I’m on some sh*t this week, with sounds repeating as if it were Groundhog Day; Bill Murray stuck in a never-ending cycle of repetition. But it’s welcomed. Yet again it’s BIG GRAMS with its sole release and for some reason, whenever I walk into a room I have Killer Mike’s voice in my head with his “I walk in Ric Flairin’/Long fur coat wearin’/Rolex rockin’/Silk shirt wearin’,” while I’m usually dressed in a button-down along with fresh Chucks. Something’s wrong with this. Or it could be just right. It’s all about attitude, but it’s the music I was addressing. Sometimes we all need something heavy and loud to shake the sh*t out of us all, and BIG GRAMS is that for me sometimes.
It’s a long and storied history here and I’m not even sure where to begin. Swamp Dogg has been around for some time and with well over 20 albums under his belt, there’s no sign of slowing down. ‘Swamp Dogg’ is the moniker Jerry Williams Jr. has been recording under since 1970. But if that doesn’t strike a chord in you, he did play an integral part in helping develop World Class Wreckin’ CRU (Think “Dr. Dre”). The 77-year-old soulful rhythm & blues musician returns this week with a new album that shares space with some of his contemporaries.
Swamp Dogg’s new album Sorry You Couldn’t Make It (Joyful Noise) follows up 2018’s Love, Loss & Autotune and finds the youthful musician trekking into territory he’s quite familiar with. Still inclined to stick with his R&B soul roots, there are inflections of country-tinged jams thrown within the mix as well. His first hit “Don’t Take Her (She’s All I Got)” dropped back in the 70s and has been covered throughout the years by an array of country artists and he revisits the track and here it remains far off from sounding like a Johnny Paycheck or Tracy Byrd rendition. Here, it’s much more soulful. If you think along the lines of The Manhattans’ “Kiss And Say Goodbye,” filled with luscious harmonies, you’d be on the right track.
There aren’t any pulled punches from track to track and when he gets to “Family Pain,” Swamp Dogg’s lyrical content is clear and lucid with images of addiction through a glass pipe. Words are masterfully vivid around this bouncy jam dealing with reality. There are a number of guest appearances here, much like on the melancholic “Sleeping Without You Is A Dragg.” Members of Poliça handle backing vocals while Justin Vernon of Bon Iver plays piano here. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion we can all hear in his voice. And then the needle drops on “Good, Better, Best” which is the perfect love song, the kind that isn’t about one particular love, but finding good one, the better one, and of course, the best! It bounces, augmented with horns and keys but it’s Williams’ undeniable delivery that’ll have you falling in love with it.
Swamp Dogg’s Sorry You Couldn’t Make It is a return to form for the youthful musician, which chimes with tenderness and longing. Now if only he can teach a class to the next generation of artists, the world may be the better for it.
The Gloomies is the brainchild of Andy Craig, who formed the group in southern California before relocating the hustle & bustle of NYC. While the big city has been known for its inspiration, the lazy drawn-out sound of Are We Getting Better?, its very essence seems to still draw towards California.
Of course, the name of the group could always reference New York in a wintery mess of a season, but it’s the music that’s juxtaposed around the mecca that holds 8 million stories in the naked city. The Gloomies are adding another chapter to its massive novel. Craig’s delivery throughout is as laid back as it can be, which suits me fine as I assume it does for him. But the music man, the music is hauntingly adrift in oceans of soundscapes that are filled with melody and hooks throughout it. “Moonlight” is held tightly together by a mechanical drum pattern as Craig coos with harmonies, as the music clear pop indulgence shimmers with keyboards and guitars for something organic through mechanisms. The brief “voice memo 04” is traced with just a keyboard (it seems) with a bit of low end, as Craig holds it all together with his vocals that use echoey effects, in its luxurious lo-fi delivery. It works though. There’s nothing lost in its own translation.
In honesty though, the songs reek of bedroom magic but you won’t care because the songs are magnificent in delivery, scope, and construction. On “DNTGTBTTR,” the drums are over the top as keyboards hum in the background and the sparse bass notes add to the charming melody with a lead guitar that’s reminiscent of something you won’t be able to put your finger on yet completely memorable. And with “Nightlight” the band does everything right, coercing melodies from the oddest of places (that guitar hitting those notes for one thing) but also makes it a trance-inducing utilizing congas, giving it a bit of Latin flavor. Yes, I do have a favorite track here.
All this doesn’t mean The Gloomies are averse to trying something strange & oblique, like the brief “SP2,” filled with what sounds like effected backward vocals. The repetitive guitar play on this is just lovely, for lack of a better word. The creative juices are flowing here and “Sick Like You (feat Jade III)” is proof of that. It opens, stuck in a tinny box and eventually, there’s a crescendo shift in dynamic and quality. There’s no holding back on melody either within the 13 tracks. The multiple voice memos he records here are varied and stand on their own and I’m sure it’ll have many believing they can do the same. No, they won’t.
In short, Are We Getting Better? will have you left in awe.
Throughout the years there have always been questionable finds. Rarely does something arrive that’s engaging, captivating, and leaves you with more questions than answers. But when it does happen and you’re blessed with having your senses jolted, that’s when things become interesting.
Trupa Trupa hails from Poland and is taking its shot away from what they do know, for an exploration. Not just in the music the quartet creates but touring outside of the land they call home for a stateside jaunt before heading back to Europe later this year. This is all in support of I’ll Find (Lovitt/Glitterbeat), it’s 4-song E.P.
The music the group creates is nothing short of beautiful, as it opens with “Fitzcarraldo,” which never moves faster than the midtempo position it’s left in. The band utilizes harmonies in an uncanny way, directing instruments to drone on but without forsaking the tones and melody. It’s wickedly enticing. But then “End Of The Line” confounds as guitar notes repeat leading you to believe Trupa Trupa will move at a much quicker pace but then doesn’t. It’s the juxtaposition of two very different things happening at once as vocals then repeat, “All the way to the end of the line,” only to find yourself following its direction to see where it ends. The song ends the way it begins.
The creepy psychedelia of “Invisible Door” further confounds with airy vocals and what sounds like a recorder filtered with effects. The band does march in its own direction, eschewing any semblance for the need to fit in. Trupa stands so far away from the rest of the pack again basing its music on repetition, with little to no variation. And it’s well worth it. Closing things out with the title track, the band adds layer upon layer of sound within one song, with odd vocal cadences filtered in. It moves eerily and beautifully all at once building in volume until its eventual dissipation.
Where does this leave us? In a place where color doesn’t taste the same and food has a sound that varies from dish to dish. On I’ll Find, Trupa Trupa masterfully allows instruments to lead the way, letting them adjust to the ways of the world and then tearing it apart to suit its own needs. Yes, I’m fine with that.
No, I don’t believe that every piece of musical, and/or audio recording, should be considered “art.” If that indeed is the case, then there’s an abundance of bad art. There are levels, a spectrum if you will, where people who make music, are rated per skill level. What a thought, one may make music but it doesn’t necessarily define said person enough to emblazon the tag of “artist.”
There are some that simply obliterate the concept and exist beyond understanding, pretty much waaaaay the fuck above anything I’ve ever learned about or comprehend. Cats like BEANS, Mike Ladd, Aesop Rock; well, these individuals always leave my mind laying in a pool of virtual blood, left scattershot by verbal shotguns pellets of their words. For the past decade, there’s been another, building his verbose prose making his way alongside those of his ilk and that’s R.A.P. Ferreira, eschewing the Milo and Scallops Hotel pseudonyms, he’s opted for a name much more fitting. His first release under the moniker is Purple Midnight Pages (Ruby Yacht) and saying it’s a heady affair is probably an understatement.
The board is once again helmed by Kenny Segal (Hemlock Ernst, billy woods), who’s become his musical collaborator, and is usually able to capture Ferreira’s words & essence within the music. What does that mean as far as the new album is concerned? Well, it doesn’t hit any off-kilter beats, instead, flowing in a much more streamlined direction. Again, what does that mean? They bring the dope shit.
It seems the subtitle of this album Rhythm & Poetry, truly is fitting. These beats and Ferreira’s words that are entwined together in higher learning would equally be impressive onstage at the Nuyorican Poets Café. The sound of his voice is hypnotic. Whether it’s the subject matter he rhymes or his delivery that drops that effect, I’m not sure of. It’s possibly both.
I realize I’ve said so much about Ferreira and Purple Moonlight Pages without saying much. Well, this here is art, poetry that’s in motion thanks to Segal’s beats. “Noncipher” is a good example as he intricately rhymes over a jazzy backdrop. No, this isn’t ATCQ-type jazz, this is more free-motion, indebted more to Charles Gayle & William Hooker than Herbie Handcock. He matches his words alongside horns midway through which isn’t an easy task the way he delivers his words.
But one song that resounds is “Omens & Totems.” This is where Ferreira waxes poetic and would have mumble-mouthed rappers questioning why they do what they do. He does more of that throughout but on the ominous “Dust Up” he pulls out words as if self-reflection and ends it spitting words that reflect the dumbing down of society when he rhymes, “After the data was compiled, crunched, there was a consensus among only the grand verbalizers/wack motherfuckers always want a redo….” Or I could be completely wrong and may just owe the man an apology.
There’s so much within the dense jungle this new album, and Ferreira only has two featured artists on his album. On his 2015 release So The Flies Don’t Come, there were a couple of references like, ‘I can rap like my name is Blackman/I can rap like the son of Mike Ladd/Let me take out a full-page Vice ad…” (on “souvenir”) and “Repeated listens of Mike Ladd’s Nostalgialator coincide with preference to have been born nower than later..” (on “re- animist”) cemented Ferreira’s obvious fandom with the seasoned veteran who appears here on “An Idea Is A Work Of Art.” Ferreira opens the only way he knows; with heady prose over an infectious beat as Ladd closes with a laidback baritone dropping majestic(on) words who’s “On a quest to get open and free.”
Open Mike Eagle shares verbose bars on “Pinball.” Ferreira has never been one to stray away from Eagle’s influence and assistance, literally being taken under Eagle’s wingspan so having him here again within the fold is a no brainer. Their deliveries are slower and to the point, as the strings underlaid sting with clarity.
At this moment, life is all about Purple Moonlight Pages. This one release has now set the bar for any other release to drop this year. Will anyone else be able to accomplish the feat of standing alongside as an equal? Highly doubtful.