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By The Numbers: Ageism In Hip-Hop Doesn't Exist

The argument that rappers must lose relevance after a certain age is as old as hip-hop itself, and artists like Rakim, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, M...

Beatastic - GL1TCH3S

‘GL1TCH3S’ is out on April 30th.
 Check out Beatastic here:

There's something to be said for not standing still. In a sonic landscape now crowded to breaking point, artists are continually striving for individuality. There are infinite ways of achieving this goal, but a key component is evolution. Before this evolution must come some form of divergence. Some artists work most effectively within the confines of their self (or fan) defined sounds, others branch in to uncharted territory. A risky approach, and one not for the faint of heart, but if it is executed well it can lead to a lush, fully enriched sound that is entirely unique (see Arcade Fire, Bjork, Beirut)

Beatastic, a project by a young man by the name of Nico, is in to it's 3rd full length release, and his utilisation of divergence-come-evolution is an interesting case study. His catalogue has run the full gamit of genre's, touching on hip-hop, electronica, chillwave (I know, but it was apt at the time), lo-fi, dream pop, rock, noise, minimalist, techno, funk, you get the idea. Rather than a jack of all trades approach, Beatastic takes a more in-depth look at each genre he employs. On previous release This Lazer Life, brilliant slow burning minimal electronic pieces like We Learn To Swim When We Begin To Drown are plotted next to thumping EDM throws such as Mon Coeur Ne Bat Pas Que Pour Moi
 and Synergy. Hip-hop was also embraced, with frequent collaborator Global Graffitti, on a number of tracks. On Oceans Between You And I there was a more electronic focus, with dalliances in folk and acoustic singer/songwriter sounds. And Bedroom-dancing Anthems even introduced a bit of Glam Rock on Futuretastic.

GL1TCH3S finds Beatastic again pushing the envelope.  Glitchy begins in stomping fashion, Nico pairs an aggressive, distorted riff with strong, pounding drums and sings with more confidence than on previous releases. It's a full blown excursion in to punk, with trademark heavy industry juxtaposed with a spacey electronic ending. It bleeds nicely in to Lctr, which employs more heft in a simple but effective riff that opens out brilliantly at 1 minute, recalling Explosions In The Sky and, of course, My Bloody Valentine. The vocals are soaked in reverb and indistinguishable for the most. It masks the true emotion of the track, and the highly plucked strings that sneak in only serve to heighten the anxiety. It's a dark track that Nico exposes to the light, and one of the best on the record.

If there is an inherent sense of movement within the music that feels natural (perfect example is the lovely flowing Hightide), the themes that Nico deals with push and pull, and forward momentum feels forced. Positivity leaks through all over the record, but tension always awaits. On the fluffy Give Up, Nico employs a light and airey feel that counteracts his introspective mood, 'The cold reality, the bitter familiarity, of growing old, cold'. The synths are pure Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, rather than enliven they create a thoughtful atmosphere, as if you've taken a moment in time to explore your universe, your future and reality. It's a technique echoed on Comets And Nebulas, a stunning soundscape that builds from the humble origins of a simple piano riff and expands in to a post-rock epic. Nico muses 'my time, your time, our time, is ebbing away', before questioning 'is it too late tonight to wish upon a star?' It sounds cheesy in text but works within the confines of the song. For a man so young, his obsession with the ever encroaching end is disquieting but intriguing.

These moments of introspection add weight to what is already a heavy record. As a producer, Beatastic is well versed and adept, and if this were a purely instrumental affair you'd not feel short changed without those insights in to his mindset. Addiction is an example of what creates this instrumental heaviness, as well as why it is unique but at times hard to palate. It carries over his vocal themes of anxiety, disquiet, a caged need for a resolution that isn't forthcoming, and pours them solely in to the sonics. The start is loud and abrasive, industrial. As each sound is added, including the unintelligble vocals, a more disruptive environment is created. By the time the off-kilter out of time drums are employed the song is a dystopian nightmare rattling around in your head. It's a love or hate track, on par with Autechre, but it keeps the image of a tortured mind vivid and alive.

Evolution may be the key, but consistency can not be underrated. Earlier releases by Beatastic were safest and strongest in a less noise-oriented domain. Half of GL1TCH3S finds the producer flirting with big walls of distorted sound that attack the ears and fill your personal space. This is a difficult skill to master, and even if it isn't your most enjoyed technique you must admire the skill put forth by Beatastic to generate these situations. I mention consistency because even when Beatastic takes stylistic left turns on GL1TCH3S he still manages to touch on a core sound. On Dreamcatcher for example, the message is light, loving, 'I'll be your dream catcher when you're asleep', and if you removed the percussion it'd be a straight dream pop album cut. Add the drums in and that hard edged side to the shoe gaze genre is still present, they sound like they're being played under water and add bite to the message. It draws your attention. The same is said of 26 years, the closest thing on the record you could say to indie pop, it's quite a straightforward song yet those distorted guitars allow it a touch point with the rest of the record that breeds consistency and familiarity. Even the obligatory hip-hop song, Let's Make Today About Today, is menacing and loud.

7/10 Essentially, GL1TCH3S is a clear sign of forward movement for Beatastic. As an artist who is unsigned and trying to gain a concrete foothold in an infinitely crowded marketplace of easy access music, his output needs to be quality controlled and his selling point must be unique. The variety of sounds offered on this release is immense and impressive, but what is even more striking is his ability to carry a general theme throughout such a rich variety. If you're a fan of My Bloody Valentine, Explosions In The Sky, Mogwai, Anathema, basically anything ranging from instrumental post-rock to harder-edged shoe gaze, you will enjoy this release.
Best Tracks: Lctr, Give Up, Comets and Nebulas

‘GL1TCH3S’ is out on April 30th.
Check out Beatastic here:

And on Spotify 

And iTunes

John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

There is this feeling that erupts when you're trawling over the internet and you discover someone you love is playing your city for not much money. It feels like a heart attack almost, pressure in your chest and a slight tingle in the extremeties, and as you fumble with your credit card and simultaneously pray it hasn't been sold out you wonder how in god's name you're going to survive the month long wait between now and the concert. I had that with John Grant.

MOJO crowned Queen Of Denmark it's best album of 2010, and it was certainly one of mine. A record wracked with brutal honesty, sheepish dry wit and the undeniable Texan folk of Midlake, it propelled Grant to the dizzying height of positive critical reception. His back story is well documented, and there is one particular point I will make strongly. Confidence.

When I went and saw his performance in March 2011 I took 2 friends. We left after his first four songs.. Apart from The Tallest Man On Earth, I hadn't encountered such a poor stage presence. Grant was reluctant to look at the audience, his monotone rendered his stories and anecdotes inert, his overall musical performance was stripped back but without feeling and emotion. It wasn't a man going through the motions, it was a man still coming to terms with a drastic change in circumstance. Before Midlake gently coaxed him in to the record (and basically nursed him through the project) Grant was in a dangerous place. The result was a trip to hospital once the record was recorded due to his suicidal nature, and the undertones were flowing freely on that night in March. This was still a broken man, and it was devastating to see. There was no fascination as there can be at times with witnessing someone elses rock bottom. It was unadulterated depth, and I thought I shall never hear much from John Grant again.

Pale Green Ghosts begins with the title track and a distinct Kraftwerk vibe. Synths surround you as fat electronics boom confidently out. Grant enters, with typical grace and poise, and delivers a jounryemans description of yearning, longing for a past that isn't necessarily brighter, but more care-free, 'Warm late spring's wind whips through my hair  / I am right here, but want to be there  / And no one in this world is gonna stop me'. It pulses forwards on the back of what at first appears to be clumsy, 80s electronics but the simplicity and the theatrcial thunder claps add severity and coldness to the song. Grant may appear determined, but by the second verse he is walled in, resigned and providing advice for those living a less dark existance than him. Down, but defiant.

Defiance is something that was lacking on his first record. It was playful, even malicious at times (Silver Platter Club), yet the lack of confidence meant that these emotions could not be gathered in to a full frontal assault on the issues clearly plaguing Grant. On Pale Green Ghosts we're finally treated to the missing link: Confidence. Black Belt partners an almost hip-hop drum machine loop with more out of space electrics as Grant demolishes someone elses confidence, 'You think you're mysterious, you cannot be serious / You got lots of time to think of new ways to deceive yourself'. It's joyful, I've already written my list of people to send this song to.. Even when he is more introspective of his own romantic shortcomings, Vietnam, he delivers barbs that stick and hurt. Detailing a toxic personal relationship, he manages to bemoan his own actions and then attack his partners, 'Your silence is a weapon / It's like a nuclear bomb / It's like the agent orange  / They used in Vietnam. THAT is a devastating line. Comparing passive aggressive behaviour to such catastrophic events is brutally impactful, and its the mark of a man confident enough (finally) to really let loose, to recognise his own failings but that they aren't limited to him.

To make this record, Grant moved to that magically blessed country known as Iceland, a place that has spawned it's own special brand of music that appears as though it's been sprinkled with pixie dust. Local producer Birgir ├×├│rarinsson stamps his authority all over Pale Green Ghosts. His previous project, Gus Gus, was an interesting mix of Everything But The Girl and Erasure. Add to this the influence of Sinead O'Connor, present on 3 songs, and the origins of Pale Green Ghosts becomes even clearer. Their guidance sees Pale Green Ghosts travel tentatively down the EDM path, but no further than the first gas station. Grant employed synths in Queen Of Denmark, but nothing like this. Sensitive New Age Guy is a throbbing Euro-dance number, complete with M83 levels of atmospheric noise (pre-Hurry Up). Why Don't You Love Me Anymore is something even more epic, it's almost a Deep House track, with echoes of a build up reminiscient of Scooter. The industrial, hard-edged sounds at the end lend potency to the stunning picture painted by Grant, one of desperation and pain at the breakdown of an all-ecompassing relationship. He slices with 'The knowledge that I can't be what you need / Is cutting off my air supply / And yet this information hasn't reached my heart / And that's why I still try'. It's instantly relatable and yet somehow even more inaccessible for that, if you tried to interact with it and enter his shoes you'd be overwhelmed. 'I don't know that much about guns / But I feel like I've been shot by one'.

We're still treated to his humourous and more light hearted side, but it is notably muted. Rather than a more outward display, Grant lets his delivery and odd combinations showcase it. On I Hate This Town he sounds relaxed and almost careless, but he contrasts this with a song about being trapped and hemmed in to a town and even a mindset that has long ceased to be a source of enjoyment or positive feeling. It could concievably explain his relocation to the relative isolation of Iceland. More often than not though he is stuck on serious. It Doesn't Matter To Him is more of a standard ballad, a lovely smooth groove that fills the air with acoustic guitar, strong bass and slow but purposeful percussion. Again, the mourning of un-returned, unrequited love, almost teenage-esque in its message 'It doesn't matter to him / I could be anything  / But I could never win his heart again'. If you joined the Grant fan club to be an optimist you're in the wrong place.

So we come to the source of much internal pain for Grant. Recently he was diagnosed as HIV positive. It is addressed in depth on the stunning Ernest Borgnine, a 5 minute electronic exorcism where Grant addresses himself from a rational and measured perspective rather than the rampant fear and panic that must be marauding inside. Lines like 'Sorry that you think you had it rough in the first world' and 'Dad keep looking at me says I got the disease / Now what did you expect, you spent your life on your knees' are brutally honest and difficult to swallow, even for a passive observer. His ability to step outside such a devastating mindset and deliver this is testament to a truly mature human being. The song is drenched in synth, the chorus employing dramatically altered vocals to produce this eery, spacey effect that eliminates emotion, purposefully I would suggest.

He saves the emotion for the stunning, gleaming final track, Glacier. A piano and some rising strings are all Grant needs here to paint a masterpiece of pain and suffering, and honest thought. Detailing his disease, how he is percieved by those around him, and even doling out crucial advice to those in a similar situation (gargantuan, considering the inner turmoil he must have), Glacier is stacked with pain. The weight behind his voice as it soars in to the chorus is chilling, 'This pain it is a glacier moving through you / And carving out deep valleys / And creating spectacular landscapes', he throws himself in to it. The perfect track to end a great record.

8.5/10. Grant delivers a side-step, but a highly enjoyable and emotionally educational one. The confidence he now displays manifests itself in both positive and negative ways. The electro-focus is overbearing at times, you feel he is in his element with a more simple philosophy, where his excellent voice can propel tracks. However, on tracks like Ernest Borgnine and It Doesn't Matter To Him they complement the feel of the songs perfectly. It's an extremely good, engaging listen, and I daresay it will grow on you even more as the year progresses.
Best Tracks: Glacier, Ernest Borgnine, I Hate This Town

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience

I saw him in concert once. It was 2007, and I was struck by 2 things. MAN this guy makes me think of Michael Jackson. And OH MY GOD  I have never experienced a more irritating crowd experience. It's prudent to note that whilst *NSYNC were a global mega-force, the world has only been delivered 2 Timberlake solo LPs in 11 years before this.  Those 2 records have sold 17 million copies worldwide, and ensured a level of fame that had women at my previously mentioned concert so delerious with the experience of him being within 200 metres of them they were in danger of permanently losing their sanity (dignity already out the window..)

Of course whilst JT is one of the least prolific pop icons ever he has never left the public eye, becoming a global megastar on the back of some excellent film work and proving his dexterity of character via some equally brilliant work on SNL. Fans of his music have been despairing, however, and the news of a new solo album must've been like heroin in the veins of a junkie for them. For me, personally, I was more than excited. Whilst pop music teeters dangerously close to losing all credibility, there have been precious few artists recently who have displayed the power to tilt the scales back. Timberlake possesses this power.

This power stems from not only an accomplished and celebrated vocal ability, but decades spent honing his pop craft. His past is well documented, and it transferred brilliantly in to solo success the way others, especially his *NSYNC group mates, can only dream of and salivate at. Justified was a conservative yet well executed pop album, propelled in to contemporary blood lines via the shrewd beat-making of The Neptunes. It ruffled few feathers, and spawned one of the best songs of the decade, Cry Me A River. Then came FutureSex/LoveSounds, a dramatic left turn orchestrated by JT and Timbaland that shot both artists in to the pop stratosphere and created a legacy that is underestimated by some. The insane funked out, electro grooves these two constructed together proved to be years ahead of its time, and when coupled with the more straightforward hip hop intelligence Timbaland displayed to fill the album out, it was the consumate modern pop record.

Little wonder then that it's taken JT 6 and a half years to attempt a follow up. In the world of pop music this is a lifetime, and the landscape has changed dramatically. EDM, rave-pop, synth mush, whatever label you choose, now roams the airwaves. Timbaland, since brilliantly reinventing Nelly Furtado and spending the next few years producing everyone from Duran Duran to Kanye West, has fallen in to obscurity on the back of the failure of his own record Shock Value II, and now only pops up in the news when people ask if Jay-Z is in the studio or not. The stage is then perfectly set for the king of modern pop to earn his crown, and an old-timer who helped shape some of the greatest records of the previous decade to rise once again. The 20/20 Experience.

Pusher Love Girl sets a tone that is adhered to for much of the record. It's a slow moving 70s guitar groove, that blossoms nicely a few times throughout with the help of a devoted string section and that rising falsetto of JT. With the opening track, we're invited in to this neo-soul ratpack environment that the two have created. A smokey black and white room, slicked back hair, the smoothest Saturday night club on the corner. Jay-Z and 50 Cent may have done it before, but the simplistic metaphor of love as a tangible drug is tackled brilliantly here by JT, lines like 'I'm hopped up on it, it won't go away / Now I can't wait 'til I get you home and get you in my veins' will cut you regardless of which side of the metaphor you fall on. It also signals intentions. Whilst FutureSex/Love Sounds was a more confident, defiant, player-esque Timberlake, this song introduces a much softer personality.

A question must be posed at this point. Is this record chic, or slick? Is it a fashionable, contemporary take on the current musical landscape, highlighting that no matter how far we may have evolved sonically, R&B pop roots can always be traced back to the bloodlines of Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, The Commodores, 70s funk and soul music? Or is this a shrewd marketing observation, using mega-star status as a means to trot out a tried and tested formula and dress it up as cutting edge and revolutionary?

The album certainly doesn't jump off the wall at you. Songs such as Strawberry Bubblegum and Spaceship Coupe wallow in a yawn-inducing lull, as JT wisps away with lines like 'Cause she's just like nothing / That I ever seen before / Baby please dont change nothing / Because your flavours so original' and 'Hop into my spaceship coupe / There's only room for two / Me and you'. That we're treated to such extended versions of this lack of lyrical prowess is actually somewhat of a crime. Timbaland's production is pedestrian. Strawberry Bubblegum starts promisingly, recalling a Clams Casino or even The Weeknd esque lo-fi groove, but without something more dynamic on top of it the whole thing just fizzles in to nothing by the time the jazz piano riff kicks in at 5 minutes. Timberlake repeating strawberry bubblegum over and over just adds to the exacerbation, the song should've been over 3 minutes previously.

The blame for this rests equally with Timbaland and Timberlake. The sheer sappiness of JT's lyrics takes all the bite out of even the meekest of attempts at dynamicism by Timbaland. Even when the intention is to craft an epic slow moving ballad, such as on Blue Ocean Floor, with JT sleepily pouring lines like 'Frequencies so low / Heart on a string / A string that only plays solos' the effect is completely lost. The opening to That Girl invites a comparison to Southern Blues music of the 70s and 80s, and Timbaland produces a skittery track with a well sorted horn and guitar section that creates an uncluttered canvas for JT to slather on some charisma but he baulks again at the opportunity. Even when he double times 'So what if you're from the other side of the tracks, so what if the world don't think we match' the track is stuck flat on its face. There is a case for Timbaland to try to inject something in to all of these songs. Considering the average length of each track, the need is for more than just a hip-hop production approach, these songs need to be crafted and structured. It's quite possibly beyond his capabilities. Stamping tracks at 7 minutes under the guise of it being more artistic is a shockingly see-through plot.

Where the album is at it's most comfortable is within the traditional realm of Timbaland. Rather than relying on samples, he usually infuses his more upbeat production with his own chopped and skewed vocals to provide depth and backing. His percussion technique is unique, it harnesses the entire kit and creates a rhythmical jungle type low down beat that works brilliantly when juxtaposed with the fanfare of producers like Just Blaze and Swizz Beatz. Don't Hold The Wall is an aggressive beat with an interesting backing vocal track that comfortably fills any empty spaces, infusing the senses, and at 4:20 the song drops in to a much more menacing groove, justifying it's 7+ time. Tunnel Vision is this album's What Goes Around, which means it is hamstrung before it even starts as that song was a masterpiece. However this is a worthy follow up. JT is again stuck in sap, 'Maybe its this ocean view, I'm so emotional' and 'I wrote a song for you, I wanna sing to you / Every time I'm close to you' don't endear to many older than 15, but on this occasion his voice melds beautifully with the string and synth riff, creating a lovely dreamy atmosphere that still surges forward.

The best two tracks on the record are easily Suit & Tie and Let The Groove Get In. Two different songs, but both displaying unrestrained energy. Suit & Tie is some of Timbalands best production since 2007, another jungle-esque beat with uncharacteristic horn explosions that signal tempo changes as JT croons and soothes us before Jay-Z comes and delivers a verse that sounds off-kilter at first but grows on further listens. A more confident JT on Let the Groove Get In invites the listener to finally let their hair down for a bit, as if he snuck out of gentleman's club he'd been singing in to go party with the help downstairs. 'Make no mistake - you're in the place to be by far / So let's get crazy like we ain't never gonna see tomorrow' finally fun Justin arrives! It's just a pity he arrives so late, and in another epic 7 minute song that badly needs trimming.

4/10. Slick, is my response to the earlier question, and poorly executed. Aforementioned power will help sales and ensure a healthy dose of positive reception, but there is little substance to back this release up. There is only one real stand out track (Suit & Tie), the others rest on pretension and a gamble that by creating something that sounds significantly different to current radio playlists this record will be revered. The song length is criminal at times, there is no need to extend a one dimensional beat 3 minutes past its use by date. Timberlake's personality is equally strained, with his only mode appearing to be sugar-drenched love song, which is fine if it isn't drawn out to cover an entire albums worth of material. A disappointing effort.
Best Tracks: Suit & Tie, Let the Groove Get In

Atoms For Peace - AMOK

Fans of Radiohead rejoice! AMOK may have another bands name in front of it, but peel the label off this and you're listening to the newest work from the iconic band.. Just without the iconic band.

In fact the band could in all honesty be called a super group. You already know Flea, the enigmatic bass player for Red Hot Chili Peppers, and one of the architects of their genre defining sound. An absolute monster celebrity in bass music, he has carved a spot as one of the top musicians of the world through the insane funked out grooves he has contributed to the worlds great funk rock band. Joey Waronka, Nigel Godrich and Mauro Refosco are also on the team sheet, so it can be assumed a heavy influence of both R.E.M. and Beck will contribute to the sonics of this project.

AMOK, however, is no melting pot of entrenched styles or sounds. Godrich ensures a more electronica focus, and the immediate reaction is to compare it to The King Of Limbs remix album, or even a Radiohead live performance. The jittery, staccato, math rock approach is backed up by some thumping electronics, and I mean thumping. It's an odd segue from projects for Thom Yorke. It serves to highlight a couple of things. Firstly, even when he surrounds himself with individuals who may not be so musically like minded (Flea, Waronka and Refosco), his creativity seems quite focused and one-dimensional. Secondly, he is an imposing personality when it comes to the project he is working on. More than one commentator has re-christened AMOK as the follow up to The Eraser, Yorke's 2006 solo album, which fell quite flat on that key word 'solo'. Another Radiohead clone, making it clear who is pulling the strings here. Thirdly and finally, the man is quite deep. More on that.

It starts quite nicely, Before Your Very Eyes delivers that jittery, anxious guitar riff, with a basic yet strong Flea bass line harnessing the songs inherent energy. At 2:20 we're treated to something you will encounter countless times over the next 9 songs. A stable base is elaborated on via an introduction of synth, as Yorke hazily croons over the top. It can be viewed one of two ways. Yes, it is a simple structure. Don't confuse the busy-ness of the sounds you're hearing for complexity. If you break Default down to its individual parts, for example, you'll hear a basic drum line, a child-like bass line, Yorke wailing and some very simple synthesizer work. So the formula and structure is simple. But it doesn't result in a simple sound. Combining all of these elements fills the music out. It's classic electronic production, filling the empty spaces. Dropped is a wonderful example of this. The first 1:15 of the song feels under-done, lonely and malnourished. When the drum and bass combo are introduced, the song finds its feet brilliantly, it all clicks nicely in to place.

The first real influence from Flea that we can hear is on Stuck Together Pieces. He slaps quite an intricate bass line that gives the track this jungle rhythm quality. This performance actually endears the rest of his work to you, you realise how much he has been contributing to providing such a forceful sound. It's still, however, a reminder that we needed more from Flea, his influence is muted and that's to the detriment of the record. Godrich and Yorke's synth work is what keeps it afloat the majority of the time. Ingenue pulses forwards through the use of a low-end string section that sounds as if it is being tormented and stretched. Judge Jury and Executioner is held together by another strong yet lazy sounding string-ish synth that brings a church-like quality to the song and to Yorke's vocals.

On his vocals. Default provides the strongest performance, he wails about an anxiety ridden existence 'But it's eating me up' and one that is coloured by struggle and trials, 'I'm still hanging on / Bird upon the wires / I fall between the waves'. Generally his method is to use his voice to soothe the music along, almost always to compliment rather than dominate. Default is probably the only example on the record where your attention is drawn immediately to his content. There are many moments of insight, on Stuck Together Pieces he sings 'Why be rain when you could be sun? / Why tie yourself to anyone?', a peek in to a relationship filled with anxiety, dread and low self-esteem, it's just a pity these words are so hard to get in to due to the way they are delivered. Matching the music, much of his content is extremely jittery and anxious, describing situations and mind-sets of doubt and self-deprecation. On Unless he provides a brilliant release, repeating over and over 'Care less, I couldn't care less, such a mess, I know it's useless'. He paints a picture not of defiance but submissive resignation, acknowledgement that the fight cannot be won. Overall I found the lyrical content to be excellent, the perfect compliment to the nature of the sound. If you take the time to look up what you can't make out it paints a rich picture and adds significant weight to the record.

AMOK exists within a couple of hyped genres. There are periods of the new school of R&B, as Yorke extends his vocals out over lo-fi beats and depressed synthetic grooves, reminiscient of James Blake or How To Dress Well. The trend now of pop artists rejecting the huge budget sounds of EDM, Grimes and Crystal Castles, is also touched on. Youth Lagoon, Beach Fossils, Toro Y Moi. All artists peddling the new school of lo-fi and existing in a similar air space to Atoms For Peace. The point I'm trying to make is that AMOK is brilliant when viewed amongst these contemporaries. I doubt very much that Thom Yorke sat down and tried to write a record that would be viewed as the best amongst company such as this, but he has. AMOK just sounds better. It's much more polished, it's denser, Yorke is more enigmatic and insightful. It is an evolution. I think the best work to compare it to is TKOL remix record. It takes all the solid (not brilliant) moments from that and condenses it, binds it tightly in an accessible package.

8/10. Depending on how you view this record I think you could range between a 4 and a 9. I am basing my figure on the paragraph above. If you wanted a supergroup record, you will be giving it closer to a 4. Flea is cruely muzzled, and the sound is too close to Radiohead to be considered much other than that. View it as it is, an extremely good electronica record, and a good addition to the Radiohead collection 

Best Tracks: Default, Unless, Stuck Together Pieces

David Bowie - The Next Day

Falling in love with David Bowie was odd for me. I was 14, and he had collaborated with my absolute favourite thing in the entire world Placebo. I went down the local record store and bought his double disc Greatest Hits for $30. At the time I was working at Subway twice a week earning $6 an hour.. It was an investment, and slightly risky. Still at the age where I was extremely wary of anything my parents enjoyed, parting with my hard earned resulted in an immediate onset of buyers remorse. I needn't have panicked. It's 2013 and that CD takes pride of place in my Bowie collection, along with 7 other CDs I bought in the months after that initial contact. I fell in love with David Bowie.

For such an enticing artist, that word is the perfect description of Bowie the musician. He crafts with an intelligence, consideration and integrity that is unmatched amongst his peers. The sum of his parts are more than those which draw people to him in the first place. He is a sex symbol, he oozes infinite cool, poise and grace. Yet his music is so elaborate and well crafted he is by far one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever seen. The fact that he has endured at the peak of his profession for such a dizzying number of years is not through luck or gimmick. Here we have a man who's musings on life strike accord with our own, who's imagination is such that we are awestruck when he creates brilliant characters, plots and themes, the likes of which we never even considered possible. Who's observations are so pin point as to suggest a robotic gift, and yet somehow humanly relatable. A gift and a hunger for experimentation, he challenges us as listeners at times (Outside anyone?), but when combined with his talent for music (Heathen) genius sprouts.

The narrative of how The Next Day came about is telling in its mundane nature. In November 2010 Bowie began recording with producer Tony Visconti (enduring Bowie producer) and Gerry Leonard. No fanfare, no trumpets and press conferences. He entrusted all within the project with its secrecy, and on the night of his birthday he released a song and a simple statement, there will be an album in March. The internet understandably exploded, anticipation ran high and magazines started madly scrambling for interviews to attach to their feature articles. There aren't many artists from his era who still can still command such a riotous response.

The reason I say it is telling is because The Next Day is not intended to make any statements, it doesn't exist as a testament to contemporary times nor does it house any revolutionary or even evolutionary content. For someone who has been instrumental in shaping pop music, this record is the perfect outward projection of a man contented and happy. Furthermore, it comes from a 66 year old man who has achieved all he surely set out to. There is no need for this record, but we thank the musical gods he was bitten by the bug again.

It starts quite predictably. The title track is a high energy affair, Gerry Leonard's guitar jangling with an accurate mid 90s throwback sound, with the chorus exploding in to a defiant statement 'Here I am, not quite dying, my body left to rot in a hollow tree, its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me', possibly referring to his less than enviable health over the past decade, as well as his advancing age. Dirty Boys then cuts in, a grizzly 70s groove track that splutters and never really gets going. It sits uncomfortably on the record, skippable. From here though, the single The Stars (Are Out Tonight) explodes. Lyrically quite an odd track, Bowie name checks Brad and Kate as if an outsider, yet lines such as 'They are stars, they're dying for you' reveal a different attitude. 'Their jealousy's spilling down / the stars must stick together', he delves in to a more personal viewpoint, it could even be called a plea or a statement about his own relationship with fame, and how only those within the fishbowl can understand what each other is going through. Either way it's a great track, backed by some brilliant energy and effortless rhythm.

His relationship with his past is not addressed as often as expected, especially given such a provocative album cover (Heroes, one of his greatest triumphs, with the face cut out). In fact the record is certainly not autobiographical in nature. He explicitly states this distancing from personal reflection on If You Can See Me, and only briefly, claiming he has 'a fear of rear windows'. We don't get too many more moments of reflection. Rarely does Bowie delve too deeply in to his personal life either, but on the brilliant ballad Where Are We Now? we are treated to an emotive and even desperate sounding man evaluating and generally questioning an existence. The way he sets the chorus up through his fractured description of memory builds a tension that is released beautifully as he questions, pleadingly, 'where are we now?' over and over. It culminates in a resolution that reads like a checklist for a contented older life, as long as there is sun, rain, fire, you and me. It's simplicity is its strength.

Bowie has always keenly searched for influence and inspiration in his writing. Tony Visconti said that he was reading quite a lot of material on war during the recording period, and it has resulted in the best track on the record, I'd Rather Be High. A description of the mentality of a soldier engulfed in a conflict, it's appeal lies not only in the soaring rhythm guitar backing that recalls his brilliant Reality, but Bowie's delivery, capturing a mood you'd imagine was quite common during the time, 'I'd rather be dead / Or out of my head / Than training these guns of those men in the sand / I'd rather be high'. Again, it is his simplicity that adds weight to his statements, it makes the situation so much more relatable for those of us who couldn't be more removed from it. That lovely highly picked riff entices too, uplifting, creating an atmosphere not of desperation but a dreamy optimism, a soldier imagining a more desirable life and experience.

Sonically, the record is much less dynamic than his previous release Reality, which was quite stunning. Only occasionally does The Next Day achieve it's predecessors insanely high energy and power rock smashability. Boss Of Me and How Does The Grass Grow prove that he still has the energy and desire to create dynamic sounds. There is no phoning it in on a Bowie album, and these tracks impress by proving that even standard album cuts still recieve his full attention and effort. (You Will) Set The World On Fire releases a passion and confidence. It is unclear who he is referring to, it could be any number of individuals or acquaintances, but rather than a wizened old man delivering an endorsement it is an impassioned urging, 'Kennedy would kill for the lines that you’ve written'.

We do get moments of weakness and cold, emotionless truths though. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die is a track tinged with brutal honesty. Describing the impact another's mental illness, most likely depression, has had on his own psyche, Bowie delivers lines such as 'You stole their trust, their moon, their sun.' and ' I can see you as a corpse / Hanging from a beam'. It culminates in an almost murderous intent, 'I hear you moaning in your room. / Oh, see If I care. / Oh please, please, make it soon', a level of coldness not seen since the line from Oh! You Pretty Things about his first born child, 'let me make it plain, you gotta make way for the homo superior'. I don't think Bowie is intentionally being cold hearted here, and that is the brilliance of the track. He is being honest. He is observing someone drag down those around him via their mental health issues, and it's more a statement of defiance that he will not allow himself to be dragged in to that quagmire. The fact that he pleads for this persons suicide proves he cannot help but be caught up, his own happiness unduly affected. The drum-line beat and the eerily uplifting backing vocals, as well as the rising strings serve to enhance the emotion and dramatism of the situation. It's relatable, yet rarely verbalised.

7.5/10. The second half of the record far outshines the first. There are some less than dynamic songs that, whilst not disasters by any means, are forgettable in the long run. There is enough Bowie brilliance to keep this in rotation for many months to come. I've written too long already but I haven't mentioned Dancing Out In Space, a lovely upbeat psychadelic induced groove that sees Bowie at his most carefree. Another example of the gems to be found on the record. As I said earlier, it isn't revolutionary or even evolutionary, it is just good music. Bowie is timeless, his most recent albums always seem to sit comfortably within the contemporary landscape without adhering to any rules or trends. The same is true of The Next Day.
Best Tracks: Where Are We Now?, I'd Rather Be High, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die

Autechre - Exai

Whilst the promise of a new Autechre album is always an occasion to become excited about and to look forward to, a measure of trepidation exists. With the promise of a 2 hour long, double CD affair, the trepidation grows to a sense of impenetrability. When presented with this colossus, you feel as though you're standing outside an enormous gated concrete structure, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, whilst blood-curdling screams fill the air. And you must enter. It is one of the least inviting sights in music. Task yourself with reviewing it and trawling back over a catalogue that certainly doesn't read warmly and I guarantee, you will be overwhelmed.

It wasn't always like this, and if you are a casual observer who claims a passing interest in electronic music I direct you to their earlier work, specifically Incunabula and Tri Repetae. These two releases, and most of Autechre's work before LP5, are rooted firmly in the more established sound of electronic music. Autechre have evolved from a duo channelling early Brian Eno-esque ambient mixed with fresh DJ hip-hop cuts to a silky yet cold, calculating entity releasing sounds of such a manic persuasion you fear for their mental health. Never forgetting their roots, those initial elements are always present in their modern catalogue, usually chopped, skewed and studio-ed beyond recognition. Monsters amongst the glitch scene, with such a die-hard following members of the unique Autechre listener club have even gone as far as to have the back catalogue tatooed on their bodies.

So what of Exai? How do we approach this piece? I originally wrote the word beast to describe it's hulking frame, but beast implies, even on a purely primal level, a soul and a beating heart, a warmth radiating outward. Exai is not without it's softer, more human moments, however these are not the focal point. Rather than concrete themes they are passing fancies, ideas that become trapped inside the industrial noise before desperately seeking escape, suffocated and lost for many minutes at a time. Exai proves to be Autechre's most varied release since Quaristice, which was a brilliant snapshot of exactly what these two are capable of. Eerily moody at times (Altibzz) and then immediately disquieting (The Plc), with funk-induced danceability (FwzE), it was their strongest release. Exai comes on the back of Oversteps, a softer, warmer affair, and Move Of Ten, the anti-christ to Oversteps, as hard edged as a steel box and as industrially minded.

How should you approach it though? Chances are you interact with Autechre in one of two ways. Either you turn it on and use it as useful, occasionally engaging background music, or you immerse yourself wholly within it . For me personally, it was always background noise. Perfect to study to, even to sleep to. For Exai, I tried the full immersion technique. And what I discovered was if you sit down and focus on it, 2 hours races by as you're drawn in 100 different directions, your ears and mind struggle to keep up with the noises and structures. The number of sounds, ideas, movements, pieces of music that can be found in each individual track is staggering. Most electronic artists are
content with picking up a riff and playing around behind it. Autechre instead try 10 different riffs per song, and once this grows stale they start picking apart the percussion, uprooting all notions of rhythm and energy you have.

Take for example T ess xi.  It is the best track on the record, an 80s soulful synth plays something resembling a chord structure in such a way as to calm and soothe, whilst obnoxiously rhythmic drums smash away at the calm it creates. To reduce your sonic space even more there is an odd keyboard bashing occurring in the background, as if someone had let their toddler loose on a casio. The song works brilliantly, it is disquieting enough to hold your attention and groovey enough to promote listenability. They then almost imperceptibly alter the drum pattern to destroy all form of rhythm at the 2 minute mark, before the track grinds to a sudden halt, as if it is the soundtrack to extremely awkward first time sex. runrepik travels down a similar lane. The bass and synths provide an agreeable relationship but the drums are completely manic, it is as if a drunk child has taken control of the kit. The song halts and stutters as you attempt to wrestle control from the child but he prevails. Thom Yorke has nightmares about this kind of music.

So much of Autechre's music displays this inherent anxiety, a desire to disrupt the listener's mood and brainwaves. YJY UX showcases this perfectly. The sounds aren't threatening when extracted and seen individually, but these almost pretty synth sounds rattle around from speaker to speaker, almost signifying a descent in to madness. Even as the track deepens and mellows there is always these sounds on the periphery destabilising the psyche, piercing at the ear and drawing your mind in to an equally anxious state. nodezsh sounds like Kavinsky if they'd gone off their meds. An 80s science fiction theme staggers around the track, throwing up on things and creating a nuisance. prac-f delivers the anxiety in a much more 'Autechre' way, industrial, metallic sounding noises grind over the top of a completely off-kilter beat, building slowly but gradually to a peak that never comes.

Much can be made of these excursions in to insanity, but it must be remembered both artists are astute students of hip-hop and dance music, and despite the unconventional nature of their music these influences are littered throughout. recks on starts brilliantly, it sounds like a sharply focused J Dilla beat, something Biz Markie would've rapped over.  The electronics meld and contort around this strong hip hop rhythm, evoking the image of a contortionist standing in front of Eric B manning the decks. The beat evolves oddly, and by the time the weird staccato comes in at the end you're almost listening to an R&B groove or some less hard-edged but from the same family, something vaguely late-90s dance-ish. Even on jatevee C a sultry synth wave washes beautifully over you as a harsh beat provides an almost dance-able back up. There is a completely tricked out vocoder that sneaks in at 3:15 on cloudline, and deco loc even employs more chopped vocals, creating this low-fi complex beat that is insanely contemporary and rooted within the current rapidly evolving R&B scene (The Weeknd, Clams Casino etc).

There is such a density to this record. If I were to elaborate on all of my notes I'd be writing 30 paragraphs. Exai may be incredibly long, but if you sit down and drink it all in over a week or so you'd be amazed at the sheer volume of ideas and sounds they cram in to it, the multitude of moods they touch on. It's just such a disjointed listen that it's difficult to maintain your concentration levels. They have these manic, insane times and then these deep brooding lows, sometimes within a few minutes of each other.

9/10. Honestly if you sit down and apply yourself, you'll ask me why I didn't give it a 10. The record is like a completely jumbled jigsaw of a Boards Of Canada album, technically brilliant but chopped to the point of insanity. If it flowed more smoothly, if there was some attempt at collusion between all these varying sounds and noises, I'd feel like scoring it a 10. But then I wouldn't, because it's brilliance would be diminished.
Best Tracks: T ess xi, recks on, jatevee C

Johnny Marr - The Messenger

Godlike Genius Johnny Marr releases solo album. Fanfare, trumpets, flags, British pride! Without over-selling the man himself, he is a brit-pop brit-rock indie pop icon, and one hell of a guitarist. But can he sing? Is he a solo artist? Can he create that jangly album we've been craving since The Smiths enticed and entranced us?

Well, yes and no. Since literally creating a seemingly perpetually enduring sound Marr has entered himself inside a Johnny Cash song. That is to say he's been all over the bloody place. Electronic released one stunning album but subsequently failed to truly deliver on their promise. It also saw Marr distance himself, whether by design or natural causes, from any residual Smiths sound. A brilliant mix between New Order, Pet Shop Boys and Kraftwerk, Marr injected his trademark jangle where he could and it always enriched the sound, but it was an interesting side note for a truly gifted guitarist.

Further projects included The The, who developed a more ecletic guitar sound, The Cribs who are beautifull brit-rock, and of course Modest Mouse, although he did join them after their stunning, brooding late 90s - early 00s stage. All of these experiences served to expand the mind and the talents of the self-confessed guitar obsessed Marr. Speaking to Rolling Stone he explained his childhood as one where he took in all sources he could during his development. He wanted to be a purist, someone who's sound was instantly recognisable. Well before a solo project was even thought of he had achieved this goal.

So The Messenger may surprise some, but it's almost 20 years overdue. Does this reduce its impact? Possibly. Despite that, this is the closest you're going to get to new Smiths, and that in itself guarantees success and enjoyment. The album does not disappoint, not on the whole. Marr manages to provide that effortless energy he's brought to all of his projects, and the closest example I can find to his inherent gift of rhythm is David Bowie's more upbeat work on Reality. In Marr's own words, he isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, but he has crafted some catchy alternative music.

Lead off track The Right Thing Right is a lovely clash of pounding drums and Marr's uncomplicated guitar rhythm. I Want The Heartbeat then follows this up with an immediately darker sensibility that expands in to a relentless pursuit of melody. Marr disguises a standard classic rock lyrical approach (Get me your whole machine, technology, technology) by layering fleeting but damaging guitar licks that appear as if out of thin air and disappear just as quickly, distracting and drawing attention in 4 or 5 different directions at once. It's an energetic affair and a shrewd technique to keep the music engaging.

European Me delivers one for The Smiths diehards, a frenetic opening breaks open in to this giant grassy field of jangly, highly plucked riffs that mimmick the sun dawning on the song. The whole thing settles beautifully in to such a familiar rhythm you're sure he's released this track before. And he did, and it was iconic. But that takes nothing away from the warmth it generates. Marr deals with isolation and the strength of mind and friendship, 'And losing an empty station / We can be safe from this', offering solace and reassurance to a central figure, either himself or even just an acquaintance. Again, the lyrical content strikes as slightly vague, there is no Morissey depth and desperate emotion but that's ok. It's 2013, and this is Johnny Marr, no-one else.

The rest of the album burbles along with no major hurdles. Say Demesne is a more menacing beast, a down-beat riff plays itself out over the course of 5 minutes as Marr attempts to drag us in to a tale of debauchery and desperation in the search of (what else?) love. It's areas like this where the record is at its weakest. Marr can create the perfect atmosphere, and his previous work is a testament to that, but lyrically and vocally he struggles to join all the dots and complete the song. Upstarts, for example, is a clumsy single. He misses the point of the track, which again has a brilliant rhythm and feel to it, but singing ' Oooh, I see this running down Defiance comes, oooh The underground is overground / The overground will pull you down' is tame and less than impactful. The chorus is lacklustre, the song never surges past second gear and it's a middle of the road song.

5.5/10  Modern Britain needs and deserves more than this from Johnny Marr. It could be that his shortcomings as a front-man and sole lyricist and vocalist are terminal, and if this is the case I urge him to seek out a viable frontman, Slash style. Because Marr still has it. His brilliance as a guitarist shines through on every track, he creates lovely and soothing atmospheres the listener can blissfully get lost in. However that is all. Don't dig any deeper. The lyrics and the vocals drag this down unfortunately.
Best Tracks: European Me, The Right Thing Right, New Town Velocity

Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God

My Morning Jacket's Circuital was incredible for me. I was physically very ill when I first discovered it, but I was determined to get better. As an exercise enthusiast, I figured exercise would be most effective way to heal my body and mind. I started off small, walking every other day for ten minutes, and gradually progressed and increased my strength. The soundtrack to my comeback was Circuital. Every walk I felt a little stronger, and every day I improved and was inspired by the heights of that brilliant Jim James voice coupled with the uplifting nature of the record. It became such a seminal record for me I know I shall remember it for the rest of my life as a companion during those desperately dark times.

At the centre of my revival was the spirit that existed within James' voice. Described by many as the best modern rock vocalist, the man has the ability to uplift, to inspire, to turn any song in to anything he wished. Unsurprisingly, his style has influenced the likes of height scalers Fleet Foxes and their lead vocalist Robin Peckfold. A perfectionist, James was known to record his vocals in a grain silo because it gave the perfect acoustic environment for him to create that brilliant other worldly quality he projects. As MMJ progressed, rather than alter his style the music served to bring it to the fore, and the seemingly reluctant front man became the focal point, with that voice beginning to lead the way through tracks like Lowdown and the haunting At Dawn.

The question must be asked, why a solo album now? The traditional reason for a lead singer to seek the freedom and solace of a solo project is to expand his or her musical identity beyond the confines of the band. I wouldn't, however, accuse MMJ of picking a lane and sticking to it. In fact there are so many conflicting and varied sounds found on individual albums you'd be hard pressed to attach a genre to them. The answer may lie in James' difficult period during late 2008-2009, where he read the novel Gods' Man and cites that as an inspiration for much of the music on Regions.

Whatever the reason, listeners are treated to Jim James and his beautiful voice in all it's glory. The focus of the record is summed up in the first 45 seconds of the first song, State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.). A desperately simple piano movement backs an ethereal James as he introduces us to his inner workings, singing about his process not only in terms of musical creation but his general inner peace within his everyday life. 'And now I know you need the dark / Just as much as the sun' sounds basic in print, but we're treated to a song where he muses. This isn't so much a statement as a strain of conscious thought. He even slips in 'I use my state of the art  / Technology  / Now don't you forget it / It ain't using me' to remind himself more than us he is creating from the heart and the mind, these are the inner workings of a soul singer rather than an exercise in technical proficiency. It's one of the best tracks of the year.

There is a lovely rhythm to the next two tracks, Know Til Now and Dear One. There's an inherent groove, you can feel the influence of MMJ seeping through and infecting the music. Both songs continue Jame's journey of personal discovery, although rather than the slightly nervous, unassured figure we see in the first song, a new personality trait emerges. 'I didn't know til now / How could I have known / But now I see, but now I see' he wails on Know Til Now. No wisdom or explanation is offered, but it's a tone set. Welcome messages, as anyone who has seen James perform or heard him intereviewed are keenly aware he is not the most confident or projecting of individuals. Dear One, a lovely sloping soulful feeling song with an oddly complimentary halting bass and percussion combination, even has him speaking with confidence and assuredness to a loved one, 'Dear one, you always pushed the boundaries of my soul / We fly found love and finally gained control'.

Control. James seems to crave it. A New Life is a wonderful, sleepy love song that sees him seek acceptance of his state of mind from his loved one. Self-assured once again, repeating 'I want a new life' over and over. The song actually turns in to this brilliant slow burner, and you may hate me for writing this, but it reminds me of the Lil Wayne song Let The Beat Build. Solely in construction, not sonically! But as James pleads his case, instrumentation is added, and it creates this wonderful sense of him putting forth an argument that gains momentum and commitment, until his requests are honoured 'Babe, open the door / And start your new life, / Oh, your new life'. The final minute feels like a joyful celebration.

That control he seeks is played out more self-consciously on Actress. An odd song that pairs a sleepy string section with a single plucked, disjointed riff, and even introduces a lazy sounding distorted guitar in the middle. A game, a myth figured out 'You're good at making everyone believe that they love you / A little wink of the eye, a little glimpse of the thigh and we're in heaven' leads you to believe James has cast this woman aside, unfit. Until he admits his lust 'Oh actress, fact is, I believed in the myth and the legend'. Flawed, but safe in that knowledge.

Genre hopping is something MMJ are quite prolific at, and you can feel and hear that Jim James hasn't limited himself to one or two stylistic influences on this record. There seems to be this great soul artist inside him that yearns to break free, and at times it bleeds through, but he keeps it penned in within this folk / indie cage. The album is only 9 songs long, and one of those is a 2 minute instrumental (Exploding) of 2 lightly strummed guitars that adds nothing. Then on All Is Forgiven, an odd Middle Eastern sound prevails for the entire track, turning aggressive and menacing at the back end, the only time that those years of jamming with his bandmates really shines through. He ends the record fittingly with his voice. Although its swamped by that odd Oboe-like sound on God's Love To Deliver, it adds to the atmospheric quality beautifully. Again using his voice to complement the instrumentation. That soul is caged once more.

6/10. An odd, disjointed release. Lyrically his themes are persistent and coherent, it is an extremely personal release and houses the thoughts and actions of the man himself. There is just this lack of cohesion within the music. There appears to be so many different ideas and sounds he wanted to explore, but for some reason he only gave himself 9 songs to do so. I wish he'd let that beautiful voice out of his box more often too, Jim James in full flight belting is a sound to behold, it's what I would've expected from a solo record of his. Still, a solid listen.
Best Tracks: State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.), A New Life, Know Til Now

Beach Fossils - Clash The Truth

There is this term that became trendy a few years ago, Chillwave. It was used to describe the murky, mushy quagmire that had developed out of dream pop and genuine lo-fi music and taken over the indie world for a season or two. Artists like Real Estate, Toro Y Moi, Memory Tapes, all came along and attempted to chill us all out. What this music achieved was a brief soundtrack to a hazy, reverb soaked, sepia toned summer that burned brightly and quickly. There was little value in dissecting this trend and these artists, although many thousands did, because the sound they were creating was never a blueprint for future progression or longevity. It has become a tainted genre, spoken of by those who still identify with it in hushed tones and listened to only when the private session box on Spotify is ticked.

One band to emerge from this mess was Beach Fossils. Their self-titled debut was released in 2010 and rather than feel like a reaction to the hefty winds that were blowing at the time, it served itself as a natural sound from a band unconcerned with the ways of that summer. Tracks like Daydream recalled the ease with which artists like Sonic Youth and even Dick Dale conjured a well sorted pop melody from a mixture of single plucks and a simple yet focused bassline. My belief is the band were mistakenly tied up amongst this cultural wash-land. Their DNA was much closer related to acts like Best Coast and Wavves, the surf rock/pop that had been popular since 1961 and will remain popular until we evolve past the need for ears.

The difficulty then became how to release music that can be misconstrued as chillwave in a time when the genre has become defunct and outwardly rejected. The lovely thing about Beach Fossils is they seem unconcerned. Clash The Truth is no huge step forwards, backwards or otherwise from their debut album, and whilst there are subtle but noticeable differences they don't appear to have succumbed to any preconcieved requirements for progression from the genre they were mistakenly caught up in.

The first two tracks are actually quite stunning. My overriding reaction was immediately Joy Division. That clanging guitar riff in the title track backed by Dustin Payseur's dead pan delivery combine to create that paranoid, caged mentality the famous British band harnessed so brilliantly. Beach Fossils bring a more naiive viewpoint to the table, 'Life can be so vicious / That we can't even appreciate its purities / We get so excited  / That we can't feel any of our insecurities' which is an endearing quality, but ultimately detracts from anxiety laden sonic they've strummed. Complexity is sought but not always achieved, but it's a damn sight more ambitious than contemporaries such as Best Coast.

Sleep Apnea serves to prolong this melancholic haze. It's an odd opening triumvrate. Each track has its individual charm but it serves to lull the listener in to a mid 90s apathetic depression. 'I’m staring at the sky but I can’t tell which way my thoughts are travelling / I try to listen to your words but I can’t feel my head and it’s unraveling'. 'I won't lie and tell you it's alright'. Gosh. It's enough to wonder just how sincere Payseur is, he conjures Curtis levels of dank and introspection. It's such an odd feeling then when Careless employs a much brighter rhythmic endeavour that sees Payseur cast off his mental shackles and revel in a power pop melody pleading his case for well deserved carelessness. It definitely signals a shift in focus on the record, Taking Off (probably the best track on the record) progresses past his careless phase and in to a more structured attempt at positivity. Still grounded within the reality that he believes his mind is creating, 'I’m taking off again, it feels like is a sin / Am I excited or am I just so confused?' he could be referring to any number of drug fuelled lost moments or planned rendezvous with elation in mind but not in actuality.

The whole second half of the record reads like an elongated sunday session, a hazy, dreary day after that awakens at 1pm with beautiful sunlight and a mate at your bed-side with a cold beer and a huge smile. And the beach. Where the first 3 tracks are the beach on a cold, wet day, the next 11 sees the sun burst through the clouds and surf pop dominate. The brilliant Birthday employs Lanterna levels of epic journey guitar, some dirty feedback and Payseur delivering a dreamy lost performance, 'If they fall down / What will you say? / But you don't care / Feels are your day' It actually inspires that careless truth of a perfect summer day.

There is a subtle variety that wasn't touched on in their debut record. Interludes like Modern Holiday, an oddly placed electronic piece, and the aptly named Brighter, provide fleeting moments of diversion. For the first time drums also take a starring role, 90 seconds in to Burn You Down the kit explodes, casting off the shackles of every other Fossils tracks to barnstorm the song and even induce an instance of head banging. Vitally, it serves to provide a missing link in the Beach Fossils armory. You feel an elaboration would not go astray on other parts of this record, especially tracks such as Caustic Cross, which is quite hard-edged but lacks a vital element due to the valium-soaked drum performance. Still, those few minutes of aggression do inspire a belief that, although moving at the speed of continental drift, progression is a capability and reality for the band.

6.5/10 Oddly enough, I think culturally this is an important record. Whilst Best Coast managed to remind us all that there is viable and spin-worthy music still to be made that touches on that lost genre of 2009 and 2010, Beach Fossils enforce it with a solid record that doesn't rest on pretension or precedent. You can easily lose yourself more than once in this release, and whilst Payseur may not be scaling any lyrical heights or reinventing any musical wheels, he is creating good honest music that doesn't adhere to the Williamsburg (yes I used Williamsburg, I finally added a cultural reference) whims.
Best Tracks: Taking Off, Generational Synthetic, Birthday

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