Cas One Vs Figure-Before Our Egos Kill Us Review

TL;DR: CAS ONE TRIES TO STAY GOLD BUT FORGETS THAT HE’S MADE OF SILVER.

 

Cas One is a rapper, originally from Evansville, Indiana, who just made his debut on the legendary Sage Francis’ Strange Famous label. His last album The Monster and the Wishing Well was very well received and allowed him to smoothly slide into the section of the indie rap scene that holds people like B.Dolan, Sadistik and the aforementioned Sage Francis. This new album has slightly higher stakes though because of his signing to Strange Famous and the fact that he has teamed up with respectable EDM and Dubstep producer Figure on this album. It’s not the first time they’ve teamed up though, they’ve worked on and off over the past 10 years and Figure was even Cas One’s traveling DJ  for his first album Liberation, but this is the first full length collaboration between the two and although Figure is not a “hip hop producer”, it still works surprisingly well.

The first two songs set the tone for the album. Walking into the Cult and Staying Gold give you the dark and wobbly production that have some immensely dense bass. This album is like 75% bangers, by the way and these songs are perfect examples of it. They’re fast and punchy but if I had a gripe with the beats, it’s just that they all feel a little “samey”. There’s not a lot of variety and the perfect example of that is when the song The Devil and Jacob Snider came on and some horns emerged; I had to check I was listening to the same album. After that song the bangers are mostly gone and the beats start to feel a little bit fresher quite honestly. Too bad that accounts for a total of three songs on the album. And even the new mellow vibe is hit or miss with the final song Back Home being a good example. It has some piano in the background that have the chord progression of an EDM anthem from seven years ago except it’s quiet and buried underneath the rest of the production and I swear to god I was waiting for the beat to drop into some loud and grander version of itself that would require some light show and dudes in tank tops and flip flops jumping up and down.

What really makes these beats great is Cas One over them and he will make or break your experience with this album. His lyrics are often times very clever and the topics range from social commentary to the media to his own personal life. And I enjoyed the lyrics on the last three songs the most as it provided the most information and poetic insight into his home life and his relationship with his family.

A standout track is the song Razor Blade Mark that details the typical Scencester poser kid who brags about self harm and addiction as well as “only buys his records from urban outfitters“. It reminds me of a Cage song called Scenester that was off Hell’s Winter that dealt with the same topics in a similarly clever and cynical way.

Staying Gold is probably my favorite track with probably the best hook on the album, which isn’t saying much because unfortunately Cas One is not much of a hook writer. But in all fairness, this is not an album you want hooks on, especially when you have lyrics like:

When there’s no gold left, turn right, go left
A hole in that chest gets filled with an X
Marks the spot. Keep the spark on hold
Look a horse in its mouth, see if them teeth still gold

With the bass-heavy and bouncy beat, this line just fucking shakes you and I love it.

Now, Cas One is not the perfect MC though. I would say that he suffers from the same ailment most indie rappers suffer from in that he lacks a sort of distinct narrative voice. This is hard to explain but I’ll try my best. I’m not getting a clear sense of Cas One’s writing style in this album and who he is in particular. The best way to explain it is that you can tell when you’re reading Slug’s lyrics or Aesop Rock’s lyrics even without the instrumentals, you know for a fact that that’s them. Cas One only feels particularly distinctive when he’s talking about himself and his struggles but other than that he can sometimes be lost in the fray of other introspective independent rappers.

There is one more potential problem with Cas One and that is his voice. The best way to describe it is that he’s got a flow like a mid-paced Eyedea but has the graveled and scratchy voice of like a Buck 65 or Sadistik. And I’m not sure what to think of it. It’s a very melodramatic delivery at times that really puts me off and stops me from listening to dudes like Sadistik. And I really think that his voice will make you love him or apathetic towards him.

I’m a little on the fence about Cas One as an MC and the beats are good if at the same time they are very samey but I find myself coming back to the album time and time again and I’m not sure why. There’s a charm to the album that you can only find in this little niche in the independent hip hop game. Cas One also seems like a really cool dude and I’m down to buy this record once I can as I would like more of these type of musicians emerging from the underground. It’s not my favorite hip hop album and it’s not a perfect album but I got some nice bangers out of it and I’m interested in Cas One’s future.

7/10- Pretty good bruh

headroommuzak@gmail.com

BUY THE ALBUM

Cas One Vs Figure

 

Advertisements

Ho99o9- United States of Horror Review

TL;DR:

ANGRY PEOPLE SAYING ANGRY THINGS

 

Ho99o9 (pronounced Horror) is a Los Angeles noise rap duo that has been making some waves in the past few years through some significant mixtapes, the most recent being Dead Bodies in the Lake. I’ve my reservations about this crew when I first heard them as, my first impression was “Hey, another Death Grips rip off group except they seem to like Bad Brains a little more”. And perhaps I was being unfair with them but it’s hard to not hear the similarities in the vocals and productions, as well as all the other Death Grips rip offs that have sprouted since Exmilitary came out. But with this new album, Ho99o9 seem to have carved a nice little niche within the Noise Rap genre that feels a little more fresh than before. And with 46 minutes of material, compared to Dead Bodies in the lake which was just over twenty minutes, they’re giving themselves a lot more room to make a statement.

The album starts off with a short intro and then heads into a song that disappointed me at first, War is Hell, mostly because of how sludgy it is and it just didn’t feel like much of an intro to me. Not that it’s bad, as it isn’t at all, it’s actually kinda catchy. I just would’ve preferred the second song, Street Power, to have switched places with it, which is a much more high powered and varied song with an atmospheric and airy beat that switches quickly into this hardcore punk instrumental as the duo screams: STREET POWER. And this album has a much sharper punk edge than others ,although, I’m not sure if they combine punk instrumentals with industrial and noise in a very fluid way. There are the punk songs and then there are the noisy songs. Few songs like Street Power do have both sounds within the songs but they are utilized with sudden beat changes between both rather than a combination of the two.

This isn’t to say that songs don’t have variety as it very much does. Every song has a specific identity and sound that really impressed me. There are few songs that come and go that aren’t easy to remember. Whether it’s the manic and glitchy Face Tat or the creepy-as-fuck and ethereal Moneymachine or the Bad Brains worship of City Rejects. Although all songs feel fresh, some over stay their welcome and become drab rather quickly. Knuckle Up is a good example, even though it is one of my favorite songs, it could be thirty seconds shorter and it would only make it tighter. Moneymachine is an even better example as quite honestly, it should’ve been like two whole minutes shorter as it quickly becomes redundant and boring once the novelty of the song wears off.

Now I said that Ho99o9 has made a new niche with this album and I stand by that. Although it is still clear that Death Grips is still a principle influence with songs like War is Hell and Dekay, it seems that they are pulling from farther back now on most tracks. I’m getting strong hints of Dalek and Nine Inch Nails from this record, particularly the song Bleed War in relation to NIN. This combined with their evident worship of 80s hardcore punk, it presents a feeling unique that is difficult find elsewhere. There is even a very strong mainstream trap influence on some of these songs like Hydrolics or Splash that quite honestly, barring subject matter, aren’t too far away from radio-friendly in terms of sound.

This album does have a much more distinct identity than other recent noise rap albums but it still isn’t very tight or polished. In addition to the redundancy of some tracks, some end out of nowhere to play some pointless interlude that just kills the momentum of the album. Just as Bleed War is getting it’s most intense, it cuts off to a skit of Death receiving a wrong number call. Like what the fuck. It’s kinda funny but it is still irritating because it seems like this album is trying to be a more holistic experience with these interludes and skits but it ends up making the whole thing feel scattered and unfocused, with no momentum ever being built from song to song. Which is a shame, because the only songs that are blatantly bad are United States of Horror and Blaqq Hole, which just so happen to end the album off. United States of Horror has some incredibly lame and cliche lyrics and although I enjoy the chorus and I would love to see it live, it just kills the album for me when he’s screaming these somewhat triumphant lyrics about never giving up and being yourself when the rest of the album is so nihilistic and cynical. Blaqq Hole is just a very inconspicuous ending that just lets the album fizzle out like a burning fire instead of an explosion. Also the vocals are stupid. They sound like: BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB. And I just can’t help giggling when I hear it.

All in all, this album has consistently great songs on it that either get ruined by poor sequencing or abrupt endings. If I was to just judge the songs on the album, then this album is incredible, but as an ALBUM, it feels like it lollygags and wanders around aimlessly. I will undoubtedly return to my favorite songs on this album, like Knuckle Up, Bleed War, and Street Power, but I’m not really interested in listening to the whole album in its entirety.

6.5/10- Mostly good.

headroommuzak@gmail.com

Brother Ali- All the Beauty in this Whole Life

TL:DR: FOREST WHITAKER RELEASES HIS FIRST ALBUM SINCE THE BUTLER AND DAMN… IT IS VERY PLEASANT.

 

Brother Ali is a rapper on the Minnesota-based Rhymesayers Label that I’ve followed ever since I got into hip hop in high school. I found the Rhymesayers label and, more specifically, Atmosphere at one point and I fell in love with that sort of late 90s and early 2000s backpack rap through them. Whether it be Atmosphere, Eyedea and Abilities, Aesop Rock, or some of the Def Jux guys like Cage, and El-P; Rhymesayers sort of introduced me to this whole world that really appealed to an overly-angsty and angry teenager. But Brother Ali never connected to me in the same way. I always respected him and enjoyed his music passively but it just didn’t hit me in the same way Atmosphere’s Godlovesugly or Cage’s Hell’s Winter did. Over the years, as I’ve aged I’ve found myself sort of “getting” his music a little more and this new album, his first in five years, really tipped me over the edge and showed me the artist that Brother Ali is.

First thing’s first, you must know, this album is overwhelmingly and unabashedly positive and full  of love. Whether it be the song Own Light(What Hearts are For) or Special Effects Feat. Dem Atlas or It Ain’t Easy, this album doesn’t shy away from telling you about love and even how much Brother Ali loves you in particular. These songs are gooey and bright like a strawberry shortcake with Brother Ali’s jazzy and sincere voice sprinkled on top of it.

Now, it is to be noted, whether you wanna acknowledge it or not, Brother Ali is a fascinating character in his own right. An white albino Muslim man, born in Wisconsin who has had some of the most raucous and politically charged anthems of the passed 20 years to go with his constant political activism. It’s hard not find whatever perspective he holds to be fascinating and engaging.

And this album isn’t all hugs either, there is some deep anger and concern that foam from these songs. A strong example is the song Dear Black Son, which is a song dedicated to his son, who is black and his concerns for his future and his self esteem. I heard an acapella rendition of this song during the latest Atmosphere tour that Ali jumped on and I’m so happy that a full version was on this album.

Another conscious cut that should be mentioned is the song Uncle Usi Taught Me which details the controversy Brother Ali dealt with after his song Uncle Sam Goddamn released, which led to the FBI freezing his bank account. He also mentions his encounter with the TSA when he was heading home from a tour and he was pulled aside as the security checked all his luggage and went so far as to squeeze the teddy bears Brother Ali was bringing home for his kids.

Out of Here is a heartbreaking track that shows Ali dealing with the suicides of his Grandfather and Father as he tries to find an answer for it but of course he doesn’t find one. No resolutions are made and that’s what the track is about. The inability to understand the loss of life that might’ve been able to be reverted by something, anything.

If I could say is a negative of the album is that it might be the production. It is mostly great with Ant from Atmosphere at the helm but there is so much Atmosphere influence leaking onto the hooks and instrumentals that it is undeniable. It Ain’t Easy legitimately sounds like it could’ve been on Southsiders or Fishing Blues. Can’t Take That Away could also fit snuggly within The Family Sign as well. The production on Own Light(What Hearts are For) also leaves a little to be desired with some really awkward synths that really make it sound even more corny and melodramatic, than it needs to sound.

Also, this is an issue with most Rhymesayers’ releases quite honestly and it’s that the vocals are always turned way too high in the mixes. Now Rhymesayers are known for their lyrically focused artist, but come on! Ant has some great and beautiful beats here and I love Brother Ali’s voice but his voice overwhelms the tracks sometimes that it makes the songs feel more sparse than they actually are. It’s quite honestly a testament to how great Brother Ali’s voice and delivery it is that this gripe really doesn’t affect the album too much.

I can understand why someone might not enjoy this album quite honestly though. It is so positive and loving that is comes off very corny and overly fluffy. But it never feels like it’s naive or like it’s trying too hard. It all feels very natural and if you let yourself feel the positivity in this record, there is a lot to be gained from it whether they’re tears or a nice comforted smile.

8.75/10- Pretty amazing.

P.S. If you’re a record collector like me, check out the vinyl package this has. It is quite beautiful and nice.

 

headroommuzak@gmail.com

 

Gorillaz- Humanz Review

TL:DR:

CHARLES DARWIN’S LATEST INSIGHT INTO HUMAN EVOLUTION TAKES THE FORM OF A BAD ELECTRONIC HIP HOP ALBUM. SICK BEATS THO

 

I have a deep sentimentality for Gorillaz. It was the first music group that I became obsessed with and probably got me into music as an entertainment medium in the first place.  Demon Days was my bible in middle school and high school and I think their self titled album is one of the most underrated albums of the 2000s despite Damon Albarn sort of self-cannibalizing Blur in some instances.  Plastic Beach was more of a grower than the other two but it still turned out great with some of the best features of any of the albums. Gorillaz blended hip hop with electronic, soul, rock and piano ballads in some instances with undeniable oddity to the production. Gorillaz’s songs have a distinct flavor to them despite being so varied. With Gorillaz signature attitude towards collaboration and they being my most significant musical experience of my childhood, they led me to so many other groups as well. Because of Gorillaz I found MF Doom, Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automater(and along with him the entire genre of trip hop), Lou Reed and the list goes on and on. Gorillaz is responsible for my open mindedness towards music and although I’ve grown out of them quite a bit, I was so excited for Humanz, and it hurts to say that I’m sorely disappointed.

Humanz starts off with a useless intro, that is so benign it is meaningless to describe, that transitions into arguably the best song on the album: Ascension(feat. Vince Staples). This is such a great opener and Vince is fast and the beat is erratic. It is different than most Gorillaz but it’s different in an exciting way. But immediately afterwards the album starts a horrible trend that continues the rest of the album and is a cardinal sin for any album, it becomes unbearably boring. Strobelite with Pevan Everett singing is sort of catchy but by the time the chorus plays, the song has shown you all of it’s cards. There are no dynamics to this song, no change ups with the chord progression or structure. It’s just a generic soul piece that is irritating to listen to as Pevan makes another appearance with the song Halfway to the Halfway House which is another bland piece of soul that does not make me feel anything after the first minute.

The next song I enjoyed wasn’t until Momentz with De La Soul and is an amazing track. De La Soul takes control of the track in this manic and goofy instrumental that takes over my skul with that hook.

<MOMENTS>

Before this track is one of the singles dropped called Saturn Barz with Popcaan. I’ve grown to enjoy it a little bit although I feel like it’s only catchy in a dirty and cheap way but I can’t help getting into it.

But then this album get’s back to being boring with almost no change in pace. By the way, if you’re a fan who loves 2D, you will be disappointed. He rarely shows up for any extended period of time. There is only one song with no features on it, excluding the interludes, and it’s a decent slow-burning track called Busted and Blue that is a pretty decent sad ballad but it feels so out of place among the rest of the album that it’s hard to understand its purpose.

Purpose is something in particular this album is lacking. It just doesn’t feel like there was any attention to detail to sequencing of the tracks. This lack of effort on this end starts off immediately with the transition from Ascension to Strobelite. Ascension is such a dynamic and intense beginning that becomes quickly underwhelming as you get dropped into one of the least dynamic and exciting tracks in the listing.  The interludes are all incredibly pointless with no discernible connection to any of the songs or any of the other interludes.

The few other highlights in the listing are Let Me Out, Hallelujah Money and one of the bonus tracks: Out of Body. But out of 26 tracks, including interludes, this is not a very solid average for any album, let alone a solid average for a band as consistent as Gorillaz. It feels like Albarn doesn’t even know it’s been seven years since the last album.

I’m gonna get into the visuals to much as that has never been a selling point for me but I’ve heard others complain about the somewhat lackluster visuals and I’ve gotta second that opinion quite honestly. I’m not a visual artist or even very knowledgable about the art but there definitely does seem to be something missing in the music videos that just isn’t clicking with me.

In the end, this album isn’t terrible. The production is great as usual and the performances are mostly great, but this album makes me want to sleep.

 

4/10- Not feeling great on this one.

 

headroommuzak@gmail.com

 

Two more reviews should be coming in the next week.