Opeth - Heritage review

3/5 Stars

Heritage is a unique cosmic ride. Opeth might have ditched the roaring death vocals and replaced drum maestro Martin Lopez, but they still can't make a bad album. 

Instead of merely paying tribute to bands like Camel and King Crimson, the scruffy Swedes have fully embraced their prog-rock roots. Mikael Akerfeldt's clean singing sweeps perfectly over a mixture of 70s psychedelica and Opeth's signature sound. 

Acoustic guitars, flutes and pianos foster a murky folk atmosphere, which provide an eerie backdrop to poetic personal lyrics. Scattered heavy sections create an abrupt change of pace, but listeners waiting to hear mind-boggling drumming and technical fretwork will be disappointed. 

Heritage also loses some impact during the last three tracks which sound like an anticlimactic jam session. 

Despite not reaching the quality of their previous work, Opeth have pushed into a brave direction, one which might make you appreciate your dad's dusty old records. 

By Jimmy Ness

Elzhi interview

Elzhi interview

Jason Powers, better known as Elzhi, has dealt with the death of close friends and the break-up of his group Slum Village, but he still sounds as passionate as ever. 

“It’s more than getting paid. You can’t even put into words how it feels to put the mic out and have the crowd finish your sentence. I love to create. I love to write something, put it down in the studio and play it back. It’s a beautiful feeling man. I do it for the whole experience." 

Elzhi joined underground favourites Slum Village in 2001, a group often praised as the reincarnation of A Tribe Called Quest. Legendary producer J Dilla was partly responsible for bringing Elzhi into the group and helped him to get his first paid music gig. 

Sadly, Dilla passed away in 2006 after a battle with Lupus disease. Founding Slum Village member Baatin also died three years later due to mysterious circumstances surrounding a struggle with mental illness. 

After their 2010 release Villa Manifesto, Elzhi announced his departure from the group citing shady managers and underhanded labels. 

Despite a traumatic decade, he says he never considered quitting rap. “The way it affected my music, it made me want to get a lot more personal. You can’t just bottle those feelings up inside, so the only way I know how to get them out is express it through my music. It’s almost therapeutic for me. It’s almost like medicine.”

John Butler Trio

Saturday 7 May, The Frontroom, Wellington.
During the John Butler Trio’s stellar two and half hour performance, you couldn’t help but feel a little teary eyed at how good it was.
Beginning with Mystery Man, the group worked through their discography and also showed their political side on tracks like Revolution and Treat Yo Mama.
The concert reached several peaks with the audience singing their hardest during Better Than and Used To Get High, but it the instrumental Ocean that was truly magic. Butler showed he might be one of this generation’s best guitarists during the twelve minutes of fervent fingerpicking.
The Australian musician, who started his career busking on the streets of Freemantle, used a new guitar on almost every track as he switched between acoustic, slide and banjo. Band mates Byron Luiters and Nicky Bomba enjoyed themselves as they joked with the sold-out Wellington audience and Butler playfully criticised a fan who had requested Ocean for a second time.
Despite an annoying drunk trying his best to ruin the mood by shouting “Christchurch” during song breaks, the intimate atmosphere had everyone captivated.
Butler had the crowd under his command, even asking the audience for complete silence during a duet with his wife Danielle Caruana, who played in support act Mama Kin.
With so many adored tracks, it’s inevitable a few fan favourites such as Daniella or Media were missed, but those omissions aside, their lengthy set was near perfect.
This kind of talent raises the hairs on your neck.
By Jimmy Ness

The Weeknd - Thursday review

4/5 Stars

The Weeknd's second album is a drug-fueled haze of sex and heartache. 

After releasing House of Balloons earlier this year, Abel Tesfaye went from obscurity to god-like worship. On Thursday, the Toronto based singer further broadens his soundscape. 

Instead of trying to repeat the success of his previous work, he ditches the catchy hooks and trash talking by revealing a more emotional side. His falsetto glides effortlessly over atmospheric production on tracks like 'Lonely Star' and 'Rolling Stone', and he briefly flirts with reggae during 'Heaven or Las Vegas'. 

Even Drake makes a worthy appearance, somehow managing not to bore the ears off the listener with his usual cheesiness. While it's not as instantly rewarding as its predecessor, Thursday has enough great moments to continue The Weekend's cult-like buzz. 

Look for the third part of this sacred R&B trilogy later in the year. 

By Jimmy Ness

Snoop Dogg - The Doggumentary review

3/5 Stars
The Doggumentary was originally planned as a sequel to Snoop's classic debut Doggystyle. This proved too much of an undertaking, and instead the album combines decent G-funk remakes with uninspired floor fillers. ‘Wonder What It Do’ and ‘The Way Life Used To Be’ have rare signs of ’90s greatness, with the Boss Dogg showing what was lost on his past three albums: funky beats and fun rhymes. However, the flaccid ‘Platinum’ and ‘Boom’ sound sadly like a 39-year-old cashing in on the ringtone generation with synth-heavy production and redundant collaborators. At 21 tracks, this disorderly record desperately needs quality control. Snoop hasn’t fallen off the wagon, but his embarrassing attempts at staying relevant may be his undoing. Imagine your dad crip-walking and talking like a thug – you get the idea.
By Jimmy Ness

Raekwon - Shaolin Vs Wu Tang review

4/5 Stars

After the near classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, Raekwon continues his newly rejuvenated career with a fifth theatrical project. 

Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang is backed by producers including Alchemist and Scram Jones, who successfully emulate the classic Wu sound pioneered by the absent RZA, with booming cinematic beats and samples of kung fu classics. Raekwon’s rhymes and impenetrable slang are still as sharp as ever, but with a personal twist as he explores his stomping ground of Staten Island. The album stumbles briefly due to its length and a few poorly selected features, but Raekwon holds his own against lyrical heavyweights Nas, Ghostface Killah and surprise pick, Black Thought. 

While RZA seems to be busy with meditation and movies, Raekwon keeps the Wu-Tang movement alive with more gripping storytelling from the slums of Shaolin.

By Jimmy Ness

Raekwon - Only Built For Cuban Linx 2

5/5 stars

When you are a pre-teen it’s perfectly acceptable to love a celebrity. But if you are over 18, you are probably a creep with a restraining order.

Admittedly, I try to keep my fanboyism for Wu Tang a secret, but sometimes it just takes control. This is one of those times.

Although I’m a relatively new Wu fan, I have been looking forward to this album for a long time. It was originally announced in 2005 and is the constantly delayed sequel to the classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, released fourteen years prior.

Like many others, I accepted the common belief that the 90’s heyday was over and it was ring-tone rap from here on out. However, despite my worst fears, Raekwon lives up to the hype and delivers a modern classic.

Surprisingly, OB4CL2 maintains the cinematic feel pioneered by the original, but without RZA completely commanding the boards. This time around production is shared between the late J Dilla, Dr Dre, Pete Rock and Marley Marl amongst others.  

The album follows the Mafioso theme of the previous release and Rae still has the grimiest slang. The more you listen, the more you’ll uncover new metaphors underneath his cryptic wordplay.

Guests are also on point with features from Ghostface, GZA, Masta Killa, Slick Rick, Inspectah Deck, and even Cappadonna’s performance is up to standard again. I missed seeing another guest verse from Nas on a sequel to Verbal Intercourse, but lyricism is still where OB4CL2 shines.

For a fan of Wu Tang or Hip hop in general, this is a 22 track masterpiece. 

Forget Blueprint 3.

By Jimmy Ness

Lupe Fiasco - Lasers review

1/5 Stars

Before I verbally destroy this album, let me begin by stating that I think Lupe Fiasco is a great artist who manages to avoid rap clichés without sounding like a rhyming science teacher. 

But that still doesn’t change the nastiness of Lasers. 

Lupe’s nemesis, record label Atlantic, should have realised there is nothing more awkward than pairing a ‘conscious’ rapper with Bieber-esqe production. 

Instead of sounding futuristic and unique like his first two albums, Lasers tries painfully hard to sound relevant, and packs 11 no-name producers with 10 ill-fitting guests. 

Lyrically nothing has changed and Lupe is as fresh as ever, but that’s not enough to save this album from the dire David Guetta sound-a-like production on ‘Break The Chain’ and the overuse of Auto-Tune on ‘Beautiful Lasers’. 

My recommendation is you buy ‘All Black Everything’ from iTunes and forget the other tracks quicker than your most painful memory.

By Jimmy Ness

Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra review

1.5/5 stars 

Grab your baggy pants and turn your cap backwards, because Limp Bizkit is bringing the 90s back…. or at least they are trying to. Gold Cobra, the band’s first release in six years, boasts a return to their nu metal roots. 

Vocalist Fred Durst proves he still has teen angst at the tender age of 40, as he makes 100 references to fighting haters. 

His traditionally whiny vocals are backed by cliché metal riffs and electronic wankery, which the band’s only cool member Wes Borland can’t even save. 

Surprise track ‘Walking Away’ offers a quick reprieve before the album resumes the testosterone-fueled depravity. 

However, if you hold any childhood nostalgia for the Limp Bizkit era, you’ll enjoy the comedy. From the irony of Durst rapping on a track called ‘Douchebag’ to one liners such as “walk with the limp, it’s the pirate pimp,” Gold Cobra is hilarious, whether intentionally or not. Plus there’s always worse music, Crunkcore anyone?

By Jimmy Ness

Lil Wayne - I Am Not A Human Being review

2.5/5 stars

Much like Lil Wayne’s career, I Am Not A Human Being has moments of greatness mixed with terrible decision making.

Lyrically, the album is just okay, with some witty lines that are worth listening to. However, Weezy’s definitely not at the top of his game with recycled life’s a beach/bitch and we in the building, you in the front yard/apartment puns.

Mr Carter also re-uses an old freestyle on Right Above It and the over-played chorus from Young Money’s Bedrock for Popular. This brings my first problem into the spotlight, if you are releasing only 13 songs, at least follow the example of Rick Ross and make them all solid.

Stale collaborations from Young Money signees who aren’t good enough to appear on Wayne’s Carter albums also bring the album down. Yes, I’m looking at you Lil Twist, T-Streets (Who??) and Jay Sean. 

There are some diamonds in the rough though. I’m Single has Wayne taking a subtle approach to his usual punch-line flow and we are treated to storytelling reminiscent of the Weezy classic I Feel Like Dying with its woozy beat and martian vocals.

Essentially this is a mediocre album released to make money off the Lil Wayne brand and to keep the hype machine moving. And in that respect, it’s pretty successful. The songs are listenable, there are some good verses from Weezy, and it definitely makes me want to hear a solid album.

I can’t critique Cash Money Records on their business sense either; over-saturation of the music industry seems to be working in their favour. Dozens of hits and tons of mixtapes released every year, and Weezy is still as popular as ever. But the fans will soon catch on, so it’s time for an actual good album, especially after having to deal with this and Rebirth last year.

By Jimmy Ness 

Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon 2: The Legend Of Mr Rager review

4/5 Stars
Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi has suffered his share of controversy with reports of a former cocaine addiction, anger issues, and telling fans he was bored with rap.
On his sophomore effort Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr Rager, he lets his personal life impact his music with a genre-bending album that’s moody, dark and brilliant.
Production is where the album stands out and it was a brave move to go in a completely different direction than his uplifting debut. Atmospheric tracks like The Mood, The End and Maniac put a spacey touch on rap while REVOFEV and Erase Me take a stab at 70s psychedelica. Cudi addresses his personal issues directly, whether he is discussing anger problems “I found a monster in me when I lost my cool” or being outside of the hip-hop mould “cudi’s lame, wearing a kilt he must be gay”.
Despite being a claustrophobic listen with its brooding negativity, none of the tracks are particularly skip-worthy. You could complain that Don’t Play This Song would be a lot better without the consistently melodramatic Mary J. Blige, or that Wild’n Cuz I’m Young is too long, and of course you would be right, but you’d also be nit-picking.
With minimal guest features, Cudi definitely made the right choice in making this a personal venture rather than a collaborative album, as originally planned.
Guests such as Cee-Lo Green, Chip Tha Ripper and relative unknowns Cage and St. Vincent actually bring something additional to the table instead of carrying the whole project.
It’s not as fresh and immediately appealing as his prior release, but for better or worse, this album is fully injected with Mescudi’s personality. One-dimensional rappers such as Drake or Wiz Khalifa could never pull this off.
By Jimmy Ness

Kanye West and Jay-Z - Watch The Throne review

3.5 stars

The most overrated and hated collaborate on an album that’s both brilliant and flawed.

Fans were practically wetting themselves in anticipation for Watch The Throne and on great tracks like ‘Otis’ and ‘Lift Off’ you can see why. Jay-Z is lyrically reinvigorated after competing against this generation’s smarmy 19-year-old rappers.

Kanye’s creativity is also in fine form with unique production and well-chosen guest musicians including RZA, Frank Ocean and The Dream. The duo covers multiple genres from Dubstep to Soul, and even prove they can out-do swag rappers on ‘Niggas In Paris’. Unfortunately the album sounds more like a collection of singles than a solid project. With so many ideas involved, tracks like ‘H.A.M’ and ‘Illest Motherf*cker Alive’ are almost overbearing in their lack of simplicity. Luckily the great moments outshine the lousy ones and witnessing the worldwide frenzy surrounding the album is almost as fun as listening to it.

By Jimmy Ness

Drake - Thank Me Later review

2/5 Stars

Aubrey Graham aka Drake, shot his way to musical fame pretty quickly after the release of his acclaimed mixtape So Far Gone and subsequent signing to Young Money records. However, cookie cutter lyrics and bland production make Thank Me Later an unmemorable listen.

Collaborators Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1da handle the majority of production by helping craft 10 of the album’s 14 downbeat songs. Admittedly this works in terms of consistency, but it also creates another problem. No standout tracks.

Songs like Fancy and Miss Me manage to scrape by mainly thanks to surprisingly good guest spots from Lil Wayne and T.I. But from the whiny Show Me A Good Time to the boring Thank Me Now, you won’t hear anything close to the quality of Drake’s mixtape tracks. 

Lyrically this is about as uninspired as it gets. Drake is either rapping about his glamorous life or boring the listener with cheesy retellings of numerous ‘complicated’ relationships. 

A particularly terrible moment occurs when Drake name-drops Wu Tang Clan and compares himself to the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard with the line ‘I’m the Osiris of this sh*t’. A safe teen-rap sensation comparing himself to a charismatic crack addict couldn’t be further from the truth.

Drake also takes the unique punch-line flow rapper Big Sean pioneered on tracks like Supa Dupa Flow to new lows with cringe inducing lines including: ‘I’ve got these new rappers nervous, prom night’, ‘this time I’m really going off, fireworks,’ or ‘we shut it down, Onyx’.

And don’t even get me started on Drake’s auto-tuned singing. Yuck.

Simply put Thank Me Later is not pop enough for pop fans and not rap enough for rap fans, instead it sits somewhere awkwardly in the middle and Drake doesn’t seem to have the charisma to pull off either.

By Jimmy Ness

Del The Funky Homosapien - Golden Era review

3/5 Stars

Oh snap! Del the Funky Homosapien sure knows how to pick awesome beats.

Ice Cube’s less famous, but remarkably unique cousin uses a mixture of robotic, cartoonish and funky production on this three disc collection, which includes an original album and two previously internet-only releases.

Del has remained deeply underground despite dabbling in the mainstream with a hit in the 90s and guest verses on the first Gorillaz album. His typically odd lyrics cover subjects not usually found in rap, such as humour, space and science. 

However, fans looking for the truly absurd lyricism found on the classic Deltron 5050 project will be slightly disappointed.

On latest release Golden Era, Del portrays himself as a grumpy rapper rather than the intergalactic MC we love. His technical ability is still intact, but hearing 40 minutes of battle verses and bravado can be tiring.

Thankfully, digital albums Automatik Statik and Funkman maintain Del’s exciting lyrical persona, but fans are still begging for a Deltron sequel.

By Jimmy Ness