Murs – Yumiko: Curse of the Merch Girl album review

I love concept albums. Concept albums, when properly executed are stand-alone works of art. Because their premise is self-contained, they aren’t bound by context the way other albums might be. With a strong central theme, concept albums tend to by tighter in focus, so pound for pound, they tend to pack a little more intellectual punch than traditional structures. And as far as hip hop concepts, comic book integration has provided some of the most fruitful source material, for example Ghostface Killah’s 12 Reasons to Die with producer Adrian Younge, which dropped earlier this year, and was packaged with a comic book.

Rapper Murs is taking that idea one step further with Yumiko: Curse of the Merch Girl.  The collaborative project began as the idea of rapper Murs and comic book writer Josh Blaylock. Murs, a lifelong fan of comic books, met Blaylock briefly (who happened to be a fan of Murs’ music) at several comic book conventions, and soon after began talking about working on something together. They came up to write a story that could be told through the pages of a graphic novel as well as a hip hop album. Because of the scope of the project, Murs and Blaylock couldn’t secure backing from a record label, so they turned to Kickstarter to let fans fund the production of a full-length album and full-color 100-page graphic novel. In response, over 30,000 dollars was raised to produce Yumiko: Curse of the Merch girl, and the finished product was released to supporters and fans July of 2012. Fast forward to 2013, and now the album has gotten a proper release through a distribution deal with Duck Down Music.

So now, a much larger audience will get to experience Yumiko, the tale of a girl who works the merchandise table on tour with her boyfriend’s band. Without giving too much away the story ends with a clash of the cosmic forces of good and evil. Each song in Murs’ album corresponds to a chapter in the graphic novel by Blaylock, and Murs’ lyrics appear throughout the book. With tight integration like this, the album can stand alone regardless if you read the graphic novel. Murs stays strictly on-topic with his rhymes, while still managing to draw some universal parallels between the characters and real life, touching on topics such as, loyalty, materialism, belief in a god or gods, and self-reliance, a theme which is particularly resounding given the highly DIY nature of the album. While fairly short at only 10 tracks, the album makes up for this in lyrical density and through determined musical progression. DJ Foundation creates an evocative yet unobtrusive backdrop for every chapter in story, and sets the tone throughout. The album starts out with mellow boom-bap and builds in intensity up to the finale, a sprawling, techno-infused epilogue, which lets you know the ride is over And Yumiko is a ride that’s every bit engaging as it is entertaining. So hope for more comic book hip hop like this, because the stories that make for enticing graphic novels translate well into satisfying albums in an age where a lot of music that costs a lot more than $30,000 to make so severely lacks meaning or inspiration.

Jon Kennedy – Corporeal album review

Trip hop is dead. Okay, not dead but maybe doomed. It’s not that there aren’t great offerings by artists working within the idiom, it’s just that there’s a hard cap that’s already been hit. Trip hop was probably ill fated at birth, because the seminal works of artists like DJ Shadow and Portishead caused a rapid peak for the fledgling genre, sending successors tumbling into an accelerated life-cycle from peak to saturation to obscurity. Works like DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing” and Portishead’s “Dummy” added new dimensions of performance, creativity, and finesse to instinctive hip hop grooves, and created the foundation for trip hop. But in the time since these influential albums were released in the mid-nineties, trip hop has been reluctant to yield new colors for its producer’s palette. Attempting to fuse novel and diverse styles into the beat-laden compositions is the name of the game, rather than the icing on the cake. It follows that the standard for good trip hop is pretty remote.

“Corporeal,” Jon Kennedy’s entry into the trip hop archives suffers a little from these limitations, even as it attempts to fuse so many different genres. Kennedy, the UK Drummer, DJ and producer, has in fact incorporated instrumentation with samples and synth, an approach that actually distinguishes “Corporeal” slightly from it’s predecessors. The opening track “Boom Clack,” collages gritty synth and wobbly dubstep bass and looped boom-bap drumming. There’s definitely an element of performance on display in this album. However, as the album progresses, and jazzy keyboard vibes or country-western guitar riffs or other extranea are forcibly injected into the vacuum-sealed soundscape of “Corporeal,” the inconsistency of tone becomes all too apparent. And while Kennedy’s grooves are often transfixing, they’re almost so perfect in their intuitiveness that the tracks feel sanitized rather than human. Smooth Jazz comes to mind a little too often. Factor in some painfully banal lyrics, and lack of transition work, and “Corporeal” seems downright mundane. That’s not the kind of description that bodes well for an album that conceits in its very title to take the listener on a journey of the senses. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few arresting moments in this album. The deep, soulful atmosphere of “Bossa No Var” is delectably concise.

Unfortunately, the occasional high points feel totally disjointed from the rest of the sprawling, meandering album. So while Jon Kennedy has succeeded in making an interesting collection of songs, the album as a whole feels very dated. It’s old hat. The trick with trip hop is that experimentation within the style just doesn’t yield stunning innovation. The albums that do rise to the top of trip hop are forged out of rare elements like pure virtuosity, exemplified by DJ Shadow, and visionary inspiration as in Portishead’s haunting masterpiece “Dummy.” Neither of these essential characteristics can be expounded upon much. You either have ‘it’ or you don’t, because the form of trip hop really takes care of itself. So while Jon Kennedy has found a technically interesting sound in “Corporeal,” the album just doesn’t have the soul (or body for that matter) to set it apart from the crowd. Few music styles are as formally narrow as trip hop, which also makes it an extremely top-heavy genre. The question is, can trip hop survive or will it ultimately collapse under the weight of its early influencers?

Slum Village – Evolution album review

What gives music its soul?

Slum Village is a rap group that has featured an ever-changing lineup, drawing upon a collective of Detroit MCs and producers since the early 00’s when hip hop deity Jay Dee aka J Dilla withdrew his full-time guidance from the group. Since then, the group has experienced several renaissances, and each incarnation of the group has pushed the music of Slum Village in new directions while retaining the essence of generations past. For the group’s latest release, the aptly titled Evolution, T3 is the only living member left from the group’s legendary founding trio; Dilla and Baatin have both passed on. Reverently carrying on their legacy are Dilla-sciple producer/MC Young RJ and Jay Dee’s brother Illa J. Together with T3, they are Slum Village for a new generation, and with Evolution they are proving that music has a soul of its own that outlives the illuminated individuals who give it life.

While Evolution benefits from a polished, contemporary sound and fresh flows, it still pays tribute to Slum Village roots from the Fan-tas-tic era by sticking to a tried-and true formula for boom-bap group rap. Effervescent loops are matched up with crunchy vintage drum breaks to create an intuitive backdrop for no-frills raps. However, the tone here is a little more brooding than classic Slum Village, owing to darker, more ethereal samples taking the place of more straightforward jazz and R&B sounds. The verses are more aggressive, and feature faster, grimier flows in contrast to the poetic delivery of the Slum Village of yesteryear. Even with these updates, a raw passion that has always been central to the group’s consciousness comes across on every track. Consequently, Evolution’s high points soar, for instance “Let it Go” which induces chills thanks to spine-tingling piano riffs, spitfire rhymes and a verse from Blu, who delivers one of the most interesting guest appearances on the album. The first single, “Forever” is a laid-back rhythm machine that rivals the clean, even production values of a contemporary De La or Blackalicious. In its entirety, Evolution is an extremely taut album, which bristles with the passion and professionalism exhibited throughout. This is music for music’s sake, and even listeners unfamiliar with the history and influence of Slum Village will appreciate this well-crafted album.

On Evolution, Slum Village remains a rap group with a clear sense of purpose, begotten by a musical ethic born in a by-gone era of hip hop. To hear Evolution is to realize the continuity of the soul of music itself. In philosophy, the properties of continuity are demonstrated through the story of a sailing ship. Over time, parts of the ship are replaced one-by-one when the ship returns to port, until finally none of the original parts remain. Even though the parts are new, it’s hard to argue that you’re not still talking about the same ship. There must be something more than the sum of the parts that gives Slum Village its soul. Despite numerous lineup changes and the death of two founding members, the sound and feeling originally forged by J Dilla, T3 and Baatin is a living entity that survives in and of itself. Evolution is nothing less than a fresh and thoroughly triumphant testament to the eternal spirit of Slum Village, a landmark hip hop group in every way.

The Caravan – The Caravan album review

“It is not the aim of this record to hypnotize you,” are the opening lines of The Caravan’s latest album. Yet the acoustic sounds of their self-titled track list pull you into Kyle McKenna’s world and show you artistry and political passion from his point of view.

This album explains how much the Caravan’s have a passion for artistry with a blend of pop and old school 90’s hip hop. The Caravan are riding music, made with intentions to provoke emotion and promote awareness to life in Canada. Songs like “The Groove” blend a smooth, old school vibe into a pop record that is nice to dance to. Other like “Flex the Flow” offer clever wordplay and smooth flows to show off the band’s lyrical skills.

In Their broad arrangement of songs lies many messages.

One, the Caravan are serious about music.“First Thing I Do Every Morning” talks about how dedicated McKeena is to rap and his skills. He explains that he wants to be a different type of rapper; defeating stereotypes, unleashing the truth and and making people really feel his music on a motivational level.

Two, The Caravan are serious about their political rights. “What up Steve?” is the most controversial songs on the album, picked up my Huffington Post Canada March 5. The song depicts sharp opinions about the Canadian prime minster, Stephen Harper. The lyrics lash out at Harper for alleged dishonesty, oppression, and the controversial Beyond the Boarder Pact. The song continues to attacks his country’s leaders for greed and power instead of for not thinking about it’s citizens.

Three, The Caravan use their music to uplift the people. In “Words That Makes You Feel Good,” the Caravan talks to their fans. Inspired by Blackalicious’s “Make You Feel That Way,” McKenna talks about how he writes for the heart for people to relate to and find comfort in. You can gauge the groups musical progression as they get more confident and secure in their sound and message every day. The verses explain how the group started rapping and grew to take it seriously. By the end of the song it becomes clear why their audience is growing.

Another song that is fan relatable is “Ghost in Your Heart.” The short one verse track depicts growing up under rough circumstances and struggling to find direction. The “ghost in your heart” seems to represent an inner pain or trouble that grow every day. The song advocates examining this ‘ghost’ and finding yourself in the process.

Rapper Kyle McKenna, guitar and keys player Mike Ritchie and drummer Mark Bachynski all have an exceptional career in front of them if they keep making music that passionately speaks out from the heart. This album is utterly amazing, invoking all kinds of emotions from me as I still revel over the clever way that it was done.

Find more information about the group, including tour dates and album details, on their website.

Oneohtrix Point Never Releases Dog In The Fog: ‘Replica’ Collaborations & Remixes

Oneohtrix Point Never Releases Dog In The Fog: ‘Replica’ Collaborations & Remixes

Remix EP Collection Out 6/12 on Software Recording Co.

Listen To The Matmos Remix

On 2011’s Replica, Daniel Lopatin — aka Oneohtrix Point Never — turned a world of samples into one of the year’s most acclaimed albums. To follow up, we’re happy to announce Dog In The Fog – Replica Collaborations & Remixes as a digital EP featuring new edits and remixes of “Replica”, “Remember” and “Nassau” by a handful of OPN’s friends and favorites.

Lopatin approached Limpe Fuchs to contribute vocal and viola parts to the album’s namesake centerpiece, having been influenced by her 1987 electroacoustic record Via. The parts were then handed to Matmos to arrange, known most for 2001’s brilliant A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, as well as their production work on Björk’s Vespertine and Medulla records. Another version of the title track features King Midas Sound’s Roger Robinson, whose affecting vocal is set alongside a new arrangement by Lopatin himself.

The EP also features versions of “Remember”, which becomes a churning percussive ember under techno legend Surgeon’s direction. Richard Youngs, another influential artist on Lopatin’s own work, concludes the EP with a blasted, dirge-like vocal edit of “Nassau”.

Dog in the Fog – Replica Collaborations & Remixes is available digitally 6/12 from the Software Recording Co.

Track Listing:
1. Oneohtrix Point Never w/ Limpe Fuchs – Replica (Matmos Edit)
2. Oneohtrix Point Never w/ Roger Robinson – Replica (OPN Edit)
3. Oneohtrix Point Never – Remember (Surgeon Remix)
4. Oneohtrix Point Never – Nassau (Richard Youngs Remix)

Tour Dates:
05/31/12 – Kilbi Festival – Düdigen, Switzerland
06/01/12 – Ensems Festival – Valencia, Spain
06/09/12 – Volt Festival – Sopron, Sweden
06/20/12 – Webster Hall – New York NY – w/ Liars
07/05/12 – Robert Johnson Club – Frankfurt, Germany
07/06/12 – Roskilde Festival – Copenhagen, Denmark
07/07/12 – Bloc Festival – London, UK
07/08/12 – Holland North Sea Jazz Festival – Den Hague, NL
07/15/12 – Pitchfork Festival – Chicago, IL
08/10/12 – Helsinki
08/12/12 – Dockville Festival – Hamburg, Germany

Common and Just Blaze Release The Light ’08 (It’s Love) (Smirnoff Signature Mix)

SMIRNOFF SIGNATURE MIX SERIES PRESENTS “THE LIGHT ’08 (IT’S LOVE) (SMIRNOFF SIGNATURE MIX)” BY COMMON AND JUST BLAZE

The second song from the Smirnoff Signature Mix Series is downloadable for FREE at http://www.SmirnoffSignatureMixSeries.com

The Smirnoff Signature Mix Series is a campaign pairing three acclaimed rappers with some serious beatmakers to create new versions of iconic hip-hop songs. Internationally renowned artists Common, Q-Tip, and KRS One are joining musical forces with Just Blaze, Cool & Dre, and DJ Premier to re-imagine Common’s “The Light,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight,” and Boogie Down Productions’ seminal “Criminal Minded.”

The site launched last week with KRS One and DJ Premier’s “Criminal Minded ’08 (Smirnoff Signature Mix).”
This week download Common and Just Blaze’s “The Light ’08” featuring vocals by Marsha Ambrosius and Bilal. And on March 4th, be on the lookout for Q-Tip and Cool & Dre’s “Midnight ’08.”
Be sure to keep checking the site for exclusive videos and content.

STREAMS: The Light ’08 (It’s Love) (Smirnoff Signature Mix)”
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Check out, Like You’ll Never See Me Again, from her upcoming album, As I Am.

Check out, Like You’ll Never See Me Again, from her upcoming album, As I Am.

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MULTI-PLATINUM, NINE-TIME GRAMMY AWARD WINNER ALICIA KEYS SET TO RELEASE “AS I AM” WORLDWIDE ON NOVEMBER 13

THIRD STUDIO ALBUM FEATURES COLLABORATIONS WITH KERRY “KRUCIAL” BROTHERS, LINDA PERRY, JOHN MAYER, SWIZZ BEATZ AND MORE

Nine-time Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys returns with her long-awaited third studio album, As I Am, set for a worldwide release on November 13 on J Records. Within 10 hours of being serviced to radio, Alicia first single, “No One,” became one of the fastest moving and highest charting single on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. This also marks the highest first single debut for a female artist in 2007 on the R&B Monitor’s Urban Mainstream chart!

Also, check out the video for the 1st single “No One” below:

Alicia Keys – No One video