Well we’re back and this week we have some big names with big things to say. We also see if artists like SOHN can sustain their impressive trajectory and if The XX can hold on to their pre-Jamie success.
Artist: Run The Jewels
Album Title: Run The Jewels 3
Genre: Hip Hop / Rap
Moments Of: Public Enemy / A Tribe Called Quest
Stand Outs: 2100 / Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost) / Call Ticketron / Thursday In The Danger Room
“RTJ3 Motherfuckers” That’s right, the lyrical landlords are back with their self-released and next step in the anthology Run The Jewels 3. Released three weeks early, just before Christmas, RTJ3 is as powerful and straight down the line as ever, except here the path seems mapped.
There’s still no doubt that these two are holding the detonator. RTJ3 is more of the razor sharp wit and cut throat delivery of social commentary Killer Mike and EL-P are known for. Killer Mike’s unhinged, unbroken verses are as intense as ever and still manage to convey message that’s not at the expense of sonic value. EL-P as a producer takes leaps, with consistent beats that act as a marching path for the pair, before eventually expanding into the sectioned chants that connect each verse making songs a cohesive and impressive argument.
RTJ2 was an album that had us hyperventilating into a brown paper bag. It had been years since listeners had been exposed to protest music in the rap genre of this calibre. The unbridled passion which managed to shine through in songs was remarkable; it was a dogged response to injustice.
RTJ3 feels more calculated and purposeful in its response, and more worried. RTJ realise that things are going to get ugly, but they’ve had enough. On ‘Talk To Me’ El-P raps “I’m dirt motherfucker, I can’t be crushed”. Something is building, something big; and Run The Jewel’s see it as clear as day. RTJ3 is resistant to the idea of unflinching anarchy; you’re allowed to be scared. “I just wanna live, I don’t ever wanna have to hold a clip”. But being scared doesn’t make you powerless.
“A riot is the language of the unheard” the MLK speech sample on ‘Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)’ rings out as a poignant and committed outro.
Album Title: Migration
Label: Ninja Tune
Genre: Electronic / Downtempo Jazz
Moments Of: Kiasmos / Caribou
Stand Outs: Outlier / Second Sun / Surface
Upon the release of Bonobo’s sixth album Migration, we get to see what a lack of urgency sounds like. The downtempo ambience of Migration is not something to be marveled at from afar, but instead up close enough to become intimate with our senses.
On Migration, Simon Green successfully shows us that there is substance in space. On the title track and the song ‘Outlier’, he exhibits how a song can benefit when it’s got time to breathe. ‘Outlier’ plays as an exhale that eventually dissipates over a satisfying 7 minutes. ‘Second Sun’ achieves the same as it’s delicate and expansive violins seem to echo into vast spaces.
Green manages to wrangle some terrific vocalist for the album that helps provide enough padding for those not ingratiated by the downtempo ambience of a lot of the tracks. Nicole Miglis, the vocalist for Hundred Waters, sings on ‘Surface’ and her vocals feel unsinkable on the textures Bonobo creates. ‘Bambro Koyo Ganda’ the most adventurous track on the album, employs Innov Gnawa a NY band that plays Gnawa. A form of North African music that’s dedicated to healing and spirituality, the sounds fit seamlessly into the vacant soundscapes Bonobo creates throughout Migration.
Migration is a well-balanced album. With ambient works, it’s easy for listeners to become disinterested. Fortunately, Bonobo offers enough to make this album accessible for many and playable wherever. ‘No Reason’ the track featuring Nick Murphy is comparable to some of Rufus’s better tracks like ‘Innerbloom’ or ‘Imaginary Air’. While songs like ‘Second Sun’ show that notability doesn’t always come in the form of vocals. Migration is Green’s best work to date.
Artist: Of Montreal
Album Title: Rune Husk
Genre: Psychedelic / Indie Rock
Moments Of: The Unicorns
Stand Out: Stag to the Stable
Of Montreal have surprise-released a new EP. The brainchild of singer/guitarist Kevin Barnes, of Montreal was among the second wave of bands to emerge from the sprawling Elephant 6 collective. A native of Athens, Georgia, Barnes was inspired to form the euphoric indie pop group in the wake of a broken romance with a woman from Montreal. This new four-song effort follows the bands 2016 LP, Innocence reaches.
There’s no doubt of Montreal like to mix it up; each song is as different as the last. Ep opener ‘Interceine Larks’ is unfocused as it is consistent. The lack of direction and cohesiveness creates a tiresome unpredictable ballad. Barnes sounds unleashed in ‘Stag to the Stable.’ The swirl of guitars and scalding vocals create an indie tune we have come to know and love from the group.
The psychedelic ‘Window Sucking’ exhibits unprecedented songwriting ambition that moves with an unattractive tumbling. With his mush-mouthed drawl and rigid song structures, Barnes closes the journey with ‘Island Life.’ The madness that is the five-minute Odyssey is a mishmash of zany electronic rock with a perfect touch of psychedelic.
Artist: The XX
Album Title: I See You
Label: Young Turks
Genre: Indie Pop
Moments Of: Jamie XX
Stand Out: On Hold / Say Something Loving
Consistently one of London’s smoothest quintets, The XX are back with their third full-length album I See You. With a divergence of sounds, the XX are masters of dreamy instrumental hooks and swirling vocal harmonies. Staying true to their starting point, The XX remain focused on crafting poetic, multidimensional songs but with a newfound edge.
“Going to Jamie’s shows definitely lit a fire under us, bassist Oliver Sim states in a recent NME interview. This inspiration is clearly directed in album opener ‘Dangerous’ the intro of EDM horns and jumpy beats sees a band completely broadening their sound from the get- go. The XX’s continual re-calibration is heard in the two released singles ‘On Hold’ and ‘Say Something Loving.’ Both songs get their hooks from sampling another song. ‘On Hold’ samples Hall and Oates “I Cant Go for That” while ‘Say Something Lovely’ samples the Alessi Brothers 1978 “Do You Feel It?”. Both these tracks are some of the strongest on the record and play to each member’s talents deliciously.
Without sacrificing any of the confessional, emotionally rich material that made us love them in the first place. Moments like ‘A Violent Noise’ and ‘Replica’ fuse the upbeat electronic rhythms that create a lively evolution of their sadder songs.
I See You does not go down the same minimal path from the last two albums. With this new found sense of upbeat instrumentation, they tear apart the self-imposed limitations of their sound but lose that dreamy bliss we have come to immediately recognize as The XX.
Genre: Ambient Neo Soul
Moments Of: Chet Faker / Banks / Yeo
Stand Outs: Proof / Hard Liquor / Conrad
Christopher ‘Toph’ Taylor, otherwise known as SOHN releases his second LP Rennen, German for ‘To Run’. While Taylor’s production values and over all gloomy neo soul are as present as ever, Rennen also shows some subtle but not unwelcome tones of blues rock through his vocal melodies. Hinting at new inspirations and potential directions, it is not an album without a number of stumbling blocks.
Throughout the album it can be hard to pick if Rennen is an over or under produced production. Tracks like ‘Proof’ ‘Hard Liquor’ and ‘Rennen’ are smooth and atmospheric, if not likely to enrapture the listener. Other tracks such as ‘ Signal’ ‘Dead Wrong’ and ‘Primary’ all hold jarring vocal harmonies and under developed beats that do not hint at any purposeful intent.
Despite these noticeable differences in tracks, each one follows a structural formular that allows the entire album to bleed into one another rendering the project monotonous if the listener isn’t paying attention. Taylor has previously mentioned a desire to focus on ‘3 main elements’ in his new work, a goal that isn’t without merit but perhaps may have come at the price of diversity throughout his work.
While it would seem that SOHN is in a state of development as a musical project. At times Rennen feels less like a collage of ideas in an attempt to make something new, or at least, unique to Taylor’s vision and more like a less refined copy and paste method. Despite the best of intentions and clear talent Rennen, fails to engage the listener in any meaningful way.