New Project In The Works

So I’ve been compiling this project on and off for about a year and a half now. This will be an instrumental album or a beat tape for all you cool kids out there.

Why a ‘beat tape’ and and not a conventional vocal album? The reason is not all that compelling. Part of it is because I want to improve as a composer, writer and producer. The other part of it is because I sometimes find myself writing music that I kind quite set lyrics to.

Why I Write Music

The question “why do I write music?” can be easily answered with just a few words – “because I love to express myself.” But that’s no fun is it. So what I’m going to do instead is to briefly turn my family history, upbringing and personal tastes inside out in an effort to pinpoint some of the things that drive me.

For as long as I can remember I have always enjoyed listening to music. One of my fondest memories is  when I was around six years old sitting on a bus with my mother and both of us where singing along to K-Ci and JoJo’s All My Life without a care in the world.

Fast forward to the age of eleven and I was getting influenced by my older brother’s obsession with 2pac’s music. Around that time something clicked in me that caused me to pick up a pen and start writing lyrics over Changes by 2pac and thus began my love for writing lyrics.

Around the  time I started secondary school my family moved to Ashford, Middlesex where I met my dear childhood friend Luciano. This is also when I’d started dabbling in making instrumentals and recording my own music albeit using the most elementary studio equipment.

Unbeknownst to me Luciano was fortunate enough to have his own bedroom recording studio which was a massive step up from what I had to work with. This early collaboration helped us to grow as both friends and as musicians [he went on to score music for films.]

In my early teens my mother saw how passionate I was becoming about music and decided to pay for my first professional recording session in a garden shed recording studio in Hampton Court, London.

Despite it’s garden shed status this studio was fully kitted out. Going based on memory the studio was equipped with a multitrack mixing desk, some channels strips, compressors and mic amps. Even though I only had an one hour to work with I managed to get two songs recorded, edited and mixed with the help of my sound engineer.

These two songs were burned to a few CDs that somehow made their way around my school. I became somewhat of a school celebrity – I guess I must have enjoyed the attention as it only spurred on.

That same year I attended my first live performance in Central London in front some five hundred odd people. I remember forgetting one of my lyrics but my years of practice saved me as I quickly recovered and the crowd was none the wiser.

Around the age of sixteen the family decided to move to Basingstoke. This period between sitting my GCSEs and contemplating which course to study at college was very transformative for me.

Because family had moved whilst I was sitting my GCSEs and I had to stay behind and finished my studies. I briefly moved in with my aunt who lived in Slough.

The commute to my school in Ashford  was tedious. Everyday I had to take the number 81 bus from Slough to Hounslow and then the number 203 from Hounslow to Ashford Hospital where I’d then walk about ten minutes to get to school.

During this time I remember the visceral emotion of feeling conflicted. On the one hand I had the opportunity to move to a brand new town and meet new people but on the other hand I remember not wanting to lose my friends in Ashford.

Around this transitional period whenever I had some spare money – which was a rarity at this point – I bought myself some music. I remember buying a copy of Common’s Finding Forever. I had never really bought a Common album before this. It was this album that helped me navigate this “transformative period.”

One song in particular stood out for me – Forever Begins.  This was written as a tribute to the late great J Dilla, a close friend of Common. The song dealt with the emotion of loss and how to come to terms with such great change.

Fast forward a few years later and I was starting my studies at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford. This is where I really honed my craft as a songwriter, performer, sound engineer and as a producer. Yet when I graduated all I remember is this intense feeling of burnout.

It was around this time that mother told me how my Grandfather had been music teacher. Now that I look back I can’t help but wonder if there Is there a connection between my Grandfather’s profession and my love for music? I couldn’t answer that convincingly. However, in a roundabout way I guess one could make the connection between my grandfather influencing my mother into loving music and how me and my mother grew to share that same love for music years down the line.

All I can say is that when I first sense the makings of a new song ‘I feel alive.’ In stark contrast though whenever I finalise a project I feel rather empty. I feel as if music is something that I have to live and express in order to be fulfilled. It is an integral part of my identity.

The above is simply a brief glimpse into the events that have shaped and built me into the man I am today. In conclusion I’m almost certain that were it not for my family’s influence on me as a young man I wouldn’t have taken my love for music as far as I have.

Streaming Continues To Grow

IFPI Logo

This year Apple announced that it would stop supporting the iTunes app and replace it with three separate apps: Apple Music, Apple TV and Apple Podcasts. All three of these apps will most certainly be centred around one thing – the streaming of content.

As streaming continues to grow and gain in popularity physical sales and digital downloads continue their downward slide. Paid streaming services have grown by 32.9% whilst physical revenues have shrunk by 10.1% and download revenue has also shrunk by 21.2%s as reported by IFPI. In addition streaming revenue now makes up 46.8% of global revenue.

This year’s report by global music industry body IFPI follows a now predictable trend that has seen physical sales (largely comprised of CDs) and digital downloads decline as streaming continues in its upward surge.

Some of us are lucky enough to have grown up or at least witnessed multiple different media platforms. Growing up in our household one could find cassette tapes and CDs and if one were to visit my maternal grandparents home then they would also find an antiquated collection of Vinyl records.

The change from then to now is striking and it remains to be seen what tomorrow has to bring. Only time will tell.

How I Compiled My Debut Album Bittersweet

My debut album Bittersweet was released in September of 2018. On it are featured an array of songs that I had been hoarding for the past five or so years.

What took me so long to compile this album you may ask? Well life has a habit of getting in the way when you least expect it. The bulk of my songs were written whilst I was living in Mitcham, London between 2016 and 2017.

I’ve always found London to be very inspiring. There’s just so much going on there and you really have to run to keep up. That kind of energy either makes you or breaks you. In my case I like to think that it accomplished the former.

A few of the songs were written in Basingstoke, that’s right in good ol Hampshire. Having been born in the city (Harare) and having grown up not too far from there (Ashford, Surrey) I’ve always been a city boy but I’d be lying if I said I don’t have a soft spot for the countryside.

Whilst the madness that is London might have sparked a lot of the ideas that make up Bittersweet, Basingstoke allowed them to take shape and solidify into something releasable.

Danny Brown – When It Rain [Single Review]

Not too long ago news broke of rapper Danny Brown joining Warp’s roster. Apart of Flying Lotus, Warp is not traditionally known for associating itself with Rap or Hip Hop acts. And even the works and collaborations that Flying Lotus has produced on his own and in collaboration with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar (Never Catch Me) could hardly be called Hip Hop.

The first single to come from Brown is the offbeat anthem “When It Rain”. It’s an adrenalin charged dystopian plethora of weird yet wonderful sounds. It is only after listening to this song many times over, that you get somewhat of an understanding of how Brown will fit in perfectly with the bunch of misfits on Warp’s roster.

Sonically speaking, this song is very aspiring, with it’s drone like bass-line and piercing lead synth. All of these elements are glued together by a fairly prominent swing on the entire arrangement which manages to throw the listener off a bit. Brown’s high pitched rap always feels like it’s going to get ahead of the music, but instead he manages to mould himself perfectly into the arrangement as if almost effortlessly. It’s this perfect blend of uncanny eccentricity and an unmistakable sense of confidence that has gained him notoriety amongst critics and listeners alike.

Kanye West – No More Parties In L.A ft Kendrick Lamar [Single Review]

Kanye West - No More Parties In L.A

 

If there can only be one man in music with the ability to instantly perform a musical u-turn then that man can only be Kanye West. A follow up to the more sombre “Real Friends”, “No More Parties In L.A” is completely different, both musically and lyrically. This song perfectly encapsulates Kanye’s unpredictability. After his last album “Yeezus” which was more experimental than anything he’d ever done before, a traditional sample driven song such as the one we now find ourselves preoccupied with almost seems like a step backward.

The song samples significantly from ‘Suzie Thundertussy’ by Walter “Junie” Morrison. And whilst this Madlib produced song manages to retain some of the vibe from the sampled composition, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar’s efforts manage to create a unique atmosphere primarily driven by both energetic and witty verses.The two did away with the more traditional three verse structure or what some like to call the “pop format”. Instead they opted for two very long verses. Kanye West opening Kendrick Lamar’s verse with a couple of lines is reminiscent of the back to back rap verses from times past. But this is only momentary and Kendrick Lamar is quick to take over and perform the rest of his breath taking verse.

The unmistakable swing on the drums gives the entire arrangement a very old school feel. The way in which the kick and snare are slightly syncopated is very reminiscent of a J Dilla production. The irony of this is that the late great J Dilla was a frequent collaborator of Madlib’s, and they were both known for their very distinctive styles of production which relied on heavily swung drums. And almost as if to drive home the fact that this is indeed a signature Madlib production, there is a more than prominent vocal sample repeating in the background. The bass line is very present, and apart from glueing the song together, it’s also one of the driving factors. The drums are very subdued in comparison to aforementioned elements.

Kanye seems to focus his lyrical efforts on painting an image of transition.  The lyric “Thinking back to how I got here in the first place. Second class bxxches wouldn’t let me on first base” is very poignant, and could easily be construed as attempting to pander to the male ego. But look beneath the surface and it’s clear that this is undoubtably a reference to his great success and the disparity between his past, and his present. Or perhaps it really is just another attempt by Mr. West at reminding us of how he made it. However, whilst not often credited for his technical ability as a rapper, one cannot deny that Kanye has a way with words . Nowhere is this more evident than in the lyric “When did I become A list? I wasn’t even on a list”. That is further elaborating on the contrast between his going from being a fairly average Joe to being incredibly successful.

 

Roots Manuva – Bleeds [Album Review]

Roots Manuva Bleeds

Daily interviews and paparazzi harassment; such is the image evoked when one mentions the glamour and glory of the music industry. And then you have the underground side of things: years of mediocrity, wondering what could have been and a the younger generation who haven’t a clue who you are or why their Dad keeps raving on about someone who debuted some 10 years before their birth.

The latter is perhaps the closest thing to accurate when referring to one Roots Manuva. But to claim that this sentiment paints the entire picture would be an absolute injustice. The man has indeed been rather busy with the recent release of his 9th studio album Bleeds. When you’ve been actively releasing music for close to 20 years you run a real risk of becoming rather bland. The only other two options are finding a middle ground and hanging on for dear life or continually pushing the boundaries.

The lead single and Four Tet produced Facety 2:11 provides that aforementioned push of the boundaries. There’s a reason Roots Manuva has released every one of his albums exclusively through Big Dadda. One of the bigger British labels specialising in Hip Hop music but if only with a slight twist; Big Dada tends to work with artists who have found and mastered their niche, artists such as King Geedorah otherwise known as MF Doom. Me Up is a song that exemplifies this niche carving. With an eclectic soundscape not to be expected of your modern day Rap phenomenon, Roots Manuva complements this with his signature reggae inspired hooks.

If there is one qualm that I’m to pick from this album, then it’s the somewhat slim pickings. At ten songs long this release leaves you wanting a little bit more. Roots Manuva’s preceding album 2011’s 4everevolution, was a mammoth seventeen songs long. And not to mention 2010’s Duppy Writer was a fairly decent fourteen songs in all. Perhaps it’s for the best that Bleeds was kept short and sweet.

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Fallout 3 Soundtrack

Fall Out 3 Please Stand By
Fall Out 3 Please Stand By

One of the key ingredients that makes a brilliant video game idea such as Fall Out 3 into a timeless classic is the sound-engine behind it and it’s subsequent output. However, a special FX and algorithm based sound environment means naught if not for as emphatic and cinematic a soundtrack as that which is showcased in this legendary title. Every time I hear that main theme, in my mind I am instantly transported back into the wasteland, mid-battle a fight against some lowly raiders.

One of the key things that struck me about this particular soundtrack was the fact that it seemed to draw up the nostalgic feeling of a once great America. I can picture it now the revolutionary troops in red, blue and white fending off a foreign enemy. That is, until the inconceivable happened. And what what was left to remind the future generations of what once, is a blend of brass instruments backed by hits and big drum sounds.

What adds to the eerie yet immersive aura that this game evokes is the blend of 1940s big band and easy listening by the likes of The Ink Spots. The Ink who? I know what you’re thinking; you haven’t a clue who this group was. But trust me back in their heyday these guys were pretty big news.

The game’s main theme changes in demeanour, tempo and melody as your situation progresses into a fight to death between you and a highly irradiated mutated animal or the opposite ensues; as you emerge victorious, the music slows down again.

I believe that most gamers would agree when I say that the key ingredients of an effective video game soundtrack are melody, mood, emotion, tempo and of-course, well-constructed and functional algorithms. You could have the best visuals, a well constructed control mapping system, but if you lack the right sound environment backed by a killer soundtrack then you’ll fall just short of a good game, let alone a great one. I for one cannot wait to see or rather hear what Fall Out 4 has to offer in terms of sound and music.

Aphex Twin – Serge Fenix Rendered 2 – AFX [Single Review]

Aphex Twin - Serge Fenix Rendered 2

If there’s one thing that Aphex Twin has always been known for then it’s his ability to navigate multiple genres at once.

“Serge Fenix Rendered 2 – AFX” is Aphex Twin doing what he does best, which is to explore the soundscape and destroy any preconceived notion that you might have regarding ‘predictability’.

A pulsing synth remains a constant fixture throughout the song and it’s complemented by a strong drum track. This in turn is support by atmospheric pads that occasionally drop in and out making for a rather interesting listen.

Lapalux – Lustmore [Album Review]

Lapalux album cover
Lapalux album cover

For a man who got his big break as recently as 2012 through Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label with his two EPs in When You’re Gone and Some Other Time, Lapalux has rapidly built himself up to be a consistent producer. Having had his song “Make Money” featured on the GTA V soundtrack, the producer has a noteworthy follow up which comes to us in the form of his second album “Lustmore”.

In “Closure” we’re treated to a smooth R&B number with a ‘pinch’ of ambience. The resulting song capitulates what Lapalux’s sound is all about, and that’s constant change. Whilst “Midnight Peelers” is a natural progression from “Closure”, “Push N’ Spun” seems to expand upon the basic concepts behind those two songs. Around the midway mark all of the elements in this song heard throughout the interim, suddenly burst into life all at once.

“Puzzle” reconfirms the continual expansion of the artist’s vision. It’s a song built on a similar foundation to “Closure” but this time the vocal is subject to a lot more editing and effects. This song retains a live element in the form of a saxophone playing away in the back. In a sense, “Puzzle” is a song reminiscent of the early works of Flying Lotus.

At times, however, songs such as “Bud” seem to offer nothing refreshing. Whilst the melody is different, the textures and effects utilised in the song seem to fall directly in line with the themes of a number preceding songs. Whilst the song sounds repetitive, this ‘sameness’ shows consistency in Lapalux’s sound.

If ever there was a song written solely for synchronisation to film and television then “Don’t Mean A Thing” would be that song. The simple yet gripping melody is perhaps tainted by layers of ambience and effects. The result is a dark and alluring composition that would make a perfect companion for film.

With its melancholic aura “1004” appears to be the perfect song to usher in the end of an interesting, yet consistent album. “Make Money” is as far from being consistent with the album’s style as can be. It’s something you’d expect from producers such as Autechre or  Squarepusher, with all its glitches and imposing hi hats. “Funny Games” is soaked in reverb so much so that one can hardly make out what the singer is actually saying. But perhaps that’s the whole point.

Lustmore, whilst seemingly consistent, is filled with moments of sporadic and sudden changes in pace, all the while maintaining a dark aroma. If ever there was a perfect soundtrack album then this would be it.