Tag Archives: 2019

Lil Skies – Shelby

20 Jun

I picked up this album off the strength of the single “i”. You can immediately see Lil Skies’ ear for sounds in it and he plays very cleverly around the foundation. I can never be quite sure when the shift will come and his stuttering keeps you off balance while staying on beat. He takes the same i and stutters and drags it in a way that stays unexpected. It’s very catchy and very sharp. 

The rest of the album is unfortunately fairly generic SoundCloud rap however. It ranges from fair to good, but feels purposeless. “When I’m Wasted” does nothing, “Bad Girls” does nothing despite a Gucci Mane feature, but it does at least have a good hook. Even the hook is bland on “Through The Motions” though. It just cannot live up to its promise. “Stop the Madness” is nothing new. You just need to have something more to say if you want to stand out from what is quite the packed crowd.

“Nowadays Pt. 2” is quite good though, if brought down a bit by the guest spot. The twin central phrases of “Blue Strips” are excellent, but the song could have used a few more ideas in it. “Flooded” is unreservedly very good though. The hook of “they say I got next / nigga, I got now” is very strong and the song mixes itself up constantly. It’s a catchy earworm of a song. 

It is true that there’s not enough here to really distinguish this album from the deluge of SoundCloud rap available now. As a whole, it is a little store-brand. However, between his clearly sharp ear for sounds and his now-proven ability to make top tier music, I’m sure that Lil Skies will put out something unmissable soon.

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slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain

16 Jun

This is what I imagine it must have felt like when Never Mind The Bollocks… came out. Grime, that spectacularly and uniquely British style of rap, has had a couple of small coming out parties. Stormzy is picking up award after award and Big Shaq achieved ubiquity with “Man’s Not Hot”, but Nothing Great About Britain is the album that deserves to make the full breakthrough.

It’s also just the most punk album that I’ve heard in a long time. It’s aggressive and unapologetically in-your-face. It’s an intense album, both musically and lyrically. The heavy slice of life and the personal nature of the album all feed in to this redefined aesthetic. This is the natural evolution of punk for the late 2010s. This is the only thing that it could be.

It’s a lot more than three chords to make a band though. There is no shortage of technical skill here, either in the engaging flow or the compelling production and both of them change things up to a dizzying degree. Standout track “Northampton’s Child” showcases tremendous control as slowthai changes speeds, cadence and even speech patterns for emphasis and different impact. The key couplet of “You’re lucky I’m not as big as you/I would punch you till my hands turn blue.” hits like a sledgehammer. The autobiographical nature of the song and the thanking of his mother are sincere and real and raw and the sum of all of these parts is a completely unmissable track.

With his politics, with his soul and with his skill, slowthai has put together one of the most remarkable albums of the year and of the subgenre. Grime has arrived and it is Nothing Great About Britain that has opened the doors.

@murthynikhil

Big Thief – U.F.O.F.

7 Jun

U.F.O.F. is a beautiful, delicate and scarily intelligent folk-rock album. It’s gossamer and lovely in sound and filled with intricacies and flourishes and sparkles.

“Betsy”, for instance, is calm and unhurried and tranquil. “Jenni” feels like a gentler, slower “Jeremy” and while that may sound like it misses the point, the result is no less intense for how slow it burns. “From” is tender and sophisticated.

For all that softness though, the album is also able to carry off the Velvet Underground-like “Contact” which goes from a slow start to a distortion both unexpected in such a soft album and brilliant for it.

The vocal quivering in “Orange” engage and the lyric of “Orange is the color of my love” is novel. Similarly in “Century”, Lenker’s voice wavers around where you would expect and the unbalancedness that engenders is excellent. It slips a little at the end of the song though and it’s not quite strong enough to carry the vocal-only segments of “Magic Dealer”, but those are the exceptions in a mostly wonderful album.

For all of the innovation of the album, it’s still extremely approachable. The country jangles in “Cattails” are a fascinating evolution of this soft-rock sound, but it also works well on the surface. This is an album that greatly rewards effort from the listener. It has lots of little brilliances flowing through it and is confident enough not to clumsily draw attention to it.

However, no matter your approach, you will enjoy this album. Even at the most shallow listen, it’s exceptional. If you’re willing to meet it halfway though, it’s transcendent.

Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!

29 May

There’s a lot in play with the new Jamila Woods album Legacy! Legacy! The panorama of black excellence is fascinating. Her use of it to examine herself is even more so. Her mixing in of current events is provocative. Above all though, her voice and her sound and the R&B that she has made is exceptional.

Every song here is named after a different cultural bastion and so we see a jazzy, fusiony sound in “MILES”, albeit one that feels a little more Future Shock than Bitches Brew. “EARTHA” has soft R&B with a clever undercurrent of electro-pop underneath it. “SUN RA” is gentle with a hypnotic beat.

Lyrically, it’s just as strong and as clever. “BETTY” has a strong feminism with the uncompromising couplet “I am not your difficult girl / throw away that picture in your head.” The chorus of “ZORA” has the pure truth of “You will never know everything / And you don’t know me.”

Everything really comes together in the two standout tracks of the album. “BASQUIAT” is magnificent. The call and response of “Are you mad? / Yes, I’m mad!” and the twists at the end of each refrain are very well done. Her singing is powerful and the base line is visceral and just when you find your feet with the song, Saba caps it with some very clean rapping.

My favorite track though is the wonderful MUDDY. The blues-rock riff underpinning the song is excellent and her voice provides a freshness and clarity that creates a beautiful tension against it. Lyrically, it’s a calculated sneer that matches the musical tone precisely and the whole sticks with you well after each listen.

What makes all of this even more astonishing is the degree of coherence in this album. Her voice remains the one constant amongst an array of sounds but it’s more than powerful enough to force a singular feel to the entire album. 

This coherence is matched by the quality throughout. This is an excellent album and one that you need to listen to. We highly recommend it.

Karen O / Danger Mouse – Lux Prima

16 May

Neither Karen O nor Danger Mouse really need to another laurel to their wreaths. They are well-known, highly successful and something of an establishment in their fields already. Neither one really needs a boost, which works out, as Lux Prima isn’t the kind of album that can define an artist. It is, however, a skillful pop-rock diversion and a fun 40 minute listen.

“Turn The Light” is just good, infectious pop. Karen O’s voice is stellar throughout. Songs like “Drown” work so well because her voice is impeccably controlled and very personal and that muddies up the slow moving but so intriguing production underneath. The closer “Nox Lumina” has a sound reminiscent of a lullaby, but taken wonderfully out of context and its mirror “Lux Prima” is a clean synth line.

The album as a whole is a little ephemeral though. It’s great to listen to, but forgettable when it’s done. The structure is a little too traditional and the album a little too lacking in innovation. Despite the tremendous skill of the two musicians and the cleanness of their sound, the whole comes off slightly shallow.

The talent is undeniably there though and comes through on every song. If you like any of the earlier work of Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) or Danger Mouse (Broken Bells, Gnarls Barkley, The Grey Album, Danger Doom, lots of other things), you’ll find plenty to like here too.

Gunna – Drip or Drown 2

9 May

Drip or Drown 2 is, more than any other aquatic metaphor, distilled. It is muted and monotonic, taking the already focused subgenre of trap and focusing it even further. This is an album that’s specific in its intent and strong in its speech.

This focus gives it a relentless feel that fully enthralls. “Baby Birkin” takes the trap tic of repeating the end of the line and does it excellently. This may be a cliche in the form now, but it keeps the song from easy resolutions and so fascinates, albeit while being mentally exhausting. There are some very strong singles in here, with “Speed It Up” being similarly intriguing and “Who You Fooling” bringing in some astonishing Japanese strings. The production is consistently excellent and Gunna mixes up the singlemindedness of the beats cleverly with his raps.

This is a very linear album though, and that focus results in clarity at its best, but blandness at its worst. It’s at its best far, far more than at its worst though. This is an exceptional album. However, in it’s commitment to fully explore every idea it presents, it ends up slightly lacking in variety. However, this is a clever, accomplished album and a strong call to attention for a rapidly rising rapper. In his smelting of the genre, Gunna has forged something unique and you should definitely check it out.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall

5 May

Ancestral Recall is fearless. Like a python, its mouth seems to have opened impossibly wide and swallowed influences larger than the album should be able to hold. And again, like the python, these influences may distend the album, but they are consumed, feeding the snake, but never overpowering its own nature.

This is an album that can be heavily industrial in “Prophesy” and then run a saxophone against it for a fascinating juxtaposition. It can be both punishing and fascinating in “Double Consciousness” which has a backbeat that latches onto your spine.

“Diviner” however is just beautiful. It’s complex and sends your mind spinning with a wonderful, delicate counterpoint that wanders through it. “Songs She Never Heard” is similarly surprisingly gentle and almost ambient at points. It does sometimes verge on repetitive, but is a very pleasing listen. “Before” is beautiful and dreamlike and yet fervent in its desire to communicate. There’s a fire underpinning even the softest moments of this album.

This is far from traditional jazz. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah has melded an astonishing array of influences into this album. And he has done it with such consummate skill and imagination that, despite a couple few burrs in the tapestry, the result is magnificent.

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