Saturday, 28 December 2013

HMM Presents: Album Of 2013 - ''Yeezus'' by Kanye West (Final Top 25 Album List & 10 Tracks)

Well, it was a pretty easy decision in the end. Released back in June, ''Yeezus'' marks yet another incredible phase in the career of Kanye West, and was the obvious choice for my album of the year. Agree or disagree? Feedback is always welcome whether positive or otherwise. Thanks to everyone for reading, and I'll see you all in the New Year.

1. Yeezus- Kanye West

Just five years ago Kanye West’s next move was near impossible to predict following the problematic release of 808’s & Heartbreak, the rapper’s 4th and most polarizing release. A series of personal losses and public issues meant that for some, West’s moment at the top was coming to an undignified end, and how easy it would have been for him to slip into a downward spiral of releases, and settle into a legacy that would already have been classed as legendary for his original trio of classic albums.

Instead he returned with his magnum opus (so far) and possibly the greatest album of the 21st century with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a perfected blend of pop, rock and hip-hop music that can stand alongside any great popular musical achievement since the 1950’s. Similarly, Yeezus is a stunningly unpredictable album that has once again confounded all expectation and seen Ye confirm himself as king of the 21st century. And now I’m starting to get the feeling that this, incredibly, could only be half time.

Halfway through ‘’I Am A God’’ (the title is telling), West declares himself to be ‘’the only rapper that compares to Michael’’. He means Jackson of course, his repeatedly referenced idol. Outrageous? Arrogant? Egotistical beyond belief? Yep, all of those. Correct? Well, probably that too. You see, West has built his career on these outlandish statements but as he stands now, who is to say he hasn’t constantly backed them up? Yeezus blasts by in 40 minutes of mercilessly gripping noise that melts the brain and shocks the senses without apology, pinning you back against the hardcore wall of noise that serves as the backdrop to Kanye’s maddening raps, which have taken his ferocious ego to the next level.

The sense of chaos that Yeezus instils in the listener is representative of West’s restless artistic vision (this is a man who claims that his ‘’creative genius’’ keeps him up at night), something which- unlike on Dark Fantasy- he refused to hone or filter this time, allowing a total explosion of noise that symbolizes a brief glimpse into the mind of a self-confessed mad man. Earlier in the year, following the release of Yeezus and its ensuing universal acclaim, by now a mere formality to the rapper, Kanye sat down and talked intimately with Zane Lowe in a now infamous interview that gave a striking insight into the brain of one of the most controversial icons of the last 25 years.

‘’Dark Fantasy could be considered perfect. I know how to make perfect. But that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to crack the pavement and make new grounds, sonically and socially, culturally.’’

You can react how you like to Kanye’s ego- this year alone has been dominated by his ridiculous Sway interview bust up, a ludicrously camp music video, claims of deity status and outrageous greatness, another series of onstage rants- but the fact is he doesn't care what I, or you, or anybody thinks. We ain’t got the answers, after all, but what we will have long after this year is not any of those irrelevant incidents or events in our mind, but rather a product of extraordinary quality, a record that will be praised long after now for its innovative, futuristic context and a pop culture phenomenon that has added even greater stature to the already iconic figure of its creator.

Earlier, I said that Yeezus was starting to make me realize how much further Kanye is capable of pushing himself and the music industry, and it’s more than obvious that he believes more than anybody that we aren't even close to the end:

“If you’re taught you can’t do anything, you won’t do anything. I was taught I could do everything. And I’m Kanye West at age 36. So just watch the next ten years.”

That’s nearly a frightening statement when you consider the 6 albums before, and what 6 albums of the same quality could mean for the future of music. Operating on his very own level of creativity and artistic merit for the last decade, West has almost single handedly shifted his entire genre’s focus from the gangsta rap style of the 1990’s to the conscious rap that dominates the game today, and he’s currently leading an even bigger charge that’s been in action since the time Dark Fantasy dropped; propelling hip-hop to a league above alternative rock and indie music, the usually undisputed champion of critics’ choice genres. It’s hard not to admit that it’s working either as we watch the current array of rap stars dominate charts and media professionals with an unmatched work ethic and production standard that Kanye West has come to represent for the entire world of his style of music.

‘’Rap the new rock’n’roll. We culture. Rap is the new rock’n’roll and we the new rock stars. We the new rock stars.

It’s been like that for a minute. We the real rock stars, and I’m the biggest of them all. I’m the biggest rock star on the planet.’’

Yes, West is more than aware of his own importance (in the space of under 10 years he’s gone from proclaiming his religious devotion in ‘’Jesus Walks’’ to announcing that he is a God in the flesh himself) and that antagonizes many beyond the possibility of liking him, but my advice is that it’s time to give up now and accept the significance of the greatest artist in the world today, because if you don’t pay attention you’re going to miss something unprecedented and spectacular again. Something like we experienced in 2013 on Yeezus.

Best Tracks: New Slaves/Blood On The Leaves/Bound 2

Heavy Metal Mouth's Top 25 Albums Of 2013:

1. Yeezus- Kanye West
2. m b v- My Bloody Valentine
3. Random Access Memories- Daft Punk
4. Old- Danny Brown
5. Reflektor- The Arcade Fire
6. The 20/20 Experience- Justin Timberlake
7. Monomania- Deerhunter
8. Doris- Earl Sweatshirt
9. AM- Arctic Monkeys
10. Nothing Was The Same- Drake
11. Overgrown- James Blake
12. Acid Rap- Chance The Rapper
13. Days Are Gone- Haim
14. My Name Is My Name- Pusha T
15. True Romance- Charli XCX
16. Modern Vampires Of The City- Vampire Weekend
17. The Bones Of What You Believe- Chvrches
18. Long. Live. A$AP.- A$AP Rocky
19. Wolf- Tyler, The Creator
20. 12 Reasons To Die- Ghostface Killah
21. Government Plates- Death Grips
22. The Next Day- David Bowie

23. betteroffDEAD- Flatbush Zombies
24. I have lost all desire for feeling- Perfect Pussy
25. Static- Cults

Honourable Mentions (5 Albums That Didn't Quite Make It):

Kveikur- Sigur Ros
Hesitation Marks- Nine Inch Nails

Comedown Machine- The Strokes

Mosquito- Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Mellowhigh- Mellowhigh

Heavy Metal Mouth's Top 10 Tracks Of 2013:

(On reflection I'm totally undecided on the order of this list apart from the top two, so I've left the final version unnumbered)

New Slaves- Kanye West (Feat. Frank Ocean)
Hold On, We're Going Home- Drake (Feat. Majid Jordan)
I Wanna Be Yours- Arctic Monkeys
1 Train- A$AP Rocky (Feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big K.R.I.T)
Mirrors- Justin Timberlake
Rusty- Tyler, The Creator (Feat. Domo Genesis & Earl Sweatshirt)
Instant Crush- Daft Punk (Feat. Julian Casablancas)
Reflektor- The Arcade Fire
Bound 2- Kanye West (Feat. Charlie Wilson)
Control/BET Awards Cypher 2013- Kendrick Lamar

HMM Presents: The Best Of 2013 - Album Of The Year (5-2)

Heavy Metal Mouth's 2013 album countdown ends here; these final five albums are, in my humble opinion, the greatest, most definitive releases of the past 12 months. Thanks to everyone for reading and stick with HMM for my first online magazine issue, which will be available with the full countdown and much more in January.

Without further ado, here are my top five albums of the year.

5. Reflektor- The Arcade Fire

The release of Arcade Fire’s 4th effort Reflektor was greeted with complaints of exceeding length; perhaps understandable given the extraordinary running time, but for true fans of the band these accusations will prove unfounded, with length acting as a gift rather than a curse as each sprawling piece is executed carefully and precisely with a measured pace to the very last beat. These songs may take time to build, but it's well spent time, and perhaps the biggest compliment you could pay Reflektor is the extraordinary fact that despite its epic length it's never overstated, bloated, or unnecessarily filled; every single moment is totally justified and masterfully executed.

The band owe a certain debt to The Cure's Disintegration for several reasons; from the strangely danceable arrangements and hollow, dark themes to the exceeding song length and skilful pacing, there are more than several telling features of Reflektor that point to Robert Smith's magnum opus as a strong comparison, while U2 are also easy to credit for the band's ability to retain their melodic sensibilities throughout the experimentation process.

Admittedly, there were several things that had me dubious about Reflektor upon first listen, whether it was the previous niggling critical voices I'd heard or the daunting time, but this is a record that unfolds and opens new levels with each listen, resonating deeper each time and allowing us to discover new meanings within, exactly the way which great albums and great music should be made. Crucially, the band have started to realize their own brilliance (there's a definite swagger on the album that wasn't here before) without letting it affect their enormous talent, and that is perhaps the most significant and impressive element of Reflektor.

Best tracks: Reflektor/Afterlife/Supersymmetry

4. Old- Danny Brown

''I made XXX with the aim of getting great reviews. And when I started making Old, I was trying to think of artists that came back from getting great reviews and made an album that was just as good– or better. The only group I could really come up with was Radiohead. So if XXX was my OK Computer, then I’d have to make my Kid A next.''

That's quite a statement, and it's telling of Danny Brown; apart from the hilarious comedic personality that comes across throughout interviews with the Detroit rapper, there's another aspect of his character buried underneath, namely his hunger for success. Brown is as ambitious as he is talented, two characteristics you may fail to notice if you're not overly familiar with the rising star due to his eccentric nature and open attitude towards drug abuse. Many heads were turned with the release of XXX back in 2011, a surprising, original and entirely unique hip hop fusion album that found its way towards the top end of many critics best of lists come the end of the year. A follow up was always going to be risky business, but the above quote will assure you of Brown's fearlessness if nothing else.

For the most part of Old, the type of comedic turns and eccentric club anthems found on XXX are overrun by a prevalent darkness, as songs like ''Torture'', ''Lonely'' and ''Gremlins'' showcase heavy electronic beats steeped in bleak imagery, deep contemplation and hard hitting lyrics with Danny recalling the second half of Old's predecessor but travelling further into the void. Brown is honest to the point of brutality, confronting his inner demons, issues with family and friends, depression and, most importantly, his drug habit. Throughout these 19 tracks the listener finds Brown in direct confrontation with his party image and grown up self, most effectively exemplified through the contrast between opposites such as ''Smokin & Drinkin'' and ''Clean Up'' or ''Lonely''.

It's not exactly unheard territory for an artist to place the spotlight on themselves for such trouble, but the crucial difference here is the perceived reality of it all; Brown sounds as though he is genuinely conflicted, ruthlessly examining his own identity, and struggling to figure himself out over the course of 56 minutes, with the experimental, trippy production (courtesy of DB cohorts SKYWLKR and Paul White) seemingly representing the fragility of the rapper's mind and his bipolar nature.

Ultimately, Old is a daring, exceptional album that outdoes XXX for its focus, energy, honesty, bravery and direction. Brown has ignored fans who would have been happy just to hear the funny man again and built on the talent he exposed to the public intially while drawing from the tormented soul that came before fame and fortune. The perception of Danny Brown as an outsider or wild card should now be over; he's the real deal, leading the field alongside rising modern rap stars like Kendrick, Tyler and co., and most crucially doing something in modern rap than few can match and absolutely none can emulate, making him undoubtedly one of the most exciting talents in the rap game, and music world, at this moment in time.

Best Tracks: Old/25 Bucks/Float On

3. Random Access Memories- Daft Punk

‘’The idea was really having this desire for live drums, as well as questioning, really, why and what is the magic in samples? It occurred to us it’s probably a collection of so many different parameters; of amazing performances, the studio, the place it was recorded, the performers, the craft, the hardware, recording engineers, mixing engineers, the whole production process of these records that took a lot of effort and time to make back then.’’

Inside that quote right there you’ll find the magic behind Random Access Memories, Daft Punk’s eventual 4th album and their most epic to date. A conscious decision to abandon synths and samples all the way back in 2008 when the French duo started playing around with demos for RAM is responsible for the album we were finally gifted with this year; a throwback to the 1970’s and 80’s in American music, all the way from classic rock to disco, from funk to house, from psychedelica to pop. You’d be quick to dismiss the recording process of RAM as another created much the same way as the band’s first two classics before it, but the real truth and beauty of this record lie in its glorious structure. This is an album crafted note from note by live musicians, as Thomas Banglatar put it himself: "We wanted to do what we used to do with machines and samplers, but with people."

Daft Punk didn’t want to just create an album from 40 years ago, they wanted to go back there. TV advertisements and billboards announced the band’s return, symbolizing their commitment to the past down to its core, and Random Access Memories swept the world much like an album, or record, would have in its prime time- this wasn’t just a case of download then delete, Daft Punk’s homecoming was an event that could not be ignored as they stole the summer with ‘’Get Lucky’’, now the ultimate smash hit of 2013 and a single which will more than likely suffer outrageous overplaying for the next few decades, held a global album launch in Wee Waa, the back end of a nowhere town in Australia (that didn’t stop the internet coming to a halt), and the world held its breath for a tour that we’re still desperately waiting on.

I could tell you about the songs- the triumphant, daring rock opening of ‘’Give Life Back To Music’’, the inexpressible beauty of Chilly Gonzales’ transitional key change wonder ‘’Within’’, the ridiculously complex, genre bending album centerpiece ‘’Touch’’ (composed of over 250 elements within the song), or it’s magnum opus and definitive piece ‘’Giorgio By Morodor’’, a track which defines not only the album’s purpose but much of the genres located on RAM- but whether you’ve already listened or not (and shame thosae who haven’t), my words won’t do justice; this is one journey that Daft Punk have designed to be taken alone and consumed whole, through headphones, a compact disc, a record player, just as it was originally intended in their borrowed era. In 2013, Daft Punk gave us something we didn’t realize we were missing; the album.

Best Tracks: Giorgio By Morodor/Touch/Instant Crush (Feat. Julian Casablancas)

2. My Bloody Valentine- m b v

22 years have passed since My Bloody Valentine changed the way music sounded to an entire generation of music fans in 1991 with Loveless, but this January the release of m b v made it sound like the past two decades had simply never happened. Time seems to have escaped Kevin Shields, whose unrelenting, overwhelming wall of noise returns on the bands incredible third album.

A chorus of guitars familiarly drains the listener immediately backed by Shields ghost like vocal droning on opener ''She Found Now'', before m b v explodes into life with ''Only Tomorrow'', a track acting as a modern day substitution for the classic Loveless opener ''Only Shallow''. ''Who Sees You'' continues in the same vein with the majestic, unprecedented guitar sounds that Shields perfected in the early 1990’s, but before the possibility of criticizing the band for remaining unchanged enters your mind, it will be muted by ''Is This And Yes''. Within the space of 5 minutes and 7 seconds, the band drop their guitars and utilize the synth in such a clear, shimmering beautiful and emotive way that’s totally unexpected of them, marking a sound we’ve never heard from My Bloody Valentine before. It’s a perfect fit on them though, bringing the near lost genre of shoegaze into the 21st century in some style. Further on, ''If I Am'' mixes past and present with a gentle guitar wall backing and atmospheric vocals, but in a crisper, almost HD setting compared to their early work, a feature of the entire record; MBV have never sounded so close and in focus, yet they somehow retain their otherworldly, alien sense of being. ''New You'' is a softly executed lullaby but things get weird again on ''In Another Way'', an obvious standout that recalls the very best of Isn’t Anything, their debut work. ''Nothing Is'' constantly builds on a nervous, intense loop that slowly climaxes in an anxious haze, perfectly assisting final track ''Wonder 2'', a drum led, droning guitar comedown that owes something to The Beatles’ legendary ''Tomorrow Never Knows''.

It’s a rare thing indeed for any band or artist to return after such a length and immediately fill the void, but to create a record of such quality that it can stand alongside an album like its predecessor is a near miracle. m b v welcomes fans back like an old friend with the so familiar sound of extreme, unique noise all the while unfolding into an unmistakably modern record, transitioning the band before our very eyes. For 22 years so many waited, hoping to hear another blank of Kevin Shields’ genius, and here, encapsulated in 46 minutes is everything they ever dreamed; an immersive, enthralling, hypnotic masterpiece. Typical My Bloody Valentine then.

Best Tracks: She Found Now/Is This And Yes/In Another Way

What made number 1? Continue to my next post for the answer plus the full list of albums and tracks that made my countdown this year...

HMM Presents: The Best Of 2013 - Album Of The Year (10-6)

Well, here we are; Heavy Metal Mouth's album of the year culminates with the top ten. Here are 10 through 6, with the final 5 records to follow tomorrow:

10. Nothing Was The Same- Drake

In spite of his rapid-fire rise to the top of the game in the last 3 years, Aubrey Graham has taken a LOT of shit for his sensitive side and divided rap fans perhaps like no other before him, but on Nothing Was The Same Drake seems to be fuelled by a desire to prove those naysayers wrong right from the get go- he opens up his third release with straight up, shit talking, no pulled punches rap on ‘’Tuscan Leather’’, wherein he spits over a 6 minute beat with no chorus, sending a message that is reinforced throughout the album. Drake desperately wants you to recognise he is the biggest and the best right now, and if you haven’t already accepted it, he’s going to change your mind.

He may be making a point of dropping bars over the minimal, stylish production of long-time collaborator Noah 40 Shebib, but the features that make Drake so loathed to some and beloved to many are still strewn throughout the album- most crucially his acute awareness for melody. This mainstream friendly, accessible approach is what separates the Canadian from the rest of the game, and combined with undeniably skilled lyrics it’s a fool proof winning formula. Drake gets deeper than most around him; for the most part the album deals thematically with perceptions of fame, changing lifestyle through riches and success and this brooding subject matter is dealt with in a manner more articulate than most.

There are some definite lowlights to be had; generic first single ‘’Started From The Bottom’’ is by some distance the worst song on the record while the easy listening sounds of ‘’Wu Tang Forever’’ are enjoyable but pay absolutely no homage to their namesake, exposing instead a strangely chosen title that was perhaps no more than a cheap shout out to a more hardcore fan base.

The thing about Drake is that he doesn’t need to appease anyone or attempt to reach out towards these bases, because the fact is that he’s best when he’s embracing his softer persona, as evidenced on ‘’From Time’’, ‘’Too Much’’ and the finest moment on the album, ‘’Hold On, We’re Going Home’’. Graham stated that he made the songs to be played at weddings while also paying tribute to Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, and the result is an incredible pop song, perhaps recalling classic R. Kelly with its irresistible romantic tone- at its simplest, this is true R’n’B greatness.

And from here it’s easy to see why so many rap fans have a problem with Drake- it’s not easy to welcome change, and many will feel that the emotional honesty and heart on sleeve attitude of Aubrey Graham doesn’t have any place in the game, but for better or worse, Drake is probably the most significant artist in hip-hop right now, simply because he is changing it almost single handedly. Nothing Was The Same continues his streak with an album that has met all expectations, defied some and introduced a more confident, confrontational and electric personality, one that’s willing to fight for a place at the top, and it will gain even more fans and followers as Drake continues to spread his ever growing influence in modern music.

Best Tracks: Tuscan Leather/Hold On, We’re Going Home/Pound Cake & Paris Morton Music 2

9. AM- Arctic Monkeys

As I've always seen it, there are only two reasons for a band to self-title an album post debut- either they've churned out an indifferent, meaningless effort lacking in ideas and imagination and can't be bothered to name it anything else, or they've created a work of art that they feel defines them better than ever before. Fortunately, AM most definitely falls into the latter category, combining the styles and sounds of the Arctic Monkeys previous four albums and some more in a wonderful pay off for fans of both early and later work.

AM captures the Arctic Monkeys in a moment of totality and completeness; content with image and sound after years spent searching. This is a stellar work of music that can be built on, and crucially, feels like it surely will. Perhaps the best thing you could say about this record is that it makes me think Arctic Monkeys will improve from here, and considering their previous catalogue, that's quite a statement to make, and a truly exciting prospect.

When asked about the title pre-release, Alex Turner replied with a knowing smile, claiming he'd ripped it from the Velvet Underground's 1985 complilation VU: ''Did we cop out? Yeah, but something about it feels like this record is exactly where we should be right now. So it felt right just to initial it.'' It's an insightful comment, and while he might be laughing at the complacency of those initials himself, in reality, it couldn't have been named anything else.

Best Tracks: Do I Wanna Know?/R U Mine?/I Wanna Be Yours

8. Doris- Earl Sweatshirt

Earl Sweatshirt has come a long, long way since 2010 when he burst onto the scene as a fresh faced 16 year old rap prodigy with Earl, a startling mixtape that captured the attention of every self-respecting hip-hop fan with its outstanding lyrics, clinical delivery and dark, often disturbing subject matter over a minimal backdrop provided by mentor and close friend Tyler, The Creator. To those already familiar with the teen's controversial rap collective Odd Future, the story is one that has taken on an almost mythical status, as Sweatshirt vanished from the scene as quickly as he had appeared, leaving fans puzzled as to his whereabouts until February of last year when it emerged that Earl had been sent to a detention camp for troubled youths in Samoa by his mother in order to clean up his act.

Upon his return, Earl set to work immediately with the announcement of Doris followed by the release of ''Chum'', a brutally honest, emotional single that detailed his feelings on his time in Samoa and issues regarding his father, growing up and increased expectations. The last part isn't so surprising, as the wave of hype that followed the teenager is one that would heavily burden even the strongest of shoulders, and repeated delays due to a lengthy production process didn't help to cool the baited breath of OFWGKTA's devoted fanbase. Sweatshirt took to Twitter weeks before the long awaited release with a blunt warning to fans who may have been expecting a record he was unwilling to provide: ''...I anticipate a loss of fans. I also anticipate gaining some... I hope you lose me as a fan if you only fuck with me because I rapped about raping girls when I was 15.''

A brave statement maybe, one that could have proven a smart move or the beginning of a backlash, but when Doris dropped it became time for all the talking to stop and let the music and the man himself speak.

And then he did, as Doris silenced critics and dubious fans alike with its raw power and majestic flow. Much like Tyler's Wolf in April, this album will indeed be a breaking point for the rap collective's teen following, however the process of a changing fanbase should come as quite the opposite of a loss for the young rapper as a broader audience respond to Earl and OF's desire to develop their skills rather than regurgitate them.

While it shouldn't be a factor, in reality the massive hype revolving around Earl since last February won't have helped Doris- those expecting a classic in the vein of good kid may be slightly underwhelmed, but that would be an unfair way to analyse Earl's first full length release; this flawless 44 minutes of raw, old school rap is just the first demonstration of Sweatshirt's incredibly natural talent, and it seems inevitable that he will only get better. For now, Doris is more than enough material to satisfy, but the most important thing to take from these 15 tracks is that at 19 years old, Earl Sweatshirt's potential is limitless. Watch this space.

Best Tracks: Hive/Chum/Guild

7. Monomania- Deerhunter

Monomania finds Deerhunter and Bradford Cox in a strangely playful mood that’s executed in a series of lo-fi, retro style indie tracks, displaying the band at their most melodic and, as bizarre as it sounds, conventional. The bands usual wall of noise (for which they’ve found themselves branded somewhere between genres as distant as shoegaze and punk) has been demolished in favour of the melodies usually hidden behind, with pop/rock sensibilities unashamedly brought to the forefront.

The result is inexplicably successful as Cox conducts the band over a wave of irresistible alternative rock tunes that retain a sense of the underground, grunge styling the band is renowned for, while simultaneously showcasing an undeniable flair for pop songwriting that was deeply buried within Deerhunter records previously (see ‘’Strange Lights’’ from Cryptograms for evidence). The emergence of such talents, combined with the lo-fi aesthetics of the band’s sound, unmistakably recalls the work of Lou Barlow with Sebadoh near its finest, yet towards the finish line Cox and co. make a point of showcasing the fact that they’ve still got plenty of loud noise left inside, as the title track climaxes with the band making their instruments scream in a brief moment of madness that feels like it’s been longing to escape the entire time. In extreme contrast, seconds later the listener finds themselves coming down to the sound of Cox’s vocal and lone acoustic guitar on ''Nitebike'', a hauntingly beautiful standout.

Ultimately, Monomania is a daring, illogical, and definitely surprising album that toes the line between excellence and absurdity at times but always comes out on the right side. Incredibly, we’re listening to the sound of a content, assured and most of all, happy Deerhunter. But while the band may have settled down they’ve also transcended the possibility of boredom or flatness, crafting a record of exceptional artistic merit while skilfully shifting into the next phase of their never dull career. Surely only Deerhunter themselves will know what their next step is going to be (it’ll probably be as unpredictable as Monomania), but this remarkable fusion could very well be the realization of the band’s true purpose.

Best Tracks: Sleepwalking/Monomania/Nitebike

6. The 20/20 Experience- Justin Timberlake

2013 saw the return of Justin Timberlake after 7 years spent in Hollywood making himself an even bigger superstar than before he paused in the music industry, but the one who returned was an altogether different animal. The jazz styled electro R’n’B of The 20/20 Experience marked a vastly different record than the Timberlake’s two previous- Justified was a hyper developed Nsync, bursting with chart hits and pop greatness, while FutureSexLoveSounds hinted at this electronic direction with tinges of experimentation but was ultimately too inconsistent to succeed.

Here we find the full realisation of JT with pop sensibilities still ever present but hidden beneath an ultra-creative, artistic vision that is conveyed through extended song lengths (the average track clocks in at around 7 minutes), rich, layered production from Timbaland and complex vocal harmonies. Here is the climax of Timberlake’s potential, the album he has been threatening to make his entire career- a genuine pop masterpiece and work of art that signifies its artist fully embracing his talents and taking a bold, but perfect direction having considered contemporaries like Frank Ocean, Miguel and The Weeknd. If anyone was in doubt as to the reigning king of contemporary pop/R’n’B music, it’s an issue that has been put to rest in style on The 20/20 Experience.

Following this release in March, Part 2 came later in the year, an album mostly consisting of leftovers that had no real right to be recognised as an official studo album, but if anything this demonstrates the fact that Timberlake is bursting with creativity at the moment and hopefully this is an indication that there’s more to come soon, because while he may be a Hollywood titan these days, the fact remains that Justin Timberlake was put on this planet to make music. To wait another 7 years would be utter madness- this is, quite undoubtedly, the sound of his prime.

Best Tracks: Pusher Love Girl/Tunnel Vision/Mirrors

Next: 5-1

Monday, 23 December 2013

HMM Presents: The Best Of 2013 - Album Of The Year (15-11)

As we approach the top ten albums of the year, here are the artists that just missed inclusion among the top spots:

15. True Romance- Charli XCX

The intimately whispered vocals of 21 year old Charlotte Aitchison are perfectly complimented throughout True Romance, her official debut (aged 14, off the back of a loan from her parents, she released 14, an album which she has since expressed disgust with, labelling it ‘’terrible fucking MySpace music’’), by a lush electronic backing that in turn symbolize its sensuality and repeated themes of love and sex that burn through the speakers at the listener.

This is electronica pop perfection, effortlessly easy to access and irresistibly relistenable yet, crucially, True Romance retains a pulsing brain and beating heart throughout its breezy 47 minutes.

Best Tracks: Grins/You’re The One/Lock You Up

14. My Name Is My Name- Pusha T

The hiatus of Clipse meant that Pusha T had to begin a solo career back in 2010, which resulted in him finding Kanye West and releasing a series of mixtapes and EP’s to general acclaim. Now we have the final product, and paired with the production wizardry of West, My Name Is My Name undoubtedly marks one of the best rap releases of the year. A starkly minimal experiment right from the near blank cover to Kanye’s menacing deadpan production, Pusha attempts to see how far the boundaries will move for him as he postulates his sound to the most inward, dark corners possible.

My Name Is My Name is an exercise in simplicity; Kanye connects with the RZA like never before here, providing Push with fuzzy bassed, sparse drum machine backgrounds that leave the work up to Push, who is more than willing to oblige with a series of laid back declarations of status that are brought home with assured, experienced delivery. The album develops slowly with auto tuned turns and excellent guest features from The-Dream, Kelly Rowland and Kendrick Lamar, but in the case of My Name Is My Name, less is most definitely more, and just like its Wire referencing title suggests, Push doesn’t need unnecessary style to attract you; he’s got substance, and that speaks for itself.

Best Tracks: Numbers On The Board/Hold On (Feat. Rick Ross)/Nosetalgia (Feat. Kendrick Lamar)

13. Days Are Gone- Haim

Haim have had a lot of practice- three girls who grew up in San Fernando Valley raised on classic rock by their hippie parents, Este, Danielle and Alana Haim first played together in their family band Rockinhaim with Dad on drums and and Mum on guitar, before they joined The Valli Girls and signed to Colombia records in 2005 (you might have heard them on The Sisterhood Of Travelling Pants soundtrack, or Nickolodeon’s Kids Choice Awards).

But as they grew up, the girls wanted something different than the music they were being bred to play; they wanted pop, they wanted R’n’B. So in 2006 the three sisters formed Haim and began a journey (long delayed by high school and college) that has eventually manifested itself in Days Are Gone, a charming indie rock debut that combines Haim’s Americana influence and their desire for pop success in a triumphant payoff. There are any number of acts you could liken them to (all the way from Emmylou Harris to Madonna) but Haim have combined their influencing styles into one unique product of modern rhythm and blues styled indie-folk that’s near impossible to dislike, and if it doesn’t take another decade to put a sequel, these three extremely talented sisters are set for global success and universal acclaim.

Best Tracks: Falling/The Wire/My Song 5

12. Acid Rap- Chance The Rapper

From Kendrick’s tales of growing up in Compton, Kanye’s explosive ego and Drake’s troubled love life, we’ve all forgotten something in rap music that the 20 year old Chance helped to rediscover this year; fun. Chance wasn’t down for dealing with topics like broken families, fame or fallouts- he just wanted to bullshit about getting high, having sex and being a young, sometimes stupid kid. Acid Rap is an irresistibly catchy album too which helps- bouncing, joyous production from a host of artists helps carry Acid Rap to effortlessly towards the finish, but from the last beat of ‘’Good Ass Outro’’ you’ll find yourself sorely tempted to rewind back and start all over again, because there’s just no denying that Chance is creating good moods with every listen.

Coming from a kid who’s last mixtape dealt with what he did with 10 days after getting suspended from school (10 Day), it’s safe to say there’s been little development as Chance stepped to the album platform, and that’s a magnificent thing, because without artists like Chance The Rapper hip-hop would lose its soul. Here’s hoping he never grows up.

Best Tracks: Cocoa Butter Kisses/Everybody’s Something (Feat. Saba & BJ The Chicago Kid)/Favourite Song (Feat. Childish Gambino)

11. Overgrown- James Blake

James Blake has never been a straightforward producer like his electronic contemporaries. Unlike say, SBTRKT, Blake falls heavily into the singer songwriter category, closer in many respects to acts such as Grizzly Bear or Bon Iver due to his minimal emotive style. The young Briton first gained attention back in 2010 with a series of EP releases, among them The Bells Sketch, CMYK and Klavierwerke, and while these were exciting, mostly instrumental efforts that marked the arrival of a young talent amongst a sea of similarly minded electro musicians, it was James Blake (2011) that set the Londoner far beyond the rest. The key difference here was Blake's distinctive, heartfelt vocal that dominated each track and breathed new life into his promising dub beats.

Two years later, Overgrown has arrived amidst much expectation following one of the most highly acclaimed debuts in recent years. It was difficult to tell which direction Blake would head in this time around- a more accessible, commercially viable record, or one that fell deeper into the quiet contemplation of his first. Thankfully, Blake has retained his signature reserved approach and Overgrown is an album that follows much the same path as its predecessor to great success.

While there may have been a great deal of talk from critics and fans alike regarding the sound and direction of Overgrown, you get the feeling that the artist himself didn't have to think about it too much. This album feels like a natural growth at an extremely steady pace and Blake deserves major credit for quietly expanding his sound without taking any giant leaps.

A low key triumph that assures there is certainly more, and perhaps even greater, to come from an incredibly talented and original musician.

Best Tracks: Overgrown/Take A Fall For Me (Feat. RZA)/Our Love Comes Back

Next: 10-6

HMM Presents: The Best Of 2013 - Album Of The Year (20-16)

Continuing my countdown to the number one spot this year, here are another 5 of the best in 2013.

20. 12 Reasons To Die- Ghostface Killah

Dennis Coles AKA Ghostface Killah, has been the sole consistent member of Wu Tang Clan since the legendary rap group’s debut in 1993, with an impressive, and wide ranging discography that has included some of the most acclaimed rap of the past 20 years in albums like Supreme Clientele and Fishscale. 12 Reasons To Die see’s Ghost tackling another concept album as member of the DeLuca crime family in 1960’s Italy, rising through the ranks, falling in love and meeting bloody consequences by the end of it all.

As per usual, Ghost raps a story that immerses you like a novel, with a brutal revenge tale that makes wonderful use of the rappers usual vivid imagery and passionate delivery. The minimal production provided by Adrian Younge is inspired by vintage Italian film soundtracks, and while it’s totally absent of Wu’s patriarch RZA (who serves as executive producer only), it heavily recalls the production master’s work with Quentin Tarantino.

Other members of the Clan (U God, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna) pop around for some exciting cameos, the best of which would be ‘’Murder Spree’’ and ‘’Blood On The Cobblestones’’, while softer tracks in the midsection deal with a romance angle that Ghost handles with surprising delicacy, in tracks such as ‘’The Center Of Attraction’’. It’s the final stretch of the album that is most impressive however, as the story is tied together with a series of detailed revenge tracks that Ghostface delivers in typically furious fashion.

12 Reasons showcases Ghostface Killah continuing to age while consistently delivering quality rap with no drop in pace or production, and maintaining a standard and image that is near unthinkable for any rap artist who debuted on the scene a full twenty years ago.

Best Tracks: Rise Of The Ghostface Killah/Revenge Is Sweet (Feat. Masta Killa & Killa Sin)/Murder Spree (Feat. U-God, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck & Killa Sin)

19. Wolf- Tyler, The Creator

It's been two years since Tyler's second studio album Goblin, and a lot has changed since. The Odd Future leader's sophomore album was one of the defining products in a series of releases that saw the alternative hip-hop collective rise from underground notoriety to mainstream fame alongside The OF Tape Vol. 2, so now that Tyler and co. have sufficiently shocked the world into taking notice, how does he respond to the fame and fandom that he so clearly craved from his earliest recordings?

Wolf is an intriguing album, a landmark of another extraordinary year for OFWGKTA, and one of greater complexity than its two predecessors. Tyler has always been a talented producer, mainly through his use of menacing, droning synths and minimal percussion, but here things have stepped up quite a bit, as the rapper fills these 18 tracks with richer textures and atmospheric beats, while the most shocking admissions from the 23 year old here are perhaps the romantic themes that dominate an album laden in the concept of a strange, tangled love trio. Whatever happened to locking bitches up in storage, raping them and recording it?

Incredibly, Tyler seems to be growing up. There will be Odd Future fans who feel like their leader is leaving them behind by not cramming every song full of murder and sexual innuendos but they were always the wrong reasons to be listening anyway- exceptional lyrical skills, wordplay, production values, and unmistakably unique delivery are Tyler's main strengths and they're all in abundance on Wolf. The end of the first Odd Future era is taking place right now, and it all began, just like that first wave with Bastard back in 2009, with Tyler. The most important thing about Wolf is that it shows there is serious potential in the young rapper and his outrageous posse afterwards.

Best Tracks: Cowboy/Awkward (Feat. Frank Ocean)/Rusty (Feat. Domo Genesis & Earl Sweatshirt)

18. Long. Live. A$AP- A$AP Rocky

A$AP Rocky is a simple man, he tells you on the third track. All he really needs- pussy, money, weed. This sort of Gangsta braggadocio rap has produced numerous disasters in the past, and truth be told is more often ludicrous than loveable, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected for the success of Live. Love A$AP to have been no more than a fluke debut mixtape back in 2011, especially considering the extraordinary length of time and delays which Rocky’s first full studio album was subject to prior to release in January.

I’ll be the first one to admit I judged a book by its cover; this 24 year old grill wearing rapper is another bright, intelligent star in the future of hip-hop. An endlessly creative individual (he directed numerous videos this year also), A$AP surrounds himself with any number of talented friends on his debut, from the all-star cast of 1 Train to production gold like Hitboy, 40, Clams Casino and Skrillex. The result is a rich, finely textured music album that A$AP dominates with his effortless cool, presenting us with a fully realized Rakim Meyers (the name is no coincidence) that we can be assured is only getting ready to start in 2013.

Best Tracks: Fuckin’ Problems (Feat. Drake, 2 Chainz & Kendrick Lamar)/1 Train/Phoenix

17. The Bones Of What You Believe- Chvrches

The formation of Chvrches all sounds rather low key- composed of three students working together out of a studio basement in Glasgow- but upon your first listen to The Bones Of What You Believe, you are sure to be taken aback by the sound these three can make with Lauren Mayberry's charming vocal over an unholy amount of synthesizers.

Full of charm with substance to match, the immediate comparison drawn to mind may be Purity Ring, another recent electronic sensation that came to light last year with their debut Shrines, but while the delicate female vocals combined with a light electronic backing are a perfect match, but there are major differences too, namely the irresistible ball of energy that flows throughout the 48 minute running time of the album. Simply put, Chvrches are fun.

On The Bones Of What You Believe, the band have taken a range of electronic influences and created something entirely accessible and instantly enjoyable to the average indie fan in a stunning debut that promises much more if the young trio can handle the expectations that come with such a well-received record.

Best Tracks: The Mother We Share/Tether/Lies

16. Modern Vampires Of The City- Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend have always been an incredibly appealing, enjoyable band- just try listening to ‘’A-Punk’’ or ‘’Holiday’’ without a smile on your face, but maybe they’ve grow tired of this perception of themselves as just sweet or loveable. Modern Vampires continues Ezra Koenig and company’s alluring pop techniques but it also introduces intriguing lyrical depth that was never quite this present before, from pondering a religious break up with God in ‘’Ya Hey’’ to condemning social attitudes toward their generation on ‘’Unbelievers’’, Vampire Weekend have never been this deep and dark before, but it’s a suit that fits them well.

Modern Vampires is undoubtedly the band’s most complex, confident and challenging work to date; it sees indie’s favourite nice guy’s moving forward into bold new territory in a glorious manner, and promises us a greater Vampire Weekend over the next decade.

Best Tracks: Obvious Bicycle/Hannah Hunt/Ya Hey

Next: 15-11

Friday, 20 December 2013

HMM Presents: The Best Of 2013 - Album Of The Year (25-21)

Continuing the countdown to Heavy Metal Mouth's first annual magazine, here marks the beginning of my biggest and best end of year list; the Album Of The Year 2013. I'll be posting the first 15 albums of my list for everyone to read on the website. Following that, the magazine will be published containing the Top 10, the full list and more articles.

It's been an incredible year for music, so without further ado, let's get down to who and why; here are the greatest albums of the year.

25. Static- Cults

It’s often the case that personal tragedy or heartache acts as the catalyst for a great album, but the circumstances for the recording of Static were different to most; the news that Cults duo Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion had split in 2012 only intensified the spotlight on the indie pop group’s sequel to their well received 2011 debut, provoking debate as to whether the pair could work together successfully again.

The result is another half hour of shimmering indie pop, but with a noticeable shift in tone. Gone is the playful nonchalance that made the group’s debut such a joyful listen in favour of a darker mindset that reflects the post breakup lull felt by both halves. It’s a hit and miss process that produces a slightly more complex, deeper side to the pair while also stealing them of their carefree innocence and glowing youthfulness, the elements that made them so attractive in the first place.

Ultimately though, Static is a decidedly quiet, low key success of a sophomore album that shows there is life in Cults after the gimmicky lo-fi smash of their debut, showcasing another side to a maturing group that have already been forced to deal with serious conflicting issues and come out relatively unscathed. Static, at its best, suggests that Cults have a staying power beyond what was previously expected of them, and the capability to deliver another record as good as or better than they did two years previously as a fresh faced couple in love.

Best Tracks: So Far/We’ve Got It/Shine A Light

24. I have lost all desire for feeling- Perfect Pussy

Perfect Pussy make a lot of noise in 13 minutes on their debut demo. Recorded live, I have lost all desire for feeling is a searing hot ball of energy that explodes in the listeners ears with a series of short, stinging punk songs that come off somewhere between Crystal Castles and Sonic Youth.

As harsh as it may appear though, there’s something beautiful lost inside this raw noise that suggests a promise beyond these abrupt freakouts (not that there’s anything at all wrong with these 4 musical tantrums).

Right from their unspeakable name down to the minimalistic track titles (they are literally called one, two, three and four) and their shortness, Perfect Pussy represent hope for modern punk- a return to chaos, anarchy and confusion, all of which are supplied in buckets on I have lost all desire for feeling.

Best Tracks: I/III/IV

23. betteroffDEAD- Flatbush Zombies

 The confrontational, raw rap skill of Flatbush Zombies isn’t so much as conveyed to you as it is spat in your face over the course of 19 tracks on betteroffDEAD, the Brooklyn trio’s second mixtape. The personalies that comprise Flatbush Zombies are products of their environment and they’re acutely aware of it; witness the scathing anti-patriotism on opener ‘’Amerikkkan Pie’’ for evidence, but just as they are proud of their upbringings (Thugnifiscence) they spout furious anger at the situation more often than not (G Tearz, Death). This kind of unhinged tempermentality is the definition of betteroffDEAD and it’s the same bitter hatred, anger and passion that we first witnessed in Wu Tang Clan and NWA, the ultimate representation of societal commentary and political injustice in hip-hop.

But while the same violent temper presents itself here, there are key differences between the band and their predecessors, mostly demonstrated in the group’s lack of discipline, pace and execution, as they struggle to control and employ their talent rather than letting it loose in a constant barrage of brutal profanity. These things come in due time though, and this anarchic, youthful attitude is what sets Flatbush Zombies apart from the rest right now. Maybe it’s a good thing to let chaos reign for a while yet.

Best Tracks: Bliss/Regular And Complex (GNB)/The Results Are In

22. The Next Day- David Bowie

Just 8 days into the year, David Bowie shook the music world on his 66th birthday with the revelation that he’d been working in secret on a new album. It was difficult to know how to feel; the innovator, the Duke, the most fascinating musical figure of the 20th century was back, but the great man’s recent work was an underwhelming experience. Something told me that this time was different though; from the shocking unveiling to a highly unusual, bold cover, it seemed like Bowie was ready to surprise the world once again, and The Next Day is everything we could have hoped for in any realistic sense.

Playing like a collection of greatest hits, The Next Day takes us through rock Bowie, experimental Bowie, introspective Bowie and any other you can name as the icon basks in the present while celebrating his past, reminding us that there is still very much a Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke and Aladdin Sane left inside us, and more important, the man himself.

Best Tracks: Where Are We Now?/Valentine’s Day/Dancing Out In Space

21. Government Plates- Death Grips

For those who have yet to experience the ear splitting sound of experimental electronic trio Death Grips, the band is perhaps best described as a chaotic electronic fusion of punk rock and hip hop beats, all under the guise of menacing synth noise. If that all sounds a bit much, that’s exactly how it’s meant to be; Death Grips want to overwhelm you with their trademark madness, and this innovative style has already seen its influence grow over the past year with many pointing to one of 2013’s standout records, Yeezus, as a prime example.

Government Plates shows no signs of slowing down with fresh supply of another 11 lightening quick, hard-hitting tracks that aim to melt your brain in somewhat similar fashion to Richard D. James’ Aphex Twin or Venetian Snares, with a slightly more structured, focused personality than the aforementioned. Govermement Plates fluctuates between frantic wall of noise attacks featuring repeated rap interludes, best exemplified by the likes of opener ‘’You Might Think He…’’, centrepiece ‘’This Is Violence Now’’ and lengthy bombastic closer ‘’Whatever I Want’’. There are softer soundscapes here though, to be grasped upon for breath by the listener with ‘’Birds’’ and ‘’I’m Overflow’’ representing the (somewhat) more subdued side of the group.

All of this combines to form another eccentric, explosive release from one of the most exciting young acts in electronic music today.

Best Tracks: This Is Violence Now (Don’t Get Me Wrong)/Birds/Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)

Next: 20-16

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

HMM Presents: The Best Of 2013- Track Of The Year

Over the next week, I'll be uploading several pieces on the year in music as I count down to the very first issue of Heavy Metal Mouth magazine. The online magazine edition of HMM will be an end of year annual focusing on the greatest music of 2013 and you will be able to access it before next Tuesday, 24th December. Expect plenty of artists to be named that have already been featured on the website this year as well as many more as I unveil the 25 best albums of the past 12 months. I hope that the expansive nature of this list in contrast to one year ago demonstrates the progress that has been made at HMM over the year.

To kick things off, here are my top ten tracks of the year.

10. Control/BET Awards Cypher 2013- Kendrick Lamar

Technically, neither of these songs belonged to Kendrick Lamar. ''Control'' was a Big Sean track while the BET Awards Cypher featured the entire Top Dawg Entertainment roster freestyling over the classic backing beat of ''Shook Ones Part 2''. But technicalities went out the window when Kendrick stepped to the mic on each, because quite simply, he owned them. From the rage fuelled, egomanical, Tupac inspired verse on ''Control'' that saw the Compton star declare himself king of the game and name drop every single rapper he saw as a competitor (sparking a war online that recalled the greatest days of rap as those who were named responded in turn ,while those who weren't responded anyway, attempting to prove their right to inclusion on Kendrick's list), to another hard-hitting lyrical masterpiece at the BET Awards that served to reaffirm his dominant status, 2013 saw Kendrick remain firmly in the spotlight due to the sheer power and intensity of his rap skill on a selection of outrageous guest features (for more, see ''Nosetalgia'' by Pusha T or another track further down this list). Now just imagine what could happen on another whole album.

9. Bound 2- Kanye West

2013 saw more talk about Yeezus' third single's music video than the song itself, a rarity in itself these days. Ye riding on a motorbike with Kim Kardashian at the helm to a green screened sunset backdrop was both lauded and laughed at, but the one thing that Kanye craves most is attention, and aided by an excellent parody by James Franco and Seth Rogen, he certainly succeeded. It would be totally wrong to forget the song itself though; falling in at the end of Kanye's frightening electronic nightmare on Yeezus, ''Bound 2'' seemed to be the Chicago born rap star telling his old school fans he was still there for them, with a College Dropout styled soul sample and passionate delivery that made it such a universally acclaimed finish to West's stunning sixth album.

8. Reflektor- The Arcade Fire

The title track and opener to Arcade Fire's 4th album instantly demonstrated the influence of LCD Soundsystem retiree James Murphy in the most glorious manner possible as the Canadian collective swaggered through an irresistibly funky 7 minutes, during which David Bowie stopped by for the tiniest of cameos and the band announced their return in style, opening the door to another journey that reminded us so well of the incredible power of The Arcade Fire and their epic, life-affirming masterpieces.

7. Instant Crush- Daft Punk

The obvious choice here is 2013's mega dance hit ''Get Lucky'', probably the biggest single of the year, but Daft Punk have never been about the singles and digging deeper into the French duo's albums is always rewarded with more understated classics. A long, long awaited return was marked with an album of incredible funk music that rearranged the band's electronic elements and made incredible use of a wide variety genres. On ''Instant Crush'', Julian Casablancas helped to deliver an indie dance tune that recalled both the finest work of The Strokes and smaller Punk hits, coming off somewhere between ''12:51'' and ''Digital Love'' in an emotive, yet undeniably infectious love song.

6. Rusty- Tyler, The Creator (Feat. Domo Genesis & Earl Sweatshirt)

Those of you who've followed Tyler's career over the past 5 years (and maybe even those who haven't) will be more than aware of the incredible controversy and opposition the rapper has provoked- from feminist rights groups to law enforcement and even Earl Sweatshirt's mom, Tyler's brand of shock value comedy has been criticised heavily, but his third studio album this year saw the 23 year old finally starting to mature. On ''Rusty'', the most representative song of this unprecedented growth, Tyler raps is best ever verse wit a scathing attack on all of those who ever doubted, dissed or dared to face him, accompanied by some of Odd Future's finest talent over an old school beat produced by the rapper himself.

5. Mirrors- Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake's return to the music industry saw him produce his best ever work as he expanded his repertoire in unexpected yet totally logical ways while maintaining the image and style that saw him originally develop into one of the world's most popular artists. ''Mirrors'' is the ultimate representation of The 20/20 Experience, retaining Timberlake's pop sensibilities and radio/chart presence wile also providing a textured, multi-layered electro love song that instantly stands alongside ''Cry Me A River'' and other classic, significant modern pop classics.

4. 1 Train- A$AP Rocky (Feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big K.R.I.T)

1 Train is one of the most significant songs of the year not only because of it's immediate greatness (first second to last is an undiluted, raw rap attack courtesy of the some of the finest young talent in the world right now) but also for its soon to be realised context and legacy, as the cast of this 6 minute braggadocio classic go on to achieve greatness over the next decade. A$AP assembled a crew of the most exciting MC's in the game for ''1 Train'' and for evidence of eaches skill you need look no further than this, the best straight up, old school hip hop song of the year.

3. I Wanna Be Yours- Arctic Monkeys

You'd probably be more likely to go automatically towards ''Do I Wanna Know?'' or ''R U Mine?'' when picking from Arctic Monkey's exceptional fifth effort AM, but the real merit and craftsmanship of this album lies in its final track, as Alex Turner takes the mundanity of daily British life and turns it into something more beautiful and extraordinary, detailing his devotion to a potential love through a series of witty yet totally sincere metaphors.It's a fittingly wonderful closer to to the album, and one of the most affecting pieces of songwriting that the charismatic frontman has ever put to paper.

2. Hold On, We're Going Home- Drake (Feat. Majid Jordan)

Drake said that ''Hold On'' was him and long time production partner Noah 40 Shebib ''humbly attempting'' to channel Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones as they crafted a song designed to be worthy of wedding dances a decade from now. Perhaps he need not be so humble in future; the result is a stunning romantic ode that is set to stand the test of time much in the same manner as classics by pop icons like Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Prince before it. ''Hold On, We're Going Home'' is Drake defined, and a showcase for the reason behind the Canadian's continued dominance in the music world right now.

Serious credit is also due to Arctic Monkey's for their skillful cover of the original, which introduced the ballad to another society of listeners. Check out the video in Radio 1's Live Lounge for stone cold evidence of Alex Turner's transformation to sex god from the spotty teenager who first introduced the band in ''I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor''.

1. New Slaves- Kanye West (Feat. Frank Ocean)

Yeezus contained any amount of jaw dropping moments that grabbed hold of the listener and shook them where they stood, right from the opening wall of noise of what felt like a thousand filthy synthesisers crushing down upon you on ''In Sight'' to the soul sampling beauty of the aforementioned closer ''Bound 2'', but none came as incredible, drop dead gorgeous and mesmerising as the climax of ''New Slaves''.

Following two verses of relentless, furious rapping from Ye (the second of which he declared to be ''the best rap verse of all time'' in typical fashion) the song explodes in a wave of bliss that's carried home by Frank Ocean's angelic, spellbinding vocal. A finer sound I haven't heard this year, or perhaps even since... Well, since the same guy dropped ''Runaway'' three years ago. You're probably sick of hearing it (from the man himself, let alone the rest of us) but there's just no escaping it; Kanye is king.

Y'all can't fuck with Ye.

Next: Album Of The Year 25-21

Monday, 2 December 2013

''The Marshall Mathers LP 2'' Eminem- A Review

It's been such a long time since the real Slim Shady stood up that the general consensus seems to be he never will again. The last few years have proven as much with the disastrous Relapse and distinctly average Recovery exposing the loss of spark and energy that created the persona responsible for two of the greatest albums in hip-hop history. As tough as it is to swallow, the fact is we are never going to experience the like of Eminem's original trio of releases again, and to wallow in his previous success would only totally destroy your enjoyment of the rapper these days. So is it possible for Eminem to ever repeat his success? Absolutely not. But is Eminem still capable of creating great rap music? Well, that's a different question, and one that is set to be resolved near definitively with The Marshall Mathers LP 2, an album that sees Em attempting to find old form in his past self by revisiting his arguably greatest album and drawing from those same themes, images and sometimes even lines.

''Bad Guy'' gets LP2 underway in style with a menacing continuation of ''Stan'' that sees the protagonists little brother all grown up and out for revenge, before another LP1 classic ''Criminal'' is picked up in the short skit ''Parking Lot'', with Em clearly eager to remind his audience of past glories and use them to his advantage. It's perhaps a clever strategy, because the first time the rapper strays from the LP1 sound on ''Rhyme Or Reason'' he's found on uneven territory, delivering exciting, hate fuelled verses toward his absent father that are ultimately compromised by a clumsily executed sample which falls flat on its face at the hook. In contrast, ''So Much Better'' is the first song on the album that sounds as though it actually could have been lifted from the original album, with an old school beat and message that make it a definite highlight. Another midsection standout is the emotive ''Legacy'', a passionate meditation on Mather's influence on the rap world that almost fools you into believing that LP2 is about to surge into true form, but before you get carried away there's a series of unfortunate tracks set to cloud your mind with doubts again.

''Survival'' is another questionable production choice that interferes with Em's delivery skills, making for a strange single alongside the equally weak ''Bezerk'', two easily passable songs in the context of the overall tracklist. While he may feel differently himself, the use of guitars to back up the rapper is simply not a good fit. ''Asshole'' is perhaps the epitome of LP2's mediocrity, with a frankly annoying hook from Skylar Grey, a woefully chosen guest, which recalls past low points. All of the above examples point to the most frustrating element at the heart of this record; the fact that so many tracks feature Eminem rapping his most passionate verses in years, but over awkward, average and unsuitable backgrounds.

When things are going okay music wise, LP2 is capable of producing stronger tracks; ''Brainless'' is the exact type of rap you wish Eminem could lay down 14 times in a row nowadays, proving alongside ''So Much Better'', that while repeating stories and lines is a hit and miss process, reverting to production basics is a foolproof success. There are some nice backing tracks aside from typical Dre style beats however, with ''Stronger Than I Was'' providing a gentle piano and soft marching drums to ease the listener into Eminem's tale of Kim's reaction to her shockingly violent eponymous track on LP1. Similarly accessible is Em's reunion with Rihanna on ''The Monster'', a collaboration that makes financial sense considering the outrageous popularity of ''Love The Way You Lie'', both a commercial and critical success for the pair in 2010. While this sounds just as chart ready, it's severely lacking in the depth of meaning that made its predecessor such a triumph, and comes off as one for the label executives or for casual fans of both artists.

If there's one aspect of Eminem's ability left that can go completely unquestioned however, it's technical skill, which he exhibits in spades on album centerpiece ''Rap God'', dropping ryhmes in breackneck speed throughout, in particular during an outrageous midsection which boasts a stunning 6 per second word count, proving Mathers worthy of his self appointed title. It's roughly this far into the record 14 tracks that you begin to realize LP2 is never going to hit a run of form; you can't name three faultless songs in a row. Unlike its predecessor which mercilessly grabbed hold and never let go, the only consistent thing about 2 is its inconsistency- you can nearly see a pattern of hit, miss and hit all the way to the finalale.

''So Far'' is another better moment, featuring Em rapping playfully over a selection of instrumentals, briefly including some familiar classic samples, while the long awaited collaboration betweek Em and Kendrick on ''Love Game'' is shocking, but for reasons you may not expect. A strangely goofy track that borders on the absurd at times, this may be an enjoyable, eccentric beat on the surface but the sad fact is that it misuses the talents of both artists and Kendrick has not benefitted from associating with Mathers at this point, with ''Love Game'' easily the weakest output from the young rapper in the last 2 years. The presence of Nate Ruess, the excruciatingly whiny frontman of that  fun., is enough of a reason to avoid ''Headlights'', but if nothing else at least Em has something new to say about his Mother, documenting his reconciliation with her rather than abusing her for a change. Still it's another candidate for the worst song on the album and again this is due to a poorly selected guest. ''Evil Twin'' brings LP2 to a close on a strong note, finding Em in a braggadocio mood as he spits lines like ''Fuck top five, bitch, I'm top four/And that includes Biggie and Pac, whore, and I got an Evil Twin/So who the fuck do you think that third and that fourth spot's for''.

And so another decidedly uneven journey with Marshall Mathers comes to an end. Ultimately, it's probably true that this is the rappers best record since he returned in 2009, but that's a near meaningless statement in reality; all it goes to show is how disappointing Mathers has been the past 4 years. You'd be forgiven for believing that the title of this album is a brave choice, one that invites comparison with his earlier undisputed classic, but the sad truth is that Eminem just needed to give his fans a reason to listen. Perhaps he may be waning in power but he's no fool; Mathers is acutely aware of the fact that he can't recapture lightening in a bottle, and so the next best thing he can do is to remind listeners why they loved him in the first place. It's maybe somewhat understandable then that reactions to LP2 have been a tad exaggerated; nostalgia is a strong aphrodisiac.

In a year when Eminem has been effortlessly brushed aside by better releases from those he helped create (Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler The Creator, Danny Brown, A$AP Rocky, Chance The Rapper), you have to wonder how many more times he's going to hurt his reputation by giving us further sub-par albums. The only way is downward from here; it seems an impossibility that Eminem will ever create another album worthy of Slim Shady, and the best course of action, at least for this fan, is to call time on a career that has revolutionized rap music and allow us to bask in the legacy of the one of hip-hop's greatest artists, rather than continue to taint it with further mediocrity.