(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket

Introduction

Following his recent name change that sought to end the often confused female songwriter known by the same pseudonym, (Sandy) Alex G reemerges to offer one of his most polished records to date, a feature that does not necessarily work for the better.

Let’s be clear, Rocket is most definitely a solid work from cover to back, offering a range of different ideas and sounds that piggyback off each other in ways that are both cryptic and clear depending on the track.  Singles like “Proud” and “Bobby” resonate contemporary Americana through its use of trotting meter and singing fiddles.

On the flip side, songs such as “Brick” bring out industrial properties and harsh noise that emulates the tone of more seasoned hardcore veterans such as Death Grips or even Nine Inch Nails.  Even still, the impressive dynamic of this record cannot win me over all the time.

v0wxkrqx1l1t6xioacnx

The Drawbacks…

“Horse” is an example of a piece that comes across as too messy despite its intentional appeal to being a ‘focus track’.  I enjoyed it upon the first few listens but after becoming more familiar with the track it develops a slight annoyance factor that I can’t tune out.

While I favor some of the later tracks over the front half of the album, there is the issue of ordering and arrangement that also keeps me from being overly attached to this record.  Tracks like “Big Fish” would support the narrative much better to be placed as the very last track.  “Witch”, “Horse” and “Brick” could also be mixed into different intervals to avoid the dissonant void in the middle half of the album.

Lyrics

Focusing on lyrics, Alex G is soaring in this category.  With most songs continuing the two or three verse pattern G has kept up over the years, it’s comforting to see the most intriguing fragment of his work is still surpassing previous projects.  “Judge” is my personal favorite in this category, carrying out a gazey-grunge style musically and emanating powerful words such as:

“All the time
I try to recall
What drove you away from here
What was dream and what was real
Where was I

That day meant nothing to me
A hiccup in my memory
This life will leave you hungry
I am completely guilty”

Even cheesier or more straightforward lines carried out on tracks like “Bobby” create effortless imagery that is propelled by the adolescent inflection of this duet.

“I paint pictures of my heart
The colors blue and purple start
To bleed into an endless dark
It’s only you it’s only you”

While these lyrics stick and please the standards that Alex G has set for his writing, it is admittable that the themes of his tunes are beginning to weigh thin.

Verdict

Rocket showcases some of Alex G’s most versatile talent to date, holding a heavy focus on not leaning on one sound for too long.  While some more folk centered tracks rely upon tired techniques and certain tracks orders could benefit from better placement, this record is a welcome addition to G’s discography and long-term fans shouldn’t have an issue getting into the tracks presented here.  That being said, Rocket may not be for listeners expecting a reinvented artist.  My honest opinion of this album is a 7/10.

Gorillaz: Humanz (Deluxe)

Back after a lengthy delay, Gorillaz’ latest album has led to being one of the most anticipated records of the year but ultimately proves to be a somewhat hyped collection of songs that struggle to support one another both thematically and sonically.

In hindsight, I suppose my reservations about this album are not surprising to myself considering the thoughts I had about the early singles.  Specifically, the track “Hallelujah Money”, a song that still remains one of the most obtuse and directionless tracks from the group and the somewhat recent showcase of the song “Saturnz Barz”, an incredible VR music video but a track that (for me at least) began to dwindle in catchiness over time due to overly saturated autotune that lost any appeal after the fourth or fifth listen.

To clarify, this is not any sort of admittance that I wanted or specifically anticipated this album to be bad.  As a longtime Gorillaz fan, it pains me more than anything to say that I feel like this record is anything short of incredible.  Even Plastic Beach, an album with many critiques felt like a stronger effort than the entirety of this latest release.

The biggest flaw to be said of Humanz is within its overtly long tracklisting.  Sitting at a whopping 26 songs for the deluxe version, (which released alongside the standard 20 track edition) this record suffers from the notorious ‘more is better’ fallacy that so many comeback albums tend to practice to no avail.

Speaking generously, there are probably 5 songs provided here that I would not skip outside of a review setting.  The hardest part of reviewing this album was definitely within my ability to focus on the copious amounts of lackluster and overly expository tracks that could not lead to anything noteworthy.

Tracks such as “Momentz” attempt to bring a new direction to classic acts such as De La Soul by throwing in rare uses of vocal filtration (autotune) to the typical jazz rap trio.  This effect does not fair too well and creates an awkward sound that feels too left field as if the writing process this go-around was centered around being as random as humanly possible.

The lyrics on this song as also rubbish and downright confusing.  A sample being:

Got a girl who’s up for the matin’
I sense the need in her grammar
Her nose has never been skatin’ (Uh-huh)
But she’s sippin’ star constellation (Shit)
For real, her squirt game was so like 2Pac out of court run towards camera (Uh-huh)
Her response to that was just, “Check please”

In most cases, it would seem like the most ridiculous complaint in the world to claim that Gorillaz’ sound is too dynamic, a feature that is often niche to every piece that band has created.  Unfortunately, Damon Albarn’s efforts to continue his dynamic group begin to reveal a tired formula that is beginning to show signs of being milked too far.

Even the tracks that I somewhat enjoy on this album feel like they will only amount to short-term listens.  “Ascension” shows a fast paced introduction that roused my attention upon the first several listens but can feel slightly repetitive after hearing “drop that ass ‘fore it crash” after a number of times.  Even the Danny Brown song “Submission” starts off with an unfitting vocal lead that hardly prepares the audience for the rap verse during the latter half of the track.

“Andromeda” is another song that is enjoyable but feels like a silly excuse to tack on another extra ‘culturally relevant’ feature of D.R.A.M. that will slip past your ears if you are not focusing attention at the exact moment of his short chorus.

When looking at what went wrong with this album, the clearest reason is in the approach that was taken with each track.  It’s as if the writing followed the guidelines of ‘the song must either consist of a simple; repetitive chorus or a meandering series of verses with a passable chorus line’.  What happened to blissful hook buildup of “Empire Antz” or the introspective yet playful lyricism of “19-2000”?  Almost every track here feels like there is more to be said or a sound to expand upon.

I wish I could like this album a little bit more but my overall feelings post-listening leave me underwhelmed, confused and even more fearful of comeback records in general.  My honest opinion of this album is a 4/10.

Kendrick Lamar: DAMN

Introduction

At this point in contemporary music culture, it’s no radical idea that Kendrick Lamar is considered by most to be the best rapper alive.  Numerous articles, video essays, and even prominent artists have revered the man in almost every way imaginable, almost to the point of cliché.

Regardless of whether or not Lamar has become a cliché, it is futile to try and discount his work for being anything less than outstanding.  His course from Section.80 all the way to To Pimp a Butterfly (TPAB) has been a rapid ascension of his talent and writing that every artist in the world should aspire to mimic in their rate of progression.

The problem with releasing such a monumental hip-hop album such as TPAB arises when you sit down and think about the sheer amount of effort it must take to best a work that already appears to be near perfect.  Obviously, an artist wants to say that a new record will be better than the last but anyone and everyone know that eventually, creativity begins to wane at some point or another.

In early hindsight, DAMN was an essential album to release at this point in Lamar’s career.  Going back to the claims made at the beginning of the article, Lamar had already established himself as the greatest rapper alive at the peak of his last record’s limelight.  That being said, his last album was also VERY narrative heavy and required a small amount of patience to get through the interlude and spoken word moments before one could enjoy the music.  To casual music listeners, this could be considered off-putting and provides unjust fruit for potential arguments such as, “Drake had a catchier hook” or “That BIG SEAN track went way harder than ‘How Much a Dollar Cost'”.

These are obviously outrageous hyperboles and comparisons but everyone knows ‘that guy’ who would fill this stereotype and the massive numbers of people out there that continue to follow this illogic.  DAMN is Lamar’s answer to the pop calling that the masses have been coaxing him towards.

C9H8_PAUwAEMxzR

Review

Yes, DAMN is Lamar’s pop album without any doubt.  It’s been a strong thought in my mind ever since I heard ‘HUMBLE’ and the appeal that it had among hardcore and casual listeners of his music.  Unlike previous records, Lamar leans light on the inclusion of a narrative between songs and focuses more on blending a story into the music itself.

‘BLOOD’ starts the album with a Western-inspired instrumental, creating a sense of calm unruliness as Lamar narrates a seemingly nonchalant encounter with a disoriented woman.  As he helps the woman, he finds that this situation is actually a trap and he is immediately gunned down without warning.  Many speculate what exactly this woman represents but for the sake of the narrative, being gunned down is Kendrick’s alternate fate had he not have entered the rap game through his connection with Anthony ‘Top Dawg” Tiffith.  The track also poses the premise of the whole album through the single-word song titles that are either the spawn of wicked or weak nature.

This album design fits in with the nature of other conceptual ideas in Kendrick’s past but feels like the most fragmented address he has ever made.  On the surface, it’s intuitive that Lamar uses this method to add variety between his heavy; gritty deep cuts and some of his softer more melodic centered pieces but deep down, I feel like this could be an excuse to insert more pop elements throughout; some of which work flawlessly and some that stick out like a sore thumb.

‘LOYALTY’ and ‘LOVE’ are two culprits for this example.  Both songs include a highly interesting fusion of top 40s pop elements twisted with Lamar’s conscious lyrics for a medley that has not been seen on any of his solo releases yet.  These tracks add a great amount of reach potential for Lamar’s growing audience but fall flat compared to a majority of the better tracks featured here.  Rihanna’s feature track starts out with a neat mashup of Lamar’s niche ‘reverse’ effect but her singing portion doesn’t amount to anything remotely outside of her typical role on songs like this.  Zacari was a fantastic choice for the type of song ‘LOVE’ aspires to be.  My issue with this track lies primarily within the placement and substance of the song.  It feels forced when put between the two exceptional songs ‘LUST’ and ‘XXX’ and lyrically could be Lamar’s most surface level release to date.  I understand that the appeal here is to be a catchy pop tune but something feels very off about this song in retrospect to the rest of the album.

Ignoring the two or three outlying songs on this album, the rest of the release is nothing but pure goodness.  ‘PRIDE’ is a total dreampop/ hip-hop crossover that is full of lyrical gold, “I can’t fake humble just because you’re insecure” being only the tip of the iceberg.

‘LUST’ takes the cake for having one of the sickest beat drops on the album, as well as clever lyrics painting the metaphor for Lamar’s ‘thirst’ ex. “I need some water”.  The song also diverges into a Euro grime section once or twice, even furthering the genre range of this album.  It’s almost as if Lamar wrote each track on this piece to appeal to a variety of bodies, furthering the number of people that can possibly appreciate at least one or two songs provided here.

 

The production on DAMN is up to par with previous releases.  The sample dropping in ‘DNA’ on the second verse pairs nicely with the aggressive flow happening in the vocals, along with a dirty bassline that must be enjoyed on a quality home speaker system to understand its true glory.  One of my few complaints lies within the song ‘XXX’, the U2 featurette where Bono’s grunting vocals can be heard around two minutes into the track.  To me, this feels like one of those moments that was meant to sound really cool but truly comes off as corny and pseudo-edgy.  Having said that, this isn’t a terrible issue but only distracts from an otherwise decent song.

Screen-Shot-2017-04-18-at-4.04.15-PM

Verdict

It would be an understatement to say that there is a lot happening on DAMN.  Kendrick takes the theme of weakness or wickedness down many different paths, each with their own ideological message that can be taken or left, but at least respected nonetheless.  He does all of this while creating some of the deepest accessible music that can be found on the top charts and does it all with the same grace his fans have come to know and love.  For me personally, I view this album as Lamar’s answer to stubborn listeners that weren’t sold on the lyricism and musicality behind TPAB or those that still think Drake is still the best rapper.  Lamar has offered a variety of different sounds for fans to pick and choose what they love or hate, which explains why everyone seems to have very differing opinions about which tracks are hot or not.  I believe DAMN is a good album and could arguably be Lamar’s most important album from a business viewpoint but it most certainly is not his best.  I can understand those that think this album is flawless but specific areas listed above keep me from being completely sold.  My honest opinion of this album is a 7.5/10.

 

 

Interview: A Giant Dog

Going on nine years strong, the eclectic punk-rock band from Austin, TX A Giant Dog are on their way back for a second performance within six months at the notorious music outlet Opolis on Main and Crawford and are riding this tour off of their early 2016 album “Pile”.

The band’s lead vocalist, Sabrina Ellis, speaks about the challenges that she and the members have faced leading to their eventual success on records such as “Fight” and “Bone”, which released in the years prior to their 2016 album.

“We’ve had people tell us that we aren’t punk-rock, which can be slightly discouraging to hear when that is the sound that you’re going for, but over time as we have become more accepted and developed our fanbase, I think it’s safe to say that the critics can’t necessarily succeed at defining what is and isn’t punk.”  Currently, “Pile” holds an 8.2/10 Pitchfork review and earned a solid B rating from Consequence of Sound.

In addition to overcoming critic reception, she details the years where anxiety began to take hold of her performance mindset.  “I never thought it would happen to somebody like me, but one day I just started to have panic attacks that I couldn’t explain and it really took a toll on my desire and thrill of performing.”  Overcoming this condition was no easy task, but by a self-described life changing experience that occurred from a near-death auto accident, Sabrina was able to learn to control her attacks and claims to be doing much better since this event.

Sabrina also discusses her primary influences behind the sound of the band, also noting her aversion of influential comparisons.  She says, “The question about influences is always a tricky one because every year or so it always shifts to a different answer than before.  Also, our most consistent role models tend to feel like a cliché that exists within most bands.”  She offers her most honest answer by listing off the likes of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Pixies, Queen, and The Velvet Underground.

Delving into the creation of their latest record, Sabrina reveals A Giant Dog’s collaborations with SPOON producer Mike McCarthy, who helped with the mixing on “Pile”.  “Back in 2014, we had a good portion of songs written that are currently featured on ‘Pile’, but being without a label kept us from being able to release them.” She continues, “Through touring with Spoon, we were able to get noticed by Merge Records, our current label, and worked with Mike and his amazing vintage gear that really harnessed our sound and made sure that we didn’t clean up too much.”

Closing the interview, she teases that a new record is on the way for 2017 and that August appears to be the month of arrival.  “Toy” is the current title in place for this album.

A Giant Dog performs this Thursday at Opolis and tickets are on sale now at their website.

Top 50 Albums of 2016

2016 is coming to an end, and so begins the onslaught of year-end lists that give insight as to what numerical placement everyone’s favorite albums average into.

While 2016 has debatably been the worst year in a long time, it is by no means a terrible time for music.  Artists such as Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, Frank Ocean, and Parquet Courts released some of their best work to date, and some stars like Sturgill Simpson, Solange, and the up-and-coming Car Seat Headrest took everyone by surprise and even ranked higher than the more seasoned veterans in the industry.

Not to mention, J. Cole came in at the last moment with a follow-up to 2014 Forest Hills Drive that showcases the tremendous upgrade in his talent and ability.

Without further ado, here are my top albums of 2016.

p.s. this list was compiled through Rate Your Music (RYM).  If you have an account, feel free to follow me here.

Painting With

50.Animal Collective

Painting With (2016)
Lil Boat the Mixtape

49.Lil Yachty

Lil Boat the Mixtape (2016) [Mixtape]
Skin

48.Flume

Skin (2016)
JEFFERY

47.Young Thug

JEFFERY (2016) [Mixtape]
How to Be a Human Being

46.Glass Animals

How to Be a Human Being (2016)
Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight

45.Travi$ Scott

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (2016)
Genesis

44.Domo Genesis

Genesis (2016)
Freetown Sound

43.Blood Orange

Freetown Sound (2016)
Next Thing

42.Frankie Cosmos

Next Thing (2016)
Pool

41.Porches

Pool (2016)
The Impossible Kid

40.Aesop Rock

The Impossible Kid (2016)
The Colour in Anything

39.James Blake

The Colour in Anything (2016)
Malibu

38.Anderson .Paak

Malibu (2016)
22, a Million

37.Bon Iver

22, a Million (2016)
We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service

36.A Tribe Called Quest

We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
Bonito Generation

35.Kero Kero Bonito

Bonito Generation (2016)
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung

34.Ryley Walker

Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (2016)
Nonagon Infinity

33.King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Nonagon Infinity (2016)
Down in Heaven

32.Twin Peaks

Down in Heaven (2016)
Shut Up Kiss Me

31.Angel Olsen

Shut Up Kiss Me (2016) [Single]
Blank Face LP

30.ScHoolboy Q

Blank Face LP (2016)
Body War

29.Show Me the Body

Body War (2016)
Crime Cutz

28.Holy Ghost!

Crime Cutz (2016) [Single]
The Life of Pablo

27.Kanye West

The Life of Pablo (2016)
Ruminations

26.Conor Oberst

Ruminations (2016)
Westworld: Season 1 (Selections from the HBO® Series)

25.Ramin Djawadi

Westworld: Season 1 (Selections from the HBO® Series)(2016) [EP]
99.9%

24.Kaytranada

99.9% (2016)
Stage Four

23.Touché Amoré

Stage Four (2016)
Telefone

22.Noname

Telefone (2016) [Mixtape]
Bottomless Pit

21.Death Grips

Bottomless Pit (2016)
Live from Trona

20.Toro y Moi

Live from Trona (2016)
Sirens

19.Nicolas Jaar

Sirens (2016)
Lemonade

18.Beyoncé

Lemonade (2016)
Worry

17.Jeff Rosenstock

Worry (2016)
Jessica Rabbit

16.Sleigh Bells

Jessica Rabbit (2016)
A Weird Exits

15.Thee Oh Sees

A Weird Exits (2016)
Stranger Things, Volume One

14.Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein

Stranger Things, Volume One (2016)
Coloring Book

13.Chance the Rapper

Coloring Book (2016) [Mixtape]
The Glowing Man

12.Swans

The Glowing Man (2016)
★ [Blackstar]

11.David Bowie

★ [Blackstar] (2016)
untitled unmastered.

10.Kendrick Lamar

untitled unmastered. (2016)
Atrocity Exhibition

9.Danny Brown

Atrocity Exhibition (2016)
You Want It Darker

8.Leonard Cohen

You Want It Darker (2016)
A Sailor's Guide to Earth

7.Sturgill Simpson

A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (2016)
Teens of Denial

6.Car Seat Headrest

Teens of Denial (2016)
A Moon Shaped Pool

5.Radiohead

A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
4 Your Eyez Only

4.J. Cole

4 Your Eyez Only (2016)
A Seat at the Table

3.Solange

A Seat at the Table (2016)
Human Performance

2.Parquet Courts

Human Performance (2016)
Blonde

1.Frank Ocean

Blonde (2016)

Childish Gambino: “Awaken, My Love!”

The multitalented comedian, actor, rapper, and recently adopted funkadelic star Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) has finally graced anxiously awaiting fans with his new album “Awaken, My Love!”.

With this new record and genre identity, Glover proves once again that he is not afraid of tackling a new and challenging art, as many were even skeptical after his rap breakthrough on his first release titled Camp, which was quickly followed up by the highly acclaimed Because the Internet record.

While Gambino’s ambitions soar above and beyond what anyone could have imagined on this album (mostly due to the complete absence of rap), the tracks seem to fall flat due to a lack of vision that was so prevalent on his previous release.  Aside from Me and Your Mama and Redbone, the record’s two hit singles that released only a few weeks ago, the rest of the songs seem almost misleading to the style that the previews initially lead on.

The song Zombies is probably the perfect example of when this album begins to feel translucent because even the lyrics featured on here are within the subpar range.  Take the opening verse for example:

“All I see is zombies

Walking all around us

You can hear them coming

(They come to take your life)

You can hear them breathing

Breathing down your spine”

Sure, zombies are a popular metaphor used throughout media and in poetry, but the simple and bland rhetoric paired with a vocal delivery that tries just a little too hard to be weird or “artsy” actually comes across as quite adolescent, or at least undeveloped from a career artist that has made so much better, like his verses on Zealots of Stockholm or Telegraph Ave.

This mistake would be excusable too if it were not for the fact that he does the same thing again in California, but on a much grander scale.  The vocal delivery in this song is so bad, it is comparable to singing through a paper towel tube with a half-closed throat.  That being said, this song does attract positive attention regardless of the odd choice of voice filtration, and that is because the track offers a peppy reggae melody within the first five seconds to distract from the horrendous singing.

The main problem that this album faces is that it cannot decide what audience it is performing to.  Gambino gave his fans a taste of what was to come through the single Me and Your Mama, a progressive piece that builds upon itself through layers of harmony until it explodes in Glover’s fiery roar that truly set the bar for everyone’s hype prior to this release.  From that standpoint, many were expecting to hear a more melodic funk album that everyone could get into.

In reality, Gambino created something much more experimental, but not in a good way.  Decisions were made to keep this record sounding weird, unfinished, and chaotic and that is ultimately what it is.  There are far too many songs that fade out instead of having a direct ending, which comes across as slightly lazy when there is not a sufficient enough reason or motive to end a song in this way.

Other tracks in the latter half of the album end abruptly and at inopportune times, which also seems like an intentional decision that backfired upon public reception.  The point is, this album has all of the creativity but absolutely no direction.  It’s as if Glover woke up one morning and decided he needed to release a funk record as fast as possible.  The new sound and genre for his music was a welcome surprise, but unfortunately “Awaken, My Love” is too ambitious for its own good.  My honest opinion of this album is a 5.5/10

 

Vince Staples: Prima Donna (EP)

Vince Staples’ latest project proves to be one of the most ambitious extended play albums in recent years. With production contribution from James Blake and iconic features from Kilo Kish and A$ASP Rocky, Prima Donna sets the bar higher than most small releases but manages to only rouse our musical taste buds and assure us that more is on the horizon.

Right from the very first track of this piece, Vince makes sure that the audience clearly understands the underlying tone of his latest work. While he is known for his depressing lyrics and rhetoric, this opening song expresses an even more apathetic side of his character, as he sings a monotone cover of This Little Light of Mine. This style continues to show up at different points in the EP, typically at the rear part of each song. While I do appreciate the effort to provide some sort of concept to this artwork, I regretfully say that it does become slightly annoying and redundant after only three listens, and loses its overall impact as a result. If there were ten more tracks on this release, then I could see it working much better.

Moving on to the actual meat of this collection, I have nothing but fantastic things to say (aside from a few minor cons here and there, such as the brevity of War Ready). For starters, Loco is undoubtedly one of the best tracks. Vince’s delivery matches the insane instrumentation provided in this song, and Kilo Kish’s collaboration in the hook sounds like something straight out of a Massive Attack record, what with its dark-gritty bass section. Another fantastic song is Big Time, which contains a heavy influence from James Blakes’ typical sound, combined with chiptunes that create an overall unique experience.

One attention to detail that I truly appreciate is the effort that was placed into the references and homage from Staples’ previous album Summertime ’06. Samples such as the seagull sound on Prima Donna (track) that harken back to Norf Norf or the Spanish spoken words that remind me of the song Loca. All of these small details help to contribute to the idea that Vince holds an intentional agenda within each of his releases and that listeners should treat these records as sequels that build upon each other.

Aside from a few flaws, this EP truly stands out amidst a sea of other hot releases this month. It may not be perfect, but Prima Donna serves as a prequel to an inevitable full-length album that is sure to build upon this already genius sound. My honest opinion of this album is a 7.8/10