Friday, November 24, 2017

Review Round-Up

Welcome to this week's Review Round-Up. Three projects which include Indie's most persistent group releasing their fourth LP of 2017, a G.O.O.D. Music member releasing his first ever, and a Downtempo ambassador who's stuck in an endless creative pattern

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard | Polygondwanaland
Psychedelic Rock | Listen

Without fail, there was going to come a time when King Gizzard's reign of album releases finally caught up with them. 2017 has now seen the release of four albums, one off from their lofty predication this time last year. Regardless of the existence, or failure, of the fifth LP, it's say to call their ambitious tour-de-force a success. Previous to Polygondwanaland, King Gizzard released three albums that, to me, all directly opposed each other whilst combining, like a transformer, into the wildly formidable perception of King Gizzard that stands before us today. Flying Microtonal Banana took to the Australian outback, Murder Of The Universe did so in an alternate reality a la Mad Max, and Sketches Of Brunswick East rekindled the lost romance of the group and their suburban home. It's safe to call the music of Polygondwanaland another welcomed step in their ascension. However, it's also safe to call it their least conceptually-daring project yet. There's no gimmick, no hook, no new slant. For many, that's a good thing. The prospect of a bonafide King Gizzard album for the sake of having a King Gizzard album was dwindling in the past few years. Polygondwanaland rekindles that, but loses their aspired imagination along the way.

Comparisons will, and have, been drawn to Nonagon Infinity. Sans that album's own gimmick of course, in that tracks endlessly flow into one another. If anything, the gimmick of Polygondwanaland, ironically, is that there is none, something of a rarity for King Gizzard lately. The album takes a decisively straight-forward approach to Psychedelic and Progressive Rock, finding Stu Mackenzie utilizing his self-reliant, mystified vocals over, under, and through the band's prototypical pace, tone, and atmosphere. That means there's little shape and identity to the songs, some exceptions including the 10-minute consummate of 'Crumbling Castle,' the meandering tribalism of 'Searching...,' and the final turbulent minute of 'The Fourth Color.' The rest, for better or worse, can be chalked up to stereotypical King Gizzard mannerisms. The most pressing of which is Mackenzie's insistence on remaining glued to the beat for his melodic bounce, something he rarely deviates from. In actuality, this is his worst example of this dependency yet, and once it's heard it's hard to ignore. Enjoyable tracks like 'Inner Cell' or 'Loyalty' are lessened, moderately, when you realize just how limited Mackenzie's reach is.

As far as the content of Polygondwanaland, one can deduce the nature of the album by the hidden markers laid all across the cover. For starters, the title itself is a reference to Gondwanaland, a former supercontinent that existed 200 million years ago. Combining that with the outlandish tribal symbols, shrouded creatures, and pounding jungle percussion, and it's safe to see Polygondwanaland as a King Gizzard-approved revision of the mighty, mighty past. If it sounds familiar, that's because Murder Of The Universe already conquered this millennia-spanning story mere months ago. Polygondwanaland does make changes in the minutia though, pinning its focus on the details. 'Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet' interpolates the daily life of a dinosaur, while 'Inner Cell' describes, grotesquely, a strange creature with mysterious power. Basically, there's no overarching story spelled out by spoken word this time around, although Leah Senior does reappear at the start of 'The Castle In The Air.' As a whole, Polygondwanaland is a fun listen. It's nothing more than that, which is something none of its 2017 brethren can attest to. Oddly enough, considering the zombified uprising of ancient beings, I'm reminded, both conceptually and musically, of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs. Problem being, while that was an electrified outcast of Bowie's career, King Gizzard's 12th merely fits neatly into place.


Cyhi The Prynce | No Dope On Sundays
Gangsta Rap | Listen

Cyhi The Prynce's career as a musician is curious, to say the least. Kanye West, in his normal three-ring circus state, signed him to G.O.O.D. Music back in 2009, despite the Southern-born emcee releasing no more than two, street-delivered mixtapes. One year he was virtually unknown, the next he was featured alongside West on the most important album of the current decade (My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy). Expectations were surely high, about as high as Prynce's opportunity. And then, mediocre mixtapes, nine in total, began to fall. Not the type of content you'd expect from a high-profile label trying to demand attention for their newcomers. Years later and Prynce's name has become all-but Hip-Hop folklore, an elusive figure whose continued presence on G.O.O.D. Music baffles many in the community. Sure enough, with limited warning and even scarcer marketing tactics, No Dope On Sundays released. An official debut, eight years in the making. Does it live up to whatever stored away hype was left? That's entirely dependent on your assumptions of Prynce. Expecting a more well-rounded version of Big Sean? Then No Dope On Sundays will come as a pleasant surprise. Comparing the emcee with fellow former dope pusher Pusha T? Prepare to be disappointed. In all other instances, Prynce's debut album struggles to be anything more than average.

The mainstream Hip-Hop community tends to do a decent job at separating the wheat from the chaff, i.e. celebrating rappers who provide entertainment, disowning those without a personality. Big Sean excluded. There's a reason why multiple A-list features, including Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Schoolboy Q, and Travis Scott, along with the intrigue of a debut eight years in the making, failed to muster any sort of interest with fans. Cyhi The Prynce does not have a marketable identity. He's a rapper for rapper's sake, abiding by the long-held traditions in the genre like dope dealing, braggadocio, and objectifying women, along with the customary spice of pseudo-intellectual ramblings. In other words, an hour and 14 minutes spent with this man as your voice of reason is far, far too long. That becomes evident by glancing at the tracklist, one which features 15 tracks, only two of which are shorter than four minutes. These are beefy songs with lots of promise, and admittedly, a whole lot of heart thrown in. However, it takes half the total duration before we finally arrive at relatively creative, and successful, ideas. That can be seen on the three-track run of 'Looking For Love,' 'Nu Africa,' and 'Free.' The former flourishes by way of the beat, reminiscent of The Social Experiment's Juke, while 'Free' finds Prynce slyly tip-toeing around a sample with conscious lyrics that don't overbear. 'Nu Africa' is a wildly rambunctious combination of both, even if it feels heavily inspired by Kanye and Jay-Z's Watch The Throne era.

Speaking of which, many tracks here are clearly dated, not a surprise given the tremendous delays this album went through. Prynce is originally from the south, but there's no way you'd hear that here, as Trap, alongside the Southern Hip-Hop revivalism, is notably absent. Beyond that though, many tracks struggle to identify themselves as being anything more than just Hip-Hop. The pitiful four-track run from 'Murda' to 'Dat Side,' which conspicuously mimics Schoolboy Q's 'That Part' in watered down form, contributes nothing to No Dope On Sundays other than beefing up the already-bloated tracklist. And while some of the first few tracks feel noteworthy, like the Pusha T-assisted title track or 'Get Yo Money' and its purgative beat, an equal selection of others, like 'Trick Me' or 'Amen,' fail to offer something Hip-Hop hasn't already pushed past. As for Prynce himself, while he certainly has a lot to say, he's never on the cusp of anything groundbreaking, both for the genre and for whatever American movement he'd reference. The lyricism is corny and obtuse, as countless one-liners that could abet a moan come and go. He's not as bad as Big Sean at his worst, but the similarities are clearly there. In the late 2000's, this style might've gotten a pass. In 2017, rappers have advanced far beyond that, either in terms of lyricism or flow, to provide any value to Prynce who's clearly trailing behind. Therefore, the anticipation of No Dope On Sundays is muted. It's an average album. With today's mass consumption, average is as good as dead.


Emancipator | Baralku
Downtempo | Listen

Downtempo music tends to always have a time and place. Especially recent material, in the last half decade or so, when the genre's been on the downswing. Effort hasn't really been put into advancing forward, and nowhere has that been observed better than throughout Emancipator's career. Once a sparkling new eye in the Electronic community, the Oregon-based producer has proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be nothing more than a one-trick pony, mimicking his successful Soon It Will Be Cold Enough with a slightly new varnish. Over and over again. Not once in the decade since his debut has Emancipator altered his style, or even attempted to. Safe In The Steep Cliffs, Dusk To Dawn, Seven Seas, all echoing the same instrumental sentiments, all acting as stucco on an unassuming wall. With Baralku, nothing changes. Sure, Emancipator's stepped away from his schtick of album covers used as atmospheric scene-setting, but with how monotonous, dry, and desultory Baralku is, one will yearn for some sort of vision to associate with. Emancipator's fifth offers none.

It's tough to describe Baralku, or the vast chunk of Emancipator's discography, without tripping over the same phrases, expressions, and verbiage. There's really no alternative. What can be applied to 'Mako,' for instance, that it's majestic, romantic, and whimsical, can be said about nearly every single track here. Emancipator lives, not thrives, in his stylized world, one that bears resemblance to the cheap and cheesy romance novels you find lurking in the back shelves of Barnes & Noble. You know the one, with the shirtless dragon-slayer adorned by a seductive darling in danger. That's the imagery displayed on duds like 'Pancakes,' 'Rappahannock,' or the achingly long 'Time And Space.' There are times when Emancipator attempts to incorporate vocal samples into his repertoire, and his does so admirably on 'Ghost Pong' and 'Udon,' but even these moments get watered down by Emancipator's need to stay within his own lane. Sampling is an opportunity to branch out, and even that, when utilized, finds itself cornered in the artist's tight and tiny box of imagination. Come to Baralku for the lovely wallpaper, leave because no one stares at wallpaper, no matter how pretty, for long.


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