March marked the beginning of where I thought music releases started to really pick up. In March, we definitely got some amazing releases that will no doubt leave a standing impression until the end of the year. Who knows exactly why March is when things start to pick up - it could be that everyone is finally settled into the new year, or some other music industry idea that I have no context of. So March for myself brought a lot of interesting releases my way, and particularly in the ambient and hip-hop scenes. I'll be highlighting a few more albums than I my usual five just because I think there were many worth talking about that we of course never got to mention on our podcast.
News in March was generally slow but that may be due to the fact I wasn't paying too much attention to it all. We saw Apple and Spotify battle it out in a royalty war, and to a much more saddening note we lost rapper Nipsey Hussle. Next, in film news we got the much anticipated followup film Us from Jordan Peele, and April holds the final conclusion to what Marvel brings us. Finally, in March I actually got relatively more into gaming - and even though I don't own a PS4, I've heard nothing but great things about Sekiro. We also finally received news about the highly anticipated Borderlands 3.
Anyways, onto the music and as always these are just my personal favourites released in March that I thought were worth mentioning since we can't get around to everything on the show. Hopefully now with school slowing down more articles will get written, but I said the same thing in my last month in review. Stay tuned for a series on ambient music, where I discuss some of my favourite ambient albums.
Dis Fig's PURGE is the perfect example of an album cover representing the feel of an album (well, sort of). Dis Fig is a project by Felicia Chen, and she creates wonderfully dark yet emotive industrial songs. At its heart, PURGE is a power electronics album yet Chen takes influence from noise, punk, and even soul. This creates a uniquely dark experience as Chen accomplishes in creating a soundscape of terror. Though the feeling of terror isn't just one of fear, but something else as if someone is going through the process of a transformation through sadness itself. Anyone who enjoys some of the noisier side of electronic music will not be disappointed by this incredibly dense release, as it is a whole adventure in itself.
Pony has been getting a fair amount of hype around the internet - and rightfully so. Now I'm not much of a shoegaze fan, so when I saw this album being described as such, I had no intention of loving it as much as I did. Even though Pony gets the shoegaze tag, I don't think that does it any justice as obviously people call it a hybrid of alt-country and shoegaze - but also that it isn't shoegaze in the sense most people think. There are of course moments of layered noise but Pony uses shoegaze's ambience more than anything, adding a layer of atmosphere to his signature David Bowie-esque vocals and alt-country sound. Peck not only creates this masterful sound, he also knows how to write a song as catchy as some of the best pop songs to date (slight exaggeration maybe).
Quelle Chris requires no introduction if you are at all familiar with the underground rap world. Anyone who has also kept up with my taste of rap music also knows this is the sound I love (wordy, laid back beats, MF Doom-esque). Chris has also been on a streak of great albums, as his last two remain some of my favourites in hip-hop from their respective years. Guns is no different, as it still brings the firepower of his lyrical prowess, hard hitting features, and those Madlib-esque beats I can never get enough of. Guns is also an important album with its concept tackling tough questions such as, "Do guns kill people, or do people kill people?". Chris constantly addresses these social issues of "where do we draw the line on blaming people and not the weapons we create?", and it is an incredibly interesting perspective to think about. As always, Chris is incredibly informative and introspective when it comes to the lyrics he writes.
I'm certainly loving the rise of ambient music the past couple years. It feels as if it is becoming a respected music genre, and I'd like to think that is because the rise of gaming/film soundtracks in recent memory. That or maybe people are just like me seeking an escape from the world in the form of music. This is exactly what JAB tries to create on his album Erg Herbe. JAB has been in the game for a while now yet he never fully realized his own sound until a couple years ago. This is when he decided to create Erg Herbe, and the album becomes a representation of who he is and what he's like as a person. JAB takes influence from things afar as well as things near, making the album have a foreign feel but also the comfort of being home. This ambient album is minimal, and plays off the subtle repetitious soundscapes, which then the listener can create their own experience.
Not to be confused with Maxo Kream, this Maxo is a new name to the underground hip-hop scene. On LIL BIG MAN, Maxo speaks out about mental illness such as how Earl Sweatshirt does most of the time. The beats are more in style of lo-fi murky New York sound, yet are incredibly dense. Maxo came out with a surprise of a release as he was barely hyped up (at least in my news feed). To see successful rappers such as himself, utilizing such a unique sound and rapping about problems a lot of young people can relate to is impressive for a break out release. Of course, that's not the only thing Maxo raps about on this release, as LIL BIG MAN is a tale of a coming-of-age story. This is basically his life editorial page, but thrown at you in a very relate-able way.
Jayda G much anticipated debut release has seen the day, and it is everything wonderful about classic house music that it should be. Jayda has been a renowned DJ in the scene for a while now, always presenting the sound of house music which includes that repetitive bouncy beat with soul sampling. What always impresses me about these electronic musicians is the knowledge they carry through their music. Jayda G, for example, has a masters degree in environmental toxicology and she uses her music as a way to bring a message to her listeners about environmental issues. This is a unique look at things as most people send messages with words, but electronic musicians have been able to create these messages using music. It is almost like painting a picture, using the electronic density as an art form to spread awareness. This is exactly what Significant Changes is about, and it never comes across as preachy (maybe because the lack of actual lyrics).
The Novembers have been in the Japanese scene for about a decade now, yet still never really broken free from it. Now I've never been the biggest fan so if I'm wrong about their sound feel free to laugh. I always saw the Novembers as being the sort of indie pop/dream pop tired sound a lot of Japanese rock bands were doing, so when I saw this album get a fair amount of praise, it piqued my interest. ANGELS is definitely a departure in sound, the dream pop elements are still there but the Novembers sure aren't afraid to get a little dark now and more noisy. The band represents an overall transformation in sound, and one that is much more appealing to me (if you haven't guessed, I do love my music to be darker). Again, I don't speak any Japanese at all so I have no idea what they are saying but I'm a firm believer in fighting against that language barrier to appreciate amazing music.
Ok I apologize for never discussing this project earlier because it is incredible. To be honest I never bothered checking it out just because getting the Caretaker's music isn't the most convenient (Spotify has made me lazy). Anyways, if anyone is unfamiliar with the Caretaker, he creates disintegrating ambient tapes. This project in particular was six separate stages (this being the last) of someone going through the stages of alzheimer's disease, slowly fading into nothingness and losing consciousness. In this release you can hear that the disease has completely overtaken the person as it is just long pieces of incredible dark ambient music. It creates the atmosphere of truly dissenting into madness and isolation. This is album is reminded of how terrible this certain disease can be, and putting it into a way people can experience it is frightening. Unfortunately the Caretaker is done for good after this release, but it was amazing to see them develop as an ambient musician. Amazing work indeed to leave for his legacy.
Beware of Dogs doesn't hold anything back when it comes to calling out all the sexists of the world. It tackles the tough issues of gender issues and sexual assault that have been the hot topics of the past couple years. It is incredibly important lyrically but what's most impressive is the music to back it up. Usually albums focused heavily on sending a message give the instrumentation a step back, but Donnelly shows off her expertise as a songwriter. Donnelly has an incredibly powerful voice while the music is indie rock in the vein of newer wave of women songwriters such as Angel Olsen. Beware of Dogs is varied enough in sound to keep the listener engaged, with tunes that are more mellowed out and then booming into heavy hitter anthems.
Finally, I'll finish with the legendary drone musician, William Basinski. Of course he doesn't need an introduction at all but it is impressive the quality of music he still releases today (and another certain ambient musician I'll be discussing in the next podcast episode). Basinski this time around uses recordings of interferometers of LIGO, which apparently is some sort of way of capturing sounds of two black holes that were merging 1.3 billion years ago. Yeah, this sounds like a Basinski concept, but that is not to say it isn't incredibly well executed. The sounds he invokes on this release give you the sound of complete nothingness, such as one would think being engulfed by a black hole would be like. The drones are consistently dark, with the album ever growing into what Basinski might think of the end of time itself.
SASAMI - S/T
Billy Woods - Hiding Places
Chai - Punk
Matmos - Plastic Anniversary
Helado Negro - This Is How You Smile
La Dispute - Panorama
Lafawndah - Ancestor Boy
Little Simz - GREY Area
DJ Muggs & Mach-Hommy - Tuez-Les Tous
Nilufer Yanya - Miss Universe
Laura Stevenson - The Big Freeze
Show Me the Body - Dog Whistle
Mary Lattimore & Mac McCaughan - New Rain Duets
Snapped Ankles - Stunning Luxury
Rian Treanor - ATAXIA
Triad God - Triad