Thursday, January 19, 2017

Loosies Of The Week, Jan. 13-19

Welcome to yet another Loosies Of The Week, a wrap-up of this weeks singles, throwaways, leaks, and any other loose tracks I find. A worthy mix of R&B, Hip-Hop, Rock, and Indie this week. Something for everyone I'd argue. 

The sole female artist on TDE. Unfortunately, as of right now, that's SZA strongest claim to fame. Her mixtapes and EP's have garnered her some attention from the Internet, but without a formal album to announce her place as a new R&B seamstress, the singer might as well be struggling in a genre that prides itself on mega-hitters. Interestingly enough, with one of the oddest feature spots of 2016, SZA found herself on Rihanna's ANTI, getting a taste of said spotlight with 'Consolidation.' Her work thus far has been as credited feature artist, her vocals interesting enough to rise above unnamed vocalist, finding herself sugarcoated over all TDE-affiliated albums. Soon though, she'll release the newly announced CTRL, her debut LP. Let's ignore the minor infuriation of S and Z not being completed with A, and focus on the album's presumed lead single; 'Drew Barrymore.'

Apart from the single having a romcom type feel, I don't see the purpose of the title, but alas, 'Drew Barrymore' pushes along with romantic inadequacies, as we find SZA questioning her own setbacks. Her lyrics and overall content is confessional and confrontational, making for a refreshing track conceptually that doesn't hide behind difficult, intricate webs. Sonically, the aquatic acoustics and light percussion give off an intimate, yet friendly vibe that feels comparable to a dimly lit bar with a passionate singer standing in the shadows. However, in contrast to that, 'Drew Barrymore' finds SZA flaunting her vocal skills like no other, leaping between styles and accents on a moment's notice. Her cartoon nature feels a bit gimmicky, singing like Solange one line, dipping into Adele the next, but the commitment and sheer versatility allow 'Drew Barrymore' to work nonetheless.

Bedwetter - Stoop Lights

Damn am I grateful Lil Ugly Mane sucks at offing himself. After declaring Oblivion Access his final project, an LP that would've been a monumental sendoff given the sounds and context (I mean, 'Intent & Purulent Discharge' ends the album off with a mental breakdown), Travis Miller quickly reemerged as if he never left. First it was 'Keep It Low,' the first single from the not-so elusive trio of Miller, ANTWON, and Wiki; Secret Circle. Then it was that trio's follow-up in 'Satellite,' a track that brought Despot out from the darkness. The latter thrived while the former felt underdeveloped. Then LUM returned, announcing Bedwetter, a new LP, along with a single, 'Selfish.' The questioning nature many had with that album title, appropriately so, only proves why it's effective, as it seems LUM intends to make listeners uncomfortable once again. 'Selfish,' while satisfactory, didn't really do that, and featured regressive content from Miller who was typically known for pushing boundaries.

However, last week we received 'Stoop Lights' through Youtube with a clip engraved "bedwetter - stoop lights," leading many to believe LUM's absence will be fulfilled as a new, dirtier character takes over. In either case, 'Stoop Lights' is still Miller's product, and as a result, the tension, uneasiness, and originality pouring through it makes for an engrossing piece of Experimental Hip-Hop. Think of it as the lyrical content and flow stutter of Earl Sweatshirt's latest LP I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, with the bizarre, space mechanics of El-P's early production work. Both are taken to extremes here though, as the sonics begin soft yet menacing before enveloping themselves with LUM's usual hi-hats and bass, as Miller himself raps with ferocity and angst over his apparent alcoholism. 'Stoop Lights' is a touchy subject, but ironically, one Miller makes approachable thanks to his zany, over-the-top nature that forces 'Stoop Lights' into fantasy, even if it might not be. An intriguing listen that has me more than excited for what's to come.

Xiu Xiu - Jenny GoGo

They're possibly one of the strangest bands of the post-millennium, but if you had asked me that one year ago I wouldn't have been able to tell you. For record store day, as if they didn't know the gem they had, Xiu Xiu released Plays The Music Of Twin Peaks, a collection of supremely replicated cover songs from the soundtrack of the show. Not only was it their most popular release in over a decade, it was their most critical too, appearing on a multitude of year-end lists thanks to its ominous, yet appreciatory glimpse into the strange world of Twin Peaks and the fans who obsess over it. That was my first record of Xiu Xiu's, and after departing for a bit, watching the entirety of the magnificent 1991 cult show, then returning for the bulk of their own discography, I was left puzzled, intrigued, and confused at the smattering of genres, unorthodox styles, and confounding leader; Jamie Stewart.

In late 2016, still high off Plays The Music's success, Xiu Xiu released 'Wondering,' the first single to Forget, set to release at the end of February. Like a demented MGMT, 'Wondering' was just the right amount of catchy, appealing, and quirky. 'Jenny GoGo' is not. Coming equip with a bizarre music video (what else would you expect?), Xiu Xiu finds themselves stranded between their older experimentation and newfound attention. While 'Wondering' welcomed the new crowd with open arms, 'Jenny GoGo' satisfies the urges of longtime Stewart fans, albeit with a primal focus on synthesizers. It's an experimental montage of uncomfortable pulses, wrapped in an almost kitschy-like Halloween movie aesthetic that feels as if zombies are right around the corner. Plus, it's intersecting bridge peers into an unadulterated kiddy corner filled with toddlers who got ahold of Xiu Xiu's instruments. Long story short, listen to it.

Dirty Projectors - Up In Hudson

Well, that didn't take long. Merely six or so months after Bon Iver's 22, A Million released and trend-hopping Art Pop artists are already well on their way to copying it. While the first two singles to Dirty Projectors' self-titled LP, 'Little Bubble' and 'Keep Your Name,' were interesting in their own right, for their own reasons, the only reason 'Up In Hudson' remains remotely interesting is how similar the production feels to 22, A Million. Now of course, David Longstreth's vocal performance isn't comparable to Justin Vernon's, choosing instead to yelp like your average Alt R&B crier (How To Dress Well's Tom Krell comes to mind, as does JMSN's Christian Berishaj), which doesn't fit the atmosphere of the specially crafted sounds at all. Adding to that his lyrics, primarily reflective, sometimes descriptive, but never intriguing, and Longstreth's efforts here also stumble consistently. There is one redeemable line, which is also 'Up In Hudson's' worst, and that's only for personal reasons. "Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway ridin’ fast," Longstreth hollers, hilarious to me because I've done that exact thing on that exact parkway.

So while Dirty Projectors' latest effort is an intriguing affair, curated by design, few of those enticement factors come organically. The production, for the bulk of the first half, follows the same mindset of 22, A Million's unique instrumentation, even kickstarting things with chipmunk vocal samples, harmonizing lead vocals, finger snaps, and farty brass, all things used prominently on Bon Iver's latest. And right as I'm at peak interest thanks to this mimic job, 'Up In Hudson' shifts to stereotypical Alternative R&B land, only coming into its own near the track's finale as Longstreth, Bon Iver influence, and mishandled lyrics give way to an audacious bridge that's actually engaging and rather unique. Singing over such a pounding, tribal-esque percussion line would be difficult, but it's this moment, lasting for the last two minutes, where 'Up In Hudson' finally comes into its own. Unfortunately, it's to little too late, bolstering the first five minutes slightly, but not enough to overcome the sad ideas present there.

J.Cole - High For Hours

It was only a month ago that J.Cole release 4 Your Eyez Only, an album controversial for being nothing of the sort. The album played right into the hands of his die-hard fans, and, ironically, the hands of those who criticize him. Drowsy rapping, mind-numbing production, and political messages that, while progressive, weren't all that deep or introspective, despite claims from his fans that Cole went over naysayers' heads. It was all supremely by-the-books, causing each side to have their beliefs further solidified. Problem was, as someone who values creativity, evolution, and switching things up highly, 4 Your Eyez Only failed in my eyes, regardless of what side I fall on. Flash forward a month, on MLK day, and J.Cole returns for another crowd-pleaser. 'High For Hours,' once again, appeases to two conflicting sides, pushing further into Cole's political high road, speaking about ongoing cultural issues with social commentary, all over production that aims to be forgotten. This time around though, Cole's efforts are slightly above average. 

While he finds himself stumbling over words quite a bit, fitting certain phrases into spots where they shouldn't be, Cole's awareness and ability to unearth many straight forward beliefs in such a limited time can certainly be appreciated. However, as is often the case with Cole, a few transgressions are questionable at best, especially the expose where he asks Obama why he hasn't solved racial injustice yet. For someone who prides himself on being so smart, the fact Cole had to ask Obama why he hasn't cured a deeply rooted problem is troubling at best. Thankfully, a poignant expose in the third verse allows Cole to redeem himself, speaking about revolution and the concept of power. He speaks about domestic violence and how, more often than not, the abused turn into the abusers when they are given power, correlating that with wide-spread revolution and how the same issues would eventually arise. The solution? Revolutionizing yourself and enacting change by being a better person. I'll always respect that. 

Spoon - Hot Thoughts

Towards the end of 2014, I decided to listen to a slew of albums from that year I was apparently missing out on. Some of these, like FKA Twigs' debut, Perfume Genius' Too Bright, and St. Vincent's self-titled, were wonderful and easily worthy of my time, eventually making that year's best albums list. One album not listed above was Spoon's They Want My Soul, and for good reason. Initially, the LP, a blend of standard Alternative Rock with a splash of Indie, uninterested me thanks, I felt, to a failed understanding of the genre at the time. See, 2014 was my first year seriously exploring other genres, and what interested me the most were LP's that skewed from the norm. They Want My Soul did not do that, adhering to a script set forth by decades of fundamental music tendencies. The instruments were used as expected, the vocals felt scratchy and stereotypical, and the lyrics were unremarkable and generic.

A little over two years have passed and their latest album, Hot Thoughts, is set to debut in March. Will I be impressed? If the album's lead single is any indication, no. Since They Want My Soul, I've listened to lots of new albums, some tiresome, others intriguing, and with each successive album the standards for my enjoyment rise. Spoon, especially considering every album of theirs abides by the Alternative Rock scope they reside under, seems to be doing the opposite, merely existing in the same place without evolution. 'Hot Thoughts' does incorporate some slight electronic elements, minimal synths are used to fill the otherwise empty verse territory, but elsewhere the single feels expected and largely phoned in. However, I presume, there's a reason Spoon's still around. If it's not creativity, it must be enjoyability, and while the wasteful verses are nothing to gawk at, the hook is pretty catchy. It's tasteful, large, and while the instrumentation going on is rather standard, their combinations make for a simple, delectable Rock song.

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