Friday, September 16, 2011

Land of the Lost

Recently I came to the startling realization that if I respond to an email, the person on the other end will, nearly without fail, write back – further contributing to the catastrophe that is my inbox. What I'm saying is that this shit is a vicious cycle.

The same goes for album reviews. I get a new disc, listen to it and write up my thoughts, and then, goddamnit, another album arrives on my doorstep!

I'm being facetious, of course, as the last thing I want is for people to stop recording and releasing music. I mean, what would I do with my spare time then?

Still, there are always albums that, as good as they are, tend to fall through the cracks. They are projects that, though they become a steady part of my musical diet, I often fail to expound upon in a timely manner. Thus every once in a while I am forced to comb through my playlists and highlight the releases I have neglected to promote with the requisite gusto.

This is one of those times.

What follows is a bit of spring summer early autumn cleaning on my part. It focuses on a trio of albums that managed to hit hard and make distinct impressions on me over the first half of 2011. I just sort of forgot to mention how awesome they are.

My bad.

Robots. Lasers. Awesome.

Nathan Meunier is, among other things, my journalistic homeboy. He is also a bit-popper with a distinctly grimy lean. His Robots. Lasers. Awesome., which I've been sitting on since March, proves as much by kicking off with the dark and aggressive "Doomlaser" before slowing down into the vaguely dub-tinged "Chasing Satellites."

From there the album goes off on a number of odd and interesting tangents, but driving chiptune melodies punctuated by even sharper guitar hooks are the order of the day. Whereas joints like "Iterate" channel The Cure into lo-fi electronica, "Nerd Rock" instead paints itself as a retro game soundtrack with traditional musical accompaniment.

The album slowly builds across 8 tracks to the amazingly evocative closer "Portal of Solitude" – it's rather desperate and somber, and, like the rest of Robots. Lasers. Awesome., manages to communicate real emotion despite a total absence of lyrics.

If you're looking for a solid instrumental soundtrack to your workday, some late-night driving music or if you just wanna explore a new hybrid music act, give Nathan a listen.

Villainz for Hire

Viet Vu reached out to me about Soup or Villainz's Villainz for Hire back in April, and it admittedly took a while to grab me. After a few listens, though, I began to grok the group's dynamic; SoV exists somewhere between the smart-ass swagger of Southside and the self-effacing nerdery of Death*Star. It's a strange position, sure, but one that only they can fill.

Vu's lyrical high-end was the initial turn-off, but once it got its hooks in me I realized a very prevalent blend of aggressive punches and comical follow-ups that even now puts me in mind of Childish Gambino. Remison, his coconspirator, holds shit down on the other end with hints of both West Coast and Deep South styles in a Midwest spit that is always on-point. Individually they've got talent, but together they are a two-headed geek rap juggernaut.

"Game to Play" and "The Code" represent fine examples of the Villainz's own take on gamer rap – a well that they seem all too willing to visit – with the latter boasting ample amounts of soul thanks to in-house hook machine Danyeal McIntosh, who also adds a shot of sultriness to the surf guitar-inspired "Gamer Tag." The VGM thing isn't their only trick, though, as the group takes on everything from relationship woes ("Only Option") to anthemicly braggadocios bangers ("Soup or Crazy)" across the breadth of the release.

The album's become a go-to release for me – especially "D.K.," which, though it makes for a slightly unsatisfying closer, has a chorus that's nothing short of irresistible – so I definitely suggest you give it a spin. Cheap-asses can also cop a half-size EP version of this disc for free from Scrub Club which features, among other tasty cuts, the project's blistering, if unfortunately short, "Intro."

The Lost

More recently Thomas from Hand'Solo Records hooked me up with the latest from long-lived Canadian hip-hop clique toolshed. Originally a loose collective of MCs and DJs, the toolshed of today is a more streamlined affair. Consisting of old friends Chokeules, Psybo and Timbuktu, it's now a hip-hop power trio in the classical sense.

Originally recorded after the release 2006's Relapse, the basis of The Lost is material from the titular lost album with a twist. Tim worked his production magic to incorporate new remixes and collabs in with the classic material, and the final result is a perfectly enjoyable slice of intelligently constructed rap that's also unafraid to appeal to the baser nature of your inner teenage hell-raiser.

Opening strong with "Peppercorns" and "Rock N Rule," the guys dive headfirst into funk-rock hooks and razor-sharp cuts. Guest stars abound on the phenomenal (and aptly named) "Round Table," and Ghettosocks' turn of "Hit 'Em With His Running Shoes" stands out as the kind of cameo that would shame most host artists. Thankfully the toolshed is composed of sterner stuff.

As flexible as they are talented, the 'shed excels at both bringing the proverbial pain to the idle youth – on not one but two different mixes of "Clubsuck" – and keeping the part alive with proper drinking anthems – "Irish Car Bomb Pt. 2" and its late album analog "Irish Tiger Balm Pt. 2." And their feats of instrumental strength and verbal stamina don't stop there.

Clocking in at 16 tracks of hip-hop for heads of all stripes, the album never misses, but that's not to say I don't have my favorites. "Flavor Saviors (remix)" brings in shades of BDP that can't help but satisfy, and the closing salvo of "Dream Team (Bix rmx)" and "Final Round (original version)" stand out as some of the strongest selections to come out of the always impressive Hand'Solo catalog.


Jimi said...

Sounds like you need a reviewing sidekick, Zman!

I always enjoy Soup Or Villainz more than I expect to.

Also, this has been a crazy good year for Backburner releases!

laura pausini biography said...

Things always need reviews to improve them whether these are albums or anything else. I have heard the albums although fantastic work has been done.

Z. said...

They were great at NAP, Jimi. Really good live energy, and I totally agree re: Backburner. The whole fam is on fire! #badpun

DoogieHowitzer said...

I won't ad to your inbox woes quite yet (but soon), but I'd like to thank you for the Toolshed review. We're working towards a "Clubsuck" video...

Z. said...

Always happy to oblige, Doogie. And I can't wait for that video!