June 29, 2018

Little Brother - The Listening (2003)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2003 ABB Records
AllMusic Review by Robert Gabriel
In Little Brother's music, the North Carolina group makes a specific point to highlight the more refined aspects of mid-'90s hip-hop. Basing its 2002 sound upon the foundation previously established by the likes of Pete Rock, A Tribe Called Quest, Jay Dee, and Black Star, Little Brother makes somewhat of a political statement by applying such standards to this modern age. The Listening does an exceptional job of proving that soulful meditations have indeed retained their traditional relevancy within the contemporary realms of rap. 9th Wonder's production leads the charge with distinct drum kicks pacing larger-than-life melodic samples, which are often enhanced with sultry female voice-overs. Meanwhile, Phonte and Big Pooh dig even deeper within the hip-hop vaults as they draw upon classic routines by the likes of Rakim, Slick Rick, and Audio 2 for their lyrical inspiration. Whether engaged in storytelling, braggadocio, or simple reassurance, the rhyming duo complements 9th Wonder's varying shades of mood music with a consistent degree of skill and sincerity. The album both starts and finishes strongly, with "For You," "Speed," "Nighttime Maneuvers," and the title track serving as its most stellar moments. Despite its unavoidably derivative orientation, The Listening is a finely crafted musical document, composed by artists who want nothing more than to provide even just a glimpse of hip-hop purity within an ever-expanding maze of cultural deterioration.

tags: little brother, the listening, 2003, flac,

Little Brother - The Minstrel Show (2005)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2005 Atlantic/ABB Records
AllMusic Review by John Bush
Few groups earn a major-label contract based on their producer's merits, but when Little Brother jumped to Atlantic for their second full album, The Minstrel Show, any cynic looking for a good reason would point to the increased profile of trackmaster 9th Wonder (Jay-Z, Destiny's Child). But it wasn't just 9th Wonder that made Little Brother's first album one of the best underground rap debuts of the new millennium; rappers Phonte and Big Pooh matched a smooth Southern drawl with up-North smarts. Like their influences in the Native Tongues family, the trio cast a clever eye over music and culture, sniffing out hypocrisy and greed, then dismissing them with sparkling satires. The Minstrel Show presents more of the same, expanding the palette to a host of hot topics: R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" series, which gets skewered by the spot-on "Cheatin"; exploitative urban TV stations (the album's main concept); and even the need for brand-name clothes ("5th and Fashion"). And any fans who feared that 9th Wonder's success would lead to a diluted or overly polished record have nothing to worry about; awash in '70s soul and mellow, slapping beats, his productions make the message tracks carry just as well as the humorous material.

tags: little brother, the minstrel show, 2005, flac,

Little Brother - Getback (2007)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2007 ABB Records
AllMusic Review by John Bush
It should be an easy story to tell: vaunted rap group loses the producer who made them a quality act, then slowly sinks back into the underground, never to be heard from again. From Getback, it's clear that Little Brother didn't mind the loss of 9th Wonder and decided to rewrite the script. Not only do Phonte and Pooh sound like nothing has changed, in point of fact they sound more energized and engaged than ever before. They've got more to say and more intriguing ways to say it, including touches like fronting a flashy production worthy of Bad Boy for the anti-materialist "Good Clothes," inviting Lil Wayne for "Breakin My Heart" (where he reliably blows your mind with line after line, like "I don't want a broken heart because I lose the pieces"), and floating an utterly hilarious exposé of late-night hook-ups ("After the Party"). Instead of the usual rap record circa 2007, where dozens of lines go by with no reason to pay particular attention besides technical ability, it's difficult not to hang on every line here from Phonte and Pooh. And for those worried about the production quality with 9th Wonder's departure, it may have actually improved with the work of Illmind and Khrysis, among others (9th Wonder appears once, on the Lil Wayne feature). It's one of the most refreshing hip-hop records of 2007, one where you can rely on rappers to talk intelligently and rap fluidly about important subjects, know what to treat seriously and what to treat humorously, put up great productions, and really care about what they're saying.

tags: little brother, getback, get back, 2007, flac,

Little Brother - LeftBack (2010)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2010 Hall of Justus
AllMusic Review by Matt Rinaldi
Expectations always run high when the listening public is alerted to the fact that a certain artist or group is working on a final album, a situation that makes for stricter critical and popular reception. Would The Love Movement, for example, have been judged so harshly if fans hadn't known it would be the last Tribe LP and weren't acutely aware of the discography that came before it? With this in mind, what's billed as the last studio album from Little Brother -- arguably the most prominent underground group to come out in the 2000s -- is a bittersweet affair. Nevertheless, Phonte and Big Pooh aren't shedding any tears. "You could call this the denouement," is how Phonte puts it on the upbeat album-opener, "Curtain Call," and Pooh keeps with the literary themes: "This is it, the last monologue, last act in the play/You could say the epilogue/New books to begin, dear friends/You can always press rewind and relive it again." But that's just about all we get in terms of wistful introspection. The North Carolina duo keeps things moving, doing what it's always done -- delivering next-level lyrics that strike a perfect balance between traditional MC boastfulness, clever commentaries on the quotidian, and brainy mike skills. Khrysis handles most of the production and, while for many the Justus League beatsmith's work might not reach the same level of mastery as 9th Wonder's, his use of lofty strings, crisp drums, and chunky bass arrangements does the job; in other words, he almost lets us forget that it's not 9th behind the boards. As far as lyrical content, Leftback has its share of love/relationship joints ("Table for Two," "Second Changes," "What We Are") and musings on the nightlife ("After the Party," "Two Step Blues," "Before the Night Is Over"). Here, Little Brother's approach helps illustrate what sets them apart from much of their contemporary hip-hop brethren. Images of materialism and seduction are tinged with sarcasm, and while their party-oriented songs are definitely danceable, the lyrics are more preoccupied with the trappings of the nightlife. "It's like nobody wanna live they life/They just wanna reenact the same scene every night" is Phonte's weary assessment on "After the Party." Still, Leftback's standout track comes in the form of "Tigallo for Dolo," a three-minute hookless lyrical tirade from Phonte that should do well to whet fans' appetites for the MC's solo work. Upon first listen, Leftback might not meet the high expectations awaiting it, but these 13 strong tracks of intelligent and soulful hip-hop are still head and shoulders above most of Little Brother's contemporaries.

tags: little brother, leftback, left back, 2010, flac,

Murs & 9th Wonder - Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition (2004) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2004 Definitive Jux
AllMusic Review by John Bush
Virtually alone among contemporary rappers, Murs tells a straightforward story with every rap, and listeners looking for more to love following one of the most acclaimed rap records of 2003 (The End of the Beginning) will be glad to find ten more tracks of equal value on Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition. At some point during a hectic 2003 that saw him doing close to 200 shows, Murs decamped to North Carolina to join producer 9th Wonder (Little Brother) for that rare thing in post-gangsta rap -- a dedicated rapper/producer session. While he claims he's "more Coldplay than Ice-T," this is a gangsta record through and through, though one from the viewpoint of a common-man hustler who walks the grocery store parking lots ("H-U-S-T-L-E"), spits raps about not being able to pick up any women ("The Pain"), and drops a deft two-minute tale ("Trevor an' Them") about witnessing the most inept heist of all time. 9th Wonder's productions are the perfect balance for Murs' raps, spreading the '70s sweet soul samples all over the record and keeping the beats simple and chunky. Despite a few of his trademark entertaining tracks, Murs is dead serious on this record, eulogizing a friend on "Walk Like a Man" and laying out his sexual exploits (with far too many details) on "Freak These Tales." It's that balance of frankness and occasional humor that makes 3:16: The 9th Edition every bit the informed record that its predecessor was.

tags: murs and 9th wonder, murs 316 the 9th edition, 2004, flac,

Murs & 9th Wonder - Murray's Revenge (2006)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2006 Record Collection
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown
In the underground hip-hop realm there are two basic camps: the one that breaks away from mainstream rap in both style and content, and the other, whose themes and production techniques are closer to its more popular sister, but which also proudly embraces (or at least acknowledges) its independent status. Murs is one of the few artists who fall between the two groups. In Murray's Revenge, like in his 2004 release, Murs 3:16, his even-paced delivery shies away from ten-cent words and his songs often deal with the standard rap subjects -- a hard life, women, and his own talent -- but he is also unafraid to dispel some social constructs that many of his peers only help to perpetuate. In "Dreamchaser" he explains that the draw to gang life is because of a lack of positive opportunity ("We all chase money 'cause we scared to chase dreams"), and he discusses the difficulties of not fitting cleanly into racial stereotypes in "D.S.W.G. (Dark Skinned White Girls)," an issue that's fairly common in contemporary, diverse America. When Murs does slide into talking about himself and his skills -- a topic no true MC can avoid -- he's such a good storyteller that his boasting isn't boring, and he's also willing to admit the bad decisions he's made, creating a real sincerity in his rhymes. Some of the songs are meant to be didactic, but he's usually subtle enough to convey his message without being preachy ("For if a soul is avenged through the deeds of a friend/Then success has always been the best form of revenge"). It's not all seriousness, though; Murs has always been one for a chuckle, and there are some humorous tracks (the aptly named "Silly Girl," for example), but there's enough quality, content, and warm West Coast soul samples (courtesy of producer 9th Wonder) in Murray's Revenge to make it a good album that should please fans of any type of hip-hop.

tags: murs and 9th wonder, murrays revenge, murray's, 2006, flac,

Murs & 9th Wonder - The Final Adventure (2012)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2012 Jamla
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
Even if their collaborative 2010 album was titled Fornever, rapper Murs and producer 9th Wonder are serious when they declare this The Final Adventure, considering this is the last entry in a series of albums that began in 2004 with Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition. Too bad, too, since the chemistry between the two still works, with Murs offering his frank but talky rhymes over 9th Wonder's beats, which always go for soul and groove. Two distinct song types have always figured in, and here, they're back, with aggressive boom-bap politics fueling songs like "Whatuptho" ("There ain't no difference between a gangbanger, and Malcolm X/Just the same anger" and "Gotta speak the truth by the youth/I've been selected") while woozy young lust and an undying love of booty colors sexy or sex-starved numbers like "Walk Like a Woman" ("I love women, but not like all guys/Take one look and I can tell a chick her bra size"). Interesting how "Tale of the Cities" takes the listener on a journey through Los Angeles, from alarm clock and putting on the shoes to nightfall, and points out how the two sides of the city are painted political red and blue. Also of note is how the slice-of-life "Wherever You Are" sounds so much like a proper Murs cut off a solo album, hinting he's ready to explore his many other projects. Then there's the closer "It's Over," a kiss-off to an ex-girlfriend on the surface, but a fitting swan song for the duo as Murs works his ire into spiteful poetry, and 9th Wonder lays the hypnotism underneath, crafting a loopy bit of R&B that suits the song. It's what they've done so well since Murs 3:16, and if this really is The Final Adventure, it is what Murs would call "a damn shame".

tags: murs and 9th wonder, the final adventure, 2012, flac,

June 28, 2018

D'Angelo - Brown Sugar (1995)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 1995 EMI Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
By the mid-'90s, most urban R&B had become rather predictable, working on similar combinations of soul and hip-hop, or relying on vocal theatrics on slow, seductive numbers. With his debut album, Brown Sugar, the 21-year-old D'Angelo crashed down some of those barriers. D'Angelo concentrates on classic versions of soul and R&B, but unlike most of his contemporaries, he doesn't cut and paste older songs with hip-hop beats; instead, he attacks the forms with a hip-hop attitude, breathing new life into traditional forms. Not all of his music works -- there are several songs that sound incomplete, relying more on sound than structure. But when he does have a good song -- like the hit "Brown Sugar," Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'," or the bluesy "Shit, Damn, Motherfucker," among several others -- D'Angelo's wild talents are evident. Brown Sugar might not be consistently brilliant, but it is one of the most exciting debuts of 1995, giving a good sense of how deep D'Angelo's talents run.

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Junior M.A.F.I.A. - Riot Musik (2005)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
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© 2005 Mega Media Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

tags: junior mafia, riot musik, music, 2005, flac,

Junior M.A.F.I.A. - Conspiracy (1995)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Mafioso Rap, Pop Rap
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© 1995 Undeas/Big Beat Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Under the guidance of the Notorious B.I.G., Junior M.A.F.I.A. released their first single, "Player's Anthem," in the summer of 1995, along with the full-length Conspiracy. Not surprisingly, the group's music resembles that of The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, complete with an opening sound collage. Considering Ready to Die was one of the seminal hip-hop releases of the early '90s, Conspiracy could have been an inspired, enjoyable sequel; instead, it's a fitfully successful replication of the earlier record's strengths. The major problem is Junior M.A.F.I.A. doesn't have enough personality to distinguish themselves from the B.I.G., who appears on four of the album's songs. Little Kim, the group's only female, does bring things to life on occasion, but it isn't quite enough to save the entire album. Nevertheless, the Clark Kent-produced "Player's Anthem" is a classic single, riding on its rubbery bass and surprisingly warm sentiments. Although the Notorious B.I.G. contributes some killer rhymes to the song; he fits into the overall sound of the single, but he doesn't dominate. Instead, the true personalities of Junior M.A.F.I.A. shine through, and they are impressive.

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Yazoo - Upstairs At Eric's (1982)

*U.K. second pressing. Contains 12 tracks total.
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Synth Pop
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© 1982-1986 Mute
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
Vince Clarke can claim involvement in two stunning debuts in only two years: Depeche Mode's Speak and Spell and Yaz's Upstairs at Eric's. While Speak and Spell is, by far, the more consistent record, Upstairs at Eric's is wholly more satisfying, beating the Depeche record on substance and ambition, and is light years ahead in emotion. "Don't Go" and "Situation" are absolutely killer with Clarke's bubbling synth and singer Alison Moyet's bluesy and powerful delivery. They're both rightful dance floor staples, and have since undergone numerous remixes, both official and bootleg. "Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)" is just as good a thumper, adding a wonderful mumbled bridge that shows how much Clarke enjoyed messing with pop music. The softer "Only You" would have sounded silly and robotic if it had appeared on Speak and Spell, but Moyet's vocals makes it bittersweet and engaging. The clumsier experimental tracks make most people head for the hits collection, but to do so would be to miss the album's great twist. The loony tape loop of "I Before E Except After C," the skeletal "Winter Kills," and a disruptive phone call in the middle of the naĂŻve "Bad Connection" offer up more complex and intimate moments. Like its curious cover, Upstairs at Eric's presents a fractured, well-lit, and paranoid urban landscape.

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Yazoo - You & Me Both (1983)

*European pressing. Contains the track "State Farm" instead of "Happy People" Contains 11 tracks total.
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Synth Pop
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© 1983-1986 Mute
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Perhaps a more consistent collection overall than the first album, this one demonstrates that the duo was anything but played out. While both have gone on to successful careers, you can't help regretting that this was the end of Yaz.

tags: yazoo, yaz, you and me both, 1983, flac,

June 26, 2018

Bounty Killer - No Argument (1995)

Country: Jamaica
Genre: Dancehall, Reggae
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© 1995 Greensleeves Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

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Bounty Killer - Next Millenium (1998)

Country: Jamaica
Genre: Dancehall, Ragga
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© 1998 TVT Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
In the '90s, Bounty Killer was a prime example of someone who illustrated reggae's generation gap. Many 35-and-over Jamaicans expressed their disdain for his controversial gun talk and wondered why their kids didn't embrace "real" reggae like Desmond Dekker or Jimmy Cliff (just as many African-American baby boomers didn't understand why their kids would choose Ice Cube and Snoop Doggy Dogg over Smokey Robinson). But among younger Jamaicans (as well as post-baby boomers in the U.S. and Europe), he became an icon. Not as consistently hardcore as some of Bounty's previous releases, Next Millennium finds him liberally incorporating urban contemporary elements while continuing to bring a passion for hip-hop to his dancehall reggae foundation. Slick, urban contemporary-flavored tunes like "Reggae Party" (which features Third World and Shaggy), "It's a Party" and "A Love That's Real" are fairly commercial by Bounty's standards, but grittier, more hardcore offerings such as "Scare Dem Way," "Can't Believe Mi Eyes" and "Deadly Zone" (which features Queens rappers Mobb Deep) should dispel any notions that Bounty was trying to become a pop star. A varied and decent CD, Next Millennium allows Bounty to branch out without forgetting his dancehall roots. [The CD was also released with a bonus track.]

tags: bounty killer, next millennium, 1998, flac,

Kingdom Come - Independent (2002)

Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 2002 Ulftone Music
*No professional reviews available for this release.

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Pentagram - Relentless (2005 Reissue)⚓

*Second reissue by Peaceville Records. Originally reissued in 1993 on CD with the title "Relentless", a new cover and a different track listing. Original 1984 pressings were released with the title, "Pentagram" on Vinyl. Both pressings contain 11 tracks total. A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Doom Metal
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© 1984-2005 Peaceville
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Relentless is a well-chosen name for Pentagram's belated first album, as it was only through relentless determination that vocalist Bobby Liebling -- a fixture of D.C.'s club scene since the early '70s -- managed to persist long enough to see its 1985 release. And though it is hampered by the usual sonic limitations you'd expect from an independent recording, from a musical standpoint, the album more than lives up to pent-up expectations. A raw, untainted slab of pure doom metal, Relentless is a time tunnel straight to heavy metal's very inception at the hands of Black Sabbath -- largely thanks to its lo-fi recording, ironically. Guitarist Victor Griffin is an obvious disciple of Tony Iommi's fretwork, and the eerie similarity between Liebling's and Ozzy's vocal styles simply must to be heard to be believed. Together, they lead the band through grim anthems of depression and social ostracism, including the excellent "Dying World," "Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram)," "You're Lost, I'm Free," and "Sinister" (whose leaden backbeat is punctuated by what sounds like iron stakes being driven through a vampire's heart). Hardly a masterpiece, but well worth the wait, Relentless instantly confirmed Pentagram's position alongside Saint Vitus and Trouble in the American doom metal elite.

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Big Daddy Kane - Prince of Darkness (1991)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1991 Cold Chillin' Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
More soul-based than his previous records, Kane not only has a slightly changed musical style on Prince of Darkness, but changes his rapping style to suit the sound, bringing a faster, twisting wordplay to his rhymes. When the change in style works -- as in "I'm Not Ashamed" -- the record is deadly, but when it doesn't, it's deadly boring; unfortunately, most of the record doesn't work.

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Kix - Cool Kids (1983)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Glam Metal, Hard Rock
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© 1983-1986 Atlantic Records
AllMusic Review by Donald A. Guarisco
This 1983 album pushes Kix in a more new wave direction than their hard-rocking debut outing. On this surface, Cool Kids might seem like a commercialized cash grab: it contains a handful of tracks penned by hired guns like Nick Gilder and Holly Knight and also adds a layer of new wave-styled synthesizer shadings to Kix's pop-metal sound. However, this impression is soon revealed to be wrong as soon as the album is spun because the outside song contributions fit neatly in with the group's own songs and the sonic embellishments enhance the group's sound instead of watering it down. The standouts among the outside contributions are the title track, which blends new wave verses driven by staccato guitar lines with a hard-rocking, shoutalong chorus, and "Body Talk," a danceable fusion of hard rock firepower and a synthesizer-layered new wave beat. The group's songs live up to the standard set by these carefully constructed tunes by presenting an equal amount of hooks and inspiration: "Mighty Mouth" is like a bubblegum song played at hard rock speed and "Get Your Monkeys Out" blends glam rock drum beats with jungle noises and a singalong chorus. However, its finest achievement is "For Shame," an soulful, acoustic power ballad with lovely harmonies that predates all the hair metal ballads that would become popular during the mid-'80s. Pete Solley's slick production manages to bring all this strong material to life by effectively balancing the group's guitar-fuelled power with an array of arrangement frills (voice-box guitars, drum machines) that draw attention to the strong pop hooks in each song. The end result is an underrated gem that is begging to be rediscovered by fans of pop-metal.

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Kix - Blow My Fuse (1988) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Glam Metal, Hard Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1988 Atlantic Records
AllMusic Review by John Franck
By 1988, Kix had only managed to squeeze out three modest-selling records for Atlantic Records. Led in tandem by the endearing frontman Steve Whiteman and chief songwriter and bassist Donnie Purnell, for years, Kix would be unfairly categorized as a supposed "hair band." Worse still, Whiteman would later wake up to find his dancing-on-my-tippy-toes stage act (just think Steven Tyler meets Johnny Thunders on uppers) stolen and carbon copied for the masses by a host of other inferior frontmen including Poison's Brett Michaels. After playing the East Coast club circuit for ten-plus years (with little commercial success to show for it), Kix's own brand of infectious AC/DC power rock-meets-New York, black-hair-dye-glam would finally see its big payoff with the release of 1988's, Blow My Fuse. Produced by hard rock stalwart Tom Werman, Blow My Fuse may have proved to be the band's biggest-selling record but not necessarily its best. Featuring ten solid songs, including the first single/video for the very AC/DC-sounding "Cold Blood," the infectious "She Dropped Me the Bomb," and the excellent title track "Blow My Fuse," the album's big boon would manifest itself in the form of a monster-power ballad, "Don't Close Your Eyes." The track ultimately proved to be Kix's coming-out party and their graduation into the big leagues. Sadly, it would prove to be the band's sole bona fide career hit even though "Cold Blood" made a few tremors here and there. Almost overnight, the band was now travelling on luxury tour busses and effortlessly holding its own as an opening act in arenas across the United States. Embraced with open arms by MTV, "Don't Close Your Eyes" finally allowed Kix to open for the likes of David Lee Roth, heroes AC/DC, and Aerosmith, as well as other soon to be forgotten acts like Ratt and the horrific Britny Fox. After years of hardship, the band could breathe easy (if only for a brief 18 months or so). Just two years later, like many of their other so-called hair rock contemporaries, Kix would see their fortunes crushed with the advent of grunge. The band would solider on with the release of the more mature Hot Wire.

tags: kix, blow my fuse, 1988, flac,

June 25, 2018

The Flaming Lips - Telepathic Surgery (1989)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Experimental Rock
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© 1989 Restless Records
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett
With a few more studio tweaks and tricks at play, part of the band's continual efforts to find out just what could be done with a studio, Telepathic Surgery is pretty much the companion piece to Oh My Gawd!!!, blending the same great, crazy combination of influences into the mix. That the opening track has everything from a rushed Sonic Youth rhythm roil to heavily flanged guitar solos that are all treble and back again isn't surprising at all, really. Coyne later described the album as more open-ended experimentation with overdubs than a collection of songs per se -- some of the random orchestral samples and other drop-ins indicate as much -- but Telepathic Surgery has its joys, as much garage rock nuttiness as fried, off-kilter post-punk. Coyne himself is still in rough voice in plenty of places, but finding his own bit by bit; he still doesn't really sound like he would in the '90s, but the gentler side creeps in here and there. "Chrome Plated Suicide," another in the string of Lips songs with brilliant titles, has him sounding a lot more wistful than on numerous other full-on crunch monsters. Call it the bells on "Chrome Plated Suicide" that also help the slightly dreamier feeling, even as Coyne peels off a nicely zonked guitar solo halfway through. Other fun titles (and fine songs) include "Redneck School of Technology" and "The Spontaneous Combustion of John," the latter a short but fun little track. Then there's the cryptic subtitle of "Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon" -- "f*ck Led Zeppelin" -- which may yet forever remain a mystery given the Lips' own clear influence by said group. The most notorious track actually only surfaced on the CD version -- "Hell's Angel's Cracker Factory," a nearly 25-minute-long zone through backwards-run vocals, endless solos, trance drums, and more.

tags: the flaming lips, telepathic surgery, 1989, flac,

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Space Rock
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© 2002 Warner Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
After the symphonic majesty of The Soft Bulletin, the Flaming Lips return with Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, a sublime fusion of Bulletin's newfound emotional directness, the old-school playfulness of Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, and, more importantly, exciting new expressions of the group's sentimental, experimental sound. While the album isn't as immediately impressive as the equally brilliant and unfocused Soft Bulletin, it's more consistent, using a palette of rounded, surprisingly emotive basslines; squelchy analog synths; and manicured acoustic guitars to craft songs like "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21," a sleekly melancholy tale of robots developing emotions, and "In the Morning of the Magicians," an aptly named electronic art rock epic that sounds like a collaboration between the Moody Blues and Wendy Carlos. Paradoxically, the Lips use simpler arrangements to create more diverse sounds on Yoshimi, spanning the lush, psychedelic reveries of "It's Summertime"; the instrumental "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon"; the dubby "Are You a Hypnotist?"; and the barely organized chaos of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 2," which defeats the evil metal ones with ferocious drums, buzzing synths, and the razor sharp howl of the Boredoms' Yoshimi. Few bands can craft life-affirming songs about potentially depressing subjects (the passage of time, fighting for what you care about, good vs. evil) as the Flaming Lips, and on Yoshimi, they're at the top of their game. "Do You Realize??" is the standout, so immediately gorgeous that it's obvious that it's the single. It's also the most obviously influenced by The Soft Bulletin, but it's even catchier and sadder, sweetening such unavoidable truths like "Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?" with chimes, clouds of strings, and angelic backing vocals. Yoshimi features some of the sharpest emotional peaks and valleys of any Lips album -- the superficially playful "Fight Test" is surprisingly bittersweet, while sad songs like "All We Have Is Now" and "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" are leavened by witty lyrics and production tricks. Funny, beautiful, and moving, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots finds the Flaming Lips continuing to grow and challenge themselves in not-so-obvious ways after delivering their obvious masterpiece.

tags: the flaming lips, yoshimi battles the pink robots, 2002, flac,

The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics (2006)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Space Rock
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© 2006 Warner Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Since 1999's The Soft Bulletin, the Flaming Lips have issued an album once every three or four years -- roughly once per presidential term, making At War with the Mystics the second album they've made during George W. Bush's presidency. While Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots' themes of seizing the moment and accepting mortality could easily be read as a reaction to 9/11, At War with the Mystics is a more overtly timely album for the mid-to-late 2000s, dealing with the motivation behind the war in Iraq and Bush's presidency. By grappling with heavy subjects like these, it could seem like the Flaming Lips are taking their role as one of America's most prominent and beloved alternative rock bands too seriously, but Mystics' light touch shows that they can still be important without being self-important. In fact, the album's most pointed tracks are the most playful. As they did on Yoshimi's "Fight Test," the Lips couch their aggression in bouncy melodies and playful production tricks. With its robotic doo wop vocals and strummy acoustic guitars, "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" -- which asks its listeners if they could do any better if they were handed all the power in the world -- sounds oddly like a Paul Simon song updated for the 21st (or maybe even 22nd) century. "Free Radicals," which sounds like Prince via Beck with a dash of Daft Punk, and "Haven't Got a Clue," which boasts the refrain "Every time you state your case, the more I want to punch your face," get their points across emphatically -- almost too emphatically, actually, for as catchy as these songs are, they don't really expand on their thoughts or sounds much. However, the middle section of At War with the Mystics is expansive and intimate at the same time, like many of the Flaming Lips' best moments have been. "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" and "Vein of Stars" play like updates of The Soft Bulletin's effortless, weightless beauty, and "The Sound of Failure" is a reminder that it's OK to be sad sometimes (while getting in digs at the teen pop platitudes of Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani) set to a gorgeous backdrop of soft rock flutes and guitars and twittering electronics. This stretch of songs plays almost like a suite, which ties right in with At War with the Mystics' prog rock leanings. Pink Floyd is a major influence on the entire album: "The Wizard Turns On..." is a spacey, late-night instrumental that could easily be synched to The Wizard of Oz, while "Pompeii Am GötterdÀmmerung" also taps into Floyd's elaborate, epic power. These trippy moments make At War with the Mystics the most psychedelic and least immediate album the Flaming Lips have done in a long, long time, and the way that Mystics bounces back and forth between its ethereal and zany moments gives it a disjointed, uneven feel that makes the album a shade less satisfying than either Yoshimi or Soft Bulletin. Still, as standout tracks like "Mr. Ambulance Driver" and "Goin' On" show, the band is still fighting the good fight and confronting the bad things in life with hope, optimism, and just the right amount of (magical) realism.

tags: the flaming lips, at war with the mystics, 2006, flac,

June 24, 2018

Erasure - Chorus (1991)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Synth Pop
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© 1991 Mute
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett
No longer making a big American splash outside of its fanbase and alternative radio -- and about to be turned into yesterday's news thanks to the techno/hardcore explosion -- Erasure on Chorus concentrated on just sounding like itself. With the notable exception of the hypersassy "Love to Hate You," Bell steers away from campiness in favor of a series of gentler meditations and impassioned pleas. "Chorus" itself is another great Erasure anthem, Clarke providing just the right combination of beat and melody for Bell's surprisingly effective tackling of environmental degredation. Other cuts like "Breath of Life" and "Turns the Love to Anger" keep the quicker, more specifically high-paced dance pace going, but most of the best cuts come with the quieter numbers. Happily, rather than revamping the basic ballad format often used on earlier albums, Clarke keeps throwing in unexpected touches while Bell comes up with some inspired and often affecting lyrics. "Am I Right?" reflects on love and aging with a gentle tone and soft hip-hop beat, while "Joan" adds a touch of gospel in Bell's backing harmonies to a more prominent breakbeat with equally fine results. Also intriguing is how the final songs of the album, while individually not among the band's best, still blend together to provide an excellent conclusion, from the wistful philosophy of "Siren Song" and the romantic entanglement of "Perfect Stranger" to the concluding "Home." Something of a sequel to "Hideaway" set a few years later, Bell sings of continuing to follow his own path over lovely backing from Clarke, a fine way to end the album.

tags: erasure, chorus, 1991, flac,

Erasure - I Say I Say I Say (1994)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Synth Pop
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© 1994 Mute
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett
Released three years after Chorus, I Say I Say I Say found Erasure for the first time fully interested in essentially staying in place. The album as a whole is at base an attractively redressed version of what the duo had already done, the occasional slight surprise notwithstanding. While Clarke in particular shows some virtuosity with his performances, helped by Human League/Heaven 17 veteran Martyn Ware's production, I Say lacks any real novelty (certainly Bell's singing isn't going to change any earlier perceptions, positive or negative). It's not as experimentally indulgent as the self-titled album or unfortunately unmemorable as Cowboy, but it's still not quite the group at its sharp pop finest track for track. When it does succeed, though, it has plenty of the flash and verve of old. "Always," the wonderful ballad that was the album's lead single, with a slightly quirky opening, strong verses both musically and lyrically, and a flat-out brilliant chorus, Bell's impassioned delivery one of his finest moments. I Say's lead-off one/two combination is also a winner; "Take Me Back" also plays the sweeping, slow card effectively, Bell in particular getting in some fine singing. "I Love Saturday," meanwhile, neatly balances pepped up energy on Clarke's part with a lower-key delivery from Bell, a striking combination that makes for a better result than the strident, full-on pep of "Run to the Sun." Other winners include "Man in the Moon," which has a delightful chorus with a sweetly silly pipe/synth melody, "So the Story Goes," and "Miracle," the last two of which feature the singing of a cathedral choir. It's a nice look ahead to the reach of the self-titled record, though, with more pop-friendly song lengths and two of Bell's best, strongest performances on the album.

tags: erasure, i say i say i say, 1994, flac,