March 29, 2021

Mayhem - Grand Declaration of War (2000)

Country: U.S.A.
Language: English
Genre: Black Metal
Style: Norwegian Black Metal
Label Number: NR054

© 2000 Necropolis Records
Truth be told, the vast majority of black metal artists are no more harmful than Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe were; they might be fascinated with the dark side and talk about it convincingly, but they aren't really living the evil they focus on. Mayhem, however, are another matter; the bandmembers took their obsession with evil and darkness to the extreme in the 1990s, when a murder, a suicide, an act of cannibalism, and a variety of satanic, anti-Christian activity all became part of the Norwegian headbangers' disturbing history. Not surprisingly, Mayhem are extremely controversial and have received a great deal of bad publicity in Europe, which hasn't prevented them from maintaining a loyal cult following. If anything, all that negative publicity has helped Mayhem sell albums; in some cases, people who aren't necessarily big black metal fans have bought their albums out of morbid curiosity (just as some of the people who went out and bought 2Pac Shakur's albums after his murder weren't necessarily big gangsta rap fans -- they just wanted to hear what all of the fuss was about). Mayhem's infamous history, however, shouldn't obscure the fact that they are one of the best bands in the black metal field. Personnel changes and all, Mayhem have outdone themselves with the epic Grand Declaration of War, which could arguably be described as black metal's equivalent of Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime. This isn't to say that Mayhem sound anything at all like Queensrÿche, only that this conceptual album is a lot more elaborate, musical, challenging, and complex than a black metal release would ordinarily be. With Grand Declaration of War, you won't be picking out your favorite tracks; this CD must be approached as a single body of work, and to fully appreciate it, one needs to listen to it from start to finish without interruption. Grand Declaration of War won't appeal to anyone with a short attention span, but for those who can sit down and really give this CD their undivided attention, the rewards are great.

tags: mayhem, grand declaration of war, 2000, flac,

Mayhem - Ordo Ad Chao (2007)

Country: Norway
Language: English
Genre: Black Metal
Style: Norwegian Black Metal
Label Number: SOM 150

© 2007 Season of Mist
Possibly inspired by the Freemasonry motto, ORDO AD CHAO (translation "Order to Chaos") is the fifth full-length from Norway's controversial (suicides, murders, and other violent incidents shroud the band's history) black metal mavens, Mayhem. The return of the divisive former Aborym vocalist and Sun O))) collaborator Atilla Csihar (replacing Sven Erik Kristiansen, known to fans as Maniac) makes this an especially noteworthy affair. While the album's brutally raw production value keeps the band's status as the kings of the genre firmly in place.

tags: mayhem, ordo ad chao, 2007, flac,

March 28, 2021

Various Artists - Music From The Motion Picture: The Rugrats Movie (1998)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B, Hip-Hop, Stage & Screen
Label Number: INTDE-90181

© 1998 Interscope Records
Devo founder and RugRats musical director Mark Mothersbaugh has gainfully employed both the TV series and film's character voices and a slew of old new wave buddies on this soundtrack, which consists largely of specially written material very much in the mood of the edgy children's show. Elvis Costello and his wife, Cait O'Riordan, contribute "I Throw My Toys Around," which is performed by No Doubt with Costello chiming in here and there; he probably earned more money for this track on a platinum-selling soundtrack than he did for his Burt Bacharach album. There are also appropriately written tracks by Lisa Loeb and Blackstreet, but the bulk of the songs are Mothersbaugh's. One highlight is "The World Is Something New to Me," in which a "We Are the World" chorus including Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Gordan Gano (Violent Femmes), the B-52's' Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson, Lenny Kravitz, Beck, Jakob Dylan, and Iggy Pop reflect on infancy. Others include Cheryl Chase, the voice of RugRats villainess Angelica, performing Mothersbaugh's "A Baby Is a Gift from a Bob" and Blondie's "One Way or Another" with some new lyrics, and Busta Rhymes' "On Your Marks, Get Set, Ready Go!," a rap about our favorite RugRats character, the Godzilla-like Reptar. Of course, Devo turns up playing the old hit "Witch Doctor." The result is a romp in keeping with the tone of the show and the film.

tags: various artists, music from the motion picture, the rugrats movie, soundtrack, ost, 1998, flac,

Accept - Too Mean To Die (2021) ⚓

*U.S. pressing. 
Contains 11 tracks total. 
A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.

Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre: Heavy Metal
Label Number: 5750-2

© 2021 Nuclear Blast Records
At the risk of enraging a handful of purists, the original ACCEPT era definitely didn't produce a run of albums as strong and as consistent as the one the Germans have been on over the last decade. Okay, so virtually no one is capable of topping "Restless and Wild", but since the release of 2010's "Blood of the Nations", ACCEPT have simply clicked back into an imperious, contemporary gear, delivering a ridiculous number of gleaming, new anthems in the process. "Stalingrad", "Blind Rage" and "The Rise of Chaos" were all strong records, and thrillingly heavy ones too, with Andy Sneap's ever-razor-sharp production keeping everything sonically in the present day. It comes as no surprise, then, that "Too Mean to Die" is more of the same, and in the best way possible.

The formula remains the same, but perhaps with a little added ferocity to reflect the shitty times we live in. Frankly, it's hard to tell, because after an ominous, doomy intro, "Zombie Apocalypse" delivers the German heavy metal goods, and the listener is instantly snapped into the same grandiose but goofy world that ACCEPT made their own 40 years ago. Having a dig at the world's screen-addicted undead might not be the most startlingly original subject matter for a song in 2021, but it's got a massive chorus and, you know, it's called "Zombie Apocalypse". This is no place for cynicism. ACCEPT are the real thing and you either answer the call or you don't.

The hits keep coming, just as they always did. The title track is a none-more-classic speed metal ripper, replete with Wolf Hoffmann's expected fret-melting wizardry, and a deliciously unhinged vocal from Mark Tornillo. "Overnight Sensation" and "Sucks To Be You" fulfil the band's hard rock obligations; as irresistibly straightforward as you might expect, each boasts a chorus fit for stadiums and provides a neat reminder that ACCEPT were always the missing link between AC/DC and JUDAS PRIEST. As if anyone needed another reason to love them. Elsewhere, "The Undertaker" brings some shlock horror vibes to the proceedings, via gnarly, brooding sludge rock riffing and some ornate, symphonically inclined detours; "The Best Is Yet To Come" is a stirring but melancholy ballad with hazy shades of prog; "Not My Problem" is a snotty, blues rock spring to the finish; the instrumental "Samson And Delilah" offers a stately procession through sandblasted tombs, with Hoffmann letting rip, every fader set to "epic as hell."

And yes, it's worth restating: this is ACCEPT's fifth genuinely great studio album in a row. Nostalgia dictates that the old classics will always be the band's most revered creations, but in terms of building a new and equally enduring legacy, this 21st century incarnation have yet to place a foot wrong. Real heavy metal performed by experts, what more does anyone really need?

tags: accept, too mean to die, 2021, flac,

Various Artists - All That!: The Album (1996)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B, Hip-Hop
Label Number: 07863 67423-2

© 1996 Loud/RCA/BMG/Nickelodeon
All That is a childrens show on Nickelodeon. Appropriately, the soundtrack to the program features edited, "clean" versions of hip-hop and urban hits by Coolio, Naughty by Nature, TLC, Aaliyah, Brandy, and Soul for Real, which are placed between skits by members of the cast. Of course, most R&B fans will want the original versions, yet for parents wanting their children to hear safe, clean versions of current hits, All That provides a useful service.

tags: various artists, all that the album, 1996, flac,

DLT - The True School (1996)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.

Country: New Zealand
Language: English, Māori
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B
Label Number: 74321 393512

© 1996 RCA/BMG Records
*No professional reviews are available for this release.

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tags: dlt, the true school, 1996, flac,

Skeletal Family - Burning Oil (1984)

*Released on CD for the first time in 2001 by Anagram Records
Contains 3 tracks total and 13 tracks total.

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Post Punk
Label Number: CDM GOTH 2

© 1984-2001 Anagram Records 
Skeletal Family's first album is a sort of generic offering from the heyday of early- to mid-'80s British goth rock. It's not as unrelentingly doomy as the starkest and most uncompromising stuff in the genre, and not as accessible to the pop audience as goth kingpins the Cure and Siouxsie & the Banshees. If you're the kind that's easily annoyed by 1980s goth-post-punk singers that tend to yelp at the end of their phrases, you'd better steer clear, since lead singer Anne Marie Hurst boasts one of the most exaggerated vocal tics of that kind in the form. Other trademarks of the style -- as much post-punk as avowedly goth -- are here: hurricane-like drumming, creepy echoing guitar lines, and lyrics that milk foreboding out of every situation and observation. The 2001 CD reissue on Anagram adds three bonus tracks of unspecified vintage and source. One of those, "The Night," actually has the most memorable melody of any song on the disc.

tags: skeletal family, burning oil, 1994, flac,

Skeletal Family - Futile Combat (1985)

*Reissued on CD for the first time in 2007 by Anagram Records
Contains 4 bonus tracks and 14 tracks total.
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: New Wave
Label Number: CDM GOTH 30

© 1985-2007 Anagram Records
Skeletal Family divided audiences; in certain quarters they remain lauded as one of the most adventurous bands linked to the UK 80’s goth scene, to others they are remembered as being light weight, certainly in comparison to the bass heavy Sisters Of Mercy who arguably continue to reign supreme over the genre; It is a shame Skeletal Family never gained the recognition, and the accompanying rewards they deserved ”“ this long overdue re-release perfectly demonstrates how their tribal drumming and frantic guitars, not to mention Anne Marie’s distinct vocals offered something different from the musically then shrinking goth scene.

For those of you unaware; Skeletal Family hailed from the heartland of UK goth; Yorkshire – Keighley to be precise first getting together in late 1982 taking their name from the title of the song “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family” from the 1974 Bowie album ”ËœDiamond Dogs’ ”“ having self released the ”ËœTrees’ EP in 1983 which earned them numerous plays on John Peel’s radio show they were instantly signed to York’s Red Rhino Records who were responsible for releasing the follow up single and the band’s debut album ”ËœBurning Oil’ and this follow up initially released in May 1985.

As I have stated Skeletal Family were one of the few bands looking forward; they crafted strident bass driven melodies coupled with shards of icy guitar, they even incorporated brass (saxophone) into their sound as demonstrated with ”ËœMove’ which featured Waterboys brass player Anthony Thistlewaite.

Skeletal Family offered a freshness that the genre was seriously lacking, this is particularly characterised by Anne-Marie’s powerful vocals as she weaves, beautifully melodic phrases, which for this recording were all under-pinned by some subtle keyboards courtesy of Graham Pleeth of Fisher Z.

”ËœFutile Combat’ captured Skeletal Family in their prime, the resulting attention saw them record BBC sessions for Janice Long ”“ however as is so often the case the major label vultures began to circle; Chrysalis signed the band and Anne-Marie departed to join Gary Marx (ex Sisters Of Mercy) in Ghost Dance (vastly under-rated), and Martin Henderson joined The Batfish Boys with Simon D (ex March Violets). Skeletal Family continued apace, and enjoyed decent chart success though clearly not at a level to satisfy Chrysalis who rather suddenly dropped them.

As such this album is vitally important; it demonstrates quite why all the UK’s major labels were in a frenzy to sign them, it serves as a timely reminder that goth wasn’t all about dry ice and deep throbbing bass, though Skeletal Family did conform to the goth ‘big hair’ rule…some plus years later ‘Futile Combat’ retains its engagement, and has enough experimentation going one to easily satisfy any anyone since weary of the goth scene…if you had forgotten Skeletal Family or perhaps never heard of them then ‘Futile Combat’ is the ideal starting point for a journey to the hair spray counter.

As well as the original studio tracks, the package includes liner notes written in collaboration with the band, plus an array of never before seen photographs. The CD also includes the independent single chart hits ”ËœPromised Land’ (#2) and ”ËœShe Cries Alone’ (#8) and four bonus tracks.

tags: skeletal family, futile combat, 1985, 2007, flac,

Kanye West - The College Dropout (2003)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: 986 2061

© 2004 Roc-A-Fella Records
Producer Kanye West's highlight reels were stacking up exponentially when his solo debut for Roc-a-Fella was released, after numerous delays and a handful of suspense-building underground mixes. The week The College Dropout came out, three singles featuring his handiwork were in the Top 20, including his own "Through the Wire." A daring way to introduce himself to the masses as an MC, the enterprising West recorded the song during his recovery from a car wreck that nearly took his life -- while his jaw was wired shut. Heartbreaking and hysterical ("There's been an accident like Geico/They thought I was burnt up like Pepsi did Michael"), and wrapped around the helium chirp of the pitched-up chorus from Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire," the song and accompanying video couldn't have forged his dual status as underdog and champion any better. All of this momentum keeps rolling through The College Dropout, an album that's nearly as phenomenal as the boastful West has led everyone to believe. From a production standpoint, nothing here tops recent conquests like Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name" or Talib Kweli's "Get By," but he's consistently potent and tempers his familiar characteristics -- high-pitched soul samples, gospel elements -- by tweaking them and not using them as a crutch. Even though those with their ears to the street knew West could excel as an MC, he has used this album as an opportunity to prove his less-known skills to a wider audience. One of the most poignant moments is on "All Falls Down," where the self-effacing West examines self-consciousness in the context of his community: "Rollies and Pashas done drive me crazy/I can't even pronounce nothing, yo pass the Versacey/Then I spent 400 bucks on this just to be like 'N*gga you ain't up on this'." If the notion that the album runs much deeper than the singles isn't enough, there's something of a surprising bonus: rather puzzlingly, a slightly adjusted mix of "Slow Jamz" -- a side-splitting ode to legends of baby-making soul that originally appeared on Twista's Kamikaze, just before that MC received his own Roc-a-Fella chain -- also appears. Prior to this album, we were more than aware that West's stature as a producer was undeniable; now we know that he's also a remarkably versatile lyricist and a valuable MC.

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tags: kanye west, the college dropout, 2003, flac,

Kanye West - Late Registration (2005)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: B0004813-02

© 2005 Roc-A-Fella Records
And then, in a flash, Kanye was everywhere, transformed from respected producer to big-name producer/MC, throwing a fit at the American Music Awards, performing "Jesus Walks" at the Grammys, wearing his diamond-studded Jesus piece, appearing on the cover of Time, running his mouth 24/7. One thing that remains unchanged is Kanye's hunger, even though his head has swollen to the point where it could be separated from his body, shot into space, and considered a planet. Raised middle class, Kanye didn't have to hustle his way out of poverty, the number one key to credibility for many hip-hop fans, whether it comes to rapper turned rapping label presidents or suburban teens. And now that he has proved himself in another way, through his stratospheric success -- which also won him a gaggle of haters as passionate as his followers -- he doesn't want to be seen as a novelty whose ambitions have been fulfilled. On Late Registration, he finds himself backed into a corner, albeit as king of the mountain. It's a paradox, which is exactly what he thrives on. His follow-up to The College Dropout isn't likely to change the minds of the resistant. As an MC, Kanye remains limited, with all-too-familiar flows that weren't exceptional to begin with (you could place a number of these rhymes over College Dropout beats). He uses the same lyrical strategies as well. Take lead single "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," in which he switches from boastful to rueful; more importantly, the conflict felt in owning blood diamonds will be lost on those who couldn't afford one with years of combined income. Even so, he can be tremendous as a pure writer, whether digging up uncovered topics (as on "Diamonds") or spinning a clever line ("Before anybody wanted K. West's beats, me and my girl split the buffet at KFC"). The production approach, however, is rather different from the debut. Crude beats and drastically tempo-shifted samples are replaced with a more traditionally musical touch from Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann), who co-produces with West on most of the tracks. (Ironically, the Just Blaze-helmed "Touch the Sky" tops everything laid down by the pair, despite its heavy reliance on Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up.") West and Brion are a good, if unlikely, match. Brion's string arrangements and brass flecks add a new dimension to West's beats without overshadowing them, and the results are neither too adventurous nor too conservative. While KRS-One was the first to proclaim, "I am hip-hop," Kanye West might as well be the first MC to boldly state, "I am pop."

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tags: kanye west, later registration, 2005, flac,

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: 602527578910

© 2010 Roc-A-Fella Records
As fatiguing as it is invigorating, as cold-blooded as it is heart-rending, as haphazardly splattered as it is meticulously sculpted, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an extraordinarily complex 70-minute set of songs. Listening to it, much like saying or typing its title, is a laborious process. In some ways, it's the culmination of Kanye West's first four albums, but it does not merely draw characteristics from each one of them. The 13 tracks, eight of which are between five and nine minutes in length, sometimes fuse them together simultaneously. Consequently, the sonic and emotional layers are often difficult to pry apart and enumerate. Nothing exemplifies its contrasting elements and maniacal extravagance as much as "All of the Lights." Rattling, raw, synthetic toms are embellished with brass, woodwinds, and strings. It’s a celebration of fame ("Fast cars, shooting stars") and a lament of its consequences ("Restraining order/Can't see my daughter"). Its making involved 42 people, including not one but two French horn players and over a dozen high-profile vocalists, only some of which are perceptible. At once, the song features one of the year's most rugged beats while supplying enough opulent detail to make Late Registration collaborator Jon Brion's head spin. "Blame Game" chills more than anything off 808s & Heartbreak. Sullen solo-piano Aphex Twin plays beneath morose cello; with a chorus from John Legend, a dejected, embittered West -- whose voice toggles between naturally clear-sounding and ominously pitched-down as it pans back and forth -- tempers wistfully-written, maliciously-delivered lines like "Been a long time since I spoke to you in a bathroom, ripping you up, fuckin' and chokin' you" with untreated and distinctively pained confessions like "I can't love you this much." The contrast in "Devil in a New Dress," featuring Rick Ross, is of a different sort; a throwback soul production provided by the Smokey Robinson-sampling Bink, it's as gorgeous as any of West's own early work, yet it's marred by an aimless instrumental stretch, roughly 90 seconds in length, that involves some incongruent electric guitar flame-out. Even less explicable is the last third of the nine-minute "Runaway," when West blows into a device and comes out sounding something like a muffled, bristly version of Robert Fripp's guitar. The only thing that remains unchanged is West's lyrical accuracy; for every rhyme that stuns, there's one deserving of mockery from any given contestant off the The White Rapper Show. As the ego and ambition swells, so does the appeal, the repulsiveness, and -- most importantly -- the ingenuity. Whether loved or loathed, fully enjoyed or merely admired, this album should be regarded as a deeply fascinating accomplishment.

* Due to past abuse, comments for the Hip-Hop section have been disabled. 


tags: kanye west, my beautiful dark twisted fantasy, 2010, flac,

Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak (2008)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: B0012198-02

© 2009 Roca-A-Fella Records
Remember when Kanye West threatened to make an album where he would bear his heartbroken soul, align with T-Pain, sing on every song with the then inescapable Auto-Tune effect and, less problematically, lean on the common element -- the Roland TR-808 drum machine -- of classics like "Make It Last Forever," "Posse on Broadway," "808," and "Bossy"? It would have been a wreck, a case of an artist working through paralyzing heartache while loose in a toy store. Except West wasn't joking. Not only did he go through with it, but Roc-A-Fella released the result in time for the 2008 Christmas shopping season. It was indeed a wreck, if a kind of fascinating one, which helped make the material -- voiced by someone who could not really sing, whose substantial shortcomings were not made less obvious by a polarizing studio device -- seem a little less difficult on the ears.

In various spots across 808s & Heartbreak, the constant flutter of West's processed voice, along with a seldom interrupted sluggish march of aching sounds, is enlivened by the disarming manner in which despair and dejection are conveyed. When, in "Welcome to Heartbreak," he dispassionately recounts sitting alone on a flight, ahead of a laughing family, he makes first class sound like Siberia; he'd swap lives with the father in an instant. The majority of the lyrics, however, are directed at an ex who evidently did some damage; in "RoboCop" alone, she gets compared to the antagonist in Misery and is called a "spoiled little L.A. girl." Earlier in the album, the number she did on him is called "the coldest story ever told," yet he admits he still fantasizes about her. All the blocky drums, dragging strings, droning synths, and joyless pianos lead to a bleak set of productions -- even the synthetic calliope in "Heartless" is unnerved, and the relative pep of "Paranoid" provides no respite, its bitter lyrics subverting a boisterous beat. Several tracks have almost as much in common with irrefutably bleak post-punk albums, such as New Order's Movement and the Cure's Pornography, as contemporary rap and R&B. ("Coldest Winter," where West longs for his departed mother, samples the most desolate song from the first Tears for Fears album.) For anyone sifting through a broken relationship and self-letdown, this could all be therapeutic. Otherwise, no matter its commendable fearlessness, the album is a listless, bleary trudge along West's permafrost.

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tags: kanye west, 808 heartbreak, 2008, flac,

Various Artists - 8 Mile: Music From & Inspired By The Motion Picture (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B
Label Number: 0694935082

© 2002 Shady/Interscope/UMG Soundtracks
This may be the soundtrack for Eminem's movie debut, but don't think of 8 Mile of as an Eminem album, because it's not. It's a soundtrack and plays like a soundtrack, with many cuts from current stars and new artists (several associated with Eminem's fledgling Shady imprint), plus a couple of previously released tracks, most of it very high quality, whether it's a hard-hitting Jay-Z, a sultry Macy Gray, or Taryn Manning's Boomkat's sexy slow burn "Wasting My Time." Sure, there's a couple of tracks that fall flat -- Young Zee and Obie Trice feel strained -- but it all flows well, and it's all strong. But it's also all overshadowed by four blindingly great new songs from Eminem (four and a half, if you count his show-stealing appearance on D-12's "Rap Game"), all illustrating a step forward from The Eminem Show, even if they work a familiar pseudo-biographical ground. What impresses is not just the wordplay and delivery, but the music itself -- fuller, richer than anything on his previous records, appropriately cinematic in scope and pushing Eminem toward new heights. The opening track and first single "Lose Yourself" is easily equaled by the title song with its layered pianos, while "Rabbit Run" is nearly as good. Hearing these, it's hard not to greedily hunger for a full album of this, but the soundtrack is excellent as is and these new Eminem cuts make it a necessary purchase.

tags: various artists, 8 mile music from and inspired by the motion picture, soundtrack, ost, 2002, flac,

Eminem - Encore (Deluxe Edition) (2004)

*Contains a second disc with 3 bonus tracks
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: B0003771-72

© 2004 Shady, Aftermath, Interscope Records
Eminem took a hiatus after the release of his first motion picture, 8 Mile, in late 2002, but it never seemed like he went away. Part of that is the nature of celebrity culture, where every star cycles through gossip columns regardless of whether they have a project in the stores or theaters, and part of it is that Marshall Mathers kept busy, producing records by his protégés D12, Obie Trice, and 50 Cent -- all hit albums -- with the latter turning into the biggest new hip-hop star of 2003. All this activity tended to obscure the fact that Eminem hadn't released a full-length album of new material since The Eminem Show in early summer 2002, and that two and a half years separated that album and its highly anticipated sequel, Encore. As the title suggests, Encore is a companion piece to The Eminem Show the way that The Marshall Mathers LP mirrored The Slim Shady LP, offering a different spin on familiar subjects. Where his first two records dealt primarily with personas and characters, his second two records deal with what those personas have wrought, which tends to be intrinsically less interesting than the characters themselves, since it's dissecting the aftermath instead of causing the drama. On The Eminem Show that kind of self-analysis was perfectly acceptable, since Eminem was on the top of his game as both a lyricist and rapper; his insights were vibrant and his music was urgent. Unfortunately, Encore is not the flipside of The Eminem Show as much as it is its negative image, where everything that was a strength has been turned into a handicap this time around. Musically, Show didn't innovate, but it didn't need to: Eminem and his mentor, Dr. Dre, had achieved cruising altitude, and even if they weren't offering much that was new, the music sounded fresh and alive. Here, the music is staid and spartan, built on simple unadorned beats and keyboard loops. While some songs use this sound to its advantage and a few others break free -- "Yellow Brick Road" is a tense, cinematic production -- the overall effect of these stark, black-and-white productions it to make Encore seem hermetically sealed, to make Eminem sound isolated from the outside world. This impression is only enhanced by Em's choice of lyrical subjects throughout the album. Instead of documenting his life, or the shifts in his psyche, he's decided to chronicle what's happened to him over the past the two years and refute every charge that's made it into the papers. This is quite a bit different than his earlier albums, when he embellished and exaggerated his life, when his relationship with his estranged wife, Kim, turned into an outlaw ballad, when his frenetic insults, cheap shots, and celeb baiting had a surreal, hilarious impact. Here, Eminem is plainspoken and literal, intent on refuting every critic from Benzino at The Source to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who gets an entire song ("Ass Like That") devoted to him. It's a bizarre move that seems all the more humorless when you realize that the loosest, funniest song -- the first single, "Just Lose It" -- is a sideswipe at Michael Jackson, the easiest target Em has yet hit. And that's the major problem with Encore: it sounds as if Eminem is coasting, resting on his laurels, and never pushing himself into interesting territory. Since he's a talented artist, there are moments scattered across the record that do work, whether it's full songs or flights of phrase in otherwise limp tracks, and that's enough to make it worth a spin, but Encore never resonates the way his first three endlessly fascinating albums do.

* Due to past abuse, comments for the Hip-Hop section have been disabled. 


tags: eminem, encore, deluxe edition, 2004, flac,

March 27, 2021

Eminem - The Eminem Show (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: 0694932902

© 2002 Shady, Aftermath, Interscope Records
It's all about the title. First time around, Eminem established his alter ego, Slim Shady -- the character who deliberately shocked and offended millions, turning Eminem into a star. Second time at bat, he turned out The Marshall Mathers LP, delving deeper into his past while revealing complexity as an artist and a personality that helped bring him an even greater audience and much, much more controversy. Third time around, it's The Eminem Show -- a title that signals that Eminem's public persona is front and center, for the very first time. And it is, as he spends much of the album commenting on the media circus that dominated on his life ever since the release of Marshall Mathers. This, of course, encompasses many, many familiar subjects -- his troubled childhood; his hatred of his parents; his turbulent relationship with his ex-wife, Kim (including the notorious incident when he assaulted a guy who allegedly kissed her -- the event that led to their divorce); his love of his daughter, Hailie; and, of course, all the controversy he generated, notably the furor over his alleged homophobia and his scolding from Lynne Cheney, which leads to furious criticism about the hypocrisy of America and its government. All this is married to a production very similar to that of its predecessor -- spare, funky, fluid, and vibrant, punctuated with a couple of ballads along the way. So, that means The Eminem Show is essentially a holding pattern, but it's a glorious one -- one that proves Eminem is the gold standard in pop music in 2002, delivering stylish, catchy, dense, funny, political music that rarely panders (apart from a power ballad "Dream On" rewrite on "Sing for the Moment" and maybe the sex rap "Drips," that is). Even if there is little new ground broken, the presentation is exceptional -- Dre never sounds better as a producer than when Eminem pushes him forward (witness the stunning oddity "Square Dance," a left-field classic with an ominous waltz beat) and, with three albums under his belt, Eminem has proven himself to be one of the all-time classic MCs, surprising as much with his delivery as with what he says. Plus, the undercurrent of political anger -- not just attacking Lynne Cheney, but raising questions about the Bush administration -- gives depth to his typical topics, adding a new, spirited dimension to his shock tactics as notable as the deep sentimental streak he reveals on his odes to his daughter. Perhaps the album runs a little too long at 20 songs and 80 minutes and would have flowed better if trimmed by 25 minutes, but that's a typical complaint about modern hip-hop records. Fact is, it still delivers more great music than most of its peers in rock or rap, and is further proof that Eminem is an artist of considerable range and dimension.

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tags: eminem, the eminem show, 2002, flac,

The Marshall Mathers LP (2000) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: 069490629-2
☠: Selected by Lass
© 2000 Aftermath, Interscope Records
It's hard to know what to make of Eminem, even if you know that half of what he says is sincere and half is a put-on; the trick is realizing that there's truth in the joke, and vice versa. Many dismissed his considerable skills as a rapper and social satirist because the vulgarity and gross-out humor on The Slim Shady LP were too detailed for some to believe that it was anything but real. To Eminem's credit, he decided to exploit that confusion on his masterful second record, The Marshall Mathers LP. Eminem is all about blurring the distinction between reality and fiction, humor and horror, satire and documentary, so it makes perfect sense that The Marshall Mathers LP is no more or no less "real" than The Slim Shady LP. It is, however, a fairly brilliant expansion of his debut, turning his spare, menacing hip-hop into a hyper-surreal, wittily disturbing thrill ride. It's both funnier and darker than his debut, and Eminem's writing is so sharp and clever that the jokes cut as deeply as the explorations of his ruptured psyche. The production is nearly as evocative as the raps, with liquid basslines, stuttering rhythms, slight sound effects, and spacious soundscapes. There may not be overpowering hooks on every track, but the album works as a whole, always drawing the listener in. But, once you're in, Eminem doesn't care if you understand exactly where he's at, and he doesn't offer any apologies if you can't sort the fact from the fiction. As an artist, he's supposed to create his own world, and with this terrific second effort, he certainly has. It may be a world that is as infuriating as it is intriguing, but it is without question his own, which is far more than most of his peers are able to accomplish at the dawn of a new millennium.

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tags: eminem, the marshall mathers lp, 2000, flac,

Eminem - The Slim Shady LP (1999)

*U.S. first pressing. 
Contains 12 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap, Horrorcore
Label Number: INTD-90333

© 1999 Aftermath, Interscope Records
Given his subsequent superstardom, culminating in no less than an Academy Award, it may be easy to overlook exactly how demonized Eminem was once his mainstream debut album, The Slim Shady LP, grabbed the attention of pop music upon its release in 1999. Then, it wasn't clear to every listener that Eminem was, as they say, an unreliable narrator, somebody who slung satire, lies, uncomfortable truths, and lacerating insights with vigor and venom, blurring the line between reality and parody, all seemingly without effort. The Slim Shady LP bristles with this tension, since it's never always clear when Marshall Mathers is joking and when he's dead serious. This was unsettling in 1999, when nobody knew his back-story, and years later, when his personal turmoil is public knowledge, it still can be unsettling, because his words and delivery are that powerful. Of course, nowhere is this more true than on "97 Bonnie and Clyde," a notorious track where he imagines killing his wife and then disposing of the body with his baby daughter in tow. There have been more violent songs in rap, but few more disturbing, and it's not because of what it describes, it's how he describes it -- how the perfectly modulated phrasing enhances the horror and black humor of his words. Eminem's supreme gifts are an expansive vocabulary and vivid imagination, which he unleashes with wicked humor and unsparing anger in equal measure. The production -- masterminded by Dr. Dre but also helmed in large doses by Marky and Jeff Bass, along with Marshall himself -- mirrors his rhymes, with their spare, intricately layered arrangements enhancing his narratives, which are always at the forefront. As well they should be -- there are few rappers as wildly gifted verbally as Eminem. At a time when many rappers were stuck in the stultifying swamp of gangsta clichés, Eminem broke through the hardcore murk by abandoning the genre's familiar themes and flaunting a style with more verbal muscle and imagination than any of his contemporaries. Years later, as the shock has faded, it's those lyrical skills and the subtle mastery of the music that still resonate, and they're what make The Slim Shady LP one of the great debuts in both hip-hop and modern pop music.

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tags: eminem, the slim shady lp, 1999, flac,

March 26, 2021

Limp Bizkit - Three Dollar Bill, Yall$ (1997)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Nü-Metal, Rapcore
Label Number: INTD-90124

© 1997 Flip/Interscope Records
With their major-label debut, Three Dollar Bill Y'All, Limp Bizkit quickly rose to the top of the alt-metal subgenre known as "rapcore." Part of the reason the band stood out from their peers was their kinetic, frenzied energy. They might not have many original ideas -- they are largely an outgrowth of Korn, Faith No More, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- but they do the sound well. They have a powerful rhythm section and memorable hooks, most of which make up for the uneven songwriting. Then again, you're not looking for perfection on a debut -- you're looking for a promising sound, and on that front, Limp Bizkit deliver.

tags: limp bizkit, three dollar bill yall, 1997, flac,

Limp Bizkit - Results May Vary (2003)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Nü-Metal
Label Number: B0001235-10

© 2003 Flip/Interscope Records
It took a long, long time for Limp Bizkit to get their follow-up to Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water into the stores. First, guitarist Wes Borland, generally regarded as the band's musical force, up and left the band, and it took a long, long time to find a replacement guitarist. After a national talent search performed at Guitar Center stores, where candidates had to sign contracts that gave up their rights to anything original they played at their audition, Limp Bizkit settled on former Snot guitarist Mike Smith and recorded an album. Then scrapped it. Then they recorded another album. Then scrapped it. They were going through album titles, too -- it was called Bipolar then, charmingly, Panty Sniffer. Finally, all the sessions and the turmoil was whittled down into one very long, very bad album called Results May Vary. Part of its weakness stems from two perennial Limp Bizkit problems: for a metal band they sound, well, limp, and in Fred Durst they have the worst frontman in the history of rock. These two things plagued even their hits, but Borland at least gave the band some ideas. Without him, the band is left to flounder, and Durst, who already dominated the band's personality, not only has to provide the bravado, but he has to give it direction -- which is likely why it took so long for this mess to get released. Durst doesn't come up with any new musical ideas, apart from slight hints of Staind and emo on the ballads, but the album doesn't suffer from recycled musical ideas, since they were already doing that on Chocolate Starfish. No, it suffers from an utter lack of form and direction, from the riffs to the rhythms, and a surplus of stolen ideas. "The Only One" cops the opening of Steve Miller's "Take the Money and Run," "Gimme the Mic" plagiarizes the Beastie Boys' "Pass the Mic" down to rhyming "y'all" with "y'all" (but Durst adds a whole lotta "motherf*ckers"), while "Phenomenon" borrows from several rap songs, highlighted by Durst getting lyrics wrong. And this points out the biggest problem of Results May Vary -- Durst is running amuck, flattening down the production into a grey sludge, then writing inane lyrics that are shocking in their banality.

Since Durst has ingratiated himself with Hollywood, inexplicably getting Thora Birch to concede to being berated to in the video for "Eat You Alive" and French kissing Halle Berry in the video for "Behind Blue Eyes," maybe he's not such a bad guy in person, but on record he's a mean, vindictive, hateful idiot, spewing undirected bile at undeserving targets. Here, a prominent target seems to be Britney Spears, who unceremoniously dumped the dude after an affair that lasted less than a week, since she wasn't all that thrilled that he revealed her pubic hair grooming on the Howard Stern show (what a guy!). Now, he's hurt and ranting about how she broke his heart, unaware of his own culpability in the affair. But that's par for the course for Durst, who stumbles through life without realizing the consequences of his actions, then whines about how nobody understands him. Here, he complains about being picked on in high school, not realizing that his blustering aggression makes him a bully (and that's not even accounting for how he unwittingly incited violence and destruction at Woodstock '99). Then, he complains several times about radio and MTV playing the same old bands, willfully ignoring that he's whored himself out to MTV numerous times and that his band received their radio breakthrough by paying to get their songs played. He invokes icons callously -- "ease your pain/like a melody from Kurt Cobain" -- most notably on a boneheaded cover of the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes," turning it into a Staind song with a Speak & Spell on the bridge ("B-I-Z-K-I-T. Say it") and adding insult to injury by misspelling Pete Townshend's name in the credits. And this isn't even counting the embarrassing Apple plug in the liner notes, or the Fight Club reference in the artwork, the obviousness of which suggests that Durst would be one of the brainwashed legions chanting "his name is Robert Paulson" instead of thinking for himself. Like before, some of this could have been palatable if the music had a fraction of his anger (no matter how misguided it is) or had some energy to it instead of just being murky emoting. But since the music has no melody, hooks, or energy, all attention is focused on the clown jumping up and down and screaming in front, and long before the record is over, you're left wondering, how the hell did he ever get to put this mess out?

tags: limp bizkit, results may vary, 2003, flac,

Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra (2011)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Nü-Metal
Label Number: B001563902

© 2011 Flip/Interscope Records
Coming to the conclusion that The Unquestionable Truth was so powerful it never needed the promised second volume, Limp Bizkit went on hiatus during the back half of the 2000s, with leader Fred Durst finding far more critical acclaim as a film director than he ever did as a singer. Despite these grudging hosannas, Durst felt compelled to reunite the Bizkit, to wipe away the memories of the bungled prog of The Unquestionable Truth and the Wes Borland-less "Repeat as Necessary," to find a way to tap into the anger that started the whole ball rolling. A tough task for any band, but apart from dabbling with Auto-Tune -- the quivering electronic vocal effect that gets skewered on “AutoTunage” -- Limp Bizkit is intent on rolling back the clock and returning to the full-throttled attack of Three Dollar Bill Y’All. If the band is determined to act as if the last 15 years never happened, Durst is determined to act as if he’s 15, still slinging grievous arrows at anybody who may have gotten in his way. Context counts and adolescent angst is a bit harder to stomach coming from a grown man than it is from a twentysomething, particularly if that adult is a millionaire who now looks a bit like Michael Stipe’s heavier brother. Durst still can’t stop himself squawking whenever he’s angry, and he’s angry often: he’s mad about Auto-Tune, he’s mad about the douche bags in Beverly Hills, he wonders why he should try, he thinks you should get a life and prepare yourself for a “Shark Attack.” Minus a detail or two, it’s the same set of grievances he’s been peddling since the beginning, the similarities so striking it’s surely as intentional as Bizkit hauling out their pre-millennial metallic grind, acting as if the W years never happened. Sure, as sheer sound, it’s executed well -- more assured, musical, and, well, professional than any of their other albums, their age lending them a dexterity absent in their hits -- but the deliberate retro-rage begs the question: who exactly is this music for? Is it intended to hook in a new batch of frustrated sputtering teens or is it for dejected, disappointed adults who have yet to shake adolescent resentments? Safe money is on the latter, but that only suggests that all this rage is a calculated act, that Limp Bizkit -- whose members are far smarter than their art, as any interview with Durst or Borland proves -- only acts this way because it’s all they know how to do or because it sells…at least it did at one time.

tags: limp bizkit, gold cobra, 2011, flac,

Method Man - I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need To Get By (1995)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: 422 851 879-2
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© 1995 Def Jam Records
*No professional reviews are available for this release.

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tags: method man, ill be there for you, youre all i need. i'll, you're all, 1995, flac,

Kanye West - Graduation (2007)

*U.S. pressing. 
Contains 13 tracks total. 
A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap
Label Number: B0009541-02
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© 2007 Roc-A-Fella Records
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
Graduation's pre-leak talk wasn't as substantive as it was with Kanye West's first two albums. As with just about any other artist's third album, it had to be expected. The College Dropout was one of the most anticipated debuts of the early 2000s, while Late Registration had people wondering why Kanye would feel the need to work so extensively with multi-instrumentalist rock producer Jon Brion (the J Dilla of the chamberlin) and whether or not Kanye's hubristic tendencies would get the better of it. With Graduation, there was Takashi Murakami's artwork, a silly first-week sales competition with the decreasingly relevant 50 Cent, and chatter about synthesizers running wild. That was about it, but it all seemed loud and prevalent, due in part to a lack of high-profile rap albums released in 2007. Graduation is neither as bold nor as scattered as The College Dropout, and it's neither as extroverted nor as sonically rich as Late Registration. Kanye still makes up for his shortcomings as an MC and lyricist by remaining charmingly clumsy, frequently dealing nonsense through suspect rhyme schemes: "I never be picture-perfect Beyoncé/Be light as Al B. or black as Chauncey/Remember him from Blackstreet, he was black as the street was/I never be laid-back as this beat was." The songs that are thematically distanced, introspective, and/or wary -- there are many of them -- are, in turn, made more palatable than insufferable. That his humor remains a constant is a crucial aspect of the album, especially considering that most other MCs would sound embittered and hostile if they were handling similar subjects, like haters new and old, being a braggart with a persistent underdog complex, getting wrapped up in spending and flaunting, and the many hassles of being a hedonist. Those who have admired Kanye as a sharp producer while detesting him as an inept MC might find the gleaming synth sprites, as heard most prominently throughout "Flashing Lights" and "Stronger," to be one of the most glaring deal-breakers in hip-hop history. Though the synthesizer use marks a clear, conscious diversion from Kanye's past productions, highlights like "I Wonder," "The Glory," and "Everything I Am" are deeply rooted in the Kanye of old, using nostalgia-inducing samples, elegant pianos and strings, and gospel choirs. So, no, he's not dreaming of fronting A Flock of Seagulls or joining Daft Punk. He's being his shrewd, occasionally foolish, and adventurous self. 
 
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tags: kanye west, graduation, 2007, flac,

Various Artists - Revolution Come & Gone (1992)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Punk Rock, Grunge, Noise Rock
Label Number: SPCD 031/186
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© 1992 Sub Pop
*No professional reviews are available for this release.

tags: various artists, revolution come and gone, 1992, flac,

Erick Sermon - No Pressure (1993)

*First pressing. 
Contains 17 tracks total. 
A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Label Number: COK 57460
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© 1993 Def Jam/Chaos/Columbia
AllMusic Review by Ron Wynn
When EPMD finally unravelled after months of rumors and internal turmoil, Erick Sermon wasted no time grabbing the mike. He's quite obsessed with proving he can cut it alone, although his self-titled debut didn't move far from EPMD's trademarks: fat, crunching basslines, neatly inserted samples lifted mainly from Zapp, tight vocal edits, and Sermon's mush-mouthed, deadpan raps. His targets included condoms, sexual warfare, hip-hop groupies, and would-be rap challengers. While this contains the obligatory "bitches" and "niggas" references, there's not as much gun worship as you might expect. No Pressure is as much, if not more, EPMD's final release as Erick Sermon's debut.

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tags: erick sermon, no pressure, 1994, flac,