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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Passing of a Funk Legend: Junie Morrison

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(From the cover of Morrison’s album Bread Alone)

Funk has lost a legend. Last week, Junie Morrison passed away at the age of 62.

A founding member of Ohio Players and later the musical director for Parliament-Funkadelic, Morrison was a pivotal force behind both 70s funk and modern hip hop movements. Artists like A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla, De La Soul, and The Roots have all sampled his work. “He was very appreciated,” wrote Solange. “He was the ‘Super Spirit’ indeed.” (You can read Solange’s full post here. Her 2015 song “Junie” was inspired by the late musician.)

Morrison’s mark on music is clear. His contributions on Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm” and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove” helped drive both bands toward later successes. In the heavily-sampled “Funky Worm”, Morrison performs his famous Granny voice and worm synth. The storyline, a conversation between Granny and Clarence, is two and a half minutes of disgusting funk and humorous strangeness. It’s so rad.

In addition to his 80s work with P-Funk, Morrison also produced multiple solo albums under several aliases. He continued to write and perform into the 2000s with his own record label, Juniefunk. In 1997, Junie Morrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of P-Funk.

Rest in peace, Junie. We’re grooving for you.

“What I mean to say is that the essence of the funk has always had a tendency to speak of bringing people together.”

–Junie Morrison, in a 2015 interview

-Emily Tasaka

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Khalid Releases Title Track to New Album

Khalid continues to build up hype for his debut album American Teen, premiering the title track “American Teen” on Beats 1 Radio early Wednesday. This release comes just two weeks after he dropped “Shot Down”. On “American Teen”, Khalid glides over glossy piano chords and synth-flavored drums, singing about being a youth in America. The song overall is solid, but doesn’t stand out in comparison to singles like “Location” and “Coaster”. 

A week before his album is set to drop, Khalid has already released seven of the fifteen songs on the album. Has he given his audience too much of a preview of his debut album? Will the lack of new songs on American Teen leave it feeling lackluster and disappointing as a complete work? We’ll know by next Friday; until then, check out Khalid’s music here, listen to “American Teen” here, and check out the album cover below.

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Archie O’Dell

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Animal Collective new EP “The Painters”

Almost a year after the release of their last album Painting With, Animal Collective returns with an accompanying EP. Appropriately titled The Painters, it continues in the sounds of Painting With of fast-paced, dizzying psychedelic pop.

Opening track title “Kinda Bonkers” accurately reflects the general state of the music with the array of odd samples and lyrics present. It kicks the EP off with a catchy and fun tune, and a classic display of the band’s upbeat positivity in the chorus “Don’t you feel me, feel your heart shine?/Unity of all kind, unity of all kind.”

“Peacemaker” briefly slows the pace as one of the slower songs from this era, featuring the alternating vocal technique found on many songs from Painting With. Although probably the weakest of the EP’s tracks, it provides a refreshing contrast with the rest of the release with it’s more relaxing and atmospheric approach. “Goalkeeper,” meanwhile, stands out as one of the catchiest songs present despite seeming to jump all over the place at breackneck speed. Closer “Jimmy Mack” ends the EP on a very strong note. Originally a hit for Martha and the Vandellas back in the 60s, the band has perfectly adapted it to their more psychedelic style and made it their own with an impassioned performance from Avey Tare. 

Overall The Painters makes for a solid continuation of their sound from the preceding album, with it’s colorful and energetic sound. Singers Avey Tare and Panda Bear both give engaging vocal performances with their trade-offs and harmonizing. Although their spot on the EP may lead some to dismiss these songs as rejects, they easily stand up against many of the songs from the album.

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-Noah Prince

EP Review: Tuxedo’s Fux with the Tux

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PSA for all you dance and disco lovers: last month, Tuxedo quietly released new EP Fux with the Tux. The sharply-dressed duo of soul singer Mayer Hawthorne and Seattle hip hop producer Jake One seems to be riding the wave of 70s/80s revival in pop music. Many artists like Daft Punk and Bruno Marks have struck a balance between retro and fresh, and I think you’ll find that Tuxedo also fits into this category quite nicely. As with many throwback artists, Tuxedo’s long list of influences includes artists like Chic and Cameo, in addition to boogie, hip hop, and electronic music.

Fux with the Tux packs plenty of funk in only 10 minutes. The EP kicks off with its title track, jumping straight into a catchy beat and groovy synths. This song plays off of vocals from both Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One. Although a bit repetitive, it’s still a well-done cross between old-school funk and newer hip hop.

“Special” rolls in with more prominent percussion than the previous track. I love the bass in this song, and the vocal harmonies are a great highlight. If you liked Bruno Mars’ “Chunky", you’ll like this one. (I would also make the claim that “Special” is perhaps a classier(?) take on Mars’ message in “Chunky”.)

In its final song, the EP winds down with smooth slow jam “July”. The horns in the chorus are a great touch, and the background female vocals nicely accent Mayer Hawthorne’s crooning words.

Tuxedo is expected to release a full-length album later this year. Keep an eye out.

Emily Tasaka

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