Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful

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For a rapper from Queens, Action Bronson is an incredibly unique artist. His descriptive and wacky lyrics can often feature him doing gymnastics in and out of different vehicles or “getting topped off in the front row of the opera”. In a few short years he has made the transition from a chef to a world conquering rapper and all round character. On this album he verges on becoming comparable to Tenacious D in regards to hip hop. They may have primarily been a parody act but it is important to remember that they are also both great musicians and the same goes for Bronson. He may not be a parody act but that doesn’t stop him from injecting his own brand of humour throughout Mr. Wonderful also.

Some may argue that a Tenacious D comparison could be a step too far, but he does open Mr. Wonderful with his best Billy Joel rendition, “I got a brand new car, I got a jazz guitar”. He then proceeds to treat the listener to the playful wordplay that he admits himself can be over the top, “at the bar looking Swedish in a trench coat, stupid”. It is all very tongue in cheek and it’s what makes Bronson one of a kind. He has made quite a name for himself solely off his intriguingly bizarre raps and pure charisma. The latter of which translates perfectly to this album with each track providing a different look at his tastes and talents.

His production and sample choices are second to none, The Alchemist, Mark Ronson and Party Supplies to name just a few. Each beat is vastly different but that only allows Bronson to prove his versatility. He croons over Ronson’s ‘Baby Blue’ hook along with Chance the Rapper, on what is the most accessible track he’s released.  Any chances he takes with either singing or venturing into other genres (‘City Boy Blues’) all feel apt to the world he has created on the album. Easy Rider closes the album in stereotypical Bronson fashion. A psychedelic guitar riff along with sensory, braggadocios raps and a revving motorcycle all culminate to finalise things with his best track yet.

It is a very cohesive project despite the several producing contributors. Many tracks begin at the end of the previous one, also aiding in creating a full and consistent sound throughout the album. The title Mr Wonderful may have to be taken with a pinch of salt, like much of his aesthetic. However, he has truly earned himself this self appointed title with this release. The future looks a lot brighter for him after such a versatile debut showing.

4/5

-Ross Logan

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Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit. I Don’t Go Outside.

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Earl Sweatshirt has progressed into a different artist than what was heard on his debut album ‘Doris’. The monotonous delivery that we were reluctantly becoming accustomed to has been cast aside in favour of a more passionate and natural style of performing. Many praised his premature level of skill that he introduced us to on his initial mixtape. Now it seems like all this discussed potential has finally been realised and Earl has now progressed into the mature, intelligent artist we have been waiting to meet.

The production was handled almost entirely by Earl, aside from ‘Off Top’, which was handled by his fellow Odd Future member Left Brain. It is an altogether dark, gritty and fuzzy sound that takes over the whole album. Echoing drums are often accompanied eerie synths and low bass lines, all of which aid in creating an air of perfected melancholy throughout. The only downfalls come in the form of a few ill fitting features. Vince Staples may introduce Wool with vicious intent, but Wiki soils AM/Radio with his weak appearance.

Earl’s recently acquired higher level of self awareness, both musically and personally, has allowed him to become more comfortable and confident in the studio. You can hear it in his voice that he is less doubtful of himself. He is far from the fidgety, withdrawn young man that we saw in the first interviews concerning his return from Samoa. It’s clear that the culmination of all his experiences has led to this album, one that many have been waiting to hear from him for quite some time.

It is not just his sound that has matured but the lyrical content and themes also. He focuses on relationships with his friends, mother, family and record label. It is can be brutally honest at times. He goes into detail on very personal matters on tracks like Grief and Faucet, resulting in two of the most personal tracks we may have heard from him yet. On DNA he states he’s “ here, there, up and down, low and peaking”, admitting that the new found confidence may not be fully instilled in the doubtful young artist.

Earl has stated that this is the first project he’s released that he can fully stand behind and it shows. The confidence in himself and his work, as well as the natural progression that comes with someone who started so young, was all he needed to finally justify all that hype and meet the expectations of those who have been waiting. While the album may only be 30 minutes long, there is enough buried content for an immediate second or third listen. The more you grasp, the more you want to listen again. It is an enthralling record from a rapper who is wise beyond his years. He should prove to be one of the best emcees of our time if this is the standard set for his future.

4/5

-Ross Logan

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

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There are a large variety of themes and issues addressed on Kendrick Lamar’s third album, To Pimp A Butterfly. Anger , depression, & race to name a few. Each one is explored in detail, always drawing back to his own life for comparison and relatability. Almost every track runs well over four minutes, resulting in a massive & heavily conceptual album that feels incredibly complex & oppressed but uplifting. This is exactly what many have been clamouring for from him, an album that is original, experimental and timeless, but most importantly one that is 100% Kendrick.

The main theme is one of a caterpillar and a butterfly. He explains the former is the boy in him from Compton, who he was before fame, a brash self aware child with a growing conscience. He created the butterfly persona in order to be ‘pimped’ out to record labels and sell his personality to his masses, something that he is not happy with. He uses different pitches for his voice throughout the album perhaps to discern between the two sides of his character. The high pitched voice features on ‘Hood Politics’ as he explains just that from a younger, more naive point of view. than that on ‘Mortal Man’ features no pitch change and a more educated look on life, with the amalgamations of both the caterpillar and butterfly’s separate perspectives.

Depression is another theme that is explored in detail throughout the album. During ‘u’, he goes on a self deprecating rant that deals with feelings of guilt and self loathing that have come with fame. However for every dark cloud on the album there’s a silver lining. ‘I’ offers a different perspective from the same suicidal state of mind, but is instead a much needed message of hope from an otherwise visceral look at his life.

The production is an eclectic mix of many sounds, all of which fit into Kendrick’s overall vision of what he wanted from this album. It sounds like a lot more live instruments were used and less heavy bass & electronic elements than on what we have previously heard from him. That’s not to say those elements are not present but are used more so with minimal perfection.

There is a heavy jazz influence from the get go on Wesley’s Theory’ which features Flying Lotus, Thundercat & George Clinton. The jazz under tones are not just heard in the production though, but also in Kendrick’s abnormal delivery. ‘For Free (Interlude)’ almost has the same tone as scat singing, but with him rapping about what “keeps him obnoxious”. There are also traces of funk that take over the infectious ‘King Kunta’, just one of the tracks that deal directly with race.

This is a very angry album, but not a violent one. It offers some solutions and a brighter side, while never downplaying the rightful resentment and anger that his race have towards their own justice system. That raw emotion is best captured on the brutally honest ‘The Blacker the Berry’. It is also a record that takes chances, through both thought provoking lyrics about the state of society and genre bending music. Kendrick could have taken a more commercial route that may have sold more but he is not one to stand idly by and collect cheques. He wants to spread the knowledge he has acquired through struggle, but most importantly the idea of respect for each other, and that in itself is quite admirable. All that and I didn’t even mention his conversation with Tupac at the end. Yes, Tupac. Hear it to believe it.

4/5

-Ross Logan

Pharoahe Monch, the Sugar Club Dublin

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Screening Dave Chappelle’s Block Party before a gig sets the standard pretty high for any headliner, regardless of who they are. This is because the crowd was (technically) warmed up by Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu and The Fugees to name a few. However, Pharoahe Monch had no problem smashing this standard from the get go during this Sugar Club gig. He has the ability to do this because he somehow posses the energy of a rookie and the skills of a veteran. It results in a fantastic and entertaining showing from one of hip hop’s most underrated emcees.

He has been around for quite some time now, so the fact that he can deliver a captivating set that runs much longer than a lot of similar shows is no surprise. Having such reliable production to fall back makes for an incredibly consistent collection of tracks, with a variety of different sounds represented. Slower songs can sometimes be a rap gig’s downfall, with shoddily delivered hooks or a complete lack of interest from the crowd during the less upbeat selections. Pharoahe knows how to entertain regardless of tempo as he proved while singing along to the sombre hook of ‘Broken Again’.

The show isn’t perfect. Some of the crowd interaction feels like a routine, which no doubt it is, and there is the occasional mistake, but a hilarious Busta Rhymes impression and an Organized Konfusion encore can always make up for that. As far as the performance goes it is very hard to falter. It is admirable to see an emcee that doesn’t have to try too hard to win a crowd over, or rely on his most recognisable tracks to do so. He has a formula that has worked for years and will continue to if he maintains the sky high levels of passion and love that he clearly has for performing.

-Ross Logan

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Jay Electronica, Whelan’s Dublin

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Any time you talk about Jay Electronica, questions are raised as to whether the hype surrounding him is justified. This is mostly due to his unwillingness to drop a debut album despite having signed to Roc Nation five years ago. If this gig in Whelan’s is anything to go by, he has evidently been mastering the art of performing live. With pure showmanship and raw, undeniable talent on display, his set is 10 times larger than any other I have witnessed, despite being in somewhat intimate settings. The hype is most definitely justified and from the looks of things it will only continue to grow.

After yet another stellar opening set from Dah Jevu, with a full band in tow, massive applause erupted for the headliner. The audience were pleased to see the enigma that is Jay Electronica had actually graced Dublin with his presence. His voice instantly demands attention quite like no other artist, straight from the beginning with ‘Exhibit A’. Even when he invites most of the crowd onto the stage, he still keeps everyone somewhat contained and has them hanging on every word with his commanding vocals. Going acapella for almost half the set only stresses the importance of what he is saying and proves that he really is as good a lyricist as they come.

He also has no trouble asserting his position as people’s champion of the rap game by stopping to take pictures, taking song requests from audience members and then jumping into the crowd to rap the song to them. It is elements like this that make it far more personal than your average hip hop gig. He wants to take the time out to leave an impression on everyone in the room, even giving two people a chance to showcase their own skills, (one of them being Emzee A). They both had no problem proving their worth to everyone, including Jay, who seemed pleasantly surprised by both of their abilities to flow over ‘Shook Ones Part 2’.

If you were to view this show from the perspective of a veteran in hip hop, it would not only be intimidating but inspiring. Seeing a relative newcomer perform with such professionalism and awe inspiring skill would have to ignite something in even the most egotistical, self absorbed of rappers. Jay Z wanted to sign him as soon as he heard him rap and that is no surprise when he has the ability to put on a display like the one in Whelan’s tonight. Personally, I have never seen Jay Z live but I know he would have to do something pretty damn spectacular to top this.

Hats off to Jay Electronica, Dah Jevu, Hidden Agenda and Whelan’s for the best night of “real hip hop” I have ever been lucky enough to experience.

-Ross Logan

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Community Skratch Games 2015

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The 9th annual Community Skratch Games is set to take place in Bierhaus, Galway April 4th & 5th. DJ Chile will open the festival at 5pm on Saturday. Also that day will play host to Clerk 5 and Same D4ence, young Clare DJ Daithi Curtin, as well as Rusangano Family, an act who we have been following for a while now and who only continue to astound us with every concert/album release. Sunday will also see Naive Ted, Djackulate, Danny Deepo, Noid the Droid and Zinc all playing different sets as well as countless other acts throughout the weekend.

All that and we haven’t even mentioned the main event, the Community Skratch Games Open Freestyle Battle Royale. Previous editions have featured total novices and battle veterans, young upstarts battling alongside world champions. All for a bag of meat. And this year, for the first time ever, a really fancy skratch crossfader from Pro X Fade

Performances begin at 5pm each day and admission is free (though donations are welcome and encouraged!).

Full line-up:

DJ Chile – Naive Ted – Handsome Paddy
Rusangano Family – KOI>3.2^6
Lewis James & Rick Soul – Noid the Droid
Wat Tyler’s Soundcard (Jimmy Hatetank, Jimmy Penguin & DJ Chile)
Zinc – Christine Kelly – JusMe – Clerk 5 – Nyt Bloomer
Danny Deepo – Djackulate – Darcy, Symatic & Kutclass
Same D4ence – Daithi Curtin

Interview with Auxiliary Phoenix

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One half of High Elders, Auxiliary Phoenix is a young producer from Carlow Ireland. He has a particularly unique style and approach to making music and it results in some intriguing and compelling material that can’t be tied down to any one genre. We got the chance to catch up with him to ask a few questions:

-How long have you been making music?

“I’ve been making music since 2004 I think? That was the year I got my first turntables, which I had up until I upgraded this year, haha. From learning how to scratch I got into remixing, which in turn got me into producing, so yeah, 2004-2005. I joined a bunch of bands too, from 2006-2010, before getting into making Auxiliary Phoenix music, so I got to learn music theory and structure in that manner too.”

-Who are your musical influences?

Back when I started out making Auxiliary Phoenix tunes I was very inspired by El-P’s Cannibal Ox style beats. Beastie Boys played a big role in what I do (their DJ Mix Master Mike got me into scratching). Some names from the beats & the wonky scene have definitely inspired me the most – Busy, Mono/Poly, Dorian Concept, Cid Rim, The Clonious – and lately I’ve been very inspired by classic jazz fusion artists like Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jean Luc Ponty, etc. along with the artists who are bringing jazz fusion to mainstream attention again – The Mars Volta, Robert Glasper Experiment, Flying Lotus, Thundercat.”

-How did you start working with Gentle Jones?

“I knew Gentle and his music for years through my father, who was a friend of his online. When I started making music as Auxiliary Phoenix back in 2011-2012, I hit up Gentle Jones as soon as I had something I thought was good enough. I offered to mix some tracks he was working on for his solo record (which was his first rap record in 7 years) and put some cuts down on them, and eventually we were working on so many tracks together that we decided to do something entirely with just the two of us.”

-How long did it take to make Forest of Pencils?

“Forest of Pencils took around a year to make. We got tracks done whenever we could, sending ideas back and forth. Generally, it would take me a couple hours to make an instrumental, and as soon as I got the vocals back from Gentle it would be another couple of hours before the track is done.”

-Do you plan to record more with him in the future?

“Yeah definitely – we’re already starting work on album 2. I’ve got the majority of the beats done, and a lot of varied material – hoping to combine math rock styles with rap and hip hop on some tracks with this record. Should be some really exciting stuff!”

-What’s your favourite beat you’ve made?

“My favourite beats I’ve made haven’t come out yet… But in terms of what I have out there, I would have to say my favourite is probably a toss up between European Space Museum and Ill At Will.”

-If you could make a beat for anyone who would it be?

I’ve been fantasising about producing a tune for Lupe Fiasco for the past 2 years so I’ve gotta say him. Or Aesop Rock, El-P, M.I.A., Bjork…

-Who are your (hip hop) Top 5 of all time?

“I don’t think I can put this in order at all, and it’s definitely not in keeping with who the classics are but:

Beastie Boys, Lupe Fiasco, El-P, Flying Lotus, Sage Francis.”

What’s your favourite film?

“It used to be Fight Club, I used to watch that movie like 3 times a week, every week, haha. But I’ve seen so many good movies since then. Cloud Atlas was outstanding, I have no idea why it got such mixed reviews. Scott Pilgrim was also a major highlight. Hot Fuzz & Shaun of the Dead… I;m sorry, I don’t think there’s any way I can play favourites!”

-Have you got any releases in the works?

“I’m currently working on an EP called Camelopardalids. I’m using live instrumentation as the basis for the record, with live drums, fretless / 5-string bass and guitar mixed with electronic beats and synthesisers. It’s definitely the most cohesive piece of work I’ve made, and I feel like it’s the strongest, most unique thing I’ve come up with in my lifetime as a musician, so I can’t wait to get it done and put it out.”

Auxiliary Phoenix will be performing at SCAVENGER launch at the Grand Social, Dublin. Tickets €6.

-Ross Logan