Gorillaz – Cracker Island

Induced by vibey guitar riffs, drum patterns shifting the sonic palette, and melancholic vocals, Gorillaz has kept a consistent streak of musical creation. Weaving Alt-Rock and Art-Pop with Hip-Hop and Trip-Hop, Gorillaz has built a perforated platform where anything getting pushed gets skillfully integrated. Known for being features-heavy, Gorillaz contains an amassed grounding of quality solo tracks, further showing us an individualized identity beyond intricate conceptions with artists like Del The Funky Homosapian, Lou Reed, Popcaan, and Grace Jones, to name a few. Unfortunately, The Gorillaz albums have teetered between collecting features and displaying bravado in style, keeping you intrigued due to their seamless integration between artists and genres. Cracker Island isn’t as reliant on its features to bring a sense of originality while bridging pop and funk overtones, giving listeners more downbeat tones with luscious vibrancy seeping through a compact and focused album, even during its stumbles.

Though both sides of the aisle – songs with features, transitioning between each other when the artists aren’t in the same genre stratosphere – can be equally challenging. But what Gorillaz has been able to do with an abundance of features on their album is mesh artists from varying genres and bring seamless transitions between them. On Humanz, we heard them weave fantastic sequences, one of which contained tracks with Popcaan, De La Soul, Danny Brown, Kelala, and Grace Jones into this decadent bravado of electronica and funk. Cracker Island has that high coming in the beginning and end, invigorating the music you’ve heard and giving them dimensional wealth beneath the captivatingly vibey performances, especially at the end. Despite those highs, they dissipate shortly before circling back and giving listeners one of their better sequencing from tracks 4 to 8. The same goes for track 9 heading into track 10. These tracks are “The Tired Influencer” and “Skinny Ape,” respectively, and though the latter has some clean melodies, the synergy between the strings and synths isn’t exciting as a track like “Tarantula.”

These transient moments feel like they’re circumventing the nuances beneath its base core and letting it play out more straight instead of building something more profound. When you get to “The Tired Influencer” and “Skinny Ape,” you’re not so much vibing as you get tranced by its melodies and transitions, where they never feel that different from past songs. It can get said about its use of simple synth structures, but it isn’t make or break for these songs that incorporate them, like the title track or “Tarantula” and “Baby Queen.” They follow tightly woven threads, beautifully guiding the synths to bring extra layers to the instrumentations. They have a rich depth, where the strings and synths create these tantalizingly sing-worthy moments that derive from slower-tempo productions. “Cracker Island” does so similarly, except with more basslines bolstering some of its funkadelic elements. 

“Tarantula,” similar to “Silent Running” and “New Gold,” epitomizes the album as this moment where we’re back to a balance between features and solos. They get bolstered by how they get incorporated, whether it’s more dueting and harmonizations from its featured artists or giving a full-fledged solo performance. Damon Albarn’s writing of these songs’ melodic structure lifts them towards foundational palettes; the sounds stay modestly shifty while retaining sonic motifs with its synthesizer and gear-churning percussion, evident with the disco-funk influenced “New Gold.” “Oil” and “Silent Running” are other unforgettable highlights which pave a clear path with its production.

Though what makes Cracker Island a fantastic visit is the visceral consistency of its features. From Stevie Nicks to Bootie Brown, Tame Impala, and Bad Bunny, they bring this audio/visual parallel boasting how these songs should make you feel. As I’ve previously mentioned, Gorillaz has a vibey depth. It can sometimes be a detriment as it takes you away from the quality of the music, making you love something that hits certain sections of the brain that keeps songs stuck in your head. The Bad Bunny feature sees The Gorillaz beautifully assimilating to the reggaeton sound, creating this tropical breeze that hits you like you’re kicking back with a brewski on the sand, the waves crashing with your feet, and the brisk calmness hits like the middle of a fantastic day. The same goes for “Oil” and “Silent Running,” which eloquently unites the vocals of Stevie Nicks and Adeleye Omatayo with Damon Albarn’s, creating this hypnotic synchronization that will keep these songs on heavy rotation. Frankly, one can say the same for the varying instrumentations which bring forth decadent sets of synths overlaying smooth instrumental layering, like on “New Gold” or the excellent solo track “Baby Queen.” 

Cracker Island is a vibrant orchestration of sounds that levels the varying sonic styles we’ve heard throughout the years. It doesn’t truly aim for all the glitz and glamour, reminding us more of earlier Gorillaz, stripped down and direct, while showing a sense of growth as they assimilate naturally to ever-shifting sonic palettes. I can’t help but get their reggaeton song with Bad Bunny out of my head, like most of the album, which I hope does similarly with you. You get entranced from beginning to end by the synergy created between vocals and instrumentations, and maybe you’ll let the lesser tracks come and go without a blink.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Leon Bridges & Khruangbin – Texas Moon EP: Review

The kind of summertime bliss and whimsy that guided the atmospheric textures of Texas Sun by Leon Bridges & Khruangbin was a needed touch in 2020, especially as we tried to steer our minds away into a world of solace, where the stresses of the pandemic are non-existent. I’m talking cruising down the highway playing their song “Midnight” with the windows down or hanging with friends down at the park or beach while sipping on wine and spritzers; two years later, they take us on a different journey on Texas Moon. Their new EP centers itself by evoking moods stemming from calm nights amidst the surrounding cold. However, behind the atmospheric overtures are spiritually impactful songwriting, which keeps you grounded instead of feeling freeform love from the thrills of rich intake of Vitamin D. Texas Moon has softer complexities on both sides; the production isn’t the armor overlaying the lyricism, and instead, it’s underneath adding more depth to the lyricism on the forefront.

Texas Moon is about longing, and it is about regrets. The feelings are potent, and there is never a moment where these sentiments lose control and steer you toward a pitfall of despair. Instead, these sentiments best get characterized as a kind of retroactive lamenting you have in the middle of the night, in front of a fire, a fifth of scotch on your right, and guitar in strapped as you sing and whisk the mind into the night. Like the immediate waft of a potent fragrance underneath your nose, the opening track, “Doris,” delivers on impact as Leon Bridges and Khruangbin sing about a woman named Doris who changed their life for the better. 

In the first verse, they sing: “Don’t close your heavy eyes, Doris (Doris)/You have so much/So much to leave behind/If you travel to the other side, Doris (Doris),” further delivering impact in the chorus “I’ll be right here holding your hand/You taught me how to be a real man.” 

Connecting multiple layers created by Khruangbin’s haunting vocals, the production parallels a slight sadness as Leon Bridges sees Doris off into the afterlife. These lessons from “Doris” evolve on “B Side,” turning it into this beautiful soul-funk-rock groove that sees Leon Bridges singing about his love and her spiritual accompaniment throughout touring. Unlike the somber and spiritually subtle “Doris,” “B-Side” becomes a lively alternative, giving off a sense of hope blending fun drum beats, funkadelic bass, and congas. Texas Moon balances these two styles and expands them to offer a proper balance with the lengths these songs can go, like with “Father Father.” 

The sounds of “Father Father” are similar to “Doris,” the strings and percussion subtly boast the emotional core without sacrificing in scope the depth of these sonic layers interwoven beneath heart-aching lyricism. In the song, Leon Bridge weaves a conversation between him and God, where he admits that the shame of his faith has led him down a road of sins. He has shown the backside of his hands, which glimmer with hope and prosperity, while his palms hold the dirt from his sins. In church, they sometimes tiptoe a line between the levels of bad sins are, and Leon’s regretfulness looms as he continues with similar thoughts, despite God telling him otherwise. The beautiful parallels within the songwriting and vocal performances reinforce the outer armor, as the guitar strings reflect his broken-down feeling. These kinds of sonic elements are what Texas Moon by Leon Bridges &Khruangbin a resoundingly fantastic project.

So whether it is smooth and sexy “Chocolate Hills,” the southern charm of the string potent “Mariella,” or the fun in “B-Side,” the Leon Bridges & Khruangbin have a formula that works. It transcends the parameters of their sound, allowing for minimalism to breathe and shape itself underneath the remarkable melodies and words written by Bridges and Khruangbin, so albeit the love, there is a part of me that wishes it ran longer, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home: Review

St. Vincent has never shied away from exuberating a lust and love for the music she creates; a lot of which have centered around a pop-like subtext, ranging from the noise and art pop of Actress to the glam rock and synth pop rock of Masseducation. She has always been an ever-growing force in music that doesn’t let universal appeal become a drawback into her artistry, and the bold choices she makes on weaving her vocal performances to fit the nuanced funk/soul sounds of her new album, Daddy’s Home, feel like a breath of fresh air. In a way these sounds have allowed her vocal performances to envelop a new stratosphere, where a lot of the key-sonic undertones of early 70s funk, sways her in this nostalgic direction, which shows the visceral strength behind the talent of both St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and Co-Producer Jack Antanoff. 

Daddy’s Home is very personal for St. Vincent, diving deep into the crevices of her life and allowing it to integrate different narrative styles. Whether she is implementing herself in a party to establish a social misery that she masks amongst friends and family or being referential to detail the stress the media induces with certain standards on, she keeps it emotionally resonating with the melodic and melancholic nuances in her vocal performance and its pace. It brings more to the atmospheric and soulful texture over many funk-inspired tracks and the more broken down instrumental like “…At The Holiday Party.” 

One of the few cruxes of Daddy’s Home goes beyond the dimensions of sonic direction. As this is her first foray into these beautiful nostalgic – era defining sounds, it comes across naturalistic and her pain, her determination, and the way life around her interacts, brings about a new sense of clarity musically. Along with Jack Antanoff, she brings a plethora of grooves and melodies that drive home the deepening realism in her themes and performances. The title song brings variant indications that the album will balance its tonal inflections with the production. 

The kind of funk that emboldens various aspects of the production on Daddy’s Home doesn’t always take a renowned approach to the pacing and instead develops a leaner and softer-melodic texture more attune to her strengths. Midway through, St. Vincent takes that unique turn by bringing forth an uptempo with an elevation in the notes of the wurlitzer and the groovy-loud bass patterns, which guides the direction laid out by the opening track, “Pay Your Way.” The funkadelic sounds don’t always get an uptick from the vibrant bass grooves and infectious sequences in the production that comes from the masterful mixing of layers by Chris Gehringer, who has mixed Loud by Rihanna and most recently Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa. His work in creating the final mix has given St. Vincent’s vocals a very open and focused limelight.

Her vocal performances contain ranges in pace, which in most cases takes the emotional gravitas that embodies soul music and gives it character, in this melodic way. But the unique approach to using modulation and effects gives the vocals an elevation that the backing vocals do a little better. The modulation on “Pay Your Way,” gives it that extra level of authenticity to the kind of modulation usage in funk music from artists of yester. However, the effects on “Down,” are subtle; it gives the song and her performance a naturalistic rock approach in the vigorously strong electric guitars and thumping percussion. 

Most times St. Vincent takes the slower and melodic soul vocals and she delivers some buried emotions from the kind of relationship she has had with her father, whose release from prison was the light bulb for this sonically conceptual album. It’s a loose inspiration as she takes it to tell a bigger story that seems to be misplaced for the time. Daddy’s Home is at point literal and abstract in the music, using these stories to tell the bigger picture. But without the nuanced sound, the album’s nostalgia trip is lost within a newspaper from years ago when a white-collar crime got equal notoriety as opposed to others. It ignites the range in emotions hidden beneath. You can hear the anger, the disappointment, and the aspiration to get through the hurdles that encompass the overall being of one.

Daddy’s Home brings an influx of new sounds that make it different from what we are used to from St. Vincent, but she makes it her own and develops a beautiful array of soulful vocal performances. It elevates the emotional grip she has on the words, which become more impactful the more you listen to it. 

Rating: 8 out of 10.