Be-Bop Deluxe – Axe Victim (1974)

>glam rock, hard rock, progressive rock

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Axe Victim was the debut album of English rock group Be-Bop Deluxe.

The songs on this album range from garbage throwaway’s (Third Floor Heaven) to pretty decent glam/prog/hard rock fusions (No Trains To Heaven).

The most immediate thing that strikes me is the similarities in almost every aspect of the vocals to that of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Indeed, most of the first half of the album is just a poor mans Jethro Tull, lacking the delicacy or light heartedness.

The second half lessens this ripoff aspect, but still has very strong glam aspects in the vein of David Bowie and early Queen. Though, the final track is a hard rock ballad and the Ian Anderson-esque vocals return, backed by string sections that feel awfully cheesy, as if they had just heard the first Electric Light Orchestra album a day before recording the song, and went “oh shit, can we do some of those strings on our album?”.

In 2017, it’s easy to say we’ve heard all of this a million times before, but in 1974 this would’ve only been in the first couple of years of the glam explosion, so it’s difficult to retroactively contextualise it.

It’s nothing special, there are plenty of good songs but the derivative aspects rub me the wrong way.

Flotation Toy Warning – The Machine That Made Us (2017)

>indie rock, indie folk

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Imagine melding Mercury Rev’s sensibilities when it comes to noisy pop with Nick Cave’s sensibilities when it comes to chamber pop and folk. Now imagine every aspect of those two was horribly boring and repetitive. Congratulations, you’ve got The Machine That Made Us.

Apparently this is the band’s second album, the first coming over a decade ago, so fans are just fawning over this album despite it being horribly long for a complete lack of interesting ideas. Just garbage.

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory (2017)

>hip hop

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Vince Staples’ second album shows off his production side, but as is typical of most modern mainstream hip hop, succumbs to most of the pitfalls of the genre.

The beats are the real highlight of the album, ranging from early Burial style dupstep to more modern hip hop in the style of Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean.

The slew of features on the album doesn’t feel as jarring as it does in many other hip hop albums, though oddly enough the quality of Staples’ vocal performances differs greatly from song to song.

One example is the third track, ‘Alyssa Interlude’, which opens with hyper electronics that sound like a mix between The Knife and Tortoise, with somber piano chords riding above. For some reason he then decides to drop in an excerpt from an Amy Whinehouse interview, then raps on the second half. The interview sample and his vocals kill all the momentum of the beats, and that seems to be the story for most of the album.

Lyrically there is nothing to see here, though thankfully it isn’t just one big long BLM propoganda album, as if the world needs more of those. The track ‘BagBak’ is the most obviously political, but when your big statement is ‘tell the government to suck a dick because we on now/tell the president to suck a dick because we on now’ then it’s a good idea to keep the political commentary to a minimum.

A decent album and step in the right direction for hip hop.

The thing this album deserves the most credit for is being 35 minutes of material for 35 minutes of ideas, and not 70 minutes of material for 30 minutes of ideas like most big hip hop albums in the last few years.

Best albums of 2017 so far

A quick note on my rating scale: I take a pretty Scaruffi-esque approach to rating music, in particular the idea that “i am aware that the vast majority of recordings and films are just about mediocre and very few deserve recognition (even fewer deserve your money)”. Basically, 7/10 is “good”, but a 7.5/10 is a much bigger difference of just 0.5 comparing a 7/10 to a 6.5/10. In short, 7.5+ are must listens, 7 is probably go listen.

10/10

9/10

8/10

7.5/10
Angles 9 – Disappeared Behind The Sun (this may drop to 7, not sure)
Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau – Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

7/10
White Ward – Futility Report
Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World
Impossible Nothing – Lexemenomicon 
The Pablo Collective – The Death Of Pablo
Stabscotch – Uncanny Valley
Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
Kairon; IRSE! – Ruination 
Blanck Mass – World Eater
Max Richter – Three Worlds
EEEKS – Pet City
Laura Marling – Semper Femina 
Forest Swords – Compassion 
Algiers – The Underside Of Power 
Chris Potter – The Dreamer Is the Dream
The Ruins Of Beverast – Exuvia
Richard Dawson – Peasant
Part Chimp – IV 

6.5
shortparis – ПАСХА
Oxbow – Thin Black Duke
tricot – 3
Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens 
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. 
Craig Taborn – Daylight Ghosts 
Krokofant – III 
Saagara – 2 
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Stella – Works For You
Dirty Projectors – Dirty Projectors 
Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular
Sampha – Process
Gas – Narkopop 
Squadra Omega – Materia Oscura 
Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn – Ljubljana 
The Flight Of Sleipnir – Skadi 
Kreator – Gods Of Violence 
The Great Old Ones – EOD: A Tale Of Dark Legacy
Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods
Foxygen – Hang
Missing Plane Found On The Moon – The Hall of Egress 
Bonobo – Migration
Ty Segall – Ty Segall 
Hazy Sea – Electric Abyss
Avec le Soleil Sortant de sa Bouche – Pas Pire Pop, I Love You So Much 
Jet Jazimov – Jet Jazimov
Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage
Thundercat – Drunk 
Grails – Chalice Hymnal
The Physics House Band – Mercury Fountain
Anjou – Epithymia 
the i.l.y’s – Bodyguard

6
Squadra Omega – Il Serpente nel Cielo
The Necks – Unfold
Ho99o9 – United States of Horror 
Fleet Foxes – Crack Up 
Perfume Genius – No Shape 
Spoon – Hot Thoughts 
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy 
Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness
Soen – Lykaia 
Ariel Pink & Weyes Blood – Myths 002 EP
Tangible Rays – Seance
Daniel Brandt – Eternal Something 
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound 
Bedwetter – Volume 1: Flick Your Tongue Against Your Teeth And Describe The Present 
William Basinski – A Shadow In Time 
Elbow – Little Frictions
Svinaya Grust – Guitarist
Dopelord – Children of the Haze 
Temples – Volcano 
John Zorn – Garden of Earthly Delights
Pond – The Weather
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder Of The Universe 
Clea Vincent – Tropi-clea 
Louis Sclavis – Asian Fields Variations
Kikagaku Moyo – Stone Garden 

5.5
The Mountain Goats – Goths 
Jamiroquai – Automaton
Brandon* – Dreamscape: Part 4 
Xiu Xiu – Forget
Surf Curse – Nothing Yet 
Chief Keef – Thot Breaker 
Phoenix – Ti Amo 
Lorde – Melodrama

5
Viewfinder – Born Ticking
Persefone – Aathma
Immolation – Atonement 
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana 
Brian Eno – Reflections 
AA BonZaii – Internet Jazz Hell
Roppongo – Four Cover
The xx – I See You
Mike Oldfield – Return To Ommadawn 
Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
Tigers Jaw – Spin
Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex 
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Thiam – Oneiros 

4.5

4
The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody 
Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

3
Wiley – Godfather 
Pain Of Salvation – In The Passing Light Of Day
Drive Me Home Please – Infinite Tsukuyomi 

2

1

Jamiroquai – Automaton (2017)

>funk

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The latest Jamiroquai release, Automaton, their 8th album and first since 2010, is a pretty tired exercise in funk and disco which we’ve already heard decades ago from the band.

They haven’t really been relevant since 2005, when they released their sixth studio album Dynamite, and Automaton doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the catalyst of a Jamiroquai revival. Automaton feels very uninteresting and not daring in the slightest, and sounds less like a band trying to reinvent themselves and more like a band smashing together Stevie Wonder and Daft Punk.

The opener ‘Shake It On’ and ‘Vitamin’ near the end are the standouts. The former made great use of the sharp strings and piano which are keys of their earlier work, and the latter blending soulful organ and super funky basslines with an adequate amount of corny saxophone.

These two, though, are just the two best tracks in an hour long album which repeats itself far too often. A great bassline can carry a few songs, but not the whole album. The sense of fun and excitement seems to be missing from Automaton, maybe it’s musicians growing older and trying to mature, maybe it’s just not a great album.