Archive | March, 2019

Offset – FATHER OF 4

31 Mar

There’s no question that Migos is extremely important in the moment. It is arguably the band most responsible for the rise of trap and just as arguably the most important group in trap today. FATHER OF 4, a solo act from Offset largely continues in the pattern that they’ve set down, but deviates in one extremely important way, the title track.

Trap, and contemporary music as a whole, have deeply internalized the mixtape culture and Migos has done that more than many. This is part of how their greatest stuff has come to be, but it’s also why all of their albums, without exception, suffer from bloat. FATHER OF 4 lowers this bar further with an absolute glut of mediocre music. There’s very little that’s actually bad and it mostly ranges from decent to fairly good, but there’s little here that’s memorable. From “Wild Wild West” to “Tats On My Face” to even “Clout”, which features a Cardi B reunion, the music is fun but unmemorable. “North Star” has the misstep of a CeeLo feature to bring down what would be a pretty good song otherwise. “Lick” is quite good though.

The reason to listen to the album though is the breathtaking title track. “Father of 4” sees Offset talking about and talking to each of his four kids and is beautifully heartfelt. His storytelling is nothing short of shattering in its economy. When he sings about his first daughter, he opens with the lines “Tell the truth, I ain’t really know if I was your father / Tell the truth, I really don’t even know your mama” and the story of growth that comes across from just those lines is vivid. His line later in that verse, “in the pen when she pushed you out,” paints a brutal picture.

In the same way, look at the fatherhood in the lines “My son, Kody, he three, rappin’ already lie me / Ridin’ in the car, you don’t play me, then he gon’ scream.” The start of that chorus is just also just wonderful. It’s uncommon in rap to see stories of parenthood like this. Jay-Z is out here with the investment banker’s approach to being a father, and that’s also great to listen to, but Offset’s story of maturity is unique and deeply compelling

While there’s unquestionably a lot of filler in Father of 4, the title track is just some of the best music of the year and honestly, the rest is pretty fun as well.

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Alice Merton – Mint

25 Mar

Alice Merton’s debut album is really good pop-rock. She has solid, solid grooves with an energetic bass and a highly personable voice.

The single “No Roots” is definitely where to start with this album. It’s fun, up-tempo and immediately catchy. If you’ve ever wondered what Maroon 5 would sound like if talented, this hook is the answer.

There is also a fair bit of variety in this album. “Honeymoon Heartbreak” is a slightly more upbeat Lana Del Rey and “Why So Serious” is a slightly more sober Pipettes. “Lash Out” has some great riot-grrrl energy while staying true to its pop-rock roots.

The album occasionally falls too far into basic pop, like in “Funny Business”, but both “2 Kids” and “Learn To Live” are strong without the deviations of the other standouts.

Overall, in fact, it’s fairly straightforward pop-rock and would possibly have benefited from a slight bit more innovation. It’s just that it’s also well done. This is really quite a good album.

@murthynikhil

Little Simz – GREY Area

17 Mar

There’s a pocket of quiet British rap that’s well worth paying attention to and Grey Area might be the best thing to come from it yet. Little Simz is a very talented rapper and she throws a varied assortment of ideas at you over the course of this album. The cartoon effects over the hard beat and strong rapping in “Offence” and the Eastern-tinged beat of “101FM” are particular standouts.

Unfortunately, I feel that this is not the album to really transcend the limitations of the subgenre. Like the contemporaneous Kate Tempest’s work, the album is very impressive to listen to in the moment but a little forgettable after. I feel it just lacks the few real moments of honesty and personal truth that would have drastically elevated it. It could even use some moments of cleverness. It’s just a little too freewheeling where it would have benefited from drilling down into a couple of points that it developed.

There’s a lot of strong music in the album though. The storytelling of “Sherbet Sunset” and the groove of “Selfish” and beat of “Pressure” are all excellent. Little Simz is already a brilliant rapper going from strength to strength and GREY Area is well worth your time.

Beirut – Gallipoli

12 Mar

Given the Mediterranean undercurrents to Beirut’s music, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Zach Condon spent his pre-Beirut years backpacking around Europe, soaking in the sights and sounds of Sicily and the Balkans. Five albums, a bunch of EPs and 15 years since, those influences still burn bright in his music. Condon has a penchant for drawing a range of different soundscapes with the same set of ingredients. All of his songs sound somewhat similar on the surface but each one surprisingly tugs at a different chord. On Gallipoli, he and his brass army proudly carry on the tradition with predictable but entertaining results.

The album opens with “When I Die”, a classic track showcasing the familiar trumpet-ukulele-kick drum trifecta that’s been a staple with Beirut’s music. Then comes the title track, “Gallipoli”, the musical embodiment of a cavalry of soldiers bidding their kingdom farewell before heading to the frontlines.

That’s the beauty of Beirut. There’s always a very vivid mental picture that gets tied to each song even when there’s barely any lines sung. “On Mainau Island” is a pretty instrumental track that sees Beirut dabble with electronics, a side of him we would like to see more often. The very hypnotic “Corfu” again offers glimpses of where Beirut’s sound could head next, tastefully combining jazz melodies with an almost-tango beat.

On the whole, the album sounds a bit less rough round the edges than what Beirut fans are used to – but not in a jarring way. Experimentation outside Condon’s forte has been kept to a minimum on Gallipoli. It’s still the organ and the brass instruments that take center stage. While songs like “Corfu”, “On Mainau Island” and “We Never Lived Here” attempt to fuse the past with the future, the extent of experimentation seems frustratingly measured. Gallipoli might have met every old-time fan’s desire, but it is also a sign that Zach Condon is in urgent need of evolution. His sound is at risk of growing stale and we’re hoping we get to see a never-before-seen side of him on future releases.

Top Tracks:  “Corfu”, “Gallipoli”, “I Gardini

Higher Brothers – Five Stars

11 Mar

It’s an exciting period for rap and Higher Brothers are one of the most exciting things in an exciting period. This Chinese rap group is talented and raw and innovative. Songs like “Flexing So Hard” and “Sunshine” have some of the most interesting flows that I’ve ever heard. The choppiness is novel and their free-switching between languages endlessly novel. These songs and “Gong Xi Fa Cai” are them at their best.

Unfortunately, the album as a whole is a little inconsistent. “Do It Like Me” and “No More” are not particularly good. The big name guests of ScHoolboy Q and Soulja Boy just don’t do that much. Q is forgettable and Soulja Boy is anaemic. However, “16 Hours” and “Open It Up” are bangers and “One Punch Man” is quite interesting. 

Whatever quibbles can be found with the album, this is simply the bleeding edge of rap and so music as a whole and if you’re at all interested in seeing where things are going then you should be listening to Higher Brothers. Also, they’re just a ton of fun to listen to.

@murthynikhil

Conor Oberst / Phoebe Bridgers – Better Oblivion Community Center

5 Mar

There’s a style of book that I always and incorrectly call modern writing. It’s wry, understated, cynical, honest and very, very clever. It’s also just a little bit precious. It’s Early Work by Andrew Martin but it’s not quite Rabbit, Run by John Updike. It’s also this album.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Both Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst have made their names in this space of indie folk-rock and they’re both very good at it. This album is simply excellent. It’s good, solid guitar work, clean singing and incisive lyrics.

The stand-out is the wonderful “Service Road.” It’s lo-fi and minimal and beautiful. It’s a slow walk in Autumn when you’re sad. Conor Oberst’s voice is excellent here and it delivers the standout stanza of “Asking strangers to forgive him/ But he never told them what it is/ He did to them that made him feel so bad” with so much depth.

That’s far from the only highlight of the album. “Big Black Heart” is excellent with Phoebe Bridgers putting some great snarl into it and with very strong distortion at the end to cap the fuzziness of the song. “My City” is nice and low stakes and relaxing and has a fun jangle behind the verses. “Dylan Thomas” is very clever lyrically and also musically.

Better Oblivion Community Center is a gorgeous album. The singers’ voices mesh well with each other and they think in similar ways. They also have the confidence and sense to know when to let their guitar work stand alone and when to leave space for extended chords and for heavy feedback. It’s a clever, accomplished album and one that’s well worth your time.

@murthynikhil

Monthly Playlist: Feb. 2019

1 Mar

Last month, we started a new feature here at Top Five Records: a run-down of the top five songs from every month. We heard from quite a few of you that you loved it – so without further ado, here’s our list for this month!

5. “Body Chemistry” – The Drums

Don’t let the unrelenting bassline on “Body Chemistry” fool you into thinking it’s a harmless, upbeat bop. On this new track from the NYC-based indie-pop band The Drums, lead singer Jonathan Pierce provides a peak-millennial take on anxiety, romance, and the crippling self-awareness in between. “I know some good luck, and a good fuck, a nice glass of wine and some quality time is gonna make you mine,” he acknowledges, “but it’s not what I’m trying to find.” The song itself reminds us of some of the best tracks on Spoon’s last album, so that’s always a good thing as well. The Drums are set to release their fourth album in June.

4. “In the Capital” – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Melbourne-based pop-rock quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (there’s a mouthful!) had a very well-received debut album (Hope Downs) last year. Their sound is essentially a cross between the woe-is-me melancholy of Deerhunter and the sparkling pop of Real Estate – but it’s not as odd a combination as you would think. “In the Capital”, a new track that was released earlier this week, apparently came about as lead singer Fran Keaney was swimming. “I can’t neatly describe it, but something like connection despite distance. I was thinking about transience and water and death and big cities and fishing towns and moon river,” he says. Have a listen for yourself – we think he’s got it down spot-on, actually.   

3. “Fast Times” – Albert Hammond Jr.

Albert Hammond Jr.’s third full-length album, Francis Trouble, won us over last year with its boisterous yet clean-cut vibe. With “Fast Times”, Hammond is back with a track that is equal parts nostalgic and melancholic. “I was over there, completely unaware / It was me, that you saw / How little did I know / All the things would go,” Hammond sings, wistfully reminiscing about carefree days long gone. The music is of course immediately evocative of the early 2000s-heyday of crisp, fast-paced rock, for which Hammond’s past (and present!) band, the Strokes, were a primary driver. After “Fast Times”, we’re certainly keeping an eye out for more music from Hammond.

2. “GummyBear” – Mini Mansions

Mini Mansions are an LA-based three-piece band comprising The Last Shadow Puppets’ bassist Zach Dawes, QOTSA bassist-turned-singer Michael Shuman and Tyler Parkford. If that line-up sounds like the band would make fun, bass-driven tracks that could fit well within Humbug-era Arctic Monkeys, you are exactly right. In fact, Mini Mansions are just coming off of a supporting tour on that band’s North America leg, and something great seems to have rubbed off of on them. “GummyBear” is an instantly accessible dance-rock track about a love-hate relationship (“Boy, I thought you was sweet, girl, but you’re just sugar-free”). Mini Mansions plans to release their third full-length album, Guy Walks into a Bar… in July – look for them!

1. “NASA” – Ariana Grande

This month, Ariana Grande released thank u, next, her much-awaited follow-up to 2018’s blockbuster hit, Sweetener. New converts to Arianaworld, such as yours truly, were skeptical that a brand-new album mere months after the monstrously successful Sweetener could live up to the hype that Ariana has created for herself. However, those thoughts can be laid to rest and buried under six feet of earth, because Ariana is almost definitely the new queen of pop music.

The title track from the new album, of course, has been in constant rotation on radio stations and Spotify playlists since late last year, but there are actually a shockingly high number of other great songs on there, too. The best of these, in our opinion, is “NASA”, a space-themed ode to modern romance. “I’d rather be alone tonight / You can say ‘I love you’ through the phone tonight,” she says, an on-the-head flip of decades of popstars who’ve told us that they need to be around their men 24/7. Of course, being an Ariana track, there is also a maddeningly catchy chorus – this one involving a playful spell-out of the titular government agency. We’d be surprised if this song alone doesn’t play a part in raising the brand value of NASA.

Read our full review of thank u, next here.

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