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.


Steven Hauschildt-Dissolvi: Album Review

Deep into a career on the famously boundryless Kranky and Ghostly International record labels, Chicago native Steven Hauschildt continues to hone his hauntingly open-ended brand of techno.  Never settling too deeply into one texture, Dissolvi sees cascading, emotionally tinged harmonies float around sounds ranging from Julia Barwick’s loose, echoy vocals to something vaguely resembling radio-friendly song form–Album highlight “Sycope” sees skittering synthesizers sounds wielded into driving action with a blunt kick drum before Brooklyn’s Gabi adds a sense of drama with her emboldened, smoldering soprano.  It’s ambient but driven; glacial yet dynamic; and a great modern glance at the world of ambient techno.

-Donovan Burtan


Low-Double Negative: Album Review

It must be a challenge to promote an album that recalibrates your artistic ethos on a galactic scale.  How do you give people the let out when the final product is a 48 minute experience that sounds like all your previous material melted down and remixed into oblivion? How do you make something that takes digestion and then give it a single?

Part of what made Kendrick Lamar’s “i,” and in turn the rest of To Pimp A Butterfly, so brilliant is that Lamar gave us hints of the new world he was building, but then on that tune in particular he completely shattered it on the record itself with a new “live recording” and gave us the tour de force to go with it.  For Blonde, Frank Ocean practically gave us a whole ambient record to let us know where he was headed; and then of course Beyonce told us she was going to New Orleans without giving a hint of what she had to say about Jay-Z and black womanhood on the rest of the album.

“Double Negative” was advertised with the first trio of tracks on the album, a three-part suite that does a decent job of summarizing the sounds used on the record–from the opening burst of distortion on “Quorum” to the out-in-open-territory, high vocal croon of “Fly”–but fails to give the listener enough to fully grasp and hold onto.  That’s probably a good thing as listeners can go “what the fuck” but not get bored, and when the record does finally come up on First Listen they’re a little prepared to allow themselves to be taken on the full journey of the work.  All this to say that the best thing to do with this album is listen to it all the way through, swim in this new world, and get use to the most overt rework of rock music this year.

In some sense Low has retained the dark, sparse energy that has always made their slow songs glow, but here the atmosphere is in a state of erosion, never allowing the listener to gain a sense of stability or location.  There’s the surface level feeling of “I don’t know what thing is making what sound” as guitars are left by the wayside, but the song-forms are also wandering and surprising, never feeling locked into any particular location.  Clouds dissipate to clear skies and return unexpectedly; beauty and horror both occupy every moment; the “leader” can be a singer, a yawning distant electronic croon, or a violent texture right on the ear drums.

Maybe in some sense the rhythmic feel is more constant than some of Low’s previous material, but the meter is impossible to truly gauge. “Dancing and Blood” is underpinned by a prodding electronic quarter-note device, but the last 90 seconds are a sound collage of moody darkness.  Closer “Disarray” feels like it’s moving, but what is moving it other than pulsing waves of sound?

Lyrically, the album is just as abstract, but very much connected to the political shit-show of today, drawing on hopelessness, confusion, and grief.  There’s the obvious terror of “Dancing and Fire:” “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope,” but even in moments of beauty, such as “Fly,” there’s the sense that what we were told about the way the world, and late-capitalism, works is a pipe dream, the future is impossibly dark and disturbing: “I thought we had it made up/After all, we had to pay up…But I don’t know/And I don’t mind/Leave my weary bones and fly.”  The sentiment of “violent political era leads to great protest music” is gross and comes from a place of privilege.  Low is almost a response to that, suggesting that the world has been turned upside down, and there’s no fixing it.

On the whole, Low have brilliantly dismantled everything they could.  “Double Negative” is sure to go down as one of the year’s best rock records and has raised the bar of what is expected of veteran musical acts.

-Donovan Burtan


Troye Sivan-Bloom: Album Review

If I had to guess a couple months ago which pop album would be dragged down by material that sounds like its most underwhelming single, I would’ve guessed Sweetener.  As mentioned in the review “the light is coming,” is awkward and doesn’t gel well with the future-pop ease of “God is a Women,” “No Tears Left to Cry,” and the rest of the record.  Luckily, that single turned out to be a blip on the radar of an otherwise solid album.  In the case of Bloom, the most underwhelming single “Dance to This” turned out to included Grande, seemingly as a back-up singer? (WHAT A WASTE), and describes the album much more than the buoyant, horny joy of January’s “My My My!”

Maybe it’s a marketing problem–eight months from single to album is way too long especially when the record doesn’t even reach the 40 minute mark–but Bloom feels like record that professes to be tasteful, lush, and delicate and ends up just being far too one-note.  Make no mistakes, Troye Sivan can make a queer as fuck bop and that’s inspiring considering his place in the world, and of course addressing topics such as bottoming and the jarringly omni-present tale of underaged queers hooking up with older men is vital, but pop music can be tasteful AND exciting, immature in an endearing way.  Bloom’s monochromatic sheen isn’t enough to carry Sivan’s soft-spoken vocals to the upper echelon of critically acclaimed pop.

Part of the issue may lie in Sivan’s vocal range–he doesn’t really have any, both in the literal pitch sense as well as the personality sense.  Even when the songs are good, it’s hard to feel like Sivan is the only one who could deliver the vocal takes, and there’s little runs or variation.  “The Good Side” sees Sivan singing the swaying melody gently and plainly, only one variation coming in the last chorus.  Sure, part of the appeal of albums of the likes of Mount Eerie’s “A Crow Looked at Me” or Sufjan Stevens’ “Carrie and Lowell” is the clear and simple singing, but these works are more lyrically driven, dealing with grief in an open way, whereas Sivan is writing a simple goodbye to an ex lover in the context of a pop record so it doesn’t quite hit you in the gut.

When the songs get a bit more exciting, they tend to be dragged down by the following track, making the album constantly loose momentum.  “My My My!” goes into a ballad; “Bloom” goes into the even less impassioned ballad “Postcard;” and “Lucky Strike” is followed by the gradually developing “Animal.”  Even when Sivan hits the listener with two “bangers” in a row, they’re the underwhelming “Dance to This” and the sheerly boring “Plum.”

Just in a general sense, Bloom doesn’t stack up to the unabashed gay joy that it’s supposed to and maybe it would’ve been less annoying if he released it all at once, but it still wouldn’t have stuck out in a crowd.

-Donovan Burtan