Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Crow Looked At Me by Mount Eerie

Mount Eerie

A Crow Looked At Me

Emotional torture. Tragedy through sound. Musical devastation. While all of these ring true to what Phil Elverum is putting forward on his newest full-length record under the Mount Eerie alias, none of these descriptions are able to truly encapsulate the impact of the music. The album details the passing of the singer-songwriter's wife Genieve, and while released over half a year after her death, seems to have been recorded only mere weeks after his loss.

The raw, lo-fi, delivery has become a trademark of Phil's music, whether under the Mount Eerie name or his previous project the Microphones. Never before, however, has it felt so real. With minimal musical accompaniment, Phil embarks on a quest without a destination. We may follow the story from the singer's perspective, but there is no definitive start or finish to his experience.

 From the opening track Real Death, which opens with the gut-wrenchingly powerful

"Death is real, someone's there and then they're not,
and it's not for singing about, it's not for making into art"

to the closing track Crow, which finishes with the powerful final line of

"And there she [Genieve] was."

In a lot of ways it's hard for me to put myself in Phil's shoes, being that I have been forced to deal with death very few times in my life, and never have I had to see a loved one suffer in the way that he was forced to watch his wife struggle in her fight with cancer. Yet because of the waves of crushing lyricism, the sombre guitar work, and the always feeble presence of Phil's voice, I feel myself momentarily put into his position. Left alone with his daughter, his wife's passing still constantly on his brain and with every thing he does, be it entering a specific room in his house, or driving down a dirt road, being reminded of the woman he loved.

I am just as perplexed as I am sad when I listen to this album though, because it is truly remarkable how Phil manages to paint this image of his wife as such a strong and wonderful soul, while contrasting that with his fear of mortality and the ugliness of death. Take for example the lyrics of the track Swims, one of the more emotionally heavy cuts from the album.

I can't get the image out of my head
Of when I held you right there
And watched you die
Upstairs in the back bedroom of our house
Where we have lived for many years
Your last gasping breaths
I see it again and again

Powerful, right? Yet this is powerful in its representation of weakness, her last breath, her dying state, her last moments. As the song comes to a close though, we see her presented in an entirely different light.

Today our daughter asked me if mama swims
I told her, "Yes, she does
And that's probably all she does
What was you is now borne across waves

As you can see, Phil's description of his wife after her passing is much more abstract, and poetic in a sense, than her final days. While it is clear that he was devastated by the loss, it seems that what really hit him the hardest was seeing her in this position of weakness, unable to fight against the cancer.

Again, this is shown in Emptiness Pt.2

Her absence is a scream
Saying nothing
Conceptual emptiness was cool to talk about
Back before I knew my way around these hospitals
I would like to forget and go back into imagining

I have no doubts that this album will not only go down as one of the best of the year and one of the best Phil has ever released, but this album also has potential to go down as one of the most devastating musical experiences. Whether you are a fan of Phil's catalogue or not, it is most definitely worthwhile checking this release out, if for no other reason than to experience loss through someone else's perspective. It will make you uncomfortable, sad, and fearing your own mortality, and I think that's exactly what makes it such a unique experience.

Check out one of the album's singles Ravens here, and get your kleenex ready.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

You Will Never Be One Of Us by Nails

Grindcore/power-violence act Nails have established themselves as one of the premier groups in the genre with their first two releases, both of which have garnered a rather impressive amount of acclaim. They have a sound that is hard to explain to those who have yet to hear them, as their frantic, chaotic, straight to the point tracks normally fail to even exceed the one minute mark. Their punchy guitars, roaring drum beats, and nasty, guttural vocals all come in with such ferocity that they're over before you even have time to click play.

On You Will Never Be One Of Us, Nails do branch out in some ways, with Violence Is Forever coming in at a modest three and a half minutes, and the closer They Come Crawling Back taking up eight minutes of the 22 that the album runs for. Even on the longer cuts however, the band deliver the same kind of music you would find on their previous two efforts, and with Converge's Kurt Ballou behind the scenes producing yet again, you're all but guaranteed to find some of the ugliest sounding guitar riffs around. Frontman Todd Jones, who provides both the guitar work and the vocals for the band, doesn't shy away from experimenting with the same hardcore/metalcore territory that many of the bands Ballou has worked with in the past have, especially on tracks like the aforementioned They Come Crawling Back, which features some mathcore influenced, headbang worthy breakdowns and slow-paced drum beats that in turn build up into multiple chaotic interludes before the track comes chugging to a halt.

While the rest of the album isn't as patience testing as the 8 minute epic, it still delivers in plenty of other ways. The title track, which was released as the album's first single is another highlight, as the band kick off the album with monstrous blast beats that are delivered with such attitude and flair that you can't help but feel the music. They take a groovier approach on Made To Make You Fall, with an intro that in some ways is reminiscent of groove-metal pioneers Pantera, that is before the track descends into hell once again and the groovy instrumentation is swept away in favour of more bone-rattling guitar riffing and drumming.

When it comes to what sets this album apart and it makes such a great inclusion in their discography, I think it's simply just how well they manage the pacing of their songs. Not only does the band manage to make the most of even the shortest tracks, but they also seem to include everything imaginable within these tight timeframes. There are plenty of short, Converge-esque breakdowns and guitar passages, and just as many moments where the band create such an enveloping wall of sound that you truly become beat down by the brutality they are presenting you with.

In the time you've spent reading this review, you probably could have listened to this album in it's entirety, so that's where I'll leave this. Nails have yet to disappoint thus far into their career, and if you found yourself enjoying either of their last two full-lengths, this truly is a must hear. They aren't changing up their style, and they aren't looking to make any new fans, they're just taking the same style they've perfected with their last two efforts, and this time they're cranking it up even louder.

Rating: 4/5

Check out the title track You Will Never Be One Of Us below:

Monday, June 6, 2016

iiiDrops by Joey Purp

Over the past few years, the SAVEMONEY collective has been one of, if not the, most exciting things to come out of the diverse, ever thriving Chicago hip-hop scene. Spearheaded by the rise of emcees Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, the lesser known members of the group have also quietly managed to put together a pretty solid body of work. Now, it's member Joey Purp's turn to step up to the plate, and on iiiDrops he proves that it is him who is next to step into the limelight.

From the bright organ keys and horns on the opening track Morning Sex, into the Pharell-esque dance beat of Girls, Joey Purp stretches his sound far beyond what's popular in Chicago right now. While you might go into this thing expecting the rattling hi-hats, blaring 808s, and bumping bass, you're instead presented with the same kind of varied, flamboyant production you might find on a project from the likes of Vic or Chance. Speaking of those two, they both pop up on the track listing, Chance on the aforementioned track Girls, and Vic on the album's victory lap Winners Circle, a track that's elevated by a wonderful piano melody and shining synthesizers. Fellow Chicagoans Mick Jenkins, Saba, and theMind also lend a helping hand on the project, with all three delivering solid contributions when given the chance.

It is, however, Joey Purp who truly shines on this 11 track collection, as the 20-something year old artist comes through sounding like a true veteran of his craft, swinging his pen like a dagger of sorts as he delivers lyrics that don't aim to impress, but instead aim to provoke feeling and resonate with the listener, something that is accomplished on nearly every track. His swaggering confidence is evident, while also digging into his tough upbringing with lines like "I sold crack/I'd be damned if I can't sell a rap" on the closing track Escape.

Cornerstore, the sixth track on the mixtape is the real showcase here though, as the jazzy, street rap instrumental features a prominent use of horns and is one of the finer beats that producer Thelonious Martin has given us up to this point in his young career. Purp is joined by Saba and theMind, and the three work together to paint a picture of their childhood in Chicago, a city which has constantly been identified as one of the most violent and dangerous places in the US. On this track however, Joey isn't looking to give a PSA on the dangers of his hometown, and instead is simply presenting you with an idea of where he came from, and how it's impacted him to this day. The song presents perhaps the strongest lyrical display on the album, and is highlighted with the lines like "and white kids deal with problems that we never knew to bother/arguing with they dads, we pray we ever knew our fathers" a line which allows Purp to again put an emphasis on his upbringing while also touching on rather personal and emotional topics without coming off as soft.

Going into iiiDrops, I was quite far from being a fan of Joey Purp, but I can't deny his abilities after giving this release multiple listens. From his brash delivery to his rugged voice, the young emcee exudes Chicago, while having the charisma and lyrical strength to separate himself from the rest of the crowded pack looking to find their sound in the streets of city. 


Check out the track Cornerstore below:

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hella Personal Film Festival by Open Mike Eagle & Paul White

I find that the best way to describe Open Mike Eagle's approach to hip-hop as the type of rap that is enjoyed by men who wear scarves in the summertime and rap fans who also enjoy anime and Discovery channel documentaries. The Chicagoan emcee's blend of dry humour and intellectual lyricism with stories that present the irony of every day life never fail to provide both a laugh and some thoughtful discussion. Just last year with the release of his EP A Special Episode Of, Mike released one of the better rap projects of 2015 while only giving us about 20 minutes worth of material.

This time he's back with a lengthier project, and he's joined by producer Paul White, who is perhaps most know for his work with the always eccentric hip-hop artist Danny Brown. With Mike Eagle tackling topics such as technology, death, racial stereotyping and more, he still manages to stay as fresh and quirky as ever, and over the upbeat, childlike production of Paul White, the duo deliver an excitingly enjoyable hip-hop project.

It's hard to point a finger at exactly what makes this album work so well. Is it the varying production that swings between moments of being soulful and nostalgic to channeling inspiration from indie rock and 8bit video games, or is it the lyrics themselves that are among the most polished we've gotten from Mike thus far in his ten plus year career? Regardless, both contribute to the ever changing scape of Hella Personal Film Festival, and result in some fascinating moments. The track Check to Check for example, see's Mike explore the world of technology and our dependence on it. He states he's living "check to check" as he always finds himself in between checking some form of media. He constantly rides the line of lyrics that contain just as much humour as they do truth, and even at his silliest on cuts like Smiling where he claims to be avoided like a ghost fart because of his race, there still seem's to be a fair bit of sincerity in the lyrics. It's this mix of social inspection with Mike's tendency to poke fun at himself that grabs the listeners attention, and regardless of the instrumental backing him, remains the highlight of the project.

As the album progresses, the duo's consistency becomes highlighted as they deliver track after track that tells a story of it's own, both lyrically and instrumentally, and contributes to the overall theme of the album. That is, until the lackluster track Protectors of the Heat, which finds a tribal inspired instrumental with primarily loud percussion. It is also perhaps the only moment on the project where Mike seems to rely a little too heavily on a catchy chorus instead of delivering exciting, off the wall verses. Typically he presents just a simple couplet for the hook on these songs, and with their relatively short lengths (only Protectors of the Heat surpasses four minutes in length) it seems to fit quite well. Nonetheless, it doesn't take long for the two to get back on track and finish the album just as strong as they kicked it off. On Dive Bar Support Group we find Mike discussing both machoism and gentrification, while also dipping into themes such as alcoholism. It's a rather ambitious lyrical piece that showcases just what the emcee is capable of, and the sadness from the vocals seep into the poppy instrumental that backs him, making for one of the best tracks on the whole project. We see just how easily Mike can transition from deep topics to self satire on Drunk Dreaming, where he discusses just that, being drunk. The track is silly, fun, and lighthearted, an approach that these two seem to handle incredibly well on multiple occasions on this record.

When listening to this album it feels as if Paul White and Open Mike Eagle were a collaboration that needed to happen, despite it being a full-length album that I never expected us to get. The way the lyrics flow through the warm and fun production is a welcomed addition to Mike's always impressive approach, and helps make this a stand-out in both artists discography. To some it could seem a bit gimmicky, and that's fine. It isn't a project that everyone will get, nor will all rap fans enjoy, but to those of you who fall into the categories mentioned above, this is definitely a project worth checking out.

Rating: 3.5/5
Check out the track Check to Check below:

You can stream and download Hella Personal Film Festival over at Open Mike Eagle's BandCamp page here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

3001: A Laced Odyssey by Flatbush Zombies

With what is easily one of my favourite album covers of the year thus far, the hip-hop trio Flatbush Zombies gave perhaps the most accurate look into the style of music they create. It's colourful, it's cartoony, and unlike the usual wavy, drugged out cloud rap you're used to hearing, while still containing many of the same elements. All three members, Zombie Juice, Meechy Darko, and Erick "Arc" Elliott bring their own unique style to every track the Zombies have recorded. Juice's spastic flow and high pitched vocals contrasts Meech's dark and dreary approach perfectly, and when met with Erick's phenomenal production it has resulted in two fantastic mixtapes with D.R.U.G.S in 2012 and BetterOffDead in 2013.

With all the hype and excitement surround Flatbush Zombies sound, as well as their participation in the "Beast Coast" movement alongside rap collective Pro Era and hip-hop duo The Underachievers, the release of their debut studio album has been something I've been anticipating for quite some time. Now, two years since their last release, the Clockwork Indigo EP which they released as a collaborative effort with The Underachievers, the long awaited full-length album 3001: A Laced Odyssey see's the light of day.

The confines of drug rap are pretty snug to begin with, in my opinion. While the Flatbush Zombies have always taken quite a bit of artistic freedom with their sound, lyrically they have never strayed too far from topics such as drugs, money, and spirituality. While I went into this project hoping to hear the group branch out a bit from the genre and try to tackle some more mature and creative subjects, the lyrical content instead stayed true to what the members have always done. It wasn't too big of a disappointment however, as Meech and Juice both delivered some of their best verses yet, and accompanied them with rather unique flows on tracks like the opening cut The Odyssey. It's a great choice to kick off the project, as it sets the tone without giving away too much of what's to come. The strong start continues with the third track R.I.P.C.D, which is the Zombies ode to the death of the CD as a media format.  As always however, the lyrics tend to venture off topic and range from religion, to the state of rap music, and to drugs as well.

The album begins to really slow down for me about half way through, as there are a couple of throwaway moments that feel rather out of place in the context of the record. The two and a half minute cut Fly Away features a simple, straight forward piano beat and has Meechy Darko taking a soulful vocal approach throughout. It doesn't add much other than feeling like an unnecessary interlude, much like the actual interlude Smoke Break does as well. Perhaps Juice and Erick felt that if Meech got a chance to sing, they should as well, and I'm assuming that's how this track was born. It's their ode to marijuana, and is easily the corniest track on the record. It's one of the few outright skippable tracks that Flatbush has produced so far in their career, and the odd use of feedback on the vocals doesn't help to boost the track whatsoever.

Fortunately the two weak moments are rather short, and are broken up with two decent cuts. Ascension, the better of the two tracks that separate the interludes, features some flamboyant production and an incredibly in your face hook that features Meech claiming his goal is to be better than God. Trade-Off, the latter of the two is still an enjoyable cut, and the ambient influence found in the background during the first few moments of the beat is a rather impressive inclusion from Erick Elliott. Through the chorus the beat takes on a  much harder edge, but fails to really connect as the production seems to be a little too thin and uninspired. That, accompanied with the laughable hook of "it's the work hard play hard, I just got a blow job" holds this track back from being all that memorable.

The record finishes off strong with cuts like New Phone, Who Dis? and This Is It which lead into the epic 13 minute closing track Your Favorite Rap Song which for the first six or so minutes definitely is my favourite cut from the album. The old school New York street influenced production is accompanied with the best pure rapping that the trio deliver on the project, and definitely brings the album to a solid finish. However, the biggest, and perhaps only problem I have with the song is the decision to include 5 minutes worth of fans praising the trio at the tail end of the track. It's something I only bothered listening to in complete perhaps once or twice, and while there were some funny moments, and I'm sure provided a cool moment for those featured, it just doesn't add anything to the project, except for making an overly long project even longer.

I've given this album a couple weeks now to change my thoughts, and unfortunately it hasn't been for the better. We get a couple stellar cuts, and a few others that are worth multiple listens, but ultimately 3001: A Laced Odyssey is bogged down by some of the least interesting moments I've heard the trio deliver. I could easily pick out four or five tracks that, without their inclusion would make the album much more enjoyable, but because of how much was forced into an album that got stale rather quickly, it just doesn't resonate with me the same way that the Zombies did on their two earlier mixtapes.

Rating: 3/5

Listen to the track The Odyssey below: