Tag Archives: Bandcamp

#BandcampGold-All The Beauty in This Whole Life by Brother Ali

#BandcampGold-All The Beauty in This Whole Life by Brother Ali

by Dan-O

The first Brother Ali album in five years is a lot to digest. It is the reunion of one of hip hop’s greatest partnerships. The underground forced Ali to record with Jake One because Jake brought out a different Ali in collaborations. Fans wanted a change but I didn’t. I love Jake One but the bond that Rhymesayers producer Ant and Ali have goes so much deeper than on-paper skills. They lived near each other and Ali would walk to his house where they collaborated on projects that literally changed and formed post 2k underground hip hop. You could feel the friendship as an intangible in the music. That chemistry is something that needs to be celebrated.

Ali being one of the wisest scholars of hip hop knows the importance of destroying the first track. Pen To Paper is only two minutes and thirty eight seconds but he goes back to battle rap mode and erupts triumphant bars over Ant’s horn and bass backdrop. This album is not for bangers, however. One of the takeaways from All The Beauty in This Whole Life is that hip hop needs more (less insulting) subgenres. No one should listen to the tragic and intelligent dissection of racism and police violence perpetrated on the black community (Dear Black Son) and have to compare it to Bad and Boujee. Nothing against Migos, Culture is a monster album. These are just musicians accomplishing different things. Ali’s pen presses so deeply that a one listen cheat review isn’t going to be enough. We need to think of these different dimensions within the culture as different kinds of clothing. You don’t get dressed in the morning and say “Pants are way better than shirts!” You need it all and appreciate that you have it.

All The Beauty in This Whole Life isn’t built around the anthemic stuff Ali is known for. Around the 2009 album US it seemed like Ali would transition into the pop rap world. That transition never happened and in 2017 his release has a B-side attitude that doesn’t sacrifice any space from its creative vision. It is that mid-tempo cohesion that glues all the songs together, you can go from Special Effects to Can’t Take That Away without ever feeling overwhelmed by the intense lyricism at hand. The beats still bang and Ali has a dynamic flow/consistency in his lyrical design that makes the tougher moments easier to take. As an example, We Got This sounds triumphant with the upbeat piano but Ali is not mincing words “If she asks me about it I got to be honest. Either they forgot about us or they got a target on us. My niece is shooting amateur porno, police shoot my nephews in the street like its normal but they been doing that a century or like four though. It’s horrible. Still pains me to my core though.”

Brother Ali is one of the few rappers I don’t know that my family feels like we do know. He has verses so vividly rendered that they get stamped on you. You feel his triumphs and sorrow. This album focuses on that. I’ll never forget the frustration of Uncle Usi Taught Me and its masterful airport story ending. Out of Here is a song about suicide that explores all the emotional reactions to the event, a thoughtful meditation that will leave you needing to recuperate. Before They Called You White is a fiery and probably controversial take on racial history but unlike political songs he’s done in the past this one is considerate to all parties involved and benefits from a three dimensional heart. You can’t listen to it and think Brother Ali is mad at white people.

I met him a few times. He came to a local record store and I waited in line, I declined the autograph (not my thing) but asked him very specifically about a review in a major publication that completely misread a concept song he did and slammed it. I asked him how he dealt with that so continually. Most rappers would have blustered a “F_ them” response but Ali really paused. He said it’s the hardest part of the whole deal, that you spend so much time pouring your heart into a project and the people criticizing it give it a mere passing glance and disregard it. They twist what they hear into something it isn’t and apply their own bias. That conversation is one of the reasons I wanted this blog. I wanted to write about music in a way that wasn’t intended to humiliate anyone but to stand in awe of work well done. Listen to the title track of All The Beauty in This Whole Life and get seduced by the fabulous hook and sincerity of the message or listen to the first verse or Tremble where Ali starts “I’m a man not a brand. Heart nose no barcode that can be scanned. Revealing what can’t be held up in the hand; bearer of the standard that you cram to understand,” over rippling bass. Even if you don’t get the MC Lyte reference at the end you comprehend how deeply he drops himself into a project and he never holds it against other rappers who don’t. He’s made a choice to exist in a specific place and be heard in a certain way. As one of his fans I just hope he continues to be happy there.

Stream and BUY All The Beauty in This Whole Life below:



#BandcampGold-Blue Moon by Essence

#BandcampGold-Blue Moon by Essence

by Dan-O

I was so excited for my wife to see Essence perform.  The show was set up so acts work on different stages and trade off in a round robin.  Each performer had several sets. After the first Essence set my wife gave me the description of Maine’s most important rapper that I always carry with me.  My wife has one of these best friends: marvelously sweet, smart and great. Much smarter than she knows, much more attractive than she knows but doubts herself and suffers from the anxiety in her head. She said when Essence performed it was like watching Brother Ali come out of that friend.

It’s still a great way to frame her new project Blue Moon.  She is dynamic ,in delivery, with the spirit of a spoken word slam poet; every word takes its place as vital to the core of the whole. The first spoken bars on Blue Moon are “co-dependent on the figurative attachment, the one getting high on the balcony of the equator with feet…dangling off the timeline between you and me.” Her state of being as an artist presumes you know what all that means or have the willingness to unpack it patiently.

Blue Moon doesn’t have stock concept songs you’d expect to hear on a rap album (even a Maine rap album). Four of the seven songs are under three minutes but it’s still a dense listen. As a writer this was always a criticism I faced. People would read my stuff and furrow eyebrows while muttering…”it’s a little dense”. After a while I started taking it for the compliment it is. I give it to Blue Moon in the same way. Unseen is haunting, not just because of the ghost related chorus. In two minutes and seventeen seconds she covers loneliness, heartbreak and the dimensions you discover in people you get close to along with the difficulty in relating and comprehending what you’ve seen in them.

My favorite song is Resistance because, on the sly, Essence is fantastic at hooks (Blue Moon is kind of a great situation for Maine rap chorus’s. Not only is Essence great at hooks but she features Renee Coolbrith and Kristina Kentigian who are incredible singers, but never put out enough solo content. The combination of her talent and theirs in 7 songs means Blue Moon is always catchy enough to offset its depth.).  Resistance merges the deep conversation about our generations approach to relationships with a chorus that sticks in my head.  She’s no longer a poet or a rapper on Resistance she becomes a chant that lives in your experience. It’s the kind of song that makes you forget the process of listening to a song and think about your own life.

ChrisPaul did the production for all the songs other than Needs and the beats are dusty and minimal. Honestly, all the production in the Maine rap scene (for my ears) feels dusty, broken and post-Anticon underground. This is why the song Anniversary Essence did with big muscular production team OHX (collab with KGFREEZE) and Give (another KGFREEZE) push her in a totally different direction where she can showcase the sharpness of her sword with humor and wordplay.  This isn’t a knock on Blue Moon, the paranoia you feel from ChrisPauls In And Out beat totally makes sense for the content being covered. If most Maine hip hop production is aggravatingly self-importantly underground with its tongue stuck out at likeable melodies… Blue Moon smartly uses that to match the warmth of remembering those you love and the utter chill of not having them with you anymore(she also goes out of state for beats a lot).

That night, at that show, I awkwardly introduced myself and told Essence that a year and a half from now she would be light-years from where she is now. If you listen to Blue Moon and compare it to her 2014 project The Root of It…I’m looking ok on that.

Check out Blue Moon yourself:


#BandcampGold-Ferret by Dominic and The Lucid

#BandcampGold-Ferret by Dominic and The Lucid

The most terrifying thing I’ve ever encountered as an artist is falling out of my groove. Everyone gets to that place in life where they realize that their creative process doesn’t need to be perfect it just has to make sense for what you are doing. Once you do it a few times over a short period of time you’ve found a groove. When you lose the groove, desperation settles in where instinct resided and in the sweaty rush to get it back, that desperation keeps you a long way from the groove (since it was established with a clear head and now you’re a basket case).

Dominic & The Lucid certainly had a groove going. Waging The Wage set the template for rocking right into the hearts of jam band/phish fans. Season of The Sun is so wholly secure in its psychedelic rock identity that it straddles the line between comfort serenity and boredom. The collective established a wrinkle free sound that’s calm became its own worst enemy. Do you ever want to clothesline a stranger just because you’ve had an awful week? Nope, not in Lucid-verse. The closest I came to being a Lucid fan was on 2011’s The Lucid. That album was such a fractured, miserable and broken emotional journey that I finally felt the third dimension of emotions being exposed; something undesirable (example: excommunation).

Their new album Ferret is not the old groove, but the continuation of a separate one. It brandishes all the warmth and awe for the world, the tools you know them for. Listening is easy to do but it’s different this time. Once the drums crash on Apex Predator you know things have changed. Dom’s voice is still a stunning weapon he uses to make low stakes jaunty songs much more important than they should be (example: Catnip Curious). Stoned In The Suburbs is tremendous and displays a melodic intelligence that allows Dom and company to actually sound like later stage Beatles; not because they are trying but because the skill sets align.

Hell no, I don’t understand Ferret. The title track is a minute and twenty eight seconds and sounds like the score for an Italian 70’s horror film. A great score but….why is this the centerpiece? 11 Week Heartbeat is an incredible feat in every way you can gauge: machete sharp songwriting matched by pitch perfect vocal delivery, and like the rest of the songs on Ferret it really moves. New sounds shift in and old ones shift out, the song doesn’t just sit there from the first thirty seconds on. Contrast that with the scaled down, simple folk jam Madawaska (which is exactly what you think it will be from the title), contrast that with the radically loaded musical experience of Commodore Snakevision; smashing drums, super catchy chorus and it only lasts one minute and eighteen seconds…WHAT?! The Boy From Avignon has a Spanish almost Fanta label vibe and is assuredly over my head, I think he starts singing in French.

These guys ( Dominic Lavoie, Nathan Cyr, Charles Gagne, Scott Mohler) achieve a really interesting album through the confusion I’m describing. Even when I fall out of knowing why things are happening I trust them to do it and that trust pays off. Weird is exciting and weird is definitely Ferret. When the didgeridoo jumps into You Can Sing just like it did in 1993 when Calogero locked eyes with his first love on the bus in A Bronx Tale it put a smile on my face. Royale Milky is so perfectly reminiscent of the world Dom created on the first ShaShaSha album, the one that got me really interested in him and them and figuring out the difference, figuring out the strength in both.

I’ve listened to Ferret with at least three generations of people who all enjoyed it. Dominic does roar on this, he does give you real emotions; he turns the music in directions you don’t expect and traverses the distance from band to audience that psychedelic music leaves. Even in a sweet tone You Can Sing is really sad and unsuccessfully hiding its anger as he asks over and over “why are we rivals?” with a tone that mixes pleading and distaste. Very few artists in my local environment are as fearlessly capable of creating embarrassingly beautiful vocal performances. Dom cares and owns that.

All of this is just me biding my time before I declare that Solid Gold Julian is my favorite thing right now. His voice really sounds like Prince going full on glamorous bar band. The guitar work is fantastic. Ferret makes such absolutely brilliant use of John Maclaine on trombone and Chris Chasse on Trumpet. Since everybody loves the nice guy he has his pick of who to work with and he’s made a full return in wanting to surprise. He went back to ShaShaSha to find his groove. When I interviewed him he told me he just started doing the ideas that sounded good and that might sound easy but for an artist working on new music for the first time in five years, it’s a mighty accomplishment. This is really really exciting because I’ve been wanting him to surprise me for a while.

The videos for Apex Predator & Catnip Curious are below

Purchase Ferret below:

#BandcampGold-Bad Moves EP by Cool Tara

#BandcampGold-Bad Moves EP by Cool Tara

by Dan-O

This three song set kicked off a pretty cool discussion of the most necessary/underrated parts of a rock band in my house. That’s not coincidence either. While Cool Tara sometimes fall back into the anyone-can-do-this two minute punk song(new ep is going to be 7 songs 18 minutes according to the band) you can hear all of the elements so clearly and distinctly separate while the song progresses and puts them together.

The song Moriarty was a key turning point in me needing to recommend this. I realized after a while that I was humming Chris Gervais drum pattern from my LEAST favorite song on the EP. That’s how profoundly important a great drummer is. If your vocalist sucks that can be your style and it can work but the drums are a brittle situation. To quote my wife “At its worst your drummer is a metronome and it’s best your drummer is an artist making decisions and leading the song.” This isn’t taking away anything from Matt and Gabe on guitar who slam at all the right points or Kara on bass. It’s just a different sound. Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers change your definition of jazz when you hear them because you’ve never heard the drums start end and own like that before. At their best Cool Tara are really weird. Pig Of A Job is a beautifully indulgent 70’s jam that sounds like it should be seated next to a Chicago song. I want them to make more Chicago songs! Take a listen and then come back to it. See if Egg Sandwiches doesn’t stick to you like a stalker.

stream or download Cool Tara’s-Bad Moves EP (name your price) below:


Bandcamp Gold Album Review-Sara Hallie Richardson-Phoenix

Bandcamp Gold Album Review-Sara Hallie Richardson-Phoenix

by Dan-O

Being an artist is about growth. By the time you have moved everything you dreamed about doing past the finish line (as much of it as you could get across) new plans have already started to take shape. Artistic growth doesn’t have an end, it’s a bookmark and when the book is done it’s used on the next one.

This is what makes Sara Hallie Richardson’s new album Phoenix not simply beautiful but tragically so. At the conclusion of its elaborate eight song journey we find ourselves awake with nowhere to build. Phoenix is a dream that we wake up from. The ambitiousness built into the chemistry between producer/co-arranger Sean Morin and engineer/producer Noah Cole and vocalist/songwriter Sara Hallie Richardson can’t really be replicated live. You would lose the sound of playing children right behind the piano at the start of Reprise. All the chamber singing and string section solos, if this was done live honestly it would be the march of a sonic army.

The format of each song is quite similar. We start out starkly minimal locked into Sara Hallie who has some punch-in-the-face impactful lyrics on display. She opens Reprise with “Don’t mistake my care for a caretaker. I can’t make your pain go away. I can’t change what you wish you weren’t.” After that opening you can’t possibly look away. As the piano plays and the children in the background do the same, it’s a spellbinding moment. That is when the fun begins, Sara Hallie is our rock. Soft and sultry, wounded and thoughtful, always genuine and Sean Morin knows every dark empty space for the perfect placement of another musical element always choosing to weave it in with care. Not just once but over and over until the finale of each song, until it becomes like a coiled spring bursting forth with bottled energy: Hand claps, choral singing, STRINGS, STRINGS, STRINGS (thank you Amarantos Quartet), Piano, snares, bass, it layers and explodes forth while we count on Sara Hallie for shelter.

Morin knows that you can lead an armada of sonic pieces on top of Richardson’s voice and everything will be ok. The stung introspection in her vocal performance as she says things like “How we do we grow up without feeling old?” on If You Asked Me make her a clear protagonist. We are not talking about Billy Holiday Lady In Satin chilling but even as her voice is reaching new heights the lyrics carry with it the fear of collapsing into a life that is too much. So Morin keeps adding layers until it feels like inebriation and confusion…and then it’s over. Next song. Melancholy starts again as the next song begins.

This mixture of intensely orchestral music and cutting lyrical sincerity create an experience a lot of artists do not aspire to reach. I was trying to describe it as I ranted to my wife and I rambled about watching the most beautiful butterfly you’ve ever seen recite poetry. As amazing as that moment would be, melancholy sets in when you realize you’ll never see this again and it’s unlikely anyone will believe you did see it. Phoenix is like this. When I try and tell friends about how special, really special, it is…what do I say? Somehow all of these talented people pulled out the Ouija board and connected to something really moving. Like the title track it feels like a breakup album that smiles back at what it was and for an ever too brief moment what it is; creating and retiring a formula that never existed.

The children playing on Reprise and the chorus of Crime of My Life might be an indicator that at least some of the people involved in making Phoenix love Fiona Apple as much as I do (the kids playing during the song is a jarring move Fiona Apple pulled off on her 2012 song Werewolf). That never feels like a burden, just a great jumping off prompt.

Jury is still out on how many important albums the Portland Maine music scene can sustain at once. At this point Spose KGFREEZE and Lyle Divinsky have important releases out. The bigger question is whether something this uniquely dense and heartfelt has an audience here. When a project has listening layers it creates confusion as a result and not everyone loves to unwrap a present. Great news for me is that I don’t have any of these concerns connected to my experience. Paid six dollars(www.bullmoose.com) for eight songs and by doing so I supported my best local music retailer and a richly talented performer. For six dollars I will retain a set of songs that will go nowhere but up in value for me. Every listen yields new sound clashes originally missed, sitting in the song gorgeous all this time but unnoticed. The more you press the play button the more these songs take on different emotional perspectives; the sad ones seem to smile and the happy ones seem more sullen than remembered. Her songwriting here is like play writing built with room for listener interpretation and alternative relationships to each song.

I take Phoenix seriously because everyone who worked on it took it seriously. If a job well done in music yielded positive results Sean Morin should be able to sell his own T-shirts after this. Sara Hallie Richardson should float off into a sea of career possibilities wielding her voice like the weapon it is. I guess it’s up to us now. She’s done with it. Our job as active consumers of music is not just to digest this album as a purchase but to flap our gums about it until we annoy our friends into looking it up. All Phoenix will need is that friend to press play on an Itunes or Amazon song sample. Once it starts our job is done.

Stream and purchase Phoenix on her bandcamp page

WE ALL GET A FREE WEEKLY DOWNLOAD of the hauntingly jagged Sonorous

Mixtape Review-Good Day in The Ghetto by ST 2 Lettaz


Mixtape Review-Good Day in The Ghetto by ST 2 Lettaz

by Dan-O

This project is different. It isn’t just that it features an all-star guest line up (Migos, Stalley, Mic Strange). On Good Day he rhymes “banging my old lady buck nekkid on top of them polo sheets” with “four more weeks til my n_ free” then he thinks about drugs then he thinks about how his friend had a kid and he has no time to visit. The imagery is much more potent and assertive than it ever has been.

My mind kept conjuring images of ST as the old NBA superstar who would not be vanquished. The years turned him into Hakeem Olajuwon circa 1994, 95 and David Robinson wasn’t going to stand in the way. Block Beattaz has a lot to do with this feeling as well; the beats are sweeping and cinematic. Skwad is the second best song out of the nine and it manages to navigate between desperate and confident. The insular me against the world-ness comes together with the gunshots and the screaming to create the most violently militant moment in recent G-Side history. By contrast, the best song is Lazy Afternoon which has the Cindy Crawford of bass lines (gorgeous) and a muted repeating soul sample that’s positively hypnotic. ST takes you through it, riding and smoking while expounding on music as therapy, death as an eventuality and a reality. The whole time I’m just thankful none of those big name guests jumped on this. Lazy Afternoon is a beat only a handful of MC’s could have properly managed and ST is one of them(and yes this song culminates in an interlude about ass licking but this is rap music kids get used to it).

None of these songs feature ST looking up at the upper tier of rap and asking why he isn’t there. Songs like Quit Ramblin’ or Richard Pryor are smash mouth beats that ST just throws bar after bar at. Not rapping like a man who wants the spotlight but as a man who has it. Nightmare on 9th Street is all claustrophobic street venom “…double bagging that dope, tryin’ to kill the smell. Ain’t nobody crossed me…and lived to tell.” Is this a new direction? I don’t think rap has many new directions for someone whose done as much and been around as long as 2 Lettaz.

What’s new is the determination in his voice; the echoing reverberation of each powerful stomped word accentuation. Everyone used to write G-Side reviews saying “these guys are good but these beats are great”. He’s at the point where he steps in the booth and knows that he’s going to outrap everyone. As great as the Migos feature is, as snarling as Mic Strange is, and as surprisingly plugged in as Stalley sounds…none of these cats are rapping like 2 Lettaz. Its nine songs and every single one is ferocious. It could have been double this size and still wouldn’t have any fat on it. That’s just how it is when ST touches the ball these days. He’s all net.

Stream or download Good Day in The Ghetto below:


Mixtape Review(MASHUP EDITION)-Yasiin Gaye: The Return (Side Two) by Amerigo Gazaway



Mixtape Review(mash up edition)-Yasiin Gaye: The Return (Side Two) by Amerigo Gazaway

by Dan-O

When I first pressed play in my vehicle and explained what this project is my wife looked at me, beaming a sudden tranquility, and said “…nothing like a good mash-up.” You can’t beat a great combination: Jay-z and Oasis (Ojaysis), Wu-tang and Fugazi (Wugazi), White album, Red Album, and the miraculous concoction of Jay lyrics over Godfather soundtrack that DJ Skee cooked up a while back.

A good mash-up becomes three things: cold water in the face reminder to listen to artist A, Artist B, and a new bonded hybrid of the two artists that lives above the two. The tape becomes a new musical creation that leaves you asking “Why aren’t there more mash-ups?”

Gazaway used side one(separate mixtape) of this collaboration to focus on the Marvin and Mos we know; using What’s Going On quite liberally behind verses burned into the brains of any Rawkus Records true believer. Side two is great because it draws masterfully from my favorite Marvin works (lesser known Here, My Dear & I Want You) intertwining the voices in a way that feels like a genuine collaboration. Sometimes the Marvin Sample is a simple groan looped to follow the right words (Modern Marvel pt. 1). On Undeniable we isolate one of the most powerful voices in hip hop history for a two word chorus that sneaks behind The Temptations and goes beyond a perfect fit.

The booklet that comes with the download states that the mission is to use Yasiin Bey’s own words as a tribute to Marvin. So this is not Amerigo’s tribute to the two artists, it’s his assist in a loving tribute from Bey to Gaye. In terms of career Bey has always felt like an unstable property going from underwhelming project to eye opening one (True Magic to The Ecstatic). While his debut album Black on Both Sides has more than its share of brilliance you can feel a lovable paranoia running amuck; A talent that can’t trust its surroundings and wanders as a result; a voice that yearns to sing, rock, Jamaican toast, and rip verses. No one knew how to create a universe of interlocking grooves better than Marvin Gaye and the combination makes every song feel like a first time test conducted with a gloriously funky safety net.

I may be giving the false impression that these songs carry a singular feel from one to another, absolutely not. Ghetto Rock is thick and chunky with Chuck Berry guitar and vocals. Modern Marvel 1 is a whispering beauty while 2 is a summer cook out eyes closed finger snapping sing along. Anna’s Love Song doesn’t belong on Here, My Dear it feels like the grandchild of the song it takes its name from. I’m so glad to have rap I can play with my wife’s parents in the car. So happy that Amerigo Gazaway reminded me of the strength and range Marvin had in his voice. Sometimes his music hypnotizes me to an extent that I forget how much power he wielded. Nothing like a good mash-up and this one is great.

stream or download Yasiin Gaye: The Return (Side Two) below: