Lorde – Melodrama (2017)

Review Summary: “When the sweet words and fevers all leave us right here in the cold”

Just as Kate Bush manipulated the sounds of 80s pop into refined pieces of musical brilliance, Ella O’Connor is able to craft catchy, genuine songs that surpass the cliches of today’s pop music culture while still garnering tremendous acclaim. Under her stage name of Lorde, O’Connor was met with widespread appeal in 2013 for her hit song “Royals” and subsequent album Pure Heroine. At only the age of sixteen, Lorde had reached superstar status with Grammy’s for Song of the Year, as well as Best Pop Solo Performance. Now after the passing of four years, Lorde has returned to music once again with Melodrama, standing out from the sea of today’s manufactured pop artists with an air of utmost sincerity.

Lorde’s sophomore release, not only comes four years after her last album, Pure Heroine, but it also follows arguably the most important years of an individual’s life: the transition into adulthood. Where her debut album explored the youthful topics of companionship and materialism, Melodrama presents us with a 20-year old Lorde who’s themes are almost entirely self-reflective. From the first track, “Green Light”, we witness an individual placed in the immediate fallout of a relationship. She’s bitter and confused about what she feels and this manifests itself in the repeated line, “Honey I’ll come get my things but I can’t let go.” This inability to find immediate closure from the abrupt endings of love proves to be the most prominent theme on the album, and the majority of these songs within come from a place of inward observation and dejection.

Halfway through the album’s run-time, Lorde’s reflections reach their most candid on the ballad “Liability”. The song features one dampened piano behind the singer as she grapples with the idea of feeling utterly alone in the aftermath of rejection. Lorde’s vulnerable voice carries beautifully through the chorus, resigning to those that see her as a burden with the lines, “They say ‘You’re a little much for me, you’re a liability'”. Performed plainly and without flare, Liability cuts straight into the heart of every young romantic who has felt this sort of anguish of feeling unwanted. The song “Writer in the Dark” similarly gives us a stripped-down piano structure with a chorus that highlights Lorde’s heart-melting voice as she settles to “find a way to be without you babe.” Though these tracks enter and leave the album in subtle fashions, they are vital to the core of Melodrama, in that Lorde at her most personal has the ability to so purely convey difficult emotions that resonate profoundly with listeners.

Not only are the topics of Melodrama stunning, but the instrumentals that support them are also a pleasant surprise. At the center of each song lies Lorde’s signature breathy voice, characterized by unique pronunciations and quirks as she gives attention to each intimate line that is expressed. While the majority of songs on the album include deep, warm synths that serve as driving basslines, individual tracks tend to experiment with innovative sounds and textures such as the modulated vocal samples that introduce “Sober,” or interjecting snippets of choppy sound effects in “Hard Feelings/Loveless.” These sounds aren’t entirely without meaning though. In the instrumental break in “Hard Feelings,” listener’s ears are filled with metallic crashing sounds under a melodic synth lead that keeps falling out of tune. As the song revolves around Lorde’s difficult decision of letting go of her past, the chaotic sounds could be representative of the frenzied state of her inner thoughts, and the out-of-tune synth signifying a desperate attempt to keep the melody alive despite noticeable damage.

Despite the many high points that the album reaches, Melodrama also has a fair share of flaws. Scattered between the more memorable singles from the album there lies a couple of songs that fall victim to standard pop tropes and ultimately seem a bit uninspired. Songs such as “Sober II” are in no way “bad” but just don’t seem to be saying anything special. Repeated hooks like “Blowing shit up with homemade dynamite” on “Homemade Dynamite” or the spoken line “Broadcast the boom, boom, boom, boom…” on “The Louvre” are reminiscent of the styles found on Pure Heroine, and seem to serve mainly as teenage party anthems, which is fine, but songs like these end up being the most forgettable in the scope of the album.

Melodrama was an undoubtedly ambitious project for our young New Zealand icon. Through the album’s numerous anthems of painful love, Lorde proves to her listeners that in her hiatus she has taken steps to not only reflect on personal decisions and experiences, but to mature into an individual that is highly deserving of praise. Despite her elevated stardom, Lorde’s messages succeed in capturing the sentiment of an entire generation of youth as they attempt to navigate their ways through an often unkind world. And though Melodrama is indicative of Lorde’s growth into adulthood, the energy captured within these tracks remains distinctly young.

Rating: 7.5/10

Notable Tracks: Liability, Green Light, Hard Feelings/ Loveless

By: Hayden Goodridge

Like this review? Have something I should review next? Leave a comment or E-mail me at infinitespinreviews@gmail.com. Thanks for the support.

 

Big Thief – Capacity (2017)

 

Review Summary: Subtle and dreamy in its approach, Capacity underscores the emotional power of storytelling through Adrianne Lenker’s tender voice.

Much of how we choose to consider the music that surrounds our lives comes from how well it can impact us on a personal, emotional level. Certain songs get ingrained in our souls through the experiences that arise alongside them, meaningful lyrics, or exquisite musical arrangements. On Capacity, Big Thief’s lead-singer Adrianne Lenker compels listeners through the creation of potent and often-harrowing narratives for each to individually unravel and reflect upon.

Capacity is filled with stories. Stories of abuse, disassociation, intimacy, and reflection meander their ways into the album’s whimsical song structures. And with the band’s tranquil instrumentations lying just out of the foreground, Adrianne Lenker is given ample room for expression. As Lenker’s voice carefully steps across each of her words, the listener is inclined to cling to each delicately placed syllable that is articulated. Her singing style gives off the image of a carefree demeanor, as if lost within the dreamy melodies that it navigates. However, despite the laid-back atmosphere that spans the album, the narratives within many songs carry chilling undertones. Take for example one of the album’s first tracks, “Shark Smile.” The song’s chorus of “Ooh baby take me,” highlighted with bright, glimmering guitar chords, leaves a lighthearted impression on the listener. But simultaneously, Lenker’s verses detail the events of a pair of lovers crashing their car after becoming distracted by the affection of one another. The line, “She impaled as I reached my hand for the guardrail” brings new context to the song’s chorus, as it becomes apparent that the narrator is asking to be taken into death alongside her deceased lover.

The most explored theme through Capacity is that of intimate relationships. This concept can be beautiful, like on the song “Objects,” which repeats the line, “You turn your own light on inside of me.” On the other hand, the act of letting one’s guard down for the sake of intimacy can allow for violation, as depicted in the song “Watering,” which details a particularly violent sexual encounter. These raw and painful descriptions create a distance in Lenker’s retelling of them, as if coming to terms with the disassociative effect that such turbulent incidents have on the self.

The weight of Lenker’s storytelling abilities reaches its height on the song “Mythological Beauty,” which examines the emotional hardships of her young mother as she tries to raise a family. Lenker details a traumatizing childhood anecdote of her being rushed to the hospital after cutting her head in the song with the lines:

“You held me in the backseat with a dishrag, soaking up blood with your eyes.
I was just five and you were twenty-seven,
Praying, “Don’t let my baby die.”

This particular scene is an example of the individual sacrifices that must be made in parenting as one tries to create the best life for their children. But with accidents like the one that occurred to Adrianne, a parent feels an immense weight with the idea of losing their child. At the young age of twenty-seven, Adrianne’s mother must endure these responsibilities, though not entirely prepared. As the song states, “There is a child inside you who’s trying to raise a child in me.”

As a whole, Capacity unfolds in a way that is reminiscent of one floating through states of dream. Though the subjects of dreams can sometimes venture into painful places, the mind remains sedated in the act of sleep, just as Big Thief’s music remains placid while exploring often distressing topics. In songs such as “Great White Shark,” Adrianne Lenker’s alluring voice navigates through the hazy atmosphere in a subdued, lullaby-like fashion. With the final line of the song she reminds us that in our reflections and meditations, we can reach the core of our human vitality: “And you’re alive with a breath you can’t see, Oh, by the grace of this dream.” In this blissful dream of an album, Big Thief reminds us that at the center lies memories and experiences to be turned over and examined in the form of delicate song.

Rating: 8/10

Notable Tracks: Shark Smile, Coma, Mythological Beauty

By: Hayden Goodridge

Like this review? Have something I should review next? Leave a comment or E-mail me at infinitespinreviews@gmail.com. Thanks for the support.

Track Review: The Heart Part 4 – Kendrick Lamar

Well something seems to have has been irking Kendrick lately. In the Compton legend’s latest single, Lamar leaves listeners questioning his thematic motives and the possibility of a new project with his fourth installment of the “Heart” series.

Over the old-school style beats of “The Heart Part 4”, K-Dot emerges in an unapologetically boastful fashion, referring to himself as a “hip-hop rhyme savior” and meditating on his current status, where he resides at the top of the industry. However, his tone becomes more aggressive with a shift in the beat behind him. In the subsequent verse, Kendrick seems to be accusing a particular critic of his music (fans have alleged either Drake or Big Sean) over subliminal jabs at him, stating “My fans can’t wait to son ya punk ass, and crush ya whole, lil’ shit.” In the same unbroken verse, he takes shots at Donald Trump and America’s political corruption, as well as anyone else that doubts the validity of his greatness.

While Kendrick certainly comes off as boastful in “Part 4”, he simultaneously demonstrates through the song itself why he can brag about his status. His dense instrumentation, lyrical complexity and impeccable flow are evidence to his claims of greatness, and the artistic execution of this single make his warnings to adversaries even more crucial.

If we look back to another single from Kendrick’s career, “The Heart Part 3”, we can get a couple of clues to possibly explain the dropping of his latest single. Part 3 dropped on October 20, 2012, and the verses within the song serve as a sort of prologue to his sophomore album, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City. The last verse of the song reads:

“I put my life in these twelve songs, my fight in these twelve songs
The fight to ignite any wrong or right that I prolong
The story was short film, the glory of him and them
The worry of mothers that don’t recover when baby’s killed
The trial and the tribulations, the newer Miseducation
The view of a body wasting, you knew somebody who ain’t make it
The angry, the adolescent, the reason I ask this question
Will you let hip hop die on October 22nd?”

Sure enough, Kendrick’s chart-topping, 12 song LP was released on October 22nd, the ominous date referenced at the end of the song, and the album covered many of the themes mentioned in the prophetic track. So this begs the question: Is Kendrick telling us what his next move will be on Part 4? Well based on the lines “You know what time it is, ante up, this is in forever / Y’all got till April 7th to get y’all shit together” I think it is pretty safe to say we might want to start preparing ourselves for that day.

Top 10 Albums of 2016

2016 has been both a good and bad year for music. On one hand, we lost a good amount of musical pioneers such as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Prince, but we’ve also witnessed an outpouring of young artists making a name for themselves in the music scene with excellent debut albums. Before we get started, I’d just like to give a little disclaimer that this list of albums is in no way objective, but rather based on how much I personally enjoyed them. By putting this list together, I have hope that you, dear readers, can find enjoyment out of some of them too. Feel free to let me know what artists/albums stood out to you this year as well. Enough of my blabber, let’s get down to the list:

10) Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate

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Tiny Moving Parts is certainly a band with character. In the Minnesota emo group’s third album, they stay consistent with their signature twinkly guitar riffs, spastic drum fills, and shouted vocals of heartbreak and loneliness. Frontman Dylan Mattheisen’s nasally voice fills lines of utter despair in songs such as Headache, in which he sings, “I prefer this weight on my chest, there is nothing at all.” However, the band’s energetic persona brings stark contrast to their often dismal songs with goofy antics, cheesy mustaches, and high alcohol consumption. Celebrate continues to provide listeners with lively and introspective songs that can be shouted along with in youthful passion that Tiny Moving Parts never fails to invoke.

Recommended Tracks: Happy Birthday, Birdhouse, Headache

9) Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland

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The opening piano notes of Dolls of Highland place the listener in a smoky honky-tonk bar, where Kyle Craft’s charismatic tenor pierces through the sad saloon like a knife. In the Portland native’s debut under the famous Sup Pop label, he manages to create a musical persona, falling somewhere between glam rock and southern-Americana, that soars with flamboyant attitude through the duration of the album. Through Craft’s achingly emotive voice come tales and recollections that one can only imagine were written in the drunken haze of many heartbroken evenings. The theme of the songwriter being emotionally manipulated by a number of femme fatales carries through Dolls of Highland, with stories of women ranging from the mysterious Berlin, a siren-like burlesque dancer, to Black Mary, whose promiscuous attitude keeps boys scratching at her door through the night. Craft’s unique voice and songwriting talent demonstrate great promise in his early career, and Dolls of Highland has given him an excellent start at stardom.

Recommended Tracks: Eye of a Hurricane, Lady of the Ark, Pentecost

8) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3

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Killer Mike and El-P are two of the most notorious names in the world of Hip-Hop. Their last two albums stand testament to the duo’s defiant attitude, with both gaining critical acclaim and increasing the group’s loyal fanbase. As a sort of musical Robin Hood, the two men boast of doing what needs to be done (no matter how morally ambiguous) in the name of what’s right, with lines like, “One time for the freedom of speeches, two time for the right to hold heaters” and “obey no rules, I’m doing me.” In an unusual dichotomy, Run the Jewels are prophets of both social consciousness for the trodden-upon, and utter remorselessness in the face of law. In the song “Thieves” Killer Mike and El-P explain the importance of rioting and resistance against oppressive governments, bringing lines like “Can’t keep killin’ God’s children, mane, A pound of flesh is what you owe, Your debt is due, give up your ghost.” The heavy song ends with a snippet of a Martin Luther King speech, in which he explains, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Despite a number of these tracks that preach political and social awareness, Run the Jewels 3 also contains its fair share of  braggadocious one-liners that the group is known for such as, “I do pushups nude on the edge of cliffs” on the song “Call Ticketron” and “I’m the Nelson Mandela of Atlanta dope sellers” in “Everybody Stay Calm.” Run the Jewels 3 is a return to theme for the legendary pair of rappers, but they still manage to bring new concepts and anecdotes to the table in a collection of tracks that will keep their fans shouting “RTJ!

Recommended Tracks: Talk to Me, Thieves!, 2100

7) Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+ Evolution

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The immensely talented jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding completely reshaped herself on this album of experimental song structure, soaring vocal melodies, and incredible musicianship. While listening to the album, I was struck by the singer’s ability to transition seamlessly between innocent tunes like “Unconditional Love,” demonstrating whimsical emotions, to complex jazz grooves like “Judas” which highlight her unique songwriting talents. Esperanza’s singing talent alone is a key to her songs, creating vast-ranging melodies with elegance. Spalding’s eccentricity is unleashed on Emily’s D+ Evolution in a work of wonderful and varied movements that prove her to be a master of her craft and a taker of our hearts

Recommended Tracks: Unconditional Love, Judas, One

6) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

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Radiohead reigns as kings at the top of the wide-reaching genre that is alternative music. Expanding the boundaries of the alt-rock style at the turn of the century with albums like Kid A and Amnesiac, the group had proven their ability to variate between standard guitar-driven rock songs and ambient electronic music. Because of this, Radiohead’s successive releases maintained an air of unpredictability, keeping their fans on their toes. In A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead has released one of their most subdued albums to date, demonstrating control and maturity within their element. With soft-spoken songs such as “Daydreaming” and “True Love Waits”, in which frontman Thom Yorke reflects over elemental soundscapes, Radiohead seems to require listeners to pay close attention to their minimalist yet polished style. The cathartic release that the album presents leaves the listener feeling cleansed at the albums close, but also brings each individual on an introspective journey into the enigmatic and often eerie nature of Radiohead.

Recommended Tracks: Burn the Witch, Decks Dark, Identikit

5) Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

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I’ll admit, Atrocity Exhibition leaves me feeling kind of concerned over the well-being of Danny Brown. The album shows the hidden side of drug culture and how much of a toll it can take on a person. The Detroit rapper has never been secretive about his use of drugs, but now he has provided us with a work so schizophrenic and off-the-wall, that it allows us see what the world looks like through Danny Brown’s eyes, where uncertainty gives birth to impulsive actions. We start to see the real consequences of Danny’s downward-spiraling lifestyle although he shows no sign of slowing. Atrocity Exhibition also highlights Danny’s variance of beats and rhythmic styles, matching his voice and energy with the mood of each song. If you want, the album can provide you with some great bangers for a frenzied party lifestyle, but don’t dive in too deep, unless you want to discover the hell that comes along with it.

Recommended Tracks: Really Doe, Pneumonia, Get Hi

4) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

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Will Toledo resembles the dweeby kid that sat in the back of your high school classes and avoided socialization at all costs. His voice is prone to squeaky interruptions and his lyrics often verge on self-deprecation. However, on his first major record release under his Car Seat Headrest moniker, Toledo presents us with more than an hour of musical material that absolutely kicks ass. The lo-fi production on Teens of Denial gives the album a distinct feel in a project that is undeniably his. He gives us a transparent view into his life experiences in songs like “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” and “Drugs with Friends,” in which he faces the dread of turning into someone he dislikes, with the lyrics “What happened to that chubby little kid who smiled so much and loved the Beach Boys?” and “Filled with loathing and religious fervor, I laid on my friend’s bedroom floor for an hour and tried not to piss my pants.” Lyrics like these follow along with the album’s theme of Toledo’s seemingly constant embarrassment and remind us that it’s okay to feel shame for our actions, and when this shame is channeled into driving guitar riffs and exasperated yelps, it can be turned into a pretty solid rock album.

Recommended Tracks: Destroyed by Hippie Powers, Drugs with Friends, Drunk Drivers

3) Solange – A Seat at the Table

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Perhaps you’ve never heard of Solange, but maybe you’ve heard of her older sister Beyonce. Solange’s music isn’t necessarily dominated by sassy attitude like Beyonce’s is, but it certainly succeeds in giving us an expressive and poetic depiction of black womanhood in today’s America. Interjected with short interludes of her father and mother speaking of their individual experiences of expressing their culture, Solange creates subtle but effective songs of pride in not only herself, but also of people of black heritage. Songs like “Weary” and “Cranes in the Sky” explore themes of finding belonging in a hierarchical and racially biased culture. A Seat at the Table is an important album to understand, as it takes place in a time where empathy for others in the nation we share seems difficult for many. Solange teaches us through her wistful voice that everyone has the right to discover and express themselves by a way of their own choosing.

Recommended Tracks: Rise, Weary, Cranes in the Sky, F.U.B.U.

2) Pinegrove – Cardinal

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How do you define the music created by Pinegrove? The music of this up and coming band hailing from the suburbs of New Jersey exists somewhere between the genres folk, emo, and indie rock. In Cardinal’s brief 30-minute run time, singer Evan Stephens Hall examines the daily worries and struggles of life into chilling poetry. Take for instance the opening song “Old Friends” in which Hall describes thoughts going through the head of someone walking alone, stating “My steps keep splitting my grief through these solipsistic moods, I should call my parents when I think of them, should tell my friends when I love them.” The album continues to meander through these reflections, like lack of expressing oneself, trying to remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty, and coming to terms with dwindling romantic feelings. Pinegrove backs these themes in rolling folk style, with group harmonies, slide guitar, and loose-tempo arrangements. Cardinal exceeds in its simplicity, and part of the beauty it expresses has to do with the album’s examination of something that a great deal of us experience throughout our lives: that sometimes simple truths are the hardest to come to terms with.

Recommended Tracks: All of them.

1) David Bowie – Blackstarblackstar-640

David Bowie surprised us by releasing Blackstar on January 8th, one of the earliest albums to come out of 2016. The album represented an important change in Bowie’s style, by incorporating heavy jazz influences into his songs, as well as creating dark and eerie atmospheres for his lyrics to exist in. The ten-minute long title track of Blackstar ventured into experimental realms, as Bowie murmured cryptic words about “the villa of Ormen” over a chaotic drum beat, only to open up into a climax consisting of Bowie’s exclamations of his “Blackstar” status. The rest of the album was executed perfectly and David Bowie seemed to have reached a new peak in his career.  Two days after the album’s release date, I woke up to find that David Bowie had died of cancer. Suddenly, the significance of Blackstar had changed dramatically. This was not merely another addition to Bowie’s already extensive discography, but rather a final farewell to the strange world that he occupied for 69 years. I was met with chills when I revisited the song “Lazarus,” in which Bowie seemed to be speaking from beyond the grave with the lines, “Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen, I’ve got drama can’t be stolen, Everybody knows me now.” It was clear that this album was a eulogy for the late Starman, who shocked the music and fashion world alike with his songs of space travel, dystopian visions, and provocative outfits for decades. David Bowie continually sought ways to push the envelope of culture for the duration of his life, and with Blackstar he proved that he could even find art in his own death.

Recommended Tracks: Blackstar, Lazarus, I Can’t Give Everything Away

By Hayden Goodridge

How’d your 2016 go? Let me know what good releases I missed this year in the comments or email me at hgfiver@gmail.com. Thanks for the support.

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (2016)

Review Summary: A jack of all trades…..

Donald Glover is a pretty accomplished thirty-three year old. He’s acted in numerous films and shows including Community, The Martian, and the 2016 series Atlanta, which he also wrote. On top of that, he has recently been cast to play a young Lando Calrissian in the next Star Wars installment. Needless to say, he’s well on his way to making a name for himself as one of today’s rising stars. However, when Glover steps into the spotlight of the music world, he adopts the eccentric stage persona of Childish Gambino.

Childish Gambino experienced a sizeable amount of success after his 2013 hip-hop release Because the Internet, which received gold status and was nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards. The album highlighted his quirky and often times comedic rapping talent and featured prominent names such as Chance the Rapper and Thundercat. With that being said, Gambino shocked fans and critics alike this year when he released the epic single “Me and Your Mama”, which opened with a hypnotic trance of voices chanting “I’m in love when we are smoking that…” against a moody west coast R&B atmosphere. The song breaks into a crescendo of Gambino’s high pitched screams over fuzzy guitar and an emboldened gospel-style choir. Right at the single’s musical climax, it just as easily transitions to a buttery-smooth conclusion of a waltz that places the listener in an open top convertible cruising down the sunset strip on a summer evening. This single signified a change for Gambino, with its musical variance and flawless execution forecasting a new era of soul-influenced music on the way.

Sadly, the rest of Awaken, My Love! failed to live up to the status of “Me and Your Mama.”

Let me take some of that back. There are parts of this album that are very enjoyable. Through its run time, Childish Gambino manages to draw the listener in with some incredible 70s inspired grooves with pulsing basslines. One of my favorite moments on this album apart from “Me and Your Mama” comes at its mid-way point with “Redbone.” The track’s low, punchy bass accentuates Gambino’s sexy falsetto through the verse into a chorus reminding you to “Stay woke” in the fashion of pure retro soul. The guitar riff that closes out the song wails over the rest of the instrumentals in a pretty epic fashion. Sassy synth solos are the highlights of many songs including “Baby Boy”, which is given an introspective feel by oscillated chords that accompany it. The instrumental “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” is closed out by an effects-driven guitar that expresses just as much emotion as any voice could. These various instrumentals that support Gambino’s songs are the core of Awaken, My Love! and serve well to give his tracks an electrifying and sometimes melancholy feel. The album is littered with various nods to the greats of funk music and Gambino, seemingly inspired by this era for this latest project, brings us back to music’s groovy days in a way that makes you want to spin some old Funkadelic LPs.

My main concerns with this album come mostly from Childish Gambino himself. In certain points, I found myself turned off by his voice alone. It seemed like Gambino never really stuck to a certain timbre but instead tried to experiment with a variety of characters and styles. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Gambino can really flex his pipes sometimes, but where he showed off his resonant screams in “Me and Your Mama”, he whined his way through verses in “Have Some Love” in what sounded like a poorly executed D’Angelo impression. The song “Zombies” had the same effect on me, with the exaggerated vocal performance bringing it to a point in which the song just came off as laughable. “California” is by and large the lowest point on Awaken, My Love!, with its bubbly Caribbean instrumentals sticking out as unnecessary in the context of the rest of the album. The song is only made worse by Gambino’s autotuned vocals, which make him sound as if he’s attempting an impression of a crying Jamaican man in a pretty annoying way.  The vocals in tracks like these destroy any momentum that more earnest ones like “Redbone” build, and take away from the tone that the rest of the album sets.

Awaken, My Lovemanages to do some things really well, and some things not so much. This album highlights Childish Gambino’s versatility as an artist, as he has given many listeners an unexpected funk/soul-inspired project with beautiful instrumentals and memorable singles. However, parts of this album fall flat due to either mediocre vocal performance or just an overall lack of cohesiveness from track to track. Nonetheless, neither Donald Glover nor Childish Gambino seem like they’re anywhere near slowing down, and I think it’s safe to say we’ll be hearing a good amount from both of them in the years to come.

Rating: 6/10

Notable Tracks: Me and Your Mama, Redbone, Stand Tall

By Hayden Goodridge

Like this review? Have something I should review next? Leave a comment or E-mail me at hgfiver@gmail.com. Thanks for the support.

Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (2016)

Review Summary: In an album that could only be conceived by the damaged mind of a madman, Brown provides us with an album so wild, varied and original that it sticks out like a neon-painted coke nail in the world of hip-hop.

Danny Brown is alive, but he’s paid his toll in life. In the Detriot rapper’s newest project, he takes us down the dark paths of his struggles with drugs, poverty, and depression. Even though the subject matter is often dismal, Brown illustrates his stories with strange and varied instrumentations that tend to be just as expressive as the lyrics they surround.

This becomes apparent in the first song on the album, “Downward Spiral”, where Danny delves into the drawbacks of drug addiction with lines like “your worst nightmare for me is a normal dream.” Intertwining sliding guitar tones with an eerie drum beat, Danny starts to give the impression of what this personal hell he’s describing might feel like: disorienting, loose, and erratic. Danny’s downward spiral continues to manifest itself as the album continues into tracks like “Ain’t It Funny” which is characterized by its dissonant samples and horn staccatos underneath harrowing statements of laughing in the face of the devil.

What Brown manages to execute perfectly on Atrocity Exhibition is variance. Though the album spans fifteen tracks, not a single one sounds remotely like the other. The tribal-flared “Dance In The Water” transitions to the introspective “From the Ground” featuring a subdued Danny Brown exploring his lower vocal register, accented with a beautiful hook by Kelela. This can take listeners from wanting to get up and dance to all of a sudden being forced to reflect inwardly on themselves. But the melancholy is shattered to pieces in the subsequent “When It Rain” where Danny’s most aggressive flow paired with a high-pitched synth give the track a frenetic, drug filled aura. This variance from track to track demonstrates to the listener how dramatically moods can change in the mind of a drug abuser such as Danny Brown, where upper-fueled frenzies are followed by painful come-downs.

My personal highlight through the runtime of this album is “Get Hi”, which enters in a subtle fashion with a shimmery vocoder sample and soft beat. Just as Brown compares himself to overdosing rock stars in his older single, “Die Like A Rockstar”, he compares his weed smoking habits to famous figures in jazz history, dropping laughable phrases like “I’m blowing on some Miles / something Kinda Blue” and “I’m Coltrane on Soul Plane.” Though some will view this as a smoker’s anthem, “Get Hi” is one of the darker songs on the album, as Brown states how the best way to deal with problems of life is to simply get high and forget them. But this is only superficial happiness and he can only bask in this hazy altered-state for a limited time before he is once again brought face to face with reality.

On one hand, the production of Atrocity Exhibition continues to highlight the feverish party bangers that Danny Brown is known for, with grooves in songs like “Really Doe”, “Golddust”and “White Lines” making it difficult to not envy the Detroit native’s party lifestyle. But beneath the thin veil of this drug-induced craze is an unending nightmare that no sane person would ever want to experience. With lines like “I hope it ain’t bout my time to go”, it’s apparent that this album could be a cry for help. This statement shows that he views death as right around the corner and seems resigned to the fact that that it could happen any day. But in “Hell For It”, the final song on the album, Danny assures us that he’s determined, rapping “These songs that I write, leave behind my legacy.” Danny Brown continues to write because that’s what he’ll be remembered for, and he’s undoubtedly given us something to remember him by on this album.

Rating: 9/10

Notable Tracks: Really Doe, Ain’t It Funny, When It Rain, Get Hi

By: Hayden Goodridge

Like this review? Have something I should review next? Leave a comment or E-mail me at hgfiver@gmail.com. Thanks for the support.

M83 – Junk (2016)

Review Summary: A crash course through 80s late-night television

Since its release, Junk has received a broad spectrum of criticism, ranging from calling it a goldmine of synth-pop cheese to the most obnoxious album of the year. Nonetheless, this new direction taken by M83 front-man Anthony Gonzalez has torn critics. I happened to be one of those who ate this album up like Thanksgiving dinner and asked for a second helping please.

From the very first synth chord on the album’s opening track “Do It, Try It”it’s pretty evident that this album is in no way inspired by the shoegaze-y sounds of M83’s past releases. Where 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming opened with a slow fade into the emotionally-driven “Intro”, Junk lets the listener know right away that Gonzalez is feeling some nostalgia for the 80s with striking synth, modulated vocals, and classic drum pad hits. And this oddly familiar sound carries pretty much through the album, although the songs feel in no way connected to one another. Every track on Junk has its own distinct feel to it, whether it be the swooning, Kenny G inspired saxophone solo that opens up “Go!” or the dramatic orchestration on “Solitude”.

However, the track that stood out most to me during Junk‘s 55 minute run time was the brief and subtle “Moon Crystal”. Imagine this: You’re a 12 year old kid on a Friday night in 1987 and your parents are out for the evening. With the house to yourself, you sit down on the couch with your glass of orange soda and peanut butter-and-fluff sandwich and turn the television to a familiar sitcom complete with canned laughter and goofy one-liners. After watching a few episodes you find yourself dozing off, too tired to turn the television off. As you fade in and out of the haze of sleep, you hear those classic songs that accompany credit sequences at the end of each episode. And that’s where “Moon Crystal” takes the listener, back to those seemingly endless nights of childhood experience. Nostalgia seems to be a large inspiration for M83 on this album, and as Anthony Gonzalez tries to capture the past in many moments, it drives the listener to remember their own past and be within whatever time period is recalled from their lives.

In an interview with Under the Radar magazine, Anthony Gonzalez states “The success of the last album was just so unexpected to me, and it was really surprising in an amazing way. I just told myself, ‘What can happen now? Maybe it’s time to just have fun and go explore more'”. Anthony Gonzalez certainly seems to be within his element in what critics are calling his passion-project, and with this,  Junk begs the listener to acknowledge that it isn’t a direct follow up to the modern-classic Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Even though this album probably won’t be described as “epic” or “conceptually sound”, as listeners, sometimes we need a good fun, sexy album that makes you want to dance to it’s cheesy instrumentation and heavily produced beats.  I think its important for the skeptical M83 diehard to keep in mind that part of music is having the freedom to take yourself in a entirely new direction despite being a departure from what fans and critics are used to. Even though opinions on Junk are split, there’s no doubt that Gonzalez gave us something unexpected. And something that has the power to bring one back to the days of sleeping in front of late night television shows, with familiar theme songs in the background certainly deserves praise.

Rating: 6/10

Notable Tracks: Go!, Moon Crystal, Solitude

By: Hayden Goodridge

Like this review? Hate it? Have something I should review next? Leave a comment or E-mail me at hgfiver@gmail.com. Thanks for the support fam.

 

Classic Review: XO-Elliott Smith (1998)

Review Summary: One of Elliott’s most catchy and emotionally taxing albums released. This album defines artistry

       Elliot Smith is the epitome of tragic beauty. An indie-folk singer from Portland, Smith was known for his signature whisper-like signing, softly strummed guitar, and personal lyrics exploring the very real facets of depression and addiction in his life. Sadly, Elliott found himself under the weight of his sorrow and often turned to painkillers and other drugs. Smith  was also victim to a tragic death in 2001, when he was found in his apartment with multiple stab wounds to his chest, possibly self-inflicted. However, Elliott’s legacy has carried on and listeners can still find solace in his lyrics. Even without the context of his life, his tracks stand on their own as wonderful and sometimes haunting pieces of music.

His fourth album released, XO was Smith’s major label debut with DreamWorks. As a departure from his preceding albums, Smith was able to add a greater level of orchestration and production to his songs, utilizing strings, keyboards and brass instruments without sacrificing any of his songwriting talent. On the first song, Sweet Adeline, this proves itself when Elliott’s acoustically driven verse swells into a magnificent chorus featuring heavy hitting drums and piano. Where in previous albums Smith’s guitar was often the only accompaniment to his voice, in XO it’s frequently surrounded by aspects of an actual rock band. And of course, no Elliott Smith album would be complete without his heavily layered vocal parts that characterize many of his songs. These multiple voices of Smith are harmonized perfectly with one another throughout the album, but especially the acapella I Didn’t Understand, which closes the album. The composition of this album also demonstrates Smith’s diverse songwriting talent, with heavy hitting upbeat songs like Amity and Independence Day complemented by Smith’s more stripped-down and melancholy songs including Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Pitseleh.

However I think that the strongest feature of this album, along with Smith’s songs in general, is the lyrics. Meditative and sometimes downright depressing, the lyrics make it evident that these songs came straight from the troubled soul of this man. And with the thought of Smith’s death always in the back of the listener’s mind, these lyrics can become pretty haunting like in I Didn’t Understand where he sings “I waited for a bus to separate the both of us and take me off far away from you. Cause my feelings never change a bit; I always feel like shit, I don’t know why; I guess that I just do.”

These personal songs can often make us listeners feel that were hearing something that we shouldn’t be, something that was meant to stay private. But I think that Smith represents the human condition in all of us to feel, and the best way that we can observe his short and difficult life is to look into these songs and feel right along with them.

Score: 9/10

Standout Tracks: Sweet Adeline, Tomorrow Tomorrow, Independence Day

By: Hayden Goodridge