D.D Dumbo — Utopia Defeated

Even though I have been looping D. D. Dumbo’s single, Satan, for the whole second half of 2016, I have never heard anything like Utopia Defeated in my life. I struggle to imagine anyone disliking this album, D.D Dumbo’s debut. I want to say it has something for everyone, but had I not heard this album and was coming into this review cold, a phrase like ‘something for everyone’ would have made me sceptical. See, that particular phrase is bandied about so freely. But take my word for it: this album really does have something for everyone.

If my earnestness from the paragraph before this has been enough to convince you to give this album a spin, my job is done. I’m sure the album will do a far better job of convincing you within the first fifteen seconds than any of my writing will. But if you’re still reading on, sceptical, let me tell you why this album makes my job remarkably difficult.

I want to convince you this is a great album. For that, it’s usually best to fall back on comparables, which for an album such as this is so difficult to do. On the one hand there’s the obvious world music influences, but to call Utopia Defeated world music would do it a great disservice (just as calling ever Goat album world music does that band a great deal of disservice). On the other hand there’s the obvious pop sensibility that underscores every song on the album.  In that way, I see a fair comparison to one of my musical heroes, Talking Heads, who melded pop, world music, and everything else into this genre-of-one-band sound.

So, instead of struggling to find comparables, I will resort to metaphor. Listening to Utopia Defeated often feels like a vacation in the hills — by day you stand in the middle of what seems like nowhere, arms outstretched, your face bathed in cold air and the warm sun; by night, you descend into a hill town, walking its streets, weaving through markets, cafes, and pubs. This album is hill and valley, night and day, cold and warm. It isn’t just an exaggeration of a portion of the human experience, but a meditation on the entirety of it. By the end of my first listen, I found myself feeling like I had just travelled to the hills and back, like I had been on a thirty-seven minute vacation. If that doesn’t convince you to give it a shot, I don’t know what will.

(Listen to the album whenever, wherever, however. It’s really really good.)

WIBLT # 2

Swet Shop Boys  Cashmere

Genre: hip-hopa0908914594_10

Year: 2016

Hip-hop lyrics have always been socially aware and snarky. The prevailing cliche about this album is its relevance to the brown experience of today. That cliche holds from song one (T5), about ‘random’ frisking of bestubbled brown men, to song eleven (Din-e-Ilahi), about the religion that Akbar attempted to propagate to bring peace to his multi-religious kingdom. I’m a Das Racist fanboy, and while Heems is a little hit-or-miss (I have heard him say ‘I am a good rapper’ in so many songs now), the hits are way more awesome than the misses are awful. And Riz MC (Riz Ahmed from the Night Of and the new Star Wars movie) is really quite something. It’s also nice to hear some South Asian samples in hip-hop.

Here’s the video for T5:

Get the full album here:

 

Soulwax  Nite Versions

Genre: hard 220px-nite_versionselectronica

Year: 2005

This is a rave album that can be enjoyed by non-ravers like me. Albums like this can make tubelights-and-white-walls sort of days feel like neon-lights-and-starry nights sort of days, even for boring adults like me. Even if you want to give the album a skip, at least give ‘Krack’ a spin. It’s a legitimately fun track.

Here’s the iTunes link: https://itun.es/in/oAsYe

Bad Religion  Stranger Than Fiction

Genre: melodic hardcore, 90’s punkbadreligionstrangerthanfiction

Year: 1994

1994 was an incredible year for rock in the mainstream. Jeff Buckley’s Grace, Nirvana’s unplugged gig, Green Day’s Dookie, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Weezer’s first album. Of all the great 1994 rock albums, this is my favourite. It’s the reason why so many of my creative endeavours have the word ‘stranger’ in them, this one included.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself rolling my eyes a little at some of the lyrical themes, but there’s no doubting the sincerity in Greg Graffin’s every word. And oh my god, the harmonies slay, especially in songs like Tiny Voices. A personal side-note: This was the band that taught teenage me that punk music and the rest of life were not incompatible. Per Wikipedia, Gregory Walter Graffin, Ph.D, is an American punk rock singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, college lecturer, and author. I later discovered so many punk bands had academicians as key members, including the Offspring, Jawbreaker, and the Descendents (their first album was called Milo Goes To College, ffs).

Anyway, back to this album, I highly recommend it. The first four songs are just the most amazing way to start an album. There are no official links, but if you google ‘bad religion stranger than fiction’ you’ll find the whole album on YouTube.

Zao  Xenophobe / Fear Itselfstatic1-squarespace

Genre: Metalcore

Year: 2015

This is a less-than-seven-minute-long EP that feels like a complete assault on everything. Highly recommended. Unlike the next album, however, people who do not like metal are unlikely to have any interest in this one.

Yob  Atma

Genre: Doomyob-atma

Year: 2011

This is a metal album that, I think, both metalheads and non-metalheads will enjoy. This album is truly incredible. Like Sirens, which I reviewed last week, it’s a close-your-eyes-and-drift-away sort of album, and one of the best ones I have heard. Check it out here:

Nicolas Jaar — Sirens

Note: Anything Nicolas Jaar puts out comes with baggage. Space is Only Noise is a great album. His work on DARKSIDE is great. He’s only 26, and is already one of the most respected (electronic or otherwise) musicians in the world. It’s important to get all of this out of the way, because it takes away from how amazing Sirens, his second LP, is.

While listening to this album, I grappled with three music-related concepts. All three of them have something to do with ‘what’s in between’.

I Silence

I first became conscious of the compositional importance of silence while listening to James Blake’s self-titled debut LP. Between two chords, two notes, two words, he just let the song breathe. And instead of becoming boring, that made the album all the more interesting — the wait. It’s all about anticipation, the aural equivalent of watching a Hitchcock movie waiting for the frame to shift.

II Repetition

Here’s something punk taught me — repetition in music does not equal monotony. When done right, repetition can magically both ground music and make it seem transcendental. This is why we love driving bass lines (dun-dun-dun-dun). This is why we love choruses. This is why we love na-na-na-na.

III Non-semitone frequencies

What’s between A and A#? The frequency of A4 is 440 Hz, and the frequency of A#4 is 466 Hz. What’s 450 Hz? How we deal with this is by breaking an octave into 12 semitones and 100 cents. Cents are still discrete, though. (How do you map the frequencies of a guitar string being bent? That’s not discrete.)

So much of the beauty of the album is in these gaps. Sometimes the gaps are temporal (repetition, silence). Sometimes they are frequential. It is these gaps that make music an interactive artform, especially in albums such as this one. These gaps are the blanks you fill with your thoughts.

We all tell ourselves stories, even when we are listening to those of others. In between a fullstop and a capital letter is where you come in. Between the C# and the F of Smells Like Teen Spirit is where you can actually ‘smell’ ‘teen spirit’. This is why going to a club is so often excruciating if you aren’t dancing. “I can’t hear myself think,” you say.

^That is what Sirens is not. It’s an artist telling a story, but allowing you to interlace yours with it. Through conversations between the artist as a squeaky-voiced toddler and his father that form the spine of the album, you are a child looking at the world outside and trying to make sense of it. Through his trademark baritone sprechgesang vocals, you are an adult looking at a world you think you now understand better still struggling to make any sense of it.

My recommendation: pick a night on which you have thirty-eight minutes plus twenty to spend as you choose. Enter ‘nicolas jaar sirens’ into the search bar of your chosen mode of music consumption. Connect your headphones (recommended), earphones, or speakers. Turn out the lights. Close your eyes. Drift away. Tell yourself a story.

And if you like it, do it again and again and again.

GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object (a review by Unkitsch)

 

I shouldn’t have to write anything if you watch the video above. If you decide not to, then you’re clearly a little soft in the head to think that my words will in any way best this performance. But let’s say you’re that kind of a person, and you came to this blog expecting a review of some sort, and you need reasons to pick this album out of a million others to listen to.

Reason 1 – Impeccable Groove:

I listen to this album while commuting to work. I get completely absorbed in the songs as I get out of my house, walk towards the train station, wait for the train, get out, follow the same path that leads into a park and then 9 floors up to my office. I know that if I have left at the correct moment, I will be listening to “Weird Cat” just as I enter the park. I am completely in sync with the album, and by the time I’m done listening to it, I’m in the rhythm to work.

Reason 2 – Memorable Melodies:

Good jazz, or for that matter good music, should have memorable melodies. Take “My Favorite Things”, for instance, which has such a simple yet memorable melody, there have been innumerable renditions, and due to its stark simplicity, this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic has worn so many styles and flirted with so many great musicians, I could write an entire post devoted to it, which I someday will. But the point being, these guys know how to write hooks, melodies, and though one might imagine that the improvisational aspect is limited, I once again suggest listening to the album and then watch any of their live videos to note how subtly they improvise in near watertight structural restrictions, both rhythmic and melodic. Especially the drummer.

Reason 3 – Crystal Clear Production:

You can hear every note clearly – which is a combination of how the sections are composed and arranged, how cleanly they are played and how well recorded and mastered they are. I could transcribe a lot of the melodies and bass just by listening to them on my terrible laptop speakers.

Reason 4 – Jazz Induction:

If you have friends who aren’t really into jazz, or if you are a friend to someone who loves jazz but you don’t (in which case you’re a terrible friend – kidding) – this album can be a great gateway into jazz – especially if the jazz non-lover in concern has some appreciation for electronic music such as Aphex Twin (who is a major influence for the band, or so I’ve been told).

(stranger’s note: unkitsch blogs at howgoodisthisalbum.wordpress.com.)

WIBLT # 1

Here’s what I’ve been listening to:

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Trap Them — Darker Handicraft

Genre: metal, hardcore, metalcore

Year: 2011

Trap Them are probably my favourite metal band around right now and this album is one of my favourite metal albums. Huge plus, this album is produced by Kurt Ballou, guitarist-producer of genre pioneers Converge, and producer of some of the best heavy records of the past two years (High on Fire, Nails, Sumac, Torche). I will be reviewing their latest release, Crown Feral, which already sounds pretty tasty, soon.

Necessaries — Event Horizon

Genre: early alternative, post-punk

Year: 1982

Full disclosure. I don’t really know anything about this band or the album. It was an accidental discovery, a very ‘internet age’ discovery. Having said that, I’m glad to have discovered this album. It sounds like a weirder Feelies or a less frantic Gang of Four.

(I can’t seem to find any sort of official link, but google the name of the artist and the album name, and you’ll find it on YouTube.)

Koushik — Be With2271175

Genre: instrumental hip-hop, chill, downtempo

Year: 2004

At first I was hesitant to give this album a shot, because it sounded like the sort of music that brain-dead yuppies listened to in their hard-day’s-night drug-taking parties. It had all the red flags reverb-soaked vocals, Ibiza-sounding guitars, a ‘chill’ album released on a hip-hop label (Stones Throw Records). Despite my closed-mindedness, I’ve grown to really like the album.

You can get it on iTunes/ Apple Music here: https://itun.es/in/nMIhe

Equiknoxx — Bird Sound Powerequiknoxx_bird_dds

Genre: hell if i know, post-dancehall apparently

Year: 2016

This is one of my favourite albums this year. I recommend you go into it cold, zero expectations.

You can get it off of apple music here: https://itun.es/in/Ni69db

Reuben — Racecar Is Racecar Backwardsreuben

Genre: high school crooning/screaming alternative rock/metal

Year: 2004

I decided to try this record out because I had never occurred to me that racecar is indeed racecar backwards. Once I got over memories of all the stupid things I had done in high school while listening of inferior versions of this album (whiny white-boy alternative metal), I started truly enjoying it. It’s not anyone’s favourite genre, but it’s a solid genre album.

Yet another iTunes/ Apple Music link: https://itun.es/in/zZRL2)