XXXTentaction – 17

21 Sep

That 17 is an exceptional and fascinating album is undeniable. This year feels like an unprecedented explosion for the more alternate strains of rap and XXXTentacion has build a name for himself on the edge of this movement.

You cannot talk about him without bringing up the testimony of his reported victim. This account is horrific. There’s nothing that can a person can do to make me ignore abuse of this sort and I don’t ask you to ignore it either.

17 though, is an excellent and groundbreaking album. This is probably the first rap album to take more from Nirvana and from Papa Roach than from Pac and Big. It barely spends any time in the traditional lines of rap as it freely strays into R&B and rock. The shifts in genre flow smoothly due to the consistency in tone throughout. The album never shifts from its dark and emotional lane.

It’s the album of a young man in its honesty. XXXTentacion is startlingly open in his accounts of his problems. The unfortunate side of this is how juvenile some of his sentiments appear. His manifesto smacks strongly of high school and his lyrics never really scintillate. Additionally, the rapping is fine, but tends to quickly fall into repetition as in “Everybody Dies In Their Nightmares.” However, his sincerity makes such criticisms feel beside the point. The three syllable statement of depression to open “Depression and Obsession” is beautiful and profound enough to carry the song on its own. Similarly, “Save Me” is captivating every single time.

This is an album that’s going to be very meaningful to a large number of people. You may not be that person right now and that’s okay. You may also feel that you cannot enjoy the work of a musician whose alleged domestic abuse is such an atrocity and that’s a reasonable position too. If it is an album that you can play however, it cannot help but be worth the listen.

@murthynikhil

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SZA – Ctrl

29 Aug


Ctrl, the debut SZA album, is beautifully heartfelt R&B. Despite a staggering variety of poses, both lyrical and musical, Solana Rowe’s personality shines through on every track, making for a very coherent whole. She puts forward supremely confident R&B, not just for a new singer, but for an established star, yet retains the honesty of a fresh artist. The album starts with a statement about sleeping with her ex’s friend and continues the confessional from there. Watching her face during the cameo in the video for “Drew Barrymore” is an education in itself. Additionally, “Go Gina” and “Prom” are well worth a listen and “Normal Girl” strikes real honesty. This is an album that you should listen to.

@murthynikhil

Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes

20 Aug

Los Campesinos! exists in a very specific space and it’s not a space for everyone. The cleverest line there, “31, and depression is a young man’s game” really tells you how much you’re going to get out of this album. It’s easy to dismiss if you’re not the kind of person it hits, but there’s some good music here.

It’s glossy clever-clever pop that is pleasant to listen to, but is largely forgettable. There’s a plethora of catchy tunes, and something like “Got Stendhal’s” is completely ready for radio play. However, despite the braininess that Los Campesinos! feels the need to exhibit at every turn, there’s no standout line and a lot of what they pass off as profound feels naive. While I like “I Broke Up In Amarante”, I feel that their refrain of “It seems unfair to try your best, but feel the worst” to be banal instead of cathartic. Even the music, while solid, lacks the innovation to help it stand out. Songs like “The Fall of Home”, while solid slow alt-rock, never really lives up to its potential.

This is an album for a time and a place, and it does an admirable job at that. It’s unable to transcend that as the best albums do, but it never needed to.

@murthynikhil

Haim – Something To Tell You

8 Aug

Four years after their excellent debut album, Days Are Gone, Haim have returned with another fun, eminently listenable album. While it’s not quite as strong as their debut, they remain well worth the listen. Their 80s flavored pop-rock is a little less fresh than it was in 2013 and there’s a little less earnestness than there was in the debut as well, but they’re still easily the most likable band in the world. Songs like “Ready For You” are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and I love the actual song “Something To Tell You.”

Something To Tell You is a safe album and one that hews quite close to the old classics that shaped Haim’s sound. It’s not an album that’s going to convince you to like them if you didn’t before, but what kind of monster doesn’t like Haim in the first place?

@murthynikhil

Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls

31 Jul

Inimitable, enigmatic and ever exciting, Thugger is the kind of rapper that you should be paying attention to. Beautiful Thugger Girls follows JEFFERY and Barter 6 in coherence and thus approachability. Great guest spots, including Future’s personal cuts in “Relationship”, Quavo in the excellent “You Said” and vintage Snoop bars in the appropriate “Get High” further the album’s broad appeal without compromising anything. Additionally, the album opener “Family Don’t Matter” leans far more on singing than normal for Young Thug, and thus softens the album as a whole. The majority though, is still Thugger yelping and squawking his way though songs as only he can, and the album closer “Take Care” does that as well as he ever has, as does “Tomorrow Til Infinity.”

It is however inescapable that Young Thug is not for everyone, and if you don’t like him, you won’t like this. Personally, I’m always interested when he puts out something new and Beautiful Thugger Girls does not disappoint. You should definitely try it out.

@murthynikhil

Marvin Gaye – Here, My Dear

21 Jul

Here, My Dear is a singular achievement in music. Marvin Gaye took the entirety of his divorce and put it on a record to pay the alimony for that same divorce. Tender, bitter and very, very human, Here, My Dear is a classic that everyone should listen to.

Musically, it is nothing short of gorgeous. Marvin Gaye was blessed with a beautiful voice capable of layering a song expertly, and he uses it fully. While this is an album that is built to flow, delving into the grooves is deeply rewarding. It’s a surprisingly smooth album given the subject matter. The funk of “Time To Get It Together” is extremely strong as is that of “Is That Enough” and the latter is exquisitely bitter as well. Similarly, the jazz in the background of the instrumental version of “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You” has a large amount of space to play in and is excellent therein and Marvin Gaye himself sings beautifully.

Speaking of “When Did You…”, the phrase acts as a motif for the entire album. There are no less than three songs with that title in the album, and the simplicity and directness of the question really brings home the painfulness of the situation. It’s an album that swings from emotion to emotion and from thought to thought, sometimes contradicting itself over the course of a single song. The overriding emotion though is bitterness. A song like “Is That Enough” holds nothing back in its barbs against his ex-wife and “You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You” is unabashedly one-sided in its presentation of Anna’s criticisms of Marvin’s infidelity.

And yet, “I Met A Little Girl” is heartbreakingly tender as it tells the story of Marvin meeting Anna, and their coming together and falling apart. Again, it doesn’t pretend to be fair, but it doesn’t forget the good times either. Similarly, while “Anna’s Song” is satirical, Marvin Gaye’s voice imbues it with a fascinating longing.

The album takes an interlude after that song to revisit “When Did You…” but then goes into something completely different with “A Funky Space Reincarnation”, an eight and a half minute side trip about sex on Pluto. It seems disjoint, but conveys the restlessness accompanying a major break-up in a way that a more direct statement could never have gotten across. We then take another moment of bitterness, but close with “Falling In Love Again”, which while clearly meant to wound, also reaffirms Marvin’s belief in love, only to undercut it again with the final cut of “When Did You…”. How else could Marvin Gaye have ended the album but with those two statements?

@murthynikhil

Nick Finzer – Hear and Now

15 Jul

Hear and Now manages to perfectly walk the line between depth and accessibility. The pieces are all remarkably easy to listen to and effortlessly captivating. Despite that, they are all remarkably intelligent and greatly reward any effort that you sink into them.

In addition to the above feat, the album is remarkably varied. This version of “Single Petal of A Rose”, while not quite as clean or as challenging as the Duke’s original, would still have fit in perfectly with the music of the time. “Again and Again” on the other hand is pure modern jazz. The very human and very excellent “Love Wins” draws out beautifully clean notes while “We The People” opens the album by lighting the stage on fire. Finally, “New Beginnings” is a classic no matter how you look at it.

If you are listening to the jazz of today, you should be listening to Hear and Now.

@murthynikhil

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