Another week, another Merry-Go-Round Music Roundup
Aminé – ONEPOINTFIVE
Genre: West Coast Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “DR. WHOEVER,” “WHY,” “SHINE,” “TOGETHER”
In case there was any ambiguity on the subject, Aminé as an artist is actually highly conceptual. It may seem hidden under humor, repetitive choruses, and narrations, but that’s all part of the facade. In the past he has alluded to his anxiety, and in interviews has stated how in actuality he’s a quiet, shy, and very meticulous person. In ONEPOINTFIVE, the separation of those two people is extremely prevalent. In tracks like “DR. WHOEVER” and “TOGETHER,” he shares lyrics pertaining to suicide, forlorn love, and genuine fear, the complete converse of tracks like “REEL IT IN” and “SATURN GIRL,” both about sex and money, and the famous “Aminé” persona. His almost diametrically opposed personalities are prevalent in not just his surface level presentation, but his lyricism, going from, “I truly miss when you and me were only friends / When it was just innocent, and we ain’t have a past” to, “Gold Diggers want an all access pass, so she give me all access to that ass” in the same album.
I will admit, at first listen, I didn’t enjoy ONEPOINTFIVE. I thought there were a couple of good tracks, but it seemed almost disconnected from last year’’s debut, GOOD FOR YOU. I wanted the grit and honesty of “Turf” with the humor and wit of “Spice Girl.” Still, it took me about three listens through to realize that I did get that. Although this album isn’t as off the collar and heavy-handed, it allows for emotional complexity and depth; Aminé is experimenting on ONEPOINTFIVE, trying to navigate himself, his ideologies as an artist, and his points. [Jesse Herb]
Cat Power – WANDERER
Favorite Track: “Woman (featuring Lana Del Rey)”
Your appreciation for WANDERER is entirely based on your established relationship with Chan Marshall and her over-two-decade career, but I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by having to say that. WANDERER is a decent record, in many ways her most true-to-legacy release since 2006’s THE GREATEST, yet we’ve seen too many flashes of something brighter and more textured in the last decade to settle on what feels like a by-the-books singer-songwriter record. Tracks like “Black,” a coffee shop blues song by a master of the form, or “In Your Face,” a husky piano anthem, or especially the Rihanna cover “Stay,” all feel like pretty well-worn territory, not just for Cat Power, but for the now hundreds of musicians she’s impacted. Even though her last release, 2012’s SUN, was messy, it had flamenco dancing, and swelling, industrial sounding pop songs, and hazy anthems where as the pace quickened she rose to the performative occasion. WANDERER, despite its sleepy exterior, is often an emotionally charged record, but it fails to features any evolution from the Cat Power we met back on the somber, albeit crunchier, album MYRA LEE. It’s thus no surprise that the best song on this record is the timely rally cry entitled “Woman,” featuring Lana Del Rey, who challenges Marshall’s energy more than any other track on the album. WANDERER, as I say, is somewhat hinged to your opinions on her previous material, and by all accounts, if anyone should be making this kind of quaint cafe rock, it’s Cat Power. Nonetheless, we should expect more from one of the great artists of this generation. [CJ Simonson]
Earl Sweatshirt – SOME RAP SONGS
Genre: Abstract Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “December 24,” “The Mint,” “Shattered Dreams,” “Loosie, Riot!”
The hype behind Earl Sweatshirt’s newest release, SOME RAP SONGS, was meteoric in its scope. With an almost four-year absence from a now undeniably mainstream rap scene, fans clamored as to what the next project from the brooding former member of Odd Future would consist of. Earl has always seemed to have an aversion from the spotlight, be it by circumstance due to his notorious banishment to boarding school, to his most recent consensual withdrawal from the mainstream in the past half-a-decade.
Out of the gate, Earl downplays ferocious, boiling-point internet hype on SOME RAP SONGS. He undercuts it with title alone, from the tongue-in-cheek bluntness, to the blurred and mildly demonic album cover, and, above all, the far more restrained instrumentals and presentation. At first glance, an album consisting of a sizeable 15 tracks would symbolize a monolithic record, yet Earl is often one to pervert, and with only the intro track surpassing the two-minute mark, there is a noteworthy brevity to SOME RAP SONGS. His critically acclaimed 2015 release, I DON’T LIKE SHIT, I DON’T GO OUTSIDE, saw him delving into a far more sinister and reflective tone; SOME RAP SONGS builds upon that foundation into what may very well be an artistic peak for Earl.
In the age of glossy and comfortable beats, with bombastic 808s and silky smooth production, Earl forgoes current trends absolutely, instead going for a far more intimate and grainy style without sacrificing originality and his own voice. On the intro track, “Shattered Dreams,” the instrumental merely consists of a simple two-to-three second loop, with Earl immediately setting the bar, indicating to potential listeners the divergent path he has sought. While this could be construed as irritating or tiresome, or even written off as lazy, Earl’s dedication to brevity plays to his advantage. It allows the listener to become lost in his introspection, an exposing foray into his life. If the soundscapes were any more complex or intricate, it could quickly become muddled and hazy. Earl’s mental health issues and his struggles with his lack of father figure are fully exposed for all to see on SOME RAP SONGS, and the far more minimalist soundscapes that Earl creates harkens the modern art rap that’s been popularized on Bandcamp while not miring his self-aggrandizing character traits.
While Earl has been mostly silent on the musical front in past years, SOME RAP SONGS shows that this was not due to lack of ideas or motivation. The listener follows a young, frustrated, and above all wholly creative man through a stream of consciousness, and yet this project is not for everyone—something that is wholly intentional on Earl’s part. SOME RAP SONGS, at its core, is catharsis, a brief, therapeutic session for Earl that the listener has the privilege of being part of. With each subsequent listen comes additional nuggets to glean from this seemingly muddled project, allowing for many future listens to come. [Will Turmon]
Adrianne Lenker – ABYSSKISS
Favorite Tracks: “terminal paradise,” “cradle,” “symbol,” “10 miles”
Delicately intimate and quietly powerful, ABYSSKISS, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief’s newest solo endeavor, is sonically visual, conjuring images and scenes through tone, sound, and lyric. Each song is a moment, a fragment of time, flashes of a life, bathed in diegetic light. Lenker pairs little more than lapping, rhythmic guitar with tender vocals, creating a devastating combination: exposed and vulnerable. Through her directness and intentionality, there is no way to avoid absorption into the extracts she paints.
Most of ABYSSKISS is soaked in an early morning glow filtered through white cotton sheets pulled overhead to ward off the bite of a still-lingering chill. The opening track of the album, “Terminal Paradise,” is soft rain early on a spring morning. There is a gentleness to the devastation and death: where there is loss and decay, there is rebirth. Some songs, such as “Symbol,” have a more slanted luminescence; apprehension filters the light until the chorus, perhaps taking place just after the sun sets in early evening, a fall afternoon in the fresh dark. The repetition of the same verse along with the chorus, breaking only for a brief bridge, gives “Symbol” a cyclical feeling, conjuring the image of fall, a repeated creed of dying leaves and the construct of time. “Abyss Kiss” evokes the light of a winter afternoon, the sun bouncing between banks of snow and the dull sky, cup of tea in hand, watching the birds etch tracks amongst scattered seeds; glad to be separated from the cold by glass and wood with the anticipation of a fire later, perhaps even the thrill of sharing a wool blanket with a burgeoning romance. The closing track on the album, “10 Miles,” is haunting and poetic, wishful and wistful, but tinged with darkness and sung with such beauty it’s almost unsettling. While lyrically being about two lovers progressing through their lives and love, the emotion derived from the melody speaks to a life: this song is an imagined family going home after a winter party, lit by the headlights of the car, swirling with exhaust and frozen breath, the kids asleep in their arms, a silent drive home, a tired contentment.
Gentle and deliberate, Adrianne Lenker breathes light into an entire lifetime of quiet moments—a film devoid of plot, but as full and rich as any narrative could be. With paired-back accompaniment and beautifully broken vocals, she has created something more, something bigger than a few melancholy songs for sad girls and romantics. She’s created something living and breathing, that might at any minute get up and cross to the window to watch their entire life go by. [Tapley Eaton]
Jeff Tweedy – WARM
Favorite Tracks: “Bombs Above,” “How Hard It Is For A Desert To Die,” “Having Been Is No Way To Be”
It’s pretty amazing we’ve gone this long without a true solo record from Jeff Tweedy. TOGETHER AT LAST, a 2017 release of re-works, certainly provided insight into how he views and interprets his own massive career, but it was never a true personal statement; while we’ve grown to know and understand his many personalities, hopes, and fears, the closest we had gotten to a true unencumbered look inward was 2014’s admirable, yet messy, family band project SUKIERAE. While his son Spencer had a hand in the production on WARM, Tweedy’s first true solo release miraculously feels both essential to understanding him and distinctly his own, separate from a nearly 30-year career in the spotlight. Coming in tandem with the release of Tweedy’s memoir, LET’S GO (SO WE CAN GET BACK), you can feel the impact that looking inward had on his songwriting throughout WARM, often direct and filled with the unique mix of joy and remorse that comes with looking towards the past. WARM is the most mortal Tweedy has ever sounded, wounded by his look backwards at a life of addiction, being on the road, and failed friendships. “All my life I’ve played a part / In the bombs above the ones you love,” he wistfully opens on “Bombs Above,” before he raspily confides “I’m taking a moment to apologize.” He sounds like someone who has been burdened by the past, more than he has on any recent Wilco release—the last two of which (2015’s STAR WARS and 2016’s SCHMILCO) were joyous, chaotic affairs. The music is sparse, playful in its kind of muddled instrumental tinkering (fans of YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT will feel right at home), but dark behind lyrics like “Don’t forget sometimes / We all, we all think about dying / Don’t let it kill you” (“Don’t Forget”) or “I don’t believe in Heaven / I keep some heat inside / Like a red brick in the summer / Warm when the sun has died” (“Warm (When the Sun Has Died)”). WARM is not simply a late career checkbox for an artist that will go down as a generational talent the likes of Neil Young or Bob Dylan, but its own fascinating exploration of self outside of the context of Tweedy’s other musical endeavors, and it’s an amazing achievement. [CJ Simonson]