Adrian Younge

Review: Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons to Die II

Ghostface Killah is probably long due for a vacation at this point, but it would seem unwise to stop an artist on such a creative hot streak.  Twelve Reasons to Die II is the third album Ghostface has released in less than a year, and the compelling and gripping record is not only a worthy sequel to the 2013 original, but probably the best of the recent trio.  Adrian Younge once again proves to be the ideal collaborator, backing up the imaginative and gritty storytelling of Ghostface with a musical accompaniment that is engrossing yet subtle.  Younge’s production never overshadows the emcees, but it is still packed with enough fascinating nuance and clever ideas that it begs for closer listening.

For the sequel, Ghostface tightens the narrative and simplifies the action, focusing purely on the revenge aspect from the original.  RZA helpfully provides narration of key plot points, but the bulk of the guest work is handled by Ghostface’s frequent partner Raekwon, who is enlisted for the role of fellow gangster “Lester Kane” and serves as the primary co-star in this saga.  This time around, there is a similar amount of violence and a bit more melodrama (plus a surprise twist at the end), and while there is not the same creative spark that characterized the original, it does set up nicely for a sequel.

Younge incorporates similar musical elements that he used on Twelve Reasons to Die (organ flourishes, vibrato guitar), but does so more sparingly this time.  The result is a production that is evocative of the original in spirit, but still stands out as its own work.  Younge tamps down on some of the campier elements, relying less on Italian horror-type themes from the first album and utilizing more 70’s-era soul and R&B grooves, as heard on tracks like “Get the Money”.

The great news is that compact disc versions of the album come with a free disc of all the instrumental parts, which really helps highlight the brilliance of many of Younge’s compositions.  But the album truly works as a collaboration, and it will likely leave you hoping for another installment to the saga to be released as soon as possible.

Over the Weekend (May 18 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as we recover from illness*…

Run The Jewels are seemingly intent on releasing videos for every track from last year’s stellar release Run The Jewels 2, and the video for “Early” might be their best one yet.  The video tackles the topic of police brutality like previous single “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”, but opting for animation this go-around.

Ghostface Killah has been extremely busy lately, releasing 36 Seasons last year and Sour Soul with BADBADNOTGOOD earlier this year, and later this summer he will be releasing the sequel to the fantastic concept album Twelve Reasons To Die.  Today Ghostface released the first track from the collaboration with Adrian Younge, with fellow Wu-Tang member Raekwon contributing to “Return of the Savage”.  Stereogum has the SoundCloud link.

Tame Impala keeps trickling out new tracks from their upcoming album Currents, as “Eventually” was released last week.

Noisey talks to Yuck’s Max Bloom about one of his favorite new bands, and he uses the opportunity to talk about Vaadat Charigim.  It was pretty obvious that Max had great taste in 90’s indie rock considering his band’s own albums, and it sounds like he has a great ear for shoegaze as well.

Rolling Stone has the surreal short film that Soundgarden used to introduce their Superunknown tour, so those of us who were unable to attend that tour can find out what they missed.

Having previously compiled a playlist for another band with an expansive and eclectic discography (Built To Spill), the AV Club provides a service once again for those looking to get further into the music of Blur.  The result, sad to say, is not particularly good, and features the writer completely misunderstanding the Metacritic grading system (as witnessed multiple times in the comments, where she defends saying that The Magic Whip got “mixed reviews” when by their own metric Metacritic gives it a “Universal Approval” stamp).

Finally, the music world lost one of its greatest members, and a true titan, with the death of B.B. King late last week.  Billboard provides an excellent look at King’s legendary career.

*We apologize for our absence, as a stomach flu hit our writing staff with a vengeance last week.  We will run the planned Thursday post tomorrow, and then proceed as normal.  Not only did we lose two days of articles, but the illness also prevented us from covering a performance from one of our favorite live acts, Local H.  Hopefully they swing by again as soon as possible.

Review: Ghostface Killah/BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul

Ghostface Killah is in the middle of a furious creative outburst, and though for simplicity’s sake this review is nominally about Sour Soul,* it is necessary to examine Ghostface’s most recent collaboration in relation to his recent output.  It is tempting to lump together Twelve Reasons to Die36 Seasons, and Sour Soul as a trilogy, but considering that Twelve Reasons will have an official sequel of its own that would be a mistake.  Despite the fact that there is no official connective thread between them, this trio of albums do share a similar commitment to musical exploration of older genres that provide fertile ground for Ghostface’s preferred lyrical themes.  Twelve Reasons to Die, one of our favorite albums from 2013 (and an honorable mention on our best-of list), remains the best of the group, but Sour Soul comes close to reaching its peak and helps overcome some of the weakness of its immediate predecessor.

Adrian Younge’s spaghetti western/Italian horror-influenced production provided the perfect template for Ghostface on Twelve Reasons; the music contained the right amount of sinister ambiance to complement Ghostface’s pulpy tale of the revenge sought by a gangster spirit, a storyline as bizarre as it was captivating.  Younge’s use of vibrato guitars, jazzy organ flourishes, and expertly arranged strings all contributed to an enthralling soundtrack in its own right that perfectly evoke a 70’s-era noir film, with anachronistic touches like expertly deployed turntables helping provide a refreshing twist.   Younge was able to match the changing moods dictated by the demands of the plot without ever overpowering the rappers.  Ghostface shares the load mainly with fellow Wu-Tang Clan members who drop in to flesh out additional characters, with Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck in particular supplying memorable guest verses.  The success of all these elements coming together set up high expectations when the 36 Seasons and Sour Soul projects were announced.

With 36 Seasons, Ghostface kept up the throwback vibe, but opted for a more old-school R&B feel with the help of backing group The Revelations.  While the combination initially seems promising, unfortunately the album loses steam by the end.  Unlike Twelve Reasons, Ghostface is unable to keep the listener absorbed throughout the record with the storyline of Tony Stark’s return after nine years away from home.  The instrumentals on their own are often a bright spot, and the various interludes are well done, but too often 36 Seasons seems to drift along instead of settling into a true groove.  At several points Ghostface seems to drop out of the picture entirely, as guest verses make up an outsize presence on the record, leaving the listener to assume that there simply was not as much enthusiasm for this particular release.

Sour Soul ends up being somewhat of a mix of styles between the two previous albums, with BADBADNOTGOOD adopting elements of funk and R&B along with some of the more outlandish aspects of Younge’s work, most notably the vibrato guitar lines.  There is a sense of fun and adventurous on this record that was absent on 36 Seasons, which helps keep the listener fully immersed into the music.  Though the album suffers from the weakness of its underlying storyline like its predecessor, BADBADNOTGOOD provides enough variety to overcome this flaw, and shifts between a wide variety of genres with ease.  There are fewer guest spots on Sour Soul, but each emcee not only provides a strong presence but is helped by the fact that none of them are in Ghostface’s usual stable–they range from MF DOOM, Elzhi, to Danny Brown, the last of whom provided a smile to my face by dropping a reference to Toccara in 2015, even if his muppet-like style can be grating.

Ghostface simply sounds more engaged with Sour Soul, as if he enjoys the challenge of BADBADNOTGOOD and their ability to go in unexpected directions mid-song; even when Ghostface is covering tired cliches, he’s able to do so in an entertaining manner, as in the pimp’s lament “Tone’s Rap”.  Perhaps the best example of the difference between 36 Seasons and Sour Soul is that on the former he merely repeats the classic Wu-Tang line “cash rules everything around me” on “Double Cross”, while in the latter he plays with the callback a bit, declaring “money is the root to all evil, that cash rule” on “Food”.  Even though Sour Soul flies by too quickly at a little over a half hour, it ends up being a more satisfying experience because it packs a greater creative punch.  Hopefully Twelve Reasons to Die II will do more of the same.

*It ended up being too difficult a task to come up with a title that incorporated all three albums and did not create a formatting nightmare, but hopefully the greater context provides a more helpful review