Sunday, March 26, 2017

Loosies Of The Week, Mar. 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. Such a huge week it forced me to make a new headline picture up there. Good stuff in here. 

Gorillaz - Saturn Barz / Ascension

All it took was a couple well-placed singles, a robust feature list, and a cartoon band to fulfill the Gorillaz prophecy Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett set out to decade nearly two decades ago. With patience a key factor in their output, every album since their 2001 self-titled has been met with considerable attention, hype, and fervor. Being that Humanz, set to release April 28, is only their fourth official LP, it's no surprise any time new Gorillaz comes around people are excited. And why shouldn't they be? They're a spectacle. Not just them, but the bevy of artists from all corners of the world, all levels of popularity, flocking to their albums. Humanz is no different, and what better way to showcase that than by releasing four singles simultaneously across various radio stations. Something to note, my musical fandom still resides, so 'Saturn Barz' and 'Ascension' are the only works I've listened to (along with 'Halleulujah Money'). The rest will wait for me on the 28th of April.

Safe to say, with what we've heard thus far, the Gorillaz have not recessed in terms of appeal or allure. A music video attributed to 'Saturn Barz' features talking pizzas, a haunted house, and a naked journey through space. In other words, right up the Gorillaz's alley. That song, however, isn't all that impressive to me. Popcaan's vocals, slathered in auto-tune, along with the aggressively jagged synths, reminds me of something Kanye West would do off Yeezus. The hook is quite repetitive, and Popcaan is admittedly quite hard to understand. But Albarn, with his soothing falsetto and committed monotone, ends the single off nicely.

'Ascension,' on the other hand, is something else. A quick glance at the tracklist and you'll see that this two-minute barrage actually kickstarts the album, which means that Vince Staples' presence is the first you'll actually hear, including the line "you are now tuned in to the tomb of Jehovah." But it's not so much Staples that shocks here, but more so the production and how he flows over it. Sure, the chant "higherrrrrr" is well-noted for being incredibly overused, but I never grow tired of it, and that applies here as well. The nimble percussion teetering on the brink of exhaustion, and the droning switch-up under Albarn, all make for some of Gorillaz's best production work ever. It's a fascinating first listen, and an excellent opener to Humanz, regardless of what we hear afterwards.

Kendrick Lamar - The Heart Part 4

Two years have passed since To Pimp A Butterfly, and yet, with the impact its made on Hip-Hop and music in general, you'd be remiss for thinking it came out a few months ago. I remember fondly the instant classic, but even still, knowing that time may come soon for Kendrick Lamar's follow-up is an astounding realization. In some sense, I don't feel ready yet. But if what we're to understand after listening to 'The Heart Part 4,' the wait may be next to nil. That is because, in typical Kendrick Lamar hype fashion, the final lines concluding his continuing series of loose singles states quite clearly: "Y'all got till April the 7th to get your shit together." That's two weeks away, folks. Buckle up. King Kendrick is back, and with absolutely no promotion in way of this potential album, it's anyone's guess what it'll sound like. Some advice though, don't make predications after listening to 'The Heart Part 4.' It's not a lead single, nor has his 'Heart' series ever been. And really, ever since he transformed himself into a megastar, the sounds found within haven't been indicative of the album to come at all.

Thankfully too. I say that not because of a lack in quality, that is clearly there, but more so a petty tenacity I'd rather not bog down an album of this magnitude. Like other similar tracks K Dot has put out, including the preceding single in this series and the infamous 'Control,' these one-off fire-starters are best suited for hype-builders. And 'Part 4' absolutely fits that billing, as the track finds Kendrick calling out weak emcees, snitching acquaintances, and a struggling game once again. Unlike 'Control' though, 'Part 4' switches up its foundation multiple times, creating an uneasy atmosphere that's both tense and intricate. His flow is as impeccable as ever, lines as vicious as we've seen, production well above-average for what's essentially a loosie. Oh, and for what it's worth, Lamar wrote 'Part 4' two days before he released the track, as evidenced by a Serge Ibaka line. For me though, the track doesn't do too much. And it's not for any reason of it's own, but more so the fact that may hype and appreciation for Kendrick Lamar can't go much higher.

Perfume Genius - Slip Away

For me, 2014 was the first year I went above and beyond with Dozens Of Donuts. This included listening to a lot of things out of my typical spectrum. Even then, I hadn't yet known the range I was capable of listening to, missing out on a handful of key albums 2014 had on offer. They slipped by me, but only till the end of the year, when LP's like FKA Twigs' LP1, St. Vincent's self-titled, and The War On Drugs' Lost In The Dream all found their way into my rotation. One such album was Perfume Genius' Too Bright, and while I've still yet to retrace the steps of Mike Hadreas to his earlier material, that album of unequivocal LBGT empowerment immediately made me a fan. Art Pop with a focus on bright, Industrial instrumentation, Too Bright combined Hadreas' Singer/Songwriter roots with that of explosive set pieces like 'Queen' and 'Grid' that found a gay man in charge. It was a breath of fresh air, and one that still has purpose to this day.

However, more music is never a bad thing, and Perfume Genius will soon bless us with his follow-up on May 5th. No Shape, as it stands, as evidenced by lead single 'Slip Away,' is set to be yet another leap for the Indie star. I'm sure quaint transgressions will fill the album, but 'Slip Away' is Perfume Genius' most blatantly Pop song yet, and it wouldn't be of much surprise to me to see him reach another plateau in terms of fan recognition. Whereas Too Bright's topical work was both relevant and unique, 'Slip Away' takes a backseat in that regard, complacent in the ideas of Pop, reiterating the tired trope brought on by Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off.' It's through a thinly-veiled Indie disguise, but the premise is essentially the same, and that makes Perfume Genius' lyrics here quite boring and unessential, especially compared to 'Queen.' Thankfully, the production more than makes up for it, with gargantuan blasts of explosives in the hooks, soaring synths in the bridge, and finely-tuned Industrial percussion in the verses.

Drake - Passionfruit

I'll never understand the wide-spread appeal of Drake in the Hip-Hop community. As a Pop megastar, his presence and song styles make perfect sense. I don't question his popularity. However, while he's still mightily rooted in the genre, I can't see why so many latch onto him as if every work possibly emerging from his camp could be seen as a classic. They're not, nor have they ever been. Drake's merely a Pop Rap star who's the primary tastemaker when it comes to the radio, and seeing the quality of those branching paths behind him, it's obvious why the music has limited traction, critically-speaking, in the first place. Still, as someone who treats albums like monuments for an artist's place amongst the music community, the hype over last year's Views made sense. High off 'Hotline Bling,' 'One Dance' proving vital in that continuation, I understand warranting a time and space to give it a chance. More Life though, why bother? It's a playlist, as deemed by the creator himself. Essentially, it's a way for Drake to not tarnish his legacy by declaring it an album, mixtape, or even a compilation record, when all three would be more applicable.

So while I've had no interest in listening to or reviewing More Life, one of the project's singles have been released to give more value to the piece as a whole. And if what I've been hearing about 'Passionfruit' is true, in that it's one of the best More Life has to offer, then I'm certainly not missing anything. Don't get me wrong, 'Passionfruit' is prime Drake. But it's certainly not memorable in any way like 'Hotline Bling' was, not catchy like 'One Dance,' and not good as 'Hold On, We're Going Home,' a single 'Passionfruit' takes a lot from. The rolling, atmospheric Dancehall is wholly replicative of that track and Drake's vision as a whole, which makes sense why many were drawn to it. And while the production is above average, finding sparse instrumentation fill the empty air, almost sounding like a Downtempo Trip-Hop track akin to Zero 7 or Télépopmusik, Drake himself doesn't do anything new with his vocals or lyrics. But hell, I guess for a playlist, whatever quality that deems, 'Passionfruit' is fine. It's just not anything special.

Future Islands - Cave

Whatever hype 'Ran' granted me for Future Islands' upcoming LP The Far Field quite abruptly dissipated with 'Cave.' That's not to say the second single is bad, it's solid SynthPop, but more so excessively middle-of-the-road for the group. With how one-dimensional their sound can be, it's quite surprising that 'Cave' is the first time I've felt they've retraced old steps. Now, of note, I've only heard the group's singles, so it's entirely plausible and really, likely, that they've ran down the same paths before, but with my limited exposure of the group I wouldn't have known that. Even still, while I enjoyed 'Ran,' it's not like that single did anything the group hadn't done before. A strong emphasis on an infectious bass line, some straying synths in the background, Sam Herring's vocals that evoke the longing sentiments found in his lyrics, they're all there. But at least 'Ran' had that impatience that caused tension amongst all the growing pieces.

'Cave' feels like nothing more than some mid-album fodder. The percussion is really narrow with a simplistic loop that's been captured on other Future Islands songs before, and Herring's lyrics are the same they've always been. This isn't really a knock on Herring, more so the vast majority of songwriters, in saying that his style is, essentially, elementary-level poetics. At some point, and it seems like that point is now, they just get old. That's worrisome considering we haven't even made it to the album yet, but just like Singles, I'm holding out hope The Far Field has one, maybe two, more stellar singles to its name to justify releasing an entirely new LP. 'Cave' isn't one of those, and while it does get progressively better as it continues with some increasingly aggressive synths jolting in the background, the redundancies are too overbearing to ignore.

Madlib, Blu, MED - The Turn Up

Earlier in the week Madlib, famed Abstract Hip-Hop producer, released the instrumentals for 2015's Bad Neighbor, his collaboration project with Blu and MED. While I wasn't much of a fan of that project thanks to all three musicians failing to do anything they haven't before, Madlib's production was, as always, at least interesting enough. Certainly enough to justify an instrumental LP for those dedicated fans. That's come, and in promotion of it, so has 'The Turn Up,' a loose single from those sessions that finds all three, and Oh No, coming together for one more go-around. However, 'The Turn Up' really only reminds me of why I didn't enjoy Bad Neighbor. In fact, after listening to the single, knowing why I wasn't a fan, I returned to my Bad Neighbor review and found the exact same complaints. Simply put, the track is too cluttered as every musician is vying for the same spotlight. 

Logistically speaking, for stereotypical Hip-Hop such as this, the rappers are supposed to get the attention when they're on, the producers when they're off. That doesn't happen here, and it's thanks in large part to Madlib's peculiar production style that doesn't entertain the idea of subdued nuance. The vocal samples which are nice capping the track fall flat during the verses because too many attention-grabbers are happening at once. As far as the rapping goes, you know exactly what you're in for if you're familiar with Blu, MED, or Oh No. 16 bars with flows that fail to sidestep the beaten down path, there isn't really much of note from the three emcee's, vocally, charismatically, or lyrically. Overall, 'The Turn Up' doesn't have anything of interest to say, and it's clear why it didn't make Bad Neighbor. A classic case of a scrapped track that should've stayed that way. No one will emerge from 'The Turn Up' swayed in any direction.

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