Built To Spill – Perfect From Now On (1997)

Built To Spill are an Indie Rock band from Idaho, formed in 1992. In the late ’90s and early ’00s Built To Spill were considered one of the ‘big’ Indie Rock bands, alongside groups like Modest Mouse, The Dismemberment Plan, Guided By Voices and Pavement.  The band’s roster has changed since its initial conception. The line-up for their 3rd full-length album was Doug Martsch (Guitar/Vocals), Brett Nelson (Bass) and Scott Plouf (Drums). Additional musicians are featured on some of the songs.

Perfect From Now On is one of those albums that I originally didn’t understand why it received such huge critical acclaim.. Initially, I liked parts of the album particularly Track No.2  ‘I Would Hurt A Fly’ as it’s sampled in the song by Cage, ‘Ballad of Worms.’ Apart from that, I thought the rest was pretty dull and boring – but I kept returning to it until it finally ‘clicked.’

The sound on the album is very guitar-driven, with layer upon layer of guitars. The songwriting on here is also fantastic. For example, from ‘I Would Hurt a Fly,’ where Doug Martsch flips the common phrases “There isn’t a mean bone in his body.” and “That guy just wouldn’t hurt a fly.” “There’s a mean bone in my body/It’s connected to the problems that I won’t take for an answer/And I won’t take that from you/Because I’d hurt a fly.”The album never gets ‘too serious’, I challenge anyway to listen to ‘Kicked It In The Sun’ and not picture a beautiful sunny day, on a beach.

All of the songs on the album seem to be a collection of different ideas, which is presumably why most of the songs exceed 6 minutes. The song ‘Out of Site’ for example, contains so many distinct parts to it. The song ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead is often praised for it’s 3-4 distinct parts, well ‘Out of Site’ has about twice as many. That being said, it never seems like they’re trying to do it, just to do it. Each segment flows perfectly into the next.

The album is undoubtedly an essential Indie Rock album with a huge amount of influence. If you haven’t heard it – I encourage you to do so.

I’m not really the kind of person that hands out  100/100 ratings, but I seriously can’t think of a single flaw in the album.

Overall: 99.99/100 (Yeah… I couldn’t do it.)


Has-Lo – In Case I Don’t Make It (2011)

‘In Case I Don’t Make It’ is the debut full-length album from Philadelphia MC/Producer – Has-Lo. He signed to the label Mello Music Group back in late-2010, which is home to artists, such as Apollo Brown, The Left and Finale, among others. He first made his name back in ’07, finishing in the top 5 on MTVU’s Best Music on Campus contest. Following that, he released a couple of EPs, ‘F*ck Has’ Day’ and ‘Small Metal Objects’, which gathered a small amount of buzz in the underground community.

All 15 tracks on the album are self-produced by Has-Lo, whose production style is very Rza/Stoupe-esque. Having 1 producer on the album creates a  very cohesive listen and a fantastic overall vibe to the album. The dark, atmospheric production provides the perfect backdrop for Has-Lo’s vocals. ‘Conversation B’, which is the remix version of the album, features a different producer on each track. Although most of the beats are good, from the likes of Apollo Brown, Exile, J-Zone and many more, ‘Conversation B’ lacks the cohesiveness that brings ‘In Case I Don’t Make It’ to the next level.

The title of the album could mean two things. In case Has-Lo’s rap career doesn’t ‘make it’, or in case he dies. He says “Is this an unfunny joke, or a suicide note?” on the title-track. The lyrics on the album are very introspective, like looking inside the mind of a man on the edge. Is Has-Lo really depressed, or just saying the things most people try not to think about?

The album has a smooth and cohesive sound that pulls the listener into a web of psychoanalytical and melancholy musings, lyrical exercises, and storytelling. Has-Lo’s flow is very laid-back, almost to the point where he sounds like he’s just talking. His delivery could use a little work, but he’s definetely an artist you should keep an eye on.

Overall this album was definetely one of the high points of 2011 hip-hop. If you haven’t listened to it, I highly reccomend you give it a couple spins.

Standouts: Fiber Optics, Kinetic Energy, Sub-Ether and In Case I Don’t Make It

Overall: 86/100

Typical Cats – Typical Cats (2001)

Typical Cats is the self-titled debut, from the group Typical Cats. The group’s member s are Qwazaar,Denizen Kane, DJ Natural, Kid Knish and of course, Qwel. All of which, come from Chicago, Illinois. Dubbed ‘Chicago’s best kept secret’ by HipHopDX.

The production on the album is fairly simple, sample-based, jazzy production with a lot of scracthing, but it does exactly what it needs to. It allows the emcees to display their full potential,which is all this record is really about. There’s no over-laying concept, or deeper meaning to it. It’s just a bunch of hungry emcees, having fun flexing their mic-muscles, delivering  the cleverest punchlines and wittiest lyrics, one-after-another. A lot of the album feels like a cypher. There are 2 instrumental tracks, which act as interludes. Neither of which are excessively long, or drag the album down at all.

Throughout almost every track, the emcee that really stands out is Qwel. I find myself hanging on his every word, replaying verses, and counting the seconds between verses waiting for his next one. This isn’t the Qwel you’ve heard on his later solo work. Instead, he’s like your typical young, underground rapper, but better in literally every single way. Delivering quotables one-after-another, switching between silly but clever pucnhlines and really deep metaphors . 3 of the tracks on the album are solo Qwel tracks, ‘Qweloquiallisms’, ‘The Manhattan Project’ and ‘Cliché’ which are possibly my favourites on the album. Both ‘Qweloquiallisms’ and ‘Cliché’ are packed with some of my favourite quotes ever. “Demon’s guns surround our sons, like Copernicus-tic vultures”, “I’ve won like three thirds” and “Hold nuts, like padded rooms, whack raps cant plead insanity/Just ’cause I stand over you don’t mean you understand me/” to name a few. ‘The Manhattan Project’ is Qwel rhyming about his love for graffiti, saying ‘I won’t stop painting, ’til the world looks the way it should/ I’m on a mission to make heaven look like my neighbourhood/’

Qwazaar’s solo track ‘It Won’t Stop’ is no different to the rest of the album, packed with battle rhymes – “Even the deaf are forced to listen/ The type of shit that’d convert the Four Horsemen to Christian/”, while Denizen Kane’s solo track ‘Live Forever’ is about a dream he had of him being famous, but losing himself in the process. This track differs from the rest as there is a sung chorus and the beat is just a looped piano.

It’s one of my favourite underground hip-hop albums. There’s really not much I can say about this album.  If you like punchlines, battle raps or just creative lyricism, check it out. If you though Big L was the king of punchlines, think again.

“Taking whack rappers out faster than black actors in horror flicks” – Qwel

“I’m the motherfucking King, like Oedipus” – Qwel

Standouts: Qweloquiallisms, Take A Number and Cliché

Overall: 90/100

Brand New – The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006)

Brand New are one of those bands that never do the same thing twice. Since their debut album ‘Your Favourite Weapon’ and it’s Pop-Punk style, to their sophomore release ‘Deja Entendu’ bringing a more Emo/Alternative Rock sound and finally to their third release ‘The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.’ Although Brand New’s music is considered ’emo’, it isn’t anything like the stereotypes placed on the genre.

Jesse Lacey’s vocals and lyrics don’t fall into the ever-present pit of whiny-ness and complete self-loathing as many third-wave emo bands tend to. Jesse Lacey’s style of songwriting is often likened to Morrissey (The Smiths’ vocalist). Instead of the repetitive whining that is expected from a modern ‘Emo’ band, Jesse sounds genuinely in some kind of emotional turmoil. The age-old fight between good & evil, within himself.

The album opens with ‘Sowing Season.’ The track starts of quietly, with Jesse mumbling “Was losing all my friends/ Was losing them to drinking and to driving/” It then, seemingly without warning, moves between these quiet, melancholic clean sections to louder, more distorted sounding, rock-based choruses. This is a formula used throughout many songs on the album.

Two of my favourite songs on the album ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Handcuffs’ stray from the formula. The latter being the only song on the album that was not written by Jesse Lacey. Instead, Vincent Accardi (Guitar, back-up vocals and piano) took care of the lyrics on it, and he did a great job. It probably fits the title of the album better than any other single song on the album.  The chorus saying “It’s hard to be the better man/ When you forget you’re trying/” It’s filled with a lot of things that he would do if there wasn’t something stopping him. Things like, “I’d drown all these crying babies/ If I knew that their mothers wouldn’t cry/” and “I’d drive my car off of a bridge/ If I knew that you weren’t inside/”
My favourite track on the album, ‘Jesus Christ’ is about Jesse being unsure about what he believes in. “Well, Jesus Christ, I’m not scared to die/ I’m a little bit scared of what comes after/” It’s one of the more radio-friendly sounding songs, though it’s clear that wasn’t what it wasn’t intended for radio-play.

The theme of death caused by drunk-drivers is brought up once again, in the album. The song ‘Limousine’ is about the 7 year old Katie Flynn who died in a car accident caused by a 24 year-old man who had just finished partying with some friends. She was on her way home from being the flower girl at her parent’s wedding. Katie & the limo driver both died on impact. Katie was decapitated from the impact, and when the police arrived they found her mother cradling Katie’s head in her arms. If you weren’t moved by that song, you have no soul!

This is definitely a top-heavy album, bar a couple tracks. The opening 6 tracks are far more interesting than the closing 6 [7, if you have UK version. ‘Luca (Reprisal Version) is a bonus on it], though they aren’t bad.
Overall, it’s one of my favourite Rock albums ever made. I credit this album as being the album that really got me interested in NRHH.

Standouts: Sowing Season, Jesus Christ, Limousine (MS Rebridge) and Handcuffs.

Overall: 90/100