Here’s part 2 of our my release coverage for the past week. Sorry for the delay (holidays, releases from bands I needed to spend more time with because I’m not as familiar with them, yadda yadda yadda). I realize it’s already new release day for the current week and I’ll shoot to have this week’s recap up sooner!
As I mentioned Friday in Part 1, there was just way too much great new music to condense into one post this week. In part 2 I’m focusing on full-lengths.
Pav Dic- GMB [self-released/RBC]
Quick Take: This is my other essential pick for the week. Pac Div (or Pacific Division if you’re mad at them) have only released one other proper full-length (and a slew of mixtapes), but you’d never guess that when listening to GMB. The record (its title an acronym for the trio’s first names- Gabe, Mike, and Bryan- though their stage names are Mibbs, Like, and BeYoung), is a confident, polished, and slick piece of hip hop and a total joy to listen to from beginning to end. Though it’s technically a pseudo self-release, GMB sounds not only good, but downright amazing from a production standpoint. It’s thick with samples, vocal effects, and more bass than I can even reasonably comprehend. The production is cohesive and top-notch, but a top-notch album can not production alone make. Fortunately Pac Div are up to the task in every respect- their lyrics strong and refined, their west coast flow hypnotic and entrancing, and their thematic focus tough and extravagant but never overbearing. At its best, GMB offers up some of the best musical moments in all of 2012. At its worst, it’s an above average rap ride that never once loses steam. It’s the perfect balance of everything I want from a hip hop record and quite possibly the best the genere has to offer for the close of the year.
Check Out: “Automatic,” the Swiff D-produced banger that showcases each member of the group in equal measures and plows along with a never-ending momentum. Anyone else notice that total Afrika Bambaataaa vocal effect callback at the beginning?
Click “Continue Reading” to find out what else I’m listening to this week!
Big Dipper- Crashes on the Platinum Planet [Almost Ready]
Quick Take: If you were down with Big Dipper before the 2008 Merge Records anthology/reissue of the band’s back catalogue, you’re either much older than me, much cooler than me, or both. Hailing from Boston, Big Dipper belonged to the late ’80s could-have-been should-have-been school of alt/indie bands that struggled to break into relevance in a pre-’90s alt rock explosion world. Though they received some moderate success and critical praise (especially in regards to their 1987 debut Heavens) at the time, the group disbanded in 1990 and were largely relegated to a mere footnote in musical history. Since 2008, however, the band has steadfastly been climbing back into musical consciousness; a journey which has culminated with Crashes on the Platinum Planet, their first album in 22 years. And my, what a wonderful album it is. Big Dipper still sounds like, well, Big Dipper. But a better, more distilled essence of their former selves. It’s rare that I’m inclined to look at an album released so many years after a group’s relevance (especially when that group has been laying dormant all that time) through the same critical lens as their previous work. Times have changed, perspectives evolved, and recreating the youthful energy and spark that necessitated a bands’ existence in the first place is often a battle of diminishing returns. However, Crashes on Platinum Planet somehow manages to defy all odds as the strongest release of Big Dipper’s career while staying true to the group’s core sound, thematic tendencies, and general aesthetic. Even without comparing it against their past work (which, as a fan more new than old I would rather do), it stands alone as a strong, smart, and tightly crafted piece of indie rock and a magnificent way to kick off December. It doesn’t feel like a comeback, because it doesn’t sound like a record from a band that ever left.
Check Out: “Robert Pollard,” the nostalgic, youthful, and perfectly layered jam that exemplifies how an old sound can be reconstructed in a modern environment and still sound fresh and relevant.
Junkie XL- Synthesized [Nettwerk]
Quick Take: The sixth album from Dutch DJ Junkie XL, Synthesized is the culmination of a long and varied career of a musician that has seen a huge range of trends come and go within his realm of influence, and learned how to deconstruct the best elements and essence of each of those trends and apply them to his own music. Collaborations have always been a staple of his solo releases, but Synthesized takes a turn to highlight mostly less prominent, less named guests than previous releases (save for Datarock). I don’t claim to be especially EDM savvy and that’s part of Junkie XL’s appeal- his knack for making accessible, mass-appeal songs that genuinely feel like songs that anyone can enjoy, but songs that still exist solidly in the world of EDM and serve all functions of that accordingly. Though his music flexes an immense level of attention to detail and talent in layering samples and synth flourishes in appropriate measures, his obsession with providing a hook- often supplied by his collaborators- works to push the record in a forward-moving, very grounded manner. Whether it’s the soundtrack to your party or a casual listen, Synthesized is an exploration in top-notch dance music from a man more than qualified to provide it
Check Out: “Synthesized,” the hypnotic and lush title track with a hook that’ll be stuck in your head all day.
Departures- Teenage Haze [No Sleep]
Quick Take: What kind of band are Departures, exactly? It’s definitely something you might ponder when giving their new album Teenage Haze a first listen. You might be inclined to call them hardcore, based on vocal delivery, but they’re not a hardcore band. You might be inclined to call them indie rock or alt or emo throwback, based on their musical structure and production, but that’s definitely not right either. A punk band? Too slow, too reflective, too sensitive for that. Pop punk? Getting colder- there’s no pop here. Screamo? No way (does anyone even use that term anymore?). Let’s just call them a good band. A band capable of harnessing a whole plethora of influences and sonically channeling them into a sound that is all at once familiar yet wholly unique. And a sincere and honest one. Teenage Haze is a really magnificent juxtaposition of punk-leaning alt rock music with decidedly emo (I mean it in the best possible way) and introspective lyrics delivered in a markedly punk style (another juxtaposition in of itself, as the abrasiveness of singer James McKean’s delivery often clashes with the emotional theme he is conveying). Teenage Haze is a powerful, bombastic, and often vulnerable romp of raw emotion and musical energy and by the time it ends, your only complaint will likely be that the journey was a bit too brief.
Check Out: “21,” a driving and agressive, yet fantastically earnest track channeling into perfect musical articulation the stages of coping with a broken down relationship.
Dean Blunt- The Narcissist II [Hippos in Tanks]
Quick Take: Dean Blunt is a bit of a mystery. Both to me and, it seems, to the musical community as a whole. Little is known about the artist, his releases receive minor fanfare (though The Narcissist II is widely available for purchase) and Blunt receives little attention as a performer outside of blogs and underground-leaning music sites. It’s that anonymity, perhaps, and the mystery that surrounds it that adds a extra layer of intangible appeal to his lo-fi art pop releases. There’s something very admirable about creating something new and nice and putting an obviously high amount of effort into making it seem old and unpolished. There’s also a fine line between tastefully done and disaster, however, not to mention the question as to whether or not a work of art needs that treatment in the first place. I can’t imagine The Narcissist II sounding any other way. The record is not as narcissistic as the title might suggest, but thematically it’s fairly self-involved and often outright seductive. It’s a haunting, at times creepy melding of familiar samples, chopped and screwed to the point where they sound like lingering ghosts of songs past. The lo-fi treatment benefits this effect while seamlessly matching it with the soulful, yet reserved, vocal delivery of Blunt and lyrical forwardness. As a concept, a record like The Narcissist II could easily fall apart, but thanks to the production and the talent of Dean Blunt it soars. On so many levels, this album just works.
BONUS: The Winter Sounds- Runner [New Grenada]
Why: Nashville’s The Winder Sounds aren’t aiming to reinvent the indie rock wheel, and they don’t need to. Their new album Runner is a fun, balanced, energetic take on the genere that eclipses the band’s previous work in production quality and songwriting. It’s dancy and full of Killers-esque synth embellishments, but never wavers from being fully grounded in solid rock and roll. My only gripe is it seems to be front-stacked with its strongest, most engaging songs. Check out the almost too good to open a record with “The Sun Also Rises” and stream the entire album on Spotify.
The Winter Sounds will be performing at The Basement in Nashville on 12/16. More details are available here.
BONUS: Lone Ninja- Rogue Agent [Holographic Pagoda]
Why: When writing about Lone Ninja, it’s easy to draw comparisons to MF Doom, but still, they aren’t unwarranted. The MC is even further planted in the underground scene, harkens an old school production and delivery style, and largely operates in anonymity. Spanning 27 tracks, Rogue Agent is the rapper’s most ambitious, most thematically grandiose, and most technically sound album yet. It’s a true gem and a testament to how thriving underground hip hop really is. Check out tough, sharp hitting old school jam “Maximum Penalty” streaming at Hip Hop DX.
BONUS: Last Call- Dog Years [Broken Arrow Collective]
Why: Hailing from Las Vegas, Last Call belong to the new school of young pop punk bands seeking to once again legitimize the genre (The Wonder Years, Fireworks, etc). Dog Years is a solidly-crafted, energetic, and agressive yet outstandingly catchy entry that builds on the band’s past work and allows itself to be guided by their strongest elements. The record doesn’t particularly push any boundaries, instead planting itself firmly into and established stylistic realm and excelling at it. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, well-made, top notch pop punk album. Check out the hook-laden, melodically dense singalong “Bones” and stream the entire album on BandCamp.
BONUS: Wu Block- Wu Block [E1]
Why: Wu Block is the collaboration of Wu-Tang Clan‘s Ghostface Killah and The LOX‘s (also known as D-Block, where the record derives it name) Sheek Louch. It’s perhaps the connotations of that pedigree that add an extra dimension of pressure to to their self-titled debut, but ultimately Wu Block falls a bit short considering the sum of its parts. Mind you, it’s still a quality, masterfully crafted hip hop record, it’s just not a career high point for either rapper- it’s solidly good and enjoyable, without transcending into greatness. The record feels slanted more in Ghostface’s favor at its best moments (and in points for who brought the most associates in to collaborate), but when Sheek shines it’s fantastic. The record might have been better served to have been trimmed down by a few tracks, and it terms of relevance or listenability isn’t going to overtake the more underground hip hop releases we’ve already mentioned- but we’re still crowning this by far the most gangsta record you’re going to get this holiday season. Check out one of the few tracks devoid of a guest and also one of the record’s strongest moments of straightforward technically prowess, “Been Robbed,” and stream the entire album on Spotify.
BONUS: 100dBs & Ryan-O’Neil- Tea & Spliffs [HiPNOTT]
Why: Fitting, it seems, that I should follow one of the most hyped hip hop releases (on a fairly hip hop heavy list- rappers apparently love the cold months) of the winter from two established MCs with an almost entirely underground release from two little known collaborators. 100dBs is a Brooklyn-based DJ and frequent collaborator with rapper Ryan-O’Neil. Their latest outing together, Tea & Spliffs, is a sharp, old school, impossibly well-refined and lyrically sharp-witted, intelligent, and honest romp in straightforward, unabashed, hip hop at its purest essence. With its confidence, never wavering flow, and top-notch production this is a no-gimmicks reminder of the power of the story at hip hip’s core and a thoroughly enjoyable listen from beginning to end. Check out the infectious old school jam with a great food-for-thought message “Wait a Minute” and stream the entire album on Spotify.
Don’t forget to check out Friday’s New Release Spotlight, Part 1 where I covered EPs!
If you have any suggestions for upcoming releases you’d like me to consider for the list in the future, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at phili[email protected]. You can also find me on Twitter and find more of my entertainment writing here.