Beyoncé-Homecoming: Album Review

It’s easy to make a case for Homecoming as the peak musical moment of the decade. Like other decade highlights such as A Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or To Pimp a Butterfly, and of course Beyoncé’s own Lemonade; Homecoming is a visual-oriented experience with that leans towards high concepts and narratives. But perhaps a bit more than these others, it avoids leaning on its concept too heavily and feeling very tied to this decade.

It presents Beyoncé as the heady auter that the 2010’s pop star was intended to be, but it also presents her as the classic pop system virtuoso of dance and performance, where little is needed outside feeling awestruck by the pure spectacle.  It is the best Coachella performance ever, in a time when the festival is more regulated than ever. This pyramid-stage remixing of her whole discography is perhaps the most flawless run of Beyoncé songs in a row that you can take home and listen to, with a vocal performance so transcendent that it sounds super human.

Aside from the constant stream of sheerly impressive performance, the impeccable planning makes the energy feel like one big climb.  The horn entry of “Crazy in Love” should make anyone making music today green with envy, but you can kind of hear how Beyoncé paces herself a bit.  She doesn’t coast through by any means, but she remains a bit constrained in the verses and the chorus is cushioned by her backup singers.  There’s also a dance break and a half-speed break down following the first chorus.  This way when she sings the absolute piss out of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” or closer “Love on Top;” or starts the quick, undeniable run through “Hold Up,” “Countdown,” and “Check On It” before diving into “Deja Vu,” it subtly hits a bit harder.

The arrangements are also intricate and mostly pretty damn huge, but they don’t become supremely over-the-top or over produced, so it can feel like a balm listening at home, which is kind of what’s compelling about the combination of this album release and the Netflix film to accompany.  Aside from actually being there, the peak experience is watching it all happen with your living room TV turned way up.  But somehow, the album offers something a bit different.  In headphones, you can bear witness to the ways her horns punch into “Drunk in Love” to prop up the chorus without overpowering Beyoncé; the intricacy with which stepping and clapping pulls us into that glassy “Diva” sample; and the way “Single Ladies” effortlessly interpolates a phat New Orleans parade break down without missing a beat. This is capped off by a bonus track, Beyoncé’s rendition of classic “Before I Let Go,” which expertly meshes her modern sensibilities with that undeniable classic horn line.

It might be a bit harder to pin an exact instant to it, as her most dedicated fans already streamed it live in full and now, though freshly mixed and mastered, it doesn’t have the surprise, sudden impact that her two big secret album drops of the 2010’s had. However, Beyoncé has built an astounding live track record and with the addition of documentary footage to illuminate the insane preparation between her giving birth and return to performing, this document illuminates the ferocity with which Beyoncé created this victory lap.

Beyoncé also tends to have a bit of a wall between her and her audience. Sure, she’s penned lyrics referencing their theories, but she doesn’t do interviews anymore, and pretty obsessively controls the narrative around her, but here that is shed to an extent.  She quite literally thanks her Beyhive on stage, and with the accompaniment film seemingly involves us in her personal life.  Of course, the whole experience is directed at the black community and black women in particular, but it also feels like a personal note to anyone who wants to listen.  Perhaps that what the 2010’s were all about.  It was a time period where specific identities (queer, black, queer and black) that may not have been previously accepted in mainstream culture were directly addressed by the people who experience them and more than any of them, Beyoncé transcended this and felt vital to all.

-Donovan Burtan

10/10

Advertisements

Tierra Whack “Only Child” Track Review

My take is ultimately: “I don’t think that Tierra Whack’s 15 songs, 1 minute each concept was merely a marketing tool, nor do I think it totally worked artistically.” And maybe I’m biased. Though I like the work of say Minor Threat, and pick up one of those four song demos on cassette from a punk band that really delivered at their show, at the end of the day, I tend to value the part of careers where people who come from those origins flesh out their sound at bit more.

Yes, many felt like Solange’s latest was under-cooked and maybe my love of Some Rap Songs is a bit of a double standard, but I just feel like they do different jobs. Solange gives her simple phrases plenty of room to breathe with seemingly boundless repetition, whereas Earl simply distilled his music to what he does best—verses. For me, Whack World felt more like a sketch than anything else.

All that to say, I’m glad that Tierra Whack is make full bodied songs now and “Only Child” can run with the best of them. Built on a wobbly DIY-adjacent foundation, Whack’s soft vocals speak to a selfish person who comes across as formerly spoiled by the ‘rents. The track is packed with the personality that found its way onto her previous work, between the flippant vocals at the hook and the humorous digs in the quick verse—“use to arch my back for you/and now you’re my arch nemesis.” Whack World was certainly vividly accomplished and I’d expect nothing else as this artist continues to grow.

-Donovan Burtan

Weyes Blood-Titanic Rising: Album Review

Natalie Merling has previously built a world out of beautiful pillows as Weyes Blood, but her latest effort is more plush than ever. Evoking the cosmos in more than just lyrics, Titanic Rising is a monolith of galactic electronic tones, flourishing Philip Glass strings, and occasionally bellowing vocals. Though Merling’s voice can still be a little bit one note, her emotional senses are more eclectic than ever giving the listener doses of hope, and heart wrench; humor and irony in equal doses. It’s not so much packed with singable hooks and melodies, but these slow burning lamentations encapsulate the puzzles of life and love, and finding yourself in there somewhere.

To a degree, Merling plays the role of the hopeless romantic. Single “Everyday” strikes this rather directly with lines like “true love is making a comeback” and a chorus reading “I need love everyday,” but she’s also hopelessly devoted to giant cultural items–“Movies” frames her as a sucker who can’t resist a good blockbuster–and enamored with the world–“Wild Time” offers a somber answer to “Oh, What a World.”

She’ll add in a dose of existentialism for “Andromeda,” which sings to an empty galaxy, full of nothing to peak her romantic interest. Then on “Mirror Forever,” the concept of empathy creeps in through the lens of a break-up. Noting that no one can ever fully grasp your emotional experience, Merling still accepts that her experience has led to a place where she needs to move on and leave someone behind in the process.

If “Will I ever be satisfied by a partner?” is the connective thread, “what does that mean about connection?” is next on the docket, and “maybe not knowing is ok” is the final conclusion. Or A final conclusion as Merling also sends us off with “Picture Me Better,” which yearns for a world where she isn’t so stunted by these questions and able to just breathe.

The grappling nature of the album is achieved rather effortlessly, however, which makes it digestible and even fun. These may be brooding ideas but they aren’t brooding tunes as the listener is enveloped delicately and openly. Titanic Rising puts Merling in league with the likes of Fiona Apple and Mitski who find the depths of life’s meaning through nuanced exploration of interpersonal relations.  And like those two auters, she comes across as the conversationalist–a philosopher your can see yourself in.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Weyes Blood “Everday” Track Review

“Everyday” is a pretty collasal statement from Weyes Blood. Though she doesn’t abandon the cosmic folk that made her, the song is her most anthemtic as she seemingly takes a step back and belts out “I need love everyday!” with clashing backing vocals, chugging guitars and soaring piano and string lines.

Lyrically, the song twists out of control a bit. First speaking about her need for more from her partner, verse three is the most interesting, opening her scope to a much bigger statement: “true love is making a comeback, for only half of us the rest just feel bad.” It’s an ode to the communities of those hopeless romantics who seemingly always end up with those less enthused.

The sonic quirks are matched by the words, which value humor and absurdity—that quote when read aloud feels like it should be notated as such: “True love is making a comeback!!! for only half of us? 😦 the rest just feel…bad *shrug.*” Admittedly I didn’t feel drawn to Weyes Blood initially, but this is a great gateway in.

-Donovan Burtan

Looking Ahead: 3/29

Show Me The Body-Dog Whistle

This one promises to be huge, check out my thoughts on the quite literally orchestral single.

Buy it on the band’s website

Billie Eilish-When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

I try not to review too much material that I have little hope of enjoying and admittedly Billie Eilish kind of fits that mold.  I feel like she has the potential to be interesting or maybe even earth shattering, so I want to take an honest look at her debut album, but it kind of obviously splits the difference between Lana Del Ray, early Lorde, and maybe even Juice WRLD, with blunt teenage lyricism and thin pop production that sounds dark, but doesn’t hit as hard as it should.

Check it out

Nilüfer Yanya-Miss Universe: Album Review

Admittedly Nilüfer Yanya isn’t offering a completely new perspective on musical texture or what a song can do, but Miss Universe does more than simply pass the test for “singer-songwriter given a bit of a budget for their real debut.” With Yanya herself offering a bunch of goofy interludes to narrate her speak of self worth and its intersection with validation from others, the album offers a unique glance at its auter. Unpredictable, wirey melodies, build and caressing alongside synths, guitars, and horns that draw on everyone from Aaliyah to Blink-182. It’s sure to be relatable to anyone familiar with those musical references as well as those plunging into the depth of the teenage years today.

“In Your Head” certainly acts as a bit of a thesis. In it Yanya tells a potential love interest that she cannot act until she hears an exact description of how they feel.  Though she doesn’t play this manic type of character throughout, the songs paint a vivid inner dialogue about the growing pains inherent to that time where you have to figure yourself out as much as those who interest you.

“Safety Net” might just be the heart of the record where Yanya seems to find the upper hand in a battle of whether or not she deserves more out of a partner: “I’m not trying to be someone/I’m not/So stop trying to be someone.”. It’s undercut by her self doubt “I’ll find nothing instead/because I’m not good looking,” but that tug and pull between doubt and worth represents the tension between the moment you realize you have to leave and the moment you actually do it.

Closer “Heavyweight Champion of the World” also explores the tension as Yanya pleads for herself to realize that the one she’s chasing will never truly commit. Then there’s tunes like “Heat Rises,” which more metaphorically address anxiety or “Melt” which more devilshly wish for another’s pain.

These songs are well accomplished sonically, though I can’t help but feeling like there’s a little bit to be desired in terms of singularity. Not quite, but if you ignore some of the musical flourishes, sax solos, there’s an inclining of “this product was manufactured to please indie rock and R&B markets,” whereas something SZA’s Ctrl more endearingly combined the two. But overall, Miss Universe is a worthy debut from someone with potential to speak to a generation.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

Concert Log: Lucy Dacus at Columbus Theater RI 3/19

54519873_572357219918604_6565628630364323840_n

Few artists are better suited to working with a fire-power-heavy backing band than Lucy Dacus.  She can certainly capture on her own–the show was book-ended by two unreleased tunes played without a band–but her tunes tend to twist and wind to their conclusions leaving plenty of space for rambunctious climaxes sporting massive cymbal crashes and noisy guitar flourishes to highlight her relatively grounded vocal style.

A band also allows certain influences and sounds to come through a bit too.  Mentioning that she was from Richmond, Virginia, I wouldn’t say that she quite lives in the south or fully has any sense of twang, but there’s a bit of alt-country or blues swagger sitting in the background of tunes like “Timefighter” or “Yours & Mine.”  Of course there’s more straightforward chugging rockers–her cover of “La Vie en Rose” particularly got the crowd moving– but for an artist who sometimes sounds a bit too broad-strokes stylistically, the live show alleviates this with more pronounced details to the tunes.

In terms of thematic material, Historian was largely a break-up album, but it also took time to ponder the question of what it means to write a narrative and look at the grand scheme of things.  There’s kiss-offs to those that wronged you, but also tunes that look at individual action and try to see the viewpoint of another.  The quiet and droney title-track, which ended the show literally asked “If past you were to meet future me/Would you be holding me here and now?”

Sometimes these questions can lead to apathy or aimless anger and Dacus can channel that into something productive, or at least recognize that avoidance is part of life too.  The final, unrecorded tune of the night was a perfect send-off that found empowerment in allowing its character to get angry at a deadbeat father.  The Lucy Dacus project is remarkably mature and as its writer continues forward, it feels like she’s only honing that weapon.

-Donovan Burtan