Every nine months or so, I ask myself a question: just what is it Kid Cudi does? I mean, I know what he does. He’s a rapper, a singer, a musician, an actor and now a producer. But does he do any of those things with particular distinction? No. Is there an uncanny Bradford Cox-like creative chutzpah where he’s not proficient at any one thing but the talent is undeniable? Far from it. So maybe we need to look at Cudi’s less tangible, less aural qualities. Maybe he’s like the Sid Vicious of hip hop? You know, not spectacular musically but there’s a fascinating id and personality there than encapsulates something a lot of people feel they relate to? No, definitely not that either.
Seemingly, he’s just a moody, romantically-minded kid with something to prove. What that is, I’m not sure, but I also can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to him than that. There has to be, right? He’s a Yeezy discovery. And while Ye has made mis-steps in the past, his creative acumen rarely falters. Perhaps Indicud is the key to the Kid Cudi kingdom that everyone but me seems to have free passage to.
The idea behind experimentation is that you start off without an idea or formula, relying on your chops to find something you or someone else would not have otherwise found. Mescudi on the other hand sees experimentation as a genre in and of itself. To him it means layers upon layers of 80s synths and warbling atmospherics, instrumental breaks that meander into their own asses, bad vocals punctuated by corny effects and attempts at genre-bending that see cohesion on the horizon and then promptly run in the other fucking direction.
Mescudi makes multiple attempts at blending disparate indie-rock and folk samples with hip-hop beats and new wave synths. The synths are a very tired trick and the beats, frankly, are boring. When combined with the various samples such as the likes of Father John Misty (“Young Lady”) and the contribution from the Haim girls (“Red Eye”), the result is a very muddied and awkward cacophony.
“New York City Rage Fest” might be the single most annoying thing I’ve ever heard. Or at least I thought that, until I heard the hook on “Brothers”. It sounds like someone drunkenly singing into a pedestal fan but hey, the hook on “Cold Blooded” is just embarrassing. See for yourself: “Cold, bitch you know I’m cold / I’m one cold blooded nigga / Oh, so cold.” The beat is quality and the rapping is solid, flow and all, but I had a hard time getting past that hook, well-sung though it may be.
The masters of cold, digital soundscapes like Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa divested themselves of warmth and humanity and as a result, made music intrinsically warm and human. Mescudi on the other hand, attempts to combine all of these elements outright. The result is an awkward mixture of sloppy, detached beats, meandering sentimentality, monotonous (and often off-key) vocals, so-so rapping and delusions of grandeur that remain delusions.
And it’s the deluded grandeur that I guess people find charming? I don’t know. The opening track “The Resurrection of Scott Mescudi” is a mishmash of tinny anvil clanging and saw synths. Picture the montage scene in Iron Man where Tony Stark is building the suit in the cave. The hubristic title and bloated atmospherics are very telling. Mescudi envisions himself as a deceased vigilante who is resurrected with robotic implants to help him fight crime. He is RoboStoner. And he’s not very interesting, even for a bonafide superhero.
The few bright spots on the album mostly occur when the guests are given a chance to shine. Kendrick Lamar, RZA and A$AP Rocky all take a stab at keeping this album afloat, like people running around with tentpoles as a canvas collapses on top of them. For the most part, they succeed. RZA’s contribution on “Beez” is excellent and the beat is one of the more interesting on the album. “There’s holes inside your sweatshirt / Through your apparel, through your blood, through your bone marrow.” Brutal.
Indicud is a strange record. And not in a good way. It doesn’t intrigue or inveigle, it’s strange in a way that is off-putting. More than once I found myself scrunching my face and furrowing my brow like someone had left a sarcastic note under my car’s windscreen wiper. And Jesus, why is it so long? 18 tracks? You could halve the tracklist and still have only a semi-decent album. Did Indicud provide an answer to my question? Well, on Indicud Scott Mescudi, rapper, singer, musician, actor and now producer definitively proves that he has something to prove, but not much more.
(Wicked Awesome / GOOD / Republic)
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.