1. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2


Hip-hop has been undergoing something of an image shift over the past few years. Kanye West might be to blame, his verbiose and hopeful rhyming sitting quite comfortably with his 808 loving MOR listeners. Or maybe it’s the inimitable Jay-Z, lazy and limp in his old age (the excellent Black Album excepted), supporting Coldplay of all people.

But whatever your opinion on the reasons behind it, fact is that there hasn’t been a really gritty rap album released since, oh, Clipse’s coke–hop masterpiece Hell Hath No Fury. That all changed earlier this year, though, as (Chef) Raekwon, arguably the most talented of all the Wu-Tang collective, releases the highly anticipated Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt II.

Given that the first edition of OB4CL was rightly revered as one of the all time great hip hop records – alongside other Wu creations such as 36 Chambers and GZA’s Liquid Swords – expectations have been high. And for once, the hype is nearly completely justified. Clocking in at a rather bloated looking 77 minutes and 24 tracks merely disguises that almost all of OB4CLII is gold plated.

Soul tinged opener ‘Return of the North Star’ eases the listener in, Rae listening to advice from a sage voiced father figure, before the album proper kicks in with the J-Dilla (the much missed producer seems to be overtaking the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur in terms of output from beyond the grave) produced ‘House of Flying Daggers’, a mean statement of intent that marches forward on frantic strings. The lyrics are typical Wu Tang fodder, at once flowing and scatterbrained, the four MCs tag teaming about drug dealing, gang warfare and rap potency. But it’s left to Inspectah Deck to sum up the point best “See the murals on the project walls/ won’t stop till I got them all” before a potent chanted chorus kicks in: “Soldiers in the front/Let the heat pump/Troops on the left/fight to the death/Fam on the right/Infra red lights/Wolves in the back/Ready to attack”.

It sets the bar high, and if what follows rarely outjumps such a potent statement, it never dips significantly below. ‘Sonny’s Missing’ recants a storyline of drugs, murder and torture straight out of The Wire in brutal detail, only for ‘Cold Outside’ to hit with a lethal dose of pathos, borrowing a broken mariachi trumpet hook and a warm soul vocal to match it’s mournful paean to hood life: “Real life stories is made/And candles got blazed for little young soldiers/shot by them strays”.

Those two tracks demonstrate why OB4CLII’s is a lyrical success – Rae might lace his lyrics with bragging stories of stick-ups, murders and drug deals, but he’s a storyteller with enough nous to divert from his theme once in a while. As such ‘Gihad’ opens with the Chef railing against vintage clothing and half moon specs, before Ghostface Killah adds some hilarious rasping filth about screwing around with his buddy’s girlfriend who “take a dick like a ribeye steak”. And of course, Rae gets a little teary eyed during a lovelorn tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard in ‘Ason Jones’:“An’ now I understand the meaning of love/When I kissed the nigger.

But that lyrical versatility is only half the story. It’s the often perfect synthesis between lyrical content and production on OB4CLII that makes the album simply sublime. It’s all the more impressive given the vast array of contributors behind the desk. Raekwon’s own work, a thundering string section riff on ‘Canal St’ more than holds it’s own against the RZA’s eerily synth laden ‘Black Mozart’ or Dr. Dre’s steel drum powered ‘Catalina’.

I could go on, dissect every track piece by piece like the forensic investigators described in ‘Surgical Gloves’, but there really isn’t any need. OB4CLII is quite simply one of the best rap records released this decade: literate, funny, dark, evocative and meaningful all at once. Perhaps the best measure of its strength is in how deeply I; a middle class white boy, am prepared to listen to every word involved. And when Rae asks me to ‘Kiss The Ring’, you know what, I just might. He’s earned it.

2. Gallows – Grey Britain

gallows grey britain

When Frank Carter speaks, screams and sings, he doesn’t bullshit. With his band, Gallows, the heavily tattooed geezer has spent the past few years in a spin of magazine hype, critical acclaim and blistering live performances (sometimes with all but the drummer ending up in the crowd). Their debut, 2006’s Orchestra of Wolves, may have placed the band’s foot in the door of international hardcore, but it’s now time for the band’s sophomore, Grey Britain, to kick the door down and trash everything in sight. This is no second album slump by any stretch of the imagination. Grey Britain takes every positive attribute one associates with Gallows as a band, broadens its horizons and establishes a full progression upon it – literally to the point that it’s scary.
If the above quote hasn’t entirely assisted you in grasping Grey Britain’s concept, you’ll be swiftly be pointed in the right direction the second Carter cracks open his lips and commences his tirade. “We have no fear! We have no pity! We hate you! We hate this city!”, he sneers cynically on “London is the Reason”, before chanting those very words in gang vocals. The lyrics continue in a similarly anarchic tone throughout the record, centralising around the demise of the world around us (in particular, the band’s native U.K.). “We are the rats and we run this town”, explains Carter in “London…”s opening lyrics, before commanding “If the horses don’t drink, drown them in the water” on “The Vulture (Acts I & II)” and “Drag your crosses through the ground!” on “Death Voices” (which itself alludes to the coming of the Four Horsemen). The role that Frank’s lyrics plays in Grey Britainappears to be one of a ringleader, calling to arms anyone who is revolted by the way things are. One could even argue that Grey Britain stands as the first aggressively political record of the post-Bush era. There’s certainly enough lyrically to support such a statement.

The rest of the band sound just as merciless and volatile through their instruments, without resorting entirely to down-tuned chugging, or even lapsing into the generic “aggressive white boy” guitar and drums attack that plagues so much hardcore that strives for legitimacy. Everything from the duelling guitar licks of Steph Carter and Lags Barnard to Lee Barratt’s tight, militant drumming emphasises the lyrical convictions and statements. Take the chameleonic shift from Act I to Act II of “The Vulture” as a prime example. The former introduces itself with echoing acoustic guitar and Frank quietly (and – shockingly enough – very capably) singing the disturbing lyrics. The latter completely transforms into a chaotic, distorted thrash, with the vocals becoming tortured, desperate screams. The lyrics remain the same in both acts, but the emotions conveyed could not vary any further.

Whilst the band is as solid as ever, it’s the little musical differences in comparison to Orchestra of Wolves that boosts the record’s soundscape. From the sinister intro of “The Riverbank” to the sweeping outro of “Crucif*cks”, the album’s underbelly is spattered with subtle, haunting orchestration, piano-led interludes and sounds that could have been taken from any London backstreet (siren wails, pig squeals, muted screams etc) that add to the album’s bleakness in a daringly theatrical fashion. It may not seem noteworthy, but in the context of Grey Britain it amalgamates the sound of the album with its daunting themes and concept.

Gallows, as a band, have become less raw (which some may see as a drawback), but have become far more cohesive and focused in the process- which is, really, difficult to see as anything but beneficial. The quintet has established a persona that doesn’t give a shit about you, your government or NME’s cool list. This is an apocalyptic, relentless and uncompromising portrayal of where we stand in the world, and just what’s gone wrong. No gimmicks, no transparency, no Obama coattails- just straight up hardcore punk with a new sense of purpose.

3. The Aggrolites – IV


“The group’s upbeat, soul-infused reggae attack puts the rock back in rocksteady. Mixing ska, Motown and punk-rock energy with Jamaican rhythm, The Aggrolites tear it up with the intensity of The Clash and the heart of the Caribbean.” – Ink Magazine (February 2009).

The Aggrolites are more than a band they are a movement unto themselves. They carry a banner – one created with their own hands. This banner reads, “Dirty Reggae,” and represents their signature fusion of reggae, soul, grit and determination. For seven magnificent years, this dirty reggae bunch has rolled from city to city, across the pond and up main street USA. They rally the kids, the parents, the students, the cops, the bosses and the drifters. The people come, they relish in The Aggrolites, the dirty reggae and the joy that comes with it all. The liberating rhythms and catchy grooves demand a return trip.

Out of the Los Angeles school of hard knocks, The Aggrolites have earned a Ph.D in “feel good music.” On the road they educate with the thunder and punch of the reggae drums and bass, the ripping, soulful melodies of the organ and guitars, and Jesse Wagner’s voice – a gift from the heavens, a perfectly intact gift from Otis, Sam, Ray and Wilson.

The Aggrolites have a specific way of making music. They don’t over think it, they don’t obsess over pop culture demands, they walk onto a stage or into a recording studio and let “it” happen – a culmination of inspiration – from the road, from playing along side music legends, and from the energy and motivation of their die hard fans. A new album is due for release in June 2009 and they call it IV. It is a definitive chapter in The Aggrolites journey with 21 tracks; each one a story of their struggle to thrive and their quest to spread soulful music around the globe.

So, when you are in the mood to drop your troubles and kick your baggage to the curb, call on The Aggrolites. Forget yourself and feel the dirty reggae!

The Aggrolites are Jesse Wagner (vocals, lead guitar), Brian Dixon (rhythm guitar), Roger Rivas (organ) and Jeff Roffredo (bass).

They have three full-length albums to their credit — Dirty Reggae (Axe 2003), The Aggrolites (Hellcat 2006) and Reggae Hit L.A. (Hellcat 2007), featuring the hit “Free Time.” “A glorious, surprising treat. Ideal for your next soul shakedown party,” raved Peter Relic from Rolling Stone about Reggae Hit L.A.

Their songs are featured on the 2008 Vans Warped Tour Compilation and numerous Give ‘Em The Boot compilations on Hellcat. In 2007, the band also collaborated with Rancid front-man Tim Armstrong on his solo A Poet’s Life (Hellcat 2007) CD/DVD release.

The Aggrolites are well represented in film, television and video games. Their songs have been featured in NBC’s Friday Night Lights, MTV’s The Hills, Nick Jr.’s Yo Gabba Gabba, USA’s Dr. Steve-O, MavTV’s Rad Girls, the award-winning surf film The Pursuit, and Australian video game Cricket. The Aggros-backed, Tim Armstrong and Skye Sweetnam duet, “Into Action,” is featured in Dream Works Pictures’ Hotel For Dogs. Their renditions of The Specials’ “Ghost Town” and Musical Youth’s “Pass The Dutchie” will be heard in the upcoming teen surf comedy Endless Bummer, and “Free Time” will be in Walden Media’s musical-romantic comedy Band Slam.

The Aggrolites have shared the stage with Social Distortion, Madness, Rancid, Flogging Molly, 311, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Dropkick Murphys, The Vandals, Against Me!, The Aquabats, Hepcat, The Skatalites, Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan. They have graced the stages at such notable events as Vans Warped Tour, SXSW, Bumbershoot, CMJ, Sundance Film Festival, L.A. Film Fest, Sunset Junction, Detour Music Fest, KROQ’s Weenie Roast, 94/9 Independence Jam and Ragga Muffins Fest. In 2009, they will add Coachella and Lowlands to this growing festival list.

4. Dinosaur Jr – Farm


Beyond, the first album to feature the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup since their 1980s heyday, was so surprisingly good it was tempting to call it a fluke. Tempting, but wrong– two years after its release, it still sounds great, on par with the early, hallowed triumvirate of Dinosaur, You’re Living All Over Me, and Bug. For any cynics still chalking Beyond up to luck, Farm should blast the scales from your jaded eyes. Energetic, confident, and catchy, it’s even more compelling than Beyond.

It certainly boasts more stick-in-your-head tunes than Beyond, or virtually any other Dinosaur Jr. album. Who knows why J Mascis writes better songs when Lou Barlow and Murph are around– maybe there’s something to the old cliché of “chemistry,” maybe the pair just know how to push his tunes from solid up to stellar. But whatever creates this spark, it’s spurred Mascis to pack Farm with riff-heavy slacker classics that rival past gems like “Little Fury Things” and “Freak Scene”. Opener “Pieces” is a vintage display of Dinosaur Jr.’s knack for grafting unruly riffage to unabashedly bittersweet choruses. The lumbering “I Want You to Know” follows with chunky chords that sound both heavy and bright. As David Raposa pointed out in his recent track review, the tune is impressively assured, as if Mascis has shed the need to add an apologetic tone to his guitar anthems.

But even when Mascis is lyrically mopey, the music pulls this sad sack up off the couch. Take the caffeinated chug of slacker-self-help guide “Over It”. “Can I make it here?/ Get over it,” Mascis tells himself. “I’ve been feeling weird/ Get over it… I’ve been on the fence/ Now it’s making sense I see.” Even better is the pity-filled “Plans”. The man who Thurston Moore imagined as Slacker President in Sonic Youth’s “Teen Age Riot” moans about pain, loss, and apathy– “I’ve got nothing left to be/ Do you have some plans for me?” But the music’s adrenalized bounce makes his misery more sweet than sad. In Farm’s world, a good melody cures all ills.

As catchy and well-crafted as these songs are, they never feel restricted or overly polished. Each track is given room to grow, stretching into extended intros, impulsive solos, and oft-repeated verses. The result is both shapely and sprawling, like the mossy cartoon characters on the album cover. The aching “Said the People” seems to climax with Mascis’ crying solo in the middle, but then spreads out into another great three minutes. “I Don’t Wanna Go There” sprawls into fuzzy detonations, like a mellowed version of Bug’s noise-bomb “Don’t”. And Barlow approaches his two excellent songs with similar openness, hitting especially hard on the dark “Your Weather”.

With Farm coming out around the same time as the first installment in Neil Young’sArchives project, it’s tempting to make a grand statement about Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. as heirs to the Young and Crazy Horse throne. Young’s genius is pretty inimitable, but there is something about this band– the way they mix noisy guitar and punk-ish slam with sugared melodies and faded choruses– that’s Young-worthy. And as long as J, Lou, and Murph keep shooting as high as Farm, they’ll end up with the kind of discography worth buying over and over again.

5. SID – Angels And The Outsiders


During my mid year holiday in Bali, I stumbled across a punk bar which led me to this 3 piece band, Superman Is Dead (thanks to the bar staff for the free shots of Jungle Juice). SID’s a cool indo band with catchy riffs and melodies, and out with a new album. I guess try to envision, the raw energy of NOFX vs Social Distortion, supersonically fueled with beer-soaked Balinese Rockabilly attitude, I’ve labelled it ‘Rock-A-Bali’ (haha, lame!) . Fun sounds and reminders of good times, sun, surf, monkeys, cheap massages, Bintang, mushy shakes, and the squirts.

Hope you’ve brushed up on your Indonesian:

Album Ke tujuh dari Bali Finest punk rock band! Yup, Superman Is Dead (SID) kembali lagi dengan Angels & The Outsiders.
Lalu “menu special” apa yang ditawarkan oleh SID lewat album barunya ini? Dari 15 lagu yang terdapat di album ini, jujur saja, saya merasa tidak ada yang special. ‘Masih’ SID banget. Kecuali pada lagu-lagu yang berjudul Kuat Kita Bersinar, JIka Kami Bersama, Luka Indonesia, The Days Of A Father dan Nights Of The Lonely serta Memories Of Rose. SID berhasil membuktikan kalau mereka bisa bermain di luar daerah ‘kekuasaan’ mereka. Masih terdengar aura Social Distortioan, The Living End, Ramones, bahkan Mighty-Mighty Bosstones. Namun SID mengemasnya dengan cukup sempurna.
Ok kurang lebihnya seperti ini, pada lagu Kuat Kita Bersinar. Mereka mengajak anak-anak panti asuhan untuk bernyanyi bersama yang juga di temani suara dentingan indah piano jazz. Lalu di lagu Jika Kami Bersama, mereka berkolaborasi dengan salah satu band paling berpengaruh dari kota Jogjakarta, Shaggy Dog (pada lagu inilah pengaruh Might-Mighty Bosstones terasa sekali). Dalam lagu Luka Indonesia membuktikan apabila kata Rockabilly pantas di ganti dengan kata-kata Rock-A-Bali. Oh ya, di lagu ini pun mereka memasukkan unsur alat tradisional Bali. Cool! Penambahan alat musik violin di lagu Nights Of The Lonely memberikan sparks yang cukup bagus untuk lagu tersebut. Berjalan di gurun pasir Mexico yang panas, dengan sebotol tequilaserta di temani oleh Mike Ness (vokalis band Social Distortion) seperti merepresentasikan lagu berjudul Memories Of Love. The Days Of A Father (menurut saya) menjadi lagu yang palingthick, heavy serta neat dalam album ini. Aransemen serta soundsnya Top knotch!.
Satu hal yang sepertinya menjadi nilai plus untuk SID adalah, setiap lagu yang terdapat dalam album-album mereka, hampir 99% liriknya bernafaskan sing a long. Salut!