Kahlil Ali – “Song 100” (2019)

Generally when I think of the Suicide Bong label I think of punk and metal. But the Bong covers more than just those genres, especially when it comes to their local scene in Philadelphia. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when I pushed play on Kahlil Ali’s Song 100 and heard some hip hop. But it was a surprise, and even more so because it was so damn good.

There’s a nice profile of Kahlil HERE, and since I don’t have anything new to offer on that front I’ll leave that for you to check out. As for Song 100, it’s the flow that makes it special – recognizably hip hop, Ali leans more towards the conscious side of the spectrum. The message is important here as he raps about his neighborhood; sure, the beats and samples are luscious, but the raps… the raps… flowing over the song structure like rushing river that is only barely contained and directed by its banks, fast here, a slow pool there, all of it cool and crisp as it continues to follow the path it has cut for itself. He’s also not afraid to turn things completely on their head, like the brief “Zen” on which his only accompaniment is an acoustic guitar.

Song 100 was initially released last year on a limited edition (of 100) cassette, which is still available on Bandcamp HERE. Earlier this year it also got a limited edition (also of 100) vinyl release thanks to FDH, and that one can be found HERE. Both pages will also allow you to check out all the songs, and trust me, if you listen, you’re going to want to buy it.

Strypes – “The Difference” (1986)

This is another of the 1980s Seattle-area records I picked up a few weeks back from Hi-Voltage Records. Hailing from Tacoma, Washington, the Strypes had a decently long career as a popular touring band throughout the 1980s, apparently particularly notable for their fanbase in Asia. The Difference was their only full-length record, one the band self-released in 1986 after having put out three 7″ singles during the first half of the decade.

The Difference reveals a band that is quite tight – the songs are cleanly recorded and everyone clearly knows their place. Much of the material has that mid-80s pop-rock sound about it, that absorption of new wave into the mainstream. That being said, they do have some edgier moments, most notably on “Dead Stop”. Holly and I were talking the other day about whether one can listen to an album for the first time and identify “the hit”, and “Dead Stop” is actually an example of this – I latched onto that jam immediately the first time I heard it, and when I subsequently did some research learned that it was originally released as a single-sided 7″ the year before and was the only one of their prior singles that Strypes included on The Difference, so clearly they thought it was great and recognized the need to put it on the album. I don’t share this to imply that I’m some kind of music savant, because I’m clearly not. But it does support the idea that a better-than-average song is quite often immediately recognizable as such.

Is The Difference dated? Sure, to some extent. I mean, while there are still bands making 80s style hard rock and metal, poppier fare tends to move on without a lot of looking back. Strypes did a reunion concert as recently as 2014, and given the opportunity to see them live in the future I’d certainly consider going.

Cave Curse – “Future Dust” (2017)

Musicians derive motivation from a multitude of sources. Albums have been influenced by breakups, addiction, and even the simple need for a paycheck or to fulfill a contract. But they can also be ways of coping with the heaviest of losses, death. In the case of Future Dust, that loss was the unexpected passing of Bobby Hussy’s mother. “A record for the stoners, loners and droners of the godforsaken world we live in,” is how the band describes it.

An intriguing blend of darkwave and post-punk, the black and purple of the jacket image perfectly capture the mood of the music. The synths range from trippy and spacey on “Black Box” to oddly triumphant on “The Mess I Had Made” and “Drones (We’re All)”, often blending long low end notes with a 8-bit-ish high end. It’s this sonic disconnect that creates the tension that defines the record, a layer of synthy sugar sprinkled over the top of layer of low drone creating an unexpected combination of flavors.

You can sample some tracks as well as purchase Future Dust on vinyl on Bandcamp HERE.

Ægir – “Crooked Bangs” (2020)

A friend sent me a physical copy of Ægir’s January 2020 release Crooked Bangs. These CDrs were produced in limited quantities, the packaging handmade and the art and track listings handwritten. They’re individually numbered and mine is either #26 or #36… it’s hard to tell. I don’t see the CDs mentioned on Bandcamp so I can’t be sure how many were made, but my best guess is around 50. It was released on the Why Not? Plötuútgáfa! label, one that has an interesting collection of artists such as World Narcosis, GRIT TEETH, Godchilla, BSÍ, Brött Brekka, Dead Herring, and Laura Secord, most of who I’ve written about before. Ægir also runs the label, and I always keep my eyes peeled for anything he releases on it.

Crooked Bangs opens with what sounds like the artist getting ready to perform – not so much warming up as getting settled in for the set. What follows is a journey through subtle electronics and analog percussion, soundscapes that give the impression of being loosely outlined and then executed live in an in-the-moment spirit. Is it possible to describe Ægir’s approach? I don’t know for sure. At times quiet, at others frenetic, you can feel his flow in the drumming, almost visualize him in your mind behind the kit and lost in the moment. To my ears the most intriguing track is “Maybe A Bit Insecure”, probably because it utilizes sonics that sound like some kind of voice samples, though they’re barely recognizable as such.

You can listen to Crooked Bangs and purchase it digitally on Bandcamp HERE.

“Saturday Night Fever” Soundtrack (1977)

Mock this album and these artists all you want, but this thing sold like nobody’s business. It held down the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 for 24 straight weeks during the first half of 1978. As near as I can tell only one other artist managed to tie that feat since then – Prince with Purple Rain. Thriller probably had more weeks at the top, but not consecutively. It has sold 16 million copies in the US alone. That’s insane. Plus over one million in sales in at least five other countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. It’s a double album, and if you’re of a certain age you’ll probably recognize almost every song on it.

Laugh if you like, but this is arguably the definitive disco record. Sure, that may be a dubious distinction, but there aren’t too many many musical movements that burned as bright and hot and then disappeared in such a short amount of time.