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.
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.
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.
On what seems to be coming across as his magnum opus—critical acclaim, 75 minutes long, snuck away to build his dream studio—Nils Frahm delivers a work occasionally self-indulgent, but rife with beauty.
When he’s on, Frahm crafts a landscape with unexpected detailing that simultaneously feels like a single brush stroke. The album opens with distant footsteps before an archaic small ensemble collection evokes a hymnal connotation. The longing string gestures eventually melt into a steadfast electronic groove highlighted by layers of windy synths. It’s combinations and transitions like these that make Nils Frahm stand out, as his knack for momentum makes large swaths of time dissipate. The title-track sees dark, oscillating textures gradually coalesce into one rhythmic unit before a keyboard melody wanders atop the bustling foundation.
Sometimes this desire for oddball ensemble combinations makes for a disjointed experience, however. After sputtering around on the piano alone for My Friend the Forest, a trumpet appears for the first time, conjuring a more grappling mood than the meditative piano lines. After solo work, the chorus returns to offer some sort of depressing funeral march. The timbres just don’t gel as well as the initial pair of tunes resulting in a less natural flow of events.
There’s not really a moment on this album that sounds bad, but it feels like perhaps Frahm tried to spread himself too thin over the categories of electro-acoustic, post-classical, and ambient, making for moments that don’t gell together as impeccably as they could.
Ty Segall’s a figure worth following that never truly disappoints. His projects are all consistent in sound and it’s more a matter if he gets the exact shading right for one’s individual tastes than a question of whether or not he’s delivered a fully-fledged collection of tunes. Not to mention the fact that if an album doesn’t sit right, you probably only got to wait about 10 months for the next one. Freedom’s Goblin is a big endeavor that sees Segall nail down some psyched out grooves as well as some sweet ballads—always landing in an endearing place.
“Fanny Dog” is bluntly dedicated to Segall’s dog: “FANNY KNOWS WHAT HER NAME IS.” Sharp melodic writing and the usually biting guitar solo round out the perfect opener. “My Lady’s On Fire” sees Segall’s first real tender moment, an acoustic guitar proving nimble beneath esoteric, but sweetly sung lyrics.
The backside feels like one long left turn, tossing fiery vocals courtesy of Segall’s wife, a konky saxophone, and warring guitars into one Black Sabbath-induced stew until closer “And, Goodnight” zones out for 12+ minutes.
Freedom’s Goblin feels good. It fills out 19 tracks and well over an hour without ever feeling stale. It’s not going to knock the socks of anyone still not awed by Segall’s aura, but it does right by Segall and his fans. Proving along the way that prolific obsession is in fact the right route for some.
I don’t love the position of “I make fun of everyone equally”/“anyone who sides with any political party is a stupid sheep.” You’re just going to lose the plot sometimes–it’s unavoidable.
This certainly seems to be the general framework for JPEGmafia’s ethos. 90% of the time he’s killer: dropping the lines “Put hands on the blogger/make him beg for his life” and “I need a bitch with long hair like Myke C-Town;” naming a song I Can’t Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies; and an album Black Ben Carson–that’s a long list of victories. However, a song like Libtard doesn’t completely nail it for me. It’s time to put that word away and rather than poking fun at those who use it, Peggy remains loose, rhyming it with Bill Maher. Still, Veteran remains decently politically potent, sonically brilliant, and hilariously fun.
The word glitchy certainly comes to mind as the sonic work crafts an environment that balances disorientation and fist-to-the-face directness. “Rock N Roll is Dead” opens with a seemingly disintegrated tape loop, before Peggy’s vocals somehow make sense of the rhythmic delivery and smack the alt-right with a fist full of asphalt. The end of the song somehow also works as Peggy croons out some solemn vocals. Admittedly, this dynamic sensibility can lead to a lack of clear standout tracks, but Peggy’s surprising sonic decisions are endearing and the album remains overall whole.
The lyrics are generally humorously nihilistic, but Peggy certainly gets into some personal issues. “Williamsburg” takes on gentrification and the difficult dynamic of needing to sell art to gentrifiers to survive: “Selling art to these yuppies/Getting mixed offers.”
JPEGmafia is worth giving time. He’s a provocateur and a weirdo, but fun for those willing to stomach his dynamic persona.
The singles for the latest from Aaron Maine see two sides of the singer-songwriter. “Find Me” is Maine the detached partier, accompanied by rattling horns and driving rhythm, whereas “Country” is a confessional croon, the climax articulated by flourishing vocal layering. The album leans a bit towards the later, oftentimes showcasing autotuned vocal wandering over sparse territory, but Maine finds ways to sneak uplifting dance-isms into the overarching gloom. “Goodbye” offers the full scope as a mournful departure finds enlightenment with a soaring chorus and bright beat. It’s a more patient listen than “Pool,” but Maine’s comforting intimacy again shines.