Thundercat – It Is What It Is Album Review

Brainfeeder – 2020

The bass virtuoso takes a moment to remember life lost

On Thundercats fourth album, the big beat of past albums is often dropped in favour of a more melancholy tone, letting the music speak for itself whilst still keeping that classic comic Thundercat feel when it needs to. The follow up to critically acclaimed Drunk sees Thundercat realise he’s getting a little older, try and understand the new world around him and pay tribute to lost friend and collaborator Mac Miller.

Thundercats high octane musicianship has always been at the forefront of his playing and songwriting and is showcased on this album more than ever before. With flurries of Jazz breakdowns and jams sprinkled throughout, this album feels nostalgic and yet futuristic in the same moment.

The spacey instrumental passages within ‘Interstellar Love’ and ‘I Love Louis Cole’ showcase this unique ability of genre blending to create a sci-fi, jazz, hip-hop marriage of sounds that glides you through the astral plains of noise created within. Then suddenly landing back down on earth with the 70’s funk inspired ‘Black Qualls’ which features 3 high profile, but still lowkey features from Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington and Childish Gambino. A track inspired by trying to move on with your life but feeling the anxiety of the judgement of those you’ve left behind. The juxtaposed upbeat, walk down the street with a bounce groove and the agitated lyrics keep the sound feeling fresh but the theme of growing up stays consistent. “The box you try to throw me in don’t fit me no more, no, creative spirit talkin, creative spirit walkin”

Standout single ‘Dragonball Durag’ is bathed in classic Thundercat lyricism humour as Thundercat shows off his love for Dragon-ball. “Do you like my new whip? Watch me go zoom, zoom, Baby girl, how do I look in my durag? Would you tie the drapes?” A final uplifting moment of thumping bass, woozy guitar and a crisp saxophone solo thanks again to friend and frequent collaborator Kamasi Washington.

The final third of the album is a sombre ode to lost friend Mac Miller. ‘King Of The Hill’ one of the oldest tracks on the album, originally appearing on the Brainfeeder 10th anniversary compilation, shows Thundercats more retrospective side. “A king of the hill, Wasting his time, Chasing cheap thrills, He knows it’s gonna cost him, God knows how much”. The slow ballad of ‘Unrequited Love’ and chill lo-fi beats of ‘Fair Chance’ offer a more open expression of loss and the way Thundercat tries to deal with it. The smooth atmospheric Jazzy tones and progressions are delicate and emotion filled at the same time, Thundercat steps back from the forefront and lets the music express itself.

Whilst this album is only 37 minutes it encompasses a 15 track span and almost half of those are taken up by interluding jams and mini songs. On ‘Drunk’ these interludes offered a brief moment away from the singles. On this album however they often flow into one another creating a style of their own, but at times can saturate the album too much where a full song could have been placed or an extended jam as with the feel of this album.

That’s not to undermine the ever impressive musicianship and revival in funk jazz fusions that Thundercat has brought about in the past few years. And whilst this album might be one of the shortest in his catalogue, it still offers those moments of technical brilliance and songwriting eccentricity that we have come to know and love from Thundercat. It is what it is.

Sorry – 925 Album Review

Domino Recording Co. – 2020

This album has been a long time coming. And the wait has been worth every minute. Exploding onto the North London Windmill pub scene a few years ago, alongside fellow contemporaries Shame, Black Midi and Goat Girl to name a few, Sorry have spent the last few years trickling out banger after banger. Originally playing under the moniker ‘Fish’ until they realised that ex-lead singer of Marillion Derek Dick also went under the same name. Sorry quickly gained a loyal and loving following after they took the ’21st Century band sound’ and made it their own. With fusions of rock, indie, grunge, hip-hop, jazz, electronic and almost every other corner of the musical spectrum, their sound has been in constant flux. But one constant remained; the quality.

This album could be considered a greatest hits, as it brings together not only the prior released singles but also cuts that go as far back as the ‘Home Demo/ns’ mixtapes released in 2017. Although some of these songs have been around for a while, and will be recognised by many fans, they feel as fresh as ever. Opener ‘Right Round The Clock’, the first official single released from the album, is a heavy hitting, crunchy indie pop-rock narrative of the everyday 9 – 5 grind (see thats where they got the album title from, clever), something that many of us now stuck at home, desperately crave. Every instrument feels big and emotive and the catchy chorus is a marvel of their songwriting calibre.

Fan favourite ‘Starstruck’ and gets a slight spruce up with added effects textures and richer production that brings out their full potential. The glitchy vocals and ominous guitar riff culminate in a chorus that depicts the unease of the crowded party where every face is unknown and unwelcoming.

The pop song turned indie turned grunge turned Sorry is one of the bands specialties. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ and ‘Rosie’ have that big chorus and catchy melody of any top 10 hit, but infused with their signature alternative sound of distorted guitars and saxophone solos. “You’re pure silver, 925, honey I’d do anything just to feel alive”.

Where this album truly shines from a songwriting standpoint are the gentle croons of the songs ‘Snakes’ and ‘As The Sun Sets’. Featuring careful layers of samples, emotive lyrics and a reference to Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World’. Dropping the heavier sound of their past, this side of Sorry is newly embraced by the band but offers a platform to showcase their creative depth and capacity to embrace an ever changing sound.

Encapsulating the mind of the 21st century student, the track ‘More’ screams out its message in a series of blunt chorus’. “I want drugs and drugs and drugs and drugs”, “I wan’t it all, don’t give me too much”. The heavy beats of a racing heart and frantic riffs of a mind on edge show why Sorry are the new voice of a generation, that needs these escapes to forget the stress of modern life.

Being one of the oldest songs on the album ‘Ode To Boy’ had the challenge of getting translated from its raw form on the demo tapes to a full blown banger. Thanks to the help of co-producer James Dring (Gorillaz, Jamie T, Nilüfer Yanya) this transition was seamless. With carefully layered walls of sound, glistening synths and a big choir finale this track is rich with emotion; the modern lovers love song.

Closer ‘Lies’ is a re-fixed version of the previously released grunge heavy single, now adapted to add more scaled up sonic exploration. It still keeps the heavy hitting sound and intense riffs but adds more flavour in terms of production and keeps in with the flow of eerie sound samples and effects found throughout the album. The maturity and understanding of the music they want to create has come a long way, yet still keeps that spark of brilliance that gained them notoriety in the ever washed out indie world.

They may have broken their streak of just being a singles band and entered the big world of the album, but Sorry have proven that no matter what the task, they will always slap. Hard. They really are the perfect modern day band, and have soundtracked a youth that can often be pushed aside when trying to change the status quo. Well that’s exactly what this album does.

Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans Album Review

Text Records – 2020

It’s been 3 years since the release of Four Tets last full length album ‘New Energy’ which saw Kieran Hebden become a household favourite for many hardcore and casual electronic fans. With its dense and easily absorbed blends of house, techno and world music it became a staple of any ‘Indie music to chill to’ playlists. It also saw the Four Tet live experience become grander and reach new heights in terms of what an interactive live experience could be through the lighting instalment collaboration with Squidsoup

That doesn’t mean Hebden has been quiet in the studio. Last year he released the three track EP ‘Anna Painting’, a collaboration with painter Anna Liber Lewis in which the music and artwork were an inspiration for each other. A small teaser for what was to come.

On Kieran Hebdens 10th album under the Four Tet name, the club banger is often dropped in favour of a rich exploration of sound, taking elements of the world around him and creating one of his own.

The first quarter of the album is a flow of techno infused, beat heavy cuts that lean towards the more sample based and club orientated sounds that fans have come to know and love from Hebden. Opener ‘School’ clicks into action with the lo-fi beat favourite 808 drum machine, slowly adding layers of melodic synths, ambient textures and arpeggiated keys. It’s a classic Four Tet sound that ends as quickly as it started.

Lead single ‘Baby’, featuring a low-key vocal performance from Ellie Goulding, transitions through various stages, the simple beat and layered vocals that are found on many Four Tet cuts. Then gliding seamlessly into the ambient samples of birdsongs and drawn out synths, eventually grouping back together to fuse into a layered groove of melodies. The layers are taken away on ‘Harpsichord’ as the lead instrument from the tracks title takes centre stage, focusing more on the simple melodies and synth patterns.

The 3 track run of ‘Romantics’, ‘Love Salad’ and ‘Insect Near Piha Beach’ are shining examples of what makes Hebden a renowned producer. A Picasso of sound.

Each track reaches a euphoric high as each sound and movement is carefully picked and placed. A mixture of beats, clicks, samples, synths, disconnected voices and bird songs all flow gently through the air one after another as if racing to see which sounds can take the track in the next direction. ‘Romantics’ and ‘Insect Near Piha Beach’ bring back those bright and elegant dulcimer strings from ‘Two Thousand And Seventeen’ which shine through the mix like the sunlight through the trees of the cover.

The track ‘Something In The Sadness’ serves as the final flurry of techno glory before the album takes a breath and steps back. The glitchy arpeggios, pounding beat and rising synth strings don’t transition and change as much as some of their previous counterparts, keeping with a similar rhythm throughout, but offers a satisfying conclusion to the expeditious sounds of the first portion of the album.

The pounding beats and soft synths are taken away in favour of more ambient and earthly sounds as Hebden shows that he doesn’t need to rely on just the big bass to create a big sound.

Samples of birdsongs and water movements make their way back into the scene on a couple of the ‘transition’ tracks, layered with drawn out chords create a delicate infusion of the natural world and the digital sounds of modern life.

‘This Is For You’ and ‘Mama Teaches Sanskrit’ have a very Brian Eno essence around them as the slow gentle chords reach out into the world around them. It’s the album coming to the end of a journey and settling down after the frantic beats and dancehall grooves of the first few tracks.

In a time where we may all be feeling left very isolated, this album is the company that we all need. Calm, full of hope and full of the world around us. It may have not been intentional but Sixteen Oceans is a reminder there’s beauty out there waiting for us, when we’re ready to return.