Listening Post #11

by Alex Brammer

Photo: Kid Cudi

1. Eminem – Campaign Speech

I never quite know how to feel about Eminem. On one hand I recognise that he’s one of the most talented to ever rap and that he has multiple classic albums under his belt, but on the other hand since The Eminem Show he’s just released a string of steadily worse albums. This is of course with the exception of 2010’s Recovery, which marked a unique low point in Eminem’s career that not even his shameless attempt to trade on legacy Marshall Mathers LP 2 managed to plumb. And, of course, there’s the lurid misogyny and disses to half the population – for once justified, as Donald Drumpf, abusive cops and George Zimmerman get roasted. It really reminds of the political attack song Mosh in terms of energy, whilst also having elements of The Way I Am in terms of technical exhibition. Hip-hop’s court jester has returned, and while a 40 year old man rapping this much like an edgy teenager is ludicrous, it’s hard to get angry in the same way.

2. American Football – Desire Gets In The Way

Speaking of warm welcomes, this week also saw the return of American Football. While I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to the album in full, if it’s anything like this I’ll have a whale of a time. It’s fantastically impressive that a band which split up a full 17 years ago has returned in such good shape. This track fits in perfectly with the downhearted and yet curiously optimistic sound of the first AF record. It even pulls off that rare trick that so few reuniting bands manage – retaining the original sound whilst not feeling like a rehash. Between American Football and the Avalanches, 2016 has been kind when it comes to reunions. If you’ve any sense you’ll be all over this one.

3. CZARFACE – Two In The Chest

One of the Great Myths of 1990s music was “what would have happened if RZA’s basement didn’t flood?” Down in that quasi-legendary cellar lay the Wu-Tang mastermind’s studio, with hundreds upon hundreds of cassettes packed with beats. This was the place where classics like Liquid Swords, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Ironman were born, and where the final touches were being put onto Inspectah Deck’s debut when Wu-Tang had its Titanic moment and lost the lot. The story has a happy ending, though – while the Wu-Tang Clan may have grown estranged from one another over the years as RZA delved deeper and deeper into misguided experimentalism, Inspectah Deck has had a late-career resurgence as part of New York trio CZARFACE. Cartoonish, fun, and fantastically well written verses over comic book-y beats that’d sound perfect on an MF DOOM record, their style’s produced two great and unfairly overlooked albums since 2013. Whilst they’re hardly hitting the artistic highs of Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar, you can really tell that 7L, Esoteric and Deck know what they’re doing. This track’s the rap equivalent of Jiro’s sushi – simple stuff, done well. Get onto it.

4. Blank Banshee – Ecco Chamber

Regular readers of Listening Post might remember my struggles with Blank Banshee’s wilfully obtuse release of his new album MEGA. Well, Banshee seems to have tired of resetting countdown clocks and releasing unfinished fragments of song, and finally unleashed MEGA onto us. While it’s generally a bit of a disappointment, Ecco Chamber is a real standout. Making vaporwave and trap work well together is a difficult task, and one which Banshee never quite figured out. Either it’d sound like a trap song, or a vaporwave song. However, with Ecco Chamber’s relegation of the trap to the far background and almost entire dismissal of traditional vaporwave, it finally feels like vaportrap as a genre has a holy text and a definition of its own identity. Ecco Chamber is proof that Blank Banshee has matured as a producer. Hopefully, his next album will erase any last doubts.

5. Kid Cudi – Surfin (feat. Pharrell Williams)

God, I feel awful for Kid Cudi. He recently checked himself into rehab over his drug issues, mental health issues and self-harm, and it can’t be a small part of the pain that’s attributed to the reception of his universally trashed record Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven. Looking back on my own (half-star) review of it for Exeposé is a horrible feeling – not only is it a badly written spew of bile in Cudi’s direction, more Twitter roast than serious discussion, it’s also accusing Kid Cudi of having lost his talent. I’ve never been happier to have been proven wrong – Surfin’, a single ahead of his upcoming album Passion, Pain And Demon Slaying, is wonderfully done. This feels like a brilliant reconciliation between the vocal stylings of his post-Indicud experimentation and the earlier styles that long-time fans have been clamouring for. That can only have come from within Cudi himself. The hook gets it right – Cudi “ain’t riding no waves/ Too busy making my own waves”. I’ve missed you, Scott.

Listen to the PearShaped Listening Post #11 Playlist below.