Tag Archive: Nas


1.       Killer Mike – “R.A.P. Music” (Williams Street)

Killer-Mike-R.A.P.-Music

Killer Mike and El-P’s collaborative album is called “R.A.P. Music” with good reason; it does everything that a modern hip-hop album should. The album has a consistency rarely present on guest and producer heavy albums while it manages to cover a lot of sonic and emotional territory without anything feeling put on. The music veers from huge sounding synthetic bangers (‘‘Big Beast’, ‘Southern Fried’ and ‘R.A.P. Music’) to emotive epics (‘Ghetto Gospel’, ‘Reagan’ and ‘Anywhere But Here’) via Southern rap flavoured tracks (‘Willie Burke Sherwood’, ‘Untitled’ and ‘Jo Jo’s Chillin’) and Killer Mike’s flow is just as diverse ranging from the enunciated words of ‘Reagan’ to the super speedy ‘Southern Fried’ and every point in between. What “R.A.P. Music” shows is that when hip-hop is stripped down to its core and rebuilt from button up, in addition to this despite his confident persona it’s clear that Killer Mike isn’t an egotist. He tells stories about other people in his life and discuss wider political issues, the lyrical themes that have been central to hip-hop since 1982 but feel so rare in 2012. “R.A.P. Music” was the first landmark hip-hop release of 2012, a great year for the genre as a whole.

2.       Nas – “Life Is Good” (Mercury)

Nas returns with the superb new album “Life Is Good” a top hip-hop release in a year packed full of high quality hip-hop releases. Though the album doesn’t quite reach the heights of hip-hop classic “Illmatic” the quality rarely drops over the albums 14 tracks (18 on the deluxe edition). Nas balance’s a selection of solo joints complimented by well chosen collaborations with the likes of Large Professor, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige and Anthony Hamilton amongst others. He also strikes a balance between hard hitting hip-hop tracks e.g. ‘The Don’, ‘Summer on Smash’ and ‘Accident Murderers’ with lighter summer jams e.g. ‘You Wouldn’t Understand’ and ‘Reach Out’ and jazz inflected tracks e.g. ‘Cherry Wine’ and ‘Stay’. Strings and piano are the dominate instruments and compliment the mature subject matter about the recent events in Nas’ life and his new found optimism. The cinematic scope of “Life Is Good” is stunning with Nas demonstrating that he has the gravity to compete with other blockbusting rappers like Jay-Z whose similar productions can sometimes sound hollow and overblown. The album rarely lets up its relentless pace but this no bad thing and none of the tracks out stay their welcome. On his most personal album to date Nas doesn’t pull any punches is his brutally honest tales of his own past and present, matching the vivid production of No I.D. and Salaam Remi (best known as Amy Winehouse’s producer on “Back to Black”) every step of the way!

3.       Flying Lotus – “Until the Quiet Comes” (Warp)  

The much anticipated “Until the Quiet Comes” starts as it means to go on with subtle shuffling beats of ‘All In’ with bells and chimes that lead the way harmonically and melodically. These elements become the glue that holds together this elemental, organic and sophisticated release from the highly regard Flying Lotus. For much of his career he has balanced ghetto fabulous beats, drum ‘n’ bass/UK Bass music undertow with his families’ roots in jazz and spiritual music and this continues on “Until the Quiet Comes”. However, it’s the cool jazz and calm spiritual music that is the dominate force whereas previously it had played second fiddle to the glitches, electronic breaks and huge bass rumble of the current music scene. Not that the modern glitches and deep penetrating bass lines and beats are absent, they just play a subtler supporting role with the exception of the ‘Sultan’s Request’ and its thick, brittle digital sounding synth bass, which gets twice as heavy in the second half of the track. The album also sees Flying Lotus utilising vocal samples and guest vocalists much more effectively, a particularly good example is Thom Yorke’s contribution to ‘Electric Candyman’ in which Yorke’s vocals are expertly and sparingly used, whereas they appeared anonymous on “…and the world laughs with you” from “Cosmogramma” (2010). “Until the Quiet Comes” initially feels like it might greater longevity than “Cosmogramma”, which though it really hit home on the first couple listens, its impact dulled over time. It was also a busy and demanding listen, whereas space is utilised throughout “Until the Quiet Comes”, which allows the listener to “fixate on any one sound and extract feeling from it.” Time will tell if this feeling becomes reality but one thing’s for sure Flying Lotus has delivered a more than worthy follow up to what often viewed as his masterpiece.

4.       Kid Koala – “12 Bit Blues” (Ninja Tune)

The latest album from the prolific Kid Koala takes a basic concept, expands on it and executes it to perfection. That concept is an album built around samples from old blues records put together using his trusty turntables and newly acquired Emu SP 1200 sampler. When I heard about this concept my initial thoughts were that this might be an overly dour album but Kid Koala proves me wrong with an album packed with hip-hop bangers that blow the cobwebs away!! Chirping synth and a vocal sample that says “the kids in rare form tonight” kick off the album before stride piano and boom-bap hip-hip beats enter to start off ‘1 bit blues’ properly, these elements turn out one of running themes throughout the album. But Kid Koala keeps the interest going with blistering guitar riff, analogue synth swiggles, sci-fi effects and a huge array of expertly deployed vocal samples. The highlights on the album range from the aforementioned opener, ‘4 bit blues’ where a down tempo hip-hop beat backs pitched down slurring vocal samples, heavy bass, brass and stride piano, ‘7 bit blues’ with its head nodding beat raucous guitar licks and subtle scratching and ‘8 bit blues (Chicago to NY to LA)’ with its expertly scratched vocal samples, neck breaking hip-hop beats and huge horns stabs. Kid Koala’s major achievement with “12 Bit Blues” is marrying modern sound elements such as the synths and the SP 1200 sampler beats with samples that date from close to a hundred years ago. As usual Kid Koala uses his turntables subtle to make the samples his own and add a modern rhythmic edge to his tracks. “12 Bit Blues” is a superb album that matches his career high “Carpel Tunnel Syndrome” and “Some of my Best Friends are DJs” track for track!!!

5.       Thee Satisfaction – “awE natural” (Sub Pop)

In “awE naturalE” Thee Satisfaction have delivered an energetic album filled tracks that both provide amply bounce that’s need for a hip-hop jam but also manages to subtly subvert both traditional methods of creating sounds and challenge the overly simplistic ‘soulful’ vocals used so liberally in hip-hop music. It’s refreshing to hear an act pushing the limits of hip-hop while still managing to make music that moves your body. The fact that these tracks are stuffed to the gills with affecting vocals, jazzy tunes and an expressive emotional palette makes an engaging and entertaining listen. From the opening disorienting swirl of ‘Awe’ to the fast moving finale of ‘Naturale’ via album highlights ‘Earthseed’ with its dark and dank atmopsherics and vocal the curve their way through notes, ‘Queens’ seductive and slippery groove and ‘Enchantess’ a darker twist on ‘Queens’ with pitched down vocals and a guest rap from Palaceer Lazaro of Shabazz Palaces. The half an hour run time demands that the album be played again immediately and is the album is equally satisfying and reveals more of its charms with each repeat listen. Thee Satisfaction never out staying their welcome and yet able to go distance on the longer tracks, if you like original, warm music with depth and attitude “awE naturalE” will be a welcome addition to your music collection.

6.       Blockhead – “Interludes After Midnight” (Ninja Tune)

I was quick to praise Blockhead’s last album “The Music Scene” (2010) but was quick to fell out of love with it on return visits. “Interludes After Midnight” promises to be an album that I enjoy for a lot longer as repeats listening has reaped greater rewards. The album consolidates everything that Blockhead has achieved in his solo career to date but crucially also learns lessons from “The Music Scene” and achieves it ambitious aims where that album had failed. In the end “The Music Scene” felt like Blockhead was just getting to know his new software Ableton Live but the album actually feels ‘live’ and can’t be directly attributed to the sounds or techniques of any particular software. Regular fans of the Ninja Tune labels output will instantly warm to this music and bares comparison to Bonobo’s solo work and “Sound Mirrors” by label head honchos Coldcut, as well as 70’s T.V. and soundtrack music, particular Bernard Herrman’s “Taxi Driver” score. The arrangements on “Interludes After Midnight” are inventive throughout a classic example being ‘Never Forget Your Token’ which starts out with electric piano and oddly pitched male vocals but ends with a twisted electric guitar unrecognizable from its first half. These arrangements could be jarring but instead feel completely natural as Blockhead’s well thought out concepts and production nous holds everything together. It’s rare to find a beat maker as distinct as Blockhead and he deserves far greater recognition and praise than he currently receives. All-in-all a superb instrumental hip-hop album; where ambition is matched by the quality of each track from top to bottom.

7.       El-P – “Cancer 4 Cure” (Fat Possum) 

In some ways “Cancer 4 Cure” is business as usual for El-P, all the usual signifiers are in place, his lurching, crushing beats, massive dirty synth bass-lines, stuttering vocal samples, stabbing instrument samples. However, one that’s no bad thing and two I believe this is an artist who subtly evolves his sound with each new release. The first difference that jumps out at me is that whereas in the past there were only hints of film music influences on El-P’s production’s “Cancer For The Cure” makes this explicit with a majority of the tracks shot through with a dystopian atmosphere akin to John Carpenter’s soundtracks to “Escape From New York” and “Assault on Precinct 13”. Further to this the album repositions El-P as “a real hip-hop focused musician rather than a beatmaker”; the musicality is turned up to ten and so this already heavy music makes an even greater impact. The album also features a couple of El-P’s most minimal and spacious tracks to date in ‘Stay Down’, ‘Sign Here’ and ‘The Jig Is Up’, in addition to this melodic vocals feature on ‘For My Upstairs Neighbor’, ‘Oh Hail No’  and ‘Works Every Time’. The album feels more thematically together than “I’ll Sleep When Your Dead” (which was great album) and this makes the album feel like it’ll maintain it impact over a longer time.

8.       Oh No – “OhNoMite” (Traffic)

Oh No’s “OhNoMite”’s overall sound and approach harks back to classic 90’s hip-hop sound though the source material is entirely made up of samples from Rudy Ray Moore’s audio achieves drawing heavily on the soundtrack to Blaxploitation film “Dolemite” from which the album takes its title. As a result of this the album is pack full of funk loops, smoky jazz chords and swinging tough hip-hop beats that get your head nodding. The album is stuffed with guest appears but doesn’t suffer from attention deficit disorder, each MC contributing high quality raps that fit into the album overall theme. The old skool styling’s of album don’t get in the way of enjoying it, in fact it’s a major part of “OhNoMite”’s appeal. One of the stand-out elements of the album is the fantastic array of analogue synth sounds that feature throughout; it’s also a sound that doesn’t always bed in well in straight hip-hop tracks, in my opinion and Oh No’s production’s successful ingrate them with thrilling results. This is a thoroughly brilliant and refreshing hip-hop record that will appeal to fans of Madlib, The Alchemist and filthy funk 90s classic hip-hop.

9.  Big Boi – “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” (Mercury)

“Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” is an ambitious and highly emotive album, one that fuses together 80’s funk, new wave and ambient synth textures with Big Boi’s trademark Dirty South hip-hop style. It is in short Big Boi’s pop album and rivals fellow OutKast member Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” as the finest pop entry in their respective back catalogues. This is the album that I thought I’d be hearing from Andre 3000 when he got around to making his debut solo album but Big Boi has beaten him to the punch. I’d go as far that is the most emotional raw and broad hip-hop since Kanye West released “808s and Heartbreak” (2008). It’s difficult to single out highlights on an album where quality level never drops from start to finish, this could be an overcooked and busy affair with seventeen tracks and many more collaborators but Big Boi and his opulent backing tracks gel with everything single contributor. Whether it’s the swarming strings of ‘The Thickets’, the 100% electro fest that is ‘Thom Pettie’ or the lush 80’s funk come-on’s of closer ‘She Said Ok’ it all just works even when it shouldn’t. Big Boi recently proclaimed his love of Kate Bush’s music and this influence runs through the whole album informing its lush synthetic and acoustic textures and arrangements. Prince is another 80’s pop star whose influence is a regular feature on the album and it’s no bad thing even on the out-and-out cheese fests of ‘Raspberries’, ‘Descending’ and ‘She Said Ok’, the influence is always present on 80’s funk numbers ‘Apple of my Eye’ and ‘Higher Res’. I didn’t think I’d be writing this but with “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” Big Boi might have just trumped his debut solo album“Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty” (2010).

10.     Doseone – “G Is For Deep” (anticon.)

The long awaited new solo album by cLOUDDEAD co-founder Doseone is one of the finest releases by any member of that trio since their self titled debut album in 2001. It picks up where the last Subtle (a spin off project from Doseone and Jel of cLOUDDEAD) left off but with a much greater emphasis on space and pop hooks. Throughout Doseone strikes a balance between chip tune elements, deep probing electro beats and strong melodic content. The releases of cLOUDDEAD and their related projects have always used ambience in conjunction with beats and rapping but here it feels more like Doseone is tapping into a rich vein of dream-pop that recalls the Cocteau Twins in their 80’s pomp. The new found space and melodic clarity make for a more immediate listening experience though there are still enough twists and turns to keep long time fans interested, I’m sure some will see this as a compromise but this genuinely feels like a natural evolution for a unique artist.

Some releases we missed in July

Eric Copeland – “Limbo” (Underwater People’s Records)

The latest solo effort from Eric Copeland of Black Dice is not exactly what you’d expect from a member of that group. True there’s plenty of lo-fi sounds and noise on the album’s six tracks but they are rendered in a pop context. There’s hip-hop influenced uses of grooves and sampling, some house/techno inspired rhythm drum machines patterns and pad textures and wonky hooks aplenty. ‘Double Reverse Psychology’ opens the album with its mix of Submerged vocals, twanging guitars and pleasantly plodding rhythm all spectacularly skewed by Copeland on one of the album’s highlights. ‘Louie, Louie, Louie’ is another highlight matching funky lo-fi wah-wah guitar and charming churning synth to create a weird pop ditty. Elsewhere Copeland is less successful with his unusual hybrid ‘Muckaluk’s Heavily filtered synths, stabbing bass and quick fire rhythm never truly coalesce or convince, ‘Fiesta Muerta’ meanders though a swinging lo-fi groove and vocal and sax samples without ever catching fire. ‘Tarzan and The Dirty Devils’ comes closest to an out and out house track with its breathy vocals and airy house style drum machine rhythm and pad textures but doesn’t reach the heights of  ‘Double Reverse Psychology’ or ‘Louie, Louie, Louie’. The album peters out with final track the sci-fi tinged ‘Lemons’. It’s seems the Copeland is coincidentally going for similar territory as PLVS VLTRA mentioned elsewhere in this post but falls short of this aim for most of “Limbo”, though there should be enough here to keep Black Dice fans happy.

Perc – “A New Brutality” (Perc Trax)

The new EP from the head of the esteemed Perc Trax label is a fantastic addition to his impressive back catalogue. The EP opens with a single ear splitting tone before thundering bass drums kicks in bringing with it resonant filter swept techno synths and a punishing bass line, the title “A New Brutality” couldn’t be more apt. The pace and heaviness doesn’t let up on ‘Cash 4 Gold’ with its clattering electro hip-hop style drum pattern, corroded synth noise and glassy spooked synth melody that dominates the second half of the track, at which point it takes on a Lynchian vibe. ‘Boy’ is an electro meets techno banger complete with heavy industrial drums. The EP rounds off with ‘Before I Go’ where things get more contemplative with crunchy field recordings backing dark reverb heavy piano chords. “A New Brutality” is an essential purchase for anyone interested in underground dance music.

Toby Dreher – “Freiluft” (Rotary Cocktail)

Working alone and as one half of Dreher & Smart, the productions of Berlin native Toby Dreher have featured on a range of German labels, including 3000°, Perplex Recordings and Dekadent Schallplatten. His debut album, “Freiluft” will be released on his hometown’s Rotary Cocktail Recordings. The digital-only record is made up of ten tracks that reflect Dreher’s skills as both a DJ and live act. Ranging from driving techno, electronica, dub-techno and hypnotic techhouse, “Freiluft” is a well crafted debut. Reflecting the moody and swirling techno of Berlin are tracks such as ‘Imagination’ with its filtered textures, low bass line, scratchy hats and thin delayed melody and ‘Spurensuche’’s rainy atmosphere, resonant bass line and metallic textures. ‘Chordhose’ stands out as a showcase of Dreher’s production abilities. It features a driving beat, tonal percussion and harsh textures that flash in and out of view. The track gradually builds in intensity with dissonant strings and drilling textures added underneath an irregular synth note. A silken vocal sample contrasts the abrasive noises.  Elsewhere is the pitch black techno of ‘Headrush’, which comprises of male voice singing melodically underneath a second distorted voice, a distant clap, an intensely resonant bass line and zinging hats. The only true misstep is ‘Shurly’. Its misplaced use of a piece of well-known dialogue from a 1980 spoof film just doesn’t make sense in the context of the track’s dark, sweeping minimal techno and feels a little like an A-level music production effort. “Freiluft”, while not a greatly imaginative or fresh album, is a solid release that will find favour with fans of Skudge et al.

PLVS VLTRA – “Pantheon” (Spectrum Spools)

The debut album from Toko Yasuda best known as keyboard player in the touring bands for Blonde Redhead and St. Vincent is chock full of genre hopping and mashing oddball pop tunes. All created with a lo-fi aesthetic the album regularly recalls the work of M.I.A., Peaking Lights and indirectly Micachu and The Shapes, in place it also reminds me of Dutch lo-fi pop artist Solex and Brazilian electro pop band CSS on the reggae referencing title track. Despite these aesthetic and sometimes stylistic similarities this record has pretty unique spin on pop music warping it into many diffuse but still tuneful shapes. Yasuda also keeps the hooks and melodies coming even on the most esoteric tracks e.g. ‘World in Words’ which is dominated by pumping bass drums that underpin delay heavy vocals and twinkling cheap synth sounds or ‘Yume’s submerged tropical sounding techno. “Pantheon” is a promising debut from an artist who I hope goes on it create many more albums and develop this fantastically oddball take on pop music.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

The Alchemist – “Russian Roulette” (Decon)

What can I say about the new album by hip-hop producer The Alchemist? Well, it appears he set out with good intentions and an over arching concept for the album but he falls short in a year packed with quality hip-hop releases. The OTT guitar solos and overtly smooth lounge jazz instrumentation sound like something you’d have heard in an airport lounge in the 70’s and leave a bad taste in the ear. This may well be the effect The Alchemist is going for, but it’s a displeasing sound. This is all the more surprising as The Alchemist has deservedly held a health amount of respect in the hip-hop community and recently had a revival of sorts producing quality tracks for the likes of Curren$y and an excellent collaborative project Gangrene with Stone’s Throw’ Oh No. There are many better producers creating (mainly instrumental) hip-hop concept albums, in fact I’d point you in the direction of Blockhead’s “Interludes After Midnight” for an excellent recent example. Whatever you do don’t buy “Russian Roulette”.

Outer Space – “Akashic Records (Events 1986 – 1990)” (Spectrum Spools)

The second album from John Elliott of Emeralds side project Outer Space is not a bad album; however it isn’t significantly different to anything Elliott, Emeralds or any other Emeralds side project has done to date. The same elements are present here as on those releases the synth arpeggio, the dark drones, the yearning synth melodies, the occasional effect or discordant melodic riff but it’s all the same. The opening track ‘Ellipse’ is the biggest disappointment it spends five minutes building tension and gaining more and more synth elements including a purposeful arpeggio before breaking down into an ambient second half that just fizzles out. The second track ’11:30’ begins in an equally promising manner with spectral synths intertwining and then being joined by a bubbling arpeggio and deep probing bass, however it then deplorably defaults back to the Emeralds template. ‘The Fifth Column’ repeats the same formula, ‘October 27th, 1989 – Bay Village, Ohio’ repeats the structure of ‘Ellipse’ with a digital arpeggio replacing ‘Ellipse’s all analogue sounds and on final track ‘February 8th, 1990 – Ashland, Ohio’ the Emeralds formula rears its head again. If your fan of Emeralds or the original kosmiche music they are inspired by you may like this album. Having said that I’m a fan of this genre of music but find it frustrating that modern artists such as Outer Space do little to move the genre forward, happy to merely recreate it perfectly.

Aesop Rock – “Skelethon” (Rhymesayers)

Aesop Rock new album sees a solid return for his long awaited sixth album, his first album exclusively devoted to his own productions, Rock having moved on and away from regular collaborator Blockhead. The album also features no guest rappers and the only other vocalist who features is Kimya Dawson (ex-Moldy Peaches). The album opens with Reverb heavy picked guitar and synth effects of ‘Leisureforce’ the chorus of which recalls TV on the Radio, in fact throughout the album Aesop Rock’s production heavily reference alternative and garage rock. This helps make sense of the collaborations with Dawson and Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts and gives the album a clear identity that separates it from Rock’s previous albums. The closest comparisons to Rock’s music on his album I can think of are fellow rap-alt. Rock experimentalist Busdriver and Rock’s former label boss El-P and his industrial aesthetic. The album’s highlights include the throbbing synth bass and cutting hip-hop beat of ‘Tetra’, dark head nodder ‘1,000 Clock’, ‘Racing Stripes’ with its clattering drum break, chopped up vocal stabs, funk guitar and bass and Rock flow smooth over the top and ‘ZZZ Top’ with its killer drum break, stabs and funk guitar lick. Overall this album won’t disappointment Aesop Rock fans and he his first attempt at producing a whole album is admirable, however “Skelethon” lags behind the other hip-hop releases we’ve recommended this year.

Laetita Sadier – “Silencio” (Drag City)

With her new album Sadier deliver another solid if unspectacular album. It’s solid enough and there’s the odd surprise but overall it feel very familiar. ‘Silencio’ focuses on the influence of French music on Sadier especially Serge Gainsbourg’s late 60’s output. Another influence that runs through the album (and in Sadier’s career) is that of The Velvet Underground. The albums highlights include ‘Fragment Pour Le Future De L’homme’ an upbeat French Disco track, the Latin inspired rhythms of ‘Find Me the Pulse of the Universe’, and ‘Auscultation To The Nation’ a combination of the Velvet Underground rhythm guitar and Gainsbourg style string arrangements. All of these songs show off Sadier’s new found skill for music arranging something that wasn’t present in her previous solo albums or those by Stereolab side project Monade. However, with the exception of these highlights the album never strays from the formula that Sadier established with Stereolab over 20 years ago or replicates long established generic styles and central influences. Though they aren’t bad songs or it’s hard to get away from these facts. Despite her best efforts to leave behind her past it haunts this album from start to finish.  

Beak> – “>>” (Invada)

A distinct improvement on their debut album, “>>” builds on that albums basic foundations and builds a charmingly crooked house on top of them. The central theme of album seems to be horror music and ghostly sounds as horror organ and retro delay/echo/reverb effects are a feature of a majority of the albums tracks. This is no bad thing as the bands understands these tropes and are not merely creating a facsimile or pastiche, these sounds achieve their aim. It would also be too simplistic to call this a krautrock album as though some track revolve around motorik grooves this very much a band with their sound and aesthetic, they don’t sound like Can or Neu! just obviously enjoy their music. There is a much broader and more imaginative sound palette from post-rock guitar riffs to Dub effects via Horror music organ this is a much richer sound and more developed sound while it still holds onto the energy and rawness of recording a band in a room. What’s more tracks like ‘Ladies Mile’, ‘Wulfstan II’, ‘Liar’ and ‘Yatton’ all have riffs and hooks that will stay with people for a long time after their first listen another thing that Beak>’s debut album lacked. All in all “>>” is a great album full of power yet subtle that masterful uses tension and release to create an engaging experience.

Micachu and The Shapes – “Never” (Rough Trade)

“Never” the new album from Micachu and The Shapes picks up where their debut debut “Jewellery” (2009) left off, retaining its lo-fi experimental pop sound and subtle developing it. The development manifests its self in the strong hooks that litter the album and Micachu’s previously monotone vocals finding a greater melodic range. The album gets off on the wrong foot with the first three tracks ‘Easy’, ‘Never’ and ‘Waste’ lack the remainder of albums hook and structural twists and turns. Luckily these tracks fly by in a few minutes (as do a majority of the tracks) and things pick up with ‘Slick’ and it’s swinging lo-fi hip-hop stylings. Next up is single “Ok” the melody of which recalls classic Stereolab, then ‘Low Dogg’s fat distorted synth bass crashes in and takes the listener a filthy thrill ride. ‘Holiday’ is a weird pop gem with a seasick melody. All that and were only halfway through the album. Other highlights on the album include ‘You Know’ a bouncy lo-fi pop song with Micachu’s distorted vocal dominating over the Shapes brittle shuffling backing, ‘Fall’ with its resonate melody and dark yet ethereal ambience and  the near psychedelic ‘Nothing’ the album’s most emotive and epic song. The band’s DIY instrumentation and oddball tendencies will put some people off but this an album that rewards those who decide to explore its experimental pop songs.

Top Release of the Month

Nas – “Life Is Good” (Def Jam/Universal)

Nas returns with the superb new album “Life Is Good” a strong contender for Album of the Year and a top hip-hop release in a year packed full of high quality hip-hop releases. Though the album doesn’t quite reach the heights of hip-hop classic “Illmatic” the quality rarely drops over the albums 14 tracks (18 on the deluxe edition). Nas balance’s a selection of solo joints complimented by well chosen collaborations with the likes of Large Professor, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige and Anthony Hamilton amongst others. He also strikes a balance between hard hitting hip-hop tracks e.g. ‘The Don’, ‘Summer on Smash’ and ‘Accident Murderers’ with lighter summer jams e.g. ‘You Wouldn’t Understand’ and ‘Reach Out’ and jazz inflected tracks e.g. ‘Cherry Wine’ and ‘Stay’. Strings and piano are the dominate instruments and compliment the mature subject matter about the recent events in Nas’ life and his new found optimism. The cinematic scope of “Life Is Good” is stunning with Nas demonstrating that he has the gravity to compete with other blockbusting rappers like Jay-Z whose similar productions can sometimes sound hollow and overblown. The album rarely lets up its relentless pace but this no bad thing and none of the tracks out stay their welcome. On his most personal album to date Nas doesn’t pull any punches is his brutally honest tales of his own past and present, matching the vivid production of No I.D. and Salaam Remi (best known as Amy Winehouse’s producer on “Back to Black”) every step of the way!

Beak> – “>>” 2nd July (Invada)

Two years in the making Geoff Barrow’s side project returns this July with the promise of a more “progressive” record, though it sticks to the recording the band in the room technique of their self titled debut album and only features two overdubs. Early reviews suggest that this is more powerful and diverse record than the band’s debut and that establishes their aesthetic.

Aesop Rock – “Skelethon” 9th July (Rhymesayers)

Aesop Rock is currently readying a new album for release in July this year, after nearly five years without a solo release. It features guest spots from Kimya Dawson (he’s working on a collaborative project with her called Uncluded, too), Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts, Hanni El Khatib, and more.

Outer Space – “Akashic Records (Events: 1986 – 1990) 9th July (Spectrum Spools)

John Elliott of kosmiche music revivalists  Emeralds and owner of the brilliant Spectrum Spools label releases his second album under the alias Outer Space. Wire magazine describe the album as “a patchcord nerd’s paradise of analogue electronic sounds, but here he employs them more ambitiously” and “it’s fair to say that this album exercises a much broader volume of synth lore than its predecessor”.

The Alchemist – “Russian Roulette” 16th July (Decon)

The new 30 track heavy album from this veteran underground hip-hop is set to be a guest heavy affair featuring all the undergrounds current darlings – Mayhem Lauren, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, ScHoolboy Q, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and Danny Brown and cast of many others including regular collaborator Evidence. Check out the full tracklisting here.

Nas – “Life Is Good” 16th July (Mercury)

Nas’ 10th studio album is produced by NO I.D. and Saleem Remi with tracks also coming from Swizz Beatz, Buckwild, Heavy D & Da Internz, The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League & 40. Guest include Mary J. Blige, Rick Ross, Amy Winehouse, Victoria Monet, Anthony Hamilton, Miguel & Large Professor. The many pre-release tracks have whetted the appetite for this album from a hip-hop legend. Check out the full tracklisting here.

Micachu & The Shapes – “Never” 23rd July (Rough Trade) 

The official follow-up to “Jewellery” (2009) comes hot on heels of last year’s collaboration with the London Sinfonietta “Chopped and Screwed”. Early reports suggest the new release will combine new recordings of a couple of tracks from “Chopped and Screwed” including album highlight “Low Dogg” and see the band developing their DIY junk-yard pop with a contrasting heavy undertow that matches its frequently downbeat lyrics.

Laetitia Sadier – “Silencio” 30th July (Drag City)

With Stereolab on hiatus for the foreseeable future (there are rumours of a series of remastered reissues) Sadier continues to develop her solo career in a similar prolific way. Early reviews are glowing and though it seems she hasn’t strayed too far from the Stereolab formula she does impart her on personality on pre-release track “Find Me The Pulse of the Universe”, which you can check out below.

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