“The pandemic pointed me to the necessity of there being some rhythmic backbone. I had to use some drums, because you can’t be floating right now” - Earl Sweatshirt says about his latest album 'Sick!' in a Pitchfork interview. Stereogum argues "'SICK!' is still sharper and more tangible than the foggy, atmospheric doubt-trips of Earl’s last few records. Earl’s voice is higher in the mix. There’s less blurry noise around the edges of the tracks. The drums kick more. The melodic loops resolve".

The top of the needle
December 23, 2021

The Needle Drop selects 50 best albums of 2021

YouTube music critic The Needle Drop also comes out with his selection of best albums of 2021. A really very versatile selection, covering genres such as death metal, classical music, rock, conceptual pop... The top 5 albums chosen by The Needle Drop: St. Vincent, Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra, Arca, Lingua Ignota, and Spelling.

The fellowship of the Quarrymen
November 26, 2021

New Beatles documentary: A feast for fans

Arguably the most intimate look at the inner workings of the Beatles you’re ever likely to get" - Stereogum reviews the new 3-part Beatles documentary. SG adds: "Although the setting is not all that visually striking, the cinematography is gorgeous — and thanks to Jackson’s CGI restoration of the 16mm footage, the reality of it all almost feels heightened at times, like you’re watching actors playing these characters in a hyper-detailed period piece".

"The film draws many lines between the treatment of Morissette as a teen pop star—starvation diets, long working hours and sexual abuse included—and the rage and catharsis she channeled on 'Jagged Little Pill'. One of the things that makes 'Jagged' most compelling as a film is an undercurrent that runs throughout about exploitative men in the music industry and where that leaves female artists. There's a sense of dread that casts a shadow, if not on Morissette's stage, then certainly in the wings of it" - KQED reviews the new Alison Klayman documentary. New York Times describes it as "an unsettling portrait of the structural and behavioral sexism pervasive in the music world".

"The performer who emerged amid the skyline of the Strip came with a vibe—explosive, poetic, passionate, true—that reverberated deep into the souls of the 50,000+ festival-goers who turned up to see him" - Consequence reviews Kendrick Lamar's first US performance in two years. Billboard puts it simply: "Kendrick Lamar's Day N Vegas performance was art". Rolling Stone describes it as "casually dazzling".

"Drinking from the same ancestral well that informed earlier radical Black music is integral to Irreversible Entanglements’ approach: after all, they are passionate and angry for many of the same reasons as the aforementioned [the Last Poets, the New York Art Quartet, Archie Shepp], because far too many of the circumstances remain the same. The fight isn’t over... It’s righteous music, hopefully as a prelude to righteous action" - The Quietus writes in a review of jazz/hip-hop band's new album 'Open the Gates'. "Although this ensemble boast conservatoire rigour, their revolutionary, Afrofuturist music is imbued with punk spirit, a love of ambient spaciousness and electronics" - Guardian insists.

“Inside a song, you are neither here nor there, a liminal feeling that evokes so much of our time in life languishing in the middle. Call it meta-heartland rock” - Pitchfork writes about their lates Best New Music choice, The War on Drugs’ ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’. Mojo insists it’s a “calm space amid a world in collapse”, whereas NME points out “there’s magic everywhere you look on this triumph of an album”.

"'Geist', an album largely focused on spiritual shifts and ruptures, is a quiet, lovely, undramatic rendering of the dramatic... How ruination can lead to resurrection, and life can feel sweetest when one surrenders to change" - Pitchfork reviews the new album by Shannon Lay. Clash describes it as "the vulnerable soundtrack to a person’s self-discovery during a period of long, hard reflection", whereas Narc hears "an incredibly beautiful and delicate record". Dusted likes the comforting side of it - "it’s humble, heartening and wise".

"In a postmodern pop cultural moment, when notions of purism and authenticity seem irredeemably old-fashioned, it may seem like an odd time to write a book that is not only a history of popular music’s defining categories – rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance and pop – but an unapologetic defence of them" - Guardian writes in a review of a new book 'Major Labels' by Kelefa Sanneh, about music’s top categories. The G concludes that "devotion to a sound, whether hip-hop or hardcore, is essentially about community and belonging; a way to signify our togetherness and signal our difference, often through allegiance to one style at the expense of all others".

"New York City has long been a character in rap. But 'Half God' is the story of how that character has shaped our protagonist, a young man immersed and in love with its spirit, holding on loosely to an ever-evolving community in which he sees his own reflection" - Pitchfork argues in favor of New York rapper Wiki's new album. Stereogum points out to the producer - "Wiki and Navy Blue display an easy, expansive chemistry".

"Levy’s ear for melody and flair for the dramatic makes for a prime example of how effective this sort of music can be when it’s done this well" - Stereogum argues its latest Album of the week choice. The Skinny appreciates how "its capacity to reach around the edges of an empty room, and equal ability to cut through the sound of life bustling in the background lends it a warm, encompassing quality". Exclaim likes its borderline quality: "The whole thing glows with a particular late-summer energy, its precise, golden hour arrangements hinting at the wide-open chill of fall".

Critics have a lot to say about the latest album by the Arizona rap gang. "Injury Reserve have woven together a darkly contorted tangle of sounds, a collage that hits like a barrage... a record that demands your attention and challenges your perspective released into an age defined by zone-out streaming bait" - Stereogum argue in favor of their choice for Album of the week, calling their music post rap. The New Yorker argues "this is the first of the group’s projects to sound greater than the sum of its parts, to feel singular", and "by far the best" album by the band. Pitchfork appreciates its creativity: "The songs are immediate and intuitive, brimming with personality and ideas".

Unknown pleasures
September 22, 2021

Audius - is the new streaming service any good?

Audius is a brand-new decentralized streaming platform built for all the artists, not just the ones signed with labels. Decrypt reviews it: "Its biggest problem on paper is the fact that there are so few recognisable artists on there, and the ones that you will likely have heard of, don’t have much content uploaded. From another perspective, though, that's a positive advantage; if you're a trendsetter rather than a follower of fashion, it's a great way to discover new and unsigned artists... It offers quality, free streaming, with a quick and easy sign-up process to jump you straight into the action... It’s a refreshing way to dive into the unknown while hopefully discovering some hidden gems along the way".

"It takes her music in a somewhat more accessible direction while retaining the creativity and fervor of the rest of her work. Considerably less noisy than previous Moor Mother releases like her 2016 breakthrough 'Fetish Bones', the album flows through slippery jazz rhythms, mellow R&B vibes, and meditative ambient textures, with Ayewa's lyrics remaining forceful even as she's delivering them in a softer register" - AllMusic quite likes 'Black Encyclopedia in the Air'. Exclaim goes into the genre of it: "Mostly sticking to hip-hop beats and more traditional song structures... Ayewa decides to challenge listeners through performance and her lyrics... Moor Mother uses her genre-agnostic style to tackle to world's most popular genre and make it undoubtedly her own".

"'Hey What' refinements make it clear that they are still finding fresh angles on the same themes that have animated them since the beginning: using minimalism to express the entwined pairing of intimacy and loneliness, searching for meaning in the rubble after a departure too catastrophic to address by name" - Pitchfork says in the review of the new album by the slow-core greats. Here, Low take a slight turn into electronic terrain, although Alexis Petridis insists "the people behind 'Hey What' are redefining how a rock band can sound".

"Documentaries can only be as fascinating as their subjects. That's why this bio/doc will have legs, because even in the afterlife Rick James gives his fans something to talk about" - Dwight Brown Ink give a verdict on the new docu. New York Times deems it "fascinating and troubling viewing". Consequence says "the smartest move 'Bitchin' makes is to just lay all of James' cards out on the table and let the audience figure it out for themselves".

Sometimes she might be the greatest
September 03, 2021

Little Simz releases "rich, fascinating" album 'Sometimes I Might Be Introvert'

"It’s Simz’s most personal album yet but also her most removed, in the sense that it’s cinematic and surreal and overwhelming... 'Introvert' is heady and dense and restless — a masterwork" - Stereogum gives a verdict to London rapper's new releases (it's also Stereogum's Album of the Week). Guardian likes the leftfieldness of it - "Voraciously creative, clever and cool...  It is notably non-synthetic and twitchily alive, with Simz’s vocal presence so intense and distinctive it is able to withstand all manner of genre-fickleness". Gigwise insists Simz is at the "highest echelons of British rap".

After much delay, Kanye West has released his 10th album 'Donda' with 27 songs spanning an hour and 48 minutes. The length of it is an issue with the critics. "Nobody needs all 27 of these tracks" - NME insists, adding, "but dig deep into its contents and you’ll find enough gems to make his 10th album worth your time". The Times hears a "sprawling and sometimes brilliant album". Pitchfork says the album is "barely finished and with a lot of baggage. Its 27 tracks include euphoric highs that lack connective tissue, a data dump of songs searching for a higher calling".

Exploring British youth culture of the time, 'Scorcha!: Skins, Suedes and Style From The Streets 1967 -1973' is "a hefty book by Paul Anderson and Mark Baxter. Covering the rise of first the suedeheads and then the skinheads on British streets, it is a fascinating, lovingly compiled piece tracking in detail the fade from the musicality of the modish, ska-loving suedeheads – who were bravely swimming against the prevailing hippy tide in 1967 – into the more brutish skinheads. The attention to interview detail and mountains of picture research is monumental" - The New Cue recommends a new book.

"On his debut album, 'The Long and Short of It', [Graham] Jonson, now 21, reconciles his approach to beat music with a form of bedroom pop, using two genres known for their modular simplicity to create complex psychedelic music with vast emotional horizons" - Pitchfork reviews quickly, quickly (grade it 8.1, don't call it emo-rap). Magnetic describes it as quickly, quickly's "most complex and interesting project to date".

Richard Dawson and his Hen Ogledd bandmate Sally Pilkington have released sixty-three albums (!) during the thick of the pandemic with their Bulbils project. They are now releasing a compilation of that great mass of music, which they have condensed into a compilation of - threes songs. The Quietus is impressed by both their last year's feat, as well as this year's collection: "I have learned something quite valuable from this release. Or at least, it’s made me think enough to realise it. None of us knows how to act at the moment. We’re free, sort of, but we’re either trying to not loudly perform that freedom, or we’re being belligerent and aggressive about it. We can go to pubs, gigs, theatres, but we don’t know what it is to be in them again yet, or its consequence. Fear of nature’s chaos has made conspiracy rife. But here in the gesture of these two people we find that yes, things are unusual and scary, but doing things together, small, human things, like making music or anything creative and shared, is the answer".

'Dreams Still Inspire' by the Chicago underground rap duo Abstract Mindstate is the first album fully produced by Kanye West that was not his own since Common’s 'Be' in 2005. It is also the first release under West's new YZY SND imprint. Coming out nearly 20 years after the release of their first and only album, 2001’s 'We Paid Let Us In!', and "with lyrics and production that perfectly complement each other, Abstract Mindstate's reunion album is a masterclass in Hip-Hop fundamentals", Hot New Hip-Hop points out.

"Grit and earthiness grounds this album in its spacious atmospheres and crushingly sludgy riffs" - Metal Injection reviews new album 'Celestial Blues', a "kaleidoscopic take on doom gaze and ritualistic folk" by King Woman. Pitchfork gives the album 7.5, describing it as an "exploration of spiritual healing and survival that’s been shellacked in a veneer of grungy malaise, heavy post-rock, and blissed-out darkness". The band is fronted by the Iranian-born Kris Esfandiari who "presents herself as one of the chief proponents of metal informed by spiritual inquiry, yearning for emancipation from the habituated self, and the complex desire that exceeds convention. She’s a modern-day gnostic", Beats Per Minute argues.

The more of you I listen...
August 01, 2021

'Thirstier' - "the best Torres has ever been"

"'Thirstier' packs in monster hook after monster hook, with dense layers of crashing drums and whirring synths and bells-and-whistles that push each song to the next level" - Stereogum argues in favor of their latest choice for the Album of the week. Pitchfork gives the album 7.8, because it's "anthemic and euphoric, loaded with hooks and joyous reflections on love and self-discovery".

Mega Bog "exists in a universe both familiar but foreign. I do not always understand what her songs are about but I am drawn to them all the same and find myself quoting lines" - Brooklyn Vegan writes about the latest album by the experimental pop artist. "Musically, 'Life, and Another' is the most inviting Mega Bog album yet, with jazzy chording, dreamlike synths, and impressive playing all around... It's loaded with instantly likeable songs".

"Woodstock ’99 was the hedonistic, capital-drive fantasy of a fratty rape culture, one with all the privilege in the world but a surfeit of anger for which there was no outlet" - producers of the 'Woodstock '99: Peace, love, and rage' argue in their documentary. Consequence doesn't disagree completely, calling it "a case study for the confluence of white millennial entitlement and Boomer nostalgia, it’s certainly gripping, a disaster movie in documentary form". Rolling Stone counts down 19 worst things about the fest, including late-July timing of a fest situated on tarmac and concrete, overcrowding, lack of available water etc.

"The marvel of Billy, of course, is that in an era when being trans was apt to get one killed, he chose to 'hide in plain sight', concealing that he was assigned female at birth while embracing a profession that made him the constant center of attention" - the Daily Beast writes about the doc 'No Ordinary Man' which examines the life of Billy Tipton, a talented jazz artist in the 1940s and 1950s who, upon his death, was revealed to have been assigned female at birth. "That trailblazing courage is clearly an inspiration for everyone featured in Chin-Yee and Joynt’s film, who speak about his plight—and the bravery he exhibited in being himself, no matter the obstacles—with palpable reverence".

You have not lived until you have seen this 57-year-old actress-director shrink herself down to Hobbit size to play a pre-teen. This is beyond PEN15, beyond Martin Short in CLIFFORD, this is… cinema” - The New York Times critic wrote about 'Aline', the unofficial biopic of Celine Dion that has critics in awe of its “kooky”, “truly weird” and “magnificent camp” approach. 'Aline' stars and is directed by Valérie Lemercier, and critics reported the bizarre moment in which Lemercier, at age 57, for one scene portrays Dion, er, Aline, at age 12, the Wrap reports.

The boys are back in shape
July 13, 2021

Vince Staples and IDK bring substance to mainstream rap

IDK / Vince Staples

"Produced entirely by Kenny Beats, the album’s reserved musical approach magnifies the blunt scene-setting Vince has used to build his name over the last decade" - Pitchfork reviews the latest Vince Staples' album. Guardian deems it "much more personal and accessible than anything he’s put out before". "A record that evolves in real-time, ‘USEE4YOURSELF’ finds IDK speaking his truth. An amalgamation of styles that recalls the frenetic creativity of 00s Kanye, the record finds strength in personal revelation, with IDK often at his most individual when surrounded by his peers" - Clash Music reviews the latest album by IDK. NME points out how "talking about how following his dreams has led him to a happier life gives the record an optimistic ending".

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