Friday, October 27, 2017

Review Round-Up

Note: Well, that didn't take long. After my announcement last week, I had planned a Review Round-Up once every two weeks. Yet here we are. I figured, if it's not too much work it's possible every week. Plus, theoretically speaking, would I rather write four reviews in one week or eight in two? Nothing really changes. So enjoy!

Welcome to this week's Review Round-Up. This time around we have four projects taking us from the homes of Indie slackers to the South's subwoofers, a sensual late night to the rough and rugged New York City streets

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile | Lotta Sea Lice
Singer / Songwriter | Listen

Going into Lotta Sea Lice, I knew exactly what to expect. That was, an average album that tried to do nothing more than to be average. Take the two halves, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, apart and the story changes slightly. Barnett surprised many, including myself, with her strong, impressionable debut Sometimes I Sit And Think, an album that gracefully combined her Singer/Songwriter mentality with that of a more modern, Indie Rock approach. Vile, on the other hand, hasn't truly accomplished anything of note, acting as the aged, Folk equivalent of Mac DeMarco, gliding by on life's simplicities one chord and hearty vocal strain at a time. Push the two together, for sake of amicable homeliness, and the result is nine, guitar-based tracks that ooze nonchalant apathy. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, as albums as unconcerned as Lotta Sea Lice help to differentiate those that aim for importance, but Barnett and Vile's continent-bridging unison won't alter, shift, or poke the Indie scene in any meaningful way.

Admittedly so, I wasn't transfixed on Lotta Sea Lice on my first three listens, as I was visually preoccupied playing a video game as the dueling Singer/Songwriter's played on in the background. But in each of those instances, when 'Untogether' softly came to a rest with silence looming afterwards, I was left unphased, unmoved, and uninterested in any of the preceding moments. After listening more intently, I could see why. Nothing piqued my curious ear, apart from the cheesiness of 'Blue Cheese's' silly banter. Every sound, style, structure, fell into line. 'Continental Breakfast,' 'Fear Is Like A Forest,' and 'Untogether' dissolve into triviality, whereas efforts like lead single 'Over Everything' or 'Outta The Woodwork' are saved, temperamentally, by large, boisterous climaxes. They're formulaic by design, but at least add that necessary punch during your midday catnap. Looking back, and through, 'On Script' takes the cake as best track. The disgruntled tones, Grunge-like reverb, and thunderous conclusion cause the Barnett-only cut to act more like a single to her next LP, and less like a deep cut on an album freed of concern. Was 'On Script' worth the effort of bringing Barnett and Vile together for Lotta Sea Lice? No. But it does work as a nice gift for those seeking more than the median.


Wu-Tang | The Saga Continues
East Coast Hip-Hop | Listen

As far as comparisons go, this is better than the Wu-Tang Clan's last project. Rejoice? Not really, considering A Better Tomorrow was one of the more forgettable, dated, hackneyed Hip-Hop albums in recent memory. Squabbles aside, of which there are many, RZA returns here as obligatory leader, a mantle only he holds in high esteem. Considering the depth of the Wu-Tang Clan, and the drama constantly unfolding behind the scenes, expecting the full, nine-rapper ensemble to return would've been foolish. GZA, U-God, and Masta Killa fail to appear, but more noticeably, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, and Cappadonna only appear once. Perhaps as contractual obligation, or the swift shuffling under the rug of tension. There is 'If What You Say Is True,' where GZA, Masta Killa, Cappadonna, and Ol Dirty Bastard appear, but the verses sound like nothing more than old throwaways. So, essentially, The Saga Continues is a collaboration album between RZA, the commander and chief who dips in and out for declarative verses on the state of America, and Mathematics, the group's primary beat-maker post-2000's. Neither are equip to steer the reigns of Hip-Hop away from the trends it's so awfully become accustomed to. The Saga Continues is a post-clash Wu-Tang album through and through, diluted and entirely removed from the genre it helped to promote.

Unlike A Better Tomorrow, where egregious tracks like 'Hold The Heater' and 'Never Let Go,' ran rampant, The Saga Continues' efforts are more grounded, safe, and conventional. The only times they stray, on tracks like 'Why Why Why' and 'My Only One,' are when insipid R&B singers derail the focus with idle fodder. It's at times like these where I'm reminded of Big Boi's grand disappointment earlier in the year with Boomiverse, a record created by an aging rapper trying to stay hip by going through a midlife crisis. When they're not attempting to coalesce with the youth, something they attempt on the hook of 'G'd Up,' or in the process of criticizing them ('Frozen'), Wu-Tang riffles through their 16-bar fascination with sometimes enjoyable, often times not, old man braggadocio. 'Lesson Learn'd' and 'People Say' the best examples of when they succeed, especially in conjunction with Mathematics' well-rounded East Coast Boom Bap. 'Fast & Furious' and 'Pearl Harbor' examples of when they falter, mostly due to a pedestrian hook on the former and a forced pun ("gynecology/gun-ecology") on the latter. Much like their past decade's catalogue, The Saga Continues is ultimately nothing of note. Today, Wu-Tang represents a collective of rappers stuck in their ways, intent on getting a check. Despite how often they tout Hip-Hop, the conventionality Wu-Tang grind through is nothing more than a slap in the face to music as an art form.


dvsn | Morning After
Alternative R&B | Listen

Nothing more than a coincidence, when Kelela's Take Me Apart released my only interpretation of the glorious closer 'Altadena' was that of the morning after. After a long, sweaty night of passionate lovemaking, with beating hearts and rocking beds setting the mood, 'Altadena' counteracted the intensity with the warm, hospitable glow of sunrise; two lovers still intertwined. That conflictingly set dvsn up to expand upon what Morning After means. Unfortunately, expectations weren't met. Within both that impracticable parameter, and the one that was inevitably set following dvsn's mysterious Sept 5th. That lurking and mischievous, yet lush and gleaming debut poised itself as a stalwart Alternative R&B rocker, ripe with a Gospel edge that sent intimate harmonies to the stratosphere. Morning After peels that unique flavor away, resulting in a project that's littered with uneventful fodder and baseline trends. The mystery of dvsn has all but vanished, and why? Because there's nothing remotely cryptic or curious about Morning After.

The writing was on the wall, although I teetered months before accepting it. The four lead singles, which, by the way, appear back-to-back-to-back-to-back on the LP, failed to incite the curiosity, excitement, or greatness needed to gain momentum leading into Morning After. Compare that with Sept 5th, an album's which four greatest songs ('The Line,' 'With Me,' 'Too Deep,' 'Hallucinations') appeared as standalone's beforehand, and it's easy to see, in hindsight, why dvsn's return to the spotlight wouldn't be so bright. For those anticipating more of the glorious, choir-based highs tracks like 'The Line' and 'Too Deep' mounted, prepare to be disappointed. In something that could only be seen as an unnecessary tease, the only moment of prominent Gospel comes in the last thirty seconds of 'Conversations In A Diner.' Which, for those unaware, is the last track. Predictably, that's one of Morning After's brightest spots, and one that actually continues the concept forced by me wherein Kelela's Take Me Apart goes from the bedroom to breakfast, dvsn's Morning After goes from breakfast to lunch.

Excluding the four lead singles, of which I've written write-ups for in various loosies ('Think About Me,' 'Don't Choose,' 'Mood,' 'P.O.V.'), Morning After's deep cuts don't offer much to sway the tide. Apart from sounding more apt on a Drake album, 'Keep Calm' successfully balances the wire between Alternative R&B and Trap. It's a flimsy wire, and one that's built on the backs of a trove of current trend-hoppers, but the slight inclusion of a repeated vocal sample helps to give 'Keep Away' some potency. 'Claim,' while offering nothing unique in terms of production value and straying awfully close to being male chauvinistic, actually sports a credible hook that's both intoxicating and elaborate. Lastly, 'Morning After' stands out for being the only track to do so. Led by an acoustic guitar, claps, and foot-stomping, the title track eagerly prances about with an energy that's not present anywhere else. It works. But not within the context of the album. An album that, apart from the aforementioned tracks, has little of interest for those seeking ingenuity in R&B. 'You Do,' 'Can't Wait,' 'Body Smile' just some songs that'll be lost in the wave of mundanity.


Future & Young Thug | Super Slimey
Trap | Listen

Two years ago, when Trap began its rapid ascent towards dominating not just Hip-Hop, but infesting many associated genres, the freshness of Rap with labyrinthian-like flows and in-your-face hi-hats was an exciting and invigorating next step for Hip-Hop in the mainstream. Unfortunately, it worked. Really, really well. Taking into context our current culture, Trap's bloated dominion may be the most excessive for any genre of music ever. It's inescapable, considering how much artists like Future (Future, Hndrxx) and Young Thug (Beautiful Thugger Girls, Young Martha) release over the course of a year. Quality over quantity is no longer a contentious debate, especially for those two, who denounce releasing good material whilst promoting the importance of brand awareness. If their namesake is in the mouths of social media users, the minds of listeners, they'll maintain relevance. And that's all that matters. That's all Super Slimey is.

It seems as if every run-of-the-mill Trap album has received the same condemnation from me in the past year. 2 Chainz' unanticipated Pretty Girls Like Trap Music excluded. There's no drive left, no incentive to one-up your opponents. On Super Slimey, Future and Young Thug unite for 13 more tracks that'll soon be forgotten in the sea of music consumption. They come and go, formulaic and derivative, offering no alternative ideology to the one that's currently successful. If you're familiar with Future or Young Thug you'll know exactly what to expect. Their flows, one syrupy one screechy, abide to their exact stereotype. Their content, one boaster one slapdash, does the same. The production fairs no better, arriving at the same, conventional conclusion regardless of who's behind the boards. Insincere love ballads like 'Real Love' or 'All Da Smoke' occasionally enter alongside the traditional braggadocio of 'Three' or 'No Cap,' diluting both of their value in the process.

Ultimately, there's very little deemed necessary here. Super Slimey, as an album or, more accurately, a piece of art, seems entirely meaningless. There's nothing offered that hasn't been before, by Trap as a whole or these very rappers. It's hard to see this mixtape as anything but a cash grab selling high on the streaming age. Hearing track after track Future and Young Thug have conceived over the year, it's damn near impossible to picture them actually enjoying the music they're devising. It seems as if 'Killed Before' and 'Group Home' are the only moments that aspire to be something more than pandering drivel. The former, featuring only Young Thug, feels like an outtake to Beautiful Thugger Girls, what with its pseudo-disheartened guitar and Thugger's over-exaggerated falsetto. The latter a fairly focused effort on each rapper's origin story, speaking on behalf of those closest to them. Seek out 2 Chainz' 'Riverdale Rd' or 'Burglar Bars' for better examples of what 'Group Home' aspires to be, because even Super Slimey's best moments are nothing more than mediocre.


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