Nevermen are a trio consisting of Doseone (Subtle, 13&God, cLOUDDEAD), Faith No More’s Mike Patton, and TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. The project initiated around 2008, after Doseone had appeared on the 2006 album by Patton’s Peeping Tom project, and Adebimpe guested on ‘Yell&Ice’ (2007) an album by Subtle. The trio announced that they were working on music together in 2008, and in 2009 Doseone announced that they had named themselves the Nevermen and had signed to Lex Records, also home to Subtle. All three members kept busy with their other commitments, most notably Faith No More’s reunion, so fans had to wait until 2015 before hearing the first taste of the group’s music. Singles “Tough Towns” and “Mr. Mistake” finally appeared in 2015, with the latter sporting a remix by Boards of Canada. The self-titled album by Nevermen (who had removed “the” from their name) finally appeared on Lex (in the U.K.) and Patton’s Ipecac label (in the U.S.) in February 2016. It was hard to know what to expect coming into this album between three unique collaborators though an interview with The Quietus had revealed that the group openly rejects the idea of having a frontman, and all three members contribute equally.
The consistent things throughout the album are the tag team effect used by the vocalists, the atmosphere of the tracks which are either icy intense or angry punky adrenaline rushes. It is easy to discern who created which part of the music and what role each vocalist is playing and the roles are always suited that vocalist. However, this never feels like a bunch of elements that are disperate but a whole as if this had been a band that around the years. There is quite an industrial feel to the album, not in terms of the genre Industrial music but the sound palette is quite metallic and there’s a lot of serrated then cutting guitar and synth sounds. The trio skilfully combine hip-hop, metal/rock and punk trash throughout the album.
The album opens with a cold metallic drone, then drums and vocals kick in with Tunde and Doseone the most prominent voices. For the verse Mike Patton take over for a few lines, then Doesone chips before Tunde finishes the verse., this an approach used throughout most of the album. The verse gives way to tribal drums and thin synth melodies of the chorus. Heavy guitars kick back in the second verse ramping up the tension before the drop to a bare guitar melody and bassline rumbling in the background. The sonic assault of the music and trio of tag teaming vocalists could be overwhelming in the hands they said this comes across as a strong album opener.
Up next is the Heavily treated drums and rushing synths of ‘Treat ’em Right’ these underpins trio of vocalists throughout the song’s introduction. Everything drops out to give way for a new more complex and percussive hip-hop rhythm before shifting into a rock style section with trebly guitar melodies. There is barely time to get to grips with one section the track before the next is upon you but is exciting instead of irritating. ‘Wrong Animal Right Trap’ combines thunderous drums and super distorted vocals that give way to heavy punky guitars and bass with the three vocalists harmonising before tag teamming through the rest of the song.
‘Tough Towns’ begins with a shifting synth atmosphere that fades in, eventually joined by glacial hip-hop beat and Tunde and Doseone harmonising. The track is very cinematic and atmospheric with a creepy vibe. It utilises a whole different tempo and tone to the other material so far, showing that the group is far from a one trick pony.The shift in tone and tempo continues on album centrepiece ‘Hate On’ with its spooky opening harmonies from Tunde which then break down to bells playing a sparse melody and icy atmosphere. A slow and loping beat and more vocal harmonies takeover before speeding up given way to a deep bass and slowly evolving vocal melody. A bit see processed percussion pushes the section forward as more synths join in underneath the vocals. The album the shifts between the more up tempo distorted and tense material and atmospheric slower tracks.
This is definitely album that can only really be made in the last decade, a modern melding of multiple genres and production techniques that pulls no punches. Compare to Young Fathers & Saul William’s “Martyr Loser King”. Along with Adrian Younge’s “Something about April II” this is an essential release in 2016. Go get it!
Let me know what you think of “Nevermen” in the comments or via Twitter.
According to his Bandcamp page Shag is a 20 year old University student who loves making beats and has clocked up a ton of releases since December 2009. I discovered Shag through the brilliant hip-hop blog Potholes in My Blog back in June when he put out his “Far, Far Away” album. I was impressed by his instrumental sci-fi hip-hop and would have reviewed it, if it wasn’t for a lack of time. Now comes his latest album “NULL” produced using a combination of dusty MPC samples and Korg MicroKorg and his newly bought Moog Sub Phatty synth.
The album opens with ‘Robots’ that features a portamento Sub Phatty melody that underpins a spoken word sample that sounds like it’s from a pre-50’s T.V. show. Then a great head nodding beat drops with a great synth bass underpinning everything. ‘(The) Funk’ features a great whining G-Funk synth melody over a laid back beat and bouncing, floating chords. Later in the track a phat synth riff takes over from the chords and chimes are introduced. ‘Every Day’ keeps the chimes and puts them over strummed rhythm guitar and vocal sample that sound like there from an old soul record, heavenly backing vocals and a piano melody.
‘Mercury’ revisits Shag’s obsessed with space utilising an ascending synth melody, a blocky analogue style synth pad that both recall an 80’s videogame theme, Then a subtle but still snapping beat drops. Next up is ‘Nothing I Can Do’ which opens with a synth thats floats in and double backs on its self. Then the beat and a huge gloopy synth bass and rich, reverberate vocal sample drops, before a soulful vocal sample is intercut with a sampled rap vocal samples, which is a great trick to pull off. The album ends with the double header of ‘In Reality’ and ‘Moving Forward’, the former opens with rhythm guitar and a double time bass drum beat and a rap vocal sample that says ‘fantasy’ a soulful vocal sample is added and interchanges with the rap samples. Then we hit the chorus where a line from Nas and one from Q-Tip are intercut to play with the meanings of the lines in their original context.. There’s some nice bass guitar and rhythm guitar riffs and great filtered synths bubble up in the chorus. The later combines an analogue synth that plays behind a collage of spoken word samples coated in delay. Then the head nodding beat drops and a rap vocal sample echoes out over another fizzy digital synth that cuts through the mix.
After hearing “Far, Far Away” and “NULL” a few times I’ve come to the conclusion that Shag is one of top amateur hip-hop producers self releasing their music right now. That’s saying something when I’m bombarded with hip-hop releases every week via Potholes in my Blog. Buy and stream Shag’s vast catalogue here, you won’t regret it.
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.
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.
This month’s selection for Classics Critiqued comes from an artist who often divides opinion and has admitted that since the release of the seminal “Maxinquaye” he has tried to “kill all that Maxinquaye bullshit”. In this article I will explore not only the album’s sound, but also the main points of discourse surrounding it. Including its perception as “a coffee-table album”, the switching of gender roles employed on the album, the music’s dissonance and of course whether it deserves its classic status.
The story of “Maxinquaye” starts many years beforehand in 1990 when Tricky was working with Bristol trip-hop innovators Massive Attack under the name Tricky Kid. He featured on their début single ‘Daydreaming’, the first time anyone heard of a half whispered, half rapped vocal style. Tricky would contribute to a majority of the tracks on Massive Attack’s landmark début album “Blue Lines” (1991) and the follow-up “Protection” (1994) before “Maxinquaye” would see the light of day. Tricky had offered his debut single “Aftermath” to Massive Attack for inclusion on “Blue Lines” but the trio weren’t interested in “its hollowed-out hip-hop blues”. ‘Aftermath’ lay untouched for two years before Tricky’s cousin encouraged him to get his own record deal, this came surprisingly quickly with Island Records signing Tricky in 1994 after gaining their attention through a self released white label of ‘Aftermath’. Suddenly Tricky had an album to produce and no knowledge or skills to make it with, as ‘Aftermath’ had been produced by Mark Stewart (ex-The Pop Group singer & On-U Sound alumni).
Island hired Mark Saunders as a sound engineer for the album’s recording sessions which began in Tricky’s home studio in a time when this mostly unheard of. In a 2007 interview, Saunders describes the unorthodox approach that Tricky took to creating “Maxinquaye”, “We basically made a record out of different bits; the spare parts of other people’s records… every track was built around a bit of somebody else’s track, or a combination of quite a few, and so the traditional method of starting by programming drums didn’t apply”. The floor would be littered with records which Tricky would pick up and hand to Saunders for sampling and the tracks would be a result of the disparate elements being pitched down and edited until they made some sort of musical sense or Tricky was happy with the track.
It was also unclear early on what contribution Tricky’s ex-girlfriend and vocalist Martina Topley-Bird would be making to the record as she’d become a central part of it. Saunders recalls that Tricky was no more orthodox with his use of Topley-Bird “She would come into the studio, murmur, ‘Hi,’ and he would hand her the lyrics that he’d just scribbled out and say, ‘Go and sing it’.” There was no preparation and no notation, Topley-Bird came up with her “hair standing up on the back of your neck” melodies on the spot”. The next stage was the addition of parts by musicians James Stevenson (guitar), Pete Briquette (bass) and techno-rock band FTV who featured on ‘Black Steel’, a cover of Public Enemy’s ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’. Saunders also contributed guitar parts and edited keyboards that Tricky improvised into the tracks.
When the album came out in February 1995 with very little radio play it shot to No.2 on the album chart and was hugely critically acclaimed, garnering rave reviews and featuring in many end of year polls on both sides of the Atlantic. Tricky had commercially and critically arrived but he hadn’t wanted to and wasn’t interested in fame and success, as he stated in a recent interview with The Guardian, “I thought I’d be an underground artist, I had no idea it was going to do that and I was not ready for it.” In his opinion success ruined “Maxinquaye” and turned it into “a coffee-table album”, which has annoyed him since. It some ways it’s easy to understand why the album has fallen victim to this as on the surface it’s a smooth, smoky and jazzy album that lopes along at a crawl for most of its duration, the perfect soundtrack for the dinner party set. However, it’s what’s under that surface that gives the album its vital edge, the spiky guitar riffs, reverse effects, lo-fi sample and paranoid vibe that critics loved at the time and at present. This is why Tricky despairs, his vision wasn’t to create a companion piece to “Blues Lines” but to make the other side of its smooth, seductive coin. He wanted to step out of their shadow.
One of most interesting facets of “Maxinquaye” is the switching of gender roles that runs through the album and is especially pronounced on ‘Black Steel’ when Martina Topley-Bird sings “I’m a black man”. Tricky wanted her to sing on the majority of the songs as he saw his lyrics as “my mum speaking through me; a lot of my lyrics are written from a woman’s point of view”. Most of the tracks have a soft and supple sound that’s very feminine for music written by a man and for what’s essentially a hip-hop record. This makes a unique proposition even today.
So now for the biggest question is “Maxinquaye” a classic album? The answer is yes and no. There are many things to admire in this ambitious and singular album: its sonic adventurousness to its lyrical challenges of sex and gender roles. However, 17 years on from its original release the album feels to me to be an album to admire and analyse not one you instantly feel an emotional connection to or recognise as an out-and-out classic. On the other hand how many people were able to get their head around “OK Computer” the first time they played it? With that in mind please let me know your thoughts on “Maxinquaye” in the comments below or via our Twitter.