To No Avail
Low-fidelity recording techniques have been a big part of black metal for much of its history, and as a consequence, the majority of the stuff sounds just fine on dinky laptop speakers—one of the few things any black-metal band has in common with Katy Perry. In recent years, as the style's rigid orthodoxy has collapsed, black-metal artists have been making records that demand (and deserve) a higher-quality playback experience. One notable local example is one-man band Surachai. He's a full-on audiophile, albeit an audiophile whose instincts are considerably more avant-garde than those of the average sound geek: he contributes to the tech-oriented online experimental-music zine Trash Audio and sells a 1.2 gigabyte collection of sampled vinyl runout grooves compiled from his record collection. To No Avail—two ten-plus-minute compositions labeled "Side •" and "Side ••"—is a magnificent-sounding album, pouring from the speakers in huge, heaping masses of intricately layered guitars, programmed drums, and deeply wicked vocal shrieks, juiced up here and there with strings and analog synthesizers. If the blastbeats and howling-demon vocals don't scare you off, you'll find it a beautiful and richly rewarding listen. Surachai released the record digitally last fall, but the vinyl edition only recently came out. It's worth picking up not only for the improved sound but also to better appreciate the fantastic cover art.
Chief Keef featuring Kanye West, Pusha T, Jadakiss, and Big Sean
"I Don't Like (Remix)"
When Power 92 radio personality (and early Kanye booster) DJ Pharris returned from the New York recording session where 'Ye cut the Internet track "Theraflu"—since retitled "Way Too Cold," presumably at the suggestion of Theraflu parent company Novartis—he reported that West was obsessed with the song "I Don't Like" by wunderkind south-side rapper Chief Keef. So obsessed, in fact, that he soon made his own remix of the song, bringing in some talent from the roster of his G.O.O.D. Music label to assist. It's widely rumored that West wants to sign Keef to G.O.O.D., and surrounding one of his raps with verses by some of the most respected MCs of the past decade (and, well, Big Sean) is a pretty serious courtship move. It's easy to understand Kanye's obsession with the song: once Keef's clipped three-note chorus melody works its way into your head it's impossible to dislodge, and Young Chop's sinister, chiming beat could be 20 minutes long and I wouldn't mind. (Though the producer is less than enthused with the additions West made, sans Chop's permission, to "Kanye up" the sound.) As Chief Keef has rocketed to fame, he's brought some well-deserved and long-overdue attention to the Chicago rap scene, and Kanye's shout-outs to King Louie, L.E.P. Bogus Boys, and incarcerated local legend Bump J should help too.
Bone & Bell
Texan-turned-Chicagoan Heather Smith tends to get obsessive about musical instruments, but she doesn't express those feelings through the popularly preferred method—long, technical conversations that make any nonmusicians in the immediate area look for the door. Instead she uses her gearhead tendencies as a foundation for her recordings. Her first EP, Loom, was built around the baritone ukulele, and thankfully sounds more like the work of Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti than Zooey Deschanel. Her new four-song set reveals a fixation on vintage organs, given concrete shape via haunting, chanteuse-style ballads with faint echoes of delicate folk.
Fredo Santana featuring Chief Keef and
"My Lil Niggas"
Katie Got Bandz
"Ridin' Around & We Drillin'"
In case you're not familiar with the insurgent Chicago rap scene, here are two starting points. The sound that's ruling it is based on southern "trap" beats of the style that Virginia producer Lex Luger—at age 21 a veritable elder compared to the teenagers blowing up on the south side—has helped establish as hip-hop's dominant aesthetic in 2012. What differentiates Chicago from other places infiltrated by trap rap is the tendency for MCs to combine tight, punchy delivery that hovers barely perceptibly behind the beat with a melodic streak that you sometimes don't even notice until you find yourself singing a hook to yourself on the bus. (You'll probably also hear frequent repetition of a nasal, Beavis-like "bang!"—a reference to Chief Keef's onomatopoetic breakout hit.) Fredo Santana is part of Keef's Glory Boyz Entertainment clique, and his talents have attracted the attention of Sean Combs, who hopes to make him a Bad Boy as well. Katie Got Bandz is one of several female MCs on the current scene, and had her own local smash, "I Need a Hitta," last fall. "Ridin' Around & We Drillin'" is murky and sinister and showcases her nonchalant way of ripping up the mike.