Album Review: Walter Gross – The Fra Mauro Highlands

by Dustin



On January 31st, 1971 NASA would launch the eighth manned mission to the moon, Apollo 14. The three person crew kicked off the 9 day mission from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39, before travelling to the Fra Mauro Highlands on the near side of the lunar surface. This would serve as the last of NASA’s simplistic (relatively speaking) H-Type missions to the moon, as they upgraded to the longer J-Type with Apollo 15. While this particular Apollo mission was relatively understated, its legacy lives on as a success during the booming age of space exploration. An era that had a particular vibe of wonder, and captured the imagination of individuals even outside the realm of science.

One may now be asking how this is relevant to music, and Walter Gross is the answer to that question. Though he may not have been an astronaut on the Apollo 14 mission (or even much of a space enthusiast, for that matter), his love of ambient concentrative music lead him to an interesting place of inspiration: the Voyager recordings. Finding himself endeared to the organic beauty of these pieces, he began work on his own out of this world experimentation. Quickly reaching full realization with a 23 minute (50 counting the Stray Signals Cassette Mix) long tape of atmospheric allure, The Fra Mauro Highlands. An album which would suitably see release on the 47th anniversary of Apollo 14.

Though it bares his name, The Fra Mauro Highlands was not the type of project one has come to expect from Walter Gross. It abandoned a lot of the crunchier, abrasive noise elements he’s become known for in the past, opting to try something a little more ambient instead. Once expectations were subverted however, this was a wonderful listening experience. It hit the flavor of desolate space music perfectly, and managed to feel cold while also inspiring a sense of adventure. There was a particular hint of retro-futurism to the tape, to the same vein as a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was due primarily to brilliant sound contrast constructed by Walter Gross. The entirety of The Fra Mauro Highlands had an underlying subtle ambiance of whooshing and swirling sounds that were distinctly galactic and harrowing. Atop of this there were moments of gorgeously vintage sounding synthetic instrumentation, used sparsely enough to maintain a sense of mechanical exploration through an all encompassing emptiness. It didn’t mess around with precisely divide tracks. Rather, this album was one continuous piece of music that built upon itself, evolving in a natural and off-the-cuff manner.

With all that in mind, there were aspects of The Fra Mauro Highlands carrying Walter’s signature touch. It was an immensely unsettling selection of work, with the emptiness and overall tone having created a strong sense of urgency and apprehensiveness of the unknown. With artistic anxiety being such a mainstay in his music, this familiarity was oddly comforting. It provided reassurance that this is exactly how the project was supposed to make one feel, and not an emotion to be avoided. The “Stray Signals Cassette Mix” which followed the conclusion of The Fra Mauro Highlands rewound things back a little further stylistically, while having maintained the same overall vibe. It wasn’t the star of the show by any means, but it was very good and really provided a feeling of returning home to the established fan of Walter Gross. A return after a fantastic journey.

Much like the Apollo 14 mission itself, The Fra Mauro Highlands will likely go down as one of Walter Gross’ most under-the-radar releases. While it was absolutely excellent, it appealed to a listener base even more niche than his signature barrage of noise. Which is unfortunate, because it was a stunningly beautiful, and somewhat anxious, ambient album. It wore its inspirations on its sleeve, and the ambition was undeniable. Do-it-Yourself music is about pushing limits, catching waves of inspiration, and trying things outside of the box just to see what will happen. Walter Gross did all of these things with The Fra Mauro Highlands. It embodied the spirit of the scene entirely, and should find itself respected as such.


Top 15 albums of 2016

by Dustin


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.

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.

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.

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

by Dustin


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:


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.


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.


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.

The Media That Refuses to Die: Cassette

by Dustin


“What is that?” my buddy asks as I pull another parcel from the mailbox, “don’t tell me you’re still collecting music”.

You see, my friend doesn’t quite understand the point of collecting physical media when it comes to music. He sees CDs and vinyl as a waste of money when I’ve already got a Spotify subscription. The argument that I want better sound quality usually shuts him up, since streaming can be questionable at times in that regard.

Unfortunately that argument will not work with this shipment.

My friend remains interested as I rip apart the yellow envelope from Darling Recordings. I explained to him that the album is by a really cool experimental group called FLANCH. He seems interested in the sound and implies that he would like to listen to it once I finish my painfully slow unwrap job; however, his interest turns to confusion as I reveal the contents of the envelope.

He looks at me and his face screws up into an indescribable expression. In a moment of baffled realization he asks the question, “is that a fucking cassette?”


Though this may sound ridiculous to some, cassette has seen a huge resurgence in the past couple years via the independent scene. The companies which produce cassette tapes are reportedly having their best years since the 1960s. For example, the National Audio Company reportedly produced over ten million cassettes in 2014 alone. For something once considered defunct this is a huge comeback, and it is almost rooted entirely in the independent music scene.

But why? To help answer that question we touched base with Nick Faidley. Nick is the founder of independent label Darling Recordings, an outfit which has released multiple cassettes (including FLANCH, mentioned earlier in this article). He offered up the following insight as to why cassettes have seen such a heavy revival:

Darling Recordings has turned to tapes for the many of the same reasons as other independent labels and musicians: cassettes are low cost, low hassle, and easy for bands to use on the merch table. For us it’s really that simple. Tapes are affordable at low quantities, unlike vinyl (incredibly expensive) and CDs (large minimum orders), and they can be completely DIY.

Darling runs its cassette manufacturing with a wonderful company out of Ohio called A to Z Audio.

As Nick stated, cost is a huge factor. Unlike major outfits, most independent labels only do limited releases for physical editions of records. These are generally in the 20-100 copies range. The price per unit for limited runs is cheaper on cassette than any other physical media; moreover, a price per unit quote (on a 100 album order) from a Canadian duplication company shows that the difference is extreme:

CD with Jewel Case and Insert: $4.90/each
Vinyl Record with Colour Cover: $9.00/each
Cassette with Clear Case and J-Card Insert: $1.85/each

Cassette is the clear cut choice based on cost alone, and for small independent labels every dollar counts. Perhaps physical media is no longer a necessity with the rise of digital distribution, but fans will always be looking to get their hands on merch. Cassettes are a cost effective way to provide this to fans (whether it be online, in a record store, or at a show). In addition to it being good for the label, cassette releases are generally cheaper for the consumer as well. It’s very much a win-win for those interested.

Though more subjective, there’s also a collectible feel to cassettes that seems to offer up a lot of appeal. There’s certainly a degree of nostalgia involved to a particular generation, but to others they just seem “cool”. They’re just so much different when compared to CDs and vinyl. Cassettes have a particular minimalistic and rugged appearance that seems to draw a certain crowd in. Even the listening experience, though maybe not the best in terms of sound quality, is incredibly unique. The tape hiss, the sound of the cassette deck mechanism, the sudden jarring click when a side runs out…

It’s something that can’t really be compared to anything other music media, for better or worse.

Interestingly, this wave of cassette revival has become big enough that some major labels have started to jump on the bandwagon. A recent example of this is Shady Records re-issuing Eminem’s major imprint debut, The Slim Shady LP, on a translucent purple cassette. To no ones surprise, the re-issue was incredibly popular. It doesn’t seem like this will be a regular trend such as vinyl releases, but it definitely speaks to the size of cassettes resurgence.

For all intents and purposes cassette should be dead, but it’s not. They’ve found their way back into the music scene by carving a niche which no other media can really occupy. What cassette lacks in sound quality it more than makes up for in affordability, making them the ultimate budget merchandise. It’s a revival that maybe no one expected, but it’s working out beautifully for artists around the globe.

So, the next time you see a cassette just remember: your uncle who owns a Mustang from the 1980s with a tape-deck isn’t the only person looking to buy cassettes anymore.

Album Review: Niku No Sekai – Flesh World Vol. 1

by Dustin



For nearly eight months we have regularly been reviewing albums here at Extraordinary Nobodies. Between our standard reviews of new releases, and the brand new “why was it good” retrospective category, it’s safe to say that we really love reviewing music. Yet, if one was to sort through our review archives they’d notice something odd… We have reviewed zero instrumental albums! This seems like a bit of a tragedy, as instrumental releases have been a big part of hip-hop forever.

Yet, the first instrumental album we’re going to have a look at isn’t even necessarily a hip-hop release! It is more of an ambient record, but it shares a lot of elements that instrumental hip-hop fans will be familiar with! This is particularly true for those who are interested in the alternative side of production. Plus, we do what we want. Fuck genres.

Moving on…

The album in question is Flesh World Vol. 1, a collaborative effort between two established artists (of SCRTS and Chinatown’s Pormer) released under the name Niku No Sekai. This project came out under the relatively young DOOMTRIP Records, a label which specializes in cassette based releases (you should follow them on twitter, sometimes they do awesome download code giveaways). Flesh World Vol. 1 was recorded on new years day, and saw release on DOOMTRIP in April.

So we’re a little behind the times here, but again, we do what we want.

Flesh World Vol. 1 is perhaps one of the most atmospheric releases to come out this year. The overall vibe to the tape is very chilled out, spacey, and slightly unnerving. It is not a long release by any means, but the sound is very cohesive throughout. Those who are already acquainted with ambient releases will most likely love Flesh World Vol. 1. It sounds like space. Listening to this album is like taking a trip through the galaxy while stoned.

The use of distance and beat changes on Flesh World really gives it life. Five tracks feels more like seven or eight, and there is a tangible environment with every second of playback. Though it’s ambient, the record isn’t afraid to grab your attention and force you to focus. The opening track, “WW4”, is a prime example of this. It has some really interesting switch-ups; moreover, the track is over ten minutes long but doesn’t feel dull for a second.

It is a dense piece of art. Don’t mistake “ambient” with “empty”, because this tape is immensely dense listening. Flesh World Vol. 1 is a record that will eventually demand your full attention, even if it does also make excellent casual listening. It is musically interesting enough to be much more than simply background noise. It certainly feels like there is a new sound to discover with every subsequent listen.

There are just so many things happening at once. It is a delightful and fun chunk of material to sink your teeth into.

For the hip-hop fans reading this blog wondering if they should give this tape a listen, yes, you definitely should. If you’re a fan of the stoned-out sound found in the cloud rap scene, this tape is probably going to be right up your ally. It’s a more developed sound as a product of needing to stand out without vocals, but there are clear similarities. Give it a listen, you probably will not be disappointed. Maybe you’ll even discover a new genre that you’ll enjoy.

Album Review: Koi Child – Koi Child

by Dustin



Australia may not come to mind when talking about hot spots of hip-hop, but perhaps that’s about to change. The land of Vegemite and Milo has produced one of hip-hop’s most exciting new acts, Koi Child. They aren’t your stereotypical hip-hop outfit though, in fact they’re far from it. Originally two separate acts (Kahikoi and Child’s Play) Koi Child is a seven man outfit consisting of emcee Cruz Patterson, saxophonists Christian Ruggerio and Jamie Newman, trombonist Sam Newman, drummer Blake Hart, bassist Yann Vissac, and Tom Kenny on the keys.

Though this self-titled release is the debut record by the group, they’ve been turning the heads of fans and musicians for the past couple years. More specifically, they caught the attention of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. After being invited to open for Tame Impala at select Australian shows, Koi Child also landed Parker as executive producer for this project.

Interestingly, as a side note, it was apparently recorded in some degree of isolation on an island… An island that had to be reached by packing all their gear by boat. It’s quite the unique backstory, to say the least.

The effort was worth it though, as the end product was quite special.

One of the big reasons this album is special is the instrumental work. Live instrumental work seems to be vastly underused in hip-hop; however, with Koi Child being stacked with talented instrumentalists, it can be found in abundance in their music. At times the ensemble wasn’t afraid to let the vocals take the back seat and have all the focus be on the instrumentation. These instances of pure instrumentation set a gorgeous atmosphere for the listener, and did not detract from the listening experience in any way.

That being said, Koi Child’s resident emcee certainly added something special to the album as well.

When Cruz Patterson was allowed to take center stage he often ran away with the show. Though his vocals were often drowned in an unconventional psychedelic reverb, Patterson’s lyrics and delivery were very reminiscent of old-school hip-hop (perhaps aided by throwback references to artists like MF DOOM and DJ Premier). He fit in seamlessly with the funky jazz sound provided by his band mates. It should also be noted that his energy on the mic was undeniable. Every bar was delivered with a captivating passion and excitement, which was clearly needed to keep up with complex instrumentation backing his rhymes.

It’s been a while since I looked into the future,
Write myself a letter, say “hey man, you used to,
Love MF DOOM and watch cartoons,
You’d be eating Frooty Loops in the afternoon”.
(Adventures for the Capsule)

To get too critical of this project would involve significant nitpicking, but perhaps it would be fair to say that the group played it too safe at times. It doesn’t take away from the album at any level, but it seemed as if Koi Child could have the ability to produce an even grander sound. Admittedly, this is less of a criticism and more a comment on what they could create going forward. The potential they displayed was incredible, and it’s easy to imagine them being capable of putting out something groundbreaking in the future.

With that being said, if this does happen to be a one-off effort from the group, there certainly will not be any disappointment either. The end product was beautiful, atmospheric, and worthy of high praise.