Sunday, February 26, 2017

Loosies Of The Week, Feb. 20-26

Welcome to yet another Loosies Of The Week, a wrap-up of this weeks singles, throwaways, leaks, and any other loose tracks I find. Another assortment of genres this week, with some surefire summer smash hits (it's February), and the return of a 90's Shoegaze band. 

Lana Del Rey - Love

It's hard to ignore the vast amount of hate Lana Del Rey receives, especially in regards to the quality of music at hand. Almost everyone who denounces her as a credible musician does so by stating her talents last, image first. In our current era, one dominated by aesthetics, it's quite perplexing to know Lana's atop the list when it comes to artists' perception being dictated by everything but the music. Her music videos, album covers, low-key demeanor, and star-lit looks all cause self-righteous music listeners to hone in on her with ceaseless condemnations. In some ironic twist, their fascination with opposing her personality is far more off-putting than her personality itself. And this is coming from someone who, generally, doesn't even enjoy Lana's music. Honeymoon was, by and large, a boring transitional album that failed to capitalize on the lust and seduction found nestling in the burrows of Ultraviolence's sleek production.

Thankfully, 'Love' seems to strive for something larger than anything Honeymoon had on offer. Whereas that album aligned with Lana's summer-like charm, 'Love' panders itself to the low's of that album's highs. Now yes, Ultraviolence technically already accomplished that feat, but while that LP found itself contemplating Lana's inner-turmoil at a personal level, 'Love' seems to be expressively outward. The production, which utilizes a booming sound that feels equally as large when the drums come clashing in as it is when they're hollow and sparse, creates quite the aura that was wholly lacking on the bright and peachy Honeymoon. Like most her works, Lana's vocal prowess is on display here as well, even if there's a slight misstep in the final bridge that's largely unnecessary. Nonetheless, her work in the chorus is powerful, showcasing her unwavering bravado at a high clip. Lyrics, as always, need work though.

Arca - Piel

Alejandro Ghersi is quite the strange character. The Venezuelan producer, who works under the stage name Arca, had what many would consider a sheltered life, living in the confines of a gated community all whilst trapped inside the closet in regards to his own sexuality. What effect all that has on his music is quite unknown, as the indescribable brand of IDM, Glitch Hop, and Post-Industrial quickly made him a formidable, and rather unique persona in highly-touted production circles. If you've never heard of him, there's a good chance you've admired his work. Yeezus ring a bell? What about FKA Twigs' EP 2? Or maybe Bjork's Vulnicura? His hands have been found all over them, not just directly with singular track credits, but in the sound of all three projects as well, clearly influenced by his brand of emotional mechanics. However, despite the endless praise, 2015's Mutant left me unmoved. Not surprising given my general lack of interest in Oneohtrix Point Never, Clark, or Ben Frost albums, all of which abide by similar sonic ideas.

Thankfully, 'Piel' is different. Considering the restraints placed within itself I won't say better, but different in almost any form is a good thing. Likely a lead single for his upcoming self-titled release, 'Piel' drastically shifts tone to lucid despondence. Ambient Pop's your closest bet, and even that's reaching for hairs. The primary focus here, unlike all of Mutant which was instrumental, is Ghersi himself. His hollow falsetto bears some resemblance to Anohni, who's not too far removed from his style either. Speaking in his first language of Spanish means the lyrics are lost on me, but the power behind the vocal chords helps to solidify just what kinda mood Ghersi's in. The production doesn't hurt either, also drastically swapping out the overtly obtuseness of Mutant's breakneck cacophony for weeping strings, droning synths, and haunting background vocals. The experience is wholly engrossing, but I wouldn't lie in saying the value wouldn't be heightened had I been able to follow along topically.

Steve Levy - Dark Red

Once in every blue moon there's a hook I fall in love with. Typically, it's once a year, and in recent years they've been crowned appropriately so in my 2016 hooks list and 2015 hooks list. While last year's beacon, 'I Feel It Coming,' was an addictive onslaught brought to you by The Weeknd and Daft Punk perfectly executing how a collaboration between them could become, the effort two years back was enchanting despite its limitless complexity. That was The Internet's 'Palace / Curse.' Despite Syd Tha Kyd leading the Odd Future offshoot in every song on Ego Death, 'Curse' wasn't incredible because of her. It was Steve Lacy who emerged from the shadows to put 'Curse' into another stratosphere, and is the exact reason I'm here with his new single 'Dark Red.'

After announcing The Internet would take a short hiatus to explore solo projects, the first one to release was Syd's exploration into her maturity. The result was Fin, a straight-forward Alternative R&B album that, despite surely having its moments, was relatively by the books. Along with Lacy's 'Dark Red' was the release of his singular effort in Steve Lacy's Demo. While I haven't listened to it yet, 'Dark Red' gives me strong reason to do so. His sultry, yet entirely uplifting form of Neo-Soul works extremely well with the spacious drums and soothing background vocals filling space behind him. A few comparisons emerge quite clearly, the first being Miguel. The pace at which Levy moves is certainly similar to Miguel's brand of joy-first R&B. And while the voices don't truly match, his songwriting feels inspired by Frank Ocean, not surprising given their six degrees of relationship through Odd Future. 

Calvin Harris - Slide

Before 'Slide' even released to the masses it was declared 2017 song of the summer. That phrase is apt, but not for the reason you'd think. To me, recently or not I'm not sure, mainstream music has become so formulaic that the music itself feels obsolete by design. Now 'Slide' isn't a bad song by any means, but the status in which it'll exist in your ears now or in a few months was crafted by image and current trends. Calvin Harris, likely Pop music's most popular producer, teams up with Frank Ocean, a mysterious figure who's a rarity when it comes to features, and Migos, who just released Culture and would be Trap's most popular artist had it not been for Future's two albums dropping, all come together as if unified by the Gods themselves.

So yes, 'Slide's' popularity, and much of its critical acclaim, will directly come from the artists involved. Theoretically, the quality of 'Slide' could've ranged from terrible to incredible and the result would've been the same. A tad bit bothersome, but nonetheless 'Slide,' at the end of the day, is okay. The extreme pitch-shifting found occasionally on Blonde appears here, and this time around it makes for one of the more enjoyable parts of 'Slide,' rather than be irritating. Ocean's presence fits the summery vibe of the track, but is largely unremarkable. Nothing special is said, nor are his vocals anything unheard. Honestly, Offset's verse is the best thing here, sporting both a concentrated effort and one that's marketably fun. It also expands Migos' run of great features despite their own music leaning towards tedium. Also, pouring one out for Takeoff. I haven't forgotten you bud.

Not sure if there was some secret agreement amongst early 90's Shoegaze acts to disappear before Y2K occurred only to reemerge over two decades after their initial surge. My Bloody Valentine, the seminal act, did so in 2013 with MBV, and now we've got Slowdive and Ride coming through this year with singles to ensuing albums. Hell, throw Jesus & The Mary Chain in there as well. And while that latter one has suffered, releasing the forgettable 'Amputation' this year, the other two have released singles that are, at the very least, redeemable. Slowdive dropped 'Star Roving,' which I kid you not is essential Shoegaze to me, and on par with the best material found on their highly-lauded Souvlaki. The immaculate production, with the arena-filling sounds, is how you transition the noisy Showgaze to the 21st century. Honestly, it's one of my favorite tracks of 2017 thus far.

Neither of Ride's singles are at that level, and for obvious reason. There's no evolution. While the modernized sound of 'Star Roving' harbored enough progression to warrant releasing, both 'Charm Assault' and 'Home Is A Feeling' exist as if they're making an ode to Ride's early 90's period. The former sufficiently represents their Alternative Rock edge, nothing much to note there. Dated sound, generic structuring and instrumentation, and fairly unassuming singing. It's okay, nothing more. However, the latter, 'Home Is A Feeling,' represents their Dream Pop side and like 'Star Roving' featuring an engrossing aesthetic that drones along heavenly, with singing that falls right into the noise, adding to it effectively. It's not as anthemic as 'Star Roving,' but 'Home Is A Feeling' shows Ride's still got talent within the genre, even if they haven't made much progress as a whole. 

Young Thug - Safe

Trap, more than every other genre, is defined by its excess. Quantity over quality reigns supreme, if the litany of mixtapes released by high-profile artists is any indication. Even Future has just released two, 17-track albums in the past two weeks. For any other genre, that would be unheard of. There's some exceptions of course, Beach House and The Game come to mind, but for Trap this plethora of music has become the norm. That's why Young Thug's relative silence has caused quite the impatience amongst his fans. For almost anyone else, hearing a new single, one of a handful, since August's Jeffrey would be a blessing in disguise. For Young Thug, it's unusually uncommunicative. Given's in his nature, regardless of quality. 'Safe's' evidence of that.

Again, as with most prototypical Trap songs, 'Safe' isn't bad. With the sheer breadth of music the genre's released, those creating within it are bound to uphold a standard that they'll reach by putting in minimum effort. Thugger's choppy flow is iconic already, and immediately noticeable from a distance. You'll find that in full force on 'Safe,' and while that flow and voice was once intriguing and inventive, it's quickly become redundant. What has not was Thugger's surprising switch-up in the third verse, where his excessive personality bubbles over, forcing a low-end, yet highly charismatic bravado. That section is easily the best part of 'Safe.' Believe it or not, Young Thug's lyrics have improved, sporting variety and good wordplay, but still aren't worthwhile enough to inspect him that way. 

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