The last days of summer have come and gone and now everyone’s looking forward to an autumn of brisk winds until it changes into a cold and bleak winter. Weather shifts and climate changes leave everyone wondering where things are going, but no matter, we still have films, television, music, and art to look forward to. That’s never-changing. This week we’ve had a number of releases bustling through airwaves. I’m still disillusioned by the shit-show that is rock music, and that is Hip-Hop, but sometimes we’re fortunate to have things that change your perception.
Born to Caribbean parents the New York City rapper Denzil Porter has much to live up to, coming straight out of the Bronx. This isn’t his first go-around though, dropping five other albums – three of which under the pseudonym Young Flame – prior to the release of his new album Semantics Of Mr. Porter (That’s Hip Hop.) On the new release, it’s clear Porter is putting others on notice. On the opener “Et Tu Brute,” it sounds like he’s doing just that with his quick lyrical delivery which shows the self-reflective pessimism and optimism, all the while cracking his words like a hammer on others. This over a menacing landscape behind him. His words aren’t abrasive although his delivery is visceral, which he continues with on “Right Now,” a track with imaginative bounce and swagger where Denzil is quick to throw the middle finger at anyone standing in his way, and it’s accentuated by Chris Rivers, a/k/a Christopher Rios, Jr, the son of Big Pun, who guests on this track with a venom on his quick tongue. After this, things go, differently. The moment of aggression and spitfire ends there and the mood of Semantics… changes. “Another Place” is like that dope from the needle that makes your head nod, with a keyboard hum over a hypnotic drumbeat. But it’s the jazzy horns of “Even Against The Odds (feat. Jayda Burrell & Monique Kenlock)” that has the gravitational pull to have listeners hitting the repeat button. Porter’s urban imagery, bouncing back from the literal and figurative circling around similes and metaphors, is well thought out. In an age when Hip-Hop is translated by mumbling fools, Porter handles things differently. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, you’re hit with “Time Come Soon,” a track filled with musical nostalgia and thoughts of the Golden Age. One of the more challenging tracks, “The Rough Draft” stutters musically with a sparse drumbeat and an upright bass that could be suited in a smoky jazz club. Many rappers wouldn’t be able to flip their words around that staccato bassline but Porter does it with ease. One other thing he’s brought back is interludes. On this record, they tell an urban story within the context of the album. It’s clearly a throwback and when it’s done correctly like it is here, it’s a burning reminder that rappers like Denzil Porter are hard to come by. In all, what’s left to say about this album except that Semantics Of Mr. Porter is filled with 17 tracks that burn with fiery lyricism and beats.
I’ve lost track of Marc Almond about 7 albums and 7 years ago. 2010’s Open All Night, was the last album of his I fell in love with, although I’m sure most people will recall Almond as just being the vocalist and one-half of Soft Cell. The band left its mark on popular music with the remake of the 1964 song, “Tainted Love.” While Open All Night stewed in electronic and had a cabaret-esque vibe that was charming, Shadows And Reflections (BMG/The End Records) attempts to trek through the baroque pop universe. In all honesty, I wanted to love this album in its entirety before even listening to it because come on, it’s Marc Almond. But as with many things in life, you don’t always get what you want or what you deserve. The album begins with “Overture,” a glorious 2-minute instrumental piece that’s as beautiful as Angelina Jolie was at the peak of her career. The track simply makes you want to love everyone and everything around you. There’s a haunting vocal that, while it may evoke the Star Trek theme, is just lovely. The title track follows, punching through with what sounds like a harpsichord keeping time with the percussion and Almond simply kills this song. It was tailormade for his voice. It’s reminiscent, or falls in line with Neil Diamond and a lowkey Phil Spector composition but with Almond’s signature inflection and cadence. Afterwards, you’re left with what seems like hits and misses. “I’m Lost Without You” slows things down and begins charmingly enough but more than halfway through it seems forced as Almond attempts to hit higher notes that don’t suit him well. But then “How Can I Be Sure” drops with a quieter storm of string arrangements that makes you fall in love with Almond again. Or so it seems. The one problem on this track is when he unnecessarily sings “I really, really, really wanna know-ow-ow” twice, it does nothing to accentuate the song. It’s that moment I wish his producer could have or would have, hit the editing button or suggested an alternative. Then there’s “Blue On Blue,” a forgettable number where he sings of a lost lover and being “blue.” Thoughts of the Cheese Factory swell in my head where they should add Almond’s name on the menu for this one. He quickly redeems himself with the more upbeat “I Know You Love Me Not,” where he flips the script. The horns are arranged nicely and is that…a high-pitched Theremin??? If so, it’s fitted perfectly. Obviously, all isn’t lost on the album, although there are moments of his lamentations where you may find yourself scratching your head. “Still I’m Sad” has a delivery that’s quite reminiscent of ‘In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle,” I kid you not. It’s in there you simply have to listen for it. “Embers” has a timbre that’s full of sorrow as well where Almond sings alongside a piano and strings. This torch song is well fitted for Almond and I’m feeling positive again. One thing I would wish for is consistency on Shadows And Reflections. At this point in Marc Almond’s career, he should stick to what he does best. It’s a wonderful attempt to explore his range but surrounding himself with people that tell him certain things don’t work isn’t a bad thing.
Occasionally I tend to think that indie rock is on dialysis and there’s going to come a time when bands eschew proper songwriting and creativity for a dose of sheer bullshit. And then I listen to the Ridgewood, New Jersey band Prawn that puts my thoughts on hiatus with its new album Run (Topshelf Records), the trifecta of Prawn releases. While I’m certain some detractors will note the band’s sound as dated or pilfered from decades past, isn’t all music like that? When songs are written with hearts-on-sleeves with great song structures and sweet melodies, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. The 4-piece composes songs that are instantly catchy and do little to test your patience. Yeah, the songs on Run are pretty inviting. The band’s mix of stylistic post-punk and pop are blended well together, whether it’s on the full-throttle drive of “Empty Hands” or the slowly alluring “Hunter.” Whichever mode the band is set on, it simply works for them. With each song, the band embraces their instruments, punctuating those guitars and sometimes change things up with dynamic shifts like on “Snake Oil Salesman.” But by the time you get to “Greyhound” you won’t be worn and torn to pieces, which is a good thing because this song will demand your full attention. This blistering track lays a heavy wall of guitar sound when necessary, again shifting dynamics but ever so slightly. The band has the ability to entice you with its music and the new album Run is as infectious as an album can get.