Sigur Rós – Valtari album review

“I really can’t remember why we started this record, I no longer know what we were trying to do back then. I do know session after session went pear-shaped, we lost focus and almost gave up…did give up for a while. but then something happened and form started to emerge, and now I can honestly say that it’s the only sigur rós record I have listened to for pleasure in my own house after we’ve finished it.” – georg

Sigur Rós’ newest album is characteristically awash with dove grays and soaring vocals. “Valtari” is Icelandic for “steamroller,” and the album does slowly roll along. It ranges from icily pristine to darkly murky but always remains underwater. Some songs are spacious and minimalist, others are faded and billowing. Everything is deliberate and elegant, an intricate deluge of rushing sound.

As experimental as this ambient Scandinavian hypnosis tape may seem, it’s firmly rooted in pop aesthetics. Valtari just shuffles around the supernatural beauty Sigur Ros cultivated on their first four albums. The changes are in slow motion though rather predictable and formulaic. Their signature eccentricity is preserved by way of the nonsensical lyrics, but the quirks need to multiply to stay interesting.

Valtari is good if you’re trying to fall asleep or mellow out and do some yoga. it’s too engaging to listen to while you’re reading. At the same time, it isn’t engaging enough to listen to on it’s own unless you’re a hardcore Sigur Ros fan with lots of patience. There isn’t much to distinguish Valtari from their earlier albums. It’s very pretty and Jónsi’s voice is quite lovely, but there isn’t any innovation.


El-P – Cancer4Cure album review

Brooklyn rapper and producer, El-P, just released a radically contemporary LP on Fat Possum Records. His flow is angular and viciously intelligent.  The instrumentals are diverse and cutting-edge.  The pervasive drone is not unlike the constant noise levels in Brooklyn. A lot of songs, for example “Drones Over BKLYN” sound influenced by Death Grips’ aesthetic of metal and heavy machinery (not to mention the political relevance of drones).

Stand-out single “The Full Retard” is a machine gun party. Quoting deceased friend Camu Tao, El-P demands, “So you should pump this shit, like they do in the future.”  After a while there’s a hilariously sarcastic voice that comes in: “When harmony and love reign, no longer do we live in a society bent on its own destruction… Children of every race, creed, and religion frolic in fields of golden dandelions.” He’s clearly making fun of rappers who indulge in flaky bullshit. Then it’s cut off by a barrage of rapid gun-fire, El-P smirks and repeats “little bitch” for a while.

In terms of collaboration, El-P doesn’t mess around. “Oh Hail No” (described to Skinny Mag as, “Some rebel shit from the garbage”) has verses from both Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and Danny Brown. “Tougher Colder Killer” (inspired by a poem about a soldier’s guilt after battle) features Killer Mike and Despot. “True Story” has chopped vocals from Heems (Das Rascist). However, “Works Every Time” featuring Paul Banks of Interpol is lukewarm, but whatever.

The subject matter is original and affecting. Opening track, “Request Denied” is about the exuberance and irreverence of youth. Escapist yet destructive pass-times are the basis of “Works Every Time”. “The Jig Is Up” and “Sign Here” are the only songs about women… but “The Jig Is Up” is based on Groucho Marx’s famously self-depreciating line, “I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would have me” and the interrogative “Sign Here” is about sex and domination. “For My Upstairs Neighbor” has a bored and shocking refrain, “If you kill him I won’t tell…” Madness, paranoia, death, control, technology – definitely more relevant than smoking weed and thinking up clever nicknames for yourself.

You really should pump Cancer4Cure like they do in the future. El-P is on point.


Ab-Soul – “Terrorist Threats” ft. Danny Brown & Jhené Aiko

Watch this video. Single “Terrorist Threats” is on Ab-Soul‘s recent album, Control System. It’s devastatingly gratifying and hard-hitting. The cinematography is slick. Jhené Aiko‘s voice is sweet and lilting; Danny Brown‘s contribution is nasal and ironic and kills it. Stream the whole album for free right here.


Jacques Greene on Oki Noki

OSCILLATE is a sleek mix by Montreal’s Jacques Greene, aired on Oki Noki Stereo. His beats are polished and his neat snips of R&B vocals are right on trend. Ranging from minimalist house to exuberant synth-pop, OSCILLATE is an hour-long study in good vibrations.


OSCILLATE by Jacques Greene by Oki-Ni on Mixcloud


Showbiz & AG – Mug Shot Music: Preloaded album review

“Show and A! Before we give you the album, Mug Shot Music, we gonna give you the free album. Like my man Show would say, the free album before the album, and the title is called Pre-loaded…”

[On Mug Shot Music: Preloaded, rapper AG (Andre the Giant) and producer Showbiz (the guy that produced KRS-One’s “Sound of da Police”) team up for the second time since 1998. The two released a few albums together in the mid-90s but then focused on solo projects and collaborations with the rest of the Diggin’ in the Crates Crew (Lord Finesse, Diamond D, Fat Joe, Buckwild, O.C. and Big L).]

The opening song, “DJ Premier’s Road Test” introduces the album with standard self-promotional fanfare, but then AG dives into biting social commentary. On “That Nigga Crazy,” the voice of author Amos Wilson cuts in, “in order for this system to maintain itself…it is a political necessity… for black people to be out of their minds…” In between the mantra, “That nigga crazy”, the verses elaborate on the violence built into the system. “Sometimes I imagine what if he taught us to eat the wrong food / broke our unity / since then we been screwed / and you wonder why I’m rude? / Got my sister all nude while you watch my family feud…” With white-hot precision AG addresses misogyny, the drug war, racism, and education, among other hefty topics.

While the vibe is definitely 90’s hip-hop, a lot of songs flirt with contemporary elements. “Wolves” is vivid and satisfying and has wolf howls – but the hipsters already trended wolves to death. “Here and Now,” “Experience,” and “Suspended Animation” play with space and ambience and then ground themselves with rock-solid beats and emphatic rhymes. (The term “Suspended Animation” refers to an iffy medical practice of slowing down bodily functions with cold or chemicals. Sort of like hibernation.)

Most loops are jazzy big band – sometimes bold, sometimes scrambled. A lot of the instrumentation sounds like it’s lifted from melodramatic classic films. There are dramatic slashes of strings, ominous horn lines. It isn’t always serious drama though .“Here and Now” has these tinny riffs that sound like Scooby Doo just solved another mystery. There is ample variety, songs ranging from the sunny “Berri Love” (Feat OC) to the sinister “God is 4 Us”.

A couple songs don’t hit quite right.“South Bronx Shit” is an unremarkable reppin’ your neighborhood anthem. The chorus is supposed to be camp, but the pinched tone is too annoying. “My Imagination” has very pretty instrumentals. Then A.G. sits back and ponders, “imagine… my imagination… imagine… my imagination…” A couple songs back he tells the listener how high he is. This is the first time it shows.

Mug Shot Music: Preloaded is a tight prelude to Showbiz and AG’s impending album. In “Here and Now” AG puts it out there, “…so ghetto / so hood / so good / we great / and if you dont think we the truth son, I just can’t relate.” Not going to argue.

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Nicolas Jaar Essential Mix on BBC Radio 1

22 year old Brown student Nicolas Jaar has graced the musical world with a magnificent two hour mix. For those that missed it Friday night, stream here it for free (courtesy of BBC Radio 1). Among the artists seamlessly mixed into Jaar’s self-termed “bluewave” are Jay-Z, Marvin Gaye, Aphex Twin, Charles Mingus, The Field, Beyoncé, and Ricardo Villalobos. In true post-internet fashion, Jaar favors a diverse palette that includes minimalist-house, poetry, classical piano and strings, and jazz. The hybrid is both modern and impressionistic.

The vibe flows from sticky smooth beats to avant-garde sound play. Chainsaws and white noise carve out spacious atmospheres, low distorted voices add gravity. Sometimes the mix morphs into solemn storytelling or infectious pop or honeyed female vocals. Even though it’s such a mosaic, Jaar stitches it together with hisses and clicks: sounds of malfunctioning technology. From the washes of wind-chimes to the bold declaration “There is no god”, BBC Radio 1 aired one hell of a show Friday night.

Nicolas Jaar recently performed at MoMA PS1, produced one of the best albums of 2011, Space Is Only Noise, and has his own record label, Clown and Sunset. Oh, and he hasn’t even graduated from Brown yet.