As we close this week out, there’s reason to rejoice. It’s been years in the making and I for one was excited this past Tuesday as we all witnessed the release of Phife Dawg’s posthumous new album, Forever (Smokin’ Needles/AWAL). The album dropped on the anniversary of his passing and there are standout cuts throughout the album and it’s so seamless, it just flies right by with 13 cuts. While there’s a healthy dose of features throughout Forever, Phife tears things up on “Only A Coward” over a classy – and classic – 9th Wonder beat. Yeah, this is what we’ve been waiting for. “Nutshell Pt. 2 (feat. Busta Rhymes and Redman),” which was released last year is in the mix and follows the original with two of the most seasoned emcees. The reprise of “Dear Dilla” is here as well but we have Q-Tip on the hook. The album has a southern feel to it with production on a few tracks by Khrysis (Jean Grae, Little Brother) on “Wow Factor (feat. Maseo)” and “Fallback (feat. Rapsody and Renée Neufville).” It’s sheer smoothness. But it’s “French Kiss Trois (feat. Redman and Illa J)” that’s the surprise here. Redman steals the show from time to time and on here it’s no different. Forever is that ill shit that will have heads spinning.
The Mary Veils return with its full-length release, Esoteric Hex (PNKSLM), its follow-up to 2020’s Slacker Paint. While the band doesn’t stray far from its own garage rock roots, the songs do seem much cleaner and more focused than previous releases. Brian von Uff and the boys tear through 10 songs that rip and tear at the seams. “Jelly,” is sure to be a favorite as it bounces through a repetitive rhythm without being repetitious, with some rapid-fire drumming churning it from moment to moment. von Uff’s vocals are precisely placed, distanced with reverberating effect. The band’s commanding title track has a controlled dual guitar attack and it’s powerful, to say the least. No quarter is given and none is asked for. It roars and howls from beginning to end. The group offers up more subdued numbers like “Follow Me,” which is filled with infectious melodies, as well as “Elevator” which moves at a slower pace but is filled with cacophonous instrumentation (so it is really subdued?). But they make way for the subtle “A Tether” but it’s far from being too subtle. It’s just fantastic in its psychedelic swarm of guitar interplay, weaving an unorthodox pattern. Esoteric Hex has wow factors from beginning to end.
Music occasionally becomes as addictive as a drug of choice, altering one’s perception of what a song should sound like or even what instruments should be utilized. There are those that literally toss conventionality out the window in search of a fresh start, a new sound, a needle in a haystack, the eye of a storm, whatever. Some find it, others don’t, but those that do…oh there’s something to be said about giving listeners something new to get high on.
Following 2018’s Twisted Crystal, Guerilla Toss returns with its new Famously Alive (Sub Pop). Kassie Carlson (vocals/violin), Arian Shafiee (guitar), and Peter Negroponte (drums) have remained the group’s core since 2012, and the band also includes Sam Lisabeth (Keyboard) and Stephe Cooper (bass) who have been with the band since 2015 and 2018 respectively. Within the band’s latest, the feel seems enhanced exponentially since its last release, excitedly frenetic and wildly unhinged. That my friends, is a good thing, if not great.
The band plays with frantic rhythms and deep bass grooves, allowing guitar lickery and chording with washes of keyboard drifting in and out. This in just the opening “Cannibal Capital,” which doesn’t leave much room to breathe, and we should all be ok with that. Once you think you have the band’s sound nailed, it hits with the force of angelic cherubs on “Mermaid Airplane.” With guitars instead of harps, the group blissfully drown out the sound of tears with its infectiousness and pummeling rhythm. It’s a shift that’s unexpected and turns right back around with the wildness of “Wild Fantasy,” a dynamic number that’s fluidly dynamic as keyboard notes wash over bass & drums, leaving no room for error. Carlson’s atmospheric voice is majestic in its delivery as she sings effortlessly. The eclecticism of the band further ignites curiosity with the staggering “Excitable Girls” with its seemingly staccato rhythmic flow and electronic feel. The track does crescendo and will leave listeners bewildered until its eventual crash.
Guerilla Toss isn’t a group of average talent, as its spontaneity and subtle expressiveness moves through varying degrees of genres but never loses its identity throughout Famously Alive. The album will leave listeners puzzled and disoriented in its ability to shift gears at the drop of a hat. It’s not easy but with the new album Guerilla Toss scoffs and offers, “Yes, yes it is.”
One might think, this isn’t your average bitch, and it may not be. It’s Ghost Bitch, the moniker of Stasia Kowaleski, of Olympia, Washington by way of Silver Springs, Maryland. As Ghost Bitch, there have been a few self-released albums but today marks the new Blood And Honey (K Records). This new album is a beast of another sort. In honesty, Ghost Bitch is a beast we haven’t seen or heard of in quite some time. Treading a subculture of brash, organic garage rock, the distorted fuckery never quells the melodic driving force from song to song.
To be honest, it’s Kowaleski’s guitar that directs and explodes from track to track. The percussive force of drum machine sounds that navigate throughout the album are only accentuated by the stormy guitars within every track. From the opening “Butterfly,” it seems they aren’t really a necessity but highlights Kowaleski’s voice and strumming. As the track closes, its haunting vibrancy of it all in the background is wonderfully hypnotic. While there’s melody in abundance, don’t get things twisted, Ghost Bitch makes a ruckus, and Blood And Honey is a noisy affair. With its percussion, “Desire,” the distortion molests the melodicism of Kowaleski’s guitar and sweet vocal delivery. What may seem like an oxymoron ironically works well the way it’s pieced together.
While Ghost Bitch may smother its songs in distortion, it takes nothing away from the compositions. For example, with “Ridin’” Kowaleski surrounds herself within walls of distortion but eloquently sings in the distance; complete punk fervor with waif-like endearment. It’s a cross-pollinating vocal display that’s all too captivating. Complacency isn’t a Ghost Bitch strong suit as the album winds down. On “Scar,” an electronic rhythm is seared into the mix and you won’t be able to get enough of it as it surrenders to the wave of guitars crashing all around. The track plays with its own abrasive guitars but never relinquishes the unbridled melody within. The dark and brooding “Tears of Fire” leave enough space between instrumentation to understand this isn’t about wallowing simply in its own cacophony, instead offering its capacity to stretch things further. It’s brilliance within something that doesn’t need to be complicated.
Searching for something sweet and subtle? Well, Ghost Bitch isn’t it. Blood And Honey will run you ragged and Kowaleski’s guitar will leave you ravaged. Will it be worth it? You’ll climb back up out of the ditch you’re left in searching for more. Ghost Bitch is finding a way where there was no path. That’s not always an easy task.
Hardcore is a troubled beast. The style, the genre, is so fragmented with numerous subdivisions that it’s easier to just assimilate anyone and everyone under one general umbrella. This has been the way. If it’s loud and abrasive, chances are you’ll find it here, just ask the store clerk at your local record store instead of blindly walking through aisles of records and CDs.
It’s easy to understand how when one mentions Philadelphia’s gritty Soul Glo, the first thing that comes to mind is in fact hardcore, but the band is much more than that. On the group’s fourth full-length, Diaspora Problems (Epitaph), the band experiments, possibly more so than usual. The opening “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass)” cleverly disguises the 20th Century Fox theme with a hit from a bong before the band plays with jangly, punk guitar chords as vocalist Pierce Jordan offers up rapid-fire lyricism, and honestly, you won’t give a shit’s damn what it is he’s singing about leaving no space to breathe. The band maneuvers through punk and hardcore here, with both infectious and staccato rhythms all within the same song but never at the same moment. It’s followed by the odd-beat of “Coming Correct Is Cheaper,” complete with Rob Base sample off “It Takes Two” before the melee ensues with a controlled chaotic freneticism that’s unrelenting. There are no pauses, just balls to walls tumultuous interplay between musicians and it’s sheer madness and amazing all at once.
Soul Glo doesn’t follow any clear blueprint of what it should do, it seems to create multiple annexes to get its point across. “Jump!! “(Or Get Jumped!!!)(By The Future)” seems to be one of the clearest tracks here as maniacal vocal delivers scream over paint-searing guitars, with an underlying rhythm that never seems to slow down. Nor should it. “Driponomics feat. Mother Maryrose” takes a different approach altogether. Soul Glo takes the same approach to Hip-Hop that it does with Hardcore: it throws out the draft and blends it into its own identity. GG Guerra’s bassline is the one constant, accentuated with programmed beats & noise. Jordan’s vocals are thoughtful and the title an obvious nod to the Reagan years but on a 2022 come up. Mother Maryrose a Philly native spitting bars along for the ride. She comes at it hard and holds her own. The band hits gold with this shit right here.
I can’t help but think Soul Glo truly is on that next level ish when “(Five Years And) My Family” hits. It shifts from spooky John Carpenter horror theme to a rocking indie aesthetic into a quick-paced hardcore 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, and the band never missteps. Soul Glo dips their feet back into Hip-Hop with “Spiritual Level Of Gang Shit feat. Mckinley Dixon and Lojii,” a throwback to blended heaviness & Hip-Hop of old circa Judgement Night, when bands got down with emcees, spawning one of the first collabs on a grand scale. But make no mistake, “Spiritual Level…,” this really is on a different plane altogether. The band includes horns highlighting their escapade and the blend as a whole, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
Soul Glo’s Diaspora Problems will probably leave you at a loss for words because the band is beyond description and one needs to take a good look inside to form their own opinion. Be warned though, Diaspora Problems is a beast of a different nature and once you go in, you may not be the same coming out.