Cults – Cults (2011)


Starting off as a bedroom project, this New York duo has made quite an impression ever since being discovered on Bandcamp, spawning their hit “Go Outside“. Having released their self titled debut, it is very fair to say that Cults are capable of making more than just the one good song.

Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion, both originally from California, capture the fun and bright atmosphere in resemblance with surf pop, with the ripples of soaring, jangling melodies carried throughout the album. It is clear they have been influenced by the music of ‘60s girl groups like the Shangri-Las (easily spotted in “Bumper” ), as the warm and sweet melodies echo along with the unpolished production – which in this case, works effortlessly in making the album sound as dreamy as it does.  At the same time, however alluring the music may be in all its smiling and doe-eyed impressions, there is something quite the opposite in what Follin sings as she captures the frustration of growing up and experiences with the opposite sex, sometimes displaying her angst with loud outbreaks of vocals: “Cause I can’t sleep alone at night/ yeah, you know what I mean”.

The first three tracks are probably the highlights of the album, breathing life into it from the very start. “Abducted” begins with the faded out strumming of guitar and Follin comparing the feeling of falling in love to that of being abducted. Although the whole album is more or less about her situations with boys – telling of how much she wants him, then telling him “fuck you” –it can’t be said that it is done in an obvious or off putting way. There is still an appeal to listeners who have no interest in the subject matter, with the singing done in a careless manner, as if Follin really doesn’t care if we’re listening to her words – we can just enjoy hearing the sound of her voice. A nice subtle addition to tracks like “Abducted” and “Bumper” is the male viewpoint, sung by Obvlivion. Despite the Follin’s slightly saddening lyrical content on other tracks, this lonely idea that we form of her is nicely contrasted against Oblivon’s own little inputs: “If she’s this crazy now/ There’s no telling what’s in store”, showing us a more amusing side.

One little personality trait of the album is the sampling of quotes from cult leaders. Jim Jones is heard at the start of “Go Outside”: “To me death is not a fearful thing; it’s living that’s treacherous”. Although the samples have been woven into the music without really affecting the quality of the songs, they don’t really do much for the album either. I can assume that they are supposed to add to the mystique and sinister feeling beneath the happy sounds, but most of the time it’s hard to hear them clearly, or to even significantly notice or care for them. There is little new about the album – everything has been created with borrowed elements from Indie pop and 60s girl groups, but there is indeed an overall freshness and air of nostalgia. However, it may seem like the high and sugary sound is too much in some places, which is true of “Walk At Night” and “Most Wanted“, and that is probably why the album is one that is cited as a good summer record – it only really has one type of mood. Even so, Cults should be credited for choosing not to exploit this for too long, with the album only lasting the bearable amount of time. The selected three minute tracks keep it short and easily listenable.

For an album that provides uplift, amusement and some form of sinister and sadness, Cults does pretty well to integrate them all into a small package. It isn’t likely that you’d tire of it quickly if you should happen to enjoy hearing its light and summery sound.

Best Tracks: Abducted, Go Outside, You Know What I Mean, Oh My God

77/100

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InVerse TangENT – The Reality Tape (2011)


When listening to an unsigned and unknown group for the first time, you have no expectations or preconceptions, so you could be in for a pleasant surprise or a lackluster experience that won’t stand out among the thousands of other aspiring rappers out there. For me, this mixtape falls somewhere in between.

According to their bio, D.C. based InVerse TangENT, strive to make music that the common man can relate to. They manage to do a decent job of achieving this, with subjects including relationships, dealing with the death of a loved one and struggling financially. However, it sometimes comes across as corny and occasionally a bit on the preachy side. The main problem is that it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Although it may be a bit harsh to expect anything innovative from a debut mixtape, they regularly fall into the cliches of complaining about the state of mainstream hip-hop, which has become almost obligatory for underground rappers these days. Coupled with bland production, this results in it having very little replay value for me.

Musically, it’s rather inconstant to say the least. There are a number of good tracks but just as many terrible ones that should never have left the studio, with ‘Uncensored’ and ‘I Get On’ being the lowest points of the tape. Some of the hooks are also pretty bad, with the painfully autotuned ‘Rollin Like a Baller’ and ‘She Ridin’ sounding completely out of place and more like something that escaped from a DJ Khaled album. In my opinion, ‘Talk of the Century’ is easily the standout track, with Buttafly G, Soulogik, Philasophikal and J Spitz trading verses over the menacing beat. This is a good demonstration of the group’s chemistry and provides a glimpse of their full potential. I feel that AlgahRhythm and Buttafly G stood out as the best members throughout the album, usually outshining the others on any tracks they appear on, sadly they only feature on less than half the songs respectively.

It isn’t all bad news though, if you ignore the flaws there is some solid rapping to be found and judging by the more successful tracks, this group certainly has potential and their hearts are in the right place, even if it doesn’t always satisfy from a musical perspective. You can stream and download The Reality Tape below via their bandcamp.

Best tracks: Talk of the Century, Simply Gesture, Always Remembered, Time Will Tell
Overall: 67/100

Sabzi – PARTHENIA (2011)


Blue Scholars and Common Market. On the Northwest scene, they are viewed as some very prominent acts, both capturing the essence of Seattle hip hop. What’s great about these groups especially, is that they’re very relatable. As Geo says on the title track of the album Bayani, “two students skipped a class, went and crafted an album.” The adroit Sabzi, also known as Saba, handles production for the two, and also has quite the solo career.

Being a jazz-trained pianist, he already possessed a background in music before he turned to turntables. Sabzi says perhaps the biggest influence on his music is the thoughts and perspectives of the youth that he works with in high school and college workshops. He’s also been known to sample Indie music, and even Bibio, whom I happened to review last. He stays devoted, continuing to produce sprawling creations that incorporate these extensive musical influences for his fans.

If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the Seattle scene, Sabzi’s latest digital release, PARTHENIA, will provide an adequate introduction, at least to the instrumental aspect.

The album stars off with “Hydroq B,” which hints at the mechanical quality that will be present throughout, while also proposing an ambient soundscape that would be best suited for sweltering, slow summer evenings. This leads on to “Purbasha,” a more energetic track with airy abstractions. “Chronique” abides to the chill-out essence, with an eery synth floating around at various times. What’s easily noticeable about this album, even this early, is that transitions between tracks are unwrinkled. The short but sweet “Me¢hani¢a£ Inse¢ts” paves the way for “Larkeeee,” which features a loopy synthesizer line that weaves through a xylophonic melody. The synths play an important role in this album, deepening and highlighting the resonance of other elements of the music. Next is “ur a hella flake, bro,” which, if you’ve heard Blue Scholars’ latest release Cinemetropolis, may remind you of “Fou Lee,” as it features the same abrasive breathing. “Quimbara Wang” and “Trailer Park Bazaar” continue the obscurity, while bringing in some timely bass instrumentation and percussion. “Colossal Mass” oddly separates itself from the other tracks, even if it follows the same approach. The album comes to a fitting close with “SPECTACULAR.”

In conclusion, this is an instrumental project that is unique from the norm and offers music that is sound all the way through, and never dull. My favorite tracks on the album were Purbasha, Larkeeee, and ur a hella flake, bro. You can purchase and listen to PARTHENIA on Sabzi’s bandcamp.

Overall: 84/100

Tyler, The Creator – Goblin (2011)


Tyler, The Creator, and the rest of the poetic, and painfully honest LA collective, Odd Future, may be just top contenders for the most controversial artists of recent years, as made evident by the reactions of thousands to the alternative hip hop group’s anarchistic nature, and rebellious music that reaches deep into taboo subjects, and peculiarly, out to quite a broad audience. Earlier on, the group seemed to be aiming for nothing less than mainstream success. Now, with the abundance of hype they’ve earned, it doesn’t seem like such a strenuous goal. I myself am a fan, but it’s apparent Tyler wants to stab blogging faggots with a pitchfork, and frankly, I value my life, so I’ll try to keep this as succinct and as unbiased as possible.

Others must have felt the same, with Wolf Haley’s second studio album, Goblin, receiving predominately favorable reviews. The album was mainly produced by Tyler himself, with some help from the group’s other producer, Left Brain. It features somewhat ominous, bubbling beats, comparable to some of the production Drake receives. However simplistic they may seem, they reflect the theme of the concept album, an ongoing conversation between Tyler and a deep-voiced therapist, who also appeared on Bastard, well. The album offers a bleak perspective on life, with Ace’s dark sense of humor shining throughout. While he often finds making references to murder, rape, his masturbation habits, and the like, he repeatedly interrupts to state that anything should not be taken seriously. Ace delivers with a flow that’s confident and magnetic, and although he sometimes wanders off beat, he makes up for it with the occasional overwhelming internal rhymes and metaphors.

Many members of Odd Future have had family issues in their pasts, and Tyler specifically has, over the years, developed a deep hatred for his father. In the opening track, shots are fired at him, accrediting him with nothing more than “that nigga my mom fucked.” He also has a few remarks to make about those who form opinions on his work without doing their research, specifically those who blindly refer to them as horrorcore.Following this is the ever-so-eccentric “Yonkers,” on which Tyler, once again, demonstrates that he’s not just another mediocre, commonplace rapper. Most tracks on the album, including “Sandwiches,” and “Transylvania” are high-energy, with perhaps the only exemption being “She.” The song consists of Tyler (almost) affectionately expressing his desire for a girl, with Frank Ocean providing an exceptionally catchy chorus.

“Listen deeper than the music before you put it in a box”

In conclusion, Goblin is an album with some fascinating concepts below the surface, that you either really enjoy, or really dislike. There really is no in-between, as is the case with most Odd Future projects. My favorite tracks on the album were Analog, Tron Cat, and Yonkers.

Overall: 67/100

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (MadGibbs)-Thuggin EP (2011)


 

Gary, Indiana MC Freddie Gibbs hooked up with Oxnard, CA producer/MC/DJ/everything else, to drop the unexpected Thuggin EP late in 2011. This EP, commonly referred to as MadGibbs, contains 2 tracks of Gibbs over Madlib beats and 4 instrumentals including those to the 2 vocal tracks.

Right after Madlib’s Medicine Show wraps up for 2011, he drops this gem on us. Whether is was by chance meeting, or if it was all part of Lord Satan’s plan, he hooks up with Freddie Gibbs, hot off the release of his Cold Day In Hell mixtape.  A surprising combination based on the fact that Madlib is part of Stones Throw, which specializes in strange underground music, while Gangsta Gibbs is signed to Young Jeezy’s CTE. All disbelief aside, this project happened, and thank whoever you pray to that it did.

The first track is called Thuggin, which is about, what else, general thuggery. Gibbs spits gangsta bravado over a high pitched piano loop for 3 minutes and 22 seconds. Gibbs exhibits his incredible flow and ability to ride the beat, mixing internal and multisyllabic gutter rhymes in his tale about “lurking where you living in the night time.” Gibbs also throws a possible shot at OJ Da Juiceman, Gucci Mane, and that whole tier of rappers, saying he is “still lyrically sharper than any short bus shorty”. Putting my love for the Juiceman aside, this is still a dope line, and just one of the many Gibbs spits nonstop.

The other track Gibbs raps on is called Deep, where he talks about being “Deep inside the ghetto” over a funky flip. It would be surprising to hear someone with such lyrical talent alliterating when talking about slanging cocaine and other gangsterism, but veterans of Mr. Gibbs are already used to this. The only problem with this track, is that is clocks in at only 2 minutes and 4 seconds.

The instrumentals on the EP are slightly disappointing though. Besides the instrumentals to the 2 Gibbs laced tracks, we get Riot Call which is a slow tribal drum beat that has nearly no momentum. We also get Cold On The Blvd which is a fast paced funky beat that would be at home on a Madlib beat tape, but pales in comparison to the 2 instrumentals Freddie Gibbs was given to bless.

Madlib & Gibbs have announced a follow up album to this EP sometime in 2012, so let’s hope Gibbs isn’t in the MF DOOM state of mind and this project actually sees the light of day. If this EP is any indication of what is to come, Gibbs may be one of the first rappers to have universal appeal to nearly all hip hop fans, as well as the ability to craft an incredible collaboration with the Beat Konducta himself.

 

90/100

Astronautalis – This Is Our Science (2011)


A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon the work of a rapper and captivating storyteller based out of Minneapolis, by the name of Astronautalis. I instantly found myself drawn in. Although he’s pigeonholed as a rapper, I see his music leaning more toward a peculiar, but brilliant mix of rap, indie-rock, and folk that may not appeal to common or casual listeners of hip hop. Through his music, he comes off as an intelligent, experienced, and insightful artist.
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After his 2008 release Pomegranate received plenty of positive appraisals from, well, everyone who’d heard it, the badassness of This Is Our Science was definitely highly anticipated. And with many considering it one of the best releases of the year, it definitely did not disappoint.

The album begins with “The River, The Woods,” which, with its uncomplicated yet stimulating drum work, sounds like the closest thing to hip hop on the entire album. Right off the bat, Astronautalis displays experience and familiarity in the way he raps, effectively utilizing his background in battle rap. He also demonstrates his versatility on the catchy chorus, enthusiastically articulating his fervor on the subject. This paves the way for “This Is Our Science,” which is a lot calmer in comparison. “Measuring the Globe” has a great indie rock vibe, which I found particularly appealing because of its pleasant simplicity. The tracks that follow all have a touch of that Astronautalis uniqueness, and of course, something thoughtful to say.

“Age never meant shit to me– it’s all about heart and stupidity.”

Throughout the album, Astronautalis puts his great voice to work. He seems to like sporadically using it in an impetuous and brusque way, and when appropriate, switches over to a more subtle tone that’s somewhat reminiscent of Lou Reed’s (The Velvet Underground.) However, his voice is just a means of delivering his abstract, rousing lyricism, which seems to be deeply linked to intangible concepts, and his own passionate connections to music (“Thomas Jefferson,”) and women (“Measure the Globe”) among other things. “Midday Moon” was perhaps the only song on the album that I didn’t like, in part because of the production.

All in all, if you’re into creative music that wanders far from the norm of today’s music industry, This Is Our Science is for you. My favorite tracks on the album were Measure The Globe, The River, The Woods, and Contrails.

Overall: 92/100

Dibia$e – Sound Palace (2011)


The LA beat scene’s new course in hip hop may be veering far too close to the multiple layers of synths of techy, fast-paced dubstep for many heads’ liking. However, it is also home to many producers who like to keep versatile, and seesaw between futuristic beats and more nostalgic beats, with jazz loops for instance. Dibiase, usually stylized as Dibia$e or Mr.Dibia$e, is a notable fit in this group. He may not be a producer you’re all too familiar with, but within the underground Los Angeles scene, he is often considered a conscientious underground legend. His laid-back music has been weighed against the likes of Nujabes, while his more modern-sounding, experimental beats have been compared to Flying Lotus’ work. Unquestionably something to flaunt.

Following his release of his “Cakeology” EP, Dibia$e is back with “Sound Palace,” another conscious wonder. Sure to give avid listeners of instrumental albums raging erections, or at least the ever-so-familiar urge to headnod. No sir, this is not music to listen to on a Sunday morning when you have nothing better to do. Alright, I’m getting carried away, but it’s still a good listen.

Dibia$e enthusiastically incorporates anomalous, abstract samples, and chose to follow a very distinct vibe throughout the album. The distinguishing quality of this album has to be the fact that it almost seems to represent a conflict between, or rather, an amalgamation of, his two styles of music. “Smooth Sailin” introduces us to the album with a mellow ambiance, as the name would suggest, and leads on to tracks with a more rugged, raw feel. Some tracks (“Fly Me 2 The Moon”) give the impression that he’s paying homage to Dilla himself. Others, namely “Rockout,” not so much. The album did have a few flaws. One of the biggest, I felt, was that transitions between tracks weren’t great, and variation and progression in the beats was lacking. Then again, with most of the tracks being around only two to three minutes in length, it’s expected.

All in all, about 35 minutes of absolute audio hypnosis, and some replay-value is definitely anticipated. My personal favorite tracks are Woman, Suncity, and Fly Me 2 The Moon.

81/100