Every week I select a few new releases to discuss in this spot. I know a lot of people will be jamming to the Decemberists this weekend but if you need a break from that I got you guys. This week was like a blast from the past we have two guitar driven bands that sound like they’re straight out of the 90s, two hip hop legends of that same era’s most recent collaboration, a young MC who has proven capable of capturing that same sound and unrelated is an indie pop band from England with the most wonderfully depressing music.
So without further ado, here we go.
Here is the playlist
The Magic Gang - Self Titled
This quartet from Brighton, England is a formation of artists from notable British bands. They have apparently been putting out music for over 3 years but as an ignoramus who avoids singles I was oblivious to their existence until their debut full length album. Their sound is very 90s but they consider their songwriting sensibilities more based on that of the 60s. From listening to them I hear bands like Weezer and some OK Go however on this they did diversify their songwriting a good amount by allowing all the members to contribute songs.
The album is not initially attention grabbing, Oh, Saki and All This Way are a good intro to the band but the album really gets rolling on Getting Along which is as memorable a guitar rock song as I can think of. From there as if disciples of Nick Horby’s High Fidelity rules for a mix tape they cool it down a notch on Alright which is a pop punk ballad complete with a clean little guitar solo to quench your 90s thirst. I won't go some by song but other notables that I really enjoyed are: Take Care which is driven by funky piano riff that will have you rocking while you dry your eyes listening to Gus Taylor sing about inevitable change. Your Love is also a dynamic and catchy tune that really captures an older sound many bands just aren’t capable of doing anymore.
This is a fantastic album for a break up, it keeps an upbeat catchy vibe with harmonies and bright guitar tones that are contrasted with slightly somber lyrics. It’s the kind of album you want to sing along to before even knowing all the lyrics. As to be expected with such a long recording time, my usual complaint about filler tracks is present but miniscule on this because the really good tracks are dispersed enough that you never feel them weigh down the album. I can not state how much I enjoyed this without gushing anymore than I have already but it seems like an instant classic to my ears and I believe it will be one of the great debut albums of our time.
Black Foxxes - Reiði
If The Magic Gang is the polished version of 90s rock bands Black Foxxes is the grungier, louder distorted underbelly of it, they are the Alice in Chains to TMG’s Weezer. They are a little more poppy that some of those bands but that is simply a factor of the evolution of rock in the era in which they play. The three piece are traditionally known for their rhythmic distorted guitars, raw vocals and hammering drum beats. In their own words from their bandcamp page they ‘’aim to play what comes naturally, do it as loud as possible and with no gimmicks,’ a grunge mentality if ever there was one.
Reiði is another foray into the aforementioned sound they’ve developed and it’s one that I have really taken to given my music preferences. Lead singer Mark Holley’s vocals once again lull you into their world with sense of ease where occasionally his electrically charged screams backed by their hard synchronous swells compliment their emotionally charged lyrics. He sings about a wealth of depressive feelings and the repetitive choruses really drive home their hard hitting sound in a sort of punk rock kind of way. There is also a softer side to it that just done as well, Take Me Home and various spots throughout this album display this kind of musical talent they have and prove they’re more than just people banging on instruments. Much like their sound it’s a simple album to describe, it’s raw and emotionally evocative with just the right amount of polish to lift it up and not detract with too much production. I really enjoyed it,Manic in Me was particulary ear catching. I am crossing my fingers they come stateside to share their live performances with us.
Fickle Friends - You Are Someone Else
Fickle Friends’ genre of electronic pop is typically not something I enjoy, at all. It would not be a stretch to say I hate it however I don’t hate this. Luckily when Swim came across my discover sometime last year I let it play just a little longer than I typically let songs that sound like it, those extra seconds were all it took. The way that they fuse live instruments with their electronic samples puts them in another tier of electronic acts. Because of this they can vary their sound and approach the initial influences of the genre like new wave. Lead singer Natassja Shiner’s voice is perfect to mimic the generic vocals found on typical club/gym dance songs when necessary but she also has a range that is on full display throughout their music. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph their music is a delightful listen but Shiner’s lyrics also hide a deeper meaning of dealing with emotions. Lines like “I'm alone in my head, my alarm isn't set” are simple but relatable and the dichotomy between their uber poppy music and the stories of misery sung about shouldn’t work but, like fellow Brighton based band The Magic Gang, it just does.
On their debut, You Are Someone Else the young group chose to work with Mike Crossey who has worked with bands like Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club, The Black Keys and more. From the bands he has worked with he seems to be a producer that gets it, a producer's goal is typically to capture the band as they sound. The whole thing is mixed wonderfully well and the live instruments are brought in and out of the electronic backtracks in ways that never seem forced and give them an authenticity not normally heard from bands in this genre.
My one complaint is the same as always, too long and too much filler. Because of this Crossey did leave something to be desired but since they have been a band for so long and only now getting to their debut the fault isn’t as bad as I typically judge it. I realize their songs are only a few minutes a piece but there is 16(!) of them and trust me not all of them needed to be on here because of the genre’s inherent repetitiveness. Because of my bias I had to split this into two listenings to get through the whole thing but it is still pretty good I recommend giving them a chance, other than Swim, Glue and Hello Hello are pretty good jumping off points.
Bishop Nehru - Elevators: Act 1 and 2
I have made no secret of my distaste for the the state of Rap music in 2018. Apart from Kendrick, RTJ, and very few others everything that is popular is objectively not good. How did did a generation of rappers raised on the golden age of hip-hop amount to this? Bishop Nehru is not of one these kids coming up making throwaway tracks, proclaiming them fire and not caring as they get forgotten forever within months.The 21 year old has already collaborated and formed bonds with historical mainstays in the genre like M.F. Doom, RZA and Kendrick Lamar. He was even tapped to open for Wu-Tang clan on their 20th anniversary tour. With a resume like that is there any way Elevators could live up to its’ hype?
Because the album is formatted in two acts I think the answer I came to in regards to that question is both yes and no. The first act Ascension is incredible. From the very beginning on Driftin’ jazzy tunes will harken the sounds of a generation long since lost and Nehru’s flow compliments it perfectly. The beats on the first five tracks are subtle in their complexity and he does a good job of rhyming in and out of them trying to share space, this is particularly exemplified on No Idea. Throughout this album, more so than on his previous work, Nehru puts on a clinic on hook writing and I would not be surprised to hear he is writing everyone’s within a year or two. Game of Life and Get Away are the kind of tracks you can’t help but rock to and are where his hook writing shines on this.
Unfortunately the aptly name second act Freefall was just that to me, it is where everything kind of goes off the rails and the previous praises all get lost. On it he seems to let the complexity of his beats get the better of him here as I found myself often wishing they were just instrumentals. This caliber of beats are a testament to the skill and time it took to craft them, paired with the excellent samples he uses this kind of quality is a rarity these days. However there are numerous times where between the tracks and his lines I was torn between what to pay attention to. As he did with the first few tracks his rapping and beats should complement not compete with each other.
I also think another set of ears would’ve done the whole album a world of difference because a contributing factor to the aforementioned problem is the tracks are just too loud. It seems they just pushed the faders on vocals and tracks up and didn’t bother to actually mix them properly. I am not clear if the beats are a product of DOOM or not and if they are I understand the reservation to mix them down but it would’ve done the project better in my opinion. For an example (just a little sample) of what I mean by this check out Again & Again. These critiques are very nitpicky but given the bar he set for himself I was hoping for a little more. Ultimately, this won’t be what we remember him by because a lot of his back catalogue is already better and his talent is incredible so keep an eye out because he will be producing all your favorite acts before too long.
PRhyme - PRhyme 2
The original collaboration between the legendary producer DJ Premier and Detroit's diminutive rapper Royce da 5’9” was, as expected, a classic. It served as peek into what it would sound like if the raw sounds of the early days of hip-hop met the impetuous realness of 90s gangsta rap. It really is a treat and if you haven’t listened to it I definitely recommend it.
PRhyme 2 had its work cut out for it to say the least but only some of it delivered for me. With a runtime(listentime?) closer to the deluxe version of the original, I believe there is a good album in here somewhere but it does seem to get a little lost in some of the filler tracks of the album. The concept behind these albums, as described in the introductory interlude, is the two hip-hop vets will adopt an artist’s sound and make their own music within that. For the first they had a tremendous talent to work with in Adrian Younge, on PRhyme 2 they used Antman Wonder a producer I am admittedly am not very familiar with. From listening to this I get the impression he is much more one dimensional than Younge. With very few exceptions the tracks just aren’t as engaging as the previous venture. This is not a fault of Royce, who will be the reason I listen to this multiple times to try to catch all of his rhymes. As good as ever he keeps the lyrical content relevant with lines mentioning cryptocurrencies and and social media and comes as raw as his fans have come to expect. I also do not hear fault in Premier’s production as songs like Era and Rock It show he hasn’t lost a step since his Gang Starr days. Rock It in particular with its Busta Rhymes sample and play on Tribe Called Quest’s Can I Kick It might be one of my favorite tracks of the year.
I think opinions of this album will come down to is personal preference. Where the first album had features like Killer Mike,Common and Jay Electronica the new one brings in “talents” like Roc Marciano and 2 Chains. There wasn’t one feature that I was particularly excited about and so maybe this album isn’t for me or people with strict tastes in hip-hop that mimic mine. So maybe I was the problem here but I would only suggest it after the all the above albums.