Before I get into the meat of this post, I must explain what this segment is and what purpose it serves. Reviewing albums is not my only purpose for this website, in fact, it’s arguably not even my primary purpose. This website was created with a vision not just to provide my opinion on new releases in the music world, but to provide a platform on which I can recommend new releases that have piqued my interest to a wider audience. These releases may be highly-marketed pop albums or they could be obscure underground punk rap mixtapes; I have no interest in only recommending a specific type of musical content, other than that which has excited me and that I feel others would benefit from hearing. It’s unlikely that anyone will read every review on this website, or many other music review websites, for that matter. Consumers of music criticism and journalism tend to pick-and-choose which types of content they would like to spend their time on. Thus, I see it practical and necessary for me to introduce a segment wherein I bypass the verbose opinions and get straight to the good stuff. The format for this, I have decided, will be a monthly segment entitled ‘Albums I Love’, in which I list the albums released over the past month that I was particularly impressed by and that I feel strongly about recommending to my readers. I will include a small biopic on each of these albums as to give you the gist of what they’re about, hopefully making it easier for you to filter through what interests and you and what doesn’t, although I, of course, recommend and strongly suggest you check out all of these albums. Also, I will link to my full review of all of these projects for those who are interested in hearing my full thoughts on the album in question. One last thing that I thought I should add is that I obviously haven’t listened to every album released in the past month and I will continue listening to albums released in January if they appeal to me. Therefore, if I discover any other fantastic albums released in January later on in the year, I will include them in the next segment as opposed to going back and revising the post for the month in which they were released. With the housekeeping out of the way, I think we’re good to go on to the main segment.
January is an interesting time for music. As music releases die down at the end of the year, it takes a week or two for them to properly pick up again at the beginning of the new year. As a result, I find that I have more time to seek out and listen to underground releases that would most likely not find their way onto my listening list during the busier time of the year, due to the overwhelming amount of more commercial releases, although I always give as much time as I can to small releases. This results in some of my favourite obscure albums of the year coming from within the month of January, and 2017 is likely no exception to this rule. Typically, there are always endless underground releases for me to listen to, but metal and hip hop seem to be the two main genres that dominate this field. This explains why this month’s list of albums I love is rather metal-heavy (if you’ll pardon the pun), as I have more time to listen to obscure releases in the genre and it also just happens to be the case that an impressive amount of them were rather good. I’m sure future segments will feature a more balanced amount of metal releases, and I feel that this is important to say because Diamond in the Groove is a review website intended to be impartial with regards to genre, as I personally seek out interesting and exciting music regardless of under which stylistic umbrella it happens to be placed. Anyway, I think that about concludes my preamble, so let’s get into the list of the albums I love released in the first month of 2017. Final note: the following releases are ordered chronologically based on release date, not by preference.
‘Godfather’ by Wiley
After having the label ‘Godfather of Grime’ constantly applied to him by the media and fans, legendary Boy Better Know MC Wiley finally embraces it on his departing record. Godfather displays just how far Wiley has come since his humble beginnings and is a surprisingly mature record for an album of banger after banger. Wiley’s flow is relentlessly crazy all over this thing, and the performances from featured MCs step up to his level, making for an intensely fun record, a fitting sign-off and another Wiley album to go down in the grime history books.
‘Machine Messiah’ by Sepultura
The first of the metal releases to make this list is one of the more commercial albums. Sepultura are currently one of the most successful groove metal bands still running, although their material since the departure of the band’s beloved Cavalera brothers has often been met with mixed reactions from fans and critics alike. I am by no means a hardcore fan of the band, rather I find that their material varies in quality quite significantly. Nonetheless, I have no issue giving credit where credit is due, and it’s certainly due on Machine Messiah. The incredible variation of the influence of this record is astounding, with the band pulling from styles as diverse as genres of metal outside their usual field of work to traditional Brazilian music. The way in which all these different ideas and sounds are applied to the band’s groove metal context is first-rate and has demonstrated a new level of musical ability that the band were yet to display. I am just as impressed with this record as I am with how much I love it and it has proven, to me personally, to be one of Sepultura’s best releases in a long time. I’m starting to even think that I perhaps prefer it to Dante XXI, but I should probably stop that thought there before I cause a riot.
‘Roman Lips’ by Omar Rodríguez-López
The ever-prolific Mars Volta and At The Drive-In member Omar Rodríguez-López’s latest project is nothing new for the guitarist, but it nonetheless features some of his catchiest and most entertaining songs to have come out of his solo career in a while. This electronic rock record features clear influences from blues and garage rock and, as such, the songs on here are performed with a great deal of energy and that’s what makes up a large amount of the appeal of this record. Don’t go into Roman Lips expecting anything revolutionary. This record’s charm is pretty straightforward; it simply hosts a collection of cracking rock tunes that are performed with a great deal of conviction and adds up to an enjoyable record.
‘Stinger’ by Hard Proof
Many masterful musicians involved in the Austin jazz and funk scenes have formed under the name Hard Proof and their latest album Stinger is a fantastic collection of jazz and funk instrumentals. The group owe a huge portion of their sound to Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and his band Africa ’70, with Hard Proof’s compositions being rooted in an Afrobeat and Afropop idiom, whilst the wide array of talented instrumentalists pepper their unique jazz and funk flavours over the top of these tracks. The resulting sound is reminiscent of numerous jazz groups, with Snarky Puppy coming first-and-foremost to mind for myself, but Hard Proof’s distinct African-sounding roots make for a unique personality in this 10-man band.
‘Black Serpent Rising’ by BALFOR
This new BALFOR records comes nearly six years following the band’s debut release on Pulverised Records, Barbaric Blood. Black Serpent Rising feels like an improvement on all fronts. Whilst still a blackened death metal record at its core, the nearly entirely-new line-up for the band — with the only original member being vocalist Thorgeir Berserk — comes with some interesting stylistic changes and some clear influences from other genres of metal, most notably viking and war metal. These new ideas do not come at the cost of the bare-faced blackened death brutality, however, and this record is something I can see metal fans of all persuasions thoroughly enjoying.
‘A Shadow in Time’ by William Basinski
I decided not to order the albums in this segment based on how much I like them, instead opting to order them chronologically, but without a doubt, this is my favourite record from this past January by quite a considerable margin. William Basinski returns to his roots in some ways on this two-track record, but in other regards he displays how much he has progressed as one of the most notable composers in the current avant-garde music circle. Basinski reincorporates his signature use of decrepit tape loops to sculpt the first 20-minute piece on this record, a tribute to the late legend David Bowie that features some distinct influences from the artist. Basinski is such an incredibly unique musical mind that this is the first time I think I have heard the influences of another musician show up in his music so prominently. The ambient experimentation on this record is hauntingly beautiful and incredibly moving, to the point that the feelings it fills me with are difficult to properly articulate. Therefore, the best way to properly understand it is to experience it for yourself.
‘Hang’ by Foxygen
Foxygen have come back kicking following the unfortunate dud in their discography that was 2014’s …And Star Power. Whilst the theatrical and energetic performances on Hang demonstrate an approach to songwriting similar to that which featured on previous Foxygen albums, particularly We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, the duo seem to have also progressed beyond this point with the compositions on their new album more multi-faceted, textured and fluid than ever before. The meeting of so many different styles of rock and pop music, from psychedelic to glam to indie to baroque, make for an incredibly diverse record that is neatly packaged in Foxygen’s fantastically campy charm. The most unfortunate thing about Hang is its short runtime, and the fact that this album is so much fun makes its 32 minutes fly by.
‘Poulo Warali’ by Awa Poulo
A massive amount of talent has come out of the Western African country of Mali, and Awa Poulo is one of the latest hidden gems to come to my attention. Poulo, daughter and protégé to the successful female Peulh singer Inna Baba Coulibaly, showcases her tremendous talent as a singer on her debut, whilst also displaying her commitment to the musical customs of her Peulh heritage, which she marries with styles of folk and pop music from elsewhere in Mali. Poulo’s lovely voice is accompanied by a group of very talented musicians, most notably the n’goni player Kande Sissoko whose impressive playing provides much of the interesting character that appears on many of these compositions. Despite such a stark foundation of traditional Malian folk music, Poulo Warali retains a definite amount of accessibility for Western audiences and I can certainly see Poulo rising to a similar level of prominence that some of her more successful contemporaries from her home nation have reached.
‘Battle Through Time’ by Undrask
There is little more I could ask from a debut melodic death metal record than what is brought to the table by Undrask on Battle Through Time. This record is genuinely fun, with fantastic riffage all over this thing and impressive vocal performances from frontman Steve Wynn. The group clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, and this simply adds to the enjoyability of this record. Barely any tracks on here stand out to me as any better or worse than the other cuts because there is such a consistent level of quality with every single song displaying incredible musicianship and fantastic melodies. There’s honestly not too much more I could put in my short summary of this record; it’s just a really damn good melodic death metal record.
‘Cast The First Stone’ by Hour Of Penance
Technical death metal legends Hour Of Penance come through with, well, another fantastic technical death metal record. Then again, there is a lot more to this record than just that, although the band largely stick to the formula that was fortified on their last release, Regicide. For instance, the conceptual lyrics from frontman Paolo Pieri concerning the clashing ideologies and ceaseless wars between West and East are impressively contemplative and insightful, providing for one of the most fluid releases from the band thus far in their career. Not to mention, on the instrumental side of things, the band are as tight and as ferocious as ever. New recruit Davide Billia on drums fits into the mould perfectly, and the guitar work from lead axeman Giulio Moschini is more versatile than ever. There are a fair few absolutely ripping solos, but Moschini also demonstrates more control on some tracks, instead opting for less flashy solos that go down really well. Overall, it wouldn’t be entirely fair to say that this is just another Hour Of Penance record, not that this would be a bad thing. However, Cast The First Stone, whilst similar on the surface, features a lot of subtle details that make this record one of the best in the band’s discography thus far.
‘Dans La Joie’ by Au Champ Des Morts
Yes, another metal record, although Au Champ Des Morts are commonly placed under the blackgaze umbrella. There are many up-and-coming blackgaze acts emerging currently, even more so following the success of America’s more accessible blackgaze bands like Deafheaven and Ghost Bath. Amidst this surge of artists, all of whom are working within a very specific paradigm, it takes a lot to stand out, and Au Champ Des Morts fit the bill in many regards. Instead of relying purely on the emotional atmospheres that many blackgaze acts use as a crutch for their sound, this French act incorporate a healthy amount of different ideas as to give Dans La Joie enough interesting colours to leave an impression on the listener. The bare-faced blood-curdling shrieks from lead vocalist Stefan Bayle are fantastic, especially when paired with the clean female vocals provided by bassist Cécile G. Whilst not revolutionary for the genre, Au Champ Des Morts make a compelling case for their existence and come through with one of the best blackgaze albums I’ve heard in a while.
‘Oto Hiax’ by Oto Hiax
Seefeel’s Mark Clifford and Loops Haunt’s Scott Douglas Gordon collaborate under the name Oto Hiax, and their debut full-length release demonstrates these two artists’ impressive awareness of experimental electronic music in a bevy of hypnotic cuts that range from delicate to abrasive. This record features fantastic subtleties and nuances that play to great effect, even on the harsher and more dissonant pieces on the album. The result is a collection of tracks that evoke many different moods, with some abrasive cuts feeling oddly relaxing and some softer compositions putting the listener slightly on edge with a dark sense of foreshadowing for an abrupt change of atmosphere. Overall, this is one of the most sonically-diverse and all-around enjoyable electronic projects I have heard in a long time and I’ve found myself constantly excited to revisit this record and, more importantly, to share and talk about it with others.
‘Three Worlds: music from Woolf Works’ by Max Richter
Featuring reworked compositions originally written to accompany choreographer Wayne McGregor’s narrative dance piece based on three Virginia Woolf novels, Three Worlds: music from Woolf Works features some of the post-minimalist composer’s most haunting, captivating and beautiful works to date. The three novels that inspired these pieces are Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando: A Biography and The Waves. On these recordings, Richter demonstrates a keen awareness of, and respect for, Woolf’s works and life, with each three of these acts evoking similar themes and emotions to the respective novel by which they were inspired. Three Worlds: music from Woolf Works is one of the most moving and intriguing classical projects I have heard in a while and will likely go down as one of the better classical albums of the year.