Digging Through the Crates, Bandcamp Style – June 2015

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Not only for my own personal running list of things I’ve found via Bandcamp (or Soundcloud) that I like, but for a chance that anyone who accidentally stumbles across this blog might find something they like, as well.

Since this is the first time I’ve ever done this, and it’s something I plan to do randomly as the mood hits me, I’m not putting a timeframe on when anything was released.  All I care about is when I find it.

Made In Heights – Without My Enemy What Would I Do

This is, pretty easily, my favorite release that I’ve listened to in the first half of 2015.  It’s hit me in a similar way that FKA Twigs did last year, because it feels both familiar and wildly different, all at the same time.

If I were forced to boil this down to a single genre descriptor, I’d have to say this is pop, but I’d be really sad that I’d have to boil it down to that and only that.  Made In Heights are a duo that bring beautiful female vocals melted over some very varied (alliteration!) production.  That variance in the production can fall under the wide umbrella that is electronic music (whatever that is anymore), melded with some hip-hop/R&B influence along with a pop sensibility that I alluded to earlier.

Cry is probably the track that most says “THIS IS MADE IN HEIGHTS!” to me.  It starts with a squealing pig that probably fits better into a horror movie than it does a song as beautiful as this, followed by a chopped-up sample of said pig that somehow turns from that horrid sound at the beginning into something that works as a piece of music.  Wrap that up with a water-in-the-bucket drip-drop sound and you have the description of a song that just shouldn’t be as good as it is.  Once the vocals drop in, everything comes together to make for what I can only describe via an oxymoron; melancholic bliss.

This is the mix that is Kelsey Bulkin (vocals) and Alexei Saba (a/k/a Sabzi; producer), a duo that can only be described in pairings of words which shouldn’t go next to each other.  They are a match… made in heights.

(I NAILED that cheesy ending… nailed it!)

Buy for $12

Recommended if you like – FKA Twigs, London Grammar, ASTR, Basecamp
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Reveiw: Maria Mena – Weapon in Mind

Sometimes you find something in a place where you did not expect it to be.  An atheist at church.  A dog at a cat rescue.  Another thin analogy within a blog.  Maybe the last one is to be expected, but this is what Maria Mena is to me.  I didn’t know I’d be looking to a Norwegian pop star for some of the most honest lyrics and emotion surrounding everything from relationships to growing up as a child in a broken household.  This is a blessing and curse for Maria as some of her lyrics come across heavy handed, at times narcissistic or at their worst, even whiny, but more on that later.

From a musical perspective, Maria is hard to compare to your everyday American pop singer.  There’s nothing overly complex vocally or within the musical backing.  It’s a lot of piano with a random smattering of synths, guitar and drums.  Very rarely upbeat, but not always a complete drag either.  She’s a bit like late-90′s Tori Amos if Tori Amos was completely uninterested in being unique and with a voice that is subtlety beautiful.  You won’t hear Maria go on any ridiculous Mariah Carey runs and that’s fine by me.

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Music Lists: Top Ten of 2000 to 2009

This might be a little strange to see my top ten of the decade list prior to my top ten of the year, but I want to give myself a month or so to listen to anyting that I may have missed at the end of 09.  On top of that, I have been listening to the stuff on this list for years.  Not months and not days, but years.  Years of my life where this music stayed relevant, never felt old and never got boring.  I am going to do this on in reverse order, so we are starting with number ten and counting down to my favorite album of the decade.

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My Music: What I Listened to in 2009

Thanks to Last.fm my love of music has gone from just listening to becoming a stat geek who can track his listening habits from week to week.  I am sure most people don’t see any value or reason to track what you listen to, but for me it’s something that can help me find new music and, at times, remind me of something I haven’t listened to in forever.  When you have over 30,000 songs, you need some help to remind you what was good and what wasn’t.

I went ahead and took some screen shots on what I listened to during the year.  Some of what I see surprised me but for the most part this just reminded me of the variety I keep on my MP3 player.

Top 30 Artists:

My top 3 artists all had awesome releases during the year.  I think the 1/2 punch of Brand New and Katatonia makes up my two favorite artists in my head and that’s reflected in my scrobbles.  Nothing here surprised me all that much.  The majority of artists here are groups that released something in 2008 or 09 that I fell in love with.

Top 20 Albums:

This was the list that most surprised me.  Most of the albums here were 2008 releases.  Very few 09 releases made it and even fewer pre-08 albums made it.  The top release, Katatonia’s The Great Cold Distance, was a random find towards the end of 2008 that I (obviously) had a hard time staying away from.  Great disc and it was my (very late) introduction to Katatonia.  Minor Threat was a group I listened to a lot pre-Last.fm and I finally downloaded their Complete Discography during the year.  I had forgotten how good it was which is why I listened to it so many times.

Top 20 Songs:

Wintersleep’s Search Party probably my favorite song ever written and my play count supports that 2 years running.  The other big part of my list here is Katatonia’s collection.  Into the White, Leaders and Journey Through Pressure are some of the best metal songs ever written.  Other than that, the list is made up of all of my top artists.

The Year Ahead:

Already have two releases for 2010, the new Fear Factory and Bouncing Souls.  Off the top of my head I am most excited about the new Wintersleep.  I am sure that 2010, like any other year, will be full of new stuff to discover and fall in love with.  Can’t wait.

Review: The Grouch & Eligh – Say G&E!

The older I get, the more music I listen to, the more stagnant the hip-hop/rap genre becomes to me.  Not that there isn’t good stuff out there, it’s just that isn’t enough of it.  Commercial rap is the bane of music’s existence.  No matter how many times you tell me you are hot, I will not believe you, because saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true.  It’s sad, but that is what rap has become, a collection of catch phrases repeated over and over again until your brain turns to mush and runs out of your ears.  Going underground helps to get away from the crap on the radio, but it’s really hard to find an artist or group that can fire on all cylinders.  Maybe the have the production down but the flow is awful (Jedi Mind Tricks).  Maybe it’s the other way around.  Then, after all of your searching, a gem randomly gets dropped to you like you life was Bejeweled 2.  In 2009, this is that release, a breath of fresh air and a a great listen almost the entire way through.

For those who don’t know, The Grouch & Eligh are members of the hip-hop collective known as the Living Legends.  The California-based group has all sorts of different spin offs and solo releases and this one might be one of the best.  The Grouch is a very laid back rapper, rarely raising his voice to a yell and always speaking consciously.  Eligh is the polar opposite.  His flow sounds like it’s been influenced by the caffeine from 10 Mountain Dews.  He is fast and he is tongue twisting, but always in control at the same time.  We have all heard the saying the opposites attract and that is the case here.  Both artists play off one another perfectly, so well that they remind me of what Outkast once was.  The Grouch is to Andre 3000 as Eligh is to Big Boi.  The contrast keeps everything flowing and everything interesting at all times.

So we got two talented rappers in the fold, now we just need some good production.  Thankfully this album delivers in this area as well.  For the most part the beats are slightly laid back, slightly chill.  It’s rare that the beat is picked up and that’s OK, the Cali vibe this album’s production gives off plays perfectly into the vocals of G&E’s.  I can’t quite call the production groundbreaking, but it is different enough to separate these 2 from all of their commercial brethren and a lot of their fellow underground counterparts.  The most original part of the production are the little touches that you might not even notice on your first listen.  The opening track, Say G&E!, has the laid back vibe that is so prevalent on the album, but during the chorus you get a touch of a bubbling synth in the background that I might expect to hear in something more dancey or even something industrial.  The synth takes the song to another level and helps to make it feel original.

Other great touches are prevalent throughout the album.  On Do It Again the track opens with a female chorus of “Ba Ba Babba Ba’s” that you might have heard in a commercial from the 50’s.  It sounds like it might be odd but it matches the track perfectly.  Sign of the Times has a vocal backing the entire song that reminds me of something you might have heard on Bjork’s Medula.  Mark Bell is featured on the track and uses various throat sounds and some Do Be Da Be Do that is so laid back it just blends into the track.  So many touches like this take what might otherwise be average and turns it into something more.

Lyrically the album further reminds me of Outkast in that it’s not about bitches or switches.  It’s about the world around us.  The thoughts inside us.  The important things.  Take a track like Rivers Run Dry and you will hear about global warming in a clever way that comes across as neither elitism or preaching, it feels like genuine concern for the earth we all live on.  Sign Of the Times is a commentary just on that, the signs all around us.  The false importance put into objects and money, forgetting what’s really important.

It isn’t all peaches & cream however, which keeps this from being a great release and turns it into just a very good one.  There are some guests featured and some do not work well.  Atmosphere is featured on the track Boom which is an awful track you would expect to hear from someone like Solja Boy (or however the eff that’s spelled).  All In is a bizarre poppy track with a live drum beat that feels cheesy, not chill.  Thankfully the mis-steps are at a minimum so the disc as a whole still ends up as one of the years best.

It isn’t perfect, but what is?  It’s just a God send to hear something fresh this year.  While the radios pump out sonic garbage into the ears of the mainstream, greatness isn’t too far away.  Just say G&E!

Overall Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Listen if you like:

  • Outkast: Atliens
  • Goodie Mob: Soul Food
  • P.O.S. Audtion

Best Tracks:

  • Say G&E
  • Rivers Run Dry
  • Sign of the Times

Review: The Shizit – Self Titled

Back in my High School days (about 10 years ago now) I was spending most of my time on a computer.  To fill my spare time between Quake and pron, I would always be looking for music in the deepest, darkest corners of the web. One of my favorite sites was MP3.com, which back in the late 90’s was MySpace or Last.fm before those sites existed.  I dug through almost every profile of every artist and that site and ended up with one of my favorite bands ever…. The Shizit.

The mix of hard, dancey electronics with super aggressive metal was what my life was missing.  I followed their every move from Evil Inside until Soundtrack for the Revolution and once they disbanded I was pretty disappointed.  The group was only around for 3 or 4 years, had released some of best music I had heard and had already called it quits.  I never expected to hear another release under the Shizit’s name.  I guess I should expect the unexpected.

Floored as I was that not only had the Shizit released a new album, it was free on top of that.  As soon as the download finished I started from track one and didn’t stop until the album finished.  The Shizit are back and sounding better than ever.  The “group” was resurrected by JP Anderson who had been keeping digital metal alive with his other group, Rabbit Junk.  Original guitarist Brian Shrader did not re-join so this is more or less a solo release with a little help from Cyanotic’s Sean Payne.

The album kicks off with Civilization Extermination which brings the Shizit back to life in a big way.  The track is more or less what people who know the Shizit would expect.  Super aggressive guitars and vocals, a hard Gabber beat in the background and JP’s politically motivated lyrics.  While that description may make it seem like the Shizit haven’t changed since 2001, that’s not really the case.  With their previous work the Shizit split time between the electronics and metal almost on a 50/50 basis.  With this release the electronics have been toned down a bit and I would say that split closer 70/30 in favor of the guitar.  That’s not disappointing, if anything it gives the electronics that are used more of an impact.  The last thing to note is that the drums are all synthetic.  While that may sound like a downer to some, JP programs them better than just about anyone else on the planet, so they work really well.

The album continues with song after song of pissed off music that is about as aggressive as anything I have heard in ages.  Bloodlust Blues takes a break from politics and lyrically comes across as something straight out of the mind of a serial killer.  The track starts off very aggressive, as many Shizit tracks do, but then it slows down during the verses which are spoken like a semi distorted rant.  The track is one of the slower tracks you will hear from the Shizit but the play between loud and quiet works perfectly and makes from one of the better Shizit tracks ever.

The album finishies with Fat Slave which is the best track the Shizit have ever laid onto a hard drive.  It starts off with a synth line that might have been programmed by Dracula himself before kicking into the aforementioned aggressive metal.  The verses are screamed and the chorus is sung.  One thing that is apparent on this release is the growth of JP as a vocalist and lyricist.  The sung chorus sounds awesome and lyrically it’s the most introspective thing I have heard come out of JP’s mouth.  He questions whether or not his time is worth it.  Is it worth worrying about politics?  Am I a hero to anyone else?  The chorus speaks to something we have all felt.

For prior releases I do like using the term Digital Hardcore to describe the Shizit.  This release falls into more of an industrial metal feel than previous work due to the decrease of dancey electronics.  I’ll repeat that this isn’t a negative, it’s just the slight change that has taken place with the Shizit since we last heard from them in 2001.  Now that we have the genre out-of-the-way I can safely say this is the best industrial metal album I have heard in a long, long time.  The tracks are all aggressive.  Most of them do not go over 4 minutes.  It’s just an in your face, pissed off record.  So many bands try to be aggressive but they end up feeling like a group of people who are trying to fit into a scene.  The Shizit come across like a brick to the head.  This is not bullshit, this is pure aggression.  And did I mention it was free?

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

Listen if you like:

Best Tracks

  • Fat Slave
  • Bloodlust Blues
  • Civilization Extermination

Music Review: Wintersleep – Self Titled

Wintersleep Self Titled CoverWintersleep are a band that are not well-known to many American’s, but have quite the following in their home country of Canada.  This is their first disc, which was released as a side project to Kary, a harder progressive rock band with which Wintersleep shared several members of.  The project was formed so that Paul Murphy could explore some of the softer elements that were part of Kary and expand on them as best they could.  It turned out well enough that Kary released one more album and then were retired so that the shared members could focus on Wintersleep alone.

To differentiate between Kary, Wintersleep went full on acoustic for this, their debut album.  The tone of the album actually comes out to be extreme on the melancholy, but it’s dripping with emotion and feeling.  That might sound a little pretentious but Wintersleep has to be heard to understand this element.  Paul’s vocals over the (sometimes) drab music creates this gentle feeling of depression that is hard to avoid.  While “depressing” or “melancholy” are seen as a bad thing in today’s world, listening to music that is depressive somehow takes that feeling away from me.  One thing that I have learned about music is that I’d much rather feel something, rather than nothing.  Wintersleep makes you feel.

The album opens up with Sore.  Light acoustic guitars start off the song for a few seconds before Paul comes in with a gentle tone in his voice.  This song is probably one of the more “cheerful” songs that the group have recorded and it’s probably the closest thing to a love song we will get out of them.  When the chorus kicks in, the vocals are amped and go from gentle to pained.  Not painful in a bad way, but painful in a fashion that gives us the feeling that the vocalist is sharing while singing the lyrics.

I know that I am going on an on about the “feeling” or the “emotion” that comes across, but that is this albums strongest asset.  We are able to connect to this album because we can understand the emotion behind it and the lyrics are also made up of realities that we face every day.  Assembly Lines is a song that everyone can understand.  The verses talk about things like “The Wife, The kids are starting to get in the way of the important thins/Like cars, like ours, like customers just keep smiling” which leads right into the chorus of “I’ll try harder”.  This is a song that can easily have a connection with just about everyone on earth who feels the need to try harder to be what other people expect them to be.  The music backing the song is a repetitive acoustic guitar riff and layered backing vocals of “oh’s” and “ah’s”  which give the song depth it might not have other wise.

Those are the touches that Wintersleep add to make what could potentially be very boring into something special.  They are the masters of droning on with what sometimes feels repetitive, but if you really listen subtle things get added on during the course of a song that end up in many layers by the end.  Maybe the guitar riff is the same for the whole song, but there might be a time shift in the background or some layered vocals.  The layered vocals are something that is seen on a lot of tracks.  Ambulance, a track about someone having a deadly medical issue in front of you.  The chorus constantly asks “If this is a joke/Please tell me so/So I’ll know”.  The verses have a layered vocals with a female singer in the background.  While the song does follow the verse, chorus verse formula,  the song ends with Paul going into a series of vocal riffs that give the feeling of someone who has been hurt.  Looking at another track, like Wind, we once agin see the repetitive nature of the band.  The same guitar line over and over again, but there is a subtle keyboard note in the background.  A female vocalist comes in and out of the song with Paul’s vocals building and building up to the end of the track.

This isn’t Wintersleep at their finest, but it’s still very good.  This album was a great start for the group and when listening to this now it’s easy to understand how they have grown since this has been release.  Their 2 LP’s after this one brought in electronic guitar, which brought back some of what people were missing with Kary being put on indefinite hold.  If you don’t mind music being a little on the depressing side and you like acoustic rock, this is something that needs to be heard.  For Winterlseep this release marks the start of something sadly beautiful, maybe you will find the same value in it as well.