Listens for the Week #27
Every week, I offer three recommendations: something new, something classic, and something I love. This week, I’ve been revisiting some rock classics I’ve gone too long without hearing, and as always, I’ve made some room to hear what’s going on in the hip hop underground.
Rigz – Heal In (2023) [East Coast Hip Hop]
The latest project from Rigz is more proof that he is one of the most gifted and consistent voices in today’s underground. His lyricism is as sharp as usual, with a nasally, ferocious delivery to his bars which gives more power to his emotionally potent verses. Joined by a range of guests, they complement his gritty style well. Rob Gates’s bombastic hook on “Somewhere” juxtaposes the icy performance from Rigz, and the verses from Shonyea and Bishop the Great on “Pick Ya Poizon” make for a triple threat banger where all three MCs thrive over the ominous production. Speaking of the production, it’s simple, but so effective. The grandiose synthwork on “Somewhere” start the album off on an uplifting note; the melancholy strings and piano on “Nobody” add to the despair of his lyrics. While there are a few weaker tracks on the back end whose brevity leave them feeling a little half-baked, overall, this is yet another stellar release from Rigz, and an album any hip hop fan should check out.
The Strokes – Room On Fire (2003) [Indie Rock]
When there’s an album I adore, I always go searching for music that sounds exactly like it, but usually, no album can quite recreate the magic of the original. Room On Fire is a rare exception – it sounds like a direct sequel to the band’s last record, Is This It, with the same compressed vocals and intricately composed guitar work that made their debut so special. In some ways, it improves upon their classic debut. “Reptilia” is an instant standout, with a ferocious vocal performance from Julian Casablancas and a rippling wall of guitar which makes it a far more powerful track than anything off Is This It. The chirpy electric guitar on “12:51” captures that summery magic the band are famous for, with Julian’s lazy voice adding to the laidback atmosphere. Track after track, the album delivers with some of the best indie rock of the 2000s, but there are blemishes to be heard. After the intense verses and revving guitar on “You Talk Way Too Much”, the monotonous hook is a little anticlimactic, whereas the explosive chorus on “The Way It Is” is so loud it’s a struggle to make out Julian’s words. Even with its faults, Room On Fire is yet another excellent record from The Strokes, and a major highlight in their otherwise spotty catalogue.
Something I Love
Vox Balcolo – TABULA RASA (2023) [Instrumental & Abstract Hip Hop]
TABULA RASA is the latest tape from Vox Balcolo, a Poland-based producer whose influences range from mainstream talents like Kanye West to underground experts such as Klwn Cat. On this new project, the Klwn Cat influence is prominent. Vox’s production captures that same muddy grit, with a crinkling haze of sound in the background to mimic the effect of spinning an old record. The distorted, stuttering sample-work on the opener “23” creates an unsettling effect, made more satisfying when the dusty percussion kicks in. “Kisoon BBQ” is another favourite of mine, with these wailing horns rising above a storm of chattering, messy drumwork, capturing an equally chaotic and chilling atmosphere. Other tracks, I’m not so keen on. The vocal sample on “foolish” drags on, with the sparsity of the instrumental besides the sample making it a less engaging listen than the tracks around it. The hypnotic vocal loops on “conducta” are mesmerising, but for two minutes it begins feeling monotonous, and a little evolution in the instrumental could have made it far stronger. Flaws aside, TABULA RASA showcases the potential of Vox Balcolo, with its highlights proving he has the ability to craft dense soundscapes and evoke such an unnerving atmosphere. After this project, I look forward to how Vox’s sound evolves next.