The Game – Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind: Review

There is nothing cornier than hyping yourself up only to fail at delivering convincing arguments toward claims one boldly makes to get eyes and ears. There is an arrogance to it that you love when they can produce, and characteristically, I wasn’t surprised with all the chatter from The Game as we awaited the release of the new album, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind. From interviews to random posts on social media and more, he imparted a high standard for fans, who have been starving for consistency since 2016’s 1992. He comes proclaiming: “This album is better than Doctor’s Advocate. Shit, it’s better than The Documentary. I’m not here to gas shit, I don’t even shoot most of my videos, I don’t over promote, I don’t even give a fuck if one nigga buy it…This Drillmatic shit [is] different. This shit got Ye out the house on some different shit. This shit got niggas moving different.” It isn’t. But it’s there, alongside albums in the tier below The Documentary, meaning, despite a flurry of great tracks, it’s overlong, pumping the breaks early as you start to get tired before the last 40 minutes so end.

Though 1992 was a great follow-up, it became drowned amongst albums like Block Wars, Born 2 Rap, and Streets of Compton and some singles; fortunately, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind delivers some satisfaction on the consistency front, despite being another unnecessarily long album. At 30 Tracks and nearly two hours, Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind felt more like a dwindling and tiring process that never proves Game’s point about it being his opus, though that isn’t to say we don’t receive some of his best work in some time. There are moments where, like in The Documentary, sadness, and pain get heard potently–his aggro-sounding flow temper in one direction, turning the notches on another. It gives us a greater understanding of why he makes confident proclamations, especially with certain tracks reflecting the nature of his talents, whether flows or lyricism. We hear these flows coming at a constant, eventually becoming redundant as it progresses, despite his lyricism still shimmering through the cracks.

It’s similarly the case with its production, which contains work from an abundance of producers with enough synergy to keep it afloat, even when some aren’t as interesting as the Game’s content within the track. We hear it on “Outside,” a classic west coast romp that personifies character within the gangster rap realm. “Twisted” similarly lacks the intrigue of other percussion-heavy beats, but like how the swagger boosts the potency of “Outside,” Game’s lyricism does so here. Having lesser production, comparatively, makes other tracks explode on repeat, like “Burning Checks,” Game’s attempt at Drill–and one of my favorites–or the nuanced sounds from late 90s/early 00s gritty NYC street rap on “K.I.L.L.A.S.” They hide amongst varying styles that remind you of radiant melodies and beats that offer stylistic overtures and subtleties within ever-shifting drum patterns on the over or underhead. We hear him rapping over beautifully eclectic percussion on “Nikki Beach,” and then there are the eloquent piano notes playing between rhyme schemes and verses on “Start From Scratch II.” Stagnant transitions aside, there isn’t much on that front that distorts how you take in the sounds.

Though it isn’t pertinent throughout, minor transitional pivots like between “Nikki Beach” and “Talk To Me Nice” push you aside harder as they are complete opposites tonally. Going from this incredible, slightly island-like production to the drilling loudness and annoyance that is Meek Mill’s flow doesn’t give you much to fall back on. It’s a second pair after two earlier tracks, “Chrome Slugs & Harmony” and “Start From Scratch II,” where the transitions sound more seamless, even though the former isn’t as strong, which is the opposite with “Nikki Beach” and “Talk To Me Nice” where the latter isn’t great as the former. That isn’t saying much when features on these tracks can sound mundane in comparison. The outliers here have distinctions in tempo, and these slightly wayward moments further affect the mellow-to-hard sonic transitions on more listen-through–specifically from “Burning Checks” to “La La Land.”

The influx of features on Drillmatic – Heart vs. Mind pushes the album to its limits with seven solo tracks of thirty, including albatross of a diss– “The Black Slim Shady;” it undermines the hardened, testosterone-pumping flows/raps, which contrasts the more personal tracks. Seeing the plethora of featured artists ahead of time offered no surprise as we’ve seen Game do it out the wazoo since The R.E.D. Album. And we’ve seen it work ceremoniously on The Documentary 2 & 2.5; however, it starts to feel more gimmicky, as if Game isn’t capable of giving us something tight and focused like 2016’s 1992. Though I’m not decrying the quality, as some don’t stick to the landing, thus adding more pressure on the project to be its best, but a weak verse or lackluster chorus/hook or even both derail the final product because you’ll then find it hard get through it. Some that come to mind are “O.P.P,” “Talk Nice To Me,” “.38 Special,” and “Universal Love,” further reminding me that Game is at his most consistent delivering tracks solo. 

You love to hear The Game express himself, delivering visceral depth in his storytelling, whether through flexing or being retrospective–especially as you forgive his consistent name drops–most of them are fantastic, like the smooth “La La Land.” But “The Black Slim Shady” stood out like the sorest thumb mostly because it was conceptually, lyrically, and ridiculously bad. I knew The Game was hungry for beef with Eminem after expressing fright in the past, and if you come talking big, one best deliver, and he doesn’t. I found myself picking apart the directions of his various satirizations, narrative pivots, and more; eventually, I started thinking Meek Mill’s first response to Drake is more of a piece of Mozart when it isn’t. It left me feeling mum, at times bored, because I’ve heard Game get down and dirty before and deliver it, specifically with disses, and coming at 110%. Comparatively, this is the first Game project I’ve liked since 2016.

It could have used some trimming to make it feel less bloated and more fluid. The Game tries to bring too much into the fray, making way for tracks to teeter in quality, especially as he tries to connect with the youth and incorporate them poorly, like Blueface on “.38 Special.” It’s like a roller coaster with an appeal to keep riding, even if it isn’t the most extravagantly designed ride. You’re sitting there, headphones plugged in or speaker blaring; the allure comes from your appreciation of the construction of the best tracks, which, in this analogy: the best twists, loops, and turns the ride takes you through. It doesn’t help that this ride will be long as the album caps at two hours, which can feel longer than after 70 minutes. Definitely give this a spin, as I can hopefully guarantee you’ll leave with at least 50% of the track finding rotation amongst your fave rap tracks of 2022, and if not, that’s okay; it isn’t every day you sit back and decide to listen to a two-hour album.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Pale Waves – Unwanted: Review

Turning back the clock with Unwanted, Pale Waves reinvigorates the sounds that hooked us with My Mind Makes Noises, which felt slightly faint on Where Am I? Instead of reeling towards general rock complexions, Pale Waves ignites their emotions and lets them ride like waves as they shift between chords and effects. The strings are transparent and potent, allowing the drums and synths to be the sandpaper smoothing out the rough edges. It’s gripping at various moments–other times, we’re vain to the sounds that aren’t as triggering and leave us humdrum with esoteric genericism in the pop-punk aesthetic blanketed over the album, and the slight side-turns into acoustics. Though they teeter in this direction, it centers on taste, and it didn’t hit the proper tastebuds; the few missteps can get glossed over by the sheer consistency heard compared to their last album. And that isn’t to say I haven’t had this on repeat–cause I have exponentially, further showing how easy it is to get lost within that realm of sounds.

The realized consistency in Unwanted is as potent as ever, keeping you enshrined in this confined temple of relativity where Heather Baron-Gracie’s captivating melodies and the band’s overall riotous instrument playing keep you glued as it comes from multiple angles. It’s immediate with “Lies” and its tremendous drop, creating an identity toward the emotive tenacity these tracks will deliver. There is angst, and their fiery limits aren’t confined, giving Baron-Gracie the range to evoke emotions fluidly. She doesn’t get invariably angered by situations, sometimes getting lost within existential thoughts that get reflective based on personal social experiences. But it’s when Baron-Gracie truly immerses herself with these feelings, which are reflective amongst the best tracks on the album. “Lies,” “Jealousy,” and “Alone” are some that come with a fierce punch, propelling the straps to grip you into your seat and rocking to these sentiments we are or aren’t focusing on, especially with the latter two. “Jealousy” ferociously captures that essence of jealousy Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” exhumed, just not as vanilla. The melodic strings and gripping drum patterns in the chorus bring out your inner emotional mosher, one where the body speaks on the production’s bravado. 

Unlike “Jealousy,” “Alone” reinforces a disdain for anyone who embodies an overly touchy persona and eagerness beneath that they can’t get beyond simply understanding someone’s preference to be alone. Heather Baron-Gracie exhumes these sentiments with personal integrity that you forget the universal appeal it brings; it’s akin to empowering anthems about being alone and striving, except it’s being alone, so she doesn’t have to deal with varying “repercussions.” Like she said in an interview with Apple Music: 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as brutal as I am on this track. It’s about when you say no to someone and they just don’t leave you alone. So many times—in clubs, in bars, in goddamn Tesco—where someone comes up to you and they’re like, ‘Can I buy you a drink? Can I get your number?’ And you say, ‘Sorry, I’m not interested.’ And they still get all handsy and physical with you. Do you not get the message? Don’t touch me.”

– Heather Baron-Gracie

: there is an essence of being without becoming overly preachy, especially in the context of rejection songs. There is a balance that never downplays the themes, though not all tracks have gripping production, sometimes feeling like composites of other styles without adding anything distinguishingly new to set itself apart besides any catchiness within the chorus or melodies. 

Fortunately, we’re steering towards a triumphant set of tracks to close the album, especially as they imbue these exhilarating sounds that shift the parameters by allowing some of the simplicity to feed into the depth of the performances or the intricate production that steers you away from current pop-punk tones. “You’re So Vain” and “Reasons To Live” begin to ignite and exhume fumes of creative integrity. It’s pertinent to one’s enjoyment of the album as they slowly shift toward the sounds of Where Am I? except with stronger compositions that keep your ears glued. It caught me by surprise, with the final track finding itself on heavy rotation. Baron-Gracie has noted how negatively emotional Unwanted is and transcends the emotions loosely, like on “Clean,” which gives us some crisp, fun positivity where her sense of love gets explored physically and vocally. You hear and feel it when she sang: “I bang my hеad against the wall/Until I hear your voice/Yеah, I’ve come undone/I’m hooked and I’m withdrawn/And I don’t really care if it’s my fault,” as this composite of metaphorically intense love, and it’s delivered beautifully.

Amongst the wind of radiant consistency, some tracks minimally stunt progression or feel like a sonic retread of others that have done it better, which is the case with the more somber, acoustic-driven “The Hard Way” and “Numb.” They don’t sound like something special at first, as you get predominant lead-ins toward these crazy closers of rock bliss, but those lead-ins aren’t all effective and leave you feeling mum about the last 70 or so seconds of the tracks. “Only Problem” is not like them; it is one of these composites that feels like a poorly constructed throw away that doesn’t retread themes, instead sounding poor in comparison with what follows. These tracks have merit contextually lyrically, but the layering between vocals and production isn’t equally as strong, and that’s what keeps you engaged.

Unwanted is fantastic, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. It delivers what fans want and love and more, and from speaking to a few–post thought collection, which has been potent in our conversations. It keeps their formula intact as we shift in emotional range, becoming reflexive between vocals and instrumentations–we’re in a daze as we align with riotous melodies that make us feel heard during our inner personal jam session. And if you bypass the ineffective tracks, there is more to obtain from the sheer transitions within the pitch, style, and more, which will leave you with a rewarding listening experience.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

DOMi & JD Beck – NOT TiGHT: Review

Aftermath Records cemented homegrown superstars from the underground up, and these superstars have gone on to expand into managing themselves. Anderson .Paak is next up at bat, and the debut of his first signees isn’t much of a spectacle, but it offers insight into the direction he wants to take in his new venture. Unlike others who keened into hard-hitting lyricism, Paak aims for the magic behind the words, aka instruments. With DOMi & JD Beck, he has just that—breathing the fragrant essence of Jazz that teeters between coherent rhythms and purposely incoherent jovialness as they orchestrate an album that bends different soundscapes, most of which flourishing into some memorable tracks. The consistency isn’t high with the impact getting heard more so in the middle, but within that area, you’re not always gravitating towards it. Unfortunately, you’re left feeling musical hope for their future, even if NOT TiGHT isn’t the most robust debut.

As it begins, NOT TiGHT wanes in concept as it stiffens due to some standard overtures with its percussional rhythm; however, the varying degrees of instrumentations that overlay brings back your attention quickly as it continues to trickle through. Sometimes that feeling occurs because the drums contain yawn-inducing sequencing before getting wild and developing a sense of being. We first hear it in the latter half of “Smile,” which carries unique sounds that allow you to pick out and contrast as they play alongside contemporaries like Thundercat or legends like the incomparable Herbie Hancock. Within this microcosm of tracks in the middle, you get handed some intimate twists. It’s pertinent in the sounds that radiate from DOMi’s eclectic keyboard and drum playing, which JD Beck mirrors, allowing these shifts to form smoothly. Instead of singing, they let the instruments speak, and the synergy between them oozes into your veins, allowing the latent lounge to flourish with colors. Both “Bowling” and “Not Tight” feature Thundercat; the former is more soulful and melodic, while the latter feels like a free-form session that became a distinctive happy accident. 

Their instrumentations are critical in understanding their craft, as they balance between sounding freeform and conversational notes. At times, they don’t truly feel like tracks and instead act as sonic pads to reinforce the feature-heavy middle, containing both vocal and instrumental features. Some have a crisp roughness that gives us elegant contrasts to that more sustained sequencing that opened the album. “Space Mountain” and “Whoa” are instant hits, transcending past the norm and enveloping a proper cadence in their sequencing, allowing smoother textures to find balance with the nuanced avant-garde. “Whoa” does so more exponentially as the duo weave what sounds like a spectacular jam session into an extraordinary sense of Jazz bliss. The drum patterns switch focus with the strings and keys, letting the fragrance of the instrumental playing offer insight into their characteristics musically.

There are missteps with “Two Shrimps” and “U Don’t Have To Rob Me,” though it comes back around with “Moon,” featuring Herbie Hancock. Like Hancock’s performance, many hit the nail on the coffin, but unlike “U Don’t Have To Rob Me,” “Moon” benefits from having DOMi & JD Beck provide backing vocals, which adds layers to Herbie Hancock’s whimsically electric and smooth performance. They embody sensibilities of the past and modernize with rich undertones, specifically of the hip-hop variety. Anderson .Paak–with Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes–adds flavor to the boiling pots and steaming pans of sounds that embolden their flows. Paak delivers decadent flows over “Take A Chance,” while Snoop and Busta trade verses over a soulful-jazz instrumental. Though Snoop Dogg can’t match the laidback bliss from 2015’s Bush, he delivers a verse and flow that beautifully contrasts Busta’s softened bravado. Unfortunately, the brakes get applied early, and the last two tracks, in comparison, are mild and send you off feeling mum about the whole listen.

NOT TiGHT is a fun and mature debut that offers enough to keep your attention through and through, thanks to some clean transitions between tracks. There was stuff I liked, some that made me want to skip, but reactions may arrive differently for you, and that’s fine. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough for me to gush over and sell.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2: Review

Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 lacks a track that captivates and tingles the senses of summer’s cadence. When we think of summer, the vibes that radiate are crisp, danceable, smooth, and sometimes percussion-heavy, and with Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1, we got just that with the opening track, “Slide.” The gravitas behind each element is like that first bite of your favorite snack after a long-winded day that doesn’t resonate on Vol 2. There are some decent–at times–solid tracks, but the poor construction from an artistic lens gives us an essence of what could have been otherwise better moments. It’s evident with “Obsessed,” a track that becomes lost in third-rate vocals from Charlie Puth, or opening with “New Money,” which offers a lackluster intro that wastes 21 Savage’s talent. It says a lot about the parallel between albums, and though there isn’t much to it, a few highlights are there for you to pick out and play on repeat.

Though it wasn’t a major standout, Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1 dropped with a dynamic one-two punch to start it off. That first punch,” Slide,” is something that has yet to get reflected in quality since its release. There was this whimsical synergy between Frank Ocean and Migos, along with beautifully incorporated percussion patterns at a minimalist level; there was a reason the mood and vibes equated to grandeur. It had the POP from beautifully delivered melodies and a verse from Frank Ocean, an otherwise surprising collaboration between two different sounds. The closest we get to that feeling that comes midway through the album on “Stay With Me.” It’s a memorable funkadelic-disco track that grows on you the more you listen. At first, it may not acquiesce with your senses, but as you focus, you hear these unique transitions between the different vocal styles of Justin Timberlake, Halsey, and Pharrell. A part of me wished there were more of a connection between it and the 1:24 minute “Part 2,” which would make an elegant and indulgingly longer dance track. Unlike it, others had me questioning the decisions behind each. It begins with a jarring mix between 21 Savage and a synth pop-rap beat where the two don’t blend well, and 21 just feels muted.

After you get past it, presented to you are an array of tracks that don’t aggressively range in quality, but some decisions shift the final outcome. “Obsessed” begins with forgettable vocals by Charlie Puth before Shenseea grabs the steering wheel and makes a powerful argument about removing Puth’s vocals–more so when he delivers a slightly pale and mundane vocal performance in the second half. Similarly, “Somebody Else” contains an imbalance with the potency of the performances/verses, but not enough to make me question the addition of Lil Durk as a foil for Jorja Smith. Durk delivers a smooth flow that blends with the production, but his verse isn’t as captivating, teetering more on decent comparatively to the various rappers who tackle this subject. It isn’t offensively bad and meshes well with the vibe, but it isn’t anything profound. Jorja Smith’s vocals have beautiful consistency, but it doesn’t get used well. It’s like “Potion,” which reminds us of Young Thug’s chameleon-like nature as he offers a great partnership with Dua Lipa. Unfortunately, their talent gets misused over an uninteresting EDM/Post-Disco Pop track.

Though Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 isn’t all confusing decisions and lackluster mixes, some highlights round out the tracklist. From “New To You” to “Nothing More To Say,” there is a crisp progression of tracks that offer something of quality, whether its the 80s R&B/Dance nuance of the former or an absorbing hype track in “Ready or Not,” which stays on a steady wavelength, agreeing with the kind of intensity the songs after offer. Among this string of tracks is the aforementioned “Nothing More To Say,” a definitive highlight that brings forth the strengths of all involved instead of plastering prevalent artists and seeing if they can make it work. The latter is evident with the lackluster concoctions we hear at the beginning and end, whether from production or artists involved. It’s particularly disheartening when Calvin Harris brings along Pusha T and fails to meet in the middle, further becoming a middling closer after two more forgettable tracks. It’s a cluster of mediocrity that never sees the light and instead keep shifting the faulty one with older, worn, but slightly effective ones.

Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 2 isn’t anything to write home to, especially as it leaves you feeling mum toward the whole listen. It felt more like a chore than anything else, and we’re left thinking about how it went wrong. And that’s because it comes across as something pushed through fan pressure allowing it to not flow naturally like the first. However, that’s also an issue he had calling the first Vol. 1, which in turn caused more hype and demand to reflect that hunger, and it’s safe to say I was not satisfied.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Maggie Rogers – Surrender: Review

Like some, I’ve wondered where Maggie Rogers could take her career since her debut came and delivered intriguing genre stylings, like electronic-folk, and not like the Ellie Goulding kind that felt more pop. Instead of exploring it more, she expands what inherently worked more consistently on her debut: Heard It In A Past Life–that is electro-pop, rather loose, and more alternative-electro-pop. It’s what makes Surrender a fascinating journey that explores the notion of surrendering yourself, allowing an opening for a “transcendence of sex and freedom,” as Maggie Rogers would describe. She isn’t succumbing to the external pressures of the disco trend, allowing the melodies to shift and form these captivating tracks, which keep you engaged through most, retaining a sense of balance between that and quieter pop that slowly hits the pedal as it gets to the end.

Surrender doesn’t mince expectations, and it reminds you head on instantly. Disregarding the musicologist’s idea of the leading hitter squared at track two or three, Maggie Rogers hits you with varying sounds that radiate magnetic synergy. They encompass layers of rock underneath exquisite electronic overtones, specifically synths, taking you through these clouds of dance-bliss. You’re in your room, feeling and letting Rogers’ words empower you to surrender and be yourself instead of masking individual weaknesses. “That’s Where I Am” begins a new start after finding someone in “Overdrive,” which tells us where Maggie Rogers at mentally. It reminds us how she can make minimalist lyrics feel more effervescent. In the first verse of “That’s Where I Am,” Rogers sings: “I found a reason to wake up/Coffee in my cup, start a new day/Wish we could do this forever/And never remember mistakes that we made.” It establishes a mood before shifting into escaping with this person, offering emotional gravitas with how she structures and delivers her lyrics. It continues to ignite the sentiment of going overdrive in the previous track. 

Similarly, track three, “Want Want,” continues to expand on these notions that embrace growth, pleasure, and an understanding of having it both ways. It embraces coy humility as Maggie Rogers sings about her innate synergy sexually with this person. However, it isn’t a continuous reflection of this journey, and she gives us scenes of the past, weaving a parallel between then and today. We hear through sentiments that steer toward acceptance, like on “Shatter” or “I’ve Got A Friend,” where she surrenders herself to her emotions. There are elements to Rogers’ music that offers a balance between styles, from the electro-pop to more alternative, live instrument heavy indie-pop rock. She reels us with captivating melodies and a mix of crisp pop drum beats, eclipsing certain constraints and finding ways to make humbling minimalism feel realized. It’s pertinent as it tries to create a median with sounds, especially as we hear clean transitions between tracks. One of the better transitions comes between “Horses” and “Be Cool,” specifically on both sides of the spectrum, like “I’ve Got A Friend.” Between the former two, there is an escalating string section at the end that capitalizes on the emotional gravitas of “Horses” and then tempers us with “Be Cool.” Though these tracks carry weight on both ends, there are varying moments where Maggie Rogers’ writing shines, like with “I’ve Got A Friend” and “Horses.”

In “I’ve Got A Friend,” Maggie Rogers takes us to a time she met this person, her close friend; she was slightly stunted by how the friendship flourished, creating disbelief between the expected and the natural. As she notes in her first verse: “Who would’ve said/When I met you at a party/Everyone was drunk on 40s just south of Stuyvesant/That I would get to know your sisters/Bring them with us every time that we were in Austin,” she realizes how special their connection is, bringing some jovial jubilance when describing their closeness: “Oh, I’ve got a friend who’s been there through it all/Masturbates to Rob Pattinson, staring at the wall,” without swaying from the emotional complexities between them noting: “I’ve got a friend who’s tangled up inside/Tried to hold her hand the day her mother died/I’ve got a friend who’s been there through it all/Talked me out of jail, talked me off the panic rail.” It’s one of many examples that shows the meticulous care Rogers’ brings to the music, giving us a sense of being while offering personal reflections that feel personable.

Unfortunately, Maggie Rogers on overdrive isn’t something that lasts forever. As the album comes to a close, “Symphony” and “Different Kind of World” don’t offer equivocal strength when trying to capture your attention. The production for the former doesn’t have an elegant contrast with the minimalist-style writing, eventually overstaying its welcome at 5:11. Similarly, “Different Kind of World” broken down acoustics feels off when compared to the tracks we have that preceded it. In past songs, some acoustics contain a continuous balance of varying harmonic pieces that buoy the guitar or piano, and these elements carry oomph. It isn’t till we get close to the end that the track shifts into this uproarious sequence of kinetic drums and synths, but it doesn’t save it from being anything more than a forgetful ballad.

That isn’t to say there isn’t something to take from Surrender. Maggie Rogers is coming headstrong and giving us more personable tracks that have more definition than some of the core singles of her last album. Instead of creating more livid-dance sequences, there is an essence to the dancing and singing. Definitely an improvement from her previous album, it’s something I’ll be returning to soon more frequently in the nighttime and other times, in my room during the rain.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Beyoncé – Renaissance: Review

The hype behind Beyoncé’s new album Renaissance matches and, for many, has exceeded expectations. Though it’s to no surprise, as Beyoncé has always directed her vision with bravado, incorporating varying subtle notes within the shrouds of the surface genres it imbues. Taking on the current nostalgic disco trend, Beyoncé evolves past certain standard genre constraints today and takes new approaches, like shifting the dynamics between eras of evolution–Disco–House–Dance. With streaming, Renaissance contains subtle crossfades, which delivers a more cohesive mix without the DJ. Using this direction, Beyoncé develops her craft to fit the mold of what she’s giving, and specifically, with the help of her producers, Renaissance is a powerhouse. It isn’t perfect, with “America Has a Problem” becoming entwined within the confines of the style and losing itself in the immersion right before a barrage of great tracks to close.

When we were given a taste with “Break My Soul,” a part of me knew something special, and as you continue through the album, it’s just that. From the beginning, you’re in a skyrocketing trend upward with clearer transformative grooves. It has varying transitions that formulate this essence of being on the dance floor, letting the sounds reflect the kind of dance we do. From “Alien Superstar” to “Energy” and again between “Church Girl” and “Virgo’s Groove,” it aligns the album to such greatness, and it’s in the finite details. It isn’t to say there are stunted transitions surrounding them, but they exhume the distinct identities that let them work solo or within the near seamless play from start to finish. We get varied factions–from the clean-cut dance track to something more structured toward core-House sounds, like the sonic structure of “All Up In Your Mind,” which bridges House with Bass within the vocal complexions. It’s to ease yourself into the energetic synths and heavier percussion that it envelops.

But Beyoncé brings more to the table than seamless transitions, provacious lyrics, and contextual understanding. We get some thorough tracks assembled with more standard structures, like “Summer Renaissance” and “Move” with Tems and Legend/Icon Grace Jones. They get incorporated into the refrain, chorus, and interlude, creating remarkable synergy between the three; it allows Beyoncé’s words on “Church Girl” to ring proper. Those words: “Me say now drop it like a thottie, drop it like a thottie (You bad)/Church girls actin’ loose, bad girls actin’ snotty (You bad).” Spoiler alert; it does, and as you keep the moves going, you start to hear more engaging sound shifts within the beat. It’s an attractive constant keeping you on your toes, especially if you aren’t a Beyoncé fan. Another example is the standout “Alien Superstar,” a House/Dance-Pop hybrid that shifts focus based on section; we hear it when Beyoncé flips between House-centric melodies before shifting to more Dance and Pop with the choruses.

Albums these days aren’t concrete with the genres they are exhuming, and the elements that get incorporated into them deliver fantastic blends that excel its prerogative. Similar to how “Alien Superstar” shifts, others do so within auspicious tangential touches that evolve the surface layer of the sound. The range can be subtle, often more apparent, like “Energy,” where we get shifts between House and Afrobeat subtexts, evolving the contextual bravado we are already hearing. With Beyoncé’s focus and strength at weaving empowering notions in between some flexes and offering a more triumphant output–they carry a duality that allows you to envelop uprooted themes of self-worth, sex, and hedonistic undertones within the pleasure of having it all. It’s potent on “Thique” and “Pure/Honey.” 

Unfortunately, Renaissance isn’t perfect all the way through. It doesn’t necessarily stumble, but one track becomes lost within the confines of the mix at first, and when you return, it turns out to be more of a redundant dud, and that is “America Has a Problem.” It contains an intriguing idea: Beyoncé goes meta, bringing an understanding of her pull in pop, adding a parallel to cocaine, where its popularity resided within clubs that played Disco and later House/Dance/Post-Disco music. It isn’t lyrically strong, often feeling like Beyoncé is retreading past tonal sentiments over an electrifying beat that simply overpowers it. Through flows and melodies, it mirrors elements of “Thique” without enough emphasis on its themes. It’s the only straightforward blemish amongst the 16 tracks, though there are little ticks that didn’t suitably acquiesce with my sense; it most likely will for you, the adequate barebones consistency of “Church Girl.” On the plus side, the latter had me drop it low like a thottie like Beyoncé tells us to.

Renaissance is a fantastic body of work that shows Beyoncé’s own understanding of the genres/sounds she works with and creates auspicious synergy. For the longest, you’re vibing, grooving to these energetic and captivating percussion patterns, and then you take a slight detour down an alley before getting an incredible send-off. It then repeats, and you continue to strive off these sounds, making the most out of your summer now that self-empowering booty popping music is getting new dishes on the menu. I know I’ll be indulging the rest of the summer, as I know you will too, after listening to Beyoncé’s Renaissance a few times.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Beach Bunny – Emotional Creatures: Review

Throughout the band’s growth, Beach Bunny has solidified an identity that delivers electric, fun, and raw music with powerful gravitational pulls; you can’t help but find some songs or albums that hit. That’s how it was with me, and it continues to be with their new album, Emotional Creature. Like past albums, they exhume a youthful (instrumentally) yet mature (songwriting) presence in the Rock scene, building these unique instrumentations with fluidity, continuously immersing into Rock at an authentic level. However, that loses importance with the consistency of the instrumentalists Jon Alvarado, Matt Henkels, Anthony Vaccaro, and frontwoman Lili Trifilio as they steer the ups and downs. Emotional Creatures reflects a new direction that mostly strides because of the aforesaid general positives and evolves naturally with its “Sci-Fi” angle–it echoes as synthesizers are now a prominent instrument. The album gives us an artistic improvement with a flurry of wicked great music in a compact product with great songwriting and melodies, despite a few hiccups.

With Beach Bunny’s recent inclusion of synthesizers, the shift isn’t as robotic; it offers a guide for effects, pedals, etc., instead. It adds nuance to the instrumentations as they bounce between pop and punk rock, weaving different tempos and transitions, which gives Emotional Creatures some smoothness. Though I can’t say similarly about all the songs, Lili Trifilio takes us through these perspectives that root into the core of her emotional journies with the people around her. Boasted by the intricate use of the effects and synths, the expressive force in Lili’s voice delivers that oomph, attracting you toward it. We hear that throughout, with a few occasions of insane synergy that tugs you closer and closer, like “Gone” or “Karaoke.” It’s an effervescent feeling throughout the first half, never becoming unwavering as we continuously transition from “Entropy” to “Weeds.”

Those tracks get supplemented by potent songwriting, which buoys a relationship-centric core that takes varying avenues to tell a story. “Fire Escape” beautifully uses these detailed actions to paint a scene in the context of the track; in this case, Lili Trifilio sings about her and her lover’s journey through New York. It’s a consistency that stands out more frequently than not, especially in the first half. We hear these varying trajectories that are distinct and colorful lyrically. Similarly, “Eventually” sees Lili singing about facing your problems as running from them never makes them disappear. The vocal melodies bring whimsical energy that radiates slight pop-punk nostalgia in its rawest form.

That whimsical energy holds their spaceship afloat, containing engaging reminders about the subtle complexities of both sides. Unfortunately, it can get shortsighted with lingering or repetitive notes, but we get a construct that elevates the stickiness which grips us firmly. Though the repetition can mostly feel subtle, it doesn’t weigh down the quality since Lili Trifilio delivers these varying vocal textures. The final track, “Love Song,” sounds more standard, giving this feeling that it’s just a poorer reflection of “Entropy.” Many catch our ears swiftly, keeping fans of rock music, like myself, looping music that comes with slight nuances to 00s pop-punk/punk-rock, like “Fire Escape.” It stays personable while remarking notions that generalize friction or connectivity in its songwriting, allowing the instrumentations to energize and deliver rawness, specifically with guitar and bass. And it’s a reflection of the consistency heard in the first half of the album.

With tracks like “Weeds” or “Deadweight,” there is a looseness toward sonic depth, but they get enveloped in its writing. Beyond taking their own unique approach to the themes, there is a cleverness to their writing. “Weeds” brings back that nostalgia in the form of age, as Lili Trifilio incorporates a Polly Pocket in a beautifully unique way, singing in the second verse: “Tired of giving, giving, living like a lady in distress/But I don’t need someone to save me/Not your Polly Pocket in your lover’s locket/You can’t hold me down, I’m a bursting bottle rocket.” After “Weeds,” we get a bit disjointed musically; Beach Bunny creates these detailed instrumentations rooted in synths and losing the essence of emotion. You’ll predominantly hear it with “Scream;” the synths guide the vocal performance over some mundane drum patterns–similarly, the instrumental track “Gravity” doesn’t try anything new with synthesizers. It left me feeling empty–there was an opportunity, and they missed it. 

Emotional Creatures continues to showcase Beach Bunny’s talent while expressing new directions. We get some wonderfully mixed rawness/openness from the band as instrumentalists, specifically Lili Trifilio’s dreamy, intimate, and detailed writing and vocals. You get taken to the center of their persona and more as they acquiesce sounds into a clean front-to-back progression, but there are hiccups along the way. As a fan of the band, they deliver tracks I’ll return to frequently, and I hope you do too.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Joey Bada$$ – 2000: Review

Whether thematically or through an expansion of congruent or parallel tales in sequel albums, we’ve seen them match the quality of their predecessor at times, but not at the consistent peak of the original. We’re talking the Blackouts, Blueprint 2, Man on The Moon 2, Marshall Mathers LP 2, and Only Built For The Cuban Linx Pt. 2, to name a few, but we have had rare contrasting improvements, like with Tha Carter II, but ultimately, sequels are way too common. So, when a new one is released, the hype scale skews up and down depending, and there is no in-between. Joey Bada$$ joins the lot with his latest album, 2000, an update to his debut 1999 mixtape that bridges the two with lyrical content and production style, and your hype scale should heighten. Like 1999, 2000 has an excess of boom bap and jazz rap. 2000 reminds us that Joey can command a smokey jazz lounge with crisp flows and emotionally draining lyricism.

When P. Diddy utters these words rhythmically, “Can you say New York City?/Now as we proceed/To give you what you need(Bad Boy),” you get the ting that you’re in for something extraordinary. Though it isn’t the right word to define most choruses on the album, Joey Bada$$ at least reaffirms Diddy’s words, specifically calling him the baddest. Equipped with spectacular co-productions from Statik Selektah, Chuck Strangers, Kirk Knight, and Erick the Architect, amongst others, Joey comes with smokey flows and poignant lyricism, offering a breakdown of his person in front and behind the microphone. From expressing his career doubts throughout or a continuous bounce of confidence like in “Where I Belong,” Joey acquiesces with fluidity as we picture his emotions in these larger-than-life scenes within the verse. Doubling down on “One Of Us,” there is smooth progression between tracks, maneuvering our emotional reflection. 

Unfortunately, Joey still hasn’t grown much when writing choruses. That isn’t to say he’s an albatross, but it’s stagnated, and at times, mundane 1-2-3-4-5 old school choruses don’t have that same pizzaz. It makes individual songs have some that come across like speed humps on a residential road like the potent “Eulogy.” Joey Bada$$’s weakness for writing captivating choruses stays near the front, especially on some highlights: “Cruise Control” and “Brand New 911.” It doesn’t get pushed aside, but its verses and production are enough to keep you returning. The crisp and smooth boom bap–soul hybrid beat from Mike-Will-Made-It, Marz, and Cardiak on “Cruise Control”  focuses on the nuances of the genre, using pianos subtly beneath the percussion, guiding it through the confines of slight decentness. Joey has the right approach for the melody, but it isn’t that interesting. It’s another track that adds affirmation to Joey’s coolness when exuberating confidence that ends with Nas giving us a short speech about Joey’s character, grind, and talent. 

“Brand New 911” has more of a nothing burger of a chorus–fortunately, it isn’t one of those asking for a highlight, and we get lost in the whim of vocal gun noises and slick verses from Joey Bada$$ and Westside Gunn. Like Gunn, most features acquiesce with Joey’s boom bap/Jazz centrism, further giving us highlights to replay, like “One Of Us,” with the Larry June or JID on the aforementioned “Wanna Be Loved.” They properly balance with Joey’s solo tracks that there wasn’t a moment that left me feeling like they didn’t fit. However, that’s more due to the quality of work focused on, unlike Chris Brown, who comes as his haphazard self, offering nothing but an underwhelming verse in an otherwise underwhelming track. But in essence, 2000 is more of a reflection of his career, specifically in growth, as we hear him tackle varied reflection points, like that high feeling of achieving success on “Make Me Feel.” 

See, Joey Bada$$ dropped 1999 and got talked about as this old soul bringing a modern flavor to a style that wasn’t as prominent as the 90s, especially with his quintessentially driven flows. He had swagger and ways of weaving smooth, hypnotic fluidity through multi-syllabic bars, and I remember hitting me when I heard him go toe-to-toe with Capital Steez on “Survivor Tactics.” The growth of Joey Bada$$ has been gripping and pertinent amongst others in the New York scene of the 2010s like groups Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies, Underachievers, Phony Ppl, and more. His growth since Capital Steez’s suicide and his manager’s death; it’s been a rough ride for Joey. Though it wasn’t pertinent, the subtle darkness loomed at the sounds never got brighter with immediate releases from Joey. I remember how Summer Knights reflected darker overtones, and Joey reflects how everything’s been since. We heard it throughout 2000, but significantly on “Survivor’s Guilt.”

Ending with “Survivor’s Guilt,” we hear the emotional weight Joey Badass bared throughout the years, despite having proper clarification to defend particular actions. Like how he flies a bit high and mighty and still can’t offer sound reasonings for having someone like Chris Brown on a track–friendship isn’t the best defense, and it minimally dilutes its gravitas, especially with how poignant “Survivor’s Guilt” is. Though, as a whole, 2000 has a lot that merits multiple listens, specifically with the first half–that alone will offer a rewarding experience with hearing contrasting and parallel allusions between 1999 and 2000.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Beabadoobee – Beatopia: Review

Captivating my ears with its core aesthetic for alternative rock that bled deeper than the surface layer, Beabadoobee wowed my ears on her debut, Fake It Flowers. The music had a level of nuance that gave it an identity, weaving together a consistency that never left me feeling that she was tilting toward thin nostalgia, even if the songs themselves aren’t individually strong due to slight repetitiveness. Unfortunately, it’s something that mirrors in her follow-up Beatopia, an album that brings us within her world. With unique melodic pop styles woven with lo-fi, psychedelia, and rock, a shift from her debut. It threads sounds that often take you back to the 90s–00s, shifting sounds that equate constructs we’ve heard at that time, whether from The Sundays or Mazzy Star, except with modern complexions. On Beatopia, there are many times we get something fresh and whimsical, and other times we get that repetitiveness that loses you ever-so-slightly.

Little details are essential, and it struck me first with Beatopia. There are confident quirks, whether track transitions or in chords, that elevate the emotional shifts from Beabadoobee. “Broken Cd” is an emotionally poignant, albeit subtle, pop song that digs at a romantic loss with strings that move and shift like a stream of consciousness; it transitions to an elevated rock banger, “Talk,” with an essence of grunge as a slight coating. It shows a parallel between two eras of Beabadoobee: the younger sullen teen who kept lamenting on a single memory to an older, more free-flowing, partying, with ill-fated romantic flings stumbling with mistakes, instead of moving on. It creates an initial jolt as the sounds contrast each other immensely. It cements a line of dividends where some sonic undertones feel more thematic, creating unique contrasts with the tracklist order, specifically as the second half focuses on more rock-like instrumentations like the remarkable “Fairy Song.”

With these little details, sometimes you may hear subtle mixtures, like taking certain chord progressions from “Maps (Four Track Demo)” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and incorporating them into their guitar riffs. On “Picture of Us,” the initial chord hit me instantly, though that’s no surprise since I listen to “Light and Day” by The Polyphonic Spree a lot–they both have similar progression in chord pitch at a near comparable time. Some pop parallels shift swiftly to create new and radiant sounds, like the lively “Sunny Day” and “Fairy Song.” And its effectiveness makes the shift from pop to rock overtones come with finesse instead of transitioning into more melodic rhythms; it transitions to killer sequences that contrast her emotionally pertinent vocals.

At its core, Beatopia has thematic styles hovering tracks, all of which stem from its melancholy, vibey center, which can assimilate smoothly. It’s heard from the pop-bossa nova-rock hybrid “The Perfect Pair,” which brings the elemental core of her poppy choruses and pushes them to the forefront. And with “Tinkerbell is Overrated,” a plucky acoustic pop soft rock instrumentation starts to grow, and grow, and become a riotous alt-pop-rock banger. They aren’t like “10:36,” which feels like a slight rethread from something that would have fit with the overall sonic landscape of Fake It Flowers because it can be hard to make out the vocal at times. It isn’t like “Talk,” which brings forth distinct contrasts, natural synergy, and parallels while having a genuine transition. It happens again, as “10:36” takes away what could have been a cleaner transition between “Beatopia Cultsong” and “Sunny Day.” 

After “Sunny Day,” there are slight impasses before picking up again with more consistency at “Ripples,” with a detour at “Lovesong.” “Ripples” and “Lovesong” have sounds that acquiesce individually, but the latter isn’t as impactful. “Ripples” brings forth intrigue as we see Beabadoobee emotionally struggle with a long-distance relationship due to touring, adding gravitas to the performance with comparatively uproarious violins. “Lovesong” sometimes comes off slightly hollow in the instrumentation, playing coy as we hear pianos coast over beautifully melancholic strings. It’s effective to a fault, as love songs aren’t always the most captivating. But the collection of tracks that follow have a crisper, hook–line–sinker as it transitions from the melodic, emotionally potent, and soft vocals of pop and then lets it out with the instrumentation.

Beatopia keeps me excited for Beabadoobee and her career moving forward, especially hearing the depth she can create with her co-producers. It’s different, mature, and offers a sense of identity instead of shifting genres every other song. With replay value, there is enough to head back to, especially that second half, as the flurry of great tracks hit you, leaving you satisfied as it comes to a close.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Lizzo – Special : Review

Showing captivating progression throughout the years, Lizzo has come full force with a follow-up containing groovilicious vibes. The production is luscious and hypnotic; choruses are catchy, feeling like candy that you can’t stop indulging. Unfortunately, Lizzo makes the word bitch become more of a gimmick with a few tracks. It skews the monstrous bangers and eloquence which envelop them. Yet, Special has more beneath the surface, as Lizzo weaves these remarkable self-affirming jams that speak to the emotional core of any fan. Lizzo bridges lyrical depth with bright dance numbers, creating exceptional synergy between one’s reflection of the themes and the urge to get and groove; however, it stumbles on a few tracks, losing traction as it panders to her staple phrases.

Lizzo’s Special continues the current trend amongst pop artists–the disco(and post-disco), 90s dance/synth-pop nostalgia. It has gotten replicated, and it often teeters on the standard. They are effective, but it struggles to bring anything new into the realm of pop, and at times, it lacks nuance. It separates the Dua Lipas and Beyonces with the Zara Larssons and Ava Maxxs; Lizzo reflects the former; she incorporates various styles like R&B and Funk to expand beyond a drum machine and synthesizers. You hear this instantly with two dynamite hits in “The Spins” and “About Damn Times,” two funkadelic-disco hybrids that radiate infectious connectivity, making your body tingle, telling you to get and dance. But beneath these complexions are spews of confidence that sees Lizzo feeling like she’ll have a predominant place this summer–she reflects a status equivocal to blockbuster, and it doesn’t disappoint. 

The collection of producers on the album come in full force with sounds that slightly contrast but complement the progression for a crisper listening. It’s more so with “Grrrls” and “I Love You Bitch,” which aren’t as captivating that you’re thrown off by some of Lizzo’s decisions lyrically and vocally. They are empowering tracks that waste beautiful production from Omar Fendi, Blake Slatkin, Benny Blanco, ILYA, and Max Martin. They come together for an effective dance/rap-pop track that wastes a melodic interpolation of “Girls” by Beastie Boys (“Grrrls”) and a luminous Dance-R&B Ballad that leans toward the latter (“I Love You Bitch”). Fortunately, they are the shorter tracks on the album, never overextending their presence, especially with the beautiful “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” in between keeping you on your toes. It’s always refreshing to hear Lizzo find a way to incorporate emotional gravitas while incorporating tongue-in-cheek reflections about body positivity. When you hear Lizzo sing: 

“How am I supposed to lovе somebody else (Shee, shee, shee)

Whеn I don’t like myself? Like, ooh

Guess I better learn to like this, ooh (True)

It might take my whole life just to do (Damn, hey, hey)

He call me Melly (Ayy), he squeeze my belly (Yeah)

I’m too embarrassed (Ah) to say I like it

Girl, is this my boo? (Is this my boo?)

That’s why I’m askin’ you ’cause you know I’ve been through”

: you know she’s able to expand lyrically, considering how detail-focus hip-hop verses can be. It starts a contemporaneous influx of sounds–sans “I Love You Bitch”–that lift you on your feet and feel a connection between Lizzo’s words, the grooves, and your reflections. It’s honestly fantastic, as Lizzo lets the world in, giving us these sentiments about herself, like loneliness, and then exuberating spiritually vibrant vocals that simple-message-driven tracks contain the gravitas to reel you back. The vivacity that exhumes from the pores of tracks like “Special” and “Birthday Girl” gives you something to reflect on and groove without losing a sense of the message.

The jubilance within the second half of Special isn’t as hit or miss, with mainly hits–save for one track. With “Everybody’s Gay,” where Lizzo doesn’t play coy as she tries to drive home a sense of unity but gets easily forgotten when compared to other excellent tracks. Lizzo isn’t provocative nor compelling as a double entendre; it helps that the producers incorporate samples in ways, like “Doo Wop (That Thing)” on “Break Up Twice” or the harmonious interpolations of Rick James’ “Give It to Me” on the previously mentioned “Everybody’s Gay.” There is an eloquence to them, even though Lizzo doesn’t deliver with a perfect score card–i.e., “Grrrls.” But as it rounds out, Lizzo delivers another great album that’s lively, vibrant, and never plodding at a messaging level. 

Special is one of the better records released in 2022, but that bar isn’t high, and Lizzo will make sure to retain your attention all summer–even with the new Beyonce album roadblock. It left me wanting to repeat the sugary coated production with earwormy choruses, especially as I groove away, and it will do so for you, even if the layers aren’t always that complex. Just know Lizzo will continue to make splashes, and we should all be here for it.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.