Album Review: Solange – When I Get Home

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Artist: Solange

Album: When I Get Home

Genre: R&B/Alternative R&B/Hip Hop

Label: Columbia Records 

Rating: 6/10

Back in 2016 Solange Knowles released a powerful album named A Seat At The Table. An album that was just as much a statement as it was an adventurous exploration in the realm of “R&B” and it’s many sub-genres. With a smooth and sexy sleekness, the album touched on topics such as race, anger, and escapism through our many vices, and as important as this subject matter is, the album was never obnoxiously overbearing. Instead, Solange lured us in with her soothing vocals that displayed the importance of subtlety. As groundbreaking and acclaimed as this album was, you can imagine how much hype a follow-up would get, so naturally her new album When I Get Home is definitely receiving that hype. Unfortunately, the album does not live up to the hype. Following a highly successful album isn’t easy. The bar has been set, and most will want you to create something that is on par with the predecessor. We all know Solange has the talent to do so, but instead, most of the tracks on When I Get Home fall incredibly flat. This leads to a frustrating listen. Like A Seat At The TableWhen I Get Home is filled with interludes, but the ironic thing is that all of the full-length tracks on this album sound like interludes. Each track has imaginative and quite innovative production at times thanks to a laundry list of collaborators such as Pharrell, Tyler, The Creator, Panda Bear, Dev Hynes, Steve Lacy, and Metro Boomin, but each track is anticlimactic with it’s repetition. Solange most definitely wanted to experiment more and offer a Psychedelic experience, but her ambition to explore as much as possible was a detriment to this album, making the whole thing sound completely scatterbrained. Songs like Way To The Show” and “Stay Flo” feel like they should be a lot more impactful, but like the rest of the album, the tracks sound like unfinished rough drafts with lackluster lyrics and underwhelming vocals that get cringeworthy at times. Yes this album does feature thought-provoking subject matter, but that subject matter is translated through lackluster songwriting. Important subject matter doesn’t suffice when it comes to constructing a full album where every other element has to be up to par. Solange can do much better. Hopefully her next release will be an improvement.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 03/05/19

Track Review: WYVZ – Rescue Annie

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Artist: WYVZ

Song: Rescue Annie

Genre: Electronic/Experimental/IDM

“Everything sounds the same.” This statement couldn’t be more true when describing the current landscape of most genre music. Especially in the world of “Electronic” music. Though we do have our imaginative visionaries who push the boundaries and offer more than the four to the floor predictability, most casual listeners are accustomed to the idea that “Electronic” music is one-dimensional, and that’s unfortunate, but “Electronic” group “WYVZ” are here to break that monotony. The aforementioned quote comes from the group’s new single “Rescue Annie,” where vocalist Devon Travis sings with melancholy fervor, and though the vocals evoke sadness, there’s also a hint of hope in his tone, and that contrast is beautifully executed. The instrumentation provided by member Georgia McEwen-Hall is what powerfully pushes the boundaries and displays the vast possibilities of “Electronic” experimentation. “WYVZ” is her brainchild, and her creation is truly captivating. Her previous E.P. Triangle showcased her innovative style, and now with “Rescue Annie” she has moved to the next level. With subtle atmospherics that have a meditative nature, the track builds and builds without being too overblown. The track carries a consistent tone that never bombards the listener with an obnoxious climax, but the attention to detail and the subtle progression keeps that track away from repetition. Everything from the arpeggiated bass in the beginning, to the Sci-Fi laden synths, to the eruption of clean percussion, this track is immaculately produced. Georgia McEwen-Hall is a producer to pay attention to, and now that “WYVZ” is a collaborative effort with fellow talented artists Devon Travis and Okee Brand who handles the technical side of things, this is an exciting moment for “Electronic” and “Experimental” music. A new full-length album is on the horizon, and hopefully the band doesn’t make us wait too long for it.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 01/24/19

 

 

Album Review: James Blake – Assume Form

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Artist: James Blake

Album: Assume Form

Genre: Alternative R&B/Electronic 

Rating: 8/10

James Blake has proven himself to be an intriguing shapeshifter in the modern music world over the years. Everything from his early days of Electronic-tinged flirtation with “Post-Dubstep,” to his moody atmospherics on an album like Overgrown, predicting what a James Blake project will sound like has always been nearly impossible, but one thing is certain, he isn’t afraid to sing his sorrow and vulnerability, and his ambition to push the boundaries in “Electronic” music and to innovate is undeniably enticing. However, that desire to experiment was a detriment on his last album The Colour In Anything. With immense incohesion, the album felt like a compilation of short lived vignettes that didn’t reach their full potential, and that scatterbrained style is something that did not work in his favor. Following that album, Blake has worked with a myriad of artists, primarily in the “Hip Hop” genre, lending his talented hand and pushing his name into the masses while doing so. On his new album Assume Form, it’s evident that his work with other artists have given him a new sense of inspiration and rejuvenation. Just listen to the track “Mile High” featuring Travis Scott and Metro Boomin and you’ll know what I mean. The track is a head on exploration in the moody Pop Rap that has become dominant in the music world, but that isn’t to say Blake has completely adopted this style, because though he works with an artist like Metro Boomin who delivers that moody “Trap” flavor on a few tracks, Blake still delves into atmospheric sound and blesses us with gorgeous piano, strings, and sound textures that paint an ominous picture. However, the instrumentation is never overbearing, and it enhances the vocals and lyrics. Here we are hearing a love stricken James Blake. The album’s overall theme is love and it’s complex nature. The myriad of emotions that are associated with love, positive and negative are soothingly displayed. The negatives being the reluctance to get close to someone out of fear of being hurt like on the track “Tell Them,” or that pessimistic feeling that there has to be a catch or that something will go wrong when everything is going right in a relationship like on the track “Where’s The Catch” which features an impeccable verse from André 3000, but the positives far outweigh the negatives, because on the bulk of these tracks James Blake happily accepts the fact that he is very much in love, and that though no love or relationship is flawless, the feeling of loving and being loved is one of life’s greatest privileges. It’s that realistic detailing of love and learning as you go as a relationship progresses that truly flourishes on this album, and that optimistic encouragement to recognize that love is a worthy learning experience is something that will resonate with anyone. A realistic love record. It’s rare when we get those, and who better to give us one than an undeniably talented songwriter who wears his heart on his sleeve like James Blake?

Written By: Steven Sandoval 

Date: 01/19/19

BROCKHAMPTON Make Late Night TV Debut and Announce New Album

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Following Ameer Vann’s departure from the group due to recent allegations of sexual misconduct, the future was unclear for “BROCKHAMPTON,” but now it is clear that the boys are back and ready to embark on the next chapter of their lives. The group debuted a new track titled “Tonya” live on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and it will appear on their upcoming album The Best Years of Our Lives. No release date yet, but it’s most likely just around the corner. You can watch the live performance below:

Album Review: J. Cole – KOD

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Artist: J. Cole

Album: KOD

Genre: Hip Hop

Rating: 5/10

 Hip Hop is at a point now where the golden era of the 80’s and 90’s is often labeled “Dad Rap.” It’s been this way for awhile, but this recent crop of Trap rappers whom dominate the airwaves have made this even more apparent. The tattooed from head to toe rappers with colored dreads who put more emphasis on pounding bass and Trap high hats to make up for lack of technical skill have set the bar pretty low, but their success is at an all time high, but there are those rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, and Big K.R.I.T. who deliver thought provoking lyrical content all while pushing the genre forward by incorporating new and innovative elements, but there is a rapper who has all the qualities Hip Hop traditionalists love, but still manages to slip through the cracks when it comes to the “G.O.A.T.” talks, and that man is J. Cole. We’ve all heard the “platinum with no features,” “boring,” and “folding laundry” jokes, but all memes aside, the guy is a respectable MC. So what is it about his music that is so divisive? Well, everything he has released thus far has showcased his skills as an MC and a lyricist yes, but his songwriting abilities are very average, and his “old head” mentality is more of a curse than a gift. His decision to rap over dated “Boom Bap” production and his lack of interest in pushing the envelope deems much of his work inessential, and when you make Hip Hop in the 2010’s that’s indistinguishable from Hip Hop of the 90’s it raises the question “Why should we care about Cole?” His new album KOD suffers from the same issues, but the thing is, this album sounds like it was supposed to be his masterpiece. It feels as if Cole was shooting for a revolutionary album. This album is rich in thought provoking and quite intriguing subject matter, and it features recurring themes of mainstream Hip Hop’s glamorization of drugs and the influence it’s having on the youth, as well as humanity’s immersion in the evils of money, and the complex subject of love, which according to this album is “The strongest drug of them all.” Ugh, I don’t think I’ve eaten nachos as cheesy as that, and I don’t think that joke I just made is as cheesy as that line on the album. Anyway, yes these are topical and important subjects on paper, but the delivery is so lackluster that it unfortunately makes this album uninteresting, and I’m not talking about Cole’s rapping, I’m talking about how he focuses more on his flow and lyrical content and not enough on the production and anything else in the bigger picture that truly makes an album good. Yes lyrical content is a beautiful thing, and it is a very important part of music, but it’s not the only important element. If that were the case than books would be more popular than music. His lyrics and flow are not enough to save the album from the very plain and bland instrumentals, the generic “Trap” whether it’s done ironically or not, and the repetitive and uninspired hooks, and believe me, these hooks are terrible. Just listen to “The Cut Off” and you’ll know what I mean. Under the guise “kiLL edward,” Cole delivers a God awful annoying as Hell hook that anyone in their right mind would find grating, and unfortunately this uninteresting alter ego appears once again on the track “FRIENDS.” The tracks “ATM” and “KOD” are the strongest moments on the album, but they only sound a lot better than what they actually are because the rest of the album is so forgettable. Now I’m not trying to just rip this album to shreds. I actually have respect for J. Cole and I think he is a very talented MC, but he needs to realize that just because you talk about “real shit,” doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be placed amongst the greats. It doesn’t automatically make an album good. If he’s too stubborn to realize that then he will most likely continue to release inessential and divisive music.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 04/23/18

Death Grips Unveil “Year of the Snitch” Album Cover

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Death Grips have unveiled the cover for their upcoming album Year of the Snitch, and in true Death Grips fashion it is uncomfortable, repulsive, and damn captivating. Year of the Snitch still has no release date, but the album is “Coming soon” according to the band.

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Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 04/06/18

Album Review: Black Panther: The Album

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Artist: Various Artists

Album: Black Panther Soundtrack

Genre: Hip Hop/R&B/Dancehall

Rating: 8/10

We’re all patiently waiting (Well not patiently but we’re waiting) for Black Panther to hit theaters this Friday. It has the potential to be a revolutionary film with it’s talented cast and relevant themes, but while we wait we can all enjoy the film’s soundtrack, and who better to curate the soundtrack than the G.O.A.T. Kendrick Lamar? Lamar was originally going to just write a few tracks for the soundtrack, but after seeing the film he was inspired to produce the whole thing along with Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and a number of producers such as Sounwave, DJ Dahi, Mike Will Made It, BadBadNotGood, and many more. The soundtrack features a star-studded lineup with fellow labelmates SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock, as well as Vince Staples, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott, Khalid, James Blake, Anderson .Paak, Future, and The Weeknd. When the tracklist and features were revealed many of us had high hopes for this album, and somehow this album still exceeded our expectations. Not only is this a well produced well put together soundtrack to “Marvel’s” most highly anticipated film in years, but it is a holistic record that takes on a life of it’s own. Each track transitions seamlessly into the next while the continuous incorporation of tribal percussion and exotic instruments evoke the spirit of Wakanda. Even the harsher tracks like the film’s antagonist Erik Killmonger’s theme “King’s Dead” or the “EDM” heavy “Opps” never stray away from the central themes of the album and they paint a picture of what could be going on in the film, and that’s one of the many intriguing things about this soundtrack, and that’s how are these songs going to be worked into the film? Mind you this is still a “Marvel” film and the bulk of these tracks feature explicit content, but there’s no doubt in my mind that they will work perfectly within the context of the film. This album even features some bangers heavy with Trap production like “X” or “Big Shot.” “Paramedic!” brings that hard-hitting West Coast flavor, and the contrast between songs like these and a song like the gorgeous “All The Stars” or the “Dancehall” driven “Redemption” works perfectly. Even though the mood often shifts from one track to another the album stays cohesive, dispelling any preconceived notions that this album is just a collection of tracks. This soundtrack is a great reflection of a revolutionary film that will be a defining moment for African American culture.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 02/12/18