Oliver Sim – Hideous Bastard: Review

It’s been five years since The xx dropped an album; however, that hasn’t stopped the flow of music from the respective members, whether it be singles or EPs, and so forth. Oliver Sim is next at-bat with his debut album, Hideous Bastard–it speaks volumes lyrically but is often faint as the production by Jamie xx doesn’t boast his Sim’s vocal abilities beyond a safe zone. It’s ominous and compelling, adding layers beneath slightly mundane synth patterns. Sim noted in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Two thirds in[to the process of creating Hideous Bastard], having a good idea of what the record was about, I realised I’d been circling around one of the things that has probably caused me the most fear and shame. My HIV status. I’ve been living with HIV since I was 17 and it’s played with how I’ve felt towards myself, and how I’ve assumed others have felt towards me, from that age and into my adult life.” The album is about growth through reflection and boasting Sim’s confidence to express himself fluidly without worrying about the stigmas that underline who he is and what he has–though, without consistent production, it begins to fluctuate in its effectiveness.

On the surface, Hideous Bastard is adjacent to the known–hauntingly delivered compositions that emotionally grip you through varying perspectives, instead of the love-centric work of The xx–but the production’s consistency isn’t the most gripping. Sitting down and indulging the album, the beats never lean toward the make-or-break factor, but it’s something that aligns with preference. It sonically shifts depending on the approach Oliver Sim has to the central theme, like on “Sensitive Child,” where he notes being called a sensitive child as a kid, which has its unique connotation today. With being called sensitive today, he reflects on how that term made him feel like he got hardly acknowledged. Today, getting called sensitive may lead to people tiptoeing more frequently on what gets said in your presence; the acknowledgment may sour depending on said group. However, he fights back that notion with his vocal melodies and the production, where he’s more outspoken, playing more passionately. And Sim continuously reminds us that his songwriting ability doesn’t skip a beat, specifically in tracks like “Romance With a Memory” and “Saccharine.”

Unfortunately, there are tracks like “Confident Man;” it displaces tone with drab-avant-garde-like electronic components over slightly distinct piano keys and other percussions. Connecting to the album’s central focus–blossoming from a hardened shell of fright–“Confident Man” sees Oliver Sim singing about performative masculinity, wherein one shifts their demeanors to deflect harmful stereotypes about the gay community. There is something emotionally compelling here, but it doesn’t have smooth transitions, particularly in the second half, taking you through slight detours from this haunting sonic presence and delivering an explosive but meandering closer. It’s supposed to reflect a release from these fears, these doubts, but it doesn’t come across naturally. Unlike “Confident Man,” the aforementioned tracks and “GMT” have smoother transitions between its minimalism and modestly flirtation synth notes. Though the production continues to trek through with slightly mundane consistency, it doesn’t hinder Sim’s delivery. 

Oliver Sim isn’t frenetic as he lets his vocals guide you through wavering narratives that are more like questions. “Unreliable Narrator” makes that known; his music speaks with lyrical bewilderment that floods through these questions with no answers. Like “Confident Man,” it poses the thought on why they have this facade, using personal experience to reflect his questioning. “Never Here” has him questioning his memory and how growth alongside technological advancement has shifted our perception of memory. “Can we trust ourselves to relay what we know since one couldn’t document the past as efficiently as it is now?” In the chorus, he sings: “Pictures fade, technology breaks/I know the moment don’t exist within its colour and shape/I take it in just to throw it away,” adding connotations to his sentiments. Sometimes subtle, sometimes more apparent like the ones mentioned and the intro, “Hideous,” with the subtlety heard on “GMT.” The song sees him questioning this yearning for home during an escape from seasonal depression (aka winter). He ponders this notion of missing home–as in the city he grew up in, London–which has imparted various lessons and memories, building this creative love that has bled onto his music. He has beautiful bursts of sunshine every day, but it doesn’t boast that creative juice as potently as being in London at this moment.

It’s a flurry of emotions that I wish had more impact, but as I heard Oliver Sim’s words, I couldn’t help but feel the production doesn’t do him justice. It’s focused on one sonic theme, that the few times it shifts like “Romance With A Memory,” which brings out more of a rock aesthetic. It comes with some zeal, but I felt more disappointed in the production of Jamie xx. It isn’t perfect, though I find myself more captivated by his writing and performing than the production. So, if you sit and pay attention to his words, they can become a pushing wind that you can bypass to indulge in some of the remarkable reflections Sim delivers throughout. 

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Maggie Rogers – Surrender: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Beabadoobee – Beatopia: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love, and Rage: Film Review

The beauty and whimsy of 1970’s Woodstock is something the few to many have experienced once in their lifetime. It captured the calm and effervescent unity amongst the festival-goers. 30 years later, we would see the reverse happen at Woodstock ‘99. The festival defined a cultural shift in society that didn’t parallel the 1994 festival. They direct partial blame toward pop music, which didn’t fit the mold of the 90s counterculture. Garret Price’s new film Woodstock ‘99: Peace, Love, and Rage delivers dueling cases for the horrors and beauty of the festival.

Garret Price delivers an informative horror flick and concert documentary full of ideas that have a thin veil, like most true crime documentary series trending today. What they bring into the fold are these ideas about the raging toxic masculinity that has allowed many acts of sexual assault to go undermined in the aftermath, the auditory response from the audience, and the lengths to which a performer knew what they were brewing. 

As the documentary stacks idea after idea, there are moments where the film starts to tread between pieces of information undercut by stunningly restored footage of the concert from the various archives  – MTV/Pay-Per-View/Print media. However, it cuts corners to keep intact the most glaring issues, one of which culminated from an underlying motto of the original festival: FREE LOVE

Free love wasn’t necessarily free in 1999 unless you were one of many aggressors who chose to redefine the term free. 1999 had people violating females, ages as young as 14, and the idea of free love on both ends was an expression of love of one’s body with the amount boobs present and the toxic-rape culture with the amount of sexual assault reported. In the documentary, Moby mentions that within the nu-metal and rap, the understanding was absent and picking apart what they like: misogyny and homophobia, which fueled frat boy rape culture.

Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, and Metallica weren’t on a tight leash. The underlying issue stemmed from a callous nature when performing. It was a matter of trying to find equilibrium between an image and the safety of the attendees. It shifts the perception of the concert as this wild rage-fueled event, and it undermines performance highlights and any positive discourse throughout the past 22 years. These discussions spread from the infrastructure to the pre-established sentiment created by MTV in the fight between the uproarious and bombastic rap-rock/nu-metal and the new age of fun and hyperactive teen-pop, amongst others.

Garret Price creates juxtaposition by breaking nostalgia glasses and forcing us to see glaring differences between the three festivals. Unfortunately, despite the number of beautiful highlights, there isn’t much to digest outside of nu-metal and Limp Bizkit made white boys extra harsh and rapey.

Piece-by-Piece, more issues get passed over in simple mentions by the interviewed artists, attendees, and music critics. It makes the marketing of the film slightly manipulative as it breezes through topics swiftly. There are moments the film shows you the all-night party for fans of electronic music and Moby, which gets tossed aside like a salad on pizza night.

The film takes the time to show the chaos, but it lacks proper cohesion in the editing shifting around these topics like a commercial right before the climax. There have been exposés and articles revisiting and detailing the events of the festival. At a point in the film, you hear Rolling Stone Magazine’s music editor, Rob Sheffield, remember having to sleep on white pizza boxes for its linear comfortability and piss visibility. The amount of trash and debauchery preceding the peak of the chaos, with grace and debilitating nausea, became an afterthought. The many attendees had a mindset that mirrored those from the 94 festival: one last hurrah before adulthood. 

Garret Price does a solid job telling you this horrific and chaotic story that formed the wrong kind of unity and demonized an ideal that held for years. It’s filled with beautiful restorations of performance and unique interviews from critics and festival-goers. I recommend this to whoever enjoys a solid music documentary that shies away from an individualized artist.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Clairo – Sling: Review

It isn’t every day a creator comes out with the consistency to elevate any artist to new levels, further finding something that has yet to be unlocked. Max Martin comes to mind quickly when the music is centered on pop and Jack Antonoff has become that for this age of alternative artists. As he did with artists like St. Vincent, Lana Del Rey, and Lorde, he continues with Clairo on her sophomore album, Sling. Clairo has been quietly making noise in lo-fi/acoustic bedroom pop music, but she has yet take make a splash. Sling is different compared to her debut, Immunity, which felt like this bland array of melancholic-emotional downbeat pop tracks that never felt immersive. Sling shifts into a range of elegant folk and pop instrumentals that continuously captures the attention even when Clairo still finds the remedy with a consistent tone and mood.

Clairo’s vocals always had this rustic authenticity that made her debut, Immunity, somewhat tolerable, despite the music’s production not working to her strengths, which is similar to English artist Birdy. Birdy came onto the public eye with her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” but her foray into artistic and pompous pop didn’t resonate as much as her follow-up. Like her, Clairo goes in that direction as Sling highlights her vocal strengths, matching with the sad lyricism she usually writes. It didn’t leave much of an impression, though her follow-up kept it flowing. A part of it could be that it resonates with a style many female vocalists attempt at some point in their career, and that is a heartbreak album taking influence from Joni Mitchell’s Blue, which always perks interest.

On Immunity, Clairo’s vocal range innately slips into melancholic broadness, which can leave a track sounding soulless and tiring. But Jack Antonoff shifts our perception, allowing her voice to capture the emotional gravitas that was sometimes lacking on her debut. Though it isn’t to say this new project is exponentially better than it, the improvement shows in terms of effectiveness. Previously you’d be able to grasp her songwriting strength, but the production never kept you engaged 100%. It’s the complete opposite on Sling, which doesn’t have latent production. It is a continuous testament toward Jack’s genius as a producer, as it matches fittingly with Clairo’s vocals and more so the lyrical content of her music.

Sling is an amalgamation of her life since the release of her debut, amongst the influence that persisted in the making of, i.e. at an estate on top of Mount Tahoe in upstate New York. The atmosphere around her has given us a new direction, sonically, that has Jack Antonoff and Clairo working together to create these beautiful rustic sounds. As Clairo takes a step forward a digs into a variety of themes, like the persistent pressure that goes behind societal norms with motherhood and varying aspects of a relationship. The latter of these can become a bit redundant, as the themes overlap you get lost with certain tracks sounding too similar. Fortunately, this is a minimal deterrent midway, which almost causes a standout track, “Blouse,” to be part of the mix. 

“Blouse” has two bookends, “Zinnias” and “Wade,” bogged by typical Clairo conventions. “Blouse” is a beautiful orchestration that displays nuance toward an apparent stigma that still lives today in the world of social dating apps. Or simply put, we’ve all been conflicted within a relationship about whether or not this person is with you for your looks, opposed to your core. She persists in displaying this within the confines of her music, usually succeeding with other tracks like “Amoeba,” which is a continuation in tone and theme to the opening track “Bambi,” except marginally better as the production is more refined and apparent.  

Sling shows Clairo discovering herself as an artist, branching into a world that makes sense with her low barring vocals and evoking the emotional gravitas that was lacking. Clairo finds new traction, even though it doesn’t keep you completely engaged all the way through. As much as I enjoyed this follow-up, Clairo still has ways to go as an artist, and fortunately, with her youth, there is nowhere to go but up.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Hobo Johnson – The Revenge of Hobo Johnson: Review

Hobo Johnson has always kept the attention of many due to his erratic and anxiety induced emo-spoken word raps that dives deep into themes of depression and love, amongst the globalized discrepancies in the social divide from wealth. In many ways Hobo Johnson is like if comedian Mike Birbiglia took his early comedy bits and turned them into quirky raps that carry enough gravitas to reel you in, albeit his uncanny flows and musical production. In past albums, Hobo Johnson has had a more wound and concise scale of production, until Hobo Johnson further got in his emotional and literary bag further delivering breaths of fresh air in music. Instead of delivering music from an emotional core, Hobo Johnson’s new approach his music distinguishes problematic issues today and personal issues to deliver a thematically derivative album in The Revenge of Hobo Johnson.

Hobo Johnson isn’t one to dwindle or mince words when he performs/delivers his vocals. His tonal shifts lay out emotions and thoughts spread thinly across a long coffee table, where it’s reconstructed into a fantastic mess. This inherent quality has been passed from album to album, further defining his linguistic delivery into fully formed thoughts in music that make these spoken-word hybrid raps more gripping, as if it were coming from something more conventional. His music isn’t for the universal pop masses, and it shows.

The Revenge of Hobo Johnson trades much of the quirky fun raps we’ve come to know of him in the past, like “DeMarcus Cousins and Ashley” or “Subaru Crosstrek,” for empathetic quirkiness. The closest thing to his esoteric quirkiness comes on the track “I want to see the World.” This has Hobo Johnson rapping about places he wants to visit based on preconceived notions of the culture he finds great and cool, like mentioning the French’s keen attention to dancing and rhythm, as well as great soda (according to him). But it comes with twists, as he starts to express the problems imposed on the world by others, criticizing what has been done unfairly to the people, like when he mentions the farmers of Honduras and the monetization of their farmland. Although his quirkiness is part of his vocal nature, it’s the way the subtleties are delivered that create the varying depth in his music; specifically in the subject matter that he tackles.

A lot of Hobo Johnson’s new album contains tracks where he mounts a 3-inch high soapbox and delivers perplexing ideas about the world and its influences, whether broad or tightened, like on “Song 9 (The Government’s Not Great).” This has him these angst-driven and slightly over the top delivery, where you start to lose sense about where this is going as he takes jabs at his “competitors” Twenty One Pilots and The 1975. The plus side of this is that now we have a firmer grasp at what kind of artist Hobo Johnson is, considering his fluidity with the sounds he emboldens in his music. 

This kind of work can sound preachy if not approached with care and intuitiveness, which Hobo Johnson usually applies, but he delivers it with screaming ferocity, you start to wander off into selecting something new. “You Need Help,” does this without nuance or encapsulating factors to keep you reeled in. He has moments where these types of tracks have weight on them like “My Therapist” and “Prequel To Animal Farm,” both of which take jabs at capitalism and fundamentalism in the world of business. He draws scenes, using George Orwell’s Animal Farm as a way to distinguish the working class to the upper, more affluent, class that has control over the livelihood of someone. The way he incorporates the themes of the novel into this track is a definitive lyrical highlight.

Regardless of the consistency from the content within the music, it isn’t where Hobo Johnson shines. While he delivers these auspicious themes on tracks like “I want you Back,” despite not having the same gravitational pull as his more personal tracks, like the acoustic ballad “You Want A Baby.” The production is simple, crisp, elevating the emotional grip Hobo bears, from proclaiming his unwavering love for his current girlfriend and trading his own happiness for the love and spirit of his girlfriend’s happiness that continues to give him reason to continue. These kinds of sentimental beats have always been where we see the broken nature of his being splattered all over the microphone. It meshes with the tender production sprinkled throughout the album and gives it an identity on this third chapter closing for him.

The Revenge of Hobo Johnson doesn’t deliver with the manic bravado that his last album had, but still has its bright spots where you’ll still find enough to go back to. It’s approach to creating stories and analogies that transpire into this range of universal themes with slight redundancies.

Rating: 5 out of 10.