All posts by Dan Kok

The Shortlist – September 9, 2016

The Best New Music Every Week

As Fall approached and the days continue to get shorter in the Northern Hemisphere the musical landscape is beginning to follow suit with calmer, more introspective themes and even drifting into downright darkness at times.  This week’s playlist is stocked with a few cuts and previews from Fall releases and a decent helping of chill hip-hop.  Put it on to ease yourself into the new season.

c0689dbc258eb062f5a712ba817f011f7f7934a8Angel Olsen – Never Be Mine

Angel Olsen’s highly anticipated follow up to 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness was released this week.  MY WOMAN is a collection of expertly written, dreamy guitar pop and only serves to solidify Olsen as one of the most impressive voices in the genre.  “Never Be Mine” recalls early ’60s girl-group hits like “Be My Baby” as her voice floats with ease atop the swelling wall of sound.

2dffe48b794fab2c5f915af10e6d964fd08db8b4Action Bronson – Descendants of the Stars

New York rapper Action Bronson has recently veered away from making music to hosting and co-creating TV shows on Viceland, but apparently he at least still has some free time to make theme songs for his shows.  With a simple, piano-anchored beat, “Descendants of the Stars” is a gritty track that really spotlights Bronson’s nasal tone and variety of weird non sequitur  bars.

e60c01e920a56c7bb5e1843b43e616cfb00f957eEverything Everything – I Believe It Now

The UK power pop group have a wonderfully unique sound.  They’re more artsy about a lot of things than their contemporaries.  They don’t shy away from singer Jonathan Higgs’ shrieking falsetto.  They stay poppy and danceable while sounding unlike anything that’s made to be poppy and danceable.  “I Believe It Now” is no exception.  The new single pulls from bass-driven ’80s pop before exploding into the fist pumping chorus and throwing in a gravelly electronic bridge for good measure.

8834ac4ea759929a5cb9c80505a30672cce0daaaSampha – Blood On Me

Sampha proved himself during his years of work with SBTRKT, but up until this year he hardly had any solo material.  But now he has been setting himself up to release a new project all his own and the cuts he has released sound awesome.  “Blood On Me” shows expert use of harmonies and structure and presents the artist as a singular force that can easily stand on his own.

ed4e335b4e2ecd674eeea470ea24e0d9e70a430eSylvan Esso – Radio

Before Sylvan Esso’s debut album, the suggestion that a cappella folk singer Amelia Meath and electronic musician Nick Sanborn would come together to make one of the most creative sounds of the past few years might read like the musings of a crazy person.  But it more than works, it excels and “Radio” only serves to continue the success of the fusion.  Meath’s intense alto vocals are perfectly matched Sandborn’s layered production and rumbling bass to create a thick and rich sound.

406aabe72389535e80c87f5eca520439a7249e90Joey Bada$$ – Brooklyn’s Own

Joey Bada$$ is all about the old school.  He’s demonstrated time and time again that he’s done his homework and want nothing more than to carry on the legacy of classic East Coast hip-hop.  “Brooklyn’s Own” nods to Biggie with fluid rhyme schemes and a golden era tinged beat while still retaining Joey’s point of view.  His punchy consonants and loose flow bring the old into the new quite effectively.

cd9da404eac38ab71b653f82991b7198d5c16098Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Jesus Alone

With the upcoming Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds hopefully are prepping a tremendous return to form.  Perhaps not a return sonically as much as a return emotionally.  The band and it’s leader thrive in the darkest subjects and in setting an ominous mood.  “Jesus Alone” is a droning, 6-minute long expedition into the mind that flips between unsettling and uplifting piano accents.  It’s vagueness leaves everything open and gets under the skin.  It’s what Nick Cave is best at.

f6f992e8650dc28f0361c101acc6677ae479e49fIsaiah Rashad – Free Lunch

Top Dawg Entertainment has produced some of the most impressive and highly-regarded artists in hip-hop and Isaiah Rashad is a big up-and-comer from the label.  His new album The Sun’s Tirade is out now and features some modern bangers and a few chill R&B flavored cuts like “Free Lunch”.  The beat with it’s bright guitars and smooth keyboards drives this track and let’s Rashad drop some well written verses.  He’s going places for sure and the album is definitely worth a listen.

52abd9c07908386d56681b87a3c22b54bc904ed6Bon Iver – 33 “GOD”

Bon Iver already dropped a few alternate versions of upcoming tracks from 22, A Million but “33 ‘GOD'” is the first fully formed, final version of a single we’ve heard and it finds the group veering pretty hard from their roots.  They are introducing a lot of electronic production and samples and pulling equal influence from experimental art-pop and mainstream ’80s rock.  It’s clear that Justin Vernon and company are doing some heavy experimentation.  Let’s just hope it isn’t so heavy that it buries the songwriting that originally drew people to the band.

adb5816c319e0cab20a422af0bee5c4801b448d6Shakey Graves – Tomorrow

“Tomorrow” comes off of an upcoming compilation from Dualtone Records who have housed Americana giants like Shovels & Rope, Brett Dennen, and the Lumineers.  It’s a stripped down recording where Austin singer-songwriter Shakey Graves gets to play with his tempo and rhythm.  It’s not a happy song exactly, but you can hear him having a good time.  This track’s aggressive, loose guitar work  and emotive vocal performance honestly might be the high point of the compilation, but if it is, it’s a really solid high point.

Listen to the playlist below and follow Altwire for more

The Shortlist – September 2, 2016

The Best New Music Every Week

September is here and with it comes a whole crop of killer new preview tracks and one-off singles.  Here is a list of the week’s best and brightest releases complete with plenty of great earworms and envelope-pushers.

ce67f18181e0c3221a7470b60765d4dbf132bc79clipping – Air ‘Em Out

Daveed Diggs and company have been working hard in between Diggs’ Hamilton performances to record a full-length follow up to their 2014 breakthrough album.  Splendor & Misery is due this month and “Air ‘Em Out” has a promising sound built on a beat that sounds like a trap-rap track if all of the drums were replaced with kitchen tools.  Diggs’ delivers more of his impressive technicality with a flow so dense it begs to be put on repeat.


8113716f80ec21e56cf59d81a70eb9c06d01e725Hoops – Going Strong

Hoops is something of a mystery.  The band essentially came out of nowhere with a sound influenced equally by 80’s blue-eyed soul and modern dream-pop.  They now have three solid EPs under their belt, each one with it’s own unique, self-contained sound and concept.  With this song from their their new self-titled EP, the group seems intent on perfecting the short-tape format and their own clever take on shoegaze-y pop music.


26520615e751c0bc31b8a82bb5c708140afc6e81Midnight To Monaco – One Way Ticket

With a fresh take on French House music, this LA duo is trying to pioneer a nostalgic fusion style that combines Euro-disco, doo-wop, and surf rock into a tightly composed final product.  “One Way Ticket” is only the third track from the band but they’ve already started to attract the attention of electronic music fans and vintage pop fans alike.  Any forthcoming album will certainly be worth a listen.


284aaf15f2f9343183428373be1afd35bc583469Banks & Steelz – Wild Season (feat. Florence Welch)

Interpol’s Paul Banks plus Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA equals the fascinating new sound of Banks & Steelz.  This track combines moody, ambient synths and a old-school feeling beat to frame Banks’ bold, reverberating vocals and RZA’s distinct flow, and the presence of Florence Welch adds another layer of complexity.  The sound is dense and takes some time to dig through, but it the kind of experimentation that really pushes the boundaries of genre and form.


85e766076d0075e61e789c9638cb4bb939329c51Brent Cobb – Black Crow

After being a songwriter for a number of other artists, country boy Brent Cobb is gearing up for his first solo release.  “Black Crow” is a bluesy, roots country track with gut busting steel guitar work throughout.  It’s fresh sounds and great songwriting like Cobb’s that make it harder for people to say they like all music “except country”, because pop-country this ain’t.


216fcfaefe8cd8cdc530bae5799e6e32d70d39b9Local Natives – Coins

The last major release from indie rockers Local Natives was 2013’s Hummingbird.  New music is finally coming from the LA band’s upcoming third album Sunlit Youth.  “Coins” recalls the group’s talent for intricate harmonies and tight rhythms but there is also a sense of adding complexity and playing with genre combinations in interesting ways.


b2ff5cb4926b09b4987ae95fad1b8e899bbf28b5Goldlink – Fall In Love (feat. Ciscero)

Washington D.C. rapper Goldlink has come to be known for injecting his tracks with samples and sounds from genres that don’t usually get explored in mainstream hip-hop.  The production here is funky and heavily bass-forward with a little Euro-house tint and plays well with Goldlink’s sing-rap flow but drops off to highlight Ciscero’s wordy verse.  It’s got a solid hook and is a track that continues to show off the kind of pop-sensible experimentation Goldlink is good at.


da2acb266434feeb4d67422dd8db6e444429780bTeenage Fanclub – Thin Air

Teenage Fanclub are alt-rock giants.  The Scottish group helped to pioneer the sound of the 90s, influencing what would become college rock, shoegaze, and dream-pop.  And to be completely honest, this newest work from the band sounds pretty similar to their more successful tracks in the early 90s with production that smashes most of the elements into one solid chunk and vocals so bright and airy they almost float away.  But for fan’s of the band, the sounds is familiar and comforting that you can’t help but be excited about the new album.


cfe7bf2ec64505e1bf114b6ec36a7f9fdc003c3cDe La Soul – Whoodeeni (feat. 2 Chainz)

A previous single from De La Soul’s “and the Anonymous Nobody…” was features on this list, but now the actual album is out and it nicely combines the group’s original sounds, more experimentation, and an injection of modern sounds held down by some choice features like 2 Chainz on this track.  Posdnous’ verse is poetic and classic, Dave delivers technical prowess, and 2 Chainz doesn’t feel out of place in the more abstract atmosphere.  It’s a solid track that indicates a solid album.


bf0d3ce73671212b3dfdd4c83ae0f761e456617bKishi Bashi – Hey Big Star

The newest track from violinist/avant-garde songwriter Kishi Bashi sports more of a dance-pop sound than some of his older classical influenced tracks.  It’s dense with synths and drum pads with a jangly guitar and bouncy bass.  The effects of touring and playing with Of Montreal for so long are clear on this song, but the oddness is balanced with pop sensibility making it one of Kishi Bashi’s more accessible tracks.


Listen to the playlist below and follow Altwire for more

The Shortlist – August 27, 2016

The Best New Music Every Week

This week is full of chill, atmospheric jams with a few bangers here and there, so plug in this playlist and wind down from a long week.

5edd8a864e0731e44f499de47ed74e5582b204e0Dawes – When the Tequila Runs Out

The California-based Americana act, Dawes, are set to release their fifth studio album next month and this lead single finds the band expanding their sound with more electronic groove and a driving bass backbone.


8d205154821bb17a389ffc32714a522f4341788aKyle – Doubt It

Kyle’s flow is a refreshing diversion from what has become the standard lyrical structure but his attitude is what really sets him apart.  He has fun on “Doubt It” and it’s hard to not have fun with him.


02eb4b2b4a7a3145d9f337d5e231b16219ba462eGlass Animals – Season 2 Episode 3

Glass Animals are following up their critically acclaimed debut, Zaba, with a new, high concept project called How To Be A Human Being.  This single, which recalls classic 8-bit video game soundtracks, is cool, smooth, and a promising teaser for the new album.

b9cdc861cfa793b13fdaf5e2fd5d0e4a8f483c51Metallica – Hardwired

Metallica has a tortured past sprinkled with infighting, scandals, and wild diversions from the genre they helped create.  This new single hearkens back to the glory days though with strong thrash roots and and some stomach-churningly good guitar work.  If it’s any indication of the upcoming albums as a whole, it could be a magnificent return to form.


edbe418c20d213a931f3dfe762fc04d5f2ac5786Banks – Mind Games

Banks is delivering more of her practiced and honed pop sensibilities with strong vocals and production that lets the words speak louder.  This track clearly pulls influences from the new experimental-pop class of FKA Twigs, Lianne La Havas, et al. and the style suits Banks well.


d0ce7d2eedf692d27839a3436314f7f8b7aab982Tall Heights – Iron In The Fire

Tall Heights are a Boston based duo producing ethereal indie folk similar to Bon Iver and Local Natives.  They deliver something unique to the genre especially with their most recent album Neptune from which this single comes.  There’s a sincerity about the group that sets them apart.


1b15739fcd5200ad60ed5803dcac7a1550d86abcBall Park Music – Whipping Boy

The atmospheric chorus filters enveloping every element of Ball Park Music’s sound make them more than just your usual indie power-pop band.  Their new project Every Night The Same Dream is dreamy guitar rock at its best.


a897166753c99841173cb93d4d5298153608d463SG Lewis – Holding Back (Feat. Gallant)

Gallant offers his whispy falsetto to SG Lewis’ groovy production on this track.  It has the wah-wah effect of classic funk but as the chorus comes in, it transitions to something closer to disco or 80’s blue-eyed soul.  It’s no party anthem, but it’s chilled out and doesn’t overstay its pleasantness.


7a6f7f7486ee2d59e50754bbd2ca606fb4a14757Danny Brown – Pneumonia 

The other major banger on this week’s playlist, Danny Brown’s latest single has a minimalist beat that relies mostly on surprising and aggressive accent hits.  Brown is at his grittiest here and the instrumental fittingly sounds like something out of a horror film.  It’s three and a half minutes of pure Danny Brown.


d501e1fdaa9ff08b1a9288d6d2609fe1a77c6b18courtship. – Stop For Nothing

I decided to end this playlist on a up note with the only existing track by LA duo courtship.  “Stop for Nothing” is a bouncy dancepop track with catchy synths and a great staggered bass line.  It’s a promising debut for a band that no one knows anything about, but at the very least, they know how to make a fun song.


Listen to the playlist below and follow Altwire for more

Frank Ocean’s Unveils Visual Album “Endless”

Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated follow up to Channel Orange is finally coming.  Fans have been promised the album for year only for the project to be plagued with delays and changes.  It seems like, barring any absurd complications, the release is imminent.  In fact, Apple is set to release the album exclusively this weekend.  But before the release date, it seems the artist had to give his fans something to get extra excited about.

On August 18, Ocean released a video stream entitled Endless.  The video shows Ocean in a warehouse building a wooden staircase backed by brand new tracks complete with vocals.  This project is apparently completely separate from the forthcoming album.  Perhaps these are early sketches for the final project or B-sides that Ocean decided to release as a teaser alongside a cryptic video.  Maybe the release of the actual album will provide enough context to make sense of Endless.

The songs that form the soundtrack are promising.  Sometimes they seem a little unpolished and the way they flow together is at times jarring, but the direction Ocean seems to be taking his sound is impressive.  If this new release follows the same style then fans are in for one of the best albums of the year.

Endless is available to watch on iTunes.


The Shortlist – August 20, 2016

The Best New Music Every Week

Summer isn’t over yet and some of the most hotly anticipated albums of 2016 are still to come.  This week’s shortlist of the best new releases is chock-full of preview tracks and feel-good summer jams so grab a beer, hit the patio, and press play.

29d3ad19556c6a8396197af38b4d97fae5ee5e3cBon Iver – 22 (OVER S∞∞N)

After 5 years of other projects, Justin Vernon and company have a new album, 22 , A Million, coming out in late September.  This new single and it’s B-side, “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄”, make for a nice teaser of the chilled-out, glitchy electronic influenced sound we might hear from the group’s next effort.


e6a501acc6638413248b81f9eafc79474e063c71Mike Taylor – Electric Church

Mike Taylor doesn’t have a ton of recorded material under his belt, but it’s clear that he’s got soul and flair.  This upbeat track is a fun jam that’s guaranteed to get feet moving and heads bobbing.  It’s sure to fit right into your summer party playlist.


52aeb8f7073aed4025d35c10557185082b8a6cbdDe La Soul – Greyhounds (Feat. Usher)

De La Soul have long been a staple of alternative hip-hop alongside crews like A Trie Called Quest and The Pharcyde.  After a long hiatus they are gearing up for a brand new album and dropping singles left and right.  The releases so far have shown a more mellow side of the group with a strong focus on lyrics and storytelling.  The new album And The Anonymous Nobody… is due out on August 26th.


a40da1661b5e2953fc229db922cdc0225067b4c6The Shadowboxers – Build The Beat

Heavily influenced by upbeat soul and 80’s pop rock, the Shadowboxers deliver feel-good power pop like this one.  Groovy synth sounds and a hefty helping if blaring horns drive the song and leave you wanting to put it on repeat.


dc4fe1571e2a828e499a5b5f6e0c58f2b07f2c01The Tallest Man On Earth – Rivers

Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson AKA The Tallest Man On Earth gained fame with intricate arrangements, lo-fi recordings, and cryptic imagery.  With his more recent material, “Rivers” included, he has brought a fuller sound and a touching lyrical sensibility.  This one is for calm nights and serene locations.


217446f27dfc6ec7de94880f69ccfc7cd58ea46bAtmosphere – Ringo

Super-prolific Rhymesayers veterans Ant and Slug have a brand new album out.  This smirk-y lead single delivers the kind of clever, lighthearted jabs at society Slug has become known for over a sunny instrumental.  It’s a sing-along rap song served up with a wink and a nod.


0e344c0bd944d03b6831333b9bc48e060f7fde3eBig Gigantic – Got The Love (Feat. Jennifer Hartswick)

Boulder Colorado based electronic duo Big Gigantic is building buzz for their new album Brighter Future.  Jennifer Heartswick’s soulful vocals anchor this fast paced track and the bold horn accents make for a fun and unique sound that’s more than just EDM.


850c2f2c1a23270c1ebeb1c29b19160a767bc6aaGROUPLOVE – Do You Love Someone

GROUPLOVE has generally occupied the same musical space as Passion Pit or Fitz and the Tantrums, but this single finds them diverting from their tried-and-true synthpop sound and into something more guitar based.  The group as a whole sounds more powerful and ready to break free from the niche they once filled.  Perhaps with their upcoming album the band will be trying to bring out a more unique sound and pushing themselves outside the box.


ae18ea7edd088bc98672f546bbd5fcc8f40a8ca8Wilco – If I Ever Was A Child

Barely making it under the wire for the week, Wilco shared this new song off of their upcoming album Schmilco just yesterday.  The song takes on an acoustic, roots-Americana sound that the band most fully explored on their 2009 self-titled album.  Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting seems as strong as ever and this light, pleasant track makes for a good teaser and a good song to watch the sunset by.


6b77945fcb5f23834a6fb77e4ea1fdc2935778f3Nick Grant – Get Up (Feat. WatchTheDuck)

South Carolina’s Nick Grant just dropped this funky-soul track featuring classic southern hip-hop and fast, sharp lyrical delivery.  A relative newcomer to the rap scene, Grant is bold, confident, and sounds like he’s having an awesome time on the mic.  It’s a great recipe for a killer summer hip-hop jam.

Listen to the playlist below and follow Altwire for more


all photos from Spotify

Watsky Drops Surprise Video Single “Stick To Your Guns”

Some only remember George Watsky as the pale kid who raps fast.  But to others, Watsky is much more than that.  The poet, rapper, producer, social leader and now published author built his career on telling it like it is.  He finds emotional common ground and plants himself there to bring things together rather than tearing them apart.  On the 1st of July, shortly after another devastating mass shooting and just before the celebration of American independence and democracy, Watsky posted a video of his new single featuring fellow youtube-based songwriter Julia Nunes.  The song serves as Watsky’s response to the increasing frequency of mass shootings and a scathing critique of how society tends to react to them.  He satirically plays the part of a news anchor reveling in boosted ratings and a politician who manipulates emotions to further his own agenda claiming that “nothing ever could have been done to prevent it.”

The video itself is just a black box until almost the halfway mark when a list of state representative’s contact info starts to appear with the message “Call Your Senator” at the top.  Watsky is certainly not the first musician to use his art as a response to this terrible event.  Melissa Etheridge wrote “Pulse” as a tribute and a number of LGBT artists have made their voices heard.  A large number of notable Youtube creators like Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley have also posted their own thoughts on the issues surrounding Orlando and events like it.  But Watsky’s unique voice and way of addressing these issues is as much about bringing about change as it is about bringing love and acceptance to a hurting community.

Listen to “Stick To Your Guns” below.

Altwire Review: DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall

DJ Shadow made history 20 years ago with Endtroducing… a one of a kind instrumental hip-hop album composed entirely of samples.  And while his later works never quite hit the same heights as that debut, the west coast producer has continued to deliver some of the most unique instrumental albums in the genre.  Shadow doesn’t just make beats, he constructs impressive soundscapes that weave in and out of each other.  He ties them up into a narrative arc without really needing words, and The Mountain Will  Fall follows the same tack.  The tracklist features more guest spots than one might expect, but none of them steal the spotlight away from where it should be: the beats, the music, the tone.  It’s not an attempt to recreate Endtroducing… but Shadow’s motivations seem to come from the same place and its success stems from that more than anything else.

Experimentation and novelty made DJ Shadow a legend and the same things take The Mountain Will Fall out of the realm of beat-tapes and into its own space.  The album begins with a spoken “Hi!” and swelling, ambient synth pads before the beat drops in with a sampled holler and thunderous, wonky drum sounds.  The serenity and calmness of the synths and the beat sheer volume and force smash against each other in confusion and harmony, never sure if it’s a competition and if it is, who is winning.  The whole project tilts that way.  Elements find themselves in strange contrast with other elements, drops land in unexpected places like they showed up early or late.  Most of the time, confusion serves to benefit the overall concept, but not always.

The second track, “Nobody Speak,” which features Run The Jewels, is on of the more out of place pieces.  Not to say it’s bad, it just feels more like an El-P beat than a DJ Shadow beat and it’s the only fully and clearly lyrical song on the project.  The tone and the lyrics don’t line up with the rest of the album, and the following track, “Three Ralphs” is hardly a full composition and serves mostly as a bridge between “Nobody Speak” and the nine following songs.  By track five, “The Sideshow” however, Shadow finds a solid pocket and The Mountain Will Fall, doesn’t lose much steam from there on out.  The track features abundant record scratches, deep brass bass, and a killer break-beat that nods to the sound of the mid 90’s when Shadow was coming up.

The back half of The Mountain Will Fall continues the atmospheric trend with the dark and intense “Depth Charge” and the waves and soft electronic accents of “Ashes to Oceans.”  Each track contains elements that seem outside of DJ Shadow’s normal comfort zone but to his credit, he works them into his more comfortable style effortlessly.  “California” picks up about three minutes in and shows a noisy, aggressive side to the artist that sounds Death Grips inspired.  Tracks like “Mambo” and “Ghost Town” involve that newly popular style of hesitated drum hits and high, fast tempo, clicks.  It’s a new sound for Shadow, but he makes these things sound right at home amid his piano loops and deep house bass.

Enough time and perseverance might surely make a mountain fall to the ground, just like time and perseverance can keep a legendary producer from ever sounding stale.  The Mountain Will Fall is a picture of an artist who keeps moving motivated by curiosity and experimentation.  Consistent evolution is the name of the game for DJ Shadow.  He’s not the same DJ he was in ’96 but he’s still one of the most creative and original music-makers in the business.

Altwire Review: Blueprint – Vigilante Genesis


Inspired by gritty comic book stories, Columbus rapper Blueprint has created Vigilante Genesis with the help of producer Aesop Rock, and it’s an entirely new direction in storytelling for him.  The world of the album feels like the dark realism of Frank Miller and Alan Moore with a cynical superhero element and an ending that hardly feels like resolution at all.  Blueprint has switched his style up consistently since he started, but a concept EP like Vigilante Genesis is something he’s never done before, but matched up with Aesop’s beats it seems to be right in his wheelhouse.

The album has a darkness throughout and the production choices are industrial and gritty adding to the story’s atmosphere.  Blueprint’s tale revolves around a graffiti artist/vigilante who conceals his identity with a gas mask and isn’t afraid to resort to violence.  It’s a harsh story dealing with the hero’s views on greed, gang mentality, the computerization of culture, and the cycle of violence and crime in many parts of America.  The title track serves as an introduction but there’s not really an ‘origin story’ just like there’s no real ending.  Blueprint drops us into the middle of a story and pulls us out on a cliffhanger.

The story itself centers on the hero’s search for two criminals who he previously stopped in an attempted rape.  The criminals then murder a different graffiti artist mistakenly thinking they are getting revenge.  The hero blames himself and goes on a mission to find the murderers.  He witnesses terrible things and in his attempts make things right he finds that his efforts aren’t making much of a difference.  The cycle bad people doing bad things to other bad people keeps going and the hero can’t fix it all.  It’s a characteristic shared by dark comics like Watchmen and Sin City.  You can really picture the story living in comic panels just as easily as it works in music.

The biggest criticism I have of Vigilante Genesis is that is feels like a teaser a lot of the time.  The story has a semi-complete arc, but the world and the character beg to be developed more.  There’s not a single hook to be found on the album so it’s hard to get really hooked in to the music at times and it seems like it’s barely started once it’s over.  Maybe the cliffhanger ending is indicative of this being a continuing larger story, but as a standalone piece, there just isn’t enough of it.  It’s like issue one of a comic series; it has you hooked on the premise but it’s just starting to scratch the surface of the real story.

Production-wise, Aesop Rock delivers solidly balanced beats that aren’t too basic but also don’t get in the way of the story.  Blueprint said that he picked the instrumentals more to facilitate the story than to create an album of hard hitting bangers and it does show here.  “Tears Of A Drone” takes on a robotic quality as the hero analyzes the over-saturation of technology while “The Watering Hole” is exactly the kind of music that would play in a dive bar in this gritty vigilante movie.  Each track’s instrumental effectively adds to the intended mood.

On the whole, Vigilante Genesis is a successful new idea from the Ohio hip-hop vet.  Blueprint has become known for constant innovation and evolution and storytelling suits him.  It’s a compelling album and leaves you wanting more.  Way more.  A Vigilante Genesis EP series would be awesome and could maybe push Blueprint and Aesop Rock into new unknown territory in their careers.  But Blueprint isn’t one to stay in the same lane for long so if this is just a one-off I’ll be a little sad, but it’s a solid EP all the same.

Rating: B

Review: Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

Is Chance the only one who still cares about mixtapes?  With three under his belt since 2012 and no sign of caving in to a label deal anytime soon, the 23 year old Chicago rapper is standing for a golden era in rap when mixtapes were a big deal and allowed artists the freedom to expand creatively and do it on their own terms.  And for a kid who never attached himself to a label, he’s found himself in extremely impressive company.  Its like his style and enthusiasm as well as his refusal to claim one camp or another allow him to bridge genres and make friends in wildly different schools of hip-hop.  From alternative to trap to pop-rap, Chance seems to have friends everywhere and he brings these influences together into an ambitious, broad, and fresh mixtape.

He’s clearly evolved his style since 2013’s Acid Rap.  There are more instances of dap-worthy, auto-tuned bangers and heavy dose of gospel sound that clearly nods to Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo.  It’s more complex and nuanced than the boom-bap and nasal delivery of earlier mixtapes and the departure comes with it’s share of risks.  His lively persona shines through and is consistent with the way he’s always presented himself.  On every track he finds himself on he always sounds like he’s just super stoked to be there.  But now he’s more confident in himself; confident enough to take risks and let other parts of the tracks speak just as loud as his verses.  The standout tracks like “Angels”, “All We Got”, and “No Problem” have deep and multifaceted production and find Chance delivering verses that simultaneously sound like exactly what you expect him to sound like with an added maturity.  As much as fans love his trademark ad-lib and frantic, high-pitched tone, those elements that set him apart and endeared fans to his weirdness are sparse here and it makes everything fit together better.  He still manages to bring his uniqueness through a different gauntlet of creative rhythms and writing, but he cut the gimmicks this time.

Tracks like “How Great” and “Blessings” incorporate heavy gospel influences that feel really well conceived and sincere in the hands of Chance.  He brings a personality to these tracks that is so engaging and real that the listener is likely to start raising their hands and shouting affirmatives mid-song.  These moments are just a piece of the personality of the record.  Chance brings high energy and a personal twist that stems from the rapper’s real life.  He’s growing up, he has a child, he’s starting to explore religion, evolving relationships, and growing success.  The mood is infectious and makes the worse songs on the album still feel fun or at least bearable.  “Juke Jam” for example, drags and feels composed more to suit Justin Bieber than to suit Chance.  “Mixtape” is similarly produced to match the features’ style and that tendency in the production decisions pulls away from the otherwise confident vibe of the tape.  This is his mixtape but sometimes it still sounds more like he’s being featured on other people’s tracks than the other way around.  It’s obvious that he’s mostly just excited to be featuring some of the biggest artists in the world on his work, but all the features leave less room for his own voice to shine.

The evolution and experimentation are respectable though, even if it’s not always successful.  The huge new sound sometimes feels too over dramatic like on “Smoke Break”.  But other times, like “How Great”, the massive scope of the sound absolutely makes the track.  Really, the moments when he simplifies the presentation of big ideas are so much more effective than the moments when he tries to elevate insignificant topics.  The reprise of “Blessings”, which isn’t so much a reprise as it is a second song with the same title, is the most real and stripped down view of Chance we get on Coloring Book and it blows pretty much every other verse on the tape out of the water.  It’s gospel, it’s soulful, and it is just so simple.  This mixtape shows a lot of evolution and a lot of new influences coming together and its biggest flaw is perhaps that there’s too much.  Chance himself gets buried at times and for a rapper with so much charisma and personality it’s surprising that he’s not more of a focal point.  It’s good to hear more music from him and for all it’s flaws, Coloring Book, is refreshing in its maturity.  He’s got a ton of support and a lot of influences so it’s safe to say he’ll find a way to keep stepping it up with or without a major label.