Hip hop

Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them – Tobias Berchtold’s Best of 2016

This article was written by Tobias Berchtold 

2016 has been a difficult and troubling year for the world, but it has also produced some absolutely outstanding music so I wanted to renew my best of review for the year just passed. (https://wallofsoundmagazine.com/2016/01/01/my-favourite-15-albums-of-2015/).
As much as I wanted to keep it short, there was just way too many amazing projects to whittle it down to a sensible number. Behold, my top 30 of 2016:

  30. The Colour in Anything – James Blake

James Blake’s third album follows on from his previous projects nicely, it is very similar in mood to those two however there are some very subtle but effective tonal changes. He has become known for a minimal and moody aesthetic, underlined by precise and layered production, however with this project Blake has seemingly tried to shift from a minimal approach to a more maximalist one. The production is once again absolutely stellar and the swelling instrumentals throughout lend a beautiful atmosphere to the album. The only real issue I have with the album is that it’s just too long, clocking in at 76 minutes, so it can be a bit tricky to stay engaged the whole way through.

  1. ArtScience – The Robert Glasper Experiment

For years, Robert Glasper has been the gold standard of jazz fused into all sorts of different genres. With his Experiment band, Glasper seems to refuse to be pegged into one genre – even exclaiming it at the start of the album (“So why should I just confine myself to one? We want to explore them all.”) In my opinion it’s the group’s best project yet, in big part due to the fact that they decided to do all the vocals themselves instead of relying on outside artists – by doing this I feel like they succeeded in cementing their own vibe, more so than in their previous attempts.

  1. Konnichiwa – Skepta

Skepta has been amongst the forerunners of the UK grime movement in recent years. It’s been 5 years since his previous album, and the long wait (with many delays) was thoroughly worth it. It’s packed with anti-establishment sentiment, and the lead single That’s Not Me is a good example of the content of the rest of the album. It’s a big middle finger to the press, the police and the government. All around it’s a great trailblazer for the grime genre, a genre that doesn’t usually feature albums but more often than not consists of singles and mixtapes.

  1. Epoch – Tycho

Tycho is back with another excellent downtempo album. All of the songs on the album bear his unmistakable style that he forged with his previous albums Awake and Dive, with very precise and deliberate instrumental melodies. This album is probably his most energetic yet, with some vocal samples added in, which Scott Hansen hadn’t really used much in the past. While it would be difficult to argue that this album is anything new, it’s probably one of my favourite Tycho projects yet – and with it he has cemented himself at the very top of my exam time playlists.

  1. 22, A Million – Bon Iver

It’s been a loooong time since we got a release from Justin Vernon and it really didn’t disappoint. It’s a difficult listen, which in general is nothing new from Bon Iver – but on this album he seems to explore, and play with, the strange and the uncertain. There is a great existential angst to the subject matter of this record, with Vernon resorting to a lot of religious imagery to try to explain his anxiety about the uncertainty of existence and his use of distorted vocals just adds to the theme. Its aesthetic is very high brow and experimental, and it works beautifully well as a reminder that Bon Iver is one of the best contemporary artists around nowadays.

  1. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange

“My album is for everyone told they’re not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer the right way… it’s a clapback.”

I think I kind of want to be Dev Hynes. His activism for black rights is immensely powerful and it is the overarching theme of this album, the racial context of this album imbues it with so much meaning. It was released during the time when there were weekly/daily occurrences of police brutality towards black teens. It’s a celebration of everyone who is told they’re not good enough and the music does the theme justice – I found there were a lot of similarities between this album and D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, both in style and substance. In a year like the one we just had, music like this is so incredibly important in conveying a message.

  1. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper

Chance’s third mixtape had a lot of expectation placed on it, after the widespread success of the 2013 release of Acid Rap. Since then he has teased an built hype through some excellent features, in fact in my opinion he had the best feature of 2016 (on Kanye West’s Ultralight Beam). The album is filled to the brim with gospel singers and excellent features, but that’s also my biggest issue with the album. The gospel and the features add a great dimension but it hits a point of diminishing returns and I just wish there was a little bit more Chance. There are some spots on the album The best song in my eyes is Same Drugs, which is a beautiful Peter Pan metaphor of two people growing apart. Noticeably on that song there is mainly background gospel and no features.

From what i’ve just said it sounds like I didn’t like this album at all but that’s not the case – it just left me wanting more from Chance because I think he’s one of the most exciting talents in hip hop right now. I can’t wait for his first official album release.

  1. Bottomless Pit – Death Grips

Don’t really know how to describe this one. It’s taken me a good two years to wrap my head around what Death Grips do, and to be honest I think anyone that says they understand their vision is a liar. That being said this project is probably their most cohesive yet, and is what has led me to explore deeper into their discography. Their mix of hip hop with heavy, experimental rock is abrasive and crass but this is probably their most accessible effort yet due to a renewed focus on songcraft instead of shock value.

  1. Lemonade – Beyoncé

Before this album I wasn’t really a Beyoncé fan at all, I thought her songs were disappointing when you took into account her vast amounts of raw talent. This is a complete departure from her usual style of music, and it’s almost as though this album was born out of a desire to make an artistic statement rather than for financial gain which is what always irked me about her music. The overarching theme of marital troubles with Jay-Z (real or not) add a really nice dimension to the album and is very engaging. We see Beyoncé flit between several genres, even including a country song Daddy Lessons which ended up being my favourite on the album. Beyoncé took a lot of risks with this album and for me they all paid off.

  1. Emily’s D+Evolution – Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding is an upright bassist and singer who gained fame by beating Justin Bieber to the 2011 Best New Music Grammy, but she never seemed to crave this kind of attention and a few years later she took some time off from the music industry to reevaluate her position within it. For her return she came through with a really nice funk album that is highlighted with elements of rock music. Straddling the lines between several genres, Spalding seemed to create this album with the freedom that comes from being out of the limelight. If you haven’t heard this album yet I would warmly recommend it, it’s an incredibly rewarding listen.

  1. Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing – Lost Under Heaven

Born out of the ashes of WU LYF (RIP), Ellery Roberts’s new project has much of the same charm that drew me in the first time round. Ellery’s visceral, raw voice is coupled with that of visual artist Ebony Hoorn and he carries a similar message to the one he did with WU LYF. Blaring anti-capitalist, anti-establishment, anti-everything lyrics is Ellery’s speciality and the mixture of this and grandiose instrumentation makes this a really euphoric listen.

  1. Blank Face LP – Schoolboy Q

This is Schoolboy Q’s first album after beating a horrible addiction to lean and he seems to be on track to become a force in hip hop. This album is almost like a TDE poster child as it is absolutely littered with features but not once does it lose its way – Schoolboy Q is always front and centre of each song without getting overshadowed by anyone. Combining raw and emotional portrayals of a past life with a straightforward and down to earth manner make this a very enjoyable listen start to finish. The focus of this album is very clearly on the rapping which put a lot of pressure on Q to hold the attention for a full hour, but he does so seemingly with ease, with regular tone and tempo shifts that really work in his favour.

  1. The Sun’s Tirade – Isaiah Rashad

Isaiah Rashad’s second album is another stellar output from the TDE label. The Tennessee based rapper’s bars are laced with anxieties regarding maturing and moving past addiction and in doing so he comes across as very human and brutally honest. Fitting with the theme the album ebbs and flows between manic highs and sluggish lows, much like life with addiction does. It is a moving account of facing demons and coming out of the other side better than before.

  1. HOPELESSNESS – ANOHNI

On her fifth album, ANOHNI teamed up with producers Hudson Mohawk and Oneohtrix Point Never to create an absolutely outstanding protest album. As ever, she sings about difficult political themes and challenges things like pop culture’s obsession with image, drone warfare and even the Arab Spring. She paints a bleak picture of despair and struggle, but coupled with bombastic songs and production from HudMo and OPN this album is truly great, and that seems to fit 2016 perfectly.

  1. 99.9% – KAYTRANADA

Kaytranada first made his name as a Soundcloud producer and dance DJ, and his first commercial effort is a statement that shows he’s going to stick around for a while. Specialising in samples and Madlib-style crate digging, Kaytranada’s production is funky and upbeat and enlisting the help of some high-profile collaborators (like Anderson .Paak) makes this a really refreshing experience. He accredits his style to his Haitian roots, and the percussion-heavy beats with help of drummers like Karriem Riggins back this up. A pleasure to listen to all-round.

  1. Telefone – Noname

I first heard of Noname (fka Noname Gypsy) through features with artists like Mick Jenkins and Chance the Rapper, and had been looking forward to this album for a while and in no way did it disappoint. This is a rich, satisfying and intimate hip hop album which documents Noname’s experience growing up as an introvert and finally blossoming into adulthood. The album is framed around transformative phone conversations in her life, with upbeat and playful bars underlining this as the best album by a female rapper this year.

  1. MY WOMAN – Angel Olsen

With her previous three albums Angel Olsen has crafted a powerful identity, her name being synonymous with her voice and her storytelling. On this, her fourth attempt, she has pushed both of these to their highest heights yet. This album is a haunting and beautiful recital of sadness, hope and love. There is a mix of sounds and styles, and there is a constant maze of self-discovery present throughout the songs on the album – even the brightest of songs are twinged with ideas of impermanence, that none of the feelings she is feeling can last forever.

  1. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

I’ve personally never been that enamoured with Radiohead, and consistently found that I preferred their more expansive and airy music. In particular I loved Thom Yorke’s solo project with Atoms for Peace, which is why I was so satisfied with this album – it has a very similar tone. The album is a bit of a grower, it’s a midnight sort of listen and it signals a return to a more conventional type of songcraft . There is a palpable sense of loss which is likely born out of Thom Yorke’s separation from his long time partner – but it would be a disservice to call this a breakup album. It’s lofty, vast, and encompasses all of the things I love about Radiohead. I can’t wait to see them headline Glastonbury.

  1. Yes Lawd! – NxWorries

Anderson .Paak’s meteoric rise seems to know no bounds and album only serves to confirm that. Having teamed up with producer Knxwledge this is a beat tape first and foremost, with all of the songs hovering around the 3-minute mark. Paak has seemingly mastered his vocal range and uses it to full effect on this album, all the while maintaining an infectiously upbeat mood. The production by Knxwledge is immaculate, channeling greats like Dilla and Madlib.

Livvin’ is probably the epitome of the feeling of this album, which is basically an exclamation of the triumphs in .Paak’s recent history. Hopefully he can keep going from strength to strength.  

  1. In My Mind – BJ The Chicago Kid

This is a modern update on Chicago soul, and BJ delivers a beautifully tender and soulful approach to the classic genre. Its lyrics are very on the nose about sexual experiences, but the way BJ sings them makes them is absolutely perfect. He excels at his brand of love song, and the only time where this album falls a bit flat is when he strays from this concept. The features he enlists on this album are also excellent, with appearances from Kendrick, Chance and Big KRIT complementing his voice expertly.

  1. Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino

It’s been a great year for Donald Glover – his new show Atlanta landed him a Best Comedy Actor Golden Glob, and he’s been cast as the young Lando Calrissian in the forthcoming Star Wars movie. I’ve loved him as an actor for a while but I have never been particularly enamoured with his rapping. It piqued my interest when I heard that he had ditch rapping for more of a funk sound and this is easily my favourite project of his so far. The production is majestic, Glover’s singing is better than ever and this project is so unique and unexpected that I’m struggling to find things to compare it to. I have to say that Redbone is up there as one of my favourite songs of this year – it is so smooth and serene that I could listen to it on a loop for hours.

  1. Malibu – Anderson .Paak

I mentioned earlier how good a year Anderson .Paak has had, and this is the centrepiece of his many successes. Behind his success there is a difficult story (as explained on the opener The Birds) – his mother was a farmer from South Korea and his father was an Air Force mechanic that was imprisoned for beating the former. Mixed in with the fresh and new sounds of Anderson .Paak are several old heads, including features from Schoolboy Q, Rapsody, The Game and Talib Kweli. This is another important, empowering album with the overarching message being that anyone can achieve anything, regardless of where you’ve started or what colour your skin is.

  1. A Seat at the Table – Solange

Most of the time the significance of an album doesn’t really hit me until the third or fourth listen through, but with this album I realised about halfway through about its importance in the world today. Specifically on Interlude: Tina Taught Me where we hear Solange’s (& Beyoncé’s) mother talk about her pride in her culture and heritage and seems to get very emotional about the fact that that is often not accepted by other cultures. This seamlessly flows into the incedibly powerful Don’t Touch My Hair which epitomises the message that this album tries to convey. It is an incredibly meaningful account of black womanhood in modern America, and is complemented by some beautiful singing and excellent production.

  1. The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

The birth of this album was a massive rollercoaster with delays, leaks, revisions and additions hampering it on its way. When it did come out, it ended up being the most perfect description of Kanye you could get. It’s bold, erratic, a bit bonkers and overall a great experience from start to finish. It seems as though this is the artistic vision that Kanye has wanted to put forward for a while now, and his ‘unique’ way of putting it out into the world seems to fit that theory. There is a good mix between the larger-than-life Yeezus Kanye and the introspective and damaged My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye. Some of Kanye’s best songs in my opinion are on this album – Ultralight Beam’s production is some of the best that Kanye has done, along with an incredible Chance the Rapper feature (as mentioned earlier, my favourite feature of the year). Real Friends is another that I am enamored with – Kanye is vulnerable, and laments his failures as a friend and as a person in a real and relatable way.

Since then, Kanye has cancelled shows and tours and has been hospitalised following a manic depressive episode. I hope he can stay stable in the future and that we get to hear more of his vision, because as much shit as he says and does, he really is a fantastic talent.

“Name one genius that ain’t crazy.”

  1. Run The Jewels 3 – Run The Jewels

A surprise 2016 release that was initially slated for early 2017 but was brought forward and released as “A CHRISTMAS F***ING MIRACLE.” I’m really glad it was released early because it fit the theme of 2016 excellently, RTJ have become known for their defiant and political style and of course this album is no different. The third album in the RTJ series is a culmination of what made the previous two so great. They managed to maintain their sound while subtly developing it – yet this album is the most subtle and polished. Killer Mike is ridiculously good as ever, and El-P’s production is better than it has ever been. It’s a protest album with several riot anthems that may or may not be directed towards the Mango Mussolini that was inaugurated just a few days ago.

  1. untitled unmastered. – Kendrick Lamar

It’s a bit unfair really isn’t it. An album of 8 throwaways that weren’t quite good enough to fit into last year’s To Pimp a Butterfly, is still better than most of the music that has come out in this year. While it is obvious that a lot of the tracks on this EP are unfinished that doesn’t diminish the quality of this product at all. The songs are in a very similar vein to the songs on TPAB, however Kendrick has to be commended because I do agree with the fact that none of these songs would have added much to last year’s album. As a standalone project it is excellent, with catchy hooks and silky instrumentals (as ever) from people like Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. It’s going to be interesting to see what Kendrick can do from here, it seems like everything he touches turns to gold.

  1. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – A Tribe Called Quest

18 years in the making, the swan song of the alternative hip hop pioneers was so much more than I thought it could ever be. I have to confess when I heard that there was a new ATCQ album in the works I was a bit sceptical. Halfway through the first song my doubts were blown out of the water – the opener The Space Program sets the tone by making clear that this isn’t a 1994 project that’s 20 years late, but is a refreshingly current attempt. The tragic death of MC Phife Dawg was covered by the fact that the band had recorded all of his vocals at Q-Tip’s studio earlier in the year, and you would never know that he wasn’t there.

This is another album on this is list that is incredibly timely. The songs are again very political, and We The People is the best example of this which clearly references the various unrests of 2016 – “All you black folks you must go/All you Mexicans you must go.” Even if they do get a bit blunt by naming one of the songs The Donald, overall it’s a very nuanced and effective commentary on the state of the world compared to how it was in ATCQ’s heyday.

  1. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown

This album genuinely transcends explanation, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before. If I were to compare it to something on this list I would say that the closest other thing is Bottomless Pit but even that isn’t really close. The beats are gritty and dark, and Danny’s abrasive, shrill voice over the top of it just works. I’m struggling to explain why it works but it just does, to tremendous effect. It’s a wild ride that documents the ups and downs of drug addiction, some songs are blurry and fuzzy and then there are others that almost sound like Danny is driving himself up into a fit. There isn’t a song on this album that I don’t like, but Ain’t it Funny is the standout track for me. The beat is outrageous and it doesn’t really make sense, the way Danny sings offbeat and just plays with the rhythm is so engaging and fun. There is also Really Doe which in my view is the best posse track of the year (however the Black Hippy THat Part remix runs it close). The track has Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt bouncing off each other perfectly as though it’s all they’ve been doing for years.

I’m not really sure where Danny Brown is going to go next but he’s one of the few artists where I trust his vision, and I really look forward to whatever he can bring out next.

     2. Blackstar – David Bowie

If I ordered this list to take historical significance into account then this would be a no-brainer at the number 1 slot. David Bowie’s last album before he lost his battle with cancer is the most perfect way he could have said goodbye. I thought it was an incredible album soon after it came out, as its songcraft and instrumentation is beautifully dark and sombre. However when Bowie died, the album took on a whole new shape and added countless layers of complexity and imagery. Even though it has transpired that Bowie may not have necessarily known that he was  dying during the recording process, the idea that Bowie immortalised his views about death and mourning shortly before his own passing is so beautiful to me.

Lazarus is the key song on the album, it’s a superbly artistic statement – condensing the entire human narrative of birth, life and death into one single song that was released three days before his untimely death.

Doesn’t get much more Bowie than that.

“Every man has a black star
A black star over his shoulder
And when a man sees his black star
He knows his time, his time has come”  – Elvis Presley

  1. Blonde – Frank Ocean

The hype around Frank Ocean had reached a boiling point, after the widespread success of his 2012 abum Channel Orange he just disappeared. Shortly after that release he came out on the internet, saying that his first love was a man. After that, he was gone. There was endless speculation and Channel Orange had taken on a sort of cult-like status until Frank posted on his  Tumblr #ALBUM3 #JULY2015 #BOYSDONTCRY. July 2015 came and went and no sign of Frank, apart from the occasional feature on Odd Future tracks. His only 2016 feature was on Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, as an add-on track to Wolves.

More and more speculation built up with photos and teases from people close to Frank, suggesting his third album Boys Don’t Cry would release in July 2016. Alas, no album. Yet early in August a cryptic livestream popped up which showed people woodworking in a whitewashed warehouse and the hype machine hit max.

On 19th August, finally, Frank released a visual album called Endless (which is also fantastic and well worth a listen/watch). But was this the full album? This wasn’t called Boys Don’t Cry? What?

The day later, 20th August, Blonde was released and an accompanying magazine called Boys Don’t Cry was announced.

And it is a masterpiece. I won’t have enough space here to convey just how much I love this album but I’ll give it a go. Compared to the relatively expansive and elaborate production on Channel Orange, Blonde is very minimal and stripped back. There is a very sparse use of percussion on the whole project, but where it does appear it adds a beautiful dimension – purely because of its absence previously. When Frank’s voice breaks through it’s almost as though the relative quietness and peace shines a spotlight on him and his words.

There isn’t a song on this album that I would remove or even change, every single word and note seems to have been placed very deliberately, which may explain the long drawn out release process that this album went through. The album is noticeably devoid of standalone bangers, unlike Channel Orange that had songs like Thinkin Bout You and Pyramids, but even then I think this is endlessly more listenable because of the different layers that you can unpick with every listen. Even Ivy, the song that is closest to being like those two, isn’t as massive or as instantly catchy, but is carried amazingly by only Frank’s voice and two guitar tracks. It’s probably the best example of the themes present on the album – a sort of nostalgic teenage heartbreak seen through reminiscing eyes – ‘I ain’t a kid no more/We’ll never be those kids again.’

This is easily my most played album of this year, and after hearing it for several months my favourite song changed almost after every listen – it flitted from Ivy to Nights to White Ferrari to Self Control to Seigfried. It’s a testament to how well put together the album is that I even enjoy listening to the (often criticised) interludes because they set up the following song really nicely. Be Yourself features a phone conversation from Frank’s mother saying that he shouldn’t rely on drugs or alcohol to be himself, and then in the next song Solo Frank sings about taking tabs of acid to be able to unravel himself and be ‘solo.’ Facebook Story features SebastiAn who talks about a relationship that broke up over his refusal to get involved with Facebook, and it flows into a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Close To You, which is heavily distorted and mechanical sounding – almost as though he’s trying to get close to someone but can’t break through the virtual barrier.

Overall, this album definitely worth the wait. I hope the next project comes a bit sooner but even if it takes another four years I’d be happy if the overall quality stays like this.

Album Review – ‘Reverie’ by Tom Misch

Tom Misch, singer, guitarist, violinist, and producer, puts together a perfect Summer record with his EP Reverie. I had first ran into him whilst surfing those YouTube channels who are wanting to make themselves home to a particular style of music (think Majestic Casual, Holy Chill, Chillhop, etc.). The track I actually heard is featured on the EP, a collaboration with his saxophonist sister Laura Misch.

Tom Misch’s soothing voice pairs fantastically with the saxophone in the chorus, especially when the harmonies kick in. The double-bass behind the track has been beefed up in the low-end providing a more 808 like style, filling out the track considerably when paired with the drum loops. Lyrically there’s not much to be amazed by, but by no means does it hinder the track either, the scat “m-m m-m-m-m maybe” being a very nice touch and variation to the song.

Despite Misch’s instrumental prowess, he actually employs drum loops and all four tracks of the EP. This could have felt repetitive had the rest of the production not been rather interesting. Opener ‘Crazy Dream’ has a nice enveloped synthesiser which is joined by funk-inspired guitar and bass on the chorus. The rapping, whilst matching Misch’s soothing vocals, almost sound too smooth and relaxed, but again, it’s not a major upset or anything to criticise overly, especially when the lead synth is embedded beautifully towards the end of the track, and so Loyle Carner‘s feature does not go to waste.

‘I Wish’ features a snap-snared beat following a summery-acoustic guitar, an opening which remained me of Chance the Rapper’s ‘Favourite Song’ – I wasn’t quite sure of the chorus, it doesn’t quite fit with the more downtempo feeling of the song, the bass guitar and guitar pairing together to play a much upbeat riff. Had this solely comprised the chorus it would have been a questionable decision, but Misch adds his vocals prior to this little section, accentuated by crash cymbals to make it the change-up manageable.

‘Watch Me Dance’ closes the album, Misch’s violinist upbringing coming to the fore as the track is introduced with a lamenting string section which slips to the background as he brings in guitar and vocals. At around the 1 minute 40 second mark the name of the track comes to light as the kick drum drives the track forward with the bass guitar and guitar riffing away over the top of this.

The track really demonstrates his influences from funk, to hip-hop, to house as well. For someone who has yet to release a full-length debut album, Tom Misch is continuing to make waves, impressively selling out venues and embarking on his first US tour. I’ve yet to find a song that he’s written that I dislike, or rather that I don’t like, and so I hope he continues his ways and wish him success.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

Album Review – ‘IV’ by BADBADNOTGOOD

I’ve talked in the past about how jazz as a genre constantly moves in cycles (to use Q-Tip’s language), and BADBADNOTGOOD are perhaps one of the figureheads of the most recent revival – earlier albums featured reformulated covers of hip-hop classics such as Slum Village’s ‘Fall in Love’, as well as fresher reimaginings coming in the form of, for example, Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Earl’. They even dabbled in some shoe-gaze in covering My Bloody ValentineSuch albums also displayed a sort of humour and style that represented the fresh-faced persona of a trio who were barely entering adulthood.

IV however ditches the pig masks, cereal-eating, lion mascot dancing, Lil B shoutouts, and even the monochrome artwork used on past albums. It’s a maturation, a foot in the same river as Kamasi Washington (and ergo Kendrick Lamar), best represented by the introduction of Leland Whittey as a full-time member of the band – returning after a fantastic feature on III‘s ‘Confessions’, Whittey helps open the album with a solo on the electronica-infused ‘And That Too’, then taking centre-stage on the title-track which sounds as if it could have been pulled directly from To Pimp a Butterfly. His highlight is the high-energy battle with Arcade Fire contributor Colin Stetson, trading frantic and raspy saxophone lines back and forth in ‘Confessions II’:

The album also features a heavier amount of collaboration – Colin Stetson already mentioned, Kayranada lends his own sub-genre melting-pot style to ‘Lavender’ by providing buzzing synthesiers to the psychedelic and groove heavy journey, a sound reminiscent of Karreim Riggins‘ debut effort. Walking further down this road, Mick Jenkins perhaps shows BADBADNOTGOOD’s potential in the hip-hop genre when they’re not tied down to Ghostface Killah‘s nostalgia on previous album Sour Soul this is best seen in Alexander Sowinski’s drumming which is in this track is one-hundred times preferred to a drum machine. Again, following in similar veins as Washington and indeed Terrace Martin and Robert GlasperCharlotte Day Wilson‘s vocals provide a smooth-jazz atmosphere on ‘In Your Eyes’.

Perhaps the best feature is of Future Islands’ frontman Samuel Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’, in essence a solemn follow up to the band’s reinterpretation of ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. Chester Hansen’s bass provides the engine for the track, whilst Sowinski once again spices up what could have been a very simple 16-beat drum loop, and adding Matthew Tavares’ organ-synth, it provides perfect backing for the wavering and crumbling vocals of Herring as he croons “running away is easy // it’s the leaving that’s hard”.

Amongst all of this however, it should be noted that it doesn’t feel like there’s a massive progression in sound – at the close of the BADBADNOTGOOD’s debut album, Sowinski is asked what he thinks of John Coltrane‘s widely-regarded seminal jazz album Giant Steps – he answers:

 “Fuck that shit, everyone’s played it, it’s 50 years old, it sounds like crap, write a new song, and stop playing that God damn song. I don’t care if you can fucking modulate it and change shit up, you can play it in seven, you can play it in nine: it’s fucking boring. That’s what I think about Giant Steps”.

There’s no such moment, no such feeling with this album – the band has grown up, but perhaps too much. If the title-track did not have Whittey’s saxophone on it it would have fitted in very neatly on previous albums with Tavares’ electric piano making light work of (rather impressive, it should be said) solos, and the strings featured in ‘In Your Eyes’ felt very similar to those employed on III. They have explored new ground in terms of their own personal musical journeys, but on the grand stage of the genre and music as a whole, this album appears to hold less weight. Closing track ‘Cashmere’ perhaps encapsulates these sentiments well – the quartet are obviously talented, there’s no doubting that, and Leland Whittey’s addition is a very welcome change, but it doesn’t feel like an exciting and fresh take on the genre. Yes, that’s a lot to expect from a band, but it’s the reputation that BADBADNOTGOOD have built for themselves, and so we should not be hasty to be disappointed with this effort.

//tools.applemusic.com/embed/v1/album/1112802198?country=us

This article was written by Mo Hafeez.

Album Review – ‘Coloring Book’ by Chance The Rapper

Why is the mastering so spotty on a fair amount of the songs, especially at the start ?

Why was ‘Grown Ass Kid’ not on the mixtape?

Why are there so many poor features?

Why is there so much gospel and so little rapping that caught my ears?

Why is Chance’s singing not on point?

Why did he release this mixtape behind an Apple-backed paywall?

These questions and more make me think that Coloring Book is not the album of the year, nor is it the hip-hop album of the year – I tried to give it some more time like I did with Views, which eventually did grow on me (‘U With Me?’, ‘Feel No Ways’, ‘Still There’ – very solid), but alas I haven’t bought a ticket for the hype train. If anything, this release has made me appreciate Acid Rap to a much greater extent. After ‘Ultralight Beam’ from The Life of Pablo, everyone was going crazy; most people agreed that it was one of, if not the, best verse on the album, and it got everyone excited for Chance’s next effort.

 

Let’s talk about the mix. The album starts off with ‘All We Got’, and if you love Kanye so much so that you’ll drown out the entire song leaving only slightly tolerable auto-tuned singing from the man himself, it doesn’t really set a good first impression. Chance sounds really good when he gets going in his first verse, and the flow is definitely reminiscent of his flow on ‘ULB’, but then Kanye comes in for the hook and the choir and trumpets are completely blocked from the mix; Chance returns afterwards and sounds quieter as a result. Similar things occur on the following track, with 2 Chainz appearing to be much louder than both Lil Wayne and Chance. Chance clashes with Francis & The Lights on ‘Summer Friends’ and the right-panned cellos towards the end sound a bit odd (granted that latter point is me being picky), the noise-based crescendo on ‘Blessings’ is interesting but is not quite pulled off, Chance’s verses change in volume on ‘All Night’, his hook on ‘Smoke Break’ is drowned out by the instrumental, and the list goes on and on. Of course these are only some of the tracks, and other tracks like ‘How Great’ and ‘Angels’ are mixed perfectly well, but it doesn’t make up for it. The fact that this is a mixtape is not an excuse.

How about the features? I’ve already talked about Kanye’s contribution, but that wasn’t the only questionable addition to the album, of which there are many (perhaps too many?). ‘Mixtape’, featuring verses from Young Thug and Lil Yachty, instrumentally sounds like it belongs on a Thugger mixtape, and sees Chance try and emulate the trap-style flow that the other two bring. Stylistically I understand the features, all three of them being rappers who have utilised the mixtape to great effect, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of mixtape at all, especially since it follows ‘Same Drugs’ (a song which has no listed features), a touching ballad using drug usage as metaphor explaining his fading relationship with a girl, whilst also displaying Chance’s singing chops which appear patchy in tracks like ‘Blessings’ and ‘All Night’. Justin Beiber felt like a shameless commercial throw-in, bringing a nice voice, sure, but it feeling like an antithesis to Chance’s ethos. Again, there are strong features on here as well however – Saba provides a fantastic chorus on ‘Angels’ whilst being backed by steel pans (truly a summer banger which I will be rinsing), and Future provides a nice contrast to Chance’s style on ‘Smoke Break’. Perhaps best of all is Jay Electronica, starting his verse with the Lion King references, paired with interesting flow which picks up pace towards the end definitely makes ‘How Great’ a highlight on the album.

I haven’t touched too much on the positives of this album, as there are plenty of reviews out there which have raved about them, and yes there are a fair few good moments on the record. ‘Same Drugs’ is an extra shot of emotional Chance after ‘Blessings’ as mentioned above, as well as the steel pans on ‘Angels’ which I’ve also already mentioned, paired with some cracking lines from Chance as well like “This what it sounds like when God splits an atom with me” (and his flow brings undeniable energy and comedy to boot). ‘My cousin Nicole‘s chants of “How great is God” is a really uplifting intro on the track, keeping things fresh enough to stop their part from getting stale, and the hook on ‘No Problem’ is very catchy indeed.

 

Those tracks will definitely stay in my listening rotation for sure, but I still can’t help but say I am slightly disappointed with this album. It’s not the hip-hop album of the year, and it probably won’t go down as a classic either. Yes, it’s nice to hear from Chano after such a long time, and perhaps I’m too slow to keep up with his stylistic changes, but this was an underwhelming experience to say the least. I still remember my first listen, sat in the lounge of my university accommodation with my good friend Rob, just pointing out so much that was below par with the mixtape. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad album – its far from it in fact – but it’s not a great album in my eyes. Maybe the bar was set too high with Acid Rap? Who knows.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

 

Album Review – ‘Views’ by Drake

Track Highlights and Track Lowlights (Mo Hafeez)

HIGHLIGHT: ‘U With Me?’ – the first track where Drake outshines the production, Kanye West and 40 take away from what easily could have been one of the best musical moments from Drake we would have heard – the third verse ends in a crescendo with a half-sing and a half-shout of the very quotable line “A lot of n-ggas try to cut the cheque so they can take this flow”. The first half of the song can seem a bit slow in comparison, but it’s a price I’d pay just for that 3rd verse. Drizzy shows he’s still down with the kids with mentions of DMs, LOL, grey chunks and three dots.

HIGHLIGHT: ‘Weston Road Flows’ – Drake finally dedicates more than 2 or 3 lines at a time to his childhood and growing up in Toronto, and he pulls it off really well. He talks about his friend Renny whilst growing up, the antics they got up to even when Renny’s elder brother told them not to follow his path. Very biographical, very personal. Nostalgic and smoky production with the Mary J. Blige sample adds to this, Drake dropping hooks altogether and opting for a constant stream form instead.

HIGHLIGHT: ‘Still Here’ – maybe the hardest beat on the album, the old Drake returns to devastating effect. That classic Drake flow is here as he raps about his accomplishments, the obstacles he’s hurdled by himself, whilst still giving shout outs to his closest friends and family in Toronto.

LOWLIGHT: ‘With You’ – I didn’t enjoy the PARTYNEXTDOOR features on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and I didn’t really enjoy him here either. Even though he comes centre-stage this time, it’s easily one of the more forgettable tracks on the album.

LOWLIGHT: ‘Grammys’ – Future returns with mediocre chemistry and one of the worst hooks on the album. It’s repetitive, not clever, and generally just doesn’t sound good. It was probably recorded at the same time as their collaborative album which itself was below parr for the duo. Drake is okay on the track and has interesting flow switches, but that hook man, that hook. If anything it tells you why Drake didn’t win a Grammy.

LOWLIGHT: ‘Summers Over Interlude’ – this a fucking long album yes, but this interlude is just so out of place that it makes little sense. Maybe he thought people would be tired of the similar sounding style and he switched it up big time? According to OVO Sound Radio the album was meant to be moulded around Toronto’s seasons, but if so this is really grasping at straws. Lupe did it better on Tetsuo & Youth.

Closing thoughts (Tobias Berchtold)

The hype and the build up around this Drake release made me expect something that would be a landmark album for him, something to solidify his position at the very peak of hip hop. Drake is in such a strong position right now to express himself and experiment with his style and do something new. That’s why I’m so surprised at how mediocre this album is.

The thing that bothers me most is that this album is just incredibly boring – there’s nothing new or interesting to get your head around at all. It’s the same old Drake sound, and while for some that’s ideal, for me it shows a lack of progress. Of the 20 songs on the album there are maybe a handful that I honestly enjoyed – ‘U With Me’, ‘Hype’, ‘Weston Road Flows’, and ‘Still Here’ in particular stand out. I think the common theme with these songs is that they all could have fit in easily on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – whereas the rest of the album feels more like they’re from Nothing Was The Same.

I wish more of the album was like ‘Weston Road Flows’, which is an incredibly biographical account of Drake’s time in Toronto before coming up in the rap game. With the original album title being Views from the 6 and the cover of Drake sitting on Toronto’s radio tower, this is what I was expecting this album to be. Alas.

But on a ridiculously long (20 song) album these moments are few and far between – so much so that when I got half way through I was actually dreading the fact that there was about 40 minutes of runtime left. There are easily six or seven songs that could be cut from this album and nothing much of substance would be lost in my eyes.

Drake is no stranger to slightly cringey lyrics but this record contains some of his worst offerings yet (see below). I found some of the song really painful to listen to because of the downright awful subject matter and lyrics. ‘Child’s Play’ is really the icing on the cake – the songs chronicles an argument Drake had with his girl at the Cheesecake Factory, which then leads to Drake hiding his car keys so she can’t go out to buy tampons. Come on man, really?


Bring back the ghostwriters

“Always saw you for what you could’ve been ever since you met me / Like when Chrysler made that one car that looked just like the Bentley.”

“And I turn the six upside down, it’s a nine now”

“You toying with it like Happy Meal”

“Your best day is my worst day, I get green like Earth Day”

“Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake? You know I love to go there”

“Got so many chains call me Chaining Tatum”

“I pull up in yachts so big that they try to hit me with boat fines”

“Tipping scales, bars heavy like triple XL”


The established Drake style obviously works for him – this album sold like crazy so he’s not going to change his approach any time soon, but personally I think Drake has the range and ability to step out of his comfort zone and make something more interesting. For me the scales have tipped on Drake – his emotionally open songs about relationships have broken the border into becoming incredibly annoying and whiny. Views feels like a massive step back from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late which is easily my favourite project Drake has released – this latest feels more like a sequel to Nothing Was the Same, which I really did not enjoy at all.

5/10 – turn the five upside down, and unfortunately it’s still a five.

This article was written by Tobias Berchtold and Mo Hafeez

What we’re listening to (#20): ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ by Drake

I went back to listen to this album after I had a friendly debate with good friend of mine about two of hip hop’s modern day heavyweights: Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

I’m in the camp that absolutely adores Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but my friend made some valid points about the anachronistic nature of his instrumentation when compared to many other artists around today, and how his delivery is seemingly too forced at times – he said that he was ‘too conscious’ at times, and at first I wrote this off as complete rubbish, but I began to think about it a bit more.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and To Pimp a Butterfly are both albums that I can listen to the entirety of the way through, but they provide such different experiences – To Pimp a Butterfly is a more memorable experience, complex composition, social-lyrical wizardry, and interesting vocal inflections make sure of that, but Drake’s album is a fluid experience, one that I can lie on my bed and listen to, downtempo vibes throughout. Drake and Kendrick are two sides of the same game, both bringing forward different things.

This record releases Drake of his commercial restraints (well documented on the album); there aren’t too many club tunes on this one, you get stripped down and filtered production from his frequent collaborators Boi-1da and Noah 40 Shebib. The backbone will often be a simple piano or synth line, or a tender chord progression. Stuttering high-hats and some sub-bass round out the instrumentation, resulting in eerie, captivating, yet easy to listen to beats – ‘Star67’ and opener ‘Legend’ in particular take on this role. That’s not to say that you won’t be getting hyped at some points in the album, the still powerful ‘Know Yourself’ provides the best hook on the album and brings great energy, whilst the fast-paced synth of ‘6 God’ provides a much more menacing feel.

On some tracks Drake vents and rants, ‘Energy’ clear in this aspect as he goes in on those things which drain him, and ‘No Tellin”, where he talks of his record label issues, saying “Envelopes coming in the mail, let her open ‘em, hoping for a check again, ain’t no telling”. The highlight has to be on bonus track ‘6PM in New York’, where he comes out with a now infamous line against Tyga:

“It’s so childish calling my name on the world stage, you need to act your age and not your girl’s age”

Yes, the rough Drake is not convincing as the ‘Drake the type of n-gga who…’ Drake, and yes the first half of the album is in fact much better than the second, and yes the guest producers on the album really don’t do as good as a job as they should have, but we have to remember; this was just a stopgap, a mixtape, almost a track-dump. The fact that he felt confident to put such compelling songs on this album should make us all feel incredibly excited for Views From the 6.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez. 

Up and Coming: An interview with the creators of ‘RedEye’

By Mo Hafeez

RedEye

 

If you’ve heard anything about the nightlife in Durham, you’ll know that they lay on the cheesy pop quite heavily. You’ll walk past Klute on a night out, and 6 days out of 7 you’ll probably hear the same tunes blaring out – strange remixes of Adele, Taylor Swift, and the same three Kanye West songs are all staples of a Durham night out.

Sure, you learn to love it, but after a while you deserve a well-needed break – RedEye promises to bring that change in 2016, and I sat down with Chris Photi and Guilherme Hefler to have a chat about what the group plans on doing.

What is RedEye?

We literally have no idea. Really hard first question to answer. To be honest, it’s a new music night for students in the North East that focuses on 140bpm music: so grime, garage, dubstep, bassline…

Could you give a general outline of what RedEye events will bring to Durham’s nightlife?

It’s gonna give a more gritty element to the nightlife here. Imagine that feeling when you start playing bangers out of your Sony Ericsson at the back of the bus. Or being at a car park rave… except it’s not in a car park… it’s in a club.

What inspired you to create RedEye, and to put on the events?

We were really starting to get bored with what seemed like the same music every time we went out in Durham. Everyone would love the chance to put on a night with music that they love and I guess we just followed through. On top of that, the more people we spoke to, the more we realised that there was a market there for us.

Which artists are you working with for your first event on the 21st, and who would you like to work with in the future?

We’ve got the Six Sunsets boys coming down from Newcastle to drop a vinyl only set and we’re really excited for them to make their Durham debut. Expect naughty subs and anything bassy. We’ve also got Def Republic mixing as we’ve been really impressed by his frequent Signal sets, and he’ll have support from MC’s, Photes, and Sleepy coming up from Manchester for the night. He’s a massively versatile spitter – watch out for him in the next year or so. Finally we’ve got Valera opening with some garage – his sets always pop off and it’s a pleasure to have him for our launch night.

 

There’s a few we’ve got our eyes on for the future but we don’t wanna give too much away. We’re gonna focus on local artists for the time being and hopefully we can pull out some bigger bookings in the summer and beyond.

What’s been the biggest obstacle so far? How are you trying to get over it?

We’ve done some promotion and stuff, but we’ve never put a night on before. There are loads of little details that you wouldn’t normally consider which have popped up, and it’s been a bit of a learning curve for us trying to follow through with all our plans. But we’ve had a lot of support from friends and the guys at Loft/Studio in setting up and it’s shaping up to be a large one.

What other events are you involved with, with RedEye and beyond?

We’ve got some big plans for the coming months but we’re trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves. There’s the possibility of a joint event, or something like that, with another night in Durham (we don’t wanna say who just yet). We’ve also floated about the idea of starting up a sister-night which focuses on hip-hop, but at the moment we just want to get this first night under our belts and go from there.

What’s the best grime/garage/hip-hop gig you’ve been to?

Oooh this one’s tough. Seeing 50 Cent in London years ago still sticks out in my memory, but I’d have to say a Fabric night a couple of years ago. Things got a bit messy so I can’t remember everything exactly, but we thought we were going to see Elijah & Skilliam, Royal-T and Wiley. So many MC’s like Frisco popped up that night that weren’t on the lineup – we lost our nut!

Looking forward to any releases this year?

One can only hope that Skepta finally releases Konnichiwa but we’re not holding our breaths. The J Cole and Kendrick collaboration looks like it could be quite live as well.

Which artists do you have pegged for a breakout year in 2016?

Capo Lee’s someone we’ve been listening to recently and ‘Cake and Custard Flow’ is an absolute banger. Elf Kid as well is looking like he’s starting to make movements, which is sick because a lot of people thought that some of the Square members would fall off after Novelist left the group. Very gassed to see him at WHQ later this term.

12362923_1703622996518886_6951420397131675998_o

If you fancy catching the very first RedEye event in Durham, you can grab tickets here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/559199470910400/

You can also like RedEye’s Facebook page for upcoming events:

https://www.facebook.com/redeyenortheast/