Monday, April 16, 2018

Loosies Of The Week, Apr. 10-16

Welcome to yet another Loosies Of The Week, a wrap-up of this weeks singles, throwaways, leaks, and any other loose tracks I find. A wide range of genres this week, with a well-rounded level of quality. There's sure to be something you enjoy. 

Jenny Hval - Spells

Minutes into the six-minute epic 'Spells,' I had to catch my breath. That's less due to the fact that Jenny Hval's latest work is one of 2018's best thus far, and more because of the awe-inspiring progression her career has just taken. After the troublesome Blood Bitch, my time with Hval had gone quiet. To the point where, as the dreamy soundscape of 'Spells' slowly emerged, sounding like a combination of Destroyer's 'Suicide Demo For Kara Walker' and Julia Holter's 'Lucette Stranded On The Island,' I had to be re-reminded just where Hval was two years ago. Much like Holter, she was an experimentalist progressing eagerly into gorgeous Pop territory. 'Spells' sees that come to fruition. And with a career of highlights, this immediately stands out as the best. Hypnotic percussion moves fluidly under Hval's divine vocals, intwining with a parabolic slew of instrumentation, spearheaded by a swooning saxophone. The peak of 'Spells' comes during the chorus, one that shows off Hval's true prowess with a microphone. In some way, these moments sound like an reimagined and reinvigorated version of Beach House's Teen Dream, with Hval playing the role of transcendental Victoria LeGrand. Fitting then that 'Spells' combination for song of the year is Beach House's own 'Dive.'

Azealia Banks - Anna Wintour

Ah, Azealia Banks. One of the few artists who, when it comes to mainstream audiences, is known more for her antics and controversial opinions than the quality of her music. However, looking beyond such absurdities - which, I admit, can be difficult to do - one can find a prominent leader in the current Hip House movement whose talents, as a singer, rapper, and personality, can't be denied. 'Anna Wintour' is yet another example of this, as the pure club anthem instantly evokes R&B's late 80's, early 90's vogue era, where experiencing the neon-lit nightlife was all the rage. Overlapping percussion that thrusts and repeats like many early Rave tracks dominates the production, with Banks' vocal-shifting giving life to what's otherwise a nocturnal and utterly repetitive beat. Her versatility comes out in full force with 'Anna Wintour,' as her casual Contemporary R&B singing brings about comparisons to the New Jack Swing of En Vogue, Paula Abdul, or even Bell Biv Devoe, whereas her rapping matches the intricate flowing of Vince Staples. Connecting these sections is a party-rocking bridge that finds Banks searing her vocals to shreds, lending off absurd levels of energy to match the crowd-pleasing vibe she constructs. An all-around enjoyable track that continues to find Banks in a league of her own.

Kamasi Washington's follow-up to 2015's The Epic has been announced, and trepidation has already set in. Considering that album's notoriety, acclaim, and tendency to be labeled "every non-Jazz fan's favorite Jazz album," it only made sense from a marketing standpoint for Washington to repeat what worked. Heaven & Earth is a double album filled with rousing, ten-minute Spiritual Jazz sagas. After the two lead singles released, it was clear we weren't getting much progression from Washington. Both 'Fists Of Fury' and 'The Space Travelers Lullaby' showcase his two prominent facets; the euphoric, big band chorale, and the meandering, metaphysical discharge. Given the length and inconclusiveness of the latter, The Epic's peaks tended to come from the former; namely 'The Rhythm Changes' and 'Henrietta Our Hero.' If vocals were present, Washington's work tended to have more life, and the same remains true for 'Fists Of Fury.' Through the nine-plus minutes, the kitchen sink of Jazz Fusion is thrown at the wall, with a bevy of shifting instrumentation and vocals, both sung and spoken alike. Political revolution undertones are felt throughout, which'll help the track in the long run. 

As for 'The Space Travelers Lullaby,' not much can be appraised that 'Fists Of Fury' hadn't already accomplish. Of course, as with any Washington work, the soundscape acts as a moving portrait that fills, bellies, and swallows everything caught inside. It has a tangible golden age of film feel, as if it's the mighty soundtrack to a 50's classic. However, it varies limitedly after revving its engine, really only changing tune for a minute-long saxophone solo at the end. Which, honestly, doesn't sound all that inspired. That being said, the dynamics can be riveting and the quality dip is no such thing. For listeners who missed out on The Epic, 'Fists Of Fury' and 'The Space Travelers Lullaby' will sound like the best Jazz in years, perhaps decades. It is, however, awfully similar to Washington's work of three years past.

Nicki Minaj - Barbie Tingz / Chun-Li

Normally I'd pay Nicki Minaj's music no mind. While her flows are often impressive, her paltry and wholly one-dimensional content, surely a side effect of her lust for braggadocios Hip-Hop, offer little in the way of originality. However, both 'Chun-Li' and 'Barbie Tingz' have received attention from the critical crowd, a curious conundrum given Minaj's fading relevance amidst Trap's overwhelming dominance. Perhaps that's the reason for the dual single success though; they're not Trap. On each track, Minaj goes full-blown Hardcore Hip-Hop with filthy language and rhythmic percussion that's offset by some instrumental oddity. 'Chun-Li' in particular has a parched horn that fits the production excellently. Each track is undeniably catchy, with crisp drum kits that make it easy to dance to and hooks that can be remembered with ease. However, Minaj's lyrics still don't impress, even with her antagonistic personality improving the credibility of each track. Memorable one-liners come and go, but the fact still remains that they're all interchangeable and not tied to a single track's concept. 'Chun-Li' edges out 'Barbie Tingz' if we're to pick favorites.

Empress Of - Trust Me Baby / In Dreams

This week may not have been the best for Empress Of to drop two industrial-leaning Art Pop tracks, given the attention-stealing Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks. Add to that 'Trust Me Baby' and 'In Dreams'' half Spanish, half English lyrics not more than a week removed from Kali Uchis' debut Isolation where she touted that same Latin insertion. Last we saw of Empress Of, her infallible Pop sensibilities came out in force with 'Go To Hell,' a sassy Electropop concoction that resembled every high school drama queen's belief system. It was great. And while each of these tracks are a step back, the seamless combination of languages proves an enjoyable, and unique, factor of 'Trust Me Baby' and 'In Dreams.' That being said, the subdued nature of each (in comparison to 'Go To Hell') subdue the ability for Empress Of to stand out amongst the Alternative R&B crowd. If it wasn't for the curious language switching, nothing here would stray from the path of synth-infused R&B. It's not as tasteless as Chvrches' latest singles, but at the same time, fails to include any sort of climatic payoff as each song's three minutes and change come and go without note.

Kid Cudi - The Rage

If you weren't aware, Rampage is a film starring Dwanye "The Rock" Johnson that's based on a 1986, side-scrolling video game wherein the player, a ferocious gorilla, progresses by ransacking a city in all its 8-bit glory. Proving that, yes, Hollywood will turn anything into a movie. 'The Rage,' an original song by Kid Cudi, receives top billing on the movie's soundtrack, a perplexing fact given the song's fluffy self-motivation. While Cudi's rapping ability has seen worse days, it's also seen better, with the rapping setting down a plethora of dull, inspirational quotes riddled with cliches. However, 'The Rage' doesn't reach its tasteless peak until the chorus, where a crude and rushed sample job of the Smashing Pumpkins' 'Bullet With Butterfly Wings' emerges out of seemingly nowhere. Billy Corgan's vocals sound awful mixed with ballad-ready pianos and Cudi's characteristic moaning. From there on out, the quality only lessens with Cudi attempting a scratchy autotune set that further complicates whatever point 'The Rage' was trying to make. I suppose, in that sense, Cudi's contribution to Rampage is equal to that of the movie's artistic value.

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