Album: Black on Blonde

Artist: k-os

Impressive is the only way I can describe the latest k-os album. Black on Blonde is the fifth studio album by the Canadian rapper since his last release in 2010. The album comes as a double disc with the different types of music on each. The Black album is his rap and hip hop side, while Blonde is his rock side. The two sides are distinct but unite so well. They compliment each other perfectly.

The Black side of the album is what we’re used to. It’s what made us fall in love with k-os in the first place and features great Canadian artists like Saukrates and Shad. The Roots’ Black Thought and Travie McCoy are also featured. The Black side shows us that he can still be a great rapper while introducing elements of rock to perfect his sound.

A rock influence finds its way to the Blonde side as k-os plays his guitar on some of the tracks. The side also features great Canadian artists like Emily Haines from Metric and Sam Roberts. Even though we aren’t used to hearing just rock music from k-os, you can hear the dedication that was put into the Blonde side of the album. I’ve never been an active rock listener, but I can appreciate what k-os does.

The album as a whole is refreshing and well performed. The creative sound incorporates genres of rap, hip-hop, rock and a little bit of pop, which shows off the many talents of k-os. Instead of falling into a mainstream view of what a hip hop artist looks like, k-os has deviated from that identity with this great album. Black on Blonde deserves a listen.

4/5

Sonya Kahlon 

 

Album: Laid Out 

Artist: Shlomo

In the two years since the release of his debut LP, 2011’s Bad Vibes, Shlohmo (a.k.a. Henry Laufer) has strayed broadly from that album’s abstract hip-hop sound collages. Last year’s Vacation EP ditched field recordings in favor of mangled vocals and a more polished, emotional spin on his chilled-out sonic palette. Meanwhile, a series of remixes found him experimenting with dance, screwed, and trap, the last of which is the focus of his latest effort.

No one’s going to mistake Laid Out for, like, Flosstradamus, but trap’s signature note repeats unmistakably dominate the EP. Shlohmo’s take on trap is, of course, distinctly more mellow than those of his EDM contemporaries, all lush synths and soaring R&B melodies. The EP’s centrepiece, “Later,” pits one such vocal performance against a stuttering duet between a snare and a hat, while “Out of Hand” soulfully disfigures a more ethereal sample.

Most of the hype surrounding the EP, though, centers on opener “Don’t Say No,” a collaboration with guest vocalist How to Dress Well, which builds its frozen synths and melismatic falsetto into an anaesthetic climax. All the while, trap hats provide the perfect rhythmic counterpoint to the sepulchral tempo. The brooding latter half of the EP is a bit of a letdown in comparison, but all in all, Laid Out is an atmospheric, R&B-heavy slice of hip hop that proves Shlohmo is just as adept with a MPC as he is with a field recorder.

3.5/5

Michael Skinnider

 

Album: Classified

Artist: Classified

From the very beginning Classified’s self-titled album sounds like a work of art and different from everything else. It’s refreshing, upbeat and looks at the positives instead of the negatives.

Classified is Nova Scotia-born and doesn’t sound like your average rapper, avoiding degrading women or bragging about his money. Instead he delivers positive messages, excellent beats and talks about what it feels like to raise a daughter and all the struggles he faced during high school. His messages are relatable, which is what I think makes him a great rapper.

Classified features a lot of great Canadian artists like David Myles, Saukrates, Skratch Bastid and Kardinal Offishall. It also features the legendary Raekwon, one of the original members of Wu Tang Clan. With so many talented people on one album, it has to be a hit, and in Canada it went to number one on the Canadian Album Charts.

Classified’s message is inspirational and this album should make any Canadian proud.

3.5/5

Sonya Kahlo


Album: Beta Love 

Artist: Ra Ra Riot

It took a month of listening to Ra Ra Riot’s new album, Beta Love, to realize that the faint hopes I have entertained since 2008 will linger in limbo for eternity; the band will never make another record like The Rhumb Line. The melancholic cello and violin backdrops that defined that album are a thing of the past. Having been closely affiliated with Vampire Weekend (lead singer Wes Miles formed a band called The Sophisticuffs with Ezra Koenig in grade school), the group now seems to be doing all they can to distance themselves from the Ivy League-influenced chamber pop roots that first drew critics to compare the two.

For what it’s worth, Ra Ra Riot has done an admirable job of adjusting to life without departed cellist Alexandra Lawn. This time around, Miles may have drawn inspiration from Discovery, his side-project with Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend’s keyboardist/producer). Beta Love is rife with fluttering keyboards and futuristic synths, and inspired lyrically by the band’s reading of Ray Kurzweil’s novel The Singularity Is Near. The title track is an embrace of the band’s newfound affinity for technology, and is one of the strongest moments on the album with Miles showcasing his high vocal range. “Is It Too Much” finds bassist Mathieu Santos repurposed as a keyboard player and coyly toying with fans of the old baroque style. But just when one is tempted to start reminiscing about Rhumb Line, Miles interjects with cacophonic, distorted vocals.

Other tracks struggle with the band’s ambiguous desire to use every production tool at their disposal as the instruments are placed in a bitter fight to shine through the convoluted mess. When Rebecca Zeller’s violin is heard, it couldn’t sound more dissonant. But that isn’t always the case, as her impassioned playing on “Angel, Please” lends Miles’ playful pleas of “please stay with me” a light-hearted, airy quality that brings to mind the earnest pursuit of a first love.

The album’s flaw lies in its top-heavy nature; the last five tracks are slow to build and far from gratifying. Barring those exceptions, Beta Love’s first six songs would be a great addition to any party’s playlist.

3/5

Tomi Milos

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