Exploring Other Genres: Sunbather – Braneworld

by Dustin

braneworld

8.25/10

A while back we started a segment called “Exploring Other Genres” to offer fellow hip-hop fans an accessible outlet to a variety of interesting music. More relevant to the here-and-now, our first piece in this segment was on Poor English’s self-titled debut EP. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, and multiple people asked if we could recommend something similar. By coincidence a few weeks later, Poor English’s drummer Tyler reached out to us about another group that his band-mate Joe is involved in: Sunbather. Sunbather just so happened to have a thirty-something minute album out called Braneworld. Featuring sound distinctly different yet similar to the wondrous pop-punk tunes of Poor English, we were certainly interested in giving it a spin.

We fell in love with the album. In fact, it has been on regular rotation ever since.

As mentioned, there are similarities between the Poor English project and Sunbather’s sound on Braneworld; however, to not approach this album as a brilliant standalone work would be doing it a disservice. Sunbather’s sound is a little more punchy, marginally heavier, and a touch more dense. The way instrumentation is layered on this album is really gorgeous. The guitar work weaves in and out of riffs and licks, dipping between the hyperactive and laid-back in one swift motion. The rhythms are delicious, and provide a powerful driving force behind the leads. Sunbather create a “wall of sound” within their music at times. It feel bigger than it probably should, but it is excellent.

Every moment on Braneworld flows into the next seamlessly. The change-ups within songs are frequent enough to keep one guessing, but smooth enough that they’re nearly easy to miss. At the macro level, each track moves into the next without hiccup. At no time did it feel like the song progression was off. Given that album arrangement is one of the things it seems many artists fail at, it was refreshing to listen to one so skillfully laid out.

To put it more simply the transitions are super slick, period. End of discussion.

Though the album is distinctly rock, its quite interesting to see the band show their influences in other genres at time. For example, the song “Daily Dreams” has a distinct folk spin to it, and “Knucklehead” featured some synthetic sounds similar to that of the underground electronic punk movement. These forays into other musical realms broke up the album nicely, yet somehow sound cohesive in the overall scope of Braneworld. Perhaps more importantly, these moments are used quite sparingly. The band doesn’t become predictably experimental throughout the course of the album. It feels more like an adventurous treat at times, rather than part of the albums overall atmosphere.

It should be mentioned that the album atmosphere is, in fact, really well established. There’s something particular about it that just makes everything work together in harmony. To take a bit of a writers cop-out in lieu of better descriptive words: you will instantaneously understand upon listening.

If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way: Braneworld is rock-n-roll for the working class. In times of relative despair internationally, their music feels soothing. Sunbather brings a sense of wonderment to a rock scene that can, at times, feel way too cookie-cutter. Sunbather’s music also radiates a powerful sense of emotional awareness. The happy songs will lift you, and the more sad songs will offer musical solidarity. The vocals and instrumentation play together in a way that makes it nearly impossible to avoid being smitten with their tunes. It’s honest music, and every song feels heartfelt. There’s no attempt to achieve a level of robotic perfection, and the music is better for it.

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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.

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.

Singer/Producer SWISH discusses breaking expectations, influences, and dream collaborations

by Dustin

swish

Sometimes an artist has something about them that causes your ears to perk up. A unique sound, or perhaps some extra creative flavor to their music that you can’t ignore. SWISH is one of these artists. Her music is soulful, fun at times, and rich. Behind her powerful voice is a colourful offering of wonderfully complimentary self-produced instrumentation that will keep you coming back for more.

We were turned onto her music by KashJordan, who we interviewed earlier this year. Immediately after hearing the first track, we knew we had to have her for an interview – and we think you’ll find her to be something quite special.

So head over to SWISH’s soundcloud (and check her new sounds), follow her on the Twitters, and then read our interview below!

EN: First I’d like to say thanks for doing this! I’ll move right into the questions. Do you produce all your tracks yourself? If you do, what’s your audio program of choice to work on?

SWISH: Yeah, I produce all my tracks on Logic.

EN: How long ago did you start making your own music?

SWISH: I’ve been writing since I was 5. I remember the first time I wrote a song was this cheesy C-A minor-G-F chord progression on the piano about how shitty my brother was, but I wasn’t serious about it until 6th or 7th grade when I started playing guitar.

EN: That’s awesome [laughs]. I like how it all started with classic sibling hate. Other than guitar and piano, do you play any other instruments?

SWISH: Bass and ukulele are pretty instinctual. I wanna learn how to play the trumpet or flute, but I don’t have enough money to buy an instrument has the potential to end up dusty in the corner of my room.

EN: Do you try and incorporate the live instruments you can play into your production or do you prefer plug-ins and sampling?

SWISH: It just depends on how I’m feeling or what I think will best reflect my vision, but for the most part I use both equally when I produce.

EN: When Kash introduced me to your music he described you as Kanye meets SZA, how do you feel about that comparison, musically?

SWISH: I understand it. I could see where he got Kanye, because all I do is make art and I see myself as a creator. And SZA has this style that is super apparent right now with female singers. It’s so rich and juicy that I can’t help but be a part of myself. The first couple songs I showed Kash were really SZA type songs, but as a singer I feel more connected to Amy Winehouse.

She’s 100% my biggest influence as a singer and I’d like to think it shows. But in my unreleased shit I could definitely see [that
comparison].

EN: It’s funny you mention Amy Winehouse because I was going to ask if she was one of your musical influences. On that topic, who else do you draw inspiration from musically?

SWISH: These days it’s definitely Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday. It sounds weird, but I used to be super self conscious of the fact that I was a good singer because a lot of people I listened to didn’t need to be good singers because of their lyrical content and whatnot. Every singer I heard had weak lyrics because their voice could do all the work.

I [didn’t] wanna be another singer with weak-ass lyrics, but then I listened to Amy Winehouse’s first album Frank. She’s no Bright Eyes or Kendrick with words but
she could communicate emotion in ways that no other artist could because of what she was vocally capable of. She was so fuckin’ honest, it’s incredible. It changed the way I make music forever.

Billie holiday is just dope. Whenever I listened to her time slows down. She has this one quote that gave me more confidence as a singer too, “if I I’m going to sing like someone else then I shouldn’t sing at all”. That changed me for sure.

EN: When we were checking out your music prior to this interview, our editor pointed right away how prominent your vocals are in your music (unlike some artists who let it sink into the instrumental). Is this a conscious thing you do to make sure you’re properly heard by the listener?

SWISH: I guess that’s a part of it… I think I just denied the singer part of me for a while in fear of being put in a box. I realized how dumb that was because I couldn’t be all that I was, so I couldn’t grow. Now when I sing in my music it feels relieving and free of whatever limitations I or anyone else have tried to enforce on me.

I feel like I’m Julie Andrews on those grass hills in the beginning of sound of music. I guess when I record I can’t help but run for the hills or whatever [laughs]. I just get so caught up sometimes in that feeling.

EN: Do you think it’s harder for women to be respected as writers and lyricists in music? I see a lot of discussion about it being more difficult, especially for artists pushing the boundary of what’s expected.

SWISH: One hundred per-fucking-cent, dude. Yes! I mean, there’s a blatant segregation between male rappers and female rappers. Like if “male rappers” are just “rappers” then what does that make “female rappers”? Like we have to have that female stamp to put us back in our place or some shit. Especiallyin hip-hop, because that shit is fucking bursting at the seams with misogyny.

Plus people just think disrespecting women is cool so off the bat they’ll probably not wanna give me a chance for to gain their respect [musically] as much as they would a man
Also, if you’re a man you can be butt-ass ugly and still be respected. People value women based on their appearance whether they [realize] it or not. Sometimes I think it doesn’t matter at all what kind of dope ideas I have for shit.

Sometimes I think well I’m not fucking Trixie Tang, so there goes my career. Y’know?

EN: Do you ever find motivation from wanting to break these expectations and barriers of what’s expected by female artists?

SWISH: Sometimes. Other times I just don’t give a fuck about it. Like, gender roles play too much of a role in our day-to-day it’s fucking obnoxious and played out. I’m a huge feminist, but it all gets exhausting most of the time. I just wanna be able to exist as the androgynous-ass bitch that I am without having to deal with societal pressures and people being douche-bags.

EN: That’s a respectable approach to it. So if you don’t mind me asking, do you have any plans for any project releases in the future?

SWISH: Yeah, I actually have a whole track list ready, cover art, and music videos planned. I just need to get more resources and more of a reputation before I put this out. It’s too fire to just release to my hundred something followers.

EN: Would you describe it as similar sonically to the releases on your Soundcloud?

SWISH: Nah, it’s nothing like “Just One” or “Warm Milk”… Maybe “Grown Woman”, but I don’t know. The stuff on my Soundcloud was right when I was starting to find out what I was doing. I knew I was about to find what I had been looking for, and I wanted to nurture whatever that was. So I’ve been in my garage for like a year and a half trying to figure out who SWISH is, and just making gold.

The stuff on my Soundcloud you could feel a little something something in every song.. . And I feel like it makes you be like “oh, who’s this SWISH bitch?”, but with this new shit you hear it and you know exactly who SWISH is.

EN: So you believe that you’ve found a sound very definitive of who you are as an artist right now?

SWISH: Definitely.

EN: If you could pick five collaborations with active artists, who would you pick?

SWISH: I’d probably say Chance, Kanye, Kali Uchis, Kaytranada and J. Cole… Thinking about it, I don’t even know what I would do if I got in a studio with any of them… Like, that’s just a crazy thought.

EN: I imagine it’d be quite the experience. Being that your production is quite strong, would you ever consider collaborating in the producers role even if you didn’t appear on the track?

SWISH: Oh yeah, totally. I wanna do that more often actually. I gave this rapper Kwazee a beat today that I’ve been holding onto, and I’m stoked on it. I wanna see my name attached to as many titles as possible, whatever that means. It just feels good to stick your flag in the ground like that with any piece of art.

EN: That’s awesome. To kind of revisit that topic from earlier, it feels like there’s also like… I don’t know how to word this so much, but a distinct lack of female producers especially. Would you agree with that? I know there’s a handful of them, but it seems to be a role that’s particularly male dominated… You’d be like an extension of the first wave of female producers getting into it.

SWISH: Oh hell yeah dude, that shit is wild to me and I can’t really figure out why… Maybe because a lot of the money in women is being the face of an operation rather than behind the scenes. That’s why I like Janet Jackson so much because her production is wild and I know she was pretty involved in that aspect of it.

Janet Jackson is like a female pioneer to me, a huge inspiration. Missy as well.