ON (SANDY) ALEX G’S MYSTICAL LOW-FIDELITY MELODY LAYERING | 2019-09-15

I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. Hailing from the somewhat overcooked and saturated strain of post-2010 homegrown, DYI, Zoomers-appealing bedroom-extraordinaries who conquered much of Bandcamp’s real estate during this past decade, the 26-year old yours truly-namesake arguably still touts his personalised claim to fame as him being the main six-strings architect and arranger behind Frank Ocean‘s summer of 2016 legendary release combo Blonde + Endless. Reverse engineering and unpacking the latter two album’s contents over the past couple years often led me to him, in one way or another. Too bad the many tries and attempts at delving into Alex’s existing discographic repertoire to date pretty much always yielded nothing more than metaphorical cul-de-sacs, with little to nothing in the way of deeper creative connection to be established with his confused, hazy, and spotty musical work including everything up until his 2017 LP Rocket. Yet something inside me kept whispering that there was merit to be rescued somewhere in there.

The above leitmotiv fiercely and completely fell out of the window a few days ago, upon arrival of his latest Domino-issued studio album, House of Sugar. His third on the trailblazing and influential British indie label, the record is a gorgeously hallucinating compilation of layered harmonic sound waves just short of forty minutes in length. It’s by far unlike anything I have engaged with in very, very, long, and I’m not simply referring to the musical realm here. Right off the bat, and throughout its thirteen cuts, House of Sugar’s sonic mantel glues together perfectly woven instrumentations, assembling tenderly infectious motifs, licks, and riffs in both uncomfortable yet stupendously gratifying ways. From the cradle to the grave, this is a map for the lost. Almost too pristinely doctored to still be filed under Alex’s conventional lo-fi musical wheelhouse, the record’s raw and loosely defined contours are perhaps best gripped through a bird’s eye view of the whole, instead of artificial partitioning them across thirteen different chapters. Here, the artistic compromise of track-listing the project into separate songs feels more like a resentful trade necessity, rather than a creative boilerplate to interact with at the songwriting stage. The input might even be lo-fi, but the output is decisively HD.

In an era where former Presidents flex cool Spotify playlists, it should come with no surprise that this thing has no genre. Tracks like “Near“, “Project 2”, and “Sugar” are flat-out indescribable in their spatial-infrastructural depth and variegated melodic density. Yet, their inability to make heads or tails of single components acts as the creative statement’s unequivocal poignant strength, as opposed to it representing a lack of compositional clarity. Throughout House of Sugar, brace yourselves to be stoked head-first with elements ranging from mid-naughties alt-acoustic emo, to experimental lab beats and some of the most enduring Smashing Pumpkins-esque melancholic aesthetic refuges. One might as well throw in peppered nuggets of easy listening IDM, adult alternative radio rock atmospheres, unconventionally paired-up instruments, highly introspective and revealing lyrics, and suddenly one arrives at a place where they could begin to translate this record’s spirit and soul into dried words. Beware, as the act of pressing play on album opener “Walk Away” rapidly decays into a void and senseless protocol, fully overtaken by the full length’s mystical sonic might, one that centrifuges the whole 38 minutes into a unified vortex of light, beauty, and redeeming splendour. It would be easy to imagine House of Sugar as a short movie of sorts, plugging into multimedia sensory experiences exclusively by way of its sounds and aesthetics, an illusory plateau that perfectly comes to mental fruition with each repeated new listen.

I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. This album is fantastic, an interstellar journey venturing into otherworldly sound sensations, allowing one to come out of the other way with their filthy hands cleansed top to bottom. Perhaps leading us to states not too unlike the graciously cathartic ice skater’s depicted on the record’s sleeve, this collection of tracks’ dazed gripping potency places itself as an unquestionable frontrunner for modern day self-serving modularities of escapism. Let us not kid ourselves. There are no lead singles here. No official music videos. Just an enthralling and continuous stream of consciousness music tape supplying seamless stylistic mood transitions between thirteen not-so-distinct acts, all veraciously accompanying personal enlightened ascensions climbing metaphysical stairways to heaven. Come to think of it, this might just be the Bandcamp generation’s Endless.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

Sandy Alex G_House

Advertisements

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER | 2019-08-24

Godspeed to us all, now blessed and adorned with the fifth studio album in less than three calendar years from self-imposed best boy band since One Direction, the all-American BROCKHAMPTON. It should not come as a surprise to any of you at this point that the dozen people-strong Los Angeles-based posse has been responsible for one of the most creative and exciting artistic journey in the past few years, at least as far as the mainstream commercial realm is concerned. After having sandboxed, doctored, and perfected a near-immaculate transcendental rap trilogy debut spree with their experimental Saturation series throughout 2017—mind you, to put this into perspective, that translates into almost 50 new recordings produced and released within less than twelve months—, the hip-hop collective de-briefed and re-grouped for a minute, allowing itself a breather before coming out with the UK-conceived somber-epic iridescence under rebooted identity and spirit last year.

Not only that, but in the midst of two years filled with writing, touring, promo, co-signs, and features, BROCKHAMPTON’s de-facto leader and creative beacon Kevin Abstract even found time to drop a full LP on his own, coming in the shape of the powerful and therapeutic ARIZONA BABY and dating a mere three months prior to this newest full-band one. Kevin Abstract is arguably a good place to start for GINGER, the group’s latest full length outing that just hit the shelves (GINGER is also their second under the imposing RCA/Sony Music-multi-million deal inked off the back of their blistering Saturation campaign). Abstract’s silent leadership and uncompromising holistic creative vision has always been the brightest North Start for the boy band, whether each individual member likes it or not. Granted, individual MCs such as Dom McLennon or producer-rapper JOBA might have grown faster and more intensely than the group’s frontman per sé over the course of their still-infant discography. However, it’s Kevin’s subtle and refined pen-game, coupled with his immense socio-cultural baggage, that has always acted as necessary catalyst for every new BROCKHAMPTON chapter to date.

Be it his unpredictable, versatile, yet outspoken artistic demeanour, his subdued boy band charisma, or simply his heightened vocation for carrying through with his calling, Kevin Abstract and the whole entire BROCKHAMPTON raison d’être are but two sides of the same, shiny coin. Howbeit, perhaps counter-intuitively, his all-encompassing influence and pep-talk energy appears to have taken somewhat of a backseat on GINGER, at least at a surface level. Sure, his inaugural verse on the album’s flagship first lead single, the structure-less and fluid “I BEEN BORN AGAIN” (unveiled on 31st July), weighs much heavier than just a symbolic ribbon-cutting to the new record cycle. Still, already from the following teasers dropped in anticipation to the full release—from the corky and carnivalesque “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT” (7th August) to the sensationally eclectic “BOY BYE“—his presence appears to be more episodic and marginal, albeit intense nonetheless. On the other hand, it’s gifted rapper and lyricist Dom McLennon who actually comes through with some his more convinced, complex, and technical deliveries on all the album singles. Case in point, his flow on “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT”: “I got spirits in my heart that make my mind move like it’s water / Flow into the moment and avoid the melodrama / Gotta breathe for a second, can’t believe anybody still testing / My whole team is a force to be reckoned with / Operating like specialists / One‚ to the two, to the who are you?“.

Rewinding back to track one, the beautiful and enchanting opening acoustic ballad “NO HALO“, revealed a few days before the release of GINGER, enjoys virtually every composing element of BROCKHAMPTON truly come into their own, displaying unprecedented amounts of executional touch, lyrical valence, emotional merit, and idyllic sonic architecture. As a side note, and just to trace it back to Kevin Abstract’s drive again, it would not be too far off to assume that its crushing reverberated tremolo acoustic guitar and general underlying tune sprouted during the leader’s studio writing sessions for his last solo effort (see “Crumble“). This song sees the welcome return of special guests Ryan Beatty—an old acquaintance of the Kevin and the group, as well as a quasi-member of the collective—and 88rising-lendee Deb Never, who provides her angelic pitch to the song’s celestial refrain. Clocking in at about four minutes and a half, this existential serenade undoubtedly represents one of the record’s key and most important moments, incidentally chosen as the curtain opener by the band.

Interestingly enough, and pretty much in accordance to some of the points outed above, GINGER as whole is BROCKHAMPTON’s shortest album to date, both in terms of track listing (twelve cuts) and run time (45 minutes). Unlike all of their previous efforts, there are no real skits or interludes on this thing, either. This LP witnesses the boy band clearly learning how to hone and refine their compositional virtues over time, resorting to more poignant and necessary statements, decluttering much of what would’ve inevitably come along even a mere six months ago. A prime example of this is the Ryan Beatty-assisted “SUGAR” at number two, a bona fide wholesome R&B/pop song in which both Dom McLennon and Matt Champion spit out standout verses, respectively:

I move mountains on my own, don’t need nobody help Change your mind when I change my life, better start believing in myself / And we all out lookin’ for, lookin’ for God so we never see it in ourself / Shit, divine intervention move in stealth“;

Yeah, back on Vincent with the braces on / Used to slide out the back without the neighbors knowin’ / Pose for the picture with the pearly whites / Dead lens zoomin’ in, catching all my strikes“.

Another such moment is found on track number ten “BIG BOY“, a Kevin Abstract and JOBA-dominated feast of dark and grim soundscapes enveloped in show-stopping and radically catchy bars from each of them. The latter has hardly ever sounded so self-assured and convicted, only to be conveying some of his most personal and delicate sentences ever. Yet with all that being said, the one track that has been causing a wealth of commotion around the BROCKHAMPTON community amidst the release frenzy is undoubtedly “DEARLY DEPARTED“. And rightfully so. Part tune where core OG MCs Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, and Dom McLennon reinstate their shared lyrical throne, part liberating and cathartic stream of consciousness aimed at cleansing a filthy yet unequivocal past, the song’s superior larger-than-life production and pristinely lush instrumentation make for a joint that is both powerful and gorgeous to the ears.

The raunchy and industrial “ST PERCY“, as well as piano-confessional curtain closer “VICTOR ROBERTS“, add to the proud list of these next-generation BROCKHAMPTON cuts whose production, songwriting, and delivery shine through in evolved form, and where the messaging is more succinct and to the point, where a certain sense of musical structure prevails over sheer off-the-wall lab experimentation. Notwithstanding this, GINGER is not free of fat that could have been cut or even flat out snoozers. Such are the UK-grime rapper on-the-rise slowthai-guested “HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU“, a track that unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb lending no additional ounce of rhyme nor reason to the overall picture. Meanwhile, the half-baked self-titled joint, drown in pitch distortion and autotune as it is, makes for what sounds like a forgettable and flavourless indie-pop number. Penultimate song “LOVE ME FOR LIFE” can’t really stick its landing either, providing little more than monotone beat and flow on top of a thoroughly off-putting verse from member rapper Merlyn Wood.

All things considered, BROCKHAMPTON’s fifth official body of work is a less catchy, less immediate, and less poppy affair than any of its predecessors. Perhaps it’s because it gestated throughout the course of a critical semi-hiatus during which members broke out and re-settled as separate-joint units. It is also the group’s shortest statement to date, and one that generally is less sticky, out-there and in your face, for better or worse. Yet, with this one, most rappers and producers within the BROCKHAMPTON pantheon truly started to gain both access and dwelling rights to their true elevated creative element, cranking out songs that are amongst the band’s best and most maturely sincere. On here, pure initial traces of timeless boy band-level pop songwriting are also finally starting to emerge, suggesting an overall refinement of their authorship skills now yielding riper, more self-aware, and enduring results. In spite of what anyone else had you believe with their Saturation saga or even iridescence, GINGER is BROCKHAMPTON’s real coming-of-age record.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BROCKHAMPTON

“GINGER”

2018, Question Everything Inc./RCA Records

http://www.brckhmptn.com

BH_Ginger

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): PUDDLE OF MUDD – UH OH | 2019-07-15

I can’t believe no one had written this song yet. Wes didn’t need to go this hard.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

PUDDLE OF MUDD

“WELCOME TO GALVANIA”

2019, Pavement Entertainment

http://puddleofmudd.com

PoD_WelcometoGalvania

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): DOMINIC FIKE – PHONE NUMBERS | 2019-07-07

School, radio shows, TV programmes, and so much more are easily out for summer by now. However, as we all know very well, music and other forms of conspicuous cultural media production and consumption never miss a beat, rising up instead to pull out all the stops in times of abundant times to kill on the part of unaware audiences. New music Fridays know no holidays, if you know what I mean. So needless to say, the initial portion of this year’s warmest season did not go shy in cranking out new creative manufacture to keep us and our moms all entertained. Hence why, this latest ARM instalment found itself forced to come to fruition by way of a hybridised approach, milk-shaking various existing content staples together, such as ARM itself, APIT, and pinches of musical loose odds and ends too.

To cut a long introduction short, despite this very piece being filed under the ever-so-familiar ARM feature section indeed (see above), it actually represents kind of a novelty, an editorial debut of sorts. For the first time after 45 — yes, I counted — individual ARM instalments spread over multiple years, going over either full albums or EPs, this new Dominic Fike short review will instead focus on a single track only. Consider it a precedent, ladies and gentlemen. And, I won’t be afraid to use it in the future. Shocker, I know. Regardless, before we delve into the artistic merits and flaws of this new Kenny Beats-produced song “Phone Numbers“, I just wanted to take this occasion to blatantly implore you, on my bruised knees, to please please give the new Freddie Gibbs & Madlib joint Bandana a listen. Several looped listens, actually. The replay value of this thing is off the charts. Mind you, whether this wholly gratifies you or not, at this point I shall constrain my critical judgement to this tweet alone. Also, if you feel like checking out season three of Stranger Things, which just dropped mere days ago, go ahead and do that too. It’s a hectic and layered third set of episodes. That Bandana album though.

At this point you might have heard or read about 23-year old Florida-born rapper Dominic Fike in-between the lines of previous pieces on this online real estate property, or anywhere else on the Interweb for that matter. However, generally speaking, little is still to be encountered about the somehow elusive rapper/singer-songwriter, who’s already managed to squeeze jail time, drug abuse, a dysfunctional family background, and a multi-million bidding war among major labels under his existential belt. His indie rock-flirting debut project Don’t Forget About Me, Demos — a swirling and hooky 6-track EP that received the re-mastering/re-releasing treatment with Sony Music/Columbia Records shortly after they successfully courted him — is in fact the sole official trace of a music industry pedigree of sorts for the Naples-native, virtually shelved on streaming services alongside a few standalone singles that started to emerge since the month of June this year. That’s where things start to get interesting for us.

First, on the 7th day of said month, it was the hollow, pensive, and sullen “Açaí Bowl“, a slightly distorted autotune crooner aided by gentle guitar arpeggio fingering, navigating through evidently sensual chanted melodies (“She said ‘I dressed in your favorite / I bought two bottles of red / Unless you made reservations / Oh look, you thought all ahead'”) as well as concrete MC-like rap bars (“And when they locked me up, she never listened to her friend / They told her “move on” movin’ on (Mhm) / And now she tells that same bitch ”My shoes Prada / My boo bought ’em, I do love him‘”). Revealed on the same day, side-B to said single was the lo-fi neo-soul number “Rollerblades“, a 2-minute and change fuzzy, laid-back deconstruction of R&B sounds and aesthetics that wouldn’t have been out of place on Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Or actually maybe on its cutting room floor.

This takes us to a few days ago, Friday 5th July, when the BROCKHAMPTON-affiliate saw fit to unveil his third single in the now full-throttling series. The fun and groovy tongue-in-cheek reprimand “Phone Numbers”, which he seems to have confirmed serves as yet another taster in anticipation to his still unannounced debut full-length effort later in the year, sports a borderline tropical-dancehall vibe, embodying a 4/4 slapping beat and what sounds like a zany ukulele strumming moulding the main melodic lane throughout: “Why you not here with me? / Can you break bread with me? / Why you switch phone numbers like clothes? / Why you can’t answer me? (Yeah) / ‘Cause I got more coming“. While not the longest in runtime,  this one definitely feels like the more structured and robust verse-chorus-verse-bridge boilerplate out of all the standalone tunes dropped hitherto, thanks arguably to super mega trendy producer royalty Kenny Beats doctoring the sound architecture on here.

As a follow up to these one-offs, it now seems more than legit to expect a fuller, more cohesive body of work sooner rather than later from the “3 Nights“-sensation, not least judging by the amount of unofficial and unreleased material that appears to be making waves around the web, including the raunchier underground gansgta hip-hop brand he started off in Florida with before moving off to shinier pastures new in Los Angeles. Also, if the stripped down Rain of Shine — the recent stream-of-consciousness impromptu Paris livestream he uploaded to his YouTube channel — is of any indication, then it’s signalling a clear pivoting towards beginning to re-populate the artist’s digital footprint with careful content pills apt to his new redux-ed persona.

Don’t get me wrong here, in spite of the slightly underwhelming and unfinished state of the material we got our hands on so far, we are indeed dealing with a raw and unrefined piece of artistic talent, capable of mastering a wide range of genres, instruments, and vocal interpretations dutifully puzzle-pieced together in service of clear pop sensibilities. After all, record labels might be cringeworthy and shallow, but they’re not stupid. With that being said, pretty much every element of his musical production is still quite all over the place, from his songwriting to even the slightest notion of a coherent sound apparatus. Yet, the various scatter-plotted pieces of gifted evidence we’ve gotten so far echo more and more promising by the drop. Furthermore, let us not forget the qualitative heights he managed to achieve for what he provided on BROCKHAMPTON’s leader Kevin Abstract recent ARIZONA BABY, a project on which he outshone any other collaborator. Come to think of it, we might indeed be witnessing the gradual unravelling of a caterpillar becoming butterfly just before our very eyes.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

DOMINIC FIKE

“PHONE NUMBERS”

2019, Columbia Records

https://dominicfike.com

DominicFike_Phone#

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WESTERN STARS | 2019-06-15

How often can one stand the utmost tasty chance to review a fresh collection of original music by The Boss himself? Certainly not too frequently during the course of this past decade, within which — for better or worse — Springsteen fans have been forced to confine their new found comfort and abundance to a mere three studio LPs following 2009’s lukewarm Working on a Dream. Also, strictly speaking, for how beautiful, generous, and fulfilling his 2014 album High Hopes was, it ought perhaps not be truly considered as one, given that it encompassed twelve miscellaneous numbers based upon cover songs, out-takes, and re-imagined versions of tracks from previous projects, EPs and tours. So, needless to say, the arrival of his nineteenth (!) studio record, including nothing but brand new material for the first time in almost five years, kind of sent arousal shivers down yours truly’s musical spine. Bruce Springsteen‘s new project is titled Western Stars and came out worldwide yesterday Friday 14th June on Columbia Records, proudly sporting thirteen new cuts clocking it at just over fifty minutes and change of runtime.

Somehow, a part of me is tickled by a form of redemptive urge to begging your pardon, esteemed readers, as we jointly wonder how on earth could one be possibly in a position to critically appraise and dissect a body of work that came out 24 hours prior to said critique, let alone by an artist as mystical, deep, and timeless as Springsteen? Yet, the album really is that good, ladies and gentlemen, that I am left with no other choice but throttling away at full speed aiming at shepherding your present, past, and future listening experiences of magnetic Western Stars. Mind you, this thing is predominantly a melodic unplugged affair, borrowing compositionally as much from Nebraska (1982) as from Tunnel of Love (1987), throwing in Bruce’s evergreen and universal reliability plus, evidently, more than a few residuals from his recent years spent looking back at his youth in memoir-mode as well as holding Broadway residencies with plenty of acoustic guitars.

Right off the bat with album opener “Hitch Hikin‘” — a stranded, heartfelt, and liberating lullaby led and wrapped by guitars and strings only — we get a clear no-frills sense of where Bruce is headed with this, fully delivering on his pre-announced promise to explore stories and topics that “encompass a sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.” The unique blend of hopeless melancholy mixed with unconcerned limitlessness conveyed by this tune is straight up lifted from his bona fide Springsteen playbook material: “I’m hitch hikin’ all day long / Got what I can carry and my song / I’m a rolling stone just rolling on / Catch me now ’cause tomorrow, I’ll be gone“. Once again, I’m the definition of a broken record here but I’m just so pleased and gratified anytime I stumble across albums that waste no time fumbling around and hit up listeners with their highest moments right from the top, even better so if directly with the opening track. Western Stars is in my opinion one such record. So, if you are to only listen to one song off this LP, please I implore you make it this one. It comes in handy as it’s the first thing you hear by pressing play on the record.

Now, I’m not insinuating that “Hitch Hikin'” is hands down and indisputably the best cut on here, as one could confidently say that Bruce has spoilt us by choice with this new outing. That accolade should probably be bestowed upon the album’s title track at number four, which alongside the groovy and deliciously lush “The Wayfarer”, and the LP’s third single “Tucson Train” (dropped on May 30th), make for one of the most solid, coherent, and convincing first album acts of 2019. “Western Stars” actually moonlights as the official fourth single for the eponymous full-length (out on release date) and is attached to a stupendously shot and intricate music video; with that being said, the creative and business rationale behind it not being the actual first lead track for its is beyond my comprehension. The tune is a tormented, deep, yet hopeful exploration of what it feels like to be entangled and checkmate-d by Southern California fame, while at the same time running on an extremely relatable mundane mantel made of blessings and curses each one of us goes through in life. Bruce here needs nothing more than his inspired pen, a warm acoustic guitar, and a gelling rhythm section to remind everyone who the real American storyteller for the people is.

Fifth on the tracklist “Sleepy Joe’s Café” brings a fun and welcome change of pace to the overall introspective and mainly somber aesthetic that kicked off the album, leveraging typical country and Western sonic elements to make for an uplifting break. The track is followed by another highlight in the shape of the haunted “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)“, showcasing a beguiling sobbing piano and a gentle guitar that would’ve perfectly fit on any of his 80s records, while the main character is presented the check for the carefreeness and rebellion of his juvenile days: “At nineteen, I was the king of the dirt down at the Remington draw / I liked the pedal and I didn’t mind the wall / ‘Midst the roar of the metal I never heard a sound / I was looking for anything, any kind of drug to lift me up off this ground“. In a similar vein, banjo-led “Chasin’ Wild Horses” navigates through past acceptance and regret, as it spearheads what is perhaps the weakest section on the record, additionally comprising the somewhat dull and sanitised ‘full-band rock song’ “Sundown” and the unplugged filler “Somewhere North of Nashville”.

The stunning orchestral “Stones” at number ten reprises the glorious and spotless songwriting leitmotiv found in Western Stars’ first portion, making way for a compelling and terrific duo of tracks where each doubled as promotional single in anticipation to the full album release. “There Goes My Miracle” successfully displays a best-of of some of Springsteen’s more modern sounds, very much at show on his noughties records The Rising (2002) and Magic (2007), while also providing for one of the catchiest — albeit lyrically bittersweet — hooks on the whole project. Meanwhile, the sweet and enchanting stripped down marching ballad “Hello Sunshine” is a country-folk gem sounding instantly like a Bruce classic, including his unique authorship trademark, blending universal sadness with the elevating power that comes with its embodiment: “You know I always loved a lonely town / Those empty streets, no one around / You fall in love with lonely, you end up that way / Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?“.

I don’t think anybody would’ve argued against having the latter track as the album’s epilogue, although the gorgeous cradling fairytale “Moonlight Motel“, aided by its unassuming embracing backdrop section and the inherent sunsetting nod included in its name, probably make for an even better curtain closer. All things considered, this thing is a near flawless depiction of enduring modern American songwriting, one where Bruce decidedly pulled out all the stops for the first time in a few decades — ironically by reverting back to just his acoustic six-strings. At a time when contemporary mainstream music — regardless of genre, but especially so for rock and roll — is being exposed as having a fundamental identity crisis, resorting more often than not to “everything but the kitchen sink”-formulas and algorithmic co-signs, embellished by branded deals, it’s so stupendously reassuring and refreshing to come across simplistic yet effective works of art such as Western Stars, utilising so little instrumentation but so much heart and emotion. If the price to pay for these types of flags in the desert sand, guiding us musically by way of spiritual reference points, is another five years of waiting, we’ll happily take it.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

“WESTERN STARS”

2019, Columbia Records

https://brucespringsteen.net

BruceSpringsteen_WS

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): TYLER, THE CREATOR – IGOR | 2019-05-26

Provocateur. Jackass. Instigator. Fashion designer. Clown. Cockroach-eater. Enfant terrible. Cheese Danishes lover. Homophobic. Lead odd futurist. Artiste. Prodigal son. Wolf Haley. Misogynist. Influencer. DJ Stank Daddy. Bastard. (Scum fuck) Flower boy. Garçon. Mr Lonely. Gimmick. Fraud. UK and Australia land limits outlaw. Auteur. Punk. Eastern European name adorer. IGOR.

The above are but a filtered bunch of the somewhat one-dimensional and reductive tags Mr Tyler Gregory Okonma, aka Tyler, The Creator, has been subject to pigeonholing with during his career as a solo artist and beyond. The 28-year old Ladera Heights-native rapper, singer-songwriter, and producer has been witnessing nothing short of a stunning chameleonic trajectory as it pertains to both his personal and artistic identity refinement, roughly chaptered alongside a before-and-after moment on this timeline, captured by his tenure at his now defunct trailblazing rap collective Odd Future. Post-OF Tyler, The Creator has then seen his creative itinerary alight at five distinct full LPs preceding his last, IGOR, pivoting and peaking at superiorly lavish Flower Boy station two years ago, an album that still haunts yours truly in the shape of a sacrilege for not having seized the occasion to fully unpack it and review when it came out.

However, pretty much all of the compartmentalising labels and tags thrown at him by both click-bait tabloid and woke media left and right, seem to miss the fact that Tyler is, actually, a fairly old-fashioned and nostalgic twenty-something post-Napster millennial, as much indebted to Roy Ayers and Pharrell Williams as to UK’s own Doves and Nigerian punk-rock. One only needs to pay a tad closer attention than the average to discover how the influential Los Angeleno MC’s cognitive scheme works by employment of rather old-school, anachronistic, and analogue architectures of thinking. Case in point; he still refers to his songs — or any song, really — by calling them by their track listing position, instead of their actual title, denoting a clear reliance on the album as a format and thought processing lens when it comes to music. Or, as a further supporting exhibit, just turn to the prevalent apparel leitmotiv expressed through his clothing brand GOLF, notably inspired by dated run-of-the-mill retro-outfits sported by “old dudes”, in his own words.

Considering the above melting potato salad of misconception, surface-level-judging, creative evolution, latent missteps, and uninhibited self-expression peppered throughout Tyler, The Creator’s multi-artistic career to date, the rather sudden arrival of his sixth studio project IGOR on Friday 17th May was arguably destined by design to be met with a combo of curiosity and excitement. Tyler’s camp managed to squeeze the entirety of the album’s promo and anticipation within two weeks and change, as the rapper’s social media accounts began teasing sonic sneak peaks of less then a minute in length, kicking off with scene-setting “IGOR’S THEME” on 1st May, delivering an hypnotic distorted synth attack chased chronologically by an edgy drum kit, additional layered keys, and the start of a refrain. Similarly formatted snippet clips followed in quick succession, first with the eerie and foreboding lo-fi of “WHAT’S GOOD“, then taking a left spin with the tasty and warm soul of “A BOY IS A GUN“, only to retract to another U-turn with the subsequent “NEW MAGIC WAND” teaser, another big, heavy, violent beat gelled together by a pitch-shifted spine and its quasi-industrial feel.

Unsurprisingly, as we’re dealing with Tyler — and in pure harmonic alignment with the nostalgia claims above —,  IGOR’s tasters ought not be considered as singles to the record in any way, shape, or form. While the former Odd Future honcho did in fact drop a full music video for his schmaltzy, sugary, and delicious tune “EARFQUAKE” on album release day — very much in the spirit of a lead flagship track statement for the whole record — he actually saw fit to publish so-called listening instructions for fans to heighten their proper engagement with the record as Tyler meant it to be. These include memos reminding listeners that “This is not Bastard. This is not Goblin. This is not Wolf. This is not Cherry Bomb. This is not Flower Boy. This is IGOR. Pronounced EEE-GORE.” and, most crucially, crossing Ts and dotting Is around pre-conceptions: “Dont (sic) go into this expecting a rap album. Dont (sic) go into this expecting any album. Just go, jump into it“.

Thus, in his defence, we can’t say we weren’t warned. And oh (flower) boy were those instructions predictively on point. This thing is as much a fuzzy R&B/funk soufflé as it rocks an abstract hip-hop flair, only if it were almost exclusively inspired by low-fidelity Neo-soul crooner-ish songwriting. I haven’t actually measured it so don’t quote me on that, but it’s probably safe to say that true blue MC bars don’t make up even half of IGOR’s total runtime of just about 40 minutes. Now, if Flower Boy were to be employed as some kind of MO trend indication in this sense, this shouldn’t struck as an inconceivable surprise. Notwithstanding this, IGOR isn’t simply a natural and evolutionary step forward in Tyler’s production, arrangement, and songwriting patterning. It’s more like a transverse 180· reboot, milk-shaking much of what he’s been (here’s looking at you, Wolf and Cherry Bomb), mixed with the holistically creative vision behind Flower Boy on steroids, and just a sea of pitch shifting effects. More than any of its predecessors, IGOR is a Tyler, The Creator statement of identity, intent, and emotion.

Counterintuitively, the project is in fact a mighty who’s-who concerto of features, collabs, and co-signs, yet its album art sleeve is here to heartily remind everyone that everything was written, arranged, and produced by the Tyler himself. Playboi Carti (“EARFQUAKE”), Lil Uzi Vert (“IGOR’S THEME”), Solange (“I THINK”, “A BOY IS A GUN”, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”), Kanye West (“PUPPET”), Jerrod Carmichael (interludes MC and wisdom spreading impresario), Santigold (“NEW MAGIC WAND”, “PUPPET”), La Roux (“GONE, GONE/THANK YOU”), CeeLo Green (“GONE, GONE/THANK YOU”), Charlie Wilson (“EARFQUAKE”, “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE”), Slowthai (“WHAT’S GOOD”), and Pharrell (“ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?”) are only a selected few among the helping hands Tyler reached out to for the execution of the project, however no single one was deemed deserving and functional enough for an actual track-level display credit in the eyes of our favourite garçon.

Following a line of thinking warranting a full and overarching body of work appraisal, rather than a track-by-track surgical dissection of its fragmental building blocks, IGOR comes across as a bona fide example of an artistic whole being so much more than the mere sum of its compositional parts. It’s no coincidence Tyler or anyone at Columbia Records didn’t feel like spraying outward a single cut months ahead of the full LP release to entice the audience while at the same time canvassing a fairly representative sonic picture of what the full collection of songs was going to be. That would’ve in fact been a fool’s errand, whether we or Tyler like it or not. For one, perhaps paradoxically, no single track is in fact strong enough to exist autonomously and self-referentially (although the serene, catchy, and come-undone-revealing “RUNNING OUT OF TIME” comes close to that), a notion that with 20/20 hindsight was predictably anticipated by Tyler’s out-of-the-box instructions for use above. Furthermore, on a more mixing/production level of analysis, virtually all track transitions are established by continuous fade in-and-outs, doctoring a unique and uninterrupted listening experience from beginning to end.

What’s more, and quite in juxtaposition to the self-indulgent mission statement of the record, on IGOR Tyler is seen wearing many of his most explicit artistic influences proudly and confidently on his sleeves, to an extent where at times one couldn’t be condemned for thinking that this project was more of a compilation joint, rather than a concept art piece where the source artist acts as the be-all and end-all of its full craftsmanship. Note how his somewhat unrequited love for R&B/Soul blossoms on songs such as the aforementioned “EARFQUAKE”, the confessional and loaded “A BOY IS A GUN”, and perhaps most predominantly on the inquisitive and climaxing album closer “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?“. Kanye West, on his part, shows up both on wax (on vulnerably desperate number “PUPPET”) and as a conceptual reference point: indie-garage derivative track number three “I THINK“s main melodic chords progression sounds just like a “Stronger” cutting-room floor residual demo from 2007. Plus, lest we forget, this whole entire thing has got Pharrell Williams written all over it.

Lyrically, IGOR is recounting a tale arc made of romanticism, love, attraction, rejection, confidence, insecurity, resentment, identity, and acceptance, although it’s extremely hard to put one’s finger on what cut exactly expresses what feeling. Almost as if by careful engineering intent, it’s only with the full twelve tracks under one’s belt and inside one’s brain that the listener can begin to make heads or tails of the bird’s eye view narrative carved into this project’s ethos. When thinking back at specific emotions or cognitive landscapes perceived while sucking up its content, it’s rare that a single song off IGOR is truly capable of doing full justice to the specific feeling conveyed. There is almost a sense of performative uncertainty — or perhaps hesitation — to the scatterbrained itemised musical brushes encapsulated in the twelve distinct-yet-unified vectors that make up IGOR. This might support the evidence around the lack of a real lead single, or even a typical radio-friendly verse-chorus-bride songwriting structure. Instead, in order to funnel a kaleidoscopic, heterogeneous, and contradictory story, with IGOR Tyler was forced to resort back to the comfort of his artistic cognitive infrastructure more than ever, counting on only those few reference points he’s always been faithful to (hence why track number ten “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU” still has a two-songs-for-one structure, as with all his previous full-lengths).

It’s probably still too soon — or actually too late — to measure the impact of single tracks over the full body of work under scrutiny here, as it would admittedly and arguably be an exercise dead on arrival. The risk of not seeing the forest for the trees would be too high. But also, there is a suspicion lurking that Tyler knew it all along. That is, in the above mentioned listening instructions, he also writes: “As much as I would like to paint a picture and tell you my favourite moments, I would rather you form your own“. What better way to spill the beans upfront, revealing that there are in fact no such individual favourite moments, for this project is strictly meant to be digested as a whole unified and interoperable hodgepodge?

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

TYLER, THE CREATOR

“IGOR”

2019, Columbia Records

https://www.golfwang.com

tyler-the-creator-igor-1250x1200

TTC_IGOR2

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): KEVIN ABSTRACT – ARIZONA BABY | 2019-04-27

Feed me anything stemming from the BROCKHAMPTON universe and I shall gravitate towards it like ducks to water. This predicament has held true pretty much ever since the Texan boy band stormed onto the global music scene in 2017 and began turning a lot of incredulous heads as it went on to release its magnum opus Saturation trilogy within the span of a little more than six months. The fact that this latest project baked out of the hip-hop collective’s factory is earmarked by its founder and leader Kevin Abstract does nothing but add substance and critical mass of intrigue to the whole shebang. This is partly because noblesse oblige, but arguably more so due to the rapper/singer-songwriter having had to deal with a past twelve calendar months full of exterior dismissals, periods of self-doubt, and indirect solitary confinement while the boy band fulfilled the cumbersome release cycle around their ambitious fourth studio effort iridescence. For those of you not in the know, let’s just say that Kevin’s contribution to BROCKHAMPTON as of late wasn’t exactly a spotless and wholesome embrace on the part of audience and critics, with the advancement of more or less aggravating accusations ranging from him having lost any faculty of adding real value to the group’s new music to head-on reprimands of acting as entitled prima donna choosing deliberately to dim away from the creative limelight of the artistic project.

Needless to say, Mr Abstract must have had more than a few things to get off his chest. Acting as the group’s prodigal son — and by unfortunate curse of it, its scapegoat — while at the same time elbowing its way to cut through the cultural discourse of a more often than not bigot and retrograde society as a young black queer millennial can’t ever be understated.  However, the above are not the only reasons worth justifying a fiery engagement by way of heightened enthusiasm with Kevin’s latest third studio LP ARIZONA BABY. For one, his last solo project American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story (2016) proved to be a sensationally pretty and beautifully crafted body of work, all the while carrying enhanced lyrical and thematic value captured with a maturity certainly not evident for someone who had barely turned twenty years of age. So, after the exploit of a lifetime experienced on the BROCKHAMPTON trajectory, including a groundbreaking major label deal with RCA Records earlier last year, an inevitable soaring curiosity ensued to accompany the anticipation around his follow-up. Thankfully, Kevin did not disappoint. For starters, it’s not like the Texas-native and autotune-aficionado ever even properly announced the arrival of ARIZONA BABY, rather opting for semi-official hints of random album art renditions, scattered spring dates, and improbable Lana Del Rey shoutouts.

Let us try and make some order of the unfolding of events here. Firstly, it wasn’t until the 8th April that we got unequivocal indications pointing at new music from the MC, as Kevin dropped a music video for what turned out to be the first taster ‘single’ off the new project, coming in the form of an anxious and grinding minute-and-half Outkast-inspired bouncer called “Big Wheels“. Then, a few days later on 11th April, the BROCKHAMPTON crooner saw fit to drop a three-track single format pretty much without evidentiary explanation, simply dubbed ARIZONA baby. The bundle included the aforementioned lead cut, the lavishly carnivalesque “Joy Ride“, and the tear-inducing singalong stunner “Georgia” (whose sticky and sappy refrain “I got Georgia on my mind, ain’t nobody left behind / It’s just me, my team, my weed, my baby’s Audi parked outside / Call my mom and let her know that everything is alright” will live on for years on end already sounding like a classic). A mere week after that, it was time for Ghettobaby the EP, featuring all three above mentioned records with the same track listing order and the addition of three more. His native Texas hometown namesake “Corpus Christi” at number four is a stripped down palm-muted guitar-led intimate reflection on his past, while the Ryan Beatty-assisted “Baby Boy” stands hands down as one of the high points on the whole project, more so than the confusingly dull hodgepodge “Mississippi” that rounds up the EP. On “Baby Boy”, everything from its groovy and rhythmic verse laments to the irresistibly enchanting chorus as well as the clever instrumentation choice (incl. climaxing larger-than-life synths and warm sax lines) make for one of Kevin’s most well-rounded and wholesome tracks to date.

So at this point we were serviced with a pseudo-single with three loosely collated cuts and an accompanying EP sporting said three songs and a bunch more. Meanwhile, to many’s relief and excitement, the Los Angeles-based MC started dropping hints that what we were bearing witness to was in fact a gradually phased roll out for what was in fact his complete third studio full-length ARIZONA BABY (flashbacks to Denzel, anyone?). And then, fiercely defying industry release protocol norms, on Thursday 25th April the LP eventually saw the light of day, revealing a 11-strong tracklist — including all six previously unveiled cuts, shockingly — and supplying a little more than half-hour runtime of material. Moreover, on release day, the Abstract camp unleashed a brand new lead single and associated music video for “Peach“, at number eight on the tracklist. The joint is a gentle reverb-soaked acoustic tale of empowering self-discovery (“I ain’t sign up for no bullshit / I told my baby that I’m bulletproof / Mans made me take two sips / All things I couldn’t do“), and the video sees Kevin teaming up with not only most of the BROCKHAMPTON crew, but also introducing the raw up-and-coming performing talent of Florida singer Dominic Fike to the large rap collective’s audience. On here Dominic is in charge of lending the song’s chorus a lovely and delicious motif that is surely going to gratify numerous fireside chants this coming summer (“I’ll be your baby doll and your bodyguard if you tell me to / I’ll try to make it all not as hard if you let me through“).

Now, after having sat with the full collection of songs for a while, let me say this whole thing comes across as an extremely versatile and layered concept, one that I can already predict will hold a wealth of replay value and unpacking carved into its DNA. On the one hand, this record displays Kevin’s pristine pop sensibilities like no other before, presenting some of the catchiest and strongest tunes he’s ever written. On the other hand,  too often one finds themselves wondering how on earth to make heads or tails for many of the songs, with power-pop super producer Jack Antonoff (of Bleachers fame) and BROCKHAMPTON’s very own Romil Hemnani’s mixing and sound architecture shamefully overwhelming the listener into self-indulgence. Unfortunately, some of the tune’s intentions fail to stick their landing, too. Take for instance track number seven “Use Me”, an effective gospel-channelling joint at first, only to transmute into a wishy-washy melting pot of doctored sounds that serve no real purpose other than withdrawing the track’s sense of direction from its promising start. Similarly, the ninth song on here “American Problem”, notwithstanding its personal, praiseworthy, and noble thematic commitment, drowns figuratively in auto-tuned pitch-manipulation leaving a lot to be desired on many fronts, though mainly compositionally and delivery-wise.

While ARIZONA BABY swaggerish curtain caller “Boyer” funnels pound for pound the BROCKHAMPTON’s Saturation era aesthetics playbook — with its quirky beat and frenetically glitchy flow — it’s moments like penultimate track “Crumble” that both elevate the full body of work on show here to heightened artistic horizons, and act as reminder that crafting potent emotional gems leveraging gnarly genre experimentation is precisely Kevin Abstract’s wheelhouse. This song has everything we’ve come to love about his raw and honest songwriting brilliancy, coupled with ingenious authoring design, pulling collabs and co-signs straight to wax from all heavyweights involved with this record. Case in point, Dominic Fike’s once again infectiously harmonious licks early on in the track, Jack Antonoff’s distantly spacious so-called ‘chorus’, and Ryan Beatty’s subtle second-voice additions to the bridge. Although it’s arguably the shaky reverberated acoustic guitar that lends the tune its heart-shattering delicacy, while simultaneously providing a bespoke sonic mantel to wrap up the intense sentimental energy of the song from cradle to grave.

Surprise surprise, this is Kevin Abstract’s most intimate and vulnerable record, outward-preaching and inward-internalising conceptions of empathy, compassion, emancipation, achieving an overall crisp sense of catharsis while doing it. The realisation that this comes in form of a motley melting pot of genres (rap, R&B, pop, jazz, indie-rock are all at home here), styles, sounds, and aesthetics, is secondary to the sublime principal mission statement of firing back at the world in the manner Kevin is known to do best: superior rite-of-passage songwriting.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

KEVIN ABSTRACT

“ARIZONA BABY”

2019, Question Everything Inc / RCA Records

http://arizonababy.world

KA_AB