Amber Mark-Conexão EP REVIEW

Logging four songs after last year’s breakout 3:33am, Amber Mark leaves her electronic lean, finding herself in the out-of-time, floating balm of Sade with enough punch to appeal to today’s pop landscape.

The floral arrangements that surround Mark’s head in the “Love Me Right” video are apt as the lush orchestral landscape and vocal arrangements cushion her lead vocal lines throughout these four tracks.  Opening with the title track–the word “connection” in Portuguese–Mark sets the tone, later toying with attraction, the electronic energy between the right people, and the decisions love makes for us.  Closer “All the Work” perhaps is the most directly related to today, taking the acoustic aesthetic of the work at the clip of today’s House obsession.

Only two EPs in, Mark has proven that her voice will demand any track she touches, with instrumental and vocal detailing crafting a buoyant lush world, completely singular in a tough time to do so.


-Donovan Burtan


Janelle Monae-Dirty Computer: Album Review

The relationship between album single and track-order is an interesting one.  A band like Weezer smacks you in the mouth right away, generally with their second single, which is a little bit slicker than their first single (“Thank God for Girls” -> “California Kids”).  Beyonce’s lemonade was ingeniously rolled out, it’s back-end burner “Formation” getting the world hyped without revealing the stories of infidelity that would dominate the front half of the master work.  The you have the classic Janet Jackson strategy: single=title track; title track=first proper album track.

Queen of future everything Janelle Monae dusts off old moods and puts them in 2050, all perfectly DJed together in a flowing, effortless manner and her single strategy was wildly good here.

First, a pair of tracks.  “Make Me Feel” is a perfect single–perfect for Monae, this album and otherwise–its vocal pops and gluey bass line turn whispers giant.  It’s f-bomb in the chorus is perfectly suitable for fast summer driving and fuck boy disregard.  Simultaneously released “Django Jane” was a bit less immediately exciting, a rap track that we would later find out is an outro.  With a monster in the 8 slot and the slightly more tame “Jane” at 6, perhaps the album is front-loaded with slow burns, then things get hype.  “Make Me Feel” could be an outlier in a righteously militant protest collection.

Then a surprise. Single number two’s floating Grimes-featuring production comes in at 7.  A queer-femme anthem with more genre ambiguity than anything else Monae’s almost ever released, this delicate track comes in at 6.  The gender of it all is intriguing, first masculine coded sonics with a vagina monologue, followed by full frontal femininity, capped off with an impossibly fluid touchstone. (Not to mention the complete outlier status of smooth single “I like That” in the 9 slot).

What does it mean to have all this smack dab in the middle?

It turns out the full picture is some combination of these moods expanded outwardly and all mixed together.  Largely, the album is fierce to start, with some brief steps backward, before a more moving second half that sums up the bitter sweet mood with a bright finale.  Opening with a heavenly vocal pillow courtesy of Brian Wilson, the album immediately plays with gender identity, before bursting at the seems for 25-odd minutes, with fist-to-the-face sexual politics skirting from buoyant Prince-pop, to big rap verses.

This is an album that queers Springsteen with “IM AMERICAN.” It sees Monae dance her ass off with a burning Thundercat baseline on “Take a Byte,” stomp the yard with thunderous Pharrell Williams drum production on “I Got the Juice,” and cry with desperation on “So Afraid.”  Never is it predictable, but yet it all works.

The “Dirty Computer” concept, as Monae describes it, is that those who are other–people of color, queer folks, women and non-binary people–are dirty computer programs that need to be cleansed by socialization.  Taking a hammer to all expectations, Monae expertly floats through different aspects of her identity without losing a beat on the best album of the year to date.

-Donovan Burtan


Ought-Room Inside the World: ALBUM REVIEW

Perhaps the closest thing to streamlined indie rock that Constellation records has ever signed, locals Ought have occasionally raised eyebrows with the more accessible, hook-driven side of their catalog. Signifying the band’s move to Merge, Room Inside the World continues the trend of cleaning up their sound with a generally less jittery overarching feeling, but fleshes out the more tender emotions that classics like “Forgiveness” strived for—on “Desire,” vocalist Tim Darcy’s urgent mannerisms get backed up by a choir. The sense of scrappy youth has faded a bit, but their potency still comes from the emotional energy that’s always served as a backdrop to more anxiety driven jams.


Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) ALBUM REVIEW

What a call.

After you conquer the world on the back of your major label debut, you decide to take a step back and assess your bag of tricks rather than falling into one of the many traps that second albums can turn into.  Especially when you’ve already done the operatic track built on a single twinkling guitar string, things can get hairy, overambitious, and a songwriter can loose the scrappy teenage urgency that made them loveable in the first place.

Luckily for Will Toledo, his high school material was both massively ambitious and heart-warmingly goofy–and he made a shit-ton of it.  Strapped with seemingly only a guitar and a fist full of life-sized teenage emotions Toledo blisters through giant landscapes with the wide-eyed childlike look of a happy-go-lucky teenager who just got his heart broken for the first time.

“Give me Frank Ocean’s Voice and James Brown’s stage presence.”

“is it the chorus yet? No, it’s only the building of the verse so when the chorus does come it’ll be more rewarding”

These aren’t lines you can write outside of your teenage years and yet Toledo also touches upon ideas that resonate deep into the 20s when he asks “are we boyfriends yet?”

The revising of the album has only amplified this masterful balance of sober realities and blunt humor.  “Bodys” gets a raucous drum-machine foundation and actually-executed beach boys “oohs” but the image it conjures is still a lanky 16 year old who finally feels confident enough to make-out with someone.

Maybe it’s cheating to tweak a fan favorite, but the vision has been honed and when you’ve written so many albums already, maybe it’s not a bad idea to give those who love you most a co-production credit.


-Donovan Burtan


Ravyn Lenae-Crush EP: ALBUM REVIEW

From the first gummy synth chord, Ravyn Lenae’s Crush strikes an understated warmth.   The five songs see sharp melodic writing and lush vocal and instrumental layering, making for a welcoming personality and an addicting sensibility.  Throw in the tale about a missed connection and some help from cell phone king Steve Lacy on the production side of things, the EP doesn’t depart from Lenae’s charismatic past, but sees her jump into a larger pair of shoes and craft her most full-bodied work to date.

Great hooks and lyrical turn arounds are a constant with vivid detailing carrying these moments to new heights.  Closer (Ode 2 U) sees a short verse to start with the lyrical couplet “I love it when you take me round your boys like I’m your girl/I love it when you run your pretty fingers through my curls” underpinned by an acrobatic vocal gesture to match the coy lyricism.  Flourishing vocals follow as a chorus provides splashes of sound.

The Night Song sees a more driving chorus “Hair down, feeling alright/Got my edges on tight, it’s a party tonight,” before album highlight 4 Leaf Clover finds punchiness in the syncopated synth line to juxtapose the solemn themes in the duet between Lenae and Lacy.  It’s short and sweet, but relentlessly rich, hopefully signaling a fruitful career to come.




HOLY-All These Worlds Are Yours: ALBUM REVIEW

From the first downbeat, HOLY’s All These Worlds Are Yours sees sweeping expanse articulated by beds of synth, joyous piano plucking, and sweeping high strings.  The album operates a bit like an ambient album or an instrumental work as repetitive ideas take one under their wings and envelop the senses in a childlike awe.  Six-minute epic Premonition//It Shines Through sees a warm opening with sharp drum fills and swirling keyboards, before the whole structure dissolves down to a foundation of driving bass and drums to eventually crawl back up to the bold-letter opening.  More studio magic shows up on Heard Her as the orchestral groove completely dissipates for a moment of silence to reinforce the impact of the snare, later yielding the space to an oddball collection of found sounds to once again reinvigorate the jolting mass of sound.  Perhaps the song-structures won’t completely stand the test of time, but the album soothes with its buoyant personality and expansive mix of terrains.


Justin Timberlake-Man of the Woods: ALBUM REVIEW


You’ve probably already heard that JT’s latest change of brand is a colossal failure and that’s really all there is to it.  For me, the problem is similar to that of the likes of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry last year who were both trying to be everything for everyone.  They both brought in trap tinges, Perry tried to go political whereas Swift tried to both play the victim card and make fun of herself for doing so, but neither quite match up to the width of JT’s net.

“Haters gonna say it’s fake” he says on the first track over a combination of dubstep bass and Futuresex/Lovesounds-esque, well, love sounds—it comes across as an attempt to maintain his BET audience.  The very next track seems like an appeal to the MAGA side of the room, however, with the line “Ya’ll can’t do better than this/act like the south ain’t the shit.”  JT has always been someone who sees a musician/artist do something and respond with “oh I can totally do that” and with the help of Timbaland, he’s generally skated through safely, but here he didn’t even approach passable and his critical skewering is entirely deserved.