Well, where do we go from here? I’m not quite sure. I think everyone is left with an uneasy feeling as to what the future is going to bring, as am I. There are more and more people urging for companies to re-open to have business as usual but if we’ve learned anything from history, we know that the last pandemic ran its course from April 1918 – April 1919, but that’s the CDC being a bit gratuitous with dates there. We all have to take things day by day, and we can’t rush things we have no control over.
In the meantime, here I sit listening to something that giving me a bit of a rush, and yeah, that’s Marvin Gaye. You can never go wrong listening to Marvin. This is different though, this is More Trouble, which has some alternat versions of the songs from the Trouble Man soundtrack. Like the theme song which includes strings, or an unedited version of “Play It Cool.” This is one of these releases I wish my uncle was still here to listen to. But there are also a couple of “T Stands For Trouble” versions as well! All I’d be able to say is “Damn!” This is life.
It’s difficult to follow that one up listening to Nobro, a quartet I know next to nothing about except their release Sick Hustle E.P. (Dine Alone Records) is bananas off the friggin’ walls. This isn’t the band’s first go around, or probably what they expected to release now. Back in 2018, there was word of a full-length LP of the same name that was supposed to drop but now we have four tracks the ladies from Montreal deliver here that are fast, loud, and completely in your face. It’s punk for punk’s sake and completely worth the listen. Standout cut for me is the lower-registered “Don’t Wanna Talk About.” Instruments slam against one another creating an amazing cacophony of sound.
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen the release of a proper Factor Chandelier full-length, but this week he’s released his new First Storm (Fake Four Inc.) and here, it looks like there was potential to offer up something a bit different from these sessions, but he opted to move in a different direction for some tracks. Don’t worry, I’ll elaborate here.
While there are a number of featured artists on this First Storm, one thing I find myself listening to over and over again to is “New View.” It was released as a single early on and we can all understand why. The repetitive beat, followed by an unorthodox melody, allows for challenging affect. As a listener, a music fan, the very fact of its difference in scope, makes it quite engaging. Danny Levin’s horns are just the icing on top. Vocals are expected but never arrive, which is completely fine, anything more would be overkill. It’s easy to fall in love with the instrumental at every turn. The song is followed by the seemingly odd melancholia of “Die Tonight feat. Nomad.” Factor’s sweet composition is juxtaposed with Nomad, unusual cadence and sad, and somewhat disturbing lyrical content; easily a look into a bizarro, upside-down world. It’s…twisted.
I’m drawn into the bounce of “UNDERGROUND feat. Cadence Weapon,” the Canadian born rapper who matches Factor, word for beat. Both the wordsmith and beatmaker compliment one another here on this unrelenting track. But it’s “Black NASA feat. Onry Ozzborn” that stands apart from the rest for a couple of reasons though. The composition Factor created here is dramatic in its delivery, with dynamics moving a way that’s unexpected. That, accentuated with Ozzborn’s lyrics and flow allow it to pique interest, especially when he references 80s iconic pop figures, allowing the otherworldly theme to flow with ease. Then there’s a also a slew of frequent collaborators entering the fray, beginning with Ceschi on “Better Way,” who’s always proved himself a chameleon of sorts, able to rap and sing, and here the track is elevated with his clever wordplay and varied vocalization as strings and horns refuse to take a backseat here. Kay The Aquanaut gives a vehement delivery on the watery “Hurricane Ex” while Myka 9 makes an airy delivery on the piano driven title track. There are others here that should be noted, like Mestizo on “Lord Taketh,” Taylor Jade on “Lawnchair,” and Dope Knife on “Long Game.”
Factor Chandelier offsets these appearances with instrumentals that are sometimes sonically massive like “ZaapZ,” or beautifully expansive like “Ocean Steps” (and the guitar & strings on the latter are amazing.) This right here is where he varies in his output. Sure, he could have a vocalist on these tracks but why bother? It isn’t forced and doesn’t need to be gratuitous. Did I even mention “New View”? Yeah I did, because it’s that fucking good.
Palaceer Lazaro has a long and storied past behind him, and that’s allowed him to maneuver through the creative explosiveness that’s been his career since. I’ll leave the full biography out of this but just note that his place in music involved a “Butterfly” and some Digable Planets. I’ve already offered too much.
He’s taken the lead this go-around for the new Shabazz Palaces album and that’s not a bad thing here. The Don Of Diamond Dreams (Sub Pop) marks 5th album (or 4th, depending on who you ask) and here, Lazaro leaves me questioning my very own existence. The fact is, while the album is rooted in Hip-Hop, there’s no one genre that can claim Shabazz Palaces. While it’s by no means a comparison in style or delivery, Shabazz Palaces does share a commonality with George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic in the fact that, yeah, both are on some next level shit. Both artists are transcendent for one thing and are also on some interdimensional shit whether they’re aware of it or not.
Shabazz Palaces is completely organic and delivers sounds no one else would dare to tread. Well, that’s not completely true but humor me. For “Ad Ventures” Shabazz’s guitars are spacey while the bass/drums bottom end fly high along key-driven tones and Lazaro’s layered vocals. This is an adventure that ventures far off past even our own imaginations. It’s a journey built around just one track. Obliterating the notion that this alone is the Shabazz Palaces climax, “Fast Learner (ft. Purple Tape Nate)” lands with existential guitars and cooing vocals hovering around Lazaro’s vocals. The melody here is hauntingly beautiful and Nate’s vocals compliments the musical backdrop. This is that unexpected heat.
The dreamy “Reg Walks By The Looking Glass (ft. Carlos Overall)” closes the album, and for over 7 minutes, the nostalgic feel of the song is littered with horns, effected guitars, and nimble bass. This is the perfect storm as instruments tread a path alongside one another, never crashing against or overstepping.
The Don Of Diamond Dreams comes at a time when we need an escape from reality. Although it’s fully grounded, Shabazz Palaces offers a reprieve, giving us all one of the best albums of the year.
Neil Hagerty. In 2020, the name should ring of indie rock royalty because you know, it is. With such names as Pussy Galore, Royal Trux, and Howling Hex, and recording albums under his own name behind him, yeah, just forget what you know and bow down. Now with another album out today under the Howling Hex moniker, has he proven worthy?
One thing Hagerty always seems to extract from his music is a dirty blues underlining his songs from project to project. Purists may attempt to lambast the artist as sloppy, piecing together catchy melodies, blah, blah, blah. There’s so much more to his music than that. Sure it may come across as haphazard at times but that alone might be the beauty of it all. Knuckleball Express (Fat Possum Records) may just give us all what we need, not necessarily what we want. Listening to “Mr. Chicken,” distorted guitars sound distinctive, over a simple beat as he layers more guitars into the mix by Nicole Lawrence, who he sings alongside here. It’s unexpected but welcomed, as well as a few piano notes to accentuate the song. Again, it may sound haphazard but there’s method to Hagerty’s madness, which is more than appreciated. “Words,” is all over the place, as guitars shimmer and get dirty right in front of that blues-inspired bassline. There isn’t a lot of lyrical content here which allows for irony. Instead, guitars are splattered against one another and one beautiful fucking mess!
Hagerty draws on psychedelia for “Rootbear Mother,” sans percussion wrapping the minute and a half song around his words and guitars while Lawrence takes on a more prominent roll on “City In The Country” vocally, opening the song before both vocalists harmonize together. They let their guitars slap against one another with chilling effect. To hell with conventionality, Hagerty has always followed his own vision and continues that here. “Heavy Curtains” opens with Lawrence again singing, and piano notes plinking away right before the cacophony of guitars wrapping around their words.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years since Pussy Galore was unleashed to an unsuspecting world with its music. Hagerty has been following his own muse throughout the years not really giving a rat’s ass what anyone thinks. That’s the beauty of Howling Hex here, with songs like “Share A Name” where the vocalists complement one another in both guitar fuckery and voices. Knuckleball Express should go down as one of the best recordings of 2020.
If you know, I’ve always been intrigued by Uncommon Nasa, the New York producer / engineer / emcee who’s always been consistent with releases, year after year. His last release, 2019’s City As School (Man Bites Dog) produced by Kount Fif, was familiarity but firmly rooted in the present. While the Ornate E.P. (Uncommon Records) was available a couple of weeks ago, it officially dropped today. This time around, production was handled by longtime collaborator Lyle Horowitz and here, there’s a semblance of nostalgia.
I find moments that are drenched in blaxsploitation recollection. On the opening title track, Horowitz simple percussion, hit with the sparseness of a few bass notes, keyboard, and wind, draw listeners in. Nasa’s prose fits well right alongside it while “Werewolves Talk, Battle and Talk” follows suit, thinly veiled without a need for filling every corner of it with sound. And Nasa does what he does here, waxing poetic allowing the music to drip sensually all around him. The combination of music and lyrics is art fuckery to the Nth degree, floating in a space many fear to tread.
It’s in his name: Uncommon Nasa, and not everyone is going to “get” what he does. His delivery is quite unique and his wordplay follows suit. “Word Sung” is a clear example of that. Even when he takes a different approach, we can all find solace in his cadence and delivery. The closing “A Walk on East 11th Street” is more of a spoken word piece Nasa has worked over and over, leaving him looking for answers to his questions he still hasn’t found on lower east side streets.
Ornate is a quick look at what Nasa is offering up in days of isolation without focusing on being isolated and culling together a handful of dope tracks that fit within the confines of Hip-Hop but aren’t bound to it. That’s skill.
Sometimes it’s just really easy to just…write. This would be one of those moments, although it wasn’t planned. With a healthy catalog and a steady following, Wisconsin’s Brett Newski returns with a new attitude and album in Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down (Nomad Union) and there’s something quite endearing about the singer/songwriter.
90% of the album is smothered in distortion, and his skewed-pop vision is stormy and direct. There are hints of familiarity here, but there’s nothing directly linking him to anyone else. In other words, Newski doesn’t wear his influences on his sleeve although others would probably tell you otherwise. While Newski sings through what sounds like an old Deluxe Vocal Microphone, one I’ve only seen Erik Sanko (Skeleton Key) sing from time and time again, it doesn’t affect the song or the songwriting. In fact, it may just add to it’s charm. The opening “Grow Your Garden” doesn’t suffer from it, it actually blends well against the distorted and jangly guitars here. But it’s the pop sensibilities that I should be keen on focusing on because Newski outdoes himself at every turn. “Do It Again” opts for a keyboard drive that recalls Ocasek production but allowing him to keep his own identity throughout. “What’d Ya Got To Lose” has a clear pop delivery as guitars work a melody to blistering effect.
He then sets his sights on “No Self Control” which edges along dynamically, with an odd vocal delivery that isn’t perfect but intriguing. The song sludges along before shifting and then returning back to its starting point. Yeah, Brett Newski has a definitive writing style. Even lyrically, he playfully jests, “The most cliché lyric of all time saved me from myself and it’s hard to listen to / but that don’t mean that it ain’t true.”
Well, you can call me odd but Brett Newski’s delivery on Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down makes me a fan. It’s his delivery, his songwriting, the nonconformist attitude to his craft; everything meshed together works to his favor. And guess what, we’re all the better for it.