The same streets — A meditation on Indian hip-hop

I

In which language do you dream, express your innermost fears and desires?

In which language do you do business?

For me, the answer to those two questions is English and Hindi respectively. For many Indians, it’s probably the other way around.

Despite my having a more-or-less equal level of comprehension of both languages, each of them comes with it’s own library of emotions.

For example, I find it easier to relate to romcoms narrated in the language in which I think, and sports dramas narrated in the language in which I seek professional success.

Dangal had far more of an impact on me than Invictus did, and I was more moved by When Harry Met Sally than I was by Wake Up Sid.

For me, hip-hop lies in the intersection of these two libraries — a combination of the emotional burdens and the functional realities of getting through day after day of a life of challenges.

Consider a standard hip-hop trope — selling dope and pimping to make dough to buy food for your baby daughter.

The functional elements of that narrative — selling dope and pimping — are seen as bad things for an individual to do just to make money. If that’s all rap was about, it would be hard to relate to it.

By the way, it’s these types of songs that most ‘rock purists’ take as an example when they want to say hip-hop is somehow inferior to ‘real music’. Like white rock musicians never made a song that was only about women and drugs. It’s not called sex, drugs, and hip-hop, is it?

Back to the point: selling dope and pimping may be bad, but it’s something you can understand if it’s the only way the guy can feed his baby daughter.

Besides, most rappers will try and convince you they don’t condone that sort of living; they only prefer it to poverty, their only other option.

They want to get out of that lifestyle. They can’t imagine what they would do if anyone would try and hurt their baby daughter. But the system is rigged — the cops, the gangs, the ghetto.

The only way out is to be the best at ‘this rap game’.

Is it any wonder that rappers are obsessed with being the GOAT?

And that that claim sounds so inauthentic coming from Drake?

Hip-hop was born in New York, at a time when inequality between rich, usually white, New Yorkers, and poor, often black, New Yorkers was becoming increasingly visible. It was made in cramped lanes overrun with poverty city officials refused to address, while being set against the backdrop of a city that was seeing an unimaginable prosperity boom.

Hip-hop was born out of a need to speak to this reality.

II

In this context, Mumbai seems a natural home to India’s hip-hop scene. Nowhere else in India is the partial growth story so typical of today’s developing economies more obvious.

Mumbai has more slums than any Indian city, and more highrises than any Indian city.

It’s India’s capital of commerce, media, and entertainment.

It has some of the world’s most expensive real estate mere feet away from tarp-roofed houses.

Delhi, in contrast, is the nation’s administrative capital, with wider roads, fancier cars, more houses, fewer apartments.

Assertion, pure speculation: Its poverty is not as visible, since Mumbai’s stronger inclination towards free market capitalism leads to more visibly unequal ends.

Assertion based on reality: Delhi has the same number of people as Mumbai spread over ten times the area, which means the poor and the rich live further away from each other, and hence ‘the other’ is easier to ignore.

Conclusion: In Mumbai, the interplay between functional and the emotional is more a constant.

Despite this, Indian hip-hop has, for the longest time, found a safe home in Delhi, and, to a certain extent, Chandigarh and other Punjab cities.

III

There has been a decade-long proxy war in Delhi’s constant struggle to wrest cultural control from Mumbai.

I remember becoming aware of this trend in 2006, the year Khosla ka Ghosla was released.

The trend continued with Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Dev D, and other ‘Delhi’ films.

Consequently, since the late ‘00s, the number of Bollywood songs that are 100% intelligible to me on first listen has dropped.

A year or so ago, it seemed like every Hindi song was a Punjabi song.

I could propound several amateur socio-theories to explain this, but I’m no expert. Not even close to one. Even in the sense of being acquainted with one.

I will, however, make some observations.

The artistic centre of gravity has moved Delhi-wards at about the same time that the sociopolitical centre of gravity has moved in the same direction.

India is increasingly run from the centre, as evidenced by the seemingly national lionisation of Modiji, his government’s implementation of a uniform central consumption tax code in the form of the GST, or last year’s demonetisation.

If a nation’s popular art is a representation of its cultural preoccupations, then it’s no wonder that the average song on the radio appears to be in Delhi’s Punjabi-laced Hindi rather than Mumbai’s Marathi-laced Hindi.

Or maybe its because bhangra is incredibly catchy.

Or maybe because when trends form, they’re typically nostalgias of the youth of the day — the newest and most enthusiastic consumers in the market. Indian millenials were children the last time bhangra captured the nation’s imagination with Daler Mehndi, Gurdas Maan, Sukhbir, etc.

Whatever the reason, the balance of artistic power has temporarily appeared to shift away from Mumbai towards the north.

This is just as true of music as it is of movies, and just as true of hip-hop as it is of other genres of music.

Streets, clubs, and cabs in Mumbai now sound a lot like streets, clubs, and cabs in Delhi.

IV

This write-up is not intended to be a knock-piece on Yo Yo Honey Singh or Badshah.

Yes, it’s true I prefer the music of DIVINE or Naezy to the music of Honey Singh or Badshah. But there’s no reason why both DIVINE and Badshah cannot coexist.

That said, please consider my hypothesis of Mumbai being a more natural home to the sort of hip-hop about which I was speaking.

V

From this point on, I’m going to be unabashed about my love for suburban Mumbai.

I may make some absurd assertions.

I may not back up my claims.

Forgive a romantic.

The average Mumbai hip-hop track, like Aafat! or Mere Gully Mein, is an exploration of the intersection of the emotional and the functional on the streets of Mumbai’s suburban slums — specifically those of Govandi and Vile Parle.

It’s what you would expect hip-hop in Mumbai Hindi to sound like — brash and wonderful.

And because many of it’s highrise listeners’ repertoire of functional phrases is built around Mumbai Hindi, it does a wonderful job of highlighting certain everyday challenges to which us highrise Mumbaikars would have been oblivious.

For a lot of its highrise-dwelling audience, Mumbai’s hip-hop manages to communicate certain universal truths about life on the streets that even the best of American hip-hop cannot — Mumbai Hindi is the language of our streets.

It’s an essential part of the message, just as ebonics was an essential part of early American hip-hop.

Unlike a lot of hip-hop in the Punjabi-Hindi hybrid, it doesn’t seem to be overly preoccupied with money/cash/hoes.

This is not to say I don’t like the Punjabi-Hindi variety of hip-hop.

I wouldn’t have added Wakhra Swag to the list if I didn’t.

This is a question of preference.

The Final Sketch // An Inflection Point — 4:44

I. Why write about someone else’s art?

Criticism about music criticism is common.

Those who argue that it’s deserved because critics aren’t building sculptures themselves, but tearing down sculptures built by others must contend with this: just as much criticism is levied against critics who are also musicians themselves.

For instance, when was the last time an artist’s honest appraisal of another artist’s work was not seen as a dig?

Also, in some ways, at least, isn’t a critic also a sculptor?

And the critic of a critic too?

Why must music criticism exist?

I will parse through art-school explanations — they are academic — to arrive at the reason I want to believe is most true.

One. Listener-readers went to know what to listen to next.

Two.They want the appraisal of someone who has put in more effort than they have to glean meaning from a work of art.

Maybe a critic can help them articulate why they liked or disliked an album.

Or maybe the critic can predict what they might like in future based on what they have liked or disliked in the past.

Or maybe a critic can deepen their liking for a work of art by revealing depth they didn’t know it had.

Three. I suspect it’s because of our desire to relate — not only with the critic, but also with the artist.

An artist’s perspective of his/ her art is subjective.

A critic’s perspective helps the audience connect better.

As with any interface with other people — business, interaction design, conversation — a critic is engaged in a battle between two desires. One, to push his own agenda. Two, to address someone else’s need.

This is where seeing music criticism as an art similar to either music or fiction-writing is dangerous.

When it come to criticism, the balance between these two desires lies closer to the audience.

That is, a critic is more in service of his audience than a musician or fiction-writer needs to be.

II. 4:44

When Beyonce released Lemonade, the music press was buzzing with news about Jay-Z’s alleged infidelity.

The music press is now buzzing with news about Jay-Z’s response to the buzz about his alleged infidelity.

The liberal news outlets I follow were quick to celebrate Beyonce’s courage, and just as quick to deride the world’s willingness to give Jay-Z an equal shot.

This is an opportunity afforded only to powerful men, they said.

If Jay-Z’s infidelity was the only factor in play, there would be no need for two albums addressing it.

Some might say it isn’t my place to question the ulterior financial motivations of two billionaires fanning gossip-flames with multi-platinum selling albums.

But I would argue that Lemonade and 4:44 have granted me the right.

Plus, I’m making a larger point.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Jay-Z’s 4:44 is at least partially a ploy to monetise infidelity.

It’s happened before, it will happen again. We are suckers for gossip. I know I am.

I would be kinder if Jay-Z himself didn’t keep glorifying the need to make money through whatever means necessary in 4:44.

For instance, he brings up selling dope to make money in The Story of OJ.

And in Marcy Me.

And in most other songs in his discography.

I will not comment on race. I will not comment on his alleged anti-semitism. Not because I don’t believe I’m entitled to an opinion about these issues, but because, as an Indian in a racially more-or-less homogeneous society, I do not believe I have the required context.

I will, however, comment about Jay-Z’s lyrics about relationships and money.

My crib with Jay-Z’s music has always been that he’s been about money, cash, hoes, and not much else.

The same cannot be said for Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, or other nineties hip-hop. They often had more substance.

In 4:44, however, Jay-Z lays digging deeper than ever to tell us why women and money are really that important to him.

Financial freedom is his only hope.

He can’t wait to give his money to all of his children.

He doesn’t want to lose the world’s baddest woman because he couldn’t be faithful.

But it just isn’t deep enough.

For example, his final point is undermined by his demonising Halle Berry’s ex-husband not for cheating on her, but for ‘losing’ Halle Berry.

With that attitude, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t look at relationships as acquisitions.

Another example, the hammy LGBT+ support song, Smile, which sounds quite forced, to be honest.

Most of 4:44 can be summed up in a single regressive viewpoint —

Get rich quick. Marry well. Leave as much as you can to your kids. Everyone else be damned.

There’s some merit to that viewpoint, but not much depth. I could have got that from any of many stern lectures.

But then again, this is the same Jay-Z who bragged about calculating how poorly he should rap in Moment of Clarity

If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be
Lyrically Talib Kweli
Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did 5 mil’, I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.

So maybe he’s okay with that criticism.

Maybe it isn’t about rhyming.

Or regret about his infidelity.

Or any of that mush.

Maybe it’s just about the topline.

III. Why I write, why I make music.

There’s a voice in my head. It says:

Maybe you’re no good, and will wallow in obscurity.

Maybe you’re no good at self-promotion, and will wallow in obscurity.

Maybe you should’ve taken the first zeppo out of here to the promised land like everyone else.

While you were sitting on your desk, the party outside your window was winding down.

Nobody reads anymore. Why should anyone write?

When was the last time you heard an Indian artist’s album?

You, the music nerd.

Okay, you’re a bad example, brown-white-boy.

I need to demand more from those I know.

The question should no longer by why I write. It should be why others don’t read.

Why does anybody write?

Writing is better than drinking.

Most things are.

I’ve never been writing and stopped to think: I’d rather be drinking.

Back in my drinking days, I would’ve often rather been writing than drinking.

I’m terrified my drinking days might return.

I’m terrified I’ll never make a new friend again unless I start drinking like that again.

Who am I kidding; ‘friend’?

I’m afraid I’ll never meet another girl again unless I start drinking like that again.

There’s solace in seeing it written.

Or hope —

Maybe I’m the not the only one.

Ultimately, I’m engaged in a battle against my mind.

I win, every time I express myself — even if approximately.

IV. 4:44, or why I listen to music.

So…

Should I keep listening to 4:44?

The beats are great.

The lyrics are okay.

Honestly, I’m addicted to the flow in OJ.

But all of this thinking has put me in a tight spot.

Should I just enjoy the music?

Would I just enjoy the music if I didn’t think so much?

Or do the negative aspects of this appraisal paint a truer picture of how I would feel.

I think it’s like what I wrote earlier about music criticism.

I’m just trying to articulate the discomfort I have felt with 4:44 right from the get-go.

And now that I know what it is, I’ll find it harder to enjoy it.

And I probably would have anyway.

But now, I also get to cherish other works of art that aren’t as cynical.

There’s no shortage of good 2017 hip-hop out there.

I’d much rather listen to Vince Staples.

Sketches — Lost Time // Brutalism

It’s customary for us sky-dwellers to bring a narrator along for our journeys to the ground, and put our stories up for sale underground.

When I say ‘underground’, I mean like the samizdat of the sky.

I’m sure you’re wondering what samizdat means.

It’s what underground literature was called in Soviet Russia. Most of our literature in the sky-world has been pushed underground.

It’s not by law or anything. The underground is the only place populated by people who care about out stories.

Sky-dwellers don’t care.

Ground-dwellers would have better things to read in a randomly selected archive or library.

So we’re consigned to an above-ground underground.

You’ve probably been wondering how I, Ms. Peacock, know you’re watching me.

First of all, it’s Akara. Ms. Peacock is what Grully called me.

Secondly, you followed me here.

I know you don’t remember, but you did.

I’m sorry things got a little out of hand, and I had to boot Grully.

You’re happy he’s gone. You don’t remember why, but trust me.

You can’t speak to me.

Let me rephrase… You could, but I wouldn’t be able to hear you. That’s not how this ‘time’ thing works.

YOU CAN’T BROADSMIT ON THE SAMIZDAT LINE WITHOUT A NARRATOR, <MS. PEACOCK>, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED ABOUT THIS BEFORE. THIS IS YOUR SECOND VIOLATION. DEAR VIEWER, <MS. PEACOCK> IS A REPEAT OFFENDER AND THIS PORTION OF HER ‘SMIT HAS BEEN DELIBERATELY REMOVED TO DISSUADE REPEATED RULE-BREAKING.

Ms. Peacock, I did tell you I need to be here with you.

Yes, Grully.

We will be monitored henceforth. So please do not interact with me for the rest of our journey. Pretend I’m not here.If you break the rules again, you will be reported to the Party Police, and I wouldn’t like that. I like you, Ms. Peacock. I wouldn’t like to see you dealing with the likes of the Party Police.

(…)

Ms. Peacock?

I thought I was to pretend you didn’t exist?

Yes.

Hi, dear reader. I apologise for the confusion.

Let’s start afresh.

My Month in the Doldrums — Madvillainy (1)

Do we need another dude on the internet talking about how ‘dope’ a rapper MF DOOM is? I’m going to say yes, because by the time this series is done, there is going to be quite some DOOM in it. Madvillainy holds a special place in DOOM’s discography. One, because it’s a combo of DOOM as emcee and Madlib as producer. Two, because it’s just so good. MF DOOM’s discography, and Madvillainy and Mm.. Food in particular were a great escape from thoughts about my self-important self.

How DOOM going to hold heat and preach non-violence?

I think about myself often, so much so that post- and self- are staple prefixes in my life. Post- because I keep inserting myself into stuff and equate my views on stuff with those of all of culture. Self- is pretty self-explanatory.

I often hear unknown voices in my head saying things like ‘he’s grown into a fine young man’, and imagine myself smiling proudly. It’s embarrassing, this self-love / self-hate dialogue in my brain.

I’m afraid I’ll alienate my friends if I don’t get with the programme, insecurity and all. I’m twenty-six and self-obsessed. What’s the point of empathy if it isn’t directed to outwards? Am I not either too young or too old for this level of introspection?

What’s the difference?

Get on this ride with me. Trust me; it’ll be fun. It’ll be like a roller-coaster. Here’s one aspect of that cliché nobody explores. No matter how many ups and downs a roller-coaster goes through, it always ends where it began, therefore intersecting heavily with another cliché — the cyclic nature of life.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Segue: I hold myself to high standards, which would be great if I actually met them. It’s safe to say it’s impossible for most to meet those standards. So I set lower, more achievable standards for myself to meet, while being constantly aware of the ‘true’ standards I don’t and can’t reach. Those around me see me flailing, at war with this imaginary adversary. They just look on, confused. Classic bi-standard effect.

Is he still a fly guy clapping if nobody ain’t hear it?

I wonder what a human is worth? This isn’t just some academic question. A lot of those old introspective questions come from a feeling of worthlessness. The d word? The not-so-great? The not-feeling-so-great?

Does a human have objective worth? If the right to life is inalienable, does that not mean that a human’s life is invaluable. But if a human being is killed due to a government’s negligence, does the government not owe the human being’s family a specific amount of money commensurate with the value of that human life (and the ability of the government to pay)?

I find it so much easier to obfuscate than to deal with the issue head on, which is why all this pseudophilosophical psychobabble. I was dealing more with questions of self-worth, especially as it relates to societal checkpoints such as income, wealth, relationship status, etc.

The argument for moving to a new (read: Western) country is that the parameters on which the worth of an individual is measured might be more holistic. But as long as the poison is within me, I can’t blame any society for my false conclusions.

I bet she tried to say she gave me her all; she played ball.

The identity question has always been front-and-centre for me. If my life were an album, what genre would it be? Maybe experimental. Maybe post-punk of the art-punk variety. Almost certainly adult alternative — the sort that plays in cafés at 5 pm. I’m just a middle-of-the-road kind of guy at heart, I guess, like the grape in Mr. Miyagi’s long-winded analogy. Just like that grape, I’ll probably go ‘squish’ if I’m run over by a car.

I’m not done milking this analogy. Whenever I step onto either pavement, the other starts to entice. So I always find myself crossing the road, often just stuck in the middle between clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right. I go from clown to joker then back to clown again. And then repeat, just like a spinning record.

(That’s right. I don’t just have an alogy. I have two alogies.)

This brings me back to my original thought. If this cyclic life of mine were an album, I have no idea what genre it would be. That said, it would probably be like Madvillainy. I’ll spend the first few spins terribly confused, getting most of it wrong. After a few spins, things will start to make sense. After many, while most of it will make little sense, it will start to become increasingly rewarding and highly enjoyable.

If not, at least I’ll have this album.

All bets off; the villain got the dice rigged.

That’s the one thing I hope to take from these doldrums to tide me over the next — there’s no hurry to get anywhere if you’re running around in circles. It then becomes more important to remain constantly engaged. As King Kendrick said in The Heart Part 4, there’s a difference between accomplishments and astonishments.

Told ya; on some get-rich shit.

If there’s anything being part of a startup ecosystem should’ve taught me, it’s that you are allowed to make your own way, to define your own worth. That’s the sort of free-thinking such ecosystems are supposed to promote. Of course, most of them, this one especially, end up having their own twisted hierarchy — the poison.

The poison is within me too, and I see ladders everywhere I look. These ladderes don’t exist, mind you. It’s just that my cataract makes them up, and my schizophrenia imagines me on them. I should make a collaborative album with myself and call it Sadvillainy.

Probably kissed her that evening; I should be hurling.

Or maybe Radvillainy.

I was feeling mighty blue, and everything looked black.

I don’t even know what the point of all of this is. I made it through March, and the grass is os much greener on this side. Lessons have been learnt. Ladders have been climbed. Not too many lessons, clearly.

I carried on.

I guess I’m like Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail, throwing questions out into the abyss. That must make you Tom Hanks. He had Meg Ryan. You’ve got male.

Looks like it’s going to be a great day today.

All I hope is that as time goes by, I’ll be plagued with fewer questions of identity. The signs are positive, and as a long as I proceed with cation, an identity should crystallise. Meanwhile, all I can do is drop the weight of self bit by bit, become a little less than I (I minus), and bond with someone positive.

Forget about myself for a while.

And what a great way to start — with a little bit of autobiographical asphyxiation.

My Month in the Doldrums — Kelly Lee Owens

March ended with an album almost as wonderful as the album that started it — Kelly Lee Owens’ self-titled debut LP. With the start of April come heavy-handed thoughts like, ‘March is gone, taking with it the spectre of oppressive familiarity.’ What I meant to say is that this break away from Mumbai is doing me a world of good. Besides, since vacations end, ‘the spectre of oppressive familiarity’ could well lie ahead as well. That heavy handed thought occurred to me in a Starbucks. No matter how many thousands of miles I wander, I always find myself at a Starbucks. Yesterday, I found myself at two different Starbucks, bringing my vacation Starbucks tally to three in three days.

Over much of this vacation, I have been listening to Kelly Lee Owens’ fascinating self-titled debut LP. It’s a heady mix of minimal balaeric-inspired techno,  reverb-drenched bips and baps, and vocals that I can only describe with the magazine clichés ‘childlike’ and ‘haunting’. For music nerds, there is the added incentive of a Jenny Hval feature in song three of the album, Anxi. It’s a very interesting album that I highly recommend, especially for strollers and drivers.

The sun has set now, and I’m sitting at my balcony. The city is dark and silent, far below and to the right of me. I get the sense that a lot of this music was made against a similar backdrop, and its against this backdrop that it works best. Tomorrow, at 9 pm, I will stand silently on a beach, completely alone, staring at a neon-blue skyline, listening to Lucid, when the evening will wash over me, overwhelming me. It will be just as beautiful tomorrow as it is today.

I’ve become a softie in my old age.

A lazy person’s guide to what I’ve been listening to.

***** represents albums I recommend highly.

Lung cycles — On Being Lumpy (experimental folk)

Wilco — Yankee Hotel Foxtrot ***** (alt-country, pitchfork rock)

Shellac — 1000 Hurts (angry alternative, post-punk derivative)

Zoé — Memo Rex Commander y el Corazón Atómico de la Vía Láctea (mexican psychedelia)

Bully — Feels Like (straightforward post-punk inspired indie)

Layo & Bushwacka! — Nightworks (electronic)

Justice — Woman (dance, old daft punk)

Ornette Coleman — Shape of Jazz to Come ***** (free jazz)

Cloakroom — Big World (rock)

Trap Them — Crown Feral ***** (best metal)

High on Fire — Luminiferous ***** (best metal)

Magazine — Real Life ***** (post-punk)

The Clientele — Strange Geometry ***** (heartbreak rock)

Disco Inferno — The 5 EPs ***** (post-rock, the first album in ages to bring me to the edge of sanity, highest recommendation i can give)

My 50 Favourite Albums of the Year (Alphabetically Arranged)

A Giant Dog — Pile one of the best versions of slightly angry pop-punk fronted by a woman.
A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service if an album could exceed the unreasonable expectations I had on this one…
Alcest — Kodama i’ve always been curious enough to check each of their releases — this is their best.
Anderson .Paak — Malibu incredible soul/funk/rap/hiphop/r&b/every-genre-ever album.
Aphex Twin — Cheetah this is great electronic music. it’s not just on the list because it’s aphex twin.
Blood Orange — Freetown Sound one of two reverb-drenched, conscious pop music records on this list.
Bob Mould — Patch the Sky a simple rock record by the husker du dude, it’s always over before you know it.
Bon Iver — 22, A Million whatever anyone expected this record to sound like, it sounded different and better.
Cobalt — Slow Forever i didn’t think i could still enjoy simple american metal as a fully grown adult, i can.
D.D.Dumbo — Utopia Defeated pop album of the year probably, extra props for teetering on the edge of world music.
Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition first album on this list on it primarily because of sampling, great stuff.
David Bowie — Blackstar when i first heard blackstar (the song) i didn’t know he was going to die, still sad.
De La Soul — and the Anonymous Nobody… everybody should get one nostalgia pick, this is mine.
Deathspell Omega — The Synarchy of Molten Bones my favourite metal (maybe even overall) album of the year, still peeling layers off.
Deftones — Gore probably my 2nd favourite deftones album after white pony, less metal, more rock.
DJ Shadow — The Mountain Will Fall almost gets a spot only because of the number of times i looped nobody speak.
Driftmachine — Colliding Contours if you prefer getting out of clubs to being inside, this is the album for you.
Equiknoxx — Bird Sound Power my favourite electronic album of the year, this dubby dancehally album is just great.
Factory Floor — 25 25 Some of the most interesting electronic around. tickles my lcd soundsystem bone.
Frank Ocean — Endless and Blonde this is yet another case of an artist exceeding almost hilarious amounts of hype.
Future of the Left — The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left not my favourite album from one of my favourite bands, that said, still gnarly, angry.
Inter Arma — Paradise Gallows great year for metal and relapse, this is sludgy, groovy, psychy on another level.
Israel Vines — Gatekeepers dark electronic people for a dark electronic sort of year.
James Blake — The Colour in Anything the 2nd half is admittedly stronger than the first, but still one of my for-sure top-tens.
Kanye West — The Life of Pablo one of my favourite records of the year, again, primarily because of the sampling.
Kaytranada — 99.9% the best soundtrack to a 3 am spent alone i have heard in a very long time.
Kemper Norton — Toll meditative’ is the new ‘transcendental’, this is the sort of album where the word fits.
Kendrick Lamar — untitled unmastered. if kendrick lamar puts an album out, it makes it to your year-end list, that’s just math.
Matmos — Ultimate Care II an electronic album made using a washing machine as an instrument, eye-roll, wow.
Motorpsycho — Here Be Monsters swedish prog-rock stalwarts who make the best drift-away prog-rock i have heard.
Nails — You Will Neve Be One Of Us punch-the-walls metal that is guaranteed to make you snap your neck.
NAO — For All We Know the second of two reverb-drenched, conscious pop music records on the list.
Neurosis — Fires Within Fires i don’t know how neurosis keep coming up with relevant diy post-metal.
New Keepers of the Water Towers — Infernal Machine everything you need to know about this album i have already written.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree a glacial record about grappling with grief, my favourite nick cave record.
Nicolas Jaar — Sirens electronic album of the year, i have no idea how music this good is made.
Pantha du Prince — The Triad this is what i think minimal/ambient electronic music is supposed to sound like.
Schammasch — Triangle downside: longer than it needs to be, upside: some of the best bm this year.
ScHoolboy Q — Blank Face immersive, got me rethinking my relationship with gangsta rap, we’re on a break.
Swet Shop Boys — Cashmere this album grows and grows and grows on you. gets in because of sheer catchiness.
Tackle — Benzedrine incredibly dark electronic music done right, word-less stories are told like this.
The Avalanches — Wildflower a lot of chatter about how influential they are, not enough about how good they are.
The Body — No One Deserves Happiness we all feel like shit once in a while, this is that moment in rock album form.
The Dillinger Escape Plan — Dissociation limerent death has to be the best side one track one of the year. also, heaviest.
Tim Hecker — Love Streams close your eyes and follow the patterns on the back of your eyelids to this album.
Trap Them — Crown Feral best metal act in the world releases a pretty solid album, sold.
Ulcerate — Shrines of Paralysis almost liked this album as much as the DSO album. one of the few i’ve looped.
Vektor — Terminal Redux i’m told this is a concept album about spaceships, etc. it’s just good metal to me.
Xiu Xiu — Xiu Xiu plays the music of Twin Peaks i have never watched twin peaks, so keep that in mind. one of my favourites, though.
Zao — Zenophobe/Fear Itself i’m cheating, this is a single. but i liked it so much, it wouldn’t be fair to leave it out.

WIBLT THIS CITY!

Dear diary,

It’s been while since we last spoke. I have soooo much to tell you. So much, in fact, that I’ll be doing all my sharing in the form of a list. Here’s what I’ve been listening to:

Motorpsycho – Here Be Monsters

Genre: Prog-rock (the hyphenated kind)102289

Year: 2016

Motorpsycho’s The Death Defying Unicorn is one of the very few prog albums I would voluntarily listen to, and I more than just ‘voluntarily listen’ to it. It’s safe to say I adore the record. Here Be Monsters is not as good as that one is, but it’s still pretty amazing. I recommend it highly to fans of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd, which is most people.

 

Deftones – Gore

Genre: Alternative metal1a91b9f5

Year: 2016

I don’t understand what everyone’s problem with this record is. I think it’s pretty neat. Prayers/Triangles is a great single. Hearts/Wires is great. Rubicon is a great closer. Honestly, I have no complaints about this record at all. Yes, if you want heavy shrieking Deftones, there’s not a lot of that in this album, but I think it’s one of their best albums.

 

Kalipo – Yaruto

Genre: Minimal electronicakalipo_electronic_beats_220

Year: 2014

I had never heard this album in full. Now I can’t stop. A common insultocompliment for music of this variety is that it’s great work music. I honestly think this album is a lot more than that. Also, do check out Kalipo’s videos on YouTube. They’re pretty amazing.

 

Vektor – Terminal Reduxa0144143476_10

Genre: Thrash

Year: 2016

Vektor has started to specialise in making space odyssey concept albums. This is a pretty solid album for fans of not-really-‘extreme’-extreme metal.

 

Blank Banshee – MEGA

Genre: Vaporwavea0838514060_10

Year: 2016

I find both BB’s debut and sophomore effort are better than this album. That’s unfortunate, I guess. But that’s a pretty high bar to set Vaporwave-wise. This is an alright album, I guess. But I will always recommend BB0 and BB1 over this album. Sorry.

 

Lady Gaga – Joanne

Genre: Poplady_gaga_-_joanne_official_album_cover

Year: 2016

As someone who is more than someone who likes a couple of her songs and less than a fan, I was looking forward to this album. While I love track one (Diamond Heart: very loop-worthy), I found the album a little patchy. That said, I still think it’s a must-listen. It’s filled with very interesting ideas, and lots of it is good straightforward pop. I’m not likely to bitch and moan (or sit still) when Perfect Illusion starts to play in a public place.

 

Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones 

Genre: Black metal0008441193_10

Year: 2016

It’s very rare to come across an album that changes what you thought was musically possible. Find everything you need to know about this album in Unkitsch’s review.

 

Suma – The Order Of Things

Genre: Sludge

Year: 2016suma-the-order-of-things-700

Good first listen album produced by Billy Anderson (Sleep-approved producer).

Other than that, not much more to say about this one.

 

Jan Jelinek – Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records

Genre: Ambient

Year: 2001original

Solid album of youtubetronica that will be appreciated as good work music by most. Though a lot of my compliments sound like thinly veiled insults (ref: insultocompliments), I like this album.

 

Farben – Textstar

Genre: Minimal techno

cs1695273-02a-bigYear: 2002

Same guy. More accessible. In my view, not only better, but worthy of ‘great’.

 

Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis

Genre: Post-death metal, I guess.

a1668907981_10Year: 2016

Holy shit. This album will blow your mind and melt your face. I nearly snapped my neck when I heard it for the first time.

 

 

Cult Leader – Lightless Walk 

Genre: Metalcorea3155242637_10

Year: 2015

Ok. Again. This album will blow your mind and melt your face. I nearly snapped my neck when I heard it for the first time. But in a different way. Fans of heavy punk should check this one out.

 

Trap Them – Crown Feral

Genre: Metalcorea1304811290_10

Year: 2016

I’m very open about my love for Trap Them. This is a good album, but I don’t feel the same way about it as I did about Blissfucker and Darker Handcraft (genre: best metal) before it. That said, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the best produced album on this list (Kurt Ballou, Kurt Ballou, Kurt Ballou)

 

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Genre: Hip hop09e256ce885fe6b3cf181239c3b3231c-1000x1000x1

Year: 2016

I sense a longer piece about this album. There’s so much to say about it. One, that ATCQ are still relevant more than 30 years after they started doing this whole rap thing. Two, that they are much more than just relevant. Three, RIP Phife Dawg. Four: Songs like We the People, Dis Generation, and Melatonin are damn near perfect.

 

Kyuss – Blues for the Red Sun

Genre: Groove rock220px-kyussbluesfortheredsun

Year: 1992

A classic favourite closes the list. All fans of rock are likely to like this album or any other Kyuss album.

 

Until next time,

A

 

 

 

 

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: