Welcome! We're a music review blog that reads current music through a socialist lens.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Common - Nobody's Smiling Album Review + A Couple Re-Blogs

This week I caught a couple great reviews of the new Common album. They got me to listen to this album just out of curiosity's sake. I have to say, I'm really on the fence with this album and I think I'm going to stay on the fence with it. I'm not alone in this feeling -  @mykectown of Dead End Hip Hop and Fantano of  The Needle Drop feel similarly as me. I really dig: "Blak Majik," "The Neighborhood", "Rewind That," "Kingdom," "7 Deadly Sins," and "No Fear" - but literally every other track on this project I detest. I like that No I.D. Produced every song, I love Lil Herb's verse, I love Vince Staple's verses, I love that Common made an album where Chicago is the focal point. On the other hand, this is not an American Gangster or good kid, m.A.A.d. city - so there really isn't a full concept here, also, again, there are some horrible songs here, which is uber-disappointing. As far as political import goes - it's a gritty portrayal of life on the streets, mostly on the streets of Chicago to be more specific. Which in itself is refreshing, but it's not nearly the Hegelian self-consistent masterpiece that good kid is. I don't ever think I'll get past that.

The two re-blogs I mentioned above from DEHH and the NDrop really cover this LP well. My rating: 5.5/10.

Listen: Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8niwr5kcPE or Here: https://play.spotify.com/user/jgathan1/playlist/0ffLDTWGnZPM8euO6lqLRo

Monday, July 28, 2014

clipping. - Taking Off Track Review

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. The first performer on Saturday was a rapper named Ka. I love his music - and his live show did not disappoint. He's a brilliant poet and lyricist. The most memorable part of his set was not one of his songs, though. It was a spoken interlude to his awesome track "Jungle." Sidenote: if you haven't checked out Ka or his LP The Night's Gambit, you should. Anyway, Ka described his hometown of Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NYC, in quite 'real' terms, so to speak. Ka dedicated "Jungle" to all of the friends he lost during the summer. He said that it gets hot in Brownsville and "people are stacked on top of each other" - that a lot of people get frustrated with their situation and "jus' start shootin'" [sic].

If Ka's interlude describes the abstract situation of of living life in the "Jungle." Then clipping.'s track "Taking Off" gives voice to a few characters that live there. Clipping.'s emcee, Daveed Diggs, delivers a harshly realistic vision of unnamed places in three rapid fire verses he drops with surgical precision and virtuosic flows. Daveed's verses are so intense they deserve detailed dissections and study to fully grasp their content and meaning. Dissections I won't delve too deeply into here, but suffice it to say that you'll be looking up the clipping.'s RapGenius page for hours if you like their music as much as I do.

Verse 1 has a rhythmic pattern that sounds as though it were taken from a snare drum exercise book. The song itself is set around 80 BPM in 4/4. The first six lines are delivered as largely eighth-notes. The next 3 or 4 lines are delivered as eighth-note triplets. The next 4 lines are delivered as sixteenth-notes at blistering speeds. Then the entire pattern I just described is repeated to conclude the verse while each half of the first verse is 8 bars long.

Lyrically, the first 8 bars describe the life of a killer in cold, factual terms. The second 8 bars describe the emotional aftermath of that sort of life on the killer himself. Throughout the rest of the song, Daveed continues with the murderer as a theme, describing where this sort of person grows up, why they are the way they are, and why people trun to such a lifestyle. This sort of attention to detail and orderedness continue throughout the track, though the first verse stands as a sort of perfect example of Daveed's amazing delivery, planning, and complex wordplay.

Musically, clipping. are noise-hop. The two instrumentalists, Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson, bring their own unique brand of dark, sparse, noise-centric beats to the table for "Taking Off" and it works perfectly to accentuate Daveed's brilliance. The strong noise element of clipping. in general deserves more than a passing comment I think. What interests me most, and for now will have to be an underdeveloped line of thinking, is that the noise element of clipping. fits so well with Daveed's gritty portrayal of life on the street that it is more consistent than a lot of other "gangsta rap." That is to say, what is usually the case in rap is that a rapper will describe dark themes of poverty, crime, exploitation over music that makes it palatable to a large audience. With clipping., however, there is no safe way to palliate what one hears: the beat and music accompanying the harsh lyrics are equally as harsh. It gives clipping.'s music a sort of x-factor whereby it is sometimes difficult to listen to and quite upsetting. This is the same sort of feeling I get from Death Grips, which makes clipping. especially exciting insofar as Death Grips broke up.

In "Taking Off," then, clipping. gives us a dark insight into life in the "Jungle" quite unlike anything I've heard before. It makes it quite a joyful experience in the darkest meaning of that statement as is possible. "Taking Off" furthermore shows the listener that, as long as we have poverty, we will have killers: a lesson worth remembering.

Rating: 8.5/10



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lydia Loveless - Verlaine Shot Rimbaud Track Review

What initially interested me about this song was that it was a country song that I didn't immediately dislike. Genre-wise, this track lies somewhere between Miranda Lambert, Social Distorition, the Goo Goo Dolls, and the Paramore of All We Know is Falling. There's a sincerity, a non-commercial edge, a punk-inees, and a tendency toward a "Cowpunk" nature.

What secondarily attracted me to this song was the title: "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud." The title refers to a stormy end to a libertine and bohemian relationship that Paul Verlaine, a symbolist poet, had with fellow symbolist/pre-surrealist poet Arthur Rimbaud. After tons of drinking and drugs and fights Verlaine accosted Rimbaud and shot him in the wrist while in a drunken stupor. For Loveless, this episode of jealous rage is a good comparison to the way that she feels about the person that "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" is addressed to. Sung in the second-person,  Loveless seems to perversely enjoy the fighting and break-ups and yet still just "want to be the one you love." The message is not-dissimilar of Ariana Grande's hit "Problem." Just a bit more racy. One could really say that a lot of Loveless' music tends toward bohemian, sexual, and intoxication situations and relationships just like the confrontation of Verlaine with Rimbaud.

While the lyrics are an honest look into a sort of twisted-logic of why she loves to hate/love her significant other, the music accompanying her lyrics is just a bit too tame to really fit the dialectic of aggression and attachment that she's trying to express. The song is a bit like adult-alternative country rather than punky-alternative-country. There are distorted guitars and her voice does have a bit of grit to it, but both of these factors seem to be sacrificed on the altar of accessibility - while the accessibility factor, at least in this reviewer's view, fails to bring in a larger fan-base for Loveless. If we can carry the comparison of "Problem" and "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud"  a bit further. Whereas "Problem" has amazing production and a hook to die for "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" brings a tame indie-production to an altogether all-too-un-interesting melody. The best part of the music is by far the bridge which does lift off the ground a bit in terms of airy-ness while Loveless' voice jumps quite high - it's by far the least forgettable part of the song.

What is most positive here is the bigger picture I think. That is to say, the very fact that a country song brings a bit of a highbrow reference is a sign for the future of country music in general. Moreover, Loveless' music is incredibly honest about sex and relationships - which is itself quite refreshing in the genre of veiled sex which refuses to directly look at the Thing, to put it in Lacanian terms. Loveless' music is especially positive, if read together with quasi-folk/Alt-country bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Fleet Foxes, and Mumford and Sons. Country comes from a lineage of blues, folk, rockabilly, and honkey-Tonk: none of those roots are necessarily about beer, trucks, patriotism, a judgmental law-giving God, or "hot" women. Country, in its mainstream in the least, is a genre that was hijacked from the Left and delivered into the hands of ofuscatory late-capitalist ideology. This genre should in no way necessarily be on the side of Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Mainstream country can be rescued from the hands of Rightest ideology and used for good. If anything, that is the sort of crack that the light shines through in this song - the sort of Good News that we need for the genre as a whole.

Rating: 6/10

Listen: (+ Download Here)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Future - Honest Album Review

Okay, I'm going to get right to the point. This album is even worse than the last Rick Ross LP. A daunting task. For those of you who don't know who Future is, you might as well keep it that way - for the exception of two songs. I absolutely love the remix of Future's track "Same Damn Time" featuring Diddy and Ludacris. It's hilarious and catchy as all hell. That song, however, is not on this album. The only okay song on Honest is "Move that Dope" featuring Pharrel, Casino, and Pusha. T's verse is just awesome. Even Future's verse is pretty great. The beat is quite catchy, and I actually believe that Future deals drugs. He's actually being honest.

Beyond that song, literally every other song on this LP makes me want to stop listening to hip-hop permanently. The singular universal here is the song "Shit" - which is a perfect self-reference. This song is right there with Avril Lavigne's song "Hello Kitty" and Chief Keef's "Fuck Rehab" as one of the worst songs of the last decade. And how did Future get so many good rappers to do terrible songs/verses? The song with Drake, "Never Satisfied" is just barely a song. The Ye verse on "I Won" is not only the worst verses Kanye has ever done, but also an abomination to rap music in general. "Benz Friendz" with Andre Three Stacks knocked 3000 out of my top five rappers of all time. He even does most of the work on the track, with Future occasionally interjecting - or at least that's the abstract sense I get from the track. Weezy's verse on "Karate Chop (Remix)" is unspeakably terrible. This after Wayne saved the last song on Ross' Mastermind. 

The only consistent redeeming quality that keeps this album from being below a 1 out of 10, setting "Move that Dope" aside, is my constant question: what is Future actually doing on these tracks - singing or rapping or neither? Why is that redeeming? Because it keeps my interest and it keeps my focus away from what's going on in these "songs." What's most puzzling about this album is all the good or great reviews it's received. I simply don't understand. This album is one of the worst LPs I've ever had the displeasure of listening all the way through - even the bonus tracks. It's barely music. Future's debut LP Pluto was far better than this, and Pluto was a bowl of shit. Honest.

Hits: "Move that Dope"

Misses: Every other track on this album - big misses

Rating: 1.5/10

By far Future's best song:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tab Jones - Dusted Mixtape Review

Sorry for the delay in posts, all. In all honestly, besides being quite busy, I've been straight spinning throwbacks from my CD collection. Moreover, went to see St. Vincent - and she was amazing. I'm convinced that she's a guitarist at the level/style of Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine) and Mike Einziger (of Incubus). Her character and style is insane and off the wall, and the jams at the end of each of her flawlessly performed songs adds some serious clout to her status as a musician that can hang with the best of them, so to speak.

Anyway, all this aside, the last few days have been taken up, musically speaking, with listening and re-listening to a new beat tape by Jersey native Tab Jones. I love this thing. Absolutely. I'm no expert in this style of music or a hip-hop head in any sense. But I can certainly tell that there is a nuance on these short tracks. There is freshness. And most of all, there is a unique musical character that shines through and tells me that Tab is going to blow up. I hear influences like J Dilla, Pete Rock, and Madlib. The style of these beats is in the vein of neo-soul with samples of monologue and narration.

Some of these short vocal samples are so delightful and hilarious. For example, on "Dead Mike," one of my favorite offerings on the tape we hear "Are there any niggers here tonight? Turn on the house lights, please" - a parody of the sort of stupid racism that abounds in certain parts of American culture. It's a comment on the "becoming-explicit," to use a Deleuzean turn of phrase, of certain racial tensions that were hitherto ignored since the civil rights movement and a hilarious "making ridiculous" of the racism that has re-surfaced since the opening of the Great Recession after 2008.

I adore the beat on "Tical" - so a throwback to some "loc'd out" blue-eyed soul. I wish the track was longer so that I could just lay in the cut and bob my head to it. My favorite track on the entire tape is "Trunk too Loud" - it almost sounds like an older Black Keys song. The screwed vocal sample at the end cracks me the hell up every time too: "I'd probably been smoking pot. Likely as all hell. I smoked pot every day for 35 years." And that sample goes right into the next track "Don't Stop" - where the implication is that one shouldn't stop smoking pot, even after 35 years. And that praise is coming from someone whose never smoked anything, ever.

Anyway, this beat tape is awesome, especially the second-half of the tracks here. It's only 20 minutes long, but goddamn is it a delight. Check this thing out.

Hits: "Dead Mike," "Tical," "Trunk too Loud," "Don't Stop"

Misses: "Wu Demo" (if I had to choose)

Rating: 8.5/10

Buy Tab's tape off his bandcamp. The release is limited to 120 tapes, so pick it up quick.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lil Herb - Three Sick New Tracks

I'm loving a couple tracks off the new Lil Herb mixtape Welcome to Fazoland. They describe the situation on the south side of Chicago from someone who has lived to tell the story. These tracks should concern anyone who wants to understand a true proletarian perspective growing up with no hope - when the only light at the end of the tunnel is a train heading straight toward you. The fourth track on the tape, "Fight or Flight," doesn't have the strongest instrumental, but Goddamn does it have some awesome lines:
"Cause I don't come from Hollywood or Beverly Hills
I'm from where mothers don't care and babies get killed
Where you gotta rob and go steal for stomachs to fill
And it's hard for a young, black nigga like myself"
"4 Minutes of Hell Pt. 3" has a heavy, dark beat with a clutch high female vocal sample that does wonders for the mood and atmosphere for this track. Herb's flow is relentless here, he's gripping on the mic - the opening to this song is especially sick:
"My hunger is equal to my struggle
I came from nothin'
Grindin' then I made it to somethin'
The age of a youngin'
Started hangin' and bangin' and hustlin'
Exchangin' the customs
To make it in this dangerous jungle
In a treacherous war
People dying, nobody crying
All the shit that I saw
You expect me to sit on the porch?
Every moment is yours"
And "On the Corner" featuring Lil Durk and KD Young Cocky is my favorite on the whole mixtape. It has what might be the best use of auto-tune, next to Bon Iver and Imogen Heap, ever. I love this thing, it's one of my favorites of the year. Overall, Herb is one of the best examples of Drill/Trap coming out of the Mid-West currently.  Check out the tracks via this link.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Nocando Comes Through with Two Awesome Tracks

I missed you guys. Anyway, these two tracks, "Third World Hustle" and "Break Even," off Nocando's LP Jimmy the Burnout are great pieces of proletarian artistry. I don't really dig the rest of the LP, but these songs are gold. Low, heavy hitting beats pound through both tracks - though "Third World Hustle" is decidedly darker, while "Break Even" has some catchy-as-hell horns and piano. What makes these tracks stand-out, however catchy and hard the beats and music are, is the lyrics. In "Break Even," Nocan spits:
"Dressed fresh, 20,000 in debt
Seen an old classmate when I jumped off a jet
Working TSA, this is what he said
'Why you look stressed? Man you set'
He said he got a 9 to 5, work the night shift
And he got a side hustle after that
I'm like when do you sleep
He just laughed, and said 'what's that?'"
And in "Third World Hustle" he raps:
"You know that girl
That girl that lives right there?
The one with the big bright smile
With the pretty eyes and the real long hair?
She would tag along when we skated down the street
She was on her bike, purple with a white seat
Yeah she had a baby, went to school to be a nurse
Her sorry baby dady, yeah that nigga never works
I went to Deja Vu, saw her stripping on a pole
I put $20 on her like 'baby bless your soul'"

This is serious music written by someone who's excluded from capitalism for people that are excluded from capitalism. I love it.

Rating: 9.5/10

Here's "Break Even":

And here's "Third World Hustle":