March 29, 2019

Retrospective Review: DJ Shadow - Live in Manchester: The Mountain Has Fallen

Performing live in 2017 at a sold out show in Manchester, England, DJ Shadow produced his first live album in nearly a decade, and showed growth in areas of his original music to great effect. I personally was left in the dark regarding the existence of this masterful mix of music, but I am so glad to have discovered it. 

I normally keep track of DJ Shadow's studio productions, having played his latest full length, The Mountain Will Fall, from 2016, multiple times through and blasting his hypnotic, eccentric beats in my car system and headphones. Upon realizing that he has since produced a follow up EP titled The Mountain Has Fallen and a live concert CD/DVD combo of the same name, I had to jump on my own personal journey through it and subsequent analysis. 

The Mountain Has Fallen is unlike any other live DJ concert I have ever heard, specifically because it is a colorful combination of a quarter century of original music produced and released by the prolific drummer and turntablist DJ, also known as Joshua Davis. He is known for having the world's largest collection of over 60,000 records in an underground bunker. His live show features frenetic record scratching with a recognizable blend of vocal samples, synth melodies, and drum loops cherrypicked from multiple popular hits and sleepers throughout his career. Because of this, not one song on this record sounds like their original incarnation: they are all named with shared words from his previous hits, and made to be experienced new again, but for any previous DJ Shadow fan, it is an extremely pleasing mix wherein multiple portions of his mix are easily recognizable, which then warp and bend to his will and manipulation of sound. 

"Transmission Mountain" opens with an introspective series of sound effects and transmission samples from earlier albums, and floats into his heady, space-hop opening track from his latest studio album. It leads into a kaleidoscopic collage, as I mentioned before, of The Mountain Will Fall accented tracks, that never cease to amaze and astound any newcomers to his music, and impress longtime faithful fans of his work. Some of his best tracks include the EDM heavy breakdown of "Suicide Posse" as it transforms into the soft melancholy of one of his most well-known tracks, "Midnight In A Perfect World", and the hip-hop heavy "Nobody Steam", as it jumps from his latest hip-hop collaborative hit with Run The Jewels right into his very first hit which put him on the map, "Building Steam with A Grain of Salt". 

His technical prowess has only improved beyond imagination in this latest live offering, which was released last June of 2018. It will be remembered as easily his best live re-imagining to date and an essential piece in the his artistic journey. To anyone interesting in hearing a forward pushing electronic artist move through their history of hits in a mind blowing DJ format, you need to look no further than DJ Shadow. 

Live in Manchester: The Mountain Has Fallen - 8.75/10

Recommended Tracks: Suicide Posse, Nobody Steam, Sideshow Donor

March 27, 2019

Retrospective Review: Paranormal Adam (PA) - The Black Plague

I wish I knew about my new friend, Paranormal Adam's, latest album at the time when it came out! It seemed a shame to pass up writing something about this splendid work of art, therefore, I will be starting another series of articles from time to time which will focus on albums which might have released a bit before my review window, and which I feel deserve an extra push into the spotlight of public consciousness. It's a pleasure, then, to introduce the first album in my retrospective review series: Paranormal Adam's The Black Plague.

Released in the early half of 2016, this album is intercut with clips from the Spike Lee film "Malcolm X", but instead of the militaristic approach of Malcolm, Adam's album reflects on the need for people of the world to embrace, and opens it with the mantra "My black people, I love you..." personifying the togetherness he feels in this righteous debut LP. The tone is defined specifically and vividly, as a work of empowerment and values, partnering top level production with the thoughtful conscious verses of Paranormal Adam and his guest emcees.

"GODBODY" and "Black Brilliance" both are great entry points for converting new fans, as they introduce listeners to Paranormal Adam's diction and effortless flow. The beats are smooth and old school, and singles like "The Secret" showcases the power of humbleness and knowledge and rising up mentally and spiritually. Tracks like "Bulletproof" switch up the mood, and prove to be a chilling reminder of the violence that still plagues our world, as its intro is cut with a shooting scene from the film, and reminds us of the mass shootings in schools and mosques to this day. Paranormal's message is clear in these uncertain times: people might fall, but truth is bulletproof.

"Muthaluva" and "My People's" display again the importance of loving your woman, family roots, and coming together, with Adam's repeated lyric from his opening track, "Black power, raise your fists, raise these kids, we gotta find a better way to live. Black women, pick up your brother, support your man, black brothers, love your lady and lead your fam." Thoughts of race relations, struggle, and ultimately overcoming circumstances illustrate Paranormal Adam's strengths on this record. Tracks toward the end of the album venture into the instrumental breaks territory, with the DJ Shadow-inspired drum track, "Let Me People Go", giving listeners a solid groove to get lost in, and the album's haunting closer, "Revelations", hits with the determination of Adam's hardcore rhymes. It's a scary good way to bring his political message to the forefront, as Adam concludes that he's fighting for all people against the corruption of the "lunatics who run the government".

Overall, The Black Plague is a manifestation of protest and solidarity unified through song. It is an exceptionally strong debut album from the New Haven native, who I've had the pleasure of seeing perform live. It's the ultimate protest record, and breaks the mold of the mainstream drivel that's sold to the masses, which tend to promote lesser value and meaning to impressionable youth. This album is a reminder of a very important truth: love, unity, and understanding through art is the most important thing in the world we live in today. Paranormal Adam's The Black Plague takes control of the subject, and drives home this message with real hip-hop in its finest form.

The Black Plague - 9/10

Recommended Tracks: Black Brilliance, The Secret, Let My People Go

March 19, 2019

DJ Dark Flow's Masterpiece Crate: Introduction (Titles Subject to Change)

Every so often, an artist or a group releases an album that fans often consider one of their best pieces or work, or even a masterpiece. In my lifetime, I would argue that a great number of music albums have achieved this high class distinction. Of course, every pick is a highly subjective and personal matter, yet I would go as far as to say that many fans of the artists I listen to would mostly, if not whole-heartedly agree with me that there are music albums out there which reach this class without question. Thus begins my introduction to DJ Dark Flow's Masterpiece Crate.

I have been affected musically by a wide variety of music genres in my life. I wanted to pay tribute to albums which have released in my lifetime by creating a new series of articles focusing on this highly personal collection that I hold up high. As a general rule, I didn't want to get into any of the undisputed classic albums that have released before my time, so anything older than my 30 year history (pre-1988) will be omitted from this series.

Additionally, I will not attempt to put a number rating at the bottom of each article. It is obvious that I already think very highly of the music I will be covering, and they will be covered in chronological order sorted by release date and year. For this new and exciting series, I came up with a list of 49 essential albums that have released from 1991 all the way up to 2017.

There are plenty of other albums that didn't make the list that I know other listeners may ask why they're not on here, but that explanation simply comes down to the fact of what I was exposed to growing up and what affected me personally. So over the next year or so, I will start releasing breakdowns and examinations of these 49 "masterpiece" albums starting with the first album on the list, Nirvana's worldwide commercial breakthrough, Nevermind.

Stay tuned for this new and exciting series, and feel free to drop comments as these articles come out. Discussion about music is a communal experience, and the understanding achieved from the music of these great artists is the greatest gift they could have hoped to give to us and the world. Peace.

March 17, 2019

Karen O & Danger Mouse - Lux Prima Review

Both of the musicians involved in the creation of this work have already had highly successful careers in their own right. Danger Mouse, involved as a partner for such musical acts as Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells (with The Shins' frontman James Mercer), Danger Doom (with MF DOOM), as well as serving as a musical producer for Beck, The Black Keys, and Portugal. The Man among others, has proven time and time again that his talent for curating high-quality musical content for multiple big name artists is second to none. Karen O, frontwoman of the unique three-piece indie rock group The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, from New York City, has been one of the main reasons three of their four albums have been nominated for a Grammy award since their debut, Fever To Tell, in 2003. Together, it seems fitting that these two artists would come together for a stab at a collaborative album. For their debut together, Karen O and Danger Mouse join forces for an easy listening and satisfying electronic pop experience in Lux Prima.

Angelic cries and a magnum opus-like Floydian orchestra bookend Lux Prima with its title track and closer, "Nox Lumina". Still, both tracks have extra songs nestled within them; its opener starts over with a slowish drum kit as Karen croons, "I'm nowhere, I'm no one, I'm nobody. There's nobody but you." It's well executed and contains catchy instrumentation before falling back into the baroque style synth and orchestra, and grows into another beautiful groove with Karen O's wisps of vocals. The church-like ambience carries over into the album's second track, "Ministry", and conjures another smooth number that Karen plays with, showing little effort in her vocal resonance and brilliance, and which produces a feeling of calm and peacefulness that is worth the experience. Danger Mouse also proves himself to be a master pop album producer with these tracks, as well as the next two singles. "Turn The Light" and "Woman" both show us that Karen O has full control of her vocal register and falsetto, displaying full composure for the former, and an unbridled wild side of her in the latter. "Woman" and it's subsequent track, "Redeemer", both remind us where Karen O came from, as this singing style's very similar to how she performs when fronting The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “Drown” has the somber melodies and melancholy singing that pulls you in to its sensual chorus, playing and toying with the idea of our own mortality and depression in life.

Overall, Lux Prima is a fun and relaxed listen. There isn't a whole lot of new ground gained from the fruits of this high profile collaboration. I would have honestly expected something a little more from these talented, veteran musicians, but Lux Prima hits all the right notes and does it safely to create a pretty, standard, electronic pop album.

Lux Prima - 8/10

Recommended Tracks: Lux Prima, Ministry, Redeemer

March 11, 2019

Claud5 - Dogs Carry Knives Review

After years of incubating beats and simmering synths, Connecticut based lo-fi electronic beat producer and emcee Claud5 releases his debut solo effort, Dogs Carry Knives, and wastes no time in pulling listeners in to his world of mythos and flow.

A brisk, head nodding treat worthy of many spins, Dogs Carry Knives has an encompassing, cohesive skin and theme of dogs, or rather, their ancestors, and exhibits Claud5’ drum-synth abilities in highly evolved form. Despite his producer name, this album has the inescapable atmosphere and feeling of exploration and discovery that you would find aimlessly scouting through the woods in the dead of night.

The start is slow and meditative as Claud5 piano melodies and synths swing like a pendulum, lulling listeners into a dream state, with tracks like “Scouting” and “Wounded”. From the first few tracks, the addictive pull of his swirls of synths disarms and prepares listeners for the heavier half of Dogs Carry Knives, which ventures into more and more syncopated, 808 laced numbers, and other bright and whimsical territory, displayed on tracks such as “Wolf 1061C” and “Fur”.

A track with earlier renditions which I fondly remember makes its way on here in the form of “Eye Contact”, a beautiful hip-hop synth vibing beat that suddenly takes a turn into the dark corners of dubstep-y EDM. It’s the perfect transition into “Bonepick”, a menacing dark trap, witch house beat with haunting vibes and another excellent lead-in towards the gritty scene of “Midnight Feeding”, which thumps with a feral heart while synths pass overhead. Claud5 closes out his debut album with “Super Blood Wolf Moon”, a departure in style but a nonetheless magical sendoff in drum n bass, reminiscent of the 90’s rave scene nostalgia or classic albums like Zomby’s “Where Were You in ‘92?”

Dogs Carry Knives contains a very high quality and tried and true flow that any electronic artist should aspire to creating. It has deep pockets and rich layers in its subdued opening compositions, which slowly grow in intensity and complexity, and play with its own dichotomy of heavy, lo-fi beats and graceful, glistening synths. One scene that comes to mind where I feel this debut would find a comfortable home is in the hazy Los Angeles glitch hop movement, and the lo-fi, electronic, and jazz label Brainfeeder, because Dogs Carry Knives is soaked with experimental rhythms and dark, sensual soul.... It’s an album both beautiful and savage, and it makes Claud5 one of the up and coming electronic artists worth watching.

Dogs Carry Knives - 8.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Scouting, Wolf 1061C, Midnight Feeding