Friday, March 27, 2020

Album Review: Hailu Mergia - Yene Mircha

Let's start with a little biography. Hailu Mergia is a celebrated Ethiopian jazz musician who was popular and prolific in his home country during the late '70s. He was part of the Walias Band, an absolutely seminal group within the world of African jazz and popular music. They famously collaborated with the father of Ethio-jazz Mulatu Astatke in 1977 for the album Tche Belew, considered one of three instrumental albums that defied the "Golden Seventies" of Ethiopian jazz. By 1983, Mergia had left his former band and immigrated to the United States, where he studied music at Howard University. It was while there that he became reacquainted with the accordion, and instrument that he learned to play during his childhood. It was his reintroduction to this unassuming instrument that prompted him to record his best-known work, His Classical Instrument, a melding of new and old styles, combining compositions he had written for the accordion with modern technology such as synthesizers and drum machines. His Classical Instrument was released on cassette in Ethiopia where it met with considerable success. In the intervening years, Malatu's career in music waned, and he turned to driving a cab around Washington DC to keep a roof over his head. In 2013, Awesome Tapes from Africa label owner Brian Shimkovitz discovered the album while in Ethiopia and contacted Mergia about re-releasing it in the United States. Mergia's music career has been revived as a result, but if you google him today, his occupation will still be listed as "taxi driver."

Yene Mircha (translates to "My Choice" in Amharic), is Mergia's latest studio LP, and follow up to his 2018 album Lala Belu, which received its due from Pitchfork with a score of 8.0 (what can I say, sometimes even they get it right)! The new album sees the seasoned musician reuniting with his old Walias bandmate Moges Habte on saxophone, while Mergia returns to his beloved accordion. If you never thought of accordion music as relaxing or nourishing for your soul, you're in for a bit of a surprise. Opener "Semen Ena Debub" has a swaying rhythm and lovingly conversation interplay between Habte's sax and Mergia's accordion. "Bayine Lay Yihedal" is a piano-led corridor, dripping with suspicion and intrigue. "Yene Abeba" finds Mergia back on the keys, taking us on a jaunty, bluesy William Onyeabo-esque stroll. And last, but not least, "Shemendefer" has a Brian Eno quality to its skipping petaly groove. We should really be so lucky to continue to have new music from this humble legend. You will do yourself no favors by sleeping on this beauty. 

Grab a copy from Awesome African Tapes, here

Album Review: Sergio Mendes - In the Key of Joy

Honestly, Sergio Mendes should not need an introduction, but here we go. Mendes is THE Brazilian bossa nova player. You've heard his stuff, even if you didn't realize it was him. He struck sonic gold with his rendition of "Mas Que Nada," released through A&M Records back in 1966, and has remained a consistent figure in American popular music ever since. Although he's transitioned into mostly soundtrack work for major motion pictures since the mid-00s, he is still well regarded as an emissary of one of Brazil's most popular styles, and the reach of influence is incalculable. He currently has more than 55 studio albums under his belt, of which In the Key of Joy is only the latest, and first since 2014's Magic. The album is being released along with a documentary on Mendes of the same name, and I wanted to cover this album because I'm a fan of his work, and being nearly 80 years old, I don't know how many more records we're going to see from him at this point. That said, if this is your introduction to his work, I'm sorry. In the Key of Joy is an uneven album that does not always showcase the man's strengths. It's essentially a pop album that attempts to please too many ears, that feels too light for serious bossa nova fans, and too authentic for people who may only be interested in his soundtrack work. It's also over 100 minutes long, which... yikes.

The problems start early, with "Sabor Do Rio," which has a lovely strummy rhythm and lush, sun-kissed texture. It's a perfect bossa nova track... until Common starts dropping some lazy struggle bars over it. Everytime the dude opens his mouth, it causes the track to unceremoniously face plant in the sand. Common is a talented guy. But he doesn't do beach music. Ask him to your poetry slam. Do not invite him to your spring break party. Thankfully the album rights itself before the tide can roll in and drown it. Both "Bora Lá" and "Muganga" have tight funky disco vibes, while "Samba in Heaven" gives the formula a distinctly early '00s R'nB twist. "Time Goes By" introduces an air of somber, weighty soul, while "Lamento" is an exception, straightforward, guitar-lead bossa nova jam. Sound great, doesn't it? The title track "In The Key of Joy" even has another rapper on it, Compton's Buddy, who delivers some killer rhymes, in a raw, carefree, and cutting flow. It works, frankly, and makes the album's lower moments all the more inexplicable. Especially, shockingly bland and flareless covers of '70s pop songs that are speckled throughout the album's runtime. The whole thing is like a pile of neatly sliced, fresh mango and strawberries, that someone has dumped five pounds freezer burnt honeydew melon on top of. There are a lot of delicious cuts of what you want on In the Key of Joy, but if you want them, you're going to have to dig for them.

Grab a copy from Concord, here.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Album Review: Ruin Lust - Choir of Babel

The new album from NYC Death Metal band, Ruin Lust is out now and you can read my review over at Post-Trash. It's crusty, it's chaotic, it's cruel, and I can't stop listening to it. Usually, it goes without saying that a death metal album is angry sounding, but it bears repeating because Choir of Babel is mad as hell! This album is pissed off and looking for a god damned fight! Check out my review here, and grab a copy from 20 Buck Spin, here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Album Review: Beast of Revelation - The Ancient Ritual of Death

I have a write up of the new project from guitarist A.J. van Drenth of Throne and Temple fame. The band is called Beast of Revelation and it is a whirlwind of madness and forlorn angst. Check out my write up over at Scene Point Blank, here. Out now on Iron Bonehead (best label name ever?).

Album Review: Chicago Crowd Surfer Round Up March 2020

I had some time to catch up on recent releases from Chicago jazz and metal artists while sheltering at home this past week. This city produces far more worthy music than I can keep up with, so it is nice to take a look back and recommend some stuff from earlier in the year before it gets overlooked. There has never been a better time to do some deep listening while you are stuck indoors trying to avoid illness (or avoid spreading illness to others), and all of these albums only get more rewarding the more times you spin them. Write ups of all of my recommendations can be found over at Chicago Crowd Surfer. Links provided below.

Huntsmen - Mandala of Fear

Chicago's Huntsmen are one of the stranger amalgamations of folk revival and post-rock I've heard, and their new album Mandala of Fear takes the listener on a harrowing journey of dread and bitter truth. It reminds me of a lot of Cult of Luna's A Dawn of Fear, but more grounded and brooding. Check out the full write up here, and grab a copy form Prosthetic Recordings here.

Jeff Parker - Suite for Max Brown

Jeff Parker is the guitarist for post-rockers, Tortious. Despite what some white-bread indie soft-boi will tell you, this is actually the least interesting part of Parker's music career. He's first and foremost a jazz player, and his new album Suite for Max Brown demonstrates shows him at his best and most spontaneous. Direct, honest, and transcendent. Highly recommended! Read the full write up here, and grab a copy from International Anthem, here.

Jeremy Cunningham - The Weather Up There

Another wonderful jazz album courtesy of another great Chicago based jazz player, Jeremy Cunningham. The Weather Up There is an incredibly beautiful examination of family, community and rippling effects of traumatic loss. Check out the full write up here, and grab a copy from Northern Spy, here.

Gil Scott-Heron / Makaya McCraven - We're New Again: a Reimagining by Makaya McCraven

Easily one of the more spectacular jazz releases of this year, Chicago based drummer Makaya McCraven, at the request of Xl Recordings owner Richard Russell, reworks Gil Scott-Haron's last album to uncover it's potential as one of the late, great standards of the genre's '00s revival. This album is rightfully going to make all of the "Best of" lists this year. Get in on the action now, so that you don't have to play catch up later. Read my full write up here, and grab a copy from XL Recordings, here.

Cloud Cruiser - I: Capacity

Turns out, Chicago can churn up some pretty solid desert rock when it wants to. For my review of Cloud Cruiser's debut I decided to tell a bit of a story. It's part of a series I'm apparently doing where people discover new music during a paranormal experience. I think it does the album justice. Read my write up here, and grab a copy from CC's Bandcamp here.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Album Review: Eye Flys - Tub of Lard

Thrill Jockey surprises me again. A label that I’m used to thinking of as primarily the home for electronic music and post-rock has released a banger of metallic hardcore album with Eye FlysTub of Lard. It’s as brutal as anything you would expect on Equal Vision back in the ‘90s and if that doesn’t get you hyped, then go the f*ck home. Tub of Lard is the group’s first LP and follow up to their well-received 2019 debut EP Context. It’s as dirty, vicious, driving, and guiltless as their earlier recordings, invoking the scratching noise-rock rash of Unsane in equal measure with the joint-buckling churn of power-violence forerunners Despise You. It’s a truly malicious marriage of sounds, frightening enough to keep your inner demons up at night. The album’s title is the name that vocalist Jake Smith was given by his schoolyard “friends” as a kid, and alludes to the bullying he credits for his body dysmorphia. Anyone who was bullied as a kid can relate to its lasting impacts on your life, and Smith, rightfully or wrongly, is not ready to forgive here. No, instead, he is ready for his pain to be unleashed. “Tubba Lard” is a muscular shambling brawl of self-directed hatred. “Guillotine” has a brash, Meatwound-esque, snaky groove, that I keep expecting an alligator or a sewer mutant to leap out of and rip my face off. “Predator and Prey” rages against the military’s predatory recruiting practices with prowling Biohazard inspired thrash riffs. “Reality Tunnel” has a constricting groove wrapped around a merciless beat, shot through with crisscrossing shards of feedback. “Nice Guy” is Jesus Lizard crawl down to the basement to tell you to shut your god damned mouth about how no one wants to f*ck you, because there is frankly more to life and no one owes you sex chief. Chapel Perilous” is a double-time death-dealer, and if I had one complaint about the record, it’s that more tracks do not sound as unhinged as it does. Lastly, “Perception is Gamble” has a loose and calamitous Botch meets Fear feel, and remains compelling for its entire run time despite being an instrumental track. The whole album clocks in at under thirty minutes, but frankly, it feels like it’s over in a flash, leaving me no choice to start over at the top to get another dose.

Grab a copy from Thill Jockey here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Album Review: The Muffs - No Holiday

The Muffs music meant a lot to me when I was younger and my tastes in music were still forming. I really didn't expect to have to say goodbye to their ringleader and human fireball Kim Shattuck so soon. When I learned of her death last year, It was pretty devastating and it has taken me a while to collect my thoughts. I thought at first that I would begin the grieving process by just writing a review for the Muffs' last album No Holiday, but it ended up being a full-on tribute to the band and their legacy (oops!). Scope creep aside I'm pleased with how it turned out. You can read my review/tribute over on CHIRP Radio's blog here.

I'll miss you Kim. We all will.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Album Review: Anna Meredith - FIBS

Anna Meredith is a successful electronic composer, rightfully recognized for her charming synthesis of classic song structures with art pop, electronica, post-rock, hip-hop, and whatever else you want to read into it. Whatever that thing you think you hear in her music, you're probably right. She's phenomenally talented, drawing inspiration from nearly every tradition at once, and yet she makes this knitting of sways all seem so effortless. As strenuous as a long exhale before reciting a poem from one's childhood from memory (don't laugh, this is actually something I had to do as a kid). Those desperate click trulls over at Pitchfork have bleed quite a bit of effusive praise for Anna out of their sieve-like brains, and for once I agree with every word they're printed. Anna is, in fact, "one of the most innovative voices in British music." And yet, this statement fails to encapsulate the breadth of her musical acumen. Her debut release Varmints, refined and narrowed her considerable talents to fit a recognizable indie rock format. Her second album FIBS leaves her previous effort at an Arizona rest stop without a phone, directions, or fair for a bus, in order to start a new life with a maximalist rhythm section that would even make Jodorowsky say, "less is probably more." And funny enough, he'd be wrong. FIBS is polyrhythms from ceiling to sump-pump. Every instrument, from the horns, to guitars, to the multitude of drums, and drum substitutes it introduces, they're all played with an ear bent towards their nuanced percussive properties. And somehow beautiful, flowy melodies are the result. The more I listen to tracks like "Paramour" the more my mind reels in an attempt to parse its individual concussive elements, while simultaneously, I gratefully succumbing to its generous, soothing undertow. I've never heard an album quite like FIBS before, and it's set a new standard for avant-garde pop in my mind. It's a singular achievement and further incentive to praise Anna Meredith's prodigious capabilities. Did I mention that it sounds good? Yeah, it just sounds good and it's fun to listen to as well.

Get a copy of Fibs from their webstop here

Monday, March 16, 2020

Album Review: Heart Bones - Hot Dish

Well, the world might tomorrow, but at least I'm finally getting around to checking out the new Heart Bones LP today. The fresh spankin' project from A Giant Dog singer, songwriter, general fabulous person with a lot of personality Sabrina Ellis, and Sean Tillmann, sex symbol at the center of Har Mar Superstar. They came together as collaborators out of mutual respect for each other's talents, but the more they mashed their brain babies together, the more they realized that they were on to something. Borrowing a little salt and a little smoke from Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, a dash of snuff and a little twist lemon from Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and cutting out a parodic wedge of sexual tension from between Sonny & Cher (or was it Sam & Dave?), they've brewed a vat of love balm that only the most committed of misanthropic loaners would be loath to drawn. There are moments on their debut Hot Dish that land less gracefully than others (some of the very late '00s cribbing material is particularly tired sounding), but when these cuts hit, they devastate your heart and lift your spirits in the way only a great love fastened duet can. "Open Relations" boosts some particularly convincing and humorous performances depicting a love triangle between the leads and an unnamed third woman, where Tillman serves as both the adjacent side of the formation, and general doormat. A retro-future disco derby circles around the island of affection that rises out of the middle of "Little Dancer," and the electro doo-wop revival of "Dashboard" will take you back to a point in time when your life stretched so far out in front of you that it cleaved the horizon like a toothpick in a balloon. More than any other track, "I Like Your Way" is probably the best amalgamation of the two artist's styles, pulled along by some strange, sexy grooves (Tillman), and anchored by obtusely grounded and latently melancholy songwriting touching on out collective longing for fulfillment (Ellis). Make not mistake, Hot Dish is hot shit!

Get a copy via their website here

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Show Review: Cult of Luna w/ Emma Ruth Rundle and Intronaut @ House of Blues, March 4, 2020

Emma Ruth Rundle @ House of Blues
Last week I stopped at the House of Blues for a show for the first time in my whole dang life. It wasn't actually that bad of experience and everyone sounded awesome. This was also my first time seeing Emma Ruth Rundle. The goth queen of quite death folk who now owns my heart. Check out my full write up over at Chicago Crowd Surfer, here

Cult of Luna @ House of Blues

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Album Review: Emotionz - Gems

I’m checking out some hip-hop tonight and I came across this rather valuable gleaming sonic stone. Gems is the latest LP from Vancouver MC Emotionz. I hadn’t heard of this guy before, and I’m a little off-put by how hard a guy from THAT far north seems to lean into an old school, southern hip-hop and RnB style, but after giving it a few spins, I have to admit that this dude to be pretty charming. Gems is all about laying down easy vibes. Case in point “Vibe Tonight” which is a leaning party jam with an Andre 3000-esque flow. “Complications” picks up the beat a bit with fat and funky bassline, dance-floor clopping beat, handclaps, and a lush disco revival vibe that features a sexy duet with sultry fellow Vancouverian NaRai. “Request Line” layers on more sex appeal with its rippling reverb, soft-focus bass, and languid crawling flow, over which Emotionz trades bars with fellow MC Dafug about how much ugly they slay. The highlights for me are really backloaded, though. Title track “Gems” barrows Ghostface like exploitation funk to let Emotionz show off his street-hardened side with a duck-and-weave flow. “Pink Haze” has a dreamy, fuzzy feel with a bouncy, elastic beat, and cool, shimmery melody. “The One That Got Away” is a charming street shimmy about love found and love lost and lessons learned through heartache. Lastly, “The Essence” is pulled along by a skyward gazing melody while it strolls through a light jazz accompaniment and a deep bass undertow. All together it’s not a bad package. Don’t sleep on this hidden… jewel?

Grab a copy from Beast Van, here

Monday, March 9, 2020

Album Review: Body Count - Carnivore

You just can't keep a good man down (not my line). Ice-T has let Body Count off the chain again and the whole crew is back with another brutal, man-eater of an album. Get in on the bum-rush and check out my thoughts on this beast over at Scene Point Blank, here

Album Review: Impulsive Hearts - Cry All The Time

It's Monday and that can get some of us a little weepy, but fear not, because there is also new music from Chicago's delightful indie rock softies Imuplusive Hearts. This is a fun and empowering record that was a delight to write about. Check out my review over at Post-Trash, here.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Album Review: Ghouli - Nothing

Ghouli is a Richmond hardcore band who I discovered on Bandcamp because of the reaper image in the album art (confession time: I will click on just about anything that has a cloaked skeleton on the cover). I didn't know what to expect, but (Spoilers!) the reaper image ended up telling me a lot about the band. Ghouli's sound is an incredible throwback to the early days of punk and thrash cross-pollination, especially the exchange of ideas that was happening in England during the early '80s. This is a roundabout way of saying, they remind me more than a little bit of Sacrilege, and this fact is causing me to salivate to the point where I may need to position a bucket under my face to finish this review. Their 2018 demo had an ambitious rock revival edge to it, and while the roots of those early tracks survive on rollicking, speedfreak forays like "Don't Touch Me," their latest release Nothing has a much darker and heavy in tone. On Nothing, Ghouli is a metal corrugated, toothy exhibition of gothic proto-doom thrash, which moves with a phantasmal air of seething righteous anger. The howling ode to self-destruction "Coffin" quivers with anticipation of its own assured demise. Death rock rules the mind space of tracks like "Aka Prozac" while on "Abandonded House" reeling, landslide thrash barriers the listener under a heap of splintering guitars and accumulated emotional baggage. It's all exciting stuff, but my favorite two tracks on the album by far are the haunted mind game of "Ryan" with lyrics that portray the permeation between our world and the realm of apparitions, where the ramping nature of the chord progressions and gnashing grooves sell the psychological toll these encounters with the dead have on the author; and the torturously plodding gloom garage of "Top Boy" with its folding chords, creeping bassline, and lyrics that hint at a perverse overlap of sadism and empathy. Ghouli is a band that is incredibly comfortable in the dark and dangerous subject matter they explore and deliver their message with unassuageable confidence. If you're curious about the darker side of today's punk scene, then Nothing, is if nothing else, definitely worth your time.

Grab a copy of Nothing from Doctor and Mechanic Recordings, here.

Album Review: ESP Mayhem - Bloodsportswear EP

Guitarless grindcore?!? It’s a crazy idea! It can’t work. You’re mad to suggest otherwise! These are things that the monocle-wearing nay-sayer and metal purist in your head is probably shouting at your synapsis when presented with the concept of a grindcore band who shun axes for synths and circuitry. Ignore him. His head is about to erupt into a fountain of hamburger, blood and spinal fluid as soon as you hit play on the Bloodsportswear EP, the latest release from Melbourne’s electro-Cronenberg cacophony, ESP Mayhem. Bastardizing logos and synths dusted with a crunchy coat of particularized glass and dried blood, are just the first layer of diseased scales and flacking cariogenic veneer that you encounter when scraping the surface of this leaky, battery-powered beasty. What first drew me to the band was the cover for Bloodsportswear. Illustrated by Robert Parish, it depicts a tumorous, brand endorsed, bio-mecha with its piolet standing nearby at the ready. A visage of grotesquery falling somewhere between an Evangelion and Tersuo’s final terrible form. I would have bought it for that image alone, but the more I listened to ESP Mayhem, the more I realized that there was something truly unique and terrible happening deep within its guts and gears. It’s brutal, fast, efficient, and surprisingly intelligent. Somehow this techno-dystopian, maniacal mechanical convergence of electronic music and grindcore has demonstrated that metal music has not yet collapsed into a mediocrity. A small comfort because this gang of outrageous oscillating outlaws may be the harbinger of the singularity that will ultimately expunge humankind from the Earth. We had a good run. It is the machine’s time now.

Grab a copy of Bloodsportswear from Nerve Alter Records, here

Album Review: Godthrymm - Reflections

It’s almost spring. But that doesn’t mean we’re out from under cover of winter’s gloom just yet. Thankfully there is music out there that understands the maudlin grip and suppressive effect that the tempests have on our collective seasonal mood. Enter Godthrymn, the new project from My Dying Bride guitarist and vocalist Hamish Glencross and drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels. Released on Valentine's Day, Godthrymm's debut LP Reflections is a deliberate throwback to the Peaceville Records, ‘90s era British doom metal. It captures the plodding, lightless epic reach of Paradise Lost while managing to bring a new glint of tarnished grandeur to these well-trodden and soiled proceedings. There is a satisfyingly fresh aroma of damp earth about the album that is reifying to the senses at the same time that it serves as a weighty reminder of our mortality. Like the recently filled dirt of a fresh grave following a rainstorm, its promise of life renewed is also the final bed for the dead and inextricably bound with inert finitude. If this sounds bleak, it’s because it is. Opener, “Monster Lurk Herein” is reminiscent of Paradise Lost during their Gothic era with its overbearing, mournful and highly melodic guitar work. “We Are the Dead” is a melancholic ballad with tarry bass, high soaring leads, and grand cavern running vocals. “The Grand Reclamation” begins with a beautiful, desaturated guitar hook before transitioning into depressed Solitude worship with gravity intensifying hooks and vocals that rise in pain to invoke a malevolent darkness. It’s extremely sad, and incredibly cathartic. Get in kid, we’re going crying.

Grab a copy of Reflections from Profound Lore, here.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Show Review: Truckfighters @ Empty Bottle, February 18, 2020

Truckfighters tearing it up at the Empty Bottle
Braved the cold for a stone-cold solid show at the Empty Bottle last week. Swedish over-the-top stoner rockers Truckfighters blasted clean through my expectations and you can read my full recap now up at Chicago Crowd Surfer. Link here.

Show Review: Music Frozen Dancing, February 22, 2020

Wheatpaste flyer - held up pretty well despite the weather
Every year the Empty Bottle in Chicago hosts an outdoor music festival in February, and every year it continues to be an insane proposition. Still people keep showing up year after year, despite the frostbite, or maybe because of it... Chicago people complain about the cold, but secretly, I think they kind of like it.

I was out with the Chicago Crowd Surfer team for the festival and you can read our tag-team coverage here. I left with all my limbs intact so I guess that means I had a pretty good time.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Album Review: Acrylics - Sinking In

Post-Trash has published my review of the Acrylic's debut album Sinking In. Part crust punk, part journey-man hardcore, these guys make an incredibly relatable racket. I enjoyed Sinking In quite a bit and if you dig on KEN Mode mode but wish they sounded dirtier, then I bet you will as well. Review can be found here. Check out their Iron Lung Bandcamp page to grab a copy on vinyl here.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Interview: Uma Bloo

Uma Bloo, photo by Monika Oliver
Chicago songwriter and performer Uma Bloo stopped by the CHIRP studio a few weeks ago to talk with me about her new single "Marguerite's Novels," which was supposed to premiere on Valentine's Day, but she uploaded the track a few days early thinking no one would notice (How wrong she was! Haha!). We talked about her influences, her visual style, and how cabaret helped her find her voice. She has a unique presence and singing style, and I'm very much looking forward to what gems she sees fit to share with us next. Check out the interview below and her new single here.  

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Album Review: Sightless Pit - Grave of a Dog

One of my most anticipated albums of 2020 was Sightless Pit’s debut Grave of a Dog. Encase this is your first time encountering anyone writing about the band, Sightless Pit is Lee Buford of sound-shock ensemble The Body, Kristine Hayter of the avant-garde experiment in self-emulation Lingua Ignota, and Dylan Walker of death metal and power-violence act Full of Hell. Both Hayter and Walker released two of my favorite albums of 2019, and the last Lingua Ignota release even made it into my top ten. Needless to say, expectations for Grave of a Dog suffering on clouds by the time I got my hands on it. "How did things pan out?" you're probably asking. Well... fine. I like it fine. It’s just not a particularly memorable album. Unfortunately, nothing on here grabs me the way that the individual catalogs of the band's contributors have. It’s a highly collaborative album, approached without a blueprint. As I’m sure you’ve gathered from my jazz reviews, I’m not one to turn my nose up at improvisation, but I don’t think this method of songwriting helped give any of the individual songs the focus they need, and certainly didn't encourage the band to refine and shape the elements of the songs each song that works best. There are some cool moments here, though. “Kingscorpse” starts out with a David Byrne-esque wail before transitioning into a Street Sect like conflagration, “Immersion Dispersal” is a John Carpenter-esque trip through a black hole made of death vocals and pitch-shifts borrowed from Author and Punisher, “Drunk On Marrow” has some absolutely fried sounding electronics, that sputter hypnotically over several dramatic orchestral accompaniments, and “Whom The Devil Long Sought To” features unsettling interplay between an abusive baseline and an ineffectual, and harried sting instrument of unknown origin, before erupting into a grease-fire crescendo, and I love, absolutely love, the pensive atmosphere of closer “Love Is Dead, All Love Is Dead.” Probably the most impressive part of Grave of a Dog is its overall effect. It's an industrial rock album that manages to invoke an organic, earthen feel that allows you to experience the sensation blood pulsing and the muscles shifting just below the surface. However, I need a little more than great atmosphere and good textures to sell me on an album with this many famous monsters in its drawing-room.

If Grave of a Dog sounds interesting to you, consider picking up a copy from Chicago's own Thrill Jockey, here

Album Review: Alabaster DePlume - To Cy & Lee_ Instrumentals Vol. 1

International Anthem is quickly becoming one of my favorite record labels. Not just in Chicago, but anywhere in the country. Last year they released the excellent Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun from Ben LaMar Gay, and The Oracle from Angel Bat Dawid, and this year they've already dropped the stone-cold classic Suite for Max Brown by Jeff Parker. Now they bring us Manchester's Alabaster DePlume (alternatively known as, saxophonist Angus Fairbairn) and his fourth studio LP To Cy & Lee_ Instrumentals Vol. 1. Alabaster DePlume takes much of his inceptive style from '70s era Ethiopian jazz, but otherwise allows each song to be shaped by its collaborators, as to reflect the unique potential of each human soul that passes through band's metaphysical foyer. As a concept, Alabaster DePlume is deliberately constructed with the collectivist ambition to elevate each participating member to find their voice within the musical conversation, this political project of decentralization is accomplished through various methods of radical reassurance, including the reputation of "You're doing very well," Fairbairn's signature mantra.

To Cy & Lee was recorded over the course of a decade at various locations around the world, and represents the contributions of (as far as I can tell) close to thirty individual performers, in addition to the inspiration and creativity of several developmentally delayed or impaired folks who Fairbairn worked with through a Manchester organization that promotes independent living. Fairbaim would often encourage those he assisted in making up songs to calm their nerves and focus their attention. Many of these melodies later served as templates from which to improvise, informing his collaborations with other musicians. The perspectives that convene, and the evident compassion bestowed to the human condition on this album is almost too much to bear at times, and my heart ungulates as much with joy as life-giving fluid, while witnessing the radical social praxis and sonic ego banishment at play through the proceedings of this record. From the soft and somber "Visit Croatia," to the ageless call of "Song of the Foundling" with its Japanese Min'yo folk touchstones, to the moody waltzing lounger "I Hope" with its courteous and conversational groove, this is an album that reflects ever moment of the care and consideration responsible for its inspection. On To Cy & Lee, Alabaster DePlume, is doing very well, indeed.

Pick up a copy of To Cy & Lee_ Instrumentals Vol. 1 from International Anthems here

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Album Review: Envy - The Fallen Crimson

My first review for Scene Point Blank is now live! For my first entry, I tackled the latest from post-hardcore and screamo pioneers, Envy. They've had a storied career, that includes the exit and return of their lead singer in the interval between their previous release and this one. I don't know everything Fukagawa had gotten up to after he left, but it clearly did him some good because he is sounding fresh and fierce here, and the band is better for his having gone on sabbatical. I'm really enjoying this one, and if you're into the artier side of hardcore and metal, you probably will as well. Check out my review of Envy's The Fallen Crimson here.

Album Review: Sepultura - Quadra

Does Sepultura need an introduction? The beast from Brazil exerted tremendous stylistic pressure on late '80s thrash metal acts, pushing them to become more extreme, while inextricably altering the course of death metal, hardcore punk, and American black metal. So does anyone really need a recap on their legacy? Survey says, no. 

Quadra is Sepultura's newest LP, fifteenth studio album overall, and if frontman Derrick Green is to be believed, the crown jewel of the group's post- Cavalera era. He’s not wrong, at least according to these ears, and these ears like what they hear a whole hell of a lot. First off, the album sounds gorgeous! A lot of metal albums (even great ones!) have atrocious mixing and mastering. Recording quality varies from track to track and the compression from one song can be flat out jarring. Not the case here! Every track feels full, fierce, and fertile with dynamic range. They really knew where to throw their money on this one, and it god damn shows! 

Quadra is organized as a kind of quadriptych, examining in three song segments the concepts of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, and how they connect, divide, and structure people's lives. "Means to an End" declares war on your senses from the outset with vicious thrash grooves and gravity-defying solos. "Guardians of Earth" begins with an acoustic Spanish inflected guitar and transitions into chorus singing, before evolving into an epic of tech-death euphoria. "Autem" is ruthless hardcore punk of the lowest meanest order, "Agony of Defeat" is surprisingly, and contrastingly, spacey and progressive, while the closer is top-shelf, primo groove metal, featuring guest vocals from fellow Brazilian Emmily Barreto of playful dance-punkers, Far From Alaska. It’s a whirlwind of ambition that lives up to the hype and full-on blenderizes the expectations most listeners will bring with them from previous releases of the ‘00s and ‘10s. While Quadra doesn’t achieve the heights of Chaos AD and other classics, it shows that the band is still capable of putting out a momentous album and that they are still far from ready to slip into the earthen recesses of their namesake, thirty-some-odd years into their careers. 

Grab a copy of this mfer from Nuclear Blast before the radiation turns them all into vinyl soup! Or they sell out. Both are bad news for you.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Album Review: Intronaut - Fluid Existential Inversions

Fluid Existential Inversions is the sixth album from LA progressive metal band, Intronaut. Like most progressive metal bands, their influences are varied and hard to pin-down. While Intronaut often receive favorable comparisons to Baroness, they have flat out denied any indenture to the south-east sludge sound. Instead, the group draws from a mix of hardcore-sludge, post-metal, and psychedelic rock from bands as varied as Yes and Neurosis. For this release, they sought out the help of producers Josh Newell and Kurt Ballou in order to give it a lush, live feeling. Whatever they paid those guys, it was worth it because this sounds impeccably clear, resonant, and orchestral. “Cubensis” begins with a flowing math-rock riff, which gives way to deep watery bass lines and peeling punky grooves, only to transition into ethereal space rock at the three-minute mark. “Contrapasso” raises the specter of Mastodon’s apocalyptic psyche-sludge with a heavy jazz-fusion influence, especially on the back end. Lastly, “Pangloss” (named for a character from Voltaire’s satire Candide) has a thick, meaty serpentine groove with bright arching vocal melodies; think Neurosis meets Torche. It's not Devin Townsend's Empath (but then again, what is?) and yet it's still a thoroughly enjoyable and captivating modern progressive metal album.

If you're ready to embrace your inner (or outer) nerd, you can grab a copy of Fluid Existential Inversions from Metal Blade, here, and check out the mind-melting sensory assault of the video for  “Cubensis” below. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


The Dyes @ Sleeping Village
I did some coverage of the CHIRP Radio and Smashed Plastic Anniversary Party over at Sleeping Village for Chicago Crowd Surfer. Partys like this only come around once a year...or ten in CHIRP's case. TL:DR Show was a blast. No free beer this year thought. I also had to take all of the photos on my phone. They turned out fine. It's fine. Check out the recap over at Chicago Crowd Surfer here, and join me in wishing CHIRP Radio and Smashed Plastic a Happy Birthday!  

SuperKnova @ Sleeping Village

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Album Review: Denzel Curry x Kenny Beats - Unlocked

Unlocked is the product of a twenty-four hour recording session at Kenny Beats' studio following MC Denzel Curry’s appearance on the producer’s podcast The Cave. The album comes after a short fabricated beef between the two over social media and was announced with a short animated film that features the duo traveling throughout the internet to retrieve their leaked album. If you didn’t know the history of this album, you’d never know that it was made in a condescend window of time. These tracks are sample-heavy, pulling from various bits of found footage and commercial radio, run through a processor with a highly disorienting effect. The beats, when not comprised of human voices, usually lean towards the heavy and minimalistic, with only the faintest nods to R’nB and funk sprinkled through-out. Denzel Curry has a take-no-prisoner’s flow that verges on shouting and it’s extremely impressive to hear him maintain such a strong sense of rhythm while he spits truth from his vantage point, informed by an aggressive reading of contemporary life. Some parts feel a little undercooked, but all things considered, Unlocked hits a lot of the same dopamine centers in my brain as Run the Jewels, and that is something that I cannot bring myself to raise a fuss about.

Grab a physical spinner of Unlocked here, and check out the short film Denzel Curry, Kenny Beats - UNLOCKED below:

Album Review: Fat Tony and Taydex - Wake Up

It might be a Sunday night, but I still managed to get drunk and sassy, and that is in no small part owed to the remarkably trim MC Houston based Nigerian-American rapper, Fat Tony. Tony takes his name from the surly Simpson's mob-boss, who, over the past decade or so of the show, has acted as more of an enabler to the show's patriarch, Homer Simpson, then a genuine menace to the citizens of Springfield, [state name redacted]. I can unequivocally say that this young MC certainly was a bad influence on me tonight and is partially the reason why I'm typing this review at 130am in a craft beer haze instead of sleeping soundly with my partner in bed. I'm not complaining, though. Dude can go through a party in my headspace any day of the week as far as I'm concerned. Tony first turned heads with a feature off of A$AP Rocky's Live. Love a few years back, and has been keeping busy with several projects ever since, not the least of which was co-hosting Viceland's short-lived showcase, Vice Live. Work on Wake Up started immediately following the wrap up of Tony's hosting duties and was probably a necessary exercise in priority shifting following the abrupt end of his TV career.

Stylistically, Tony has some overlap with that of the man who introduced him to the spotlight, and both he and A$AP favor hard party-rockin' beats and have equally forceful flows. However, Tony's sound is more historically-centered, with clear influences drawn from the jazz-rap and soul preoccupations of De La Soul's Buhloone Mindstate and Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele, respectively. Tony also prefers to work with a single producer on each album, and this time he has teamed up with avant-garde LA producer Taydex. Taydex's beats swerve decidedly into the spectrum of chirpy, fried arrangements of misappropriated and b*sterdized samples, which defined the Soundcloud era. Taydex's influence is strongest on "Make It," but that track is far from exemplary of the album as a whole. Although, there isn't really a single track that can be singled out as representative of the sounds and themes of the album as a whole. "Godly" has some obvy Memphis horrocore vibes and might be my favorite track on the album, but the charm of "Big Ego" with its bright smack of '90s college rock bliss cannot be denied, and another standout "Run It Up" leans hard into lush soul samples, straining strings, and wet pattering beats, giving the album a much-needed dose of sensual sincerity. This earnestness is also present on the overt sex and shimmy banger, "Magnifique," which rides the line of trashy sex appeal and unimpeachable dignity of it's subject that I did not think was possible on a party track that compares the act of coitus to prepping fried chicken. I could go on, but every party has to come to an end at some point. Give this one a spin if you need something to unwind to late at night. It did the trick for me.

Grab a copy of Wake Up from Carpark records here

Friday, February 7, 2020

Album Review: Subliminal Excess - 2020 Demo

The dirt is barely settled on 2019's grave and 2020 is already throwing hugely satisfying hardcore my way. Subliminal Excess is a Chicago punk band that is ready to throw down in the streets and I am happy to have their backs in the war for this city's soul. You can check out my write up of their demo over at Chicago Crowd Surfer here. This is a promising first recording, and I'm really looking forward to hearing more from these guys.

Album Review: Space Gators - Intergalactic Swamp Songs

Did a quick little write up of Chicago's new pop-psyche scale-boys, Space Gators and their new LP Intergalactic Swamp Songs for Chicago Crowd Surfer. I genuinely thought I was going to hate this record and then genuinely ended up liking it. Just goes to show you, never judge a band purely on how much they outwardly love the Beatles. However, as a general rule, avoiding Beatles lovers is still a pretty good strategy for avoiding wanton trash. You may disagree, and you are welcome to that opinion (regardless of how misguided it may be). Check out my write up here.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Interview: Teenage Bottlerocket

Teenage BottleRocket (Miguel, second in on the left)
During Riot Fest 2019 I was able to catch up with an old flame of mine. There was a point in my life when I would have put Teenage Bottlerocket in my top 10 bands of all time and I'm still thoroughly geeking out over the fact that they agreed to an interview. I was able to catch up with Miguel on Sunday before their performance on the Rebel Stage and we talked about the band's new record, the attempts to reach younger audiences, and their not so subtle heavy metal influences. The conversation is brought to you by none other than CHIRP Radio. Check it out below.

These boys are going to be big someday. Maybe even bigger than...

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Album Review: Higher Power - 27 Miles Underwater Water

This week I'm diving into the new LP 27 Miles Underwater Water from Leed's hardcore crew, Higher Power. I really resonated with their 2017 debut Soul Structure, and their new album is both and continuation and an exciting departure from their previous release. The band still honors their namesake heroes, Subzero, by running the torch of New York City's late '80s punk and metal crossover scene, much in the same vein as label mates Turnstile, but these boys are leaning into the hard funk and white-thrash tire-fire house production that formed the iron smelted skeleton of American alternative and groove metal until well into the late '90s. Think Deftone's White Phony dropped headfirst into the toxic green cover art of Vision of Disorder self-titled, and you'll get a sense for the oily stained quality and wild dirty energy that permeates and textures these performances. That said, there is a surprising amount of clean singing here. Still, it doesn't blunt the forcefulness of the rock elements, and there is not even a whiff of compromise about the whole operation. "Seamless" opens up with a Warzone like metallic riffed spin-cycle before dipping under a watery reverb submerged bridge, lead by bright, blinding vocals that ring out with absolute clarity of intent. "Shedding Skin" sounds like Glassjaw at their most desperate and frayed, with upper cutting funk-metal riffs that keep the track from being dragged down by its heavier, more brooding qualities. "Lost in Static" reaches some phenomenal heights with its momentous, mix-forward melodies and swift, airy leeds. Later in the album, "Low Season" slows things down to a simmer just in time for "Passenger" to pick things up again with a Fugazi meets Madball groove, backed up by a bopping breakbeat. There is even a little bit of emo space-rock on the nervous, reverb primed geyser "In the Meantime." 27 Miles Underwater Water is a gratifying album with fathoms of hard-hitting riffs, finely-tuned performances, and thoughtful lyrics in which to become immersed and forget your cares. Let Higher Power lift you up so that you can get down already.  

Grab a copy of 27 Miles Underwater Water from Roadrunner records, here

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Album Review: Asa Tone - Temporary Music

Sometimes I get in the mood for something sparse and intricate. To fill this gap, I'm embracing the new album Temporary Music from improvisational jazz group, Asa Tone. The collective is comprised of Jakarta-born Melati Malay and New York-based Tristan Arp and Kaazi, and the current project is the product of a 2018 pilgrimage to Malay's native Indonesia (something he does at least once a year, apparently) where he was joined by his New York collogues, seemingly without the intention of recording an album. At some point, they cobbled together a temporary studio in the jungle and began sharing ideas and rehearsing. Temporary Music is the product of several of these recorded improvisations. The music features analog instruments in conversation with digital processes, and was inspired by the sounds and sights of the jungle it was recorded in. It primarily features sub-tonal beats passing under bright chiming effects, mimicking the layered foliage and stratified ecosystems of the forest. The mix recalls at different points, raindrops ricocheting off tree leaves, monkeys and frogs in dialogue with potential mates, babbling brooks relaying stories to no-one in particular, and the placid echo of distant bird calls. It's helped me appreciate the sounds of my own environment, allowing me to pick up on qualities that I would otherwise tune out. The squeak of a passerby's shoes as they hustle by me on the sidewalk. The satisfying crunch of care tires pressing into fresh snow. The coos and anxious scuttle of pigeons on balconies overhead. The impatient chirp of the crosswalk light. They're not exotic sounds, and to talk about them with any reverence feels parotic, but they are the sounds of my home, and it doesn't do me any favors to ignore them. They're worth acknowledging, if for no other reason than the teeming petri dish of urban life and endless overlapping currents that they allude to. It's a constant reminder that any sense of loneliness that I feel in this place is a self-imposed illusion I've created out of fear of fully embracing it. There is something about this album that reminds me of Brian Eno and David Byrne's collaboration, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, like field recordings from an alternative universe that differs from our own, only in language and form, but not in content and spirit. Your mileage may vary, but Temporary Music has already had a lasting impact on me and how I will be listening to music in 2020.  

Get a copy of Temporary Music from Leaving Records, here

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Interview: Inner Decay

Inner Decay is one of my favorite local death metal bands at the moment and I was extremely excited to be able to talk to some of their members about their influences and plans for 2020. You can check out or short by sweet little conversation over at Chicago Crowd Surfer, here. They have some big plans for the spring including opening for Napalm Death in April. That is not going to be a show to miss. See you knuckleheads in the pit!

If you need a taste of what to expect in April, check out Inner Decay's video for their single "World Reduced to Ash."

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Album Review: Blacker Face - Distinctive Juju

I did a quick write up of the new LP from Chicago locals Blacker Face. The album is called Distinctive Juju and you can check it out at Post-Trash here. The album is essential. My writing is not. If you do nothing else today at least check out their Bandcamp here, and consider purchasing a copy of the album here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Album Review: Wolves Like Us - Bitter Bones

Finally got around to checking out Bitter Bones, the third album by Norwegian post-hardcore group Wolves Like Us. Formed in 2010, this fearsome Oslo four-sum take their cues from the gruff and hairy melodic hardcore of the mid-to-late ‘90s, folding together the skronky, compact bursts of Planes Mistaken for Stars, with the groovy whiskey-throated churn of Hot Water Music, to produce a muscular brand of hard-hitting punk that upper-cuts just above its own weight class. I’ve always had a soft spot for Scandinavian punk and Wolves Like Us once again delivers just what I’m after in a lean, mean-ass modern rock album. Bitter Bones start out promisingly with the cold burn of “Stay Cold” with its rolling avalanche of summit smashing guitar riffs and bright, vista revealing leads. If you want more churning guitar blister, look to the sludgy grooves and wind-whipped melodies of “I Can’t Love You Wild.” If you need something punchier, the roaring thunder of “Oil Money” will help get your blood pumping, as will the low growly, climbing grooves and blustery dust swept chorus harmonies of “Ash Wednesday.” Finally, things wrap up tightly with the rushing glare of the piss rinsed “Stand Up to Get Down.” This pack goes right for the kill! Don’t miss your chance to share in the spoils. 

Snag a copy over at Pelagic Records here. And if you tell them that I sent you... it will do absolutely nothing for you. I'm sorry I have no pull over there.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Album Review: Midnight - Rebirth by Blasphemy

Rebirth by Blasphemy is the album I need at the outset of 2020. Every day the world slips a little farther into hell, and if we can't' escape our fate, than at least, we have a killer party once it all implodes into the pit. Enter Ohio's Midnight, the benighted demon-kings of the American speed metal and dark hardcore scenes, the one band who knows how to make our final destination in this slow, grating decline sound absolutely f*cking rad. Rebirth by Blasphemy is Midnight's fourth album and a return to the band's roots following their more esoteric offering, 2017's Sweet Death and Ecstasy. Midnight's Venom-esque camp and morbid preoccupations, combined with the cool cleave of Brocas Helm guitar lines, and the post-apocalyptic raider ethos of Anti-Cimex and Sacrilege, has always found purchase within the darker reservoirs of my bile collecting heart, and this new album is no exception. Rebirth begins consummately with the forced entry and devilish banditry of "Fucking Speed and Darkness," followed by the rock ‘n roll night-terror of the title-track "Rebirth by Blasphemy." If you picked up on a hint of NWOBHM crunch on the latter, then your pallet is already expertly attuned to what this album will be serving up. Rebirth sees Midnight's now-iconic sound overhauled with direct callbacks to the arena swelling clarion cries of Motorhead, Judas Priest, and the like. Along with improved production quality and generally more streamlined songwriting, they've never sounded more forceful. You can feel the breath-stealing gusts of Sad Wings of Destiny era Judas Priest on "Escape the Grave" while "Rising Scum" has more of a British Steel edge to its tribute to all the willful, lustful creatures that writhe in the mud of the Earth. Further tantalizing knife nips can be felt on cuts like the dieseled up "Raw Attack," where the band's adoration for Motorhead burns bright and unashamed, and the forge hardened and flesh-searing death-trip "You Can Drag Me Through Fire." If this is the sound of what is waiting for us in the underworld, then put me on the guest list. 

Grab a copy of Rebirth by Blasphemy from Metal Blade