Album Review – Hard Feelings

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Rise Records isn’t exactly renowned for their creativity, to such as degree that the term ‘Risecore’ has been spawned into existence, to aptly describe the generic metalcore sound that has saturated the market. You can imagine my apprehension then when I saw that Arizonian Christian rockers Blessthefall had become Rise’s latest acquisition, after leaving Fearless Records. Was I right to be worried? Thankfully, no, and Hard Feelings proves this with ten songs that maintain that the right balance of originality and listenability.

The structure of the tracks won’t be a shock – it’s a classic blend of screaming vocals with angstily sung choruses, but the production manages to remain refreshing without overstepping its bounds into EDMcore. This execution can be best seen on tracks as I’m Over Being Under(rated) or Feeling Low, where the electronic elements are interesting but avoid becoming jarring or overwhelming. Bea Boken’s vocals rarely feel drowned out by the mixing or the instruments, even when the songs climaxes in the richest breakdowns, such as on Cutthroat, which is perhaps the most traditional track on the release, and is sonically quite similar to prior releases such as You Wear A Crown But You’re No King.

Notably, this feels like one of the most listenable metalcore albums released in a while as it is dripping with post-hardcore energy without being aggressive for the sake of edginess. Following this, the lyrics are a little more mature, such as on the more poppier track Sleepless In Phoenix, where Bea addresses being older and having a family and having to be on the road. On that note, it’s worth pointing out that although it is less aggressive than Witness, and especially Hollow Bodies, it’s not much more radio friendly, proving that Blessthefall aren’t following the precedent set by former metalcore act Bring Me The Horizon in 2015. This faithfulness to their sound will please hardcore fans of the band and the genre alike, and it’s commendable, even if the album art will have listeners expecting an off brand 1975 release!

In short, if you ever enjoyed Blessthefall’s previously releases, this project is a safe bet, and probably will end up being one of the more interesting and appealing metalcore releases this year. My gut feeling is that metalcore probably peaked in late 2013 and has since lost a lot of it’s fan base, but Hard Feelings could end up conjuring up some nostalgia for older listeners. In reality it’s not an exceptional album, but it’s novel production and lyrics makes it worth a listen.

 

Album Review – The World is Yours

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If you missed the latest Rich the Kid release, The World is Yours, you’d be forgiven. After spending the last month hyping up his debut album on Twitter, Rich’s dreams were crushed as The Weeknd and Tyler the Creator dropped an EP and a track respectively. Could The World is Yours defy the odds and be the strongest release of the day? Disappointingly no.

The opening track, The World is Yours, is a strange choice to greet listeners. The spacey, atmospheric backdrop doesn’t do anything to set the tone of the album, and it’s slower tempo would have made it better suited to close out the album. Rich’s typical flow doesn’t synergise well over the dreamy female vocals, which is a problem repeated later with Early Morning Trapping, and certainly isn’t the track that he should have chosen to demonstrate his rapping ability. It’s then contrasted by Rich’s most successful single yet, New Freezer, which debuted at 75 on the billboard 100 in 2017. It’s easy to see why, between the electric instrumental and insatiably catchy bass, coupled with the feature from Kendrick Lamar giving it much needed endorsement. Undoubtedly an unpopular opinion, but I personally find some of Kendrick’s guest verses to be a little jarring, due to his unique sound, and this is no exception; regardless, it’s technically fine and doesn’t detract massively for me. The rest of the first third of the album is also a mixed bag; the beat of No Question by mikewillmadethis is bouncy and catchy, but Rich and Future fail to capitalize on this with repetitive and ultimately forgettable verses. Plug Walk is a really strong offering, and doesn’t rely on a guest feature as a crutch, yet it’s followed by Too Gone, a weak attempt at a radio hit with a below average feature from Khalid and short, shallow verses from Rich.

The middle of the album is decent but nothing to phone home about. Some tracks, like Lost it and Early Morning Trapping stand out as better, but not by much, and in both cases is largely due to the guest vocals and darker beats; it would be hard to ruin a song which is produced by Metro Boomin and has two verses from Offset and Quavo. Listen Up’s beat is also refreshing as the album begins to draw to a close. The biggest problem that consistently plagues the album is Rich’s same flow on every track. It’s forgivable on a smaller project but almost an hour of it over 14 tracks grows dull fast. Perhaps it would have been compelling if Rich had stepped out of his comfort zone and attempted a different flow; even if it was technically worse, it would still be a welcome change.

In my eyes The World is Yours is well in the realm of average, not because it’s filled with average songs, but because the range in quality is so drastic from track to track, from trash to certified bangers. The production is the best it’s ever been on any of Rich’s work yet, it’s littered with big name guest verses, yet I fear that it’s being held back by a lack of creativity. Overall, this Kid’s submission in my eyes is a firm C -.

Track Review – OKRA

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Considering that he is perhaps one of, if not the most, versatile rappers in game currently, Tyler, The Creator has an incredible knack for remaining true to his sound, while changing just enough to keep it fresh and interesting. OKRA, his first track of 2018 and latest release since Flower Boy is a braggadocios, self labeled through-away track that brings the Odd Future era to a close. Despite this, Tyler’s relentless flow feels like a call back to much older songs in his discography like Transylvania and Domo 23, and is a perfect mix of nonchalant and aggressive that ends up dictating the mood of the track. For someone who ‘hates’ rapping, he is incredibly talented, and it really shows over the minimalist, piano driven beat. Where a lesser rapper may have failed without the protection of a more intricate beat to distract the listener, Tyler embraces this as an opportunity and it works, with no moments feeling forced or awkward.

The flip side to having a more spartan beat that showcases Tyler’s flow is that it sonically it isn’t very appealing. It has a similar sound to Flower Boy but besides that it is perhaps the only tell-tell sign that OKRA is a through-away single. On first examination I disliked the ego heavy lyrics and dismissed them, but upon multiple listens the depth is astonishing, addressing his sexuality, straight edge lifestyle and remaining rich with metaphors.

OKRA is a great reminder of why Tyler has experienced the most success out of his OFWGKTA peers and is a fun track to tide listeners over until his next full length release.

Track Review – Do Not Disturb

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Less than a month after their latest collaboration, 123, Murda Beatz and Smokepurpp are back with Do Not Disturb, this time with Lil Yachty and Offset. Dropped Wednesday on Zane Lowes’ show Beats 1, the track is a great example of some of the best parts of modern trap. The bouncy synths and deep 808s have an ethereal quality that avoids becoming overly repetitive, and works with the snappy drums to bring out the best elements of Smokepurpp’s subdued flow. Out of the guest vocals, Offset’s stuttering flow easily outperforms Lil Yachty’s typical deadpan verse, and closes out the track. The lyrics offer little substance, with the trio describing their boats, cars, women and guns, but it comes with the territory of the genre.

As a whole, Do Not Disturb is a dark, energetic track that doesn’t try anything new or different, yet remains interesting by doing what it does really well.

Album Review – Lil Boat 2

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Jacobs Crackers. If I had to try and describe the experience of listening to Lil Boat 2, I would compare it to the feeling of attempting to eat a packet of unbuttered Jacobs Crackers. Both are mundane, predictable and at times borderline painful. Lil Yachty’s second studio album opens up with a spread of entirely forgettable songs, which can’t even be salvaged with the help of A-List features, including  2-Chainz and Quavo. The first five tracks, Self Made to Get Money Bros, all have the most generic beats imaginable, peppered with rattling high-hats and the occasional deep 808, with absolutely no substance. Paired with the flimsy lyrics from Lil Yachty, which is a combination of braggadocious boasting about his new found riches and generic ad libs, it’s a struggle to make it through the first third of the album.

Continuing to describe his new cars, clothing and women in the track She Ready featuring last years XXL Freshman PnB Rock, Yachty attempts to rip off his most successful hits of 2016, completely stealing the same flutey melody found on iSpy and Broccoli.

The second half of the album evolves into more compelling beats such as the more darker sounds of DAS CAP and NBAYOUNGBOAT, but any redeeming quality is lost by the atrocious lyrical quality and tedious flows. Perhaps the strongest track on the project is Count Me In, where Pierre Bourne’s angsty production works with Lil Yachty’s delivery, but unsurprisingly its no where close to redeeming the project. The album begins to draw to a close with the penultimate track BABY DADDY, which features guest verses from Lil Pump and Migos’ Quavo. With their combined past material, a listener might make the assumption that the track will be aggressive and packed full of energy, but instead are greeted with a sluggish homage to the trio’s drug use.

As the album stumbles across the finish line with an atmospheric and very forgettable track with Trippie Redd, I’m left wondering what the purpose of this project is. It brings absolutely nothing new to the table sonically or technically, and ends up sounding like a soulless, corporate bargain bin version of the original Lil Boat. Don’t bother listening to this project, there’s better things to do with three quarters of an hour; pretty much anything else.   

EP Review – California by Diplo

After almost a year of teasing, Diplo has released California, his latest project that takes the form of an EP. Dripping in mournful imagery yet still packing in the summer vibes, the project takes an unusually reflective tone as Diplo contemplates materialism, his own ambitions and suicide. To a more inexperienced producer this fusion of chill and emo between may have been challenging but with over twenty years of producing and DJing, Diplo isn’t in uncharted waters, with his 2004 release Florida adopting a similar introspective break from his more rave orientated discography. It’s executed seamlessly on every track however, with a noticeable awkwardness between Desiigner’s despondent lyrics and the choice of echoey, spacey samples. A similar jarring effect is overbearing on Color Blind, with Lil Xan musing over how new money and success has affected his relationships, to the soundtrack of bass driven EDM.

It’s not all negative by any means; when the theme works, it really works. Tracks like Wish, which features an incredible vocal performance from Trippie Redd that unexpectedly synergises  with the piano driven, poppier beat, are a perfect example of this. Similarly, Worry No More plays to Lil Yachty’s vocal strengths, and enhances his downbeat rap flow.

I come away from the project torn. In one respect, the creativity and and cohesive theme of the EP is genre defying and impressive. On the other hand, it does make listeners question why he chose to release this project now. With at least one feature on every track, four of which have been XXL freshmen, or are predicted to be in this years line up, and the switch to a more trending emo rap genre, it begs the question of if this was a move by Diplo to maintain his presence in the music industry and remain relevant. Regardless, it’s mostly enjoyable and at only nineteen minutes long and with just six tracks, it’s worth the listen.

Track review – Need a Little Time

Courtney Barnett’s style is evolving, and I love it. To say that Barnett’s rambling, country infused style isn’t present on her latest singles isn’t accurate, however it’s presence is much more muted, and outperformed by the grunge and indie rock flavoured elements. Unleashed on March 15th, Need a Little Time is the second single that has been released to tease her third studio album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, set to release late May this year.

Brooding and murky, the track opens with a couple of lines of Courtney’s signature deadpan singing, where she appears to sorrowfully address an unspecified lover. Her declaration that she ‘doesn’t know a lot about you’, and that they should take a break is a repeated theme throughout, which is a welcome structural change from some of her more rambling tracks. The delicately sung chorus that punctuates throughout breaks up the song further, and serves as an example of exactly why I’m anticipating her upcoming release to be her most mature and interesting release yet. Need a Little Time is an interesting and well executed alternative rock track that reaffirms Courtney Barnett’s position as one of the most talented artists in the genre at the moment.

 

Here’s why Lil Xan wasn’t wrong to rate 2pac 2/10

The divisions between modern trap and older hip-hop have been rammed straight into public discussion as Waka Flocka Flame has declared Lil Xan ‘banned from hip-hop’, following his February interview with Revolt TV. When asked to rate a wealth of trending topics and music icons, including Net Neutrality, Beethoven and Drake’s latest release, God’s Plan, Lil Xan, aka Diego, rated Tupac Shakur a two out of ten, dismissing the performer’s music as ‘boring’, which has led to mass uproar from the rap community.Waka Twitter.PNG

The story itself is relatively boring; Lil Xan was asked controversial questions, gave a controversial answer, which caused outrage. It can easily be dismissed as a inexperienced rapper falling for media tricks designed to get as many clicks as possible, which in itself isn’t newsworthy; indeed, Xan recognised this and has now said he won’t be doing any interviews. However, the conversation that has been created, that boils down to what the next generation of rappers have been influenced by, is far more interesting. Is it surprising to anyone who has heard any of Lil Xan’s discography that he hasn’t been influenced by 2Pac or Biggie Smalls? Diego and his peers have carved out a niche that is a blend of hardcore and alternative rock, mixed with the foundations of modern trap music. In his interview with Pigeons and Planes in late December of last year, Xan cited Queens of the Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys as examples of his influences, along with early N.E.R.D releases; not a mention of any classic rap artists. This is the basis for my argument that so called ‘soundcloud rap’, despite its similarity to other hip-hop genres, simply cannot be compared alongside them.

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Take the late Lil Peep, a close friend and peer of Lil Xan, for example, whos top tracks include samples from alternative metal and rock artists such as Three Days Grace, Pierce the Veil and Underoath. Thematically, his music remains true to his samples, filled with Horrorcore imagery and angsty lyrics. The origin of this genre of music stems from a completely different set of influences than the the music of Waka Flocka and other notable critics. If Xan has rated Three 6 Mafia, or $uicideboy$ negatively, then I would agree, yes, Xan’s arrogance and ego would have been showing, as they are undoubtedly a direct influence in this genre and by discrediting them he would be implying he is more important. Instead, Xan simply said that he wasn’t interested in classic Hip Hop, understandably.

Continuing on, the peak of 2Pac’s musical reign was before this new generation of rappers time. All Eyez On Me was released February 1996; a full seven months before Xan was even born. The rest of the genre are even younger, with influencers such as Lil Pump being a full four years younger, and XXXtentacion only being twenty years old; by his first birthday, Tupac had been dead for almost a year and a half. Even so, it would be several years before any of them had listened to 2pac’s music.

Honestly, any way you look at it, the reaction to Xan’s off guard comment has been blown way out of proportion. Angry mobs and established rappers ‘banning’ Xan from hip hop is childish and over-inflated for media’s sake. It certainly wasn’t disrespectful, rather an acknowledgement that he didn’t grow up listening to classic Hip Hop, and as a result, doesn’t get influenced by it, doesn’t understand it and most importantly, doesn’t care for it.