New music releases, 2nd June 2014

Here are the new and notable music releases for this week, 2nd June 2014:

Superunknown 20th Anniversary
Superunknown (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition), Soundgarden

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III (Deluxe Editions), Led Zeppelin
Hank, Hank Marvin
La Petite Mort, James
More Modern Classics, Paul Weller
New Eyes, Clean Bandit
The Moral of The Elephant, Martin and Eliza Carthy
Vauxhall and I (20th Anniversary Definitive Master), Morrissey
Sunbathing Animals, Parquet Courts
Breakfast, Teleman
Puttin’ On The Ritz, Frank Zappa
Dressed In Autumn, Mostly Autumn
Common Ground, Dave Alvin
Donker Mag, Die Antwoord
The Blues Came Callin’, Walter Trout
Lion, Peter Murphy
Disgraceland, The Orwells
Cut Your Teeth, Kyla La Grange
The Ways of Yore, Burzum
Constellations, Moulettes
Days of Abandon, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Heartstrings, Howling Bells
The Ceaseless Sight, Rich Robinson
Copper Gone, Sage Francis
Only Run, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Casualties of Cool, Devin Townsend
Partly Fiction, Harry Dean Stanton
AKEDA, Matisyahu
Last One To Die, Matty James

All of the above and more are available via the Skin Back Alley Music Store!

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Aesop Rock has largest vocabulary in Hip-Hop says study

Aesop Rock

Aesop Rock and GZA have the largest vocabularies in Hip-Hop according to a new study.

Data scientist Matt Daniels used the Rap Genius site to examine the first 35,000 lyrics of each artist, mining them for unique words.

Speaking to Rolling Stone, Aesop Rock said: “It’s really strange to see this data compiled in this way, as it’s a bunch of rappers on a scale unrelated to rapping. I like songs by most, if not all, of these people, and I’m sure if the study had cast a wider net, I would be buried. That said, I do find the information interesting to look at, and it’s nice to wake up to a bunch of kind words on the computer net.”

In order to provide a comparison, Daniels included Shakespeare and Herman Melville’s words in the data, too. Aesop Rock’s unique words apparently surpassed that of those literary giants as well.

After Rock’s first place, Wu-Tang Clan members’ work dominates. GZA, RZA and Wu-Tang as a collective all feature in the top ten.

Daniels wrote of his study: “I used a research methodology called token analysis to determine each artist’s vocabulary. Each word is counted once, so pimps, pimp, pimping, and pimpin are four unique words. To avoid issues with apostrophes (e.g., pimpin’ vs. pimpin), they’re removed from the dataset.”

You can read the full details of the study and see the accompanying infographic here.

There was some discussion across the net following the publication of the study, particularly around the apparent exclusion of the work of Sage Francis. Francis later clarified why via his own Twitter feed: “#SincePeopleHaveAsked: The ‘Vocabulary in Hip-Hop’ article excluded me because most of my album lyrics aren’t on RapGenius. #MeRapPretty1Day.”

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Under the Skin: An ‘Alternative Backpacker’ Speaks

I recently posted a comment on the blog of a staff-writer at a well known British music magazine. The blog post had been inviting suggestions for your favourite music of 2010 so far.

I had been very much enjoying the new album from Sage Francis, Li(f)e. Whilst not the traditional fare of said magazine, I thought I would recommend it anyway. After all, comments had been invited for any and all suggestions. Here’s what I wrote:

“I’m plumping for the new Sage Francis album… A socially concious rap/spoken-word album that contains collaborations with Joey Burns and John Convertino, Mark Linkous and Yann Tiersen? And one that doesn’t spend an hour boasting about “bitches”, “hos” and how much gold a man can wear before falling over? Well worth at least a cursory listen, surely?”

I didn’t think that I’d written anything particularly controversial or offensive. So imagine my surprise when I got this response from the blogger:

“…very wary of creating a binary between what you call “socially conscious” rap and what you criticise in a pretty reductive and cliched way. I’ve personally found, as a crude generalisation, that mainstream rap has given me more enjoyment (stimulating both sonically and politically) than most alternative backpacker stuff (Can Ox being a big exception that comes to mind right now). Sorry, but give me “Big Pimpin'” over Dan Le Sac & Scroobius Pip any day.”

I don’t mind saying that the comment really got under my skin (appropriately enough given the title of this SBA feature.) Sure, the world is a complex place that can rarely be summed up in black and white. After all, there are so many shades of grey. But:

  1. In a comments box that allows a small amount of alpha-numeric characters, one can hardly write a feature article on the state of modern mainstream rap
  2. ‘Reductive and cliched’? Has the writer listened to most of the rap music that makes it to the airwaves in 2010? I would argue that IT is ‘reductive and cliched’
  3. I am being ‘reductive and cliched’, but then Sage Francis and colleagues who write – yes – ‘socially concious’ rap, are seemingly pigeonholed as ‘alternative backpacker stuff’

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am aware that this minor footnote of a spat is hardly an issue that will make or break the world of music. Rather it is something that just pissed me off. But do me a favour and look up the lyrics of Sage Francis’ Little Houdini or The Best of Times and then compare them to Jay-Z’s Big Pimpin’. ‘Nuff said.

Jay-Z is a great businessman, is sonically inventive and a clever wordsmith. As are many other mainstream rappers. But what he and his contemporaries often choose to say with those words leaves me cold. Rolling Stone summed it up well in a recent cover feature on Jay-Z himself:

“But, as in much of hip-hop, Jay’s lyrics, for all his wordplay, can begin to feel like tedious self-branding, exercises in image-building as unrelenting as political campaign ads. It’s like watching one of those television specials that collect the greatest commercials of all time. You can sit back and enjoy the celverness and artistry – but at the end of the day, you’re still being sold a bar of soap.”

You can buy Sage Francis’ new album from The Skin Back Alley Music Store.