Nat Baldwin – People Changes album review

It almost seems a tradition nowadays that a band member will see one of it’s talents step into the spotlight alone and take a stab at the solo album. 

Ah, the solo album, the lone path that most music artists dream of taking. A chance to grab hold of the artistic reins and steer yourself down a path guided only by instinct, vision and measured up with some talent. While some are able to rise to the challenge and establish themselves as a bona-fide music artist, others veer into a path of self-indulgence and risk alienating their listeners. In the case of the latter, it is best to remain in the confines of a band where the collective sound of the group will lead a steadying and re-assuring guide to demonstrating one’s musical talent. 

Nat Baldwin is another talented musician eager to strike out in solo-land in pursuit of his own musical glory. Having sharpened and refined his talent as a bassist and cellist within the Dirty Projectors, he has released “People Changes”, an offering of songs that he penned back in 2007 and decided to take his time to allow the arrangements of each track to evolve. It is commendable that Baldwin took his time with the album, calling upon a select few musicians to assist him in achieving the intimate, live sound that he clearly favours throughout the album. 

In terms of achieving a specific feel and demonstrating talent and artistry, the album succeeds. There is no doubt that Nat Baldwin is a skilled instrumentalist and a confident vocalist and his ability to take his talents and turn it into a sparse, melancholy sound that echoes his New Hampshire origins are the shining points on this album. Immediately, the album sweeps the listener in on a wave of intimate lyrics and cello with the opening track “A Little Lost”. Nat’s vocals shine on this tracks as he sings with confidence, conviction and deftly nurtures his emotive falsetto in certain parts of the track. The follow up track “Weights” picks up where the first leaves and while maintaining a cabin-like intimacy, it gets a bit more experimental. From here, Baldwin starts to veer in a different artistic direction as he changes his cello and introduces short bursts of additional instrumentation to the track. It leaves a tremendous build-up within the listener and an assurance that the best is yet to come. 

And this is where “People Changes” drops the ball. 

After the first two tracks, it seems that Baldwin is intent on challenging and confusing the listener. The cello that grips the listener on the first two tracks makes an appearance on each remaining track on the album, but it sorely lacks the intimate sweep and power of the album openers. As each track progresses, the build up gets lost amid a jarring confusion of incessant vocal word play and odd bursts of horns and strings that do not connect with the tracks. Most notably are the tracks “Same Things” and “Lifted” which sound like a mess of jazz that does not build up to any conclusion. Amidst the confusion the album demonstrates is a nod to his group The Dirty Projectors on “Real Fakes”, which is the only other highlight on the album. By the end of the album, it feels as if Baldwin is set out to punish his listener and only when the last track comes to a close that you can breath a sigh of relief. 

As mentioned before, a solo project can be a testament to one’s talent and artistic ability or a chance to fall deep into self-indulgence. While there is no doubt regarding Nat Baldwin’s talent and potential, “People Changes” can best be described as a void of non-sensical noise that needs to be tempered with some sense of song-writing composition and musical structure. Thankfully for Baldwin, he always has the Dirty Projectors to go back to.

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Architecture in Helsinki Interview

You never know what to expect when interviewing a musician. Getting ready to meet someone who has devoted their whole life towards the art of making music is something that can leave you in awe and, on many occasions, not entirely sure what to say or ask. In so many ways, being an artist for a living is something to be admired becauses you are setting off on your own and embarking on a risky journey to carve not only a living, but also a reputation in the the music industry. An notoriously tough industry that has seen many casualties and not alot of success despite the emphasis the media and our society place on the very few that successfully make it. It is always interesting to listen to the story of someone who has devoted their life towards artistic expression, what drove them and how they go about their process along with the challenges, and the inspiration and that keeps them going. On the spectrum, you run the risk of encountering an artist with an inflated ego which makes questioning them an interview quite a grueling process. These were exactly the thoughts that were running through my head as I geared up for my first interview with Architecture In Helsinki, a band that has been around for nearly a decade and has gained an impressive international following. 


Hyetal – Broadcast album review

When you hear the words ‘chill-step’ or ‘chill-house’ music, it is easy to associate it with a funky, ultra trendy setting where people from different walks of the glitterati life talk about all things fabulous. Basically something out of a “Sex In The City” episode. Chill house music has always been the soundtrack that has provided these funky settings an ultra-sophisticated, posh vibe. A dark soundtrack for ultra-hip lounge lizards to party throughout the night.

Hyetal is the exception to this trend. True he is an electronic DJ from Bristol, UK and true his sound is primarily based on chill-house. However, what sets him apart is the balance he sets within his sound and his latest album “Broadcast” amplifies his exceptional skill in fusing chill-step music with an ambiance that can only be described as, pretty.

Listening to tracks such as “Diamond Mix” and “Phoenix” shows the balance or the contradiction that lies behind his sonic creativity. For every beat that evokes a mood of late night cruising or lounge partying, it is complimented with a healthy dose of gorgeous washed out synths or disenchanted haunting vocals that give each track on the album a breathy, pure vibe. Perhaps the most interesting cut from “Broadcast” is “Beachscene” which starts of as a strident, militaristic, call-to-arms anthem and morphs into a stuttery, melodic ride that piles vibrant synths on the aggresive stoicness of the track. This blend and balance that Hyetal demonstrates resonates with the listener. The ebb and flow of beat-steps and atmospheric syths, the push-and-pull between aggressive, grimy beats against sky-high vocals make “Broadcast” a pleasing ride through sonic territory that blurs the boundaries of electronic and chill-house music.


Krallice – Diotima album review

In the pantheon of black-metal music, it is best to observe an act such as Krallice as a storm system disguised as a musical outfit. Their latest album “Diotima” is a perfect example. Not only is the album a storm-system of some of the finest instrumentation in the black metal scene, it is a heavy, angry, full-bodied beast of a record that sinks its fangs into your mind and heart right from the start and maintains an unyielding hold on your psyche.

Krallice has been known for their multi-densed, tremolo picking guitar that has created a pure and ambient, albeit raw and aggressive sound. While their last two albums sounded like a barrage of sonic instrumentation played at breakneck speed, Diotima retains the group’s wall of sound while adding a newfound sense of complexity and synchronicity to their aural palette. The skilled guitar instrumentation now sounds like a duel consisting of heated exchanges of parrying, attacking and thrusting at whip-neck speed. The end result is an album that builds to such dramatic heights that it almost sounds like a towering tidal wave of black-metal sludge that is preparing to crash down on the listener.

Nick McMaster’s vocals take the tracks to a new level of agony and rage as he sparingly uses his throaty growl and pain-filled screams to enhance the emotion belying each album cut. If Krallice’s instrumentation on “Diotima” sound like a storm system, then McMaster’s vocals sound like a rumbling from deep within the internal crust of the band, that matches the intensity of the music throughout the album. This is especially evident in the album’s title track where the vocals and music all work together to capture a seering, white-hot rage that builds to an alarming crescendo and doesn’t let go until the bitter end.

As much as the album presents itself as an aural storm, the closing track “Dust and Light” is a somber, melodic ending that wraps the listener in a fog of scintillating harmony, occasionally pierced by McMaster’s distant, lone screams of agony.

Overall, fans of the black metal outfit will have plenty to fill their audtiory senses with the sonic imagery that is displated on “Diotima”, it is an album of epic proportions that comes at the listener at breath-taking speed and the songs arrive in strong gusts of guitar, drums and vocals that, while may not hit the mark at first listen, will prove rewarding with further listens.


Africa Hitech – 93 Million Miles album review

Have you ever watched an action movie with a killer musical score that underpins a great action sequence, fight/chase scene? That is what Africa Hitech’s latest offering sounds like. The new album “93 Million Miles” from acclaimed electronic beatsters Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek showcases an eclectic hodge-podge of highly experimental sounds that would serve as a great soundtrack for a big-budget Hollywood sci-fi movie. The sounds on the album set the perfect tone for the listener to feel something dramatic or suspenseful coming around the corner such as the opening, title track’s minimalist, spacey beat.

Each track kicks with a pulsating bass and kicks into an ambient groove that feels like something out of a sci-fi flick. Whether it is the urgent and aggressive “Out In The Streets” or synthsized handclap and bass exchange of “Future Moves”, it seems like Africa Hitech’s album is perfect mood music for a great movie.

Rating this album on the merit of the sounds is an interesting one, mainly because electronic music is a genre that celebrates unconventional sounds. Pritchard and Spacek have made a name for themselves in creating highly experimental DJ mixes that push the boundaries of sonic territory. However, the overall result of this album falls a bit flat primarily because none of the sounds gel easily together. While there are numerous tricks and studio tweaking and synth distorting taking place, the final result is not one of cohesion; rather, it is a mash up of alienating and cold beats that seem to challenge rather than compliment each other. Now, depending on where your tastes fall in the electronic spectrum of music, this may be the whole point behind an outfit like Africa Hitech. However, in terms of trying to push the boundaries of electronic music, “93 Million Miles” gets lost in a barren maze of DJ beats and studio trickery.

On the merits of an extended play, Pritchard and Spacek should tap further into their studio brilliance and offer up some form of consistency and unity in their music. Rather than being reminded of a great movie soundtrack, “93 Million Miles” should be an album that gets our feet movin’ and heads groovin’. Instead it leaves us not wanting more, but instead feeling like something is missing.

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Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part II album review

It almost seems redundant talking about the Beastie Boys and how they are pioneers in the rap world. You would be hard pressed to find an article that doesn’t have some mention of how they were a group frat-partying white boys that made it to the top of the charts in the mid-eighties. Over time, the Beastie Boys have gained an iconic status in the hip hop industry and have therefore moved past any need to discuss how they gained credibility and respect as hip hop artists and how they have maintained an enduring appeal over the span of their thirty-year career.

However what is worth marveling is the divergence of sound they create with each release. With their latest album “Hot Sauce Committee Part II”, the boys drop the zeitgeist connection that made 1994’s “Ill Communication” and 1998’s “Hello Nasty” instant classics and have served up rhythmically robotic beats coupled with a retro sound. This nostalgic turn towards their doofus frat-partying “Licensed To Ill” era should come as no surprise seeing as how the album’s release was delayed and some of the tracks were recorded as early as 2008. Nevertheless, it makes for an engaging listen as the boys manage to create realms of skitterish hip hop beats from the retro dust that they have spread onto their sound. There is an, almost, fun-loving, energized punch to tracks such as “Nonstop Disco Powerpack” and “Say It”. A guest turn by Nas easily makes “Too Many Rappers” one of the breeziest tracks on the album and “Tadlock’s Glasses” show the Boys at their most playful.

The beauty of “Hot Sauce” lies in how it starkly opposes the sense of angst that is so prevalent in the music industry. With declining sales and non-stop file sharing threatening to permanently bring the industry to its knees, the boys remind us of the simple joy of throwing on a pair of DJ headphones, cranking the volume loud and boppin’ our heads to the stylized beats of their latest. Lyrically, the Beasties have never been one to spit soul-bearing, misery drenched rhymes and “Hot Sauce” is no exception. What other album would devote so much attention to the career of Lee Majors; the Six Million Dollar Man?

Without a doubt, most reviews of “Hot Sauce….” will over-scrutinize the album’s retro-modulated sound as a blatant gimmick. But, there is something to be said for enjoying the pure kitsch and novelty of an album that is devoted purely towards retro, nostalgic throwback. “Hot Sauce…” excels so well in this venture that there is no point in identifying the flaws in such an album. Basically, the Boys have been around long enough that they can do whatever they want. We should be grateful that their output is engaging enough to keep us coming back for more.