We all need to understand one thing; Ezra Furman is possibly an artist that’s the most unappreciated in our lifetime. The world needs to be covered in Furman releases because there’s nothing but quality work here. All Of Us Flames (ANTI-) is Ezra’s ninth full-length release, collaborative and solo, and possibly the most realized work to date. Just one song, “Forever In Sunset,” is abrasively compelling, beautifully delivered, and so emotionally open lyrically, Furman embraces everyone, leaving no stone unturned. Throughout the album, Furman challenges listeners musically, experimenting within the pop song structures, and embellishing them with noisily recording instruments at times. “Book Of Our Names” is a clear example with its over-the-top percussion. But damn, the artist is astounding and I’m thankful for an Ezra Furman in my lifetime.
Listening to Seattle’s Scarves, you might be hit with thoughts of Seattle scene(s) but Scarves has nothing to do with scenes or made-up genres. Like many groups over the past couple of years, Scarves’ frontman Niko Stathakopoulos penned lyrics during our tumultuous times, mixing heartfelt lyricism & melancholy over stop/start dynamics on the title track of Delicate Creatures (Good Eye Records). At times, the band sounds refreshingly 90s indie-rock with soaring rasps in vocal chords and simmering chord progressions. But it’s when the band’s plinking harmonics hit on “Tide Pool” it’s justified. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s honestly refreshing. Yes, that’s the key word here: refreshing.
it’s been some time since we’ve heard from DJ Criminal, 3 years in fact. His last outing was the collaborative effort with fellow Columbus, OH emcee/poet Illogic on 2019’s heady A Change In Mantra. He returns with the new The Smuggler’s Candle, an album pieced together with music smuggled in from across to world to Thailand, where he now lives. To say Criminal is an artist that walks to the beat of his own drum would probably minimize who he in fact is. He walks to the sound of a number of soundscapes, DJ scratches, and cultivated melodies.
There are a couple of brief interludes on the album where crime journalist Sean Williams declares, “This isn’t just music to smuggle to. It’s music that’s been smuggled.” He points out the obvious, but this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as The Smuggler’s Candle is concerned. DJ Criminal has been known for having a repertoire filled with atmospheric jaunts, and heady instrumentalism, while also allowing featured artists to thrive over his compositions. Here, he occasionally does the same but there are also exceptional moments filled with clashing melodies and thoughtful lyricism. The bouncy “Travelogue,” tears through the fabric of reality with its consistent piano loop which is easy for Jurassic 5’s Akil The MC to sink his teeth into, wrapping his clear and concise verbiage all over the track here. But Criminal will also let the beat ride, allowing it to take on a life of its own, which is what he does on “It’s Easy” with its over-the-edge cooing backing vocals and Barfly’s spoken-word-like delivery etched over it. The wordy A-F-R-0 gets down on the infectious recoil of “Siam Deception” along with Carnage The Executioner, but it’s “H.Y.L.A” that’s unexpected. Virginia’s Empuls takes the catchy melodies and lets loose with his words. Did I say catchy? Well, it’s catchy AF!
Criminal offsets it all with the ethereal “Mountain Tops,” bound by Jennifer Charles’ (Elysian Fields) breathy vocals, Blueprint’s laid-back rhyme delivery, and Slug’s distinctive cadence. The song flirts heavily within Trip-Hop territory with reflective lyricism allowing the humanity of perseverance to rise to the surface. All this while “Little Corner” finds the turntablist/producer once again aligning himself with the poetic stylings of Illogic. Lyrically, Ill’s words, his phrasing, can be put to the test against just about anyone. He’s that wordsmith that takes more care in what he’s spitting than most. In his delivery, he’s done it often but taking note of it here, the way he doubles up his vocals at points, distancing one in the background, this is probably his signature move. Whether he’s working with Criminal’s catchy vibe or just about any other producer, he always seems to come out on top.
There’s so much more offered up within The Smuggler’s Candle and there isn’t a dull moment within. We hear a multitude of sounds and styles DJ Criminal has sewn together throughout the 13 tracks on the album. Somehow he makes it all work. It isn’t easy, but it does. The album has the making for commercial success while also staying close to its underground roots. But that’s not the point; this album is probably one of the best releases this year.
Things that are misunderstood are sometimes referred to as experimental but Sélébéyone‘s sophomore release XAYBU: THE UNSEEN (Pi Recordings) isn’t. In reality, it’s where Hip-Hop meets its forefather of jazz, for an all-encompassing trip through countercultures, extending its virtual hand proclaiming, “We’re still here.” Sélébéyone is comprised of saxophonists Steve Lehman out of Los Angeles, Parisian Maciek Lasserre, Senegalisian emcee Gaston Bandimic, and HPrizm (Anti-Pop Consortium, Airborn Audio).
Throughout XAYBU, saxophones explode, retract, and repeat but nothing is more eloquent in definitive than “Gagaku” where they seamlessly blend into both background & foreground. Rappers both spit lyricism in native tongues, blending into the song without pause or hesitation. Its free-wheeling motion isn’t senseless, but it’s matter-of-fact precision that gels together loosely but fitted well. The uncompromising movement is definitive to the band’s sound. But it’s a song like “Poesie I” that some may find solace within, as background vocals play opposite to HP’s words, and drums & piano are fitted around saxophones that seem to take on a life all their own. Yes.
There are moments when the group does move directly through the ghost of Hip-Hop, for the most part eschewing its jazz leanings for a more direct approach. “Zeraora,” with its heavier Boom-Bap leanings, is led by HPrizm before Gaston’s delivery confounds into a cacophonic bliss with a drum pattern colliding onto itself as horns blare all around. Stand and breathe it all right in before it dissipates.
Don’t get things twisted XAYBU: THE UNSEEN isn’t an easy affair to listen to. Those with the patience and love of music will understand Sélébéyone’s new album is that ill shit that has no paralleled equal. It’s the epitome of all things dope and fascinating.
With the influx of rapper(s) shifting from one year to the next, there are those few that stay focused and true to their craft. Styles aren’t the predominant factor but rather the eloquence in which they utilize their words. This brings us to Suffolk, VA emcee P.U.R.E, who’s been on the grind for years now, establishing himself with a reputable resumé (Raekwon, KXNG Crooked, Wu Syndicate, and others). P.U.R.E. has just released the new 5-song E.P., Penta (God Mode Records), his first new release since 2019’s Made 1015.
P.U.R.E. is cut from a different cloth with words fundamentally developed through time, allowing the rapper to serve a healthy dose of gritty realism with a cadence that well, could find him aligned with some of the greatest emcees. In truth, P.U.R.E.’s sound is a direct result of Golden Age which allows each track on Penta to slap hard! With the opening “The Kooker,” he utilizes drug culture metaphors but the obvious point is cooking up lyrics one can sink their teeth into, and when he spits, “Catch a nigga moving funny, get him acquainted to the flame / got the chop flow judo, other guys are budo…” and, “Damn right I get it poppin’, better ask about me / (the) last nigga that have beef, he never doubt me…” we can feel his confidence. Getting his hands dirty isn’t his style, moving like a boss and allowing his “young hyenas” to handle business. The beat affords P.U.R.E. the opportunity to hit it directly without feeling pressured or forced. But truth be told, it’s the catchiness of “Ya’ll In Trouble (Y.I.T.),” with a beat lifted off Marvin Gaye (“Inner City Blues”) that you’ll keep returning to. Why? Well, if you know the original song, you probably love it already but couple that with P.U.R.E.’s fiery lyricism and we’re hit with grit & gangsterisms, without the glamourization. It feels real, it seems real, it IS real.
Honestly, Penta hosts some of the best tracks heard in quite some time. The only problem with it is its brevity. Fortunately, we can keep it on repeat because the tracks are made for that. Hit that shit, grab hold of P.U.R.E.’s new joint and wait for what’s next.
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The L.A.-based Vinyl Williams is quite unique to say the least. The nom de plum of bassist/vocalist Lionel Williams, influences range throughout the decades from the 60s to contemporary pop, we should all make no mistake, Williams holds a catalog of music that’s derivative only unto himself. With that said, his compositions have a unique way of sometimes confounding the senses, moving in one direction, layered with a multitude of sounds, that will leave you lost but found, and confused. It’s so much to take in. His psychedelic pop excursions will do that. 2020’s Azure was delicately masterful (as I obviously misstepped, unaware of 2021’s The Emerald Isle.) This all leads us to his newly released Cosmopolis (Requiem Pour Un Twister).
The 12-track release seems to fly right by but the band, made up of Williams, drummer Eric Werner, guitarist/synth/vocals Spooky Tavi, and guitar/synth player Nathan Najera make it seem so easy and captivating. The album’s opening salvo, “Probable Cause,” strikes unassumingly, hitting a few bass notes, backed by lightly hit percussion before the band shifts gears with a funky rhythm, soft echoing vocals, with synths plinking away. It may seem as if hands are flagrantly moving against one another but it’s one controlled masterpiece. There are soothing pop sensibilities that make their presence known on “Beaming.” It soothes, filled with harmonies that burst at the seams, spinning around in a psychedelia storm at moments with its reverbed vocals.
You’d almost be hard-pressed to find something more imaginative than “Telaculum,” which allows the band to build around a rhythm with its instrumentation, scattering occasional dueling distorted guitars, keys, and Williams’ enchanting vocal delivery. Well, I did say “almost.” “Saturnalia” seems to play with different levels, not dynamics, but close, pausing for effect with keyboards seemingly matching the rhythm within. It may seem all over the place but it’s really not. There’s a method to the madness which sometimes contorts its rhythm to fit the needs of the song. It’s the soft edges of “Dream House” that are captivating, right before the band changes its tempo slightly for this cooing pop excursion that’s hauntingly irresistible.
As far as Vinyl Williams is concerned, it seems almost impossible to make any wrong turns within its musical structures. And the band’s Cosmopolis, its 7th album is no different. The psychedelic pop direction is simply perfect.