British indie rock heavyweights Bloc Party are now streaming their upcoming record, Hymns, their first in four years. Listen below via YouTube and catch some of their tour dates as well!
Northern Lights Mixtape Review
Released January 6, 2015
Last year’s Kanye collaboration put Allan Kingdom’s name on the tongues of many hip-hop fans. His contribution to the hook of “All Day” caught much attention. His weird inflection complemented the hit single perfectly. However, Northern Lights won’t do much to keep the attention of Kanye’s fans, let alone most rap fans.
Never mind the uninspired production that sounds like scrapped Psymun beats, bright but annoying. Allan Kingdom’s delivery is reminiscent of Chance the Rapper but grating, undulating like someone mocking a teacher in a sing-song voice. Even the way he pops his consonants is irritating. Not only is his voice maddening, but nothing he raps about grabs the attention of the listener. It seems that he’s more concerned with making the words rhyme, rather than making the words say something. “I could kiss the ocean floor…you a danger on the low.” What?
His singing isn’t up to par on this project. He killed it with those falsettos on “Wavey” featuring Corbin, the first song I ever heard with Allan Kingdom. These vocal melodies are performed with very little control which would be fine if it fit with the beats or what he was trying to say, but it doesn’t. Northern Lights starts nowhere and ends up in the same place
FAV TRACKS: None
LEAST FAV TRACK: Fables
Hyperion EP Review
Released January 1, 2015
Genre: Progressive Black Metal
It seems that every year a different American band with black metal tendencies becomes the main source of content for music websites and publications, with Pretty Neat Grooves not being exempt from this trend. Liturgy owned 2011, Krallice owned 2012, Deafheaven owned 2013 and Wolves In The Throne Room owned 2014 even though they released an electronic album (Deafheaven did well AGAIN in 2015). Every year, another band gains many fans but annoys many black metal purists. “It’s not kvlt! Where’s the evil! Why is it so cleanly produced!” These complaints and more plague comment sections everywhere when discussing these bands, the hatred sometimes overshadowing the praise from music (link) reviewers (link). If listeners just listened to these bands without expecting Moonblood or Darkthrone, everyone would have a much better time, but I digress.
Krallice is without a doubt the most technical of the aforementioned bands. Music school-inspired chord progressions and odd time signatures are, tee hee, signature to the New York-based band’s sound. While the time signatures aren’t as odd for most of Hyperion, the first piece of new music heard by this website in 2016, Krallice have delivered an entrancing trio for ears thirsting for winding and atmospheric songs.
Colin Marston’s production is great, especially with the bass tones. Every instrument is equally audible but no sound distracts from another. The technicality isn’t as flashy as previous releases, but that allows the compositions to draw ears in without riffs and solos that are overwhelming. Speaking of compositions, here’s an unusual track-by-track analysis of this EP that is uncharacteristically short for a Krallice release:
- Hyperion- Killer intro and outro, nice variation of mid pitch and high pitch screaming.
- The Guilt Of Time- There’s a more progressive intro than other intros on the EP. I like how the reverb-soaked arpeggio of the same note serves as a smooth transition to the second half of the song.
- Assuming Memory- Ironically, not as memorable due. The Guitar melodies and drumming aren’t as dynamic as the other tracks. The Second half of the track has more intriguing melodies and drum work than the first.
It’s interesting that these tracks were recorded in 2013 and not released until now, but Hyperion is a good length and these tracks flow well into each other. 2016 is off to a great start.
PRETTY NEAT MUSIC
FAV TRACKS: Hyperion, The Guilt Of Time
LEAST FAV TRACK: Assuming Memory
Blackstar Album Review
Released January 8, 2016
Genre: Avant Garde Jazz, Experimental Rock, Art Rock
Blackstar is the latest (and unfortunately last) album by David Bowie, one of the most interesting, stylistic, and ambitious recording artists of the 20th century. While not all of his projects may have held a high musical standard, at his best he was very creative and innovative – helping establish the groundwork for genres like glam and gothic rock. It would be hard to find at least one musician or band who didn’t owe at least a small debt to the influence Bowie had on their sound. Reportedly intended to be his “swan song”, this album was released two days before Bowie’s death, which casts a bit of an eerie shadow on it. Quite a few of the songs on Blackstar contain lyrics that sound like they came from the perspective of a man who knew he didn’t have much longer to live. But can this album stand on it’s own without the context of Bowie’s passing? I, for one, certainly believe so.
The first thing I really noticed when I was first listening to this album was this: Bowie really seemed to be aware of his limitations as a singer resulting from his age. Like many vocalists that were popular back in the 70s or late 60s, his voice is not as flexible nor as powerful as it used to be, which is definitely a huge hurdle to work around when recording an album. He never quite sounds as lively as he did on songs like “Space Oddity” or “Heroes”, for example. Yet, unlike most of the vocalists from his generation, he uses what he can from his aged voice to very great effect, as well as allowing it to do deliveries that may not have sounded quite right in his younger years.
The opening title track presents a bit of an unsettling vibe in the first few, which is only helped by his strange, deep, harmonious chant of lines like “In the Villa of Ormen”. And the songs “Lazarus” and “Dollar Days” has Bowie performing with a withered voice that fits in perfectly with their slower song tempos as well as the lyrical reflections on things like death. This is not to say that he doesn’t provide some fun performances, though; Bowie still proves that his voice can match his wild personality throughout the album. “Girl Loves Me”, my favorite song on the album, provides some fun vocal performances as he yelps through the entertainingly absurd lyrics from the verses of the song, such as “Where the fuck did Monday go?” Overall, this album showcases that he really has a great understanding on how to use the voice as an instrument, meshing it gracefully with the lyrics and music of the song he’s working on. While he may not have possessed as powerful a voice as some of his contemporaries like Freddy Mercury or Geddy Lee, he did have the skill of recognizing the various ways his voice could suit a song, arguably more important to contributing to a good song than having a loud or flexible voice.
As mentioned before, this album takes a jazz-inspired direction. When I first heard that this was the sound the album was going to take, I was assuming that it was going to be somewhat like Steely Dan: instrumentally catchy and jammy, but not quite as explorative as the sounds it was based on, and something that wouldn’t sound out of place in a cafe or on radio stations like KXT*. I was quite proven wrong when I listened to the title track, which is nine minutes long, and begins with some unsettling ambiance. “Blackstar” eventually reaches a noticeable tonal shift four minutes in, but the song subtly returns back to its original tone around the eight-minute mark, with the same drumbeat and overall energetic feel of the later half. The transition is pulled off really well, and had me wondering what other kinds of interesting things Bowie could be presenting in this album.
The rest of the album is a bit more typical in terms of song structure, but it doesn’t mean he stops really playing with the different directions he can push the sound he’s working with. “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” and “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)” are quite energetic jazz jams that sound like every musician involved had a lot of fun participating in them. The latter somewhat reminds me of the more instrumental, nervous performances of Talking Heads (think “Crosseyed and Painless” and “I Zimbra”). “Lazarus” is a slow, somber ballad that takes a softer and looser feel to it, perfectly meshing with the quite bleak lyrical messages expressed by Bowie as he ponders on things like death. This song is not named after this specific Biblical figure for nothing.
“Dollar Days” is similar, but much more powerful, which gives it a “power ballad” kind of feel. Yet, there’s a bit of a sense of restraint on that song as well (one being Bowie’s weak but very fitting vocals), which thankfully prevents it from reaching overblown levels of grandiosity that could’ve messily contrasted with both the message and the vocals. The song overall feels very reserved and worried both lyrically and sonically, which makes it an interesting take on the ballad after songs like “Thinking Out Loud” and “Fight Song”. “Girl Loves Me” is probably my favorite track in the album due to the way the instrument tracks are handled. Throughout the verses, only the relatively simple bass riff and drumbeat are heard alongside Bowie’s almost paranoid delivery, but the chorus adds a short orchestral overlay that, along with the much softer vocals Bowie provides, give the song a much more ambient and spacey feel. I love it when tracks can really change the entire feel of the song from such subtle changes like that.
And, of course, since this album does take a heavy influence from jazz, there are more than a few sax solos throughout the album, but they never feel like they were shoehorned in just for the sake of a solo, and almost always fit the mood of the song they’re on. My favorite example of this is in “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”, where the numerous sax solos reminds me of the weird distortion-like instances of the sax solo on King Crimson’s “21th Century Schizoid Man”. “Lazarus” and “Dollar Days” also deserve credit for not only having some impressive technical playing but for also never overshadowing the slower, somber moods of those songs. It’s nice that people out there recognize the fact that the most impressive playing in a song doesn’t always have to be at the sonic foreground of a song.
None of these songs may be quite as well remembered as David Bowie’s other songs due to the status of his early works as classics. None of them probably would’ve received the attention they could’ve gotten had they been performed by a more recent band with potential to live up to rather than by one of the most established musical artists. It’s almost certain that none of these songs are really gonna get much radio play despite the “Davie Bowie label” due to their somewhat atypical sound compared to a lot of contemporaneously popular songs as well as their somewhat longer-than-average song length. But do not think that this record should be considered any more than a footnote in Bowie’s career. This is a very ambitious and well-crafted record from one of the most artistically ambitious figures of the past decade. Bowie has shown that even despite his health issues as well as his comfortable status as a beloved musician, he still continued to take great care in his craft and wanted to produce one more great piece of work, even if he may not have been able to properly express everything he had on his mind.
PRETTY NEAT MUSIC
FAV TRACKS: ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, Sue (Or In a Season of Crime), Girl Loves Me
LEAST FAV TRACK: NONE
- * This writer adores Steely Dan and ranks “Countdown to Ecstasy” as one of his favorite albums.
Kanye West has finally announced a release date for his highly-anticipated seventh solo LP, SWISH. He announced the album release date after releasing “Real Friends”. The track follows the singles “Only One”, “All Day”, “FourFiveSeconds”, “Wolves”, “Fade”, and the underwhelming “FACTS”. The album is due to be released February 11, 2016.
West releasing the songs on a Friday follows a similar pattern he followed when releasing the critically-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Swish February 11 16
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) January 9, 2016
Listen to “Real Friends” below:
The annual music festival in California has announced their lineup. Speculation has been circulating about a possible LCD Soundsystem and Guns N’ Roses reunion and it appears the rumors are true as the two bands are slated to headline Friday and Saturday, respectively. Other bands & artists expected to perform include the also recently “reunited” Death Grips, Deerhunter, Run The Jewels, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Grimes, HEALTH, BADBADNOTGOOD, Deafheaven, Rancid, Algiers, Kamasi Washington, Sia, M83, Ice Cube, Beach House, A$AP Rocky, Savages, Disclosure, and much, much more. Have a look at the lineup above and below. Tickets can be found on the festival’s website.