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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

BROCKHAMPTON

“GINGER”

2018, Question Everything Inc./RCA Records

http://www.brckhmptn.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

TYLER, THE CREATOR

“IGOR”

2019, Columbia Records

https://www.golfwang.com

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