Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review Roundup

Dozens Of Donuts has taken quite a rise this past year, and with it comes more content. However, one man can only do so much, and with the amount of reviews I've done, and the crazy amount of time its been taking to compile my end-of-the-year lists (still to come), I haven't had much time to review other 2014 albums that I've been listening to. This post will give you a quick idea of what I think of a handful of records that have come out this year that I wasn't able to review in full.

St.Vincent - St.Vincent

It may have taken me half the year but I've finally gotten around to listening to Annie Clark's self-titled fourth album last week, and damn am I ashamed I didn't get around to it earlier. Prime Indie Pop, laced with distorted guitar sequences, alternative, introspective lyrics, and catchy tunes, St.Vincent is a compass for Clark's career sonically and where she hopes to take it musically. Her choice to recently dye her hair grey, a startling reminder of one's age, plays a prominent role on the album as Clark tells on the emotional rollercoaster 'Severed Crossed Fingers' that she's "humiliated by age, terrified of youth." The 32-year old songwriter is effectively growing through a pre-mature mid-life crisis, and her eponymous albums stands as a testament to her converging ideals, one half a romp through playful tunes, the other a self-realization of one's life crumbling around them. Centerpiece 'I Prefer Your Love' takes the near-death of her mother as a basis for true love, while opener 'Rattlesnake' places Clark in a desert, pondering her existence as the only thing living in the world, before a rattlesnake startles her into reality. The gloss layered over each track, like a digital carnival, brings St.Vincent's echoing reality to the fantasy realm as a place to release her inner-turmoils. 8.6/10

A$AP Ferg - Ferg Forever

A$AP Ferg's position as Rocky's right-hand man has sort of evaded him recently, staking a place for his own name in the Hip-Hop community. With the ever-evolving scope and diversity of Hip-Hop's mainstream it beckons a commending call when Ferg can put his own spin on things, incorporating radical, sporadic flows and dancehall elements into experimental trap tunes. Ferg Forever sees more of the same, a mixtape featuring 19 tracks, a little overbearing for his palate. And it shows, with numerous tracks lacking in substance, one, 'Doe-Active,' entirely self-aware  of its one-dimensional nature. As expected with mixtapes though, filler is bound to happen. While the production is varied and enticing, the repetitious nature of it makes for a forgettable experience. That is excluding the tracks where Ferg brings out his top guns, entirely aware of the experimental bangers present behind him. 'Fergsomnia' is the clear cut example of this, with blaring bass, rapid horns, and a note-worthy Twista feature make the track the album's obvious front-runner. 'Reloaded' contends, with a wiry sound that echoes a perfect combination of Ferg's wild style with M.I.A.'s world beats that emphasize gun claps, money slaps, and chain link rattles. And the Let It Go sample is glorious in every way. 6.0/10

J.Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive

I got a chance to review J.Cole's Born Sinner last year, the first time I had heard him, beyond all the critics of his bland style and one-dimensional rhyme schemes, and was pleasantly surprised by the effort and talent put forth. Cole's next album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, is a blended charade of his old-school self-depreciating lyrics and 'real' topics, mixed with his new-school approach of deceptively-deep beats and rugged segues, sprinkled with some soul. A handful of tracks here suffer from the boredom plague that early nay-sayers of the Fayetteville emcee handed down. Such tracks like 'Wet Dreamz,' while the content of losing one's virginity is a unique tale in Hip-Hop, the beat, a trite remodeling of Nas' 'I Can' leaves a lot to be desired. The majority of the first half, excluding the tantalizingly stunning 'Tale of Two Citiez' is largely forgettable, but the second half takes a turn upwards. See, Cole works best when he weaves his storytelling with inventive and catchy beats, both can definitively describe 'G.O.M.D' It's quite shocking to hear in this day and age but the best part of Forest Hills Drive is Cole's stories, heartfelt, pure, and honest. 'Hello' is just one glorious example of this. A parading beat, slowly progressing into a trumpet-filled chorus, follows the rapper as he grapples with a relationship already occupied with a youngin', reflecting on his struggles of being a potential dad. The ending credits, a 14-minute ode to all those who've helped the lead, is every bit as pleasant, soulful and enjoyable as Cole aims at telling you it's not, the sound style would make Randy Newman proud. 8.1/10

Clark - Clark

Chris Clark's latest self-titled release is a vortex of rigid soundscapes, melding, mashing, and bending the framework of the song it latches on to. If there's one repellant to Clark though it resides in the fact that, while Chris Clark has indisputable talent, it's talent used in the wrong ways, for what's lacking in his latest effort is something that's needed the most; a human touch. It's hard to picture a human creating this, not for its show-stopping value or its unearthly approach, but its complete lifelessness. There's hardly an instance here where Clark himself shines through, perfection lays the wasteland, there's not a screw loose or a machine left untuned. Even the classical elements on display are played without fault, as if formed into the machine cogs of nauseating perfection. This shouldn't dispel any qualms about the music's quality, tracks like 'Snowbird' and 'Sodium Trimmers' are excellent showcases in what can be done musically with machines. The best track here though masters the art of pacing, a magnetic force symbolizing the reckoning climax of the album as barriers collapse with one simple melody that carries throughout. 'There's a Distance In You' is a journey unlike any other, a showcase of industrial ambience, as different instruments, some more complex than others, take the form of the melody in a battle of one-upsmanship. Overall though, what Clark makes up for in skills over lifeless objects, he lacks in bringing those objects to life. 6.5/10

Big K.R.I.T. - Cadillactica

The newest crowned southern slanger, Big K.R.I.T., released his second album, Cadillactica, recently to little notoriety, and rightfully so. Ever since his first leap into album territory, with Live From The Underground, K.R.I.T. seems to be conflicted as to where to take his music stylistically as he creates it, and it makes for a frustrating listen. The initial quartet of tracks showed tremendous promise, as they center around the album's thematic concept of interstellar travel. 'Life' sees K.R.I.T. harnessing the passion as to discovering life amongst all the galactic rubble. And 'My Sub, Pt.3' takes a backseat to the theme to showcase K.R.I.T's versatility behind the boards, as a hollow foundation allows for unique and varied instances of southern sonic greatness. As was the case with his latest mixtape, King Remembered In Time, the middling portion of his latest is a grueling endurance test of simplistic, unimpressive club joints and standard Hip-Hop affairs that leave no lasting impression. That is before 'Saturdays=Celebration' re-awakens listeners with a brutal beat that menaces at every corner, along with a rugged chorus from Jamie N Commons. It's just a shame that K.R.I.T., easily prepared and willing to create quality pieces of music, regurgitates tried and true principles to the point where they don't become enjoyable. His older mixtapes effectively saw the beginning and end of his creative content, at least on a consistent basis. Now, rather than being remembered in time, Big K.R.I.T. just seems to be lost in time. 5.0/10

Mick Jenkins - The Water[s]

Playing the role of new-comer stunner, as Chance The Rapper did last year, Mick Jenkins jolted listeners with his stunning mixtape filled with passion, skill, and dexterity. Rather than pinpointing a side to pick in his hometown's brewing battle of violence versus peace, Chief Keef versus Chance, Drill Rap versus the Social Experiment, Jenkins decided to merge the two, initiating instances of shock with his hard nosed portrayals of city life and relishing in the inherent beauty of life itself. Blending it all together is Jenkins' show-stopping lyricism. Nothing so crisp, detailed, unique, and clever has come from a break-out rapper in a long time. While the likes of Joey Badass, Earl Sweatshirt, and Bishop Nehru can all clinge to one or more of those pinning ideals, none can connect to all four. It doesn't take long for listeners to be thrown aback by The Water[s], the intro, 'Shipwrecked,' slyly sends mellow vibes, crashing waves initiate the carried theme of water, as tranquility sets in. Upon its perceived conclusion however Jenkins rocks the listener with an iceberg in the form of a beat-switch that stuns each and every listen. Other tracks here do so in different aspects, 'Jazz' with its constant build of intensity upon each verse, 'Martys' with its initial verse that's near perfection, and 'Who Else' with its brooding beat that lays waste to everything surrounding it. The Water[s] is filled with versatility, tracks take on perpendicular styles to one's previous, a laid back, eye-opening song might lay next to a banger. And yet they're all neatly confined to the concept of water, a unifying theme that typically only appears on the most cohesive albums, yet alone a rookie mixtape. Mick Jenkins is going places, and The Water[s] is his calling card. 8.3/10

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

The complexity surrounding the aura of Lana Del Rey is what keeps her a perplexing figure in Pop music. Everything from her content to her lyrics to her appearance to her musical style confounds mainstream trends, allowing herself to detach from them, also forcing upon herself a divisive stance from all those who listen to her. Ultraviolence only further continued that trend, with tracks devoted to her adoration of cult leaders, first world sad girl dilemmas, egotistical outlook on herself, and how she's metaphorically (or not) fucked her way to the top. Her torch style, creating escapades from imaginative 1950's Americana resembles a life-like Jessica Rabbit, seductive, captivating, and filled with lust. The first five songs here, up to 'West Coast,' are a brilliant run of tracks that never falter in their entertainment. The album's backhalf however focuses too much on the lower melodies, softer moments, and simpler productions tendencies, which makes for a dim, non-impactful ending. This is all in comparison to the first half, which has stunners in 'Shades Of Cool' and 'Brooklyn Baby,' amongst others, that meld stellar production, orchestral and rising, with Del Rey's whimsical persona lived out through her lyrics. There's a simple answer for the question of "is Ultraviolence good?" and that simply boils down to your pre-conceived prerogative towards Del Rey herself. If you've like her stuff, it's more of the same. If you can't stand her alternative take on Pop music with lyrics that would make mainstream listeners of decades past gasp than Ultraviolence just isn't for you. 7.0/10

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