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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Primordial - Redemption at the Puritan's Hand: B+

Despite the fact that it is a very good album, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand will probably be seen as a disappointment within the Primordial discography. After coming off the Irish metal band’s arguable magnum opus, To the Nameless Dead in 2007, many have met the group’s newest album with significant criticism, something that was probably inevitable considering how very rapturous the acclaim for To the Nameless Dead was.

While I maintain that Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand is a great, borderline excellent, album, I can understand the criticism it has garnered, most of which lies in the album’s flow. Lead singer Naihmass Nemtheanga sings lines like pronouncements. He rarely intones actual notes, instead giving tempo-driven speeches over the arrangements the rest of the group creates. He rarely rhymes, so his proclamations often sound like narration of the epic battles the rest of the group are fighting. While this has been a very effective formula for most of Primordial’s work, on Redemption, it can get tiresome, as some songs feel like they could go on forever. And when some tracks are eight minutes long with little musical variation or guitar solos to break up the insistent strumming, things can get tedious.

However, this is a minor qualm about the album. While it is awkward when Nemtheanga seems to run out of rousing diction on “Bloodied Yet Unbowed” (“To those who did not dare to sing / Out of tune / Or sing… a different song!”) the guy gets in some galvanizing lines as the band relentlessly drives on, particularly on “The Mouth of Judas”. It’s not astounding, but Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand would be a great addition to any metal band’s discography, even one as stacked as Primordial’s. I’m just hoping that with this album, the group can learn from their few shortcomings so that they can fine-tune their style to release another album as great as To the Nameless Dead.


Sondre Lerche - Sondre Lerche: B+

Singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche is from Norway, but, musically, he could be from anywhere. He could be a serenading troubadour at a swanky Paris villa. He could be a Brooklyn vagabond strumming an acoustic for the bills people toss his way. He could be a Spanish folk fan who just likes to bring a guitar to the Barcenoleta Beach. He is good looking with a gentle voice and has the songwriting chops to make every song on his self-titled sixth album sound like it just barely missed the cut for the soundtrack to that cute indie flick you’ve just been dying to see. Whether mocking his own erudition in the polite shuffle of “Go Right Ahead” or depicting affectionate puppy love on “Private Caller”, Lerche knows his style and plays it effectively. His newest is certainly nothing groundbreaking, but it hits the right spot if you’re in the mood for some quaint and unassuming fluff. Fault me for not hating Sondre Lerche because of that, but sometimes that’s all you want from an album.


DJ Quik - The Book of David: B-

For the most part, Compton rapper DJ Quik has been known for his production work and, accordingly, the beats on his eighth album range from decent to excellent. Many of the album’s tracks feature a refined, laid-back style like first and second track “Fire and Brimstone” and “Do Today”, but there are also moments of quirky genius like the euphoric singing that makes up the beat of “Hydromatic” and Gary Shider’s frenzied choir of tortured soul singing on last track “The End?”. The beats on The Book of David are largely consistent. Many are indications of the enjoyably off-kilter work the man can cook up.

However, most academic analyses into the beats of The Book of David are pretty much cut off at the waist when DJ Quik steps onto the mic. The man’s voice has a perpetual cocky swagger to it; with every line he spits, you can almost taste his satisfaction with himself. A wide range of topics is covered on The Book of David, but Quik attacks them all with the same tone, mercilessly taunting his sister as much as he does haters and naysayers. This flaw in Quik’s style becomes apparent as the flow of insults to his maligned family members with a childish glee on “Ghetto Rendevous” (“Put some honey on your dick and put it in a blender” goes one slam) quickly changes from humorous to very, very uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s telling that Quik feels so comfortable swatting at marginalized family members, but seeing that he comes off as such an insensitive sadist, it’s clear that he goes about it all wrong.

From that point on, something just doesn’t sit right with DJ Quik’s personality, which remains unwavering as he moves from track to track. In “Luv of My Life”, Quik disregards women and favors money and cars as the best forms of companionship. He invites Ice T to guest on “Boogie Till You Conk Out”, and the track ends with the two congratulating each other for almost a minute after the track should’ve ended. “This one goes out to me,” Quik says at the end of “Killer Dope”. “I love me, DJ Quik. Fuck it.”

What I’m trying to say is that, on The Book of David, DJ Quik comes off as a massive asshole. He’s unscrupulous and self-absorbed, but doesn’t carry his bad boy demeanor with a convincing voice like many other rappers with similar reputations. Instead, DJ Quik opts for condescension, as if he’s just another playground rant away from yelling “Nanny nanny poo poo!” at all dissention. At just over forty, this guy shouldn’t sound like an immature douche bag. It’s strange to say that he sounds more like Soulja Boy than Raekwon.

Even when The Book of David stops for a sentimental slow jam, Quik can’t help but be unlikable. In penultimate track, “Time Stands Still”, he talks about meeting up with a girl with whom he was once intimate. Once he picks her up at the airport, he takes her to the Cheesecake Factory (a detail too awkward not to be true). He describes their candor at the dinner table, until one of his verses is interrupted by a kiss, presumably planted on by the woman he’s with. It’s a narcissistic sound effect, and Quik plays it off unconvincingly with a suave, low voice. Then the song just ends, as if Quik assumes you’ll be proud of him that, in the story, he’s probably getting laid that night.

The song just doesn’t nearly come off as nobly as Quik intends. He far too effectively characterizes himself as a caustic jokester throughout The Book of David for a song like “Time Stands Still” to work, so it sits awkwardly like most of the tracks on the album. As hard as he tries, Quik is not portrayed as the hero on his newest, and it’s hardly a compliment to an album when all you’re rooting for are the beats. If you want to hear a well-executed portrayal of an engaging character, get E-40’s Revenue Retrievin’: Overtime Shift. If you want to see how a similar technique can be screwed up to be totally counterintuitive, The Book of David may be your best bet.