ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER





What a blockbuster month in hip-hop it’s been… Snoop setting the world’s biggest gin and juice record. Eminem and Nicki Minaj reportedly going steady. 50 Cent against Ja Rule, episode #89. Seven tracks being the new 18 tracks plus intro, outro and skits, plus bonus disc.

And there’s also been Pusha T versus Drake: ‘Daytona’ is a significant, title belt-claiming blow that’ll take some recovering from – the latter’s ‘Scorpion’ is imminent, with the additional angle of Martin Shkreli weighing in. Kanye’s ‘Ye’ poses more questions than answers, which is precisely what makes the man, while Nas & Kanye’s ‘Nasir’ has its moments, but falls short of what the dream team billing promises and certainly needs more room than the running length du jour. This is before we’ve even had time to take on Kid Cudi & Kanye’s ‘Kids See Ghosts’, or attempted to try and keep up with The Carters.

 

Singles/EPs

Dead Residents’ ‘Style Terrorist #1’ weighs an absolute ton, a clunky renegade barking like a sergeant major wearing influences as badges of honour. Heist vibes in full effect when Mr Brown sets a tripwire and infra red assault course and Confucius MC and Jehst come abseiling in through windows, all in the name of protecting ‘The Art-form part 2’, warning that “the ultimate high is the overdose”. One man’s lazy day on the river is another’s circled by sharks – Benofficial’s ‘Machine Gun Benny’ perfects the casual-smarting look. On the edge of grime and trap, VersesBang is sonically and sartorially sharp with seven tracker ‘Dressed to Kill…Myself’, well-paced so as to let listeners take a peek behind the big time persona (“I need to take control, like playing FIFA when it ain’t my go”).





After destroying airwaves with one of the freestyles of recent times, Black Thought rises above all of the aforementioned hullaballoo with the six track ‘Streams of Thought’. Augmented by 9th Wonder’s telepathy, soulfully shaded but a no-go zone for suckers, it’s an absolute lesson in politics, autobiography and pure battle-hardened craftsmanship that number one spots are reserved for. Parading the glamour life before denting it hard, Conway the Machine and Sonnyjim, with business-like savagery, cause ‘Death by Misadventure’, professional professors in the science of not flinching when stakes get high. To pianos that go left where ‘Still DRE’ went right, Blank Face and Tools Beastly ride the streets on ‘Gunslinger’, advising against feeling lucky. Trademark street cinema from Endemic Emerald joins with French generals 87 Escadron for the war report ‘Mercenaires’, army fatigue gruffness driving through the eye of the storm with Ruste Juxx and Tragedy resuming support. Add Apollo Brown carefully stirring emotions with boom bap going deep in thought, to Locksmith laying bare introspection, ideas and education, and the answer of ‘No Question’ is empathetic and quietly emphatic.




Albums

This year, Ramson Badbonez is ‘Jason Bonez’. That’s not Jason of the Bourne Identity, nor the Argonaut organiser or even the one-time Scott Robinson, but the mask-wearing blood and guts specialist who as with everything he does, doesn’t take his foot off the gas from the first unsheathing. Here to carve open nine swashbuckling tracks, wringing the house of horror hitman spiel out hard, there’s a new patron saint for whenever the 13th Friday of the month rolls around.





The restless sound of Rye Shabby is to ‘Die Shabby’. Worldly pressures that build up around him are absorbed by the protection of a dark, eerie glow, lyrically economical with energy but never the truth. With Verb T writing out prescriptions that enhance the dilapidated, empty experience, sling it on during the dead of night and find it how it envelopes the room, bringing silhouettes to life and an unspoken feel for consolation.

We may be a bit late on this one, but with new special editions launched and then swiped off shelves, Crimeapple and Big Ghost are the crime family with ‘nuff shots to share. ‘Aguardiente’ is a 100% proof of ferocious rhymes and slick stories making you believe everything spoken about every goon, scam and threat (the hook to ‘Five Chechnyans’ will make you laugh when it probably shouldn’t), to the tune of soul-infused onlookers and accomplices that either look the other way or are in too deep. Music to stash goods and tint windows by.





Neat and tidy true school enthusiasts who have the golden age running through them like a stick of rock, New York’s Penpals crew keep the underground on the level when penning ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Their zeal for technical perfection/pseudo-nerdery means rocking the boat extends to shouting out John Cleese, but the likes of ‘On the Roof’ are just what your garden party and fly school reunion needs. A few listens in and thou shalt not return to sender.

Time for some hip-hop corporal punishment to keep the next generation in line: Bumpy Knuckles is the elected elder statesman who won’t bend to socially mediated conventions. ‘Pop Duke’ is produced by Nottz knocking heads together, and has Chuck D, Kool G Rap and Biz Markie showing there’s no substitute for experience and a carefully sharpened stick in the mud that creditably, doesn’t ramble on.

In it to win it. Fake it til you make it. ‘Thieving as Long as I’m Breathing’. The world according to blasé boosters and old skool aestheticians Career Crooks, savvy Philly pair Zilla Rocca and Small Professor emptying a swag bag of doting remixes plus their own version of how to hold the hip-hop underground to ransom like gentlemen bandits. Do not be scared to check or scared to look. ‘Paranoid City’ by Isaac Roberts, previously known as Sleaze da Don, and Sonnyjim, is another to get repackaged by respectful well-wishers. Remixing new life into the pair’s doyens at the top table diary, Illinformed, Kelakovski, Smugii, Kosyne and the headliners themselves put up a very fine set of variations still keeping it tight knit.





Tom Caruana unveils volume six of his always exceptional ‘Rough Versions’ remix series with a collection of super funky Biggie revisions that elevate classics to new levels, made like the Son of Sam man was the real brains behind Bad Boy all along. The equally notorious David Begun is also at it again with a slice and dice job of Mobb Deep and Dr Octagon. Even if you think the format is tired (and there’s not much wrong when linking core QBC epitaphs to the ghoulish underground), the artwork alone to ‘Dr OctoMobb’ deserves a bony-fingered round of applause.





Bored of the World Cup? To finish, here’s the one man army that is Aesop Rock.




Matt Oliver

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ALBUM REVIEW/ WORDS: ANDREW HALL





Grimm Grimm   ‘Cliffhanger’   22nd June 2018, Some Other Planet Records

One of the first pieces of music to emerge from Cliffhanger – the second album written, performed and recorded by London-based, Tokyo-born Koichi Yamanoha under the name Grimm Grimm – was an improbable, near unrecognisable dream-folk cover of The Misfits’ ‘Hybrid Moments’. Perhaps it was the “you hide your looks behind these scars” line that drew Yamanoha in – a man not averse to concealing truthful details underneath swathes of admittedly beautiful reverb. His is a lulling, muzzy, muggy sound that aurally evokes a radiant sun’s attempts to burst through a crowd of trees, or to peer out from behind a man-made structure, as on the sleeve of debut album, Hazy Eyes Maybe.

Cliffhanger is less eccentric (there’s nothing as deliciously madcap as ‘Kazega Fuitara Sayonara’) and eclectic than its predecessor – a record that flitted between ancient-sounding folk (‘Hazy Eyes Maybe’), Paul McCartneyesque melodies (try singing the “soon, right away” line from ‘Ram On’ along to ‘Tell The Truth’), queasy space synths (‘Robert Downey Syndrome’), and knowingly trying and incessant metallic dins (‘Knowing’). It’s more of a piece, with undoubted moves towards greater clarity. ‘Take Me Down To Coney Island’ begins with Yamanoha struggling to make his wispy voice heard over the kind of cavernous, busily obtrusive church organ that virtually dares a music journalist not to use the term “sonic cathedrals of sound”, but reaches a clearing halfway through: its lumbering beat gives way, an ascending organ ushering in two blissful minutes of synth-y epiphany. The lyrical innocence and gorgeous, fluid guitar playing of ‘Ballad Of Cell Membrane’ (“open up your door”) and ‘Still Smiling’ recall the criminally underrated Avi Buffalo, while ‘Orange Coloured Anywhere’ is an inspired, Boards of Canada-style public information announcement. Yamanoha clearly doesn’t feel quite so compelled to lather other people’s voices in effects – on the splendid, unadorned title track, singer Dee Sada delivers lines like “I remember seeing your face in the haze” and “I saw your reflection in the night” with the wide-eyed wonder of Vashti Bunyan.

There’s always a danger that this style of music can drift into “indistinct”, and just a couple of moments bear this out – the moodily ambient ‘Afraid’ outstays its welcome, while the piano-led ‘Wheel’ feels too conventional and chipper in comparison to what surrounds it. ‘Shayou’ – complete with singing-saw synth work from Bo Ningen’s Kohhei Matsuda – closes the album out on a beatifically wonky note. “I believe that we are all born again and our lives are like episodes of intense blockbuster films,” Yamanoha has said in relation to Cliffhanger’s title. Many rapt listeners will keenly await the next instalment.

Andrew Hall




Quarterly Playlist 2018: Part Two: Choice tracks from the last three months.





Welcome to part two of the Monolith Cocktail’s carefully selected and put-together quarterly playlist revue of 2018. Featuring an eclectic mix of ‘choice’ new music, re-releases and recently dug-out nuggets, all released in the last three months of the year, the blog’s staff (well me, Dominic Valvona, and our resident hip-hop fanatic Matt Oliver) have, as usual, produced a lively, sometimes meditative, at times distressed and harrowing, playlist.

Twisted dark arts sit next to cosmic sounds from the Maghreb; peregrinations flow into more steely razor sharp post-punk; and key hip-hop pontifications go hand-in-hand with shoegaze and the psychedelic. But as always, the musical flow will take you to all the most interesting locations, and hopefully introduce you to something you’ve never heard before.


Tracklist in full:


London Plane  ‘New York Howl’  Review
Josh T. Pearson  ‘Straight To The Top!’  Review
The Seven Ups  ‘Stampede’
Homeboy Sandman & Edan  ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’  Review
Lee Scott & Jazz T  ‘What If Lee Was A Super Dope Rapper In 1988?’  Review
The Nonce  ‘Chocolate Cake’  Review
Warmduscher  ‘Standing On The Corner’
Samba Toure  ‘Yefara’  Review
The Turbans  ‘Zawi’  Review
David Dor  ‘Sapri Tama’
Hany Mehanna  ‘Mouna’
Bernard Estardy  ‘La Route Au Tabac’
The Magic City Trio  ‘Black Dog Following Me’  Review
Grimm Grimm  ‘Still Smiling’ Review
Black Light white Light  ‘Forward Backwards’  Review
Matt Finucane  ‘Damn Storyteller’  Review
Canshaker Pi  ‘Pressure From Above’
Ammar 808  ‘Bognga & Sandia’  Review
Shimshon Miel  ‘Amsterdam Experience’
The Mauskovic Dance Band  ‘The Opposite’
Black Thought  ‘9th vs. Thought’  Review
Pan Amsterdam  ‘The Lotion Song’  Review
Del The Funky Homosapien  ‘Humble Pie’  Review
Brownout  ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’
Dr. Octagon  ‘Operation Zero’  Review
Sad Man  ‘Parrot’  Review
Yonatan Gat  ‘Projections’  Review
Die Wilde Jagd  ‘2000 Elefanten’  Review
Elefant  ‘Norsun Muisti’  Review
Lucy Leave  ‘Look//Listen’  Review
Bas Jan  ‘Argument’
Sudan Archives  ‘Pay Attention’
Georgia Greene  ‘Lonely For You’
Evil Bone  ‘In Vain’  Review
The Bordellos  ‘Fading Honey’  Feat
Anton Barbeau  ‘Secretion Of The Wafer’  Review
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita  ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’  Review
Thomas Nation  ‘Hold My World’  Review
The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Consider Me’  Review
Alex Stolze  ‘Way Out’  Review
Crayola Lectern  ‘Rescue Mission’
Tanzania Albinism Collective  ‘Albino’
Spiritualized  ‘A Perfect Miracle’

LP REVIEW/ WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


Thomas Nation   ‘Battle Of The Grumbles’    Faith & Industry,   1st June 2018

Fixed intently on the current anguishes of identity in a post-Brexit voted England, yet bleaching his 1960s bucolic and 1970s lounge (erring towards yacht rock almost) imbued songbook with nostalgia, the lyrics themselves read as augurs yet embedded on parchment, Blue House front-man James Howard weaves a diaphanous if plaintively foreboding chronicle of the past and present.

Creating a whole new persona as Thomas Nation, his commitment to a hazy timeless sound, both rustic and ambitious, goes as far as using only his rough mono mixes; undeveloped and left in their most honest, purest form. You won’t be surprised to learn that Howard has also released his Nation debut, Battle Of The Grumbles, on cassette tape: A gimmick in keeping with the trend in recent years to find ever more physically tactile, nostalgic and unique ways to gain attention and appeal to (I assume, as we’re the largest consumers of it) a pre-internet generation (which means the majority of the population). Though never a fan of cassettes (recording quality and durability most importantly) this one has been put together neatly, sporting as it does just one of the many references to England’s ‘green and pleasant’ legacy with an anonymous, almost cartoonish (like a stagey Commodore 64 computer game cover), illustrated scene from the 16th century ‘Battle of the Spurs’ – when Imperial troops (that’s the Holy Roman Empire teaming up with England) under the command of our very own ol’ Henry VIII and Maximilian I won a victory at the siege of Thérouanne after seeing off an attack from the, enemies at the time, French cavalry. Just a minor skirmish in the convoluted drawn-out Italian Wars that dragged most of the Europe continent into a sectarian vortex of violence, Henry, still at this point very much the able warrior king of his burgeoning reign, but soon to split from the Catholic Church to found his own, fought as part of the Holy League against the papacy and France. Included I assume for its links to the catalytic moment when a schism emerged at the heart of Tudor period Europe, but also the start of that move towards a separate church, the Church Of England, the vestiges, icons and music of which permeate throughout this album.

Recorded we’re told in just over four days, earlier this year at the home studio of label-mate John Johanna (as an aside, his latest LP, I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes is brilliant and highly recommended) in Norfolk woodlands, Battle Of The Grumbles trembles and radiantly, if in a gauze-y veil, echoes the idyllic surroundings it was produced in. Intentionally achingly nostalgic, if resigned at the “unpleasant land” where “invasions seem to come from within”, Howard beautifully yearns like the Beta Band at the Tudor court and early Pink Floyd on the opening, sun-dappled parish orchid ballad ‘Turn And Face The Sea’. In a similar venerable setting ‘Hold My World’ merges a Reformation Popol Vuh with folk troubadour, and the chorister resonating ‘Tour Of The Grounds’ could be an English gospel version of The Byrds ‘The Christian Life’.

Changing the musical direction, ‘This Field’ features both a spoken word tour guide and Howard’s ghostly repeated chorus, wistfully making a point about heritage and ownership to a late 70s MOR like soft rock beat meets Aidan Moffat malady, whilst kooky subtle breaths of what sounds like synth, allude to White Town on the plucked ‘The Worry Men’. The grand finale, ‘Around The Corner And Down The Way’, is a hushed nine-minute poetically despondently opus rich in observational mini-dioramas of childhood experienced England and disillusion (“Fortune cookies that come free with the meal from The Dragon, hold a message that says: Believe that nothing is beyond your contempt whilst consider that everything is.”) that features wafting bending Harrison guitar lines, plucked from Polynesia, and again, that essence of country valley Englishness, a reverent COE of a stirring finish. This curtain call, with its repeating melancholic but beautifully cooed “times not on your side”, and almost evanescent follow on, “well not yet”, rings with certain hope that perhaps nothing is set in stone.

A gentle spirit, James Howard creates a pastoral nostalgic journey filled with augurs, despair and disillusion but always diaphanous. The first of what Howard hopes will be an annual ‘pilgrimage’, the Thomas Nation incarnation is a cerebral wonder through the essence of Englishness, questioning and probing the psyche as it meanders through the psychogeography and heart of the countryside.




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