As fantastic as Spider-man: Across The Spider-Verse is, I can’t say the same about the accompanying soundtrack, METRO BOOMIN PRESENTS SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE (SOUNDTRACK FROM AND INSPIRED BY THE MOTION PICTURE). It’s production consistently fails to take an extra leap as it stays afloat with uninteresting beats; it bears the weight of success on the featured artists, who sometimes deliver good verses. There is some stuff to latch onto as the music rounds out between some catchy, albeit occasionally corny, choruses, and forgettable connectivity. Boomin curated it to have parallels between the thematic poignancy of the film and music, failing to hit the mark considering the inattentive approach to implementing vocal samples at the end of certain tracks, carrying with it another connection beyond the music. It left me feeling like the hype built behind it, considering the prestige of Metro Boomin, didn’t live to expectations – you can set a standard with that of the Black Panther: OST by Kendrick Lamar and American Gangster by Jay-Z, but they had more free range – the highs don’t last as long since what follows are wandering lows that slowly lose you as it goes along.

The album feels less inspired and more typical of Metro Boomin flair with the addition of vocal samples from the movie. Much of the music speaks through the perspective of the featured artists as they try to find parallels with the themes and pivotal moments from Spider-man: Across The Spider-Verse, like with most of these inspired soundtracks; however, this one isn’t as poignant. The music is sometimes flowing unconsciously, giving monotony a significant presence amongst the verses of the featured artists, like with 21 Savage, who’s given moments to reflect on relationships and perseverance without getting creative lyrically, or Don Tolliver, who continues to sound the same on his features. There is this feeling that some focus gets shifted toward being representative of Miles Morales’ perspective. It’s understandable, but one can only do so little when you have Future or Lil Wayne trying to rap through the perspective of a 15-year-old boy. But when it does so, it’s never as good as when it doesn’t, like on “Annihilate,” where Lil Wayne’s typical flair is more of a highlight than Offset and Swae Lee and their attempt at taking Miles Morales’ perspective.

Additionally, artists get hindered as they match the energy and quality of the beat they are rapping over. Or so I assume, as a predominant amount of the verses aren’t the A-game levels one has heard from them, though it isn’t to say they’re delivering below B-level work since there are momentous highs that I couldn’t stop replaying. Specifically, five songs truly stood out compared to the rest, and they are “Am I Dreaming,” “Hummingbird,” “Calling,” “Self-Love,” and “Nas Morales.” Though for a mild and safe album like this, it doesn’t declare much for what it aims to do – it’s the most effective. “Am I Dreaming” beautifully captures rapping through more of a perspective via Miles Morales, with some slips towards reality; “Calling” does similarly, via Nav, while A Boogie contrasts him by taking themes of love and feeling needed with his touch of reality. Others find themselves standing out through the strength of the respective lead artists flexing their stylistic and rhythmic potencies, especially James Blake and Nas on “Hummingbird” and “Nas Morales,” respectively. 

However, nothing has been more replayed than “Self-Love,” led by Coi Leray; we hear her create parallels between themes that are pertinent to her arc and that of Gwen Stacy, singing, “Self-love, he don’t love himself, tryna love me/Cuff me, told the truth to him, he don’t trust mе … Oh my, she’s a long way from suburban towns/Came to the city for thе love, got her hurtin’ now,” in the pre-chorus and chorus, respectively. The cadence and emotional potency beneath Coi Leray’s performance offer a much-needed draw, and one of the few times the beat has some grip on playing with minimalistic layering; Leray boasts it with this gripping melody that isn’t transcendent but wholly effective. Like the others, it brings a beautiful parallel between the two, reinforcing the idea of being “inspired by.” This notion gets brought up in stagnant moments from other artists that it isn’t a demonstrative make-or-break element to the album unless one has a more linear expectancy. We get teetering performances from Lil Uzi Vert, Don Tolliver, and Offset, where they become a slight afterthought, continuing to show how safe many of these songs play it.

Though we get some quality highs from the Metro Boomin’s soundtrack, there is still some disappointment the beats are as encapsulating, playing it safe so the construction feels seamless. We hear it on “Link Up,” which doesn’t go beyond with its afrobeat influence, and “Hummingbird,” but James Blake fixes it as he turns the type-beat into something that would have been seen as a loosie off a previous album. There is a consistent instance of uninteresting soundscapes; it almost feels like a quick turnout that lacked creative intuition leaving this album on the lower side of the totem pole, where its forgettability reigns in that with consistency, endowing you with more than a sliver of quality that in turn isn’t much to write home to. It isn’t to say the album is pure crap; frankly, there is a good amount of quality lining it, but compared to the construction of its highlights and past Metro Boomin music, it doesn’t match their greatness.

METRO BOOMIN PRESENTS SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE (SOUNDTRACK FROM AND INSPIRED BY THE MOTION PICTURE) has a more potent presence when accompanied by having viewed the film, but not much as it’s easily digestible on its own. If only I could recommend this higher, as I lean into Spider-Man-Related Biases, but I can compose myself when something is of a lesser quality like this. It’s an album that will find some replay value, but you’re better off playing the Daniel Pemberton curated soundtrack from Into The Spider-Verse, instead.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Arlo Parks – The Soft Machine: Review

Coming off an excellent debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams, Arlo Parks has given us these intricate R&B/Soul/Pop hybrids, free-flowing with a natural cadence that evokes those calming emotional notes that keep you ingrained in her sound. It transfixes you into this world that balances the nuances of indie R&B/Soul and Pop with its loverly and atmospherically composed vocals that define the textures of her writing. As Arlo Parks noted through her quick one-minute explanation of the core context of the album, “This record is life through my lens, through my body – the mid-20s anxiety, the substance abuse of friends around me, the viscera of being in love for the first time, navigating PTSD and grief and self-sabotage and joy, moving through worlds with wonder and sensitivity – what it’s like to be trapped in this particular body.” Though that is prevalent within her follow-up, My Soft Machine, it’s an album that does more of the same without feeling consistently unique from her debut, leaving us with her songwriting, vocal performance, and some quality but uninteresting production.

Sonically driven to encompass mood, My Soft Machine mostly excels due to Arlo Parks’ songwriting and vocal performances having an immense pre. It’s an album where even the mildest production brings these solid melancholic sensibilities, but most times, you feel like there was some room to explore more. You hear it from the beginning with the song “Bruiseless,” one of two tracks entirely produced by Parks’, the other being “Ghost.” It feels like this heightened push towards building an album that becomes an embodiment of its lead artist – it’s a commonplace, but all do so differently; here Parks takes the lyrical route – in doing so, it shows Parks swimming through these beats fluidly, allowing her themes to breathe and offer more of an understanding. It’s what’s in between the two tracks that it starts to limp with its steadfast pace and familiarity. They interject, creating a negative fluidity where occasionally it’s more challenging to crumble and ingest what’s getting said because as you dig through, you get more entrenched by Parks’ whimsical melodies in her choruses.

There are occasions Arlo Parks’ choruses have more of a gravitational pull, as they emerge with this hypnotizing energy that sometimes her verses feel like a minimal afterthought. It becomes detrimental to boasting some thematic poignancy, even though the choruses aren’t thin, similar with the visceral depth in her verses. It isn’t too recurring as you can sense the differences, like with “Impurities” and “Purple Phase” – the emphasis is more evenly split, leaving these haunting vocals as a ghostly reminder – with the former, it does enough to hook you with the verse, but when Parks begins to sing, “I radiate like a star, like a star, star, star … When you embrace all my impurities/And I feel clean again,” in the pre-chorus and chorus respectively, it’s simplicity gets reinforced by the whimsy in her voice, allowing to have the gripping depth seen between the love she shares with her significant other. But its when you get to the crux of her verses where you hear what Parks wants to relay, even when it’s a little forgettable like “Blades” or “Puppy,” which don’t tread to new territory with its instrumental inclusions, specifically the synths.

Unlike Arlo Parks’ last album, the production sometimes feels predictable, rarely enticing you all the way and making you love it in its entirety. The soulful strings and subtle, buoyant percussion patterns add weight to the sound structure; yet, it gets disappointing when it slightly retreads mood-focused layers that you feel like you’re listening to the same moods, despite different themes represented. One example comes from “Weightless,” which ventures through safe paths, illuminating only when the chorus strikes, continuing to show the ferocity given to the delivery of either. “Weightless” has solid verse but is a little forgettable, specifically as Parks flows over these simple drum patterns. It leads into a surprising rap verse, but it’s not enough for the song to gain momentum, like “Dog Rose,” where the production is its defining juncture. Its chorus comes stronger than other aspects of the vocal performance, but this guitar-driven production feels stunted by not so gripping vocals from Parks.

One definitive highlight on the album is her duet with Phoebe Bridgers. It’s refreshing and an embodiment of their craft, especially their directional cadence, driving forth this theme of true love. It adds dimensions when the song embodies vague layering that can be reflective of whoever is listening. It’s more so because both artists are bisexual, and it adds nuanced dimensions, allowing the song to have more cognitive meaning, like the others, which continues to be enveloped by the world around Parks. On “I’m Sorry,” we hear Parks talk about this hardened shell she wears, making it harder for others to get through. Or with “Devotion,” she brings this otherworldly rock establishment with her co-producers, creating this incredible tale of queer love that evokes darker moods, alla Prince. She uses these dark conjectures to capture this love, twisting whats negative into the positive, like with the pre-chorus, where she sings, “Girl, I wanna protect you, I do, oh/Your eyes destroying me/I’m wide open, hmm.” It rounds out this solid follow-up that aims for depth, even when the production lacks luster.

The Soft Machine is unique, but not much so with the production. It’s within this zone that takes a safer route to allow the writing to gain emphasis, but in doing so, it sometimes whiffs at making its gravitational pull more powerful. It was something that did grow on me the more it played, especially as I let it connect after giving different sectors more attention based on what’s the most potent. It isn’t to say the supporting cast there isn’t up to par, but it’s more of a disappointment from its lack of consistency. I enjoyed it a lot, but I’ll find myself returning to the debut more frequently than not.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Daisy Jones & The Six – Aurora: Review

There’s no denying the significant uptick for the novel Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, especially the television miniseries based on it. It is a different narrative journey I’m not used to taking; though I am used to reading through interviews all my life, it felt like two distinct worlds colliding. However, one thing that did stand out while reading the novel was the details within the creation of this album that felt grandiose as if we were getting something akin to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac or Don’t Shoot Me I’m The Piano Player by Elton John yet as I took the time to sit back and relish in the attempt to realize that album, titled, Aurora. As the album kept playing and playing, the melodies struck beautifully – guitar strings strum with fluid range – the writing and performances are substantially rich – but with what rounds out the edges, I couldn’t hear what the novel wanted to convey about its musical layers. It treads familiar waters within the safer waters of Soft-Rock, never seeming to do something meticulously unique. Listening to it, with or without background knowledge of the characters, you get a solid rock album with quality replay value.

With direct nuance and nostalgia to the subtle underlinings of its 70s era, Aurora captures the essence of what influenced it, specifically, the music of Fleetwood Mac and their wayward yet delicate string orchestrations that emboldened their harmonies and melodies, like the acoustics of “Two Against Three” or “Look At Us Now (Honeycomb).” There are fantastic highs like them and calming middle-of-the-pack work that comes from this over-sizzling of decisions, like when it rides a rhythm for too long on “Kill You To Try,” making the outro feel slightly forgotten. It’s unlike the frenetic and lavish rock stylings of tracks like “More To Miss” or “Please,” where it doesn’t slightly overstay its welcome, delivering more profound musicality, especially the former “More To Miss,” which blends unique string layers from guitars and bass. Produced by Blake Mills, Aurora achieves its goal of delivering a capsule to the past, orchestrating these whimsically fantastic but sometimes standard, polished arrangements that get predominately outshone by the vocal performances. It leaves you with an essence of the past, yet it doesn’t feel significantly unique, even if it isn’t a bad album, and more just there with a larger sliver of greatness.

It feels like a layaway from the 70s as it looks to hit the nail squarely within the gravitational pull of nostalgia. But the music is sensibly modern but keeps its roots tethered to the operatic atmosphere of a studio construction, allowing the performance to be driven by visualizing space within one’s inflections as we hear with the powerful “Regret Me,” or the smooth cadences of “Let Me Down Easy.” Aurora is an album that rides the coats of its vocals because the profoundness articulated in the novel Daisy Jones & The Six isn’t fully heard consistently except for in the performances. Sung by lead actor and actress Sam Claflin and Riley Keough, they have natural essence to their voice, feeling more grounded, and for a few, it might be expected, especially knowing Claflin’s background with theater and Keough’s own lineage/life, respectively. Keough grew up around music, whether through the legacy of her grandfather Elvis Pressley or the musical ventures of her mother, Lisa Marie Pressley, so it felt sort of made for her; Claflin studied theater and drama, and if you didn’t know that… well, Finnick Odair from The Hunger Games can sing.

Easily put, Aurora is loose and focused on what it wants to be that it’s volleying an inconsistent everlong game between two styles. What I mean by that is whenever the album teeters between Rock and Soft-Rock/Pop, there aren’t many moments where the whole song feels pure as other times, you’re gravitating to ranging emotional delivery or the orchestration, where it’s the minimal stuff that lights up the stage, whether it’s a specific guitar lick or the synchronization of the two rhythms, or the soaring energy within the choruses. In the Riley Keough-driven performance of “Two Against Three,” the tempered vocals erupt once it arrives at the hook; the hook clutches you in the emotional gut and starts pulling harder and harder, similar to that of “Please,” except “Please” has more power within the chorus. It’s bolstered by the luscious cymbals coating the fluid strings and percussion layers, continuing the more boisterous notes of the track that precedes and succeeds it, including its distinct flair compared to others.

As the author of Daisy Jones would tell Rolling Stone magazine, “We finally have AURORA. A stunning, nostalgic, timeless album that captures the drama, pathos, and yearning of the band’s zenith and nadir all in one. A snapshot of time, intoxicating and dangerous. That delicious moment that you know can’t last… Daisy Jones & The Six are real. And they are better than my wildest dreams.” I’d downplay the word stunning, and I concur, especially not having seen the miniseries and reading the book. By understanding the heavy Fleetwood Mac influence that guided Taylor Jenkins Reid in writing the novel, it wasn’t hard to see the parallels, and sometimes, it’s that little bit that makes the production feel more replicative instead of inspired, aside from the vocals, the strings, and polished mixing. I thoroughly enjoyed this, even with its pivots into a less-than-stellar territory; give it a few listens, read the book, and watch the show if you’re a fan of the first two; I know I will be.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

LP Giobbi – Light Places: Review

I often come across artists that capture my attention to the fullest, furthering my pursuit to listen to their discography or a short collection of songs before an impending release. Recently that has been the case with LP Giobbi, a Piano House star in the making, precisely as she continues to establish an identity beholden to who she is and more. As noted through her Instagram and interviews, Giobbi grew up a Dead Head, i.e., a core group of superfans who used to travel just to watch The Grateful Dead perform, and that has stuck with her today, specifically in her craft. As Evan Sawdley of noted, “The idea of mixing the music of the Grateful Dead with contemporary dance trends sounds sacrilegious on paper, but for LP Giobbi, it is nothing short of a dream.” We’ve heard LP make remixes of the music of The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia’s music and deliver Dead House sets, blending the music of the former with house; now she’s giving us her debut solo album that continues to highlight her strength as a pianist and electronic musician.

There is no denying the limelight from the effervescent piano notes aligned throughout LP Giobbi’s debut, Light Places. It’s a secondary protagonist on this journey that sees Giobbi channeling Deep House and Jazz notes as she buddies these sounds together with pure rhythmic bliss. It’s like she’s transporting us back to when House and EDM weren’t constrained on particular scales to get magnetic energy from the chorus-drop combo. As it progresses, you hear how focused Giobbi is at weaving the production where you can forgive the two moments the featured vocals aren’t as gripping. Though slightly glaring hiccups, it has a continuous streamlined consistency within the sounds, which gives us a smoother passage that funnels its themes through these interesting starting points, like with the only interlude. “All I Need” begins as this piano-driven interlude that establishes the feeling of support, wherein one’s confidence remains high and focused, knowing each corner of the ring has someone to have your back. When it gets to the actual song, we see those barriers break as Giobbi performs vocally, which isn’t as common here. 

With the occasional guest vocalist, LP Giobbi has an album that tackles consistency considerably. It’s why these featured vocals from Sofi Tukker, Caroline Byrne, and Monogem, the latter two are independent vocalists who get their talents bolstered by Giobbi and her co-producers work, have an emotional consistency with the trajectory of the production. As fantastic as these collaborations are, it’s moments Giobbi takes a step back and works around developing something intricate and mesmerizing with pure instrumentals. On “Follow The Loop,” as told to Apple Music, “I started with one note from a Grateful Dead guitar line and repitched it and replaced it until this loop happened, which I just couldn’t stop playing and following through the song.” And that loop takes Giobbi through interesting avenues that show rich world-building, keeping it far from one-dimensional, like how the varying layers of Post-Disco, House, and Techno are beautifully entwined as it gets a little funky with the bass and piano keys and letting the rest establish it further. The same goes for the smooth cadence of “Georgia,” as it brings in heavy drum patterns to boast the elegant and nostalgically nuanced house synths and bass lines.

Light Places isn’t without faults. As noted earlier, there are two moments where the features aren’t as great, even when the production doesn’t fall flat. After a strong opening two tracks, the album takes a vocal down pivot with “Can’t Let You Go,” which does feel more one note, specifically in the chorus. This similarly reflects in “All In Dream,” where featured artists DJ Tennis & Joseph Ashworth don’t help give the track more than a rudimentary EDM direction that loses focus the more it gets into the weeds of being slightly more tropical and intimate. It doesn’t stand out, specifically with its piano rhythms, carrying a constant motif that we hear a few times – on the following track, “All My Life,” it starts with similar keys but gets explored further as featured artist Sofi Tukker brings this melancholic and melodically blissful performance. Sometimes the vocals carry contrasts to the production, burgeoning this hypnotic trance where you can get lost in the details and forget the subtleties that make the music danceable.

I’m not the most privy to the Electronic/Club scene, primarily because of the financial limitations I’ve imposed on myself, where you won’t find me at a set on a Wednesday night at the Brooklyn Mirage or traveling to Europe just to party, I have a 9 to 5. But I know about music, and as I’ve spent a lot of time digging through more archives and exploring emerging DJs/Musicians, I’ve come to find greatness in the spacious array of sounds getting created. And I can say LP Giobbi’s debut is one of these emerging artists I couldn’t recommend more. What she does with the piano envelops into these luscious overtures that steer her debut album greatly. It is a fantastic musical journey that truthfully lets the sounds keep you zoned in and focused from start to finish.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Kaytranimé – Kaytranimé: Review

Expectancy/hype is an enemy of the art consumer, especially within the audio world, as collaborations tend to have more coherence in a blend of styles. Though sometimes it comes and hits tremendously, that isn’t the case this time with the new collaboration album by Rapper/Producer Aminé and Musician/Producer Kaytranada. Looking at it on the surface, there wasn’t a surprise people had any sense of hype for the drop, especially as the two have had fantastic consistency from album to album. But with the expected, whether luscious summery production or smoother, fun flows, it’s as if the latter becomes consistently forgotten. Aminé’s flows aren’t as gripping or creative, never seeming to get out of this slower, heavy zone of flexing, that it sometimes transfers into more sociable romps that bring out the smooth cadence of his voice, like with “Sossaup” or “Eye,” where its features help boost the final production. Unfortunately, the highs aren’t enough to make Kaytranimé more of a great listen; it’s swift with lackluster pacing shortening the space left to breathe and making what follows a meandering disappointment.

There is some promise within Kaytranimé, especially Aminé’s lyricism/writing, as he keeps choruses and verses on point with the technicals and syllabic schemes. He’s witty and has some smooth lines that whiff with the flow, like when he gets behind the microphone; the delivery makes you feel unenthused. It’s what separates the decadent, island-smooth “Sossaup” or funky and soulful “4Eva” from tracks like “letstalkaboutit,” where it isn’t as creative. It leans more toward the mundane, feeling like a loosie, which gets overshadowed by a fun Freddie Gibbs verse. Like it, the former two have more of an equilibrium that makes it more effective despite having featured artists, though only Amaarae outshines him on “Sossaup.” Aminé’s flows tread familiarity and lack the creativity of sounds that reflect summer vibes, like the whimsical and ray-filled synths or modestly formidable but calming drum patterns that fluctuate with the strings and synths. Usually, Aminé has more of a command of his flows, but this time, he maneuvers them lazily without much bravado. It’s as if one was expecting something jovial and instead receiving this formal hip-hop album without many ear-popping moments.

The production of Kaytraminé shimmers, and hearing others perform over it is sometimes more memorable. It’s what makes “Eye” one of the more memorable tracks off the album, especially when it incorporates the strength of all three parties. Whether it’s Aminé’s singing, Kaytranada’s production, and the smooth Snoop Dogg flows from his Bush era, adding that sensual cadence, it counteracts Aminé’s emotionless/dronish delivery in the first verse making the song better, and Aminé’s rap verse a simple afterthought that meshes in. It’s as if Aminé found the golden goose in style as the song contains blended strength that boasts tracks like “4EVA,” “K&A,” and “Master P,” which are more attuned to expose the blended Hip-Hop/Dance/Funk sonic subtexts in the core percussion patterns of the beat. It’s a defining shift that makes you wish the album had a smoother trip as it gets bumpy after ascending and as it starts descending.

Throughout my listening of Kaytraminé, there were moments when it wasn’t clicking for me. Instead of taking unique directions vocally, it leaves the production somewhat of a misnomer, feeling like the only person who understood the assignment. It becomes entwined within two unlike sides, with Aminé aligning with constant braggadocio raps – harder and less vibey – there are some highs and lows. Some lows, “Westside,” “STFU3,” and “Ugh Ugh,” aren’t the strongest of the crop. It balances tone poorly; where Aminé would get more confidently typical, he chooses to downplay the bravado in his voice. It’s switching flows with beats where we hear some correlation, but it’s all rounding itself to become somewhat redundant and repetitive. To put it simply, his flows aren’t as vibrant. They overlap – sometimes, they feel distinct to the nature of the beat’s aesthetic. When you hear Aminé’s flow on “STFU3” compared to something like on “Rebuke,” you notice more balance. It’s such a disappointment since the album starts on a momentous high with “Who He Iz,” but his constant flex of collaboration can get tiring – it makes you appreciate more toned-down performances like on “Sossaup,” where everything just hits perfectly. And it starts with Kaytranada’s production, which I’ve noted prior.

Kaytranada’s production is the main highlight of Kaytraminé though slightly weak – it isn’t up to par with some of Kaytranada’s best work, but for what it’s trying to relay, some fantastic sonic choices are getting made. This ranges from the beat switch in “Ugh Ugh” to the pure Hip-Hop textures of tracks like “K&A” and “letstalkaboutit,” where it uses subtle notes to keep it in line with the summery aesthetic – as a collective, it isn’t always wound tight, but through an individualized lens, it becomes more and more apparent how much of a waste these beats were when tacked on with Aminé’s lukewarm delivery. It’s one thing to have great verses, but they are only as effective as the flow delivering them, and Aminé is not consistent there. The choruses are catchy, and the features are potent, but it’s a predominant whiff for both artists, more so Aminé. I wish I could have liked this more, but Kaytraminé is a disappointment. But why not give it a full listen; let me know what you think in the comments below.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Jordyn Shellhart – Primrose: Review

It’s usually a musical treat when an artist finally steps past the shadows of artists they’ve written for to take us on a journey that will either affirm stylistic limitations or express a vast grassland of creativity painting over the planes. For Jordyn Shellhart, it’s a balance between the two, teetering towards the latter as her debut, Primrose, tackles apropos content and skews the expected into something emotionally deep and vibrant, allowing the vocals to have this indelible stamp after the song has played. Though it isn’t some landmark Country album that leaves us with something sonically profound, Shellhart’s writing shines under the lights, where the accompanying strings, piano, and drums play eloquently in the back without much hindrance or true pizazz. The focus tends to have more of a presence within the writing, as some instrumentations feel slightly hollow, despite the composition not taking a complex nose dive pivot. Complexity isn’t needed within the core base of weaving the first notes of a Country song – like her contemporaries, Shellhart brings more nuance to the underlying rock and pop textures, keeping attention nigh through some rough patches.

The writing of Primrose tackles themes within familiar territory as most songwriters tread into; however, Jordyn Shellhart tackles it creatively as she relays these personal moments with auspicious storytelling where it isn’t so cut and dry. It isn’t easy for someone to reflect on instances of abuse, co-dependency, cheating, and more, like the persistence of an Ex’s mother in the song “Tell Your Mother I’m Fine,” with a common confident retort after. Though it isn’t the only instance of taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the writing, Shellhart is aiming for a proper equilibrium to flex the range with which she can take verses and choruses, allowing the listener to gravitate toward something captivating. They all carry this vibrant aesthetic within the Country music landscape, keeping in tow with an overuse of the guitar strings to guide the principal emotional bravado within the heart of the song, like the contrasting hopeful rhythms on “Steal A Man” or the spirited and doubtful notes of of “Amelia.” 

There is a broader sense of her musical direction as Shellhart takes us down these intricate paths where we get to hear quality melodies that reflect the poignancy of its themes, like that of abuse on “Amelia” or the overindulgent term for the other in a cheating scenario, homewrecker on “Steal A Man.” But it’s when we get to the second that her writing is reinforced tremendously, like in “Maybe You’ll Have A Daughter,” which looks at being discarded when the feeling of love is high. However, as pivotal as the writing is, through the words, the construction of the melodies and harmonies are equally so, and the unique styles complementing, and sometimes contrasting, each other, allows for a smoother listen than some simple but effective sonic landscape isn’t as fully immersive as say something from the dynamic force within Nikki Lane’s more outlaw country notes. I’m not denouncing the solid instrumentations, as they come with a sense of quality and direction, but sometimes they feel safe. It lacks this want to become something grander, whether transitioning between collective layering or more broken down, like with “On A Piano Bench Getting Wasted” or the tiring moments of “Maybe You’ll Have A Daughter.” But it takes a step back to let it all progress smoothly with the occasional standout.

It’s what makes “Joni” such an intriguing moment; we get to hear the sizzling pop-catchy chorus fluidly moving through the danceable track, which sees Shellhart playing with a popular perspective viewpoint on Joni Mitchell’s music, where one hears her writing style more direct to the emotional conflictions, being more thorough than the allusions created by Jordyn Shellhart. This gets heard in the chorus, where Jordyn Shellhart sings, “First words outta your mouth, “Are we in a fight?”/I sit cross-legged on the bed, you say you’re pickin’ up a vibe/How can I make you understand that everything is wrong?/I don’t think Joni Mitchell would like any of my songs.” Through it, Shellhart notes how the weight bared from past relationships is too convoluted for her to deliver proper direct emotional gravitas, instead leading us through these distinct modest romps that use more detail for an expansive view of the content. Shellhart is letting the themes breathe through the elaborate situations, allowing the storytelling to flatten the let us hear the progressional ferocity of its multi-layered writing.

As it’s heard in “On A Piano Bench Getting Wasted” or through the thematic resonance of gaslighting in “Who Are You Mad At.” There is this resounding presence for world-building that Shellhart doesn’t try to get straight to the point, instead allowing for the situation to highlight the themes through action, like the former, where Jordyn Shellharts takes a moment to sing through a conscious perspective about the feeling of longing as if it is this mystifying haze around love. As she would sing, “I’ve never been the girl dreaming/Of first sight butterflies or I do’s in chapels/Maybe it’s just a full moon or because/I watched Sleepless in Seattle/But tonight I guess I feel different,” you get a contrasting sense of her being, and how wine and a film can shift feelings about it. The depths of her writing add a much-needed refresher from the more expansive, sometimes colorful country sounds. The instrumentations won’t be that memorable, but the melodies will, especially that of “Irrelevant.” 

Primrose is a neat and complex album that goes to the depths by reflecting its themes and making the listener focus more on the writing than the instrumentations. Though it isn’t the most astute production, sometimes, playing it safe sonically, we get an album that offers quite a bit, even if its appeal isn’t as widespread. Fortunately, it has some memorable moments, and Jordyn Shellhart makes a name for herself. It will leave fans of the genre fulfilled and hopeful, especially as this is only the beginning, and there is only up left to go. Give it a spin; did you like it or not? Leave a comment below.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

ICECOLDBISHOP – Generational Curses: Review

Do you remember those commercials for V8 Juice, where the person smacks themselves on the head, telling themselves they could have had a V8 instead of the overly sugary drink in hand? That was me, except when getting around to listening to LA Rapper ICECOLDBISHOP’s debut album, Generational Curses. ICECOLDBISHOP isn’t mincing words, giving us a purview of broken systems and the struggle of life imitating art, where there is no overly glimmering sight of hope, instead underlying the limited acceptance had with the notion of having hope, following in the lineage of what’s afforded to said community. Imagine hyperactive commentary on all that, explored through West Coast, G-Funk-influenced beats, and potent lyrics with poignancy, while the underlying production tends to be milder. There are a lot of great things going on in this debut; what sticks is that Generational Curses speaks to the sneering doom within ICECOLDBISHOP’s heart and mind as he sees a consistent cycle, keeping generation after generation feeling cursed as the socio-political climate teeters like an ill-conceived roller coaster; it kept me at the edge of my seat, despite inconsistent production and being a little derivative of a style. 

If not for ICECOLDBISHOP’s writing, Generational Curses would be something that would have easily gotten forgotten, like the poignant display of gun violence on Wara’s 2015 album, P.S.A. Instead, it’s a profound album, using its subject matter to make the listener contextualize the words he’s spitting. There isn’t a genuine pop single (popular), opting for tone and gripping imagery to weave these tales that sees ICECOLDBISHOP giving us these perspectives of violence in gang life like an aspect of the culture involving chain snatching, which we hear on the phenomenal “Out The Window.” It’s a constant motif that guides the album as these ups and downs transpire before Bishop and his family, whether advert or inadvertent. We hear an example through the excellent commentary on “The Gov’t Gave Us Guns.” On the track, Bishop attacks legislators and gun laws, playing with the loose laws, allowing him to get a gun and go home the same day without background checks, noting that the Government low-key wants us to kill each other. 

ICECOLDBISHOP isn’t negligible of the world outside of his immediate zone. He gives us a perspective through his community; he writes by creating parallels with issues that have been awash for ages, like drug use, gang violence, and misguided funds creating hardships for particular communities to excel, thus finding some people feeling the bread is in hustling. It’s a little derivative of the overly animated vocalizations heard through artists like Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown, but the writing is crisp enough to look past most of it. On “D.A.R.E.,” ICECOLDBISHOP speaks on visual influence and perpetuating evil with the wrong descriptors. Named after a program that helped youths say no to drugs, Bishop plays with a double entendre, as the program is given to pre-teens (Aged 12) when we’re more impressionable, sometimes making us think differently about drugs. When I looked at posters explaining the effects of something like ecstasy, it reflected addiction instead of loose users, who may take it three times a year when they go to an Electronic music festival. Bishop plays coy with the chorus and opening of his verses, talking about these thoughts about trying different drugs because words don’t offer the same weight as visuals, and if one is told cocaine does this, but another person you trust more does it, it skews perspective.

It’s balancing anger by spicing it up with dread-filled tones and acute directness as ICECOLDBISHOP feels his generation, like the previous, is cursed. He’s delivering an overly violent actualization of his words, circumventing them into this zone that messes some people’s lives – it isn’t to say it’s parallel to what is happening around ICECOLDBISHOP. It’s as if most avenues for success and exploration beyond the impoverished or systematically corrupt are limited – thus, Bishop’s slight casualness behind the constant apropos violence and hustle and drug issues getting rapped about. Bishop makes it known how viscerally horrific it is, compared to others who have more of a streamlined life, where instead of getting your first Gameboy at 15, you’re flipping from the TEC to a MAC-10. It’s about the influence in front of you and how you get steered, even when sometimes you feel like you have little choice. 

We hear violent content Generational Curse consistently, but more so showcasing the darker path at the fork in the road, considering the world ICECOLDBISHOP develops phenomenally, especially the tracks “Full Fledge,” “Bad Influences From My Uncle,” “I Can’t Swim,” “Out The Window,” and “Cursed. They carry with them this absorbent depth that keeps a listener engaged from beginning to end; unfortunately, there are moments its content can get derivative, but it’s regaling to the point you can sit back and let it coast without much hesitation. It doesn’t benefit it much that the production is too aligned with the sound of the West, that it doesn’t try hard to push boundaries, sounding like composites of a style produced where it has enough glitz to add a medium-lit aurora around the vocals. Consistency is essential, especially when constructing that first album – ICECOLDBISHOP had a direction and kept it fluid throughout, never veering off the beaten path to shift the sound on a quick paradigm. That’s one of the better qualities you seek in a debut because it leaves the space between the now and the ceiling an artist can reach, and ICECOLDBISHOP still has room to grow.

I thoroughly enjoyed Generational Curse, despite its flaws. It opens the doors for a rapper hungry to take that next step and realize his potential. Though he’s mirroring this assertive style that has creative limitations, ICECOLDBISHOP keeps it authentic to his craft, and that elevates it further. I’d say the ceiling is high for him, and this album made me excited for more. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Overmono – Good Lies: Review

Overmono’s debut album Good Lies is full of rich textures, encapsulating breakbeats and some fluid songwriting as they continue to showcase the range and potency of their music. Like most dance/electronic music, there’s usually a bridge between tones, allowing sonorous self-reflections to exist within a zone of dance fever. The synchronistic connectivity the two have comes from this notion of dancing your problems away, and it does so without being so black and white. There’s depth and nuance within the productions that you’re inhabiting a new sphere of music where vibes are there to get you elevated, but at the same time, intaking these rich layers of sounds that make the whole electronic genre more than just something to dance to. Avalon Emerson’s debut & the Charm (2023) is a great, recent example of that, and Overmono continues to reflect that notion with Good Lies, along with past songs and EPs like “Bby” and Cash Romantic. Though more partial to the Emerson album, Good Lies comes and stays graciously, bringing more sumptuous flavors and an overall immersive vibe that you won’t want to shut off quickly, despite shortcomings.

Overmono has consistently taken various directions to much effect, shifting from the bombastic to the more rhythmic and melancholy, the latter of which is naturally effervescent on Good Lies and Everything U Need EP. Retrospectively, it’s also Overmono’s most personal work, and it’s for reasons outside of some introspective lyrics. It knows how to maneuver repetition for a vast worldview inhabiting the flow of sounds, allowing for these sentiments to carry retention within one’s love for them. It separates a lesser track like “Is U” from something as timidly profound as “Feelings Pain,” creating stumbling drawbacks within its cruise-like progression in the production. Good Lies has fluidity from start to finish, with some sonic components becoming motifs within a song’s distinctive use of electronic instruments. Ranging from the faintish and intimate vocals on tracks like “Good Lie” or “Cold Water.” It transfers through this conceptual bravado, where lies feel equated through its vocal performances and vocal samples. It’s how Overmono can shift between the Dance mode of tracks like “Feelings Pain” to more of a push with a breakbeat core in “Arla Fearn.”

It’s similarly reflective in the transitions between “Cold Blooded” and “Skulled.” Though both add additional flair to the rhythms created with the percussion and synths, they balance a distinct tempo and keep contrasting sounds feeling more connected than maligned. It’s part of an ever-progressing vibe, like if it were getting this mixed live in front of you, but the old fashion way without the different cuts between songs, shortening or lengthening them, more so vinyl to vinyl. Overmono, unfortunately, skips a slight beat by adding a separate track outro to “Good Lies,” extending its exposure and creating a bridge to a more dynamic creative palette. Though there is a fluid transition from “Good Lie (Outro)” into the radiantly techno-savvy “Walk Thru Water,” the former still feels like an afterthought as we get to hear the individual strengths of the Welsh Duo elsewhere on the album. Tom Russell comes from a Hard Techno background, while Ed Russell has worked more with breakbeat and the embodiments of dance-rave music. Bringing those two together offers a distinct palette that meshes – when reflecting in hindsight, were snugger within the contextual dynamic, they become slightly excessive in the long run.

For its synchronicity transitions, there can be both positive and negative in Electronic/Dance music – positive, like how Beyonce orchestrated the crossfades on Renaissance, or negative, like other instrumentation-heavy Electronica, where the vibe becomes engrained in the aesthetic that, for some, it may not gel till later, like on the latest album by The Blaze. At first, I felt it with “Is U” and “Calon,” which feel too enclosed within the vibe that you readily get lost flowing with the tracks near the end. “Calon” isn’t as immersive and more streamlined like “Is U” – never taking the extra step to take it to auspicious directions like the track that precedes it, “Sugarushhh.” It leaves you disappointed when reflecting in hindsight as they don’t bring the same bravado as they do with the atmospheric melancholy or the luscious breakbeats. There’s a synergy between Tom and Ed Russell, where, as brothers, they are tuned to the soundscapes as they get placed and steered in different directions, like the dynamic “Sugarushhh” or the atmospheric breakbeats on “Skulled,” where it has this spacey like backing akin to something from an alien Sci-Fi film. You can sense how they easily find purpose within the styles the other has worked more in.

Overmono’s debut shines through the rough patches as it delivers beautiful soundscapes, which get stuck in your head in the long run. You’re getting something resonant and potent, keeping that aesthetic of dancing feelings away pertinent through the transitions. It stumbles a bit, but it isn’t a pure deterrent, more just middling spaces that lingers on its smooth pacing for a few seconds, but you’re getting something great. I didn’t love it as much as the Avalon Emerson album, but something I know I won’t stop replaying. Definitely check out Overmono, as they come with the Juice, and make sure it’s known as the album closes on a powerful note.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

GALE – Lo Que No Te Dije

Since late 2022, Puerto Rican singer-songwriter GALE has been on the come-up, and music publications have become wary of such. Safe to say, I was also on that delayed hype train quietly amassing for GALE like a Karol G co-sign and a significant spotlight/interview with Rolling Stone. Whether early or late, getting to listen and explore Gale’s artistry has been nothing short of refreshing. She doesn’t try to find herself pushing weight through meandering notes in the ever-growing popularity of Latin-Trap and Reggaeton. Instead, she’s finding footing in pop and weaving styles that fit the artistic vision on her new album, Lo Que No Te Dije, translated to “What I Didn’t Tell You.” For GALE, It doesn’t matter how effective the song may be, as evidenced by the fun cheekiness of some songs, like “D Pic,” a mild-mannered tune that aims at the immaturity of dick pictures through texts – as you dive into the album, for its faults, it’s a refreshing listen, especially as she makes something out of the tried relationship-context for pop songs.

What’s unique about Lo Que No Te Dije is its self-reliance on trying new sounds while leaving an empty slot for GALE to bring vocal subtleties through her melodies, giving us to hear a more rounded product. It makes the transitional sequencing feel fluid, like when it shifts from the electronically bombastic “Problemas” to the smooth cadence of the percussion-driven “La Mitad,” which takes influence from Reggaeton in the drums that adds oomph to keep overtures balanced. It then shifts to this excellent acoustic pop song (“Ego”), where GALE flexes her independence from an egotistical and possessional ex. Here, we hear a defining aspect of GALE’s artistry – following the same strength of song-to-song transition, “Ego” sees a similar cadence in language transitions. Many things are working for Lo Que No Te Dije, specifically the energetic and natural catchiness of varying songs, buoyed by solid production from DallasK and Josh Berrios. They bring a transparent layer between sounds, allowing the vocals to feel the importance of backing sounds, heartening the emotional poignancy in the songwriting. 

Lo Que No Te Dije is conceptually thematic, focusing solely on relationships and deconstructing the varying characteristics one experiences, or many times, more personal. It wears its heart on its sleeve, and if it kept that sonic and tonal consistency, GALE could have delivered something more profound, but she takes unique turns that bring forth a vaster range of relativity. GALE can shift the context of a song and make it fit a specific tone without feeling overly hokey. We hear it with “D Pic,” where she takes an empowering and sardonic tone when bashing her man for sending a dick pic in the middle of the night – we hear it with “Killah,” where GALE feels the power, knowing what she loves and the control she wields, using a metaphorical gun and bullet to express it. As standalone tracks, they still show GALE’s talent as a songwriter but don’t feel entwined with the emotional complexities of other songs, especially the dynamite “Problemas” and “Nuestra Cancion.”

Taking into account the varying angles GALE tackles the sounds of this album – one can readily feel disappointed by the slight disjointedness of these cheeky but explorative pop songs that take an inconsistent pivot from the emotional complexities of others. As I’ve noted, the tracks “D Pic” and “Killah” slightly fit the album’s focus on deconstructing a relationship through this vast worldview on living, but these songs don’t bring much to contain that establishment. They are more so there to reinforce GALE’s self-reliance and confidence. “D Pic” is a fun pop romp that wants to focus on the guitars but forgets close to halfway. “Killah” is another Tropical Reggaeton/Pop song that doesn’t feel that ambitious or colorful, reminding me more of a throwaway that’s added so the album doesn’t land below 30 minutes. Fortunately, there are other reasons to enjoy the album, like some of its reference points and influences within the soundscapes.

As it’s been with pop and music in general, use of influential references becomes more apparent within the soundscapes, like the disco flavors in synth-pop or the electronic elements in Latin Trap. It’s this evergrowing way of building and exploring new foundations, shifting how we hear them sonically, like when Melanie Martinez interloped the melody from “If You Had My Love” by Jennifer Lopez on “Brain & Heart.” Here, those moments, at first, become bewildering and then refined and beautifully resonant with outer notes within the progressional melody. The standout moment comes on “Problemas,” which beautifully incorporates aspects of Justin Beiber’s first verse melody on his powerhouse hit “Baby.” It’s subtle but brings an impactful punch, like the EDM synths on “Nuestra Cancion” or the timid but pertinent consistency of the synth-pop rock sounds of the late 2000s on “Triste.” It’s just this prevailing trip to listen to and get lost in as you feel powerful emotions and dance.

Though “D Pic” and “Killah” are slight “blemishes,” they don’t fully take away from the great stuff going for the album, especially its catchiness, which will definitely have me returning again and again. It didn’t strike a chord initially, but as it kept looping, I heard the luscious details imputed into the tracks, bringing forth something multi-dimensional. It’s a fantastic reintroduction to GALE, but it still doesn’t have the strongest landing. It comes with direction and a sense of being – individualization – yet, the hiccups do stand out, and it lessens this to another solid pop album that will stand the test of time, or so I hope.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

SBTRKT – The Rat Road: Review

It’s been seven years since the release of English DJ/Musician SBTRKT’s last project, Save Yourself, and now, he’s back with The Rat Road. Though the music has been there, fans have eagerly awaited a follow-up to the former, and who could blame them? Save Yourself was a push away from many soundscapes that aligned Wonder Where We Land, specifically its pivot from bombastic layering. It doesn’t push SBTRKT from getting creative and finding ways to let the sounds glimmer beneath vocals from the featured artists. He did so graciously and remarkably with The Dream on a few tracks on Save Yourself, and that consistency mirrors with a few artists on The Rat Road. For lack of a better term, it’s more melodic and focuses less on a need for drum patterns to define the rhythmic trajectory, pushing his creativity to new levels. That isn’t to say it’s devoid of drums, or rather percussion latent, but what SBTRKT does with The Rat Road is bring forth new dimensions to his craft, allowing for a stellar and mesmerizing journey that comes with a few setbacks, primarily with pacing; yet, I couldn’t recommend this more.

SBTKRT’s absence from music has been known by fans and music lovers alike, and he has been missed. He was privy to that, as he motions to it with the first few tracks that speak on waiting and patience through varying perspectives. However, it’s here that we hear SBTRKT assimilating to the complexions of his featured artists, like Toro Y Moi, whose two songs sound like some cut tracks from an older record, specifically around the time of Moi’s fifth album Boo Boo. The Rat Road is SBTRKT’s most personal album, bringing to life the value of patience as it’s pertinent with themes of perseverance and happiness within music, which hasn’t given SBTRKT the best platform to feel free. As he would tell DJ Mag during an interview, “This album has been my most sonically ambitious record to create – following my own musical path – which isn’t based on other. The Rat Road’’s title is a play on the concept of ‘the rat race’. It’s partly based on my own challenging experiences within the music industry and life generally – though I realised the idea is not isolated from a much wider feeling of exhaustion.”

The Rat Road comes through with the means to keep a flow – finding new ways to build and get to the end with an understanding of his artistry and more. As you sit back and press play, The Rat Road begins to embody and emboldens these sentiments SBTRKT has felt, like angst, isolation, and depression, which we hear with the instruments, especially the piano keys on some songs, but more notably on “Go to Ground.” Through melancholic performances and these whirlwind-like moments after an interlude where the music takes on a new form, using the language of instrumental sound to help build parallels to mood getting expressed throughout the rest of the album. Unfortunately, it stumbles because the little sidesteps to interludes add little to the complexities of SBTRKT’s thematic direction – it’s more so this bridge between tracks, establishing a wide path to dissect, except it lacks some nuance and becomes forgettable in the long run. Some interludes or shorter songs bring emotional connectivity between production styles, building this sonic world further through intricate sounds that don’t incorporate vocals, like “Rain Crush” or “Saya Interlude.”

Though vocals give you a more direct feeling of what the artist wants to say, having instrumental-focused tracks brings a proper space between the directness. It provides listeners this break where we’re hearing SBTRKT’s authentic voice instead of a secondary body that is verbally accentuating what wants to get said. Disappointedly, it doesn’t know how to deliver a proper balance, as some get lost within the progressional fixtures of the album. “Coppa,” “Palm Reader,” and “Creepin’ Interlude,” whether it has vocals or not, feel transfixed in this world where it’s sense in adding unnecessary depth, unlike “Rain Crush,” which sets up some sound motifs, specifically with the piano and synths. After “Coppa,” we are given a three-track run of 90-second or shorter tracks that come and go swiftly, making the album feel meatier than it should be. It stunts the transitional fluidity we’ve gotten between longer songs, like from track 11, “You, Love,” to “Forward,” where it’s at a similar peak as the first four of the album, and most tracks with a featured artist, like phenomenal “I See Stairs” with Little Dragon.

The Rat Road gets centered on making it to the end, like the previously mentioned rat race, which SBTRKT noted it was. Think about the film from 2001, Rat Race, and the zaniness that took place while getting to the finale; SBTRKT follows this trajectory, except the music isn’t zany, instead more creatively fluid, extending beyond and finding new ways to incorporate instrumental layering with the songwriting, especially on “No Intention.” On the song, we continue to hear the strength between SBTRKT and Leilah in this beautiful cohesion of vocals and production, even when elements of the melody or harmony aren’t the most creatively astute. It’s the case with “No Intention” and “Forward;” the way Leilah deconstructs the emotional fortitude allows one to feel that tumultuous relationship SBTRKT has had with music and the music industry. What gets conveyed gets heard beautifully through melodically rich performances from featured artists, Sampha, Leilah, Teezo Touchdown, and Toro Y Moi. For the most part, they bring a sense of vibrancy – more so, the former artists as Toro Y Moi keep it simple and direct, almost leaving one to be a fan to get the most out of his performance.

SBTRKT wears his heart on his sleeve, and it shows, specifically through the unique instrumentations that burgeon through as their own character, making songs feel like duets. At first, it’s an album you could get lost in, but as it replays and replays, you begin to sense where it could have gotten tightened, leaving a more modestly paced progression. Though who am I to complain, since the music is fantastic and the performances – for the most part – elevate it further. For non fans, I couldn’t recommend this more, especially since it’s far from your typical dance/electronic album, bringing more emotional complexities to the fray and hitting it on the money. Also the vibes are great for a summer night.

Rating: 8 out of 10.