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A-F-R-O & Marco Polo – A-F-R-O Polo (Album Review)

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A-F-R-O & Marco Polo – A-F-R-O Polo (Album Review)

The world of Hip Hop is in a constant state of flux and there is little doubt that it is one genre of music that is constantly evolving, building upon itself, as up and coming artist push beyond the status quo. 

A-F-R-O is one such revolutionary artist, having paired with fellow Hip Hop producer, Marko Polo for this debut release A-F-R-O Polo. If you’ve ever enjoyed Hip Hop/Rap music, you’re going to love this release. 

I do however wish to advise that the Explicit tag is here for a reason, especially when it comes to the song Sunshine And Flowers. For those of you that would prefer a ‘clean’ edition of the album, there, unfortunately, isn’t one available. However, and in a stroke of genius, there’s an Instrumentals album that gets you 95% of the way there without the editing blips or spaces that generally ruin the songs. When my kids are around, I can listen to the Instrumentals release and thoroughly enjoy and then when listening privately, I can appreciate the lyrical component even though I generally don’t look for literal lyrical interpretation, instead preferring to consider vocals to be akin to another instrument.  

It is important to note that while I have referenced the Instrumentals release, if you’re interested in picking up A-F-R-O Polo physically, the Instrumentals release is digital only, being available on iTunes and Apple Music

While available on both Vinyl and CD, it is a little disappointing that the vinyl cover art is different from the cat-head cover of the CD/Digital releases. It’s a shame as it would have looked incredible on the larger canvas and I can only hope that one day a future pressing of the vinyl release will be done with the core album cover.

Some of you may be wondering if A-F-R-O Polo can really be classed as an album, rather than an EP. Well, it is right on the edge with a runtime of 25 minutes, but it does have eight tracks so I consider it to be an album. To be completely honest, I love shorter albums. Long gone are the double albums from the 90s; thank god! Seriously, how many were truly great? 

From a sonic perspective, A-F-R-O Polo is magnificent with a soundstage that grows as you increase the volume and doesn’t distort. The separation between elements is also superb and the complete opposite to the disposable pop music in the modern era where there is little to no separation and depth in the soundstage, instead aiming for a wall of sound. A-F-R-O Polo is incredibly dynamic and while I love the music, I’d listen to this album just merely for the mix which I consider is beyond reproach on all but one song. 

Long Time Coming (feat. Shylow) is brilliant! What an incredible opening for a Hip Hop/Rap album. The lyrical delivery shoots fast and hard, while simultaneously ensuring the sampling and mix is the definition of pure perfection. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can’t stop moving to this song. I love it!

Nightmare On Fro Street flows on beautifully and while rhythmically different, doesn’t sound out-of-place with the overall musical style of A-F-R-O Polo. I would, however, and this is a very personal perspective, prefer a more rhythmic approach to the vocal delivery as the spoken word, while a trademark of this style of music, feels a little too separated from the sampling and overall musical mix. That said, I’m sure there are many of you who would love it and consider it to be perfect. I certainly don’t dislike it, I’d just like a slightly different vocal presentation. 

Swarm (feat. Pharoahe Monch) has a great beat and overall rhythm. Sometimes that is all you need! 

Sunshine And Flowers is one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. That rhythm, beat, and lyrical delivery is off-the-charts good; a perfect mix! Yes, the lyrics are controversial and will absolutely offend some people but, while I can’t confirm this, I don’t believe the lyrics are meant to be taken seriously. Sunshine And Flowers very much reminds me of the exaggerated style of the comedic glam metal band, Steel Panther. Nevertheless, if the lyrics bother you, remember there is always the Instrumentals edition to enjoy.  

Fro Armstrong continues perfectly from Sunshine And Flowers and has some great sampling and an incredible mix. A great tune!

Use These Blues (feat. Eamon) slows things down a little but is utterly brilliant. Although, is it just me or has the faux record surface noise been overdone at this stage? Either way, it’s a beautiful song with a soundstage that is full but not compressed thereby allowing every element the space it needs to breathe. 

Lair Of The Black Worm is in similar styling to Nightmare On Fro Street, but I find the vocal presentation on Lair Of The Black Worm is much better suited and positioned to the overall musicality. It may not be the strongest song on this release, but I thoroughly enjoy it when listening to the album.

Joe Jackson has a perfect mid-tempo rhythm that will hypnotise you and Joe Jackson is one song that I wish would never end for I’d love the musicality to be repeated indefinitely. What I find is when I decide not to listen to the album again, that Joe Jackson continues on as a welcome earworm that thereby encourages me to return to A-F-R-O Polo and listen once again to what can only be considered a brilliant addition to my continuously growing library of Hip Hop/Rap music. 

Overall, A-F-R-O Polo was one of the greatest Hip Hop/Rap releases of 2016, and in recent history is only bested by Kanye West’s incredible ye. Yes, it is that good, and I can’t wait for more new albums to emerge. 

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A$AP Ferg – Always Strive And Prosper (Album Review)

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A$AP Ferg – Always Strive And Prosper (Album Review)

Knowing next to nothing about A$AP Ferg, and the A$AP Mob in general, one must immediately wonder how I could even attempt to review Always Strive And Prosper. Well, I don’t believe knowledge of an artist is essential to expressing one’s opinion of the music on an album. In fact, here at Subjective Sounds, music is considered an experience that should be viewed separately to the personal life and influences of artists. Yes, knowledge of the artist can add a level of depth to the review and bring deeper meaning to the songs, but music is subjective and as such should be interpreted and given meaning to by the music lover. Subsequently, not knowing allows me to take a fresh perspective of the musical style A$AP Ferg presents on Always Strive And Prosper.

Always Strive And Prosper is A$AP Ferg’s second solo release and is recorded, mixed, and mastered beautifully. The Apple Music (Mastered for iTunes) release is spot on with an immersive soundstage and perfect separation between all musical elements. While I’m a proponent of explicit language in music, ensuring artistic freedom is maintained, if you’re listening on Apple Music there’s no clean version available. However, if you wish to enjoy Always Strive And Prosper sans the explicit language, you can purchase the clean edition on iTunes

If you’re interested in owning your music physically, Always Strive And Prosper is available on Vinyl and CD and that cover art would look magnificent on the larger vinyl canvas, reminding me of some of Seal’s albums such as Seal (II), 7, and Standards. While I have yet to come across the album while crate digging, I’ve checked out the limited edition vinyl photographs on Discogs and the vinyl release is lust-worthy for those who are both interested in the music and collecting pieces of physical art. While I thoroughly enjoy Always Strive And Prosper, I’m not sure it qualifies for adding to my physical collection. That isn’t to say that it isn’t fundamentally a great album, but that I have limited funds and have acknowledged a very long time ago that it is utterly impossible to collect the thousands of albums that interest me. It is the bane of the modern streaming era as I’ve never had this much access to music within my life. Seriously, if I look back at my music tastes in the 90s, they were diverse but severely limited. Streaming music is most certainly a blessing and a curse. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs that make up Always Strive And Prosper and as we dive deeper into the album I may break down and declare that I need to add it to my physical collection. Even if I don’t, this is one excellent album that will appeal to fans of Hip Hop; a musical genre that I find myself gravitating towards more and more these days.

Rebirth has a great rhythm but I feel it was an interesting choice as the opening song for the album as it’s a little disjointed, in a good way, but if one was simply listening to albums and came across this first song, I’m not sure they’d continue listening to the entire album unless they were a fan. I suggest this because that was my first thought when I listened to Rebirth. Thankfully, I always listen to the first few tracks before passing on an album and the second track, Hungry Ham (feat. Skrillex & Crystal Caines), was the song that was utterly compelling and made me sit up and listen. Hungry Ham is brilliant and the Skrillex influences with Crystal Caines on vocals is the perfect combination for a really solid song with an epic ending. I love it! 

Strive (feat. Missy Elliott) will get your body moving from the very first note. A bloody good song and Missy Elliott’s involvement truly makes the song memorable. Strive is absolutely one of the best songs on the album.  

Meet My Crazy Uncle (Skit) is kinda cool and merges well from Strive as if the song were paused on the car stereo. It similarly merges well into Psycho and can be seen as an introduction to Psycho rather than an unconnected element. Psycho, as a song on its own, is rhythmically perfect and the musicality is off-the-charts. The mix of all elements and inclusion of the saxophone and background vocals is simply amazing and captivates the mind and the body. It reminds me of The Root’s ...And Then Shoot Your Cousin. Perhaps the only negative element of Psycho is the seamless transition to Let It Bang (feat. ScHoolboy Q). Let It Bang isn’t a bad song, but different enough that the mind needs a moment to adjust. Subsequently, by the time Let It Bang ends, my mind has finally adjusted to the shift. However, if I listen to the song on its own, it’s superb. 

The music video is also utterly brilliant, just check it out. 

New Level (feat. Future) has some killer sampling. I love it! A great song and while I would have selected other songs to have been the leading single for Always Strive And Prosper, I can completely understand why this song was chosen. 

The music video (Clean | Explicit) is an excellent accompanying visual element that will appeal to fans and if you enjoy watching music videos, as a way to appreciate music, you can’t go wrong here as it takes the song to a new level of appreciation. 

Yummy Gang (feat. A$AP Mob & Tatiana Paulino) is the first B-side. It isn’t fundamentally bad, it just isn’t anything to write home about. 

Swipe Life (feat. Rick Ross) is a solid tune, but I feel that it never really reaches its pinnacle as I feel there is more to this song that could have been explored. 

Uzi Gang (feat. Lil Uzi Vert & Marty Baller) is rather complex and it takes a few listens to really connect with Uzi Gang as the varied tempos confuse the mind initially until you choose a rhythm to attach to. Truth be told, even when you do find the beat, it is very difficult to maintain a connection with Uzi Gang and while it has fantastic moments, it’s lacking in other areas that make it difficult to thoroughly enjoy. It’s essentially a song to listen to in the background while undertaking other tasks you may be performing throughout the day.

Beautiful People (feat. Chuck D & Mama Ferg) is a beautiful song; pun intended! Turn the volume up and enjoy. Perhaps the only negative aspect is that I feel the backing musical element is a little quiet in the mix when compared to the vocal. A couple of decibel increase to that element would have been perfect. 

Damn Not Again (Skit) is great and flows perfectly into the utterly compelling and brilliant Let You Go. I’m going to call it, Let You Go is the best song on Always Strive And Prosper.

World Is Mine (feat. Big Sean) is a solid tune, but the whiny vocal delivery gets tiring, fast! 

The music video (Clean | Explicit) is a rather lacklustre and unless you listen to music, with the music video playing the background, you’re unlikely to watch it more than a single time. 

Phone Call With Breezy (Skit) simply exists but I don’t feel it adds anything of value to the listener but it does flow nicely into I Love You (feat. Chris Brown & Ty Dolla $ign). I Love You is a song that I just don’t connect with. The overuse of auto-tune is, unfortunately, distracting in this song, despite being perfectly suited to other songs on the album. Subsequently, with a remix and a dial-back on auto-tune, I may end up appreciating it. 

Grandma (Skit) flows really well into Grandma; a truly great song! 

Back Hurt (feat. Migos) is a great song to conclude the album with and encourages me to listen to Always Strive And Prosper again as well as stay in A$AP Ferg’s growing catalogue. 

The music video (Clean | Explicit) is solid and a value-added proposition for fans interested in A$AP Ferg’s visual elements, although I would have liked to see a more evolved story arc, especially considering there was a focus, at the beginning and end of the music video, on an old-time film projector.  

Overall, Always Strive And Prosper is a thoroughly enjoyable Hip Hop album that grows on you the more you listen to it. A$AP Ferg has his own unique style that works extremely well and while skits are nothing new, I find that I’m torn with regards to their inclusion. They are merged well with the musicality, and flow well in their track positions, but I also feel they can be distractive as you get into a rhythm, only to be taken out of the musical flow with a skit. Subsequently, Always Strive And Prosper, in places, sounds a little disjointed as if the album tracking was compiled without significant thought. I may, of course, be wrong with that assumption, but given the propensity to focus on songs in the modern era, one can understand why some albums sound a little unfocused. Regardless, Always Strive And Prosper is a compelling modern Hip Hop album that will most certainly be staying within my digital music collection and may, if the price is right, make it to my physical music collection. 

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The Black Eyed Peas – Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1 (Album Review)

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The Black Eyed Peas – Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1 (Album Review)

For many fans, The Black Eyed Peas may seem incomplete without Fergie, but Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1 proves that the trio of will.i.am, all.de.ap, and Taboo is still as relevant as ever and to be completely honest, I like the new approach that the Peas have gone for as it is somewhat a return to old school Black Eyed Peas with a more sophisticated musical style. If you’re expecting the pop-styled dance music that has been their cornerstone since Elephunk,  you’ll likely be disappointed. That said, I subjectively believe they are better than ever!

Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1 sees the trio focus on political hip hop issues that pertain to gun violence, police brutality, race relations, and social media ramifications. While I don’t enjoy hip hop, or any music for that matter, for its lyrical meaning, preferring to enjoy the musical flow allowing the vocal to become another instrument in the soundstage, there are some songs with particular pertinent meanings that I will discuss when we get to the individual songs. There are a few songs, missing from the album, however, even though they were released as promo singles. One of them is Street Livin’; a brilliant song and one that should command empathy within the listener. Get It is different. That isn’t a bad thing but while it was recorded during the same sessions as Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1 it isn’t right that Get It isn’t included on the album for it’s great, but not similar enough, in my opinion, to make a smooth transition within the album format. Nevertheless, the only way for most people to access these songs is via their single additions to streaming services or the iTunes Store. If you are interested in collecting these songs physically, the Japanese Universal Music release (Cat: UICD-1349) features these aforementioned tracks as well as the Constant Pt. 2 (Extended Version). 

At time of writing, a vinyl release is still unavailable and I live in hope that when/if it is finally issued, a Deluxe Edition will accompany it for while the core album is beyond reproach, these additional promo songs are worth the price of admission. Plus, that album artwork is screaming out for the larger vinyl canvas. That said, the back cover of the CD is somewhat lacklustre so I’d hope they redesign the vinyl rear artwork and liner notes prior to releasing the album on additional formats. 

For completists, Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1 is roughly inspired by the Masters Of The Sun – The Zombie Chronicles comic book, published by Marvel Comics. Sometimes I delve even deeper into the creative process, but in this case, I will let you, dear reader, see if the comic book is for you and the relevance it has to the album and your experience of it. If you think I’d benefit from checking it out, let me know. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the songs that make up Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1.

BACK 2 HIPHOP (feat. Nas) is a great start to the album. It is literally, as the song title would suggest, getting back to hip hop styling and culture. Like all good opening songs, it sets the tone of the album from the outset. Yes, this isn’t a song that you’ll chant along to, but I dare you to sit still while listening to BACK 2 HIPHOP. I can’t help but connect with the rhythm. Fantastic! 

BACK 2 HIPHOP’s music video is stylistically incredible. That said, visually it’s modern and appealing but, in my opinion, doesn’t connect the viewer to the song’s context. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that a music video has looked appealing yet lacked meaning for me.

YES or NO flows seamlessly from BACK 2 HIPHOP and while I don’t go for lyrical interpretation or meaning, as I’ve suggested earlier, YES or NO is vocally brilliant. A great song, although the sampling is a little pedestrian despite being perfectly suited to the song. The little vocal calculation rhythm at the end is brilliant. 

GET READY is one of the greatest songs on Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1. I’d also class it as one of the greatest songs that The Black Eyed Peas has ever recorded; the inclusion of Lauren Evans really pulls the song together. Yes, I love The Jacksons sample from Destiny of That’s What You Get (For Being Polite). Plus, the jazzy Joe Henderson Black Narcissus is superb. GET READY is absolutely brilliant!

4EVER (feat. Esthero) is smooth but I’m not fond of the mix as I feel the instrumental elements and some of the vocals are simply too distant in the soundstage, resulting in a song that your mind wants to turn the volume up on one minute, and down the next. It isn’t bad, but I’d probably class 4EVER as a B-Side.

The music video, however, fixes the aforementioned vocal/mix issues and I feel that is partially due to having visual cues to connect with, thereby reducing the audible confusion that can lead to misinterpretation.   

CONSTANT Pt.1 Pt.2 (feat. Slick Rick) is a great track. I love it!

DOPENESS (feat. CL) flows perfectly from CONSTANT Pt. 1 Pt. 2 and while different, it has a similar rhythmic style that will ensure you feel a flow that keeps your body moving. Another exceptional track and one that, in my opinion, shows why The Black Eyed Peas are one of the most talented musical acts in the world. 

The DOPENESS music video is pure gold! Yes, another bad pun but an accurate description. The styling and editing is spot on and it’s great to see that quality music videos are still being made even if the interest by record labels and viewers have lessened over the years. 

ALL AROUND THE WORLD (feat. Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Posdnuos) is another track the flows beautifully in the album format, reminding us all that while songs are good, the album flow is alive and well. A great addition to Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1.

NEW WAVE is magnificent. Turn that volume up and become immersed in the soundstage. 

VIBRATIONS Pt.1 Pt.2 has a great vibe. However, the music video is cringeworthy. 

WINGS (feat. Nicole Scherzinger) is another absolutely incredible song and Scherzinger’s vocal is perfect for WINGS. WINGS is absolutely flawless!

RING THE ALARM Pt.1 Pt.2 Pt.3 is hypnotic. Pure perfection! That said, the jazzy shift towards the end is great, but it is a little disjointed for my liking.

The music video is compelling and while not groundbreaking certainly explores the lyrical content in a manner that visually depicts the message the Peas are trying to present. Although, that shift is still a little distracting. 

BIG LOVE is a perfect song to close the album with. I love it, and the pertinent message contained within the song needs to be heard by all. 

The Big Love music video is confrontational, and it even includes a warning before it begins, and it needs to be confrontational to get the message across. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to see this music video. It’s made with love, will bring tears to your eyes, and should make you take stock of your beliefs. 

Yes, The Black Eyed Peas are back and while it is different to their most recent albums, instead focusing on the political and their traditional hip hop roots, this is an incredible release that simply has to be in everyone’s collection. It is in mine and it is so good that I can’t stop playing it. Seriously, it sits on repeat for days and while I really wish there’d be a vinyl release, I’d be flipping that record so many times it wouldn’t be funny and the needle on the turntable would certainly wear out, if the record didn’t wear out first of course – it really is that good! 

Masters Of The Sun Vol. 1 is available on CD and the iTunes Store.

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Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

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Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

Nothing excites me more than an exceptional debut album. The debut has the capacity to make or break an artist and if done well, as in the case of Ed Sheeran's +, it becomes not only a benchmark for Sheeran's future works but a template for his contemporaries to aspire to.

The A Team was the first single from + and it’s simply superb. That guitar strum provides all the melody that is needed to back Sheeran's gorgeous vocal. The A Team, as well as the entire album, is well recorded, mixed, and mastered. Sensational!

Drunk is a great song, but what I enjoy most is hearing the rawness of Sheeran's vocal presentation. It sounds as if he’s singing directly into your ear, especially during the chorus. It's a special moment when the recording techniques and associated equipment get out of the way and allow the artist to connect directly with the listener. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it blows my mind and demands my attention, ensuring this song will be regularly placed on repeat.

U.N.I. is beautiful!

Grade 8 has a great beat, but the song is a little campy in places. Not bad, but nothing to write home about either.

Wake Me Up is an incredible composition. Simple, yet diverse. I love it!

Small Bump has a sensational rhythm. The entire song is off-the-charts and is one of the best songs on +.

This is yet another magnificent song.

The City is a B-side. Adequate, but less compelling than all previous songs. However, when listening in the album format, The City works well and the album wouldn't be the same without it.

Lego House is no B-side and one can understand why it was chosen as a single. That chorus is pure gold!

You Need Me, I Don't Need You has a great hook. Sheeran certainly has the chops to deliver fast-paced lyrics. Let’s hope he doesn't suffer from getting tongue twisted as Billy Joel has a handful of times when performing We Didn't Start The Fire.

Kiss Me is remarkably good. Such a smooth, yet layered vocal. No wonder Sheeran has had so much success. It is impossible not to be drawn into his music.

Give Me Love is a solid track to conclude the album with, but I tend to dislike hidden tracks as The Parting Class technically closes the album following 20 seconds of silence. I don't know about you, but I’d much prefer the hidden track to be listed and presented as a song on its own. I understand the appeal of hidden tracks, but as a fan of the album format, I find the extended silence between the final listed song and the hidden track to be infuriating. That said, The Parting Class is a nice addition to the album and it could be argued that it is an ideal closing to +. I’d likely agree with that sentiment if it were not for the aforementioned moments of silence and the inability to select and play The Parting Class unimpeded.

Overall, however, + is one of the greatest debut albums ever released. If you have an interest in Folk or Indie Pop music, you need to have this album in your collection. I can’t tell you the number of times I have picked up the vinyl release, only to put it back. I’ve honestly lost count. Regardless, next time I come across it, it will be an immediate purchase. It is simply that good!

+ is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, + is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Spotify.

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