album reviews: Intelligent boom-bap, Italian ’80s minimalism, and an electro nap

Soul Supreme
Saturday Night Agenda

It’s difficult to encounter words that actually have meaning behind them nowadays, at least in rap. In the endless stream of license plate rattling salmon-colored beemers driven by some 16-year old that lives in a cul-de-sac it’s hard to find a market for solid rap. But regardless this shit hits.
With too many of today’s beats sounding like Swizz and Neptune clones, it’s refreshing to hear someone biting a style that was good to begin with; not just different enough to tide us over for a month or so. Soul Supreme seems to be the kind of producer that picked his name based on style: a combo of Pete Rock (Soul Brother Number One) and Premier; well, if you switched Premier for Supreme, they sound similar enough.
The beats on Saturday Night Agenda are thick with that lovely sound of the yesteryear of New York hip hop, except, I think this guy’s from Boston. AG, Pete Rock, KRS amongst a bunch of other notables (namely the guys you always wish made an album instead of a mixtape contribution, especially Wordsworth) make solid outings with bangers for your head, not just your trunk.
Yeah this shit sounds a little blown out of proportion, but when subtlety is mastered it plays a far more resonating chord than some idiot who’s only as sexy as his chain, brrr! brrr! Plus Big Daddy Kane, in case you didn’t realize he never left, is back, boo ya ka; long live the Kane. It’s nice to see a 40-year old pimp in Magic Don Juan form followed by bars as deep as “…styles like HIV you can’t fight it,” ungh, shudder on that for a second.
Still, the album has flaws, but its samples make a point: “…Let some of these young college educated faggots to do my thinking for me.” I’m done for now, head noddin’ off.

– Sven Barth

Primal Scream
Evil Heat

My first experience with Primal Scream was their last album XTRMNTR (pronounced “exterminator”) two blurry-eyed years ago.
At the time I knew very little about the band, mostly that they were Brits and had some tenuous connections to shoegazer-recluse Kevin Shields. XTRMNTR alternated between dark, synth-heavy beats and punk inspired noise, experimenting across multiple genres and for the most part creating a sound that was catchy, intimidating, and decidedly schizoid European dance music.
Suffice to say, I fell in love. Thus, when their new album, Evil Heat, fell into my hands, I was pretty damn excited. Little did I know that XTRMNTR was the biggest departure for Primal Scream in their 6-album career. Instead of being rewarded with the aggression, however subtle, that defined almost every song on that LP (especially tracks such as “Kill all Hippies” and “Swastika Eyes”), Evil Heat is a bland collection of mellow/half-assed abrasive electronica that seems tailored for background filler in TV commercials. Maybe the formula has gotten tired somehow over the course of one album without alerting my attention. More likely, however, a move from Astralwerks to Sony had a significantly negative impact on the band’s music.
There are bright spots on this album, both in the more punk inspired moments and the dance-y ones, but in the end, these tracks stick out like sore thumbs amongst the trivial, the boring, and the house.
Fans of Massive Attack will probably find this album to their liking, but said fans would also be happier listening to PS albums released in the early ’90s, when Massive Attack also reached their peak. I’m not all that big on Massive Attack or anything, but I’d rather listen to them than sit through this soundtrack to a Saturn commercial.

– John Spain


I’m starting to hate the ’80s – so horribly. Thankfully, excluding the videogame and music world, the decade is not back in vogue to the point where I’m seeing kids sporting Flock of Seagulls haircuts and legwarmers.
On the other hand, the music world’s ’80s obsession has reached critical mass. If I hear another band that used to be a punk outfit, now using a synthesizer to signify that they hung up their gauche guitars to make goofy dance music with vocoder everywhere, I’m going to seek out every copy of The Faint’s Blank Wave Arcade and burn them, just in case some other genius gets the ’80s urge.
The funny part is that this retro creative decision is considered innovative by the bands themselves, without even realizing that other electro artists (Adult, Peaches) have been doing the same thing more originally for quite some time. The basic lesson to be learned is that just because you busted your bar mitzvah dough on a Korg instrument to round out your punk band’s sound doesn’t mean you should start making music exclusively dictated by it. This isn’t an attempt to argue that you can’t soley use electronic instruments and still be considered a “band.” Bands such as Mouse on Mars, To Roccoco Rot, and Mum all manage to create amazing music using scarce non-electronic instruments. Traveling back to the hoary tome of yesteryear, bands like Devo and Kraftwerk made timeless music using basic synths. Kraftwerk belongs in a category entirely their own, using only synthesizers (as far back as 197– !) to create a new musical style that continues to influence, if not inspire, artists to this day. However, while Kraftwerk influenced bands of today such as Tortoise and Stereolab, today’s electro artists probably wouldn’t know electro if it weren’t for Italian electro pioneers N.O.I.A.
N.O.I.A’s unreleased tracks from 1978-82 have recently been compiled for a released on Adult’s label, Ersatz Audio. Like sitting tolerably through a Kraftwerk record, the sound is frustratingly dated. The beats remain just as important though, and you can hear the roots of choice ’80s synthesizer riffs throughout the album. With its chanted chorus, “Stop Thinking” could very well be a Kraftwerk track, but immediately after the chorus the song breaks back into the danceable groove, instantly crumbling all German imagery . Most of the other tracks are rather standard, stuff that would have knocked your socks off in 1980 but today hardly makes a ripple.
Is it stupid? Yeah, pretty much. Will it make you dance? Oh yes. You make the call.

– John Spain

Sven Barth can be reached at