Weekly Roundup: November 24, 2017
There is a never ending onslaught of music coming out. Each Friday sees the release of a slew of new records worth your time and notice. Here are a small fraction, rounded up and reviewed to the best of our ability:
RIYL: The Sounds of Animals Fighting, PJ Harvey, Portishead
I must cop to the fact that I have never been a follower of Bjork. Besides the most cursory information one can glean from her presence in popular and music culture over the last two decades, I have absolutely no knowledge of her trajectory or her albums. She’s a blindspot in my musical knowledge and exploration, thus, I can come to Utopia with entirely fresh ears. Utopia is an interesting listen to say the least. The production is at once lush and stuttered; harps dance across digital landscapes, punctuated by drum and bass beats. It ebbs and flows, at moments with minimal instrumentation and nothing but Bjork’s thick Icelandic accent and trilling vocal tricks singing out through the hush like some of PJ Harvey’s most moving works. With the average track length resting somewhere in the four minute range, and the album clocking in at over an hour, it is a lot of dense material to sift through. It’s a testament to Bjork’s incredible skill that only some of it feels like filler. Don’t get me wrong, it is certainly a deeply challenging listen. Its so much expansive sound—so many layers in each track of vocals, breathing, bird calls, synths, drums, harps, flutes, woodwins, ambience…but Utopia feels like a livable space translated into music. So much of it still feel purposefully opaque, but it’s a welcoming opaqueness. Its one that is confident, knows who it is and what its doing, and doesn’t expect you to fully understand exactly, but to draw your own meanings and interpretations. It’s also quite strange to hear how close it sounds to Lover the Lord Has Left Us by the Sounds of Animals Fighting. Anthony Green and Craig Owens’ laconic keening not far from Bjork’s dulcet yowls, and sound-wise the two releases share a lot in common.
Backtrack — Bad to My World
RIYL: Expire, Turnstile, Incendiary
Bad to My World is everything you have come to expect from Backtrack. Despite the bands long and storied history, this is only their third full-length record. They have been influencing hardcore’s progression for some time , their tight and uncompromising NYHC-styled sound. To hear straight-forward, no-nonsense bridge 9 hardcore in 2017 is a goddamn delight. The label was in its heydey in the late 00’s with a veritable who’s-who of the best and brightest in hardcore including Have Heart, Verse, Ceremony, Crime in Stereo, Ruiner, Outbreak, Cruel Hand, and Defeater (among countless others). But after a couple major breakups and shakeups in the scene, the last five years or so Bridge 9 has had a bit of a lower profile, relying on a lot of their legacy bands (Agnostic Front, Terror, H2O) and less on signing new, dynamic bands, despite the collective sound of the scene being more in keeping with their wheelhouse. Bad to My World feels like a direct callback to that era, keeping that flame alive. With Expire also recently gone, Backtrack are one of the few remaining banner-holders on the label, but they do it with zeal and expertise.
Hopsin – No Shame
RIYL: Eminem, Tech N9ne, Tyler the Creator
With a chip on his shoulder, a deep lexicon, and the urge to always say exactly what he means, Hopsin has made somewhat of a career being one of the more verbally combative rhymers in hip hop. He never shies from speaking his mind, but its interesting that despite a lot of his more aggressive lyrics and diss tracks, that he is seeking to establish a dialogue, though in keeping with his twisted branding. This has made him one of the more interesting characters in rap to follow for some time—always simmering below the surface, and seemingly largely fulfilled in being the “alternative” to the big names. He’s the dog at the edges of the sheep-like mainstream, ready to snap his jaws on any sheep that lets a limb go careless. No Shame feels different. It’s the same anger and openness that his audience is used to, but there’s a rawness to the personal stories he’s telling—lots of unresolved issues and demons that he’s grappling with. It recall’s a lot of Eminem’s best, actually, in both story-telling prowess and delivery. There are some interesting issues he grapples with the multifaceted sides of throughout the record—allegations of domestic abuse being the one that looms large. And he manages to both address the inherent problems in his own confrontational delivery while also passing the buck—“All Your Fault” charges that what he says and does is art and expression and the reason why “your son admires me” yet at the same time several songs earlier notes that he probably isn’t addressing these issues the right way. It’s a human struggle. Its conflicting. And where at once he seems to spurn the allegation that he enjoys playing the victim, many of the songs do paint him as such…and revel in it. But…humans are complex. And Hopsin is clearly not trying to be anything but. He can be an asshole, he can be someone’s hero, he can be a brand, he can be a man, he can be an abusive misogynist, he can be a feminist, he can be a father, he can be a terrible example—because he is all of those things. Not at different times but all at once. As long as he can keep up his insane spitting skills, he will continue to also be that dog nipping at the edges of the pack, a role that seems perfectly suited for him. With his continued more judicial use of his words he can also continue to avoid being one of those annoying yapping ones.