HOW TO BECOME A FAMOUS TRAP RAPPER

I am feeling generous today so I’ve decided to offer (for free, no less) some priceless wisdom to the few enlightened souls who read this blog. Today we’re going to learn HOW TO BECOME A FAMOUS TRAP RAPPER in five easy steps.

  • Pick a name. All good rappers need an alias. Unfortunately if you want to become famous there are some restrictions on your nom de rap. You must be either a Lil X or a Yung Y, but can thankfully substitute literally any word in the dictionary for the second part of your name. For bonus points, throw in some weird capitalization or pointless punctuation to really set yourself apart. Some examples of good rising star trap rap monikers: Lil ssandWICH, Yung Gazebo, Lil $$$Oreo$$$, and Yung Receding Hairline. Don’t think about it too hard: the worse your name is, the more Youtube comments you’re sure to receive. And no measure of success is greater than this.

 

  • Pick a gimmick. Hip-hop listeners in 2017 have no patience, so you need a lowest common denominator gimmick to stick in people’s heads. Some recent examples: Lil Yachty has red hair, Lil Uzi Vert has red hair, xxxTENTACION has yellow hair and is depressed (YOU DONT UNDERSTAND ME, MOM), Lil Dickie is Jewish, Future drinks lean, Fetty Wap has one eye, and Gucci Mane goes to prison a lot. If you’re not imaginative enough to think of your own gimmick, just rip someone else’s. Die your hair blue, for fucks sake.

 

  • Make a breakout single. No album or mixtape is required –in fact no lyrical skills at all. All you need is to come up with the dumbest, most infectious hook you possibly can, throw some rolling snare hits underneath it, slap some shitty sub-bass and trap synths on top and BOOM. Instant iTunes number one. As for the verses – just mumble unintelligibly about hoes money and guns until the hook comes around again. No one’s really paying attention, anyway. For inspiration, give a listen to any of the following: Desiigner’s ‘Panda’, Rich Gang’s ‘Lifestyle’, Migos’ ‘Versace’, or Youtube celebrity (ew) Jake Paul’s recent masterpiece ‘It’s Everyday Bro’.

 

  • Spark bullshit controversy. Ok, now you’re kinda famous. Your song has some hits on Spotify, internet users are ironically spouting memes from your terrible music, and your gimmicky image is getting you noticed. But people won’t truly give a shit about you until you really annoy them, so the next step is to spark some clickbait controversy and spread your brand. Jump on a radio interview and do a deliberately terrible freestyle, say you think Soulja Boy is better than 2Pac, call someone famous a faggot on Twitter. All of the above will have your name trending on Worldstar and the front page of Youtube in no name. If you’re lucky, Pitchfork might even write a five page editorial on how you are the Next Big Thing.

 

  • Release an album. This is by far the least important of all five steps. If you have successfully pulled off stages 1 through 4 then you are already hood famous, but to start really pulling in the money you need a record. It doesn’t really matter if said record is the biggest piece of trash hip-hop ever shat out: as long as people remember your name and gimmick, the money will come rolling in. For proof of this theory, just give a listen to Lil Yachty’s Teenage Emotions or xxxTENTACION’s 17, which are both so terrible they compel me to jump off a bridge and yet are somehow popular. And that’s all you need.

 

Congratulations! That’s it – you’re now a famous trap rapper. Make sure to bask in the fifteen minutes of fame you have left before the whole trap phenomenon implodes under the internal gravity of bad memes and pantomime fuckbois. Yung woodenman signing off.

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War On Drugs + Thee Oh Sees PSYCHEDELIC double review BONANZA

Oh Sees – Orc & The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (2017)

Hello everyone. To keep to my terrifyingly prolific (not really) writing schedule on this now semi-serious music blog I’m hitting you with not one but two simultaneous reviews of records that released this previous week. Woah! This week we’re taking a nostalgic plunge into the annals of psychedelia with two rather retrospective records from heavy hitters in the world of modern psych: Philadelphia red eye road dogs the War on Drugs and garage-psych mainstays Thee Oh Sees, or maybe just Oh Sees, because they’re one of those bands who invoke tectonic shifts in musical style through a change in the punctuation in the band name. A classic move.

Here we have two very different approaches to making psychedelic music in 2017. The War on Drugs, who are famous for that one song about smoking weed and those other ones that you couldn’t distinguish from it when you were stoned, are making psychedelia in the same way that James Cameron made Avatar. Like, lets slap as much production detail and throw as many extra dimensions in there as we can until the audience is sure to be wowed, and fail to realize the lack of real substance underneath. These songs are so filled with overdubs and hundreds of layers of reverb and vocals and keys that the Ableton Live files on Adam Granduciel’s computer probably required a server farm in Libya just to keep them going, and A Deeper Understanding, the record that comprises said songs, has about as much meat on the bones as a starving Libyan child.

This is a very hollow record, one which impresses on a first, second, and possibly third listen, but soon reduces itself into an expensive and technical slush in which every song is unidentifiable from the next and we move along in a languid sort of has-it-kicked-in-yet malaise for an hour and six minutes. In fact, the extent of everything I can even remember about this album, having listened to it at least four or five times for the purposes of reviewing (I am a consummate professional), is that the first two songs were rather pleasant, the third sounded a lot like Arcade Fire, which was kind of boring, and ‘Thinking of a Place’ was the only tune to attempt anything that struck me as ambitious, but that might just be because it’s eleven minutes long and wants you to think it’s ambitious. I don’t even know any more.

Thee Oh Sees, on the other hand, are an eclectic bunch. Their latest record, Orc, is something of a Pick ‘N’ Mix grab bag of narcotic candy, dipping briefly into styles of psych from across the musical timeline for one, two songs at a time. There are moments of motorik krautrock adoration (opener ‘The Static God’), slinky 80s psych-pop (‘Nite Expo’), interludes of weird Faustian noise (‘Paranoise’), and drony psychedelic folk (‘Keys to the Castle’). For the initiated, Orc is like a bit like playing a game of psychedelic Guess Who with all your favourite sounds of years past. Does your character play the sitar? Yes? Is it Revolver? Bingo! Wait, wrong game.

Anyway, this constant jumping around in style keeps Orc sounding fresh with each new song, and on a couple of occasions pushes the band outside their comfort zone. ‘Animated Violence’ is one of my favourite songs here, sounding more metal than anything Oh Sees have ever made in the past – specifically more stoner metal, like some hazy Electric Wizard type of psychedelia. It has a face-shredding riff in the chorus that erupts into an equally face-shredding riff in the verse, and is the most fun I’ve had playing the air guitar so far in 2017.  ‘Cadaver Dog’ is another highlight, a slice of Pink Floyd worship if Pink Floyd were fronted by a grouchy troll with a throatache.

Orc‘s predilection for wandering perhaps gets the better of it in the second half, though, where it begins to lose some of the focus it erupts out of the gate with. ‘Cooling Tower’ is a cute three minute distraction that reminds me of the soundtrack to Cave Story for some strange reason, but feels ultimately insubstantial, while closer ‘Raw Optics’ has a fiddly and far too long breakdown that lasts almost the entire song, and completely kills all sense of momentum the record had right as it ends. As a finale to an exciting record it’s a bit like having a bucket of cold water unceremoniously dumped on your head, and leaves my ultimate impression of the record a bit weaker than it perhaps deserves to be.

Still, at least I can tell you what song I’m listening to at any given moment. Thee Oh Sees cram more ideas into one record (and they make a new record, sometimes two, every single year) than The War on Drugs have managed in their entire career. Unless ‘more reverb, dude’ counts as an idea. But I am being too harsh – really A Deeper Understanding is not a terrible record and I am sure it will prove popular with the indie rock blogs and the bearded masses. It is sunny and strummy background music for doing laundry or very mild drugs to, but everything about it is just so pleasant, so safe. I can’t help but feel there’s so much more to the future of psychedelic rock than what A Deeper Understanding offers up. And for their part, Thee Oh Sees remain firmly in thrall to the genre’s past. But hey – the future of the future will still contain the past, so more power to them.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding           6.2

Thee Oh Sees – Orc           7.9

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins (2017)

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The latest record from indie rock mainstays Grizzly Bear comes five years after their last – 2012s Shields – and it has certainly benefitted from that long gestation period. Painted Ruins is a record that sounds laboured over, carefully coloured in with lots of sonic details and ideas, and it finds the band deliberately pushing their sound into new territory.

This is Grizzly Bear’s most psychedelic album yet, and also their most panoramic, featuring some truly eye-widening moments of echo-drenched bliss courtesy of bandmate/producer Chris Taylor. Songs like ‘Four Cypresses’ and ‘Aquarian’ build up into impressive walls of sound comprising vintage synths, guitars, piano, strings, saxophones and other noises I can’t identify.

At times like this the band recall climactic prog-rockers such as King Crimson, while at others we find the band searching in unexpected places for inspiration. ‘Glass Hillside’ has a sticky, buoyant chorus that sounds like a psychedelic take on dub reggae, with vocalist Daniel Rossen’s languid singing guiding the song smoothly between ominous verses. It lands as one of the album’s stranger but more compelling tracks.

Taken as a whole, however, the vocals on Painted Ruins are a bit patchy. For starters, it feels as if Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen – the band’s two primary songwriters – are working at a slightly different wavelength. Rossen’s lyrics and singing are often ambiguous and psychedelic, as in ‘Glass Hillside’, but they sometimes ring a bit hollow. Droste, on the other hand, comes off as rather drippy in a number of songs, spouting heartbroken vagueries at odds with the tone of the record.

Still there are moments where Droste and Rossen harmonize to wonderful effect, as on the funky ‘Losing All Sense’ and the elegiac ‘Neighbours’. And Rossen shines on the aforementioned ‘Four Cypresses’, where he sings, mysteriously: ‘It’s early / Make no sound / Living in a pile / It’s chaos, but it works’.

True to form, the more chaotic moments within Painted Ruins do prove to be its best. ‘Mourning Sound’ and ‘Systole’ strike me as the weakest tracks on show here, the former being a fairly by-the-numbers indie rock bopper dressed up with some hazy synths, and the latter being a sleepy, underdeveloped ditty that didn’t really need to make it onto the record.

All in all, though, Painted Ruins is another great album from one of the more adventurous bands working in indie rock today. It isn’t quite as consistent as Veckatimest or Shields, but it feels like the thoughtful product of a self-aware band looking to stay relevant and fresh in a changing musical landscape.

8.3/10

ALBUM REVIEW: Milo – Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! (2017)

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This right here is something special. Underground rapper Milo has been training in the hip-hop dojo for several years now, tempering his unique brand of comic-philosophic rap music. But Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!, his fifth album, finds him ascending to a new power level entirely.

Milo has always been an abstract and very poetic lyricist, but on some of his earlier material, particularly A Toothpaste Suburb, he sounded like he was trying too hard to impress. This is a man who would regularly namedrop philosophers and obscure authors like Schopenhauer or David Foster Wallace, and for every line that came across as inspired, another felt obtuse and (dare I say it) somewhat pretentious.

On Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?!, Milo earns every allusion as he rises to the stature of mystical prophet MC, spinning mind-bending wordplay around beautiful, spacey production that brims with confidence. This is the tightest, densest, most poetic batch of lyrics I’ve heard from any rapper in years, with line after classic line that has me reaching for the rewind button.

Musically, Who Told You to Think??!?!?!?! is an atmospheric blend of jazz rap and cloud rap, with some sprinklings of boom-bap and Shabazz Palaces futurism. Each track (many of which were self-produced) reverberates with gorgeous keys, crispy drum hits and melancholy bass, always leaving plenty of space for Milo’s vocals which are placed front and centre in the mix.

This lends the album a strong sense of space and clarity, inviting the listener to pull some of Milo’s cryptic lyrics apart. Try these: ‘Autodictate my didact and map it to black noise / Say the target audience is mothers of blond-headed black boys’, ‘Seen his hands fasten round the hilt of that rusted ruby scimitar / Speaking time-tested codas / Who them other rhythm wizards are?’

Milo’s words have a newfound sense of purpose here, which grounds much of the esoteric imagery contained within them. This is particularly the case on touching personal tunes like ‘Note to Mrs’ or ‘Take Advantage of the Naysayer’, where he raps about his wife and father respectively. Elsewhere, he’s content to spit dizzying metaphysical boast raps: ‘The most understated mage / Flow monotone, how you sublimate the rage?’

It’s this confidence that really sets Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! apart from Milo’s earlier work. His performances throughout the record are so sharp that whenever a guest MC appears, I find myself waiting in anticipation for Milo’s next verse. Said guests still manage to hold their own, however, particularly Elucid and the enigmatic Self Jupiter.

The only complaint I have for this record is simply that I want more of it. 42 minutes isn’t short by most standards, but when what’s on show is so fearlessly creative, it seems to fly by every time I put it on. I’ll happily devour any EPs and leftover tracks Milo has cooked up from this record, and am eagerly awaiting his next project.

Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! is the kind of album that I follow music so closely for. The kind of record that finds a promising artist emerging with a unique and engaging voice, fulfilling their potential in the process of creating something truly new. It’s my favourite album of 2017 so far, and probably my favourite hip-hop album since To Pimp a Butterfly. Yes, it’s really that good. I hope everyone who reads this gives it a listen.

9.4/10

GAME REVIEW: Dishonored 2 (Arkane Studios, 2016)

It isn’t uncommon in the world of video games for the second entry in a franchise to be its best. When a developer has time to iterate upon a new and exciting idea, but before the inspiration becomes a formula – that’s where the best results are often found. We saw it time and time again last generation: Uncharted 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, Dark Souls, Mass Effect 2…

Dishonored, on the other hand, felt like it arrived fully formed. Its emergent blend of stealth, FPS and Deus-Ex style sim gameplay was inspired, letting the player loose in a series of branching levels which could be tackled from any conceivable angle. It was my favourite game of 2012, and I would have been perfectly content with a sequel that just gave me more of it.

Which is, on a first impression, what I thought I was getting from Dishonored 2. The setup to Arkane’s sequel is very similar to that of the original and struck me as a bit unimaginative, while it’s opening levels felt like more of the same – not that that was necessarily a bad thing. That was, however, until I reached the Clockwork Mansion in Dishonored 2’s fourth mission.

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The house belongs to inventor and technician Kirin Jindosh, and at the touch of a button will completely reform itself into a new layout. Huge cogs and wheels will pull the floor from beneath your feet, or strip out a wall and turn it into the ceiling. As the level is transforming around you, you can use your Farreach or Blink powers to slip between the cracks, and thus see it from the inside out, rather like the trick Valve pulled in the second half of Portal.

It’s an inspired piece of level design, and indicative of what makes Dishonored 2 such a fantastic sequel. It chooses to leave the excellent framework of the first game largely intact, and opts against stuffing in more gameplay gimmicks or hours of playtime. Instead, it focuses on increasingly daring and creative individual moments, expanding sideways with some truly unforgettable missions.

The sixth mission, for example, finds the player in the Dust District, and tasks them with breaking into the manor of a gentleman named Aramis Stilton. The door to Stilton’s mansion is locked, and to open it you have three options. Either of two warring factions in the area will provide you with the door code if you kill the opposition leader. Or, you can sit down and solve an absolutely fiendish logic puzzle called the Jindosh Riddle, which will provide you with the door code and let you skip the entire stage.

Again – what an utterly brilliant, brave idea that is. The perfect expression of the game’s ‘play your way’ philosophy, letting you choose to tackle the level with brainpower, stealth or just pure aggression. It took me over an hour to solve the Jindosh Riddle (which is procedurally generated, by the way, so can’t be easily cheated using the internet), but when I finally did, it provided one of the game’s most satisfying moments.

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There are others moments just as brilliant which I don’t want to spoil in this review, including the seventh mission which is possibly the best of them all. Suffice it to say that Dishonored 2 never wants for inspired set pieces and labyrinthine playgrounds to set the player loose in.

I have to say, though, that I did find the new powers for Emily (one of two playable characters) a bit lacking compared to those of the first game. Farreach and Domino are the exception, the former feeling like a more visceral version of Dishonored’s Blink, and the latter allowing you to chain two or more enemies together so they share the same fate. This one will truly push your capacity for creatively murdering people.

But then there is Dark Vision, which is a fairly bog-standard ‘stealth vision’ like those found in most modern stealth games, as well as Mesmerize and Doppelganger, both of which serve a fairly similar decoy purpose. Shadow Walk is fun, allowing you to temporarily become a ghostly shadow-creature which guards struggle to see, but many of these powers feel lacking in the ways they can combine with each other, which is what made those like Possession from Dishonored so special.

The art direction of Dishonored 2, however, is consistently brilliant. Characters, environments, weapons and powers all look and feel incredible, with some particularly gorgeous views and interiors to be found towards the end of the game. The attention to detail in the character design, too, makes the people you’re tasked with assassinating much more real, and much more fun to hunt.

All in all, Dishonored 2 is a fantastic sequel. It expands upon the original game not in size or scope but in pure cunning and creativity, like a true assassin. Though not without a few flaws, the game is elevated to classic status by some truly unforgettable missions and an unwavering confidence throughout. Whether or not we’ll see a third game in the series remains to be seen, but Dishonored 2 would be a fantastic way to bow out if it does prove to be the end.

9.1/10

ALBUM REVIEW: Joyner Lucas – (508) 507 2209 / (2017)

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Plenty of rappers are assholes. But most of them are pantomime assholes – overblown, played up characters that we love to hate, carefully curated by shrewd artists to generate a cult of personality and media attention. Here’s looking at you, Kanye. Very few of them, though, are assholes like Joyner Lucas – unreliable, unavailable and often downright unpleasant, making ends meet in whatever way possible.

(507) 508 2209 is the man’s debut album/mixtape, and it begins with a voicemail message from his girlfriend, asking where he is and why he isn’t answering her calls. The message cuts out, and Joyner responds with the album’s first verse, a nasty and belittling reply – “I don’t think you know just what you done to me / I think you should know that you are under me”.

As an opening gambit, it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow. Lucas dares us to hate him in this first song and throughout much of (507), but it soon becomes clear why. This is an album as self-effacing as it is insulting, one which finds Lucas lashing out at those around him as often as he does at himself. It comes from a man who has made some genuinely terrible life decisions, but it set on righting them by exposing them in his music.

(507) 508 2209 is interspersed with revealing voicemail messages – one left by a friend Lucas stole from, one by the mother of his child who he hasn’t seen in days, one from a drug dealer who he owes money – and they often inform the topic of the song which follows them. They lend structure to the album, as well as a stripped down, gritty quality. This is not an album that trades in rap fantasy, but in addiction, depression and compromise.

Joyner’s flows, by contrast, are rampant with energy. On early highlights like ‘FYM’ and ‘Winter Blues’ he switches his delivery up constantly, while ‘Keep it 100’ demonstrates his ability with storytelling. It narrates the journey of a single $100 bill as it passes through the hands of strippers, pastors, and criminals, highlighting how poverty has trapped each one in a vicious fight for survival.

Unfortunately, many of the conceptual and lyrical intricacies of this track are missing for large portions of (507). The record is 83 minutes long, and while it starts and ends strongly, there are many tracks in the middle which play by-the-numbers trap rap and fail to impress. And then there’s the track ‘Literally’, which finds Lucas spitting call-and-response verses with his own penis, before hilariously cutting it off in the second half. Perhaps we didn’t need a conceptual song like that…

Lucas is a rapper who could certainly do with some work in the editing department, but he has more than enough talent on show in (507) 508 2209 to make him an exciting upcoming prospect. He has a great voice, fantastic delivery, and a sense for how to put a conceptual record together. If he can connect with some producers who will stand out a bit more from the trap crowd, he could be on to something very special indeed.

6.9/10

The Ten Best and Worst Comeback Albums of the 2010s

 

This past week I found myself listening to the new (and pretty disappointing) record from techno legends Porter Ricks, Anguilla Electrica – their first album in almost twenty years. It got me thinking a bit about the comeback record, that most elusive and unpredictable of albums.

It’s a universal rule that there are no average comeback albums. When a band or artist makes a return after a long absence, one of two things happen. Either they miserably fail to recapture their creative spark and do nothing but damage to their reputation, or they make a triumphant return and transport us back to the golden years.

In this article I’ll be taking a look at the five best and worst comeback albums of the decade so far, with an equal dosage of nostalgia, horror and surprise. Let’s begin.

 

#5 WORST / Porter Ricks – Anguilla Electrica

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I mentioned it at the top, but Porter Ricks’ Anguilla Electrica is one of the more disappointing records I’ve heard this year. The duo’s Biokinetics is one of my favourite electronic albums of all time: a pulsating ambient techno record full of gorgeous, tectonic grooves that sound, much like the album’s title, both organic and mechanical. But eighteen years since their last album, all the atmosphere and texture has been washed out to sea and what’s left are a collection of hollow, predictable techno tunes. Not recommended.

 

#5 BEST / Slowdive – Slowdive

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the most pleasant surprises for me this year was Slowdive’s self-titled record which released back in May, their first since 1995’s Pygmalion. It saw the band reinvigorated with a newfound energy, seeping into loud, psychedelic space-rock tunes like ‘Star Roving’ as well as ethereal drifters like ‘Go Get It’. The shoegaze sound has been thoroughly mined by lazy indie rock bands with plenty of loop pedals but little creativity throughout the last ten years, so it was great to hear one of the original masters return and remind us what made the sound so special in the first place.

 

#4 WORST / Ride – Weather Diaries

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By contrast, the 2017 comeback of Ride – another one of the shoegaze Big Three – is a huge flop. On this record Ride sound exactly like one of those lazy indie rock bands I mentioned above, lacking any of the force that made Nowhere and Going Blank Again great albums. Where were the squalls of oceanic guitar noise? The weightless, floating vocal harmonies? Weather Diaries was inoffensive, unimaginative and ultimately forgettable. Next. (side note: this album was so forgettable I actually thought it was self-titled until I went back and remembered it was called Weather Diaries. LOL)

 

#4 BEST / Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

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We hadn’t heard from Godspeed for a decade before the band announced the surprise release of Allelujah! in 2012, and it did not disappoint. The record featured some of the heaviest moments we’d heard from the band yet, in particular the spiritual stomp of 20-minute epic ‘Mladic’. But the rousing marching-band anthems of ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ were just as affecting, contrasting gorgeous string arrangements with swelling guitar feedback. Allelujah! is a fantastic addition to the band’s discography, and one worth revisiting ahead of their newly announced record Luciferian Towers, set for release in September.

 

#3 WORST / Pixies – Head Carrier

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Pixies spoiled their perfect batting average with Head Carrier. Until this 2016 comeback album, the band had only released four records, all of which were classics that have held a huge influence over the last twenty years of rock music. But this one was a tough listen: the band, and in particular frontman Frank Black, had none of the ferocity that was so essential to records like Doolittle. Many of the songs on Head Carrier were forgettable indie rock strummers with sickly sweet hooks, and in the few spots where they tried to get loud, Black sounded like an irate pensioner who’d misplaced his false teeth. Sometimes it’s best to let a good thing live on in memory alone.

 

#3 BEST / Gas – Narkopop

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Another surprise release – the return of Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project this year made me very happy indeed. The record was a fusion of sounds from throughout the man’s career, combining the smoky dub techno of Zauberberg with the mystical forestry of Pop. It was menacing, absorbing and sticky, sitting comfortably among my favourite records of 2017 so far. For my full review, head over here.

 

#2 WORST / Cannibal Ox – Blade of the Ronin

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Cannibal Ox’ The Cold Vein is one of my favourite hip-hop albums of all time: a grimy sci-fi vision of a dystopian New York, full of labyrinthine rhymes and bionic beats from El-P, who has since found worldwide acclaim with Run the Jewels. It stood as Cannibal Ox’ only record until the 2015 release of Blade of the Ronin, which was so sub-par it made their debut look like a flash in the pan.

The flows were dull and the delivery monotone, the beats overproduced and with none of the creative sampling El-P brought to the table. Not the most terrible album of the decade, but this one lands at #2 on my list because of how disappointing it was to realize one of my all-time favourites had lost the creative spark after just one great album, and would never reach those heights again.

 

#2 BEST / My Bloody Valentine – mbv

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OK, I know there’s a lot of shoegaze on this list. But the fact is, all three of the big 90s shoegaze bands have made high-profile returns in the last few years, probably owing to how popular the genre has proven with the next generation of alternative guitar bands. But My Bloody Valentine were always the bearer of the shoegaze crown. Loveless is a monumental achievement of rock music, its panoramic sound design and innovative textures making it quite possibly the single most influential album of the last twenty years.

So mbv – the band’s 2013 comeback album, had a lot to live up to. Thankfully it didn’t disappoint, bringing a quieter, wispier and more melancholy spin on the band’s sound, all while bringing some new influences to the table. Songs like ‘Only Tomorrow’ and ‘If I Am’ were full of expansive warping guitar chords to match Bilinda Butcher’s sorrowful vocals, while the latter half of the album found the band experimenting with the sounds of drum ‘n’ bass to surprisingly strong effect, creating a cacophonous noise in the process. An excellent comeback.

 

#1 WORST / The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley

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Oh, god. I wish this album didn’t exist. Sadly, Uncanney Valley is all too real. The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I is, like many other albums I’ve mentioned above, one of my favourite albums of all time. It’s twisted, anxious, ecstatic, unpredictable, and disjointed in all the best ways. But Uncanney Valley, the band’s 2013 comeback, is a fucking trainwreck.

In place of the intricate guitar work and hectic drums, Uncanney Valley is loaded front to back with painfully flat butt-rock grooves, numbingly repetitive lead melodies and some very, very questionable vocals. Frontman Travis Morrison’s lyrics have always been highly confessional, but I didn’t realize until I heard this record just how close they were teetering on the edge of a Void of Cringe.

“You hit the space bar enough and cocaine comes out / I really like this computer / I’m like a fat man on drugs / Drowning in hugs / You know I love the lovin’”. What…the…fuck is this? And those are the very first lyrics of the album. What a way to set the tone. If you force yourself through the rest of the record, you’ll find even more nuggets of wince-inducing horror, and plenty of sappy, insipid songs with no structure or direction.

Perhaps the crown jewel turd, though, is the hilariously deluded album commentary which the band put up on Spotify. This extra feature, which I suppose was originally for the poor souls who paid for a deluxe edition, features the band members offering thoughts and explanations on each of the album’s songs. Of the sixth track, ‘Lookin’, Travis says: “I think it’s some of the best lyrics I’ve ever written…and it’s the [track] that when I look back I say ‘wow, I can’t believe we did that’”. You and me both, Travis, but not for the same reasons.

 

#1 BEST / A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

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If anyone was making a blueprint for the comeback album, they should look no further than A Tribe Called Quest’s latest and last record, which was my album of the year for 2016. On this album, the Tribe came out of nowhere and dropped one final jazz-rap gem that reminded us of everything that made the group so excellent, while updating their sound just enough to fit the landscape of modern-day hip-hop.

The rhymes were tighter than ever, the beats lush and spacious, the features impeccable, and the song topics as relevant and up-to-date as any comeback album I’ve ever heard. We got it from here found them taking on politics, Trump, racism, music, and their own immortal legacy with finesse and some head-spinning wordplay.

More than anything else, it sounded like they were having a great time doing it. It was evident throughout that the Tribe didn’t reunite for money, or for fame. They reunited for the love of doing it, and to show the music world they still had the fire to make one more great album. Then they bowed out with grace.

On the album’s second track, Phife Dawg asks the question: “who can come back years later, still hit the shot?” Not everyone can, though many have tried. Some artists just didn’t know when to stop, while other made more successful returns. But in the end, no-one came back quite like the Tribe.