In Colour Review

A Symphony of Synths

Jamie XX has branched out into the wildly familiar unknown for his first record without his XX counterparts that creates a luscious soundscape full of 90s UK dancehall throwback with a modern flair.

Jamie is a conductor of his synth-symphony, and every direction he takes feels as natural and beautiful as the sweeping air around us. He commands your every emotion with cracking drums and vibrating synths that sound like signal echoes from the distance. It’s difficult to pull of what he has done on “In Colour”, but goddamn does it excel in everything it sets out to be: bold, beautiful, and dense.

From the opening crescendo of layered drums and samples on the intro track ‘Gosh’, Jamie lays out a clear expectation for the listeners: “Don’t expect convention.” He clashes brash and abrasive samples in layer-after-layer to create a dirty, uncertain sound. It isn’t until he ties the package together with a rich, high-pitched synth that flows freely that he hits you in the face with what he has just created.

Another stand out cut off the album, ‘Loud Places’, sees Jamie reunited with female vocalist and band mate, Romy, from their group The XX. “I go to those places/ Where we used to go/ They seem so quiet now/ I’m here, all alone,” sings Romy with a soft, false confidence. The track does a perfect job of illustrating the “lost in the crowd” feeling post-breakup, when it amps up the pulsing 808s and soulful chorus sample. “You’re in ecstacy/ Without me/ When you come down/ I might be around.”

The greatest aspect about this song, and the others on the album, is its ability to jam so much into a few minutes with such clarity and vision. It becomes very clear that Jamie has found his lane while shifting the paradigm of what is possible for electronic production. “In Colour” is a vivid realization of raw talent.

 

I Love You, Honeybear Review

Nihilism: A Love Story

Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty, isn’t shy enough to leave his nihilism at the door. He will let you know how shit he thinks technology is for our relationship culture or how deeply he hates the same things his wife does. Love, to him, can be a vehicle for money and a front for selfish temptation.

At the heart, or void, of “I Love You, Honeybear” is a man desperately coming to terms with the ins and outs of love, and how he is drawn towards what he hates. Tillman hates her use of technology for communication, her over exaggeration of importance, and just how beautiful she is.

He knows he is an asshole. In fact, his self-deprecation in relation to his pretention is what makes this album miles above similar indie counterparts. Not only does he criticize the world through his narcissistic lens, he is able to self evaluate his place in all the mess. There is an uncertainty in his voice, a tone of one too many shots of cheap whiskey. “I Love You, Honeybear” is brilliant and poetic, marking a high-point for the former Fleet Foxes drummer.

The song ‘Nothing Ever Good Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow’ sees Tillman crooning over sounds that would feel comfortable in the dive bar of a small town in Georgia. It’s slow and sappy but also quite intricate in its use of whirling strings behind southern blues. Tillman wails over being advanced on by numerous women at the bar, but then thinks to himself how his wife is going about the same experience: “is she strong enough to realize what we have?”

Through each of its 11 tracks, “I Love You, Honeybear” is a fresh new perspective on love, and a chronicle of a man who comes to terms with himself in the wake of finding the one.

Run the Jewels 3 Review

A Bombastic and Heartfelt Letter to the Duo’s Peak at Greatness

Run the Jewels, hip-hop’s tag team composed of Killer Mike and El-P, dropped their third album that blast a Kalashnikov spray at anybody in their way while lending a voice and a megaphone to those left speechless.

The swagger of Brooklyn’s underground and Atlanta’s trap pair like bread and butter for a duo that only know how to raise the bar above the rest. “Run the Jewels 3” aims its sights to prove that the third installment in a trilogy can be the best. At 14 tracks, the project succeeds by delivering hard-hitting bangers and analog synth arrangements that could inspire political and personal revolution.

The production on this album becomes the third member of the group as El-P fills every track with dense sounds that add texture and weight to every gut-punch and one-liner.

“Bullyin’ bastards and beatin’ on beats / Sounds like a day at the beach, preach,” raps Mike on the Ric Flair tinged track ‘Legend Has It’. Horns and abrasive record scratches creep into simple drum and bass that crescendos into a beat switch signaled by crowds chanting, “RTJ!” The drums slam and the flows murder as if they just launched off the top rope at WrestleMania.

Another standout track, ‘Don’t Get Captured’, describes the morbid reality of those who choose to pull a trigger, whether for profession or necessity. The John Carpenter-esque synths score the snuff film nature while 808’s bust through to mimic gunshots. The song is haunting and a testament to Run the Jewel’s dedication to balance humor, intelligence, and morbid reality. “Is that blunt? Oh well, so’s this boot / We live to hear you say, ‘Please don’t shoot’,” El-P spits from the perspective of a cop who is prideful in beating down the little guy.

Run the Jewels enlist their most diverse selection of features yet, ranging from Detroit’s horror-house M.C. Danny Brown, to Miami legend Trina. Saxophones swell to an emotional climax from L.A. jazz icon Kamasi Washington on the track ‘Thursday in the Danger Room’, which amounts to the best produced and most vulnerable track in the RTJ catalogue.

If the first two Run the Jewels albums set out to prove greatness, “Run the Jewels 3” is their victory speech. El-P and Mike have blown the hinges off of the door for their third outing, with no signs of slowing down any time soon.

“Run the Jewels 3” released on physical and digital on January 13, 2017.

Process Review

Drifting Through Space

Sampha’s new record is an experience in understanding a path to nihilism through its 10 tracks. “Process” is a rare, intimate album that succeeds both as a debut for the soft-spoken artist and an exhibition for a haunted man who communicates through delicately produced alternative-R&B.

Sampha Sizay is recognized as a fresh voice with neo-soul sound with his multiple EP releases since 2011. The South London native has carved his own style into the underground electronic circles in past years, while collaborating with some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B. These collaborations with, Drake, Solange, Kanye West, and Frank Ocean have shaped his sound and as an artist, echoing through this debut album.

Sampha’s delivery on “Process” puts forth the impression that he did nothing but learn through these collaborations. What follows on the album is similar to reversing a nuclear bomb: watching the mushroom cloud sink back into its metal housing to the point of detonation. To experience this album is to experience a man processing emotions of grief, love, and death.

The journey begins on the track ‘Plastic 100°C’ with the slow plucks of a harp and recordings from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on their moonwalk. “It’s so hot I’ve been melting out here/I’m made out of plastic out here,” sings Sampha, “You touched down in the base of my fears/Houston, can-can-can you hear?” He shields his true self from his lover, who is the light of his life, and soars to close for her to see. Sampha melts under her luminous presence by allowing himself to take cues from Icarus, and his self-destruction. Distant drums and ambient noises support Sampha’s soft soprano until he wades into the track’s atmosphere, much like drifting off into space.

Most of the tracks sound completely unique and tailored for Sampha’s brand of eclectic self-expression. The production combines everything but the kitchen sink, often clashing soft piano keys with dense production that would sound fitting on a new SBTRKT album.

“Process” is filled with a visual sensibility that allows the tracks to burst into a third dimension. The atmospheres he creates act as a vehicle for the listeners that float through Sampha’s tripped-out imagery in his fraught dreamscapes.

The track ‘Reverse Faults’ is the best cut on “Process”, with a harder-hitting instrumental that illustrates Sampha in a vicious cycle of self-harm for ruining his relationship with the woman mentioned in the album’s opener. The soundscape shifts from reverse to forward with layered sequences of drums backed by intense sub-bass. “I shot the blame and it scattered/Now there’s bullet holes spread across the walls,” sings Sampha. The song is beautiful in its composition and harrowing in its result, much like the album itself.

The album was released on streaming, digital, and physical on Feb. 3, 2017.

Culture Review

The Cubic Zirconia of Trap

Imagine the largest and most extravagant ring available. The stone embedded in the gold ring is perfect. Instead of a ruby, sapphire, or any beautiful gem, the ring is holding a cubic zirconia cut to appear as a flawless diamond. Migos’ latest album is that ring “Culture” loses weight and punch under close inspection, even with the presence of fine-tuned, glamorous production

When Atlanta’s own trap trio dropped chart-topper ‘Versace’ in 2013, the crew has been riding their own wave ever since. Each verse ends with an adlib. Every track is host to infectious hooks that define what it means to head bob. Their impeccable triplet rhymes surf over some of the punchiest sounds made possible by veteran producers who never come up empty on how to use an 808.

Migos’ latest release, “Culture”, is no different. The project is obnoxiously catchy while Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset effortlessly roll of each other. The issue with the project is that Migos’ have already proven themselves as hit-makers. The word “talent” is synonymous with the group, yet they have not seized the opportunity to evolve past what they are clearly capable of. The end result is a perfectly serviceable trap album with all bark and barely any bite.

That is not to say there is zero enjoyment or quality to be found across the album’s hour long duration. Where this album excels is in its ability to stun with some of the most creative production coming out of the Atlanta trap scene. As per tradition with recent trends in the genre, the production credits act as features themselves. Frequent Gucci Mane collaborator Zaytoven is behind the boards on the song ‘Big on Big’ with his talented flavor of mixing harmonizing piano with dirty snares. Cardo, the brains behind Schoolboy Q’s ‘That Part’ and Jay Rock’s ‘Vice City’, orchestrates hard-hitting sounds of impending doom on the track ‘Deadz’. The album bounces and flows like a river filled with codeine and Sprite.

Migos work well when paired with far more interesting characters in the trap scene. Travis Scott spills onto the cocaine-dusted canvas of ‘Kelly Price,’ one of the project’s best cuts. 2 Chainz pulls up and rattles the track ‘Deadz’ with his signature brand of offbeat flow with a flex and a shrug. “Might buy a bowling alley, I got money out the gutter / Fully automatic, and it don’t don’t stutter.”

The album’s closer, ‘Out Yo Way,’ is a refreshing step in the right direction for the group’s evolution. Backed by a murderous baseline over a light-hearted flute tones, the track pays respect to the women that set them on the path to stardom. Each member takes full advantage of their flow, but Offset rips this beat to shreds with a verse that comes off as an earnest gloat in an effortless, rapid-fire flow. “Everybody said that we would fall away / Nobody thought that we would go up / But we blew up, blew up, blew up.”

The album was released on streaming, digital, and physical on Jan. 27, 2017.

Accelerator EP Review

Smooth Insanity

Paul White and Danny Brown have proven to the music world that they are untouchable in the circle of experimental hip-hop. White brings his signature brand of off-kilter, post-punk production to Brown’s zany rap vocation for an insane two-track EP, “Accelerator”.

White and Brown are no strangers to each other. The Detroit based MC and British producer and vocalist meshed their brands on Brown’s critically acclaimed album, “Atrocity Exhibition”, where Brown became cemented in hip-hop as a remarkable force of nature. Brown’s “Looney-Tunes” flow and White’s muddy, spastic instrumentals on tracks like ‘Golddust’ and ‘Aint it Funny’ merged anxiety inducing soundscapes on an album full of dark and trippy lyricism. These two are continuing the trend for an EP that fits right at home on the b-sides of “Atrocity Exhibition”.

The title track, ‘Accelerator’, sounds like the type of dirty UK grunge that lies buried beneath a run-down pub. Amidst the grimy drum line emerges Brown: “Rap Ralph Bashki/ Smokin’ teriyaki/ Verbal kamikaze/ Axel at the Roxy”. Brown busts out rapid-fire verses illustrating the spiraling descent into madness. White cranks out a punk guitar riff to highlight the insane atmosphere when Brown jumps on the hook, “Walking light, the ground is so shaky/ Losing sight ’cause things is so hazy/ Lost my mind, think I’m going crazy.” The result is equal parts wild and intoxicating.

The second track on the EP, ‘Lion’s Den’, is a major contrast to its counterpart with its whimsical instrumentals that take flight over a clean snare and bass drum beat. “Seen too many fall, but this is all I know/ Whole family got high, I guess it’s in my blood,” raps Danny Brown, in a tale of his rise from Motor City with all the struggle and strife that came along. The track is less experimental than the title track, but what it lacks in grime is made up in the cut’s astonishing refinement.

“Accelerator” is the kind of gut-punch that explains the versatility of hip-hop. White and Brown have crafted two tracks that prove their range on each end of the tonal spectrum, without compromising talent or personality.

The EP was released on streaming, digital, and physical on Feb. 10, 2017.