Best Releases of the Week

This past Friday saw a hefty number of releases. Rather than attempt to write five or six album reviews this week and promptly self-combust, here are some mini-reviews of my favorite releases from last week.

Stormzy, Gang Signs and Prayer

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I came late to the grime scene, but so far it has been merely decent. For those who don’t know, grime is a combination of electronic and hip-hop characterized by hard-hitting English MCs. Skepta’s Konnichiwa was the first full-length grime album I listened, leaving me slightly disappointed but curious about the genre. Stormzy’s new album, Gang Signs and Prayer, has proved that grime is a legitimate genre in the music industry and that it should not be meddled with. Stormzy delivers ruthless lyrics over raw, machine-like instrumentals, never wasting a breath. This album, unlike other grime projects, carefully balances the line dividing typical aggressive grime tracks and soft, stripped-back vocal tracks. Stormzy lends his singing voice on multiple tracks and impresses. Overall, a strong debut for Stormzy that puts an unconventional yet refreshing twist on traditional grime. Listen to Gang Signs and Prayer here.

Steve Lacy, Steve Lacy’s Demo

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Two and a half months into 2017 and The Internet has already become very busy. They kicked off a tour last week and have already released three solo projects this year. Steve Lacy is the latest of the band to drop a project, following Syd and Matt Martians. Recorded entirely on his iPhone, Steve Lacy’s Demo sits at six tracks long (or short), and Lacy clarified on Twitter that the project is neither an EP or album, but a song series. Nonetheless, it’s lackadaisical style and lo-fi vibes provide a relaxing listen. Lacy’s guitar leads most of the songs, usually settling for a pairing with the drums or bass and not much else. The lack of variety seems daunting at first, but Lacy makes due with the tools at hand. Steve Lacy’s Demo is a short, sweet intro to The Internet’s youngest member, highlighted by his melodic vocals and lo-fi atmosphere. Listen to Steve Lacy’s Demo here.

Oddisee, The Iceberg

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Oddisee continues to strengten his discography with his latest release, The Iceberg. His eleventh studio album tackles poverty, racism, and more ethical issues. He spits lyrics with sincerity and depth, quite possibly taking multiple listens to decipher. The instrumentals include bright horn sections; each song sounds like a crisp live rendition. The climax of the album occurs on “Like Really”, a low-key banger where Oddisee addresses everyday problems minorities face. The Iceberg proves to be another strong release in Oddisee’s ever-expanding discography. Listen to The Iceberg here.

Thundercat, Drunk

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Thundercat finally returns with what will most likely be an album of the year contender, Drunk. At 23 tracks long (only 53 minutes total), Thundercat croons about losing friends, anime, masturbating, cats, and everything in between. He takes what made Apocalypse great (increased use of singing) and what made The Golden Age of Apocalypse great (bass solos and instrumentation) and combines them on Drunk, effectively creating an explosion of clever production and sweet, delicious vocals. Most tracks, unfortunately, are short, but each is still strong enough to stand up on its own. There are a lot of features, too, each which contribute to the song exactly as expected (even Wiz Khalifa, which isn’t really a good thing). Thundercat’s eccentric, unique style plays to his favor again on Drunk, coming through with the best release of the year thus far. Listen to Drunk here.   

Archie O’Dell                  

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Album Review: Matt Martians’ The Drum Chord Theory

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The Internet blew me away with Ego Death in 2015. The album was cohesive, masterfully produced, and showcased the talents of each individual in the group. Now, two years later, the members of The Internet have decided to take a break from their group act and pursue their solo careers. The first of The Internet to release a solo project is Matt Martians, the group’s keyboardist. His first solo album, The Drum Chord Theory, can easily be traced back to the sound of his collective, but he also manages to venture into areas unknown and take the listener on a psychedelic-albeit scattershot-journey.

One of the most striking characteristics of the album is its dependency on the drums. Despite Martians experience with the piano, the drums play a larger role in driving each song forward and maintaining the melody (if the album title wasn’t already a giveaway). That’s not to say that Martians doesn’t utilize his piano skills or experiment with other instruments. The instrumentals on the album take a hefty amount of risks, most of which pay off. A majority of the time they take precedence over Martians’ singing, playing long before and after Martians sings. One song in particular, “Where Are Your Friends?” sounds like it was intentionally recorded in a factory, with the instrumental miming the sounds of hammers and whistles. The sound of that would normally be annoying, but Martians uses the sounds to add a playful mood to the song. Others don’t pay off as well, like on “Alotta Women/Useless”, where the piano chords overwhelm the other instruments and Martians’ repetitive lyrics wear themselves out.

This brings me to one of the significant issues with The Drum Chord Theory. Martians depends too much on the instrumentation to create a quality song. Each unique instrumental is paired with lyrics that are too sparse or shallow to derive any meaning from. Take the song “Found Me Some Acid Tonight”; Martians repeats “I found me some acid tonight/And we gon’ trip to the other side” before the song abruptly cuts off. This is not the only instance where Martians is caught repeating himself, and it continually dulls down the album to the point of boredom.

Martians also lacks a concept to attach to his album. He mostly croons about love and his search for the perfect companion, but never really connects these songs together to create an overarching theme. Concept albums aren’t a mandatory staple of the music industry, but it helps to have an idea that the artist can work around and build off of for an album. J. Cole comes to mind when thinking about this, as he did a fairly nice job with a concept on his latest album 4 Your Eyez Only, choosing to base the album off of his friend’s death.

Despite the issues with The Drum Chord Theory, Martians has released a solid album. Numerous songs include inventive beat changes that force the listener to stay on their toes. The groovy bass and guitar lines sound reminiscent of Thundercat and Tame Impala. Martians’ features absolutely crush their appearances (Steve Lacy and Tyler, the Creator produce; Syd, Steve Lacy, and Kari Faux feature). The lyrics, however, are nothing to ride home about and hang on the verge of redundancy. The absence of a concept also makes the album impossible to comprehend as one single work. The Drum Chord Theory doesn’t break the stratosphere, but it’s not supposed to. This album has proved Martians’ potential, and that we should be prepared for what he has to come. Listen to The Drum Chord Theory here and catch The Internet at The Neptune on March 17.

Archie O’Dell

Thundercat Drops Single “Show You the Way”, Announces New Album Drunk

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Thundercat has been under the radar recently. He quietly released the single “Bus in These Streets” nearly half a year ago but since has made no hint of any new music. That changed today when he released the song “Show You the Way” featuring Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, as well as revealed that his new album Drunk would be available February 24. “Show You the Way” features Thundercat’s signature high-pitched singing and smooth instrumentation, and Loggins and McDonald both lend their voices to make the single even smoother than I thought was humanly possible. Along with the new song and album release date, Thundercat released the tracklist for Drunk. At 23 tracks long, the album is going to take time to fully digest. Check out the tracklist below (which includes some noteworthy features), and listen to “Show You the Way” here.

Drunk Tracklist:

01. Rabbot Ho
02. Captain Stupido
03. Uh Uh
04. Bus in These Streets
05. A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)
06. Lava Lamp
07. Jethro
08. Day & Night
09. Show You The Way [ft. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins]
10. Walk on By [ft. Kendrick Lamar]
11. Blackkk
12. Tokyo
13. Jameel’s Space Ride
14. Friend Zone
15. Them Changes
16. Where I’m Going
17. Drink Dat [ft. Wiz Khalifa]
18. Inferno
19. I Am Crazy
20. 3AM
21. Drunk
22. The Turn Down [ft. Pharrell]
23. DUI

Archie O’Dell