Stones Throw Records is home to some of the most immaculate, off-the-wall producers and musicians that the industry has ever seen, but none are more abstract, more distant from the line of normality than Vex Ruffin. Ruffin has always been wiling to work for himself and learn from his mistakes as he explains on Stones Throw’s Artist Page, “Like most people in their twenties I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do until 2004 when I purchased the cheapest instrument I could find: a Boss 303 Sampler. With no formal training and just a D.I.Y. mentality, I got to work.”
Ruffin’s newest record, Conveyor is one of mystery and bitter intrigue. It makes the listener question just exactly what is being looped and replayed over and over, almost making Conveyor seem like an auditory journey through multiple genres of music. At moments, it feels like a midnight creep with paranoia, depression, and despair slowly encasing in over your shoulders; then in a moment’s notice, the mood changes entirely. Conveyor has a certain sense of wonder and awe when first approached, it appears as a large machine of a million moving parts but is also simple and unparalleled by anything that surrounds it. By standing alone and being a genre-blending, internal struggle producing record, Conveyor lives on as its own entity. It is a strange, off-kilter mix of emotion that acts as a breeding ground for obscurity and begs to be revisited over and over again.
The general sound of Vex Ruffin’s Conveyor is almost indescribable, it approaches a wide range of different fronts and combines such a large and substantial amount of sounds that it is difficult to fit the album into one single genre, and Ruffin does not want that. His music is comfortable in the distant levels of sound, it primarily keeps a hip-hop style with the instrumentals, but includes a variety of sampled instruments that keep Conveyor never feeling pigeon-holed. From starting tracks, “3 AM,” “The World,” and “The Balance,” which features Fab 5 Freddy, are all musically minimalistic and approachable. Especially, “The Balance” as it sounds like a simple two-step dance track, but included a jazz style of 70’s rumble bass and includes Vex Ruffin’s smooth, almost eerie voice over the whole mix.
Minimalistic approaches are going to be the on-running theme of Conveyor, there is not a single track that feels overly complicated or too crammed together, Ruffin does a fantastic job of keeping everything feeling spacious and full of breath. Even when the instrumentals become more complex and layered, like on the track “The Calling,” Ruffin still manages to keep levels of space and a vulnerable percussive backbeat that is easy to spot behind the chaos. These backbeats are the most important portions of the instrumentals as they keep the music moving on a steady pace, but also does not over complicate the process. Coming hot off the heels of the more dance-esque style of “The Calling,” the track “Own Lane” feels sporadic and mixes quite well with the following, “Front.” They are both mixed and cut tracks that includes a slight thirty-six-second interlude in between that has sampled screaming and cuts the voices before they can reach the full climax of the agonized yells.
“Head Hurts” is where the paranoia feeling sinks the hardest and is where Conveyor sounds more daunting, almost where the voices lead into “Front” feels like a sigh of relief as “Front” acts more of a back to business style of track where Ruffin’s uses hi-hats, tom drums, and an echoed voice to bring the synth-trance dance sound to the forefront. To see Ruffin consistently move from track to track and keep a level of atmospheric pressure on the listener is incredible, he creates and invokes pure, raw emotion with the way the percussion sounds off a certain beat, how the hi-hat slowly rattles, or when suddenly an 808 flashes into frame like a burst of lightning.
Even as Conveyor begins to reach the final acts, it still continues with the same intensity and emotion that was spawned from the start of the record. Ruffin’s makes a point to keep a trance moving through and taking over, the track “Let You Down” is something almost reminiscing of a Black Pus track if it has less screaming and softer, more approachable percussion. The sudden clicks of the 808 kit make for a sporadic style of play, as well as combining the reverbed sounds in the background that make up the supporting aspect of the instrumental are again, filled with mystery and beg for questioning.
Vex Ruffin is a one of a kind artist that stands out among the crowd for his impeccable style and his demented production that feels like a roller coaster of emotions. One second, his production is incredibly frightening and creates mass panic; the next, it is comfortable and the beat produces movement. For an artist that has a D.I.Y. attitude, Vex Ruffin goes about music correctly in every possible way.
Somewhere in the far reaches of the most abstract corners of space, lays Dr. Octagon; the homicidal, maniacal, alter-ego of rapper and producer, Kool Keith. Able to set an unprecedented style of concept rap that shook the airwaves, Kool Keith, or better known as Dr. Octagon made rap take an unexpected turn into more than just music. It became known as a story-telling device that was more advanced than human comprehension, told stories of unknown mysteries that begged to be deciphered, and showed Keith’s lyrical and productive prowess.
Dr. Octagon was not alone on his journey through creating musical science, his allies would become Dan “The Automator” Nakamura and “KutMasta” Kurt Matlin. Their skills were unmatched as the three-headed hydra of production, lyrical ability, and creativity would spawn one of the most diabolical, but overall intriguing style of records that would resonate in hip-hop as a monument in experimental success.
Including cuts from pornographic films, samples of classical music, and outlandish proportions of variety in production, Dr. Octagonecologyst moves primarily in a subtle creep. It makes slow, deep cuts with the tracks, “3000,” “Wild and Crazy,” and “Technical Difficulties,” where the drums are the focal point and relies on a synthesizer or bass line that takes a relaxed, but alert approach to the production and keeps Dr. Octagon lyrics staying in a prolific style of flow that is unlike anything else that surrounds hip-hop at the time. Hearing Dr. Octagon rap his lines on “3000” for the first time is like hearing a medical professional rattle off terms at light speed. It is near impossible to keep up with every single metaphor and punchline, especially rhymes that switch from, “Rappers that budge, making moves step in grooves, and hide the pace like at thirty-three dark shades…Suckers with the mics that end up with tooth decay, I, the Doctor, stop ya, in your world rock ya. Heads bop, forever tunes and they won’t stop like hip-hop.” Dr. Octagon continually switches his flow and that is what keeps Dr. Octagonecologyst rewarding from start to finish.
On a following track “Earth People,” Dr. Octagon moves his rhyme scheme to create a storyboard of his fictional character’s flow, “First patient, pull out the skull, remove the cancer. Breaking his back, chisel necks for the answer, Supersonic bionic robot voodoo power, equator ex my chance to flex skills on Ampex.” While the lyrical flow seems almost as if it is overkill, when mixed with the outer space style beats and his radical sense of character, Dr. Octagon becomes more rational and believable. While this is the primary functionality of Dr. Octagon, it does change once again to create a more approachable style of track like the following, “No Awareness” which contains another lyrical strike of Cobra-fast rhymes, but contains a more standard style of hip-hop beat.
The true experimental style is where Dr. Octagonecologyst truly shines however, “Blue Flowers” is another track that progresses the journey into Dr. Octagon’s descent into madness. Also released as one of the three singles from the record, “Blue Flowers” is a boom-bap styled beat that eventually fades in violins that make this instrumental truly stand out from the crowd. It is one of the strongest instrumentals on Dr. Octagonecologyst and the way that Dr. Octagon rides it and becomes engrossed inside it makes for a substantial turn into the midway mark of the album. Dr. Octagon begins a rhyming scheme that involves onomatopoeia and raw lyrical ability, “East and South with blood pouring down your mouth, I come prepared with the white suit and stethoscope. Listen to your heartbeat, delete beep…beep…beep….” Then Dr. Octagon moves on to another skit track that can be summed up as, “A Visit To The Gynecologist.”
Another hard-hitting instrumental track that acts more as an interlude before the destruction is “Bear Witness,” a rapid-fire assault of jungle like percussion, a riveting bass line, and a sample of Urban Sound Surgeon that describes almost in a Chuck D-esque anthem voice, “Create rap music cause I never dug disco.” Almost as quickly as it comes, it disappears and turns into the smooth, love-filled ballad of “Girl Let Me Touch You.”
This is the closest thing that Dr. Octagon can come to making a love song that discusses how bad he simply wants to “talk awhile.” Dr. Octagon begins by stating, “I got a mask at home, boots and some leather gear, how about me and you and black, I’m hitting from the back.” While bordering on almost comedic, Dr. Octagon goes into great length of describing his sexual fantasies with the unnamed woman of his dreams. After creating a near-fetish scene of rubber and latex, Dr. Octagon moves into polar-opposite territory where he describes a grotesque scene on “I’m Destructive.”
It is the incredible nature of consistent style changes that keeps Dr. Octagonecologyst a wonderful experience of experimental hip-hop that forever changed the ways that hip-hop was viewed. It became more than just music, more than just a cultural voice, it became an art form that was masterful and appreciated for more than just a short-lived medium. Dr. Octagon made the progressive cuts forward into the future of hip-hop, spawning a new wave of artists to break through and create their own style while staying true to themselves.
Anger and aggression has always had a place in hardcore music and U.K. band State Funeral smashes their way into ears with Tory Party Prison. A lead filled glove full of brash and bold actions that leads for one hell of an experience.
Between the incredibly short run-time, to the classic two-stepping formula; Tony Party Prison is a gasoline stricken jump from the ledge into the pavement. It is forceful in the approach and begs for some moshing and movement from the jump, so come hang out with some angry kids from Brighton and learn what it means to really be a punk.
Fredrick Tipton, better known as Freddie “Gangsta” Gibbs took an unplanned hiatus from music, but has finally had a long-awaited return to music and is more superior than ever. His newest record, You Only Live 2wice is a constant reminder of why Freddie Gibbs is at the top of his game and continues to stay in his own lane, creating a throwback style of hip-hop, while progressing and making a unique, distinctive sound that is instantly recognizable.
From the beginning of Gibbs’ journey, he has always been a monument in lyrical ability and production, incredibly distinctive and able to stand out from the crowd; You Only Live 2wice is no different. The opening track, “20 Karat Jesus” is a bombastic return to the stage where he belonged after so much time. “20 Karat Jesus” is also a two-part track that first begins with Gibbs launching a lyrical assault that shows little time to let his flow breathe. He repeatedly drops lyric after lyric while keeping an impressive level of word play on his lines that includes his outlook on how he became the Freddie Gibbs he is today, “Thug in the pen, I need forgiveness. I’m livin’ like every decision a sin. I know my niggas don’t want me to win, Jealousy, choppin’ off all my friends.” Gibbs also has a line where he explains, “I peel 100 dope like the poppy seed in Afghanistan. I been to drop my nuts but these cabbage hands do damage, nigga, Rips from the clip leave you stiff, mannequin challenge, nigga.” Gibbs has always managed to balance a level of realism and metaphor/simile into his lyrics that makes him become one of the most interesting artists in music right now.
As the second part of “20 Karat Jesus” slides into frame, the production here is one of the best on You Only Live 2wice. This production which sounds like a choir and drums from the ‘70s church band that is paired with Freddie Gibbs is all about what Gibbs’ monumental sound is like. He comes in with substantial lyrics that are like a heavyweight champion that delivers punch after punch. “Quarter brick, half a brick, holy shit, whole shit. Scar across my face, strap on my shoulder on some Tony shit… Don’t blow your money, young nigga, pay your lawyer, niggas is wrapped in electrical tape, they walkin’ tape recorders, yeah.” Freddie Gibbs speaks with such strength behind his voice and the emotion instilled in his lyrics is downright remarkable.
You Only Live 2wice feels like a hit song after hit song, Freddie Gibbs has really done an outstanding job on choosing his sound production and making substantial lyrics that illustrate a sense of personal story and a sense of the world around Gibbs. On the track “Crushed Glass,” Gibbs explains in a few sections about his unfortunate and unlawful prison sentence where he was eventually acquitted of Sexual Assault Charges in Vienna, Austria. Gibbs explains, “’Round the world, jail system like a slave trade, nigga. Got me in this foreign prison, monkey in a cage, nigga.” Gibbs then moves through his verse explaining his story of being locked up in the Austrian prison, missing tour date shows and barely eating. There is however a shining light at the end of his sentence as Gibbs explains, “Gangsta G, I fucked the industry, them crackers say I’m too aggressive, I turned myself into a boss without a fuckin’ question.” While extremely blunt in his delivery, Freddie Gibbs drops more insight into his personal feelings and what he came from, showing how to improve and overcome adversity.
Gibbs continues on through You Only Live 2wice, continually bringing in more and more power into each track until he reaches “Amnesia” which is the closest thing to becoming a club record from Gibbs. The booming 808’s are fantastic and the production is truly the most important thing on this track. The way that Gibbs attacks on the instrumental is intriguing and it is the lines “I just did 50 cities in a row, back to back Benz Bentley in a row, Slangin’ that dog sign to the row. I don’t play households, gotta go.” While the track is not one of the strong points of You Only Live 2wice, it is easily approachable and nearly everyone can listen to it, but does not harness the musical prowess that Gibbs displays on the following track, “Andrea.”
More subtle and smoother than previous tracks, “Andrea” is more of a smoky style of production that becomes more focused on the bass that resembles a more authentic method and is a welcome change from the usual sound of attacking instrumentals. The second portion of “Andrea” does include a slowed, more aggressive style of instrumental, but it is again a welcome change as it only lasts for a few moments before launching into “Phone Lit” and the final track of the eight-track saga, “Homesick.”
“Phone Lit” acts more as an interlude that has a verse, but is more focused on the instrumental and on progressing You Only Live 2wice to its unfortunate end. Freddie Gibbs shows two different sides on this project and while both are unique in their own way, it is the way that Gibbs can switch his style so quickly and stretch certain tracks into additional parts that truly makes the production aspect of Freddie Gibbs stand out. “Homesick” is the final closer and as the last leg, it makes for a somber shuffle out into the rain-filled streets where Freddie Gibbs is once again free. Free again to continue his craft, be with his family again, and continue to hone in on his skills, making Freddie Gibbs who Freddie Gibbs is today.
Minor Disturbance is a near ten-minute fireball that uses raw percussion, shouting vocals and an emphasis on anger to produce one of the shortest, but most memorable sounds of hardcore of the 1980’s.
With the combined efforts of Nathan Strejcek on vocals, guitarist Geordie Grindle, bassist Ian MacKaye, and Jeff Nelson on drums, Teen Idles was a youth organized force to be reckoned with that made a combined effort to destroy all that stood in their wake. From the very start with the self-titled track “Teen Idles,” They launch into a two-stepping frenzy of instruments that move in a varied range of movements while keeping a consistent push forward. The interesting thing about Teen Idles and most of the bands of this era of hardcore punk music is the length of their tracks; not a single track lasts over two-minutes with the exclusion of the live recorded closer “Too Young to Rock.” The transitions from track to track move in a brief segue of silence, or sudden punches through to the other side that leave no rest for the wicked.
With blazing tracks layered in gasoline like “Get Up and Go,” “Sneakers,” or even “Deadhead,” the tracks are similar to Minor Threat’s approach of destroying and dipping out of the scene as quick as possible. This is also where Teen Idles differentiates itself from the social normality of hardcore as in certain tracks like “Deadhead,” or even the following track “Fleeting Fury,” Teen Idles are able to provide a gentler, and almost dazed style of play that breaks the consistent attacks and makes for a wonderful interlude. This is going to only be present for a minute or so as Teen Idles then jumps right back into the pits of fire.
Even with the animosity of Minor Disturbance, Teen Idles are able to provide a beautiful look into the hardcore scene and shows the foundation of Dischord Records. The teen pioneers made their way with heavy tracks like “Getting In My Way” which focus on the moshing and destruction, but then also taking a slowed approach to certain tracks like “Deadhead” where the crowd can relax. This is also apparent on the track “Too Young to Rock” which is lo-fi, disgusting, and sounds like it was recorded in a basement, these three key factors all attribute to the very love of hardcore that so many adapted to be their own.
Hardcore gave the youth a home to express themselves and destroy their masters. Teen Idles paved that way through the kicks and screams and the genre was never again the same. The heavy hitting percussion, the constant change ups, and the downright fantastic amateur playing style all makes for a monumental record in one of music’s greatest movements.
In a time period where music is at its most experimental age, Soaked brings a sense of familiarity while attaching a new twist on the classic “desert-rock” style. Their new record, Don’t Wanna Wake Up Today is a call to the age of blaring surf guitars and stacked vocals, but also moves progressively toward a more aggressive style of play and completely peaks with a full range of emotion from track to track. Every incoming song is a rollercoaster of emotion that relies heavily on creating sing-along styled choruses where Soaked begs to get the audience involved as much as possible.
Starting Don’t Wanna Wake Up Today with a subtle, but eventual bang. “Backseat Heat” is a rapid track that moves effortlessly like an anthem and sets up shop for little over three minutes which is close to one of the longest tracks on Don’t Wanna Wake Up Today. The whole record can be played in its entirety in 30-minutes which is incredibly unfortunate as the sound of Soaked is not incredibly unique, but it is done incredibly well and the production from Matthew Melton is outstanding. The instruments are crisp and even when various effects are laid onto the guitars, or the drums move from the background to the foreground; Soaked stays consistently flowing and does not take much time to let there be silence around their music.
This style of play adds to the atmosphere of Don’t Wanna Wake Up Today and keeps the action moving. With the quick segues of “Oh So High,” “Addicted to the Weekend,” and “Julia,” it becomes clear that Soaked will continue to create their own path and try to stick to making an approachable, but genuine sound. Approaches on tracks like “Finally” are filled with claps and a large focus on using different drum fills and switches from the hi-hat to the ride cymbals to move the track in different directions. This is then even more apparent on the following track, “Come Down” which adopts a slowed style.
This stylistic choice is more relaxed and puts a larger focus on the vocals and guitar as they are the center of the spotlight as the percussion creates the backing support. Soaked continually switches from a rushed style of play and a more relaxed approach which keeps each track feeling fresh and never becoming a dragging motion. Even with the short tracks, Don’t Wanna Wake Up Today has a somber ending and continues to resonate as a mostly fun, quick, refresher in the experimental age of music. While not entirely off-kilter or extremely risk taking, Soaked makes music that feels good to be listened to, and that’s all we can ask for.
From the city of champions, Eternal Sleep reigns with an iron fist that attacks full-frontally without a shred of mercy. Their debut release, Dead Like Me is a rampaging powerhouse that smashes its way to the hearts and ears of mosh pits everywhere. While keeping the integrity of the sound, Eternal Sleep also changes the variables to include articles of the noise genre, sampling, and breakdowns that adds an additional layer of re-playability to an already outstanding record.
Eternal Sleep consists of Joseph Sanderson on the vocal aspect, delivering on the guitar is Travis Bennington, on bass is Ben Duty, and behind them is Colin Bennington on the percussion. Together, Eternal Sleep is a quad-headed monster of aggression that perpetually continues on a forward march. From the start of Dead Like Me, Eternal Sleep instantly launches into a flurry of furious intentions as “Small Talk” asks a simple question before sprinting into the music. As soon as “You ready?” leaves the lips, Eternal Sleep wastes no time in bringing in the rush of grinding strings, pounding percussion, and screams that make Dead Like Me, a punishing record from start to finish.
Incredibly angry, incredibly forceful, but also incredibly exciting; Eternal Sleep makes quick, but ultimately substantial use of the eleven-minute run time. From the sudden transition to the following track “Speak : Not Speak,” Dead Like Me also makes a use of transitioning the sound from a blitzing assault, to more of a slowed, but still deadly following. “Speak : Not Speak” uses a large focus on the vocals coming from Sanderson and continues to make another focal point on the chorus where Eternal Sleep shouts in unison “Fuck You… I never loved you.” As if a band could project a middle finger through music, Eternal Sleep switches into a bone-crunching breakdown that finally brings silence to the otherwise overtly style of play.
As the self-titled track “Dead Like Me” starts, it is met with feedback on Travis Bennington’s guitar and a sample of the (1980) movie Altered States, in which character Eddie Jessup begins, “I was in that ultimate moment of terror that is the beginning of life. It is nothing. Simple, hideous nothing. The final truth of all things is that there is no final truth…” Eternal Sleep also samples the (1985) film Brazil in which the character Mrs. Lowery explains, “Of course you want something. You must have hopes, wishes, dreams…” to which Sam Lowry replies, “No, nothing. Not even dreams!” This is the catalyst that brings in the final leg of Dead Like Me.
Ending with an atom bomb of proportions, Eternal Sleep screams, “Rest In Peace” and delivers on all fronts; a punching grind that uses different vocal layers, changes in the percussive play style, and a consistent hammering of the strings. As Dead Like Me comes to an unfortunate close, Eternal Sleep reminds not only Pittsburgh, but the world of hardcore why they are an unstoppable force of nature. The final breakdown of agony that delivers the inevitable silence is more brutal and more crushing than anyone could prepare for.
Franck Dadure & The Fakir Orchestra brilliantly combines both the synthetic recreation of electronic instruments, and authentic instrument sounds together to create a common partnership between the man and the machine. The relationship is almost instantly connected and has a great sense of flow that attaches onto each other. The synthetic moments make for the moments of true intrigue as they draw in the listener with subtlety, only to lead to an ambush of sound as the surrounding instruments join in. The instrumentalists, comprised of Franck Dadure, Dominque Grimaldi, Fabien Duscombs, Frédéric Sachs, Elliott Touzalin, and Daniel Zimmermann. Together, creating one mass of instrumentalists that together, create a new style of jazz.
Dadure also composes film and this translates incredibly well with the sound of Tako Mitsu, the record is entertaining and continues to keep surprises tucked away like a deck of cards. From the start with the self-titled track, “Tako Mitsu,” Dadure uses both vocal repetition and layered sections of horns where Dadure’s BandCamp page explains, “Tako Mitsu is a musical tour that begins in Japan with the singular interpretation of a traditional nursery rhyme, Bangladesh, French and Sweden.” It becomes almost instantaneously apparent that Dadure will explore a broad variety of cultures and sounds as “Tako Mitsu” uses childhood echoes that repeat a mantra of sorts. This mantra continues and is the first substantial instruments that stands out on the title track. When paired with the slick movements of the string ensemble, the proud horns, and the bouncing bass line that is laid down, it becomes a strange mix of eeriness and wonder.
Then as the percussion begins to flood in, the transfers between snare, cymbal, and what sound like handmade percussive instruments like bowls dropping and keys rattling creates a sense of organization. Franck Dadure & The Fakir Orchestra is not quite a free-form style of jazz, but it does pertain to those certain aspects as when the full range of instruments is cranking along like a well oiled machine, the piano in particular will move in a sweeping motion along the keys to create a small, almost controlled chaos within the track. As “Tako Mitsu” comes to a final stopping point, it makes sure to close by falling apart with instruments askew and a transitioning lead synthesizer that brings “Electric Sodium Trumpet” into frame.
Entirely instrumentally driven, The Fakir Orchestra creates drastic changes through each track, but maintains a level of familiarity so that no single track feels out of place or completely astray from the path. As a matter of fact, Tako Mitsu stays consistent with its approaches into the more experimental styles of jazz, even when crafting the authentic styled walls that will surround the sound, Franck Dadure still manages to include the authenticity of physical instruments packed into the electronic aspect. As the music breaks apart and becomes a sudden dash of a pre-loop percussive dance style beat, the band still maintains a large focus on authenticity as well.
In the track, “Le Sémaphore ambigu” it becomes almost atmospheric and reminiscing of a classic style of jazz with a new twist. The horn sections and percussion sections can be taken in a Miles Davis or John Coltrane style, but with the underlying and pushing piano, “Le Sémaphore ambigu” becomes more sinister towards the end of its run time and even as the track ends, the following picks up in similar fashion with “The Road to Almeria.” It is rather menacing, but instead changes to a slithering style of instrumental that relies on cymbal crashes and a focus on switching from subtlety and abrasiveness. Both style choices are effective in creating a constant shifting motion that also carries over into the much softer, more approachable following track.
“L’escalator Qui Plerue” is a soft-spoken giant of piano that creates the bass lines, and a saxophone that wails almost alone, completely standing out from the misty style that the other backing instruments create. It is one of the most impactful tracks on Tako Mitsu as it uses a sluggish approach, but stays fluent enough to stand on its own. The use of minimalistic instruments was a wise choice as it pins the focal point on just two entities, this is a drastic change before “The Grand Telerol Hotel” which resorts back to the usual style of previous, more enthusiastic tracks.
However, a track that truly stands out is “Coke Au Vin,” an incredibly experimental and strange track that sounds nothing like the rest of the album. It acts more as a track that tries to use everything in the vicinity, from big pieces of sheet metal to the clunking drums, the whole track feels like a scrambled mess. As a collective, Tako Mitsu is a powerful piece of jazz fusion that creates suspense and feels like a cinema masterpiece wrapped in a more convenient package.