Can one say Mackenzie Ruth Scott, who records under the Torres moniker, creates feel-good music? Well, it depends on how you feel because on her sixth full-length release, What An Enormous Room (Merge Records), she moves through an assortment of emotions. The opening “Happy Man’s Shoes” sounds like anything but that while the quick-paced yet brief “Life As We Don’t Know It,” contains a bouncy energy offering something different. But there’s a swelling variety of things going on here. Whichever direction Torres maneuvers through is set with passion though. One of my favorite tracks here is probably “Ugly Mystery,” which has an odd vocal cadence as guitar dissonance lingers lowly in the background. It’s easy to see/hear how she ushers in varying tones around her compositions but surprisingly enough, remains Torres. Just listening to “Artificial Limits,” how the song finds a life of its own, breathy, swishes around through its own atmosphere. The entire album seems to move like this, and that’s Torres’ genius.
Man, there’s something about the acid-soaked music of Ty Segall that’s so nostalgic and eerily captivating. With his 15th solo release Three Bells (Drag City) in almost just as many years, things don’t change much. Aside from Robert Pollard, I don’t think there’s another musician that’s as prolific, releasing not only solo releases but albums with countless other groups as well. I digress. With Three Bells though, Ty sets off to give fans not what they want, but what they need. That’s exactly what you get when you listen to “Hi Dee Dee,” a slowly moving but high energy drink with a captivatingly odd melody with stabbing guitars. But it’s “My Best Friend” which cops a “Material Girl” melody that would make Madonna proud, wrapped around a repetitive rhythm and allows for 80s nostalgia running through it. No matter, Segall rocks the best here as the laidback “My Room” is testament to that, filled with walls of guitar at times that will make you smile.
ANGRY BLACKMEN – THE LEGEND OF ABM
Sometimes one does have to wonder if working on the fringe still allows for relevancy but with the advent of the internets, anything is possible. Artists rise through the work they present and are occasionally marked with myth & folklore by their own originality and genius. We’ve seen it time and time again as the importance of some remains in the conversations of their peers. One has to wonder if this could be one of those moments.
Since 2017, Chicago’s Angry Blackmen – made up of rappers Brian Warren and Quentin Branch – has been honing its skills possibly for just this moment. With just one other full-length release under its belt, 2020’s HEADSHOTS!, the duo returns with its visceral sophomore release, The Legend Of ABM (Deathbomb Arc). Despite what you may think, Angry Blackmen isn’t always angry, occasionally veering off into sublime societal disappointment…but I’m probably getting ahead of myself. ABM opens with an intensified “Stanley Kubrick” which is part braggadocio and partial advisory. Kubrick plays a part in ABM’s colorful lyricism over a direct one-way beat assault. An interesting opener that leaves so much room for what follows. “FNA” for example is littered with overdriven rhythms and dissonance as well as tinny, metallic percussion swirling all around it. Racism, money (or the lack of it), and death creeping around every corner is Warren & Branch’s focus. It’s definitely hard in those Chicago streets, as well as the rest of the country but the prose is knit together tightly and voiced as direct as can be. The title track is a bit subdued musically but it’s obviously boastful but understandable if you’re referring to yourself as a legend.
“GRIND” finds the duo a bit more playful with their rhymes set to a backdrop that seems to take more from early NIN than Swizz Beats. It’s a fitting juxtaposition and the duo’s chorus, “Working 9-5 on the grind just to stay alive money on my mind when I rhyme just to get a dime” pretty much allows listeners a look into what they face between the haves and the have nots. Things come to a head on “FUCKOFF,” with Al Jourgensen-like beat fuckery that’s relentless! Yeah, this is an obvious call to arms without the necessity of enabling others to weaponize but to stay awake and ready. It’s loud, it’s abrasive, and glorious all in one. Angry Blackmen don’t mince their words, offering disdain for things and those that don’t allow others to grow. They see the problems corruption has a hold on daily life in “Dead Men Tell No Lies,” which features Fatboi Sharif. It’s mired within life, mired from the very bottom to the highest echelon of government. Death always comes creeping whether it’s by police or working a 9-5. But Angry Blackmen aren’t a one-trick pony. The two emcees cleverly intertwine hard-edged tracks with those that are melodically appealing, like “Sabotage” where we all find a happy median. That thick & sludgy kick drum is offset with a melody that sparks in and out, while lyrically we see a glimmer of hope fighting through the despair. There’s nothing holding these two down. They close the album with “Magnum Opus,” featuring Abbie From Mars. The melancholy takes a literal turn from all aspects of music and prose, with Abbie’s ethereal backing vocals. The song literally moves with a quality of airiness that hasn’t been heard in some time. We can breathe it in without fear of toxicity.
To say that Angry Blackmen is powerful might be an understatement. The Legend Of ABM proves its capability to do great things and hold one’s attention from start to finish. The foundation is strong, and even through the adversities voiced here, they find their power and release it through their words. I feel that.
CRAIG WEDREN – THE DREAM DREAMING
We all advocate for artists we’re fond of and there are some that are better left to the recesses in the back of our minds. Am I wrong? No, I’m not but honestly, there are a number of individuals that are smitten with things they shouldn’t be listening to and just have bad taste. But I digress… or do I? Now while I’ve come across some material in recent years by Craig Wedren, I preferred not to indulge in his experimental phases. Everyone can surmise their own opinion there. Wedren’s work post-Shudder To Think has seen a few solo albums as well as soundtrack work (Yellowjackets, New Amsterdam, etc.) but there was a vocal release for the Sabbath Session Summer 2022 that I just preferred to shuffle to the back of the stack. It was a hard pass. This leaves us now with The Dream Dreaming, Wedren’s newest full-length release.
One thing I will say is I’ve disconnected myself from Wedren’s solo work after Shudder so The Dream Dreaming might be a good jump-off point. The hell you say? Well, probably but from the starting point of “Fingers On My Face,” we do get an idea that we probably are in fact living in a dream while dreaming. I’ll elaborate: While the music plays everything straight, this is in fact a composition filled with guitar, drums, and bass but also strings, keys, etc. and the resulting effect is lush and uncompromising. If this song were to be any indication of what was to follow, we could probably stop right here and give Wedren all the distinction and honor he deserves. But there’s more and it’s a variety of styles in popular music that we probably haven’t heard in some time or possibly never heard before. The watery “Nothing Bad” is chill and chilling in its delivery with sliding marimbas slowly building to its eventual dynamic shift. Wedren’s soaring vocals are everything, and you’ll barely notice the polyphony of lyricism is limited as they repeat throughout. There’s absolutely nothing lost as far as Wedren’s pop sensibilities is concerned as the song structures from song to song take on a life of their own.
“Pronouns” is his obvious nod to modern society as he sings, “See like a woman, taste like a woman, dream like a woman, feel like a woman…go be like woman” all the while floating and caressing the musical backdrop that moves within its own atmosphere, lilting and drifting with purpose. Now I’m not suggesting pop music is something new for Craig Wedren, as he’s built a career off of it. As far back as his earlier work with Shudder To Think, he more than flirted purposefully with it. Musically, “Going Sane” gives semblances of those unequivocal twists he and the rest of the band were able to push into their songs. While it’s a bit more linear, the dissonant guitars offset with clever melodies, and his sweet vocal delivery share some of those similarities. Sure, you’ll find the experimentation Wedren is fascinated with like on “The New Walking,” but don’t let that detract and deter you because there’s gold to be found. The lowkey power of “Play Innocent,” with its piano notes drilled around Wedren’s cooing vocals, yeah, the beauty is unmistakable and will leave you wanting much more. Thankfully, there’s more. Ok, ok, I know, the experimenting. You’ll get that in “The Daily-Thank You” but those repetitive keyboard notes wrapped around percussion and Wedren’s voice, it’ll do it for you but if it doesn’t, there’s also the closing “On My Tongue.” A straight-forward pop rocking delivery, with multiple changes in dynamics with washes of keyboard until its eventual end in string arrangements, yeah, that’ll do it.
Maybe my Craig Wedren judgment wasn’t warranted early on but I think this more than makes up for it and I can be the first to admit The Dream Dreaming is his most realized work to date. Of course, that’s not saying much since I’ve allowed myself to ignore his solo endeavors. Seriously though, The Dream Dreaming is challenging and it’s good to see Wedren’s creativity hasn’t waned throughout the years. Is he still relevant? Of course. Is his music badass? Without a fucking doubt.
R.A.P. FERREIRA & FUMITAKE TAMURA – THE FIRST FIST TO MAKE CONTACT WHEN WE DAP
There never is a route this goes other than the one it always ends up in. This of course is a reference to R.A.P. Ferreira and the consistent output of music that a qualified scribe is better at describing than I am at any point in time. While he’s previously released only 7 solo albums, he’s released a series of mixtapes and a few collaborative releases all totaling over 20 releases with the newest, The First Fist To Make Contact When We Dap. Behind the boards is Tokyo, Japan’s producer Fumitake Tamura whose style fits Ferreira’s ferocious verbosity. In all honesty, Ferreira is the poet’s poet, an artist who will undoubtedly shine in any situation but having Tamura in his corner this go-around is a bonus.
The first single off the album is “begonias” which features Antipop Consortium’s Hprizm, and another perfect track across the universe you won’t find as quickly as you’ve located this one. Tamura creates a garden-like canvas that leaves enough room for Ferreira & HP to drape with an assortment of colorful wording & phrasing. This is the point where genius meets brilliance for the perfect storm. We should all be here for it. With “elite mind flayer judo” Ferreira attacks with verbal martial arts giving us the unexpected and his words move one way while his thoughts shift to another. When he says “A lot you can do with a pittance of respect, ask Birdman/of course I mean Michael Keaton, how is it psycho if I have a reason?” Ferreira is obviously not so obvious! Fucking bravo. Everything moves across a track that isn’t as linear as we might expect, which suits Ferreira’s delivery & phrasing. But Ferreira isn’t about just rhyme and prose as “bending corners (sittin sideways revisted)” can attest. He delivers an autotuned chorus here, which he probably wouldn’t need to utilize but adds another layer to the song. This is one of the more lowkey Tamura tracks that follows the same pattern throughout, with hardly any dynamic changes. It suits the track just fine though.
The First Fist To Make Contact When We Dap is by far one of the best albums released so far this year. Understandably, the year is still young but Ferriera & Tamura has started things out with a bar raised so high I’m not sure anyone else can reach that level. There might be others willing to take up the challenge but until then, The Ferriera & Tamura team is the best of the best of the best, SIR!