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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.

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.

AltWire Review: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

amoonshapedpool However, the years have mostly been kind to the band.  They’ve evolved and experimented with each new release and for the most part their efforts have been successful.  Thom Yorke and company have also experimented with the way music is marketed and released. They did this with their name-your-price 2007 album In Rainbows, and the surprise release and atypical packaging of The King Of Limbs.  This time, 5 years later, the band removed all social media and internet presence only to return with cryptic video loops, pamphlets, and finally 2 music videos and a release date.  The hype was real, and it was strong, but now it’s here…the fabled LP 9: A Moon Shaped Pool.

Let’s be honest, The King Of Limbs had some people worried that Radiohead had their time in the sun. People assumed that the album signaled a band exiting their prime and moving towards more and more disappointing releases.  The fans can rest easy. A Moon Shaped Pool is a stunning and gorgeous piece of artistry that continues to experiment, expand, and evolve the unique talents of the band’s members.  It can’t truly be called a return to form because it is a new direction entirely, but there is a feeling that this new album shares an emotional and atmospheric core with Amnesiac and Kid A

Where TKOL was punchy and percussive, AMSP is dreamy and melancholy. It focuses more on soaring strings, smooth melodies, and space textures, giving the album a more somber and dramatic quality. The string arrangements in particular make certain moments cinematic, like the light, jumpy violins that switch off with driving basses and cellos on “Burn the Witch”.  It puts the listener on edge and unsettles the senses from the first moment. “Glass Eyes” and the finale of “The Numbers” are reminiscent of Johnny Greenwood’s work on film soundtracks; building chords and swelling to beautiful conclusions. The scope of the instrumentation elevates the songs to new and unexpected places. 

The band has been working on many of the songs on AMSP since the late 1990’s and you can hear the different moments through many of the tracks. “Identikit” and “Full Stop” call back to the percussion and repetition of In Rainbows and TKOL . “Decks Dark” and “Tinker Tailor…” call back the heavily synthesized feelings of Kid A and OK Computer. This mixing of sounds gives some songs a sense of restlessness. “The Numbers”, while it revolves mostly around a Neil Young-esque vintage folk rock sound, has so many external elements. There are piano accents and percussion instruments that jump in and out, giving the track an intentional messiness. Like an orchestra tuning before a concert, things are just noisy, like they haven’t gotten settled. It’s like the elements weren’t ready for the record to exist yet, and are desperately trying to get back in order. The album was never meant to sound settled, it’s transitioning. It’s working through some personal stuff right now so please pardon the rough edges.  This feeling of uneasiness and restlessness comes back over and over on “Desert Island Disk”, “Glass Eyes”, and “True Love Waits”

Lyrically, Thom follows a similar line.  The mood overall is pensive and even grim at times.  It makes sense, seeing as Thom Yorke recently split with his partner of almost 25 years.  Many of the songs have a somewhat cynical or pained take on the concepts of love and relationships.  But Yorke also takes on social issues and the increasing digitization of the world we live in; a topic Radiohead has approached in a number of ways for years. Here, the lyrics are conflicted in a different way. Yorke advocates running away and hiding from the world, but laments being lonely and forgotten. He cycles between feeling pain and accepting that the reasons for the pain are there and they are legitimate. He flips back and forth between anger and pleading desperation on “Full Stop”.  He seems to be wrestling with himself, his relationships, the world at large, and societal power dynamics, all with varying degrees of success. Sometimes he’s panicky and frantic, sometimes cocksure and arrogant, and sometimes pleading or demanding the world’s assistance. As a whole, the atmosphere is much more reserved and introspective, quieter than some of the band’s other work. 

For some artists, as they move in the direction of nostalgia and self-reflection, it can become predictable and uninteresting for the listener. In the case of Radiohead, the fact that so much of this album was in the works for so many years gives it a fresh quality.  It truly does read lyrically and musically as a flashback on the band’s work and on the personal lives involved. It shows where the world has gone since they started.  It’s a powerful and unique statement that, despite the variety of influences involved, doesn’t ever sound messy without meaning to.  It’s very calculated and very intentional.  Radiohead, it seems, are far from being past their prime, and still know how to transform and make great art out of pain.

Rating: A-

Photo Credit: muzwave.com and diy.com

AltWire Review: Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

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Aesop Rock has built his career on his massive vocabulary, abstract wordplay, and a talent for taking the mundane and making it sound deep and complex. Over the years, he’s experimented with his style and became more hands-on with his production. He jumped into projects with unlikely collaborators like Kimya Dawson and John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats). He gets more and more personal with his writing as he goes. His newest album, The Impossible Kid, finds one of the most unique independent rappers for the past two decades coming to terms in a new way with the fact that he’s been one of the most unique independent rappers for the past two decades. 

Aesop takes on an entirely new perspective with this album, delivering his most grounded and personal album to date.  On “Lotta Years” he speaks about observing young people with bad neck tattoos and removable dreadlocks. He questions his place in the future, in relation to a generation whose ideas of art and rap music are entirely different from his when he started out.  A few songs later on “Blood Sandwich” he addresses two stories, one about each of his two brothers.  In the first, he recounts a little league game that gets derailed by a burrowing rodent. The second is about his religious mother refusing to let his older brother attend a Ministry concert because she detects satanic influences. In classic Aesop style, the connection between these stories, and the insinuation that Aesop hasn’t spoken to his older brother for a while, isn’t initially clear. However, by painting these little vignettes, he’s really trying to put forward a clearer idea of where he came from and how that affected who he is now. 

“Shrunk” details a psychiatric visit. “Dorks” is a shrugging acceptance of Aesop’s outsider status.  “Kirby” tells the story of his recent decision to get a kitten at the suggestion of his psychiatrist.  “Rings” laments the fact that he doesn’t do much drawing anymore.  He raps that it’s “hard to admit that I used to draw.” These moments describe an Aesop Rock who, at some level, is actively trying to pull down the walls that previously existed between his life and what he puts on his records. As a whole, it makes the album easier to relate to. At least, it gives it an approachable human quality.

The human aspect actually saves the album from feeling a little bit one-note.  Aesop produced the entirety of The Impossible Kid, and while his ear has improved over his career, the album does fall prey to a lot of the same pitfalls as his production with Hail Mary Mallon on Bestiary. It feels a little rigid and harsh at times, focused more on strong and punchy quarter note rhythms than on building an atmosphere and giving the tracks interesting textures. Granted, there’s a noticeable effort made to smooth the production over, but it’s often hit-or-miss.  Alternately, Aesop’s rapping technique has been consistent for the past few years, but it hasn’t shown too much evolution and can feel stale at times.  The engaging and honest nature of the writing certainly helps to gloss over the album’s faults even if it doesn’t totally fix them. 

Impossible Kid does have production gems here and there. “Defender” is a surprisingly ethereal track with some more nuanced drums and a smooth bass/synth combination. It has a cheesy DJ sting or two, but it’s forgivable in the greater mix. “Get Out Of The Car” cuts out the beat altogether and lets Aesop’s percussive vocals work to give the track a strong rhythm.  It’s a smart choice that highlights the weight of his message on the track. You can hear that he wrote the verse to include plenty of piercing consonants to give it a rhythm.  Above all, there’s poetry on the track. Word choice and delivery just proves how much he deserves the respect he’s gained. 

If nothing else, Aesop Rock has always delivered tight verses that keep you hovering over the rewind button the whole time. His delivery on this album follows suit with toothy diction, quick-fire imagery, and chuckle-inducing punchlines (“Cherry? No.  Whip? Yes.”). For those who go in for Aesop’s unique flow and intellectual “wordsmith-ery”, The Impossible Kid is a satisfying addition to his body of work.  The album does have something going on at a deeper level. It’s less about the state of the rap game or the state of the world, and more about the state of Aesop Rock himself than anything else in his catalog.  For all of the record’s faults, Aesop’s attempt to write in a less guarded way is ultimately a success. The Impossible Kid carves out a truly unique spot for itself within his discography.

Rating: B

Photo Credit:fifth element online.com & mtv.com

Chance The Rapper Debuts New Single Live

Chance The Rapper has been in a state of constant beast mode since the release of 2013’s Acid Rap mixtape. He has been chalking up feature after feature with: Childish Gambino, Madonna, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and the list goes on. His collaborators, the Social Experiment, released one of last year’s most enjoyable summer mixtapes, Surf.  Basically, Chance is a 23 year-old hip-hop superstar and he hasn’t even released a proper debut studio album yet.

What do you do when you have one of the most unique voices in hip-hop and the world is desperately waiting for your third mixtape?  If you answered “perform an unreleased gospel/rap song on a late night talk show and drop the news that he tape is coming out in just over a week” you probably cheated…or you’re Chance the Rapper.

Chance performed a live version of “Blessings” on The Tonight Show. The performance came complete with a gospel choir and the falling walls of Jericho. Chance also came with the assistance of Donnie Trumpet, Jamila Woods, and Byron Cage. Along with the performance, Chance released the news that Chance 3 will be officially available on May 13.

As far as the song itself is concerned, Chance is no stranger to bringing soul and gospel into his sound. He proved his ability on “Good Ass Intro” from his own Acid Rap and, of course, his impressive feature on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam”. In the performance of “Blessings”, Chance comes through with a new level of sincerity and reality. It’s an amazingly mature sound and he achieves it without sacrificing his trademark energy and looseness. If the single is any indication of the rest of the mixtape, the hip-hop world ought to be pleased on May 13.

Watch the Performance on Jimmy Fallon below.

 

 

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

When asked what music they like to listen to, a staggering percentage of people answer: “I listen to everything…except for rap and country.” Or, at least they did back when I used to ask that question, thinking everyone felt as strongly about music as I did. I wondered why so many people are turned off by rap and country?

The term “country music” seems to implant stereotypical images. When people hear that term, they picture a: plaid-shirted, belt-buckled, cowboy-hatted, cheap beer swilling, and acoustic guitar-playing dude with a thick drawl singing about his sad dog, his sad love life, or his sad tractor. That’s not my kind of scene either, but Sturgill Simpson is, by his own admission, a “Country Artist”.

He certainly doesn’t fit the above description.

“A Sailor’s Guide To Earth” is the third full-length album by the Kentucky singer-songwriter. As much notoriety as he’s received for his take on Country and “Roots Rock” up to this point, this album spreads the sound even wider. First of all, A Sailor’s Guide is essentially a concept album. It’s literally a guide for life written to his young son; a bunch of advice-type songs riddled with meaning, morals, and lines like:

“Do as I say, don’t do as I’ve done/

It don’t have to be like a father, like his son.”

The personal nature of this album could pretty quickly fall into the territory of being cheesy, but Simpson avoids that fate the same way J. Tillman did with 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear. He means it and that comes across in the songwriting. Simpson continually pulls in seafaring metaphors, especially as they relate to the military. “Sea Stories” and “Call to Arms” make heavy use of the Navy a “manly” pursuit.  The military is not the kind of path Simpson wants his son to think he has to take to prove himself. In “Breakers Roar” and “All Around You”, the sea is a stand-in for the fears of isolation, loneliness, and desperation; all fears which Simpson tenderly attempts to quell.

Musically, the album melts together in a way that calls to mind prog-rock albums and gives the album a flowing cohesiveness. Here, Simpson’s brand of country-soul is more pronounced than ever before. Of course, the bright steel guitar still makes an appearance on just about every song, but there are also sweeping string arrangements and horn sections. The opening track, “Welcome to Earth”, is driven by a smooth piano and strings, but then explodes into a 60’s soul groove that will not let go. “Keep It Between The Lines”, the most straightforward song on the album, has a killer 1970’s Southern Rock vibe courtesy of the brilliant Dap-Kings. The track has five fantastic solos in 4 minutes of run-time. The album’s lead single, “Brace for Impact”, finds Simpson delivering a carpe diem-type message over a driving beat before the track descends into a spacey, but groovy, synth-heavy blues outro.

Essentially, Simpson is like a third Blues Brother. The only difference is that he would’ve been totally at home in the country biker bar scene. He’s got that Blues & Soul sensibility in his writing. There are songs like “Sea Stories”, when the album doesn’t work as well, like pulling out the ice and bitters and leaving us with a glass full of straight Kentucky Bourbon. It’s a little abrasive if you’re not ready for it. However, the album’s flow keeps you from skipping around.  Not to mention, “Sea Stories” is followed by a gorgeous cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom”!  Simpson brightens and injects some of his pained drawl into this beautiful cover song. It’s a highlight of the album and just when you think it can’t get any better, the Chicago-style horns come in and make you seriously wonder if you like this version more than the original. I bet you do.

There are a lot of spectacular moments on this album. As a whole, it’s a real success. The few less spectacular moments are overshadowed by Simpson’s sincerity and his talent for creating sounds that transcend the simple label of “country music”. It’s hard to put together an album this personal and still make it accessible and easy to relate to. The experiences Simpson writes about in this album, positive or negative, are ones most of us have had…or can take something from. A Sailor’s Guide isn’t just a guide for Simpson’s son, it’s a guide for all sailors…whether you like “country music” or not.

Grade: B+

You can purchase “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” at: http://www.sturgillsimpson.com/music

 

New Collab from Indie Hip-Hop Veterans due May 27th

On the morning of April 20th I woke up to an exciting e-mail!

Once a year, at least one e-mail like it arrives. The e-mail announced a new project by one of the longest standing and most prolific underground hip-hop artists, Blueprint.

This time, the project had a surprise. There’s a special guest…Aesop Rock! Also, in what might be the most stunning turn of events, Aesop won’t be supplying a majority of the rhymes and instead serves as the project’s producer.

The EP is entitled “Vigilante Genesis”, and will feature Blueprint’s vocals over Aesop Rock’s beats. Along with this deviation from what is musically expected, Vigilante Genesis will be the first story concept-driven album Blueprint has delivered. The website of Blueprint’s label, Weightless Recordings, describes the mini-album as “a story that is as engaging and moving as any television mini-series or graphic novel.”

A story album seems to fit the temperaments of both artists; Blueprint shines when he delivers narratives like his feature on “Up in the Clouds”, from RJD2’s 2016 release, Dame Fortune. Aesop has always had a mind for creating stories in unexpected ways. His voice may not be a major contributing factor to the story, but hopefully his influence permeates the core of the album.

The two indie rap stalwarts are no strangers to collaborative projects. Along with a few one-offs together through Rhymesayers Entertainment connections, Aesop has recently had a string of successful collaborations with: Homeboy Sandman, Rob Sonic, and Kimya Dawson. Blueprint has worked extensively in groups with RJD2 and Illogic. Finally, nearly 15 years after Blueprint’s appearance on Aesop’s Daylight EP, the two are finally producing a full project together.

Traditionally, Blueprint has been known more for his production prowess than for his technique and skill as an emcee. Aesop found fame with his fast delivery and creative vocabulary; although he has self-produced much of his own work as well as many of his collaborations. He isn’t as well known for his production. Whether this risk pays off and delivers a unique new sound remains to be seen, but both artists have succeeded when they’ve stepped outside of their comfort zones. It should allow the two rapper/producers to more effectively focus on their own piece of the project.

Whatever your feelings about the unexpected “duty-splitting” on Vigilante Genesis, it is exciting to know that this duo of consistent and super hard-working artists are back together once again. You can pre-order the EP now at weightless.net and watch the video below to hear Blueprint briefly discuss the album.

Click Here to Pre-Order Vigilante Genesis!

photo credit: Weightless.net