MUSIC REVIEWS: Rob Swift, Blind Man’s Colour,The Silent League, Basia Bulat, Green Go, Philadelphia Slick, Hurricane Bells, Infected Mushroom
You’ll have to pardon my vernacular, but this shit is off the fucking chain. For those of you not familiar with DJ Rob Swift, he’s well known for his surgeon like ability to scratch, juggle, sample, and loop records. A true master of Turntablism, the art of turning one’s turntables into a musical instrument all their own. Once belonging to the legendary NYC hip-hop/scratch/DJ crew, the X-ecutioners and hailing from Queens, Swift has put out a plethora of albums during his solo career. While not exactly a concept album, the most recent offering is assuredly a journey through aural adventure, as The Architect sees the blending of his legendary hip-hop, funk, jazz, and Latin sensibilities with classical orchestra styling. Honestly, I felt as if I was being treated to a spooky, groovy, story of danger set to music while listening. One might even call it operatic.
Though only 35 minutes long, the careful placement of each track creates a tightly packed album. From “Overture” to “Introduction” on to “Intermission” and finally “Ultimo,” one can follow the progress of the story by sound alone, never getting tired of all the variety. This tale begins on an overcast rainy wind swept night as a lost soul searches for shelter. Somehow, they find their way to a foreboding gothic castle. The ancient cathedral like structure enchants and amazes, but we soon wake up to the fact that we’ve ended up in the shit of Castlevania, the den of Dracula.
Swift’s alter ego in this story as well as album title, The Architect shows neither protagonistic nor antagonistic tendencies, content to be the one pulling the strings. Wholly original while staying true to the multi-genre style that spawned both this artist and Turntablism itself, DJ Rob Swift drops amazing classical themed tracks mixed with sick hip-hop beats, a complete success.
Though I recommend you listen to the album as a whole, a few tracks demanded recognition. “Rabia 1st Movement” combines an unforgettable sample of strings and spooky phantom of the opera organ with deft scratching and layering. “Spartacuts” has flutes, horns and strings lifting in volume and expectation to a crashing crescendo that blasts you with a positively sick drum beat premiering Swift’s skills. More than the sum of its parts, The Architect is not to be missed.
Gauzy synth arpeggios greeted me upon the start of Wooden Blankets from Blind Man’s Colour. By the time the chirpy vocals entered, it really dawned on me – these guys sound a lot like Animal Collective. Maybe a lo-fi, more campfire-friendly version though. It’s hard not to make such comparisons during the sunny opener “Canoe Paddles,” which nicely breaks halfway through into mellow electric guitar strums.
But the just-out-of-high school duo of Kyle Wyss and Orhan Chettri offer plenty of dreamy goodness across these six tracks. Recorded entirely on a 4-track cassette recorder and using beginners’ keyboards, there’s charm to be found in the echoey vocals and vaguely 60’s pop chord progressions.
I can’t quite shake the Animal Collective similarities that pop up here and there (the last thing I’d want is another one of those), so I find the band’s strong suit is the more mellow spaced out psychedelic moments rather than the jumpy synth bits. Luckily, there’s the calm-inducing “Never Hope for Treasure” and the hauntingly alluring “Fantasy Coves” and “The Golden Lights.”
The druggy, amorphous keyboard chords and acoustic strumming of “Sleeping Bag” close the album in an appropriately swirly fashion while the mantra “It doesn’t even matter, Do you really think you’ll end up someplace better?” is repeated off into the distance.
If you’re into psych-folk or lo-fi electronic pop, you’ll probably enjoy Wooden Blankets on a shiny, warm summer’s day.
What attracted me to this album was the title, But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker. I had never heard The Silent League before and interesting titles always pull me in. If the word “caretaker” had a sound to it, it would probably be this album. Most of the songs are vibrant, but soft with humble words. They are a big band with many different instruments that all have a distinct place throughout the album. There are smatterings of songs that are just instrumental, but evenly placed as to be a refresher from the vocal music. The only aversion I have to the album is that I don’t find it memorable. I listened to it a number of times and it never stuck. I don’t think the album is meant to be sung but intensely listened to, and if you do not have the time to dedicate to it, all of its great attributes are lost. The album is deep and should be listened to with a good amount of attention.
Drums and an autoharp – an unlikely pairing in today’s world of electric overkill and post-production tweaks. Add a guitar, violin, and the occasional hammered dulcimer to the mix, and you’ve got an earthy, folky sound that has become a staple of Bulat’s sound. Bulat’s vocals are very strong but at times seem tremulous because of her signature vibrato, allowing her to subtly evoke every drop of emotion in the song. Not surprisingly, a lot of Heart Of My Own was written on the road, drawing influences from the Nevada desert, the Smoky Mountains, and the Yukon. Standout track “Gold Rush” whisks you away and almost sounds Celtic in its fevered tempo and busy barrage of strings. Added bonus: haunting track “Hush,” which features Bulat joined only by echoing hand and foot rhythms. Other highlights include “Sparrow,” “If Only You,” and “Run.” An extremely charming album, Bulat’s 2nd full length release reminds us to always stop and check out the scenery.
Ontario’s Green Go is a five-person electro-punk band whose principal aim seems to be getting you onto the dance floor for a long, sweaty night of gyrating. Their enthusiasm is evidenced by thick waves of synths propelled by driving percussion that borrows successfully from punk, new wave and disco, and vocals that often take the form of full-band chants and shouts. Opening track “Put On Your Specs Boy” explodes out of the gate with a fierce blast of churning grooves and echoing choruses led by dual vocalists Ferenc ‘Fez’ Stenton and Jessica Tollefsen that fuse together to make one excellent and infectious booty shaker sure to crowd the dance floor. Unfortunately this is the last exciting thing to be found on this EP. “Brains For Breakfast” sounds like something that might’ve been written by Arcade Fire’s less talented teenaged cousins and begins to expose the two biggest challenges to Green Go’s international party domination objective: lack of vitality in their hooks, and an almost complete absence of emotional depth in their lyrics. “Specs” disguises the second problem by not succumbing to the first problem, but the four-and-a-half minutes that drag along on “Watch Your Step”—while its dry, buzzing synth riff lays flat in front of a rhythm section that labors valiantly but in vain to revive it—expose the lyrics to closer inspection and begin to create a feeling of detachment. Partying is about celebration or escapism, and vital to these is the construction of a mood or scene to get lost in. Green Go never quite gets there. The atmospheric haze of “Ghosts of the Future” almost does, mostly on the strength of bassist Kyle Squance and drummers Mark Andrade and Adam Scott. But ultimately the fun ends just when it seemed to be getting started.
In the tradition of The Roots in the mid-nineties, Philadelphia Slick is a live hip hop band trying to garner widespread attention. The band includes emcees Noesis and Mike Tjader; drummer and producer El Smooth; keyboardist, Marc Kaplan; bassist, Mike Palinsky; vocalist Jenn Z, and Matt Schwartz and Adam Hersh on horns, sometimes. Speaking on a cornucopia of subjects (coffee, food, mortality, and the military) Philly Slick challenges the status quo on Oil, not unlike Mos Def or Aesop Rock.
Clever lines blended with smooth instruments brings “Turn It Up” to play; however, it’s “Hunt V. Kill” that showcases their strapping views on the seek-and-destroy mentality – be it in the forest, on the streets or in the military. As a military veteran, I was sort of torn with the Air Force PSA at the end. However, the complex lyricism pulls it all together.
In addition to the lead single, “Gonna Get Over,” there are many standouts: “Poets Write Killers,” “Grind Anthem,” “I Do Love,” “Ignition” and “New Sun.” Overall, Oil is intelligent hip hop with catchy hooks, ample horns and warm vocals. Much respect.
Tonight Is The Ghost, the debut album by Brooklyn’s Hurricane Bells, is definitely not going to be considered the feel-good release of the year, but I imagine that was one of it’s goals anyway. The ten song offering was completely conceived and performed by Steve Schiltz–longtime frontman/guitarist for indie-rock favorites, Longwave. Tonight Is The Ghost maintains some of the same feel as Schiltz’s previous work but is, dare I say, even gloomier. Not one for overly complicated compositions, Schiltz’s Hurricane Bells is even more stripped down. The mood is there but not as much is going on.
Energy wise, it’s definitely more laid back. Now, while Schiltz isn’t exactly known for cranking out hard rocking anthems, the lack of a full band eliminates that force a complete ensemble brings by working off of each other’s strengths. Even the quietest of songs can be a steamroller if you can feel how much power is in each note and that kind of magic doesn’t always come across on solo projects.
Fans of Longwave will probably come to enjoy Hurricane Bells as well, as long as they don’t expect the exact same sound. Tonight Is The Ghost doesn’t cover much new ground but it’s still capable of finding a warm and cozy spot in your rainy day.
Trippy heavy metal? Yes it’s a mouthful, but there’s nothing simple about progressive psytrance group Infected Mushroom, which is proven in their latest release, The Legend of the Black Shawarma. Since they made their debut with The Gathering in 1999, Infected Mushroom began performing in sold-out venues throughout Los Angeles, all thanks to a cult-like following that many emerging DJs could only dream of. With all things pop now ruling nightclubs, spin masters are becoming today’s rock stars. However, could an unlikely union of electronic beats and rock from Israeli artists succeed? The group gives a hell yeah with their seventh studio album, leaving fans and curious listeners alike with a case of the munchies.
While some may assume that Infected Mushroom’s Amit Duvedevani and Erez Eisen must have been smoking something to produce their signature down-the-rabbit-hole sounds, The Legend of the Black Shawarma is a musical buffet of influences that have shaped them over the years. In “Sa’eed” Infected Mushroom takes everything you’ve thought about spinning and amplifies it with explosive, tribal skin drums, angry guitar riffs, and haunting chants warning of an impending doom set to take over a strange world where music is one’s only life support. “Smashing the Opponent” features Korn’s front man Jonathan Davis where he tones down his homicidal rage. Surprising enough, this is a weak track due to letting Davis, a mainstream artist, dominate their massive hooks that one would prefer.
The Legend of the Black Shawarma does highlight feel-good metal that could easily conquer a packed arena. “Herbert the Pervert” is a sinister single that one would expect during the beginning of a blood bath. The powerful guitar riffs perfectly pair with dark, hallucinogenic synthesizers, getting bodies hitting the floor. Infected Mushroom has listeners under their spell and we don’t want them to let go. “Project 100” is more intense with sudden break beats fueling our frustration for more, along with operatic howls and seductive Middle Eastern influences attacking sci-fi monstrosities. Then there’s the remix of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” breathing new life into a timeless classic. The shamanistic hymn of a “killer on the road” becomes a theatrical cautionary tale. It’s a beautifully haunting, fitting tribute, all while proving to doubtful critics that they can still feed their fans what they crave with impressive results. Infected Mushroom’s black sharwarma is a treat that won’t go bad anytime soon.