Today just feels like a great day to be alive. I know, like most guys my conversations with people seem to revolve around music and television, never team sports. When you rely on others, you might be let down but hey, you’re always left to your own devices to rise up every time you get knocked down. This brief note here is pretty nonsensical, just random thoughts popping in my head. But it’s not why you’re reading it, it’s to check out what’s to follow. Let’s get to it then.
It took a few years but the culmination of piecing together singles and E.P.s has finally resulted in a full-length Four Fists album. The final piece of the Four Fists puzzle is 6666 (Doomtree Records), the debut full-length filled with 11 tracks of distinctive sounds you could only truly find within the psyches of both Astronautalis & P.O.S, the two emcees that make up this collective. It was only a matter of time – 7 years to be exact – but was it worth the wait?
Starting things with “Nobody’s Biz,” it’s what we’ve come to expect but yet, not. The drums that drive P.O.S songs are there, along with the spacey edge that drives both artists, as well as the harmonies in the foreground, yet it seems like strange listening because they don’t follow any specific trends or styles. Everything is simply DEEP, bouncing with cataclysmic decisiveness. That my friends is a good thing. But on “Bobby Hill” it’s Astronautalis whose inflection and cadence knows no equal. With a rhythm that hypnotizes, it paints a clear picture while P.O.S.’ use of words is explosive dropping like sticks of dynamite at every turn. Listeners will realize after just two songs, it’s a lot to take in. But Four Fists doesn’t stick to standard theory in songwriting from one song to the next. The feel of “Coriolanus” isn’t as forceful but it’s just as appealing Astronautalis seems to be the Yin to P.O.S.’ Yang.
These two do things the way no others are able to, as they let beats pass through without forcing the words over them. “Sid Vishis,” directs attention to the dynamics of money over an easy groove that shifts dynamically while the freneticism of “Annihilation” featuring Sims (Doomtree, Shredders), the only guest appearance on the album finds him volleying his words against that of the other two. “Joe Strummer” takes a different approach, focusing more on the melody and song structure than anything else. They play again with dynamics as they choose art over violence. “Fjortis” quirky pastiche of sound works well against Astronautalis’ opening spoken delivery which P.O.S. brings home. But there are songs here that move effortlessly like the God.Damn.Chan produced “G.D.F.R,” which finds the duo even including the beatsmith within the song with lyrics “God Damn Chan laced us with this beat so now I grace this lovely shit with something taken from the reaches of my dream.” It’s different, slower, easy, without losing anything. But it’s the closing “Unjinxed” where the beauty of the music they’ve made comes to fruition. The layered drum beats on top isn’t something that takes anything from it. Even if they withheld the crescendo’d percussive beats, the haunting beauty would still rise to the surface. It’s a favorite here.
There isn’t much else that can be said of 6666 because both musicians have shown how great they can be within the confines of 11 songs here. The album is just that good.
So Katzman was once a member of bands like White Fang and Guerilla Toss, but who needs to be part of another group when you’re, um, Ben Katzman?? This isn’t his first go-around, releasing music under his own name with the 2015 EP Rock n Roll Community College, an obvious nod to the Ramones and a clever use of minor collegiate stylings. But Ben Katzman’s DeGreaser is a clever name, allowing imagery in of itself, making us all believe he’s an anti-greaser, with non-descript S.E. Hinton references (I just made up that last part.) But here is the new album, Quarter Life Crisis (BOFU Records), which isn’t what anyone would expect. Or it could be everything you’d expect. The opening “Chill Position” is nothing but, frantically rummaging through riff after explosive riff, which is reminiscent of Van Halen; that is if they were a hardcore, speed-metal, punk band. They grind the song out in under two minutes but force me to keep hitting that repeat button incessantly! Lyrically there’s loads of comical, yet relatable, subject matter Katzman touches on. “Retail” deals with issues and predicaments so many college graduates find themselves in, working jobs college didn’t prepare them for or maybe they’re overqualified for? …LMAO! With lyrics like, “I’m too old for retail/retail is too old for me/what about my college degree,” You get the sense those youngsters just aren’t prepared for life and Katzman does a great job of filtering it into his song.
Katzman’s DeGreaser has an unabashed love of prog and punk and combines the two effortlessly. Fingers move quickly around guitars while strumming with pop-punk enthusiasm on “Quarter Life Crisis” which soon directs attention to the glorious “Cool Points” with tons of melody and candy-coated sweetness. There’s no way in hell the band can make anything you just won’t enjoy, keeping songs in or around the 2:30 mark and just barely getting track over the 1:30 minute mark. But nothing sounds better than “I Like,” which pieces together the best of what these DeGreasers do! Loud, fun, and completely obnoxious. The album was apparently produced by Colleen Green in case that means anything to you, but obviously, her music sounds nothing like this grand piece of work. How many favorite bands can one person have? Does it REALLY matter? Quarter Life Crisis should go down as the recording to listen to over and over again.
Hitting that trifecta, the trinity in releases, LA by way of Arizona emcee Lando Chill drops his Black Ego (Mello Music Group). Now while Chill has been known to showcase eccentricities in previous releases, Black Ego steps further off the ledge both musically and lyrically, finding himself within the heady space of a poet who’s come to terms with existentialism and reality. Musically, the much more abstract leanings coincide equally with the lyricism that has Chill and his cohorts featured throughout his new album. But honestly, there’s so much going on within the context of each song, your full attention is required, and one needs to carefully listen for the twists and turns no matter how small and delicate they may be.
“Ego Vanish,” with lots of electronic play and a quick-tongued delivery, you might find it difficult to understand everything that’s going on but the only thing you’ll need to really digest is the burgeoning fire that’s brimming from it! There’s a frantic pace the song moves in with haunting vocals in the background that whisper in your ear. But Black Ego sounds less about someone’s own self-importance but more about self-empowerment. “Clypped (feat. MotorKam)” even starts off with Lando offering, “Man they say we couldn’t evolve Lasso” over a sparse beat and vibraphone tones resonating, and it seems there’s a theme for the instrument, with a marimba filtered through on “Facts.”
But it’s on “Peso (feat. Quelle Chris & REY)” where Chill’s obvious cultural & political leanings arise over a watery beat. REY and labelmate Quelle Chris piggyback on the subject matter here and one that I share an affinity for. The easy free-flowing style works for Chill on “Dah Vapor (feat. Swansuit)” while the sweet sound of “Koolaide (feat. Psychic Twin)” brings it back to that vibe of his earliest release. But Chill isn’t repeating the same cycle over again, instead, creating tracks with beats that are refreshingly new and vibrant. “From The Hip” has him shooting straight with braggadocio without arrogance. That’s not so simple to accomplish.
Black Ego finds Lando Chill exploring lots of new territories both vocally and musically, playing with words with ease. New fans after a move out west I’m sure he’ll find, I’m just glad to still be a part of that collective.
Young Jesus returns with its new album, The Whole Thing Is Just Out There (Saddle Creek), which follows up last year’s self-titled album which was reminiscent of an assortment of so many different flavors the band emerges with a sound that’s distinctively all its own. Or is it really? I think we’re all at the point where the realization that music, in general, is derivative and there will never again be something so original that it will stand out on its own anymore. But what the fuck does that matter anyway? If bands play at creating something that’s charming, catchy, and exploratory, there’s nothing else needed.
That leaves us with the band’s new album which expands on the quartet’s sound. The band moves in varying degrees, seemingly in a number of different directions all the while keeping things together on a singular path. “Deterritory” rids the thoughts of previous 90’s influences as the band marks its own territory with a much more distinctive sound all its own creating an expanse moving from one rhythm to another. They allow instruments to mesh and blend with one another moving at a different pace. All that before re-establishing itself back to the way it began. “Saganism vs. Buddhism” finds a softer side to the group, and a melancholy you won’t be able to get enough of. Even when they change the dynamics within the song itself, the heart-wrenching feeling remains. Beautifully done. Moods are set and change, and when some bands rely heavily on a timbre throughout an album entirely, Young Jesus doesn’t. “Fourth Zone of Gaits” again moves slower but the soft musical delivery seems to be juxtaposed against the lyricism. A seductive track with dreadful imagery of a broken soul. Can’t help but love it.
And then you’ll wonder WTF is with the 20+ minute opus of “Gulf,” an unending track that enraptures listeners with clever wordplay, haunting repetition, dynamic changes that crescendo effortlessly, and occasional howled vocals that are unrelenting. It isn’t an easy task to accomplish but Young Jesus accomplishes it as if child’s play. The Whole Thing Is Just Out There leaves you wanting more of what Young Jesus has to offer. It’s a blessing in disguise.
Can I call myself amongst the multitude of rabid indiephile followers of Calvin Johnson and his multiple projects? No. Actually, that would be an emphatic “HELL NO!” I couldn’t be found even closely aligning myself to anything remotely related to anything he’s recorded. I thought life wouldn’t change as far as that’s concerned. When news spread of a new solo album, the first utilizing his own name since 2007, I was sure I was being set-up for disappointment. So let’s be honest here if you haven’t realized it yet, I was never a fan although my musical brethren would always attempt to make a convert of me. Never! So yes, my expectations were set pretty low for A Wonderful Beast (K Records) which is released on his longstanding imprint. What’s the final call on this album?
I may not have given Johnson a second look had it not been for Patrick Carney; drummer, producer and one-half of The Black Keys. That was actually a large part of it. Carney not only produced Johnson’s album but the songs here, they’re of a collaborative nature between the two. Still present is Johnson’s laconic baritone within the confines of A Wonderful Beast, it isn’t overbearing with no signs of pretention. The opening “Kiss Me Sweetly,” has a harmonious vocal overdubbing over a lazy bluesy flavored backdrop, relying heavily on the bass groove and bottom end. Its relaxed nature urges with a steadfast rhythm that never lets go of the momentum. A positive start here that you won’t be able to get enough of. If you let the cycle of song move at random you might be pleasantly surprised as “Like You Do” has an unrelenting burn with Johnson cooing as best he can about “Loving me like you do/write a book about it/I’m going to keep toiling at it,” will make you want to be his cheerleader, hopeful his lover will always adore him. Now while the album is Johnson through and through, they change things up occasionally with varied rhythms, not unlike “Are We Ready,” its upbeat tempo taking the lead to Johnson’s powerful voice. Harmonicas are filtered in and out of it but you’ll never find it overpowering any other instruments.
There’s also the surprising vocal addition of Michelle Branch, best known for her work on Santana’s “Game Of Love.” She backs Johnson on “Another Teardrop Falls,” one of three songs she appears on. While the use of her voice isn’t flagrantly splattered within the tracks, it is charming. There are more hits than misses here with “Why You Crying” possibly one of my favorites with added keyboards and a simple rhythm doesn’t allow the song to suffer for it. The melody is catchy and the lyricism keeps me grinning and mildly entertained. This just works. A Wonderful Beast marks a great return for the man with the low vocal register. Maybe my friends will make a convert out of me yet.