serpentwithfeet - blisters: Avantgarde, chilling, haunting - just some of the many words that come to mind when listening to isters, he latest and debut release from Baltimore-bred Josiah Wise, aka serpentwithfeet. blisters, coming in at just under 21 minutes, is a short trip into the world and style of his self-coined, “pagan gospel.” It feels immersive and deep.
The EP opens with the title track, a reminder: his space is holy. Harps are effortlessly plucked, reverberating in a massively spaced track. White noise is faintly heard in the background as we are sucked in with his soft, calming vocals reminiscent of biblical hymns. “The darkness of the leaves has come/forgiveness has not.” serpentwithfeet is a modern day prophet.
Themes of forgiveness, self-love, death and the long struggle of finding, if not always questioning, happiness are emoted in its entirety.
Even when he sing, “Dying/Dying” in “flickering” I’m still not sure whether to be concerned - his vocals are so pure, that even a subject so dark sounds angelic. He continues, “Take this body as yours/don't let me doubt you/I offer myself to you.” Thematically, pain and loss testify to his experience, but more so explain stylistically his influences of neo-soul, Kirk Franklin, Tchaikovsky and opera.
“four ethers” is a stand out track. With help from producer, Haxan Cloax (Björk), serpentwithfeet cleverly constructed a song that works like a cinematic masterpiece. Dynamic crescendos and string pieces force listeners to stay attentive - or else you might just miss an intimate moment. Piercing phrases like, “Babe, I know you learned some fucked up shit from your mother/Had you tucking your dick/Had you hiding the shit that would have made you special/Show me yourself.” A battle of queer self-love and acctance, told raight up.
It makes sense that we part our journey with a redemption song. “redemption” leaves us wondering, just like serpentwithfeet. He asks about salvation and the savior, how attainable the feelings is. Will he be saved? We don’t know. The EP is frightening in the best way possible and comes off like performance art: it is complex and at times confusing, frustrating and over your head but hard to let go. Coming to terms with our internal/eternal truths and struggles is a timeless story, however, his provocative, alluring and almost erotic telling of the tale is unbelievably inviting. LANI
RIYL: Frank Ocean, James Fauntleroy, dvsn, Charlotte Day Wilson
Recommended Tracks: 3, 5
Shadow - Sweet Sweet Dreams: Thirty-two years after it’s initial release, Sweet Sweet Dreams is finally receiving the re-pressing it deserves. With regular Discogs prices for the original LP reaching over $200 it was clear there was ample demand for this calypsonian disco classic.
Shadow’s futuristic endeavor, packed full of sinister synth-riffs, sounds ahead of time especially for its 1984 release date. Shadow strived to create a music styling that would incorporate the mainstream commercial trend of disco without having to sacrifice his Trinidadian roots. The result is an innately unique release that should find its place in the music collection of any lover of rhythm, funk, disco, love, happiness, or smiling.
Stand-out tracks include the pulsating “D’Hardest” that provides the greatest amount of electronic disco pump. “Way, Way Out” is where one can find the most traditional of caribbean tracks with a closing melody that’s downright chilling. “Let’s Get It Together” provides another haunting display of groovy synth combinations that will have you dancing through graveyards in no time. RAMIRO
RIYL: Lord Shorty, Ebo Taylor
Recommended Tracks: 2, 3, 6, 7
Happy Apple - Please Refrain From Fronting: So, when, very late in the history of our planet, the incredible accident of life occurred, a balance was struck between order and chaos. The human correspondence of this dichotomy manifests itself as a balance of premeditated and improvised actions. In music, particularly the music formerly known as jazz, balancing free improvisation with pre-written motifs is paramount to the emotional depth and content of the music. From this perspective, every aspect of musical performance can be seen as a reflection of human life: improvised music is a commentary on how humans conduct themselves in the absence of rules or structure, while written music shows how we relate to the order around us.
We often have structure in life, as well as the ability to improvise within that structure, for example choosing what to eat for dinner, or where to sit in a classroom. However, we are sometimes forced into situations for which we are not prepared, requiring us to improvise to the fullest extent, exploring all the options available to us theoretically, while remaining grounded in the reality of the situation. In art, as in life, this is when the most beautiful moments occur: when our spiritual selves and our physical realities collide to form something new, something never before seen, something fresh and original. Although these moments have an inherently ephemeral quality, by recording them in some way, we can preserve a moment for future reflection, allowing it to be repeated- a repetition that naturally gives way again to order. Thus, it is not only art that mirrors life, but the recording of that art as well.
Few artists today understand these dichotomies of order and chaos, structure and improvisation, ephemerality and repetition, and exploring possibilities while maintaining a realist foundation to the extent of drummer Dave King, as seen in his lectures at Lawrence University and the Walker Art Center, as well as his TV series Rational Funk with Dave King, Runnin’ and Gunnin’ With Ron Miles, and Lights Cameron Jackson. King’s partners in Happy Apple, bassist Erik Fratzke and saxophonist Michael Lewis are themselves iconoclastic musicians each with a uniquely philosophical take on their work, resulting in a band that combines great tension and raucousness with moments of serenity and peace. Much of Minnesota’s current improvised music scene, from John Raymond and Chris Morrissey to Mancrush and Craig Taborn, owes its sound to Happy Apple’s innovations and deep philosophical considerations of the music they create.
What is life if not a series of moments too recent or powerful to be forgotten? What is a moment if not that which connects the future and past, too fleeting to be appreciated, too precious to be ignored? How better to define structure than by exploring all that lies outside of it? What is our purpose if not to create that which has never before been created and never can be recreated? And after years of struggle, we find that all thought tends towards the most profound: the consideration of whether existence actually has meaning or not, in other words, is this a joke? JATIN
RIYL: The Bad Plus, BADBADNOTGOOD, Keith Jarrett American Quartet
Recommended Tracks: 1, 3, 6, 7, 9
Drake - More Life: At this point in his career, I don't really know how I feel about Drake. I loathe pretty much all of his albums, but the singles he's dropped in between these projects, especially non-album bangers like "Sneakin'," "0 to 100," and "Back to Back," have kept me interested in the work of the king as he sits atop his throne.
But, what initially intrigued me about More Life wasn't so much its music, but its branding. I was hoping that the release of a "playlist" instead of an album would lead to the tighter, more concise, nothing-but-the-hits kind of project I've wanted Drake to drop from the beginning. Sometimes More Life hits these highs; other times, I can't help but feel like it was a missed opportunity.
Let's get the negatives out of the way first; this album is too long. Way too long. This is a bone I have to pick with every Drake album, but I was hoping that the alternative approach Drake seemed to be taking here would lead to a lot of the subpar tracks being left on the cutting room floor. However, this album is over 80 minutes long, and a lot of the tracks, while not bad, don't feel essential enough to warrant inclusion. Overly long albums are one of my biggest musical pet peeves, and on More Life, Drake continues to test my patience.
Also, this thing is an album. It's not a playlist. Drake is on all of the songs but two ("Skepta Interlude" and "4422" with Sampha, which is ironically, one of the highlights of the album). The presentation that initially fascinated me about this album ended up being as fake as the love that Drake raps about on this album's lead single.
That all being said, though, I'm actually not super down on this album. Yeah, it's aggravating that Drake seems to think that he's the shit so much that he can consistently justify putting out 80-minute side projects, but there are real highlights on here. "Free Smoke" is a burner of an opener. "Get it Together" and "Passionfruit" are super fun and funky tracks with great beats. "4422" is hauntingly beautiful, and its encouraging to see Sampha getting high profile spots on big albums. And even though "Fake Love" is everywhere right now, I think it's deserved. That song is a a great distillation of everything that Drake does well. I'm just disappointed because I see enough content here for a great 45-minute album, and I wish that Drake had put that album out instead- or at the very least was honest about the kind of project he was making. JACK
RIYL: It's Drake. Listen to it if you like Drake
Recommended Tracks: 1, 3, 5, 8, 20
Power Trip - Nightmare Logic: Power Trip is an up-and-coming five piece thrash metal group hailing from Dallas, Texas. After a long wait since their debut in 2013, their second album, Nightmare Logic, makes a beautifully worthy homage to the “Big Four”: Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. The influence is undeniable, and some old-school metal fans will consider this record an unnecessary addition to a genre saturated with classic goodies. I would say that’s the impression you might get if you only listen to snippets of the album. Further listening will reveal that in Nightmare Logic, Power Trip has actually smoothly blended elements of all the original Forefathers of Thrash and created their own unique sound. Nightmare Logic will hit you with nostalgia time and time again, and you’ll keep coming back because it’s just original enough to be intriguing. Luckily, this album isn’t a difficult read. If you enjoy blistering thrash riffs mixed with headbanging unholy breakdowns, Nightmare Logic will hit the spot. CHRISTIAN
RIYL: Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax
Recommended Tracks: 1, 4, 6
The Buttertones - Gravedigging: Anyone who knows me knows that I adore The Buttertones, and this album reinforced that adoration. The local band was formed by bassist Sean Redman (previously of Cherry Glazerr), lead singer and guitarist Richard Araiza, and drummer Modesto Cobian in 2011. Then, Araiza brought in guitarist Dakota Boettcher (who, incidentally is dating the former drummer of Cherry Glazerr), and sax player/handsome devil London Guzman joined the group and The Buttertones were born.
From the first licks of the guitar in “Pistol Whip,” I was totally drawn in. Reminiscent of The Clash’s surfier moments in this opening track, the driving rhythm guitar chords lead into sax player London Guzman’s flourishes wonderfully. Totally spooky and ominous, this track definitely sets the tone for the album as a whole, which is more of a series of cinematic vignettes than anything else. The galloping percussion in “Neon Cowboy” is a tribute to old westerns, along with the back up vocals which are decidedly ghostlike and foreboding.
Frontman and heartthrob Richard Araiza’s voice is the best it has ever been in this album. He explores his range and is far more expressive here than in previous projects. From the passionate screaming at the end of “Two-Headed Shark,” to the Tiny Tim-esque humming in “Matador,” Araiza has come into his own and has no qualms about using his voice as an instrument in its own right. As each song has its own micro-theme, Araiza’s voice seems to adopt a character to suit each song’s story.
Gravedigging displays the Buttertones' depth and creativity in a way past albums have been unable to do. I am very psyched to see them perform these new tracks ASAP. VIRGINIA (Guest DJ Review)
RIYL: The Clash, Slow Hollows, The Beach Boys
Recommended: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8,
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