MELOMANIA gets dangerous - reviews of the past, present and immediate present (yeah, we dared to dive into Kendrick.)
Remember, we just really want to get you to listen.
DOBBELTGJENGER - Smooth Falling [LP/CD](Karisma NOR)
The Norwegian group Dobbeltgjenger makes some fantastic danceable Rock that erupts from a hybrid cross of Girls Against Boys (circa "House of GvsB") and Queens Of The Stone Age (the strutting "Johanna.") Tight beats and memorable but not blaring hooks prevent you from getting worn out. The Folly Group-ish opener "Elephants In The Room" establishes their basic formula but does not show their entire hand. "Dive In" is stripped down and tough with a fuzzy, funky bassline whose swoops will rattle your speakers. While "Building Skyscrapers" works around its subtlety for a shimmering chorus and only hints of the 80s production that has become so prevalent. However, it is the propulsive "Living In Overdrive" that is Dobbelgjenger's true standout and best possible single. Vegard Wikne's vocals dominate the slinky verse, and the Disco-ish chorus builds perfectly as more instruments are introduced beneath it. "Smooth Falling" is perfect with the current Alternative diet of Glass Animals and Maneskin - to their credit, Dobbeltgjenger never actually sounds like they are trying to fit in.
PINCH POINTS - Process [LP/CD](Exploding In Sound)
All the recent talk about so much talking on these angular/punky Indie rock records is about to be left behind by this Melbourne quartet. For all the usual Post-Punk tenets they bring to the floor (trebly guitar, rhythm section reduced to dust by the mix,) their brand of chaos between two vocalists and a squealing guitar could be the next step beyond Sprechgesang. “Reasons To Be Anxious” holds nothing back and finds its success in a blistering hook. “Stock It” turns on its rumbling riff to attack consumerism as blinding all of us from seeing where it is all going awry. “Haruspex” is the closest they come to a single as its gets bratty and honest about “male behavior” over a combination of Gang of Four-ism and NYC Seventies Punk. The women Acacia and Isabella howl (in tandem) at everything with vitriol. Then, the band returns to yet another infectious muscular riff. “Process” is a howling love letter to a world on fire.
SISTER RAY - Communion [LP/CD](Royal Mountain CAN)
Ella Coyes uses her voice to wrap herself around the confessional songs she writes and put herself back in the story. “Reputations” is Coyes at her most dexterous and expressive. Over a pulsing bass, Coyes dances around her relationship with both hints of enticement and venom (“Was that a promise or a threat?” “Good News” takes her voice even higher where you really get to listen for tight vibrato and the ability to be imagistic. “Communion” like a lot of first albums asks a lot of questions and mines familiar territory. However, her combination of directness and the implied sense of experience within her songs - like her voice - makes her stand out.
HORIZON - Magic Music: The Story of Horizon - San Antonio, TX 1977-84 [LP/CD](Past Due/Fat Beats)
Soul Music in the Seventies goes through a myriad of changes to wind up keeping 50’s Doo Wop harmonies, the melodic thrust of 60’s R&B, and the impending dominance of both Funk and Disco all in play at once. With the massive growth of cities, small scenes developed all over the Midwest (excellently documented by the Numero compilations) and Northeast. Throughout the South, nearly every growing city had at least one “dance” band to boast about. Like Atlanta’s Cameo, Horizon grows their funky Soul out of a large band (six members and multicultural) where the children of mostly musical households, were able to make their own. Horizon has bright Earth, Wind, and Fire-like harmonies (“They Don’t Make ‘Em Like You”) and takes advantage of all the synths and guitar sounds of the day. “Let Me Be The One” is tough, striated Steve Arrington and Slave-style funk with Latin percussion in the background. “Snap To It” showcases their burst of Disco ingenuity. As they entered the Eighties, Horizon tracks toughened up. “Magic Music” puts the minimal guitar upfront and lets the thumb-and-snap bass surprise you. Finally, every good Soul group needs a ballad. Horizon’s “Lady Fantasy” is an electronic drum/synth-driven slow roller that would still entice Venus Flytrap to sweep his bar chimes and turn down the studio lights.
THOMAS LEER AND ROBERT RENTAL - The Bridge [LP](Mute)
On one of the earlier SynthPop records, Scottish synthesist and experimentalist Thomas Leer begins to reformulate the abject chaos of the group who discovered them, Throbbing Gristle (the nightmarish "Fade Away" stays with you after its completion) into a prescient idea of the cold Ballard-ian beginnings of Human League with noisy textures pinning the melodic ideas inside ("Interferon" and its beautiful ethereal ending.) In its quietest moments, it blends the pleasing hum of an internal motorik beat with flourishes of synth that remind you of Musik Kosmiche. "The Bridge" is still far more unsettling than the German music it wishes to emulate. That growing sense of unease leads his "minimal wave" closer to SynthPop than the branded New Wave of its day.
OTHER JOE - blessings of th eheart [LP](Bedroom Suck/Polyvinyl/AMPED)
Australian Joe Buchan has a wonderful gift for making ambient music that is dense but never feels busy. “Man of the World” spills out of its small eddies of noise and tape twirling into long, lush languid chords that drift endlessly until his poignant piano line returns to bring it back down to earth. “blessings of th eheart” works because it has that implied “whoosh” that all great Ambient music needs. Like early Harmonia, tracks feel environmental with tracks beginning and ending as their waves grow less and less intense. “New Year’s Kiss” messes with piano, clarinet, and saxophone making it respond like Brian Eno experimenting for Hausu Mountain. The noise always has dimension and color - thus, taking it away from being just noise. Other Joe’s centerpiece is the ten minutes of groundswell that is “Ada.” First, it mixes the digital hum of electrical impulses with lengthy warm chords and notes. As it morphs into a sustained, staccato series of the same note, it picks up Steve Reich-ian overtones which hover above an almost dark Lustmord-ian low moan. Best of all for an Ambient record, “blessings” breezes by. Other Joe creates music that gets you so entranced - you never notice the time.
Not to be viewed as a complete review, here are elements gathered from first impressions and brief ruminations on a release that dropped as Melomania was coalescing. For example, lyrics will be dropped in as they occur - because they immediately stood out. However, yet again immediacy is sometimes not the best indicator of lasting power.
KENDRICK LAMAR - Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers (Aftermath)
Despite the Pulitzer Prize winner not putting his new album on physical media (grrrrr,) the promise of the Marvin Gaye groove of “The Heart Part 5” led me back. The mixture of the familiar Gaye/Ware eternal jam “I Want You,” and Kendrick’s playful mid-song removal of the drums draw you in, and then Kendrick’s blistering rhyming is like watching a boxer train for the big fight. A song largely about love (with its sample beneath it) channels Gaye’s desperation in being with another woman to Kendrick’s desperation in wanting a better world.
“United In Grief” is Kendrick soaring at superhero speed above minimal sounds, managing jarring changes between a blaring drum part and haunted piano sample. Like “The Heart Part 5,” Lamar is interested in lengthy verses of rhyme and (letting you) catch a breath on the chorus. “N95” is more familiar to modern Hip-Hop fans with its booming Trap-style beats and Black Panther-heroic sweeps. “Oh, you worried about a critic - that ain’t protocol”
“Worldwide Steppers” sinks its beat low and close-mic’ed Kendrick gets weirdly autobiographical. The lyrics are uncomfortable. The pause between the two moving parts is actually more uncomfortable. “The industry has killed the creators.” “My last Christmas drive in Compton handed out eulogies.” “Die Hard” marks the first occurrence of a true hook (BLXST with an assist from Amanda Reifer) and Kendrick singing. Musically, it does impress - but after the 1-2-3 opening foray - it feels more like a single. Paired with the Reggaeish lilt (and brilliant hook from Sampha) on “Father Time,” the continuity of “Mr. Morale” is less of a narrative (“Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”) and more of a mural/patchwork (“DAMN. ”) Kendrick’s pugilistic retort of “Daddy Issues” over the children’s record sample draws you another layer deeper into the record.
Kodak Black’s “Rich - Interlude” presents an interesting background, but its length and the lack of Kendrick’s presence do not help set up “Rich Spirit” to catch much fire, especially as his repetition of “Brother” and its content about praying might be better represented in “The Heart Part 5” (not on the album) and the chopped conversation of the chorus was just used at nearly the same clip in “N95.” “Stop playing with me ‘fore I turn you ‘to a song.”
Kendrick and Taylour Paige serve up a wholly different Hip-Hop song than perhaps ever before. Like a skit expanded to a one-act play, “We Cry Together” takes “Scenes From a Marriage” to its logical terrifying extreme. As it is staged, it feels too real. Thankfully, the internal rhyme slips in every now and then to remind you this is only a song. “Womanizer got no affection from your mother I see.” “Egotistic, narcissistic, know you’re all lies.” A bravura performance from Taylour Paige. Sadly, the after-effects of its impact put a pin in the balloon that Kendrick and Summer Walker try to inflate on “Purple Hearts” even with Ghostface dropping a verse.
Disc Two opens with “Count Me Out,” the first Kendrick track on here that does not live up to its start or early potential. Kendrick’s first verse kicks in some clever internal rhyme patterns and works its inner melody very well (“And morality’s dust I lack in trust.”) Sensing another minimal chorus, this one starts basic and then is built up where it loses the initial direction. Still, Kendrick pushes the last verse his hardest over the diminishing sample and backing vocals to give it a good ending. The quiet piano-led “Crown” has a few good moments and Kendrick finds yet another voice this one drawling out his lines with a rough underpinning of “I can’t please ev’rybody” coming out of every corner of the cut.
Sonically, there is a lot going on here - but in large part, “Mr. Morale” remains another spartan record like “DAMN.” The slow-rolling beat and twinkling synth frame his duet with Kodak Black on “Silent Hill” fairly well. Kodak drops a strange verse that might dwell a little too much on the same braggadocio he brings to his records (once Kendrick mocked that tendency on “Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City.”) However, you can appreciate the Morse Code of assonance and consonance he brings to “Mr.Morale” with lines like “Yeah, shuffle like candy paint, I spend a band on the Benz.” Also, Kodak splits from that to drop two lines that bring part of the overall narrative back into focus. “Every Thursday girls they spendin' time with my daughter, made me go harder/
Every Sunday someone's gotta teach my boy to be a man, I ain't have no father” Kendrick clearly admires him to give him the meat of the track.
Nice to include his cousin Baby Keem here, however, “Savior - Interlude” blunts the impact of Kodak’s twisting verse and Kendrick’s ongoing dueling voices. The strings on "Savior - Interlude” and the voices of Sam Dew on “Savior” provide great backdrops. While it does not spin out in the beginning, Kendrick’s final verse is one of his most fiery and revealing on the album. “Yeah, hero's looking for the villains to help
I never been sophisticated, same face.” “Independent thought is like an eternal enemy.”
“Auntie Diaries” is Kendrick at his most brave. His imagery may have never been better. While many of the other songs here are largely to understand Kendrick - in his mind, “Auntie Diaries” tries to put you in his actual place. These are his observations mixed up with his memories. So, the lines rifle between fact and confession. The storytelling makes me not want to reduce or distill to take away from its impact. Given the substance of this cut, it demands more than the cursory listen. [NOTE: We got three in and still press for more.] “The heart plays in ways the mind can’t figure out.”
Kendrick brings in Pharrell Williams for the sleek aerodynamic anger of “Mr. Morale.” Underneath the title track, its fast-stepping synth-funk, vocal tricks, and children’s chorus really free Kendrick to as he says “get heavy” as it confronts abuse. Like “Auntie Diaries,” there is a lot to provoke thought here. Kendrick sounds muscular. His lyrics are clipped and when he hiccups at the end of a couple of lines - it feels like an abbreviated scream. These rhymes are both sincere questions and an angry retort. Unlike the early part of the album, Kendrick uses no other voices but his own barely concealed rage. “Tyler Perry, the face of a thousand rappers/Used they violence to cover what really happen.” “For forgiveness, I'm sacrificin' myself to start the healin.'“
What Kendrick has been drilling down to finds its stark conclusion on “Mother I Sober” where he almost whispers the verses that tell his story until he reaches the point where connects what happened to him, the subsequent shame and suffering alone to all of those in his life who suffered similar horrors. When the proverbial veil drops, Kendrick soars to anger where you almost cannot hear him catch his breath. The demons that he mentions fighting in “Mr. Morale,” the schizophrenic conversational choruses of the opening cuts, the numerous mentions of “suicide” mid-album, and the dissonance of his past life/present life throughout the album have finally let him go. “All these women gave me super powers, what I thought I lacked/I pray our children don't inherit me and feelings/I attract a conversation, not bein' addressed in black families”
The sweeping “Mirror” leaves you with the feeling of uplift (like “Compton” on “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City”) as the credits roll.
Throughout the record, Kendrick is trying out a lot of different voices (which really are affecting when used in tandem) and enough diverse rhythms and flows to act as a textbook to other rappers. As always with modern Hip-Hop records, too many features can spoil or distill the message too much. “Mr. Morale” goes sparingly on those - with great effect from some and strangely no effect from others. For a man facing a world where he is putting his last record out with the label that brought him this far, Kendrick always sounds like his internal conflict is leading him through his rhymes. Some of the verses dive into some subconscious wanderings whose end-of-line (or beginning) repetitions are a bit like signposts on the road. “Mr.Morale” upon first listen seems like it is about a huge loss of faith. However, not necessarily in himself - but faith that one part of Kendrick which he always hoped success, family life, and even admiration/friendship could keep pinned to the mat would just disappear. Once Kendrick confronts the reality of it all, makes the crucial connections, and sacrifices himself for forgiveness - his faith is not restored necessarily in his words, but in the fervor and passion, he uses to deliver them.
—> Don’t hate. It’s a first impression.
FINALLY, a PARTING SHOT from MAGMA whose excellent fifth studio album from 1974 - “Kohntarkosz” is being reissued next week from Music on Vinyl and URP.
We will return next week with more! IS there a release you want to share with us?
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