Regina Spektor – Home, before and after: Review

Regina Spektor has thread needles of jubilant and poignantly straightforward songwriting that sends the song’s themes to the forefront with clean vibes. “SugarMan” off her latest album, Home, before and after, reminds us of that as she reflects on the deceptive lust money can bring. Using sugar as the analogy gives it different avenues to explore while rounding it out with captivatingly catchy choruses; it gets boasted by Spektor’s vocals, coming across as joyously driven when performing what she writes. Home, before and after, has conciseness to its sound and style, where it makes you feel like it’s getting played during a session of merriment in the creative process. It reminded me of Fiona Apple’s last album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, at times, where the vibrancy came from the naturalistic instrumentation–sans synths–that keeps it centered on its sound. It drives home the potent quality of the new Spektor album, even if it doesn’t tread new territory often.

There’s a lot to love about the new Regina Spektor album, whether it’s the lively vibes or Regina’s fragile and potent vocals. She’s allowing her songwriting to give us these perspectives that elevate the lyrical depth, which gets attributed to how she has taken the horns of the anti-folk genre and offers radiant deliveries. It’s a constant that stays effervescent, even if parts of tracks don’t carry a flurry of captivating melodies heard in “SugarMan” or “Loveology.” We hear this on the enigmatic “Up the Mountain,” where that energy she exuberates gets matched as you take it in. It’s similarly effervescent within most of the tracks on the album, save for “What Might Have Been,” which has her shifting to her apropos nebulous piano playing that can whisk some fans away but isn’t as effective here. 

It’s sometimes apparent throughout the album, outweighing that one time, specifically “One Man’s Prayer,” Spektor’s songwriting isn’t as keen and slightly forgettable. Though it’s one track, others are grounded, which gives us a vibe similar to when you first heard “Wallet” for the first time. Upon hearing her take us through this humbling tale about the contents of a wallet with Blockbuster memberships, it gives us a closer 1:1 relativity instead of having to pick apart various metaphors. Regina Spektor’s vocals uproot these little negatives to keep its front-to-back listen’s fluidity intact. 

Spektor weaves a consistent thread that emboldens her written and vocal technique in music. It allows time to become a small fragment of importance. Some directions that get taken perk up your ears with captivating melodies and harmonies that are keener on her identity, like “Loveology” or the enthralling “Raindrops,” which echoes the DIY Pop/Rock style we heard on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. It isn’t as direct as 1:1, but there is nuance to it, especially as it takes away from aspects of that echoey backing to drive a homely atmosphere. It’s heard a few times with the inner transitions of tracks like “SugarMan” or the opening track, “Becoming All Alone.” In between some emotionally melancholy piano playing–sometimes it’s mundane–there is something that catches your ear. On “Coin,” after some uninteresting piano playing, at the 3:34 mark, a shift gets heard, and some of that DIY Pop/Rock returns. It isn’t on the nose, but the very live and powerful band instrumentation gets driven to new peaks.

It’s the biggest strength of Home, before and after, as it elevates to new plateaus with its instrumentation. Sure, Regina Spektor and producer John Congleton can underwhelm at times–this is true–what shrouds these moments are these fantastic instrumentations that feel cinematic and triumphant. “Up The Mountain” is one of them, and the other is the incredible “Spacetime Fairytale.” Regina Spektor digs into her heart and develops a song about the love she holds for her son, reminding him that the world is vast as she focuses on influences that guide her songwriting and vocal performances. It’s heartwarming, but its continually building production makes the “story” expand. You hear these beautiful twinkly piano keys rhythmically before shifting to more creatively orchestrated pieces of grandeur. It’s more dynamic and viscerally captivating, taking it notches about the already fantastic “Raindrops.”

Home, before and after is another fantastic effort from Regina Spektor. There are some shortcomings, but there is a lot to indulge and get lost in as the instrumentations. I left feeling like nothing has changed since the last album. She continues to explore and cement a foundation for greatness as she has done throughout her career. I’d definitely recommend it as you’ll get what you expect, especially for fans.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Muna – MUNA: Review

At the turn of 2022, among many tracks to get played with immense consistency has been Muna’s “Silk Chiffon,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers. Their instrumentations/production and vocals are captivating and buoyed by strong songwriting, which creates an audible shift from conventional pop melodies. They have creative structures that elevate their music to replayable levels. MUNA has a shaping focus sonically and emotionally. While Save The World saw them working with and creating luscious tracks within the realm of electropop, power-pop, and synth-rock with fluidity, these styles become a subtle driving force in the dance-pop/synth-pop core that guides MUNA to new heights. They have these creative tempo shifts which keep you afloat through sheer lyrical and thematic parallels; the production takes distinct turns expanding beyond the core-base aesthetic, which rounds itself into another special release for the trio.

MUNA is captivating, and there were no doubts about that going into the first listen. Knowing how phenomenal “Silk Chiffon” is, Muna gives new or unknown listeners something to feel energized about as they continue to turn the corner and continue doing what they do best. “What I Want” shifts from “Silk Chiffon” lyrically and sonically, taking us away from a track about the beauty and happiness of queer love, likening a softness within their lover’s aura and body to silk chiffon to one about self-love. “What I Want” brings immersive dance-pop and electro-pop coatings in the waves of synths. It’s an evergrowing narrative filled with emotional complexities that allows you to create a sense of relativity, despite personal angles from band members Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson. 

It gives us parallels, one where we can feel free and enjoy the electrifyingly rhythmic tracks while seeing how they continue to extend past certain safety nets. But within, Muna finds a happy medium. Their lyrics reflect the essence of the sound with tremendous effect, like the previously mentioned “What I Want,” which stylistically embraces the lonely dance track like “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn, “Party For One” by Carly Rae Jepsen, or “Big Time” by Angel Olsen. They each embody these different tones, and for Muna, it’s more about the feeling, like “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, and within “What I Want” is the thrill of being yourself in any environment. Lyrically poignant, they continue to grow, filling us with these immersive lyrics and vocal performances that have their consistency in impact. It’s especially the case with the ballad “Kind of Girl,” which brings some twang to the vocals as they sing, reflecting on the kind of girl they are. Its unique placement adds some more frailty between the more dance-like “Home By Now” and “Handle Me,” two tracks that offer keen sensibilities toward vibing, dancing alone in a groove. Unfortunately, they sound too similar, with the former having more of an impact.

Muna has a vibrant cadence in their sound, bringing emotional catchiness while making feelings reflect through complexions heard, like Dark Pop on About U, their debut. It isn’t a focal genre; the production tiptoes between darker lyrics and dreamy, starry production swifts you off your feet as it comes to a close. “Loose Garments” blossoms, bringing a focus to orchestral strings to implement a glimmer to the sequencing of the track, allowing for inner transitions to come across smoothly. That glimmer reminds me of listening to melancholic indie-pop that boosts your mood when you just want to kick back and look at the stars; maybe you want to smoke some pot and let yourself get whisked away. It’s a similar sentiment that has stayed consistent throughout their first two albums, and it continues on MUNA.

Within its dance/synth-pop core, most of the tracks have a synth-dance pop hybrid core, but the overlaying qualities build upon its identity. It is effervescent. When you hear “What I Want,” it highlights 80s-style Disco-synths as it bleeds into, and dances with, the percussion to a jubilantly danceable pop track. And when you hear “No Idea,” you get the jamming synth-rock that has budding energy with the emotional core of the songwriting. It speaks to that unrelenting feeling of wanting to express your real feelings because the person your care for may lose interest in pursuing the relationship further. Driving the potency of the emotional songwriting are impactful vocals that bring weight to the final construct and output of danceable relativity. 

Muna offers compelling consistency, and more so on their latest, self-titled release, MUNA, where the vibes are immaculate. There isn’t a moment you won’t find yourself in a mood to groove as the sounds shift in unique directions that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But within the 11-track album, some tracks have replay value akin to “Silk Chiffon,” while others remind us of how their sonic complexities as artists elevate the sound, whether full-on or subtle. It may not be perfect, but MUNA has a lot to love and enjoy, and I hope you do.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

The Weekly Coos: Top 15 Albums of The Year So Far

15. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

“Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drum patterns and electric guitar riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.”LINK TO REVIEW

14. 070 Shake – You Can’t Kill Me

“You Can’t Kill Me isn’t like 070 Shake’s previous album, specifically in the construct of the production. It isn’t devoid of complex layering with the sounds, but it doesn’t deter you by taking a distinct direction that never lands, though some tracks fly past the radar because of uninteresting production. There is a frequency to it, and 070 Shake comes at it with full force and develops a sense of emotional gravitas.”LINK TO REVIEW

13. Avril Lavigne – Love Sux

“…I haven’t always been absent from her music – some highlights here and there – and it’s a good thing I wasn’t as Avril Lavigne has come with her best work since 2005’s Under My Skin. Love Sux is a dynamic shift from blending nuances of the past with oblique pop. Love Sux knows what it is: lyrically poignant, blending commercialized lingo with riotous rock or rounded pop-punk ballads.”LINK TO REVIEW

12. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

“It’s a complex text that wants you to decipher beyond the surface layer verbiage, and Kendrick doesn’t make it pleasant. It’s provocative, but that’s a given for him. With complex text, there is complex production, but here, he is building toward growth and showing us a reenergized side of him.”LINK TO REVIEW

11. Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes

“When attempting to bring bangers, he doesn’t stray far from his identity, lyricism; it continues to be a staple of his craft. There’s constant activity on God Don’t Make Mistakes, his major-label debut. There is crisp production from a range of producers, who provide tonal consistency, and there is Conway’s lyricism that never falters.”LINK TO REVIEW

10. Hurray for The Riff Raff – Life On Earth

“LIFE ON EARTH lands on impact with moments of catching wind as their sound evolves through each track. Alynda Segarra is trying new things, and as she weaves these complex layers in her writing, the production builds till we don’t have one flavor; we have many.”LINK TO REVIEW

09. Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever

“From the more personal and soul-filled High as Hope to the radiant baroque-pop on Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine have delivered consistently remarkable work, especially with Florence Welch’s ability to meld within any style taken with immense bravado. It’s what has her shining through on their fifth album, Dance Fever.”LINK TO REVIEW

08. Daddy Yankee – Legendaddy

“Daddy Yankee made reggaeton what it is today, allowing for a free flow of ingenuity to become universally accepted as new artists create their foundation. LEGENDADDY takes various eras of reggaeton and weaves them into a musically transcendent timeline of music history, with Daddy Yankee surprising us at almost every turn.” – LINK TO REVIEW

07. Black Country New Road – Ants Up There

“On Ants from Up There, the band isn’t as altruistic musically; they immerse themselves into balancing the external with the internal. Because of this, Ants from Up There shines, spotlighting itself as one of the best rock albums over the last few years.”LINK TO REVIEW

06. Kilo Kish – American Girl

“Building a foundation on Experimental and Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop, Kilo Kish branched out and used the basis of what works, adding elements that see her evoking elements of Pop; however, it can become forgettable, especially with her 2016 album, Reflections In Real Time. As a follow-up, America Gurl improves on some of the off-electronic overtones and transitions, with Kilo Kish growing more into who she is as an artist.”LINK TO REVIEW

05. The Weeknd – Dawn FM

“In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.”LINK TO REVIEW

04. Rosalía – Motomami

“Motomami takes experimental directions, allowing Rosalía to explore beyond her comfort zone while retaining a sense of authenticity along the way. It breathes fresh air as she detaches from flamenco-pop past – there are minor blemishes, but it circulates into one cohesive romp that’s constantly catching you by surprise.”LINK TO REVIEW

03. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart

“The first sounds we hear are waves slowly crashing along the sands of Long Beach, California. We immediately fade into Vince Staples rapping as the faint sounds of the waves blend in the background, and we get reintroduced to inside his head. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.”LINK TO REVIEW

02. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Tí

“Though I wasn’t the craziest on El Último Tour Del Mundo, what he did with a futuristic concept lyrically, was awe-inspiring, especially as he continued to grow artistically. Similarly, the album prior, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, did as the title suggested. Bad Bunny came at it with something new and different, blending various notes from diverse genres and showing us a free-spirited approach to the music. That continues on Un Verano Sin Tí. It’s an album resonant on the vibes, particularly in its construction, which plays in a nearly perfect crescendo from start to finish. He brings fresh features and unique directions we’ve heard a sampling of before; however, here it’s refined, coming at you with various sounds fit its beach/summery aesthetic, despite some lesser tracks, comparatively. It all culminates in excelling the idea Bad Bunny had when creating Un Verano Sin Tí.”LINK TO REVIEW

01. Angel Olsen – Big Time

“After reinventing herself with different aspects of pop–All Mirrors–and past stark and flaky atmospheres in folk and rock, Angel Olsen continues to shape her art, making music resonant with her identity on her new album, Big Time. In an interview with Pitchfork for the album, Angel Olsen said, “I have learned to let go of the labels and embrace what I’m feeling in the moment. And I ended up making a country record, or something like a country record.” Big Time is emotionally potent and sonically harmonious, bringing new dimensions to her artistry. It skews from modern country conventions, rooting itself in more traditional country, giving her vocal performance depth, reeling you with captivating emotional performances and a sense of whimsy.”LINK TO REVIEW

Cochise – The Inspection: Review

Hyperactive and jubilant, Florida rapper Cochise can deliver encapsulating performances filled with bravado and slight corniness, especially over trancey hip-hop productions that expand his space. As evident from his album, Benbow Crescent, Cochise has shown us the influence of the enigmatic and erratically vibrant flows from artists like Playboi Carti; the only difference between the two is that Cochise focuses on spacey, more culturally pertinent styles. He’s crossed genre borders, bringing sonic influence from sounds he’s grown with, which isn’t as new or nuanced in hip-hop. However, It’s still vibrant as he creates some great bangers, displaying that despite not having the strongest bars in hip-hop, he’s still capable of making consistently fantastic work. It continues to be evident with his follow-up, The Inspection. It has solid production emulating from its array of percussion styles, and Cochise brings the energy emulating into a fun listen, albeit the drawbacks.

Benbow Crescent opened the floodgates. We begin to hear some dancehall-reggae percussion patterns, allowing Cochise to hone in on his ability to switch up flows. It laid the groundwork for what to expect through his vocal and lyrical side of the music. He glides through productions with ease, making way for one of the strengths of this style and allowing the energy to consume you profusely. It’s a style that isn’t for everyone; it’s constructed through the lens of a songwriter instead of an emcee. And that’s okay, as the emcee style can be equally derivative, but there is something to Cochise’s high-pitch stop-n-go that gives it a different palette. It’s especially the case on his new album, The Inspection, overlaying some introspection and flexes as Cochise raps over some crisp pianos and shifting drum patterns. 

Playboi Carti gives us headbanging, mosh-inducing chaos that has us, as some would say, die-lit. Cochise is luminously captivating, using the high pitch to counteract the nihilism of his peers, like Carti and Trippie Redd. In some ways, it’s a parallel to the cloud-melancholic-centric subgenre of hip-hop but within the realm of trap music. The only difference is that Cochise isn’t coming across burned out or stoned. Instead, he brings the energy and flows through beats that dance with unique sequences. Throughout The Inspection, Cochise continues to surround himself with varying production styles created by himself, 808iden, Harold Harper, Nonbruh, Paradyse, and Ransom (Producer), to name a few. It offers enough to have a consistent flow, but lyrically, Cochise can get stunted; some verses bleed too closely to the sounds, and what’s left are his enigmatic choruses and quirky anime references.

“I’m no longer trying to be an artist; I’m trying to be a trumpet on the beat and solo for two minutes. We’re reaching a whole different frequency with the music and production. It isn’t just about lyrics. It’s about the cadence of the sound. It’s about how your voice alternates. It’s about how the beat is dancing up and down.” 

– Cochise

Taking into account that quote, it’s evident in the subtle fun had in the song’s creation. From the pertinent flows in tracks like “Hunt” feat. Chief Keef and “Don’t Run,” which contains bleaker production contrasting the emotional cadence of the strings and jubilant flow on “Finally.” They acquiesce within the big picture–i.e. front-to-back listens. Cochise’s flows make it feel a part of the production, rounding out how he wants us to vibe with music. There are certified bangers like “Megaman,” “Halo,” and “Do It Again,” which illuminates his tenacity to shift from these more crisp headbangers to more introspectively driven “Finally.” There is a lot to take from them, specifically the grooves created. However, he isn’t at his peak. Having your voice get too entwined with the production makes way for some tracks to become forgettable. “Nice” feat. Yung Nudy and “Jet Flex” don’t offer enough to entice return, as they emulate these weak conventions in trap music and become feeble versions of tracks made better by artists like Future and Lil Yachty.

Cochise understands the most important thing about hip-hop as a genre, identity. There are a lot of great qualities in his craft. He shifts the parameters of what one is to expect from this style, specifically when comparing and contrasting with his contemporaries. He gives this style some light while maintaining composure and exploring techniques akin to others, like “Hunt” with Chief Keef, a certified banger. The Inspection carries some repeatability, even if it isn’t all there. There are high hopes for Cochise as he continues his journey, especially as he is now apart of XXL Magazine’s Freshman Class of 2022.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Inspection – Out June 24th, 2022 via Columbia Records.

Drake – Honestly, Nevermind: Review

You got to love it when artists experiment or expand beyond a comfort zone, where they deliver ambitious sounds that shift the parameters of what’s to expect as fans. Drake consistently does so, but we’ve never heard him embrace a genre fully and construct an album out of it until his surprise 7th studio album, Honestly, Nevermind, where he delves into the world of electronica, with influence from dance, Jersey Club, and house music. It’s a refreshing direction that avoids some lyrical Drakeisms, like name-dropping locations as a flex, which adds to the intrigue even if it reaffirms Drake’s limitations as a singer. It underwhelms the tracks with lush production from Black Coffee, DJ Carnage, 40, and Vinylz, to name a few. Drake may not always keep us on our tippytoes with complex lyricism in the singing-heavy tracks, but the melodies keep us in a groove, especially with a few rap verses to switch it up.

Teasing us with a clean 37-second intro, Drake delves into what the sound of Honestly, Nevermind will be. The drum machine starts to orchestrate mid-tempo hypnotism with catchy rhythms before the overlays of trancey synths. It’s a recurring motif that gives the best production on the album the best characterizations, like the shift in percussion styles from the ore house-focused “Falling Back” to the Jersey Club-focused “Texts Go Green” and “Flight’s Booked” or the dance-infused “A Keeper.” There’s a constant evolution in each track–whether apparent or subtle–in the second half, Drake enthralls on both ends. Unlike the first half, Drake’s limitations don’t halt him, and its inclusion of slick rap verses offers proper diversity. When “Sticky” plays, the momentum shifts, and the consistency mounts on with tremendous force.

As “Sticky” closes, Honestly, Nevermind continues its slick transitions within and between tracks. Drake flips from a stone-cold Hip-Hop banger to a House-Dance banger in “Massive,” which sees Drake fully engulfing the production and giving us remarkable melodies and sequencing. It fits the characteristics of the kind of House style it wants to embody. Instead of blending it with the other sonic complexions, Drake and producers, Carnage, Klahr, and Zastenke bring a constant rhythm with significant gaps between verses to let the sound breathe. It continues to retain that momentum before shifting back into some lush hybrids. However, these hybrids don’t contain slightly detaching Drake vocals; he blends into the rhythm, giving us a connection we can attach to. He’s crisp, delivering great melodies and making up for the abundance of perspectives about relationships with women, amongst other subjects. It levels my view of Drake’s ability to create meaningful singing-centric verses. 

Drake’s talent for creating extravagant and catchy choruses is unbound–sprinkled throughout the album, he creates a gravitating pull that makes you vibe with the production. Despite the not-so-captivating verses, they fade into a range of melodies, specifically beneath some jarring decisions. In the first half of Honestly, Nevermind, producers Black Coffee and DJ Carnage have a great base they are working from, but their choice of adding rusty bed springs of a $50 Motel bed on top of it drowns out Drake’s writing. In “Calling My Name,” the production starts slow; it’s plain for a dance record, but it shifts in the second half with livelier and more gravitating sounds. Unfortunately, it left me wanting a little more, as it only runs for 2 minutes and 10 seconds. It felt like there could have been more both Drake and the producers could have done to round it out and give another banger.

Drake is riding it solo–save for the final track–an antithesis of Certified Lover Boy, which is flooded with features that it lacks some cohesiveness. But Drake riding it solo has made the issues on Honestly, Nevermind more apparent; however, it doesn’t hinder how it’ll ultimately affect you. It’s an album that guides the listener through a distinct era where he’s evolving his production and vocal choices. It allows the album’s only feature, 21 Savage on “Jimmy Cooks,” to feel fresh and impactful, especially as a closer. The two flourish on the trap-heavy sounds from Tizzle, Vinylz, Tay Keith & CuBeatz, relaying bars that encompass their dominance in the rap game. Drake plays with his past using a double entendre in the title, which acknowledges his time as Jimmy Brooks at Degrassi. It adds to the brevity getting delivered throughout.

Honestly, Nevermind is another definitive turning point for Drake, one where he embraces and grows with the sound of today, giving us an essence that usually never misses–think “Passion Fruit” or “One Dance.” It’s vibrant, oozing moods ranging from the loungey to more dance-vibey while retaining a sense of identity. It makes it an album that’s better than it should have been, especially after Drake’s myriad of mediocrity between Scorpion and Certified Lover Boy. And for that alone, it’s given us something that feels slightly groovier through a different lens, making it a more replayable Drake album.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Raury – Strawberry Moon: Review

Atlanta singer-songwriter and rapper Raury has always had this drive to be authentic and expansive, but it doesn’t always reflect positively, leaving some bumps along the way. It’s perplexing; when I first discovered Raury, he had these unique complexions of folk, hip-hop, rock, and soul with inconsistent vibrancy. From solid mixtapes with Indigo Child and Welcome To The Woods and a mediocre debut in All We Need, the open avenues for Raury have him waning and further stunting proper creative growth. It didn’t leave an impactful memory, save for a few; however, like the previously mentioned mixtapes, Raury continues to deliver a tape that sees him taking a new direction and rapping more on Strawberry Moon. He shifts from the folk-driven sounds of the past and elevates his delivery to a different plane of great psychedelia.

Strawberry Moon’s linear progression makes the sounds acquiesce on waves of avant-garde production. Raury doesn’t scale back and instead builds upon atmospheric textures that flow through the veins in his craft. His music grabs you, then gravitates toward depth-filled moods which reflect his inner-subconscious, which perpetuates how it bounces off us. It’s been resonant on more minimalist tracks like “Cigarette Song” and “Friends,” contrasting the energetic “Amor” and “Devil’s Whisper” from Indigo Child and All We Need. Raury doesn’t tip-toe either side of the aisle, finding a sense of equilibrium and letting his vocals guide us through the darkly vibrant production. It hits you instantly with “Heatwave;” it delivers raw instrumentations that grind through some synths before Raury jabs with this crazy verse and slightly grungey guitar riffs. He’s rapping again and doing it frequently.

Hearing Raury back in a hip-hop element has been sorely missed, and the growth he has shown is consistent, even when some moments aren’t that great and kinetic. It isn’t often that we hear him dig into this bag of tricks. He complements the production keenly, never deterring you from what he wants you to listen. It’s more effervescent when Raury brings a clean balance of verse-chorus-verse, particularly with the rapping and not the singing. Though he’s rapping a lot on Strawberry Moon, the balance with the singing on choruses offers weight and dimensions to his artistry, even when it isn’t that captivating. There’s a difference; he can carry the song through the finish line without a moment where the vocals become detached from the sound. It’s one of the few reasons there have been some loose comparisons to Andre 3000 of Outkast, the other due to his eclectic flows and ambitious creative directions. Unfortunately, that ambition gets too much at the tail end. The last few tracks give us Raury trying to expand range, which turns into some off-putting styles that either work or don’t. Whether it’s the foggy nature of “Her Smile” to the overly modulated and produced “Phases.”

Strawberry Moon starts running at full force, giving us these varying flows that constantly keep us glued to our headphones. Raury raps and rap-sings with swagger that his words become realized. The bravado in the rhythm has Raury boasting with a slight edge with his bars. At the beginning of the second verse of “2020 Vision,” “Shit I been conquering demon/Shit I been battling me man/Angelic beings I’m seeing/I just woke up dreaming,” which continues this mental reflection on the industry and life in the first verse. He raps, “I never answer my phone/And since a nigga been on/I’m living in paranoia/I’m living in paranoia/And locking all of my doors, yeah/And shutting every window/And playing Super Nintendo,” displaying a potential divide between identity and selling out. It shows that if he takes off restraints and gets reminded of his craft, he can deliver tracks as impactfully fantastic as “Devil’s Whisper.” “Channel Zero” and “Cloak” are evident of that. There is also a proper balance between the way he sings, wherein he offers more emotional depth like “Feel Good,” but it isn’t as consistent as the rapping.

Though it isn’t some profound piece of work, but Raury is growing and shifting. He’s offering a lot of unique strokes of the paintbrush to the construct and complexions of the sound that you get a sense he is one to something. And he may be, as this new direction reflects his strengths on many fronts. It caught me by surprise, despite not wowing me completely; however, if you are a fan, definitely give this a spin.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Purity Ring – graves EP: Review

Warping us into new dimensions is what Purity Ring does best, even though the trip can be a bit rocky. As an electro-pop band, they are usually willing to take risks and expand beyond the parameters of a basic melody and simple synth textures. They play with the pitch, exploring new realms with synthesizers, and captivate with seamless transitions; it’s exponentially so with their new EP, graves. Decorated with hypnotic production, you get an enigmatic atmosphere that transports you to a space filled with vibrant colors. Unlike their albums, the seven-track EP offers a compact progression with minor blemishes. It may play coy and mess around with a few complexions of the past, but the work is classic Purity Ring material, the good kind. 

Purity Ring can hook you at any moment. There is a cadence in the way they layer their synths. When weaved together, they bring a harmonic balance that whisks you away. It gets you from the start with the eponymous track off graves. It takes 30 seconds before marveling at the vibey synths that mesmerize you on impact. It continues to create unique transitions within songs and in-between, taking fascinating directions while playing spirited and swift synths and keys, usually around the chorus section. They tweak it in various ways that keep you on a consistent path. It starts to gleam and twinkle from there; then, it picks you up and takes you to an empty stream of consciousness.

Mood is a keyword here as it brings a flurry of low-feeling songs that keep you zoned into your emotions. Instead of creating vibrant, uplifting, and drab poppy electro-pop, Purity Ring focuses on developing sounds that evoke their inner thoughts. “Unlucky” is one of these tracks that are full of life, adding these elements of witch-house and synth-pop that acquiesce easily. Its creative output reflects sentiments that once or still fluster you, like the fear of expressing feelings of mad and sad because it’s wrong–for example. It gets followed up “watersong,” which describes the essence of the void the music finds us in. Vocalist Megan James contributes these harmonic melodies that enchant you within this void, allowing you to engulf everything they deliver. It gets continuously complemented by the varying sequences, like the overly bubbly synths and percussion on “watersong.” No matter the direction, the emotional core of the EP gets reflected tonally.

I speak about a void. This void makes us keen on our emotions, allowing us to groove and dance to the music Purity Ring gives us on graves. But there is balance, which keeps the interest levels high. It did for me, especially as they incorporate these somber tracks that act like a dose of melatonin that holds you until the production picks up. Though there is balance, “nthngsfine” feels lost in the background as it carries the enigmatic synths and keys of the previous track, “nevermind.” It comes off as an extended outro that doesn’t add value to the previous one, unlike the other short, “xsalt.” The harmonic piano keys elevate the closing track tenfold, offering a gleaming transition into the intro, “graves.”

Unlike their full-length albums, graves is compact and more fluid. Purity Ring can be more constructive and let a sonic motif of starry synths drive through the enigmatic moods. It lifts you quickly and takes you on a predominately vibrant vibey journey through music. It’s a solid EP that exceeded expectations, considering their last album, Womb, was a little underwhelming.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Angel Olsen – Big Time: Review

After reinventing herself with different aspects of pop–All Mirrors–and past stark and flaky atmospheres in folk and rock, Angel Olsen continues to shape her art, making music resonant with her identity on her new album, Big Time. In an interview with Pitchfork for the album, Angel Olsen said, “I have learned to let go of the labels and embrace what I’m feeling in the moment. And I ended up making a country record, or something like a country record.” Big Time is emotionally potent and sonically harmonious, bringing new dimensions to her artistry. It skews from modern country conventions, rooting itself in more traditional country, giving her vocal performance depth, reeling you with captivating emotional performances and a sense of whimsy.

Big Time is a powerful emotional experience. Since the last time Angel Olsen spoke to us, she has gone through personal change–from coming out to the loss of her mother–Olsen brings a heavy platter of thoughts that expands on her story. In doing so, Olsen subdues the glitz of overly produced country music, and she takes an extraordinary approach that elevates the emotional gravitas. It grips you from the first song, “All The Good Times;” the drums reel you in with melancholic bravado from Olsen, producing a feel for the direction of Big Time. The album is reminiscent of a traditional style from the 50s/60s/70s era, taking unique paths to actualize them to life. The creativity within the construction of the songs brings elements that enforce its stagey presence. The engineering is crisp, creating a foundation in a smooth crescendo where each section becomes audibly potent in creation, from the brass and horn sections to the percussion and strings.

Adjacently, Angel Olsen beautifully delivers fantastical and starry country ballads creating a subtle balance based on context. One moment she’s reflecting on moments before the loss of a loved one in “This Is How It Works,” another she’s embracing the joy of love from her significant other in “All the Flowers.” She ranges in tone, creating a more somber ballad with the latter and letting the vocals carry the slightly lowly production, unlike the former, where its strength comes on both ends vibrantly. Angel Olsen notes her sensibilities effervescently, aiming at encapsulating conflicting emotions with ease. It’s an album that feels true to itself, never toeing a line of obscurity. She delivers potent and poignant material, increasing the length of our emotional response from listening to the album, and it wouldn’t be right of me if I didn’t say Big Time brings tears, whether metaphorical or literal.

The eponymous track, “Big Time,” offers a flurry of distinguishingly haunting but starry string orchestration, bringing this sense of accepting identity. It’s a sonic consistency that is eloquently heard through some of the softer songs, like “Dream Thing” and “Go Home.” Angel Olsen brings over arching dualities that offer connectivity between artist and listener as her words hit closer to the heart. Olsen sings about identity, love, mistakes, and loneliness, bringing that sense of connectivity through memories and allowing time to act as a concept that prolongs our actions and inactions. She has a way to get your hips swaying slowly, bringing the spirit of an old country-blues bar local performance while reflecting these thematic complexities effectively. It’s something she reflects eloquently through her accompanying short film; it doesn’t lose focus, weaving a story about identity and the fear of taking major leaps reflective of it. It tells the story of an LGBTQI+ couple, one of whom hasn’t come out to their parents, especially when they are ill–eventually, they pass, creating friction from emotions and using time as a means to escape and reflect.

That’s where Angel Olsen hits her stride. She grabs her strengths and works to endure them longer when evolving. It isn’t Olsen’s first foray into country, weaving elements of Alt-Country/Folk into the aesthetic of 2012’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness. However, the difference lies in how components of the genre get used within the production. Its percussion-string heavy style doesn’t speak hoedown like “High & Wind” off Burn Your Fire For No Witness; it’s instead centered on traditionalism, creating room for the vocals to blossom and radiate with ethereal melodies. It’s reminiscent of the early tempos of Linda Ronstadt, Patsy Cline, and others of that era–think “Long, Long Time” by Ronstadt or “Crazy” by Cline. But Angel Olsen can establish her identity depending on the song’s context as they play to the depth of her heart. It’s resonant with the eponymous short film, which brings to light the narrative arc. It captures the essence of the style, elevating it to new heights, delivering Olsen’s best album to date.

Big Time is both transformative and emotionally gripping. It is rare for me to love a country album in its entirety, and this is one of those rare occasions. From its start to end, I was grasping tears while listening to Angel Olsen deliver whimsical melodies. Olsen continuously breaks down walls of vulnerability, specifically musically, but now it’s more potent. Similar to the many, I’m here for it. There are no skips in this emotional journey we take with Angel Olsen, and I hope you take that journey too.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

070 Shake – You Can’t Kill Me: Review

There is a cadence in 070 Shake’s voice, which brings her emotions and lyrics to life while never exasperating the sound with wrought modulations. It’s a prominent aspect of Shake’s craft, as it gets used so she can ride the vibe wave on an exponential high. It has shown that Shake’s range in vocal styles never highlights an inherent weakness, so whether she is performing over more hip-hop-centric production or smooth psychedelic R&B notes, she comes at it with full strength. It continues to be the case as 070 Shake on You Can’t Kill Me as she delivers these enthralling and melancholic performances, shifting from her debut Modus Vivendi. The production gets slightly broken down, weaving these blooming synths while Shake encapsulates us with her radiant vocals. But it isn’t perfect since it doesn’t pick up steam until the second track.

You Can’t Kill Me isn’t like 070 Shake’s previous album, specifically in the construct of the production. It isn’t devoid of complex layering with the sounds, but it doesn’t deter you by taking a distinct direction that never lands, though some tracks fly past the radar because of uninteresting production. There is a frequency to it, and 070 Shake comes at it with full force and develops a sense of emotional gravitas. It doesn’t hook you with the intro, but it finally gets you with the second track, “Invited,” which has this remarkable percussion pattern that reels you in with gusto. Its percussion and synth-heavy production create an everlasting motif we hear through most tracks, adding value to its essence. Mike Dean’s mastering skills make it audibly smooth, allowing us to listen to everything 070 Shake sings. 

“Web” opens the album with little effect, but as “Invited” takes a heel turn, the consistency begins to shine. It’s a steady consistency that slightly veers out of the double lines until it lines back up with the closer, “Se Fue La Luz.” Unlike “Web,” “Se Fue La Luz” is a strong closer that sees 070 Shake lamenting a break up with a past lover and invoking a Spanish language chorus that adds brevity to the verses. Hearing 070 Shake sing in her heritage tongue adds dimensions to the performance, allowing us to hear her emotions at peak vulnerability. There is depth in 070 Shake’s vocal performance, even when the tracks have a more elevated presence. Her songwriting is reflective of her remarkable melodies, weaving colorful strings on a blank slate. You Can’t Kill Me tackles various aspects of a relationship, taking us through engaging stories, situations, and analogies reflective of the tone from its darkly moody sonic motif. 

There isn’t one song that truly grasps the spices of pop flavor, and instead, it asks to sit and pay attention. The percussion kicks up consistently, adding some internal sense of dance with the bleak synths, but it reels you with these effectively atmospheric harmonies and melodies. They create atmospheric textures that thread grooves into your ears, which enables its effectiveness. The production has heavy energy, and 070 Shake gives enough that tracks like “History,” Skin and Bones,” and “Body” offer captivating moments that stay with you. It has this vibrancy that isn’t as profound with tracks like “Come Back Home” and “Purple Walls,” which feel empty and tempered. That vibrancy comes from tweaking aspects of the production, like playing with the levels of the synths dependent on chorus or verse. 

“Come Back Home” and “Purple Walls” are examples of when minimalism isn’t as impactful because they don’t offer anything interesting through more simple drum beats. “Purple Walls” has this great emotional core, but it feels stunted by a less captivating production. Unlike it, “Wine & Spirits” is 070 Shake’s acoustic-driven ballad that sees her singing about how their celebrity can bring manipulative speculations from the media and cause a riff. There is depth and smooth transitions, but these bumps along the journey are slight blips on a great album. Though it can cause a detriment for the front-to-back listeners, sometimes these blips become forgettable compared to the dynamic instrument patterns of other tracks.

You Can’t Kill Me excels in more ways than 070 Shake’s last album Modus Vivendi, while still retaining qualities that made her craft appealing. It’s atmospheric without fault, and it develops proper sensibilities with the synths where we can hear her words. There is depth, and the production has this great raw consistency that you can’t help but get swept away. 070 Shake is a diamond in the rough for GOOD Music/Def Jam, and her career will grow.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Flume – Palaces: Review

Flume’s production styles fluctuate and replicate a sense of competency, sometimes extending beyond and giving us a wider world of great electronic music. It is evident with past releases, Skins and Hi This Is Flume, and is similarly the case on his new album, Palaces. Unfortunately, it’s poorly conceived, confining itself in experimental lanes of industrial and pop complexions. Flume doesn’t extend beyond his reach. It leaves you feeling empty due to Palaces keening in too much on developing atmosphere and less on constructing something more elevated and vibrant. Getting lost in its sound, it stumbles over poorly constructed tracks with some featured artists and poor cohesion, but a few stood out amongst the 13-tracklist.

Flume is known for creative shifts in production, sometimes creating these dynamic sounds that elevate the plateau his music gets placed. We hear these shifting styles fluctuating core elements of pop and experimental/IDM (intelligent dance music) electronica without great contrasts and instead becomes jarring and off-putting. It’s more so within individual tracks, which it tries to create these unique hybrids without much of a payoff. Occasionally working with certain features, it’s heightened, working more fluidly when Flume comes at these tracks working solo. He offers a sense of nuance to the styles getting incorporated, specifically with how it’s deconstructed to give you a natural feel of the instruments. We hear this beautiful crescendo through tracks like “Jaspers Song” and “Go” while maintaining a grounded sense of musicality. 

But there is nuance to these solo tracks as Flume feels right in his element. He leaves you with this unique pacing that allows you to break apart the layers and straddle onto them as the music whisks you away. The ethereal weight of the sounds is keen on Flume’s strengths instead of creating an overbearing presence with flummoxing styles. Instead of wrought techniques like on “Only Fans,” we are given elegant cadence in the sequencing of tracks like “DHLC.” It isn’t unlike some with features that lose sight of the bigger picture, specifically as Flume tries to emulate without effect.

From the beginning, Palaces doesn’t offer much with the featured artists. There are moments of grandeur where it doesn’t stifle smooth transitions, but it predominantly left me waning on a vibe with distorted IDM that doesn’t fit the tonal direction. It separates the greatness of “Hollow” from the poorly constructed “Highest Building.” “Hollow” has smooth transitions between drops, while “Highest Building” shifts between these starry pop vocals and a slightly off production. Adjacently, there are tracks where its production feels to be mirroring styles from other artists without coming across as natural. “Only Fans,” in particular, tries to bring that energy and virtuoso of an Arca record, failing to do so on various ends, especially with its weak concept. And “Say Nothing” feels like a typical Tiësto track without a captivating progression of sounds. There are mediocre moments that never stood out, becoming just distant memories.

Some of the features on Palaces come and go, like its lackluster production. They don’t come with oomph despite meshing beautifully with the sounds. As they align with the style, the artist becomes complacent since they don’t make but break the track as it turns it into an empty, substanceless plate. Though four of the eight features come and boast the production, creating great tracks that beautifully encapsulate the vibe Flume is spearheading. Including “Hollow,” there is “I Can’t Tell,” “Escape,” and “Sirens” are others that try to break the mold and create these larger than sounds, albeit not being that special. “I Can’t Tell” and “Sirens” bring an overwhelming sense of creativity as Flume tries to stray far from the norm. “Sirens” does something spectacular with the IDM qualities that it transfixes you in a world of wonders. Similarly, “I Can’t Tell” properly blends EDM and IDM qualities as they transition between each other. It adds depth to LARUEL’s elegant melodies.

There isn’t much to Palaces to recommend, albeit the few tracks highlighted. The highs are exponentially high, but the lows feel like being stuck in a broken half-empty pool. It’s astronomically low. It isn’t as concise or constructively intuitive. It’s just there, something you can push off to the side while checking out other electronic artists like Dezza.

Rating: 5 out of 10.