Thursday, August 18, 2016

Loosies Of The Week, August 12-18

Welcome to yet another Loosies Of The Week, a wrap-up of this weeks singles, throwaways, leaks, and any other loose tracks I find. An Indie Folk legend makes an unusual comeback while two young emcees with tons of potential find themselves releasing singles directly for their niche. 

I sit here utterly baffled. Not necessarily because of the sound, considering I've never heard Bon Iver's first two LP's to begin with, but more that shocking leap that makes it hard for anyone, a newcomer or seasoned fan, to investigate just what the hell is going on in '10 d E A T h b R E a s T.' However, repeated readers know me as an eccentric who will always find attraction in the weird. So while no one will rightly point me to Bon Iver's latest singles as a synopsis of Justin Vernon's sound, it may as well be the best starting point for me, since, in my twisted world, that's what I enjoy the most. And let it be known, '10 d E A T h b R E a s T' is certainly weird, and not even by Bon Iver's former Folk standards. Judging from the title, nearly nonsensical lyrics, bizarre video, and scatterbrained Glitch Pop, Bon Iver's jump back into the scene immediately dares to become something it never was before.

That is, of course, in a world where Kanye West, James Blake, and Francis & The Lights do not exist. To fans who've stuck to Bon Iver's world, never journeying to see Vernon's strange features, this might be the most forward-thinking song they've heard all year. And yet, from the inside looking out, Bon Iver's influences here are far too on the nose to really call it a rousing success. You combine those three aforementioned artists, all of which Vernon has directly worked with, and '10 d E A T h b R E a s T' will be the result. That leaves his latest album 22, A Million up in the air in terms of creativity, as the influences have, seemingly, become more apparent than the man himself. That doesn't mean his third LP can't succeed though, just that Bon Iver seems to be darting to another trend instead of continuing his roots in Folk. One thing's for sure, it'll certainly retain Bon Iver's slipping relevancy.

Bon Iver's two lead singles to 22, A Million have been decisively unexpected. But really, gauging who exactly Justin Vernon has worked with since gaining recognition, namely Kanye West and James Blake, it's not a surprise he took his Art Pop in a similar direction. I have the same critiques about '22 (OVER S∞∞N)' as I do '10 d E A T h b R E a s T,' well, excluding the ridiculous titles of course. That is the fading originality in lieu of an extreme similarity to James Blake's music. So while these criticisms coming from me are fair and valid, having never touched Bon Iver's first two albums just yet, and enjoying his work with West and Blake's work overall, saying he sounds a bit too much like them isn't necessarily a bad thing.

That's coming from me. Coming from a diehard fan of his though, I can't see how they'd be handling it. '22 (OVER S∞∞N)' really does sound like a Colour In Anything outtake, with the looping samples, the minimalistic approach, and the soft, autotuned lead vocals. Can I complain though? Because when the duo collaborated on 'I Need A Forest Fire' they made one of the best songs of 2016 thus far. '22 (OVER S∞∞N)' distances itself from the somewhat silly lyrics found on its brother single, while simultaneously taking an even more stripped back approach, with limited instrumentation that allows for a hollow soundscape. The strange female vocal samples are always welcome, and while the sudden saxophone might bring potential eye rolls, it's done in a soothing, tasteful way. Truth be told, I really like both of these singles, I'm just hesitant to laud them when they've essentially been done before.

Mick Jenkins - Spread Love

I've always been fascinated with Mick Jenkins' work ever since I heard his Water[s] mixtape. Born out of the prospering Chicago Hip-Hop scene, he's likely the only rapper there who somehow manages to tip-toe each side of the spectrum, from Chance's positivity to Chief Keef's sneering viciousness. As an emcee, he's already more than capable of proving himself amongst some of the best in the game right now, he just needs an official starting point, and that is coming September 23rd. Just announced, along with lead single 'Spread Love,' is the long-awaited Healing Component, Jenkins' debut album. My main worry for him is a focus on something that he already overuses; the water theme. It's largely what kept Wave[s] from being anything more than a collection of outtakes. The water aesthetic should fit the production, not every ounce of his breaths.

Thankfully, that's exactly what happens on 'Spread Love.' Now, of course, there's mention of liquids from time to time, the man is really in love with H2O, but 'Spread Love' focuses primarily on promoting positivity and neglecting hate. All of this is done over Sango's buttery smooth production that begins with some cheesy 80's synths before gaining a foundation thanks to some drums and evocative bass. He certainly brings about that aquatic sound, adding a handful of layers that can be unearthed if one really wants to dissect it. However, Sango's production isn't the best thing about 'Spread Love,' it's Jenkins' rhyming. Crystal clear annunciation and slick-witted flows make Jenkins' two verses deliciously edible treats. The second in particular is wonderful. Let's hope to see more of this come September.

Kool Keith - Super Hero

Call me a pleb, but I've never listened to Kool Keith or any of his absurd characters. Yes, that includes the lauded Dr. Octagon. A bit of a shame considering he's likely to have influenced a great deal of oddball artists I enjoy, MF DOOM being the most obvious. If Keith curated the ideas of comic book villains merging with Hip-Hop around the time of Horrorcore, DOOM took that idea and made an enigmatic persona around it that culled from dozens of areas of expertise. Now, in 2016 of all places, the two come together for the aptly titled 'Super Hero.' Hearing two aging artists with shaky post-2010 runs unite in the name of fresh oddity is refreshing to say the least. 'Super Hero' isn't anything we haven't heard from back in the day, but for a three-minute single, it works well as a blast to the past.

It also gives me an opportunity to check Kool Keith out. By coincidence or not, these two villains appeared on Atmosphere's 'When The Lights Go Out,' from their album Fishing Blues, released just last week. However, while that track excelled in returning DOOM to his Viktor Vaughn glory, at least in a small facet, it hardly featured Kool Keith, delegating him to hook and outro duties. Here though he's rapping and producing, succeeding in both. He's got a relaxed flow that shows instilled confidence from decades of musicianship, while the beat, a little dated, showcases that eery sci-fi vibe both emcees work best on. As for that latter one, DOOM is really coming into his own lately. Hitting an all-time low in 2014 with the collab album NehruvianDOOM, the legendary underground kingpin has turned back time to an era in which he was the best bar-for-bar rapper out there. While the panache, charisma, and eccentricity aren't what it used to be, a sign of aging for sure, the lyrical complexity and tongue-twisting flow still is.

Travis Scott - Hooch

The summer of 2016 has been marred with false promises in the Hip-Hop world. Nearly every release has, in some way, went about their rollout all wrong. Frank Ocean's warehouse debacle is the most obvious case, along with Young Thug and Travis Scott's constant delays without official word to a solidified date. It's been a frustrating summer for a Hip-Hop fan, and when you throw in some unintended leaks from those latter two artists, it makes the wait for Jeffrey and Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight confounding. Even some have called Scott's 'official' single 'Hooch' an unfinished cut, even though it appears through Apple Music for all to hear.

The song, unfortunately, doesn't have much to boast. I can't even pinpoint Travis Scott's appeal in the grand scheme of Trap, he seems rather generic, and yet, here I was around this time last year thoroughly enjoying Rodeo. His style matches the addicting flows of Trap with the atmospheric tug of G.O.O.D. Music's pioneers, namely Kid Cudi. 'Hooch' has that, but doesn't really have that extra piece that completes the project. From afar, you'd be remiss to identify this as anything but a run-of-the-mill Scott track, and taken away from the context of it being a lead single, I could easily have confused 'Hooch' with being a throwaway. That's not a good sign, especially when comparing it against 'Antidote' and '3500,' the two lead singles for Rodeo.

Earl Sweatshirt - Balance

One of the more fascinating things to witness in Hip-Hop post-2010 is the fate of Odd Future and its members. Talent overshadows all, so the litany of second tiered rappers have essentially fallen by the wayside, leaving the main trifecta of Tyler, Frank, and Earl. The former has ventured elsewhere in the entertainment industry, leaving his music as a valuable, but non-essential commodity, the middle has frustrated his trove of fans to no end with the lack of his channel ORANGE follow-up, and the former has created quite a mystique around him ever since coming into his own on I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside. Since then, and its ensuing epilogue 'Solace,' Earl Sweatshirt has tip-toed the line between enjoyable and downright depressing. Its been over a year since his sophomore album and, apart from the odd one-minute instrumental 'Pelicula,' 'Balance,' an Adult Swim single, is the first to officially be released from his camp.

Featuring production from Knxwledge, it's another small tasty glimpse into the fascinatingly glum lifestyle of one Mr. Sweatshirt. Clocking in at a 1:19, Earl wastes absolutely no time diving into his fight with the grim reaper, who, in a mischevious attempt to drag Earl six feet under, aims to send his deceased grandmother out to get him. Powerful imagery has never slipped by the emcee's grasp, and on 'Balance,' he's accomplishing more of the same, echoing sentiments that it's possible to achieve emotional resonation with such little time and effort. If your focus slips for even a moment, 'Balance' ends, just as quickly as Earl predicts his life will. With a hook in and out, and eight bars centered around a discussion with his mother sandwiched between, 'Balance' sees an artist saying exactly what he wants; nothing more, nothing less.

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