TMI 2022 | 17 | Griff Spex (Live) From (contemplation of) Transmutation (listening notes, etc)

(Sunday 17 April through Sunday 24 April)

Fresh -Ish)

Albums, mixtapes, EPs, whatever… Not all new releases! … every fresh(-ish) project I’ve listened through over the last week, whether with deep intent or in the background while I’m trying to get my head round something else. Fresh(-ish) = released in the last twelve months.
Rated! Generously, and very approximately, on a scale based around how much of the album struck me as worth going back to and how likely it seems I’ll get round to it again… Everything is worthy! But time’s limited, y’knah…
Basically:
1*: Nah.
2*: Mostly no, with a moment or two standing out as exceptional.
3*: Mixed. Maybe half great, probably worth filleting for a playlist sometime down the line.
4*: Yeah. The default. Either this is mostly great or it’s confusing enough that I need to figure out WTF I think about it, in any case I want to get back to this ASAP.
5*. Already on repeat. Not saying it’s perfect, just that it’s what I wanted to listen to more than anything else this week. Or something like that.
&without further ado:

Rap & post-Rap
  • 42 Dugg & EST Gee: Last Ones Left (Interscope/Warlike/CMG) | 4* |
  • Bas: [BUMP] Or: Pick Me Up (Interscope/Dreamville) | 2* |
  • Citizen Nuggz & Weztax: Off The Beaten Track (3137469 Records DK) | 4* |
  • Dashwung Slugger: Brightfields Baby (Hellfire Corner) | 4* |
  • Griff Spex: (Live) From Transmutation (1914652 Records DK) | 5* |
  • Hus Kingpin: Bjorkingpin (The Winners Club) | 5* |
  • Hus Kingpin: Bjorkingpin (B-Side) (The Winners Club) | 5* |
  • Jae Skeese: Authenticity Check (Big Ghost Ltd Music) | 4* |
  • Marcell Allen: Ebony Goddess (Hottest In The City) | 4* |
  • Pro Zay & Ed Glorious: Gutta Glory (Bandcamp) | 4* |
  • Pro Zay & Hobgoblin: New Souf (678162 Records DK) | 4* |
  • Pusha T: It’s Almost Dry (IDJ/GOOD Music) | 2* | …maybe this would have cut deeper if I hadn’t listened to Hell Hath No Fury earlier in the week…
  • Rí Rá: The 13th Tide (MaddAxxe Music/Bandcamp) | 5* |
  • Ty Leone: From Pain To Champagne (Island) | 4* |
Token Ecclectica
  • Meshuggah: Immutable (Atomic Fire) | 4* | …my first Meshuggah album, their ninth…
  • Sault: Air (Forever Living Originals) | 1* | …maybe some other time this might cut through, it didn’t repel me, exactly… just left me cold…
  • Uncle Waffles: Red Dragon (Kreativekornerr) | 3* |

(Selected) Listening Notes

Griff Spex: (Live) From Transmutation (Independent) | 10 tracks, 25:55

I dunno, dunno where I’m going with this… Should I mention that I noticed the guy on Fader? That I was almost put off featuring him by the fact the only place which seems to have profiled him to date is Fader and they don’t really give that much away? Intense, experimental, Far Rockaway, yadda yadda yadda. Someone there likes him. At this stage there doesn’t seem to be much of an organic following. Should that matter? Any which way he has a lot of positive signifying elements. The kind of hooks you get caught on when you’re trying to figure out where he’s coming from, when you’re caught up in your own transmutation, sort of… Figuring out whether his presence should be welcomed as a positive one in your life, or if he’s just going to do your head in being theatrical to no good effect. Cos this is hipster rap, you just know there’s going to be an abundance of attitude. And I guess I’m at an age where I could be forgiven for switching off from that kind of drama in self-defence, just running from the vibe at first sighting, but for now the odd sugar rush still appeals. The awkward drum spasms, the abrupt changes in ambience, the promise of (controlled) chaos. It’s dangerous writing about someone at this stage of an acquaintance, chances seem high that first impressions will come back to bite me on the arse at some stage, once I’ve got some context. But here goes.

  • “Energy Feast” starts in typically dense fashion, opening mission statement with too many quotables, “the ocean is a musical” is a nice way to end the first verse, then the repeated hook, “drizzle on my head/I feel the raindrops from God/drizzle on my head/I feel the teardrops from God”. He’s on top of the world, “realise you are the tastemaker… enjoy it”. He fucks someone until she screams like “Janet Joplin”, whoever that may be? Janice, or a reference that’s gone right over my head? He had wings before the body? A fallen angel! A young man realising his divinity! Nice. An understated but effective opener.
  • “Torch-7” opens up with similar textures and doesn’t stay too far, though there’s something of an uptick in energy. This holds true for the frenetic rap of the first half, heavily punctuated drum&bass with an equally fractured flow, not to mention such memorable lines as “I’m Bob the Builder, I might bomb the building” and “on the way I found a freak/Cos it got me geeked off the nerds”. And it also holds true for the slinky techno pulse of the second half, where he gets loose and moans a few words to go alongside the heavy breathing throughout, “so love me/What do I know?” and such with increasing intensity to modest, and brief, falsetto to end.
  • “Transit” is big dumb trap. Ironic? Possibly. Irritating? Yeah, a bit, maybe. Segue at end has him boasting “we’re live and respectful”.
  • “Full” is in marked contrast evidence that Griff Spex can do deep and meaningful with some charisma, especially when declaring “I don’t get a rush off the fable” and asking the perfectly reasonable follow-up, “When is infinite truth on the table?” Fresh. Or at least as much so as any track about filling and emptying a clip can be in 2022.
  • “Madness Method” brings another radical shift in tone. He sings, a reasonable whine, on the hook, about both “madness method feeling like day one” and being with “my day ones feeling like day one”. Then he switches register, sliding down to a deliberate regal pomp for lines about breaking ceilings and how “the power is yours and mine”. Silly fun.
  • “Never?” is a segue. Spex talking to his unconscious? Perhaps. To a pitch-shifted voice, anyway. Can he tell the alter-ego a secret? Of course. 27 seconds.
  • “Love Practice” is back to the hipster club music. He’s smoking on the god particle, I like that. Then the hook flips my preconceptions. I thought this was where he goes gloriously creepy, like Millie Jackson’s classic “Sexercise”, but it actually sounds a lot more innocent to me. He loves practice! I mean, that’s what he says, repeatedly, so we ought to believe him. Can’t quite make out yet what he’s saying at the end of the line and realise that may change everything, but for now I’m going to assume he’s talking about band practice. He’s a musician, right?!
  • “Break!” feels like a more earnest continuation of the same vibe, he’s busy, he doesn’t have any time for friends, he might just be daring you to break his heart.
  • “Slice” has the only vocal feature of the album, from Cities Aviv. Another sharp change in mood, we’re in full-on dusty-loop territory with lyrical density to match. And they both have interesting things to say, only problem is I don’t know them that well, yet. I only started paying attention to Cities Aviv after Birmingham, UK producer Tony Bontana placed a beat on his last album, and I know by now that Spex is a chameleon, a trickster. My first though was that’s Cities Aviv on the first verse saying if he died today he’d be pissed off and his head being fucked up because in the third grade he was forced to thug and had his “third leg touched up”. Because it’s sober, focused, a different guy than we’ve heard so far on this set. But the accent is NY, and Spex is from Far Rockaway. Aviv is from Memphis, which to these English ears sounds a lot more like the second guy telling us “these days each blessing is a payback”. It matters not, both nail their parts, and they work well together.
  • “Thought U Knew” closes the album with an epic in two parts, one urgent and short with a sound akin to speed-dubbing tape machines, walking bass, and Spex again sharp from whatever “no psychometry slacking” might mean, through wordplay around sleep and dreams and prophets and profits, to a chuckle and another confirmation that “I love practice”. The second half carries over the bassline, at least initially, then slowly builds from play with an old folky female vocal sample to eventually a treated loop and drums and a victory lap from Spex. He’s a leader. Do things really get deleted? He’s going so deep because he really loves what he see’s, he’s almost there. There’s certain things he couldn’t let you tell? Ending on a tease, and again lots of heavy breathing. And sampled applause! Front loading the set with sweaty club rap felt like a tactic to scare off the old farts, closing so strong and so trad is really taking the piss. He is a rapper because he has the ego of a rapper. Maybe there are no other qualifications.

Strays

  • Ty Leone, “Shmurda” (GRM Daily/YouTube) — Island signed artist promotes new EP “Pain To Champagne” with track including the memorably blunt claim “mistakes I made was due to being piss poor”…

Poptimism

  • Three interesting new entries near the top of this week’s Billboard 200: 42 Dugg & EST Gee at #7 with “Last Ones Left”, Fivio Foreign at #9 with “B.I.B.L.E”, and Vince Staples at #21 with “Ramona Park Broke My Heart”. Then way down at #89 there’s Coi Leray with her unfortunately titled debut album “Trendsetter”. If you say so, love. Not that I’m any authority on fashion, stranger things have happened than Coi Leray becoming an actual trendsetter. I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Only one notable new entry in the UK album charts this week, but oh my it’s a biggie. Digga D‘s third album “Noughty By Nature” goes straight in at the top, his first album to do so after his debut “Double Tap Diaries” hit #11 in 2019, and “Made In The Pyrex” #3 in 2020. The second drill album to hit #1 this so far this year, I think, following Central Cee’s “23” which peaked in early March. Can’t say I’m the biggest Digga D fan or even massively into drill at all, but I caught a few online rumblings about the whole genre feeling washed out about now as compared with its creative peak five to seven years ago. Maybe! Ain’t it ever so with cutting edge music? But as a grime fan listening to the Digga D album it struck me how well this generation have navigated the mainstream, how they’ve made the mainstream come to them rather than engage in the kind of painful compromises to which others before them have fallen prey. Even if they don’t see it that way.

Context

  • Kendrick Lamar Fans Are Absolutely Loving His Surprise Album Announcement — …a surprise album that comes out in four weeks time, a surprise that’s been rumoured for months, a bunch of moderately popular Twitter threads about said album, a bunch of erratically selected hype words thrown together in ways that don’t always make sense… someone was paid to write this… not much, probably, but something…