I’ve been listening to Aesop Rock’s Float (2000), which has absolutely nothing to do with anything here but maybe it’s a flashback Friday moment for me. That album slithered from track to track like a pimp collecting what’s his, without the need to raise a backhand on his hoes. It was dope how a young 24-year-old rapper was able to fill an assortment of words, similes, and metaphors in such limited space. He’s still able to do the same, continuing to perfect his craft. I think that’s what’s missing this day and age. People are simply lazy AF to try something new, build on talent they may have…OR, fake it to make it. Unfortunately, when something isn’t real, it surfaces. I’m not referring to just music, it’s all around us. Some of us see it in the phonies we deal with daily, others, differently. Eh…
But we’re not here to focus on the unfocused. There are other things at hand that need attention here.
EL TEN ELEVEN – BANKERS HILL (Top Shelf Records)
The Los Angeles two-piece is an instrumental act that’s had a slew of releases quietly compiling under its proverbial belt. And well, “quietly” is probably the wrong choice of word to use here because the band has fans. A lot of them. I get what some might think, as images and sounds of progressive rock probably dance around in your head, but that this ain’t. Since 2002 Kristian Dunn (Guitar/Bass/Doublenecks) and Tim Fogarty (Drums) have been creating music and sounds as El Ten Eleven that sometimes defies classification and at other moments have listeners dreaming of sugarplums dancing in their heads. The band’s seventh album, Bankers Hill (TopShelf Records), gives a little bit of everything. There’s no hedging or leaving undecisive ideas floating around with “Three And A Half Feet High And Rising” as they explore a variety of sounds, and while I know Dunn is playing guitar, it’s difficult not to imagine him twiddling away on keys. His mastery of instrument and effects is somewhat astounding as he makes a two-piece band sound like a guitar orchestra. There’s no denying his looping skills there either. But Fogarty’s percussive backing shouldn’t be ignored as he switches from acoustic to electronic here as well. There are semblances of 80s pop on “Phenomenal Problems,” while things shift to underground indie rock culture with “You Are Enough.” Now while there may seem like random diversity here, it’s all held together by an indistinguishable sound that remains El Ten Eleven. Things change even more so on “Gyroscopic Precession,” where Dunn gets his instrument sound like an autotuned vocal delivery that’ll have listeners making up their own words to it. There’s so much going on here that you won’t even take notice, instead, getting lost in the lush and vibrant tones the band pieces together. The title track moves in a few directions but never let’s go of its melody. Detractors will be hard pressed to find something, if anything, wrong with Bankers Hill, it’s just so enjoyable you may not be able to stop listening to it. It’ll definitely keep you guessing.
DELTA SLEEP – GHOST CITY (Big Scary Monsters)
My hesitation sometimes gets the best of me as Delta Sleep’s and their new album Ghost City (Big Scary Monsters) comes to me as a last-minute entry. It’s one in which I have no problem sharing my ignorance about. This is actually Delta Sleep’s sophomore effort, following the 2016 release of Twin Galaxies. The quartet that makes up the group, all hail from Brighton, England but has a sound that’s unapologetically American. The opening “Sultans Of Ping” is the one song created to grab your attention. Guitars are plucked and pulled and the band members all sing in unison, harmonizing perfectly together. You know there’s something going on here to grab your attention as it slowly crescendos into sonic oblivion. Drums begin to pummel in and out, as guitars change the dynamics exploding against one another. It’s a lot to take in. On one song. And now while I like this band, and they do write clever & catchy pop songs that sound powerful on an emo tip, it isn’t like we haven’t heard this sound before. There’s clever use of what at times sounds like time signature shifts on “Dotwork,” but could be technically sound percussive work. The track itself moves in a couple of different directions to keep things interesting as well. One can’t help but think the band’s work is distinctly regional as thoughts seem to linger around early 2000-era Chicago. But then I listen to “Sans Soleil” and think, ‘who gives a shit?’ With Ghost City Delta Sleep wears its influences on its sleeve, but when it’s done well, we’re all the better for it. That’s just a fact.
DJ MUGGS – DIA DEL ASESINATO (Soul Assassins)
Music always seems to build effortlessly around DJ Muggs, and it seems to be that whatever he finds himself involved in, shines brightly and magnificently through a guttural haze. There’s been much talk leading up to Dia Del Asesinato (Soul Assassins), his latest full-length offering. He’s teased with new singles in anticipation of the album, most notably with the title track “Assassination Day (feat. MF DOOM, Kool G Rap),” a rough-edged track with a heavy bottom with raps by Hip-Hop’s current patriarchs. The dark and ominous progression sets the mood, and the imagery casts a spell for inner-city blackness. But it’s when “Day Of The Dead (feat. Kool G Rap)” hits and attacks that we all know Muggs is the one at the forefront and re-taking over this thing we call Hip-Hop. It’s obvious Muggs hasn’t lost a step, forming a backdrop that’s fitting for Kool G Rap’s words. Both are heavy handed with their crafts and we’re all the better for it.
But on Dia Del Asesinato isn’t all about in-your-face-full-frontal beats because Muggs takes other approaches here. On “Contagion Theory (feat Mach-Hommy)” the jazz infusion is clear with horns repeating in the background, and foreground, alongside Mach’s vocals, while on “Yacht Party (feat. Raekwon)” his laidback approach here could easily find cheap comparisons to Adrian Younge compositions, but having the WU member spitting floetically is an added bonus. There are obviously two sides to Muggs on this release as his harder edge is balanced out by an easy spirited one. And having a plethora of talented artists like Freddie Gibbs and Meyhem Lauren is an added bonus.