July 29, 2019

DJ Dark Flow's Masterpiece Crate #2: Alice In Chains - Dirt

If Nirvana created the perfect storm for grunge to come into the fold with their worldwide hit, Nevermind, then Alice In Chains took the genre a giant leap further, with their second full-length album, Dirt. Like Nirvana, Alice In Chains also came into their own after recording a gritty debut, punk-grunge album, Facelift in 1990, before the release of this grunge-metal masterpiece. Facelift displayed some true potential for the band since they produced some excellent hit songs which have just as much staying power today as some of Dirt's best songs, such as Man in the Box, Bleed the Freak, and Sea of Sorrow. These singles were also a big indicator that lead singer Layne Staley's talents were a grade above those of Kurt Cobain's, as his vocal cords could easily handle an excessively powerful release from within all the while maintaining his delicate flutter as he sang. It seemed only a matter of time then, after Nevermind, that Alice In Chains would continue to top themselves after Facelift, and they most certainly did with what is undisputedly the strongest album in the group's career.

Fronted by Layne, who shared songwriting duties with lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell, Alice In Chains benefited from their combined effort of Layne's powerful and stunning vocal range and Jerry's personal life struggles personified through the music. Dirt covers many themes in life such as pain, anger, addiction, toxic relationships, war, death, heartbreak, and depression. As it stands as an album that contains so many of these heavy topics, Dirt, while classified as grunge or alternative rock, was the heaviest and darkest offering of the genre at that time, and oftentimes turned more heavy metal than grunge, as can be heard in their brutal and tortured opening track, Them Bones. Alice In Chains doesn't hold back with this one, with chilling cries of agony and heavy metal guitar riffs chugging through the track. Written by Cantrell and executed so well by Staley and company, this is the reason their combined force was so strong and compelling, and they address the existential threat of our mortality right away here in this opener as Layne sings, "I believe them bones are me, some say we're born into the grave, I feel so alone, gonna end up a big 'ole pile a them bones."

Dam That River doesn't let the energy die either, as it starts up another metal rock riff and moves the album forward with another heavy-hearted tune, laced with imagery of violence and anger, as Layne cries out, "Oh, you couldn't dam that river, and maybe I don't give a damn anyway, so you couldn't dam that river, and it washed me so far away." Rain When I Die caps off this opening trio of tracks with dark, dense motifs and incredible singing by Layne, before Dirt cuts back into one of the strongest songs on the album, Down in a Hole. Written by Jerry, this powerful rock ballad was his ode to his then-girlfriend, Courtney Clarke. The eventual falling apart and heartbreak that ensued from his life's choice of being in a rock band and touring created a song that he felt hit him the hardest. The nature of their lifestyles and touring schedules meant he couldn't hold on to his longtime love, and it left him feeling "down in a hole." It's the first heartfelt piece of music to come out of Dirt and Layne treats the material delicately and beautifully as he sings on Jerry's behalf, "Down in a hole and I don't know if I can be saved, see my heart I decorate it like a grave."

Sickman trades marching heavy metal riffs for brooding sludge and doom metal as it moves from verse to chorus and back again, and Layne sings about the struggles of living in the sick world that he's created for himself and having no control in life. It's also a commentary about the world at large, as Layne groans, "I can feel the wheel but I can't steer, when my thoughts become my biggest fear, ah, what's the difference I'll die, oh, in this sick world of mine." The pure grunge-rock grace of Alice In Chains is felt most on the following song, the most memorable track of their career thus far, Rooster. A watery guitar slowly strums and repeats as a gospel-like choir croons an iconic melody that can only be known as the precursor for one of Layne's best performances yet, his storied rendition of Jerry's own personal fears of losing his father in the Vietnam war. The music video dives deeper than the music, as Jerry's own father is interviewed about his experience of being drafted into the army and surviving the harrowing and horrifying life experience. It makes for a haunting and inescapable piece of grunge-rock history that has been burned into the minds of listeners for generations.

After Rooster comes to a finish, the first half of the record gives way to an even more honest, insightful, and punishing set of tracks, with a trio of heavy, yet emotional songs: Junkhead, the title track Dirt, and Godsmack. Junkhead was Layne's willingness to admit his rampant and tormented drug use, an addiction which plagued him for the rest of his short life. It is full of desperation and self-reflection, as Layne comes to terms with his afflictions and tries to place listeners into the mind of a user, as he sings, "You can't understand a user's mind, but try with your books and degrees, if you let yourself go and opened your mind, I'll bet you'd be doing like me and it ain't so bad." Layne cuts back into a fully-unrepenting chorus as he sings, "What's my drug of choice? Well, what have you got? I don't go broke, and I do it a lot, said I do it a lot." It's one of Layne's most straight-forward and honest songs about his addiction, and although he sings with an air of calm, his screaming spirit can be heard just beneath the surface. Dirt pulls the curtains back at a relationship that's gone to sh*t, for lack of a better term. His focus on what it's like to be made to feel like dirt by another person is full of doom and gloom, as he describes the experience of feeling buried alive by the person he loves, and ultimately forces him to retreat inward. Godsmack doesn't lighten the load much, but it does feel like a breath of fresh air for that matter, as Jerry and company pick up the tempo from the previous two tracks and Layne experiments with a fluttering vocal stutter, singing, "Don't you know that none are blind, to the lie, and you think I don't find what you hide? What in God's name have you done? Stick your arm for some real fun." He later finishes the song with a penetrating line, "So your sickness weighs a ton, and God's name is smack for some," effectively drawing the parallel to people's addictions and feeling the presence of God as being the most high.

The final four songs open with a track sometimes left untitled, sometimes listed as Intro, or Iron Gland, and it's a short but dark, menacing signal that Alice In Chains is far from over. Hate to Feel gives listeners a look at the anger buried deep inside Layne, as he is the sole songwriter credited here. He sings in the chorus, "All this time I swore I'd never be like my old man, what the hey it's time to face exactly who I am." Angry Chair, one of the five singles, was Layne's only other solo songwriting credit. It's the penultimate track on the record and makes heavy metal blows with guitars and drums as Layne howls his deepest insecurities, "Loneliness is not a phase, field of pain is where I graze, serenity is far away, saw my reflection and cried, so little hope that I died, oh, feed me your lies, open wide, weight of my heart, not the size, oh." His pain is almost immediately disregarded in a half-hearted dismissal of a chorus, "I don't mind, yeah, I don't mind." The epic final track is Layne and Jerry's ultimate send-off for Dirt, which was never repeated again with their few final releases that remained, with Would?. Layne takes his vocals to the full range that he is capable of, and with Jerry's writing and vocal turns on the verses, they make a killing, as they barrel towards the final message that they have, and Layne unleashes an unforgettable grunge vocal performance in the chorus. Written for Jerry's late friend Andrew Wood, lead singer of Seattle alternative grunge band Mother Love Bone, who passed in 1990 from a heroin overdose, Jerry had a heavy heart from the matter, and knowing Layne's repeated drug use, it is a completely haunting track to hear knowing full well where Layne was heading. Layne sings, "Into the flood again, same old trip it was back then, so I made a big mistake, try to see it once my way."

It cannot be overstated how much Dirt's music was attributed to Jerry Cantrell's personal life experiences and songwriting talents. His writing was in effect taken to a place he could never get to with the addition of Layne Staley to help the band reach incredible heights in the first half of their career. While Jerry is still alive and well with this latter half iteration of Alice In Chains, it will never be the same without the awe-inspiring vocal powers of Layne, and there's no other album that they recorded during Layne's life where their collaboration was as perfect as it is here in Dirt. It's another masterpiece after Nevermind, and its themes took grunge and alternative to a very dark corner of life, all while maintaining its heart and keeping its core true to the struggles that afflicted its two leading songwriters.

Recommended Tracks: Down In A Hole, Rooster, Would?

July 20, 2019

Update: Backwords Thoughts Single OUT NOW

The final supporting single from my debut album Crystallize, Backwords Thoughts, a revisit of my instrumental bonus track, is out now! Featuring verses by Long Island emcees B. Dvine and Thomas Coppola (both who I have reviewed in the past and Thomas who I have just recently interviewed), Backwords Thoughts is a fully-fleshed out idea with jewels of knowledge for your ears. Listen now on Bandcamp or any other streaming platform that you choose and listen to my album Crystallize on all music streaming platforms!

July 14, 2019

The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger Review

After 11 years, the Jack White-led blues-rock band The Raconteurs finally released their follow up album to 2008's Consolers of The Lonely, Help Us Stranger, on June 21st of this year. As far as why the long wait stretched beyond a span of a decade may be due to lead guitarist Brenden Benson's solo music career, as well as the prolific post-White Stripes career of Jack White, who leads his own solo act as well as another blues-rock band, The Dead Weather. The time between both of these albums was so long that most fans were pretty certain that there might not have been another album coming, especially since the reports were unlikely as far back as 2015 that there was hardly any new material recorded at all, according to Benson in an interview with The Guardian newspaper. Finally, in 2019, The Raconteurs surprise their fans with the release of their third album, the hard-rocking, and blues-licking, Help Me Stranger.

Bored and Razed makes for an unassuming opening riff that repeats until it crescendos into a familiar hard rock groove with White's unmistakable, defiant, yelling vocals. There's not a whole lot to latch onto in this opening bit, as it has a pretty standardized formula that any fan of rock n' roll will enjoy with quiet enthusiasm, and the album really doesn't pick up the pace until their title (is it though?) track, Help Me Stranger. This second song pulls up its britches and presents such a colorful blend of percussion, guitar melodies, and verse-chord structure, that there is something to be said for the combined songwriting talents of Bensen and White, which is something that can't be heard on any other White or Benson-related release. It hits an exalted high point early on in Help Us Stranger, which the album has to continue to try to match or exceed for the remainder of its runtime, which it more or less succeeds.

Only Child slows down to showcase the storytelling ambitions of these two guitarists, as they sing about the prodigal son coming home. It is a satisfying melody once again and filled with familiar themes found in other songs such as leaving everything behind and forging a new life. It is accentuated by neat, buzzy organ work that makes it complete. As soon as it's over, Don't Bother Me explodes into a loud and bustling outburst of a tune that White has been known to make in his other bands, The Dead Weather, and The White Stripes. Its makeup is frenetic and stylized with heavy-effected guitars and a defiant, repeated, vocal shout, "Don't bother me!"

Shine The Light on Me and Somedays (I Don't Feel Like Trying) are softer and more self-reflective as the album crosses into the back half. Other highlights include Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness), their single Sunday Driver, and the loud and distorted What's Yours is Mine, but the real high point is reached again as the band comes to their final song, Thoughts and Prayers. White and Benson slow the group down for a traditional sounding, folky, blues tune that has great acoustics and lyrics. It succeeds at producing a great string crescendo with their assorted instruments and brings the album to a satisfying finish.

Help Us Stranger is a welcome return from a band that had ghosted their fans for 11 years long. Jack White, never truly revealing what The Raconteurs had been up to, was always busy producing work with The Dead Weather and as a solo artist since 2009 and 2012 respectively. Their collaborative efforts to put out a brand new album in 2019 might not have been needed, but it is an enjoyable listen nonetheless to give fans another fresh dose of bluesy, garage rock and roll.

Help Us Stranger - 7.8/10

Recommended Tracks: Help Me Stranger, Somedays (I Don't Feel Like Trying), Thoughts And Prayers

July 12, 2019

Various Artists - The Music of Red Dead Redemption II: (Original Soundtrack) Review

Today released an original soundtrack from the makers of the wild west, cowboy masterpiece of last year, Red Dead Redemption II. A fully alive world of the west, Red Dead was instantly hailed as an undisputed classic in modern cinematic and interactive storytelling. It's awe-inspiring immersive characters, setting, and story were brought to vivid life not only by its beautiful, picture-perfect graphics but also by its swooning music, which could quietly enhance a scene or break out in full bravado, placing any player right in the middle of a classic western film. Rockstar shows the world again that their release last year was more than just a video game, but an arresting piece of art that deserves another look this summer, in the form of RDRII's original soundtrack.

Composed by various multiple Grammy-award-winning artists, Red Dead's OST has many different forms as it plays through. The music in this short 40-something minute release takes inspiration from the period of the wild west, so it's vocals and notes understandably so venture into the styles of instrumental banjo tunes, folk, country, and even some headier western rock tracks. The opening tune, Unshaken, features a deep, gravelly-toned vocalist with a choir of backing singers, in a Johnny Cash-like melody. It appropriately introduces listeners to the world of Red Dead. The second track, Moonlight, almost traverses into gospel territory, as singers croon and moan with the soft rising and lulling instruments. Other tracks that follow feature traditional sounding, bluesy country numbers, such as That's The Way It Is, and Cruel World, sung by none other than Willie Nelson.

Mountain Finale is the first of several instrumental pieces that inject a feeling of spirited excitement into the mix, a welcome break from the moody country and folk numbers that precede it. Crash of Worlds is ultimately a reprise of Unshaken, with an added melodic twist and an atmosphere of a story and song sung around a campfire of runaways and outlaws. Mountain Hymn is a transcendent piece of beautiful guitar-work and heavenly vocals and it further paints a serene setting of settlers' struggles and living their lives. Mountain Banjo is the second instrumental that opens up a suite of visually stimulating musical tracks, such as the introspective, steady Table Top, and the unflinching, rocking and rolling Love Comes Back. Oh My Lovely caps off this series of instrumental takes into western culture with a reverb-y (almost too-much-so) guitar meditation. The soundtrack is brought to a close with its final rendition of Cruel World by Joshua Homme, a retrospective look at the world that we've created before us.

The Music of Red Dead Redemption II is satisfying and illuminating as a video game soundtrack. Its many different styles throughout, all influenced by the same time period, showcases the studio's talent for storytelling in more ways than one. As Rockstar stated in their press release, an original score, intended to be this soundtrack's official companion album and featuring much more musical content, will be coming later this summer. Until that time comes though, there are some real quality tunes to enjoy now while the table is being set for Red Dead's next music release.

The Music of Red Dead Redemption II - 8.25/10

Recommended Tracks: Unshaken, Table Top, Love Comes Back

July 9, 2019

Interview: Thomas Coppola

AirdriftSignals: Hi Thomas, how are you feeling today? What are your overall feelings this year in 2019?

I'm feeling good these days. 2019 has been a great year for me so far... it's been a year of new beginnings with the name change, a new day job, and new music!

AirSig: Regarding the name change to the one you have now, what made you decide to go through with it?

I was getting confused a bunch with Christian rapper Odd Thomas, so I decided to change my name officially to Thomas Coppola. I felt like it fit since I come from an Italian family and like Francis Ford Coppola I came up making movies and videos. I think I decided to go through with it when I started getting mistaken for the Christian rapper and then started getting hate mail for not being him... it was a confusing scenario regardless so the name change is for the best.

AirSig: Dusty is your latest full-length album, but it appears that it's not your first major release. It seems that in the past few years you have had a great outpouring of material.

I've been dumping dude. I used to release multiple projects a year but I've recently started to slow the output and be more focused. When you're just spitting bars you tend to record a lot but recently I've been trying to be more thoughtful in my lyrics and the songwriting process has slowed down a bit.

AirSig: You have had some repeated collaborations with a mutual associate of ours, B. Dvine, but as far as Dusty is concerned, you have a lot of productions that you can call your own. Can you elaborate on how your sound in terms of music has developed over the past few years?

Absolutely... it's funny because Dvine actually taught me how to make beats. He showed me how to sample and everything so my style started out with that dusty NY sound he is known for. I've grown production-wise in the last couple years and really made the sound my own. I love to experiment with sounds and samples and I don't really like to box myself in too much, but for Dusty I wanted to keep that Raw NY sounds so I kept it lofi/boom bap focused.

AirSig: Is there any equipment you prefer to use when making your beats? Any you are looking forward to trying out in the future?

I make all my beats on Ableton Live 9. I'm in the works of building a new computer from scratch though and I'm going to upgrade to Ableton Live 10. I'm also probably gonna end up purchasing Serato sample which I have had my eye on. But right now I work with a Korg midi controller and an Akai MPD. My next major release is going to be very weird production-wise, I've been playing around with a lot of sounds.

AirSig: When listening to Dusty, I got the sense that this record you put together sounds like a pure product of New York, and more specifically, Long Island. Is this where you grew up most of your life?

Yes, I grew up on Long Island, NY and Dusty is absolutely a raw expression of that sound. It really was an ode to the classic sound, I wanted to make a dope NY album that I can brag about in my catalogue on par with some of the dusty gutter rappers of today like Roc Marciano, Meyhem Lauren, DJ Muggs, Mach Hommy and the Griselda gang.

AirSig: Speaking of influences, with your productions taking a page out of the genres of smooth jazz and early 20th-century music, are there any other influences outside of the genre you’re in that have also made you who you are today? Is there anything in these other artists’ sound that you’ve appreciated and wanted to put back into your music, whether past or contemporary?

A big influence for me outside of hip-hop would definitely be Father John Misty. I think he is one of the best songwriters of our generation and I love his sardonic voice. I was raised on classic rock so everything from Tom Petty to Aerosmith to the Rolling Stones have been an influence on the way I create music, write songs and look for sounds. I've always been drawn to piano pieces so I have to also give props to Billy Joel (Long Island, what's good!) and Elton John for being a big influence on my ear for production.

AirSig: Tracks of yours such as Emily (Interlude), Sonnets In The Rain, and Sarah, all have a sentimental quality to them. I was thinking of a live performance in a late-night jazz club in the city, where you were suited up performing these songs with a live band. This imagery comes across very strong in the music and with your deep vocal delivery. Would you like to explain your choices that went into the creation of these tracks?

I'll start with Sonnets in the Rain. This track was originally going to have Daniel Son on it, he was fucking with the track but we never made it happen, unfortunately. I like to get deep in my bars sometimes and Sonnets is a great overall example of that. Songs like Emily show I can get deep with just the music. I made that beat while thinking about an old girlfriend and all the good times we had, and when I went to write to it I felt like the song was already complete without my lyrics....the beat is so powerful I didn't need to add anything else. I recorded Sarah drunk. It was the intention of it to sound incomplete and full of mistakes. I don't think I successfully recorded the hook correct once lol. That song is a heavy one as it is about wanting a second chance with a lover but not being deserving of one.

AirSig: In several other songs on the album, you got the opportunity to work with some pretty prominent figures, including our associate B. Dvine, Tragedy Khadafi, Goretex, and Fly Anakin. Can you describe what that was like?

Working with these artists was amazing. I've looked up to each of them at a certain point in my career so it was a true honor to have them on the record. I've known B Dvine for a decade. That dude is like my brother so when we get in the lab together it's always going to be something hot cooking. Dvine actually brought the Tragedy verse to me, Trag has been real good to us in the past and I really wanted him on the record. The original song he had the verse on was a trap beat but I flipped it into Mafia Flicks and me and B did our things after him. I been a fan of Fly Anakin for a minute and I been watching him make moves recently so I reached out. He liked the beat for Keep It a Buck and blessed me with a legendary verse for that one. Gore was the last person to hop on the project... that record was originally supposed to have my man D-Rugz on it but the stars never aligned properly. Gore's engineer is boys with Dvine so it was an easy connection to link up. I'm glad he hopped on, he really helped round out the album.

AirSig: On your BandCamp page, it says that you are a producer, rapper, singer, and engineer. You also created the album artwork for Dusty, so clearly you have a lot of talents lined up. Is there anything else that you're working on that you would like to tease for fans?

Yes, I have a new mixtape dropping late summer/early fall called Cold Cuts which is no features, all outside production from a bunch of dope artists. B Dvine on it, Mike Martinez, Cha$e Paydro, John Cotton and Gekko, my man DJ BABYHANDS has a joint on there. It's gonna be a fun tape. I also got my man Blunt Prophet executive producing my new album Townie which is coming after Cold Cuts. Also Digital Gas 2 is still coming!

Dusty is available now on all music platforms. You can read my full review of the album here. Support Thomas Coppola's music on thomascoppola.bandcamp.com

Thomas Coppola - Dusty Review

Premium-grade production and a voice that you can chill or ride to are just a few of the many ways to classify Long Island rapper Thomas Coppola’s latest full-length album, Dusty, a tribute to his home state of New York and the legends of hip-hop who kick-started the movement.

Representing the hip-hop scene in the Long Island locale, Dusty features production by area artists, which include B. Dvine, E-Prosounds, and eXodus, with the majority of Dusty's tracks produced by Thomas himself. His opening rap on Tight Loop Intro plays with a funky beat and gives first-time listeners a taste of Thomas's sound with his music and vocals, and it’s a warm and inviting piece to pull listeners in before his second track Marvin Munroe starts up with its soulful and jazzy organ beat. Thomas is very confident in Marvin Munroe and throughout Dusty, and as he raps in Gorgeous, he admits that he found his voice after some time of feeling like he couldn't fit in. His position of being a white rapper in the genre is no qualm either because he very unabashedly owns his sound and lures listeners into his world's present and past of growing up and living in Long Island.

Outta My Mind, a heavy hitter in production created by B. Dvine, gets deeper in the lyrics. "Pills keep me sane, smoke keeps me grounded, so every time I step into the studio it's astounding, get money like an accountant, what's a little countryside hill to a mountain, I'm loungin'," Thomas raps before B. Dvine's contagious hook wiles, "I must have been out of my mind!" Thomas continues in Outta My Mind, as he says with resolve that he's got "an undying need to defeat all my demons," something that comes up in later songs of the album, where Thomas allows himself to be more vulnerable in the wake of emotional heartbreak, which is felt in the lyrics of the track Sarah, and can even be felt in the music of the interlude Emily.

The tight and hard productions paired with New York and sometimes mafia related imagery drops listeners squarely on the streets with Thomas as he raps about the snakes, villains, and the people who have come to help him while growing up. This can be heard on the following tracks Gotham and Mafia Flicks, as B. Dvine, Goretex, and Tragedy Khadafi team up and help Thomas destroy the naysayers and haters that cross paths with him. Thomas has one of those rare talents of being a rapper whose voice is deep, smooth, and easy to listen to, no matter whether he’s kicking back with his lyrics or delivering a heavy blow to the ego. Elephant In The Room is a short single-verse, minute and a half track where not a second is wasted, as Thomas addresses the elephants in the game, unable to change, as well as the newcomers, "all you wannabe rappers be taking notes, take a break from eating all of that molly and doing coke, I do it like the Godson, I ain't no joke, tell the world that I'm joining the race to be the g.o.a.t."

As Dusty crosses over to the back half of the album, several tracks, including but not limited to Emily (Interlude), Sonnets In The Rain, and Sarah, create a feeling as if Thomas is delivering a performance with a live band at a late night jazz club in NYC. When listening to Thomas Coppola’s delivery, the effect of his vocals over the beats is prominent and his calm and confident character exudes class, no matter what topic he raps about. This imagery is strong and undeniable, and it creates another fold of Thomas Coppola's unique style. Keep It A Buck, featuring Fly Anakin, is a free-floating spaced-out beat produced by Thomas, and Fly Anakin's flow effortlessly soars with it, meanwhile, the eXodus-produced Numbers on The Board flips the style and tone of the album yet again! The overall effect of these last few tracks with the Funky Jam Outro and bonus cut Who Wants It? chills the mood out for Dusty's smooth landing. The overall feeling from beginning to end feels like a flight through the multiple styles of hip-hop music, and Thomas Coppola eloquently guides listeners through all of it.

Dusty is an album that earns its high praise and repeated listens. It features a rapper whose life experiences has created a rich filter for hip-hop music and storytelling, and Dusty is a definite must-listen for any fans of the genre. Thomas Coppola proves to be a gem for independent and mainstream hip-hop, and his vividly textured music goes along with his vocal talent to create a unique experience not felt in most mainstream hip-hop today. If Dusty is a sign of anything, it is that Thomas Coppola will continue to grow and deliver high-quality music and art in the near future, as he states in AirdriftSignals first exclusive interview with him.

Dusty - 9.25/10

Recommended Tracks: Elephant In The Room, Sonnets In The Rain, Numbers On The Board

July 2, 2019

Update: Interviews Incoming

As an ongoing attempt to bring my online publication to the next level, I will start publishing focused and unique interviews on the AirdriftSignals platform. When there are new music releases from independent artists, I will provide an opportunity for the artist to speak for the music themselves, and also give their insight into what goes on in their creative process. This will usually be accompanied by a full review of the artist's latest release that will follow up as the next entry of this publication.

I hope more artists will join and be a part of the AirdriftSignals community of artists, fans, and readers. Stay tuned for this new and exciting format for independent art, and keep on drifting.