Apu Rambles: This Year, and the Future

by Apu

yearend

Well, it’s December 28th (well, probably not when this piece goes up). So I guess it’s the time of year to talk about shit I liked and shit I didn’t like, because I’m a person who sometimes writes for a music blog and that means everybody on earth is just dying for my input even though nobody asked.

There are a fair amount of albums this year that I liked. Tribe’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is what I now consider the pinnacle of a group reuniting and going out. I obviously really liked the two albums I reviewed (Kuniva’s A History of Violence Vol. 2 and Fatt Father’s Veterans Day). I was impressed by Snoop’s Coolaid, and Aesop’s The Impossible Kid was a cool listen, as were Marv Won’s Soundtrack To Autumn, De La Soul’s …and the Anonymous Nobody, and Kendrick’s untitled umastered… I didn’t mind Royce’s Layers and T.I.’s Us Or Else: Letter To The System… And as I sit here that’s all I can think of at the moment of writing this, although I’m sure there’s great music I am either forgetting came out this year or I haven’t had the chance to listen to yet.

However, dope as those albums were, there were only two albums that came out this year that really blew my mind. Albums that I knew were something special from the first time I listened to them; where that feeling didn’t go away after two listens, or three, or ten…

Those albums were Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown, and Run The Jewels 3 by a duo whose name I’ve forgotten.

I think based off that little incomplete list of albums above, it’s clear that that my taste tends to be a little lot more rooted in traditional hip hop. However, it ended up being Atrocity Exhibition and RTJ3 that really stood out to me. Danny’s album in particular is so far from what I normally listen to that I was incredibly surprised at how much I liked it when I was hearing it for the first time, especially given how stubborn and set in my ways I am. It was (and I’m using someone else’s description for it, go ahead and sue me for plagiarism***) some weird industrial post-punk shit, way far away from the end of the musical spectrum that I generally find to be appealing.

Normally, I’m really, really not into industrial hip hop. It’s a little too abstract for my pea-brain to be able to comprehend. Most of the industrial hip hop that I’ve listened to contains weird sounds, and rapping that’s too… out there for me to like. It’s just my personal opinion, I don’t connect to it. So for a little bit, it sort of perplexed me as to why I loved Danny’s album so much. I mean, sure, the rapping was great, but I had never imagined that I would gravitate so much towards the production. However, I listened to it more and more, it started to click.

Danny Brown put his own spin on a typical Detroit sound. There are moments on this album that remind me very strongly of the Fat Killahz. “Dance In The Water” sounds similar to “The Fat Song.” The production on “Lost” sounds reminiscent of something you’d hear Fatt Father and/or Marv Won rap on. “Get Hi” screamed King Gordy. However, they weren’t exactly the same. The production on Atrocity Exhibition was warped beyond our dimension; it sounded like it was what Danny wanted us to think went on in his head when he was on drugs.

That didn’t matter though. It did what many other industrial rap acts that I’ve listened to don’t. It stayed hip hop. It’s a lot harder to blend two genres and stay hip hop while trying to go industrial than it is to just make the jump over into industrial. Atrocity Exhibition did its best to get as far away from typical hip hop production as it could, but it made sure to remain rooted in the genre in a way that was familiar. There are hipsters who aren’t versed at all in hip hop who may get mad and try to tell me I’m wrong and that Danny’s album was so good because he abandoned traditional hip hop, but I couldn’t disagree more. He didn’t abandon hip hop, he just blended genres together, seamlessly, without making it too on-the-nose or overt the way someone like Yelawolf does these days with his terrible outlaw country pop rap.

Danny blended genres and kept a hip hop attitude. In doing so, his album became the most creative, effectively experimental hip hop album I have ever heard and love to the degree that I do.

Then I got to thinking, and it began to make sense as to why I enjoyed Run The Jewels from the very first time I listened to them. El-P’s production generally consists of synthesized drums and distorted instruments, far from the heavy bass and knocking drums of what you’d think of when you think of New York. However, he keeps the gritty, Brooklyn vibe to it. The way the beats are done, it sounds like they’re looped in a way similar to the sampling done by a typical New York boom bap producer, even when nothing is being sampled. In fact, on some songs, particularly “Legend Has It,” “Down,” “Thieves!” and “Thursday In The Danger Room,” the production almost sounds like futuristic boom bap. It’s very unlike what I had originally expected industrial hip hop to sound like, before I started to listen to their music, because I had heard several songs that didn’t sound anything like good hip hop (or music [sorry, not sorry]) to me.

Right now, it seems like hip hop is in limbo, sonically, as far as what the next representative sound will be. I get the feeling we’re going to see the current phase of trap fall out of popular favor in the near future. There’s a lot of different sorts of experimental-sounding music coming out. I think Kendrick may have spearheaded it last year with To Pimp A Butterfly. Although the mumble/trap aspect of hip hop is sinking to new lows with irredeemable garbage being made by guys like Lil Yachty and Desiigner, there’s new climate, where it seems like people are starting to throw new ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks. I actually don’t think there’s been a time like this in hip hop since I’ve been a fan. There’s an air of artistic freedom that I think may be starting to arise with the prevalence of independent acts. Whatever it is, I think we’re going to be coming out of the mumble rap phase, at least in the next 2 or 3 years.

I want to see the next phase of hip hop be the style of industrial/alt-rap that I’ve been discussing. It seems to be catching on as time goes on and the general atmosphere of hip hop becomes more experimental. It doesn’t even need to be done to the degree that it’s done by Run The Jewels or Danny Brown on Atrocity Exhibition. Black Milk, for instance, has been becoming more and more experimental with his production with every release; the distorted keyboards, the bass, the drums, the vibe. It started on his Tronic album, and on his last album, If There’s A Hell Below, it seems like he’s heading in a very exciting direction, while still remaining firmly rooted in hip hop. I want to see more of it.

That’s not to say that I want to see artists from the 90s try to be experimental just because it’s what’s popular. I want to be clear and say that I want upcoming artists to participate in making this sort of sound. You know how it sounds sort of desperate (bordering on pathetic on occasion) when a rapper 20 years deep starts rapping on trap beats and using autotuned hooks? It’d sort of be the same kind of thing. There’s nothing wrong with staying in your lane and doing what you know, so long as your own artistry doesn’t regress or stagnate. Do things naturally. With rapper/producers it’s different, because producers have a different mindset, so guys like El-P and Black Milk who have been around for a while can get more experimental organically. But I want the industrial/experimental sound to be like how right now with trap, where it’s the sound that most new and upcoming rappers want to jump into and start their [non]careers with.

Busta Rhymes said in a Westwood interview this year something that I found really interesting. He spoke about the acts who seem to be succeeding in making quality music have something in common. They keep their feet planted in the essence of hip hop. They don’t necessarily make the hip hop of the past, but they keep the spirit and vibe of hip hop while venturing out to do their own styles of music. He says that the trap shit that even his own artists do is cool in the moment, but the really timeless, transcendent music being made by rappers is the music that remembers that it’s hip hop. I really like what he was saying, and for the most part, I agree with him wholeheartedly…but what I liked most about the interview is that Bus’ got Westwood to sit quietly without spouting some loud, unfunny nonsense for more than 3 minutes. But yeah, what he was talking about is exactly why albums like RTJ3 (and RTJ’s other two albums) and Atrocity Exhibition are so effective while being so experimental.

I tried to articulate all of this the best I can. I’m not very well-versed in industrial hip hop so I may sound like I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I hope I got my point across. In any case, I’m interested in what the future of hip hop will sound like. If it sounds anything at all like what I was describing then I’m on board.

***I’m sorry, I just wanted to look cool. Please don’t sue me.

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Album Review: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

by Dustin

rtj3

9/10

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… Aside from Killer Mike and El-P, who decided to surprise release Run the Jewels 3 as a Christmas present to their fans! For those unaware, Run the Jewels is the collaborative effort between Atlanta based emcee Killer Mike, and New York’s own producer-slash-alternative-rapper El-P. The duo worked together on Killer Mike’s 2012 solo album R.A.P. Music, before releasing the first Run the Jewels album in 2013. Run the Jewels 2 would come roughly a year later, and the jewel runners have been preoccupied selling out shows and touring the world ever since.

But after more than two years the third installment is finally here. The main question most will probably be asking is, “was this really worth the extended wait”? The answer is a simple and sweet “hell yes”.

The atmosphere on Run the Jewels 3 is truly terrifying. Mike and El take all the anger of the current social climate and twist them into songs that knock hard enough to give a listener whiplash. Though the album definitely has tongue-in-cheek moments, and hilarious one liners at times, the overlying tone is one of bottled rage being unleashed upon the world. Even the tracks that fall more in line with classic brag-rap have politically based lines tucked in ever so cleverly; moreover, none of the social commentary on Run the Jewels 3 seems forced. Killer Mike and El-P did an excellent job of making sure that lines actually fit where they’re placed, and don’t detract from the overall vibe of a song.

We return from the depths of the badland,
With a gun and a knife in our waistband,
Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan,
He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.
(Killer Mike on Talk to Me)

Run the Jewels do show their emotional range at times too. For instance, the song “2100” delivered a beautifully sad-yet-uplifting anthem of solidarity for trying times. “Report to the Shareholders” and “Down” also take on a much more mellow sound, breaking up the waves of braggadocio and fury.

Features on this album are used relatively sparingly. For the most part, guest artists are limited to a hook or the odd short singing verse (mainly Tunde Adebimpe on “Thieves!”). Danny Brown provided an absolutely insane and hard hitting feature on “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”, as one would expect. There’s also a special unlisted guest feature who absolutely shredded their verse (but we won’t spoil the surprise, so you’ll just have to listen and find out). Overall, all the features were wonderful and added positively to the songs on which they appeared.

Good day from the house of the haunted,
Get a job, get a house, get a coffin,
Don’t stray from the path, remain where you at,
That maximizes our profit,
Is that blunt?,
Oh well, hell, so’s this boot,
We live to hear you say “please don’t shoot”.
(El-P on Don’t Get Captured)

El-P’s production on Run the Jewels 3 is a treat to the ear. Everything felt much more true to the style he’s developed over the years, in comparison to the stripped down instrumentals on the first two group albums. Some of the beats on this record feel absolutely enormous, and dense to the point that one can pick up a new sound upon every subsequent listen. Fans of El-P’s solo discography will notice that some instrumentals almost feel like throwbacks to his previous works; however, everything has progressed into a heavy, angry, bass intensive style that fits perfectly under he and Mike’s vocals.

It needs more time to digest, but Run the Jewels 3 may have the most enjoyable production of the three records. Given how acclaimed the instrumentals from the first two are, that is saying a lot.

There’s really not much else to say to sum up Run the Jewels 3. It’s a face-melter album that may just make you want to punch a hole in a wall. Killer Mike and El-P closed the year by surprise dropping one of the best albums in 2016. They also released it for completely free, so really there’s no excuse: check this out as soon as you can. Even if you’ve never been a Run the Jewels fan before, do it. Do it right now.

Top 15 albums of 2016

by Dustin

2016albums

Ah, 2016 is nearing a close, which means we get to do some reflection. Like every other music blog on the internet, this means we’ve decided to put together a top albums list. It helps us ignore the fact that we’ve completely run out of article ideas for the time being, and hopefully helps distract you from the festering pile of manure that has been 2016. This list is also not limited to hip-hop, which I’m sure is confusing. Now, grab yourself a bowl of popcorn and dig into the list that’s almost certain to make you feel some degree of outrage.

Also, thank you to everyone who has supported us this year. As much as we tend to be a cynical bunch at times, it truly means a lot. You could even say that we love you… In the platonic sense, of course.

15. The Veils – Total Depravity
Total Depravity was a very interesting alternative rock release for many reasons, among those being the groups collaboration throughout with independent hip-hop mainstay El-P. At the very least this would have been an incredibly solid alt-rock album, but the odd touches of hip-hop and electronic influence made it something really unique. It feels a bit inconsistent at times, but Finn Andrews’ and company brought a performance more than worth the purchase.

14. Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down
It’s always special to see one of the old Definitive Jux crew doing something great years after the label stopped operating; moreover, it was really awesome to see Mr. Lif return to the rap scene after nearly seven years to delivery an incredibly solid album. Don’t Look Down was thoughtful, well written, and felt like a modern update to the underground sound Definitive Jux spent so many years dominating.

13. DIIV – Is The Is Are
Is The Is Are proved to be quite the step up from the alternative rock group DIIV. Though it certainly has moments that felt like they fell a little short (mostly the singles), and perhaps could have used some trimming, Is The Is Are was a wonderful album. The dreamy, reverbed out, sound was equally addictive and catchy. Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re melting while listening, because it sounds like melting. Does that make sense? No? Okay… Moving on.

12. BADBADNOTGOOD – IV
The fourth BADBADNOTGOOD release may be a little more commercial than their previous efforts, but it also has some of their most engaging and accessible material. It should be noted, however, that the group managed to stay grounded in their roots on IV. The sound evolution is notable, but they didn’t lose themselves. The features on the album all did a really wonderful job, as well, with artists such as Mick Jenkins and Sam Herring providing vocal relief from pure instrumentation.

11. Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival
Admittedly, our review on this album didn’t paint it as brightly as it should have. Hella Personal Film Festival turned out to the the type of album that took some time to fully sink in. Perhaps it was Mike’s calmer demeanor, or maybe it was the slightly different production provided by Paul White. Either way, Hella Personal Film Festival was a stunningly relatable album. Mike Eagle resumed his role as rap’s most down-to-earth everyman while gliding with ease over the off-kilter production. Hella Personal Film Festival lacked some of the catchy standouts like some of Mike’s other material, but as a whole it may be his most solid release to date.

10. Koi Child – Koi Child
This Australian hip-hop and jazz band brought one of the most engaging listens of the year with their self-titled debut. Recorded on a remote island, Koi Child’s use of live instrumentation and energetic vocals created an incredible atmosphere. Though the album may not be as socially rooted, it seemed to take a similar approach to music as a group like The Roots. Oh, and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker executive produced it, so there’s also that.

9. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
Aesop is notorious for hiding his true meaning deep within extended wordplay and a massive vocabulary, but The Impossible Kid saw him take a step back to allow us into the more personal aspects of his life. This album proved to be one of his most accessible, emotional, and at times humorous releases in his discography. It almost seemed to have given him new breath as an rapper. The production was also very good, particularly the rock inspired drum work.

8. Russian Circles – Guidance
Russian Circles have always suffered a bit from inconsistency with their albums, but Guidance felt like them at their very best. This album was ruthless, hard hitting, and incredibly dense. Any shortcomings from the band’s previous efforts seem to have been corrected, and what’s left is a beautiful post-metal album with ample replay value. Prepare to have your mind melted by something new every time you revisit Guidance.

7. clipping. – Splendor & Misery
Coming in at the sixth spot on this list is clipping. with their “space slave opera” album, Splendor & Misery. The experimental rap trio certainly put out their best and most consistent work with this effort. The story on the album was concise, and supplemented flawlessly with their harsh, noisy, and space inspired instrumentals.

6. Ka – Honor Killed the Samurai
Ka is very much an underrated gem within hip-hop with his incredibly consistent discography. Honing his distinct chamber rap style, he pushed himself even further with this year’s Honor Killed the Samurai. This album was the dose of penmanship many have been craving, and the stripped back instrumentals allowed Ka’s vocal performance to be the star of the show.

5. FLANCH – FLANCH
FLANCH was one of those records that came out sounding like nothing before it. It’s a genre breaker in many ways, playing with hip-hop, indie, electronic, noise, and various other genres within its relatively humble running time. The religious and internet-era theme through the tape echoed painfully relatable. FLANCH was a haunting release, and one well worth of being in the top five of the year. For something so impossible to describe it is truly a beautiful work of art.

4. David Bowie – Blackstar
Given the context of this albums release, it seems reasonable to expect that it will be near the top of most album lists for 2016. Unfortunately, what many will fail to talk about is the fact that the music of Blackstar is absolutely gorgeous in its own right. David Bowie didn’t shy away from showing experimental-noise influences on this record, and it paid off wonderfully. Stripping away that context of his death this would still be one of the top albums of the year, and certainly one of Bowie’s best in years. On a blog with less hip-hop focus, this album would probably be closer to the one spot on a year end list. It was that good.

3. A Tribe Called Quest – Thank You for Your Service… We Got it From Here
This is another release where as much can be said about the context as there is about the music itself; however, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that A Tribe Called Quest managed to seamlessly update golden era style into a modern hip-hop classic. There’s not a track that felt out of place on Thank You for Your Service, and the music is paired with an equally impressive message at times. Given that Tribe hadn’t released an album in 18 years, it was absolutely incredible to see them smoothly slide back into hip-hop. Rest in Peace, Phife Dawg.

2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
Fortunately due to absolute dumb luck (or possibly laziness), the surprise Christmas release of the much anticipated Run the Jewels 3 didn’t mess up this top albums list. Isn’t that fantastic? It sure is. Anyway, Killer Mike and El-P’s consistency was really given an opportunity to shine on Run the Jewels 3 and they did not disappoint. The third installment from the duo brought 50 minutes of punchy, in your face, bass-heavy, cheeky, and insightful hip-hop. The overall sound is much more similar to El-P’s solo work than the previous Run the Jewels’ albums, but it worked out excellently to craft an album which feels slightly different yet familiar.

1. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Honestly, if anyone was going to put out a truly revolutionary sounding hip-hop album it was going to be Danny Brown, and he did. Atrocity Exhibition (borrowing its title from a Joy Division song) is absolutely phenomenal. This album was spacey, unique, and absolutely insane. Atrocity Exhibition felt like a bad drug trip in all the right ways. Once it ends, you feel as if you need to get some fresh air; however, don’t be surprised if you find yourself revisiting this album over and over. Atrocity Exhibition was incredibly disorienting, and catching everything at once felt near impossible. This is a hip-hop album that sounded like nothing else before it, and it truly earned the title of best album in 2016.

Album Review: Fatt Father – Veteran’s Day

by Apu

ff

8/10

Last week was a weird goddamn week. Without going into politics too much because a lot of people seem to get more offended by other people’s political views than they do at an insult directed towards their family, a lot happened in a pretty short amount of time, most of which I don’t think a large portion of the population were actually seriously prepared for. Considering this, it should go without saying that getting some new music at the end of the week was a welcome respite from the Mr. Krabs meme of a week that the country had to deal with. I was personally most interested in A Tribe Called Quest’s new album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service and Fatt Father’s Veterans Day, which is the album I’m here to talk about.


Veteran’s Day is Fatt Father’s first solo release since 2012’s Fatherhood, a release where I felt like Fatts was starting to establish who he was as an artist. Veterans Day, released on the holiday it’s named after, only serves to further that feeling. Fatt Father came into his own on this release, displaying better than ever who he is as an emcee, as well as the person behind the mic.

The album’s production is handled entirely by D.R.U.G.S. Beats, who you may recognize as a producer on Dr. Dre’s last album, Compton (he produced the “Gone” half of “Darkside/Gone”). Being that he is technically a Dr. Dre-approved producer, this album’s beats are very well done throughout. A pretty big portion of the beats, including “Come On,” “Just Listen,” and “The Greatest” among others, cause involuntary head-nodding, and others like “Shabazz’s Gospel” and “Keep Ya Head Up” create a very tangible mood that draws you in even without having to hear Fatt’s verses. D.R.U.G.S. did a great job at capturing Fatt’s style; the production brings out the best of his distinctive, deep voice, and allows him to explore slightly different deliveries that he hasn’t used as often in the past. The end product is an underground street rap album with production that sounds more professional and sonically pleasing than I’ve found on most projects of its ilk.

Veteran’s Day opens up with a speech by someone who seems to be a war vet, detailing emotions that could be construed as something that’s almost like PTSD. That transitions to the first song, “Shabazz’s Gospel,” a song where Fatt Father, a bit like the vet from the intro, goes into detail about the traumas he faced in his past, from the separation of his parents to the deaths of his brother and his close friend Big Cobb. From there, Fatts goes into topics such as his childhood, love and women’s insecurities, police brutality, loss, and his life in current times.

Crack fiend, crack house, 8 ball, quarter ounce,
Death toll moving up, decent folk moving out,
Lost souls searching for boss roles to shoot it out,
Heart cold, traveling dark roads to move about,
Homicide, gather the yellow tape, spool it out,
Mama’s tears falling on cotton blends in huge amounts.
(Mama’s Words)

What I found to be the biggest strength on this project, as I alluded to earlier on, is Fatt Father’s delivery. He’s always had a voice that stood out; it’s deep and it cuts through a record in a very unique way. He sort of reminds me of a mix of Biggie and Scarface in some ways, the latter having a delivery that very much falls under the description I just gave. But on this album, Fatt Father started to adapt it a bit. He really let his emotion, whether positive or negative, bleed through his vocals on this album. It made the emotional songs hit harder, and the lighter songs like “K.A.M.M.H.” and “Come On” much more fun to listen to. It boils down to Fatt Father’s range as an artist expanding. He was always more willing to explore different topics and styles as a member of the Fat Killahz, but as a solo artist he always kept it gutter as shit. He does that on this album too, but he seems more flexible with what he’s willing to talk about and do.

Of course, as with any album, there’s music that are a little less content-heavy, and more for just vibing to. Some serve as great pump-up songs, such as “Just Listen,” “K.A.M.M.H.” with Ro Spit (this one’s my favorite song off the album), and “The Greatest” featuring killer verses from Fatt Father and Kuniva, and a fairly good verse from Royce da 5’9” that I felt fell a bit short of the energy that was coming from the rest of the track. Then there are songs like “Everybody” and “Never Die” featuring strong verses from Fat Killahz members Marv Won, Bang Belushi, and a too-over-the-top-for-me verse from King Gordy, both of which (besides Gordy’s verse) you can just chill to, listening to some nice verses and smooth beats that would sound awesome on a car stereo system. There is a nice display at diversity while keeping to a general sound on this album.

Overall, I’m very happy with Veteran’s Day. I love to see an artist who’s sort of an underdog the way Fatt Father is make an album that displays the sort of effort that a lot of so-called top artists don’t have in their music. Hearing a rapper older than most of the kids coming out make an album that displays hunger that they can’t muster up is just so satisfying to me, and reminds me that even though sometimes bullshit (from both the mainstream and underground) may get frustrating to always have to hear, good music will always be made because there will always be someone who cares. This album just solidifies why I place Fatt Father in my list of rappers who I take a personal responsibility for when it comes to spreading their music.

Exploring Other Genres: Poor English – Poor English EP

by Dustin

Authors note: I thought it’d be appropriate to do one of these before this article, because it’s venturing away a bit from the main focus of our blog. First and foremost, we’re a hip-hop based site. I have no intention of changing that fact; however, I also have many friends who ask me to recommend music outside of the hip-hop genre. Plus, I find it refreshing to step out of my comfort zone and review sounds that I may not be as familiar with.

Maybe you’ll find a new artist you’ll love in these “Exploring Other Genres” articles. Maybe not. Either way, I appreciate you taking the time to read about projects by artists I really love, even if they are unfamiliar to you.

For those who check the site and have little interest in reading about other genres, that’s fair. However, I’m also going to do whatever I want! (I still appreciate your ongoing support, however).

Now, onto the music itself.


poorenglish

8.25/10

Portland, Oregon has been a powerhouse in the indie rock scene for an astonishing number of years. When you see a new act building steam out of that region, it seems only natural to get excited and throw on their tunes for a listen. Enter Poor English, a group hailing from Portland that have chosen to do things a little bit differently. Along with the ever wonderful Darling Recordings (yeah, we like this label a lot, and I think it shows) they have dropped a debut extended play; moreover, Poor English seem to have set out to establish their identity with this release.

If that was indeed the goal, they’ve done a marvelous job.

Poor English takes the stripped-down Portland indie sound and twists it into their own special breed of rock. That delicate balance of fresh-yet-familiar creates an addictive sound that never fails to impress. Right from the onset, the listener is bombarded with powerful guitar hits, transitioning into smooth dreamy singing. The five tracks on the Poor English EP are musical powerhouses, yet they maintain a sense of gorgeous delicacy. The vocals are lovely, and the bands use of layering is phenomenally tasteful. The instrumentation and singing meld together perfectly, creating a wondrously vibrant listening experience.

This extended play feels as if it creates its own environment through flawless cohesion. From the onset of track one to the closing of track five, everything fits together. Not a single moment feels out of place, and it is fantastic.

Another part of what makes Poor English interesting is their refusal to settle into a particular sound or genre. Poor English seems to weave in and out of various sound spaces, sometimes even on a single song. They could perhaps be best described as pop-punk, but it feels impossible to pin to a single genre. This melding of various influences gives the group a very unique identity. The EP feels like a breath of fresh air in a musical space that can, at times, feel stagnant.

That being said, Poor English is also nostalgic in a way. For those in their twenties and thirties this album is a collection of melodies to comfort the inner middle-school identity. It’s the music you loved back then, but if it had been allowed to grown up with you. In a time of relative global distress, Poor English offers serenity. For as new as this project feels, it’s also as if an old friend has come to visit after years apart. And that in itself is beautiful, and really makes Poor English feel like something to cherish.

The only real problem with Poor English’s EP is that it’s very short. Fortunately, they’ve taken to twitter and mentioned that new music is in the works. When approached like a sampler, or a display of potential, this is a breath taking mini-project. One listen is enough to leave one actively anticipating further releases from Poor English.

Understanding the Necessity and Shortcomings of Music Streaming

by Dustin

streaming

Though streaming hasn’t been a dominant form of music distribution for very long, the idea took root over fifteen years ago with Napster and MusicNET. These services were met with criticism, rejection, and (in the case of Napster) legal issues. Flash forward to today, the service options are different but many of the issues remain the same. However, in the modern era of music, it appears to be that streaming is becoming a necessity.

To understand the need for streaming, one can simply examine the consequences of out right rejecting these services. To speculate on how severe these consequences could be, a simply case study from another industry can be used: Sears.

Sears resisted adapting their catalogue system for far too long. Though the demand for online sales was ever increasing from many loyal consumers, Sears remained set in their ways. This would prove to be a critical failure as the company lost a huge consumer base; moreover, a later attempt to move into the online world would prove futile with the rise of Amazon. Sears had also not exactly been a darling financially, and this failure to adapt proved to be nearly fatal for the company. Over one hundred and twenty Sears stores closed in the year of 2011 alone, and they’ve never quite recovered from the lost business.

Of course this isn’t a perfect comparison for the music industry and streaming. Yet, it illustrates how devastating it can be to ignore the demand for change. Digital sales occupied this space for years, but now the consumers are leaning towards streaming. The music industry as a whole cannot got out of business like a retail chain; however, it can see artists and labels forced into a position where profit is simply not possible if consumer demand isn’t facilitated.

Fortunately, the industry has shown a willingness to adapt before. Whether it be physical media changes, or moving into an online space, music distribution has been fluid. Streaming could also prove to be attractive in its own right.

Streaming offers many advantages for both artists and labels. A 2015 study by Aguiar and Waldfogel (for the European Commission) showed that an increase in streaming correlates to a noticeable drop in music piracy. There is also appeal in how simple it is to get music onto streaming services. For small scale artists, being able to manage their own music on Spotify or Apple Music is often times a simpler process than landing a distribution deal. It has also created a new job space, with online distributors cropping up in order to help musicians get their product to these services.

From the standpoint of the consumer, streaming is a powerhouse. Rather than spending ten dollars for every new release, huge libraries of new and old music are available on demand at a single monthly fee. Audiophiles may take issue with the lack of control over sound quality and song tagging, but for the casual listener streaming services simply makes sense. These services are often incredibly portable, making it far easier to bring your music from desktop to mobile device. As a whole, it is easy to see why streaming is immensely popular with your average listener.

One may wonder why there is still such a resistance to streaming within the music industry, considering these positives. The answer to that is relatively simple: streaming is a necessary, but highly flawed, service.

I gave up and became a Spotify-er,
Paying myself a fraction of a penny playing “Qualifiers”.
(Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy Late Show)

Even though streaming has reduced piracy rates, it has also negatively impacted digital download sales (such as those provided by iTunes and Bandcamp). This ultimately reduces the positive impact it has on the music industry; moreover, this is a genuine issue due to the minuscule payout received by artists and labels per stream. Until the problem of royalties can be sorted, music streaming is going to be a somewhat problematic service.

There are of course other issues, such as fragmenting subscribers with service-specific exclusives. Perhaps the most prevalent cases of this was Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo fiasco. The album experienced abnormally high piracy rates due to its chaotic and exclusive release through the Tidal streaming service. Exclusives are certainly an interesting way to attempt to attract new subscribers, unfortunately it also seems harmful to the long term viability of streaming.

Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and Google Play give music an accessibility that the world has never seen before. It stands to reason that there will be kinks to work out along the way. Though it’s been close to fifteen years since the idea of streaming started gaining traction, we still exist in the early years of services attempting to do things legally. One can see the clear benefits and necessity of streaming services, but it appears that it will still be a while longer before they are agreeable for everyone.

Collectors Corner: Meme Vivaldi, clipping, and Offsite & Wontu.

by Dustin

cctitle

Welcome to the Collectors Corner, a new article series on Extraordinary Nobodies where we will be taking a look at physical media from all sorts of record labels and artists. Most of these will be coming from my own collection, but my (kind of) wonderful co-writer Apu will also be contributing from his assortment of music on occasion. Collectors Corner will be a little more relaxed (and a little less hip-hop focused) than some of our other articles, serving as break from the usual… Mostly for myself, but I’m sure variation in content is healthy, right?

Primarily, I just thought it would be fun to spotlight some of the cool and weird physical releases that constantly pop up in the music scene. We’ll also get the chance to throw in some mini-reviews of albums we otherwise wouldn’t have the time to review… Wow, this is great, right? Right?!

Now, let’s just jump right into the first batch of albums in the collectors corner spotlight:

memev

From Poor Little Music, an underground Canadian label that deals primarily in cassette and floppy disk (yes, you’ve read that right) releases, I picked up Meme Vivaldi’s Smile on tape. The art on the packaging itself is really nice. There’s something about it that I found to be somewhat vaporwave inspired, particularly on the inside of the j-card insert. The cassette itself is a brilliant orange, and features a sticker rather than stamping.

Smile basically sounds like the soundtrack to an artificial intelligence having a mental breakdown. It is an incredibly odd little electronic album, but it’s also a lot of fun. I hadn’t personally heard Smile when I purchased it (yay, impulse buys), but I was pleasantly surprised once I got a chance. The sounds here definitely aren’t for everyone, but those looking for a mind-fuck will probably enjoy it.

Smile is also a limited edition of 30, so if you’re looking to own a cassette you may want to get on that soon. Hell, they could already be sold out by the time you read this. Sorry.

clippin

From SubPop Records and Deathbomb Arc, I also picked up the cassette version of clipping.’s Splendor & Misery. There were a few different physical media options for this album, but ultimately I ended up going with the cassette because the packaging is gorgeous. The cassette itself is wonderfully industrial looking, coming coloured in a clean light gray.

The insert has a very classy foil look to it, complimented by a retro feel to the rest of the packaging. This is very honestly one of the nicest looking cassette releases I’ve seen this year and I would fully recommend it to anyone looking to add to their collection. Plus, something about listening to glitched-out experimental hip-hop on cassette just feels right… And that is the most pretentious sentence I will ever write in my life.

Splendor & Misery is one of my absolute favorite releases this year; you can read more about my thoughts on this album in my full-length review.

offsitewontu

Third is Offsite & Wontu’s collaborative effort After Shenron. This album comes via Every Dejavu. The packaging on this tape is a really an aesthetic treat. From the incredible blue colour on the casing itself, to the beautiful album art. It looks great in my collection, but more importantly it is also a wonderful little project musically.

The production and rapping, are a very chill alternative brand that fans of rappers such as Open Mike Eagle and milo will certainly enjoy. After Shenron is short, but it feels like it packs enough content to sink your teeth into.