Lil Yachty – Let’s Start Here: Review

When Lil Yachty had an album leak in December, intrigue was raised from the music community as they heard a shift from his typical trap beats to a more alternative sound. That hint left many eagerly waiting to see if the official release would contain some of these songs or get reworked. Whatever it was, one thing is true after listening to Let’s Start Here: this sound works for Yatchy, and though there are some hurdles to overcome, the production has personality and is vibrant, despite being too much Tame Impala and Yatchy chilling on the Dark Side of The Moon. The production’s consistency is high, but the final product is either elevating or de-elevating with the vocals. Yatchy teeters too far into monotonous melodies, delivering nothing more than autotuned typicality. It’s a stark contrast to the featured artists who take command of the songs and make many of them worthwhile. Though Yatchy has moments where he’s enlightening over the production, it isn’t enough to push Let’s Start Here to the levels it could reach with better vocals.

Let’s Start Here brings a lot to the fray, mostly sonically. It’s contextually rich, boasting these whimsical ideas that mirror something off a Tame Impala album or something edgier, though it still finds footing with its identity. Lil Yachty doesn’t stray far from his lyrical bag of typicality (simplistic wording) as he develops and establishes themes relating to drug use, loneliness, love, and regret; however, there is rarely a moment he sounds uniquely profound. Yachty has moments where it makes you think there is something here for future endeavors, but unlike “The Black Seminole” and “Should I B,” Yachty is sizzling the effects for too long or doesn’t take full advantage reflecting some choices he made. Like with “:(failure(:” or the outro on “We Saw the Sun,” which boasts these theological ideas on failure, happiness, and wealth, and with the latter, the notion of feeling free to express oneself without stress, don’t get reflected poignantly. More than half the time, Yachty benefits from his featured artists, singers who skillfully acquiesce with the psychedelic overtones of the album.

Depending on the song, a featured artist could elevate their respective track to a higher plateau, like Diana Gordon does with “Drive Me Crazy” or Foushee on “Pretty,” two standouts on the album. The smooth funkiness of “Drive Me Crazy” oozes vocal vibrancy, giving us this beautiful moment where the two harmonize eloquently, while giving us complementary performances in their respective verses. “Pretty” is similar to it, except for its production, a rich and slowed-down psychedelic rock song that lets its vocalist command and steers it toward this enriching listening experience. Yachty understands the rhythm and offers one of his better performances on the album; additionally, Foushee’s luscious spacey, soulful vocals boast the final impact, despite Yachty’s slightly corny and provocative lyrics. Justine Skye and Daniel Caesar also elevate theirs by adding more personality than Yachty, even when the song isn’t all that great, like on “Running out of Time.” 

There’s a lot to like about this Lil Yachty album, but the moments that had me sparkly-eyed at first don’t deliver with the same potency upon replays. Part of it’s that Yachty seems sonically all over the place without purpose and lacks a sense of pacing. At first, you’re entranced, then it’s a fatiguing experience as you get no sense of consistency in style but are still keen on the quality of the respective songs. At 14 tracks and 58 minutes, it doesn’t feel like such, almost becoming a slightly daunting experience with Yachty’s more monotonous melodies. Though he brings some edge, especially with the rap verse at the end of “Drive Me Crazy,” some performances are tried and predictable from his style. It’s a daunting experience that aims too close to the moon but takes a wrong turn before returning. I’ve shared praise for “The Black Seminole,” but like “I’ve Officially Lost Vision,” it starts to feel overlong after a certain point. It doesn’t creatively expand beyond a few switches and breaks. Fortunately, he has a good run from track 4, “Pretty,” to track 8, “Drive Me Crazy,” where even the streamlined aspects of Yachty’s vocals are still captivating enough for you to return.

Let’s Start Here does precisely what the title suggests, but here is just a beginner’s step. Yachty tries to elevate his craft to new heights, despite getting in the way of himself by implementing some tried melodies that never go above and beyond. Throughout my listens, I found a lot to commend, pick apart, and realize how great it could have been. I know Yachty can take this and learn and further his alternative psychedelic rock journey and maybe deliver something purely fantastic from around the edges to its center.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Margo Price – Strays: Review

Continuing to expand on elements of folk and rock, Margo Price brings a different coating to her sound on Strays, her newest album. More atmospheric and streamlined, its country core becomes more potent, opening up a new stage for her vocals to explore new foundations. I was surprised by my initial enjoyment, gravitating closer to the distinct vocal textures supplemented by its consistent production. However, that surprise waned when I saw the production credits, and it all made sense. Produced by Johnathan Wilson, whose production you’ve heard effervescently on Father John Misty’s albums and last year’s Big Time by Angel Olsen, my favorite of 2022, the album switches sonic context, choosing a lane without overstepping with some of the atmospheric coatings. Unlike Big Time, Margo Price doesn’t always have a level of nuance in her writing and performances, sometimes skewing the pacing or having a proper balance between production and vocals; however, a good amount of tracks standout, leaving some of these issues as bumps on the road.

Opening with a triumphantly radiant and psychedelic country-rock song, “Been to the Mountains,” it drives forth sensibilities Margo Price wants to imbue with the themes on both sides of the aisle. In the liner notes written for the album, “This was one of the very first songs that flowed out the next day after we came down from our mushroom trip. I just really wanted to incorporate poetry. I wanted it to be really psychedelic, and I wanted this album to be able to serve as a record that people could put on if they were going to maybe dabble in psychedelics.” The sounds become more potent and the lyrics more poignant as the wheels continue to turn and the music starts to become whole. Unfortunately, these psychedelic tendencies can sometimes modestly overreach parameters to steal the spotlight from Price’s vocals. She has a command of it, but the mixing can slightly dilute sonic components, letting the instrumentations have control while you get lost amidst the captivating electric and string sections.

Unlike “Been to the Mountains,” the times the instrumentation levels are higher are heard in “Change of Heart” and “Hell In The Heartland,” where the guitar strings, synths, and effect guitars overcome varying aspects of the song. It’s similarly the case with “Light Me Up;” however, a key difference is that “Light Me Up” focuses on its vibe, exponentially increasing particular layers like a roller coaster. Building from an opening acoustic set, it picks up steam after the first verse, especially Price’s vocals. It doesn’t let Mike Campbell’s slick guitar playing deviate, instead synchronizing beautifully through the different sonic complexions. Though I’m not saying her vocals are inaudible, levels don’t sound balanced, and some words aren’t as clear, turning your attention back to the instrumentations. After a first listen-through, you start to pick up the pieces and hear the poeticism controlling Price’s fingers as she writes both lyrics and music. It’s stylistically consistent and pertinent to Margo Price’s direction with Strays, sometimes mellowing out from the rock-driven aesthetic to something more folkish, like the lovely “County Road.” 

Like many tracks on the album, Price gets reflective no matter the perspective – whether personal or interconnected, the uniquely wild stories get boasted by great songwriting. Despite this, like “Hell In The Heartland,” not everything translates well; some have pacing that tends to leave you lost in the winds with certain tracks, like “Lydia” and “Light Me Up.” Though the pacing is an issue, it isn’t that bothersome as the music ends up being rewarding when you understand the gravitas of the themes getting presented – a wandering mind looking to comprehend their surroundings as the music’s melancholy and rockabilly finds the proper equilibrium for clarity. That message comes across as robust, and the notions brought about in the album write-up get the shine. It gets subdued in its psychedelic tones, leaving a lot to pedal effects, Wurlitzer electric piano, and synths. There’s some nuance, though elevated by her vocal performances; the split comes with those notions from the album/liner notes, which focuses on the influence Psilocybin had on her mental direction, allowing us to see this palliative hybrid between the low and high octanes in the instrumentations.

Strays was a good listen, despite its issues. It expresses elements beyond the country aesthetic Margo Price has molded herself with, opening new avenues to play with the genre and deliver these fantastical atmospheric pieces. They take us away from her slightly more traditionalist nature of previous albums, producing something pensive and radiant. I didn’t necessarily love it all, but there were enough tracks to return, especially with some the moxie expressed in the vocals and production.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool it Down: Review

It’s been 9-years since Mosquito, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ previous album, which continued to express musical growth, keeping to and elevating a sound akin to what we’ve known growing with the band. However, as we turn the bend and hit play on your musical devices, the past becomes the past. This new album, Cool It Down, is a personification of their greatness and history within the 2000s rock music scene that exploded in New York City, as they deliver excellence behind new sounds. It reflects growth, buoying new sounds that surpass expectations and leave you in a synth-fueled trance, where the mind gets tuned to the expansive layer you almost forget you may have just sat through the whole album. This symphonic experience makes you second guess your feelings about listening to it, as one may be too used to that esoteric synth beneath the rock aesthetic. It is the opposite. It echoes through your ear tunnels, creating rhythmic bliss that keeps you grounded in Karen O’s lyricism and vocals, as it beautifully emboldens the instrumentations beneath.

Like opening a box of fragrant pastries fresh out of the oven, the synths come at you with a direct punch of zeal that your ears and mind won’t forget, especially as you come to a close on a beautiful soliloquy that represents growth. “Mars,” like “Spitting Off The Edge of The World” and “Wolf,” are predominant moments that raise intrigue levels through a delicate layering of guitar, effect pedals, and varying synthesizers, which become central sonic themes as the tracks they finish and deliver have innate consistency. It makes the minor stumbles seen more like distant memories. Fortunately, the instrumental viscosity has these stumbles–more interesting orchestrations that shift from the norm relative to their identity–which in hindsight, are more performances that don’t necessarily work. “Lovebomb” does not work, compared to others. It’s ASMR-like, using simple words and colloquialisms to establish a mood without feeling overly multi-dimensional. 

The explosion of sounds that hits you on Cool It Down doesn’t necessarily give you sentiments reflecting tonal semantics if told since one doesn’t “cool it down” listening to the album. “Burning” levies the atmosphere with a focus on layering harmonics from the backing vocals that amplify this colorful, ethereal feeling that replicates an electronically charged instrumentation that would kill in a theatre like Carnegie Melon. Like a few tracks on the album, it’s mystifying with its approach to making you feel a darkened bliss, mirroring the dark club vibe without perturbing you. Though that’s the greatness of the album, it has a steady cadence allowing it to flow with whether it has a mellower, more intimate pace, or something crisp and rejuvenating like “Maps” off their debut Forever To Tell. It’s not wild to say that, Cool It Down is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ best work since their debut, though that bar isn’t exceedingly low. It’s a flurry of remarkable constructs that expands creatively; afterward, you’ll feel the need to keep it on repeat because its layers are out of this world, for lack of a better phrase.

As remarkable as the instrumentations are, the songwriting has its own complex, synergizing connectivity that keeps you from being flat-footed. It’s lyrically in tune with the atmospheric tones that shroud the final production. When “Different Today” begins to play, you get hit with a melodic force that invigorates the feeling you have when you’re with someone you love, almost like that sense where change revolves around growth. Like when this person is absent, that energizing feeling is lost, but that return has a livelier vibe. “Fleez” reinforces what I’ve been saying with the core aesthetic guiding you. The chorus and post-chorus contain these beautifully delivered lines that make you understand that feeling you’ve had listening. Karon O sings: “Fleez and me eating nuts in the leaves/That’s where we dance to ESG” and “Very moody, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah/(Very) Up, down and all around, baby,” respectively. It embodies a centralized sensation of blissful hope in the darkness; the rhythmic progression gives us something more than just the surface layer themes of growth. As Cool It Down closes, you leave with a rewarding experience worth a 9-year absence.

Cool It Down is magnificent. It’s something I won’t stop playing on repeat, especially with exuberant synths making it feel grander. I was almost left speechless, trying to find ways to find the words to say about how great it is, and I hope that translates to you. Let the synths take you to new worlds and allow the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to invigorate those tonal vibes that remedy you from the poor uses heard all year, like on Kid Cudi’s last album.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

070 Shake – You Can’t Kill Me: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere: 15 Years Later and Still Crazy.

The superlative behind an album’s time since it’s initial release carries many distinct meanings, dependent on its importance at the time. So as we approach the 15-Year mark since the release of St. Elsewhere by duo Gnarls Barkley, I start to think how it hasn’t had a monumental presence beyond its monstrous first single, “Crazy.” The duo, consisting of rapper/singer Cee-Lo Green and producer Danger Mouse, were not heavy names in the stratosphere of music for many casual listeners because they didn’t breach into pop charts or delved into the common trend at the time. You could make the case that Danger Mouse had credibility before diving in upon release, as he did some production, including lead single “Clint Eastwood,” off the debut for the band Gorillaz. So as we revisit St. Elsewhere, let’s remember the phenomenal collection of poignant tracks with an effervescent array of eclectic production that didn’t garner as much attention as the perfectly crafted “Crazy.”

At the peak of their debut, along with the single “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley wasn’t part of the bigger pop and R&B/Hip-Hop niche that circulated many radio stations. From Ciara, Chamillionaire, and Chingy to Natasha Bedingfield and Daniel Powter, if your music/sound didn’t have anything that resonated with a similar stylistic direction, you most likely wouldn’t breach further into the everyday Hot 100 listener – pre streaming. St. Elsewhere had its moment in the sun and took every advantage at this peak. And it did so with the track “Crazy,” which was an embodiment of their artistry. Though the album doesn’t have cohesion for simple accessibility (based on musical sensibilities), it did bring about a lush group of sounds that flows well with Cee-Lo’s vocal performances and Danger Mouse’s complex production.

The sonic infusions within the soul-like core were ahead of the time in its stylistic approach, which was less rooted in gospel than a traditional or pop-modern soul (like Ruben Studdard). It didn’t become a genre that expanded into experimenting with these different additions, consistently, until the last few years with a plethora of new artists switching the way it sounds. This is in conjunction with what – almost – every genre has been doing recently with our technological and mental growth. However, the varying use of synths and electronic sounds adds different aspects from the music of older soul-influences that influenced them. This sound is a hybrid of a psychedelic atmosphere with either soul or R&B undertones that were more prevalent in the late 60s and 70s, like the heavy bass lines and snares. 

This is heard within the final mixes of tracks, like “St. Elsewhere” and “Go-Go Gadget Gospel,” who, outside of their biggest hit “Crazy,” are embodiments of the sounds the rest of the tracks would take from and create a bigger world outside the music. But at the time, the singles that followed didn’t have much life on the American charts outside of “Crazy.” But including “Crazy,” a lot of their singles had a second life in Europe. “Crazy” shouldn’t surprise you because of the duality it has from being nuanced to older variations and experimental, which Europe fawns over without hesitation. The base – stylistic approach to the different production allowed it to find its way into the array of glossy playlist and stations from the way the surface layer of the tracks feeds its energy to you, specifically the less unique (loose term) ones, like “Necromancer.” You can hear the difference between the vibrance of “Crazy” and the twinkly grit of “Necromancer.”

Heavy piano notes that evoke the atmospheric textures, specifically in the expanded range of Cee-Lo’s naturalistic soulful voice, streamline the production on “Crazy.” This isn’t much different from the other soul-centric/alt-rock (esque) tracks, as well as the hip-hop oriented one. Cee-Lo’s control of his raspy baritone/tenor allows for an extra level of awe as we hear him go about these various subjects. This has been a natural strength, which has helped add more to his music during his Goodie Mob days and his solo career. It’s design from its lyrics and melodies makes it accessible for covers at different tempos. 

“Crazy” has this immense popularity and prominence in performance culture, but the fact that it never reached number #1 in the Hot 100 changed how it is seen – between being a blessing and a curse. It was the better – objectively speaking – track between the two other ones that were #1 at its peak, which was #2 for seven weeks. Outside of our own continent, it soared through Europe and reached momentous heights in the UK. A plethora of similar tracks like “Smiling Faces,” “Just A Thought,” and their cover of the Violent Femmes track, “Gone Daddy Gone,” didn’t find equal footing as “Crazy.” 

But the rest of the album has a constant within the production that comes from an eclectic mix of jazz and hip-hop percussion/horns and electronic instruments that circumvent the varying grooves into the slight uniqueness of it. Cee-Lo adds definition with his lustrous vocals, which has constant changes, depending on the kind of direction it wants to take, like the bombastic “Go Go Gadget Gospel,” and their remake of the Violent Femmes song “Gone Daddy Gone.” Both songs are as infectious, if not more than “Crazy,” but it does not get remembered as much because the music world was in an era where that kind rock bravado was more poignant in pop-punk and the semi-screamo punk, like Bullet For My Valentine and All American Rejects. So for this to break through with the beautifully contrasting “Who Cares?” would have been some kind of miracle. It all comes together with the instrumental undertones, like synth bass and the minimoog. 

These varying degrees of musical impacts left an impression on a younger me. The younger version of myself, who couldn’t figure out why radio hosts were deafening their ears with cheesy bubblegum/ballad pop and rock, when something beautifully different was there, waiting for someone to call them center stage. I remember falling in love with “Crazy” when it hit its initial run on the Z100, but when I purchased the album and gave it a listen, I began to admire the various electronic instruments, like the Roland JX-3P. But as you sit there, reading the amount of gush and praise I’m giving St. Elsewhere, the popularity on the internet is stagnant and maintains the SEO search popularity akin to “one hit wonders.” 

When it comes to searching the term, “Gnarls Barkley,” on YouTube, it delivers an onslaught of “Crazy” content. There are many covers and edited montages of award show performances of the song, but within the crevices the music videos for other songs from St. Elsewhere are there at an outdated 360/480 standard definition conversion. I’m out here expressing glee with the amount of love and notoriety “Crazy” and their other songs of equal quality. Even behind the guise that search engines have, the amount of expansive content on their work is put into these short perspectives with enough expressions of love and enjoyment. 

And now, 15-Years later, St. Elsewhere hasn’t seen the kind of appraisal it deserves. Hopefully I have been able to influence you to go and listen or revisit St. Elsewhere, a masterwork of soul, waiting for new listeners to hop on board the psychedelic train to Elsewhere. And keep their name alive as we graciously wait for the release of their third album, whenever that will be.