A YEAR IN MUSIC: DEATH GRIPS – Niggas on the Moon (2014)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 2014
Review by: Jonathan Moss

Man, Death Grips are such a good band. Some people give them shit for being edgy and to be fair they are edgy but in the 21st century they really are doing something new. MC Ride for one is a very original rapper. He gets typecast as an angry black man but I think there’s a lot more to him than that. He can do a lot more than express anger and on niggas in the moon in particularly he displays moments of playfulness. I’m going to start a new paragraph now but i’ll pick this thread back up later. 

Niggas on the Moon is somewhat overshadowed by Jenny Death but its a fantastic album by itself. It opens with Up My Sleeves which starts off with a female computer voice and car alarm (I think) after which Ride rapidly says the title of the song over zach hills cymbals. Then it goes into Bjorks vocal samples and this really interesting droning, fucked up synthesizer playing. I wont analyse Ride’s lyrics or anything but they’re really fantastic, including the simply GREAT PUN “quench my hearse”. The song continues along this line before going into a really creepy subdued bit with MC Ride monotonously saying “If I’m so necessary, blank blank obituary, at Broadway cemetery, at Broadway cemetery, was like I’ll ever know, was like I even want to know, was like I never didn’t know, was like I don’t know I don’t know, if I’m so necessary, blank blank obituary, at Broadway cemetery” then manically laughing before going back to the main, erm, hook of the song. This easily makes it for me one of my favourite Death Grips songs. 

It segues perfectly into the second track Billy Not Really which features more great Bjork vocal sampling and a strange almost paganistic, possibly synthesized flute line, or something that sounds like it. Either way it gives the song an almost night time woodsy vibe, despite being synthesized. Black Quarterback- the song that follows- is really fucking manic and has a very catchy chorus. The “Eddy’s crazy, abrogate me” bit is hooktastic as well, containing an almost infectious bouncy, dancey synth line. Say Hey Kid is cool as well, featuring MC Ride delivering the line “dont it feel good to drive a bus? People need to get picked up” in a disconcertingly playful way. It’s one of the creepiest songs on the album, with the synth line sounding almost sickly- and IDMish- and lyrics which contain references to overdosing and seem to be about vampires, though probably as a metaphor, idk. Have a Sad Cum BB is definitely the noisiest song on the album, with buzzing synth lines bobbing against each other, synthesized MC Ride vocals, really frazzled Bjork (i’m not even sure if its Bjork on this one) vocal samples and some female sing-shouting the title of the song. This gives it a very raucous seasick vibe, but hell, its danceable. Fuck Me Out is interesting lyrically, seeming to be about how sexual contact is preferable to love. Its got a catchy chorus as well. Voila is one of the weaker songs in my opinion but it still has some great high pitched screaming from MC Ride. Big Dipper is a strong closing song, with MC Ride rapping in the chorus “I’m a bullshitter, I’m a shitty stripper, I’m a silhouette lifter, I’m a struck stuck off kilter, I’m a bent bewildered, I’m a fucking downer, I’m a binge thinner, I’m a Big Dipper”, before repeating it again, but y’know, with more shouting. It’s a very fun line to quote randomly at people on facebook messenger. The song features more strange sounding synth lines and is definitely the most abstract song on a pretty abstract album. 

Shit, that’s all the songs on the album! So what can be said about it as a whole. Well, its one of Death Grips leanest albums, the jittery IDMish vibe of the album giving it the same thin, distorted image of MC Ride on the album cover. The Needle Drop critiqued Ride for sounding listless on it but I very much disagree, I think it has some of his most varied vocal performances and the parts TND found as being listless were I would wager intended that way for effect. 

So, to conclude, this is a very strong and somewhat overlooked Death Grips album, and one that helps to negate the image somewhat of Death Grips being a purely edge based band centred on shouting and profanity. Very much recommended.
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A YEAR IN MUSIC: ANGRA – Secret Garden (2014)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 2014
Review by: Victor Guimarães

OK, I reckon that if you’re not a metal enthusiast, it’s unlikely you know Angra. But let me give you a short intro to this Brazilian metal band. With a name inspired in the Goddess of Fire of Tupiniquim indigenous people, Angra is a power metal band, with traces of progressive rock and heavy metal, in a NWOBHM way. Like fellow brazilian death/thrash metal giant Sepultura, Angra constantly brings new, different sounds into their music, augmenting their musical depth as well as not limiting themselves from most rock and metal clichés. Inspiration for Angra’s music varies, ranging from classical music, strongly present in albums, such as Angels Cry and Rebirth, to sounds from traditional and popular Brazilian genres, as one can see in Holy Land and Temple of Shadows. Angra always seemed to follow a very parnassian style of making music, so expect strong technical performances in every instrument and vocals. So, acquaintances made? Alright?

Secret Garden is their seventh studio album, the first to feature vocalist Fabio Lione, who is originally from Italian power metal band, Rhapsody of Fire. This album was criticized by part of the fanbase, as it sounded quite differently from what Angra used to sound. Personally, I didn’t find it any worse than their previous works, only different in its essence. And what’s the issue? The normally strong but melodic metal, with heavy songs and some ballads here and there was turned into something a bit more experimental. Yes, Angra went on and experimented, resulting in a somewhat different sound, although not far from its roots. OK, it’s not like they were as bold, as alternative or even experimented as much as 70s art-rockers – Secret Garden is not the prince of metal innovation, but it’s a clear big push on traditional power metal boundaries. Apart from some classical-Angra songs full of speedy power metal, strong melodies, passages and riffs, expect a lot more of progressive traits, such as tempo-changing, and complex instrumentation and also other characteristics, such as some crescendos, ballads, use of percussion and classical themes. Another great feature were the mood changes from previious albums and take note of the amazing guest singing of Simone Simons (from Epica) and Doro Pesch (Warlock, solo).

Finally (and not wanting to make myself much longer), I had my reasons for liking Secret Garden. It’s true that I’m a long-time Angra fan and a strong metal enthusiast, but the key feature that really made me put this album over many other 2014 great albuns was the way it exceeded my expectations. Secret Garden was different from many new albums of long-loved bands, who were just newer versions of the same (Angra included). In this effort, while searching for something new, they were beyond their rational parnassian music-making: It was a creative, future-seeker effort, much more emotional and human than most of their previous works. Yes, it might be a bit difficult to digest sometimes, or even a little boring for non-metal listeners, but don’t doubt: it’s worth your time! Believe me, listen to it to its end, and then, listen again, focusing on its great instrumentals and imagine what kind of potential was unveiled from this experience. If this surprising album that made a pessimistic long-time fan replay the record over and over again doesn’t make you, rock/metal fan, interested or any music-lover curious, I’ll be surprised with what would make.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: PETER HAMMILL – …All That Might Have Been… (2014)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 2014
Review by: Andreas Georgi

Peter Hammill is a rare breed. Very few rock artists in their 60’s are still producing top quality material that is not rehashing their old glory. This album is a welcome new addition to his work.

Peter Hammill’s discography is long, convoluted, highly eclectic, and it must be said, rather erratic. After a long relative weak patch in the late 80’s and 90’s he’s been on an upswing in the last 12 years or so. Starting with 2009’s “Thin Air”, he has released consistently challenging and rewarding music. His music is intense, dark, and defies categorization. His recent work incorporates a lot of avant-garde elements like sound treatments and dissonance. Hammill’s work is never “easy listening”, and his albums always take repeated listenings to reveal themselves to the listener. This certainly applies to this new album. I’ve been a big fan of his music, and of his recent work, so I am not coming at this new album as a novice. Nevertheless I have to say that it’s taken time to grow on me over the last couple of months – more so that his previous albums. The first listening was underwhelming, to be honest. Ultimately, though, I have come to appreciate it as another high point in his career.

The album, comes in 3 formats. There are two versions of the CD release.  The “Cine” version is like a movie for the ears, with short segments moving in and out in a continuous sequence. This is the version PH considers the “primary” one. The format reminds me of his “Incoherence” album (2003), but this one is much more eclectic and certainly doesn’t suffer from that album’s monochromatic “sameyness”. The release I have is a 3-CD set that has two further versions. The “Songs” version presents the material in a relatively conventional individual song format, although listening to this, it will be evident that there is nothing conventional about these songs. The third format are versions of the basic instrumental tracks. This version is very good, but ultimately not as impressive as the other two, although it does verify that the music has a definite cinematic feel to it. Listening to this disk, I am reminded a bit (although it shouldn’t be overstated) of Peter Gabriel’s movie music. Having 3 versions (2 with vocals) probably didn’t help me absorb the material into my gray matter. Perhaps I should have familiarized myself with one version at a time.

As far as a “plot” for the “movie” goes – I have no idea what it is. PH rarely spells out his ideas in a didactic “message song” way. The only thing I can say is that it seems the characters get themselves in rather unpleasant circumstances. The whole album has a sense of ambiguity and precariousness throughout it. The musical elements are the ones that he has used in the recent past, and it sounds most similar to 2012’s “Consequences”. He uses overdubbed falsetto vocals as a counterpoint to the lead vocals’ narration, which have been compared to a Greek chorus. The music itself tends to me mostly slow-paced with relatively sparse, often echoing instrumentation.

So, in a nutshell, this is another solid contribution to PH’s discography, and fans who like his recent works will definitely want to pick it up, and won’t be disappointed – just be prepared to give it time.

This review is also posted on Amazon here.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: ANAÏS MITCHELL – xoa (2014)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 2014
Review by: Graham Warnken

Anaïs Mitchell can certainly never be accused of a lack of ambition. Her most well-known project is the folk opera Hadestown (currently playing as an acclaimed Off-Broadway show), which transplants the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a Great Depression-type American dystopia and features guests such as Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (Orpheus) and Ani DiFranco (Persephone). The fact that that album is even coherent is an achievement—that it’s one of the best releases of its year is incredible.

Due to her fans’ desire to see many of the full-band numbers from Hadestown and its follow-up Young Man in America recorded solo, as well as Mitchell’s desire to release a few new songs and re-record earlier pieces she deemed unsatisfactory in their original form, 2014 saw the release of xoa. It’s an oddball fusion of a greatest-hits collection with an inverted demo reel, familiar numbers rendered new in their stripped-down format and new songs peeking their way through the sea of music from days gone by. Fortunately, what could have been a perfunctory toss-off ends up being a wonderful album in its own right, equalling and often outright improving upon the earlier material that gives it life.

As with each of Mitchell’s preceding records, xoa is a mix of the personal and the political. The former category includes the heartbreaking “Out of Pawn”, written as a letter from a Katrina survivor to an uncle who didn’t make it; “Come September”, the lament of a migrant picker jilted by her lover; and “Now You Know”, a quietly gorgeous fusion of lullaby and lovesong, among others. Each of these tracks elevates sentiments that could come across as maudlin, thanks to the craft with which Mitchell shapes her lyrics. Internal rhyme and alliteration are constant presences, but avoid calling undue attention to themselves; the sonic rhythms formed by these poetic devices are as natural as they are precise, drawing the listener in unawares. The same holds true for the record’s political half—the propagandic round “Why We Build the Wall” (written a decade before America’s current Trump problem), the barren climate-change panorama of “Any Way the Wind Blows”, the desperate hungry yowl of “Young Man in America”, rise above mere polemic due to the wit and intelligence with which their words are wrought.

Besides wordplay, another constant is emotion. Playful and joyful numbers are lifted up by the little-girl lilt of Mitchell’s tongue, which seems genuinely pleased to be here; desolate dirges are delivered with a grief that’s completely believable. Perhaps the most effective emotional moment on the record comes with its re-recorded version of “Your Fonder Heart”, originally present on Mitchell’s The Brightness. In its original version, the song is a warm, teasing greeting to someone who could be a friend come out to play or a lover with whom to wander under the stars, evoking memories of adolescent summer evenings in all their nostalgia-tinged glory. The xoa recording takes the exact same melody and lyrics and twists it into something entirely new—the arrangement, sparse and bare, summons a vision of a caffeine-insomniac awake at two in the morning with no idea how to sleep, and Mitchell’s voice is crushed and yearning. The juxtaposition of the two cuts is startling; it’s as if they’re bookends on a broken relationship, and in hindsight complete each other.

I don’t know that xoa is the album I would direct new listeners to as a starting point for Mitchell—a couple of the Hadestown cuts don’t make much sense out of context, and while there’s the cohesive sound of Mitchell alone on her guitar the subject matter is too varied to form a unified album. That said, it’s the record of hers I find myself listening to the most, and is easily in my top ten albums. In almost every step it takes it improves on material that was already incredibly good, intimate and perfectly constructed. It’s the latest in a long string of storytelling achievements from the current Queen of Folk Music.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: PHISH – Fuego (2014)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 2014
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn


Phish started in the late 80’s but only got to be somewhat famous after 1995, when Jerry Garcia (of Grateful Dead fame) died, and Phish more or less became the new leaders of the jam band scene. They tour a lot and, not unlike the Grateful Dead, concerts and live cd’s are ‘where it’s at’. Although they never formally broke up, there are some hiatuses in their career and Fuego is their latest studio album (from a year, 2014, about which we’ll have to wait some time before we can pass a final judgment as to its musical quality).
Things I like about the album are the absolute virtuosity by all members on their respective instruments (Trey Anastasio, on guitar, lead vocals and main composer, gets most credits but they’re all masters of their instruments), the way they ooze musicianship, the variety in the songs, the non-sensical lyrics and even, sometimes the emotions they convey in their songs.
On this album, “The Line” and “Wombat” are the silly songs (to my ears) but all others rule, especially the title track, “Devotion To A Dream”, “Winterqueen”, “Sing Monica” and “Waiting All Night”. Be warned though, these versions are nowhere near their definitive renditions; you’ll have to download or buy one of their concerts. Check it out and discover how musicians can make a living and have fun at the same time!