ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – DEVOLVER | 2022-09-25

One quick way to realize one has exhausted all eligible attributes to describe North Carolinian singer/songwriter Ryan Adams’s unparalleled hyperactivity ensues upon by being left at, well, a loss for words by the release of his fourth studio album of 2022, Devolver—his twenty-second solo outing overall (and counting…). As if the current year of our Lord had not already seen the 47-year old author trial and error pretty much every project roll out antic under the sun, spanning scarcely announced windowed double LPs (Chris and Romeo & Juliet) as well as full-blown industry promo pandering including physical limited edition cassettes (FM), with the brilliant, astute, and ruffian Devolver the boundlessly prolific artist opted for a non-streaming free digital giveaway on 23rd September, of all methods. Evidently, it’s high-time for mid-Noughties peer-to-peer file sharing nostalgia all over again.

Another emphatic clue that demonstrates just how deep and backlogged the Jacksonville native’s songwriting well extends descends upon us by way of the realization that this latest batch of cuts actually goes to jeopardize a previously announced wealthy release roadmap for the remained of this year, teased over the summer by the PaxAm boss. Said ‘out soon’ catalogue allegedly bore two additional drops slated for this forthcoming fall and winter: Return to Carnegie Hall and 1985. Thusly, with the complete surprise release of Devolver, Adams’s 2022 total album tally would reportedly spike up to six: that’s a whole entire twenty year-album discography worth of material for your average band, only being put out in one single year (!). Bookended as both a token of worship and gratitude toward his ride-or-die listenership, as well as the remarkable celebration of one full sober lap around the sun, the 11-track Ian Sefchick-mastered project was birthed whilst chaperoned by the following incipit:

To my fans,

Today I want to say THANK YOU and I love you, in the language we speak to each other – with music.

DEVOLVER is for you, please feel free to download for free – this is your party and this album is me celebrating you.

In my darkest moments you lifted me up, creatively and personally and that love was instrumental in how I got here today, to safety and in a place of healing – one year sober.

Please accept this album as token of my appreciation for all the love you have shown me through the years, for your encouragement to continue on when I didn’t think I could and for standing with me, rebuilding this dream house brick by brick.

Sometimes the trick is to strip it all back, to keep it so simple life has a way to throw you some curb balls – to devolve back into the apeman and embrace the wild spirit in our bones.

This is that album and it has been my honour to have been given the chance to find myself and be myself fully – embracing my music and my life as it comes – in its own way – free of the patterns of the past.

So thank you. This one’s for you. You are truly loved and appreciate with all that I am.

XO
DRA

By way of a brush up: Devolver follows on the heels of this summer’s commercially ambitious yet somewhat lukewarm FM, a record which aside from a few weeks at improbable positions within a handful countries’ Top 200 albums charts on scattered services, coupled with sporadic grandparental charting on iTunes, did regrettably not seem to live up to the PaxAm camp’s expectations. Musically though, the radio format-worshipping oeuvre still ended up rendering one of Adams’ most focused, well-jointed, and tastefully curated projects since the austere and dour Wednesdays: truth be told, this latest Fab Four-indebted exploit does not fall far from that sonic tree, albeit trading power and jangle pop for heartland/garage indie rock.

With a bang-on runtime of thirty minutes, it’s the most concise and reduced collection of songs the former Cardinals frontman has put out since his accomplished and impactful hardcore punk digression 1984—itself the trailblazer for the cleverly versatile and sublime 2014 PaxAm Singles instalment series. Devolver rings also above-average sticky and immediate for Adams’s canon, with a significant number of knee-jerk hooks appearing for the first time in his recorded history that one can’t quite believe he had not written before (start with “Stare at the TV”: “I like to stare at the TV / and wait here for you / My life wasn’t easy / and then I met you / I like to stare at the TV / I miss you / Do you miss me“).

The semantic irony of opening this complimentary record’s dances with the bluesy and ragged “Don’t Give It Away” is probably lost on no one, although it’s mostly the head-scratching lyrical prose laced into the tune that most betrays the built-in priceless component of the album: “Sick people / do you need to see a doctor? / Double too cool and icy / so bi-polar“. Similarly honky-tonk-sounding is the foot-stomping “Alien USA” at number three on the tracklist, a crooning exercise set to a fuzzy, reverberated, and groovy soundbed accompanying soaring chorus vocals and tired guitar solos alike. Meanwhile, two separate records on this thing, “Banging On My Head” and “I’m In Love With You”, clock in at less than two minutes each. While the former can be afforded a pass by virtue of its upbeat semi-punk rock flair and off-key vocal delivery, the latter nets a criminally underdeveloped re-recording and rendition of the dusty and nocturnal demo-like unplugged offering dating back to almost a decade ago, initially unveiled as part of the Do You Laugh When You Lie?, Vol. 4 issue of the aforementioned PaxAm Singles Series in 2014.

Without a doubt, it’s the album’s halfway point that houses the strongest and sharpest moments. The fierce and dreamy “Marquee” is a flawless exercise in textbook heartland rock and roll, unblemished and immaculate in its multicolored innocence as it pledges to surrender to the all-encompassing might of love. The song is followed by the hinged introspection of “Eyes on the Door”, a cacophonic six-string affair decorated by impressive vocal flexes and enveloping a suspiciously earnest amount of vice-laden frivolousness meets near-epiphany clarity: “I get to thinking I wake up so cold in the night / Hyperventilate and sigh / I get to thinking I get high“. The record’s central backbone reaches a highpoint with “Too Bored to Run”, a fantastic, anthemic, and timeless enchantment pulling out all the classic rock stops at number seven—from the songwriting at its core to Adams’ passionate, lulling, and life-depending performance—carrying what some might argue are the most essential elements of the alt/country rocker’s post-self titled third act songwriting arc.

Devolver’s back-end wraps everything up in a plateauing, spotty, and perhaps subaltern way, corralling what sounds like a Chris throwaway amongst throwaways (“Free Your Self”), a sample of bum guitar notes that almost have to be intentional (cue in “Get Away” at 0:04), as well as a Cardinals-evoking experimental coda that too suffers from painful and shameful underwriting (“Why Do You Hate Me”). Mind you, there are no flat out fillers on here—if anything, some compositions could have used some more fleshing out and another minute or two of breathing time. As a front-to-back listening experience, this thing might be better than FM, which sparks reasonable doubt around whether the roll out succession (and accompanying industry plugs) should have been inverted. Yet now more than ever before in Adams’ career, spontaneity of abundance seems to be sole tenet around which to predict what is next. Considering the remarkable accessibility and artistic quality packed into his first ever purposefully gratis album, devolving into a primordial musical core might just be the name-checked clue that’s hiding in plain sight.

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

RYAN ADAMS

DEVOLVER

2022, PaxAm Recording

https://paxam.shop

CRJ SEASON APPROACHING | 2022-09-01

We love ourselves a well-crafted pop hook around here, and 36-year-old Canadian singer/songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen is certainly no stranger to providing such goods in earnest. On the heels of her last major studio project cycle for the sharp and memorable Dedicated three years ago—followed by its companion cutting room floor batch Dedicated Side B in 2020—the multiple Grammy Awards-nominated Interscope recording artist currently finds herself in the midst of the promotion of her forthcoming sixth LP, The Loneliest Time. Slated to hit the streets on 21st October, the 13-cuts-strong collection of brand new original material has hitherto been teased by two incongruous lead singles, all the while keeping a relatively low-key publicity profile. The Vampire Weekend founder Rostam Batmanglij-produced “Western Wind” dropped as principal taster already back in early May this year, segued in its footsteps by the sugary cautionary date-tale “Beach House” during the peak of summer.

While the former sports a slow-to-mid tempo rhythmic undercurrent and relies on a moody and pensive musical backdrop, Jepsen’s latest offering in time dabbles in a groovier and more upbeat vanity exercise, adorning the self-ironic and sarcastic lyrical ethos laced into the tune. This is a far cry from and in stark contrast to the earthly and spiritual inclinations worked into the laid-back valence of predecessor “Western Wind”: “Comin’ in like a western wind / Do you feel home from all directions? / First bloom, you know it’s spring / Remindin’ me, love, that it’s all connected / What is love? / Comin’ in like a western wind“. The sound duality found as part of the shortlisted two-pack single in anticipation to the full release might be indicative of the full potential range of moods, styles, and flairs embedded within the album—which also sees fellow Canadian singer/songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright feature on the title track doubling as album closer.

Regardless of the actual musical substance packed into The Loneliest Time, the prospect of a new CRJ project remains an engrossing and mouthwatering one. The second half of her 2010s included an astonishing and brilliant spree of watertight material, centred around her 2015 synth and dance pop perfection Emotion. The studio album was not only a sprawling and irrepressible commercial success, riding on the coattails of iconic global smash hit singles “I Really Like You” and “Run Away With Me“, but it also secured widespread critical acclaim, landing multiple best-of year end lists as well as getting shortlisted for her homeland’s 2016 Polaris Music Prize. Its companion collection of throwaway tunes, simply dubbed Emotion: Side B, followed suit in the form of an 8-track EP one year later, once again plucking countless favourable reviews from critics and getting washed in numerous accolades. Dedicated, Jepsen’s fourth studio LP, dropped in 2019, meeting renewed glowing praise and debuting at number 18 in the USA, marking her third top-twenty album by that point.

Both Dedicated and its ancillary Side B exploit b/w a riveting twelve previously unheard of records found the British Columbia-native uphold the superior bubblegum pop yardstick set by their predecessors, whilst contemporaneously veering more pronouncedly into classic disco territory, lifting and borrowing from a wider and older host of sonic influences such as funk, house, and R&B. You probably guessed it, but once again both efforts gathered continuous adulation and excitement from fans and tastemakers alike, with the principal A-side project getting name-dropped in many year-end lists of best albums of 2019. The Loneliest Time is poised to be her first batch of new material to speak of since then, and will be further supported by CRJ embarking on a highly-anticipated concert leg named The So Nice Tour, set to commence in September this year and scheduled to touch base across the whole of North America.

Be it the analogue and earthy feel of “Western Wind”‘s percussive rudiments interspersed with the airy and hollow guitar solo cued in at 2:20 on the track, or be it the undeniable stickiness of the chorus-to-post chorus combo seeping through newest single “Beach House” (“Boys around the world, I want to believe that / When you chase a girl, it’s not just huntin’ season / I can see the future, say it like you mean it / I got a beach house in Malibu / And I’m probably gonna hurt your feelings“), the platinum-selling artist’s upcoming studio effort is sporting all the right attributes to warrant the grand opening of what is set to be another blistering cycle of pop triumph—coming this fall courtesy of an artist who has never shied away from being her unapologetic self, both on and off stage.

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

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – FM | 2022-07-24

Truly and honestly, we never thought we would say this, but with last Friday’s release of FM, singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has officially dropped more studio albums in the last nineteen months than the whole 2010s combined. What’s more, there already seem to be two additional LPs dolled up in the can for the endlessly productive 47-year-old North Carolinian musician and poet, both slated for release later in the year. Those extra two would bring the total 2022 full length project tally to an unprecedented five (!)—which would in turn render the last 24 months at that point as prolific as his whole previous thirteen years of career, with respect to unveiling brand new material. And to think that when talking about the former Whiskeytown and Cardinals ringleader, one is already dealing with the pantheon of one of the most relentlessly fertile artists of this generation (for the record, FM is Adams’ 21st solo studio album to date).

Unlike the last two stream-of-consciousness, batched and collated catharses that came by way of March’s Chris and April’s Romeo & Juliet, FM sticks its audiowaved landing as a compact and concise one-sided album, clocking in at a comparatively scant 10 tracks and 33 minutes of runtime. Much like its two near double LP predecessors though, the record finds the Grammy-nominated alt-rock prodigy coasting through a vivid, exuberant, and multi-layered heartland rock sonic canvases—if not power pop, at times—with renewed ventures into deep-ended seas of crunchy chorus as well as reverb effects to complement semi-idly evocative songwriting motives. Self-proclaimed and billed as “the musical equivalent of Albert Einstein’s ghost punching George Washington’s ghost in the nuts” by his camp, the windowed project is once again initially only being made available for premium purchase on Adams’ own Pax Am label store from Friday 22nd July, awaiting a wider worldwide release on all remaining digital outlets on 19th August.

By the creator’s own admission, in contrast to its previous two ‘caught-up-with-time’, cacophonic, and self-published exploits, FM also symbolises his return to a somewhat more formal and fully fledged marketing strategy, with the record having gone through the necessary due diligence in order for it to be picked up and chartered by conventional record industry bodies (presumably for the first time since before his Wednesdays/Big Colors/Chris trilogy). Sonically, the record does indeed exhume a more intentional and assertive attempt at gelling together a batch of songs that, while not necessarily on the lyrical front, all sound like they were germed and sprouted within the confines of the same musical garden of Eden, before mustering up enough survival-of-the-fittest oomph to stick together and solidarize as a self-referential oasis (although admittedly, “Fairweather” is reportedly a Big Colors throwaway…). Think looser and jollied up Smiths meet accessible Big Star, sprinkle a dash of self-titled era Adams, and even if you’re amongst the plebs salivating for FM’s full public availability at the tail end of August, you’ll have earned a fairly accurate depiction of how this half hour and change rings.

In his typical misfit pariah style, much of the new project’s online promotion consisted of chopped and screwed unplugged Creed and REM covers, full giveaways of “What a Waste” and “Oh My Sweet Carolina“—both unreleased cuts off his last two forthcoming fall and winter drops this year, Return to Carnegie Hall and 1985—the FM outtake “Take the Money“, as well as motley clips and bobs from each of the ten records queued up on FM, gauntlet style. Similarly counterintuitively, the closest one could have pass as lead singles for the exploit would have to be the 4th July handout “When She Smiles“—a brilliant Johnny Marr-worship tracklisted at number four on the album’s A side, finding peak ecstatic Adams tapestries, arrangements, and lyrics—as well as ‘hot one’ “Fantasy File“, a smooth and silky saxophone-led bluesy serenade unveiled days before the album’s (exclusive) street date, sequenced right before “When She Smiles” at number three.

We know all too well how at this point it is near impossible to establish how and when exactly these ten tracks were written and recorded—God forbid, the exquisite and formidable album coda “Someday” could be hiding in plain sight if quietly inserted into 2017’s Prisoner tracklist. What one can attest to, however, is how much more focused, experiential, and cohesive this latest collection of songs is, relatively speaking. Mind you—the thematic arc is nowhere near as conceptual as on, say Prisoner, and the production and mixing mantel can’t compare to his rose-coloured Blue Note Records days yielding something like his 2014 eponymous epic. Yet, on almost each wavelength-chaptered station on FM, there are an otherworldly gated snare drum, multilayered strata of acquose reverb, lots and lots of arpeggio-ed strumming, and mighty fine songwriting at their core. Color that formulaic, but even humouring Adams and Pax Am as they afforded themselves to indulge in yet another crate-digging curatorial mixtape-like stunt feels like a pleasant and benevolent admission to have been punk’d here. Frankly, one could also choose to simply view FM as a slick and watertight little 10-track LP with lots of teeth; for bliss often lurks in the hive-mind ignorance of not overthinking.

The Jacksonville-native saw fit to alert listeners that “Ancient Incan and Aztec cultures warned not downloading FM once it was released would turn a human skeleton into a chalky dinosaur poo that the Gods would use to draw clouds on mountain rock once the person had ‘passed’”, yet we claim one ought not go quite as far to attain a wholesome and elated enjoyment outta this sweet little petty record. What we’ll certainly take away from it are the profoundly intense grace of A-side record flipper “Hall of Shame”—an urgent and poignant reflection of one’s true rock bottom set to lush six string motives and a converging outro that might stand the test of time as one of Adams’ most perfect. “So Dumb” is so earnest and stoic a barebone composition that one could easily imagine it being rendered under a whole host of different instrumental renditions and arrangements, and still kick listeners in the gut the same elemental way. Elsewhere, the glossy dream rock tapestries and lush articulations on the aforementioned “Someday” might make for what is the best third-act Ryan Adams album closer committed to tape.

If anything, it’s more of the upbeat and groovy moments on the album that come across as most rickety and frail. Granted, a few of them, such as “Love Me Don’t” at number two or penultimate cut “Do You Feel”, also suffer ever so slightly from a lack of extra TLC on the production end, but even in hearing something like FM’s centerpiece “Wild & Hopeless”, one can’t quite shake off the feeling that it sounds more like a micro-serviced pastiche of solid compositional ideas all frankenstein’d together, rather than a tune arriving at its final evolution stage by way of an organic, raw, and un-doctored fashion. Not that this should necessarily matter, or even influence one’s enjoyment of the record, but when set side by side with stronger and more definitive songs like “I Want You“, “When She Smiles, “Hall of Shame”, or “Fairweather”, they do tend to stick out a little bit like sore thumbs. Nonetheless, Adams catches way more flies with honey than vinegar, and thankfully FM is by and large a victorious sunlit affair. Considering it got dished out on the heels of two double LP grieving odes to the dearly departed, we’ll take the switch of pace in spades.

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

RYAN ADAMS

FM

2022, PaxAm Recording

https://paxam.shop

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALEX G, A$AP ROCKY, BLACK THOUGHT & TBS SINGLES | 2022-06-19

As the feel good heat of the Western Hemisphere summer nears and approaches arts patrons the world over, so it seems a brand new sorcerous episodic ARM segment touching down on a gauntlet of unrelated and loose singles accompanied by rapid (vapid?), forthright, passionate, and gate-kept opinions. It is a jolly and momentous round up of enthusing one-off, lead, and follow-up records alike—in some cases anticipating a pre-announced full album release, whilst in others simply dangling the pendulum of disparate speculation and excitement for more to come in front of thirsty music pundits’ noses. A few of these are long-awaited, highly-anticipated returns to form, others flat out surprise drops, all with the addition of a perhaps once unthinkable crossover no one really asked for, yet in twenty-twenty (surgery) hindsight of its release genuinely asserting its rhyme and reason.

Philadelphia-native and 2000s lo-fi indie royalty Alex G does truly appear to be back on his dragged feet as of late, following almost three years of near noble silence since offering the mystical, God-forsaken, and form-less art pop exploit House of Sugar—a quasi-benchmarking essay in late stage capitalism’s induction to morph purposeful noise and tender melody in a hodgepodge of feels. Mere months ago, the 29-year-old Domino Recording Company talent showed up and delivered on the unlikely role of principal scorer for Jane Schoenbrun’s coming-of-age horror drama We’re All Going to the World’s Fair soundtrack. The Utopia-distributed, Sundance Film Festival-premiered feature-length film comes through attached to a glowing, foreboding, and glacial 13-track OST album, wholly curated by Alex G. Such an extra-curricular outing by the normally insular and elusive singer/songwriter features both a “Main Theme” opener and an “End Song” coda reprising the motion picture’s primary musical and lyrical undercurrent. Both manage to effortlessly gallop alongside the frail and cathartic razor’s edge courtesy of the Frank Ocean-protégé’s trademark musical ethos. Bone-less bendings leaning from the edge of gloomy bedroom pop leakages atop of a self-deprecating throne. Pure, raw, and untouched Alex G canon.

Perhaps more relevantly, just weeks after the release of said full OST project, the six-string troubadour saw fit to also dish out what for all intents and purposes oughta be considered the first real lead single from his yet to be announced forthcoming ninth studio album cycle. Unveiled officially on 23rd May, “Blessing“‘s three minutes and change of uncut 90s alt-rock-borrowed distortion, mixed with a tight straightforward rhythm section, comes and goes as a flickering tide of melting sonic verses and intelligently woven counterpoint melodies—delivered in a suspiciously forlorn beck-and-call whispering mode that results ever so out of place vis-a-vis the balls to the wall synth layering earmarking the cut’s post-chorus, or outro. Deceivingly enough though, the singular tune wonderfully sticks its experimental landing, and actually proves to render itself more and more memorable with time, unfolding ounces of sticky and addictive replay value with each listen: it’s esprit d’escalier galore if there ever was one.

Meanwhile, Lord Pretty Flacko himself blessed the mainstream hip-hop lore with the comeback hit single “D.M.B.” (aka DAT$ MAH B!*$H) earlier in May—a hallucinating chopped-and-screwed tape-mounting experience masquerading as his very personal joie de vivre ode to both narcotics and women, to be understood as fitting marijuana and Rihanna’s descriptions. The experimental number was first teased online as part of an advertisement for disgraced Swedish fintech company Klarna as far back as summer last year, and is slated to be appearing on A$AP Rocky’s speculative and crowdsourcedly-named forthcoming fourth studio album, ALL $MILES. Sonically, the RCA Records-earmarked song is a warped and invertebrate psychedelic rap cloud of multi-layered overdubs, spanning viscous samples, a sweet and endearing electric guitar lick, as well as an expansive and spastic drum machine syncopation—sporting the joint venture trademark production of a slew of co-signs including grime heavyweight Skepta and D33J.

Soaked and buttered in many of the stylistic aesthetic inklings prevalent on his formidable last major project Testing—coasting through everything from sly vocal manipulation to phasers set to stun—”D.M.B.” reveres in a ridiculously elliptical and hivemind hook (“Roll my blunt, fill my cup, be my bitch / Hold my gun, load it up, count my slugs / Yeah, they don’t know nothin’ / Roll my blunt, be my bitch / They don’t know nothin’) and rises above the fray by way of the endulced, serenading, and heavenly bridge kicking in 2:40 minutes into the track: “Baby / It’s been a little time since we both / Felt full since our first encounter / And baby / Don’t let another n**** try my baby / Girl you know I’m one call away / It’s nothin’ / And baby / My angel and my Goddess, when my head get clouded / You’re my soulmate, my Goddess / And baby / Took a little time in a gray place / For nothing, nothing“.

Elsewhere, it is a bona fide meeting of the underground hip-hop minds the one that finds 44-year old musician, songwriter and record producer Danger Mouse sculpt modularly poignant tapestries of soulful spine-bending backtrack beats for the unparalleled and envelope-pushing wordsmithing craft of The Roots’ mainstay MC Black Thought. Cheat Codes, the brand new back-to-back collaborative LP set for release at the tail end of summer, sees its anticipatory lead up campaign already in full steam mode inasmuch as two abstract and elusive teasers unveiled ahead of its full street date on 12th August. “No Gold Teeth”’s cleverly laced, dramatically sensual samples paved the promotional way with a somewhat soft surprise drop in early May, piercing through with Black Thought’s both life-affirming and tongue-in-cheek sixteens alike. Lending a substantial urgency to every verse, the joint ushers into gangster territory in a ‘heat of the moment’ fashion, hitting a runtime cul-de-sac before one quite wishes to realise, despite its formal two minutes and a half of clockwork.

A few months later—and sequenced right after the aforementioned dental blonde on the full length’s tracklist—the dusty and rough-around-the-edges stream of posse consciousness inertia encapsulated by “Because” significantly upped the realness ante. Trading fierce and inflammatory flows navigating through a smokey, cavernicolous, and woody production whilst periodically getting re-centered by Dylan Cartlidge’s affable refrain, Philadelphia-native Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, Joey Bada$$, and Russ get (listeners) in meticulous line and build upon each other’s pamphlet of maximes and truisms about notions of survival of the blackest/fittest as well as success’ fatalist nature. With such additional guests poised to be featured on Cheat Codes’ remaining joints as the above A$AP Mob leader Rocky, the late MF DOOM, as well as A-list rap collective spinoffs like Run the Jewels and Griselda Records’s very own Conway the Machine, it’s safe to say that the anticipation is running high for what might well turn out to be one of the most essential hip-hop listens of the year.

Lastly, there are so many ways in which a Taking Back Sunday and Steve Aoki collaboration could have gone terribly, irreparably wrong in 2022. Out of the myriad of parallel universes that cohabitate our existence, it’s both baffling and flabbergasting that the one graced by our very own human sentient presence would have been the one to gestate it. And to think that it’s not that TBS were scraping their creative barrel out of content saturation anxiety as of late. On the contrary; aside from questionable band anniversary bundles, throwaway acoustic B-sides left on the cutting room floor, a legitimate Weezer cover song, as well as the upteenth reissue of their modern emo classic Tell All Your Friends, the Long Island alt rock veterans have essentially kept quiet and passive for nearly seven years since the straight up no frills alt rock of Tidal Wave. During that time, really nothing much to report—absent the regrettable departure of founding member and rhythm guitarist Eddie Reyes in 2018, their cutting ties with California-based indie Hopeless Records, as well that Fuckin Whatever side supergroup project. Hence why, the improbable outfit pairing between John Nolan, Adam Lazzara, Mark O’Connell, Shaun Cooper and the 44-year old American DJ, record producer, and Dim Mak record executive strikes as all the more haphazard.

Yet amazingly so, the riveting musical joint venture revealed around a week ago on “Just Us Two” panned out strong and convincing throughout. Thankfully, the one-off collab follows admittedly more of a third act Taking Back Sunday trademark formula with the sparkled addition of peppered Aoki flairs on top of it, rather than the other way around. This manifests primarily in the form of the DJ’s bouncy, elastic, and spacious synths playing second fiddle in accompany mode to the odd 6/8 song’s principal edgy refrain (“I remember the way that it felt / I remember the way that it felt / Watched the sun go down / Sitting on your roof / And the air was thick / Yeah our heads were too / Watched the sun come up / Sitting on your roof / Yeah, the air was thick / It was just us two“), as well as the anthemic and triumphant post-chorus group chants. However, one can’t help but feeling like it’s giant shame lost on our zeitgeist’s ears, for if it weren’t for today’s jeopardising goldfish memory span, the latter are made of the stuff that could define a generation: “These are the days / Always remember / These are the days / Always forever“.

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

ALEX G

BLESSING

2022, Domino Recording

http://sandyalexg.com

A$AP ROCKY

D.M.B.

2022, RCA Records

https://www.asapmob.com

BLACK THOUGHT & DANGER MOUSE

CHEAT CODES

2022, BMG Rights Management

https://twitter.com/blackthought

TAKING BACK SUNDAY & STEVE AOKI

JUST US TWO

2022, Dim Mak Records

http://www.takingbacksunday.com

MR OKLAMA & THE BACKSTEPPERS | 2022-05-22

We might have gotten the album wrong. Conceding that DAMN. lent us all a rock solid hint five years ago, it might well turn out that it was Kendrick Lamar‘s latest fifth full length studio project, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers, that was supposed to be listened backwards all along. Back to front. Its tracklist in reverse. Much has been said, taken apart, and dissected about the conscious hip-hop prodigy’s latest exploit over the past seven days, since what was arguably this year’s most highly anticipated mainstream rap moment. Contemplative approaches and critical reviews of the double disc-project by Compton, Los Angeles’ very own involving tenets of specularity, looped circularity, and inside-outness have since abounded in spades—yet no one contributing to the moralist discourse surrounding Oklama‘s swan song Top Dawg Entertainment release appeared to have dared as much as to advance the sustainment of a fully fledged backwards playback experience theory embedded in the very record.

There are of course the more surface-level clues underwriting the universally acclaimed return of the famed pgLang founder, such as the photographic evidentiary exhibit shown below. It discloses and suggests an inverted running order of the two album sides when juxtaposed to the official display-level crediting of the album’s name Mr Morale & The Big Steppers. On the mysterious book-stricken snap, the Grammy Awards and Pulitzer Prize for Music-winning MC clearly places the LP’s alleged B-side, Steppers, on top of the Morale one: a sequencing leitmotiv later confirmed by the record’s official chaptered track listing on digital streaming services as well as K.Dot‘s licensed merch window dressing. Yet another fascinating hint teasing toward a cyclical ethos being laced into the creative experiencing of the work of art at hand is the strikingly symmetrical track structuring around the disc one-to-disc two transition axis (props and kudos to the ever so brilliant Jah Talks Albums for pointing this out, amongst what we’re sure are many more).

Let us feed off this latest ethereal conjecture for a moment. Cut number three on Big Steppers, the linear and incessantly pounding short-of-breathness of “Worldwide Steppers“, is minutely specular to disc two’s other namesake “Mr Morale“, tracklisted no more and no less than three slots away from the apparent album closer—aptly titled, well, “Mirror“. By a similar token, the Kodak Black-helmed “Rich (Interlude)” appears and rings before our eardrums at number six on the front side, and thus three slots away from the aforementioned disc one-to-disc two transition axis, only to be met by the Morale side’s own skit three more steps removed from the shaft (shaped in the form of a two and a half-minute avantgarde chamber pop arrangement, featuring German spiritual teacher and self-help guru Eckhart Tolle and Kung Fu Kenny’s own cousin and protégée Baby Keem). Needless to say, and without breaking protocol, both are followed by their parent flagship instalment along the playback ride: “Rich Spirit” and “Savior“. Thusly, not much of a formatting difference between listening the album front to back, or back to front.

Furthermore, the self-evident insular virtuosity of Mr Morale & The Big Steppers’s reflector coda number “Mirror” stands to irradiate the LP’s artistic agency right back to where it came from, à la auditive recoil. Crucially though, rewinding the tape with the inherent intention and assertiveness of flipping its chronological script on its head, would undoubtedly recount a dourer and more tumultuous voyage for Oklama. If the plastic and hegemonic songwriting motif exhuming from a full frontal listen of the album transcends wages of sin and mercilessness to attain higher spiritual re-alignment via a quasi-complete trauma catharsis and purge, embarking on a listen of Mr Morale & The Big Steppers by actually starting with Mr Morale all the way down to track number one unleashes instead chronicles of a progressively more recidive, mortal, and tormented man. If this sounds familiar to anyone privy to Kendrick Lamar’s previous discography, it’s because it is.

Provided the proposed capsizing, the supposed lectured debuting sense of closure and centeredness (re-)gained by the Black Hippy member while shunning away from the limelight and withering social, political, economical, and public health crises exemplified on “Mirror”—”Do yourself a favor and get a mirror that mirror grievance / Then point it at me so the reflection can mirror freedom“—all of a sudden flickers as a frail, fallen, yet coveted lighthouse to strive toward again, with the hindsight of the eighteen cuts in reverse. Likewise, as soon as 34-year old Mr Duckworth sends us all off with “I grieve different” on the newly conceptualized outro “United In Grief“, the rescued and discharged list of liberated pain-bearers enunciated on the stark and sombre early moment “Mother I Sober“, echoes now less as an appeased trip down victory lap memory lane than the load of what fallible men have the wherewithal of undoing:

So I set free myself from all the guilt that I thought I made
So I set free my mother all the hurt that she titled shame
So I set free my cousin, chaotic for my mother’s pain
I hope Hykeem made you proud ’cause you ain’t die in vain
So I set free the power of Whitney, may she heal us all
So I set free our children, may good karma keep them with God
So I set free the hearts filled with hatred, keep our bodies sacred
As I set free all you abusers, this is transformation

Perhaps the as of this writing yet-to-be-published companion red paperback is to provide us with a definitive settlement pertaining to the premeditated and intended experiential flow of Mr Morale & The Big Steppers. Ideally, that is to be levied upon listeners in a less ironic and self-aware fashion than others have seen fit to bestow. After all, the present essay rests upon rather latent and unspoken assumptions—admittedly not enough to run with the presumption for a universal application. However, what we do know, is that Kung Fu Kenny has hinted at it before. What’s more, across his brilliant suite of artistic oeuvres, he has all but mastered the pocketed deliverance that self-actualization and emancipation aren’t discrete, but rather complex and perturbed journeys. What if the inexplicable post-pandemic and post-personal breakthrough zeitgeist Mr Morale & The Big Steppers is released within reversed the restoration undergone by him in the five years since DAMN.?

As the rapper took to his tried and tested promotional Heart series antics to officialize the long-awaited release of the double LP by dropping the rabid and incendiary “The Heart Part 5” on 8th May, his webhosted parking lot oklama.com quietly got updated with a loose and disordered scatterplot of empty folders on a non-navigable subpage: as if suggesting users be filing them freely and according to their liking (see images below for reference). We understand and appreciate how the associative link to a behavioural theory suggesting that Mr Morale & The Big Steppers oughta be consumed as Mr Morale first and The Big Steppers second, runs fairly brittle. Especially if assuming that there is in fact a correct way of experiencing the record as Kendrick intended it. And yet we ask; how come is there an even more secret sub-root of said subpage cataloguing all cryptic folders in neat grids, including a blacked out folder 327, if not to signify a defiance of appearances whilst adumbrating at a suppressed and abeyant narrative woven into the project’s tracklist? Or should we say, list of tracks?

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

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – ROMEO & JULIET | 2022-04-27

Fret not, dear reader: you are not seeing double. Or perhaps are you indeed? One workhorse and singer/songwriter extraordinaire Ryan Adams really did just unveil another two-sided album to the public, a mere month removed from the windowed self-release of his raw brotherly tribute Chris, a double LP in its own right. Announced, promoted, and eventually unwrapped within the span of a few weeks—and hitting the exclusive digital shelves of his own PaxAm record imprint on 25th April, exactly a month to the day after the last instalment in his recent trilogy—Romeo & Juliet sticks its astonishing sonic landing just shy of eighty minutes of brand new material. In a similar dedicative vein to Chris’s familial worshipping ethos, this Shakespearian-titled body of work stands as an ode to his recently perished feline household companion Theo, as evidenced by both Instagram-housed testimonies from the alt-folk wonderkid himself, as well as a cat-friendly tracklist sporting cuts such as “This is Your House”, “At Home With the Animals”, and of course, “Theo Is Dreaming”.

Records happen. Sometimes you have to wrestle them down like a bronco, other times you wake up to one song…..something you dreamt – and the next thing you know that song called all its friends over to a party. Without telling you. That’s exactly this.

Romeo & Juliet is a summer album. It’s maybe the first summertime album I’ve ever made, on purpose, front to back. It’s like the tall, long slightly mysterious sister to Easy Tiger. There’s a lot of room here and the stories all unwind like a long hot drive in the south with the windows down – sunshine blasting everything. And by the time the record ends it’s just early night – still blue notes in the dark purple patches of stars up the road hurling towards the hood of the car.

When this album is on vinyl, you’ll open the first page and it’ll just say “For Theo” because this is his album. This is his house.

He loved music so much and many of these songs had a bass part or vocal part being played with him asleep on my lap or curled up beside me. He was omnipresent when I made music or listener to albums. He is still. The others were made with him close by or on my mind. And the last few, made on his last few nights on earth – attentively listening to me play, eyes half closed with that low rumble of a purr. He was my best friend. He saved my life and loved me when I became a shadow to the world. That turned out to be the biggest gift I could have been given. That last couple years with him letting the days unspool – lost in the mirth.

These songs are about old loves, about Theo and about celebrating old loves and old friends that were here once and are now gone – in a big wreath of memory and monochromatic visions of times that go by too fast. It’s a summer album with summer chords and meant to be like that heat in the middle summertime where everything is so electric and so bright – and the world feels like another planet, a new neighborhood now alight and made of bright yellow and green halos. Squint and you’ll hear it. 

One of my favorite albums ever and still to this day is Louder Than Bombs, a long 24 track album that although were once singles, came together in a new way to make this big beautiful sprawling album you could collapse into – and discover new things in over time. It lasted all summer and became like a summer memory by fall. By winter it was like a fireplace in my Walkman.

To me that is what Romeo & Juliet is. I dreamt that title song and dreamt a few after like “At Home With The Animals” and followed that river here – to this album -just as it is. One song at a time.

So with great love and affection and excitement, I pass it on to you now.

Ladies and Gentlemen….

“Romeo & Juliet.”

For Theo. 

XO

DRA

If it were not self-evident enough, the above is the sole available excerpt of official accompanying text stemming from the North Carolina-native’s camp one could have pass as PR material surrounding this latest exploit. Romeo & Juliet is the singer’s twentieth studio album as a solo act. Recycling and reinforcing the marketing roll out tactics adopted for his still fresh hot off the press March double threat, Adams opted once again for a cut-out-the-middleman antic: offering the record as an exclusive high-fidelity digital download purchase through his label (complete with two bonus strings attached; the Nebraska-indebted “Desperate Times” and an alternate take of supreme album track “Somethings Missing”). The project is to remain solely available via PaxAm for about three weeks, before receiving a more widespread digital release and distribution on licensed streaming services on the eve of his acclaimed return to live shows on the US East coast in May, after a four-year absence on the road.

With another two waxed sides and nineteen new numbers to comb through barely a month after his long-awaited and highly-anticipated Chris offering, the 47-year-old artist and poet truly is demanding extra overtime from his core listenership (for reference, this is Adams’ fourth album within the span of just fourteen months, since his splendidly somber and dour December 2020 Wednesdays project). Luckily for him, most seem to be onboard and are supporting his new found retail venture in earnest. According to him and the aforementioned citation, Romeo & Juliet is a summer album. The first summer after the pandemic. And a polished and sanitised one at that, too. May we add. With the slight exception of Big Colors‘ high-grade mixing and major label studio-earmarked production, by nearly all standards this latest effort sports a significantly more refined and careful sound compared to both the dusty direct-to-tape feel of Wednesdays and the draft-like low-fidelity of his more recent Chris.

The veiled and latent recalls to his 2007 Easy Tiger LP mentioned in the press release might only ring true to a limited extent, as well. For Romeo & Juliet is clearly and evidently a post-self-titled Ryan Adams creation—an epistemological third act career record. Granted, cuts like the well-mannered and forlorn piano-led ballad “Rain in LA”, or the epic six-and-a-half minute Cardinals jam and side A coda “In the Meadow”, come across as true blue mid-to-late 00s Adams lore. Yet, on the other hand, the bare and stripped back title track, or the aforementioned “At Home With the Animals”, immediately throw listeners into a more current and relevant Wednesdays-era folk benchmark. Elsewhere, the undeniable album standout and endless catch “Doylestown Girl”, as well as the strong and memorable album opener “Rollercoaster”, sound like they are rocking Big Colors fingerprints all over them (as a matter of fact, the former was making its way to middle-of-the-road heartland radio stations in promotion to said record as far back as 2019).

If Chris was an album made for his untimely and dearly departed namesake relative, Romeo & Juliet is for everybody else (and Theo). Strikingly more accessible and immediate, this collection of songs was deliberately earmarked as a collective solstitial soundtrack for the whole world to enjoy. Crucially, in doing so this 19-track opus sees a Ryan Adams freed and liberated from preconceived templates, allowed to move past the commitments of a self-inflicted trilogy bandwidth three years ago. Unlike Big Colors—another project billed as a sunny season musical companion by its head sculptor—this full length exhumes and emanates a sonic authoring depth that the former major label-inked record could not quite afford to indulge in, for a multitude of reasons. The soft, tender, and melancholic “In the Blue of the Night” at number two on the tracklist, for instance, is easily one of the stickiest and addictive numbers the musician has put out in the last decade. Similarly, the plastic and glossy soundbed ornating the soulful “Anything”, as well as the inherent musical development arranged on “Earthquake” and “Losers”, all denote superior musicianship and a songcrafting paralleling career-highs for the rocker.

More deceivingly, coarse and fibrous offerings such as “Somethings Missing”, “This Is Your House”, and “Theo Is Dreaming”, show us that the former Whiskeytown ringleader still knows better of oversterilizing dangerous, unsolicited, and incongruous feelings. Yes, these three songs do sound like demos, but that is kind of the point. In contrast to a few genuinely underworked and awkward mixes making their way onto Chris’s final bundle last month, the unfiltered and existential impetus behind these songs is perfectly at home within the walled confines of such imperfect and erratic wrappers: “This is your house / It’s where you live / Now I’m the one the one who’s waiting by the door to let you in / I know, I know / I’m supposed to move on / To let it go / But this is your house / Until you come back to me / Until I fall asleep“. Then again, one of the most enthralling elements about this project is Adams’ ability to undercut such moments with legitimate catharsis, made of joyousness and elation (lest we forget, on paper this remains another monument of eulogy, albeit zoological). This is best evidenced by the upbeat artistic lifelines of numbers such as “I Can’t Remember”, “Run”, and the waltzy evocative album closer “They Will Know Our Love”.

Early fan reception to this release seems to indicate that this might go down as one of Ryan Adams’ most well received and widely appreciated records in over a decade. While Romeo & Juliet does not have the focus and cohesion of his 2014 self-titled, or even the lavish grandeur of Prisoner, it does stand to represent probably the most generous and forgiving gateway to the pen, mind, and music of one of this millennium’s country rock prodigal sons. All is left for new, old, and lost listeners alike, is to approach the Veronese balcony window this album is leaning over from, and start serenading its big wreath of memory and monochromatic visions of times that go by too fast.

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

RYAN ADAMS

ROMEO & JULIET

2022, PaxAm Recording

https://paxam.shop

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – CHRIS | 2022-03-27

Surely no one thought they would get away without a pernickety blow-by-blow review of a new Ryan Adams project in this part of Web-city, did they? Reporting a mere 48 hours after the Jacksonville, NC-native singer/songwriter delivered the third and final instalment as part of the promiscuous trilogy of studio albums he originally announced to the world in early 2019: Chris is an 18-track double LP epic that stands as the 47-year old alt country royalty’s musical tribute to his recently departed brother of the same name. Formally the sole chapter in the album series to have retained its original scheduling roll out slot—for 2020’s Wednesdays and last year’s Big Colors wounded up switching running orders compared to Adams’s initial plan—this latest collection of tracks comes at a sizeable full hour worth of raucous heartland rock material. It is hitherto exclusively available for windowed purchase via Adams’ PaxAm label website, awaiting a full public availability release on global digital platforms on 1st April (fool’s errands permitting, knowing the DRA character…).

Strikingly dour in both sentiment and sound, the double-disc project wireframes the artistic experience coasting through a sequencing of nine tracks on each side, while also throwing an unrelated, throwaway, and 1984-channeling nineteenth bonus track on top of the PaxAm digital edition, titled “Don’t Follow”. The creative direction across the sixty minutes of critical mass on here is significantly and directly indebted to the former Whiskeytown and The Cardinals honcho’s recording sessions that led to the release of his 2017 critically-acclaimed studio album masterpiece Prisoner. The analytical prism of fixating Prisoner as sonic and thematic cornerstone as a means to dissect Chris naturally thrusts a certain watery, washed-out, and reverb-soaked aesthetics into secretion—a combustion that, for better or worse, is noticeable in spades across these chorus-effect filtered tapes.

Yet on Chris, the inherent creative elixir exhuming from Adams’ pen and strings might be stretched back even further, as far as his spotless and immaculate self-titled triumph unveiled three years prior—a triple Grammy-nominated record that still charts as his most definitive and accomplished body of work for who writes. Concretely, a track like “Aching for More“, queued up at number six on Chris’s A-side, with its galloping strumming and nocturnal acoustic-to-electric guitar interplay as well as evident mixing session parallels, comes across as something that might have easily been written the same day as the self-titled standout “Am I Safe“. Well as it turns out, “Aching for More” was actually originally placed as the B-side for that project’s lead promotional single “Gimme Something Good“‘s physical issue, in anticipation to the full album release in September 2014.

The throwback timeline references to said specific creative juncture don’t end there, though. When listening to the tenderly sour sensibilities of track number two on Chris, “Still a Cage“, one can’t but notice melodic vocal inclinations in the song’s main verse stanzas recalling a record like the stern and austere “I Just Might“, tracklisted at number nine on the self-titled, and Adams’s Springsteenian worship to end (and precede) them all. Moreover, examining a different exploit such as the cloudy, hazy, hollow, and ethereal “Dive“, opening the more amiable and dejected B-side on Chris, affords one the chance to draw a not-so-veiled parallel to its sublime older sibling “Shadows“, a true pièce de résistance on Adams’s 2014 record and one that sounds like it programmed and configured the exact same pre-amp effects and filters to stoke something as vaporous as “Dive”.

Notwithstanding the songwriting and recording influences of the PaxAm label owner and poet’s leanings during the front-end of the last decade, the undisputed sonic roadmap sprouting a collection of tracks as dense and raw as those that make up Chris is without a doubt his Prisoner record. For God’s sake, “Say What You Said” at number seven rings just like it’s laundering pound-for-pound recycled melodies, rhythmic patterns, and verses from the sweet and tender Prisoner acoustic ballad “Tightrope“. Further case in point, the throttling and low-fidelity indie rock number “Lookout” on the record’s side B: the demo was literally offered as exclusive bonus track on the physical deluxe boxset End of the World edition accompanying the main œuvre that same year (alongside “The Cold“). And lest we forget, the sappy and sugary standalone non-album Valentine single “Baby I Love You“—dropped mere months away from the principal Prisoner event—saw the Chris-housed “Was I Wrong” being served as companion piece for its physical release (further circumstantial evidence surrounding its being given birth during the lengthy and sumptuous Prisoner writing sessions can be found here, sourced straight from the horse’s mouth).

In agreement with fellow Chris reviewers, labelling this record as the final instalment in a discographic trilogy comprising Wednesdays and Big Colors could be inaccurate at best, decoying at worst. Much rather, one would be better off thinking of Ryan Adams’ nineteenth studio effort as the culminating double LP-relicts result of a working trajectory started with his 2014 self-titled, and fully emancipated and realised with his essential Prisoner outing three years after. Archival and cataloguing reflections notwithstanding, this effort takes listeners through an overall spotty, dusty, and erratic listening journey across 18 emotionally raw and occasionally overbearing cuts. Some, like the aforementioned “Lookout”, still come across as rough studio drafts, some sound like they never hit the final mastering round desk (album opener “Take It Back“, in spite of its compositional poignancy and momentum, cues two seconds of silence before playing back), while others sound overproduced and EQ’d too loud in the mix (“Replaced” at number sixteen).

No harm no foul; grieving, mourning, and penitence are imperfect and unrefined processes by definition. Throw at it the captained vessel of Adams’ sentimentally vulnerable assembly of atoms, tasked to act as primary conduit of canvassed messaging, and you’ll end up with the confused and unhinged hodgepodge that is Chris. Ultimately, what remains most vividly and brightly, after repeated front-to-back replays of this brotherly dedication in art, are quintessential third act Ryan Adams numbers. When navigating the menagerie on this thing, resort to the morally viscous and emotionally syrupy “About Time” (interestingly enough, one of the vastest pre-release leakages as part of this ‘album cycle’); the heavenly enchantment of “Schizophrenic Babylon“, a ballad for untimely lost angels and one that, can you believe it, borrows indiscriminately from Prisoner’s gnarly “Haunted House“, as well as the indescribable spiritual lightness of the title track. Of course. RIP Chris Adams.

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

RYAN ADAMS

CHRIS

2022, PaxAm Recording

https://paxam.shop

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): DENZEL CURRY TIER LIST | 2022-03-25

Support Denzel Curry:

https://denzelcurry.com
https://music.apple.com/se/artist/denzel-curry/631440154
https://www.instagram.com/denzelcurryph
https://twitter.com/denzelcurry

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

UNTITLED UNRELEASED. | 2022-02-21

We’re practically two months into the new year and still devoid of any conclusive information as to what timeline, shape, or form Kendrick Lamar‘s forthcoming studio project is to take. Which basically marks a whole lustrum since his last—the Pulitzer Prize for Music and Grammy Award-winning magnum opus DAMN. More damagingly, we are now quietly coming up on seven years since the release of one of the 21st Century’s most essential bodies of work, as the 34-year old Compton native graced both mainstream music and contemporary social theory studies alike with To Pimp a Butterly’s unparalleled epistemological substance. Since then, technologies, governments, and diseases have come and gone, and yet the Top Dawn Entertainment MC who now calls himself Oklama has hitherto surrendered little to no hints pertaining to his next big musical statement.

In times when rough draft B-side collections such as his throwaway untitled unmastered. compilation retain more inherent artistic value than most of what’s being glossed and primed on the entertainment frontline, a world surrogated by NFTs and fifth vaccination jabs is in excruciatingly dire need of a new Kendrick Lamar project. Sure, there was his ‘at service’ pgLang transmedia company announcement a few years back. Then a handful of microwaved slim picking mentions in outlets of varying credibility. One has but to decrypt the tea leaves to realize that juncture is overtly ripe for K.Dot to sculpt and place a new societal lighthouse. As distributed and hypernormalized social textures implode underneath the inertia of a post-structural world, the closest antidote to a panacea of all said ills would embody the likeness of the coloured canvass that only he could crystallize.

Don’t take it from us, but turn to one of Lamar’s most promising and minutely defined rap disciples, Chicago’s very own Saba, who just weeks ago took one for the whole team and rendered his personal introspective account of a cross-generational journey coasting through maturation, grief, and repentance on his spectacular third full length conscious hip-hop helping Few Good Things. Albeit infused and informed by different compelling events across incongruous geographical latitudes, the Pivot Gang‘s co-founder reduction of distilled socio-ethnical errands, coupled with the undercurrent of an inevitable splash of survivor’s remorse, orbits around the same solar system that birthed wise-beyond-their-years coming-of-age chronicles such as Kung Fu Kenny’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and the aforementioned TPAB. We’ll take Few Good Things for now, but Kendrick going another full year without dropping would entail catastrophic consequences.

Authors and tastemakers are crumbling under a similar pressure. The near embarrassing proliferation of retrospective album reviews, video essays, and pleas for release involving the most revered Black Hippy member’s discography of late is proof. Most recent in this slew of saturated accounts is a whole entire official podcast season dedicated to the ideation and production of TPAB, courtesy of Spotify’s exclusive podcast series The Big Hit Show; involving a who’s who of auteurs and contributors shaping the work of art that went on to win, inter alia, the Best Rap Album prize at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Shockingly, given its hosting platform donors, the show is underwhelming and reductive at best—nonetheless it stands to denote how pronounced our current lack of new Kendrick Lamar alimentation really is.

Inconveniently enough for our zeitgeist’s re-aligning wellness, pgLang came out of the woodwork to spoil some of the anticipatory thrill apropos a new and still untitled Kendrick Lamar album at the beginning of the year, as it revealed the production of a live-action comedy film jointly with Paramount Pictures to begin in the spring. The theatrical collaboration is set to include South Park honchos Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Vernon Chatman, with its plot ellipsing around a Black man’s tribulations whilst working as a slave re-enactor at a living history museum. Either Oklama manages to cut all the musical God’s nectar he needs to bundle, package, and manufacture his fifth studio LP before April, or else we might be in for another agonizing, this time somewhat ‘justified’, wait for an updated map for the lost.

So here’s to Kendrick Lamar quenching this mean old world’s thirst before long. For despite love, loss, and grief have disturbed his and our comfort zone, the glimmers of God speak through his music and family. While the world around him and us evolves, we reflect on what matters the most. The life in which his words will land next. As he produces ‘his final TDE album’, we know he feels joy to have been a part of such a cultural imprint after seventeen years. The struggles. The success. And most importantly, the brotherhood. May the Most High continue to use Top Dawg Entertainment as a vessel for candid creators. As Kendrick Lamar continues to pursue his life’s calling. There’s beauty in complexion. And always faith in the unknown.

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

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): EARL & CORDAE LPs / JACK WHITE & EDDIE VEDDER SINGLES | 2022-01-22

What’s Earl gotta do to afford an exclusive, dedicated, non-morphed critical account recounting one of his bodies of work on these premises? Bless, we’re asking ourselves the question too—yet for a second time in a row, following the embedded critique of his 2018 AOTY list-featured Some Rap Songs, the former Odd Future bars-wizard can’t seem to score anything more than a byline mention amidst a cacophony of other critical appraisals around here. For some order’s sake: Los Angeles’s very own abstract and jazz rap MC Earl Sweatshirt recently issued his fourth official solo LP SICK!, which within a relatively short span of time went from announcement to full release, piercing through the new year and hastily turning the record into an early 2022 highlight in the wake of a somewhat lukewarm and by-the-numbers tail end of last year.

Earmarked and distributed via his own Tan Cressida imprint as a (semi-) free agent and a little nudge from recording royalty Warner Records, the project clocks in at just about 24 minutes of runtime, and got teased and promoted by the scintillating mist of the watertight “2010“, the auxiliary posse cut “Tabula Rasa” featuring fellow envelope-pushing wordsmiths Armand Hammer, as well as “Titanic“, a nocturnal stream of consciousness smorgasbord that seems to come and go in the blink of an eye. All three singles saw the light of day between late November and early January this year, just in time before the full album hit digital shelves on the subsequent Friday 14th. With the minor exception of the latter, this batch of lead singles accurately sections the principal contents of this record, candidly illustrating their unhinged and earnest sonic palette.

Not unlike with his last two official collections of tracks—lest we forget, the 27-year-old Chicago native unleashed the deboned and boundaryless Feet of Clay in 2019—SICK! concerns itself with further honing and perfecting a particular type of linear and elongated incongruous musical narrative committed to tape, devoid of any spinal infrastructure, but rather extracting pure diluted elixir from a primordial soup of a fuzzy and hollow strain go hip-hop made of minimalism, reduction, and synthesis. Cuts like the cloudy and cotton-padded Alexander Spit-produced “God Laughs“, or the devastatingly floundered title track, not only sport some of Sweatshirt’s best and most distinctive wordplay to date, but they also warrant him to urgently do so in less than 120 seconds. Amidst it all, notwithstanding the more frequent and reassuring glimpses of sun-lit serenity exhuming throughout this thing, Thebe Neruda Kgositsile’s effortlessness in ferociously pulling listeners into long-forsaken abysses remains unparalleled.

On the same exact new music Friday that brought us SICK!, the rapper formerly known as YBN Cordae presented to the world his sophomore full length studio album, entitled From a Bird’s Eye View. We’ll get this full disclosure out of the way before too long: we’re only really coming around to ‘getting’ the Cordae hype now—and that’s on us. Yet, with little to no preconceptions and fields of reference, the Atlantic-released twelve-track project from the budding Raleigh, NC-born rapper coasts through with an amount of efficacy, immediacy, and originality that only a handful outings a year can strive to. God forbid, one knows an album has got quite a lot going for itself when even the interludes sound as evocative and poignant as some of the key cuts. Case in point, the fly and verbose project opener, coming courtesy of Cordae’s imprisoned brother Shiloh.

A hip-hop disciple equally indebted to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly as to pre-Tha Carter IV Wayne, on the fabulously and lavishly produced FABEV the former YBN collective-member is spellbinding on both pensive and introspective tell-all numbers (“Jean-Michel“, “Momma’s Hood“), as well as on irresistibly quotable 16-bars on sticky hip-pop dancefloor fillers (“Want From Me“, “Coach Carter“, “Westlake High“). Counterintuitively, none of the aforementioned standouts feature any guest acts, unlike the rest of this project where, unavoidably, both old (of course Lil Wayne, Freddie Gibbs, Stevie Wonder) and new (Gunna, H.E.R., Lil Durk) black guard connect—yet alas without turning as many memorable heads as solo Cordae manages to pull off on here. This young MC’s talent is undeniable, his songwriting sharp as iron, and with refrains as hooky and earworm-y as these, one could not be faulted to bill him as one of the big headlining names in the 2020s mainstream rap pantheon.

While one promising and enthralling career arc is opening up beyond the sky’s limit, two other significant ones just slithered their final nails in their respective coffins, with curtain call albums released in 2021 by now-defunct legendary Buffalo, NY-metalcore quintet Every Time I Die and the hardest working boyband in the world, BROCKHAMPTON. Hailing from genres and styles that could not be further apart on the musical spectrum—the same can’t however be said for their grassroots, DIY, and underground springboards—both groups recently announced their untimely break ups. Each concluding their own special and iconic trajectories of influential and boundary-pushing artistic output, they did so not without dishing out two final LPs that each landed coveted spots as part of our 2021 Albums of the Year list. Before we move on to our final crop of singles under consideration, we wanted to tip off our hat to both outfits, similarly pioneering and proficient in their own lane and style; thanking them for having graced us with such magnificent and eclectic art throughout their celebrated tenures.

Lastly, let us take a look and put a pin into two old rock and roll cats’ forthcoming studio albums and their respective auditory sneak peaks, slated for release later in the year. While both Jack White and Eddie Vedder need no introduction, it still feels enthralling to report that they announced highly-anticipated solo albums during the latter half of last year, and are thus in the midst of promotional cycles churning out one single after another. The former White Stripes-frontman did not stop at one, but rather saw fit to tease toward two completely separate new LPs in 2022. Fear of the Dawn is set for release in early April and will reportedly feature the Detroit guitarist’s conventional garage rock flair, whereas later in the summer he will funnel the acoustic folk-laden eleven tracks long Entering Heaven Alive. Web punters were afforded a first abrasive and annihilating nibble of what’s to expect as part of the first electric release back in October last year, as White unveiled the spine-frying and unforgiving devastation of the epic “Taking Me Back” (his first solo offering in four years), incidentally doubling as lead score for the latest video game rage Call of Duty: Vanguard.

Not long after said inaugural sonic obliteration, on the same exact mid-January new music Friday that brought us SICK! and From a Bird’s Eye View, the Third Man Records-founder and underrated upholsterer pulled a one-eighty on the world and gently ushered the delicate arpeggio woven into the somber affair that is “Love is Selfish“. Of course, the tune stands to premiere the second of the two albums anticipated by White, and consists of an intelligently found balance between opinionatedly insecure lyrics (“I’ve been trying over the years to / Try and overcome these fears, but / Nothing I come up with proves I can / And I work real hard to make you understand / Yeah, I’ll try my best to help you understand“) and a chorus-less songwriting, consolidating few good ideas around a backbone that allows him to flesh out his creative muscles across three minutes of runtime.

Just as enthusing as two new albums from Jack White is Pearl Jam‘s very own and grunge rock icon Eddie Vedder’s first solo offering in over a decade, Earthling. A thirteen-chaptered collection planned to drop in just a matter of mere weeks on 11th February, the project can now count on a third and final lead single unveiled on the same exact mid-January new music Friday that brought us SICK!, From a Bird’s Eye View, and Jack White’s “Love is Selfish”. Denoting a stark and asserted departure from anything to be found on his previous solo discography, the striking and emotional “Brother the Cloud” sees the 57-year-old rock compadre juggle lyrical stoicism, timeless melodic arrangements, and a chorus bound to reside rent free in many a listener’s cerebral dwellings. Amen to estranged former frontdads, bands that split, and gnarly juvenile hip-hop flagbearers for ensuring 2022’s early musical hodgepodge is healthier and more fun than ever.

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

EARL SWEATSHIRT

SICK!

2022, Tan Cressida

https://www.earlsweatshirt.com

CORDAE

FROM A BIRDS EYE VIEW

2022, Atlantic Recording

https://www.cordaemusic.com

JACK WHITE

TAKING ME BACK & LOVE IS SELFISH

2021 & 2022, Third Man Records

https://jackwhiteiii.com

EDDIE VEDDER

BROTHER THE CLOUD

2022, Republic Records

https://pearljam.com