New Music | Friday Roll Out: BYSTS, Aesop Rock & Blockhead, Artson, BRZOWSKI & C$BURNS, Lightleak

As BRZOWSKI & C$BURNS create music together and continually release track after track, it’s less post-rap and more post-apocalyptic Hip-Hop. BRZOWSKI isn’t a difficult listen although the duo’s last release, The Subjugation Of Bread, was hard on the senses & emotions. It leaves listeners questioning life through its hard and abrasive truth that’s dark & brooding. Back again with C$BURNS, and with the duo’s new EP, Seditious Acts (MilledPavement/Four Finger Distro), things haven’t changed as they deliver the hard truth through the 5-track release. “The Accelerationist,” is haunting with BRZOWSKI delivering lyrics of disappointment & 2021 culture through his easily identifiable rasp. The thick bassline surrounding his words is ominous and listeners will want to stand in front of the two, fist-pumping in agreement. BRZOWSKI is a heady emcee, which we can hear with his cultural & political examples of “Hoxhaism feat. Curly Castro” and “Communizer.” The former has the two emcees volleying lyrics over an organ-driven backdrop,” which allows their words to cut venomously even more so. On the latter, it offers up the positives of socialist programs through documentary-type samples as well as the emcee’s lyrics, not siding with any political parties but focusing on our distressed culture of life itself. While this makes us think, it’s done in a way we can all understand through music. “You ever wake up and think, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and you do it again… and again… and again…” is how BRZOWSKI opens “The Beauty Of Pure Concrete,” which may make you question your own existence. C$BURNS’ somber terrain sets the mood to his words leaving us wallowing with questions. Seditious Acts continues where Subjugation left off, allowing listeners to think and examine our socio-political landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments you’re just unable to contain your emotions and there’s a need to release it in some form or another. As an artist, it happens more often than naught, and with Queendom, this is that moment for Artson. His 7th album in just a 3-year span, the indigenous emcee moves a bit differently here with a therapeutic full-length born of love & hope. This new release is much more of an ode, a dedication, telling his story of the deep love Artson shares with his wife. It’s as simple as that. He’s never strayed from offering up his influences and throughout Queendom, things are no different. The R&B-driven “I Believe” kicks things off as Artson coos softly over guitars the one-on-one lyrics, drawing on sensual emotions. The much more upbeat “Thinking About You” shifts things up here but the feel is the same but expresses first chance meetings utilizing a quick Pharcyde sample, even alluding the group in his own lyrics. Artson continues to convey those same messages throughout the release through a variety of movements. “Move Me,” is a ripe club anthem, while “We Gon’ Be Alright” seems to have him questioning, looking to her for validity. But it’s on the closing “My Love feat. QVLN & Kaovanny” where Artson takes chances on this bilingual that moves way past anthemic. Strings, Latin beats, and his own lyricism shifts from English to Spanish with his supporting cast her is easily dope AF here. This album is the story of his life in her Queendom, a representation of that kind of love is hard to find.

After repeated spins, the idea of what Lightleak is, the embodiment of musician and Chicago public-school teacher Dustin Currier, changes after every listen. While at first listen, this could be his interpretation of post-punk in a different fashion or another, but in fact, Lightleak’s debut, Tender Fits, is a full-length album that encompasses much more than that. Currier enlisted a number of artists throughout the album to fully realize the album’s vision: Chad Clark (Smart Went Crazy, Beauty Pill), Sadie Dupuis (Sad13), Vivian McConnell (V.V. Lightbody), Seth Engel (Options), and horn players Ben Grigg (Geronimo!) and Logan Bloom. The songs are an indie rock orchestrated affair that doesn’t solely revolve around standard instrument play but rather something with a loose richness. Keyboards & acoustic guitars collide against Currier’s melodic baritone on “No Icon.” Electric guitar accentuates the song as well as the songs backing harmonies. But I have to refer back to “B.I.D.S.I.U.” which may confuse listeners at first with disjointed guitars & percussion crashing into one another but makes sense as the melody rises like a phoenix out of the cacophony. Its keyboard & horn interplay is completely unexpected and welcomed. Don’t get me wrong, with Lightleak, the music here can also rock with anthemic fervor like on “Salty Tongue.” Its straight rhythmic direction allows instruments to build around as it crescendos into its climax midway through. Lightleak is crafty. From beginning to end the music is fully realized and captivating.

Music aficionados tend to sometimes sleep on artists, usually focusing on others. I don’t think that’s ever applied to Aesop Rock, who’s dropped release after hyperactive release. Back into the fold is NYC producer Blockhead who Aes had worked with early in his career from 1997 through 2007, a decade’s worth of collaborations between emcee and production wizard. Blockhead, renowned for musical excursions of his own, filled with a catalog of solo releases & collabs. Both have returned with Garbology (Rhymesayers), the duo’s first full-length collaboration.

The new album may be what fans have been waiting for, Aesop Rock’s clever abstract wording filled with metaphors and Blockhead’s penchant for catchy & subtle rhythms constructed around airy instrumentation. At Garbology’s opening, “Jazz Hands” glides along with an ethereal wave as Aesop’s words ride the crescent break seamlessly. The beat doesn’t drop until the track is more than halfway through and when it does, the entire track meshes together uniquely until its eventual end. Then there’s “Legerdemain,” as Aesop Rock’s haunting lyricism is matched by the mélange of Blockhead’s guitar/bass/drum combination and eerie backing horns edged around it. This is a journey like no other. But it’s the noirish “Difficult,” as horns meander throughout over a thick, gooey beat while “Oh Fudge” revolves around bass groove instruments build around. It’s Aesop’s words, “Born with a cough and a finger in the frosting/I can’t stop sweating/people in the store say ‘I think that man is melting’” are brought to life with clear imagery spitting conceptualized metaphors even the most astute scholars may have trouble deciphering. Although there are moments, like on “That Is Not A Wizard” where Aes utilizes humor & sarcasm, and when he offers “I wish you nothing but the gentle kiss of yellow piss/I give you nothing but the number to my exorcist” one has to laugh and move out of the way of those he’s focusing on.

With 14 tracks, Garbology is both a heady and fun trek through Aesop Rock’s shrewd-witted wording and Blockhead’s dynamic musical backdrops. There’s a LOT more offered up throughout the album which finds both artists at the top of their game.

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As the years have gone by, we’ve all seen many compromise who they are. On the flip side, we’ve been fortunate to have those that don’t and continue to challenge themselves, whether through books, art, or music. With the new self-released album Palace, the Los Angeles by-way-of-SLC BYSTS continues to do things its own way. The new album follows 2018’s Dreamland EP, which the band was once described as being “relentless and hell bend on giving every ounce of its being” into those songs. On the new release, multi-instrumentalists Stephanie Marlow and Brian Holbrook seem to have honed and reigned in the sonic bombast for something more refined.

Make no mistake though, BYSTS continues to deliver its noisy efforts though this time the band moves sinisterly from track to track with semblances of psychedelia throughout, controlling the chaos at every turn. As BYSTS opens “Extra Virgin” with waves of guitar distortion, the band gradually lowers its voluminous levels to give the track breathing room. The song lingers in the atmosphere over a hypnotic rhythm, curving around dueling vocals. Marlow’s distant harmonies complement those of Holbrook, finding a sensual meeting ground between the two. It works to the band’s obvious advantage. The band builds on that energy as it careens into “Breathless,” which seems to build around the rhythm as the duo’s vocals coo into one another. It’s the calm within the center of the storm with guitars raging in and out around a mechanical rhythm.

For some reason it’s “Runes,” with its noisy & mesmerizing head-nodding beat I’m drawn to. Marlow takes the lead here and the song seems to intensify as it continually progresses. I know that isn’t the case (or is it) but it’s a testament to the song’s power. It’s the downbeat, that moment where we know that yes, BYSTS is that group, that band that showers us with consistency in its abrasive candy-coated pop. Again, it’s that trance-inducing rhythm as guitars wrap themselves around it, with Marlow’s innocent vocal delivery. Yes, it’s the song that plays on repeat time and time again. Both Marlow & Holbrook split lead vocal duties throughout the album but the songs always remain BYSTS although the band switches gears on “16mm Lover,” slowing down the pace but never relinquishing energy. It’s a bass-heavy groove with Marlow’s cooing voice all throughout. Guitars explode at points, but the colorful psychedelia always remains. It’s unexpected, as is “Marathons” with Holbrook’s breathy vocals in the foreground. The rhythmic build is fascinating, holding it all together as spacey guitars are drawn out much like a musical fantastic voyage of sorts.

It’s easy to admire the songs pieced together on Palaces, not generally an easy listen but always exciting. There’s growth in the music by BYSTS which we can definitely hear throughout the release. Is this worth your time? Of course, it is so why wouldn’t you want to listen to one of the best records of 2021.

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