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Review: August Alsina, ‘Testimony’


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R&B newbie August Alsina shows tremendous potential on full-length debut Testimony

 August Alsina • Testimony • Def Jam • US Release Date: April 15, 2014

August Alsina-PFR-010102The moment has finally arrived for up and coming New Orleans contemporary R&B singer August Alsina to take center stage. Sure, the 21-year old represents the new generation who prefer boldness to subtlety, but ultimately the brasher style suits the hardships he’s enduring in his personal life. “Through the pain”, Alsina seems to find the positives, even if it seems overcome with pessimism on full-length debut Testimony. A true testimony the LP ends up being, Alsina builds off the momentum of 2013 EP Downtown: Life Under the Gun, upping the ante.

Testify” sets the tone for Testimony exceptionally, with August Alsina portraying a snapshot into his life. While “Testify” isn’t necessarily the best track from the LP, it is a vital one because of how it fits into the concept. Calling it relatable might be a stretch as the only one who has experience what ‘August Alsina’ has experienced is August Alsina, but it does allow for the audience to connect. “Make It Home”, featuring Jeezy, definitely extends upon “Testify”. “I don’t always do what I should, but I do what I gotta do,” sings Alsina on his first verse, later adding “See I done dodged a couple shots, served a couple blocks / hit a couple corners tryna shake a couple cops.” Knowing the potential repercussions of his risky actions, Alsina adds “If I don’t make it home tonight / tell my mama that I lover her…take some money to my sister.” As realistic and dark as it is, “Make It Home” is a great showing; there’s something alluring about the no BS approach.

Right There” has a difficult act to follow, but continues to convey a painful, candid narrative. The repetition of the chorus is gimmicky, which takes a smidgen or so away from the cut. Still, Alsina shows off his nuanced pipes and makes you happy how he has ‘came up’ from the bottom. “You Deserve” makes brilliant use of an L.T.D. sample (“Love Ballad”). Alsina states on the intro “This is for the girl down the hall / misused and abused…pick your head up love, smile / this is for you.” Even though “You Deserve” is another song with pain behind it, Alsina spins the message positively: “But I’m just saying / you deserve better, I’m saying, you deserve better.” Women who have been battered and bruised should truly embrace the prudence that Alsina shares here.

No Love” is actually a fascinating ‘anti-love’ song. It is actually semi-romantic, but because of August Alsina’s reservations towards relationships (“Believe we had a great night but I ain’t the type to tell you that I miss you, sh*t”), there truly is “no love” in the relationship sense. Alsina’s ideas of love lacks refinement in many eyes: “So just wrap a couple of bands with a n***a like me / Loving ain’t the same with a n***a like me / you use to them but ain’t no loving me / I hear what you would say and girl it’s clear to see.” Companion and follow-up “Porn Star” definitely asserts and confirms Alsina’s physical contributions, avoiding love.   Face it, “She ride me like a porn star” is definitely nowhere near the definition of chivalry. But you can’t knock A.A., he already made it clear it’s all about hooking up, not steady and certainly not marriage.

After riding like a “Porn Star”, things return to an even darker mood on “FML”. Pusha T kicks off this notion with his opening verse: “Wake up feeling like f*ck my life / life’s a b*tch, she better f*ck me right…” Alsina plays off of it, proclaiming “Let me tell you ‘bout myself, I’m not scared to die / Been through so much sh*t, sometimes I wanna be in the sky.” As much a negative noodle as Alsina is, he ‘testifies’ on the chorus: “I never thought I would be here, I never thought I would get this far / If they say life’s like a beach chair, why am I sitting in the dark.” Generally, those who employ the overused acronym use it too loosely with little support to back it up; Alsina seems to have a case.

Grind & Pray / Get Ya Money” continues to champion both the street and the power of prayer. Alsina appears to be spiritually driven, but he also seems heavily invested in the streets as well. The “Get Ya Money” portion exemplifies this where Alsina doesn’t fault ‘her’ for being on her grind, despite how many others will judge her: “You work hard for it, it’s yours / work that body baby it’s yours / I ain’t judging you, go and get your money.” Fabolous further chips in, “My little mama hustle harder than a lot of these n***as.” Yep, that definitely nothing to do with the church – at least the one with pews, and altar, and a pulpit…

On “Ghetto”, Alsina shows a sense of pride that his girl is from the ‘ghetto’. While the singer may over-glorify the ghetto – at least to those clueless about the ghetto – there’s plenty of redeeming qualities and takeaways from “Ghetto”. With his own rough and tumble life, perhaps Alsina respects the same street savvy in his own relationship, hence loving that his boo epitomizes the ghetto – they relate to one another. After all, he does sing “Ain’t afraid to let it show / baby, go on let them know / you out the ghetto / better let them know, you from the ghetto…” On the version included here, Yo Gotti assists, setting up “Ghetto” (“She got a Bugatti body, yeah she a beast in the streets”).

Kissing On My Tattoos” gives Testimony a slow jam that possesses more substance than its title might suggest. While tattoos have become much more socially acceptable, there is still the sentiment that they represent edginess. Even though “Kissing On My Tattoos” goes softer than the majority of Testimony, Alsina still wants everyone to understand he keeps it hood. Rather than merely having her ‘kiss on my chest’, he has her ‘kiss on my tattoos’, a symbol of being a bit of a bad boy – or bad dude. Keeping love and sex on the mind, “Ah Yeah” finds Alsina going even softer – no tattoos to cling onto this time! Dedication seems to be a dominant factor on his mind as he sings to his girl: “You shine with picture perfect beauty, show it off.” “Ah Yeah” is no new concept, but it is great to hear AA concede some of his edge.

Mama” definitely shows Alsina has some substance to back up Testimony. On the verses, the singer lists the teachings his mother instilled within him: “Mama said stay out of trouble / Mama said don’t be a fool / Mama said stay in somebody’s church / Mama said boy stay in school.” While “Mama” isn’t the most electrifying track from Testimony, it is hard to deny how meaningful and touching it is, particular the chorus in which Alsina sings, “Mama I made it… I ain’t gonna stop now cause Mama I made it / and I hope I made you proud.”

Benediction” proves to be even stronger and equally touching. Throughout the narrative, the audience is given an account of the hardships that Alsina has endured. If one was to question Alsina’s edginess, “Benediction” gives and understanding as to one   Although the hook is from a dark place, it’s nothing short of addictive: “Started off in the streets / we would take collection from the fiends / People dyin’ all around me / So I gave you my testimony…” Rick Ross provides a sound assist, spitting superbly over the soulful, churchy production work. Sure its not all from the ‘good book’, but it is what it is (“Pray for benediction, pretty women on my premise / Condo out in Cabo… Gold around my neck I’m ballin’ for these final minutes.” Amen… I think.

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Although “I Luv This Sh*t” previously graced Alsina’s EP Downtown: Life Under the Gun, the monster single featuring Trinidad James (“All Gold Everything”) never grows old. Sure, we could’ve cut the molly-loving MC, but his guest verse suits the vibe. Alsina continues his foul mouthed-ness (is that even a word), but the real talk mixed with the slower, horn-accentuated production is a match made in heaven, albeit quite blasphemous (“God dammit I love it, I love it… So I’mma keep on smoking cause I love this sh*t / I’mma keep on grinding cause I love this sh*t / she tell me keep f*cking cause I love this sh*t and I love it…”) “Numb” concludes the standard edition of Testimony – club style. Alsina trades Trinidad James for B.o.B and Yo Gotti. While the cut is slickly produced, it is a bit more ‘swag’ than substance.

Ultimately, Testimony showcases the great amount of potential that August Alsina has to offer as an artist. Vocally, Alsina easily has the pipes to succeed. Additionally, he has the backstory to truly fuel the fire.   Sure, Testimony isn’t a perfectly crafted album, but it’s better more often than not. There are plenty of notable songs – filled with pain as well as the triumph of resolve. Maybe it’s not beautifully poetic, but isn’t grittiness a different take on beauty (or something like that)?

 Favorites:

“Make It Home” ft. Jeezy; “FML” ft. Pusha T; “Ghetto” ft. Yo Gotti; “Benediction” ft. Rick Ross; “I Luv This Sh*t” ft. Trinidad James

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: Jason Derülo, ‘Talk Dirty’


51Q2c-T9xKL._SL500_AA280_ Derülo’s over-reliance on sex and swagger holds the album back at times

Jason Derülo • Talk Dirty • Warner Bros • US Release Date: April 15, 2014

Jason Derulo2-20140225-49It has been a minute since “Whatcha Say” had this music enthusiast excited about new pop/R&B artist Jason Derülo. Nah, I wasn’t a ‘fan girl’ as any number of YouTube personalities might put it, but I did think ole boy had something fresh about him. Judging by the uniqueness of that number one hit, it seemed he was well on his way to conquering the music industry. Things didn’t quite work out that way for a number of reasons. Sure, Jason Derülo hasn’t exactly set the Billboard 200 on fire (understatement), but nor has his music since his debut truly stacked up either (no shade – or at least not that much shade, I promise). Future History, Derülo’s second album (first full-length technically), was the first sign of an artist with a connections problem. The album just didn’t have the personality or substance to make much noise. Here on his latest effort, Talk Dirty, Derülo is in much better shape; he has a big hit on his side. Even so, Derülo’s over-reliance on sex and swagger holds the album back at times.

Jason Derulo3-20140225-46Talk Dirty” kicks off the album alluringly with its sinful brilliance. Calling the joint heavenly is blasphemous considering its suggestive lyrics and equally ‘dirty’ production. By the way, “Talk Dirty” owes a ton to Balkan Beat Box’s “Hermetico” – like the majority of the production! Face it, that seductive sax comes off as nasty as Derülo’s opening lyrics from verse one: “I’m that flight that you get on, international / first class seat on my lap, girl, riding comfortable”. Nope, Jason D. is not really talking about a plane! If Derülo is a bit subtler regarding sexual endeavors, 2 Chainz is more explicit, holding little back about the ‘pleasure’. Even if you’re the type waving the finger at the shallowness Derülo and 2 Chainz exhibit, the addictiveness of the chorus section is undeniable: “Been around the world, don’t speak the language / but your booty don’t need explaining / all I really need to understand is when you / talk dirty to me”.

Wiggle” doesn’t add any greater sophistication to Talk Dirty, as Derülo uses the song to talk about booty (“You know what to do with that big fat butt…wiggle, wiggle, wiggle”). Matching the slinky nature of “Talk Dirty”, “Wiggle” is another track concentrated on getting down without ever citing genuine, authentic emotion. With Snoop Dogg assisting, confirmation is provided that it’s gotten “Hot” and X-rated. With fantasies being Derülo’s bread and butter, on “Trumpets” he sings “Every time that you get undressed / I hear symphonies in my head…yet the drums swing low / and the trumpets they go…” Right on cue, the trumpets enter, in all their brilliance. While “Trumpets” is catchy, ludicrous lines like “Is it weird that I hear / angels every time that you moan” are questionable, near – if not – deal breakers.

Jordin Sparks-20140130-45Bubblegum” brings in the king of sexed-up, minimalist rap these days, Tyga. “Bubblegum” of course couldn’t possibly retain any sense of innocence – even it becomes a naughty, raunchy reference. “She just wanna pop, pop, pop, pop, pop that bubblegum.” Yeah, what kind of bubblegum Jason? SMH. “Vertigo” arrives in the nick of time to deliver Talk Dirty from being completely overexerted. Duet-ing with boo Jordin Sparks, “Vertigo” has something the opening quartet of the LP lacked – substance. Sure, no one expects total ‘abstinence’ from Derülo or R&B in general, but “Vertigo” balances physical and emotional without just piling on, well the three-letter word. But of course, “Kama Sutra”, featuring Kid Ink, returns Talk Dirty from whence it came… no pun intended. Even though it is Kid Ink rapping here, the listener could totally picture Tyga on this track. Like the other risqué songs, it is what you make of it.

Personally, “Zipper” is a turn-off, specifically thanks to Derülo’s opening lyrics: “I’mma mark my territory / shawty I’m an animal, slowly digging into your / spread you like a bad story…” If that’s not enough to raise an eyebrow, the stupid hook accomplishes the task: “up and down like a zipper”. Even if Derülo were solely referencing his fly, “Zipper” would be nasty. “The Other Side” provides atonement, finally toning things down a might. “The Other Sides” straddles (Ha “straddles”) modern pop and contemporary R&B. Derülo shines on the big-time chorus: “Tonight, take me to the other side / sparks fly like the Fourth of July / just take me to the other side / I see that sexy look in your eyes…” Don’t call it the ‘second coming’, but it is easily among the cream of the crop of Talk Dirty.

Jason Derulo4-20140225-52Unfortunately for “With the Lights On”, the momentum fades as the song has only occurred “x” amount of times in the past. Honestly, look no further than this album itself – everything is about “the do”. “Stupid Love” at least sports more of an air of being refined, but that doesn’t make it truly notable by any means. “Marry Me” closes the standard edition of Dirty Talk trading the hook up for matrimony – quite a 360 huh? The thing is, contextually don’t “Stupid Love” and “Marry Me” both feel like departures among the clubbier cuts that ignore the emotional aspects of a relationship? Still, if you need a kinder, gentler cut, “Marry Me” is it.

Ultimately, Talk Dirty is average at best. It has its moments, but it also seems to put its eggs too much into one basket – specifically booty. Much like Derülo’s Future History, Talk Dirty seems to lack cohesion; it’s missing something. There is nothing wrong with Jason’s voice – he can sing – but his music just doesn’t lend itself to making a genuine connection as a listener. That said, nothing eclipses “Talk Dirty”.

Favorites:

“Talk Dirty”; “Vertigo”; “The Other Side”; “Marry Me”

Verdict: ★★★

Review: Martina McBride, ‘Everlasting’


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Martina McBride balances soul music and her country roots soundly on Everlasting

Martina McBride • Everlasting • Vinyl Recordings • US Release Date: April 8, 2014

Martina McBride-LMK-110450Veteran country superstar Martina McBride’s 12th album, Everlasting, is certainly a surprise. No, McBride doesn’t go radical and become a pop artist or anything like that, but rather than opting for new original material, she hearkens back to the past. What specifically from the past one asks does Mrs. McBride hearken back to? Soul. While a country artist singing soul music seems somewhat far-fetched given the contrasts of styles, Everlasting proves to be an enjoyable and effective album. McBride isn’t suddenly Aretha Franklin mind you – both artists possessing different vocal skill sets – but McBride does straddle R&B and her country roots well.

Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” opens the covers album excellently for a couple of reasons. Though it is soulful (and soul music primarily), the sound of the production sounds ‘country’ enough that it truly plays to McBride’s strengths. Perhaps it is a bit sleepy given its tempo, more so than not, “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” sets the bar high for Everlasting. The quicker “Suspicious Minds” also finds McBride capably handling the renowned Elvis classic with a touch of country to accompany its bursting horns.   Sure, the bridge where things switch-up could’ve had a bit more punch – a bit more ‘oomph’ – but it’s definitely no deal breaker.

It defiMartina McBride-LMK-110448nitely takes confidence to tackle one of the greatest soul classics of all time, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. Many do take up the task, but few accomplish the feat. Face it – none can do it like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, specifically one incredibly soulful Teddy Pendergrass. Martina McBride certainly doesn’t attempt to emulate Pendergrass’ passionate take, but she does seek to deliver a compelling interpretation herself. Vocally, she sounds smooth and on one of the few instances on Everlasting, she ‘frees herself’ to give a bit more vocally in terms of adlibs and nuances. “Little Bit of Rain” proceeds, finding the country veteran benefiting from a backdrop that once more successfully preserves the soul styling while playing well to the country sound. Brief but notable, “Little Bit of Rain” lays well.

Bring It on Home to Me” is another sensational fit for McBride. While McBride lacks the grit of soul artists, her gentler approach takes nothing away from the song. It doesn’t hurt that McBride receives a truly soulful assist from Gavin DeGraw, who possesses the more edgy, ‘cutting’ voice of the two. The chemistry between to two is sensational. After the slower “Bring It on Home to Me”, McBride accelerates the tempo with a sound take on “Come See About Me”. While she still fails to break a sweat, her cool take easily exemplifies the tongue-n-cheek vibe of this classic. Adding to that tongue-n-cheekiness is the backing vocals whom are like the cherry on top.

Martina McBride-LMK-110445What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”, much like “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” has certainly got to be one of the most covered soul charts. As to why it is so popular is easy to see – it’s exceptionally written and incredibly memorable. McBride does a solid job, though perhaps a bit more assertion on her part in addition to a slightly sharper production may have taken this performance to another level. It’s good, but there is just the yearning for a touch more ‘authenticity’ that few covers can yield.   What better way to follow up a ubiquitous classic with yet another, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”. Where “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” lacked some of its own distinctness and separation from the original, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” benefits from its restraint. While no one will ever match the Otis Redding version, McBride is able to make this version more true to her country music roots/niche.

Wild Night” kicks the tempo back up after slowing down for the previous cut. Again never forced vocally, Martina McBride eschews over-singing. With plenty of ‘goodies’ within the production on her side, including vocal layers, McBride once more pulls off her more soulful side perspiring Martina McBride-LMK-110433little. Joined by the big-voiced Kelly Clarkson, unsurprisingly “In The Basement” ends up being a highlight. Clarkson definitely takes an antithetical approach to McBride – in other words, she likes her adlibs and pop/urban vocal runs. It’s ‘all good’ though! Everlasting ends strongly. Penultimate number “My Babe” has countrified soul written all over it, proving to be the perfect joint to piggyback “In the Basement.” “To Know Him Is to Love Him” closes soundly, showcasing McBride in particularly good voice given the relaxed tempo. Not overproduced yet also not under-produced, “To Know Him Is to Love Him” feels right.

All in all, Everlasting is a solid effort from one of country’s preeminent voices. Sure McBride’s popularity has waned in recent times (unfortunately), but she’s definitely still got the pipes. There are times when she could’ve ‘dug in’ more given the style, but for the most part, McBride delivers soul and remains true to herself and her style. It’s no reinvention, but at this point in her career, there’s no shame in dropping a covers album.

Favorites:

“Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”; “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”; “Bring It On Home to Me”; “In The Basement”

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: The Chewers, ‘Chuckle Change And Also’


chuckle-change-and-also-album-art On Chuckle Change And Also, The Chewers show the beauty of being ‘off-kilter’

The Chewers • Chuckle Change And Also • Cimmerian Shade 

The Chewers are: Travis Caffrey & Michael Sadler

Sometimes, when you hear something wild and whacky in life, you find yourself looking in bewilderment like WTF? My friends, after listening to the 22-track album that is Chuckle Change And Also by West Virginian duo The Chewers (by way of Nashville, TN), I found myself expressing this sentiment after every track. Folks, Chuckle Change is definitely some kind of a ride. Throw the idea of ‘standard’ out the door prior to the first track as this album is incredibly progressive. Sometimes the progressive nature hurts accessibility, but ultimately, that is a necessary sacrifice for the good of the album and future of music. While it’s not the ‘second coming’ (way too dark and devilish for that), Chuckle Change offers the listener a true alternative to trendiness, conformity, and what pitfalls can make commercial music come off as generic and empty.

(Now)” opens the off-kilter effort as one would expect – off-kilter. As to exactly what is going on, well that question is still needs to be answered. Regardless, “(Now)” and all of its near 50 seconds of off-kilter-ness (is that even a word?) definitely sets the tone. The minimalist, noisy “Can’t Sleep” is evidence of the ‘tone’ that characterizes the entirety of Chuckle Change And Also. Bizarre yet in its own quirky way genius, “Can’t Sleep” represents…um… nonconformity. Nonconformity and being fearless to be different is something more musicians could stand to embrace. The Chewers certainly do, referencing not only the obvious lack of “sleep”, but also accompany the idea lyrically whether it is “tomorrow’s looming in the dark” or “body tense…stressed / the more I fret, the less I rest”. The oddball groove is nothing short of hypnotic. “Burn It Down” is lengthier than the opening duo, pacing itself into a foot-tapping groove. As groovy as it is, don’t think The Chewers have settled into being ‘normal’. There is still a tension as one listens, with guitar and effect-laden lead vocals leading the charge.

The bizarre experience continues with the weirdly titled “Techno-Slaves”, which lives up to its unique name. The production has techno sound effects that seem to signal outer space: “Space is feeling with magnet waves… the brain is a megaphone that can’t shut off…” WTF? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. The Chewers have the audience’s attention from the opening note and they retain it throughout if for no other reason to see where they’re going musically. “Filthy” proves to be as unorthodox as everything else, with a hint of jazz added to the mix (for lack of a better stylistic choice). If the audience gets nothing else from a minute-and-a-half of “Filthy”, they learn that these dudes are filthy – at least contextually within the song (“Walking down the street in crusted clothes…I haven’t bathed in a thousand days / I’m filthy”). Then comes “Some Folks”, which manages to use the word “malignant” lyrically… For those who don’t mind dissonance, the accusatory “Some Folks” is your cup of tea.

What better way to follow up the previous “(Now)” with “(Later)”, another unexplainable interlude? While cohesiveness probably shouldn’t be in the same sentence with this album in general (save for overall being ‘all over the place’), at least there is a connection between, well something. “(Later)” is followed up with the gutty sounding instrumental “A Part Machine”, which once more gives the listener a sick groove to latch onto. When all other sense of normalcy fails, cling to the groove! “A Part Machine” is more than a groove – it is actually quite an alluring soundscape if you will. The bright rhythmic guitar coupled with a sense of ‘twistedness’ makes this instrumental truly notable. “Inmate 227” confounds immediately, yet it does make some sense. It’s about an inmate being released from prison. It’s not your standard narrative for a song, but what is standard about this album? Exactly!

After “Inmate 227”, the focus comes to “Smiling Samuel”, another heck of a song title. Creepy, the sentiment is few want to hang out with Sam – and perhaps even The Chewers, LOL! Difficult to listen to yet respectably creative, “Smiling Samuel” continues to find The Chewers flexing. It takes little analysis to under “The Fat Man”, but it is arguably a bit more bearable than “Smiling Samuel”. It’s not the most attractive track (understatement), but The Chewer’s musicianship and ‘off-kilter’ ideas play well here. “The Fat Man” definitely would be perfect for Halloween, but then again, so would much of this album. The brief “Mutter” proceeds. While it is brief, “mutter” isn’t very quiet…LOL. And as for “I’m Afraid”, well, I’ve held that sentiment since track one – just saying! With the production playing like a tone poem, the tense music definitely exemplifies the title and listener’s likely emotions.

Down There” is equally, if not more horrifying and definitely extraterrestrial. Face it, that organ is “very, very frightening! Galileo!” Then when the “Teeth Lock” cacophonously with tribal-like pounding drums, shiiizzz gets real…cray that is! “Teeth Lock” definitely brings several distinct names to mind – Lucifer, Baal, Satan, Mephistopheles – catch my drift? While perhaps repentance is a must after listening, at least the sin was a creative and intriguing one while it lasted! Guess what follows “(Now)” and “(Later)”? “(Past)” of course… and “That’s all I have to say about that!” Forrest Gump reference of course. Whether “Box Head Space” somehow connects to the ‘past’ would take a couple more listens to decode, but where overall sound lies, it is very much a product of the future. It’s truly out in space.

Tornado of Stasis” ends up receiving the honor of the lengthiest joint, breaking with the brevity that characterizes the majority. While the dissonant track is as ugly as they come, it once more plays faithfully to its title. Tornadoes are incredibly scary and often life altering weather events as they funnel and destroy everything in sight, including the living. Stasis of course is defined as a state of stability or as Merriam-Webster simplifies it, stagnation. Put the two ideas together, coupled with the adventurous music, and the perfect storm is before us.   What’s interesting, at least from a personal perspective, is that the slow tempo seems to represent bore and lethargy of stasis, while the dissonance exemplifies the tornado. A highlight – by all means!

There is still some “Steam” (a little more than a half-minute’s worth) following the storm, while “Funnel Head” infuses rejuvenated energy and eccentricity. “Funnel Head” should please metal heads, given its jaggedness. Penultimate track “Blank Pavement” delivers excellent pacing, beginning unstable but developing stability along the way. It’s still freaky stuff, but you take accessibility where and when it’s offered. Closing cut “Went Away” is definitely spacey; rather than relying heavily on noisiness, it invests more into sounding drugged out.

So… what’s the verdict on arguably the year’s most left of center album? It’s actually very well done and definitely stands out. While calling Chuckle Change a masterpiece might be an exaggeration, it is indeed captivating, even when it’s harder to process. From a musical standpoint, you get the impression that these West Virginia boys are out to make a unique statement with this particular album and brand of music. They easily accomplish this feat. If you need some quirk in your life, this is the album for you!

Favorites:

“Can’t Sleep”; “Techno-Slaves”; “A Part Machine”; “The Fat Man”; “Teeth Lock”; “Tornado of Stasis”

Verdict: ★★★★

[Single] Review: Future, “I Won” (ft. Kanye West)


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Future Continues Relying on Autotune on Latest Single “I Won”

Future featuring Kanye West“I Won” (Single) • Epic • Release Date: April 8, 2014 

Future-20131113-56Future has to be one of hip-hop’s more divisive artists – and NO I’m not throwing any shade.  It’s not because of the content of his music, but rather his reliance on such a heavy dosage of autotune.  The use of autotune is a divisive topic in itself, but even more so in hip-hop circles.  Future definitely has developed his career around relying on the effect, but other artists have used it as well.  Even though Jay-Z proclaimed “D.O.A.” (‘Death of autotune) on Blueprint 3, he threw in a dash of it himself.  And we know that Kanye West made an entire album, 808s & Heartbreak, not to mention the epic “Blood on The Leaves” from Yeezus.  Still, it’s hard not to form a strong opinion one way or the other in regards to Future. I was on “Same Damn Time” as well as “ Bugatti” (Ace Hood), but the MC/pop-rapper still hasn’t established himself in my eyes as a hip-hop force or an artist with strong appeal to my sensibilities.  I wouldn’t doubt others feel the same way.

Future’sFuture2-20131113-55 latest single, “I Won” doesn’t change up the formula from the rapper’s debut, Pluto, the album housing “Same Damn Time” among other standouts like “Parachute”, and “Turn On The Lights”.  “I Won” is single from Future’s upcoming sophomore album, Honest, which arrives April 22, 2014. While the notion of “winning” is a chivalrous message – particularly by rap standards – don’t think that Future doesn’t ‘get down’: “Get to f**kin’ on the dresser just to make that p***y wetter”.  Folks, that’s the opening line from his first verse – geez!  He calls on Kanye West to provide the assist on the second verse, where the MC suggests “Baby, we should hit south of France / so you could run around without them pants.” Slick Mr. West, very slick.  Even if Future “won…a trophy / a trophy”, it appears to be one who satisfies his physical hungers… like let’s get “Physical” (Olivia Newton-John).

Ultimately, it isn’t all/that bad considering who Future is artistically, but it certainly doesn’t supplant edgier rap that eschews the effect, nor does it supplant a good ole contemporary R&B joint.  Still, to each his own is the best way to deliver the verdict about “I Won”. Some will like it, while others will proclaim “That’s that sh*t I don’t like” (“I Don’t Like”, Chief Keef).  Personally, my opinion is somewhere in the middle.

Verdict: ★★★

Review: SZA, ‘Z’


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SZA leaves a superb first impression on her full-length debut album Z

SZA • Z • Top Dawg Entertainment • US Release Date: April 8, 2014

For many up and coming R&B artists, alternative R&B seems to be a sound choice for establishing artistry. With R&B going through an identity crisis (not unlike other genres to be fair), the more eclectic-based alt-R&B style allows more flexibility and crossover. It contrasts the crossover of more pop-based R&B, generally feeling more true to the innovative spirit that characterized classic soul – R&B in its heyday. 23-year old SZA, signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, embraces alt-soul like a boss on her full-length debut, Z. Z certainly sounds little like other contemporary R&B efforts, choosing to pave its own path through ten consistent and enjoyable songs. The lack of a true misstep makes Z one of the year’s most fascinating efforts from an ambitious artist that few are aware of.   Calling Z a masterpiece or a game-changer may be an exaggeration, but its hard not to praise this captivating effort.

UR” (a stylized version of “You Are”), opens the effort mysteriously, utilizing a slower tempo. The production has its quirks, which seem to be a perfect match for SZA, who seems to be a unique personality in her own right. The chorus of “UR”, sporting lush and smooth vocals, is quite simple: “U R, U R…” The verses are what contain the true lyrical meat, such as “Type B personality / extrovert, introvert, commonalities / A Type A Personality / just dumb enough to lie to me”, from verse one. As odd as “UR” is, once it settles in and the listener feels the ‘vibe’, its nothing short of exceptional.

Child’s Play” is not shabby in the least either. Where “UR” is a bit off-putting initially, “Child’s Play” embraces the groove from the onset. Again, the ‘vibe’ and mood of the cut plays a pivotal role. SZA delivers clever lyrics, using childhood toys as a comparison point for the bigger picture of relationships (“Stuck in Nintendo, get the controller / Street Fighters and such / I’ll finish him…”). Adding odd-ball rapper Chance The Rapper only further strengthens the cause of “Child’s Play”, particularly with rhymes like “Ash on my skin, when the record low temps for the wind blow / only write rhythm to the tardiest of tempos”.

Julia” shows no loss of momentum, and proves to be the first track with a quicker tempo. The groove has a 80s pop/R&B quality. Even though there is more enthusiasm with the quicker tempo, the lyrics still possess weight: “Loving alone is what you make it / stay for the storm if you can take it / but pray for a rainbow…” SZA goes on later to say “I didn’t know you tried / cause you wanted more…Things don’t happen the way you hoped to /I’m just keeping my little hope baby…” SZA’s vocals on the refrain in particular are stunning.

Warm Winds”, featuring Isaiah Rashad, is a two part song. Beginning slower, and more lethargic in tempo, there is still a notable groove. The vocal performance on the first part is performed in undertone, again fitting the moody, alt-soul vibe. Lyrically, there is no shortage of analyzable songwriting, notably “Watching over your every mistake / digging out of graves is never easy / handing you my shovel, here to take…” Later, on the second part of the song, where Rashad assists on the chorus, SZA states “Quit clipping on your feet / quit clipping on your wings / sometimes we hate to leave somebody / what’s happening to we / warm winds on a space ride…” Still yet, SZA’s most creative, if painful line might be “Sometimes, I crack my veins so bad / just to see if it’s blue…” All the audience can do is listen in awe, hearing the high level of musicianship being employed.

On “Hiiijack”, the production is filled with electronic touches, giving it an even more contemporary sound. Even so, it certainly doesn’t compare to generic electro-R&B – there is more substance and investment. “Young savage girl, lost among the lily pads…” While “Hiiijack” is another winner, “Green Mile” is definitely the showstopper. Moody from the get-go, the second “Green Mile” begins, the identity of the track is easily perceptible to the listener. Dramatic lyricism with references of shooting truly makes “Green Mile” as captivating as it is. “Sharpshooter in my backyard / killed a small boy once, never told no one,” sings SZA on the second verse, “If it wasn’t for my shotgun, he’d be alive and I’d be in heaven”. “Green Mile” can be interpreted in a number of ways, but regardless if you take it literally or figuratively, it is easily among the top echelon of Z.

Babylon” proves to be another winner with SZA getting the assist from the unstoppable force that is Kendrick Lamar. Perhaps “Babylon” didn’t strike me as much as the other magnificent joints, it still easily receives a grade of an ‘A’ in my book. The crucifixion references are definitely bold (“Bring on the thorny crown / crucify me”). “Sweet November” is equally, if not more notable than “Babylon”. Soulful sounding, “Sweet November” hearkens back to neo-soul. Couple that with SZA’s knack for intelligent lyrics and “Sweet November” is a match made in heaven. Well maybe not quite: “Jesus called me collect last night / it took all of me not to answer it / Daddy warned me of the perils of play / hard to deal God’s standards.” Verse two gets even better – or more explicit: “Heard you f**king with Tommy again / Remember where that landed you last time / That n***a don’t really love you girl / He just f**ks you ever night it’s his past-time.” Oh $h*t!

Shattered Ring” has a difficult act to follow. The more pop-rock oriented cut (still alt-R&B) is solid, though not the best of the best. Still, hard to deny moments like “Giddy up Goldilocks, you took too long to save me / Bumping that Jadakiss is dangerous for sanity.” On “Omega” the closer, the mysteriousness that characterized the opener returns to close the album. Filled with spiritual references, “Omega” seems a fitting conclusion.

Ultimately, Z is a home run. With so many R&B albums that come and go lacking that ‘extra special something’, Z has it. Weird, yet beautiful, Z seems like a step in the right direction in which R&B should go. That isn’t to say that an alternative R&B album like this is the perfect blueprint, but it also doesn’t confine the genre to clichés or limiting trends. SZA is definitely a supremely talented young artist to watch.

Favorites:

“UR”; “Child’s Play”; “Julia”; “Green Mile”; “Sweet November”

Verdict: ★★★★½

Review: SoMo, ‘SoMo’


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SoMo’s major label debut leaves the listener underwhelmed 

SoMo • SoMo • Republic • US Release Date: April 8, 2014

YouTube has become the ‘it’ means of being discovered as an artist these days. Honestly, the art of self-promotion is truly savvy, aggressive gameplay personally. Where so many talented artists don’t have the confidence or the moxie to put them self out there, those that use a platform like YouTube deserve success. Even so, that doesn’t mean that what they have to offer is necessarily exceptional or laden with swag. SoMo, a burgeoning R&B/pop artist, takes his stab at fame with his major label debut, SoMo. Being signed to Republic is definitely a come-up from YouTube uploads. While SoMo shows the potential SoMo has to offer, it doesn’t prove to be fully cooked. Much of the cons with SoMo is the lack of an identity for its singer. SoMo doesn’t do enough vocally to necessarily impress on his official debut. No, that doesn’t mean he can’t sing – he can – but he also doesn’t come off as a superstar persona in the least.

TMWYKAL”, which stands for “Tell me what you know about love”, initiates SoMo. If there had been more development, “TMWYKAL” could have actually been an enjoyable, full-length song. Instead, it’s merely the minute-long intro that precedes “I Do It All For You” with some solid vocal production. “I Do It All For You” unsurprisingly plays off of “TMWYKAL”, with SoMo doing whatever he has to please his baby. SoMo has a nice voice, but both song and vocalist leave more to be desired. In other words, there is a lack of distinction. “Show Off” isn’t bad – pleasant by all means – but it also is plays upon tired clichés. Many times, listeners have been subjected to the sexual reference of teacher/student (“I’mma be your teacher, you gon’ learn the details / then I’m on a test, you’ll just follow the leader”). Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, or “love hits like rocket ships from outer space”, but it also doesn’t give SoMo an artistic edge.

We Can Make Love” opts for the overt approach, which delivers questionable results for the singer. “We can make love / or we can just f*ck…” doesn’t necessarily scream ‘romantic’, as SoMo references. Sure, every male R&B artist these days thinks it cool to supplant ‘sex’ with the f-bomb, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily should. Here, SoMo sounds more desperate than anything. “Head first, chest hurts / never thought it get worst” opens “Crash” embracing the modern R&B sound. Drenched in a drunken, druggy vibe, the coolness of “Crash” appeals yet doesn’t exactly send chills or thrill; there’s just something extra missing. Distinct lyrics “Her fingers are coiled on my skin / what is this whole that I’m in / taking my clothes off again / feeling her warmth, but it ain’t warm,” catches the ear on “Blind”. Like “TMWYKAL”, “Blind” is a teaser, serving as only a minute-long interlude.

Back To The Start” is a rhythmic slow jam, focused on sex – shocker. Like everything else, it is pleasant and works, but doesn’t scream “wow” by any means. Even if SoMo lives “for the rush” he sings about on “Back To The Start”, the audience doesn’t get the same effect – aka the climax is anticlimactic. “Fire” may only inform the listener that SoMo’s girl “got that fire, fire, fire”, but it is actually one of the better cuts from the album. SoMo’s interpretation of a club cut isn’t exactly the ‘banger of the year’ (it still feels incredibly generic), but it does provide a slight spark. It’s the little things – the tiny victories.

Hush” lifts from “Hush Little Baby” cornily within its chorus, but it is what it is. At least it has a nice contemporary soul groove working for it. Still, there is an air of generic. Maybe it’s the over repetition of “hush now, hush now”. Penultimate cut “Ride” is filled with innuendo – yet another shocker. “Naughty, let’s get naughty / Girl, it’s only on or two,” SoMo sings towards the end of the first verse, “fever’s f**king running / feel the heat between us two.” Of course SoMo provides details, including how he’s gonna “Kiss your body from the tip top / all the way down to your feet.” ‘Course, when a song opens with moaning (“Whoa”), what do you expect? For a sex song, it’s not bad but again, it’s also not revolutionary. “Red Lighter” closes the album solidly. A bit more developed compared to many of the other cuts, “Red Lighter” has more depth and potential.

Ultimately, SoMo lacks an emotional connection. Sure, SoMo sings of very relatable topics in love and sex, but something about the delivery as well as the material leaves the listener feeling empty. The cupboard isn’t completely bare on this album, but it’s definitely nowhere near full. Next round, SoMo will need to step up his game to make a truly thrilling, distinctive artistic statement. Here, he settles for trendy urban music that leaves its audience with a sentiment of “so what”. Now, it is time for the YouTube star to develop into his own.

Favorites:

 “Show Off”; “Fire”; “Ride”; “Red Lighter”

Verdict: ★★½

Review: M&O, ‘Almost Us’


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M&O isn’t a household name, but perhaps the duo should be

M&O • Almost Us US Release Date: April 3, 2014

In an age where many of us music listeners are searching for the next ‘big-thing’ – aka the next breakout artist/band – too often WE think ‘too big’ and end up missing out on a treat that wasn’t so far-fetched to discover. There are a number of independent artists who offers just as much, if not more than our ‘idea’ of what and who the next big-time major label artist should be. Among those artists – the “lesser-known” artists as they could be categorized – is a duo that shouldn’t be slept on by the name of M&O. Formerly known as Milo & Otis, Jamila “Milo” Woods handles vocals/vocal arrangements while Owen “Otis” Hill handles instrumental/production duties. After releasing an EP in 2013 entitled The Joy (it’s available digitally), the Chicago duo return (new name intact) with a second EP entitled Almost Us. Generally credited as an R&B offering, Almost Us is eclectic and definitely transcends R&B and labels in general. Available digitally and physically via music bandcamp as of April 3, 2014, Almost Us won’t leave the listener disappointed.

House” opens Almost Us, exemplifying the popular, newfound alt-R&B sound that is breathing new life into the R&B genre. Like major-label contemporaries including Jhene Aiko or Miguel, the alt-soul cues are definitely in play from both Milo (vocals) and Otis (production). “House” has a chill vibe, alluringly lazy vocals, and exceptional production. Referencing those ‘lazy’ vocals, M&O’s sound reminisces back to Erykah Badu in her prime (Baduizm). On “Run”, Milo definitely has strong opinions lyrically: “I would rather run, far away from you / I would rather run.” Besides another well-penned song and hypnotizing vocals, “Run” features a hard anchoring beat that propels the track forward. The overall production thrives from its creativity and minimalism. A variety of tasteful synths and sound effects once more provide a compelling backdrop for Milo to paint with her voice. The use of cool, soulful background vocals doesn’t hurt the cause either.

Jimi Savannah” has more of a pop/rock-oriented sound about it, definitely contrasting “House” and “Run”. Milo’s voice is incredibly versatile, so the shift from more overt R&B to pop/rock is by no means drastic. As always, Otis is there to lockdown the production exceptionally. Perhaps even more than “House” or “Run”, minimalism plays a driving force, specifically courtesy of guitar and bass lines. “It Was The Song”, featuring Donnie Trumpet, gives Almost Us some tempo to work with aka it’s quicker than “Jimi Savannah”. Additionally, after a brief stint with pop/rock, “It Was The Song” returns M&O to R&B/soul fare. “Hollow” features some of Otis’ most adventurous production as of yet, completely abandoning a specific style or niche. Because of the initial unpredictability, “Hollow” has the listener sitting at the edge of their seat just to see what’s going to happen next. The vocal production on “Hollow” definitely shines, playing into the minimalist sense of the overall production. A slow, grinding cut, “Hollow” ends up being one of the most alluring.

Blue” builds off of the tremendous vocal arrangement of “Hollow”, opening stunningly with layered vocals.   The best way to describe the opening is lush and fluffy – think of a baby kitten (Aw!). After making an opening statement with its vocal salvo, “Blue” develops into yet another compelling, alt-R&B number. “Blue”, like the majority of Almost Us, lacks in vocal histrionics that much of R&B possesses, which reduces some of its heart-wrenching, spirit-filled edginess. That said the vibe and the intensity built from the production sort of makes up for the gospel-tinged runs.

Penultimate track “Neighbor” opens mysteriously as anything else, perhaps even a bit off-putting (if you have preconceived expectations). Vocals once more serve as a gargantuan, unavoidable piece within the production. The difference here is that initially, the vocals aren’t layered like “Blue”. With pacing once more serving as a pivotal characteristic, “Neighbor” eventually rounds out into form as the pieces meld together. If the duo of “Blue” and “Neighbor” seemed bit ‘too far out’, “When Pigs Fly” is more accessible. Even so, “When Pigs Fly” definitely doesn’t supersede the album’s two best cuts, “Home” or “Run!”

Ultimately, Almost Us offers the listener a wonderful exemplification of the new school of R&B, with all its ambitious eclecticism. All eight songs have redeeming value, which is a testament to the musicianship of the duo. That said, sometimes it could be argued that M&O play it the slightest bit too ‘cool’ throughout the effort – sometimes it is a bit too ‘chill’. It is nitpicking – nitpicking that could be easily fixed if there were bit of a ‘push’ or extra bite. Still, if you enjoy your music with some unpredictability and incorporating a couple of styles, Almost Us is certainly the right listening opportunity. Hey, it definitely receives my praise and blessings.

Favorites:

“House”; “Run!”; “Hollow”

Verdict: ★★★★

Review: MKTO, ‘MKTO’


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MKTO don’t reinvent the wheel, but deliver worthwhile pop music

MKTO • MKTO • Columbia • US Release Date: April 1, 2014

MKTO-PFR-011985Every year, there are new pop acts that come and go. Some make a gargantuan impact and either exemplify current trends soundly or begin a new trend. Others fall by the wayside, going unnoticed. For MKTO, made up of actors/musicians Malcolm Kelly and Tony Oller, they don’t reinvent pop’s wheel (if there is such a thing), but they do execute pop’s current trends very well. Don’t call MKTO the saviors of pop or perhaps even the next ‘great’ thing, but the twenty something duo definitely have something to offer. With Kelly handling the rhymes and Oller handling the soulful vocals, debut album MKTO definitely shows there’s something there.

Thank You” begins MKTO incredibly positive and upbeat; there isn’t the slightest ounce of negativity. Calling “Thank You” something previously unheard in pop music would be a major overstatement, but in the context of a debut album, MKTO get off to a solid start. If nothing else, the vocal grit courtesy of a soulful Tony Oller is noteworthy. While “Thank You” is a highlight, “Classic” is even stronger. Don’t go so far as to say it exemplifies its title, but it is definitely irresistible pop. I mean lyrics like “I wanna thrill you like Michael / I wanna kiss you like Prince…” are just, scrumptious and that’s not even the chorus (“You’re over my head / I’m out of my mind / thinking I was born in the wrong time…you’re one of kind living in a world gone plastic / baby you’re so classic”)! Malcolm’s pop-rap swag seals the deal (“A 70s dream and an 80s best…Girl you’re timeless, just so classic.”)

God Only Knows” isn’t bad, though it doesn’t quite live up to the bar established by “Classic”. Still, “God Only Knows” is no waste, once more benefiting from catchy lyrics, most notable on the chorus (“God only knows /how much I need you…”). A song of both emotional investment and physical desire (“When you touch me with your body / and all that I can think is how to lose our clothes”), “God Only Knows” is highly relatable to all ages. “American Dream” opens with the statement, “Do something with your life”, a definite foreshadow to the positivity of the song. Where Malcolm played a minimal vocal role previously on “God Only Knows”, “American Dream” allows the MC to shine as well. The results are none too shabby, though again, nothing incredibly innovative or ‘brand new’. Still, hard to deny clever lyrics like “This ain’t the same summer that you used to know / ‘cause Jack left Diane thirty years ago…”

MKTO-PFR-012360Could Be Me” brings pop-soul singer/songwriter extraordinaire into the mix, Ne-Yo. Like everything else, the results are definitely pleasant, particularly adding Ne-Yo’s smooth vocals. As expected, “Could Be Me” is a soundly crafted pop cut with great potential to appeal to multiple audiences. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of “Could Be Me” is that Malcolm doesn’t allow the perceived ‘innocence’ of “Could Be Me” hold him back when it comes to his rhymes: “She keep on searchin’ for the wrong man / with the iced out Cartier on hand / So mean but he look like Tarzan / little b*tch but he act real hard man.” A little gutty-ness never hurt anyone, right? “Forever Until Tomorrow” cedes no momentum, as the duo continue to please. The lyrics are revolutionary, but simplistic, conveying emotions everyone experiences: “Girl I, I’m gonna love you / forever and ever and ever / girl I, I’m gonna hold you / forever and ever and ever…”

If there was any doubt that MKTO had some rebelliousness despite their ‘feel good’ pop, “Wasted” definitely proves this – all it takes is one f-bomb, right? Honestly, “Wasted” is the edgiest song of the otherwise ‘sunny’ debut, and the only ballad up until this point of the effort. “Am I crazy to think that I could be in love when it all ends up,” sings Oller on the chorus, “…I’d give you my heart, but I’d just f*ck it up / we’d end up, we’d end up wasted / la la la…” The sharp song manages to reference “Jack and coke smokin’ on the fire escape” as well as the religiously skeptical lyric “If I believed in God I’d pray, to God I’d pray.” Maybe it won’t appeal to those who enjoy everything being utopian, but personally, a little edge never hurt anyone.

Atonement arrives on “Heartbreak Holiday”, in which a quicker tempo and bright sound returns to MKTO. Even so, it’s pretty safe to say that MKTO don’t enjoy February 14: “(Baby I hate) I freaking hate / (Valentines Day) Valentines Day / (I’m feeling this pain) It cuts like a blade when I think about you…” Even through Oller’s soulful disdain for being without his baby, the listener is treated with another winner overall.   The opening of “Nowhere” is certainly suggestive…um, just plum freaky (“Breakfast in bed, bacon and eggs… she keeps me fed / breast and some legs / well done, yeah, well done”). It is what it is… hey MKTO are comprised of two twenty something guys – what do you expect? Ultimately, MKTO aren’t going “nowhere” anyways, though one has to question if it’s merely the emotional benefits of the relationship… just saying!

MKTO-PFR-012376Penultimate cut “No More Second Chances” opens lovely, with Oller displaying the sheer beauty of his pipes on the chorus (“No more second chances, no more plastic lies / no more giving me reasons to make me have to say goodbye”). It follows with quasi-rap/spoken word by Malcolm, who gets a slight change of pace with the production to progress the cut. Sure, Malcolm goes a bit stupid, but the reference to Waka Flocka and a variant on the f-bomb does capture one’s attention: “She trying to be my flame like Waka Flocka with the focka”. A guesting Jessica Ashley definitely shines here, providing another contrasting voice to the mix and eliminating any sense of predictability. In regards to the production, “No More Second Chances” works well.   Closing cut “Goodbye Song” puts the sentiment of ‘goodbye’ out there explicitly: “Ya I’mma put your sh*t out on the lawn / leave my heart and take your bone / there’s nothing left to say so long / this is your goodbye song.” Well, at least the album ends with a bang.

Overall, MKTO is an enjoyable, solidly conceived pop album. Like many of the albums it competes with, the rub is its lack of big-time innovation. Though MKTO isn’t particularly innovative or strikingly different from other pop/hip-hop hybrid acts, it’s still one of the better albums using this style. There are no misses, just certain numbers hitting home more than others. There is room for improvement, as there is with a number of artists and bands, but MKTO certainly get off to a good and speedy start.

Favorites:

“Thank You”; “Classic”; “Could Be Me”; “Forever Until Tomorrow”; “Wasted”

Verdict: ★★★½

Review: Mac Demarco, ‘Salad Days’


41CKDmzB+RL._SL500_AA280_ Salad Days easily proves to be one of the year’s elite albums

Mac Demarco • Salad Days • Captured Tracks • US Release Dates: April 1, 2014

“Oh now, you’ve done it again / no use when you already know how it ends.” Throughout Salad Days, singer/songwriter Mac Demarco seems incredibly down – there is the sense of the constant ‘bummer’. The aforementioned lyrics, excerpted from “Treat Her Better”, would suggest this extreme pessimism from the Canadian artist. However, even though Demarco gets down within Salad Days about various things, he also offers atoning words of wisdoms and relatable truths. It sounds deep…and honestly it is, even when Demarco’s lyrics seem childishly simple (“Blue boy, blue boy”). There is a magic about Salad Days that makes the 11-track, 34-minute affair among the best of 2014 – it’s almost hypnotic.

Salad Days” opens the album abruptly, but makes perfect sense once it settles in. Nonchalantly performed by Demarco, the approach is part of the endearment of the track as well as the album as a whole. Essentially, Demarco delivers the song from the perspective that his life is done, despite his young age: “Salad days are gone / missing hippy Jon / remembering things just to tell ‘em so long.” Even if the “salad days are gone”, Demarco seems like he still has plenty of livelihood left personally. “Blue Boy” seems less concerned about life moving too fast, but trades that concern for being “worried about the world’s eyes / worried every time the sun shines.” “Blue Boy” is incredibly relatable, particularly to the worrywart who is too fearful of any and everything. The realistic and relatable nature of “Blue Boy” is definitely part of the allure.

On “Brother”, Demarco continues to sing in an undertone, definitely part of the ‘script’. “You’re no better off, living your life and dreaming at night,” the singer/songwriter sings both memorably and prudently on the standout. The production has soulfulness about it, even if it isn’t an overt soul cut. Besides stellar lyrics and a fantastic performance, the guitar, particular during the “Go home” portion of the song, is superb. “Let Her Go” follows up sensationally, as Demarco waves the finger about leading “her” on: “Tell her that you lover her, if you really love her / but if your heart just ain’t sure, let her go.” The style/approach remains easygoing and somewhat mellow if you will, but definitely meaningful. “Goodbye Weekend” proves groovier than “Let Her Go”, sporting funkiness about it. Demarco shows some jazziness within his vocals, which is definitely a fine touch. In addition to the jazziness, Mac has swagger too: “Goodbye weekend, so long darling / Macky’s been a bad, bad boy.” Get it Mac!

Let My Baby Stay” is the lengthiest song on this brief affair. Perhaps it rides out a bit too long at the end, but overall, Demarco gets things just right. The rhythmic intensity of the guitars here in particular stands out. A better track is “Passing Out Pieces”, in which the sound is incredibly assertive, despite the lyrics suggesting/questioning otherwise: “Watching my life, passing right in front of my eyes / hell of a story, or is it boring?” Here, Demarco seems to continue to lament his humdrum life, confirming how even the closest people in his life don’t understand: “What mom don’t know has taken its toll on me / it’s all I’ve seen that can’t be wiped clean / it’s hard to believe what it’s made of me.”

Treat Her Better” offers advice that many men could stand to heed to: “Treat her better, boy / if having her at your side’s something you enjoy”. The guitars are dreamy sounding and out of tune – all part of the sound/vibe. “Chamber of Reflection” is definitely a change of pace from everything else, featuring a hard, heavy beat and synths. Bass punctuations brilliantly anchor things down, while an exceptional harmonic progression exemplifies R&B/soul music. Further praising the instrumental aspects, Demarco makes excellent use of space and pacing. The vocals continue in understated fashion, making the listener truly listen closely and think about the lyrics. The chorus is nothing ‘special’ on paper, but perfectly sums up the track contextually: “Alone again, alone again / alone again, alone”.

Penultimate track “Go Easy” contrasts the reflective “Chamber of Reflection” with a slightly quicker, medium groove. Demarco is still relaxed, but his words continue to carry weight whether its “I’ll be right behind you / to pick you up until you come around” or later instance “Honey it can be tough, without your friends beside you / you build it up, just to knock it down.” Moving on definitely isn’t easy, and that seems to be Demarco’s messaging here. “Jonny’s Odyssey” closes Salad Days with ranch dressing – well not literally! “Jonny’s Odyssey” is an enjoyable instrumental cut.

So, just how good is this Salad Days album? Well it’s definitely not anywhere near the ‘bore’ that Mac Demarco describes his life as within it. Salad Days is one of the most intriguing albums of the year because of its subtlety, thoughtfulness, and overall creativity. Demarco definitely isn’t best vocalist I’ve ever heard, and I would wager that few would strike this assertion down, but his vocal style and tone is perfectly suited for this style of music. Most important, the songwriting and overall sound and craft of the songs on Salad Days is exceptional. I’m onboard!

Favorites:

“Salad Days”; “Brother”; “Passing Out Pieces”; “Chamber of Reflection”

Verdict: ★★★★

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