Tag Archives: r&b

Hold You Down – Against The Early Childish Gambino

5 Aug

We put up a review of the new Childish Gambino album a few months ago and it got me thinking. Karthik liked the album, but misses the old CG. I don’t. I strongly feel that leaving rap was the best thing Donald Glover could have done and I thought I would put down why.

It’s a hard thing to say, but I don’t think that Childish Gambino was ever that great at rapping. Donald Glover has always been an easy person to like and that covers up for a lot, but the fact that it is Donald Glover rapping has always been the bit that most commands attention. He is the actor who raps some. His flow is fine, but honestly forgettable. He’s a little nasal and his emphases are too self-indulgent.

In fact, as a rapper, he reminds me a lot of Aminé. I like Aminé a lot, and you owe it to yourself to at least check out “Spice Girl” if you don’t know him, but liking Aminé comes with the fact that there’s a hard ceiling on what he’s ever going to become. He’s a fun goofball who makes quite a bit of solid music, but there’s only so far that you can go like that, and it’s hard not to say exactly the same thing about the old CG.

Going back to Camp doesn’t do much to shift me on this either. I really empathize with his feeling out-of-place everywhere, it’s a life I still live, but he really says all that he needs to say about it in a couple of songs and beyond that it doesn’t do anything. To unfortunately compare him again to a lower-tier rapper, it reminds me of Logic’s albums where his unwillingness to moderate how far he takes a central conceit causes his albums to drag. Logic is, in fact, my go-to parallel for a CG who stuck to rap. “1-800” is a very good song and the song that really made Logic. It’s a major hit and deservedly so and it’s a song that means a lot to a lot of people and had CG stuck to straight rap, I’m sure that it was only a matter of time until he struck it big like that, but it’s also what feels to be Logic’s peak and the new CG has already passed that.

A big part of that feeling of limitation is that I think there’s only so far you can go with hashtag rap. It seemed interesting in 2011, but looking back, I’m really glad that rap went in a different direction. “Heartbeat” is one of my favorite songs from Camp, but the J and Keisha line is disruptive. I’m in the middle of his story and he drops in such an out-of-place line. It takes me out of the moment for an honestly meaningless line. This is worsened by throwaway lines like “Put it down like the family dog” in “Crawl,” which just feels pointlessly edgy. He doesn’t have the lyricism or the verbal dexterity of Eminem and he’s nowhere near as off-the-wall as Tyler, the Creator and he just can’t pull off the pose anywhere near as well as they do. Similarly, he just doesn’t have the imagination or the flow of Lil Wayne or Thugger, who both have made an art of non-sequiturs and ad-libs. They do almost Joycean things to the language and they rap with such joy. CG has never had anything like the same abandon.

This leads into what I think is CG’s biggest problem when rapping, he never really figured out who he is. I’m going to look at legitimately my favorite of his straight rap songs for this, “L.E.S..” His story of this New York girl is really good. Calling out hipster trends in this song adds detail.  “White boys used to trip and send me over a gin / But they busy showin’ off each other Indian friend” is clever and has a fantastic sneer to it and is followed by my favorite CG line of all ” She got ironic tattoos on her back / That ain’t ironic bitch, I love Rugrats.”

However, then we get things like the free association of the next stanza, which has internal rhymes that could have been interesting, but which he ruins by trying too hard with them and with a needless and sort of tame attempt to shock. Similarly, a line like “Our relationship has gotten Sylvester Stallone” is the kind of wordplay that can seem clever in a poor light, but it just doesn’t do anything for the song. It breaks you out of the flow of the song for a not very funny joke.

He just cannot commit in the way of the Arctic Monkeys or the Afghan Whigs to this lifestyle. He uses jokes to create distance and to cover up the fact that he’s not willing to open up in his music. He’s got an image that he builds up of being a loser on the outside, but making up for fucks you miss in high school is not a compelling aesthetic. It’s also a very tightly controlled image. He’s so reticent that there’s nothing to really humanize him. It comes across as a caricature and an unlikable one at that. Even that story at the end of “That Power” feels so iterated on, so polished, so story-told that it loses authenticity. Sometimes, you need something raw. Also, the Asian fetish gets pretty uncomfortable to listen to.

This might have been tempered had I ever watched Community and had that to balance him out, but I’ve never seen a Donald Glover TV show. Actually, I think the only place where I have seen him is in Solo, a movie that I quite liked and a movie that I quite liked Donald Glover in. However, it’s just not enough to build a picture of him separate from his music for me.

As a contrast to this, it’s time to finally get to the other actor-rapper of the mid-2000s, Drake. It’s easy to dislike Drake. There’s the pettiness, the fake tough-guy stuff, the clout chasing and the puffery, but we only see these because of how open he is and it’s really hard to be a superstar in the confessional that is rap if you’re not willing to be open. CG’s music feels like it wants you to like him and that insecurity doesn’t fit in the rap game. Also, Toronto Sadboy is a slightly comical pose, but it’s one that’s easier to get into than CG’s image of being clever, but immature. This is especially true for the Weeknd, but even when Drake does it, it’s more menacing, more dark and most importantly more sexy than CG’s stuff.

Also, Drake is just the better rapper and the better sing-rapper. You could argue that it was close in the Take Care vs. Camp era (although I wouldn’t), but it’s not at all close at this point. Drake has put in the work while Donald Glover has been busy becoming a movie superstar. Every year, Drake tries out new stuff with rap. There isn’t a trend over the past five years that he hasn’t dabbled with and the work shows. 

Even from the beginning though, Drake always felt like the more comfortable rapper and he committed to sing-rapping in the way that CG didn’t. The best song from CG’s first two albums is “Telegraph Ave”. (which I’ll remind Neeharika that I got to see at Telegraph Ave.), and you can see how well he does in the R&B-adjacent space with his songs with Jhené Aiko. He just feels more natural in that zone. Even with “Telegraph Ave.” I feel like it’s the singing that stands out rather than any of his rap and so it’s welcome that is what his focus is on now.

With R&B, he gets to focus more on feeling than on words and yet with “This Is America,” he has made the most meaningful song in his career. He even gets to be visual in “This Is America” and the wonderful “Feels Like Summer” and the upgrade from the Because The Internet screenplay to the very likable Guava Island is clear-cut. He gets to be unambiguously sexy in “Redbone” which the cleverness of rap doesn’t allow and it’s the best music he’s ever made.

He just feels more confident and here than he did before. “Zombies” from Awaken, My Love is a lot of fun and it just didn’t feel like he was comfortable enough to play like this before. This is an older and more mature CG and maybe the time has come for him to put down Childish things.

Related:

Stepping About with Tushar Mathur: An Interview

1 May

Bangalore-based Tushar Mathur has made quite a splash in the short time since he’s gone solo. With two singles out already, “Mend” and “Groove Pool”, he’s earned a sizable following for his signature chill R&B sound and sharp production quality. He’s been featured on BBC, VH1 and countless media publications for his fresh and unique sound.

But as laid-back and breezy as his music may sound, Tushar Mathur’s work ethic is quite the opposite. In launching his music career, he’s learned to don many hats: songwriter, producer, video editor and social media manager, to name a few. Fittingly enough, his upcoming track “Stepping About”, talks about our generation’s struggle to strike a balance between hustle culture and self-care. The track features Shayan Roy, a Mumbai-based rapper and producer of Buzzfeed fame and releases on May 1st.

We sat down with Tushar Mathur last week for a detailed chat about his music, his influences and what it means to be a musician in the social media age.

Tell us about yourself!

Let’s start with the name. My name is Tushar Mathur and I’m originally from Coimbatore. I’m a chemical engineer. I finished my degree and didn’t want to pursue engineering at all. I moved to Bangalore around three years ago to do music full time.

I have a band that mainly plays blues-rock, and now I’m working on launching my solo career. The song I’m coming out with, “Stepping About”, is my third single; “Mend” and “Groove Pool” were my first two tracks and they released last year.

We really enjoyed your first two tracks! What made you interested in music? What would you say is the starting point for you?

The starting point for me, I’d say, is my family. I have a very musical family. My parents and grandparents sing Hindustani classical music. But the moment I really got interested in English music was when my brother went to Jaipur for his summer vacation and he came back with a CD. That CD had 12 tracks – mostly hits by Guns and Roses and Deep Purple. We’d sit down and listen to that CD on repeat, the entire day. That sparked an interest in me and I took it forward from there.

My dad also used to play a lot of John Denver and country music around the house. I grew up listening to a lot of guitar-centric music. My brother would also introduce me to a lot of metal and rock. My music has been centred around the guitar ever since.

So would you say these are your primary influences? Or has this evolved as you’ve evolved as an artist? What would you say your main influences are now?

Right now, I’m hugely inspired by Tom Misch. He’s a guitarist and producer from London. My music has been hugely inspired by him- the style that I have now is mainly because of how much Tom Misch I listen to. Another recent influence of mine has been FKJ. When I start touring and playing live, my idea is to incorporate a lot of loop work onstage. FKJ has sort of been a pioneer in that field.

Your first two tracks feel so effortless and breezy! How was the process of writing, producing and releasing these songs?

My first track Groove Pool” is about an introvert at a party who wants to let loose. I’m not exactly why I wrote about it.. I’m not usually an introvert, but maybe I felt that way and just wanted to write about it. (Laughs)

My writing always starts off with simple guitar work. I usually start with a basic chord structure and build on top of that. The vocals, for me, usually come at the end. I tend to work on all the instruments and then sit down at the end of the day with the finished instrumentals, and write the lyrics and put in a nice vocal melody. That’s my process.

“Mend” was pretty similar. Groove Pool was released in July 2019 and Mend was out by November 2019. “Mend” was special because I worked quite hard on the music video for it. I had dancers, directors and photographers coming in so that took quite some time, but I’m happy with the result.

And how has the reception been for these tracks?

It’s been great! The songs have been on BBC Radio, both my videos were featured on VH1, and I’ve been featured on radio stations across the world. The response has been phenomenal, and people have been so supportive!

As a musician who’s transitioned between cities, how would you say the Bangalore scene compares to the Coimbatore scene?

The scene in Coimbatore is basically non-existent, which is why I moved to a city like Bangalore. Even before, we’d always travel to Bangalore for shows and competitions with my band. Bangalore has always been a great place for music; there are always people who play and appreciate different styles of music, especially when it comes to English music. Coimbatore’s scene is slowly developing as well, but the live music culture is yet to pick up. I’d say Bangalore is a hundred times better, in that aspect.

It must be an interesting experience to have to release music during this pandemic. Has it been a challenge to work on and promote your new track in these times?

I’ve actually been working on this third song for the last six months. It’s been a very long process. I’m usually very picky about my music, and with “Stepping About”, I was even more particular. It’s about our generation’s battle between hustle culture and self-care. Productivity has become a measure of self-worth, and it took me a while to gather my thoughts and pen them down, given how much this affects our generation.

The pandemic hasn’t really affected my release schedule- I’d say I’ve been going about my work as usual. Whenever I release music, I give myself an entire month to promote. I’ve been doing what I’ve done for every song. But I think during this pandemic, a lot of people are sitting at home and consuming more content than they usually would. I don’t think it’ll negatively affect the reception of the song per se; but my touring and live sets have definitely been impacted.

Even though it wasn’t written recently, the song’s subject matter seems more fitting than ever.

Somehow it’s become very relevant. Even in this situation, everyone’s constantly doing something, or learning something new. People of our generation constantly make themselves feel bad about not being productive enough, and that’s something I had felt six months ago when I came up with this song as a concept. It’s suddenly become way more relevant to the situation that’s going on right now.

Your track also features Shayan Roy, who’s popular for his viral Buzzfeed videos and his burgeoning rap career. How did this collab happen, and how was it working with Shayan?

I was looking for a rapper for my track. I got in touch with a lot of people but it wasn’t working out. Somehow I came across Shayan and I just sent him an email. That’s all I did. I attached my track and told him “Your part would be between these timestamps”, and asked if he’d be interested in laying something down for me. He actually got back to me instantly saying he loved the track and he would give it a shot.

It was that easy! A lot of people have asked me this: “How did you end up working with Shayan? How did this happen?” I’ve actually never met him- this has entirely been through email, Instagram and WhatAapp. And this all happened because of a single email. People don’t realize how important an email can be. That’s how I’ve got VH1, BBC and interviews like this.

You seem like quite the hustler!

(Laughs) Technically yes. It sounds a bit ironic that I’m writing a song about self-care. You’re right, I do hustle, and I do a lot of things. But there are times when I feel that I do need to chill out and take it easy. This song is to remind me to take a break. One of the lines actually is “At times I need to chill out” – that’s me telling myself I need to chill. So it’s very relatable to me and kind of a message to myself.

I’m always telling people to take it easy, but my friends tell me that I don’t follow my own advice and that I’m constantly doing something or the other. So I think that this song would be good for me as well, as a reminder that sometimes, I should take it easy.

Do you find it challenging to be a musician at this time? Between the music, the promotions and the social media, it feels like you’re doing the work of a three or four-member team!

That’s true, but the thing is: I love doing this! The music part is amazing, of course, but I believe that if you’re a musician, you need to see that music is a business. I think a lot of newer musicians think they’re above everybody, and think “I’m not going to learn how to promote myself, who wants to do that?” or “I’m just going to send this song out to a couple of my friends and it’ll blow up on its own.”

But I feel that with the music industry nowadays, the actual music makes up 30-40% of your success- the remaining 70% is just marketing and promotion. You might write the best song in the world, but if nobody’s going to hear it then what’s the point?

You’re right, it definitely is a three-person job, but I enjoy it, and I find the producing, marketing and promotion aspect of it extremely interesting.

Do you produce all your own tracks? How did you get into that?

Yeah, I’ve produced all my own tracks. I’m such a fidgety person, the type that loves to mess around with controls and buttons for hours, and that’s how I got into producing. I have a friend called Sandeep who’d take my calls and kind of guide me through some of the questions I had, but apart from that there’s always YouTube and Google. You can literally learn anything on the internet! This was essentially a product of me having a lot of time on my hands and being able to sit down and figure out how to achieve different sounds.

There was another advantage of getting into producing. I was already a musician at that point. Earlier, when we’d jam, I’d know what I want from the sound. Now it’s become easier to achieve that sound on my own and manage the different aspects of the final product. It’s given me more control over my music, in a way.

So you’re a self-taught musician as well as a producer!

I actually did go to guitar classes for a year, but I didn’t like it back then. It was mainly Carnatic stuff, and all I wanted to do was play Zeppelin. So yeah, I’d say I’m self-taught.

I’ve also taught myself video editing- all the videos you see are edited by me. I also take up a couple of freelance projects on the side, to support myself financially.

Wow, so it’s more like you’re doing the work of a six-member team!

Yeah I do quite a lot, you’re right. But I really enjoy the whole process.

RAPID FIRE:
Top Five Desert Island Album/Songs:

1. Beat Tape 1 by Tom Misch

2. Geography by Tom Misch

3. Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd

4. Led Zepellin 1 by Led Zepellin

5. My own music!

What are you currently listening to?

I really make use of Spotify’s daily mix feature- lots of times I’m not really sure who the artists even are!

I’ve been very excited about FKJ’s new album, Tom Misch’s stuff and this artist called Raveena.

Describe your sound in two words.

Let’s make it three: Smooth. Like. Butter. (Laughs)

What’s been your favourite gig? And why?

My favourite gig is actually my very first one. I had a gig back in Coimbatore, in this Punjabi Association that we were a part of and my dad had pushed us to go play a show there. A lot of my friends and family were at the show, and they still fondly recall the gig to this day. That was the first-ever time I got up on stage to perform and it felt magical- it’s my most cherished performance that I’ve given.

Dream collab?

Tom Misch, if I could, but I wouldn’t be able to function if that happened. If not him, then I’d really like to collaborate with a Hindi rapper – maybe Divine (I love his style) or Raja Kumari.

Is there anyone you’d like to shout out for helping you along the way?

I’d like to shout out my friend Pavithra. She’s been with me the entire way, and she’s supported me throughout!

You can visit Tushar’s website here for more information. His music is available wherever you regularly stream music. Listen to “Stepping About” now!

The Weeknd – After Hours

25 Mar

It’s still a little hard to come to terms with the end of the Trilogy-era Weeknd, but he’s left that mixtape period long behind him. What we have now is less consistent and less directed, but more accessible and definitely much more appropriate for the star that he has become. The man is even doing movies now.

The music is still good though, perhaps the best that he’s made since ascension. As always, his voice is his greatest strength. It’s high pitched, but strong nonetheless and very richly textured. And, as always, the loucheness of his character works very well with it. When he yelps “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me” in “Faith,” his voice is what really sells the point.

“Faith,” in fact, works as a good showpiece for the more modern Weeknd sound. It uses a heavy, pulsating Metro Boomin’ beat to drive it forward while Abel’s voice dances above it. His dissipated storytelling matches both the griminess of the beat and the etherealness of his voice. He even has the genius to cut the beat for things like the line above and also for the outro, giving his voice that much more time in the spotlight.

This is the same general formula that he’s used for a while now, and it works well for a fair bit here. The 80s-style upbeat journey through a too-early-to-be-early city of “Flashing Lights” is excellent. “After Hours” is a banger and a testament to his strength as a singer. He hits all his points flawlessly and effortlessly. ‘Too Late” is similarly strong. “Escape From LA” could have been something of a cliche, but he works well in well-trodden scenes and he can pull off lines like “LA girls all look the same / I can’t recognize / Same work done on they face / I don’t criticize.”

Some of it is just too close to straight pop though. “Scared To Love” is just painfully predictable. “Save Your Tears” is boring and goes on for far too long. “In Your Eyes” has a sax interlude that should be fun, but instead goes too far into the uninteresting side of old school pop.

“Snowchild” should have the same problems. It goes on for too long and needs more twists. His voice is able to save it though. He is just that good a singer. Besides, he has the line “She like my futuristic sounds in the new spaceship / futuristic sex, give her Phillip K. dick.” in it.

It all really comes together in “Heartless” though. It’s the same formula as above, but done so very well. It’s frenetic, it’s self-loathing and it’s self-destructive. It’s ominous and sexy for it. It’s even danceable. It’s absolutely as good as the best of what he’s done before.

After Hours is still more commercial than I would have wanted from The Weeknd. It’s also just not the classic that I’ve been waiting for from the new-era Weeknd. It is however still very good modern R&B and, while there is some undeniable filler, there’s also a lot of absolutely top-tier music in here.

Raphael Saadiq – Jimmy Lee

13 Dec

This album is not shy about its strengths. Right from the strong but sincere “Sinners Prayer” and its bluesy groove, you know that you’re getting into something good. By the time you get into the Prince-like “The World Is Drunk” and excellent neo-R&B of “Something Keeps Calling”, there’s no doubt left.

It finishes with fully the same strength. “Glory To The Veins” is the standout track with a dark, pulsating beat and Saadiq shows expert restraint with his voice here. For all of that though, it just grooves. “Rikers Island” moves well and the redux adds some needed profundity in an album which, while very heartfelt, is not quite original in its lyrics.

However, the album itself is just a little muddied. There are great moments in there, like the chorus of “Something Keeps Calling” or the little bit of playful piano in “Glory To The Veins”, but the whole fades a little easily, a fault exacerbated by the weak middle.

It’s still no doubt a very good, if not quite great, album. There are faults, but if you’re looking to see present-day R&B at its best, this is where you should start.

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.

Monthly Playlist: Apr. 2019

2 May

We’re back with another edition of the Monthly Playlist! This month’s songs range from Los Angeles lo-fi to Japanese indie rock and more – read on for all the deets.

5. “38’s” by The Vanities

“38’s”, by Glaswegian garage punk band The Vanities, is a whiskey-soaked vignette about drunken nights that last so late you miss the bus back home (ostensibly, the 38 in Glasgow). Within the first few seconds, Vanities drummer Craig Fellowes bursts in at a frenetic pace that never quite lets off over the song’s entire three-minute mark – but don’t let the percussion overwhelm you. The winning element here is the Vanities’ ability to paint a witty, entertaining picture of an inebriated evening. “Wasteland sights, apart from prozzies and rubble / Thirty quid for the night, far from subtle, she’s trouble / I’m coming down now, I wish I’d made my vodka a double,” goes the tune, perfectly encapsulating that no-man’s-land age between late teens and early adulthood (the band’s four members are all in their early twenties).

If you get the feeling that the Vanities’ experiences are cut from the same cloth as the gin-soaked, unsuccessful-clubbing escapades that shaped Arctic Monkeys’ debut album, you are absolutely right. There is a lot more to anticipate from the Vanities, and we are here for it.

4. “Why’d You Have to Act Like That Though” by Inner Wave

Why’d You Have to Act Like That Though”, by LA-based five-piece Inner Wave, is a chill, lo-fi psych rock track that brings to mind a mix of Mac de Marco and Lonerism-era Tame Impala. The track starts off with a slightly off-kilter melody, layered under spoken-word musings in the style of Julian Casablancas (it’s no accident – the five bandmates apparently grew up listening to the Strokes in the early aughts). Seamlessly, lead singer Pablo Sotelo melts into a hypnotic, repeated chorus – “I’ve been missing you, I’ve been missing you, I swear”; and before you know it, the song’s over. It’s loopy, lo-fi and catchy as hell, and had us pressing the replay button more than a few times. Be sure to keep an eye out for Inner Wave’s upcoming album, wyd, out on May 17.

3. “This Life” by Vampire Weekend

By this point, Vampire Weekend have an unmistakable sound to them. Whether it’s Ezra Koenig’s earnest voice, the Beach Boys-esque pleasantness of the guitars, or the harmonic choral elements, it is fairly straightforward to pick out a Vampire Weekend song from any random lineup. On “This Life”, from the upcoming album Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend takes their cornucopia of congeniality to a gloomy tale of broken dreams. “Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain / I just thought it didn’t rain in California,” sings Koenig, hiding the darkness behind a veneer of jangly Americana. It gets worse: “You’ve been cheating on, cheating on me / I’ve been cheating on, cheating on you,” he confesses a few lines later. With its genial music and its weighty lyrics, “This Life” is a great tune that works across two very different angles. Highly recommend this song and album.

Father of the Bride is out on May 3.

2. “Pretty Old Man” by No Buses

No Buses are a Japanese indie rock band heavily influenced by the 2000s garage rock revival sound. Of course, they aren’t the first with that set of influences. It’s easy enough to write a simple, easygoing tune, but what really surprises the listener about No Buses is their ability to create an instant earworm. On “Pretty Old Man”, No Buses weave a love story with at least one geriatric participant, in between roving guitar riffs and steady-as-can-be drums. The result is an earnest homage to the likes of early Arctic Monkeys (even down to the band’s name) and Oasis without coming off too saccharine. A tough feat, but one that No Buses manage well. We’re excited to hear more from them soon.

1. “Power is Power” by SZA, The Weeknd and Travis Scott

Ten years from now, in the annals of pop culture history, April 2019 will be heralded as an historic month, for two book-to-Technicolor transformations: the end of Marvel’s Avengers comic book saga with Endgame, and the final season of the record-busting Game of Thrones. For GoT fans who want to augment their visual and cinematic experiences, the TV show released For the Thrones, a soundtrack inspired by the characters and thematic elements onscreen. “Power is Power”, featuring three of the world’s biggest stars, is an ode to the reluctant hero of the entire series – Jon Snow.

What we love about this track are the interlocking yet distinct contributions from the three featured artists. The Weeknd’s echoing beats bring to mind his chart-topping “Pray for Me” from the Black Panther soundtrack, but his lyrics are far-removed from the African savannah of Wakanda. “I was born of the ice and snow / With the winter wolves and the dark alone,” he sings; a perfect battle hymn for the oft-wallowing Jon. SZA knocks it out of the park with a fluid, strong verse that further explores the self-doubt / heroism clash within Jon’s psyche. And Travis Scott, as usual, switches it up with a verse that contrasts but complements the rest of the song.

All in all, “Power is Power” is a treat whether you’re a Game of Thrones fan or not.

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

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

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

The Internet: Ego Death

10 Dec

Ego Death is the most relaxing album that I have heard in a long while. The soft, calm R&B here is just a pleasure to listen to. Syd the Kid sings deeply personal snippets gently enough to remove the sting and only leave the emotion.

The soothing nature of this album in no way detracts from the quality though. Your work doesn’t need to be ragged to be passionate or true. “Girl”, for instance, is beautiful in how simple it is. This is the first album I’d recommend for relaxing after a bad day and is a strong choice for if you just want to listen to some very good R&B.

@murthynikhil

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