Eladio Carrión – 3MEN2 KBRN: Review

Eladio Carrión is one of the better lyricists in Hip-Hop/Rap that speaks Spanish. It could be hard to quantify that as his music comes with a language barrier where translations can only help as much as understanding some of the influential sounds in the beats. While others like Bad Bunny, Myke Towers, and Rauw Alejandro expand with vibrancy, making these multilayered bops that embolden their strengths while following the melodic pop formula to keep listeners replaying, Carrión brings this subtle balance between the Latin flair and Hip-Hop aesthetic. However, it’s slightly absent as he focuses more on the Hip-Hop aesthetic, whether in structure or relaying trending styles, and giving an edge to his rap features on his latest album, 3MEN2 KBRN. Reflecting on life and music, Carrión takes us on a journey filled with some excellent new solo tracks; the featured artists and remixes make 3MEN2 KBRN inconsistent, leaving you with enough firepower to deliver something substantial while remaining bloated. 

Hitting immediately, like when you list the top off a sizzling pot of chowder, and the smell reaches your nostrils potently, 3MEN2 KBRN is full of fantastic tracks, but getting through them can be a chore like the patience needed for that chowder to finish cooking. It ultimately makes the album bloated with some half-baked remixes where the only new verse added comes from the featured artists, giving less weight to the impact of originality. It’s as much to do with quality as it’s with the pacing, which gets hindered due to them crowding space and deflecting from the good. For some, the quality of the tracks allows them to excel past the typicality of it, like with “Mbappe (Remix)” and “Friends (Remix),” where it comes down to how these artists give us greatness over the beats. Future, and Lil Tjay and Luar La L do so in each track, respectively, and in doing so, make these tracks more replayable than “Gladiator (Remix),” which has us hearing a weak Lil Wayne verse. Others minimally pass the threshold, making them as playable as the solos, specifically as the non-solos tread similar, redundant paths of Hip-Hop, despite rising above a satisfactory level.

Many featured artists assimilate by influencing the sounds that mirror theirs, like with Fivio Foreign and the more apropos New York Drill beat. It’s efficacious, but it never establishes something new with the music, making us have to get a make-or-break feeling from the verses. It becomes an oft contrast as the following track, with Hydro and SHB, brings a cadence with its more broken-down drill beat while delivering flows more creative than Fivio’s. There is some enjoyment with the Fivi track “M3,” but “Betty” brings the sauce. Fortunately, the slight Latin spice and energy boast it further, making everything come together naturally. The producers deliver these nuances that can help them distinguish the New York aesthetic from track to track, like the smooth pianos on the street beat of “Si Salimos” with 50 Cent or the Salsa notes within the trap beat of “Peso a Peso” with Rich the Kid, Quavo, and Ñengo Flow. 

With such an influx of features, there came intrigue, which left me satisfied, as the balance between languages has to bridge so tracks can have an impact instead of getting a random Wisin & Yandel track where T-Pain just sings the chorus. These features come with a purpose, but the few like “Gladiator (Remix)” and “M3” are comparatively modest, and you’re left keeping others on replay like the fantastic flows on “Coco Chanel” with Bad Bunny and “Si La Calle Llama” with Myke Towers. With the production feeling streamlined, instead, a slight improvement from the last KBRN project, which was looser as a mixtape, it adds depth to the flows, allowing the rappers to take it by the horns and capitalize with a set of slick bars. It’s especially pertinent when you can hear the parallels in quality between English and Spanish. It’s an album that can get enjoyed either way; it has the balls-to-the-walls creativity of Hip-Hop today while retaining soul, which comes from the solo tracks.

With at least half the tracks being solos, they help to continue Eladio Carrión’s lyrical prowess, especially when he has to spearhead them without falling into some typical trappings, like redundant sing-song flows. With “Cuevita,” which sees him trying to replicate thematic resonance alongside tracks like “Flashing Lights,” that commentary gets lost with an inflated ego. It doesn’t bring the trap flavors of “Padre Tiempo” or the slickness of “El Hokage” or “Quizás Tal Vez.” Eladio Carrión continuously delivers captivatingly visceral lyricism shining through with intricate allusions, metaphors, and wordplay, like when he raps the lines “Treinta mil en Champs-Élysées, otros veinte mil en Brantôme/Los tengo buscando la receta como Plankton/De día brillando como el techo de un Phantom/¿Blanco o negro? Tú escoge’, Danny Phantom,off the final song, “Air France.”Though it reflects life through braggadocio means, the multi-syllabic scheme gives us a sense of style, lavish excess, and personality within a quick four.

The new Eladio Carrión album is fire, despite the flame puttering between tracks, as if its lacking the splints to raise the levels. With an influx of Hip-Hop, we get to hear Carrión feel right at home without having too vast of a delineation from a perspective direction, which we get. Unfortunately the album is more of a chore, running 18 tracks for one hour, making it feel slightly longer and drab. Not everything lands, and just to get through to hear what does, feels more bothersome than not, but the with the ones that do, you’re left digesting some quality raps, even if you come in it with a language barrier.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Aly & AJ – With Love From: Review

Aly & AJ’s return to music hit a momentous high on their excellent follow-up to some remarkable EPs: a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun, and that consistency shined through and through. It keeps us fans, but as fans, we also understand what we like and don’t, so for their follow-up, With Love From comes with incredible highs, continuing that consistency with potent new directions that elevates the craft beyond pop. Shifting from the more summery pop-rock to pop that carries the influence of Americana and Country music on its sleeves. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t stay with this throughout, sometimes shifting back to a more pop-rock-focused sound, even when they aren’t as bad. These pop songs woven within the tracklists feel like it panders to the pop music fans have gotten to love when they could have had more consistency by keeping the aesthetic constant. But With Love From is one solid album that expands beyond the acoustic-driven fortitude of its sonic influences, creating an emotionally potent album.

The music of With Love From isn’t devoid of pop sounds as it plays a vital part in its central core as it guides the varying melodies that lavishly coat the occasionally twangy production. There’s a softening cadence, which heartens the slower tempo rhythms of the strings, allowing one to get engulfed within the twinkling acoustics and slow, methodical percussion that makes you feel like you’re in the room as it’s performing. It’s their liveliness within the performances, which eloquently contrasts the emotionally rich array of sounds. Though it’s a little more direct and nuanced with the first two tracks, Aly & AJ take it a step forward with the beautifully captivating “After Hours.” It powerfully balances styles, allowing the pop-rock notes to engulf the melody while the instrumentations elevate the twangy, danceable moods to keep the spirits high. It’s like a slight anti-thesis to the music getting presented prior and immediately after with the elegant, stripped-down ballad “Blue Dress.” This fantastic four-track run is one of the ones to remember within the album, as some short strings of pop-rock take away from the heavy influence overhead.

“Love You This Way” and “Talking In My Sleep” are the two that don’t feel suitably resonant in the track list as they lean too much into pop, taking away from the remarkable Americana/Country influence and a consistent ride from front to back. “Talking In My Sleep” feels more akin to something from their last album – more glitzy and poppy, the slight identity shift in the strings can’t boast it further, making one lost within the flow. The former is more standard, never seeming to find strength on either side of the musical aisle as the songwriting and melodies aren’t as strong as others. But as they come into your musical stratosphere, they detract from the strength surrounding it through other songs like “Sunchoke,” which audibly brings you front and center with the aesthetic influence behind the lyricism. It’s all reflective, talking about emotional aspects of relationships and life; they give us a take on closing time, delivering an anthem about allowing yourself a moment to reflect and stay positive through the nights. 

With Love From is a harmless but radiant and vibrant pop album that shifts the dynamic from what fans have gotten to hear from them, giving us something different than what one would expect. It isn’t your typical pop-rock album, so the more it progresses, the more you get entrenched in the fantastic melancholy of the string rhythms. Though Aly & AJ are the primary instrumentalists behind the strings, the producers bring forth the dimensions to round out the songs in these songs within the fantastical Americana/Country vibes that have slowly gotten reflected amongst some indie pop artists, like Clairo and Angel Olsen. A lot of credit goes to Aly & AJ’s producers, especially recurring collaborators Ryan Sparker and Yves Rothman, whose resume within this sphere isn’t vast. But they deliver exemplary work with an understanding of the direction taken by its lead artists, and it shows from the giddy-up catchiness of “Tear the Night Up” to the more classical take “Baby Lay Your Head Down.” It’s a continuous feat of great music that gets stumped along the way through more pop-like songs.

There was much enjoyment in listening to Aly & AJ’s album, With Love From; the music gets adjusted to work potently within the confines of its sonic sphere and excel beyond. It left me with surprises and an enjoyable trip to return to whenever the vibe calls for it, considering one can do worse. I’d recommend this highly; fan or no fan, what they build and deliver is beautiful. You’ll leave satisfied without feeling bloated, and that’s all one can ask, as it does change the pace from more loaded hip-hop and pop albums.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

The Blaze – Jungle: Review

It’s been five years since the release of Dancehall, the debut album of French Electronic duo The Blaze. Since, they’ve remained predominately quiet, almost seeming to calculate the direction of their follow-up Jungle, which takes form as this antithesis to the livelier, more dance-driven work of Dancehall – creating a space to delve into differentiating emotionally resonant performances that formulate beyond tonal vibes. Whether vocally or through sound, the music carries some thematic depth beneath these atmospheric complexions reflective of Electro-Pop and French House of the 2000s and early 2010s, letting recent nostalgia elevate their craft as they build around it with exponential bliss. The visceral layering of the instruments keeps Jungle afloat through the rangy and mystifying vocals coated with mirroring leveled synths, amplifying the direct delivery of these tracks and letting you feel the impact of its words. The writing isn’t spread out and detailed like most narrative-driven music in pop and Hip-Hop – their identity rings differently. It holds everything together through the dainty trips; even when the writing is more simplistic, it remains potent in its delivery.

Like their first album, Dancehall, it doesn’t take long before the production puts you in a zone without shifting toward something more obtuse beyond a consistent breadth developing through the percussion and synths. You get this quick whiff instantly as Jungle opens to a track resembling something from an early 2010s Bon Iver or STRFCKR album; however, its production shifts the parallel further from it. The vocals are airy and coated behind this screen of atmospheric electronic textures, which creates a nuanced take on pop and French House, almost taking it as a guiding principle and establishing sounds that accentuate with cadence. Whether it’s on the opening track “Lullaby” or the subsequent “Dreamer” and “Lonely,” it separates itself from the production, becoming its own thing where the landscape shifts between being more percussion or synth focused. While it establishes its core direction, one can easily get lost in its vibe, but as you swim through the ten-track album, it’s like exploring new avenues of rich sounds.

Jungle opens strong and continues to build in the middle before ultimately petering at the end as the journey guides you. There is so much to take away, especially its use of synthesizers, which can shift in expression at any moment. Whereas “Madly” brings a louder, glitchier approach with synths flow in BPM with some erratic, consistent tendencies, “Haze” is atmospheric toward its construction as the synths shift between the overlay or underlay. The use of live instrumentations within the construct of its production helps these seamless switches between different sounds; whether it’s more Electro-Pop or more of a derivative of House/EDM, the ambiance is the potent component subtly shrouding the album. “Bloom” is one of many that imbues this sense remarkably, teetering into this captivatingly sonorous moment where the vocals become more of an add-on to balance the luscious electronic oeuvre notes that keep you in this great daze that is as effective.

Unfortunately, all good things aren’t meant to last, so as Jungle comes to a close, it starts to readjust poorly. “Dust” closes the album – it’s a five-and-a-half-minute doozie that encapsulates everything heard, triangulating the strengths, making them all blend, hearing especially through particular, sometimes subtle percussion notes. However, it becomes lost in some repetitive, timid synths, slightly diluting the effectiveness of “Eyes” as a lead-in. It’s as if “Haze” was turned on its head and became a repetitious sound with a singular focus, never playing around to create something more grandiose. It’s a disappointing downturn that makes you appreciate the work coming prior, relishing in these starry components and becoming a sort of skeleton to show us what got taken and explored, just not as dense. Having a weak closer doesn’t hinder it, as there is some semblance of a song, specifically with that slight uptick in the second half. It’s a slow start that gets slightly redeemed at the end. Additionally, it left me wishing they’d build on the songwriting more instead of treading within typical vocal structuring and styles. It’s close to blissful equilibrium, but the minimal imbalance pushes me to feel as entrenched as their debut, but the happiness of these remains intact.

Listening to Jungle was a thrill that builds as sounds expand visually and create unique twists from more apropos Electronic-Pop complexions. It’s a little simplistic, as it’s a more direct, streamlined album that hits many of its notes. I was left vibing and continuing to replay without hesitation. It may not be effective for some, as they don’t delve into more bombastic catchiness and keep it consistent with their identity. Give it a spin; you’ll definitely feel the rich emotional vibes they deliver and more.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Miley Cyrus – Endless Summer Vacation

Miley Cyrus has excelled whenever she attempts new and refreshing within the pop landscape, even if it doesn’t all translate. It’s been that way since her fantastic pop record, Bangerz, continuing through subsequent albums and an EP. Whether it’s the electronic thrill of She Is Coming, island-country-pop vibes from Younger Now, or electro-pop-punk complexions on Plastic Hearts, Miley Cyrus continued to shine during the highs. She finds new ways to create with different styles, like the lavish dance-punk-pop “Night Crawling” off Plastic Hearts. It continues with Endless Summer Vacation, her latest release; we hear Cyrus continuing to try a different aesthetic to Disco/Dance elements of her last album, where it lives more to a summer vibe instead of night club bangers. The distinct style guides you via luscious production, buoyed by the eccentric guitar and percussion layers, keeping the sequencing of tracks focused and on a direct line of listenable consistency. Unfortunately, the songwriting doesn’t match the potency of the varying sounds, feeling more consistent with the choruses and melody structures.

Endless Summer Vacation starts on a high, diluting the Post-Disco influence we heard potently on Plastic Hearts with more lax Dance-Pop/Disco elements like on “Flowers.” It’s a good song that delivers an uninteresting production that maneuvers typical pop angles and solid verses and a vibrant catchy chorus to keep it afloat; it’s after where you get a significant run of tracks eclipsing beyond standard pop tunes. The overhead drives home the strength of the many songs in the first half, like the production, like “Rose Colored Lenses” or “Handstand.” They bring this electrifying energy contrasting the more summery and slightly bubbly “Flowers.” It’s like Cyrus dipped the former tracks into a rejuvenation chamber, only bringing them out after getting supercharged with luscious synths. It gets boasted by Miley Cyrus’ consistent performances that keep the focus high, even when the writing can sometimes be bland, like with “Muddy Feet” and “Wildcard.” They contrast each other thematically, wherein one speaks about wanting love, despite being a wildcard; the other focuses on cheating within a relationship – their attempts at creating analogies and metaphors don’t come as strong, and you’d prefer the more direct approach.

It all gets boasted by Miley Cyrus’ consistent performances that keep the focus high, even when the writing can sometimes be bland, like with “Muddy Feet” and “Wildcard.” They contrast each other thematically, wherein one speaks about wanting love, despite being a wildcard; the other focuses on cheating within a relationship – their attempts at creating analogies and metaphors don’t come as strong, and you’d prefer the more direct approach. Bibi Bourelly, Sara Aarons, or Justin Tranter can’t add much to the depth, leaving much to keeping a sensational chorus to boast the emotional importance of Miley Cyrus’ performances. Her vocals triumphantly glide through the sounds, which never taper off while bringing a smooth cadence through the melodies and harmonies. It helps keep the transitions clean and afloat. 

When it transitions to a more pop-country/folkish “Thousand Miles” from a more synth-pop-heavy “Rose Colored Lenses,” you hear the smoothness by playing with the levels of specific instruments. It’s got me hooked despite these moments of her directness to themes of regret and optimism. With various producers, it can be hard to find balance on an album, especially when it tries to incorporate different styles, like when the pop-rock cadence of “You” after “Thousand Miles” before eventually rearing back into the electric “Handstand.” The consistent tonal rhythm, where it doesn’t stray too far from what it wants to be. But what these producers bring keeps you engaged throughout by bringing something new to the table. Past producers like Mike-Will-Made-It, a recurring producer since her Bangerz days, carry the right touch with the percussion on “Thousand Miles,” “Violet Chemistry,” and synths on “Muddy Feet,” becoming a driving force for their greatness.

Despite many tracks having various producers, there are two instances where producers tackle productions individually, like Maxx Morondo on “Handstand” or BJ Burton on “Island.” They get enveloped in aesthetics without teetering far from the center. “Island” is a beautiful antithesis to the more mundane “Flowers,” as it lets its tropical influence become a base layer, while Cyrus and the drums keep the subtle flow intact. “Handstand” brings a lot of synth-wave elements, maintaining a vibrant atmosphere to coat Cyrus’ vocals and the fantastic synths and glitchiness between verses. However, all the producers seamlessly create productions that have synergy. Not all, but some bleed out of their comfort zone – it’s ever so rare you’ll hear an artist like Brandi Carlisle singing over Mike-Will-Made-It drums. Predominantly produced by Kid Harpoon and Tyler Johnson of Harry’s House, they balance between styles, where the summery aesthetic becomes more of a plus and less so the goal, especially with the predictable but great piano ballad to close Endless Summer Vacation.

Miley Cyrus brings a quick breath of fresh air that isn’t poised to make you second guess, but as it replays in your head, some of its weakness become more glaring. It can turn decent songs into forgettable moments in the tracklist. Hindering what could be a seamless pop album drags a little near the end, but that significant high with “Island” and “Wonder Woman” as closers are beyond fantastic. Definitely give this a spin, even if it’s lesser than her last album, Plastic Hearts.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Nia Archives – Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall EP: Review

Fresh off a nomination for Rising Star at the Brit Awards, Nia Archives delivers a fun, new EP that continues to expand her artistry beyond the club aesthetic. Archives isn’t new to the diverseness instruments, beyond the board, which add or steer a track toward the emotional direction she chooses. The potency of Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall isn’t subtle and more direct toward what it wants to say, instead of trying to push two elements together to create poorly constructed contrasting sounds. Unfortunately, after a strong start, it becomes more aspects than the whole song being as compelling. Incorporating more breakbeat and drum-n-bass into the music, playing into being a balance beam so that these external factors can build upon them and hit it perfectly. We get a sense of greatness as it continues to replay, despite lingering setbacks that can turn songs into something grander.

Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall had a few singles leading into them, and though it wasn’t known to me that they were, these tracks have lavish production and melodies creating distinct sounds. “Baianá” brings this tropical flair to the more Jungle-influenced beat, keeping the dancefloor lively with its infectious melodies bringing forth that feeling. “So Tell Me” is the other, which takes a different approach as it uses more strings to create something unique. It breaks down the drum-n-bass aesthetic, blending some breakbeat undertones and shifting between a soulful performance to something more nuanced in pop, all without feeling jarring. Unfortunately, the songwriting isn’t as captivating, never seeming to let its repetitive nature feel empowering. It’s the opposite with the following track, “Conveniency,” which does more with the string orchestration, as opposed to “So Tell Me,” where it loses it for more pop flavors. These round out the three singles.

Nia Archives’ production with co-producer Jakwob keeps each sound refreshing, taking you through the percussion-driven motif and delivering something memorable with some of the vocal performances. Archives is capable of that, and she hits the notes beautifully on the first three tracks and “Conveniency.” However, the better vocal performances come in the first two tracks, “Baianá” and “That’s Tha Way Life Goes,” which blend these radiant R&B/Jazz vocals over a smooth drum-n-bass beat. It keeps a soulful energy while immersing itself within more mellow club vibes. Contrasting it, but equally as exceptional, is the final track, which beautifully brings depth to the minimalist vocals, letting the production guide you while her voice rounds it all out.

At its highest point, like “Conveniency,” you get a more grounded performance that fits her vibe naturally. They never feel glitzy, keeping you focused on the switching melodies and beat switches. It makes the one song with a featured artist, “No Need 2 Be Sorry, Call Me?” more distinct. Irish singer/songwriter Maverick Sabre joins her on the track, elevating it with his soulful vocals contrasting Archives’ more streamlined performance. It’s a track that hits all the right chords but never excels past other songs, with some repetitive BPMs in the drums between this and others. But as it closes, you get this fantastic, well-rounded project that boasts Archives’ strength and lets you get enveloped by what kind of work she makes. It’s not as bombastic as previous tracks “21 & Over” and “Forbidden Feelingz,” only giving us one and another that balances that loud nature with crisp rhythms.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Musicians I’m Diggin’: 10SecondBeats

Man, it’s been a while since I’ve last spoken about Electronic artists that have opened doors to distinct sounds that captivate the very fiber of my ear drums. So what better way to return than to talk about a musician/producer. I had the pleasure of having various conversations while witnessing his growth through the varying genre channels he has worked on since the mid-2010s, possibly longer. Whether it’s Hip-Hop or Electronic, Jack Davenport, better known as 10SecondBeats, has been able to dig into his soul and figure out how to weave distinguishably contextual sonic styles while retaining a sense of identity throughout. When we first met, we messed around and turned a piece of the score Saló into this fun Hip-Hop beat that captured the essence of its score, growing to something unique from one of the most random samples. It’s profound, letting the delicate nature of instrumental layering and sequencing boast each track unforgettable. I was left in awe by 10SecondBeats’ consistent output, where the music succeeds past the vibes, creating remarkable work that I had to write about it now.

Jack Davenport studied music, and it shows, especially in how he talks about the artists who have influenced his decadent style. In short, he may not be on the scale of commercial DJs/artists like HAAI, Nia Archives, or even Norah Van Elken – artists I’ve spoken about prior. But one thing is for sure – when tasked with creating music, there isn’t a route he can’t overcome, especially when shifting a sample from one genre to another or understanding context and tone for delivering auspicious work. It’s heard in the minimalist, but captivatingly first album, Long Week, which explores the musical gears churning in Jack’s brain, functioning differently depending on the day. It adds credence to this thematic element, where the motif revolves around daily vibes. The Hip-Hop is vibrant and the nostalgic overtones never feel much, further making pushing the music to higher plateaus.

We hear it on the albums Long Week III, which feels like Hip-Hop swam in the fountain of youth, and the Jazzy, experimental nature of his beats are reminiscent of the 90s boom-bap era. Except for Jack Davenport, he brings modern twists that let you hear how similar-minded influences Madlib, J Dilla, and Four Tet have shaped his intuitive viscosity track to track. You can hear my conversation with Jack on J Dilla on The Twin Geeks Music Show. Talking to him about Dilla gave me more insight into the Hip-Hop tracks Jack created, but his electronic juices have flowed in and out too, in between releases. Jack Davenport released an EP in 2016 called Blink, which laid out this lax vibe and never seemed to teeter toward hollowness, creating beautiful synergy between the sonic elements included, whether coming from the percussion, the synths, or the vocals, which get modulated to fit the aesthetic. Like it, Jack continues to push himself to keep themes poignant, which is harder to replicate fluidly through the various forms DJs perform and create. 


a jazzy Saturday beat I forgot to post yesterday because I went out and drank beer. enjoy this experiment, should I finish this track? #producertok #ukgarage #jazz #electronicmusic #launchpad #ableton #StopScammerTime

♬ original sound – 10secondbeats – Jack D
Last year, Jack Davenport dropped Last Night Club On Earth. An album that imbued the performative aspects of club life, expanding to new horizons, like the beautifully radiant “Her Trembling Hands.” As 10SecondBeats, Jack harnesses the intimate details that coat the base layer and eloquently smooths them through a consistent flow of consciousness. We hear the varying strings and synths on “Her Trembling Hands” or the potent glitchiness of “No Smoking,” the range is fantastic. But there is only so much I can say until I start dissecting every individual track, so at this point, it’s up to you to take this journey through an up-and-comer’s catalog and experience the music yourself.

Slowthai – Ugly: Review

UK Rapper Slowthai has moved through portals to find unique ways to inflect the emotional weight coming through differing avenues, whether through the politically astute Nothing Great About Britain or introspective thoughts through zany production on Tyron. That continues to be the case on Ugly, where we hear him divert from Hip-Hop to deliver an array of punk and alternative rock tracks flourishing through progressively recorded instrumentals and vocal performances, more akin to the DIY Hard/Punk-Rock era of the early 80s. It fits Slowthai’s vocal aesthetics naturally, bolstering the emotional angst, making its delivery have the same impact as the Garage influence beneath past Grime beats he’s rapped over. Ugly continues to boast that angst, almost making it feel more adjudicated to his style, but it never rides on the coast of genericism as Slowthai’s writing builds depth. It isn’t that cut and dry; Slowthai is allowing these soundscapes to guide him through these creative highs where he finds somewhere in-between the Hüsker Du’s and Rage Against the Machine, yet it stumbles to have consistency on the production side.

Slowthai begins Ugly by slowly assimilating his listener toward this new sound, blending the known (Hip-Hop and Grime) with the new (Punk and Indie Rock), waiting for him to open up lyrically, slowly. However, this isn’t the first time Slowthai has worn his heart on his sleeves, but it occasionally got rattled by the abundance of sweet chaos in the music surrounding them. That isn’t absent since Slowthai’s dictation of the contextual direction is at a peak. Here, we hear him separating styles without the production taking a step back, whether it’s the riotous “Yum” or the slowed-down Lou Reed interpolation on “Falling,” allowing us to sense who he is now and where he wants to take the album. Unlike Lil Yachty and his album Let’s Start Here, and more like Mac Miller’s foray into Alt-Rock/Soul with Circles, Slowthai isn’t here for our (critics) feelings on the legitimacy of his music. Instead, he’s spearheading what he hears and visualizes while putting his pen to paper. It doesn’t always land, like “Yum,” where it comes on a bit emphatic, or “Never Again,” which takes a more somber approach instead of expressing a range of emotions from his feeling of loss after a breakup.

As you listen to Ugly from front to back, there’s an understanding that Slowthai knows how to weave these rich instrumentations into a creative run of tracks that break down barriers. “Happy” beautifully encompasses the elements that make this stylistic journey more of a thrill. His vocals are unpolished. He brings a spoken word element to reinvigorate his emotions. He lets the sound run thoroughly melodically while leaving room for more powerful moments for emphasis. There’s a consistency to the production as it takes influence from different sonic complexions and excels with the synergy it carries with Slowthai. It doesn’t matter the tempo or speed of each core element for each specific song. There are some crisp performances for fans to indulge in and give the curious something to latch onto, especially as rappers don’t tend to push boundaries consistently when exploring rock music. But with Slowthai bringing past producer Kwes Darko, Beabadoobee’s producer Jacob Budgen, and Dan Carey, who recently produced Wet Leg’s debut and Black Midi’s in 2019, they add a fantastic sense of equilibrium imbuing through instrumentals.

Slowthai’s producers aim for a consistent flow; in doing so, we receive solid in-song transitions that boast its strengths. Slowthai can shift delivery smoothly, like on “Sooner,” where the flow and melodies collide with sheer ferocity and viscosity, showcasing how it comes naturally to him, especially as he plays around with them. Though some tracks have more Hip-Hop notes, pushing away from the rock-like foundation, it isn’t hard to note how fantastic “Fuck It Puppet” is, despite running short and leaving you hungry for more. The energy deriving from many tracks is infectious, maintaining your attention, boasting the slower songs more, and making them have an outstanding presence compared to the weaker ones, like the more mundane “Feel Good.” Overlaying these instrumentals are some poignantly focused songwriting, switching melodies and styles, speaking to different factions of the mental gymnastics one juggle, like happiness, cutting ties with those around, or self-resilience to be better, despite sometimes having to act selfish.

Lil Wayne mostly incorporated autotune over predominantly redundant rock instrumentals on Rebirth, and Kid Cudi took experimental too far with Speedin Bullet to Heaven. Trippie Redd has this punk cadence in his vocal style, bringing minimal intrigue into his craft without being completely innovative. But what separates Slowthai from them is this natural cadence, where he isn’t coming at this with a try-hard mentality, letting it all flow with his style. Though it doesn’t always translate, many highs keep the gears churning as you plunge into a journey through the album. From Slowthai’s lyricism to his co-producers finding a solid happy medium, the lows can take from the directional quality and leave you with tracks that form an album with gaps. Fortunately, it’s this worthwhile listen.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Che Noir & Big Ghost Ltd: Noir or Never: Review

Big Ghost Ltd, an internet blogger and music producer, has had a solid two-week run. First, he delivered solid production for his collab tape with NY rapper Rome Streetz; the following week, he came with another fantastic collaboration, this time with Che Noir. Another raw lyricist making waves from Buffalo, New York, Noir consistently demonstrated the depth of her writing underneath this luscious 90s Hip-Hop flow. It may be niche, comparatively – because of production style – considering the landscape of Hip-Hop through a popular music lens, yet, Noir reminds us that she’s a force to be reckoned with constant output that rarely falters. Noir Or Never continues that outcome with rich lyricism from Noir and her features, along with some good production from Big Ghost Ltd. Noir’s lyrical fortitude matches wits with the best of them. Unfortunately, Noir or Never feels more like a Big Ghost Ltd than a collab album with this abundance of features, and with a short run time doesn’t allow it to leave a stamp following the visceral intro, but it still packs a punch with what they deliver.

Noir Or Never opens with an intimate interview where Che Noir speaks on her influence while bolstering her confidence to remain true to their style (lyricism first) instead of selling out with more popular sonic aesthetics. Within this audio, we hear a slight toward popular hip-hop music that retreads similar themes through surface layer lyricism, never relaying depth beyond what said tracks aim to stylistically deliver. Think songs with the simplicity of “Pop Champagne” by Ron Brownz and how that gets more attention instead of raw lyricism that spreads layers of truths instead of booty bounce hip-hop with little to say. Listen, I’m a sucker for it, and I vibe with the occasional pop-Hip-Hop style music flooding airwaves. Noir and Big Ghost Ltd set this push for bringing light to lyricist dominant Hip-Hop, and though there is, it chooses to bring features to let listeners hear a variety of these artists, but it would have landed better if Noir went at it solo.

Though it misses on having a more significant impact than what we get, it isn’t entirely undermined as the features deliver great verses over modern boom-bap that brings an element of whimsy over the percussion patterns guiding the rhythmic flows. It chooses a different path, and within that path, Noir matches wits with great and established rappers like Ransom, 38 Spesh, Flee Lord, and Skyzoo, to name a few. They come delivering their A-Game and keeping you enthralled by the quality. From the vinyl-scratching bliss of “Brilliance” with Skyzoo & D-Styles to the bass-heavy “Veracruz” with 7xvethegenius, there is a consistent outpouring of greatness. It’s disappointing that they come on a simple throwaway album, especially after her intriguing turn in the self-produced The Last Remnants. They are significant enough that it’s worth a listen, especially with the consistency of some of these established rappers, like Ransom and Skyzoo, the latter of which I praised on his concept album The Mind of A Saint earlier this year.

We do get two solo tracks, which stand out above the rest. “Resilient” and “Low Altitude” beautifully encompass Noir’s resilience to keep growing. The former reflects how it’s been a hustle since a young age, listening to HOV and Foxy Brown, becoming a foundational human striving, and the latter on her push to deliver. She’s rapping about critics who deem her style less appealing in lyrical quality and changing the narrative. The content of the music shifts from introspective reflections to lavish flexes that keep the reminder of her technical potency at bay for listeners. Big Ghost Ltd, having been around the music industry, usually doesn’t falter in establishing beats that don’t over-sizzle despite using some more simple percussion, comparatively, as he masks it beneath these overtures that shine. We get this bleak, twinkly aesthetic with doom-like piano keys contrasting the high pitches from said piano and a bass groove on “Cap Locks,” for example. To distinguish that song’s usage of drums, Big Ghost Ltd shines with the lavishly drum-heavy “Bad Apple,” which incorporates intricate layers of snares, kicks, and hi-hats, with some horns for good measure.

There are a lot of fantastic elements boasting Noir or Never, and it becomes a slight disappointment with some of its decisions. It chooses to take a different direction, and though it’s effective, capping off at 23 minutes makes it run by quickly, not allowing you to digest the music adequately. It moves by swiftly, making you want more but for what you receive there is enough quality to replay, even if you prefer the features to the solo work.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Karol G – Mañana Será Bonito

While Karol G continues to flex different sonic palettes, she still tends to fall back on meandering, drab, reggaeton beats that usually don’t divulge the layers of her vocals. Fortunately, it’s less evident in her latest release Mañana Será Bonito, which sees her explore more tropical foundations, mirroring older pop styles beneath the rich drum patterns and strings. Mañana Será Bonito is this slight divergence from the more electronic and Latin trap/pop – Karol G expresses depth in character within her emotional range, buoying a blend of contemplative and confidence-inducing records. They take you through a colorful mixture of sounds that can sometimes surprise you, like when it places the folk-influenced “Gucci Los Paños” in between two club-driven pop-reggaeton beats or when it incorporates more genre-bending. It slowly shifts the perception of Karol G’s artistry as she looks to grow past her previous era and let the music flow through her naturally as she did on Oceans, her album from 2019. Unfortunately, you get the occasional standard reggaeton beat that doesn’t move the needle, leaving you to feel like she could have done something more with it.

Opening with an intriguing sample of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Karol G begins to set the stage for a sound that fiercely dominates the positives of Mañana Será Bonito. It’s more akin to an album like Un Verano Sin Ti by Bad Bunny, where it played with aesthetic and construction to build this album out of a vibe. The difference between the two comes from Karol G driving thematic motifs to reinforce the idea behind the title’s translation and keep a steady flow of themes. She’s delivering music that speaks on past relationships, feeling confident in your body and rejuvenated. It’s how this gets produced – on here, Karol G shares other similarities with Un Verano Sin Ti besides the tropical overtones – she creates constructive looseness where the sound can keep flowing while constantly shifting. That doesn’t always translate to fresh, quality music that brings more than aesthetic, like “Besties” and “Gátubela.” The former is more apropos in its clubby-vibe, never growing beyond these non-exciting drum patterns. The latter delivers nostalgic production mirroring the style of the early 00s, equally feeling like add-ons. 

Keeping with one of her recurring producers, Ovy On the Drums, Karol G feels at home delivering these beautiful melodic performances over percussion-heavy beats. His inconsistency brings down Mañana Será Bonito, leaving you more enthralled by tracks he didn’t produce and or co-produced, as he can grasp his strength and have others build around it beautifully. Ovy On The Drums shines with his work on the tracks “Provenza,” “Carolina,” Amagura,” and “Mientras Me Curo Del Cora,” which Ovy co-produced, but his misses are glaring. Additionally, Ovy opens and closes the album, along with Tainy and Alejandro Jimenez, on incredible highs with tracks that truly build themselves to be more than what they could have been. Like how Ovy incorporates more tropical riffs to shroud the bachata-influenced acoustics and percussion as we get these small subtleties that help refine the album to be better than expected and a properly whelmed surprise.

However, other times it’s more derivative, leaving you wanting more and never satisfying, like “Tu Gafitas” and “Dañamos La Amistad.” They add more to its reggaeton/pop base, expanding it through distinct strings and synth orchestrations overlaying them. “Tu Gafitas” stands firmly, separating itself from the others with twinkly pop tones orchestrated by Finneas, balancing out the Latin flavor with these smooth disco undercurrents. It blossoms into this fantastic moment where Karol G continues to shine after the excellent Shakira co-authored “TQG.” Shakira comes in and commands her presence on the track, like many features that fit the aesthetic, balancing vocal layers, like on the reggae/dancehall-inspired “Karmika” with Bad Gyal and Sean Paul. It’s similar to the monstrous closer, the pop-reggaeton and lavish mix with Carla Morrison, “Mañana Será Bonito,” boasting a powerful duet to new levels, getting us to hear these distinct, reassuring directions, like with dynamic reggaeton/dembow-influenced “Ojos Ferrari.” It’s truly great work.

Mañana Será Bonito surprised me more than it did, especially after her more reggaeton-flavored KG0516, which felt staler in its approach to be more outwardly. But as Karol G refines her sense of musical direction, she explodes with radiant sounds that beautifully fit the cadence of her vocal melodies. Her features boast the delivery of the music, making some of the lesser-quality tracks somewhat digestible in the grand scheme of things, making one solid release from the Colombian Reggaeton Superstar.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Algiers – Shook: Review

Atlanta band Algiers isn’t stranger to their perceptive songwriting that balances the heavy impact of their illustrative, albeit archaic, sound palette. Building their craft off post-punk, hip-hop, and Southern gothic literature, they’ve created these inspiring creations that feel more dystopian soul with bolstered emotions. Franklin James Fisher’s somber vocals build tension for these more enigmatic performances, delivering the impact of its aesthetic direction. Shook takes bubbling emotions, resonant with listeners who feel empowered by these bombastic and uproarious instrumentations that let you feel heard and seen, though its pacing suffers. Helping build out the emotion-driven concept are features varying from the well-known, like Zack De La Rocha and Big Rube, to the lesser-known, like Patrick Shirosh. Bringing all these different components together, we see a distinct change from their more naturally delivering angst. They are keener to the world around them and find interconnectivity through lyrics and sound, but poor pacing and mixing choices can detract some from returning.

There’s no denying Algiers’ lyrical fortitude. They’ve translated rich themes through different narrative structures, where we get treated to a more linear story or writing that’s more poetic. It’s when we get more of the latter their music begins to take shape, and you hear an upright construct that defines their style while also maturing in orchestration. We get that frequently on Shook without treading toward being too metaphorically abstract. They have this understanding of what their music needs to divulge the depth of meaning, allowing those eager to love both sides of the aisle – more so than the casual pop fan where a plain Ava Maxx record will levy that need for potent lyricism. Sometimes they coast through, leaving subjects ambiguous to a fault. Though it’s a common occurrence with pop and rock, especially with the ballads – note people playing music or playing an instrument to a pet – for Algiers, this strength has allowed them to speak about through this writing and clearing out the themes resonant bleed into that shook feeling. 

Algiers explores this vast array of themes that carries perspectives on these divides afflicting humanity. Shook gives us songs that reflect on social class divide (“73%”), socio-racial issues (“As It Resounds”), self-love (“Born”), depression, etc., but what’s beneficial is its interconnectivity; it doesn’t allow it to feel bloated, despite a slower pace. Continuously, Algiers finds remarkable ways to connect their features and elevate their talent, though more so after multiple listens and reading lyrics. Some featured artists are musical performances – we hear Franklin James Fisher maintain fluidity with complementary writing and performances. Others are from spoken word artists; Algiers adds music and vocal harmonizations to continue driving their expressive abstract instrumentations and finding balance with soulful, bluesy singing. It has powerful synergy that makes Shook engaging musical expression, where problems don’t outweigh its complex layering, like their heavy incorporation of more electronic elements brings these new dimensions out of their Hip-Hop influenced drum patterns.

What eventually makes Shook a bit lesser than their last two albums is the inconsistency with the mixing that tweaks the album’s pacing, leaving you without much to deconstruct thematically. Though they help bridge these poignant themes together, they feel more scattered than it appears. Some have instrumentations that blare through, leaving performances in the background, making you miss the impact of the first few go-arounds. It feels like they aimed too hard on bridging concepts and an elevated aesthetic that you’re left more in awe of the production. The enigmatic jazzy, worldly chaos of “Out of Style Tragedy” loses balance between both layered vocal performances; similarly, the blending of Franklin James Fisher’s crooning on “Cleansing Your Guilt Here” isn’t as effective. Fortunately, these aren’t significant detriments, as they maintain a sonic consistency that will keep you at least somewhat intrigued. More so, the clean song-to-song transitions allow Shook to move from a classic 80s Post-Punk DIY to a more Electro-Soul-Rock sound without losing your vibe.

There’s a lot about Shook to love, but it fails to truly become this captivating opus that wears its emotions on its sleeve. It does enough to feel different and more expansive than past drops, especially with the amount of featured artists, but if they spent more time fine-tuning the particular choices made. Fortunately, it’s not this lost diatribe of words trying to establish thematic resonance and instead finds their identity through tremendous musical chaos.

Rating: 7 out of 10.