Friday, November 17, 2017

Review Round-Up

Welcome to this week's Review Round-Up. Three projects which include a rousing comeback from a former meme rapper destined for irrelevance, an EP from a Noise Pop outfit who still has no idea what they're doing, and another EP from a promising newcomer in the alternative House scene

Yung Lean | Stranger
Cloud Rap | Listen

Last year, Yung Lean was all but written off as a stylist for the new influx of Hip-Hop emcees with his poor attempt at amalgamating a bevy of trendy sub-genres on Warlord. That album's implied declaration was that Lean, the meme rapper known for associating with the Vaporwave a e s t h e t i c, was nothing more than a two-hit wonder. Previously, it was 'Kyoto,' but Warlord's stunning lead single 'Hoover' proved there was more left in the tank. Unfortunately, not enough to get the LP from stalling out rather abruptly. By all accounts, Stranger wasn't on mine, or many non-Sad Boys fanatics' radar. Right now, I couldn't even tell you what Stranger's lead single was. And what's a Lean project without that one tremendous cut that has fans flocking for the hype? Turns out, a pretty damn good one. Without unreachably high standards brought on by a spark, or, more significantly, without caring desperately for fame beyond cult status, Yung Lean inadvertently crafted his best work yet. It's not exceptional by any stretch of the imagination, as Lean still suffers from the same setbacks that drew thousands to mock him, but the creativity in the production and the disburdening in Lean's voice allow Stranger to flourish where he previously failed.

Even though he switches his style rather precariously, something that doesn't change here, Yung Lean's successes have always been the same. Outstanding production from the Sad Boys crew, namely Yung Gud, that incorporated the cold, harsh winters of Sweden with Americans hazy Cloud Rap or steeled Trap, all while Lean rhymes nonsensical braggadocio through syrupy flows. Stranger alters that formula, minutely, by seceding even further into the icy regions of Scandinavia. The fluttery synths dotting opener 'Muddy Sea' resembles, oddly enough, Bjork's Vespertine era. Tracks like 'Frosti' and 'Aurora' seem to evoke the same winter wonderland, whereas 'Pagan Poetry,' in retrospect, seems like a direct inspiration for the Sad Boys' dreamy experimentation. Huh. 'Muddy Sea' isn't an abnormality either, as Stranger throughout is far more homegrown than any Lean project that came before. 'Metallic Intuition,' 'Hunting My Own Skin,' and 'Iceman' all directly embody that bitter beauty.

It's because of this direct approach at neglecting the overseas influence that causes Stranger's success. There's really only two palpable comparisons, and that would be Post Malone and Lil Yachty. The former can be heard on tracks like 'Red Bottom Sky' and 'Yellowman,' where Lean swallows himself in the sentimental, but wholly slimy, Hip-Hop/R&B pairing Malone granulizes. The latter on autotuned diddy's like 'Push / Lost Weekend' and 'Silver Arrows,' where off-kilter synthesizers take on a bubbly, aquatic sound. But don't get it twisted, Lean's own style prevails, especially towards the latter half of the LP after escaping the grave that was being dug for Stranger with a handful of mediocre middling tracks ('Salute / Pacman,' 'Drop It / Scooter'). The catchy bounce and light-hearted charisma of 'Hunting My Own Skin,' the odd but oddly entrancing tone of the interlude 'Snakeskin / Bullets,' and misshapen love letter of 'Agony' just some of the late standouts. The latter, along with 'Skimask,' represent Stranger's best material. A key distinction to make; they couldn't sound more dissimilar. Meaning Stranger, and Lean, succeed at the various emotional states, whether reckless or recluse, they plunge themselves in.


yaeji | EP2
Art House | Listen

It is about damn time. For too long, the Electronic scene and all of its various incarnations were excessively male-dominated. It was something I noted a few years back, as virtually every artist with 'producer' as their primary calling card was a man. However, thanks to the continuation of progressive movements for women in music, giving themselves a larger voice through brute force, even the most macho of genres have begun to diversify. With this outcome, everyone wins. Recently, acts like Jlin, Kelly Lee Owens, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and now yaeji have used Electronic music, whether it's Footwork, Techno, Ambient, or House, as their primary genre. Even in 2017 alone, this shift has welcomed a fair slice of new perspectives that, because of an elegant feminine touch, wouldn't have existed previously. Take Kelly Lee Owens or The Kid, one teasing Tech House with tender edges and alluring set pieces while the other washed over Neo-Psychedelia with warm, motherly care. With EP2, yaeji's second project of the year, the Queens-born Japanese artist doesn't resort to either of those measures, instead interrupting the House scene with her demandingly dainty presence.

None of this is to say that EP2 is a rousing success. It isn't. yaeji, being young and still shoe-horned into the tumblr schtick, struggles on the project to create interesting commentary with her words, resorting instead to needlessly repetitive loops (like on 'after that') when the ideas run thin. That song in particular is a great learning experience, as the first half is excellent due to some crafty bleeps and bloops, but marred by yaeji monotonously zoning out midway through. The same can be said for 'drink i'm sippin on,' and while not relatable, the lazy singing and lyrics of opener 'feelings change' doesn't bode well for tracks when yaeji intends to be the go-to benefactor. None of this applies to 'raingurl.' EP2's third single soars past any others, jamming itself with everything you could want in a House track. A hypnotic pulse of a beat that captures you in its web, an instantly catchy hook that anyone can latch onto, and interspersed vocals of yaeji seductively tapping around your magnetism. It bears resemblance to many-a Azealia Banks cuts on Broke With Expensive Taste, including the marvelous '212.' That's high praise for a newcomer, and if yaeji can continue in that lane while expanding others, which includes the groovily-polished production of the Drake cover 'passionfruit,' then her future as ambassador for the alternative House scene seems promising.


Sleigh Bells | Kid Kruschev
Noise Pop | Listen

There's few albums in my library as singular as Treats. Unfortunately for Sleigh Bells, and for fans of Sleigh Bells, that applies to their discography too. Nothing since has sounded like it, and with each passing year, the duo of Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller pull further and further away from the ear-shattering shrill that made their debut a landmark for Indie's next phase. Their fanbase has lessened with each passing record too, which, given the begrudging shift towards ill-proportioned ElectroRock, isn't all that surprising. Last year I decided to fully step back into their world on Jessica Rabbit, as an update of sorts to their whereabouts in the music industry. I came out even more confused than my original ignorant state. The music didn't match Krauss' singing, her singing didn't match the music, the music didn't match itself. It was a blunderbuss that, had their past not played a role, I would've pegged as coming from an amateur group demonstrating their tasteless, almost edgy, genre combinations. It wasn't exactly Rock, nor Punk, nor Pop, nor Electronic, nor Indie. It was bits and pieces, shredded fragments, of each, stitched together by fidgeting fingers from a color blind artist.

None of that truly changes with Kid Kruschev, a seven-track EP meant to quell their fading relevancy. But, I will skeptically say it's better than Jessica Rabbit, only for the fact that, for the most part, the scatterbrained ideas stay well contained within their respective songs. Kid Kruschev, as a whole, undeniably struggles to maintain any coherent theme, but on a song-by-song basis muted highlights do stand out. The first of which is the opener 'Blue Trash Mattress Fire,' a track that sonically centers on a rise and fall. The first 90 seconds is composed of silent meandering before leaping headfirst into a dirty barrage of noise, taking me straight back to the Treats era. And while Krauss' vocals are more prevalent here, her lyrics actually entice that debut's aesthetic ("I used to drink gasoline in the morning, and the middle of the day on the trampoline"). Unfortunately, the Treats nostalgia stops there, as the ensuing track 'Favorite Transgressions' finds Sleigh Bells sloppily clashing genres again. Tracks like this, and Kid Kruschev's two worst, 'Show Me The Door' and the unnecessarily sappy 'Florida Thunderstorm,' dart around without purpose or prose, reminding me of the lowbrow stylings of AWOLNATION, but without the sporadic catchiness to boast.


No comments:

Post a Comment