Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch

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It seems like the main issue some people have with Bad Witch is the fact that it’s classified as an album. Yeah, at 6 tracks and just over 30 minutes, you can make the argument that it’s more like an EP, but does that really matter? Let’s just focus on the musical ingredients, cause there’e plenty happening there.

It’s a quite eclectic set of songs, and while the album starts out with a pretty typical industrial vibe you’d expect from Trent Reznor, elements of jazz and ambient are introduced deeper into the tracklist, and it makes for a few seriously surprising moments. But as I said, it starts off pretty normal: Shit Mirror features a great, motoric riff and some really catchy melodies buried underneath the sinister, industrial mood. The following Ahead of Ourselves combines hypnotic verses with sudden outbursts of noise and screams, drowned in distortion and reverb.

After these two, typical NIN songs, we get an instrumental, dark, jazzy Play The Goddamned Part. As weird as it may be, it actually fits very nice in the tracklisting, and serves as a good introduction to God Break Down The Door.  Now, this song is the undisputable highlight. It obviously is hugely influenced by the sound of David Bowie’s Blackstar (even Reznor’s vocals here feel like they were inspired by the late star), but given an uniqe NIN industrial twist, which results in one of the most stunning tracks I’ve heard this year – the outro is just magical.

The two last tracks continue with the jazzy flavour, but they’re much more stretched and feel like borderline ambient sometimes (especially I’m Not From This World). The hypnotic bassline and repetitve vocals of Over and Out bring this album to a close in a spectacular fashion.

So while it’s extremely fresh and exciting, Bad Witch is also a record that leaves you with a sense of hunger, and that’s my main problem with it. Sure, it’s more cohesive that way, but it just makes you want MORE. So please, Mr. Reznor, give us more of the same. Hopefully very soon.

7/10

 

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Johnny Marr – Call The Comet

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After almost twenty years of being one of the most iconic musicians of the century, Johnny Marr finally released a proper solo record in 2013. While The Messenger wasn’t perfect, it certainly showcased his talent for songwriting, and was overally just a very pleasant listen. The following Playland was an even better record, but it still felt like it lacked something. Now, with Call The Comet, Marr delivers his best set of songs in decades.

The opener Rise perfectly embodies what this album is all about: atmospheric vocals and cold, post-punk guitars combined with a triumphant chorus and some great melodies throughout. The Tracers continues that trend, but it also gives something extra in the form of unique backing vocals and some unconventional rhythmic sequences. Instrumentally, Hi Hello feels like a direct reference to The Smiths – those jangly guitars still sound as brilliant as ever – he still is one of those guitarists that have their own, unique, unmistakeable sound.

While the album isn’t really groudnbreaking, there are a few more experimental tracks: Walk Into The Sea and Actor Attractor are really long and atmospheric, while the electronic-driven New Dominions probably the most surprsing song here. However, Marr is clearly at his best when he’s writing catchy indie songs like the distorted Hey Angel, incredibly infectious Bug or stunningly beautiful Spiral Cities.

It’s an album with no real weaknesses in the tracklisting, and while it’s not the most ambitious and revolutionary things he’s ever done, it certainly serves as a proof that he’s still an extremely talented songwriter. That melodic sense, combined with his exceptional guitar playing result in an album that is simply a joy to listen to.

8/10

Nas – NASIR

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The fourth installment of the Kanye-related minialbums comes off as probably the weakest. That doesn’t neccesarily mean it’s bad – the bar was set very high. But after the flawless Daytona, manic Ye and excellent Kids See Ghosts, NASIR feels just… ok. While there’s no doubt that both Nas and Kanye are extremely talented, it feels like their collaboration is lacking something. The beats are great, but it seems like Nas doesn’t really know how to build around them.

Take the opening Not For Radio. The bone-chilling sample from The Hunt for Red October soundtrack is great, however it does’t quite seem to fit Nas’ delivery, and that creates a weird, jarring effect that’s recurring for most of the record. Yet sometimes, it gets together just right, like on Cops Shot the Kid (undoubtedly the best track here). Adam and Eve is another highlight – Nas showcases his best flow, while the outro is pure bliss. On the other hand, White Label offers nothing memorable, and Bonjour feels really cringy at times.

But there’s no doubt that the centerpiece of the album was meant to be Everything. Seven and a half minutes long, it features brilliant hooks and great delivery, but there are also moments that could be easily cut off. Lyrically, it’s hit or miss too. The entire premise is brilliantly empowering, but that one anti-vaxxer line is so goddamn bad it kinda ruins the entire thing.

NASIR is by no means a bad record, but it feels like the full potential was way higher, and the enitre record seems kinda sketchy and underdeveloped. While there are two or three tracks here that feel like absolute top class, but it’ not enough. I could forgive that amount of filler if it was a proper forty-something minute album, but when you make a record that short, it really has to be tight and complete.

6/10

Zeal and Ardor – Stranger Fruit

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Two years ago we have witnessed Devil Is Fine – an album that tried to mix extreme metal with proto-gospel songs of American slaves. While the record was certainly ambitious and showcased a lot of potential, it was way too messy to be considered truly groudbreaking. Now, Manuel Gagneux is back, and it seems like he figured everything out – Stranger Fruit is a conscious development of the sound of the previous album, and the sound is truly polished and unique.

The production is stellar, perfectly balancing the moments of black metal fury with some more spiritual moments, sometimes deeply rooted in blues. Right from the opening sounds of the menacing Intro there’s a sense of threat and danger in the air, as the song gets more and more devilish. Gravedigger’s Chant is a truly wonderful blues track, but it feels like it lacks a certain punch. And that punch arrives with the next two songs: both Servants and Don’t You Dare allow the melodic parts to fully develop, before crushing it with a powerful wall of screams. These two tracks are probably the best on the entire album, but Stranger Fruit stays on a high level all the way through.

Fire of Motion is pure wrath, and the demonic Ship on Fire features backing vocals that sound like straight from the depths of hell. Row Row is an interesting one, as the opening line is delivered with such charm and a sense of melody it almost feels like a radio-friendly indie pop song. Luckily, things get really interesting later as the track progresses. Built on Ashes also has an amazing sense of melody.

And yeah, it is a bit too long – some shorter songs feel like filler, especially in the second half of the album. But still – on this record Zeal and Ardor’s music feels not like an experiment – it’s the sound of a band fully aware of what it wants to do. And they execute it perfectly. Plus, I doubt you’ll hear anything even remotely similar to what Gagneux has to offer.

8/10

 

Jorja Smith – Lost & Found

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Jorja Smith has been steadily making waves in the music industry for the past two years, leading up to the release of Lost & Found, her debut album. The hype was huge, and that can be really difficult for some artists, but the British singer handled it exceptionally well and delivered a stunning record, fully showcasing her wide range and capabilities.

Some tracks, like Lost & Found or February 3rd are pretty much your typical contemporary soul/R&B, but executed so well you’ll forgive her any lack of originality. But you’ll be mistaken thinking Jorja is just rehashing common themes and sounds, as the best parts of the record are tracks like Teenage Fantasy or Where Did I Go? when the trip hop influences really kick in, giving these songs a truly unique sound (Blue Lights could easily fit on any Portishead album, both in terms of sound and quality).

Songwriting is also at a very high level – some wonderfully crafted choruses here, like the on Where Did I Go? or Blue Lights. The real surprise here is the song Lifeboats (Freestyle) where we hear Jorja sort of rap (?). It works our brilliantly though, especially with her lovely British accent (the lyrics are great too!). And if the album ended here, I’ll be really glad. Unfortuantely, there are three more songs, all of them ballads for some reason. The pace really slows down here, and there’s nothing that much interesting here anyway.

But the sloppy ending doesn’t diminish the fact that Lost & Found is, without a doubt, one of the best (if not the best) debut albums of the year, and I can’t wait to hear what more Jorja Smith has to offer.

8/10

Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts

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Kanye is spitting out records like crazy recently, and this was actually the one I was most excited about. Kid Cudi has had his ups and downs artistically, but it seems like Yeezy can always get the best out of him. He had some brilliant parts on Kanye’s solo albums, but on this one he’s more than a feature – Kids See Ghosts is a record where these two guys work as a team, and they compliment each other perfectly.

Take the opener, Feel The Love for example: Cudi delivers a sweet vocal hook while Ye goes absolutely manic later in that track over some wild drums. It’s a pretty short song, but there’s A LOT of things happening here (there’s also a Pusha T feature squeezed somewhere inbetween). The production throughout the record is wonderfully crafted, colorful and a bit experimental. Fire stands out with its crispy sound and a great humming melody, while 4th Dimension feels pretty psychedelic (although that can be said about the entire album, basically).

The central point is Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2), a song that features probably the best production I’ve heard in a while. It all comes together so naturally flawless, it’s hard not to fall in love with this track, even with its wonky vocals. Reborn is stretched to five and a half minutes, but I’m not sure why. Yeah, the chorus is quite nice, but it gets really repetitive in the later part of the song and the whole thing comes out as probably my least favourite here. The title track, while also repetitive, is a completely different thing – mostly due to its menacing sound that kind of creeps in. The hook is so simple, yet so catchy and it has that sense of being a complete, finished song- which is not such an obvious thing, considering how messy and sketchy The Life of Pablo and Ye were. The closing Cudi Montage samples Kurt Cobain’s home recordings (not sure if that was a necessary thing to do or simply a publicity stunt) and it also features Cudder delivering some of the best hooks on the record.

While not entirely perfect, Kids See Ghosts is so wonderfully trippy and colorful that it really clicks with you after the very first listen. It also feels like a much needed change of mood after a depressing and troubled Ye. But even without the context – this is a great record, which manages to be fun and enjoyable while also maintaining the sense of complexity. And the hooks are great. And so is the production. Just go and listen.

8/10

Natalie Prass – The Future and the Past

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It’s one of those records you might have missed – while everybody was busy with Kanye, this Cleveland-born singer released her second album that showcases all the qualities you could want from a modern pop artist: great songwriting, brilliant voice and a stylistical variety that is as impressive as it is natural and fitting,

The funky opener Oh My serves as a great example: there’s some wonderful backing vocals as well as a solid rhythm, but Natalie completely steals the show with her passionate singing and great melodic sense. The following Short Court Style is even more infectious, as her voice gets more sensual. What’s most impressive about this record is the fact that despite some arrangements that are close to mainstream pop (The Fire, Lost), it still manages to have that unique, alternative twist to it.

Musically, it’s a wonderful mixture of soul, funk, R&B, pop and everything in between, mixed with care and taste. The mood changes quite a bit too: from the positive vibes of the opener, through the empowering Sisters and menacing Hot for the Mountain and gorgeously sad Far From You. It’s diverse and eclectic, but all of it is composed so well that it fits together brilliantly.

It’s simply a great, intelligent record by an artist who knows precisely what she wants to do. 45 minutes of pure class and talent. Don’t miss out on The Future and the Past – it’s one of the best pop records of the year.

8/10

Kanye West – ye

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Kanye’s no stranger to promoting his albums in unusual ways, but it seems like he really outdid himself this time. It looked like everybody HAD to have some sort of an opinion of what Yeezy was tweeting. From declaring his undconditional love for everyone to praising Trump, with tons of pseudo-philosopical thoughts inbetween, Kanye was causing as much controversy as he liked. He also dropped two tracks: the divisive, political Ye vs. The People and nonsensical, yet excellently produced Lift Yourself. In a typical Kanye fashion, neither of these songs made the final cut to the album. So what did?

When you’re listening to an album so short (7 songs, a little over 23 minutes) you kinda expect it to be focused and straight-to-the-point. Instead, ye opens up with a really long spoken word intro – but it’s anything but boring, as the lyrics are quite interesting. Full of self-love and self-hatred, this monologue goes for quite a while, before Kanye finally starts rapping over a killer beat switch. The follow-up Yikes is the closest this album comes to having a true banger. On this track Ye deals with his personal demons, which seems to be a recurring theme throughout the album. Overall, it seems like ye is his most personal and introspective record since 808s & Heartbreak.

All Mine features somewhat of a change of pace – the beat is great, the lyrics are filthy and the hook is so damn catchy. The following Wouldn’t Leave and No Mistakes both feature some great, soulful choruses, too. Then we reach Ghost Town, which is basically Runaway part 2 in many ways. Same art pop ambitions, similar beats and finally: that outro – kind sweet, kinda menacing. Definitely one of the most memorable moments of the year, and a true highlight of the album. In the end we’re treated to Violent Crimes, but sadly there’s nothing memorable about this track at all – not much happening here, so it gets kind of boring.

One thing’s for sure – ye is more than a music album. All the promotional stunts, the release listening party, the album’s cover (revealed at the last possible minute), all the mess with the album title (although we’ve seen that with The Life of Pablo already). Somehow it feels like so much effort was put into making the release date such a big event that it left the music a bit underwritten or even unfinished. Sure, there’s flashes of brilliance (quite a lot, actually) the album as a whole feels disjointed and messy – sort of a refelction of Kanye’s own troubled mind. But while ye is nowhere as good as Yeezus or MBDTF, it still feels like an important event. An event, not a music album per se.

7/10

BC35: The 35 Year Anniversary Of BC Studio

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Brooklyn-based BC Studio has been run by Martin Bisi since 1981, and ever since then it has been one of the most important points of the New York experimental scene. This unique album was recorded during a two-day session in January 2016, as part of a fundraiser campaign for Bisi’s medical bills. Members of bands like Sonic Youth, Swans or Cop Shoot Cop have gathered to record 13, mostly improvised tracks, showcasing the wide range of various genres that were shaped by Bisi’s influence over the years. The tracks were recorded with a live audience, and it helps to create a unique, celebratory atmosphere, as well as it does relieve the tension a bit.

And it is a very tense record indeed. The listener is not treated lightly here, as the first two tracks are monstous instrumental juggernauts, led by hypnotic basslines (Nowhere Near The Rainbow) or tribal drums (Denton’s Dive). The following Detalis of the Madness has a structure more resemblant of a traditonal song, and it features brilliantly fuzzy guitar tones. After that, we are treated to some disturbing industrial electro (What a Jerk and Humash Wealth Management, Inc.).

His Word Against Mine reminds me of Sonic Youth at their fiercest, while End of the Line comes close to ambient music. There’s also the surprisingly subtle Take This Ride and the electronic-driven Soft Glitter Cosmos Needs a Pig War. All the tracks here have the common noise denominator, but the album is incredibly diverse. That being said, it gets a bit overwhelming and exhausting sometimes. It’s an album that requires a certain kind of focus, and its rough and abrasive nature might scare some people off.

While difficult, BC35 is a deeply satisfying listen, and a great celebration of the New York noise scene.

8/10