Sunday, July 3, 2016

Music Worth Checking Out: 2nd Quarter 2016

Gather 'round, kids. Thanks for stopping by yet again. Boy oh boy am I excited to tell you about some of the records that have first graced my hairy old ears in the last 3 months. Let's just right to it, after this message from our sponsor.

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 2016. If I found out about it recently and I like it, I'll include it here.

Luca Brasi - If This Is All We're Going To Be

I continue to be in love with the previous full-length by these lads from Tasmania , and this one is exactly the step-up I hoped for. They blend punk, post-hardcore, emo, and straight-ahead rock with that worn-but-still-fighting feel I adore. The raw passion just oozes (consequently it looks like they slay live), and "Count Me Out" is a candidate for best album closer in a long time. I also love "Aeroplane", "Say It Back", and "The Cascade Blues". I really think the honorable Small Brown Bike is a good approximation of their vibe, much more so in the Nail Yourself... through Fell & Found era than the early stuff. I also hear echoes of Transit and Dikembe in parts. I've probably listened to this 30 times and I'm still loving it more with each rotation. Dude's earnestness just really appeals to me.


Counterpunch - Bruises

Somehow these Chicago skate-punk vets escaped my attention until now (shame on you, friends who were already aware), and their latest, this 2014 effort, is a blistering smorgasbord of metal-tinged skate-punk. They're on the label owned by NOFX's El Hefe, and they're obviously heavily influenced by the Fat sound, especially Strung Out. "Young and Entitled" stood out most to me on the first listen.


Belvedere - Revenge of the Fifth

These old dudes recently reunited, and I now regret not giving them more of a shot in their original incarnation because this is damn good. They also compose punk rock tunes in the skate/metal vein, and I also haven't had too much time to get familiar with this. I do know singer dude spent time between runs with this band in This Is A Standoff (favorite tune), which may interest some of you.


Worship This! - Mint

There's no reinventing of the wheel on the second album from these beard-punk/post-hardcore/emo codgers from Akron, but if you like that sort of stuff, you'll find a succinct and enjoyable 10-song album here. I haven't picked any favorites yet, but I didn't delete any songs either. I'm planning on picking up the wax from A-F Records at some point this year.


Sport - Slow

The vibe is quite similar with Sport but leans more in the emo direction. Their previous album was one of my favorites of 2014 (#5 to be exact) and had a couple 5-star songs. They almost broke up, but found their mojo again during what supposed to be the final tour, and this is the result. It's consistent and solid, but it's not as dynamic as I was hoping for. Accordingly, I'd say you can't go wrong picking almost any song, except "Leaves", which has no percussion and therefore bores me.


Shitty Neighbors - Better Now

Let's keep the punk rock flowing as we turn our ears toward Toledo and enjoy this fantastic cover art. This one's an EP that came into my awareness thanks to Worship This shouting them out after a show they both played. It's solid, it shows massive potential, and all songs are equally worthy of sampling.


Saosin - Along The Shadow

I stayed cautiously optimistic after hearing original vocalist (also of Circa Survive and solo fame) Anthony Greene was making new music with these guys, and yet I was still kind of surprised when I found myself loving most of this. I like their first couple EPs (actually I downright love the first one) and the first full length (self-titled) with Cove Reber singing. It got spotty after that, and I haven't liked a Greene-associated project since Circa's On Letting Go, but I dare say everything has come together for me with the wide range of sounds and punk/metal sub-genres they adeptly demonstrate on this baby. Check out absolute ripper "The Secret Meaning of Freedom" (their first attempt at double-time beats - who does that 13 years into their career? That's so fucking cool!) and the more emo "The Stutter Says A Lot" for starters.


Fairlane/Ringfinger - split 12"

After highlighting Fairlane's latest EP in my last post, I checked out their 4 songs from this split, liked three of four, and ordered the LP from Floodlight Records. They're a good blend of mid to late 90's post-hardcore/emo/alternative (good god I hate that word), and each of their songs are worth at least a cursory listen, but I'll be damned if Delaware's Ringfinger didn't steal the emo show on this one. Check "Night Light" and then download their previous material from their bandcamp.


Elzhi - Lead Poison

The most gifted lyricist ever from Michigan and one of the best of all time in my opinion, Elzhi came correct as fuck on this long overdue LP (ask his Kickstarter backers...I knew better) full of ambitious boom-bap that absolutely demands repeated listens due to its depth and intricacy. It's really quite captivating to listen to a dude tell and show you why he's one of the best to ever hold a mic while he's also speaking on the black cloud of depression that persistently threatened the existence of the very album it helped to make incredible. I honestly don't want to say any more now. Just fucking listen already if you haven't. Hurry up. Not now but right now. I love all of the following: "INTROverted", "February" (featuring one of the most creative boom-bap beats you'll ever hear - see video), "MisRIGHT", "Two 16's", "Cosign", "Cloud", "FriendZONE", "WEEDipedia", and "EGOcentric".


Havoc & Alchemist - The Silent Partner

Well, kids, even though Alchemist is on an even bigger roll lately than he was in the late 90's, I still wasn't expecting much from this. I'm also not much into the ignorant thug rap anymore, but Mobb Deep gets grandfathered past that clause, plus Havoc actually sounds like he's getting a little more insightful as he ages (finally). The result is me honestly being pretty fucking blown away by how good this is. There's knock-you-on-your-ass percussion and piano stabs all over the place, creating the best and most consistent soundscape Hav has had since Hell On Earth. It's seriously that good. No bullshitting. I've unfortunately only given it 3 or 4 listens so far, but I can tell you "Impose My Will" and "Just Being Me" are good places to start. It's a god damn travesty this apparently has no vinyl destiny currently.


Apathy - Handshakes With Snakes

You may remember Ap from as far back as 2000 ("The Smackdown" was a hell of an introduction), around the AudioGalaxy days. He has been fairly consistent over the years, with the Honkey Kong album probably being his pinnacle for me considering "Check To Check" is my favorite song of his, but I don't think he has ever made a home run album. That might've changed here. I never really realized how good of a producer he was until now, as he crafted every beat here. I've admittedly only heard most songs once, and I do remember one with a truly awful/embarrassing chorus, but check "Charlie Brown" and "Blow Ya Head Off" for good examples of what I speak. It was pretty damn sweet to have two huge surprises from old heads (this and Havoc) this time around.


Timeless Truth - Cold Wave

Pretty cool cover art, huh? The Large Professor-produced "Wavelength" (see first video) is just as cool. Apparently I've been sleeping on these guys for a good 5 years, which is a shame, and they have at least one other EP and LP that I'll be checking out with my next batch.

Thanks for reading! Come back again in October. I'll be neck deep in Rex Ryan hatred by then.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Music Worth Checking Out: 1st Quarter 2016

Hey, gang. Welcome back for another go 'round. The nocturnal lifestyle still isn't lending itself to productivity or motivation, but luckily the music that I've discovered in the first 3 months of 2016 (and a couple from the end of the year that didn't make the list) is reason enough to spur me to write. It has me excited for the rest of the year, including new Elzhi and Deftones albums soon and possibly new Prawn in the fall. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let's review what 2016 has brought to my ears.

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.

Peregrine - Sorry About The Mess

It has been quite a while since I've been this blown away by a debut release. This band is from Worcester, Mass and formed from the ashes of Ghost Ocean, whose two EPs were highlighted in previous years in this blog. It seems like most of the time bands that form out of the breakup of one you like don't measure up to their predecessor. I approached this six-song EP with that assumption, and within two listens realized I couldn't have been more wrong. They sound like they've been together a decade and have honed the shit out of their style, and it all flows so effortlessly between 90's emo and post-hardcore with flourishes of indie rock, shoegaze, and mid-tempo pop-punk. They remind me of so many personally revered bands that I had to make a list to keep track, and here's what I came up with: Sore Eyelids, Counterfit, Jimmy Eat World, Your Best Friend, Sunny Day Real Estate (circa Diary), Tokyo Rose (circa Reinventing A Lost Art), Face To Face (circa Ignorance Is Bliss), The Beautiful Mistake, Mineral, Further Seems Forever, and Somos. It'll be such a god damned egregious error if this never gets the vinyl treatment. I'd listen to the whole thing once through if I were you, but the standouts for me are the title track and "Mistakes That Make Us".


face to face - Protection

By now you should've heard that this is at least a very good if not truly great return to form for these grizzled vets, one of the first punk bands I ever got into. Their return to Fat Wreck Chords set the stage perfectly for them to make fans forget the almost unlistenable previous album with a triumphant piece of work that, to me, rivals their best. I could go back and forth on whether Big Choice or face to face is my favorite, but this is damn close along with Don't Turn Away. If you seriously haven't heard this yet (hurry up, you're failing at potential joy in life), dial up "Double Crossed", "See If I Care", or "It Almost All Went Wrong" and rejoice.


Somos - First Day Back

I've read quite a bit of fair criticism about this album by people who adored Temple of Plenty like I did. Those gripes tend to range from the production being too spit-shined and lifeless to the fact that there are 11 tracks and 3 are more like ambient/electronic interludes than songs, but despite those blemishes I think this is a really fucking enjoyable listen with a couple of truly strong songs in "Alright, I'll Wait" and "Thorn In The Side" (see video links). It's crazy how these guys have gone from a raging melodic hardcore machine on their demo (at least on "Showed Up Late") to an emo and pop-punk tinged indie rock band on their 2nd album, and yet I've loved the progression despite it never going the way I'd have wanted it to. I can count the number of bands I can say that about on one hand. I love how the vocal cadence and tone remind me of mid-80's gloomy Brit-pop, but what really keeps me sold is the drum work. This kid injects so much more energy into everything than 95% of other drummers would. Nice chap, too. I look forward to the next time I get to see them.


Oslow - No Longer Concerns Me 7"

I'm already thankful to the great continent of Australia for giving me such thoroughly righteous bands as Paper Arms and Luca Brasi, and now I can add Oslow to that list. This 7" from 2015 is their most recent output (featuring standout track "Heirloom"), but their two previous EPs are also highly recommended (especially songs "Simple Lasting Light" from Field and "Cliffy" from Days Are So Bright Now). Like Peregrine, they blend 90's emo and post-hardcore but probably trend slightly more toward the latter. Still, they've developed their sound considerably between releases over a period of 4 years and show all kinds of different influences and moods. They really remind me of On The Might Of Princes circa Sirens, as well as Sport's Bon Voyage, and others like Small Brown Bike, The Casket Lottery, Algernon Cadwallader, Benton Falls, Title Fight circa Shed/Floral Green, Dikembe, Helen Earth Band, CSTVT....maybe a little At The Drive In circa In Casino Out. If anybody wants to go in on a couple 7"s shipped from Australia, get at me because I'd like to own this one but don't want to pay the entire shipping charge myself.


The Red Owls - Do You Feel Any Better?

This melodic punk band features a member of The Ataris (pretty sure it's the harpsichord player) but has more edge than his other band while maintaining some of the catchiness. Implants, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, and the general Fat sound come to mind. The last track doesn't do much for me but the other three are solid.


Fairlane - WIRIS

Anybody remember late 90's Doghouse Records emo band Joshua? These ATLiens remind me a lot of them. They also employ some Quicksand/Handsome-ish riffs and rhythms in spots. Furthermore, they name Hum and Texas Is The Reason as main influences, so you know they've studied the ancient scrolls and should be a band I (and you too) would like. I have yet to check out their back catalog (fixing that as we speak) but this EP is very encouraging. If anyone wants to go in on a couple copies of this 7" (the label is in the UK), let me know.


Riot Acts - Stuck

These Canadian post-hardcore/punk rock lads conjure up reminders of Autopilot Off/Cooter, post-Daggermouth band In Bear Country, The Beautiful Mistake, Thursday, and a dose of Story Of The Year's first album (before they went all metal on/up that ass). The double-time parts remind me of fellow Canucks This Is A Standoff, and A-Types era Hopesfall comes to mind in the chorus of closer "Lifeline". All in all, this is a very solid & promising EP that's pretty even throughout.


(Chris Wollard & The) Ship Thieves - No Anchor

Blacktop Cadence and The Draft are the only Hot Water Music side projects I've ever cared to listen to. Nothing Mr. Wollard and the Thieves did before this interested me, but this is more of a straight-ahead punk 'n' roll album not unlike Hot Water's more recent output but with (even) less inspired drumming. It lacks memorability because of that but is still worthy of at least a few listens if you're a fan of the style.


Beneficence - Basement Chemistry

Hip-hop is going to have a hard time topping this album for me this year. Just go fucking listen to it already, ya twerp! It's fantastic, and there are only one or two semi-duds. "Got That" and "Anyway It Goes (ft. MC Eiht)" are stupendous, "Smooth Hardcore (ft. A.G.)" and "When The Sun Comes (ft. Masta Ace)" are really god damn good, and "Manuscripts (ft. MindsOne)" is ridiculous. Ill Adrenaline Records is constantly going toe-to-toe with Mello Music Group for most consistent label in boom-bap these days.


Murs & 9th Wonder - Brighter Daze

This super duo just can't stop making records together no matter how many times they say they're done, and the world is a better place for it. I don't even have any real highlights off this, but there's also no junk either. You know what to expect from these two by now, and Murs is as clever, poignant, and raw as ever. As a result, this might even be their strongest effort overall.


People Under The Stairs - The Gettin' Off Stage: Step 1

You also should know what to expect from Thes One and Double K by now, and for the most part they deliver on this EP (they're doing a series of these instead of an album...I'm guessing the kids need braces or something). It's not their strongest work, but it's not as dull as Highlighter or Stepfather, which I consider their low points. "Saturday Night Again" is probably a good representative if you only have a few minutes.


Truth - From Ashes To Kingdom Come

Here's another solid entry from Ill Adrenaline Records, though this one is more notable for its features, production, and overall staunch throwback aesthetic since Truth himself doesn't 100% convince me on the mic. "New Type of Something (ft. Sean Price)" is probably a good place to start.

Thanks so much for checking out this update. I hope you found something to take along with you. Until the next time we meet, be kind to dumb animals and have some safe.

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.


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.


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'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.


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.