Album-art-for-Dark-Red-by-Shlohmo Shlohmo – Dark Red

★★★½☆

Dark Red is the second studio album from producer Shlohmo (aka Henry Laufer). After releasing No More with R&B singer Jeremih in 2014, an EP of baby-making music, this new project takes a turn for the ambient and dark. Heavy drones cast a dark cloud over the album, but Shlohmo switches up the vibe with complex beats, unlike his usual solemn and slow hip-hop-like style. Shlohmo has explained that the album is supposed to be loud and polarizing, and the project has precisely that type of environment.

The album opens with “Ten Days of Falling,” which has one solid ominous beat that carries through the track’s five minutes. While the song sets a very specific mood for the album, it doesn’t exactly fit. It screeches and howls in ways that are interesting yet painful. The intentionally jarring nature is overwhelming on an opening track. Still, it clearly was a very conscious choice to have such an intense, droning opening.

A theme throughout Dark Red is the presence of deep, sorrowful echoes. Many of the tracks embody a sad struggle. The percussion creates a steadiness, yet the higher pitched accents contrast and pull away from that. Sonically, the album is very aggressive and rough; there is a consistent rhythm to each track, but the contrasting sounds create tension within the beats. Each track on Dark Red is quite complex—to give a tactile simile, many of the songs are like moving through molasses with flakes of sand or glass strategically embedded.

Still, there are some more percussive tracks that have a drum and bass vibe. “Meet Ur Maker” begins with a hollow composition of singular sounds that develop into a more outright drum-heavy beat. It’s somewhat slow to be considered drum and bass, but one can hear the influence. “Beams” has a dream-like feel, opening with what sounds like wind chimes that become distorted as the beat builds into an epic percussive climax that carries throughout much of the track.

A standout from Dark Red is “Apathy,” which features fellow electronic producer D33J. This track has a much fuller sound in contrast to others on the album; the layers of the beat are not as easily dissected. The track is also the only one with some semblance of vocals, sounding as though there are distorted singular notes sung and morphed into another element of the beat.

The song is still pained, but while the less full tracks are tense, this feels like controlled freedom.

“Relentless” is a favorite with nuanced production and unique sounds. At times, it is reminiscent of the sound for an 8 bit video game, but overall the track’s pained synths eerily slither throughout until exploding into another rhythm.

Dark Red is an intriguing development for Shlohmo. It’s definitely more experimental than his previous work, straying away from his assumed hip hop-like beats. He does an interesting job of taking those hip-hop elements and contorting them into creative, tormented beats. Dark Red is surprisingly dark—a thoroughly entrancing, emotional album.

 Shlohmo – Dark Red tracklist:

  1. Ten Days of Falling
  2. Meet Ur Maker
  3. Buried
  4. Emerge From Smoke
  5. Slow Descent
  6. Apathy (feat. D33J)
  7. Relentless
  8. Ditch
  9. Remains
  10. Fading
  11. Beams
Album-art-for-Deeper-by-The-Soft-Moon The Soft Moon – Deeper

★★★★☆

There are places in the consciousness where people seek solace and peace; plains of existence that are reached through meditation or hallucination, and where the collective strives to find a sense of serenity and calm. What Luis Vasquez, the man behind The Soft Moon, found in his consciousness is anger, fear, and paranoia—feelings he transformed into song. Recorded at the aptly named Hate Studios, Vasquez’s new EP Deeper spawns a brooding and darkly introspective vision of what it means to be truly alone.

To record Deeper, Vasquez moved to Italy, a place completely unfamiliar to him, where he didn’t speak the language or have any friends, to work with producer Maurizio Baggio. For The Soft Moon’s third release, Vasquez was determined to create his most personal and honest writing to date. To do that, he retreated to a completely foreign surrounding and forced himself to face his own fears, his past, and to question everything about his own existence. The result is a deeply haunting and vulnerable collection of songs that feel like first-hand visions into Vasquez’s battle of self-deprication.

This record is equal parts raw and dark, but also strangely primitive and familiar.

Each of the 11 tracks have a single word title that’s as revealing as the music itself. The first single released from the album, “Black,” is an homage to the industrial movement that Nine Inch Nails forced onto the scene many years ago on Downward Spiral, but there is an intense and edgier honesty to Vasquez’s creations. It’s as if the pain of his self-therapy is immediately translated into his melodies. The song “Far” even offers the quintessential “industrial pop metal” tune that Reznor frequently drops, almost sounding like an emotionally disturbed Depeche Mode.

The last two songs on Deeper give the best view of the breadth of Vasquez’s synth-scape. The title-track “Deeper” begins with a tribal drum circle feel before Vasquez’s synth comes ripping into the song, and his echoed and breathy voice sings, “Feel the pressure/…/Deeper/…/Deeper,” followed by a melodic and intense tribal chant. On “Being,” Vasquez experiments with some production tricks by imitating a tape deck playing, then rewinding and repeating the whispered lines, “I can’t see my face/I don’t know who I am/What is this place/I don’t know where I am.” What follows is a track with a multitude of sonic layers that includes an ’80s inspired upbeat backdrop of synth and keyboard, before devolving into pained screams and a cacophony of sound that escalates into a sonic flat line of white noise.

Out of a primordial ooze of industrial metal, synth-pop, and electro-rock, sprinkled with some trance and personal pain, Vasquez has created something powerfully remarkable.

While Deeper may not bring people to a place of transcendental peace, it will provoke brutally honest questions about solitude, pain, and personal demons. Deeper explores a uniquely human question about our existence and what we experience in our darker moments. This record is Vasquez baring his soul for us to share in, and learn from his experience. Vasquez has said he pushed himself to discover the reality and nightmare of living with yourself. Deeper represents a different type of spiritual understanding and discovery for Vasquez and his listeners—one that will take listeners to the edge of anger and paranoia, but leave them feeling surprisingly energized and moved by the human element and power in his music.

The Soft Moon – Deeper tracklist:

  1. “Inward”
  2. “Black”
  3. “Far”
  4. “Wasting”
  5. “Wrong”
  6. “Try”
  7. “Desertion”
  8. “Without”
  9. “Feel”
  10. “Deeper”
  11. “Being”
Album-art-for-make-it-real-by-avan-lava AVAN LAVA – Make It Real

★★★☆☆

AVAN LAVA has had a busy year. Performing in Brazil, at Lancôme’s Paris Fashion Week event, and for NME in London, AVAN LAVA’s eccentric live performances are boosting the trio’s popularity. In the midst of worldwide travel, the band found time to create an album that’s as lively as its performances. Make It Real is an EP fit for the club, mixing sex and conquering life in tune to pulsating beats. AVAN LAVA incorporates techno elements, strong vocals, and optimistic lyrics through the album’s uplifting tracks.

Though just now releasing its first EP, AVAN LAVA has figured out how to make its music stand out against other dance artists. Though the album uses basic, repetitive beats and synthesized bings and rings, Make it Real seems new. Maybes it’s the clarity of vocalist TC Milan’s singing, or the unapologetic theme of the lyrics, or a combination of the two. Either way, AVAN LAVA’s carefree approach on Make It Real makes for an infectious listen.

In “Wanna Live” beats that can be best described as intensified Nintendo bleeps flicker out over a female’s distant crooning. As the song progresses, the bleeping continues with occasional siren-like ringing noises increasing in volume before diminishing, repeating the process at increments throughout the track’s progression. The siren theme resurfaces when Milton’s wailing, “I just wanna live,” is drawn out and manipulated to a shrill, high-pitch.

Make It Real deserves to be played with multi-colored laser lights flash out over writhing bodies.

Fuzzy keys crash in and out of songs, setting up for Milton’s wailing or just to make bits of songs sound more chaotic—the only “mellow” sound heard on the album comes from Milton.

Whether singing about watching sunrises between thighs or gathering the courage to start over, Milton’s vocals aren’t muddled or difficult to understand—even with the album’s, at times, chaotic beats. AVAN LAVA’s single, “Leave It All Behind,” is an empowering song paired with glitchy beats, encouraging putting one’s personal happiness above everything else. Milton varies from a falsetto crooning, “Leave it all behind/We can leave it all behind,” to his lower, velvety tone. In the lower voice Milton commands the listener’s attention as he sings, “Looking at the days and the years/Funny how it doesn’t add up/Caught up in the money and the fear/Truth is you can never get enough.”

Based on his vocal range alone, Milton’s vocals could have included techniques showing off his vocal skills. But the basic, no added fluff, vocals works better on Make It Real. Not only did it show off the lyrics, but it also allowed the beats and sounds to be a bit more extreme, which in turn created a youthful EP that’s likely to further increase their already cult-like fan-base.

AVAN LAVA – Make It Real tracklist:

  1. “Take This City”
  2. “Wanna Live”
  3. “Leave It All Behind”
  4. “Ooo Eee”
  5. “Paper Heart”
  6. “Last Night”
  7. “Why Can’t I Fall In Love (Bonus Track)”
Album-art-for-Complete-Strangers-by-Vetiver Vetiver – Complete Strangers

★★★☆☆

Thom Monahan is Vetiver—an American folk band associated with Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. The band’s new album, Complete Strangers, is a collection of personal recordings dating back to 2003. Recorded between trips from San Francisco to L.A., the album accurately depicts the emotions felt during a pivotal point in Monahan’s life. The album has an intimate, lo-fi feel; ultimately, it is characteristically bittersweet—it illustrates the changes in Monahan’s character over time, much like a musical parallel to the film Boyhood.

Complete Strangers is emotional tinnitus. It serves as a musical bildungsroman, detailing emotional and physical growth through sublime and effective means, reminiscent of early Grizzly Bear. Sunny, happy sounds are always just a chord away from a darker sound. The contrast of the breadth of emotions portrayed in this work is stunning; there are bright songs like “Current Carry,” and vulnerable ones like “Confiding.”

However, sometimes that nostalgic contrast is clunky. There are literal transitional songs, like “Backwards Slowly,” that cheapen the emotional effect. Sometimes the emotion in these songs grows repetitive and dull. This change happens halfway through the album—listeners might find themselves wishing they could hear something different.

Complete Strangers is a compilation presented as an album. It’s a collection of songs recorded from as early as 2003.

Due to the differing ages of each recording, some songs sound very fundamentally different from the others.

Various musical techniques, learnt over time, are implemented on the album. Improvement is spotty yet eclectic; the album feels less polished, and it doesn’t have the sentimental feel of other lo-fi recordings. Groups like Julia Brown or Smog have mastered emotive lo-fi recording, but Vetiver excels mostly in earnest lyrics and relatable stories.

The album sounds derivative of other lo-fi, moody artists of the early 2000s, but this isn’t to say it isn’t solid and effective—it is all of these things, but lacks the substance that makes a good album a great one. This isn’t necessarily a complaint. Complete Strangers is easy listening, but at the end of the album, there is no distinction as to whether or not Monahan remains a complete stranger. One would expect a more distinctive and varied sound from his sixth studio release.

Prickly guitar and plucked bass accompany his heartfelt lyrics, emulating a lazy summer day on the West Coast. Monahan excels in flowing instrumentation, carefully crafted twangs, and twinkles that inspire emotion in the listener.

Complete Strangers is an intimate portrait of Monahan’s personal growth. From San Francisco to L.A., its lo-fi folk sound remains emotionally resonant. Though the album falls short with its patchy, eclectic sound, it still is an true attempt to portray the personal growth he felt over time. If only the tracks had been organized by time or recording origin.

Vetiver – Complete Strangers tracklist:

  1. “From Now On”
  2. “Current Carry”
  3. “Confiding”
  4. “Backwards Slowly”
  5. “Loose Ends”
  6. “Shadows Lane”
  7. “Time Flys”
  8. “Edgar”
  9. “Last Hurrah”
Album-art-for-escape-from-evil-by-lower-dens Lower Dens – Escape From Evil

★★★★☆

Lower Dens wants its latest music to feel fun. Escape From Evil, the band’s third studio album, tackles some deeply personal and emotional themes, but with a light, jovial tonality. The album presents listeners with elements unexplored in the band’s previous albums. A stronger vocal presence, paired with direct lyrics, and noticeably more up-tempo melodies creates an album that will make listeners introspective, without overwhelming them with heavy sounds.

Forming in 2010 following vocalist Jana Hunter’s decision to end her solo career, Lower Dens’ first two albums solidly tracked the band’s progression. Escape From Evil is a reflection of the band’s growing confidence in producing music. It might sound upbeat and very ’80s, but lyrically, Hunter explores an array of intensely personal problems; she deals with death, relationships, life’s distractions, and overcomplicating living. It’s a bit of a yin-yang album in the way it touches both light and dark, but Escape From Evil delivers both sides with a certainty that doesn’t end up feeling forced or superficial.

The warmer, fun tonality of the album is new territory for Lower Dens, but drawing inspiration from music of the ’80s (specifically old U2 albums, Hunter said in an interview) adds an overall mellow tone to the album.

Think “Goonies” or a John Hughes soundtrack, but with better lyrics.

Out of focus notes echo out over repetitive pinging keys, while distorted ringing sounds weave in and out. The album ticks and thumps, varying in pace, as each song’s array of blurry electric keys and upbeat drumming create a cohesive listening experience.

“Your Heart Still Beating” opens with a slow, deep beat that intensifies as the song progresses with more percussion elements introduced. By the time Hunter starts singing out, a rapid thumping complete with “tsking” cymbals is layered on fuzzy, fading guitar. The whole album moves from dreamy keys playing drawn out notes with hazy, high-pitched guitars in the background to deliberate binging electric keys layered over intense screeching noises.

The influence of the ’80s peaks with full force on “Electric Current,” when actual thunderstorm sounds are incorporated, allowing a true blast to the past moment. At first listen, Escape From Evil sounds like easygoing music you’d expect to accompany a coming-of-age film that aired a few decades ago, but it’s also an album that addresses the complexities of everyday, contemporary life.

Despite the lighthearted tone of the album, Escape From Evil touches on heavier topics lyrically, which combine with Hunter’s heightened vocal presence to seduce listeners. There’s a haunting quality to her raspy wailing that captivates.

“I Am the Earth,” the slowest song on the album, shows off Hunter’s chops and lyrical ability. As leisurely drums and guitar plucks are played, Hunter croons, “And I will still be here/Spinning long after you’ve gone/I am the earth/And life moves along/And eternal dusk/And endless dawn/And you always know/Which side of me you’re on.” The equally detached, yet emotion-filled lyrics intrigue for the entirety of “I Am the Earth.”

Even on the songs with more up-tempo beats, Hunter explores heavy topics. In Lower Dens’ single, “To Die In L.A.,” notions of dealing with death and the difficulties of finding inner peace are explored. Hunter sings, “I/Wish I could/Count on you/To be mine/But here/I’m not crying/I’m just trying to/Be alive.” The single ends with no real resolution, which is fitting considering the inspiration behind the song, Hunter just continues to repeat, “Time will turn the tide,” as the track fades out.

Escape From Evil is a complex album worth celebrating; it could have easily been too forceful, trying too hard to give off an ’80s vibe, sounding like a satirical Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack. The lyrics could have been ill-fitting for the quick tempo of the album. It had the potential to be a mess, except it worked. The willingness to pair light and dark is an indication of Lower Dens’ potential as musicians.

Lower Dens – Escape From Evil tracklist:

  1. “Sucker’s Shangri-La”
  2. “Ondine”
  3. “To Die In L.A.”
  4. “Quo Vadis”
  5. “Your Heart Still Beating”
  6. “Electric Current”
  7. “I Am the Earth”
  8. “Non Grata”
  9. “Company”
  10. “Societe Anonyme”
Album-art-for-Natureboy-by-Flako Flako – Natureboy

★★★★½

Dario Rojo Guerra, also known as Flako, has professed his love for nature and says he only worships the sun, but until now he had not expressed that in music. Now, with the release of Natureboy, Flako uses a lack of vocals, samples, and instruments, taking listeners into nature to show all it has to offer.

He uses songs like “Gelis” to lull listeners into a sense of well-being and relaxation with soft strings and meditating synths, but later on tracks like “Kuku,” with more upbeat tempos, samples, and intricate synths, rip listeners out of that comfortable state. Flako’s new found appreciation for the outdoors shows his attempts to draw images of being with nature.

Listening to Natureboy is a visceral experience, that should happen whilst walking outside on a spring day and taking in not only the new visual experience, but also the audio. Songs like “Twelve O’Clock Shadow” are pleasant to listen to, but also vary in melody and tempo with layers added on that evoke the image of walking along a peaceful walkway. “Lyrebird” takes a turn for the unknown, leaving listeners feeling as though they’ve taken a wrong turn. These mental images and journeys are not just what’s encouraged of the listener—they are what’s expected.

This juxtaposition of tempos and instrumentation is exactly what Flako intended. The album is more of a voyage into our own psyche than just 16 songs clumped together. Flako is trying to stimulate an internal and neural response from the listener—the album is very personal in that sense—without the use of vocals to understand the songs through lyrical context, listeners are left to make of it what they want.

Flako – Natureboy tracklist:

  1. “The Opening / Purple Trees”
  2. “Shipibo Icaro”
  3. “Gelis”
  4. “Spice Melange”
  5. “Kuku”
  6. “Solo For Chloë”
  7. “Shape Of Things To Come”
  8. “Som Da Aura”
  9. “Twelve O’Clock Shadow (feat. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)”
  10. “Lyrebird”
  11. “Golden High”
  12. “Payaso”
  13. “Who Do You Think You Are”
  14. “For You (Reprise)”
  15. “With Me Now (feat. Dirg Gerner)”
  16. “The Odd & Beautiful”
Album-Art-for-Reminisce-by-Etiquette Etiquette – Reminisce

★★★½☆

Indie-pop duo Etiquette’s debut album, Reminisce, begins with a synthesized crunch­-pop. These simple sounds set the stage for a collection of songs filled with inventive electronics, bewitching vocals, and lush composition. The album combines the talents of Graham Walsh (of Holy Fuck fame) and Julie Fader, who has sung alongside artists of the likes of Sarah Harmer and Great Lake Swimmers, as well as released a solo album.

For Etiquette’s first album, Fader’s dreamy vocals and emotional lyrics marry Walsh’s electronic beats and driven guitar, coming together to create a captivating new album that successfully moves listeners to relive their own experiences—all the while tapping a foot to Walsh’s addictive rhythms.

Reminisce begins with “Pleasantries,” home of the aforementioned crunch-pop background beat. The song starts off simply, with Fader singing about a frustrating relationship, a subject that’s at the core of the album. Here, Fader gives honesty to a topic felt by all. “My imagination runs wild/My imagination has grown tired of wondering/What did I do wrong this time/In your mind?” she croons as a guitar strums in, intensifying the beats. The duo knows how to build complexity to create intensity and feeling, much like fellow indie-poppers The xx or Beach House.

Though “Pleasantries” begins quietly, listeners start to better experience Fader’s feelings as they are accompanied by Walsh’s instrumentals.

Etiquette’s music is decidedly quieter than Holy Fuck, but Walsh’s rhythms keep the pace with Fader’s lyrics, providing a backdrop for her singing that’s intricate enough to enchant listeners without growing overwhelming. The band took care to consider where it wanted the lyrics to stand out, and where it could produce louder sonics, though continuously presenting inventive melodies.

Reminisce picks up the pace with “Twinkling Stars,” which is distinctly harder-hitting compared to the rest of the album. Walsh’s beats take the forefront of the song, in which Fader sings of a world that’s far away, but not far enough to be completely out of reach. Meanwhile, Walsh creates a lush landscape of electronics that will get heads bobbing. Although it’s a bit of a departure for the album, the duo’s sound comes through, and it’s a nice break from the slower songs on the album.

In “Promises,” Walsh’s electronics could stand on their own if Etiquette wanted them to; although, the intimate lyrics about someone who can’t keep their word are too genuine to do without. But his instrumentals prove he can create a story solely with sound.

Fader’s conflict in relationships, and her spare, often ambiguous lyrics, point to the uncertainty she feels.

She writes again about heartbreak in the song “Outside In,” except this time, the song is enveloping in a more ambient way, focusing on Fader’s hazy voice and lyrics. She addresses a “bruised feeling” that’s “enveloping/outside and inside,” as lackadaisical keys play in the background, accentuating her feelings toward whoever caused her state of mind. “In this relative crisis/It seems that all you could promise/Ensuring me/In certainty/Is the partial truth.” With slow pacing and sparse composition, the song is sad in a near-lethargic way, which is probably the point. It’s the kind of song that’s perhaps best listened to during a moody night in.

Etiquette combines Fader and Walsh’s unique talents in a culmination of mesmerizing vocals and an imaginative sound that will attract and excite fans old and new. Reminisce takes a look back on the past in a way that’s filled with heartfelt lyrics and just enough synthesized beats to keep listeners hopeful for the future.

Etiquette – Reminisce tracklist:

  1. “Pleasantries”
  2. “Brown and Blue”
  3. “Attention Seeker”
  4. “Sleep to Wake”
  5. “Twinkling Stars”
  6. “Promises”
  7. “On and On”
  8. “Outside In”
  9. “Island”
Album-art-for-Eclipse-by-Twin-Shadow Twin Shadow – Eclipse

★★★★☆

Twin Shadow’s latest album, Eclipse, sees a reinvention of George Lewis Jr.’s former ’80s indie-pop glory, with the eccentric trills and scratchy tonality of his previous albums replaced with more modern, moody pop elements. Lewis, who uses Twin Shadow as his stage name and rock-star persona, has drawn inspiration from personal development of the past two years. Eclipse reflects a sophisticated Lewis, relying less on intricate guitar plucking than in the past, and more on powerful lyrics, transfixing listeners with intimate, yet relatable topics.

Fans of Twin Shadow are well acquainted with Lewis’ experimentation with sound on his previous two albums, Forget and Confess. Especially in comparison to the heavy ’80s vibes of Confess, Eclipse is less sporadic and blipping, with more deliberate beats. The streamlined feel of the album, which uses varying tones of bass (at times fluttering, other times trembling), might be off-putting for fans who discovered and grew to appreciate Twin Shadow’s music for its indie-pop spunk. Some fans might even credit Lewis’ recent record deal with Warner Bros. for the switch to synth-pop, but Lewis says the album and its more icy-pop sound were created prior to his major label deal. Regardless of what inspired the shift, Eclipse is refined, and shows promise to propel Lewis’ career.

Eclipse gives off a bit of a Weeknd, “Wicked Games” vibe—throbbing bass and silky vocals included. It’s a style of music that appeals to listeners, but is likely to be compared to the Canadian chart topper. In “Alone,” which features an unidentified female vocalist, a low, slow pulse pumps out as Lewis’ clear voice seeps in. As the beat continues, piano playing is introduced, enhancing the yearning in Lewis’ vocals.

Though the sound of the album is pretty similar to the bass and synth-heavy pop music circulating today, it’s Lewis’ lyrics that make Eclipse surprisingly real and void of theatrics.

While some parts of the album deal with past romantic relationships, Eclipse is a more complete emotional journey. He writes from the years in which he dealt with his father’s mental health, distancing himself from the “rockstar lifestyle,” and rekindling his relationship with his mother.

Admitting his imperfections and past mistakes through unapologetic lyrics separates Lewis from other pop musicians. It’s a personal album, riddled with memories and experiences that most people couldn’t bare to verbalize to their closest confidantes, but Lewis shares them with anyone willing to listen. Despite the personal influences of Eclipse, Lewis phrases his lyrics to be somewhat ambiguous. Close friends and families would likely to be able to pin-point what inspired a specific song, but listeners are just as easily able to take any song on the album and draw parallels with their own lives.

Lewis’ journey to living a more fulfilled life is reflected in “Half Life,” where he sings about, well, living a bare-minimum life. Tsking drums, steady but not overwhelming, fill the track as Lewis sings, “I know I’m cold/And can’t recall/It’s the lie I can’t control/So dark and low/I know you hate how I react.” The track takes on a more upbeat tone, mixing fuzzy key strokes as Lewis’ vocals become passionate during the chorus crooning, “Do you know why I stumble/Down on my knees/I’ve been racing through a half life/And its taken its toll on me.”

Lewis might not have the most outstanding vocals and his instrumentation might not be something fresh, but his lyrics are penetrating. Channeling moments of love, finding oneself, and reconnecting with family aren’t unusual avenues used for inspiration in the past. It’s what Lewis does with those moments and the lyrics he creates, very nearly poetic, that separates him from other artists in the pop world. Continuing to give his lyrics their due credit and attention with future productions will only help Lewis progress further as a musician.

Twin Shadow – Eclipse tracklist:

  1. “Flatliners”
  2. “When the Lights Turn Out”
  3. “To the Top”
  4. “Alone”
  5. “Eclipse”
  6. “Turn Me Up”
  7. “I’m Ready”
  8. “Old Love/New Love”
  9. “Half Life”
  10. “Watch Me Go”
  11. “Locked & Loaded”
Album-art-for-Ripe-4-Luv-by-Young-Guv Young Guv – Ripe 4 Luv

★★★½☆

Once upon a time Ben Cook was a child actor, and once upon a time he was a member of the band Fucked Up. Now, he’s going by the name Young Guv for his new solo album Ripe 4 Luv. The album is a weird combination of power pop, garage rock, and retro guitar riffs. Ripe 4 Luv is the meeting point for the various styles that Cook/Guv has been a part of (Fucked Up, Yacht Club, No Warning, Marvelous Darlings). The album is a fresh rendition of Cook’s previous work and influences from a few decades back, resulting in music that is purely his own.

With a retro foundation, Ripe 4 Luv is a nuanced with more complexity and an updated sound. Each song is vaguely reminiscent of a vintage artist; “Kelly, I’m Not A Creep” sounds like The Replacements, “Crawling Back To You” sounds like Cheap Trick, and “Crushing Sensation” sounds like Wham!. Cook managed to melt and revamp these sounds as his own style.

Simplicity carries the album’s lyrics. The concepts for each track are obvious; many of them are about love, but Cook’s annunciation is poor, leading to a lost effectiveness. The vocals are difficult to understand because of an effect put on Cook’s voice, so at times it grows difficult to appreciate the album with entire stanzas of muddled lyrics.

Despite Cook’s obvious influences, plenty of the album’s tracks are not as clearly inspired by older music. “Aquarian” is an example of a more chill, nearly ambient track (reminiscent of Toro y Moi) that has a slow, borderline hip-hop groove. It also has out-there, psychedelic lyrics. The final track, “Wrong Crowd,” is also slower, but much jazzier as Cook’s vocals meander through the more than seven minute long track.

The (almost) title track “Ripe For Love” is a favorite because it is very catchy and poppy, but also satisfies ’80s nostalgia. The way that the song flows is less formulaic than an ’80s pop hit, including quirky synth sounds periodically at the end that disrupt the structure of the chords that run throughout the track.

Ripe 4 Luv isn’t dated by its content, but is rather timeless because of its styling.

It’s an interesting change of pace, too, from Cook’s many other projects, especially considering he is known for being a member of the hard-edged Fucked Up. All in all, Ripe 4 Luv is a skillful project, and Young Guv had potential to become a classic band of its own.

 Young Guv – Ripe 4 Luv tracklist:

  1. Crushing Sensation
  2. Ripe For Love
  3. Crawling Back To You
  4. Aquarian
  5. Kelly, I’m Not A Creep
  6. Dear Drew
  7. Living The Dream
  8. Wrong Crowd
Album-art-for-Eat-Pray-Thug-by-Heems Heems – Eat, Pray, Thug

★★★★½

Eat, Pray, Thug is the stellar solo project of former Das Racist member Heems. Most striking in Eat, Pray, Thug is the honesty and insight Heems expresses through witty and complex rhymes. It is also a musically on-point hip-hop record with unique and beats, thanks to producers Dev Hynes, Boody B, Harry Fraud, and Voidwell. With raps about “9/11 and Heartbreak,” Heems’ immersive way of addressing sensitive topics such as racism, identity, and loss develops the album as thought-provoking beyond its good technical production.

This is Heems’ first album since Das Racist broke up in 2012; however, he has released two mixtapes in the interim. Since splitting off, his music has become more political and profound. It’s one thing to rap lyrics with a political undertone, but it’s another to detail a personal history and struggle to make a point. Eat, Pray, Thug is effective in many capacities, but most importantly, it accessibly articulates Heems’ post-9/11 narrative. Props to him for opening up and expressing very real feelings in this Islamophobic day and age.

Heems is a brilliant lyricist. His barplay is as choice as ever, and some of his most clever lyrics are also the most poignant ones. These lyrics show up in the chorus or bridge, staying stuck in one’s head long after the album is over. On “Flag Shopping,” the chorus ends with, “They wanna Toby us like we Kunta Kinte,” and the track “So NY” ends with the repeated, “I’m so New York yo, I live with my momma/Had to leave Williamsburg and all the white drama/Had to leave my home, they kept calling me Osama/Had to leave my home ‘cause of drones and Obama.”

While Heems sorts through racism and Islamophobia throughout the album, there are tracks in which he handles heartbreak. It is easy to focus on the more political tracks because of their natural force; however, the other topics of the album are equally strong. “Home,” which features Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange), is beautifully composed; the beat is a little awkward, but in a satisfying way. As Hynes plays sorrow-ridden guitar strings in the background, Heems gives a very intimate look into his mind and emotions post-breakup. While the beginning verses are relatively simple, they’re honest and powerful—it’s ballsy to be so candid about a former relationship. Still, the track is clever and a bit humorous, with lines like, “Shorty listen, quit your bitchin’, be my remix to ‘Ignition’.”

Throughout Eat, Pray, Thug Heems perfects his style of snarky, intricate barplay. This album is indeed less humorous than his previous work, but nonetheless clever and engaging. Heems moves into different territory with “Pop Song (Games),” which is Drake-like with a Pop/R&B feel—an effective change of pace on the album.

The beats produced for Eat, Pray, Thug are very distantly related to Das Racist; what’s borrowed is revamped and molded to Heems’ individual style.

Each project has quirks not typical to hip-hop, yet the beats still bump as they should. Most of the time there are contrasting elements that mesh well. The track “Jawn Cage” begins with a dream-like guitar riff before switching to a synth beat and then back to guitar only to include weird glitchy sounds and the synth again.

Heems has come into his own since Das Racist’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” so much so that perhaps it isn’t really relevant to reference that track anymore. Heems has always been a good rapper, but not until his more recent work has he transcended into his own space in our hip-hop universe. He is one of a few South Asian rappers getting mainstream press. The experiences he’s recounting while in the spotlight are important to hear, and he knows how to package it in a great hip-hop album.

 Heems – Eat, Pray, Thug tracklist:

  1. Sometimes
  2. So NY
  3. Damn, Girl
  4. Jawn Cage
  5. Flag Shopping
  6. Pop Song (Games)
  7. Home (feat. Dev Hynes)
  8. Hubba Hubba
  9. AL Q8A
  10. Suicide By Cop
  11. Patriot Act

 

Album-art-for-Aureate-Gloom-by-of-Montreal of Montreal – Aureate Gloom

★★★½☆

From shaving cream suits to riding in on white horses, of Montreal is known for its goofy eccentricity. But its latest studio album, Aureate Gloom, pays a more serious homage to New York City’s music history. Gathering inspiration from old NYC haunts of ’70s rockers, the band reaches a vulnerability similar to musicians of that time. Raw and impassioned lyrics mix with electric-rock elements and classic instrumentation on Aureate Gloom, showing that of Montreal’s power hasn’t plateaued decades into its career.

Hailing from Athens, Georgia, of Montreal has served as a revolving door for musicians during it’s near 20-year existence. Having started its career in the late ’90s, of Montreal is identified as one of the Elephant 6 Recording Company artists that acquired a dedicated fan base and commercial success. Elephant 6, originally created by musicians inspired by music of the late ’60s, acted as a starting point for of Montreal until signing its first major record deal with Kindercore Records. Following that, of Montreal’s sound began to adopt the electric pop tone long-time fans have come to expect from the band. But old-school elements inspired by the likes of the Beatles are an ever-present force throughout the band’s discography.

The album’s particular inclusion of classic rock elements with the band’s signature electric rock sound is guided by Kevin Barnes’ two-week writing retreat in New York City. Used as an escape from the people he was writing about, Barnes immersed himself in the city as he believed notable ’70s rock stars (Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine or James Chance to name a few) had in their heydays.

The result? A merging of ringing guitar, rapid, yet rhythmic drumming, and blipping electric keynotes peppered between more anticipated sounds. That mashup of sound is best represented in “Last Rites at the Jane Hotel,” which opens with basic guitar and drums under Barnes’ singing. The vocals shift to harmonious, ethereal crooning as the instrumentation muddles, enhancing the vocal break. Guitar and drums resume, slamming out aggressively as lyrics are spat out word by word. The jarring sound stalls before shifting to high-pitched ringing, like strings thrown into the mix, fading in and out of focus. “Last Rites at the Jane Hotel” shifts one last time, back to the aggressive rocking, which is taken to the song’s end.

At times Aureate Gloom seems like a messy, disarrangement of sounds, layered to create a complex auditory experience. In moments when the sound is more cluttered than cohesive, Aureate Gloom is held together by Barnes’ deeply emotional lyrics. The sensitivity of lyrics and Barnes’ noticeable vulnerability was spurred by a difficult time in his life.

Making use of his lyrics and vocal ability, Barnes varies between spitting out anger-fueled lyrics to wailing about his more painful memories.

This combination of clenching howls and raspy murmuring can be heard on “Empyrean Abattoir.” Barnes starts off muttering, “I’ve been trying to quell my anger/And not feel bitter about all of the darkness you gave me/But it’s the hardest.” As the song builds, he shifts to an accusatory tone, singing, “Whatever happened to your smile/Now no one cares who you are/…Now it’s bad luck to even say your name.”

Barnes’ willingness to expose himself lyrically elevates Aureate Gloom from an okay 13th album with the band’s assumed well-played instruments to one brimming with attention grabbing emotion—a sign that of Montreal is still impressively evolving.

of Montreal – Aureate Gloom tracklist:

  1. “Bassem Sabry”
  2. “Last Rites at the Jane Hotel”
  3. “Empyrean Abattoir”
  4. “Aluminum Crown”
  5. “Virgilian Lots”
  6. “Monolithic Egress”
  7. “Apollyon of Blue Room”
  8. “Estocadas”
  9. “Chthonian Dirge For Uruk the Other”
  10. “Like Ashoka’s Inferno of Memory”
Album-art-for-Sunday-Dinner-by-Keath-Mead Sunday Dinner – Keath Mead

★★★☆☆

Keath Mead wrote his debut album, Sunday Dinner, after years of development. Though album was produced by Toro y Moi, listeners might not hear any trace of it. Mead’s work is separate from his producer’s—distinct in sound and lyrical content. Mead’s patience allowed him to skip all of the awkward and public experimental phases, growing into his music, and now puts forth happy, upbeat music that captures youth.

The striking fact about Sunday Dinner is that it’s Mead’s debut. The album is so polished—perfectly twee—similar to Belle & Sebastian or Sondre Lerche. It’s nearly unbearable at certain points, leaving listeners questioning the music as disingenuous; it’s saccharine and too cutesy to listen to with its constant, irritating super-sweet appeal.

Mead drew influence from the music of the ’80s and ’90s—the soundtrack to his listeners’ childhoods. The album sounds like a dazed teenager’s summer. Like producer Toro y Moi, Mead has a preference for the past. His nostalgic tone is in the same vein of Mac DeMarco. But this sound is a part of Mead’s persona—his voice always sounds cautious or nervous, like an angst-filled Salinger character. Mead stated that he draws inspiration from aging literary authors—Gabriel Garcia Marquez and William Golding among them.

Mead doesn’t belong in this day and age, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make music for it.

Though Mead’s album is feel good music, it’s not easy listening. The album grows repetitive halfway through, and the same artificial melodies push on. Sunday Dinner is the boy next door: predictable and safe. Mead’s work is so sweet, one feels guilty for listening to it, like it’s an extra chocolate or an unnecessary purchase. But Mead is a sweetheart. He forgives you.

Sunday Dinner is full of sunny, warm tunes about adolescence and romance. Despite the album’s indulgent nostalgia, the project remains distinct with Mead’s world-weary lyrics and nostalgic tunes. The album feels like a secret that Mead confides in the listener: “I was never good at hiding,” he confesses in “Polite Refusal.”

Despite its cutesy-ness, Sunday Dinner occasionally surprises listeners with grave self-reflection and Mead’s critical eye. “Grow up and act your age,” Mead sings, but listening to his music, we all feel a little younger.

Keath Mead – Sunday Dinner tracklist:

  1. “Waiting”
  2. “Grow Up”
  3. “She Had”
  4. “Change”
  5. “Settle For Less”
  6. “Holiday”
  7. “Where I Wanna Be”
  8. “Quiet Room”
  9. “Navy”
  10. “Polite Refusal”
  11. “So Close”