Bandwagon Selects: Recent Record Reviews Edition #16

Waddup party people. It's another edition of Bandwagon album reviews and this time it's an eclectic mix of hip hop, post-hardcore, jazz, folk, and electronica - all of them excellent! We've got the latest releases by Touche Amore, Danny Brown, The Steve McQueens, 65daysofstatic, Chelsea Wolfe and surprise, surprise… YOKO ONO. Enjoy your weekend folks, and enjoy the tunes. 

Is Survived By | Touché Amoré

You'd think for a band that hasn't had any qualms wearing their hearts on their sleeves for most of their career, that eventually after a while they'd want to give it a rest in pursuit of other topics. Touché Amoré spits in the face of that and produces their most bare piece of work that stands as this year's crowning glory in the hardcore scene. They've proven themselves to be a fiercely hardworking band that has only gotten better with each album, live EP, 7" split, what have you. 

Frontman Jeremy Bolm continues to pen lyrics that, while also brimming with his signature creative wordplay, doesn't fail to connect with our own little dilemmas that continue to taunt us day-by-day. Songs like "DNA", "Social Caterpillar" and "Harbor" address issues like independence, social anxiety and the age-old topic of infatuated love, all performed with raw honest-to-God conviction. The band themselves have also expanded their palette musically. Their previous record Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me featured the stark piano-driven track "Condolences" while showing a matured sense of melody compared to their debut ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse. This time the band asserts controlled dynamics by sporting post-rock crescendos and technically precise drum patterns, which results in some of their most heart-wrenching and bold work yet.

Conceptually, the record plays like an overview of a man's life. From the first track where he questions his very own existence while the last track, aptly titled after the record itself, celebrates everything that he has enjoyed throughout his life, while coming to terms with his own mortality. A loose concept surely but it plays like a nice bookend for an entire record that at the same time pose us these questions: What are the things in our lives that empower us to live each day? What are we survived by?

Standout tracks: 

Harbor, Nonfiction, Blue Angels, Kerosene

Old | Danny Brown

Old may be the title of the album, but don't expect any mellow or restrained beats here. This record is WILD. Forget about Yeezus, Magna Carta Holy Grail or Nothing Was the Same. Danny Brown is set to conquer the hip-hop scene and this record will only further exemplify his outstanding talent. Personally, we've been fans of the Detroit native ever since his breakout second album XXX. We can't lie that we've been waiting for this record with baited breath. Thankfully, it is far from a let down. 

Before we delve into his newest piece of work, some of you may wonder why this high-pitched MC with an outlandish sense of style has been storming blogs and stages for a while now. While his wild rapping tone may not appeal to anyone, it only befits his appearance that frankly is a huge breath of fresh air in a terribly saturated American hip-hop scene. While he also touches upon the same topics of drugs, wealth and sex, he approaches them from a subtly different angle that largely works. Being a former convicted drug dealer himself, the scenes he paints with his rhymes are actually pretty disturbing. XXX is a great example of this. He also holds the concept of 'sides' that characterise vinyl records to great esteem; preferring to divide his records into two sides. For example, the first few tracks off XXX were more playful, with his unabashed wordplay (comparing a certain sexual act to "Squidward and his clarinet") and innovative but ultimately fun beats. The other half of XXX were downbeat and serious in tone, as he laments on his past life soaked in crime and vices.

Danny Brown applies that same method here. However, the two sides become even more contrasted; the first half feature the same creative sense of beatmaking and production that characterize underground hip-hop, while the second half is a full-on riot inspired by EDM genres like trap, dubstep, rave and even synth-pop. "25 Bucks" and "Float On" serve to show his complete willingness to experiment, with guest spots by Purity Ring and Charli XCX, along with production by BadBadNotGood on the latter track. 

While the collision of sides are harsher stylistically compared to XXX, the album is overall still pretty consistent in its flow. His potent and often-humorous lyricism is still present, backed up by a slew of gifted hip-hop luminaries like A$AP Rocky, Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul among others. Reflecting the second side of XXX, tracks like "Torture" and "Red 2 Go" take a blunt (hur) look at the life he lived in desperation before he was sent to jail. "Smokin & Drinkin" seemingly glorifies the kind of lifestyle that he lived before rapping big-time, but look closer at the lyrics and you'll find a refreshing sense of self-awareness that not a lot of rappers would like to carry themselves with these days. Danny may not reach the towering commercial heights of Kanye West or Jay-Z, but that's perfectly fine. In a scene densely populated by cliches and repetitive records, we can only hope Danny Brown would lead a trail of rappers who aspire to break away from traditions to be 'different'. 

Standout tracks: 

Dip, Smokin & Drinkin, Side A (Old), Kush Coma

Einstein Moments | The Steve McQueens

Don't let that 'NeoVintage Soul' designation scare you from listening to Einstein Moments; it's one of the best things we've heard the past month. The introduction to the opener "Walls" should be an indication for whats to come in the next 34 minutes - silky smooth jazz instrumentations, elegantly sensual vocal work and roguish vibes, all done with a mature, confident style that speaks volumes about their experience and flair as musicians. It's satisfyingly good to listen something so fresh and frequently brilliant at times - I suppose those are the Einstein Moments. It counts as one of the best jazz-fusion releases Singapore can offer lately, and something that everyone of all tastes and preferences can truly enjoy. 

Standout tracks:

Walls, I'm On Your Side/UnQular, Wound Up

Wild Light | 65daysofstatic 

The Sheffield post-rock titans return with an even stronger devotion to electronic ambience, intense frenzies of wild breakbeats and screeching synths. They've always been an electronica-inclined instrumental band ever since their early releases with The Fall Of Math and The Destruction of Small Ideas, but it was 2010's We Were Exploding Anyway that really showcased their IDM/house side - and Wild Light builds upon that digital cornerstone.

Instead of the drum & bass leanings of We Were Exploding, their latest release feels more like an epic cinematic ride. It's a deeply narrative album, taking you from the urban municipalities of 'Prisms' to the frozen wastelands of 'Sleepwalk City'. Tension bites hard in each track, making every meandering melody and texture feel as exhilarating as the next. The brooding synths and frantic mechanical beats serve to further enhance the theme of sprawling dystopian ruins and cold isolation - cerebral compositions that 65daysofstatic are more than capable of generating. 

From start to finish, Wild Light is ferociously gorgeous triumph and it just might be the most awe-inspiring 65dos outing yet. 

Standout tracks:

Prisms, Sleepwalk City, Unmake The Wild Light

Pain Is Beauty | Chelsea Wolfe

Do not dismiss 'Pain is beauty' as something that would be tattooed on Angelina Jolie or a Tumblr worthy quote juxtaposed in Helvetica on some faded image of the sea. Thankfully, Chelsea Wolfe is pretty capable in owning these words. Goth guitar dirges, dark dreamy folk, a sinister lingering sense of doom and some creepy synths pretty much sums up Chelsea Wolfe's fourth studio offering. This album is terrifying(ly good) and emotionally draining but one of the richest musical experiences you will partake in. 

We should first talk about her voice. There is a chilly element to her voice that takes her music to a new level. It is the sort of chill and awe you feel with artists like Swans and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. When she sings, she is poised and restrained, powerful and wounded. On tracks like 'The Waves Have Come', her haunting vocals linger on, and the sense of terror builds up over old pianos and urgent strings. It is the sort of vocals that work well with either folk or dark metal. It's no wonder Russian Circles collaborated with her for their track 'Memorial'

Like Swans, she carries the label doom folk very well, mixing earthy sound with grungey guitars. On this album, she retains that balance of the goth and folk sound of her previous albums but with greater emphasis on the electronic. In tracks like 'House of Metal' she manages to perfectly merge melodramatic strings with ominous synths and it is the most perfect union ever. Pain is definitely an experience you must indulge in, no matter how cavernous and dark the journey will be. 

Standout tracks:

They'll Clap When You're Gone, The Waves Have Come, We Hit A Wall, House of Metal

Take Me To The Land Of Hell | Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band

Man, I'm not even a fan of Yoko Ono but this lady intrigues me. I have asked many clever friends what it is about Yoko Ono that people like cos I think she cray but then when Take Me To The Land Of Hell came out and videos of her very strange performance on David Letterman starting floating around, I then realised that I spend a lot of time thinking about her. 

Experimental, is what you would definitely call Yoko Ono's music. And it has been from the beginning of her career, so props to her for keeping it consistent. I still think her music is bonkers but still I have to admit that this is probably her most accessible material up to date. At its core, it is a thoroughly enjoyable album and sonically impressive as well, thanks to the Plastic Ono Band. It is a myriad of glittery pop, jittery funk, avant-garde dance music - it is as whimsical as the lady is. 'Little Boy Blue your daddy's gone' was quite a standout with the oriental instrumentals in the beginning, plus she actually refrains from howling/screeching in that one. 

While it may not have turned me into a fan of her music, Take Me To The Land Of Hell is one Yoko Ono album that I would actually take seriously. Who else can pull off wacky and still be considered an icon? This woman. 

Standout tracks:
Little Boy Blue your daddy's gone, Bad Dancer, Cheshire Cat Cry

Words by Daniel Peters, Ilyas Sholihyn, Delfina Utomo

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