Sunday, April 30, 2017

Loosies Of The Week, Apr. 24-30

Welcome to yet another Loosies Of The Week, a wrap-up of this weeks singles, throwaways, leaks, and any other loose tracks I find. Plenty of singles to scavenge through this week, here's the top six I was selectively interested in. 

Shabazz Palaces - Shine A Light

This is the second cycle in a row where I've been genuinely surprised to hear of the announcement of a new Shabazz Palaces record. For some odd reason, 2011's Black Up felt like a one-off album to me, even if there were some preceding EP's already released that I didn't know about at the time. Three years had past and then boom, Lese Majesty out of nowhere. Another three years and the duo of Ismael Butler and Tendai Maraire are back with another strange, Experimental Hip-Hop record centered around some space dude stumbling over humanities inherent problems. Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star will be released in July, and hype is already at an all-time high considering the praise I bestowed upon Lese Majesty, being my second favorite album of 2014, and the praise on Black Up, which is currently in my top ten albums of all-time. 'Shine A Light,' the album's lead single, does exactly what it needed to do to maintain that hype, proving both musically adept and creatively expansive.

I say that not because it sounds like a Shabazz Palaces song; it doesn't. Their weird, eccentric, yet highly enjoyable Hip-Hop style can be traced back to Black Up's days of supremely mastered, carefully produced, and uniquely engrossing production. On the surface, 'Shine A Light' barely qualifies for any of those representations, finding itself both muddled and poorly mastered, repetitive, and regressive in influence. It's the first song, ironically given the album's concept, from Shabazz Palaces that doesn't sound as if it came from space. 'Shine A Light,' with its classic Boom Bap/Jazz Rap undertone, along with a 60's Soul sample lingering throughout, make the single truly earthbound, highly rooted in Hip-Hop's origins. Which could be purposeful given the song's topic of fakes in the industry. Butler's flow in his sole verse is like butter, fitting each word into each space it's allocated to, while Thaddillac's hook, drowned by vocal effects and the sample's crescendo, still feels enjoyable despite the somewhat crowded arena it lives in.

Frank Ocean - Lens

The strange, nonchalant release schedule of Frank Ocean's recent loosies has been a fresh of breath air for the fans who are typically used to his stalwart silence. The pattern emerging, from 'Chanel' to 'Slide' to 'Biking' to 'Slide On Me's remix, makes it seem as if a Blonded radio broadcast without a new Frank Ocean joint feels lackluster. 'Lens' joins that list of singles, apparent material left out in the wake of Blonde and Endless' conceptually-focused projects. As was the case with all the aforementioned tracks, 'Lens' sports an interesting assortment of ideas, but is general enough to be appreciated without the accompaniment of an album. This is new for Frank Ocean and his legion of followers, but he's pulling it off swimmingly. 'Lens' is another strong single from the musician, telling of his credentials when works like these can be tossed aside as secondhand appetizers.

To me, the most engaging element of 'Lens' is its tenuous build-up, something I rarely hear in music now-a-days. In a sense, it's theatrical, as if the instrumentation keeps piling atop one another, clamoring to be included in the penultimate climax. Reading that whilst listening to the first 90 seconds or so of 'Lens' might give off a strange response, considering Ocean bides his time with just some inflected autotune and a warpy piano. Eventually, some textured synths evade the soundscapes, bringing about comparisons to Endless' works. From then on out, minimal adjustments are made to eventually create something large and tactile. The drums, lush and flavorful, the screeching background vocals, and the dripping synths all help to create a swelling atmosphere that really allows 'Lens' to pay itself off in time.

Sufjan Stevens - Mercury

Sufjan Stevens' creativity knows no bounds. With that being said, he's surely made some questionable decisions. A litany, if you will. Despite not being released until June, Planetarium can already go onto that list. I mean, it is an album about each planet and some excess Milky Way notables, after all. Based on what information we've received thus far, it might be his most out-there work yet, fitting considering the topical nature. First we received the concept. Then the laughable lead single 'Saturn,' then the tracklist which prominently features a song called 'Earth' clocking in at 15 minutes, and now 'Mercury,' the project's crestfallen closer. On the whole, nothing is adding up, and that'll either make for an artistically-rich project, or one that dissolves under the weight of its own lunacy.

However, 'Mercury' shifts the tone to the positive side drastically. For fans of Sufjan Stevens', this is essentially porn. 'Saturn' was a mess, one diluted with poor developmental choices like cheap synths and even cheaper autotune, but 'Mercury' is the opposite. Stevens' torn heart, pulled even further apart by the temperamental notes being played, works wonderfully through his lyrics of a companion running off without looking back. Now sure, this has nothing to do with the planet Mercury, but I presume that'll be most of the album. And considering this is the closer, that can be forgiven. What it is is a beautiful epilogue, complete with a flush, natural tone and the most human of sentiments; pain. In some respects, it's a more active Carrie & Lowell, and considering the lack of excitement that LP was filled with was my primary criticism, this is a welcomed shift. Thanks to the three other artists here for engulfing the finale in a whimsical swoon of instrumentation, even if I still don't care to know your names.

We aren't yet out of the woods in regards to SZA's album debacle, but the end may be in sight. Strong emphasis on may. TDE has never been stellar at promoting or properly rolling out their slew of albums, going so far, as in SZA's current case, to replacing her place in the schedule for Kendrick Lamar to drop DAMN., with an equally as goofy lead-up. But now, once again stated by TDE, SZA is next in line. This can be mildly confirmed by the fact that SZA is no co-signed by RCA Records, a legitimate label who wouldn't delay an album just for vanity sake. The wait for CTRL has been long, considering the fact that it's likely been done for months, especially after the promising 'Drew Barrymore' dropped in January. Three and a half months later and it seems the train has started to roll again, with 'Love Galore' acting as the proper lead single.

And why is that? Well, look at who's the guest star. Everyone's favorite mediocre Trap artist Travis Scott. He's a prominent name in the industry right now for building buzz, as his swath of followers eat up anything he releases. Ever since Scott dropped the disappointing Birds In The Trap, his fame has grown incrementally, despite the quality dropping off significantly. Here, once again, he's left me unimpressed, biting Drake's flow and sound for the first half of his verse, mimicking his default tone for the second. As for SZA, there's nothing really of interest to me on 'Love Galore.' It's nice, her sultry vocals still lay into me like a light body falling against my lap, but the romanticism here is purely fabricated. When she slides between the strips of Hip-Hop and R&B influence she has here, SZA becomes vastly more enjoyable, as her unique vocals and flow provides a laid back combo that, for lack of a better word, sounds cool. Production is alright, as is the late track beat switch.

A$AP Mob - Wrong

Well that didn't take long. After the relative success of Cozy Tapes Vol. 1, a volume two is in store, and near completion if indications are correct. Some evidence of that comes in the form of the lead single; 'Wrong.' In an effort to gain traction without doing some formal promotion, 'Wrong' features the two distinct members of the A$AP Mob and no more. Rocky and Ferg come together for a rap duet of sorts over Harry Fraud production. 'Wrong' is a relative change of pace for the East Coast Trap makers, but that's not necessarily a good thing. Beyond the fact that 'Wrong' doesn't excel in any major regard, coming off as a random loosie if you take Cozy Tapes Vol. 2 away from the context, there's some artist comparisons that make 'Wrong' rather regressive. For one, 'Wrong' doesn't sound unlike a brooding Drake cut, as the Mob has finally gotten around to grabbing his influential coattails. And in a similar vein to that, Ferg's first verse bears an uncanny similarity to Young Thug's work, equip with screeching yelps, repetitive ad-libs, and a distinct lack of annunciation.

As for Rocky, he mainly keeps himself contained with the hook, one of which doesn't have much leverage but still entertains enough to be passable. The short duration of 'Wrong,' barely eclipsing three minutes, helps with this, never overstaying its welcome. As for the topical nature, never one to impress in that regard, the two emcees continue that forgettable streak with another single that doesn't say anything we haven't heard before. I feel that with Rocky and Ferg they've grown accustomed to their vocals and flows being the calling card, whilst knowing the indecipherable direction Hip-Hop's headed in, that lyrics are really but just a nuisance at this point. Find a topic that's relatively relatable to the audience at hand, repeat it a handful of times ("I know it's wrongggg"), rinse and repeat. Nothing groundbreaking here, but 'Wrong' balances that tightrope between forgettable loosie and formidable single enough to hold interest.

Ride - All I Want

The resurgence of aging Shoegaze acts far removed from the spotlight is palpable, what with 2013's MBV and this year's Slowdive and Weather Diaries, two soon-to-be released records from Slowdive and Ride respectively. Its been 22 years since the former's last release, 21 since the latter. What year are we in? Regardless, some well-crafted Shoegaze from the genre's seminal artists can't be a bad thing, especially if the quality we're witnessing holds true. MBV was excellent, the singles from Slowdive have been too, and while Ride's 2017 material hasn't been as sensational as 'Star Roving,' 'Home Is A Feeling' and 'Charm Assault' haven't been slouching. It's the Shoegaze way, the aesthetic is so ingrained in sounds and textures that making a bad record seems to prove difficult. However, with a certain shtick in 'All I Want,' Ride seemed to have tiptoed that line, although I still feel with their latest single that they've fallen on the better half.

That little gimmick can be heard in the track's first few seconds, and selectively from there on out. Cheap vocal cuts like some mid-2000's mainstream Dance or Pop track is the initial feeling I have, but once that infamous wall of sound hits those punctured vocals really fit nicely. More interesting than that though, 'All I Want' is a political track. In response to Theresa May's handling of foreign immigrants, Ride had something to say, and with the genre they've been invested in for three decades, that's quite a unique predicament. Shoegaze almost always resides in the fray, never making any statement that's not directly related to the artistry at hand. Here, Ride directly confronts May's decisions, going so far as to relate them to 1930's Germany, if you can see where that path leads. Now, I won't pretend to know much about British politics, so I don't have a stake or side, but musically 'All I Want' is sound, and the political nature of the track certainly doesn't harm the overall appeal.

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