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Lvl 11 
Album of the month by a country frickin mile. You might not have been notified. This is because the mainstream music media in the UK is fixated on traditional bands, can't take their myopic gaze beyond NW1, and fundamentally can't really countenance the possibility of British working-class groups who refuse to dilute or compromise their music. The narrative they accept, the moment they choose to engage with music that isn't 'Later'-friendly, is when that music chooses to crossover. Levelz seem gloriously incapable and uninterested in doing this. Consequently, because they're not playlisted, and because the papers aren't even aware of them, Levelz are not the utter fucking stars they should be. Yet. They should be the biggest story in UK music. They're a Mancunian collective of MCs, DJs and producers ranging in ages from teenagers to 40-somethings. There's 14 of them. The main producers are Biome, Bricks, Chimpo (a fucking genius), Dub Phizix and Metrodome. The lyricists and spitters are Black Josh, Chunky, Fox, Skittles, Sparkz, T-Man and Truthos Mufasa, the DJs are Jonny and Rich. Roles aren't fixed, rhymers produce, producers rhyme - crucially this fluidity of roles is something you can hear in their intoxicating, addictive music. With backgrounds in drum & bass, dubstep, grime, garage, dancehall, hip hop, jazz, funk, tempos are not set in Levelz music, every track here provides another dazzling detour from predictability. This latest album cuts from tight-as-fuck grime, to gorgeous g-funk to latinate dancehall to stark almost-dubstep oddity with utter confidence. Throughout the rhyming is a giddy, hysterical treat - like the music,  reflecting Manchester's true diversity, attitude and humour in a way that 10thousand Oasis-clones never ever could. 

(And this is what's odd to me. Where's the fucking nose for a story gone? If the press want stories, mayhem, larger-than-life characters and astonishing music it's all here. Levelz are perhaps the greatest rock n roll proposition this country is offering at the moment. Only prejudice and a collosal lack of imagination is stopping them visibly being the stars they most assuredly already are).

Highlights for me are the frabjously squelchy 90s g-funk of 'King Of The Disco' (a track so damn delicious you could jack it next to some WC & Madd Circle), the hilariously on-point 'Drug Dealer', the fizzing licks and stop-start flows on 'Dickhead', the cold mindblowing recesses of 'Slow Down' and 'Ninja' but really this album is best enjoyed in one big phat flood out your car speakers, pushing on every headphoned step, bumping your whole house to the rafters. LVL 11 has the same collective power, individual intrigue and walloping power of prime Roll Deep, Massive Attack, Split Prophets or even So Solid. With an industry fixated on solo artists (easier to market/manipulate) we should all be cocking an ear towards the ill-mannered, devestatingly controlled, fantastically freewheeling music Levelz are shooting out there right now. For the kiddies, the old folks and all us inbetween, 'LV1' should already be an early contender for UK album of the year.


Christ what a racket. Best enjoyed/endured one track at a time. Crowhursts incredible 'Judgment: The Remixes' from 2015 was one of that year's noise highlights - recalling Khost's 'Corrosive Shroud' - and this newie has that ace thing that all great noise records have where at several points you wonder if you're getting totally conned. Halfway through the juddering sonic juggernaut of 'Retinal Hum' you find yourself thinking - WHY the fuck am I putting myself through this? And once you've negotiated the fact that you're listening to this on your own (and you will be, even if you start with others), that you have nothing to prove, and you wonder why you're not doing what a sane human being would do confronted with this wreckage and turning the fucking thing off, you realise that the reason you won't isn't a macho noiseniks fear of being defeated by sound, rather you start to hear things within the deafening shred and surge, threads and lines not of melody but of vision. You start seeing things. You play news-footage inside your eyelids, bulldozers, bodies, skies of black smoke riven with carrion crows and fighter aircraft. Christ what a racket but crucially, what feels like a TIMELY racket. Play it loud. Worry friends and neighbours.


Been up and down with Curren$y over the years, enthralled by his earliest mixtapes, increasingly bored with his recent output but 'The Owners Manual' is a short and sweet recovery of his presence, just in the nick of time for his forthcoming collaboration with Alchemist (slavering already cos just can't get enough of the Alc's increasingly wayward transmissions). Cool and Dre on the mix all lush and nice and it's all over before it gets a chance to overstay its welcome.

Heavy as all fuckout. And free.

Superbly downered doom with a heavy bass undertow that's like Portland's awesome Towers (reviewed their magnificent 'II' opus here) hatched alien offspring from an orifice in the side of their beastly bellies. Because they sound like kids, often the two tracks here (both 15+ minutes long) don't make that extra push into true genre-less oddity that Keeper will undoubtedly uncover the further they go - this is still 'conventional' doom, albeit recorded with a punch, glimmer and grit beyond more established outfits and taking songwriting twists that are gloriously incorrect and untutoredly moving. Superb. 

She keeps dropping bombs does Simz, and this latest of her Age 101 series keeps the standards high. Her voice is still a gloriously self-confident codex of politics, personality, aggravation, langour, humour and despair which reaches an apotheosis on the super-splendid 'Savage (Freestyle)'

It's odd. Though I tend to be doubtful of rapper's motives when they only rap over old-sounding music, I have no such querulous questions of motive when it comes to producers. Totally understand why they'd want to avoid the autotune trap-hell of current mainstream hip-hop production and dig back into loops and smoky beats — more often than not, they sound better. Mr Brown here drops a scintillating, utterly dated yet utterly ace four-track 7" on the inestimable King Underground and every single track is a delight, from the ravishing crepuscular funk of 'Weathered', the bumping heavy bass clarinet-laden 'Now See Me' and the gorgeous coda of 'Tiny Sunset' and 'Bluey', like Gil & Miles ditched Macero and gave Marley Marl a call. Sweet sounds. 

Isaiah Rashad - Smile from Top Dawg Entertainment on Vimeo.

"When I listen to the deacon say it I'm pullin' over/I've been prayin' with the reefer head, yeah/in the valley, meditatin'..." Nice booming jazz sound, heavy-hitting upright bass, a lick of Curtis, a non-stop mind and mouth in motion, a chorus that then brilliantly absconds into a near dream-state of fucked-upness, eyes heavy-lidded looking out of a car window at the rain and neon. TDE can't help themselves (do check out Ali's Throwback TDE Mixes on Soundcloud won't you, they're awesome) which makes the sporadic, sparse nature of their output a refreshing change from the glut being provided elsewhere. Hopefully from that album he promised last year. Unmissable and unmistakeable.

Kanye and Kendrick's first ever collaboration, and more than worth the wait. Madlib is in on production and the result is one of the highlights of the year already. Kendrick's verse is a doozie but in a weird way I prefer Kanye's takeover — paranoid, jumpy, sketchy, malformed, 'turbo thoughts'. Behind all this id-warfare, Madlib drapes a thrumming kaleidoscope of funk, dub fx and soul dazzle that sounds like a devestating alternative to the encroaching retroism of autotune (that's the weird thing with hip-hop — in a few years autotune will doubtless sound utterly out of date). The test being, if you weren't told it was Kanye, would you listen again? Yes, without a doubt. The voice, and the words still hit with a truth. Essential. 

VVV (standing for Vigo, Venkman and Vorhes) is Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage and this is an unholy slab of Notts menace, allegedly 'retrieved from a VHS tape found floating in the River Trent, Nottingham'. Love the production, all stalactite '80s synths and moody electro-bass — some lovely moments of John Carpenter-style moog-guignol as well. Heavy 808 beats and drum-machine abuse undercuts the simmering, scary rhymes from all involved. Love the heavy Notts dialects and the general feel that this beams in from both another planet but also somewhere dark, clammy and desperate that you know all too well. Superb, flickering, near-drowned ish from the heart of darkness. 

Triple Darkness' 'Darker Than Black' was one of 2015's greatest UK albums, so it's intensely gratifying to see solo member Tesla's Ghost bringing out his own tracks in 2016. 'They All Know' is produced by SOSS and is some of the most sublimely creepy, DREAD-full music you'll hear all winter. The extoplasmic strings and chimes are slowed to the point of decay, like a particularly doomy moment from Rachel's 'Music For Egon Schiele' stalked by a subterranean bass. You keep waiting, as TG's rhymes get ever-more suggestive and hallucinatory, for a beat to come crashing in and save you from the fear of your own heartbeat, your shortening breath, your growing realisation that if you look behind you, you just might scream. Terrifying music. Utterly stunning. Absolutely essential. 


"Fat like an elephant's knacker". On the quiet I reckon Ocean Wisdom's 'Chaos 93' might just be the most lyrically-engaging and dazzling album that the High Focus stable have given us yet. The man has SKILLS, fast, furious, ferocious, funny-as-fuck skills so natural that HF are going to be pulling tracks out to highlight every damn chance they get. 'One Take', like the rest of the album, features fantastic production from Dirty Dike, here hitching a frabjous flute-guitar jazz whorl to a solid cruising beat and then having the good sense to keep things minimal (gorgeous strings the only addition), so you have space to concentrate on OW's trails of consciousness. Already a contender for debut LP of the year. Get hip. 

I know very little about George Fields other than that he's called George Fields, is a hip-hop producer from Dorset, and he has a new instrumental album called 'Beyond Realm' coming out soon on his own UT imprint. If 'Andromeda' is anything to go by, it should be an absolute masterpiece and I must check his previous albums on its strength, 2012's 'From The Sticks' and 2015's 'Glad To Meet You'. 'Andromeda' does nothing you've not heard before but does it wonderfully, recalling Lapalux, Underdog, DJ Krush, Boards Of Canada, the harder end of Ninja Tune, '90s illbient and '00s hauntology, but always with bone-crushing beats and a real sense of creepy wonder suffused through every second. Superb, and a name to check out as 2016 unfolds. 

Strange strange abrasive wonderful shit from Atlanta. In a year's time you'll be saying you were in from the off. Make that lie the truth immediately. Reminds me of Spark Master Tape, if not sonically then just in WTFness (see also Charles Hamilton's bracingly noisy 'Loud & Wrong' mixtape out now). 

 Just a dope song — simple as, hooky, and should be a big hit. R&b-like hip-hop in the sense that there's a house-influence here, and also this is deep, relationship-based lyrical hip-hop. Great thing is Rockie's cadences, pauses and reflective vibe reminds you heavily of Guru, and it's this authority on the mic that snags you, a kid who sounds confident and smart and isn't ashamed to show it (rather than sounding arrogant and dumb, as so many rappers seem to want to these days). Lovely melodies and a weird disconnect between the electro loops and the beat, a disconnect that gets accentuated every time the beat absconds. A mysterious, magical single that I hope becomes huge. Just a dope song. 


  1. Pro P & Northern Structure's excellent "Tunnel Vision" which came out towards the end of last year is further evidence that Mancunians know what's what hip-hop-wise - must be something in the Ship Canal.

  2. Had a listen to the Levelz album on the strength of your praise and was blown away. A complete and utter breath of fresh air. Have duly purchased said album. I can honestly say I probably wouldn't have heard of these guys were it not for your review, so thanks for the recommendation!


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