Seems everyone is finally heading home, or at least back here in the desert where I’m now living, after week-long holidays stemming from a Memorial Day haze. Highways are much more crowded, and life is reverting back to where it should be. Me? Home and work kicks my ass but I’m not cynical about it. Cynical yes, but not about life in general. This week has seen the release of a number of things, most notably diss tracks between Drake and Pusha T. Who wins? Pusha of course, but it still accounts for record sales so in the end, they both win. But here, it’s about the things you probably won’t hear about, and that’s ok. All the rage is the new Black Thought EP which burns with passion and will no doubt go down as one of the best releases in urban music. You won’t find a review of it here because you can find it everywhere else. Regardless…
Knowing next to nothing about Penpals and getting no help from the internet, it’s often confusing when beats and rhymes collide with others sharing the same moniker. The group I’m referring hails out of the NYC underbelly and is made up of Cynic The Apache and Rapswell, as well as producer Squires. They’ve just released the new album To Whom It May Concern (Brick Records), which pieces together 13 tracks on album and I think the jury might still be out on it. There are moments when they hit and hit hard like on the opening “Sho Nuff (feat. Lars Viola.)” The grimy beat works well juxtaposed against the squalor of rap lyricism the three rappers fill it out with. But it’s the imagery on the futuristic “Hi Tech” that grabs those with attention deficit disorder as they paint clear pictures with their words with references to Blade Runner, microchips, and feminine robotics. But sometimes, life is hit and miss. While “IDK (feat. Thonio)” may have a slick smooth beat, the misogynistic feel detracts from it. And then they bounce back with a couple of off-kilter tracks produced by Quelle Chris in the form of “Tommy Eggface,” which bounces with an illness in the quick-tongued lyricism, and “Up To The Sky,” with hazy keyboard lines filtered throughout it, as the flow of the emcees blend with the music seamlessly. The good outweighs the worst of Penpals, which is kept to a minimal. “Ken Jennings,” rough and raw with tight and hard beats, works well alongside the bass and horn heavy “My Goodness (feat. Castle).” It seems the group’s To Whom It May Concern has a wide appeal for many, and while the timbre of the album moves from one place to the other, the tracks are cleverly unified. I can cosign on that.
Jess Abbott is no fly-by-night musician that’s strictly confined to creating multiple one-hit wonders for mainstream radio play. Her multiple releases under the Tancred pseudonym is testament to that, although creating driving pop songs with morose lyricism is what she’s been known for. And…what she still does. Well. Her new release Nightstand (Polyvinyl Records) is as clean and polished as possibly can be without eschewing clever lyricism, which is the icing on this sweet pastry of a release. What many will find endearing is the ease in which songs vary in direction yet remain consistently tied to one another. “Song One” takes the soft approach with ethereal guitars and vocals, which makes it easy to fall in love with Abbot’s breathy voice. The song is juxtaposed next to “Queen Of New York” which frolics through alleyways at sunrise with a harder edge, and happily taking no shit from beginning to end. But it’s those moments when she levels guitars at the forefront and drums are percussively thunderous, where life is bound to get interesting. On “Hot Star” guitars aren’t overdone with undecipherable distortion, instead, they’re kept crisp and clear but it’s the basic 3 to 4 chord drive that makes it addictively appealing.
The music of Tancred is widely appealing(!) and “Clipping” is the obvious example set there for it. Musically, it’s bouncy, endearing, and catchy. Lyrically, Abbott isn’t averse to utilizing her skillful words in a self-deprecating way here. When she sings, “I’m a loser sometimes / I will lose my mind sometimes” it’s relatable and anyone can find themselves within that same headspace. It’s perfect. But it doesn’t prepare you for the hand-clapped filled “Something Else” with its dynamic shifts or the sultry “Underwear,” again filled with dynamic changes which includes strings and in-your-face lyricism which opens “Been beating myself up / I’ve been known to throw a punch or three / I don’t want to fight you / I’m already fighting me / and I’m losing.” Sometimes being inside your own head makes for wonderous writing. Tancred has so much to offer on Nightstand, it’s a riveting view of Jess Abbott’s emotional rollercoaster pieced together within the confines of 11 tracks. Sometimes you just can’t get enough of one album, and this just might be one of them.
And so Mazzy Star has returned with a their 4-song Still EP (Rhymes Of An Hour Records) and after a 5-year layoff, there’s nothing that’s changed for the band. They still play the soft melancholic music they’ve stamped with their signature; Hope Sandoval’s earthy vocals remain the same and Dave Roback’s guitars still wallow in the psychedelic haze he’s travelled through the years. In short, it’s the same. It’s good, just nothing very different within the songs. They experiment a bit on the title track, with strings meandering throughout if that helps you at all.