November 18th- Mumdance & Logos- Different Circles

Last year Mumdance delivered one of the best and most exciting mixes of the year when he turned in his contribution to the celebrated FabricLive mix series. As producers Mumdance and Logos sit as pioneers of what they term the Weightless genre. Think part instrumental My Bloody Valentine noise, grime 2.0 beats and old school jungle reference points and you are getting close. Part of their vision is the record label Different Circles. And it is from releases on this label that Mumdance and Logos have compiled this new mix album.

Some of the tracks, which appear here will be familiar to those who listened to last year’s pioneering FabricLive mix, however, there are plenty of new cuts to keep the audience happy. To say the sound of the tracks on the record is like nothing else, even when they have been heard before, is an under exaggeration. This mix sounds otherworldly. At points ethereal but also dark and aggressive much of the sound presented feels like a logical experimental step for the sort of instrumentals Wiley was cooking up around 2003.

Despite its very experimental sound the Weightless genre has caught the imaginations of many grime producers several of whom are represented here including Rabit and Boxed frequenter Sharp Veins. However, many of the tracks are plucked from the back-catalogues of Mumdance and Logos themselves. Though a lack of diversity might exist it isn’t a problem when your productions sound as alien as these.

Different Circles is a short mix which flies by far too quickly and unlike last year’s FabricLive mix there is no exploration of wider genres or of sounds, which may have influenced Mumdance and Logos. However, as everything here sounds so fresh, exciting and experimental the negatives don’t have much of an impact.  Different Circles is a great mix for fans of experimental music, lovers of last year’s FabricLive mix and a great stepping stone for those wishing to explore the Weightless genre.

 

September 23rd- Akala- 10 Years of Akala

Kingslee James Daley better known as Akala has been a figurehead for the UK grime since its early days, he is as far as UK Hip Hop is concerned royalty mentioned in the same breath as Wiley and Roots Manuva. This compilation, the first I have recommended this year, is a collection of not only his biggest hits but also his beat freestyles and album tracks. It is an essential collection and if there were any justice in the world a copy would be given to every household in the UK.  The above statement might sound audacious but such is the importance of Akala’s lyricism and social insight it is one that is justified.

For the last decade or so and especially since the UK riots of 2011 Politicians, social theorists and journalists have attempted to understand millennials (those currently under 35 years old) and their outlook upon the world, most of the results have, like David Cameron’s Hug a Hoodie, been exceptionally patronising. If those behind such theorising had listened to tracks like Carried Away, which discusses war in the middle-east and war on the streets along, they may have developed a more well-rounded view.

The beauty of Akala is that unlike many other UK rappers he is able to discuss social issues and bigger problems often through a uniquely poetic approach as is exhibited on the tracks Comedy, Tragedy, History and Shakespeare. A passion for Shakespeare’s sonnets no doubt helps his flow and Akala has been able to use his knowledge of literary devices such as iambic pentameter to his full advantage. Having all of these skills at his disposal results in Akala having, alongside Kano, one of the strongest and clearest flows in the UK Scene.

Whilst Akala avoids the road rap style of Giggs and often completely swerves gangster based imagery it is worth noting that such avoidance doesn’t mean that he can’t go toe to toe with almost anyone out there when it comes to battle rap. This is evidenced on this best of collection by the brilliant inclusion of two of Akala’s Fire in the Booth sessions (for those who are unaware Fire in the Booth is a live Freestyle session performed by MCs for Radio 1) in which Akala shows an ability to diss smartly, vent social issues and displays a greater lyrical dexterity than almost anyone out there.

Too often Best of Albums are clogged with a list of singles and rubbish new tracks but Akala’s feels totally essential. Much like Akala’s career so far there is little filler and nearly everything is essential. I would challenge anyone who disagrees with me to listen to the lyrics of Welcome to Dystopia and maintain that view.

One of the greatest embarrassments in the UK’s music scene is that Akala has not sold more records and is not appreciated nationwide in the same way the USA appreciates Nas. Hopefully this fully deserved and hard worked for best of will go some way to righting this wrong; because at these times of migrant crises, the rise of the extreme right across Europe, increased social alienation between the young and elderly, brexit and more beside we need a voice like Akala’s.

 

 

 

September 2nd- Zomby- Ultra

For those who don’t know Zomby is one of what seems like many faceless electronic music producers who, like Burial (who appears here), have chosen to hide and obscure their true identity in favour of putting the music first. For Zomby this worked wonders with his stunning debut album Where Were You in 92? However, twitter tantrums, live meltdowns and punch ups with Hudson Mohawke alongside some mediocre releases has seen his anonymity used as a critique of his behaviour. Ultra you’ll be pleased to hear goes some way to right these wrongs, especially when compared to last year’s patchy XL released Let’s Jam.

Opening with trap influenced Reflection things get off to a lively start, reflection is also dotted with vocal snippets, which sound as if they have been lifted from a rave record circa 1995. It’s an enjoyable start to the record. Second track Burst sees the producer turning to the squelchy synth laden sound he has been become known for, it’s enjoyable but the track lives up to its name in that it is merely a 2 minute burst of sound. Not allowing tracks time and space to breathe has been a criticism of Zomby in the past, especially LP With Love, and Burst suffers from that same criticism.

Fly2 sees the use of a UK Garage inflected vocal repeated over stereotypical Zomby beats, it’s brilliant and is given time to breathe and flourish, and around the 2.50 minute mark changes pace, compellingly and completely throwing the listener.

The change in pace found on Fly2 is systematic of an overall change found on Ultra that being Zomby embracing the darkness of his productions by slowing things down, fragmenting his bass sounds more and even introducing some Burial inspired crackle. It lends Ultra some vital depth, which has been lacking from some Zomby released in the past. E.S.P stands as an example to this alongside the Burial featuring Sweetz.

Stylistically there are also plenty of Zomby’s influences on show, the man has always worn his inspirations on his sleeve and this is still true on Ultra. Rave horns are in place, jungle inspired bass and sound effects ring out over tracks like I and vocal samples and snippets litter the album. Zomby has always done this, but here on Ultra the nostalgia for rave past is as strong as it was on Where Were You in 92? It’s a device the producer uses well and the album feels all the better for it.

The track, which got everyone excited for this release was the Burial featuring Sweetz, with its Footwork inspired vocal sample and heavy, slow baseline, the track is a product of darkness and resides in the shadows perfectly. Given that it was made by both Zomby and Burial this should not surprise anyone. The track is fragmented and split into various bass driven sections and it continually leaves the listener guessing. Sweetz is also complex enough that it makes you yearn for the two producers to have a whole album over which they could explore and expand their join sound.

Ultra is not a perfect release there are some faults but it is a release, which is an exceptionally enjoyable listen and which never leaves the listener feeling bored. The strength of material on show here should also go some way to quietening those detractors, which Zomby’s persona has encouraged.

July 29th- Trim- 1-800 Dinosaur Presents Trim

1-800 Dinosaur are the production collective and label based around a central association with its member and founder James Blake. Whilst Trim is one of grime’s most acclaimed though illusive MCs having spent years in the game but never released an album and always gazed in at the scene from a distance. The outsider pairing of 1-800 Dinosaur and Trim seems on paper like a perfect fit and based on the evidence on show here it is.

The production from 1-800 Dinosaur is as unique as you’d expect it to be based on Blake’s solo output. However unlike Blake’s solo material this release avoids whimsy in favour of dark and aggressive subtlety. Another notable difference between this release and that of Blake’s main material is the pace at which this album flies past. Often Blake’s albums feel overlong or meandering, but here the 1-800 collaborative keep things short, simple and effective.  RPG stands out as a brilliant example of the combination of experimentalism, subtlety and aggression.

Trim’s flow is stark, pronounced and brilliant. His delivery stands out in the face of a growing list of MCs now gaining mainstream attention. There are none of the Americanisms of Skepta whilst his vocal delivery is much darker than Kano’s. It’s a flow, which stands out because of its uniqueness and this album is all the better that.

Amongst a list of positives what really makes Trim stand out head and shoulders above his rival MCs is the clarity of pronunciation in his flow. When Trim spits everything sounds considered and clear, rather than rushed and garbled. It makes for an appealing listen and leaves you feeling that Trim is attempting to engage with the listener rather than batter their ears to death with a hype-man flow.

This description may make 1-800 Dinosaur Presents Trim sound like an all too serious affair. However, many of the lyrics whilst wrapped in darkness contain humorous put downs and shots at weaker MCs. With food based metaphors such as Burger King and Battered Fish being gleefully employed. There is also a cheeky reference to Blake’s previous song the Wilhelm Scream, which is delivered with some tongue in cheek wit.

Alongside Gaika, Kano and Skepta this release from Trim goes even further to prove that 2016 really is a standout year for grime. It’s no wonder that when faced with the high standard of grime albums this year, Wiley decided to scrap his. The bar has been raised in 2016 and nothing other than brilliant will get you noticed. Thankfully for Trim, this release is exactly that.

 

Tunes of the Month June

You know the score, here’s the tracks i’ve been listening to this month.

 

  1. SG Lewis- Yours- Perfectly chilled and great for playing as a summer’s sun sunsets

 

2. Michael Mayer & Kolsch- With echoes of last year’s Four Tet remix of Eric Prydz’s track Opus this will be huge in Ibiza this year.

 

3.  Mykki Blanco & Woodkid- Highschool Never Ends- Brilliant video for an R&B track which is both beautiful and layered and produced in a complex and diverse fashion. Not to everyone’s taste but should be huge.

 

4. Cadenza- No Drama- Further proof if any was needed that UK grime and rap is strong at the moment.

 

5. Usher- Crash- Possible the best pop song of the year so far? No doubt about that. Welcome return from Usher.

May 6th- Skepta- Konnichiwa

Over the last 3 years a second wave of street credible grime with sales success has risen in the UK thanks to MCs such as Novelist, Stormzy, JME and Skepta. To say Skepta has been the most successful of these MCs would be an understatement; chart hits, success in the USA and a partnership between Boy Better Know and Drake have come to pass. However, an album has been a long time in the making, which has led some to fear that Skepta’s Konnichiwa is over due and that Skepta may have missed his moment. Nothing could be further from the case.

As expected Skepta’s latest does contain all the singles we’ve all heard before and a million times over, It Ain’t Safe, That’s Not Me and Shutdown are all present. However, such was their urgency and brilliance on release they still sound fresh collected here. First concern dealt with.

Konniciwa’s sound and the evolution of Skepta is really tied to the North London MC’s ability to filter a contemporary USA sound through grime’s traditional bass heavy battle beats. And when I say filtering US hip hop through grime that is exactly what I mean, for despite the clear influences of A$AP Mob, Drake and others, grime takes pride of place. Such production techniques and the evolution of Skepta’s sound are most obvious on Ladies Hit Squad and Numbers both of which feature prominent US Hip Hop heads in the shape of Pharrell Williams and A$AP Nast but each tracks retains its grime sensibilities.

Konnichiwa features a huge number of guest spots from Wiley and JME through to US figureheads like Pharrell. However, it is a credit to Skepta that he always remains the main focus of each track and centre strage with the spotlight firmly on him. Furthermore when he decides to go it alone like on Man, he flourishes, proving to any critics (and he has had them) that he is a more than capable lyricist.

Skepta has always faced criticism that he is not as strong a lyricist as his brother and BBK partner JME, whilst he certainly is not as playful, creative or adventurous as JME, Konnichiwa does highlight Skepta’s own talents and features some stand out lines, a personal favourite of mine being: “our love’s strong like Mufasa and Simba”. It’s this lyrical playfulness and the willingness to embrace innocent similes and metaphors that has always made the BBK camp stand out from it’s road rap heavy rivals.

More than anything Skepta’s Konnichiwa offers a snap shot of the current grime sound, one which is now more creative and embracing than it has been at any time in its past. But also one which this time around is doing things for itself. An ethic, which has always been embraced by Skepta, he has grafted for this and the exceptional quality of Konnichiwa is proof of his hard work.

Right now it is Skepta’s time and if anyone in the grime scene deserves their time in the spotlight it is Skepta.

Tunes of the Month April 2016

  1. Dusky- Ingrid is a Hybrid- Beautiful house track with an old school vibe, perfect sunsetter and sure to be huge in Ibiza this summer.

 

2. Okzharp & Samrai- I Know (Gated)- Released on the hugely respected Keysound Recordings Okzharp & Samrai carry on the recent renaissance of jungle and ragga with this track.

3. Silkie- Sub Castle (Bowser Riddim)- Huge 8 bit grime instrumental from Silkie

4. Radiohead- Burn the Witch- the album is obviously reviewed here but this is such a stunning video and a great track it’s well worth highlighting by itself:

5. Slackk- Skeleton Crew- Dark, twisted grime-y RnB inflected track from the Boxed head honcho

6. Tigermonkey- Zooby Doo- Yes it’s a novelty track but there is something innocent about a novelty track from a TV advert. In years past campaigns would be launched on breakfast radio shows to get novelty tracks from adverts to number 1 this reminds me of that. Also listen to it once and it’ll never leave the far reaches of your brain: