Monday, January 4, 2016

My Favorite Music of 2015

Hello, faithful readers. Sorry I've kept you waiting. Working the midnight shift, for a person who requires routine and set schedules like myself, requires mostly maintaining that schedule on my nights off, and staying up all night just doesn't seem to lend itself to productivity. For one, the gravity increases greatly between midnight and dawn. I often find myself feeling as though I'm riding the Gravitron, completely pinned down by unseen forces, but thankfully in my Gravitron there's a couch. And instead of hair metal videos on the TV, there's football highlights and Madden. So some facets of my life, like my schedule and the end of my corresponding second run through college, changed a lot in 2015, while others didn't, like my need to always dig for new music and attempt to turn people on to it. Overall, 2015 was not a stellar year for music from my vantage point, but there are still plenty of releases worthy of your attention. 

Now, before we get to the countdown, I feel the need to restate the purpose and intent of this blog. This is really not meant for public consumption, although I appreciate every random reader from across the globe. The intended audience for this, which informs the way I write and describe/compare the music, is the friends I’ve accumulated in my 36 years with whom I’ve shared mutual enjoyment of music in the past, and it’s my desire to foster or rekindle that facet of those relationships.

Once again I did quarterly blogs last year so my readers could better keep up with new stuff throughout the year rather than being barraged at the end. Accordingly, I’m not doing an Honorable Mentions section this year because pretty much everything that was covered in those blogs but isn’t included here should be considered an Honorable Mention.

And finally, let me state for the record up front that I don’t care when it came out. This is my list, and it’s called “My Favorite”, not the more pompous “Best of”, so your end-of-year list rules do not apply. If it did not enter my awareness until 2015, it’s eligible. Also, I don’t care if it’s a mixtape or an official album. Both make the cut.

OK, let's hurry up and get on with it before your relatives elect Trump and everybody burns in hell.

EP’s/7”s/Singles


10. The Regiment & Sinitus Tempo – S.O.U.L.


I'm officially ready to declare it. After checking out recent albums by NY artists like Jadakiss and Dave East along with the many releases by artists from my home state, it's readily apparent that 2015 was the year that Detroit officially became the new capital of the boom-bap. The Regiment has been up and down for me throughout their career, but this collabo with relative unknown Sinitus Tempo is some of their best work. There are a couple songs I can love without, but the other four are strong, mainly due to the healthy helping of jazz in the mix.


9. Denmark Vessey – Martin Lucid Dream


Here's Exhibit B for Detroit's case. I became aware of this dude in early 2015 due to a recent repress of his previous effort, which made for a somewhat confusing but ultimately enjoyable introduction to Mr. Vessey. He's definitely a quirky dude, and he reminds me of Sean Price in the sense that he's always inserting clever shit into his rhymes that would easily sound like some ig'nant pimp/ho/thug shit to the unassuming listener. In this manner, he intrigues both the critical listener and the bonehead, which can be an advantageous position in hip-hop. Effectively posing the question to himself (as I'm sure he's heard in interviews) "Are you a conscious rapper?", he replies, "Uhhhhhh....I know where I'm at". However, it's obvious that he has a bent toward social commentary, albeit strained though his somewhat jarring pimp-ish drawl. If the title of this EP doesn't indicate that, his lampooning of Big Pharma TV ads with the refrain of "Bitch, I sell dope!" in "Don't Smoke K2" (see video link) should properly demonstrate it. The off-kilter dusty sample-based boom-bap present on  most songs provides an appealing backdrop for it all.

8. Breaking Tradition – Vanity


In my 2nd Quarter blog for last year, I highlighted an album by the band Sleep In (you'll be seeing that later). I subsequently ordered the LP from their label, Hideaway Records, and when the package arrived this CD was included for free. Now, normally when I receive a free piece of music in a package, I assume it probably sucks. Sometimes I don't even bother listening. In this instance, I'm very very glad I did. It's not often I just throw something on and have it fit my tastes almost perfectly. The closest approximations I could make to bands you may know would be Pentimento (before they became Pentiment-slow), The Beautiful Mistake (second album, without the screaming), The Felix Culpa (first album, before the prog seeped in), and some traces of early Taking Back Sunday sprinkled about. I don't really have a favorite track, but be advised the first one is more of slow intro and the EP really gets kicked off on the second song.


7. Sore Eyelids – For Now


These Swedes blend straightforward midwest emo with shoegaze and a dash of melodic punk, and after following them loosely for a few years, I think they've finally hit stride with this EP. Don't worry, xenophobes, they sing in English and there's not much accent to be detected. I don't really have a favorite off this, but "Waste" is probably a good representation. Also, if you ever liked The Beautiful Mistake, check out 
this cover I just found. Pretty cool.


6. Reservoir – Cicurina, Vol. 1


I had the pleasure of seeing these guys play their moody midwest emo in a basement in Lansing a couple years ago, and they absolutely slayed and made me a much bigger fan. Sadly, I feel their recorded content has always failed to capture that extra oomph they have live, but this EP is the closest they've come yet. Check the build and payoff on opener "Breathe Disaster" to see what I mean. How they still manage to fly so far under the emo radar is beyond me. They're doing it how it should be done, and have been doing so for years. In the words of immortal idiot Daniel Carver (major NSFW!), "wake up, white people!"


5. Great Lakes USA - Stumblin' Distance


As Brooklyn MC duo M.O.P. once said, "how about some hardcore?", specifically that of the melodic type. I had remarked previously how this band fondly reminded me of No Trigger in spots. Well, lo and behold, I found out one of the guitarists is (was?) in No Trigger, so now it all makes sense. If you like bands like NT and Strike Anywhere, give this short EP a spin. I can't imagine you'll regret it.


4. Iron Chic - two 7"s



This band is easily one of the most consistent and dependable in punk rock for this decade. The four non-cover songs are evenly distributed between the two records, a split with Low Culture (I'll just be nice and say this rating does not consider their contributions) and the Australia exclusive Ys 7", and they do a good job covering the band's spectrum of sounds. "L'esprit de L'escalier" is a lightning fast ripper, while "Subhumanoid Meltdown" is one of my favorite mid-tempo tracks of theirs. Both songs on the Ys 7" are also more-than-worthy additions to their catalog.

3. Wince – Media Prayer


I know next to nothing about this band, but I really love the way they mash together melodic hardcore, post-hardcore, and punk rock, bringing to mind bands like No Use For A Name, Heartsounds, This Is A Standoff, Implants, early Crime In Stereo, and Staring Back. The first and last songs on this 3-song dick-tease of an EP are both 4-star caliber, but unfortunately you can only hear one song at the Bandcamp link below currently. If you're willing to do some potentially harmful, nimble clicking, try this.


2. Red Pill – Day Drunk


I probably wasn't complementary enough to this dude when I spotlighted his full-length (see below) in my 2nd quarter update. He's an expert at dark, introspective yet relatable rhymes that paint a vivid picture of his life as he sees it. Once again, the leadoff track is probably my least favorite, with its questionable chorus and despite his lines about being "too emo for the Preemo kids" and vice versa. Gotta admit I geeked out a little over that, as I know of only a few people on this earth, all whom I call my friends, who were into both emo and Preemo in the 90's. What an exclusive loser club that is, and I'm damn proud of it. Anyway, this EP is a logical progression from the LP, and he finally gets to try his hand at the proverbial happy song, the title track (see video link). I'd say it turns out pretty well, but then again I'm biased considering I grew up loving Michigan falls like Mr. Pill does.


1. Prawn & Moving Mountains – split 12"


I can't properly express the joy and hope I felt when I heard that not only were Moving Mountains recording again (after going on hiatus following their self-titled album), but they would be doing so in the form of a split with perhaps my favorite band of the last five years, the venerable Prawn. I was a bit apprehensive when I read that uber-producer of the punk/indie/emo/kidswhoworshipKurtCobain scene, Will Yip, would be producing Prawn's tracks instead of MovMou vocalist Greg Dunn, who'd done smash-up work on Prawn's back catalog. However, those fears were vanquished beyond all recognition. I mean, the MovMou songs are good, following along the same sonic trajectory as the self-titled LP and featuring a strong string section presence, but the Prawn songs are absolutely stupendous. "Seas" is undoubtedly my song of the year, and "Slopes" is no slouch either. Hurry up and hear this. Not now but right now.


LP’s/Full-lengths

15. Sleep In. – Settling


I really screwed up when I missed this record's arrival in 2014. It has a couple skip-worthy songs but many strong ones with memorable choruses aplenty, and I've chosen to listen to it at work more than anything else. It should please anyone who enjoys both the poppier side of 90's emo and Third Eye Blind's self-titled album.


14. Ray West & Kool Keith – A Couple of Slices


Here's a late-year entry from the king of talking shit, in more & weirder ways than anyone besides him could imagine. Between this LP and the one he did with L'Orange, Keith returned in a major way in 2015 from the abyss of shit production he had been mired in for years. On top of that, the L'Orange record had Keith confined to the space/time traveler concept, whereas here he goes after nobody in particular like only he can, over sublime minimalist (often snare-less) production from Ray West. The outcome is probably the best record Keith has made since Matthew.


13. Paper Arms – Great Mistakes


You kids should know by now that this is my bread and butter. Gravelly, gritty yet melodic vocals and driving, tight rhythms comprising post-hardcore with punk flourishes. They've gotten a little better with each release, and this one features the best song they've ever written,"Fader". While there are a couple tracks trending toward the Nirvana-ish sound of bands like Daylight/Superheaven (yeah, they're called that now), these Aussie boys still remain largely on track and have created another very enjoyable listen for fans of this style.


12. EdO. G. & Street Wyze – Afterwords


Boston's own EdO came back to grace us with more dopeness for 2015 by teaming up with French label Effiscienz. He has become easily one of the most consistent and dependable veterans in the game today (well, except for the inexplicably sub-par A&E collaboration he's done with the also usually dependable Masta Ace...it's like if the mighty mechanical lions somehow formed an incontinent hobo instead of Voltron). I can't blame him for going with an overseas label to put this out, especially considering how much more appreciative of true hip-hop western Europeans are than Americans. All songs here are produced by duo Street Wyze (with killer cuts by DJ Djaz on many tracks), who provided EdO with a very consistent boom-bap backdrop that has only a couple minor clunkers. Accordingly, I don't necessarily have any favorites here.


11. First Division – Overworked & Underpaid


I like this Canadian duo's style more with every time I listen to this one. They obviously grew up worshiping all the same 90's/early 00's boom-bap that shaped my tastes, and they manage to get some of Marco Polo's best beats as well as an absolute neckbreaker from DJ Premier (see video link). There are a few OK tracks, but more than enough great ones to push the balance to this being a borderline great album. Besides the Preemo banger, check out "Brand Recognition", "No Nonsense", and "The Bigger Picture". I look forward to hopefully purchasing this wax soon.

Video

10. Spraynard – Mable


These guys put out my #3 favorite LP of 2011, the inappropriately named Funtitled (they're not the goofy band that might imply), so I was glad to hear they were coming back from being broken up, albeit with only 2/3 of the original group. Any fans of their later pre-breakup material should be pleased with this. It's wonderfully earnest basement-style (as opposed to polished) mid-tempo pop-punk with a twist of midwestern emo. I love the way the dude addresses people in his lyrics. He seems like a real swell guy. I'm sure he wants you to like his music, and so do I. Please, do enjoy it. Favorite tracks are “Applebee’s Bar” (see video), “Medicine”, and “Everywhere”. The choruses are the kind I love to have stuck in my head.


9. Knuckle Puck – Copacetic


For my tastes, this young group on the quick come-up has been a slightly above average pop-punk band prior to this, but nothing they did really got me "into it". This, their debut full-length following a few EPs and 7"s, shows a more developed approach and a greater range of influences, which still mostly stay under the umbrella of bands/sounds I like (check the unmistakable ode to Jimmy Eat World's "Goodbye Sky Harbor" on the last track, "Untitled"). This baby has really grown on me over the past few months, enough that I wish the vinyl weren’t getting negative reviews for sound quality because I’d like to have a copy. Catchiness and energy abound without too much cheese or color-by-numbers pop elements, and the end result is a damn good album (some of my friends would call that a gross understatement) that has me paying MUCH closer attention to what they’ll be up to next. I’d also like to catch them live after seeing them whip the crowd into an absolute frenzy at Bled Fest but not especially appreciating their music at the time. "True Contrite" (see the first video link) is probably my favorite track.

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8. Joey Bada$$ – B4.Da.$$


Here we have the long awaited and much hyped debut from the prodigal son and leader of the PRO ERA crew, who represent the youthful revival that the boom-bap world has desperately needed (or so I thought when I originally wrote this one…it turns out CJ Fly and Joey are the only ones really holding it down, while guys like Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight have ben enormously disappointing on their own). While I think this kid has enough talent and an ear for beats that could've made this even better, it's still a great album. When he makes Gang Starr references like "things get severe for everybody everywhere/this my moment of truth right here" and shouts out my favorite album of all time, I swell with hope for the future. Those lines are indicative of a wisdom in his lyrics that belies his age, and that gives me hope that he can maintain his popularity without "playing (him)self to have mass appeal" as Guru once stated. My favorite tracks here are the DJ Premier-produced "Paper Trail$", "Save The Children" (compliments of another killer Statik Selektah beat), "Piece of Mind", "No. 99" (a fantastic re-appropriation of the vibe of ATCQ's "Scenario"), and "Hazeus View". My only real complaint is that this album is grossly top-heavy, but that's not a big bitch at all. There is still a ton of room for improvement, and I hope he realizes his potential without caving to the pressure to make his music more trendy.

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7. Banquets – Spit At the Sun


This is a sad state of affairs. After blowing me away with their self-titled album in 2013 (my #2 LP for that year), they decided to call it quits after recording one more album and playing a few last shows. I deeply regret not being able to make it to their house show nearby a couple summers ago, as I will probably never get to see them. Thankfully they didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken, and this fantastic album of punk- pop-tinged rock follows largely in the footsteps of its lauded predecessor, with enough flourishes to make it its own beast. Good luck ever getting “Lucky Lighter” out of your head after you’ve heard it. “No Rome”, “Stop Signs In A Ghost Town” and “Backwash” are also highlights.


6. Gatherers – Quiet World


Leadoff track “God Deluxe” (see video #1) is the type of opener that just bowls the listener over from jump, with frenetic, amazing drumming, ominous rattling bass lines, crushing yet beautiful guitars, and emphatically urgent shouted/screamed vocals. Did I mention the drumming? No, really, guys. The drumming on this album is something that must not go unappreciated. This dude absolutely kills it all the time. And I don’t mean he’s just constantly going ape shit. I mean that he always seems to keep it interesting, even throwing cool shit into slow parts. And some of the fills almost piss me off out of jealousy because they’re so perfect. There’s not a clunker song to be found here either. This is another one I need to get on wax STAT.

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5. Kenn Starr – Square One


Here's yet another Mello Music Group MC worth your time. He hasn't put out an album in 9 fucking years, so this is a welcome return. His crewmate Kev Brown provides some great instrumentals, and Black Milk comes through a few times as well. "Game To Deliver", "Product of the Basement (Remix)", "Lesson A", and "The Movement II" are all standouts. Don't pass this one up, boom-bap heads.


4. Tommy Boys – Tommy Boys



The most egregious music-related mistake I made in 2015 was not arriving at the Such Gold show early enough to catch these dudes’ set. I errantly assumed the unimpressive name predicted their suckage, but I could not have been more wrong. Add them to the list of bands I’ll never get to see, as they broke up not long after that tour. It’s such a shame, because “21 Reruns” is perhaps the best emo-math-pop-rock song I’ve ever heard. No bullshit. If you like that track, you’ll dig the rest of the album, and if you don’t, well, I feel sorry for you.

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3. Red Pill – Look What This World Did To Us


I’ve already touched a bit on Red Pill’s appeal above with the EP, and this album from earlier in the year is where my love for his music really fell into place. The production is almost never the type of boom-bap that I typically enjoy most, but it’s still mostly good to great and even interesting (in the best way possible) at times. The rhymes show tons of effort and thought, with plenty of earnestness and clever observations/metaphors/similes sprinkled about. While the “woe is me” album title can make him seem like a hip-hop Eeyore, the stories and sentiments he relates give a more proper context to that sentiment. While I sort of dislike “Meh”, especially for an opener, others like “Rum & Coke”, “Blus”, “Leonard Letdown”, and “Kids” more than make up for it.

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2. Awon & Phoniks – Knowledge of Self



Sometimes it doesn’t do much justice to a great album to talk about it. You just have to listen. Producer Phoniks provides a near perfect jazzy boom-bap backdrop for Awon & a few guests to drop knowledge over, and the result is my favorite hip-hop project of the year. Go listen to “Summer Madness”, “Concrete Confessions”, “Silent Soldiers”, “Gifted Unlimited”, “Reflections”, and “Be Real” right now. You’ll wish you had less fun.


1. Strung Out – Transmission Alpha Delta


Again, I can’t say too much that isn’t better said by the album itself while listening to it. It’s a full-on Kirk Gibson out of the park home run. These elder statesmen of punk rock will still occasionally make you recall images of leather and coiffed, endlessly sprayed hair with the occasional guitar solo (they really need to get a CC DeVille guest solo before he kicks the bucket…no seriously, he’s still alive), but the musicianship is always top notch regardless. As always they provide plenty of catchy hooks as well as light-speed shred parts where the drums truly shine. Dude is a monster. “Rebellion of the Snakes” and “No Apologies” are tops, but “Modern Drugs” (see video), “Noweheresville”, “Black Maps”, and “Magnolia” are all strong as well. Here’s to old men never slowing down!


Well, there we have it, folks. There are probably a couple other releases from the last few months that should get a mention, so I may return before late March/early April with a short update. But otherwise I’m very stoked for much new music in 2016, including (what I can think of off the top of my head) Vasudeva, TTNG, anything else Phoniks does, A Wilhelm Scream, something from Such Gold (has to be, the dirty fuckers didn’t even put out a 7” in 2015), the Prhyme reboot, Kool Keith hopefully staying on track now, DOOMStarks, Hum’s “Downward Is Heavenward” vinyl reissue, and Moneen’s “Are We Really…” finally being pressed to wax. I hope you’re all enjoying a happy, healthy 2016 so far. Get at me and let me know what you think. Rock over London, rock on, Chicago. JG Wentworth, call 877-CASH-NOW.




Saturday, October 24, 2015

Music Worth Checking Out: 3rd Quarter 2015

Welcome back, kids. I'm a little late again, but between the incredible Upper Peninsula hiking trip I took at the beginning of the month (and the exhaustive write-up I did on it) and not quite being able to figure out how to be productive while living a nocturnal lifestyle yet (I work midnights, 9p-7a, four 10s for the foreseeable future), I have some pretty legitimate excuses.  But who cares about excuses? You came here for music. 

Before we get to that, it's standard disclaimer time: This blog is really not meant for public consumption, although I appreciate every random reader from across the globe. The intended audience for this, which informs the way I write and describe/compare the music, is composed of the friends I’ve accumulated in my life with whom I’ve shared mutual enjoyment of music in the past. My purpose here is to attempt to foster or rekindle that facet of those relationships. Still, thanks for reading, whoever and wherever you are. Also, it doesn't matter whether it came out in 1997 or 2015. If I found out about it recently and I like it, I'll include it here.

Breaking Tradition - Vanity




In my last blog, I highlighted an album by the band Sleep In (which I'm really digging and will likely make my top 10 for this year). I subsequently ordered the LP from their label, Hideaway Records, and when the package arrived this CD was included for free. Now, normally when I receive a free piece of music in a package, I assume it probably sucks. Sometimes I don't even bother listening. In this instance, I'm very very glad I did (for reasons other than verifying my CD changer still works for the first time in months). The closest approximations I could make to bands you may know would be Pentimento, The Beautiful Mistake (second album, without the screaming), The Felix Culpa (first album, before the prog seeped in), and some traces of early Taking Back Sunday sprinkled about. I don't really have a favorite track yet, but be advised the first one is more of slow intro and the EP really gets kicked off on the second song.

Listen


Great Lakes USA - Stumbling Distance




Are you guys sick of waiting 6 years between No Trigger albums like I am? Do you love some raspy-voiced melodic hardcore with plenty of energy? Well then tide yourself over with some GLUSA. This one leads off in the complete opposite way compared to Breaking Tradition, as the first song leans far more toward being a hardcore track than the rest of the EP. Accordingly, you may want to start at track #2. Again, no favorites here, so just let the fucker ride. Feel free to beat me to checking out their older stuff too. Let me know how it is.

Listen


Knuckle Puck - Copacetic


For my tastes, this young group on the quick come-up has been a slightly above average pop-punk band prior to this, but nothing they did really got me "into it". This, their debut full-length following a few EPs and 7"s, shows a more developed approach and a greater range of influences, which still mostly stay under the umbrella of bands/sounds I like (check the unmistakable ode to Jimmy Eat World's "Goodbye Sky Harbor" on the last track, "Untitled"). Catchiness and energy abound without too much cheese or color-by-numbers pop elements, and the end result is a damn good album (some of my friends would call that a gross understatement) which has me paying attention much closer than before to these whippersnappers. "True Contrite" (see the first video link) is probably my favorite track. Also, I recently found out I'm not the only one who thinks the backup singer guy sounds exactly like former Transit/Sleepsick/The Weeds guitarist Joe Lacy on Keep This To Yourself. The resemblance is uncanny.

Listen
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Choke Up - Black Coffee, Bad Habits


I once ventured into a dirty punk rock basement in Grand Rapids to see Prawn bring down the house (no seriously, they blew the fuses three times during their set), and I arrived with about 1.5 songs left in the preceding band's set. I was taken aback at how much I enjoyed that 5+ minutes and made a mental note to figure out who they were and check out their stuff. Fast forward months upon months and I've finally made good on that notion. The way these guys seamlessly integrate melodic hardcore (their double-time stuff rages), post-hardcore, more straight ahead rock, and gut-wrenching (in an energetic, driving way, not a sad, overwrought way) emo into this album is pretty remarkable. Once the opening song kicks in, you should know within the next 30 seconds if this album is for you.

Listen


Gatherers - Quiet World



These young New Jersey chaps (formerly named "Gatherer" for their previous album...maybe someone else had that copyrighted?) play an alternately pummeling and melodic form of post-hardcore with mostly shouted/screamed vocals. The drummer constantly keeps it interesting in the same vein as, say, Crash of Rhinos, and the guitar work seems pretty intricate (and even incorporates some welcome post-rock elements in small parts). So despite the vocal styling not being my favorite, this is still a full win from front to back for me. The opener "God Deluxe" (see second video link) is an absolute ripper and will convince you immediately whether you're going to like this or not.

Listen
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Wince - Media Prayer


This one came to me via a Facebook recommendation post from Such Gold, and their bandcamp page accurately describes them as "an amalgamation of all things under the 'punk rock' umbrella". So if you like most things under said umbrella like I do, then you should find something to dig in this 3-song, 11-minute EP. 

Listen

First Division - Overworked and Underpaid




Want to hear a couple Canadian crackers do justice to one of DJ Premier's best beats of the last 5 years? Of course you do. Click the video link below. Naturally it's the best song on the album, but the rest of it is solid to really good. "Stand Down" is quite funky thanks to Marco Polo production, and "Grind State" features Kev Brown on both the hook and beat. They really pay homage to their influences, the same artists who shaped my tastes, and otherwise generally embody what I think of when I hear the phrase "how hip-hop should be". See how many historical hip-hop references you can pick out when they pay respect to the "greatest rap duos to date" on "Like This".

Listen

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Illah Dayz - The Illahstrator




When I was a teenager forming my tastes in hip-hop there wasn't much coming out of the Detroit scene until Slum Village came along. Thinking back to that period, it's cool to know that 20 years later, I'm able to feature one quality hip-hop record after another from Detroit artists in this blog. I won't tell you that this dude breaks any new ground with the rhymes, but he has a solid style and comes off with a very enjoyable album thanks to plenty of help from his buddy, my favorite Wu-Tang fam producer of the new millenium, Bronze Nazareth. Bronze's protege Kevlaar 7 (R.I.P.) also provides some killer production. Especially good tracks include "Brother In Law" and "Obvious Destiny". As with most hip-hop records, skip the intro. Also, if you're a fan of Bronze or Killarmy, you'll probably want to give Dom Pachino's latest a listen, as it was entirely produced by Bronze, though the results are not as good as this.

Listen

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Sean Price - Songs In The Key of Price


Beware that there are two versions of this mixtape, which is the last release ever to bear the stamp of approval from Mr. Price himself due to his passing earlier this year. He will be sorely missed, though I know there will be at least 3-4 posthumous hodgepodge releases that will be thrown together in his name. Anyway, the iTunes version is something like 8 songs due to sample clearance issues apparently, but the CD version has 30 tracks. I have no idea why the disparity, but obviously the full version has many more P! highlights, such as "Orange Box Cutter" and "Figure More" (see video below). Rest in P!eace, sir.

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Finale - Odds & Ends



Here's one of my favorite Detroit artists with an album produced entirely by Mello Music Group's best producer, Oddisee. (An argument could certainly be made for Kev Brown, who makes less stuff I don't like than Oddisee, but the latter's ceiling is higher than the former's.) Accordingly, it's almost wall-to-wall enjoyable. My highlight here is "Perseverance".

Listen


L'Orange & Kool Keith - Time? Astonishing!



If you haven't heard the two records that define Keith's solo career in my opinion, the wonderfully odd, perversely clever Dr. Octagon project Dr. Octangonecolygist and the Dr. Dooom album First Come, First Served (featuring the greatest cover art known to man), please do yourself a favor and jump on that. His group Masters of Illusion and the Black Elvis album were a distant third and fourth to those, and pretty much everything else has ranged from a mixed bag all the way down to complete and utter garbage. Thanks to Mello Music Group and Nashville-based (whaaa??) boom-bap producer L'Orange, we can now hear Keith and a bevy of his guests over straight kicks and snares again. The results are probably not quite what you'd hope, as Keith doesn't get as disturbingly/entertainingly weird as he did 20 years ago, but nonetheless it's good to hear him over production that doesn't make you want to shove a screwdriver in your ear to make it stop. It's a pretty even album throughout, so give it a spin already.

Listen


Beyond that, here's a quick rundown of other stuff I checked out, in no particular order. Kalamazoo has been holding a quality hip-hop secret for a while in the form of the group Dezert Eez, whose newest album is pretty uneven but also has some real high points, like tracks "Gravity" and "Winter Fresh (Snow)". Timing Is Everything is another uneven hip-hop album with some real high points thanks to production from the likes of DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, and Amp despite King Magnetic being a total dirtbag drain on society (judging by his skits especially). Check "Status" (Premo), "Believe" (9th), and "Up & Down" (don't mind the stupid corny low-voice chorus...leave that to those A$AP douchebags, dude). Big Awesome, makers of my #2 favorite EP of 2013, finally put out a full length that's pretty good but sadly not spectacular called "Party On". It's got an emo/punk base but has a straight-ahead rock feel to it at times. If you liked their other stuff, definitely check it out. Pentimento put out a decent 7" teaser as a prelude to their new LP (will it make the year-end list? I haven't listened yet). Apollo Brown did a full-length album featuring a slew of great guest MCs, but his production is just SO monotonous sometimes. It's like he has some hang-up with the melodic notes having to be right on repeating 1/4 or 1/8 notes relative to the snare beat, and the tempos and drum beats are the exact same way too often. That said, it's all boom-bap, and there are definitely some good tracks like "Radio (ft. Evidence)" and "Money (ft. Masta Ace & Wordsworth)". I just wish he'd change it up like he had to for Ghostface's Twelve Reasons To Die remix, where he was given the a capellas and had to construct instrumentals around them. I think that forced him out of the box he likes to stay in and is by far my favorite project of his. And finally, Erick Sermon put out his first album in 11 years, and guess what? He still doesn't care how shitty his lyrics are, and he'll still follow any awful trend to try to be relevant to the lemmings, but his new E.S.P. album is noteworthy for featuring Redman & Method Man over the best production either has had in years on "Clutch".

Well, that's all she wrote for this time around, kids. Come back in early January for my year-end list. And as always, thanks for reading, and let me know if you like any of this stuff. Take care, brush ya hair.