Album Review: Dirty Projectors

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Dirty Projectors began a while ago as the solo project of frontman David Longstreth, before finding success as a full band with their blend of experimental yet accessible indie pop on albums Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan. However, a new self-titled album finds Dirty Projectors returning to its solo roots under Longstreth. 

Dirty Projectors marks a change in style with its R&B inspired sound. Although I always appreciate artists trying new genres and changing up their music, some of these attempts work better than others. While there are many great moments on this album, a lot of it just does not seem to work so well; not totally unsuccessful, but lacking. 

“Keep Your Name” makes the new stylistic turn of this album immediately clear, with it’s distinctive distorted vocals a bit jarring on first listen. The track comes across a bit as a failed experiment, with the vocal changes (including a pitch shifted sample from their last album in the background) proving to be more irritating than anything. The lyrics feel pretty harsh, with lines such as “I don’t think I ever loved you” and “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame.”

“Up in Hudson” has some great instrumentation, yet it is brought down by rather awkward, unsubtle lyrics that feel out of place, including “And we both had girl and boyfriends blowing us up SMS” and “Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast/And you’re out in Echo Park, blasting 2pac, drinking a fifth for my ass.” The chorus, however, is probably one of the high points of the album, and the strong outro to the song helps save it despite these earlier flaws. 

The remainder of the album is similarly inconsistent. While there are still great moments to be found, such as the refrain of “Little Bubble”, or the nice backing vocals from Dawn Richard on “Cool Your Heart”, other songs, such as “Work Together” just feel more annoying than anything else, with the overused effects detracting from the overall quality of the song. Some of the middle stretch of the album blends together a bit, with some less remarkable tracks. Although a bit disappointing in comparison to previous Dirty Projectors albums, it is by no means a bad album, with many strong moments on it despite some issues.

Website / Twitter

-Noah Prince

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Album Review: Khalid Brings the Fun on American Teen

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Khalid has been on my radar for quite some time now. He was part of my list of artists to watch this year, and he has entered the spotlight with American Teen. Khalid has proven he lives up to the hype, and that he knows how to have fun doing it.

Despite the tone of American Teen, most of the songs’ instrumentals are uplifting and catchy. Khalid primarily sings over ballads, but he goes out of his comfort zone on a few tracks. “Young Dumb & Broke” is one of the highlights, a trap-flavored track where Khalid encourages his fellow youth to act heinously while they can, because it won’t last. The majority of the tracks revolve around the theme of being young and reckless. It’s pretty fitting, considering Khalid is only 19 years old. Other tracks involve Khalid grieving about lost love and failed relationships, such as on “Another Sad Love Song.” The tone and instrumental clash here; the production is so infectious and groovy that the listener might not even know Khalid’s crooning about missing a past lover.

Khalid’s voice itself doesn’t impress often. He sits on the same pitch for the entire album. His tone rarely changes, so he sounds the same on every song. This isn’t necessarily terrible, because it conveys his vulnerability on the slower ballads. Otherwise, it’s disappointing, and I hope he takes more risks with his voice on the next album. 

Another pitfall American Teen faces is its lyrics. Khalid’s lyrics are awfully surface level and a lot of them cover familiar ground. Most of the time he’s saying it in a different way; it only sounds different, but doesn’t feel different. “Coaster”, “Hopeless”, and “Shot Down” each encompass the feeling of being heartbroken. Complex lyrics are by no way a requirement for albums, but Khalid needs to find a way to effectively convey his feelings about love and youth in more than one or two forms. 

Khalid has pretty much met my expectations with American Teen. The subject matter is focused but doesn’t deliver as distinctive. He tropes mundane topics through the 15 tracks, usually settling for a melancholy love song or an anthem for the adolescent. However, if the listener doesn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, the album is wonderfully entertaining. The production is a mash-up of electronic, R&B, and trap that blends together remarkably well. American Teen is a fun album; just don’t expect to have any intellectual conversations about its themes. Listen to American Teen here.

Archie O’Dell

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Fis — Fresh EP from CAPYAC

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(Photo from CAPYAC’s Bandcamp site) 

In 2014, someone needed music for a guacamole pool party. It was out of this need that electro-funk dance duo CAPYAC was born. Formed by Delwin Campbell and Eric Peana, CAPYAC’s self-dubbed “balloonwave” sound fits right in with the nu-disco genre, incorporating elements of soul, funk, and utter surreality. The Austin-based group is known in their local music scene for over-the-top performances focused on getting people to move. Last year, they released their debut album Headlunge. Popular single “Speedracer” was the highlight, featuring dreamy-sounding vocals over a groovy beat.   

This year, CAPYAC has already dropped a new EP. Titled Fis, the project consists of four mostly instrumental tracks, incorporating the same funk and electronic influences as Headlunge. My verdict? Meh. While an admirable extension of CAPYAC’s take on French house, Fis did not leave me feeling nearly as impressed as I had hoped to be. The EP began with the 9-minute “No”. It’s decently funky and smooth, but it began to feel repetitive about halfway through. “Bubblegum” fared a little better, introducing energetic female vocals as a contrast to the mellower sounds of “No”. Fis found redemption in its fourth and final song. “Comfort Zone” fades in with CAPYAC’s usual electronic beats before throwing in a sweet (and slightly erratic) saxophone solo. It was a nice surprise, providing a glimpse of the eccentricity I would imagine CAPYAC to embrace in their shows. 

All of the above being said, don’t let my words deter you from supporting this band. Their live performances seem like a blast, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you listen to “Speedracer”.   

More from CAPYAC: Instagram / SoundCloud / Facebook 

Emily Tasaka 

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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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Show Review: Noname and Ravyn Lenae Slay at The Crocodile

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I saw Noname perform at The Crocodile this past Wednesday. Ravyn Lenae opened for her, and needless to say they were both incredible. I had been anticipating this concert for quite some time now (I ordered the tickets in November), and the night had finally arrived.

First things first, I had also bought meet and greet tickets for my lovely girlfriend in an effort to blow Valentine’s Day out of the water. For the most part I think it was a success. She was excited to meet Noname, as was I, of course. Unfortunately, we both had different reactions to talking to her in person. She was so nervous that her mind started racing, asking Noname-whose real name is Fatima-question after question. This was a godsend, because I was so nervous that my mind drew a blank and stood there sheepishly, only mustering the courage to introduce myself and say “yes” a few times. 

After a photo op with Fatima, it was time for the concert. Unbeknownst to me, there was an act before Ravyn Lenae. Local Seattle rappers Nyles Davis and Mo Money got the show started, but not exactly as I had expected. Noname and Ravyn Lenae’s musical styles both exude peacefulness and don’t try to be in your face. Davis and Mo Money were both accurate reflections of what rap is becoming: repetitive lyrics over bass-heavy beats. Their music reminded me a lot of Lil Uzi Vert, my least favorite rapper in the game right now. Mo Money also got really sweaty and it was flying everywhere, so that didn’t help his set improve.

Finally, the time came for the actual concert to start, and Ravyn Lenae came out. And let me tell ya, her voice was jaw dropping. I knew it was good when I listened to her music on Spotify, but it was probably even better live. Each song she performed had multiple vocal inflections where she would change the note while she belted out a single word or sound. My previously hefty expectations had been exceeded somehow and I was witnessing an angel on stage. 

Lenae also took the time to explain the meaning behind each song before she performed it. I had listened through her Moon Shoes EP multiple times, but had never taken the time to thoroughly listen to it and pull the meaning from each song. I found myself listening much more intently, trying to connect the lyrics to the explanation she had given just a few minutes earlier. Also, she put the mic in front of my girlfriend to sing a part of a song, but evidently the pressure was overwhelming and she could only sing for a split second before laughing it off. To be fair, I would’ve done the exact same thing, and Ravyn probably would’ve gotten the whole crowd to make fun of me because I can’t sing as well as her. That may have been why she did it in the first place.

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Lenae’s set ended after about 45 minutes and it was time for the headliner, Noname. Her debut album Telefone was one of my favorite albums of last year. It was meaningful, perfectly produced, and it introduced me to a female rapper that I actually enjoyed (sorry not sorry Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea). Noname’s band was the first to come on stage, performing a few minutes of smooth instrumentals before Noname came out to open with “All I Need”. To my relief, she sounded exactly like she did on Telefone. The live band was a great addition; Davis, Mo Money, and Lenae all performed over recordings of the instrumentals to their songs (Davis actually rapped over recordings of his songs with the rap recorded too, so he didn’t have to work as hard). Noname performed Telefone in its entirety, as well as her verses for Mick Jenkins’ “Comfortable” and Chance the Rapper’s “Lost”. Ravyn Lenae joined her on stage and they performed “Forever” together, which was easily the best moment of the night. Noname’s discography still has some growing to do, because she ran out of music to perform after half an hour. Despite the short set, Noname was excellent on stage and had the audience captivated the whole time.

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The concert as a whole was great. The surprise openers got the concert off on a sour note, but Ravyn Lenae and Noname more than made up for the openers’ slip-ups. Both either performed exactly as in their recordings or far beyond what I had expected. Once they expand their discography there will only be more demand for them to go on tour again, and I look forward to when that day comes. Check out each artist’s music below.

Noname – Telefone

Ravyn LenaeMoon Shoes EP

Nyles Davis

Mo Money

Archie O’Dell

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Album Review: Syd Impresses As A Solo Act on Fin

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Only a week after her bandmate Matt Martians dropped his solo debut The Drum Chord Theory, Syd has come forth with her own solo debut, Fin. The former Odd Future member has been all over some of last year’s biggest releases, featuring on Common’s Black America Again, Kaytranada’s 99.9%, and Little Simz’s Stillness in Wonderland. The time has come for her to release new music of her own, and needless to say it was worth the wait. Fin is a smooth, sensual ride that may not take many risks, but lives up to the hype of what listeners have come to expect from Syd.

The album takes off with what might be one of the best tracks, “Shake Em Off”. Syd addresses feeling frustrated and doubted by her haters, choosing to shake them off rather than give into the criticism. Syd rides over bubbly production accompanied by hard hitting percussion. The standout factor, however, is her voice. Syd consistently sounds angelic over the course of the 12-track album, utilizing falsetto tones and slightly lower vocals to showcase her incredible range. Her ability to carry a song on her own is apparent, yet some tracks include background vocals, like “Insecurities”. On these tracks, Syd remains the primary voice, and the background vocals only tend to come in for the chorus. They weren’t necessary for any song, but the addition adds a certain lushness to them that is more than welcome.

The album’s tone is surprisingly sexy. Multiple songs detail Syd romanticizing about women (“Drown In It”, “Body”, “Know”) or describing a trip to the strip club (“Dollar Bills”). Other songs go in opposite directions, favoring heavy beats as the driving force (“All About Me”, “No Complaints”, “Got Her Own”). This album, like Matt Martian’s, lacks a concept; some songs share themes but none of them can be connected as a whole. None of the songs take many risks sonically either; most can be traced back to other artists and a few could be mistaken for b-sides from The Internet. Syd’s otherworldly vocals make every song feel refreshing and new, despite her borrowing elements from present day hip-hop and her band.

Fin is a prime example of why more artists in group acts should be pursuing solo careers. While she does not try to convey a complex message or theme, Syd creates a collection of songs that are just flat out fun. One can’t help but sway to every song. Her melodic voice lifts each track to another level of sensuality and bliss, leaving the listener foaming at the mouth for more. Syd did herself and her fans a favor by leaving Fin nearly empty of features (Steve Lacy on “Dollar Bills” and 6LACK on “Over”). It’s time for Syd to be in the spotlight, as she has proved on this album. Listen to Fin here and catch Syd opening for her band, The Internet, on March 17 at The Neptune.

-Archie O’Dell

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