Tag Archives: album review

Review: Drake – Take Care

On the cover of Drake’s sophomore album Take Care, the musician sits forlorn amid the trappings of his success: solid gold ornaments, plush cloths and works of art. The heavy-handed metaphor isn’t lost, and it remains the dominant theme for the singer-slash-rapper. Take Care is nothing new for Drake. So while “jealousy is just love and hate at the same time,” as Drake raps on opener “Over My Dead Body,”  boredom is just monotony and tedium at the same time.

For fans of So Far Gone and Thank Me Later, Take Care does not disappoint. It’s another powerhouse hour of millennial hip hop and R&B: meditations on fame and happiness, the two rarely meeting. Production is top-notch; Noah “40” Shebib’s mellow bass and wistful orchestration provide a strong counterbalance to the punchy radio rap of tracks from Lex Luger, Just Blaze, and Boi-1da. Drake picks his spots to shine, dropping witty lines like “shout out to Asian girls / let the lights dim sum” and sounding fierce on “Under Ground Kings,” an epic 9th Wonder-produced tribute to UGK.

Most of the features are thoughtful and well placed. Verses from Rick Ross (“only fat nigga in the sauna with Jews” a totally Ross pronouncement on “Lord Knows”) and Nicki Minaj (her weird-out punchline rap the highlight of grimey Top 40 hit “Make Me Proud”) are scene-stealers, as always. “Crew Love,” his collaboration with protege The Weeknd, may fit better in the latter’s oeuvre with its blasts of dissonance and atmospherics, but it’s a high point for the OVOXO crew.

The highlight of the record, the title track, combines all of these elements. The beat is a reworked version of the Jamie XX and Gil Scott-Heron collaboration “I’ll Take Care of U.” Rihanna takes the place of the Godfather of Hip-Hop and slinks through the chorus, which lets Drake sound more urgent that someone for once. The ghost of Scott-Heron looms large throughout, especially during the breakdown.

Unfortunately, the last third of Take Care is mostly comprised of slow jams and wasted guest appearances. Don’t get too excited about Stevie Wonder’s credit on the mournful “Doing It Wrong:” the soul legend only shows up as a harmonica player. Similarly, “The Real Her” is another syrupy slow jam of which Andre 3000’s verse is highlight by default, if only because fans are forced to grasp at the table scraps he deigns to share these days.

Take Care‘s Cash Money connection comes from an unexpected source, since Lil’ Wayne’s verses, both on “The Real Her” and “HYFR (Hell Ya Fuckin’ Right),” are mostly forgettable and feel tacked-on. Instead, Drake saves it for last, in his brilliant flip of what is arguably Cash Money’s most important song, Juvenile’s 1999 breakthrough Back That Azz Up. On “Practice,” Mr. Graham takes that unmistakable synth melody and chorus for a smooth ass ride through the 504.

On the spaced-out street single “Marvin’s Room,” Drake raps (or rather drunk dials) that “I’ve had sex 4 times this week / I’ll explain / Having a hard time adjusting to fame.” It’s a smart line, but it’s also something we’ve heard before, seemingly ever since he burst on the scene two years ago with So Far Gone. Drake doesn’t need to find happiness in his fame – he just needs something new to talk about.

Review: Toddla T – Watch Me Dance

Toddla TWatch Me Dance (2011) [Ninja Tune] // Grade: B-

While he and his contemporaries make up the flourishing UK dance scene, Toddla T’s latest album reminds me of another of his countrymen: Mark Ronson. Ronson’s 2003 debut Here Comes the Fuzz was a genre-hopping showcase of his production skills, with a star-studded guest list of rappers and R&B singers, that failed to coalesce despite a few standout tracks. Replace Ronson’s taste in hip-hop with Toddla’s dancehall prowess, and Watch Me Dance feels like the spiritual successor to Here Comes the Fuzz, especially since its liner notes read like a Who’s Who of UK vocal talent.

Watch Me Dance owes less to Jamaica than Toddla’s 2009 album Skanky Skanky, but Caribbean riddims still make up about half of the disc. Wobbly bashment anthems like “Badman Flu” and “Cruise Control” benefit from plenty of hyped-up breaks and divebombing bass. And when Toddla pulls his foot off the gas, you get the political dancehall of “Streets So Warm” and reggae both summery (“Lovely Girl”) and soulful (“Fly”). On these songs, he’s right in his wheelhouse.

However, when he moves outside of his comfort zone, the results aren’t as even. The title track is warmed-over disco-funk, and “Body Good” sounds like a Kingston-kissed Neptunes production. Sometimes, colliding influences distract from the song. “Cherry Picking” is essentially 90s dance-pop (which isn’t a bad thing) but it’s littered with bleeps and sirens that feel out of place. Elsewhere, such genre mash-ups feel more organic: “Do It Your Way,” featuring Terri Walker, saunters like classic soul before a woofer-ratting bass break.

“Take It Back,” Toddla’s tribute to pirate radio and ol’ school ‘ardcore, is the album’s highest point by a kilometer or two. With ravey piano loops, an infectious hook by Shola Ama and a grimey verse from J2K, it’s very nostalgic but also very in vogue. At just over three minutes, it’s a bit short, and listeners will find themselves taking it back to the beginning ad nauseam.

Here Comes the Fuzz was a commercial flop and suffered from mediocre reviews – neither of which prevented Ronson from dominating the aughts with his brand of 60s soul throwbacks. Toddla T is already further along than his predecessor, what with his gigs at BBC Radio 1 and Fabric, so this uneven album shouldn’t hinder his career. As Ronson did before him, Toddla T uses Watch Me Dance to prove himself as a versatile producer who makes the most of a collaboration, no matter the genre.

Originally posted on the Mishka Bloglin.

Album Review: Planningtorock – W

Planningtorock is the alter ego of Janine Rostron, a British-born musician and visual artist who has lived in Berlin for ten years. Her new album, W (on DFA Records), is reminiscent of the avant-but-accessible work of TV on the Radio. The album reveals layers of influence as the chameleonic Planningtorock recreates herself on every song.

Album opener “Doorway” steadily builds, pumping with a kick drum heartbeat and distorted vocals (practically turning Rostron’s voice male). Each pass is an opportunity to add a new sound to the mix, whether horns, synth stabs, or spaghetti western guitar licks, a pattern repeated elsewhere on W. The video for “Doorway” finds Rostron physically altered, just like her voice.

“Going Wrong” is haunted by mischievous strings right out of a Clint Mansell soundtrack, with layers of weeping sirens, animalistic mewing, and foreboding pleadings of “Am I holding on / to someone going wrong?.” The last notes of “Going Wrong” barely fade before the steady rumbling and Baba O’Reilly arpeggios of “Im Yr Man” kick in. “Im Yr Man’s” insistent lyrics are both self-affirming and a statement of devotion: “I don’t need a microphone / to me what I’m real feeling for you / that deep down feeling you know / I left things out so I could pull them back in.”

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/im_yr_man.mp3″ text=”Planningtorock – Im Yr Man” dl=0]

Rostron’s vocals are manipulated like another instrument on W. On “The One,” her baroque vocals complement orchestral strings, matching the song’s melancholia. “The Breaks” surges with the measured precision of darkwave, full of evocative lyrics like “don’t be surprised / if I’m ripping out my eyes / I’m on fire.” “Jam” has the same feel, with more exotic percussion, drawing out lyrics into almost childlike taunts. Repeating the lyrical themes of “The Breaks” on the synth pop “Living It Out” (“My head’s on fire“), Rostron’s vocals contort to fit the mood, from the almost spoken word chorus to the breathy verses.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/living_it_out.mp3″ text=”Planningtorock – Living It Out” dl=0]

Logging 12 songs and just under an hour, W is not without flaws. PTR gets meditative – and indulgent – on the wandering “Black Thumber.” Her cover of Arthur Russell’s “Janine” features a hypnotic bass riff and her most Antony-like vocals, but fails to develop. W finishes strong, however, on “#9,” which like “I’m Yr Man,” has a melody out of a different era, filtered through PTR’s collage of influences. With W, Planningtorock makes an intriguing addition to the DFA roster.

Album Review: Tyler, the Creator – Goblin

If Odd Future has taken over the world, Tyler, the Creator is the evil mastermind. Hip-hop needs provocateurs – NWA, Kool Keith, Eminem – polarizing artists that both shock and entertain. Tyler and Odd Future are the next in this line, set apart from their peers by their barely legal ages, Internet-age productivity and Wu Tang-like devotion to their brand.

Goblin is the collective’s first proper album, released on trendspotters XL. Continuing his conversation with his fictional/internal psychiatrist, as on Bastard, Tyler opens with a nearly seven-minute title track, a spoken-word diatribe about the downside of his meteoric rise (“I don’t even skate anymore, I’m too fucking busy.”). This isn’t new territory – see Kanye, Drake, Childish Gambino, etc. – but like those artists, Tyler has a well-developed image and style.

The Odd Future movement revolves around self-gratification, not breaking new ground. Tyler’s closest comparison is Eminem, with his odes to sexual violence, suicidal fantasies, and parental disappointment. Like Eminem, he reiterates the obvious to his critics: his lyrics are fictional, going as far to call out “white America” (the target of the first song on The Eminem Show). Tyler even adopts his cadence at times.

Tyler is all about contrasts and juxtapositions, reveling in dualities. Admonishing the listener one moment for taking him too seriously, and then grabbing them by the throat and forcing them to recognize him the next. First self-confident at his accomplishments in the last six months, and then suicidal over his existential, self-esteem issues. “Tron Cat” includes jazzy, la-la-la breaks: momentary respites from grimy negativity like “rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.”

Posse cuts present contrasts, as well. The swagged-out “Bitch Suck Dick” has the bombastic production of a Soulja Boy track, while “Window” is clouded and syrupy – a barely-there beat that lets the storytelling do the heavy lifting. Advance single “Sandwitches” gets a spit-shine and a proper release; the Odd Future anthem pairs Tyler with Hodgy Beats. The duo returns on “Analog,” one of Tyler’s smoothest songs yet. Companion pieces “She” and “Her” are Tyler’s unique attempts at ballads: nakedly confessional tales of high school love and loss. “She” features crooner and break-out candidate Frank Ocean, who shines, as usual.

Tyler is the first to admit that he isn’t the best rapper. His flow is lazy and repetitive at times, and he’s obsessed with the same topics. These are largely products of his age. Behind the boards, he already has developed a trademark sound: queasy, horror movie boom bap. His greatest pressure to improve will probably come from within Odd Future: standout track “Transylvania” is the only produced by someone else: Left Brain.

Goblin is a fine sequel to Bastard. Musically, they go hand-in-hand. Lyrically, Tyler’s work is informed by the last year and a half, as he joins his fame-challenged peers. No doubt, the album is uneven. But Goblin is another testament to Odd Future as the most exciting and vital artists of their generation. Bastard announced Tyler to the world. Goblin ensures that this is just the beginning.

Album Review: Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2

Originally slated for release in September 2009, the Beastie Boys’ Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2 finally arrives tomorrow. After their 2004 tribute to New York, To the 5 Boroughs, and 2007’s instrumental The Mix-Up, fans and critics alike have eagerly awaited a return to form. The group’s strongest record since 1998’s Hello Nasty, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 is well worth the wait.

Sonically, Hot Sauce Committee* harks back to the group’s post-Paul’s Boutique period, when the boys picked up their instruments – a decision that was equal parts creative and necessary (sampling your own instrumental diversions is much easier than clearing a hundred-odd samples). Sinister riffs on “Say It” and “Long Burn the Fire” are reminiscent of “Sabotage,” in style if not substance. Funky basslines range from the subtle and upright (“Nonstop Disco Powerpack”) to the metallic and slinky (“Funky Donkey”). Drum lines are straightforward and old school, a reassuring constant on a musically varied record.

As for guest spots, the album bats .500. “Too Many Rappers” features Nas, but the two-year gap between its original release and this one doesn’t do the boastful space jam any favors. However, Santigold (who appears poised for a big return after her 2008 dominance and subsequent hiatus) is a perfect fit on the dubbed-out “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win.”

Comprising most of the soundtrack for Fight For Your Right (Revisited), “Make Some Noise” opens the record on a triumphant, nostalgic note. Wah wah guitar, pass-the-mic battle rapping, and blasts of synthesized noises provide a deep well for the Beasties throughout the entire album; they’re in their comfort zone. A welcome break from this formula is “Lee Majors Come Again,” a nod to their hardcore roots and late 70s coming of age.

Hip hop relevance is hard enough for artists half their age, but the Beastie Boys seem to manage it with ease. They have such a trademarked style, both lyrically and musically, that Hot Sauce Committee is immediately familiar but never boring.

*Dropping the “Part 2” for convenience. This release is comprised of the songs that were supposed to be Part 1, which is now in musical limbo.

Album Review: Bosco Delrey – Everybody Wah

On his debut record, Everybody Wah, Bosco Delrey builds upon the timewarped sounds of his initial singles. The album is full of jangly rockabilly and rambunctious garage rock, loaded with hooks and a slicked-back swagger.

In the lull since last year’s releases, it was clear that Delrey’s biggest hurdle would be meeting the immediacy of songs like “Evil Lives” or “Space Junkie.” On Everybody Wah, the rumbling, electric organ jam “Glow Go The Bones” and catchy album opener “Baby’s Got a Blue Flame” are up to the challenge.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/01-Babys-Got-A-Blue-Flame.mp3″ text=”Bosco Delrey – Baby’s Got A Blue Flame” dl=0]

Everybody Wah presents a modern take on classic rock and roll without aping it note-for-note. The songs mix an old school songwriting approach with diverve new school influences, the kind of formula that led Diplo to call Delrey a “garbage can Elvis.” “Get Outta Dodge” swirls under a psychedelic fuzz; the electro-tinged “Archebold Ivy” has the weirdness of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd; “Afterlife” grooves with a mellow dancehall beat. In all cases, Delrey serves up patchwork, not pastiche.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/09-Afterlife.mp3″ text=”Bosco Delrey – Afterlife” dl=0]

The flip-side to sock hop rock songs is the doo-wop / country western ballad, which Delrey also handles with aplomb. “Expelled Spelled Expelled,” “Down We Go,” and “Insta Love” are updates of the classic style, with gentle arpeggios and even gentler melodies.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/10-Down-We-Go.mp3″ text=”Bosco Delrey – Down We Go” dl=0]

The album closes with the spacey, galloping electronics of “20 Flight Dub.” The song is a bit of an outlier, but it serves as a fine digestif after an impossibly catchy full length. The song’s unofficial video pairs it with the surrealistic touchstone Un Chien Andalou. For an album of unexpected twists and turns, it’s a fitting choice.

Everybody Wah comes out tomorrow, April 26, on Mad Decent.

EP Review: Menya – "Menya"

On their self-titled (and free) EP, Menya definitely puts the pop in electro-pop, shedding some (but not all) of the transgressive energy that marked their earlier releases. There isn’t anything approaching the sex-crazed “Ripe” or “D.T.F,” but in the band’s three year evolution, they have tended more and more towards the mainstream.

Menya opens with “Awkward in Between,” which sets the tone for the album. Lead singer Angie Ripe provides sugary teen-romance vocals over bouncy beats from Good Goose. Rapper Coco Dame handles the verses on “On the Run” and “Flames;” the latter’s hook and half-sung/half-rapped formulation puts the song in similar territory to the B.o.B. / Hayley Williams megahit “Airplanes.”

Sandwiched between new compositions are updated versions of three older tunes, “Oh,” “Diana (I Heart U),” and “Loose (Is The Goose).” “Oh” and “Diana” are two of the group’s catchiest songs; including them here gives new listeners a taste of what Menya has been up to since releasing songs as NYU students. “Loose,” which has been remixed by premier Baltimore club DJ James Nasty, is upfront, in-your-face sex talk – no disco sticks, here.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/menya-loose(jamesnasty remix).mp3″ text=”Menya – Loose (James Nasty Remix)” dl=1]

Menya’s East Coast tour brings them through DC this Saturday at the Velvet Lounge, where they’ll be opening for Baltimore club queen Sherrell Rowe. The trio always bring high energy to their shows, and if this EP is any indication, they’re ready to pop.

Album Review: TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

TV on the Radio returns from a brief hiatus with Nine Types of Light. From one of the most mesmerizing and challenging bands of the last decade, the major-keyed album doesn’t quite meet the high standard they’ve set. The band is still unmatched in melding their influences into a cohesive sound, but Nine Types of Light is missing the “Eureka” moments, surprise turns and breakout songs of previous records.

The bouncy, sun-soaked “Second Song” opens the album with an uncharacteristic tone that permeates the proceedings. Horns are more prevalent than ever, and the vocals (provided, as always, by Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone) tend towards uplifting rather than darkly exotic. Typical of the album is “You,” driven by a simple Eastern guitar riff and crunchy boom box drums.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/you.mp3″ text=”TV on the Radio – You” dl=0]

“Killer Crane” is the band at their most stripped down and vulnerable. Thick piano chords do the heavy lifting, but the song isn’t as poignant as something like “Family Tree.” The lead single, “Will Do,” is a love song in in the purest sense. It features a surging low end and one of the band’s surest melodies yet. As the chorus holds, “no choice of words will break me from this groove.”

As waves of guitars, synths and horns are added to the mix, the album begins to feel more like TV on the Radio. “Keep Your Heart” is the upbeat cousin to Dear Science‘s “Stork and Owl.” The darkness starts to creep in on “No Future Shock,” which urges the listener “do the ‘no future'” before layers of instrumentation pull it apart at the seams. The sexy “New Cannonball Blues” would fit on any of their albums; Adebimpe’s slinking vocal lines and Malone’s blasts of falsetto keep it grounded in familiar terrain.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/new_cannonball_blues.mp3″ text=”TV on the Radio – New Cannonball Blues” dl=0]

TV on the Radio are gifted chameleons, altering their color while staying true to their sound. To paraphrase Potter Stewart about obscenity, you know a TVOTR song when you hear it: the juxtaposition of diverse styles, the distinct vocal harmonies between Adebimpe and Malone. On each successive release, the art rock provocateurs have scrubbed away some of their trademark grime to focus on melody and songcraft. But can’t you have both?

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was a revelation; Return to Cookie Monster the rare sophomore sensation. In the band’s oeuvre, Nine Types of Light is closer to Dear Science in that regard. But while Dear Science was a surprising departure, the album was a grower and far more immediate than this one. Nine Types of Light is a just a little too meditative for my tastes; it’s as if some of the band’s light has been extinguished.

Album Review: James Blake – James Blake

For an artist who is only 22 years old, James Blake has already had a lot of digital ink spilled about him. Over the past year, he released three highly acclaimed EPs and a few singles, all of which pales in comparison to his self-titled debut record (released today but building hype since it’s December leak).

From his earliest release, the single “Air & Lack Thereof / Sparing the Horse,” Blake laid down a marker for his sound: R&B-infused post-dubstep with pitchshifted vocals, soothing piano chords and pulsing swells of bass. His multi-layered, surging compositions put him in the company of artists like Mount Kimbie and Untold, on the less dance-oriented end of the spectrum. “The Bells Sketch” is typical of these releases; bits and pieces of the familiar and nostalgic, mechanical chirps and whirls next to processed vocals.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/James-Blake-The-Bells-Sketch.mp3″ text=”James Blake – The Bells Sketch” dl=”0″]

Many of the compositions on his records begin with minimal elements, like a simple piano melody and a two-step beat, before sneakily building into something ominous and claustrophobic. While they start as whispers and suggestions, the songs soon turn into several competing conversations. There’s an uneasiness that is not entirely unpleasant.

That trend continues on James Blake. While pushing against the boundaries of an increasingly characteristic sound, Blake has found a guiding principle in “less is more.” Throughout the record, Blake’s voice is processed and layered into a digital/analog cyborg, often repeating the same lyric. The overall effect is hypnotic and moving, as on “I Never Learnt to Share:” “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me / but I don’t blame them” stays consistent, but the song builds and pulses, morphing their tone and meaning.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/James-Blake-I-Never-Learnt-To-Share.mp3″ text=”James Blake – I Never Learnt to Share” dl=”0″]

Covering Feist’s “Limit to Your Love,” Blake keeps the melody but makes the song his own, adding a thick layer of sub-bass to the piano-driven ballad. It’s a trick he masters on the album; despite how sparse and minimal the songs tend to be, there is a rich low-end that adds a warmth to the predominantly cold compositions. Don’t be fooled – this is a record built for subwoofers, not earbuds.

The second single, “Wilhelms Scream,” is blessed with one of the album’s sweetest vocal melodies. The video for the song perfectly captures the interplay between high and low, foreground and background that Blake tools with here and elsewhere.

James Blake is quickly becoming a singular force in music. The closest match for both his sound and rapid rise would be the XX, another act that makes pure soul music, stripped of excess and focused on bass. And he seems poised to exceed even that lofty standard.