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

February 27, 2019

B. Dvine - The Process of Illumination Review

Bom-b-b-b-b-bombastic beats and sharp cutting wordplay inspires and gives power to those who want to take a dive into Long Island beat producer and emcee B. Dvine's newest full length mixtape, The Process of Illumination.

A step up in his production game since his 2017 mixtape, Dvine Intervention, B. Dvine, aka Brian Daly, diversifies his already illustrious and decorated portfolio by picking up the pen. In actuality, Daly has been refining his vocal persona for a number of years, but now he is able to display his talent and evolution on this February 25th release, and by supporting it with Full Blast booking's "Goin' Coastal Tour" on the East and West coasts.

Full of features and guest productions by prominent rappers, including but not limited to: Jahan Nostra, Menace O.B.E.Z., Fred The Godson, Tragedy Khadafi, and Havoc of Mobb Deep, B. Dvine's crew throughout this release shines and adds flavor to The Process of Illumination. The mixtape kicks off with a militaristic hip-hop snare produced by Kinetic 9, as Dvine introduces listeners to the POI, explaining this release as a compilation of tracks both older and new, and fittingly opens with a solo track "Nothing Personal", getting into the grind of B. Dvine's sole mission to keep business business while making none of it personal. Track number 3 is the beginning of what seems to be a series of epic freestyles B. Dvine has pollinated throughout the album, and again, taking the thematics to another important level in Dvine's career, the legacy of family and his late father, and personal questions regarding dark times and struggles with addiction. Only one thought comes to mind from this first trio of tracks: B. Dvine is real underground hip-hop with VALUES.

Track number 4 and on begins the assault of big time hits that Dvine and his associates have created, all with a sick lineup of versatile guest features. "Can I Live" really does give chills and goosebumps, as Dvine proclaims, and his "Mom Praying Freestyle" flows effortlessly over a beautiful soulful beat as he declares, "They say teamwork makes the dream work, let's come together and redeem worth!" B Dvine's team certainly sounds fluid, and everyone has an interesting personality to add here on these tracks. Track 10's "The Grey" cuts deep with heavy themes, and it becomes clear that B. Dvine isn't afraid to appear vulnerable, for the events in his family made him who he is today. "My Own World" gives a dreamy, chill vibe, and follows with B. Dvine's playful freestyle over the late J Dilla's soulful hip-hop beat, an exclusive freestyle delivered to my own radio show Adrift In The Airwaves back in the day, in which Dvine gives a piece of his mind to women on social media, who search for attention in all the wrong places. "Tale of 2 Cities Freestyle" is the last of the freestyle verses off Dvine's dome, and it hits hard over a concussive trap beat. "Unite" is the final message of the album, over a 90's sounding, Wu Tang style beat produced by Mavz, and is a beautiful sendoff to Dvine's first mixtape in the Process of Illumination series.

When the album comes to a close, it's very tempting to go right back to the start. With this addicting replay-ability, one thing becomes abundantly clear: B. Dvine has a god-given talent of interweaving verses and tracks on the POI in way that holds value and has weight, which is a testament to a genre that could always do with more high consciousness. Some artists can only dream of making tracks like these: what The Process of Illumination mixtape shows is that B. Dvine has a knack for creating lightning in a bottle almost every time.

The Process of Illumination - 9.85/10

Recommended Tracks: Hii Power Freestyle, Gotta Try, My Own World

January 27, 2019

Milestones Part II: DJ Dark Flow

After I put my radio show on an indefinite hiatus in 2015, I was fully committed to developing myself musically, having now more free time to focus my energies on original music production instead of planning for 4 hours of radio programming every week. As I explained in my first chapter of Milestones, music was ingrained in me from a very early age, since being exposed to various rock n roll by my father, and I quickly forged my own path in musical discovery. I always had the desire to be a musician, and was influenced by groups in high school such as Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Mars Volta (all of which reinforced my interest in musical experimentation and drawing outside the lines of "mainstream music"), and Nine Inch Nails (a group known for being a one-man act who had an enormous influence on my motivation to make music all on my own) among others. When moving to Connecticut with my family, I quickly tried to make friends and form a band. I was able to form a 3 piece rock group, which eventually became a 4 piece with the addition of a keyboardist, and we donned the name Breathe, named after the Pink Floyd track off Dark Side of The Moon.

During this same period, I was gifted a Fostex 16-track recorder by my father after probably nagging him and asking him enough about it. I will always be grateful for my father for encouraging me to keep up with the music, taking me to trumpet lessons, making sure I was practicing with my guitar, and enrolling me in guitar classes and jazz band in school. He was later supportive of me getting into college radio, after I found out that there was no formal schooling on studio recording engineering (as it turns out, I ended up becoming a self-taught music producer on my own).

With Breathe, I was able to take my music practice and skills to the next level, getting my first taste of making my own recordings, both with the band and as a solo artist in my bedroom studio (monitors, mic stands, keyboards, electronic effects boards, and electric and acoustic guitars were all neatly set up there). From this time period between 2004 and 2007, I created a small body of recordings with the band, as well as a number of solo tracks, which sounded heavily electronic, experimental, and industrial in nature. I had to pick a name to differentiate my recordings from my group, and so I settled on the moniker Satellite Beats, giving a nod to my love for space rock and electronic music. These recordings I've made still do impress me, and they have been released here and there in the ether of the internet. They were my first forays into electronic music making using multitrack hardware. 

After my group had disbanded when some of us left for college and others still had yet to graduate high school, I took a break from music production and put all of my creative time into building my brand as a radio host and electronic DJ. I occasionally put in some time creating some minor remixes (when I would come across song stems and acapellas), but mostly, I was interested in creating exciting radio mixes and featuring musical guests. In the beginning of 2011, my graduation year, I started creating dubstep mixes and electronic mashups under my DJ name. These are some of my first releases. I was aware that my time with UConn's radio station was coming to a close, but I wanted to keep being creative and stay relevant, so I called and asked around and booked a few live DJ shows. I was inspired by a couple of my DJ friends, DJ Daysix and DJ Slav, who I met and spent some time with, and I wanted to get into the scene of live DJing at popular hangouts in CT.

After a number of live shows at some popular places and people's houses and my continued releasing of mashups and DJ mixes, I started to become uninterested with mixing for a live audience, since I had no original music to work into a live set. I felt like this made my persona almost a bit hollow and still not fully formed. Sure, I could mix electronic tunes together and string together a flow of fun, danceable beats, but I didn't have anything I could truly call my own. I decided to stop my ventures of playing out, and around this time, I was actually granted an extension on my radio program through WPKN in Bridgeport, CT, which I started volunteering at in September of 2011.

As a musical persona, I felt like I needed some visual branding as well. I had a clear vision of what I wanted for DJ Dark Flow, but I didn't necessarily have the expertise to pull off the images that were in my mind's eye. I enlisted a couple people along the way to help me realize my logos and designs. One of them was a buddy of mine from San Diego, Dan Morris. At the time, he was a vocalist in a black metal band called Gravespell, which I thought had a very cool and heavy vibe. My interest in electronic music and dubstep in particular had elements of dark sonic landscapes and gritty, hardcore production, and sometimes some songs in the genre even sounded like the chaotic grinding and riffage of heavy metal music. This was something about the genre that interested me greatly, as I was always a fan of the heavy, hard hitting sounds of metal or industrial music growing up, listening to bands like System of A Down, Ozzy Osbourne, Tool, or Nine Inch Nails. This sound was very much an influence on me musically as well as visually, so I felt confident in my collaboration with Dan to create my very first logo.
The end result was a great accomplishment for us, and I felt like it was something wholly unique and made a statement. I didn't care that it might appear difficult to read for the uninitiated, but instead, wanted to put it out there for all to see. It was all the elements that I felt like defined my alias: ideas and music flowing smoothly like a river, organic and ancient looking medallions rising out from the depths, and ultimately chained together by heavy metal links. It was my first real visual branding for myself, and I quickly ordered limited prints of posters and shirts, which I promoted at some live events and while on my radio show. Beyond my main river logo and various other designs, my visual branding took a backseat to single and cover artwork as my original music began to take form.

Leaving WPKN left me with all the time I needed to re-focus. I just had to figure out how to use a digital audio workstation, or DAW. Growing up, and while in high school, I was persistent with my Fostex 18 track, and my parents had enrolled me into a summer camp for learning Pro Tools. It was an interesting, yet highly complex computer software, but with trial and error, I was able to compose my very first electronic song using this program, for my alias Satellite Beats, called Anything and Everything. It was a basic heavily effected guitar track, with a repetitive house beat. I was amazed with my creation. Following this summertime retreat, I attained a copy of the software for my first macbook, but sessions using the program proved highly frustrating. Getting myself started took the longest time, and sometimes, the sound would just mute or create a horrible feedback loop, and I felt completely at a loss for solving these problems within the program. Ultimately, I had to walk away from using Pro Tools, since it created more headaches than music. 

This exploration of music software programs continued, but was left on the back burner while I ran my radio show. In the late summer or early fall of 2014, several months before my final broadcast, I linked up with a buddy of mine who I had on the show several times, and worked his music into my setlists. His stage name was Ancient Origin, who made music in the genres of 8-bit, electronic, IDM, jungle, and breakcore tunes. As we worked together, or rather, on our own tracks at his house, something in my head clicked while I was working with a new DAW, Apple's Logic Pro. This epiphany I had jumpstarted production on my first original release as DJ Dark Flow, my debut self-titled EP, in the summer of 2015.

My first release was an exploration of several different genres: electronic, dubstep, jungle/IDM, dark trap, and hip-hop. The goal was to filter all of my musical influences into my music, but not pigeonhole my producer persona into any one style. This release saw the help of a couple of my good friends and collaborators with my radio show, Ancient Origin, once again, and B. Dvine, who laid down an awesome verse on my final bonus track. I chose these two for being inspirations to me, witnessing their musical production and talent during Adrift In The Airwaves. They paid me back with amazing support and collaborations. The artwork itself was a gift from a co-worker of mine when he was up listening to my late night show, and was inspired to give me a cool graphic of my name over an up-close shot he took of tree bark. I knew upon my first glance that it was going to be the cover art of my first EP.

Giovanni Piris worked with me again on my follow up single artwork, delivering a high quality scan of a gigantic Buddha statue being taken down by soldiers, for my two track release, SO)L, in October of that year. After several more small releases over the next few years, releases which saw me experimenting with even more genres, such as jazz, drum n' bass, and witch house, I was feeling ready with my musical development to start forming a full length album.

Going through all of my previously incomplete musical projects in Logic, I was able to see some of my forgotten ideas in a new light. One of the many great benefits of creating music in a computer program is always being able to build on ideas which you have left on the cutting room floor from previous sessions. Some of these snippets of music started to create new inspiration, when before they didn't seem to go anywhere. One of my arhythmic drum beats that I had created eventually formed into the first single which will also appear on my debut album, Cracking the Code. It became a pretty neat dubstep track, and I was surprised with how it formed out of a previously abandoned beat. The spring of 2018 was also the year I was able to get all of my music onto streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music. I was ready for a full, worldwide musical presence, since my sound had evolved and grown, and I wanted to be available to listen to, anywhere and anytime.

I promoted my new single with the promise and expectation that my EP, titled Crystallize, was going to be released by the summertime. That never happened though. I felt stuck on several of the songs, and ended up taking a break. In the meantime, my interests shifted during the summer period to an unfinished work from years ago, a horror story I was writing, called Crimson Sky. I had several book ideas, and I wanted to release one as a special "multi-genre" work, which incorporated music. As a shift to take my music production skills in a different creative direction, I decided to put all of my attention into completing Crimson Sky.

I set myself a personal deadline to release in it time for Halloween, and I had the most of the story outlined, I just had to finish writing it and compose an entire full length score which would match the mood of each chapter and scene in the story. It was a challenging, but very gratifying project, seeing my writing and music come together under one title. I ended up releasing my work in paperback and digital formats on Amazon, and my original soundtrack on all music platforms, simultaneously on October 20th. I had a piece written about it in the local newspaper, and I had a moderate amount of book sales since then. I still haven't had the chance to take my book out to live readings with a compact speaker to play alongside, but that's something I have been meaning to do to continue to promote its release. This was another aspect of my musical capabilities that I wanted the world to see: to show that DJ Dark Flow is not just one genre, or even medium. It was my tribute to horror movies and film soundtracks, and I hope to one day be hired as DJ Dark Flow to compose a full length score for a television show or film.

All of this growth brings me to where I am today: on the eve of my latest release, Crystallize, upgraded from EP to full length debut electronic album. Since the end of the year, I have felt tremendous creativity with several songs where I was previously stuck, with some of them becoming complete within just a couple of weeks. I am still constantly surprised by how fast and agile I have gotten with using Logic Pro, and I believe that I will only become more skilled, as it is with anything. I would highly recommend the program to any aspiring artists, as it has brought me much joy and music that I am proud to present to listeners today. My album Crystallize, I plan on releasing by March, if not April or May at the latest. I have just a couple more songs, out of the 8 that will be on it, to finish forming and putting the finishing touches on, but ultimately, I will be very satisfied with the final product, and achieving this great milestone in my professional and musical career.