REVIEW: Misfit Toys’ “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”

 photo MisfitToys_cover_zps62dbf6c6.jpg The selection of songs Misfit Toys seemed appealing at first, but as I started listening to Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (Innova), I wondered when things were going to get good.

The intent for Dan Moore, Paul Elwood, Matt Wilson, and Robert Paredes was to do hybrid-jazz covers of pop music from the 1970’s, as Moore’s own liner notes indicate. The intent was a nice idea, but the eventual performances are hit and miss. I’m someone who enjoys create renditions, recreations, and revisions of old songs, but some of the arrangements didn’t work for me, such as Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” turned into a samba. I think it’s great that a depressing song can sound festive, but it wasn’t that. It just didn’t gel with me, the same could be sald for their take of Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me”. It appears here as a samba, which sounds quite good but this is a song I would have loved to hear vocals for. The song was originally done by Rundgren when he was with Nazz, then Rundgren spiced it up for Something/Anything and it became his biggest hit. Here, it gets active but not much else. Their take of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” just falls flat, and their take of the title track, originally recorded by the Chicago Transit Authority: ska? No thanks.

Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” was fairly straight forward, and I did like what they managed to do with The Carpenters’ “Bless The Beasts And Children” and the Talking Heads’ “Drugs”. By then, things started to flip flop around for me, wondering if things were going to sink, would it go any lower. Then when it picks up, I want it to stay up but it doesn’t for long. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? is just okay, the three songs I did enjoy would make for a nice EP but as an album, I don’t think I’ll be listening to it again.

REVIEW: J-Zone’s “Peter Pan Syndrome”

 photo J-Zone_cover_zps93ba4c58.jpg It has been awhile since the world last heard any music from J-Zone but in 2013, he has wiped off the dust and has returned with a new one called Peter Pan Syndrome (Old Maid Entertainment), and the mission this time around is an interesting one. As the title indicates, the running theme is that of a man who doesn’t want to be mature. Or to paraphrase the old Toys-R-Us commercials, “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a hip-hop kid”, but as J-Zone looks at a world with many years behind him and 40 slowly approaching, he begins to question everything and wonders if things are as they’re meant to be, not only for J-Zone the rapper, but Jay Mumford the man.

With an album cover that resembles a photo of a musician performing for the old King Biscuit radio show, time is the issue and of the essence throughout this album and the Syndrome in question is explored by creating songs that have the type of vibe experienced on countless hip-hop albums in the last 25 years. You have the sly and clever lines, the pop culture references, and the importance of humor that works on a number of levels. Along the way, we hear J-Zone talking with himself as a character who may be sitting on his shoulder, going through the motions and touching on the different things he should and shouldn’t be doing at this point in his life. You might hear subtle reference to De La Soul, Eazy-E, King Tee, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and other artists that also serve as acknowledgement to the roles they played in his life and perhaps his music. In this means of self-therapy he meets up with Breeze Brewin, Celph Titled, Has Lo, Chief Chinchilla, and Al Shid as they share their thoughts of the situation. There are tons of music industry references that are true for thousands of other artists that are in the same situation as him, but the primary issue can also be considered a metaphor for hip-hop music in itself. I’ve always felt that the music was split into two different entities, one went independent/underground realizing that the fame wouldn’t come their way but that if they believed in a bit of integrity, they would continue making what they loved because it felt good and genuine. The other half of hip-hop chose to stunt its growth to stay forever 12, which has been the source of the industry’s primary income of the last 20+ years. J-Zone makes a choice, but he also knows the consequences of the hip-hop multi-headed beast and proceeds to move forward.

The guy who made Music For Tu Madre 15 years ago is still with us but he is older, wiser, and stronger, and admits that the path has been bumpy. Peter Pan Syndrome serves as a guidebook for his career and his life so far, but in a genre where the age conditions were pre-determined by those who aren’t participating in the creation of the music itself, one has to deal with the forced myths of a shelf life and an expiration date. Once that date comes, then what? Does the rapper and the music become museum pieces like an old King Biscuit radio show photograph, or does one feel detached from it by leaving an important part of their lives behind them? It’s a dilemma for the oldsters and the oldsters to come, but for it to be addressed in this way is a reality check on something we can’t deny as we all walk slowly towards the inevitable, when chants of “and you don’t stop” will indeed stop. By focusing on specific eras and the emotions one experienced with the music, along with some of the tracks being of different lengths to where the interludes don’t feel as such, J-Zone has essentially created his Paul’s Boutique, or at least his own “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”. It’s his way of saying “this is me, this was me, and this is who I’ll always be”, regardless of where he goes from here.

REVIEW: Moloch/Ensorcelor’s split LP

 photo Moloch_cover_zps8a8f9d00.jpg Psychic Assault/De Graanrepubliek/Feast Of Tentacles have released a split album between Moloch and Ensorcelor, and this one is a brutal metal effort. Moloch are from Nottingham, England and whose style of sludge metal is ugly and disgusting, where everything is a scream for solace and survival and the riffs keep on digging deep into the wound until all that is left is bone. “Nihilist” stays at its steady pace for most of its duration, but when they get over that wallowing hill, the engines kick in and they’re racing for the finish line, it sounds incredible. “Protagonist” begins with a guitar that paints the song stroke by stroke, and eventually builds before reducing to a nice simmer.

While Moloch get two songs, Montreal’s Ensorcelor are given an entire side of the record to execute their sonic dream with the 20 minute “Flesh Dreams Of Uninhabited Space”. It begins with the sound of a woman layered with echo and reverb (it sounds like one woman singing to herself via multi-track), and some of the reverb sounds like old 1960’s echo chamber reverb, it’s intriguing. Then the guitar, bass, and drums blast through at the 2:30 mark, and it sounds big and loud, which makes sense since the band are five members strong. Each riff plods through like a machete going through a body made out of molasses, but then the guitars sound like they’re doing something a bit extra, more than spacey riffs. Then that moment disappears and the stride stays at its pace for most of the song as the vocals/screams begin to tell its dreams of the unbearable. The guitars begin to get more melodic, still at a slow pace but done to where anticipating what may come next feels good, which may sound odd for music that may seem dark and alone. A little after the seven minute mark, the screaming vocalist is joined by a growling voice, and their duet begins. It’s insanely crusty, and even at this point it doesn’t seem like the song has lasted this long. When it finally reaches the end, I wanted to hear more from Ensorcelor, maybe three more songs so that I’d get a full album of their work. Maybe next time.

(The split album can be ordered from Feast of Tentacles.)

REVIEW: MidaZ The Beast’s “AU: Another Universe”

 photo MidaZ_cover_zpse820a255.jpg Doozy.

That’s one word to use to describe MidaZ The Beast’s AU: Another Universe (HiPNOTT), and it’s because after a few years of dropping verses, making cameos and whatnot here and there, we’re getting a chance to hear what MidaZ is truly about and as for him being The Beast, if the name fits, use it. He has the kind of style that fits in with mid to late 90’s hip-hop, the laid back dude who is secure about what he rhymes and how he does it (along the lines of Common), along with that old school rah rah spirit that might bring to mind M.O.P. It’s nice to hear someone who is also confident enough to give people something different with every other songs, too many people are afraid to rap in a different style, as if it’s a shock tactic or something to be heard in a manner other than the initial manner. “Icing On The Cake” sounds nothing like “Mind Control”, which sounds nothing like the track he does with Ms. Mylodic, “Self Actualization”, and on and on and on. The listener initially gets familiar with what MidaZ is all about, but then that goes away when it’s realize he’s about more than one thing. One of the best tracks here is “Seeing Is Believing”, which features Sabac red and the great Blueprint, and the union between the three is just right, no complaints here.

By the end, it’s obvious MidaZ is about a lot of different things, which to me means someone who is willing to offer and share variety, just as he most likely has different interests. He might turn his music inside out with his next efforts, but one can’t say “I was shocked he did that, that one was a huge surprise”. Be open to the possibilities, and perhaps MidaZ has the golden touch that will make many of those possibilities turn into more jewels/joys of/in music. The album is called AU: Another Universe, Au also stands for the element of gold, his name is MidaZ. Understand this.

REVIEW: Free The Robots’ “The Balance”

 photo FreeTheRobots_cover_zps8113a776.jpg The Balance (Elsewhere Studios) by Free The Robots is a great electronic album for those who love their songs soothing, funky, anthemic, and fresh. These songs sound like potential anthems because of how they’re put together, whether it’s something that nicks a few elements from soul, funk, and/or hip-hop or when you hear certain keyboards and pianos and you feel that this could be someone’s rite of passage. There’s a nice intensity to how the songs are played and structured, most of it are instrumentals but when Jessie Jones blesses the tracks with her voice (as she does in “Carnival” and “Ophic”, it just opens the dimensions of these songs and you don’t mind getting caught up in its construction, or to witness the final version of the construction at hand. The jazzy samples in “2040” could easily make it sound like something from the 1930’s or 1940’s, but then the beat comes in, the bassline plops itself dead center, and you know exactly where it comes from: the gut of now. From the jazz to something that might be influenced by Afrobeat, which then unfolds into something disco, which then turns into jungle and then something else and other things and on and on, it’s like those Matryoshka dolls that keep revealing another and another, and it’s not only discovering another layer, but the action in making the discoveries, which involves listening. It’s very nice to do, and The Balance comes off like what would’ve happened if UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction had started a movement. There’s a bit of something for all tastes, which makes going through the layers a joy.

REVIEW: Nick Andrew’s “Catch & Release EP”

 photo NickAndrew_cover_zps29dc9a86.jpg There are times when I feel people have taken advantage of the ease and convenience of electronic music, to the point where so-called DJ’s are making 40M+ just by standing on stage, touching a button, dancing around to something they didn’t create. Then there are those who utilize technology to make incredible music. Bellingham, Washington’s Nick Andrew is one of those people.

His Catch & Release EP brings together instrumentation and sampled sources to create something that’s not just someone pressing a few keys on a keyboard, laying a much-used beat over it and saying “this is my next hit single, dance to it.” There is musicality, and by saying that I mean there’s a lot of thought and time put into these songs. Each of the songs here are like musical books in that there beginnings, middle, and proper endings, but endings that you don’t want to fade out or segue into the next song. You want these tracks “to be continued” because they’re so good, and one could imagine him doing two to three hour sets on his music alone. One person on Soundcloud compared Anderw to Bibio, but one could also throw in a Metalheadz reference and say it’s Goldiesque, or maybe it’s The ORB or 808 State. Then again, one can hear hints of a wide range of different things from 8-bit riffs to synth oceans that titillate as it accents the hi-hats and snare at every snap, then moves elsewhere all within the same song. Then you realize you’re in another song with slide mood shifts. The most noticeable shift comes with the title track, with what sounds like an amplified and distorted guitar riff getting into something electronic based, then a male voice that may have been sampled from a hip-hop or dancehall track, all placed over a rhythm section that makes you want to tap or stroll in unison. It is then you feel that things sound as if they were influenced by electronic music from the 1970’s, or the 90’s, or now, or the future, to where you just don’t care where the sounds are coming from. It moves you because the songs are designed in a cinematic manner, or at least you can picture the songs as scenes and you listen so that you can see how it concludes. Then you don’t, you just want things to last as long as possible. It’s quite amazing. This may be Andrew’s debut release, but he sounds as if he has been making music for the last 10 to 20 years, if not longer. He is “seasoned”, and I can’t wait to hear how he’ll move along in the years ahead.

(The Catch & Release EP can be streamed in full below, and is being made available for free by clicking here {53.4mb}.)

REVIEW: Yrsel’s “Abraxas”

 photo Yrsel_cover_zps6d55d70e.jpg C.J. Larsgarden and Julien Louvet have returned as Yrsel, and their meditative sounds are back with their new album, Abraxax. From the outside, it sounds like these songs are constructed out of what would be considered intros and outros to songs, where something trailing in or out becomes the entire song structure. One might here this and wonder if there’s any more to it, if there might be any “action” involved but its ambient vibe is the action in question, you just have to listen, pay attention, and allow it to move you at its eerie pace, or eerie non-pace. “Asat” features vocalist Alice Dourlen and together, it sounds like some kind of artful performance from Bjork, and I’m sure she would get a lot of praise (and balanced ridicule) for doing something like this. What I love about the song is the amount of time between vocals, where you want Dourlen to sing but you’re drenched in the walls of sound vibrating, maybe sacred, maybe unholy, maybe there, maybe not. On other tracks, it’s synths causing eternal drones and long echoes as guitars are plucked and placed into the mix with the volume control. It’s almost inhumane, or that you assume the sounds are not being created by man or woman, and the only person you have to interact with the sound and what you’re hearing is yourself. Abraxas sounds wholly internal but it could be a celebration of everything that exists in the external. Or all. Or nothing.

(The vinyl and CD pressings of Abraxas can be purchased from Europe via The Tuguska Label or 213 Records. Digitally, you can stream & listen and/or purchase below via Bandcamp.)

AUDIO: Miles Bonny’s “Ain’t No Sunshine”

 photo MilesBonnyANS_cover_zps6dd9b5e7.jpg
He was commissioned by Stephanie Greene to record this, and now it’s here: Miles Bonny‘s cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”, where he does his thing over a beat created by DCPLX (you may have been familiar with his work as DRPLUS2). If this new take of the song is to your liking, you can buy the digital file below via Bandcamp.

P.S. While the song has a music intro leading up to Bonny’s first hint of vocals, I do like the fact the if you were to remove that intro, it remains faithful to the song’s original 2:04 time length. Props for that.

AUDIO: Jazzyfatnastees’ “Baby Baby”

 photo Jazzyfatnastees_old_zpsa83c00fc.jpg
Philadelphia’s Jazzyfatnastees have been somewhat quiet lately but it seems they’re about to unleash a new project very soon. I spotted this track, which will be a part of this project, and it’s a very nice song with a bit of early to mid-70’s pop flavor, with the Jazzyfatnastees flavor running through. It’s called “Baby Baby”, which has no connection with the song they did with De La Soul, “Baby Baby Baby Baby Ooh Baby”.

FREE DL: Bike For Three!’s “Ethereal Love”

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It is certain that Bike For Three! will have a new album. What is uncertain at this time is the title for it. This will be decided at a later date but for now, you are being treated to a song from it called “Ethereal Love”. I’m already liking where this is going.