ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE 4TH JULY TRACK REVIEW—AVA, DOMINIC FIKE, GEORGE CLANTON & NICK HEXUM | 2020-07-04

It’s the feel-good heat of the summer and the laureate poet of Willow Lane has a new site, so it only felt right to come on here and blabber about a string of singles that recently saw the light of day and fiercely stand to represent lead promo anticipation for hyped up full length projects from a couple of acts on the rise (both the record label and figuratively, as in starting to climb their career ladder showing promising signs of imminent explosion and audience adoption). We thought we’d collate and scrutinise a gauntlet of songs that caught and left our attention over the past month or so, worthy of critical appraisal by way of short, straightforward, passionate, biased opinions. Sonically, it’s everything but the kitchen sink, illustrating works of art ranging from the anthemic arena rock of California alternative band Angels & Airwaves (aka AVA) all the way to the indie R&B synth-pop sensibilities of singer/songwriter Dominic Fike, as well as the quintessential electronic retro nostalgic vaporwave orchestrations of the stylistic meetings of the minds between Virginia-native George Clanton and 311’s Nick Hexum.

When Tom DeLonge is not busy figuring out astrobiology and breaking life in space via his para-governmental scientific think tank venture To The Stars… Academy, his principal day job for the last fifteen years or so—notwithstanding his erratic and dysfunctional blink-182 reunions in-between—has consisted in masterminding, fronting, and furthering the realm for multi-media douchy artistic project AVA, whose meaningful musical output in the 2010s had to be significantly kneecapped by his extracurricular commitments both inside and outside the music sphere. So much so that aside from a couple lukewarmly received EPs, dating sometime during the decade’s back-end, their sole, true, proper front-to-back album and relative promotional cycle was 2014’s The Dream Walker—one no less exclusively written by Tom with the only help of multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Ilan Rubin, sans founding member and fellow guitarist David Kennedy (who, fair enough, was probably very preoccupied running and nurturing his entrepreneurial stick via his artisan and handcrafted coffee brand in San Diego).

2019 brought along rosey eventualities for AVA fans though, as the band not only saw fit to officially reunite with Mr Kennedy, but also enlisted prominent and reputable bass guitar virtuoso Matthew Rubano (of Taking Back Sunday and All-American Rejects fame) for a host of live shows in the USA spanning the fall of that same year. On the heels of a new partnership with BMG Rights-owned underground indie imprint Rise Records, and in conjunction with the mini tour announcement which came in April 2019, Tom and co. unveiled two new crisp and synth-laden exploits, poised to tease and preview an upcoming album slated presumably for some time in the near future. First was the carefree, sticky, and electro-poppy “Rebel Girl“, followed up shortly during the summer by the washed out and tongue-in-cheek “Kiss & Tell“, two unequivocal indications of a band’s heightened flirt with catchier melodies and emotive radio-friendliness, perhaps stemming from residual occupational hazards from many of the project members’ past budding experiences in the upper echelons of the American pop-punk canon.

So next thing we know 2020 rolls along, and with it various irreversible ecological cataclysms, an unprecedented public health crisis, and existential insurrectionary racial protests plaguing virtually the whole Western hemisphere—these not just completely jeopardising the music industry’s lifeblood and sustainability, but also obviously putting gargantuan brakes on any creative process’ progression due to take place during this year’s first cursed half. Nonetheless, some time in April amidst peak pandemic mode, AVA chose to reveal a third single in anticipation to its yet-to-be-announced sixth studio LP, coming in the shape of the four minute atmospheric stadium rock number “All That’s Left Is Love“. This cut strips back the abundant tapestries of electronic layering that so pronouncedly ornamented their first two singles in this series, in favour of a rawer and more organic six-string sonic funnelling coupled with unsurprisingly outstanding drumming from Rubin, throwing listeners back to some of the collective’s earlier efforts (as heard particularly on their debut LP We Don’t Need to Whisper). However, what causes the tune to not stick its landing, leaving much to be desired, is Tom and Rubin’s uninspired songwriting here—falling flat on a strident lack of structure and spotty vocal lines. Bottom line, the tune at the core of this song needs fixing and more TLC.

Queued up next in this track roundup review bonanza is the inaugural offering from American singer and ex-rapper Dominic Fike‘s highly-anticipated upcoming debut album, which shall to this day remain untitled (although not un-tracklisted). After singlehandedly spurring a multi-million record contract bidding war amongst major industry players off the back of his grassroots SoundCloud hype and the clout surrounding his later re-released indie rock project Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, before lending his creative and vocal imprint on the BROCKHAMPTON collective, and dropping a handful standalone singles during the course of last year, the 24-year-old Floridian seems finally ready to unearth his long awaited first outing on major label Columbia Records. An initial robust hint in this direction was the release of the dead-beat and hypnotic R&B bedroom jam “Chicken Tenders” on 26th June—a teasing slice of what the full blown out project might hold attached to a hazy, hallucinating, and playful music video. Granted, this thing is far from a stunner or even a significant step up from the pre-existing sublime songwriting skills and instrumental proficiency he showcased on previous outputs, but it does hold inherent replay value and rocks an irresistibly exhilarating refrain, just mildly quenching our thirst while we await for the full album to drop: “Chicken tenders in my hotel, yeah / Christina’s in my bed watchin’ TV shows / When she hit the remote with her legs shakin’, that’s good love makin’ / Watchin’ wherever my head facin’, it’s for bugs, baby“.

Moving on from there—it’s time for vaporwave’s own self-declared David Bowie George Clanton, who turned the underground electronic music scene on its head in 2018 as he gave birth to his synthwave retro-nostalgia-soaked magnum opus Slide and legit started to turn heads in the industry, flirting with influential tastemakers, more mainstream circles, and even going as far as launching the first vaporwave-approved music festival in the world, 100% ElectroniCON. Ever the indie Internet underdog kid and founder of influential Bandcamp-generation full-service record label 100% Electronica, Clanton is also known by the monikers Mirror Kisses and ESPRIT 空想, under which he has been dishing out slightly different yet extremely adjacent stripes of cloudy electronic musings since the late Noughties. Meanwhile, late last year the Richmond, VA-native surprise-announced an exclusive creative collaboration with USA reggae-rock band 311’s singer and guitarist Nick Hexum—incidentally and by his own admission one of Clanton’s biggest musical influences. Initially, this resulted in the carelessly euphoric and angelic double single “Crash Pad / King for A Day“, featuring songwriting and production from Clanton hugging gnarly staccato deliveries by Hexum. This winning authored formula got preserved for a following streak of new singles in relatively fast succession, including the sublimely divine dream-state extravaganza of “Under Your Window“, the colder, insipid and lacklustre “Out of the Blue“, as well as a five-track EP dubbed Aurora Summer, unveiled at the end of May and bundling all previously debuted tracks plus the inclusion of the crunchy and gratifying synthetic moods of the self-titled opening piece.

Next thing we know, “Aurora Summer” the song gets downgraded to B-side on yet another two-track single from the top dawg-duo titled “Topanga State of Mind“, released at the end of June in what appears to be the last sonic teaser before a full length 100% Electronica-earmarked project drops on 24th July. This last preview offering might be the most unapologetically ‘vaporwave-y’ of them all, soaked and drenched as it is in gelid reverbed synth menageries, slickly working in joyous guitar riffs whilst comfortably nestling some of the most reductive and simplistic sets of lyrics heard on a Clanton tape to date: “Sunburn in a place I’ve never been before / When I get out here I feel like I know the score / Why’s it gotta be people can’t unwind? / You can’t move along until you’re righting the wrong / Even if you just put it in a song / Topanga state of mind“. Admittedly, once the self-titled debut comes out later this month, there won’t be much left to the listeners’ imagination, considering that a beefy six out of nine projected songs on the LP have already been unchained in some form or another over the span of the last ten months. Yet, it is always a joy and never a chore to re-delve into Clanton’s otherworldly and ontological auditory journeys—and while Hexum’s overproduced and mid-range-adoring singing is an acquired taste, arguably best left to this one-off collaborative effort, at this point the genius can’t be put back in the bottle.

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

ANGELS & AIRWAVES

ALL THAT’S LEFT IS LOVE

2020, Rise Records

https://www.angelsandairwaves.com

AVA_All That's Left

DOMINIC FIKE

CHICKEN TENDERS

2020, Columbia Records

https://dominicfike.com

Dom Fike_Chicken

GEORGE CLANTON & NICK HEXUM

TOPANGA STATE OF MIND

2020, 100% Electronica

https://www.georgeclanton.com

George Clanton_Topanga

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

2019, Question Everything Inc./RCA Records

http://www.brckhmptn.com

BH_Ginger

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#