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.