Moses Sumney – Aromanticism

10 Dec

Moses Sumney is a 27-year-old from Los Angeles, but he doesn’t belong at that intersection of space and time in so many ways. While his fellow millennials are eager to jump in – and out – of relationships at literally the touch of a button, Sumney is hesitant to move forward even with someone who loves him. He’s introspective, melancholic and shy to the point of physical discomfort – clashing garishly with the showy extraversion of LA. Sumney doesn’t fit in, and he can’t bring himself to be vulnerable enough to love someone, despite his human need for affection. And worst of all, he’s aware of all of this. The culmination of these themes is his debut full-length album, Aromanticism.

Although the premise may sound too depressing to warrant a listen, Aromanticism is actually a gorgeous and immensely repeatable album. Sumney has an ethereal voice that is amplified in beauty by a moody guitar and a masterful falsetto. His gossamer-silky vocals twist, snake and turn, in line with the churning thoughts in Sumney’s deeply introverted mind. He’s also a great writer; Aromanticism is full of evocative metaphors, references, and a penchant for the dramatic.

Take, for example, the first single “Plastic”. Within the first minute, Sumney’s voice effortlessly flutters across half a hundred notes as he sympathizes with a fellow lonely soul (“I know what it’s like to behold and not be held”) over a barebones guitar strum. He reveals his secret at the end of the sole verse (“My wings are made of plastic”), sung a dozen times but each so nuanced that the message sinks in twelve times deeper. Orchestral drama then segues his other big reveal: “My wings are made up, and so am I”. Sumney is a present-day Icarus, complete with plastic wings to replace the wax of yore. His fragile attempts to connect to another human often end with the melting of his metaphorical wings – and himself, too.

“Quarrel” takes place during one of these wing-melting moments. It’s an achingly beautiful song – a choir of layered voices (all Sumney) blend quite luxuriously with the harp. “He who asks for much has much to give / I don’t ask for much, just enough to live” goes the opening doublet – Sumney tries to keep a low profile in relationships, because he can’t be vulnerable enough to give someone else a lot of love. Unfortunately for him, his lover seems to have put his fragile soul at edge. “If I don’t have tools to fight, calling this a quarrel isn’t right,” he laments, before sinking into the almost-indignant chorus (“Don’t call it a lovers’ quarrel”).

Experiences like these have made Sumney sort of anti-love over the years. In his own words, Aromanticism is a rejection of “the idea that romance is normative and necessary”. But it’s clear that he does wonder about what it means for him, long-term, as a human being that cannot love. “Am I vital if my heart is idle?” he wonders on “Doomed”, so plaintively that it’s impossible to not share his fear.

However, as we’ve stated before, don’t be disheartened by his melancholy, because this man literally has the voice of an angel. His languishing wails on songs like “Lonely World” are almost enough to make one weep, and his falsetto alone has more range than most artists’ singing range. Aromanticism is a flawless debut by a deeply tortured genius.

* In case you were wondering about the album cover, it seems to be a reference to Plato’s Symposium, in which Aristophanes posits that humans were once four-legged, four-armed, and double-sexed, but Zeus cut them in half. Since then, humans have been trying to find their “other halves”, but Moses is pictured on the album cover as a human that’s missing his complementary half. More info here.

Best songs: “Quarrel”, “Plastic”

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SiR – Her Too

8 Dec

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R&B has been making quite the quiet comeback over the past few years. It’s not as flashy as the stuff that’s going on in the rap world, but it’s definitely there. This EP from SiR, the new TDE signee, is a brief burst of traditional R&B and a quite good one at that.

The standout here is the wonderful “Ooh Nah Nah”. Full of a soft heat and absurdly languorous, the song is just captivating. Additionally, Anderson.Paak shows up well in the opener “New LA” and is fun as always. I keep coming back to the closer “W$ Boi” though. It’s almost entirely the chorus, which is nothing more than a chant of the words “I’m a Westside Boi”, but imbued with serious energy.

At nothing more than 18 minutes, this EP is compact in all the best ways. SiR’s debut album has yet to drop, but he’s already clearly an artist to watch.

@murthynikhil

Future & Young Thug – SUPER SLIMEY

2 Dec

A collaboration between Young Thug and Future is something that always seemed in the cards. These two Atlantans are probably the biggest young rappers out there this side of Kendrick Lamar. Stylistically, there is quite a difference between Thugger’s yelps and Future’s growls, but the meeting felt inevitable. Now that it’s here, the result is sadly a little less than the sum of the parts, but that total is still plenty.

When they play off each other, such as in the excellent transition between verses in “Three” or build one another up, like in “No Cap”, where Future builds into Thugger who then sets up Future perfectly, this is truly fantastic music. However, “Cruise Ship” is one of the strongest songs in the album despite having no Future in it at all. It’s just classic Thugger. Meanwhile, “Drip On Me” feels entirely like a Future joint. Young Thug is actually quite good here, but it’s really the murkiness of Future that animates this song. Similarly, “Group Home” lies squarely in Future’s drug-hazed lane, and Young Thug is just a little out of place.

The talent is undeniable here. When it clicks, it’s great and when it doesn’t, it’s still fine. This isn’t the strongest work from either artist, but it is a testament to their current powers how good it is anyway.

@murthynikhil

Top Five Rap Albums of 2017 That We Didn’t Want To Write A Full Review Of

28 Nov

There’s been a lot of music out this year and it’s easy for some albums to fall to wayside. Here, we’re going to go over five albums that didn’t lend themselves well to a full review, but that we still wanted to talk about.

FLACO – WKRFRMHME

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We didn’t get a chance to cover the previous FLACO album Gunsforgirls when it came out. This one is not quite as good as their debut, but it is still reasonable and has some clever lines. However, it doesn’t have anything strong enough to push you to seek it out. It’s far too self-indulgent and so is occasionally grating and occasionally repetitive. It’s mostly just solid rap though.

Amine – Good For You

“Spice Girl” is actually very good. It’s a very clever song with an imaginative and catchy hook and is from far enough left field to still make me smile. It’s one of my favorite songs of the year.

Stand-out single aside, “Slide” is reasonably fun, as is “STFU”. There are some other interesting things, like moments of “Heebiejeebies” scattered through the album. Unfortunately, the whole is mostly bland. The single is great though.

Chief Keef – Thot Breaker

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Thot Breaker is fun and listenable. It’s just not really interesting.

Big Boi – BOOMIVERSE

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It’s a shame to put someone with the history of Big Boi in a list like this, but that is where he is now. It’s been a while since OutKast defined Atlanta rap, even if this album would have you still believe that its still the late ‘90s. Big Boi is unabashedly retro here and some of his collaborators play along masterfully. Snoop is smooth as always and Killer Mike shows up well in “Made Man” and “Kill Jill”. This is the style of music that really lets both of them shine. Bringing in the more current Gucci Mane feels off however and the resulting song “In The South” is just irritating to hear.

Leaving aside a couple of misfires, this is actually a solid album. It never comes close to the highs of OutKast’s best, but is still a reasonable addition to the legacy of one of the most storied rappers ever.

KOOL A.D – Sky Ladder

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KOOL A.D. is dense and self-referential as always. He’s gotten a bit more experimental than in his Das Racist days. It works in places. “Lapsand Souchang” is quite strong and the jazzy beat works well there. “Glitch Hoperatical” is definitely interesting, but sometimes ends up being more noise than signal. “The Basement” makes a good point when it states that music criticism is a fictional occupation, but he lost all of his hipster credentials when he got the plural of haiku wrong, so I’m just going to ignore that. There’s some reasonable stuff here, but nothing stands out. Rap has grown more interesting, but it feels a little like Kool A.D. is standing still.

@murthynikhil

Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

18 Nov

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The Navigator is a breathtakingly ambitious album. It draws from a dizzying number of influences, to produce a distinctly New York Puerto Rican rock album. This is lively and unexpected at every point and deftly weaves in a tremendous amount of emotion, especially in the slower steamroller of a song “Pa’lante.”

The music is deeply varied, to the point where even a single song cannot be pinned down to even a family of ideas. The crooning in “Finale” shifts to percussion in a way that should feel abrupt but somehow works flawlessly. “Rican Beach” somehow melds together what feels like fifteen different layers, all of which are interesting enough to carry it alone, into a single juggernaut of a song.

This is one of the most intriguing albums that I’ve heard this year simply due to how far out of left-field it is from. In addition, it’s just eminently listenable. I cannot imagine the person who would not benefit from trying it out.

@murthynikhil

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – The Kid

14 Nov

The Kid is an astonishing album across a whole slew of axes. The most striking thing about it is just how much of nature is present in an electronic synth album. At points, it evokes the stillness of a Walden-like lake and the movement of a brook. Mostly though, it evokes more active organisms. A point in “Who I Am and Why I Am Where I Am” brings a strong image of a jungle waking up to mind. Like the world it draws from, the result is an ever-fascinating panorama filled with things worth examining. You should try it out.

@murthynikhil

Lil Uzi Vert – Luv Is Rage 2

4 Nov

First of all, “XO TOUR Llif3” is one of the greatest songs that I have ever heard. It is a revelation in every sense and a song what I don’t know when I will ever stop listening to. You should listen to it right now.

That song is the reason that I’m reviewing this album, but there is the remainder to cover as well. Unfortunately, nothing else here matches the brilliance of the single. The album as a whole has other interesting points, but also holds a fair number of misfires and is too indulgent of some uninteresting ideas. For instance, “UnFazed” is too repetitive to take advantage of all that it has. The Weeknd sounds great in it but needs more space than he’s given. It is still a highlight of the album, but does not fulfill the promise it first seemed to hold. Songs like “Malfunction” and “How To Talk” just don’t do anything and while “X” has some fun points, it’s just not that interesting.

“XO TOUR Llif3” however is brilliant and thus complicated to take apart. This is the song that proved mumble rap to me. The new Atlanta rap scene has had a lot of great music come from it, as anyone who reads this blog can see, but this song pushes it beyond merely being promising, good new music. This is the song that actually cashes the checks.

When I first saw mumble rap, it seemed to be punk rock all over again. In the same way that punk rebelled against the crushing formalism of stadium rock and their 20 minute guitar solos, mumble rap seemed the Dionysian answer to the Apollonian values of lyricism and flow. Again, just like punk rock, it’s not that mumble rap lacks the ability, some of Thugger’s lines still make me laugh and I can’t see a single rapper with a questionable flow, it’s that the medium shouldn’t be defined by that. It’s unsatisfying to define this movement with nothing more than abjuration. Punk rock was much, much more than simple chords. Other songs have proven that you can make great music with mumble rap, it took “XO TOUR Llif3” to show why you should try.

The greatest thing that this song does is a moment in the middle. The couplet “Push me to the edge/All my friends are dead” is the spine of the song. It’s a wonderfully succinct and condensed piece of songwriting that is repeated over and over again to add weight. The first verse ends with the anguished plea “Xanny, help the pain, yeah/Please, Xanny, make it go away” before dropping into the chorus and that repeated couplet again. This time however, instead of actually saying the words, Lil Uzi’s voice slurs it to incomprehensibility so as to give it even more space for emotion.

That was my moment of clarity. That is what this music can do. You cannot communicate that feeling with traditional rap. I’ve never heard that feeling pushed so clearly. Even now, after hundreds and hundreds of listens, that moment astounds me.

In all of my time listening to music, I’ve only had my eyes opened like that once before. Quite a few years ago, I was trying out jazz to see if I would like it and while the first things that I heard were all excellent, I didn’t really get what it was about. Naturally, I started with the most famous albums and so I ended up picking up Coltrane’s My Favorite Things quickly enough. The title track is still my favorite individual piece of music. The first minute hews fairly close to the Rodgers and Hammerstein original, but then Coltrane’s solo goes to a place that I had never heard before. What makes this special though is how that diversion is fully informed by the original. He takes the ideas of the musical version and pushes them somewhere entirely unexpected and that surprise is what defines the feeling of listening to the music. Then, just when you have a feel for where he now is, the song seamlessly returns to the original tune and so once again catches you off-balance. That moment changed how I listened to jazz and for that matter, music as a whole. That taught me to participate, to try to see where the song is going so that you can be surprised when the musicians do something clever and end up somewhere else instead. It’s the pleasure of seeing familiar ideas put together in a way that’s completely novel. It’s like the best puzzle games. It’s also something that I would never have understood had it not been for this ‘Trane song.

Formalism and jazz comparisons are well and good, but they are not what makes a song great. “XO TOUR Llif3” is just visceral to hear. I feel like I should be too old for this to hit me as hard as it does, but his honesty takes his story of heartbreak and depression beyond mere teen drama. Besides, when he hits the bridge of “She say: “You’re the worst, you’re the worst.”/I cannot die because this my universe”, that’s too close to home to deny. It’s not like I’m that mature either.

It’s also just a great song. I still haven’t figured all of its pieces. That little pause at the end of “Shoulda saw the way she looked me in my eyes/She said: Baby, I am not afraid to die.” tripped me up dozens of times and so punctuates the verse perfectly. The production is unceasingly clever and contrasts with Uzi’s flow to add layer upon layer of meaning.

This song is now a part of me. You should give it a try.

@murthynikhil

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