Author: Barrett Vimot

græ: Part 1 by moses sumney

Album: græ: Part 1

Artist: Moses Sumney

Genre(s): Electro-Soul / Baroque Pop / Singer-songwriter

Record Labels: Jagjaguwar

Recommended Tracks: Track 9 – Colouour and Track 12 – Polly

Moses Sumney is an act best described by the singer-songwriter denomination than any genre classification, as his sound his sound is as explorative as it is unique, and as is the central theme of græ: Part 1, Sumney avoids classification and definition whenever possible. Sumney spent the first 10 years of his life in San Bernardino, California, before he moved back to Accra, Ghana with his family. Sumney approached music initially without any instrumental ability, composing only a capella songs, and when he attended UCLA he majored in creative writing with a focus on poetry. Both of these elements of his approach to music are apparent in his intricate songwriting, which results in some absolutely stunning lyricism on this project and on previous projects. Sumney’s debut album Aromanticism is ethereal, nocturnal, and gorgeous. Sumney’s phantasmic falsetto is perfectly complemented by strings, deeply resounding drums, and haunting flourishes. On Aromanticism grapples with isolation, especially within romantic relationships, as well as general feelings of falseness, discontentment, and desire, however Sumney’s songwriting uses poetic language that can be interpreted within many a listener’s narrative in many different ways. On græ: Part 1, Sumney still feels like quite an isolated voice within his sparse and striking instrumentals, however through the interludes and songwriting it’s clear that Sumney’s main focus on this album is the power and validity of ambiguity and having a multiplicity of identities. I would give this album a 4/5, as I find the songwriting just bewitching, and while I enjoy the sonic palette of Aromanticism quite a bit more, I think the exploration and diversification in sound serves well to articulate a narrative about ambiguity and refusal to be defined without compromising too much musical enjoyability. 

My first standout track is “Colouour”, which opens with an almost Negro Swan-esque saxaphone arrangement backed by some wandering pianos and a backing deep synth. Sumney’s voice causes the horns to drop out leaving just him and the piano before the track expounds into a collage of various sounds under his singing, which sounds absolutely gorgeous on this track. The song, like many of Sumney’s tracks, is much more of a musical poem than a song, however the simplicity and brevity of the lyrics only serves to bolster their impact. This song incorporates the album’s themes of color in its lyrics, if that wasn’t obvious from the title, imploring the listener or whoever the song was intended for to wear some color. This color metaphor is not out of line with the typical paradigmatic implication of color as self expression, however the song precedes an interlude about multiplicity of self, which is one of the album’s main themes. Within this thematic context, I think multiple different metaphors could be being conveyed. Either color directly reflects this typical paradigm, or perhaps the line about Sumney “trying to change” whoever the song is intended for ought to be interpreted more sympathetically. Perhaps “græ” and colorlessness represents the inability to be defined despite societies perpetual demands of self-determination. These thematic throughlines might become more apparent in græ: Part 2, if that is indeed a thing. 

My second standout track was one of the singles preceding the album, “Polly”. The song has some of the most gorgeous lyrics on the album, which are given the chance to shine due to the song also being relatively simplistic, with a repetitive backing guitar and occasional additional vocals delivered by Sumney being the only embellishments to Sumney’s sung poetry. My personal favorite lyrical moment/stanza on this song is probably:

“I don’t wanna live here

Sometimes don’t wanna live at all

I want to be cotton candy

In the mouth of many a lover

Saccharine and slick technicolor

I’ll dissolve”

This encapsulates the lyrical beauty demonstrated across this record and across Sumney’s discography, which is surely one of the main draws to his work.

Overall, this album is definitely one that requires thematic digestion, as I’m still puzzling over lyrics, themes, and songs in order to construct a more complete statement to derive from this work. Hopefully græ: Part 2 or whatever else Sumney might have planned for this project isn’t too far on the horizon, since the confusing single rollout and title hinting at serialization leave me wondering how this album is going to fit into a larger multi-part work. If you like Moses Sumney, I would recommend you check out serpentwithfeet, Sufjan Stevens (especially his cover of “Don’t Bother Calling”), or James Tillman. I would recommend this project to anyone that likes poetry, minimalistic music, or that likes to engage with albums in the way one would a novel.

fuck the world by brent faiyaz

Album: Fuck The World

Artist: Brent Faiyaz

Genre: R&B

Record Labels: Lost KiDs

Recommended Tracks: Track 4 – Fuck The World (Summer in London) and Track 5- Let Me Know

Christopher Brent Woods, better known as Brent Faiyaz, is a 24 year old musician from the DMV who has piloted his fair share of suave buttery choruses. If you don’t recognize the name, you’ve likely heard his vocal stylings on the GoldLink song “Crew” which utilized Faiyaz on sticky hook that exudes braggadocio and confidence. The DMV players anthem hit 45 on the Billboard Hot 100, which is still GoldLink’s peak chart performance (as well as Faiyaz’s). Faiyaz has lent his guest vocals to choruses on quite a few rap tracks, much in the tradition of the up and coming R&B artist trying to draw on two genres shared audience. Namely, he was featured on a few of his late labelmate Juice WRLD’s songs across his first two projects. Fuck The World is Faiyaz’s second commercial album, his first being the heartfelt yet uncatchy and ultimately forgetable Sonder Son. On this album Faiyaz trends away from all-encompassing autobiography across various time periods of his life for a more simplistic examination of his current lifestyle of unsatisfactory excess, coping through drug use, and being what he calls an “empathic narcissist”. I would give this album a 2/5, as while think the narratives and themes that Faiyaz engages with are interesting and well developed within individual songs despite the album’s briefness, Faiyaz’s musical stylings just aren’t that engaging to me, and his commonplace subject matter and sound make him blend into the background of the multiplicity of similar R&B acts

My first standout track from this project is the (sort of) title track “Fuck The World (Summer in London)”. This track is an essential summation of many of the albums essential themes. Faiyaz says in the tracks first lines after an ever so original lighter clicks over faint sample intro, “(I wanna) fuck the world I’m a walking erection, spend without a thought we do it reckless”. Essentially, Faiyaz is quite promiscuous and is possessed by his gargantuan sexual appetite, therefore he is a walking erection. Secondly, he spends lavishly and without thought. These are both revealed throughout the album, Faiyaz’s discography, and some of the promotional/explicatory material around Faiyaz’s discography as coping mechanisms for the fundamental mistrust Faiyaz feels for those around him, Faiyaz’s aforementioned personality “flaws”, and Faiyaz’s struggle with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. This is a narrative essential to modern rap, and yet I don’t think Faiyaz’s contributions are unwelcome. For one, Faiyaz makes it clear that his music is based on lived experiences and personal truths. He’s not parroting platitudes, he’s documenting his own genuine experience with these issues which are common rap fodder. However, while Faiyaz’s lyrical take is individual, compelling, and personal, his musical decisions might as well be algorithmic. Faiyaz has been penalized before in critical writing for lack of experimentation, and I don’t think that’s more apparent anywhere than this album. Faiyaz sounds like he’s trying to expand his personal lease on his niche of R&B, and he describes himself as genreless, however he doesn’t dare venture into any unfamiliar or even interesting instrumentation.

My second standout track directly follows my last on the tracklist. “Let Me Know” utilizes some cozy piano melodies, which really compliment Faiyaz’s often unnoteworthy vocals. The song questions how Faiyaz is expected to love someone when “They tell [him] he can’t love [himself]”. The song is an anthem of love being an all powerful force that can trump all the world’s injustices, which is a classic song concept however Faiyaz executes it simply and tastefully. The drums on this track are a perfect encapsulation of its smooth simplicity, as they follow a very simple pattern but are just crisp and groovy enough to drive the song.

If Faiyaz wants to preserve his longevity on subsequent projects, I hope he is able to find the same truthfulness and individuality in his musical voice that he has found in his actual one. Especially when Faiyaz is attempting to add to a narrative cannon that is so essential to the genres of rap and R&B, it’s difficult to approach him as more than a replication of an archetype or cliche when his production is indistinguishable from his contemporaries. If you like Brent Faiyaz, I would check out SiR, Leven Kali, or Berhana, who I’ve reviewed before. I’d definitely check out this album if you need a break from the hollowness of exorbitant spending and sexual escapades, or are a fan of The Weeknd or other similarly unapologetically narcissistic acts.

Endless by Frank Ocean

Album: Endless

Artist: Frank Ocean

Genre: R&B

Record Label(s): Def Jam Recordings

Recommended Tracks: Track 9*-Wither and Track 15*-Rushes

Frank Ocean emerged from the chaos of the odd future collective as one of the most prominent and individual voices within modern popular music. His reclusive persona, erratic releases, cult like following online, and of course the tragic, spacious beauty of his music have fomented a palpable mystique surrounding the man, his music, and everything he does. Frank’s debut solo mixtape, nostalgia, ULTRA. Was self- released via the odd future website in 2011. The mixtape pieces together prominent samples and interpolations of music that was important to Frank in his youth. While it is easy to write off some of this project as derivative, undeveloped, and even immature at points, there are some absolutely gorgeous moments across the project that forecast the songwriting prowess, conceptual construction, and raw talent that would turn Frank into a global superstar. Frank’s debut album. Channel Orange was released to much fanfare by the Odd Future and existing Frank Ocean fans, however this album really shot him into the national consciousness (although “Novacane” off of nostalgia, ULTRA. was a favorite for critics in 2011, and having been a part of Odd Future Frank was already well known, especially amongst teens/young adults). Channel Orange is a reference to the color Frank most strongly associates with his first time falling in love, and the album certainly conjures the warmth, beauty, innocence, and potent sexuality that I’m sure many would associate with their first love. The album wins a Grammy, Frank comes out in a letter that he released with the album, and the path to R&B superstardom seemed all but fulfilled. However, Frank had become disenchanted with the glamour, the award shows, the fanfare, belonging to a record label,  the constructs and pressure of fame, and for these and countless other potential reasons, Frank isn’t heard from much at all for 4 years. Most other artists would have their careers stunted by this kind of absence from both the limelight and from producing music, and Frank very well could’ve been had his silence been broken by a different project. However, tin the summer of 2016, a couple live streams of a warehouse with random positions of ambient noise, welding sounds, someone walking in front of the camera, and several other oddities sprang up on Frank’s personal website. The internet exploded with anticipation, wondering what these cryptic hints within the livestream could mean, writing words they thought they heard within the ambient noise, piecing together numbers within the background, and then all of a sudden on August 19, 2016, Frank dropped Endless, a video album featuring lo-fi production techniques, avant-garde aesthetics, spacious and sparse instrumentation, and the much refined rapping and singing of one Frank Ocean. The next day, Frank released Blonde, which was a much more straightforward album, with less lo-fi obscuring and with clearly more polish and deliberate songwriting. It was revealed that Frank had released Endless to fulfill his contract with Def Jam so he could release Blonde independently. The world raved at the genius move, and Endless was relegated being obsessed over by Frank Ocean fans on reddit, while Blonde debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. While I love Blonde tremendously and it was extremely important to my development as a person as well as a listener of music, I think Endless is too often overlooked as a clever workaround by Frank, and not as the masterpiece it is within itself. Overall, I’d give Endless a 5/5, however if you haven’t already guessed by this point, I’m extremely partial to anything with Frank’s fingerprints on it. 

My first standout track is “Wither”, which I would almost say leans towards poetic vignette in its song structure. The bright strings (played by Alex G) and the faint female vocalizations in the background serve to add texture to the space in which Frank exists. Space is very important within the original mix of this album, as some things certainly seem closer, further, more or less obscured, and of course the whole album has the visual accompaniment of a warehouse, which means each track is atmospheric and spatially oriented in a very audible way. While the atmosphere on this track is gorgeous, as is Frank’s singing, for me it’s the lyrics that really separate this cut. I implore you to go and listen to the song or read them yourself, but generally the song is about the wish to have kids and allow them to see your warmth, as well as the space in which you created that warmth, and then for them to see you “wither”. The song title has a double-meaning embedded within it, in that wither can also be heard as “with-her”. This song is as avant-garde, poetic, and reserved as the rest of Endless, but my personal interpretation is Frank is meditating on the space created within love, and the ephemerality of that space, as well as the ephemerality and subjectivity of the human experience itself. In other words, Frank knows his time is limited, and he hopes his children get a chance to see his happiness and who he is and the things he loves before he wastes away, therefore in some way preserving him and the love he has felt. 

My second standout track is Rushes, which again is so meditative, poetic, and shapeless that it’s hard to describe its beauty. However this track is very similar compositionally to Wither, as Alex G takes the lead instrumentation, and Jazmine Sullivan lends her vocals to the soundscape. This song is about so many things. Wanting to matter, wanting to cease existing, living in polar emotional extremes, emotional stagnation, and countless other possible meanings gleaned from lyrical interpretation. Frank’s songwriting is so emotional and intimate, and his singing is just as emotive, which allows these tracks to have a poetic relativism to the listener. These songs have meant so many different things to me at different times. In one moment, a lyric might hit you exactly where you need it, or connect to you with a haunting intimacy amplified by the spaciousness of the sound. On Endless, Frank masters allowing space in the mix for the listener, which is something he also employs on Blonde, but I’d say the sonic palette of Endless lends itself even better to this practice.Overall, if this album missed you or you’ve only sort of watched the stream, I would go find the CD Quality tracks online and give it a listen. As progressive as Blonde is within its sound, I think Endless takes risks and combines ideas that I haven’t seen replicated anywhere else. While avant garde is a term that has been repeated to the point of obliviating any pure sentiment or meaning, the challenges Frank makes towards the typical structures of music and what is important within a song creates such a unique potency within Endless. If you like Frank Ocean, specifically Endless, I would check out some of this album’s collaborators, such as Alex G, Vegyn, or Sampha. I definitely would revisit this album whenever you’re in the mood for solitary meditation, or need a new soundtrack for crying in the shower.

Wow… That’s Crazy by Wale

Album: Wow… That’s Crazy

Artist: Wale 

Genre: Rap/R&B

Record Label(s): Warner Records

Recommended Tracks: Track 4-Expectations (feat. 6LACK) and Track 13-Set You Free (feat. Kelly Price)

Wale is a seasoned vet of the rap and contemporary R&B scene at this point, and the self proclaimed ambassador for the D.C. metropolitan area sound. Although Wale has never had a smash hit, he has consistently succeeded on Billboard charts, and has had more staying power than many of the lyricism driven rap acts of the late 2000s. He was once the center of a multiple label bidding war, and has worked closely with artists from all over the pop music sphere, such as Mark Ronson, Pharrell Williams, and Rick Ross. While not the most compelling or earthshaking presence within the oversaturated archetype of the conscious rapper, Wale breaks this mold in ways that demonstrate why he was such a hot commodity within the rap world at some point. Wale definitely has an impressive stylistic range. His albums meander through sounds and ideas with enough competency, confidence, and composure that you can’t help but believe Wale most sonic settings. He is like a virtuosic actor, springing from a song reminiscent of bling rap bangers of yesteryear, into a heady rumination with a soulfully metronomic gospel swelling and descending in the background, then into an Afrobeat driven pop track with no agenda other than danceability. This capacity to transcend genre boundaries within pop is no doubt exciting, however it was around Wale’s last album The Album About Nothing that the faults in his chameleonism started to show. The album focuses on relationship and is an unabashed homage to Seinfeld, as you could likely interpret from the title. Nothing on the album is necessarily bad, it’s just that the tracks don’t feel particularly inspired or innovating. Wale’s mockingbird style songwriting starts to peek through a little bit, with certain tracks feeling like Wale donning the sounds of his contemporaries, or just lacking an impassioned effort at innovation within trite sonic palettes and lyrical subjects. Unfortunately, Wow… That’s Crazy falls into many of the same pitfalls. For example, on BGM, Wale attempts to make a very “Nice For What”-esque ladies anthem, except his attempt highlights many of his flaws as an artist, such as his inability to create compelling hooks, his pandering and faux-motivational refrains, all of it just feels like a very canned and disingenuous attempt at a song concept that’s been such much more tactfully approached in the past. So yes, Wale has the ability to inhabit a multitude of genres, however within those genres he often lacks the charisma and the creative gusto to pull of interesting songs. Because of that, I’d give this album a 2 / 5. It’s not an unenjoyable record overall, however listening to Wale wear sounds like costumes without much of a genuine attempt at investigating new territory \does become a monotonous process of. 

Two standout tracks I found enjoyable were Expectations (feat. 6LACK) and Set You Free (feat. Kelly Price). Expectations is one of the best feature pairings on the album, with a synthy bouncing beat that perfectly adorns 6LACK’s melancholic vocals. Unfortunately 6LACK sneaks an overused Rondo reference into his already lyrically uninspired verse, which doesn’t help the faceless homogeny Wale is fighting in his tracklist. However, Wale’s second verse about the relationship between comfort and vanity is a genuinely enjoyable take on a well explored phenomenon within rap. Is it corny to an extent? Absolutely, but I do think as far as Wale’s motivationally geared verses this goes over the best. Set You Free is also a more lyrically driven track, however because of the subject matter and the openness that Wale displays it’s a big standout for me within the tracklist. Wale talks about his struggle with mental health, and instead of going the route of Logic or some other emcees that have explored this topic, this is not an anthem. This is an honest and personal approach that I wish Wale employed on more tracks, because this is certainly a bright spot in the album

This album doesn’t necessarily deserve to be penalized for anything it’s doing. Aside from a few stray moments and BGM, nothing really annoyed me in the way woke motivational rappers often can. I think for this album it’s shortcomings come within the things it doesn’t do. In a rap world where features in mainstream rap are as eclectic as ever, Wale uses Jeremih, Rick Ross, Bryson Tiller, etc.. At a time where guys like J Cole and Kendrick are spilling their hearts out on wax, Wale only slightly treads away from attempting to give sage patronizing relationship advice. It may be harsh, but I do think in many ways rap and R&B have innovated past voices like Wale. Just being a rapper that sings sometimes and isn’t one dimensional genre-wise isn’t compelling enough when the rap is at the forefront of pop and is being expanded and tested in so many different and interesting directions. However, if you’re looking for something that will remind you of a simpler time in the rap world, or like rap and want to see if some of his takes on different sounds are more compelling to you, I’d definitely give this album a listen. If you like Wale, I’d recommend GoldLink, Big K.R.I.T, or Miguel.

La Linda by Tei Shi

Album: La Linda

Artist: Tei Shi 

Genre: Alternative R&B

Record Label(s): Downtown Records

Recommended Tracks: Track 3-Even If It Hurts and Track 11-We

Valerie Teicher Barbosa, better known as Tei Shi, has been a favorite amongst critics since her first couple singles that she dropped in 2013. Tei Shi exceeds at crafting soft, detailed, and lush pop that employs elements of synth pop, R&B, reggaeton (specifically dembow rhythm), as well as a bevy of other eclectic sound palettes. Barbosa is a Jewish Colombian-Canadian woman, and her diverse cultural identity shows itself across her discography. For example, while she usually sticks to signing in english, little bits of Spanish, as well as “Matando” a full Spanish song off of this album, appear speckled throughout her work. Tei Shi has been known to compose and produce, however on this album she doesn’t have any credits as a producer. However, she leaves the production to a group of outstanding talents, such as Daniel Aged, Noah Beresin of Chiddy Bang fame, and Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange. Overall, I’d give this album a ⅗, as sometimes the minimal instrumentation contrasted with Tei Shi’s soft singing create delicate and gorgeous cuts with enough understatement and intricacy as to appear avant garde and masterful. However, Tei Shi’s underwhelming vocals and the lush soft dreaminess of songs can also turn lots of tracks into soupy, nebulous, and even boring experiences. 

My first standout track is by far my favorite on the album, Even If It Hurts featuring Blood Orange with vocals and production. This song sounds a lot like a cut on which Dev might have landed on his last project Angel’s Pulse. This track exemplifies why aesthetic appraisals such as gorgeous, smooth, and lush, are so often applied to Tei Shi’s music. The drums on this track are hypnotic and driving, and are a perfect grounding exposition to the glitziness of the rest of the track. Dev Hynes shows why his blend of airy vocals, proud piano lines, and synthy meandering have been so enrapturing. While neither Dev or Tei Shi are amazing as vocalists, the sticky melodies and wonderful production more than atone for this. If this realm of music is of interest to you at all, I would strongly implore you to not make this a track you miss.

My other standout track is the one piloted by Daniel Aged, who recently worked on Frank Ocean’s much anticipated “DHL”. The track opens with bird sounds and a couple warm reverberating guitar chords. Tei Shi then closes her album with this short poetic strong that leaves me wondering what potential she has as a songwriter along with her already impeccable production sensibilities. I interpret this song as being about Tei Shi’s experience of being a woman, and how she has been subliminally coerced into negative self conception. One of the most biting lyrics is “The confidence they take away from we, it should be criminal, it’s so subliminal” which shows the collective experience of being subjugation that women have the burden of sharing. The song closes by rolling out some dark synths and looping some distorted noise that sort of sounds like pressurized air, and then finally the album closes as simplistically as it began, with bird noises.

Overall, I think Tei Shi relies a lot on the gorgeous production that she and her collaborators are able to create, and due to this her presence on the track often feels muted and lacking. I mean, understated airy vocals are very in vogue currently, however I can think of many more compelling vocalists and songwriters I’d like to see over this production. I think Tei Shi assumes a large effort on the listener to pick apart and recreate meaning from her poetic, vague, faint lyrics and singing, and while that has definitely worked for others and is an interesting approach to songwriting, I just don’t find many of the tracks compelling enough to want to revisit them enough times to find deeper meanings or small sonic modifications or cool mixing on sounds. However, on a few tracks I think concessions to conventional music practices and driving drums help songs maintain enough structure to allow the otherwise lovely production Tei Shi employs to shine. If you like Tei Shi, I would definitely check out Blood Orange if you somehow haven’t already, as well as Tennis, and potentially TOPS. If you want something light and beautiful to listen to in the background while doing something else, I think this album is definitely worth a listen.

Hot Pink by Doja Cat

Album: Hot Pink

Artist: Doja Cat

Genre: Pop/Rap

Record Labels: Kemosabe Records and RCA Records

Recommended Tracks: Track 4 – Bottom Bitch and Track 6- Like That (feat. Gucci Mane)

Doja Cat’s popularity may have spawned out of memedom, but she has far exceeded the limitations and expectations allotted to a typical viral sensation nowadays. If you’ve never heard of Doja Cat, you’ve likely still seen her in a low cut cow print top, potentially with fries up her nose, singing about how despite her name, she is not a cat, but a cow. The video for her breakout hit “Mooo!” has amassed over 57 million views since its release a little over a year ago in August. The video posesses just enough absurdity, sex appeal, and genuine quality singing and rapping to make it ripe for internet virality. However instead of looking at this as some sort of opportunity to delve into meme-y content future forward, Doja used her new exposure to further her more serious musical ventures. I was surprised, as I’m sure many others were, when after the “Mooo!” video she had already dropped a couple EPs, and had recently dropped her debut album Amala, based off of her given name. Even more surprising, a lot of the music in her catalog was really good! Off of Amala, “Go To Town”, “Juicy”, “Tia Tamera”, and “Wild Beach” are a couple tracks that displayed her versatility and potential for stardom. However Amala was dropped before the sensation of “Mooo!”, and while she released a deluxe edition to include it as well as some of her more polished newer tracks, there was still a sense that her big industry breakthrough could still be on the horizon. That breakthrough comes in the form of Hot Pink, an airtight 40 minutes with 3 A-list features, exhibiting more polish and popiness than Amala. To me, this album is much more successful than not as Doja’s debut in the big time. Overall, I’d give it a 4/5 . It isn’t the most inventive pop album ever, and I do wish that Doja rapped a little more, but the tracklist is chock full of fun bangers that show why Doja is one of the most entertaining pop acts right now. 

My first standout track, “Bottom Bitch” was released earlier on as a single. The track employs a warm distorted guitar, a kick and clap combo crispier than autumn leaves, and pimping terminology to craft an infectiously warm friendship anthem that would undoubtedly bang cruising around with friends as the accompanying music video depicts. The guitar is in fact a sample of blink-182’s iconic hit “What’s My Age Again?” transposed down, which creates a perfect milky, nostalgic backdrop on which Doja lays down audacious and punky yet loving verses with a minor layer of vocal manipulation. This song feels like the drive home after a night of shenanigans with friends, and its youthful spirit is incredibly fun and infectious. The song isn’t incredibly intricate, but it is a very individual direction for a female pop act right now. Doja also is credited as the lead producer on the track, showing her potential when it comes to song construction past performance. 

The collaboration that goes over best on the record is “Like That” which features Gucci Mane. Guwop doesn’t come in with a super inspired verse, but Doja makes the song irresistibly catchy with the stickiest book potentially on the album. This track shows another thing Doja flashes throughout her catalogue, and that’s her collection of inflections. While not quite to the extent of Nicki Minaj’s character rapping, Doja can come in softly on a track, floating a chorus reminiscent of something Ariana Grande might do, and then ride a trap beat as well as or better than most trap rappers out right now, and then she can punctuate a track with a gorgeous R&B refrain. This track has each of those, and while I think Doja could command more attention as a performer, singer, rapper, and producer, I think her versatility and potential makes for lots of exciting tracks.

On Doja Cat’s next venture, I hope she is able to carve out a sound that feels more individual to her instead of exploring others sounds, as interesting as the marriage of those sounds through her persona is. Tracks like “Bottom Bitch” and some of the less poppy, self produced cuts are really exciting to me, as even though they may not hit or have commercial everytime, I find them to be some of the more long lasting tracks as far as appeal. However, Doja is a self proclaimed crafter of sticky hooks, and I hope she doesn’t strays from her pop roots for a while, because she’s definitely an exciting voice to have around the mainstream. If you like Doja Cat, I would check out Kali Uchis, Jorja Smith, or cupcakKe. I’d definitely check out this album if you’re a fan of pop rap, need some extra energy in your life, and also if you don’t mind having hooks stuck in your head for days.

I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This by Jeff Goldblum

Album: I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This

Artist: Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra

Genre: Jazz

Record Labels: Universal Music Operations Limited and Decca Records

Recommended Tracks: Track 4 – B and Track 4 – The Thrill is Gone / Django (with Miley Cyrus)

Jeff Goldblum. You know the name, however probably not within the context of jazz music. That’s right, Hollywood’s quirky uncle, the star of films such as Jurassic Park, The Fly, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the owner of one of the silver screen’s most peculiar speaking cadences, is also a talented and passionate pianist. While not completely out of left field, Goldblum’s forays into music add an interesting element to his eccentricism. However, trying to dissect this album as some article of the erratic and colorful persona of a Hollywood phenom might leave one a bit disappointed on this venture, as Goldblum’s oddball sensibilities definitely may have pushed him to pursue music seriously, however they don’t necessarily translate to his jazz covers. This isn’t necessarily to the album’s detriment as much as it elucidates the fault in approaching this album expecting it to ooze quirkiness or be centered around Goldblum himself. On the contrary, I interpret this album as well as Goldblum’s previously released collection of live covers as a passion project of sorts. I don’t think Goldblum is necessarily trying to accomplish some great musical feat or establish himself as a multi-medium virtuoso, or even do anything particularly “weird”. Goldblum produces cheery, pretty by the numbers covers of jazz standards (and some not-so-standards) with clean playing across instruments, decent soloing, and some really interesting guest vocals. Overall, I’d give this album a 3/5, as again, it isn’t breaking any new ground, and the only covers that have any particular value over the originals are those featuring guest vocalists from across the musicsphere, such as Miley Cyrus, Fiona Apple, Sharon Van Etten, etc. 

My first standout track is the first of a couple moments on the album Goldblum opts for a completely instrumental cut, “Driftin’”. Originally off of Herbie Hancock’s famed 1962 debut Takin’ Off, “Driftin’” is a track well suited for any soloist trying to flex their chops. Goldblum opts for a slightly shorter track length than the original, by just over 2 minutes, and it’s a decision that definitely pays off, as the solos are nowhere near as compelling as those that justified the original 7-minute track. The track shows off Goldblum’s soloing, which isn’t particularly unique, but is surprisingly crisp and well articulated. The original has a Dexter Gordon alto-sax solo that Goldblum’s version does not try to imitate, which is probably a wise move, however it is one of the reasons the track is clearly inferior to its antecedent. Again, I don’t think Jeff Goldblum was trying to surpass Herbie Hancock, and therefore I take this as a valiant effort at interpreting a great tune.

The moments where the album really exceeds its station as a gimmick-y covers album are the tracks centered around guest vocalists. Sharon Van Etten, Fiona Apple, Anna Calvi, and pretty much every guest vocalist smashes their feature, which definitely aids in the album’s shelf life and appeal. My personal favorite collaboration on the project is “The Thrill is Gone / Django” with Miley Cyrus. This collaboration is definitely one of the more interesting on the project, as anguished lounge-y jazz definitely isn’t something I would’ve figured into Miley’s wheelhouse, but she nails her performance. The slight smokiness of her voice, her superstar charisma, and the remnants of her nigh imperceptible Nashville twang juxtaposed against the track’s dramatic horn arrangements creates a super compelling rendition of the Chet Baker track. If you check out any track from this album, I would definitely make this it, as it exemplifies Miley Cyrus’ talent and range as a vocalist. 

Past all the ritzy glitzy presentation of this album, there is a warmth to the sessions and to the varied vocal performances which makes it stand out. I would attribute said warmth to the lighthearted passion driving this project. It’s clear Goldblum is having fun, and while one could critique his lack of innovation within covers, or over reliance on his guest vocalists as the core of his reimaginations, Goldblum isn’t trying to push any new frontiers here, he’s just having fun. So you might as well have some fun with him, and if you’re looking for an easy listen with a glamorous Hollywood twist and a slew of sweet guest performances, give this a listen. If you like this album, I would check out some of the original musicians that crafted these tracks, such as Herbie Hancock, Chet Baker, or Nat King Cole.

Dior Deposits by Guapdad 4000

Album: Dior Deposits

Artist: Guapdad 4000

Genre: Hip Hop

Record Label(s): TWNSHP, LLC

Recommended Tracks: Track 4-Gucci Pajamas and Track 7-Izayah

Akeem Hayes aka Guapdad 4000 is an Oakland rapper who rides bouncy beats with somehow bouncier flows, creating undeniably fun hip hip with very no nonsense production. Guapdad associates with many other acts trying to craft hip hop in a similar vein: nocturnal, energetic, unconventional yet simple, grimy, commercial yet authentic rap. For example he has collaborated extensively with Smino, EarthGang, and Buddy, among others. Guapdad was also invited to participate in the Dreamville sessions for their collaboration album Revenge of the Dreamers III, which he described as a “life-changing” experience¹. I remember hearing one of Guapdad’s first commercial singles “Money” and being absolutely enraptured by the super fun and explosive energy of the track. The beat, which samples Jay Z’s “Money Ain’t a Thang” treads towards sounding goofy, but the risk pays off as in combination with the unabashedly nerdy and corny wordplay it creates this bombastic comic book-like energy to the track, which otherwise might not stand out at all. Going into the album in question, Dior Deposits, I hoped to find Guap exhibiting some of the same pizzaz and zany energy that made his first singles so infectious. Some of the album definitely realizes that potential, although it does in a sleeker, more polished and mainstream friendly packaging, which is both a strength and an impediment. Overall, I’d give this album a 3/5, as it delivers some of the most fun pop-rap tracks of the year, and even has some interesting albeit trite commentary on materialism as it relates to rap, acclaim, poverty, etc. However, some of the streamlining of Guap’s sound makes him less of a standout from his contemporaries.

My first standout track, “Gucci Pajamas”, is definitely my favorite on the album. The track features vocals from veteran voice Charlie Wilson as well as Chance the Rapper, and was produced by The Stereotypes, who are likely most well known for being a secondary production input on Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, specifically leading production efforts on “Finesse”. The track isn’t a straight throwback, but it definitely has a gloss and warmth reminiscent of some of the 80’s and 90s throwback tracks for which they’re known. Charlie Wilson delivers great vocals that add to the energy of the track without being an overbearing or distracting presence, and Chance’s verse is largely uninspired but he stays on the topic of the track, and his voice is distinct enough that he does command a lot of attention on the track. The end of his verse also contains some funny bars, such as “Now all my pajama-wear is whiter than Santa beard,

whiter than Bon Iver, whiter than Sonny, Cher”, or “Kleptomaniac bitch, Ocean’s Eleven shit”, which definitely got a little chuckle out of me. Now you’ll notice I haven’t really talked about Guap’s performance on the track, and that’s because he gets largely outshined by the production and his guest vocalists. The chorus he delivers is not bad at all. I definitely wouldn’t say it capitalizes on the potential for a sticky hook that the bouncy beat promises, but it’s passable. However Guap’s verse is entirely forgettable, and he let’s Charlie Wilson and Chance captain the bridge, which sort of makes him seem like a feature in his own song. Overall this tracklist is very feature heavy, and it does sometimes mean that Guap himself is outshone, and that until the second half of the album it doesn’t even really seem like his album as much as an assortment of posse cuts. 

My second standout track is Izayah, which features production from James Delgado who has worked with Guap multiple times in the past, as well as producer phenom Kenny Beats. The featured artists are KEY!, Maxo Cream, and Denzel Curry. This track is one of the harder cuts on the album, and the incisive hi-hats and rolling bass employed on both halves of the track frame all 3 emcees with verses (KEY! has an a capella intro) very well. Guap lays down one of his best verses on the album, flashing some of the clever wordplay that he showcased on his first few singles. The track transitions to Kenny Beats main portion in the second half, and Maxo Cream and Denzel Curry deliver some really high quality verses as well. This track isn’t excessively complicated, but it’s just a really well done rap heavy track with a crisp and bouncy bass. On Dior Deposits, Guapdad 4000 delivers a promising debut album. While I miss some of the more off-the-wall choices he made when he had more freedom, I can’t deny that the production has gotten leagues better. Also, while Guap sometimes gets lost in the sauce when it comes to features, the availability of A-list voices and emcees definitely enriches the overall appeal of his music. If you like Guapdad 4000, I would check out KEY!, EarthGang, or Smino. I definitely wouldn’t miss out on this album if you like energetic hip hop, or are looking for some new tracks for your workout playlist.

HAN by Berhana

Album: HAN

Artist: Berhana

Genre: R&B

Record Label(s): EQT Recordings

Recommended Tracks: Track 5-I Been and Track 10-G2g

Amain Berhane, aka Berhana, is one of the most colorful and exciting voices coming up in the R&B and pop scene (although he objects to the concept of genre). Berhana does not limit his artistic voice just to music, as he initially sought to pursue screenwriting while attending The New School in New York. Berhana’s cinematic vision is obvious when watching his music videos, one of which, Janet, was instrumental in orchestrating Berhana’s meteoric rise after his self-released, self-titled debut EP. However, as Berhana has stated in multiple interviews, he doesn’t just approach the visual content that accompanies his music with the eye of a screenwriter or director, but his music itself is supposed to portray a vivid and coherent picture to the listener. When speaking about his aforementioned 6-track EP, he said “I guess for me, it’s kind of a project about growth. I wanted to make something that almost felt like a documentary.”¹ This is an artistic vision that he definitely carries over onto the project in question, HAN, which is much more streamlined than the vignette style songwriting of his EP. The concept of the album is that the listener is on a plane ride, with 5 different spoken interludes done in the style of an automated pre-flight safety announcement acting as the album’s skeleton, and introducing the theme or themes that will be explored within the next few tracks. Berhana spoke recently in an interview about how this album was supposed to feel like a direct continuation of the narrative he started crafting on his debut EP, and also hinted that his next project will also tie into whatever lore or storyline he may be sculpting. When asked what the concept of this album was, he said “ I always wanted it to be this kind of journey. The very last line in “Grey Luh” [the last song on his EP] is “cop this one way out to Mexico, cause you compress my soul and call it love.” So I knew that I wanted this next thing to feel like a journey and feel like an experience.”² So each song represents a leg of a journey, and much like a hero within a cinematic arc, berhana exhibits change throughout the course of the album. Overall, I’d give this album a 3.5/5. While Berhana delivers a far more polished and musically competent product on HAN, I do think the genuine, unkempt, hazy aesthetic of his debut EP as well as the stickiness of many of the hooks on that project that made Berhana such a refreshing and electric new voice are lost to some of the refinement. However, I also applaud the shift to more production done by Berhana himself, as well as the major innovations Berhana has made to his sound in order to show his multifaceted talent and ability. 

My first standout track is one of the singles, I Been, which features vocals from Korean RnB artist Crush. This is one of the tracks more reminiscent of Berhana’s 2016 sound. The track opens with bright synth over rolling wave sounds, and only gets bopier when the drums and Berhana’s simplistic but catchy verse and chorus join the composition. This song doesn’t shine based off of lyrical density, but the simple and bouncy instrumentation and accompanying beachy embellishments should definitely land this song on your playlist the next time you’re planning to cruise down the PCH (ideally in a 1967 Chevy Bel Air, and even more ideally a baby blue one). 

G2g or got to go is definitely my favorite track on the album. Immediately I was struck by the beginning, which abandons Berhana’s typical lush, smooth, and sunny instrumental palette for driving punchy guitars, and Berhana comes in and lays down a shouty pained verse about trying to escape this failed relationship. It sounds way more reminiscent of something that would’ve come out of the catalogue of someone like Bakar than anything Berhana has done. However, as fun as the energy of the first half of the track is, the true gems of the song lie in some of the later parts. This song perfectly showcases the growth of Berhana’s scope, musicality, and sonic sensibilities. After the first part, we are greeted by wavering and atmospheric vocals repeating the same refrain, trancing the listener into a dreamy lull, and then out of this a drum and bass break springs forth, with some super compelling bass licks, and a generally really fascinating and dense atmosphere about it. This song illustrates Berhana’s insane potential to craft songs driven by storytelling, and eliciting specific images within the mind of the listener. It truly feels like a score to something, and if you like this song I’d definitely check out the music video to see that realized.  Berhana has shown the ability to create intricately crafted yet bare distillations of intimate moments and spaces within his life, and has translated that approach well to a larger more ambitious project. While this project isn’t as undeniably catchy as his debut mixtape, many of the risks he takes in increasing his ambition and adding complexity to his songwriting payoff. On future projects, I’m excited to see how Berhana develops his cinematic approach to songwriting and what perspective he decides to treat listeners to, as well as seeing how he contrasts the plain soulfulness that ignited his career on his first project, and the more developed musical concepts he employs on this album. If you like Berhana, I would go ahead and check out Choker, early Masego (especially ThePink Polo EP), Blood Orange, and Toro y Moi. This album is definitely worth a listen if you enjoy R&B of any sort, especially if you’re looking for something to keep your summer vibes alive even as the calendar rolls further and further away from days of sunny bliss.

Truth Is by Sabrina Claudio

Album: Truth Is

Artist: Sabrina Claudio

Genre: R&B

Record Label(s): Atlantic Records and RedOne Records

Recommended Tracks: Track 4-Hurt People and Track 8-As Long As You’re Asleep

Sabrina Claudio is an up and coming R&B artist whose mix of polished and nocturnal pop production, driving rhythms, and high-pitched heartbroken balladry has garnered her a sizeable fanbase, critical intrigue, and a slew of producers and songwriters with some pop hits under their belts (i.e. Stint, Sir Nolan, Stephen Moccio) willing and eager to collaborate with her. Claudio first found slivers of spotlight through her song covers that she posted to Twitter, Soundcloud, and Youtube. The few of her covers I could find were clear stylistic antecedents to her current work, with less lush developed production and more apparent influences. Claudio’s love and affinity for music started in the world of dance, specifically the salsa and merengue that are near inescapable in the streets of her native Miami. Her musical sensibilities were furthered by her love of R&B, more specifically some of the powerhouses of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, such as Lauryn Hill, Usher, Boyz II Men, Alicia Keys, etc. Within her newer music she doesn’t travel too far down the path of genre fusion, however her love of rhythm across genres can be seen by her adherence to strong backbeats in contrast with the slower, moodier sounds she elects throughout most of her catalogue. On October 4th, Claudio released her debut album, Truth Is. She has three previously released mixtapes under her belt, Confidently Lost. About Time, and No Rain, No Flowers, which were all released in 2017 and 2018. Truth Is finds Claudio in her dreariest of states yet, with each song being a different rumination on the loss of love and the multi-faceted pain that she is experiencing during her process of coping with this loss. To call it a breakup album might be slightly reductive, as each song delves into a different situation, and while the theme of anguish is strongly embedded within the album, it isn’t omnipresent across the track list. Overall I’d give this latest venture a 3 out 5, as Claudio finds hypnotizing and compelling recesses within her sound, however her sound lacks the individual sonic identity that it needs to differentiate itself from the vast field of woozy, airy-voiced pop and R&B that have coloured the top of the charts as of late.

“Hurt People” is definitely the first standout track for me. It follows the star-driven Rumors with ZAYN, which doesn’t quite capitalize on its potential. The track opens with the surprising production choice of nearly naked, meandering guitar, with pluckiness and spaciousness reminiscent of some of the tracks on Rihanna’s ANTI. While not completely out of left field, the variance in pallette is much appreciated within the record, which does tend to stay much more within a specific mood than past Claudio projects. While this does create more articulated and conceptual record, it also leads to some sense of plodding through the same territory without a ton of innovation. “Hurt People” centers around two lovers who just can’t seem to get it right despite the fact that they are all each other have, due to the fact that they are “hurt people”. Again, this is not a frontier songwriting that hasn’t been explored in depth, however Claudio does paint a tragic yet beautiful picture of learning how to love despite past damage that impairs said ability. The layering of the vocals in the second half of the track act as a sort of calm explosion out of the sparse production, and truly color the painful experience of hurting the only person she loves.

In contrast, Track 8 “As Long As You’re Asleep” seems initially to be one of  the brighter spots on the album. The song starts with a couple sunny piano chords, and Claudio flexing her control within the higher register of her voice, and then a strong computerized drumline kicks the song into gear. Initially, the song sounds like a poetic and dreamy ballad of adoration, like the kind of thing one would sing from the garden below their lover’s balcony (for example, the opening sounds a lot like “Japanese Denim” by Daniel Caesar). However, when the chorus hits the contrast between the sound of the song and the torment it describes comes to light. Essentially, Claudio now derives comfort in the early hours of the morning, as she knows that her ex-lover is asleep , because at least that way he’s not giving his new girl what he gave her, whether that be sexual or otherwise. The last two tracks (not including the bonus track) of the album mark later stages of Claudio’s grieving process, however this morsel of comfort can almost be marked as her lowest point in this process. The subversion of the dark lyrical content with the major chords and generally cheerful disposition of the song creates a really interesting track that captures Claudio’s potential as a songwriter. 

I hope Claudio strays a little bit from the beaten path of R&B starlet-ism, as in her best moments she mixes skillful songwriting, eclectic influences, strong vocal control, and decisive and deliberate production decisions to make some genuinely interesting songs. However, her potential is obscured upon early listens to this project, as she blends in so easily to the rising faces post-Lorde pop scene. Truth Is doesn’t mark a misstep in her discography, as it is a genuinely enjoyable project, however it doesn’t command attention in the way that I think she’s capable of doing. If you like Sabrina Claudio I would recommend listening to Jorja Smith, Kali Uchis, or Ella Mai. This album is definitely worth a listen if you’re a fan of pop but want something with a moody spin, or generally want to keep up with potential faces of tomorrow’s pop scene.