Monday, January 1, 2018

Deep Cuts: December '17

Welcome to the eighth installment of Deep Cuts, a new monthly segment highlighting standout tracks that weren't given a spotlight to blossom. All songs listed below have been released in the month of December on albums where they weren't previously released as a single. The only condition I've imposed upon myself is that no artist can have more than one song. 

Travis Scott & Quavo - Best Man
Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho | Trap

Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho was, by and large, a test of endurance. Who could sustain interest the longest, despite mediocre Trap pouring in? A litany of middling tracks on Travis Scott and Quavo's collaboration project sure did their best to swerve attention, but periodically something of note would enter momentarily. Unfortunately for Huncho Jack, it suffered irreparable damage when 'Modern Slavery,' its second best track, and 'Best Man,' its best, found themselves at polar opposite ends. For me, interest was abandoned long before the closer sauntered around, but 'Best Man' did enough in the time it was given to provide meaning for itself. The tracks before it, the ones that lacked any sort of Trap insight or intrigue? Not so much. But 'Best Man,' and especially Travis Scott's stealing verse that relied on written introspection, one of its kind on Huncho Jack, succeeded by finding the two exploitative emcees reflexing on humbling experiences of their past. In 2017, thoughtful Trap was a total rarity. And while 'Best Man' didn't sway far enough into that territory, held back by Quavo's cultured insistence, it did succeed where everything on Huncho Jack did not. It felt cared for, not abandoned.

King Gizzard - I'm Sleeping In
Gumboot Soup | Psychedelic Rock

Let's all have a round of applause for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. In a music industry dominated by set-backs, delays, and empty promises, their audacious declaration of five albums in 2017 seemed like a far-fetched plea for attention. And yet, in the waning days of December, they pulled through with Gumboot Soup. Sure, it's nothing more than a collection of outtakes from their previous four LP's, but with the quality we've seen them steamrolling, that much can be forgiven. The album is composed primarily of tracks like 'I'm Sleeping In,' ones that adhere to the schtick of the month (in this case, Sketches Of Brunswick East), but weren't cohesive conceptually. Musically, 'I'm Sleeping In' rivals that of Sketches' best tracks, something another Gumboot Soup loosie, 'The Last Oasis,' did as well. On 'I'm Sleeping In' however, the group truly relied on their laurels, intoxicated with the thought of relaxation after the exhaustive Murder Of The Universe. Stu Mackenzie's melodies are delectable, the Western vibe a callback King Gizzard's humble 60's psychedelia roots, and that faint harmonica in the chorus is a thing of beauty.

Miguel - Caramelo Duro
War & Leisure | Contemporary R&B

Miguel's War & Leisure failed to rise to the levels of his 2015 predecessor Wildheart for the simple reason that war and leisure don't mix. One does not come when the other is happening, and that much was evident through Miguel's experiment of creating bedroom ballads for the ongoing crisis' out on the streets. However, his wide range of appeal was still, intermittently, on display. Tracks that didn't try to impel an unnecessarily antagonistic edge, like 'Pineapple Skies' and 'Caramelo Duro,' excelled by virtue of Miguel's own innocence. He may craft lusty R&B for times of intimacy, but that's nothing like drawing bloodshed. War & Leisure's success came when he soared above, and he did just that on the Spanish party anthem 'Caramelo Duro.' Lyrics don't matter, not that a quick translation added anything of value. The inescapable latin flair, enhanced by Kali Uchis' appearance, thrived by being vibrant, honest, and filled with life. It was proof that Miguel hadn't lost his roots, even amidst fame and warfare.

N.E.R.D. - Esp
No One Ever Really Dies | Pop Rap

Any number of No One Ever Really Dies' deep cuts could've theoretically made this list. The grooves were just that consistently good. From 'Deep Down Body Thurst' to 'Rollinem 7's,' 'Kites' to 'Esp,' N.E.R.D.'s return album was littered with memorable moments. How then does 'Esp' rise above the rest, when names like Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A., and Andre 3000 compliment the others so nicely? Simply put, 'Esp's' all-consuming palate just represents the LP better. It has everything N.E.R.D. intended on creating. Indirect political language handed down by Pharrell. Catchy and highly infectious percussion that danced between itself. A myriad of segments attached by a flimsy string. And the unconventional confidence only a group calling themselves N.E.R.D. could muster. There are numerous one-liners that, had it not been for this careless confidence, would've gone over like a lead balloon. I'm talking Pharrell's tacky yelp "weapons of mass destruction," his excessive pitch-shift "the energy baby," the endless "uh huh uh huh," or the haste female insert "humongous culture poachers." These are terribly corny lines made infinitely cool by the cool humans personalizing all over them.

Brockhampton - SISTER / NATION
Saturation III | Experimental Hip-Hop

Say what you will about Merlyn Wood, his annoyance, his lack of poise, his broken verses, there was no better Brockhampton emcee to kickstart 'SISTER / NATION' than the cartoon character himself. His instantaneous hollering, complete with the farty bass, implants such a distinct mood right off the bat that 'SISTER' virtually couldn't fail thereafter. And it sure as hell didn't, eclipsing his mark with such bizarro energy. Short and sweet moments breeze by, whether it's a four-bar verse or a two-bar hook, while giant marks, like Matt Champion's greatest verse yet or the final extended bridge, cause 'SISTER' to be Brockhampton's best all-in-one package (sans 'JUNKY'), and Saturation III's obvious climax. And while 'NATION' doesn't reach the highs of the vigor of 'SISTER,' the mellow grooves and weighty synths help to distinguish each half, complimenting each other in the process. It was the perfect Brockhampton mix; senseless fire and contemplative meditation.

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