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The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy,

17 Apr

This EP is the only way I was ever going to learn that The Weeknd was dating Selena Gomez, let alone that they had broken up. I was quite surprised by that. I was much more surprised when it turned to be Abel who ended up, and I quote, “catching feelings.”

Unfortunately, the music doesn’t manage quite the same amount of surprise. My Dear Melancholy, returns to the sound he pioneered with his Trilogy, but lacks the raw strength of that work and naturally carries none of the same novelty five years after his debut. The Weeknd’s sound changed for the more commercial after the breakout success of “Love Me Harder” and it can’t fully shake that off in this return to his original sound. The sense of danger is, seemingly irrevocably, gone.

It is, nevertheless, a solid 20 minutes of music. Abel’s voice remains as haunting as ever and the production is both sunken and mildly threatening, but in a way that you can dance to. It’s not Trilogy though, although it’s the album that tries most to be since Kiss Land, and it’s still likely the closest you’re going to get this year.

@murthynikhil

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Soccer Mommy – Clean

9 Apr

A sub-genre that I really cannot get enough of is the whip-smart, deeply cynical, very feminine indie rock of bands like Speedy Ortiz and Mitski and Girlpool. The debut album from Soccer Mommy is all of that, for sure, but it’s also very much her own.

“Your Dog” is an early contender for song of the year for me and a good place to start my praise of this album. The song is dark and personal and the video is honestly disturbing, but what I like the most from this is how stripped down it feels. Indie rock is at its best when there’s nothing extraneous and this song drills right down to what it means to say. The line “Forehead kisses break my knees and / Leave me crawling back to you” is both evocative and delivered beautifully.

Similarly, I love the slow, understated burn of “Scorpio Rising”. It is glorious storytelling in Autumnal colors. The quiet yearning of “Wildflowers” is simply poetic and the fuzziness as the song fades in and out of comprehensibility says things that the words could not have.

For all of the highlights, and there are quite a few more than those above, there is still a bit too much that’s forgettable than would be ideal. Nevertheless, it’s a clever, personal indie rock album and “Your Dog” is a stellar piece of work. Clean is well worth the listen.

@murthynikhil

Kendrick Lamar – Black Panther: The Album

16 Mar

Black Panther was both an excellent movie and a cultural milestone. The album doesn’t quite hold up to that standard on either axis or the standard that Kendrick has gotten us accustomed to, but there is still space below all those bars for it to be quite good.

First of all, the singles all do well. “All The Stars” is just a great Kendrick joint and SZA absolutely kills both the chorus and her own verse. The Weeknd is in his comfort zone with “Pray For Me” and while Kendrick’s verse doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the song, it’s still just very good. “King’s Dead” has a solid Jay Rock verse, some stellar work from Future and the memorable “Miss me with that bullshit” from Kendrick.

Additionally, a couple of the other songs punch well above their weight. SOB x RBE burn down their song and Yugen Blakrok simply overwhelms the rest of “Opps” until it there’s nothing else left. The rest of the album is unfortunately forgettable however. There are moments, but not enough to save it from a slight blandness. There are no actual misses here. There’s nothing so poor as to hurt. The album as a whole does feel a little deadened due to all the cotton wool packed in it though.

The entire album runs the afro-futurism of the movie quite well however. There are a lot of explicit call-outs to Wakanda, Killmonger and the Black Panther himself, but more importantly, the beats themselves strongly reinforce the theme. Hearing sounds like this from a confirmed A-lister like Kendrick in the context of an album of the magnitude of this one is both novel and important. Also, it’s just good music.

@murthynikhil

Migos – Culture 2

1 Mar

Where their previous album was a statement of intent, Culture 2 is a victory lap. Trap is the biggest thing going around and Migos are bona-fide superstars as a result. Like an actual victory lap, this album is rather more relaxed than the run that it took to get here. There’s maybe a little too much playing to the crowd, a little too much space for friends to jump in and just a little too much self-indulgence. Still, a victory lap is not meant to break world records, it’s just a moment to celebrate with the winners and why would I begrudge them that?

Also, this album is of strikingly consistent quality despite the length. The singles definitely stand out with the Kanye-produced “BBO (Bad Bitches Only)” and Pharell-produced “Stir Fry” as particularly memorable. Similarly, the chant in “Auto Pilot” is insistent. However, the album as a whole is just good, muscular rap. A couple of songs are forgettable, and the guest spots mostly feel unrealized, but there’s not a single song in the album that breaks the flow and most of them will drag you deeper in.

It’s worth going over again just how good most of the music in this is. I just happen to have “Movin’ Too Fast” on and the drowned beat in it is just excellent. Offset flows so smoothly for the first half and is then broken cleanly by the gravel in Takeoff’s verse which goes back to Offset before Quavo’s yelps put an almost-jarringly new spin on the song.

It jumps quickly from radio-ready to experimental and back again. The result is definitely a little inchoate, but the quality is steady across both types. It’s a slightly messy album and the ideas come fast and hard, but I don’t want a Migos album built under a waterfall in the first place. While Culture 2 lacks the focus of their previous album, and with that some of the quality, it’s still a lot of fun to listen to, all 105 minutes of it.

@murthynikhil

tUnE-yArDs – i can feel you creep into my private life

2 Feb

I can feel you creep into my private life.jpg

This is definitely a pop album with enough going on to make for an interesting couple of listens. It draws from a staggering variety of sounds and keeps them reasonably coherent. Unfortunately however, once the early novelty wears out, there’s just too much that doesn’t work and the album as a whole is dragged down.

“Hammer”, for instance, starts slow but becomes quite good disco-pop in a style very reminiscent of Broken Bells and something like “Coast to Coast” is similarly just good pop. The eccentricities of “Private Life” and “Home” just don’t work that well however. The experimentation of “Colonizer” likewise fails despite the high initial promise and ends up just sounding banal.

While the weaker songs do detract substantially from the album, there is enough here of interest to reward a few listens and if you’re looking for a new pop album that puts some work into being new, this is a good place to start.

@murthynikhil

Charli XCX – Pop 2

18 Jan

Pop 2 is a pleasantly experimental mixtape from the now huge Charli XCX. This willingness to experiment is what got me interested in her debut album True Romance and what was missing in both SUCKER and Number 1 Angel.

It could use a real banger however. None of the songs are up to the standard of her best such as her also recent and absolutely fantastic “Boys”. “Femmebot” is close, but doesn’t quite have the energy it needs. It, like a couple of other songs in the album, is unfortunately let down by the feature. Tommy Cash does very well in “Delicious” though, and Charli herself is more than able to carry the album anyway. Songs like “Out Of My Head” are just really good pop and I love the bubblegum in “Unlock It”. The album’s production is relentlessly innovative and Charli effortlessly pushes it further still to the extent of there being literal screeching in the background of “Tears”, a move as unexpected as it is excellent, an epithet as apt for the album as for the song.

@murthynikhil

Eminem – Revival

11 Jan

Like most people of my age, much of the first music that I really listened to was Eminem’s. Unlike much of the other stuff I heard, Em’s early stuff still holds up amazingly today. It is astounding how good he was at his peak. Revival however is unfortunately nowhere near that peak.

This album continues a now decades long trend of mediocre Eminem albums and two facts are to blame. The first is that Eminem seems to be the only true practitioner of stadium rap. Interpolating “I Love Rock n Roll” for “Remind Me” would be fun to chant in a full stadium, but doesn’t work when listening to it by yourself. Similarly, aren’t we all tired of the “Zombies” sample he uses in “In Your Head” by now?

This problem has roots deep in his history. He always liked stadium rock more than the average rapper and it used to work. The “Dream On” hook does so much for “Sing For The Moment”, but here the sound just feels banal. It makes sense given the circumstances. Eminem is one of the few rappers able to pack a stadium and his audience is probably a little less conversant with rap than that of, say, Kendrick Lamar. This music feels built for a specific circumstance. It’s just not very good anywhere else.

This is quite a shame given that Eminem is probably the greatest student of the game there ever was. There is some irony in how the success he built through his skill has now kept him from fully exercising that same skill. Even so, the skill does show. His ability to pick up other people’s flows here is impressive, even if the resulting song is mediocre and his ability to chop words into whatever he wants remains unparalleled. However, all of this technique just feels empty, which leads us to the second problem.

Em just really has nothing left to say. I had really hoped that his new political stance would result in some depth from him. After all, his early stuff was always ready to take shots at Bush. Yet in Revival, for all that I wish “Untouchable” was solid commentary, it is actually just unlistenable. He gets moments in “Bad Husband” as he mines his familiar emotional seams of fatherhood and his ex-wife and the more mature angle is a little fresh, but the old magic is gone and it’s probably time to accept that it’s not coming back. He’s just too successful.

Additionally, people are just harder to shock now than they were in his prime. Talking about throwing Ivanka Trump into the back of a trunk just doesn’t have the punch it would have had 20 years ago. The world has turned.

Eminem’s legacy will undoubtedly be that of one of the greatest rappers of all time and his success is commensurate. It’s becoming impossible though to deny that same success is going to keep him from ever adding anything new to his legacy. This album certainly isn’t worth remembering.

@murthynikhil

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