After previously working together on a few musical projects, Glaswegian singer Kali Phoenix reconnects with influential Bristol producer Hundred Strong (a.k.a. Ben Dubuisson) to create Voices. The album is an intensely personal journey that’s informed by the ending of Phoenix’s relationship. Her strong vocals mark her as one to watch.
Voices is dominated by her strong, passionate voice and soulful blend of different musical genres. From the gentle mix of soul and jazz on “What’s Your Poison” to the swirling acoustics and P-Funk grooves of “Bolt From The Blue” (which sounds like a more soulful version of Bristol legends Portishead) to the gentle but stirring beats of “Save Me,” there is a such a variation of different sounds. Each of the tracks segue together effortlessly, and despite all that is going on sonically, nothing ever sounds out of place.
These musical landscapes are bolstered by Phoenix’s voice. She can go from a gentle hush to an emotional howl in a heartbeat with ease and confidence. Under the tutelage of Hundred Strong, Phoenix displays her talents which despite the seemingly laid-back vibe of the project are defiantly focused and supremely executed.
There’s is a strong hip-hop and dub influence under the whole thing with Hundred Strong’s Bristol roots giving Voices an urgent yet familiar feel. The producer does a fantastic job with the two styles, making them work brilliantly together. Although the material could be raw given the subject matter, the musical outcome is smooth and uplifting and sounds all the better for it.
The circumstances for the content of the album may have been brought together by a tumultuous experience but the result is definitely a positive one. Kali Phoenix’s voice is the perfect example of the healing power of music and establishes her out as a talent for the future.
Ever since the release of his debut album, the 1996 masterpiece Endtroducing….., DJ Shadow has faced scrutiny with each subsequent album. Some complain he’s repeating himself and becoming stagnant; others say he’s straying away from what made him popular in the first place. The truth is that DJ Shadow does things exactly the way he wants to. If you don’t get it, then that’s fine because Shadow knows what works and that’s all that matters.
His fifth album, The Mountain Will Fall, is certainly exciting. While the sounds are varied, there is never any doubt that is anyone other than Shadow is behind the boards. You see, he is the master of of his own musical destiny and he has never compromised his sound since the beginning of his career.
Mountain…. opens with the cinematic title track that starts off as a sprawling journey through different sounds. It’s a song that leads into the manic hip-hop of “The Sideshow” featuring Ernie Fresh; the throbbing drums and furious energy of “Ghost Town” and the minimal effectiveness of “Mambo.” And that’s just for starters.
From the menacing “Depth Charge” to the funky but always threatening “Nobody Speak” featuring Run The Jewels (DJ Shadow proclaimed on the Endtroducing….. track “Why Hip Hop Sucks In 96.” If you changed the year in the title to 2016, there is a lot to choose from but that could not be leveled at Killer Mike and EL-P who simply slay this track as they always do.)
There is a hardcore side to the album. Just check out Shadow’s love letter to his hometown state, the banging “California,” a track complete with head crushing beats and classic G Funk loops. He is ably assisted by the more calming tracks such as the electronic quirk of “Bergschrund,” a track featuring Nils Frahm, and the haunting closing track “Suicide Pact,” a song that concludes the album on a somber and reflective note.
With The Mountain Will Fall, DJ Shadow has made an album that is ready made for the contemporary dance floor — some of the beats on here could only come from the past couple of years — but also for peaceful contemplation. And that is the beauty of the album—first and foremost it shows Shadow at his eclectic best and proves exactly why he is one of the best beatmasters ever. He has definitely done himself proud once again.
While Basmala may be a new name to many, the man behind the alias, Hasan Atiq (who is formerly known as Autolect) has produced forward-thinking beats on a string of strong albums from the mid to late ’00s (one of which featured featured production from 9th Wonder). The producer/rapper/singer is back working under this new pseudonym with his self-titled album. Basmala shows that he is still innovative with his ideas and execution now as he was a decade ago. Taking cues from progressive jazz (check out “RNR” for proof) as well as ambitious hip-hop, the beatsmith has come up with something that’s futuristic sounding, spiritual and unique.
From the swirling opening track “Elastic” that sees him rapping under his Atiq moniker — he does so on several of the tracks on the album — to the laid-back but intense hip-hop of “Just Us” featuring Houston rapper Mumblz Medina and the sprawling trilogy of electronic tracks that feature so many beat-driven peaks and troughs that is “Hijaz Parts 1-3,” this is an immersive and varied aural experience from the start to finish.
Blending some stunning rapping from the aforementioned Atiq (which shows that the producer is as stone cold as a rapper as he is at making beats) and Mumblz Medina (who simply slays throughout the track he is featured on and delivers the killer line, “I’m not a fan of stop snitching, be a man, stand up for your fam and stop bitching”) as well as two killer cameos from rapper Mikial with beats that both encase themselves over your consciousness and make you nod your head to excess, Basmala manages to make an album that is both conscious and hardcore.
From the harsh narratives of “Just Us” and “The Griot” to the hazy “Warp Speed” that has elements of classic works by DJ Shadow to the sparse and heartbreaking void of “The Mount” via the immersive “Day One”, the anthemic “Chopa Sidi” and the closing trippiness of “Method,” it’s all here to be explored and enjoyed. Delve into the world of Basmala and prepare to take in a journey that you won’t forget.
Sort By Dragging, the latest album from German producer Ulli Bomans, is a lesson in how to create music that resonates with moodiness and atmosphere. Opening track “Detroit Tape Noise” takes you on a sonic quest that presents the first in a variety of emotions as the album unfolds. From the minimalist crawl of “Leech With A Deed” to the sprawling drawl of “Nicotine” and the sparse industrial of “Tumble Dry Wet,” the range of ambience that seeps from the speakers is admirable. There is a beauty at play on the album, too, especially on “Parents” when the emotive state is palpable throughout. Despite the sad nature of how the track sounds, the sense of beauty is strong and it would take a heart of stone not to feel at least a twinge of sadness when listening to the track. In direct contrast is the title track, a foreboding song that oozes pure menace. It’s bolstered by the creeping throb of “Sweep Your Floor,” which seethes with dread. If atmosphere is one word that could sum up this album, then cinematic is the other. These two definitions do go hand-in-hand on “One Piece Missing” and “Browser.”
The album flows together like a film soundtrack that conjures up images of a decaying futuristic dystopia. At times it recalls both the dazzling visuals (in your head) of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner and its classic Vangelis score. (If the rumours of a Blade Runner sequel are true, then the director could do a hell of a lot worse than let Ulli Bomans score it.) When Sort By Dragging concludes with the melancholic “Perfect Picture” and the haunting “Screensaver,” it ends on a downward note like a film without a happy ending. Sort By Dragging is not an easy listen by any means, but it is worth it because its sonic range is breathtaking.