Chad VanGaalen is Pretty Fucking Fantastic (fangasm)

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(You’re in for a world of weird, folks!)

With recent mainstream releases at an all-time terrible, I turn my gaze to a dear old love of mine; Chad VanGaalen – A largely unsung artist with all the heart and creativity I expect from a professional musician, and then some! It can never be a white British or American artist which impresses me, can it? Chad VanGaalen himself hails from the universally beloved Canada, making his musical debut in 2001 with various independent releases and going on to release his first label-supported album in 2004 with the charming and beautifully creative, Infiniheart. Yet, despite his consistently high-quality work and notable measure of success in Canada, his work seems largely neglected in the US and UK markets.

I find it a little surprising that VanGaalen doesn’t gain more recognition from fans of the Psychedelic movement, given that some of his work almost seems somewhat reminiscent of other like-minded bands. Through a quick squint, one might notice similarities to albums such as the incredible Innerspeaker by Tame Impala; another album I feel is unjustly dismissed in light of their most recent album. Much like Innerspeaker, the album pays large homage to the Shoegaze movement and other more psychedelic styles which depend largely around soundscaping. Like many others within this style, VanGaalen respects this influence in a sheer abundance of unique charisma and personality.

I often complain that a lot of music seems to lack a particular point of interest, but I feel like I may have been totally spoiled by VanGaalen in this respect. His music feels consistently fascinating to me and unfailingly wins my adoration with every listen. Every track simply radiates creativity both in the music and in the lyrics, often addressing topics with a somewhat bizarre perspective, using strange lyrics to conjure up truly unique imagery. In spite of this bizarre lyrical theme, however, the work retains a constant state of accessibility and emotional investment, with the very sounds and various dynamic builds capturing the true essence of loss and hardship and tempering such challenging feelings with a general feeling of wonderment, beauty and even cathartic joy.

Another interesting point to note is VanGaalen’s ability as an animator. His colourful and abstract nature is perfectly displayed throughout his music videos; most prominently in the videos to Peace On The Rise and Monster. His ingenuity and imagination is absolutely masterful and more admirable than the majority of bands I have since heard and seen, with the closest competition to such inventiveness being the animations in the comedy cult-classic; The Mighty Boosh. Anybody with the slightest familiarity with the creative minds of Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding will know that such a comparison is a true compliment to the creativity of VanGaalen.

Without a slightest interest in any recent musical releases, I wanted to take the time to introduce this absolute marvel of a man to those unaware of his music. There’s a great deal of wonderment to Chad VanGaalen and I feel he deserves more recognition than he currently receives. In the process of researching his work and background I found that he has released an album this year which I currently have a keen interest in listening to and reviewing, but without any knowledge of its quality, I’ll leave a recommendation to listen to either the Shrink Dust or Soft Airplane albums for a great introduction to his character and music. He’s a beautifully clever man and I couldn’t begin to truly explain the love I hold for his music. Listen to it, but be prepared for something deeply weird and absolutely mind-shatteringly abstract.

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Hustlin’ (Rudy Van Gelder Edition) by Stanley Turrentine (fellatio review)

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(Old but gold. Fucking perfect album)

There’s something in the air, my pretties! Something scary… Something strange! Something spooky and something gritty… Do I possess emotional range? Has the Christmas season sank into my heart? Infesting the purity of my hatred with a cinnamon-scented air of joy and positivity? We can only hope not, but this positivity has plagued my writing as of late and my pained heart desires nothing more than to talk about something I do genuinely enjoy! Though not a recent album, I would like to take time to discuss what I consider to be one of my personal favourite albums of all time; the Rudy Van Gelder edition of Hustlin’ by Stanley Turrentine. 

From the very introduction of the album your heart fills with glee with an introduction drowned in smooth Jazz percussion, cathartic organ and a deep and bouncing walking bass line. When sax enters the arrangement it merely completes the piece with a simply jovial energy. Totally lacking in any form of intrusion, the album sits perfectly in any environment, often adding an air of pizzazz and style to your otherwise mediocre day. 

Unlike so much music in circulation today, there’s something fundamentally enjoyable about this album. Many a time have I faced a dull day and turned to Turrentine for alleviation from my varying states of depression and unhappiness and I struggle to envision anybody who refuses the fundamentally joyous call of this absolute gem. It succeeds where many else fail in its delivery of undeniable positivity without demanding anything from the listener. 

Where Gregory Porter addressed themes of loss and love in such a beautiful and described way in his homage to the late Nat King Cole, the instrumental nature of this album incites such feelings without so much as a slight directprovocation or cue. Love Letters sings to a bittersweet nostalgia, altering tone to encompass acceptance and levity as the song progresses. It harks to a feeling of young love and presents its case with such a faultless and understanding delivery. Accidentals are used through an absolutely gorgeous organ solo to accent the nervous nature of love itself and this feeling is mirrored in the following guitar solo in a masterful exhibition of true grace. Every instrument shines as a flawless manifestation of emotion and feeling and captures the essence of humanity in the most beautifully conceivable way.

Lovers of style need look no further than the unimaginably cool The Hustler. Sleek walking bass sees to a constant air of pure style with an underlying support from some of the sexiest drumming I have ever heard. Unusual placements of organ accents grant a feeling of excitement throughout and the masterful placement of the overlaying saxophone and guitar contribute to the completion of a piece utterly oozing with charisma. 

Following The Huster stands the most flawlessly executed exhibition of call and response you could ever hope to hear. Ladyfingers almost feels like a time capsule of the essence of 1940’s New Orleans and works well to retain the consistent character of the album. Percussion remains at an incredible standard throughout with a total feeling of consistency and creativity behind the placement of accents and this serves to the betterment of what is already a totally faultless piece.

It’s too easy to ramble on about why the album is so incredible and how all of the individual tracks are so ridden with style and grace, but I truly feel it needs to be listened to for any chance of truly understanding the incredible level of craftsmanship exhibited in this phenomenal album. My bitter and resentful mind draws a total blank with criticism and I might go as far as to say this album sets serves as a benchmark for total perfection within this style. It addresses varying emotions and portrays them so well it defies belief! 

This album transcends my usual approach to recommending albums. Regardless of your background in music, I think this album is just too warm and welcoming to be denied by anybody. Stick it in whilst you’re doing dishes or writing something and it will serve a stalwart companion to brighten and uplift your day. There’s a purity and sincerity to this album which defies conventional boundaries and makes for something so instinctively pleasurable. Listen to it, love it and share it with everybody around you! This is the kind of music which truly deserves to be appreciated and respected. 

Black Sands by Bonobo (fellatio review)

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(Oooh, such pretty artwork!)

Those who know me personally and engage me about the music I actually like will know to expect three names; Radiohead, Duran Duran and, my love of all loves, Bonobo. In my previous review I stated that the life of a music critic is relatable to that of a prostitute, and if that’s the case then Bonobo is the man I freely offer myself to without the faintest request of compensation. He pleases me in ways few can and he has held my adoration and constant attention since I first discovered him. Spotify failing to load was all the encouragement I needed to rant on this absolutely flawless display of audio mastery.

My experiences of forcing this incredible orchestra of sound to others have proven that the music is something of an acquired taste. Either you can appreciate the subtlety in dynamic shifts, the finely crafted moods and ambience, phenomenal groove and remarkable combination of Lo-Fi and Hi-Fi production or you’re clearly lacking the mentality to comprehend and relate to this stunning display of audio orgasm. I seem almost infamous amongst my peers for my ability to find fault in an album or piece of work, it’s just a byproduct of being such a fantastical cunt; but I can honestly say I can find no fault in the album which isn’t better attributed to mentality and personal taste.

Where I usually compare an album I adore to that of an incredible fuck, this album transcends this metaphor to a frankly concerning degree! Were I to relate this to a mere fuck, I would have to count it as a glorious, passionate affair under the influence of both MDMA and viagra for the incredible measure of serenity and spiritual ecstasy the album encourages. The album resonates deeply in me and encourages a resurgence of the physical feelings I felt at some of the happiest points in my life.

Where I would normally take time to ram my overly-critical flesh-warrior into every available hole in the album at this point, Bonobo’s holes have proven far too tight for such a fucking. I suppose certain mentalities wouldn’t appreciate the focus on ambience present within this album and people demanding a relatable novelty or a catchy chorus would fail to access this album as it is. It’s not structured or written as one would construct a regular style of music, but that’s part of the undeniable charm of the album and the artist himself! To complain the lack of traditional style in Bonobo would be like complaining that the guitar tone in a metal song is too overdriven or that there’s too much blatant Pablo Honey influence in Origin of Symmetry.

Were I to engage in sexual acts with only one artist for the rest of my life it would likely be Bonobo. He stands in my eyes as the finest representation of music as an art form, releases a consistent stream of high quality and perfectly crafted music and stands as a beautiful night sky, constantly reminding me of the potential beauty to the musical universe. As stated before, those seeking the novelty and simplicity of a traditionally structured song will not appreciate this to the same level and I would certainly not recommend this to the kind of asshole who’s first defence against any musical opposing opinion is “you clearly know nothing about Metal”. Those with an appreciation for incredible ambient feel, dynamic flow and immaculate production should prepare a delicious cocktail, relax and just embrace the exemplary display that is Black Sands. 

Gathering of Strangers – Gathering of Strangers (EP Review)

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(Photo credit – Jessica Holt)

After long last, I have finally been impressed by a musical release by a band from the British and Irish Institute of Modern Music! Too often am I exposed to acts trying to capitalise from the success of their influences in shameless tributes to Mancunian indie legends and pointless imitation of other existing acts – a trend which leaves me horrifically bitter and in a seemingly endless pursuit of something original and interesting. Despite relentless flattering towards this band, I felt as a cow might as she awaits the final bolt in the head until the moment this glorious act eased forwards with majesty and grace to release me from the confounds of my miserable existence. At long last, I’m faced with something with heart, variety and imagination and I am all the overjoyed for it.

Gathering of strangers are difficult to characterise, drawing influence from a seemingly endless source and including a glorious contribution from a wide range of instrumentation and effects, my personal favourite addition being the versatile and often bold input from keyboardist, Callum Witts. The instrumental composition never falls below a very high bar throughout the entire EP, with everything working within its rhythmical and tonal range to truly optimise the ability of every musician whilst providing relevant atmosphere and space to truly support the heartfelt and emotionally devastating voice of frontman, Conor Rabone.

The contrast in tones between tracks shows a wonderful appreciation and respect for dynamics and the most evident display of this exists in the bass guitar in opening track Something in the Water where the tone varies between a heavily driven and punchy tone and a balanced and spaceful tone which works into a slightly overdriven voice towards the end of the song, this working in tandem with the wonderfully creative guitar work and brazen sound of the keys combines to create a truly wonderful dynamic and remarkable climax to a truly epic track.

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(Live photo from Gathering of Strangers Facebook page)

Criticisms are difficult to find with this EP, with most aspects working far above the level I would expect from this scale. The most outstanding negative point I can make being in regards to the use of harmonica in War and how I feel it seems out of place with the tone of the song, I understand this may be an artistic decision, but I find it too distracting from the rest of the song and feel it draws too far in timbre from the rest of the EP – this issue with timbre also extends towards the keyboard in the earlier sections of the same track to a smaller extent, though this is easily redeemed by the beautifully smooth and tasteful use of keyboard in the following track, Lies. Another aspect I would like to hear is a more extensive use of a darker bass tone in some of the more haunting sections to help capture a more emotionally desolate feel which may better accommodate the deep and profound vocal style of Rabone.

The EP is very well balanced and versatile and the structure of the tracks is absolutely flawless. Though lacking in structural complexity, there exists an incredible flow between every track and this flow which extends to the entire compilation of tracks. The songs scream from a personal part of your own buried past and lead you through events long forgotten through use of such personable and relatable lyrics and the use of atmosphere truly benefits this experience. There is so much to appreciate about this musical release and the reputation the band has amongst the few I respect indicates a body of work which could appeal to anybody.

Flights of fancy aren’t in my style when discussing music and I’m never one to over-compliment something, but Gathering of Strangers demonstrate a level of musical mastery which should serve an inspiration to other fledgling bands. The band show true vision, creativity and professionalism and deserve the utmost of respect and admiration and I feel we all owe it to ourselves and the smaller-scale music scene to support this incredible act and help launch them into the success they clearly deserve. If ever there was a time to care for a score let it be now: the EP scores five stars, 10/10, 176 golden cocks out of 176 golden cocks – I don’t care, just listen to it!

To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar (shameless fangirling)

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(album artwork for the To Pimp A Butterfly album)

Yeah this album didn’t come out this year, but I’m sat in my room now just grooving to the sly and sleazy feel of the To Pimp A Butterfly album and I just wanted the chance to run my mouth about how much I love this album. I have a very long list of albums I should be looking at, but after the travesty that was Tony Conrad I felt like I had earned the chance to write about something that I actually know I enjoy. I have a request to review the Automaton album by Jamiroquai (which I am very excited about) but right now I am more interested in rambling about something I couldn’t stop blowing if Lamar himself asked me to stop.

Where do I even start with this? Well a brief overview, I suppose! Kendrick Lamar is a shining star amongst many right now, as far as I know he has only been in the mainstream eye for a couple of years now and his reputation is doing nothing but grow. The music itself is just a joy to describe, or it is in this album at least: the album combines various aspects of Jazz and Fusion with a smooth and sexy modern R&B vibe to incredible effect. Like Thundercat, my previous musical obsession of this year, it’s more or less a Best Of from all Soul, Jazz and Hip-Hop through the years – a glorious exhibit showcased in a beautiful, state-of-the-art casing.

There is so much to sing about with this album. With ideas and variety and a mass combination of genres, it really does scream colour in a way nothing of its kind does – the only thing coming close being the aforementioned Thundercat, who actually appeared on this album. One seductive bass groove and creativity behind lyrical content is normally enough to make me like a track, but when you use these aspects in conjunction with Parliamentstyle bass imaging and soulful vocal harmonies? Well you have me swimming in the palm of your hands! Lamar performs this frequently throughout the album, the only times I’m not creaming over that glorious Funk being the times I explode violently over the incredible incorporation of Jazz. Serious, the saxophone in tracks like Alright will burn through you.

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(image sourced from the official Kendrick Lamar Facebook page)

Thinking of Alright also brings up the point of the rhythm and the way instruments are suddenly cut out. It’s pure mastery. The way he uses the silence between certain notes, does so much to force the impact of a returning drum beat or bass line and does so much to accent the incredible flow to Lamar’s rapping. Rap and Hip-Hop have always been inspiring genres for me and I respect the rhythmic quality to so many great rappers, but one thing that sets Lamar aside is the way he raps throughout the entire album – incorporating his voice and using it as one would use a percussive instrument to drive the entire ensemble. The creative genius extends to how it benefits the melodies of the harmonies and lead lines by retaining a monotone, freeing space for the phenomenal backing vocals and soundscaping to really soar and experiment to glorious result.

The mentality behind this album feels amazing. Lamar himself feeling less like the star of the show and more of a part of a larger product, making use of the incredible skill, experience and imagination of the incredible musicians he involves. The whole album possesses a wonderful tongue-in-cheek vibe with some parts sounding outright silly, but in a way that enables nothing but pure enjoyment, as evident in For Free? – Interlude and the intro to Wesley’s Theory, however, it seems to resolve in a deeper and more meaningful concept of unity amongst black people in a way that riveted me, held me and wouldn’t let me go until I truly understood the intensity to it.

My only issue with the album is nothing to do with the music itself, but society’s view on appropriation – the amount of times I want to rap along with the album almost seems to ruin the experience when I remember that my own ethnicity allows me little chance to relate to the lyrical content and, regardless of any opinion of appropriation, there is no justification for a geeky white Cornishman to drop the “N-Bomb”.

Regardless, this album is easily one of my favourite discoveries of the year, to the point where I’m saving my first listen and sub-sequent review of the DAMN. album until my birthday. With a combination of great-feeling music and some deeper, heavier concepts in places, this album has so much heart and music like this should be cherished and celebrated. With that I cannot give it a higher recommendation – listen to it, feel it and just fall in love with it.

And did I really make it through this entire review without explosively ejaculating over George Clinton’s phenomenal character, feel and skill? Of course not.