Tyler, the Creator-IGOR: Album Review

Since his time as the ringleader of Odd Future, Tyler, the Creator has had an impact, but reviewers had a tough time supporting him wholeheartedly until his most consistent and introspective work, Scum Fuck Flower Boy.  Between his antics, rougher lyrical patches, and mixed bag musical ones, Tyler always presented some sort of elephant in the room.

Still, Tyler’s progression has been almost precisely logical throughout his career.  Punky jabs were his start, and gradually his production chops have gotten jazzier and sleeker–yes, Cherry Bomb was a bit of a mess, but Flower Boy would undeniably have been impossible without the likes of “Find Your Wings” and “Smuckers.”  Neither Igor nor Flower Boy, his best two albums, signify the arrival moment were he got it right, rather they both prove that Tyler is in fact here for the long haul.  He will continue to evolve and hopefully listeners will be within the same hemisphere for more albums down the road, but for now we are presented with a consistent pop cultural figure with a remarkable versatility that no one could’ve seen coming.

IGOR is Tyler’s least rap-forward project.  Some have deemed it a R&B project, and I’d have to say I consider it more of a producer work–almost in league with the work of Kaytranada.  The songs find propulsion from warm beats moving in vague directions.  Vocals are repetitious and in a lot of ways secondary to the emotional content of the sound here.  Rather than the straightforward pop texture of “See You Again,” with its catchy chorus and rapped verses, songs here are much more loose.  This probably saves him a bit on songs like “Earfquake,” where Tyler’s almost squeaky voice sings lovelorn words to a former lover.

‘Loverlorn’ kind of takes me to the next key part of the album.  Yeah, its pretty much a breakup album, but its atypical in a lot of ways.  The beginning of the album operates as a blown up version of Lorde’s “Supercut,” capturing the initial explosion where you run back all the good moments in your head and can’t really imagine where or why it went south.  “For real this time…I cannot fall short;” “I think I’m falling in love/this time I think its for real;” “running out of time/to make you love me;” these phrases verge on numbing which is kind of the point.  When your life falls apart there’s a lot of pieces and little analysis of them.

Then, there’s the jealousy of the “New Magic Wand:” “It has nothin’ to do with that broad/But if it did, guarantee she’d be gone;” the “stay the fuck away from me” of “A Boy is a Gun;” and the “I can’t maneuver without you next to me” of “Puppet.”  The production has a meditative, almost calming nature to it, but for sure close listens reveal a bit of Tyler’s internal chaos.  “What’s Good” is the obligatory nod to Tylers former self with firebrand rapping, incidentally the moment that leads to the self acceptance of “Gone, Gone:” “I hope you know she cant compete with me.”  Like Ariana Grande’s thank you, next, Tyler takes advantage of the occasionally crazed break up experience to make a dynamic, wrestling work that never settles into one sound.

I will say that you kind of have to be on board for Tyler already to appreciate this one.  Some of the ‘rap’ verses sound a bit awkward if you remove yourself from the place of ‘fan who finds Tyler’s faults endearing,’ but again the evolution is in some ways the biggest appeal.  If Flower Boy proved that Tyler could make us pay attention for a full 45 minutes, IGOR proves that staying on board is a must.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10

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

Kehlani-While We Wait: Album Review

I mentioned in my Ariana Grande review that Thank You, Next, which was made in two weeks, avoids some of the blockbuster pop album trappings in its off-the-cuff tone and ease. There’s a bit of precedence for this in the mixtape work of Charli XCX who, despite creating some of the most adventurous pop music today, works casually, frequently releasing one-offs for the sake of collaboration. This also holds true for Kehlani’s latest mixtape which sounds lighter on its feet than Kehlani’s debut album, leaving none of the 30 minutes dull and plenty of features to give each moment life.

Kehlani doesn’t quite embody the subtlety of SZA’s CTRL here, but the tape is more stripped back in production than tunes like “Distraction” from her debut album, which saw big time vocal layering and pummeling bass.  From the jump, there’s a lightly strummed guitar and hummed backing vocals before her low range shines alongside a feature from Musiq Soulchild.  The tape picks up from track to track as “Too Deep” gets a bit deeper into a groove and “Morning Glory” hits a bit of a classic sound with its choir of backing vocals.  Still, overall the work feels conversational and light.

The conversational tone also seeps into the lyrical ideas, many of which address Kehlani’s and her partner’s indecision.  As previously discussed, “Nights Like This” is about a partner not showing up, but “Too Deep” sees Kehlani wondering if she wants to let a relationship flourish much further than it already has and “Footsteps” is about Kehlani leaving even though she wasn’t sure if that was the call: “when I walked away, I left Footsteps in the mud so you could follow me.”  This song also exemplifies Kehlani’s humor with the line “it’s habitual to be the bitch I am.”  It’s a conversational and vulnerable work, but it’s still relatively low-key, not feeling excessively heavy.

And it really holds up deep into the tracklist; closer “Love Language” features plucky production to call back to the beginning of the work as Kehlani sings “I wanna be fluent in your Love Language,” perhaps signaling a relationship where everyone’s finally on the same page.

The casual nature of the work does have some limitations.  In this case, it leaves a little to be desired.  Whereas say Vince Staples’s FM! felt as fleshed out as that specific concept wanted to be, While We Wait feels like three or four more tunes could’ve made it Kehlani’s full blown coronation.  Still, she’s headed down the right path and hopefully this pallet cleanser will lead to a real moment in the sun for the rising star.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

 

 

Spielbergs-This is Not the End: Album Review

Similar to Foxing‘s magnum opus from this summer, This is Not The End is sweeping and giant, highlighting the bands chugging guitars and anthemic vocals with a lush, expansive instrumental pallet.  If a song like “Bad Friend,” with its straightforward lyrics, is the bands DNA at its most distilled state, the following track “McDonald’s (Please Don’t F*ck Up My Order)” is the band stretching it out with shimmering meditation and an extended metaphor about suiting someones needs in the form of a fast food order.  The album may be occasionally on the nose and by no means earth shattering, but its restlessness gives it a wide emotional pallet, the new band sounding like seasoned vets.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

Looking Ahead: 2/22

Kehlani-While We Wait

Just gave you my rundown of Kehlani’s “Nights Like This,” today she releases a short and sweet mixtape to hold us over until her next full album–she’s nine months pregnant this month and still releasing music? a prolific queen.  Sporting welcome features from Musiq Soulchild and 6lack, the 30 minutes effortlessly flex Kehlani’s adaptability without loosing her singular voice.

Buy it on itunes like the good old days

Hand Habits-Placeholder

Look at how planned out I look today! Lol, just spoke briefly about how Placeholder the single offers a newfound cushion of studio crafted sound to support Meg Duffy’s voice and songwriting and, though there are some surprises, it seems like that’s an apt description for the rest of the work.  Addressing intimacy in myriad forms, the album evokes a cold smolder from start to finish.

Listen today on NPR

Ossia-Devil’s Dance

A fixture of the Bristol DIY scene, former hub of dub and post-punk intermingling, Dan Davies captures an independent spirit with music that melds all corners of underground music from tape loops to punky freakouts, and even some free jazz touting sax playing.

Purchase here

PUP “Kids” Track Review

New initiative! Track Reviews! Wrote four this weekend! My vision is to have a track review Monday-Thursday, and then my usual album reviews/looking ahead post on Fridays!

Also, you! NEed to see this video because it is rad.

I think pop-punk is less written about than like post-punk or other critic favorites because its a genre where something is either “rad” or “not rad” and to a degree it feels pointless to say more.  “Kids” is rad. Why? Listen to it, it is…rad.  Radness seeps from its pores.  Regardless, Toronto’s PUP always bring it.  Here, they find triumph in dead end jobs, unfulfilled youth, a life going nowhere.  The chorus is huge, intentionally lacking subtlety as lead singer Stefan Babcock screams out “I guess it doesn’t matter anyways/I don’t care about nothing but you.”  The end is communal, a sea of kids joining in for the shouty “oh-ohs.”  It’ll hit you right away, and you’ll want to hear it 100 times.

RADNESS ACHIEVED.

-Donovan Burtan

Dawn-New Breed: Album Review

A bassline from Prince, a beat from The Roots, and some smoldering synthesizer fog via SURVIVE–Dawn Richard pulls together unexpected elements to conjure her forward-thinking sound.  The title-track single from her latest album discusses transcendence of labels, of stereotypes. In the vein of SOPHIE’s “Whole New World” mantra, the smoky sound world twists around Richard’s rising declaration “I am, I am, I am the New Breed” as a Grace Jones quote about her undefinable sexuality gets appropriately spliced into the background.  

At only 30 minutes and spending a bit too much time with interludes and sound bites, New Breed the album doesn’t completely live up to the promise of its single, but Richard’s evolving sound continues to elude simple categorization and pop trends.

The middle of the album sports expert pop songwriting.  “Dreams and converse” takes some future-funk guitar and bass plucking to new heights with slinky melodies before “Shades” picks up the slack with beefy bassline and vocoder ornaments.  “Jealousy” slow jams for a minute, as Dawn admits that she still faces the childish emotion here and there.

“Vultures/Wolves” and “We, Diamonds” are probably the most direct songs thematically as Richard addresses black womanhood.  It’s clear that black women largely drive the aesthetic and direction of pop culture, so the idea of existing and finding acceptance without interference from culture vultures underpins the straining ballad.  These underlying anxieties are flipped into strength for the gospelly piano tones on closer “we, diamonds.”

The albums over and done with too quickly, but Richard remains youthful and entertaining in those 30 minutes, proving that she’s still one of the most creative songwriters in the game.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

Looking Ahead: 1/18/2019

Sharon Van Etten-Remind Me Tomorrow

Sharon Van Etten got her start off her ridiculously delicate voice over her ridiculously delicate guitar on Because I Was in Love.  “Comeback Kid” isn’t necessarily a complete surprise considering songs like “Your Love is Killing Me” or “Serpents,” however, like much of her new album Remind Me Tomorrow, it comes across as a level-up on all fronts for the songwriting talent.

Out today!

Dawn-New Breed

Dawn Richard has been all over the map, from her Danity Kane/Bad Boy records days to her indie-cred solo material, including a Dirty Projectors feature and a slew of adventurous solo albums, Dawn has constantly avoided simple alt-r&B categorization.  New Breed is somewhat a meditation on Richard’s own unique position in the world drawing on boundless dance beats to vouch for her own weirdness and experimental textures to never leave the listener too comfortable.

Check it out on first listen.

Steve Gunn-The Unseen In Between

Gunn may be a little bit of a “you heard one, you heard em’ all” type of artists, but his slow burning stories of middle America always demand deep listening and The Unseen In Between sounds no different.

Buy it on bandcamp.

James Blake-Assume Form

James Blake’s tirade against being called a sad boy was ridiculous—his arty showpieces are much more primed and ready to be taken seriously as art than any woman or emo artist who’s ever suffered under the umbrella of “confessional” after all, but the man strikes accessible emotional tones with his spooky, unique sampling and nuanced vocal effects.

Give it a shot at 3am or something.

Looking Ahead: 1/11/2019

First albums of the year are trickling out (exciting!). My year end list has been instagram for a lil’ while.  Follow me there if you want more up-to-the-minute posts from me than my quasi-weekly newsletter format here.

but anyways here’s it listed:

1. SOPHIE-Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides

2. Kacey Musgraves-Golden Hour

3. Earl Sweatshirt-Some Rap Songs

4. Mitski-Be the Cowboy

5. Snail Mail-Lush

6. Wild Pink-Yoke in the Fur ‘

7. Low-Double Negative

8. DJ Koze-Knock Knock

9. Noname-Room 25

10. Dear Nora-Skulls Example

11. kero kero bonito-Time ‘n’ Place

12. Parquet Courts-Wide Awake

13. Cardi B-Invasion of Privacy

14. Julia Holter-Aviary

15. Soccer Mommy-Clean

16. Denzel Curry-TA1300

17. Ariana Grande-Sweetener

18. Travis Scott-Astroworld

19. Janelle Monae-Dirty Computer

20. Sidney Gish-No Dogs Allowed

honorary mention: Vince Staples (both his twitter account and FM!) Also Carter V

Concerts:

1. Laurel Halo performs Dust

2. Mitski/Sidney Gish double header

3. Low does Low

4. Nicole Mitchell/Mary Halvorson @NJF

Pedro the Lion-Phoenix

Lead singer David Bazan has never ~really~ stopped recording music.

However! Phoenix marks the first proper PTL release in 15 years and with it’s straightforward renditions of nostalgia it feels like a specific type of return to his roots moment (it’s called Phoenix for christ’s sake).

Between Bazan, American Football, Mineral (and hell even this new Sharon Van Etten single) 2019 seems prepared to hear a lot of full-blown adults draw upon the open-hearted vigor of emo’s past to deal with aging, parenting, and the like.  Phoenix seems like a good start!

Toro y Moi-Outer Peace

Considering that emo found a way to grow up, perhaps the same can be true for chillwave?  If anyone can do it it’s likely Chaz Bear who’s drawn acclaim from everyone ranging from Tyler, the Creator to Travis Scott to Nosaj Thing.  The album is lush and more forward than the chillwave haze, sounding somewhat in line with the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Tame Impala, and Daft Punk, who’ve all remained relevant despite the overcrowdedness of their respective genres.

-Donovan Burtan

Looking Ahead: 11/2.

Vince Staples-FM!

Surprise release from the adventurous west coast rapper sees him tackle more straightforward club moods to follow last year’s electronic opus.

Kelly Moran-Ultraviolet

Associated with Oneohtrix Point Never, and having found success in the contemporary classical community, Kelly Moran continues her solo career with her Warp! debut, making music that pushes piano into a completely new context.

Jessica Moss-Entanglement

Moss made my year-end list last year and Entanglement sees her again molding tiny ideas into massive events.