MERRY NEW YEAR! We return with more of, well, what you’re probably expecting: reviews that are wrapped neatly in usual weekly posts, that are possibly tighter than a muskrat’s ass. An old editor of mine, one Terry Sawyer, once read a review of mine and offered up, “I’m not going to ask you how you know if something is ‘tighter than a muskrat’s ass,’” which was fair, but also made me laugh.
As we begin this new year, I was bombarded with a number of last-minute entries but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get to everything. Earlier this week though, at the tail end of 2019 on December 31, it marked the return of the band HOME. The experimental art-pop group dropped its first album in a decade, 18, which was inspired by David Bowie and Keith Emerson.
HOME never disappointed and here with 12 tracks that has Brad Truax (Interpol) handling bass duties, it’s pretty much the same. Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev) mastered the release. The pop sensibilities of Home isn’t something anyone should miss out on. Just take a listen.
Straight outta Seattle and Texas, comes Chisme. Now Ariel “R.E.L.” Faz and Erik “Progeny” Frias, the duo that makes up the gossipy group, aren’t new to music but they haven’t released any new music under the moniker since the fantastic journey that was 2016’s Nada Tengo (Fake Four, Inc.), dense with thick beats, melodic twists and infinite rhymes filled with that dopeness. Now with eyes wide open, we have to ask if mics and turntables are cobwebbed & rusty.
Well, as soon as Chisme’s new Still Breathing hits, all of that goes straight out the window. Like a hungry cage fighter, Chisme attacks with a full-frontal assault in the form of its own boom-bap theories. “Modern Day Miracles (feat. Soultru and Ceschi)” opens the release and journeys through Hip Hop as if directed by Isaac Hayes. That’s not to say the song itself sounds like a Hayes composition, but aesthetically, it could hold its own against the great songwriter. R.E.L. & Ceschi rap in unison with the Quad Cities own Soultru providing the soulful backdrop and melody for the engaging track, and the break closer to the tail end of the song almost makes it sound as if it’s 2 songs in 1.
Chisme shuffles to the beat of its own drum though, never allowing mainstream delusions to infect the music created. “Church Of A Cursed Few” draws on melancholy musically as R.E.L. wraps his words around the sweet sounds Progeny has pieced together here. But the duo shifts gears on “Rusty Legs,” which opens with lightly played drums and three bass notes. They build around it with additional instruments but even with the crescendo of percussion, they didn’t have to. The repetitive beat is hypnotic. It’s R.E.L.’s flow though, as he bounces his words around the rhythm, flowing seamlessly through without hesitation, with a looped crash cymbal that’s so inviting.
One thing that’s interesting about Chisme is the undistinguishable intent it has to never repeat itself. No two songs are the same and “Reflections (feat. Apaso)” is a testament to that. A heady beat with a keyboard line that has an addictive melody, with R.E.L. and Apaso volleying rhymes against one another. I keep coming back to this one. One of the more memorable lines here is R.E.L. spitting, “…Jokes that never get old, like ‘fuck you, adios’/ sorry son, dad’s a rolling stone / trying to get put on shit, we’ll see how much you’ve grown.” It might be tongue-in-cheek, but it resonates strongly. And when Apaso jumps in when he sings, “Who was around when I was lost as a kid tell me? / Who can you count on when it comes down to it / I’ve got my own back / Self-sufficient, holding it down for a living” the theme is clear. This joint right here…
There’s so much more to Still Breathing and it’s not all just about the thick boom-bap of beats and rhythm everyone should focus on, but rather the full-bodied flavor of the songs that comprise the release. It’s a tasty sauvignon in a world of flavorless branded whiskeys others brand themselves as. It simply stands out above the rest.