Sunday, December 23, 2012

Album Review: Jason James & Rodney Hazard - "Pyramids in Stereo"

It's been a while since I last posted 'cause I'm on winter break, so my schedule has slowed down to petty much just sleeping, eating, listening to music, and watching Burn Notice. It's been pretty sweet. I'm here to make my last post of 2012, but once 2013 swings around, I'll be sure to update all y'all with what's coming up. Cool? Cool.

Without further ado, today we dive into the latest release from Jason James & Rodney Hazard: Pyramids in Stereo.

Jason James is a Vancouver-based rapper who's been working with New York producer Rodney Hazard for a while. In 2010, they released Marvelous World of Color and now they're back with Pyramids in Stereo. I've got to be frank here. Pyramids is a fantastic album. It's the album I said should be on my Top 10 of 2012 list, but didn't end up there because I published the list before listening to this album. I honestly feel bad for not including it on the list now, but the list is already out there. Shitty on my part.

So, Pyramids is a sample heavy, production light album with the focus on James' lyrics. The beats and tracks are generally pretty quiet in comparison to the rhymesayer's voice, but that's not to say they're poor quality tracks at all. The production is carefully layered with tons of reverb laden synth and keys, minimalist drums and tons of samples. The samples are perfectly chosen for each track, with clips taken from TV's The Price is Right, various news casts and news interviews from the scene of a shooting tragedy, and Kubrick's masterpiece Full Metal Jacket among many others. Along with the samples, Hazard's studio wizardry helps give the backing tracks even more depth. A favorite of mine has got to be the song "This is my Rifle", where the echoing and reverberating synth conjures up thoughts of a lone bullet flying through the air. Hazard definitely makes some of most well produced tracks I've heard in a while.

Jason James handles his role as MC as well as Hazard handles production duties, too. James' has unbelievable flow. Like, it's ridiculous how fluid his rhymes come out of your speakers. That being said, no matter how fast he spits out lines, he's always articulate and intelligible. You can always make out every word James says on Pyramids. His lyrics are powerful and moving, mostly covering political and social issues with his words. Personal favorites of mine are the two first tracks, "Return to the Marvelous World" and "Life as we Know it", where the latter's chorus is a plea for honesty, good will and righteousness among people everywhere. Solid.

Pyramids has a few other artists featuring on it who bring some cool dynamics to the album. Most notable has to be Mark McGrath and Adam Nigro on the closing track "Bang Bang Boogie Men". The instrumentation is a blues-rock guitar riff that is just hammered into your head over and over again. It's something reminiscent of The White Stripes, The Black Keys or Clutch, and when the outro solo hits, it just straight up rocks. It's something unconventional to hear in rap or hip-hop music, and it really makes for a powerful closer to the album.

Bomb-Ass Tracks: Life as we Know it, This is my Rifle, Bang Bang Boogie Men

On a Playlist With: Childish Gambino, MF Doom, Madvillain

Overall Score


Pyramids in Stereo is razor sharp and dead honest in it's execution. Through Rodney Hazard's beautiful production and awe inspiring lyrics and vocal work courtesy of Jason James, it stands as one of the best rap/ hip-hop albums of 2012, bar none. It's a damn shame my Top 10 list was already published, or Pyramids in Stereo would without a doubt be ranking high up there.

You can listen to and download Pyramids in Stereo from DJBooth, AudioMack, Bandcamp, or Soundcloud. You can check out Jason James on Facebook here, too.

That's all for now, folks! Merry almost Christmas, happy post-Hanukkah, jolly every other holiday/ whatever the hell you celebrate! See you in the new year!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Album Review: Zephyr Nova - "Shatterscapes"

Some of you may remember my not-so-raving review of Cthulhu Detonator's latest album, Infernal Machines. Turns out, the man behind Cthulhu Detonator, Eric Hogg runs a couple other projects as well. He dishes out some experimental electronic music under the name Zephyr Nova, and some acoustic folk rock under the moniker of Solipsis. Today we'll take a look at the former's latest album, Shatterscapes.

I realize that saying Zephyr Nova plays "experimental electronic" music is probably the least descriptive label, but Shatterscapes is a tough album to label, genre wise. The experimental bit comes in probably with the liberal use of glitch-beats and odd instruments/ sounds, but none of the experimental flare gets in the way of the actual music being presented. Zephyr Nova's experimentation gives the music a quirky personality. It isn't noise for the sake of noise. Songs vary in intensity both throughout their own running time and through the album as a whole. From the heavier opening track, "Searching for Signals" to the hazy, almost sleep inducing duo of "Sandman Prelude" and "The City Sleeps".

I personally enjoy the mellower tracks on this album, because I feel like they create a more enveloping atmosphere. Taking "The City Sleeps" for example, the song has what sounds like a car's windshield wipers going off. This mixed with the song's lead keyboards and laid back bass (as well as the rest of the rhythm and backing) paint the picture of a lone person, you, driving their car through some city streets which are chalked full of skyscrapers. It's raining kind of heavily and the streets are empty. The only light comes from the street lamps, your headlights, and the odd building lobby.  It's just you, your car and the city. You`re left to your own thoughts and you can just hang out in your own head for a couple minutes. Definitely the most beautiful song on the album, bar none.

Shatterscapes is one of those albums where, no matter how intense a song may get, they still seem to float around you like a thick fog. Things get really trippy when you start noticing things that sound like guns cocking, doors creaking, or thunder going off in the distance throughout the songs. Mix these unconventional sounds with some low, eerie bass like in the song "Cocoon", and you've got yourself a song with one hell of an immersive atmosphere. Coming back to the "thick fog" analogy from before, most of the songs are presented with a fragile, but haunting melody which dances over top of the rest of the music.

There's not much I can discredit Shatterscapes with. Production is handled beautifully, the album doesn't run on for too long, and none of the songs sound stagnant or boring. As I said earlier, the experimentation is handled with taste and tact, and doesn't come across as pretentious or in your face.

Bomb-Ass Tracks: June Bug, The City Sleeps, Why Let Go

On a Playlist With: Ratatat, Sigur Ros, (later) Earth

Overall Score


Zephyr Nova has put together a great album to toss on with a good pair of headphones and lose yourself to. Since I'm not the most well versed in electronic music (especially experimental electronic), I seem to attribute Shatterscapes heavily with the more ambient and less intense post rock. This album definitely has tons of replayability, because every time you toss it on, you notice something new. I'm excited to see what Zephyr Nova will put out next, and where he'll go from here.

Shatterscapes is out on eViVE Records and can be previewed and purchased here.

That's all for now, folks!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gupta's Top 10 Albums of 2012

Well, here we are. The end of 2012. I think I've listened to more music this year than I ever have in the rest of my life. I've expanded my tastes a lot, tried tons of new and different styles and genres, and I like to think that all of this has made me a better person today than I was on January 1st, 2012. I'll save all the sappy stuff for later, so without further ado, here are my top 10 albums of 2012. For once, this list is actually in ascending order of favorites.

#10: Foxy Shazam - The Church of Rock and Roll

What can I say? Foxy Shazam hit hard this year with great rock anthems that sound equally at home in a sold out arena as well as in a sold out small, dingy, intimate venue. Definitely a throwback to bands like Queen, Foxy Shazam definitely crank out one of the most fun and addictive albums this year.

Listen:  I Like It

#9: Death Grips - The Money Store

This album. This. Album. Despite only having access to it for less than a year, now it's definitely become one of my favorite rap albums, ever. It's challenging, progressive, and noisy, but despite all of the experimental sounds and beats, songs can't help but to get stuck in your head. Hip-hop, trip-hop, experimental avant-garde progressive post-rap: call it what you will, Death Grips delivers a sonic experience quite unlike anything else.

Listen: The Fever (Aye Aye)

#8: Rush - Clockwork Angels

Rush dropped their 20th album this year, and by god, isn't it just something. Sounding somewhat like a return to form to their hard-hitting prog rock from their pre-synth rock days, Clockwork Angels tells a magnificent and world-spanning story, and the music definitely fits the bombastic and grandiose setting. This is definitely my favorite Rush album since 1981's Moving Pictures. Review here.

Listen: Headlong Flight

#7: Napalm Death - Utilitarian

Considering 2012 was the year I was introduced, learned to tolerate, and then learned to love grindcore with all of my blackened, icy heart, it only makes sense that grind godfathers and  extreme music heavyweights Napalm Death make this list. Politically charged and ready to maul your face off, Utilitarian is a tidal wave of distorted guitars, blaring drums and barked vocals. Not for the faint of heart. Review here.

Listen: Errors in the Signals

#6: BadBadNotGood - BBNG2

A genre like jazzy instrumental hip-hop sounds like a weird idea at first glance, but trust me, it works. Canadians (woo!) BadBadNotGood dish out a ton of different sounds, tones, and feelings on BBNG2, all of which are loved by this guy right here.

Listen: UWM (Feat. Leland Whitty)

#5: Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pandora's Piñata

Blends of jazz and metal have been around since about 1993, when Cynic released their amazing debut Focus, but since then, metal has really only taken cues from the technical and avant-garde side of the genre. DSO swings over to the other end of the spectrum and plays, well... swing jazz. Perfectly moshable as it is danceable, Pandora's Piñata is easily one of the most refreshing releases this year. Review here.

Listen: Voodoo Mon Amour

#4: Twelve Foot Ninja - Silent Machine

Speaking of refreshing releases, Silent Machine is not only refreshing, but innovative as well. Mixing nu-metal, djent, funk, latin fusion and reggae? That kind of stunt was unheard of before this. Maybe a comedy musician like Weird Al would've attempted it, but I assure you, Twelve Foot Ninja not only attempts it, but shows you it can be done well. I still have no idea how I found out about this band, but all I know is that I'm glad I did. Review here.

Listen: Coming for You

#3: Dawnbringer - Into the Lair of the Sun God

Old school heavy metal (a la Iron Maiden) meets modern day vest metal (a la Valient Thorr) in sound with a scope the size of a 70s prog rock epic (a la 2112-era Rush). No uber-technical playing, no blistering speed and aggression, just nine perfectly executed tracks. Sun God is something you can just toss on to headbang and air guitar to, but the fist-pumping metal is simply a medium for an incredibly intricate story to be told. Review here.

Listen: I

#2: Pig Destroyer - Book Burner

"This then, this is libel, slander, deformation of character. This is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of art. A kick in the pants to God, man, destiny, time, love, beauty, what you will. I'm going to sing for you. A little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak. I will dance on your dirty corpse."

Review here.

Listen: Burning Palm

#1: Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind

Atop the pedestal titled "Best Album of 2012" stands Converge. All We Love We Leave Behind just hit all the right spots for me. It was chaotic, challenging, extreme, emotional, melodic and everything else in between. Listening to this album is like feeling every emotion ever, at the same time. It's a giant whirlwind of love, hate, despair, and empowerment. It's a complete sensory overload; a feast for those who love to feel. My raving review can be found here.

So that's it. My top 10 favorite albums from 2012. I guarantee that now that this list has been published, I guarantee I'll find like, a shit ton of albums that I think are way better than every single album on this list. Whatever. That's the way the music reviewing world works. What were your favorite albums of 2012? Let me know down in the comments section or on Facebook. I'm really interested to see what everyone else has been listening to this year!

That's all for now, folks! Happy politically correct non-denominational December holidays!


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Album Review: The Electric Grandmother - "Love in an Escalator"

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love silly, immature, and quirky things. Things like Adventure Time. Things like Evil Dead 2. Things like ordering a chili cheese burrito inside of a chili cheese burrito at Taco Bell because I can. I have an affinity for things that don't take themselves too seriously, music not withstanding. I mean, just look at the rad bros in Twelve Foot Ninja. If there was any other band that followed my chili cheese burrito inside of a chili cheese burrito because you can philosophy, it'd be The Electric Grandmother.

The Electric Grandmother (EG) is something else. Pete Faust and Mary Alice Hamnett, husband and wife have made this sitcom-core band together and have somewhat exploded onto the electro-indie-pop scene. "Wait, wait, wait. What the flying fuck is sitcom-core?" I hear you screech, hunched over your laptop, leathery wings flapping furiously in the air. (You are now a pterodactyl.) Well, my Cretaceous avian friend, I'm not going to tell you what it means. That just ruins it.

EG have pieced together their 7th release, Love in an Escalator, which comes off as neat and tidy electro-pop hooks tied in with lovable indie rock DIY attitude. There are samples galore on Escalator, with the only one I recognize being Bill Cosby's voice on the track "Mr. Clyde", but I have to say that I think on the song "Sitcom-Core" I hear flibbity flop bloobity bippity gumbo chops.

Things follow simple formula here: short, sweet songs that put a smile on your face whether you like it or not. Seriously, songs like "Mac Tonight" and "Baby Geniuses" just get stuck in your head, and with their goofy lyrics and beat, it's tough not to bop along happily. That's not to say Escalator is devoid of any emotional content, as the title track covers themes such as drastic change, in one's life and how to weather it and press forwards. Faust handles most of the vocals on the album, with Hamnett coming in as backup and for a couple vocal trade-offs. While I wouldn't say they have the greatest voices in the world, there's just something genuine, warm, and inviting about their voices that I can't quite put my finger on, whether they're singing about McDonalds or love.

Something I really like about EG is their fearlessness with letting you know what their influences are. "Reagan's Got the Bomb" definitely shows a love for noise rock and old school hardcore punk. In fact, it's somewhat reminiscent of a band I reviewed a while back, SexGender. Songs like "Mom, what are Girl's like?" and "Virtual Reality Helmet" show a bit of love for old school hip-hop. All of these influences crop up during the album, but never do they feel out of place from the rest of the album.

If there's anything I'd have to criticize Escalator with, it would be to increase the intensity some more. By adding dynamics, I think Escalator would have been much more enjoyable. Other than "Reagan's got the Bomb", things stay at a mostly mid-paced, mid-volume level and start to get stale by the end of the album's half hour running time. I'm dissapointed an album to run so short began to bore me by the end.

Bomb-Ass Tracks: Love in an Escalator, The Internet, Mr. Clyde, The Tired Robots Ride the Escalator

On a Playlist With: I can't really find anything that sounds quite like The Electric Grandmother. I'm told that fans of Ween, The Residents, and Dead Milkmen will find something to enjoy from this release.

Overall Score


The Electric Grandmother have crafted their own electro-pop identity that no other band or artists I've heard can really emulate. It's goofy, it's fun, and it's maturely immature. Choice songs from Love in an Escalator will definitely be played and replayed whenever I need to put a smile on my face. I only wish there was a bit more variety on the release.

You can check out The Electric Grandmother's bandcamp page here, and you can pick up Love in an Escalator from Infinite Number of Sounds Recording Company.

That's all for now, folks! Don't take yourself too seriously.