Book Reviews: Black Box Thinking

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“In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… in the real world all rests on perseverance.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What are the two things that all successful women and men have in abundance? Ideas and perseverance by the bucket load.

When you’re considered the best in class and you hit a brick wall it takes a little more than doing what you’ve always done to cross the finish line. The idea of marginal gains is at a first a foreign one especially for the more recent generations – the Millennials and Generation Z.

In a world where everything is geared toward instant gratification Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed takes us back to the basics. The idea od marginal gains requires that one demonstrates superior levels of patience, as does the concept of Black Box Thinking.

When a tragic plane crash occurs it takes patiently scouring through heaps of debris and analysing mounts of black box data in order to piece together a full picture of events in chronological order.

The idea of painstakingly analysing plane crashes is not to point the finger of blame but rather to point in a direction that may bring about change. It’s all about making sure that we don’t repeat our errors. When there are hundreds of lives on the line the stakes are as high as could be and that requires thinking outside the box.

These very same ideas practised in industries such as aviation, formula one and competitive cycling could be introduced into different fields. Join Matthew Syed in Black Box Thinking as he takes you through various different tragedies and challenges in various industries to show you how you could learn from them.

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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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.

Rudimental – Never Let You Go [Single Review]

Never Let You Go Single Cover
Never Let You Go Single Cover

Upon first audition, we admittedly fell in love with“Never let you go”. But, we also took the time to appreciate any significance that this song might carry. Whilst retaining a lot of the elements present in Rudimental’s debut album Home, this song hints towards a subtle progression as opposed to ‘the same old story’.

The Drum n Bass number is the leading single from the quartet’s upcoming sophomore album. The band promised previous collaborators John Newman and Ella Eyre, along with some supposed ‘legends’. So if this song is anything to go by, then we can’t wait to get our hands on this new album.

Rudimental – Home [Album Review]

Home Album Cover
Home Album Cover

Home is a Mercury Prize nominated, MOBO award winning, soundtrack inspiring and career-making album from the Hackney raised quartet. When Kesi Dryden was receiving a earful from his piano tutor for repeatedly forgetting his ‘book of rudiments’, who could have guessed that those moments would lead to one of the twenty-first century’s most eclectic bands.

Right from the get go, Rudimental’s Home manages to achieve a rather mellow vibe, whilst maintaining fluidity. Songs such as “Feel The Love” and “Waiting All Night” satisfy the need to fill that commercial front without ever feeling forced, whereas “Spoons” and “Hell Could Freeze” seem oblivious to such shallow pursuits.

Having featured some eleven different artists, the album is reflective of today’s somewhat splintered music industry. So it’s fitting that such a record would take five different record labels to make, in Black Butter Records and Warner Music UK, but to name a couple.

The album’s original run time of just over fifty six minutes is made even longer by the additional ten songs you get on the deluxe edition available on vinyl. Whilst this might prove to be too long for some, it’s time you won’t even notice due to the album’s listenability.

A cultured blend of different genres such as D&B, Break-beat, Jungle and Soul, amongst a few others, Home seems to achieve an oddly haphazard balance. The end result is a somewhat exhilarating rollercoaster of different influences and musical ideas. Something truly worthy a listen.

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! [Album Review]

Flying Lotus You're Dead Album Cover
Flying Lotus You’re Dead Album Cover

Between running Brainfeeder Records, scoring films and performing to sold out crowds at Coachella, it’s somewhat flabbergasting that Steve Ellison still finds time to release a full length studio album. Otherwise, known as Flying Lotus, the man has come a long way since first having his music featured on Adult Swim all those moons ago.

Maturity is perhaps the simplest word to use when describing the sound of one of Warp‘s most foremost composers and producers. In practice, however, you’ll find that it’s not that simple. Songs such as Never Catch Me however, encapsulate this maturity more so than others.

Whilst the constants throughout his career have always been down to his experimental nature, it is those very same experiments that have proven to be the variables. This is no were else as present as it is in Turkey Dog Coma, a Jazz laden medley. Thundercat’s bass fingerings are ever present in all the madness that this album has to offer. This provides a familiar element, which however is contrasted by the chanting vocals and tons of specious reverb.

Coronus, The Terminator is by definition, your quintessential Flying Lotus. But it also manages to bridge the gap between his earlier, more down-tempo works and his newer sound, which is more spacious and robust.

In a world where trends dominate mainstay pop culture, it takes something truly special in order to stand out from the crowd. This is a bit of a conundrum, seeing as any step away from the norm is always feared to alienate the majority of mainstream listeners. Once again, Flying Lotus somehow manages to expand his horizons whilst exercising the pulling power of featuring the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Hip Hop legend Snoop Dogg. You’re Dead is truly in a league, all of its own.

Boards of Canada – Hi Scores [EP Review]

boards of canada

With nearly 30 years in the music industry, the Scottish brothers known as Boards of Canada have become revered for their ambient music. Hard hitting drums are a present factor in most Boards of Canada releases and the introductory number and the title track Hi Scoresis no exception. With a real break-beat feel to it, the atmospheric and somewhat melancholic pad synthesizer provides a stark contrast.

Turquoise Hexagon Sun showcases a very gradual progression, and ever present is a drum break backed by an eerie pad combination, and interesting is the manner in which it has all been arranged. Whereas, Hi Scores was more formal in its arrangement, Turquiose Hexagon Sun oozes sophistication, with its background chatter samples.

Nlogax paints a different portrait with its use of a more upbeat drum arrangement, textured sounds and countless synth motifs. June 9th is by far the most upbeat song on this EP. Phase effects, synthesizers, and slightly metallic sounding drums provide the most progressive of musical backdrops. Motifs run in tandem whilst seemingly never clashing nor contradicting one another.

Whilst June 9th was more upbeat, Seeya Later is a more a laid back affair. The saturated drum sound gives it an 80s vibe, whilst the pad synths add a sense mystique. Everything You Do Is A Balloon ends the story just as it began, with a great sense of space and ambience.

Hi Scores encapsulates the essence of Boards of Cananda, and as such, is a more than worthwhile investment. In this EP we are treated to a certain degree of variety from ambient arrangements to more upbeat music.