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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AV

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

“WESTERN STARS”

2019, Columbia Records

https://brucespringsteen.net

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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

tyler-the-creator-igor-1250x1200

TTC_IGOR2

ON STRINGERS | 2019-02-14

From Wikipedia:

“In journalism, a stringer is a freelance journalist, photographer, or videographer who contributes reports, photos, or videos to a news organization on an ongoing basis but is paid individually for each piece of published or broadcast work. […]

The etymology of the word is uncertain. Newspapers once paid stringers per inch of printed text they generated. The theory given in the Oxford English Dictionary is that a stringer is a person who strings words together, while others use the term because the reporter is “strung along” by a news organization, or kept in a constant state of uncertainty. Another possibility is that using a sports analogy, the freelance journalist is seen as a “second string” whereas the staff journalist positions are more of the “first string”. (This in turn comes from music, where the first string is the premiere violin in the orchestra, the second string is the next most talented player and so on.)”

It is arguably no debatable issue that journalism nowadays – dwelling within a fully digitised, grassroots bottom-up social media era – is pretty much dead. Or perhaps, it is reborn and come back to life by way of a previously unrecognisable shape, depending on which side of the fence you’re on. This holds true at least as far as its modern conceptualisation as enlightened classic fourth-estate goes, residing alongside centuries-long bred societal pillars and acting as a watchdog of sorts against disenfranchisement and corruption. Yet somehow, as per their crowdsourced definition above, it is probably not so far-fetched to view stringers as the true first scattered networked social media contributors, vastly predating Facebook, Twitter and co (the irony of it coming from the most famous crowdsourced knowledge platform is not lost on me…). Stringers were, in other words, the OGs of citizen journalism, ostracised to the outskirts of corporative newsroom boundaries yet ever so critical and paramount for that sensational breaking news story-piece every news director is constantly chasing. Bear with me here.

Enter Louis Bloom, a character stemming from the mind and pen of American screenwriter and director extraordinaire Dan Gilroy. Lou is the lead protagonist in Nightcrawler, an outstanding 2014 motion picture film written and directed by Gilroy himself, chronicling the rapid and exponential rise and parallel moral downfall of an aspiring DYI stringer hustling through the nocturnal streets of an irresistibly sensual Los Angeles. Now the thing is that, after devouring the movie for the umpteenth time, the penny dropped for me. That is, I was very surprised to come to realise that there was in fact a hidden, secret, and decisively revealing narrative carved in-between the fatty lines rounding up the edges of the official acted script. A script within a script. Deep down. A story we weren’t supposed to fetch and grasp at a first superficial glance, but one that in reality unveiled so much more beneath the surface about modern neoliberal markets, philosophy, and existential musings. Dub it whatever suits you best, I just went ahead and took the official movie screenplay apart, unpacking anything I could find while looking for that mysterious feeling that the film as a whole was somehow able to convey. Seeing is believing.

Luckily for us, I think I was able to catch it. I got it out. Extracting selected excerpts from the full script – incidentally all Louis Bloom lines – helped revealing a whole entire new storyline stuffed with elevated teachings about life and beyond. Camouflaged and packaged within a Hollywood blockbuster, there is perhaps one of the most daring and radical educational deliveries that contemporary mainstream mass cultural production has ever seen. Enjoy and consume it responsibly:

 

LOU
Sir, excuse me, I’m looking for a job. In fact, I’ve made up mind to find a career I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I’m a hard-worker, I set high goals and I’ve been told I’m persistent. Now I’m not fooling myself, sir. Having been raised with the self-esteem movement so popular in schools, I used to expect my needs to be considered. But I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe, sir, is that good things come to those who work their asses off, and that people such as yourself who reach the top of the mountain didn’t just fall there. My motto is if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket. Did I say I worked in a garage? Sir, I think you and I could work well together. So how about it? I can start tomorrow or even why not tonight?

LOU
This is a custom racing bicycle, sir, designed for competitive road cycling. This bike has a lightweight, space-age carbon frame and handlebars positioned to put the rider in a more aerodynamic posture. It also has micro-shifters and 37 gears and weighs under six pounds. I won the Tour de Mexico on this bike.

LOU
Well, I’m selling this particular piece for ten thousand. I think at that price there’s a lot of value in it for you.

LOU
Thank you. I’m just beginning so praise from someone such as yourself, well you can imagine it means quite a lot.

LOU
It’s a fine opportunity for some lucky someone. I’d like to know about your prior employment and hear in your own words what you learned from each position.

LOU
I’m giving you the chance to explore career options and gain insight into my organization. It’s not at all unusual for me to make full-time job offers to my interns.

LOU
Don’t rush you. Okay. Good, I can use that … You see, Rick, they’ve done studies, and they found that in any system that relies on cooperation, from a school of fish or say even a professional hockey team for example, these experts have identified communication as the number one single key to success.

LOU
I liked how you handled Frank. You didn’t soften the truth or dilute it. I think being clear with your objectives is more important than trying to present ideas in a non-confrontational manner.

LOU
Well, all sorts of things, actually. I’m on my computer all day. I haven’t had what you’d call much formal education but you can find most anything if you look hard enough. Last year I took an on-line business course, for example. I learned you have to have a business plan before starting a business, and that why you pursue something is as important as what you pursue. The site advised you to answer the following question before deciding where to focus your abilities. The question was ‘What do I love to do?’ The site suggested making a list of my strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? And what are you not that good at? Maybe you want to strengthen and develop knowledge about the things you’re already good at. Or maybe you might want to strengthen your weaknesses. I recently remade my list and I’m thinking now that television news might just be something that I love as well as something that I happen to be good at.

LOU
Rick, I’m really pleased with how you’ve progressed and you’re doing a great job. However you just spilled gasoline on my car, which will eat the paint. I’d like you to tighten up a bit on this, because if you fill it like that again I’m gonna terminate you immediately, I promise you.

LOU
I’m focusing on framing. A proper frame not only draws the eye into a picture but keeps it there longer, dissolving the barrier between the subject and the outside of the shot.

LOU
Cabanita has been called an authentic taste of Mexico City. Most evenings there’s live music, but on Saturdays classic Mexican films are shown. Do you want to go with me? I think it would be fun if we went together.

LOU
Thanks for offering me the position but working for myself is more in line with my skills and career goals.

LOU
I feel like grabbing you by your ears and screaming in your face I’m not fucking interested. Instead I’m going to drive home and do some accounting.

LOU
Not me. I want to be the guy who owns the station that owns the camera. The business is doing well but I’m ready to grow to the next level. To do that I need to stay one step ahead of my competition and take risks. I also need financial support to implement expansion. Would you like another margarita?

LOU
I recently learned, for instance, that most Americans watch local news to stay informed. I also learned that an average half-hour of Los Angeles television news packs all its local government coverage — including budget, law enforcement, education, transportation and immigration — into 22 seconds. Local crime stories, however, not only usually led the news but filled 14 times the broadcast, averaging 5 minutes 7 seconds. And K.W.L.A. relies heavily on such stories. With Los Angeles crime rates going down I think that makes items like mine particularly valuable, like rare animals. I imagine your needs will only increase during next week’s rating sweeps period.

LOU
There’s certain good things in being alone. You have time to do the things you want to do, like study and plan. But you can’t have dinners like this. Or be physical with a person, I mean beyond a flirtationship.

LOU
You’re the news director on the vampire shift at the lowest rated station in L.A. I have to think you’re invested in this transaction.

LOU
You’re not listening, Nina. I happen to know you haven’t stayed at one station for more than two years at a time, and you’re coming up on two years soon. So I can imagine you have a contract for that length of time and that ratings during the next week will directly affect that.

LOU
Actually that’s not true, Nina. Because as I’m sure you know … a friend is a gift you give yourself.

LOU
It’s half-dozen of one, six of the other. What I’d like is for you to admit that you didn’t read what you said you did. I think you know that I’m a reasonable person, but no one likes to be lied to.

LOU
Rick. Trying to leverage your salary in this economic environment is near impossible. Most firms have set starting wages. Ideally, you could leverage with other offers but that is just not the case in your situation right now.

LOU
I thought you’d worked in other factors. If I didn’t think you could do better I wouldn’t ride you about routes. You have to know that, Rick. I think it’s just possible that I have a higher opinion of you than you have of yourself.

LOU
You should have walked in and looked, Rick. If you were half-curious. That’s what I’m paying you to do. You need to show initiative. There’s no better way to achieve job security than by making yourself an indispensable employee.

LOU
All the more reason. You might have helped me. You might have learned a new skill that made you more useful and put us on a track toward growth.

LOU
I’m not going to list the many benefits of this piece. I think it’s best that you probably just watch it for yourself.

LOU
Those were poor Mexican people in a roach coach. Two of them were illegals. These are three wealthy white people shot and killed inside their mansion, including a suburban wife shotgunned in her bed. I know you, Nina. I know your interest and excitement in this product is greater than the amount you’re offering.

LOU
What if the story’s not over? The people who did this escaped. They’re still out there, walking around with the rest of us. If I had a family and I lived in a home that might make me nervous. I would want updates on what was going on. With this footage people will turn to your channel for the story. Now I like you, Nina, I look forward to our time together, but you have to understand that 15,000 isn’t all that I want. From here on, starting now, I want my work to be credited by the anchors and on a burn. The name of my company is Video News Productions, a professional news gathering service. That’s how it should read and that’s how it should be said. I also want to go to the next rung and meet your team and the anchors and the director and the station manager, to begin developing my own personal relationships. I’d like to start meeting them this morning. You’ll take me around and you’ll introduce me as the owner and president of Video News and remind them of some of my many other stories. I’m not done. I also want to stop our discussions over prices. This will save time. So when I say a particular number is my lowest price, that is my lowest price and you can be sure I’ve arrived at whatever that number is very carefully. Now when I say I want these things I mean that I want them and I don’t want to have to ask again. And the last thing that I want, Nina, is for you to do the things I ask you to do when we’re alone together at your apartment, not like the last time.

LOU
I don’t usually share my business plan with you, but a moment has arrived that could allow the company to make enough money to expand to the next level. We could call this the critical moment. I’m inviting you, Rick, to be part of the team that pounces on this opportunity.

LOU
You’ve been asking a lot about your performance review. Well, for starters I’m seeing a great improvement with regards to your overall focus and order following. Given complex problems you’re developing a real ability to find clear, simple solutions. I’m also aware of your increased enthusiasm. It’s great to see how your eyes light up when you’re working on new ideas. I hope you’ll be inspiring us with your innovative thinking for years to come.

LOU
What makes a job desirable isn’t just the dollar amount attached to it, Rick. You’re on the ground floor of a growing business. Your reward is a career.

LOU
We can reopen negotiations, Rick, but remember that when it comes to your work reputation you can’t un-ring the bell.

LOU
What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.

LOU
I can’t jeopardize the company’s success to retain an untrustworthy employee.

LOU
That’s my job, that’s what I do. I like to say if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.

LOU
Congratulations. Your selection by Video News Productions is evidence of the hiring committee’s recognition of your employment history and unique personal qualities. It is my hope that through hard work and commitment you will move through the intern program and continue to pursue your career goals as full-time employees of Video News. I can tell you from experience that the surest way up the ladder is to listen carefully and follow my orders. You may be confused at times and other times unsure but remember that I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.

 

Nightcrawler’s full screenplay can be found 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.

AV

nightcrawler_Car

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): FEVER 333 IN CONCERT AT BLONDIES | 2019-01-18

We haven’t done these live show reviews in a very long while on these premises and it’s probably no coincidence that this new found motivation saw fit to strike again by way of former letlive. chief instigator Mr Jason Aalon Butler. These days Jason is perusing away from his home Los Angeles neighbourhood of Inglewood as he preaches, educates, and evangelises the masses by spreading political and socially conscious predicaments through the music and teachings of his new hip-hop/rock outfit Fever 333. It probably comes with no big surprise to any one reader that said alternative group has found its way onto the editorial gatekeeping of this very web property several times before. But let us now take a quick step back as we attempt to retrace the unfolding of subsequent happenings that brought yours truly to the epic and lush live show discerned hereby, as it is indeed no conventional chain of events. So, a bunch of months back I stumbled upon a pretty low-profile and innocuous tweet by UK alternative rock-fuelled publication Kerrang!, asking fans of the band to share their favourite Fever 333 tune explaining why they chose that particular song via an email to the newsroom. Whoever sent through their entry was then eligible to win exclusive tickets to a special and secret event with the band held in London, UK, on Wednesday 28th November last year. And here comes the first plot twist: after submitting my personal essay, it turned out I had miraculously won a pair out of about fifty of said tickets, revealing that my favourite Fever 333 song to date was “Soul’d Me Out” off their debut EP Made an America, going as far as shamelessly self-quoting the ARM review that dropped earlier last year as supporting evidence for my liking, stating:

“[O]ne can’t say enough good things about this cut, from the outstanding and groovy drumming work, to the fast and violently distorted guitars, passing through arguably Jason’s best vocal performance in years and a counter-intuitive yet perfectly adhering plain-landing chorus exclaiming simple but upfront lyrics, via a vocal line no too dissimilar from a lullaby melody (“Sell me out down the shallow river / Could I hate you more? / Could I hate you more?“), just moments before collapsing and disappearing into a scratching scream chanting the song’s central topic, perfectly mocked and intertwined with the expansive meaning of its title: “Sold me out, sold me out / You sold me out to the highest bidder / Sold me out, sold me out / You sold me out to the highest bidder“.”

Alongside the announcement of my victorious submission quest came various instructions that spilled the beans as to what the secret event was actually going to be, namely an extremely exclusive and intimate live performance by the band at North East London’s dive bar Blondies, an impromptu – and truly goddamn tiny small – venue that I only later found out regularly doubles as hosting space for Kerrang!’s Live in the K! Pit video series. The feature puts on regular underground live shows with no stage for about 50 fans, goes on to record them, and converts them into audiovisual transmissions syndicated online. Needless to say, excitement peaked at unprecedented heights, and unsurprisingly the actual live performance by the Los Angeles supergroup turned out to be nothing short of amazing. At this stage it might also be worth stressing out how this very show got squeezed in-between a very dense and relentless tour gig schedule that Fever 333 was under at the time, specifically supporting British metalcore giants Bring Me The Horizon across the UK and Europe. Wednesday 28th November, the night of the London secret show, was in fact their last “free day” before wrapping up the month-long touring leg with two enormous and bombastic final shows at the British capital’s Alexandra Palace venue (one of which – the Friday 30th one – I subsequently planned to attend as well, and so I did). Thus, on the last free evening of their extenuating tour schedule, the three Fever 333 minstrels decided to gift a very small portion of lucky fans one of the most electrifying and insane shows, further devoting part of the audience donation money collected at the door to charity, a regular praiseworthy tradition the group has been maintaining almost ever since its inception in 2017 alongside the creation of the Walking In My Shoes Foundation.

As soon as I got to the Hackney venue with my +1 and realised how infinitely minuscule the place actually was, I started to fundamentally wonder how on earth a punk rock show could have taken place in such a tiny room. Mind you, just to open up a quick parenthesis, as far as lead crowd instigator Jason Butler is concerned, a punk rock show is not simply some kind of slightly faster and more energetic version of your standard run-of-the-mill rock concert. No, ladies and gentlemen, live shows involving Jason are proper mental apeshit cathartic experiences taking up the form of intense collective electric explosions. You are all just one quick YouTube search away from witnessing his live show wilderness in all its glory. Consume responsibly though. So back to our regularly scheduled programme; as me and +1 enter the tiny dive bar, we notice how Blondies was already fully saturated and crowded from left to right, wall to wall, top to bottom. Admittedly, we were among the very last ones to make it to the secret location before their strict 8pm show start, which coincided with the venue’s door lockdown with no late admission allowed anymore. So that y’all esteemed readers can picture this, believe it or not, the entrance portion of the bar-turned-club was where stickman Aric Improta’s drum kit and a few free-floating mic stands were set up, making it the de facto impromptu same-floor-level “stage”, forcing the band to symbolically climb onto it from the main front door of the club, which made for a curiously unusual show entry to say the least (considering that the band had to hop onto the dive bar via the outside street).

An all-black canvas hooded Jason Butler was first to enter the ridiculously crowded and already steamy room, as a selection of scattered politically-oriented soundbites played in the background, followed shortly thereafter by technical drumming extraordinaire Aric Improta and electric guitars shredder and part-time model Stephen Harrison, moments before turning into the first abrasive drum patterns of new single “Burn It”, which anticipates the group’s first studio album outing Strength In Numb333rs, out worldwide today (happy release day, fellas). All hell broke loose after about 30 seconds into the song as Jason’s raw and biting scream welcomed Stephen’s big and crunchy distorted riff, potently guided by Aric’s stomping drums throughout the whole duration. As soon as the intro track finished, Jason immediately jumped into the raw and fiery primal scream of genesis heavy hardcore number “We’re Coming In”, FEVER 333’s first track ever to be written and unveiled to the world two years ago, shouting the now iconic call to arms: “So let me tell you about / Where all my people from / Where all my people from / We hear them sirens come and then the people run“. After the insane energy of their mission statement anthem, the band turned to their flagship song and debut EP title track “Made an America”, a topical and poignant cut for which the group got nominated for Best Rock Performance at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards just one week after this very show. Now, let that sink in just for a quick second. Insurgent, reactionary, and socially-conscious punk/hip-hop outfit FEVER 333 nominated for the preppiest, most corporate, self-indulgent award show ceremony in the space. How’s that for an irony. The times they are a-changin’.

A middle show section in which Jason found himself navigating every corner of the crowd’s meanders saw the inclusion of the brilliant ‘for the people’ equality hymn “One of Us”, a spectacular wandering beat box and drum solo fight between Jason and drummer Aric, as well as the potent and angry standalone single “Trigger”, explicitly denouncing the widespread virus of gun possessions and related violence in the USA. The singer and crowd instigator also took away some time to pledge a sincere and heartfelt tribute to all the women and girls in the room (Blondies is run by three sisters, Ed.) before launching into what is arguably FEVER 333’s biggest song to date, Walking In My Shoes. The short but extremely intense and captivating set got capped off by the wild, visceral, and abrasive Hunting Season off their debut EP, which gave everyone one last deserved yet barely exhausting chance to lose their collective minds whilst Jason and Stephen mixed up into a sweaty and squashed crowd all the way to the bar counter. The public display of musical insanity and individual freedom finally got to a plateau state, ears still ringing louder than ever and mics still hanging from ceiling pipes.

It probably comes with no surprise to any of you that the good people over at Kerrang! did indeed film and edit the whole performance with great love and curation. In fact, the final video version of the half-hour set just literally came out today in concurrence with FEVER 333’s album debut, and is now uploaded on the publication’s official YouTube channel. It is with great admiration, humbleness, and satisfaction that I report said broadcasting transmission to you all esteemed readers just below in form of a digital streamable video feed, embedded for your unbiased and unlimited viewing pleasure. So what else is there to say about a truly unique, mystical, and intimate experience so wonderfully captured in audiovisual form? Virtually nothing, hence why I choose to leave you with a tiny little piece of anecdote that might not be as easily retrievable on the Interweb (or perhaps it is by now, admittedly some months have past since I heard it). During their final Friday night opening slot for BMTH, Jason revealed how FEVER 333 had to drop the “THE” from their official band name for legal reasons, presumably on account of some form of name trademark infringement notice recently put forward against them by a third party. Fun fact: Jason elucidated the crowd on their recent legal dispute whilst tearing down their gigantic white stage backdrop banner flashing what at this point was the outdated (and illegal) THE FEVER 333 emblem, successfully tearing it down from hanging up above Aric before wrapping it all up into one indistinguishable piece of enormous candid cloth that got eventually donated to a resonating and salivating front-row audience. Arguably, there is no better symbolic rite of passage analogy for such an urgent and important punk rock outfit entering their next successful artistic phase, accompanied by a new name, a flattering Grammy nomination, a new fierce studio album, and all of the same old revolutionary aggression fuelled by social justice.

FEVER 333 played:

Burn It

We’re Coming In

Made an America

One of Us

Beatbox & Drum Solo

Trigger

Walking in My Shoes

Hunting Season

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

B3 FR33. Letting them know, there is a fever coming…

AV

fever-333-strength-in-numb333rs

TWENTY-TWENTY SURGERY | 2019-01-12

Yes indeed. It’s true. I was going to entitle this written prose Two Decades Under The Influence, or a similar derivative, toying with the idea of sliding in an intended fan-verified pun, recycling and distorting the title of one of Taking Back Sunday’s most distinguished and memorable cuts repurposing it for recounting the bells and whistles of the New York outfit’s celebrations of twenty years as a rock band. Yet, after stumbling upon one review after another from media outlets and publications on the Interweb employing exactly said double entendre, I profusely discarded the embryonal idea, letting it symbolically escape out of my conceptual editorial window. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s a brilliant and funny witty little joke that addresses and presumably pleases both long-time avid supporters as well as occasional in-n-out “fast-food” listeners of the group, but hey, enough is enough and we all know that even a delicious tomato soup meal can become nauseatingly redundant if repeatedly served every single day. Notwithstanding the above, however, there should at this point be an important content disclaimer for the whole entire esteemed readership willing and wanting to continue progressing with a perusal of the present blogpost; this owned and operated body of text deals with the most influential band on yours truly, a band that started it all for this site – one that even named this web property, for Christ’s sake – and a group whose compositions and performances have even made it onto my very epidermis and heart, straight as an arrow, multiple times.

What one should take away from such an eloquent and explicit warning, I figure, is that a miscellaneous semiotic salad of insider knowledge, pre-existing notions, double entendres, puns, and subtle wordplay references are to be abundantly expected throughout this creative appraisal. For better or worse, whether we like it or not, I can’t help it and you can’t either. It all starts with the title appointment of this post ending up being Twenty-Twenty Surgery, partly honouring a much overlooked and under-appreciated track off Taking Back Sunday’s biggest and most successful album, Louder Now, but mainly inherently implying a birthday wish to the band for as many more years of thriving artistry as the ones they’ve just left behind them. Anyway, I guess this is the final call to provide you all with the newsflash component of this update, before we get irreconcilably lost in digressive by-topical rabbit holes. Yesterday, Friday 11th January 2019, was a majestically important day for Taking Back Sunday. Yesterday, the alternative rockers officially released their fabulous career-retrospective 21-track compilation, dubbed Twenty for the occasion. The LP aims at celebrating and cherishing their best work over a long and accomplished journey as a band, that started at some point back in 1999. This 20th anniversary collection of tracks features shortlisted best-of cuts off all of their seven studio albums, starting from their 2002 seminal and trailblazing angsty emo debut Tell All Your Friends coming all the way to their most recent solid rocker LP Tidal Wave, dropped in 2016 to decent critical acclaim.

What’s gnarly about this compilation is that Taking Back Sunday actually included two brand new songs in it, both written and recorded just after the start of their last tour in support of Tidal Wave a few years ago. The first of two numbers, “All Ready To Go“, doubles as de facto promotional single for the wider release, and sounds very much like a big, dense, stomping amalgamation of all the differently related arena rock sounds the band has been flirting with ever since their 2010 reunion with the original formation, involving founding members John Nolan on guitars and Shaun Cooper on bass (although, to be honest, the track’s sound aesthetics lean more skewedly towards Happiness Is and Tidal Wave, than their 2011 come-back eponymous release). “All Ready To Go” kicks in heavily with a signature Mark O’Connell drum fill beat and a bouquet of water-falling guitars, before making space for a calmer and fuzzy bass-driven verse, flowing into a grand and potent chorus in which lead singer Adam Lazzara warningly shouts “I was livid and you weren’t listening / It didn’t matter cause you were leaving / You were all ready to go / You were all ready to go / You were all ready to go / Already gone“, perhaps uncannily alluding at the recent bittersweet departure of other founding long-time member and rhythm guitarist, Eddie Reyes. Nonetheless, it’s on the second exclusive new track, “A Song For Dan”, that the group seriously sets their artistic phasers to stun, with a sensational and heartfelt piano-led song discussing survival’s guilt and weaving in both an epic structural crescendo and an overall dramatically outstanding vocal performance by Adam:

To switch it up from such a melancholically somber spot, here’s a little piece of trivia for you all: it turns out it was drummer Mark who actually started it all for the track, coming up with the initial rough melodic draft as well as the overarching thematic subject matter the song ended up encapsulating: “You’re too far gone / To know where it goes / And I know you’re not coming home / Done too much wrong to know what’s right / And it’s too late to say goodbye“. Albeit perhaps surprisingly to some, those familiar with the Long Island emo veterans should know that Mark is not new to coming up with excellent and beautiful “early-days” riffs, licks, and motives that provided the backbone foundation for some of Taking Back Sunday’s most convincing and solid songs in their entire discography, such as the punk-rock stunner “Tidal Wave” or the gorgeously dark, vintage, sunburnt gem “This Is All Now“. Maybe it isn’t that surprising after all, that for a seasoned twenty-year-old band, who during the course of its life went through multiple incarnations, transformations, and line-ups – including charismatic scene veterans such as Jesse Lacey, Fred Mascherino, and Eddie Reyes – the longest serving member to date would be that best equipped to faithfully originate and translate the group’s zeitgeist into a sonic consensus that can still speak and resonate in such a captivating way with the audience. A special mention here is also due for frontman Adam – incidentally the other longest active member in the band – who after ramping up on his sound engineering and production knowledge by attending a specific programme on the subject during his spare time, saw fit to double as sound engineer for said two new tracks, saving the quarter a substantial amount of money and awkward producer-artist conversations in the studio.

Obviously, Taking Back Sunday is bringing the whole celebratory shebang on a global album-play tour, whereby for most legs of the live run faith and fortune will decide which combination of their first three albums (Tell All Your Friends, Where You Want To Be, Louder Now) the group is going to perform in full when and in which city. Which brings up a good point, frankly an unavoidable one whenever best-of compilations come into play; namely the quality and nature of the actual shortlist of songs that made the cut for the retrospective musical statement. So, let us get this right: Twenty, despite its name, actually sports twenty-one songs, two of which are the brand new tracks we just went through above. That leaves us with nineteen repertoire songs, split between seven full length albums to choose from. A quick skim through the tracklist reveals how some records (Louder Now, with four tracks) are more represented than others (New Again, self-titled, and Happiness Is only provide two tracks to the compilation). Which is obviously fine and, truth be told, pretty legit and in line with the mainstream fans’ appreciative leitmotiv over the years, let alone the actual commercial success of some of those albums. However, there is one big elephant in the room that oughta be addressed at this stage, since we’re looking back at the whole artistic evolutionary arch of the group: New Again. The album that no one seems to enjoy and fully appreciate, fans and band alike. A personal favourite, but whose recording sessions in the studio were rumoured to be among the hardest and toughest the band ever had, with newbie lead guitarist Matt Fazzi acting as the wild card/odd man out and the unpleasant blather heard sneaking through the grapevine alleging that all of Eddie Reyes’ guitar parts got secretly re-recorded, unbeknownst to most in the camp at the time. New Again was the studio effort supposed to follow the world-wide stirring exceptional success and excellence of Louder Now, only failing miserably both in terms of fans/critical reception and sales.

Look, I always have and forever will carry a ginormous soft spot filled with admiration and adulation for the 2009 LP (read: New Again, for the fast foodies). As far as a full album-listening experience goes, its curated sonic roughness, compositional resilience, patchwork of odd experimental time signatures, aggression of crunchy delivery, sublime guitar/bass work, and lyrical baggage, simply speak to me on a higher level than any other work outputted by the band, full stop. With that being said, I do believe that there are overall better individual songs found elsewhere in the New York outfit’s catalogue. Case in point, Where You Want To Be’s “A Decade Under The Influence“, “This Photograph Is Proof“, or “One-Eighty By Summer“. Still, to me New Again as a full length remains watertight, bullet-proof, and coherently unified from start to finish. Don’t @ on this one, as you wouldn’t even be reading these very lines on this very site if it weren’t the case. Yet all things considered, if Twenty as a collection of tracks walks like a duck, it should quack like a duck, and it is therefore only fair and compliant it faithfully reflects the band’s premiere musical output over the past twenty years in form of a best-of mixtape, in a relatively objective fashion and with the greater mass audience good in mind. With all this said and done: Dear Adam, John, Shaun, and Mark, here’s to another twenty years of marvellous career and success, continuing on your prime path of mending broken hearts, helping us decode relatable life experiences, enlightening darker times. But perhaps more importantly, here’s to maintaining a twenty-twenty vision on your mission to providing warmth and comfort to a myriad of scattered yet unified fans around the globe by way of goddamn good rock and roll tunes. We’re the lucky ones. 152.

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 happiest 20th birthday to Taking Back Sunday this time around.

AV

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ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2018 | 2018-12-20

AAL_2012 A.A.L. (AGAINST ALL LOGIC) – 2012-2017 (OTHER PEOPLE)

Buy it here.

 

August-Greene-Album-Cover-Full AUGUST GREENE – AUGUST GREENE (AUGUST GREENE LLC)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

TheFever333_MAA THE FEVER 333 – MADE AN AMERICA (ROADRUNNER RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

pusha-t-daytona-artwork PUSHA T – DAYTONA (G.O.O.D. MUSIC)

Buy it here.

 

KIDS SEE GHOSTS KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS (G.O.O.D. MUSIC)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

TA13OO_FINAL_ALBUM_COVER DENZEL CURRY – TA13OO (LOMA VISTA)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

Paul-McCartney-Egypt-Station-Album-Cover-web-optimised-820 PAUL MCCARTNEY – EGYPT STATION (CAPITOL RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

BH_Iridescence BROCKHAMPTON – IRIDESCENCE (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

181112-jid-dicaprio-2-album-cover JID – DI CAPRIO 2 (DREAMVILLE RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

 EARL SWEATSHIRT – SOME RAP SONGS (TAN CRESSIDA)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review 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

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): JID – “DICAPRIO 2” | 2018-12-05

You all know I have done this before, so I’m just going ahead and wrap up two separate and distinct music reviews into one single textual hamburger – which can be thought of as of vegan nature at one’s discretion too – primarily because like the good people over at DJBooth point out, there is simply too much music being released today on a quasi-daily basis, especially when it comes to the hip-hop/rap scene and community. Wait though there is more to it. In fact, the main musical work of art being reviewed and dissected in the present piece, Atlanta jazz-rapper and Dreamville Records prodigy JID’s DiCaprio 2, is not only arguably one of the most important rap releases of the latter part of this year, but its creators and strategists also saw fit to drop it on an anonymous and bland Monday – yes you read that right – thus defying all precious and long fought for music industry marketing and promotion harmonising conventions. The thing is, during that same week progressing further from DiCaprio 2’s publication date (26th November), when the usual run-of-the-mill puffy new music Friday tidal wave came along, it brought with it yet another one of the most highly anticipated hip-hop releases of 2018: Some Rap Songs, the third studio album from anguished and tormented Los Angeles-based articulated wordsmith Earl Sweatshirt, once the crown jewel of seminal and influential rap collective Odd Future. So ladies and gentlemen, I guess the cat is out of the bag now; all the while modern notions of time and space reduce us to the confinement of their ephemeral and slippery nature, this forces music and art reviewers to offer all-you-can-eat-like formats to accommodate the enriching creation of cultural artefacts in the new millennium. 2 for 1, let us go.

In this case though it’s more like a 1 and a half for 1, given that Earl’s gorgeously titled and inspired new full-length project – out under his own label imprint Tan Cressida and distributed by powerful Columbia Records – comes as a fantastically miscellaneous Russian salad of experimental spastic beats, avant-garde jazz loops, obscure out-of-tune samples, and prestigious spoken word excerpts, all clustered, smashed, and packaged into a 24-minute long and 15-chaptered abstract auditory experience, easily describable as hypnotic and mesmerising across the board. Teased over the course of November by two elusive yet sensorially abrasive, dark, and densely doughy singles, “Nowhere2go” and “The Mint” (with the latter cut representing the longest song on the album at just 2:45), Some Rap Songs is a weird and strenuously wonderful sonic patchwork that lives and breathes like a musical, emotional, and lyrical rollercoaster, enlisting a variety of juicy guest contributions from Navy Blue, Standing on the Corner, as well as vocal samples of Earl’s family with parents Cheryl Harris and Keorapetse Kgositsile and an instrumental sample of his uncle and prominent African jazz pioneer Hugh Masekela. In retrospect, the LP sounds more like an extended, un-edited, and uncut free stream of consciousness mixtape-format, displaying a rich and sensitive palette of moods and feelings, albeit fundamentally tied together by some kind of impending negative sensational mantel doom. It viscerally permeates and finds its peripheral ways into multiple lyrical passages on the project, as exemplified by lead single “The Mint”: Two years I’ve been missin’, livin’ life / You was wildin’, every day was trash / Crackers pilin’ in to rape the land / Early morning, wash my swollen hands.

Mind you, Earl’s third full-length record is a pristine and elevated creative effort, pushing multiple contemporary artistic boundaries to the next level all at once, spanning production, beat choice, flows, lyricism, and content weight as well as rawness. Superior cuts such as the gelid and fuzzy “Cold Summers” (“Really, I’m just makin’ sure my promise is kept / Chuck a duece if you know it’s the end / Kept the truth in my palm and my chest / See it through, keep a noose hangin’ off of my neck“), the cathartic, gorgeous, and heavenly sampled “Azucar”, or the touching and endearing family reunion as collated together on “Playing Possum” doubtlessly make for some of Earl’s most beautiful tracks ever, but it’s the overarching and inherent cohesiveness of this project’s addictive storytelling that will probably leave its clearest and deepest mark on both casual and experienced listeners. This realisation emerges in spite of – or precisely because of – the additional contextual background surrounding both the gestation as well as the packaging of Some Rap Songs, including but not limited to the premature death of his poet father earlier in the year. No reason for yours truly to delve into said subject matter right now on this platform, for it would require a whole contextualisation on its own and frankly it’s already been discussed enough online, so if anyone is interested in exploring this side of the story I highly recommend this piece by Vulture that fetches the telling straight from the horse’s mouth. All in all, I’m fully aware of the potentially misguided and biased overrepresentation in best-of end of year lists of albums published close to the turn of the annual calendar, however this project stands out so much from the noised crowd of meaningless industrially produced music release schedules that its timeless and evergreen impact would make any year’s best-of shortlist. Watch this space for more.

Now, for real without further ado, onto the main cinematic bit. Admittedly, I personally have never been hugely captivated and compelled by the whole J. Cole led Dreamville-camp‘s vision or output, yet when it came to JID and recollecting the first time I came across him, I immediately bookmarked him as an unmissable release as soon as I figured he was working on the follow up to his 2017 debut studio album The Never Story. Something about him, and yes it might as well be the clear resemblance and recall of Kendrick Lamar‘s flow/MO, pitch, and delivery, intensely appealed to me right from the first moment I saw and heard him, so here we are finally taking a look at his long-awaited sophomore release, dropped after an allegedly lengthy and tedious sample-clearance roadshow-meets-crusade on the label side. This thing is the second and final instalment to the “DiCaprio series” that was started with JID’s eponymous free EP, and compared to the aforementioned Earl project has one fewer track but runs more than twice as long, compiling a solid and robust 51 minutes of running time (this figure refers to the bonus track version containing previous cast away standalone single “Hasta Luego” as fourteenth track). The album was previewed by two singles: the incendiary and stomping shapeless cut “151 Rum” (released on 19th September) and the enraged and hurried marquee lead single “Off Deez“, assisted by JID’s protector and hip-hop royalty J. Cole, dropping a few weeks before the full-length. Incidentally, the two songs stand shoulder to shoulder on the tracklist at number four and five respectively. As part of the anticipation and hype-building for DiCaprio 2, JID also embarked on beefy promotional stunts across online and TV media outlets, drafting two further cuts off his album – arguably almost more fittingly chosen than the official singles mentioned above – upgrading them to quasi-single status. These songs are the soul and R&B infused slow burner “Working Out“, extremely reminiscent of the vibe and aesthetic Kendrick was partially going for in his rap opus To Pimp A Butterfly, as well as tender ladies’ ballad “Skrawberries”, premiered during his network television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

The batch of promotional “singles” floating around the main course like gravitational satellites keeping the main planet centred and balanced are an almost perfect distillation of the sonic and production variety DiCaprio 2 has to offer as a whole, however the best moments probably live elsewhere. Take for instance the idyllic and confident “Off da Zoinkys” at number six, a supreme rap number encompassing flawless flows, gentle yet remarkable instrumentals, and self-aware if not preachy memorable lyrics (“I gotta make sure my vision is clear / Oh God, no, it’s not what it seems / Six, five, four, one, two, three / .45 tote, you know me / You don’t want smoke, so what it’s gon’ be? / Gotta watch what you say when you lookin’ at me“). Similarly, at number twelve we find the powerful climax of “Just da Other Day”, captured in a soft and marvellous sound texture producing a fairly linear lyrical texture with refined flows and a very sticky hook: Just the other day I was goddamn broke / You got a five, I got a five, let’s smoke / Just the other day I was running from them folks / Like (Woah, woah) ni**a you too slow. Or again, standard album version closer “Despacito Too” finds JID on a determined solo parade moving from bar to bar armed with a bunch of hypnotic synths and a straightforward drum machine spitting out some of the best and most convincing thematic substance on the whole album.

With all that nice and sweet being said, there are various moments on this record that leave a lot to be desired, and come across pretty lacklustre and tedious. Funnily enough, these tend to coincide almost always with the joints enlisting featured guests, which include collaborators such as 6LACK, A$AP Ferg, BJ the Chicago Kid, Ella Mai, J. Cole, Joey Badass, and Method Man. The A$AP Ferg-assisted messy and redundant glockenspiel found on “Westbrook” makes for arguably the corniest, most prosaic, and most cringeworthy sound on the whole album, whereas “Tiiied” – featuring fellow East-Atlanta MC 6LACK and English singer/songwriter Ella Mai – sounds boring and one-dimensional all the way through, making it a prime filler on the 14-track long DiCaprio 2. Another low moment on this album is “Hot Box”, sporting Method Man and Joey Bada$$ as guests, a cut that results like a fish out of water in the sonic context and aesthetic of the whole album, resurrecting glimpses of 90s East Coast hip-hop production that only really feel at home underneath the Wu Tang Clan vocalist’s verse, but otherwise sounding very off during JID and Joey’s bars. However, with all this said and considered, one should not be fooled into thinking that a mere three underwhelming-to-bad cuts off fourteen can actually overshadow the sharpness and brilliance of the project as a whole, because that is far from reality (as is JID’s cinematic overall theme retracing actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s most iconic motion pictures through more or less subtle references). No, ladies and gentlemen, this is an artist at the top of his form, blossoming under the hip-hop pantheon sun and in front of our very spectator eyes, sounding slick, agile, deep, and intelligent like few others in the mainstream realm, and with yet more improvement potential ahead. So let us not commit the same mistake the film and entertainment industry made with DiCaprio the actor, let us hand this man an Oscar already.

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

JID

“DICAPRIO 2”

2018, Dreamville Records

http://jidsv.com

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