Music Reviews

Music Roundup 11/27/17

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This article previously appeared on Crossfader

We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not in this week’s music roundup

music roundup Friday on Elm Street

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Fabolous and Jadakiss – FRIDAY ON ELM STREET

Genre: Horrorcore

Favorite Tracks: “Stand Up (featuring Future),” “Theme Music,” “Soul Food” 

With an album named FRIDAY ON ELM STREET, one can expect the usual horrorcore tropes of visceral depictions of violence and depravity. This can be heard through various horrorcore standouts, such as some of the inventors of the genre, Three 6 Mafia, or spiritual successors such as $uicideboy$. While Fabolous and Jadakiss’s FRIDAY ON ELM STREET features well-structured tracks, solid rapping, and strong instrumentals, it fails to live up to its potential.

I usually despise Future for his drab songwriting and blatant overuse of Auto-Tune, yet his feature on track “Stand Up” fits quite well. The instrumental is dark and fast-paced, with dancing organ melodies playing throughout, giving it a genuinely skin-crawling feel. Future’s feature remains on the hook, not taking away from Fabolous’s solid flow and delivery. He is downright braggadocious lyrically, without offering much in terms of introspection: “But money don’t make real niggas / real niggas make money.” And while lyrically some cuts off FRIDAY ON ELM STREET can come off as derivative, the flow, delivery, and tight production more than make up for it. There are many cuts, such as “Soul Food,” that are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum of what would be considered horrorcore; the beat is very reminiscent of late-’90s/early 2000s West Coast hip hop, with soaring female vocal samples throughout, giving it an oddly nostalgic vibe. Fabolous and Jadakiss do a good job of playing a good cop-bad cop routine, with Fabolous delivering lyrics that reminisce about the difficulties of day-to-day life, while Jadakiss has a much more sinister delivery, with lyrics to match. The hype around FRIDAY ON ELM STREET was worth the wait in some senses, and it is undoubtedly a tight collection of hip hop tracks with the sheen of rose-tinted glasses. But as someone who went in expecting a Halloween and bloody horrorcore experience, there is undoubtedly a small sense of disappointment. [Will Turmon]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup Mick Jenkins

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Mick Jenkins – OR MORE; THE ANXIOUS

Genre: Cloud Rap

Favorite Tracks: “C Is For CashMoney,” “Gucci Bag (featuring Michael Anthony),” “Energies (featuring Saba)”

 OR MORE; THE ANXIOUS is the latest mixtape from Chicago MC on the rise, Mick Jenkins. This lo-fi installment is an interesting development and also some of my favorite work I’ve heard from the rapper. The project takes a laid-back approach while remaining captivating throughout, each beat being unique while maintaining a semblance of similarity that allows for the mixtape to cohesively flow. It’s an easy listen, equipped with thoughtful lyrics that prove Jenkins is going to maintain his status as a conscious rapper. On “Energies,” Jenkins raps: “Your intellect isn’t enough to protect you / they’ll disrespect you just to misdirect you / had me missing lessons / had me missing blessings.” It seems Mick is coming from a place of personal experience with this lyric, saying that there was a time when he relied solely on intellect to separate himself from people, which resulted in his missing out on the beautiful things in life. On “C Is For CashMoney,” Jenkins spits, “Your captions don’t save nobody / they castrating my body on camera.” In the age of social media activists, Jenkins is trying to put out a reminder that rarely do posts on social networks do as much for whatever the hotbed topic is if they’re not backed by action. This is something that we see over and over again with different topics cycling through our newsfeeds, and Jenkins is trying to shed light on the fact that whatever hashtag was trending two years ago is hardly something anyone remembers for more than a couple months.  

OR MORE; THE ANXIOUS is a series of songs he claims are inspiring the sound for his next album, and it’s nice to see the thoughtful rapper moving in this direction sonically, as this lo-fi sound seems to bring out all the best qualities in his flow. The tape has features from Chicago’s very own Michael Anthony, as well as Saba, which shows Mick has no problem keeping it local, adding to the overall feel-good, homey vibes that are currently coming out of the Windy City. It would be a shame for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre to sleep on OR MORE; THE ANXIOUS. [Emmett Garvey]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup Noel Gallagher

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Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – WHO BUILT THE MOON?

Genre: Pop Rock

Favorite Songs: “She Taught Me How To Fly,” “The Man Who Built The Moon,” “End Credits (Wednesday Part 2)”

In case the news cycle hasn’t tipped you off, or if you missed our coverage of Liam’s new release AS YOU WERE a few weeks ago, it’s Gallagher season around these parts. Perhaps what’s most fascinating about Noel’s new album, WHO BUILT THE MOON?, is how much it collectively represents the flip side of the Oasis coin and, in a lot of ways, why the two need each other to be vital again. While Liam’s solo release offered a few urgent and satisfying rock ‘n roll cuts, what it featured in spades was performance—both on, and off, the record. So when the largest complaint plaguing Noel’s new album, and his third as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, is that he simply fails to capture the dynamic, can’t-look-away rock stardom that oozes out of his brother’s being, it’s an understandable gripe. And yet, while we already knew that he’s nowhere near as good a singer as his brother, Noel was the brains behind Oasis from a musical perspective, and WHO BUILT THE MOON? features some of his best solo orchestrations. Opener “Fort Knox” is overstuffed with ideas, from the various vocal flourishes, to the alarm clock ring that lives in the background, but it’s a helluva introduction track, musically filled with the same kind of swagger that his brother carries in real life. The next track, “Holy Mountain,” uses a chorus of brass instruments as a punishing wall on which the rest of the songs ideas sit, and those horns provide a similar backbone for “Keep On Reaching,” adding grandiose flourishes to some already “big” sounding stadium rock. The rest of the album is decidedly more grounded, featuring punchy dance rock music like the radio ready “She Taught Me How To Fly,” psych-leaning head boppers like “Be Careful What You Wish For” and “It’s A Beautiful World,” and a pair of icy and mysterious interludes. WHO BUILT THE MOON? is satisfying, more than can be said of Liam’s go-for-broke solo release, but it does lack charisma. The musicianship alone barely gets by carrying the album, and while it might be Noel’s most varied work under the High Flying Birds, WHO BUILT THE MOON? works best as either a case study for his individual talents or as higher end fodder for Oasis diehards. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup if all i was

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Mavis Staples – IF ALL I WAS WAS BLACK

Genre: Soul, Gospel

Favorite tracks: “Little Bit,” “Build a Bridge,” “We Go High”

Music has always been a good reflection of the times. As much as one can look to films for context of the era, music can be just as appropriate a watermark. And such continues to prove to be the case—much of this year’s output has seen a focus on protest and upheaval, both political and societal. Mavis Staples’s new album, IF ALL I WAS WAS BLACK, by title alone, joins these albums in their desire for transformation, or at least, awareness.

What Staples and producer/main songwriter Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) excel at is delivering their message with tact and lucidity. “I’m tired of us living so lonely / I think I know what to do / Gonna build bridge on over the mountain / I’ll walk right over to you” begins the choral harmony on “Build a Bridge,” detailing the approach Staples looks to administer against racial division; she doesn’t slam her hand down, but gently massages it.  “When I say my life matters / You can say your’s does too / but I bet you never have to remind anyone from your point of view,” Staples continues with a straightforwardness that’s just as didactic as it is equitable. There’s no finger-wagging or shaming, it’s all about love, it’s all about killing with kindness. This theme continues onto “We Go High,” where Staples extends the eternal adage of, “we go high when they go low . . . I know they’re still human and they need my love!” Pianos drift alongside meditative guitar plucks; its a bit spartan, but not without beauty, and demonstrates that a powerful message doesn’t always have to be delivered in the most elaborate and labored of conduits.

Much of the success on this album should be owed to the oversight of Tweedy. His songwriting is poignant, timely without being burdened by specificity to stamp it with a date. Each instrument can be heard so cleanly and distinctly, the coils of the song are already unraveled for Staples to glide over. He’s laid a sturdy foundation for Staples, who sounds as vibrant, and more importantly, as resolute as ever. She’s no stranger to an era of turmoil, after all, her family band, The Staples Singers’, imprint on the civil rights movement was nothing short of remarkable. IF ALL I WAS WAS BLACK is her assuring that now’s the moment to build before anything truly falls apart. And if it does, there’s always the chance to rebuild. [Nick Funess]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup the staves

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The Staves and yMusic – THE WAY IS READ

Genre: Folk, Chamber Music

Favorite Tracks: “Year of the Dog,” “All the Times You Prayed,” “The Way Is Read”

English folk trio the Staves, comprised of three sisters, have partnered with the New York-based sextet yMusic for a unique blend of folk vocals on top of classical music, a blend of music I’d typically avoid. While the album does feature many beautiful moments, I can’t seem to grasp the exact reason the two parties decided to get together to release this project. I can appreciate the beauty stemming from the contrast of the clarinet, flute, and high-pitched strings on “Take Me Home,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m dying to go back and listen to it again. This poses a sort of existential music question of what constitutes an enjoyable album. I don’t think there’s a cut and dry answer to that question, the answer lying in the hands of each individual listener. yMusic can feel overwhelming at times, while the Staves’ vocals fail to keep the listener engrossed in the music. I did mention that the album has many beautiful moments—like the way the opening a capella track “Hopeless” has each of the three sisters’ voices layered nicely on top of each other—but I’m not so sure I’m the target audience THE WAY IS READ is attempting to reach. All I can really do is give my honest opinion on what I heard, and my overall consensus is the album is a complete and utter bore. If there’s one thing this album taught me, it’s that there is a distinct difference between pretty moments on an album and a good album. I can understand and appreciate the Staves’ quest for a new experimental sound, but I just don’t think they’ve found that in a collaboration with yMusic. Then again, what do I know. [Emmett Garvey]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup tove lo

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Tove Lo – BLUE LIPS

Genre: Electropop, Dance-Pop

Favorite Tracks: “shedontknowbutsheknows,” “shivering gold,” “struggle”

Tove Lo’s newest album BLUE LIPS is the conclusion of a two-part concept album, 2016’s LADY WOOD serving as part one. This record finds Tove singing of sex, love, and drugs . . . but mostly sex (someone said that Tove is Ellie Goulding but horny and they’re RIGHT). Album highlights are “shedontknowbutsheknows,” “shivering gold,” and “struggle”—one of Tove’s strengths is easily getting her tunes stuck in your head (“Habits” is still stuck in mine three years later), and the majority of tracks on BLUE LIPS are earworms. While some are less substantial in terms of lyrical depth, every song would be the perfect soundtrack as you and your friends enter a bar with the hopes of making someone super jealous (most notably “bitches”). There are two chapters in the album: “LIGHT BEAMS” and “PITCH BLACK,” the first half more sensual and the latter half more emotional. The two work well together and neither mood detracts from the sincerity of the other. Seriously, don’t listen to this in the car with your family this holiday season, wait to blast it at an inappropriately suggestive Christmas party. And like . . . take a shower after. [Aya Lehman]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup t-pain

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T-Pain – OBLIVION

Genre: Contemporary R&B, Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Who Died,” “May I,” “Your Friend,” “Cee Cee From DC”

T-Pain should’ve had a magnum opus by now. While I would argue that that was 2008’s EPIPHANY, even if it was, it’s been nearly 10 years since he’s released anything comparable. If he kept up his consistency, the guy at one point could’ve been Florida’s answer to Kanye West; he did innovate the use of auto-tune (I’m willing to bet to a larger degree than West), founded his own record label, Nappy Boy Entertainment, and back in 2010, he even produced and starred in an animated music called FREAKNIK. While OBLIVION isn’t entirely worth the wait, it showcases T-Pain’s impressive ability to adapt to the era’s soundscape, and peppers in some of his playful showmanship. Horns straight from 2007 enter in opener “Who Died,” and there’s a bit of a worry—there’s no way this could work without being corny as hell. But T-Pain seamlessly blends them with a slinking bass and trap drums. It’s really amazing how luscious it all sounds and it serves as the perfect appetizer for what’s to come. Unfortunately, the first half of the meal is less than satisfying. It’s always hard to welcome a Chris Brown feature, especially as he spouts lines like, “Throwing money in the stripper face / Bring that bitch home, give that ass a couple dollars.” Moreover, sometimes T-Pain’s willingness to show he’s still “hip” backfires. The Migos-type ad-libs and flow featured on “Straight” are just dull and tired, and “No Rush,” his attempt at recreating a Chainsmokers club-ballad, with cut-and-pasted wobbly synths and high-pitched voice samples, is uninspired detritus. However, it’s OBLIVION’S centerpiece that hints at a second-half where Pain hits his stride. T-Pain and Mr. Talkbox, with their effervescent voice-modulated crooning, make for an indelible tag-team on the woozy catharsis that is “May I”—it even allows Pain to strut some of his piano chops in its midsection. Later, he lets some of his jubilant pettiness fly on the amorous “Your Friend,” and his signature brand of Auto-Tuned sing-song rapping on “Goal Line” and “Cee Cee From DC” more than make up for his Migos-appropriated style earlier on. There are 16 tracks here, and while OBLIVION isn’t a masterpiece as a whole, with a little bit of trimming there certainly could’ve been something close to one. [Nick Funess]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup young jesus

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Young Jesus – S/T

Genre: Post-punk, Emo

Favorite Tracks: “Green,” “Under,” “Feeling” 

Los Angeles-based rock outfit Young Jesus have come through with a thoroughly enjoyable and immaculately constructed self-titled album. The instrumentation is full and varied, with the longest track pushing past the 12-minute mark, making this seemingly small seven-song album fuller and more developed than what meets the eye. The intro track, “Green,” is downright addicting, deceptively opening with stripped-back drum work which makes the full-bodied sound seem to come out of nowhere. In usual macabre emo style, frontman John Rossiter delivers mournful lyrics centered around introspection and confusion. The track eventually descends into howling, bassy reverb, sure to please any shoegaze fan. However, there is quite a bit variance, preventing fatigue from the all-too-easy pitfall trap of shoegaze’s occasionally masturbatory, reverb-driven solos, a prime example being the shortest song of the tracklisting, “Under,” where the music is devoid of anything except a vocalist and an acoustic guitar, serving as a wonderful little interlude to an otherwise fairly dense album. Unlike many records where the tail-end serves as an anticlimactic finish, YOUNG JESUS finishes off on a truly strong note. The second to last song, “Feeling,” pays homage to late-‘90s indie-rock, most notably Modest Mouse’s fantastic LONESOME CROWDED WEST, with laid-back, looping guitar riffs and restrained drum work, which allows the vocal mixing to take the forefront over the instrumentation. Everything eventually builds up into a soul-wrenching delivery, with vocalist Rossiter barking out in a depressing emo delivery. Young Jesus remains centered at the crossroads of various genres, squarely planted within the ‘90s, yet they have woven together all of these styles in a patchwork-quilted fashion that leaves them feeling refreshing and new rather than derivative and uninspired. [Will Turmon]

Verdict: Recommend

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