Joey Badass - B4DA$$ (Cinematic Music Group)

10 albums you shouldn't sleep on from January 2015

by Mark Teo

February 3, 2015






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Each month at AUX, our specialists in punk, metal, indie, hip hop, electronic, and pop vouch for their favourite releases of the month and have it out behind the scenes to bring you a trim, alphabetical, genre-representational list of the Top 10 Albums of the Month. Or at least, it’s what we’ve been playing for the last month.

Here were our favourite releases from January.

By: Josiah Hughes (JH), Chayne Japal (DJ), Jeremy Mersereau (JM), Tyler Munro (TM), Mark Teo (MT), and Nicole Villeneuve (NV)

Joey Badass – B4DA$$ (Cinematic Music Group)

Joey Bada$$ was only 17 when the buzz started swirling, but unlike Tyler, the Creator, or Earl Sweatshirt, his rise felt different. His songs were oxymoronic; here was a kid recapturing New York’s hip­hop heyday with a sound that was largely phased out before he was born. Crazier still, he nailed it. And now, years later, he has the distinction of releasing a much anticipated album, on his 20th birthday, that somehow lives, if not surpasses, the hype. It’s structured in that classic way, with clunky, overlong skits trying to contextualize his place in hip-­hop, or New York, or the world, but even the irritating narration bridging “Hazeus View” to “No. 99” can’t distract from how huge the actual songs are. In the end, B4.DA.$$ borders as a future classic in that traditional hip-­hop way. It’s too long, but his recreation of a world he never existed in turns Joey Bada$$’s broken telephone into something new entirely. Special, even. (TM)

J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive (Roc Nation / Columbia)

In a quick-flash five years, J. Cole has gone from promising protégé to seasoned pro, while taking his share of lumps along the way. This narrative has remained an active thread through his releases. Cole speaks about his aspirations and achievements, his triumphs and failures with reckless candor, almost to a fault. He gets droves of loyal fans in return though, and it’s helped him cut through some of the red tape to just rap and express himself like he did in his mixtape days. 2014 Forest Hills Drive, his third album effort, embodies this freedom as Cole burns through touchy subject matter with wit and humour on aces like “Fire Squad” and “Role Modelz.” When he over-shares on the TMI, losing-my-virginity story “Wet Dreamz” and the 11 minutes of shit-talking (which includes shout-outs to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jonah Hill) bogging down the end of the record, it still comes off endearingly, because unlike before it’s clear this is him. Not the Jay Z machine’s business decision. Not a young MC overthinking things. It’s just pure Jermaine Cole, and that’s hard to complain about. (CJ)

Moon – Moon (Bruised Tongue)

While Moon have a pair of sturdy releases to their name—a self-titled EP and a split with Old and Weird, both of which unveiled a penchant for lo-fi, flute-laced post-punk—their self-titled full length, issued via Ottawa imprint Bruised Tongue, is the sound of the Halifax quintet coming of age. (We’ll resist the “one giant leap for Moon-kind” jokes, thanks.) While their earlier work hid ambitious ideas in lo-fi scuzz and free-form experimentation, Moon finds the band sharpening, editing, and streamlining their songs. And when the band hits their stride, as they do here, they’re unquestionably one of the most fascinating kraut-influenced acts in Canada: Sometimes, they emerge from a chaotic tangle of synths (“Meridian”); other times, they let Jaime Forsythe’s flutes breathe in enchanting fashion (“Pastoral Song”); elsewhere, spidery guitars wrap around deadpan vocals (see “Stained Glass” or the Women-esque opener, “One Thousand Natural Shocks”).

Such descriptions might make Moon seem cluttered, but it’s quite the opposite—fellow Can-kraut act Freak Heat Waves’ might’ve likened their Bonnie’s State of Mind LP to sound collage, but Moon’s aesthetic is surprisingly cohesive, tied together by the hypnotic 4/4 of drummer Stephanie Johns, who adds a mechanized propulsiveness to otherwise sleepy tracks (as on the dreamy “Narrow Draw” or closer “Holy Mountain”). Best of all, Moon rejects plenty of the tropes common in contemporary post-punk: Far from being icy, claustrophobic and robotic, their debut is a surprisingly warm, airy take on the genre. Colour us impressed.  (MT)

OAKE ­ – Auferstehung (Downwards Records)

Berlin experimental electronic duo OAKE have created an album of immaculate darkness on their Downwards debut. Like 11 miniature black holes, each of the tracks on Auferstehung (“Resurrection” in German) trap all light within them, letting nothing escape except the barest suggestions of actual melody and rhythm. Industrial techno might be the most obvious touchpoint here, but the grim ambience and distorted metallic tones instantly recall like­-minded contemporaries such as Old Apparatus and Raime, along with every other artist on the Blackest Ever Black roster. That’s not to say that OAKE haven’t carved out their own niche among their dour compatriots; elements like Konstanze Bathseba’s ethereal vocals on “Viertes Buch: Mortre Wid” and the the satanic siren blare of “Sechstes Buch: Rehmin Sicht” elevate the group from mere industrial worship. If you’re brave enough, Auferstehung‘s opaque and funereal tension is worth the price of a ticket into the haunted house. (JM)

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)

At a time when every band reunites and every artist comes back, it’s hard to be surprised or even really muster any genuine excitement when it happens—it’s 2015 and nothing really ever dies anymore. This wasn’t yet the case when, in 2006, Sleater-Kinney announced their indefinite hiatus, right on the heels of their career-defining album The Woods. We certainly weren’t done with them, and all it takes is letting No Cities to Love unfurl for 30 short seconds into “Price Tag” to realize they weren’t done either. It was fair to canonize the trio in their absence, and safer still to assume their return would be good if not great, but with their fury intact, the best hooks of their career, and that familiar lyrical purpose, Sleater-Kinney have not only given us 2015’s best album so far, but proven themselves more vital than ever. (NV)

Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar (Taklit Music)

Written out, the excesses on Subterranean Masquerade’s long­-anticipated second album are like a laundry list of reasons not to take progressive metal seriously. But after 10 years, the follow­-up to Suspended Animation Dreams plays out not as a bloated excuse to noodle on, but as a streamlining of the Subterranean Masquerade’s multitude of sounds. A cross­continental band with members rooted in America, Israel and Norway, The Great Bazaar has an interesting musicality about it; Green Carnation singer Kjetil Nordhus’s vocals carry an almost theatrical quality, and in the piano-­plinking, Middle Eastern influenced opener “Early Morning Mantra,” the contrast between his harmonized clean vocals and Paul Kuhr’s hollowed growls set­ up the rest of the album’s shape-shifting dynamic. With hints of everything from Orphaned Land to Mr. Bungle, the first track flies through six minutes of jazz­ flute and twisting, psychedelic metal, and, in the ensuing six songs, everything in between. From the frolicking bounce of “Nigen” to the expansive, anthemic end of “Father and Son,” The Great Bazaar is a dense but rewarding listen. (TM)

Various Artists – Native North America (Vol. 1) (Light in the Attic)

Like any great compilation, the breadth of sounds and stories captured on Native North America (Vol. 1) extends far beyond its 34 songs. This staggering set, subtitled Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985, culls a wealth of music from far-flung corners of Canada and the northern U.S. While several selections have been plucked from the CBC Records catalog — plus the internationally renowned Willie Dunn, whose devastating “I Pity The Country” leads off side one — others are unearthed from regional releases, private press obscurities, and an educational film with the artist uncredited. Spare singer-songwriter numbers are juxtaposed with the tumbling drum fills of Nunavik rockers Sugluk, subtle psychedelia of Eric Landry’s “Out of the Blue”, and synth flourishes of David Campbell’s “Sky-Man and The Moon” (in the style of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s electronic-dappled masterpiece, Illuminations). Six sides are far too much to digest in one sitting, yet repeated listens will familiarize standouts such as the sugary jangle of Sikumuit, John Angaiak’s beautiful “Hey, Hey, Hey Brother” or Willie Thrasher’s high, Reed-y voice. Other acts add an inspired spin on the sounds of the day, from the swinging beat of The Chieftones (Canada’s All Indian Band) to the dreamy new wave inspired instrumental from Edmonton’s Saddle Drifting Cowboys. This labour of love from compiler Kevin “Sipreano” Howes is the result of 15 years of research, interviews and record excavation, with its 60-page liners adding crucial context to songs built on struggle and celebration. It’s unfortunate no female artists were included, but hopefully the next volume will correct this balance while continuing the momentous triumph. (JL)

Young Braised – Northern Reflections (1080p Collection)

We’ve been championing the post­-based rap experimentation of Vancouver’s Jaymes Bowman since we first saw the “Snack City” video, and the performer continues to surprise and impress on his new tape Northern Reflections. The mixtape, which was gifted to listeners on Christmas Day, opens with a haunting rip of a television commercial for Northern Reflections, the ubiquitous Canadian strip-mall store that specialized in garish mom fleeces and would’ve had a major normcore revival had the movement lasted more than a week. From there, the EP’s a mixed bag of distorted warehouse techno, lo­-fi synth meditation and back­masked cloud rap as Young Braised explores transcendent meditation, Domino’s pizza and the class struggle. There’s a song where he takes down the bad Stephen Harper (there’s a good one, too) and some truly great Air Bud shout outs on “Casserole.” Whether or not you see the value in a song called “Middle Class Homie Quan” will demonstrate whether or not you understand the genius of Jaymes Bowman, rap genius. Simpletons might misunderstand our hero as a joke rapper, but Northern Reflections is yet another example of why we must appreciate Young Braised as a true artist. (JH)

Young Ejecta – The Planet (Driftless)

Joel Ford is one hell of a producer, having worked with Tigercity, Airbird and most notably Ford & Lopatin, the duo he shares with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin. The latter drew a great deal of attention for their 2011 LP Channel Pressure, but it was still steeped in a sense of cool irony, with their late ‘80s/early ‘90s aesthetic suggesting tongues firmly placed in cheek. Despite all of that, Young Ejecta suggests that Ford works best in the realm of total sincerity. The project’s fronted by Leanne Macomber, a former Neon Indian member who quite literally bares it all — the lyrics are deeply personal, and all of the band’s videos and album artwork depict her in the nude. Following 2013’s Dominae (released as Ejecta — they’ve since added “Young” due to a lawsuit from DJ Ejecta) the pair are back with their mini­ album, The Planet. Despite its larger-­than­-life title, however, the LP is marked by minutiae as Macomber’s angelic vocals and confessional lyrics combine with Ford’s enveloping production. A truly unique synth-­pop pairing, Young Ejecta have offered another quiet offering in their solid discography. While it’s not quite zeitgeisty enough to capture any massive hype now, it’s a release that’ll surely warrant regular revisits in years to come. (JH)

Zacht Automaat – Normality Bias (Self Released)

Slim Twig and U.S. Girls’ Calico Corp. imprint did the world a serious solid with the Zacht Automaat double LP in 2013, gathering standout moments from the outerstellar travelers’ 11 (!) previous albums. This high-yielding streak has been slowed by the ocean, separating the band’s braintrust of Carl Didur and Michael McLean (the latter lives in Oxford, England), yet the former continues to cruise through the stratosphere from space station Toronto (with an overlooked solo album issued last year). Live performances and recording sessions have since become a semi-annual event with free-improv heavyweight Colin Fisher and rapper/drummer/U.S. Girls beatsmith Louis Percival filling out the local line-up. ZA’s latest reunion took place over Christmas, resulting in the belated surprise gift of another 20-song tour de force. Normality Bias soars, scorches and squelches through the dusted fantasias we’ve come to expect from a group whose name is Dutch for Soft Machine, burrowing ever deeper into the prog zone with a reimagining of Egg’s “Fugue in D Minor.” The real surprises arrive with a bonus dosage of vocals, whether in the form of the sample-chopped “Baby’s On Top” or pitch-shifted warble-along “The Clown’s Got A Flat Tire.” Their swirling cover of Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” brings it all back home, wherever home may be. (JL)

Tags: Music, News, J Cole, Joey Bada$$, Moon, Native North America, Oake, sleater kinney, Subterranean Masquerade, Young Braised, Young Ejecta, Zacht Automaat






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