Jessie Reyez – Yessie: Review

Among Jessie Reyez’s best qualities–that have overwhelmingly attracted me to her music–are her melodies and songwriting, which focus on establishing and delivering powerfully driven stories through distinctly dark and soulful tracks. Her debut, Before Love Came To Kill Us, masterfully stamped this as a known, but the consistency gets placated by Jessie trying to bring too many sonic ideas into the fold. That’s the opposite on Yessie, a more refined, intimate album that doesn’t try to go in various directions, instead finding herself musically. Yessie has smoother transitions between the R&B notes and variations of pop, soul, and rock overlays, which get concocted with different genre-style undertones within the production–equipped with depth and poignant lyricism; its concrete consistency makes it one of the best albums of 2022.

Yessie shows Jessie Reyez delivering atmospheric complexions between reflective coldness, hypnotic confidence, and personal contemplations of the now, leaving her heart on the sleeves bare with powerful emotions. Unlike her debut, the transitions between themes are pure, never making you feel disjointed as you proceed chronologically; the same goes for the production. Having it work is pivotal since we hear Jessie transitioning between distinct styles without stumbling, either in-song or song-to-song, like the Hip-Hop centric intro “Mood.” We hear her transition from a more Hip-Hop flow to a soul chorus with a harmonious sample of “Los Caminos De La Vida” by Los Diablitos of Colombia, which one would think these clashing styles would sound jarring. Fortunately, the synergy between them allows your imagination to grasp anything given and vibe with it effervescently. 

Though transitional effectiveness between songs is pure–starting clean with varying ilks of R&B/Hip-Hop/Pop–later vigorously with more distinct and generative styles as it turns the bends with “Mutual Friends.” Like the songs that preceded it, Jessie’s coming at it with ferocity through more personable one-on-ones no matter the style, like with “Tito’s” or “Forever.” Its soulful confidence adds contrasting layers that mesh beautifully. Here, Jessie and featured artist 6lack sing to their significant other, who is making a mistake by leaving a situation that reflects opposites attract. “Forever” is a compelling contrast to the aforementioned “Mutual Friends,” which backs the sentiments of the impactful “Queen St. W,” which establishes Jessie’s coldness that further gets reflected during the bridge and chorus of “Mutual Friends.” “Yeah, our mutual friend/Asked me how I sleep with so much hate in my heart/I told them I sleep like a baby,” (Bridge), “But if you died tomorrow, I don’t think I’d cry/I gave you one too many nights” (Chorus). The production’s consistency in elevating the effectiveness of her melodies and lyrics is potent here, capitalizing on a uniquely triumphant piano ballad. “Mutual Friends” minimizes or relatively dilutes the drum beats, letting Jessie Reyez discharge intensely and leaving me speechless as it takes notes from Billie Eilish’s dark-pop style, except Jessie makes it her own. Each track is different, refreshing, and significantly impactful on both ends, whether she is coming cold, confident, or lamenting, yearning for more as the music hits on the senses it evokes.

It becomes a testament to Jessie Reyez’s will to express herself refreshingly through radiant production that doesn’t juke you around in the ups and downs, primarily because there aren’t any off kiltered moments. She isn’t trying to formulate too many ideas and forcing them to acquiesce chronologically. Though there is some fantastic work on Before Love Came To Kill Us, her debut, it isn’t more concrete like Yessie. Yessie is more of a translation of Jessie Reyez’s being through varying situations she found herself in personally and how they’ve morphed her into who she is. We hear that through various styles, which get incorporated into the sounds like the confidently nuanced and personably fun “Tito’s” or the emotionally potent and rock stylings of “Break Me Down.” Two contrasting sounds amongst each other and other tracks on the album bring monstrous energy that has them feeling in line with the contextual tones throughout, specifically the latter. “Break Me Down” has the style and vibe of a mid-00s emo rock track with great explorative depth that you’re staying along due to its consistency with the transitions, like when we go from the cold “Mutual Friends” to the confident and mesmerizing “Tito’s.”

“Tito’s” is a darker dance-pop groove that hits those dance censors, making you groove to the beat as Jessie Reyez exhumes immense confidence in her lyrics and melodies. Its summery post-disco influenced production by Calvin Harris and Maneesh, as Jessie reminds us of the depth of her talent by turning a potential rudimentary dance banger into something more complex. After getting heard on“Mood,” we hear Jessie singing in Spanish more frequently, which we’ve rarely heard her do in the past–neé a feature with Romeo Santos saw her performing predominantly in English to his Spanish. It’s an extension of the strengths of Reyez’s monstrous performances, adding value at the end with the primarily Spanish track, “Adio Amor.” It adds exponential value to Jessie’s artistic duality, which sees her transcend soundscapes and deliver pure authenticity. It’s what stayed flowing through my mind–how impactful and less derivative of itself it is, as we see these fruitful transitions that never have you second guessing.

The music of Yessie is swarthy, melancholy sounds, creating gripping relatability that takes different sonic outlooks that aren’t as predictable. From the bilingual electro-R&B “Adios Amor,” which continues to show Jessie Reyez’s coldness, to the similarly thematically driven rock-like “Break Me Down.” It’s a crisp progression of greatness as Jessie Reyez capitalizes on delivering a personification of herself with remarkable depth. It isn’t an album that exponentially breathes club, or dance bangers, instead letting it round out stylistically akin to the atmosphere/tones derived from the beginning, becoming more apparent or subtle as it goes along. It left me bewildered with excitement, as Jessie Reyez has been someone who’s shown to me that she can create something special, and she does so here. Go check out Yessie now!

Rating: 10 out of 10.

Beyoncé – Renaissance: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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.

Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Tí: Review

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.

In an interview with The New York Times, Bad Bunny noted that the Un Verano Sin Tí is “a record to play in the summer, on the beach, as a playlist,” so it’s not something you can just play while sitting down and indulging. I’m not saying you can, but like many reggaeton albums, the impact’s embedded in the rhythm and how your hips vibe to the beat. He knows how to create these larger-than-life moods/vibes, and he has a constant synergy with his featured artists. We get to hear Bad Bunny with some great pop and reggaeton artists, like Chencho Corleone, Tony Dize, Bomba Estereo, and The Marías, and they don’t disappoint. It’s a monstrous smash that starts at the top of Track 1, “Moscow Mule.”

Opening with a decadent reggaeton number in “Moscow Mule,” it teases you with a perfect concoction containing great harmonies, melodies, and infectious lyrics without being overly ambitious. Like its namesake, the production hits on all fronts, adding a mellow dance vibe while still working as the starter pistol as you casually fix yourself a drink. But with the mentality of a playlist for Un Verano Sin Tí, you can start with any track, the enjoyment will still be there, but it won’t have the same impact as that smooth crescendo from start to finish. He uses the simple and core rule of making a linear playlist–clean patterns between the track’s tempo. After a modest ascension with “Moscow Mule,” it takes you through some incredible songs with vibrant sounds, like “Despues De La Playa.

“Despues De La Playa” has luscious synths riding an electronic vibe before flipping in style after a minute. Bad Bunny turns it on its head, blending various percussion elements of mambo and merengue. It sounds like something aligned with what prominent artists did to crow the groove, like Juan Luis Guerra and Miriam Cruz. When Bad Bunny does this, it returns with some of his most significant hits, like “Yonaguni” and its use of J-Pop-like synths and subtle percussion. He doesn’t want to feel confined to be all reggaeton, but he allows it to be a stepping stone for other directions he can take. It isn’t all reggaeton, and instead, it’s an eclectic mix that feels free as it diverts from the confines of standard album construction by filling the album with numerous “Track 3s,” or the powerhouse hook that reels you many guaranteed hits. 

These hits are continuous in heavy spurts with incredible momentum. The ever-shifting styles offer a lot, even when certain styles hit you better than others. So whether you love a riotous variety of electronic vibes–“Ojitos Lindos,” which incorporates touches of cumbia, or the more house-driven “El Apagón”–reggaeton bangers–“Tarot” and “Me Porto Bonito”–island vibes–“Me Fui De Vacaciones”–Un Verano Sin Tí has something for you. It’s ever-shifting without detracting you during its play. As I revert to that one anecdote from his New York Times interview: “a record to play in the summer, on the beach, as a playlist,” having that consistency to keep a loop where, if played as he described, or home alone dancing, it’ll be an excellent time for the 81 minutes. It has seamless transitions that keep it from being overly rough. In a continuous loop, you’ll feel varied emotions, translating from your pace of dancing, whether speedy or tempered.

This synchronization boosts the overall quality as Bad Bunny takes us in different directions without getting hindered by the switches in tempo. One moment you’re on a melancholic-acoustic vibe on “Yo No Soy Celoso,” and the next, he is throwing curveballs with a smooth reggaeton banger featuring Tony Dize on “La Corriente.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t always translate as you get lost in the winds of the vibe. Despite lauding a smooth crescendo from start to finish, the only drawback is that some tracks are mild compared to others with a similar tone. The weak chorus and verse deliveries in the first half of “Tití Me Preguntó” take away from the whimsical shift in the second half, where it isn’t an issue. It’s like “Al Apagón,” however, that shift adds to and elevates the song exponentially. Similarly, “Efecto,” compared to the other reggaeton tracks, isn’t as strong but still effective. Since Bad Bunny included the 2019 track “Callaíta,” switching “Yonaguni” with “Efecto” would have offered some extra sauce on the palette he is serving. 

Un Verano Sin Tí succeeds as intended with visceral production and monstrous melodies. It’s an album with awe-inducing consistency that elevates not only the tracks but how they mesh within the confines of a tangential mix orchestrated to play like a playlist. It honestly left me happy by how much of an improvement this was to El Último Tour Del Mundo, though keeping in line with expanding his range and delivering hybrids as impactful, if not more, than some of his past singles. However, it is a vibes album, and it’s hard to quantify how it will translate come to Winter, but it’s hitting hard now and will for the rest of the summer.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Kilo Kish – American Gurl: Review

Kilo Kish is authentic to her craft, as she adds realized perspective in her songwriting. It has been a keen aspect of her talent; she has been able to draw up down-to-earth vocalizations and an array of whimsical, electro-grunge-R&B/Hip-Hop grooves that acquiesce in tangential bliss. 2013’s K+ put a spotlight on her because of it, and she continues to control it from mixtape to albums, including her new album, American Gurl. 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.

American Gurl is vibrant, switching styles and trying different ways to incorporate overarching themes that personify Kilo Kish’s life since her debut album in 2016. It’s a loose concept wherein she focuses on themes beyond what affects her on a personal level, as she creates parallels to her perspective on the “American Girl,” using themes like consumerism and personal freedom. She can give it to us with vibrant production and more dour-electronic synchronization between vocals and production, as it creates intricate transitions. We hear it through similar themes or ideas reflected in the songwriting or the production style. It’s a significant strength that shrouds over consistent details that already make her a great talent. Significantly, the stronghold of these songs is Kilo Kish’s intricate and hypnotic melodies, acting like the glue holding many of the tracks together.

American Gurl is great, and another reason is that Kilo Kish makes bold choices, specifically with her features. Unlike standard features, Kilo Kish uses them to elevate the sonic platform and add nuance to her vocals. She does this twice with “Death Fantasy” and “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money.” “Death Fantasy” has Miguel delivering these ghostly vocals, which bring life to the song’s theme of death, like the death of a faux-pas physique that doesn’t reflect your inner. It speaks to more than self-worth, like how privilege–generally speaking–shields you from genuine freedom. “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money” uses Vince Staples as a hype man for her unique flows and swagger.

There are varying transitions, whether through continuing to build on themes or by its production. “Distractions III: Spoiled Rotten” continues to build upon these illusions we have of attaining grandeur life to satisfy our insecurities; it’s expressed more personally in “Death Fantasy.” However, the transition in production delivers an interesting contrast to the more experimental “Death Fantasy.” While “Distractions III” uses elements of electro-pop, adding catchier melodies while retaining that experimental glitz, “Death Fantasy” is barer. It uses a balance of atmosphere and low synths to evoke its presence–something that is subtly vibrant beneath most productions.

The steady consistency in which Kilo Kish keeps turning heads comes from having an individualized identity to the songs on the tracklist. Like Rosalia’s Motomami, American Gurl has a different sound that barely parallels what we get. “Bloody Future” evokes an elegant island vibe; the cohesion between percussion and synthesizers is what spearheads it–that’s its identity. It continues as we get “New Tricks: Art, Aesthetic, and Money,” an experimental hip-hop track that explores more industrial electronic overtones over hip-hop-centric drum beats. The everchanging production breathes enough character that you’re left mesmerized by each direction it takes. It’s as if she took the best aspects of K+ and the best of Reflections In Real Time, and she, along with producer Raymond Brady, found a way to build something profound, though I can’t honestly say that about every track. 

As you navigate American Gurl, the moments that get you perked up, and sometimes those moments aren’t as consistent–positively speaking. “Choice Cowboy” with Jean Dawson is overly ambitious with its electronic notes, that you get lost in this uninteresting techno-dance-pop hybrid that can easily get skipped. It’s the most jarring, comparatively, as it lacks smooth melodies that keep you entwined from start to finish without taking focus away from her songwriting. It’s the only instance that turns me away and causes this from being a perfect album. 

American Gurl is fantastic; we see it blend an essence of life with musical progression. We get infectious melodies and unique percussion patterns that keep you attached to the lure, digesting what she sings about. It’s an album I recommend seeking out, along with her other work. More importantly, her words are grounded in reality and poignant.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Hurray for the Riff Raff – LIFE ON EARTH: Review

Alynda Segarra and her band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, have always walked the thin ropes of Folk music, slowly shifting from certain norms to evolve the sounds with a blend of flavors. We’ve heard her tackle the traditional side with My Dearest Darkest Neighbor, slowly branching into Americana and then rock with The Navigator. It doesn’t sound as profound on paper, but the depths that Alynda Segarra takes her songwriting and melodies with the band’s instrument playing, offer a whirlwind experience that will have you enjoying the overtures and subtleties that align within her work; it continues to be the case on their newest album, LIFE ON EARTH. The album is rich and earthy, fueled by some naturalistic punk coating that emboldens Segarra’s emotions.

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. She compartmentalizes the core – for example: “WOLVES” has a punk aesthetic coating a more tame chord progression before it gets flipped on “PIERCED ARROWS.” Segarra’s ability to weave cohesion shows from the start, slowly acclimating into one colloquial sequence. There are moments that Segarra’s vocals growl with the same energy as the production, which for Segarra and the band, shows a kind of understanding of their core. In the realms of pop music, the production of “ROSEMARY TEARS” would embolden a powerful range from artists like Adele to Mumford & Sons. But for Segarra, she finds parallels that impact at the same level.

“ROSEMARY TEARS,” like other songs, is woven through Alynda Segarra’s mind with visceral imagery, letting the vocal emotions carry the depth. As someone who frequents herbs in the kitchen, rosemary is a faint smell, but slightly potent if brought attention to – similar to, Segarra is singing about how her significant other’s tears and the lack of transparency. In the closing bridge, she sings: “I already know/(You never show up and I’m always heartbroken)/(Had to grow tough skin).” To her, she has an understanding of her relationship, but this small piece of hope still lingers. It’s about inflection, and at times, it doesn’t work as well as “ROSEMARY TEARS.” “JUPITER’S DANCE” is the prime example of this – we hear beautifully rustic strings that echo a hybrid between punk undertones and folk-rock coating, especially with the subtle wind instruments.

For most of LIFE ON EARTH, Alynda Segarra flows through old and present memories that reflect on her life – other times, she creates these larger-than-life stories, reflecting issues resonating with her culture: Latina. “PRECIOUS CARGO” speaks on Segarra’s view of Louisiana, where she resides, through the perspective of family, especially as a Nuyorican who sees how immigrants get treated by I.C.E as they search for thriving new opportunities. In the first verse, Segarra speaks through the view of a provider trying to make it through the waters, swimming, only to get caught and treated like animals. The songwriting matches some accounts we’ve heard about, but she keeps it grounded to pieces, allowing the words to speak louder as Segarra delivers a tired essence to the ordeal. The album has many moments like that – moments I’m left in awe by the songwriting, like with “WOLVES” and “RHODODENDRON.”

“RHODODENDRON” sees Hurray for the Riff Raff at their best: poetically resonant and instrumentally captivating – for the most part, that is what we get throughout the album, albeit my reservations on “JUPITER’S DANCE.” The production embodies a rough and empathetic acoustic rock drive, giving a natural cadence to the kind of rock elements they bring. You hear it at various points in The Navigator as it becomes more pertinent in their craft. We hear it continue through LIFE ON EARTH.

LIFE ON EARTH shines brighter than previous albums, as it continues to prove Alynda Segarra’s penmanship and musicality are at their apex. It reflects a growing presence in artistry that was beautifully glowing over the past decade. Like The Navigator, there is no doubt LIFE ON EARTH will continue to stay on repeat.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Black Country, New Road – Ants from Up There: Review

Last year Black Country, New Road delivered auspiciously vibrant production in their debut, For the First Time. I was captivated almost immediately, from their rustic jazz undertones to experimental instrumental layering within the post-punk genre that it left me slightly optimistic. Unfortunately, that optimism has stepped back slowly upon lead vocalist Isaac Wood’s departure – as for now, Ants from Up There is a remarkable pivot for the band whose last album had minimal variation. It had these different ideas relative to the external nature of song composition instead of adding more depth. 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.

For their debut, Black Country, New Road re-recorded past singles and began to create the mold for its sound. It had chaos; it had ingenuity; most importantly, it had too many ideas, some of which were superfluous. At times, their talent and songwriting tinted my headphones, which covered some of the poor freeform vitamins in the mix. Unlike their debut, Ants from Up There brings bright spots for the darkness. They take out the vitamins and make sure they don’t burn the concoction, delivering a fine fixture of delicious musical plates for indulging. I’ll tell you; it may have left me slightly over-bloated without regret. There are varying elements of different genres not heard in their debut, and mastering new territory to excel, like with Isaac Wood’s vocals, it grasps your ears with a chamber-pop-echo reinforcing the melodic bind between the vocal layers and production.

In an interview with Apple Music, bassist Tyler Hyde said: “We wanted to explore the themes we’d created on that song. It’s essentially three songs within one, all of which relatively cover the emotions and moods that are on the album. It’s hopeful and light, but still looks at some of the darker sides that the first album showed.” She is speaking about the track “Basketball Shoes” – it combines three different art-rock-driven songs into a 12-minute three-part arc that flows tangentially from start to finish. Within the three-song variation, there are nuances to the sonic motifs throughout the album, while mirroring elements of the intro, there is tame chaos. It’s paradoxical, but the album emboldens a beautiful parallel, where the instruments play at an elevated level. We get these contextualized and bright instrumentations while embodying complex, poetic songwriting, a good amount of which are about different things within a failing relationship.

Ants from Up There bridges Isaac Wood’s songs about a relationship with emotional exuberance. On “Chaos Space Marine,” the band plays with joy in every note as Wood sings about taking the next spiritual step into maturity. “Mark’s Theme” overly contrasts “Chaos Space Marine” in tone. Unlike seeing the light at the end of a proverbial journey, this metaphorical light ends for Saxophonist Lewis Davis’s uncle, who passed away from COVID. It’s a dreamy saxophone-centric production that embodies Davis’s emotions. It’s heartwrenching and adds a sense of unison amongst the band. They transform elegantly on “The Place Where He Inserted the Blade;” it takes influence from 70s Bob Dylan in its rustic production and lyrical elements from a song off Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, specifically “I Know There Is An Answer.”

There is a remarkable evolution unfolding on Black Country, New Road’s new album – one where the world is at your fingertips. You can take yourself to a place where the canvas is covered in vibrant colors in different hues, allowing them to transfix you as you divulge themes. Musically speaking, there is an ethereal array of jubilant instrumentations. Charlie Wayne’s percussion brings elements of hypnotic bliss, while Tyler Hyde’s groovy bass lines and Georgia Ellery’s violin playing deliver nuances of the dark chaos at times seen in post-rock. It’s expressive throughout, especially in the track “Good Will Hunting.” It’s a steady progression, leading to the 40-second mark where it blossoms into one of the best songs on Ants from Up There

However, within the confines of Black Country, New Road’s album, you start to infuse yourself within the confines of their sound, “Snow Globes” muddles in the background. The production drowns out Isaac Wood’s vocals, leaving you thrusted into an intense shake of a snow globe. It doesn’t hinder it and works on its own. Unfortunately, it isn’t until the second half that it recaptures your attention for the closer, “Basketball Shoes.”

Black Country, New Road’s shift from the chaotic, jazzy, punk rock hybrids of their debut adds a new light on their talent, especially as they maneuver while making a concert audience cheer louder than before. As they take these elements of art-rock and chamber-pop vocals and blend them into one, it leaves me feeling excited for new music, despite slight sadness from their canceled tour.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Joy Crookes – Skin: Review

Making comparisons can wane any influence someone can have on an artist before exploring their music. To put it mildly — a comparison hit me when I first played Joy Crookes. It was the feeling from listening to the Amy Winehouse album Frank for the first time. And as little as this comparison weighs, on her artistry, I couldn’t help but become enamored with Joy’s vocal performances, as it beautifully layers over elegant soul-centric production — sprinkling a touch of Jazz and R&B undertones. Joy Crookes’ vocal range and delivery carry a simple nuance to Amy’s traditionalist style while standing firmly on two feet. Listening to her debut, Skin, Joy Crookes steps up to the mount, pitching change-ups in between a few curveballs, giving us a wide range of music that made me feel like I was listening to Frank (2003) for the first time, again.

When I listened to Skin for the first time, I had to stop before returning due to the chills that ran down my spine from the vocal nuances. It takes me back to the late 2000s where I first listened to Frank, and the reverb on the backing vocals gave it new dimensions we’ve yet to see in modern traditionalist vocal pop-jazz. You felt Amy Winehouse’s pain, desires, hope, and at times, fun promiscuity with her vocal inflections. With Joy Crookes, it is the same as Skin takes you through various turns in her life, singing about themes about family and identity as she lets loose emotions reflective of the context. However, one specific performance took me back; on “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” her melody switches between the pop, soul, and jazz aspects. It’s similar to “Take the Box” off Frank

Skin opens with two songs rooted in identity, flipping in style from the somber “I Don’t Mind” to the unrestrained “19th Floor.” The former focuses on an ex-relationship — predominantly on the sex — Joy Crookes delivers her vocal performance with a reflexive and uplifting manner that contains some nuances of empowerment. It deals with her controlling her body and the situation by constantly reminding the lad that she will leave if he garners any feelings. With the kind of dynamics looming over society, like having the nuclear family or stability, Joy is trailblazing. She makes it okay to have more ownership and to have this different dynamic without feeling external pressure. 

“19th Floor” tackles identity through visceral metaphors and allusions to her life growing up in South London and reflecting the differences between her and her mother and grandmother’s life before immigrating to London. In the song, she revisits her hometown, where she was born, reflecting on far she has gone since — making allusions to immigrants who yearn and achieve success, only to reminisce about memories of the past, good and bad. As she sings: “Nothing same but nothing different/Hear the people cry concrete lullabies/I never thought I’d say I miss it” — you’re nostalgia inducers are hit. You miss the consistencies. And for Joy, she starts to feel more rooted in her mother’s side, using histrionics to put herself in her grandmother’s shoes — noting in the bridge: “Bopping down Walworth Road, bubblegum blow/Sliders and Sunday clothes/Doing like my Nani, 70s steez”: she is feeling herself and more connected. She may have doubts, but taking her mind back to and summoning their energy adds positive brevity. 

Joy Crookes has a vocal range that plateaus most singers these days, allowing ease when switching between neo-soul/jazz style vocalizations/production and more traditionally produced/performed songs. She establishes a fine line between the two, leaving room to explore with modern tweaks from producer Blue May, whose fingers predominately touch and mix keynotes of the production. And as evident with the first two songs, it feels more natural. 

Blue May, amongst others, sprinkles elegant touches of operatic and choral strings that vibrate and give off effervescent sounds that keep you engaged as Joy Crookes bares her soul into some of the themes of Skin. It makes Skin akin to albums like To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar or What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, where the focus was to ride powerful themes instead of focusing on whether or not the next record will do gangbusters. Few songs on Skin make me feel like the aesthetic focused on finding its way onto radio, with “Trouble” being something similar to “Alright,” where the song’s rooted in being anti-pop in sound. Similarly, it’s reflective with “Wild Jasmine,” as she speaks to her alter-ego and steers her from other trouble in the form of a manipulative male who is with you for the skin and not what comes with it. It has a poppy-soul and fluid production that shifts to melancholy and back. Though the subtleties allow for an easier transition — from the flourished and catchy chorus performances to the intricate songwriting of the verses — Joy can transfix you on every front. 

It isn’t the only time she teeters around these kinds of soundscapes, giving the same treatment to “Kingdom” that she did with “Trouble.” It’s catchy and filled to the brim with vibrant jazz percussion that makes you want to find your groove within the pack of songs that elevates her vocal performance to a different level than the piano ballads. The title song, “Skin,” centers on mental health and keying in on ideas like suicide and depression. Joy asks herself a simple question, What if you decide that you don’t wanna wake up, too? It comes over an eloquent piano-centric production that keys in at tugging the core of your emotions — Skin has me against the ropes, delivering jabs of unique songs — jabs that repeat, something new about it hits me, specifically, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now.” 

Skin is unreal. It left me juggling many emotions while leaving me in awe of the varying performances and styles by Joy Crookes and her producers. However, any minor problems with the album come from “Skin” having a wrought (song-type) but effective delivery and “Power” being a little bit forgettable at first. But that doesn’t stop me from finding pure joy and admiration from her talent and focus in her phenomenal debut, as I know you might when listening to Skins.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Common – A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2: Review

At the end of last year, Common released A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 1 — an album that spoke to the lingering underbelly of societal unrest in its purest form. Common spoke in tangents about blackness, courage, and a consistent struggle to make a voice heard. Though I genuinely liked it, it was a slight modernization of his opus from the 2010s, Black America Again. It retreads familiar territory, but Common keeps it fresh with his lyricism while the production focuses on being music for protest. It also benefits from having a renowned drummer and producer, Karriem Riggins, behind the machine. Karriem had co-producers on Pt. 1, and on Pt. 2, he rides solo creating more culturally vibrant production reflecting the sound of a revolution drawn within Common’s mind.

In last years reviews of A Beautiful Revolution Part 1, I said:

A Beautiful Revolution Part 1 works on many levels and delivers half of what seems to be an eventually great side B. Common doesn’t sugarcoat his emotions in his delivery and lyricism, leaving messages of courageousness, self-love, and empowerment. 

Part 2 makes the word seem a past doubt, and instead, is seen as a new sentence. A Beautiful Revolution Part 1 works on many levels and delivers what is a better Part 2. Part 2’s sound is far from the nuanced soul and jazz production of the first. It contains more retroactive and cultural influence from the string arrangements and elevated percussion pattern — a consistent sonic theme throughout. 

Reflecting on the focused and poetic nature of Common continues to show us that this is when he is at his best. Like 2016’s Black America Again and 2005’s Be, Common finding the middle ground between nuanced connectivity and creating commentary has outshined any notion that he may come across as preachy. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with A Beautiful Revolution, as it works around becoming a backdrop for the moment instead of forcing in-your-face dialogue.

Like Part 1, there is an open and ending narration by spoken word artist Jessica Care Moore, who delivers themes and visceral imagery of familial connectivity and an understanding of their roots. In part — it speaks on a bigger picture, where one uses this to form a path toward a better future. So while Part 1 focuses on music that embodies a movement with sound reflecting unity, and Part 2 speaks on the bright future we see little by little, as the improvements show — subtly. 

However, what hit me immediately was the production of the album. After years of work from Common, there is an expectancy to the quality of his lyricism. And Common sounds as fresh as usual. He doesn’t cut corners as he has tried various styles, with misses coming from attempting a new identity — Electric Circus and Universal Mind Control: the two albums where Common experiments with electronic hip-hop to lesser effect. The percussion fluctuates from African rhythm to colorful soul, which sees Common flowing with auspicious consistency. It’s refreshing and adds new layers to the music that was slightly missing in Part 1.

A Beautiful Revolution Part 2 flourishes with dynamic rhyme schemes and steadfast bravado in Common’s emotional deliveries. We hear Common hopeful, and we hear Common lamenting the roots planted by ancestors and the visions they saw for them today. It creates parallels through assumptions and history, as Common speaks on his firmness and confidence to challenge the world when it challenges him. In the opening — full hip-hop song — “A Beautiful Chicago Kid,” Common raps: Family came together like a partridge/Ain’t playin’ ya game, I got my own cartridge/Only playin’ I do is with Lynn Nottage/I found silence sittin’ in my own cottage — it reflects the nature of the nuances of life, maintaining his family’s history while creating his own at the place it once began — his family home.

Common is our avatar, expressing the music through his perspectives. He finds parallels between life now and how it’s affected by the common issues in the world today, like racism and the post-effects of the judicial system after an event goes awry. It’s why throughout A Beautiful Revolution Part 2, Common reflects varying views on his version of a brighter future, like on the songs “Majesty(Where We Go From Here)” and “Imagine.” Common’s visions split; on “Majesty,” where he tells his soulmate about a prosperous future together. 

On  “Imagine,” Common reflects on an ideal utopia. He delivers whimsical ideas, which in retrospect, are not so outlandish. Some of these include ones like:

“Imagine layers in a game where we all players/No more stargazing or police car chasing/Imagine life that bring us Lauryn Hill-type of singers.”

“Imagine having a woman like Betty Shabazz/Steady with class, ready to blast ’til the chariots pass.”

It starts to resemble the underlying systematic racism that has been problematic without being overly preachy. Common makes anecdotes that resemble an alternative perspective than what we have today — Betty Shabazz, for example, had a semi-tarnished image due to her marriage and prominence during the Civil Rights Movement, especially as the wife of Malcolm X.

Other times, Common finds himself growing and reaching high, despite the fuck ups along the way. In “Saving Grace,” Common finds himself being lifted through his mistakes and into an inner plane where he feels saved. It flummoxes Common that, beyond his life, it is similar to others who deal with similar issues. He reflects this in beautiful-rhythmic symmetry: My heart is why the parts all died, I can’t deny/I realize your eternal eyes see through my disguise/These falls, what do they symbolize?/I know that you made me to rise/I need pain to feel alive when racism still alive. It’s like Common saying it’s hard to have one without the other — a proponent in Common’s understanding of a brighter future.

A Beautiful Revolution Part 2 is more than the bare bones on the surface. It builds upon the sound of the first, shifting its direction to add layers of depth and perspective. The first has songs that have a groove to return to, but the second transfixes you with the lyricism and intricate production — the grooves are an afterthought as it leaves you in awe. The two make up for the draining and foreboding Let Love.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Little Simz is unlike the more popular UK rappers bridging oceans. For one, she doesn’t devote herself to making pop songs and instead focuses on the concept and lyricism — it benefits her that she had a pivotal supporting role in Top Boy, becoming popular from involvement on the soundtrack from artists like Drake. It has been the case since her early, more underground releases like Stillness In Wonderland and Black Canvas. Since then, she has grown exponentially as an artist, honing her craft and delivering gritty and depth-filled braggadocio raps at the same consistency as her more auspicious conscious raps. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is less gritty but filled to the brim in detail; this detail is part of the journey through her subconscious, showing us a deeper understanding of her person and artistry.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert isn’t the first time Little Simz has made a concept album; however, it is the first time one hits from start to finish. Simz opens the album without sugarcoating her doubts and fears into these emotionally complex bars that set the stage for the album. She has been keen on keeping her raps authentic to her vulnerably poetic rhythm and flows. These kinds of raps have been part of her identity, like blending two cultures in her music. Unfortunately, as she would mention later in the album, it is her authentic self — she brings forth production that takes influence from sounds that are less Pop, allowing her to deliver flows naturally. 

From this, Little Simz pushes herself to make these doubts an absent memory as she hones her introversion and makes it an artistic and personal strength. Throughout the album, Little Simz raps about lessons learned, visions understood, and her place in this new woke culture, as she fits within the demographic of her peers. Through her perspective, she allows the music to speak to the subtleties an introvert deals with, like love, familial relationships, and in her case, her musical career. It begins with “Introvert,” which centers all the themes into an explosive conscious rap with BLARING horns and intense percussion. 

After the strong opener, Simz shifts the focus to beautiful women — her daily influences — this is an external force, which boosts her confidence, especially as a rapper. “Women” adds a deep perspective toward the cultural influences women of all races have delivered throughout the years. In turn, she reflects this influence with the production her regular producer, Inflo, creates with refined details, especially the interludes — they deliver a combination of whimsical wind instruments and piano keys, subtly laying layers over the primary vocals and faint background harmonies. 

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert goes beyond the crevices, with Little Simz relaying situations that may have caused her introversion, as a guardian angel, voiced by actress Emma Corrin, guides her throughout the journey we take in Simz’s shoes. Inflo’s delicate and nuanced gospel and soul-influenced choir sectors add brevity to the words of Emma — or in this case, her guardian. Emma Corrin is best known for her performance as Princess Diana on the Netflix drama, The Crown. And like Princess Diana’s influence on the world, Corrin brings a similar tender approach to her conversations with Little Simz. She becomes a semblance for living for Little Simz — in a non-suicidal way — particularly, the life of her music career.

It begins at the end of “Introvert,” Emma Corrin says: “Your introversion led you here/Intuition protected you along the way/Feelings allowed you to be well balanced/And perspective gave you foresight,” and that is where the similarities begin. With Emma Corrin’s glowing presence throughout the album, the back and forth adds unique insight into Little Simz’s life and acknowledging self-worth. 

Emma Corrin’s appearance at the end of “Introvert” reminds me of the narrative structure of the Lars Von Trier film, The House That Jack Built. In the movie, Jack converses with Verge as he descends into Hell, and within the conversation, he recounts his journey through five murders. However, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is not narcissistic, like The House That Jack Built. Instead, it follows a hollow structure where the conversations become intermittent with the stories in between. It is as far as this similarity goes. 

In between the songs, whenever Emma Corrin appears with an angelic effect built around the choir and horn instruments, particularly the trumpet and trombone. The way Emma inflects her voice adds a contrasting light to Simz’s doubts through the various subjects explored. It is pivotal to understanding and enjoying the album from start to finish, especially when peeling the skin of her emotions.

One thing that comes from being an introvert is the complexion of your emotions when let out. Without a proper way of inflecting your tone and words, the build-up can be immense; however, Little Simz doesn’t get phased by dropping all the weight down. Whenever Sometimes I Might Be Introvert isn’t focusing on Simz purview of the world and instead focuses on her relationships with the people in her life. In the song “Little Q Pt. 2,” Simz shifts the perspective to her cousin, who grew up on the south side of the UK. Due to Simz’s introversion, she lost touch with certain people — like family. And on “I See You,” Simz creates a love song through the eyes of a self-conscious introvert.

At a midpoint, Little Simz brings out an inner realization about amounting her worth to her surroundings. It’s one thing to be a pop star or a signature star in general, but it’s another to have enough to command a stage, especially at a festival. In the song “Standing Ovation,” Simz finds her way to express her status amongst the crowd, going as high as proclaiming her and the rest of the behind-the-scenes people deserve applause. The clever double-entendre sees Simz breaking apart her reasoning, with intricate rhymes about her patience and commitment to authenticity without forcing a chart-topper.

Apart from a slow burn that eventually takes you to the scene-stealing “Standing Ovation,” Little Simz goes about revitalizing her technical and lyrical strength as a contrast to the prominent theme of introversion. On “Rolling Stone,” we hear her diving to her younger roots with a rapid-fire flow and slick wordplay, marking it as a reminder of her skills, albeit the consistently introspective turns she takes in her music. This kind of confidence is heard back-to-back on “Point and Kill” and “Fear No Man.” It carries a consistent vibe with Simz digs into her Nigerian roots and implements aspects of the culture in the music. “Point and Kill” features poet and spoken word artist, Obongjayar, and his presence on the chorus flourishes with the key afrobeat influenced horns and production. 

No matter how you view it, the nuance and culture Little Simz and Inflo bring are more than the depth of the lyrics. Sometimes Simz is distraught, but she reassures herself, unapologetically, on “Point and Kill.” And it continues as she closes Sometimes I Might Be Introvert strong with “How Did You Get Here” and “Miss Understood.” After draining her emotional weight and discovering herself, she has the confidence to explain how she got to where she is and the misunderstanding of her music.

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is Little Simz’s best. There is no denying it. Within the tracks, there are individualized highlights that carry repeat value, but as a whole, it’s all repeatable. It isn’t this bombastic hip-hop/pop album that makes noise through wavelengths, but Simz’s distinct carefulness makes it a compelling record. It’s rare to dig into the next level, as artists tend to seal it off when their success inflates their ego and comfortability factors.

Rating: 10 out of 10.