, and some of this sounds like a band who immersed themselves in hours of listening to Tho Who, very loud and raunchy when they want to be. What I also hear in songs like “It’s Cool With Me”, “If You Could Only See Me Now”, and “Lucille” is the kind of songwriting and craftsmanship in the music that came from Arthur Lee and Love, where things are playful but were sculpted in a way for listeners to listen, think, then listen many times over.

Those who only know Seattle for grunge may be pleasantly surprised by the beauty and power of these songs, and perhaps Seattleites will be surprised too, for The Queen Annes were always on “the other side” of music back when almost everything that came from the city was considered “the other side”. At least with time and perspective, we’re now able to hear how moving these songs were and are, and be dumbfounded at how they didn’t get a chance to break through nationally or internationally, like so many bands from the early 80′s did in the dawn of MTV. Maybe back then, this was considered too collegiate, too unpolished, too “add whatever word that fits” but now it’s what we miss, what we long for, but what we’re able to put on repeat through the Something Quick comp. Perhaps people will look to them as an inspiration.

(Something Quick: 1980-1985 will be released on March 18th. You may pre-order the MP3′s or CD from Amazon below.

If you can’t wait, Bandcamp has the MP3′s and FLAC lossless files available now, which you may also order below.)

REVIEW: Jessie Frye’s “Obsidian”

 photo JessieFryeO_cover_zps8616a0bd.jpg Jessie Frye is a pop artist that should be making the kind of songs that should be anthems and heard in every other TV show and movie but for the time being, she isn’t on that level. However, one listen to Obsidian (self-released) and you’ll realize she should be.

What I like about Frye is the strength of her voice, the music, and the songwriting found within. She’s not afraid to show occasional vulnerability but she’s also not afraid to show strength in what she can provide and what she seeks in life. It’s done in a manner that avoids cliches and hashtag lyricism that has become tiresome in the last few years. I love hooks, I love songs that will grab me but not when it ends up sounding like the last ten movie trailers I watched online. A song like “White Heat” has the kind of uplifting feel that would make it appeal to a wide range of people, but sometimes hearing someone who offers some level of perceived strength will make people fear listening, as if the simple task of listening is harmful. Frye could easily move through a wide range of genres, from country to hard rock but here, she plays around with notions of pop and power pop with occasional dips into the rock pool. Some of the music also leans towards the freedom and innocence of early to mid-80′s new wave, almost as she’s trying to let people know where she may be rooted but also where some of her influences reside. I find with Obsidian that when one song hooks you, the rest of them will and everything will fall into one cohesive place. Listen to it as a whole and then pick and choose. You may find picking and choosing involves you choosing the entire album as a favorite.

REVIEW: Deadkill’s “No, Never!”

 photo Deadkill_cover_zps70fea5b1.jpg Deadkill have created an album that very much sounds like the Seattle rock I’ve known of for the last 30 or so years, with hints of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Coffin Break, and other bands where things cross over the boundaries of rock, punk, hardcore, and metal to become distinctively Seattle while showing love for all of the bands they’ve been listening to in their dingy basements. No, Never! (Good To Die) sounds like the kind of music you specifically want to buy beer or drugs for, head into a room and listen to it on your own or with friends. If you’re with friends, you’ll want to jump over the walls and couches to get your rage out or even better, you head to other concerts and sing Deadkill’s songs over the other band. It’s the kind of music that are filled with lyrics of hope and hopelessness, losing and finding, along with redefining what it means to dwell in the pity but knowing that the small bit of anger felt (expressed in the music) will only lead to better days. Someday. It’s the kind of record you’d expect to not intentionally want but when you want into a record store and hear them playing it, you realize this is the one that you needed to hear at that moment, and it’s the one that will change you in some fashion. It would be silly to call this a feel good album, because “feel good albums aren’t supposed to sound this raw and rugged” but you know and understand the music, and why it sounds the way it does. No, Never! suits you because it sounds like the kind of melodic punk that was placed in front of you to disrupt everything, and for the better.

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