BORN and raised in Harlem, Azealia Banks is no stranger to the rough “hard knocks” of life that has made her one tough cookie. She topped NME’S “Cool List” in 2011 and was on the tip of every alpha trend setter’s tongue and music magazine after gaining visibility with just one single — a drum heavy, cunningly worded 212, a collaboration with fellow rapper Lazy Jay.
She’s sly, ironic and aggressive in her flow, reminiscent of Lil’ Kim in tone or a murderous version of Nicki Minaj but this one-track hot-shot proves that there’s plenty more where that came from and teases that there is more to come in her four track EP titled 1991 (which incidentally is the year she was born).
1991 is dance-floor ready with progressive beats but maintains its suave, for example, in Van Vogue which, with imagination, can be used on a runway. She unfurls her lines gloriously over a steady pumping beat with echoes of a woman singing “real” in the backing beat. Vogue is a term drawn from the New York ballroom dance scene, an underground subculture prominent in the late 1980s and 1990s. This track reflects its spirit — fierceness.
She takes her time working through her verse before bursting out into a breathy “NY rose me, most high chose me” on the hook.
She currently has a mixtape in the works entitled Fantasea, which is slated for release this month and is working with producer Paul Epworth (the guy behind Adele’s monster success, 21) for a full length debut, Broke With Expensive Taste.
But as it is, this EP slides by faster than it feels it should, proof that it is a solid effort and a promising statement.
She asks, “What you gon’ do when I appear? When I premiere?” in her slick signature snarl in the climax of 212. After what she has put on the table so far, to answer your question Azealia, we will hopefully rejoice and laud it.
(Dead Oceans, 2012)
Phillip Moore and Beth Tacular are lovers and band mates. This combination sometimes ends in a disaster and at other times that can bring inspiration and form the basis for great stories to build folk music around.
After Bowerbirds was formed in 2006, they released two stunning albums, toured the world (with band mate/violinist Mark Paulson), broke up and made up and subsequently built an eco-friendly cabin in the woods together and adopted a dog.
And just like their home and life in the forest, The Clearing embodies that labour of love and gives the impression that every song was laboriously mulled over and crafted, a task equal to building a woodshed by hand or nurturing a vegetable garden. Working with sound engineer Brian Joseph this time around, who has worked with Grammy Award winning folk musician Bon Iver, this album feels like a more ambitious step not just in terms of technique but also in terms of richness in sound and direction.
Lush arrangements with violins, cellos, trombones, clarinets, organs and vibraphones, waltz throughout the album with many of the tracks building up to a towering folksy-orchestral dream wrapped with vocals smooth and rich like butter.
The album opens with Tuck The Darkness In, a riveting piece with a swelling of strings, staccato and increasingly insistent drums poised in defeated contemplation singing (“Oh my dear friend. Everything falls to death. We tuck the darkness in”).
Tacular takes over the lead vocals for In The Yard, a stoic and charming track pillowed by fuzzy guitars leading to beautiful vocal harmonies while Overcome With Light is a peacefully determined acoustic track led by earnest guitar plucking rested against wheezy accordion notes and Moore’s calming reassurance: “Yes we had some hard work but now it’s right.”
The record concludes with Now We Hurry On, a solemn acceptance about the uncertainties of life, good or bad — “Down the red dirt path/ Me and my true love/ We thought we’d have forever/ And now we hurry on.”
Almost every song makes a reference to the Earth and Mother Nature but despite being in the open, literally, they do explore darker pastures in some tracks which ultimately leads to hope. Overall The Clearing has more studio sheen but manages to retain its soul, so living in the woods does one good after all.