Tag Archive: Kanye West


This post is the first of two that mark the end of Sonic Fiction for the foreseeable future and probably forever. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I feel that as much as I’m still as passionate about all the music reviewed on the site I have to now focus purely on my own music career and improving those skills.

Thank to everyone whose read, commented on and retweeted/favourited/followed Sonic Fiction in its three years in existence. I will still keep the Sonic Fiction Twitter account alive as my own personal account so you can still find out about new music via that account.

  1. Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels” (Fool’s Gold)

  2. Adrian Younge & Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)

  3. Black Milk – “No Poison, No Paradise” (Fat Beats)

  4. Action Bronson & Harry Fraud – “SAAAB Stories” (self released)

  5. RJD2 – “More Is Than Isn’t” (RJ’s Electrical Connections)

  6. The Child of Lov – “The Child of Lov” (Double Six/Domino)

  7. Youngblood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” (Tru Thoughts)

  8. G&D – “The Lighthouse” (SomeOthaShip)

  9. Deltron 3030 – “Event II” (Bulk)

  10. FKA Twigs – “EP2” (Young Turks/XL)

Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels” (Fool’s Gold)

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Having worked together on the finest hip-hop release of 2012 “R.A.P. Music” El-P and team up again for their new project Run The Jewels. The duo has talked about this being their ‘fun’ album and as much as it sounds like they had fun making it, this is a serious hip-hop album both lyrically and sonically.

The album opens with its title track which instantly sets the tone for the rest of the album with its chattering hi-hat, 808 beat and minimal deep synth bass line. In the chorus El-P introduces a great screaming organ lead and employs Dub FX and a subtle reggae rhythm plays beneath the hard hitting hip-hop surface. Mike kicks off ‘Banana Clipper’ with the great lines “I move with the elegance of an African elephant, I presented the evidence, Eloquent as a president, Evident it’s with emphasis, I deserve me a championship, But before I banana clip, I’mma chill so my man can rip”. Later he praises his partner in crime while slamming boastful producers with a wry smile – “Producer gave me a beat, Said it’s the beat of the year, I said El-P didn’t do it, So get the fuck outta here”. All this delivered over sharp horn stabs and a double time beat. ‘36” Chain’ is a great example of El-P’s skill in creating multi textured tracks with its blocky synth stabs, video game blips and heavily compressed and reverbed snare combing to stunning effect.

‘Job Well Done’ is another album highlight and another track that demonstrates El-P amazing use of texture and space. His achieves this using discordant guitar and distant vocals adding more space and texture. The drums also have a great feel, pushing and pulling the listener. There’s also great use of dueling synth melodies and vocals in the chorus. The album ends with ‘A Christmas Fucking Miracle’ which combines sleigh bells, electric piano chords and a siren synth, everything is processed to feel corroded and dirty adding to the dystopian atmosphere.

All-in-all you couldn’t ask for more from “Run The Jewels” a hard hitting and full realised hip-hop album from start to finish, only time will tell whether matches up to “R.A.P. Music”.

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)

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With his new album alongside up and coming producer and multi instrumentalist Adrian Younge, Ghostface Killah comes pretty close to scaling the heights of his 90’s prime producing and album that never dips in quality across its 12 tracks. Like many Wu Tang Clan related releases there’s a storyline that runs through the album, this time the main character is Ghostface himself playing the role of a “vengeful soul hunting the 12 most powerful crime lords in the World.”

The album opens with ‘Beware of the Stare’ which immediate sets up the story and the tone of the album full of piano chords, a female choir, low slung funk bass guitar and a head nodding beat. ‘Rise of the Black Suits’ follows a similar formula adding chilling organ chords and an electric piano riff. ‘I Declare War’ is the most cinematic track so far with its operatic female vocals, spoken word outro and sweeping strings. The pace picks up on ‘Blood On The Cobblestones’ with it fast break beat, organ and horn stabs and great fuzz bass. ‘The Center Of Attraction’ changes things up again with it sparse electric piano chords and beat and back and forth strings. The next big moment on the album is ‘The Rise Of the Ghostface Killah’ with its cut-up female vocals and a spoken word male voice then a delay tail brings in the break beat and gliding electric guitar chords that slide around under Ghostface’s cool flow. ‘Revenge Is Sweet’ is a song of two halves beginning with sparse break beat and bass guitar before high pitched female choir cut in to tell more of the album’s story, strings come in and a male vocal duels with the female vocals. Then guitar chords float in  and then rap section of the track begins with Masta Killa getting busy on the mic. Wu Tang posse cut ‘Murder Spree’ and The Sure Shot’ (Parts One & Two) pick up where ‘Blood On The Cobblestones’ left off and the album finishes with ‘12 Reasons To Die’ which immortalises Ghostface in death to the sound of emotive piano, wind like sweeping synth, sparse bass guitar, mournful strings and an epic outro. With “12 Reasons to Die” Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge have set the bar extremely high for other hip-hop releases in 2013 and Younge has proved that it’s not just RZA whose the perfect foil for Wu Tang Clan MCs.

Black Milk – “No Poison, No Paradise” (Fat Beats)

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The profilic Detroit rapper/producerBlack Milk returns with his first solo album since “Album of the Year” (2010) and his second album of this year (Computer Ugly’s brilliant rough and raw “Synth or Soul” being the other album). It’s a welcome return and sees Black Milk firing on all cylinders from start to finish and in the progress making one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.

The album opens with ‘Interpret Sabotage’ featuring Mel it begins with electric piano that floats and is then interupted by static then a synth bass line and blunt hip-hop beat drop, a synth lead swiggles over the top of thin high strings and then Black Milk cuts in with his first verse. it’s urgent and frantic. Mel sings her chorus part over just the bass line and drums before the strings and synth cut back in. It’s a great opening track. Next up is the jazzy ‘Deion’s House’ which opens with a heads down beat and stabbing jazz piano and brass over the top. It features some great toms rolls and there’s more relaxed flow from Black Milk. ‘Codes & Cab Fare’ featuring Black Thought finishes off a fantastic opening run of tracks. It starts with a slow pulsing hip-hop beat, distant spoken word samples and a bell that rings out occasional, then Black Milk comes in for the first verse backed by thick dominating organ chords and creaking string samples. After more spoken word sample cut in, the second verse is taken by Black Thought, his rhymes and delivery are more aggressive as are the synth and effects that back him.

‘Ghetto Demf featuring Quelle Chris combines a hollow synth riff (sounds like the Normal or Gary Numan), a hip-hop beat, great gliding synth melody takes,dub delay FX that spin across the mix and spoken word samples that can be heard in the background. ‘Sonny Jr. (Dreams) featuring Robert Glasper & Dwele is the first of two instrumental tracks that help break up the rap tracks and showcase Black Milk great musicality (not a strong suit for many current hip-hop producers). Electric piano chords are stabbed out, then stop making way for a drum and percussion break, thin strings come in and bring an electric piano melody, so far so jazzy. A horn cycles over the top of everything. Like a lot of the album so far, it has a filmic, soundtrack quite. I really liked the vocal harmonies that come in halfway through. The next two tracks were the lead single(s) from the album and are both ‘Sunday’s Best’ and ‘Monday’s Worst’ find Black Milk equalling J Dilla as a master of soul sampling hip-hop.

‘Perfected on Puritan Ave.’opens with a chiming melody, strong synth strings and distant bass drum backing Black Milk. Then he strips things down to a horn sample, vocal harmonies and his vocals before the verse part quickly kicks back in. Halfway through the track changes completely with tumbling drums, trumpet solo and chopped up vocal sample underpinned by driving bass guitar. Then the strings swell back into life moving around the listener to heady effect. ‘Parallels’ featuring Ab combines a cool minimal synth riff, bubbling arpeggio and tough, stark neck breaking drums. Ab sings soulfully over the top, then Milk drops in for his first verse. Melody reminds of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. The album closes with ‘Money Bags (Paradise)’ which with its 80’s style digital synths, hard and heavy downtempo beat and slow moving synth bass, recalls Black Milk’s previously mentioned Computer Ugly album.

All-in-all “No Poison, No Paradise” is one the most fantastic and varied hip-hop albums of the year.  “To be specific it’s psychedelic, soulful, organic, reflective, and dynamic. It sounds like the soundtrack to a sci-fi gangster flick about Halloween in the streets of Detroit. Throughout NPNP Black Milk loosely constructs a theme of how the negative qualities of his Detroit environment in many ways shaped the perspective and talent he has as it connects to life and music. It’s a spiritual, thematic, and sonic balance”. This an album that highly recommend to anyone, go get yourself a copy now!!!

Action Bronson and Harry Fraud – “SAAAB Stories” (Self Released)

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With “SAAAB Stories” Action Bronson and Harry Fraud have delivered their best release and most varied release to date. Both rapper and produce are at the top of their game and pushing each other to do greater things.

Things kick off with ‘2 Virgins’ the first of several slower and more contemplative tracks on the E.P. its slow reverse intro and strings off set by sweet picked guitar and sour distorted guitar solo flow underneath Bronson and his hype man Big Body Bes’s rhymes. ‘Triple Backflip’ picks up where ‘2 Virgins’ left off with its gliding electric piano, snapping snare and round and warm bass drum, in the second of the track these elements are joined by mood enhancing subtle strings and nice picked guitars. ‘No Time’ is a highlight with its soloing electric piano, jazzy bass guitar and head nodding bass guitar a perfect backing for Bronson’s smutty rhymes. ‘Strictly 4 My Jeeps’ is a summer banger that comes closer to matching the brilliant ‘No Time’ and also gets your head nodding and foot tapping. ‘Alligator’ demonstrates Bronson’s storytelling abilities and with its downtempo and spooky yet dirty synth recalls Fever Ray’s excellent self titled debut album. Album closer ‘Seven Series Triplets’ rounds things out nicely with its picked bass guitar and pulse quickening beat the perfect setting for verses from Bronson, Prodigy and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon.

“SAAAB Stories” sees Bronson moving away from the perception of him as a food and sex obsessed Ghostface Killah impersonator and in fact I’d have to agree with Potholes in my Blog’s assertation that on this release he sounds closer to Ghostface’s Wu Tang tag team partner Raekwon. “SAAAB Stories” is the best hip-hop release of 2013 bar Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah’s exceptional “12 Reasons to Die”, this is an essential release!!!

RJD2 – “More Is Than Isn’t” (RJ’s Electrical Connections)

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It’s been over a decade since RJD2 released his brilliant debut album “Dead Ringer” (2002) which saw him regularly compared to DJ Shadow, with whom he shared a mastery of moody instrumental hip-hop. Since then RJD2 has tried out a number of genres including prog rocker for “Since We Last Spoke” (2004), singer songwriter on “The Third Hand” (2007) and funkateer on his lasting out “The Colossus” (2010). On his “More Is Than Isn’t” he finally cuminates all of previous ideas into one cohesive work, rather than again shifting his style.


The album opens with ‘Suite 1’ the first of three suites that are scattered across the album’s length. The track starts with waves crashing and bird song before spacious deep piano chords come in swiftly followed by a synthesizer that slips and slides all over the mix and sounds a little like a saxophone or the original bird song. Around a minute and twenty seconds a choir of voices can be heard in the distance. In the climax we briefly hear the bird song, waves and synth sax again. Next up is ‘Temperamental’ featuring Phonte Coleman of Little Brother, it begins with a heavy sharp hip-hop beat and electric piano chords played rhythmically, Coleman’s crooner’s emotive over the top. The backing vocals inimate the piano chords one miunte and thirty seconds in and then there’s some great distorted guitar comes in around two minutes in. Track three ‘Behold, Numbers’ opens with tense ascending synths/strings before a beat, reversed snare and stabs of the strings drop for a great percussive track that snaps your neck. Around a minute in the strings transform and intensify and a flowing melody that play over the percussive elements. At one minute forty seconds there’s an electric piano and slap bass break, that builds in intensity when hand percussion and flinty funk guitar riffs kick in over the top. Two minutes and fifty seconds the track becomes a snapping and cracking funk monster, with some of the original percussive elements mixed with the new slap bass, drums and funk guitar.

‘Her Majesty’s Socialist Request’ kicks off with high frequency synth tweet before crushing guitar power chords and double time drums and percussion cut in, the track breaks down to an Indian sounding string figure, the dramatic guitar riff and some of the percussion elements. Great piano loop kicks in around two minutes fifteen sounds in and plays over the guitar riff and percussion. All the elements are combined to stunning effect, only four tracks and I was already bowled over by RJD2’s latest work.  ‘Bathwater’ featuring P. Blackk the first of two MC lead tracks on the album is up next. It opens with a thick slab of fuzzy wah guitar, then the raps and double time beat come in, follow by lots of cut up vocals and guitar samples flying about. Synth bass and lead synth add to the awesome analogue filth. ‘Milk Tooth’ combines analogue synth bloops, a cutting soul break, bass and guitar, huge synth brass stabs and a female vocal harmony. Later there’s also a gliding synth melody that comes in part through, it sounds like a classic Moog. The track feels like a synth based version of Adrian Younge’s sound or a more soul based version of a Gaslamp Killer horrorcore track.

‘See You Leave’ is another vocal featuring The Roots associate STS (MC) and singer Khari Mateen. Big held organ chords and tumbling drums make up the intro of this track before a soul backbeat and rhythm guitar cut in, soulful lead vocals and guitar lick that recalls the Isley Brothers play over the top. There’s some solid rap verses but the soul chorus is where its at on this track. Next up is ‘Got There, Sugar’ a two part of a track the warps from one to the other partway through. A simple warmth synth melody, electric piano chords and sax solo open up this track, jazz drums shuffling away underneath. At one minute fifty seconds the track completely transforms into a wah-wah guitar and organ lead funk monster. ‘Descended From Myth’ sounds like a forgotten gem from a Blaxploitation soundtrack combining blaring horns, pounding drums and a stabbing synth bass. There track gets more synth heavy and sci-fi in feel as its progresses. It’s great to see RJD2 and Blueprint (MC) working together for the first time since “Dead Ringer”. The track ‘It All Came to Me in a Dream’ is one of the highlights of the album too. A drum roll brings in a tremolo fuzz guitar, head nodding beat, low slung bass and filmic dialogue samples, the track breaks down to bring in Blueprint’s first rap verse. There’s a great synth solo around one minute fifty seconds in.

All-in-all “More Is Than Isn’t” is RJD2’s best album since “Dead Ringer” and while it may not provide as many knock out moments as that brilliant work it comes pretty close to equalling it. It’s both a varied and consisent album that showcases both RJD2’s skills as a producer and as a musician, this is a guy who can make a great head nodding, neck snapping beat, write a fantastic chorus and play an amazing synth solo sometimes even on the same track!! Highly recommended to all lovers of instrumental hip-hop, soulful music and music with a ton of funk!!

The Child of Lov – “The Child of Lov” (Double Six/Domino)

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The secretive artist The Child of Lov is a hip-hop producer from the Netherlands but he doesn’t make any old hip-hop and when you hear his processed vocals you’d swear he was from America’s Deep South. The album opens with the loping bass guitar, downtempo hip-hop beat and skewed soul vocals of ‘Call Me Up’ the atmospherics and vocals of which recalls “Return to Cookie Mountain” era TV on the Radio. It’s swiftly followed by ‘Heal’ with its uptempo drum break, nagging post-punk guitar riff and stabbing bass guitar. Next up is the sparse ballad ‘One Day’ that features Blur’s Damon Albarn, twisted twangy guitar melodies, rippling synth bass and a dusty hip-hop beat. ‘Living the Circle’ combines corroded synth bass and a heavy stuttering hip-hop beat with a computer game style synth melody to stunning, head nodding effect.

The second half the album sees electronic drums dominate whereas acoustic drums had pervaded in the first half. ‘Go With The Wind’ utilises a subtle electronic hip-hop drums, computer game synth bass and a weird lo-fi guitar riff that underline the uniqueness of this artists sound. ‘Fly’ is another great up tempo track with a thumping, purposeful bass drum pushing everything forward. The album closes with ‘Give It To The People’ on which there’s very little vocal processing and the track has a brighter, pop production pointing at potential development for The Child of Lov’s sound in the future. “The Child of Lov” is a great debut album that demonstrates that you don’t need to the biggest budget or sound to make something that can shine and be unique. I look forward to hearing more from The Child of Lov in the future.

Youngblood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” (Tru Thoughts)

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Youngblood Brass Band return with their first album in seven years and it is great to have them back. ‘Pax Volumi’ is an album that cements their reputation as a great hip-hop and jazz band that can deliver a great album as well as great live performances. Their previous effort ‘Is That A Riot?’ was the first evidence that they could keep the quality high across an album and ‘Pax Volumi’ confirms and nudges their trademark sound forward.

The album opens as Youngblood open their live sets with something huge and anthemic. The track is ’20 Questions’ and with its combination of thumping bass line , staccato snare, heavy bass drum and chattering hats. The rap flows in a start-stop flow over the top and the brass cuts in and out with the trumpet  playing staccato melodies in the verse and full section stabs in the chorus. There’s a great sax solo 2 minutes in and the track establishes the new punchier and more polished sound of the album. ‘Cite the Line’ brings back the band’s trademark military drum beat which plays under staccato saxophone, distant vocals and yearning elongated trumpets. Then the main beat and bass line kick in thumping your eardrums and backing the fast rapping, the horns ascend in the chorus to great effect.

‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ opens with mournful sounding trombone and droning trumpet, the MC enters and beatboxes a hip-hop drum pattern. The huge bassline slams in and brings with it a crisp hip-hop beat (the evidence of use of a sampler by Youngblood) and the rap verse, the brass emerges out of nowhere like a synth pad. Some of drums and the bassline sounds electronic or electronically processed. There’s a nice mellow drum less section partway through. Then the beatboxing, scratch and electronic drum re-enter with the core brass riffs. ‘The Plank Will Nod, and You Will Go’ starts with title spoken then the brass and drums thunder in before breaking down to rap and drums before the brass emerges again with snaking jazz melodies. The intro returns for an instrumental chorus. The track reminds of ‘Bone Refinery’ from the previous album. I really like the sousaphone and vocal only breakdown half through, then the brass snakes back followed by the drums to bring the chorus back in.

‘Erik Owen’ begins with sax and trombone playing long interweaving melodies over each other before Latin handclaps and staccato trumpet cuts in, a great minimal hip-hop rhythm takes over and the trumpet plays main melody. It’s a great bright upbeat track that changes up from the double time rhythms of much of the rest of the album. Towards the end of the album the band cover the Chaka Khan classic ‘Ain’t Nobody’ it  opens with a tons of percussion and deep bass drum before the trombone and trumpets play a funky riff and the sax harmonises over the top. The sousaphone plays the bass and the sax, trumpets and trombone take it in turns to play the main chorus melody. There are some great solos in the middle section of the song and a fantastic tough bass line in the outro. The album finishes with the epic eight minute closer ‘Third Half’. It begins with a lone trumpet soloing before a snare roll brings with tons of tumbling jazz drums and the other brass and sax, it all underpinned by a body movin’ sousaphone bass line. I can’t put my finger on what it is but there’s something familiar about the melody around 2 minutes 20 seconds played by the sax. The band gets into some heavy jazz soloing in the middle section with the drums pounding and rolling behind. It breaks down to sax for a second again with that familiar melody; then the drums come back in slowly building the tension. Trumpets and trombone interweave with the sax both competing and complimenting it. It’s a superb finishes to an album that makes the triumphant return of a band that have been away for far too long!!!

G&D – “The Lighthouse” (SomeOthaShip)

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The mysterious moniker G&D hides the behind it two disguised artists in Georgia Anne Muldrow (G) and Dudley Perkins (D) who’ve both been working together and individual as hip-hop artists for over two decades. However, both have found their profiles rise since 2006 (I only knew of Georgia Anne Mudrow’s existence last year due to her ‘Seeds’ album produced by Madlib). Some hip-hop heads might know Perkins from his time under the name Declaime but I imagine both of these artists are fairly new to most people.

On “The Lighthouse” their pedigree shows itself from the start, as the album kicks off with the cut up vocals samples, P-Funk synth solo and scratches of ‘Intro’. The album swiftly moves to the title track’s laidback percussion, cutting hip-hop beat and cosmic electric piano meanwhile the two vocalists float and flow over the top of a head nodding beat. ‘Fam Bam’ starts the move away from the psychedelic sound of that the artwork of the album suggests were in for. The track features a stuttering electronic hip-hop beat and reverberate claps that back Perkins mean rapping and Muldrow vocals and rapping that recall Erykah Badu and Seattle hip-hop duo Thee Satisfaction. ‘Electric’ combines a smooth bass line and sparse electronic hip-hop beat with another from Perkins with its feedbacking guitar and electronic sound it recalls Cannibal Ox. ‘Power’ brings back to P-Funk and Afro-centric lyrics from the duo, ‘No More War’ picks up where ‘Power’ leaves off with huge synth bass, a twinkling synth melody and shuffling electronic beat back Perkins and Muldrow’s duetting vocals. ‘Popstopper’ demonstrates the duo’s versatility with shuffling acoustic drums and popping funk bass backing Muldrow’s multi-layered lush vocals while a spooky synth stabs in and out of the mix. ‘Dance’ combines with guitar sound of ‘Electric’ with the popping funk bass of ‘Popstopper’ to get you on the floor! ‘Emo Funk’ and album closer ‘Majesty’ both show the duo can do slo-mo acoustic piano ballads albeit with their own unique twist. With ‘The Lighthouse’ G&D have arguably made the best underground hip-hop of year so far, check it out!!!

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Thirteen years ago Deltron 3030 the hip-hop supergroup that features Del The Funkee Homosapian (MC), Kid Koala (turntablist) and Dan the Automater (producer) released their self titled début concept album and showed up a lot of the underground hip-hop acts with their combination of ambition and great tunes. Towards the end of last year rumours began to surface that Deltron 3030 had reformed and earlier this the trio confirmed it and then announced they had almost finished a sequel to their début. Now that album is here for all to hear and here’s my review.

The album opens with “Stardate” on which actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt talks of fictional trio’s return over the top of  a synthetic choir and twinkling music box melody. ‘The Return’ opens the album proper combining a synth, long-held strings and choir in from intro track give way to phat hip-hop drums, scratches and a thick layer of organ and cartoonish synth melody. Del enters rapping slow and smooth telling the story of the Earth in 3030. Deep strings cut in during a break down at 3 minutes 30 seconds in. The track changes feel  to a kind of epic spaghetti western style sound. ‘Pay The Price’ is straight in with an upbeat hip-hop beat, scratches and plinking piano and bass guitar groove. Things get cut down for the verse with Del flowing over the top. Like the huge acoustic piano chords and twinkling reverberate melody, the resonate synth is a nice subtle touch.

‘Nobody Can’ featuring Aaron Bruno of AWOL Nation combines great head nodding beat, fuzzy electric guitar and deep bass groove, that back Del’s great rhymes that are off set by soul style guitar chops and an 8-bit synth melody. The tracks reminds me of hip-hop duo N.A.S.A. who released a great similar collaborative album”The Spirit of Apollo” back in 2009. Another huge guitar riff dominates ‘Melding of the Minds’ featuring Zack De La Rocha its backed by phat hip-hop drums and a deep bass guitar with cutting scratches and killer raps from Del and Zack taking the lead. ‘Talent Supercedes’ featuring Black Rob is a cinematic funk track that features A big beat and held horns. There’s some Ennio Morricone references in the verse, with the twanging (yet funky) guitar and clanging bells. Great drum breaks and bass guitar roll, pushing everything forward and flattening anything that gets in their way. ‘Look Across The Sky’ featuring actor Mary Elizabeth Winstead opens with a filter sweep synth effect before a soul guitar rhythm, bass line and midtempo beat drops. Del raps and Winstead sings vocals harmonies on this minimal track. In the chorus Winstead takes the melodic lead before the track breaks down again to the intro synth and a soloing psychedelic guitar.

‘What Is This Loneliness’ featuring Damon Albarn and Casual starts off with a slamming head nodding beat, Del crashes in backed by discordant guitar and chiming bells. Twanging guitar and strings up the tension as we move towards the chorus. Albarn comes in singing the chorus backed by a synth, strings, drums, bass and acoustic rhythm guitar, reminds me of ‘El Manana’ by Gorillaz. Next up is ‘My Only Love’ featuring Emily Wells a stepping epic beat, vocal harmonies, big reverbed chords and slippery synth open this track before backing down to beat, slow moving bass and guitar groove and minimal bell melody for Del’s verse. The intro instruments return for the chorus with Wells singing like Martina Topley Bird over the top.

The album closer with two tracks that really contrast with each other the first ‘City Rising From The Ashes’ featuring Mike Patton begins with a phat drum break, funky bass, horns stabs and a piano riff. In the chorus the brass plays a cool melody and has an almost Latin in feel and Patton sings the backing vocals, Del sounds awesome over the top. Kid Koala weighs in with some great scratch work out towards the end of the track. The album closer ‘Do You Remember’ featuring Jamie Cullum is more reflective. The track opens with Cullum’s vocals, piano and a stringed instruments covered in vinyl crackle and pop and sounding like a 1930’s/40’s jazz crooner. Then hip-hop beat drops and Del flows over the top of Cullum’s jazz vocal melody. Features some great hip-hop stabs and soulful guitar chops.

“Event II” isn’t a huge move away from the trio début album’s sound and lyrical themes but it does feature a lot more uptempo tracks and sweeping cinematic elements. The album feels both like a throw back to 90’s breakbeat driven hip-hop but also has a throughly contemporary production job and sounds like the album that Gorillaz should make if they even make another album. This is a great hip-hop album and highly recommended for both fully fledged hip-hop heads and fans of the likes of Gorillaz and N.A.S.A.

FKA Twigs – “EP 2” (Young Turks/XL)

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FKA Twigs first appeared on my radar just a couple of months ago when the track ‘Water Me’ appeared on line and generated soon serious hype. It turned the hype was justified as it’s an excellent track that establishes FKA Twigs signiture sound delayed cover vocal harmonies, ethereal synths and slo-mo treated electronic beats, all topped off with her breathy sometimes whispered vocals. I found out that she had in fact self released another EP back in 2012 that had completely passed me by and had now been snapped up by Young Turks home to The xx with whom she shares “unflinching intimacy” in her music. The whole EP is produced by Arca a hotly tipped underground hip-hop who recently contributed a track to Kanye West’s “Yeezus”.

The EP opens with ‘How’s That’. It begins with a steadily moving deep synth strings sound and a hollow snare drums echoes out before Twigs vocals enter dropping in and out, there very breathy, a tambourine shaking covered in spine chilling reverb. Then a bitcrusher bass drum and click electronic percussion bash away almost overwhelming the other elements before settling for the main body of the track. The track display’s Arca’s understanding of dynamics as the track swifts from the spacious calm intro into the fuller and menacing main section. Next up is the best track on the EP ‘Papi Pacify’ it masterfully combines a deep detuned synth riff, Twigs echoing vocals at the start of this track. Then another synth starts up and brings in the stumbling glitchy beat and thin synth chords. Halfway through the tone change suddenly as a heavier dark beat and corroded synth bass line stumble into view. It sounds like a horror film soundtrack with the wrong lyrics over the top (the lyrics appear to be a love song).

The second half of the EP kicks off with the brilliant ‘Water Me’ which reminded me a little of Fever Ray. The song starts with vocal harmonies echo out before a synth drone slides underneath. A ratty distant snare comes in, eventually giving way to a beat and pitched echoing vocal harmonies, swiftly followed by Twigs enters singing her lead vocals. Some cool backing vocals come in along with a gliding synth melody around the two minute mark. Then EP concludes with ‘Ultraviolet’ which like ‘Papi Pacify’ is a song of two halves the first features Twigs sings over distant ethereal synth and slow, sparse electronic beat. Then halfway through Twigs and the synths rise up taking the song to a richer more melodic and harmonic place. The track turns into a dreamy R&B tune in slo-mo.

“EP 2” is one of the finest of EP length releases of the year so far with a throughly modern sound that brings together influences ranging from the chopped and screwed hip-hop of DJ Screw, the inimate and sparse touch songs of The xx and the taut trip-hop of Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” (1998). Highly recommended.

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FKA_Twigs

FKA Twigs first appeared on my radar just a couple of months ago when the track ‘Water Me’ appeared on line and generated soon serious hype. It turned the hype was justified as it’s an excellent track that establishes FKA Twigs signiture sound delayed cover vocal harmonies, ethereal synths and slo-mo treated electronic beats, all topped off with her breathy sometimes whispered vocals. I found out that she had in fact self released another EP back in 2012 that had completely passed me by and had now been snapped up by Young Turks home to The xx with whom she shares “unflinching intimacy” in her music. The whole EP is produced by Arca a hotly tipped underground hip-hop who recently contributed a track to Kanye West’s “Yeezus”.

The EP opens with ‘How’s That’. It begins with a steadily moving deep synth strings sound and a hollow snare drums echoes out before Twigs vocals enter dropping in and out, there very breathy, a tambourine shaking covered in spine chilling reverb. Then a bitcrusher bass drum and click electronic percussion bash away almost overwhelming the other elements before settling for the main body of the track. The track display’s Arca’s understanding of dynamics as the track swifts from the spacious calm intro into the fuller and menacing main section. Next up is the best track on the EP ‘Papi Pacify’ it masterfully combines a deep detuned synth riff, Twigs echoing vocals at the start of this track. Then another synth starts up and brings in the stumbling glitchy beat and thin synth chords. Halfway through the tone change suddenly as a heavier dark beat and corroded synth bass line stumble into view. It sounds like a horror film soundtrack with the wrong lyrics over the top (the lyrics appear to be a love song).

The second half of the EP kicks off with the brilliant ‘Water Me’ which reminded me a little of Fever Ray. The song starts with vocal harmonies echo out before a synth drone slides underneath. A ratty distant snare comes in, eventually giving way to a beat and pitched echoing vocal harmonies, swiftly followed by Twigs enters singing her lead vocals. Some cool backing vocals come in along with a gliding synth melody around the two minute mark. Then EP concludes with ‘Ultraviolet’ which like ‘Papi Pacify’ is a song of two halves the first features Twigs sings over distant ethereal synth and slow, sparse electronic beat. Then halfway through Twigs and the synths rise up taking the song to a richer more melodic and harmonic place. The track turns into a dreamy R&B tune in slo-mo.

“EP 2” is one of the finest of EP length releases of the year so far with a throughly modern sound that brings together influences ranging from the chopped and screwed hip-hop of DJ Screw, the inimate and sparse touch songs of The xx and the taut trip-hop of Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” (1998). Highly recommended.

images Jay-Z

Ok, so be now you have probably heard a lot about how much of mess “Magna Carta Holy Grail” is, however this things are not as straightforward as that. On the one hand Jay’s lyrical content leaves a lot to be desired, his celebrated of fame and its rich leaving a bad taste in the mouth. On the other hand, the musical backing on the album is top notch and features some of Timbaland’s finest beats for about a decade.

The problems begin with the opener ‘Holy Grail’ on which Justin Timberlake bleats like a 14 year old about how he’s been dumped, things improve when Jay enters for his first verse but the tracks over long and Timberlake’s repeated presence grates more with each chorus. Things go up a notch musically on ‘Picasso Baby’ with a deep bass guitar swaggering over a swinging beat and sharp piano but Jay’s seemingly disrespectful lyrics (“No, I want a wife that fuck me like a prostitute”) and his demands for more when he has everything anyone could dream of left me cold. I have always felt Jay-Z was a great storyteller that could paint pictures in your mind but this Jay-Z is completely absent from “Magna Carta Holy Grail”. Another things that’s absent is any sense that Jay-Z has ever felt guilty about his wealth, his lifestyle or what he expresses lyrical, whereas his regular collaborator Kanye West expressed his feel of conflict brilliant just last month on the similarly Biblical titled “Yeezus”.

‘Tom Ford’ finds Jay pushing Timbaland to revisit his heyday for making innovative minimal yet liquid electronic beats and Jay flows over it like Timbaland’s own solo career writing for the likes of Katy Perry had never happened. ‘Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit’ features a good beat from Timbaland and good verse from Jay but features the hugely overrated Rick Ross who spoils the track. “Oceans” finds Jay-Z and Frank Ocean trending water as the quality continues its dip. ‘F.U.T.W.’ finds Jay backed by a gentle trumpet loop and Prefuse 73 style beat and proclaiming he feels like Cassius Clay and Frank Sinatra (for the umpteenth time). ‘SomewhereinAmerica’ plays things straight on the musical front but Hova embarrasses himself with the “Cause somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerkin’” and Instagram references.

‘Part II (On the Run)’ seems like a pointless retread of ‘Bonnie & Clyde’, ‘BBC’ wastes a handful of great guests most of them relegated to adlibbing in the background and a couple of poor verse thrown to pad out the 3 minute track. Jay would have been better doubling the track time or halving the guest list. ‘Jay-Z Blue’ finds him complaining about being a father, which annoys almost as much as all the over the top celebrations of wealth and demanding more. The album bows out on ‘Nickels and Dimes’ which expertly utilises a large sample from the Gonjasufi track of the same name.

“Magna Carta Holy Grail” tell us two things 1) Jay-Z is a rich 44 year-old rap millionaire who feels the need to constantly inform his fans (and anyone else that’ll listen) of his wealth and power 2) That Timbaland can still produce some great beats when pushed to do so. I would not recommend the album lyrically but you there’s some high quality instrumentals buried under them.

Liam’s Recommendations

10th June 2013

Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

After a series of mysterious codes were revealed via a series of 12″ singles, website banners and Youtube videos, Boards of Canada finally revealed the details of their first album in eight years. If the first single ‘Reach For The Dead’ is anything to go by this will another strong album from Boards of Canada.

Prodigy and Alchemist – “Albert Einstein” (Infamous)

Prodigy of Mobb Deep and legendary and versatile producer Alchemist team up for a collaborative album that also features Domo Genesis of Odd Future and Raekwon of the Wu Tang Clan. Check out the artwork and track listing for the album here.

18th June 2013

Kanye West – “Yeezus” (Mercury)

Kanye returns off the back of month’s of rumours of his imminent return and after projecting a video for new track “New Slaves” onto walls in various cities around the world and performing “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead” on Saturday Night Live he’s official back with the album title and artwork revealed and a new minimal almost punk sound.

24th June 2013

Matias Aguayo – “The Visitor” 

After four years in which Aguayo has been busy with his Comeme DJ collective and has collaborated with Battles and dropped the odd EP and 12″ he finally follows up the brilliant “Ay Ay Ay” (2009). If first single “El Sucu Tucu” is anything to go by then with can enjoy more funkier, bright dance on this album too.

June 2013

Run The Jewels – “Run The Jewels” (Fool’s Gold)

After producing the best Hip-Hop Album of 2012 in “R.A.P. Music” El-P and Killer Mike team up again for an album under the name Run The Jewels, which is rumoured to be a free release out in June. It also seems that this project is in addition to “R.A.P. Music II” which Killer Mike confirmed he’d be working on with El-P this year, so the duo may produce two great hip-hop albums in 2013!!!

This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Midnight Marauders’ (1993, Jive Records)

This month’s selection is a hip-hop classic from the early nineties that in retrospect stands as both one of the last of its kind and a precursor to what was to come in the genre. By the time ‘Midnight Marauders’ was released in 1993, A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) (Q-Tip – rapper/producer, Phife Dawg – rapper and DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad) were a well established conscious rap group that had already released two albums: the brilliant debut “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm” and, ‘The Low End Theory’, which established their trademark sound. As members of the Native Tongues posse which also featured De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, Monie Love and Queen Latifah ATCQ pioneered a form of hip-hop that was lyrically and musically opposed to the underground gangsta rap scene and the militant sound of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions. A Tribe Called Quest’s style leant heavily on jazz samples and instrumentation such as double bass, Rhodes piano, brass riffs, producing a smooth and distinct sound that was bright without being lightweight. ‘The Low End Theory’ also brought the trio wider attention, setting them up for the more commercial sound of ‘Midnight Maunders’ and its success.

‘Midnight Maunders’ is viewed as their ‘commercial album’ and yielded their biggest hit yet with ‘Award Tour’, propelling the album into the Billboard Top Ten. The release is also their most quality-consistent album. The NME called it their “most complete work to date” and Melody Maker also complimented this new found consistency, “A Tribe Called Quest have expanded their vision with a lyrical gravitas and a musical lightness of touch that has hitherto eluded them across a whole album”. Whereas the two previous albums had consisted of a selection of highlights and the occasional filler ‘Midnight Maunders’ manages an incredible 15 tracks without a single duff moment, a real rarity in hip-hop albums, which often revolve around a few singles and a lot of filler and skits. The use of the ‘album tour guide’ that features throughout is another element that helps tie the album together while never interrupting its flow.

Combing hard drums (they had previously chosen softer sounds to compliment the jazz samples), up-tempo grooves (another new facet to their once laidback sound), jazz instrumentation and catchy hooks imbues the album with a more immediate sound. The MCs Q-Tip and Phife Dawg are on top form trading lyrics back and forth with irrepressible flows. Their near-telepathic chemistry has vastly improved compared to that on previous albums, Lyrically the album flits between socio-political topics such as police harassment and nocturnal activity (‘Midnight’), religious faith (“God Lives Through”) to candid use of the word “nigga” (‘Sucka Nigga’)” and playful braggadocio on ‘Steve Biko (Stir It Up)’ with the lyrics: “Rude boy composer, Step to me you’re over, Brothers wanna flex, You’re not Mad Cobra, MC short and black, There aint no other”, ‘Clap Your Hands’, ‘Oh My God’ (featuring a flourishing Busta Rhymes) and ‘God Lives Through’. There is a real sense of the times in which they lived with lyrics referencing Nelson Mandela being freed and South African human rights activist Steve Biko and problems with African American violence while some lyrics are more general, covering black politics and culture, particularly ‘Sucka Nigga’:

“It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy

Other niggas in the community think its crummy

But I don’t, neither does the youth cause we

Embrace adversity it goes right with the race

And being that we use it as a term of endearment

Niggas start to bug to the dome as where the fear went”

A Tribe Called Quest were not lacking in interesting samples either and they established themselves as fine ‘diggers’ – skilled in the art of finding records to sample for production. They continued to demonstrate this skill with ‘Midnight Marauders’: ‘Award Tour’ sampled obscure jazz session musician Irvine Weldon’s ‘We Gettin’ Down’, ‘Clap Your Hands’ mixed up The Meter’s ‘Handclapping Song’ with jazz from Bob James and Lou Donaldson and Clyde McPhatter’s rock guitar is a surprising choice for ‘Lyrics to Go’. These examples indicate how ATCQ could keep people guessing when it came to their choice of samples. It wasn’t just the trio handling the music on this album either as ‘8 Million Stories’ is produced by Skeff Anselm and ‘Keep It Rollin’ by Large Professor both of whom were up and coming hip-hop producers at the time. ATCQ also gave exposure to a young Raphael Saadiq who contributes to ‘Midnight’ and Busta Rhymes (still three years away from his debut solo single) who appears on ‘Oh My God’. This also bears out the idea that A Tribe Called Quest were great promoters of other hip-hop talent with ‘Midnight Marauders’’s cover featuring headshots of hip-hop artists they respected. De La Soul, the Beastie Boys, MC Lyte and Doug E. Fresh can be spotted.

In many ways ‘Midnight Marauders’ sealed their legacy and still deserves the acclaim it received on release as the last classic of the ‘Golden Age’ of hip-hop and the last great album to be released by a member of the Native Tongues posse. Hip-hop was at a cross roads that split between the positivity of Native Tongues, the emergent forces of macho gangsta rap and the dark, underground sound of Wu Tang Clan. The darker forces would prevail in the short term but A Tribe Called Quest still managed to extend an influence beyond their time together. In the early 2000s a selection of underground hip-hop artists including Mablib, Frank ‘n’ Dank and Little Brother adopted influence from the mellow jazz vibes of ATCQ and in 2008 Kanye West sang ATCQ’s praises as an inspiration that made him want to become a rapper and producer –

“Can you remember the first record you bought?
Yeah, it was, errrr, A Tribe Called Quest ‘Low End Theory’.

Who did you look up to in terms of artists when growing up?
I mean, yeah – A Tribe Called Quest, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, George Michael. I’m thinking about when I was a little kid, LL Cool J…”

The album has featured in many Best Albums lists including The Source’s 100 Best Hip-Hop Albums of All Time, Pitchfork’s Top 100 Albums of the 1990s and The Guardian’s 100 Albums that Don’t Appear in All Other Top 100 Album Lists amongst others. ‘Midnight Marauders’ transcends its era and lives on as classic album that is well worth rediscovering.

Spotify playlist:

A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders

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