Friday, November 7, 2008

Black Milk - Tronic

Current trends in hip-hop supposedly point towards the South currently dominating the genre. Lil' Wayne replacing Eminem as the rapper most adored by white fans. T.I. releasing an album with six successful singles that hardly became redundant. Signs are certainly motioning towards the South being in some type of acclaimed "golden age" at the moment. While the assessment has grounds, the opposite opinion also has its validity. Able to be mentioned in the same breath as Eminem, Lil’ Wayne has gorged himself on success and will likely never see the same amount of popularity that he does today. T.I., while releasing a solid record this year, has at the same time given into his pop indulgencies and seems to be transforming into a legitimate Nelly. Pimp C's passing in late 2007 also puts a huge hole into the constantly consistent Southern rappers that have been performing since the early '90s (i.e. Devin the Dude, Scarface, etc.). One could paint the picture that Southern rap is in reality grasping at the straws of its former popularity and has fully lowered itself on the sword of marketability. What does this have to do with Black Milk's 'Tronic'? Direct relations aren't really what can be drawn from this assessment of the current rap game, but what we can understand is that Detroit, with the help of Black Milk and other individuals, has positioned itself to be the next huge rap scene. Black Milk's two most appreciated acts over the past two years has been his work on Phaorahe Monch's 'Desire' and Elzhi's 'The Preface,' both of which were bookmarked by a variety of other work as well as Milk's solo LP 'Popular Demand.' 'Tronic' certainly stacks up against those two releases and his first solo record as a fully realized version of Black Milk's vision. While 'Tronic' may not be the hip-hop classic that its early internet buzz has illustrated it to be, the album has revealed itself to be yet another great rap record featuring the association of one of the best producers currently in the genre.

black milk
Keeping with the theme of production, we should first bring up J. Dilla. Dilla is probably the most appreciated hip-hop artist from Detroit and Black Milk, being one of his students, wears the Detroit sound on his sleeve. While 'Popular Demand' and other Black Milk work certainly seemed to full embrace Dilla's sound, 'Tronic' is Milk attempting to reach out for something different. Heavy on the synthetics, 'Tronic' comes off as almost a sophisticated take on Kanye West. The album kicks off with the epic 'Long Story Short' which features Black Milk recounting his stance from unknown MC to the savior of Detroit hip-hop. After the more sentimental intro though, 'Tronic' becomes a very different album revolving on intensely dense beats that feel like a catchier version of Def Jux material. Tracks like 'Overdose' clearly show an electronica influence, relying on a crescendoing beat to build even more intensity into the producer's rhymes. 'Tronic' succeeds in offering a variety of different hip-hop environments, from the extremely poppy 'Without U' to the Phaorahe Monch, Sean Price, and DJ Premier assisted 'The Matrix.' While Black Milk certainly suffers from the same negatives most producers-turned-MCs do, he is able to keep the listener's attention and certainly give the impression that he can actually hold his own on a track with three of the most inventive artists in the hip-hop field.
black milk's 'tronic'
Perhaps I haven't fully explained the sophistication of 'Tronic.' The album is a cohesive connection between underground and mainstream rap, featuring guests from Royce Da 5'9 to Colin Munroe. Black Milk once again proves he is probably second only to Madlib in terms of producing beats that actually sound like hip-hop should in 2008. All in all, I would be very surprised if any hip-hop album reaches this level of precision this year. Black Milk has simply made a completely unique statement in what is typically a pretty stale genre, and with 'Tronic' he has confirmed his status as one of the best. As ‘Losing Out’ attests, Detroit is hungry, and perhaps the Midwest will finally break out with the success of artists as inventive and interesting as Black Milk.

Black Milk - 'Tronic' (2008)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Drones - Havilah

A constant comment on the Drones seems to concern how they will never achieve mainstream acceptance - that the group has carved out a niche in rock that is simply too abrasive for the average music listeners. While there is truth to that sentiment, the complete lack of awareness concerning the band is puzzling. The fact that websites like Pitchfork haven’t turned 'Havilah' or any of the band’s previous records into yet another one of their flavor of the week "classics" leaves the band's blend of blues and indie rock feeling authentic. 'Gala Mill,' the group's previous release, revealed itself to be a fantastic album over time. Cuts like 'Jezebel' came off as rubbish with lead vocalist Gareth Liddiard presiding over most of the tracks with his shoddy cockney accent. When confronted with the actual dense, dark tales, Liddiard bellows, though it is tough not to be fascinated with his picture of Aussieland. 'Gala Mill' seemed to echo the images of an artist like Bruce Springsteen in his attempt to embrace and reflect a cultural dialect through music. In turn, 'Havilah' has lightened up the gloom of The Drones, positioning itself as the band’s third great album in a row.

the drones' 'havilah'
To declare Gareth Liddiard the most imaginative lyricist currently performing may be somewhat of a frivolous statement, but is certainly valid when examining his discography. 'Jezebel,' his masterpiece, was applauded immensely after ‘Gala Mill’s’ release. For those unfamiliar with the opener of 'Gala Mill,' it is a vicious recollection of numerous battles all focused through the prism of a man simply wishing to see his lover again. Recalling everything from World War 1 to fallen Iraqi War victim Daniel Pearl, the track remains singular in its post 9-11 examination of world affairs. 'Havilah' attempts to take a less formidable approach on the world and Liddiard seems to have replaced his anger with longing. 'Oh My' spits lines like "People are a waste of food" over a gloriously bizarre instrumental that marks itself up as one of the poppiest moments in The Drones discography. ‘I Am The Supercargo' reflects the ideas of cargo cults in epic proportions. 'Cold and Sober' acts as the ballad of the album with Liddiard slowly wailing over beautifully distorted guitar. ‘The Minotaur,’ the first single, seems to be the only track in the more aggressive fashion of the band’s older recordings punctuated by the great verse:

‘i have the same old dream
about a tunnel by my bed

from where the stench of shit of minotaurs

yawns like lewd and evil breath
but instinct and a map
has set to work inside my head

instead of shedding tears

i've learned to drink and piss instead'

-the drones – ‘the minotaur’

The brilliance of the lyrics on 'Havilah' is so overwhelming that the record perceivably could’ve been just as touching had it been released as a novella. Luckily, instead we are giving an instrumental backing that features some of the best dual guitar interplaying in years. That Liddiard has seemingly defined his generation in lyrical modernism is impressive, but place upon that the fact that he and recently acquired guitarist Dan Luscombe are playing some of the most interesting and melodic guitar lines since the references points of 'Surfer Rosa' and 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' is just admirable. Fiona Kitschin and Michael Noga head an impressive rhythm section that helps propel 'The Minotaur' into serene post-punk. The band also uses a variety of extended percussion techniques on tracks like 'The Drifting Housewife' extending the vocabulary of 'Gala Mill' and 'Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By.'

'i try most nights to get you out of my mind
but you're still there silent by my side most the time

i can't help that i let you down
it's too long and too late

and i can't help if i broke your heart
it's too long and too late'

-the drones - 'your acting's like the end of the world'

'Havilah' ends with the haunting 'Your Acting's Like the End of the World.' The most upbeat track on the record, the lyrics tell a completely different story. Ending with the aforementioned verse, we get the feeling Liddiard is somewhat haunted by these hopeless characters he is constantly conjuring. The Drones revolve in a world that is both light and dark. The band’s music reflects the realistic nature of situations in the embellished tradition of the blues. Perceiving events as global and immense as the first lunar landing, the track ‘Penumbra’ recollects Buzz Aldrin in a stark acoustic number. Perhaps that is where the Drones have succeeded flawlessly over their last three records - conjuring up images that are both so seemingly personal yet widely accepted that the listener can do nothing but relate. Whether they have or not, ‘Havilah’ will remain as yet another great record from one of the most talented acts currently playing rock music.

the drones

The Drones - 'Havilah' (2008)

(sorry for the RapidShare link the file was too big for mediafire.)