Daisy Jones & The Six – Aurora: Review

There’s no denying the significant uptick for the novel Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, especially the television miniseries based on it. It is a different narrative journey I’m not used to taking; though I am used to reading through interviews all my life, it felt like two distinct worlds colliding. However, one thing that did stand out while reading the novel was the details within the creation of this album that felt grandiose as if we were getting something akin to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac or Don’t Shoot Me I’m The Piano Player by Elton John yet as I took the time to sit back and relish in the attempt to realize that album, titled, Aurora. As the album kept playing and playing, the melodies struck beautifully – guitar strings strum with fluid range – the writing and performances are substantially rich – but with what rounds out the edges, I couldn’t hear what the novel wanted to convey about its musical layers. It treads familiar waters within the safer waters of Soft-Rock, never seeming to do something meticulously unique. Listening to it, with or without background knowledge of the characters, you get a solid rock album with quality replay value.

With direct nuance and nostalgia to the subtle underlinings of its 70s era, Aurora captures the essence of what influenced it, specifically, the music of Fleetwood Mac and their wayward yet delicate string orchestrations that emboldened their harmonies and melodies, like the acoustics of “Two Against Three” or “Look At Us Now (Honeycomb).” There are fantastic highs like them and calming middle-of-the-pack work that comes from this over-sizzling of decisions, like when it rides a rhythm for too long on “Kill You To Try,” making the outro feel slightly forgotten. It’s unlike the frenetic and lavish rock stylings of tracks like “More To Miss” or “Please,” where it doesn’t slightly overstay its welcome, delivering more profound musicality, especially the former “More To Miss,” which blends unique string layers from guitars and bass. Produced by Blake Mills, Aurora achieves its goal of delivering a capsule to the past, orchestrating these whimsically fantastic but sometimes standard, polished arrangements that get predominately outshone by the vocal performances. It leaves you with an essence of the past, yet it doesn’t feel significantly unique, even if it isn’t a bad album, and more just there with a larger sliver of greatness.

It feels like a layaway from the 70s as it looks to hit the nail squarely within the gravitational pull of nostalgia. But the music is sensibly modern but keeps its roots tethered to the operatic atmosphere of a studio construction, allowing the performance to be driven by visualizing space within one’s inflections as we hear with the powerful “Regret Me,” or the smooth cadences of “Let Me Down Easy.” Aurora is an album that rides the coats of its vocals because the profoundness articulated in the novel Daisy Jones & The Six isn’t fully heard consistently except for in the performances. Sung by lead actor and actress Sam Claflin and Riley Keough, they have natural essence to their voice, feeling more grounded, and for a few, it might be expected, especially knowing Claflin’s background with theater and Keough’s own lineage/life, respectively. Keough grew up around music, whether through the legacy of her grandfather Elvis Pressley or the musical ventures of her mother, Lisa Marie Pressley, so it felt sort of made for her; Claflin studied theater and drama, and if you didn’t know that… well, Finnick Odair from The Hunger Games can sing.

Easily put, Aurora is loose and focused on what it wants to be that it’s volleying an inconsistent everlong game between two styles. What I mean by that is whenever the album teeters between Rock and Soft-Rock/Pop, there aren’t many moments where the whole song feels pure as other times, you’re gravitating to ranging emotional delivery or the orchestration, where it’s the minimal stuff that lights up the stage, whether it’s a specific guitar lick or the synchronization of the two rhythms, or the soaring energy within the choruses. In the Riley Keough-driven performance of “Two Against Three,” the tempered vocals erupt once it arrives at the hook; the hook clutches you in the emotional gut and starts pulling harder and harder, similar to that of “Please,” except “Please” has more power within the chorus. It’s bolstered by the luscious cymbals coating the fluid strings and percussion layers, continuing the more boisterous notes of the track that precedes and succeeds it, including its distinct flair compared to others.

As the author of Daisy Jones would tell Rolling Stone magazine, “We finally have AURORA. A stunning, nostalgic, timeless album that captures the drama, pathos, and yearning of the band’s zenith and nadir all in one. A snapshot of time, intoxicating and dangerous. That delicious moment that you know can’t last… Daisy Jones & The Six are real. And they are better than my wildest dreams.” I’d downplay the word stunning, and I concur, especially not having seen the miniseries and reading the book. By understanding the heavy Fleetwood Mac influence that guided Taylor Jenkins Reid in writing the novel, it wasn’t hard to see the parallels, and sometimes, it’s that little bit that makes the production feel more replicative instead of inspired, aside from the vocals, the strings, and polished mixing. I thoroughly enjoyed this, even with its pivots into a less-than-stellar territory; give it a few listens, read the book, and watch the show if you’re a fan of the first two; I know I will be.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Overmono – Good Lies: Review

Overmono’s debut album Good Lies is full of rich textures, encapsulating breakbeats and some fluid songwriting as they continue to showcase the range and potency of their music. Like most dance/electronic music, there’s usually a bridge between tones, allowing sonorous self-reflections to exist within a zone of dance fever. The synchronistic connectivity the two have comes from this notion of dancing your problems away, and it does so without being so black and white. There’s depth and nuance within the productions that you’re inhabiting a new sphere of music where vibes are there to get you elevated, but at the same time, intaking these rich layers of sounds that make the whole electronic genre more than just something to dance to. Avalon Emerson’s debut & the Charm (2023) is a great, recent example of that, and Overmono continues to reflect that notion with Good Lies, along with past songs and EPs like “Bby” and Cash Romantic. Though more partial to the Emerson album, Good Lies comes and stays graciously, bringing more sumptuous flavors and an overall immersive vibe that you won’t want to shut off quickly, despite shortcomings.

Overmono has consistently taken various directions to much effect, shifting from the bombastic to the more rhythmic and melancholy, the latter of which is naturally effervescent on Good Lies and Everything U Need EP. Retrospectively, it’s also Overmono’s most personal work, and it’s for reasons outside of some introspective lyrics. It knows how to maneuver repetition for a vast worldview inhabiting the flow of sounds, allowing for these sentiments to carry retention within one’s love for them. It separates a lesser track like “Is U” from something as timidly profound as “Feelings Pain,” creating stumbling drawbacks within its cruise-like progression in the production. Good Lies has fluidity from start to finish, with some sonic components becoming motifs within a song’s distinctive use of electronic instruments. Ranging from the faintish and intimate vocals on tracks like “Good Lie” or “Cold Water.” It transfers through this conceptual bravado, where lies feel equated through its vocal performances and vocal samples. It’s how Overmono can shift between the Dance mode of tracks like “Feelings Pain” to more of a push with a breakbeat core in “Arla Fearn.”

It’s similarly reflective in the transitions between “Cold Blooded” and “Skulled.” Though both add additional flair to the rhythms created with the percussion and synths, they balance a distinct tempo and keep contrasting sounds feeling more connected than maligned. It’s part of an ever-progressing vibe, like if it were getting this mixed live in front of you, but the old fashion way without the different cuts between songs, shortening or lengthening them, more so vinyl to vinyl. Overmono, unfortunately, skips a slight beat by adding a separate track outro to “Good Lies,” extending its exposure and creating a bridge to a more dynamic creative palette. Though there is a fluid transition from “Good Lie (Outro)” into the radiantly techno-savvy “Walk Thru Water,” the former still feels like an afterthought as we get to hear the individual strengths of the Welsh Duo elsewhere on the album. Tom Russell comes from a Hard Techno background, while Ed Russell has worked more with breakbeat and the embodiments of dance-rave music. Bringing those two together offers a distinct palette that meshes – when reflecting in hindsight, were snugger within the contextual dynamic, they become slightly excessive in the long run.

For its synchronicity transitions, there can be both positive and negative in Electronic/Dance music – positive, like how Beyonce orchestrated the crossfades on Renaissance, or negative, like other instrumentation-heavy Electronica, where the vibe becomes engrained in the aesthetic that, for some, it may not gel till later, like on the latest album by The Blaze. At first, I felt it with “Is U” and “Calon,” which feel too enclosed within the vibe that you readily get lost flowing with the tracks near the end. “Calon” isn’t as immersive and more streamlined like “Is U” – never taking the extra step to take it to auspicious directions like the track that precedes it, “Sugarushhh.” It leaves you disappointed when reflecting in hindsight as they don’t bring the same bravado as they do with the atmospheric melancholy or the luscious breakbeats. There’s a synergy between Tom and Ed Russell, where, as brothers, they are tuned to the soundscapes as they get placed and steered in different directions, like the dynamic “Sugarushhh” or the atmospheric breakbeats on “Skulled,” where it has this spacey like backing akin to something from an alien Sci-Fi film. You can sense how they easily find purpose within the styles the other has worked more in.

Overmono’s debut shines through the rough patches as it delivers beautiful soundscapes, which get stuck in your head in the long run. You’re getting something resonant and potent, keeping that aesthetic of dancing feelings away pertinent through the transitions. It stumbles a bit, but it isn’t a pure deterrent, more just middling spaces that lingers on its smooth pacing for a few seconds, but you’re getting something great. I didn’t love it as much as the Avalon Emerson album, but something I know I won’t stop replaying. Definitely check out Overmono, as they come with the Juice, and make sure it’s known as the album closes on a powerful note.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Blondshell – Blondshell: Review

After finding unhappiness with the direction of her pop music career, Sabrina Teitelbaum took the time to grow, ridding herself of addictions, finding herself musically and mentally, and started writing music that speaks more to her being than what professional writers could provide. Beginning when she was cooped up in an East Los Angeles apartment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, it eventually became a fantastic debut under a new name, Blondshell. Unlike the pop music Teitelbaum made prior, the sound of her self-titled debut is a complete 180 from what indie fans would’ve expected when she released “Olympus” last year. Blondshell comes and goes ferociously, bringing resounding depth lyrically while expanding the horizons of apropos Alternative Rock, adding some edge to make the emotional complexities feel heard. As one to never hold high standards for debuts, Blondshell was a sheer surprise, not because it fits within the musical sphere that my sensitivities are privy to, but because it’s different. It has clear direction, and as it rounds the bases from beginning to end, captivating pivots will have you returning, especially between the tempos and vocal performances.

After giving Blondshell a few listens, one element of the music’s appeal became evident, the lure it uses to grip the listener. It keeps us hooked by letting the songs flow on repeat without focusing on forcing something to be catchy, whether it’s the hook or lightly layered melodies and rhymes. It’s centered on the performance and the multi-faceted layers beneath the vocal performance, where the instruments elevate and evolve the music exponentially. It makes it known instantly with the riotous “Veronica Mars,” placing a stamp on a type of aesthetic that will get heard again later in a listen-through. In between tracks of that ilk, Sabrina Teitelbaum brings some tempered balance with these downshifts, letting us hear the depth of her artistry with some stripped-down but layered instrumentations that balance modest pop vocals with its indie rock core. As we listen to her deliver themes of heartbreak, anger, toxic relationship dynamics, addiction and substance abuse, and social anxiety, there is this rich sense of understanding amongst varying levels. Though it may be a lot of themes, Blondshell never feels bloated or over-sizzled, as Teitelbaum keeps a steady balance between performances. 

Much of the album’s greatness comes from a consistent balance between vocal performances and production, especially when the leading artist is more of the singer-songwriter as someone else produces. Though Sabrina Teitelbaum’s input into the composition is here and pivotal, producer Yves Rothman brings it to life, allowing us to hear these multi-dimensional songs carrying viscerally raw emotions. Whether it’s dreary and dark like “Salad,” where Teitelbaum sings about contemplating murderous revenge on a friend’s abusive partner, or somberly speaking on sobriety and relapse on “Sober Together,” the way these tracks’ production contrast each other shows depth between styles. Though these have their own sense of being and flow, keeping in tow a consistency of sound, the more rockified pivots with “Veronica Mars,” “Sepsis,” and “Joiner” boasts the angst within, letting feel entrenched with her emotions, allowing us to feel the kinetic synergy between the two as you fall in love with captivating aesthetic and melodies that are occasionally more deadpan than vibrant, but fits her true sense of self.

Though the originality stays nigh to it, one gets two songs that aren’t as profound: the second and second-to-last, which don’t feel as refined, tiptoeing some standard indie rock complexions without teetering too far into being unique. With “Kiss City,” the mood stays strong, and the performance is sheer mellow-gold; however, the production doesn’t seem to carry steam, like the love Sabrina Teitelbaum writes about, until the last 20 seconds when the chorus gets a kick from louder instrumental arrangements. “Tarmac,” the second-to-last song, parallels its deadpan-like performance with an equally simple indie-pop layout that offers little to the imagination. They aren’t inherently poor songs, but sometimes the delivery feels slighted, as the production can sound more hollow than not. Its construction tempers beautiful insight into the effect of addiction and how seemingly it can overcome the levels of importance. As Teitelbaum sings, “I can’t stay away from my new friends/I think that I’m losing myself/I’m in love with a feeling/Not with anyone or any real thing.” We hear and read her as she laments how much she loves the high, losing sight of the world around her, reflecting a sentiment carried throughout.

An outstanding debut, Blondshell is a breath of fresh air amongst the many indie rockers debuts these days. It’s more that Sabrina Teitelbaum has found a composite direction that relays the potency of her vocal strengths, levying a profoundly smooth falsetto between the deadpan-ish delivery and the melodic rock avenue. The writing is the strong point, as we hear Teitelbaum weave different perspectives and stories to relay what she’s feeling and what she’s overcome. It’s all interconnected within her sphere, even when she sings about her close friend’s relationship. It’s further bolstered by gripping parallels and connections between similar themes, like drug use or abuse, and its effects on life, as she beautifully composes with Yves Rothman on “Joiner.” Ultimately, Blondshell gets one of my more enthusiastic recommendations, especially if you were big on the Boygenius debut.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Algiers – Shook: Review

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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.

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.

Ab-Soul – Herbert: Review

Mentally exhausting but exuberantly rewarding, Ab-Soul’s new album Herbert takes us through hurdles as Soul reflects on life and emotional imbalances that have placed him into a zone where the focus was his mental health. 2014’s Stigmata felt like a linear direction of drug-infused beats built with the complexities of perfectly quaffed glass, and Do What Thou Wilt felt more of the same, just lesser in sonic appeal and construction. But that isn’t the case with Herbert, an album that feels more like the dark undercurrents beneath the percussion getting refined and letting it control are more linear approach instead of flip-flopping between the overly experimental and the “Ab-Soul, Asshole” that we’ve listened to since Longterm Mentality. It’s an evident relic of the past with its jazzy, at times lightly funkadelic tones that give us similar tendencies akin to the audacious and beautiful “Illuminate” from 2012’s Control System. It isn’t devoid of lyrical grit, where he can shift the parameters of his flows, keeping you engaged as Soul never diverts into songs that wane too much into darker experimentations.

As a lyricist, Ab-Soul’s content is kitschy compared to most populous rap in the above or underground scene. It may have been why he never got an Interscope Records co-sign, allowing him to get down to the nitty-gritty and deliver songs where his sleeves ache, and his grief is on full display like he did with “Closure” off Stigmata. That’s still prevalent here, along with more reflections that sees Ab-Soul constructing his multi-layered persona with vitriol. We hear it in the twinkly “Fallacy,” which details Ab-Soul’s hiccups and moments where he succeeds. It’s in the emotionally complex “Herbert” and “The Wild Side,” which shows us who he has been throughout the years – someone constantly on the side of the road where there’s an obstacle with every step. It’s a blissful melancholy that gets highlighted over beautifully resonant and sometimes minimalist (comparatively) production, continuously boasting the thematic prowess of Soul. Ab-Soul is one to knock out of the park more consistently when the nature of the tracks wanes on personable instead of flaunting and flexing, though there have been hits within that realm, like “Hunnid Stax.” We hear the essence of it on the gripping and smooth “Hollandaise.”

Time passes, and what you thought you knew may have been incorrect from the get-go. Recently, Edie Falco remarked in an interview about her role in Avatar 2: The Way of Water – when she filmed, what she thought it could make on opening weekend, etc. – Falco noted that she believed the film was released and flopped. Similarly, Ab-Soul’s mild silence since 2016, only appearing as a featured artist or short, fulfilling singles, reminded me of a pre-2015 Ab-Soul, where the focus on experimentation had him flying too close to the sun. Unlike Icarus or Falco’s thoughts on Avatar: The Way of Water, Ab-Soul didn’t flop and had been bettering himself, growing as an artist, and finding meaning on his journeys. We see that with the beautifully constructed and focused concept album that imbues the essence of who Soul, musically and spiritually.

Containing a spiritual connection brings confidence toward having a multitude of producers board the ship to give us something as coherent as listening to screamo with freshly clean ears. There is an underlying distinction in styles as it transitions, allowing for seamless continuations of narrative greatness. The production boasts the content getting reflected, whether mellow or more boisterous, like “Positive Vibes Only.” Unfortunately, as slick as the beat is, the track doesn’t have the lyrical frontness and feels too lost in its production to make anything out of it, unlike “Hollandaise,” which brings a lot of ammo. It isn’t like the nuanced and ever-growing sounds of “Art of Seduction” and “Do Better.” It’s a flurry of simplicity that retains depth with how it gets constructed, unlike the overly styled beats of past songs like “D.R.U.G.S.” and “Sapiosexual.” Here, there is a fine line between the two; sometimes, you can’t distinguish what hits and doesn’t at first. When Ab-Soul chooses production that goes the extra mile, like “Go Off,” that sense of doubt washes away swiftly as you hear Soul command the beat and take it to the next level. Unfortunately, featured rapper Russ doesn’t match the quality writing from Ab-Soul and Big Sean, but he’s only a quick slight that doesn’t deter from the quality of the final product.

Herbert is a fantastic return for Ab-Soul. He’s less reliant on creating an expansive piece on a limited canvas, instead aiming for something more constructive, linear, and oozing with melancholy; you can’t help but feel attracted to the lyrics and sounds. It’s a fantastic record that I’d wish released early because of the distinctively wrought process of dropping year-end lists during the first week of December as if it’s some desolate month with little to offer, yet, we’ve gotten two incredible hip-hop albums.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

2022 Catch Up: Some Albums I Missed This Year

Rina Sawayama – Hold The Girl

Unlike her self-titled debut, Rina Sawayama’s follow-up, Hold The Girl, isn’t as refreshing or profound. It’s almost tiptoeing a line between more by-the-numbers electro-pop without extending her reach beyond minor tweaks here and there within its production, like the guitar riffs on “This Hell.” Beyond inconsequentially detailed anecdotes within the sounds, few songs barely make much of an impression, becoming nearly forgettable because they aren’t as surprising as the debut. That isn’t to say there isn’t something to take away since Sawayama has shown herself to understand the ebullient decisions made to orchestrate lavish paintings on her canvas. Even when songs tend to add a little flare, there is a slight disappointment, like the empty and straightforward “Frankenstein” and “Your Age.” They never get past replicating standard pop overtures that you’d find easily on an Ava Maxx – or Tiesto, Meduza, or any poppy EDM DJ – album.

That isn’t to say it is devoid of any good music. The title song of Hold The Girl is this rich and darkly vibrant electro-pop powerhouse that bridges symphonic vocals – akin to Lady Gaga – and her mysterious presence. With her debut, you never got a sense of what she is bringing with beat choices, and that kind of mystery isn’t as intriguing here consistently. There are varying songs that hit, like “Forgiveness” and “Imagining,” but it’s a predominantly predictable album that doesn’t feel as intriguing like when I first heard the metal rock influence “STFU!” on her self-titled debut. It’s a forgettable piece of work that defines the sophomore slump. But more so, it puts the album title into perspective as it feels like she restrains herself. It plays it safe, and in some regard, you can get something great out of it, but when you’ve debuted as someone who takes chances, it could have been more explorative on a follow-up.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Arctic Monkeys – The Car

As I further listened to the new Arctic Monkeys album, The Car, I couldn’t help but feel like they were missing the spark. Though I was always keen to see them get further into slower tempo jams after AM, it continues to disappoint as they begin to rely on atmospheric and emotionally sifting vocals by Alex Turner and less at creating dense instrumentations. Their last album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, tried to keep it slightly interesting by exploring new styles like Glam Rock on their lead single, “Four Out Of Five;” other similar moments consistently outshone their slower jams. On their follow-up, the effervescent presence of the slower tempo baroque pop and lounge pop. However, some of the finite details in the rock songs, like the funky undertones on “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am.” Unfortunately, it never treads into murkier waters, and some notes become hollow.

Unlike the name of the song “Big Ideas,” there aren’t many here, but the little sparks that shine through give us these whimsically explorative tracks. Additionally, the use of funk in the album is inspired, but they never get FUNKY with it. The tempo stays slow and becomes derivative. It almost makes listening to Alex Turner’s engaging songwriting seem distant in the long run. That isn’t to say you find anything good here. “Jet Skis On The Moat” and “There’d Better Be A Mirrorballs” are some tracks that have stayed with me upon multiple revisits. The way these tracks incorporate the funk into their more loungey fair adds dimensions, unlike “Hello You,” which is broader in its approach. There is a consistency in the instrument playing, as they come with energy, despite the assignment being more a complete 180 from their Alt/Garage Rock days of the 2000s. I found The Car to be a solid effort as they deliver layered lyricism reflecting on memories and lessons learned through countless relationships. Though it may sound standard, Turner’s descriptive, poetic writing adds volumes.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Soccer Mommy – Sometimes, Forever

As a fan of Daniel Lopatin’s work as an artist under the alias Oneothrixpointnever or his work in films making complementary scores, I jump the gun at anything he does or produces. However, something came over me, and the album he produced for Soccer Mommy flew by, and I forgot to return until recently. I sat beside myself lamenting over my neglect as the production of Sometimes, Forever is astronomically grand as it takes Sophia Allison (Soccer Mommy) to new levels that beautifully contrast the more structured songs of Color Theory. Though instrumental in keeping a core rock aesthetic, we hear more effects and experimentation with the instrumentations that you’re taken aback by some of the in-track shifts. For example, the noise-like guitar riffs at the end of “Bones” or the industrial/singer-songwriter punk-influenced “Unholy Affliction” and “Darkness Forever.” It is melodically rich and buoys fun explorations of different soundscapes, even though it isn’t the most lyrically profound.

Soccer Mommy retreads familiar themes, particularly ones enclosed to situations within a relationship, and almost seemingly loses herself in the moody production. Though the melodies are a strong focal point as they radiate an immense pull into its gravitational center, further entrenching us with fantastic sounds. Fluctuating between surprises and the more linear approach, it isn’t hard to get lost in her enigmatic work; Daniel Lopatin lets bass grooves ride waves of ferocity, taking us through elevated heights of darkness and vibrance. We hear it as it goes from the hopeful and whimsical “newdemo” to the dark and synth-heavy “Darkness Forever,” which sounds like a cross between atmospheric electronic wave music and punk. It’s a Rock album first, but how the two elevate it to be something grander shines a light on the dimensions within its emotional resonance, especially in those self-criticisms when reflecting on relationships or other what-ifs.

Sometimes, Forever is an album that I reflect on with glee. I am glad I’ve only gotten around to it now, as the past few weeks have seen some audacious and bombastic pieces of work that a moody and sonically expressive was what I needed. Despite a step back lyrically, it doesn’t hinder the final product; it leaves you in a foggy mist created by the expansive emotional range Soccer Mommy radiates through different inflections. You’d think Arctic Monkeys’ The Car would suffice, but the sounds are hollow by comparison. I know I’ll be spinning the new Soccer Mommy heavily, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Issa Gold – Tempus II: Mirrors : Review

Following up the self-reflective and self-criticizing Tempus, Issa Gold follows up with Tempus II: Mirrors, an equally self-reflexive album bringing more of the same with more potent lyricism. It has little to gravitate towards besides excellent lyricism, some minor tweaks that boast the production slightly, and an abundance of heart. It isn’t an indictment on producers Chuck Strangers, Gates, Two Fresh Beats & Zayland as they deliver what’s expected with enough diversity and nuance to keep those who love lyrically focused rap albums. It may limit its audience because one usually gravitates to sound, but as it has been since the 70s, Hip-Hop has been about The Message, and that’s what Issa Gold delivers. Tempus II: Mirrors is raw and slick; Issa Gold flows smoothly, becoming one with the beat boasting the emotional complexities of each track as we hear Gold tackling fatherhood, music, and professionalism.

As much as I can herald Tempus II: Mirrors for its profound approach to keeping a balance between engaging the intimate, as sometimes one may not care for the deep layers of an artist’s personal problems, with the quality of their music coming first. So the stress builds from making sure the beat one is rapping over can keep the listener engaged; that’s why we hear varying songs with depressive anecdotes that have more catchy, captivating elements in their sound, whether through melodies or the production. It isn’t the case with Tempus II: Mirrors, where the catchiness isn’t profound, but the tweaks within the sonic layers of the beats keep the intrigue level high. Whether it’s bringing more focus to piano-driven overtures on “Lamelo” and “Crawling” or letting the electric guitar deliver rustic vibes on “Spiral” and “Lunar.” It brings more to the music than potent lyrics, rarely shining brighter than like on “Traded” and “Rockets.” Unfortunately, “Traded” isn’t as captivating comparatively. Though we get these unique situations where the beats feel more realized, it isn’t enough to make you feel like it’s something special. 

The uniqueness of its production is an adequately smooth touch that allows it to get past the monochromatic atmosphere of these kinds of raps. There is a nuance to them as they show introspective street styles that are moodier and incorporate more than just drum beats – think The Lox and Ultramagnetic MCs, just a little darker. It makes it easier to focus on the vocal layer instead of the production, as its heart stays in that lane. Due to that, it adds an extra layer that allows the music to flourish further.

At its core, Tempus II: Mirrors is for those old heads who prefer lyricists to the dominant Drill and Trap Hip-Hop that fills the airwaves, but Issa Gold offers more than that. He’s bringing varying flows driven by Gold’s dominant emotion, whether elevated egotistical swagger or pensive perspective, like on the melancholic “Indulge” and “Crawling,” which sees him rapping about family and fatherhood. It allows his words to get heard, more so than when he comes through spitting the former. However, there are fantastic tracks where Gold’s flexing is on full display. On “Lamelo,” Gold uses that melancholia in the beat to make his words feel humbling as his come-up saw him making choices so his music career could grow. As he raps on the track, “I never need the league, I knew the league needed me like Lamelo for the dream,” which shows how Issa Gold aims to succeed, despite his niche approach musically.

Tempus II: Mirrors doesn’t stand up to the masterclass that was the first, but it’s enough to keep the wheels turning as you keep listening. It’s a continuation of what Issa Gold does well, even if it isn’t as interesting. There isn’t much retread, but the production feels more like simple choices and nothing that is there to fit the grander scheme. It’s an album one can readily return to if they feel this type of rap, and those will be sufficiently satisfied.

Rating: 7 out of 10.