Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cold World - Dedicated to Babies Who Came Feet First

Cold World's previous effort 'Ice Grillz' was a novel, simplistic portrayal of rudimentary hardcore fused with a hip-hop presence. It included everything from Wu-Tang Clan samples to the drummer stepping up to DJ the group’s productions. The record was a solid if not gimmicky work and somewhere along the line the hype behind the group caught up to Deathwish. In turn we are presented with the well anticipated record 'Dedicated to Babies Who Came Feet First' which compared to the debut features a much more prominent metal influence as is usually for the bands on Deathwish. Going a little off subject, Paint it Black's 'New Lexicon' released earlier this year kind of gave me hope for the new Cold World. Dalek producer Oktopus was heavily involved in the production of that record and it feels so appropriately. Cold World as well is certainly not negatively affected by this idea of rap and hardcore fusing as one. 'Dedicated' presents an atmosphere that is simply nonexistent in any other hardcore group. Subtle lyrical references to rap classics, random incorporations of electronic drums, the excellent and raw sounding samples. Cold World is easily feeding their supposed image, but beyond that they also possess the ability to write some damn good songs.

cold world's 'dedicated to babies who came feet first'
In examining the sound presented on this record we only need to look at the title track. Starting off with a punk based riff that would sound more at place on their debut the track lyrically presents us with an image of the rural area of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Like most of Pennsylvania Wilkes Barre is a mix of city life with the enormous amount of rural areas that the state is known for. The issues that lead singer Dan Mills touches on seem to be a meeting point between these two environments. Musically the song brilliantly uses samples in its chorus with the calls of 'my life, my life, my life, my life'. Transitioning straight from the chorus into a bridge featuring Blacklisted vocalist George Hirsch provides a great counterpoint to Dan Mills somewhat redundant vocals. The song breaks into an excellent breakdown as it finishes off in an epic manner. While I love how sparingly the samples are used on this record it does seem like the best songs on the record succeed by implementing some form of hip-hop into otherwise by the book hardcore. 'Liars, Thieves' is another clear highlight with its drum machine transitions making the group come off as a legitimately interesting rap / hardcore hybrid and not the least bit nu-metally.

Negatives can be easily found on this record though. Singer Mills is an easy mark for the sometimes lacking heaviness of the group. The two backing vocalists do a good job of providing a heavier edge, but the lead of Cold World is certainly not the band's strong point. Other complaints can be filed towards the fact that Cold World isn't really presenting anything new besides the incorporation of some hip-hop gimmicks. The music here is basically derivative of mid-90s hardcore groups like Biohazard and Life of Agony and while those aren't bands that have seen a revival lately it is still not going to provide the group with as much respect as say a group like Paint it Black or Modern Life is War. The mid-tempo approach leaves some songs coming off as simply imitations of the actual classics on the album. Still, I don't think Cold World is going for something entirely new with this record and rather splicing together a supposed image of NYHC with the more urban side of that city's music and in that regard it works flawlessly.

cold world

All issues aside Cold World should be applauded with the rest of the Deathwish roster for releasing what has seemingly become a trend of consistent, interesting hardcore records. 'Dedicated to the Babies Who Came Feet First' isn't going to change anyone's mind about hardcore, but for those fans who have long worn out their copy of 'Urban Discipline' will find themselves right at home with tracks like 'Roaches and Rats'. Cold World's worldly perception obviously elicits their namesake and their entire sound is devoted to presenting that idea as a reality. If one thing can be said about 'Dedicated to Babies Who Came Feet First' it is that they have certainly done that.

Cold World - Dedicated to Babies Who Came Feet First (2008)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Andrew Hill - Black Fire

Andrew Hill is my favorite jazz composer. His arrangements, his groups, everything about the man I throughly adore. When I heard about his death last year it saddened me a great deal because even in his old age he was still a marvel of a player and more importantly still releasing relevant jazz music. 'Black Fire' followed Hill's most celebrated achievement 'Point of Departure' and while that album is probably one of the best avant garde jazz records of all time the rest of Hill's discography is certainly not something to scoff at. Simply looking at the rhythm section of this record you know you are in for a treat. Two of the most inventive jazz musicians of the period Roy Haynes and Richard Davis bring a extremely tight performance to this record and in my opinion easily surpassing Davis' performance with Tony Williams on 'Point of Departure'. Where 'Point of Departure' comes off as a more compositional record, 'Black Fire' seems to showcase the more meandering improvisations of Hill's music and in that light it comes off as a fantastic journey.

Andrew Hill's 'Black Fire'
Describing the actual tone of the album; "It wasn't unusual in the mid-60s for Blue Note albums to include original compositions, but sometimes these compositions were pretty generic: a modal number, a "Sidewinder" clone, a blues number, etc. But not here -- each of Hill's tunes is distinct from those generic categories, and from the other tunes on the album. Hill's tunes include weird twists and turns, starts and stops, alternating sections with clashing ideas or moods, unpredictable rhythms, and of course a touch of Monk. "Subterfuge" is a percussive, claustrophobic piano trio performance. "McNeil Island" is another trio performance, but this time Roy Haynes sits out. Joe Henderson plays very lyrically on this one. "Black Fire" is a waltz, alternating an upbeat theme with a darker one. It's interesting to see how the soloists adjust to the frequently adjusting moods in their solos. "Pumpkin" (introduced by a striking Richard Davis bassline) and the sorta-Latin "Cantarnos" both feature intense, passionate melodies. " - GB (user on

This is a fantastic record and a great exploration into the stranger areas of jazz for any fans of the genre. Perhaps not a great starting point for Jazz or even Hill, but a very solid record once you become accustomed to what exactly this man's philosophies on music are.

Andrew Hill - Black Fire (1964)

Off Minor - Some Blood

In terms of concepts Off Minor's latest 'Some Blood' is not an album I'd label as comforting. Where there previous records tackled very specific areas of the band's social interactions 'Some Blood' is a more visceral, more encompassing, and in general more mature effort. This assertion puzzles me because it seems that as time passes hardcore bands tend to start off being a little more accusing and end being more introspective. Perhaps, the most impressive part of Off Minor is in fact the length of their existence and how focused and similar their message has been over all of that time. 'To An Ex' may seem to be walking along ground that was covered on the groups' first record 'The Heat Death of the Universe', but that album exposed the personal trials of the band in a very short direct way. The songs presented on 'Some Blood' are dealing with overarching concepts of social commonality. Off Minor is one of few bands that speak directly to the hearts of a community while at the same time applying moments that are so moving that it creates a certain brand of philosophy. 'Everything Explicit' examines the tragedy of words left unsaid not in a selfish way rather mournfully examining the issue. It is important to take note of the ages of this band and their contemporaries because most people playing this type of music simply aren't breaking thirty. In turn this leaves Off Minor with a little more to prove than your average hardcore band. Simply judging by the bands the members of Off Minor have been in the group is certainly going to have a certain amount of anticipation surrounding their releases. So, when the group stretches out and exposes itself with a track as bare and uncharacteristic as 'Practice Absence' it is both surprising and common place. Off Minor is a radical thinking version of a high school genre and on 'Some Blood' the groups' trademark blend of 'jazz like' phrasing with extreme aggression has reached a point of finality.
Jamie Behar
‘Some Blood’ is proof that the band has blended their previous sounds into one all encompassing effort. Opener 'Neologist' proves this perfectly in its short span of nearly three minutes jumping from traditional Off Minor heavy sections that are juxtaposed by a gorgeous interlude that succeeds at being both technical as well as transcendent. 'No Conversationalist I' cycles through more chord progressions than were found on the entirety of 'Group Sex'. The title track finds the visceral voices of Jamie Behar and Steve Roche taking a backseat to some more relaxed spoken vocals that help ease the listener through the rapid transitions found throughout the song. The key improvement on this record though seems to be the care taken in producing it. On Off Minor's last record 'Innominate' the drums seemed to appear simply as a toms and cymbal, while here we experience an extremely organic sounding set that helps emphasize the always moving bass lines of Kevin Roche. While previously the guitar and bass seemed to either tonally sound distorted or clean on 'Some Blood' the group seems to be stretching out their sonic palette. 'Practice Absence' represents this best with its multitude of layered guitar pieces that incorporate varieties of effects as well as singing portions that sound dissimilar to anything Off Minor has done to date. If this record is in fact Off Minor's final document let it be known that they have full evolved their sound into something completely unique from any current trend in hardcore.
Off Minor's 'Some Blood'
The final aspect I'd like to shed light on in regards to 'Some Blood' is the intelligence of its lyrics. Where most of their contemporaries are simply echoing usual white suburban male issues, Off Minor has crafted a literate assessment of hardcore values. As I said early 'Everything Explicit' is a muse on the deterioration of relationships but how the group actually visualizes this is what makes them such a special band.

'as we live these linear lives,
unidirectional, towards an inevitable end
we must make everything explicit.
that's how we left it: unsaid,
i'm at a loss for words.'

For simply the vocabulary alone Off Minor should be applauded. But, when you examine the actual things they are saying you being to understand why this group is held in such high regards. Few hardcore bands will ever have the honor of saying that every single one of their records is an essential buy and Off Minor is one of the few. In terms of quality in regards to quantity the last group to have such a solid discography in my opinion would either be Unwound and Fugazi and simply putting a band on that level is guarantying people to question my judgment. I don't mind though, I can unabashedly say Off Minor is my favorite band and that no contemporary group speaks as effectively as them. As the group themselves say

'this is not injustice.
this is poetic license
permitted by a nation's silence.'

Off Minor - Some Blood (2008)
(link takes you to digital ordering site for the record. Off Minor pulled a Radiohead so donate what you will.)