GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER: RYAN’S BLOOD ON THE TRACKS | 2023-01-16

As if attempting to take a stab at reimagining your reported ‘favorite album of all time’ would not be intimidating enough, restless and prolific singer/songwriter Ryan Adams chose to indulge in the challenge while playing in God mode. Shortly after delving into the hounds of rust belt hell via his recent unsolicited interpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s marquee project Nebraska, the 48-year old poet and musician this time saw fit to up the storied and timeless ante by borrowing from his ‘favorite songwriter of all time and spirit animal’ Bob Dylan. Reinventing the Nobel Prize winner’s iconic fifteenth studio album Blood on the Tracks, Adams’s own version of the 10-track LP appeared as yet another free digital download on his PaxAm label on Christmas’s Eve—a festive offering of sorts.

In his defense, the former Whiskeytown founder self-exculpated the covers album release by pleading ‘sacrilege’ over the stint, yet rebutting how he would be ‘doing it anyway’, prefacing how ‘it’s important to stay on your toes, and frankly after this beautiful year of climbing this mountain again my body is broken but my mind is pacing the floors… so it’s time to get busy.’ Lest people forget, Blood on the Tracks was the seven-time Grammy Award nominee’s sixth studio project unveiled during the course of the 2022 calendar year (adding to Chris, Romeo & Juliet, FM, Devolver, and the aforementioned Nebraska), annihilating previous personal and industry records at once.

Taking Adams’s recent DIY, self-released, and up-for-it ethos into account, the musical heresy was bound to be naturally deconsecrated. A somewhat reduced—and contextually enforced—instrumental backline underscores his rendition of the folk rock pièce de résistance, while slyly walking a thin tightrope between homage and re-appropriation as far as the performance committed to tape is concerned. Most crucially, his PaxAm re-issue adds a whooping extra twenty minutes of runtime to Dylan’s more contained 52, accrued by virtue of more or less extensive instrumental codas tacked on to cuts such as “Simple Twist of Fate”, “You’re a Big Girl Now”, as well as project bookends “Shelter from the Storm” and “Buckets of Rain”.

While adding more than a third of previously inexistent material to a work of art universally considered flawless might sound like a non-starter to purists, such musical fat on this thing is easily cut, and never in the way of the essential message conveyance on this update. Lending the Ryan Adams treatment to such legendary and to a certain extent untouchable recordings also meant demystifying what for many—through little fault of their on, mind yo—is a fourth-wall relationship to these American classics. For Adams neither modernizes nor museum-ifies these vignettes. He just merely performs them. That’s a straight A for making the effort alone.

As recently argued within the context and realm of him gifting Nebraska to the world—another unattainable record if there ever was another one—the Jacksonville, NC-native is bound to his spurs of creativity much like a scissor to its two arms. Blood on the Tracks was apparently arranged, rehearsed, and recorded all whilst fighting post-tour blues this past December, following his most recent US fall/winter live leg. If one can pass us the analogy; nobody would bat an eye if your favorite <insert here> basketball player hit the court for a couple free throws the day after the big match—like it or not, much like any professional athlete of record would do in their line of sports, Ryan Adams poured his blood, sweat, and tears on these tracks.

In the same breath, even a cursory scan of some of the verses and stanzas echoing loud almost fifty years after they were initially written, could almost have one wonder whether they were just chucked down by latter-day Adams himself. Take the brilliant and malignant opening batch from “Idiot Wind”: “Someone’s got it in for me / They’re planting stories about in the press / Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out quick / But when they will I can only guess“—one can’t but picture the alt-country minstrel double checking his notes on whether it’s really a cover he’s recording. Elsewhere, the poignancy and earnestness with which they’re delivered make the following sets of words from the penultimate cut sound and read just like they originally came from Adams’ pen: Suddenly I turned around / And she was standing there / With silver bracelets on her wrists / And flowers in her hair / She walked up to me so gracefully / And took my crown of thorns / “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give ya / Shelter from the storm”.

Admittedly a tad too late, but here’s a fat disclaimer: much like with Springsteen’s Nebraska, on Blood on the Tracks liberties were taken. Verses were cut, song tempos were altered, solos and instrumental interludes were added and removed, cover arts were reimagined (see below). It notwithstanding, the creative process’s resin extrapolated from the source leaves us with a watertight opening quartet of tunes, making up what’s Adams’s most focused, original, and accessible portion on the whole project. By contrast, the midsection gets a little rougher around its edges, and frequently risks to trail off on a number already patience-demanding such as “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”, potentially causing some listeners to throw in the towel halfway through.

The two-pronged ending is worth sticking around for, though. Adams’s “Shelter from the Storm” becomes a sweet little groovy acoustic serenade with lots to write home about. From its soft and tender instrumentation, to the former Cardinal’s reassuring intonation and diction, the cut gently skids through its four minutes and change before giving way to an impromptu six-minute instrumental coda that, unlike some of the earlier ones on the record, ends up sticking its tasteful and gratifying landing in spite of a few lick blemishes here and there. The exploit pulls its curtains scored by the eleven-minute sonic odyssey of “Buckets of Rain”, a frizzy and buoyant outro that cues up another six-string fade out before morphing into a blistering cold droney outflow—a callous reminder that by staying true to his unrestrained self, Ryan Adams managed to do away with any musical apprehension for the salacious crime he committed.

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

Advertisement

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2022 | 2022-12-20

NEIL YOUNG WITH CRAZY HORSE — BARN, TOAST & WORLD RECORD (REPRISE RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.
LISTEN HERE.
LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

EARL SWEATSHIRT — SICK! (TAN CRESSIDA)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

SABA — FEW GOOD THINGS (PIVOT GANG)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

EDDIE VEDDER — EARTHLING (REPUBLIC RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

STEREOPHONICS — OOCHYA! (IGNITION RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

ALEX CAMERON — OXY MUSIC (SECRETLY CANADIAN)

LISTEN HERE.

RYAN ADAMS — CHRIS, ROMEO & JULIET, FM, DEVOLVER + NEBRASKA (PAXAM RECORDING COMPANY)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.
LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.
LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.
LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

DENZEL CURRY — MELT MY EYEZ SEE YOUR FUTURE (LOMA VISTA RECORDINGS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

JACK WHITE — FEAR OF THE DAWN & ENTERING HEAVEN ALIVE (THIRD MAN RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.
LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

ALEX G — WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR, OST & GOD SAVE THE ANIMALS (MILAN RECORDS / DOMINO RECORDING)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.
LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

RANSOM — NO REST FOR THE WICKED & CHAOS IS MY LADDER (MOMENTUM ENTERTAINMENT)

LISTEN HERE.
LISTEN HERE.

KENDRICK LAMAR — MR MORALE & THE BIG STEPPERS (TOP DAWG ENTERTAINMENT)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

JAMIE T — THE THEORY OF WHATEVER (POLYDOR RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE.

DANGER MOUSE & BLACK THOUGHT — CHEAT CODES (BMG RIGHTS MGMT)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

FREDDIE GIBBS — $OUL $OLD $EPARATELY (ESGN/WARNER RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

CORY BRANAN — WHEN I GO I GHOST (BLUE ELAN RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

ARCTIC MONKEYS — THE CAR (DOMINO RECORDING)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

CARLY RAE JEPSEN — THE LONELIEST TIME (INTERSCOPE RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN — ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

BROCKHAMPTON — THE FAMILY & TM (RCA RECORDS)

LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.
LISTEN HERE. READ MORE HERE.

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

AV

RYAN’S REASON TO BELIEVE | 2022-12-12

On Wednesday 7th of December, alt-country singer/songwriter Ryan Adams did the unthinkable only a few years ago and gave away a full front-to-back rendition of Bruce Springsteen‘s revered 1982 classic Nebraska, making this collection of covers his fifth official studio album release in the current solar year. While rewriting musical history by way of re-dressing a set of original songs via his trademark guises is nothing inherently new for the PaxAm label owner—he successfully and fiercely charted said territory the first time eight years ago with Taylor Swift’s 1989—issuing five distinct projects in less than seven calendar months is something unparalleled and unprecedented even for a prolific author such as himself. Yet don’t get it twisted; less than standing as desperate industrious attempts at morphing into the present day media landscape’s content output expectations, the 10-track ode to one of Adams’s most evident influences is but an expression of endurance.

Progress through action and creation—the form and pacing of the 48-year old Jacksonville, NC-native’s musical portfolio growth of late can’t pretend it’s hiding behind a necessity of unabashed fast-forwardness. This might be where the rubber meets the road: since his comeback unplugged oeuvre Wednesdays in December 2020, the former Whiskeytowner has released seven LPs. That’s a number as big as his worshipped feline household companion’s purported lives, for comparison’s sake. While it’s true that the buck has to stop somewhere, if there is anything that the past twelve months have taught legions of DRA disciples, is that a storyteller as gifted and impervious as Ryan Adams can only survive as a relentless musical empresario. So much for having additional out-of-the-box records in the can, ready to be unveiled in 2022 as originally announced in the lead up to his summer album FM.

Truly and honestly, we can’t say he did not warn us. There were a slew of presages worked into this past years’ tea leaves pointing to some resemblance of boundless creative manifestation, acting as some sort of be-all and end-all for the heartland rocker. A higher faith of sorts to devote one’s self to. With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, one could easily point at his recurrent generous live impromptu sessions on Instagram, the engrossing runtimes and setlists of his more recent three-hour long solo acoustic shows, or even the trickery surrounding an alternate Boss-indebted sleeve for his inaugural trilogy album Wednesdays, as self-evident clues leading to something akin to the gesamtkunstwerk of studio debauchery and stern live renditioning that his own personal interpretation of Nebraska panned out to be.

What matters though is the substance, the artistic elixir; not the format. Nebraska is his second free digital download gift to fans in quick succession, following rapidly on the heels of the brilliant and neat Devolver. With it, DRA seems to self-fulfil the reassurance that he can rest on the grounded belief that effortless creative sprawls are there for him to be captured and channelled outwardly. Whether they translate into industry ruffian studio albums or self-recorded giveaways, matters only peripherally (and to those troubled enough to care). The whole point of being Ryan Adams is to be afforded the creative and marketing license to retain the unfiltered, untamed, and unedited impetus that always accompanied him along his near thirty years worth of discography—irrespective of whether that’s true blue country on Jacksonville City Nights, heartland rock on his self-titled, or heavy metal on Orion.

Nebraska, much like say Devolver, the PaxAm Single Series, or his more recent Instagram live sessions, speaks of the auteur working out, attending his regular gym sesh. In a not too dissimilar fashion to the source material creator’s modus operandi—who in his Born to Run memoir revealed how his songwriting prowess was shaped more by method and consistency than bursts of uncalled for inspiration—Ryan Adams can’t not write and put out music. So why not wholly condoning his embrace of such an un-produced urge by way of leveraging his modern day freedom from contractual or material constraints to opt into a ‘the more the merrier’ ethos? Lest we misunderstand, the approach is additive, not discrete.

While we all eagerly await Bruce to unearth his own lost drum-loop based synth-washed album, let this project carry us in a similarly unassuming yet stark fashion, all the while musing over what Springsteen’s artistic trajectory could have been in the 90s, if only. Safe to say, most of us will take this over any other disingenuous boomer bait any day of the week. How could we not: this is Ryan’s early Christmas present. Most of us will eventually come around to pardon and appreciate what’s arguably the most prolific songwriter of his generation for speeding up “Atlantic City“, chopping and screwing “Johnny 99“, or going full analogue live take on the final three cuts on his version of Nebraska—for most of us have understood that we can’t have Heartbreak-era Ryan Adams, if we can’t accept post-2020 Ryan 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

THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 2022 IS BACKLOADED | 2022-11-17

Any calendar year’s fourth quarter act invariably sprouts summational thinking on the part of music pundits the world over, thrusting them into cynically whittled down crop of best (and worst…) of new music as if their life depended on it. As it turns out, 2022 appears to be making said faux-editorialized process ever so slightly more difficult, by virtue of above-average quality drops peppered throughout the last two eligible months of October and November. We’d go as far as to claim that the current one might be the most backloaded revolution around the sun in semi-recent memory—potentially of the last decade. This essay sets out to highlight a round up of but a few of the miscellaneous late-into-the-year releases standing to corroborate and qualify such advanced hypothesis. And to think it’s doing so without exhibiting other potential heavyweight honourable mentions worthy of making the cut, such as the intelligently composed and astutely assembled The Car by the Arctic Monkeys, Freddie Gibbs‘s aspirational glam rap opera $oul $old $eparately, and Canadian treasure Neil Young‘s self-effacing fifteenth studio album with Crazy Horse, World Record. Or even Taylor Swift’s open-hearted confessional Midnights, rounding up with Nas’ latter-day-high King’s Disease, attained via his third cold-blooded single-handed trilogy instalment.

A subdued and unsuspecting mid-October Friday saw the return of exquisite Mississippi-hailing singer/songwriter Cory Branan, who with his latest 11-track exploit When I Go I Ghost fiercely put an end to a five year mouthwatering musical drought, dating back to his last studio body of work: 2017’s mixed bag Adios. Unlike his previous, his newest record is a superlative exercise in no frills alt country and then some—flirting equally exuberantly with blue collar heartland rock (particularly on lead single “When In Rome, When In Memphis“, but also on “Room 101” and “Come On If You Wanna Come”), heavy garage rock (“When I Leave Here”), as well as lightweight power pop (“One Happy New Year”). It might be stating the plain as far as the Branan-initiated are concerned, but one of the sharpest traits that sets him apart from the dime-a-dozen pack of mainstream-adjacent country exponents is his refined lyrical sensibility, exhuming a supremely distilled ability to sound both emotionally relatable and eruditely unrivalled at the same time.

When I Go I Ghost is no exception in how it launders and delivers witty quotables and earnest diaristic entries alike—all set to carefully curated rootsy sonic backdrops, relying primarily on Branan’s still criminally underrated guitar playing, as well as sparsely interwoven keys of all strands. Frankly, each of the eleven records sequenced on the project could warrant at the very minimum one sampled litmus test, yet we’ll limit the textual road show to just a few here. Start with “O Charlene“‘s sudden lightheartedness of surrender, which might be one of the most unexplored themes in rock music—especially by men: “Cause the birds are still singing and the sun still burns / Swing low, diminishing returns / And I’m finally done with all my trying to get it right / I drink a flat Coca Cola in the cold sunlight“). Meanwhile, “That Look I Lost“‘s romantic ambivalence, doubling as one of the stickiest refrains on the album, makes for an all too familiar internal struggle to those fighting back their natural ageing inertia: “And I’ll spend the rest of my life / Dying to find / That look I lost, that look I lost / Dying to find that look I lost in her eye“.

Another unassuming dark horse eruptively claiming high altitude spots on many a year-end lists in 2022 has got to be The Loneliest Time, 36-year-old Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s sixth studio album. On our part, we did our best by warning Interweb argonauts about CRJ’s impending pop doom ahead of time, but boy did the feast not disappoint. Hitting the shelves one week after Branan on 21st October, the Interscope-corralled set of synth-pop galore aptly packs thirteen anthemic vignettes of prima facie alienated melancholic catchiness. Case in point, third promo single leading up to the full release, “Talking to Yourself“, culling the immediate resonance and impact of few other modern pop cuts. Everything from its slick and glossy production to the undeniably familiar verse-pre-chorus-bridge-chorus leitmotiv is bona fide song crafting perfection. In the same breath, “Joshua Tree“, at number two on the tracklist, dabbles as much in pop rock instrumentation as in synthetic pop incantation, only to fold before the melted cheese stickiness of its refrain: “I need it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I feel it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I see it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I know it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I own it (Da, da-da-da-da-da) / I show it (Da, da-da-da-da-da)”.

Jepsen—who on The Loneliest Time enjoyed studio co-signs from behind-the-scenes songwriting royalties Rostam Batmanglij and Alex Hope, as well as her longtime collaborator Tavish Crowe—is the type of music creator who can disguise a quasi-interlude into one of the strongest takeaway from a premiere body of work (“Sideways“), in spite (or precisely because of) sugary and borderline cringeworthy verses such as “One more cutе disaster / Said, ‘I love you’ twice / Bеfore you could even answer / It’s hard here in paradise“. Contemporaneously, the Grammy-nominated artist is one to sequence absolute album standout “Bad Thing Twice” as late as number ten on the record’s D-side, willingly entering into the risk of leaking potential listenership along the way before delivering a masterclass in Dua Lipa-like heartbreak slapper material. Sonically and thematically, The Loneliest Time is such a resiliently robust collection of songs; one’d be hard-pressed to spot a lull moment or snoozer on this thing (perhaps “So Nice” on an antonymic day?). Even its pocket of digital-only bonus tracks is worth sticking around for.

Surely, the heaviest name to drop on this year’s backload is Bruce Springsteen‘s, whose 21st studio album Only The Strong Survive sees him interpreting custom solo renditions of fifteen classic soul exploits. Stemming from the storied and iconic back-catalogues of Motown, Gamble & Huff, Stax, and similar fixtures, these recordings double as The Boss’s second collection of covers to date (following the Grammy-winning We Shall Overcome in 2006). By his own admission, the handpicked selection of evergreen R&B tunes enabled the 73-year old “to make an album where I just sang. […] I’ve taken my inspiration from Levi Stubbs, David Ruffin, Jimmy Ruffin, the Iceman Jerry Butler, Diana Ross, Dobie Gray, and Scott Walker, among many others.” Further elaborating on the revisited creative concept through a dedicated announcement clip, the OG New Jerseyan declared: “I’ve tried to do justice to them all—and to the fabulous writers of this glorious music. My goal is for the modern audience to experience its beauty and joy, just as I have since I first heard it. I hope you love listening to it as much as I loved making it.”

As far as the lead up to the full release on 11th November was concerned, the initial electric sprawl and edginess of “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)“, originally written and performed by Frank Wilson in 1965, gave way to the beloved Commodores classic “Nightshift“—easily one of the album’s pièces de résistance, and an improbable rendition for the heartland rocker to hop on if there ever was one. It’s arguably on this track, more than any other in this retro crop, that Springsteen reached a vocal apex insofar as how clear, tight-commanded, and ebullient his windpipes sound. The watertight and sturdy “Don’t Play That Song” served as the final advance preview for the project, turning a bona fide chart-topper originally authored by Ahmet Ertegun and Betty Nelson (later popularized by Aretha Franklin in 1970) into a carefree brass fest set to Bruce’s cheeky yet wholly believable croonerisms. Elsewhere on the record, “When She Was My Girl“, “Turn Back the Hands of Time“, and “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” stand as further unmissable highlights—decisively turning Only The Strong Survive into an unavoidable candidate in any AOTY race.

At long last, on 17th November trailblazing and envelope-pushing LA boyband BROCKHAMPTON found good riddance of its interior demons by demystifying unreasonable longevity expectations for a coming-of-age group of a dozen through the purge of their swan-song, The Family. Just about making this year’s consideration’s cut, this is the Kevin Abstract-led group’s seventh and final album in six years. It follows their 2021 bloated mixed bag ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, and rides on the sappy coattails of their hiatus announcement at the beginning of this year. In keeping with the San Marcos, Texas-gestated collective’s unhinged explicitness, lead feline single “Big Pussy” came through from out of left field with a sprawling and out-of-control free jazz instrumental hold, shape-shifting into patch-worked tape-montage wizardry, only to feature the sole Abstract on the mic—much like on the rest of the project—dishing out inflammatory 16s about finessing unfulfilled record deals (“The label needed thirty-five minutes of music“) and the wedges of fandom (“The show is over ni**a, please stop harassing me / Stop asking me, it’s bad enough for me to deal with this tragedy / On my own“).

You guessed it: The Family packs a blitzkrieg 17 records into, well, 35 minutes of runtime—mind you, with as many as ten joints in the bag not even reaching the two minute mark. Everything but the kitchen sink notwithstanding, the off-the-wall raison d’être that has permeated the collective’s MO since its inception seems to take a time-out breather on the subdued and soulful “The Ending“. Dropped just a handful days before release date as conclusive project teaser, the intermezzo is less a fully-fledged single than a semantic coda sermon to BROCKHAMPTON‘s erratic conduct. Sequenced as penultimate offering on the tracklist, sandwiched between the raucous bareness of “My American Life” and their eponymous coda’s blistering prowess, such a concluding triptych makes for a momentous and poignant finishing. Before it, baked somewhere in there is another candid half-hour of heart-on-sleeve primordial soup of boundless hip-hop virtuosity, albeit Abstract-only. At any rate, it’s the last exhibit of a tail end of album drops amounting to as much as any other year top 10’s worth of material, coming to fruition in the last two months of the year alone—if a rising tide lifts all boats…

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

AV

CORY BRANAN

WHEN I GO I GHOST

2022, Blue Elan Records

https://www.corybranan.com

CARLY RAE JEPSEN

THE LONELIEST TIME

2022, Interscope Records

https://www.carlyraemusic.com

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE

2022, Columbia Records

https://brucespringsteen.net

BROCKHAMPTON

THE FAMILY

2022, RCA Records

https://www.brckhmptn.com

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ARCTIC MONKEYS TIER LIST | 2022-10-21

Support Arctic Monkeys:

https://arcticmonkeys.com
https://music.apple.com/us/artist/arctic-monkeys/62820413
https://www.instagram.com/arcticmonkeys
https://twitter.com/ArcticMonkeys

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 – 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