Bloc Party: Hymns

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homepage_large.e64cf1bcBritish indie-rockers Bloc Party returned today with a brand new album called Hymns, although the lineup is very different from the Bloc Party most know from albums like Silent Alarm, A Weekend in the CityIntimacy, and their most recent tour in 2013. After a 2 and a half year long hiatus, during which both drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes left the band, the new Bloc Party sounds more like frontman Kele Okereke’s solo material than the “return to form” they were beginning to make on Four and The Nextwave Sessions EPHymnsmuch like Okereke’s solo material, veers toward the poppy, but, also much like the solo stuff, ends up sounding like angsty club music, and has lost all the edginess that made Bloc Party Bloc Party. The evangelical religious undertones on the new album do nothing for Okereke’s often-criticized songwriting and the vocals don’t make up for the simplicity (as with his solo material). But where Hymns ultimately fails is in the sense that its not really a Bloc Party album, and doesn’t signal their return, but rather, a continuation of Okereke’s solo project under the Bloc Party name.

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Anderson .Paak: Malibu

Anderson-Paak

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly arguably opened a lot of doors for a number of experimental hip-hop albums. Some of the artists who worked on that album have gone on to release masterpieces of their own, such as Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington, with his three-hour experimental jazz album The Epic. Out of nowhere, it seems, comes Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, a soulful, jazzy, and beautifully breezy hip-hop record that at times sounds like Lamar’s TPAB, and at other times like something else entirely. Fusing hip-hop, jazz, rap, R&B, and soul, Malibu is a shining example of everything a hip-hop album can be in 2016.

It opens with “The Bird,” a jazzy, anderson-cover
head-bobbing intro that seems to channel D’Angelo’s soulful vocal style. “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” further shows off .Paak’s vocal chops, and culminates in a spinning electronic bridge with a rapped-over hook. Then, on “The Waters (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid),” .Paak really gets started. The spoken word transitions and jazzy interludes on this album give it another connection to TPAB: this is a concept album, in the only real sense of that term in that its an album that asks to be digested in one sitting, the tracks coming where they do for a reason. .Paak, much like Lamar, is playing with form.

The Season | Carry Me” exemplifies this playfulness, and even includes a shout-out to Lamar in the line “‘Bout the year Drizzy and Cole dropped / Before K.Dot had it locked.” .Paak even begins to sound like Lamar in places where he’s straight rapping, but has a remarkable vocal range (the kind that made Lamar himself so versatile) and changes his style on almost every song. “Am I Wrong (feat. SchoolBoy Q)” is an early stand-out, and a celebration, with funky horns and a catchy chorus. This is an album to throw on for your next party: you can groove to it on a first listen, and it demands attention even when there’s a lot else going on.

And there’s a lot going on on this album. The middle-section has everything it needs to slip into the background, in the best possible way, because unlike the incredibly dense middle-section of To Pimp A Butterfly, this is easy listening, and yet at the same time it sounds like an amalgamation of all the best alt-hip hop albums to come out in the last year, from D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, to Miguel’s Wildheart, to Thundercat and Lamar. Of course, .Paak didn’t completely come out of nowhere: he was heavily featured on Dr. Dre’s Compton last year, as well as albums by The Game (featured here on “Room in Here“), and fellow California artist TOKiMONSTA.

.Paak is from Oxnard, not exactly straight outta Compton, but is another powerful voice that can speak to a particular kind of West Coast lifestyle. Malibu nods to the surf-skate culture .Paak grew up with; at the end of album highlight “Come Down,” the announcer-type spoken word outro says, “Before Vietnam, when boards were long and hair was short, the centre of the surfing world was a place called Malibu.” On “Come Down,” .Paak manages to sound both most like Lamar and most like himself: a King Kunta of sorts and a contentious player in the resurging world of West Coast hip hop.

Tame Impala: Currents

Tame Impala: Currents

A psychedelic trip into the mind of Kevin Parker

The latest album from Tame Impala, the recording project of Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker—one of the most pre-eminent rock figures of today, comparable to the Arctic Monkeys two years ago with the release of AM—is nothing short of brilliant.

04192b63A transitional record in every sense, Currents finds Parker exploding under the weight of the pressure from 2013’s Lonerism into another universe altogether—one filled with snappy bass lines, vocal harmonies, and poppy hooks. In short, Parker has gone from an introvert to an extrovert—a guy in his room with a guitar to a glittery, shiny pop star. And it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Tame Impala burst onto the scene in 2010 with Innerspeaker and quickly became the modern kings of psychedelic rock. 2013’s Lonerism rocketed them into further crossover territory with massive hits “Feels Like I Only Go Backwards” and “Elephant.” Earlier this year, Parker appeared on three tracks on Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special (ever heard of a little song called “Uptown Funk”?). But Currents might be Parker’s biggest statement to date.

It begins with “Let It Happen,” a nearly eight-minute-long rollicking track that draws some of its influences from Electronic Dance Music. What follows is a psychedelic—and yet so groovy you could imagine almost every single track on the radio—trip into the mind of a man much more interesting than the introvert in his room with a guitar: a man whose entire world has been catapulted into the stratosphere and who is trying to come to terms with it. “Yes I’m Changing” is a call to action: “There is a world out there it’s calling my name.” And he delivers. Tracks like “The Moment” and “The Less I Know The Better” show off Parker’s ear for crafting perfectly structured pop songs that are ready to be consumed by the masses, while the heartbreaking “Eventually” and introspective “’Cause I’m A Man” find Parker inescapably collapsing into himself.

The transitions are spot-on and some of the only moments Parker picks up his old friend the guitar on Currents, particularly on the minute-and-forty-nine-second-long “Disciples,” which is the most Tame Impala-sounding track on the whole album. Things get weird on “Past Life,” when Parker sheds his Lennon-esque falsetto for an electronically pitched-down spoken word section that is reminiscent of some of the antics of Canadian indie-rock goofball Mac DeMarco—the two have been spending some time together. The album ends strongly with “Reality in Motion,” “Love Paranoia,” and the hopeful “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.”

Parker believes that life is a process of constant reinvention: “They say people never change, but that’s bullshit, they do,” he sings on “Yes I’m Changing.” With Currents, he takes everything that was central to the Tame Impala project and adapts it to the changes in his personal life, the expectation that has come with his burgeoning success, and the current changes to how we experience music—and blasts off into uncharted territory.

Shad – Boarding Pass EP

Shad – Boarding Pass EP

Swagazine Weekly

a2784842677_10     “Hip-Hop ain’t dead, it lives in the North”… and no I’m not talking about Drake. Shad has continuously proven himself to be one of the most talented and socially conscious MC’s in the game with his albums The Old Prince, Juno-winning TSOL, and Flying Colours. On all of these albums Shad has showcased his ability to deliver bars on bars while still addressing contemporary issues, and on his most recent project, Shad teams up with producer DJ T.Lo, who produced TSOL’s leading single “Rose Garden”, to continue this trend of high quality traditionalist Hip-Hop.

Just a short 5 songs, this compressed EP is a non-stop delivery of Shad’s expertise. The opening track “Fire” hits you with a fast paced beat that gives the man the opportunity to just hit you with straight fire. He starts the track off with an homage to RapGenius, and ends the song with…

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Bonobo Shares Subtle, Pulsing ‘Flashlight EP’

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The title track of Bonobo’s new EP, “Flashlight,” has been my alarm clock for the past two months. It has a pulsating, natural rhythm that subtly gets you moving, even if it takes a few loops, and is the perfect soundtrack to the start of the day. Now, Simon Green (aka Bonobo) has shared the rest of the EP. It continues in much of the same fashion. “Pelican” is another pulsating club track with an ethereal, almost dissipating quality that makes it music to sit back to and let it wash over you. It takes time for these tracks to resonate, but they make exquisite background music. These are instrumental tracks, but suggest the earliest hints of a much larger project in the works, and will hopefully be fleshed out with vocals and glassier production on Bonobo’s next album. “Return to Air” has a vocal sample that already seems to be there, although it is only an echo in the back of the airy, enveloping mix. If you listen closely, you can already hear the vocals taking shape.

Bonobo’s new album is due sometime next year. Listen to “Flashlight” below:


Also, watch Bonobo’s last performance in support of 2013’s incredible The North Borders at Alexandra Palace in London via Boiler Room here.

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Jon Hopkins Releases Hauntingly Beautiful ‘Asleep Versions EP’

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Jon Hopkins, the UK producer behind 2013’s excellent Immunity, which has since seen remixes featuring Lulu James and Purity Ring, has now released another follow-up, the Asleep Versions EP, which includes contributions from King Creosote and Raphaelle Standelle. Recorded in Mosfellsbær, Iceland, Asleep Versions takes four of Immunity‘s highlights, “Immunity,” “Form By Firelight,” “Breathe This Air,” and “Open Eye Signal,” and reworks them in reverse order into a single 25-minute-long soundscape. The tracks are stripped down, beat-less frames of their Immunity counterparts, but take on a new life of their own from Hopkins’ original production, further pushing the boundaries of electronic music and aligning Hopkins with the likes of Röyksopp (whose final album, The Inevitable End also came out today) and Sigur Rós.

Watch the trailer, and listen to “Immunity” (with King Creosote) below:



Run the Jewels: ‘Run the Jewels 2’

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The unlikely pair of Killer Mike and EL-P have made a name for themselves as “the jewels runners, top tag team for two summers…”

A few months ago, the hip-hop tag team Run the Jewels (EL-P and Killer Mike) had the internet buzzing when they released the full details of Run the Jewels 2 online, which included a number of ridiculous pre-order packages such as the “Self Righteousness for Sale Package,” priced at $350,000.00 USD, and the “Run the Jewels Retirement Plan Package” for 10 million that would see the pair retire from music to make only one song a year for the lucky owner. However, the packages all come with a disclaimer: “run the jewels reserves the right to take your money and not fulfill any of the obligations outlined in any package priced 35k or more.” Ironically, the only package that garnered a serious response, the “Meow the Jewels Album Package,” is priced at 40k, and promises a re-recorded version of the album where the music is made using only cat sounds. Someone created a Kickstarter, and now EL-P and Killer Mike are looking for tonally-gifted cats. The Kickstarter has surpassed its goal of $40,000 by over 25k, and the project is still receiving funding every day.

Run the Jewels are just doing what they do best: running the motherfucking jewels. The unlikely pair of Killer Mike and EL-P have made a name for themselves as “the jewels runners, top tag team for two summers” with their abrasive style and heavy flow, rapping about crime, sex, and conspiracy with a politically-charged fervor unmatched by any other rappers in the game right now. RTJ2 is a statement stronger than anything they’ve done before, both collectively and independently, and shows them to be in a league of their own within the hip-hop world. If Run the Jewels proved that [they] was fuckin’ brutal,” on RTJ2 they have the authority to back it up, and the sharp-witted lyricism of songs like “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” maintains its punch even against EL-P’s hardest-hitting production to date.

The low synth-line of “Jeopardy” opens the album after an introduction by Killer Mike, whose bragging rhymes build into a solo-ing guitar riff and electronically modified horns. EL-P finally comes in after a washed-out break in the middle of the song, establishing two very different rapping voices from the outset, although they merge into one on the following track, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” when EL-P says “I do two things, I rap and fuck,” and Killer Mike picks up where he left off with “I fuckin’ rap.” RTJ2 is full of this interchange between its two main protagonists, “one black, one white,” but both “shoot[ing] to kill,” and Run the Jewels uses their dynamic to go straight for the jugular, taking down any and all systems of power in their wake.

Guest spots are filled judiciously: Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha appears for a verse on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” Travis Barker of Blink-182 drums on “All Due Respect,” and Gangsta Boo features on the sexually-overt-to-the-point-of-being-cringe-worthy “Love Again (Akinyele Back).” Beyonce-collaborator BOOTS takes the production to another level on “Early,” and Foxygen’s Diane Coffee adds to the slower vibe of “Crown.” “Angel Duster” ends the album with a trap-acid-jazz feel in a similar vein to Flying Lotus, jamming out on a jazzy keyboard line and a classic Run the Jewels repeated loop for the album’s final minute and a half.

The funny joke-turned-PR-stunt that has accrued so much of the hype for RTJ2 and its forthcoming Meow the Jewels remix album have only propelled Run the Jewels into new crossover territory; their latest announcement was for a project called ‘Tag the Jewels,’ for which graffiti artists all over the world have been enlisted to put up graffiti representations of the album’s cover. All of this shows that Run the Jewels know how to engage a modern audience. But there’s still a hell of a lot of darker social and political commentary running beneath the surface to be discovered.