Brockhampton-Iridescence: Album Review

The Brockhampton ethos is a bit torn between endearingly immature and just plain immature.  America’s greatest boy band had an intentionally EPIC 2017 with their three album releases, one of which I especially enjoyed and reviewed, and between their social media presence and wild music videos they’ve become a cultural force.  Having come together through a Kanye West Forum, the group is certainly a product of the internet so its sensible that they would be good at using the internet to replace a traditional infrastructure of PR and label to support them, but this begs the question of whether or not this open media landscape has produced a healthy system.  Would Kevin Abstract be rapping about same sex attraction on RCA records right now if his group didn’t first prove themselves to be a consistently titanium brand throughout 2017? Likely no, however as their brand grows, it becomes a bit harder to decide if this is an apt “listen to the kids” moment or if the frenzy is approaching concerning levels.

Below is a tweet wherein Abstract encourages a fan to risk their job by offering discounts to costumers who stream their album–a part of the loosely organized twitter campaign to get the boys a number 1 album.  Again, a hip hop group that emphasizes raw emotional honesty; has previously kicked out their member who was accused of abuse; and rarely falls into misogyny or other tropes of male-made, commercially successful music earning a number 1 album could be huge, but we live in a post-Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye, and even Lil Uzi society.  These rappers have their faults, Lamar has supported xxxtentacion and his “stretch-mark” line is certainly not the best example of male allyship, but he and the rest of these rappers have talked about inner strife, including depression, without making themselves into a vessel, to quote Mitski,  confessing diary entries that make their twitter followers feel like they have a direct line into their psyche.

Of course I’m supposed to be a music journalist and I’m suppose to review the music not their personality, but by using social media in this fashion, the group, their personalities and their music are becoming harder and harder to separate.

Iridescence marks a more lush production pallet for the band.  They still rely on big, gummy melodic devices to complement their harder raps–i.e. “New Orleans” which doesn’t sound too different from previous openers like “Heat” or “Boogie”–and more singalong moments to pin down their more somber ones, “San Marcos” being the most exacting example, but recording at Abbey Road with an actual budget certainly fleshes these moments out more.

The band has explored completely new territories as the project is intentionally inflected with European influences.  “Weight” is the best example here as the rappers discuss the issues that they’ve faced in their come up with a 90s UK Garage breakdown in the middle.  There are of course limits to everything and with this many members, they’ve sort of come into a very specific collection of roles and ideas.  Sure, Bearface raps, but its middling and he reverts right back to his singing later on.  Merlin does his wild flow alongside Joba, Kevin Abstract does his standard mix of autotune singing and autotune rapping, and Matt Champion honestly gets kind of lost in the mix.  The album also has some underwhelming material in the middle, “District” is uninspired and haphazard, whereas “Vivid” is plain boring.

Brockhampton is probably an overall good, and “Weight” and “San Marcos” could be some of their best material yet, but the frenzied fandom makes them a bit unsustainable.  They can only change it up so much if there fans are front and center on every step of the process.

-Donovan Burtan



milo-budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies

If you’re having trouble remembering that title, that’s kind of the point.  Speaking of this album on his bandcamp page, milo has highlighted that the streaming era has brought SEO thought process rather directly into the music creation process and, although he may not be directly responding to this dynamic, he certainly is placing himself in his own spot in left field with this stream of conscious collection of rhymes.

His work always emphasizes how words are said and put together, sometimes leaving their meaning in the backseat–or at least putting together lines that don’t all 100% relate to a core point, but here, even a line like “No one taught me the language of black people, I was born speaking it,” from so the flies don’t come, isn’t going to pop-up as milo entirely succumbs to textural ideas and sound delivery.  There’s lines like “perfidy a calm bombast/mortal cumbia podcast,” which showcase some combination of alliteration and rhyme and just purely gorgeous strings or internalized rhyme like “Surrounded by Anglos in Almelo, thinkin ’bout Amadou Diallo, Fit in like a shaman in Diablo, high note vibrato,” which opens the project.

This isn’t to say that milo is just spouting nonsense, however.  Just because “Mortal Cumbia Podcast” isn’t the concept of the album, doesn’t mean it isn’t something to ponder.  You sort of think he’s going to say Mortal Kombat, but you get Cumbia, which you gotta google (it’s a dance and music tradition originating in Colombia that incorporates African and European influences).  So why is he saying this instead of kombat, is it a reference to the violence that comes with these types of cultures when colonization rears its ugly head?  Then of course podcast, the buzz word of the decade, which carries a reputation of being ‘white dudes talking’ for the sake of ‘white dudes listening.’  There’s humor, a reference for the kids, and some vague take on race all in three words.

Even this can have some exceptions in a song like Galahad in Goosedown, which carries a theme of suicidal thoughts and mental health throughout (“if like was a dream of Euphoria we would not have schizophrenia or paranoia”), but the highlights of the listening experience are the lines that stick to your brain and the ebbs and flows of rhyme or letter sound that hold up these songs.  The subtle production style only amplifies this as loose modal jazz chord progressions and melodic devices shake and rattle with the nuanced vocal deliveries.

All that said, the album still feels like a milo doing milo, a welcome individual in a particularly strange period of internet rap.

-Donovan Burtan


Chastity-Death Lust: Album Review

Chastity is a promising, mature band that uses their proper debut to masterfully craft a quietly evocative world with the power to pummel.  Opener “Come” is inflected with swells of strings as Brandon Williams’ crooning, painstaking vocals long for happier, less alone days.  The foggy photo begins to clear up after the distortion filled outro, when the driving energy of “Suffer” sparks itself to life with an inspired guitar line.  Here, Williams sounds more buoyant, seemingly pulling through long lost nostalgic memories to push for a brighter future.

Perhaps, that’s what makes the collection of post-hardcore(ish) sounds so lush–their ability to pull Williams up from his “prone to psychosis” depths.  Whether it be lyrics highlighting the promise of finding one’s true family through the internet or a bright guitar line that juxtaposes the more depressing ides, there’s always an out.

-Donovan Burtan


Yves Tumor-Safe in the Hands of Love: Album Review

I’m certainly not going to say that Yves Tumor came out of nowhere, as TEAMS he made music that drew all sorts of lines between sonic exploration and pop-minded accessibility, but this past is so fluid and unpredictable that it’s hard not to listen to Safe in the Hands of Love, his most fully realized work to date, as evidence of time or space travel.  Similarly to SOPHIE’s debut earlier this year, the work smashes ideas of song form, album flow, genre all in one feel swoop and somehow lands on its feet for the most part.

Single Noid is the most focused exercise of the album.  The album opens on an intro track that pushes and pulls a trumpet sound over static energy; followed by Economy of Freedom which again takes sound and stirs it up like soup, eventually adding yearning vocals; and the more structured Honesty, a song that almost sounds like something off of Laurel Halo’s Dust with an actual meter and lyrics about the early stages of love when you’re both unsure and infatuated.  All this amounts to a gradual focusing of ideas, which to an extent is what Yves Tumor is all about.  The listener is put out in the dark before a gradual sense of familiarity eventually sets in.

The beginning of Noid is thus both sudden and expected as the gradual decline from the no-man’s land of the very beginning of the album climaxes with some sort of indie-post-disco world with a tightly wound drum part and fat bass line.  Here the lyrics somewhat approach protest music, showcasing how black people feel unsafe basically anywhere outside of their homes due to police presence: “Have you, have you looked outside/I’m scared for my life/They don’t trust us.”

From there, the project meanders a bit in this familiar-ish space before blasting off with distortion on the final track.  A solemn string melody here, some punchy, sharp drums there, contrasted later by a distant maniacal preacher.  More rockist tendencies set in with the vocals between the barked out verses and screamed out choruses of Lifetime or the (dare I say new metal sounding?) calls of “I CANT RECOGNIZE MYSELF” of Recognizing the Enemy.  Even when the songforms somewhat make traditional sense with something approaching normal album flow, there’s a sense that you don’t know where anything is coming from.

The project is certainly an important exploration of sound, but to an extent its ambition is a bit over the top.  Sure, we’ve been given great albums that don’t necessarily give a lot of hooks to hold onto, or leave the listener out in the dark for periods of time to eventually bring them back to light with a big pop moment, but there needs to be some sort of sonic through line, whether it be Sophie’s hyper-fake plastic sheen or Laurel Halo’s crunchy texture feel, or the dark cloudy feel of say Massive Attack;  Tumor’s throughline seems to be the lack of one, which creates a unique experience but also makes it a bit hard to listen to repeatedly.  He’ll for sure develop as a songwriter, however, and the project is certainly going to leave a mark on a particularly vivid year of fractured musical approaches.

-Donovan Burtan


Noname-Room 25: Album Review

Maybe it’s reading into things too much to say that Fatimah Warner attains a sense of urgency on her second Noname album due to financial pressure, but the project was made in LA–a new move for the Chicago-born talent–in a month–after two years of praise of the potential shown on “Telefone”–with her family back home in mind and she sounds ON FIRE. Sure, Noname is of the warm, low-key jazz rap breed, but in comparison to her debut’s haze, here the young rapper sounds untouchable with a newfound sense of confidence making for a jam packed 35 minutes that’ll stick to you like glue.

The energy of Room 25 is encapsulated in its intro track.   After the relatively standard pillow of vocals sets in, Warner ponders why her listeners might be tuning in, suggesting a late night drive, “religion, Kanye, bitches” but she doesn’t care: “Nah, this is for me.”

The sonic shifts of the record haven’t completely set in yet, but the lyricism is sharper, seeing the rapper address both well meaning fans and those who weren’t on board for the first record.  Although Noname wields her spoken-word background to paint vivid tales and address socially minded issues, as she’s mentioned in interviews, she doesn’t necessarily want her work to be pitted against other rappers, in particular women, who are more overtly sexual in their work.  As she says in her recent FADER profile: “A lot of my fans… I think they like me because they think I’m the anti-Cardi B. I’m not.”

So, when she says a line like “My pussy wrote a paper on colonialism in conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus” she captures both the braggadocios sexual energy of the likes of Lil Kim or Cardi B and the more focused ‘conscious’ point about society in relation to her race.  And, again, she’s just saying things that are on her mind, Warner doesn’t want to be FOR anyone other than herself.

That energy of those first 90 seconds never lets up leading to highlights such as the punchy, bass-heavy follow-up Blaxploitation, which highlights Warner’s sense of humor over a more blazing sonic territory: “Keep the hot sauce in her purse and she be real, real blacky/Just like a Hillary Clinton, who masqueraded the system.”  Prayer Song sees hushed tones, but powerful raps that glance at the contradicting stereotypes of black masculinity: “why or why my dick gettin’ bigger this violence turns me on.”  And, of course, the Chicago posse cut of the moment “Ace” featuring words from Smino & Saba and a chorus of “fuck is you sayin?”

Even at only 35 minutes, its hard to distill down the album into one highlight reel.  Without ever over stepping her bounds, Noname showcases wit and brilliance both sonically and lyrically, completely living up to the standard set by her previous work.

-Donovan Burtan




Looking Ahead: September 21st


America’s favorite boy band are back with a new album, their first of 2018 despite months of teasing various release dates, album titles and covers.  Personally, I’ve been sitting out their material since Saturation 3 for various reasons, so everything sounds super fresh and I think they’ve once again managed to out-do themselves.

milo-Budding Ornithologists Are Weary of Tired Analogies

The last we heard from milo was in January with his Scallop’s Hotel persona.  This new album continues his loosely structured, laid back rhymes over fuzzy, warm sampling.