The unpredictability of life troubles me sometimes. Generally, we take things at face value and make assumptions things will be fine. But then you’re tossed a monkey wrench which occasionally forces you to stumble or stop short. Death has taught me that you have to keep moving forward, do what you love, and do it without expectations. Yeah, it’s been a rough week.
But I do things in an attempt to lift myself out of a regurgitating funk, and sometimes it might be throwing on one of my favorite albums, Kamaal The Abstract. Today though, it’s the search for something…different. This is where the new music for the CUNTS comes in.
I won’t spend much time on it because well, it’s abrasive, brash, angry, crude, and maybe even deplorable. So yes, it’s right up my fucking alley and fits with this week’s mood. Well, my own anyway. The band’s self-titled release (Ipecac Recordings) is full-throttle and balls to the walls with over the top guitars, feedback incorporated into the band’s own melody – which is perfectly included within “Dying To Hit” although it sounds like two songs in one midway through – with a rhythm section that’s no holds barred. There’s no other better reflection of that than on “A Hero’s Welcome.” Everything here is just completely over the top with unexpected hand claps. It’s so easy to love this shit!
Humor doesn’t escape the CUNTS with song titles like “Cholos On Acid” and “Cholos On PCP” questioning “where you from” in each song firmly rooting reality into the chaotic mixes of sound and fury. Those that truly know will understand. The band changes things with “Fuck You For Your Service;” sparse instrumentation, with more clarity eschewing the distortion and abrasiveness for the first two minutes before dynamically exploding.
Yeah, the CUNTS are easily offensive with name alone but I doubt they give a shit as to who’s whining about it.
I was reading something about The Stargazer Lilies, a band comprised of two individuals, John Cep and Kim Field. It was something that producer Tom Fec had noted about the band a couple of years ago. It just hit me: they were way heavier than they seemed, and that wasn’t translating in their recordings. Their old stuff is panoramic and smooth; I wanted 3D and bumpy.” I understand his reflection of the band’s music because I’ve actually witnessed the same thing on a number of acts. Some producers remove the rough edges and get crisp & clean recordings, stripping away at a group’s live infectiousness. Knowing that this is something Fec wanted to work with, I was all in. It helps that Tom Fec knows his way around studios and recording gear as the man behind the production wizardry of TOBACCO as well as the psychedelic rock band, Black Moth Super Rainbow. But this isn’t about Fec and his projects but The Stargazer Lilies.
The Northeastern PA duo has been releasing material since 2013’s We Are The Dreamers and now with its new Occabot (Rad Cult) the band’s psychedelia has morphed, now including the band’s live impactful percussion, giving listeners a clearer view of what the band actually sounds like. We can all note the level changes within the recordings Fec was able to capture, not only with the band’s drums but allowing guitars to seep and overflow as well. The heavy and psychedelic nature of this combination in recording, allows the band to transcend the shackles that were possibly holding it back. They even surpass decades, which allows the music a timelessness. “Living Work Of Art,” like many songs here, have semblances of 90s shoegaze and all one can do is revel in it! Distant guitars play the background to a distorted bassline as Kim Fields sings beautifully, while the noisy backdrop of guitars “Dizzying Heights” hypnotize before dynamics shift into an infectious jam of sugarcoated sweetness.
The difficulty in listening to The Stargazer Lilies comes in the need to actually want more. The eight tracks of the album clocks in at around 40 minutes, which is more than enough for any listener but the urge to repeat Occabot from beginning to end is almost a necessity. Necessity? No, more like an addiction or just ADD compulsions. It doesn’t matter which track one listens to or which order is taken. Any way it’s sliced, this album is a piece of art and a moment in time & space no one will ever be able to repeat. Or should even dare to.
No strangers to music themselves are Nels Cline (Wilco, Nels Cline Trio) and Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto), both of whom met through music circles, began dating and eventually wed. It seems long overdue for this musical couple was recording music as a joint venture. That is, until now. While the duo has been performing together over the past few years they have recorded music under the CUP moniker in about three days in a Brooklyn studio (note: this ‘Cup’ shouldn’t be confused with another ‘Cup,’ which is/was a four-piece punk outfit, out of Brooklyn.) No, this CUP always leaves room for improvisation and it’s shown here on Spinning Creature (Northern Spy). But that’s just one thing the both of these individuals are really good at.
Take “Every Moment” for instance. In its 6-minutes, Cline directs his guitar with notes jittering around endlessly, while chimes and wind instruments sing a lullaby alone, that is until Cline begins by singing, repeating the two words of the title before adding percussion almost 2 and a half minutes into the song. Cline and Honda build upon this movement as it crescendos, adding more guitar and building around tension. It’s somewhat magnificent the way it’s accomplished.
The duo cleverly builds around improvisation as attested in “Berries” which is over 7 and a half minutes. Cline’s skill for it has been honed through years or recordings, and Honda capitalizes on it, embellishing a variety of sound. There’s variety here though with “Soon Will Be Flood” which opens with a danceable beat but later morphs into something more ethereal. But it’s the title track here that seems to throw non-conformity out the window with its winding melodies and lovely harmonies.
Honda and Cline intertwine their instruments together here perfectly as Cline sings with breathless coos and his wife compliments his vocals with her backing. It’s so easy to fall in love with them here as well as the song itself. It’s magnificent! Although, for those that want to hear a bit more improvisational aspects, they may want to direct attention to “As Close As That” which has a footing in both worlds. I’m inclined to say Spinning Creatures is an album of a different sort, hopefully, the kind that has listeners looking for something different and exciting to explore.
I think conceptual releases are sometimes created to slide right past me. I don’t need to hedge around the fact that I’ll miss the mark on the motif some artists have put in front of me. I can admit that, and here this is what Uncommon Nasa & Kount Fif have presented with City As School (Man Bites Dog), although I’m pretty sure I have a grasp of this one.
Straight out of Shaolin is Nasa again, only this time he’s bringing along Kount Fif (Nas, Killah Priest, Royce the 5’9, Action Bronson) handling production which surely takes a portion of the weight off Nasa’s shoulders. Nasa’s never been one to rely on others and it’s only in the last couple of years we find him sharing the mic with others, and on City As School, there are a number of artists I’ve fawned over in the past. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Nasa opens the album with the title track, with words that mirror the lives of many, and I, of course, can include myself there. Over a dense slow dirge, Nasa’s rhymes clearly and almost conversationally, but the rhymes are present, reflecting on the impression NYC life had left on him, and probably still inspires. Fif’s production here compliment’s Nasa, keeping things grimy, dirty, and strictly urban. Things turn, as the unassuming heaviness begins to tug at Nasa on “N.Y.S.T.” (New York Slang Talk), with shifts in dynamics that allow a bit more drama in the highs when the music drops in. Nasa’s focus here spits on what he knows; he’ll continue to go to his favorite restaurant even though the health department may not approve of it, or if someone staring too hard at him might have you wondering why you were punched in the face. But then it’s the non-track, that interlude “From No Where Else” on which Fif and Nasa discuss that NY accent. That beat! That bassline! Those strings! Straight fire.
That leads directly to “Van Gogh’s Ear” which features Smif N Wessun’s Tek, Barrie McLain, and who I’ve always believed has been considered an underrated emcee, Karniege (Mighty Joseph). The music is thick and dense, much like a sticky summer NYC evening. Rappers volley metaphors back and forth, while McLain’s soft backing vocals ooze with sensuality. On “Origin Stories” Nasa puts together another group of friends in Gajah, Duke01, Short Fuze, Shortrock & Furious P, all on a track that you could easily find on Game Of Thrones. That is if they rapped back in the day. “Artificial Times” brings together Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, along with underground Hip-Hop stalwart Awol One, as well as DJ Kool Flash. Sadat holds down the hook and Awol One compliments Nasa, all over an inviting beat. But the party doesn’t end there, as I keep going back to “Clusters” featuring the Hieroglyphics own Pep Love whose voice has matured wondrously. DJ Ragz cuts with precision here, fitting in beautifully. Pep might be from the west coast but urban in any city is remarkably similar in aesthetic.
From beginning to end City As School has a delivery throughout it that allows for cohesion. Part of the city motif could probably be summarized in one line of “I Am To Learn” where Nasa spits, “I’m just trying to get through it/Life is harder than ‘just do it’.” Living to survive and putting in that work to leave a legacy; there’s no end to it. Yeah, Uncommon Nasa dropped an album with fiery jams and heady words that we should all refer to 20 years from now.