Teenage Witch EP by Suzi Wu
Suzi Wu sounds unlike anyone I’ve heard before, and her music has been the best pleasant surprise I’ve received since I last wrote. In the world of Alt Pop, artists tend to let their alternative influences guide the bulk of their musical choices, most often incorporating the pop elements in a spirit that verges on irony. Suzi Wu distinguishes herself from such artists through her unapologetic embrace of pop sensibilities. Wu achieves her utterly unique sound through the mixture of muddy guitar and bass tones, synths, hi-hats, and drum machine claps. The palette of sounds Wu employs on the EP leans toward grungy and unpolished, but dressed in a shinier outfit, most of the songs on Teenage Witch would not sound out of place on a top 40 radio station. Youthful angst fuels Teenage Witch, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance to it. As Suzi Wu releases more music, let’s hope she doesn’t lose sight of her exceedingly intriguing individuality.
Scary Hours by Drake
“So are you a ‘God’s Plan” person or a ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ person?”
Your answer to the question tells me much of what I need to know about you as a person. In the same way that astrology, Hogwarts’ house system, and personality tests categorize people into a few distinct archetypes, I strongly believe that the Drakes with whom one most deeply relates demonstrate the traits and values that are most important to that person. Scary Hours’ two acts respectively distill two of Drakes many musical personas into their purest form. Melodically-driven-pop Drake stars in “God’s Plan,” and “Diplomatic Immunity” features spit-about-being-successful-and-overcoming-the-haters Drake. Neither song is “better” than the other, but it’s natural to say one of the songs is better based on one’s personal preferences. I prefer “God’s Plan,” and I think those that know me well would expect that from me. Those that know me best know that I wish there was a song that featured introspectively-emotional-about-long-distance-relationships Drake sang a song on Scary Hours.
For more thoughts on Scary Hours, check this out.
November by SiR
In his first full length release under the TDE umbrella, SiR defines a musical personality he can call his own without taking many extreme risks. In the album’s first proper track, “That’s Alright,” SiR describes a relationship that thrives in its casualness, and that nonchalance apparently also inspires SiR’s general approach to music making. In its half hour runtime, November consistently maintains precisely the same sense of urgency (or lack thereof) throughout the work, but SiR’s buttery voice and unique sonic delivery provide plenty reasons to keep listening despite the album’s undynamic character. SiR’s brand of R&B oozes coolness as he relishes in the smoothness of his laid back sweet spot.
Electronic voices and reverberating synths converse with muted horns and the crackle of vinyl to create a classic sound wrapped in a package from the future. Skits throughout the album’s runtime depict conversations between SiR and the personified voice of his spaceship as he travels through space. SiR’s journey through space acts as a metaphor for emotional journey of the album with the spaceship weathering physical damage as SiR encounters psychological pain in the songs’ subject matter. After weathering damage toward the end of the album, the ship asks SiR if he is ok, and SiR responds simply with a dismissive “I’m fine.” Clearly, there is more to discover beneath SiR’s cool exterior, but November doesn’t allow the listener to see beneath the surface. The cold vacuum of space is the perfect setting for an album that chooses not to engage with the potentially painful emotions that inspire it.
“Black Hole” by Chris Dave and the Drumhedz featuring Anderson .Paak
I just want to hang out with Anderson .Paak. Swagger emanates from everything the man touches, and “Black Hole” is no different. The jazz fusion vibe of the song provides the perfect foundation for .Paak’s soulful half-rapped, half-sung delivery. Between Anderson .Paak’s wordy lyrics and the expert syncopation of Chris Dave’s drum patterns, the song’s infectious rhythm is irresistible. Chris Dave and the Drumhedz released their eponymous debut in late January, and even though I haven’t found time to explore the album beyond its lead single, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into more of their groovy sound.
Culture II by Migos
Wow. That’s a lot of Migos. Maybe even too much Migos. When people said that Culture felt like too much Migos I said, “no such thing,” but Culture II’s overwhelming 24 songs and hour and forty five minute runtime make me reconsider my stance. I would have preferred if half of these songs were released now, and the other half dropped this summer. I love Migos’ signature triplet flow and ad libs as much as the next guy, but I need some breaks from it every now and then. Songs like “Stir Fry” and “Made Men” allow Quavo, Offset, and Take Off to step outside their comfort zone and expand their range, but overall the record is too samey throughout to justify its lengthiness.
Freedom Goblin by Ty Segall
I take back what I said about liking Jack White’s Connected by Love purely for its commitment to rock’n’ roll principles. The spirit of rock ‘n’ roll may be sparse in popular music today, but that doesn’t mean I have to indiscriminately settle for any small attempt to summon it. I can reserve my affection for releases like Freedom Goblin that unapologetically embrace rock ‘n’ roll while maintaining a level of individuality and inventiveness that makes the record interesting in the present moment. Ty Segall pays tribute to his classic rock influences without ever sounding like a cover band. Why would I listen to Jack White halfheartedly imitate the Rolling Stones when I could listen to Rolling Stones? Freedom Goblin uses the rockin’ tools we know and love to delve into something that still feels like unexplored territory.
Man of the Woods by Justin Timberlake
After a relatively unkind review of “Filthy,” several folks reached out to me to express their disagreement with my take on the song. “Low key,” one friend confided in me, “I think ‘Filthy’ is kind of a banger.” I understand that view– there are definitely things to love about it– but the song’s overall presentation turned me off from it. My sentiments toward the album’s lead single accurately represents my feelings about Man of the Woods as a whole. Justin Timberlake does too much on the album, and in doing so, doesn’t do enough. You can’t just write a pop-country tune, replace a bass guitar with pitched 808s, and call it innovative. Had Justin simply stayed in his comfort zone, I would have appreciated Man of the Woods as a solid (not great, but solid) pop album. However, he completely misses the mark with this half-assed attempt to meld Country, R&B, and Hip-Hop into a forward-reaching sound.
“Pray for Me” by The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar
The third single released for the Kendrick Lamar and TDE curated Black Panther: The Album, “Pray for Me,” showcases a distinctively cinematic character. Charged with a dramatic flare, the song features imagery of personal sacrifice in the name of the greater good. This explication of the burden of heroes calls back to the sentiments Kendrick expresses on his most recent album, DAMN., when he laments, “The whole world want me to pray for ‘em, but who the fuck prayin’ for me?” Positioned as the penultimate song on the soundtrack for a superhero movie, “Pray for Me,” poignantly grapples with the definitively human characteristics of the individuals we view as superhuman. The Weeknd and Kendrick express doubts about their ability to rise to the heroic expectations placed upon them, and encourage listeners to view themselves as their own champion. Their choice to humble themselves in the song breaks down barriers to empathy with these larger than life figures, bringing them down to the level of their audience and inspiring their listeners to discover their own potential for greatness.