Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Album Review: Roc Marciano's Reloaded

There's an art in subtlety, and Roc Marciano knows this. If Action Bronson sounds like Ghostface - a claim which I find only discouraging to one of the best up-and-coming underground rappers - then Roc Marciano is certainly the Raekwon to Bronson's Ghost; Reloaded even implements the same stripped-down beats and movie samples Blue Chips featured. But what makes Marciano's efforts so notable is how cohesive this record is. If the album's opening track, "Tek to a Mack", teaches us anything, it's that Marciano is well aware of how talented he is and he's going to make damn sure you remember by the time the fifteenth track is done.

This feels like an album from the first wave of Wu-Tang solo records: the beats are simple, gritty; the words carry more weight with each listen; and there's nothing a life of drug dealing can teach you better than a unique flow carrying stories of the streets. And Roc almost carries the entire record with his spitting, using only two features. It's amazing how Roc's languid flow and tough guy voice never border on becoming tedious or repetitive - there's enough variety to warrant multiple listens, which is the goal of any word heavy album.

Roc Marciano has always been one of my favorite featured rappers on some notable raps albums - Sit Down, Man's "Roc Marciano Joint", Blue Chips' opener "Pouches of Tuna", and NY Finest's "It's So G" - and though I slept on 2010's Marcberg, I was excited to see this album announced. Though it isn't entirely produced by the rapper like his previous album, MarcbergReloaded does see Marciano bear most of the production weight, adding that auteur watermark; it is a controlled environment Marciano dwells in. The other beats are from lauded producers The Alchemist and Q-Tip - "no rookies, only veterans" seems to be Marciano's m.o. on Reloaded. This doesn't feel like someone sharpening their teeth, despite this being the rapper's second solo album, but someone who has seen the rise and fall of multiple ersatz rap revivalists.

If you're a hip-hop fundamentalist, this album will feel like a welcomed return to form. Marciano is a steam of conscious rapper spitting over low-key, boom-bap beats. "Not Told" slights Nas's outsider perspective vaguely, but Marciano is way too far along to pick any sort of beef with rappers, though I'm sure he'd have no problem squashing anything; he's focused on his own survival, not making any compromises along the way.

Final Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Upcoming Release: This Town Needs Guns'

I like to think everyone has "that" band. Not their favorite band, though it could fit the bill for some people, but that band that brings about certain emotions, good and bad. It's like a comfort food, but instead of something tasty, you have amazing music. My favorite band is Radiohead, and as far as I can tell it always will be, but This Town Needs Guns fills a void in my life I never would've thought possible. TTNG has gotten me through both the best times of my life, as well as the worst - times where I didn't even feel like getting out of bed. Now they're back with their new release out January 22nd on Sargent House records.

With a new album comes a new beginning for this Oxford math-pop band. marks the debut of new singer Henry Tremain, who replaced Stuart Smith in 2011. The band has also released two tracks accompanying the announcement, but not much in terms of touring. Both songs keep the signature pop-hooks TTNG are known for, but this three-piece has shown a much more mature side to their new sound. Tremain sweeps through passionate lyrics with smooth, rich vocals that show a much calmer approach. Per usual, guitarist Tim Collins is able to weave intricate guitar picking with his brother Chris's more spastic yet incredibly syncopated drum rhythms that coincide beautifully with each other.

Personally, I've been anticipating this release for a few years. I've already played both tracks into the ground and I still cannot get enough. In terms of math-rock, This Town Needs Guns is at the top of the game. 2009's Animals was a feat in itself, and I expect won't disappoint on any level.

The band is currently taking digital pre-orders, which will send you the album to your email the moment it is released. But if you're a record junkie such as myself though, you can click here. Check out the new tracks below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Good, Bad, and Ugly: Upcoming Releases

The Good
Queens of the Stone Age are working on a new album to be released later this year, and Dave Grohl will be returning behind the drumset, a position he hasn't filled since the band's ersatz mainstream breakthrough album Songs for the Deaf. Trent Reznor has also expressed his involvement on at least one song, during his recent AMA on Reddit. The sixth album, currently nameless, will follow 2007's excellent Era Vulgaris, hopefully maintaining the band's winning streak. With an average of about two years in between previous albums, it will be interesting to see how the band has progressed in the five years since the band last released an album, though it wouldn't be a surprise if the album features excellent riffs and some shit from left field. 

The Bad
Green day will continue counting to three in Spanish, while making a pun out of band member Tré Cool's name, with ¡Tré! For those of you that listened -- but thankfully didn't scrobble and risk your credibility -- both previous releases were tepid at best. I must admit I was a Green Day fan for only a year when I was twelve, but I can't imagine they have fans left from Kerplunk. It is quite impressive how the band has continued to stay relevant, riding the wave from American Idiot and the Bush administration's flops, an almost decade old subject. I guess using CSI: NY as an extended commercial to promote your latest three albums translates to some media presence for the "punk rock" veterans. If you enjoyed anything after American Idiot, check it out, but if your last Green Day album was Warning, stay the fuck away from this one. 

The Ugly
Dr. Dre continues to make headphones, not music. Although he appeared on a couple of tracks from Kendrick Lamar's album, Detox is still nowhere in the conversation. I though ScHoolboy Q's reference in "There He Go" would inspire a release date, details or something, but I haven't seen anything from the doctor since that reprehensible "I Need a Doctor" abortion. At this point, Dre's safest bet is to retire and stew with his headphone fortune -- "Hey, nice headphones! Are you listening to the new Dr. Dre Album?" "You mean he makes music, too?" 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Album Review: Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

Yes, Good Kid came out over two weeks ago. Yes, it's a critically lauded album. But when an album carrying the weight of returning Compton  back to its glory days, you take time with it. I have spent about three weeks with Kendrick's latest release. I had extremely high hopes, as I loved Section.80, and fellow Black Hippy releases from earlier this year, Habits & Contradictions and Control System. The aforementioned Black Hippy efforts solidified my confidence in the rap collective. And with just one more member needing a proper release, Jay Rock, this first wave of proper solo albums might end up being cited as the impetus for a west coast rap revival.

This album is a study in different flows, characters, beats, and styles, as much a result of his roots as his originality. Good Kid does as much for advancing the legacy of Compton as it does for paving the road for Black Hippy. ScHoolboy Q struck the iron first with Habits & Contradictions, Ab Soul threw a curve ball with Control System, and now Kendrick used every resource available to produce a modern masterpiece with Good Kid -- it's difficult to separate Kendrick from his colleagues due to the resurgence of the rap collective and the overall movement of recapturing Compton as a dominant rap force. 

To focus on the album as a whole is difficult; it's dense. When a friend of mine, equally as excited for the release as I was, asked me how it sounded, I could only reply "dense." There's a lot here, more than I anticipated. Yes, it lacks the sudden impact and familiarity as Section.80, though Kendrick himself said it would be, though this album is also ready for radio: a Drake feature, an already charting single with "Swimming Pools, and Aftermath's backing. It's the contradictions, following ScHoolboy's lead, that demand multiple listens and your full attention. If properly marketed, this could spark an upheaval of what we consider marketable rap - music with substance and a message. 

The songs' diversity make Good Kid feel like a mixtape and Kendrick the keystone, bearing the weight of progressing rap. A microcosm of the album is the lengthy, yet earned, "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst". To understand this song is to translate the entire album. It features multiple, well-developed characters; a helplessness cast by inheritance, the implausibility of escape; necessary skits, never feeling superfluous; and two distinct movements. Lamar's first character is a difficult concept to grasp at first, but certainly helps you grasp each character following. With the first listen, it's someone struggling with the loss of his brother, but with each listen a layer is revealed, finally displaying a meta character - it's Kendrick playing a fan of a pseudo-Kendrick rapper. The second character sees a former Kendrick song dedicated to a woman discredited by a working girl. She wants nothing to do with Kendrick's progressively messaged songs, quagmired in the working girl life, seeing his efforts as futile and exploitative. Lamar refutes his previous character's plight to be remembered in song, but by being in a song adds a layer of irony -- I told you this was layered and complex. This is a song of dedication to those trapped within the ghetto, fully aware that their mentality is set, but hoping someone, possibly Kendrick, will carry their message out of the void. Kendrick is the third character here, spitting a verse inundated with references and messages from Nas, Biggie, and the "classic" era of progressive hip-hop: a rapper accepting his position and influence, defending it. All of this is enough for entire album, but Kendrick one ups himself by adding a second movement to the song, shifting the dreamy beat with a skit detailing a turf dispute and revenge. A militaristic beat is brought forth, characters are thrown out. What follows is the most powerful four and a half minutes of music I have heard in recent memory: a litany of gruesome situations, rules to survive by, and an ever present struggle for change. This is Lamar's best song to date. 

With an understanding of "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst", the rest of Good Kid seems much more serious, stripping back any humor displayed by Lamar's characters featured on the album. It's a jaw dropper the umpteenth listen thought that I believe will only get better with time, as the Black Hippy catalogue grows. I could go into as much detail with almost every other song on the album, but writing about "Sing About Me..." was exhausting, much like the first couple listens through Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. But this isn't a calculated obfuscation of art, it's organic music from a true human. Nothing is manufactured, and that, from an outside perspective, is horrifyingly eye-opening.

Final Grade: A+
I know, I know, such a bullshit grade and Flatted Third has already marked two albums as classics, but fuck you - have you heard this thing?