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
Buddy – HARLAN & ALONDRA
Genre: West Coast Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Real Life Shit,” “Trouble on Central,” “The Blue (featuring Snoop Dogg),” “Shine”
Maybe I have a skewed perception of how much time needs to be put into an album, but it’s absurd that Buddy’s debut album comes seven years after the Compton native’s first Pharrell-backed single and it still can’t quite escape the curse of calculation that befalls many upstart rappers trying. There’s much to like about HARLAN & ALONDRA, for sure; Buddy is a likeable, laidback, genuine MC, and his debut features streamlined, clear beats that are better suited for him than Kaytranda’s more textured, rougher production. The shimmering synth-funk and retro-disco basslines of “Legend,” “Trouble on Central,” and “The Blue” were a definite highlight, and his smooth singing on the latter two is a refreshing change from the Auto-Tune crooning we’ve been inundated with the past few years. The vibes on HARLAN & ALONDRA are thoroughly pleasant, and those that dig crisp, G-funk-indebted rhythms will find much to love.
Buddy’s struggles with the music industry manifest in a world-weariness and endearing optimism. He drops a Pusha-T-esque mission statement about fame and wealth not coming as a pair and the latter being more important on “Shameless,” and “Find Me 2” and “Shine” end the album on an introspective and determined note that matches the personal cover photo of Buddy’s family. The problem is that this warm personability is the exception on an otherwise scattered album, which indulges in too many cliched, studio-driven moments to excuse. There’s an obvious stab at club success (“Trippin”), boring flexes against trap snares, droning piano loops, and a guest chorus that Ty Dolla $ign could do in his sleep (“Hey Up There”), and an uncomfortably direct sex jam (“Speechless”) that pales to its romantic predecessor on the tracklist. Having a debut that’s a little all over the place is normal and acceptable, if the content is good, but Buddy’s charm can’t make up for the undercooked cliches of modern rap. There’s plenty of potential on HARLAN & ALONDRA, but we need better than that after this long. [Blake Michelle]
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
The Coup – SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: THE SOUNDTRACK
Genre: Political Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “OYAHYTT (featuring LaKeith Stanfield),” “Hey Saturday Night (featuring tUnE-yArDs),” “Level It Up”
If you have not seen the potentially zeitgeist-defining film SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, make haste to do so immediately—its exuberant absurdity is just the entertaining political statement that the summer needs. Luckily, that insanity extends beyond the silver screen and through your sound transducer of choice with its audio complement, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: THE SOUNDTRACK. Perhaps with an element of vanity, director Boots Riley and his long-standing Oakland hip hop collective The Coup used this opportunity to release a slew of new tracks under the film’s banner, and it is an absolute blast! Filled to the brim with undeniably fun songs that are overflowing with political charge, the record sets the tone of an almost playful revolution, a punk-inspired rap piece mixed with OutKast-type sampling and flow. Originally, The Coup’s 2012 release SORRY TO BOTHER YOU was the album that went on to inspire Riley to write a film. Now, the group emerges full force with a impressive array of featured acts.
Opener “OYAHYTT” (Oh Yeah! Alright! Hell Yeah! That’s Tight!) packs a serious punch with explosive verses from Boots and the film’s star, LaKeith Stanfield (making his rap debut), before transitioning into “Hey Saturday Night,” a distorted pop piece with a rebellious tempo about weekend antics after a week of lethargy in the office. tUnE-yArDs lend their distinct style of art pop to several of the tracks, as does Janelle Monae, with “Whathegirlmuthafuckinwanndoo” sounding like it was cut from Monae’s latest release DIRTY COMPUTER and lent to The Coup. Of course, their political backdrop breeds a certain type of targeted lyricism, the best of which comes on “Monsoon (featuring Killer Mike),” where Riley equates drinking liquor to escaping from prison and stating, “I drink slowly and the sips sneak over my tongue / Like prisoners over gates before the dobermans come.” Any self-respecting Bay Area rap album would not be complete without a feature from the prolific E-40, who on closer “Crawl Out The Water” urges the systematically oppressed to continue the good fight regardless of the setbacks. Without really knowing it, The Coup released one of the best hip hop albums of the summer, one that gauges the current status of our society and beautifully fuses it with the ridiculous drear of the film in a way that still slaps. [Michael Stanziale]
Punch Brothers – ALL ASHORE
Favorite Tracks: “Three Dots and a Dash,” “All Ashore”
I love the genre-bending aspect of Punch Brothers. Over the course of 10 years, they have opened the world of bluegrass to a wider audience while expanding the traditional bluegrass fans’ palette. But as with any crossover, when does the music lose too much from either side, thus losing its appeal? Like with jazz pop, when does the genre lose too much jazz flavor? When does it become just pop? Or just jazz? In the instance of Punch Brothers, where does the intensity and grit of bluegrass meet the delicacy and technicality of classical? If all their albums exist on a spectrum between those two genres, ALL ASHORE leans more towards the latter, and they deliver yet another interesting album that continues to challenge listeners.
Besides just the instrumentation of the group, this album feels like a classical arrangement. They prominently experiment with rhythm and chord progressions, and ALL ASHORE is full of rhythmic elements that seem to fight pulse, like unexpected syncopation and hemiolas. Sometimes this can have a weightless effect on the song, being tossed in the air so you don’t know where the beat is. only to soon after be caught, anchoring the song once again. Same goes with the musical progressions, where there are plenty of unexpected tonal shifts. In the end, this element of surprise is what narrows the appeal of the album; to a certain extent, we as listeners love predictability and being able to follow along (it’s what makes a song catchy), but walking away from this release, nothing sticks as a memorable or singable line.
To say that this sparse experimentation is a new direction for the group is far from the truth, as it’s something they’ve always balanced. Their debut album contained a suite in four movements—a very classical move. Even their 2015 album, THE PHOSPHORESCENT BLUES, had works by Debussy and Scriabin. But for a listener like me, whose favorite album is WHO’S FEELING YOUNG NOW, these instrumental-heavy records are pleasant but not gripping. For those looking for the danceability of bluegrass, this is not the Punch Brothers album for you. [Stephanie Caress]
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
SALES – FOREVER & EVER
Genre: Indie Pop, Dream Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Spiral,” “Off and On,” “White Jeans,” “Talk a Lot,” “Rainy Day Loop”
I went into FOREVER & EVER wanting to dislike what SALES has become: an all-too-likable indie pop act that releases pure gold every time they lay down a track. Then I read their Spotify bio: “All the pop, no industry bullshit.” That’s when I realized that you can’t really knock the ear candy perfection SALES nailed on their self-titled full-length debut, an album that soundtracked so many formative moments in my young adulthood. “Trapped in a Club” played on repeat the day of my fraternity drop, “Over” was the anthem in the back of my brain as I bleached my hair and vowed to try and retain teenage autonomy into my adulthood, and “Mondays” is, to this day, the perfect track to put on during the adjustment from the weekend to the workweek, drained and cynical, but excited to see what life dishes up next.
They continue to serve up that ear candy perfection on their sophomore record, FOREVER & EVER, which finds SALES more grown-up and successful but still familiarly youthful and vulnerable. “White Jeans” plays like a Lana Del Rey track that evaded the grip of corporate A&R. Opening with the lines, “You come on to me / At a cool party / This is not a test / This is not a dream,” the track is summery perfection. “Off and On” nails the same DIIV-y melodic guitar formula that producer Jordan Shih has kept on with since the act’s first singles in 2013. Album closer “Rainy Day Loop” sees SALES’ beatmaking chops at their best, and Lauren Morgan’s Björk-y vocals are simultaneously at their most Hollywood and dorm room as she sings “My friends don’t even recognize my face / Watch me fade away.”
2018 will go down as the year bedroom pop broke, and because inviting DIY is such a trendy facade to adopt, it has become easy to dismiss homegrown and unpretentious albums like FOREVER & EVER. But with so many years of songwriting and constant touring under their belts, Morgan and Shih have an edge on their soundalikes. They’re genuinely smart songwriters and world class producers. While SALES could easily go corporate and see their profits rise, FOREVER & EVER proves that they’re making music out of love instead of necessity. While it may not fit as perfectly into my life as SALES LP did when I was 18, that’s more a product of me getting older than it is of the group’s latest being lackluster. FOREVER & EVER is one of the rare records in its niche that deserves to be taken from the bedroom and hung on the fridge. [Ted Davis]
Thin Lips – CHOSEN FAMILY
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Songs: “A Song For Those Who Miss You All The Time,” “South America,” “Saying Yes,” “What’s So Bad About Being Lonely,” “Sex Is Complicated”
Thin Lips, the Philadelphia band made up of siblings Chrissy (guitar, vocals) and Mikey (drums) Tashjian, and Kyle Pulley (bass), have gone through some difficult years as of late, but one thing is certain: a decade of trials has made the trio work very well together. The results show, and their latest, CHOSEN FAMILY, is a beautiful and dynamic album. Compared to their 2016 debut, RIFF HARD, the group displays a more even balance between the three caballeros; the fierce, angsty punk sound that they once embraced has transformed into a mature rock sound with a side of pop.
CHOSEN FAMILY is a tribute to the 42 allies who are her family, blood or not, showcasing their smiling faces in a Christmas card style collage as if they all actually have their arms wrapped around each other. While it’s never easy to face your fears or demons, Chrissy Tashjian uses Thin Lips’ latest as an opportunity to thank those loved ones who have supported her, and it makes sense when she introduces the album with a mini-monologue about how she settled into her queer identity, explaining that family is what you make it. The 49-second track morphs effortlessly into the opening song, “Gaslight Anthem (The Song Not The Band),” which unfolds a toxic, past relationship. The humorous parenthesis reflects the playful side of the band, one you hear as they pair painful subjects with dancy riffs and upbeat drum lines. From there the album journeys through the death of a brother (“A Song For Those Who Miss You All The Time”), loneliness (“A Song For Those Who Miss You All The Time”), vulnerability (“Sex Is Complicated”), ghosts (“So Stoned”), anxiety (“ It’s Hard To Tell The Difference When You’re Afraid Of Literally Everything”), and being from a religious upbringing (“The Kate Escape”).
What makes CHOSEN FAMILY stand out is the perfect execution. Opting for a new recording process this time around, Thin Lips were able to rearrange the songs as they went, making for a more efficient creation process that allowed for the best possible instrumental timing. The addition of keyboard and synth (“Smoking’s For Quitters”), coupled with the seamless flow between songs (especially from “South America” into “I Know That I’m The Asshole”), has added purpose, and the songs work well together from start to finish. Between the brilliant lyrics, interesting perspectives, sharp guitar hooks, masterful execution of rhythms, and the experience that these musicians have, CHOSEN FAMILY is a recipe for success. They also get kudos for picking “42” friends (regardless of intention), because that’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything. [Liliane Neubecker]
Wild Pink – Yolk in the Fur
Genre: Heartland Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Lake Erie,” “There is a Ledger,” “The Seance on St. Augustine St.”
The Summer season can oftentimes provide opportunities to simply enjoy a warm afternoon without the pandemonium of a normal working life. If that is a vibe you are pursuing, then Wild Pink’s sophomore release, YOLK IN THE FUR, will certainly serve as a reliable guide. The consoling vocal tone of singer John Ross has an infallible ability to wisk one away into an almost meditative state. An album packed with glittering thrum, YOLK IN THE FUR lends much of its creative core to songs titled after landscapes. In these, the New York trio is able to fine-tune their heartland synth conventions with splashes of flute and heavier guitar. On opener “Burger Hill,” Ross strikes us with an ideological innocence that comes from a place of inordinate goodwill. His description of a man gazing into nature is transcendental, as simplistic drum and guitar rhythms support him. In many ways, this is his show. “Lake Erie” starts strong, with a sliding guitar reminiscent of more mainstream country music, before a stream of consciousness that continues to reference nature supports his introspection: “I smell the grass and the trees after the rain in the breeze / And I wonder how different some days go” indicates his reliance on real thought free of clutter and bias. The album is in incredibly earnest in this way, and at times Ross’ shy demeanor is opened up by subtle lyrics strewn through the piece. “There Is A Ledger” might be the danciest track on the album due to its tempo, but even here he sings, “Sometimes I see you in my mind’s eye blowing on your coffee / There were times you weren’t as kind as I thought you were / I don’t want to think like that,” which just slays you with honesty that feel authentic and original. YOLK IN THE FUR is good for the soul, like breathing in the steam from a fresh cup of tea. It soothes the mind and assists with the search of clarity that we can all sometimes desire. [Michael Stanziale]