December 29, 2018

Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs Review

Back when Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All was a budding rap collective in the late 2000's, one of Tyler, The Creator's greatest finds was a young kid, still in school, but with an unbelievable knack for stringing words and phrases together. This kid was only 15 when he started to write songs with Tyler, and in 2010, Odd Future released his first mixtape, titled Earl, at just 16 years of age. From the beginnings of these early recordings, it was clear that Earl Sweatshirt was a shining star within the enormous rap group. His wordplay was unmatched, and his talent was just beginning to be mined. Shortly after the release of his depraved, humorous, and often violent mixtape, his mother, UCLA professor Cheryl Harris, sent him to a boarding school for at-risk youth after becoming aware of his drug habits. His return marked the release of his first official studio album with Columbia Records, Doris, a significant work that cemented his name in the hip-hop world at only 19 years old. A couple years later, Earl's followup was released, which was also met with critical acclaim. Now in 2018, his latest album displays the most mature and raw version of Earl Sweatshirt that fans have seen thus far. Some Rap Songs is so artistic and high-brow, casual listeners may not even notice its greatness. Only real fans of the genre will turn their heads and nod in appreciation for what Earl does in this soulful, rhythm-rhyme laced, tightly woven album, one which is cleverly disguised as a lo-fi collage of disjointed beats and verses.

Regarding his father, a South African poet laureate, Earl goes from his past couple of albums ripping him apart for not being around, to full scale grief and depression over his death in SRS. His innermost thoughts are displayed on here, but each track has much of the same subject matter of living life. Earl’s only weakness may be his inability to focus on a single topic in any particular track, as every song in Some Rap Songs contains some of the same deep personal and emotional themes which Earl feels in his heart, but this nakedness of sincerity is also his greatest strength. Each track is brisk and most are only just over a minute in length; this entire album is his shortest by far, making 15 tracks fly by in just over 25 minutes time. It creates an album worth many repeats to unpack all of Earl's artistic touches. There are plenty of tracks that come and go before you have the chance to grasp their brilliance and Earl's glitchy, soul-filled production. Songs such as "Cold Summers" and "The Mint" feature bright melodies and glimmers of hope for Earl's future.

Earl’s drawl in most of his songs gives his verses an air of effortlessness, bordering on laziness. The mere fact that his delivery comes across this way could give insight into his own mental perspective on his life at this time in his career. Earl’s got a lot to say, but he has been, and still is, hurting from the pain of life. This can also be evidenced by the fuzzy, minimalistic beats; all of them sound as if they’re ready to shatter into pieces. Furthermore exhibited by Earl’s opening track, “Shattered Dreams”, his multiple references to his battle with depression, and one of his last tracks, “Playing Possum”, which features a spoken acceptance speech by his mother, and his late father Keorapetse Kgositsile. Earl’s latest album, personally to me, comes across as a cry for help, and his rap songs, while possibly useful as a form of therapy for him, still stand as recordings of his tortured mind and soul. It begs the question why Earl would name one of his final tracks after an animal that is knows for playing dead. One reason would be the passing of his father, almost a year ago in January of 2018. But it also has his mother’s acceptance speech, which sounds as if she’s looking back at a lifetime’s worth of achievements. These two together makes it a touching tribute, but Earl being only 24 this year should have much of his life ahead of him. What is “Playing Possum” saying about himself? It’s a perplexing name that is left up to interpretation, but nevertheless, it becomes clear as to why Earl has been blessed with such a high intellect, coming from a decorated poet and college professor.

Although Some Rap Songs boasts self-reflective, densely layered lyrics, soulful, vinyl scratchin’ beats, and a rawness that is commendable and much needed in the genre, the overall tone and atmosphere Earl creates doesn’t necessarily make for an all-around enjoyable listen. In a few years time, I’m not sure if I will go back to Some Rap Songs for repeated plays the way I have for his raw, ego-fueled self-released mixtape Earl, or the polished production of his “comeback”/debut studio effort, Doris. For the most part, Earl’s jaw-dropping wit and production value gives us a look through the window of this tortured genius, and the quality of his compositions sound messy, yet refined simultaneously. It’s like watching the crumbling of fantastic architecture of an ancient building: there’s a beauty to behold in its destruction, but I still worry for the mental health and well-being of one of my favorite rappers alive today. My only hope is that Earl continues on in this world, to grow, to find some happiness, and to refine his craft even more. If he has the will to continue to do this, despite the harrowing pitfalls that he feels in his life, I believe that his best work has yet to be released.

Some Rap Songs - 7.75/10

Recommended Tracks: Cold Summers, The Mint, Veins

December 18, 2018

Thom Yorke - Suspiria Review

One might have wondered how long it was going to take Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead, to branch out into recording full length film soundtracks, following in the footsteps of his bandmate Jonny Greenwood, with his already extensive catalogue. For some, a movie can become more popularized when an already famous artist takes up the songwriting duties. I remember in 2007 when I heard that There Will Be Blood directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Daniel Day-Lewis was going to have music made by Jonny Greenwood, and I was immediately interested in the film, feeling its status already elevated from my point of view. His work has continued with most recently You Were Never Really Here and Phantom Thread, both released just last year. As far as Thom is concerned though, there were hints that he was more interested in branching out musically, mostly due to his other side projects as a solo artist, his other band Atoms for Peace, and having some of his Radiohead and solo work already getting featured in a number of films. Radiohead's attempt to get the title track for the most recent James Bond film, Spectre, was unexpectedly turned down; they ended up releasing the eponymously titled track as a single and b-side anyways, on their latest studio effort, 2016's A Moon Shaped Pool. Now, Thom Yorke finally gets his first full length soundtrack to let loose and explore multiple genres: Radiohead(y) rock, eerie soundscapes, piano ballads, church-like choirs, and drone, which all blend in and out of each other seamlessly, as Thom uses his masterclass talent in songwriting and musical experimentation to create an unsettling and unforgettable mood to be paired with this highly acclaimed Suspiria remake.

Thom's opening number is a classic setup that sounds and almost gives the impression of an orchestra warming up as strings build and soar and synthesizers sweep overhead, setting the mood for a highly atmospheric and moody film and album. "The Hooks", basically Thom's second intro, introduces the piano, and he uses it with a bleakness and loneliness which is revisited in several songs throughout. "Suspirium" is not quite the title of the film, but nevertheless it still serves as its title song, since it's the first track featuring Yorke's vocals, and also has its own "Suspirium Finale" reprise on the second side. It's a classic Thom Yorke piano ballad, which resonates a timeless melancholy that only Yorke is capable of. After the title, we are returned to another version of his bleak piano walk found in the intro, now with ghostly moaning strings, and have officially entered the cyclical nature of Suspiria's soundtrack: haunting pianos, synthesized soundscapes, and Thom Yorke vocals.

"Has Ended" is Thom's first reference to the witches, a common theme in the film, but also a connective tissue to Radiohead’s last album, A Moon Shaped Pool’s opener, “Burn The Witch”. In style, it opens with droning sitar-like synthesizers and a soft drumbeat. Several of these Yorke-sung songs sound as if they were originally spawned from A Moon Shaped Pool's studio sessions, but despite this similarity (which is not at all a criticism), they work for this album with Thom’s haunting vocals to enhance the mood of the film. The remainder of the first side is full of several more unnerving soundscapes, church choirs, and vocal tracks. Most notably, Yorke's penultimate track, "Unmade", a brilliant, melancholy, and single-worthy track that has Yorke's beautiful falsetto and vocal register going along with a heavenly choir as he plays his piano. There are plenty of highlights on Suspiria, but "Unmade" may be the highest peak. The last track of side 1, "The Jumps", echos faintly the melody of its predecessor before it dissolves into ambience, and grows into its own synth crescendo.

Side 2 is an interesting creative decision for Yorke, given the fact that the total runtime for this soundtrack is 15 seconds over the allowed 80 minutes for a single disc. Instead of cutting one of his tracks down by 30 seconds or so, Yorke opted to make Suspiria 2 sides, possibly implying an intermission and intended break between both halves, in the music and the film. Still, the thread continues to unspool with side 2’s opening number, “Volk”, repeating the closing synthesized hymn of “The Jumps”, and unfolding into its own brooding atmosphere, full of unsettling double bass beats and ending with a chaotic crescendo. “The Universe is Indifferent” is another vocal track, bringing in what sounds like eastern musical influences with its droning strings and Yorke’s unrelenting ghostly vocal wisps. It's not long before we are treated to a reprise of the main theme, with "Suspirium Finale", a more full-bodied theme with strings this time around. The remainder of side 2 rides out with various ambient and synthesized soundscapes, "A Choir of One", most notably, is the longest track on this double album, clocking in at just over 14 minutes of slow-churning drone.

Suspiria’s soundtrack is a moody and haunting epic, worthy of a horror movie remake that already stands on its own with its own unique flair and dichotomy of the beautiful and the ugly. Thom Yorke’s debut as a film score composer will only continue to unfold, if he is up to the task. Whether this is his first and last one remains to be seen, but ultimately, his music does so much to enhance visual spectacle that it would seem a waste to just stay in the audio sphere, and for this reason, Yorke deserves as many film opportunities that may come his way.

Suspiria - 8.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Suspirium, Has Ended, Unmade

December 13, 2018

Milestones Part I: Radio

From a young age, I was always influenced by music, being stimulated by my father’s ever-growing collection, and eventually forming my own interests which sometimes deviated from what my parents found acceptable. Nevertheless, I remember the nostalgia from days of sporting a cd mix or album in my jog-proof Walkman on the way to school. Music still had that feature of physicality and gentle handling that made the experience all the more rewarding, and I doubt today’s generation will ever feel that simple pleasure of having a few CDs or CD wallet where your precious few choices mattered and made the soundtrack of your day. The only way future kids and young adults could discover the pleasure of handling music would be to discover vinyl records or invest in their own stereo cabinets, but I divulge. The point I am trying to make is that music has been ingrained in my being since I was very young, and if not for a chance presentation during one of my first general elective courses at the University of Connecticut, I may have never become a longtime radio host and DJ in February of 2008.

You would think that I would have actively sought out a time slot all on my own, after everything I have said so far, but I was never an active radio listener myself. I never took to the music that was played on all the major channels, and optioned for my own path of discovery instead, so I was very much in the dark about college radio programming. When I learned that UConn’s radio station, WHUS 91.7FM, was focused on providing a vast open variety of genres and social topics to the local campus and surrounding towns, I was sold. I had developed such a long list, or library, of artists in different fields, that I was over the moon to have the opportunity to share my musical tastes over the airwaves.

After promptly signing up and training, I was offered my first time slot, from 3am to 5am Wednesday mornings. Now was the tricky part: I had to come up with a name for my show, and an alias for myself, which would feel right, and stay with me for a long time. It wasn’t my intention of having multiple artist names or not seem solid with one identity. It was during these late nights when I came up with the name “Adrift in the Airwaves with DJ Dark Flow”. The name of the show came from my fascination with the word “airwaves”, and thinking about how the radio waves are broadcasted to people’s car systems, radios, and now computers. I wanted to make a play on the word, and I brought it together with my interest in outer space, as well as the double allusion to riding the waves as if on water. The goal, in my mind, was to create a program which sounded fluid, and even though I had multiple genres I wanted to play with, have them transition in such a way that the listener might not notice, or so that the switch in material made sense with the flow of energy from song to song. I wanted my listeners to feel as if they were drifting through a movement of different sonic landscapes. As for my name, I applied the same notion, as a curator of multiple styles of music, but with a dark twist, and a dichotomy of aggression versus soft beauty, and also based on the dark flow theory of our universe at the time.

From then on, DJ Dark Flow became a part of me. In a way though, it was always a part of me. Both words apply deeply to own personality. I grew up reading as many Goosebumps books I could get my hands on. I loved space movies and horror films, and often a combination of the two. I played horror video games and eventually started getting into heavy metal music. I was obsessed with the existential crisis and fascinated by the exploration or discovery of what’s unknown, and that formed the basis of my curiosity and imagination. I was always drawn to the darkness and I don’t know why. I guess some of it could be attributed toward adolescent rebellion, but I also believe that consuming or creating some of this work is good for mental well-being; sometimes art is therapy, and works as the vessel to channel stress or aggression, or even exorcise personal demons.

The Flow part of my name reflects my general easy-going nature, with my philosophy of taking life as it comes, trying to be flexible with life’s many obstacles, and being mindful and gracious with its gifts. Now I haven’t had an extraordinarily hard life by any measure of the imagination, and for that I am grateful for, but I do believe, or hope, that my essence of being would be more or less the same in a different set of circumstances. Now that I have picked apart my name, the mission of my show becomes all the more clear: to share music that is either ignored or missed by mainstream stations, and to nurture a community of like minded fans and artists, and that’s exactly what I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to do over the following 8 years.

I made many friends through the show, and some of them I probably would have never met if they hadn’t heard the program through their radios. My first chance encounter and music buddy I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and making friends with was done exactly this way, when one day, during my second time slot I got, from 1pm to 3pm, I was announcing over a mic break that I would be willing to play anyone’s original electronic music or DJ mixes if they wanted to have the promotion through the air. I wanted to create a platform for those who didn’t have access to the station. It wasn’t even 10 or 15 minutes later when a tall, cool looking dude walked into the studio. He had a mix CD in his hand and he introduced himself as Will Haynes aka BEATGOSZIP aka DJ Daysix. He said he was delivering pizza in his truck and he had it tuned to 91.7 when he heard my mic break, and luckily, he had a CD of some of his mixes on there. It created a feeling of immediacy and connection that was just awesome and couldn’t be replicated any other way, and moments like these happened many more times over the years.

After graduating, I had no choice but to leave WHUS in 2011, because my commute would have been far too long to continue the show. Still, I was determined to take my program to another community radio station. After a few months of research, I discovered WPKN 89.5FM in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I signed up to start volunteering, and quickly got in and continued Adrift in February of 2012. The next three years contained the most growth for my program in musical diversity and community.

During this period and revival of my program, I've had the pleasure of meeting many talented independent artists, many of whom became good friends. Some of them were brought in by mutual friends we shared, and others had interesting chance encounters as well. I remember one show, where during a mic break, I believe I had one of my semi-regular guests in the studio, E-ryDa, and we had a call in, something that I welcomed during my program, but had little success since my time slot was during the wee hours of the morning between 2am and 6am on Wednesdays. What followed was an exchange with an artist who was requesting himself, and after the brief awkward exchange over the air, we became acquainted with each other, and Long Island emcee and producer B. Dvine became one of my most regular guests during this time, calling in during nearly every show thereafter, and I returned the love with features of his tracks sprinkled in with my eclectic mixture of hip-hop and electronic music. He even took it a step further and produced an exclusive freestyle series for Adrift In The Airwaves.

The radio love didn't just come from the Connecticut or tri-state region. The benefits of the internet brought WPKN to anywhere in the world. Artist friends from different states or even countries, such as Jimmy ELE from Florida, or XL, formerly called Sticky Bud, from across the pond in the UK, were some of the artists who's ideas I felt were aligned with my own and the message of the show, and their music started to fit into the regular rotation. There have been regular listeners in Hawaii, Alaska, as well as Michigan, Vermont, and the Carolinas, to name a few. Some artists who became regular guests on the show were DJs who played a lot around the New York or Connecticut area, such as DJ C-Kaos or DJ Daysix. Others I have had the pleasure of featuring on my show in slightly less frequency, but with the same great result of an awesome communal radio experience, such as Ancient Origin, DJ Slav, Eddie G (from WPKN's own Lounge Sounds!!), DJ Deafstar, or Cykada. Some of the hip-hop artists I've had on the show were already prolific in their craft, such as Jahan Nostra, B. Dvine, or E-ryDa, and had released their own full length albums or mixtapes during my tenure at WPKN, and I have had the pleasure of rotating, debuting brand new tracks at the time, and even writing and publishing reviews of their musical works. Ultimately, there are simply too many guests to name during the WPKN years. I have enjoyed working with them all.

Another feature that became a part of my show was the introduction of pre-recorded social, or "truth", commentaries during the last hour or so of my colossal 4 hours that I had to fill. Through my time on social networks, I became acquainted with a person very dedicated to the task of recording shows on various topics of interest. Jason Bailor, then became an important addition to some of my shows, as I would very much like to put on the final hour, a pre-recorded show of his, which always was presented with very well-informed and researched data, and the show-within-a-show became a part of Adrift In The Airwaves. Jason also ventured into electronic music production and DJing as well, and I started to promote him in this new venture of his. Another couple of "truthers" I had contact with and was able to play some of their pre-recorded interviews.

This journey doesn't just disappear. It is recorded history, the memories and the community that became a part of it, and altogether, there are 182 recorded shows which document some of my first recordings when I decided to archive them in October of 2009, up until April of 2015, when I had my last show for WPKN. I went from just naming them with the date, to eventually writing in parenthesis anything significant or standout about any particular show. If any guest or artist took part in any show during WPKN (2012-2015), there will be a mention of it in the title of the show. All of these shows have been graciously hosted by Internet Archive, and can be downloaded in whole or in part, if there's a favorite show of yours.

This isn't the end of Adrift In The Airwaves, either. Somehow, someway, it will be back, either in a podcast format or traditional FM/internet stream, but when that day comes, I will be happy to continue to build our community of prolific and talented artists who were so willing to take their time to be a part of the magic. And so ends the first chapter of my personal milestone and creative leap. When I left the radio, I had a lot more time to develop musically, which is why part II will focus on my creative steps I took as DJ Dark Flow solo...
From Left: C-Kaos, Zack from Off The Dome, DJ Daysix, B. Dvine, E-ryDa, Jahan Nostra, Cella, and myself
From left: DJ C-Kaos, Zack from Off The Dome, DJ Daysix, B. Dvine, E-ryDa, Jahan Nostra, Cella, and myself during my final show. 

December 2, 2018

Aphex Twin - Collapse EP Review

Few electronic musicians can make music sound so utterly alien and beautiful simultaneously. For this reason, and for the sheer complexity and magnitude of the electronic landscapes willed into sonic existence, this balance of contrast exhibited by an artist such as Aphex Twin simply has no equal. Aphex Twin is Richard D. James, a man who’s been embroiled in the creation of computer music since the early 1980’s. His music often falls into one of two categories: pretty melodic ambience, or abrasive aural assault, and sometimes a combination of the two. After James’s more than decade-long hiatus as Aphex Twin, his reemergence with 2014’s Syro, a collection of some of his best work produced during this period, earned him his first Grammy award for best electronic/dance album. Since his revival, Aphex Twin has arguably released some of his most exciting music after decades of growth, to be experienced and discovered by new generations. James followed up Syro with his 2016 EP, Cheetah, which featured tracks using the rare, eponymous synthesizer and contained some of his most accessible, beat-driven work. His music and energy continues to morph on his 2018 EP, Collapse.

Each track has a distinct beating heart, sometimes of machine and other times of an organism that sounds almost alien, but the frenetic tempos and rhythms all create a highly atmospheric and living headspace throughout Collapse. The opener, "T69 Collapse", features beautiful bass and melodies with coinciding, highly energized percussive hits, only to be eventually pulled apart and dissolute into a computerized breakdown, falling and collapsing, giving newfound meaning to the EP's title and artwork. But in the ashes, it builds into a bountifully pretty release of tension, blissful and beating with endless energy. Thus is the formula of James's most recent EP: a meditation of electronic noise vs. beauty.

The second track, "1st 44", has extremely syncopated and delayed percussion and synths, finding multiple pockets of catchy beats for listeners to settle in to, without ever feeling too stuck. Such is the style of Aphex Twin's masterfully woven IDM, or intelligent dance music; some of his songs never stay put, and constantly evolve into new iterations of where James's mind was taking him during the creative process. This constant change in some of his tracks creates a multiple replay value which most artists couldn't replicate in their wildest dreams. Over time, his delicately layered songs slowly reveal themselves to listeners.

"abundance10edit[2 R8's,FZ20m & a 909]" uses a vocal sample of a girl speaking to the listener, "Give me you hand, my friend, and I will lead you to a land full of abundance, joy and happiness". As Aphex Twin gives listeners human voices in his music, and in essence humanizes his music, it invites us to the land and inner space that he inhabits, and the beautifully subdued synths of James's track creates a headspace that is a land all his own. The woman invites us once again towards the end of the track, and the fantasia of synths coalesce and come together into a marriage of James's electronic bliss and percussive rhythms.

Overall, Aphex Twin's Collapse EP hits all the right notes. In terms of whether we're getting a release of heavy and heady electronic beats, or chill, melodic synthesizers, the answer lies in a combination of both, which is the best way fans and newcomers alike can get their most recent serving of Richard D. James's music. The prolific release history of James's music and the past four years since his reemergence has proven that he is one of the largest, most monolithic forces in electronic music to this day, and will be around for many years to come. To any fans and new listeners, this EP, and his most recent album, Syro, are a must listen.

Collapse EP - 9.75/10

Recommended Tracks: T69 Collapse, 1st 44, abundance10edit[2 R8's, FZ20m & A 909]