Shabjdeed & Al Nather

SULTAN
March 19, 2024

From the city of Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, Shabjdeed and Al Nather have created an entire world. The rapper and producer’s label BLTNM is independent and DIY in the truest of senses. On their second album, SULTAN, they further their unique and specific take on modern hip hop.

It’s a sound in conversation with the brooding, gritty realism of 2010s Atlanta trap and South London drill, but fashioned with a minimal touch. Instead of rattling high hats driving high in the mix, producer Al Nather sprinkles  them subtly in the background, like little bells or specks of gold. Often, a droning minor scale synth will dominate, an edge of precariousness creeping  over the record. Shabjdeed’s performance on SULTAN also holds  this balance: poised, cool, but biting – a constant flow of words twisting and turning around each track.

SULTAN is a concept album of sorts, as Shabjdeed adopts a new persona, the album’s namesake. This blurred line between fiction and reality is a conceptual departure from the duo’s previous works. It gives them space to explore new musical ideas – the nostalgic breakbeats of ‘Nasheed’ and getaway-heist post punk of ‘01’ two such moments, both still in the pair’s trademark, BLTNM style.

Working with artist and designer Hussein Nassereddine, Shabjdeed and Al Nather crafted a wide visual and artistic identity for the album. The cover art, embossed upon a piece of sheet metal, was created alongside other merchandise detailing events from the album’s universe. Shabjdeed even wrote an accompanying novel that expands on this world; not yet released, with a desire for listeners to discover SULTAN’S story themselves through a ‘slow burn.’

The world of SULTAN proves the duo’s endless ambitions. In interviews they make clear that they refuse to be defined by occupation and the endlessly stifling reality of making art in Palestine. Already pioneers, Shabjdeed and Al Nather’s vision knows no bounds, and their world is only just beginning to be built.

Marcus Whale

Ecstasy
March 8, 2024

It’s a cloying, sweaty hotness, stiffening in its grasp – yet it also chills, simultaneously a shooting cold. Not a shiver… more an icy rush, constantly turning over and renewing. But it’s never entirely comfortable, and there’s a thrill in that, a willing submission into the unknown, a high-wire act on the sharp edge of the dialectic.

Ecstasy. The word itself derives from the Greek “ekstatasis,” meaning to stand outside or transcend oneself. Sydney artist Marcus Whale’s fourth solo album is a shrine to this namesake, an embodiment in sounds of an overwhelming feeling, one of ultimate pleasure and devotion beyond the individual.

Across Ecstasy, furious, footworked breakbeats evoke a heaving, synchronous dancefloor of dancers submitted to a living, moving whole. Curtaining these tracks, and sometimes even taking centre stage, is an ever lingering, almost medieval drone of angelic voices beckoning from beyond the void.

Marcus Whale is undoubtedly an incredible singer. ‘Oblivion’ is spellbinding, a devotional hymn carried by his vocals. Yet, “ekstatasis” remains on his mind, as he mostly sublimates his vocals to the greater whole of his music, modulating and oscillating them in pitch, burrowing in between the folds in the music.

For Marcus Whale, an album is not just an assemblage of songs, but a total, considered project: music, performance, costume, visuals. Ecstasy, brilliant in its songwriting and meticulous in its production, is a triumph of conceptual vision. What’s more, this concept is reflective of the standing of Marcus Whale as a revered member of Sydney’s musical and creative community; himself both constantly giving and experiencing, offering his vision, his small part as a gift to the greater whole. But what a world that small part is.

Tahkoe

laughing thru tears
March 1, 2024

A debut release is endlessly interesting to witness. A shaping of what an artist has to offer that often largely reflects on a past – an explanation as to where they are and why they are and so forth. Mount Druitt’s Tahkoe reveals a few things on his debut –  thoughtful reflections on his family, schooling,the way he relates to others and himself. But simultaneously, he is gentle, conveying gratefulness, humour and appreciation in the way he goes about things.

On ‘palm throne’ Tahkoe’s lyricism plays with images of flesh, blood, thickness, blinding in a way that makes your stomach churn if you listen closely. Repeated instrumental motifs in songs like these feel treasured and justified, a plain and stable canvas for more aching confessions and pointed call-outs.

Off the back of a more light-hearted Elijah Jamerson interlude, Tahkoe’s mixtape takes a slightly more personal turn on ‘gimme time’. One of the mixtape’s silkiest samples curtains the background of the track, filling the mids with a luxurious harmony. Twinkling piano octaves highlight an ascension and descent, swaying gently as Takhoe’s stripped vocals speak, sharing memories of his home, family. One of the most beautifully composed songs with the most painful stories – laughing through the tears becomes a reality.

‘smokeanothaday’ and ‘setbacks’ are other exceptional examples of this. Tahkoe masters the balance between a sweet melody and the raw, painful and heartbreaking truth, sprinkling in moments of bliss through sample-based beats that never tire. Isaac Puerile’s radio interlude on ‘T-A-H-K-O-E’ reminds you that you’re listening to a mixtape. But make no mistake – the release isn’t short of cohesion or clarity whatsoever, merely reaping the rewards of added breathing space.

A celebration of 2023 and navigating diaspora, laughing thru tears is satisfying, even more so considering the features of his close-to-heart collaborators Sollyy, emjaysoul, Mayc.e – the album textures together common experience, healing and familial friendship in a beautiful way. Tahkoe centres himself and his growth without being self-centred, celebrating what’s worth celebrating and grieving what’s to be mourned.

Erika de Casier

Still
February 23, 2024

Much has been made of the revival of 90s UK dance music and 2000s RnB within modern pop music, occasionally veering into cheap nostalgia or bandwagoning of 20 year cycle trends. What Erika de Casier understands in her own exploration of this sound is the high level of detail and fidelity consistent across music from the turn of the century; the advent of the digital world bringing a thrilling new sandbox for producers to play in.

Still, like her previous two records, is a frissionary experience, bursting with creativity but restrained and deliberate in execution. It almost feels a disservice to not listen on the best speakers or headphones possible, with each piano chord, guitar line or punctuating synth placed meticulously in exactly the right place. 

Breakbeats are used tastefully, subtly apostrophising a kick drum or languidly keeping time. When breaking out into more up-tempo drum and bass, de Casier doesn’t hold back: the break on Lucky churning so rapidly it sounds like it might implode in on itself. No one does percussion like her. It’s the smallest moments – the subtle twist of a hand shaker, a cascade of twinkling bells, or the rattle of an empty drinking glass. 

There’s an overarching coolness to de Casier’s music, helped foremost by her vocals: hushed, but never unconfident, inviting you to listen deeper. Her songwriting is as delicately constructed as her production, a skill that led her to co-write most of New Jean’s debut EP in 2023.  

On the first half of Still, de Casier’s usual rainy RnB develops a heavier humidity. She has always borrowed creatively from hip hop, often using harpsichord sounds reminiscent of G- funk; similarly, ‘Test It’s synth line sounds like it could’ve been cooked up on a Minimoog in a 90s LA studio. Other tracks lean towards the low-end drive of southern hip hop: ‘ice’, with guest verses from Tampa rap duo They Hate Change, could easily have been a bonus track from Outkast’s Stankonia.

As much as Erika de Casier draws on a Y2K-esque sense of digital freedom, her music is simultaneously also a portrait of the anxieties of living in the new millennium. Each quivering string flourish underscores a sense of dramatic fatalism, particularly across Still’s second half, as de Casier navigates a haze of complicated relationships or just tries to find enough time to unwind and do laundry.

As pop continues to borrow from genres past, a new appreciation has arisen for the performers, songwriters and producers and of this era, with respect earnt for their craft beyond just commercial success. Still proves that Erika de Casier belongs in this league, a force in all these aspects and one of modern music’s great creators.

Yirinda

Yirinda
February 16, 2024

The Butchulla people have lived as owners of K’gari for over 5000 years. In the 20th century, their language almost disappeared forever. Government reserves and missions across the ‘Fraser Coast’ forbid the use of Butchulla language in attempts to wipe out knowledge and culture. 

Fred Leone is one of three living Butchulla Songmen, a keeper of language and songs of the Butchulla people, performed through song and dance. It’s a position of deeply important cultural custodianship, continuing the precious work of Butchulla generations past to who kept these songs alive, saving crucial histories and connections to the land against all odds.

Yirinda, the debut album between Fred Leone and contrabassist and composer Samuel Pankhurst, is itself an act of preservation. Songs and stories once performed are now embedded as recorded, arranged pieces of music. 

Every track on Yirinda is a vivid imagining of different Butchulla songs , each in conversation with the stories and meanings of each. Some songs are minimal in construction, featuring just Leone’s Kuluru, (didgeridoo) or Bargain, (boomerangs). Sometimes only Pankurst’s yearning orchestral arrangements and drones accompany Leone’s singing, creating an aching, soaring soundscape.

Thrillingly, Yirinda is never static in sound. Other tracks venture into polyrhythmic free jazz, with plucked strings, trumpets and glitch giving an improvisational edge. And while some of the songs themselves are thousands of years old, others are newer: Ba Gi Lam (Fighting) is a battle song against colonisation of K’gari.

In Butchulla, ‘yirinda’ means ‘now.’ As much as the record is an act of documentation, it’s also a continual re-living; a new representation of old knowledge, an enshrinement of something new, something special.

Teether

It Must Be Strange to Not Have Lived
February 9, 2024

Metallica’s fifth, self titled record, commonly referred to as The Black Album, was a major turning point for the band. Citing feelings of ‘musical insecurity’ towards their trademark maximalist, thrash sound, the band moved towards one that was more polished, with a focus on melody and production. The Black Album was both bold in direction yet, in the eyes of many fans, disappointingly ‘safe’ sonically, as Metallica were launched into stratospheric new commercial success.

Teether’s fifth solo record, It Must Be Strange to Not Have Lived, described by the rapper as his ‘own Metallica Black Album’ shares that record’s desire for metamorphosis. But while Metallica’s record pushed the band and the metal genre towards a more radio- friendly sound, It Must Be Strange To Not Have Lived is Teether burrowing deeper into his dark, hazy universe, cementing his place at the vanguard of underground hip hop.

A ‘young elder’ of the local scene, there’s both a weariness and wisdom to Teether across the  It Must Be Strange…, each word doled out in a careful meter, as if to be considered with utmost importance. Through vivid imagery and black humour he provides an insight into his inquisitive mind, constantly weighing scattered observations and interactions, searching his way through a foggy path.

Playing guitar on most of the tracks, and sampling on Roland SP-404, Teether chops and screws sounds from across his deep discography and range of musical projects. Genres like metal, dub and footwork are scattered across the sludgy, scuzzy world of It Must Be Strange and resurrected as a new, unique soundscape. It both perfectly encapsulates his trademark, discombobulated sound, and allows him to chart new experiments in song structure and vocal melodies. 

Speaking about the record, Teether says ‘No one but the traditional custodians and First Nations people of Australia have any real connection to this place…I think we have to represent that sense of disconnection in the music we make.’  It Must Be Strange To Not Have Lived is the sound of an artist on the true cutting edge, in deep consideration and conversation with his place in the world around him.

Astrid Sonne

Great Doubt
February 2, 2024

Small touches weigh heavily on Astrid Sonne’s Great Doubt. Across a minimal yet piercingly effective soundscape that constantly teeters between slight anxiety and nostalgic longing, Sonne ruminates on love, parenthood and the future.

While it shares a kindred spirit with the asymmetrical pop sounds of artists like Tirzah and ML Buch, Great Doubt is uniquely infused with Astrid Sonne’s compositional ear for classical arrangements. More than anything she understands how to use space and silence: when to punctuate it with flashes of cello or quivering drone, and when to let the song breathe with a single, affecting chord or arpeggio.

Astrid Sonne’s vision of bedroom pop is one where all instrumentals and touchpoints are on the table, whether it be deviations into spoken word, instrumental trip hop, or lumbering RnB. For an album built around uncertainty, Great Doubt is undoubtedly assured.

yungatita

Shoelace & A Knot
January 26, 2024

Shoelace & A Knot, the debut record from Los Angeles band Yungatita, is a tightly constructed piece of punky, bright power pop. Fronted by multidisciplinary artist Valentina Zapata, the band evokes sounds familiar to lovers of 90s alternative and 00s indie: memorable hooks, creative tempo changes and gratifying emotional crescendos.

At times glistening and introspective, Shoelace & A Knot nevertheless keeps a satisfyingly gritty edge that emerges at the record’s most cathartic moments. It feels almost indelibly tied to youthful summers of days past; the sticky, stifling heat, the turbulence of friendships and relationships, the hopeful promise of never-ending sunny days. It’s an impressive debut from a band with an exciting future.

MALI JO$E

El Niño
January 19, 2024

The latest release from MALI JO$E, El Niño is a product of community and intentional, thoughtful collaboration. Across 13 tracks and split into two sides, the mixtape is layered with incredible features – Tasman Keith, SHADOW, xmunashe, IJALE, to name only a few of the talented many – that make the record a holistic and varied release.

El Niño is unmatched in its production, featuring the talents of not only MALI JO$E himself but also Percy Flint, OJC43, The Alchemist and so many more. Tracks including ‘operation highjump’ and ‘afreeswan’ are textural experiences that weave together tender and clean cut samples with beautiful resonant instrumentals and smooth lyricism. The mixtape is in touch with its medium – both ‘Intro’ tracks are used as an opportunity to breathe, building scaffolding into the otherwise loose and atmospheric tracklist.

El Niño is inspired and courageous to say the very least, urging for creative and emotional freedom of expression as a path forward.

Chef Chung

WARRIOR POUNDS THE MORTAR
December 15, 2023

WARRIOR POUNDS THE MORTAR is the latest album from Melbourne rapper and producer, Chef Chung. Across the record’s sixteen tracks, Chef Chung seamlessly drifts between jazzy and soulful samples, icier cloud-rap-inspired tracks and even the occasional RnB jam.

It’s a sound that could easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with alternative rap peers like Ratking or sLUms. Similar to that alumni, Chef Chung is authentically personal, wearing his heart on his sleeve in his lyrics across the record. It’s his unique voice that ties the album together; hushed but confident, hazy and layered like smoke drifting through the air at dusk.

This tension between easiness and intensity makes WARRIORS POUNDS THE MORTAL so compelling – one minute a laidback car ride, the other a scrupulous investigation of Chef Chung’s mind. It’s an impressive release from one of the most exciting voices in the Melbourne underground.