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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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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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The Script – #3 (Album Review)

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The Script – #3 (Album Review)

Released in 2012, #3 is the third album from the Irish band, The Script. Most surprisingly, however, is that this album has been in my TIDAL Hi-Fi collection for years, yet I've never purchased a copy. I say surprisingly because even though The Script's style of music has a tendency to be somewhat campy, I thoroughly enjoy it. Nevertheless, I guess when you have CD-quality streaming, it isn't always necessary to have the physical counterpart.

Before we take a look at the songs, please note this review is based on the standard release of the album and while I’ve heard the Deluxe Edition, and enjoy the additional tracks, I feel they are superfluous to the album and are only truly necessary for dedicated fans and completists.

Good Ol' Days is a killer pop-rock song. It’s a sensational start to the album with a mix that is absolutely perfect. Although, I do feel this song, and the entire album, is mastered a little hot. It isn't necessarily detrimental to the enjoyment of the recording, but as I've said many times before, I know where the volume knob is.

Six Degrees Of Separation was the second single from #3 and has a beautiful introduction and vocal presentation. While it’s certainly single-ready, the composition is somewhat predictable. Despite that, I enjoy the constant reinterpretations of AC/DC’s trademark style, therefore I can tolerate and appreciate the safe approach The Script took with this song.

Hall Of Fame is the star of the album and was the obvious lead single from #3. It is inspirational, easy to sing-a-long to, and will.i.am's inclusion is essential to the song's success as a composition, in my opinion, despite him having minimal production input. Hall Of Fame should be in everyone's Inspirational Playlist.

If You Could See Me Now is a fantastic mix of pop-rock and hip-hop styling. It’s a head bopper and toe topper that is thoroughly enjoyable.

Glowing takes a while to get going. However, after the first minute, Glowing comes into its own and is one of the best songs on the album with an exceptional rhythm. Although, the loudness of the mix squashes the musicality of the song. It's still a great song, of course, but it could have been even better with an expanded dynamic range.

Give The Love Around is a B-side. Not a bad one as it certainly fits the overall style of the album, but it isn't as strong as the previous songs. There is also a little sibilance in the chorus that is rather distracting, especially when listening via headphones.

Broken Arrow has an interesting, and compelling, interweaving vocal. The mix is great, I love it!

Kaleidoscope is a stadium-filling song that reminds me, in styling, of U2.

No Words is a beautiful song that I could listen to for hours. However, there is some distortion in the harmonic elements that I find distracting. As usual, this is amplified when listening via headphones, but it is something to be aware of, especially given how much of our modern music listening is being done with headphones. I can, however, confirm that the distortion is still present on speakers, but it is less distracting.

Millionaires is a great song, with plenty of energy, to conclude the album with, ensuring I'll listen to #3 again and stay within The Script's catalogue.

Overall, #3 is an incredible album and one that should be in everyone's collection. Yes, there are some things I would have done differently, in relation to the mixing, mastering, and overall production of the album, but they are minor quibbles that would likely make the album different, not better.

#3 is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC) and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, #3 is also available on Apple Music.

A Deluxe Edition is also available on all aforementioned formats with the exception of the vinyl release which has the same tracking as the Standard Edition.

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MIA - AlM (Deluxe) [Album Review]

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MIA - AlM (Deluxe) [Album Review]

I'm always on the prowl for new music and while I find a plethora of albums that are worthy of reviewing, time is finite and I prefer to discuss those that reach me on a deeper level. For my thoughts on the albums that didn’t quite qualify for a long-form review, check out the Subjective Sounds Micro Reviews on Instagram.

AIM is the fifth studio release from MIA (the stage name for Mathangi Arulpragasam) and to be completely frank, I had never heard of her before listening to this album. I dare say without the ability to stream music, I would have remained naïve of her musical prowess.

The album cover is largely nondescript and prior to listening to the album, I didn't even know it was a Hip-Hop record. Personally, I like not knowing when I'm in discovery mode as I prefer the music to speak for itself. Yes, Hip-Hop is often reliant on sampling other great tracks, but that is part of the appeal of the genre. How the music is sampled and how is it integrated and developed into a song and album experience. It is a layering technique that I find fascinating and musically pleasing.

The introduction to Borders is superb as the song slowly builds. The vocal delivery and distortion levels are perfect, as is the oriental feel that traverses the song and much of the album. It is a sound signature that is unique and thoroughly addictive. You will want to turn up the volume and move your body to the beat. It is this subconscious response to the music that draws me in and captivates my soul.

Go Off continues the oriental sound signature with an interesting vocal layering technique that creates the core of the song. While the lyrical aspects of this song are mostly non-English, like good Opera, a beautiful vocal delivery is sometimes all that is needed.

Bird Song (Blaqstarr Remix) is exceptional! The sampling of llaiyaraaja's “Oru Kili Uruguthu” is done with respect and is simply gorgeous.

Jump In is a vocal interlude that isn't the greatest. Personally, I would have left it off the album as it doesn't add substantially to the musicality of the album.

Freedun (featuring Zayn) is a solid track but I feel it is a B-side, despite being issued as a single.

Foreign Friend (featuring Dexter Daps) is an incredible mellow song. I love it! Dexter Daps certainly adds value and the song wouldn't be the same without the inclusion of his smooth, yet gritty, vocal presentation.

Finally isn't a bad song but it is let down by too much vocal and bass distortion.

A.M.P (All My People) re-introduces the oriental sounds, but I don't like the song as I feel it is overproduced.

Ali r u ok? is sonically pleasing, although I find the soundstage to be a little too compressed.

Visa isn't the strongest song on the album. Although, I thoroughly enjoy it as it reminds me of the musicality Grace Jones is known for.

Fly Pirate is sonically disturbing. Seriously, listen on headphones and you have moments where the music doesn't only create a widening soundstage, but you feel as though the music is moving through your skull. It is an interesting technique and I like it.

Survivor is a lovely song, but there is a little too much distortion and reliance on Autotune.

Bird Song (Diplo Remix) doesn't compare to the brilliance heard on the Blaqstarr Remix.

The New International Sound Pt. 2 (featuring GENER8I0N) is sonically incredible! This song has a massive soundstage and while it still overuses Autotune, it suits the song perfectly.

Swords has some incredible musical elements, but I am not sure it works as a song. Then again, the more I listen, the more I feel it works. It is one of those songs that will likely grow on you.

Talk is brilliant. I love it!

Platforms is musically beautiful and the perfect song to end the album with as it makes me want to listen again or continue to explore MIA's catalogue.

While AIM may not appeal to everyone, I find that I am drawn to the album as it is musically unique and offers something off the beaten path of both the Hip-Hop and Rap scenes. For me, this style of music is much like my appreciation of classical music. I know I like it, yet I find it difficult to describe the how and why. Of course, it is plausible to like music for no quantifiable reason.

For this review, I listened to the 16/44.1kHz FLAC and 24/88.2kHz MQA edition, both via TIDAL Hi-Fi. Both editions are beautifully mastered, but the MQA edition sounds more refined and accurate, resulting in a slightly larger soundstage and better bass presentation with less distortion. While I preferred the MQA edition, I certainly wouldn't be disappointed with the 16/44.1kHz CD-quality FLAC edition.

MIA's AIM is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, AIM is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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