Music Roundup 10/16/17

Hopefully you know the drill by now! Here’s our music roundup focusing on the notable releases of the past week or so, letting you know which ones are worth your valuable time.

music roundup a. savage

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Genre: Singer/Songwriter, Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Indian Style,” “Phantom Limbo,” “Thawing Dawn”

Andrew Savage is a smart guy—that much is obvious. Listen to any Parquet Courts record and Savage’s lyrically dense ramblings are filled with bright witticisms that are impossible to ignore. His newest solo album (as A. Savage), THAWING DAWN, is filled with similar prose and delivery, but fails to usher in the dynamic flow and underdogged sense of musical urgency that helped balance his work with Parquet Courts. The musicianship here is often quaint, sometimes tapping into Savage’s Texas roots with some country flavor. You can hear Townes Van Zandt’s prevailing influence in the beginning of “Indian Style,” or on the simple steel pedal of “Phantom Limbo,” and when he embraces that down home twang the album feels purposeful and lived in. But songs like the jaunty, stripped-down punk tune “Eyeballs,” the seven-minute feedback frenzy “What Do I Do,” or the methodically paced, deadpan essay “Ladies from Houston” all feel like Parquet Courts outtakes. While fans of the band will find comfort in hearing Savage’s deep colorful vocals ramble on for 45 minutes, and there are some true standout tracks here, THAWING DAWN never quite finds purposeful direction, failing to embrace what makes it interesting and too often resembling Parquet Courts-lite. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup beck

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Genre: Alternative Dance, Pop Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Colors,” “Dear Life,” “Dreams”

Following his melancholic 2014 LP, MORNING PHASE, Beck returns in a much brighter fashion with COLORS. His 13th studio album, COLORS is slightly more pop driven, with a large amount of modern influence sprinkled throughout. The title track emerges with a subdued driving beat, accompanied by catchy, high-pitched melodies, setting the tone for an album that would be fun to hear live considering Beck’s renowned stage presence. Many of the tracks sound like they could have been produced by of Montreal’s glam pop star Kevin Barnes, with their glittery choruses and bright instruments. Beck seems to be embodying the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality, with several choruses that sound like they might be a remix played at EDC. “Dear Life” starts with an incredibly enticing piano riff and continues to hold the listener’s attention throughout the song through Beck’s attempt at giving an ode to life as we all know it. I don’t see anything wrong with Beck going in this direction; it’s a seemingly impossible task to continually make the same sort of album with brand new material time and time again. Beck didn’t hold back at all, and probably had to prepare for the prejudice he might face from fans of his earlier music. Is this my favorite of Beck’s albums? No, probably not, but it doesn’t disappoint, and it leaves me extremely curious to see what direction he’ll take next. [Emmett Garvey]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup billy corgan

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William Patrick Corgan – OGILALA

Genre: Singer/Songwriter, Acoustic Rock

Favorite Songs: “The Spaniards,” “Archer” 

William Patrick Corgan, frontman of The Smashing Pumpkins, has put together a pretty yet homogenous and vapid collection of work on OGILALA. There is nothing instrumentally faulty with any of the album’s 11 tracks, but there is seemingly nothing standout among any of them, either. The bread and butter of OGILALA is acoustic guitar and piano, and while both of these things are not inherently bad, often working beautifully in conjunction with a confident singer songwriter, the way Corgan uses them often comes off as derivative and lackluster. Be it the guitar riffs or the piano ballads, both of them have a peppy energy throughout the album’s 38-minute run time that often causes most of the tracks to blend together, creating a formless blob by the end. There are occasional moments of respite from this formlessness, as seen on the track “The Spaniards,” which begins with a soaring instrumental that immediately creates an almost angelic backdrop, but unfortunately, the track doesn’t revel in this soaring mix long enough before it is pushed aside for the usual, simplistic acoustic guitar riff. Despite the repetitive instrumental choices, OGILALA is occasionally profound on a lyrical level. Corgan’s abilities as a songwriter shine through once again on “The Spaniards:” “Fear in hearts / Unswept in unlaced bodice / To furies I gave no decides / Filled dragons full of grace.” He has moments of true poeticism, yet is held back by a lack of variety when it comes to vocal delivery. Due to Corgan constantly belting out his lyrics and never truly changing volume, this further congeals everything together, in turn creating a bland experience and, in turn, a chore to get through. There are all the elements for a great album on OGILALA, but they are not capitalized on enough and Corgan plays it safe far too often. The end product is a work that is enjoyable in small sittings but by the end feels bloated and exhausted. [Will Turmon]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup dvsn

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Genre: Alternative R&B

Favorite tracks: “Run Away,” “Think About Me,” “Don’t Choose,” “Mood”

R&B is dangerous territory—it’s quite easy (and common) to become a whiner. And near the backend of the MORNING AFTER, dvsn delves into slow jamming on “Conversations in a Diner” and falls into that exact trap. Daniel Daley wants to “never ever let you go,” but you really wish he would, since the album would’ve been better without this track. And “Body Smile” would succumb to the same fate if it wasn’t for his palpable yearning. dvsn shines brightest when infusing this weepy crooning with signature OvO/Toronto-styled production—silky-smooth mixing of rolling hi-hats and snares platformed by a slinking, deep sub-bass. Opener “Run Away” makes use of this winning combination, as Daley channels his inner Michael Jackson while his voice goes from agiley traversing, “…you said we should settle down / and I thought we’d get around,” to powerfully grinding out, “It’s time I do you right / ‘cause you should’ve left.”  The subject material isn’t fresh; it’s all ground treaded quite thoroughly by the likes of the Weekend and OvO founder himself, Drake, but dvsn conveys an innocent charm his peers either never had or, if they did, have surely seen wither away by now.

On “Think About Me,” Daley grasps the reality of all that’s lost within a breakup (“Don’t think that we / could ever be friends again”) and then suppresses it with a naive bitterness: “I know you still think about me / How could you not think about me?” It’s that belief that your ex will never find someone better than you, that hope that you’re the best they’ll ever have, and that ultimate refusal to accept that neither of those beliefs are true. It’s the album’s strongest track, not just in terms of the bouncy, champagne-bubbly production, but sheer immediacy of the lyrics, feeling like he just whipped up this whole thing to text to her, but had to rescind once he saw her Instagram with the new bae. I hate that word, but here it felt appropriate. [Nick Funess]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup mr davis

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Gucci Mane – MR. DAVIS

Genre: Trap Rap

Favorite Tracks: “I Get the Bag (featuring Migos),” “Stunting Ain’t Nothing (featuring Slim Jxmmi and Young Dolph),” “Members Only,” “Money Make Ya Handsome,” “Changed (featuring Big Sean)”

Gucci Mane has 72 mixtapes and has been in and out of jail for the over ten years. With so much time spent locked up, this dude’s quality to quantity ratio has no right to be as good as it is, and on MR. DAVIS, he’s still chugging, his post-prison energy showing no signs of relenting: “I was gone for a minute now it’s back on . . . /  Hold up I’m not even finished / I’m the realest nigga living.” A fan or not, Gucci’s nonchalant certitude might just make you believe it on “Back On.”

He’s a chameleon in his ability to switch up his style, to adapt to the beat or tone set by any of the featured artists. He deftly matches the Migos-operated flow on “Slippery” cousin “I Get the Bag,” and without his “It’s Gucci!” adlib, you can’t even tell when he enters; he could easily be an adjunct member of the trio. Gucci’s sense of humor is also still much intact, with the gangsters-can-cry-if-they-want sensibility (“Damn near had the temper tantrum / ‘Cause he got that car ‘fore I got it, now I really don’t wanna”) and brash honesty (“Money make you handsome, even if you’re ugly / Money make her fuck me, she wanna fuck my money”) on “Tone It Down” and “Money Make Ya Handsome,” respectively.

MR. DAVIS is stacked wall-to-wall with slappers galore. There’s no life-altering musings and the grandiose is nothing new, but Gucci makes all of the tracks a joy to listen to, swathing you in all the luxury and power you could imagine for its 61 minutes. If his sing-song chorus of “Members Only” doesn’t indoctrinate you into the Brick Squad, then surely the casual braggadocio brimming on “Stunting Ain’t Nothing” will make you realize your mistake. He might be pushing 40, but he’s as lean and mean as ever—if anything, the age gives him something of a trap-godfather mysticism. On MR. DAVIS, Gucci Mane makes you an offer you can’t refuse. [Nick Funess]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup kelela

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Genre: Alternative R&B, UK Bass

Favorite Tracks: “Waitin,” “Better,”

There’s been a lot of hype for Kelela’s debut record. Vintage yet progressive, raw yet spacey, capable of music for the bedroom and the club, she seemed poised to become one of the biggest faces and trendsetters in alternative and electronic R&B. Though she’s proven herself capable of infectious bangers in the past (“Rewind,” “Enemy”), TAKE ME APART pushes further into subdued carnality and atmospheric, almost trip-hop electronica, and it does not work in her favor. It’s impressive that Kelela creates a consistent, cohesive sound given all the producers involved, but songs unfold in a very repetitive and redundant ways. They build from wavey, reverb-heavy minimalism to “crescendos” with cluttered vocal layers and harmonies that lack impact due to how predictable they become and how unearned they feel. Mood is a struggle to figure out, as any sensuality gets interrupted by ugly industrial tones, sci-fi bleeps, bassy wobbles, or other oddball sound effects. There was always something of a gap between Kelela’s old-school R&B singing style and the futuristic production she performed on, but never has that gap been as large and distracting as it is here. “Better” features the best build from gloom to self-affirmation with some of the best vocals on the record, while “Waitin” is the closest to a thumping club smash that follows in the excellent footsteps of “Rewind.” Outside of those, it’s a rather self-defeating record that has some great ideas, but zero sense of deliberate thought put into it. It’s getting a lot of praise, but I’ll stick with HALLUCINOGEN and CUT 4 ME for now. [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup spectral

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Genre: Death Doom Metal

Favorite Tracks: “Thresholds Beyond,” “Terminal Exhalation” 

“I listen to everything except metal and country.” I feel like I’ve heard that line ad nauseum when discussing musical tastes with new peers. It’s an unfortunate consensus, especially being that there are plenty of standouts within those two massive and multi-toned genres. Colorado-based metal group Spectral Voice, with their newest album, ERODED CORRIDORS OF UNBEING, is one of these standouts. It is a cohesive and oppressive collection of blackened doom metal, bound to please anyone with a thirst for the occult.

The biggest make-it-or-break it for me when it comes to metal is the skill of the vocalist, and frontman Eli Wendler uses his guttural screams to help accentuate the songs perfectly. Rather than being a self-indulgent screamfest, the vocals are utilized more as an instrument rather than being masturbatory, and are always present at the front of the mix. On the track “Terminal Exhalation,” it is almost a minute into the song’s runtime before the vocal is introduced into the track, helping establish an equilibrium rather than breaking it, preventing fatigue for the listener. There are plenty of moments on the album where Spectral Voices pull elements out of many different genres of metal. On “Thresholds Beyond,” the mixing geniusly brings the ascending guitar riff into the forefront, which, coupled with the downright sludgy and explosive finale, play off each other greatly. The drone-inspired wall of noise or minimalist soundpieces that close out each of the tracks on ERODED CORRIDORS OF UNBEING are refreshing to hear. This multifaceted style that Spectral Voice help create make the longer runtimes, filled with five-plus-minute songs, go by quite quickly. They have woven an oppressive and hellish soundscape which serves as a revitalizing ode to a genre that in most recent years has felt on the decline. [Will Turmon]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup wu-tang

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Genre: East Coast Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “People Say (featuring Redman),” “Frozen (featuring Method Man, Killa Priest, and Chris Rivers),” “If What You Say Is True (featuring ‘Ol Dirty Bastard, Streetlife, Cappadonna, Mastah Killah, and GZA)” 

I’m not sure the Wu-Tang saga is really worth continuing, not without a course correction at least. The group’s latest isn’t an official Wu-Tang Clan release (although everyone minus U-God makes an appearance), but rather a compilation, curated and created by producer Mathematics, which heavily features the group. THE SAGA CONTINUES is a duller, less emboldened version of the Wu-Tang Clan narrative we’ve come to expect after 2014’s A BETTER TOMORROW and 2011’s LEGENDARY WEAPONS, with few standout tracks and a ton of filler. The sheer talent level at times is such a discrepancy it’s laughable. Raekwon’s one appearance on THE SAGA CONTINUES is opposite a lackluster Hue Hef verse, and The Chef unfairly raps circles around Hef to the point of embarrassment. Similarly on “G’d Up,” Method Man gives a serviceable appearance, only to be followed up by a lackluster R-Mean verse. That the features on some of these songs are so disproportionate in regards to quality and talent is somewhat mind blowing, especially when the features exist literally next to one another on these songs—nowhere is this more apparent than comparing the energy levels and quality of verse on “Pearl Harbor.” There are so many inessential tracks here, and it’s not like the production work is good enough to at least make its lack of necessity fun. Say what you will about late career Wu albums, but RZA at least has fun with these projects, even if they’re overly goofy and mostly forgettable, and Mathematics doesn’t even seem to get the goofy party correct. The grimy “Frozen,” featuring Method Man, Killa Priest, and Chris Rivers, is a rare standout in part because the approximation of talent actually checks out. The album’s best song, “If What You Say Is True,” also correctly uses its features in a way that builds from verse to verse in a satisfying way. In his brief 25-second appearance, GZA steals the show, and Streetlife, Cappadonna, and Masta Killah all give standout verses before the song ends with a speech from deceased Wu member ‘Ol Dirty Bastard. The rest of the album is populated by skits that don’t really feel necessary, some okay work from Redman, and beats that feel tired and uninspired. THE SAGA CONTINUES misuses the talent of pretty much everyone involved and is devoid of the colorful, joyful cartoon ridealong street wisdom that the group traditionally offer. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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