from the album "blonde"

“Blonde/Endless” Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean

Blonde Album Review

Boys Don’t Cry

Released August 20, 2016

Genre: Alternative R&B, Art Pop, Neo Soul, Minimalism, Ambient, Post-R&B (?)

This review has taken a while so let’s get a broad statement out of the way firsthand: this is Frank Ocean’s best record as of yet. Following the monstrous success of channel ORANGE, it appeared more & more unlikely that Ocean could ever surpass, let alone replicate, an album of that magnitude. Alas, he’s done just that, and more, on this latest record of his – a record that fans have been waiting four years for and one that will consistently challenge fans upon listen.

Unlike his musical peers (Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West), Frank is not concerned with making brash, outlandish political/cultural statements commenting on the climate of 2016 (the verse on “Nikes” about Trayvon Martin is as political as it gets.) Instead, Blonde is more concerned with what’s going on on the inside, specifically within Frank himself; the album’s an emotionally rich, musically sparse, and minimally composed meditation of love, heartache, introspection, sorrow, nostalgia, and pain – told in the quietest way by one of the best songwriters in the R&B genre. It appears that those four year following channel ORANGE were composed of more than Frank trolling his fans.

The album opens with “Nikes”, a woozy and atmospheric opener that propels the album into its groove & tempo. “Ivy”, a guitar led track, features great songwriting before building up to a few seconds of passion, fury, and intensity to the point that Frank literally screams. “Pink + White” is a track that seems like a common predecessor from channel ORANGE but its lyricism is a huge departure from the tender caress of cO, and is a much more cynical and truth-shattering track that is cleverly hidden from surface-level listeners.

“Solo” finds Frank returning to his R&B style, but with some minimal instrumentation; the result is a bare bones meditation on loneliness. Ocean shows himself experimenting with more guitars and sparse melodies – a big shift from channel ORANGE’s lush and eccentric ways. “Skyline To’s” guitar driven lead floats comfortably over the woozy keyboards and field recordings – the drums muffled deep into the recesses of the mixing; “Nights” is the album at its most maximal, and “Close To You” finds Ocean treading the experimental loop trends last visited on “Pilot Jones”. With using all that he needs, Ocean manages to convey richer themes and poignant messages, more dire than what we’re used to. It’s a spectacular and stunning display of skill and proves just how much Frank has grown as an musician, writer, and artist.

A bigger addition to Ocean’s sound is guitar; opposed to cO’s electronica-driven tracks, Blonde heavily utilizes the guitar, which complement Ocean’s airy vocals and drums. Sometimes, it’s just guitar and keyboards; Ocean strips back his sound to bare bones minimalism – both musically & contextually. Ocean’s skill showcased here is how he’s able to find the root, cause, and ardent core of life’s everyday quandaries, and passionately and evocatively make it seem drastically urgent, as if we should care. We do, somehow, and Ocean’s instrumentation is concise, clean, and tonally apt to the situations/predicaments that arise throughout the record. Perhaps the greatest feat Blonde has accomplished, is making himself much more transparent to the public eye despite his eccentric public activity (or lack of, at times).

In regards to eccentricity, Ocean’s tease of Blonde resulted in a visual album entitled Endless. Endless, is a rather inconsistent project. While the music has some brilliant moments by way of guitar licks and crescendos, seeing guys in designer sweaters make a staircase to the sound of experimental ambient music rarely makes me care. It’s nice to hear the songs transition from one to another though, as if we are hearing Frank’s musical progression compacted into forty-six minutes, but Endless is background music for people who like to pay attention to background music. It’s nice, to say the least, but nowhere near as coherent, clean, and concise as Blonde. Some moments, however, are on par, maybe even ahead, of Blonde however.

In the “Boys Don’t Cry” zine, Frank Ocean shared a list of his favorite films (a superb taste, if I do say so myself), a personal diary entry, and even on the cover he’s naked (or half naked?). He samples an eclectic range of bands that, most likely, the typical Frank Ocean fan would never listen to (Gang of Four, The Beatles, Elliot Smith, The Mohawks). Along with film tastes and samples, Ocean goes on to bring aboard an array of features, that are subtly hidden within the tracks, such as Yung Lean, Kendrick Lamar, André 3000, Jonny Greenwood, James Blake, etc.).

Long story short, Blonde is Frank Ocean offering himself to everyone; it’s intimate without feeling overbearing, and bare without feeling hollow. Passionate passages like on “Self Control” &  “Godspeed” take the sentimental pits of channel ORANGE and somehow elevate it new heights. Vocal interludes such as “Be Yourself” and “Facebook Story”  diversify the tracks while also complementing Ocean’s vision. Noisy passages such as the intro to “Pretty Sweet” and the sporadic moments of “Futura Free” (especially the spur-of-the-moment, raw final 3 minutes) take us into his psyche – a messy, brilliant, and inspired artist.

Blonde is a record, and exercise, in nostalgia, disillusionment, and romanticism. It’s a feeling, and phase, practically everyone goes through and one that we can all relate too. The music here is bare, stripped down, and can easily be taken for background music (sans 3-4 tracks). But once Frank’s vocals come on, the song’s tone is shifted, as well as your attention, to the a 28-year old artist who is following no one but himself at this point. Frank has always been looking into the past (his first mixtape is even titled nostalgia, ULTRA); but he’s also been looking into the future as well – where he’ll end up, what will happen next, what to do after this.

If channel ORANGE was him at his most straightforward and blatant, Blonde is Ocean at his most ambiguous, yet it’s laser focused thematically. Frank captures the emptiness, malaise, and despondency that comes with life with a compelling and stunning voice without seeming too indulgent; and while he may seem to be the center of it all here, he sounds much more than an artist saying what he sees to a crowd.  He sounds like a friend, one who has been subjected to feelings, ideas, and experiences that circulate around loneliness and is filled with sorrow, sadness, and pain. His voice ventures into the areas that we’ve only been to a handful of times, luckily, and it bleeds and hurts. But it also consoles, comforts, and – opposed to the zine title – cries.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: Nikes, Ivy, Pink + White, Solo, Skyline To, Self Control, Nights, Pretty Sweet, White Ferrari, Seigfried ,Godspeed, Futura Free

LEAST FAV TRACK: Solo (Reprise) [kind of. absolute fire of a verse tho, just did not like it in context with the album, tonally. i don’t hate André 3000!]

SCORE: (9.3/10)

 

Endless SCORE: (7.5/10)

Courtesy of clipping's bandcamp

“Splendor & Misery” clipping.

clipping.

Splendor & Misery Album Review

Sub Pop Records

Genre: Space Rap, Noise Rap

Released September 9, 2016

clipping. has had an incredible year so far, with the amazing Wriggle EP starting 2016 off right for the band. However, this new full-length literally takes astronomical leaps into the final frontier. Splendor & Misery is an amazing accomplishment and melding of unlikely styles.

The production is noisy as ever, but it simulates classic movie spaceship noises. This fits the concept of the record perfectly as it tells the story of a runaway space slave who’s getaway ship falls in love with him. The “bleeps” and “boops” that make up the MANY interludes of this album perfectly captures the feeling of being alone in space with nothing but a machine that loves you. Daveed Diggs raps beautiful with a Tommy-gun speed flow over these extraterrestrial beats about obscure sci-fi references, like the work of Samuel R. Delany. African mythology is also referenced on the track, “True Believer.” All of these references combine in an ingenious amalgamation of ideas that explain the futility of the slaves escape into the spatial void.

Even though this is just a 37-minute affair, so much can be said about and in this project that I can’t even put into words yet. This is the most multifaceted project I’ve heard all year, if not the past few years. Highly recommend for anyone wanted to escape into the stars.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: The Breach, All Black

LEAST FAV TRACK: Interlude 01

SCORE: (9.0/10)

from the album "Sremmlife 2"

“SremmLife 2” Rae Sremmurd

Rae Sremmurd

SremmLife 2 Album Review

Ear Drummers/ Interscope

Genre: Turnt Hip Hop, Trap

Released August 12, 2016

Party invitation, the album: Rae Sremmurd are back with no punches pulled, only bangers. A never-ending buffet of songs about bumping uglies and pouring drinks. What could go wrong? Nothing, really. SremmLife 2 isn’t egregiously safe, but it sticks pretty closely to the duo’s formula from their year-old debut.

Mike Will Made It offers more catchy beats for the southern-based rappers to energetically spit over, however the beats that deviate most from the popular trends in contemporary production are the best. “Shake It Fast” sounds like a Juvenile song, which Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee fabulously compliment. There are plentiful funny lines about waving the posterior, as is expected. “By Chance” has an eerie melody that causes the duo to shift their style to be more subdued. These two change-ups to the typically loud and turnt formula are highlights for SremmLife2.

The features on this album are also perfectly fitting. Kodak Black delivers his signature sleepy flow at the right moment on “Real Chill,” while Gucci Mane’s contribution to “Black Beatles” fits the mood perfectly, ad-libs and everything. Lil Jon and Juicy J make appearances as well.

Too many songs are too similar to deeper forgotten cuts from SremmLife. “Start A Party” is exactly what it sounds like, but it’s too predictable to be interesting even though topically this is Rae Sremmurd’s wheelhouse. Any song with R&B singing isn’t convincing because it’s still trying to be turnt while also attempting to be intimate. Overall, this is a fun release from the hit-making duo

FAV TRACKS: By Chance, Black Beatles, Shake It Fast

LEAST FAV TRACK: Start A Party

SCORE: (7.0/10)

From the EP, "Primma Donna"

“Prima Donna EP” Vince Staples

Vince Staples

Prima Donna EP Review

Def Jam Records/ Artium

Genre: West Coast Hip Hop

Released August 25, 2016

Long Beach based Vince Staples follows up his acclaimed debut from last year with a short collection of hard-hitting and all-too-real personal accounts on the new Prima Donna EP. Despite a few odd beat choices and a few useless features, Vince lays down viciously insightful bars about growing up in the ruthless Norf Norf.

After a short and eerie spoken word intro sampling “This Little Light Of Mine,” the project dives in the the James Blake-produced “War Ready,” featuring an Outkast sample at the start of the track. Vince dives into the chorus before delivering nihilistic rhymes about how “Heaven, Hell, free or cell,” it doesn’t matter. He still feels like a slave in today’s society, especially in the music industry where he’ll only see love and support if his music is easily digestible and popular. The almost reggaeton-sounding beat creates a sense of danger in the track which helps Vince’s message translate. His dangerous existence is further described in songs like Loco, which deal with depression, and Primma Donna, which goes deeper into his violent thoughts. All of his songs are vitriolic and concerning, which has always worked for him in the past and still works on this project. However, a couple of the beats are odd and don’t fit with Vince’s style, not to mention the features are lackluster on Prima Donna.

“Loco” features an obnoxious contribution from Kilo Kish. Her delivery is very whiny and sounds like a “nanny nanny boo boo” taunt. Enough said. A$AP Rocky‘s contribution to “Prima Donna” is just him saying “once you get addicted to it” over and over. “Smile” has a cheesy electric guitar-based beat which reminds me of Imagine Dragons. Other than that, Prima Donna foreshadows more great releases from young Staples.

 

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: War Ready, Pimp Hand

LEAST FAV TRACK: Smile

SCORE: (8.5/10)

Justin-Timberlake-Cant-Stop-The-Feeling

“Can’t Stop The Feeling” Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake

“Can’t Stop The Feeling” Track Review

RCA

Released May 6, 2016

Genre: Disco-Pop, Funk, Soul Pop

After Justin Timberlake’s blockbuster The 20/20 Experience, a double-album of sorts that helped continue his relevancy in his third decade of hit-making, he’s back with “Can’t Stop The Feeling”, a song from the soundtrack for DreamWorks’s Trolls. It was meant to be a fun, loose song about getting into your zone and jamming it out, away from all the negativity in the world or from the concern for others’  approval. In that regard, some have noted comparisons to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”, another song written for a family-friendly animated feature. Others have noted it’s sonic similarity to “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd, another artist who takes a lot of influence from the Michael Jackson era of R&B and Funk. However, I feel it lyrically and thematically leans much closer to songs like “One More Time” by Daft Punk, “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas, and “Move Your Feet” by Junior Senior, the latter of which will have a cover on the soundtrack as well, judging by the film’s first trailer. These songs, while not lyrically impressive, still manage to do a great job of capturing the energy and feel of a party, and definitely imply that each of their respective musicians had fun during their recording.

However, with this song in particular, I can’t help but feel Justin is selling himself short. The instrumentation is a little too bouncy and, combined with the somewhat slow tempo, provides a feeling of restraint and forced enthusiasm rather than the loose and naturally energetic display of getting your groove on provided by the previously-mentioned dance jams. It brings more into mind a parent or middle-school approved party rather than one that someone would actually want to attend by their own will. Instead of showcasing the swagger of his earlier songs like “Sexyback” and “Rock Your Body”, he instead brings on an image that feels that he’s trying a bit too hard to look hip in the face of a younger generation, coming off across more like a host for an early-education themed show. It almost feels like I’m listening to a completely different person.

It’s too early to say if this song is an indication of Justin’s newer musical direction. However, if he should start work on a new album shortly in the near future, I hope he at least decides to bring back the suaveness and charisma that make his previous solo output so endearing and fun to listen to. But as of now, my former enthusiasm for a new Justin Timberlake album is instead replaced with a cautious readiness in order to prepare for possible disappointment.

Score: (5.6 / 10)

Sturgill_Simpson_A_Sailor's_Guide_To_Earth

“A Sailor’s Guide To Earth” Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth Album Review

Atlantic Records

Genre: Country, Alternative Country, Country Soul, Southern Soul, Psychedelic Country Rock

Released April 15, 2016

If you’ve been paying any attention to the musical trends and tastes of this website, you’ll know country isn’t a genre we hold dear to our hearts (sans Kacey Musgraves). If I were to have another country artist that I would say is worth the listen, it’d be Sturgill Simpson. If Musgraves was important because of her progressive lyricism, then Simpson would be the perfect complement due to his unorthodox approach to the musical aspect of it all. Simpson crafts psychedelic, noisy, and claustrophobic country music similar to Wovenhand, but with some appeal to a wider audience. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is a record dedicated Simpson’s wife and son; while that may sound cheesy and generic in theory, what follows is a deeply personal record that takes weird and bold musical passages, resulting in one of the most memorable listening experiences of the year.

Improving from his second LP Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, Simpson continues to foster and deepen his fascination with religion, hallucinogenic drugs, relationship, and country music. Furthermore, Simpson deepens he subtext of his work, simultaneously flipping the preconception of himself within the folds of country music and what Metamodern represented onto its head. Sailor’s Guide a change of pace, tone, and mood – a bold creative risk that bleeds with earnest passion and musical subversion. As a whole, the record shows a gigantic step in Simpson’s musical and lyrical talent.

The opening track opens with a very solemn tone, before it’s turned completely upside down as it drastically transforms into a wild creole party. The raucous horns and amped up tempo, create a great vibe that Simpson keeps his control over throughout. Simpson’s croon is remarkable by country standards and has a distinct timbre which keeps his lyricism compelling. Horns come back into the fold on “Keep It Between The Lines”, a sepia-tinged romp of a meditation on father-son dynamics. “Sea Stories” is similarly emotionally charged track, with some slide guitar for added poignancy and flair before a psychedelic shade covers the entire track. Simpson then surprised with a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” – an odd track about your son when sung with the line “sell the kids for food.” It’s enthralling, striking, and admirable to say the least.

The album closes on the rowdiest track Simpson has to offer – an amalgamation of funk, country, psychedelic rock, and soul. The result is an absolutely visceral, urgent, and commanding closing track. Country music is an otherwise banal genre by today’s standards, but I like to think that Simpson is ahead of them all, making sure that those who look down on country music don’t forget that there are a few who are keeping the music fresh, interesting, relevant, and weird. And let me tell you: weird is good.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: Welcome To Earth (Pollywog), Keep It Between The Lines, Sea Stories, In Bloom, All Around You, Oh Sarah, Call To Arms

LEAST FAV TRACK: Breakers Roar

SCORE: (8.5/10)

carly-rae-jepsen-emotion-side-b-640x640-640x640

“EMOTION SIDE B” Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen

EMOTION SIDE B EP Review

604/School Boy/Interscope

Released August 26, 2016

Genre: Synthpop, Dancepop, Synthfunk, New Wave

Following last year’s spectacular  E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen has shared a companion EP of B- Sides continuing to show that she is making the catchiest, smoothest, and smartest bubblegum pop in mainstream music. It goes to show that crafting mature and tastefully crafted pop songs under a mainstream label is !possible!, if you simply go about it the right way. Once again, the collection of pop songs of the summer belongs to Jepsen.

In this collection of throwaways, Jepsen’s synthpop tendencies are still here with even more admirable arrangements and catchy hooks to drive us through this short collection. Jepsen’s vocals are clean, lush, and evocative displaying a great display of range despite the short amount of time given for these tracks. Whatever preconceptions you may have of Jepsen (I am still in support of how decent “Call Me Maybe” is by pop music standards), her music now is something you shouldn’t miss.

The EP opens with “First Time” a synth funk party of sharp hooks and a danceable vibe, which is then followed by the New Wave-y “Higher”, where cowbells and jumpy drums complement Jepsen’s sultry vocals. The chorus, which comes quicker than you’ll expect, is absolutely enthralling and ridiculously groovy. Jepsen’s production remains sharp and rigid while leaving room for some groove and organix textures amongst the synth infested chords progressions. “Fever” slows things down a bit, but not for long as Jepsen raises the roof with a hook similar to Céline Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”; Jepsen’s chorus is nothing short of beautiful, covering the same themes of E•MO•TION with similar punch and sweetness.

“Body Language” is a hidden gem and a shocking throwaway considering how perfect it is for the aesthetic of E•MO•TION. It’s commanding percussion and subtle yet sharp synths could easily take the place of one of the weaker tracks, making Jepsen’s 2015 record all the more pristine. On ‘Cry” Jepsen takes a page from synth pop colleague La Roux, and crafts the similar “wall of moody synths” and “reverberated vocals”. It’s not bad, but it does little to distract from the next track ‘Store” which has, without a doubt, one of the laziest hooks to come from Jepsen in the past two years. Despite it’s rote and decent instrumentation, its chorus is rather bland and uninspired and is apt for a throwaway.

For an EP of throwaways, Jepsen has proved to be one of the underrated pop acts in today’s music. If she were to take away the weak tracks of E•MO•TION, and substitute them for the best tracks on EMOTION SIDE B, we may have had one of the best pop records this decade has to offer. For now, Jepsen remains as one of the best and brilliant pop acts in recent memory, and one people should be playing more attention to.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: First Time, Higher, Fever, Body Language

LEAST FAV TRACK: Store

Score: (7.7/10)

from the album "You Sound so Gross Right Now"

“You Sound So Gross Right Now” Noah LeGrand

Noah LeGrand

You Sound So Gross Right Now EP Review

Unsigned

Released August 15, 2016

Genre: Indie Rock, Alternative Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Noah LeGrand is a multi-instrumentalist from Denton, Texas (or as trendy magazines call it, the place Jason Lee is making more fun :( ) He delivers mostly upbeat indie rock tunes with a sunny and simple aesthetic that isn’t overly sweet. Although Noah shows a knack for writing catchy melodies, You Sound So Gross Right Now has no diversity between the tracks.

The musical performances are solid throughout, however. The drumming is fantastic, with crisp and well-placed drum rolls on songs like “Dr. Doom.” The guitar solos are mixed well into each song and Noah’s voice is recorded well over the instruments. The vocals are a little pitchy at times, but they are earnest. The glockenspiel on “Lagoon” is a nice touch as well, accentuating the happy melody.

The songs are well-written, but all of them except for the great closing track, “Animals,” are eerily similar structurally. They’re pretty upbeat songs seemingly about relationships in G major. The hooks are stickier than Sour Patch Kids left in the car, but they too are pretty similar sounding. Even though this is only a 5 track affair minus the short intro, the sound gets old after track 3.

If Noah experiments with different tempos and types of melodies, his future output will be bright. But even now, he’s delivered a set of solid bedroom singer-songwriter tracks for the masses.

FAV TRACKS: Dr. Doom, Animal

LEAST FAV TRACK: Cacti

SCORE: (6.5/10)