Various Artists - Night Owls 5: Bird Flu

It’s interesting to come across a good compilation these days. You see plenty of collections of older recordings put together, but you don’t see that many label or regional compilations put together for the sake of promoting a scene. The only one that comes to mind is Casual Victim Pile, the Austin punk/garage compilation put out by Matador Records. I’m sure there are others, but it seems like more of a dying piece of record collecting and promoting.

Opolopo - Voltage Controlled Feelings

Sometimes a record is just so damn enjoyable from start to end that nothing else matters. I’ll delve into more details as to the construction of the album and where it fits in and all that good stuff, but first I just want to tell you that it was a straight-up pleasure to listen to this album. What was my first reaction to this record? “This is fun!” What do I think now that I’ve had a chance to listen to it several times and really digest it?

Greenhouse - Electric Purgatory Part 2

Last year, we saw the emergence of Greenhouse as the two-man team of Blueprint and Illogic with their EP Electric Purgatory Part One. Now we finally have part two. It’s not exactly a departure, but the formula on the last EP worked, so it’s not like that’s a bad thing. Blueprint provides the sci-fi down tempo production, and both emcees deliver at a calculated pace that emphasizes lyrical content. Things start off with eerie keyboard string sounds and a deliberate drum beat as Blueprint lays down the state of affairs in “Hello World.

Cap D - Polymath

Activist/Lawyer/Emcee Cap D has been plugging away in Chicago for over ten years, as a solo artist and with his crew, All Natural. On his latest release, Polymath, we see a mature artist struggling with the gap between where he is and where he wants to be. With production laid down by !LLMiND, NO I.D., and Cap D himself, we get some hard beats that bring a sense of urgency to the album.

Blueprint - Who

Picking a group as source material for an EP is something that Blueprint has done a couple times now, first with Radiohead, then with Funkadelic, and now with The Who. It’s certainly a fun hook for an EP, and by keeping the project small, the idea runs its course without running out of steam. One of the nice things that Blueprint provides is a series of interviews with Roger Daltry, lead singer of The Who, providing some nice color to the release.

Fatgums - Gumstrumentals Vol. 1

Fatgums is a deejay, producer, and the founder of Beatrock Music, a young label out of Long Beach. He’s worked with artists like Bambu, Power Struggle, and Novelists. If you’re not familiar with any of this, don’t worry. This album works as a gateway to this scene and also holds up on its individual merits. If you hadn’t figured out by the title, these are instrumental versions of songs Fatgums produced over the years.

Zion I - Atomic Clock

Before the dust had settled on the Burnerz album, Zumbi comes right back with his main project, Zion I. The collaboration between Zumbi and AmpLive has been going strong for over ten years, and Atomic Clock is their seventh album. At this point in their career, things could easily get stale or drift in a strange or ill-advised direction. Or, best-case scenario, their chemistry would be strong and they would push each other, expand their sound, and make a great, urgent album.

Paper Tiger - Made Like Us

As one of the primary beat makers for Doomtree, Paper Tiger usually works behind the scenes and doesn’t necessarily get to shine the way Dessa or P.O.S. do. Following the release of an EP in 2007, his first full-length will hopefully get the attention he deserves. Made Like Us is an interesting collection of atmospheres. The album begins as something of a down tempo instrumental hip hop project, walking the line between RJD2’s Deadringer and something you might hear on Ninjatune.

Foreign Exchange - Authenticity

For those who don’t know, Foreign Exchange is an effort between Little Brother emcee Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay. They met over the Okayplayer message board and started collaborating online without meeting in person, thus the name of the group. When Foreign Exchange first began, it was more hip hop-oriented. It definitely pushed the envelope, but mostly featured Phonte rapping over some interesting and beautiful music. Now on their third album, the two are definitely more influenced by R&B and progressive rock.

J-Live - Undivided Attention

Unfortunately, J-Live flew under a lot of people’s radars. This is in large part due to the shelving of his debut album and not really belonging to a crew or particular scene that blew up. But J-Live plugged away, proud to call himself a hip hop triple-threat: emcee, deejay, and producer. As he preps his fifth full-length album, J-Live releases this EP as a teaser. It’s a fulfilling six-song collection, with his own production mixed in with the likes of Locsmif and Nicolay.